The Right Coast
July 30, 2004
Know your enemy
By Tom Smith
Hollywood money. Beverley Hills is its own city. Why can't they be their own country. I acknowledge their right to exist. I just don't want to live in the same nation.
By Tom Smith
People post dreams on blogs, and I agree it's generally a bad idea.
But what the heck. Unfortunately, my dreams are the sort that hardly require interpretation.
Last night I dreamed I was in some fancy hair salon and the stylist was saying adamantly that I need more hair. Well, duh. I'm not crazy about the fact that my hair isn't growing right. I can't even seem to get male pattern baldness right. It's sort of asymmetrical. Sprouty. Uneven. But I figure if Donald Trump has to do that egregious thing with his hair, then there's little to be done. OTOH a friend of mine actually got plastic surgery of some sort on his head to put in more hair. It looks good. But I could never do that. Too expensive and violates my religion of manliness, the first commandment of which is 'deal with it.'
Dream 2: I am at some sort of jujitsu practice and at the end of the practice are going to be challenge matches. I am getting more and more psyched up for it -- afraid, but also looking forward to it. Somehow this gradually evolves into my being in some kind of minor tournament being held in a decayed arena in TJ. It is a UFC style tournament, with both striking and grappling allowed. I'm a pretty lousy boxer, but I have confidence in my grappling skills. It turns out I am to fight some guy reputed to be a good striker. I keep asking different people how my opponent fared against this or that fighter. I keep getting the same answer: "he took him apart." I get really tired of hearing this. It implies a scientific dissection I find unnerving. I ask my crowd (I seem to have some informal coaches -- they are a very rum looking lot) how to handle it, and I am advised "you'll just have to take it." I get tired of hearing this too. Finally, my opponent shows up, really late. That pisses me off. He looks like Daniel Day Lewis and has an entourage of hip-looking, black leather clad groupies. They're all dressed in black and looking very hip and gothic. Now I am really mad and can't wait to get into the ring. He walks past me and gives me this look that infuriates me, like I don't worry him. Now I am really, really mad, and really, really ready to fight. Then I wake up. I wonder when I stopped being mysterious.
Kerry or Carey?
By Tom Smith
I watched part of Kerry's acceptance speech last night, but I went along with the family vote to switch to Ace Ventura Pet Detective (the sequel set in Africa). It was a good choice.
I can't help but be appalled by the Kerry war hero shtick (an interesting word btw; do any readers know its origins and exact meaning?) What I don't understand is, how is it supposed to attract swing voters? I understand his medals make him the perfect war protestor; they remove the stigma of cowardice. I also get that the Democrats don't care if the Vietnam hero thing offends pro-military Republicans; they're not voting Kerry anyway. But what is the logic for the undecided voter? They must have focus grouped it, but it still puzzles me. Perhaps they think something about the war hero/war protestor paradox will appeal to the person who has not made up his mind yet, who must be someone wired up a little funny.
I saw Bush's new stump speech this morning. I thought it was good. Rove et al. seem to think the real heartland vs. Hollywood theme will work in battleground states such as Michigan, Ohio and Missouri, and maybe they're right. Bush's cultural attacks were coded enough to be polite. The implicit constrast between schoolteacher Laura and most-successful-widow of all time, Madame Kerry, was pulled off with a light touch. He defended the war in straightforward terms. Tax cuts versus tax increases. Referring to Cheney as not the prettiest candidate worked, I thought. To me, he seemed much more genuine, but there's obviously a cultural divide in the country. MSNBC spent most of the time before the speech training its camera on the enormous backside of one female Bush supporter, just a little example of your fair-minded media at work.
But I've given up trying to see things from the point of view of potential Kerry supporters. Beyond looking more presidential, I just don't get it. I can't transcend my market segment any more.
July 29, 2004
By Mike Rappaport
Here are a couple of happy thoughts from Mark Steyn's latest, which is excerpted on NRO:
A couple of months back, Sudan took time out from its hectic schedule of ethnic cleansing in Darfur to get elected to a three-year term at the U.N. Human Rights Commission.Outrageous but perhaps merely of symbolic importance. This, though, appears more dangerous:
German prosecutors announce they're dropping all the most serious charges against the only terrorist convicted for the 9/11 attacks, and releasing him. The prosecutors in Hamburg decided to drop charges against Mounir Motassadeq because "they fear" the crucial American evidence against him was obtained by torturing detainees at Guantánamo. That's all: just a casual assumption that the Great Satan was up to his old tricks.
Red state optimism
By Tom Smith
Maybe the democrats should consider not having conventions. Maybe a virtual convention. Anyway, Red State is encouraged. Via instapundit.
Did I mention that the 9/11 commission's recommendations suck?
By Tom Smith
The way to fix things in government is centralize them? Maybe competition would be a better idea.
Just because you have a Blackberry, doesn't mean you have something to say
By Tom Smith
Howard Fineman from the DNC. This is an example of the baleful influence of blogging. It might, might be interesting what Belle du Jour had to drink, and so forth. Howard Fineman, no. All the name dropping only reminds me that journalists are not reporters, but just schmoozy fellow travelers. Howard doesn't need a Blackberry, he needs an SOB editor, like that guy in Spiderman. Someone to shout, You call this news!
The Rule of Law
By Mike Rappaport
In Wednesday's Wall Street Journal print edition, Francis Fukuyama has an interesting piece about the art of reconstructing failed states. One of his main points is the importance of the rule of law in these states. Fukuyama says: "Milton Friedman admitted that his advice to former socialist countries in the early '90s had been to 'privatize, privatize, privatize.' 'But I was wrong,' he continued, 'it turns out that the rule of law is probably more basic than privatization.'"
Thus, there are two problems with the governments of undeveloped countries. Some governments interfere with the market and impoverish their people that way. Others, however, fail to enforce the rule of law and therefore allow private criminals to interfere with productive activity. What is needed is a government that enforces and follows the rule of law, but does not excessively regulate. While this has long been the position of classical liberals (including free market conservatives), sometimes they have forgotten that both of these goals are important and that the rule of law may even be more important.
Modern liberals who favor strong, ambitious regulatory states have missed the mark even more, however. When they urge undeveloped countries to provide social welfare and to regulate business for the public interest, they are providing undeveloped governments with too much opportunity to interfere with markets. And they divert the attention of those governments from the really fundamental thing: enforcing property and contract rights, and impartially implementing the law.
July 28, 2004
Bush v. Clinton
By Mike Rappaport
According to John Podhoretz:
When it comes to the historical record on the American response to al Qaeda, you now have to ask yourself: Whom do you believe, Clinton or Bush? The 9/11 Commission report, which was released yesterday, features the following two disputes:Podhoretz argues for the Bush / Rice version:
I think there's a reason why an honest liberal Bush-hater could conclude that Clinton and Berger are lying. We know that at the time they were supposedly telling their replacements that terrorism was the world's No. 1 problem, Clinton and Berger were making a last-ditch effort to save the deal worked out at Camp David between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We know what was preoccupying them right then and there. It wasn't terrorism. It wasn't al Qaeda. It was the Middle East peace process. That jibes with what Bush and Rice told the 9/11 commissioners. It doesn't jibe with what Clinton and Berger told the commissioners.
Guilt and Revenge
By Mike Rappaport
In the 1970s, people used to say that "guilt was a useless emotion." This is, of course, what you would expect from a society with a social fabric that was in decline. People more often recognize these days that guilt serves an important function: to discourage people from engaging in harmful behavior again in the future.
Now it seems another negative emotion -- the desire for revenge -- is being reevaluated. This article in the New York Times explores how the desire for revenge works to keep people conforming to moral rules. In fact, the desire for revenge can serve a social function, since without it, people might be inclined to let violations of moral rules go unpunished -- after all, without the desire for revenge, the victim does not usually benefit directly from punishing the rule violator. Evidence from the article suggests that the desire for revenge is programmed into us, with the desire operating on the brain in a similar manner to hunger or even sexual desire. Of course, none of this is to say that revenge does not have harmful aspects. It is just that it also in part serves a useful function.
