Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Telling it like it is

I have to admit that I was stunned to hear on the TNT telecast tonight that Detroit backup center Elden Campbell admitted in an interview that his strategy when defending Sahquille O'Neal is to foul him every time and take his chances on them calling it. NBA observers with any savvy at all know that this has been the strategy employed by every team in the league since Shaq came into the league 13 years ago, but it is odd and refreshing to hear that level of honesty from any jock.

That said, despite the candor he'll still always be Seldom Campbell to me for his, to be kind, inconsistent level of effort back in his Laker days.

Racism in the 21st Century

Even as racial discrimination in its traditional form – racists in power using their position to institute racist policy for the sake of racism – has shrunk to a tiny fraction of what it was only a few decades ago, sadly it has been replaced by a new and equally onerous form of racism: racial discrimination for the sake of buzzwords like “diversity” or “multiculturalism.” The southern restaurant owner of the 1950’s with a “No Colored Served” sign hanging in the window has given way to the university administrator of the 2000’s with policy and procedure manuals.

University of Oregon senior Stephanie Ramey found out about modern racism the hard way when she tried to enroll in the only section of Math 243 Calculus for Business and Social Science for the spring term only to find a virtual “No Whites Served” sign staring her in the face. She was denied enrollment and informed that she would have to contact the class professor. He passed her on to something called the Office of Multicultural Academic Support, which apparently should be called the Office of Academic Support for Some Preferred Cultures. A staffer in that department told her she could not enroll in the class because she doesn’t identify as a minority (here she needs to learn some tricks from Ward Churchill). It turns out that the first 10 of the 18 class slots are reserved for minorities in a handful of classes under the control of the OMAS, and that anybody else has to show up on the first day of class and meet with an advisor to see if they will be allowed to register for one of the remaining 8 or fewer slots. And for those wondering, no, being female did not qualify her as a minority THIS time; the preferred list was African-American, Asian-American/Pacific Islander, Chicano/Latino, Native American or multiracial.

The Supreme Court made clear in Bakke that setting aside slots on the basis of race illegal, so this silliness would obviously not stand up to a challenge, but it is sad that one would have to go to court to escape this kind of institutionalized racism 41 years after the Civil Rights Act in the first place. Dr. Martin Luther King famously said “I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character.” He would surely be horrified at some of the policies being pursued in the name of affirmative action, diversity and multiculturalism in the new century, which collectively threaten to crush that dream.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

And Now for Something Completely Different

There is close to a 100% chance you will never see poetry here again, but this Sabermetric verse is too good to pass up (hat tip: Alan Schwarz).

By Alan Gordon

The outlook wasn't brilliant for the sabermetrics crowd,
Their theories were reviled; their doctrines disavowed,
And baseball went on telling us the way that games were won:
"The sacrifice, the stolen base, the manufactured run."

Through decades of equations, through years of tracking games,
From the postulates of Cramer to the premises of James,
There seemed but little hope that sabermetrics would prevail,
As tears were shed at Harvard, Princeton, M.I.T., and Yale.

They thought, "If only one GM would dare stick out his neck,
If only Branch were still alive, if only we had Veeck."
But seemingly the scientific push was made in vain,
For baseball treated evidence and logic with disdain.

But then in '97, in the midst of disrepair,
The Oakland A's cleaned house and there were changes in the air,
A man named Billy Beane spoke of a new kind of success,
And damned if Billy didn't start computing OPS!

And statisticians far and wide let out a lusty yell,
It rumbled off their charts and graphs and Microsoft Excel,
It knocked upon the blackboards and bounced off the almanacs,
For Billy, mighty Billy, had read all of James' abstracts.

There was ease in Billy's manner as he had base-stealing banned,
There was pride in Billy's bearing and a slide rule in his hand,
And when he preached the value of the all-important walk,
'Twas little doubt that "old baseball" was in for quite a shock.

GMs and scouts around the league belittled Billy's "math,"
Ex-players and announcers shared a universal wrath,
(Ironically Joe Morgan, greatest critic of them all,
Was quite the sabermetric gem when he was playing ball.)

