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The 2008 National Book Award Competition is Officially Over

[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |

A truly historic day in the history of American letters…



[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |

A prominent pro-choice activist switches from Clinton to Obama based on the former’s smears of the latter’s record.


[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |

I’m generally pretty lenient in evaluating Congressional leadership, especially in the Senate. Sometimes, Reid will get heat for not making votes he doesn’t have materialize out of thin air. But as has been widely noted, trying to steamroller filibusters of bad legislation by members of your own party when you’re unwilling to do the same with respect to filibusters of good legislation by members of the other party is appalling. And any politician who can’t find a politically successful way of opposing a free pass for telecom companies whose illegal acts violate the privacy of their customers needs to fine a new line of work.

It should also be noted that John Edwards deserves credit and Jay Rockefeller is a disgrace.

There Is A Santa Claus!

[ 7 ] January 24, 2008 |

I know it’s hard to let go of your dreams, but there seems something uniquely pathetic about combining brokered convention wankery with “Fred Thompson’s still in it although he never was in it!” wishful thinking. I hate to tell people, but the GOP nomination is a two-person race, and a two-person race won’t produce a brokered convention.

Deader Than Fred

[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |

Rudy!’s Florida firewall seems to be rather porous.

How About Everyone Agree With Me Instead?

[ 73 ] January 23, 2008 |

In light of the anniversary of Roe, you’ll be excited to know that William Saletan has an exciting idea for advancing the abortion debate. The solution is: everyone should just concede that William Saletan is right about everything!

To pro-choicers: Talk about abortion the way you’ve been talking about teen sex, embracing an ideal number of zero. To pro-lifers: Accept that the best way to advance toward zero is through voluntary prevention.

On the latter point, I suppose it would be nice if American “pro-lifers” were more concerned about protecting fetal life than regulating female sexuality, but alas you go to war with the reactionaries you have. While we wait for the forced pregnancy lobby to abandon criminalization and focus instead on contraception access and health care I’ll take a pony and an ice cream castle in the air. Saletan’s advice to pro-choicers, similarly, fails to explain how arguing that abortion is icky will help advance an argument for its legalization, and also fails to explain why people who don’t already should agree with Saletan’s moral intuitions.

In a new moralistic twist, however, pro-choicers are supposed not only to claim that the ideal number of abortions is zero, but that the ideal amount of teen sex is zero! The former is at least narrowly true; I guess it would be nice if the number of abortions was zero in the sense that it would be nice if the number of appendectomies was zero. But in the real world unwanted pregnancies will happen just as burst appendixes will happen, so talking about an ideal abortion rate of 0% can do nothing except undermine the case for keeping it safe and legal. Why I’m supposed to be outraged that 17 year-olds are having sex, on the other hand, is beyond me, and Saletan doesn’t help by providing, say, an argument for this position apart from citing Nancy Keenan’s unfounded assertions. I might agree that the ideal rate of teen pregnancy — and, for that matter, unwanted pregnancy — is zero, and while we’re at it I’ll take three ponies and the next four winning Powerball tickets.

For bonus wankery, Saletan praises what was perhaps last year’s most disingenuous argument for forced pregnancy:

Last year, in a New York Times op-ed, journalist Melinda Henneberger (now a Slate contributor) argued that public sentiment against abortion was hurting Democrats. “Most people differentiate between a fetus in the early weeks of development and at nearly full term,” she wrote, citing the party’s defense of partial-birth abortions.

It’s remarkably how much wrongness can be packed into so little space. First of all, “partial birth” abortions do no just occur “at nearly full term,” and in fact bans on the procedure proscribe even the ones that are preformed before viability, which is why pro-choicers who actually know what they’re talking about opposed the bans. Secondly, neither Saletan nor Henneberger have any argument for their claim a D&X is more morally problematic than a D&E performed at the same time of gestation, most likely because such a distinction is transparently irrational. And finally, neither Saletan nor Henneberger provide any evidence that being pro-choice causes a net loss of votes for the Democratic Party. But when you remember that Saletan actually argued that the Democratic Party’s position must be unpopular unless they win pretty much every single election — they’re all, apparently,referenda on abortion, even the ones held during wartime! — bare assertion is probably the better approach.

The Rightness of Roe

[ 0 ] January 23, 2008 |

In honor of it’s 35th Anniversary, here’s my three part series on why Roe v Wade was correctly decided:

Part I

Part II

Part III

The short version is that 1)it’s flatly false to say that the right identified in Roe had no previous doctrinal basis, and 2)properly understood the decision is consistent with the general democracy-promoting tenor of Warren Court-era jurisprudence. See also Douglas in Doe v. Bolton–who draws out the precedential connections more carefully than Blackmun–and Stevens in Thornburgh, who correctly points out that it’s ridiculous to claim that a woman has a fundamental right to avoid pregnancy before the fact but has no reproductive rights at all after the fact.

