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The Second Amendment on Trial

[ 36 ] November 20, 2007 |

The Supreme Court has decided to hear an appeal to the D.C. Circuit decision striking down D.C.’s handguns ban. I’ll have more discussion about this later, but to stimulate discussion in the interim I’ll say that 1)the most plausible interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, I think, confers an individual right to bear arms, although this is certainly not the only reasonable interpretation; 2)given this, D.C.’s draconian ban is (for better or worse) clearly unconstitutional, but 3)more reasonable gun control measures may be constitutional even if the right to bear arms is considered an individual right.

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Ignorance Is Bliss

[ 20 ] November 20, 2007 |

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Gainer The Gopher sez: Slappy Who?

One advantage to being in Canada right now is that sportswriters are much more preoccupied with such matters as the epochal Riders/Lions tilt and much less with the distressing news that A-Slappy will be back in pinstripes. Although I knew better, for a brief moment I allowed myself to think that some kind of irrationality had overtaken the Yankees and that they might have let Rodriguez walk, but they didn’t, and alas most other teams look at player salaries primarily as expenses rather than investments, which is why they are where they are and the Yankees are where they are. I’m sure the feats of illogic on behalf of American sportswriters have been spellbinding, but I’m trying to ignore it for the week; looking at bad political journalism is bad enough. I’ve got tickets tonight — go Flames! Lalalalala I can’t hear you!

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Worst American Birthdays, vol. 31

[ 0 ] November 20, 2007 |

While the age of his mustache remains a matter of state secrecy, John Robert Bolton turns 59 today.

In his many years of public service, Bolton has never met a nation whose threat to the United States he did not hysterically overstate, nor has he ever met an international organization he did not suspect of radically undermining his country’s sovereignty. His recess appointment as the American ambassador to the United Nations must rank among the greatest pranks of modern diplomatic history. With his permanent nomination facing Congressional rejections, his resignation from that same position represents one of the few moments of sanity during the Bush years.

A self-styled tough guy and master of the office hissy fit, Bolton’s reputation as a manager of people duplicates in miniature his sense of how the United States should act toward the rest of the world. On Bolton’s view, American interests can only be secured by assuming the absolute worst about its rivals; ignoring or suppressing competing interpretations of incomplete or ambiguous data; and dealing with limitations on its power by screaming and throwing heavy objects at recalcitrant colleagues. When John Bolton sleeps, he likely dreams of a world alight with American power, with righteous, unilateral wars raging against China, Syria, Cuba, North Korea and Iran. Described by his mentor Jesse Helms as “the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at the gates of Armageddon,” Bolton — given the appropriate means — would be only too eager to oblige his enfeebled friend.

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Borking and The Court

[ 8 ] November 20, 2007 |

I actually agree with two points that Ross Douthat makes here. First, I think that there’s a tendency to assume that Roe‘s popular support made its upholding inevitable, but this really isn’t the case. If Reagan had appointed Bork and Scalia in reverse order, for example, Roe would have been overturned. Although most sophisticated observers understand that the Supreme Court is better understood as an adjunct to national governing coalitions than a stalwart protector of unpopular minorities, it’s easy to push this too far; the Court wouldn’t have been prevented from overturning Roe any more than the Warren Court was prevented from issuing Everson and Miranda. (Indeed, as all three examples suggest it’s entirely possible for positions to be broadly consistent with current elite governing coalitions and be unpopular among the public at large.) Second, he is of course right that Alito and Roberts are doctrinaire conservatives who will never find an abortion regulation unconstitutional, although their fake “minimalism” may mean that even with a fifth vote we’ll see the complete gutting rather than the explicit overturning of Roe. (Of course, at this late date nobody but Ann Althouse could think otherwise.)

