Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Name Game

Even before he's sworn in, Barack Obama is already having things named after him. Such as an elementary school in New York. And, possibly, the tallest peak in Antigua.

Eugene Volokh thinks this is all pre-mature, and urges that we wait to see whether Obama actually makes for a great president or not. Wouldn't it be embarrassing to have a "Richard M. Nixon" elementary school?

Eh. I think that, unless you're an absolute abject failure and disgrace upon the nation, merely becoming President is sufficient to have some smaller-scale landmarks named after you. It's not a tough bar to leap: Warren Harding has a high school. Since I don't think we should assume that, like Nixon, Obama will be run out of office for rampant abuses of power, I'm not too cut up about him getting an elementary school named after him.

And the mountain in Antigua? Amazingly, that story touches more than anything else. Why would Antigua name its highest mountain after an American President? The answer lies in the hold America has, even over foreign countries -- particularly smaller and poorer ones. America still represents a beacon to them. The election of Barack Obama, after eight years of George W. Bush, is a sign that we as a people have not abandoned our pre-eminent position in the world, that we still are committed to securing opportunities and inclusion for all.

It may just be symbolism. But it's symbolism that matters. And as Americans, we should take heed that the eyes of the world watch our every move. We have a lot to live up to.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hi Lani!

Lani Guinier, Foreword: Demosprudence Through Dissent, 122 Harv. L. Rev. 4, 9 n.19 (2008).


(Here's the post).

UPDATE: In all the excitement, I should probably mention what the article is about. Essentially, it explores the capacity of "oral dissents" (that is, Supreme Court Justices reading their dissents from the bench) to foster democratic deliberation, particularly by encouraging the inclusion of excluded parties.
[O]ral dissents are particularly but not exclusively well-suited to fulfill the three demosprudential elements: where a conflict about democracy is a core issue, accessibility rather than technical proficiency is a stylistic preference, and engaging in a larger public conversation is an implicit goal. (54)

It's an interesting piece -- and one of the first I've read to really treat blogs as an integral piece of American legal and democratic conversation (at least, that didn't take that potential as its specific subject).

SOS Clinton

The NYT is calling it: Hillary Clinton will be Obama's nominee for Secretary of State.

It's an ... interesting choice. Obama beat Clinton in the primaries primarily because Clinton was wrong on Iraq. I.e., wrong on an issue of foreign policy. So it makes it a bit odd for him to turn around and make her the chief face of our foreign policy.

That being said, I'm not opposed to the pick per se. I think Hillary Clinton is a very smart woman who bring a lot to the State Department. She is a wonk without parallel, and that's something I appreciate. And she is a well-known and respected figure around the world, which is important.

So, I'm okay with this. I wish the New York Times didn't phrase the decision as Obama taking the high road and Clinton cravenly weighing where she'll have the most power, but what are you going to do?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Beware Taking Advice From Morons

Insofar as opposition is starting to crop up to the Eric Holder AG nomination, it's being centered around Holder's role in the controversial Marc Rich pardon in the waning days of the Clinton administration. The fact that Holder is liberal, by itself, is not disqualifying -- Barack Obama, rumor has it, is liberal (if not "THE MOST MARXIST/FASCIST SENATOR EVER!"). The National Review brings up the pardon in its editorial opposition to Holder, citing a Congressional report labeling his participation "unconscionable". What they don't tell you, but McCain supporter Orin Kerr does, is that the report was released by Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), a rabid Clinton hater famous for not just insisting that Vince Foster was murdered, but actually "re-enacting" the event by shooting a pumpkin in his backyard.

I, too, came across Rep. Burton when I attended Congressional hearings regarding formaldehyde contamination in FEMA trailers. To pass the time, I gave grades to the various committee members. Burton came in dead last, with a D+, since his entire contribution was assuring the rest of the committee that he knew the CEO's of the corporations in questions and was confident they would never hurt a fly. If only Mr. Holder knew that all this nastiness could have been staved off with a cocktail party, we might all be better off.

You can take a look at Rep. Burton's wikipedia page, if you'd like. He's got all manner of crazy in his closet.

You Judge The Ballots

NPR has samples of some of the contested ballots in the Coleman/Franken Minnesota Senate election, and lets you vote on how you think they should be counted. Finally, a chance to prove you're smarter than a Floridian! Take a whack at it -- and remember, Minnesota operates under a loose "intent of the voter" standard.

