The Right Coast

June 30, 2004
By Tom Smith

Two weeks ago I was weightlifting in the garage watching Enter the Dragon with my son, and I stupidly hurt my back. I did this by allowing myself to get distracted while deadlifting, an exercise that involves squatting, bending over, grabbing a barbell and then standing up, bringing the barbell up off the floor, but leaving your arms fully extended. Some people think it is the ur-strength exercise, but it is dangerous for the lower back, as I found. Between the movie and my son I lost concentration, must have shifted unconsciously, and I felt some muscle or muscles that run from the pelvis to the spine go. There was a sharp, stabbing pain, I cried out and dropped the 250 lbs (not much for a deadlift) to the floor and cursed myself. That was two weeks ago. Since then I have been hurting, some days better, some worse. It really sucks.

Pain is an odd thing, being so subjective. I finally talked my lovely wife Jeanne into taking a look at me. As a very busy physician, she really hates to work at home. She asked me to rate the pain on a scale of 1 to 10. I asked what 10 was, and she said as much pain as I can imagine. I said I could imagine quite a lot. "As much pain as getting your leg sawed off," she said. I said I thought that would hurt a lot more than most people imagined, so compared to that, maybe a 2. "Well, 2 isn't very bad," she said. "Well, it hurts. OK, maybe a 3." With all due respect to this standard medical question, how useless. Pain can be shockingly bad, one of my least favorite things about it. It can also be full of nuances that make it very different from other sorts of pain, but almost impossible to discribe. It can be pinching, burning, throbbing, hot, cold, stabbing, diffuse and combinations of the above. Once I had my wisdom teeth out and the oral surgeon numbed my jaw thoroughly and told me I wouldn't feel any pain, but I would feel pressure and that my jaw was being "compromised." What on earth was that supposed to me. Then he started digging around and I wanted to shout "Stop! stop! I feel so . . . compromised!" I felt like my jaw was being raped, a very odd sensation, I assure you, and not a good one.

You can take drugs for pain and they work different ways. Vioxx works pretty well for back pain, but far from completely. Narcotics work, but the world is full of people addicted to narcotics they started taking for back pain. It will have to get a lot worse before I do that. Narcotics, or at least some of them, do not get rid of pain so much as reduce or eliminate the anguish that accompanies pain. You can still tell the doctor what is being cut and how much it hurts, you just don't care very much. It is an odd sensation.

Oddly, as you can read in many books about endurance sports, it's much better to accept pain, if you can, than to fight it. This much easier said, than done, of course. When pain gets severe enough, it's natural to panic. This reaction probably evolved to get us out of painful situations fast. Often, however, it doesn't do any good. If you can bring yourself to, by actually paying attention to the pain, you can sort of take its measure and realize it's not going to envelop you or destroy you. I think was is going on here is that you are controlling the emotions that accompany pain, from which a lot of the suffering of pain actually comes. Pain is sometimes supposed by philosophers to be a simple 'feel' but it is actually quite complex.

Pain must serve various evolutionary functions. Just a couple of fun facts. The most painful weapon possessed by an animal might be the venom of the duck billed platypus. They are not the harmless cute critters you may think. They have an envenomated spur on their hind leg that they use to defend themselves. They are not predators, so they don't use it to kill prey. The venom serves only one purpose, to inflict pain, and it does that very, very well. (It might also play a role in mating, however.) The pain is so intense that victims can go into cardiac arrest from being stabbed, and the treatment is to cut the pain-carrying nerves from the affected body part. Children, leave that duck-billed platypus alone. My ten-year old tells me that the nervous system of insects is like that of human teeth, which carry only pain signals. The nerves in your teeth, apparently, just feel pain or nothing. And that, supposedly, is what it is like to be a potato bug. Oops, sorry, they're not really insects. What it is like to be a grasshopper. Just nothing, or pain. If that is true, it must suck to be a bug. However, just because they feel pain, doesn't mean it bothers them.

My appalling spelling
By Tom Smith

I have received several nice emails of late, for which I am grateful, from loyal readers pointing out some particularly embarrassing spelling errors I have made in recent posts, which I need not repeat here. I don't have anything in the way of excuses, except to say I write quickly, am sometimes too pressed to run spellcheck, and it doesn't catch everything anyway. Spelling "public" as "pubic" for example. I suspect my inability to spell is congenital. I think of words more as phonic units than groups of letters. Perhaps that's it. If scary nuns couldn't teach me to spell, it's probably too late now. But rest assured, while the spelling may be erratic, the quality of thought is crystalline.

June 29, 2004
Communion and abortion
By Tom Smith

This post via Michael Perry at Mirror of Justice is interesting. As you would expect, the canon law on denying communion to public officials because of their public activities is complex.

Even so, it's not clear to me Kerry would not qualify to be excluded, given the canons. If you had a public figure that said he strongly supported Roe, would never do anything to endanger the rule in Roe, strongly supported the right to choose abortion, thought abortion was just dandy, etc. etc., then it seems to me he would fall within the canon. Just saying you personally oppose abortion, but then assuring voters that you will do everything necessary to make sure abortion rights are not limited, may well not be enough to keep you from being excluded, assuming the canons were enforced, which is obviously another matter.

My surfing safari
By Tom Smith

I have been meaning for some time to relate my surfing adventure with Ross Garrett, famous San Diego surfer, but various things have gotten in the way. As I told Ross, since he kindly took me surfing, my summer has not worked out quite as I planned. It may be karma, since I spent last summer adventuring in Peru and getting in shape to do said adventuring, I seem fated to spend this summer driving kids to various activities. So far this has been the summer of the minivan. I do plan to get back in the water and for those of you who are wondering, I can report, surfing is a good thing.

My attitude going in to trying surfing was, as with most things, fear and apprehension. I imagined that it would be largely an exercise in making a fool out of myself in front of twenty-something hard bodies who would point at me as say things like, “Dude, look at the Barney,” Barney being, I think, surfing slang for untalented person. But, it wasn’t like that at all. First, I was greatly relieved to see the crowd at Tourmaline State Surf Park was one in which I was far from the oldest, baldest or fattest. This crowd looked more like someone had ordered everyone at the driving range to take off their clothes. It was, frankly, not that pretty of a sight. Nor were there an inordinate number of feminine hotties, another staple of surfing movies, the limit of my previous exposure to the sport, and I was glad of that, as they cause me to pull in my stomach uncomfortably and otherwise make me self-conscious. My impression was that this group of surfers was a lot easier to take than the crowd at a typical ski resort, which isn't saying much I know. It actually seemed like nice, family type people. Imagine.

Various people have confided in me that surfing is one of those things you have to grow up doing, and maybe that’s true if you want to be really good. But my impression was that it is a sport a middle aged guy can learn. It certainly seemed a lot easier than fly-fishing or golf, both of which are not possible to learn. Ross and I met at the parking lot around 8 and he kindly lent me his dad’s old wet suit, a large which I barely squeezed into. The wet suit is a remarkable thing, and really does keep you toasty warm in water that would otherwise make you a eunuch. There was not much in the way of surf, maybe 2 or 3 feet waves, but that was plenty for me.

Ross had brought for me a Surftech 11 foot board with a bright blue foam top, said to be the best learner’s board. It was, by any standard, a very large object. It was too big to get my arm around, so I had to carry it on my head, as in the old Endless Summer poster. He showed me how to paddle out, and that’s what we did. The paddling was surprisingly hard work, the most exercise of the process. The big board, however, was very stable. It felt like you could host lunch on it. We turned around at a spot Ross chose, and waited for a set, this being what a group of waves is called, to come in. This struck me as one of the most difficult bits, choosing a wave to attempt to ride. I could distinguish big waves from small ones, but judging which would break in the right place and when to start paddling seemed pretty mysterious. With Ross telling me when to start paddling, I managed to catch a few waves, even standing up once, very briefly. It was quite amazing how the big board came to life when the wave got under it, as if it wanted to rush into the shore. Given that these were tiny waves, I can only imagine what the sensation must be like on big waves. Ross does some tow-in surfing, which involves being towed by a Jet Ski (personal water craft or PWC to us surfers) at high speeds into waves that are too big and fast to catch by paddling. That must be, as they say, intense.

After a while, Ross started shoving me into the waves at the right moment, and this made catching them a lot easier. However, it would be a violation of the surfing ethic to rely on this permanently.

Overall, I would say surfing seemed a lot easier to pick up than I have been led to believe. I found it considerably less humiliating than golf and better exercise as well. For the rest of the day I felt this weird combination of post-workout high and relaxed mellowness that may explain why they (we?) call people dude. I think what I need to do is get a board and figure out a way to practice that is not too embarrassing, perhaps early mornings. My older brother lives in Hawaii, and he tells me there surfing is a family affair. A trip to the islands in definitely in order. It seems clear you absolutely don’t need to be some ripped rock star to surf. Ross made a point which seems right to me, that surfing has been ill-served by being depicted as an extreme sport for edgy urban twenty year olds. There is that side of the sport. But as with mountains, you can confront the void on K2 or you can hike up to the top of Bob’s Peak and eat a sandwich. Both are legitimate.
UPDATE: Here's a link to Ross's blog. He is hanging with Yvon Chouinard this summer, helping Patagonia get their surfing thing right. Other exciting developments in his career, but I'll wait for permission to explain.

