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LGM Baseball Challenge (Tourney Update II)

[ 0 ] April 5, 2009 |

…I believe that it’s down to Shooting in the Dark vs. bail this out in the LGM Tourney Bracket.

I’ve set up the 2009 LGM Baseball Challenge league. Apologies for tardiness; the first game is tomorrow.

League Name: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Password: zevon

As far as I can tell, the following teams are still in the running in Tourney Challenge:

Shooting in the Dark (Michigan State)
The Dawdle Blog (UNC)
dewces1 (Connecticut)
bail this out (UNC)
johnwcasey (Connecticut)
jt (Villanova)

From Colony to Superpower XV: Little Hitlers

[ 0 ] April 5, 2009 |

Erik leads off the 15th installment of our 20 part series on George Herring’s From Colony to Superpower with a discussion of John Foster Dulles, and of the role of racism in America’s Cold War foreign policy. I’m more interested in Eisenhower’s relationship with the Middle East, China, and the military-industrial complex.

There was a reason why Eisenhower decried the military-industrial complex; he was attacked from the right by Democrats on defense spending. Eisenhower was the product of a much different understanding of the role of the military in American foreign policy, an era in which defense budgets and the military establishment they supported were quite small. Eisenhower did not, however, step back from committing the United States to a hegemonic role in the Western world. Instead, he tried to achieve hegemony on the cheap, relying on nuclear weapons to keep the peace with the Soviet Union and on covert operations to maintain friendly governments around the world. Herring argues that the CIA essentially lucked into victories in Guatemala and Iran (not so lucky for the Guatemalans and the Iranians) which led to unreasonable expectations for the future of US covert operations. Herring also argues that, while nuclear threats were credited by Dulles and Eisenhower with forcing peace in Korea and saving Taiwan, the actual impact of such threats is far less clear.

China plays an interesting role in this chapter. A question came up in the comment thread of the last installment about the role of the China lobby; I’ve responded a bit at the end of that thread. Chiang Kai Shek proved a real problem for Eisenhower and Dulles. The competitive pressures of the Cold War were exacerbated by the fact that domestic supporters of CKS and the Nationalists were ready to pounce on any indication of a weakening commitment to Taiwan. Mao’s victory, after all, had served as the proximate cause for the rise of Joseph McCarthy. Concerned about the security of Taiwan, Eisenhower and Dulles felt compelled to take risks in defense of Quemoy and Matsu, tiny islands off the mainland that were still held by the Nationalists. At this point, the US still felt comfortable in making explicit or very thinly veiled nuclear threats, although it’s unclear just how seriously Mao took such promises. Policy towards the PRC ossified under Eisenhower, as the administration had no interest whatsoever in risking the defection of the right wing of the Republican party, or in opening itself to attack from the right by the Democrats.

Europe, of course, also presented certain difficulties. Eisenhower’s response to the Suez Crisis was, in my view, about as well-crafted as could be expected. I understand that some Israelis still argue that, if only Nasser could have been deposed in 1956, Israel’s security could have been confirmed in the long term. This is plainly insane, for reasons that don’t really need elaboration. In any case, Eisenhower made clear that France and the United Kingdom would be left to the tender mercies of the Soviet Union if they did not desist, and both relented, suitably chastised. This event, along with the rearmament of West Germany, helped to solidify the asymmetric nature of the US relationship with Great Britain, if not with France, and consequently with most of the rest of Western Europe. It’s also interesting to note that US policymakers felt some affinity with religious Muslims, both in the Arab world and in Pakistan.

Herring makes the case that the collapse of relations between the United States and Cuba was mainly the fault of Castro. This is to say that Castro’s vision of Cuba didn’t have a lot of room for the United States; the Eisenhower administration was surprisingly flexible, turning on Batista towards the end and extending feelers towards the new regime. For Castro, however, alienating the United States was a feature, not a bug. Herring is skeptical that the United States could have engaged in any policy that would have produced amity with Cuba, although the invasion and the continuing efforts at destabilization and assassination (which he details in the next chapter) probably didn’t help.

