The Right Coast
November 30, 2003
Another Aggie Joke?
By Gail Heriot
Football is serious business is Texas. When Texas A&M suffers a humiliating defeat to Texas, heads often roll. But whose head? Should it perhaps be the head of Bill Byrnes, the highly-paid Aggie coach? He doesn't think so. His finger is pointing in a different direction--at conservative students protesting race-based admissions standards..
Like several conservative campus groups across the country, Aggie conservatives recently staged a "bake sale" to protest the inequity of race-based admissions standards at A&M. Asian Americans were charged $2 per cookie, white males were charged $1, and white females 75 cents. Hispanics were charged 25 cents and blacks were charged 10 cents. There was considerable protest against the protest. Unlike nearby Southern Methodist University, however, Texas A&M did not declare the bake sale hate speech and forcibly shut it down. The Twilight Zone argument that certain speech must be stifled in order to promote a diversity of viewpoints mercifully did not carry the day at College Station.
So Coach Bill Byrnes gives us a different Twilight Zone argument: Protesting race-based admissions standards will hurt A&M on the gridiron. "Free speech is not an issue for me, " he says, "[b]ut I'm disappointed over the national attention that Texas A&M received recently because of a few individuals and their idea of a protest." "The Texas A&M Bake sale plays right into the hands of those who recruit against us, in both athletics and in the general student population." Byrnes urges readers to "speak out against anything like this that discredits Texas A&M University."
Anyone like me who has ever been married to a Texan has heard enough "dumb Aggie" jokes to fill volumes. But they've also met enough of those Aggies to know it's just a joke. Somehow I get the feeling that Byrnes really believes that Aggies are stupid if he thinks he can convince them that his team's losing season should be blamed on campus dissent over affirmative action.
Dale Amon gets it
By Tom Smith
You probably saw this already on instapundit, but it bears repeating.
The interesting irony is that it will be hard for the Western press to blame the US for Iraquis purging the Baathists. And unless it can be turned into an anti-US story, it will hardly be covered at all. Also, journalists will not want to be embedded (in bedded?) with the Baathists when bullets start flying in their direction. And it's yet another reason for the UN not to be involved. While you may not actually have to be in the act of committing genocide to be protected by UN peacekeepers, it helps. The UN in Iraq is shorthand for giving the Baathists a screen from behind which to carry on its terror campaign. Anyone they kill while the UN dithers would be, of course, a victim of American arrogance and incompetence.
The New Yorker. You Betcha, The New Yorker
By Tom Smith
Here I was, about to write that the New Yorker really might have become worth reading again.
In the December 1 issue, there is an interesting account of a noise dispute in an expensive upper East side co-op building. On one side is an old time resident couple, on the other a resident and her recently moved-in boyfriend, who is the world's leading maker of replicas of famous diamonds. (Apparently some of the famous diamonds on display in museums are fakes.) He makes the fake gems using an industrial machine he moved into his girlfriend's apartment. And yet, upon inspection, it seems to be a remarkably quiet machine. The noise it makes is even kind of soothing.
Then there is a review of John Updike's new collection of stories by Louis Manand. It begins badly with this sentence: "I am not one who golfs." He's probably trying to be self-mocking to some extent. But that sentence stands at such a nauseating distance from "I don't golf" that it's hard to go on. But one must, mustn't one, if one wishes to be fair in one's reading of a review in the New Yorker. At least that's how I feel about it. At any rate, it turns out to be a pretty good review of Updike, and manages to say some true things about the modern short story, which is certainly more than one has any right to expect (especially if one has read any post-modern lit crit lately). And there are several cute to funny cartoons, such as one featuring two of Santa's elves, one saying to another "Well, at least it beats my old job working at Walmart."
But then, just as I was thinking I could safely open the covers of the magazine again, I foolishly looked at the "Talk of the Town" section. This section has evolved from discussions of urban trivialities to an op-ed space. It is a gaseous thing, so inflated by self-importance that one worries one might be injured by the explosion that surely must come at any moment. This week's flatus draws a strained comparison between the NFL and marriage, suggesting that people who care about "institutions" are a stupid, unprincipled lot. Institutions are what we run to when we can't find our principles, the writer opines, in a moment of astonishing pomposity. Here's the idea. The NFL is upset about the new steroids that avoid testing technology. This is silly of them, because professional football is such a violent, injurious sport that being concerned about damage inflicted by drugs as opposed to tackles is hypocritical. Limits of space and patience preclude one from listing all the ways in which this argument makes one want to pull out one's hair, if one has any hair.
But just a few points. Maybe the NFL thinks pro football is violent enough, and doesn't want it to become more violent, and so doesn't want defensive tackles getting any bigger or meaner than they already are. Maybe they don't want to pay any more for medical care than they already do when players' internal organs give out. Maybe they want to lengthen the careers of good players. Maybe they understand the game and business of football better than some writer at the New Yorker whose idea of violence is a really snide remark at a party, whispered so the lady it is about won't hear it and beat him up.
But it's worse, according to this chatterer. You see, people want to defend the silly institution of football, just like they want to defend the silly institution of marriage. Doing so, somehow, is supposed to lack principle. (At this point, I really wish this guy was a quarterback looking one way, and Dick Butkus, who had been sprinting for the last ten yards, was coming from the other.) I don't see how "football is worth keeping, and so is marriage" is not a principle. Or how about, "You folks seem to hold in contempt what I value, so maybe I should not listen to you." Sounds like a principle to me. And furthermore, what's wrong with taking refuge in institutions. When arguments fail, you need them to survive, or at least to make surviving worth doing.
Sharon Policy on Settlements
By Michael Rappaport
In a previous post and op ed piece, I argued that Israeli settlements could be justified as a means of inducing the Palestinians to make peace now. If the Palestinians continue to engage in terrorism and to refuse to negotiate in good faith, they will lose some of the land they claim. It now appears that Ariel Sharon has been thinking along similar lines. See this New York Times article entitled: Sharon Warns Palestinians: Make Peace or Risk Losing Land.
Sad but True
By Michael Rappaport
It is really sad that this sort of thing goes on in English Departments. From the Rat:
"Narratology studies narrative texts only in so far as they are narrative; in other words, in their narrativity."
November 29, 2003
Freespace on Hayek
By Michael Rappaport
An interesting post by Tim Sandefur of Freespace on Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty. I do not agree with all of Sandefur’s criticisms, especially his claim that Hayek contradicts himself, but the post is nonetheless worth reading. One difference between Sandefur and Hayek, I think, is that Hayek acknowledge greater limits on our understanding of the function of various rules in a free society than does Sandefur. While I think Hayek overemphasized our lack of knowledge of societal rules in his later work, Law, Legislation, and Liberty, he was far less prone to committing that error in the Constitution of Liberty.
November 28, 2003
Law professor and deadly hunter
By Tom Smith
A picture of yours truly with his trusty Indian sidekick.
To the Chargers: Please get lost
By Tom Smith
Here in America's finest city, we have a pathetic professional football team that is threatening to leave for LA or some other burb if the taxpayers won't cough up the dough for a new stadium in which the mostly losing team may be worshipped. I just want to say, go, please. Why are you still here?
San Diego just watched in horror as thousands of homes burned and more than a dozen died, partly because the city and county did not have enough fire trucks, modern radios and helicopters to stop the blaze. We could buy some of those. But, Oh, no! Bad idea! Instead, let's pad the pockets of millionare sports promoters and athletes. Come to think, evacuees did congregate at the stadium. I suppose there is something to be said for having a nice stadium to go to after your house burns down.
But, maybe, just a thought here -- we could spend more money on our struggling public school system. San Diego public schools range from the barely adequate to the dangerous and dysfunctional. And more cuts are on their way from Sacramento. But hey, why not spend the money instead on a new, different concrete monstrosity in Mission Valley, one more in the contemporary style of concrete monstrosity. The old concrete monstrosity does not have the thing every civilized society needs. You guessed it-- skyboxes. How can we hold our heads high as San Diegans when our stadium lacks the plush, private quarters that big wheels need to swill scotch and watch football in comfort? Johnny and Jose can learn to read latter, as long as the local elite doesn't have to watch football in the open air. I mean, the very idea of Chip and Porky not having a high definition plasma monitor on which to watch the Chargers punt, while working hard to add that next 25 points to their total cholesterol, just really makes me sad. Poor Chip. Poor Porky.
