The Right Coast

October 31, 2003
 
While the Supreme Court is at it
By Tom Smith

We may have to get rid of our national anthem (adopted in 1931) as well as the Pledge. What, you don't know the fourth verse?

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation,
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n - rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserved us a nation.

Then conquer we must, for our cause is just,
And this be our motto--"In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.


Hat tip to anti-idolitarian rottweiler for the reminder.


 
Problems with the Political Compass Test
By Michael Rappaport

A growing number of bloggers have taken the political compass test. Larry Solum collects the results, while Brian Leiter bemoans that so many (legal) bloggers are right wing.

As should be pretty obvious to anyone who takes it, the test is problematic. It is not at all clear what it is measuring. Brian Weatherspoon says that one problem is that extreme positions balance out. Another problem though is the ambiguity of the questions.

Consider the first question: “If economic globalisation is inevitable, it should primarily serve humanity rather than the interests of trans-national corporations.” Do you strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree?

Given my views about the world, I could justify giving each answer. First, the question assumes that there is an opposition between humanity and transnational corporations. If one accepts that assumption and one must choose between these two groups, I would certainly choose humanity. So I might strongly agree.

But, of course, the question really seems to be saying two things: 1) There is an inevitable and important opposition between the interests of transnational corporations and humanity, and 2) We should prefer humanity. In my view, 1 is mistaken. It is an important truth that in a functioning market, transnational corporations can serve the interests of humanity. Yet, I might still agree with 2 as to cases where there is an opposition. So I might answer either agree or disagree.

Finally, one might simply interpret the statement as expressing the world view of the typical person who says this type of thing. If one understands the statement in this way, then I would strongly disagree with it.

So how should I answer? I think I said I disagree with the statement, but I wonder if I would answer it the same way the next time, or how many others, with my views, gave the same answer.


 
Don't mess with Catholic Schoolgirls
By Tom Smith

This story of Catholic school girl vigilante justice doesn't surprize me. Hat tip to my corporations student Gina Kim.


 
Philosophy memories
By Tom Smith

Brian Leiter has an interesting history of the ups and downs of various philosophy departments over the years. It brings back some memories for me. I was a philosophy major at Cornell when it was a powerhouse department. Terry Irwin taught the Greeks, Kant and Rawls and was a dedicated teacher of undergraduates as well as graduates. To say he was held in high esteem by undergraduates and graduates alike would be a gross understatement. Norman Kretzman gave me the first "C" on a paper I had gotten since about 6th grade, woke me from my doctrinal slumbers and got me fascinated with medieval philosophy as I have been since. Nick Sturgeon was super smart and another dedicated teacher. Stalnaker was a bit of a cold fish but also scary smart. Dick Boyd taught philosophy of science and was good. Visitors included Saul Kripke, Rawls, Max Black, and on and on. It was pretty thrilling to a kid from Boise, Idaho.

After Cornell I went to Oxford and tried to decide if I wanted to study more philosophy and ending up compromising. I was in the B.Phil program for a term, but found myself assigned to P.M.S. Hacker, whose first initials aptly describe him. R.M Hare and Jeremy Waldron proved you don't have to be a jerk to be a top philosopher, but I had ended up with Hacker. So I quit the B.Phil. and read PPE and ended up with Waldron as my top tutor (I forget the official Oxford slang). He was great; another great teacher.

After that I went to law school at Yale, mostly because I did not know what else to do and vaguely thought it might lead to an exciting career in Washington. Intellectually speaking, I found Yale a crushing let down from Cornell and Oxford. I was used to small seminars with great minds. At one seminar at Oxford, led by Dworkin, Derek Parfit and AK Sen, I found myself sitting next to HLA Hart and Charles Taylor. Parfit, widely regarded as a genius but pretty full of himself, was going on with some theory about moral consensus. I asked a question intended to puncture his theory and with Dworkin's help, it did. Parfit was really pissed off, and Dworkin came up afterwards to introduce himself to me! From that, I went to being condescend to by Bruce Ackerman at Yale, who wanted nothing to do with any student not licking his shoes and who, whatever Brian says, I just don't consider to be a serious philosopher, not in Dworkin's or Parfit's league anyway. It was pretty depressing.

After law school I decided to apply to philosophy graduate school and got into Harvard and Princeton, which were, as no less an authority than Brian confirms, the best departments at the time. I was ready to either give up law or do real philosophy and law. I visited Harvard, thinking, I could be studying with Rawls and Nozick! They were both there at the time. But the graduate students told such depressing stories. No need to bother with Nozick, they said. You're not a hot babe; he only likes hot babe students. As to Rawls, he doesn't like grad students at all. And watch out for [forget the name], the director of graduate studies, he's a sadist, no, not figuratively speaking, they said, a real DSM-IV, diagnosable sadist. Yikes. So I called Princeton on the phone. It actually seemed like a much better program, but their idea of what a good job was was so depressing, I gave it up and took a job in law teaching instead.

A few weeks ago, I was looking at some book about Wittgenstein and my wife said, "Oh, Wittgenstein. I have a patient who likes him." "Is he a philosopher?" I asked. "He has a PhD from Pittsburgh," she said "but he works as a groundskeeper at a golf course. He likes it. It leaves him lots of time to read philosophy."


 
Even More Moderate
By Maimon Schwarzschild

According to this political identity test, I'm pretty close to Jean Chretien. Yikes! (Economic Left/Right: -0.38. Libertarian/Authoritarian: -2.10.) But the trouble, I think, is with the test and not with myself. (Hat tip: Wm Shakespeare.)


 
Oh dear, I'm a moderate
By Tom Smith

My political identity test. I find it reassuring that I'm pretty close to Milton Freidman.


 
Hanson On Antisemitism
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Victor Davis Hanson has it right, unfortunately, about the stunning strength of anti-semitism around the world.


October 30, 2003
 
Helicopter Insanity
By Michael Rappaport

Yesterday, I reported that I had seen "a string of at least 10 or 15 [militiary] helicopters carrying large waterbuckets" and had bemoaned the fact that they had not been used sooner to fight the fires. Now it turns out they were not being used to fight the fires even then. Television station KUSI reported that the helicopters were practicing fighting fires while real fires, enormous ones, were destroying the area around Julian. This is INSANITY.


 
The Political Identity Test
By Michael Rappaport

A number of bloggers have taken the political compass test, which provides a measure of their political views on two dimensions: Left versus Right, and Authoritarian versus Libertarian. Like many such tests, it all depends on how you interpret the questions and multiple choice answers, but for what it is worth, my results were 4.25 to the Right and 0 between Authoritarian and Libertarian. I sound so moderate. Nonetheless, as a libertarian conservative or conservative libertarian or fusionist, I suppose this is right. I am awfully close to Stephen Bainbridge, which I would not have predicted. Very far from Brian Leiter, which I certainly would have predicted.


 
Left-Wing Hypocrisy; Dog Still Barking
By Tom Smith

I'm working on my cardboard sign. How does this sound: "Will engage in left-wing rants for use of private jet, fleet of SUVs and large sums of cash." Comments welcome. (via andrewsullivan.com)


 
Juicy Corporate Law
By Tom Smith

I admit it. A lot of corporate law cases are boring. So much the better when something juicy comes along. No I'm not talking about Kozkiwski's party for his (second) wife's birthday, complete with well-oiled male models. I'm talking about the Disney/Ovitz matter going back to court. This case was brought by none other than our local plaintiff's canine Bill Lerach on behalf of the long suffering shareholders of Disney, complaining about the $100 million plus severance payment that Michael Ovitz got when he left Disney, as everybody knew he would as soon as he signed on there. The Delaware courts will get another chance to decide how stupid a Board can be and still be protected by the business judgment rule. Case law establishes that profoundly stupid is not stupid enough. How about Unbelievably-stupid-to-the-tune-of-more-than-$100 million? We shall have to wait and see. As Fortune magazine wisely notes, the atmospherics are different now, in a post-Enron, post-WorldCom, post really tasteless ice sculpture etc. etc. world.


 
Bad News For Blair?
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Britain's Tory Party has voted to drop Iain Duncan Smith as leader, and the Tories are widely expected to name Michael Howard, now the "shadow Chancellor", as Smith's successor -- and hence as Leader of the Opposition to Tony Blair.

This is interesting in various ways -- certainly for Britain, but (everything connects) with implications for world politics as well.

There is the fact that Howard is a Jew: as Andrew Sullivan notes, the first person of Jewish birth to lead the Tory Party (assuming Howard gets the nod) since Disraeli. This in a country where there are significant traces of anti-semitism in the national bloodstream. Where Jews are concerned, as in everything else, England is in no way the 51st state. British Jews are made to feel foreign in unmistakable ways: Jews there experience frequent sneers, sometimes subtle, often stunningly overt, and almost all Jews in Britain do feel themselves outsiders to some extent. (This is utterly different from the experience of Jews in the US.) One sign of it is that although Jews in Britain think and speak of themselves as "British", few if any of them would un-self-consciously call themselves "English". And at the political level there is a clear note of anti-Jewish animus in the widespread and visceral pro-Arab feeling in Britain.

