Friday, 19 December 2003

Cool gadget

I saw one of these pizza baking machines today at Wal-Mart while doing the grocery shopping. I’m not sure that I could justify spending $50 for an object that does something my oven seems perfectly capable of doing on its own, albeit more slowly, but I can see some value to it for college kids and people with more tempermental ovens than mine.

Also on the topic of pizza: I’m pretty sure pepperoni isn’t supposed to contain chicken, yet the pepperoni on Tombstone pizzas has “chicken” listed as an ingredient. Someone in Italy should sue.

The politics of international aviation

Michael Jennings has a fascinating post at Samizdata that explains, in part, why I’ve been to Stansted and Gatwick more times than I’ve ever been to Heathrow—and also, in part, why I haven’t set foot in any of those airports (or, for that matter, anywhere else outside North America) in 12 years.

To some extent, the practical problems Michael describes have been reduced by code-sharing and mergers; for example, I could now fly to Britain from Memphis—the relative boonies in American aviation, at least when it comes to "hub" airports—in several dozen different ways, the most convenient of which is probably to take the every-other-day Northwest/KLM flight from Memphis to Amsterdam then any of a number of flights to major British airports via KLMuk from Amsterdam.

“Pizza” still leaving me cold

Due to the power of TiVo, and my general laziness clearing out my Season Pass list, I’ve had a Season Pass for ESPN2’s “Cold Pizza” two-hour morning show since it started (set to “Keep At Most: 1” so I only kill two hours of space). That isn’t to say I’ve watched every show, mind you; many days, it goes straight into the digital dustbin. But, I’ve given it a shot, and it’s time to review the “good” and “bad”:

  • Jay Crawford, the male co-host, is moderately competent.
  • Kit Hoover, the female co-host, reminds me of an Ole Miss sorority girl—and a none-too-bright one, at that. (Plus, whatever variant of a southern accent she has is downright painful to listen to.)
  • Leslie Maxey, the newswoman, is stuck with the thankless task of newsdrone. She seems reasonably competent when not reading the equivalent of the “local news digest of the national news” from the teleprompter, though.
  • Thea Andrews, the catch-all person (I think her actual title is “national correspondent”), seems competent enough, plus she has sort of a Lauren Graham thing going on—as Dave Letterman would say, she’s “easy on the eyes”—and (IMHO) did a better job than Hoover when called on to fill in as co-host once.
  • The “guest people do the weather” schtick doesn’t work at any level. Just pay Greg Proops whatever he asks to get him to do the job permanently—or let Andrews do it.
  • Whoever thought this show needed a “sideline reporter” should be thrown in a spider hole in Iraq, along with the guy who does it. Apparently, it’s supposed to be funny to have a Jewish guy as the sideline reporter. Newsflash: it isn’t.
  • Silly question for Disney: if you’re going to do a morning show, wouldn’t it make more sense to have it in ESPN, a.k.a. “The Mothership,” where it’ll get better ratings?
  • Make the frickin’ show more about sports, and less like an obsessively tame version of “The Man Show.”

Frankly, if ESPN wants to do something better in the morning, I think the thing to do is something more like the Saturday and Sunday morning SportsCenter, maybe with a dash of the style of The NFL Network’s “NFL Total Access” (ironically, hosted by Rich Eisen, who was originally interested in the “Cold Pizza” gig): something more casual, but clearly a sports show for the morning viewer rather than a morning show that talks about sports. Put Crawford and Andrews in a casual studio, bring in guests, and have an experienced SportsCenter or ESPNews anchor (Michael Kim?) on hand for sports headlines and highlights at the top and bottom of the hour.

The party ain't quite over yet

Steven Taylor finally got around to reading the Ehrlich piece I discussed below (in terms of Mickey Kaus’ reaction to it). Quoth Dr. Taylor:

The second problem [with his argument] is more profound: Erhlich seems not to understand American parties. Parties in the US are primarily three things: the candidates themselves, the officeholders who manage to win election, and, above all else, the voters who are willing to put those candidates into office. The institutional existence of the party (the party committee, and so forth) is really minor by comparison to the other aforementioned elements.

This is a restatement of the classic “tripartite division” of the party in political science: the party in the electorate, the party in government (which subsumes both the “candidates” and “officeholders” from Steven’s description), and the party organization (or institution). While parties are institutionally weak, as I reviewed in my previous post, that’s not the whole reality of the situation—parties still have a strong resonance in the electorate (even in the elite bits of the electorate, like the blogosphere: you’ll find relatively few nonpartisan “warbloggers”), and they still help organize competition both in elections and in government.

