As you may have heard, the senior year of high school has become an insane ritual in which students are asked to express the essence of their being in 500 words or less, have their intelligence summarized by one four-digit number and one two-digit decimal, and wait anxiously for four months to find out what the end result is going to be. Well, that waiting period ended for me today. I applied to five schools (Harvard, Princeton, Chicago, Swarthmore, and Michigan), got rejected from two (Princeton and Swarthmore) and admitted to three (Harvard, Chicago, and Michigan), and just accepted the admissions offer of one this afternoon (Harvard). I was lucky enough to find five places that I knew I’d be happy at, and so even if I only got into one I would have been fine. But for all Chicago’s dorky charms, Harvard won out in the end. All the research on the matter suggests that none of this really has any bearing on my success in life, but nonetheless this represents the end of one of the more stressful periods in my life, and for that I’m thankful.
P.S. Princeton sucks.

Change Congress

Note: This post is a part of Ned Reskinoff’s Blogrolling for Change campaign. If you own a website or blog, write something explaining your support for Change Congress and contact Ned. He’ll add you to a account compiling posts supporting Change Congress.
Earlier this year, it looked like Larry Lessig was going to run for Congress. There was a special election in Silicon Valley, a potent draft movement, and he even started an exploratory committee. But Larry declined. Being the kind of humble activist he is, he decided that the best way to make good on his promise to change his focus from making copyright law more sane to ending political corruption was not to run for Congress himself, but to create a larger movement mobilizing many other activists to press for a cleaner politics. What does he mean by “clean politics”? Four things:

  • Candidates should not accept contributions from registered lobbyists or PACs.
  • Candidates should support the abolition of “earmarks.”
  • Candidates should support reform to increase transparency in Congress.
  • Candidates should support public financing of public elections.
    Why these four? I’ll let Larry explain. This Powerpoint is long, but it’s worth every second:
    I find Lessig’s concluding message incredibly compelling. No, ending corruption won’t get us universal health care. No, ending corruption won’t get a cap-and-trade system implemented. And no, ending corruption won’t get us out of Iraq. But ending corruption makes building the coalitions to accomplish those goals a whole lot easier. It means that stopping global warming doesn’t have to entail trench warfare against Big Oil and Big Coal. It means that passing a universal health care system doesn’t have to entail month-long fights against insurance and pharmaceutical companies. It means that the military-industrial complex has a lot less power to send us to war.
    But the power of Change Congress goes beyond that. It won’t ensure that progressive policy goals will be enacted. Bad policies will still get to the president’s desk, and they’ll still do damage. But they’ll be passed for the right reason. Consumer-driven, HSA-based health care reform could still be passed, but it’d be passed because the majority of the peoples’ representatives in Congress think it’s the best policy, not because an insurance executive who likes it funneled $500,000 to the relevant committee chair. I’d be much happier with a system in which policies, good and bad, are enacted on the basis of their merits, not the financial powers backing them. Change Congress brings us closer to that system.
    In the middle of the right panel of this site, you’ll see a little “Change Congress” tag with four stars on the bottom of it. Those four stars mean that I support all four planks of the Change Congress movement. You should too. Visit the site, join the mailing list, and sign the pledge. It won’t solve everything, but it’ll make the way our government solves things more honest.

    Blogrolling for Change

  • Indictable You

    I had my problems with The Wire‘s writing staff’s argument for jury nullification in drug cases, but I still have to conclude, as I did a few weeks ago, that I’d vote to acquit if called for jury duty on charges of possession or distribution, and that you ought to as well. According to an anonymous Texas prosecutor, this makes me a criminal (h/t Balko):

    The writers of The Wire, in advocating the actions that they have, are essentially promoting the commission of a crime. Had they made the statements contained in the Time magazine article in Texas, then they would almost certainly be guilty of aggravated perjury. Outrageous, no? How dare I suggest that the exercise of their First Amendment rights could possibly constitute a crime? Pretty easily, actually. Just look at the law.
    Perjury and aggravated perjury are defined as follows:

    P.C. 37.02 Perjury
    (a) A person commits an offense if, with intent to deceive and with knowledge of the statement’s meaning:
    (1) he makes a false statement under oath or swears to the truth of a false statement previously made and the statement is required or authorized by law to be made under oath
    P.C. 37.03 Aggravated Perjury
    (a) A person commits an offense if he commits perjury as defined in Section 37.02, and the false statement:
    (1) is made during or in connection with an official proceeding; and
    (2) is material.
    (b) An offense under this section is a felony of the third degree.

