December 3, 2008

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So Taibbi had a short aside in this recent post referring to the Trayvon Martin case and, specifically, The Atlantic Monthly’s finance/econ blogger Megan McArdle‘s reaction to it in an online comment. (I’m assuming it’s really her)

I’d post in reply to Taibbi’s post directly except the damn Rolling Stones comment system requires Facebook, which I am not cool enough to have.

The only comment in reply to Taibbi’s second-opinion request so far seems to interpret McArdle’s comment as being about there being something called a “good rape”?? He puts “good rape case” in the quotation, but I don’t think the quality of the case is what he’s referring to… Obviously, there are cases (regardless of the crime) that are good or bad based on your side of the argument and how easy it would be to win, or how clear-cut the evidence is…

And Taibbi may be reading it the same way since when I read McArdle’s post (sidenote: I think she’s an idiot), it seems pretty clear what she’s saying: If we try Zimmerman, based on the evidence she’s reviewed, he will likely go free and that acquittal will be recorded by the social conscious as support for what Zimmerman did and, worse still, what many believe he did (i.e. find an appropriate legal excuse to murder a black teenager).

And that’s an interesting point by McArdle: Is it worthwhile to try a hopeless (as she sees it) case if it risks unintentionally supporting the type of act you wish to prosecute. She also makes the good point that in a media-rich legal environment, such as the one surrounding this case (see Obama’s poignant observation or the Miami Cheat’s team statement as examples of the breadth and depth of public response), we should be especially wary of the prosecutor’s rush to prosecute… It is easy to imagine that an attention-hungry or media-savvy legal team could push for a show trial of Zimmerman even if the case is hopeless in order give their daughters an opportunity to be big-titted and useless on TV.

What I’d like to know more about, and hopefully Taibbi can clarify if this is perhaps his concern with Megan’s post, is how not attempting prosecution of what seems clear to be questionable circumstances surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death provides any more support for those who may, in the future, find themselves in a situation similar to Trayvon’s. I my mind, even a show trial with weak evidence and eventual acquittal of Zimmerman is more valuable to the community of those who see Trayvon as a victim than an out-and-out assumption of innocence or insufficient evident to convict George Zimmerman.

“Good case” or weak case, the public will want a degree of the burden on proof set upon Zimmerman to plead his case. If that’s the aspect of McArdle’s comment that Taibbi was puzzled by, PLEASE LET US KNOW!

(And if what Mark Dalton, the first comment-writer, seems to be responding to is what Taibbi was referring to as well, then … well… I think you guys are all McArdle-hate-crazed to think she meant sometimes rape is justifiable or something… Though I am very sympathetic to McArdle-hate.)

… and the cow goes moo

I thought this post by Gary Rubinstein was worth ending a 6-month silence for (I was busy!):

“By looking at the data I noticed that of the 18,000 entries in 2010, about 6,000 were repeated names.  This is because there are two ways that one teacher can get multiple value-added ratings for the same year. The most common way this happens is when the teacher is teaching self-contained elementary in 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade.

I made a scatter plot of the 5,675 teachers.  On the x-axis is that teacher’s language arts score for 2010.  On the y-axis is that same teacher’s math score for 2010.  There is almost no correlation.”

Gary made the same comparison for teachers who taught multiple grades within the same subject, with similar results. Please click on the link to see the very evocative charting of the results (where one axis has the teacher’s rating in one subject vs. that teacher’s rating teaching a second subject on the other axis… or one axis being one grade, the other axis being another grade).

I am all for better evaluation of teachers and am passionately in favour of eliminating shitty teachers so they can stop contributing to the often horrific school experiences many children have… but this came to a shock to me that it appears at least NYC hasn’t found a remotely reliable way to divide good and bad teacher… and I would very much rather avoid student review or principal/administrative review being the alternative.

So before we start ending or accelerating teachers’ careers, let’s make sure the quantified data we are relying on actually means something.

… and the cow goes moo

FINALLY.

