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Category: Dave Brockington

2014 House Prospects, Shutdown Edition, Volume 2

[ 77 ] October 16, 2013 |

Even though I’m a bit addled from waking each morning around 0400 to do the daily radio spots this week, I’m not addled enough to dramatically shift my viewpoint on this: the tactical mistakes and near anarchy exhibited by House Republicans will not lead to the rainbows and unicorns of a Democratic House following the 2014 elections.  Silver, at his temporary new site, has a typically solid rundown here.  There are some minor flaws in his reasoning, specifically Benghazi, the IRS, et al., are not issues equitable to holding the global economy hostage while demonstrating no clarity of thought or leadership, but his broader points are worth taking into consideration before drinking the kool aid.  (Several of these minor critiques can be found both in this post by Sam Wang, and the comments).

Of specific interest in the Silver post is his third point: “Democrats face extremely unfavorable conditions in trying to regain the House.”  The one thing I’ll add to that is what I’ve said repeatedly before: it’s near certainly going to be a qualitatively different electorate in demographic terms than 2012, or 2008, and one that tends to favor Republican candidates.

That said, some evidence is coming to light that has me examining my assessment.  Not a dramatic shift, but I have moved from “No bloody way!” to “Huh. Nearly certainly not, but, huh.”  Wang has written several posts, each worth a read, that lend support to a narrative counter to my trotting out conventional political science wisdom. Especially intriguing is evidence (more substantive than just the theory / hypothesis, mind) suggesting that gerrymandering has created a bunch of suddenly vulnerable Republican incumbents. Indeed, it appears that the swing against Republicans is significantly stronger in gerrymandered districts.

However, two weaknesses in the data prevent me from inviting all my friends down to Guyana for some crisp liquid refreshment in the sunshine. First, these polls are all predicated on generic matchups. As I linked last week, there’s concern that real live candidates have quality weaknesses that can (and certainly will) be exploited in a real live campaign. Second, the election is still over a year away. While all the numbers showing a fantastic collapse in Republican support could hold over the next 12 months, a lot will happen between now and then. Especially if the House actually passes the deal just announced in the Senate (no sure thing, of course, given the current lunacy), and the Republicans don’t hold a gun to their own heads yet again when this temporary agreement expires on January 15 (for the whole running the government part) and February 7 (for the whole avoiding economic collapse part), the past three weeks very well will recede into the background as other issues / events occur.

I still believe it will take a wave election in 2014 to flip the House, and given the composition of the electorate, one that would require a lot of typically Republican voters in heretofore Republican districts to either stay home, or switch parties, on top of gaining a significant margin among independents. I’ve been considering methods to do a proper empirical comparison of 2006 and a potential 2014, but one variable keeps intruding: 2006 was a wave against the incumbent president’s party (as was 1994 and 2010).

Thus, I’m still not optimistic, but the recent posts by Wang captured my attention.  And, most evidence, both empirical and theoretical, suggest that a Democratic Senate is increasingly a safer proposition.

Sublime Irrationality, or Something More Sinister?

[ 143 ] October 9, 2013 |

Like many people, I’m struggling to find evidence of rationality in the suicide caucus strategy and end game here. I get that they’re willing to destroy tacit norms of legislative behavior, and even ignore normative assumptions about the meaning of elections and the legislative process (i.e. once passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the President, and when relevant passes Constitutional muster with the Supremes, it’s the law; don’t like it, undo it the way it was done blah blah blah) in order to achieve a policy objective denied them through acceptable means. But most of this just isn’t conforming to rational behavior, as pointed out by Krugman on Sunday:

It has been obvious for years that the modern Republican Party is no longer capable of thinking seriously about policy. Whether the issue is climate change or inflation, party members believe what they want to believe, and any contrary evidence is dismissed as ahoax, the product of vast liberal conspiracies.

For a while the party was able to compartmentalize, to remain savvy and realistic about politics even as it rejected objectivity everywhere else. But this wasn’t sustainable. Sooner or later, the party’s attitude toward policy — we listen only to people who tell us what we want to hear, and attack the bearers of uncomfortable news — was bound to infect political strategy, too.

Is it me, or is Krugman becoming progressively more pissed off with each day?