On the other hand, we have the tired claim about of a “shameful-but-effective Democratic smear campaign against Robert Bork.” Obviously, the Senate being a political body, criticisms of Bork were not expressed in the tones of an academic seminar. But the core of the case against Bork was that he 1)entirely rejected any implicit right of privacy, meaning that the state not only had the authority to pass arbitrarily enforced laws requiring a woman to carry her pregnancy to term but also to pass arbitrarily enforced laws preventing people from using contraception, 2)he had a consistently awful record on civil rights including public claims that the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional and hostility to claims of gender equality, and 3)took an exceptionally narrow view of free speech rights. This campaign was effective because it was accurate — there were at the time enough moderate Republicans to oppose his views on privacy and no Southern Democratic Senator (given that they required near unanimous black support to be competitive) could have supported someone with Bork’s record on civil rights. Some of these issues have become less important over time — conservatives have largely adopted libertarian positions on issue #3, and many reactionary nominees are now young enough not to have contemporaneously opposed the Civil Rights Act. On issue #1, however, justices like Roberts and Alito are easier to confirm than Bork not because their positions are more popular but because the lesson they learned from Bork is to simply refuse to state their position explicitly. Hence the high comedy of Republicans who had admired Alito for being a doctrinaire conservative suddenly reacting with outrage against those pointing out the obvious fact that he held very conservative positions on legal issues as soon as he was nominated. This silliness, of course, could stop as soon as he was safely on the Court. This kabuki does, however, make “Borking” more difficult (or, as the case with Thomas, be reflected through discussions of marginally relevant personal issues.) This is not, however, a good thing.

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Halftime Harassment

[ 22 ] November 20, 2007 |

Well, this makes me happier that the Jets are 2-8:

At halftime of the Jets’ home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, several hundred men lined one of Giants Stadium’s two pedestrian ramps at Gate D. Three deep in some areas, they whistled and jumped up and down. Then they began an obscenity-laced chant, demanding that the few women in the gathering expose their breasts.

When one woman appeared to be on the verge of obliging, the hooting and hollering intensified. But then she walked away, and plastic beer bottles and spit went flying. Boos swept through the crowd of unsatisfied men.

Marco Hoffner, an 18-year-old from Lacey Township, N.J., was expecting to see more. Not from the Jets — they pulled off a big upset over the Steelers. He wanted more from the alternative halftime show that, according to many fans, has been a staple at Jets home games for years.

“Very disappointed, because we’re used to seeing a lot,” Hoffner said.

The mood of previous Gate D crowds — captured on video clips posted on YouTube — sometimes bordered on hostile, not unlike the spirit of infamously aggressive European soccer hooligans. One clip online shows a woman being groped by a man standing next to her.

Ew. But this isn’t only icky; it’s a security threat. So where is security? Being vigilant — against anyone who might report the harassment:

Throughout halftime, about 10 security guards in yellow jackets stood near the bottom of the circular, multilevel ramp, located beyond the stadium’s concourse of concession stands and restrooms. One of the guards was smoking a cigarette; many fans do the same during halftime on the giant ramps, which are located at each corner of the stadium. Another guard later said they were not permitted to do anything about the chants at Gate D because of free speech laws. Yet when a reporter tried to interview two security guards after halftime, he was detained in a holding room, threatened with arrest and asked to hand over his tape recorder.

Great.

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July 5

[ 180 ] November 20, 2007 |

Today we started a mini-simulation for a course at Patterson. This isn’t the larger spring policy simulation, but rather a smaller exercise designed to facilitate group work and presentation skills. My topic was this:

An alien attack has resulted in the destruction of the greater portion of the urban infrastructure of the United States and the rest of the world. Although the aliens have been substantially defeated, the problem of reconstruction looms. After the initial alien attacks, most of the nation’s urban population was able to flee the cities. The President has requested that the senior surviving officials in the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce submit reports on the likely problems and first steps towards reconstruction.

Some assumptions that we worked out on the first day, informed by repeated viewings of Independence Day:

