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This Is Payback?

[ 0 ] June 19, 2008 |

I dunno, if Rumsfeld really wanted to get back at McCain, wouldn’t he prominently endorse him and suggest that we’d see similar foreign policy under a McCain administration no matter what their conflicts have been?

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A Point Endorsed

[ 20 ] June 19, 2008 |

Indeed. One of the most irritating aspects of blog discussion about the primary was the “See — Obama’s a politican, no matter what his supporters say!” / “Obamabots don’t understand that he will not suddenly make Republicans disappear!” talking points, along with similar assorted strawmen.

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Note to Wingers: This is Called Judicial (System) Activism

[ 0 ] June 19, 2008 |

The New York Times reported yesterday on an alarming trend out of the anti-woman/forced pregnancy camp in Kansas. In that state (and a few others), state laws allow people to petition for a grand jury investigation into, well, just about anything that they can get enough signatures for. This time, it’s to investigate Dr. George Tiller, the doctor who provides late term abortions to women out of his Wichita, Kansas clinic. Dr. Tiller has been performing abortions since the 1970s and has been harassed virtually the entire time. He has faced extreme violence –including being shot in both arms by an abortion opponent.

And now he is waiting for the results of a grand jury investigation into whether Dr. Tiller has illegally performed second and third trimester abortions. Which, I’m going to guess, he hasn’t. If you were under as much scrutiny as he has been over the years, you would follow the law to a tee too.

Anyway, here’s the quote that lays bare how ridiculous and politically-motivated these grand jury investigations are:

The grand jury meeting here is at least the 10th ordered by petition in the state in recent years: two investigated abortion providers, including Dr. Tiller, and the rest investigated misdemeanor obscenity violations by stores selling explicit videos, magazines and other items. Only one has led to a conviction.

Right. So all 10 grand jury investigations were against either people selling porn or providing a health service for women. But it’s not a fishing expedition. nooo sireeeee.

Talk about abuse of the courts. This is what I’d call judicial (system) activism.

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Teh Soviet Funny

[ 35 ] June 18, 2008 |

There are no shortage of dumb theories about the fall of communism — nearly all of them having to do with Reagan — but I’ll admit I’d forgotten this chestnut.

For some commentators in the 1980s, the existence of … humour in the communist world took on a profound significance. It demonstrated the indomitable nature of the human spirit under oppression; the fact that communism produced such a huge quantity of jokes showed how hugely oppressive it was; and the stubborn persistence of this humour played a major role in undermining Soviet rule. In the end, they said, communism was laughed out of existence.

Ben Lewis, a television documentary producer with a good knowledge of Russian and German and an inquisitive but sceptical mind, has set out to test these claims.

He has travelled through the former Soviet bloc, collecting jokes, inspecting police records and interviewing cartoonists, dissidents, politicians and diehard communists. The result is a fascinating book which . . . engages with the existing theories and argues that most of them are wrong.

This means I’ll have to shelve my book project, “In America, you catch cold, In Soviet Russia, cold catches you”: How Yakov Smirnoff, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher Saved the Free World for Carrot Top and Tom Green.

I suppose there’s no question that humor can be a valuable political tool, but it’s also true that political humor is usually ambiguous enough that it can shore up as well as mock its target. One of the points this review makes is that Lewis discovered that the Soviet leadership itself utilized humor to absorb or contain the harsh and deserved critiques of the system it presided over. The fact that Stalin apparently joked about his own reputation as a sadistic brute is an expression of the same tendencies in humor that allow George W. Bush to crack wise about missing WMD. You could make a good case that the evolution of human wit probably came to an end that evening.

Still, the article reminds me of my favorite old Soviet-era joke:

So Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev are riding along in a train when it suddenly breaks down. The three leaders step out onto the tracks, scratch their heads a little, consider the scene and try to decide what to do next. Stalin advises that the engineer be shot. Khrushchev, gently disagreeing with his predecessor, recommends quietly assigning the engineer, pardoning the rest of the crew and offering them a second chance to get the train running. Brezhnev recommends pulling down the shades and pretending that the train is still moving.

