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That Word “Democracy,” I Do Not Think…

[ 12 ] January 8, 2015 |

Shorter Joe Manchin: “elected public officials using their constitutional powers is not how democracy works, if I don’t get my way.”

The democratic theory Manchin used to reach this conclusion remains unspecified.

The Most Consistent Reactionary

[ 38 ] January 8, 2015 |

Linda Greenhouse states what should be obvious about Sam Alito:

Conservatives are confident that unlike Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who committed the unpardonable sin of saving the Affordable Care Act, Sam Alito will never go soft in the crunch. Unlike Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, he is utterly reliable. (Will Justice Alito vote for a right to same-sex marriage, as Justice Kennedy is widely expected to do? Not on your life.) Unlike Justice Antonin Scalia, whose rhetorical excesses yield diminishing returns these days (his perfervid dissent in the 2013 Defense of Marriage Act case has been widely cited by lower court judges as demonstrating that the constitutional basis for a right to same-sex marriage is now beyond debate), Sam Alito is never bombastic. And he avoids the self-indulgent eccentricity that has rendered Justice Clarence Thomas a nonplayer.

In the November issue of the religious journal First Things, Prof. Michael Stokes Paulsen, describing Justice Alito as the “man of the hour,” accurately labeled him “the most consistent, solid, successful conservative on the court,” adding: “There are louder talkers, flashier stylists, wittier wits, more-poisonous pens, but no one with a more level and solid swing than Justice Samuel Alito.”


This month marks the start of Justice Alito’s 10 year on the Supreme Court. He took his seat on Jan. 31, 2006, chosen by President George W. Bush to succeed Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and confirmed by a vote of 58 to 42 after a feeble Democratic filibuster effort collapsed. The Alito-for-O’Connor substitution was the most consequential change on the court since the first President Bush picked Clarence Thomas to replace Justice Thurgood Marshall in 1991. None of the six subsequent departures (in addition to Justice O’Connor, they were Justices Byron R. White and Harry A. Blackmun, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, and Justices Souter and John Paul Stevens) produced anything like the ideological lurch caused by the replacement of a moderately conservative compromise seeker with a lifelong movement conservative. In 1985, a 35-year-old Samuel Alito applied for a job in the Reagan Justice Department with an essay asserting that as a teenager in the 1960s, “the greatest influences on my views were the writings of William F. Buckley Jr., the National Review, and Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign.”

And there is nothing at all surprising about the fact that Alito has been a human manifestation of the Republican Party platform on the Supreme Court. It was obvious at the time of his nomination. Much of the mainstream coverage of the Alito nomination was scandalously incompetent precisely because it focused on his tone and whether or not he liked baseball rather than his votes. But the conservatives in the DOJ — who didn’t see a single vote objectionable from their perspective in his entire circuit court tenure — knew exactly what they were doing.

Republican Priorities II

[ 71 ] January 7, 2015 |

In addition to the wars on Social Security and math, let us not forget the War on Women:

Never ones to waste a second in their unending quest to fuck you over, on the first day of the new Congress, House Republicans re-introduced a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks. It’ll pass, and then it’ll go to the Senate, where it’ll also pass, and then it’ll go to the president, who will veto it. This is a solid, non-bullshit use of our tax dollars! [Violently rage-barfs.]

The bill, HR 36, known as the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, was introduced by Reps. Trent Franks of Arizona and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee; it would ban all abortions after 20 weeks, under the completely bogus premise that fetuses feel pain at that point in gestation. Franks introduced an identical measure last session, as he has for years, even though, as RH Reality Check points out, a fetal pain measure was found to be unconstitutional in his home state. Last year, the bill passed in a party-line vote before dying in the Senate.

Hmm, odd that it failed in the Senate last year, but is likelier to pass this year.  What could explain the difference? I’m sure Mitt Romney would be equally likely to veto it, though; the partisan control of federal offices has nothing to do with women’s rights, as surely history teaches us that both parties will respond identically to public opinion on a given issue.

Republican Priorities

[ 91 ] January 7, 2015 |

Ah, the first day of a unified Republican Congress.  For the first day, this means a war on Social Security benefits for the disabled and math.  It’s only a matter of time before we get the “Stealing Candy From A Baby Act of 2015,” with a provision declaring that Sam Brownback’s policies produced a massive surplus.

Charlie Hebdo

[ 328 ] January 7, 2015 |


…some useful background here.


And, In Conclusion, Kirby Delauter

[ 90 ] January 6, 2015 |

If there’s one thing we can all agree on in this polarized political environment, it’s Kirby Delauter. Hopefully we can all find more time to discuss Kirby Delauter. No one is to stone anyone until I blow this whistle. Even… and I want to make this absolutely clear… even if they do say, “Kirby Delauter.”