Or, if sports is the thing, how about spending more money on sports programs for kids? The are precious few public programs for kids in San Diego wanting to learn how to swim or surf or pay baseball. Sure, this can all be done privately, but if we are determined to spend the public's money, we might, just for novelty's sake, try using it to help people who don't drive Bentleys and fly private jets. What I am trying to say is, Mr. Spanos, why don't you pay for your own f@#$ing stadium?
If we are going into the business of bribing pampered, spoiled, foul-mouthed, excessively tattooed, drug-abusing, and generally bad-example setting professional athletes with the hard-earned money of people who suffer under inadequate police and fire protection, publc schools and other public services, why don't we bribe them to win? If we are going to crawl on our bellies to the Chargers, like peasants groveling up to evil lords, with pennies clutched in our hands, dare we ask that they actually win once in a while. It's humiliating enough to have to bribe people much richer than you are to play football. It is worse that they do it so badly. So, if we are going to buy a football team, why don't we buy another one? Maybe the Cowboys or the Steelers would like to change digs. But to the Chargers, I say, go long, and keep going.
Frum versus Sullivan on the Federal Marriage Amendment
By Michael Rappaport
An interesting post by Andrew Sullivan, and response by David Frum, on the Federal Marriage Amendment. Both of them make some good points. Putting aside whether the Amendment should be enacted, I think I agree more with Sullivan on Clause 1, more with Frum on Clause 2, and with both of them on Clause 3.
November 27, 2003
By Michael Rappaport
On behalf of all of us at The Right Coast, I just wanted to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving.
The Thanksgiving holiday coincides with the two month anniversary of this blog. Writing the blog has been both fun and rewarding, and we would like to thank both our readers and the many other bloggers whose writings have educated and entertained us.
Why traveling to Mexico scares me
By Tom Smith
I don't consider myself a travel wimp. But Mexico still scares me.
Bad manners in Congress
By Tom Smith
I confess I just don't get what the Democrats are complaining about. To me they look like a defensive tackle, who has been sacking quarterbacks all day, start whining when an offensive lineman finally manages to knock him down. Yes, the Republican leadership held open the roll call in the House for an unusually long period. But the fillibuster of judicial nominees is unusual as well. The Republicans are spending too much money--I happen to agree with the Democrats there. But come on, I am supposed to believe the Democrats would not spend just as much if they had the chance?
Bi-National State Proposal
By Michael Rappaport
Here is an interesting development.
"RIGHT-WING CALLS FOR BI-NATIONAL STATE—(Jerusalem) As many as 14 Likud MKs along with leaders from the Yesha Council are calling for a bi-national state and offering all willing Palestinians Israeli citizenship. The plan was revealed Tuesday in an attempt to block P.M. Ariel Sharon’s consideration of unilateral evacuation of certain settlements. The proposal would grant Israeli citizenship and equal rights to all Palestinians living in the territories who are interested in such a status quo. The plan would provide for the dismantling of the PA and would proscribe the establishment of a Palestinian State. To circumvent the rapid demographic growth of Palestinians, the West Bank and Gaza would be partitioned into cantons that would receive parliamentary representation according to factors other than population. The bi-national state would in perpetuity be led by a Jewish prime minister with an Arab deputy. (Jer. Post, Nov. 25)"
While the single state proposal of Noam Chomsky and Edward Said differs in important respects from this one, this nonetheless appears to another example where the far right and far left agree on certain matters.
The story is from the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.
November 26, 2003
GOP Panty Raid
By Gail Heriot
I peeked into a Victoria's Secret store a few days ago. OK, I admit it. I was actually in the store, but I didn't buy anything. Honest. It was crowded with some very happy looking people, women and men (the latter seemed particularly happy), apparently from up and down the social ladder. I doubt you would have found a more diverse group of American voters somewhere else at the mall. They seemed blithely unaware of the effect the Bush administration's new tariff on Chinese imports will certainly have on their future purchases.
The mechandise at Victoria's Secret is largely imported from China; that's how the store is able to offer ladies' lingerie at prices that most Americans can happily afford. It comes in all shapes, colors and sizes; some with lace, some with bows and some even with diamonds encrusted on them. Some is even in fairly good taste. (I won't say that I've never purchased anything from Victoria's Secret; a lady has to have a few secrets, you know.)
Like Bush's ill-fated steel tariffs, the lingerie tariff is a cheap political tactic. For steel, Karl Rove thought Bush needed to do a favor for Pennsylvania, which he considers a potential swing state if the 2004 election turns out to be close. This time around, it's said to be the need to please the leaders of certain Southern states, which are feeling the pinch of competition from Chinese corsets, bras and panties. America's reputation as the world's leading supporter of free trade, however, should be worth more than that. A lot more.
Moreover, if Karl Rove thinks that the political ramifications of this will be positive for the GOP, he is likely mistaken. The fact that shoppers at Victoria's Secret appear ignorant of the Bush-imposed tariffs doesn't mean the GOP is insulated from harm. Consider this: As American women forgo these little luxuries (and substitute, for example, potato chips and dip), they will feel less desirable. Indeed, as time goes by that feeling may become a reality. In frustration, their menfolk will turn to alcohol and eventually to crime. All these changes will hurt the GOP. When women fell undesirable, they feel insecure and vote for Democrats. That's why married women are a strong Republican constituency while single women tend to vote the other way. The Republican party hence has good reason to want to keep them (and their husbands) happy in their marriages. When men are drunk, their loyalty to the GOP may be undiminished, but they can't find their way to the polls, so they don't vote. And, of course, once they are convicted of a felony, they lose their right to vote entirely. Bush may well lose the election on account of this misguided panty raid and never know why.
Sound far-fetched? Well ... ok ... you got me. But it would be no less than what the GOP deserves for its cheap political manipulations. That's all for now. I'm going back to the mall before the prices go up.
Loss of Privilege
By Michael Rappaport
Jonah Goldberg argues that many people have overstated the influence of the Right on the culture. (Hat tip: Randy Barnett.) While the Right has certainly gained ground, it has not secured a dominant position or parity with the Left:
In return, we'd like the keys to the executive bathrooms at ABC, CBS and NBC, please. We'd like the cast of Fox and Friends to take over The Today Show's studios ("and tell Couric to take her Cabbage Patch dolls with her!"). We want Ramesh Ponnuru as the editor of the New York Times and Rich Lowry can have his choice between Time and Newsweek. Matt Labash will get Esquire and let's set up Rick Brookhiser at Rolling Stone (that way they won't have to change their drug coverage). Andrew Sullivan can have The New York Times Magazine. Robert Bork will be the dean of the Yale Law School and the faculty of Hillsdale and Harvard will simply switch places. Cornell West will be airbrushed out of The Matrix and Harvey Mansfield will take his place (though convincing him say anything other than "you call that a haircut?" will be hard). NRO will get the bazillions of dollars spent by the editors of Salon and Slate, and those guys can start paying their authors with chickens and irregular tube socks made in Albania.
In other words, talk to me about how we've won the culture war when Dinesh D'Souza wins a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" and Maya Angelou has to blog about it because no one at the New York Times will run her pieces.
Consider the unforgettable discussion in Bonfire of the Vanities of Sherman McCoy contemplating his downfall from being a Master of the Universe. McCoy, who lived in a Park Avenue apartment which had an elevator that went exclusively to his door, now had to face the possibility of living in a more modest luxury building without that exclusive access. He is genuinely disgusted and horrified about the possibility that he will have to walk down a hallway that contains other people’s doors and, most of all, their big ugly doorknobs. Oh, the indignity of it all. Losing what you once had can seem horrible, even though you still enjoy a privileged life.
For the left, those doorknobs are Fox News and National Review.
November 25, 2003
New Column by David Brooks
By Michael Rappaport
An interesting column by David Brooks on how good things are in America, especially as compared to Europe. (Maybe France needs a cowboy as President.)
