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Saturday, November 29, 2003

Tom DeLay as Brer Rabbit: "Don' make me talk 'bout dat redistrictin', judge!"

Charles Kuffner urges that the lawyers representing various plaintiffs in the Texas redistricting litigation be allowed to take depositions of US Congressmen Tom DeLay and Joe Barton.  The Congressmen are seeking to have their deposition subpoenas quashed, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The familiar standard for deciding whether to sustain or quash this sort of subpoena, as for most civil discovery, is whether it is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.  Generally the proponent of the subpoena has to make some sort of more-than-speculative offering as to how he thinks that's likely to happen. 

If we accept, even reluctantly, the premise that the act of legislative sausage-making must be put under the microscope to satisfy the ever-hungry maw of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, then it seems to me that plaintiffs under that act, in general, ought to be given considerable lattitude in trying to make their case.  Showing that the recent Texas redistricting was motivated by racism is going to be difficult at best — and I believe it will prove to be impossible, since redistricting was motivated by hyperpartisan politics, not racism, and accomplished not even using by race as a proxy for voting probabilities, but by looking at voting patterns directly.  But if it can be done, it would almost certainly have to be done circumstantially.

However, in a legal, causal sense, these particular witnesses are once removed from the action.  Observers of politics can rightly note that both Republican and Democratic members of Congress have long influenced state legislatures and legislators on a variety of subjects (think highway construction for one).  But even if you could get Rep. DeLay to say under oath and on the record something that tended to prove circumstantially that he was motivated by racism in pressing for Texas redistricting — and face it, what is far more likely is an argumentative series of "have you stopped beating your wife" questions that probably will conflate correlation with causation — then you'd have to make the further connection to show how that racism was shared by state legislators who voted for redistricting.  You'd have a pretty good chance of showing from those witnesses (the Texas legislators) that they were motivated at least in part by fear of reprisals from Rep. DeLay, whose effectiveness as a party whip and leader is, like all such politicans, due to his long memory and ability to carry and act on grudges.  But showing, even circumstantially, that their votes in the Texas Legislature were motivated by Rep. DeLay's racism?  Well, good luck.

This strikes me as on the very outer fringes of what's "reasonably calculated" to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, but like all such decisions, it'll be left to the "sound discretion of the trial court" — in this case a three-judge panel of federal judges who all read the papers, who may have been born at night but not last night, and who have not recently fallen off pumpkin trucks on the way into town.  My hunch is they won't find Rep. DeLay's or Rep. Barton's likely testimony terribly surprising or terribly probative.  But they might well agree to "hear" it — that is, to allow the depositions to be taken and written excerpts included as part of the record.  In fact, were I a judge on that panel, I'd probably allow the depositions, with pretty strict time limitations and severe up-front warnings about argumentative questions. 

And were I a lawyer defending the redistricting plan in these lawsuits, I'd treat this as an opportunity, not a liability.  The Republicans have generally been consistent in explaining the reason for redistricting — deliberately creating a map that's likely to produce a Texas Congressional delegation likely to support our favorite-son President instead of one likely to oppose him.  DeLay and Barton surely can provide that testimony.  To quote their intended beneficiary, "Bring 'em on!"  Or to quote the old (and probably now politically incorrect) story, "Don' throw me in dat briar patch, Brer Fox! Anythin' but dat!"

Posted by Beldar at 02:59 PM in Law (2006 & earlier), Texas Redistricting | Permalink | Comments (0)

Post-war planning: 1941-1945 vs. 2002-2003

I've just finished Michael Beschloss' new book, The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945

I wish I could recommend it, but it's written with a stylistic quirk that — completely apart from content — drove me up the wall.  Beschloss includes extensive endnotes and I take on faith his historical accuracy throughout.  But he writes with very extensive — painfully extensive — embedded quotations mid-sentence, packing in phrases and clauses and semi-sentences surrounded by quote marks.  The result is prose that ends up reading like a legal appellate brief that's summarizing a trial record — which is fine when you're working under strict space limitations and there's going to be an advocate writing an opposing brief that challenges your every factual assertion, but which becomes extremely tedious after about the first twenty-five pages of this book.  The jacket liner describes this as "let[ting] us eavesdrop on private conversations and telephone calls among a cast of historical giants," but I, for one, would far rather either read full-bodied block quotations or else pithy summaries in the author's own words.

