Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Understanding the Psychology of the French

A reader recently commented that he’d be interested to hear my views on France and its people. I must say that I am reluctant to make grand sweeping observations about a distant country, populated by millions of diverse people who, while sharing a common culture, otherwise live very different lives. To have the intellectual precocity to think that your opinions, based as they are on so little knowledge of a people, have any merit or redeeming quality sufficient to suggest that such views and observations should be publicly stated … well, I consider such precocity a most ugly and obnoxious trait.

But I'll offer my comments, only because such precocity is characteristic of every single person living in France. I know this, because I spent upwards to six hours walking around Paris on a Winter’s day, and I had a classmate in graduate school from France. If that’s not enough for you, I’ve spent over 30 hours on Air France flights in the past year, and some 5 odd hours in Air France lounges stuffing my pockets with croissants. If that doesn’t make me a bonafide Francophile, I don’t know what does.

It's probably too easy to spell out the faults of a country that arguably offered less resistance to Hitler than Eva Braun. So what I'll do is wax philosophic on the psychology of their anti-Americanism. I think that their attitude towards Americans should be viewed as a reflection of their comparative reduced stauts in the world; they think that world should be more like France, and every day they see it become more like America. They are like the really smart sensitive kid in high school who sees the quarterback of the football team get all the chicks; he curses the inability of the cheerleaders to see and value his gifts over the machismo of the football star, and longs for the day when the scales fall from everyone's eyes so that they can see that they've had it all wrong.

And what gifts do the French value? From what I can see, they value accomodating their laws regarding separation of Church and state to suit their growing Molsem population, they value anti-Semitism for its own sake, they value sitting in cafes and talking about Marxist philosophy in glowing terms, and they value sharing the opinion that the world should look up to them over and above the good old USA.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I Am Sorry You Don't Believe in Blogging

Quick e-mail communication, slightly edited, from yesterday:

Professor Vic to the Hatcher: "Care to comment?" followed by some of his own comments, with a link to an article intended to switch me to a beret-wearing Commie. Probably in retaliation for me sending him an article trying to turn him into a snuff-box carrying robber barron. But that is not the interesting part.

Hatcher to Professor Vic: "On the road ... no internet access ... back tomorrow"

Professor Vic to the Hatcher: "Damn it, Jerky [my grad school nickname]! How can you expect to be a cutting edge blogger if you make your legions of 6 loyal readers wait 24 hours for comments on breaking news? What, do you expect any of us to believe you've actually got a real job?"

Well, as you can imagine, I didn't respond via e-mail; I had to mull over these comments for a night, and here is what I gots to say:

"To the people who don't believe in blogging, the cynics and the skeptics, I'm sorry for you. I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles. But this is a hell of a blog."

Up until Sunday, Lance only had 6 Tour de France titles; I have six loyal readers. Lance got his seventh. I'll get mine. Sure, Professor Vic will be there to criticize, no doubt, but before he knows it he'll be teaching classes filled with students wearing little blue bracelets that say "LiveIdeasHatched."

I didn't like Lance's speech. Who in the heck doesn't believe in cycling - I saw the race on TV, I know it happened. Why give the critics the time of day in your last stand on the podium - you merely validate their existence.

I'm sorry to see him go - there is nothing like an American treking over to France every year and kicking the crap out of Europeans in their own backyard, while everyone in America is like -"I didn't even know cycling was a sport!" Even if he blood doped the entire time (which I don't believe he did) all that proves is that we either have superior athletes or superior synthetic drugs, or both - either way, America wins! Gotta love a photo of him waving the US flag around the Chammps Elysee. That makes 1o American wins in the last 20 Tour de France's, with Greg Lemond's 3 in the 1980s. The last time a French guy won, the year prior to Lemond's first victory, the consensus in the cycling community is that Lemond could have blown him away, but because he was on the same team as Hinault, he played the good leuitenant.

There has been some talk about Lance going into politics. No doubt if he does he'll be in the pocket of Big Pharma - those money grubbing bastards convinced him that their chemo drugs actually saved his life, when all he really needed to do was eat a couple dozen apple seeds per day, consult other holistic healing methods, and he would have won 8 tours. But Big Pharma would never let that happen - the cancer research industrial complex, along with a few Jewish bankers, run this country, and Lance won't even try to change that.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

"Cheap Response to Comments" II

John W writes:

think that your prediction regarding the political ramifications of overturning Roe v. Wade might be off a bit. Consider Justice Thomas' dissent in the recent medicinal marijuana case. Breyer, Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Scalia( ?!?) claimed that someone growing pot in their California backyard, for their own use, shifts the national demand curve for marijuana, and thus affects interstate commerce. Clearly they would have to rule that the abortion laws of individual states affect the national market for diapers, Disney DVDs, Star Wars merchandise, etc.

So a federal ban on abortion (without an amendment) would be constitutional. Thus abortion would be on the table in every federal election from now on (if the federal ban wasn't in place, it could be; if it's in place, it could be repealed). I agree that this would likely benefit Democrats, as it would shift the focus from the morality of abortion (where the majority of Americans agrees with the pro-life side ) to the question of whether or not women who have abortions should be imprisoned (where the majority agrees with pro-choicers).

