Friday, September 18, 2009

Shana Tova

It's Rosh Hashanah tomorrow, so most of the day will be spent celebrating the New Year. Hope it is happy and healthy for everyone (and for non-Jews, well, have a nice Fall I guess?).

Irving Kristol (1920 - 2009)

Speaking of conservative public intellectuals whom I disagree with profoundly but are not "utter morons", Irving Kristol died today. RIP.

I Like Our List Better

Liberal and conservative bloggers were asked to name the "columnists, bloggers and television or radio commentators [who] most helped to shape their opinion or worldview."

The liberals answered (in order) Paul Krugman, Rachel Maddow, Frank Rich, Bill Moyers, and Digby. A Nobel Prize winner, a Rhodes Scholar, a former top government official, a New York Times columnist, and a blogger who I admit I don't read and know little about.

The conservative list was (again, in order) Charles Krauthammer, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Steyn, Jonah Goldberg, and Eugene Volokh. A Washington Post columnist, a UCLA law professor, and three utter morons.

UPDATE: Geez, I leave to pick up a prescription for Grandma, and the entire house comes down! Alas, while Krauthammer is fine enough for a conservative pundit, and Prof. Volokh is without a doubt extraordinarily intelligent (and someone I have plenty of respect for), any movement which lets their opinions be "shaped" by Rush Limbaugh or Jonah "I don't need to read Herbert Spencer if I can just ask experts to tell me about him and then ignore what they say" Goldberg (or Jonah "Black political movements are just one big blur to me" Goldberg) is in truly sorry shape. It might be slightly unfair to group in Steyn with these anti-luminaries -- but only slightly, as Steyn is pretty far from what you would call a distinguished intellect. The point being, I'm tired of the soft bigotry of low expectations that surrounds the American right. It's not like there have never been high caliber conservative public intellectuals before. Is this really all you want out of your movement? Raise your game!

Look -- I recognize my elitist fantasies wherein liberals are primarily influenced by Martha Nussbaum, Iris Marion Young, John Dewey, Richard Rorty, and (sure, why not) Paul Krugman, and conservatives take their cues from Friedrich Hayak, Robert Nozick, Richard Posner, Michael Oakeshott, and Leo Strauss, are never going to come true. But we could elevate the discourse a little bit, no? Judge Posner is a whip-smart conservative public intellectual. Antonin Scalia certainly is never far from the public eye. I have (liberal that I am) objections to the vast majority of the conservative commentariat, but that doesn't mean I can't draw a qualitative distinction between a George Will or Reihan Salam and a Rush Limbaugh or Jonah Goldberg.

This, of course, doesn't address the point made by some that intelligence isn't what we should be looking for from our influences, but something else (apparently raw demagogic popularity). To the extent that is the real objection -- conceding that a Limbaugh doesn't have the book larnin' that a Krugman does but possesses that ever-nebulous quality of "common sense" -- then I default back to my original conclusion, that I like our list better. I'm perfectly willing to stake my claim upon the terrain of ideas, and leave conservatives to the field of snickering bon mots and rabble-rousing. It may be unsporting to engage in intellectual combat with an opponent so clearly unarmed, but such is the world we apparently live in. I'd rather it weren't, but it is.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Quote of the Evening

"On appeal, Scott raises five points, four of which will not make it out of this paragraph."

Harsh, dude. From United States v. Scott, 284 F.3d 758 (2002).

The Battle of New Orleans

Last April, the Supreme Court uphold an Indiana voter ID law which disenfranchised folks for literally no tangible reason. The intangible reason was to prevent voter fraud. I call that reason "intangible" because Indiana had never, in its history, had a prosecuted case of voter fraud of a form this law would address. Indeed, the state had seen voter fraud in absentee balloting before, so naturally, absentee ballots were exempt from the law. It was a rare case of the Supreme Court allowing a fundamental right to burden based on nothing more than mythology and Republican hysterics. Not their proudest moment.

