Saturday, November 2

Achoo

There's a lot I want to write on this pre-election weekend. Unfortunately, my wife and I have both been bludgeoned by a cold, and we've been taking turns sleeping when we're not caring for Noah (who so far is blissfully unaffected—but that will probably change). I hope to be back tomorrow. In the meantime, if you didn't read Jason Rylander yesterday, you should today.

Friday, November 1

Suicide Threats

Hamas couldn't possibly be this stupid, could it? American sympathy for the Palestinians has greatly diminished since we saw images of celebrations in the Palestinian streets on September 11, and the rash of suicide bombings in Israel last spring further eroded what sympathy remained. But that's nothing, nothing, compared to what would happen if they were to attempt an attack in this country.

(Link via Drudge).

The Seventh

With election day drawing near, the Indianapolis Star today reports results of a poll of likely voters, taken October 29 and 30, showing the race between Congresswoman Julia Carson and Republican challenger Brose McVey a statistical dead heat. The poll, conducted by Market Shares Corp. of Mount Prospect, Illinois, shows 43 percent of respondents favoring Carson, 42 percent favoring McVey, 5 percent favoring Libertarian Andy Horning, and 10 percent undecided. Given that undecideds usually break in favor of the challenger in the final days, the poll bodes well for McVey.

There are several reasons to question the extent to which the poll reflects what will happen next Tuesday. First, of course, is the margin of error, five percent, along with the small sample size. I also know nothing of Market Shares' record for reliability—judging by its name, it does not specialize in political polling. More important, perhaps, the poll precedes Carson's decision to walk out of a Wednesday night debate with McVey after charging him with running an excessively negative campaign. That action is likely to dominate coverage of the debate over the final days, and it's still unclear what impact it will have. Carson seems to be counting on her charges against McVey to fire up her base, giving a boost to her already legendary get out the vote efforts. My recollection is that Carson has usually done better than expected because pre-election polls have consistently underestimated her ability to turn out her supporters. But there's also some danger of a backlash against Carson, who may be seen as ducking debate on substantive issues.

While Carson probably still has a slight edge based on the strength of her GOTV efforts. this race is as tight a battle as Carson has faced since first being elected to the House in 1996. The national Republican party is focused on this race, paying for ads against Carson and bringing Dick Cheney into town today for a fundraiser. The national Democrats should be paying attention as well—if they want to have any hope of recapturing the House, it is essential that Carson wins.

Thursday, October 31

Professional Misconduct

Here's one for Howard Bashman: In 1998, Michael Wilkins, a respected attorney at a high-powered Indianapolis law firm, served as local counsel for a Michigan insurance company involved in litigation in Indiana. In that capacity, he signed a brief written by his client's principal counsel, seeking Indiana Supreme Court review of a decision by the Indiana Court of Appeals. A portion of the brief stated:

The Court of Appeals' published Opinion in this case is quite disturbing. It is replete with misstatements of material facts, it misapplies controlling case law, and it does not even bother to discuss relevant cases that are directly on point. Clearly, such a decision should be reviewed by this Court. Not only does it work an injustice on appellant Michigan Mutual Insurance Company, it establishes dangerous precedent in several areas of the law. This will undoubtedly create additional problems in future cases.
A footnote to the above passage read as follows:

Indeed, the Opinion is so factually and legally inaccurate that one is left to wonder whether the Court of Appeals was determined to find for Appellee Sports, Inc., and then said whatever was necessary to reach that conclusion (regardless of whether the facts or the law supported its decision).
Because Wilkins signed a brief containing an intemperate criticism of the Indiana Court of Appeals panel, the Indiana Supreme Court, by 3-2 vote, has now suspended him from the practice of law for thirty days. Justice Theodore R. Boehm wrote a strong dissent, in which he compared the brief's language to Justice Scalia's withering criticism of his colleagues in his dissent to last June's Atkins v. Virginia decision.

Moral of the story: no matter how dumb you think a court's decision is (and some of them are pretty dumb), it's a bad idea to suggest, in a submission to a reviewing court, that the decision was motivated by something other than disinterested consideration of the law and the facts.

Strange Bedfellows

As further evidence that even bitter rivals can put aside hostility when there's money to be made, Dell Computer is now selling an Apple product in its online store. Or as the Mercury News puts it, "Dude, you're getting an iPod!"

