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Costs and Lifestyle

[ 0 ] June 17, 2007 |

At the risk of commenting on something that I have no business commenting on, I think Mona gives Mark Steyn too much credit here:

Mark Steyn actually has something insightful to say about the inherent risks of any nationalized, single payer health care scheme: namely, all taxpayers and the state then develop a stake in ones personal choices, and that becomes a potent reason to prohibit and regulate everything from smoking, to trans-fats to a sedentary lifestyle. Or, as he points out, gay sex. (“Promiscuous” het sex, of course, also carries health consequences which the state could acquire an interest in curbing.)

Okay, but two objections:

  1. There have already been numerous prohibitions on various lifestyle choices even without single payer health care; I suppose that single payer could give someone trying to pass a sodomy law an extra rhetorical wedge, but it doesn’t strike me as being terribly consequential.
  2. There are, as Mona says, 46 million uninsured in the US, but they aren’t uninsured in the sense that they can be regularly refused treatment in acute life threatening situations. As Ezra et al have pointed out regularly, the United States doesn’t actually have a private system of health care; it has a Frankenstein’s monster of health care, an amalgamation of many of the worst aspects of both a public and a private system. I doubt very much that a single payer system would introduce a new set of attacks on lifestyle choices that can’t already be made with the Medicaid/Medicare system.

Then again, it’s possible (probable?) that I just don’t know anything useful about health care, and perhaps a bit less possible that Mark Steyn actually does have something useful to say.


[ 0 ] June 17, 2007 |

The Times on the Bowles decision:

If the Supreme Court, with its new conservative majority, wanted to announce that it was getting out of the fairness business, it could hardly have done better than its decision last week in the case of Keith Bowles. The court took away Mr. Bowles’s right to challenge his murder conviction in a ruling that was so wrong and mean-spirited that it seemed like an outtake from MTV’s practical joke show “Punk’d.”

Mr. Bowles, an Ohio inmate, challenged his conviction in federal district court and lost. The court told Mr. Bowles that he had until Feb. 27 to appeal. He filed the appeal on Feb. 26, and was ready to argue why he was wrongly convicted. But it turned out the district court made a mistake. The appeal should have been filed by Feb. 24.

The Supreme Court ruled, 5 to 4, in a majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, that Mr. Bowles was out of luck, and his appeal was invalid. So much for heeding a federal judge.

The decision was wrong for many reasons. The Supreme Court has made clear in its past rulings that deadlines like this are not make-or-break. Appeals could still be heard, the court recognized in the past, if there were “unique circumstances” that accounted for the delay. Clearly, following an order from a federal judge is such a circumstance.

Courts also have the authority to create an exception to the rules in the interest of fairness. The Supreme Court has recognized that an “equitable exception” should be granted when a party has relied on an order from a federal judge. By refusing to do so now, Justice David Souter argued for the dissenters, the court was saying that “every statement by a federal court is to be tagged with the warning ‘Beware of the judge.’ ”

The four dissenters distilled this case perfectly when they said, “it is intolerable for the judicial system to treat people this way.”


Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: Pahlavi Dynasty

[ 0 ] June 17, 2007 |

In 1921, British support helped raise a capable, 43 year old Brigadier General named Reza Khan to prominence on the Persian political scene. Reze Khan had performed well as head of the Persian Cossack Brigade against a brief Bolshevik invasion, impressing British military officials in Persia. With British support, Reza Khan launched a coup in early 1921 that toppled the Iranian government. Khan then had himself made commander of the Army and Minister of War. Two years later Reza Khan forced Ahmad Shah Qajar into exile, and in 1926 assumed the title Shah of Iran for himself. He became Reza Shah Pahlavi, founder and first head of the Pahlavi Dynasty.