But having lost the war, it looks like voting rights advocates may have nonetheless managed to win a battle after the fact. The Indiana Court of Appeals has struck down the voter ID law the US Supreme Court upheld, holding it to be a violation of the state constitution by not treating all voters alike (particularly with regards to the aforementioned exception for absentee ballots).

More coverage here and here. Also worth noting is that this is an intermediate appellate opinion, so it can and likely will be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

His Own Man

Love this post by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I mean, I could say that about pretty much any post he writes. But I love this post particularly.

The Right Maneuver

I am a confirmed skeptic of the UN Human Rights Council, but this Foreign Policy article makes a ton of sense. Basically, it argues that the problem with the UNHRC isn't that it is "controlled" by illiberal regimes, in the sense that they have a majority on the council. The problem is that the illiberal regimes that are on the council have invested a ton more diplomatic energy in getting fellow members to vote according to their wishes, while liberal stalwarts have been asleep at the switch. Geographic bloc voting is allowing nations like Sudan, Cuba and Zimbabwe to exercise disproportionate influence on the council's agenda, because they can bring along the votes of even democracies in Africa and Latin America. But if a sufficiently credible liberal power (say, a resurgent United States) could mobilize the democratic regimes to actually vote their values, then we'd see a very different result.

From this perspective, the Obama administration's decision to take a seat on the UNHRC is very important, because it gives a base to do the hard work of diplomatic investment and persuasion which could pay off big dividends down the road. The Bush administration policy of non-engagement is emotionally tempting to someone like me who has wondered if the council is simply a lost cause, but whatever passions it satisfies, it clearly hasn't worked in terms of stemming the poisoning of human rights discourse when the agenda is in the hands of a country like Cuba.

Via OJ, which also links to Freedom House's very interesting "report card" on the UNHRC's work from 2007-09.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Interview Tips

You know that scene in The West Wing, where Donna Moss, assistant to Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, tries to draw a laugh from a tour by calling herself the "Deputy Deputy Chief of Staff"? And how it fails miserably?

The same outcomes results when you try to describe your time assisting a paralegal as being a "Para-Paralegal".

I Promise To Never, Ever Visit

An Israeli scientist helped discover a new planet which is reportedly very similar to Earth.

Personally, I recommend boycotting this new world for its clear Zionist ties. Solidarity!

Where's the Line?

Orin Kerr has a novel proposal justifying heterosexist marriage laws under the "rational basis" test:
I was thinking about this in the context of the same-sex marriage debate because state recognition of marriage seems to require a lot of linedrawing. It is widely agreed that the state has to impose limits on the number of people who can get married (2? 3? more?), the age of the couples (with or without parental consent), consanguinity (whether cousins can marry), etc. It can be hard to justify the exact lines that get drawn. For example, in many states, couples can get married at 18 without their parents' consent but 16 with their parents' consent. The exact line here seems pretty arbitrary. Why 18 years, and not 17 years and 323 days? Why 16 years if a parent consents, and not 16 years, 4 months, and 19.5 seconds? No matter who draws the lines required to define marriage, some parts of the definition are going to be rather arbitrary.

My claim — albeit only a very tentative claim, as this isn't my area and I haven't looked closely at the cases — is that the fact that some line needs to be drawn, and the legislature unimaginatively drew it in some relatively traditional way, itself helps provide a rational basis for the legislature's approach. It seems sensible for a state legislature tasked with all the line-drawing of defining marriage to stick with the common answers to the problem. Put another way, deference to preexisting practices in areas that require complicated line-drawing is a sensible default even if we lack a clear argument for why those preexisting practices are normatively preferable to other ways of drawing the lines.