I paraphrased from someone last week that we’re trying to understand a group of people who don’t believe in (human caused) climate change, don’t understand or accept basic economics, and don’t believe in evolution. Fair enough. But then there’s this: “A surprisingly broad section of the Republican Party is convinced that a threat once taken as economic fact may not exist — or at least may not be so serious.”

The only card they hold in this game is the threat global economic collapse. They’re willing to use this threat as leverage in order to achieve policy objectives they were unable to win through traditional legislative or electoral paths. Yet, here they are explaining that it’s really not that bad, it’s blown out of proportion, defaulting on our debt only has minimal impact?

They’re arguing that the leverage that they have isn’t leverage at all if the consequences are minimal.

Can they really be that stupid?

The only quote that makes any rational sense is chilling.  Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina:

“We always have enough money to pay our debt service,” said Mr. Burr, who pointed to a stream of tax revenue flowing into the Treasury as he shrugged off fears of a cascading financial crisis. “You’ve had the federal government out of work for close to two weeks; that’s about $24 billion a month. Every month, you have enough saved in salaries alone that you’re covering three-fifths, four-fifths of the total debt service, about $35 billion a month. That’s manageable for some time.”

He’s suggesting that we can (mostly) finance existing obligations by keeping the government shut in the event that the debt ceiling is not increased, “for some time”.

“If you live in England for five years it doesn’t make you English.”

[ 62 ] October 9, 2013 |

So states Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere in his sober reflection on who ought to qualify for the English national soccer football team. I should ask him if ten years counts for anything?

The issue at hand is the national team status of Manchester United’s 18 year-old Belgian / Serbian / Turkish / Albanian (yes, he qualifies for all four) midfielder Adnan Januzaj, and that the English national team manager is “monitoring his progress”. There’s several potential soccer topics here, such as the bit where Januzaj has thus far made only three first team appearances for United; England, while generally desperate for quality players, aren’t yet Scotland desperate. Or his observation on what distinguishes true “Englishness” from teams that, you know, win major tournaments:

“We are English. We tackle hard, are tough on the pitch and are hard to beat. We have great characters.”

So, to translate, the English are rough, like to fight, yet are laid back enough to enjoy a bit of a laugh. Unlike the Spanish, as when “you think of Spain and you think technical but you think of England and you think they are brave and they tackle hard. We have to remember that.”  “The only people who should play for England are English people.”

I don’t know.  When I think of Spain, I think of fluid, flowing football that’s lovely to watch. And winning stuff. As for the rest, he’s describing his own club 25 years in the past; he only left out the binge drinking.

For my more immediate purposes, Wilshere’s ill-advised commentary on both football and nationalism is splendidly timed. I have a run on BBC Radio Devon seven straight mornings from Monday. I did this last year immediately before the American election, and might have discussed it on LGM. The format is different from a five minute interview. Instead of responding to questions that I’ve hopefully anticipated in advance [*], I have around three minutes of clear airtime to opine on a topic of my choice. Last year’s topics and scripts were easy to arrive at — given the immediacy of the US election, they were all political sciency oriented (yet pitched to the audience in question vaguely within the model of the segment). This year’s different, and my ideas are more eclectic.  Hence, Wilshere to the rescue.

This very English midfielder, ironically of that most cosmopolitan of English clubs, serves as a launching pad of sorts to briefly explore notions of nationality and identity. It fits in well thematically with one script I’ve already written and another I’ve outlined (one on immigration, one on muddled expatriate identity) while subtly calling Wilshere out on the bullshit, all wrapped up in an approachable package of soccer. Two of the past four managers of the English national team weren’t, you know, English. If there is a distinctly English cultural approach to soccer, shouldn’t one who understands that culture on a genetic level manage the side? How is it that every nation-state on the planet is allowed only one national side under FIFA rules, but the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland get four? Had Ryan Giggs been eligible to play for England (he wasn’t), would you have cheered him on as England somehow managed to win Euro 1996? And what about the composition of the Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, or Republic national sides? Over the years all four have had many players who weren’t born in those “countries”. Then there’s the USMNT. We wisely have a policy that disregards Wilshere’s progressive viewpoint on nationality. Hell, our national team manager once played for Spurs, and yet we still embraced his appointment.