And yet the Leadership of the Opposition is about to be held by a Jew. The current Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, is also a Jew, and there are quite a few others in important and honoured jobs. A complicated country. (You read it here first.)

(So many of Mrs Thatcher's cabinet ministers were Jews that Harold Macmillan famously wondered out loud why there were more "Old Estonians" than Old Etonians in her cabinet. It was a very funny -- and not at all good-natured -- remark by the old Tory leader.)

Then there is the question of what the Tory coup means for Tony Blair. Blair hasn't had to worry much about opposition from the Tories lately. They were at each other's throats, not at his.

(A scene in Parliament last week: a Tory spokesman was earnestly reading crime statistics aloud showing growth in serious crime. "There is a rise in armed robbery, assault, burglary..." A voice calls out from the Labour benches: "stabs in the back..." The debate dissolved in laughter at the allusion to the Tory leadeship troubles.)

Michael Howard, unlike Iain Duncan Smith, has a reputation for deadly effectiveness as a debater and critic. (Howard is a barrister, in the rapier-wielding style.) With Howard, in fact, Blair could find himself in a two-front war. He may face a newly effective Conservative opposition. And that will only encourage the opposition that Blair has most reason to fear, namely opposition from his own mutinous Labour ranks. Most of the Labour Party, unfortunately for Blair, now loathes him: for having allied with the US and the hated President Bush in Iraq; and for the sin of insufficient socialist zeal at home.

So stabs in the back are liable to be a clear and present danger for Blair, especially if the Tories now pull together and put themselves beyond teasing for having had the knives out for their own leader.


October 29, 2003
 
Helicopter-gate
By Tom Smith

Roger Hedgecock is reporting on KOGO AM600 that the California Department of Forestry refused an offer to use Navy and Marine choppers to fight the fire for bogus safety reasons, questioning the training of military pilots. This story needs a full investigation. Arnold needs to do a full audit of CDF procedures when he gets in. If Davis did not order the CDF to get over itself and reach out to use any and all resources necessary to save people's homes, he should be impeached . . . Well, it's late for that. But if this story is true, it's truly an outrage.

And this L.A. Times story is a must read. I know Davis is a weak leader, but how much courage does it take to yell Help! San Diego congressman Duncan Hunter should push through legislation that makes it easier to use military helicopters. Apparently the private helicopter charter lobby doesn't like the idea. Now there's a group we ought to care about.


 
Military Helicopters
By Michael Rappaport

It appears that a scandal may be emerging concerning the refusal of California to use available military helicopters to fight the fire. From what I just saw, the refusal to use them may have been an enormous loss. As I drove by the Miramar Marine Base, I saw a string of at least 10 or 15 helicopters carrying large waterbuckets. In the main, the helicopters appeared to be flying to the northeast of Miramar, but one dropped its water on an area that was either on the base, near it, or perhaps even in nearby Scripps Ranch. What a difference these helicopters might have made if employed earlier.

In view of the reports that California officials refused to use these helicopters, perhaps Arnold will have to reprise his role as The Terminator.


 
The International Red Cross Attack
By Michael Rappaport

Michael Totten has an interesting post on the attack on the International Red Cross. It is a strong statement, but it is hard to argue with its logic.

    [Totten begins]: Even after the terrorist massacre at the International Red Cross center in Baghdad, Red Cross spokeswoman Nada Doumani still doesnt understand the world she is living in. [He then quotes the spokeswoman]:

    Maybe it was an illusion to think people would understand after 23 years [working in Iraq] that we are unbiased. I can't understand why we've been targeted.

    [Totten continues]: Mrs. Doumani. You are not unbiased. You are trying to help the Iraqi people. You are not on the side of the Baathists or the Islamists. You represent civilization and the West. And you work for the Red Cross, not the Red Crescent.

    More than two years have passed since Al Qaeda attacked New York and Washington. For more than two years the world has known, and should have been able to grasp, that the “infidel” is their enemy. You, Mrs. Doumani, are an “infidel.” You are not an Islamic fascist. So you’d better watch your back and quit pretending you are a neutral. You will never please them. You can never appease them. You will never earn their trust, their thanks, or their respect. Never. Get used to it. When they say they want to kill you, for your own sake, for all our sakes, take them at their word.
(Emphasis added).


 
New Media For New Ideas
By Maimon Schwarzschild

City Journal has posted a detailed survey by Brian Anderson of the new media which are ending the "near monopoly" commanded by left-liberal media of opinion and information. "Almost overnight" says Anderson, "three huge changes in communications have injected conservative ideas right into the heart of the national debate" Anderson cites talk radio (of course), cable TV (not just Fox News but cable comedy too), and the internet. Anderson sees a growing political pluralism in book publishing as well. "No longer can the Left keep conservative ideas out of the mainstream or dismiss them with bromide instead of argument. Everything has changed."

I think Anderson's shakiest claim is about book publishing: the book world remains heavily tilted to the left, although Anderson has a case that even here the "bien pensant" monolith is cracking.

Read the survey. It is extensive, thorough, and full of citations to interesting people, programs, journals, web-sites, and books.

But a Bronx cheer to City Journal for failing to web-link the citations!


 
Back to the Future: The Iraqi Constitution of 1925
By Michael Rappaport

An interesting Op Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal by two of the best: Bernard Lewis and James Woolsey. They suggest that the Iraqi Constitution of 1925 be used as the basic law of Iraq. It could then be updated to modern circumstances.

The Constitution itself has some intriguing features:
    The 1925 Iraqi constitution--which establishes that the nation's sovereignty "resides in the people"--provides for an elected lower house of parliament, which has a major role in approving constitutional amendments. It also contains a section on "The Rights of the People" that declares Islam as the official religion, but also provides for freedom of worship for all Islamic sects and indeed for all religions and for "complete freedom of conscience." It further guarantees "freedom of expression of opinion, liberty of publication, of meeting together, and of forming and joining associations."
Using this Constitution, which they suggest is still in place since the Iraqi people never repealed it, is an appealing idea. First, it would help to combine the innovation of democracy with the traditions of Iraq. The plants of freedom and democracy grow best in the soil of history and tradition. Second, using this Constitution would also emphasize that the Iraqi people were previously on the road to democracy, when their country was hijacked by the military and the Baath Party. This would only reinforce that the United States is liberating Iraq. And it would indicate that the United States is not attempting to recreate Iraq precisely in its own image.


 
Poverty and Philosophy
By Tom Smith

I seem to have irritated betrandrussell with my post about Stupid Philosophers. It might be worth a word in reply to what might be called betrandrussell's temperate attack on my comments.

As to philosophers, I think a lot of professional philosophers overestimate their intelligence relative to people in other professions and to people generally. Philosophers tend to be good at some forms of reasoning, but often have very little in the way of what you might call practical wisdom in other areas. I have found it amusing over the years to observe, for example, that many moral philosophers seem to have trouble living very morally. My philosophy advisor, a truly wonderful man and teacher, Norman Kretzman, who died some years ago, once remarked at a meeting in which one of his (now pretty well known) philandering colleagues was assigned to teach the course "Contemporary Moral Problems" that "it takes one to know one." Sometimes you have great moral philosophers, but having an insight about metaethics or whatever does not give you a leg up on insights into the world's problems. But I have no reason to think Honderich is even a particularly good philosopher. Honderich seems to me to be a second rate philosopher at best, and one who is spouting wicked nonsense. That he is well insulated from the consequences of his ideas just makes him more contemptible. His gesture of trying to buy off his critics with a scrap of his wealth is disgusting. OxFam showed a bit of real moral rectitude by refusing his donation. The idea that his moral wisdom on any topic is worth listening to, is ridiculous.

As to my views on terrorism, I think it is wrong under all circumstances. By definition, it means killing the innocent indiscriminately. I would be willing to fight for liberty, and kill its enemies as necessary, but that does not include waging war on civilians. I'm not interested in the opinions of philosophers who support terrorism, when I know it's not their children who will be blown to pieces or forced to murder themselves to avoid a worse fate. That's why I suggested Honderich put in a year in Africa working with people who are poor and suffering. Maybe if he acquainted himself with some real suffering, he would be more circumspect about advocating doling it out.