Weak tea, I say. The slick move here is to compare a "line drawing" problem with respect to age (where the range of lines that could be drawn is literally infinite), to that of gender, which is a binary problem and isn't really a "line drawing" problem to begin with so much as it is a yes or no question. In situations like age of consent or even number of partners one can simultaneously marry, the broad range of potential solutions may counsel judicial deference to the seemingly arbitrary line the legislature has picked. It does not follow that this extends to "problems" where a legislature is debating between essentially two choices: allowing same-sex couples to marry, or forbidding it.

One could argue, of course, that the relevant basis for comparison is that we're changing the "definition" of marriage, and the line drawing problem is where we draw the line for subsequent changes. The problem is that if this rationale suffices for rational basis inquiry, it becomes limitless -- any change in law or policy could conceivably raise the question of "how else could we have to change it", and that simply can't be enough to uphold the legislation if the rational basis test is to retain any sort of critical bite.

Quote of the Morning

"I pity the religion that requires politics and politicians for its validation."

-- Leon Wieseltier, on Christian desire for more religion in the "public square", in his review of Norman Podhoertz's new book, "Why are Jews Liberals?"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

House (Democrats) Disapprove of Wilson

The House of Representatives has passed, mostly along party lines, a resolution formally "disapproving" of South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson's (R) "you lie!" outburst towards Barack Obama at his recent address to Congress. The 240-179 vote came after Wilson refused a last ditch plea by Democratic leaders to apologize himself on the House floor.

As usual, I'm less interested in the vote than in the folks who broke from form:
Even though the vote was largely partisan, there were a few departures from party loyalty. Seven Republicans voted to rebuke Wilson: Rep. Joseph Cao of Louisiana, Joanne Emerson of Missouri, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Walter Jones of North Carolina, Tom Petri of Wisconsin, Dana Rohrabacher of California and fellow South Carolinian Bob Inglis.

But 12 Democrats voted no on the resolution: Michael Arcuri of New York, Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts, Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, Maurice Hinchey of New York, Paul Hodes of New Hampshire, Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Dan Maffei of New York, Eric Massa of New York, James McDermott of Washington, Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, Gene Taylor of Mississippi and Harry Teague of Arizona.

Odd list, on both sides. Rep. Cao is a gimme for Republicans, and Rep. Inglis was one of the first to say that Rep. Wilson should have apologized. Rep. Flake has also periodically demonstrated an ability to stand on principle, so good for him. Rep. Jones may be eying another tough re-election fight. [UPDATE: Definitely got Walter Jones confused with Robin Hayes, who already lost his "another tough re-election fight". Whoops!] Rep. Emerson has been trending more moderate for some time now, Rep. Petri is also reasonably centrist, and Rep. Rohrabacher has always been a bit of a wild card.

The Democratic list is, if anything, more eclectic still. You have staunch progressives like Reps. Kucinich, Delahunt, and McDermott, some random back-benches like Rep. Hinchey, some folks with higher ambitions like Rep. Hodes, and some folks from reasonbly marginal districts like Reps. Maffei, Taylor, Giffords, and Teague. Rep. Moore appears to be the only African-American Representative to vote against the resolution (you wonder if some weren't holding out for a harsher censure motion).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Blood Libel Spotting

That Swedish blood libel article really set off the avalanche, didn't it? Counterpunch magazine, as per Alison Weir of "If American's Knew", is now asserting that not only is the Swedish article accurate, but also the original medieval blood libel is actually true as well. This may mark the first time in recent memory that the blood libel has been disseminated in an even remotely mainstream American media outlet (Counterpunch definitely is on the border of that characterization).

Meanwhile, an Algerian official has gotten in on the act with his own tale of Jewish organ theft, this time of Algerian children being smuggled across the Moroccan border. Busy beavers we are, it seems (needless to say, all these accusations are trumpeted in the Iranian press).

Of all the anti-Semitic myths I really assumed had died a permanent death, the blood libel was pretty high on the list. Alas, I'm always far too optimistic about these things, it seems.