Although retaining de jure independence, Iran remained deeply affected by great power politics. Reza Shah Pahlavi concentrated his efforts on modernizing Iran and bringing it into the West, the latter project putting him at odds with Shia clergy. His efforts included the acceptance of Italian advisors into the military, and “Women’s Awakening” a project intended to eliminate the veil and modernize the position of women in Iranian society. Overall, however, the Shah’s reforms had the effect of alienating large parts of Iranian society. In August 1941, Iran was subjected to “peaceful” occupation by the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. This occupation ensured that Iran would not enter the war on the side of the Axis, and that critical Western supplies could reach the Soviet Union. Primarily British suspicion of the Shah led to his deposition in September 1941, and the ascension of his son. Reza Shah Pahlavi would die three years later in Johannesburg, South Africa, according to some sources by British poison.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi continued his father’s Westernization project after assuming the Iranian throne. In the 1950s, British influence in Iran would be steadily replaced by American, but tensions with the Soviet Union continued. A British and American supported coup helped overthrow Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953, with the general acquiesence of the Shah. Indeed, fearing that the coup was going badly, the Shah fled Iran for Baghdad and Rome, leading to serious anti-monarchy riots that were put down by the Iranian Army. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi would remain a staunch, autocratic ally of the United States for the rest of the Cold War. His position deteriorated through the 1970s, and in 1979 he was forced to flee in the face of revolution. Seriously ill, the former Shah would visit several countries, including the United States, before dying in July of 1980. He is buried in Cairo.

Reza Pahlavi, Crown Prince prior to 1979, is the current Pahlavi heir to the Iranian throne. Reza Pahlavi received an undergraduate degree from USC in the early 1980s, and learned how to fly a fighter jet in Texas. An offer to fly for the Iranian Air Force in the Iran-Iraq War was turned down by Iranian authorities. Although Reza Pahlavi now uses the term “former crown prince”, there are indications that he would welcome a return to the throne. Notably, however, he has argued against the use of force against Iran, suggesting that such action would strengthen the Iranian government and that any change needs to come from within. Prospects for a return to the throne, however, seem unlikely, as even a post-revolutionary government would hesitate to return to the son of the unpopular Shah to the throne.

(Corrected to reflect the appropriate heir to the throne.)

Trivia: Revolutionary enthusiasm would lead to the naming of at least two American counties, two towns, and one alcoholic beverage after which royal house?

Submitted Without Comment

[ 0 ] June 16, 2007 |

Really, what can you even say about Insta/House at this point? It’s all merely unserious in an offensive way until rape threats and defamation are equated with criticizing other people’s blog posts. See also here.

The Ethics of Gemstones…

[ 0 ] June 16, 2007 |


Are there ethical gemstones? I’m familiar with the problems that diamonds present; artificial scarcity creates incentives for illicit mining and consequent warlord depredation in Africa. Is there a similar story for other precious stones, or is there such a thing as an “ethical” precious stone? Responses welcome in comments or e-mail.


[ 0 ] June 15, 2007 |

In a 5-4 division of justices I’m already sick of, on Thursday the Supreme Court overruled two precedents to throw out an appeal to a murder conviction as being outside of the deadline, even though 1)the filing was within a deadline given by a federal district court judge and 2)opposing counsel didn’t even object to the filing on technical grounds. Chief Justice Kafka assigned the case to Clarence Thomas, although his position as the “youngest, cruelest justice” has been supplanted by Sam Alito.

Thompson: Griswold Was Wrong

[ 0 ] June 15, 2007 |

I suppose there’s nothing terribly surprising about Fred Thompson asserting that Roe v. Wade is the worst Supreme Court decision since 1967. And nor is it surprising that he would repeat the abject nonsense that overturning Roe would “send the issue back to the states” (a claim that the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the arbitrary federal ban on “partial-birth” abortions in Carhart II makes straightforwardly false.) Since many anti-choicers are smart enough to be vague about this, however, it is worth noting the significance of Thompson’s claim that Roe was “was fabricated out of whole cloth.” If one argues that Roe has no basis on constitutional jurisprudence, however, then it’s not only Roe but Griswold that is wrong.