I’ll also slip in a reference to Wilshere in the already written piece on immigration, where I make the risky suggestion that it might be easier to “become American” than it is to “become British” (or many European countries) for several reasons of equal speculative veracity.

And I’ll briefly discuss my seven year-old daughter. She’s quite proud of being “half English and half American”. Should she ever show an interest in playing soccer competitively, and possess both the incredible levels of talent, skill and drive required to qualify for an international side, does she follow Wilshere’s preference for brave, hard tacklers who are characters and play for England, or will she follow her father’s sage advice to play for the United States, because winning things like World Cups and the Olympics trumps “tough on the pitch”.

I can guess that Wenger is unimpressed with Wilshere’s past couple of weeks and might have another chat with the lad. In addition to the above, last Tuesday night he was pictured outside of a nightclub with a cigarette following Arsenal’s defeat of Napoli. He claims to not be a smoker, it was only a mistake.

Before I go sit on my balcony overlooking Plymouth Sound not being a smoker, I’ll let Wilshere have the last word on the matter:

“If I went to Spain and lived there for five years, I’m not going to play for Spain.”

[*] I was interviewed live on the local BBC on Monday or Tuesday evening last week, about the shutdown. I was ready with polling data, comparative explanations of co-equal branches of government vs. unitary systems, etc. I didn’t anticipate the obvious question, however: how long will this last? I might have said no more than a few days, because the debt ceiling is the bigger stick Congressional Republicans will use. This is only a dress rehearsal. Man, did I get that one wrong.

My Nomination

[ 36 ] October 8, 2013 |

for Erik’s new “stupid and insensitive” Republican of the day competition.

I’ve got to go with a thoroughbred here. Old school. A real pro.  A player with veteran moxie, plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played, comes through in the clutch, scrappy, a solid clubhouse presence who is critical to team chemistry.

I give you none other than the four term Representative from Minnesota’s 6th District, the honorable Michele Bachmann, who at once asserts that Obama is knowingly (and with approval) funding Al Qaeda, which in turn is a clear sign that the End Times are upon us, but don’t fret, as this is a good thing, really.

Oh, and mosques are bad. Big mosques are big bad, and many are financed by the really really bad Muslim Brotherhood.

Her solution to all of this?  Completely halt immigration, of course, because that’s the last thing an immigrant country needs.

2014 House Prospects, Shutdown Edition

[ 25 ] October 8, 2013 |

Still aren’t good.  As though all the conditions faced by Democrats heading into November 2014 aren’t cause for enough pessimism, including an electorate composition that favors Republicans given reduced turnout in mid-term elections, the marginal gains for Republicans derived from gerrymandering, and the penalty the incumbent party in the White House enjoys, especially one running a net-unfavorable approval rating, apparently the Democrats are having difficulty in recruiting quality candidates to take on Republican incumbents in marginal seats:

Altogether, Democrats aren’t yet poised to mount serious challenges to a clear majority of the Republicans running on competitive turf, let alone actually win. So you should probably take this morning’s PPP poll with an additional grain of salt: it’s about how House Republicans would fare against a “generic” Democrat, not the mediocre one they’ll face in 2014. Perhaps the shutdown will trigger a wave of GOP retirements and Democratic recruits. But without both, Democrats will probably crest short of 218.

While some hold a naive belief that the hilarious self-destruction of the House Republicans will push the Democrats to the required net gain of 17 seats in order to reclaim the House, I’m as unconvinced today as I was 10 months ago when I wrote the following:

Even if structural conditions are solid and a tailwind is at the back of the Democratic Party in 2014, lower turnout, the historical penalty suffered by the incumbent party, and the Republicans’ built-in advantage of redistricting for the next ten years makes aspirations of gaining seats, let alone reclaiming the majority, a wildly optimistic expectation.  Simply engaging a GOTV operation of similar size and efficacy to 2012 would stretch the budget for a mid term election, and even then the return on investment probably won’t be as impressive considering that it’s more difficult to persuade casual voters to get motivated for a mere Congressional election.

Had the current edition of Republican extortion occurred closer to the election, then this might have helped at the margins, but even then, not 17 seats worth.  However, assuming this is resolved without the fun and games of a global economic meltdown, the great shutdown of October 2013 will be a distant memory in both as a motivation to turn out, and as a decision rule once one has bothered to vote.

