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Damn, that’s Mean

[ 0 ] May 7, 2007 |

Hilzoy just gets cruel. Have some mercy, and call off the dogs, already. Oh, wait… it’s Mitt Romney. Please dispatch additional dogs.

Cooling Off

[ 0 ] May 7, 2007 |

I discuss this a bit in the post below, but I think this part of Jill’s post is worth emphasizing. She proposes a narrowly tailored remedy that that avoids the overbreatdth of Garance’s in a way that I think gets at the heart of the problem:

As Ezra points out, there are ways to combat that exploitation without focusing on the age issue. He suggests implementing some sort of informed consent standard, so that if an 18-year-old wants to be in a GGW video, she can be — she just has to consent to it when she’s sober and not being pressured in the heat of the moment. Someone elsewhere suggested some sort of 24 or 48-hour consent window — anyone who participates in the making of pornography (male or female) would have to sign a consent form 48 hours before or after filming, in addition to the release that they sign at the time of filming. I don’t see anything problematic about requiring that consent be given while sober and without pressure, either by having what Ezra describes as a “no recruiting for same-day porn videos at bars” rule, or a waiting period for consent. Several states have a waiting period for marriage licenses. Many states require some sort of waiting period for a birth mother to consent to adoption (generally three days, but as long as 15).

The idea of a “waiting period” raises red flags for me primarily because I associate it with abortion — but a waiting period for a medical procedure, which places substantial burden on individuals, is a little different from a pornographic image waiting period. Waiting periods, as far as I can tell, serve two purposes: (1) to guard against spur-of-the-moment decisions which may have extremely negative consequences if binding, and (2) to allow people time to think about a decision when the circumstances surrounding that decision change. Waiting periods for a valid marriage license make sense to me — they still let you get married, don’t impose a huge burden, but put guards in place against people who want to get married because they’re drunk and/or stupid. Waiting periods for adoption allow a birth mother to reexamine her situation when the circumstances of that situation change — i.e., when she gives birth and is faced with the reality of handing over her real live baby to another person/s. Abortion doesn’t fall into either of those two categories — people don’t get wasted and decide to abort for fun; nor are abortion waiting periods contingent on some sort of situational change. A waiting period for consent to have your image used or captured for pornographic purposes seems to fall under the first model of waiting periods — to recognize that the decision is a significant one, and should be made with a clear mind and without situational pressure. So it makes more sense to me than simply upping the age of consent, when 18 is already widely established as the age of adulthood for practically everything.

The correct analogy here is not to abortion waiting periods, which are 1)targeted towards a particular class of people assumed to be irrational, 2)are usually not really about informed consent but are part of broader regulatory schemes trying to prevent some classes of women from obtaining abortions altogether, and 3)biology makes time delays burdensome when it comes to abortion, whereas people’s private parts generally don’t vanish if people have to wait to photograph them. The right analogy is to the “cooling off periods” that are often applicable to high-pressure, seller-initiated transactions like telemarketing and door-to-door sales. These don’t necessary assume a priori that any class of people are irrational, but rather recognize that under pressure people will do things they will not do when given time to reflect. Combine with other measures like permitting people to void contracts to appear in sexually explicit material made when intoxicated or with otherwise impaired consent, this basically calls the bluff of the Joe Francises of the world. If this is simply women making a free choice–if not an “empowering” choice–it shouldn’t be necessary to ply women with alcohol, pressure them to sign unbreakable contracts under duress, etc. And if after 48 hours to reflect a woman still believes a contract signed with informed consent to be in her interest, that’s her right.

Good News!

[ 0 ] May 7, 2007 |

Bean has a good account of the successful push to stop a bad Oklahoma abortion regulation. Obviously, pro-choicers can’t just rely on the courts; every veto point needs to be put into play wherever possible.

Martin Peretz, Freedom Hater

[ 0 ] May 7, 2007 |

Via Ailes, Peretz discerns the majoritarian implications of Sarkozy’s victory:

Majorities have a right–even an obligation–to preserve their own ethics, norms, cultures and histories. They have a right to define the qualifications for membership in and even admission to their societies. This will be the struggle of the 21st century. And not just in France.

So where was Marty when we needed him?

