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Are you now, or have you ever been, a desperate right wing hack?

[ 0 ] October 9, 2008 |

Hilzoy, after spending far too much time reading The Corner:

[The revisitation of the Ayers non-story] is delusional. It would be interesting to ask, for instance, why so few of Obama’s law students have come forward to talk about his attempt to transform them into Maoist cadres, or why the lawyers in his firm have not mentioned his commitment to cultural revolution, or how he has managed to conceal his desire to nationalize the means of production from, well, everyone. Was he secretly plotting to get asked, unexpectedly, to speak at the Democratic Convention, take a chance on running for President, and succeed, back when he was on the Harvard Law Review? That, plus absolutely iron self-control, might explain why no one caught a glimpse of Obama’s secret radicalism: he has been concealing it for decades, the better to bore away at our bourgeois institutions.

Precisely. The success of the Ayers claims — and its filial guilt-by-association narratives — depend upon one’s ability to disregard everything that Barack Obama has said and done for more than two decades in public life. It would require, in the words of Joe McCarthy, “a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man.” Well, maybe not quite so immense as the one orchestrated by George C. Marshall — but still. It’s the sort of thing that will work with these assholes, but few others.

The latest faux scandal involves the claim that Obama was a member of the “Marxist socialist” New Party during his run for the Illinois State Senate. Setting aside the obvious point — which is that the “evidence” for Obama’s membership rests on the testimony of a defunct website and a pair of ambiguously-written 12-year-old articles in a magazine with single-digit readership — the insistence that the New Party represented some sort of burrowing, Trotskyite faction of the revolutionary left is, well, stupid. Unless, of course, you equate revolutionary socialism with living wage campaigns, voter registration drives, or calls for greater vigilance on anti-trust laws, or any of the other issues that animated the various urban-based party organizations. Which I suppose, given the innate deficiencies of the folks promoting this story, is probably the case.

In any event, the New Party allegations — like the Ayers story — have been around for months now. Several bloggers dropped this turd on the sidewalk in May; the usual suspects have now discovered the pile and, after shoving some candles into it, have decided that it’s a heap of birthday cake. Under ordinary conditions, I’d be tempted to assert confidently that this is is a story too pathetic for even the McCain campaign to run with, but since the old man has decided to go the Full Wallace during the last month, there’s really no telling.

The Supreme Court and Abortion, Past and Future

[ 0 ] October 9, 2008 |

From the standpoint of a supporter of reproductive rights, Ann Bartow brings a pessimistic perspective while Neal Devins is more optimistic. I have agreements and problems with both arguments.

I do disagree with Bartow that the five votes to overturn Roe “are already there.” In particular, I don’t agree with her claim that Kennedy “has been moving against abortion over time.” I don’t see how his position has changed at all. The plurality opinion in Casey created (as Devins notes) a regime of legal-but-regulated abortion; Carhart II isn’t inconsistent with that. And while bans on “partial-birth” abortion are idiotic, they also have less impact on access to abortion than the waiting periods and parental involvement requirements upheld in Casey. Particularly when you consider his very strong endorsement of the right to privacy in Lawrence, I think the odds that Kennedy would be the fifth vote to overrule Roe are nil.

In addition, I also disagree with the essentially functionalist account of Casey advanced by both Bartow and Devins. Both see Casey as a product of social and political forces that perhaps caused the median justices to vote against their true preferences. But the upholding of Roe was very much contingent; with exactly the same political and cultural context it could well have been overruled. Had Reagan just nominated Scalia and Bork in reverse order, or Bush I had nominated Ken Starr rather than Souter, Roe would be gone. And I think this mattered a little more than Devins assumes. It’s true that majorities favor abortion rights, but a number of state legislatures would have almost certainly passed abortion bans had the Court permitted them.