The book is copyrighted 2002 and Beschloss began work on the book in 1991, but the central subject — the planning that went on during World War II for what to do with Germany after the war — is extremely relevant today.  The description of the actual post-war occupation and reconstruction is extremely brief.  Instead, the focus is almost entirely on the policy struggle between Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. on the one hand, and Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson on the other, to influence FDR (and indirectly, Churchill and Stalin) during the planning for the post-war period.

Morgenthau was a non-practicing Jew and a close personal friend of FDR who wanted to punish the German people for this war and ensure that they'd never be able to wage another like it.  To accomplish this, he proposed to systematically demolish Germany's entire industrial capability; to give its industrial equipment and markets to the USSR and Britain in lieu of reparations; to forcibly deport Germans with industrial training and skills; and to dismember the country into feudal, agricultural semi-states.  Hull and Stimson opposed such dramatic measures, both on humanitarian grounds and because of their growing concerns that a rebuilt and stabilized Germany would be needed as a bulwark against post-war Soviet expansion.  Apparently, FDR deliberately waffled on this subject — and Beschloss paints this as a characteristic and deliberate management strategy whereby Roosevelt would maintain his own political power by playing off his strong-willed subordinates against one another.  Nevertheless, by Roosevelt's death just before VE-Day, the "Morgenthau Plan" was almost a dead letter, and new President Truman paid it lip service, and nothing more, only as long as he wanted to keep Morgenthau at Treasury — which turned out not to be very long. 

Today, of course, no one would ever dream of arguing for something like the "Morgenthau Plan" for Afghanistan or Iraq; it simply goes without saying that we want to rebuild and improve these countries after defeating their ruling regimes.  And on both broad concepts and the devilish details, America's 2002 and 2003 pre- and during-war planning for post-war periods looks pretty damned sophisticated in comparison to what was done during World War II.

Beschloss does offer this tidbit that is particularly timely and interesting in ways he probably couldn't have predicted when he wrote it:

      At the White House, Truman was surprised to learn that Hitler had killed himself.  He had expected "many high German officers" to "take this way out," but Hitler, "in his fanaticism," to "resist to the very end."

      Accustomed to mistrust what they heard from Nazi Germany, sixty-eight percent of American respondents to a Gallup poll questioned whether Hitler was really dead.  A Michigan animal trainer named Spikehorn Meyer wired Truman, "I am offering $50,000, cash American money, for the capture of Adolf Hitler, delivered to me.... I want to make Hitler a sideline attraction with my bear show, and I will tour Russia, England and other Allied countries."

Herr Hitler's availability to tour with the bears notwithstanding, Americans then seemed to be reasonably sure that we had done a worthwhile thing in that war; they should feel the same now about Afghanistan and Iraq regardless of whether we ever actually account for the bones, living or dead, of those monumental losers bin Laden and Saddam.

Posted by Beldar at 08:21 AM in Books, Current Affairs, Global War on Terror | Permalink

TMQ finds a new home

You'll recall, faithful readers, that BeldarBlog duly lamented "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" columnist Gregg Easterbrook's firing from ESPN.com after remarks in a movie-review blogpost that were deemed anti-Semitic (or in the alternative, anti-Eisner-and-Weinstein/Disney-and-Miramax, which I continue to believe was the determinative factor).  My recommendation to him was "to find a better outlet for Tuesday Morning Quarterback," to play the free agent market.

Financial terms are undisclosed, but TMQ has reappeared among NFL.com's weekly features — with the Week 13 report here.  Bless their hearts, the good folks at NFL.com believe in embedded photographs of cheerbabes, with links to same!  And Easterbrook's urbane, smart-ass, and oftentimes astute and funny comments read the same as well. 

Congratulations, Mr. Easterbrook.

Posted by Beldar at 07:32 AM in Sports | Permalink

Friday, November 28, 2003

Dubya's excellent adventure

Dubya at mess in BagdhadNewsweek's Eleanor Clift says that "George W. Bush’s daring secret trip into the heart of Baghdad was such a triumph of political choreography that it left Democratic strategists gasping for mercy."  Clift is incapable of avoiding hyperbole; the Angry Left, those unified by their hatred of Dubya, will find this just another cowboy stunt.