Must admit I hadn’t even considered that possibility, and given the solid 6-3 majority in the medicinal marijuana case, with O’Conner on the right side in my opinion, replacing her with Roberts might not effect using the Interstate Commerce Clause as a justification for making everything federal. I have to admit, Scalia as a part of that majority is very puzzling. Maybe he had a bad day. We’re all entitled to one. But note carefully, my liberal friends, especially those who joyously partake of the easy slander against Clarence Thomas – that he is a little Scalia clone. Here is a case where a black conservative jurist, often viciously and despicably tarred as a house slave simply obeying “massa,” voted against Scalia. And it happens more often than you think. In fact, it happens more often than Ginsburg disagrees with Souter and just as often as Breyer disagrees with Souter. Next time you go to slander Thomas, please keep in mind that such a slander either makes you intellectually very lazy or racist (or both).

Also, the imprisonment of women who would illegally get an abortion is not a necessary consequence of making abortion illegal. Simply making it illegal for an abortion clinic to exist would achieve the desired effect without having to imprison women. Most doctors don’t want to perform them, and those that do tend to be very poor quality doctors (this is a fact, as the procedure is extremely mundane and therefore uninteresting to a good doctor).

Professor Vic writes

would concur with JohnW. I think politically the Court decision in Roe v. Wade has provided nice cover for pro-life politicians who knew they could rail against abortion as much as they wanted without any chance of actually having to outlaw abortion.
There is a huge difference between theory and practice here or as JohnW says, the morality of abortion vs. actually punishing those involved. It's easy to take a tough stand on an issue when you know your law will never be enacted.

This is totally a guess here, but I would say that if the Republicans in the federal government were to pass a ban on abortion that was upheld by a reconstituted Supreme Court, it would cost them both the presidency and both houses for years to come.
As one final note to Geraldy, while there is much to be said for the Court leading "us back to our Christian roots," there is certainly no unanimity of opinion among Christians about what "our" roots really are. Ask the Protestants and the Catholics in N. Irelands, Christains both, about what their common roots are.

Obviously, Geraldy's reading of the Bible leads him/her to believe that abortion is murder, but a reasonable person could also read the Bible and come to a different conclusion. For example, in Exodus 21:22, the Bible says that a man who strikes a pregnant women and kills her shall be put to death but a man who strikes a pregnant women and only causes a miscarriage shall only be fined. That's the closest thing to abortion I can find in the Bible and my interpretation of that passage leads me to believe that killing a fetus isn't murder. So whose Christian roots do we go back to?
We could also go back to "our" Christian roots that held that owning slaves was acceptable (also in Exodus 21), but I don't think anyone whose holds up Brown v. Board of Education as a shining example of the Court as a leader moral change would support those particular roots, either.

The politicians who rail against abortion have legislated against it – in the case of partial birth abortion, for example – so don’t be so quick to assume that they are cynically making an issue out of something they never have to support. It may be true of some, but I doubt it is true of many.

As for “whose Christian roots do we go back to?”, a little discussion of history would be in order. The political demand for abortion came with and as a consequence of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, which was hastened by the pill. Prior to that time, the risks of pre-marital sex were greater, and so people were more discriminating about who they’d have it with; pre-marital sex certainly existed, but it was usually between people who were prepared to marry and therefore provide for and protect any child that came as a result of it. The pill led to the classic Peltzman effect – make a risky behavior safer and people will engage in more of it, and in this case doing so more indiscriminately. The end result was women getting pregnant younger and through partners both unwilling and unable to step up to the plate.

Now, as the father of a daughter, surely you can see that these changes in society have not bettered it. Illegitimacy rates, divorce, teen-age drug use, teen-age suicide, abortion rates – all of these things are worse, far worse, than they were in 1950 – and in my view this is not a coincidence. You will have to worry about what your daughter or her friends might do from the time she is 12 years old. Think about that for a minute. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, but the problem is that a substantial portion of our village has been trying (rather successfully) to have an orgy for 40 years in the town square. People, and most especially innocent children, pay the price for that. But going back to 1950 America, not so long ago, the political demand for abortion would have been extremely limited.

That said, our shared Christian heritage didn't restrain us from voluntarily choosing our current position; making abortion legal didn't make it compulsory. So one could argue that it was easy for us to act chaste when the economic costs of not doing so were potentially very high, and that Christianity was not as large a factor in our behavior in society as was the economics of pre-marital sex.

Making abortion illegal may be dealing with a symptom rather than the underlying disease, but nothing in Exodus supports the underlying disease.

As for Bible quotes, try these two: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”, and “whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me.” (Not bad for a Catholic, heh?)

geraldy said...
Professor Vic,
I don't need my Christianity to tell me that abortion is wrong. If one doesn't see that killing over a million babies a year is morally wrong, then one has to wake up.
Abortion is merely the most tangible government manifestation of everything that is wrong with our society. A truly Christian nation would not have sex scenes hidden in video games, rampant pre-maritial sexuality and licentiousness, and pre-teens playing Clinton-Lewinsky "games." By supporting the outlaw of abortion, we make a good start in addressing the fundamental problems of our society.

