Friday, December 24, 2010

Make It Complicated

A paper by Robert George, Sherif Girgis, and Ryan Anderson (H/T) seeking to defend the moral propriety of restricting marriage to heterosexuals, is making the rounds in right-ward circles.

I don't think it's particularly impressive. For a piece that purports to provide a positive case for the intrinsically heterosexist quality of marriage, its positive case is remarkably thin -- solely occurring in Part I.B, pp. 252-259, and effectively only in Part I.B.1, pp. 253-255. That argument, claiming that only generative sex can provide a truly comprehensive "bodily union", seems to be a recycled and cross-applied version of the arguments John Finnis made to argue that homosexual sex was intrinsically immoral -- an argument that I think was definitively shredded by Catholic legal scholar Michael Perry over a decade ago.* (The other two arguments contained in Part I.B are scarcely worth mentioning. George's claims in I.B.2 regarding the intrinsic superiority of heterosexual marriage over gay marriage as an environment for rearing children are on the margins of the relevant literature in the field. And I.B.3 is a less-than-one-page blip that tosses out some disconnected rhetoric on "marriage norms" that, by the author's own admission, are dependent on accepting the points made previously in the section.).

Returning to the Perry/Finnis discourse, it's notable, I think, how this debate does seem to be reprising similar ones over whether the state can morally proscribe homosexual conduct -- a debate that raged hot and heavy until approximately 9 months after Lawrence v. Texas. Once that case came down and the requisite fulmination about "activist judges" had subsided, the moral case for outlawing sodomy effectively died -- virtually nobody, not even virulent gay rights opponents, is willing to admit they want to recriminalize sodomy in the United States.

However, I don't think the function of George's argument is to persuade. That isn't to say that he doesn't believe what he wrote, or that many others don't agree with him. But I highly doubt that there is anybody who started sympathetic to marriage equality, who will be remotely convinced by George's argument.

The function of George's argument, in conservative circles, is to restore the question's status as one of reasonable disagreement. A considerable chunk of the conservative movement, privately, has no problem with gay rights. They may oppose gay marriage as a matter of political expedience, but once it becomes reality (and it will, slowly, fitfully, but inexorably), they don't expect the sky to fall. It is a closer cousin to sodomy than abortion in this respect -- once the battle is won, the issue will die. And they know this. They know where the nation is headed. They can't expect this to be a live issue in 50 years.

These people know they're on the wrong side of history. And yet, they still have to sleep at night, knowing who they've crawled into bed with (so to speak). And that's where Professor George comes in. He makes this issue look like something complicated -- a question upon which it is reasonable to expect some folks to be mistaken. There is no shame in being wrong about such an issue, after all. We expect a considerable chunk of the population to get hard questions wrong. It's not a moral failing. And consequently, there is no moral failing in allying with such people. It'd be akin to disowning an early 20th century scientist for initially doubting Einstein.

Of course, the issue really isn't that complicated. Professor George's argument is, as one commenter put it, "trying, desperately, to find some way, any way to overcome the naturalistic fallacy ... and of course, failing." There is a lot of totemic hand-waving towards this idea of "bodily union", but it is an argument which lies on a precariously thin reed of "biological compatibility" -- a naturalistic fallacy if there ever was one, and the style of argument that, as noted, Perry had long-since dismantled.

To my conservative friends who think that George's article will give them cover for their dalliances with the merchants of discrimination -- will shield them from the harsh judgment of history's gaze -- know this: it won't. This issue will not be seen as one of reasonable disagreement whose ultimate answer was, by the year 2010, still in doubt. This issue will be seen as the premier civil rights challenge of our times. And the enablers of the old, discriminatory ethos will be found guilty. Mark my words on that.

* Michael J. Perry, The Morality of Homosexual Conduct: A Response to John Finnis, 9 Notre Dame J. L. Ethics & Pub. Pol'y 41 (1995).

