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The Flip-Flops are More Impressive than the Boxers

[ 0 ] May 23, 2009 |

I’m sure that everyone has seen this, but that doesn’t make it less awesome:


Any soldier who goes into battle against the Taliban in pink boxers and flip-flops has a special kind of courage.


Who’s afraid of The Terrorists?

[ 0 ] May 22, 2009 |

This is a sincere question. I’m not a particularly courageous person by any means, but I can say with considerable confidence that I’ve never felt any actual fear of terrorism. I mean I was a little freaked out on 9/11 itself because it was such a surreal day, but even then I didn’t feel any sense of personal danger or anxiety.

For any American (at least any American who isn’t patroling the streets of Mosul or trying to run down a story in the hills of Afghanistan) to be afraid or anxious about terrorism seems to me as peculiar as being afraid or anxious about being eaten by a shark, or murdered by a serial killer. After all, sharks and serial killers exist, but if I went around obsessing about the possibility of being victimized by either I would be considered cowardly, or paranoid, or both. Now if I were diving for abalone or surfing Mavericks it would be understandable to be a little anxious about sharks. But, when it comes to terrorism, 99.99% of Americans aren’t surfing Mavericks — they’re in a shopping mall in Topeka, inside of which (apparently) a good number of them are worried about land sharks.

And that’s what I think fear of terrorism is: cowardly paranoia. It’s treating a real but extraordinarily small risk as if it were vastly more significant than it actually is. Which is to say that, over the last eight years, we’ve made indulging in cowardly paranoia the centerpiece of much of our national policy. And making cowardly paranoia the centerpiece of our national policy has become a very bipartisan thing.

As I say, I’m not claiming to be a brave person. You know what scares me? Pancreatic cancer. A friend of mine died of it last week. It’s a relatively rare disease, but 100 Americans are diagnosed with it every day. Most will be dead within six months. That’s something I can understand being afraid of. But terrorism? Is anybody actually willing to say, yes, I’m afraid of terrorism, in same the way it seems perfectly reasonable to admit you’re afraid of cancer, or unemployment, or a broken heart, or an unchained Rottweiler who is casting a cold eye on you as you run past him on a deserted country road?

Who are these people?


[ 0 ] May 22, 2009 |

Jan Crawford Greenburg convincingly speculates that Diane Wood should be considered the frontrunner to be Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee. Given the current candidates — i.e. given that Karlan doesn’t seem to be under consideration — I think this would be my preferred choice too. Admittedly, suggestions that Woods is in fact a Clintonesque liberal like Ginsburg give me pause, but given that Rosen also considered Roberts a moderate I’m not terribly worried. Ginsburg seems more like a worst-case scenario for Wood, which is OK.

On a more general point that applies both to Rosen and to Greenburg’s (generally good) book is that I’m inclined to think that coalition-building on the Court, or at least the modern Court, is very overrated. It’s true, as Rosen says, that Ginsburg is well-liked on the Court, but how this actually matters is far from clear; after all, her best friend is Scalia and they’re one of the least common vote matches. Similarly, O’Connor’s influence on the Court was a function of her having the median vote, not because she had any particular ability to convince people of anything. (From the other end, you sometimes hear that O’Connor refused to overturn Roe because of the beating she took from Scalia — but her position on abortion was completely consistent; she advocated a new standard for evaluating abortion regulations well before Scalia’s attacks and stuck with it until it became law.) Greenburg interprets Thomas’s strong opinions as alienating O’Connor, but isn’t it more that as the Court gets more reactionary moderate conservatives look more liberal? Bill Brennan’s famous charm meant pretty much bupkis once the Court’s median vote got more conservative. And so on. I wouldn’t say that a President should completely ignore this factor, but I think these kind of collegial effects tend to be overstated.

IE Problems

[ 0 ] May 22, 2009 |

Apparently the site isn’t opening in Explorer, or at least isn’t opening for some people (I don’t seem to have a problem on my laptop, but do on my desktop). I have no clue what the problem is; haven’t changed anything about the site recently. If you have any ideas, leave them in comments.

…IE now loads the page on all of my computers; anyone still having problems? In general, if there is such a problem, drop me an e-mail (linked off the profile on the left) as soon as you have a chance.

Misinformation and Straw Men

[ 0 ] May 22, 2009 |

It’s what Dick Cheney is made of. Well, that and undiluted 175 proof evil.

Deep thought: I’m also really anxious to know what Dan Quayle thinks of the value of torturing people to obtain fake evidence for crackpot conspiracy theories used to justify a calamitous war.

Cheney works the dark side

[ 0 ] May 21, 2009 |

Acting against better judgment, I just read Cheney’s speech, a masterwork of dishonesty founded on the assertion that torture works, that Americans should be proud of and grateful for an administration that broke the law, and that such lawlessness did nothing to undermine the nation’s values or moral standing. His essential claims are such vintage Cheney that I half expected him to detour into an lengthy exposition about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction; even so, he couldn’t help touting Saddam Hussein’s “known ties to Middle East terrorists,” but he forgot to credit the late Ibn Shaikh al-Libi for this valuable information. Gee, I wonder why?

