Subscribe via RSS Feed

Hot Links!

[ 0 ] July 16, 2009 |

Random linkage in lieu of substantive blogging:

  • Stephen Biddle on Afghanistan
  • How did Admiral Motti rise to that rank?
  • Ethiopia-Eritrea proxy war in Somalia.
  • Teaching history in Texas public schools is, well, ahistorical.
  • Trend should make this Latin America roundup a regular feature.
  • Stephen Walt encapsulates the Reagan Revolution:
    One of the great triumphs of Reagan-era conservatism was to convince Americans that paying taxes so that the government could spend the money at home was foolish and wrong, but paying taxes so that the government could spend the money defending other people around the world was patriotic. Ever since Reagan, in short, neoconservatives supported paying taxes to promote a U.S.-dominated world order, while denouncing anyone who wanted to spend the money on roads, bridges, schools, parks, and health care for Americans as a “tax and spend liberal.”


Little Known Kentucky Factoid of the Day

[ 0 ] July 16, 2009 |

Kentucky’s Commissioner of Agriculture is named Rich Farmer.

That is all.


[ 0 ] July 16, 2009 |

Law and ideology

[ 0 ] July 15, 2009 |

Con law professor Louis Seidman:

Speaking only for myself (I guess that’s obvious), I was completely disgusted by Judge Sotomayor’s testimony today. If she was not perjuring herself, she is intellectually unqualified to be on the Supreme Court. If she was perjuring herself, she is morally unqualified. How could someone who has been on the bench for seventeen years possibly believe that judging in hard cases involves no more than applying the law to the facts? First year law students understand within a month that many areas of the law are open textured and indeterminate—that the legal material frequently (actually, I would say always) must be supplemented by contestable presuppositions, empirical assumptions, and moral judgments. To claim otherwise—to claim that fidelity to uncontested legal principles dictates results—is to claim that whenever Justices disagree among themselves, someone is either a fool or acting in bad faith. What does it say about our legal system that in order to get confirmed Judge Sotomayor must tell the lies that she told today? That judges and justices must live these lies throughout their professional carers?

Perhaps Justice Sotomayor should be excused because our official ideology about judging is so degraded that she would sacrifice a position on the Supreme Court if she told the truth. Legal academics who defend what she did today have no such excuse. They should be ashamed of themselves.

(This is from live blogging of the Sotomayor testimony. I don’t know how to link to the quote itself).

Seidman is a standard issue liberal con law professor btw, so I’m sure he was just as appalled by John Roberts’ ridiculous claims that judging is like calling balls and strikes etc., i.e., this isn’t just some disingenuous right-wing diatribe.

Anyway, a couple of reactions:

(1) I’m not as confident as Prof. Seidman that Sotomayor and Roberts and the rest of them are lying when they describe adjudication as much more strongly constrained by formal rules than he believes it to be. I agree with Seidman that such descriptions are deeply unrealistic, but on the other hand, to paraphrase Upton Sinclair, it’s remarkably difficult to get people to understand things when their professional identities depend on them not understanding them. You can call that “living a lie,” or “getting over” or whatever, but I believe the traditional description is “thinking like a lawyer.”

(2) To say that judging is inherently ideological can mean various things. I think it’s useful to distinguish between legal ideology and political ideology (of course there’s a lot of inevitable overlap between such categories). To simplify, political ideology is reflected in beliefs such as “affirmative action is bad,” or “abortion should be legal,” while legal ideology is reflected in beliefs such as “courts should generally defer to majoritarian politics,” or “the plain meaning of a statute should be preferred to legislative intentions regarding its meaning.” In my view adjudication in our system has to be ideological in the latter sense, because there’s no consensus within the system about all sorts of questions of legal ideology.

The most cynical view of judging is that judges consciously manipulate the indeterminacy generated by the lack of consensus on questions of legal ideology in order to enforce their preferences as a matter of political ideology. For what it’s worth, I believe that very few if any judges do this consciously, although plenty of them do it unconsciously.

Basically, being a federal judge, and especially being a member of the SCOTUS, probably requires that one not admit to oneself a whole lot of things about the actual nature of the enterprise. In that sense it’s like any number of other social roles.

Update: Daily Beast article on this (I didn’t choose the title).

"I Wasn’t Trying to be a Reporter"

[ 0 ] July 15, 2009 |

The GOP may want to seek some better help

The Day the Blogging Died

[ 0 ] July 15, 2009 |

I’m sure most have you heard the news, but it’s obviously sad news when one of the greats hangs ’em up. From a selfish readers’ perspective, anyway; I’m happy Hilzoy is doing what’s right for her rather than staying on when it’s not right.

And she’s going out in a way Rob would approve of…


[ 6 ] July 15, 2009 |

Politics! In the United States Senate!

[ 0 ] July 14, 2009 |

The fetish about the number of no votes registered in successful Supreme Court nominations is one of the strangest Villager obsessions.

