Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter (which, I’ll allow, is a cool name).
Today, thanks to Kim Jong Il, I got to be on the TV. I talked about North Korea on the 12:30pm (27 Newsfirst), and on the 5:30pm (36 Action News). Each station interviewed me for about two minutes, asking similar but not identical questions. The situation had developed across the day (in particular in reference to the possible failure of the test), so the answers were a bit different, too.
The experience, certainly, was kind of cool. Of course, that North Korean bastard decided to blow up a bomb on the day that I wasn’t exactly dressed for success, so I had to run home, unrumple my jacket, and put on a tie. Both station crews had the kind of casual professionalism that I really like, regardless of the profession. It’s weird; I was of course paranoid about saying or doing something stupid (picking my noise or launching into an obscenity laden tirade against Mickey Kaus, for example), yet they do this every single day, and don’t seem to worry about it at all. In one of the newsrooms, a discussion of Anchorman broke out during the station break. It was fascinating just watching how the newsroom operated; how the weatherman, for example, wandered across the room chatting while the satellite photo was up. The funniest parts of both interviews were the segment segues; in the first, they went from discussing a rogue state with nukes to “Why can’t men and women just get along when it comes to watching football?”, while the second followed up with a bit on the house from A Christmas Story. Nevertheless, both interviews were enjoyable.
In between I talked for about half and hour on the radio, a discussion which was obviously a lot more detailed and, to me, interesting. Talk radio catches a lot of flak, but done correctly it can convey quite a bit of information. Of course, fewer people listen than watch, fewer still read the newspaper, and very few indeed read the relevant books and blogs, so we have to start somewhere.
vanquished by the Detroit Tigers. Like any good high, the end of the Yankees’ season makes me feel warm and mellow and hungry for more. But already I’m staring to sober up, and I’m fresh out of potato chips. Fortunately, ESPN’s Page Two staff has come through with a recap of the 10 Greatest Yankee Collapses in history. As with all “greatest ever” lists, this one is conspicuously larded with recent events. Not that this is inherently a problem. It should merely remind us that such exercises are always guided by the needs of the present. That is, the current Yankee roster is objectively loathsome and meretricious, and this list helps reaffirm that by including “collapses” from five of the past six years — a genealogy of sucktacular performances that should indeed be heards as one long, beautiful tone. (By way of analogy, the answer to the question of whether George W. Bush is the worst president ever is less revealing than the fact that many historians are having the conversation in the first place). Nonetheless, by any conceivable definition of “collapse,” the glorious Yankee implosions of 2001 (to the Diamondbacks) and 2004 (to the Red Sox) will likely endure and keep their rightful place among the most fantastic events in human history, comparable to Galileo’s discovery of the Law of Falling Bodies or the publication of Dante’s Divine Comedy.I’m not much for metaphysics, but if evil exists in this world, it has been temporarily
I wonder, though, why the editors didn’t include the 1926 World Series, won by the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. Perhaps it’s uncouth to ridicule Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri and the like; perhaps it’s because the 1926 series preceded three decades of near-complete Yankee hegemony. But the Bronx Bombers unquestionably choked in 1926, and I fail to see why the team’s early exits from the playoffs in 2002 or 2006 were any more humiliating. The Yankees, fielding a lineup soon to be known as “Murderer’s Row,” were heavy favorites in that series and actually led three games to two before being garroted 10-2 in the sixth game. In the deciding contest, the Yankees trailed 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth. With two out, Babe Ruth walked; with the capable Bob Meusel batting, Ruth made the incomprehensible decision to break for second. He was thrown out by about five feet — the first and only time a World Series has ended on an attempted steal.
Although all this happened 44 years before my birth, the 1926 World Series still makes me smile.