On the point of suffering and poverty generally, I think that Marxists and other materialists overestimate the role that wealth plays in making people happy. Empirical social science tends to support this claim. The very poorest of the poor, in Bangladesh and parts of Africa, are indeed unhappy. But most people, including people very poor indeed by American standards, tend to be pretty happy with their lives, and do not miss the things Americans put so much stock in. When people like the Shining Path start killing people in order to bring about more equality and justice, I think as an empirical matter they are causing more unhappiness than will ever be outweighed by the changes they seek to bring about. It just would not occur to most philosophers to actually inquire, using social science, how unhappy poor people are, before advocating equality. I was struck by the dignity and relative simplicity of the life of Peruvian Indians, though they are very poor. There were not miserable that I could tell. They were not particularly friendly to tourists--they were too proud for that. They were surrounded by a rich environment in which they were intensely interested. Their kids did not watch TV for 4-6 hours a day like many American kids. The idea that we should start a civil war so they could have all the pleasures of modern life strikes me as ridiculous. As to whether I would choose to live the life of a hunter-gatherer in the Amazon, well, I have a wife and kids and wouldn't impose that choice on them, but as for myself, I wouldn't mind trying it for a year or so. Lice don't bother me that much.


October 28, 2003
 
Battle of Julian
By Tom Smith

As I write this, firefighters are battling the Cedar fire which threatens to engulf the mountain town of Julian, famous in San Diego as a resort and destination for Sunday drives, and home to many who love its unique Southern Californian mountain beauty. It does not look good. The winds that shifted and saved many in my part of East San Diego County have sent the fire raging toward Descanso, Cuyamaca and Julian. The community of Cuyamaca has, reportedly, already been destroyed. Local news channels are reporting 90 percent of the homes have been burned. Julian is a much loved community in this area. We all hope somehow the fire will spare it. The courage and physical stamina of the firefighters is remarkable. They face not just exhaustion, but an unpredictable enemy that can reach temperatures of 2000 degrees. I am still somewhat fearful that a shift in the wind could send the fire barreling down Pine Valley toward my home--it is eerie to hear described as burning places are am used to driving by. But the weather report predicts no more winds from the East, and I somewhat guiltily pray that is right, even though it would be bad news for my neighbors to the the northeast.

NBC News, I am happy and surprised to report, did a good job on their national news, reporting with dignity and sensitivity the losses of the families who live 5 miles to my north in Crest, who lost homes and family members in the fire. They did a good job capturing the suddenness of it, and how easy it is to get trapped at the end of these rural roads in east county.


 
John Hart Ely, R.I.P.
By Michael Rappaport

I was saddened to hear of the death of John Hart Ely. In the last year or so, many of the thinkers who influenced me during my school years have died, including Robert Nozick, John Rawls, and now Ely. In each case, I was quite attracted to their ideas for a while and then moved on, but not without incorporating much of what they said into my own world view. I am happy to hear that another of the people who influenced me (and continues to do so), Milton Friedman, is still very much alive and thinking.

For me, Ely’s work must be understood in its historical context. The right wing originalists of today might be surprised that he should have been an important influence on such originalists in the past. But in 1980, originalism (whether right or left wing) was a very unpopular view and one took one’s inspiration from where it came. At that time, the world was filled with “noninterpretivists,” which were the living constitution people with a different name. They abandoned that name, in my view, because it exposed too clearly the nature of their interpretive practice – they were not interpreting, but rewriting. It says something about the 1970s that this name was not deemed a political defect for several years.

Ely helped to change all that. The parts of Democracy and Distrust that criticized noninterpretivism were extremely powerful and they still read well today, even though scholarship on these matters has developed for over a generation. Of course, I was moved much less by the parts that criticized “Clause Bound Interpretivism” and sought to justify the Warren Court.

For those who want a taste of the power of Ely’s view (and of the sustenance it gave to those of us who believed in originalism when few professors – certainly there were none at Yale after Bork and Winter became judges – embraced originalism in any form), consider this paragraph from page 3 of Democracy and Distrust:

“In interpreting a statute . . . a court obviously will limit itself to a determination of the purposes and prohibitions expressed by or implicit in its language. Were a judge to announce in such a situation that he was not content with those references and intended additionally to enforce, in the name of the statute in question, those fundamental values he believed America had always stood for, we would conclude that he was not doing his job, and might even consider a call to the lunacy commission.”

Ely’s unpopuarity at places like Yale was perhaps due in part to the fact that it may have led some of the faculty to wonder whether men in white coats, carrying funny jackets, might be waiting outside their door.


 
Fire Photos
By Tom Smith

This is what fire looks like. Thanks to instapundit for the pointer. Try stopping this with your garden hose. Here's a fire map I stole from signonsandiego.com and posted on my personal website. You can click on it twice to enlarge it. Here's a gallery of photos from Crest, a small community about 5 miles north of Jamul, where I live.


 
Islamic Antisemitism
By Michael Rappaport

Charles Jacobs writes a powerful column about Islamic Antisemitism. (Hat tip: Little Green Footballs). He identifies four reasons why the Jewish community has largely ignored this problem:
    1. Psychological denial. Who wants to think, 60 years after the Holocaust, that a new, religious campaign against the Jews could be taking shape? We liked to think the hatred from the Arab world was "street talk" that would dissipate "when peace came." It probably won't.

    2. Media's selective reporting: The media is reluctant to discuss the religious dimensions of the conflict in the Middle East, because its preferred prepackaged view is that this is a secular struggle for national liberation. It is also reluctant to report negatively about Islam. Steve Emerson is boycotted by PBS.

    3. Jewish Politics: Many in the Jewish community want very much to think that the war in Israel is primarily over borders, where compromise is possible. To think that the conflict is about the Jewish right of self-determination in the Islamic realm is daunting. They are also concerned that examples of Islamic anti-Semitism may be used to justify certain Israeli policies.

    4. Political correctness: We are a liberal people and do not want to speak badly about a race, religion or a people. We seem unable to distinguish between simple factual truth and bigotry. I our multicultural society, we have not yet developed a public language to describe Islamic anti-Semitism without potentially being accused of insensitivity or prejudice.
Each one is on the money.


 
What do you call a right-wing comedian?
By Tom Smith

Senator. To answer the Daily Standard, yes, I'm ready for Senator Dennis Miller. Liberal Hollywood hates him. He calls the French "les bags du scum." He has been denounced by Sir Elton John. He renamed the San Andreas fault Grey Davis's fault. He's tough. People will vote for him. Another reason. Barbara Boxer. Oh, and he said of a tired Robert Byrd "he must be burning the cross at both ends."


 
BBC glorifies communist spies; dogs bark
By Tom Smith

So what else is new. BBCAmerica begins its mini-series tonight or maybe last night on those darn glamorous, aristocratic Cambridge spies. I think I'll give it a miss. They were young, they handsome, they were rich . . . they were in league with the most murderous regime in human history.

And while we're on the subject of glorifying murderous regimes, there's this little nugget on ANSWER, the anti-war folks. Thanks to Left Coast Conservative (worth a visit) for the pointer.


October 27, 2003
 
Davis's Fire 2
By Tom Smith

Here is the site for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. It is showing the national fire alert level at 2. A couple of summers ago, when forest fires were burning in Western states, but far fewer homes were threatened, and fewer acres actually burning, the alert level was at 5. This is messed up. My older brother, a volunteer fireman and lawyer, tells me it is only because Sacramento did not request federal assistance that federal resources stayed on the ground and the alert level remained at only 2. He says he thinks it has to do with rivalry between the California Department of Forestry and national agencies. So San Diegans have to watch houses burn to satisfy bureaucratic egos. This is not the time for recriminations and finger pointing. But the time is coming for that, and it is yet another mess Arnie should sort out. Perhaps a good start would be firing the people at the top of CDF. They should have told Davis they needed help in time to stop the fire's march in San Diego suburbs, which the right aircraft may well have don.


 
Meanwhile Back at the Ranch
By Gail Heriot

I've been trying to ready my house in case of fire for the past two days, clearing debris from my Spanish tile roof, clipping bushes and planning what to do if I am ordered to evacuate. It's somewhat disconcerting work, especially when I take the time to watch the ashes raining down into my yard. What used to be a picturesque canyon view along the back of my modest freehold has begun to look a little menacing in the smokey glow that is enveloping much of Southern California.

I feel useful when I'm clearing brush and debris (even though I have no particular talent for the work). I know that there isn't a lot that I can do to alter the odds in the immediate run, but like most games, this one is played at the margin. I do the best I can, given the cirumstances, to protect my property and the property of my neighbors. If that's only a little bit, that's okay; the stakes are certainly high enough to justify the effort. Those who moan that they want to be able to shift the odds more decisively in their favor frequently wind up doing nothing. When they repeatedly fail to do the little things that move the odds just a little bit, they usually end up worse off in the end. Little improvements are the stuff that real life is made of.

Here's what's bothering me. On television, civic leaders and media talking heads seem to agree that the fire storm is something that must be taken care of by professionals. Either you are a firefighter (or policeman, doctor, nurse, or relief worker) or you are a victim. There are no other categories. Professionals are praised for their heroism (both when they have earned it and when they have not). Victims, on the other hand, are praised for their docility--that is their willingness to evacuate their homes when ordered to do so and to place their trust entirely in the hands of professionals without complaining.