June 28, 2004
Litigation as warfare
By Tom Smith

I suppose the good news about Eugene's good point that captured enemy combatants can now apparently file habeas petitions to contest their imprisonment is that Congress can fix it if they want to (can't they?) by amending Section 2241, the habeas statute. I think most Americans would think the idea of combatants captured in battle being able to sue pretty silly. You could make some funny ad copy out of it.

Of course, once the trial lawyers get ahold of it, you might get a statute authorizing suits for damages in the event enemy combatants were harmed in the course of battle. Even those who were not harmed physically of course, might have suffered emotional pain and suffering.

No big surprize, I find myself agreeing with Scalia regarding the US citizens. Suspend habeas or charge them with treason. Treason still carries a death penalty, doesn't it? I imagine the threat of the long drop would persuade citizen-terrorists to talk as effectively as stress positions. And if you're running around with an AK47 in some hellhole and you're not a Marine, I imagine there are lots of juries in our Southland that would take a dim view of your story about cultural tourism and hunting lessons gone bad.

As to Gitmo, it just looks like the Supremes doing their usual of disregarding a clear precedent in order to impose a really silly reading on an otherwise unobjectionable law. It's really rather discouraging. In those rare instances that Congress has not imposed some ludricrous legal regime, the Courts can be counted on to do so. Scalia writes:

The reality is this: Today’s opinion, and today’s opinion alone, overrules Eisentrager; today’s opinion, and today’s opinion alone, extends the habeas statute, for the first time, to aliens held beyond the sovereign territory of the United States and beyond the territorial jurisdiction of its
courts. No reasons are given for this result; no acknowledgment of its consequences made. By spurious reliance on Braden the Court evades explaining why stare decisis can be disregarded, and why Eisentrager was wrong. Normally, we consider the interests of those who have relied on our decisions. Today, the Court springs a trap on the Executive, subjecting Guantanamo Bay to the oversight of the federal courts even though it has never before been thought to be within their jurisdiction—and thus making it a foolish place to have housed alien wartime detainees.

As usual, a good point. Still, I suppose the Executive and the military can be faulted for naively supposing that settled law to the contrary would stop the Supreme Court from extending jurisdiction to the imprisoned terrorists. The federal courts have proven they do a good job running prisons, right?

And gosh, I guess it's a good thing Saddam is now is the legal custody of the sovereign nation of Iraq, or our criminal defense lawyer cum law professors would be lining up to prosecute his habeas petition!

June 27, 2004
Reagan not lucky in his biographer
By Tom Smith

This piece about RR in the New Yorker contains some truths, but it is full of enough bogus psychologizing about his supposed inadequacies to explain why it got published in the New Yorker. For all the New Yorker's fascination with other cultures (see just about any recent short story), they are utterly clueless about the American culture that begins west of the Hudson.

Congratulations, Patrick
By Tom Smith

Since self-promotion hardly seems alien to the blogosphere, I feel free to brag about my 10 year old Patrick, who won the best climber award at his rock climbing camp, "Kroc Rock" at the Kroc Center. He climbed up their 3 story or so climbing wall, which included some overhangs, in 43 seconds, which I gather is pretty darn good.

I think climbing is a great sport for kids, as long as safety is emphasized, as indeed it should be for adults as well. All of this "touching the void" stuff is strictly for the movies.

Your judiciary at work
By Tom Smith

This is the sort of thing that give male enhancement devices a bad name.

What is wrong with these people?
By Tom Smith

It's just so confusing I can barely stand it. First, demented Islamofascists drive planes into buildings and kill more than a couple of thousand people, and the message we get from the left is, we have to understand why they did this. As if, by some tortured logic, it might be justifiable to kill thousands of innocent people to make the point that they hate America. And not only kill them, but kill them in a very bad way to die. Burned to death, crushed to death, dying slowly of dehydration while trapped in rubble. Lots of pictures of burning towers, but none of the body parts that must have littered the ground. Very few of burn victims. OK. Fine.

Now, we are fighting these people in Iraq. It is the policy of the US government, apparently, to use what I would call semi-harsh treatment to get suspected terrorists to tell us what they know. Most Americans, perhaps upwards of 70 percent, think this is fine. It's certainly fine with me. And why wouldn't they? What confuses me is, how are we supposed to be so open-minded that we kinda see the point of people who kill thousands, and would kill millions if they could, but go into brain-lock when they think of some guy caught with an RPG being put in a "stress position" for a couple of hours. Here's some tender-hearted fellow at the New York Times boo-hooing about how sad he is to be an American. How could we celebrate Reagan when Abu-Ghraib was so fresh in our minds? What about Nuremburg? Aren't we just a bunch of Nazis? What I want to know is, why do writers like this one hate us so much? What did we do to hurt him? Oh, boo hoo hoo hoo hoo!

Actually, I'm relieved that such a large majority of Americans favor coercive interrogation. It means a lot of Democrats, roughly half it looks like, favor not giving prisoners hot food, as opposed to MREs that are good enough for our soldiers, unless they tell us where the next ambush is coming from. Oh, boo hoo. I'm so ashamed I'm going turn my hot tub down five degrees, just to punish myself.

I guess you have to have an historical perspective. In WWII, there were folks who were quite happy to defend Hitler until he switched sides and attacked Russia. Intellectual embarrassment didn't stop them. Why should it stop people from urging us to sympathize with the terrorists and then get outraged by bad treatment of our enemies that falls far short of burning them to death with jet fuel.

Well, just to be clear, here's my stance on the various suggestions raised by the Time's boo-hooer of the week:

I love Reagan, his funeral was moving, he won the Cold War, and your side lost. Ha ha ha.

We beat the Nazis, and we'll beat their low-tech Arab buddies, too.

It's absolutely fine by me if you subject illegal combatants to harsh treatment up to and including that equivalent to the average American high school football practice in anyplace but Texas. That would be cruel. No sexual humiliation, though. That's only allowed in Manhattan sex clubs.

Steyn on Clinton auto-bio
By Tom Smith

Vintage Steyn. via Southern Appeal.

Dying for the media
By Tom Smith

This post at Belmont Club explains how hostile media coverage costs American lives.

Dafur roundup
By Tom Smith

Genocide in the Sudan. This is what evil looks like. via Instapundit.

I think this might be a job for reconnaissence in force. Maybe the French could do it.

The silly Times
By Tom Smith

It's hard to be the Times. How can you be the newspaper of record when you make stuff up?

June 26, 2004
Dick Cheney and Aaron Burr
By Gail Heriot

I was sick in bed yesterday when the Washington Post ran the story of Vice President Cheney's unfortunate public use of the f-word. (And I do mean unfortunate. Vice Presidents should not regard themselves as having that liberty. That is one among many reasons that I will never be Vice President of the United States.) But at the time, I was reading Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton, in which, of course, Vice President Aaron Burr shoots former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton dead. It provided interesting perspective on the Cheney story. Those were the good old days when Vice Presidents understood the need for decorum. Or something.

The Chernow book is highly readable "treasury" of information on one of America's greatest men (and a personal favorite of mine). I can't recommend it enough. I also loved Richard Brookhiser's Alexander Hamilton: American, which while, less ambitious than the Chernow book, has the virtue of being short enough to read on a transcontinental flight. (Don't you just love books that can be read in exactly 5 hours?)

Michael Moore -- the bright side
By Tom Smith

Conservatives are in a state of high dudgeon about Michael Moore's latest artistic documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11. While I certainly understand why they are irritated, I also think they are failing to see how the movie tells a happy story about America, which Moore proves is, indeed, the land of opportunity.

Here we have a relatively young man who, to all appearences, is without any appreciable talent. Based on his public utterances, he seems to be of somewhat below average intelligence, for example, or at least below the average of those who comment on geopolitics. He comes across as someone who thinks geopolitics has to do with earthquakes. Like many people who find long articles about the international news in USA Today hard going, he tends to see the world in terms of conspiracy theories. Of course, he is not the first relatively unintelligent person to do well in the movie biz. However, most of those people, while stupid, are or were spectacularly good looking, or are at least good looking, and able to sing or dance. I am incurious about what Tony Bennett thinks about the future of public sector borrowing in the developing world, for example, but no one can deny the appeal of his vocal stylings. With Michael Moore, none of this is so. Not only is he no rocket scientist, but he has looks only his mom could love, and that after a couple stiff drinks. So here we have a fellow who is, not to put too fine a point on it, both stupid and ugly, and yet is the toast of Hollywood, Washington, and Cannes. Not to mention making untold millions of dollars. Only in America.

