The Right Coast
March 31, 2005
Please ignore those angry Jews behind the curtain
By Tom Smith
Am I understanding this correctly? Columbia University released its official report "Towards a Theory of Why Professors Who Just Happen to Hate Jews Are Not That Bad" (or whatever they are calling it) to the New York Times, on the condition that the Times not talk to the students who lodged the complaints against the professors, and the New York Times agreed? I mean, I know they usually only tell one side of the story, but do they want to do so by contract? I really think readers have the right to rely on the Times to tell only one side of the story out of ideological bias and laziness, not on purpose.
Authors of Misleading Bankruptcy Study Have an Unusual Perspective on Rent Control Too
By Gail Heriot
Remember the bankruptcy study I wrote about in the National Review Online back in February? It made the front page in newspapers all across the country in early February with headlines like "Medical Bills Blamed in Half of Bankruptcies" and "Medical Bills Cause About Half of Bankruptcies, Study Finds." In early March, it made the rounds again, this time as fodder for op-eds in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers urging rejection of the bankruptcy bill. The flaws in the study, however, are so numerous and glaring that I couldn't cover them all in the NRO essay. Reading it will only give you a taste.
I learned today that this was not the first time lead author David Himmelstein and co-author Steffie Woolhandler, both Harvard University associate clinical professors of medicine, weighed in with an unusual medical perspective on a hotly contested political issue. In 1996, when Massachusetts was considering abolishing rent control, Himmelstein and Woolhandler protested with the argument that (as Woolhandler put it), "If rent control vanishes, dozens will die." Noting that stress and social isolation can and sometimes do result in heart attack and death, she stated, "One-third of our heart attack patients at Cambridge Hospital live in rent-controlled apartments. By allowing landlords to force them out, the governor and state Legislature are implementing the death penalty--a social policy sure to kill."
Only heart attacks by rent-subsidized tenants were considered in this curious analysis. One could, of course, spin out similar tales of heart attacks by landlords who are unable to make ends meet because they can't charge fair market rents or of would-be tenants falling ill when they can't find an apartment at all, because nobody is willing to build apartments buildings that will only be rent controlled when completed. But evidently the good doctors were not inclined to go that far.
My friend Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe had this to say at the time:
I can't link you to Jeff's column or the Boston Globe story, since they are from 1996. They are on Lexis/Nexis. Instead, I will link you to one of Jeff's more recent columns on socialized medicine. Himmelstein and Woolhandler are co-founders of Physicians for a National Health Care Program, which advocates a single-payer system as the "only solution to solving the United States' many health care problems," so it's on topic.
More on Columbia University
By Mike Rappaport
As Maimon mentions, Columbia appears to have behaved rather badly in its investigation of the alleged intimidation by Middle Eastern Studies professors of students who do not accept a pro-palestinian position.
These fights between the Left Wing Academy and the MSM, on one side, and the blogosphere and other new media, on the other, just keep on occurring. The heavy handed tactics of Columbia seem outrageous. But thanks to blogs like Powerline (and the reporting of the New York Sun), these tactics are now being exposed and a price is being paid.
Michael Schiavo in Hell (a play in one paragraph)
By Tom Smith
MS: Where am I? Gosh it is so hot here!
Man with No Eyebrows: But I think you will agree it is a very dry heat.
MS: Dry! I'll say! I'm so thirsty! I don't think I've ever been so thirsty!
MNE: Just you wait.
MNE: You said you were thirsty?
MS: So thirsty . . .
MNE: Would you like some nice, cool water?
MNE: Let me just check outside. (Goes to door.) Why, how curious. There are hundreds of people out here trying to bring you water. Would you like a cup?
MS: Oh yes!
MNE: Cold water or warm?
MS: Cold! I don't care!
MNE: You know, I think we actually have a procedure to determine whether I can give you any water. I don't think I'm permitted to give you water just because you're thirsty! We have rules, you know.
MNE: Oh, yes. Rules and rules.
MS: Well, who do I have to ask?
MNE: Oh, judges. We have lots of judges here. You may recognize some of them.
MS: I don't have time for that!
MNE: Trust me. You do.
MS: All I want is some water, for Christ's sake!
MNE: (Wincing) Please don't swear.
(Years later . . . )
MS: Water. Water. I'm so thristy . . .
MNE: Oh, look! A package! It seems to be a crate of chilled Evian water sent by Terri and her parents. Do you remember them?
MS: Water? Water! Water!
MNE: I would let you have some, but that would violate the temporary restraining order issued before the 99th interlocutory appeal to the 666th Circuit. If there's one thing we don't permit around here, it's contempt of court. (Sipping.) Mmmmm. I don' t really prefer Evian. I think it tastes a little soapy or something. Still, it is nice and cold.
MS: Water! Huhnnnnnhuuuhhh!
MNE: What are you saying, Michael? You seem a little inarticulate. Well, I suppose I know what you really want. You really want to follow the law, right? I knew it. And believe me, just as soon as I am permitted to do so, I will give you a nice big gulp of water, if there's any left, that is! Alas, I must toddle. I must go to visit your attorney. He's right next door, you know!
Columbia University's Ward Churchills
By Maimon Schwarzschild
Columbia University's glossy alumni magazine, none too imaginatively titled "Columbia", is sent to all of us glossy and not-so-glossy Columbia alumni. The winter 2005 number carries a cover picture of Madeline Albright, and a fawning interview with her inside. Each and every one of Albright's interview answers is a denunciation of President Bush and the Iraq war: "it's a mess"; "a war of choice, not of necessity"; "we have to stop digging the hole deeper - we're still digging"; "we're less safe now"; "the people who ultimately surrounded current President Bush had the idea of attacking Iraq all along - the reasons for this are still relatively unclear, but...they piggybacked their plan onto September 11". The usual, more-than-faintly-paranoid talking points, I suppose, of the New Model Democratic Party.
More interesting, in a sense, is "Columbia"'s admiring profile of Salo Baron, professor of Jewish history at Columbia from 1930 till his retirement in 1963 and author of a famous multi-volume Social and Religious History of the Jews.
Columbia may have reason, just now, to emphasise to its alumni -- quite a few of them Jewish -- that Columbia is, or was, hospitable to scholars who are, or were, unapologetically committed Jews.