The Readers Speak

[ 0 ] May 7, 2007 |

An excellent comment threads here. To respond to some points:

  • First, from the left, Mithras has some good points. He’s right, of course, that this policy involves “censorship”; what I meant is that it wasn’t general censorship of sexually explicit materials per se. (He was also right that I shouldn’t have used the term “age of consent”; to be clear, I certainly don’t advocate a 21-year-old age of consent, and neither does Garance; like Amanda, I read her as wanting to increase the ability of young adults to experiment sexually without worrying about consequences. We should attack these consequences, but they’re there for now.) I also don’t think that it would necessarily violate the First Amendment, unless the 18-year old limitation on distributing materials also violates it.
  • I do agree with Anderson that Garance’s specific defense of her remedy is far too close to Kennedy’s reasoning in Gonzales for comfort. (It’s not quite the same because it’s not exclusively applicable to women, but under current restrictions mostly male producers and female participants will be involved.) I don’t think it’s the best argument for her policy, but I do think that any policy premised on the idea that adult women have to be prevented from doing things they’ll later regret is unjustifiable. If there was actual evidence that women in this particular age group were significantly more likely to be harmed by contracts they didn’t give informed consent to, this might be different. But absent such evidence, I reiterate my belief that Garance’s remedy is overbroad and not sufficiently justified by evidence.
  • Meanwhile, from the right (or, more accurately, from the left-communitarian) flank, RAF questions both halves of my argument that if the “censorship of porn is necessary it won’t work and if it would work it’s not necessary.” I should say that my argument, like the Canadian Supreme Court, assumes that a liberal democratic state cannot violate free speech merely because sexually explicit materials offend traditionalist mores.
    It can protect harms that may come to particular individuals, but in the kind of patriarchal society that would produce large amounts of objectionable porn it is extremely implausible to think that government officials determining what materials are “dehumanizing” would be free from the patriarchal assumptions that largely structure the porn industry, and I believe that the Canadian case bears this out (and why Andrea Dworkin maintained that censorship was a bad remedy.) In a society sufficiently just that we could assume that government officials were immune from such assumptions, it is unlikely that sexually explicit materials would pose enough of a problem to justify state action. Moreover, Atrios is correct that censorship is particularly prone to arbitrary and abusive enforcement because (particularly if the standards are crafted in a way so as to exclude serious literature and scientific works) the standards will always be extremely vague. On that issue, I completely agree with Roy that “[e]xploitation, alas, exists. But this is no reason to fold the tent of liberty.”

…I think this remedy from zuzu is a better one: “Enforce the liquor laws, enable women who regret signing these things while drunk to void the releases later on the basis of being impaired, and require some minimum compensation for the use of their images. IOW, put the onus on Francis, et al. to ensure that the women appearing in his videos did so free from coercion, impairment or a raw deal.” Right. If women are choosing to do these things freely, there’s no reason they have to be drunk or there can’t be “cooling off” laws, etc. More from her colleague Jill.

"I’m taking notes for the inevitble deposition"

[ 0 ] May 7, 2007 |

Davida points me to HR Hero, a blog dedicated to evaluating the litigation possibilities in daily life at The Office.

Employers who fail to fire employees who tape pepper spray canisters, nunchucks, and throwing stars to the bottom of their desks are playing with fire. Expensive fire. Sure, Roy started it, and I’m glad Dunder Mifflin fired him. But what about Dwight? After all, the man kept weapons at work for God knows how long. And if Roy can prove that Dunder Mifflin knew about them and failed to take action, then he just might have a claim for damages (e.g. eye doctor appointments, pain and suffering, etc.). Maybe Toby should go ahead and start to prepare for this deposition too while he is at it.

To make matters worse, Dwight admits having the weapons during Toby’s investigation into the incident. The time has come for Dunder Mifflin to part ways with Dwight. And unlike they did with Roy, Dunder Mifflin should spring the fifteen bucks and just FedEx Dwight’s last check to him.

Consent and Censorship

[ 0 ] May 7, 2007 |

There has been a lot of interesting discussion of Garance’s WSJ op-ed about raising the age of consent in the porn industry. I should say that I share Avedon and Roy‘s general libertarian perspective on the issue and probably end up in the same place as they do, but I think they’re being a touch unfair to Garance’s argument. Certainly, I agree (even leading aside the question of whether obscenity should be excluded from First Amendment protection, which has never been very persuasive to me) that if the censorship of porn is necessary it won’t work and if it would work it’s not necessary. Canada’s experience with R. v. Butler–in which a Supreme Court decision permitting censorship of sexually explicit materials only on explicitly feminist grounds was used primarily harass gay and lesbian and feminist bookstores–is instructive. Roy also makes a good point about how “[p]opular R-rated giggle-fests from Porky‘s to the American Pie movies are, to me, dirtier than a typical porn film, because they posit sex as something you get away with, like theft or vandalism,” although as Neil reminds us a lot of porn (which simultaneously celebrates and punishes female sexual expression) has a similar ethos.

