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First Day Jitters

[ 0 ] August 30, 2007 |


It happens every fall. The first day of school* rolls around and I get jitters. Today is my last-ever first day of school, as I embark on my third (and last!) year of law school. For all of you lawyers out there, I’m headed into the dreaded fed courts at 2pm.

May the force be with me.


* Technically, the first day of school was yesterday, but I didn’t have any classes, so I just sat around yakking with friends and meeting with profs. So today is my first real day of school.

Hack of the Day

[ 0 ] August 30, 2007 |

David Ignatius.

Notes from APSA…

[ 0 ] August 29, 2007 |

Arrived in Chicago late afternoon; the 70 degree temp is a welcome change from the 95+humidity that’s been afflicting Lexington for the last month. Some initial thoughts:

  • With luck, the conference low point has been reached through consecutive renditions of “Walking in Memphis” and “The Wind Cries Mary” by the truly awful pianist at “Daddy O”, the hotel’s “Irish” bar. You haven’t really hated Walking in Memphis until you’ve heard it done really, really, really badly twelve feet from your table.
  • I find, after 11 years of political science conferences, that walking around the hotel is almost like wandering a ghost world. I’ve seen so many of the faces before, but can place very few or them; did I serve on a panel with this one? Was that one a prospective UW grad student? Is that one current UK faculty? It’s kind of scary, because you get the sense that you’ve seen all these people before, but can place very few of them.
  • Color me unconvinced that the sartorial sense of political scientists has improved. Casual observation on the night before the first day of the conference indicates that the uniform remains substantially unchanged; navy blazer with brass buttons, button down shirt with no tie and t-shirt showing at the neck, pleated slacks…. and please, people; there’s no reason to be wearing your name tag to the bar before the damn conference even starts.

Further observations (including notes from actual panel presentations) to come…

Selective Opposition to Animal Cruelty?

[ 3 ] August 29, 2007 |

I actually think that Tia, responding to a criticism of people using the outrage about Michael Vick to criticize factory farming processes, makes a reasonable point here:

Without reading them, but with familiarity with the line of argument, I think all those op-eds are actually…a recognition that we make arbitrary distinctions about what animals’ pain matters, and an effort to make the case for non-arbitrary distinctions that have a basis in something other than totally culture-dependent taboos. I, too, find silly the spectacle of someone who is not in any discernible way opposed to factory farming practices fulminating about dogfighting, and there’s just as much a cultural diversity argument against a prohibition of dogfighting as there is against a prohibition of any kind of law against animal cruelty. It’s much easier to justify encroachments into someone else’s cultural practices if they’re based on some kind of gesture towards a coherent ethical scheme; “factory farmed meat for me, but no dogfighting for thee” strikes me as the most baseless sort of imperialism. You could make an argument that the spectacle of dogfighting is brutalizing to people, and so it should be banned not because of animal suffering, but because of its effect on the participants. I might agree about its likely effects, but I don’t necessarily think that’s the proper province of law to regulate; I don’t generally favor laws designed to protect people from seeing bad things and thinking bad thoughts.

As someone willing to eat bald eagle omelets garnished with panda veal, I must admit that I don’t really have a serious principled response to this. I don’t think think there’s any ethical compulsion to forego meat altogether (health is another question); the production of vegetables, wheat, etc. in our society generally involves the destruction of animal life too. Eating meat humanely raised and killed perfectly defensible. But I have to admit I don’t actually adhere to that kind of meat-eating. And since I consume the products of factory-farmed meat, I’m not sure that selective moral outrage at Michael Vick is particularly justifiable.

There are, I think, some colorable substantive distinctions; in particular, Vick’s actions (not just the dogfighting but the additional torture-killing of the dogs) represents a sadism for its own sake that factory farming doesn’t, and hence it’s reasonable for the law to treat them differently. But is this distinction enough to justify significant federal jail time for Vick in a country where factory farming is not only legal but subsidized? Seems like a hard case to make. Can eaters of mass-produced meat (or, even more so, people who see nothing wrong with mass-produced meat) justify intense outrage at Vick? It’s hard to rationally justify, I think. A little humility is on order for those of us with bad faith eating practices.