Local Negatives

Negative advertising has shaken up two local races, one of which has national implications. In the race for the Seventh Congressional District, incumbent Julia Carson plunged her campaign into controversy when she walked out of a debate last night after excoriating challenger Brose McVey for the negative ads he and the National Republican Congressional Committee have been running against her. This maneuver has significant potential to backfire, I think. The ad that's recently been getting the most play criticizes Carson for opposing the Bush tax cut while failing to pay her taxes on time on a number of occasions. Both of these allegations are apparently true: Carson did vote against the 2001 tax cut (and of course not everyone will view that vote as a negative), and it appears that she was late in paying her property taxes from 1997 through 2001. The ad's sneering tone and unflattering imagery are objectionable, but they're par for the course in political advertising these days. Carson will appear tomorrow on a local call-in show; it will be very interesting to hear how her behavior in last night's debate is perceived.

Even more interesting is the latest twist in the race for Marion County Sheriff (Marion County's borders are coextensive with those of Indianapolis). Republican former sheriff Joe McAtee, who lost a nasty primary battle with Tom Schneider, now appears in an ad extolling the virtues of Democrat Frank Anderson and warning voters not to believe Schneider's negative ads against Anderson. The McAtee ad, while critical of Schneider, is more positive than negative; it's hard to imagine, though, that McAtee would have taken the step of so publicly supporting a Democratic candidate if not for the hostile ads Schneider ran against McAtee during the primariy campaign. The new ad looks like a serious blow to the Schneider campaign, which has already been battling various charges of campaign irregularities. In the years since Indianapolis incorporated most of the townships and cities in Marion County and the city and county governments became unified in 1970, the city-county government has largely been controlled by Republicans. But Democrat Bart Peterson was elected mayor in 2000; if a Democrat is elected sheriff (a position for which law-and-order Republicans would seem to have a natural advantage), it will mark a further dramatic step in the city's political realignment.

Wednesday, October 30

Left, Right, Up, Down

Picking up on a post by Jason Rylander about the inadequacy of describing political positions as either "left" or "right," Matthew Yglesias thoughtfully criticizes an alternative scheme that would place ideas and people along dual axes representing economic liberty and social liberty. Matthew suggests that this matrix represents "a question-begging formulation designed to convince everyone that they are (or should be) libertarians." From this provocative assertion, Matthew effectively demonstrates the analytical weakness of the matrix and concludes that such attempts to chart political positions are ultimately futile.

The Confirmation Process: A New Proposal

Howard Bashman also notes that the president has proposed a timetable for consideration of judicial nominees in an effort to break the confirmation deadlock (have I mentioned recently how indispensable a resource How Appealing is?). Briefly, the plan is this: judges who plan to retire should make their plans know a year before their intended retirement dates. The president would then nominate a replacement within 180 days of learning of the intended vacancy. Upon receiving the nomination, the Senate Judiciary Committee would hold a confirmation hearing within 90 days, and the full Senate would vote within 180 days. If everything went according to schedule, the replacement would be ready to be sworn in as soon as the retirement occurred.

The idealist in me thinks that, while the timetables might need minor adjustments, this plan represents, in the abstract, a fair way of approaching the confirmation process. The partisan in me wants to scream that one of the big reasons there are so many judicial vacancies now is that the Republican Senate blocked action on a substantial number of President Clinton's nominees from 1995 on. The Republican cries of a crisis in the judiciary ring hollow in light of the role that Republicans themselves played in creating the present situation. The realist in me says that the relationship between the administration and Senate Democrats is too badly poisoned for a plan like this to be accepted. If the Republicans retake control of the Senate in next week's elections, the plan will be unnecessary, as the new Senate leadership would move the president's nominations forward with dispatch; if the Democrats maintain control, their incentive to cooperate will be further diminished. And the political observer in me suspects that, if such a plan were somehow to take effect, the likely result would be a lot more nominations rejected by partisan vote—at least as long as the president continued to nominate sharply ideological candidates for judgeships.

Cancelled

Howard Bashman notes the mildly astonishing news that "Girls Club," the new show by David E. Kelley on Fox, has been cancelled after only two episodes. Although the show was critically panned (and, truth be told, was pretty bad), I'm sorry to see it go, for two reasons. First, based on the first two episodes, it promised to provide fodder for discussion in my Evidence class. Ludicrous as Kelley's shows often are, his courtroom scenes sometimes do a credible job (within the strict confines of a network television show, of course) of presenting evidentiary issues; I've been telling my class for several years now that they should play "spot the objection" while watching "The Practice," and "Girls Club" looked like it would present similar opportunities.

More generally, the first two episodes did a better job than any legal show I've seen of presenting the broad outlines of law firm life. Yes, there were liberties taken—the associates' offices were partner-sized and absurdly well-decorated, to name just one example. But the associate infighting, the tensions between partners and associates, the lugging of files around the hallways, the late-night hours, these were things that I recognized. Cage & Fish on "Ally McBeal," McKenzie, Brachman on "L.A. Law" (the show on which Kelley got his start as a writer), those were fantasy worlds; this had at least some of the feel of a large big-city firm.