In any event, the speech is useful only to the extent that it compiles all of the least convincing arguments on behalf of executive lawlessness. My personal favorite happens to be his insistence that a joint congressional resolution provided the administration with the “specific” authorization it needed to begin throttling terrorist suspects and eavesdropping on domestic phone calls. Like the customary, confused apologies raised on behalf of the Confederacy — e.g., the war wasn’t about slavery; slavery was a humane and decent system; the madmen of the North were determined to crush liberty itself; etc. — Cheney’s arguments aren’t really worth the minimal effort needed to refute them, but it’s nice of him to lay them out there once again. It’s not quite as blunt as Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone” speech, but it will do.

What Blogging Is For

[ 0 ] May 21, 2009 |

If you haven’t read Hilzoy’s thorough decimation of vile Republican propaganda about the Uighurs, do so now.

Also, I have often been a Harry Reid defender in the past, but that’s permanently over.

Belated Admissions of Wrongness

[ 0 ] May 21, 2009 |

Since I’ve been taken to task by several commenters for neglecting my hockey blogging duties, I should note that Berube once again beat what would have been my predictions had I gotten them in on time. And he was only 2-for-4! Alas, I would have gotten only the Penguins right. (And I think he deserves extra credit for at least seeing the Bruins/’Canes going 7; I wouldn’t have.) So while it’s late again, hopefully you’ll believe me when I say I would have taken Detroit (I give up; teams like that you have to knock out early) and Pittsburgh. So, it looks like a finals rematch, and if it happens I think the Pens are in deep trouble unless they go back to the friendly-penguin-with-scarf logo.

And, while I admit to burnout once the Flames once again were eliminated early, it has indeed been a terrific postseason. And Simmons compels me to repeat my take on Gary Bettman; contrary to what was widely assumed (at least in Canada) when he took over, he’s been horrible for the buisness of the NHL, but the game itself is in far, far better shape than it was 10 years ago.

What Henley Said

[ 0 ] May 21, 2009 |

There are plenty of justified ways to express contempt for Charles Krauthammer. But what Klein said was completely indefensible, and hopefully it’s not just “neoconservative malingerers” who can see that.

Make that Eleventh Drink a White Russian!

[ 0 ] May 20, 2009 |

From Wonk Room, the economic impact of an alcohol tax:

– 35 percent of adults pay nothing at all.
– 80 percent of drinkers pay at most $26.50 per year, about 7¢ per day.
– Half of beer drinkers pay at most a penny a day.
– The heaviest drinkers (top 5%), who average some 11 beers per day, pay on average $215 a year, about 60¢ per day.

How does anyone average 11 beers per day? I’m simultaneously impressed and relieved.

Term limits for SCOTUS justices

[ 0 ] May 20, 2009 |

Scott has blogged on this a few times. I don’t intend to overdraw the current parallels with the situation in 1937 (that’s what the comment thread is for), but I think they’re suggestive.

Also, I was looking at some voting records from the 1970s SCOTUS, and it really is striking the extent to which Stevens was smack in the middle of the Court at that time, while now he’s supposedly a flaming lefty, despite little discernable shift in his views.

Revisionism About Clinton’s Supreme Court Appointments

[ 0 ] May 20, 2009 |

Writing with respect to Ed Gillespie’s preemptive defense of Republican hypocrisy over judicial appointments, Johnathan Adler comments:

I understand this view, even as I lament it. I continue to believe the Senate should maintain a more deferential approach — much like Senate Republicans adopted toward Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. I also fear there may be no going back. If Senate Republicans follow Gillespie’s advice — and Gillespie is hardly the only one urging this course — I hope they will also promise to restore the status quo ante if Senate Democrats will commit to follow suit.

I trust that many have you have already spotted the fallacy in Adler’s comparison, which derives from the irredeemably flawed premise of an ideological equivalency between the Court’s “liberals” and “conservatives.” The Ginsburg and Breyer appointments were smooth for the obvious reason that both were pre-approved by Orrin Hatch. Ginsburg had a very moderate record as a circuit court judge, and the Chamber of Commerce-approved Breyer has cast more conservative votes than two of the Court’s Republican appointees. (Alito, on the other hand, is about as doctrinaire a conservative as you can be.) Hatch made it clear that had Clinton tried to nominate the liberal equivalent of Alito or Roberts, there would have been a major fight. And, of course, had Bush nominated the conservative equivalent of Breyer — another Kennedy, roughly — he or she would have sailed through the Senate. It’s not that Republicans didn’t consider ideology in dealing with Clinton’s appointments; it’s that Clinton conceded in advance.

Lest I be accused of my own hypocrisy, I should say that my own positions haven’t changed; I still 1)couldn’t care less if a substantial number of Senate Republicans vote against Obama’s nominee, and 2)think the position that the President can consider ideology in choosing a nominee but the Senate can’t consider it when evaluating a nominee is indefensible on the merits. But to draw an equivalence between the Breyer and Alito nominations is frankly absurd.