Because the magazine also carries a queasy little item, entitled "Academic Freedom for All", which alludes to the public charges swirling round Columbia of systematic intimidation and bullying of Jewish students by the stridently anti-Israel Middle East Studies faculty at the school. "Columbia" duly reports that an "ad hoc faculty committee" has been established to "look into concerns about faculty conduct in their role as teachers".
("Columbia" calls the David Project, whose documentary film sparked the controversy, a "pro-Israel advocacy group", which it is not: "We do not endorse a political agenda", says the Project, "beyond Israel's right to exist peacefully among its Arab neighbors". Well, perhaps that does make it a "pro-Israel advocacy group" by Columbia's standards...)
In fact, Columbia's "ad hoc committee" is heavily stacked in favour of the anti-Israel professors and against the Jewish students. Nat Hentoff, the veteran civil libertarian writer, points out (in the Village Voice) that two of the committee members signed "divestment" petitions against Israel:
The two signers of the divestment petition have, of course, the right of conscience to use that method of criticizing Israel. What is significant, however, in their being selected for this special investigating committee is that while they were among 106 faculty members who put their names on that divestment petition, 360-plus faculty members opposed that petition in writing. How come President Bollinger appointed not a single one of those 360-plus to the committee? Or any others from Columbia's 3,224 full-time faculty?Another committee member "compares Israel's occupation of the West Bank to the Nazi occupation of eastern Europe". The committee is chaired by Ira Katznelson, a leftist warhorse. And so it goes.
Yet even so "reliable" a committee as this is apparently too much for many Columbia faculty members, and there are reports that a (leftist) "faculty rebellion" is brewing.
The moral, for me at least, is that whenever I'm moved to contribute money to higher education, I do it by way of the excellent American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Contributing through ACTA, I can be sure I will be helping serious and non-propagandistic academic programs that are worthy of support. And I can be sure I won't be supporting either the likes of Columbia's in-the-bag "ad hoc committee", or the still loonier "faculty rebellion" against it.
UPDATE: The latest from Columbia's "ad hoc committee" innvestigation. Sheesh. And much more here from PowerLine, suggesting that "Columbia is flirting with police state type tactics in order to defend the pro-Palestinian police state members of its faculty."
Today Should Be Proclaimed Charles Whittaker Day
By Gail Heriot
Who's your favorite Supreme Court Justice in history? John Marshall probably has a pretty large following. So does Oliver Wendell Holmes. And both John Marshall Harlans.
My sentimental favorite is Charles Whittaker--an Eisenhower appointee whose opinions are now mostly forgotten. Nobody ever accused him of being one of the Court's leading lights.
I love him for what he said on March 31, 1962, the day he resigned. Whittaker found the job exhausting, physically and emotionally. He said that he just wasn’t sure he had the talent necessary to do it well. He wanted to give somebody else a chance.
You've got to love him too. How many Supreme Court justices have not really had all the talents the job requires? Darn near all of the them. But, unlike the rest, Charles Whittaker knew it.
Here’s to you, Mr. Justice Whittaker. You had at least one of the important talents necessary for a good judge: You were a modest man.
March 30, 2005
The Costs of Supermajority Rules
By Mike Rappaport
As readers of this blog will know, I have been a strong proponent of supermajority rules in a variety of settings, including Iraq. That said, there are costs to supermajority rules and Iraq is now experiencing them.
One of the biggest costs of supermajority rules is that they often make it more difficult to reach agreement. The Iraqis appears to be suffering from this cost, as they have not yet been able to negotiate an agreement to form a government. The longer they wait, the more opponents of democracy will have ammunition for arguing that democracy cannot work in a multiethnic country like Iraq.
That said, I cannot be too upset about the delay. Had a simple majority, rather than two thirds, been necessary to form a government, there would be more serious problems. The Shiite block would have formed a government long ago, but it would have had much less incentive to compromise with either the Kurds or the Sunnis. In the long run, that would be more likely to lead to internal fighting and also would have led to a worse regime.
Pope would not want to be kept alive, Michael Schiavo says
By Tom Smith
(MSMBS) March 30, 2005, Nitwater, Fla. Michael Schiavo surprised the international community today with his claim that John Paul II, Pontifex Maximus and Vicar of Christ on Earth, told him at an Everglades cook-out and beer party that he would not want to be kept alive by artificial means.
"He's a regular guy," claimed Schiavo. "He told me feeding tubes and all that [stuff] was not for him. Just give him a shot of vodka and hold a silk pillow over his face--that's what he wanted."
Asked if anyone else had heard his conversation with the Pontiff, Schiavo claimed his sister in law and his great aunt Sally "Bubba" Ridiculio had also heard the conversation. Schiavo was unable to remember the exact date of the conversation, however, he said "it wouldn't matter, because it was a secret trip anyway." Schiavo added the Pope did not want "one of those expensive Catholic funerals." "He just wanted to be cremated and have the money he saved invested in once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I explained to him."
A Vatican spokesman who insisted on anonymity would only state that the claim is what one would expect from a "podex maximus" such as Schiavo, but refused to explain further. Reached in her hospice, Mrs. Terri Schiavo said "water . . . "
Sports Team Loyalty
By Mike Rappaport
David Brooks has a column on the conflict that many people who move from their hometown feel about whether to continue supporting their hometown baseball team or their new city's team. Brooks appears to be shifting his allegiance to the Washington Nationals from the Mets.
I know exactly what he means. I remember well the conflict I experienced when I sat in San Diego watching the Padres play the Yankees in the World Series.
Brooks discusses three reasons why you might love a team:
For some people, the love of a team is like the love of one's nation. The team is the embodiment of the place we are from, our community and volk. If my love for the Mets is of this sort, then it is proper that I transfer my affections to the Nats. For I have immigrated to Washington, and we immigrants are obliged to set nostalgia aside and assimilate to our new civilization.While I am no longer much of a fan, I think my connection to the Yankees was more of the first and third type. But that suggests, correctly, that my attachment has declined. I no longer live in New York. And I no longer have faith in the ideal -- I often think that the financial advantages enjoyed by the Yankees are unfair. I still like the Yankees, but that is mainly because I have always liked them.
Quantum difference engine
By Tom Smith
If this doesn't get a link from Glen, there is no justice. This month's Scientific American is reporting that some nanotech physics types thinks nano-wires may be used to construct switches for use in quantum computers. This would actually be a mechanical quantum computer. The non-technical explanation is that the wires are so small that when you twist them, they, uh, do some quantum mechanical thing that, um, acts like a quantum switch. Whether it works or not, it certainly has applications to science fiction.
