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[ 0 ] July 10, 2009 |


[ 0 ] July 9, 2009 |

Is there anything she isn’t wrong about?

And I didn’t even mention that, having claimed that it’s totalitarian to make any inquiry into the motivation behind a homicide, she then asserts that “the aimless hooligans who beat Shepard and tied him to a fence perhaps didn’t necessarily mean to kill him.” Needless to say, the basis for this inference is left unspecified. And, hey, about some victim-blaming: “Only a week before, Shepard had expressed fears about being killed. Given that apprehension, it is still inexplicable — if the case is examined only through a political lens — why Shepard would leave a public place in the company of such blatant thugs.” Um…well, I trust you don’t need me to deal with this (and it looks even worse following her discussion of History’s Greatest Martyr, Sarah Palin.)

President Obama Also Determined that Tuesday Would be Taco Day in the Cafeteria

[ 0 ] July 9, 2009 |

Yglesias has talked about the first part of this, so let’s concentrate on the second bit:

Netanyahu appears to be suffering from confusion and paranoia. He is convinced that the media are after him, that his aides are leaking information against him and that the American administration wants him out of office. Two months after his visit to Washington, he is still finding it difficult to communication normally with the White House. To appreciate the depth of his paranoia, it is enough to hear how he refers to Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, Obama’s senior aides: as “self-hating Jews.”

“He thought that his speech at Bar-Ilan would become mandatory reading at schools in the United States, and when he realized that Obama gave no such order, he went back to being frustrated,” one of his associates said.

Okay… so, Bibi has lived in the United States before. He went to high school, college, and graduate school in the US. Is there any plausible reason to believe that these experiences may have led him to believe that the President of the United States regularly orders schools to enforce the reading of speeches by foreign heads of state? Or that the President even has the authority to do so? Moreover, the speech was delivered on June 14, at which point almost all schools in the United States are out. Is this a joke, or is Bibi just going crazy?

H/t Law Prof.

Laptop Advice

[ 0 ] July 9, 2009 |

After three and a half years, my Dell appears to be dying. Given that I have no interest whatsoever in shifting to a Mac, what do you folks recommend in terms of a new PC laptop? I’ve been told good things about Lenovo Thinkpads; any good or bad experiences?

F-35: The Last Manned Fighter Aircraft?

[ 0 ] July 9, 2009 |

Mike Mullen thinks so. Boeing and the Russians disagree. I guess I’m with Mullen; there are currently jobs that manned warplanes can do that drones can’t perform (human pilots are more visually capable than even the best drones, for example), but a) drones are getting better, b) drones are so much cheaper, and c)taking the pilot out means that you can do a lot of funky, interesting things with an advanced airframe. This isn’t to say that the F-35 (or even the F-22) have no role; they’ll continue to be useful frames for the jobs they’re intended to do for a substantial period of time. But I don’t think there’s a next “next generation” of fighter aircraft. And in any case, it appears that the A-10 will remain the platform of choice for fighting the giant robots that undoubtedly will afflict us in the future…

See Axe for additional links and discussion.


[ 0 ] July 9, 2009 |

Joe was in the field…


[ 0 ] July 9, 2009 |

Put Rock on the Rock! (Or At Least In Cooperstown.)

[ 0 ] July 8, 2009 |

I was happy to find this site, which is nobly trying to remedy what is currently an egregious injustice. I also like the excerpt of bad arguments, which will provide a fix for those who miss Fire Joe Morgan! (I especially like the one about how Raines was just too effective a base stealer — he should have hurt his team by running more or something.)

[Via Jonah Keri.]

Why Should I Care About Roger Taney’s Reputation?

[ 0 ] July 8, 2009 |

I think John’s response to the question of in what sense Dred Scott made the underlying political situation worse (i.e. what bad consequences it had aside from its restatement of orthodox Jacksonian immorality with respect to slavery and white supremacy) is worth discussing because it gets at some larger issues:

Obviously Dred Scott didn’t close the issue, as Taney had hoped. I don’t think anything would have changed in terms of American history. It would have helped preserve Taney’s and the court’s future reputation, though, and certainly would have inflamed passions the least of the available options.

To deal with a couple details first, it is of course true that Taney’s pretensions about the Court’s ability to end the political salience of the slavery issue were badly misplaced, although it also has to be remembered that he acted at the behest of leaders in the other two branches, as opposed to usurping a functional compromise. I suppose it may be true that the Court saying silent would have “inflamed passions” a little less than ducking the issue, although in context — i.e. a context in which everyone knew the Court was intentionally ducking the issue — this isn’t obvious. But even if true, this is (as John essentially concedes) a trivial truth. Nothing important would have changed — the Jacksonian party system depended slavery not dominating national politics. Throwing the issue to the courts didn’t (and shouldn’t have been expected to) solve this problem, but there’s also no chance whatsoever that a political solution was going to magically materialize had the Court ruled narrowly. The Democrats were doomed in the North after Bleeding Kansas no matter what.