Remember, last November, Democrats only out-polled Republicans in House elections by 1.7 million votes on 48.3% (compared with 46.9%) of the vote, and Republicans still won 234 seats.  The conditions in 2012 were theoretically vastly superior to anything we can expect in 2014. That slender 1.7 million vote plurality contrasts markedly with the 6 million vote advantage the Republicans had in 2012, or both the 13 million and 7 million vote win that Democrats enjoyed in 2008 and 2006 respectively.  Again, I’d love to be wrong, but I think the Seattle Mariners have a much better chance at a winning season in 2014 than Democrats in the House elections.

The Shutdown and Political (Mis)Calculation: Some Numbers

[ 19 ] October 1, 2013 |

The headline charitably assumes that there is any calculation involved here at all. Just yesterday I read a column or post somewhere (I thought it was Krugman, but I could not locate it this morning) that points out how can we assume that the faction in question of the party of the one of two houses in one of three branches of the Federal Government has (paraphrasing, not quoting) “any realistic idea about the global economic effect of a United States default, considering that they nearly universally do not believe that global warming is due to human cause, and hell, most of them don’t even believe in evolution”. I’m confident that one of our readers with a memory better than my own (which describes, well, the overwhelming majority of you) will remember who wrote that line.

We all suspected it, and now we have some empirical support for our suspicions: the Republicans are severely hurting themselves in holding the Senate and the President hostage in order to overturn a law nearly four years old, one upheld by the Supreme Court about 15 months ago:

“Americans were against a government shutdown as a way to stop the president’s health care law from taking effect 72 percent to 22 percent in a Quinnipiac poll. The more than three-to-one ratio was despite a near even split on Obamacare itself, with 45 percent support to 47 percent opposition.”

I don’t doubt that it’s a wide margin, but caution should be applied in interpreting this Quinnipiac poll. RCP currently has eight different polls on public approval for Obamacare, and the other seven range from -10 to -19, making the -2 reported above a clear outlier. The average of the eight polls is -12, but dropping this one it goes to -13.4. Lacking copious amounts of spare time, I can’t discuss whether bias (assuming that’s what this is) is limited to this one item, or if it’s a systematic sampling issue that undermines the entire poll, but somewhat temper your excitement at these numbers. That said, the Obama approval numbers are more in line with the current average. This poll has his approval at -4, while the spread of the eight most recent on RCP is an astonishing +3 to -16, with an average of -6.5. While there might be some systematic bias in the sample, it very well could be the one item on support for Obamacare specifically: question wording, question placement, etc.

Other interesting findings from this poll include 17% approval rating for Republicans in Congress (compared to 32% for Democrats), and a generic 2014 House vote intention of 43% to Democrats, 34% to Republicans. If this is a strongly Democratic-leaning sample, then we can shave some of that margin; likewise, this won’t hold for 13 months, and the Republicans have a modest built-in marginal advantage in translating votes into seats in House elections for the foreseeable future.

Here is a cool map and story locating the “suicide caucus” both geographically and demographically. Again, no surprises: the 80 signatories to the Meadows (NC-11) letter to Boehner insisting that Obamacare be defunded live in a different country to the rest of us (well, when I’m actually living there instead of in the UK), and one that’s lily white and getting whiter, unlike the country writ large. In this sense they are behaving rationally, embracing the delegate model of representation by serving as little more than ciphers of public opinion back home, rather than Burke’s favored trustee model. The punchline to the linked story is “In previous eras, ideologically extreme minorities could be controlled by party leadership.” It should have been left unsaid that now these ideologically extreme minorities control party leadership.

Indeed, while we can’t expect members of the suicide caucus to take Burke to heart, maybe the Republican leadership ought to, if not now, then in two weeks’ time when the debt ceiling is held hostage yet again:

But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

Vaguely Organised Musings on the Value of Blogging for the Academy and Academics

[ 8 ] September 1, 2013 |

Over at Monkey Cage, Andrew Gelman has an excellent piece on how post-publication peer-review works (and doesn’t) in the blogosphere. One of the central themes (to me) is how complacency can be part of the process. This, of course is not limited to the post-publication phase of research dissemination and consumption. Any academic here can tell you stories of referee reports that lacked a clear understanding of one’s manuscript to the point where it seemed possible that the report was the result of a skim job. Likewise, while I’ve been told by my superiors up the British university chain of command that I spend too much time on accepting and writing such reports[*], there have been times when four or five have stacked up in my queue that I know that there have been more than one where I did not feel as though I was as thorough as I might have been.