When He’s Smart, He’s Dumb

[ 0 ] August 29, 2007 |

As the Mariners jump out to yet another early deficit, I note that one strange thing about Bill Bavasi is that it’s very possible that the smartest thing he did this offseason — letting Gil Meche walk — is very likely to cost the Mariners a playoff spot. Not only because Meche has been very good, but his replacements make one long for the pitching stylings of James “The Fire Next Start” Baldwin. Admittedly, in retrospect optimistic Royals fans like Rany Jazayerli had a point; his uptick in K rates, combined with the fact that he was a talented pitcher with some innings under his belt meant that this wasn’t completely unforeseeable. But that made him a good short-term gamble, not worth a long-term contract for good money. Bavasi did the right thing; it failed. What can you do? (Alas, his stupid moves worked out more predictably. Well, Vidro’s actually been OK, but Broussard/Jones could have been similarly valuable for less money.)

Meanwhile, L, G & M has an exciting reverse hedge wager! Frequent commenter Howard has agreed to donate $50 in my name to Planned Parenthood when the Yankees make the playoffs. If several Yankees stars are killed in an attempt to sell drugs to Alfred Molina that goes horribly wrong tomorrow, Howard will be able to contribute a couple guest posts celebrating his !&*( Yankees during the post-season, and in addition I will of course make the donation myself. (Actually, I think this blog may already have a closet Yankees fan among its authorship, although she or, er, he has kept quiet about it.) Of course, if anyone wants to match…

…could the Mariers piss away a few more baserunners? They’re in danger of scoring another run at some point!

4:33

[ 0 ] August 29, 2007 |

Fifty-five years ago today, John Cage wasted 4 minutes and 33 seconds of his audience’s time in Woodstock, NY. Some would argue this was the shortest duration of time squandered by the composer; some would also argue that Cage’s performance was only the second strangest musical event in that part of the state.

I’m Not Seeing the Connection

[ 0 ] August 29, 2007 |

Trusty old Bill Saletan draws some funky comparisons today in his Human Nature column. After a paragraph about the broadening availability of surgery to repair the harm caused by Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), he gives us this gem:

Brazil will pay for sex-change surgery under its national health system. Fine print: Before the surgery, you have to get a psychological evaluation and approval from a committee of doctors. The policy was prompted by a court ruling that the surgery is a constitutional right. Government’s objection: We don’t have enough money to pay for all these operations. Court’s conclusion: If we don’t subsidize and supervise the surgery, people will do it themselves, and they’ll butcher it. (Related columns: Transsexuality, transhumanism, and self-mutilation.) Question: Is genital mutilation a crime if you don’t want it but a right if you do? Post your answer here.

Maybe it was an innocent question on Saletan’s part (doubtful), but I was incredulous: is he really comparing surgery to repair FGM to surgery that will allow someone to be the sex they feel they are supposed to be? Is he really calling transgender surgery genital mutilation? Sometimes I think that his grip on the nuances of language is rather loose.

Book Review: Young J. Edgar

[ 0 ] August 29, 2007 |

Kenneth Ackerman, a Washington lawyer and amateur biographer, has penned Young J. Edgar: Hoover, the Red Scare, and the Assault on Civil Liberties, a book focusing on the experiences of John Edgar Hoover during the Palmer Raids of 1919. Ackerman, who has previously written books about Boss Tweed and James Garfield, largely ignores questions of Hoover’s sexual proclivities in favor of an analysis of his early bureaucratic career in the Justice Department. Hoover played a much larger role in the Palmer Raids than is commonly thought, and the Raids may have played a very significant role in making young John Edgar into the man known as J. Edgar Hoover.