  • The attack resulted in the destruction of the 30 largest American urban centers, assuming that a ship can destroy a city every three hours, that the aliens allocated 3 ships to North America, and that only three targets each in Mexico and Canada were destroyed. We also figured 9 ships for Eurasia, and 1 each for Africa, South America, and Australia (the film states that the attack involved 15 ships). Those numbers are certainly debatable; I could see moving one Eurasian ship to South America, for example. The actual targets of destruction would probably take into account commercial and military importance in addition to raw population.
  • The attack generated somewhere between 20-40 million internal refugees in the United States. While the populations of New York, Washington, and Los Angeles were mostly destroyed, other major cities were able to evacuate. Some refugees will also have evacuated from smaller cities (such as Cincinnati or Detroit) that were not targeted prior to the defeat of the alien ships. These latter refugees will be able to return to their homes, which will still leave a very large population of displaced persons.
  • We assumed that the attack took place on July 2, 2007, in order to ease various narrative problems. Of course, this means that the United States is deeply involved in Iraq during the attack; Baghdad almost certainly would have been destroyed by an alien ship.
  • We worked out that the Vice President and the Cabinet (with the exception of the Secretary of Defense) have all, perhaps with a straggler or two, been killed. Congress fares much better, as we figured that most Senators and Representatives wouldn’t be in DC during the attack. We’re guessing about 85% of Congress survives. Most state government survive essentially intact, as they’re not located in cities targeted by the aliens.

Thoughts?

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A Pledge To Keep

[ 11 ] November 20, 2007 |

Especially useful with Thanksgiving approaching:

So why not try this for a day? If you’re going to eat something, eat it. If you’re not, don’t. Beating yourself up about food, privately and publicly, much as you think might help you stay thin out of guilt, doesn’t actually work.

Indeed.

…I do think the mighty Atrios makes a fair point in comments:

More seriously as much as I agree this kind of dynamic is messed we should understand that people with food and fat related issues do adopt various coping mechanisms. Not saying I endorse them all as being “healthy,” but the problem probably isn’t the mechanisms themselves but the issues which lead people there.

My impulse is to be as cranky about this as M. LeBlanc — even though I’m sure I’ve done this kind of thing myself — laregly because it’s my impulse to be cranky about pretty much anything, but the real point (and I assume hers as well) is that the dynamic doesn’t work and reflects counterproductive attitudes towards food; the fact that it can be annoying to others is not the central point.

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Season 3

[ 30 ] November 19, 2007 |

What’s the general consensus on the relative strength of Wire seasons? I’m halfway through season 3, and I think I like it the best of them all so far. Then again, this would fit neatly into my theory that third seasons of series television tend to be the strongest, since they can draw on character development in the first two years without the exhaustion of later years. So maybe I’m biased.

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More Complaints for the Times Op-Ed Department

[ 274 ] November 19, 2007 |

Will Okun, the Chicago school teacher who accompanied enlightened Nick [not Bill] Kristof on a trip to Africa earlier this year and got to blog about, misses badly with today’s post.

It happens too often. A female student approaches my desk, says “Mr. Okun?”, and and whispers the two words no adult wants to hear from a teenager: “I’m pregnant.” I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to shake her with anger. What have you done? Life is not hard enough already? Is it over, have you given up? What about finishing high school? What about college? What about your own dreams? What about enjoying the last of your own childhood? How can you parent a child when you are just a child yourself? How will you support your baby, how will you support yourself? Where is the man, will he be here next year? Will I see you and your baby coldly waiting alone for a city bus that will not come? Please look me in the eye and tell me you know what you have done.

What you have done. What you have done!?! Um, does anyone else think there is something severely lacking here, like an acknowledgment that (1) the girl has not “done” anything, and certainly has not done it solo and (2) his righteous indignation is both paternalistic and, at root, full of latent racism? Not sure you agree with me? Here’s Cara‘s take:

Shorter Okun: Oh you silly, promiscuous black girl. If only you had listened to SMART WHITE MEN LIKE ME, your life wouldn’t suck and we could end the cycle of racism and poverty. NOW EXPLAIN YOURSELF TO ME.

These kinds of statements not only put the educated white man on a pedestal and he is not only passing judgment on people whose lives he cannot even begin to understand. He’s also saying black women, the fact that you keep having babies is what’s keeping you poor.

That Okun is judging his students is undeniable. He is bemoaning not a system that does nothing to prevent teen pregnancy or support teen parents, but rather the women themselves. Certainly, teenagers could be doing more to prevent pregnancy. But with the pill costing $45 in some places, and with condoms assuming a woman’s agency in a relationship, it’s not a sufficient answer to say, “oh well, they should have prevented the pregnancy. Since they didn’t, I will condemn them.”