The last sentence gets to the crux of it – can the genie be stuffed back in the bottle? The Peltzman effect I alluded to earlier stemmed from a study by Sam Peltzman of the effects of putting seat belts into cars on death rates caused by accidents. Surely seat belts save lives, right? Well, they may in an individual case, but not in the aggregate, as people tend to drive faster when the risks of doing so have declined. Peltzman found this very result – that seatbelts did not reduce accident related fatalities (which is not to say that they didn’t provide benefits – namely the ability to increase your speed without increasing your chances of death). One economist remarked after this study that if the goal were exclusively to reduce accident related fatalities, car companies should be required to have a very sharp metal spike coming out of the steering wheel. I think making abortions harder to get would have the same effect – increase the risks of a behavior that is ultimately very damaging to kids, and the genie might go back.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Supreme Court Pick

From what I’ve read the Roberts pick is a good one; all the right people are cheering for it, and the guy already got a unanimous approval to the Circuit Court by a less Republican Senate. PBryon, however, points out that as a man and a father I shouldn’t support a guy who dresses his son in saddle shoes (not to mention the seersucker suit with short pants). I’ll blame that one on his wife.

So how can he possibly be rejected to the Supreme Court? Can the Dems claim that it is OK to have a partisan ideologue in the Circuit Court but not the SC?

Well, that is the argument the Democrats will have to make, and my guess is that they’ll be reluctant to make it. Many of the more moderate Democrats, and most of those who comprise the set of “compromise” Senators who delayed the nuclear option, face re-election soon in states that went for Bush. A state that goes for Bush, but also supports a Democratic Senator, is one that generally prefers the social safety net offered by Democrats, but the cultural conservatism offered by Republicans. They won’t cotton well to a Senator who will deny them one, and a Democrat who tries to lead the charge against these guys could be sharing a cubicle with Tom Daschle.

That said, clearly a person at the SC has more power than one at the Circuit, and so what one might tolerate at the Circuit level one could reasonably oppose at the SC level. I was intrigued by two quotes from Roberts: one from a brief he wrote while working for the Bush I admin saying that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and one from his confirmation hearings to the Circuit Court where he said that he considers Roe the settled law of the land. Now, in writing for the Bush admin, his writings had to reflect the views of that administration, and so the views are not technically his own. The question is: what is his view?

I would say that what Roberts said in his prior confirmation hearings are not necessarily his view of what can happen at the SC level. To me, his statement clearly meant that he doesn’t have the authority to overturn the Supreme Court from a lower bench. But doesn’t all of that change when he is at the Supreme Court? It wouldn’t be the first decision reversed by a subsequent Supreme Court, would it?

Independent of the argument of the legality of abortion, I’ve always considered the argument of the Constitutionality of abortion laughable on its face. But once a Supreme Court has decided, apparently that is the only argument for Constitutionality that one needs. Now, it goes without saying that there was a political demand for abortion rights prior to Roe v. Wade that went unsatisfied under many prior Supreme Courts’ interpretations of the Constitution, which made Roe v. Wade a reversal of what was clearly the “settled law of the land.” What’s good for the goose …

Here is an idea - reverse it, and then let Ted Kennedy start the Amendment process to have it democratically become the law of the land, if it has the legs to go the distance. Of course, it doesn't and never has, indicating that no one who actually ratified the Constitution was signing onto Roe v. Wade. Note that if Roe was reversed, it would merely restore the states to a position of regulating abortion, it wouldn't make it illegal. Even absent an Amendment, individual states could democratically choose it. The interesting implication would be this - absent the anticipation of the possibility of reversing the reversal with another SC pick, I would anticipate that abortion would loom less large in the Presidential elections, and I think that, on balance, that would favor Democrats. There is a cloud to every silver lining.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Man Slaps Mosquito, Arrested for Child Abuse

Humiddddd! So humid that the mosquitoes are content to hamper outdoor activities up until at least noon. Saturday, I’m with the three older boys in the backyard; they’re playing while I am trying to straighten out the garage. Jake runs to me in a panic saying “mosquito,” gets to me, turns his back to me, and there it is – sucking a pint of blood from the middle of his back. I slap it dead; much to Jake’s satisfaction. Let that be a warning to mosquitoes - dare to try to take Hatcher blood from one of my boys, and I will find you and kill you.

Ten minutes later, he and Joe are at it verbally, calling each other names. Jake says something that crosses the line. As I am reprimanding him, midway through my sentence, a mosquito lands in the middle of his forehead. While sternly giving him an earful, my shoulder muscles twitch instinctively to raise my arm and hand with wrist cocked, then I smoothly transitioned from backswing to fore-swing, weight firmly balanced between my feet, torso rotating to increase the angular momentum, arm extending, wrist action beginning, head down and eyes fixed on the target … SMACK! Square in the forehead, the mosquito never saw it coming.