The examples of guilt and revenge suggest that enforcing moral rules is a difficult enterprise. We seem to have evolved complicated mechanisms for doing so, but these mechanisms are costly. Sadly, there are no utopias in this world.
July 27, 2004
Bryan Caplan and the Idea Trap
By Mike Rappaport
Great post by Bryan Caplan, guest blogging over at Marginal Revolution. Bryan is a really interesting scholar. Take a look at his home page.
Lady Heinz speaks
By Tom Smith
What can the DNC powers be thinking? Why put a mean, snooty-seeming Social X-Ray girl with a French accent, in front of the national audience to give a speech about her kept husband? Isn't that un peu risque? (French bad, and I don't care). Why are they doing it? Did She Who Must Be Obeyed (I mean Lady Heinz, not Hillary) demand it? If they want to humanize Kerry, there must be better ways. Maybe they want to humanize her. But can she humanize herself? I doubt it. Maybe they figure very few people will be watching anyway.
By Mike Rappaport
The Cato Institute recently released its annual report on economic freedom. Like the similar study done by the Wall Street Journal and Heritage, the report is a highlight for me each year, as it does a great job of monitoring this important value and demonstrating its importance.
What is economic freedom? The reports looks at five factors: small government expenditures and taxes; secure property rights and the rule of law; access to sound money; freedom to trade internationally; and limited regulation of credit, labor and business.
Based on this definition, the reports assesses the degree of economic freedom over the last twenty years. Thankfully, economic freedom has grown internationally over this period. Countries from each part of the world have experienced significant growth in economic freedom, including Australia, Botswana, Chile, China, India, Ireland, and Trinidad.
The report also indicates that a range of social benefits are correlated with economic freedom. Countries with more economic freedom have substantially higher per capita incomes, higher growth rates, longer life expectancy, higher incomes for the poorest 10% of the population, greater access to clean water, less public corruption, and greater political rights (such as free elections) and civil liberties (such as freedom of speech). Moreover, economic freedom is not merely for the rich: poor countries that establish economic freedom also benefit from higher growth rates. Significantly, for those concerned with distributional matters, the share of income earned by the poorest 10% of the population is unrelated to the degree of economic freedom in a nation.
To my mind, economic freedom is one of the great things. In fact, if we have obligations to help others throughout the world, one of the best ways of doing so is to help them promote economic freedom.
One aspect of the study bears emphasis. Because economic freedom is based on various criteria, some countries that might be thought of as not having economic freedom score relatively well. For example, Denmark’s welfare state scores poorly in terms of the government expenditures component of economic freedom (112 out of 123 in the world), but it does so well in other categories, such as legal system (2nd) and access to sound money (9th), that it ends up 14th place overall. For similar reasons, socialist Sweden is 22nd in terms of economic freedom.
Thus, a large welfare state does not mean that a country cannot enjoy much economic freedom if the country does extraordinarily well in other areas. Of course, the better move would be to have a small welfare state and economic freedom in other areas. Still, those who are committed to a large welfare state need not be hostile to economic freedom in other areas.
Finally, since this is a legal blog, it is worth noting how important a sound legal system is to economic freedom. In fact, it is not at all clear that one can have sustained economic growth in a wealthy country without secure enforcement of property and contract rights. Lawyers and judges have an important role to play in promoting economic freedom. Unfortunately, they often do exactly the opposite.
Interesting review of young conservatives
By Tom Smith
I'm not sure what the American anti-war right has to offer. The Old Right was certainly right about communism. To the extent "anti-war" means anti-war in the sense of "the anti-Vietnam war left", I think that view has clearly been discredited. There is more to be said for the right wing anti-war view, that defending Vietnam was never worth what we should have known it would cost. Clearly, fighting that war in a way calculated to lose was a huge mistake. In a way, it led to the revolution in Iran, and jihad in Afghanistan, the consequences of which we have yet to deal with completely.
Old style Robert Taft isolationism, however, I just don't see as having much of a future. We have to be able and willing to defend ourselves against threats from abroad, and terrorism and terror-sponsoring states are a reality, whether we like it or not. I agree with The American Conservative sorts who distrust the Straussians, which the neo-cons are to the extent they are intellectuals. In addition to Leo Strauss, their hero is Pat Moynihan, who in my book was just another sappy liberal. Intelligent, sure, but basically a guy who thought only big government, inhabited by Harvard-trained intellectuals or their equivalent, could save American society from itself. They're just New Deal technocrats who want another shot, promising that this time they'll get the programs right. They may be better than post-modern left-liberal nihilists, but that's not saying much. I think some of the neo-cons do entertain grandiose ideas about spreading American democracy around the world. They are dangerous, and it is troubling that Bush foreign policy seems to be so influenced by them. However, they seem to be right about Iraq, and would probably be so about Iran and North Korea as well. But I wouldn't want them to be in charge of the store indefinitely.
I also think the essay linked above over-estimates the extent to which the right is in the thrall of Bush. Lots of conservatives, such as me for instance, are willing to admit to being less than thrilled with Bush. He would be a better President if he had 10 or 20 more IQ points, but he is smart enough. He lacks strong principles of limited government and spends too much money, a lot for political reasons. He's too willing to get in bed with corporate interests. But he's certainly no worse than the democrats would be in this respect, with their protectionism, farm subsidies, and endless programs.
As I've said before, the conservative movement has to be popular and populist. The neo-cons are elitist in principle, right down to the philosophical/Straussian grounds that if Plato were still around, they would be his special boys. They're just the Harvard version of the sweating weirdos in some storefront church in Dirtville, Georgia who think that they truly are God's elect. The Harvard version is in a position to do a lot more harm. You bet they bear watching, but they happen to be right about Iraq. If they start talking about the need to democratize Africa with the Marines, however, they need to replaced in a big hurry.
There is never going to be a popular conservatism in this country that does not include strong national defense and appreciation of the military. To that extent, the anti-war right is wasting its time. But empire we don't need. You can be pro-national defense and anti-imperialist.
Can a stealth candidate win?
By Tom Smith
It is an interesting question whether a candidate can win by hiding his personality and views from the electorate. Steyn is skeptical and so am I? Via RCP.
Did Kerry really say he hunted deer by crawling around with his trusty 12-gauge? I know it's possible to hunt deer with a 12-gauge, but not many people do it, when a rifle is so much more accurate. And crawling around in the mud? He's obviously thinking about ducks, which maybe someone in his social group hunts occassionally.
UPDATE: Several readers wrote in to say hunting deer with a shotgun is common in heavily forested states such as Michigan. In parts of some states, it is even required. I did know that buckshot was for bucks, I just thought everybody used rifles, as they do in Idaho, with rare exceptions. Crawling through the mud for a deer still sounds phony, however. I suppose you might if you were sneaking up for a close shot, but I don't know, as I come from a dry state where there's not a lot of mud crawling. If Kerry wants to be cool, maybe he should say he only hunts with a spear. That way, he could be ultra-manly and not offend the gun-control crowd.
July 26, 2004
By Gail Heriot
Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund’s new book "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy" isn’t on the shelves yet, but it will be in a month or two. Since Fund is a friend of mine, he gave me a copy of the manuscript on the condition that I alert him of any typos or other glitches. (Yes, I found a couple of minor ones, but as a charter member of the American Association of Ethical Proofreaders, I am honor bound not to disclose them, not even the funny one.)
If you want a one-sentence summary of the book, it would be this: When it comes to elections, the United States is in many ways a third-world nation. Sloppy is one word for it. But it goes way beyond sloppy. According to Fund, "At least eight of the nineteen hijackers who attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon were actually able to register in either Virginia or Florida while they made their deadly preparations for 9/11." Thanks in part to the lax standards of the Motor Voter Law the voting rolls are rotten with non-citizens, non-residents, dead people, fictional people, dogs, cats, and at least one elephant. And a good number of them vote.
Check the book out if you get a chance. It is filled with both amusing and scary anecdotes from every part of the country. I’m not usually an anecdote person. I don’t like to generalize from a few stories that there is something wrong (or something right) with the world. But Fund has uncovered so much that it’s impossible to disagree with him. Something really is wrong with our election practices.