But Billy battled on (despite substantial lack of funds,)
And showed his team the darker side of bunts and hit-and-runs,
He had ten words of wisdom for his players who had doubts,
"To maximize your runs you have to minimize your outs."

He surveyed new statistics as the rest of baseball laughed,
He studied trends and patterns of the players he would draft,
He traded off his superstars for undervalued scrubs,
Unloading hefty contracts on the Yankees and the Cubs.

And sabermetric gurus, with a boundless sense of pride,
Watched on with vindication as their theories were applied,
But deep inside their hearts, there was a single fear that lurked,
"It's beautiful on paper, but in real life will it work?"

At last Billy's experiment had gotten underway,
They fought their way through April, they powered on through May,
And all throughout the season Billy tinkered with the team,
To squeeze every advantage out of each and every seam.

And Oakland won nine more games than they'd won the year before,
The next year they went out and won another thirteen more,
The onslaught had continued and, refusing to plateau,
They made it to the postseason for four years in a row.

And baseball's ideology was turned upon its ear,
"It takes money to win" had been their axiom for years,
But Billy's humble payroll hadn't stopped him in the least,
In fact, as Oakland's payroll dropped, their win total increased!

And quickly sabermetrics started spreading from the A's,
It caught on with the Dodgers and the Red Sox and the Jays,
And still the seed is spreading as the old convictions fall,
And in ten years the whole league will be playing "Moneyball."

Through baseball's evolution we've seen eras come and go,
We watched the dead ball disappear and batting average grow,
We marveled at the farm system that Rickey had revealed,
We watched as night games swept the land (except at Wrigley field).

We've seen a lot of eras, some imperfect, some ideal:
The era of free agency, the era of the steal,
The pitchers' age, the hitters' age, the age of the home run,
Now thanks to Billy Beane the age of reason has begun.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Wish I'd said that

I'm not sure exactly who he is, but I could not agree more with this take from Ron Olliff:

"'[I]llegal immigration' is an oxymoron. If it's immigration, it is not illegal, and if they are here illegally they are not immigrants, are they? Maybe it's time that a more accurate term be coined to describe these people. I'll start the process -- how about 'foreign trespassers?'"

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Good news/bad news for SarcastiPundit

A new medical study concludes that

some brain-damaged people can't comprehend sarcasm.


"People with prefrontal brain damage suffer from difficulties in understanding other people's mental states, and they lack empathy," said study co-author Simone Shamay-Tsoory, a researcher at the University of Haifa [Israel]. "Therefore, they can't understand what the speaker really is talking about, and get only the literal meaning."

The bad news for this blogger is that some readers will not “get” what I discuss here. The good news is that it will only be the brain-damaged among you.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The History of Filibusters

A comment on my previous post on judicial filibusters made the oft-repeated claim that the filibuster has been used to preclude debate for the entire history of the US Senate (it is also often called a 200 year old tradition). In fact the filibuster is 133 years old, although using it to block legislation goes back only 88 years and using it to block floor votes on judges with majority approval goes back, as I noted before, only to 2003. With the issue likely heating up again this week it is a good time to take a look at the tactic’s history to see how we got where we are today.

From 1789 to 1828, the rule was that the presiding officer of the Senate could cut off debate at any time, which is of course the Vice President (a simple majority of the entire Senate could also end debate from 1789-1806). While this would seem to facilitate abuse of power by either cutting off debate or refusing to do so purely on a VP’s whim, history shows that it was used responsibly in that period.

Unfortunately, and probably inevitably, an abuse of this extraordinary power occurred in 1825. Senator John Randolph of Virginia, who had a longstanding and by most accounts irrational hatred for President John Quincy Adams and his family (think Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush), hijacked the floor every day for three months to launch a series of vicious (and often personal) attacks on both the president and Secretary of State Henry Clay. The VP was South Carolinian John C. Calhoun, and because he had presidential aspirations of his own he was perfectly willing to let the attacks on his two main rivals for the 1828 election continue unabated. This was the genesis of what would later become the filibuster, and Calhoun himself would later use this early form of the tactic to protect slaveholding interests.

