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Things that don’t sound like helicopters

[ 36 ] December 2, 2007 |

Breast-feeding infants:

I’m pretty sure everything that can be said has been said in re: the suckiness of Day By Day, but good god. Has Chris Muir ever been around real humans?

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[ 15 ] December 2, 2007 |

Joe Sheehan (subscribers only) points out that it would be crazy for the Twins to trade Johan Santana for young pitching that hasn’t proven it can handle a major league workload — something it had plenty of — as opposed to major league hitters, which they lack at several positions. (At the very least, if they deal with the Yankees they should hold out for Cano, not Cabrera, who has well-below-average range for a CF and doesn’t hit enough to play the corners.) They don’t seem to consider that because, as Sheehan correctly points out, “no matter what a team actually needs, its GM always thinks it need pitching. ” But, of course, there’s the even better option:

Of course, there’s another option here, one that hasn’t been brought up very often. By virtue of having very few veteran players, the Twins have a low payroll, and one that is unlikely to rise much in the next few years given all of that cost-controlled pitching. They’re also moving into a new ballpark in 2009, one that should provide a larger-than usual boost in revenue as they get out from under a brutal lease at the Metrodome. Like all teams, the Twins have seen a jump in central-fund revenue, and even in the new park, they may find themselves the recipient of revenue-sharing money.

Taking that into consideration, the Twins should sign Johan Santana themselves. Even setting a new pitching standard of $20 million a year, or $22 million a year, is more than affordable for a team that will be able to support a payroll approaching $100 million and won’t come close to that figure without Santana around. The key thing we know about the free agent market is that the very best players in baseball are the ones on which you should spend your money. It’s infinitely better to overpay a bit—if it’s even overpaying—for Johan Santana than it is to try and replace his performance in the market, or through development.

Like Alex Rodriguez in 2000, like Barry Bonds in 1992, like Greg Maddux that same winter, Johan Santana is an elite talent irreplaceable through normal means, and as durable as any pitcher can be in modern baseball. If the standard in six years and $140 million, or seven and $155 million, as ridiculous as those figures sound, they may be well worth it if the alternative is spending two-thirds of that over that same period for half the performance.

Trading Santana for 50 cents on the dollar at best isn’t just a bad trade; it’s an outrage. This isn’t a baseball move, like letting Hunter walk (which was smart; he wasn’t worth the money.) They’re not going to use the money to sign a better player. And remember that the Twins, owned by one of the richest people in the country, are getting a large and absolutely indefensible taxpayer subsidy for the new stadium that will increase their revenues. I’m going to guess that the need to be able to pay their talent came up quite a bit when defending this regressive distribution of state revenues. And yet, when it comes to retaining the best pitcher in the game, Pohlad won’t risk any of his mutli-billion dollar fortune; after all, he can just take revenue-sharing money from teams that actually invest in their product along with a nice fat check from the state and make a safe profit instead. It’s a disgrace.

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Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: Senussi Dynasty

[ 6 ] December 2, 2007 |

The Senussi religious order was founded in 1837 as an antidote to what amounted to the perceived liberalization of Islam. It’s founder, Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali as-Senussi, was born in Algeria but studied in Cairo, Mecca, and elsewhere in the Arab world. He attempted to return to Algeria around 1840 but was denied entry by the French. In response, he led the construction of a monastery in Cyrenaica, now part of Libya and then part of the Ottoman Empire. Gathering followers from across North Africa, Muhammad carved a de facto independent state out of the Ottoman desert territories.

In 1911, Italy conquered Cyrenaica in the brief Italo-Ottoman War. In 1920, Italy granted Sayyid Muhammad Idris bin Sayyid Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Senussi, Sayyid Muhammad Ibn Ali as-Senussi’s grandson, the title of Emir of Cyrenaica. Two years later he was named Emir of neighboring Tripolitania. Idris’ efforts on behalf of independence were frowned on by the Italians, and he was driven into exile in the late 1920s. After struggling for independence through the 1930s, Idris followed General Bernard Montgomery and his army as they rolled up the German and Italian position in Libya in 1943. After several years of negotiations and protectorates, Libya was unified as an independent state in 1951, and Idris took the title of King Idris I.