At any rate, I do agree with Devins that Roe is probably safe in the short term, and certainly isn’t immediately threatened should Obama win. On the other hand, I don’t agree with him that a court with a more conservative median vote would reject abortion regulations that push the envelope. Roberts and Alito might not want an opinion overruling Roe explicitly, but I don’t think they will ever vote to find an abortion regulation unconstitutional, and as Carhart II proves the current “minimalist” court will go to ridiculous lengths to pretend it’s not overruling precedents it clearly is. Moreover, politics can change quickly, and given the relative ages of the pro- and anti- Roe forces on the Court there’s unlikely to be much margin for error for quite a while. The 2008 election really does matter, and a substantive right to abortion will not be on safe ground for quite a while after that. Casey did mirror (for better or worse) national median opinion quite well, but the Court could have plausibly have gone against it before and could do it again.

Canadian Election Blogging!

[ 16 ] October 9, 2008 |

Calgary Grit projects another Conservative minority. A majority had seemed possible to me, but according to this data the Tories just can’t pick up enough seats in Quebec, and strategic voting is likely to decrease the final Conservative margins.

Andrew Sullivan’s womb with a view

[ 0 ] October 9, 2008 |

I wouldn’t bother with this subject except for the fact that Sullivan is both very widely read and published on the Atlantic’s web site, so he’s sort of kosher from the viewpoint of what “counts” as a mainstream media source.

Sullivan has become obsessed with the idea that the McCain-Palin campaign is obligated to release documentation proving that Trig Palin is actually Sarah Palin’s child. He comes back to the subject several times a week, and has made some querelous posts about how the McCain campaign won’t even respond to his requests for some documentary proof. He’s also stuck on the idea that he has some kind of professional obligation as a journalist to keep pursuing this story, that he owes to his readers etc.

The whole thing seems fairly nuts, but it does raise some potentially interesting questions.

The less interesting question is why someone like Sullivan thinks this is such a big deal. One possible answer is that if Trig really isn’t Palin’s baby then that proves she’s a liar. This rationale for getting hung up on the question is absurd on its face. Palin is a proven liar on all sorts of subjects of vastly greater public importance than the maternity of Trig Palin.

Indeed of everything Palin lied about, lying about who Trig’s mother is might be the most defensible lie she’s uttered, assuming it’s a lie, because her motivations (I suppose) would be to protect her daughter. Which brings up the question of what Sullivan’s theory of the case is at this point. Does he not believe Bristol Palin is pregnant? Does he think Bristol is pregnant but got pregnant a few weeks after giving birth to Trig? Journalists can’t just go about demanding that public figures “prove” things unless they have some genuine basis for doubting the official story. If I started demanding that Obama “prove” he’s the father of his daughters I would quite properly be treated as a crazy person.

For a variety of reasons (Palin’s behavior at the time of the child’s birth, her non-pregnant appearance, Bristol Palin’s disappearance from school) the Trig isn’t Sarah’s baby theory had some superficial X-fileish plausibility before Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was revealed. At this point it seems quite wacky, and it isn’t surprising the McCain campaign is ignoring Sullivan’s increasingly unhinged-sounding demands for “proof.”

Which raises the one really interesting question in all this: What theory of knowledge do journalists like Sullivan hold? I’m happy to stipulate that it’s not inconceivable (snicker) that Trig isn’t actually Sarah Palin’s baby. Maybe Bristol isn’t pregnant and she’ll have a “miscarriage” right after the election. Maybe she somehow got pregnant a few weeks after giving birth to Trig. Maybe we’re all just brains in a giant vat and our beliefs are being manipulated by scientists from the planet Chryon in the Andromeda galaxy.

But . . . here’s the thing. If it’s possible at this point that the McCain-Palin campaign has successfully hidden the true maternity of Trig Palin (and again, I’ll admit that this is possible, if, in my view, extremely unlikely), then we live in a world where the powers that be have the power to control the apparent evidence in such a way as to potentially fool the entire American media about the true answer to a question like this. And of course we do live in such a world. Which means that Sullivan’s request for “documentary proof” of Trig Palin’s true parenthood is both extremely naive and more than a little nutty. What, given what’s already transpired, would qualify as “proof” under circumstances like this? Official-looking documents? Testimony of witnesses? High-definition video of the miraculous moment of birth?