It would be nice to be able to rely on the professionals completely. But nothing is more obvious than the fact that our firefighters are stretched too thinly to control the 50-mile fire fronts that currently snake across San Diego County. To place one's trust entirely in their hands is foolish; despite their spirit and dedication, there just aren't enough of them. Last night, for example, television crews showed home after home aflame without a firefighter in sight. I am not at all certain that I will leave my house immediately in the unlikely event that I am commanded to leave. What if that order comes in too soon? Should I be required to abandon everything I own, taking only my purse and car keys, no matter how far away the fire is and no matter how much I might to able to accomplish by staying a while longer? What motivation do the authorities have to avoid ordering an evacuation prematurely?

California wildfires are just like the rest of real life. If you want to make sure that your interests are being attended to, it's best to attend to them yourself. That doesn't mean that a man ought to stand there like an imbecile defending his house from a 50-foot high wall of fire with a garden hose. But it does mean that he must occasionally employ his own judgment in determining whether or when to fight a little longer or turn and run. There's something to be said for the feisty homeowner (even the one with the garden hose) who refuses to abandon his home to be defended by the non-existent firefighter. He's like the law-abiding citizen who insists on the right to carry a gun to defend herself against street thugs or like the concerned parents who insist on home-schooling their children rather than to submit meekly to substandard public schools. I can't help feeling that we all benefit as a result of some of these feisty souls.

One of my favorite movies is the Seven Samarai. In it, seven samarai come to the rescue of a small Japanese village that is under attack by brigands. Good triumphs over evil; I can't help but love it. Still it has one fault. The villagers are not portrayed as idiots; they take some responsibility for recruiting the samarai to protect them and they cooperate with the samarai to help drive off the bad guys. But in general, theirs is a passive role; it is the samarai who save the day, just as it is the firefighters and policemen who are being set up as our sole protection this week. I prefer my peasants a bit more self-reliant.

The Seven Samarai was re-made into an American Western--the Magnificent Seven--starring Yul Brynner with excellent support by James Coburn, Charles Bronson and Robert Vaughan (in a wonderful role as a Southern dandy gunslinger who loses his nerve and then, briefly, gets it back again). But it was obvious from the beginning that this sort of story just didn't fit in well with the average American's concept of the American West. American farmers might benefit from leadership from some professional, but in popular memory they were full participants in their own protection, not passive peasants. So the Magnificant Seven was set in Mexico rather than in the United States. Evidently, Hollywood thought that American moviegoers would be more willing to tolerate the notion that a Mexican village would need seven deliverers. American frontiersmen were expected to be feisty.

Is California still home to self-reliant homeowners prepared to stand their ground sometimes even when the authorities tell them not to? I hope so. But you couldn't prove it by the television coverage of the last two days. Television's homeowners seem to be a dependent lot.


 
Stay Cool
By Michael Rappaport

There is something else that just gets a New York boy like me going. It is the way that San Diegans just seem to calmly accept getting screwed. Consider the following two paragraphs from the local newspaper:
    Mayor Dick Murphy says that the Cedar Fire has been declared "the state's No. 1 priority" but added without irony, that "until resources are released from other fires, we won't get the resources."

    Murphy added that the federal emergency agency (FEMA) is "standing by, ready to declare this a disaster area. ... We hope to get that declaration today. .... They understand that this is a crisis ...ready to recommend to president that this is a disaster, as soon as they get sufficient information."
By all means, take your time geting the information to the President. No need to rush.

The New Yorker in me -- and after 13 years in San Diego and 5 in Washington DC, he is still very much alive (Just ask anyone who knows me) -- is saying, What the F**K is going on? San Diego is a place where "No incidents of looting, violence or related problems were reported overnight in the affected areas." Of course not. The people are too calm, too law abiding, and too ready to take it. Now I am not recommending a riot, but if there was a chance of that happening, perhaps the State and the Feds might be moving a wee bit more quickly.


 
Davis's Fire
By Tom Smith

Fox News 6 here in San Diego is now reporting that there are military tankers waiting on the ground for Gov. Davis's order to help out with the fire. Any time now would be fine, Grey. Maybe this is the Grayman's revenge on San Diego County. Seriously, there should be a full investigation of where the hell the helicopters and tankers are while San Diego burns. If the answer is, "they're busy," then we need to find out why there is not more federal help on line, and why we don't have more state and county resources on tap.

There is a fire to the south of me in Proctor Valley, where I go hiking because it's only a five minute drive away. Maybe 3 or 4 miles. The Crest fire is about four miles north. The San Diego Sheriff's department just drove through a neighborhood about 10 minutes north of here telling people to get out. But now the news says that CDF (California Department of Forestry) has said, no, that was a mistake. Those people can stay where they are, according to CDF. So, I guess the message is, evacuate! or Don't! Or, as they tell you on the evacuation help line: USE YOUR DISCRETION! Or as they say here in California, how do you feel about it? Do you feel like you are in danger? If you feel like you are in danger, then FLEE!

When this is over, this little corner of Jamul is going to become a fire department of one. Pool pump. Foam generator. Regulation quality fire hose. Maybe it's time to put down that well. 50 horsepower diesel generator to power the firehose. Maybe I could buy my own firetruck on ebay.

Across the street one of my charming neighbors, who violates the CCR's by keeping part of the inventory of his used car business parked in his driveway, has hired somebody with a bobcat to clear out brush in the ravine next to his house. Illegal because of environmental regs, I think, but I say, die Mormon Tea bush, die! Scrape it down to DG (that's decomposed granite for you city folks)!


 
Ring of Fire
By Michael Rappaport

Yesterday was not a good day. Lets hope today continues to be better. Where I live in San Diego, which is pretty far from where Tom Smith does, the fire appeared to be surrounding us. The biggest destruction hit Scripps Ranch, which is the next neighborhood to the south of us. To the immediate north, Carmel Mountain, it was reported, was starting to burn. And to the northeast, Poway was on fire, also threatening my wife’s dental office.

Having been born in New York City, I did not initially appreciate the dangers from these fires. With the winds gusting yesterday, the fires in these nearby neighborhoods could have spread to our neighborhood within a hour or two. In New York, a fire was something that hit a tall building and the fear was that you would be trapped and die. Here, the fires spread long distances, mainly destroying houses – but sometimes a lot of them.

The biggest frustration is the small number of firefighters, and the lack of firefighting from the air. According to the news, San Diego sent many firefighters and most of its equipment to San Bernadino and it cannot get them back until they are released. So we get nothing. Certainly seems sensible to me. Hopefully I have not fully appreciated the subtleties of that wonder of wonders – the government of California.


October 26, 2003
 
The Evil Rich
By Tom Smith

OK, we can confiscate wealth just this once.


 
Fear of Fire
By Tom Smith

It's that time of year in San Diego again, when you watch the flames on the ridge line and wonder if you will still have a house in 24 hours. It doesn't sound fun and it's not. I should not complain. Hundreds of people have lost their homes already and a dozen have died and not in any way you would choose. I am situated between two fires which the knuckle head on the news has predicted will merge by morning. I am betting they won't, but will check every so often through the night to make sure.

The information hotline was amusing. I had my wife call, because I have a tendency to get irritated. She asked if we should evacuate, and the operator said if the sheriff had not come by to tell us to leave we had no worries. But the news said there were not enough personnel to do that, my wife observed. Well, that was true, the operator admitted. Could we see flames? Oh, yes, my wife confirmed. (But about 3 or 4 miles away on a ridgeline). Well, we would just have to use our own discretion. Good to get that learnt.

For some reason, Jeanne is taking this fire quite seriously. I wanted to leave during that last scary fire, some 3 or so years ago. Our neighborhood was 'voluntarily evacuated,' which means leave, unless you are stupid. Jeanne said we should stay, since we could not actually see the flames yet. The sky had that soothing nuclear winter look, neighbors were packing up and leaving, but we stayed. I adjusted the sprinklers on our patio cover and bargained with God. The wind and the fire just stopped about a mile from our house. Being scared with a mile between you and the fire line is considered wimpy by old hands. If the wind had not just stopped when it did, our house had about 6 hours of life left.

Pack up, they say. Just what are you supposed to bring? Photo albums, various documents, OK. But after that? A despair sets in when you realize you cannot really pack for losing your house. Underwear, socks, your PDA and cellphone. Your two big dogs. Dogfood. Your current trashy novel. A family size bottle of Valium would be nice if I had one.

I am being cute now, but if this fire gets much closer, it will cease to be funny in a very big hurry. The ceasing to be funny part is bad. Fear, anxiety, more fear. You get the idea. I never want to find out what it feels like to find you have no house. I hereby take back all the nasty things I've said about my house.

My precocious 12 year old is reading The Art of War. Watching the news, he says to me "If your enemy leaves a door open, rush through." And then, after the news idiot predicts an even more general conflagration, my son helpfully observes "the door is closing, Dad." I hope it is not a long night.