Sorry, but I don't have a link for the book, since it's not in print yet. But here's a link to Fund's column today, which, interestingly enough, is on blogs.
By Tom Smith
We'll probably see more and more stories about what a jerk Kerry is, and that's fine with me. Here's a little sample:
Granted staggering wealth on the basis of marriage, Kerry seems to believe he deserves it, and perhaps always has. Such, at least, is the popular perception among the voters who know him best. "One of the surest ways to get the phones ringing on any Massachusetts talk-radio show is to ask people to call in and tell their John Kerry stories," says Howie Carr, the Boston Herald columnist and radio host. "The phone lines are soon filled, and most of the stories have a common theme: The junior senator pulling rank on one of his constituents, breaking in line, demanding to pay less (or nothing), or ducking out before the bill arrives. The tales often have one other common thread. Most end with Sen. Kerry inquiring of the lesser mortal: 'Do you know who I am?'" Just For Kerry is a common Bostonian take on what his initials stand for; and a possible insight into his priorities could be inferred from his tax records for the year 1993 (when he was between wives), in which he earned $130,345 and gave exactly $175 to charity, while indulging in an $8,600 Italian-made mountain bike for himself.
via RCP. I'm not sure it matters if POTUS is a jerk, as far as policies go. It will be nasty if we have to watch the press suck up to JK and Lady H, however. Watching people get sucked up to, who want to be sucked up to, is the worst.
Maybe somebody should start a website where authentic Kerry anecdotes could be posted.
July 25, 2004
Kerry and the War on Terror
By Mike Rappaport
Andrew Sullivan writes that John Kerry must include something like the paragraph below in his speech at the Convention:
Let me now address those in the world who believe that the United States, under a Democratic president, will cower before terror or respond to any future attacks with passivity and weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth. As president, I will pursue this country's real enemies every day I am in the Oval Office; I will seek them out and bring them to justice; I will ensure that our historic duty to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq is met in full, however long it takes, however hard the task. To the murderers of al Qaeda, let me say this. Do not even begin to interpret a Democratic victory as some sign that we will acquiesce to your murderous intent and nihilist politics. In the war against Jihadism, there is no Democrat or Republican. There is simply American. We will unite to defeat you and to secure our country.I certainly agree that Kerry must say something like this. But the question is what he would have to do to convince me he meant it (given his behavior and that of his party over the last four years and before). It would have to be something really extraordinary.
Thumbs down from Betsy on Manchurian Candidate remake
By Tom Smith
As I watched a trailer for the remake of the Manchurian Candidate, I wondered vaguely what would be the evil force substituted for Communism in the new movie. I guess now I know. Evil American capitalists of course. Leave it to Hollywood to turn a brilliant piece of anti-communist paranoia into a high-tech anti-capitalist tool. What a shame. The original with Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh and Angela Lansbury (of subsequent Murder She Wrote fame) is a little gem of 1950s Americana (though actually it was made in 1962, it feels like the '50's). I personally find Lansbury's performance the most chilling. She can really act; the queen bee of evil routine works for me.
Somebody needs to explain why Hollywood is so Red. Is it just historical path dependency? It started out that way and now has reproduced itself? Here are all these people living the most sumptous lives in the history of planet, and yet their politics is Henry Wallace left, or something. Part of the explanation might be that the human capital that makes you a great actor (looks plus a weird talent something like the ability to lie well) does not necessarily correlate with intelligence or judgment at all. You can be as beautiful as a supermodel and thick as two short planks, as anyone who as watched cable TV knows. Maybe entertainer leftism is just a suddenly rich person's grab at intellectual respectability. In any event, it's all rather too bad, because in a country where 10 percent of people think Elvis lives, movies have a big influence on opinion.
July 24, 2004
World Peace and Martha Stewart
By Mike Rappaport
A humorous, Randian-ish take on these matters (if that is not an oxymoron).
Why the Gloom?
By Mike Rappaport
I sometimes wonder why the Coalition's efforts in Iraq have been judged so negatively. To my mind, the war and reconstruction have certainly not been perfect, but given realistic but optimistic expectations, they have not gone so badly either. Victor David Hanson has some explanations:
First, the Left was embarrassed in April of last year. Already stung after predicting a British-type imperial defeat in Kabul, its subsequent pre-Iraq-war scenarios of millions of refugees and thousands of American dead only confirmed its unreliability and deductive pessimism. So, it is only in this context that the loss of nearly 700 American dead in the subsequent 15-month reconstruction was seen as redeeming their initial gloom and doom. In a fateful decision, Kerry belatedly embraced Deanism and thus put himself on the path to seeing all bad war news as salutary for his own hopes and good news as fatal to his cause. The media knew that as well, and many in it reacted accordingly.Certainly Hanson is right about these explanations. For people who are skeptical that the war critics are being unfair and are judging by unrealistic standards, consider the following. During the initial phase of the war, when things turned out to be going better than anyone could have expected, critics of the war were complaining that the military had screwed up. This proves, beyond doubt, that the critics were not willing to judge the war successful no matter what happened.
July 23, 2004
Where the Democrats' money comes from
By Tom Smith
Washington Post does some reporting.
By Tom Smith
This is more sad than funny.
I love the line about handicapped people making a fuss about the aborting of non-person persons with disabilities. They are a fussy lot. First, they take up all those parking places, and now this. True, they did get us those spacious toilet stalls, but still. Imagine them thinking that saying aborting disabled fetuses opens the door to disposing of disabled people who are walking, or wheeling around, as the case may be. Ridiculous!
It relates to this, TV's insistence on treating abortion as a touchy, morally ambiguous topic.
It's so annoying when people just don't get morally desensitized on schedule. Maybe we need some shows for kids that would depict a trip to the abortion clinic in a happy, upbeat, above all normal context.
"Where are you going today, dear?"
"I'm going to get an abortion, Mom!"
"Good choice, Mary! Have a nice abortion!"
"I will, Mom! Thanks!"
Cut to scene of Mary skipping away, hopping on her bike and pedalling cheerfully away to the clinic.
A lot of euphemisms out there to deal with. Planned Parenthood. It's not really about becoming a parent, is it? Quite the opposite really. And it's not really about planning either. More like, you didn't plan and now you're going to be a parent. Maybe they should take a clue from bail bondsmen. They come right out and say what their business is: "Get out of jail now!" So maybe something like "Clean Kill Abortion Clinic." Needs some work, but you get my drift.
I like "reproductive freedom." I want financial freedom of the same kind. I could spend my money, and still have it.
Why do they hate us?
By Tom Smith
Other folks on the right are wrong. We should sit down with the terrorists and find out what they want.
The thing is, while we are sitting down with them, someone should come from behind them with one of these. Just a suggestion.
Hating Wilson and Hating Bush
By Maimon Schwarzschild
William Leuchtenberg's history of the post-First World War US, "The Perils of Prosperity 1914 - 1932" tells the tale of Woodrow Wilson's failure to carry the country with him not only on the League of Nations, but also in behalf of continuing US involvement in the post-war settlement: an involvement which might have moderated some of the idiocies which helped make Hitler and the Second World War inevitable. "Henry Cabot Lodge was not an isolationist", writes Leuchtenberg. "He was, if anything, more willing than Wilson to engage in European power politics. But he was a fierce Republican partisan with his eye on the 1920 election. Furthermore, he fancied himself a 'scholar in politics', and he resented Wilson's assumption of the same role. 'I never expected to hate anyone in politics with the hatred I feel towards Wilson', Lodge had written to Roosevelt in 1915. As the historian John Garraty concluded, 'In the last analysis, Lodge preferred a dead League to the one proposed by Wilson.'"
"The leaders of the Republican party shared Wilson's conviction that foreign policy was a partisan matter", writes Leuchtenberg, "and Wilson was bitterly hated by the two most influential Republicans, Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt. Both had shown considerable interest in the idea of a League at one time, but...they would have nothing to do with a Wilson League. Nor did they intend to permit the Democratic Party to go to the polls in 1920 claiming credit both for having waged a victorious war and for having created a League of Nations. In their...hatred of Wilson, in their concern for the fortunes of the Republican Party, they would stop at nothing, even if they completely undermined the president's position and played into the hands of the European nationalists."