March 29, 2005
Time for bed
By Tom Smith
I would say more about this, but I'm too sleepy.
The Switch in Time that Saved Nine
By Gail Heriot
Today is the anniversary of the 1937 decision in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish and Justice Owen Roberts' famous "switch in time that saved nine."
Some background for non-lawyers (and forgetful lawyers):
The Constitution doesn’t say how many justices the Supreme Court must have. So when Franklin Roosevelt proposed that Congress increase the number of justices on the Court, he wasn’t proposing anything unconstitutional. He was, however, fighting a tradition. The Supreme Court had had nine since 1869 and prior efforts to change that had not met with success.
FDR's motive was transparently political. He was seeking some way around a Court that had held much of his New Deal to be unconstitutional--often in 5-4 decisions. He proposed adding a new justice for every sitting justice over the age of 70--something to help these poor fellows out with their crushing work load. Before he could carry out his threat, however, Justice Owen Roberts, in a move forever dubbed as the switch in time that saved nine, dramatically came ‘round to FDR’s way of thinking. The court was then 5-4 in FDR’s favor.
If Roberts was intimidated, he probably shouldn't have been; the court-packing scheme was opposed by most of the public and most members of Congress. But when the proposal failed in the Senate on July 22, 1937, I doubt FDR shed any tears. He'd already won the war.
West Coast Hotel itself concerned the constitutionality of minimum wage laws.
By Tom Smith
There are so many reasons to love Ahnold. Including when he said (I quote roughly) "to drive my enemies before me, and hear da lamentations of da women."
March 28, 2005
Volokh versus Stone on Freedom of Speech
By Mike Rappaport
An interesting exchange, over at the Legal Affairs Debate Club, between Eugene Volokh and University of Chicago Law Professor Geoff Stone.
Stone appears to argue for an expansion of antidiscrimination laws to cover discrimination based on political views:
Interestingly, although we routinely prohibit private discrimination of the basis of such characteristics as race, religion, and gender, we almost never prohibit private discrimination on the basis of political expression. For some reason, we seem to think that although a fast food chain shouldn't be allowed to deny employment to blacks, Buddhists, or women, it's perfectly "legitimate" for it to deny jobs to Socialists or Libertarians, or people who voted for Ralph Nader.Eugene Volokh answers the argument:
The premise of most antidiscrimination laws and social norms is that it's wrong and usually irrational to dislike people because of their race, sex, or theological beliefs. We hope condemning such discrimination will persuade customers and employees to be more tolerant, especially since tolerance is rational and practical, so the burden on employers of having to hire disliked minorities will decrease. And the correlation between behavior and race, sex, or theological belief is quite weak.And then, amazingly, Stone seems to concede that Eugene is right.
These are really excellent points, Eugene. They help explain why we treat private discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and gender differently than private discrimination on the basis of political viewpoint.That doesn't happen too much in the academy.
March 27, 2005
Terri Schaivo would not have wanted Catholic funeral, says husband, remembering conversation from some time or other
By Tom Smith
This tells you what you need to know about Michael Schiavo. His siblings' testimony that Terri said she would not want to be kept alive by machines seems doubtful, but who knows. What is utterly implausible is that anyone who was even casually Catholic would not want a Catholic burial. I gather Terri was a fairly serious Catholic. The only plausible explanation for not giving her one is that that is more convenient for Michael, notwithstanding the profound emotional pain it inflicts on her parents. Not giving a Catholic a Catholic funeral is roughly equivalent to chopping off of Roman's head so there is no mouth to put the coin in, or leaving a Greek to decay on the battlefield or gouging out the eyes of an American Indian. You just don't cremate a Catholic woman and give her a non-Catholic burial, unless she has entirely rejected the faith of her birth, or unless you don't give a damn about what she would have wanted. Michael probably knows that. And doing that reflects on everything else he has done.
What an unbelievably selfish thing. Are we supposed to believe he needs to have Terri's ashes in his family plot, given the circumstances of her death? Is he going to have time to visit her grave given his current duties to his living wife and children? It would seem the just thing to do would be to console himself with his living family and let Terri's parents have their dead daughter. He can already get another wife. Oh that's right. He has. But maybe the guy is the heartless villian some say he is. To deprive Terri's parents of even a grave to visit would be the act of depraved man, acting out of a diseased hatred for his in-laws. It puts the lie to all the talk about how he was only trying to do what Terri wanted. It is all but impossible to believe Terri would not have wanted a Catholic funeral, so whose wishes are we worried about now? Maybe the right-to-die people would like to defend not caring about her wishes concerning a funeral, not the law of it, but the justice of it. It may be Michael wanted his wife to die, but does he really need to keep her corpse as well? Maybe we should start a fund drive so we could buy it from him. And maybe there should be an autopsy. Insisting on a cremation under the circumstances is more than a little bizarre.
Or maybe the ACLU has an opinion on this. I can hardly wait. They could deploy both their expertises as right to die slowly advocates and criminal defendant's lobby. There must be some kind of right not to have your dead wife autopsied just because how she got brain damaged is a little vague. Call it, the right to have one's wife cremated quickly, especially if her parents think you strangled her. I mean, what good is the right to cremate if you can't use it when you need it? And there's probably some sense in which it is just another sign of the coming fascist theocracy not to just dump her in hole somewhere. It's probably some kind of right to dispose of your wife's body as you want to. Perhaps one of those feminist issues.
Just one final opinion. The Democrats probably feel pretty smug about this, and we'll no doubt hear some nauseating comments about how Terri is finally at peace from those who were so eager to see her so. But this is not going to help them. For every New York Times reader who clucks about Ayatohla Delay, there are about three twice a year church goers who will have been thoroughly creeped out by the Dr. Death Democrats. The patently insincere efforts of Howard Dean et al to ingratiate themselves with religious Americans is not off to a very strong start.
By Tom Smith
I found this analysis by Hugh Hewitt pretty persuasive. It seems to me hyper-technical to say, as the 11th Circuit apparently did, and as Ann Althouse approves of their doing, that the statute Congrees passed gave federal courts jurisdiction to hear de novo any federal claims TS happened to have, without actually giving her any such claim, if she didn't already have one. Federal jurisdiction is a notoriously tough area (at least I am notorious for not knowing it), but I don't see how this reading makes the statute anything but a nullity-- something you should avoid in reading statutes. So, if the law was intended only to let federal claims be litigated on TS's behalf, why would you need a statute giving federal courts the jurisdiction to do that? Don't they already have jurisdiction over federal claims? On the other hand, if the idea was to let certain state law issues be relitigated de novo as federal issues, well, you would need a statute for that.
