Roller Derby? But Why?
Thursday, May 09, 2013
I couldn't tell you exactly when I became aware of roller derby. Sure, I'd heard of those old sport in the 1970's. I had a coworker at my last job who was a member of the team, but she didn't push it on people and I think it was a while before I heard about it. We saw Whip It on video and thought it was cute, but although it's possible that movie was the proximate cause it surely wasn't the ultimate one. The fact is that I was looking for something new to do with my time. I had also drifted away from watching basketball, and was intrigued at the idea of getting Dr. Brazen Hussy to go to a sporting event with me. I figured - hey, it's a women's
sport - totally different from the others. There aren't any balls (in either sense)! And it's small, local stuff, rather than some big expensive corporate-owned activity played by juvenile seven-foot-tall millionaires.
So we started going to derby events at the local team. It was tremendous fun, and I immediately became a fan of the sport. It wasn't quite like anything I'd ever seen before. Constant motion, athletes expected to play offense and defense at the same time, and yes, I'll admit it, tough sweaty girls beating the crap out of each other. Plus there was booze. What wasn't to like?
Like I suspect a lot of male derby fans, I teased my not very athletic wife about getting involved with derby. I don't think I made too big a deal of it at first. When we moved to our new town, we immediately went looking for another derby team. It took a while to learn that there were two. The first team was clearly newer and less experienced than our old home team. Then while working out at the gym we noticed a bunch of very capable-looking derby girls practicing at the skating rink - people we didn't recognize! We began attending their home games (most of them, I think) and quickly became screaming gin-soaked fans sitting in suicide seating. I loved every minute of it, not least of it because BH was just as into it as I was. And I started pushing her a little harder to get involved, not just because I thought it would be neat but because I was sure she would enjoy it.
It was near the tail end of that season - maybe the last game- that BH finally emailed the team asking how to get involved. Not as a skater, but as a referee. I was thrilled of course. I was looking forward to several years of watching my wife send skaters to the penalty box while I continued to sit on the sidelines and cheer. It was going to be her thing, and I would have mine - writing, politics, whatever. Plus I'd go work out while she was at practice, because very conveniently they happened in the same place.
A perfectly reasonable plan that wound up being perfectly wrong.
Next time: How Roller Derby Ate My Life.
Why My Blog Has Gotten Very Quiet
Monday, May 06, 2013
Years ago in New York City, a much younger Arbitrista (then under a different pseudonym) started a blog. The principal purpose of this blog was to give me an outlet to vent about contemporary politics, and to have a venue for sketching out some of my own (often esoteric) thoughts on American political life. At the time I was deeply involved in local politics and kept a close eye on national trends, and I needed someplace to get it all out.
Time passed. The party controlling the White House has changed, and the congressional majority has changed twice. I'm still frustrated by national politics, although it's streaked with more than a little fatalism. I finished my dissertation, switched fields, and watched political science's presence in higher-quality media grow considerably. I wrote a first draft of a novel, took up the piano, and moved twice. I worked in local campaigns and learned a lot about politics and myself. And in all that time I've tried with varying success to keep this blog going.
I'm much less engaged in politics than I was a decade ago. I still care every bit as much, but my horizons have steadily lowered from national events to local ones, and now I find myself being very, very picky about what campaigns I choose to involve myself in. There are a few reasons, I think. I'm approaching 40 years old and just don't enjoy knocking on doors as much, nor am I all that effective at it any longer (middle aged white men at the door is usually bad news). I've also become quite weary with the stereotypical, wrongheaded approach of most politicos to campaigning: an allergy to substance, an emphasis on personal characteristics, a fear of taking a stand on anything. It's hard to watch good candidates get led astray by bad advice, but they seem very vulnerable to it. The other main set of reasons is that my job has a very strong policy element to it, which means that it's riskier than ever for me to vent in public about political affairs. Freedom of speech is sadly restricted to those with the resources to make it feasible.
So I've drawn back from politics and worked hard to develop some of those interests I'd let moulder most of my life while I pursued my political dreams. I've always loved music, and have finally started taking piano lessons. I've always loved writing, and have tried my best to learn that craft as well. I've put more emphasis on my professional career, since I'm now involved in things that I think are inherently meaningful.
But to be perfectly honest, more than anything else what's changed in my life is that it's been eaten by roller derby. It's a weird story with a lot of twists and turns that I'll try to lay out as best I can in a future post. The short version is that I think on balance it's a good thing, but it also means that if it continues this blog is probably going to be a lot more scattered, more personal, and have a lot more to do with girls on skates hitting each other.
Nixon: Even more evil than you thought.
Monday, March 18, 2013
Tapes from the LBJ administration indicate that during the 1968 presidential race, Richard Nixon sabotaged peace negotiations to end the Vietnam War
, because Nixon feared that the news would hurt his campaign. 22,000 more Americans died in Vietnam after November of 1968. 22,000.
Chief Justice Roberts Sticks His Foot In His Mouth
Saturday, March 02, 2013
John Roberts claimed in oral arguments that Massachusetts registers and turns out the lowest proportion of its black voters of any state. Which would be a fascinating statistic if it were true
. Unfortunately a lot of back-of-the-envelope calculations relying on the Current Population Survey get into this sort of trouble. I just wish Roberts would talk to trained social scientists before spouting off about this sort of thing.