In November 1918, "Roosevelt issued a statement which was duly noted in the capitals of Europe: 'Our allies and our enemies and Mr Wilson himself should all understand that Mr Wilson has no authority whatsoever to speak for the American people at this time... Mr Wilson and his Fourteen Points and his four supplementary points and his five complementary points and all his utterances every which way have ceased to have any shadow of right to be accepted as expressive of the will of the American people.'"
And "When Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Teddy's daughter, saw Wilson enter the White House on his return from Paris, she made the sign of the evil eye and cried: 'A murrain on him, a murrain on him, a murrain on him!'"
Woodrow Wilson was a deeply flawed political character: arrogant, cold, self-righteous. No doubt he brought many of his troubles on himself. But as Leuchtenberg says, "Wilson's defeat is a sad chapter in American history, even if one rejects the more romanticized versions of it." The parallels are obvious to today's enraged hatred for Bush among Democrats and their supporters in the media, in Hollywood, and elsewhere. (It would seem obvious to me that George Bush is a much less readily hateable character than Wilson, except that so many people in fact seem to have worked up so much hatred for him.) The danger, of course, is that this hatred -- if translated into political success this year -- may have incalculable effects for the future, just as the partisan impulse to ensure that Wodrow Wilson should fail, regardless of the cost, had grave costs for America and for the world in the era after the First World War.
By Maimon Schwarzschild
I am writing from Paris, where I arrived today from London. I'll do a lecture or two for the University of San Diego law school summer program while I'm here (the sun never sets on the University of San Diego), but the the truth is that this will basically be a week's vacation.
But what a lovely place for it. Say what you will about France in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (and in the RightCoast tradition, there is much that should be said, much of it not good). But Paris is ravishingly beautiful. Almost everywhere you look in inner Paris, the sheer beauty of the human artifact that is this city takes your breath away.
And whatever the potential or actual economic and demographic problems, there is immense wealth here, and a good life quite widely shared. Western Europe remains very prosperous, miraculously so by the standards of most of the world.
Now for some shadow on this idyll. I went to Friday evening services in the leading Liberal synagogue in Paris. The synagogue is now entirely unmarked on the outside. Police sit in marked police cars, though, parked conspicuously nearby. Security guards scrutinise worshippers as they enter, and carefully question any they don't recognise. The sidewalk has been widened directly outside the synagogue, to make parking impossible and hence to make car bombs more difficult. In a word, the synagogue is in a state of siege. France has by far the largest Jewish community in continental Europe (Russia aside). But the future of this community is deeply uncertain, and even its present is obviously menaced.
Perhaps it wouldn't be so sad (or at least it would be differently sad) if Paris weren't so beautiful and if French life weren't in some ways so attractive.
By Mike Rappaport
If you haven't seen this already, its hilarious. The video attacks both sides of the aisle.
By Tom Smith
Envy is a primitive emotion. It's been around since we were just pretentious apes. It still works in politics. via RCP.
July 22, 2004
The 9/11 Commission
By Mike Rappaport
As usual, Chris Cox hits the nail on the head. The 9/11 Commission appears to have been seriously derelict in its duties. Cox writes:
Still, I suppose we should be happy for small things. At least Berger was not on the Commission. Jamie Gorelick, another Clinton Administration official, who was nearly as much a subject of the commission's investigation, was a member of the Commission.
The Iliad and the Aeneid
By Mike Rappaport
I previously endorsed the Teaching Company tape on the Iliad by Elizabeth Vandiver. Since then, I have listened to two more lectures by her: one on the Odyssey and one on the Aeneid. Both were excellent and are highly recommended.
After reviewing the Odyssey and Iliad, the inevitable comparison is between Odysseus and Achilles. To me, Achilles is a prima donna, an exceptional talent whose antics we put up with because of his exceptional ability. Odysseus by contrast is well rounded, personable and, of course, exceedingly clever. On the whole, he is an admirable character. Count me as an Odysseus man.
The lectures on the Aeneid were my first real exposure to this work, which was quite interesting. The way I think about it, Virgil had three basic guides: the traditional story of Aeneas, the Trojan noblemen who was an ancestor of the Romans; the Iliad; and the Odyssey. The first six books of the Aeneid are modeled on the Odyssey and tell the story of Aeneas traveling to Italy; the last six books are modeled on the Iliad, and tell the story of the Trojans’ war in Italy. I had not realized how much of the traditional stories come from the Aeneid, including most famously the line about "Greeks bearing gifts."
As always, Vandiver is superb in these lectures. She is clear, focuses on the key issues, has good judgment and presents both sides. I think she is pretty close to the best lecturer I have ever heard.
July 21, 2004
Postmark: Washington, D.C.
By Gail Heriot
Great Britain's political capital is also its financial, commercial and cultural capital. Ditto for Argentina, France, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Japan, Mexico and Sweden. Indeed, there are few countries in the world where the political capital is just a political capital and nothing else.
Washington is an exception (as are capital cities like Ottawa and Brasilia). Although Washington is a thriving city, its sole claim to preeminence is in the political realm. It is neither the country's financial, commercial, industrial, entertainment nor fashion capital. Prior to its selection as the political capital, it was a cow pasture. Indeed, photos that are only about a century old show happy farm animals grazing on the White House and Capitol lawns.
How did this happen? Thomas Jefferson wrote that it all started at a little dinner party at his home-away-from-home in New York attended by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. At the time, New York was the country's temporary capital. Hamilton was eager to get Madison's (and the other Virginians') vote in Congress in favor of the federal assumption of Revolutionary War debt. Madison and his fellow Virginians were less than enthusiastic for a number of reasons, not least among them that Virginia had already paid off its own debt, so federal assumption was not in their interest. A deal had to be struck.
And it was. According to Jefferson, the debate over where to locate the nation's capital was going on during the same time period; cities like New York, Philadelphia, Trenton and Carlisle were vying for the honor. The Virginians as well as many Marylanders wanted it along the Potomac. Hamilton was happy to give them that little plum in return for a few votes for federal assumption. (Yes, there may have been a bit more to the deal than that, but it doesn't matter to my point now.) The rest is history.
Hamilton is usually portrayed as shrewd for making such a deal. The federal assumption of debt was a vital part of his financial plan for the United States. The location of the capital was just a little piece of patronage. Why not trade it?
But I wonder what the long-term consequences of that deal have been. Has the federal government been less sympathetic to commerce and industry that it would have been if the capital had been located in New York or Philadelphia? Do any such long-term effects remain? I have a hard time believing that there has been no effect, but then history does not disclose its alternatives, so it's hard to say for sure.
It is worth noting that Jefferson, Madison and their Virginia and Maryland allies didn't just want a capital that would be within their territory. (Recall that the District of Columbia originally included what is now Arlington County, Virginia.) They wanted a capital that would be away from the evil and corrupt cities. In effect, they wanted a cow pasture and they got it--far from the corrupting influence of financiers, merchants, and manufacturers. What would our antitrust law look like today if the capital had been New York? Or our industrial policy? Or our agricultural policy?
If our capital were New York, every mid-level civil servant would be married to a mid-level employee of a bank, an investment firm or a major corporation. Members of Congress would have bankers and businessmen as neighbors. It would be different. (No, having lobbyists as neighbors is not the same; lobbyists are part of the culture of government, not the culture of business and enterprise.) I don't know if this would have been bad or good, but it would be different. Did Hamilton give away more than he intended?
If you're wondering from this post whether I have finally finished reading Ron Cherow's biography of Hamilton, the answer is yes.
Curiouser and curiouser
By Tom Smith
The documents that Berger has acknowledged taking -- some of which remain missing -- are different drafts of a January 2000 "after-action review" of how the government responded to terrorism plots at the turn of the millennium. The document was written by White House anti-terrorism coordinator Richard A. Clarke, at Berger's direction when he was in government.
This from WaPo. This fits the Smith hypothesis. Maybe somebody should ask Clarke under oath whether earlier drafts contained tougher language on the Clinton administration's performance.
Update: NYT protects us from getting the wrong idea.