The point about reputation, however is really the heart of the issue, and also tends to be central to defenses of minimalism. The problem, though, is that I don’t really buy it, empirically or normatively. In terms of the reputation of the Court as an institution, given that the Court was far more powerful in the decades following the Civil War than in the decades preceding it, it’s hard to claim that Dred Scott had much lasting impact on the Court’s reputation. (And given most of what the Court was doing in this period, it’s far from self-evident that this is a good thing.) It’s true that the decision destroyed Roger Taney‘s historical reputation, but so what? I’m not sure what’s at stake in ensuring that any particular Chief Justice is held in high esteem. (I do regret that Taney has received undue blame for pathologies that were deeply embedded in American constitutionalism and politics, but I see no reason to compound this historical whitewash by grossly exaggerating the role of the Supreme Court in producing the Civil War.)

And this brings to the normative issue, and the bigger problem: I completely reject the idea that the Supreme Court is entitled to some fixed reputation or level of power, regardless of how it acts. It serves democracy much better for the Court to be explicit about the constitutional values it is advancing, and have its reputation be affected accordingly. There’s no inherent value to a Court that believes in discredited values maintaining its power to affect policy outcomes. Taney’s reputation should have fallen when the country repudiated the Jacksonian Faustian bargain on slavery.

The fastest pitcher who ever lived

[ 0 ] July 8, 2009 |

Before reading this story I’d heard of Steve Dalkowski, but I didn’t realize his stats were so unique, or that his life story was so grim. Here are his career stats per nine innings (EP = estimated pitches).

1957 3.2 18.7 17.6 229
1958 4.0 18.7 17.7 232
1959 4.4 20.4 15.2 238
1960 5.6 13.9 13.9 205
1961 6.6 17.1 13.1 225
1962 6.6 6.4 10.8 162
1963 5.9 8.8 7.9 169
1964 8.2 6.1 11.1 166
1965 8.8 6.3 7.0 163
Career 6.2 12.2 12.6 222

Apparently he didn’t hit many batters, which I suppose is a tribute to the speed of human reflexes when survival is at stake.

Overstating Judicial Power, Good And Bad

[ 1 ] July 8, 2009 |

I haven’t received my copy of Packing the Court yet, so it may be more nuanced on some points that its initial reviews make it sound. Assuming that the general take of Bazelon and Kakutani is correct, however, it seems to mix one salutary and one bad argument together. On the on hand, it’s always good for scholars to point out to a general audience that the progressive orientation of the Warren Court has generally been the exception, not the rule. On the other hand, Burns seems to cling to conventional myths about judicial power in other respects, both overstating the power of the courts and not paying enough attention to the extent to which the judiciary is more likely to be a collaborator with the national government than an antagonist.

According to Kakutani, Burns plays the ultimate card in attacking an overreaching court: “Dred Scott, a clear victory for the slave-holding states, would fuel tensions between the North and South and push the country down the path toward civil war.” As I (and others) have said before, this argument makes little sense, both because the Supreme Court’s role in the path to Civil War was trivial at best and because the Court was acting with the strong support of both congressional leaders and the president. Perhaps Burns has a plausible historical story explaining why the Court ducking the case would have kept the country together, but I am (to put it mildly) skeptical. The key to the election of Lincoln was the collapse of the Democratic coalition, and there’s no chance that the Democrats could have survived Buchanan’s blundering over Lecompton no matter what the Supreme Court did.

As it happens, right now I’m reading Scot Powe’s excellent new book, which gives a detailed account of judicial collaboration with other political elites throughout history. He argues (after emphasizing that the Court was in cahoots with the political elites of the time) that had Dred Scott came out correctly (with Dred Scott freed and Congressional power to ban slavery in the territories affirmed), this likely would have led to immediate Southern secession — and with impunity, since Buchanan was clearly opposed to using military force to combat secession. This isn’t certain, I suppose, but it is true that I can’t see any scenario in which a normatively good ruling in Dred Scott wouldn’t have made the underlying political situation as bad or worse.

None of which is to say that I have a problem with vilifying Taney and his immoral (and, in places, erroneous) opinion. But from the standpoint of assessing judicial power and American institutions, it’s critical to keep in mind that the Slave Power’s control over the political branches was more important than their control over the Supreme Court by a factor of about a billion — and, moreover, the latter follows from the former.

The World Cannot Allow a Nuclear China…

[ 0 ] July 8, 2009 |

Speaking of Chiang Kai Shek, I have a short article up at Foreign Policy comparing the Chinese and (purported) Iranian nuclear weapon programs:

Even the Soviet bloc worried that the Chinese were crazy. The causes and course of the Sino-Soviet split are complex, but nuclear weapons were near the heart of the dispute. Chinese brinksmanship in the 1958 Quemoy crisis prompted the Soviets to suspend nuclear cooperation. In a ridiculously entertaining series of pamphlets issued between 1959 and 1963, China and the Soviet Union sparred over the role that nuclear weapons were to play in defense of the socialist world. The Chinese displayed on almost casual disregard for the atomic bomb, dismissing it as a “paper tiger,” and argued that peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism was a fantasy. The exasperated Soviets responded with a question: “We would like to ask the Chinese comrades who suggest building a bright future on the ruins of the old world destroyed by a thermonuclear war whether they have consulted the working class of the countries where imperialism dominates?”