    The writers of The Wire are telling their readers to premeditatedly violate this statute. By taking the juror’s oath, a juror who plans on engaging in jury nullification is making a false statement under oath, and the statement could hardly be more material to the proceeding! The elements of perjury are thus met. The violation is even more egregious since it is planned out in advance. The jurors enter the courtroom having already formed the intent to commit jury nullification in narcotics cases, regardless of the evidence (”save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended violence are alleged” of course, according to the sanctimonious and high-minded drivel put out in the article). Since it is premeditated, the jurors’ oath is false at the moment the jury nullification juror is taking it.
    So how are The Wire writers guilty? Texas law further provides:

    (a) A person is criminally responsible for an offense committed by the conduct of another if:
    (2) acting with intent to promote or assist the commission of the offense, he solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person to commit the offense

    The Wire writers are, to put it bluntly, encouraging and directing their readers to break the law. And, let’s face it, that’s exactly what jury nullification is: Breaking the law. Not to mention breaking your oath, lying, and a host of other things your mother probably told you not to do.

    You know what, anonymous Texas prosecutor man? Bring it on. I hereby invite you to ask a grand jury in Texas to indict me, Dylan Robert Matthews, on charges of aggravated perjury by proxy. I’m pretty sure that no one has actually taken my advice yet, and so it’s unclear to me how the sections of the Texas criminal code you cite apply, but then again I’m also confident that the writing of David Simon et al. hasn’t lead to any nullifications, attempted or successful, and you seem pretty confident that they’re guilty. Your evidence’s right here. I’d be happy to provide you with proof that I’m responsible for the contents of this blog. It’d be well worth it just to see the ACLU and company pwn your anti-First Amendment ass. See you in Texas.

    Casey Endorses

    This is good news indeed. Casey, by virtue of his family name alone, is a powerhouse in PA politics; you’d have to be to boot an incumbent Senator by a 60-40 margin. What’s more, he draws his appeal from the same group of voters (blue-collar whites) that Obama’s had the most trouble with. This, combined with the dispatching of Paul Tewes to the state, may just give Obama a fighting chance there.
    That all being said, no. Just no:

    Is it just me, or are there crazier vice presidential picks than Bob Casey? He may not be a star in the Senate, as Eve points out. But he’s popular with the people Obama is weakest among, and who, if Obama were the nominee, would be at greatest risk of defecting to McCain. (Also, don’t confuse inside-the-beltway reviews with home-state appeal.)
    Pennsylvania defections are a real concern for Obama given how close the state’s been in recent elections. It’s a state that, under any conventional electoral map, the Democratic nominee has to carry. I’d bet the idea of putting Casey on the ticket has come up in Obamaland in recent days.

    I was really worried that Noam wouldn’t realize how dumb this is until the end of his post, where he notes:

    One obvious hitch: The pro-choice groups would probably go nuts since Casey opposes abortion.

    Gee, ya don’t say? Look, I’ll vote for Obama in November regardless. But I’d really have to hold my nose if Bob freakin’ Casey’s on the ticket. There is a practically infinite pool of pro-choice pols and former cabinet members to choose from for the Veep slot. A Democratic nominee must have a really, really good reason to choose an anti-choice one. There are circumstances where such a reason exists; Tim Roemer has enough national security cred and Obama loyalty to offset his retrograde social views. But Bob Casey Jr. is famous for two things: being an anti-choice Dem, and being the son of the single most noxious anti-choice Dem to ever hold elected office. Anti-choice Democrats are rare enough that they need to demonstrate, if they want to hold major office, that (a) they aren’t going to actively advocate against women’s reproductive rights and (b) are substantially better than most Democrats in another policy arena. Casey has done neither of those things; indeed, he’s specifically called for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and voted for Roberts and Alito’s confirmations. I don’t just want the next administration to appoint pro-Roe justices; I want it to appoint anti-Casey ones, something that the son of Casey is unlikely to work toward. It took me a lot to support Casey in his 2006 Senate race. It”’ take a lot more for me to be willing to let him within 500 feet of the Naval Observatory.

    Mea Not-So Culpa

    Wow, the fact that some people got the Iraq war right and she didn’t really seems to make Megan McArdle angry:

    Something else to keep in mind is that unless you are planning to die soon, you are going to get some major policy question badly wrong in the future, because no one is as smart as some of the war opponents have decided they must be. And every word that you type mocking the repentant supporters of the war will, I guarantee, be hauled up and thrown in your face. It is best not to fling calumny about other peoples’ decisions unless you are very confident that you will be able to bat a thousand for the next forty years or so.