UPDATE: Vice President Joe Biden just said it is "inevitable" our nation will eventually reach a consensus in favor of gay marriage, and, following DADT repeal, mentioned DOMA as the likely next piece of the anti-gay agenda to fall. An interesting statement, given that then-Senator Biden was among the "yea" votes for the Defense of Marriage Act when it originally passed in 1996.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Basic Instincts

For much of his career, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was one of the foremost champions of immigration reform. Then a few things happened. He lost the 2008 election to Barack Obama -- an event which unquestionably left him spectacularly bitter. He also faced a right-wing primary challenger in 2010 that left him racing to deny he ever was a maverick.

And so when the DREAM Act came to the floor, McCain voted nay. Grant Woods, an old friend of McCain and his first chief of staff, explains why:
Woods said "it hurts" McCain to vote against legislation like the Dream Act after years of working on reform but said the senator felt betrayed when Latinos overwhelmingly supported Obama in 2008. "When you carry that fight at great sacrifice year after year and then you are abandoned during the biggest fight of your life, it has to have some sort of effect on you," he said.

So basically, much like everything else McCain has done over the past two years, his DREAM Act vote was a fit of pique to wound those who kept him out of the Oval Office. Of course, it's no mystery why Latinos broke hard for Democrats in 2008, and it seems like their instincts that Senator McCain was naught but a fair-weather friend were spot on. "Country first", indeed.

Gay Men Get all the Breaks

What could be more entertaining that primer by a conservative Christian website on how to find out if your husband's gay? Nothing, that's what! Seriously -- this is hilarious. It's like someone took a catalog of gay stereotypes and added bullet points. Although, some of them are pretty tragic. Only gay men are sarcastic? Only gay men are interested in "strange sexual demands" (like, oh, say, lubricant? No, really)? Only gay men can travel alone to big cities? Only gay men groom?

Really, is this a warning for wives or an advertising pitch for men? You know what "they" say: "Once you try man, you're always a fan."

UPDATE: Doh! Got taken in by a satirical website. Egg on my face.

Boxing Labels: A Typology

A few years ago, I read a news report on Carlos Baldomir's miraculous 2006, in which he scored a shocking upset over Zab Judah to win the Ring Magazine lineal welterweight championship (he then defended the title against Arturo Gatti before losing a lopsided decision to Floyd Mayweather Jr. later that year). In the story, Baldomir was referred to as a "journeyman", and I remember being quite offended. Obviously, Baldomir is not in the same league as a Floyd Mayweather, but there's a significant difference between someone who, even on a great night, is capable of becoming lineal welterweight champion, and a Reggie Strickland.

To try and rectify that, I'm trying to create a typology of boxing labels, so fighters are referred to properly and given their just due. I'm not saying they're perfect, or even that I myself have or will use them consistently. But I think they're solid benchmarks.

Superstar, Star, and Action Star

The best of the best (with one caveat, see below). What makes one a star (of any variety), in my book, is that one's fights are meaningful simply because the fighter is participating in them (and not because, say, a title is on the line). So, for example, Bernard Hopkins and Kelly Pavlik fought at a catchweight in 2008, with no belt at stake. But the fight still mattered, because Hopkins and Pavlik were in it. Obviously, a belt can help make a fight even more meaningful (e.g., Sergio Martinez and Paul Williams II for the lineal middleweight title), but the point is the fighters exert an independent gravitational pull.

Within the category, a superstar is a boxer whose popularity transcends the sport itself. A star's fights are important to boxing fans, but a superstar's fights are important to the public. Superstars show up in Nike commercials and are guests on Dancing with the Stars. They're the folks who, if you ask a random guy off the street what they think of boxing, respond "I don't watch it, but I hear that Pak-kow guy is pretty good."

An interesting permutation of this group is the action star. Unlike stars or superstars, an action fighter may not be amongst the sports elite. But like other stars, his fights are meaningful because of the fighter, not the belt. Usually that's because the boxer fights with an exciting style and has won a ton of fans. Arturo Gatti is perhaps the prototypical example of this: his fights were important because they were Gatti fights, but Arturo Gatti was never really amongst the sports top fighters. He was just an raw, brawling, tough, exciting-as-hell slugger, and folks loved him for it.