I am soooo happy. It pisses me off to no end that Obama won his election largely by misleading and allowing voters to mislead themselves but at least now that it’s clear what kind of President he is, and what his actions reveal about his values, it seems people are waking up to being sold a false bill of goods.

Perhaps it’s more likely, as Politico suggests, that Obama’s falling popularity is merely in response to the continuing-to-falter economy… but I can dream.

… and the cow goes moo

Krugman has tended to equivocate about Obama since he made his entrance into the national scene: Mostly praise, and optimism, with a few conditional ifs. With this short blog post, I think he’s gone all the way into Obama-haterism.

Why is this worth noting? Krugman has always been willing to carry the Democrat’s water for them, seeming to believe them the much lesser of two evils. For him to bail on the Democratic president during the early ramp-up to his re-election campaign (yes, it has started), I think, is meaningful. Of course, once it becomes a choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Krugman will return to “we must vote for Obama once more, lest Evil enshroud our nation!” mode.

Not sure why Krugman wasn’t expressing this level of clear and unconditional dismay about Obama about three years ago…

[UPDATE: Perfect example of Krugman's "Oh, I hate you, Barack! But being single is sooo scary..." trademark sprinkle of saccharin on a sour post regarding Barack Obama's eager support of Republican's view on the debt debate:

"Mind you, this failure to comprehend is minor compared with what’s going on across the aisle. But it’s still disappointing and depressing."]

… and the cow goes moo

I have a bee in my bonnet. And it’s been buzzing about in there for a while, but became really agitated when I read Barry Ritholtz’ Washington Post editorial from July 3/2011.

I love Barry. Really, I do. And I enjoyed the post except for one part, where I think he’s fallen from his usual cynical incisiveness to a Jon Stewart-level naivete:

“Money in politics: Over the past 40 years, you have allowed the inflow of special-interest dollars to overwhelm and corrupt the political process. Congress is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Wall Street.

The solution might be a constitutional amendment to provide for public funding of federal elections and to restrict, or at least require full transparency about, the special-interest lobbying that has perverted the legislative process.”

The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart has begged for a similar change over the years in his interviews (sorry, can’t recall a specific clip so I thought I’d just link to Jon’s awesome and somewhat relevant Charlie Rangel impersonation… Maybe with Elizabeth Warren? Regular TDS viewers, I think, will attest to Jon’s support for the idea). And it’s absolutely, totally, 100% incorrect and a vain energy-sucking hope.

So why do I, unaccomplished internet denizen, believe I know better than the very smart and funny The Big Picture blogger and the not quite as smart or funny but even more successful TV personality? Because the flaw in campaign financing reform is holy-fucking-shit simple:

What is required for a constitutional amendment (as per Wikipedia):

“Amending the Constitution is a two-part process: amendments must be proposed then ratified. Amendments can be proposed one of two ways. To date, all amendments, whether ratified or not, have been proposed by a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress. Over 10,000 constitutional amendments have been introduced in Congress since 1789; during the last several decades, between 100 and 200 have been offered in a typical congressional year. Most of these ideas never leave Congressional committee, and far fewer get proposed by the Congress for ratification.

Alternatively, if two-thirds of the state legislatures demand one, Congress must call for a constitutional convention, which would have the power to propose amendments. As no such convention has been called, it is unclear how one would work in practice.

Regardless of how the amendment is proposed, it must also be ratified by three-fourths of states. Congress determines whether the state legislatures or special state conventions ratify the amendment. The 21st Amendment is the only one that employed state conventions for ratification.”

For the people too lazy to read three paragraphs, Wiki says: amending the constitution requires a a vast majority of politicians, and especially politicians in super-powerful congressional committees, to be in favour of it.

And for people too lazy to think about that for a second: How naive would I need to be to believe that those who benefit THE MOST from the US’s current money-flooded political system, especially those super-tie-and-suit-motherfuckers heading various congressional committees, who rake in corporate money in exchange for giving meaningful legislation a quiet backrooms death, would vote, IN FORCE, in favour of unilateral disarmament?

