The Right Coast

March 31, 2004
 
West Wing Celebrities
By Gail Heriot

There was a time when working as a White House staff member was not quite so public a position as it has become in recent decades. Only Washington insiders knew much about even top White House staff members; they were shadowy figures who did their jobs and received little media attention. I like that way. If a presidential advisor has to think about how he’s going over with the media at the same time he thinking about how he’s going over with the President, he is having to think too much. Nobody is smart enough for that.

Today, however, a few staffers--like Karl Rove or Condoleezza Rice--might have a difficult time buying a cup of coffee in Djakarta without attracting attention. They are celebrities in their own right. The news media is so big and hungry for interviews that elected officials cannot possibly satisfy it. Top White House staff members must ride the Sunday morning news show circuit. It’s part of what’s expected of them.

An unpleasant side of celebrity is asserting itself this week. The Washington Post described the scene at Mr. Rove’s home in Northwest Washington on Sunday this way:

“Several hundred people stormed the small yard of President Bush’s chief political strategist Karl Rove yesterday afternoon, pounding on his windows, shoving signs at others and challenging Rove to talk to them about a bill that deals with educational opportunities for immigrants.

“Protesters poured out of one school bus after another, piercing an otherwise quiet, peaceful Sunday in Rove’s Palisades neighborhood ... chanting, ‘Karl, Karl, come on out! ...’”

It’s a shame. Karl Rove and his family shouldn’t have to put up with this harassment. That would be so regardless of the policies he has advocated at the White House. And, as the Wall Street Journal observed today, it is especially so in view of Bush’s (and Rove’s) strong pro-immigrant policies. If Karl Rove has not been sufficiently pro-immigrant to keep the crazies from pounding on his windows, then it can’t be done.

I wonder, however, if such ugly incidents aren’t difficult to avoid in the era of celebrity advisors. For good or ill, Karl Rove is a household name now. There are a lot of crazies out there, and crazies are attracted to celebrities the way that bugs are to light. They’re either going to pound on Karl Rove’s window or they’re going to pound on Ozzy Osbourne’s or Nicole Kidman’s and I guess this week it was Rove’s.

The Condoleezza Rice issue this week is related. Some people were asserting that it would be politically damaging for Bush to forbid Rice from testifying before the 9-11 Commission in view of her regular appearances on radio and television. And that sounds right to me. The average American is indeed likely to believe that if the President is not worried about Rice’s appearing on Face the Nation and Meet the Press, he should not be worried about her appearing before the Commission. He must therefore being trying to hide something–or so some people’s line of reasoning might go. Maybe that’s among the reasons that Bush relented and allowed the testimony.

If so, that’s a shame too. The argument that Presidential advisors should not be called to testify by Congress, the Courts or any other governmental body is by no means a frivolous one. It’s hard to give candid advice when you think that you might later have to explain that advice under oath to someone who was not there (and who may be unsympathetic to your position to the person you are advising). Rice testimony does indeed set an uncomfortable precedent. After yesterday’s announcement, all White House advisors with any sense will realize that they too may be called to testify before some politically-charged commission some day. The question is whether the existence of celebrity advisors makes all this inevitable, and if so, whether that existence needs some re-thinking.


 
Will on Clarke
By Mike Rappaport

George Will chimes in with his criticisms of Clarke. Here is an excerpt:
    Too much of the controversy about Clarke's book -- and testimony and interviews -- concerns adjectives. Combating terrorism was only "important" to the Bush administration (by the eighth day Clarke was calling the Bush administration "lackadaisical" about terrorism), whereas for the Clinton administration it was "urgent" -- "no higher a priority." Except when it wasn't. When Clarke recommended "a series of rolling attacks" against al Qaeda's "infrastructure in Afghanistan," his recommendation was rejected. But Clarke says "to be fair" we should understand that the Clinton administration decided it had higher priorities -- the Balkans, the Middle East peace process.

    By the eighth day Clarke was telling Tim Russert that the difference is that Clinton did "something" whereas Bush did "nothing." Nothing except, among other things, authorizing a quadrupling of spending for covert action against al Qaeda.




 
Hitchens on Clarke
By Mike Rappaport

As my blogging no doubt reveals, I have been a bit obsessed with reading about Richard Clarke lately. One of the best pieces is by Christopher Hitchens in Slate. He just seems to know so much about these matters, including significant details. And, of course, he has a way with words.

The highlights of the Slate piece:

Hitchens's description of how the book "The Age of Sacred Terror, published in 2002," depicts Clarke "as an egotistical pain in the ass who had the merit of getting things right."

Hitchens's discussion of how Clarke previously accepted the connection between Iraq and Al Qaida.

Hitchens's pointing out the important state sponsorship that Al Qaida and other terrorists received from American "friends" Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and how the war against Iraq has constrained them.

And he ends with this parting shot: "But in my experience, dud theories die only to be replaced by new and even dumber ones. The current reigning favorite is that fighting al-Qaida in Iraq is a distraction from the fight against al-Qaida."


 
Bill Clinton, Antiterrorist Extraordinaire
By Mike Rappaport

Of all the misleading claims that Richard Clarke appears to have made, the most outrageous is that the Clinton Administration did a good job of fighting terror. For the latest outrage by the Clinton Administration, being revealed now for the first time, see Cori Dauber.


March 30, 2004
 
The Scottish Nectar
By Tom Smith

In addition to creating some of the best philosophy and economics in history, the Scots also make the finest distilled beverage. Here's a link to my favorite, part of an effort to enlighten certain persons who might otherwise be swayed by the prejudice against strong liquors.


 
I'd write more, but I'm too exhausted
By Tom Smith

Go to bed!


 
I hate it when you're nice
By Tom Smith

Just when I thought David Brooks was getting in touch with this inner wolverine, he writes this icky sweet thing. Sorry, kids, it does matter where you go to college.


 
Very good piece on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act
By Tom Smith

I was going to write something on this point, but it probably would not have been this good. (via realclearpolitics.com).


 
European Offensive
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Mark Steyn has it right, as usual, on Europe (specifically Germany). Meantime, Sen. Joe Biden, who is maddeningly inconsistent but who occasionally talks straight and sensibly, says some of the right things to the Euro envoys in Washington. (Biden, when it comes to action, not words, is almost always a generic Democrat. But he does have an occasional independent train of thought, so long as he is just thinking out loud. The Senate would be a more interesting place, at least, if there were more like him.) Finally, a propos America's European allies, read Kenneth Timmerman's book on Chiraq if you haven't already.


 
A Book to Sell, An Axe to Grind
By Mike Rappaport

I watched much of the Richard Clarke interview on Meet the Press. A couple of reactions.

First, Clarke is an articulate and polished spokesmen for his point of view. He comes across very well in these settings.

While some of the force of what he says comes from his ability to point out, after the fact, mistakes or oversights by the Bush Administration, much of his impact come from rhetorical skills. He has several different maneuvers that he uses. As one might expect, media expert Cori Dauber identifies his main tactics.

A couple of these tactics:

Its not about me. The problem is that when his criticism of the Bush Administration depends on his credibility, it is in part about him.

Its for the families. As Dauber says, “He's draping himself in the families like a cloak. He's only doing this because the families have a right to know. I find this especially annoying. It's a form of political armor, a way of demonstrating that his motives are pure: if he's doing it for the families, then to question him must mean you are trying to keep something from the families, right?” Dauber finds this annoying. I find it despicable.

What the White House did and what Clarke did. As Dauber says, “Listen to Clarke talk about the Bush administration pre-9/11. They did nothing. He did X, Y, Z. He's totally dissociated himself so that even though he worked for them, whatever actions he took are not actions that count in the administration's column as steps taken pre-9/11.”

The problem is that it takes some thought and expertise to recognize that he is employing these tactics.

In the end, it is a bit sad that Clarke has chosen to make his allegations in a heavily promoted book, during a political campaign. Had he presented these ideas at another time, in a less politically strident manner, it would be easier to listen to these criticisms. Now, unfortunately, it is all about defending his reputation and promoting his book.


March 29, 2004
 
Colorado Fails to Eliminate Racial Preferences
By Gail Heriot

It is difficult to deny that racial preferences are unpopular. In California and Washington, the two states that have had voter initiatives on the ballot prohibiting such policies, the intiatives have passed by substantial margins (54.6% in California and 58.22% in Washington).

Moreover, judging by surveys described by public opinion experts Paul Sniderman and Thomas Piazza, the results in California and Washington may have significantly understated opposition to such policies: The affirmative action agenda "is politically controversial precisely because most Americans do not disagree about it," they wrote in The Scar of Race. "The distribution of public opinion on ... affirmative action ... is unmistakable .... [T]here is scarcely any support ... among whites." Polls cited by Sniderman & Piazza show that even African Americans are "split right down the middle on affirmative action." Some polls show opposition higher than 90%; all polls show overall opposition to be high.