Even hard-core textualists would be disinclined to read a federal statute so that it made no new law, especially when the intent was pretty clearly to do something. It is one thing to say, as between doing two things, what the statute actually says, and what Congress seems to have intended, you have to do the former. It's quite another to say you have to do the former, even if your reading of the statute gives it no effect at all. I am also enough of a realist to think what happened here is that the Clinton-nominated judges on the 11th circuit found the TS statute and the way it was passed very distasteful, were out of sympathy with the underlying "pro-life" philosophy, and so were happy to find a reading of it that frustrated Congressional intent. Of course, it is at least as hard to know what is going on inside the brain of a federal judge as it is to know what is going on inside the brain of Terry Schaivo. But in Terry's defense, there is no reason to suspect she is deliberately doing the opposite of what her job is supposed to be.
Wisse on Sexual Correctness at Harvard
By Mike Rappaport
Harvard Professor Ruth Wisse has an interesting piece for Commentary on the Summers affair. She has a different take on Summers's motivation than most people do. She does not believe he capitulated:
Why did Summers feel it necessary to apologize, as he did repeatedly the minute the first newspaper reports appeared, and then again in facing the faculty on February 15, and then again and even more abjectly at a second faculty meeting a week later? Why didn’t he defend his views, or at least his right to express them?
March 25, 2005
Is a Faculty Rebellion Brewing at Columbia University?
By Gail Heriot
Here's what the New York Sun is reporting:
Nader on Terri Schiavo
By Maimon Schwarzschild
This might not be what you would have expected:
A profound injustice is being inflicted on Terri Schiavo," [Ralph] Nader and [Wesley J.] Smith asserted today. "Worse, this slow death by dehydration is being imposed upon her under the color of law, in proceedings in which every benefit of the doubt - and there are many doubts in this case - has been given to her death, rather than her continued life."I would certainly cancel all other engagements to watch a debate between Nader and Bill Buckley on the subject.
Maybe it is painless
By Tom Smith
This is just anecdotal, but it would be good to think dying of dehydration in Terri's circumstances would be painless. I had not heard the ketosis can simply suppress desire for food and water.
March 24, 2005
By Tom Smith
This is the wisest thing I've read on the Terri S affair. I do think some on the right, such as the lovely Anne Coulter (lovely but sometimes insane), are going off the track turning this into a judges gone wild issue. I think it better illustrates how an average judge can get things wrong, even if that is clear only in hindsight, and then those mistakes can ripple outward. In retrospect, it seems like it was a mistake to give Terri's guardianship to her husband, given the poisonous relationship between him and her parents. And the parents aren't faultless in this either, perhaps. But it is just too obvious that it is unsupportably cruel to her parents not to let them take custody of their helpless child at this point, given that they want her and her husband does not. People speculate about her husband's character, but his actions rather speak for themselves. He seems to be using his control over Terri's fate as a way to even the score with the in-laws he now hates. Or that looks like a plausible theory anyway. Something else not much commented on is what this tells us about laws like Florida's. Statutes which attempt to apply the last wishes of a now permanently incapacitated person seem deeply flawed. I don't think much of this sort of hypothetical autonomy reasoning. I mean, who cares, really, what Terri might have said about wanting or not wanting to be kept alive, especially if it wasn't in a considered way. Especially if the evidence is weak, it should be trumped by what is in the best interests of the person now. If that had been the law Florida judge Greer was applying, perhaps he would have made the parents guardians. Also, legislatures should not just favor spouses over parents by default in deciding who is to be a guardian. We don't live in a cleave to your husband or wife world anymore. Parents and blood siblings are much better choices, I would bet, for looking out for one's interests than spouses where the marriage has been brief and there are no children.
As to the politics, I am happy to let the Democrats hove to the line that Republicans irrationally favor life, are soft and sentimental about things like dying daughters, don't understand brain science and when people need to be put down, and use the terms person, baby, life, kill and wrong, far too freely. Yes, Kerry was scary for a while, but we have to learn to trust the Democrats on these things.
Science and Schaivo
By Tom Smith
This is interesting, and one of the few times I've linked to a left wing blog approvingly. It shows, apparently, an actual CAT scan of Terri's brain, with commentary from some anonymous PhD in neurophysiology. He says the damage to Terri's brain is so great and obvious that she could not be conscious in the sense of a reasoning, willing human being. My wife is an endocrinologist, dammit, not a neurologist, but I showed the image to her (without telling her anything except it was Terri's brain). Her reaction was "that's a very atrophied brain," and pointed out various features indicating that. She said she thought it very unlikely that someone with such a damaged brain could be conscious.
So that's actually a relief to me. But it doesn't go to the question of experiencing pain. Presumably someone could have lost their ability to engage in higher brain functions and still feel pain. I have observed reptiles in the wild and in captivity, and they certainly act like they feel pain. It still bothers me a great deal that the legislature and judiciary of Florida have managed to bring about a state of affairs in which a human being, however brain damaged she is, is made to die of thirst. If it were my daughter, I would probably put a pillow over her face, and hope God would understand, even if the state of Florida could not. (I understand the Church would not either.) These days, if you are stuck in the hospital or hospice with terminal cancer, and your doctors are sophisticated, they will give you enough morphine to control pain, even if that dims and turns out your lights for good. And that works for me. But as far as I know, Terri's not on a morphine drip or anything of the sort. I have read reports that doctors say she won't feel a thing, but I'm skeptical of that. I've also read that her wonderful husband has refused to let Terri be given morphine in the past, and I don't know whether to believe that either.
Bill Buckley and the End of Life
By Maimon Schwarzschild
Bill Buckley writes about Terri Schiavo, and he is by no means sure that she should continue to be kept alive:
There was never a more industrious inquiry, than in the Schiavo case, into the matter of rights formal and inchoate. It is simply wrong, whatever is felt about the eventual abandonment of her by her husband, to use the killing language. She was kept alive for fifteen years, underwent a hundred medical ministrations, all of them in service of an abstraction, which was that she wanted to stay alive. There are laws against force-feeding, and no one will know whether, if she had had the means to convey her will in the matter, she too would have said, Enough.The Schiavo case seems to be something of a Rohrschach test of how people feel about the end of their own lives, and what they want (or at least now think they want) for themselves. As for Buckley, it has struck me before that he dreads a lingering old age. Said I a month or so ago:
Buckley has always shown a youthful spirit. Now approaching 80, he gives the impression that he doesn't relish the prospect of a long decline; even that he would do whatever might be necessary to avoid it.His column about Terri Schiavo only reinforces my sense that Buckley is thinking hard about his own end, and that he himself has no desire to linger -- or intention of doing so.
