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Can We Have the Banality Without the Moralizing?

[ 0 ] March 27, 2009 |

Amanda discusses Saletan’s latest. The column gives us the two sides of Saletan. First, we get the pro-choicer originating bog-standard ideas:

This may sound strange, but I don’t consider myself a real abortion foe. I have friends and sparring partners who think abortions should be illegal or at least heavily restricted. To me, that’s the chief dividing line in the debate. I don’t feel comfortable crossing that line. I don’t think a regime of abortion restrictions enacted in the name of life would make this world a better place. I think it would cause a mess—hypocrisy, deceit, interrogations, amateur home surgery, moral crudity backed by the force of law—as ugly as any war fought in the name of peace.


When I say abortion is bad, I’m not saying it’s necessarily worse than bringing a child into the world in lousy circumstances. I’m saying it’s worse than avoiding unintended pregnancy in the first place. That’s why I keep pushing contraception.

This is, as far is at goes, unobjectionable, and it’s nice to have him state it so forcefully. But the problem is that Saletan generally frames legal-abortion-while-pushing-contraception is some sort of centrist alternative to the pro-choice position, while it is the pro-choice position. Even those of use who don’t think abortion is immoral think that minimizing unwanted pregnancies is a good thing. It’s opponents of abortion, not its supporters, who have undermined efforts to reduce unwanted pregnancies.

But, of course, he doesn’t end there — we also get Saletan the moralist:

If you cause an unintended pregnancy and an abortion because you didn’t want to wear a condom, you should be ashamed.

If Saletan thinks that abortion is immoral, that’s his privilege, although these broad-based claims are hard to square with complexities he identifies earlier. And at least the outrage here isn’t just directed against the woman who chooses to have the abortion. But one big problem here is that Saletan hasn’t just expressed his moral position on abortion — the pro-choice movement must encompass people who have moral issues with abortion but think it shouldn’t be criminalized — but has argued that shaming people who get abortions is a good pro-choice tactic, which makes no sense at all.

But, at least this time he spent more time discussing why criminalization wouldn’t work than in asserting that abortion is immoral — one small step for Saletan.

Nobody Saw That Coming

[ 0 ] March 27, 2009 |

Indeed, the Republicans probably had no idea about the derision their non-budget would receive, given the decades of precedent that any reactionary white guy in a suit could say anything and be taken seriously by the media. The problem in this case may have been taking the logic one extreme too far — at least Bush’s fiscal contradictions and ridiculous gimmicks were dressed up like an actual budget, while Pence went the next step and just abandoned the formal structure of a budget altogether…

Prosecutors Abusing Power

[ 0 ] March 27, 2009 |

To follow up on Duncan and Roy, one will hope that child pornography laws will be changed to exempt non-commercial self-photos of adolescents sent to other adolescents. Changing them is difficult, however — it probably won’t be a high priority, and will present both the fake “won’t someone think of the children” political problems and real problems ensuring that modifications don’t create loopholes for actual child pornographers. While laws don’t explicitly exempt such cases, however, any prosecutor who tries to put an adolescent in jail for taking a picture of him or herself and sending it to a friend should be relieved of their duties at the earliest possible time. Reading the “logic” of these brownshirts is remarkable — people suffering from intense humiliation that harmed nobody else apparently just won’t “learn their lesson” without being arrested and threatened with jail time. Maybe enough of these cases actually will spur legal changes.

This might be a good way of spurring legal reform, in addition to being justified in itself.

The Detailed, Very Serious Republican Budget Revealed

[ 0 ] March 27, 2009 |

With more graphs!

This “alternative budget” manages what I wouldn’t have thought possible; turn the Republican policy into even more of a farce. And, yet, one has to agree that the complete lack of a budget as part of the alternative budget makes sense: “The alterna-budge is a bag of magic Reagan beans. No one on God’s green earth believes in them or wants them. Adding numbers to it would be like assigning a horsepower rating to Hot Wheels.”


[ 0 ] March 27, 2009 |

Krugman questions the wisdom of the smartest person in known human history, St. Larry Summers:

On Monday, Lawrence Summers, the head of the National Economic Council, responded to criticisms of the Obama administration’s plan to subsidize private purchases of toxic assets. “I don’t know of any economist,” he declared, “who doesn’t believe that better functioning capital markets in which assets can be traded are a good idea.”

Leave aside for a moment the question of whether a market in which buyers have to be bribed to participate can really be described as “better functioning.” Even so, Mr. Summers needs to get out more.

Some very odd ideas about what a “free market” means seem to be developing.

"Our Model is the Trapezoid."

[ 0 ] March 27, 2009 |

In the thread about the Madoff scam a couple days ago, Weiner noted this classic analysis of various scams from Teresa Nielsen Hayden. As it happens, spending my college years in Montreal with medicore French and an unemployment rate ~15% caused me to spend some days in jobs specalizing in #2 — summer in a boiler room selling sports memorabilia, two hellishly miserable days selling Kirby vaccum cleaners (Me: “Why aren’t we stopping in [relatively affluent Montreal suburb?” Driver of van: “These people didn’t get rich paying 2 grand for vacuum cleaners. Hmm, I guess that truism might no longer be true…) And because my friends shared the same economic climate, I also had friends make me sit through Amway pitches and actually spend three months working for Kirby, often pulling in 6 14-hour days a week and getting paid bupkis. So I’ve always been interested in this stuff.