We’d sooner see Obama sit down with Al Qaeda to negotiate a ban on unmanned drones.

There’s a reason why Congress doesn’t vote to lower it’s salary or to change it’s own health care plan to a voucher system. They, like most assholes, are self-serving fucks.

If Jon and Barry are asking us to put our hopes in Constitutional reform, then all they’re doing – for naive or malicious reasons – is co-opting the rising and very genuine public frustration with the US campaign-contribution-engorged political system to a fruitless, vain, impossible, and absolutely stupid cause.

That isn’t to say there’s nothing that can be done, however. Just not that. Clearly, a political system that allows people like all-around assholes Barack Obama, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Mitch McConnell wax righteous over varying sides of the debt debate, depending on the party in power, with a straight-face and without suffering public or media condemnation is… fucking broken.

But the onanistic ‘debate’ over the debt ceiling provides the PERFECT solution to our political system’s infection, inflammation, and paralysis.

Why are Republicans (since Obama became president) pretending to be arguing we can’t raise the debt ceiling? To enforce fiscal restraint on Big Government.

And why do we, purportedly, need to restrain Big Government? Partly because if we don’t, government will endlessly print money to buy Cadillacs for minorities who don’t feel like working and the US currency will be inflated away to half the value of toilet paper and we’ll turn into Zimbabwe.

And THAT is exactly how we’ll solve the infestation of campaign contribution hegemony in US politics.

How’s that for serendipity?

We can’t leave things the way they are, because the value of contributions is so high as to often make money the deciding factor in elections.

Constitutional amendments won’t work because it requires convincing those assholes in Congress, who currently benefit the most from their control on legislation and the government’s coffers, to collectively renounce the use of their access to the arms – in which they are best-stocked – used to win re-election.

So let’s do what those debt-conscious, penny-pinching Republicans so fear: De-value the currency! But not the US Dollar, but those very special political Scooby Snax called campaign contributions! If campaign contributions no longer buy votes, then legislators will no longer need to prostrate themselves for every flash lobbyist with a douchebag’s Porsche and trousers bulging with contributions (not to say lacking need, many legislators won’t find themselves hands-holding-ankles just the same).

And how we devalue campaign contributions needs to be simple… because Lord knows, if we’re not attentive enough to pick up on the rank hypocrisy cited above, we’re not going to be attentive enough to follow anything complex.

So I propose a pledge… An internet pledge. Something simple and usually meaningless, but can get enough numbers in apparent support as to be seen as a threat. How about a REALLY simple pledge? Everyone who wants to clean the legislature of money’s coercion, make a pledge that you will never, ever, ever (even if it means voting against your own mother), vote for the top fundraiser. (P.S. Democrats, that means not voting for Obama in 2012. Do you really want to clean up this mess?? PROVE IT!)

Let’s make it a race for second place!

Someone tell me why this wouldn’t work? At least better than the hope-and-prayer Barry and Jon propose.

… and the cow goes moo

This article in the Telegraph was originally linked to from Naked Capitalism’s Links of the Day on Wednesday (2/01/11)

Yves and I seem to have a similar reaction: “I hate to sound heartless, but this sounds completely logical.”

Perhaps I’d even go a bit further…

The article recounts tales of applicants with children qualifying for significantly less (say 10-20% less) when reporting children as dependents vs. applicants with no children. Apparently, this is a new development in the UK.

The article isn’t quite overtly critical of the practice, but only appears to consult those who are (mortgage brokers, obviously, would prefer clients qualify for larger mortgages). Or at least, the article’s author doesn’t appear to bring the broker’s complaints of unfairness to those who might refute those reasons.

One broker is quoted saying:

“It is absolutely unfair to penalise people with children by reducing their capacity to borrow compared with a single person or a childless couple.”

Reasoning as to why this is unfair was not provided… and certainly eludes me. I don’t think anyone has children (intentionally…) without factoring in the financial costs related to child rearing… I don’t see why mortgage underwriters shouldn’t have the same concern.

“Some brokers describe the new approach as “nonsense”. For example, only children up to the age of 18 will see your loan cut, whereas many parents spend far more on their offspring above this age as they support them through university.”