This abuse of power, ironically in the form of inaction, led to rules changes in 1828. While the VP still had the power to cut off or allow debate, his decisions could now be appealed to the entire Senate. And a rule of relevancy was added, cutting off for a while the kind of speeches that would later become commonplace, famously including Huey Long’s reading of Cajun recipes.

The next major change, and what officially created the filibuster, was the 1872 ruling by VP Schuyler Colfax that the presiding officer could not stop debate if it was pertinent to the pending matter. This led to a period where the filibuster was used responsibly by the senators of the era to achieve important compromises on legislation. Alas, theoretically allowing unlimited debate on a question was still a ticking time bomb, and within half a century it would explode.

And so it was that in 1916 the filibuster was first used to thwart the will of the majority. In this case, it was when a group of progressive liberals known as “The Willful 11” began to systematically use the filibuster to block any action that might lead us closer to entering the Great War (now World War I), despite escalating German U-boat attacks on US ships. The danger inherent in a minority blocking the will of the majority during a time of national crisis led to the first cloture rule (Rule XXII) in 1917, whereby 2/3 of the senators “present and voting” could end debate.

Thus began a period when a relatively insignificant minority could legitimately stifle legislation by the use of an endless filibuster, and that they did, most notably in the area of civil rights. By 1949, in the wake of the blockage of Federal bills against lynching and against a discretionary poll tax, an effort was undertaken to reduce the supermajority needed for cloture, but it failed in spectacular fashion – by the time the dust settled, it required 2/3 of the entire Senate instead of 2/3 of those present at any time to end debate.

Despite repeated attempts to ease the cloture rules from 2/3 to a simple majority or to institute a two-tiered system, it remained as it was throughout the 1950’s and into the 60’s. Civil rights legislation was repeatedly blocked, most famously when Democrat Strom Thurmond held the floor for 24 hours in 1957, a record length of time that still stands. Finally, in 1964, the tide of support for equality was too great and the seminal Civil Rights Act was passed – but not before it had been filibustered for two and a half months by a group of 18 Democrats and one Republican.

Senate Democrats eventually dropped the cloture threshold from 2/3 to 3/5 in 1975 after a contentious 7-week debate. And in 1995, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) proposed a 4 step declining threshold for cloture, ending in a simple majority, but it was defeated.

You probably notice in the above history that there is no mention of judges, and there is good reason. Before 2003, there was never a filibuster of a judicial nominee who had majority support, and before 2003 there was never even once a filibuster of a lower court judicial nominee.

And no, to answer a common objection, Abe Fortas does not fit into this argument. He was a Supreme Court justice who was nominated for Chief Justice in 1968 by LBJ but was filibustered by 24 Republicans and 19 Democrats amid ethics charges – he had lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee and had improperly accepted money from clients and partners in the guise of payment for some college lectures. He asked that his Chief Justice nomination be withdrawn, and after yet another scandal broke when it was discovered that he accepted other illegal payments while already a member of the Supreme Court, he resigned from the Court. That the best defenders of the new practice can do is to dredge up a scandal-ridden Justice who had to resign to avoid impeachment shows how weak their case really is.

In summary, what we have here is a de facto attempt to rewrite the Constitution to require a supermajority to confirm judicial appointees by systematically using a heretofore-unprecedented tactic. Democrats seem to feel they will be a minority party for a long time and think they have found a procedural loophole to circumvent the will of the people. Republicans want to close that loophole, as is certainly their Constitutional right. How it will play out will be very interesting, and it will likely come soon.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

A Heartfelt "Thank You"

On this Armed Forces Day I offer my gratitude to the great men and women of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps for guaranteeing the freedoms that make this the greatest country in the world. In the words of Dwight Eisenhower, "It is fitting and proper that we devote one day each year to paying special tribute to those whose constancy and courage constitute one of the bulwarks guarding the freedom of this nation and the peace of the free world." Thank you all.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Meanwhile, in the Bizarro World

It's really shooting fish in a barrel to make fun of the psychotic circle jerk that is Democratic Underground, but every now and then they come up with something that is just too hilarious to resist. And so it is with this Al Qaeda poll (they are infamous for removing posts and threads, so it could disappear at any time).