Castro was, I think, the fourth of the “little Hitlers” that emerged during the 1950s. The others were Mao, Khruschev, and Nasser. The Munich Analogy loomed very large in the minds of US policymakers, and there was deep concern that threats were not being identified and reacted to with sufficient speed. The administration’s defense strategy contributed to this; it was difficult to respond to some crises without reference to nuclear weapons, which proved a very limited tool for making countries do what the US wanted. It’s never precisely one or the other, but I do tend to be somewhat more tolerant of the use of the Munich Analogy by people who actually lived through World War II, rather than its use by those who simply wish to screech “Chamberlain!!!!” at any opponent of aggressive military action.

Kennedy, Johnson, and chapter XVI come tomorrow…

Further thoughts on the politics of law

[ 0 ] April 4, 2009 |

Since this post has occasioned much unhappiness, I’d like to respond to a few points.

(1) The primary defense for open-ended judicial review that deploys vague constitutional generalities (equal protection, substantive due process etc) appears to be that we’ve always done things this way and what about Brown v. Board of Education? As to the first point, as i mentioned in the original linked piece that’s the same argument from tradition that the Iowa AG used to defend the traditional definition of marriage. As to the second, no one ever seems to note that Brown didn’t do much of anything to desegregate schools in the US, let alone dismantle Jim Crow. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was vastly more important in terms of actually accomplishing something beyond Brown’s almost purely symbolic function. The same could be said about a lot of other progressive political issues. On this see Gerald Rosenberg’s book The Hollow Hope.

A related claim is that aggressive judicial review isn’t going to go away, it’s certainly going to be exploited by the Right, so one might as well make hay when the sun shines. OK fine but that doesn’t mean one has to pretend the enterprise is intellectually respectable. To put it bluntly, nobody except a few law professors and other professional geeks cares how courts rationalize their decisions: what people care about are substantive political outcomes. So I see no point in pretending about what’s going on.

(2) The argument is made that if one thinks that multi-tiered means-ends scrutiny is basically a bunch of conclusory bullshit, this means you’re a legal nihilist. This makes about as much sense as claiming that if you don’t believe in unicorns you’re a biological nihilist. “The law” constrains judges and other legal actors in countless ways, sometimes a lot (no 17-year-old presidents, California doesn’t get five senators and so on). This isn’t because of some inherent quality of the legal materials, but rather because of the beliefs of legal and other political actors about what counts as a respectable legal argument — something that’s always changing to some extent. Substantive due process reasoning and equal protection arguments are currently quite open-ended in this regard.

(3) Bush v. Gore is a ridiculously transparent bit of circular question begging, but in this regard it isn’t any different than a lot of other SCOTUS opinions. It certainly isn’t any more absurd than, say, Roe v. Wade, which legal academics have been re-writing non-stop for the past 35 years to try to come up with a more respectable basis for their policy preferences in the guise of “constitutional law.” I’m deeply sorry if this offends peoples’ delicate sensibilities, but I can’t take any of that stuff seriously despite many years of trying. It’s all, to paraphrase Jeremy Bentham on The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, nonsense on stilts. What surprises me is that people who routinely mock metaphysical concepts when they come wrapped up in traditional theological guises fall all over themselves defending the supposed actual existence of “legal rights” and “constitutional principles,” and “binding precedents,” and all other manner of mysterious entities that make up that most mysterious of God substitutes, “the Rule of Law.”

(4) The arguments in the Iowa case all apply in spades to polygamy — except polygamy has been an extremely common social institutuion for thousands of years, and more to the point has been violently supressed by the US government, for reasons that had more to do with rank religious bigotry than with anything else. Now obviously there are other differences between polygamy and gay marriage. It could be claimed that polygamy is inherently oppressive of women. Of course this argument could be, and has been, made with considerable force about traditional marriage as well. Furthermore the oppressive quality of some existing polygamous marriages is no doubt exacerbated by their illegality — and indeed a big part of the argument for gay marriage has been that marriage is a bourgeois institution that will de-marginalize gay people who have been marginalized by their legal status. Some radical feminists have opposed gay marriage for that very reason. But all this is beside the point, which is that the question of whether society ought to bear the costs and enjoy the benefits of legal polygamy is a political question, the answer to which is not aided in the least by anything that can in any meaningful sense be considered legal reasoning.