A brief moment of silence to enjoy the moment. There is no blood on my hands, which makes the success all the sweeter for two reasons: 1) mosquitoes are usually quite fast when not stuck in the vein, and it is much more challenging to kill them then; and 2) it indicates that the insidious creature was not able to penetrate the vain before meeting its doom, so that Jake would feel no pain.

Brief moment is over, and Jake, who should be feeling no pain, is balling. And in a sad way. I submit the evidence of the crushed bug on my palm to his view to help him understand the inadvertent slap to his head was really a moment of great triumph for the two of us, together as a team. Somehow that didn’t comfort him. Wrestling with the possibility that he would now regard my as someone apt to striking him when he errs, a fear I most certainly do not want him to have, I cling to the hope that he somehow felt the mosquito’s presence and his fear of mosquitoes, rather than my picture perfect mosquito destroying slap, caused the river of tears.

“Jake, it was the mosquito, right? That’s why you’re crying. But I got it! It’s dead. You’re not crying about the slap, right – you’re crying about the mosquito!” I say in a pleading tone.

“No, I’m crying about the slap,” said in the muffled English of a crying three-year old.

If this humidity doesn’t break soon, I’ll be hauled up on charges.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Cheap Response to Comments Entry

I'm getting lazy in my second year here, so I thought some simple responses to comments on the Supreme Court post would get my a cheap entry. So here goes.

Clupbert writes:

liked the post Hatcher, but you are wrong here:
"When they dropped the state religion, it was not based upon demands of the Federal government enforcing the law of the land, it was dropped through a democratic process. "
It was dropped because of the 14th amendment which made the constitution applicable to all state laws as well. We learned this exact thing in poli-sci class. Just letting you know...

See what happens when a guy still in college reads your blog? None of the other so-called educated people were able to point out the Hatcher's fast and loose playing with the facts. Now, I clearly didn't know that the 14th Amendment achieved this, but even still I think what I said was probably correct. I would bet (not a lot) that any state that had an established religion had dropped it by the time the 14th amendment came around; or, lacking that, such laws were as wholly ignored as ones still on the books pertaining to the proper hitching of one's horse at the saloon. But even if I'm wrong on that point, the amendment process is a democratic process - any state that saw their established religion get abolished by the 14th amendment would have ratified the 14th Amendement, so they voluntarily chose to get rid of it.

Here is a quote from Thomas Jefferson, which clearly indicates the 1st Amendment applied to the federal government only: "Certainly no power over religious discipline has been delegated to the general government. It must thus rest with the states as far as it can be in any human authority."

And, one can seriously question the current interpretations of the 1st Amendment's anti-establishment clause applied at any level via the 14th Amendment. The day after the House of Reps passed the 1st Amendment (Spetember 24, 1789), they passed by a 2 to 1 majority a resolution calling for a day of national prayer and thanksgiving. Now, if you put a manger scene up at town hall for Christmas, in a town that is 100 percent Christian, you effectively put a fleet of ACLU lawyers to work.

PBryon said...
I wasn't going to post today--big words like "idealogue" and "oligarch" scare me.
But I'll say that I never really like the argument about historical framework, intent of the writers at the time, etc. To me its similar to the excuses the idealogues at the Catholic church give to not having women be ordained as priests. Women clearly had a different status in life during Jesus' day--its not a reason to keep them from being priests now.
Couldn't similar parallels be drawn to the interpretation of the Constitution?

The alternative, it would seem, is a constitution that is "living and breathing," as many liberals are fond of saying. But when they say "living and breathing", they mean it very minimally, kind of like a crazy old grandfather handcuffed to a radiator in the attic - living and breathing, but completely neglected and ignored. The Constitution has changed with the times via the amendment process, which is democratic in nature. Judicial fiat is not - it may get us to the same place faster than the slow amendment process, but often it gets us to a place that we would never get to via amendment. And the amendment process may be too slow or require too much consensus for your tastes, but if that were the majority view than you could presumably change the amendement process with an amendment. As it stands, five people in a country of 250 million can effectively ammend as they see fit. And even the Church has a Vatican council every thousand years or so, which is probably too often, but the machinery is still there for change.

Jim O said...
The "Separation of Church and State" line does not appear in the Constitution - it was written by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association.
I don't think I have a problem with that phrase originating with the father of the Bill of Rights. He was a pretty good thinker, at least in my opinion.
And since when does a Republican espouse an individual state's right? State's rights? You sure you're a Republican?

I thought Madison wrote the Bill of Rights. I think that traditionally the Republicans have been more concerned with State's rights, although the Civil War had us on the other side of it obviously. And even if I'm wrong, I'm still pretty sure I'm a Republican. And Jefferson wrote that to the Danbury Baptists as a warning - don't even try to take away my home brew!

geraldy said...
There is a book on this -- The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model by Spaeth and Segal. They focus on extralegal values. The examples you cite on Supreme Court disagreement are all legal values. They are much harder to quantify.
Who's your favorite nominee? Mine are McConnell, Luttig, and Easterbrook in that order.