Irresponsible speculation about the Berg(l)er
By Tom Smith
Andrew Sullivan wants to know why Sandy "the Sock" Berger took drafts of the post-action report of the Millennium plot from the National Archives.
Here is a theory. It might be that the 9/11 commission had a copy of the final report, and perhaps even one or more non-final drafts of the final report (though the latter seems unlikely to me). But perhaps there were earlier non-final drafts of the report that included even more damning language about the Clinton administration's anti-terror activities than did the final version. If so, these earlier drafts might be quite embarrassing in themselves to the Clintonistas, and the revisions weaking the language would suggest the White House pressured whoever wrote the report to tone down the language, which happens all the time in our nation's capitol, but still seems sleazy, in part because it is.
It seems unlikely the 9/11 commission would have requested the Millennium plot post action report and all of its earlier drafts. It seems quite possible that the only copies of the early drafts in existence might have been in the National Archives. If Sandy deep-sixed those (as we learned to say in Watergate days) then they would be gone forever. And, isn't there one document that was "inadvertently" destroyed? Maybe that was the draft which included a sentence later removed which read "But for that rarity, an unusually alert Border Guard, we would still be digging the bodies out of LAX." Or maybe not. Jus' speculatin'.
Before all this gets out of hand, I think we need to remember it is time to move on, that everybody takes highly classified documents and destroys some of them, and occassionally stuffs notes in his or her socks and/or underwear. What you put in your socks, and especially in your underwear, is a personal matter, and not a matter for a criminal investigation. When will we ever learn?
July 20, 2004
Interesting conservatives, some of them Catholics
By Tom Smith
Check this out.
As to who Pantagruel was, and what a new one might be, see this. Maybe I should read Rabelais. Doesn't this sound just right?
With this mirthful temperament towards all that is humane and with frightful anger directed against the forces that would squash such things, Rabelais used laughter, parody, and what the Russian Literary Critic Mikhail Bakhtin called “grotesque realism” as a means of subverting the pillars of official culture and the proto-totalitarian orders of society. Pantagruelism is, according to Rabelais, “a certain jollity of mind pickled in the scorn of fortune.” It is that odd cast of mind which allows one to see the corruption everywhere, including in oneself, while still loving the world.
To me that sounds like just the frame of mind one should have.
The bad David Brooks
By Tom Smith
I really am not cynical about most of the truly important things. This country, the rule of law, babies, forests, mountains, large fish, wild animals, fast and/or large cars, beauty in all of its forms especially the fair haired kind, but I'm afraid this Brooks column makes me want to heave. Is that wrong? Maybe I'm going through an anti-Yale phase. A foreign service officer who was especially proud of his note taking skills? Oh lordy. And Henry James. I hate James. I got half way through the Ambassadors and finally admitted to myself that I could not give a shit if the little old maid man who was the main character . . . oh, forget it. How could anyone write a whole long novel about a guy whose job is running a literary journal and errands for a rich Boston society gal? As if that was a great gig? Pathetic. Mencken was so right about James. He needed to spend some time in Chicago and get in touch with life. Going to England just made him worse. Holmes has a description somewhere of trying to see James while in England. Holmes was close, of course, to William James. Henry just dithered and dathered about what day would be best and whether he should come by this train or that until Holmes just said to hell with it. For all of James's infinite variety of pastel shadings of observations, his stories are about venal social climbers about whom it is impossible to give a damn.
And one more thing. How can anyone take Kissingerian grand strategy seriously after Reagan won the cold war? And didn't Paul Kennedy's book about the end of American power turn out to be a bit premature? Now we're the hyperpower, the sole super power. Oh, gosh, I guess he was full of it. What do you call grand global think when it turns out to be dumb? And Kissinger's book on Metternich is the paradigm of pompous pseudo-scholarship, and it's supposed to be the proof of his historical brilliance. Lucky for him so few people have read it. I guess I do know why Brooks's column makes me ill. It is nothing more than name dropping and apple polishing dressed up as a fine appreciation for the really deep and fine things, which is in fact little more than Jamesian style social climbing. Why can't we all be as great as you guys whose boots I'm licking? And be, like, really good note takers! In the most desperate way, Brooks needs to get out of New York and Washington and spend a few weeks in Iraq or Afghanistan, long enough to realize grand strategy is just of a bunch of poseurs flattering each other.
The Hall of Fame and the Hall of Shame
By Mike Rappaport
Predictably, the UN General Assembly voted to require Israel to pull down its separation barrier, based on the absurd ICJ opinion. For my criticism, see here. The vote was 150 in favor, with 6 against. The six voting against -- the Hall of Fame -- were Israel, the United States, Australia, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau. Bravo to the Aussies!
July 19, 2004
Review of the Movie Troy
By Mike Rappaport
Take a look at this review. Very interesting and informative about the Illiad and the related classical works.
Read this very nice essay by a Ninth Circuit Judge
By Tom Smith
Yep. He's nailed it alright.
Canada, America, cowboys, the frontier, thumos. What more could you want?
Just one little nit. I don't think you ever want to call a cowboy a mid-Westerner. Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and everything south to Texas is the West. And west obviously, until you get to California, which is California, except for LA, which is LA, and the Bay Area, which is the Bay Area. The West extends to the Cascades, west of which is whatever they call that moldy country. Rainland. Moldavia. PCifica. Texas is Texas. I don't know what you call Nebraska, the Dakotas, Oklaholma, etc., but I doubt they like mid-West.
I haven't been able to stop crying
By Tom Smith
I'm so upset. How could he say that?
Efficient Fast Food
By Mike Rappaport
According to Marginal Revolution: "Who would have guessed that when taking drive-thru orders at a McDonald's it's more efficient to send the order not 25ft into the restaurant but 900 miles away to a call-in center which then relays the order via computer to the workers inside the restaurant making the food."
As a frequent buyer of fast food (but the healthy kind, with salads instead of french fries and no buns), I can believe it. I always have a special order and they often make a mistake.
A touching tale
By Tom Smith
A colleague brought this touching tale of modern maternity to my attention.
It's a good thing they don't give frequent flyer miles for abortions, or they'd all be dead.
Hispanic gang culture
By Tom Smith
This is a disturbing article. In the City Journal via RCP.
I always suspected that police unions and other stupid turf wars prevent one of the most important steps we need to take in response to these problems. More police on the streets. We could use more aggressive anti-gang legislation, as well. Good luck getting that through Sacramento. One reason LA has so much more random gang violence than NYC, I think, is that NYC has much higher police to population ratio.
How bad would a Kerry victory be?
By Tom Smith
How bad would a Kerry victory be? Sages say pre- Labor Day polls mean nothing, and I hope that's true. That last time I remember telling myself how little polls meant was when Bush Sr. was running against some skirt-chaser from the swamplands.
But maybe a Kerry victory would not be all bad.
1. If Kerry wins, Lady Heinz would be first lady, which is actually a pretty demanding job. She would make John miserable for getting her in that position, and he certainly deserves it.
2. The first thing that happens, and I've heard this from both Republicans and Democrats, when you become President is all the Generals and intel community heavies come in and explain to you what a big bad world it is, accompanied by stuff with lots of code-words stamped on it. The new President then spends the next few days working on bladder control. Given that Kerry is basically an opportunist and has no anti-war principles or any other sort for that matter, he will figure out that the best way to get a second term is not to allow any big American city get wiped out by a nuke or turbo-smallpox, even if Teresa tells him not to be so Ameri-centric.
3. Having Edwards in office reduces the chances of regular programming being interrupted by a Vice Presidential funeral.
4. Kerry will undoubtedly give right wing bloggers plenty to complain about, and Teresa will be an inexhaustible source of obnoxiousness to decry. Hit city!
5. Maybe higher taxes will energize tax planners to come up with something that would do some good to people like me. Necessity is the mother of loopholes.
6. If he is President, Kerry will give lots of speeches, and Democrats will have to pretend they are not the most boring, self-serving things anyone has ever heard. That will be funny to watch.
7. It could be an opportunity to squeeze out some of the phonies, stchick artists, and hangers-on in the Conservative Movement. Sometimes you need to lose.