(5) To return to the argument about Jim Crow, anti-miscegenation laws etc., the problem with such arguments, beyond the pragmatic point that judicial review actually did very little to get rid of these practices, is that the argument can be turned around. All sorts of intelligent educated people used to believe all sorts of things we now find horrifying. But unless you take the completely implausible position that changes in intellectual fashion are always for the better, there’s no particular reason to believe that at least some of our views, and more particularly some of the views of some of our judges, won’t be equally horrifying to all right-thinking people 50 years from now. Of course this will come as a deeply shocking assertion to people who believe that their views, unlike those of their benighted predecessors, are based on “reasoned judgment,” as opposed to unthinking prejudice. (And if you think this point of view makes sense, I suggest you think about it some more).

Let’s Calm Down a Bit…

[ 0 ] April 4, 2009 |

MRG forwarded me this piece this morning. I had seen it previously and intended to refrain from comment, but… you know. In general, it’s best not to get one’s defense news from the War Nerd; if you’ve been paying attention to the conversation (in this space and elsewhere) you’ve known about Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles for quite some time, and you have a much better handle on the issue than is presented in the linked article. You know, for example, that we *may* be moving from a world in which it’s impossible to hit a moving aircraft carrier with a ballistic missile to a world in which it’s exceedingly difficult to do so. You know that the targeting and intelligence requirements for such a maneuver are immense, and there there are several steps in the identification-launch-terminal guidance-strike sequence that can be disrupted through a variety of counter-measures. You know that the evidence that the Chinese have a DF-21 capable of such targeting (not to mention the intelligence and communications infrastructure necessary to support the launch) is exceedingly thin.

You also know that professional naval officers have been thinking about this possibility considerably longer, and in considerably more detail, than Gary Brecher has. You know that the Chinese ASBM is hardly the first weapon that was supposed to render aircraft carriers obsolete; cruise missiles and submarines are its notional predecessors. You know that the question of the vulnerability of aircraft carriers has been debated ad nauseum in the Navy and in the larger defense community; to characterize this debate as such…

What does that tell you about the distinguished gentlemen with all the ribbons on their chests who’ve been standing up on carrier bridges looking like they know what they’re doing for the past 50 years?

They’re either stupid or so sleazy they’re willing to make a career commanding ships they goddamn well know are floating coffins for thousands of ranks and dozens of the most expensive gold-plated airplanes in the history of the world

… is so detached from the reality of this conversation as to cross into the surreal.

None of this is to say that military organizations don’t buy obsolete weapons or think in hidebound ways. Nor is it to say that the Navy shouldn’t worry about the threat that Chinese ASBMs might pose to aircraft carriers. They should worry, and they are worrying; the Navy (and the attendant civilian research infrastructure) may not develop a sufficient solution to the problem, but that’s rather the nature of competitive military technological development.

Another reason it’s best not to get one’s defense news from Gary Brecher is that he is, in spite of the intensity of his devotion, often wrong. For example, this is about the most wrong thing one could write about the Blockhouse strategy employed in the Chinese Civil War:

Mao’s military advisor was a German communist cadre named Otto Braun. He took a Chinese name, Li De, but as you can imagine he wasn’t likely to pass for a local, being a classic German military type, a long skinny skeleton with big glasses and even bigger plans. Mao had been fighting the kind of brilliant rural guerrilla warfare he’d learned from the Hunan bandit chiefs. One of these bandit chiefs told Mao, “All you need to know about war is: circle around, circle around, circle around.” Mao took that lesson to heart, because he discovered if his guerrillas didn’t keep moving away from the Nationalists’ front, they’d get ground up.