Roberts' screwup reminds me of irresistible habit that people who are successful or knowledgeable in one sphere of life have of thinking that they're experts on everything, or that that the specialists in another field are just dumb. But I also want to point out that Roberts' gaffe underscores that many esteemed federal judges really aren't all that smart. I realized this when I read Supreme Court decisions in graduate school and was distinctly underwhelmed. It was incredibly obvious that they were reaching for any convenient justification they could find to support their pre-existing opinions.
So Funny I Can't Decide Whether to Laugh or Cry
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Evidently Chief Justice John Roberts thinks that white southerners are no more racist than white northerners
A big part of me wants to have a temper tantrum, and then write a long, involved screed detailing my own experiences with racism in Dixie. Like, for example, my high school debate partner, whose family eerily resembled the Huxtables
, getting pulled over for driving his parent's car.
But instead I'll play it straight and outsource to John Sides to demonstrate the empirical evidence: yes, white Southerners are much more likely to be racists
. Anyone who doesn't think so is either lying to you, themselves, or both.
Sorry, but there really is a difference between the 2 parties
Sunday, January 06, 2013
So why is it that Democrats always, always, always nominate Republicans for Secretary of Defense? Republicans never do the reverse. Since 1997, Democrats have held the office for like 2 years.
Republicans Against The Republic
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Look, if attempting to suppress the vote of minorities or deregulating campaign finance wasn't enough to convince somebody, probably nothing will, but the plan to gerrymander the electoral college in favor of the Republican
s is one of the most loathsome proposals I can imagine.
In 4 states - Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Virginia - the Republicans control all both the state legislature and the governor's mansion. These are also states carried by Democrats in the last election (and for all but the latter, in every presidential election for the last twenty years). In those states, AND THOSE STATES ONLY, the Republican-controlled state governments are considering proposals to alter their method of allocating electoral college votes. Two different methods have been proposed: the terrible awful no-good Maine-Nebraska system, and the theoretically fine if every state were doing it proportional system.
The Maine-Nebraska plan (cause those states use it now) would give a presidential candidate one electoral college vote for each congressional district in the state that they won, and an additional two votes for winning the popular vote for the entire state. To the uninitiated this seems more fair than the present winner-take-all system, in which a candidate can get 50% of the vote in the state but receives 100% of the electoral college votes. This system is a non-starter though, because of the gerrymandering of congressional districts. In many states there is a pretty outrageous skew for the Republicans, in part because Democratic voters tend to be clustered in cities, but more importantly because district lines have been drawn to pack as many Democratic voters into as few a districts as possible. In some states Democratic candidates would have win the statewide popular vote and actually receive FEWER electoral college votes than the Republican. If this plan had been in existence in 1976, Jimmy Carter - who won the national popular vote by 2%, would have lost the electoral college to Gerald Ford. Not that this would have bothered Republicans any more than Bush receiving fewer votes that Gore and still becoming President did, but that's another story. So Maine-Nebraska plan: BAD BAD BAD.
The second plan is reasonable enough in principle: if a candidate gets 55% of the state's popular vote, he/she gets roughly 55% of the state's electoral college vote. Bang, no more winner-take-all feature in the electoral college. That's fair right? Well, sort of. While I've seriously considered this idea before, my chief reservation is that it still leaves the electoral college biased towards one of the parties. Right now smaller rural states get more votes than their population warrants, because the number of electoral college votes is based on the number of House and Senate seats the state has. Since every state gets 2 Senators, there's a systematic bias in which votes in small states are worth more than votes in large ones, which violates the principle of political equality. Now in principle I'd be willing to give this plan a try, but only if every state did it.
Which brings us to what's so fiendish about what Republicans are doing. Rather than pushing for a constitutional amendment, or a conditional proposal that would take effect only if every other state did it (like the National Popular Vote people are doing), the Republicans are only trying to put it into place in states where is screws Democratic candidates. They WANT there to be a system in which Democratic candidates are systematically disadvantaged, and that would INCREASE the chances that a Republican could win the presidency while losing the national vote, or that a Republican could carry more electoral college votes in a state even though the Democrat received more votes.
This is unprincipled political gamesmanship of the worst kind, but it reveals something pretty damning about the modern Republican party. A lot of them are concerned that demographic trends are going to make it very difficult in the future for conservative Republican candidates to win national elections. Rather than modify their positions so they can appeal to more people - as every other party has done in similar situations in the history of the country (except for post-civil war southerners, cough cough), they attempt to reduce the political weight that constituencies that don't support them. They are willing to say "you, over there, your influence in the political system, your chance to be represented in government, should be less than mine."
This isn't just an attack on the Democratic Party. This is an attack on democracy itself. The key political principle of the republic is one that every person's vote should count be counted equally, that no person because of their race, income, gender, or whatever should ever be reduced to a 2nd-class citizen - because that is precisely what you're doing when you attempt to stop a while class of people from voting.
What they're doing is repugnant, but it's not really a surprise. Reducing the political weight of minorities is now a basic conservative strategy. Conservatives tried to make it more difficult for minorities to vote in the 2008 election, and conservatives cheered when a conservative Supreme Court decided that those with more money should have greater access to political speech (in the Citizens United decision). If the vote of blacks and latino is reduced to say, 3/5 of that of a white person, or blocked entirely - well there's plenty of precedent for that for a conservative, white nationalist, southern-based political party, isn't there?