 
One More Bumper Sticker
By Michael Rappaport

I haven't followed all of the posts on bumper stickers, so perhaps my favorite has already been listed. But if so, it is worth repeating. As a environmental law teacher, I am particularly found of:

Save the Planet; Kill Yourself.

Sadly, this one has gained greater resonance with the recent suicide of environmentalist icon, Garret Hardin.



 
The Left Coast
By Michael Rappaport

I have started to visit some of the blogs on the most popular blogs list. Given the name of our blog, I thought it would be interesting to look at "The Left Coaster," which gets 1650 visits per day. One post is more than enough for me. After noting that Paul Wolfowitz was unharmed after a couple of missiles were fired at his hotel, this blogger wrote:

"Hope he had a blast! Bet he doesn't get the message, however."


 
Cambridge Antisemitism
By Michael Rappaport

I just came across this letter from Andrew Sullivan's blog. Here are a few lines:

"At Cambridge University, where I attended law school in England, the Jews exist in a state of perpetual vigilance and, often, fear of personal harm. As an American Jew I was used to wearing a kipa (yarmulke, beanie, skullcap, bowl-o'-soup, whatever) walking around town. . . . But in Cambridge it was like I had a bullseye on my head. Not a week went by that something didn't happen - curses from a group of Middle-Eastern looking "blokes" on the street, laughing references about the "cross you have to bear" from other students, white hot abuse about being a "Zionist Nazi" from a middle-aged white woman boycotting Sainsbury's. Once, memorably, I got hit with a piece of raw potato and turned just in time to hear the sniggers of "shalom!" as the window of a restaurant kitchen banged shut. . . . When I discussed this with my friends in the Jewish Society (JSOC), they were completely nonchalant. I was stunned to hear that every single one had, at one time or another in their youth, been chased, threatened or beaten for being Jewish in the towns where they grew up. In one memorable case, a kid had been stabbed with a butcher knife, when he was 15 years old, by a man on a bus in Manchester."

This is an extremely sad letter, for what it says about England, and its elites.


 
The Most Popular Blogs
By Michael Rappaport

This page lists the most popular blogs from those who use site meter and make their visit statistics public. (Hat tip: AndrewSullivan.com.) Two things that stand out. First, I have not visited most of the popular blogs on this list, and some of them I have never even heard of. Second, one really has to be impressed with Glen Reynolds: 75,000 visits per day -- incredible.


October 25, 2003
 
Vouchers and Problem Students
By Michael Rappaport

Brian Leiter criticizes David Bernstein for Bernstein’s analysis of how private schools would operate under vouchers. In response to liberal critics such as Mathew Yglesias who claim that there would not be enough private school capacity for the additional children from public schools, Bernstein rightly argues that the demand from vouchers would bring forth an additional supply of private schools.

Leiter admits that this may be true, but argues that private schools would not take “the problem students” and they would end up in the public schools, which would now be worse. After all, that is what private schools do now. Interestingly, Leiter makes the same type of mistake that Yglesias does. Leiter assumes that private schools would behave in the same way under vouchers that they do under current markets.

It is not clear what Leiter means by problem students. Are they 1) smart students with behavior problems or 2) students of average or less intelligence with behavior problems? Assume he means the second category. Although private schools might handle these students in a variety of ways, let me just mention two: Some schools might cater to students with behavior problems, largely restricting their classes to such students. Other schools might admit such students to separate classes and structure these classes to address these students' special needs.

The basic point is that markets respond to demand and markets are pretty good – indeed, much better than governments – at responding to varied demands and changing circumstances. In the end, of course, vouchers would not eliminate all concerns. How could they? Critics on the left (and on certain parts of the right) have always found things to criticize in markets (even when the markets work quite well). My point is that the problems Leiter and Yglesias identify are not the one that I believe would arise.


October 24, 2003
 
Concert Goer's Diary
By Maimon Schwarzschild


This RightCoaster is actually on the cartographic Right Coast: in New York City, "visiting", as we lucky academics say, at New York Law School for the autumn term. One of the dividends of a semester in New York is the chance to go to lots of concerts. This week alone, I will have heard Andras Schiff play Bach, Beethoven, and Bartok at Carnegie Hall; Lorin Maazel conduct the New York Philharmonic in an all-Beethoven program; and the Guarneri Quartet (Beethoven again) at the Metropolitan Museum.

The New York Philharmonic Friday night was a revelation. (Every good concert is a revelation. Bad concerts can be a revelation too -- or at least an indecent exposure.) For most of my lifetime, the fashion has been for "historically authentic performance", which usually means small orchestras for classical music, and very small ensembles for baroque music. Part of the pitch (as it were) for small orchestras is that the sound is very clean, clear and sharp. But Lorin Maazel appeared onstage at Avery Fisher Hall this week (I still think of it as Philharmonic Hall -- but then I am a conservative) with an orchestra of at least one hundred to play Beethoven's First Piano Concerto and Third Symphony. Amazingly, the sound was still clean, clear and sharp -- almost (well, not quite) like Glenn Gould playing a big nineteenth century orchestra. But the sound was also very deep and rich.

I'm not sure I understand the sociology of classical music in the US today. By all accounts, professional musicians are better than ever; at least better than ever in living memory. They are amazingly good technically. But that needn't, and very often doesn't, mean soulless playing, or music that's merely technically good. Audiences, meanwhile, are often packed, as they were for Andras Schiff and for the Philharmonic this week. And at least in New York, the audiences often seem quite knowledgeable as well as numerous. They certainly know when to applaud and when not to; and they often seem especially keen on the pieces I like, which means they are truly sophisticated -- right?

Yet classical music isn't taught much in school anymore; certainly not in most public schools. ("Ordinary" schools, I mean: conservatories are obviously a very different story.) A student can easily finish college in the US without ever having had a course in classical music, even music appreciation. And classical music is much less of a presence in popular culture than it once was. Listen to the classical music on the sound tracks of quite a lot of movies from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. A 1950s television series like "The Lone Ranger" made Rossini's William Tell Overture (more) famous. (The "Lone Ranger" used Mendelssohn and Liszt, too, as background and "bridge" music.)

A little hard to imagine that kind of music on the soundtrack of, say, "Kill Bill". (Which I haven't seen. And if I do see it, I won't blog about it. Not a word, not a single word, about Jewish movie executives...)

So where do the (excellent) musicians come from? And the audiences? Some are from abroad of course. There has always been a lot of German spoken among New York concert goers; there still is. Nowadays there is a lot of Spanish, Hebrew, and some Korean too. But the audiences are mostly American, and American-born by the look of them: more so, if anything, than they used to be.

Perhaps it's another example of "narrow-casting": an ever-expanding national (and world) population, subdivided into ever finer, but ever more loyal and knowledgeable marketing and taste niches.

But whatever the sociology, it is certainly a fact that Carnegie Hall and Philharmonic Hall are often sold out if you show up at the last minute looking for a ticket. Evidence, anyway, that classical music is alive and reasonably well: and a small rebuttal, at least, to any (conservative) tendency to lament the end of civilisation as we know it.


 
Child Saved from Burning House; Women's Right to Choose Eroded
By Tom Smith

From an AP story yesterday:


. . . Dr. David Grimes, a North Carolina physician who formerly headed the abortion surveillance division of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called [the decision to reconnect Mrs Terri Shiavo to her feeding tube] "a very sad day."

"Here we have a governor of Florida interfering with a family's choice and Congress interfering with a woman's right to choose," Grimes said yesterday. "I thought this administration's role was to get government off people's backs."

Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said people need to realize "it's not just a fight about abortion. It extends far beyond, to family planning and other personal, private decisions."


These people are starting to really creep me out. I understand how non-Catholics could view as unreasonable the stance that a little cluster of cells should be treated as a human life. But with Terri Schiavo, it is members of her family, her parents and brother, who want her kept alive and her husband who wants the plug pulled. The husband may be right, but it is at least worth inquiry as to whether he has his wife's best interests or just his own at heart. The pro-abortion people are acting as if the principle is, if it's alive and we can't kill it, it's a set back for a woman's right to choose.

Similarly with the partial birth abortion debate. Late term abortions of babies who would be viable if put in a neo-natal care unit are morally problematic, at best. The vast majority of physicians won't go anywhere near them. Yet the NARAL etc. view seems to be Congress should not even be allowed to discuss regulating them, for fear legitimate abortions would be impacted. That is nuts. It lends weight to the claim of the right-to-life people make that the logic of abortion will spread outward to include other vulnerable people. Can it really be the pro-abortion people do not recognize there is a public interest in making sure decisions about ending a life are made properly? Do they seriously expect us to treat these decisions as entirely "private"? How can they be called private when the life of a person (or quasi- or semi- person) who by hypothesis is not consenting to being killed, is involved?