Superstars: Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather
Stars: Bernard Hopkins, Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto
Action Stars: John Duddy, Arturo Gatti

Champions and Titlists

This category exists parallel to the above -- one can be star and a titlist or champion, or one but not the other (or, of course, neither). A titlist is someone in possession of a sanctioning body belt, while a champion is the holder of the lineal, Ring Magazine title (a/k/a, "the guy who beat the guy who beat the guy") in his weight class. One would hope that most of the fighters good enough to win titles are stars in their own right, but it's not always the case (any Vyacheslav Senchenko fans in the house?). Even a champion doesn't necessarily have to be a star -- perhaps Carlos Baldomir is an example of that. And on the flip side, one can definitely be a star with no titles in one's hands -- Bernard Hopkins being a prime example right now.

Champions: Sergio Martinez (Middleweight), Juan Manuel Marquez (Lightweight) (note that both of these fighters are also stars in their own right).
Titlists: Andre Ward (Super Middleweight), Vyacheslav Senchenko (Welterweight) (Ward is also a star, but Senchenko most certainly isn't).

Contenders and Fringe Contenders

What makes a contender? A contender is someone who is not a star, doesn't have a title, but most observers think would have a decent chance of winning one on any given night he's put in the ring with a titlist. A contender might be as good or better than a current titlist -- he just happens not to be in possession of a belt. A fringe contender is someone who, on any given night, may be able to beat another contender, and fighting the fight of his life could upset a true titlist. A title bout against a fringe contender is generally considered a weak but not inexcusable defense (but one would rather see them defend against a true contender). Fringe contenders often also double as high-level gatekeepers (see below).

Contenders: Sakio Bika (Super Middleweight), Luis Collazo (Welterweight)
Fringe Contenders: Ray Austin (Heavyweight), Said Ouali (Welterweight)


Gatekeepers have widely varied divergent skill levels. What they share in common is their service as a measuring stick for prospects (below), letting observers get a gauge for how good another fighter is. Each one is a milestone for a fighter, letting them know they have progressed to a certain skill level. Gatekeepers are generally expected to lose to the prospects they face, but it's not necessarily a foregone conclusion -- the whole point is to test whether the guy is for real, or just a hype job. Consequently, gatekeepers usually have some amount of skill, sufficient to actually test young talent. Since they are "supposed" to lose, unfortunately, it also means they're often on the wrong end of the decision in tightly contested (sometimes not-so-tightly contested) fights.

Zuri Lawrence (Heavyweight), Jerson Ravelo (Light Heavyweight).


Who counts as a prospect? It's a little arbitrary, but I would say a prospect is someone who we can imagine reaching at least contender status at the pinnacle of his career. Of course, they're not there yet, and there is another degree of arbitrariness as to when a fighter graduates from prospect to contender. Incidentally, prospects skip over the "fringe contender" stage -- a fringe contender is nearly invariably someone who was once a contender but has since shown they couldn't hack it at that level.

Matvey Korobov (Middleweight), Sadam Ali (Welterweight)


Everybody else. Journeymen are the lifeblood of boxing. Most cards are filled with journeymen -- sometimes fighting each other, sometimes being fed to a prospect. They have a wide variety of records and talent levels. Sometimes they can even rise above their humble origins and become a fringe contender (or even a real one). Sometimes they're simply tomato cans. But in any event, they're worth saluting.

Reggie Strickland (Super Middleweight), Peter Buckley (Welterweight).

There's one category of fighter I can't think of a good label for -- and, ironically, it might be what characterized Baldomir before his fight against Judah. These are folks who have been fighting too long to be really be called prospects, but are effectively unknown against upper-level competition (they often are pretty obscure, until they get brought in as a random opponent for a name-guy). On the other hand, they're clearly better than journeymen, and it seems unfair to group them with the Peter Buckley's of the world. "Fringe Contender" probably comes the closest with respect to their typical talent level, but they haven't been hanging around the fringes of the division's top 10, so we don't really know for sure.

