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The Wages of Being Thankfully Wrong

[ 0 ] October 22, 2008 |

As some readers may remember, I have a friendly wager with frequent commenter Howard about whether the Yankees will make the playoffs and win the AL East. Thankfully, my affirmative wagers were wrong! Hence, according to my promise, I have donated $50 to the No On Prop 8 campaign. The importance of not allowing an initiative to nullify marriage rights for same-sex couples can scarcely be overstated, and this is looking like a close race, so it’s a cause worthy of your consideration.

And showing some flexibility since Howard is a jazz fan who’s been kind enough to enrich my own too-small collection several times, I’ve donated the other $50 to the highly anticipated recording project of the Secret Society. Darcy is a virtual and meatspace friend who has drawn deservedly fulsome praise from Ben Ratliff among others. In addition, my original proposed honoree, Planned Parenthood, won’t get stiffed — I’ll give to them this Christmas.

Readers should feel free, as Howard has, to match any donations of their choosing. Hmm, and maybe someone should make a reverse-hedge World Series bet with Atrios?

The "Impartiality" of Originalist Judging: A Video Representation

[ 36 ] October 21, 2008 |

Starring Wilbur Hackett as Antonin Scalia.

Bonus footage: a new movie about Bush v. Gore, featuring Nelson Emerson as the Republican Party and Denis Morel as Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

The Originalist Dodge

[ 0 ] October 21, 2008 |

Clarence Thomas makes a typical argument in favor of originalism:

Let me put it this way; there are really only two ways to interpret the Constitution — try to discern as best we can what the framers intended or make it up…To be sure, even the most conscientious effort to adhere to the original intent of the framers of our Constitution is flawed, as all methodologies and human institutions are; but at least originalism has the advantage of being legitimate and, I might add, impartial.

The choice between “originalism” and “nihilism” is a silly, false one; even to most realists, not all constitutional arguments are equally plausible. The idea that originalism is “impartial” is equally indefensible, not least because “originalism” rarely produces determinate outcomes when applied to concrete cases (and in the rare cases where “originalism” cannot produce a plausible conservative outcome on cases Thomas strongly cares about, he’ll simply ignore the evidence anyway.)

This formulation is important, however, because unless the choice is “originalism or nothing” originalism has no chance to become a widely acceptable method. If there are multiple defensible interpretive methods, originalists would have to explain why it’s normatively attractive to bind 21st century Americans to 18th century constitutional norms, a claim most people (including, when you actually get down to cases, most originalists — like the “faint-hearted” Antonin Scalia, not to mention most of the founders themselves) will reject. Rather, originalism fails on both counts: it’s not normatively appealing, and it doesn’t constrain judicial discretion more than other theories of constitutional interpretation. Thomas doesn’t address these arguments so much as make assertions that dodge the crucial questions.

Cutting Deals with Horowitz

[ 39 ] October 21, 2008 |

On September 6, I opened up my e-mail and found the following:

Dear Robert Farley, I hope this email finds you well.

I am organizing a few discussions on Party of Defeat.
The book has been praised by seventeen members of Congress & Senate.

Have you read the book yet? I would like to send you a free copy and also offer you $1000 to write a critique of it for us, as we are welcoming a different perspective and debate/dialogue on this issue.

My first thought was “Have I read the book yet? Heh.” My second thought was “$1000. That sure could buy a lot of whiskey sours.” My third thought was “200. It could buy 200 whiskey sours, if I go to the right places. Maybe with a few Manhattans sprinkled in for variety.” My fourth thought was “Hey, it could even pay for whiskey sours that I’ve already bought, and that are still hanging around on my credit card balance.” It’s fair to say, then, that I found the offer appealing from the get go.