My decisions:
1) Franken
2) Accept it (McCain)
3) Franken (this was, in my view, the closest call)
4) Franken
5) Franken ("Lizard People" wasn't bubbled in)
6) Franken
7) Coleman
8) Franken
9) Barkley
10) Barkley
11) Coleman

Drinker's Delight

I don't drink beer, or really alcohol in general, but pieces like this (about so-called "extreme beer" breweries like Dogfish) always fascinated me. I think I'm mentally linking it to alchemy, which is intrinsically pretty cool. I have the same reaction to mixed drinks -- I don't usually like them myself, but the appeal of mixing various liquids together and creating something always had a hold on me, which is why I'm so pleased with the positive reaction I get to the old 4th Burton hot apple cider/peach schnapps combination.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cocktail Reception

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, whom I earlier characterized as being the good sort of "affirmative action" pick for the RNC, is blasting GOP efforts at "outreach" towards female and minority voters.
"The problem is that within the operations of the RNC, they don't give a damn. It's all about outreach ... and outreach means let's throw a cocktail party, find some black folks and Hispanics and women, wrap our arms around them - 'See, look at us,' " he said.

"And then we go back to same old, same old. There's nothing that is driven down to the state party level, where state chairmen across the country, to the extent they don't appreciate it, are helped to appreciate the importance of African-Americans and women and others coming and being a part of this party, and to the extent that they do appreciate it, are given support and backup to generate their own programs to create this relationship."

"Outreach is a cocktail party. Coalitions ... a relationship. I'm going to look you in the eye. I'm going to be at your table. I'm going to sit and talk to you," said Mr. Steele, who has for the last two years been the chairman of GOPAC, a Republican political action committee.

Bingo. As I observed upon the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as McCain's VP nominee, Republicans really seem to think that the only thing women or minorities care about is the face -- they blindly will follow their race or gender cohorts, and nothing else needs to be said. Steele, at least, is fighting back against this notion: he gets that if the GOP is going to make any true inroads with female and minority voters, they need to have a seat at the table, where their problems will be discussed fairly and real solutions will be offered.

There's a valid question as to how RNC selection committee will respond to this sort of rhetoric of course. It's not clear that they really want Blacks and women to have more voice at the table, if their voices will threaten policy or philosophical positions dear to the Party core (they might think that, but assume they can reign Steele in and make it so his changes are cosmetic, at best). And aside from the racial angles, Steele is definitely a relatively moderate candidate to be running, which is a major barrier in a Party that looks poised to make another rightward lurch. Of course, a Steele victory would signal a check on that instinct, which would certainly be positive.

But back to Steele's efforts to bring Blacks and other non-traditional GOP voters into the fold. Again, I'm not saying he'll be successful in his endeavor, even if he reaches out in good faith with full party backing. While a significant part of Black loyalty to the Democratic Party is based off the notion that the GOP is facially inhospitable to them, it's not ridiculous to think that Blacks actually have considered and agree with the Democratic Party when casting their ballots. But I think it's better, all things considered, for Blacks to be voting Democratic because they agree with Democrats, not because they consider the Republican Party to be a racist outpost.

The Racism Bank Shot

Though discounting the mythology that cases like Brown v. Board single-handedly exposed the evil of Jim Crow and promoted civil rights reform, revisionist (I mean that totally value-neutral) civil rights historians like Michael J. Klarman do concede that these largely symbolic measures did cause real progress by provoking a White overreaction. The intense White backlash to cases like Brown, broadcast to the North by television and other media sources, helped shock moderates out of their complacency and create the political will to enact meaningful reforms, such as the Civil Rights Act.

Other historians have observed the effort made by the Soviet Union to weaken American support amongst "non-aligned" and third world nations by exposing the horrors of American racism. Domestic civil rights battles in America were never far removed from the Cold War context, with progressives arguing fervently that America had a significant national security interest in dismantling Jim Crow, and conservatives shooting back that it was unpatriotic to tailor our domestic policy based on Kremlin critiques. This was a battle progressives would slowly but surely win. The United States government intervened for the first time in favor of desegregation activists when it wrote an amicus supporting the NAACP in Brown v. Board, specifically citing "the hostile reaction among normally friendly peoples" to anti-Black discrimination. The continuance of segregation and inequality in America was leading potential allies around the world to view the US as "hypocritical in claiming to be the champion of democracy while permitting practices of racial discrimination here in this country."