If Sarah Palin has to this point gotten away with lying about the “fact” that she really isn’t Trig Palin’s mother, then that would be somewhat similar to the claim that the US government has gotten away with the “fact” that it actually carried out the 9/11 attacks. Both things are actually possible.

But what doesn’t make sense is to demand that the US government “prove” it didn’t carry out the 9/11 attacks. Because if it actually managed to carry them out and cover them up, then nothing would be easier than for the government to subsequently “prove” (in terms of the conventional media understanding of what “prove” means) that the people who believe the government brought the twin towers down by remote demolition are a bunch of lunatics.

Sullivan wants to play the role of the straight journalist, while still asking X-file type questions of the powers that be, and then expecting that those questions will actually be answered by those same powers. On many levels, that does not compute.

Big News Revealed!

[ 3 ] October 9, 2008 |

When told that that John McCain’s campaign (R.I.P.) will have BIG BIG news, I think it can only mean one thing: the release of the Whitey tape!

Happy birthday John Lennon

[ 32 ] October 9, 2008 |

Who is 68 today in minus space time or plus soul time.

Random thoughts:

(1) Lennon’s murder may have had more emotional impact on me than any other public event (I was 21 at the time Lennon was killed so I’m just barely old enough to remember the assassinations of King and RFK, but for an eight-year-old those were abstract events in faraway places. Lennon’s death took place at home as it were).

(2) Lennon was both a strikingly unique person and one of the characteristic figures of his time.

(3) I wonder if the financial pressure for a Beatles reunion would have built up to the point where it would have been irresistable? Leaving aside personally materialistic considerations, if somebody offers you a billion dollars or whatever I suppose you’re almost ethically obliged to take it from them, so you can do some good things with it.

(4) Five favorite Lennon songs at this moment:

Don’t Let Me Down
Rain
Yer Blues
Dear Prudence
#9 Dream

Sarah Palin Laugh Line of the Day

[ 24 ] October 8, 2008 |

So now that Sarah Palin is seeking personal vindication by assimilating dumb phrases from the wingnuttosphere, I suppose it’s only a matter of time before she refers to the Democratic ticket as “idiotarians” or as enthusiasts of “dhimmitude.” Or maybe she’ll just respond to questions by belching “Heh. Indeed.”

I will say this: if she raises the allegation that Bill Ayers wrote Obama’s autobiography, she will bring joy and warmth to the heart of one very special blogger.

When We Fall Victim to Stereotypes We Didn’t Know Existed

[ 34 ] October 8, 2008 |

Huh. I didn’t know that Nelson and Starbuck could infect me with teh gay:

Mr. Fulrath is one of a growing number of single — and yes, heterosexual — men who seem to be coming out of the cat closet and unabashedly embracing their feline side. To that end, they are posting photographs and videos of their little buddies on YouTube and on Web sites like menandcats.com, and Twittering about them to anyone who will listen.

On the other hand, perhaps my cat blogging indicates that I’m particularly secure in my sexuality. Paul Klusman:

Any single, straight man who has the slightest bit of insecurity about his own sexuality will probably find it difficult to admit to owning or even appreciating cats.

Right… Via Jack Shafer, who appropriately calls out this nonsense.

Thanks Again Salon!

[ 35 ] October 8, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Camille Paglia: “Many others listening to Sarah Palin at her debate went into conniptions about what they assailed as her incoherence or incompetence. But I was never in doubt about what she intended at any given moment. On the contrary, I was admiring not only her always shapely and syncopated syllables but the innate structures of her discourse — which did seem to fly by in fragments at times but are plainly ready to be filled with deeper policy knowledge, as she gains it (hopefully over the next eight years of the Obama presidencies). Even if she disappears from the scene forever after a McCain defeat, Palin will still have made an enormous and lasting contribution to feminism. As I said in my last column, Palin has made the biggest step forward in reshaping the persona of female authority since Madonna danced her dominatrix way through the shattered puritan barricades of the feminist establishment.”

And now, the punchline:

“(The value of Ivy League degrees, like sub-prime mortgages, has certainly been plummeting. As a Yale Ph.D., I have a perfect right to my scorn.) People who can’t see how smart Palin is are trapped in their own narrow parochialism — the tedious, hackneyed forms of their upper-middle-class syntax and vocabulary.”