And is University essential? Will parents miss mortgage payments to keep up their kids’ tuition bills up-to-date? Or are they more likely to tell Jr. to get a summer job, student loans, or come back home to the inferior and far less fun local school? The costs of feeding, clothing, and KEEPING ALIVE a young child, however, are ~20-yr commitments made more-or-less at the time of birth.

“Finally, brokers question the logic of offering a childless young couple a larger loan today, when in two or three years they may have a family, and not be able to remortgage for the same amount.”

Good lord! You’re right, Mr. and Mrs. Broker! Situations CAN change! Where we know childless couples are liable to have children in the future, we KNOW couples WITH children would cease their breeding before applying for a mortgage! I think it’d be best to assume all applicants may have 2.5 children in the future, price that in, and also assume they lose their income for 6m over the next 5 years as it’d just be prudent. Can’t be allowing potential changes to an applicant’s financial standing in the future, based on nothing, be ignored.

The author does provide a very reasonable, albeit general, quote that could be considered a response to some of the above broker-generated ridiculousness:

“The CML [Council of Mortgage Lenders] defended the lenders’ actions. A spokesman said: “If you have to have proxies for family expenses, the cost of children is a reasonable one.””

Lend based on the client’s current major financial commitments that are likely to persist through the term (or much of the term) of the mortgage? Dastardly lenders are punishing families!

And if lenders continued to ignore a major financial outlay that would take precedent over mortgage payments for most people? Welllll, that means less prudent lending criteria, more losses by the banks… meaning more bailouts from taxpayers and, in the less extreme case, higher relative risk criteria for those selfish childless would-be homeowners who have the hubris to believe they can borrow more just because they choose to spend less. The gall!

(See how that zero-summy thing sorta works?)

… and the cow goes moo

(I’m still here! I’ve been busy…)

Or so says this NYT editorial. And I wholeheartedly agree. Read the whole thing. It’s short and has some excellent legal explanations.

My most enduring memory from my decade+ past US university admissions experience was that two of the Ivy League schools I applied to had three to six spaces for “impressive people you know that would make us more likely to admit you” [I'm paraphrasing] as part of the actual application.

WTF does my daddy being a judge or my great-aunt being Chief Medical Officer have to do with my qualifications to study at your school??

I can’t believe this ever existed or there can even be a debate on this subject. When is “Who do you know?” or “Who’s your daddy?” an acceptable question to ask in any professional setting?

… and the cow goes moo

So I’m watching last night’s TDS online (Canadian link here, US link here), and I know I’m not supposed to take anything Jon Stewart says seriously, even if he makes it seem pretty serious because he repeatedly insists he’s not a news program… even though I’m pretty sure viewers treat news from TDS, ex-sarcasm, with the same seriousness as news from CNN (a view made legitimate. From Wikipedia: “A 2006 study published by Indiana University tried to compare the substantive amount of information of The Daily Show against prime time network news broadcasts, and concluded that when it comes to substance, there is little difference between The Daily Show and other news outlets.”)

But anyways… in the third segment, Jon goes into a big histrionic rant about how Iran’s decision to stone adulterers keeps the rest of the ‘civilized’ world from treating them politely and… condoning their nuclear ambitions?

Since the segment got no laughs and wasn’t funny, I’m going to assume that it was at least partially meant to be taken seriously. And I thought that was fucking ridiculous. This seems exactly like a claim you’d hear on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC or whichever (depending on which party is in power), legitimizing the current government’s stance, acting as if the way America (or any nation) treats another country has to do with morality and principles. Adorable and utter onanism.

You remember our buddies in Pakistan? Who also have nukes? And who the US sends billions in military aid too? THEY STONE PEOPLE TOO! (Wikipedia, as always, comes through by confirming that adultery is officially punishable by death). But of course this entirely different, since the incident cited by UPI was a whole 2.4 years ago. And this case from two months ago described by McClatchy doesn’t count since the man got away. And stoning was sentenced for the much more heinous crime of… adultery? But since the Pakistani tribal court that sentenced them is having both the man and the woman stoned, I guess that makes it ok?