Otto Braun convinced the Chinese Communist leadership that these bandit tactics were too low-down and no-count for the People’s Liberation Army. He got them to adopt a “Blockhouse Strategy” which was basically exactly what Hezbollah’s “bunker strategy” was. Only it didn’t work. The Nationalist forces attacked Mao’s bunkers, sustained huge losses but kept attacking, and eventually wore down the Communist defenses. That was the pattern of warfare up to 1945: accept huge losses to take enemy territory, because when you do, you will be able to neutralize those territories for good. So it pays off. You lose, say, 300 men taking a section of Maoist territory by overrunning those blockhouses. You’ve now gained a peasant population of, say, 100,000. You now get the return on your losses: you immediately kill any Communist sympathizers in the region and force all the young men to sign up with your army at bayonet-point. You’ve made good your casualties because, once you control the enemy territory, you change it for good, turn it from red to blue.

I’ll concede that the Chinese Civil War involved combat between Nationalist and Communists. Most of the rest is wrong, however. The evidence of Braun’s importance to the People’s Liberation Army comes mostly from Braun himself; the most recent scholarly treatments of this part of the war downplay his significance and influence. To the extent that Braun did have any influence, it was in the direction of more concentrated attacks against Nationalist forces, but he was far from the only voice in the PLA to call for more conventional tactics, and it’s silly to grant him such a large role in a debate that had been raging for several years. The reasons that the PLA shifted to more conventional tactics were two-fold; first, the situation changed (which I detail below), and second, everyone in the PLA (including Mao) understood that the Nationalist Army would eventually have to be defeated in conventional combat. The debate was over when the shift from guerrilla to conventional army would need to be made; at no point did the “low down, no count” nature of bandit warfare prove a very relevant consideration for the CCP. Moreover, there’s a touch of colonialist condescension to the notion that a white dude showed up and the CCP started listening to him. Not everyone is T.E. Lawrence.

Most importantly (pay attention..), the Blockhouse strategy was actually employed by the Nationalists, not the Communists. The PLA didn’t build a bunch of bunkers and let the Nationalists come to them; rather, the Nationalists constructed blockhouses with interlocking fields of fire and illumination in order to limit ChiCom mobility. The Nationalist strategy was fabulously successful; by building additional blockhouses, they were able to successively reduce the circle in which the PLA was able to operate. Under these conditions, mobility was simply no longer an option; the formations that could be infiltrated through the blockhouses grew progressively smaller and less effective. This strategy spelled the end of the Jiangxi Soviet and precipitated the Long March. A German advisor did indeed help develop this strategy, but his name was Hans von Seeckt; longtime fans of German military history will recognize him as the de facto chief of the Reichswehr during most of the 1920s. Chiang Kai Shek had contracted with von Seeckt specifically to develop a strategy that could destroy the Jiangxi Soviet, and it worked.

The takeaway is this; read “Brecher,” if you must, for the entertainment value. Don’t, however, assume that he actually knows that much about what he’s talking about. If you want to stay current on military and defense affairs, you can do much worse than subscribing to Danger Room, Defense Tech, War is Boring, Armchair Generalist, Information Dissemination, Ares, the USNI blog, Abu Muqawama, Attackerman, and Small Wars Journal.

Judges and gay marriage

[ 0 ] April 4, 2009 |

The Iowa supreme court’s decision is the kind of thing that seems reasonable to people if they like the substantive result and outrageous if they don’t. In other words, cultural conservatives are going to be just as angry about this kind of thing as liberals were (are) about Bush v. Gore. And both have equally good reason to be.

Sarah Palin is a terrible governor, part 458

[ 0 ] April 4, 2009 |

Steven Taylor:

[Calling for Sen. Begich’s resignation because the Bush administration employed shitty prosecutors] reinforces the notion that she isn’t a statesman or a leader, but rather focused very specifically on partisan success to the exclusion of reasonable behavior. She isn’t concerned about the dubious nature of such a move, the cost of a special election, nor the temporary denial of her state of a Senator. No, she is worried that a corrupt member of her party, who lucked out of seven convictions it would seem, should have an opportunity to return to office. Or, if we assume that Stevens wouldn’t run, she wants to give a member of her party a shot at winning back the seat.

The only logic to support such a position is partisan logic, and while I fully understand that there is a very real role for party competition for office and in party behavior in office, there does come a time when the focus should be governing.