Talk of the Red Scare immediately invokes images of Joseph McCarthy, Alger Hiss, and the Rosenbergs, but the events of the 1950s were in some ways a replay of script written in 1919. In the immediate aftermath of World War I, an anarchist organization attempted a series of bombings against major government officials, including Attorney General Alexander Palmer. These bombings, though ineffective, spurred a long series of raids against suspected anarchists and communists in the United States. These supposed radicals were concentrated in immigrant communities, always a source of concern for Americans. The Palmer Raids, as they came to be known, detained thousands of immigrants (and not a few American citizens), and resulted in the deportation of considerable numbers to the Soviet Union and elsewhere. The raids also helped break up the fractious leftist political community in the United States.

I’m of two minds about the Palmer Raids and the First Red Scare. It’s unassailably true that the Raids involved the brutal violation of the civil rights of thousands of Americans and many thousands of immigrants. Fears of communism were used to attack labor organizations, groups that argued for racial equality, and pacifists protesting US involvement in World War I and the Russian Civil War. On the other hand, several groups associated with the radical left did indeed advocate the violent overthrow of the United States government. That’s fine and well as a debating position, but in the context of social disruption at the end of World War I, the Russian Revolution, and various disturbances in Europe, it can hardly be surprising that such rhetoric encountered pushback. Moreover, some leftist groups went well beyond verbal advocacy of revolution, and engaged in terrorist attacks against government officials and public spaces.

Still, the crackdown on suspected leftist terrorists inevitably came to include attacks on unions and labor groups, racial minorities, and immigrants of all kinds. Local business elites helped plan and fund raids against labor organizations and immigrant communities in some cities. Although Ackerman doesn’t deal with the question in depth, civil rights agitation in the South and elsewhere would eventually be connected to fears of communism. Americans who criticized the raids, including a young Felix Frankfurter, came under investigation by the Justice Department. The country eventually came to its senses, and more quickly than in the 1950s. Palmer ran unsuccessfully for President in 1920, after which his political career essentially ended. Woodrow Wilson, crippled by illness, slowly withdrew his support for the increasingly unpopular actions of his Attorney General.

Ackerman splits his focus between the raids and the character of John Edgar Hoover, then a young bureaucrat in the Justice Department. Hoover cut his teeth on the Palmer Raids, and was deeply involved in their planning, execution, and defense. Hoover helped make the Palmer Raids, but Ackerman argues that the Raids also helped make Hoover. In criticizing British rule of India, Edmund Burke noted that young Britons went to India, found themselves with the power of life and death over their colonial charges, and returned to Britain as little tyrants. The same, Ackerman suggests, happened to Hoover. The Palmer Raids were a formative experience for the ambitious young man, and helped inculcate in him not only a hatred for enemies of America, but also a contempt for civil liberties and any legal impediments to fighting the way he wanted to fight. Ackerman goes on to suggest that the rhetoric associated with the War on Terror, and the contempt for civil rights and legal procedure at the Justice Department during the Bush administration, may be producing another generation of little Hoovers.

Hoover justified his actions in terms of a defense of “America,” but it remains unclear precisely what that meant to him. Defending “America” doesn’t really mean anything; America is, after all, simply a collection of people, territory, and values. We can agree that some of these things are worth protecting, and others not, and these choices inform how we make value trade-offs; civil liberties in exchange for security from terrorists, for example. For Hoover, liberal Jewish “Harvard” lawyers like Felix Frankfurter represented a threat to “America” that required FBI surveillance, while the Ku Klux Klan and associated Southern lynch mobs were merely a local problem. Failing to specify what it is about America that you propose to protect can be strategic, as it allows you to do pretty much anything you like, but I’m nevertheless interested in how Hoover himself defined the America that he was so eager to protect. He obviously didn’t have much of an interest in civil liberties, or in the value of dissent, or freedom from state surveillance. Indeed, it’s hard to determine what exactly he did believe in. Ackerman is of the view that Hoover simply wasn’t philosophical enough to think in terms of protecting particular values at the expense of others. He undoubtedly thought about the rhetorical uses of protecting “America,” but it’s unlikely that he delved into a lengthy consideration of what that meant. Accordingly, for Hoover there were no trade-offs; he protected America from its enemies, abroad and at home, whether they were citizens or no.