June 25, 2004
Cool climbing site
By Tom Smith

Here's a cool site on Everest and Himalayan climbing generally.

Update on the upper half
By Tom Smith

Just in case you're weren't invited to the opening of Michael Moore's new documentary in DC, here's the story in the Post.

Parts of it are hard to credit. Michael Moore "picking daintily" at a plate of food? I doubt it very much.

German uber-boy
By Tom Smith

A German boy (see this neat picture) has been born with a genetic mutation that gives him twice the muscles and less fat than normal children. Something to do with less myostatin to inhibit muscle growth. So far, he seems to have no health-threatening abnormalities.

June 23, 2004
Grutter and Gratz: Full Employment for College Administrators?
By Gail Heriot

Today is the one-year anniversary of Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger. To those who heard about the Supreme Court's decisions last June only on television or radio, the battle over race-based admissions policies may have appeared to end in a tie score. While the Court upheld the University of Michigan Law School's admissions scheme in Grutter, it condemned as unconstitutional the University of Michigan's undergraduate policy in the companion case of Gratz.

But appearances can be misleading. In fact, Grutter was a huge loss for those who favor race neutrality. Gratz, on the other hand, will probably for all practical purposes turn out to be an insignificant victory. Any college or university whose race-based policy would be banned by Gratz can, without too much trouble, re-model its policy in the style approved by Grutter and achieve precisely the same results. Almost all of them now have.

Both Michigan policies gave extraordinary weight to race in determining who is admitted and who is not. The college gave 20 bonus points (out of 100 necessary for admittance) to all African American, Hispanic and American Indian applicants. The effect was huge--the equivalent of an entire letter grade on the applicant's high school GPA. All other things being equal, a student who earned straight Bs in high school would be treated as if he had earned straight As--if he happened to be from a desirable racial group.

The law school, on the other hand, had no crude point system. It claimed instead that its decisions were based on a nuanced evaluation of the whole person in which race was a minor consideration among many. But it was all just talk. In the end, the results demonstrated the the law school's obsession with race was every bit as over the top as the college's; the gap between the credentials of admitted minority students and rejected White and Asian students was every bit as wide. According the Judge Bernard Friedman,who presided over the Grutter trial and (unlike the Supreme Court)found the law school's policies unlawful, there was "mathematically irrefutable proof that race [was] indeed an enormously important factor."

In some ways it would have been better to lose both cases. The effect of Gratz is simply to cause colleges and universities to hire more admissions officers to go through the motions of reading each file before giving heavy preferential treatment to African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians. More admissions officers means more people whose jobs depend on the continuation of race-based admissions policies. That's not good news. People are funny that way: They like putting food on the table and can get pretty grumpy when they see others interfering with their ability to do so. It is worth noting that college adminstrators are just about the only group that in fact advocates race-based admissions policies.

Despite what you may have heard, the evidence indicates the faculty members are not big supporters of race-based admissions policies. Indeed, that's understatement. The evidence indicates they actually oppose it. In a 1996 nationwide study of full-time faculty members at public and private colleges and universities,the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research fould that racial, ethnic, and gender preferences are quite unpopular. Among those who knew their own institution's policy on admissions, 60% reported that their institution had either formal or informal policies giving preferences to applicants based on race, sex, or ethnicity. When asked whether their institutions should grant preferences to one applicant over another for admission based on race, sex, or ethnicity, 57% responded "no," 32% responded "yes," and 11% did not know or declined to state. Only college administrators differed.

Still, Grutter and Gratz simply close off one avenue for opponents of race-base admissions policies--the federal courts. A Gallup poll released just a day after the Court's decisions suggests the political possibilities. A strong majority (69%) said that college applicants "should be admitted solely on the basis of merit, even if that results in few minority students being admitted." Only 27% took the position that an applicant's race should be taken into consideration "even if that means admitting some minority students who otherwise would not be admitted." It's just a matter of time before this is translated into statute or popular initiative somewhere. Right now, with the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative back on its feet after a nasty court battle, it looks like Michigan itself may be the next state (after California and Washington State) to go race neutral.

June 22, 2004
Guido speaks out
By Tom Smith

Not that it makes me an expert, but I took torts from Guido [Calebresi] back in 1981 (that's not as long ago as it sounds). With his recent remarks comparing Bush to Mussolini and Hitler, Guido, who is now a judge on on the Second Circuit, has rather put his foot in it.

It's not the first time. Every year at Yale we had the Yale Law Revue in which students displayed their considerable talents in song and dance routines that satirized professors, often savagely. For example, one poor professor who had failed to get tenure but stayed on a few years in increasingly less elevated administrative positions was depicted as pushing a broom around the halls. Ouch. To the tune of Elvis Costello's "My Aim is True", a lovely black woman with a great voice crooned to Bruce Ackerman, "I hear you moved to Riverdale/that's expensive real estate/ Helluvaway to bring Justice to the Liberal State" or words to that effect. Bruce Ackerman had left Yale in a pout to go to Columbia because Yale had not given his wife a job. He came back when they did. Ackerman's big book at that time was called "Justice and the Liberal State." Maybe you had to be there. Word had it that the lyrics "Ackerrrrrrman, We all love you" were substituted after protests for "Ackerrrrrman, My favorite Jew." I'm telling you, it was rough stuff.

Anyway, the song about Guido was set to that country tune The Gambler (You gotta know when to hold 'em, etc.) The punch line of the song, whose lyrics I cannot recreate, was Guido's telling his torts class that his senior colleague Quentin Johnstone was an idiot, and no one could take a class from him if they could help it. Guido had gotten straight A's in law school except (cue music) "for that C he got in Property, in 1958." On a law school faculty, it's pretty unheard of to tell your class to avoid a senior colleague because he's a fool. Was QJ a fool? Well, he's dead now, I'm not Guido, and I have no comment.

Like half the world, I have a soft spot for Guido. His politics are the usual Yale liberal, but in Guido they seem more comical than threatening. Also, I think federal judges ought to be able to say controversial things. A federal judge ought to be able to say Roe v. Wade was the worst case of Supreme Court legal malpractice since Dred Scott, if that's what she thinks. She's not saying it's not the law; she's just saying it's stupid. Guido was not saying that Bush v. Gore was a nullity; I infer he was saying it was wrongly decided. If he refused to be bound by it, that would be another matter. Yes, yes, it's not very judicial. But not every single judge should talk the legal version of Greenspanese. That would be boring.

No one should infer from this that I was one of Guido's little lackies. He always treated me the way a PETA member might treat an insect in his house. Benignly, but there was no ambiguity about our relative positions. He once wrote a letter of recommendation for a friend of mine whose parents were immigrants. Of him, I was told Guido opined "X is a remarkable student, especially when you consider that his parents are peasants." In Guido's world, there are a lot of peasants. You can be insulted by this, or you can think that one of the charms of aristocracy is that it allows a few people to say things no one else would dare to say. I think Guido must have given up any hope he had for the highest court -- and you have to admit there's something wrong with a world where there is a Justice Souter and no Justice Guido -- so now he really can say what he thinks. Personally, I think somebody should host a conference on Bush v. Gore, constitutional succession, and related topics, and invite Guido to speak. What wasn't incomprehensible would be very interesting.

UPDATE: A loyal reader writes to inform me my property professor QJ is still alive. I'm glad to hear it, and wonder how I got it into my head that he had died. In any event, all the more reason to neither confirm nor deny Guido's excessively candid appraisal of him. Reader also reports that when he was at YLS, the revue featured Dean Tony Kronman morphing into Dirk Diggler of "Boogie Nights." If you took a class from Tony K and you have seen Boogie Nights, you will appreciate that this is very funny. Not terribly nice, but funny.

Hitchens on Michael Moore
By Tom Smith

Christopher Hitchens on Michael Moore's new film. I think it's fair to say he didn't like it.

To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental. To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery.

and . . .

If Michael Moore had had his way, Slobodan Milosevic would still be the big man in a starved and tyrannical Serbia. Bosnia and Kosovo would have been cleansed and annexed. If Michael Moore had been listened to, Afghanistan would still be under Taliban rule, and Kuwait would have remained part of Iraq. And Iraq itself would still be the personal property of a psychopathic crime family, bargaining covertly with the slave state of North Korea for WMD. You might hope that a retrospective awareness of this kind would induce a little modesty. To the contrary, it is employed to pump air into one of the great sagging blimps of our sorry, mediocre, celeb-rotten culture. Rock the vote, indeed.

June 20, 2004
Iowa electronic market shows Bush uptick
By Tom Smith

The Iowa Electronic Markets are essentially a betting exchange on future political events. Recent scholarship suggests markets such as these do a very good job processing information about the probabilities of future events. For example, the HSX play market, where you can bet play money on who will win Oscars and how films will do at the box office, does a better job predicting these events than do the professionals in the trade press.