The Gelman piece reminded me of a post of Rob’s from earlier this year. I agree in the main with Rob’s arguments, with one caveat that applies to both the political scientist as blogger as well as post-publication peer review writ large: the blogosphere is ephemeral. Whereas a journal article (both print and most e-journals) is tangible, replete with an ISSN identity, what I’m writing right now isn’t. A blog post isn’t as fleeting as a tweet (unless you’re, say, Anthony Weiner), it is less concrete than a publication. This caveat applies independently to the Gelman and Farley posts, as the subject of each serves a different purpose, but ultimately it serves as a minor limitation to both.

Given this, I agree with what Rob wrote all those months ago:

Core argument is this: Sides treats blogging (and what I tend to think of as associated “public intellectual” activities) as adjunct to a successful political science career.  I, on the other hand, think that we should take seriously the possibility that these activities should become the main course of a successful career in political science (and other fields).

Save that I don’t think “public intellectual activities” should replace publication, but co-exist on a relatively equal level. As one who does a bit of media (it pays to have my accent in the Southwest of England. Well, it doesn’t pay cash money, but you know), I’d place blogging above media appearances; a five minute interview is more ephemeral than this very post (for better or worse). I’ve turned the process around a bit; in a few months I have a paper (which coincidentally cites Gelman) coming out in a solid third-tier journal that began life right here as a post on LGM.

However, if we really want to make this stick in terms of professional currency, we need some sort of institutionalisation of output. It could be as simple as unique ISSN numbers for various blogs, better indexing of authors / posts, etc. I don’t have many answers on this Sunday afternoon, but these are a start. For the vast majority of blogs an ISSN serves little more than vanity, but for academia it’s subtly different. In the United Kingdom, with our slavish, methodical accounting of research output via the RAE/REF, an ISSN/ISBN is requisite for credibility.  EDIT: I honestly don’t know how prevalent this is in the academic blogosphere, if it exists at all.

[*] Indeed, if I don’t have the time to do a credible job, I’ve been known to let a manuscript slide into perilous delinquency. There’s at least one from earlier this summer that might match this description.

This Week in Misogyny, Montana Edition

[ 135 ] August 29, 2013 |

I’m surprised I missed this one.  The story — a Montana high school teacher, now 54, pleads guilty this past Monday to raping a 14 year old student at his high school in 2008. The prosecution seeks a 20-year prison sentence. Montana District Judge Todd Baugh, accepts the defense argument that the rapist, Stacey Rambold, had suffered enough. The sage judge suspends all but 31 days of the 15-year sentence he applies.

His reasoning? The victim was “just as much in control of the situation” as her rapist, and was “older than her chronological age.”

A 14 year-old student at the high school where our rapist du jour worked as a teacher is not even marginally in control of the situation.

If this sounds all too depressingly familiar, it’s because it bloody well is:

The judge sentenced the admitted abuser, Neil Wilson, to a mere eight months in jail. However, believing this too harsh, suspended the sentence for two years, commenting that “the girl was predatory and she was egging you on.”

The girl, 13. The abuser, 41.

The only substantive difference between the two cases is that in Montana, at least the prosecution attempted to, you know, prosecute.

I’ll grant that writing such posts does not require an undue amount of intellectual overhead, but this pattern is maddening. One case in England, one in Montana, both judges blind to reality. I’ll repeat myself: a 13, 14 year old girl is just that. A child. Not predatory, not egging you on, not partially in control of this or any situation, and not older than her chronological age.

The Montana judge, however, is clearly older than his chronological age of 71.

[SL]: Emily McCombs with a powerful piece explaining why no 14-year-olds are “consenting” to sex with older men.

“We have laws and we need to follow those laws and that’s where we’re at.”

