Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Meritorious Choice

Conservatives are abuzz about selecting former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele as the new chief of the RNC. One Republican leader put his appeal thus:
“He understands where the party needs to go, he has got a strong set of principles, he is well able to articulate a message in all the media forms, and can take that message to the growing areas of the country — youth and minorities — and he does very well with women. He is the future of the party.”

Michael Steele, in other words, would be an affirmative action pick.

I don't mean that as a knock on Steele. Much the opposite. I think that Steele demonstrates the way that affirmative action makes sense as a component of meritocracy. Republicans know that they can't keep winning if they get dominated competing for American youth and American Blacks. Ta-Nehisi Coates loves to harp on the point that African-Americans aren't actually that liberal, they just view the GOP as a racist party. Nominating Steele to the chairmanship of the party helps counter that sentiment, thus accomplishing something of tangible worth that they can't get with yet another old White dude. If Democrats, deciding they needed to work harder to appeal to Appalachian Whites, nominated someone like Heath Shuler or another Democrat with demonstrated appeal to hard-scrabble, mountain Whites, nobody would question his qualifications (they might question the strategy), even though Shuler is roughly as obscure as a one-term Lieutenant Governor of Maryland who got mauled when he made a bid for Senate.

Of course, whetheer Steele will succeed in appealing to young or Black voters is a dicey proposition. But the thought process is affirmative action personified, and not in a bad way.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I Like the Sound of That

The Prediction

Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I-CT) approvals: In the tank.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT): Strip Lieberman of his committee chair.

End result: Lieberman keeps his committee chair. Senate Democrats don't have the cuts to pull the trigger -- even for the ideal option, which is giving him the chairmanship of another committee, where he is more amenable to Democratic policies.

I don't blame them though. I could never be in politics. I'm too nice and forgiving. I always want to give people another chance. Even to people who don't deserve it.

Ignoring Facebook

In response to the Obama transition team's version of demanding every scintilla of factual information about potential administration appointees, Matt Yglesias observes that eventually norms are going to have to change about the relevancy of a dumb college facebook photo. I've thought the same thing myself. Even today, interviewers can't be shocked! that their prospects might have drank in college. Indeed, they themselves probably drank in college. But there being no permanent electronic record of it, they can delude themselves into thinking they were more responsible about it. As the facebook generation begins to consist of the hirers, however, eventually a more realistic view is going to surface.

Or so I hope.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Scalia Cares About Diversity

We read Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., 500 U.S. 614 (1991) in civil procedure today. In Edmonson, it was held that race-based peremptory challenges in civil cases violate the equal protection clause. Much of the argument between the majority and the dissent grappled with whether peremptory challenges -- basically, eliminating a potential juror from the pool for no reason whatsoever (parties in civil cases generally get a limited number of peremptories) -- is a "state action" for constitutional purposes. The majority concluded that it was, as the selection of a jury is a state body whose composition is merely being delegated to the parties, while the dissenters argued that it was not, that jury selection was a function of purely private actors who were only using the court as a forum to resolve their dispute.

But Justice Scalia's separate dissent was interesting to me, because he spent much of it waxing poetic about the need and right of litigants to pursue racially diverse juries -- or at least select their jurors race-consciously. After noting his agreement with Justice O'Connor's argument that the majority is wrong "in principle" to assert that peremptory challenges in civil litigation are state actions, he continued to write that:
[today's opinion] is also unfortunate in its consequences.

The concrete benefits of the Court's newly discovered constitutional rule are problematic. It will not necessarily be a net help, rather than hindrance, to minority litigants in obtaining racially diverse juries. In criminal cases, Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), already prevents the prosecution from using race-based strikes. The effect of today's decision (which logically must apply to criminal prosecutions) will be to prevent the defendant from doing so - so that the minority defendant can no longer seek to prevent an all-white jury, or to seat as many jurors of his own race as possible. To be sure, it is ordinarily more difficult to prove race-based strikes of white jurors, but defense counsel can generally be relied upon to do what we say the Constitution requires. So in criminal cases, today's decision represents a net loss to the minority litigant. In civil cases, that is probably not true - but it does not represent an unqualified gain either. Both sides have peremptory challenges, and they are sometimes used to assure, rather than to prevent, a racially diverse jury.
Although today's decision neither follows the law nor produces desirable concrete results, it certainly has great symbolic value. To overhaul the doctrine of state action in this fashion - what a magnificent demonstration of this institution's uncompromising hostility to race-based judgments, even by private actors! The price of the demonstration is, alas, high, and much of it will be paid by the minority litigants who use our courts. I dissent. [500 U.S. at 644-45]

I find it interesting that Scalia appears to recognize here that stripping minority actors of their ability to use race conscious procedures is, in fact a problem. More than a problem -- morally objectionable; a bar to basic fairness! The move towards color-blindness, he's arguing, is qualitatively harmful to minority litigants, and that's a concern he wishes the court to be mindful of.