It turns out that about 3/5 of the respondents think that Al Qaeda is a fictional organization (!), 1/5 that it is real, and 1/5 that it used to be real but "the administration is now using to get what they want" (!!). You always get the feeling when you see something like this that you were had by a vast comedic conspiracy, but sadly it appears that there are real, live, breathing people out there who have let themselves become brainwashed to the point that they could believe this kind of thing. One can only hope that they don't come to the kind of tragic end that has befallen so many other cult followers in the past.

Who won Wisconsin?

We may never know, but it is abundantly clear that there was large-scale voter fraud among the 70,000 who registered on Election Day that could have been the difference. Coupled with the significant fraud that decided the Washington governor's race (we will surely never know who really won that one), it is time to take election reform seriously, and the sooner the better.

Forcing voters to provide photo ID should be a minimum requirement to cast a vote, and proof of residence should certainly be required for registration. Those who benefit from fraud will fight tooth and nail for the status quo, horrified by the prospect of honest elections. They go to some pretty silly lengths, going so far as to say that requiring ID is racist (really, I'm not making that up, as ludicrous as it sounds) and other demagoguery, but it is time for "Vote early and often" to become a thing of the past.

Voter fraud may well have decided the 1960 presidential election, let's make sure that it is not still possible for that to happen by 2008 - contact your state representatives to see what your state is doing about voter verification.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

An old-fashioned Borking

Other than jostling over whether “Advice and Consent” means “Advice and Consent” or just “Advice”, the big political tug of war during my absence was the fight over prospective UN Ambassador John Bolton. Here there is not really much to say, it is just an example of the sleazier side of politics.

There is no substantive complaint against Bolton, just a “he’s mean” smokescreen for what are the real issues:

- He is too pro-American

- He will aggressively seek to advance the president’s policies

- He is suspicious of the UN and will push hard for reform

The first problem is obvious; a significant portion of his opposition think that US policy is to blame for most of the ills in the world and thus cannot stomach anybody who is not similarly inclined to represent us on the world stage (see Rice, Condoleezza). The second is closely related to the first, even though it is clearly the job description. Those making this complaint betray their motives by saying the job is to work “for the UN”, which of course is the exact inverse of what it is in reality. And the third, while not part of the job description per se, should be the primary qualification for any potential candidate. When you think of the modern UN, what come to mind first? A $20 billion plus scam in the guise of aid? Repeated appeasement of genocide? Serial child rape by UN diplomats? Given that these are what personify the organization in the last decade, anybody who thinks anything approaching the status quo is acceptable just cannot be taken seriously.

That Bolton has drawn so much fire shows that he is very much the right man for the job. He has made the right kind of enemies.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Step 1 down, only 11 more!

I was heartened to hear that The New York Times announced today that it will become less ideological in its news pages. I'm not sure they will actually be able to get it done, as the left-wing bias is so deeply ingrained in their culture that it might take a decade or three to eradicate, but admitting that they are powerless over their addiciton is step 1 and they've made it that far. Let's hope that this is the beginning of turning the Times back into a great newspaper instead of the advocacy journal it had sadly become.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Dept of Disturbing Statistics

90% of the outstanding warrants for murder in Los Angeles are for illegal aliens.

As long as both parties continue to take the "No, move on, nothing to see here" approach to protecting our borders, criminals will continue to pour across, liberally mixed in with those decent people who just want to help their families. And someday, soooner or later, will come a terrorist carrying a suitcase nike, and like Capt. Renault in Casablanca the pols will be "shocked, just shocked."

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Flyers: $10...Having your penis confiscated: Priceless

If you are going to protest something, the most effective way IMO is to do it with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Many do so, but few rise to this level of genius.