Biased doctor thinks Terri might be conscious
By Tom Smith
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this story is the implication that a doctor who is publicly right-to-life cannot render a sound clinical judgment about Terri's neurological state. Professors at prestigious medical schools are quoted to the effect that, oh, he's a Christian, you know, so his judgment can't be trusted. Now there's a point. If a doctor is horrified at the idea of putting a living, conscious human being to death, you really have to doubt his scientific acumen. A true scientist would want to starve her to death, just to gather the data. The neurological exam took 90 minutes, but was not "complete," we are told. When was the last time a doctor took 90 minutes to examine you, for any reason? I went with my dad through a cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy, and no doctor ever spent 90 minutes with him, or 60. What an unbelievable crock. If a highly qualified neurologist spends 90 minutes with a patient and concludes there really might be somebody home, that is, by any remotely rational standard, a pretty good reason not kill the person by dehydration.
If she is there, make no mistake, there is a good chance she will experience an exquisitely painful death. It's not the sort of thing most people know about, but I can tell you among climbers, wilderness sorts, sailors and the like, it is well known that dying of thirst is one of the very worst ways to go. T.E. Lawrence ("of Arabia") knew of thing or two about thirst, and about suffering, and he describes dying of thirst in Seven Pillars of Wisdom as something feared greatly even by the Bedu, who were almost entirely impervious to pain. It is a very slow, very painful death to the conscious person. Dying of thirst is being tortured to death. It's no accident that the one thing Jesus complained about on the cross was thirst. People who keep dogs penned up until they die of thirst are quite rightly prosecuted for animal cruelty. I understand well how the Florida and federal courts got themselves into this mess, and why it would be very difficult even for a wise judge to extract himself from it. But the fact remains that the consequence may well be inflicting horrible and unnecessay pain on an innocent woman for no better reason than to satisfy the selfish motives of her former, in all but a technical sense, husband.
Peggy Noonan asks some of the right questions:
I do not understand the emotionalism of the pull-the-tube people. What is driving their engagement? Is it because they are compassionate, and their hearts bleed at the thought that Mrs. Schiavo suffers? But throughout this case no one has testified that she is in persistent pain, as those with terminal cancer are.
If they care so much about her pain, why are they unconcerned at the suffering caused her by the denial of food and water? And why do those who argue for Mrs. Schiavo's death employ language and imagery that is so violent and aggressive? The chairman of the Democratic National Committee calls Republicans "brain dead." Michael Schiavo, the husband, calls House Majority Leader Tom DeLay "a slithering snake."
Everyone who has written in defense of Mrs. Schiavo's right to live has received e-mail blasts full of attacks that appear to have been dictated by the unstable and typed by the unhinged. On Democratic Underground they crowed about having "kicked the sh-- out of the fascists." On Tuesday James Carville's face was swept with a sneer so convulsive you could see his gums as he damned the Republicans trying to help Mrs. Schiavo. It would have seemed demonic if he weren't a buffoon.
Why are they so committed to this woman's death?
They seem to have fallen half in love with death.
What does Terri Schiavo's life symbolize to them? What does the idea that she might continue to live suggest to them?
Why does this prospect so unnerve them? Again, if you think Terri Schiavo is a precious human gift of God, your passion is explicable. The passion of the pull-the-tube people is not.
I do not understand their certainty. I don't "know" that any degree of progress or healing is possible for Terri Schiavo; I only hope they are. We can't know, but we can "err on the side of life." How do the pro-death forces "know" there is no possibility of progress, healing, miracles? They seem to think they know. They seem to love the phrases they bandy about: "vegetative state," "brain dead," "liquefied cortex." . . .
There are passionate groups of women in America who decry spousal abuse, give beaten wives shelter, insist that a woman is not a husband's chattel. This is good work. Why are they not taking part in the fight for Terri Schiavo? Again, what explains their lack of passion on this? If Mrs. Schiavo dies, it will be because her husband, and only her husband, insists she wanted to, or would want to, or said she wanted to in a hypothetical conversation long ago. A thin reed on which to base the killing of a human being.Peggy's right. In fact, I think the Atrios's and Carvilles of the world get a thrill out of the fact that by cheering on the killing of somebody, they can hurt the people they hate, those dreadful Christian conservatives, so much. This is not just about death, but about hate. Of course, they do go together. In fact, they could care less about Terri. What they care about is the chance to inflict a defeat on their enemies. They care about Terri even less than her "husband" apparently does. They could join her husband in asking "when is that bitch going to die?" When indeed. Maybe she's holding out for Easter. Though Good Friday would be appropriate.
More Joy of Chess
By Tom Smith
Pejmanesque has an interesting chess story here. To which I can add one from yesterday, when once again the Local Catholic Academy Chess Club, coached by me, met. Helping out was my Contracts student, Chris, who seems to be a strong player, certainly compared to me anyway, and also, I noticed, a nice way with kids. Quite a bit nicer than I am, I noticed. I made this observation to my lovely wife Jeanne. "He hasn't had to put up with them as long as you have." A good point. Though I love doing it of course. Though weird things happen. This is quite apart from the questions such as "Can the King move two spaces to get out of check?" When it was time to clean up yesterday, I told everyone to put away their own pieces, both to encourage responsibility and to make my life easier. I noticed everyone had put away their pieces except my son, Patrick. "Patrick!" I said in my habitually pleasant tone, "put away your pieces, NOW!"
"I can't," he said.
"What do you mean you can't. Just stop standing there and put them away! We need to get going!"
"I can't touch my pieces," he insisted. I was getting annoyed. Patrick is an extremely clever child and has gotten something of a reputation in the family unit for being very canny at avoiding chores.
"You can't touch them? Why not?!" I managed to say without shouting.
"Because Jason licked them!"