First off, thanks to Scott and Rob for and asking me to join up with LGM — an offer that very nearly salves my staggering disappointment over finishing second in this year’s Baseball Challenge. I’ve been reading LGM since the middle of March 2005, when James Wolcott spent a few favorable words and directed his readers to the site. I had started a blog of my own two weeks or so earlier, and my first few visits to LGM introduced me to the fineries of Hitchens-bashing and to the agonizing selection of America’s Worst Blogger (a title captured that year by the inimitable and subliterate Kim du Toit). Since then I’ve probably clicked to this site several thousand times, for which I have been rewarded with valuable insights into the contours of abortion law and defense policy and have been exposed along the way to the depthless bovinity of Glenn Reynolds, Mickey Kaus, Ann Althouse, and so many, many others. As a historian and educator, I hope to contribute in some small way to the intellectual integrity of the LGM experience (mostly by repeating phrases like “intellectual integrity” until readers believe I possess some); as a masochistic consumer of wingnuttery, I look forward to joining the skeet shoot; as part of the blogofascisti, I vow to enforce party discipline swiftly and without apology against errant voices in the comments section; and as a lifelong Yankee-hater (which I suspect is my most important qualification for joining this blog), I look forward this upcoming off-season to watching feral New Yorkers feast on the disarticulated corpse of Alex (.098 = “I sucked”) Rodriguez.
. . . Links fixed now. Yes, I sucked.
Like Rob, starting Tuesday I will be contributing to TAPPED. I will still be doing a fair amount of posting here–for some reason, the Prospect is not fully convinced about the value of lengthy posts about baseball, pretentious French movies, the silliness of Ann Althouse, etc. (I’m sure the hockey blogging is the main reason I was hired, though.) Still, to ensure that there’s a steady supply of material for our tens of fans, and deciding that quality material was not necessarily inconsistent with the L, G & M concept, we are proud to announce that the inimitable Dave Noon of The Axis of Evel Knievel will be joining our classic power trio format. Dave introduces himself thusly:
All-purpose historian from U. of Alaska Southeast, proprietor of the Axis of Evel Knievel, and whatever else you guys want to make up about me. My anonymity on the internets is pretty well shot, and I’m planning to keep the swearing and blasphemy to a minimum, so there’s no sense in hiding from the world. Besides, LGM will be the most dignified, respectable thing I have going in my life. So long as I don’t turn into the blogging equivalent of Poochie the Dog…
This, of course, won’t happen–Dave may be half Joe Camel, but he’s only an eighth Fonzarelli. He will unquestionably create a proactive new paradigm here at L, G & M. Enjoy!
The most salient thing about the story that got some attention last month about servers who were fired after they refused to go along with a regimen in which women (but not men) were subject to weigh-ins and making their weights public is that it’s entirely about humiliation. Although of course there are serious feminist issues with narrow conceptions of beauty, the excessive importance placed on conventional attractiveness, etc., one can argue that in our unjust society conventional beauty matters for jobs like this, and evidently there are greater injustices involved where aesthetic factors determine job decisions where they weren’t even arguably relevant. But this kind of harassment by employers is not about wanting to draw traffic or increase tips or whatever. You don’t need to weigh someone to see if they’re conventionally attractive or not. And, of course, being slender is generally a conventionally attractive trait for men too, but it’s hard to imagine male waiters being subjected to this kind of treatment. This is about female employees being dominated, and as such represents a very instructive example of sexual harassment and why it’s a serious problem.
I suppose I should make some substantive comment…
I don’t think that the North Korean test is significant in military terms. We knew (or suspected so strongly that we had to plan as if we knew) that the North Koreans had built atomic bombs. That they would test one is completely rational, given that they probably weren’t quite sure that the device would work. The detonation of the bomb changes nothing, absolutely nothing, about the current deterrent relationship between the United States and North Korea. If the US were going to attack NK over its nuclear program, we would have started bombing four years ago, or ten years ago. Moreover, if North Korea wanted to commit national suicide by launching an attack against South Korea or Japan or the United States, it could have done so last with with nukes and at any other point in its history with conventional forces.