I’d agree with this, with the proviso that Palin’s “partisanship” is not oriented toward the success of her party so much as the advancement of her own political fortunes. This is why Palin not only refrained from endorsing Stevens but went so far as to call for his resignation when a jury convicted him on corruption charges a week before the November election; for quite sensible reasons, Stevens was a pariah among Republicans outside Alaska, and in the interest of preserving her fake maverick credentials, Palin sought as much distance as possible between herself and a renowned crook whom half the state (to its national embarrassment) was willing to return to the Senate. With the DoJ’s decision to drop the charges against Stevens, Palin — who is up for re-election next year and will likely have to deal with a few primary challengers — has apparently realized that her re-election chances would be served better if she could expunge the whole not-sucking-up-to-Uncle-Ted thing.

Meantime, Palin is engaged in a less nationally-visible effort to deny a state senate appointment to a highly popular and competent state house member — Juneau Democrat Beth Kerttula — who happened to voice the uncontroversial view last August that Palin was “not ready” to be Vice President. When state Sen. Kim Elton resigned last month to take a job with the US Department of the Interior, Palin was obligated by state law to name a registered Democrat to replace him; the local party organization forwarded Kerttula’s name to Palin as its sole recommendation — a decision that was reasonable, given Kerttula’s surpassing qualifications for the job and given the near-certainty that she’ll win the seat outright next year during the fall elections. Palin, however, opted instead to nominate a conservative legislative aide, Tim Grussendorf, who had actually switched his party affiliation to qualify for the job. Palin wasn’t required by law to accept the local party’s recommendation; by the same token, the senate Democrats weren’t required to accept her choice. And so yesterday, the senate Democrats rejected Grussendorf by a majority vote in closed session.

Palin, however, is now insisting that an obscure, 22-year-old legal memo requires legislators to follow a completely different process than the one laid out by the relevant statute, and she’s rejecting the senate democrats’ rejection — a decision that not even her party colleagues in the legislature agree with. It’s an unbelievably petty dispute, for which the governor deserves the blame. While the legislature is trying to get access to federal stimulus funds that the governor stupidly rejected, Sarah Palin seems determined to provoke a court battle to defend her ongoing, grudge-driven administrative style.

Against the Scalian Tautology

[ 0 ] April 3, 2009 |

Unlike Ed Whelan, the Iowa Supreme Court is required by existing norms to actually make arguments in defense of its opinions. One of the arguments they make in Varnum is particularly worthy of emphasis. One argument on behalf of the proposition that requirements that citizens be afforded the equal protection of the laws should be read very narrowly is the argument about how to read ambiguous constitutional provisions offered by Antonin Scalia:

But in my view the function of this Court is to preserve our society’s values regarding (among other things) equal protection, not to revise them; to prevent backsliding from the degree of restriction the Constitution imposed upon democratic government, not to prescribe, on our own authority, progressively higher degrees. For that reason it is my view that, whatever abstract tests we may choose to devise, they cannot supersede–and indeed ought to be crafted so as to reflect–those constant and unbroken national traditions that embody the people’s understanding of ambiguous constitutional texts.

Contrary to what Whelan seems to believe, the normative attractiveness of this literally reactionary way of reading the Constitution is (to put it mildly) far from self-evident. But, moreover, Scalia himself doesn’t seem to believe it or at least isn’t willing to follow his own logic where it leads, because if this is true then (for example) Brown v. Board and Loving v. Virginia were both unquestionably incorrect — after all, the Constitution does not unambiguously prohibit school segregation or bans on interracial marriage, and both were well-rooted in American tradition. And yet Scalia doesn’t believe that these decisions were wrong, so obviously these logics have some limits, and it’s just a question of what these limits are.