Even so, it has proven almost impossible to end racial preferences through legislation. It is the classic special interest policy. A few people benefit handsomely from preferences, particularly preferences in public contracting. They desperately want to retain these discriminatory policies and they are willing to do whatever is necessary to keep them going. One group even calls itself the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). In the end, legislators, timid souls that they are, always cave to them. And on Friday, the Colorado Senate joined the list.

Because I co-chaired California's Proposition 209 campaign, I sometimes get calls from state legislators around the country interested in sponsoring legislation that would ban racial and gender preferences in their state. I've spoken to several thoughtful and hardworking representatives from both parties who are convinced that justice requires them to act to prohibit these policies. Invariably, however, they have misjudged the power of the affirmative action lobby. Despite support from the public at large, they find themselves unable to garner the support of the majority of their colleagues. The effort collapses. That's apparently what happned to State Senator Ed Jones, the African American Republican who sponsored the Colorado bill. It lost 18 to 17, in a mostly party-line vote in which one Republican senator defected to vote with the Democrats.

I have come to believe that popular initiatives are the only effective way to deal with the issue. It's a shame, since in many ways popular initiatives are an unwieldy tool. Since Colorado is an initiative state, we may see such an effort soon. Stay tuned.


March 28, 2004
 
The 9-11 Commission
By Mike Rappaport

On my weekend away, I had the opportunity to watch a bit of C-Span's broadcast of the 9-11 Commission hearings. Most of the members of the Commission read like the Ghosts of Government Past, including Thomas H. Kean, Lee H. Hamilton, Fred Fielding, Slade Gorton, Bob Kerrey and John F. Lehman.

And there was Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense from the 1970s testifying before the Commission. Obviously, he could have been on the Commission had God not shined down upon us and allowed him to be our present Defense Secretary. Rumsfeld has more life in him than anyone else in that room, and in my view at least, more knowledge and skill as well.


 
Las Vegas
By Mike Rappaport

I just came back from a long weekend vacation with my wife in Las Vegas. We both had a great time, and we don't even gamble. For those who are not familiar with the place, Vegas has much to recommend it besides gambling. For one, it probably has more great restaurants in a small area than any other place, largely because great restaurants throughout the US have also opened there. For example, we went to one of my favorite restaurants, Commanders Palace, which is as good in Vegas as it is in New Orleans. We also ate at Olives, originally a Boston restaurant. Las Vegas also has culture, both high and low. We saw two museum exhibits, one of Monet's works and the other from the Guggenheim in New York, entitled From Renoir to Rothko. (Sadly, though, I don't really like Impressionism.) There was also a great deal of low culture to pick from (and I don't mean strip clubs). There was Elton John, Penn and Teller, and our choice -- the lowest of the low, Don Rickles. As politically incorrect as they come, Rickles did not tell a single new joke -- yet, he was quite funny.

One of the really nice things about Vegas is that you can enjoy these treats at what appear to be a subsidized prices. I would guess that the money the hotels make from gambling lowers the prices a bit. And, happily, I don't have to give the casinos a cent. Of course, many of Justice Scalia's airplane ticket critics might regard my behavior as improper. Presumably, I should gamble a bit just because the hotels expect it, or at least announce to them, that I have no intention of gambling. Yeah, right.


 
If it's good enough for the Secretary of Commerce ...
By Gail Heriot

I just peeked ahead to April on my calendar and saw that April 21st is designated "Administrative Professionals Day." Evidently, I am lagging behind the times again (a positon to which I've grown accustomed). A quick internet search revealed that "Administrative Professionals Day" is the new, blander, more PC term for what was originally called "National Secretaries Day" when it was proclaimed by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Charles Sawyer in 1952. At the time, there was thought to be a critical shortage of qualified secretaries; Secretary Sawyer hoped that a special day of appreciation would encourage more people to enter the occupation. The term was changed to "Administrative Professionals Day" in 2000.

I've never understood why the term "secretary" should be demeaning, but evidently some view it as such. I was told a few years ago that some secretaries here at the University of San Diego were so desperate to have their job titles changed that they were very nearly in tears over the issue. (They are now called administrative assistants.) Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I like the term "secretary" better. It derives from the Latin "secretum" (or secret) and conjures up images of the confidante. "Administrative assistant," on the other hand, is bureaucratic and lifeless.

What's interesting, of course, is that it's getting to the point where the only ones left with the title "Secretary" are cabinet level officers of the United States government--like Secretary Sawyer himself. Somehow I can't imagine them adopting the title "Administrative Professional."


March 27, 2004
 
Yassin the spiritual
By Tom Smith

I agree with almost everything in this Martin Peretz piece. But when writers put scare quotes around "spiritual leader" in describing persons such as Yassin, they are just showing their naivite about things spiritual. It is entirely possible, even likely, that Yassin was a spiritual leader. Being a spiritual leader does not mean you are good. Not everything spiritual is good. If you believe in things of the spirit, there is a good chance you believe some of those spiritual things are evil. Indeed, evil spiritual things are more evil than just regular old bad things. Spiritual is not a synonym for "introspective," "compassionate," or "appreciative of new age music and low fat spa food." Personally, I think the Yassins of the world would be less scary if they were not spiritual, but as it is, I don't doubt they are.


 
Cool jet
By Tom Smith

NASA sets new world speed record in cool scramjet.

In my next life, I'm going to join the Air Force. I know, naval aviators land on pitching decks at night, but that's too scary.


March 26, 2004
 
Annals Of Socialized Medicine
By Maimon Schwarzschild

One of Britain's leading vascular neurosurgeons was suspended from his hospital position last week over allegations that he took an extra serving of croutons for his soup in the hospital canteen. All the operations he was scheduled to perform have been postponed, pending a full investigation. Reporting the story, the Daily Telegraph notes that the waiting time for brain surgery in Nottingham -- where the soup suspension took place -- is 39 days, and that according to a report by the Society of British Neurological Surgeons, patients are dying needlessly in Britain because of a shortage of surgeons.

The left wing Guardian newspaper also carries a report, if that allays any suspicion you might have that TheRightCoast (or the Daily Telegraph) are making this up.

A further English note in this story (apart from the petty-mindedness -- about food and otherwise -- that one sometimes experiences in England) is that the surgeon has been devoting his time to gardening while under suspension, and that he has been wearing a bright red wig when he ventures into his garden, apparently hoping thereby to evade journalists and press photographers.

On knowledge and belief, as I say, this lunatic story is apparently not merely a rejected Monty Python sketch.

(Hat tip to Oxblog.)


March 25, 2004
 
Deliberation Moment
By Tom Smith

As an alternative, I propose that Congress appropriate $500,000, to be paid to Bruce Ackerman on the condition that he not come up with any dumb ideas for a period of one year.

Some ideas just create negative externalities. Famous professor proposes dumb idea. Across the country millions of American pause and think, hmmmm, that seems like a dumb idea. In sum, thousands of man-hours are wasted, time that could have been spent shaving, or recording sports shows, or sweeping out the garage. This is just wrong. $500,000 would be money well spent.

I'm sorry. Maybe there's something wrong with me. I went to Yale Law School and attempted to take a class from Prof. Ackerman and ended up dropping it because after listening to R.M. Hare, Jeremy Waldron, Ronald Dworkin, HLA Hart and Charles Taylor at Oxford, it was just too depressing. I went around thinking, "why does everybody think this guy is so smart?" I still do not understand. It's not just politics. Some conservatives think he's smart. I admit he is very charming if you can stand to suck up to him like your life depends on it. But not everyone has that kind of energy. What if you just ate?

Well, you all have your deliberation day. I've got a garage to clean.


 
Conference on Judicial Appointments
By Mike Rappaport

Earlier this week I got back from a conference on the issues relating to judicial appointments, including papers on advice and consent, the filibuster, recess appointments, the role of ideology in making appointments, and explanations for the tremendous political conflict that now occurs in the area. The conference was quite interesting, but a little depressing: it suggests that the conflicts over judicial appointments are likely to be here for the indefinite future. Larry Solum, who presented an excellent paper on the relationship between theories of judging and judicial appointments, blogged the conference here and here.


 
Did Scalia engage in promissory fraud?
By Tom Smith

Brian Leiter has linked to this item, floating around the blogosphere, to the effect that Scalia, J., engaged in promissory fraud by buying a round trip ticket he intended to use only one leg of. The first response is, oh please, give me a break. But actually, there may be a bit of a puzzle here.