Classic Movie Review: 12 Angry Men
By Michael Rappaport
I rented the classic 1957 movie, 12 Angry Men, from the library and watched it on my computer with my 11 year old son. I had remembered watching it with my father, so it was kind of fun to relive the experience as a father.
The movie was well done. Although it seemed a bit dated at points – for example, it was an all male jury – it still stood up to the test of time pretty well. The actors, of course, were great.
One aspect of the movie that stood out was how one-sided it was. The good guys were smart, polite, and respectful. The bad guys usually yelled and had some motive – prejudice, a strained relationship with their child, or a frivolous desire to attend a baseball game – for taking the actions they did. There was only one person on the wrong side of the question who was thoughtful and unbiased – but he was still pretty creepy.
So while the story is a powerful message against prejudice and in favor of the jury system, it conveys that message in a strongly one-sided way. In that respect, it is like an Ayn Rand novel. Of course, since I have always found Rand’s books to be powerful, it is not surprising that I also found 12 Angry Men to be compelling. It is just that I had not remembered that 12 Angry Men used that literary device.
November 24, 2003
The Demandingness Criticism of Utilitarianism
By Michael Rappaport
Recently, Mathew Yglesias and Larry Solum had an exchange about the “demandingness criticism of utilitarianism.” Since I had been planing to blog about this subject anyway, I thought I would jump in.
I am more or less a utilitarian (with some uncertainty about what the good to be maximized is) who believes that most criticisms of utilitarianism are off the mark. One such mistaken criticism is the demandingness criticism.
Larry Solum presents the demandingness criticism as follows:
What are the determinate rules concerning our positive obligations to other people, including the poor of the world? In my view, our obligations come pretty close to the traditional moral obligations: we are entitled to spend the bulk of our money on ourselves and our families, but we should spend a reasonable amount on the poor (especially on the deserving poor), depending on the extent of our resources. This reasonable amount is probably near the traditional 10 percent. Of course, we are encouraged to donate more, and we are praised for doing so. But we are not to be condemned for doing less.
These rules make perfect sense under utilitarianism. First, it makes sense to have everyone put their primary focus on their own and their family’s interests. Since we care most about our family and ourselves, focusing on these interests is the way to promote utility. Utility is maximized by you helping your child with homework and me helping mine, not the reverse.
Second, it also makes sense to have our obligations towards others be limited, such as to 10 percent of our resources. If moral rules make unreasonable demands, people will ignore the rules. So no additional charity will result anyway. But if the moral rules make excessive demands, those rules will come into disrepute and people will start to ignore moral rules in other areas. This would be a serious problem for the functioning of society. It is far better to establish reasonable rules that people may actually follow. And by praising people for doing more, you may even get more charity. Moreover, people who follow the rules can feel good about themselves, which will reinforce their desire to behave morally.
The importance of realistic obligations is illustrated by the famous example of Peter Singer, who told others to give their money away and sacrifice their interests, but then spent large amounts on the care of his mother who had severe dementia from Alzheimer’s disease. While many people criticized his hypocrisy, the more important philosophical point was that his behavior showed that the obligation he sought to impose was unrealistic and could not generally be fulfilled.
What is the response to my argument? Perhaps someone might argue that utilitarianism still must endorse working another day for Oxfam because that would produce additional utility. So if utilitarianism endorses it, then people should feel obliged to do it.
The utilitarian reply to this point is there is a difference between recognizing that an action would result in a better world and morally requiring that action. Utilitarianism recognizes that working another day at Oxfam would be better – that is why utilitarianism praises that action – but utilitarianism also recognizes that morally requiring people to take that action would not make for a better world. Morally requiring it would make for less utility in the long run.
November 23, 2003
By Maimon Schwarzschild
I was 15 years old -- it was the summer of 1967 -- and I was hanging around the left-wing world in New York City hoping to be taken for a seasoned radical, and I found my way to a Greenwich Village performance of a play called "Macbird" by a playwright named Barbara Garson. The play's "thesis", if that's the right word, was that LBJ was behind the conspiracy to murder JFK in Dallas. The play was scurrilously funny, at least to a would-be-precocious 15 year old: a Shakespeare spoof that began, as I remember, with Ladybird/Lady Macbeth intoning "Now is the winter of our discontent, made summer by the death of that son-of-a-bitch..." (I had just read Richard III in high school...)
Fast forward 36 years. (Very fast, it often seems...)
I flew cross-country this week (on JetBlue) and the in-flight "entertainment" was a History Channel "documentary" whose relentlessly sledge-hammered thesis was... that LBJ was behind the conspiracy to murder JFK in Dallas.
(We have a portentous British narrator, spooky music, interviews with "ordinary people" who claim to have overheard the Johnsons and their staff planning the murder. Production quality more or less suggesting Goebbels on an off day.) (Were there B-pictures from the Goebbels ministry?)
It seems that the History Channel ran this "documentary" every night this past week.
Dreaming up right-wing Kennedy assassination conspiracies is a long-standing obsession, of course. There is in actual fact no serious doubt that Lee Harvey Oswald really did shoot Kennedy -- "acting alone" as the saying goes. But Lee Harvey Oswald had spent time in the Soviet Union, married a Russian woman, wrote and handed out "Fair Play For Cuba" leaflets. A nut, no doubt; but no right-wing nut. Can't have that.
But what to say about a country in which lunatic smear-"documentaries" pass unremarked as in-flight entertainment? Are there people -- presumably there must be -- who watch a "documentary" like this and assume there is truth in it?
In fairness to the world of Greenwich Village in 1967, I don't think it occurred to the "Macbird" audience that Barbara Garson's hate-Johnson rant was actually, literally true.
What does the History Channel think it is doing? Or JetBlue, for that matter?
At least "Macbird" was funny.
On line Dating
By Tom Smith
I had no idea on-line dating was such a big deal. For me, reading this article in the NYT magazine this Sunday was a visit to an alien culture. How could you go on 100 dates in a year? Five dates in a week and go to bed on three of them (spirtual suicide in one week)? Hook ups for cheating spouses, and everything else. Interesting and too weird.
While your there, check out Donald Trump's egregious comb over. I hope that model is getting well paid. (About half-way down the page, on your left. Click to see the whole portfolio. Do the shareholders of Boeing really have to spend $10 million to decorate the inside of the company's business jet?)
Finally a Ford Foundation Grant of which Henry Ford Would Have Approved
By Gail Heriot
The New York Sun ran a series recently on the Ford Foundation's million-dollar grants to virulently anti-semitic and anti-Israeli organizations. The Sun's website is by subscription only, so here is a secondary account. To add a little extra spice, these organizations apparently advocate terrorism.
What's interesting is that the Ford Foundation has probably not given a grant in years that the great capitalist Henry Ford would have approved of. Now at last they have. Ford's lunatic screed, the International Jew, is still canonical among the anti-semitic lunatic fringe in the English-speaking world. Maybe the Ford Foundation's hard left bureaucrats were just looking for some common ground between Ford and themselves.
David Brooks has sex?
By Tom Smith
There are some things I prefer not to think about. David Brooks having sex is one of them. His having multiple partners in one year, even more so. Just to make sure, I asked a certain lady with whom I am on close terms, but who prefers to remain anonymous, this question: "Does David Brooks having sex make you feel a little queasy?" She said "Yes. O God yes. Thanks for that visual."
Brooks says having sex with several partners within a one year period amounts to spiritual suicide. Trying to have sex with several partners in one year and failing might work too. I guess if you wanted to get it over with quickly you could have sex with several partners all at once.
Mark Shields can have sex, and even smoke a cigarette afterwards. Jim Lehrer, well, I'm sure he committed spiritual suicide years ago. Margaret Warner, well, I am not going to discuss ladies in this post. But David Brooks. No. For all of us, it is a topic he should avoid.
A Martyr to Blogging
By Tom Smith
Microsoft fires a blogger for posting photo on his blog showing Apple G5's arriving at Redmond campus.
I am so ready to switch to Apple, especially since Microsoft seems to be on a campaign to make WordPerfect unstable and happy to let Word remain unbelievably lame. But switching costs are real. It's almost enough to make you believe in all that networking, path-dependency balony.