I immediately IMed Matt Duss, who told me that the offer had been floating around the DC blogging/journalism community for a while. Duss (and others) had given thought to taking the deal, but then decided that engaging with Horowitz would grant him too much legitimacy. This, I thought, was true enough; it was the reason that Horowitz was willing to pay an outrageous sum for lefties to review his book. He was trying to buy legitimacy. The point was to create the illusion that there was something in Party of Defeat that was worth engaging with, and consequently that David Horowitz was a man of ideas, rather than a thug and second rate polemicist. As such, engagement with the work as meaningful scholarship could be fundamentally dishonest, in that it accorded the book a level of respect greater than the typical bar bathroom scrawl.

Then again, I have debts no honest man can pay. There was a certain comfort in the recognition that Horowitz’ effort was transparent; taking the money to review the book was, in itself, subversive of the notion that Horowitz was a serious thinker. Of course, I would accept money to review a book that I had an interest in reading, but I would never read Horowitz were it not for the money. Indeed, had I initially been received the $500 offer that Frontpage is now making, I probably would have said “Thanks, but no thanks.” After all, such an offer would only have netted me 100 whiskey sours, which is hardly worth the effort.

However, there was another issue; Horowitz and his people are thugs. Although my interactions with the contact from FrontPage have been polite, friendly, and completely above board, I couldn’t rule out the possibility that President Lee Todd would be getting a letter at some point about my ideological unsuitability to work at the University of Kentucky. While I’m pretty low on the food chain, Horowitz (not to mention his fans) is pretty unpredictable, and while I didn’t think that he could do any real harm, I didn’t need the threat hanging over me. I discussed it with the Bossman, which reassured me somewhat, and I eventually managed to convince myself that I just wasn’t important enough for Horowitz to bother with.

After a few days (I do have other responsibilities) I sent my correspondent at Frontpage an e-mail asking a few questions about process, editing, payment, and so forth. He assured me that the review would be edited only for spelling and minor grammar errors, and that payment would be issued after the review and a response by Horowitz were published by FrontPage. A reply to the response would be appreciated, but not required. I would have preferred a guaranteed kill fee for the review, but the response was reassuring enough to convince me to go forward. I asked for the book, and received my copy several days later.

And so on a Monday evening I set out for the Mellow Mushroom with Party of Defeat and a yellow notepad. I ordered a pitcher of beer and a pepperoni, pineapple, and jalapeno pizza, and settled in, expected to read roughly a third of the book. And then, about halfway down the first page, I noticed a serious problem with my plan. The. Book. Is. Unimaginably. Terrible. You may think you can guess how bad it is, but you can’t. It’s Benji Saves the Universe Terrible. It’s notes on each of the first seventy pages terrible. It’s spitting up your valuable, valuable beer terrible. There’s just nothing there. It can’t be engaged with, any more than the homeless dude with the tinfoil hat can. It’s a disaster, and I just couldn’t understand how I could possibly come up with a thousand words that could conceivably be termed “engagement”, and still have any pretence to intellectual honesty.

As I so often do, I sought solace in alcohol. I gave some thought to bagging the project, because I didn’t think that the $1000 was worth having to do a genuinely dishonest appraisal. Then again, I’d spent some time and intellectual energy; I also really wanted the thousand dollars. Finally, I latched onto the idea of treating the book as if it were a work of historical fiction, or perhaps even the novelization of some crazy right wing movie. I came up with the following (reconstructed from barely legible scrawls on yellow legal pad):

Horowitz and Johnson have produced what could be a killer script for a political/sci-fi thriller. However, there are some issues that need to be worked out. First, the “liberals” need to have some kind of scientific/supernatural power of persuasion. No one is going to believe that a tiny, unpopular minority could seize control of the United States unless they have some nifty superpowers.

As it stands, the script is entirely devoid of sex. This just isn’t going to fly. As far as I can tell, we have four female characters; Nancy Pelosi, Cindy Sheehan, Valerie Plame, and Jeane Kirkpatrick. At least one of these characters needs to have an affair with some other character; maybe Kirkpatrick and the Shah of Iran? Plame and John Kerry? Even if we’re aiming for a PG rating, we still need some steam.