Airline pricing is just an exercise in pure price discrimination. The idea in this instance is to sort out those who really are engaging in one way travel and those who are going round trip. Needing to go only one way is a rather odd situation when you think about it. Airlines undoubtedly sell far more round trip than one-way tickets. They sensibly figure they can extract more from one way travelers. Of course, any idiot would buy a round trip ticket instead of one way, for the same reason you would buy a dozen oranges for $2 rather than a half-dozen for $3.

So, apparently, airlines make it a standard term in the form ticket contract nobody has ever read that the buyer of the round-trip ticket really is a round trip flyer and not a one-way flyer. In effect, the buyer is making a representation about his intentions. But it is a queer sort of representation. It is not like "I will make my best efforts to sell your widgets" or the like. It is more like "$100 is really the most I am willing to pay for this widget." This is so because that's all price discrimination is, an effort to sort people out according to what they are willing to pay. But does anybody really think it is fraud to represent to a seller that you are not willing to pay more than $X when in fact you would be willing to pay more? Even if there is an odd term in the contract that says "I really am unwilling to pay more than $X", how could such a term have any effect?

A related reason to think buying a round-trip ticket when you mean to travel only one way is not fraud, is that it is hard to see how the airline could possibly rely on such a representation and undoubtedly they do not. They must realize that lots of people buy round trip tickets and throw away the return. They would like to price discriminate against these people, but are defeated when people respond rationally by buying the round trip. For a passenger not to do so would constitute the ethical lapse of being an idiot.

Further, for there to be fraud, their must be damages. "I wanted to price discriminate, but he wouldn't let me because he misrepresented how much he was willing to pay," would be a pretty strange case for damages. Some sort of lost profits claim, I guess. But the airlines still sold the round trip ticket. They can fill the empty return seat with a stand-by or by over-booking, which they normally do. Even if the seat sits empty, so what? The buyer already paid for it. So the airlines says, you can't do that, you must be there. But the airline cannot compel performance of this sort. So it asks about present intentions, presumably. Then you are back to the supposed ethical obligation to let somebody price discriminate against you by revealing your indifference curve. That's indecent. Nobody has the right to insist you expose your indifference curve.

The only way I can see to argue the seller has suffered any harm is to go back to the price discrimination point, and I doubt any court would call that fraud. (But just wait. Somebody will send me a case in which some benighted federal judge did just that.) But honestly, how could anybody reasonably rely to their detriment on a representation to the effect that "yes, I'm really a round trip flyer" when they are asking you just so they can soak you if possible? No doubt there is some refined moral theory under which you may not misrepresent such intentions in the marketplace, but it would be a rare bird that followed it in practice. The morality of contract law, I would hazard, is much more practical. I would put representations given merely to avoid price discrimination in a category similiar to agreements to agree. You might be able to make sense of them, barely, in theory, but in practice, they're meaningless. That's what I would say if I were a judge anyway. Then I would fly away on a public private jet and kill some ducks.

And one more thing: Scalia was using both legs of the ticket if you consider the strange ethical position he was is. If he is going to accept a ride on somebody's jet, it helps to be able to say "I didn't save any money by doing so; I already had a round-trip ticket." So he needs that empty seat on the plane. It is occupied, if you will, by his conscience or at least by his reputation, or perhaps only by some purely juridical body. Just because his actual bottom, on which we are not going to dwell, is not in the seat, does not mean he's not using it. But I suppose there's some really, really refined view under which it is unethical or illegal to buy an airline seat you want to use (maybe it's a weird hobby you have, or maybe you're fulfilling your late girlfriend's last wish, or whatever) in some way other than just sitting in it. Of course, it's funny that Scalia saved money on his one-way leg by buying a ticket that shows he did not save money by taking a private plane for the other leg of the trip. But it still allows him to say "I already had a round trip ticket," and in this age of soundbites, that's a useful thing to be able to say.


March 24, 2004
 
Beginning of end for Kerry?
By Tom Smith

Dick Morris may have odd sexual tastes (who can forget 'bark like a dog'?) but I've long thought he has acute political judgment. This NY Post piece via realcl arpolitics.com is well worth reading. I'm on record as thinking that the election would be close, but maybe I'm wrong. I hope so. I just keep remembering how many votes Al Gore, not exactly one of nature's charmers, managed to get. More, even, than Bush.

Did you know the Kerrys or the Kerry-Katchups or whatever they're called, live in a house in Sun Valley that was disassembled in Europe, shipped to the US, than reassembled? Assuming this is actually true, and it seems too awful to be really true, it bothers me. As I mention every chance I get, I grew up in Idaho, and it is one of the tree capitals of the world. Boise means trees. Ever heard of Boise Cascade? We are very proud of our wood. It offends me that someone should think it necessary or desirable to disassemble some Euro-shack, ship it to my home state, and put it together again. We have lots of nice wood and we know how to build houses with it, even big ones.

I would be happy with a constitutional amendment which provided that no one who lived in a house that had been taken apart in Europe, shipped here, and put back together again, may be President. Talk about conspicuous consumption. And not to mention phoniness. Here's a fun fact. Sun Valley is not in Europe. But maybe John needs it to feel more comfortable.


 
Why kill Yassin now?
By Tom Smith

Interesting analysis.


 
Gotcha
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Gregg Easterbrook has the "gotcha" climate about right.


 
Clarke v. Clarke
By Mike Rappaport

Take a look at this interview given by Richard Clarke in August 2002. It is extremely favorable to the Bush Administration and contradicts many of his claims regarding the White House's antiterror activities. Really, it is so positive as to the Bush Administration, one would tend to be skeptical of it. Obviously this casts some doubt on the man's credibility.


 
Really stupid point
By Tom Smith

Ian Ayers makes a really stupid point, which is rare for him.

He accuses Justice Scalia of buying a "throw-away" round trip ticket, that is a ticket he intended to use only one leg of. Airline pricing is such that this can sometimes be cheaper than buying a one-way ticket.

First, doing so is not illegal in any way I can see. Airlines don't want you to do it. So what. At most, it amounts to some technical breach of the terms of the ticket contract, for which the damages would be zero when the airline fills the seat with somebody else, or when the seat you've already paid for sits empty and somebody puts their coat on it.

As far as any ethical problem, oh please. It does not nearly rise to the level of say, feeding a parking meter against regulations, where your action is arguably selfish.

Furthermore, Ian Ayers probably has no idea with Scalia's intentions were. Plans change. A round trip ticket might have come in handy.

Scalia deserves to be criticized for frolicing with rich and powerful muckity-mucks in an way unseemly for a jurist. But the violation is of good taste, not morality.


 
Idaho update
By Tom Smith

This little tidbit from a special correspondent (whose parents happen to live in Sun Valley).

I was listening to the Sean Hannity show today and someone from the Sun Valley area called up to tell a little tidbit about Kerry's visit. I guess there was a party for the all the volunteers -- those who drove people around and did other things to make the Senator's trip to the area more enjoyable. There were about 100 people and Kerry was down the street having dinner and was supposed to show up. Well after a couple hours of waiting, word was received that he wasn't going to come. He basically stood up all these people that had given of their time to him. I wonder if Blaine County [Idaho, where Sun Valley is located] will still go to the Dems in November?


March 23, 2004
 
Learn how to write pompously
By Tom Smith

When we allow people to write like this, we are letting the terrorists win.


 
Life-style stylings of the help-the-poor set
By Tom Smith

I would satirize the high living of our liberal nobility, but I am not worthy. (via opinionjournal.com)


 
squeaky squeals in mouse tell-all
By Tom Smith

Somebody should ask those starving mice just why they live so much longer than mice that occasionally get to eat their fill. I have an idea. Pure mean-spirited revenge. Furry spite. Rodent malice. Put yourself in their place for a moment. Trapped in a small cage with nothing to amuse yourself but an exercise wheel and a water bottle. Sound familiar? A little rodent action when the lab lights go out? Oh no. Your genes aren't good enough. Well, you can always down another mouthful of those green pellets they call food. But wait! Now you can't even do that! It's just hour after hour of gnawing rodent hunger, and for what? To prove that a miserable mouse can live longer than one that gets to eat. So you hang on, knowing that every hour more you live is thousands more humans who feel guilty for that extra bowl of raisin bran, and ashamed for each additional fry. Vicious, hate-filled little bastards.

I saw some documentary on public TV about this starvation and longevity stuff some years ago. They interviewed some guy who was a professor at some UC school who was on this low calorie regime, along with his daughter if I remember correctly. They were skinny. I mean stick-man, death's head skinny. Every meal was some elaborate salad, piles of vitamins etc. etc. The reporter, to her credit, asked him the important question "Aren't you hungry?" "All the time," he said. And you could tell he really, really meant it. But he said he thought it was worth the trade off. He figured he would get extra years of life out of the deal. Poor, sad, scared little man. However, I do wish I had taken it easier at the Asian stir-fry buffet in the faculty dining room today.