But this was a baby boomer moment, Dubya's excellent adventure:   "Road trip!"

I especially love this quote from the NYT report— a line that was completely unscripted, but that says volumes about whether Dubya's a racist:

Mr. Bush said he even tried to disguise his appearance, as did Ms. Rice. They pulled up a plain-looking vehicle with tinted windows, Mr. Bush told reporters. "I slipped on a baseball cap, pulled 'er down — as did Condi. We looked like a normal couple."

If you "get" the President, if you understand what drives him, then this is so much in character that you say to yourself afterwards, "Duh, I shoulda expected him to want to eat his Thanksgiving turkey with the troops, and I wish I coulda been there." 

If you don't, you'll figure it's all about Rovian politics and photo ops — in which case I feel very, very sorry for you, because it's hard to digest Thanksgiving leftovers when your gut is so full of bitter black bile.

Posted by Beldar at 07:04 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Bohemian Rhapsody

My sons Adam and Kevin share a birthday — five years apart.  Today Kevin turned 16 and Adam turned 11.  To celebrate, they and their two sisters, Sarah and Molly, joined me at the movies.  At my request (insistence, actually) we went to see Master and Commander — a movie that lived up to my high expectations.  The boys both loved it, as did Sarah; Molly, my youngest, got a bit bored/sleepy, but that was okay because it resulted in some cuddly lap time that's growing all too rare for poor Dad.

En route to a birthday shopping trip afterwards, Kevin fired up Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" on the mp3 player and (without their realizing it) we recreated one of the scenes from "Wayne's World" — complete with head-bobbing and air-guitar licks.  It amazes me to hear the four of them singing along with classic 70s and 80s rock music.  It was one of those moments when you wish the rear-view mirror had a built-in camcorder.  Still, I am a lucky dad, and was reminded of it again tonight.

Posted by Beldar at 09:04 PM in Family | Permalink

Thursday, November 20, 2003


Maybe the answer to my question of the night is as simple as, "He's not interested in it."

But watching former Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin on The Charlie Rose Show tonight (yes, Rubin's touting a new book), I can't help thinking how much smarter and better-spoken he is than any of the current Democratic presidential candidates.  Maybe they think he's too "Adlai Stevenson" to get elected.  But sheesh, if you value candor and gravitas and smarts, this guy is hard not to like.

Posted by Beldar at 12:26 AM in Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

"WhenU" visit BeldarBlog, don't blame me for any pop-ups

This strikes me as an example of a legal ruling that is probably right on the law, even though it favors a company whose business methods and practices I detest (specifically because they prey on the technologically unsophisticated and because the "consent" they obtain is almost certainly not fully-informed consent). 

Posted by Beldar at 06:50 PM in Law (2006 & earlier), Weblogs | Permalink

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Two quotes

The "majority of Americans are unwilling to sanction a peace of vengeance" against [our foe].  Nor [do] they want America to police [the countries we now occupy, which are] "a seething furnace of fratricide, civil war, murder, disease and starvation."

Sen. Burton Wheeler (D-Montana), speaking of Germany on January 5, 1945, in opposition to FDR's insistence on Germany's "unconditional surrender" (as quoted in Michael Beschloss' The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman, and the Destruction of Hitler's German, 1941-1945, at page 175 (2002)).

Contrast that to this:

Our commitment to democracy is also tested in the Middle East, which is my focus today, and must be a focus of American policy for decades to come.  In many nations of the Middle East — countries of great strategic importance — democracy has not yet taken root. And the questions arise:   Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom, and never even to have a choice in the matter? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free.

Remarks by the President, 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, United States Chamber of Commerce, Washington, D.C., on Nov. 6, 2003 (italics by BeldarBlog).

I don't know how Dubya could be any more plain, but I haven't seen that first sentence regarding "decades to come" get any press coverage.  Note that he's talking about not just Iraq, but the Middle East as a whole.  And elsewhere in that speech, he makes an overt comparison to what America did after WWII.