Exactly how markets manage to do this seems not to be well understood. I can say that the law of corporate finance people don't have any deep understanding of this. For one thing, the math is very hard and you have to resort to simulations. Curiously, though, it seems markets do not have to be that big or thick or efficient to do a good job predicting the future.

So that makes this uptick in Bush futures all the more interesting. It coincides with the 9/11 commission fandango.

More on Iraq- al Qaeda connection
By Tom Smith

This via realclearpolitics (which should be a daily stop for you).

I really question the wisdom of Kerry making such a big deal out of the "no connection" line. His big problem with swing voters is, I think, not seeming trustworthy on national security. If his big principle is, we have to give people who truck with terrorists the benefit of the doubt, how does that help him? It's late to be playing to his base, which is what this seems like. Along the lines of the old Kennedy saw that he found campaigning less stressful than Nixon, because he could just be himself and Nixon could not, this suggests to me Kerry has a hard time not being the left wing critic of US foreign policy. This may endear him to the New York Times, but I doubt it's smart in Florida or Ohio.

You never know where debates will end up, but this one looks like it's heading towards Kerry saying the evidence was not strong enough to justify war, and Bush saying in a war against terrorism, you can't wait until you are sure beyond a reasonable doubt that somebody is planning to attack you or helping those who are.

AND there's this Jack Kelly column which does a good job hitting the high points of how the media is getting the 9/11 commission report wrong.

Not to insult our friends on the left unduly, but I am puzzled at what they are thinking here. Are they thinking they can get away with such distortions? In politics, everybody spins. To me, though, it seems the left is quite a bit cruder about it. Is this a holdover from the old Stalinist Orwellian business of just brazening things out? "We have always been at war with Oceana"? Is this because the left is pitching to the poor masses, who don't read UN and 9/11 commission reports on the web? Or is it more a Clintonian thing? He certainly was a poster boy for the idea that liars can prosper. I like to think, though this may be way too optimistic, that with the internet, blogs, etc. etc., we are coming out of a period in which "the masses" can be so easily manipulated by big media, when William Randolph Hearst could start a war (though of course that war was just so we could get naval bases, etc. etc.). Maybe this means the media will have to stop treating us so much like idiot children.

June 19, 2004
President Bill pens a flinger
By Tom Smith

I gather down under they have a term for a really bad book -- a "flinger", meaning what you should do with it. If this is the review the Clin-tome gets in the New York Times, it must be truly a stinkeroo. He probably should have just let a staff of ghosts write it.

I would say "because I could" is a meaningless response to the question "why did you do it" with young Monica, but when you think about it, a stupid question deserves a stupid answer. It's like asking a bank robber why he stole the money. What is he supposed to say? It's easier than earning it? I thought if I just asked for it, they wouldn't give it to me? I prefer money to vegetables? The better question is something like, why did you think you could get away with it? Or, to what do you attribute your lack of normal moral development? My non-expert view is that Clinton is a sociopathic personality, who simply lacks the moral sense most people are born with. I think it is likely he raped Juanita Broderick, for example. I'm not positive he did, but I followed her story pretty closely and know a little about rape (I even taught criminal law one year!), and it seemed to me her story held together pretty well. Of course, maybe she was coached by experts from the vast RWC, yada yada. And I thought I was cynical about the feminists before that incident. Not as cynical as Clinton, I guess. Doesn't it seem likely, however, that Bill is making up for lost time now with the ladies, that every one who knows him slightly knows that the notion that he and Hillary saved their marriage with therapy and turning over a new leaf is a total crock, but everyone has agreed to turn a blind eye because they're rightly sick of the subject and it doesn't help the cause? I hope he lives a long life, because I'm not ready for his funeral. He should be careful, though: he has got-drunk-and-drowned-in-his-hottub written all over him. Either that, or death by Viagra overdose, said to be an unpleasant way to go.

But thank God for small favors. One good thing about the book being a stinker is that it will disappear sooner from the public consciousness, such as it is.

Excellent fisking of the NYT
By Tom Smith

The NYT coverage of the 9/11 commission report really has brought that paper to a new low. Somewhere after spin you get to outright falsification, and they've gotten there. This fisking at the realclearpolitics site is good.

What's amusing is how telling lies can hurt you if, one, the lies you tell can be refuted but, two, the people you are trying to help by lying either believe the lie or think it's irrefutable, and endorse it before they find out otherwise. John Kerry seems to have gotten himself into this pickle. Maybe Kerry and other important Democrats could get a special annotated version of the NYT, with bracketed comments, e.g., [This is false, but difficult to deny] or [we just made this up] or [someone would have to actually read the testimony to realize this is a lie]. That way, people would know what aspects of NYT "news" not to rely on.

In a way, it speaks well of the Times that they are lying so clumsily. It suggests they have not been in the business very long. They need to decide whether they are going to become a smoother organ of political propaganda, or try to go back to being a paper of record, quaint as that is. But now they're just a joke.

Debka on background to al Qaeda in the Kingdom
By Tom Smith

Interesting exclusive story from debka about secret war against al Qaeda. Hard to know how accurate it is, but it's plausibe.

BTW I don't approve of calling Saudi Arabia "the Kingdom." There are lots of kingdoms. It sounds pretentious.

WMD update
By Tom Smith

If the press were not so busy carrying water for Kerry and the left, they could actually dig up a story here. There is a lot of suggestive evidence, some of it more than suggestive, that Iraq's WMD program was dismantled and shipped out of the country.

You can follow links to the UNMOVIC report to the UNSC, which includes the satellite imagery.

This is a nice site collecting materials relevant to WMDs in Iraq.

June 18, 2004
Return to the planet of the boys
By Tom Smith

Jeanne is back east to go to her niece's high school graduation, so I am in charge of three boys. The youngest, the infant Mark, Jeanne took with her. She's not crazy.

They are all in the pool now, so I have a moment. Earlier I tried to take a nap, but the screaming was too loud. So far, there have been lots of touching family moments, such as this one:

Patrick: Ahhhhhhhh! You kicked me in the weiner!
William: You were thweatening me!
Dad: William, don't kick anybody in the weiner. Patrick, stop threatening your brother.

Last night I grilled burgers and we watched Adam Sandler's 50 First Dates. They had seen it before, they said, and judged it suitable for children. In the entire movie, there were perhaps three scenes that did not have some off-color joke on subjects such as the gigantic size of walrus penises, the tendency of steroid use to cause nocturnal emissions, and so on. I hope most of it went over the 8 year old William's head. I would rate the movie as too stupid for adults and too raunchy for kids, but the scene of the walrus vomitting enormously on the vet's assistant was strangely amusing.

The king snake, no doubt sensing diversion in the air, took his chance, slithered out of his tank, and escaped under the coffee table. This was cunning, since the coffee table weighs about 500 lbs. He may be there still or elsewhere in the house. I don't care. If he wants to try to make it on his own, I say, you go, snake. Jeanne, who is the instigator of all the reptile fancying around here, has arranged to get some corn snake eggs from a patient who breeds snakes. I can hardly wait.

The big event this morning was going to the local Target, always a religious experience for me (look at this beautiful t-shirt and its seven dollars!) and buying a playstation 2 for the kids. We have resisted until now, but somehow this purchase became the uber-bribe for good grades. School is now out so the bribe is due. Our children are very different regarding spending money. Our middle boy, Patrick, is ten and the future investment banker. Short of cash to pay the gardener last Saturday, I turned to Patrick to borrow $60. "OK," he said, "but there will be interest. One dollar per week, but no interest for the first week. That wouldn't be fair." He gave me three 20's. I owe him about $500, from previous transactions. I have no idea where his money comes from. Once, I borrowed $30 from him on terms that I had to pay him back in Kennedy half dollar coins. My life was miserable until I did. I ended up having to go to a bank to get the coins. William is a worker. You say, "want to make a dollar?" and he says "sure. How?" I say "clean out the fireplace," and next thing I know the 8 year old is carefully shoveling ashes into a can and vacuuming up afterwards. Amazing. If I asked Luke, he would say "You know what the amazing thing is about using a bokken against a takihachi?" By the time I got done bargaining with Patrick I could have cleaned the thing myself.

We got the Playstation and I let them set it up. Of course, they knew exactly how it worked. Soon the sounds of dying samurai and spell casting Harry Potter characters were filling the house. I went to check on them. "I can almost feel this thing making me stupider," said Patrick. Luke was draped like a noodle over a chair. "It just saps your energy," he said. Later on, I kicked them out into the pool. Before that, I heard William screaming. "I didn't do anything," Patrick said. "He was pulling on something, and I just let go of it!" He was even.

Cool comet
By Tom Smith

Photos from Stardust's encounter with comet Wild 2.

and spaceshipone.

Oh, that Iraqi terrorist connection
By Tom Smith

The interesting question is how the media will handle the latest revelation that Iraq was planning terrorist strikes against the US.

They can say, "we were talking about Iraq - Al Qaeda links, not state sponsored terrorism by Iraq!"