 
The Death of A Spiritual Leader
By Mike Rappaport

Once again, we are in the upside down world inhabited by the European Union and the liberal media, like the New York Times. Misleading claims, built on lies, resting on obsfucations. A man, who if nothing else, was a general in a terrorist war against Israel, is described as a spiritual leader. I suppose one could describe Osama Bin Laden as the spiritual leader of Al Qaida. Of course, the purpose of the phrase is to give impression that the Sheik was caring for the souls of innocent people, when he was doing nothing of the kind: he was a spiritual leader of Radical Islam, a sect that by its own admission embraces death.

Consider this New York Times editorial:
    Hamas has never accepted peace with Israel, and while Sheik Yassin was the group's spiritual leader, Israel accused him of responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks. Still, it's hard to see how his martyrdom will make Israel any safer. Hamas will now redouble its efforts to send human torpedos into Israel.
You gotta love these guys. The editorial says "Hamas has never accepted peace with Israel" but what it means is that "Hammas has been engaged in murderous terrorism for years against Israelis."

The editorial says "while Sheik Yassin was the group's spiritual leader, Israel accused him of responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks" but what it means is "We are not going to admit that he is a murderous terrorist nor are we going to deny it. It would be difficult for us to defend the notion that one should allow such terrorists to continue their behavior with impunity. And we are not able to admit that we do know whether he is responsible for terrorism, since it is much harder to sound morally superior based on ignorance."

It says "it's hard to see how his martyrdom will make Israel any safer. Hamas will now redouble its efforts to send human torpedos into Israel." What it means is "We are putting this point this way, because it would be hard to argue that killing the leaders of a terrorist sect has no influence on the sect's ability to pursue its activities. After all, if killing the leaders had no effect, we might then have to admit that it is no real problem that the evil Bush Administration has not found Bin Laden, since there would not make America any safer. We also put the point this way since it allows us not to have to acknowledge that Hamas was, to its core, against any deal with Israel and would view any restraint by Israel as a sign of victory."


 
Debka.com on Yassin assassination
By Tom Smith

Good intel.


 
Krugmanology
By Tom Smith

Who is Paul Krugman trying to influence? Is he just consumption for the Democratic base? Lying in Ponds looks at four years of columns. Somebody has to do it. Via instapundit.


March 22, 2004
 
This makes me nervous
By Tom Smith

This story makes me nervous. About a year ago or so, debka.com (check it out it you're not familiar with it--their format is lousy, but they seem to have some good inside sources) was running a similar story with dates and names. What bothers me is, it's not impossible. The Soviets did have suitcase nukes and they would fetch a very high price. There are people that evil out there. I hope the CIA is on the hunt. Unfortunately, I think San Diego would be a natural target. It is very rich in high value naval targets and easily accessible from Mexico.


 
Clarification from Prof. Beckwith
By Tom Smith

Frank Beckwith sent me this useful clarification.


 
Family Life Update
By Tom Smith

I don't generally wear shorts, unless it's really warm. A few months ago, I was wearing shorts and my lovely wife Jeanne said, "Your legs look really . . . "

At this time I was working out maniacally, especially with my legs, for a climbing trip. I would do 120 squats with 150 lbs. I spent four hours on a step mill with a 60 lbs. pack and mountaineering boots. I would do toe raises until I wept. "Strong-looking?" I was thinking, "shapely? fit? ripped? powerful?" "Really what?" I said.

"Really white."

* * *
"I'm glad I'm not named Rich," William (age 7) said.
"Why?" said Jeanne.
"Because it means weiner!"
"I think you mean "dick," dear."
"I know."
***
I promised Jeanne not to blog about the child or the behavior during Mass yesterday that very nearly caused me to go insane and beat my child to death during the service, which would be no doubt some sort of serious sin. However, just a note to those who might give sermons in the future. If there is a story in the gospel, there is no need to repeat the entire story in different words during the homily. Take yesterday, the story of the prodigal son. You know the story. You have heard it before. Good story. You listen to it again. By Catholic standards, it is a long gospel, especially in a packed church with kids driving you deeply insane. So, yes, it ends as it has before. Now comes the homily. Do not repeat the story! We just heard it! We get it! Add something! We know it is a parable! And then this praying for the sick business. It has gotten so that we are sitting through scores of names being read out. No doubt they are really sick. But how about "and all the sick in our parish," or maybe you should at least have to be in the hospital or something. There is some evidence (controversial of course) that intercessory prayer for the sick works. But is there any evidence you have to mention them by name, out loud, to have the desired effect? I doubt it.


March 21, 2004
 
all things japanese
By Tom Smith

My oldest son is obsessed with all things Japanese. As a result, among many other things, I am spending four hours a week training with him in Japanese style martial arts, two in Jujitsu, the weaponless fighting technique of the samurai warriors, and two hours in their sword fighting art. I'm in the process of turning our garage into a martial arts training area, and I'm most of the way there. I am planning a post on sword fighting, which I think many blogophiles will find interesting, given the high level of interest by many internet types in LOTR, fantasy novels and other genres that involve fighting with blades. In just a few weeks, I've learned a number of things you wouldn't necessarily expect from having read Tolkein or Robert Jordan.

Anyway, just a teaser. The novel Across the Nightingale Floor, a fantasy novel set in an imaginary version of medieval Japan, is really quite good. It is certainly on a higher literary level than the vast majority of fantasy novels. It has unusually developed characters, and works in elements of magic and fighting prowess much more naturally than is usual in the genre.

And here's a blog from some design type guy in Tokyo, where my son threatens to move.


 
I'm worried. How about you? Are you worried?
By Tom Smith

The New York Times is impossible to parody. Check this out. The Times dishes out a story on how both Republicans and Democrats are "worried" about the harsh tone the campaign is taking. What this really means, of course, is that the Times is worried that Bush's attacks are scoring, as they are. Kerry is turning out to be one of those guys who can dish it out but can't take it. Such a charming trait.

What Republicans are worried. Two guesses. That's right. John McCain, that flinty individualist, that rock of integrity, that roarin' Commie-defying man of iron. I am so sick of McCain. That fact that his self-promotional instincts stop him from ever following anybody does not make him particularly admirable. And Chuck Hagel. Please. Is there any issue on which he does not have an opinion? What chances would his mother have if she stood between him and a TV camera?

The Times has been joyously running negative stories on Bush and his policies everyday for months, as is their right and by now their accepted role. So Bush has a rally, Cheney gives a speech, Kerry pouts in Sun Valley, surrounded by Secret Service agents he abuses and various idle rich sorts, and all of a sudden, it's oh dear, have we huwt youw feewings, John?

The putative concern is, negative campaigning depresses turnout. Oh yeah, just like it did in 2000. What a joke.

I miss the old Democratic party. Can you imagine HHH whining about negative campaigning? LBJ practically invented it. Kerry can get together with his pals at the Times and play beanbag if he doesn't like getting some of what he's been tossing.



 
Weird is right
By Tom Smith

Kerry has had a weird and not-so-good couple of weeks. Mark Steyn does his usual unkind best to rub it in. (via realclearpolitics.com) I'm generally sympathetic to insecure displays of macho. I would love to have Kerry's motorcycle, house in Sun Vallley, and wife's fortune (though I would prefer to keep my own wife). But Steyn is right about the male insecurity thing. I wish there was some less risky way to reassure him that didn't involve the security of the nation.


March 20, 2004
 
Jets for Justices
By Tom Smith

This New York Times article shows a picture of the business jet that flew VP Cheney and Associate Justice Scalia to their duck blasting fandango in America's swampland. Much has been made of their chummy relationship. As far we know, they did not paint runes in duck blood on each others bellies (in Cheney's case that might have taken several runes, perhaps a whole epic). And the Justice noted he and the Vice President did not share the same blind or "swap spit." Oh, all right, I made that quote up.

This controversy, however, has neglected the real issue. The fact that the judicial branch, unlike the Executive, does not have its own fleet of jets that it can use when it goes on vacations. What is this all about? Is not the Supreme Court at least as wonderful, brilliant and deserving of our sycophantic up-sucking as any other branch of government? If each Justice had his, or her, own jet, then they would not have to chum around with Executive Branch officials. It is this egregious oversight in equipping some of the most powerful near-superhumans in our power stratosphere that led to this indecorous infraction in the first place.

