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A Perfect Marriage

[ 15 ] May 30, 2014 |

I didn’t know that the reactionary contrarian Armond White had ended up at the National Review, but it’s certainly logical. (His proverbial cocktail party isn’t even apocryphal!) I love Roy’s take on John Simon too.

The Horror

[ 330 ] May 29, 2014 |

Elliot Rodger’s failed pick-up artist buddies: just what you’d expect, alas.

…I think perhaps the most telling detail is the fact that George Sidini was referred to positively 17 times.

Well, At Least It Was Nothing Trivial!

[ 134 ] May 29, 2014 |

I can’t read about Aaron Hernandez’s “motive” for killing two people without “Atlantis” playing in my head:

A spilled drink in a Boston nightclub led former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez to kill two people in a drive-by shooting two years ago, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Hernandez felt disrespected after a stranger bumped into him and spilled his drink, prompting him to follow the man and his friends then open fire on their car at a red light.

“I think I got one in the head and one in the chest,” Hernandez told a friend as they fled the intersection, prosecutors said at the former gridiron star’s arraignment.

I hope some good journalists are still poking around and trying to find out how much Hernandez got away with in Gainseville.

Adult Tweets I Don’t Understand

[ 170 ] May 29, 2014 |

Exene Cervenka is, inter alia, a UCSB troofer. I’m not sure Jackie Susann meant it that way…

Today In Violent Misogyny

[ 243 ] May 28, 2014 |

Jared Remy will be spending the rest of his life where he should be spending it, in prison.  You will probably not be surprised that he used his statement to engage in some blaming of his victim:

He described himself as “the bad apple” and called Martel “an angel,” but also appeared to blame Martel.

“I would like you to know that I always told Jen she could leave, but don’t threaten me with my daughter,” he read from a hand-written statement. “That night, Jen had a knife in her hand* and threatened me with my daughter, so I killed her.”

Putting “angelic” women on a pedestal where they will be violently knocked off if they don’t do everything you want — MRA logic in a nutshell right there.

And it’s worth noting that Martel would still be alive if the relevant authorities actually took violence against women committed by well-connected white guys seriously. It’s not surprising that Remy would retain this kind of logic when he was implicitly told again and again that it was acceptable.

*As rea notes in comments, it’s overwhelmingly likely that this detail is made up.

The Eighth Amendment and the “Emerging Consensus” Standard

[ 36 ] May 28, 2014 |

I have a piece up at the Prospect about yesterday’s modestly encouraging Eighth Amendment case:

The fact that someone as clearly mentally impaired as Hall had his death sentence upheld by the Florida courts is a grim illustration that using the IQ number as a rigid cutoff creates an enormous risk of false negatives in Florida’s tests for mental impairment. For a court that takes Atkins at all seriously, this should be an easy case.

Justice Alito’s dissent, speaking for the Court’s four most conservative members, responds to this clear logic with an essentially tautological defense of Florida’s system. There is not a clear consensus among states that a rigid, bright-line IQ rule is invalid, Alito asserts, and “in the absence of such a consensus, we have no basis for holding that Florida’s method contravenes our society’s standards of decency.” Alito’s characterization is, in its own terms, defensible. But while the Court has in my view but too much emphasis on the consensus of state governments in its Eighth Amendment jurisprudence, it has never claimed that the current consensus or lack thereof is the only criterion relevant to Eighth Amendment cases. Executing the mentally impaired, for reasons eloquently explained by the majority, inherently conflicts with the individual dignity and fairness required by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. By creating an unacceptably high risk of executing a mentally disabled individual, Florida’s standards violate the Eighth Amendment, and this would be true whether one state used them or fifty did.

The dissent’s response on this more important point has nothing to offer but the hostility to scientific expertise that is becoming increasingly ascendant in the contemporary Republican Party. “Under our modern Eighth Amendment cases,” charges Alito, “what counts are our society’s standards—which is to say, the standards of the American people—not the standards of professional associations, which at best represent the views of a small professional elite.” But Florida cannot have it both ways; it cannot rely on the IQ test as a scientifically valid way to evaluate mental impairment and then ignore scientific evidence about what the IQ test means.