Anyway, go read what Steven said, as well was what Professor Bainbridge had to say too. (Bonus points: Prof. Bainbridge talks about one of my favorite topics, heuristics, and the value of those heuristics in political decision-making.*)

Demonstration effects

James Joyner, Dan Drezner and John Cole are among those who note that the United States and United Kingdom have reached an agreement with Libya on dismantling the latter’s nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs. Fancy that.

Of course, we all know it was really just Tony’s doing.

Fig leaves and the legalistic model

I was going to write a long rant about lawyers’ obsessions with such whimsical notions as stare decisis and legalistic reasoning, in connection with the Padilla and Gitmo cases. Thankfully, Will Baude points out a book review by Richard Posner that—while dealing with the seemingly completely different issue of gay marriage—makes a basic point about the judicial construction of rights that seems to escape everyone else who’s ever attended law school:

It should be apparent by now what the problem with Gerstmann’s approach is. Though he is a political scientist as well as a lawyer, his approach to the question of homosexual marriage is legalistic. Find a precedent…, and analogize it to the present case, and use the analogy to put an impossible burden of proof on your opponent, and limit the scope of your rule by rejecting further analogies on however arbitrary a ground, so that the right of a prison inmate to marry is deemed analogous to a right of homosexual marriage but not to a right of polygamous marriage, because the polygamist, unlike the homosexual, is not denied the right to marry the person of his (first) choice.

This is what is called “legal reasoning,” and it is hard to take seriously. For one thing, there is nothing sacrosanct about precedent, especially in the Supreme Court. In Lawrence, the Court overruled a precedent that was not merely analogous to the case at hand, as Turner and Zablocki might be thought analogous to a case involving homosexual marriage, but identical to it. (The case was the notorious Bowers v. Hardwick, which had upheld the validity of criminalizing homosexual sodomy.) For another, it would be child’s play, as a matter of legal casuistry, to limit those two cases to conventional, monogamous, non-incestuous, heterosexual marriage.

Judges like to pretend that their decisions are dictated by “logic,” or by an authoritative text or precedent, because it downplays the element of judicial discretion, which worries people. The pretense wears particularly thin in constitutional cases about marriage and sex, because the Constitution does not say anything about these subjects, and the framers of the Constitution, and of the major amendments, in particular the Fourteenth Amendment, which is the principal source of constitutional rights against the states, were not thinking about marriage, sex, homosexuality, or related topics when they drafted these founding documents. (Neither were the ratifiers.) Decisions such as the four that I have mentioned, together with the Supreme Court’s other well-known sex-related decisions, such as Griswold v. Connecticut (holding that a state cannot forbid married couples to use contraceptives) and Roe v. Wade, are all “political” decisions—not in the narrow Democratic versus Republican sense, but in the sense of being motivated by values not dictated by the orthodox materials of judicial decision-making. Precedent and analogy operate as fig leaves in such cases.

Fundamentally, I don’t think it matters whether or not there’s a legal precedent for Padilla’s detention or the indefinite limbo of detainees at Gitmo. What matters is whether or not they are the right things for the government to be doing, and in my opinion, neither are consistent with American values. Belittle popular punching bag Stephen Reinhardt all you want for saying that—god knows I think he’s an idiot at least half the time—but don’t pretend that your cites are any better than his, because fundamentally they aren’t. It’s all politics, and those who dabble in constitutional law would be well-advised to keep that in mind when discussing the judiciary.

Meanwhile, PG of En Banc gets to the heart of the substance of my uneasiness with Eugene Volokh’s position on the Gitmo detainees. Eugene’s position may (or may not) be legally correct, but it strikes me as morally wrong. Elsewhere: Robert Prather agrees on Padilla and disagrees on Gitmo.

This is my entry in the OTB Beltway Traffic Jam for today.

Return of the King

I broke down and went to see The Return of the King (the third installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for those who reside under rocks) last night. It was very good, despite the air of inevitability that hung over the piece—even someone whose Tolkien is half-remembered and based mostly on cultural osmosis can figure out where the story’s going. And I could have done without the 20 minutes of commercials and trailers before the film.

Anyway, for those into such things, Jacob Levy has more, with spoilers.