October 23, 2003
 
Statutory Intrepretation
By Tom Smith

I confess I often don't like scholarly presentations by law professors. Many of them strike me as having been done only because everybody likes to feel productive. But today's by Einer Elhauge on statutory interpretation was really very good. His article is at 102 Columbia Law Review 2027. As my cell phone rang in the middle of my asking him a really deep question (it was my wife saying she could not get the oven to work), I must go, but let me just commend it as a really careful and serious grappling with various jurisprudential issues of statutory interpretation, as well as a careful avoidance of others.


 
Stupid Philosophers
By Tom Smith

Philosophers can get away with making arguments that would be laughed out of other disciplines. Causing controversy is the latest missive from Ted Honderich. (thanks to NRO for the pointer.) I read a book of his called if I remember correctly "Violence for Equality" back in the 1970's. I remember thinking at the time it was pretty lame. The argument goes roughly, it's OK to kill people in a good cause, and equality is a good cause.

The review of the new book, After the Terror, in the CHE is pretty stupid, I'm afraid. It just assumes the usual cant about the causes of third world poverty (globalization, blah, blah), and goes from there. The reviewer timidly suggests, maybe there are moral dangers in approving terrorism. You think?

(To digress a bit, I also just don't see what's so bad about a lot of third world poverty. I hung out for a while in the Amazon last summer, and frankly I would much rather be a Peruvian Indian fishing that big river for a living than some Manhattan investment banker drone or Wall Street law firm associate. You fish for a living, you're in great shape, nobody seems to be working very hard. So you have lice and die younger. I'd rather do that than pull 80 hours a week in a glass box.)

Honderich's new book is said to be written in an offhand, chatty style. How odd. That's how his 1970's book was written, too. Other terms might include sloppy, full of unsupported assertions, presumptuous, and so on. Oh, yes, and windy.

How's this for slimy: to try to defuse controversy over his apparent approval of terrorism, Honderich offered to give 5000 pounds to OxFam, which, get this, refused the donation on ethical grounds, saying it held that all humans had a right to life and it was wrong to kill some of them to try to achieve political ends through the terror thereby created, and it wouldn't take money from somebody who supported terrorism. Oh, how very philosophically confused of OxFam, or maybe they're just Kantians (or Christians). Still, good on OxFam! But 5000 pounds is a lot for a philosopher to offer, no? No. Honderich hails, how shocking!--from a very wealthy family. Would it just be too incomprehensible for Ted to leave off advocating killing people for say, one year, and spend that year maybe working with AIDS victims in Africa? I could him in touch with lots of groups that would welcome the help. But I guess advocating roasting people alive (those that couldn't get to the windows in time to put themselves out of their misery) in buildings in New York from your, let me guess, fashionable west end of London address, is a finer thing, in some philosophical sense. And there are better restaurants nearby as well.

My impression from the outside is that there is very much a hierarchy in philosophy, with the smartest people going into quite technical areas such as epistemology and metaphysics, in which there have been some bona fide geniuses in recent decades (such as Saul Kripke, I would say) down to very applied ethics and political theory, where stuff gets said and written that strikes me as downright embarrassing. I would put Honderich in very much the latter category. I have certainly sat in philosophy workshops where not well-known but at least tenured philosophy professors made generalizations about, say, contract law that were so wildly wrong that any half-intelligent business person who had occasionally to read a contract would be chagrined--not to mention any first year law student. Yet at the top of the philosophy profession are people who probably compete with Nobel prize winning physicists for sheer brain power. Go figure.


 
Bumper Sticker Wars
By Tom Smith

Blame the Volokh conspiracy for this post. Where I live, bumper stickers are a major cultural form (one of the few). These favorites bear repeating:

Jesus loves you. Everybody else thinks you're an asshole.

God is my co-pilot. But we crashed in the Andes and I had to eat Him.

Then the environmentalist stickers:

Earth First. We'll log all the other planets later.

Hug a logger. You'll never go back to trees.

Out of toilet paper? Wipe your butt with a spotted owl.

Hard to argue with:

Maybe you'd drive better if I crammed that cellphone up your ass.

Honk again. I'm reloading.

Then there's the evolution wars.

The Christian fish symbol, of course (means I'm an ancient Christian, presumably)

The little fish with feet (means I believe in evolution, though I may not be a particularly advanced life form myself)

Christian fish eating Darwinian fish (My Christianity will swallow up your evolutionary philosophy, hopefully by non-violent means)

Darwinian fish eating Christian fish (My evolutionary philosophy will outcompete your Christianity)

Large Christian fish with little Christian fish following (I am a Christian who has reproduced)

Shark (screw all of you; I'm a predator--normally seen on muscle cars or show-off pickup trucks)

When I finally get my Yukon XL with big tires, I want to get a little chrome silhouette of an oil tanker to put on back.



October 22, 2003
 
Beam Me Up, Chief O'Brien
By Michael Rappaport

Randy Barnett and Jacob Levy of the Volokh Conspiracy write about the Star Trek shows. Now this is what blogging is all about. Randy recommends watching Enterprise and I may take him up on it, since I stopped watching it in the first season.

Jacob defends Deep Space Nine and I must agree. Although I do think The Next Generation was a great show, there was something special about Deep Space Nine. The war between the Dominion and the Federation, pursued over the last two seasons, was something that the other Star Trek shows were never able to equal.

One aspect of Deep Space Nine merits special attention: the show’s interesting take on religion. The show attempted to reconcile science and religion, suggesting that the prophets (or gods) were people who lived in a dimension which transcended time. They could speak to mortals, inspire them to make religious predictions, and these would turn out to be true because the prophets knew the future – for understandable scientific or at least science fiction reasons.

The character of Major Kira was one of the focal points for this intersection of science and religion. She was a believer who saw her boss as the Emissary to the Prophets – a special religious figure with a connection to her gods – but also as her commander who merely had contacted some advanced aliens who lived in a worm hole.

Given the negative take on religion on many television programs, this aspect of Deep Space Nine was something special. But other aspects of the show were also great, including the Maquis, a Federation splinter group engaged in terrorism because of a Federation sellout, and perhaps my favorite character from all of Star Trek, the tailor / spy with a gift for ironic humor – Garak.


 
Violence in the Grocery Strike
By Tom Smith

Here in San Diego, strikers followed and beat a replacement worker with a baseball bat. Surgeons will have to rebuild the guy's face. I wonder if the UFCW will pay his medical expenses.

Maybe I should wear my football helmet on my next shoping trip.


 
The Imminent Threat Debate
By Michael Rappaport

I previously wrote one post on the media’s assertions that the Bush Administration claimed that Iraq posed an imminent threat and another post stating that Daniel Drezner was hosting a debate on whether or not the media assertions were accurate. The results of that debate are now in: Jonathan Schwarz, who argued for the media, won. How can that be?

First, I disagree with some of Drezner’s analysis. To take the most important example, Drezner points to Administration statements that the traditional meaning of “imminent threat” should not be applied to terrorists and therefore one needs a new interpretation of the term. Drezner mistakenly suggests that this supports the media. When the media says that the Bush Administration claimed there was an imminent threat, they do so without explanation and therefore are properly and normally understood to be using the traditional and conventional meaning of the term. But if the Bush Administration claimed that the threat was imminent, it was with a new and different meaning of the term.

Second, the debate selected a problematic question to debate: The question was whether the media had “completely fabricated” the imminent threat claim. But this is not the morally or politically relevant question. The correct question is whether it was accurate for the media to assert the Administration made the imminent threat claim. And there is no doubt about the answer to that question. Indeed, Drezner admits as much in an aside: “So, [I’m] saying that Schwarz wins, but that in winning he doesn't vindicate the bulk of the anti-war criticisms.” Conducting a debate with a morally irrelevant question is misleading. Although I certainly learned a lot from the debate, the structure of the debate actually reinforced the media misinformation.


 
The Boykin Controversy
By Tom Smith

As Hugh Hewitt points out, it sure would be nice to know what Boykin said before we decide on his punishment. In Saudi Arabia, I suppose he might have his tongue cut out, but here, resignation in disgrace might be enough. According to this dim-witted, even for John Carroll, piece, Boykin said he was fighting for the real God, while that of his enemies was only an idol. This smacks, according to Carroll, of "exclusivism." What is "exclusivism"? You know, that sort of thing where you get put in prison for practicing a religion that the medieval theocracy doesn't approve of. I'm not a theologian, but when someone drives an airplane into a crowded building and says God told him to do it, it's not disrespecting Islam to say they got their orders wrong, or were listening to the wrong guy. Hear voices telling you to slaughter infidels? Work on plague viruses to spread among people whose women don't wear parachutes? Which says lots of nasty things about Jews? Important hint for you: It's not God. Check your area code and number and try again. As for Boytin: he should be ordered not to wear his uniform while he is talking in church, saying things like, no true God would tell people to use weapons of mass destruction on innocents. He should only wear his uniform when he is doing things like dropping 2000 pound bombs on them. Blowing people into little fragments is one thing. Hurting their feelings is another.