We did what it took to help Europe remake itself into a continent filled with democratic nations who certainly are not clones of ourselves and who aren't consistently our grateful fans — but the point there after WWII was to promote democracy as a deterrent to war.  We've had good success in Western Europe, but it took decades; we have work still to do in Eastern Europe, especially in the Balkans; but if more wars do erupt in Europe, they're far more likely to resemble the UK vs. Argentina affair over the Falkland Islands than WWII.  It's a work in progress, but it would be hard to argue that it hasn't been worth the time, effort, and money.

If we're patient and steadfast, perhaps in 20 years we can say the same about the Middle East.

So just who the hell was this Sen. Wheeler?  In his day, he was a leader of the isolationists; the Sen. Burton Wheeler cartoon from Nov. 7, 1941political cartoon (by Dr. Seuss no less!) to the right is from Nov. 7, 1941.  In historic context now, he's a nobody — a footnote at best or a quirky aberation quoted for purposes of humorous contrast.  If he were alive today, he'd probably be giving speeches to MoveOn.org.  He underestimated the size and scope and length of the post-WWII project this country faced.  Worse, he underestimated the wisdom and will of the American leadership and the American public. 

Will today's Democratic politicians do the same?  Will our allies in Europe and elsewhere?  Will our enemies?

Posted by Beldar at 10:33 PM in Current Affairs, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Would you like some tactical nuclear warheads with your supersized order of reactors, sir?

From tomorrow's New York Times, this leaves me almost dumbstruck:

Europe will resist an American effort to bring the suspected Iranian development of nuclear weapons before the United Nations Security Council, hoping to lure Iran into compliance with negotiations and incentives, European officials said Tuesday.

The stand was a rebuff to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who met in Brussels with European foreign ministers and sought a forceful response to a United Nations report that Mr. Powell said proved Iran was defying its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Later, he flew here to London to join President Bush.

The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency is scheduled to take up a resolution this week by France, Germany and Britain that seeks to compel Iran to halt the enrichment and reprocessing of uranium and holds out the lure of future cooperation, including sharing nuclear technology for civilian use.

(Boldface by BeldarBlog.)  At best this is pernicious stupidity.  But it's genuinely hard to believe anyone is that stupid, and the alternative explanation is knowing wickedness.

I would very much like to see each Democratic presidential candidate asked the following yes/no question:   "Do you support the notion of 'sharing nuclear technology for civilian use' with Iran?"

Posted by Beldar at 09:19 PM in Current Affairs, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink | Comments (2)

Methodical demolition of nonsense

If you are wondering whether what we've done and what we are doing in Iraq is comparable to what we did in Vietnam, read Michael J. Totten's article on Tech Central Station.  It's like watching a boxer with a speed bag, only Totten's using concise factual arguments to explode myths in the same rapid-fire, rhythmic fashion.  Tuk-a-tah tuk-a-tah tuk-a-tah ...

Posted by Beldar at 04:16 PM in Current Affairs, Global War on Terror | Permalink

Monday, November 17, 2003

Google mysteries

I am amazed that when one does a Google search on "Jack Kennedy," this thread from BeldarBlog pops up as the number two link. 

The same is not true, of course, for a search on "JFK" or "John F. Kennedy" or "John Fitzgerald Kennedy" — but the "Jack" nickname was so widely known and used that I'm very surprised there aren't many, many pages somewhere on the web that use that nickname and are deemed more "credible" or "relevant" or whatever by Google.


UPDATE (Sun Nov 23):   This is no longer true — I've been moved down to the second page on Google due to recent anniversary-of-his-death publicity, which is just as well.  Thinking of BeldarBlog as "authoritative" on anything other than Beldarisms (meaning mine, not my namesake's) regarding law, life, politics, etc., is kinda weird.

Posted by Beldar at 07:30 AM in Weblogs | Permalink

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Would you know a quagmire if it bit you in the butt?

While fiddling around on the computer this morning, I was listening with one ear to the Sunday morning news/talk shows.  I'm not sure which one it was, but one of them had a brief riff on how "What's being said about our efforts in Iraq now" sounds just like "What was being said about our efforts in Vietnam back then."