To recap: In Jon Stewart’s world, where nations castigate, isolate, or reward nations based on the civility of that nation’s treatment of adulterers, stoning women for adultery justifies isolation and military provocation. Stoning a man and a woman for adultery justifies fabulous cash prizes.

We should have left this bullshit self-aggrandizing of ourselves through the rationalization – or moralization – of the positions of our nation in kindergarten. Jon Stewart and the Daily Show should honestly be ashamed of themselves.

Oh, and btw… Remember that country that the US has been essentially been in control of for over eight years and whose war hasn’t been declared over? Last month the Beeb said a couple was stoned to death in a public square for adultery. Though Afghanistan doesn’t have any nukes. Unless the US brought any with them. Umm. Ya.

… and the cow goes moo

1) A dude stupid enough to try to bring marijuana to work with him into a Senate office building. This “senior aide” wasn’t some “fish and wildlife” hippy either: Marcus Stanley was a “senior economics adviser” drawing a six-figure salary.

Feel good about where your taxes go?

2) And not only are senior aides to the nation’s most powerful Senators mind-blowingly stupid, they’re also morally corrupt! At the bottom of that article they drop a bombshell (at least I didn’t hear about it before): “senior policy adviser” Jeffrey Rosato, who was also on Barbara Boxer’s staff, was busted for kiddie porn in in 2008. I’m not sure if we can assume he was also getting paid six-figures.

Citizens -$-> Taxes -$-> Senate -$-> Senate Senior Aides -$-> drug dealers and child pornographers

Hopefully these charges don’t inhibit Mr. Stanley and Mr. Rosato’s prospects to become lobbyists.

… and the cow goes moo

I really should have done some research when I made my last post, but better late than never. And waiting for the weekend is understandable, right?

I posted on the rape by deception case as I was shocked by how brazen a story of persecution based on ethnicity or religion it appeared to be, and The Guardian didn’t appear to do much better research that I did as they provided context to support that case and none to contradict it… and I’ve found that there exists ample evidence to prove my (and The Guardian’s) implications as poorly founded…

I was able to find a couple of Haaretz articles (and linky to the second) that has a bit more details about the incident described in the previous post and, more importantly, some history of cases that contradict my interpretation of the ruling.

First, the notable details about Sabbar Kashur’s case:

  • He’s married and a father of two children, I’m presuming at the time of the sexual encounter (I don’t think it’s ever specified, but being that the encounter appears to have taken place September 2008 and he was under house arrest for “almost two years” (says Haaretz), I’m comfortable assuming he was married at the time). So there’s another potential unstated reason for the conviction: protecting the sanctity of marriage and finding excuses to punish those who cheat.
  • The plaintiff approached Mr. Kashur, and appears to have chatted him up about his motorcycle (I knew it! Chicks dig bikes!)
  • And the older Haaretz article states what I feel is probably a very important detail to most people, which The Guardian article mentioned only hinted at: Apparently, after the bike-talk, “the couple then went to a nearby building and had sex, after which Kashur left the building without waiting for the woman to get dressed. When the woman found Kashur was not a Jew but an Arab, she filed a complaint that resulted in charges of rape and indecent assault.””

And now some legal background and opinion:

  • Apparently precedent was set in 2008 as well with a rape by deception charge of Zvi Sleiman, who impersonated a government official and said he would use the powers of his office in a woman’s favour if she would sleep with him. No mention of whether or not Mr. Sleiman was Jewish or Palestinian, but being that he was impersonating an Israeli official, probably a decent bet he’s Jewish (according to a quick Google search, but nothing that I found is definitive/credible). So that dispels my insinuation in my last post that the convicted ethnicity was the deciding factor.
  • “High Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein said a conviction of rape should be imposed any time a “person does not tell the truth regarding critical matters to a reasonable woman, and as a result of misrepresentation she has sexual relations with him.”” More on this point later…
  • “Eran Ben-Avraham, who told a woman he was a neurosurgeon after which she had sex with him, and was convicted of three counts of fraud.” Another example! The convicted was also a Jewish man, according to the same questionable Google research. And this one is much more palpable to those of us who have trouble understanding how someone’s religion or ethnicity can be a deciding factor in what appears to be a pretty casual sexual encounter.