Well, how 'bout that? I suggest a topic for a book, and not eight hours later someone has already published it and distributed it to such lengths that a reader can recommend it to me. Next time I'll keep my book idea to myself. I like McConnell - best Senator in my view. Scalia, Thomas, McConnell - it would be like Dr. J, Moses Malone, and Mo Cheeks - a sweep of even the Worthy-Magic-Kareem Lakers is guaranteed.

Anonymous said...
i say nominate KARL ROVE, he certainly seams out of a job at the big house, or maybe thats where he is going

Or how about Sandy Berger? Of course he'd have to have his socks searched before leaving work each day, but I don't think the Supreme Court handles any sensitive national security information. More about the Karl Rove situation on Monday...

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Thoughts on the Supreme Court

Count the Hatcher, perhaps unsurprisingly, as one who is vehemently rooting for a new Supreme Court Justice who is an “ideologue” way way outside the “norm with respect to current constitutional theory.” Why? Because only the ideologues, applying that term in the way the Democrats mean it, have any sense that a Supreme Court justice must constrain himself in order for his opinions to be consistent with the principles of democracy and our Constitution. It takes an ideologue not to be an oligarch, which is the status preferred for Supreme Court justices by the norms of current constitutional theory.

The Supreme Court as oligarchs – a group of rulers who rule, if need be, by arbitrary fiat – has worked very well for liberals from the time of the Warren Court. Democrats would like to cement certain rulings that have been brought down from the mountain by past courts as unassailable law, even when such past rulings were based upon penumbras discovered two-hundred years after the constitution was written. Such rulings have never run the democratic gauntlet, and their popularity many years later does not suggest that they ever could.

Why should the “norms of current constitutional theory” have any bearing when such norms are those established among a small clique of law professors (many of whom were motivated to enter academia by a desire to duck Vietnam, and/or inspired by the Warren Court to see the Supreme Court as an end-around those pesky voters who keep rejecting a liberal utopia)? Making the norms that come out of this group the standard by which to pick a judge just broadens the pool of oligarchs slightly. Last I checked, these guys have one vote, just like you and me – why should the fact that they dedicate their lives to publishing adroit justifications for their legal preferences – justifications that often fail the laugh test, make their opinions paramount?

It is the ideologues who alone think that an opinion on a case must rests upon an historical perspective on the constitution, calling upon the original arguments made at the time the Constitution was written (and the subsequent amendments were drafted), as well as the historical context of democratic ratification, to glean the meaning of the text. It is the ideologues who look to the historical information of those times, which reflects what the citizens of the separate states must have believed about the different provisions when such provisions were ratified.

For example, we often hear about the “wall of separation” between Church and State, words that never appear in the Constitution; the Separation Clause does, but it is limited in that it forbids Congress from establishing and promoting a State religion, applicable throughout the land. It does not forbid the legislative body of one of the states within the Union from establishing a state religion applicable throughout the state. How do we know this? Because there were states that: ratified the Bill of Rights, had a state religion at the time of ratification, and continued to have a state religion for sometime after ratification. When they dropped the state religion, it was not based upon demands of the Federal government enforcing the law of the land, it was dropped through a democratic process.

The Republicans better go to the wall on this one!


On a related point, someone should write a book about why SC justices disagree. I'd be interested to know the following mix of reasons:
1) A difference in their interpretation of the constitutional role of judges (ie how much discretion they might enjoy in their role - can they discover penumbras that allow a federal right to abortion or not?);

2) A difference in the emphasis they place upon areas of the law which come into conflict with each other in a given case;

3) A difference in the degree to which the SC feels bound to prior decisions of the SC - i.e. if there are no difference in facts from a prior case, are you permitted to change the prior SC decision (I suspect most cases of this nature don't get heard, or that at least some on the court think that there is some distinguishing characteristic that makes the case and the potential decision different without contradicting prior opinion).

Take the 2000 election case, for example. There are many critics and defenders of the decision. But it seems to me that most disagreements must stem from a disagreement on fundamentals, disagreements that themselves cannot be resolved by reference to the law or constitution itself. For example, if I believe as a SC justice I have the right to simply vote my conscious, what is there to stop me from doing so in the constitution? It seems to me there is nothing, so I can dress up an opinion in legalize, but in the end I'm just an arbitrary oligarch.

All we can rely upon is the self-restraint of the justices, a self-restraint that should bow to democratic principles. The test of a decision is not necessarily whether it would enjoy democratric support today, but whether it is based upon an interpretation of the Constitution that is consistent with the likely interpretation of the people at the time they ratified the Constitution and subsequent ammendments. If the democratic desires of the current population have shifted significantly, to the point where they are restrained by such a standard, there is still a democratic recourse - the amendment process itself. Better that than some liberal justice consulting the laws of Europe or the current consensus among social scientists (two authorities that have been cited in past decisions) to decree the law of the land.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Professor Vic Makes the NYT

Frequent commentor Professor Vic landed himself an editorial in the New York Times this past Sunday. And, contrary to the beliefs of many of our readers (where such beliefs are inferred from one of the most frequenty asked questions: who in the hell is Professor Vic?), at least with respect to economics, Professor Vic is quite the moderate. I'm happy to present the evidence for his moderation here with his article and the suggested edits he got back from the editors of the NYT. I am happy to say that Vic held firm and refused to make any of the changes, and they still published it. Editorial comments are in italics.