By contrast, evidence of meaningful civil rights progress was wielded by American diplomatic agents as proof of the superiority and fundamental righteousness of American ideals. From officially-sponsored world tours featuring Black Jazz musicians, to President Truman's famous maxim that "Democracy's answer to the challenge of totalitarianism is its promise of equal rights and equal opportunities for all mankind," it was well known to everyone that the question of racism had potent implications for American foreign policy interests.

All of this is prelude to al-Qaeda #2 Ayman al-Zawahiri's mockery of President-elect Barack Obama, whom they call a "house slave" and compare derogatorily to Malcolm X. Spencer Ackerman responds:
Who would have known that electing a black president also turns out to have an information-operations component as a bonus? We should want to publicize, far and wide, that Zawahiri is a racist. Drive this discrediting message into the heart of the Muslim world. I wonder what the tens of millions of African and African-American Muslims think about Zawahiri's charming statement.

Yes, and yes. Obama, fair or not, is already somewhat of a hero in many places where the American brand had been faltering. One benefit of making even symbolic racial progress, as Klarman indicated, is that it makes racist reactionaries that much more visible. America learned that racial regressivism was a serious liability in its fight with the Soviet Union. Hopefully, it can take this opportunity to utilize racial progressivism to dismantle reactionary, totalitarian movements like al-Qaeda.

Life is Good

Snoop Dogg on Martha Stewart. I would have assumed they would explode on contact, like matter and anti-matter. Instead, it's just hilarious.

Delaying the Inevitable is a Good Thing

Publius lays out an interesting argument for the auto bailout. Even if the bailout is destined to fail, even if the companies don't deserve it, even if we won't see a penny of the loan ever again, even if all it does is forestall the inevitable collapse of General Motors -- it still might be worth it. Why? Because the companies won't fail now. And now, in the middle of a major economic crisis, is not a time to let a major sector of our economy sink like Atlantis.

If the Big Three go under right now, given all the other economic strains, I genuinely worry that Michigan is going to turn into some sort of hell hole -- like sub-Saharan Africa or Iceland. Of course, the counter argument is that there is never a "good" time for huge employers to fail dramatically, so you might as well suck it up and get it over with. But, granting that statement as true, I can still say that some times are probably worse than others, and now certainly qualifies as a worse time.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Return of the Tekken

Let's say you're casually playing boggle online with a bunch of random strangers. One random stranger's name is "Michelle Chang." Being an enormous dork, you immediately seize upon the name as from a character in the "Tekken" fighting series -- a very cool character at that. Is there any way to bring this into the conversation without it being massively awkward?

No, of course not. So you stew quietly.

DC to Legalize Gay Marriage?

D.C. Councilman David Catania has proclaimed he is confident D.C. will pass a bill legalizing same sex marriage next year. Dale Carpenter wonders if his confidence is misplaced, given the overwhelming opposition to same-sex marriage expressed by Blacks in California. My response was to note that, just as White voters in Maryland have different views on gay marriage than those in Alabama, D.C. Blacks may take different views on the subject than their California peers.

Obama to Nominate First Black AG

Congratulations to Eric Holder who, if confirmed, would become America's first Black Attorney General. Here's a quick bio for Mr. Holder:
* Columbia University, B.A., 1973; J.D., 1976 * Department of Justice, Public Integrity Section, 1976 - 1988 * Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia, 1988 - 1993 (nominated by Reagan) * U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, 1993 - 1997 (appointed by Clinton) * Deputy Attorney General of the United States, 1997 - 2001 (nominated by Clinton) * Acting Attorney General of the United States, 2001 (until confirmation of John Ashcroft as Attorney General) * Partner, Covington & Burling, 2001 - present
So naturally, he's going to be accused of being an "affirmative action" pick. But seriously, congratulations are in order for Mr. Holder. While we're on the subject of Obama legal appointments, congratulations to Greg Craig, who will be named White House Counsel. Craig, who represented Bill Clinton in his impeachment hearings, is currently a partner at Williams & Connolly, where I worked in the summer and winter of 2005. While Mr. Craig obviously would not remember me, in a victory for class solidarity, I actually don't remember him either. Take that, Mr. Big Shot!