[ 54 ] August 18, 2013 |

Unless you’re our Republican asshole of the week, Rep. Scott Desjarlais (TN-4).  If it merely seemed like Desjarlais is a nasty piece of work for, you know, sleeping with patients and smoking pot with one of them (which, while famously legal in WA and CO, remains a behavior unendorsed by the state of Tennessee), and strongly encouraging one extra-marital hookup to have an abortion (something he, of course, opposes), elevation to hallowed asshole status is here achieved.

It takes a lot of courage for an 11 year-old to ask the honorable gentleman from Tennessee, during a town hall meeting, if her father might be able to stay with her even though he lacks the necessary documentation. It took him approximately zero seconds of self reflection to respond.

But at least he knows that God has forgiven him.

So, too, has his tea-party audience.

Texas Admits to Partisan Gerrymandering as Legal Defense

[ 72 ] August 15, 2013 |

In an article that I’d have thought I wrote if the byline hadn’t told me otherwise, Allen Clifton at Forward Progressives is suitably amused by the legal strategy of the State of Texas to avoid having the entire state returned to DoJ pre-clearance under the VRA. According to a brief filed last week, Texas is claiming that it discriminates against Democrats, not against any given race. Clifton outlines the hilarity that ensues:

Another part of Texas’ argument seems to be that even if their new voting laws do happen to disenfranchise minorities—it’s really not that big of a deal.  Because the events of the 1960′s were much worse.

Let that sink in for a moment.

A state openly admitting that they redrew district maps to purposely split up and weaken the Democratic vote (something we all knew Republicans were doing but had yet to hear admitted publicly), claiming that even if their new voting laws did happen to disenfranchise minorities from voting that it isn’t that big of a big deal because “the 60′s were much worse.”

Basically, “Yes, we’ve been trying to rig elections along partisan lines and even if our new laws might target minorities in a way—at least we’re not doing what they did in the 1960′s.”

I wasn’t sure what to do with this — yes, of course Texas gerrymanders and heaps of Republicans win because of it. So too have some Democratic states. Yes, this will have a marginal effect in 2014 and beyond. This isn’t news to LGM readers. But the brilliance (or desperation) evident in this admission as a means of distracting attention from the larger sin is worthy of note. I understand just enough US Constitutional Law to know when I’m wading into the deep end (and to offer my students at an English university three weeks worth of lectures as an introduction), and this has me curious — cunningly clever or desperately clutching?

Obviously the argument “we might be wrong, but we were way, way wronger in the 1950s and 1960s” shouldn’t fly. However, where race is a protected class, partisanship is not. Can Texas get away with the ‘race as unfortunate collateral damage in our war against the Democratic Party’ argument?

This Week in Misogyny, England Edition

[ 152 ] August 7, 2013 |

On Monday, a 41 year-old man, who admitted guilt on “two counts of making extreme pornographic images and one count of sexual activity with a child”, was sentenced Monday regarding the latter crime of sexually abusing a 13 year-old girl in London’s Snaresbrook Crown Court.

There are several shocking aspects of this episode. First, my liberal use of the word “sentenced”. The judge sentenced the admitted abuser, Neil Wilson, to a mere eight months in jail. However, believing this too harsh, suspended the sentence for two years, commenting that “the girl was predatory and she was egging you on.”

The girl, 13. The abuser, 41.

But wait. There’s more.

One of the barristers arguing the case claimed the following about the victim: “The girl is predatory in all her actions and she is sexually experienced.”

This might have been expected from, say, a defence attorney. However, the barrister making that claim represented the Crown Prosecution Service. The prosecuting attorney. The guy representing the state, society, and the 13 year-old victim.

When explained in those terms, the predator is a 13 year-old girl. The defenceless victim, a 41 year-old man. The guilty party was probably lamenting investing cash money in defence counsel, seeing as how it was completely redundant.

When a judge, and the barrister representing the state, undermine the case of a 13 year-old victim because she’s, well, a girl, it simply reaffirms what we already know: institutionalised misogyny is well entrenched in British society.  To quote Polly Toynbee in today’s Guardian:

But underlying attitudes revealed in this case lift the lid, yet again, on the depth of misogyny in this society – all the women-hating, woman-blaming, woman-fearing instincts that can reach right to the top. How easy if it were just that handful of sad misfits exposed for sending threatening rape-tweets to feminist campaigners. But it’s everywhere, ready to break out of an all-too-thin carapace of what its perpetrators call “political correctness” keeping it in check.