    No, Megan, a lot of people are as smart as those of us who opposed the war have concluded we are. I’m pretty sure no war opponent is confident that they’ll get every major policy question in the foreseeable future right, or even every major foreign policy question. But not all policy questions are made equal. Some are difficult; deciding whether to send troops to Somalia in 1992, and leave open the possibility of serious casualties, or to not send them, and leave a humanitarian catastrophe unchanged, was a really tough call for the Bush and Clinton administration. Deciding whether to order surgical air-strikes or a blockade against Cuba in 1962 was a really tough call for the Kennedy administration.
    But some things aren’t tough calls. Some policy questions are really, truly easy. As much as this upsets war supporters like McArdle, deciding whether to invade Iraq in 2002 and 2003 was a very easy call, about as easy as deciding whether to invade Zimbabwe this year. Iraq had no relevance to our mission against al-Qaeda, its WMD program wouldn’t have posed a truly significant threat even if it had existed, its military was crippled since the 1991 war, and anyone who thought that trusting the Bush administration to unilaterally invade and occupy a 25 million person country would have positive humanitarian after-effects must have been truly delusional. It didn’t take a lot to be smart enough in 2002/2003 to reject the march to war. All it took was a rudimentary ability to reason and a basic ability to resist the conventional wisdom.
    This isn’t to say that nothing war supporters have to say is valuable. Indeed, most of the bloggers whose opinions I read and value supported the invasion. But these bloggers all recognize that getting Iraq wrong was not an isolated mistake. They didn’t respond like McArdle does, throwing up her arms and saying “guess I missed that one”; they did things like write books completely re-evaluating their first principles about foreign policy. McArdle’s problem isn’t her support for the war. It’s her refusal to acknowledge the gravity of that mistake.

    In Which Clinton Supporters Descend Further Into Self-Parody

    Shorter zuzu: “Acknowledging the mathematical fact that it is virtually impossible for Hillary Clinton to win the nomination without some serious bending of the rules is proof that one is secretly a misogynist.” No, seriously, read her post, that’s what she says. Funny thing is, I’ve not once read a black writer accuse Hillary supporters of latent racism. But it couldn’t just be that one of these campaigns is far more shameless in pushing self-victimization memes. No, not at all.

    Worst Films Ever

    This from Joe Queenan, via Megan McArdle, seems wrong:

    To qualify as one of the worst films of all time, several strict requirements must be met. For starters, a truly awful movie must have started out with some expectation of not being awful. That is why making a horrific, cheapo motion picture that stars Hilton or Jessica Simpson is not really much of an accomplishment. Did anyone seriously expect a film called The Hottie and The Nottie not to suck? Two, an authentically bad movie has to be famous; it can’t simply be an obscure student film about a boy who eats live rodents to impress dead girls. Three, the film cannot be a deliberate attempt to make the worst movie ever, as this is cheating. Four, the film must feature real movie stars, not jocks, bozos, has-beens or fleetingly famous media fabrications like Hilton. Five, the film must generate a negative buzz long before it reaches cinemas; like the Black Plague or the Mongol invasions, it must be an impending disaster of which there has been abundant advance warning; it cannot simply appear out of nowhere. And it must, upon release, answer the question: could it possibly be as bad as everyone says it is? This is what separates Waterworld, a financial disaster but not an uncompromisingly dreadful film, and Ishtar, which has one or two amusing moments, from The Postman, Gigli and Heaven’s Gate, all of which are bona fide nightmares.
    Six, to qualify as one of the worst movies ever made, a motion picture must induce a sense of dread in those who have seen it, a fear that they may one day be forced to watch the film again – and again – and again.

    Like all good and decent MST3K fans, I consider the worst film ever made to be “Manos” The Hands of Fate, which violates four of these six rules. It started out with an expectation of being awful; its star/producer/writer/director had never performed any of those roles in a film before, and indeed made the movie because a friend bet him he could not successfully complete a film. The literal title is “Hands” The Hands of Fate, for God’s sake. It was completely obscure until MST3K mocked it in 1993, and it sure as hell didn’t feature real movie stars. Finally, it did not generate negative buzz long before it reached cinemas, as it barely reached cinemas, period. So on most of Queenan’s criteria, it fails. And yet I defy anyone who’s seen it – even in MST3K form – to tell me it isn’t the worst film ever made. It just has to be. If it’s humanly possible to make a film more inept, more excruciatingly painful than “Manos”, then the world is a far darker place than I’d imagined.