Idris maintained close relations with the West in spite of increasing tensions between the US, UK, and the Arab world. In 1969, the King’s poor health and failure to produce an heir left his domestic opponents with an opportunity. Because of health concerns, Idris I had decided to abdicate in favor of his nephew on September 2. A coup led by Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi overthrew the King’s government on September 1, while the King was receiving medical treatment in Turkey. The King’s nephew, Sayyid Hassan As-Senussi, was placed under house arrest, along with most of the rest of the royal family. King Idris would live in exile in Greece and Egypt until his death in 1983.

In 1984 Gaddafi released the royal family from house arrest and tossed them onto the street. The family lived for a period in a cabin on a public beach. Sayyid Hassan, suffering from poor health, was allowed to travel with most of the family to London for medical treatment, where they settled. Hassan died in 1992, and was succeeded as pretender King by his son, Sayyid Muhammad bin Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida al-Mahdi as-Senussi. Muhammad has been somewhat active in Libyan exile circles, participating in an anti-Gaddafi rally in London in 2005. Muhammad has made Libyan democracy his public cause, but has not renounced the throne. Prospects for a return to the throne are uncertain. The contours of Libyan politics are difficult to get a firm grasp on, due in no small part to the continuing dominance of Gaddafi. There is no strong evidence that substantial monarchist support exists in Libya, however, and it would seem that the fall of Gaddafi would more likely result in the establishment of a republic rather than a return to the monarchy.

Trivia: Which monarch’s last serious bid for the throne ended when his proxy war patron withdrew its support in 1970?

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To Sum Up

[ 0 ] December 1, 2007 |

Edroso manages to get No Country For Old Men right in one sentence:

No Country For Old Men is an excellent chase film with twangy talk about the persistence of evil inserted at puzzling intervals.

Although mostly very-good-to-superb, I found the picture a tad disappointing, and there’s no question that the windy, portentous monologues the movie inexplicably stops dead in its tracks to give to Tommy Lee Jones’s character are the major culprit. Roy goes on to say:

In No Country, Chighur’s conversations are a little in that vein, but the pronouncements of Sheriff Bell and Ellis are closer to the tedious lecture Commissioner Hardy gives the reporters near the end of The Asphalt Jungle: an insertion that is supposed to radiate meaning onto the action from the outside. In Jungle this comes off as a quick gloss or a way of getting around the Hays Office, and is followed by a more appropriate, though downbeat, spurt of narrative; in No Country the Hardys just hang around the periphery being premonitory until near the end, when they surge to subsume and kill the story. This is the real “dismal tide”: geezers talking about good and evil (and what do they say, exactly, besides good sure is good and evil sure is evil?) till their chatter drowns out a perfectly good action picture.

They didn’t detract from the virtues of the film quite as much for me as they did for Roy, but all the tell-don’t-show bullshit towards the end is an odd lapse from the Coens (especially since their trademark dueling non-sequiturs worked surprisingly well within the McCarthy story.) I don’t know how much of it comes directly from the novel, but that’s no excuse in any case.

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The Bootstraps Myth

[ 46 ] December 1, 2007 |

Counterintuitive news of the day: when fathers pay child support payments ostensibly to their poverty-stricken ex-partners and children, they’re only helping deepen the women’s poverty.

How? Well, in many states the child support payments made to women on welfare go directly to the state and federal coffers with little to nothing reaching the women themselves. According to the Times, about half the states pass nothing from child support along to the custodial parent (usually a woman), while in most others the custodian gets only $50/month. This counterproductive structure comes thanks to federal law, which requires states to use child support statements to reimburse welfare payments.