The Iowa court forcefully argues against this not-very-credible argument that traditions of discrimination are constitutionally self-justifying. Obviously, as a threshold matter state classifications that exclude certain classes of people from access to a fundamental right raises a plausible equal protection challenge, so the question becomes whether the classification can be justified by a legitimate state interest. As the Iowa court points out, however, the state’s answer that the state’s tradition of discrimination is itself a legitimate state goal won’t fly:

First, the County argues the same-sex marriage ban promotes the “integrity of traditional marriage” by “maintaining the historical and traditional marriage norm ([as] one between a man and a woman).” This argument is straightforward and has superficial appeal. A specific tradition sought to be maintained cannot be an important governmental objective for equal protection purposes, however, when the tradition is nothing more than the historical classification currently expressed in the statute being challenged. When a certain tradition is used as both the governmental objective and the classification to further that objective, the equal protection analysis is transformed into the circular question of whether the classification accomplishes the governmental objective, which objective is to maintain the classification. In other words, the equal protection clause is converted into a “ ‘barren form of words’ ” when “ ‘discrimination . . . is made an end in itself.’ ”

This precise situation is presented by the County’s claim that the statute in this case exists to preserve the traditional understanding of marriage. The governmental objective identified by the County—to maintain the traditional understanding of marriage—is simply another way of saying the governmental objective is to limit civil marriage to opposite-sex couples. Opposite-sex marriage, however, is the classification made under the statute, and this classification must comply with our principles of equal protection. Thus, the use of traditional marriage as both the governmental objective and the classification of the statute transforms the equal protection analysis into the question of whether restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples accomplishes the governmental objective of maintaining opposite-sex marriage.

The Court has good answers to the other assertions of interest made by the state, but this is especially powerful. And assertions that their analysis is so implausible as to not constitute “law” at all are simply unserious.

The Powerful Opinions of Instant Experts

[ 0 ] April 3, 2009 |

John McCormack asserts that Ed Whelan provides a “takedown” of the Iowa Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling. Wow, could it be that a conservative has actually engaged in analysis of a judicial opinion rather than making bare assertions that any judicial opinion that reaches a political outcome the commentator finds uncongenial is ipso facto undemocratic?

Whelan starts out by claiming that the unanimous decision by the (electorally accountable for re-appointment) Court with a Republican-appointed Chief Judge is “lawless.” Such a charge, one would assume, could only result from a detailed analysis derived from the great expertise in Iowa equal protection law Whelan undoubtedly possesses. So here is Whelan’s detailed analysis of two brief excerpts from the court’s ruling, presented in its entirety:

If you were not attuned to the deceptive rhetoric of living-constitutionalist judges, you would sensibly imagine that that proposition would mean that the court would defer to the standard of the current generation reflected in the statute that Iowa adopted in 1998. But no…


What gobbledygook.

Well, I’m convinced! The quality of this “takedown” tells you all you need to know about whether the decision can plausibly be described as “lawless”…

…fellow expert in Iowa equal protection law Tom Maguire also somehow just…knows that this unanimous opinion was about “result, not process,” and in classic conservative junior-high-civics-class (except that they missed the day in which the teacher pointed out that in the American system legislative enactments are subject to judicial review) manner says that “I just wish that we could have a bit more respect for the democratic process and settle this in legislatures rather than employing this Democratic process of legislating through the courts.” The claim that opposition to judicial decisions regarding same-sex marriage are primarily about procedure rather than substances hasn’t gotten any more convincing than the last time he made it.

WA Wets

[ 0 ] April 3, 2009 |

To follow-up on what Matt says here, it’s especially dismaying to see Murray and Cantwell vote for the decrease in the estate tax. It’s not as if they have to be frightened that voting against a tax giveaway to upper-upper-class heirs is going to cost them re-election. They would appear to believe as a matter of principle that it’s crucial that the wealth amassed by the Paris Hiltons of the world be greater during a time of great economic dislocation. What a disgrace.