That said, Okun’s got nothing on the misogyny and racism of his commenters. Though some try to make the important point that we should have public funding for abortions, the comments expose a baseline assumption that teens — especially black teens — should not be having babies. And, what’s more, when they get pregnant, we should all gather together to give them money for abortions. But not just any teen – we should only raise money for black teens. Exhibit A:

Well, my childhood friends turned out to be obese women with multiple kids. Let me tell you, a teenager doesn’t stop with one kid. She goes on to have three or four before she’s 21. Now I run a small shop and I look forward to having a family that I can raise responsibly. Black girls need to know it’s NOT okay to become teenage mothers – it’s obscene. We need to urge abortion and show them clearly how a baby will worsen your chances for success in life.

Join me in funding abortions for black teenagers.

And that’s only the beginning. Go over and read the whole comment thread if you’re brave.

Whatever Okun’s motives (and they may be noble), the result is atrocious. Maybe when he’s done being indignant, he can start to see the subtle and not-so-subtle assumptions that underlie his post – and his reaction.

(via Zuzu)

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Surgin’ With Bill Saletan…

[ 1 ] November 19, 2007 |

This may be the single worst paragraph I’ve ever seen at Slate, and goddamn man, they employ Hitchens:

I’ve been soaking my head in each side’s computations and arguments. They’re incredibly technical. Basically, the debate over the IQ surge is a lot like the debate over the Iraq troop surge, except that the sides are reversed. Here, it’s the liberals who are betting on the surge, while the conservatives dismiss it as illogical and doomed. On the one hand, the IQ surge is hugely exciting. If it closes the gap to zero, it moots all the putative evidence of genetic barriers to equality. On the other hand, the case for it is as fragile as the case for the Iraq surge. You hope it pans out, but you can’t see why it would, given that none of the complicating factors implied by previous data has been adequately explained or taken into account. Furthermore, to construe meaningful closure of the IQ gap in the last 20 years, you have to do a lot of cherry-picking, inference, and projection. I have a hard time explaining why I should go along with those tactics when it comes to IQ but not when it comes to Iraq.

Shorter Bill: I’m a moron, and can’t really understand this data, so I’ll try to elide my lack of understanding with a story about how liberals are all CRAZY about Iraq. Here’s the thing, Bill; it’s not that difficult to understand. The tests that you’re citing DO NOT TEST INHERENT INTELLIGENCE. The average inherent intelligence of the human population may change over time, but it doesn’t change this much in the course of two generations. Whatever the tests can do (and they may be able to detect some degree of suitability, generated by whatever factors for academic success}, THEY DO NOT TEST INHERENT INTELLIGENCE. This isn’t even complicated; the increase is easy to explain in its entirety through reference to social and environmental factors.

But hell, I’m just a crazy liberal creationist who’s unwilling to admit the obvious and clear parallels between counter-insurgency doctrine and IQ testing.

We need better contrarians.

… to add a bit, even I, a simple social scientist, understand that if you don’t have good proxies with which to operationalize your dependent and independent variables, then you don’t have a research design. Saletan relies upon a proxy for inherent intelligence that’s obviously flawed, unless you believe that the average inherent intelligence of the human race changes rapidly over the course of a number of generations that you can count on the fingers of one hand. This is not only silly; it also undermines his central point, which is to deny the plasticity of the racial intelligence gap. If humankind has become genetically smarter in the course of the 20th century, then it’s obviously pretty easy to transform our basic genetic makeup (through education, diet, etc; I know this is laughably silly, but stay with me), and consequently it can’t be that hard to close the genetic gap between whites and blacks, as long as you know what you’re doing. In short, Saletan has to acknowledge the plasticity of our inheritance to explain the increase, then deny it in order to return to his central point about how brown folks just don’ think so good as white ‘uns.