To me, the problems with such a system seem blindingly apparent: First, child support payments are, duh, supposed to support children. When the money is going to the government instead of the child, it’s unlikely that is happening. Second, though a goal of the country’s welfare program is to help people to self-sufficiency (a laughable goal given the program’s structure, but still…), refusing them the aid they are due helps ensure that they are unable to do exactly that. As the Times notes:

When Congress set up the current child support system in the 1970s, recovering welfare costs was an explicit goal, with some experts arguing that it was only fair for fathers to repay the government for sustaining their offspring and that giving families the money was a form of “double dipping.” But experience and research have suggested to most experts and state and federal officials from both parties that the policy is counterproductive — driving fathers into the underground economy and leaving families more dependent on aid.

Given that this – at this point – just about universally acknowledged, why hasn’t anything changed?

Well, it almost did change…until the deficit the Bush administration has created crept back into congress’s conscience:

Reflecting a growing, bipartisan sense that diverting child support money to government coffers is counterproductive, Congress, in the Deficit Reduction Act passed in early 2006, took a modest step toward change. Beginning in 2009, states will be permitted to pass along up to $100 for one child and $200 for two or more children, with the state and federal governments giving up a share of welfare repayments they have received in the past.

The Bush administration has set a goal of increasing the share of collections distributed to families and reducing the amount retained by the government. But the drive to reduce the budget deficit has gotten in the way. As part of last-minute budget crunching, the Republican-controlled Congress in that same act reduced by 20 percent the child-support enforcement money it gives to the states, starting this fall. Many states say the effort to force them to pay more of the enforcement costs will impede collections and prevent them from passing more money on to needy families.

So, there’s some good movement, but not enough. Recently, a number of governors wrote a letter to Congress requesting that Congress repeal the program that gives child support money to the government to repay welfare in toto. But in the meantime there are still many too many women like Karla Hart (on whom the Times focuses), who can’t give their kids the $9 they need for a school activity. Getting rid of this welfare “repayment” won’t solve that but those $200/month “extra” would go a long way.

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Saturday Issue of Obscure Interest Blogging

[ 24 ] December 1, 2007 |

Finally, the N.H.L. has altered their awful schedule, under which teams visit those in other conferences only once every three years. Since I was in Calgary for 12 days last year and saw the Canucks twice live and another time on T.V., but of course can almost never see any western team out here, I have to echo the comments of Willie Mitchell:

We’re tired of seeing Calgary, Minnesota, Edmonton. For us it would mean more travel, but I’d jump on that in a heartbeat. Guys want to play at M.S.G. [Madison Square Garden]. I want to get to the new arena in New Jersey. Never mind the fans, as a player you want to play against the best.

The strangest misconception that the league has is that playing 8 games a year against a team encouraged rivalries. But of course it’s the opposite; intradivisional rivalries just get boring when you see the same team again and again and again. And to pre-empt the same kind of argument you hear in baseball, yes some of the inter-conference games will be lousy (“who wants to see Tampa Bay play the Nationals?”) No, Ranger fans probably won’t be thrilled to see Columbus (although it may make me more likely to score tickets from the Bean family!) But these arguments seem not to realize that the Devil Rays and Panthers have to play somebody. Who wants to see Tampa Bay play the Royals again? If I still had access to a Flames season ticket I’d rather see Florida once than Minnesota for the fourth time.

Also, I should mention that serious or casual puckheads should note that this comes from the Times’ new hockey blog. Among others, it includes Jeff Z. Klein, the former sports editor of the Voice and author of an entertaining Bill Jamesian study of the game. Sounds like it will be useful.

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Special Guest Star

[ 0 ] December 1, 2007 |

Longtime friend of L, G & M Julia is starting a regular guest posting gig at Firedoglake. And even better, her first post is about Giuliani and his history of promoting corrupt incompetents, so check it out…

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[ 13 ] December 1, 2007 |

Robert Craig Knievel, Jr.