As you are undoubtedly aware, the play The Vagina Monologues has been quite a phenomenon on college campuses. V-Day (Psst…the “V” is for “vagina”!) is now celebrated across the country annually. Women wear t-shirts and buttons with catchy sayings like “I [heart] my vagina, hold c-fests (“C” does not stand for vagina), and create large imitation vaginas. You would think that a similar genital celebration for the opposite sex would also be a cause for unbridled joy and empowerment, wouldn’t you? Nope, it turns out that politically correct sexist dogma trumps good, old-fashioned equality in this case. As if it could be any other way in today’s academy.

The geniuses who exposed yet another hypocritical double standard were Roger Williams U students who decided to celebrate P-Day (Okay, you know the drill now). They put together a satirical play, The Penis Monologues. They created their own mascot, a friendly penis named Testaclese. They passed out flyers with their own catchy slogans: “My penis is majestic”; “My penis is hilarious”; “My penis is studious” (complete with a picture of Testaclese lounging and reading Barone’s “Hard America, Soft America”. They did not have a guy wearing a trench coat and hat named Dick Private, but I assume that was just an oversight on their part.

Unfortunately, in his tour of campus Testaclese eventually ran into Provost Edward Kavanagh, who first greeted him (it?) warmly, apparently mistaking him for an actual mushroom. It was only when the provost looked at the honorary “Penis Warrior” did he realize that something was amiss. The P-Day participants were shortly ordered by university officials to cease and desist. Nothing that V-Day was allowed to celebrate by doing exactly the same things, they students refused. The irony-impaired administrators proceeded to confiscate the Testaclese costume and brought at least some of the students up on formal charges, which are pending.

The moral of the story? I’m not sure, but I’m torn between “Castrating the world, two testicles at a time, so women don’t have to worry about the right to choose!” and “Mamas don’t let your boys grow up to be men!”

[Thanks to Christina Hoff Sommers for the facts in this story]

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Tyranny of the Minority

I’ve been unable to blog in recent weeks, primarily due to an extended illness, so there are a number of topics I have missed. I’ll try to catch up on some of them, as I will try to catch up on everything else, probably falling short on all counts.

I guess the big issue of the day is the ongoing fight over Senate judicial confirmations, and it’s a doozy. The point of contention is whether federal judges, in particular at the appellate and, eventually, Supreme Court level, should be approved by the Senate the way they were from 1789-2002, or whether the new tactics first introduced in early 2003 by Senate Democrats will become a permanent fixture.

The new tactic, of course, is the use of filibusters to block nominees from receiving a full floor vote, as mandated by the Constitution. It is the same tactic that southern Democrats used for decades to thwart civil rights legislation from coming to a vote. You will hear the claim that judicial filibusters have always been the norm, but this is misleading at best – the use of filibusters to block judicial nominees who would win confirmation if allowed a full Senate vote is unprecedented, first used after Republicans re-gained control of the body in the 2002 midterm election (and expanded in the 2004 general election). The demand is for, in essence, a minority veto power over judicial nominees, which certainly runs counter to the Constitution.

The motivation on the left side of the aisle is obvious. The voters via their elected legislators, and in increasing numbers, have repeatedly rejected the latter-day liberal agenda. They need a way to circumvent the will of the voters, to impose policy on the people without the consent of the governed. The only way is via a complicit judiciary. Thus the need to try to block the appointment of judges who will not merely interpret the law and the Constitution as written, as the founders clearly intended, and maximize the influence of sitting judges who are willing to legislate by judicial diktat based on personal political philosophy and agenda.

That the intent of the founders was for judges to merely interpret the Constitution, as opposed to expand it on whim according to some mystical “spirit” of the document, is made clear in The Federalist Papers and various personal writings. Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 32, “[T]here is not a syllable in the [Constitution] which directly empowers the national courts to construe the laws according to the spirit of the Constitution.” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch. […] The Constitution on this hypothesis is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.” That what is now known as “strict construction” was the founders’ vision of the federal judiciary is undeniable.

So, in a nutshell, you can see what is at stake in this debate: governance by the will of the people according to the intentions of the founding fathers, or the usurpation thereof by a tiny but powerful minority. This is truly a building constitutional crisis.

[Thanks to The Federalist Patriot for the Hamilton and Jefferson quotes above]