We also have to start thinking about casting. Is Tim Robbins as George McGovern asking too much? Vinnie Chase is looking for work; maybe we could put him in the role of some young war protester who eventually devours the brain of a soldier? Even better, we could have Johnny Drama as the soldier; nice little in-joke. We might also try to land Alec Baldwin for the Al Gore role; if we can get Angelina for Valerie Plame, we could try to link them together.

It went on like that. After sobering up, it occurred to me that Frontpage would, likely as not, simply reject a submission along these lines. I could complain, but wouldn’t have much of a legal leg to stand on; they were requesting a serious engagement with the book in what amounted to good faith. I’d get a good story, but not much else. So I began to think anew about how I could engage with the work. A couple days after starting the book, I talked a bit with Michael Berube about his interactions with Horowitz. I was reassured that FrontPage would play square, and that I should try to find a way to write a straight response.

After finishing the book and giving it some thought, I realized that what Horowitz was pushing amounted to a conspiracy theory. I could respond to it accordingly, with a variety of the typical tactics that one uses to respond to such claims, including a focus on mechanism, transparency, and so forth. Discussion with a couple of other correspondents convinced me that I needed to say something about Horowitz’ narrow interpretation of democracy, which gave me the opportunity to bring up my one area of mild agreement with the book, which involved the useless “war of choice, war of necessity” distinction. Finally, I decided simply to not engage at all with Horowitz’ use of evidence; factual claims in the book were designed for “truthiness” rather than for truth, and trying to start an argument about Plame or McGovern or Reagan or whatever else wouldn’t be productive. I’d highlight a few howlers, and move on. I finished up the review (about 1600 words, which was more than I’d expected), sent it along to my editors (Duss, Erik Loomis, and the wife), then sent it to FrontPage. They accepted, sent me Horowitz’ response in less than a day (I still haven’t read the whole thing), and asked me if I wanted to reply. I tactfully declined; spending time replying would cut into my profit margin. I’d like to think that I produced an honest engagement with the book, while making clear that I didn’t take it seriously as a work of scholarship.

I expected, when I began, that the effort would take about ten hours; five for reading the book, two for research, two for writing, and one for general nuisance. It ended up taking about seven (3 reading, 3 writing, one nuisance) which comes to an hourly rate of $142.86, which isn’t half bad. When I got the check, I sent $100 to Barack Obama, $50 each to Bruce Lunsford, Victoria Wulsin (running to unseat “Mean” Jean Schmidt), and Joyce Merritt (running for District Judge in Fayette County), and spent $200 on a fantastic steak dinner with the wife. The rest goes to pay for the ghosts of whiskey sours.


[ 8 ] October 21, 2008 |

are like unicorns. Why this surprises anybody I can’t tell you. I mean, Lady de Rothschild isn’t leading a populist revolt in favor of more upper-class tax cuts in the Democratic party, I’m shocked!

The Incredible Vanishing "Voter Fraud"

[ 10 ] October 21, 2008 |

Of course. But the point of the whole exercise was to get another apocryphal example of “voter fraud” out there for Republican vote suppressers to use as a pretext, so in that sense every claim is successful…

Sarah Palin in Your Kitchen

[ 18 ] October 20, 2008 |

Sarah Palin is dissatisfied with the prevailing model of mass politics:

On the tarmac, Palin also referred to robocalls as “inside baseball,” suggesting it was not her call for the campaign to randomly call voters with negative attacks on Obama. “If I called all the shots, and if I could wave a magic wand, I would be sitting at a kitchen table with more and more Americans … and not having to rely on the old conventional ways of campaigning that includes those robocalls and includes spending so much money on the television ads that I think is kinda draining out there in terms of Americans’ attention span,” she said.

That is to say, if Sarah Palin were calling the shots and bearing a magic wand, the United States would be as populous as a small town — say, for instance, a small town in Alaska — and she’d be calling Barack Obama a terrorist consort at your kitchen table.

Speaking merely for myself, I’ve never heard a stronger rationale for eliminating the very idea of a kitchen.