Anyway, I think I’ve identified a group of victims I have no symptahy for: crank libertarian tax deadbeats who pay other crackpots to produce farcical legal justifications for their tax evasion. They can just think of getting thrown in the slammer as “Going John Galt.”

Ed Henry Visits Jack in the Box: A CNN LGM Behind the Scenes Exclusive

[ 0 ] March 26, 2009 |


The most amazing part of my trip to Jack in the Box is that I didn’t walk into the restaurant intending to order a steak teriyaki bowl.

After digging around beneath the seats of my car and rummaging through my pockets — like any good quarterback would — I was determined to order a sirloin swiss and grilled onion burger. I thought this was a provocative choice, and I was immensely pleased with my selection. It was an unexpected choice, given my unusual gastrointestinal history. (I won’t tell you precisely what ails me, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise when I write about my upcoming evening at the Olive Garden.)

But when I got inside, I realized that I really wanted a teriyaki bowl. I assumed (correctly, it turns out) that lots of other people had been drawn to the steamed bed of rice, layered with carrots and broccoli, with sauce and freshly grilled meat. These were, I admit, my favorite items on the Jack in the Box menu, and in all honesty I never seriously believed there would be any left for me. It was late in the evening, and I’d been disappointed before. Any good quarterback knows what I’m talking about.

Last time I had The Jack, for example, I was tenth in line to order, and by the time my number came up the really fantastic dishes were gone — the teriyaki bowls, the sourdough steak melts, and the chipotle chicken ciabattas, all of it. So I threw everyone a curve and ordered a kids’ meal — a grilled cheese, actually — and then immediately called Wolf Blitzer. We talked about it for nearly an hour, and he explained to me that I shouldn’t have given up so soon. When he was in my shoes, he explained, he would often push back — in the fashion of a good quarterback — and repeat his initial order, even though he’d just been told there were no fish sandwiches or sirloin cheeseburgers to be had.

So when it was my turn, I remembered Wolf’s advice and called an audible, like any good quarterback would. Instead of ordering the sirloin swiss, I asked for the teriyaki bowl. The kid behind the counter brushed me off quickly, but I pounced with a sharp follow up.

“Give me the fucking teriyaki bowl,” I barked. I could tell from the kid’s body language that he was perturbed. He looked up from the register, gritted his teeth, and explained that they’d run out an hour before and wouldn’t have any more available until the next day. Then he stabbed me in the face several times with a bread knife.

Anderson Cooper wandered in a few minutes later as I was nursing my wounds. He asked me if I needed a ride to the hospital, but I told him I’d be fine and that really, I had no regrets. I’d taken the sort of chance that a Payton Manning or Tony Romo would have, and I found out what was really on the Jack in the Box menu that night. Turns out they didn’t have the teriyaki bowls after all.

What was really comical was the flood of reactions from other people in the restaurant. Some people told me I’d had it coming, while others thanked me for asking the tough questions. The the face-stabbing was really a great Rorschach — everyone saw what they wanted to see.

What do you think? I have no hard feelings toward the cashier, and I assume he feels the same, but I can’t worry about that. I was doing my job, and he was doing his.

I Demand An Explanation

[ 0 ] March 26, 2009 |

In light of what appears to be yet another successful extortion of taxpayers to get a new ballpark in Florida, Rob Neyer ponders the question of why these irrational deals continue to be made:

There has been a great deal written about the lousy economics related to stadium-building; it’s almost always a losing proposition for the local citizenry according a simple cost-benefit analysis. Again and again and again, this is true. What I’ve never seen, though, is a study of why this happens, again and again and again. Is it because the ballpark proponents contribute money to — i.e., bribe — the local politicians? Is it because the politicians are driven to make their mark on things, and building a huge concrete playground for millionaires is one of the biggest marks one can make? Is it because the voters really do want to spend their tax dollars on those huge playgrounds?

I just don’t know. We’ve got the numbers. We’ve had them for a long time. Yet despite the numbers, the playgrounds just keep getting built, one after another after another. So, now I’d like to see some of the psychology.

I think these are the major potential explanations. Evidently, legislatures are theys-not-its, so different public officials have different motives; presumably some sincerely support inefficient public subsidies for billionaires, some have been bought off, some a combination, etc. On a more general level, stadium gifts represent the classic condition of special interest capture: concentrated benefits with diffuse costs (and evidently this is especially true of cases like this where much of the direct costs falls on non-residents.)