When I spoke with Ackerman, he mentioned that his evaluation of Woodrow Wilson had dropped considerably over the past few years, as more detailed studies of the Wilson administration emerged. Wilson was not directly involved in the Palmer Raids, as he was concerned with events in Europe and later suffered a debilitating stroke. However, Ackerman is of the view that Wilson would not have made any effort to prevent Palmer from acting. Wilson and Palmer were close friends and political allies, and it’s unlikely that Palmer would have done anything that he believed Wilson would not have approved. Precedent for the kind of attacks on dissidents that the Palmer Raids involved had been set, with Wilson’s approval, in World War I. As Wilson also presided over the expunging of African-Americans from the ranks of the federal bureaucracy, his general views on civil rights should be in deep question.

I wish that Ackerman had dealt in more detail with the color line in the United States and how racial concerns mapped onto the right-left divide. The late 1910s and early 1920s saw considerable racial unrest in the United States, and leftist groups later made inroads both into the civil rights movement and into the elite African-American intellectual community. Hoover himself was from Washington D.C., which in 1920 was plainly a Southern town. I asked Ackerman why no political alliance of consequence had developed between northern immigrant communities and African-American groups, and while he allowed that the Raids may have forestalled such a development, structural factors weighed heavily against an alliance coming together. Nevertheless, Young J. Edgar is a strong book, certainly worthy of a read by anyone interested in the history of civil liberties violations by the US government in the 20th century.

Separated at Birth

[ 0 ] August 28, 2007 |

Cal Thomas, “England is Vanishing” (2007):

Abraham Lincoln said no nation can exist half slave and half free. Neither can a nation be sustained if it allows conditions that result in mass emigration, while importing huge numbers of foreigners who come from backgrounds that do not practice assimilation or tolerance of other beliefs. When one factors in the high number of abortions (one in five pregnancies are aborted in England and Wales), the high birth rates of immigrants (15 times those of white Britons), it doesn’t take a population expert to predict that the days of the England we have known may be numbered.

Lothrop Stoddard, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy (1920):

England is inhabited by two race-stocks — Nordics and Mediterraneans . . . . Two hundred years ago the Mediterranan element in England was probably very small. The industrial revolution, however, reversed the selective process, and today the small, dark types in England increase noticeably with every generation. The swart ‘cockney’ is a resurgence of the primitive Mediterranean stock, and is probably a faithful replica of his ancestors of Neolithic times.

Such was the ominous ‘seamy side’ of nineteenth century civilization . . . . An ill-balanced, faulty environment penalized the superior strains and favored the inferior types; while. conversely, the impoverishing race-stocks, drained of their geniuses and overloading with dullards and degenerates, were increasingly unable to evolve environmental remedies.

More on Craig and the Law

[ 0 ] August 28, 2007 |

GFR has more details, concluding that under Minnesota law that signaling someone in a public place that you’d be interested in engaging in consensual lewdness is not, in fact, illegal. (To be clear, nobody is denying that if he was actually engaging in sexual relations in a public place the state could legitimately intervene, but as far as I can tell nobody’s claiming that he did that.)

And, of course, nor should such behavior be criminalized, with inevitably arbitrary enforcement being one obvious reason. I mean, do you seriously think that a law that essentially banned making creepy passes at someone in public places would be routinely enforced against heterosexual men hitting on women? Not bloody likely. There’s a reason why in Bowers v. Hardwick, the Supreme Court when evaluating a statute that 1)said absolutely nothing about gender or sexual orientation and 2)ostensibly banned sexual behaviors that heterosexuals routinely engage in framed the legal question as whether “the Constitution confers a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy” and (as Blackmun pointed out) displayed an “almost obsessive focus on homosexual activity.”