8. Blessing number 104: I may not be worth $50 million, be really handsome and be Vice President, but at least I have a cute, blonde wife who knows how to work a treadmill.
9. Maybe ex-President Bush could buy the Padres and beat some sense into the pathetic collection of bums, before somebody points out that we have the highest ratio of stadium to team quality in the history of sports.
10. Remember, God never closes a door, but that he opens a window. Also remember you're not supposed to jump out of the window.
Oil for terror
By Tom Smith
Just when you thought you couldn't get any more cynical about the UN. Via instapundit.
Instapundit a liberal blog? I don't think so. Libertarian or techno-libertarian, maybe. But not liberal. I realize liberal is hard to define, but if instapundit were liberal, I could not read it as often as I do without some serious GI meds. And I do read it, with no chemical assistance.
Time for Radio Free Canada?
By Tom Smith
Fox News, threat to the Canadian way of life? BTW, what is Canadian culture? And is it worth preserving?
By Tom Smith
This is interesting: Astronomers recalculate the date of the original marathon run.
It seems perfectly plausible to me that the run was in August rather than September, but then I know nothing about ancient Greek calenders. But even if it had occured in the mid-80's temperatures of September, rather than the low 100's of August, Phidippides (sp?) could still have run himself to death. His internal body temperature would have been a function of the outside temperature and the amount of work he was doing. To die in the '80's just means you have to run faster. I suppose you have to say he did his job perfectly. Had he run any faster, he probably would have died before he reached Athens; slower, and Athens would have had less time to prepare for Salamis (also sp?).
Heat exhaustion really sucks. Our high football coach back in Boise was a sadistic meathead who ran us to death in August two a day practices, and then literally made us beg for water. He would stand in the middle of a big scrum of desperate players, holding the jug of water over his head, and then pour it out to the ground. We would have to jump up, like dogs with our mouths open, trying to get a mouthful of water before it hit the ground. He was a sick man, and I still hate his guts. (We all have our issues.) It's a miracle no one collasped and died, but then it was a Catholic school. He eventually got fired, but not for abusing players. I quit after my sophomore year, and took amazing amounts of abuse from my peers for it. The thing that makes me maddest is that it was lousy training. You don't get any stronger from that sort of nonsense. From talking to a former trainer of mine who was a defensive back in San Diego State's very serious football program, I know that high level football now incorporates pretty enlightened training principles. But as usual, I digress.
July 18, 2004
By Mike Rappaport
Imagine that one of the airlines on September 11 had questioned three of the five terrorists on a particular flight who were planning to hijack the plane. Good thing? Apparently not, in the upside down world of the Transportation Department. It appears that government rules prohibit airlines from selecting "more than two people of the same ethnic persuasion . . . for extra security procedures." I can only hope that Patterico is misinterpreting this policy.
Now if the Democrats want to beat up on the Bush Administration for failing to guard against terrorism by implementing this policy, I would be all behind them. When they complain about the policy, I might even begin to think they are a real alternative in November. I'm not holding my breath, though.
Suburban life update
By Tom Smith
I have been left at home by my lovely wife Jeanne and declared a lump, while she takes the four boys shopping for pet supplies, shoes, Target miscellaney and who knows what else. The lump remark is due to my refusal to endorse a family visit to the La Jolla tide pools today. I am somewhat lumpish, it is true, but driving 45 minutes to an hour each way, competing with hordes of beamers and lexi for a parking spot, all so we can look at some f%^&*ing sea urchins just doesn't do it for me.
The weekend, since sometime yesterday morning, has been a two day slumber party/birthday celebration extraveganza, with Patrick's three best friends staying the night. They constructed a tiny hobo village with lincoln logs, went swimming, fought with water balloons, played with the birthday toys, played on the play station, fought with the foam swords, experimented with freezing water baloons, played with the lizards, examined the snake, and played with the dogs. I made my signature chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, which they ate outside. Last night was chile and hamburgers. Now the house is strangely quiet and I have a weird urge to weep in gratitude.
The little hobo village was cute. It featured Turd Lake where the hobos relieved themselves and Sacrifice Lake where they could drown themselves if they got depressed. Don't look at me; I have no idea where this stuff comes from. We have watched a couple of movies set in the Great Depression lately. That's probably it.
Biscuit seems to be recovering from her wounds fairly well. She had to have a second surgery when a patch of skin died and would no longer hold stitches. The little gobbets of blood she is leaving around the house may be contributing to a certain amount of inter-familial tension, but she is such a brave dog and I try to clean up after her. The family room carpet is trashed anyway. What's a spot more or less?
We have a new lizard. Word must have gotten around the reptile world, as we did not purchase this one, but rescued it. It is an escaped or abandoned Australian bearded dragon, about a foot long. Heidi, our excellent nanny, captured him as he scampered from the road into our iceplant. Much appreciated by the boys, but smelly. It must have somehow known our house was a sanctuary for his kind, the Big Rock Candy Mountain for the scaly.
The trip to Las Vegas ten days ago seems long past. The Ritz-Carlton in Henderson had a family deal going for the fourth, and Jeanne decreed that we would spend the long weekend at a fancy resort. And fancy it was. When were ensconced in the elevator, which had its own chandelier, Patrick opined "This is the fanciest place I have even been in my life!" William, age 8, allowed after returning from the facilities in our rooms, that "That was one quality toilet." The first evening, there was a spectacular fireworks display, and a concert by some famous country singer whom we did not buy tickets to see. We could watch the fireworks, though. They were somethin'. The next day we drove to the Hoover Dam and did the tour. It really is a treat, if you are intrigued by those big fascist structures of the 1930's. The guides stressed the dam was really a flood control structure, which made me wonder whether it justified its cost. Is there anything that used to be flooded by the Colorado that was worth protecting? Just asking. It was 114 in the shade when we visited, but cool inside the dam. We had ice cream at a coffee shop straight out of film set.
The food at the Ritz was great, no big surprize, and the service first rate, except for one concierge who seemed to think she should reply to inquiries as if to questions from hostile counsel at a deposition. You get some odd sorts in Vegas. It is the end of many lines.
On Monday, we went to the well known water park on the Vegas strip, and my democratic sentiments were challenged to the full. It was packed. I now know everything I ever need to about tattoos, piercings and obesity in America. America is fat, and America doesn't give a shit. It was a lot of fun, but I would recommend a few days of Cipro if you swallow any water. And remember the simple rules of politeness, such as, if a large white guy with a shaved head and an Iron Cross tattooed on his neck cuts in front of you, just pretend you didn't notice. The water park had a slide six stories tall, which begins as 25 foot nearly vertical drop, and then describes some conic section gradually to the horizontal. You have to reach speeds of 40 mph or more, and the acceleration can't be much less than free fall. I forget the name of the ride-- it is right next to Der Stutka, tastefully named after the dive bomber with which Hitler terrorized Europe. I took my 12, 10 and 8 year old on the ride, and I was proud of their fearlessness, or at least their unwillingness to show fear. A number of riders got to the top of the tower after a long wait in line, then turned around and walked down. No one in line seemed to hold it against them. I couldn't get much out of my kids about the experience. I asked my 12 year old what he thought of it.
"Freaky," he said.
"Do you want to do it again?"
That evening we went to a Japanese restaurant reputed to have the best sushi in Vegas, at the Hyatt on Lake Las Vegas. This was also to celebrate Patrick's birthday, being the family, as opposed to the kid party. I'm no great expert, but it sure seemed like great sushi to me. I ventured forth a little and had some raw eel in addition to varieties of tuna. It was all great. The service was a trifle slow, but otherwise excellent. I hope no giant worms burst out of my head in weeks to come.
One bad thing happened on the trip. We failed to properly close our door and someone slipped into our room and stole an expensive watch I had given Jeanne a couple of years ago on Valentine's day. The Ritz has an elaborate security system which allows them to log each key that opens a door. They were able to tell no employee had entered the room with a key during our short absence. The security shift manager, who seemed like a New York detective who had had enough of the city, told us that we had probably been taken by a "door pusher." Door pushers are thieves who walk down the halls of upscale hotels pushing on doors. If one opens, they knock, and if no one is there, they quickly scan for things they can steal quickly. Cheaper hotels have doors that slam and lock automatically, but the Ritz and other five star hotels consider slamming doors tacky. The doors close quietly, but don't always latch all the way. Hotels fight door pushers with "hall walkers," security agents who just walk the halls of the hotel checking doors. On this weekend, however, the security people had their hands full with outside activities. No doubt the savvy Vegas thieves saw their chance and took it. We decided not to get upset about the watch. It wasn't a child, or a dog or even a wedding ring.