A lot of folks have asked me over the last couple of years why I named that other site after Evel Knievel. I don’t have an especially good answer, except to say that the name made for a good pun and was, for all kinds of reasons, a better choice than “Kennedy’s Magic Johnson.” I never owned an Evel Knievel lunchbox, and I was always too much of a coward to try and emulate his various stunts on the crappy bike I rode as a kid.

Anyhow, the Axis’ namesake passed away today, setting a dark cloud over Clay Aiken’s 29th birthday while commemorating the release of a Michael Jackson album titled, appropriately enough, Thriller.


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Will Any Principled Pro-Life Federalists Please Stand Up?

[ 3 ] November 30, 2007 |

I see that Rudy Giuliani — who Ann Althouse assured us in the august pages of the New York Times was a deeply principled federalist — has come out in favor of federal abortion regulations as long as he favors the regulations. States’ rights! Admittedly, if he were a truly principled federalist like Ron Paul he would favor making abortion first degree murder in all 50 states.

Speaking of which, John Holbo says most of what I would say in response to the second point raised by Ramesh Ponnuru’s latest response on the topic. My short version is that when evaluating public discourse I’m interested in the implications of the policies being advocated, not in the subjective motivations of the speaker. We know that 1)support for abortion criminalization has a strong tendency in the U.S. to be bundled together with reactionary positions on gender and sexuality, 2)given the choice between a policy that is likely to reduce abortion rates but is inconsistent with regulating female sexuality (such as providing greater access to contraception) American pro-lifers will tend to sacrifice the former principle, and 3)American pro-lifers favor some policies that increase injury to women without protecting fetal life at all. I hardly think it’s absurd to infer from this that American pro-life politics may involve things other than the pure desire to protect fetal life, but at any rate it’s the effect of the policies than actually matters.

With respect to the federalism issue, Ponnuru concedes Paul’s inconsistency but goes on to say that “it hardly follows that Lemieux is right to say that almost everybody who says they want the issue to be resolved by the states is lying.” Unless the argument turns on hair-splitting about the distinction between “lying” and “implausibly misinformed about recent political events and/or shamelessly unprincipled,” however, I do want to defend a strong version of this claim. At least when it comes to people with any prominence in American politics, aside from a tiny fraction of libertarians almost none of the people who claim to support the overturning of Roe to “send the issue back to the states” actually believes that abortion should be strictly a state issue. Every single pro-life Republican in Congress voted for the “Partial Birth” Abortion Ban Act. President Bush signed it. As far as I can tell, every major pro-life organization supported it (and, of course, support more extensive federal regulation.) Most conservative pundits who wrote about the topic supported it (see some relevant links here) and supported Carhart II. If Ponnuru can come up with some examples of prominent abortion opponents who consistently oppose any federal regulation of abortion, I’ll retract the charge, but in the vast majority of cases deploying rhetoric about “federalism” is nothing but a cynical prop (or is based on an incredibly misinformed view about what COngressional Republicans actually think about abortion.)

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Worst American Birthdays, vol. 32

[ 26 ] November 30, 2007 |

Watergate co-conspirator and gibbering loon G. Gordon Liddy turns 77 today.

As a child during the Great Depression, Liddy quivered with glee at the sound of Adolf Hitler’s voice on the radio. As he recounted in his autobiography (appropriately titled Will), the Fuhrer’s words filled him with hope and delivered him from fear.

Hitler’s voice called out calmly, in low, dispassionate tones, but as he spoke of what his people would accomplish, his voice rose in pitch and tempo. Once united, the German people could do anything, surmount any obstacle, rout any enemy, achieve fulfillment. He would lead them; there would be one people, one nation, one leader. Here was the very antithesis of fear — sheer animal confidence and power of will. He sent an electric current through my body and, as the massive audience thundered its absolute support and determination, the air on the back of my neck rose and I realized suddenly that I had stopped breathing.