Or, "why did the Bush administration keep this information secret?"

But these and other responses I can think of don't sound very effective. So I think it will just get the non-fact fact treatment. After a while, it will just be conveniently forgotten, just like all the puzzling clues that a bunch of WMD parts got moved out of Iraq are ignored.

You have to admit, though, it is a hoot. The 9/11 commission does its amateur hour investigation, announces the links between Iraq and terrorism against the US are unproven (Bush lied!) and then Putin of all people says, "Of course, there were those attacks Iraq was planning that we told you about . . ." Oh dear! Isn't Putin on the bandwagon! Who's side is he on anyway?

If the press were capable of being embarrassed, they would be embarrassed. Al-Reuters does its best, but all it come up with is some State Department types complaining no one told them about this intelligence, combined with a deceptive headline. Can you believe the headline? Imagine, the CIA not telling State about some juicy intel from the Russians! Shocking. Hard to credit! But maybe the CIA didn't want the Russian source to end up in a wood chipper. Or even worse, the dreaded underwear on the head treatment.

June 17, 2004
John Yoo and Boalt Hall
By Tom Smith

This is an important read. It certainly is the case that it would be a big blow to academic freedom, not to mention the reputation of Boalt Hall, if they gave in to intimidation by law students, who in this case haven't a clue what they are talking about, to fire Professor Yoo for writing a memo when he was at DOJ saying the Geneva convention did not apply to illegal combatants. I gather the students' view is that Yoo should be fired for advising his client what the law said, even though or if that is in fact what the law said, because they wish the law said something different.

So let's get this straight Now we're supposed to lie to our clients about what the law is, because the law as is might turn out in the future to be a politically unpopular position? May I tell my client that capital punishment is the law in Texas, even if it is politically incorrect?

It is embarrassing enough for Boalt Hall that their students should take such a ridiculous position. I have just been assuming that in due course, the administration of that distinguished law school will send the students a polite letter informing them that tenured professors are not fired because students disapprove of legal memoranda they wrote while fulfilling their professional and Constitutional duties to the government of the United States. Under any other logic, I suppose, Boalt Hall would also have to fire any professor who had served in any capacity, such as the armed services, of which the petition-signing subset of the Boalt Hall student body (I'm thinking the bar scene in the first Star Wars movie) do not approve. Goodness, I am hoping the early 'seventies, when any rump group of half-informed and half-stoned students with a bullhorn could intimidate administrators into submission, are long gone. That turned out badly, remember?

And not only that, but is there the slightest chance Boalt Hall could fire Yoo without violating any number of state and federal laws? Not exactly my area, but I doubt it very much. I wonder what the likelihood is that those brave petition signatories, this marine corps of the politically correct, would like to indemnify the University against any liability they might suffer for, oh, breach of contract, to begin with. I bet the landing craft of these heros of the left would be depopulated faster than the ones at Omaha Beach. "Just because I want to fire this guy doesn't mean I want any consequences for me!" Here's an idea. Let's post the names of the signatories on the web, and that way prospective employers can find out who the idiots are. "I see you signed the Yoo petition, Mr. Peabody. How is that consistent with the University's status as a public employer? I see. And as an associate at this firm, would you not see it as your duty to tell the clients of this firm what the law was, however much you might disapprove of that law?" That kind of torture, in my opinion, is definitely legal.

And I'm sure Boalt Hall doesn't want the kind of attention it would get from the Governor's office and Washington, D.C. if they pulled a stunt like firing a professor at a public law school for the good faith performance of his duty as a public servant. Just off the top of my head, let's see: Would the Senate Judiciary Committee take an interest? The Department of Justice? The White House Counsel's office? The Department of Education? Any agencies that give grants to Boalt Hall, to UC Berkeley? Is there any statutory law that would be violated by such a termination? Would it amount to discrimination against someone for having been a federal employee? Is that legal? Is legislation necessary to address such discrimination? I'm sure people in the UC System would love to come to Washington and testify about that. Especially those who supervise the law school administration. There's no reason, of course, that you can't have any number of public inquiries going at the same time, at both state and federal level. Then there's private litigation, not only against UC, of course, but against decision makers personally, who may have been acting ultra vires when they made such a decision. At least, that's the way they may see it in Sacramento. But I'm sure those are sacrifices anyone who would fire Yoo would be willing to make, in order to do the right thing. I would not fire Yoo, but before I did, I sure as hell would have a legal opinion from counsel and an indemnification agreement so that if I did so, I would not be personally liable. But then, I'm not as brave as some people. I am not, for example, a Marine of the poltically correct.

Come to think of it, contracts is my area, and such a termination sure looks a lot to me like bad faith. It is a breach of contract to fire someone for testifying truthfully under oath in a way you as an employer don't like. Sounds a lot like a government lawyer advising his client faithfully and then getting fired for having done his public duty. Discovery here we come. It would make a nice case in a contracts casebook.

But, as I said, it would be just so unbelievably stupid for UC Berkeley to do such a thing, I just don't believe they would do it. Maybe they should say that so people like me can relax. It would make a nice contracts case, though.

I guess I really am a nerd
By Tom Smith

This actually sounds like fun to me. via modulator.

Debka's analysis of the 9/11 commission report
By Tom Smith

Interesting analysis of the 9/11 report. Debka claims the commission has fallen victim to al Qaeda disinformation.

June 16, 2004
Christian America
By Tom Smith

This is interesting. Statistics suggest the US is more Christian than ever.

Brian and Fidel
By Tom Smith

This may be a mistake, but I want to accept Brian's implicit challenge to anyone to disagree with Castro's dare to disagree with him about the culpability of "neo-liberal globalism." I think the difficulty here is how to structure the argument so that it's useful. I'm not sure how to do that. But a few points may be worth making.

First, I'm not sure what neo-liberal globalism is. I think it may be a fictional entity. If it means free, or relatively free trade, then I think the argument that free trade impoverishes is largely false. So that might be one point of disagreement -- what is the effect that relatively free trade with more developed countries has on poorer countries.

Second, and this point might be more philosophically interesting, is that of culpability for avoidable suffering in the third world (or whatever you want to call it). On a certain level, I think it's undeniable that a lot of people suffer in poor countries who could be helped if rich people such as ourselves gave them money. To take a personal example, as I never tire of telling people, I went to Peru last summer to spend a week in the rain forest with my family, and go on a midlife crisis mountaineering expedition. It was expensive. While in Lima, we saw lots of children, as young as four and five, living on the streets. Some literally lived in holes, and begged at nearby intersections. I didn't give them any money to speak of, though I sometimes bought little trinkets from them. When I got home I spent thousands of dollars for emergency care for my dog. I don't feel particularly bad about that, but I do at least wonder if I got it wrong.

There are many questions here. But let's just say, for argument's sake, that wealthy countries and people have an obligation to do significantly more than they are doing to help the poor, sick, and so on, people in places such as Peru. It hardly follows that capitalism, which is the cause of our wealth, is to be blamed either for the poverty of the poor, or the unwillingness of rich people to share more than they do. If people are not very altruistic toward distant strangers (and they are not) this is not caused by some economic system. It is rather a limitation imposed by human nature on what kind of economic systems will work. Of course, this view rejects various Marxist and other views about the dependence of what gets called human nature on economic facts, but I'm comfortable rejecting those views. So, rich people who do not share may be morally cupable (though that is a separate argument and not simple), but that culpability has nothing to do with having free markets, private property, and all the other stuff implied by capitalism.

If there is an implied claim that if only the US or most countries were socialist, there would be far fewer poor people and so much less suffering, well, that's an empirical claim that one can argue about, but I think it is not plausible at all. A slightly different tack to take might be to argue, as I think is plausible, that free markets are especially important in poor countries, where the margin of survival is much less. I think a strong argument can be made that markets are by far the most efficient and safest way to assure that food and other necessary goods get to the poorest people. I think whatever the record of socialism in Canada or whereever, it has been disastrous in Africa, Asia and South America, and its failure to work has resulted in much suffering. So the argument would be if you want to help the poor, promote free markets. Also ask people to be generous with the poor, but there you will run up against people's natural selfishness. This does not mean that rich people who are not as generous as they should be are not morally culpable. They are. But the evil of capitalism or the goodness of socialism does not follow from that.

Holbo on denying communion
By Tom Smith

Interesting article (more than a post) on denying communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians, by John Holbo. Thoughtful, but doesn't really have a bottom line, that I can see.

Part of the reason I have come to think of modern liberalism, or whatever it should be called, as something of a sham, is the inability of liberal commentators to get it about Catholics and abortion (I'm not including Holbo here). You really have to imagine that you are a Catholic in, say, Nazi Germany in the late thirties, and that the state is rounding up gays, Jews, gypsies and the mentally defective. Lets say there are, and there probably were, to the shame of the Church, Catholic politicians who do not oppose, or even support, these actions. Do you give them communion?