If Democrats are smart, this should be a major weapon against Thompson and any Republican who makes similar arguments. As Amanda notes, Roe is a popular decision, generally favored by 2-to-1 majorities. It should be pointed out often that Thompson opposes any constitutional right of privacy, which means not only that the states and the federal government can force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term under virtually all circumstances, but they can also prevent married couples from using contraception in their own homes. Supporters of reproductive freedom should be able to use these openings to move the debate onto favorable ground.

…to clarify something that seems to be coming up in comments, I am not arguing here that Thompson must be opposed to Griswold because he’s against Roe. I am arguing that he is logically opposed to Griswold because he argues that Roe is “made up out of whole cloth.” As Justice Stevens has argued, “I fail to see how a decision on childbearing becomes less important the day after conception than the day before. Indeed, if one decision is more “fundamental” to the individual’s freedom than the other, surely it is the postconception decision that is the more serious.” If Griswold is correct, there must be at least a basis for Roe. It is possible to argue that a woman has an interest in reproductive freedom that in the case of abortion is trumped by a state’s interest in fetal life, but that’s not what Thompson (or Bork) are arguing.

Hey Matt, Bill O’Reilly Called; He Wants His Brain Back

[ 0 ] June 15, 2007 |

I agree entirely with Melissa; I often enjoy Matt Taibbi, but this article is a feeble embarrassment. Virtually no article that consists of generalizations about some vague entity called “the Left” is going to have any value, and given that Taibbi uses a great many words to argue that anybody who anybody who doesn’t share precisely his priorities or is situated in a less socially privileged position is a whiny bitch it’s certainly not an exception to the rule.

[ 0 ] June 15, 2007 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck

"Where’s Poochie?"

[ 0 ] June 15, 2007 |

I’m off for three weeks to the eastern half of the continental United States, where I’ll be visiting a whole lot of nutters family and wondering if Victor Davis Hanson has written anything stupid since the last time I looked at — oh, wait. Scratch that.

Among other things, this means that the quality of this site will mysteriously improve until, say, July 7, by which time I will have missed the birthdays of Clarence Thomas and Derek Jeter. Oh, well.

At times like this, it’s perhaps best to let music say what mere words cannot.

Book Review: Chasing Ghosts

[ 0 ] June 14, 2007 |

Last year I received a copy of Chasing Ghosts, by Paul Rieckhoff. Rieckhoff was a Lieutenant in the Army National Guard, and served in Baghdad through 2003 to early 2004. He founded the group IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America), and now blogs occasionally at Huffington Post. Upon his return from Iraq, Rieckhoff became a strong critic of the war, both in concept and handling. Chasing Ghosts is a record of his time spent in Baghdad, of his early thoughts about the war, and of his activism in the run-up to the 2004 election.

Like several former students of mine, Rieckhoff saw Iraq between the invasion and the escalation of the insurgency. With the exception of serious eruption in November 2003, the early period of the Occupation saw relatively light violence. Rieckhoff’s account stresses how important the term “relatively” is. The amount of violence and destruction he saw is small compared to what was happening a year or two years later, but was nevertheless evident of a deeply dysfunctional political and social situation. Rieckhoff was forced, like every other American officer and soldier in Iraq, to navigate not only through a system of literal mines and traps, but also through a system of competing bureaucracies which often worked at cross-purposes. Rules of engagement were vague, and even when clear often of not much assistance. Units were restricted from operating in parts of the city not by any policy but rather because of competing chains of command. Insurgents were quick to understand and exploit these gaps, which frustrated Rieckhoff to no end.

As the wise have pointed out, Iraqis don’t tend to care for having their houses rummaged through or having them entered without notice. Then again, neither does anyone else. Rieckhoff’s job involved regular forced entry into private Iraqi homes, a duty which clearly wore on him over time. Much of what he did consisted, essentially, of police work. One story that Rieckhoff tells involves the hunt for a group of thieves in Baghdad. His unit managed to capture the thieves (bank robbers who may have had connections with the insurgency) without too much difficulty, although they did manage to annoy the neighbors. Rieckhoff and his men recovered tens of thousands of dollars, along with consumer electronics and a pair of brand new motorcycles. Unfortunately, a soldier in Rieckhoff’s unit had worked out a system, and had stolen about $30000 from various Iraqi sources. The money had been partially split up through the platoon. After being tipped off by a seargeant, Rieckhoff was forced to create a sting operation that caught the leader of the gang. Although the soldier was put in jail for awhile and demoted, he wasn’t kicked out of the Army; Rieckhoff’s chalks this up to a shortage of experienced soldiers.