Jesus, what a maroon. I suppose, though, there’s something to be said for creating the opportunity for millions of Americans to hang up on Sarah Palin. I’m tempted to add the “Send Sarah Home” plea here, but isn’t there somewhere else we might send her instead? Does Oklahoma need a governor? Utah? Is there a town somewhere without a mayor?

Adelman? What about Ledeen?

[ 16 ] October 20, 2008 |

The prospect of a McCain presidency is too awful even for Ken “Cakewalk in Iraq” Adelman to contemplate:

Primarily for two reasons, those of temperament and of judgment.

When the economic crisis broke, I found John McCain bouncing all over the place. In those first few crisis days, he was impetuous, inconsistent, and imprudent; ending up just plain weird. Having worked with Ronald Reagan for seven years, and been with him in his critical three summits with Gorbachev, I’ve concluded that that’s no way a president can act under pressure.

Second is judgment. The most important decision John McCain made in his long campaign was deciding on a running mate.

That decision showed appalling lack of judgment. Not only is Sarah Palin not close to being acceptable in high office—I would not have hired her for even a mid-level post in the arms-control agency. But that selection contradicted McCain’s main two, and best two, themes for his campaign—Country First, and experience counts. Neither can he credibly claim, post-Palin pick.

It bears mentioning that no one should draw much joy from the endorsement of someone who was pissing his shorts to invade Iraq; in the event of an Obama victory, Adelman would quickly return his face to the glue-lined paper bag, from which he’s drawn sufficient breath to argue that a less “incompetent” administration would have run a better war. The correct point, of course, is that a more competent administration wouldn’t have invaded Iraq in the first place. Still, as a measure of how objectively awful the Sarah Palin pick has been for McCain, this is one of the more useful, albeit obscure, bits of data.

Speaking of Hoaxes…

[ 0 ] October 20, 2008 |

Besides not actually calling and denouncing non-existent African press organizations, Michelle Obama was also rumored the other day to have gorged herself on $450 worth of Iranian (ZOMG!) caviar, lobster and champagne at the NY Waldorf-Astoria. The pearl-clutching news, circulated on Limbaugh’s show and elsewhere, apparently derived from a New York Post gossip item that’s been deleted because — imagine this — Michelle Obama was nowhere near NYC on Wednesday.

Readers will be stunned, of course, to learn that self-proclaimed PUMA sites are promoting the story, complete with transparently awful photoshopped images of Michelle Obama’s “receipt.”

Even the renowned Citizen Journamalist TIDOS Yankee has scrubbed his post about the non-existent lobster feast. Probably because the Obama campaign threatened to add him to the Obama Death List.

…Whoopsie! I hadn’t actually seen this at TIDOS Yankee — it was at Americandonkeypunch. Even better!

"Our Greatest Vulnerability is that We’re Complete Morons Willing to Spend Unlimited Amounts of Time Developing Insane Theories About Trivia" Part II

[ 5 ] October 20, 2008 |

Remember that exclusive “African Press International” story? Where Michelle Obama was supposed to have given a Hate Whitey interview to a press organization manifested in a cheap-looking wordpress site? Fortunately, it’s all been explained:

The circle was completed by Jammie Wearing Fool, who suggested that the API report may be “a clever bit of astroturfing by the Obama camp trying to dupe people into running with bogus information.” (Why would they bother?)

Yes. That must be it. Although I can’t argue with the proposition that right blogosphere is very, very easily duped.

Meanwhile, for bonus fun we can also see the Corner going back to the anonymous letter writer/apocryphal cab driver or cocktail party with sneering liberals genre. Always stick with the classics! Combining the two is even better…

Poetic justice? You betcha!

[ 11 ] October 20, 2008 |

El Tinklenberg, who is running for the Minnesota congressional seat currently occupied by professional lunatic Michele Bachmann, saw his campaign bring in nearly half a million dollars in the 24 hours after Bachmann’s unhinged performance on Hardball Friday evening.

Lunsford Remains Within Striking Distance

[ 3 ] October 20, 2008 |

Bruce Lunsford stays close to McConnell.