Another point from Garance:

But, again, I can find nothing in Minnesota state law that makes asking someone to hook up with you a crime, rather than a civil tort (as in sexual harassment law) regardless of the circumstances.

Why, then, do police continue to act as though it is? Because of the long and only-recently ended practice of firm legal discrimination against gay people. Until 2001, consensual sodomy was a crime in Minnesota, meaning that it was only six years ago that gay people in that state stopped being treated by the letter of the law as, quite literally, outlaws and criminals.

Meanwhile, in Idaho, the state Sen. Larry Craig has represented in Congress since 1981, consensual sodomy was a felony punishable as a “crime against nature” by five years to life in prison until 2003, when the Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that a similar statute in Texas was unconstitutional, thus striking down the state’s law. From 1996 until then, the state sex offender registry was written so as to add those convincted of even consensual sodomy to the sex offender rolls for life.

Right. Relatedly, Greenwald reminds us of one of my favorite ever manifestations of Instapunditry, in which Reynolds solemnley informed us that he was voting for the Republican in the Tennessee Senate race because…an obscure activist outed an Idaho politician who wasn’t up for re-election. (As I said at the time. “it would be considerably more embarrassing if he were telling the truth than if he was lying.”) At any rate, whatever one feels about outing it’s fairly obvious that Craig has nothing to complain about. To assert that a claim of privacy should entirely shield acts that you believe should be prevented by state coercion backed up with substantial criminal penalties is absurd.

…yet more from Yglesias, replying to a point that I’ve seen a lot in comments: “Weisberg & Plotz are also making sense here. The idea that the real crime was the peering into the cop’s stall doesn’t make sense. The cop was in the bathroom specifically to try to arrest cruisers. He arrested Craig not after the alleged peeping, but after this foot-tap-signal business.”

How Poor is Poor Enough?

[ 0 ] August 28, 2007 |

In sync with the NY Times report that poverty is down in the US though uninsurance rates are up, the Heritage Foundation has posted a maddening document: “How Poor are America’s Poor? Examining the “Plague” of Poverty in America.” Don’t you just love the use of scare quotes to tip us off, right off the bat, that the Heritage Foundation doesn’t think poverty is a problem.

Anyway, according to the Heritage Foundation, America’s poor aren’t really “suffering.” They’re eating enough meat, have air-conditioning, and even own VCRs! The real kicker: we can reduce the numbers of kids who are considered poor by making their lazy ol’ parents work more:

The remaining poverty in the U.S. can be reduced further, particularly poverty among chil­dren. There are two main reasons that American children are poor: Their parents don’t work much, and fathers are absent from the home.

Tell that to the thousands of people working several jobs to keep their families nourished and housed, but always one sick day away from disaster.

To the Heritage Foundation, the problem is not poverty, but how we measure it. We’re just too generous. The federal poverty level, $20,650 for a family of four in 2007 — is just too darn high. For the Heritage Foundation, if you’re not totally and utterly destitute, you’re doing just fine. What a crock.

Partisan Homophobia

[ 0 ] August 28, 2007 |

Yglesias and Balko are right that pretty much any substantive defense of the proposition that what Vitter did is less serious than what Craig did comes down to “pure homophobia.” Indeed, discussing the Craig scandal at all poses a bit of a dilemma; I don’t have much sympathy for him, given his relentlessly anti-gay voting record, but it seems pretty clear to me the arrest of Craig wasn’t justifiable.

In the specific case of Hewitt, though, there’s probably a more important factor: Louisiana’s governor is a Democrat, and Idaho’s is a Republican. Craig resigning would mean a Republican incumbent going into the 2008 election; Vitter resigning would mean another Democratic Senator. So no conservative pundit should get credit for standing on principle for demanding that Craig resign, and that goes triple if they haven’t made the same call for Vitter (who actually violated the law, although he did so in a more heterosexual way that will help to earn forgiveness from conservatives.)

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