An interesting argument, and one that gave me pause when reading this case. Kind of incongruous with the bulk of Scalia's jurisprudence, though, no?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Boxing Notes

It's been awhile, but there's a few thoughts I'd like to get off my chest.

First, Joe Calzaghe (46-0, 32 KOs), just coming off a decisive win over former pound-for-pound best Roy Jones Jr. (52-5, 38 KOs). Joe Cool has been talking retirement for awhile, and if he does, he's had a great career -- probably the best Super Middleweight of all time in the relatively new division.

But let's be clear on why Calzaghe isn't getting all the respect he thinks he deserves. For a long time, Calzaghe was perceived to be a typical sheltered European champion. There's a reason for that: he was. After winning the title from Chris Eubank in 1997, Calzaghe took a string of defenses against fighters ranging from solid to unremarkable. That's why when he took the fight against Jeff Lacy, then considered to be the next big thing in boxing, many were expecting Calzaghe to be smoked. To his credit, he proved everyone wrong -- dominating Lacy and essentially destroying the younger man's career.

Since then he has fought and won two more marquee battles: a wide victory against consensus #2 man Mikkel Kessler, and a split decision victory against Bernard Hopkins -- a win that, even if somewhat disputed, is significantly more impressive after Hopkins' subsequent demolition of Kelly Pavlik.

Those are all stellar wins. But by themselves, they are not enough for the living legend status Joe seems to covet. He really doesn't seem to understand that he hasn't been spending his whole career, or even most of his career, fighting the best opposition available. He really seems to think that his victory over a way-past-his-prime Roy Jones is a big deal. Is it true, as he says, that there always is and always will be some young gun coming up whom he "has to" fight (as an excuse to duck Chad Dawson)? Yes, but it's not like Calzaghe has spent the last decade fighting burgeoning superstars (let alone already established ones).

Contrast Calzaghe to current P4P #1 Manny Pacquiao, and the distinction becomes clear. After ascending to the elite levels of the sport, Pacquiao has been, over and over again, fighting the absolute best fighters he could find. Two fights against Marco Antonio Barrera. Three fights against Erik Morales. Two fights against Juan Manuel Marquez. Even his "easy" fights are still against pretty high level guys -- like Oscar Larios and Jorge Solis. And he continues to challenge himself, by stepping up in weight to thrash David Diaz, and then balloon way up in a fight against future hall of famer Oscar de la Hoya.

You become a legend by fighting, over and over, the best guys you can find. Calzaghe thinks he can slide into that status after a handful of (very, very) good wins. He doesn't get it.

.... Contender 3 champion Sakio Bika (26-3-2, 16 KOs) fights Contender 1 runner-up Peter Manfredo (31-5, 16 KOs) tomorrow night on Versus. I worry about Bika's ability to win a decision against the "Pride of Providence" in Providence. It's a good fight though, against two guys who (haters of The Contender notwithstanding) are properly labeled "fringe contenders" rather than "journeymen". Also on the card, Season 2 champion Grady Brewer (23-11, 13 KOs) taking on fellow Season 2 participant Cornelius "K9" Bundridge (28-3, 16 KOs). I expect Brewer, who really was a journeyman prior to his upset triumph, to struggle after a long layoff against K9, who has some career momentum even if we saw the likely ceiling on his talent after his thrashing at the hands of Joel Julio.

.... Finally, can I give out an ode to Teddy Atlas? He is under appreciated in boxing, I think, calling fights on ESPN. But he really knows his stuff, has a passion for the game and for the fighters, and best of all, always illustrates his points using delightfully bizarre sports analogies ripped from the athletic event of the day ("Speaking of the World Series, I think Smith needs to be the foul pole in this contest. Stay upright and on the outside -- tempt his opponent into going for the long ball..."). Plus, he rocks the Staten Island accident which makes him sound like he's been punched a couple too many times. He's really an asset to the sport, and that's no joke.

My Baby

I really relate to this story.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Real Winner of Prop. 8: Mitt Romney

Nobody really was a direct "winner" stemming from the victory of Proposition 8. Gays and lesbians obviously lost. Anyone who knows and cares about gays and lesbians lost too. Everyone else is a wash, as their marriages are in roughly the same shape that they were a week ago.

But apparently, someone may have gotten a big boost from Prop. 8's passage, almost by accident: Mitt Romney. Recall that Romney's bid this time around was derailed in part by social conservatives who simply did not trust that he was "one of them" -- in part, it must be said, because Romney was actually rather socially moderate until approximately five days before he began his presidential campaign, but certainly in part because there is a lingering mistrust about Mormonism from within the conservative Christian community. But now Marc Ambinder notes that the LDS has purchased significant social conservative credibility due to its role in getting Proposition 8 passed -- credibility that will only be strengthened as the forces of godlessness, paganism, and equality continue to train their fire on the church.