    hilzoy summarizes the significance of this morbid milestone most elegantly. It’s a testament to the grievousness of the crime committed on March 19, 2003 that this isn’t even the worst of the damage done. As awful as these deaths are, they pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands, even millions of Iraqi civilians killed, civilians who never walked into a recruitment office, who never signed an enlistment contract, who never volunteered to risk their lives. They didn’t sign on for any of this: not Hussein’s dictatorship, not the UN sanctions, not the invasion, and most definitely not the occupation and ensuing chaos. I won’t even begin to speculate on the number of lives that could have been saved through a better appropriation of the trillions of dollars wasted in this effort.
    In remembering the 4,000 now lost, it’s imperative to note that they didn’t perish by accident. They perished as part of a crime, as part of one of the most brutal wars of aggression in recent memory. They perished because Bush, Cheney, their cabinet and their NSC saw 9/11 not as a tragedy but as an opportunity, an opportunity for conquest. They perished because “liberal” public intellectuals like Tom Friedman and Ken Pollack and Democratic traitors like Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt and, yes, Hillary Clinton checked their principles at the door and cheered on the crime for the sake of professional and political advancement. They perished because the media, from Judy Miller to FOX News to every embedded reporter shipped out to Kuwait, gave the invasion its thumbs-up and tried its damndest to help it happen. They perished because the American establishment let them perish. Nearly every man or woman in a place of power in America wanted our troops in a place where they could get killed easily. Not because they wanted those troops dead, but because they didn’t care enough to stop them from dying.
    This happened for a reason, a reason that still holds seats in Congress and posts in the DoD and cubicles in newsrooms, not to mention the presidency. This happened for a reason that we’ve yet to expel from power, that we’ve yet to truly battle. The 4,000 mark should be a time for mourning but also a call to arms. The people who killed those 4,000 not only haven’t been brought to justice, they’ve still got the guns with which they did the deed. We may never get these troops the justice they deserve, but the least we can do is confiscate the weaponry that killed them.
    P.S. And guess which candidate has the foreign policy team and the foreign policy outlook necessary to confiscate that weaponry? Spencer Ackerman explains, in probably the best reported piece on the campaign I’ve read in a long time.

    Decriminalization and Legalization

    Following in the footsteps of decriminalization supporters Chris Dodd and Barack Obama, Barney Frank is set to introduce a bill federally decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. He’s selling it as a way to focus on real crimes (you know, the ones that actually hurt people and stuff), and is saying he’ll call it the “Make Room for Serious Criminals” bill.
    That’s the right case to make, and it’s really encouraging that the presumptive nominee of and two major legislative leaders in the Democratic Party are so progressive on such a touchy subject, particularly considering Obama’s personal history with the issue. But this really doesn’t go far enough. As Ned says, there is a “lack of a single coherent argument against decriminalization”. Pot, especially in comparison to legal substances like cigarettes and alcohol, just isn’t that dangerous; it’s humanly impossible to overdose on, it doesn’t cause lung cancer, and it isn’t addictive in a substantive way (it is “psychologically addictive”, but then again so are Werther’s Originals). Does it seriously alter one’s mental state? Of course; there wouldn’t be a market for it if it didn’t. Is it anywhere near as dangerous as alcohol or tobacco? Not even close.
    So while decriminalization is a good first step, outright legalization has to be the goal. Think the opening scene of Layer Cake; I want boxes of spliffs next to Newports and Marlboros behind store counters, vaporizers stocked in pharmacy aisles, and dimebags available in state liquor stores. Taxation and regulation would be in order, of course; even I don’t want people under, say, sixteen toking up, or for it to be legal to smoke and drive. The revenue potential is significant; I think Vermont’s budget could probably be supported by a pot tax alone within a couple years. Decriminalization is good, of course, but it still leaves growers, dealers, and large users on the hook when they aren’t really causing any social harm. It would make a dent in the prison population, but many would still remain incarcerated because of marijuana prohibition. And most importantly, it keeps the pot trade underground, not in the hands of the good people at Altria and RJ Reynolds, where it belongs.
    Kudos to Barney Frank; he’s right on the merits and doing what’s politically feasible at this point. But decriminalization does not have nearly as great the social benefits of outright legalization, and its moderation, as a pure policy matter, isn’t really justifiable. Even if the “Make Room for Serious Criminals” bill passes, there’ll be work left to be done.