Legally, morally, the 13 year-old victim is innocent. Period, full stop. Yes, the age of consent in England is 16, and presumably, it’s possible for a 13 year-old to appear 16, and . . . who the fuck cares? The adult is supposed to be in possession of judgment. The child is legally and morally innocent because she is not expected to have a similarly developed sense of judgment.

It should really be that simple.

That the representatives of the state — those presumably on the side of civility and of the victim — explicitly and grotesquely critiqued the 13 year-old victim for leading the defenceless adult man astray is shameful. To close with Toynbee:

We know nothing about this girl, but we know one big thing: children are innocent. Children cannot give consent to their own abuse, below the age of 16. We can surmise what “experience” this girl may have had before, what abuse or neglect the judge and lawyers didn’t bother to delve into. There have been so many cases where we know who the vulnerable children are, lacking adult affection and attention, seeking it with the only thing that makes an adult notice their existence – sex. But the idea that a 13-year-old was a “predator” and a 41-year-old man just her victim sweeps all that away.

While on this happy subject, here’s Amanda Marcotte on sexual harassment in the skeptic/secularist/science education movement.

Burrowing Out of Hibernation, Jetlagged Saturday Sporting Edition

[ 43 ] August 3, 2013 |

The Ashes As it’s my role here to spearhead LGM’s cornering the “progressive blogosphere market on cricket commentary” (as per our FAQ), my absence is letting the team down. I was able to follow the first two tests of the series, but only sporadically the current match.

England were highly regarded as likely winners of the 2013 Ashes, and currently hold a 2-0 advantage in the series. Given the rules governing the “winning” of this cricket series, all England have to do in order to retain the trophy is draw a single match of the remaining three. Which is good, as they’re struggling mightily in the third test. Australia scored 527 for 7 (declared) in their first innings, while England have only managed to reply with 294 for 7. In declaring with three wickets remaining, Australia signalled extreme confidence in winning this test. Today, an increasingly rare century by Kevin Pieterson has given England faint hope for a draw. To accomplish that they need to hope that they can spin out the 23 remaining wickets over two days, and this assumes that they manage to avoid Australia forcing the follow-on. The second test, July 18-22, was relatively boring. England held Australia to only 128 runs in their first innings, declared after seven wickets in their second, and ultimately won by 347 runs. Following the second test, the English media featured stories crowing about the possibility of a 5-0 whitewash, save for the occasional “erm, hang on” such as this piece by England wicket-keeper Matt Prior arguing that Australia are somehow invincible in the third test of a series. It appears that Prior’s bizarre hypothesis is receiving support.

The first test, however, featured history and drama (and several other lazy cliches as well). Ashton Agar, playing in his first test match for Australia at 19, scored 98 runs in the first innings. This would be merely noteworthy for the debutant, but he did it from the number 11 position in the batting order, and set the test cricket record for runs scored as the number 11 batsman. There are 11 to a team in cricket, and like baseball, usually the least good batter gets the final spot in the order. A very rough analogy would be for a pitcher in a National League game (or ballpark in this day and age of interleague play) to hit for the cycle with a grand slam, but this analogy only works if it’s never been done before. I haven’t done the research to know if it has. Regardless, Agar did not bat 11th in the second innings.

England began the fifth and final day of the first test with a lead of 137 runs, needing only four wickets to secure victory against Australia’s 8th through 11th order batsmen. What at first seemed impossible became progressively in sight for Australia as the ineffectiveness of the England bowling attack allowed the “tail end” of the batting order to score runs with ease. Then, with England only needing one wicket, while Australia were only 20 runs behind, the bizarre that only cricket can produce happened. They broke for lunch. They had played for the better part of five days, scored 1,152 combined runs, the end of this marathon was in sight, and . . . lunch. Again, to make a rough baseball comparison, it’s the bottom of the ninth, the home team down by one, bases loaded, two outs, and the pitcher is batting. Let’s take a break? Seriously?

Somehow lunch did the trick, as Australia only managed six more runs before surrendering their final wicket.