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A Constitutional Amendment About Nothing

[ 20 ] November 19, 2007 |

The recent hysteria about a few peripheral citations of legal norms in other liberal democracies in Supreme Court opinions has reached some kind of apex with a speaker at a Federalist Society convention proposing a constitutional amendment banning the practice. What’s strange is the amount of energy being expended over what it quite obviously a trivial issue — it’s not clear why anyone thinks such dicta have any actual causal effects on the outcome of cases. Such citations are likely to come up almost exclusively in cases where the text of the Constitution can plausibly support a wide range of outcomes, and hence are overwhelmingly likely to be used only to back up conclusions judges have reached for independent reasons. This is certainly true of the cruel and unusual punishment clause, at issue in the case that has generated the greatest outrage about the supposedly pernicious effects of citing foreign law. Does anybody seriously think that a single vote in the case would have changed had the Constitution forbidden the citation of law of other democracies? Scalia noted in his dissent that Kennedy would be unlikely to cite foreign law when its conclusions were less favorable to his position, but that’s the point: the cites are window dressing. It may be true that Kennedy’s experience teaching abroad has had a moderating effect, but this would remain true whether his opinion cited the laws of other countries or not.

Crucial to making this triviality into a major issue is a strawman. According to Adler, the advocate of the amendment laid out the “basic case against relying upon foreign or international law in constitutional interpretation.” [my emphasis] But, of course, nobody says (as the word “rely” would seem to imply) that American judges are bound by the laws of similar countries; rather, at most it’s simply one of many sources that a judge might consult when trying to construe the meaning of an ambiguous constitutional clause. Reasonable people can differ about whether it’s an appropriate source to look at, but such pragmatic use of sources outside the constitution is utterly banal. I don’t recall any conservatives complaining about, say, Clarence Thomas’s (implausible) paean to the emancipatory effects of vouchers, although strictly speaking such policy effects are irrelevant to the question of whether state funding that goes almost entirely to parochial schools violates the First Amendment. I’d also be interested to know how many people furious about Roper have railed against the Rehnquist Court’s “sovereign immunity” doctrine, which seems to “rely” heavily on centuries-old British common law being binding in American federal courts…

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Defending Clinton Through JFK Worship

[ 9 ] November 19, 2007 |

Responding to Sean Wilentz’s attempt to analogize Obama and Clinton to Stevenson and JFK, respectively, in 1960 I think Matt has the correct response:

Meanwhile, the reality of the Kennedy Administration — as opposed to the Myth of Camelot — is precisely what makes people leery of Clinton. A 50%+1 win followed by a domestic agenda that goes nowhere in congress and a drift toward foreign policy disaster driven in part by a unshakeable fear of looking soft on defense.

Having said that, I don’t really think the analogy holds water either way. I suspect Clinton in office would be better on domestic policy than JFK (although on foreign policy, the JFK analogy is all too accurate.) Of course, JFK would be infinitely preferable to any GOP nominee of 2008, so if the ther end of the analogy held up this would still favor Clinton, but I also don’t think that Obama is really comparable to Stevenson in terms of political skills, and Matt is right that Stevenson could certainly have won in conditions as structurally favorable to the Democrats as 2008 is likely to be anyway.

This also reminds me that with all due respect to Wilentz, who has done a lot of terrific work, he has a very strange JFK fetish — see here. There are any number of (to put it charitably) tendentious claims to be found — such as his implication that JFK could have overcome the many obvious problems facing the Democrats in 1968, such as civil rights legislation (which Wilentz problematically assumes that JFK could have gotten passed quickly) destroying much of the traditional Democratic coalition, rising crime rates and urban violence etc. — with his boyish charm, but I think this is the best example:

There’s no question that Johnson was able to carry forward Kennedy’s domestic agenda because of the 37 House seats gained by the Democrats in the 1964 elections, a landslide that produced a working majority for progressive legislation for the first time in a quarter century. But Kennedy was a more popular figure than Johnson. Had Kennedy lived to run against Barry Goldwater, the Democrats probably would have picked up 50 more liberal legislators.

What Wilentz leaves out here is that one reason the Dems were able to pick up so many Congressional seats in 1964 is the halo effect created by JFK’s assisination, something that seems rather unlikely to have accrued to a non-assassinated JFK. Nor can a presidential candidate get much more popular than 61% of the popular vote; can Wilentz seriously believe that JFK would have had longer coattails? None of this makes me much more comfortable about JFK analogies made by Clinton’s supporters….

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