And lest anyone think that the partner-associate interactions depicted in the show represented exaggerations, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick has a spot-on analysis of the memorandum by associates at Clifford Chance, attacking that firm's culture, that's been causing such a stir this week.

Tuesday, October 29

Yikes

Like other users of Blogger and Blogspot, I've been thoroughly disgusted with the many problems those services have been having recently. And, as a paying customer of Blogger Pro and ad-free Blogspot, I feel I have a right to complain. But every time I start to get serious about switching to Movable Type, I see something like this.

It's not really that bad, is it?

It's Alive!

Jeff Sackmann has revived The Confidence Man, his education-oriented blog, after a four-month hiatus. I've returned him to his regular place in the blogroll. Welcome back, Jeff.

Update: Michael Pine's Off the Pine is back, too.

Heading for the Election

Armed Liberal yesterday began a weeklong series on political issues leading up to the election. His first target: California's Proposition 51, which, as I understand it, would remove substantial sums from the state's general fund and commit them to various specific projects. Not coincidentally, the biggest financial supporters of the initiative are entities that would themselves receive substantial financial benefits if the initiative passes. As A.L. notes, even if the individual projects have merit (an uncertain proposition), this is a terrible way to make spending decisions.

Proposition 51 is a pretty easy target (as A.L. acknowledges, calling it "low-hanging fruit"). But it seems a good place to start. I look forward to the rest of the series.

Monday, October 28

Links of Disapproval

Laurence Simon, meet James Lileks.

Simon doesn't particularly like my post below in which, in response to his posts following the death of Paul Wellstone, I announced my decision to drop him from my blogroll. Not surprising, I suppose. But, curiously, he focuses mostly on wondering why I would link to his blog in a post announcing that I was dropping my link to him. It's simple, really. I found Simon's comments about Wellstone sufficiently offensive and unpalatable (words Simon seems to prefer to "tasteless") that I thought them worthy of public criticism, not just of the silent disapproval shown by removing a link. Because I characterized Simon's words in my post, I felt a responsibility to provide a link so that readers who might wonder if I was being unfair could judge for themselves. If that meant a temporary (small) uptick in Simon's traffic, so be it—I'd hope that most readers would find his comments as repellant as I did and resolve henceforth to ignore him.

As for exactly why Simon's comments are repellant, today's Bleat (from someone who thoroughly disliked Wellstone's politics) provides a better explanation than I could.

Puppies and Small Children

With a week left in this fall's campaign, we've entered the silly season of political advertising. It's to the point where I'm almost afraid to turn on the television.

Political advertising almost always fits into one of two paradigms. First, the negative: the target is shown in a grainy, badly lit, unflattering photo as ominous music sounds in the background and a voiceover recounts the target's misdeeds (usually suggesting that the target has acted out of venality—the target isn’t just misguided; she or he is corrupt). The message is painted in bold strokes; it is never complete, and it is frequently misleading. But that doesn't matter. The words, music, and visuals combine to create an air of menace, and to associate that menace with the target. The ads seek an emotional response, not a reasoned one.

Most people decry negative advertising, of course, and for good reason—while there is nothing inherently wrong with pointing out a candidate’s positions or votes and suggesting that they are ill-considered, the actual presentation of most negative ads is so cynical as to invite scorn from all but the most naïve viewers. For this reason, most politicians profess a desire to run a clean, positive campaign.

The problem is, the positive ads are little better. Consider the advertisements currently being run by Julia Carson, the incumbent in the Indiana Seventh Congressional District. Rep. Carson is running two ads in heavy rotation. The first, in which a number of veterans express gratitude for Carson’s efforts on their behalf, isn’t bad. Even if the particular issue toward which she directed her efforts (a bill to exonerate the captain of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, a Navy cruiser that was sunk by the Japanese in 1945) isn't directly pertinent to the lives of most Hoosiers, the ad says something about Carson's concern for veterans that many voters would not already have known. The second, though, is nearly worthless. It features a number of Indianapolis residents talking about how much Carson cares; it concludes with Carson looking into the camera, expressing her love for Indianapolis. To my mind, that is a necessary, but nowhere near sufficient, qualification for representing the district.

Not to take this out on Rep. Carson. In many ways, she's just following the model set by her 1998 opponent, Gary Hofmeister, who campaigned on a platform of "Faith, Family, and Freedom." In Hofmeister's ads, his voiceover extolled the virtues of, in turn, faith, family, and freedom, over dewy, soft-focused visuals of Hofmeister with a grandchild, accompanied by heartwarmingly tinkly piano music. As if Hofmeister's love of faith, family, and freedom were a reason to vote for him. As if Julia Carson somehow opposed faith, family, and freedom.