I think a lot of the warnings to the Church not to mix religion and politics fail to take seriously the position of the Church that abortion is a grave moral wrong. Personally, I think there is room to disagree about that when the life that is ended is that of a cluster of cells less sophisticated than what we eat for breakfast. Agreeing with the church's position means you have to believe the little creature has a soul, or something similar. But in late term abortions, babies that could survive with the usual neo-natal care, are killed. How that is not infanticide is just beyond me. Why an exception should be made for the mother's health is beyond me as well. There are many single moms whose lives would be improved, health included, by allowing them to kill some or all of their infants, and we call that murder. The only argument I have ever heard that makes any sense, albeit of an amoral kind, is that if late term abortions are outlawed, other abortions will get outlawed as well. By the same logic, early life infanticide should be permitted as well. (As to the philosophical arguments of Judith Jarvis Thompson and similar arguments, I think they are stupid. I find it hard to believe that similarly flawed anti-abortion arguments would ever have been published in prestigious journals. She visited at Yale Law School for a term and I was in her class for a while, but dropped out out of fear of doing permanent damage to my philosophical acumen.) In any event, it seems to me as between Planned Parenthood and the RC church, the latter has the more plausible position, even for those who do not accept its metaphysics. (It also creeps me out that Planned Parenthood even has a position on euthanasia. What is that about? Whose choice is that? It makes it look not like "choice" versus "right to life," but "right to life" versus "right to kill.")

It's not really the Church's problem that the Democratic Party has established a litmus test that to be a Democrat you have to believe in the absolute right to an abortion. You rarely hear the suggestion that maybe the Party should reconsider its position on abortion, rather than the Church reconsider its opposition to it. Why can't the Party consider opposition to late term abortions, or consider approving parental consent for abortions for minors? It's hard to see how the Party's position is principled at all. Instead it seems motivated by the political clout of a well organized minority within it. So the Party is asking the Church to compromise its principles for the political expediencies of the Democratic Party. I don't see how the inability or unwillingness of Democrats to stand up to their most extreme factions turns into a moral imperative for the Church. Especially when there is no reason to think it will stop there, there being so many others whose right to life is as qualified as that of the not quite born.

If the Church thinks abortion is a grave moral wrong it wouldn't be much of a church if it didn't deny communion to those who publicly support it. The Church should have done more to fight for the lives of Jews, gays, gypsies, the mentally retarded, the old and infirm, and the many others the Nazis thought did not have the right to live. Maybe it's learned its lesson.

Information value equals zero
By Tom Smith

An unnamed CIA analyst says Iraq and Al Qaeda had no substantial ties. The FBI agrees. But DOD thinks they did. They all are the same people who failed to see 9/11 coming. There is a long standing and sometimes vicious rivalry among these agencies anyway. The staff of the 9/11 commission? Who are they? Is this report just a political swipe at Bush and his Iraq policy? We can't trust the 9/11 commission, we can't trust their staff, we can't trust what the Post says about what the staff says, and we can't trust what the analyst says the CIA thinks, nor can we trust what the CIA does in fact think, assuming they have a unified position, which is doubtful. Not that the DOD or the FBI is any bargain either. I hope this clears things up. Welcome to the wilderness of mirrors.

And take a look at this at instapundit. I guess I forgot about how carefully you have to parse what the Post says in this does "is" mean "is" era.

Krauthammer on Reagan
By Tom Smith

I took Mike's advice and read Krauthammer's column. It is very good and you should read it. That he ranks Reagan behind FDR is less the point than his dissection of the media's attempt to trivialize Reagan as an optimist. I am old enough to remember the '80's. Indeed, I am embarrassed to say I actually marched in the giant nuclear freeze protest in NYC, during my first year of law school. I was a libertarian by that time, but had yet to be corrupted by the Federalist Society.

Why was the freeze movement so big and vociferous? One reason was money. Somehow along with learning that all anti-communists were right wing kooks, another thing I picked up in college was that the notion that the Soviets sent a lot of money into the US and Europe to foment trouble was just a John Birch society fantasy. But, as the saying goes, just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean people are not out to get you. When I worked in the White House (which means the Old Executive Office Building -- people who actually work in the White House say they work in the "West Wing" to distinguish themselves from the rest of us), the guy sitting next to me was the international trade economist, and he was on the CIA circulation list for all kinds of cool "Secret" stuff. With classification inflation, "confidential" was not secret at all, "secret" was confidential, "top secret" really was secret, and really top secret was "eyes only" various people and/or had a code name attached to it. So Secret was not a huge deal, but you had to keep it in a locked file cabinet, for example. My office mate let me read a secret CIA report about the details of how the Soviet funneled money into the West, in this case to various terrorist groups, but obviously the same conduits could easily have been used for protest groups. Even though I was several years a Reaganite, old ways of thinking die hard. I was still shocked to see evidence that the KGB was bankrolling terrorism, to the tune of millions of dollars. The good liberal in me still gasped "But that's so wrong!" and "Those lying bastards!" I don't know what I thought the KGB was doing. I suppose building health clinics in Nicaragua (NEEEEEE-cahr-RAHHG-wa -- remember! Any NPR listeners from the '80's out there? All together now!).

Those darn Iranians
By Tom Smith

The mullahs with nukes saga continues.

June 15, 2004
A scary accident
By Tom Smith

Friday night the phone rang and I heard Jeanne exclaim "What?!" into the phone. You dread that sort of phone call, and it turned out it was bad news. Her nephew Thomas, whom I have known since he was practically a baby and who graduated from Brown last year, and whom we all love very much, had had a very serious bicycling accident in San Francisco. He was living in the Bay City working as a barrista, doing the just graduated from college thing. He had gotten seriously into cycling and was riding various places around the city. In the Presidio park, he was going no doubt too fast, collided with a guard rail, and tumbled over a 50 foot cliff. He broke his left femur and his C6 vertebrae, and was at the bottom of the cliff screaming for 20 minutes before somebody saw him and called 911. His cycling mate had been riding ahead of him and didn't know he had crashed. Paramedics had to rappel down the cliff, put him in a basket and haul him up. They put him on a medivac helicopter and took him to John Muir Hospital, a level 1 trauma center in the area.

Fortunately, the neck fracture was stable and the spinal cord wasn't compromised, so he won't be paralyzed. Thomas had to go into surgery for his femur to be repaired, but his neck is expected to heal with only a brace. He was in a lot of pain, and they put him on a morphine drip. His mom flew out from New York. It has been awful for Thomas, her, his dad and brother and sister, and all of us worrying about him. He seems to be improving now, and the doctors plan to move him out of the ICU tomorrow.

Prayers directed on behalf of Thomas will presumably reach the intended address. All help of that kind would be much appreciated. Those prayer effectiveness studies were done on ICU patients, I believe, so you needn't feel you're doing anything unscientific.

A neighbor of ours once said having a child was like taking out your heart and letting it run around outside your body. You worry about it, and with good reason.

Posner's review of Dershowitz's book
By Tom Smith

This on balance, rather positive review by Dick Posner of Dershowitz's book about terrorism is well worth reading. (via Brian Leiter, but it's not clear Brian realized the review, after a harsh beginning, was fairly positive, or at least not negative.)

Note that Posner says that no one who did not believe torture should be used, if the stakes were high enough, should be in a position of responsibility. Also, Dershowitz mentions two real life cases where torture was used to good effect. Once in the Philippines to extract information about a plot to blow up eleven airliners and assassinate the Pope, and once in New York to get information about a kidnapping victim. (I was challenged by another blogger to produce real life examples. If these examples are real, here they are.)

BTW I'm all in favor of saying negative things about Alan Dershowitz. I once saw Dershowitz in person at the taping of a debate between him and Michael McConnell (now of the 10th Circuit, then at Chicago) about the Bork nomination. I think the debate was never broadcast because Dershowitz kept positioning himself in between the camera and whoever was speaking. (He also told the most egregious lies about Bork, but lots of people did that.) It was the most astonishing display of anti-social behavior I have ever seen, outside of a barroom confrontation. I am not a psychiatrist, but Dershowitz's obnoxiousness it so extreme, it looks to me like some kind of personality disorder. While I think torture is justified in some circumstances, I think it would be cruel to say, lock a person up in a room with Dershowitz, where he would talk about himself until the suspect killed himself by beating his head against the floor. But other, more humane forms of torture could be devised than making someone listen to Dershowitz for extended periods.

Still disgusting
By Tom Smith

I don't know why I read the disgusting Frank Rich. It's not as if he is intelligent, insightful or writes particularly well. Maybe it's just to remind myself what the petty-minded left is like. Anyway, here's his latest regurgitation.

Still disgusting
By Tom Smith

I don't know why I read the disgusting Frank Rich. It's not as if he is intelligent, insightful or writes particularly well. Maybe it's just to remind myself what the petty-minded left is like. Anyway, here's his latest regurgitation.