In general, it is dangerous to let Justices wander about in the social highlands with inadequate status symbols. They must suffer from a bad case of what David Brooks called in his mean ,but funny book, Bobos in Paradise, of status-income disparity (or something like that). Supreme Court justices are supremely important. They have whole battalions of law professors trying to figure out what they meant in opinions they did not even write themselves. Justices go home at night and wonder if they are really historic or not. But unless they are married to super rich lawyers, as Justice Ginsberg is, do they wonder this in marble bathrooms? Do they have personal shoppers to spare them the time to worry? Do they get to fly about in private jets? Do they get to dump their tired spouses and hook up with young hunks or hunkettes, or at least with interns? They do not. It is shockingly unfair. No one can fairly blame Justice Nino for jumping at the chance to fly in such a cool aircraft. The answer is clear. The Justices need their own jets. At say $25 million a pop, times ten (you need an extra to send out for extra shotgun shells or whatever, and I can multiply by ten in my head) that's a mere $250 million. Chump change in our empire's capital.

Something else the Justices need is their own song. The President has "Hail to the Chief" but what do the justices have? "I'm leaving on [my own, taxpayer funded] jet plane"? No, too sappy. "Chain of Fools"? No, too sarcastic. "You're So Vain"? No, too true. I suppose each Justice could have his, or her, own song. Yippy Tie Yie Yay, Get Along Little Doggies, is one obvious choice, but what about the rest? Food for thought, you must admit. (My son suggests "Smells Like Teen Spirit," but you'd have to know the lyrics to know how appropriate that is.)

In a republic, the people are governed by laws, and the public servants affect a certain stern austerity, as the Romans knew. So what would be appropriate in our case? I suppose some sort of transparently fake austerity, with our leaders living like the super-rich every chance they get. Like Cheney, or Clinton, or Scalia. Welcome to club, Nino.
UPDATE: The other side of the story here. Doctrinally, I would be happy to see Scalia have 9 votes to everyone else's one. I just think flying around in non-commercial jets, hunting with oil industry elephants, etc. etc. is unseemly in a judge. I know it's how the world works. I don't have to like it. I agree the L.A. Times has redefined media bias.


 
Is Democracy a Smokescreen?
By Michael Rappaport

UCLA Law Professor William Rubenstein writes, in a New York Times op ed, that politicians of the left and right are hiding behind federalism and separation of powers in order to avoid taking a clear position on same sex marriage. Perhaps, but Rubenstein is also missing an important point. While some people may feel so strongly about the issue, from one side or the other, that they do not care how same sex marriage is established, for many people the process by which it occurs is important and perhaps crucial to its legitimacy. If a significant majority in a state opposes same sex marriage, but it is imposed by the judiciary, one might be against it for that reason -- because of democratic values, because an institution like that needs democratic legitimacy to be successful, and because the democratic process might involve compromises that would make it more successful than the form of same sex marriage that the courts would require. One would have thought these lessons had been learned from the abortion example, but I suppose not.


 
Is That Domino Teetering?
By Mike Rappaport

The New York Times headline says it all: "Hussein's Fall Leads Syrians to Test Government Limits." The story continues:
    A year ago, it would have been inconceivable for a citizen of Syria, run by the Baath Party of President Bashar al-Assad, to make a documentary film with the working title, "Fifteen Reasons Why I Hate the Baath." Yet watching the overthrow of Saddam Hussein across the border in Iraq prompted Omar Amiralay to do just that. "It gave me the courage to do it," he said.
I suppose I am forced to give the Times some credit for reporting a story that conflicts with their editorial policy. Of course, one might think that the need to praise them for this is pretty damning.

In any event, the story cannot resist some editorializing:
    When the Bush administration toppled the Baghdad government, it announced that it wanted to establish a democratic, free-market Iraq that would prove a contagious model for the region. The bloodshed there makes that a distant prospect, yet the very act of humiliating the worst Arab tyrant spawned a sort of "what if" process in Syria and across the region.
We shall see how long the bloodshed continues once there is a "turnover of sovereignty."


 
Weird Science
By Tom Smith

This is pretty weird. Apparently in Minnesota, kids will now be taught that evolution is just one of at least two "scientific" theories accounting for such things as marine iguanas and puffer fish. I suppose this means if you want to learn evolution, and not the book of Genesis in biology class, you'll have to go to a Catholic school. I admit I find this pretty rich. Maybe we'll repeat history, in which the Irish monks preserved civilization through the dark ages.

I looked at my sixth grader's science book the other day, curious about its treatment of evolution. The book discussed evolution, but not very well. One argument in favor of teaching evolution and teaching it well is that it is very interesting. There are lots of great computer simulations that would appeal to kids, for one thing.

Another thought that occurs to me is that if it were easier for kids to study their own religion while in school, there might be less pressure to inject it into inappropriate places, such as science classes. Why shouldn't Christian kids be able to take a Bible study class in a public school? Because the ACLU and federal judges won't let them, but how would such a class hurt rather than help their education? If there were such classes, then religion teachers could tell them the theory of evolution was false, and biology teachers could shoot back with evidence and arguments. Kids could decide for themselves. Now instead, at least in Minnesota, they will have every right to be confused as to what scientists actually think.


 
Does Kerry read the Right Coast?
By Tom Smith

Drudge reports today that Kerry has been hiking up to the 9000 foot level on Baldy and snowboarding down, taking repeated falls. I guess I have to withdraw my judgment that he is a weiner, at least on the grounds of his snowboarding. Reporters counted at least six falls. So maybe he is trying after all. Could this be in response to my comments on this blog? Never underestimate the influence of the internet.


March 19, 2004
 
NRO needs to clean up its act
By Tom Smith

In the intelligent design kerfuffle over at Brian Leiter's site and National Review Online, Brian's opponents seem to be striking below the belt. Read all about it over there, but in a nutshell, a graduate student of the Intelligent Design scientist posing as an independent journalist attacked Brian in a piece published by NRO. Of course, the conflict came out, thus discrediting the attack. Nobody enjoys a good, honest fight more than I, and Brian, as you have no doubt noticed, can take care of himself, but even in the Wild West of the blogosphere, certain rules have to observed. One of them is you can't pretend to be something you're not. You don't have to reveal that you are a dog, but you can't hold yourself out as something else. Or so it seems to me.


 
Kerry is a weiner
By Tom Smith

You may have missed this account of an incident in today's New York Times about Senator Kerry's vacation in Sun Valley, Idaho:

The image-conscious candidate and his aides prevailed upon reporters and photographers to let him have a first run down the mountain solo, except for two agents and Marvin Nicholson, his omnipresent right-hand man.

His next trip down, a reporter and a camera crew were allowed to follow along on skis — just in time to see Mr. Kerry taken out by one of the Secret Service men, who had inadvertently moved into his path, sending him into the snow.

When asked about the mishap a moment later, he said sharply, "I don't fall down," then used an expletive to describe the agent who "knocked me over."

The incident occurred near the summit. No one was hurt, and Mr. Kerry came careering down the mountain moments later, a look of intensity on his face, his lanky frame bent low to the ground.

Ms. Heinz Kerry, for her part, stuck to a pair of skis and was taking her time down the slope, accompanied by two old friends, one a former Olympian, the other a ski school instructor.

"I'm going tentatively, but prettily," she said, wearing tight black pants and a flaming red jacket.


I grew up skiing in Idaho, and I can assure the Senator if he does not fall down, it's because he's not trying hard enough. In fact, what we used to say was, if you don't fall, you're not trying hard enough.

And we had a term for people who say things like "I don't fall." Senator, you, sir, are a weiner. And a weiner of the worst sort. A rich, Eastern weiner who clogs up the ski slopes with your snootiness and mediocre technique. "I don't fall" indeed. Maybe the Senator should try the chutes at Alta or Steeplechase at Aspen Highlands or Tuckerman's in New Hampshire or anywhere off-piste in the Canadian Rockies or do some trees on skinny skis. "I don't fall." What an unbelievable weiner.

If you don't fall, it because you're skiing where it's flat. You probably are followed around by a lackey with one of those little hand brooms to brush you off when you do whatever it is you do when you don't fall, you weiner. And then you blame the Secret Service Agent (who stands ready to take a bullet on your behalf) whom you run into for getting in your way and call him a name. It's like driving. If you run into someone from behind, it's your fault. You're supposed to be able to stop. Somebody who wasn't a complete weiner would have said something like "My fault! Sorry! I was going to fast!" and then see if the guy you hit was alright. Flatlander weiner to the core. And I think it's great that somebody asked Kerry which foreign leader told him he wanted him to win. Probably a native.


 
Inherit The Wind
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Very interesting Gregg Easterbrook obit of Jerome Lawrence, the playwright who wrote "Inherit The Wind". Lawrence died last month at 89, after a long and successful career as writer and director on Broadway and in Hollywood. "Inherit The Wind", especially the movie version with Spencer Tracy, is often taken as virtually a documentary on the Scopes trial. The film is shown to schoolchildren to teach them about the evolution case, and so on. In fairness, it is a very good movie. But Easterbrook points out a variety of ways in which the film (and the play) are fiction: and Lawrence never pretended that he was writing history. In real life William Jennings Bryan was significantly less of a yahoo, and above all Dayton, Tenn., was very significantly less a fever swamp of fanaticism than the film represents. It is a striking example of how a polemical fiction can come to be taken as sober fact.


