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Bait-n-Switch

[ 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.

Mass. Romantics

[ 0 ] June 14, 2007 |

The Massachusetts legislature has rejected the proposed constitutional amendment calling for the revocation of gay and lesbian marriage rights and the restoration of bigotry by a 151-45 vote. It should be noted that this is precisely the opposite of what was predicted by proponents of the countermobilization myth, people for whom it’s never the right time for social change, etc. Goodridge, we were often informed, was going to be a crushing setback for gay equality, but less than 5 years later it’s supported by an overwhelming vote in the legislature. The backlash, conversely, had been confined to states…that already overwhelmingly opposed gay marriage. Litigation is not, of course, appropriate in every situation, but sometimes it’s effective. Gay rights is the kinds of case where courts are likely to go first, and once they act 1)people realize that the predicted social apocalypse isn’t occurring, and 2)legislators who may be reluctant to extend rights on a divisive issue are much less likely to revoke rights.

…more from Pam Spaulding.

Be Careful What You Implicitly Agitate For

[ 0 ] June 14, 2007 |

What’s really funny about Glenn Reynolds’ latest passive-aggressive “nice freedom of the press you have here, be a shame if something happened to it” routine (not, alas, a new one) is his claim that the British press is bringing it on itself because of “shoddily political and dishonest” war reporting. Reynolds better hope that the mobs with pitchforks don’t rise up, because if “shoddily political and dishonest” reporting was a crime, Reynolds would be doing 20-to-life.

"Mercilessly Frivolous"

[ 0 ] June 14, 2007 |

Ezra gets this entirely correct:

The remarkable thing about the growing liberal hawk literature on Iran is its evasiveness — the unwillingness to speak in concrete terms of both the threat and proposed remedies. The liberal hawks realize they were too eager in counseling war last time, and their explicit statements in support of invasion have caused them no end of trouble since. This time, they will advocate no such thing. But nor will they eschew it. They will simply criticize those who do take a position.

Iran raises several complicated questions, but also a simple one: Do you think military force is called for in preventing Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons? Some, like me, say no. Some also, like me, do not believe the evidence supports the contention that Iran is a fully totalitarian society under the rule of a crazed and suicidal Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, and in fact think that such portrayals should be resisted and identified as part of a larger, pro-war narrative. This is how I ended up in Baer’s article as a convenient straw liberal who “excuse[s] the Iran regime, all the better to deny the very existence of a threat.”

Oddly, Baer did not take the opportunity to argue against my position. “Israel is again staring down a possible existential threat,” he wrote, “and the United States is once more facing a serious challenge to its interests in the region.” So the threat is to Israel, as well as to unspecified American interests in the region that face a “serious challenge.” Does that mean Baer thinks we should use force to prevent Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weaponry? Who knows? Baer retreats here to platitudes, saying that “it is incumbent upon us to provide a coherent foreign-policy alternative to Bush’s neoconservative vision, one that is true to the progressive legacy of internationalism — liberal democracy, rule of law, and equal opportunity.” But what about those nukes? What does that sentence suggest that we do?

Baer’s dodge is not rare. A while back, The New Republic demanded that “the West finally get ruthlessly serious about Iran.” Unless “ruthlessly serious” describes some subset of containment theory that I’m unfamiliar with, this seems like mercilessly frivolous advice. But such is the sorry state of discourse on Iran: lots of hyperventilating, but relatively little in the way of actual diagnosis or prescription.

It’s very simple. When it comes to Iran, “liberal hawks” need to either 1)explain in concrete terms what the threat to American interests is and — this is important! — what kind of military action can advance American interests and why, or 2)enjoy a delicious frosty mug of shut the fuck up. (And given their recent record of assessing American security interests and the efficacy of military force, perhaps some slinking away in shame would also be in order.)

Hillary’s Intragender Gap

[ 0 ] June 14, 2007 |

Riffing off this poll and this piece by Dana, Matt asks why Clinton has such a huge majority among progressive women — enough to make her a solid primary favorite — which doesn’t carry over among more conservative women. This is an important question, because if Clinton can’t change this it could make her a suboptimal general election candidate leaving aside normative issues — the progressive women that support Clinton are unlikely to vote Republican. My guess is that women with the strongest feminist commitments have the strongest stake in seeing a long-overdue woman as President, and will be particularly aware of (and place an especially high priority on) Clinton’s record on gender issues, which are Clinton’s strongest progressive credentials. But her (largely unmerited) reputation as a staunch liberal in general will make this less appealing to more moderate women. I’m not sure if the data will bear this out, but that’s how I would try to make sense of the gap.

Be Careful What You Wish For

[ 0 ] June 14, 2007 |

So the other day a Red Wings fan asked me what I thought about the Flames in ’08, and I told her that they had a potentially championship-quality base but Playfair was the wrong coach for this kind of team. With their two superstars on the last year of their contracts, they needed a hardass veteran short-term maximizer like Mike Keenan rather than an inexperienced coach who may or may not be good. I’m not sure I meant it this literally.

I guess this will re-kindle the debate among my Ranger fan friends about how much credit Keenan deserves for the ’94 Cup. My position has always been that Keenan’s contribution was greatly underrated; I know Messier was allegedly the real coach of the team or whatever, except that they still had Messier but were mediocre before Keenan came and were mediocre immediately after he left. Same thing with Philly and Chicago; like him or not, his teams greatly overachieved. His record with the Blues was less impressive but still not bad. He did an abysmal job as Florida’s GM, but that’s not really germane here. I don’t know if he’s still got it, but historically when he’s had anything to work with he’s won. He’s hockey’s Billy Martin–you pay for the improvements over the long term–but this is the last year for the Flames’ current core anyway. I may regret this, but I think it’s a great gamble.

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