The biggest problem with these ads, though, isn't just the treacly, clichéd imagery; it's that they combine that imagery with a focus on ends, not means. The current ad for State Rep. Jim Atterholt, who is locked in a fascinating race in the Indiana 86th District (about which I'll write more later this week) demonstrates the weakness of the genre. It opens, predictably, with a shot of Atterholt's three young sons, then pulls back to show Atterholt with his wife. As the images shift to depictions of Atterholt with constituents in a number of settings, Atterholt's voiceover emphasizes his belief in low taxes, good jobs, and good education, without mentioning how these ends are to be achieved—indeed, without mentioning Atterholt's votes against a number of bills designed to strengthen Indiana's public education system. Atterholt's opponent, David Orentlicher, believes in low taxes, good jobs, and good education, too. But the two candidates have very different ideas about how these ends are best achieved, And Atterholt's ad says nothing at all about the particular policy choices that he would pursue to achieve the mutually desired ends.

In substance, Atterholt's ad, like so much of what passes for "positive" advertising, is basically just a personal ad with good production values. At its core, it amounts to little more than this:

MWM seeks LTR with constituents. Dislikes taxes. Loves jobs, education, puppies, and small children.

I'm sorry, but that's not an adequate basis for choosing a representative.

Sunday, October 27

Wine of the Week
Chateau des Deduits Fleurie 2000

When I was a teenager, I would occasionally be allowed a small glass of wine with dinner at special events. It was usually French, and I usually liked it well enough, but beyond that I didn't pay much attention. I knew there was something called Bordeaux, I knew that there was something called Burgundy (and that California Burgundy didn't really count), I knew there was something called Beaujolais, and that was about it. But when I reached legal drinking age in Massachusetts, this knowledge proved to be of limited value when confronting restaurant wine lists. I discovered, to my dismay, that there weren't very many wines that were listed as "Bordeaux" or "Burgundy" (except, sometimes, for those California fakes). But there were wines labeled "Beaujolais." So that's what I usually bought. And in 1984-85, with the excellent 1983 Beaujolais on the market, that was generally a safe choice. I quickly discovered, a bit later, that 1984 was a terrible year for Beaujolais (as for most of the rest of France, I found out much later), but that vintage was followed by the excellent 1985, so once again I was safe.

When I first became more than casually interested in wine in late 1990, I quickly discovered that there was more to Beaujolais than Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, and Beaujolais Nouveau; there were also a number of individual villages within the Beaujolais region: Julienas, St.-Amour, Chenas, Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, and Regnie. All of these wines are made from the gamay grape. Gamay is in many ways the poor cousin of pinot noir, the red grape of the regions of Burgundy to Beaujolais' north. Gamay has a similar flavor profile to pinot noir, but lacks the latter's subtlety and complexity, its close-to-the-edge overripe character. Gamay also isn't particularly age-worthy, with the exception of a few high-quality bottlings of Moulin-a-Vent and Morgon. I've had a few bottles of seven-to-eight year old Moulin-a-Vent that could have passed for decent (if unspectacular) pinot noir. But most Beaujolais should be drunk in the first couple of years after bottling.

The 2000 Chateau des Deduits Fleurie (distributed by King of Beaujolais Georges Duboeuf) is an excellent example of a Beaujolais with some unfulfilled ambition to be a bit more. The aromas are sweet and ripe, with strawberry, cherry, and faint bubblegum notes. The wine exhibits good roundness, with bright, forward cherry, strawberry, and raspberry flavors over a light, soft tannic structure, and faint hints of spice in the midpalate. It's a nice wine for chicken and light dishes; it won't do particularly well with heavy beef dishes or with tomato sauces. But it's very pleasant.

Rally

Until last night, I'd seen very little of this year's World Series, which is a shame, because it's been a great one. Each team has had one blow-out victory, but otherwise it's been a series of taut one-run games, marked by absurd rallies and shifts of momentum. And no rally was more absurd than last night's by the Angels, who, down by five and eight outs from defeat, put together six runs over the course of two innings to storm by the Giants and force tonight's Game Seven.

This game didn't have a signature moment, like Carlton Fisk's game six home run in 1975 or Mookie Wilson's game six ground ball through Bill Buckner's legs in 1986. But the game nevertheless will enter into game six lore, marking the first time a team facing elimination has overcome a five-run deficit. It's hard to see how the Giants can overcome a collapse like last night's. But these teams are so evenly matched, and this series has had so many wild swings, that just about anything can happen. This was a very uneven and tumultuous baseball season, but it's coming to a marvelous end.