Luck of the Draw

Published: July 10, 2005
STATE and local officials may be hanging their heads about the announcement that London, and not New York City, will be playing host to the 2012 Summer Olympics, but New Yorkers should be breathing a sigh of relief that the Games are now somebody else's worry.

Even though awarding the Olympics to a city other than NY was clearly a slap in Bush's face by the IOC. Not having the Olympics awarded to NY for 2012 would have been inconceivable on September 12, 2001, when we enjoyed the sympathy of the entire free world. Bush blew it.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the Olympics would have added more than $12 billion to the economy and generated 135,000 jobs. Experts who study the impact of sporting events on the economy, however, uniformly find that such estimates routinely overstate the effect of mega-events like the Olympics on local economies. A study of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, which I conducted with Prof. Robert A. Baade of Lake Forest College in Illinois, found that the Games there generated as few as 3,500 new jobs, a tiny fraction of the 77,000 new jobs predicted by the local organizing committee in the run-up to the Olympics.

Has President Bush tried to politicize yours and Professor Baade's scientific studies in any way? If so, you should be aware that we have a hotline for just such an occasion. I'll send a separate e-mail with the details.

How is it possible that the hordes of visitors produced by an event of this magnitude don't wind up benefiting the local economy?

We're not sure how you are going to answer this question, but we're pretty sure a big part of the answer harkens back to Bush's disastrous policies.

First of all, there is little net gain in tourism. The Olympics crowds out other potential visitors. Although the Games would have attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city, hotels in places like New York enjoy a brisk business during the summer anyway.

Isn't it true that no one outside of the U.S. travels to the U.S. on holiday any longer due to fear of becoming political prisoners under the Patriot Act? We haven't seen a French tourist in days despite the strong Euro, and we tell all our friends that they're better off avoiding travelling to a city that Guliani turned into police state.

Certainly no nonsports tourists in their right mind would venture into the craziness of a host city during the Olympics, and therefore their usual spending is displaced by sports fans. Similarly, the crowds and congestion of big events serve to dissuade locals from venturing into areas near the sports venues.

Some of these same sports fans may someday also attend or have attended the Masters tournament at Augustu, where Hootie Johnson refuses to permit women membership. Hootie Johnson is a Republican. So is George Bush. George Bush is also a religious extremist. So are members of Al Queda. Members of Al Qeuda make women wear burquas, which is the Middle East equivalent of denying women membership at Augusta. Need I connect the dots?

New York City got a taste of the negative effects of crowding out last year during the Republican National Convention. The presence of the convention, along with the security measures that accompanied it, resulted in major disruptions for residents. This translated into decreased economic activity in the city despite the presence of tens of thousands of visiting conventioneers and journalists. Attendance at Broadway shows, for example, fell a little more than 20 percent during the convention compared with the same week a year earlier. Now imagine these disruptions on a scale of 10 times the size and lasting for an entire month.

Although in fairness to the Olympics, maybe you should point out that the Republican National Convention was America's version of Hitler taking over the Reichstag, and that most New Yorkers, including the editorial staff of the NYT and yours truly, found that more offensive than the disruption.

And where does all the spending during the Olympics finally end up? Even though local hotels often charge two or three times their normal rates for rooms during the Games, the hotels don't double or triple the wages of their local workers. The spending at the Olympics would have been a windfall for shareholders back at corporate headquarters, but not for ordinary workers in New York City. Yet it is the local workers whose taxes would have been used to pay for the additional security and public works that holding the Olympics requires.

Right on! Although one could quibble that the unions we at the New York Times support would pocket more than a few fat cat shareholders back at corporate headquarters via fat construction contracts, but most of that money would probably be siphoned off by the New Jersey mob, so we take your point. And what about just jacking up sales and hotel taxes in the city, with a special exemption for us little guys working at the NYT? Still, fat cats winning at the expense of the little guy - we like the theme!

While this tax burden doesn't mean that the Olympics provides no benefits to the host city, it does pose a real question as to how much a community should be willing to pay for the "honor" of having the Games. In the wake of Sept. 11, the costs of holding the Games has risen enormously. In 2004, Athens spent more than $1.2 billion on security alone, and with operating costs like this, running the Games without huge subsidies from taxpayers is nearly impossible.
Furthermore, the International Olympic Committee requires that host cities spend billions of dollars on lavish new sports facilities that have little use after the big event. Not even New York City has much need for a 10,000-seat aquatics center or a world-class archery range once the Games are over.