So, overall, I can recommend the Ritz-Carlton on Lake Las Vegas in the summer, if you are looking for a place to just chill by the pool, eat great food, and maybe do a little shopping or gaming if you like that sort of thing. Even at summer rates, it is tres spendy, but at least you get a really elegant experience for your money. Next to the elevator, on a notepad thoughtfully provided by the hotel, I found this note scrawled in a child's handwriting: "This place is second best to the Sant. Regis." You might also want to check that out.
By Tom Smith
Interestingish article in NYT about young conservatives. I guess tempermentally I'm really a libertarian, since I panic when I see a young person dressed like the young conservative in the photo. Did the Times photographer specify that the subject wear something nerdy? I know, there's nerdy hip, but there is also just nerdy. A good rule of thumb is, avoid madras. Avoid seersucker, too, unless you really are a Southern senator who's drunk all the time. Khaki or olive poplin is OK, but for heaven's sake, any salesman at a Brooks Brothers in a medium sized city can give you a dozen better options.
For what it's worth, here's my deep thought about the future of the American right. A big problem with the Ivy League traditionalist conservatives, the neo-conservatives and quite a few libertarians is that, like liberals, they swoon at the thought of being elites. Deep down, they don't have much respect for ordinary people, who really aren't very ordinary. Reagan understood this viscerally; he was a great communicator because of his respect for people. He was what used to be called natural gentleman. Bush Sr. was hopeless in that respect, which is why the "silver spoon in his mouth" cut so deeply. Bush the Younger, I'm not sure about. The neo-conservatives are hopeless intellectual snobs, which makes the accusation of starting a war by too clever behind the scenes machinations half-believable. And Bill Buckley, for all his historical accomplishments, was at his most tedious in his frequent adumbrations about how wealthy was his lifestyle and that of his father. "My limosine has miles to go before I sleep," etc. etc. I know it was a come back to endless whining about the poor, but as anyone west of the Hudson could tell you, showing off your wealth lacks class. National Review still has something of that flavor, though it has gotten better.
The only cultural hook-up the Right has with "the people" now is Christianity, and that raises various problems. It doesn't help that the free-market economic populism of Reagan has been undermined by its own success. Nor that Bush Jr.'s big government conservatism is incoherent to the point of defying characterization. I think what the American Right needs is not so much bright young things with connections to National Review, as some sound thinkers who can explain the connections between economic liberty, and preserving the cultural institutions that make liberty possible and worth having. Maybe we could make an exception to the ban on human cloning and get ahold of Hayek's hairbrush.
Angry crowds gathered at the site, chanting "God is great (but he needs to work on his air-defense capability)"
By Tom Smith
Sorry, I felt I just had to say that.
It seems different somehow when the Iraqi government approves the air strike. Apparently, Fallujah has become the place to see and be seen if you're a foreign terrorist in Iraq. If you are seen, however, there's a good chance something will descend on you from above, and it won't be a beam of saving grace.
July 17, 2004
Which Foreign Language to Learn?
By Mike Rappaport
Cathy Seipp has a great post on which foreign language to study in school. The short answer is: not Spanish. I took Spanish in high school, but I think that she is right that another language would have been a better choice. Looking back on it, I would have liked to learn Italian, since Italy is the country I most like to visit.
July 16, 2004
Awaiting information on black holes
By Tom Smith
Stephen Hawking rethinking black holes.
I, White Person
By Tom Smith
I took sons numbers one and three to see I, Robot today. It was a perfectly pleasant waste of a couple of hours, with plenty of gee whiz technology and special effects on display. Its subtext or theme or whatever the appropriate lit crit term would be, however, was a bit alarming and puzzling.
The movie was unusual in that almost all the good guys were black and all the bad guys were white. The robots themselves, in particular the new N5 (or whatever) model, are super-whiteys. With their pale, glutinous faces, they look like somebody shaved all the hair off a convention full of well preserved DAR matrons. The robots are the ultimate ice people, emotionless and menacing.
Will Smith is having none of this, of course. He knows the robots are up to no good. Strangely, he is suspicious of the positronically-brained kind as a result of having been saved by one, at the expense of a little girl, because the robot calculated he had a better chance of surviving drowning than did the little girl. The mechanics of this accident take most of a scene to explain and aren't worth repeating now. Let's just say the exposition in this movie has some bugs in it.
(Spoilers to the plot, such as it is, follow.) Of course, it turns out the robots and the big central computer in the big, bad corporation have developed a heartless intelligence of their own, and want to take over the world, saving humans from themselves, even if it means killing a lot of us in the process. The robot race justifies this with a liberal construction of the three rules of robotics, but I don't think the movie is trying to be a parable in support of originalism.
But what is it? Heartless, pasty faced white robots attempt to steal the world, and can only be stopped by a passionate, intuitive black cop, who will not be slowed down by the accusations of prejudice thrown his way. The CEO of US Robotics taunts him with "You just don't like their kind," which phases Will Smith not a bit. He knows a sub-human when he sees one.
The female lead is a hyper-brainy white ice queen. The director must have told her to play the role as utterly asexual, because that's what she does. In a Hollywood where female litigators invariably wear tight black ultra-minis, don't tell me this is inadvertent. In fact, the movie is weirdly sexless for a Hollywood flick, except perhaps for the shots of Will Smith in the shower, Will Smith working out, etc. etc. I suppose the scene in which ice queen examines Smith's robotic arm might be considered sexy, but just barely.
The climax of the flick is like one of those dreams that don't require interpretation (A gigantic woman named Cravath was smothering me, but I was tied up with golden rope and couldn't escape!) The big central computer, named Viki, and holographically projected in the image of a nondescript white woman, is actually a big round electronic blob that floats in the US Robotics central atrium. Will Smith, Ice Queen, and the one good white robot must get to the blob and inject into in a canister full of little, swimming nanites, that will denature the gigantic, positronic brain. Does this remind you of anything? I know sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but come on. I am not sure from what crack-pot ideology comes the tenant that ejaculation will triumph over oppressive female, white, scientific oppression, but Immanuel Kant, it ain't.
So, in spite of appearances, this little sci-fi nugget lives up to our culture industry's predilection of producing gobbets of poison. In I, Robot we learn that whiteys are smart, but heartless and ultimately evil, even if they profess to have the best of intentions. We learn not to worry if this sounds like racial prejudice; remember the pasty-faces aren't really human. They don't have that inner juiciness that makes a bro a bro. Don't trust white technology; it will turn on you. Street smarts will beat tricknology every time. You go, sun people.
None of this has anything to do with Isaac Asimov, of course. He would probably be appalled at the movie, old fashioned liberal that he was. Why Hollywood should be turning out this slick little piece of fringe black racism, I have no idea. Some movies, such as Phenomenon, with John Travolta, are obvious ideological vehicles, in that case for Scientology. No surprize; Travolta, although a big talent, is a Scientologist nutter. But who woulda thunk of turning I, Robot into a sermon on don't-trust-whitey? I mean, really. Is nothing sacred? It's Issac Asimov as read by Leonard Jeffries.
It leads to the question, what does Hollywood have against civilization? They seem to have done pretty well out of the deal. But that is a matter for another day.
July 15, 2004
A New Form of Attack?
By Mike Rappaport
Pretty scary. (Hat tip: Stephen Bainbridge)
The UN and Israel's Separation Barrier
By Mike Rappaport
I have been looking over the ICJ opinion holding that Israel’s separation fence / wall was illegal. After reviewing the 20 page summary of the opinion as well as portions of the actual opinion, I see nothing to persuade me of its legitimacy. The interesting question, though, for a lawyer at least, is how the "court" got to its result.