Diplomatically things are a little bit more interesting. The North Korean test will substantially strengthen the hand of Shinzo Abe and others who have argued for a more assertive Japanese foreign policy. Even if we don’t see Article 9 go away, it will certainly be reinterpreted such that it could allow offensive military action against North Korea. There’s also going to be some pressure on South Korea to develop its own weapon, and I don’t really have a sense of how that’s going to play out. As long as South Korea is under the US deterrent umbrella, nukes don’t really do it that much good, although they might reinforce the deterrent relationship, just as French and British nukes did in the 1960s. The situation that could become really problematic is that between Taiwan and the PRC; if Taiwan decided that this was the time to try to go nuclear (and there’s no evidence that they’re thinking along those lines), then things could get ugly really quick.
Any diplomatic effort to get North Korea to give up its nukes depends almost entirely on the stances of South Korea, Russia, and China. None of the three, as Matt has pointed out, have much interest in seeing North Korea collapse. I’m skeptical that they’ll be willing to put much effort into a diplomatic effort when the military situation hasn’t substantially changed, especially given that a collapse of North Korea is probably the most dangerous turn that this situation could take in the short term. We will see more careful monitoring of North Korean land and maritime trade, in an effort to ensure that nuclear material and technology don’t leave the hermit kingdom.
In other news, Wretchard of Belmont Club is an idiot. He writes:
Now all the folks who wanted 400,000 troops in Iraq and thought the transformational initiative which emphasized technology and precision weapons were a crock may grudgingly conclude that maybe Donald Rumsfeld did have a point. The US requires a full-spectrum fighting force able to engage the AQ and North Korea. A world power like America needs to think of more than one theater of operations, always. Also critics may now remember how, unremarked, the administration pulled US troops back from the DMZ, which if they were still there would make them sitting ducks. As it is, they far enough back to give them a chance. Also, the unnoticed development of facilities at Guam have given the US a capability it now needs. Not everything, but something. That plus BMD defense. Maybe I’m looking for silver linings where none are to be found. But just maybe not everyone was asleep.
There’s so much wrong here that it would take WAY too long to deal with it all, but briefly I’ll note a) that few people argued against the transformational initiative, while a lot of people argued that trying to occupy a country like Iraq while simultaeneously making that transformation was a really, really terrible idea, b) that “thinking about more than one theater of operations” significantly predates Rumsfeld’s tenure, and c) that the discussion of US troop disposition in North Korea is a non-sequitur; I can recall no one arguing that moving the troops was a bad idea (it was certainly publicized at the time), and it won’t have the slightest effect on the crisis unless the US decides to start bombing, an eventuality that I find extremely unlikely for the reasons outlined above.
Keep searching for the silver lining, Wretchard; I’ll allow that it’s no easy task.
I have a piece at TAPPED on Mark Graber’s new book up (it’s sort of a prequel to this post, which I will have a follow-up on later.) The biggest point I wanted to make was to address a common criticism when I’ve presented my work about countermobilization, both informally and in academic settings. Understandably, many people assumed that this is an argument cooked up in order to defend a decision I like. My first response is to say that while I do have an a priori commitment to abortion rights, I certainly don’t have any commitment to abortion rights litigation. If I didn’t think that legal rights-claiming was an effective method of achieving the goals I seek, I would have no reason to say so. But more importantly, I think that my theory holds for decisions I deplore as much ones I support. Jeffrey Rosen is equally wrong to predict a unique backlash to Bush v. Gore as he is with Roe. Dred Scott is sort of the ultimate example. In addition, the fact that antebellum slavery policy is used to attack the ineptitude of the court and romanticize the ability of legislatures to reach stable compromises demonstrates the extent to which these claims rest on feeble tautologies. Congress quite conspicuously failed to reach a stable compromise on the slavery issue, and the structure of the elections to Congress–which then, as now, tended to emphasize ideologies rather than centrists among members, especially in the House–had made reaching a compromise in 1857 impossible. It’s frankly perverse to hold up Congress under the Buchanan administration to make arguments about the superior ability of legislatures to produce effective political compromises.