Finally, for new readers my piece in the Prospect explaining why the preferred High Broderite policy of “compromising” by providing formal protection to the rights of women who least need the protection while throwing the rights of those who do need it under the bus is completely unacceptable.

"If you can’t fix it, Jack, you gotta stand it. "

[ 0 ] January 22, 2008 |

One commenter was upset about the exclusion of Lust, Caution from the Oscars. Depite being an Ang Lee fan, I’m not really too upset. It’s a very good picture, but my guess is that when I compile a top 10 list it will settle towards the bottom. I didn’t agree with complaints about slack pacing in Brokeback–the sheep herding sequences looked great and were necessary to set the mood–but I did find it problematic here. And the political intrigue wasn’t quite detailed enough for my liking. The period detail was outstanding as always, and the acting very good, but there were other movies this year that I like more.

All of this is a way of bringing the sad news that Heath Ledger has passed away at age 28, in what was most likely a suicide [see update]. He had separated from his partner (partner-on-film Michelle Williams) and their daughter last year. His performance in Brokeback, however, will live as long as people are interested in movies. R.I.P.

Deborah Lipp says in comments that police have not found evidence of suicide, and his survivors do not want it described in that way. My apologies for jumping the gun.

How Did Taste Get Through the Academy?

[ 61 ] January 22, 2008 |

Maybe I’m forgetting something, but relative to the quality of the year I would be surprised if this isn’t the best selection of best picture nominees of my lifetime. Granted, it’s marred by Schnabel relegated to a Best Director nomination while Atonement takes Diving Bell‘s rightful place in what I assume (although I haven’t seen Atonement yet, so maybe even it’s good) to be the Middlebrow Doorstop spot (although having only one is pretty amazing in itself.) Still, There Will Be Blood and No Country are both excellent-to-exceptional films, Juno very good, and while the enjoyable Michael Clayton is overmatched in this heat (and I would have preferred Lumet/Before the Devil) it’s certainly better than most recent Best Picture winners (Crash, Shakespeare in Love, Beautiful Mind, Gladiator, I Can’t Believe There is Soulessness and Homophobia In American Suburbia! American Beauty, ugh.) It’s an unusually strong collection of pictures. I wonder how it happened?

…looking at the other nominees, Away From Her/Polley also would have been a good choice, although at least Christie got a nomination.

On Wingnut MLK Revisionism

[ 0 ] January 22, 2008 |

Rick Perlstein.

good stuff here as well.

McGovern got 6 Million More Votes Than FDR In ’32: It Was the Greatest Campaign in History!

[ 4 ] January 21, 2008 |

I very much want to think that McCain will lose the nomination, and I think a Romney win is plausible. But I have to say that I’m not sure what this data is supposed to prove. McCain’s declining vote share says very little about his chances and a lot more about the banal factthat having 4 serious campaigns in a state plus the unusually well-funded vanity campaigns of Paul and Rudy! tends to depress the vote share of the frontrunners when compared to a campaign with 2 serious candidates. (This would seem to be a variant of the “Bill Clinton never won a majority” argument, as if no Perot voters would have gone to him in ’96.) The argument from raw vote totals is even worse; it is certainly bad news for the Republican Party but says absolutely nothing about McCain’s ability to win future primaries. The latter seems to be a variant of the world-historically specious “Bush got more votes than anyone in American History!!!!What a landslide!!!1ONE11!!11” argument.

Now, if someone has some evidence that supporters of Thompson and Huckabee or Rudy’s supporter will disproportionately vote for Romney over McCain, or at least a compelling logical argument on behalf of this outcome, then we’ll have something. But I haven’t seen either yet.

Happy MLK Day

[ 0 ] January 21, 2008 |

This is a good quote from Letter From a Birmingham Jail. My favorite:

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to ace the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

When you read legal scholarship from the 50s, as I’m professionally obliged to do sometimes, it’s striking how much gnashing of teeth there is about the Supreme Court allegedly usurping the prerogatives of Southern legislatures, with virtually no recognition of the fact that these governments were not remotely democratic. The beautifully stated first paragraph about the importance of avoiding self-exemptions from general laws is also a point not made nearly often enough, and is relevant to the pending anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

To be fair and balanced, however, the current employer of Jonah “Liberal Fascism” Goldberg made the case for apartheid police states and argued that MLK wasn’t much of a speaker. But I’m sure this is covered extensively in the book.

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