We have had many other infractions at the chess club, including fights, throwing of pieces, use of inappropriate language and merciless goading of persons losing games, but this is the first time we have had somebody lick chess pieces so as to inhibit another person from touching them. Apparently Patrick's friends have discovered that he will refuse to touch, let alone eat, anything that has somebody else's spit on it, a not entirely irrational disposition to have. I sighed and put them away myself. If I remember, I will wipe them down latter with a wipey.
BTW I am finding this series pretty good for me, the aspiring but basicly untalented chess player, of moderate to no ability.
March 23, 2005
The New SAT
By Mike Rappaport
This post, from Right Reason, is informative about the nature of the test and the reasons for its adoption.
Is Michael Schiavo Off Message?
By Gail Heriot
Is Michael Schiavo the true voice of Terri Schiavo? Or is he a man with an enormous conflict of interest? Or both? It doesn't look good for him if the reports about what he said on the Larry King Show are true: "We didn't know what Terri wanted, but this is what we want."
Update: This quote is all over the web and is mentioned in the WSJ Political Diary News Service, but I'm not convinced that it's fair. I've read the complete transcript now, and, upon reflection, it appears to me that he probably just misspoke and that he was trying to refer to his in-laws' views here and not his own. Referring to his in-laws, he said, "But this is not about them, it's about Terri. And I've also said that in court. We didn't know what Terri wanted, but this is what we want...." It's confusing perhaps, but to interpret the statement as a reference the Shiavo's own desire requires some reason to believe that he would suddenly refer to himself in the plural.
For fairness's sake, I should also state that the WSJ mention of Schiavo's statement was probably accurate news reporting regardless of how the statement should be interpreted. The WSJ story was about how certain left-of-center organizations were giving the Schiavo story distance because they felt that Michael Schiavo was contradicting himself and therefore didn't want to get too close.
Additional Update: Ah, I think I have it figured out. It's a transcript error. On the CNN Saturday Morning News on March 19th, they re-ran the clip of Michael Schiavo being interviewed by Larry King. This time the transcript reads: "But this is not about them, it's about Terri. And they have also said that in court. We didn't know what Terri wanted, but this is what we want." (Italics added). If this is the correct statement (and I suspect it is, since it makes more sense from Schiavo's standpoint), he is simply giving his take on his in-laws' position, not his own.
The Student Bill of Rights
By Gail Heriot
I was up at the Cal State-San Marcos campus this afternoon and listened to a well-attended debate on Senate Bill 5, affectionately and officially known as the "Student Bill of Rights." Among the debaters was State Senator Bill Morrow, who is sponsoring the bill.
I have very mixed feelings at this point. I tend to be uncomfortable when I hear about legislatures toying with the idea of exerting greater control over what happens in the classroom, even when it is done with a light hand as it is in Senate Bill 5. On the other hand, the number of faculty members who feel free to harangue their students on political issues (frequently in classes that have nothing to do with politics) is troubling, as is the breathtaking lack of ideological balance on many campuses. These problems are unlikely to disappear without prodding of some sort. The question is whether this (or something like it) is the right kind of prodding, and I guess I'll have to think about that.
I thought Morrow comported himself well (as did all the debaters on both sides of the issue). I was particularly impressed by his willingness to modify the bill in response to reasonable concerns (he specifically stated that he planned some modification of the declarations in Section 1 (a)(1)(D)). I've re-produced below the operative part of the bill. It's modeled after a proposal by Students for Academic Freedom, one of David Horowitz's organizations. If anyone wants to voice his or her opionion, send me an e-mail and I will send it on to Morrow.
By the way, for the benefit of those of you who are unfamiliar with California politics, I suspect there is little danger that this bill will pass any time soon. The state legislature is not just heavily Democratic; as a result of California's most recent re-districting scheme, political moderates in either party are rare birds, so cross-over votes from Democrats are unlikely. But things may change, and similar bills are being considered in other states, where they may have a better chance.
March 22, 2005
Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and even a little power corrupts pretty darn well
By Tom Smith
Turns out family values is big bidness. I have been hearing things consistent with this coming out of DC for a while.
Another Conservative Philosophy Blog
By Mike Rappaport
Take a look at Right Reason -- it seems quite interesting.
At Right Reason, there are two responses to Singer's consequentialism posted. While Roger Scruton attacks consequentialism generally -- as do many nonconsequentialists, he appears to reason about morality by assertion and authority -- Daniel Bonevac argues that consequentialism is largely consistent with common sense and rejects Singer's view as unjustifiably ignoring this font of wisdom. Bonevac concludes:
"Bentham and Mill thus use common sense morality to answer Scruton's questions: How can one justify utilitarianism? How can one, on utilitarian grounds, ever know what to do? Their answers depend on a large body of agreement between consequentialism and common sense. When Singer jettisons common sense, he thus jettisons the classical utilitarian's answer to those questions. As far as I can see, he puts nothing in their place."
Steyn is right again
By Tom Smith
Mark gets it right again on killing the inconvenient and post-life culture in the West. Via American Digest.
When talent meets too much time
By Tom Smith
The Amazon review list as art form. Low art, but art. Warning:much of the humor, while funny, is in very poor taste.
Sowell on the Schiavo Case
By Mike Rappaport
I have not really followed the Schiavo case, and have very mixed feelings about various aspects of it. Still, Thomas Sowell makes a strong case against the decision by the Florida state judge:
Terri Schiavo's only crime is that she has become an inconvenience -- and is caught in the merciless machinery of the law. Those who think law is the answer to our problems need to face the reality that law is a crude and blunt instrument.(Hat tip: Powerline)
March 21, 2005
A lovely little story
By Tom Smith
Wondering whether the judges might be missing what is going on behind the briefs in the Terri Schiavo case reminded me of this nice little incident from my childhood. My dad was a state court trial judge in Idaho and his district included a little town in the mountains called Idaho City. It was a mining town in pioneer days, with a probably well deserved reputation as a sink of iniquity. It is still nothing to write home about. It has a few souvenir shops, a hot springs pool, and a genuinely creepy pioneer cemetary that is haunted if anyplace is. My father was always pressing me and my siblings to accompany him on his junkets to hear motions or pleas in these places, in part of his ongoing campaign to raise lawyers, which was quite successful, as he produced one litigator, one federal judge, one prosecutor and one law professor. Anyway, that day he was hearing the guilty plea of this vile creature who had gunned down his wife one morning in a local bar restaurant general store. The Mrs. was apparently having her first drink of the day when hubby walked in with a big revolver (maybe a .45) and pumped one into her back. This of course in full view of the regulars in the joint. Idahoans being tough stock, she fell from the stool, but did not die, and crawled over to the frozen food section. So Wilbur or whatever he was called shot her a couple more times. The prosecutor then allowed as she was dead. My father questioned the defendant to make sure he understood what he was pleading to. Somehow my dad got the notion he might be trying to get smart and set up some sort of issue of appeal, which was touching, given that the defendant probably could not spell appeal, let alone create an appealable issue. Nobody asked him why he shot his wife; I suppose it wasn't necessary. But I wondered. After the proceeding, I was walking out of the courthouse, some sort of historic building, and I walked past the chain-link fence holding pen where our sharpshooter was being housed for the time being. He had struck a James Dean pose, and there was a very pretty 15 year old girl, in full flirt mode, obviously taken with our gun slingling hero. On the drive home I asked my dad if the slay-ee had a daughter and he said yes, a pretty 15 year old. The Idaho city James Dean was the step dad. I explained my hypothesis that pretty daughter was the causis belli between husband and wife that had ended so tragically or at least sordidly on the floor of the Idaho City saloon. My father agreed that it made sense. He sighed. Toward the end of his judicial career, he got really sick of violent crimes.