My other point is about the inability of grand theory to resolve actively contested normative disputes. Big Tent Democrat at TalkLeft generously replies to my argument, and allows me to clarify a few points. I continue to disagree entirely with his or her contention that Dred Scott was clearly wrong in terms of existing law (as opposed to morally.) To take the key points as they come up:
- BTD says that he disagrees with “Lemieux’s acceptance of the division on Dred Scott as being one of originalists and proponents of a “living Constitution.”" To be clear, I’m definitely not claiming this. As Graber says, “the issue in Dred Scott seems to be whether Taney was, as aspirationalists claim, a bad historicist, or, as historicists claim, a bad aspirationalist. In fact, he was at times both and at other times neither.” What we’re arguing is that both the majority and dissenting opinions contained elements of various grand theories, and that plausible claims can be mounted on both sides of the question using any grand theory.
- “I reject the idea that proponents of a Living Constitution are not originalists, in the sense that the idea of a Living Constitution is to promote original Constitutional purpose to current circumstances.” I agree with this, in least in the sense that I don’t see aspirationalism as somehow divorced from the text of the Constitution. But it is analytically distinct from any robust form of originalism in the sense that originalists focus on meanings at the time of ratification while aspirationalist apply broad principles in a forward-looking manner. (It is certainly true that originalists, especially when trying to reconcile their theories with politically popular outcomes, will sometimes define principles at such a high level of abstraction as to completely unmoor them from any concrete historical meanings, and at this point originalism loses any distinct character as a theory, and is just a truism.)
- At any rate, I’m not trying to sell or discredit any particular grand theory; what I’m saying is that grand theories simply cannot produce determinate outcomes on questions the framers deliberately left ambiguous. The simple fact is that the Constitution is silent on the question of Congress’ ability to regulate slavery in the territories, and this is not an accident but a consequence of the fact that a clear resolution of the question would have likely split the states during the ratification process.
- BTD then articulates a structuralist theory of Constitutional interpretation, identified with John Marshall, and locates a similar theory in Lincoln’s famous Cooper Union speech. Now, I am something of a structuralist myself, and I agree that Lincoln constructs a perfectly plausible reading that I of course find infinitely more attractive than Taney’s arguments for moral reasons. But this isn’t enough; the question is not whether there are plausible arguments against Taney, but whether Lincoln provides the only plausible reading of the Constitution in 1857. And the answer to this is clearly that he doesn’t (see pp. 57-76 of the Graber book.)
- The short version is that the argument that there was a Constitutional right, embedded in the due process clause of the 5th Amendment, to bring property in the territories was a widely held view. BTD asks: “prohibiting slavery in certain territories. Was there a Constitutional right to carry your slaves to territories? That is a property right? Based on what? The right to travel? The full faith and credit clause?” What BTD doesn’t mention is that not only McLean–who argued that “[i]t is said the Territories are common property of the States, and that every man has a right to go there with his property. This is not controverted“–but Lincoln himself accepted the validity of these property rights, which was the mainstream Republican position of the time. Were they lawless hacks ignoring the clear text of the Constitution? Lincoln and McLean disagreed about whether slaves remained property once taken to a jurisdiction that didn’t have slavery, but to argue that this was a universally accepted proposition in 1857 would be farcical (as is the claim that Article IV can only be read to say that slaves cease to become property when taken into states–if this was true, the Constitution wouldn’t have been signed by the slave states.)
- With respect to whether individuals lost constitutional rights when going to the territories, even in 1803 many rejected this proposition, and by 1857 the position that citizens retained constitutional rights in the territories was strongly entrenched, and Republican jurists continued to treat this part of Dred Scott as good law even after the Civil War.
Again, the question is not whether the dissents in Dred Scott were plausible–they clearly were. The question is whether they are the only possible reading of the Constitution in 1857, and it simply isn’t true that they were. You simply cannot use interpretive theory to produce determinate answers to questions that the framers avoided asking to facilitate a political compromise.