Torts Quote of the Day

From Lombard Laws, King Luitprand, Law 136.VII. (A.D. 733): blame should be placed on the man who owns the well [for a tort in which both the perpetrator and victim were third parties] because if we placed the blame on him, no one hereafter would permit other men to raise water from their wells, and since all men cannot have a well, those who are poor would die and those who are traveling through would also suffer need.

I love the matter of fact way the inevitable death of poor people is trotted out as an impact.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Fruits of Their Labor

In general, academic performance has a negative correlation with juvenile delinquency. Which makes sense -- we assume that academic excellence both shows a commitment by kids to work towards socially sanctioned goals, and that the pay-offs of excelling in school make criminal activity less attractive.

However, new research by University of Washington Professor Robert Cruchfield indicates that for kids in highly disadvantaged neighborhoods, this relationship is reversed: GPA actually has a positive correlation with delinquency.

This was an unexpected and obviously distressing finding, and folks are still trying to figure out potential causes. Several hypothesis were forwarded:

1) Kids with good grades in bad neighborhoods feel the need to "represent", countering the bad reputation they might get for being a nerd.

2) Kids with good grades feel like they have no potential for being rewarded for their accomplishments, and seek out the status that criminal activity brings.

3) Kids with good grades are more valuable to criminal organizations such as gangs, who value their intelligence and skill sets more than another dime-a-dozen brawler.

4) Having good grades acts as a "get out of jail free" card, causing authority figures to look the other way and making delinquent activity less costly.

All of these are worth considering, but I think #2 rings truest for me. One knock on the first explanation is, as one respondent noted, that it would seem simpler for smart kids to avoid the dilemma all together by underperforming in class. The fourth explanation I think would work better in high-income neighborhoods (where I definitely observe a "get out of jail free" effect). It's at best non-unqiue, at worst less effective, in poorer locales.

The third explanation seems slightly incongruous, but I think may be onto something insofar as we remember that modern gangs are rather sophisticated organizations which make rational "business" decisions. Still, the second example strikes me as the strongest. Kids who are high performers expect that they will see tangible rewards for their effort. Insofar as they don't see those rewards coming, either because they don't believe their work will pay off (i.e., even if they do well in school, they won't be able to afford college or can't imagine a good college will accept them), or because they don't believe they'll be around to see the benefits (i.e., they are fatalistic about street violence, or just assume they'll be taken in by the police on trumped up charges), the temptation to take immediately presented benefits rises dramatically.

Smart kids respond to rational incentives. The extent that criminal activity is the rational choice in many poorer neighborhoods worries me. A good anti-crime policy (indeed, a profoundly conservative one insofar as it deals with incentive structures) should be working holistically to make sure that other options are more fruitful than crime for disadvantaged youth.

It Must Be Nice Being Huge

Debates over how many adherents one can justifiably excommunicate from the ranks is a privilege of the powerful religions. Smaller players, such as my own faith, have learned that such intra-sectarian squabbling gets downright dangerous when your numbers are already rather tiny (and the other guys are going for your head).

Certainly, lots of ultra-orthodox Jews think I really suck at being Jewish, and some more extreme sects would go further and label me a heretic. Fortunately for me, they're in the minority. But by and large, Judaism has learned that we must hang together to avoid hanging separately. The majority of Jewish denominations in America, for example, do not hold that the Bible is the literal word of God. But yet, somehow we don't engage in cannibalistic theological warfare to expel the unbelievers. It must get tiring after awhile, and it's energy I'd really rather expend elsewhere.

Via Southern Appeal. Hey, President Obama -- if you're no longer Christian, we're happy to take you in! We can bond over how annoying it is for really self-righteous people taking it upon themselves to pray for our immortal souls.

That's New

I just got a push poll from, I believe, Ford Motor, asking whether I support the bailout (after regaling me with statistics about lost jobs and general hellfire and doom).

I told them I'm undecided. Which is true.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


I can't handle this:
Let Your “Light” Shine For Christ This Christmas Season!

Looking for an effective way to express your Christian faith this Christmas season to honor our Lord Jesus? Now you can…. with the “Original Christmas Cross” yard decoration.

That's the product description from the American Family Association. And this (I swear I'm not kidding) is the photo they attached:

Via Balloon Juice.