The Leftist Who Cried Wolf
By Michael Rappaport
Interesting post at Master of None on the problems created by frivolous complaints concerning violations of civil liberties.
More on Searle on Terrorism
By Michael Rappaport
My co-blogger, Tom Smith, was certainly right about John Searle's unpublished op ed. It was great. (And it was written by a philosopher -- amazing. Just kidding, I think.) Here is one of the gems from the piece:
History of Last Big Defensive War against Muslim Fanatics
By Tom Smith
You guessed it. Those much maligned Crusades. I like the crusaders, partly because my mother was recently made a lady of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the oldest continuously existing order of nobility in the West. (Yes, I am proud of my mom.) It was founded during the First Crusade, a mere 1000 years ago or so, and has a fascinating history in its own right. The order is no longer military, and is devoted mostly to charitable work. On the crusades, here's a summary of recent scholarship. (hat tip to little green footballs.) For the general reader, there's this little book on The Monks of War. A little too much detail and not enough mayhem for my tastes, but pretty good so far. And this on the Templars. This is a legitimate history; beware the voluminous garbage published about the Templars, which figure in many conspiracy theories.
Embrace your inner nerd
By Tom Smith
If you blog or read blogs, there is a good chance you are a nerd or have nerd-like tendencies. It's OK. Embrace it. Among other things, nerds are known for surprising sexual powers. Look at Glen Reynolds!
Anyway, PBS's Nova is a good show for your inner nerd. The recent show on Magnetic Storms was quite good. The End of the World As We Know It theme was a bit overdone, but definitely worth watching.
Contrast that to the Nova series on String Theory. I still don't get it. But I can summarize for you. The universe, believe it or not, is made out of little string thingies that are really, really, really, really, really small. The evidence for this is . . . well, there is no evidence for this. But it's a really elegant theory, and the media spokesperson for String Theory, Brian Greene, is pretty good looking for a physicist. It ought to be called, the Elegant Self-Promoting Physicist. Did I mention strings are really small? They are. Or would be, if they existed. But whether they exist or not, they sure are elegant.
Medical Savings Accounts
By Michael Rappaport
I previously criticized the prescription drug bill passed by the House. The one good part of the bill, though, is the medical savings account provision. Here is an example of how they would work:
If the family bought the $3,000 plan, the $4,200 saved in lower premiums could be invested in a savings account, spent to pay routine health bills and deducted from income taxes, and the chances are that the family would have some left over as a nest egg against bills in succeeding years.
If the Medicare bill really permits significant use of medical savings accounts, then that would be a significant advantage. (I am not sure, however, that it does. Earlier versions of the bill appear to have limited its use to people of moderate incomes and the news reports do not expressly state whether that feature was retained in the House bill.) Yet, I doubt that medical savings accounts by themselves are worth a significant expansion of a largely unreformed Medicare system to prescription drugs.
November 22, 2003
Recipie of the Week
By Tom Smith
Lots of bloggers post recipies, so why shouldn't I? Here's my favorite:
Scotch and Water
Take a "double old fashioned" glass. Fill it all the way to the top with ice cubes. Now, slowly pour a blended scotch whiskey in the glass until it is half-way full. Now add water until the glass is almost full. (If your tap water is vile, use bottled water.) Stir with wrong end of spoon or if clean, your finger. Drink. Repeat.
This may seem like a simple recipie, but there are some nuances you could miss. First, note I say fill the glass all the way to the top with ice. If you do not, you will be drinking a triple or a quadruple scotch instead of a double. Do you really want to do that? You do? Well, OK then, don't fill it all the way to the top.
Notice I say blended scotch. Why not a single malt scotch? You are a Republican after all, and entitled to drink single malt scotch. The answer is simple. Some single malts taste like cough medicine aged in gasoline drums. You don't want to drink those. But others, and here is the key point, are too good. If you make one of these out of Glenlivet or McCallan, next thing you know you will be into the second half of the bottle saying "come here pretty lassie!" as you chase your wife around the table. Give her a break. Choose Johnnie Walker Red Label or some other respectable but resistable brand.
Finally, I recommend using ice. They do not use ice in Scotland. However, we are not in Scotland. If I were freezing my tail off in the dark 8 months of the year, I probably would not use ice either. But I'm not. I live in San Diego. Be an American. Use ice.
David Brooks for gay marriage
By Tom Smith
David Brooks is strongly pro- gay marriage, it seems. Last night on the Lehrer News Hours he said so. He seems to think marriage builds character, like marching in the snow or something. If I thought marriage would make gays prone to make life-time commitments, I might be for gay marriage. But it might undermine what is left of that in all marriage. I'm probably still in the undecided camp on this one.
But I know one thing. That Nino Scalia is hot. When he comes out in that black robe, scowling at the whole world, I just want to say, enjoin me! enjoin me! OK, Brian, do I qualify as heterosexual now? (Brian Leiter wants to revive the old argument that homophobia actually means you have repressed homosexual feelings.)
John Searle on Terrorism
By Tom Smith
This brief op-ed piece by John Searle is as sensible now as when it was first written. Searle is one of the leading living philosophers and prone to wise observations on political matters on and off campus.
Great Products? I'll give you great products
By Tom Smith
Tyler Cohen recommends $600 binocs and $16,000 stereo speakers. Yes, I want them. But let's get real. Here are my recommendations:
1. Take along deluxe baby swing. Legally sedate your baby. Perfect thing for your screaming ball of rage. Why does swinging and watching flashing lights calm the savage beast? Who knows. But it works. The French, I am told, have baby vallium. They would. You can use the baby swing, however, without causing brain damage, which may lead to leftist internationalism and saying phhhhhhhhht! in adulthood.
2. Dyson DC07 vacuum cleaner. I love this thing. A high-tech vacuum that really works. Sucks up matted dog hair, assorted kid detritus, year old dirt. At $500, a little pricey for a vacuum cleaner, but after you see the pints of crud you've been living with, you'll fall in love. Also, you're supporting the best of free market innovation. Long story there. It is (drum roll) the Dyson DC07 (Get it at amazon.com).
Chomsky on Charlie Rose with Tivo
By Michael Rappaport
I watched Noam Chomsky on Charlie Rose last night, courtesy of my new Tivo (actually a DVR). It is amazing how much more you will use a machine that does little more than a VCR, because it is more convenient to operate. (Just think of how much more we turn channels with the remote control.)
Chomsky was, well, Chomsky. He sits there looking kind of like a smart, but disheveled grandfather, calmly making intelligent points. You have to pay attention to realize that he is selling you a bill of goods. It is hard to pin down where exactly he goes wrong. Some of what he says is correct. But much of it is mistaken, with the errors flowing, in different situations, from mistaken facts, selective versions of history, or superficial moral notions. I despise what he stands for, yet, I must admit, I found him fascinating.
Watching Chomsky brought back to mind the one time I saw him in person. In November of 1979, I believe, he gave two talks when I was a sophmore in college: on language in the morning, which I missed, and on American foreign policy in the night, which I caught. Chomsky spoke about East Timor and also argued that terrorism was simply the way that a country or people without an army engaged in war. At the time, I was a much purer libertarian, held few conservative views, and often believed in a left libertarian approach to foreign policy. (It’s a long way from there to a neoconservative foreign policy.) So much of what Chomsky said did not horrify me.
I remember mentioning to my philosophy professor and mentor, John Wilcox (an ethics and Nietzsche scholar), how amazing Chomsky seemed. “He has revolutionized linguistics and is also so knowledgeable and incisive about foreign policy. He is just so impressive.” And John Wilcox, with the sarcastic wisdom that he regularly displayed, replied: “So is the devil.”
November 20, 2003
The Friend of My Friend is My Enemy
by Saikrishna Prakash
There is an interesting article in today's New York Times which discusses the resurgence of the Taliban. An unnamed American official claims that Pakistan's help in apprehending Al-Qaeda operatives has been "phenomenal." Yet the same official deems Pakistan's help in checking the Taliban as "far less than satisfactory."