Still, while I agree with these arguments on their own terms I think they’re a little unfair to Garance’s argument. She is not, after all, really advocating censorship; even the most hardcore civil libertarian, I think, recognizes the need for an age of consent, and whether this (inherently somewhat) arbitrary line should be drawn at 18 or 21 is surely debatable without threatening a slippery slope to Comstockery. The fact that Garance would exempt people whose images are sold from punishment would avoid the obvious problems that make, say, bans on prostitution so counterproductive. I’m still not convinced by Garance’s argument–I would need to know more about how much more likely 18 year-olds are than 22-year-olds to regret decisions to appear in sexually explicit material, whether it could be effectively and non-arbitrarily enforced (I would definitely oppose the policy change if Garance was right that it would be observed in the breach), and I would also prefer to try to more narrowly regulate coercive commercial exploitation before taking a larger step–but I don’t think increasing the age of consent for commercial use of sexual images is an attack on fundamental civil liberties.

$18000 on Meadow Brook to Win!!

[ 0 ] May 6, 2007 |

Spoilers regarding the 4/29 Sopranos below…

I didn’t find the Tony as Degenerate Gambler aspect of last week’s Sopranos at all troubling; they’ve made fairly clear for a while now that Tony is suffering from a slowly declining revenue flow, which has made him engage in risky behaviors in other areas (making a deal with people he barely knows in Florida, supporting Christopher’s risky but potentially quite lucrative venture into the film industry). Recall that he was seriously entertaining Vito’s offer to move to Atlantic City before Phil eliminated that option. Tony’s spending and gambling isn’t anything new, but he simply doesn’t have the revenue flow anymore to make up for that kind of losing streak.

This is not to say that the ep was flawless; the stuff with Vito’s wife and son was handled a bit clumsily, and the death of Hesh’s girlfriend seemed weird and pointless. Nevertheless, I thought it was a solid entry.

Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging; House of Wittelsbach

[ 0 ] May 6, 2007 |

Around the turn of the twelfth century the Counts of Scheyern acquired Wittelsbach Castle, a fortress not terribly far from Augsburg. By the mid-twelfth century the family had relocated to Wittelsbach Castle, and in 1180 were invested as Dukes of Bavaria. The Duchy had previously been ruled by Henry the Lion, who fell afoul of Frederick Barbarrosa when he failed to support the latter’s invasion of Lombardy. Bavaria had existed as a coherent territory since the late 6th century, although of course its borders and population changed over time.

The Wittelsbachs would remain in control of Bavaria until 1918. The territory was periodically divided by German kings, but reunited for good in the 17th century. Two Wittelsbachs served as Holy Roman Emperor, one as King of Germany, four as King of Sweden, and one as anti-King of Hungary between the 14th and 18th century. Joseph Ferdinand was supposed to succeed Charles II as King of Spain, but the death of Charles II and the War of Spanish Succession prevented that from happening. Finally, in 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte abolished the Holy Roman Empire. Duke Maximilian IV Joseph, a close ally of Napoleon, was elevated to King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria.

The Wittelsbachs remained closely intertwined with the rest of European royalty in the 19th century. In 1832, Prince Otto became King of Greece, although he lost that crown in 1862. The mother of Maximilian I of Mexico was also a Wittelsbach. The pressures of politics, royal society, and rulership got to Ludwig II of Bavaria, who became known as “Ludwig the Mad”. Ludwig II was a patron of Richard Wagner, was very popular with the general public, and built a number of memorable castles in Bavaria. However, his considerable eccentricities led to his confinement on June 10, 1886 and, presumably, to his mysterious death three days later. Ludwig II was succeeded by his brother Otto I, who was himself quite mad. Otto I was deposed by law in 1913, and succeeded by Ludwig III, who would preside over the final collapse of the Kingdom of Bavaria.