…Nicholas correctly notes the influence of Seattle Times owner Frank Blethen, a fanatic supporter of putting less tax burden on the shoulders of upper-upper-class heirs, who forced his paper to endorse Bush in 2000 largely because of this issue. Your liberal media! Which isn’t a defense of Cantwell and Murray — does anybody seriously think that Blethen actually could cost them the election? It’s not like he swung the state for Bush…

Iowa: Putting New York To Shame

[ 0 ] April 3, 2009 |

The Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling is obviously great news. I happen to be conferencing here in the midwest, but will have more thoughts later. Most immediately relevant is that fact that Iowa’s legislative leadership seems to have less than no interest in a constitutional amendment overturning the decision, and there is no initiative — as opposed to referendum — process (more points for this great state):

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, and House Speaker Pat Murphy, D-Dubuque, praised the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision today legalizing same-sex marriage, saying the only lasting question is “why it took us so long.”

“It is a tough question to answer because treating everyone fairly is really a matter of Iowa common sense and Iowa common decency,” the Democrats said in a joint statement, alluding to Gov. Chet Culver’s 2006 campaign slogan, “Iowa Common Values, Iowa Common Sense.”

With same-sex marriage opponents demanding the legislature act to nullify the Court’s decision, Gronstal and Murphy’s unconditional praise of the ruling seems to indicate there will be no rush by Democratic leadership to make the decision an issue before the General Assembly.

Good for them.

…In comments, Jay C notes that the Iowa constitutional amendment process is similar to MA’s–two separate legislative sessions have to pass an initiative before an amendment can be put on the ballot. (One difference is that Iowa requires a majority.) So Ben Wittes is about to rediscover that only referenda, and not legislatures, can be democratically legitimate. And as Mark F. says, “My immediate worry is that the Iowa Supreme Court just gave the election to McCain.”

…more thoughts here.

Worst American Birthdays, vol. 48

[ 0 ] April 3, 2009 |

One of few humans to become less coherent with the acquisition of language, the anthropological marvel known as “Camille Paglia” has spent most of the past six decades being paid by Salon to complain, in a carousel of mixed and incompatible metaphors, about the cruelty of a universe that would preside over the fellating of Bill Clinton — a crime against humanity for which his wife (and vaginas more broadly) are presumed to bear responsibility. When not overheard blaming the Clenis for 9/11 and the death of Vince Foster, Paglia can be found blaming feminists for nearly everything else — including the Virginia Tech massacre (no, really) — while heralding the rise of Sarah Palin as some sort of divine revelation, a Jungian archetype of the sort that fuels Paglia’s unreadable, self-parodying academic work. No, really:

Conservative though she may be, I felt that Palin represented an explosion of a brand new style of muscular American feminism. At her startling debut on that day, she was combining male and female qualities in ways that I have never seen before. And she was somehow able to seem simultaneously reassuringly traditional and gung-ho futurist. In terms of redefining the persona for female authority and leadership, Palin has made the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna channeled the dominatrix persona of high-glam Marlene Dietrich and rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy, victim-mongering, philistine feminist establishment.

Paglia — an over-employed, anthropomorphized prank upon the English language — turned 62 today.

Denialist Cherry-Picking

[ 0 ] April 2, 2009 |

Syndicated Columnist William F. George:

Reducing carbon emissions supposedly will reverse warming, which is allegedly occurring even though, according to statistics published by the World Meteorological Organization, there has not been a warmer year on record than 1998.


The story recounted some Americans’ misadventures with the new light bulbs that almost all Americans — all but those who are filling their closets with supplies of today’s incandescent bulbs — will have to use after the phaseout of today’s bulbs in 2014. (You missed that provision of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007?)

A San Francisco — naturally — couple emerged from Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” incandescent with desire to think globally and act locally, in their home. So they replaced their incandescent bulbs with the compact fluorescents that Congress says must soon be ubiquitous. “Instead of having a satisfying green moment, however,” the Times reported, “they wound up coping with a mess.”

San Francisco, hahahahahaha! Whew, it’s great that conservatives never run out of fresh material.

On the first substantive point, the “1998 is the hottest year on record” is meaningless cherry-picking that does nothing whatsoever so disprove the fact that there is a long-term warming trend. On the second point, the Times story that Will cites also…consists entirely of meaninglessly cherry-picked anecdotes. Obviously, without data about how often ordinary light bulbs fail these anecdotes are worth less than nothing. But for George Will and Fred Hiatt, that’s good enough!