I do think that the apparent underlying ideology — that confirmation hearings for life-tenured appointments to an independent branch should focus on narrow qualifications and perhaps personal trivia as opposed to substantive constitutional issues — is what explains Matt’s query:

I still in an honest-to-God, no-joking way don’t understand why conservatives who want to vote “no” don’t just say something normal like “I thought Justice Souter voted the wrong way on a number of important cases, I think Judge Sotomayor is likely to vote in a similar way to Souter; I would prefer a judge who votes like Justice Roberts or Justice Scalia; therefore, I’ll vote no.” That’s not insane, it’s not offensive, it’s not foolish, it’s not bizarre—it’s something you’d have to respect.

Not only does the idea that Senators should be unable to vote for nominees based on ideological disagreement even when justices are chosen for obviously ideological reasons make no sense on the merits, it creates a perverse normative order in which bad-faith race-baiting is considered acceptable but straightforward disagreement on matters of constitutional principle is not.

"I Think My Insights Into Judge Cedarbaum Have a Great Deal of Validity."

[ 0 ] July 14, 2009 |


Although, like David Broder, I have to agree that it’s appalling that they’re willing to allow Al Franken to serve in a body with such intellectual titans as Jeff Sessions and Tom Coburn.

Random Airport Blogging, Newark Edition

[ 0 ] July 14, 2009 |

While crossing the Atlantic, I had time to pore over the most recent Economist, time that has been precious in other, more dynamic settings.  I came across Norm Stamper’s letter to the editor regarding the benefits of legalization.  Stamper was the Seattle police chief from 94 until he was either forced out or resigned on his own volition (my money is on some interpretation of the former) following the WTO circus of 1999.  I like to see statements like his, though my cynical side would prefer, yet never expect, a serving person of some authority to make such a reasonable argument.  

This dream did, indeed happen in the UK a few years ago.  Brian Paddick was a police commissioner for a London borough where he proposed that his officers don’t bother with possession charges so they might concentrate on the shit that really matters.  While not as radical (or as brilliant) as the “Hamsterdam” experiment suggested in Season 3 of The Wire, it was still one of the rare realistic approaches to the issue.
Of course, while Paddick did realize some success when then Home Secretary (and rumored womanizer) David Blunkett demoted pot (or, what the British charmingly refer to as cannabis) from Class B to Class C, one of Blunkett’s numerous successors, Jacqui Smith, restored cannabis to its full Class B glory.
Hence, while Stamper is fighting the good fight from the security of his retirement, the cause may appear to be in retreat.
Some random bits: I fly a lot, and when I fly, I tend to cover longer than average distances, and frequent several airports on any given itinerary.  Which means I sort of know what I’m doing.  While generally a patient man, I can’t stand people who are befuddled by simple procedures like the following:
a) check in.
b) security.
c) airports in general.
This one really gets to me: people wandering around airports, preferably slowly, marvelling at the innovation where your connection is actually on television screens, or even these newfangled innovations where gates at airports now have numbers that operate in a logical manner (repeat after me: 2 comes after 1, 3 after 2, and if you walk far enough, you’ll work out that there is a structured order to where these gates appear.  Usually.)
d) the tacit rules of the airplane.
if you are just settling in to your seat, and there is a line behind you, especially if it’s a single aisle aircraft, don’t reorganize the contents of your carry-on that you have just stowed in the overhead bin while 3/4 of the passengers have yet to even view their seats for the first time.
Oh, another bit: I hate flying, and not for any of the reasons listed above.  I have a healthy fear of falling out of the sky from somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 feet.  
But over the years, I have developed coping mechanisms.  While the coping mechanisms aren’t great in Newark Airport, they’re nicer than the bloody marys I had a dozen hours ago in Bristol Airport.  


[ 0 ] July 14, 2009 |

Tell your statistics to shut up

[ 0 ] July 14, 2009 |

While trying to think of something interesting to say about the Sotomayor hearings for the purposes of paid journalism (no luck so far), I found my mind wandering back toward Pete Rose. Here’s a question: Has the increased sophistication in the analysis of baseball stats over the past 25 years had an appreciable effect on the probability of things like Pete Rose’s 1983 season being allowed to happen?

That year, Rose played 151 games and had 555 plate appearances. He hit .245 and didn’t hit a homer, while racking up a total of 20 extra bases on hits for a nifty .286 slugging percentage. He stole seven bases in 14 attempts, and had an OPS of 69.

Given that he was a lead-footed 42-year-old first baseman with essentially no defensive value this represents, I submit, possibly the worst season ever by a regular on a pennant-winning team.

Now of course even at the time it was widely recognized that Rose’s stats were bad, but I think today it would be somewhat less likely that either the relevant decision makers or public opinion would tolerate all the nonsense about intangibles and grit and hustle and character that made it possible for a first baseman who was hitting like a backup catcher to hold a starting job on a good team for an entire season.