Suggestions would be appreciated -- but do them a favor, and don't call them "journeymen". They're better than that, and they deserve a better name than that.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fabulous Prizes

Throw this in the I'm an awful person for laughing pile. Is it hypocritical, though, for me to also be appalled at Fox News' carelessness?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Big Announcement

So, I feel I've been teasing you with promises of news for awhile. It wasn't intentional, I swear -- I really was consistently on the edge of being able to announce stuff, and events kept transpiring to put it off. But now, I can finally reveal the entire story -- as well as my employment for the next two years.

This past September, I was offered and accepted a clerkship for the 2012-2013 term with Judge Diana Murphy on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, Minneapolis.

And next year, I will be a visiting professor in the Academic Fellows program at the University of Illinois law school.

These are both incredibly exciting opportunities. Judge Murphy and I really clicked in the interview -- I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to getting a chance to work with her (and Jill isn't displeased with getting to go back to the old homestead for a year).

But the Illinois position -- which I just found out about today -- represents the attainment of a dream I've been pursuing for nearly a decade. Obviously, it's not permanent, and there's a lot of things I still need to do. But starting next August, I will be able to say that I am a law professor.

The story of how this all came about is, I think, worth recounting -- and hopefully will justify the slow-roll of the news. My interview with Judge Murphy was at 7:30 AM on the first Thursday that "on-plan" federal judges could conduct interviews. It was, as I said, going fantastically -- we really seemed to click in a way that I can honestly say has never happened (at least so smoothly) in any job interview I've ever had.

Unfortunately, Judge Murphy had already finished hiring for 2011-12 term at 7 AM (yeah, I thought 7:30 was a prime slot too). But she immediately made me an offer for the following term (2012-13).

This presented a problem, for Covington had recently revised their clerkship policy such that attorneys could no longer start with the firm, then leave to clerk. We could graduate, clerk, and then begin with the firm, but they didn't want a situation where incoming attorneys got a few months of training and then, just when they began to be integrated into cases and clients, they left again.

That was the original reason why I couldn't announce the clerkship -- without something for the 2011-12 year, I couldn't accept Judge Murphy's offer without running afoul of Covington's new policy. So I immediately set to work trying to find something -- another clerkship or, preferably, a teaching fellowship, to fill the gap year so I could stay in harmony with Covington's policy.

Once it became apparent that a different clerkship wasn't on the table, the first candidate was a teaching fellowship at the University of Chicago -- specifically, the Kauffman Fellowship. And it looked good -- I met with a dean, and he said that assuming the funding was renewed, he saw no reason not to hire me. And as for the funding, he didn't know what the foundation was waiting for, but he thought maybe if he told them that he had a excellent candidate lined up for next year, that would shake loose a few dollars so they could formalize things.

That was the second iteration of nearly-having news. But as you might have guessed, it didn't pan -- despite our best efforts, the funding didn't happen. So it was back to the drawing board.

Meanwhile, there was some good news -- Covington had reversed its clerkship policy (albeit with a stated preference that we not start-then-leave), meaning I could accept Murphy's offer and return to Covington next year. That was, at least, a load off my shoulder. But it did impose a November 1st deadline to accept Covington's offer. On the theory that the Kauffman fellowship should be forthcoming, I managed to secure an extension until December 1. But once the Kauffman fell through, I had to beg for more time.

I was all amped up to actually beg -- I basically had a speech prepared and everything. After the initial pleasantries, I started into my spiel, beginning with "So some things have come up, and it's looking like I won't hear anything until February/March...." and before I got any further, the legal recruiting director brightly remarked "oh, so we won't hear from you until March? Great, I'll mark it down!" I was so prepared to have to plead my case that I don't think I really processed that, and basically continued with the begging as if she hadn't said anything, which I have to imagine sounded incredibly strange until I finally managed to restore a grip on myself and thank her.

And in that extra space of time, I applied for and received this offer at Illinois -- thus bringing my long, chaotic autumn to a close.

Speaking of Covington, I do need to give them specific thanks for being so flexible with deadlines. They extended their timeline twice to accommodate me, and if they hadn't done that, I wouldn't have been able to secure this opportunity. I am so grateful for that. I also need to thank my recommenders, but in particular Lisa Bernstein, who shepherded me through this process like a pro. And of course, everyone else -- my friends, family, Jill, the whole crew -- who was so patient with me throughout this whole ordeal. I'm sure I was more than a bit manic at times, and they kept me sane.