March 18, 2004
 
The Middle East Propoganda Association
By Mike Rappaport

Take a look at this letter describing some of the problems with the Middle East Studies Association. I am sure there is no prejudice there. The only reason they do not want to honor Bernard Lewis is that he is not smart enough.


 
Good speech
By Tom Smith

Very good speech by Veep Cheney, the avuncular looking guy with ice water in his veins. Read the whole thing.

And see this observation by Dick Morris. (Both via realclearpolitics.com)


March 17, 2004
 
An Arbitrary Supreme Court
By Mike Rappaport

Stuart Buck excerpts an excellent opinion by Judge Easterbrook. If there were more ridicule of Sandra Day O'Connor by influential lower court judges, she might feel a little bit more constrained about being lawless. While you should read the entire excerpt by Buck, here is Easterbrook's conclusion:
    Given [the Supreme Court's] McConnell [decision], I cannot be confident that my colleagues are wrong in thinking that five Justices will go along [with the present decision]. But I also do not understand how that position can be reconciled with established principles of constitutional law.


 
The business of the Passion
By Tom Smith

Interesting piece on the economics of the movie. Gibson is going to make an astonishing amount of money on it.


 
Liberal Bias Pure and Simple
By Mike Rappaport

This piece is just outrageous and shameless. What a piece of trash the New York Times can be.

I guess the Times could not find anyone who disagreed with the position of the couple of professors and activists who are quoted. Why else would they subtitle their article "Scholars say that an examination of the last national debate on marriage shows that the president misunderstood the legal terrain."

Too bad Eugene Volokh's ideas are so hard to find on the Web. So here's a hint for Adam Liptak (the Times reporter), take a look at this post (by a defender of same sex marriage) for some balance!

Update: The basic point that needs to be understood is that, even if the existing doctrine concerning the Full Faith and Credit Clause does not require state A to recognize same sex marriages from state B, that is not necessarily a reason to be against amending the Constitution. As the Lawrence decision, and a hundred other cases show, when the Supreme Court wants to overrule a case, it can do so.


 
Mad Cows or Crazy Bureaucrats?
By Mike Rappaport

The New York Times reports on the new rules for testing cows for mad cow disease. According to risk analysis, the new regime will test half of the downer cows and should detect mad cow disease even if it is present in only 5 of the 45 million cows in the nation. That sounds pretty good. But wait. How much is dependent on enforcement? Do the farmers have to self identify the downer cows? The article does not answer these questions, and they are crucial. As
    Dave Louthan, the former slaughterhouse worker who killed the cow that turned out to be infected, said: "No farmer in his right mind will call them up and say, `I suspect I have a cow with B.S.E. — please come test it.' The farmer will dig a big hole in his back pasture and bury that cow."
Now, there is a man who understands the way the world works. Let's put him in charge of the Agriculture Department.


March 16, 2004
 
"Bill Kerry"
By Mike Rappaport

Kerry seems more and more Clintonian to me. Consider this statement:
    "I actually did vote for the $87 billion [for the reconstruction of Iraq] before I voted against it," referring to an amendment he supported that would have rescinded some tax cuts to finance the war."
Of course, the two have their differences. Clinton's tastes in women appear to be indiscriminate, whereas Kerry seems to restrict himself to heiresses.


 
When giving in to terrorists is not giving in to terrorists
By Tom Smith

I knew Madrid was George Bush's fault, I just couldn't quite work out the logic. Now Tom Oliphant explains it all to us.


 
Patrick Henry addresses Europe
By Tom Smith

As have countless sixth graders before him, my son Luke is memorizing Patrick Henry's famous speech. It strikes me that it provides the perfect sentiment with which to answer the Spanish and like-minded Europeans:

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? . . . Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable--and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.


 
We have met the enemy, and they are French
By Tom Smith

If this were a Tom Clancy novel, it would be unbelievable. Is trying to intimidate the Free Chinese anything other than a cynical power play by the French? Or maybe the Chinese are in the market for some WMD parts.

On the bright side, the French are to naval warfare, what the British are to food (and vice versa).


 
The universe and God
By Tom Smith

Here's an interesting talk by a distinguished chemist about cosmology and creation.


 
Rational Free Riding by the Spanish
By Mike Rappaport

In his column criticizing the Spanish, David Brooks writes:
    If a terrorist group attacked the U.S. three days before an election, does anyone doubt that the American electorate would rally behind the president or at least the most aggressively antiterror party? Does anyone doubt that Americans and Europeans have different moral and political cultures? Yesterday the chief of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, told Italy's La Stampa, "It is clear that using force is not the answer to resolving the conflict with terrorists." Does he really think capitulation or negotiation works better? Can you imagine John Kerry or George Bush saying that?
I think Brooks is right, but there is an economic / rational choice point that is being ignored here. The Spanish are not simply being appeasers. They are acting as free riders. They know, or at least plausibly believe, that their withdrawal will not have much effect on the fight against Al Qaeda. By contrast, the United States is the indispensable nation in that fight. So Americans, or at least many Americans, know that their appeasement would be disastrous for the nation and for the world. This gives them an incentive to stand firm. Spain's withdrawal is far less consequential.

Of course, this economic logic also explains why the United States should not allow other nations to control its foreign policy -- a point made by Eugene Volokh the other day.


March 15, 2004
 
Its Democracy in Iraq, Stupid
By Mike Rappaport

Andrew Sullivan writes:
    Now why would al Qaeda want the disintegration of the transition in Iraq? Because they understand how that transition is the most formidable blow to their hopes of transforming the entire Middle East. When clever anti-war types insist there is not and never has been any connection between the fight for democracy in Iraq and the war against terror, they are thinking in terms of legalities and technicalities - not strategy. The only way to meaningfully defang Islamist terror is to transform the region. If we don't, we will simply be putting out small fires for ever, instead of dealing with root causes. The root cause is the lack of democracy in the region, which gives these religious fanatics the oxygen they need. Al Qaeda understand the stakes. So must we. Iraq is the battlefield. We cannot, must not, falter. In fact, we must ramp up the pressure. Alone, if needs be.
These points cannot be made often enough. I have, from the beginning, supported the Iraq War for this reason: because establishing a democracy or something like it in Iraq is the best way to fight Radical Islam and Terrorism. Discussions about whether Atta met with Iraqi officials in the Czech Republic are a sideshow. Sadly, few on the left, and even many on the right, simply do not see this central point.


 
Krugman and the CEA
By Tom Smith

As an alum of the CEA (Senior Counsel and Economist, 1988-89), it makes me mad when people attack the CEA. (And I have a picture of a much hairier me with the Gipper to prove it.) Yes, we were a stable of economics who worked for the POTUS, but the CEA is structured to protect against the corruption of academic standards, as much as any group of academics in political office could be. I think it is really a wonderful institution, an economic think tank inside the White House, and one much less liable to capture by regulated industry.

So now Paul Krugman is attacking the CEA, saying their job numbers are lies. Talk about the pot and the kettle. Marginal Revolution comes to the defense.


 
San Diego county astronomy rules!
By Tom Smith

Not the biggest, but possibly the coolest observatory makes an important discovery.


 
I wish it were true
By Tom Smith

Jacob Levy argues that Spanish election and change in foreign policy is not a victory for al Queada, but it reads to me like wishful thinking. But then, I spent the morning cleaning the garage while listening to NPR. They really need to get some training at not sounding delighted when America suffers a defeat abroad. You get the feeling that if 1000 died in Madrid instead of 200, they would be beside themselves with joy. What a defeat for Bush. Terrible, of course. But what a defeat for Bush!


 
Liberal Bias
By Mike Rappaport

This post by Eugene Volokh about the NY Times and the Washington Post's omission of politically damaging statements by John Kerry from their reporting says it all. While the Times and the Post try to deep six these remarks, the internet and Fox News won't let it happen. Just think how much more effective liberal bias was before the new media.


 
Bernard Lewis on Iraq
By Mike Rappaport

Bernard Lewis was interviewed about Iraq in the Jerusalem Post. Here is an excerpt:

Can the US really take on countries directly responsible for terrorism?

I don't think that there's a need anymore for other wars. If the opposition isn't blocked, Iran is poised for a democratic revolution. As for the other countries involved in funding terrorism, I can imagine the collapse of corrupt minority regimes in crisis, ones which persecute and impoverish their citizens.


Do you have faith that, in spite of everything, democracy will prevail?