“I am so flooded with awe that I cannot move”

[ 37 ] January 6, 2015 |

There is some sentiment that the atrocious William Giraldi piece discussed yesterday was “satire.” Any maybe it was so intended, but this really doesn’t make it less sexist or poorly written. (I’d also read this before giving a charitable interpretation. The best part of the “gelid wilds of Alaksa” line is that a primary complaint in his infamous attack on Alix Ohlin was that her descriptions were redundant. Leaving aside the fact that “white teeth” isn’t a redundancy, apparently it’s OK to use an actually redundant adjective as long as it’s pompous enough.)

Anyway, Giraldi has at least inspired an example of successful satire:

When my employer called me into his office and granted me paternity leave on the birth of my first child, I had no idea what I was in for. Most of my male coworkers had already left the office at this point, having impregnated willing strangers in order to take twelve weeks’ paid time off in exchange for eighteen years of financial and personal responsibility.

“It’s twelve weeks’ time off,” Daniel shouted when he learned he’d successfully created a child with the head of the mechanics department. “I’m going to finally finish my heli-skiing novel!”

I simply wasn’t prepared for what all of this free time would do to me. I had planned, of course, to participate actively as a member of the household and as my wife’s partner — grease the dryer, dust the teakettle, rearrange the cat, and so on — but then, shortly after I walked in the door, I was tragically trapped under something heavy and have been unable to move from this spot in the living room. No one can move this burden from me, save the pure-hearted seventh son of a seventh son, and I do not believe that such a person exists.


I wonder what my son’s name is. Perhaps it is Jonathant.

How I wish I were capable of providing my son with the same kind of loving, careful attention as my wife is. But how can I compete? Her hands are made of dish scrubbers and teddy bears. Mine have been duct taped to these bottles of Hennessey and Old Crow, and I am too drunk to remember the difference between the wall and the floor. My wife has a diaper genie built into the back of her right calf. I have been forced by an evil wizard to watch the entire series run of Sons of Anarchy, through no fault of my own. Were I to lift my eyes from the Shakespearean machinations of a Californian biker and drug-smuggling family that loves as fiercely as they drug-smuggle for even a moment, I would surely turn to stone, and what good would I be to my child, or possibly children, then?

See the difference? And really do read the whole etc.

The Great One

[ 75 ] January 6, 2015 |


I’ll leave my annual rant about the idiocy of the BBWAA to a separate post, so I can congratulate Pedro Martinez’s induction to Cooperstown. (I’m beginning to think I was wrong for attacking Dan Duquette for trading Delino DeShields to acquire him) Randy Johnson isn’t one of my favorite players of all time, but is at least equally deserving. Biggio wasn’t in this class but is certainly a Hall of Famer. Smoltz isn’t a terrible selection, but his getting in on the first ballot is odd — he’s a below-average Hall of Fame starter on an unusually stacked ballot. There were many more worthy candidates, but we’ll leave that for the next post.

…Charlie gives Pedro the tribute he deserves.

Manhattan Dining in the New Gilded Age

[ 210 ] January 6, 2015 |

One of my idiosyncratic pleasures are NYT restaurant reviews where the most interesting news is the price quotes. The classic of the genre is Frank Bruni’s review of Cipriani, which is apparently the Olive Garden for particularly clueless plutocrats. (“Regulars accept and revel in this, or have bit by bit deluded themselves into believing that the $36.95 spaghetti with tomato and basil has something special to recommend it. (Trust me: it doesn’t.)” The detail that a $37 plate of spaghetti and tomato sauce gets a “.95″ price, like an electronics superstore, is outstanding.) We have another key entry in the genre, as Pete Wells has reviewed Masayoshi Takayama’s new restaurant:

Now three months old, Kappo Masa is not the most expensive restaurant in New York. That distinction belongs to Mr. Takayama’s home base, Masa, in the Time Warner Center. (Price of dinner for one before tax, tip and drinks: $450.) Still, it is expensive in a way that’s hard to forget either during or after the meal. The cost of eating at Kappo Masa is so brutally, illogically, relentlessly high, and so out of proportion to any pleasure you may get, that large numbers start to seem like uninvited and poorly behaved guests at the table.

Price of a maki roll of chopped fatty tuna wrapped in rice with caviar piled on each of the eight pieces: $240. I could never bring myself to order it, or two dishes filigreed with white truffles: the fried rice with mushrooms ($120) or the Ohmi beef tataki ($150). So I can’t tell you how any of them taste, but I can tell you that by the time I spotted something for less than $80, it struck me as a steal.