Catholics oppose death penalty; Eugene's shot at episcopacy declines further
By Tom Smith
More US Catholics oppose death penalty than ever before.
Which reminds me of a joke (yes, I stole it from Flight of the Phoenix -- but it bears repeating.)
A priest and a rabbi were watching a boxing match. One of the fighters stepped into the ring, swung his arms around to warm up, and then quickly crossed himself. The rabbi turned to the priest and said, "Father, what does that mean?" The priest said, "If he can't box, not a damn thing."
March 20, 2005
The Costs of the Death Penalty
By Mike Rappaport
As long as people are talking about the death penalty, I have a question. Does it save or cost money? Some of the posts in response to Eugene Volokh's provocative post simply asserted that the death penalty costs more.
On the one hand, it saves money. Imagine that under the death penalty a 25 year old man would be executed, but without it, he will serve a 50 years sentence in prison. My understanding is that it costs a lot of money to house criminals in prison. I remember reading a $30,000 per year figure, but maybe it is more. Assuming that figure, life imprisonment costs $1.5 million.
On the other hand, death penalty appeals, etc, cost money. Do they cost the system this much? I doubt it, but I don't know.
Update: Gary Becker's most recent post says the costs of imprisoning someone is $40,000 per year. So that makes it an even $2 million to imprison the 25 year old for life.
By Tom Smith
I have not been following this controversy very closely, but you don't have to look at it very hard to sense something funky going on. I hope the federal legislation that would move the case to federal court does pass.
Here are some questions worth asking. Would Mr. Schaivo benefit from a life insurance policy if Terri dies? That certainly seems relevant. Given that he is for practical purposes married to another woman now, isn't it odd to allow him to exercise the legal powers of a husband over his incapacitated wife? Even if the Florida laws of guardianship technically allow this, it hardly seems equitable, especially if the parents stand ready to speak for Terri, and do not suffer a conflict of interest. On the other hand, if Terri's parents want her to be kept alive, are they prepared to pay for it, or do they want her husband to pay for her care? Something an independent court could do, and I hope would do, would be to inquire who is really, all facts and circumstances considered, in the best position to represent the interests of the comatose woman. It might be her parents, her husband, or a guardian ad litem.
On the politics of this, I think the Democrats are once again getting it way wrong. They may think they are standing up for the right to die with dignity, but it comes across as, oh boy! A vulnerable, compromised human non-person! Can we kill it?! Please?! Pretty please?! Planned parenthood also needs some remedial PR work. They really should want to avoid the whole Zis zing ees not human! Nine! Eeet must be liquidated! At vunce! schtick. I can't be the only person they are creeping out. If I were flacking for them, the first thing I would explain is that the slippery slope is a bad thing; you don't want to go down it. When people say, first you're killing fetuses, next you'll be killing people in comas, you should not reply, "yes, isn't it wonderful!" Ditto for the Democrats' line that the Republicans are interfering in a sacred family matter. When the blood relatives are for keeping the woman (brain-dead though she may be) alive, and the "family" consists of a "husband" who is living with his girlfriend and his children by her, allegedly on the proceeds of the malpractice settlement of his wife's case, your facts for not interfering with the "family's" decision are not too good. This matter just begs to be put in front of some non-hack, life tenure jurist. Maybe they have some in Florida.
This would all be so much easier if Janet Reno were still AG. We could just send in a SWAT team, ship Terri off to Cuba (where they would know what to do with her), and be done with it. I wonder how little what's-his-name is doing. Probably chopping cane for the fatherland, wondering what shoes would feel like.
Finally, I would like to go on record that, should I be in the hospital acting like a vegatable, before starving me to death, please offer me a stiff scotch. That might arouse me. If that doesn't work, my lovely wife Jeanne can decide what to do, unless she is living with some other guy, in which case all bets are off, especially if the guy is a dermatologist or some other over-compensated sort. I don't want to be starved to death. I hate dieting. If nobody has the stones to snuff me out, then they can just deal with me. I want to be cremated and my ashes scattered (if allowable under RC law), otherwise buried in a paper bag, in the mountains of central Idaho, northeast of McCall, close to the Payette River or one of its tributary streams. But please, nowhere near Florida.
MY RESPONSE to Steve Strum is, no, I don't generally favor forum shopping, but I think what seeems to be going on here, or might be, if you believe the rumors, is that a hinky state judge has got a bee in his bonnet, such that he is determined to pull the tubes on a woman who might actually be alive. Let's just say my view of the Florida state judiciary has not recovered from Election 2000. I'm not saying federal judges should be brought in every time a state judge appears to be making a hash of things. But I'm not going to get upset here, given that federal judges intervene to keep convicted killers alive all the time. And this is being done at the express command of Congress. This seems to me a case in which Congress can legitimately act.