June 14, 2004
What would Hayek say about gay marriage
By Tom Smith

Very interesting. via RCP.

Pretty lame discussion of torture in the Washington Post
By Tom Smith

Here's a piece in the Post on torture. Notice how it skirts the issue of whether torture would be justified if you could save thousands of lives by torturing a terrorist to find out about an impending attack. I think the answer to that question is yes. What the writer says is that it would be difficult to limit torture to situations such as that, and that may be true. But suggesting that would be a problem requires some argument of its own.

He also alludes to the observation that another catastrophic attack might get rid of the inhibitions we have left against extreme measures of warfare. I think this is obviously true, and bears more thinking about. For example, if a US city is destroyed by a nuclear bomb, there will be difficult to resist calls to retaliate in kind against Tehran or Damascus or some other perhaps only peripherally related target. Attacks on civilian targets in the UK and France led to the firebombing of Dresden, Tokyo, Hamburg and other cities. I know I'm repeating myself here, but it is very, very important for civil liberties and our constitutional order that a catastrophic attack against a US city(or a major European target) be prevented. Such an attack would transform our politics instantly, and all the various critics of war in Iraq, harsh treatment of detainees, etc. would be immediately irrelevant. Japanese internment would look like an ACLU picnic. Impeachment of a President and replacement with a wartime leader, martial law and many other horrors are quite plausible.

The terrorists may be tactically clever, but they are strategically stupid or nihilistic or both, and so are people in the US who think or hope that somehow Vietnam War style demoralization can lead to a Vietnam War style victory for the enemy they sympathize with, or at least defeat for the Amerika they hate. The islamo-fascists are not fighting to make some third world country safe for socialist revolution. They are fighting for a fantasy objective, the revival of a long dead Islamic civilization to replace the West. They are a lot more like the Nazis than third world revolutionaries in that sense. The US could live with defeat in Vietnam; we cannot live with being defeated by islamo-fascism. Their objective is impossible to achieve. All they can possibly achieve is to arouse American democratic ire to the point that we will use unrestrained warfare, including our huge arsenal of nuclear weapons, not to mention much else, against everyone who even looks like a terrorist. We can take Saudi Arabia, Iran and so on, split it up with Russia, and make a desert of any country that dares oppose us. This may sound implausible, but think of how hearts and minds in this country will change if a million died in New York or LA, and hundreds of thousands are dying of related effects. It would be the end of the first American republic, and the next one would be a far harsher place. This is why the left-liberal civil rights crowd needs to think carefully about national security, something they have shown little evidence of so far.

On a related point, this is also why we cannot let Iran get nukes.

June 13, 2004
Mark Steyn on Reagan
By Tom Smith

Right as usual.

BTW this is also why the media preferred GHWB's tribute to the PresidentBush 's. Bush Sr. talked about what a good man RR was, President Bush spoke about the importance of his leadership and his ideas. Then he talked about God and such. All this leaves the Washington press corps not only cold, but baffled. The idea that a funeral is actually a religious service and not just an opportunity to show off one last time, is lost on them.

June 12, 2004
A plea for kilts
By Tom Smith

It came to me while changing a diaper, trying to figure out the little snaps on the baby overalls. This is stupid. Why shouldn't boy babies wear kilts? Why not grown men?

You trendsetting fashion mavens out there, start, and I'll follow. Brad Pitt, put on a kilt, and set your people free!

Face facts: there is no solution to the tragedy of men's underwear. Boxers bunch. Jockeys are too tight. As in quantum mechanics, there is no solution, except . . . the kilt.

These guys don't look like sissies to me. Some of them look like low-lifes. But not sissies. (I use 'sissy' only in the politically correct sense).

They're called 'non-bifrucated garmets.'

I vaguely recall a women's liberation movement a few years back. Now it's men's turn. At least until recently, women didn't want to wear high heels because they are uncomfortable or something. Well, so are pants. Women don't want to look at hairy, white, plump male calves. So what. Deal with it. This is an issue of human rights.

Tastes adjust. Look at tatoos, earings, bare bellies. The overall gestalt of the kilt is not that different from shorts, but they must be far more comfortable. Maybe surfers could adopt the kilt and set the trend.

The Scots are a brilliant people. They have had some of the best philosophers, economists and makers of distilled spirits in history. Warriors too. Now may be their moment to make another definitive contribution to freedom.

UPDATE: This is an interesting post on positive liberty about kilts, and some interesting history besides. Interesting to me, is that kilts would be much more politically correct, in the right wing sense, than pants. Kilts are traditional and Scottish. The Scots practically invented classical liberalism. David Hume, Adam Smith, etc. etc. And who invented pants? The worst! The French Revolutionaries, that's who! It was an improvement over the panty hose that the aristocrats wore, but still. Would you rather dress like a Scottish highlander or a French Red?

But, and let's be direct about this, are kilts gay? The answer is yes, but perhaps not forever. Many useful male fashions have begun among gay men. For example, the balding guy just buzzing his hair down to stubble, and having a beard that is just stubble. I think it's a flattering look for a guy like me, though my wife doesn't dig it that much. I wouldn't have done it in the 80's because it just screamed gay. But now lots of guys do it. It is the ultimate in easy hair care. My $35 Wahl hair buzzer has saved me hundreds, and I've even gotten some compliments about how cute I am (though almost entirely from the wife of guy who is a scary-looking six-five and shaves his head). So, gay guys pioneered a very healthy change in men's fashion. I wish them luck on kilts.

WSJ battleground states poll
By Tom Smith

Kerry still ahead. More troubling to me is the closing of the gap of the Iowa electronic market.

Remember, these people are better than you
By Tom Smith

The Hamptons. The horror. The horror.

Those darn Iranians
By Tom Smith

Iran still in the running for preemptive strike target for 2005. Good luck, Iran!

June 11, 2004
A brilliant tribute
By Tom Smith

Like many of you, I'm sure, I watched President Reagan's funeral and was moved by it. I was one of many, many young people who got into politics because of Reagan. He will always have a special place in my heart.

President Bush gave a wonderful eulogy. Ever seizing on the superficial, of course, the media pundits didn't particularly note it, but it was very, very good. In the terse, Texan sentences that are Bush Jr.'s style, he captured what we loved about RR and what we have to be grateful for. It was unapologetically religious and full of grace notes, like the reference to a scout saying the pledge of allegiance, that signaled to people like me that Bush gets what Reagan got. The paragraph about how there were no doubters in the gulags or the Polish shipyards about the importance of Reagan's actions, was direct, powerful and effective. How telling it is that the New York Times line, that the Soviet empire collasped shortly after Reagan confronted it in a mere coincidence, has so few adherents among the empire's former captives. I'm old enough to remember the shock and horror when RR called the USSR the evil empire. Many a wise head was shaken. Not only did Reagan undermine an empire, he undid the entire Soviet Studies industry.

To Chris Matthews, the younger Bush might as well have been speaking in Latin. Matthews seemed unable to grasp the notion that both Reagan and Bush were and are devout Christians. Is there a title in that series, "Christianity for Complete Idiots"? If not, there should be, and anchor-pundits should have to read it. Apparently, it is culturally acceptable to be utterly tone deaf to Christianity as long as you are sensitive to every other conceivable orientation. Maybe the networks should send their people to sensitivity camps.

Brit Hume and Fox at least had the sense to be quiet most of the time and let the services speak for themselves.

Obviously, Lady Thatcher's remarks were also very good. The texts of all the tributes can be found at

June 10, 2004
Stupid exercise tips
By Tom Smith

No, I'm not kidding. These exercises can hurt you, and if they do, it's your own fault.

Spetznaz pushups -- On some non-slip surface, put your arms out in front of your shoulders about 1.5 to 2 feet. Put your feet back as you would for a normal push-up. Lower slowly, push up slowly. You will want to arch your back, but don't. You can hurt your back if you arch it doing this. The whole idea is to keep your abs hard and stabilize yourself through the motion. It's hard to do. Don't do it if your lower back has been bothering you. 3 to 5 is a set.

Janda situps -- Correct crunches are hard to do because most people's abs, including mine, are much weaker than they should be. When you do crunches, it's hard not to use your hip abductors to do much of the work, which ends up not doing your abs much good, and increasing the imbalance between your abs and abductors. This increases the excessive arch in your lower back and makes you walk around with your butt sticking out. This is fine if you are a cute female gymnast, but if you are a middle aged guy it looks really lame. It's also bad for your back. Fixing this is hard, but an exercise that sort of works is the Janda situp. One way to do it that works rather well is this: find a soft object like a ottoman or maybe a low stool with a pillow on it. Elevate your ankles on it. Now do a crunch, slowly, pushing down with your ankles, compressing the pillow or cushion. Yes, it makes it harder to get up. All you really need to do is curl your shoulders 2 or 3 inches off the floor. Lower back should be pushed against the floor hard! No arching! Do this until you throw up. No, just kidding. Do as many as you can with perfect form. When you can't hold your back hard against the floor anymore, stop. Now drink beer until you pass out.