 
He Vas Only Using Ze Jews as a Scapegoat!
By Tom Smith

I'm so relieved. I had thought President Mohammed Mahathir of Malaysia was just engaged in hateful anti-Semitism when he made his recent speech about Jews ruling the world and so forth. Paul Krugman explains he was only scapegoating Jews for domestic political reasons. This was "inexcusable," Krugman says, which makes it somewhat puzzling that he takes the rest of his column trying to explain it. I also feel better about Hitler, now that I understand he was just using his hatred of the Jews for political reasons. I thought he hated Jews for, I don't know, religious reasons. Perhaps Krugman could give some P.R. coaching to Hamas. "We don't hate the Jews because they are Jews. We want to exterminate them because we want to take their land. I hope that distinction is clear." Paul Krugman is proof of the well-known phenomenon. Person achieves well-deserved academic renown. Person decides he is a genius. Person loses ability to be self-critical. Person says stupid things. Person does harm. Krugman should shut up about Jews and go back to making mathematical models.


 
North Korea's Gulag Archipelago
By Tom Smith

An important new report is out detailing North Korea's massive system of slave labor camps. Opinionjournal has a good summary.


October 21, 2003
 
Sullivan -- Church's Sexual Advisor
By Tom Smith

This is an interesting reaction to Sullivan's apparent departure from the Church. Camassia makes a point I was hestitant to make myself, about Sullivan's libertinism. If you read enough of his posts, you're bound (no pun intended) to come across some celebration of the gay bar scene in Provincetown. It's a free country, and all that, but if you're going to celebrate the scene that is located sexually and morally in about the same place as it is geographically (on the very far edge of the country, for you geographically challenged folks), I think you're just not in much of a position to be advising the Church on its sexual morality. It comes off like Bill Bennett lecturing us on virtue, so he can raise the cash to settle up with Fat Eddy. Sullivan's personal life is relevant only because he is making such a big deal about his leaving the Church, rather than just criticizing the Church's view on gay relationships per se. Even if the Church did approve of gay marriage, there be no more fun with bears and otters for good gay Catholic boys.


 
Thank God for Clintoncare
By Michael Rappaport

Marginal Revolution has a list of some of the waiting times for medical procedures in Canada. For example, "median waiting time for radiation treatment for breast cancer in province of Ontario: 8 weeks." It has been about 10 years since the Clintoncare proposals, and I never fail to be amazed at how we dodged a bullet that time. Perhaps it was the conservatism of the American people or perhaps it was due to the political incompetence of the co-president political savants, but whatever the cause, I am grateful. What is more, the political fallout from the failure of Clintoncare helped to produce Republican congressional majorities. If someone at the time had told me that the Clintoncare proposal would be a good thing for the country in the long run, I would have thought them crazy. But it seems to have been true.

UPDATE: One might argue that the Republican majority may enact a seriously flawed prescription drug plan this year and therefore there is not that much to be grateful for. If that happens, it will certainly be a serious setback. Yet a Democratic majority would enact a worse prescription drug plan and would also be attempting to lower the Medicare eligibility age to 55, as Clinton attempted to do at the end of his presidency. That would be much worse.


 
Want to Be Scared?
By Tom Smith

This detailed article from opinionjournal.com about our friends the axis of evil and their efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

Here's a good place to buy your survival gear.

But see this good news from Iran.

On the other hand, there's this from the Philippines.


October 20, 2003
 
When Labor and Management Get Along
By Gail Heriot

I confess that I do not understand the current grocery strike in Southern California. It has been a week now with no agreement in sight. The non-unionized Wal-Mart, whose consumer-friendly low prices have made it the most popular grocery retailer in the world, is sure to be the major beneficiary. Southern California appears to be witnessing a suicide.

But I will resist asking Rodney King's question. The last time labor and management in the traditional grocery industry "got along" with each other, it was to persuade California's daffy legislature to squelch their competition. The statute that got passed would have made it illegal to sell groceries in a building the size of a Wal-Mart or CostCo. It was one more occasion for the California legislature to demonstrate what a carnival of special interests it had become.

Fortunately, this was back in the year 2000, when now-recalled Governor Gray Davis was still in his responsible moderate phase. He vetoed the legislation. In his scathing veto-message, he called it "anti-competitive and anti-consumer" and "the worst kind of end-of-session manuevering by special interests." Had Gray Davis continued to stand up to the California legislature the way he did that day, he might not have been recalled.


 
A Way to Kill Kill Bill?
By Tom Smith


The Easterbrook Donnybrook, as Mickey Kaus calls it, will probably wind down soon. It may be worth recalling what got it started--Greg Easterbrook's outrage at the level of violence in the new Quentin Tarantino movie Kill Bill.

Easterbrook was presumably trying to put pressure on Michael Eisner and the other folks at Disney to reconsider the distribution of such ultra-violent fare. I haven't seen the movie myself. I'm not sure whether I will or not. I generally don't mind violence in movies, if it's appropriate, as in Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List. Making violence seem fun, though, contributes to the cultural degradation that Hollywood seems, for reasons I don't fully understand, to want to actively promote, at least if it is profitable to do so, and sometimes even if it isn't.

What is to be done? One technique that I am not aware being used before, or at least not much, against violence in movies is the filing of shareholder proxy resolutions that would be put before the shareholders of Disney and other studios. If may have been done before, I'm not sure, but it certainly could work as a way to get the attention of top management in the entertainment industry. All it takes is a shareholder who holds a fairly minimal dollar value of shares in the target company, and a resolution crafted to avoid various objections the directors can put up to stop it. Typically, a resolution is drafted requesting the Board of Directors appoint a special committee to study some topic of concern. In this case, a resolution requesting study of the potential impact of a movie with the level of violence in Kill Bill might be appropriate.

These resolutions never pass, but that does not mean management does not really hate them. If the resolution qualifies for inclusion in the corporation's proxy statement, it means the target company, Disney in this case, has to send out, at corporate expense, the resolution plus a brief supporting statement, to every shareholder of the company, all over the world. For a company that spends millions nourishing its corporate image, this is most unwelcome to say the least. Moreover, it means every institutional shareholder, which maps pretty well on to the power structure of the US, has to consider how to vote its shares on this resolution. So the trustees of CalPers, Harvard, the Ford Foundation, etc, etc. etc. down to the American Kennel Association, will have to consider, how do they want to vote on the Kill Bill resolution? That means they have to think, for at least a moment, Just how bad is this movie? You can start to appreciate why companies hate these things so much.

Filing these resolutions is pretty easy. A group I belonged to as an undergraduate filed some resolutions against various big corporations regarding investment in South Africa (yes, I was an undergraduate leftist. You grow.) and we did all the work ourselves. For some reason, social conservatives and others on the right have rarely used this technique. It has long been a favorite of left-wing activists. Unlike perhaps some in the corporate law area, I see nothing wrong with shareholders getting the board of a company to ask themselves whether they really want to be, for example, selling particularly harmful violence (if that's what it is). The technique is susceptible to abuse, but I don't think complaining about a super-violent movie would be an abuse. It's better than showing up with swords and chopping their heads off.


 
Women and the Military
By Michael Rappaport

According to the Washington Times, "Young women who are drafted into the Israeli military will be barred from most combat duties because of a medical study that has determined they are, after all, the weaker sex." The study found that women can only carry 40 percent of their weight (as compared to 55 percent for men). When combined with the fact that the military age women weigh 33 pounds less than the men, this results in women being able to carry 44 pounds less than men. The study also found that the "oxygen-carrying hemoglobin in women's blood was more than 10 percent lower than in men's blood, limiting their ability to undertake extended physical efforts." It is interesting that these results come from Israel, one of the modern pioneers of employing women in the military.


October 19, 2003
 
Ecumenical Humor
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Catholic humor? It's the oldest Jewish joke in creation (well, in America anyway). A Jewish businessman makes a lot of money -- in the garment industry, presumably -- and decides to buy himself a Jaguar. (This joke long, long antedates the Lexus.) He goes to his Orthodox rabbi, an eastern European immigrant of course, and asks him to "make a beracha" (a Hebrew blessing) on his Jaguar. "Vot's a Jeguar?" asks the little rabbi.

So the businessman goes to a Conservative rabbi, American-born but still out-of-touch. "Would you make a beracha on my Jaguar? "What's a Jaguar?", asks the rabbi.

So our hero goes to a Reform rabbi.

Well, you know what the Reform rabbi asks...

(Greeks and Turks drink the same coffee and eat the same honey pastry. Palestinians and Israelis eat the same felafel and humous. Why shouldn't Catholics and Jews have the same jokes?)


 
Easterbrook's Dismissal
By Michael Rappaport

Greg Easterbrook has been fired from his job on ESPN, apparently because of his post on Jewish movie executives. Like other bloggers, I feel bad for Easterbrook. Given his apology, it seems excessive and therefore unfair to have fired him for the post.