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The speed of meme

[ 0 ] June 18, 2008 |

via Melissa McEwan.

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You Are the Sucker

[ 35 ] June 18, 2008 |

So some PUMAs — the acronym stands for “Republican” — met with John McCain. The PUMAs immediately agreed to purchase an $1,800 vacuum cleaner with a 30-year extended warranty:

Bower said he’d liked McCain’s answer on judges, in which he “pointed out that he supported Bill Clinton with both Ginsberg [sic] and Breyer.”

Of course he supported the appointments of Ginsburg and Breyer by a Democratic president. Breyer — easily the most moderate member of the Court’s liberal bloc — was confirmed 87-9. Ginsburg, who on the appellate court voted most often with Ken Starr, has also not been a Brennan/Marshall liberal, and was all but hand-picked by Orrin Hatch was confirmed 96-3. You have to understand virtually nothing about politics to think that McCain’s votes tell us anything about the kind of justices he’ll appoint.

Of course, alleged “progressives” with an apparent preference order of Clinton > McCain > Obama are idiots by definition, so this isn’t surprising. To add to the comedy, Mickey Kaus happily buys the Nebraska oceanfront time-share. According to Kaus, this proves that McCain doesn’t really believe any of that stuff about “Roberts, Alito, and Scalia” (all of whom he also voted for), because…look, it’s Halley’s Comet! Perhaps more relevant here are his votes for the actually contested nominations of Bork and Thomas. At any rate, of course I believe that McCain would appoint another Alito or Roberts, since his record on all the relevant issues suggests that he will and he will be constrained by a base (cf. Harriet Miers) that has strong preferences about judicial appointments. And certainly, his touting of meaningless votes for justices as moderate as could be expected from a Democratic president to an audience of disgruntled “Democrats” means less than nothing.

The best part: the title of Kaus’s post is “Suckers! Part XVIII.” At least he’s honest in describing himself…

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Fair Use For Me, But Not For Thee

[ 9 ] June 18, 2008 |

That’s one pathetic clown show the AP is running right now.

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How Much Are the Mets Underachieving?

[ 54 ] June 18, 2008 |

Calling all toasters claims that the Mets are grossly underachieving and that “the personnel is better this year than in 2006.” Kaufman and Sheehan disagree. It seems pretty clear to me that the latter two have the better case.

The Mets have three outstanding players in their primes — and all are having excellent seasons. (Wright ranks #4 among major league 3B in VORP, Reyes #2, Beltran #4 at their positions.) The one other non-old somewhat-talented player, Church, played brilliantly until he got hurt. (And I find it very implausible that it was Randolph’s decision to completely botch his treatment; it’s not like he started in Colorado.) This doesn’t add up to a good offense because…Minaya completely failed to flll out the roster. Castillo is, if anything, having a better year than could be expected for a 32-year old with absolutely no power who has lost most of his speed, putting up a .370 OBP. Schneider is an extensively proven non-hitter. Delgado is doing what immobile 36 year olds who have no skills but walks and homers do: stop hitting. Which of the washed-up guys who weren’t especially good when they were younger who compose the bench was Randolph supposed to turn into a star? As far as I can tell, the offense has been about as good as could be expected; the biggest problem is that Minaya signed a whole bunch of gimpy old guys to back up his stars and didn’t have any viable plan Bs.

With the rotation, it’s about the same thing; everyone’s within a reasonable range of expectations except maybe Perez who had an atypically good year…under Randolph in 2007. As for the bullpen, the current ERA+s of 186, 161, 153, 106, 102, 86, and 72 seems a pretty reasonable rate of return on talent to me. As for claims of 2006, I’d like c.a.t. to identify the Floyd, Valentin, Lo Duca, or still-skilled Delgado on the roster to back up the big 3.