This is a topic on which I have an opinion based on first-hand evidence, albeit old evidence.  I started getting really interested in the war and politics during the 1968 presidential campaign, when I was in the fifth grade.  (I was an unabashed hawk, by the way, and one of the greatest disappointments I've ever had was when someone explained to me that with my lousy vision, there was zero chance that I could ever qualify to be a fighter pilot.)  I watched Cronkite, or Huntley & Brinkley, every day back then with the eager hunger for news that comes from being a potential future enlistee or draftee for that war.

And my opinion is that this riff was an accurate observation, but nevertheless extremely misleading.

From the point of view of the North Vietnamese leaders, they were fighting a war against colonialism; with considerable factual basis, they viewed their nominally democratic counterparts in South Vietnam as token lackeys of Americans-as-successors-to-the-French imperialists.  The "other superpower(s)" of the world (the USSR and China) facilitated the North Vietnamese's and Viet Cong's armed struggle.  By contrast, by no stretch of the imagination did the Ba'athist regime of Saddam in Iraq represent a puppet government of foreign imperialists, and there is no "superpower" facilitating the efforts of the "insurgents" in Iraq today.  (There are, however, national "powers" that are doing so, including most notably Syria and Iran; but their lack of superpower parity with the US sharply limits how much they can do to facilitate the terrorists now fighting in Iraq or elsewhere.)

Notwithstanding these huge differences in the two conflicts' origins and participants, however, it is true that the United States was engaged in something that may be generally labeled as "nation-building" in both South Vietnam then and Iraq now.  Regarding the success or failure of our efforts, there was spin going on then (and counterspin), and there's spin going on now (and counterspin). 

And spin apart, there was also genuine substance with real successes in our efforts then and now.  So of course there will be similar reports of those successes.  Likewise, there will be failures, and reports thereof (just as there were in post-WWII Germany and Japan).

I am not one of those who believes "our cause" in Vietnam was wrong, although I have plenty of strong opinions on how we mucked things up then.  And I definitely am not one of those who believes 'our cause" in Iraq is wrong, but I am certainly willing to entertain constructive criticism of what we're doing and how we're going about things now in Iraq.  (This puts me in the same camp as, say, Donald Rumsfeld, whose recent leaked memo was essentially a solicitation for constructive criticism of those efforts.) 

But even if I thought "our cause" was a wrong-headed or inevitably losing one in Vietnam, I wouldn't conclude from the similarity of news reports in the two places that some valid parallel could be drawn to "prove" the wrong-headedness or inevitably-losing nature of our efforts now in Iraq.  You simply can't draw that broad a conclusion from superficial similarities.

Posted by Beldar at 06:12 PM in Current Affairs, Global War on Terror | Permalink | Comments (1)

$47k dog

I am usually skeptical about newspaper accounts of trial results.  But both the Austin American-Statesman and the Associated Press (the latter via the Houston Chronicle) report that an Austin judge awarded $47,000 to a woman whose dog escaped and was run over while in the custody of a Petco store.  Apparently a Petco employee lost control of the dog's leash while walking it outside and it ran away.  Its body was found a few days later on a nearby freeway.

It appears from the two stories that the $47,000 award was determined by a judge sitting as factfinder, rather than a jury.  Reportedly the award includes $10k each for "emotional anguish, loss of companionship and punitive damages."

Neither article names the judge.  I'm sorry that's the case, because that's a judge that needs to be defeated in the next election.

Folks, I love animals in general, and I'm a devoted dog owner.  If what the newspaper articles describe happened to my own dog, I'd be very sad indeed.  I'd bet dollars to donuts that the store employee in question was upset and remorseful — as a general rule, you don't work at a place like that unless you adore animals.

But absent a showing that, for example, this particular dog had a demonstrated track record of earning thousands of dollars per year in stud fees for its owner, $47k is a ridiculously inflated award.  And if all that happened was that a leash slipped out of an employee's hand, I'm quite skeptical as to whether that would amount even to "ordinary negligence" — much less the sort of "gross negligence" that could be a basis for punitive damages.  Bad, unfortunate, and sad things happen all the time, every day, that aren't the result of someone's "failure to use ordinary care"; this sounds to me like one of them.  Even when a dog-walker is using ordinary care, a leash can break or slip or be pulled from one's hand.  Taking the dog out without any leash at all — as a hypothetical for-instance — might qualify as the sort of "conscious indifference" and "recklessness" needed to support punitive damages, but there's no hint of that in the newspaper stories, and even then, $10k in exemplary damages would be excessive in relationship to any reasonable "actual damages."