In addition to all this, it doesn’t help that the local media tends to be incredibly servile about self-serving claims that sports team owners are running some kind of public trust. There’s no owner argument so dumb — “artificially limiting player salaries protects the fans!” “The Dodgers are losing money hand over fist!” “Stadium construction will have the incredible urban renewal effects in your city that it brought to the South Bronx, Willet’s Point, and downtown Detroit!” — that many sportswriters won’t give it a respectful hearing. (Similarly, moralists who write about college athletics tend to reserve their moralistic outrage not for a grossly exploitative system where athletes are not permitted fair compensation for profits they produce for the university but for cases where an athlete gets a pair of shoes or something in exchange for his labor.)

Scumbag of the Day

[ 0 ] March 26, 2009 |

Gingi Edmond. Speaking of Barney Frank, I believe his note that for “pro-lifers” life begins at conception and ends at birth seems apropos here.

Vermont Governor: Fundamental Rights Are A Luxury We Can’t Afford

[ 0 ] March 26, 2009 |

I expressed hope earlier in the week that Vernont governor Jim Douglas wouldn’t veto legislation granting same-sex marriage rights that is poised to pass both houses of the state legislature overwhelmingly (it has already passed the Senate 26-4.) Alas, it seems that Douglas will veto the legislation.

And, as Sully notes, he is doing so with an argument that is transparently unserious even by the standards of anti-SSM arguments:

“The urgency of our state’s economic and budgetary challenges demands the full focus of every member and every committee of this Legislature.”

Apparently, the focus of legislature on economic issues will be better maintained by forcing them to waste time assembling the votes to override the governor’s disgraceful veto rather than simply signing the legislation and being done with it. Hopefully activists and Vermont are getting ready to ensure that the legislative supermajorities will do the right thing.

Antonin Scalia, Homophobe

[ 3 ] March 26, 2009 |

Barney Frank’s recognition of Antonin Scalia’s contempt for gays and lesbians has gotten predictable pushback from the likes of Fox News and Ann Althouse. The latter asserts that Frank is “either lying about having read [Lawrence v. Texas], lying about what Scalia wrote, or an embarrassingly incompetent reader.” Given how tendentious Althouse’s argument is, I would pretty careful about these kinds of charges.

The most disingenuous sleight-of-hand in Althouse’s argument is to imply that the Scalia and Thomas dissents in Lawrence were making essentially the same argument. But, of course, this isn’t true. Thomas, quoting Potter Stewart’s famous line in Griswold, calls the law he has voted to uphold “uncommonly silly.” Scalia expressed no such judgment. And, indeed, presumably the argument in Thomas’s solo dissent — two short paragraphs that could have easily been put into the main dissent — wasn’t included in Scalia’s because Scalia doesn’t agree that the law is objectionable. And while Althouse is (as always) very impressed by trite assertions of judicial restraint when made by reactionary justices, Scalia doesn’t apply such values consistently, and has also been willing to ignore original meaning when it contradicts cherished policy beliefs, making it more likely than not on its face that his vote in this case is consistent with his policy views. (In this, Scalia is no different than any other judge ruling on constitutionally ambiguous issues, but that’s no reason for this kind of naivete.)

But it’s not just that; as the first link above notes, Scalia has consistently made his contempt for gay and lesbian rights clear, and his relevant dissents have hardly been narrow, technical ones. Consider, for example, one of the paragraphs preceding the one Althouse cites, which she didn’t include for obvious reasons:

Today’s opinion is the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct. I noted in an earlier opinion the fact that the American Association of Law Schools (to which any reputable law school must seek to belong) excludes from membership any school that refuses to ban from its job-interview facilities a law firm (no matter how small) that does not wish to hire as a prospective partner a person who openly engages in homosexual conduct.

The odds that someone fulminating about “the so-called homosexual agenda” in the United States Reports isn’t hostile to gay and lesbian rights are roughly equivalent to the odds that the Prohibition Party will get 300 electoral votes in the 2012 elections. And here are some more excerpts from the dicta in his Romer dissent:

The Court has mistaken a Kulturkampf* for a fit of spite….This Court has no business imposing upon all Americans the resolution favored by the elite class from which the Members of this institution are selected, pronouncing that “animosity” toward homosexuality, is evil…The Court’s opinion contains grim, disapproving hints that Coloradans have been guilty of “animus” or “animosity” toward homosexuality, as though that has been established as Unamerican. Of course it is our moral heritage that one should not hate any human being or class of human beings. But I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible–murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals–and could exhibit even “animus” toward such conduct.

[*Reference to discriminatory, anti-Catholic policies taken by Germany under Bismarck. Why this is supposed to be a defense of Colorado’s discriminatory policy remains mysterious, but does not add much credibility to claims that Scalia is a neutral observer of the culture wars.]

Call me crazy, but unlike Althouse I do not consider spurious analogies between consensual same-sex relations and murder to be the likely output of someone with no opinion about gay and lesbian rights. Scalia’s opposition to gay and lesbian rights is plain to see, and I see no reason why Frank shouldn’t point it out.

USAF Develops Novel Tactic for Justifying New F-22 Purchase

[ 0 ] March 25, 2009 |

Raptor down in the California desert. The immediate concern is the pilot; reports thus far give no indication as to his condition. That’s probably not good, but of course we hope for the best.

…condolences to the family of the pilot.