Campaign Mode

If one were designing a video game about Congressional elections, the career of Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) would represent a good template for a campaign mode. Representing a majority-Black, heavily Democratic area of Memphis, Cohen got elected to Congress in 2006 by emerging from a badly split Democratic primary field. In 2008, Cohen didn't have the luxury of a split field, but soundly trounced corporate attorney Nikki Tinker who tried to race- and religion-bait her way to victory. Now, his 2010 match-up is another step-up in competition, facing long-time Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.

This NYT profile makes it sound like Herenton is basically trying to make the campaign about race. It didn't work for Tinker at all, but Herenton is far higher profile than Tinker ever was. Still, Cohen has had time to entrench himself and appears to have engendered some loyalty amongst his constituents -- Black and White. I'm optimistic about his chances. Though an intervention by Barack Obama in favor of one of the most progressive members of the Democratic caucus would be, I think, both politically wise and greatly appreciated by Rep. Cohen.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Kim Clijsters won the US Open tonight, 7-5, 6-3 over Caroline Wozniacki. We already knew she was a BAMF. But congratulations, all the same.

Also, Antonio won HGTV's Design Star, which Jill and I have been watching together all season. Antonio was both of our favorites, and I think he will make an excellent and unique host. I have to say, though, I thought Dan really brought it tonight, and I think he had the superior design. But Antonio is just a clearly superior host (though Dan has improved a ton in that category), and has been consistently elite and innovative. So congrats there too.

Still On That Lucky Streak

On May 16, 2008, Koba Gogoladze, 20-2 (8 KOs) and coming off a title challenge loss to Alex Arthur, was looking to bounce back against a rather undistinguished opponent named Ji Hoon Kim, then 13-5 (10 KOs). The fight was on ESPN2, and I watched it -- it was clear from the opening bell that Gogoladze was simply far technically superior than his Korean counterpart, who would rush in with wild, flailing punches. But before the round was over, Kim managed to catch Gogoladze with one of those punches, and suddenly, the night was over -- Kim TKO1.

Since that fight, Kim won four bouts against limited opposition (combined record: 20-20-5) before stepping up again to fight IBO titlist Zolani Marali (20-2, 13 KOs). Apparently, this fight began much like the Gogoladze match, with Marali's using his superior technique to avoid Kim's crude, flailing rushes. But Marali began to tire, and in the tenth he got caught, crumpling to the canvas from a right-left hook combination. The referee stopped the fight (possibly prematurely), and once again, Kim scored a knockout victory in a fight he seemed thoroughly outclassed in. He's now 19-5 (16 KOs) and the IBO Super Featherweight titlist.

It's so hard to gauge a guy like Kim. When I saw him, he was crude -- not just a rough-around-the-edges brawler, but really just lacking in basic technique -- and it doesn't sound like he's changed much. Yet he now has two solid wins against fringe-contender folks, hasn't lost in three years, and is riding a nine fight knockout streak. At the very least, he has pop.

I can't help but think eventually Kim's luck will run out. He really just isn't all that good. But this, as they say, is why they fight the fights. Good on him for surprising us all this far, and best of luck in the future. He'll need it.

Hate Crimes Protect White People Too

Commenting on a horrible Buffalo, NY attack where a White man was beaten by a crowd of Black men for dating a Black woman, the Black Snob asks whether the perpetrators (if caught) should be charged with a hate crime.

I think the answer is a pretty clear yes. This was a racialized crime of violence predicated on antediluvian notions of proper racial (and sexual) station. It is wrong -- always, in every case -- to attack someone because they are dating "your" women. For starters, the women aren't yours, they are their own, and it is their business who they do and do not find attractive. And second, the policing of racial purity and authenticity that reached its apex in this attack is always dangerous and needs to be put in check.

The purpose of hate crimes is to help achieve a racially egalitarian society, where we can live with, work with, and love each other inside and outside of racial lines without bias or fear. This is a dream that applies as much to White people as it does to people of color.