None of this is to say that Randolph has done an especially good job this year. Most managers lose effectiveness over time, and if they haven’t significantly underachieved, they haven’t been over expectations either. (c.a.t also claims that Randolph is a horrendous strategic manager. Since the only example he cites is “pointless running,” and the Mets have an excellent 68 SB and 17 CS, I’ll dismiss the argument for lack of evidence.) But this question can only be discussed in relation to the alternative. If the Mets had a high-pressure manager with good credentials, I think a case can be made for a change. But for a low pressure manager with a record similar to Randolph’s who’s already been with the team? What’s the point? And I don’t see any way in which Randolph can bear primary responsibility for the current season. Given the injuries and predictable declines, the talent just isn’t very impressive.

But then I guess c.a.t. and I evaluate managers very differently; I’m not sure what it is about Davey Johnson’s “take over three mediocre or awful teams, turn them into contenders (including the second of third best team of the last 30 years), and have them get clearly worse when he left” (s)he doesn’t like…

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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 0 ] June 17, 2008 |

James Madison, proclaiming a temporary amnesty for military deserters, 17 June 1814:

Whereas information has been received that a number of individuals who have deserted from the Army of the United States have become sensible of their offenses and are desirous of returning to their duty, a full pardon is hereby granted and proclaimed to each and all such individuals as shall within three months from the date hereof surrender themselves to the commanding officer of any military post within the United States or the Territories thereof.

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Overrating Judicial Power

[ 20 ] June 17, 2008 |

Buried in David Frum’s endorsement of 9/11 Giuliani is the kind of claim you hear sometimes:

Since World War II, ten men have received the Republican nomination for vice president. Three of those men continued on to win the presidential nomination for themselves, and two actually became president. Meanwhile, a fourth nominee, Thomas Dewey’s running mate Earl Warren, rose to arguably even greater power as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Can Frum really believe that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court holds more power than the President of the United States? Leaving aside that the Chief doesn’t have the power to affect much of anything without at least four allies — as President Bush and Chief Justice Roberts were reminded again last week — it should be obvious that the Supreme Court has far less power than the presidency. Its effect on most aspects of foreign policy is negligible, and controlling the bureaucracy gives the president far more policy influence than even a relatively active court. For the most part, the policy changes created by Supreme Court decisions are marginal.

It should be noted as well that in its civil rights opinions, the Warren Court was working with the national governing coalition of the time (the Truman and Eisenhower administrations both supported desegregation in amicus briefs, for example.) Moreover, in areas where they were unpopular, the Court’s civil rights, criminal procedure, and school prayer decisions faced very serious enforcement and implementation problems. Without some support from other actors, judicial pronouncements mean little. (To borrow Mark Graber’s line about Marbury, it established little except for the power of the Supreme Court to issue a declarative sentence about its powers. That decision came out the way it did, of course, because Marshall didn’t want to issue a writ he knew Jefferson and Madison would ignore.)

The Warren Court played an important role in some areas, but it should also be clear that not only was it a partner of the dominant governing coalition of the time, it was a junior partner. And certainly, the president is vastly more powerful than the Chief Justice even if you adjust for the greater tenure of the latter.

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It had a good plot

[ 42 ] June 17, 2008 |

Although I seem to have a knack for inspiring great moments in trollery, my cultural philistinism is fairly well known in these parts and probably overshadows whatever other virtues I might bring to LGM. With that in mind, it will probably surprise no one to learn that I would rather be pecked to death by crows than read Joyce’s Ulysses. I had my Black Turtleneck/Brooding English Major phase in college — lasting from roughly September 1989 through February 1990 — but my futility in company of Pound and Eliot exposed me as a rank fucking amateur, and so I gave up and spent the rest of my college years reading literature from antebellum New England. To complete my downward slide, I became an historian. By the time I turn 40, I expect to be fingerpainting full time and feeding myself with ants I’ve dug from the ground with sharp sticks.

Still, in belated recognition of Bloomsday, I’m willing to hold out hope for myself if Scott Eric Kaufman would summarize other difficult works of literature for my benefit.

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Just To Be Clear

[ 16 ] June 17, 2008 |

I am aware of all internet traditions. These newbie commenters can’t compete.

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