So the insinuations of my last post are bunk: This is not a case of the Israeli justice system systematically enforcing their law at varying degrees depending on the religion or ethnicity of the parties involved. Not to say the individual judges involved couldn’t have that intention, but I certainly am not going to make that accusation.

But despite how very, very wrong I was, this case doesn’t become less interesting. Some good points are made by The Atlantic Monthly‘s (I still call it that) Andrew Sullivan’s blog, mostly not by Mr. Sullivan. And since Mr. Sullivan is the most prolific blog poster on the whole goddamn Internets, I’ll give you some direct links and short summaries to the relevant posts:

  1. Sullivan’s first mention that I could find, the title of which seems to be along a series of posts that appear to be fairly critical of Israel. This one is little more than a link to the 2nd (older) Haaretz and Guardian articles.
  2. But that original post brings out an informative reply, where a reader calls Andrew out for Israel-bashing (I can’t comment on that) and links to a number of similar US cases in defense of Israel, citing what Sullivan retorts are materially different cases (cases of impersonating a specific person, doctors using their occupation for sexual assault, and a man pretending to be a doctor)… If Sullivan’s characterizations are accurate, I would definitely agree that those cases differ from the Kashur case enough to make them insufficient for direct comparison. The commenter does make noteworthy mention of racial biases that may exist in the US but that doesn’t exactly mean similar practices elsewhere are any less heinous.
  3. The best post of the bunch where, once again, those Sullivan quotes do the heavy lifting. Sullivan’s quotation of Dana McCourt provides an excellent example of deceit by weed-brownie, which really highlights the ‘material’ nature of the deceit and how difficult it can be for some – myself included – to understand when it comes to religion or ethnicity. Dan Savage’s quotation is the perfect natural progression of the argument of the ‘material’ nature of the lie: He argues that when we’re talking about a rather casual encounter, and an apparent deal-breaker like religion is confirmed by little more than a Jewish-sounding name and an assertion of being Jewish, the court has no right to step in. If you sexual partner’s Jewishness is so important to you, maybe you should spend… oh… maybe more than a day getting to know the guy before you sleep with him?
  4. And the most recent post I could find, where a reader once again provides excellent background: One reader – sadly, neglecting citation – says the trial started as a vanilla rape case but when it was discovered that sex was consensual, it lead to the rape by deception plea bargain. The reader adds three points of little worth (some accusations and conjecture) that I don’t feel like summarizing, but it’s only a click away for those of you who don’t trust my opinion.

So I don’t think there’s any way anyone can continue to suggest, based on the information above, that Kashur’s case is an example of ethnic or religious persecution, or that “had Kashur been a Jewish man sleeping with a Palestinian woman under false pretense, this would have never made it to court”. There are no grounds for that argument.

But I believe what fuels people’s disgust with this ruling despite the above is what Dan Savage brought up: This is the court stepping in to rule on someone’s sexual indiscretions, moreso than a case of legal deception. Had the plaintiff married Kashur, or dated him for years, and Kashur managed to maintain a convincing charade of Jewishness – simply, had the plaintiff showed evidence of due diligence before allowing him access to her “no admittance for non-Jews” reproductive organs – I think there’d be a lot more sympathy for the conviction.

As is, this smells a lot like excessive intrusion into the most private part of people’s relationships by courts, to police personal morality.

And here’s my big, fat foray into pure conjecture: Quite frankly, it sounds like she thought he’d at least hang around until she got dressed, didn’t like the cold shoulder, opted for the stalk of shame over the walk of shame, kept calling or doing her own bit of investigating, found out he had lied to her, and then accused him of rape in revenge. Hell hath no fury…

… and the cow goes moo

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