$1.2 billion of security is an awful lot of library record checks performed under the Patriot Act, which is all that Bush would push for. Meanwhile, bin Laden would probably be walking the streets of NY, training his Al Queda recruits at the archery range while Bush gets distracted by Iraq.

Although local organizers will lament that the city will now miss out on the Olympics' powerful legacy of parks and recreational facilities, nothing bars the city from building training centers for elite athletes and renovating fields for young people if it wishes - and at a small fraction of the cost that would have been imposed on it by the International Olympic Committee.

So new York can still throw a bone to the unions without benefitting any shareholders. Now you're thinking. Whew.

New York City would do well to remember that Montreal's legacy from the 1976 Olympics includes an empty baseball stadium and government bonds that residents are still paying off. Similarly, many of the Olympic venues in Athens are unused just one year after their debut.
While New York City has lost the opportunity to "go for the gold" in 2012, I can't imagine that London, especially in light of the terrible bombings on Thursday, isn't already having second thoughts.

All of London's second thoughts are about Blair's agreeing to be Bush's lap dog since September 11, 2001. London would be better re-reading the speeches of Neville Chamberlin, an unfairly maligned former Prime Minister who did his best to understand why the Germans hated the English (and the Poles, and the Czexhs, and the French, etc.). He was much more nuanced than that war-mongerer Churchill, and we here at the NYT think it is only a matter of days before the opinions of right-minded historians restore the reputation of Chamberlin at the expense of Churchill!

Victor A. Matheson is an economics professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.

Wait, you teach at a Catholic college!? It's not one of those colleges that would ever obey the pope, right (did you know he was a Nazi youth?)? Oh yeah, we forgot, it's a Jesuit college - no worries. Thanks for the submission!

Jedi Training - One Month Before Turning to Dark Side Posted by Picasa

Star Wars Fatigue

It is the mistake of many parents to think that the natural and unintentional humor of a kid still learning the ropes of the language makes for grand humor when translated by those parents in the company of friends. That mistake manifests itself in the correct perception that the kid might be funny, but his parents are colossal bores. The unintentional humor of the syntax and vocabulary of a three-year old has to be experienced directly.

Jake is at that age – three going on six – jumping right to the slang that his brothers have picked up, and using it as a blunt instrument to insult and demean his brothers in the course of any disputes. Sometimes he relies upon an emphatic “stupid”, directed out into the ether rather than being directly applied to a subject, but the intended subject is usually quite clear; other times he opts for the less favored “hate you”, but enough punishment for saying he hates any person in his family has curbed him to saying “hate this,” with the ambiguity of “this” allowing the benefit of the doubt in most cases. These pronouncements have earned him some vinegar on the tongue now and again, and on occasion some garlic, but we are shying away from creating a negative association for a spice that can never be overdone. The other fear, given his strange mood swings, is that one day he’ll react to the garlic in the same manner as a vampire, an entirely possible scenario given his recent behavior, but the vampire status of your son is one truth you’d rather save yourself from.

Language aside, Jake has discovered his first obsession, Star Wars “chariters,” small little teen-aged versions of Luke, Han Solo, Chewie, Ben and the whole gang. All he wants to do is play Star Wars. His obsession is to the point that he wakes up an hour earlier than he should, comes tramping down the hall to our room, jumps into our bed, and the first words out of his mouth are “you be Luke Skywalker dad.” There are worse ways to wake up, but that is just the beginning. One day I awoke before him and headed to the basement to workout while watching SportsCenter. Half an hour later he follows, sees me surrounded in the basement by Star Wars chariters that I am completely oblivious to, and with an extremely puzzled look on his face, asks “why you not playin Star Wars, dad?” The true mark of the obsessed – the assumption that it is irrational for others not to be similarly obsessed. If he keeps this up, I’ll be playing more Star Wars than George Lucas.

The play is pretty easy as it goes – there are good guys and bad guys. All Star Wars characters are generally good, but the much larger species of Rescue Heroes, a totally unrelated species of toy I might add, get recruited to be the bad guys, which is generally against their nature. But they have no time to protest – before they know it Han Solo is landing the Millenium Falcon on the deck of the Rescue Heroe Command Center (it’s an aircraft carrier), and Luke Skywalker is all over Billy Blazes.

Mom gets a pass on Star Wars playing because she wisely found a discrete way to dispose of Princess Leai. Most of these Star Wars figures were given as birthday gifts to the twins last year, and it was Mom, not Dad, who picked out a Princess figure for a five year old. Joey opened it, scowled and said “oohhhh”, and promptly gave it to Jake, who was glad to have it as he is not yet old enough to understand that girls are ickie. In any event, all Star Wars activities, including endless light saber battles, fall on my plate.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Live 2

Live 8 has inspired me to try to organize an event that raises awareness among certain banks that my debt burden is quite onerous, and that for the good of my children, they should forgive my debt. I already have the Hooters lined up to play, and am in negotiations with Robert Hazzard and the Heroes. Does anyone know if the Nerds still play at Fred's lounge (I need a back-up to put the pressure on Hazard)? (This makes 2 straight days of shameless pandering to my Philly readers!). I don't need to do 8 cities, because my debt is not due to the G-8, but instead to Regions Bank, my primary mortgage lender, and Wells Fargo, through which I have an equity line of credit.