Saddam Hussein, a Ba'athist-minority dictator, was nourished by Nazism first and then by communism, both European totalitarian ideologies. If anything, the risk of not succeeding in dismantling these fragile Middle Eastern dictatorships today lies more in the history of the rapport between the Muslim and the Western worlds than it does in Muslim roots. Islam, which has been weak for two centuries, has always sought backing to help it fight the enemy - Western democracy. First it supported the Axis against the Allies, then the communists against the US: two disasters. Today it is seeking the protection of Europe against the US, which it sees as its principal enemy. And Europe is facing a difficult debate between those who want to accept that role and those who don't. Please, I have no intention of comparing Europe to Nazi Germany or the USSR, I'm only talking about the position in which the Arab world is trying to put the old continent.


How has America's war on terror affected the terrorists?

The war, which has set the entire Middle East in motion, threatens terrorism, and so it contributes to the terrorists' activating their defenses. You see, Iraq today could become a democracy in the middle of the Middle East. In the papers we may only read about terrorist attacks, but in reality Iraq is bustling with all kinds of movement - new newspapers, new local forms of self-government, young people signing up to be in the police or the army. Things are incomparably better than they were under Saddam. And we can proceed with caution, without rushing to carry out elections that would require local electoral lists, laws and structures that still need to be defined.



 
Survival of the fittest in the blogosphere
By Tom Smith

Brian Leiter has got them fuming at the National Review online.
UPDATE: Here's Brian's response.


 
Rubin on the Iraqi Constitution
By Mike Rappaport

An interesting column in the Jerusalem Post assessing the temporary Iraqi constitution by writer Barry Rubin. As usual, Rubin is both sensible and interesting. (Registration required.)


March 14, 2004
 
Just Say No To Gerrymandering, Part II
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Interesting paper by Columbia law professor Sam Issacharoff on gerrymandered elections and the rise of "direct democracy". Issacharoff doesn't like "direct democracy" -- whether ballot initiatives or recalls of elected office-holders -- and he thinks the Framers didn't like it either. But he argues that gerrymandering has increasingly insulated Congress, in particular, from any electoral competition, and has contributed to the dramatic polarization of the political parties: Democrats to the political left, Republicans to the right. Voters, most of them centrists, are relegated to "direct democracy" if they want to have any influence at all on public policy. Hence, says Issacharoff, the stunning majority for Arnold Schwarzenegger in the California recall election.

Along similar lines, this RightCoaster has urged Gov. Schwarzenegger to support an initiative that would take Congressional districting in California out of the gerrymander-happy hands of the legislature, and perhaps to create a non-partisan redistricting commission along the lines of Iowa's. (It makes a dramatic difference in Iowa. There are 40 or fewer "competitive" House races in the entire country, out of 435 seats. Iowa, with one percent of the national electorate and one percent of the House seats, has ten percent of the competitive races...)


 
The A-word
By Tom Smith

I know people are sick of abortion, and I don't blame them. It always leads to unpleasant arguments, at best.

I understand that it is a religious or otherwise purely ethical view that it is wrong to kill a little ball of cells smaller than a grain of rice. But there is something deeply wrong with killing a full or nearly full-term baby in a horribly inhumane way just to salve our own less than fully formed consciences. I gather that is what "partial birth abortion" is. It would be much more humane to deliver the baby and then kill it with an injection of morphine or whatever, to "put it to sleep" as we do with old or injured animals, rather than cut it apart.

At least part of the reason for doing it the hard way (for the baby) is presumably that it qualifies, for legal, not medical or moral reasons, as an abortion rather than a murder. Of course, I understand it is easier on the mother, presumably, to have the baby come out in crushed pieces rather than as a whole. But surely avoiding the suffering of the infant is worth something. Animal loving Americans would be outraged at the prospects of dogs and cats being cut into pieces in order to avoid even significant human pain and inconvenience, as they should be. We should take the suffering of animals seriously. Yet because it is a "choice," it is somehow OK to do anything to a baby, as long as it is partly enclosed by its mother's body.

People who think it is morally acceptable to kill infants who could survive outside the womb, should at least be humane about it, and argue for humane infanticide, rather than abortion of full term infants. But of course they won't, because that would be politically unacceptable. We would do that much for our pets. The fact that the abortion rights crowd doesn't acknowledge the ethical interest in avoiding suffering by the baby or "fetus" shows just how depraved they have become. It gets even weirder when you realize that what abortion rights is largely about is lowering the costs (including the expected cost of various risk exposures) of sexual gratification. But if abortion is about making sexual pleasure more available, then the suffering of other humans, or nearly humans, further down the line, should be taken into account. But my impression is that many abortion proponents don't even rise to the undistinguished moral level of utilitarianism.


 
We're fat because we're rich
By Tom Smith

Food is cheaper, so we eat more of it. We are more productive, so we work less, though we complain about it more.


March 13, 2004
 
Reality Hits
By Mike Rappaport

Lileks provides this nugget:
    To some, the act of "resistance" has such a romantic pull they cannot possibly renounce the use of flamboyant violence - until they find themselves in a train station on an average weekday morning, ears ringing, eyes clouded, looking down at their shirt, wondering why it's so red all of a sudden.
Wish I had said that.


 
Why I don't read contemporary "quality fiction"
By Tom Smith

Just what we need, a really funny attack on the family.


 
Leiter on USD Law School recent hires
By Tom Smith

Brian has this informed review of our recent successes in hiring at USD law school. I, of course, agree that we are a school with a lot of momentum in the right direction. I mean the correct direction. Upward. You know what I mean.

Brian's famous (and notorious) efforts to review and rank law schools and philosophy departments are a boon to schools that want to rise in quality rather than merely rest on laurels. It just goes to show you how important competition is in the marketplace.

I am happy to be among Brian's favorite "right wing kooks." He in turn is my favorite Red. If things ever really get out of hand, Brian, you're welcome in my bunker.


 
Brooks on Kerry
By Mike Rappaport

David Brooks devastates John Kerry by ridiculing him with his own words. Definitely worth reading.


March 12, 2004
 
Leiter on the NY Times
By Mike Rappaport

While I don't agree with Brian on the war, I do share his disdain for the New York Times. Of course, Brian sees the Times as a support for capitalism, while I disdain it as the paper of limousine liberalism. But he is on the mark with this article on wine.


 
When aviators and digital cameras mix
By Tom Smith

Can I have a jet please, mommy? Check out these pics from Afghanistan. Via Instapundit.


 
Leiter on Berman
By Mike Rappaport

A while back I praised Paul Berman’s article in Dissent trying to explain why the Left opposed the Iraqi war. So it should not be surprising that Brian Leiter now criticizes that article.

Do take a look at Berman’s piece, and while your at it, glance at Leiter’s criticism. Berman argues that the Left has opposed a war against fascism, which they should have supported, for various reasons, including the Left's hatred of Bush, the Left’s prejudice that America is the source of most problems in the world, the Left’s excessive sympathy for anticolonial movements, the belief of many of the Left that Arabs may not really want democracy, the Left’s excessive attention on Israel and the accompanying view that the main problems in the region are caused by Israel, and the Left’s failure to realize that the Arab world’s antisemitism is part of its facism.

In the main, Brian’s critique is not really responsive. Berman is trying to explain why the Left has failed to see that the war is one against fascism. He is not trying to establish that it is a war against fascism. Presumably, to him, as to me, it is patently obvious that it is – Saddam Hussein was a fascist if anyone is, and the US is clearly attempting to install a democratic government. What one thinks the “real” motives for fighting the war were, or whether the attempt to establish democracy will be successful, are largely beside the point.

Brian attempts to show that the reasons Berman gives for why the left does not recognize the war is a justified one against fascism are not the stated reasons for their opposition to the war. (At other times, Brian simply asserts that the Left does not believe certain things.) But the stated reasons are largely irrelevant. Berman’s point is that the Left is fooling itself – that the reasons he mentions, even if largely unarticulated or unconscious, are nonetheless what is doing the work. Very little Brian says responds to the point.


 
Leiter on Berman
By Mike Rappaport

A while back I praised Paul Berman’s article in Dissent trying to explain why the Left opposed the war. So it should not be surprising that Brian Leiter now criticizes that article.

Do take a look at Berman’s piece, and while your at it, glance at Leiter’s criticism. Berman argues that the Left has opposed a war against fascism, which they should have supported, for various reasons, including the Left acted based on hatred of Bush, the Left’s prejudice that America is the source of most problems in the world, the Left’s excessive sympathy for anticolonial movements, the belief of many of the Left that Arabs may not really want democracy, the Left’s excessive attention on Israel and the accompanying view that the main problems in the region are caused by Israel, and the Left’s failure to realize that the Arab world’s antisemitism is part of its facism.