Hitler taught Liddy that if nations could be “lifted out of weakness,” so might a puny asthmatic boy like himself. To condition his body and soul for a long life of struggle against weakness, Liddy embarked on a fascist-inspired campaign of personal growth. He stood defiantly on railroad tracks, challenging oncoming trains to run him over; he scaled trees during storms and baited the lightning; he killed chickens and ate rats to prove that he could overcome his aversion to death and his fear of vermin.

I killed and killed and killed, and, finally, I could kill efficiently and without emotion or thought. I was satisfied; when my turn to go to war came, I’d be ready. I could kill as I could run — like a machine.

Though Liddy served two years as an artillery officer during the Korean war, he never left stateside and thus never got the chance to kill actual humans. This missed opportunity proved to be an enormous disappointment.

Two decades later, while working as one of Richard Nixon’s resident goons, Liddy’s bloodlust was further thwarted. Though the US continued to wage war against the people of Vietnam, it lacked the will to bomb the dams along the Red River — as Liddy would have preferred — and flood the country. His plans to bomb the Brookings Institution and kill journalists like Jack Anderson were similarly tabled, and Liddy was reduced to planning mere burglaries and scheming to tap the telephone wires of political enemies. Arrested and convicted for his role in planning the Watergate break-in, Liddy endured nearly five years in prison. After his release, he reinvented himself as a novelist, sometime actor and right-wing radio host, where he could apply the rhetorical skills he learned as a child and warn the fatherland of dangers to come.

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[ 23 ] November 30, 2007 |

Although I agree that the biggest beneficiary of the Huckabee surge is Rudy Giuliani, it now can’t be considered entirely impossible that Huckabee will get the nomination. Given this, it seems worth pointing out that his national sales tax scheme is completely insane. Beaudrot is especially good on the bait-and-switch that the plan represents:

Frustration with the complicated nature of the tax code is a reason to simplify the tax code, not to enact some crazy regressive tax scheme that would have the side effect of creating a massive informal market in untaxed goods. You could have an income tax that computed your tax liability based on a seventh degree polynomial that you could fill out on a post card, so long as the only input is “How much money did you make last year?”. Instead, our tax code asks you how much you made from working, which is treated differently from money earned from interest and dividends, which is treated differently from capital gains. And then we start asking how much you gave to charity, how much you spent on health care, how many kids you have, whether any of them are in college or require child care, whether you bought a hybrid car, etc. ad nauseum. In addition, all these nickel-and-dime deductions and credits end up forcing the government to increase its overall tax rate on the income that is taxable. It makes you have a lot of sympathy for the “broad base, low rates” position that used to be the mainstream position in the Republican party.

Right. As was true with Forbes as well, the trick is to conflate complex with progressive, when in fact the two are logically independent. You can greatly simplify the tax code without making it more regressive. And what’s really sad is that this crackpot plan won’t keep the Hair Club For Growth and other Republican business interests from trying to destroy his candidacy anyway. (Although I can’t wait for Huckabee’s next pandering ad with “celebrity” endorsement: “Hey, I’m Giuseppe Franco. I’m not putting my name on the line for a crank sales tax plan that doesn’t work!“)

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Believing Your Own Press

[ 26 ] November 30, 2007 |

Thers asks: “what does it mean that The Matrix, the first one, is a watchable movie, when the dialogue is so astoundingly stupid?” Well, it means that a movie can be entertaining even if poorly written and not very well-acted if it has other virtues. But it also means that some movies of significant entertainment value but limited aesthetic mertis — especially if they have a soupcon of pretension — get inexplicably treated as if they were Works of Profound Genius. And what’s worse is that the Wachowskis seemed to take the highest praise given their decent B-movie seriously, leading to the leaden-paced, interminable, suffused-with-Baudrillardian-wankery sequels. Sad.

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