By now, it must have belatedly dawned on the Bush administration that Pakistan will never help America crush the Taliban. After all, the Taliban seized power with the crucial assistance of the Pakistani government. Only the most exceptional parent would help the police apprehend their child. And Pakistan show no signs of turning on its offspring.
If, hope against hope, we are to persist in seeking Pakistani assistance, we need to make it crystal clear that nothing less than the future of Pakistan is at stake. In late 2001, President Bush said that those who harbor terrorists must be part of the solution lest they be deemed part of the problem. As things stand now, Pakistan is a big part of the problem. And so far, it seems we aren't willing to do anything about it.
By Tom Smith
Here is an IQ test on the web. It's kinda fun, and some of the questions are tricky! According to this test, I have an IQ of 131, which is pretty good, I think, but not as good as say, 151. I think I have that right. For $14.95 you can buy the full report on your intelligence (I'm not that stupid) and you can also buy exercises to improve your intelligence. A perfect gift for your friends!
The peculiarity of gay marriage
By Tom Smith
I'm having a hard time deciding what to think about gay marriage. Without having read the opinion, it seems to me the Massachusetts court's decision as reported is pretty weak. It would take constitutional language living, growing and mutating at an impressive clip to require gay marriage under typical equal protection language. Whatever version of originalism you adopt, if the framers of your constitutional language and every one who lived within a couple of decades of them would react with shock, disbelief and horror to your interpretation of their language, chances are good your opinion is more about your opinion than about the text you are supposedly interepreting. But that is old news. Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is infested by radical activists, and it's raining in Seattle.
Of course it would be better for the commonwealth of Massachusetts if the state's legislature could sort this out. But that leaves the question, what would you do if you were an assembyperson in Boston? Well, that would depend on whether you were from Brookline or West Waterwheel, that is, upon how well organized the gay lobby was in your district. But what would be the right thing to do, assuming somewhere there is a politician curious to know what that is?
For me it is a hard question partly because we do not live in a world in which it would be an easy question. If we lived in a Nozickian minimal state, or something like it, from the perspective of law, marriage would just be one of probably several long or medium term contracts people could enter into with other people regarding the disposition of property, establishing some agency relations and agreeing on the custody of children. It would be left to private associations such as churches to define marriage as a sacrament that could only be entered into by a man and a woman, was for life, and so forth. If people felt strongly they only wanted to live near other such people, they could move to Our Lady's Town in Utah, or whereever. And I would probably choose to live in one of the more traditionalist suburbs. As I have mentioned before, I think tolerance is philosophically possible and practically desirable.
But, alas, we don't live in such a world. In this world, the state has established something like a church, where the religion is itself. The state asserts a power to define what marriage is legally, and inevitably, morally, or at least with respect to the norms of society. It is precisely because this is the case that gay activists are so keen on having the state recognize gay marriage. If it were just a matter of securing certain legal benefits to themselves, some sort of civil union statute would probably be preferable. Some of the legal baggage of marriage would be avoided. Such a statute could presumably be made more modern and flexible than the ancient law of matrimony. But instead the idea is to acquire for homosexual relations the status that has traditionally been reserved for monogamous, heterosexual relationships. So you see this odd manuever of making libertarian arguments for the bestowing of a legal status that is not founded upon contract. It is anomolous, like somebody insisting they have a constitutional right to be knighted. The prestige of marriage comes from its legal status, not its contractual terms. If it were otherwise, gays would be less keen to be able to marry, and the rest of us would care less whether they could.
Marriage law is ancient and important. A credible argument can be made, and has been, by Harold Berman, that the elevation of marriage to a sacrament entered into voluntarily by a consenting man and woman is the origin or at the origin of the idea of individual human rights in the West. Before the Church imposed this rule, wives were a commodity and their consent to marriage neither necessary or significant.
At the same time, the modern state has done what it does so well, and demeaned the institution entrusted to it. Marriage reform laws such as no-fault divorce seem to have been a disaster for women and children, whom marriage was intended to protect. If marriage is redefined again to include gay marriage, and this further undermines it as an institution, it would only be the latest in the modern state's attack on all institutions save itself.
Institutions have a way of changing people, but they also respond to what people want of them. It is hard to believe that gay couples would want of marriage the same things that straight couples do. I am just guessing, but I suspect gay couples on average would desire more flexible arrangements, easier exit provisions, and other significant differences. Not only gay couples that are like old married couples would want to be married. Couples that are less like what we usually think of as married might well want to be married as well. Open marriage may not work well with straights, but it might with gays, or gay men anyway. Who knows. In any event, it is naive to think new people moving into the neighborhood won't change the neighborhood.
If secular marriage were a more vital institution, I would have more confidence that marriage would change gay culture more than vice versa. But the institution of marriage is not in great shape as it is.
Drugs, Sex and Sports
By Tom Smith
Andrew Sullivan apparently approves of this notably superficial and stupid comment on drugs in sports appearing on Slate. So what's all the hysteria about drugs for?
Here's the idea. Using drugs in sports, especially high level sports, is cheating. At the highest levels, margins of victory are very small, and drugs can easily be the margin of victory. We do not want who wins to be determined by who has the best anti-detection technology, or who is willing to do the most damage to their kidneys or liver. It corrupts the sport, and may have already ruined some sports, such as professional cycling, beyond repair. Talk to professional cyclists off the record, and after a few legal drinks, and they will tell you amazing stories about the lengths cyclists go to to dope themselves and hide the evidence. I hope Lance Armstrong is telling the truth when he says the only thing he is on is his bike, but I admit I doubt it. And the fact that many of the Olympics promotors are corrupt is no excuse for the athletes themselves to cheat.
The whole idea of athletic competition is to create an arena governed by rules so that victory and merit correspond. It is an artificial exercise in nobility of body and spirit. Not rigorously enforcing rules against drugs would undermine all of that.
By Tom Smith
As I explained below, I am (very) slowly reading through this book on Cosmology and Theology. As I mentioned, Lane's argument for the creation of the universe depends on the impossibility of the existence of an "actual infinite." If infinite past time is an actual infinite, then it's impossible, so the universe must have started at some point, which gets you closer, at least, to a creator.
But is infinite past time an actual infinite? An actual infinite would be something like a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, or a universe with an infinite number of particles in it. But how is an infinite past a set with an infinite number of things in it? As Lane notes, both Aristotle and Aquinas thought an infinite past would not be an actual infinite. Lane refers to the work of Von Snickleberry (or some other obscure name) of an Aquinas scholar I have never heard of, saying that this very prominent contemporary scholar thinks Aristotle and Aquinas are wrong on this point. Well, excuse me, but if Aristotle and Aquinas think not-p, I'm not sure I'm impressed that Von Stinkybann or whatever his name is thinks they're wrong. Only Stanley Fish would be impressed by that sort of argument from authority. It seems more plausible to think, as Aquinas did, that you have a present moment, then another one. But you do not get a sort of accumulation of moments as time passes. Is the idea that they are somehow stored somewhere? It seems more plausible to suggest one present moment kind of replaces another, so that only the present actually exists at any given time. In any event, the argument is that an infinite number of things actually existing creates logical paradoxes. I would think you could just as plausibly say, moments of time must not accumulate, because then if you had an infinite past, you would have an actual infinite, which is impossible. So time must just sort of pass, rather than accumulate. Heck, for all we know, maybe that's one of the reasons time does pass, rather than build up over time (little joke, there). So, I'm a little disappointed. It looks like this argument for the existence of God is flawed, for reasons I will probably discovered are well recognized in the second half of the book. As I was contemplating these things, somebody jostled my shoulder. It was my wife. "You're snoring," she said.
Those darn Syrians
By Tom Smith
Is it just me, or does this seem just a little bit anti-Semitic? (hat tip Andrew Sullivan.)
The French really are different
By Tom Smith
The excellent food and travel magazine Gourmet has a feature this month on the Club Meds for families. Here's how they work. You go there and find a bunch of French families. The French dads do absolutely nothing ever by way of child care, which works because you dump your kids off at the kid's center, where they bribe and pander to the little tadpoles like crazy. The French moms are sleek and sexy and wear bikinis. The American moms are sunburned, share kid care with American dads, who therefore have less time to flirt. The staff consists of hunky guys with 6-packs under instructions to flirt like crazy with the moms. The dads don't care because they're busy with the female staff members and other sexy moms, presumably (this last sentence is my speculation. Maybe Frenchmen have overcome narrow-minded bourgeois jealousy.) I know this sounds great to some people. I think it shows the French really are different.