If this was the result of a jury verdict, I'd make an educated guess that the pet owner's lawyer was substantially better than his or her opponent.  That would be the most likely explanation.  But in a bench trial, even a huge difference in the quality of counsel (and the resulting quality of evidence and argument) ought not produce this sort of result. 

Posted by Beldar at 04:54 PM in Law (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

WARNING: This product may perform as intended!

I just saw a TV advertisement for a prescription drug intended, said the announcer, to help people fall asleep more easily, sleep more soundly, and sleep longer.  After the claims regarding the benefits (about which you should, of course, "ask your doctor"), there were typical disclaimers and warnings.  What jumped out at me, however, was the warning that "This product may cause drowsiness."

Ya think?

It's a sad world when — in order to avoid products liability lawsuits — companies feel obliged to "warn" that a product will do what it's intended to do.  And it's unlikely that people will take any package or advertising warnings seriously when they are this bountiful and this trite.

Posted by Beldar at 07:58 AM in Law (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Remember Gordon and Shughart

If you're an American and you don't know who Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart are, you should educate yourself about them.

Medal of HonorIf you're an American and you don't know how the circumstances came about in which they earned this country's highest honor, you should educate yourself about that.

Reading this would be a good way to perform that self-education.

When you know who Gordon and Shughart are and how they died, and when you've learned who's responsible for the lack of meaningful armor support and overall firepower on scene at that time, you should consider what lessons ought to be drawn from their heroic deaths — lessons that are incredibly relevant today, this week, this month, this year.

God bless and rest them, and all their comrades and forebears who bought with their precious blood the liberty we enjoy and so often take for granted. 

Posted by Beldar at 09:20 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 10, 2003

Recommended reading from blogger Tacitus

"Tacitus" runs a highly regarded right-of-center blog that generates a high volume of comments on anything and everything, and he is also a frequent and articulate commenter on various other blogs.  This post from him, entitled (misleadingly, I think) "Failure of Nerve," is gracefully written but painful to read.  He writes of his experiences as an Army officer and the complications caused by a long bout of clinical depression, but there's no "failure of nerve" in the history he relates — and it must have taken a huge amount of "nerve" to post something so personal and revealing.

I agree with his comments regarding the ugly term "chickenhawk" as used to describe pro-Bush administration supporters of the Battles for Afghanistan and Iraq in the War on Terrorism who have not themselves served in the military. 

I do not condemn or second-guess, but I very strongly disagree, with the last explanation he gives for why he wrote this post:

I am writing this because you should know. It's certainly not right that people who may take my opinion seriously on war-related matters not know the full background. Now you do.

I feel no such obligation to readers of this blog.  When and as I've thought it relevant, I've posted a fair amount of personal information about myself here, in one thread or another and on my biographical page.  I've done so because one's training, background, experience, and overall situation — viewed from a reader's perspective — can obviously affect one's credibility.  My history as a lawyer — and not just as a lawyer, but as a trial lawyer, from Texas, from a particular generation, and with a particular career path — very much shapes the topics that I write about.  But I don't view myself as having thereby authorized my readers to insist upon knowing everything about me.  There have been several occasions when I've refrained from blogging on topics because after thinking about them for a bit, I've decided they are just too danged personal for me to get into here.   

Knowing that Tacitus has a background that includes military service does affect my evaluation of his credibility when he gives opinions on war-related matters, but knowing that he also suffered through clinical depression certainly isn't necessary for my evaluation of his credibility, nor even particularly pertinent to that particular evaluation.  (His history with depression might be more relevant for purposes of evaluating opinions he expresses about depression or mental illnesses in general, but even then, I don't think he was ethically or morally required to reveal the personal details that he did.)

Posted by Beldar at 07:42 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink

Another photographic smear attempt

Pres. Bush signing Partial-Birth Abortion Ban of 2003In a post entitled "No Girls Allowed," and in a follow-up post entitled "'No Girls Allowed' Gets Legs," my young and liberal friends at Burnt Orange Report republished this photo of Dubya signing into law the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003."  Referring to the people in the photograph who are standing behind the President, they argue that it's "really important that we emphasize that the people behind banning a women's health care procedure are a bunch of old white men."  (They in turn credit this post on Taegan Goddard's Political Wire, a blog I hadn't seen before, for the original observation.)