Giving the Florida essentially unlimited discretion to determine who is mentally impaired would render Atkins a dead letter. This, of course, is the outcome desired by the dissenters, but it’s not an outcome consistent with the Eighth Amendment. The Court’s opinion today is a welcome step in the right direction that signals to the states that Atkins should actually be taken seriously.

I can’t blame the Alito dissent for focusing on the highly contestable assertion of consensus on the part of the majority. This standard has been a major part of the recent holdings restricting use of the death penalty, most problematically in Kennedy’s opinion in Roper v. Simmons. Kennedy’s opinion yesterday focused more on substantive considerations than on the question of “consensus,” which is appropriate. State policies aren’t entirely irrelevant, but they should be a peripheral consideration. The idea that the constitutionality of particular forms of punishment should hinge on whether 5 or 8 states use it has always been odd.

The cruel and unusual punishment clause is a vague principle that requires the use of discretion to be applied. This isn’t because of a drafting error; an Eighth Amendment that tried to to specify particular punishments to be prohibited would be worse than useless at the time of ratification. (It would essentially be a road map for torturers — if you want to inflict a cruel and unusual punishment, make sure you think of something we didn’t.) This problem would get worse over time, both because of technology and the development of moral standards. Attempts to turn the Eighth Amendment into the laundry list the framers wisely avoided through “originalism” have similar problems. (Justice Stevens: “While Justice Thomas would apparently not rule out a death sentence for a $50 theft by a 7-year-old, the Court wisely rejects his static approach to

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the law.”) Despite some hand-waving towards an “emerging consensus,” the Court yesterday essentially made a substantive, independent judgment about the meaning of the Eighth Amendment, and this is entirely appropriate.

The EPA, The Fate of the Planet, and the Neoconfederate Judiciary

[ 17 ] May 28, 2014 |

A very useful primer from Jon Cohn on the forthcoming war over crucial new EPA regulations of carbon emissions. A particularly key point, addressing the specious claim that Obama is defying Congress:

Actually, the opposite is true. The Clean Air Act of 1970, first signed into law by Richard Nixon and then amended twice, requires the EPA to regulate pollution that threatens public health and welfare. As the Supreme Court affirmed in a landmark 2007 ruling, it’s basically up to the EPA to decide what kinds of pollution meet that standard.

In 2008, Stephen Johnson, who was then the EPA Administrator, formally told President Bush that the federal government is “compelled to act” on climate change. Bush ignored the recommendation. One year later, Lisa Jackson, Johnson’s successor, issued an official “endangerment finding” that greenhouse gases were trapping heat inside the earth’s atmosphere and causing temperatures to rise. Among the dangerous consequences of this warming, the EPA warned, were higher rates of disease, stronger and more frequent extreme hurricanes, increasing wildfires and droughts, as well as rising sea levels that could literally wash low-lying coastal cities like Miami off the map. These are precisely the sort of harms that, by law, require EPA action.

To put it another way, the Obama Administration is carrying out the intent of Congress, as expressed in previously enacted legislation. This Congress is entitled to feel differently than its predecessors did. But to take away EPA’s mandate to act, it would have to pass new legislation that supersedes the old. In other words, it would have to amend or repeal the Clean Air Act itself. That’s not likely to happen.

Not A Newspaper, A Social Menace

[ 31 ] May 27, 2014 |

The New York Post is a disgrace, in case you forgot.

Today In Our American Meritocracy

[ 62 ] May 27, 2014 |

If you have the right connections and the right kind of worldview, like Robert Kagan, being disastrously wrong about everything is never a bar to getting a cover story to share your thoughts about how the country can make yet more disastrous mistakes.  Presumably this goes for your relatives and friends too.

You may remember Kagan making his reputation (such as it is) with the anti-wisdom of his puerile book, America is From Mars, Europe is From Venus, Now Let’s Blow Up A Lot of People For Reasons To Be Determined Later. Stephen Holmes’s review is not merely useful for its decimation of a largely forgotten book, but its analysis of a deeply pernicious worldview that is very much with us:

The book’s basic argument keeps crumbling under inspection because it rests on a sleight of hand. Its elementary fallacy lies in a selective application of its theoretical premise. A country’s foreign policy can become unrealistic if specially favored instruments prevent policy-makers from facing up to threats that must be addressed by other means. From this true premise, however, we cannot infer, as Kagan does, that Europe’s meager military capacities make European assessment of threats unrealistic while the United States’ formidable military capacities make American assessment of threats realistic. The illusions of the jungle are no less pernicious than the illusions of the garden. Kagan touches on this point when he allows, “The stronger may, in fact, rely on force more than they should.” But he does not integrate this insight into his basic argument. Indeed, he devotes no attention at all to the role of irrationality in the making of American foreign policy, even though he knows full well that a missionary impulse pervades Washington’s understanding of the United States’ global role, spoiling his clean contrast between realistic Americans and utopian Europeans.