Defeat in World War I and general dislocation forced the Wittelsbachs to abdicate and flee the country. They returned in the 1920s, but did not reassume power. The Wittelsbachs bitterly opposed the Nazi regime in Germany, and relocated to Hungary in 1939. When the pro-Nazi regime in Hungary collapsed in late 1944, the family was arrested and sent to a series of concentration camps, including Dachau. The family was liberated in late April 1945 by the US 3rd Army.

Among those liberated was eleven year old Franz, who is currently the head of House Wittelsbach. In addition to his pretension to the throne of Bavaria, Franz is at the head of the line of Jacobite succession. Although replaced by George I, House of Glucksburg, the Wittelsbachs never abandoned their claim on the (currently abolished) throne of Greece. Finally, Franz also has a compelling claim on the title King of Jerusalem. Fortunately or no, prospects for reclamation of any of these thrones seem grim. Whatever issues the British may have with the Windsors, the monarchy is more likely to be abolished than turned over to the Jacobite claimant. If the Greeks decide to re-establish the throne, they are far more likely to turn to Constantine II and his heirs than the House of Wittelsbach. Finally, a return to the throne of Jerusalem would presumably require the reconquest and re-establishment of that kingdom. It is not believed that Franz II is contemplating that project at this time.

Trivia: What deposed monarch escaped with $3,000 in cash, four automobiles, and a diamond-and-ruby medal given to him by Stalin?

Iraq Is A Big Elephant

[ 0 ] May 6, 2007 |

Henry, I think, has the best take I’ve read on Jon Chait’s netroots article. Chait’s take is actually pretty good in many respects, but is also marred by his unwillingness to believe that people might disagree with the positions of Democratic centrists for substantive rather than political reasons. In particular, Chait’s argument to a remarkable extent ignores the Iraq War, which as Henry correctly notes was “the most egregious example of the echo chamber that I’ve seen in recent history.” Atrios links to a Chait op-ed from 2003 that exemplifies the intellectual errors that Chait seems to attribute to the “netroots.” First, we have some strawman construction amid grossly premature triumphalism:

In the lead-up to the war against Iraq, liberal doves all made pretty much the same point, with some variation: However successful the conflict itself might be, the long-term diplomatic costs of alienating much of the world would outweigh any benefits. This prediction, while questionable, at least had the benefit of playing out over such an extended period of time that it could not be conclusively disproved until its adherents were all long dead. Alas, after the campaign hit a snag, many doves were unable to resist the temptation to crow over the supposed overconfidence of the war plan — and as a result looked silly a few days later when Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed, to the apparent delight of most Iraqis.

This is quite remarkable. To state the obvious, “the diplomatic costs” are not the only potential costs here, and most critics didn’t doubt our ability to quickly defeat Iraq’s twelfth-rate military and depose Hussein. Rather, the most obvious potential cost was the cost of installing an Islamist quasi-state riven by civil war in Iraq, and the wholly predictable quagmire for American troops and resources (and the net negative for national security) that would ensue. To believe that a more liberal and similarly stable state would result from the invasion requires the belief that the Bush administration was capable of creating such a state ex nihilo from a country riven by sectarian conflict and with little in the way of civic institutions. Evidently, anybody who would trust the Bush administration to accomplish this would trust Lt. Frank Drebin to build a nuclear reactor. Anyway, it’s not just that Chait made an egregious misjudgment, but he wasn’t even asking the right questions, or engaging with anything like the strongest arguments of the critics. “Disarming” Hussein would not serve American security interests if anarchy resulted from the invasion, and so even a defense of the war that didn’t hinge on daydream believing about Iraqi democracy couldn’t avoid questions about Iraqi reconstruction.

Atrios has already highlighted his claim that the lack of evidence of WMDs prior to the war could not be considered a lack of evidence of WMDs. (As I’ve pointed out before, Chait also uses the grossly overinclusive “WMD” category to avoid explaining how, exactly, Hussein possessing some mustard gas would posed a significant threat to American national security.) We’ll return to this shortly. And finally, we have him ascribing motives to opponents of the war straight out of the Republican playbook:

Perhaps the most disheartening development of the war — at home, anyway — is the number of liberals who have allowed Bush-hatred to take the place of thinking. Speaking with otherwise perceptive people, I have seen the same intellectual tics come up time and time again: If Bush is for it, I’m against it. If Bush says it, it must be a lie.