Judging ESPN, however, is a bit more complicated. They recently fired (or at least were happy to let Rush Limbaugh go) for his remarks about the media's attitudes toward black quarterbacks – remarks which did not appear racist, whether or not they were accurate. Thus, they have to worry about treating different controversial remarks differently. They also have a business to run and it is at least plausible for them to avoid the problems that such “scandals” create.

That said, I am happy to endorse the idea of sending e mails to ESPN asking them to reinstate Easterbrook, and I hope he gets his job back.


 
It's Anti-Cathlic Sunday at the New York Times!
By Tom Smith

The Gray Lady is in rare form this Sunday. In the national edition anyway (available at my local Starbuck's) there are four above the fold stories. From left to right, we learn that Bush's popularity is falling with older voters (according to a NY Times / CBS poll); Bush thinks Iraq is like the Phillipines; The wise heads at the State Department forsaw current troubles in Iraq, but were ignored, and the creation of new jobs is being stalled by overcapacity. In my edition, there is a full-color picture of President Bush looking dorky in one of those Philippino light cotton shirts (with his T-shirt showing through -- at least it's not a tank-top), next to a demure looking President Arroyo. Below the fold we learn that life sucks in Zimbabwe, as it does for the poor of New York, and in the bottom right hand corner, that the beatification of Mother Theresa is really just an excuse to sell religious kitch of the sort we simple-minded but pious Catholics are so fond.

With such an appetizing menu, it's hard to know what to choose first. More out of duty than curiosity, I turn to page 10 to read the rest of the Bush in the Philippines story, and am greeted by a picture of Philippinos burning American flags in protest over Bush's visit. Of course, whether this is typical of his reception, we have no way of learning in this newspaper. We are reminded, however, that the Philippines was yet another victim of American imperialism, which dumb old Bush apparently did not appreciate to the Time's satisfaction. Of all the Americans who died rescuing that nation from the Japanese, we hear little.

Flipping back to page 8, I look at the Mother Theresa story. This a hard one for the Times. A life of heroic virtue and sacrifice, helping the poorest of the poor. But we musn't like Mother Theresa, no, no, no. She was also an arch-conservative, against abortion, and not really very keen on sex of any sort. So what to do? Cover all the commerce around the event, that's an angle! So we get some nice photos of Mother Theresa statues for sale. I guess helping all those dying Indians was just an elaborate marketing device for rosaries.

But this is just one of several Catholic-themed stories this Sunday. The next I noticed was a profoundly clueness reflection in the Week in Review section about the pope growing old in public. How remarkable it is, muses Frank Bruni, that the pope appears in public even though he is so old. I mean, he actually looks old. He looks sick! He drools sometimes! He nods! But, he's a celebrity! Why is he letting us see him in this very un-photogenic state? Oh, I know, we are informed, it is to put before us all those issues that come from technologies that extend life! Look, the pope is saying, look at my quality of life issues! In fact, clever readers may infer this is probably not what this religious leader is doing. Try this, Frank. He is showing people that he is dying, that thing we do before we are dead. That thing we are all going to do, even the fetching model on page 11 in the Allen Schwarts champagne satin gown. And before we do, if we are lucky, we drool, nod, have trouble standing up and all the rest. It's called being old and sick, and it's part of being human. Then we die, and the religious part kicks in. Momento mori. Don't these people read books?

Finally, we are treated to an update on Andrew Sullivan's conscience as a gay man in the Catholic Church. I wonder what the odds would be of getting one's struggles of conscience published on the op-ed page of the times if the chase was, "you know, I should go back to the Church," or "I guess conventional morality was right about X after all." Remote, I should think. We find out Mr. Sullivan was unable to bring himself to go to Mass this Sunday because a gay couple he knows was kicked out of their parish choir for getting civilly unionized in Canada. (I should disclose that I was unable to bring myself to go to Mass this morning because of a combination of 2 Stone Pale Ales, half a bottle of some decent cabernet, being awakened at 2 am by our 2 day old, then again at 8 am by my wife who said 'I need to leave for William's first communion meeting in 12 minutes. I need 2 fried eggs and a copy of his Baptisimal Certificate.' In a clear act of divine grace, I was able to find the certificate in the garage file cabinet.) I guess the gist is that Mr. Sullivan is threatening to quit the Church if it doesn't shape up on gay issues. But he's not quite fed up yet, I guess. Maybe the Church can have one last chance. Me, I think the corruption at Vatican I than Acton complained about is embarassing, the whole Spanish Inquistion thing was bad, persecuting Protestants generally no better, priests taking part in recent genocides in Africa even worse, pedophile priests awful, etc., etc. Being a Catholic is like being an American. There is a lot you have to put up with. But the best of it is pretty good, and we have good enemies.


 
The Real Materialist Origins of Marxism
By Chris Wonnell

Yes, we're having another strike in California, this one involving the grocery workers. The various unions have been trying to show solidarity for each other, and the politicians have been stepping all over each other trying to show the maximum possible solidarity with the workers.

And here we see it: the origins of the ideology that ruined the twentieth century for much of the world's population, and that even in the United States and other fortunate places made the century much less wonderful than it could have been.

Karl Marx said that the increasing misery of the proletariat would create the materialist conditions for a social revolution. Since real wages in the United States have increased approximately tenfold in the last century, it would be a mild understatement to say that this prediction was off the mark. The embarrassing claim of labor leaders that unions are responsible for this wage increase is directly contradicted by the evidence showing the almost perfect correlation between the long run trend in wages and the trend in labor productivity, a correlation that has stayed intact through periods of weak and strong unions, and through Republican and Democratic administrations. Simply put, capitalism means decreasing misery of the proletariat.

So what the heck is happening at the grocery stores? It is reported that the workers there are making $18 an hour, which is not a terrible salary given the skills required for the jobs. But that is beside the point. Labor union action is often undertaken by the most privileged of workers, by airline pilots or movie scriptwriters or baseball players. Labor unions lash out at capital not because of their misery but because there is potential short term gain from confiscating some of the fixed capital in order to earn monopoly returns for themselves.

But here is the problem. The workers on the picket lines do not see it that way. These strikes are defining events in the political lives of the workers. Political consciousness comes from moments like these, where workers are running a big risk in the hope of a big gain, and feel the need for friends and allies. The slow progress of incremental growth, by contrast, is not dramatic. It is not accompanied by struggle and fear and hope for sizeable immediate improvements. No politician seems responsible for it, and after the growth has occurred people are not even certain that it ever occurred.

Workers are struggling against capital during the strike. Isn't it a natural extension to say that all workers are struggling against all capital, and that the goal of politics should be to elect representatives sympathetic to labor and not to capital? The material condition for class consciousness is not economic deprivation; it is the possibility of gain through strikes. It won't matter a bit if the next hundred years see real wages increase another tenfold, and workers are all living in mansions. Let those workers experience the possibility of further gains through strikes, and the ideology of class warfare will continue to thrive.

It is not a particularly happy story, because we know how false the global story of Marxism is and how much genuine misery it can cause. The fact that intellectuals are only too happy to further their own power vis-a-vis the business class by creating spurious defenses of class warfare such as Marxism only makes matters worse. But the lesson should be the need to create institutions that will make the experience of potential gain through strikes less prominent. In particular, we need to have free trade and deregulation to reduce the number of merchants earning monopoly rents that provide a natural target for strike activity.





October 18, 2003
 
How Popes are Elected
By Tom Smith

Here is a good description of how papal elections work. (Thanks to relapsed catholic for the pointer.) This is the leading description of vatican institutions. (Bear in mind it's by a Jesuit, as in "Mrs. O'Mally went to a Franciscan and asked, 'Father, may I say a novena for a Lexus?' The Franciscan replied 'What's a Lexus?' So Mrs. O'Malley went to a Jesuit and asked, 'Father, may I say a novena for a Lexus?' The Jesuit replied, 'What's a novena?'" Catholic humor.)

And speaking of Anglicans, this is interesting too. (relapsed catholic again.)


 
A Kinder Look At The Archbishop
By Maimon Schwarzschild

A reader sends a link to the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech last week, which I blogged on October 15. The Archbishop, Rowan Williams, was reported in the British press to have said that terrorists can have "serious moral goals", which he did. ("What about the Irgun?", as he put it.) But Williams was also reported to have denounced Anglo-American military action against Saddam Hussein, which he did not do in this speech at all.

Williams' topic, in fact, was "just war" theory. The speech was a serious-minded rebuttal to the American theologian George Weigel, not a political polemic -- although the implications of Williams' speech were surely sceptical about the justice of using force in Iraq.

Williams has in the past taken a clear, even strident line against Anglo-American and coalition action in Iraq. His speech this week puts unrealistic faith, I think, in international law. His idea of an international "council of experts" to decide when and whether force is justified is, to put it gently, unserious.

Still, Williams probably took an unfair beating for this particular speech, including from me. Is it any comfort that the continuing and grave crisis in his church gives him other things to worry about...?