In the main, Brian’s critique is not really responsive. Berman is trying to explain why the Left has failed to see that the war is one against Fascism. He is not trying to establish that it is a war against fascism. Presumably, to him, as to me, it is patently obvious that it is – Saddam Hussein was a fascist if anyone is, and the US is clearly attempting to install a democratic government. What one thinks the “real” motives for fighting the war were, or whether the attempt to establish democracy will be successful, are largely beside the point.

Brian attempts to show that the reasons Berman gives for why the left does not recognize fascism are not the stated reasons for their opposition. (At other times, Brian simply asserts that the Left does not believe certain things.) But the stated reasons are largely irrelevant. Berman’s point is that the Left is fooling itself – that the reasons he mentions, even if largely unarticulated or unconscious, are nonetheless what is doing the work. Very little Brian says responds to the point.


 
Council Of Trent, Part II
Simonino In Old Europe

By Maimon Schwarzschild

Life as a law professor is not all bad. (Is there a Nobel Prize for English understatement?) I was one of fifty-or-so lucky participants in a conference on international law and human rights ("Building a Culture of Peace") in Trento, Italy, at the end of February. Trento, of course, was the site of the Council of Trent, where the Roman Catholic reaction to the Reformation was crystallized in the mid-1500s. In addition to reaffirming quite a few Catholic dogmas, and casting many anathemas, the Council also adopted the version of the Mass known as the Tridentine Mass. "Tridentine" doesn't mean the Devil will poke you with a trident if you don't attend Mass: "Tridentum" is the just the Latin name for Trent. There is a pretty baroque fountain in the Duomo Square in Trento with Neptune and his trident, though, so perhaps I am not the first person to have thought of the "trident" connection.

Trento today is a pastel town, surrounded by snow-covered Alps. The place looks almost as much Swiss or Austrian as Italian, and in fact it was under the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of the First World War. Today the town is Italian-speaking, but the language boundary -- not the international boundary -- is just a few miles north of Trento. The next town to the north, Bolzano, is German-speaking, as is that entire region of northern Italy south of the Austrian border.

(Trento is on the Adige River, or Etsch in German. Connoisseurs of national anthems will recall that Deutschland Ueber Alles mentions the Etsch as one of the boundaries of Germany: "Von der Etsch bis an den Belt..." All the other three boundaries the song mentions are also far beyond the actual boundaries of Germany, even the extended 1938 boundaries.)

My "culture of peace" conference was hosted very generously by the Trento town government, and by the government of the Alto Adige province. There were quite a few Israelis and Arabs among the conferees, and the Italians clearly hoped that the conference would contribute to Arab-Israeli peace, which made the Italians' generosity all the more impressive and touching as far as I was concerned. (Given what the Palestinians and other Arabs actually had to say, it might be fair to assume that peace is not right around the corner. But that is another story.)

For a Jewish traveller, though, Europe is full of painful history. On my first day in Trento, I noticed a nice-looking palazzo with an eighteenth century bas-relief and a Latin inscription that somehow made me stop and try to decipher the inscription. The bas-relief was of an infant apparently being strangled with a scarf, surrounded by hook-nosed characters wearing caftans. The inscription explained. This was the site of the synagogue in Trento. In 1475 the local Jews were accused of having murdered a Christian child in order to use its blood for a Passover ritual: the old blood libel. The Jews were convicted, of course. Many were burned alive. Others were murdered in a pogrom. The survivors were expelled, the synagogue torn down, the "victim" child canonized, and the family of the prosecuting attorney got the synagogue property and built the palazzo. The child's name was Simon, known by the diminutive "Simonino". There are "Simonino" frescoes and paintings in all the Trento churches: perhaps they provided extra inspiration during the long sessions of the Council of Trent. One of the town's main shopping streets is the Via del Simonino, now featuring United Colors of Benetton, and a Starbucks of course.

What came to mind looking at the Simonino bas-relief, of course, was the famous front-page cartoon in La Stampa, one of Italy's two most important newspapers, two years ago at Easter time. The cartoon has the Christ child in the manger in Bethlehem staring terrified at an Israeli tank emblazoned with a Star of David; the Christ child says "Surely they don't want to kill me again?!"

Trento is a lovely town. But Simonino -- and La Stampa -- are reminders of why Israelis might be reluctant to entrust their survival to the good offices of Old Europe.


March 11, 2004
 
A Sick World
By Mike Rappaport

According to the New York Times, "South Korea's opposition-dominated Parliament on Friday passed an unprecedented bill to impeach President Roh Moo Hyun, accusing him of illegal campaigning and suspending his powers." So far so good, democracy, messy and all, at work.

Now consider this: "Demonstrating the level of emotion gripping the country, a supporter of the South Korean president doused himself with a flammable liquid and set himself on fire late Thursday night to protest the impeachment effort."

I suppose we can thankful that this person did not try to kill anyone else.


 
Cowan on Blogs
By Mike Rappaport

Tyler Cowan has a great piece on blogs. (Hat tip: Tyler Cowan). Here is an excerpt:
    Bloggers provide you with a universe of experts on every imaginable topic. The Internet makes experts easier to find, and blogs give those experts regular platforms. There is always an expert who knows more than a mere journalist does, and now you can go right to the expert and bypass the journalist.

    The “blogosphere,” as it is known, is an efficient and remarkably speedy means of processing and evaluating information. Once a new idea or fact has been posted on a blog, it is digested, analyzed, and evaluated within a matter of hours. Errors of fact or reasoning do not go unpunished. Furthermore the writer has the chance (obligation?) to respond to commentary and criticism. In these regards blogs are more efficient than newspapers. And many blogs offer a “comments” section, where readers can see how other readers have responded to the posted material.

    In short, the blogosphere functions as a remarkably decentralized and powerful spontaneous order, to cite a concept from F. A. Hayek. No single person planned the evolution of blogs, but an entire intellectual architecture has arisen to serve millions.
As usual, Tyler is right on the mark.


 
Norval Morris
By Gail Heriot

Norval Morris, the Julius Kreeger Professor of Law & Criminology Emeritus at the University of Chicago, was my criminal law teacher back in the late 1970s. He collapsed and died at a restaurant this week at the age of 80. I almost never agreed with him about anything, and evidently a significant number of the members of Congress felt as I did, since they forced President Carter to withdraw his nomination as head of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. (A quick and somewhat unfair summary of Morris' views: Putting criminals in prison is usually excessive and counter-productive.) But he was an interesting and entertaining figure as well as a talented teacher and storyteller. He will be missed.


 
Evil children's books
By Tom Smith

This post of Brian's got me thinking about the swill we often expose our children to in "children's books." For reasons I can't reconstruct, I was reading an awful screed called "The Rainbow Fish" to my children. The rainbow fish has pretty scales and so all the other little fishies resent him and won't play with him. So what to do?

In the book (supposedly "a classic") Rainbow fish gives away his scales so all the fishies each have one pretty scale (which of course looks really stupid). The moral? If you're lucky enough to have something like pretty scales, other people will resent you until you make yourself as ugly as they are.

True enough, but hardly edifying. So I changed the story for my kids. All the other fishies admired the scales and wanted them. But were they worth more to them, really, than they were to Rainbow fish? How do we figure this out? We let the other fishies bid for the scales of course! So little Rainbow Fish held an auction, and sold off some of his scales to other fishies who actually did value them more than Rainbow Fish did. And it was Pareto Superior. "What does that mean, dad?" It means some of the fishies were better off, and none were worse off! Of course, some of the fishies didn't want to buy any scales; they just wanted to complain that Rainbow Fish had nicer scales than anybody else. But they were no fun to be around, anyway, so Rainbow Fish just ditched them, and discovered he had more fun anyway. The end.

The kids loved it.


 
The Corps
By Tom Smith

This is San Diego, so I've known quite a few Marines over the years. Some random impressions.

My dad, who missed all of WWII except for the Battle of Okinawa, had mixed feeling about Marines. He thought they cut through Japanese (they didn't use that term) so fast that they left too many behind who still had to be fought. Yet my father's outfit, the 77th Infantry Division, US Army, gladly accepted the ulitmate compliment paid to them by the Marines, who called them "the 77th Marines."

In combat situations in which other fighting organizations would use armor or artillery, the Marines often seem to wade in, preferring rifles and bayonettes and pappy's bowie knife pulled from a boot. They did this on the outskirts of Baghdad, to which they got with impressive speed. Marines seem to enjoy their work.

Their training seems to emphasize the blunt fact that war is about fighting and killing people. It's good to know that.

People don't realize how small the Marine Corp is compared to the Army, Navy or Air Force. I agree with general Smith (no relation except of admiration), I think it's useful to keep them around, just to scare our enemies. I want the response to "the Marines have landed" to be however you say "Oh Shit" in Arabic.