Referring to a similar photo of the bill signing ceremony (one apparently taken from a different angle and cropped to display fewer legislators), New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg makes the same argument in a column in yesterday's "The Week in Review" section entitled "A Bill Signed, but It's Not Picture Perfect":

The ink from President Bush's signature was barely dry when the photograph of him signing the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act began circulating on the Internet. There he was, surrounded by the bill's Congressional sponsors:   a bevy of white men wearing dark suits and smiles.

Ms. Stolberg reports that when asked about the all-male photo, Claire Buchan, a "White House spokeswoman," said that "too many members of Congress, including women, attended the ceremony to invite all on stage with Mr. Bush."  As a result, according to Ms. Buchan, "only the 10 sponsors, all men, were invited" on-stage for the ceremony.  But reporter Stolberg also reports that others, especially "[liberal] advocacy groups [acting like] Kremlinologists," are skeptical of the "happenstance" explanation, and instead theorize that the all-male composition of the photo-op "was no accident."

Not to be left out, WaPo has a similar take on the subject:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she found the picture — "of a group of men celebrating depriving women of a medical procedure that could save their health and their lives" — "disconcerting."

I've written before about "photographic smears" — the deliberate, out-of-context use of a photograph that has a powerful visceral impact to make an argument that would dissolve and evanesce once the missing context is supplied.  In that post, I argued that when taken in context, a photograph of then-General now-candidate Wesley Clark wearing the hat of a Serbian war criminal fails to prove that Clark supported, or was even "soft on," war criminals; likewise, a photograph of Dubya accidentally dropping his dog in front of an astonished girls' softball team fails to prove that the President is cruel to animals.  The same is true of the fallacy that, according to the NYT column, liberals would like to use this bill-signing photo to promote:

David Sirota, spokesman for the Center for American Progress, theorized that the picture was no accident. "Karl Rove is too brilliant to allow a mistake like that," he said, referring to the president's senior adviser. "The question for them is, did they ask women to be in the picture and couldn't find any?"

Well, duh.  Of course they could have found women who support the statute being signed into law who would have gladly shared in the photo op.  For instance, about two minutes of Googling brought me to a screencap photo of Congresswomen Sue Myrick of North Carolina "leading debate on the House floor against Partial Birth Abortion."  As part of that debate she said,

As an original cosponsor of this legislation, I am very pleased to see this conference report reach the floor of the House of Representatives. I have been waiting for this day to come since 1995.    I am sure that President Bush is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to put an end to this horrific act of human violence by signing this legislation into law. Finally, we have a President in the White House who will not veto this monumental legislation.

Congresswoman Sue Myrick (R-NC) supporting the partial-birth abortion ban on the House floorThere's probably no other issue on which Americans are so deeply conflicted; depending on how you phrase your questions, you can easily commission polls that "prove" any imaginable proposition regarding public opinion. 

But to suggest that no women are "pro-life" or "anti-abortion" is just stupid — as stupid as it'd be to assert that all women are "pro-life" or "anti-abortion."  Everyone who has half a brain — and yes, I know that's a loaded but very unfunny double entendre in this context — knows better than to think that all women or all men have a monolithic and uniform position on this statute, or on the abortion rights issue more generally.  The spectrum of beliefs in our society about abortion rights is extremely broad, and there are voters distributed all along it.  I'm not entirely sure where I myself am along that spectrum — although I've almost certainly moved rightward on it since I was in law school.  Nevertheless, the notion that only "old white man" support, or are responsible for passing, this particular statute is absolutely a nonstarter — and this photograph absolutely fails to establish anything of the sort.

I wish that when they trot out some photograph as "proof" of something, folks from both the left and the right of center would ask themselves "what racist or sexist stereotypes am I indulging in when I argue that this photograph shows ____."  Life is rarely that simple, friends and neighbors.  And when it comes to the abortion controversy, nothing is even remotely that simple.  To suggest otherwise is to insult your audience and the public as a whole.