You can do these while watching a baby.

By Tom Smith

Listen to the crowd when RR says 'tear down this wall!'

Check out realclearpolitics today. A nice collection of Reagan stuff, including speeches, photos, commentary, etc. Well done.

Tom the Mom's baby care tips
By Tom Smith

Our excellent nanny is off to see her daughter graduate from college through Monday, and I am in charge of the excellent Mark, so I thought now would be a good time to pass on some of my hard earned wisdom. Here are some good baby tips to remember.

1. Remember, little ears are sensitive! If you are using power tools and taking care of baby at the same time, they need ear protection even more than you do. Also, remember flying debris can hurt baby's eyes.

2. Big dogs and babies are fun together, but make sure your big dog is friendly.

3. If you leave soiled daipers lying about, your baby will find them and eat them.

4. If it is smaller than a tennis ball, your baby will try to choke himself on it.

5. No matter how small the spot, if it has poop on it, it goes in the laundry.

6. Do not hold your baby off a balcony.

7. Babies and pots of boiling water do not mix. Put the baby in a secure place before cooking.

8. If anybody threatens your baby, kill them.

9. Babies are chick magnets. You can go to Starbucks, but remember you are married, and that just because your wife thinks you are cute bald, does not mean you are.

10. Got to go.

Mark Steyn still gets it
By Tom Smith

This is correct. Via SlitheryD.

Anti-Christ (who is alive today) revealed!
By Tom Smith

In an article in the left-wing Canadian Catholic journal Catholic New Times, semi-journalist David Madsen has revealed that Pope John Paul II thinks Bush may be the Anti-Christ.

There are some suspicious facts. Not widely known is that 666 is the number of Dick Cheney's cholesterol count. Mere coincidence? And then there is the Book of Bob, a secret manuscript kept in the Vatican's vault, which reads, in relevant part:

And lo, they shall eat of the ribs of the unclean beast with wicked spices, and he shall be their leader . . .

These unclean, wickedly spiced ribs seem a clear reference to the spicy pork ribs so popular in our Southland. And their leader, their governor perhaps? Of course, it might be the former governor of another southern state. "And his mate shall make thee curse thy hindquarters, for she shall make thy hindquarters pain thee, and she shall be an abomination . . . " This doesn't sound like Laura Bush to me.

Don't Worry
By Tom Smith

Yes, there is more evidence that Saddam had WMD's, but, and this is the important point, there is no evidence that they were WMD's of the really bad sort. They fall more into the category of naughty WMD's, mischevious WMD's. Dare I say it, even rather cute WMD's. Bush lied. Halliburton. Thank you.

(Via Anti-idolitarian Rotweiller, whom I do not link to with approval, because he is over-the-top and frequently unfair, even if he is occassionally very funny. He also uses lots of bad words.)

June 09, 2004
By Tom Smith

The mainstream media seems to be doing its best to whip up moral outrage over the OLC memo regarding interrogation techniques that was leaked recently. This fulminating editorial from the Washington Post is an example. It's not a very pleasant topic and most commentators quite sensibly avoid it, but that has never stopped us here at the Right Coast.

First, it bears repeating that there are some circumstances under which torture is morally justified, and it would be stupid and immoral not to use it. One could make up many examples, but since it was such a popular theme on TV the last couple of years, I will take examples only from the moist, humid confines of Hollywood's imagination. In one episode of The Shield, an excellent crime drama on the FX cable channel, a pedophile had abducted a child and had imprisoned him or her (I don't remember which) in the basement of a rented house, without food or water. Vic and the gang at the precinct knew the criminal had kidnapped the girl, as there were witnesses. However, for some plausible reason I don't recall, the perp thought he was better off not disclosing the location and letting the child die (horribly, one might add, as dehydration is a very bad way to go), rather than telling where the child and potential witness to his crime, was chained. In a very gratifying scene, Vic intimidates the pedophile into disclosing the location, mostly with pure meanness, but also with some creative use of a telephone book. Was Vic morally justified in beating the information out of the suspect? Of course he was. Even if Vic's actions were a crime, they were still morally justified. No, I don't want to live in a country where police routinely beat suspects for leads, but I do want police to ignore the rules in those very unusual circumstances where they can save innocents by doing so.

Another television drama that used torture as a plot device was "24." A couple of seasons ago, terrorists (supported by an evil corporate big wig -- this is Hollywood) were plotting to detonate a nuclear bomb in LA. On various occassions, the Keifer Sutherland character used torture and the threat of more pain or death to get information out of terrorists about where the bomb was hidden. Millions of lives were at stake, and there was little or no doubt that the people was was torturing were terrorists involved in this very evil plan. If you can save millions of lives by torturing a terrorist, you should torture the terrorist.

A few other points should be borne in mind by editorialists. First, depending on whom you are interrogating, torture is less evil than other practices that are a lot more accepted in warfare than they probably should be, such as the targeting of civilian populations. If you are morally certain that somebody is actively involved in terrorism, he is a lot less innocent than some young mother in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think the US military does more than any military in history to avoid civilian casualties, but if they can avoid killing more innocents by extracting information from likely terrorists by rough interrogation that amounts to mild torture, I'm for it. Second, interrogation techniques that involve inflicting discomfort and some pain can cause less damage even to non-innocent parties than bullets and bombs. Torture varies from the unpleasant to the horrific. It almost always inflicts some measure of psychological damage, I should think. But the damage it inflicts can be less and less indiscriminate than warfare. Of course, using it is a slippery slope, and opportunities for abuse are great. It may be that as a practical matter, the dangers and evils of torture outweigh any good in the form of information that can stop terrorism. But in a world where a terrorist attack involving a weapon of mass destruction in a major American city is not just an implausible plot for a cheap thriller, one should not just jump to this conclusion. The stakes are very high. Finally, as Senator Joe Biden lectured yesterday, the reason we have rules against torture is to protect our soldiers against it if they are captured. The flaw in this argument is that neither the former Iraqi regime nor the various islamo-fascist terrorist groups care about these rules, any more than they care about the rules that make terrorism against civilians a violation of international law. We can abstain from torturing Al Qaeda suspects all we like, and expect no mercy or quarter from our enemies. The argument that we must observe the Geneva Conventions and similar laws for the sake of our own lawful combatants, doesn't follow.

None of the above means that we should routinely follow a policy of torturing terrorist suspects to get information. The circumstances that would justify doing so will, one hopes, remain very unusual. It might, however, be the case that conditions of confinement that are less comfortable than those we would provide lawful combatants and insist on for our own military, were we fighting a civilized foe, are justified. If suspects can be persuaded to talk to get off of a boring diet, to get more than 5 hours of sleep a night, or to avoid digging ditches, for example, that doesn't bother my tender conscience. Sexual humiliation as at Abu Gharib I would oppose. Having to make decisions about whether to torture somebody would be a dirty business. My only point is that editorialists should realize that in a war of survival against terrorism, the idea that torture is never justified, no matter what, is itself a morally ridiculous position.

June 08, 2004
Torture permitted against Iraq detainees?
By Tom Smith

Interesting story in the Times.

June 07, 2004
Brad DeLong is an Idiot
By Tom Smith

Just imagine where we would be if Brad DeLong were making economic policy in the 1980's or now, for that matter. Tax cuts do not promote growth. Reagan's economic policies just promoted inequality. We could use more such failures.

As for Nicaragua, I count it a great success. One less Cuba to worry about. We still need to get the story on why the Nicaraguans voted the Sandanistas out, if they were so wonderful. CIA conspiracy maybe?

DeLong wants to give Gorbachev credit for liberating the USSR apparently. Unbelievably dim. Talk about being trapped inside the box.

By Tom Smith

John Fund describes the covert effort to undermine the USSR, and the pipeline operation was only part of it.

Peggy Noonan on RR.

To be young and working in his White House at that time in human history, was--well, we felt privileged to be there, with him. He made us feel not that we were born in a time of trouble but that we'd been born, luckily, at a time when we could end some trouble. We believed him. I'd think: This is a wonderful time to be alive. And when he died I thought: If I'd walked into the Oval Office 20 years ago to tell him that, he'd look up from whatever he was writing, smile, look away for a second and think, It's pretty much always a wonderful time.

This is true. I quit my job as tenure track law professor at UC Davis, surely one of the most PC law schools in the country, and that's saying something, to go work for the Reagan Administration. I have a picture of me, looking like a baby with a beard, shaking his hand. I helped him make markets more free--good work if you could get it. Maybe you have to be at least 40 to understand that the Reagan revolution really was a revolution. Media dimwits who never knew him or hated him can talk about optimism and charm all they like. He was really about one big idea -- freedom. He was optimistic because he believed in the power of ideas, when they were true. He understood that the opposite of freedom is fear. He did not have a first-class mind, but he had a first-class temperament. He understood the economics of freedom instinctively.