Clint Dempsey I woke this morning at 530 PDT to strange rumors. Seattle Sounders FC were going to sign Clint Dempsey from Tottenham. Dempsey is probably the best player on the USMNT at present, at the peak of his career, well regarded in England, and has demonstrated his ability at the highest level in five and a half seasons at Fulham plus the one at Spurs. Initially, I didn’t understand this move from either perspective. Spurs only just signed him a year ago for £6 million, and he was a regular feature in their starting XI. From Dempsey’s perspective, while I’m more generous in my assessment on the level of play in the MLS than a lot of people, why would one want to take that step down at this point in his career? Only a year ago, Spurs, Aston Villa, and Liverpool were competing to sign him from Fulham.

Then it started to make sense. Spurs have agreed a fee for Spain international striker Roberto Soldado from Valenica for £26 million, in addition to Brazilian midfielder Paulinho (Corinthians, £17 million) and Belgian winger Nacer Chadli from FC Twente for £7 million. Dempsey’s playing time suddenly looks to be attenuated as Tottenham played him in both a winger and striker role. With Brazil 2014 only a year away, he needs to play. And, in addition to the roughly $9 million MLS record transfer fee, the Sounders are reportedly going to pay Dempsey $8 million per season over a four year contract — another MLS record.

As a supporter of both Seattle and Arsenal, I’m pleased with this move. As a supporter of the USMNT, I’m not. Dempsey should play in a better league (but then, too, so should Landon Donovan).

42 Finally, on the flight from LHR to SFO yesterday, my wife woke me when 42 came on the screen. I rarely watch what’s shown on the plane, but as a fan of baseball, cinema, and baseball*cinema, I watched. It was mediocre: slow, boring, thin saccharine sentimental crap. This review from the CSM sums it up best: “given the full halo treatment” and “the filmmaking is TV-movie-of-the-week dull and Robinson’s ordeal is hammered home to the exclusion of virtually everything else in his life.”

That said, two things about the film were superb. First, the CGI rendering of the old ballparks is stunning (Ebbets of course, but also Shibe, Crosley, and Forbes). Stunning to me at least, who has really only experienced these parks through the several books on ballparks that are in my library, pictures, and various clips. Second, and a pleasant surprise, is John McGinley’s turn as Red Barber. I’ve heard clips of Barber calling games, and watched Game 7 of the 1952 World Series on YouTube’s MLB Classics. He was also on Morning Edition every Friday until he died in October 1992; I was a regular listener. It’s difficult to forget Jenny Newtson’s announcement of his death one Friday morning on KLCC (yes, I had the “experience” of living in Eugene for a year in 1992) following several weeks worth of Barber’s absences on Morning Edition. I also bought Fridays with Red by Bob Edwards (and had Edwards sign it). McGinley’s performance in that role gives some vitality to what are essentially second-hand experiences of Barber.

Adendum of Questionable Relevance I’ve been away from here for a couple months, as a lot happened in a short period of time.  The house I’ve owned in Plymouth for nine years finally sold; after a series of desultory offers, I finally accepted a good one in May. I’ve had about 15 odd lodgers in there over the years, which resulted in a lot of work to get it ready and a lot of junk that I didn’t recognise yet inherited. A three week visit by my wife and step daughter (who live in Oregon) coincided with the finalization of the sale, so she was able to help with the packing and moving to the new flat.

Second, I served at the officiant at the wedding of dear friends in Corvallis, Oregon in early July. It was the greatest honor I’ve had, and the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to write or deliver. But at least my formal title is now Reverend Dr., and once that knighthood or peerage comes though, I’ll have the trifecta.

Last, eerily demonstrating the prescience of this post of mine from March,[*] my home institution announced a radical restructuring in May of how we deliver our curriculum, university wide, beginning Autumn 2014. I’d love to write about this development, but it’s perhaps not in the interests of my continued employment to take this on at the present time. It did help inspire me to stand down as “programme manager” of the undergraduate program after seven years in that administrative role.

[*] A couple months ago, in the pub, a colleague from a different department mentioned having read the post linked above, and noted approvingly that I didn’t specify my home institution (but it’s not like it’s, you know, a state secret difficult to obtain). He said that the post perfectly described the management motivation for this new curriculum delivery initiative. Which is sad, in a way.

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