An excellent article in the NYT today–apparently the first of a series–about the proliferation of special legal exemptions for religious organizations. First of all, there are some hilarious examples of the whining of allegedly persecuted majorities:
In March, hundreds of people and a number of influential lawmakers attended a conference called “The War on Christians and the Values Voter in 2006” in Washington and applauded the premise that religion was under attack.
Society “treats Christianity like a second-class superstition,” Tom DeLay, then a Republican representative from Texas, told the crowd. “Seen from that perspective, of course there is a war on religion.”
The argument that religious groups are victims of discrimination drew a sigh from Ms. White, the day care director in Alabama, where licensed day care centers are finding it harder to compete with unlicensed faith-based centers that do not have to comply with expensive licensing requirements.
Ah, yes, the endless persecution of the Christian white male. I defy you to show me one in a position of power anywhere in the United States! Anyway, the article goes on with a good analysis of the implications:
Critics of the 2000 law argue that the First Amendment itself has long prohibited religious discrimination in zoning, and that such zoning decisions could have been challenged just as successfully in the courts if the law had never been passed.
When Congress considered the law, “what was actually being discussed was ‘How do we make sure churches don’t get discriminated against,’ ” said Marci A. Hamilton, a law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in Manhattan and the author of “God vs. The Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law” (Cambridge University Press, 2005), which calls for closer scrutiny of some religious exemptions, especially those affecting land use and family law.
“Unfortunately, the answer was to give such an expansive remedy that not only are they not getting discriminated against, but they are now capable of discriminating against all other landowners,” added Professor Hamilton, who is advising Boulder County in its case.
I’ll probably discuss more specific cases as the series continues, but I’ll start with some general comments. First of all, there’s the question of whether these types of exemptions run afoul of the Establishment Clause. I might be persuaded the other way, but I’m inclined to say no. In most cases, I think that these exemptions are part of what Rehnquist called “play in the joints” in the religion clauses–that is, the kind of state action that is neither required by the free exercise clause nor prohibited by the Establishment Clause. Some of these regulations may be necessary to prevent discrimination against minority religions or involve defensible tradeoffs, and probably shouldn’t be categorically prohibited.
As to whether these exemptions are good policy, that’s a different question. For the most part, I agree with Hamilton that many of these are unwise and certainly tend to be special privileges rather than protections against discrimination. I’ll talk about specific cases later in the week, but I would outline some general principles:
- There should be a general presumption against the granting of special legal privileges to religious organizations.
- This presumption should be especially strong when it comes to spending state money, as opposed to regulation. I’ve discussed this before with respect to emergency contraception, but to the extent that the Establishment Clause is construed loosely enough to permit subsidies to religious institutions, the state should in most cases not permit organizations to engage in discriminatory behavior that would be illegal if performed by other secular organizations. If religious groups feel that this will violate their core functions, nobody’s forcing them to take the money. (I should emphasize the difference here between requiring compliance with general laws and the intentional use of spending power to coerce religious organizations; obviously, the latter would be undesirable and potentially unconstitutional.)
- In addition, the presumption against granting exemptions should get stronger as the relevant functions become more secular. There are many more cases in which exemptions applied to a church qua church are defensible than when a church is operating a hospital or independent charity.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to the follow-up articles.
Be sure to read the tale of Luis Posada Carriles, the one terrorist suspect that the Bush administration refuses to send to Cuba. The reason? Posada murdered 73 Cubans by blowing them up with a toothpaste tube full of plastic explosives, and has close and long standing ties with the CIA. Terrorists and freedom fighters, indeed.