Yes, if only we could all adopt the lucid, simple syntax and vocabulary of Camille Pagilia. Who has a Yale Ph.D. Buy her crappy book!

On Added Value

[ 37 ] October 8, 2008 |

Gregg Easterbrook declares that Eli Manning is a better quarterback than Peyton Manning:

Eli Manning is now a better quarterback than Peyton Manning. At the current rate, his career achievements will at least match, and perhaps surpass, his big brother’s.

Four games into his fifth season, Eli is 44-30 as a starter and has a Super Bowl ring. At the same point in his career, Peyton was 35-35 and had not won a postseason game. In terms of passing stats, the two players are approximately the same.

Easterbrook is right that Eli currently has a higher passer rating than Peyton, although I wouldn’t necessarily bet that’ll be the case at the end of the year. It’s also true that passer rating isn’t the only metric of quarterback effectiveness. Nevertheless, Eli’s ratings in his first four complete seasons:

55.4
75.9
77
73.9.

Peyton’s:
71.2
90.7
94.7
84.1

The gap isn’t as large as I thought it would be, but it’s still there, and it’s still a more useful metric for evaluating player performance than win-loss record. Peyton Manning was a significantly better QB in his first four years than Eli Manning; it’s very difficult to argue otherwise.

The problem here isn’t that Easterbrook is an idiot, although he very clearly is. The problem is that Easterbrook exemplifies a particular kind of contrarian writing that is dismissive of statistics and of specialized knowledge altogether. The argument goes something like this: Sure, I could write a column making the obvious point that Peyton Manning was a better QB than Eli Manning in their respective first four years, but everyone already knows that; I need to produce something new! I certainly understand the contrarian impulse in writing, because after all a column or article must be about something, and simply noting that Manny Ramirez is a better hitter than Andruw Jones won’t put food at the table.

However, there’s an alternative to the Easterbrookian model; it involves learning a lot about a subject and writing competently for an audience that’s willing to learn. This is, for lack of a better term, the Baseball Prospectus model. The Baseball Prospectus folks write for an audience literate in baseball statistics, but they can also translate their insights into writing for a larger audience. More importantly, they make their audience smarter; read one column, and you’re better able to understand the next. In short, the don’t have contempt for their audience. Reading Easterbrook, whether in his sports, science, or entertainment modes, tends to make one dumber. This is by design; Easterbrook can’t be bothered to learn enough about a subject to add value to whatever basic analysis he’s making. As any reader of Fivethirtyeight will quickly grasp, a good writer with a wide and deep knowledge of his or her subject can add a lot to any basic analysis; it just depends on having a basic level of respect for your audience.

Ayers and Kissinger

[ 0 ] October 8, 2008 |

I only allude to the point in this column, but what makes people like Ayers and Kissinger similar is that, if your socio-economic status is high enough, it’s very difficult not to remain “respectable” in the eyes of at least a good piece of the Establishment, no matter what you’ve done.

Nickel Summary

[ 11 ] October 8, 2008 |

Obama did his job (very well if you go by the instapolls.) Even if the numbers soften, in the big picture it’s a major victory. If you’ll forgive the analogy that I became fond of after being in the host city for the 1988 Olympics, he needed a Katarina Witt performance. That is, given his position if he didn’t make any major mistakes he’s the winner. And he didn’t. And to amplify what I said in the debate thread, Brokaw’s performance was poor-too-awful, but with one key caveat: the (generally poorly worded or poorly chosen) questions were about important substantive matters. He didn’t launder any questions about Ayers or other trivia in the manner of Stephanopolous. The standards for such things is so debased I can live with a moderator who doesn’t produce many interesting answers but at least doesn’t drag the debate into silly mudslinging.

Finally, kos makes a good point here; the snap polls combined with the blogosphere make it much more difficult for situations like 2000 — where a contemporaneous Gore victory among actual debate viewers was turned into a retrospective loss by the media (and not just the right-wing media) — much more difficult.