Again, it’s not that people disagreed with Chait on the merits, it’s that they’re blinded by irrational Bush-hatred. He also fails to grapple with the most obvious problem with his assertion: the fact that most American liberal critics of the Iraq War supported the war in Afghanistan, which suggests that the mere fact that Bush supported something was not dispositive. Moreover, the implicit argument here that the competence and honesty of the Bush administration are somehow out of bounds when evaluating a preventative war whose desirability depended on either 1)claims about Iraqi weapons capacity that were not borne out in pre-war inspections or 2)assertions that the Bush administration could make Iraq a pro-American democratic model in the middle east is foolish. To once again return to d-squared:

Fibbers’ forecasts are worthless. Case after miserable case after bloody case we went through, I tell you, all of which had this moral. Not only that people who want a project will tend to make innacurate projections about the possible outcomes of that project, but about the futility of attempts to “shade” downward a fundamentally dishonest set of predictions. If you have doubts about the integrity of a forecaster, you can’t use their forecasts at all. Not even as a “starting point”. By the way, I would just love to get hold of a few of the quantitative numbers from documents prepared to support the war and give them a quick run through Benford’s Law.

Application to Iraq. This was how I decided that it was worth staking a bit of credibility on the strong claim that absolutely no material WMD capacity would be found, rather than “some” or “some but not enough to justify a war” or even “some derisory but not immaterial capacity, like a few mobile biological weapons labs”. My reasoning was that Powell, Bush, Straw, etc, were clearly making false claims and therefore ought to be discounted completely, and that there were actually very few people who knew a bit about Iraq but were not fatally compromised in this manner who were making the WMD claim. Meanwhile, there were people like Scott Ritter and Andrew Wilkie who, whatever other faults they might or might not have had, did not appear to have told any provable lies on this subject and were therefore not compromised.


The raspberry road that led to Abu Ghraib was paved with bland assumptions that people who had repeatedly proved their untrustworthiness, could be trusted. There is much made by people who long for the days of their fourth form debating society about the fallacy of “argumentum ad hominem”. There is, as I have mentioned in the past, no fancy Latin term for the fallacy of “giving known liars the benefit of the doubt”, but it is in my view a much greater source of avoidable error in the world. Audit is meant to protect us from this, which is why audit is so important.

I’m not convinced about the usefulness of generalizing about “the netroots” in general, but certainly any argument that fails to account for the Iraq War and the fact that so many idiosyncratic, independent liberal pundits fell for it because of the same failings they attribute to the “netroots” is inevitably going to have a huge hole in its center.

Happy Derby Day!

[ 0 ] May 5, 2007 |

Today all eyes turn toward Kentucky. Her Majesty is in attendance. Rumour has it that George Clooney is supposed to be around, as well, but I’m not sure about that. Still working on getting a reserve box for Patterson School faculty and guests.

For you compulsive types that just have to bet, here are Crazy Rob’s selections:

1. Nobiz Like Shobiz: Four wins in his last six races. Cool name. Pretty solid bet at 8:1.
2. Curlin: Dominating horse, but today just isn’t his day.
3. Dominican: Longshot, but very good workouts, and Rafael Bejarano is my favorite jockey.

"It’s come to my attention that some people believe martinis are made with vodka."

[ 1 ] May 5, 2007 |

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Above: A drink that is not a martini.

Who says the Emm-Ess-Emm can’t tell hard, necessary truths?

Before we discuss the findings, though, we need to clear up a little matter. It’s come to my attention that some people believe martinis are made with vodka. I hate to get snobbish about it, but a martini should be made with gin or it’s not a martini. Call it a vodkatini if you must, but not a martini. Gin and vodka have as much in common hierarchically as a president and a vice president. Vodka can fill in for gin from time to time and might even be given certain ceremonial duties of its own, but at important moments you need the real thing. Vodka generally makes a poor substitute for gin in a martini or any other gin cocktail.

Certain truths are self-evident and among them are 1)drinks made with vodka are not martinis, and 2)Americans who pay 11 bucks a shot to drink a deliberately tasteless alcohol straight are wankers. Vodka’s place is solely as a mixer for drinks that don’t taste like drinks. I also like the fact that Asimov gets the minor premises right: if a drink has no vermouth in it, it’s not a martini. If only he had been covering the Iraq War

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