A militarily weak society will typically underestimate problems that cannot be solved by civilian means alone. Just so, a militarily powerful society will typically underestimate problems that cannot be solved by military means alone. Both mistakes are possible and both can be fatal, but Kagan pays attention only to the former. This is why, despite the occasional justice of his remarks about European self-delusion, he comes across more as a Bush-administration apologist than as a foreign-policy analyst. Are Paris and Berlin really more “in denial” than Washington? Do Europeans have a more distorted view of the contemporary security environment than Americans? Kagan thinks so, but he is wrong.

The United States’ unrivaled military power is not just a “tool.” It is also a warped lens distorting the way the Bush administration defines the direst threats facing the country. Acute problems that cannot be addressed by a unilateral deployment of American military power (such as North Korea’s horrifying slide toward becoming a serial proliferator of nuclear weapons) get much less sustained attention than problems (such as Iraqi noncompliance with UN resolutions) that can be addressed unilaterally and militarily. Oil dependency, underinvestment in foreign-language skills and global warming are three disparate examples of neglected national-security threats that are not made any less acute simply because they cannot be managed by unilateral military force.

And yet, it’s the Kagans rather than the Holmeses who will get the cover space from The New Republic.

…I like this, from njorl in comments:

How many Kagans does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Three, one to say how well it is going, one to say how nice the room will look when it is well-lit and one to tell the workmen that with enough force the bulb can be screwed directly into the ceiling plaster.

A Memorial Day Reminder

[ 53 ] May 27, 2014 |

Thank you John Roberts and Republican statehouses:

The failure of some states to expand Medicaid is leaving a quarter-million veterans without health insurance.

Many assume that all of the nation’s veterans are entitled to health care through the Veteran’s Administration, but that’s not the case; a veteran must have served for two continuous years or the full period for which they were called to active duty in order to be eligible. There are some exceptions — like for individuals who were discharged for a disability sustained in the line of duty — but about 1.3 million veterans remain uninsured nationwide.

The Author For People Who Think That Commencement Speeches Are a Major Contribution to American Intellectual Discourse

[ 158 ] May 25, 2014 |

Noted Deep Thinker Jonathan Safran Foer is “curating” some reading material for Chipotle packaging. He has some thoughts on the matter he wishes to share (annotated by Maria Bustillos):

I mean, I wouldn’t have done it if it was for another company like a McDonald’s [well, why not, exactly?] but what interested me is 800,000 Americans of extremely diverse backgrounds [wat] having access [!] to good [!] writing [!]. A lot of those people [‘those people’] don’t have access to libraries [?!] [(why not, if so)], or bookstores [?!]. Something felt very democratic [?!] and good [?!] about this.

Bustillos continues:

(a) Jonathan Safran Foer: how much are you getting paid for this exercise in democracy?

(b) Is there anyone in America who has “access” to a Chipotle, but not to a library or bookstore? If so, who? Who are “those people.”

(c) exactly how is a two-minute story on a fast-food cup, even one written by Toni Morrison or George Saunders, making up for the lack of “those people”’s access to a library?

The reviews of the work Foer solicited are equally outstanding. Whether Foer or Malcolm Gladwell has made the very worst contribution to this landmark of American letters seems hard to evaluate.

Should Journalists Do Journalism? A Debate

[ 178 ] May 24, 2014 |

Michael Kinsley, having long since lost his fastball, has become above all become committed to complacency. His pose is not exactly that he’s the only one to tell the truth: that everything is just fine. It’s more that we might reluctantly admit that injustices exist, but we shouldn’t do anything about them, particularly if this might mean conflict with our rightful overlords.

So when it comes to Kinsley v. Greenwald, I guess it’s not surprising that I’m strongly inclined to agree with Isquith. But more when I have a chance to finish Greenwald’s book.