What a Shame
By Michael Rappaport
While I strongly support President Bush’s foreign policy, his domestic policy is looking worse and worse. It is true that he has supported tax cuts, and in some areas, has sought to keep regulation within reason (such as environmental regulation). But his record as to domestic spending and free trade have been quite poor.
I recognize that there are political arguments for Bush’s actions in both of these areas. For example, he claimed the restrictions on steel imports were needed for political reasons. While I would have scoffed at such justifications in my younger days, I am now more realistic and pragmatic, and understand that the need to get reelected. But that does not insulate these actions from scrutiny. It just means that one must be sure that the political benefits are worth the costs. I have my doubts about many of these deals, but I am not certain that they are mistaken.
But now comes the expansion of Medicare for prescription drugs. Sorry, this one is beyond the pale. It is inexcusable. I am not being unreasonable here. I recognize that given our existing entitlement system, there is strong pressure and perhaps some justification for expanding it to prescription drugs. But that would only make sense if Medicare were reformed at the same time. The plan agreed to by the conferees and supported by the White House fails to do that.
The plan is debated in today’s Wall Street Journal. While I respect Newt Gingrich, his defense of the plan (not online yet) is much weaker than the Journal Editorial Page’s critique. As the Journals states:
So where does this leave me? I will vote for Bush in 2004. The benefits of his foreign policy exceed the harm caused by his domestic policy. What is more, his domestic policy is still far superior to what any Democratic candidate would do as President. (It seems to me that Jacob Levy is kidding himself, when the argues for Libertarians for Lieberman; even if Lieberman wanted to keep spending down, something I question, he could not do that governing as a Democrat.)
What a shame. President Bush could have been in the same class as President Reagan – the greatest President in this century. Instead, his domestic policy prevents one from calling him a great President; instead, he is just “pretty good.”
November 19, 2003
Apocalypse Not Yet In London
By Maimon Schwarzschild
It seems that the vast ugly mobs of leftist and Islamist protesters which I -- and others -- predicted would dominate Bush's visit to Britain haven't materialized: at least yet. Bush will be in Britain until the weekend -- I wish he were coming home tomorrow -- and I suppose there could yet be huge rent-a-mob scenes on the scale that the BBC and much of the press have plainly been hoping for.
But at least up to now the hate-Bush protests have been so disappointing that our own National Public Radio has been reduced to merely interviewing protesters in London without mentioning numbers. (As Glenn Reynolds says, any experienced reader of Pravda could have figured out from those NPR reports that the numbers were small.)
And a report in the Guardian -- the left-wing Establishment paper in England -- reveals growing support in Britain for the Iraq war, for Bush, for the Bush visit, and for Tony Blair.
I confess that my own sense of things in Britain has been that there is a growing tide of anti-American (and also anti-semitic) hysteria there. There has certainly been evidence of this in the British press, in the BBC, and in various people's experiences on the dinner party circuit in London. But public opinion is hard to figure. And as Casey Stengel said, it's hard to make good predictions, especially about the future.
So we intellectuals (including we apprehensive conservative ones) may have gotten it wrong about Britain, at least this week. And President Bush -- that moron -- may yet again have gotten it right with the decision to go ahead with the visit.
More on Israeli Settlements
By Michael Rappaport
In a previous post, based on an op ed that I published, I argued that Israeli settlements were justified because they provided the Palestinians with an incentive to make peace now rather than in the future and because they were form of compensation for Palestinian terror. Steve Sturm, of Thoughtsonline, criticizes my post for being too critical of the settlements. (Not exactly the reaction I expected.) He argues that Israeli settlements do not require a special justification; they are justified based on the principle that:
Americans have the right to live in Canada, for example, without being viewed as detrimental to world peace (notwithstanding the views of a few crazy Canadians). Shouldn't Israelis have the right to live anywhere in the world that they wish, provided that they do so subject to the laws of that country?
Yet, the right of Jews to own lands in other states does not translate simply into a defense of the settlements. As my post and op ed stated, there will be strong pressure from the Jews living in settlements to have their land included within the state of Israel or at least to have special protections of their autonomy. Thus, the settlements mean, in practice, decreased political control of the West Bank and Gaza by Palestinians.
Of course, if a Palestinian state is ever formed, it is possible that some of these settlements will be included within that state, with the settlers continuing to own or control their land subject to Palestinian law. So the settlements could further the right of Jews to live anywhere. But the settlements also create a risk that more of the land will be subject to Israeli control or subject to special political protections, thereby depriving the Palestinians of political authority. These two possible consequences of the settlements cannot be separated: Unless the settlers were to agree in advance not to attempt to make their land part of Israel – which is unrealistic and unwise – the settlements create a risk of Palestinian displacement.
Of course, some political displacement may be justified, as I suggested in my earlier discussion. But, justified or not, displacement differs from simple land ownership.
November 18, 2003
But it is so much more fun being biased
By Michael Rappaport
I have to give the New York Times some credit (did I say that?), they are making some attempt at political diversity. First, David Brooks on the op ed page; now, they give Richard Brookheiser, a senior editor at National Review, the job of reviewing Jules Whitcover’s book on the history of the democratic party.
Surprise, surprise, Brookheiser finds the book superficial and biased. I can just imagine Whitcover’s frustration, based on his reasonable expectation, that the book would get a friendly reviewer at the Times. Well, (the) times have changed, I suppose.
Thus, Whitcover has to deal with criticisms like this one:
Or consider this criticism:
The Securities non-Enforcement Commission
As anyone with a 401(k) plan knows, there have been a string of corporate scandals of late. Enron, Waksal, Tyco, Putnam, the list goes on an on. To the untrained eye, it would seem that the SEC is outmatched when it comes to resources, both manpower and money. Assuming that most agree that more resources need to be thrown at the problem, maybe there is a way of harnessing the private sector's greed. Rather than bulk up the SEC, why not create statutory qui tam actions so that private individuals could sue on behalf of the federal government whenever there is a violation of federal securities law? In return for successfully prosecuting someone, the qui tam relator would receive a percentage of any fines or forfeitures levied. The government would get the rest.
We might even allow participants in wrongdoing to sue other participants and promise a pardon if they successfully prosecute someone higher up the responsibility chain. Once smaller fish understand that they will get a pardon for their actions and perhaps get to keep a small portion of their ill-gotten gains, it may underine the stability of many of these fraudulent practices. Everyone will always have to worry that someone else will sell them out. Maybe this goes too far, but it might discourage fraud and it is not different in kind than agreeing not to prosecute small fish to get their assistance in prosecuting those higher up the corporate chain.
There are obvious problems with this scheme, such as unmeritorious litigation (perhaps this can be mitigated by granting attorneys fees to defendants who win). But the benefits of increased law enforcement might outweigh the costs of unmeritiorious suits. There sure seems to be underenforcement today.
That darn universe
By Tom Smith
Japanese physicists find mystery particle. Hat tip to man without qualities.
And the award for most tedious author from California goes to . . .
By Tom Smith
Joan Didion! Didion has a new book out about California and I am not going to read it. Just reading the review of it in the NYT book review was so annoying, I knew I could not stand the book. From the back cover:
In Where I Was From, Didion turns what John Leonard has called “her sonar ear, her radar eye” onto her own work, as well as that of such California writers as Frank Norris and Jack London and Henry George, to examine how the folly and recklessness in the very grain of the California settlement led to the California we know today–a state mortgaged first to the railroad, then to the aerospace industry, and overwhelmingly to the federal government, a dependent colony of those political and corporate owners who fly in for the annual encampment of the Bohemian Club. Here is the one writer we always want to read on California showing us the startling contradictions in its–and in America’s–core values.
Please make her stop. Please. The Bohemian Club? That must be at their annual get together with the Elders of Zion. And "the folly and recklessness in the very grain of the California settlement"? Hooo boy, that's deep. It's about culture, you see. It's that culture thing. She should be arrested for impersonating a smart person.