But if you’re eating at a place where fried rice costs 120 bucks, you’re at least guaranteed high quality, right?

In fact, Mr. Takayama charges similar prices across town at Bar Masa. But the food and service allow Bar Masa to pass for an à la carte version of Masa itself. Kappo Masa is nowhere near as good. The raw ingredients may well be the same, but they are often handled carelessly, seasoned indifferently and served inattentively.

Price of bland, watery cauliflower florets with maitake mushrooms that were grilled over far too much heat so their insides were raw and woody while their exteriors was burned to a char that peeled off in blackened flakes: $28. [!]

Price of yellowtail collar left on the grill until it lost the silky, puddinglike richness that is the whole point of this cut: $28.

Price of noodles extruded from ground shrimp, a gluten-free invention of Mr. Takayama’s, sloshing around in a greasy pond of way too much melted butter and not enough of the serrano chiles that may have given the dish a little spark: $24.

But hey, at least you know what you’re getting into, right?

Menu price for cress with wasabi dressing: $18.

Amount I paid: $38, making this the first restaurant where I have actually looked over the check before paying and missed a $20 overcharge for a salad. I hadn’t been drinking that night, either. If I had, I might have become even more numbed to gouging.

The conclusion:

And yet if you are one of those people who suspects that Manhattan is being remade as a private playground for millionaires who either don’t mind spending hundreds of dollars for mediocrity or simply can’t tell the difference, Kappo Masa is not going to convince you that you’re wrong.

Every gilded age will have its people willing to take advantage of the suckers, new money and old money alike.

An Idea Whose Time Has Long Since Come

[ 29 ] January 6, 2015 |

Let’s get on with it, OK?

On Friday, Supreme Court justices will meet in private to consider whether to act on cases that could provide a nationwide answer on whether same-sex marriages must be allowed. On the same day, a federal appeals court will consider bans in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

“It’s an incredible confluence of events,” said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “It’s the culmination of many years of work.”

The marriages in Florida and the potential for a constitutional decision by the Supreme Court this year reflect the rapid advance of the same-sex-marriage movement and a remarkable change in public opinion. When the court heard oral arguments about California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013, only nine states and the District allowed such unions.

Shifts in public opinion have made Ginsburg’s concerns about getting too far ahead of the public moot. Unless there are questions about Kennedy’s vote — which seems increasingly unlikely — it’s time to grant cert. I know it would be ideal to wait until the technology that would allow the online version of Scalia’s dissent to actually contain spittle is developed, but sometimes fundamental human rights are more important.

Reproductive Freedom ’15

[ 108 ] January 6, 2015 |

The trends are not good.

Ostensibly Lefty Sexist of the Year

[ 213 ] January 5, 2015 |

January 5th, and we already have an overwhelming frontrunner:

Sometime in 2011, before the gestation of my second son, my employer, Boston University, implemented paternity leave for its male professors. A colleague informed me of this news with much envy and astonishment: his four young children had been born before BU joined the twenty-first century by electing to give to fathers the same benefits it had been giving all along to mothers. I’m not certain how this enlightened advance came about, but I instantly pictured a phalanx of ultra-modern men parading down Commonwealth Avenue, jabbing placards that read “It’s My Seed, So Give Me Leave,” or some such slogan.

BU doesn’t actually advertise this lofty development as “paternity leave”; after all, some of the men I know there might begin impregnating people just to earn a semester off with pay. Instead, and in typical bureaucratic form, school administrators call it “workload reduction.” Maybe it was the euphemism that misdirected me, for my workload reduction led to my being loaded, and reduced, in quite a different way from what “paternity leave” would have intended.


y son was born in March, and my sabbatical went from early May to mid-January, which, in a tidy coincidence, is nearly nine months. But since his care was taken care of by his mother—whose apparent willingness and capacity to do almost everything for him flooded me with awe—I spent those nine months trying not to be bored while not writing a novel that was coming due. (No novelist who recognizes the unholy hardship of writing a novel ever wants to write a novel.) Hey, the proper dose of lager seemed to slacken my body without sapping my mind, and all day long, while I was not-writing my novel and not-feeding my newborn son, I looked forward to those drinks with a religious panting.

Yes, clearly men not lifting a finger to help their female partners raise their children is just a fact of nature, unalterable by any possible individual choice. This time off has to be spent drinking. Paternity leave for men is just stupid. Hard to dispute that logic!

This article would have been embarrassing enough if it had been more appropriately placed in Maxim or the Daily Caller; what it’s doing in the Baffler I can’t tell you.

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