Signing ceremony photo from White House websiteUPDATE (Mon Dec 10):   Here's a photo from the White House's website that shows more folks, and yup, they are indeed white males. 



Posted by Beldar at 07:08 AM in Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Ahoy there, "Master and Commander"!

Russell Crowe as Cap'n Jack AubreyI'm looking forward to watching "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" when it's released this month.  I haven't yet read any of the historical novels by Patrick O'Brian on which this film is based, but the advance buzz is pretty favorable.  And it's been quite a while since the last big seafaring motion picture with a hunky Australian lead, 1984's The Bounty — a film that altogether lacked sea combat scenes and instead emphasized the bare-breasted South Pacific maidens swarming over the gunnels.

I've read somewhere that the secret of Russell Crowe's success is that he somehow manages to seem like enough of a regular fellow to avoid alienating (or generating homosexual-panic impulses within) his male viewers, while providing the looks and attitude that cause his female viewers to swoon.  I'm not quite sure how he pulls it off.  But for instance, in a puff piece in today's Houston Chronicle in which he opines that Aussies and Texans "share a sensibility" or a "certain viewpoint of the world" from "[growing] up in a place with that much room," he certainly scored big points with a male interviewer.  My leg feels like it's being tugged on a bit, though, when he claims to have bonded with then Lt-Gov. Rick Perry some years ago when Crowe's band was clearing paperwork hurdles to permit it to play in Austin.  But I suppose anything is possible.  And surely Crowe will be a more convincing Royal Navy captain than Johnny Depp was as a pirate.

Posted by Beldar at 02:15 PM in Film/TV/Stage | Permalink

Farewell to comments on BeldarBlog

I've very much enjoyed reading and often responding to the comments folks have left on BeldarBlog.

However, I'm weary of clipping comments that are off-topic — usually someone trying to use my bandwidth to sell \/14Gr4 or some such.

Accordingly, I've closed off the comments option on all past threads, and that will now be the default for new threads.  If there are particular topics that I especially want to invite comments on, I may leave those individual threads with open comments, at least for a few days, after I post them.  And anyone who'd like to engage in some dialog on anything I post is welcome to email me with your comments, which I may then append to the relevant thread. 

Also, I still have Trackbacks enabled, so if you have your own blog and want to comment on something I've posted, BeldarBlog can readily cross-reference to your post that way.

UPDATE (Mon Dec 10):   I'm only mildly surprised that Will Baude of Crescat Sententia has such a good memory.  Will's right, of course, in noting that I'm changing my position regarding comments, but he and I are still not on exactly the same wavelength about them.  Although I've changed my default setting to not permit comments, I may well leave particular threads open for comments, or indeed, explicitly invite them on a case-by-case basis.  And I continue to be a fan of the "trackback" procedure, which is a useful way of encouraging dialog among responsible bloggers (although it leaves readers who haven't made the jump into writing their own blogs in the lurch — if there's actually anyone still left in that category).  If Will had trackbacks enabled, for instance, I'd have pinged his post about my dispensing with comments — as I am in fact now doing with respect to Prof. Bainbridge's post on his blog in which he also noted my switch to no-comments-by-default.

Posted by Beldar at 12:34 PM in Weblogs | Permalink

Poker Night

I'm home safe & sound after the proverbial "Saturday night out with the boys playing poker."  Oh my god, they're DOGS! And they're playing POKER! The online games can be fun at places like Pokerstars or Truepoker, playing with either real or play money, and you can practice and learn a fair amount online. 

But for a genuine "blow off some steam" evening, nothing beats playing in a real, face-to-face game with folks who know enough to take the game semi-seriously and whose pride makes them competitive, but who aren't so intense about the game that they get bent out of shape if they don't win.  (And even if you're pretty good, there will be the nights when you don't win.)

I'm going to have to find an appropriate housewarming/thank-you gift for my colleague who hosted tonight at his new place .... Since he also has a new dog, maybe a doggie toy?  (Basset hounds being easier to buy for than lawyers, methinks, as a general proposition.)

And yes, this time I came out ahead by a nice margin, although IIRC that's the first clearly winning night I've had in the last few outtings.  A few extra bucks is nice to take home, but that wasn't the main point for anyone who played tonight.

Posted by Beldar at 02:23 AM | Permalink