The key factor, as has been widely noted, is that the court essentially ignored the risk to Israel from Palestinian suicide bombers. But how were they able to ignore this risk? A couple of methods were used. First, the court’s opinion noted that the UN Charter guarantees to each state the right to defend itself, but the opinion read this as applying only to attacks by other states, and concluded that the Palestinians were not a state. While I am not an expert in this area, this seems mistaken. The language of the Charter’s provision does not state that one can only exercise self defense against a state, and why would it? This is especially true, since the Court holds that the Palestinians are a people entitled to self determination. As the one dissenting judge noted, the Security Council itself invoked the right of self defense to justify defenses against international terrorism.
The second way that the court ignored Israel’s risk from suicide bombers is equally problematic. At various points, the opinion considered, very vaguely, the possibility that Israel might have the right to defend itself, but then rejected it on the grounds that Israel had not shown it needed to build the fence to defend itself. Israel did not prove it needed the fence to defend itself, however, because Israel was not a party to the lawsuit, as it had not consented to the lawsuit. The court decided the case on an "advisory" basis. In justifying its exercise of this advisory jurisdiction, the court asserted that it did not need Israel’s participation because it had adequate information before it. But then the court puts the burden of proof on Israel, which is not even a party, to supply this information. So the court decides it should decide the case, because it has adequate information, but then rejects Israel’s defenses because the court does not have sufficient information to decide on them. We might call it Orwellian, but perhaps calling it "UN"ian is sufficient.
Fighting Back Against Nigerian E-Mail Scams
By Gail Heriot
This is pretty amusing.
It's closer to the truth to say you can't get enough
By Tom Smith
You know you're addicted to love, but why? Scientists (and not the kind that will blind you -- sorry, too much MTV in the '80's) have some insights. Via Brian Leiter, defender of science.
Actually, I think the scientists' interpretation is off. I don't think we love our babies, for instance, because our critical facilities are turned off. We love them because of the genetic "self-interest," which means that our critical facilities don't have to be on in the first place. In other words, I think they've got their causality reversed. At least as the article explains it, the scientists speak as if love is a judgment we make based on some object's qualities. I don't think so. Attachment to relatives is very deep, much deeper than anything remotely like judgment. Birds and bees literally do it. I don't think drones sacrifice themselves for Big Mama because they are blind to her faults.
July 14, 2004
A Fractured Sense of Fractions
By Gail Heriot
Here's one of my pet peeves: Why do so many people completely misunderstand the original United States Constitution's "three-fifths of a person" rule?
This time it's the Rev. Jesse Jackson. My friend John Fund reports in the Wall Street Journal's Political Diary news service (sorry no link possible) that Jackson recently questioned the analogy between the civil rights movement and the gay rights movement. "'Gays were never called three-fifths human in the Constitution ...,'" he said. He thus implies that it would have been better to be regarded as a full human being.
The three-fifths rule was, of course, a compromise. Some people wanted to count each slave as a full human being. Some wanted to count them as zero. But it's important to remember who was on what side of the debate.
Slave owners wanted to count slaves as full human beings, not because they wanted slaves to enjoy the full rights of free and equal citizens. Perish the thought. The main issue under deliberation was how to apportion seats in Congress among the states. Southerners (including Southern slave owners) wanted slaves to count in the head count in the same way other non-voting persons--like unpropertied men, women, children, imbeciles, felons and the insane--would count. The propertied men would be presumed to be voting in the slaves' interest, just as they were presumed to be voting in the interests of their wives, minor children and other non-voters.
Opponents of slavery in the North recognized the three-fifths rule as a travesty. But their argument wasn't that a slave should count as a full human being. Quite sensibly, they didn't want slaves to be counted at all. In other words, they wanted slaves counted as zero (although they were no doubt comforted by the fact that, if Congress ever decided to impose a direct tax, slaveholding states would pay more if slaves were counted in the population). To count them as even three-fifths of a person would be to indulge in the complete fiction that Southern slaveholders were acting in the best interests of slaves.
Interestingly, the three-fifths rule had a major impact on history. Without it, for example, Adams would have been elected to a second term. Indeed, the long run of slaveholding presidents from Virginia--Jefferson, Madison and Monroe--would never have occurred. These men energetically opposed any discussion of slavery. In contrast, Adams took the position that to defer the issue of slavery indefinitely would eventually lead to catastrophe. And, of course, he was right. It makes you wonder if we'd be better off today had opponents of slavery gotten their way on the apportionment issue and slaves been counted as zero. Perhaps emancipation could have occurred earlier and with less bloodshed.
Epstein on Same-Sex Marriage
By Mike Rappaport
Richard Epstein has been one of the strong influences on my intellectual development. To this day, I largely subscribe to much of his libertarian utilitarianism. In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, Richard writes a piece attacking the Family Marriage Amendment and suggests that laws forbidding same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, or at least require a strong justification that has not yet been provided.
It is not clear how to interpret Richard’s argument. On the one hand, one might view it as a statement of political principle, as his views as to what the Constitution ought to say. On this ground, I have much sympathy with his arguments, but at this point I support civil unions rather than same-sex marriage largely on grounds of gradualism and the unpredictability of radical change. I also think that these changes are better made through the legislative process.
Richard’s argument, however, also appears to be a claim that our Constitution should be interpreted in the way he suggests. If that is his argument, I must part company and ask: where is the evidence? The relevant constitutional provisions were enacted in 1789-1791 and in 1868, and nowhere in his op ed piece is there any evidence that it has the meaning he suggests.
Richard may be appealing to arguments that claim that the Framers were adopting natural rights views, and these natural rights are subject to reinterpretation over time as understandings change. But if he is, I must say that I don’t read the Constitution in that way, and nothing he says here even addresses the argument.
Update: Over at Stephen Bainbridge’s site, Richard provides the source for his views: He appears to acknowledge that the Privileges and Immunities Clause is the applicable clause and it does not prohibit laws against same-sex marriage. He then claims that courts have interpreted the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses more broadly and they might be read to cover same-sex marriage. But I hardly find this argument persuasive. Yes, the Court’s can make up the meaning of Equal Protection and Due Process so that same-sex marriage is covered, but I hardly see why that is legitimate. What is more, prior to last year’s Lawrence decision, the Courts had not found any real protection for same-sex relationships and therefore one cannot really argue based on judicial doctrine. In the end, I fear, Richard’s argument appears to be that protecting same-sex marriage would be a good thing, and there is enough room within the amorphous constitutional provisions, especially as willfully misinterpreted by the courts, to allow the Court to protect same-sex marriage. Perhaps true, but hardly compelling.
More on John and Lady Heinz
By Tom Smith
Michele Malkin is too much of a lady to say the sort of things I say, and that's good. But my take is that John Kerry is sort of Lady Kerry's walker, her Senator-toy, and so it's not really fair to compare them to a normal married couple.
All my friends are normal. I don't think I know anybody with pre-nup, for example. I know, that's embarrassing, but that's the little world I live in. Someday I hope to be rich enough to know some prenuptualized people, but that's in the future.
It's hard to have a normal marriage when you are a politically powerful but not very rich Senator, and you're married to a billionairess with her own Gulfstream and a pre-nup. For all we know, there is a clause in that pre-nup that allows her to treat him like her exasperating teenage step-son, and he just has to take it. Cut John-John a little slack. He's cute, in an overbred dog sort of way, keeps himself in shape, obviously tries hard to be manly, and is no doubt very attentive to his unbelievably wealthy, if snooty and condescending spouse. It is a rare wife, let me tell you, whom you could drop a billion dollars on and still find her adoring her husband. Her second husband at that. How would you like to compete with a dead man who left his wife a great fortune? To many women, that is the pinnacle of the perfect spouse. As a husband, I will just note, adoration is in short supply. I was thinking of asking my lovely wife Jeanne the other evening if she adored me, but she was reading. I have learned you really don't want to interrupt your wife when she is reading to ask if she adores you. It comes over as sort of needy, in a negative sense. I do sometimes ask my yellow lab Biscuit if she adores me, but it is just a rhetorical question, as it is clear she does. If she had a billion dollars, though, who knows?