The annoyingness of Joan Didion is elusive. It is like trying to describe why the screech of fingernails on a blackboard is so discomforting. To begin with, she is wound up way too tightly. She chips out sentences which are fraught with anxiety but not with meaning. She makes portentous observations that are supposed to be deep, but aren't. She wrote a whole essay debunking the Reagans, revolving around the fact that they had a wet bar in their living room. Imagine that! A wet bar in their living room! How, how, can you imagine just how . . . how what? Tacky? Yucky? Middle class? And I care because? You just want to say, for Christ's sake, Joan, just take another valium like all your readers do. Or her essay on migranes. She gets them, you know. Probably because she's just so darn sensitive, so darn literary, and this world is tough on girls like that. You don't have to read the essay. Here's the punch line: Migranes suck! Or, you can try to read one of her novels. Here's the plot: Joan is from California, but she went back East, but she's from California, but she went back East, but where she's from is California. They're really fascinating.
Oh, by the way, another essay displays the fact that Joan was close friends with famous movie director Roman Polanski, but then Charles Manson's fruitcake family cut up Sharon Tate, and that was very alienating indeed. But this essay was published before Polanski fled the country rather than face charges of molesting little girls, which was very darn morally ambiguous if you ask me. Still, that Joan was friends with Polanski and then his wife got murdered is just fascinating, you have to admit, and morally ambiguous too.
Joan Didion is from an old California family. I mean a really old California family. I mean, they knew all the original grizzly bears and everything. All this new stuff, suburbs, the defense industry, people who don't get migranes, people who don't miss the New Yorker, people with all their cars, well, it's just so, so, so, so. And, on top of it all, morally ambiguous as all get out.
California is not what it used to be, and just for the record, I really, truly do not give a shit. I hope I have been clear on this point.
I cannot in the end do justice to the true tediousness of Joan Didion. I suggest you do not buy one of her books and do not enjoy her for yourself.
Citizen Military check on President's War Powers
By Tom Smith
Interesting essay on how reserve component of our military force acts as a check on the President's war powers. Thanks to Intel Dump for the pointer.
Reforming the FDA
By Michael Rappaport
Great piece in the Washington Post on reforming the FDA, and other related matters.
Oink! Oink! Oink!
By Tom Smith
If you've ever been to an old-fashioned state fair (such as the Southern Idaho State Fair I went to as a kid) and observed a huge, prize-winning sow suckling her greedy little piglets, you have an idea what the new energy bill is like. Impressive, yet disgusting. The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports many pure pork giveaways in the bill, including $8.5 billion over the next 5 years which we consumers will have to pay to buy ethanol, that silly, stinky gas additive that Congress says we have to use, and which makes farmers, fat-cat agribusiness and Senators from farm states so happy. I despise ethanol. I had to sit through endless meetings when I was at the Council of Economic Advisers listening to Boyden Gray, Bush Sr. crony, Bonesman, tobacco heir and general gentleman blow-hard wax ecstatic about the virtues of pouring corn juice into our gas tanks. Could it have anything to do with his family's vast agricultural holdings? Perish the thought. But old money Republicans aren't the only conspirators in this rip off. You have big agri-businesses, such as the repellant Archer-Daniels-Midlands "business," which is no more than a (sometimes) legally operated rent-seeking scam, and farm state agri-business flunkies such as Tom Daschel, joining forces on this piece of economic folly and political mendacity. Shame on Republicans for betraying the free market and on Democrats for adding pointless expense to consumer products poor people spend more of their income on than anybody else.
Other risable expenditures include a giant new aquarium for that great sea-faring state, that star of the ocean, Iowa. For environmentalists who couldn't find ANWAR on a map, and would never go there anyway since it's not accessible by Lexus SUV, there's a ban on drilling for oil in northern Alaska. But oil companies aren't too upset. They are benefiting, along with coal and nuclear power companies, from $23 billion in tax giveaways. And Ted Stevens from snowy Alaska has secured $18 billion in financing for a pipeline that would be cheaper to put in through Canada. $350 million for stupid "green energy" projects rounds out the bill, including energy subsidies to a mall which includes a Hooters. I really don't think men need federal subsidies to be induced to look at busty women in tight T-shirts. The internet proves that.
UN Control of the Internet
By Michael Rappaport
Here is a great idea: Various countries are "trying to place the Internet under the control of the United Nations." My first reaction was to fear for the internet, but the two institutions are such opposites -- the internet exhibiting the spontaneous growth of diverse private entities, the UN displaying the managed order of governments, many of which are tyrannical -- perhaps they might simply annihilate one another, much as matter and antimatter are said to do upon contact. While I love the internet, it might just be worth it.
November 17, 2003
By Michael Rappaport
Don't read this unless you are willing to feel disgust. I am sorry, complexities and all, this is evil. (Hat tip: Opinion Journal)
What a shock that suicide bombing of innocents could arise in such a culture. It is no doubt the result of "occupation."
By Tom Smith
First the internet, now this. (Toward the end of the article. Hat tip to Drudge.)
Confessions of a Conservative
By Tom Smith
This weekend I spent a fair amount of time listening to Stanley Fish expound his views. Whenever that happens, I realize I really am, deep down, some kind of liberal. Probably the classical kind. But I really, really want the state to be neutral. I really, really think there's a big difference between particle physics and whatever the latest version of creation theory is. My current view is that God created the universe, but when he did, there weren't any fish. But physics is also very different from the latest crack-pot lit crit view as well. I think toleration is swell, necessary and possible. As to other people's religions, I think some are dumb, some are cute, some are impressive, and some I just don't care about. I live with it, and so should you. I do not find this philosophically mysterious. Maybe Fish thinks everyone lives inside their own orthodoxy because he seems unable to get a clue as to what it would be like to believe something other than he does. I don't find it that hard. I read all of Leon Uris's novels in high school and wanted to covert to Judaism. Good thing I didn't since it was scandalous enough when I brought a Jewish girlfriend home from Cornell. So now, I feel like, bring on the liberals.
It's bad enough to realize you're a liberal, albeit of the libertarian kind. Now Brian Leiter makes me think I'm a realist too. You mean all I have to think is that appellate courts resolve issues underdetermined by the law, by referring to other sorts of things, such as political and moral norms, or economic desiderata? Oh dear. I thought everybody thought that. I know the conservative mantra is "enforce the law, don't make it." But I took that to mean, don't make it unless you have to. I do think it is unfair to attribute to most conservatives (or liberals) the idiotic things said by Senators and Persons of Congress. They're in Congress! If contempt of Congress were a thought-crime, then anybody with any sense would be in jail at least half the time. I mean, how does anybody get asked a question going to moral character from Teddy Kennedy, and not say, "Well, at least I didn't drive an innocent girl off a bridge and leave her to drown," or "You'd think someone who looked as much like a manatee as you do wouldn't mind diving into the water." And you could do the same for many of the others on the judiciary committee.
To make a truly profound cultural comparison, I turn to the recent film vehicle for The Rock called The Rundown. This PG-13 adventure flick, perfect for growing boys, features the admirable Rock versus a really wonderfully evil Christopher Walken. The Rock is a formidable martial artist, but refuses to use guns (too violent). In the final showdown, The Rock has to decide whether to pick up two 12 gauges, as they are the only way to save his (sort of) buddy. After an interminable delay, he picks up the guns. The crowd goes wild, or at least is relieved. I feel that way about the Republicans in Congress facing the likes of Chuck Schumer. It's politics, okay? Cancel the seance with James Madison and start fighting. It's like (to quote another hero) Sean Connery in the Untouchables: "They pull a knife, you pull a gun." What are you prepared to do?