Anyway, to close out, it seems like such a milestone in my life should have at least some impact on my blog. And you'll note at the top that I have a new tagline. It's a bit premature -- I'm not a professor yet -- but I told myself as soon as I got my first teaching gig, I'd make the change.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Puerto Rico!

My first trip to the Caribbean is off on the wrong foot, of the "wake up at 4:45 AM to catch the flight" variety. But I assume it's all positive from here, and I definitely could use the break.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

B-Hop the Eternal

Last night, Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins (51-5-2, 32 KOs) came off the canvas twice in route to a majority draw with Ring Magazine light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal (26-1-1, 16 KOs). Scores were 114-112 Hopkins, 113-113, and 114-114. I had it 115-111 Hopkins, and I firmly believe he won the fight.

Many of my friends in the boxing biz were rooting for Pascal this fight. It was nothing against Hopkins, they said. Rather, it was a simple calculation about what's good for the sport. Pascal has genuine superstar potential -- he's already getting there in Canada. He could be a draw. Whereas if Hopkins wins -- well, it's another big notch on his legacy, to be sure, but it doesn't do anything for the sport. I mean, how long can he go on?

A fair point, I said. But I was rooting for Hopkins. Why? Because Pascal beating Hopkins is just a younger guy beating an older guy. But every time Hopkins wins, you're seeing something legendary. And I like watching history happen.

Scorecards notwithstanding, I think few people were not awestruck by Hopkins performance last night. It didn't start off that way, to be sure. Hopkins was dropped in the first and third rounds -- albeit the first one appeared to my eyes a clear rabbit punch. A close second round meant that Pascal could easily be up 5 points just three rounds in -- and it seemed like father time may have finally caught up to the Executioner. Worse, the score gap effectively forced Hopkins out of his usual game plan. He couldn't fight a clinching, tight, inside game -- that leads to close rounds, and Hopkins couldn't afford close rounds while in a hole on his opponent's home turf.

So instead, Hopkins did something I think very few of us thought he could. He pressed the action offensively. He began effectively stalking Pascal across the ring, landing digging body shots that had Pascal afraid to let his hands go. After the fourth round, you really had to start reaching to find rounds to give to Pascal -- a clean sweep for Hopkins would be a very reasonable assessment. It was domination, nearly as sublime as the domination put on Pavlik. And in a sense, more so -- for Hopkins did it while overcoming severe early adversity.

Given that I think the first knockdown was a blown call, it's easy for me to say that was decisive on the scorecards -- it could have swung anywhere from 1-3 points to Hopkins on all cards, giving him a unanimous decision instead of a majority draw. But boxing is funny thing -- I think those two early knockdowns forced Hopkins to fight a more aggressive and ultimately more effective fight than he had been planning. Had he not tasted canvas, would have been so offense-minded? Who knows?

So what's next? It's an interesting question. The WBC has ordered an immediate rematch, but I believe Pascal is contractually obligated to rematch Chad Dawson in his next fight. So I can easily see the WBC stripping Pascal and putting Hopkins and some schlub in a bout for the vacant belt, thus letting Hopkins gain his place in history as the oldest fighter ever to win a title.

Even post-Dawson, a rematch between Pascal and Hopkins looks dodgy. Hopkins is never setting foot out of the United States again, and Pascal will be loathe to give up the money he earns while fighting out of Quebec. There aren't many places other than Canada that Hopkins/Pascal really draws (legend that he is, Hopkins has never really been a fan attraction). Plus, I think Pascal knows in his heart of hearts that hewas lucky to escape with a draw, and will be uninterested in tempting fate further. It's a shame, but this business will likely be unfinished.

Nonetheless, tonight was another incredible performance by a man who seems to laugh in the face of age. I don't know when Bernard Hopkins finally will become old, or when he'll finally elect to hang 'em up. But I do know it's a privilege to watch him fight. And I'm greatly appreciative I got the opportunity to do so.