I listened to about 5 minutes of Live 8 coverage on XM radio this past Saturday, enought to hear the actor Tim Robbins wax eloquently about the need for us capitalist exploiters to stop raping Africa of her natural resources and let her garner the riches of her land. Which would happen, of course, in between the genocides that occasionally take place. But that is a quibble, because the same arguments apply to my mortgage loans. I'm the one who cuts the lawn, dammit! I occasionally even weed whack. What do my banks do? Absolutely nada. They sit in their boardrooms smoking Cuban cigars, denying women and minorities promotions, and forward my mortgage checks straight into their country club dues where they go to sit in the card room smoking Cuban cigars, denying membership to minorities and morning tee times to women.

The bastards even granted me one of those interest only loans, which only encouraged me to borrow more, more, more! How many more Big Berthas do these guys need to fill their golf bags with! With my debt at its current level, I'll never be able to send my kids to a good college that will enable them to be smart enough to offer their labor services in high paying markets that require them to put in 60-70 hour weeks, which would in turn lead them to want to buy a small shack extremely close to the city for an exhorbitant sum of money, most of which would be borrowed, 'cause it shore aint gonna be inherited. And like me, they'll be cutting the lawn and weed whacking. If the banks know what's good for them, they'll back off. Otherwise I'll enlist the Hooters to repeatedly sing And We Danced outside the Region Bank HQ until they break.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

True Believers

It is time for the Hatcher's summer reading recommendation - True Believers - The Tragic Inner Life of Sports Fans. It is a must for all sports fans, written by a guy who is a fan of all the Philly teams, so he knows how tragic that inner life can be. The book is very funny, especially the chapter on frontrunners, a chapter that talks about bandwagon fans with scorn. A certain friend of mine, for example, has a geographical loyalty to the Kansas City Royals, which served him very well in 1985, but has done little for him lately; in the interim, he's gone to great lengths to discover generations-old familial loyalties to the Yankees and the Braves.

Fair warning - I may have way too much in common with this guy to be giving a fair recommendation; the Emerson quote about our own discarded thoughts coming back to us as works of genius jumped into my head when Queenan started in on certain sportscasters I personally love to hate.

The relationship men have with sports is fraught with animosity. We hate the owners, we hate the players, we hate the announcers – especially Dierdorf and Walton – and we are not that crazy about the sportswriters.

…the very worst thing the average fan will be forced to endure throughout his lifetime is the nonstop blather emanating from the announcer’s booth. Consider the Strange Case of Delphic Dan. At 5:56 pm on February 9, 1999, when ABC officially deposed Dan Dierdorf as color man on its venerable Monday Night Football, the sound of rejoicing could be heard all the way from the Redwood Forest to the Gulfstream Waters. In many Midwestern cities, massive rush-hour traffic jams developed as thousands of men poured into the streets to celebrate. In a number of southern burgs, mayors were compelled to declare a municipal holiday as city workers were far too tanked up to operate the heavy machinery.

The explanation for such ebullience was not hard to fathom. A pontificating blowhard and all-purpose front-runner who always found a way to dump on the losing team as soon as it became apparent that they were going to end up on the short end of the score, Delphic Dan Dierdorf was the one common thread uniting fans in Philadelphia, Chicago, Green Bay, and points west. Everybody who loved his hometown football team despised him. Not since Louis XVI got his head chopped off in 1793 had a long-suffering, downtrodden populace experienced such an adrenaline rush.

I've always hated Dierdorf! Queenan goes on to lament CBS hiring him shortly after America's celebration. There is less about Bill Walton, although there is this:

Then basketball season starts, and he gets treated to the bookend jackasses Bill Walton and Steve “Snapper” Jones, nattering back and forth about the genius of John Wooden and the good old days of post-up centers… Please stop drooling about the Wizard of Westwood. We know you went to UCLA. Our unborn grandchildren know you went to UCLA. But so did Kareem. And you couldn’t hold his jock.

I wish he did a while chapter on these guys. Little mention of Mussberger in the pantheon of eminently hatable sportscasters, but that mention is after his long rants on others, which he concludes by saying "don't even bring up Mussberger", indicating hating him alone could fill a book. The one disappointment - he mentions Tim McCarver as an enjoyable sportscaster - the only excuse for this, and it is only barely plausible, is that McCarver is an x-Phil. Nonetheless, my father probably rolled over in his grave, as he liked to pass so many of his summer days on the front porch listening to Whitey (Richie Ashburn) and Harry Kalas announce Phillies games on the radio. Ashburn was the anti-McCarver as a color man - he didn't feel it was necessary to treat baseball like it was rocket science and explain the minutae of the finer points of the game. And Ashburn and Kalas were comfortable even in silence (as all great couples are) whereas McCarver cannot abide 2 seconds of dead air.

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