Best of all for Romney, this occurs nearly entirely under the table. The only tangible impact is a lessening of suspicion conservative Christians have towards him on account of his Mormonism. He never took a front-line position on Proposition 8, and thus will see no more liberal backlash due to his anti-equality position than any other similarly situated Republican.

Romney's keeping his toes in the political water, and probably will run again in 2012. With the unabashed support of the Christian right, his candidacy will be far more formidable.

Six of One...

Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) wonders if Barack Obama is going to "establish a Gestapo-like security force to impose a Marxist or fascist dictatorship."

I personally wonder how he's going to decide between Marxism and fascism. Heads, all property is redistributed for the glory of the proletariat, tails, every national endeavor is redirected for the glory of the volk.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Second Thing We Do, Objectify All The Men

The Apostate has a post about the tragic lack of nude men (at least, full frontal) in mainstream cinematic sex scenes, and why that is. The basic answer is that male bodies aren't objectified. Men aren't adjudged to be valuable based solely on their looks. Indeed, it is seen as weird and deviant to objectify male bodies. The Apostate urges that women start to break down the fiction that male bodies aren't the proper targets for objectification.

But wait, you say, if objectification is bad, then why is justifiable to do it to men? The answer is not that turnabout is fair play. Rather, it gets into the nuts and bolts of what it means to objectify someone, and how being seen as an object interacts with our sense of personhood and human dignity.

I've written before that, in contrast to what is maintained or implied by certain feminist theorists, being seen as an object -- the site of another's wants and desires, or a source of instrumentality to another's ends -- is an extremely important element of our personhood. Of course, it's not all we want -- we want also to be recognized as beings with inherent worth and human dignity, and we also want some level of control over how we are seen as valuable even as objects. But it is untrue to say that acknowledgment of subjective value is sufficient for our happiness. In order to be fulfilled, we need to be seen and perceive ourselves as being seen as both objects and subjects, at the same time.

In modern society, men (particularly White men) have many avenues through which both our objective and subjective value can be expressed and verified. The panoply of legal and moral rights, designed with men in mind, affirm that we are "God's children" and are beings worthy of inherent moral concern. The social structures we create also tell us, again and again, that we are useful creatures whose objective worth is articulated through prestige, awards, reimbursement, and acclamation.

The joke that is often laid about sexual harassment is asking a man "how would you like it if a woman told you you were attractive and she wanted to bone you?" It's an inapt comparison, though. Because seeing male bodies as "objects" (that is, entities which are wanted for the express purpose of fomenting pleasure in another) neither exhausts our dimensions of objective worth, nor operates to the exclusion of the recognition of our subjective value, it does not threaten to colonize male bodies in such a way that we are only seen as sex objects. A man whom women treat and talk about as hot still has fundamental ownership of himself, and is not limited to only that metric of worth. Taking it from another angle, it's not that women don't want to be seen as sexually attractive by men. What they protest is that being the totality of the avenues they have for attaining valuation.

I draw from all this that, in ideal circumstances, it is best for all parties when they are seen as objectively and subjectively valuable -- including on the axis of sexuality. Circumstances are not ideal when either element of valuation squeezes out the other -- as it is for women who are seen only as valuable along the object-axis (the definition of objectification). Men, though, by and large do exist in the land of ideals -- both of our objective and subjective value is pretty well established. So go ahead, women (hell, go ahead men) -- lust after me. I like knowing that I'm wanted, and I'm happy that you gain pleasure from wanting me. There's no threat here.

UPDATE: One more thing that came to me: it seems that people like to be objectively valued, but only if they have some degree of control over it. I might take pleasure in being valued for my contributions to Big Company, in part because I voluntarily chose to work for Big and can, if I choose, leave. Often times artists who are beloved by their audience members burn out because they get tired of only being seen as a tool for the desire's of the masses (think Dave Chappelle) and can never "turn it off". This goes back to the need for balance between objective and subjective valuation, and brings into play another dimension that must taken into account when noting the objective value of men.

Stanley Cup Winning Baby

Photo #11 is documentary proof of the cutest baby ever. I dare you to say I'm wrong.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Telling Numbers

The case for an independent Jewish state is rarely expressed as succinctly as in these American polling numbers, taken shortly after Kristallnacht:
Do you approve or disapprove of the Nazi's treatment ... Of Jews in Germany?

5.6% Approve
88.2% Disapprove
6.2% No Opinion

Should we allow a larger number of Jewish exiles from Germany to come to the United States to live?

21.2 Yes
71.8% No
7.0% No Opinion

The lack of rabid hatred is nice, but insufficient. Jews need a place where we get to make the decision as to allowing in Jewish refugees fleeing persecution.