After his deployment ended, Rieckhoff felt no compunctions against criticizing the war, both in conception and execution. He became a voice of some note during the 2004 election campaign, receiving some attention from the Kerry campaign. Rieckhoff wasn’t impressed with Kerry as a candidate, however. I think this was a bit of a mistake; whatever problems there might have been with Kerry’s personal approach, his policies were quite likely to be different (and better) than those of the alternative. Since the election, he’s been a strong advocate for war veterans, and remains a vigorous critic of the war. The book is well worth reading, both for a description of the early part of the Occupation on the military side (it’s a fitting companion to, say, Imperial Life in the Emerald City or Assassin’s Gate), and as a genuinely intriguing personal narrative.

Thirteen (Spoilers)

[ 0 ] June 14, 2007 |

First things first, Ocean’s Thirteen is better than its predecessor, yet not as good as the first film. Given the characteristics of the first two, it would have been deeply surprising if this had not been the case. Spoilers aplenty ahead.

I was very surprised by Ocean’s Thirteen most fundamental weakness. Who would have thought that the combination of Pacino and Barkin would prove so toothless, both on camera and as part of the structure of the story? Andy Garcia received insufficient credit for his work in the first two films. His Terry Benedict, a channelling of Michael Corleone without the conflicted soul, was at the same time sophisticated and genuinely menacing. It becomes clear enough early in the first that Benedict wouldn’t hesitate to wipe out the entire crew, and indeed this menace drives the entire second film. Moroever, the heist in the first film works by playing off Benedict’s sophistication and brutality. Danny and the boys don’t so much outsmart Benedict as turn his brilliance and ruthlessness against him. It’s also clear, even in the first, that Benedict does not consider the fight over. If Danny and the boys are to be judged by quality of victim, Benedict proved an appropriate foil in the first two films.

Furthermore, it’s not surprising that the only watchable scenes in Ocean’s Twelve come when either Garcia or Vincent Cassel are on screen. That time out, Benedict proved so menacing that the gang decided to submit rather than try to fight. They manage to defeat Toulour, but win by redefining the game rather than outperforming him. The method ended up being cinematically unsatisfying (wholly apart from the horrificaly indulgent Julia Robert’s arc), but the viewer nevertheless comes away with an understanding that, by defeating Toulour, the gang has achieved something. Toulour’s menace survives the second film just as Benedict’s survived the first.

So, given that a faux-Michael Corleone was so great in the first, what could be better than bringing in Don Coreleone himself for the third? Giving Pacino Barkin as a lieutenant also seemed inspired on paper. But what do we get? Nothing. Pacino’s Bank ends up being a mildly charismatic thug, quickly overtaken by events and hanged by his own ineptitude. He’s supposed to be a brilliant and ruthless operator, even more so than Benedict, but he falls for a series of pathetically transparent scams, from Pitt’s earthquake machine to Reiner’s (weak) impersonation of a hotel reviewer to the Bernie Mac-Andy Garcia kabuki with the domino machine. Sure, Terry Benedict fell for the Lyman Zerger con, but it was in part his distrust of the situation that made the con work. Barkin proves ridiculously easy to deal with. Simply put, Willy Bank would not have survived long enough in a world of Terry Benedict’s to prove a threat to Ocean and the crew. The competition ended up being as one sided as this year’s NBA Finals.

That said, there are plenty of cheerfully interesting moments, and Soderbergh has a way with Las Vegas. The Godfather quips were amusing enough, and Gould was an inspired catatonic. The Mexico stuff was kind of funny. Overall, I think I have to concur with Matt Duss:

I kind of saw it as the movie that Ocean’s Eleven might have been, had that movie not been so much better than it should have been.

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