By Tom Smith
I watched this one over the weekend. The Imax production values are great, and the story of the 1996 disaster is covered to some extent. There is the usual amount of self-congratulation typically found in mountaineering flicks. But the real reason to rent or buy this DVD is the almost unwatchably intense interview with Beck Weathers, the Texas M.D. climber whom Jon Krakauer et al. left to die on the mountain. Weathers somehow awakened himself from a hypothermic coma, walked through perhaps minus 75 Fahrenheit temperatures back to camp, lived through the night and another storm, and, finally with the help of some other climbers, including some of the Imax crew, made it down to Camp 2. From there he was helicoptered out in the highest helicopter rescue, as far as I know, in history. Weathers lost his hands and much of his face to frostbite. His face now looks pretty good; his reconstructed nose looks almost natural. Watching him brush away tears with his reconstructed flipper-hands is pretty wrenching stuff. Watching the Imax film with its amazing photography and soaring music, then the interview, which probes the very bottom of courage and regret, makes for a striking contrast. I would be the first to admit that Into Thin Air is a swell book and a compelling read, but the fact remains that Krakauer sat shivering in his tent while others (such as guide Rob Hall) died trying to save their rope-mates, or just died alone in the freezing wind, wishing they could see their families one last time. It is ironic that Krakauer made a million bucks on the disaster while others who were better and braver climbers and men lost everything. Beck Weathers now has his own book out; if it's anything like the interview, it will be well worth reading.
There is a picture in David Breashears' Everest: Mountain Without Mercy that says it all to me. It shows climbers walking past the "partial cadaver" (the lower half of a frozen body with climbing boots still attached) on their way up the mountain. (p. 189) Whether this is consistent with the 'code of the mountains' or not (I have debated this with other climbers), I think the code needs an amendment to the effect that you do not leave the dead at the side of the route. You at least pack them off to crevasse and say a few words. Maybe if that were the code, high alpine climbers would be a little less casual about death. (After several years, the body was finally disposed of in a crevasse.) Like Krakauer, if the chance presented itself ($60,000 and 45 days of spare time would have to fall from heaven) I would go to Everest in a second, even though I kind of sort of disapprove of the commercialization of the mountain. But I like to think I would at least ask in similar circumstances, "Where the hell is Beck?"
By Michael Rappaport
A great post by David Bernstein at the Conspiracy on antisemitism. He writes:
Formalism and the Senate’s Power Not to Vote on Nominations
By Michael Rappaport
Larry Solum has written an interesting and powerful response to my earlier post criticizing his view that the Senate has an obligation to vote on President Bush’s judicial nominees. Here I will respond to his post, attempting to limit my remarks to the points that he raises. I have two principal objectives here: to reinforce my argument that the Senate does not have an obligation to vote on nominees and to to clarify the nature of my argument. While Solum has interpreted my post, in a couple of places, as making arguments that employ legal realism and constitutional desuetude, that was not my intention. An originalist / formalist like me wants to eliminate any ambiguity that my argument relies on either of these approaches.
The Appointments Clause provides in relevant part: “The President shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint” judges. Solum’s first post seemed to read the language of the clause as if it said: “The President shall nominate judges, and the Senate shall provide advice and consent.” The Senate might therefore have an obligation to provide advice and consent. I read the language differently, as if it said: “The President shall nominate, and if the Senate chooses to consent to the nomination, shall appoint judges.” Under this interpretation, there is no textually based obligation for the Senate to vote. The Senate can vote no on a nominee or it can simply refuse to vote.
I found Solum’s argument that the President has obligation to nominate and therefore the Senate has an obligation to advise and consent to be a powerful one, although I disagreed with it. Now, however, he has deemphasized the argument that the President has an obligation to nominate, stating that it “is not essential to the core of his argument.” I am not sure that I agree. If the obligation of the Senate to advise and consent is not part of a joint obligation of the President and Senate to appoint, I am not sure from where the Senate’s alleged obligation could derive. The Constitution does not say that the Senate must advice and consent. It merely says that the President shall nominate and, if he secures the consent of the Senate, shall appoint.
Solum supports his interpretation by arguing that the power “to ignore the President’s nominations is tantamount to the power to eliminate the executive and judicial branches of government.” While it is true that, if the Senate did not vote on any nominations, there would largely be no executive or judicial branch, that does not mean the Senate has an obligation to vote on all nominations. First, virtually all of the executive and judicial offices are created by the Congress (the Senate and the House), but the Constitution does not obligate Congress to create any of them (except perhaps for the Supreme Court). If the Constitution does not obligate the Senate to create the offices, it is not surprising that the Constitution also does not obligate the Senate to vote on nominations for these offices. Second, the Senate certainly has the power to vote against every one of the President’s nominees. If the Senate can vote no and leave the offices vacant, then why can't it also choose not to vote on the nominees? Of course, the Constitution assumes that the Senate will behave reasonably, or that the voters will force them to do so. But that assumption about political behavior is different than imposing a legal obligation on the Senate to vote on all nominations.
Solum also interprets my argument, that the power to not vote is functionally similar to the power to vote no, as making a legal realist point that is inconsistent with formalism. God forbid. My argument here is fully consistent with originalist formalism. If the constitutional text established a formal distinction, then of course one should follow it. But in the last post I was addressing a text that I believed to be ambiguous. In that situation, one must determine which of the two interpretations – one that drew a formal distinction between not voting and voting no, and one that treated the two as substantively similar – the Framers employed. In this situation, it is entirely appropriate to ask whether the Framers would have cared about the formal distinction or the substantive similarity. One is not making a policy argument. Instead, one is trying to determine which meaning the Framers employed.
Apart from his methodological objection, Solum maintains that there are benefits to requiring the Senate to vote no rather than allowing it to not vote. First, he claims that allowing the Senate to not vote would put the nominee in limbo, neither being approved or disapproved. Perhaps, but the President can respond. If the Senate refuses to vote on a nominee, the President can withdraw the nominee’s name and nominate a new person. Solum also claims that a vote provides advice to the President, but so does a filibuster that prevents a vote. A no vote says a majority of the Senate is against the nomination; a filibuster says that a substantial minority is vehemently against the nominee.
Let me clarify another point. I argued in my first post that the failure to nominate one or two Supreme Court justices or 10 percent of circuit court nominees does not create a constitutional problem. Solum mistakenly interprets my argument there as conceding “that there is a constitutional duty to fill offices but . . . that duty [is qualified] by reference to the vacacy rate.” That was not my point. I conceded that the President might have an obligation to nominate Supreme Court justices in the unique situation of staffing the Supreme Court, because the Constitution requires that the Supreme Court be established. But where the Supreme Court’s operation is not implicated, there would be no constitutional obligation to nominate. Therefore, I reasoned, there would no obligation to nominate Supreme Court justices if there were only two vacancies, since the Court could continue to operate with less than full capacity, and there would no obligation to nominate any inferior federal court judges (not to mention a mere 10 percent) because the Constitution does not even require that there be inferior federal courts.
I will conclude with Solum’s discussion of President Washington’s view, which Solum claims would allow the President to force the Senate (in its role as an executive council) to vote on nominees. Solum views my discussion here as suggesting some kind of constitutional desuetude, but that was not my intention. My point was that there are two possible (but conflicting) interpretations of the Senate’s role as to appointments: the Senate could be an executive council that is subject to the governance of the President (as Washington suggests) or it could be an legislative body that is independent of any presidential control. While Washington’s view was plausible as an original matter, so was the opposite view and that view has been followed for more than 200 years. Given the 200 years of legislative precedent, one cannot lightly go back to the alternative, contradictory interpretation. No doctrine of desuetude is needed here.
Solum now mentions a Senate rule that suggests that the President can convene the Senate to an alternative place. Solum suggests that this rule would allow the President to require the Senate to meet at the White House. But the rule is most reasonably interpreted as a reference to the President’s constitutional power to call the Senate into session in extraordinary cases. In unusual situations, such as war or plague, the President might call them into session in an alternative place. There is nothing in the language of that Senate rule to suggest that the President can govern Senate procedures or require them to vote.
Before signing off, I want say how enjoyable and rewarding this blog exchange has been. While blogging has been criticized as often involving quick and unreflective comments, these exchanges also show how blogging can allow one to make faster progress than in the slow process of academic scholarship. While oral discussion is even faster than blogging, it is not as thought out. Thus, blog exchanges are, at least some of the time, a happy medium between oral exchanges and academic scholarship. And this is especially the case when one is debating someone as thoughtful as Larry Solum.