This mixed review of the weakly rated but for the most part critically revered Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip reminds me why I won’t be watching it:
Still, given that Sorkin’s White House seemed so authentic in its details, you’d expect him to nail every nuance of the late-night comedy world, from the egos to the slang. Instead, in its first hour, Studio 60 is surprisingly, even alarmingly tin-eared. After Mendell’s meltdown, the neophyte studio president (Amanda Peet) decides the only way to salvage the show’s public prestige is to rehire a superstar writer-and-director team (Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford) that had been jettisoned. Say what? Can you name even a single writer or director from Saturday Night Live’s entire history, save maybe Conan O’Brien and Tina Fey (who’s busy launching 30 Rock, an SNL spinoff of her own)? More to the point, if Lorne Michaels ever did implode, would the public treat it like a cultural emergency? The clip would be posted on YouTube, laughed about for a weekend, and then the show’s demographic would head back to CollegeHumor.com.
But wait—there is one case of a high-profile writer and director being publicly exiled from their own successful show: Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme, on The West Wing, in 2003. The parallels are hard to ignore. You wonder if anyone politely suggested to Sorkin that his redemptive story line might be problematic. (Or, for that matter, the line of dialogue in which an actor announces, “It took four years, but the show collapsed without them.”) Every writer has a right, and an imperative, to borrow from his experiences, but Studio 60 is so baldly autobiographical that Sorkin upstages his creation. It’s not a show about a comedy franchise; it’s a show about Sorkin’s career.
Right. And the problem is, I don’t care.
While I wasn’t a fan, I don’t mean to suggest that The West Wing didn’t have its virtues. Sorkin attracts good actors, and while his dialogue is overrated at his best he can definitely get a certain classic-Hollywood repartee going. I like the idea of a show about the detailed workings of the White House. But for me, the show will always be symbolized by the post-9/11 episode, which literally involved trapping fictional schoolchildren in a room so that Sorkin could share some of his (exceedingly unoriginal) thoughts about the problems facing America, neatly constructed in A- high school essays. Admittedly, it was an extreme case, but at a lower level this kind of thing was endemic to the show; the writing was not so much intelligent as Aaron Sorkin desperately trying to let you know how intelligent he was. And this might be OK, except that while Sorkin is well-informed about politics for a television writer as a political analyst he’s not at all interesting, sharing the same moderate elite-liberal sentiments you could just as well get from Michael Kinsley.
Given how disproportionately annoyed I get by characters being used as empty vessels in which to pour banal commentary about the issues of the day, one might think that Studio 60 would be more up my alley–there would certainly seem to be less space for position paper reading than in The West Wing or A Few Good Men. Actually, I’m not so sure–apparently the new show starts of with the umpteenth post-Network example of a someone breaking character on television to share his creator’s thoughts about…Quality Television. But the bigger problem is that I’ve seen Sportsnight, which both admirers and detractors of the new show compare it to. Sportsnight is often held up as an example of a show that was undeservedly cancelled, and it was indeed intelligent, well-acted, high-minded, etc. I must admit that I also thought it was a boring dud. As satire, it was completely toothless; it was too genteel and middlebrow to be a good soap opera; but it had too little to say to be great drama. Sorkin’s convictions at least gave The West Wing some juice; Sportsnight had no reason for existing whatsoever. The new show seems to have the same problem with a extra layers of solipsism and self-pity. It has to be better than even its supporters make it sound, but I’ll pass.
I guess I would compare Sorkin to another artist widely beloved by critics and large audiences I dislike: post-Say Anything Cameron Crowe. A movie that revolves around the deep moral dilemmas created by…agents who take on too many clients? About a guy who writes some pompous Tony Robbins-esque manifesto about the Ideals of Sports Agency–but far from being made the butt of humor, he’s the deeply earnest good guy? People who have seen Studio 60 can tell me if this is accurate, but yikes it sounds bad:
To better understand Studio 60, take a look back at SorkinÂs first TV venture, Sports Night. That show also centered on a relatively trifling TV product (an ESPN-esque sports-highlight show) and a male friendship (the showÂs two anchors). That showÂs pilot also featured a speech in which one of the principals announces he wonÂt be held hostage to a viewing audience of 11-year-old boys. (On Studio 60, the boorish viewers are 12-year-olds, a slight bump in the average age of philistines.)
Ugh. At least the West Wing got him out of himself a bit…