As far as I know, Terry S. hasn't killed anybody. I suppose if she had, she'd be getting more support from the ACLU right now. In fact, maybe that's an angle. Put out a story that Terry actually once had a love child, but killed it, knowing that being unwanted, it would be better off dead. Presto, chango, she's sympathetic after all. BTW I read somewhere (and I'm too lazy to look for it now) that Terry S. has never even had a full neurological exam, with an MRI or a CAT scan. Can that be true? Good heavens, I took my son to get an MRI over the weekend because his knee hurts. Is Florida Canada or something? Apparently above when I refered to her as "brain dead," I was wrong. So if she's not brain dead, what is she? Would she feel pain being starved to death? It seems someone ought to weigh that against the oral testimony of her sorta husband that she would not want to be kept alive. I mean, really. You can't enforce an oral contract for more than $500 worth of widgets without a writing. You would think the mere "yup, that's what she said" of a former (in equity) husband would not be enough to terminate the spouse. And another thing. What are the feminists thinking on this one? O, right, I know. If this incovenient woman is not disposed of, that could somehow someday lead to some regulation of the sacred right of abortion. But, given that you can come up with, and any of us who went to college have heard it done, a feminist account of just about anything, how wearing socks is part of the patriarchal conspiracy or whatever, you would think that a husband trying to kill his wife in order to get the insurance money on her so he can carry on with another woman, would at least cross the mind of the average feminist as a plausible hypothesis. You would think you could say "Killing your wife is a feminist issue!" But no. It's all just,"next thing you know, they'll be trying to say we cain't kill fetuses!"
STILL more information here. This blog seems elaborately balanced. I don't pretend to know what the real story is here. But I do think the right to die people are creepy, and if it is not about money, then I don't see why Michael Schiavo is fighting so hard to have Terri killed. If there was some reason to think she was suffering, that would be different. But if his view is that she really is the mental equivalent of an eggplant, and her parents desparately want to keep caring for her, then what is the harm, besides financial, in allowing her to live? Reviewing the history of the litigation, though, I can see why Judge Whittemore (sp?) implied he was unlikely to change the result. Every issue seems to have been thoroughly litigated. I suppose it is possible that Michael really believes she is dead already and what is going on now is just an offense to her dignity, but that still seems a hard line to take under the circumstances. One thing that strikes me as odd is that no reporter seems to have found out whether there is an insurance policy at stake, what Michael's financial condition is, and so on. And if he buys a new Corvette after Terri buys it, we'll never find that out either, any more than we know what Elian is up to. He has declined to answer questions about insurance. And it also looks like there is no way to make that a legal issue, at this point. What a mess.
Serial killers and torture
March 19, 2005
By Mike Rappaport
Democracy is good, but for there really to be a successful Middle East, economic liberty is also needed. Arnold Kling quotes this from an interview with Hernando De Soto:
it takes you 549 days to get a license to operate a bakery in Egypt and that is with a lawyer. Without a lawyer, it takes about 650 days. In Honduras, it costs an individual entrepreneur 3.765 dollar and 270 days to legally declare, register, and start up a business.If it takes you nearly two years to open a bakery in Egypt, there will either be poverty or corruption, or both, even with democracy. Of course, democracy might cut back on some of this insanity, but by itself it seems unlikely to solve the problem.
Update: And also consider this from the interview:
To us the most important part of our work is that part that we call the diagnosis. When we are hired by heads of state, we form a team of maybe seven people from our side and a hundred from theirs. Then we draw a line and find out what’s inside the law and what’s outside the law. In the case of Egypt, we found that 92% of all the constructions and the land and 88% of all enterprises are outside the legal system. This means that the large majority of owners are not registered as such and are therefore not visible to councils, town planners, investors, banks, post offices, water companies, electricity providers, and other firms.
March 18, 2005
Our Criminal Justice System
By Mike Rappaport
The circumstances involving John Evander Couey, the man who confessed to killing 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, do not inspire confidence in our criminal justice system. Consider these facts from CNN and Fox:
"Couey's criminal history, spanning more than three decades and 24 arrests, includes multiple arrests for burglary, carrying a concealed weapon, indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, larceny and drug charges."
Couey pleaded guilty to 1991 felony charges of sex offense against a child, fondling a child under age 16 and lewd and lascivious conduct in Kissimmee; he was convicted of indecent exposure in 1987, according to records from the sheriff's office.
"There also was an August 2004 outstanding warrant for Couey for violating probation because of alleged marijuana possession."
"During a house burglary in 1978, Couey was accused of grabbing a girl in her bedroom, placing his hand over her mouth and kissing her, Dawsy said. Couey was sentenced to 10 years in prison but was paroled in 1980."
"Couey has absconded more than once."
Krauthammer on the International Left
By Mike Rappaport
Charles Krauthammer says: "The international left's concern for human rights turns out to be nothing more than a useful weapon for its anti-Americanism. Jeane Kirkpatrick pointed out this selective concern for the victims of U.S. allies (such as Chile) 25 years ago. After the Cold War, the hypocrisy continues. For which Arab people do European hearts burn? The Palestinians. Why? Because that permits the vilification of Israel -- an outpost of Western democracy and, even worse, a staunch U.S. ally. Championing suffering Iraqis, Syrians and Lebanese offers no such satisfaction. Hence, silence.
Until now. Now that the real Arab street has risen to claim rights that the West takes for granted, the left takes note. It is forced to acknowledge that those brutish Americans led by their simpleton cowboy might have been right. It has no choice. It is shamed. A Lebanese, amid a sea of a million other Lebanese, raises a placard reading 'Thank you, George W. Bush,' and all that Euro-pretense, moral and intellectual, collapses."
No Death Penalty, Perhaps, But It Should Be Painful
By Maimon Schwarzschild
Eugene Volokh, who had posted in favour of painful execution, responds thoughtfully and at length to several of us (i.e. including me) who disagreed. He wasn't kidding, though:
[M]y tentative current sense is that for a small number of extraordinarily monstrous crimes, the need for retribution is so strong — and the risk of error can be made so low — that not just death but deliberately painful death is the proper punishment.Eugene also has further thoughts on painful executions and "slippery slopes", on Catholic responses to his original post, and -- especially thoughtfully -- on the death penalty debate more generally.
Oddly, Eugene seems more uncertain about whether to support the death penalty at all -- although in the end he says he favours it -- than about whether sometimes to inflict death with deliberate physical agony. There may be something to it: no death penalty, but it should be painful. This idea may actually be pretty close to the Talmudic view of the death penalty.
Things Irish (plus the great Blogger suck-a-thon)
By Tom Smith
So, is Blogger back up yet? Testing. Testing. What an unbelievable piece of crap is Blogger. I mean, really. Yesterday, I wrote what I thought might be the best post ever, about growing up Irish Catholic, nuns, my very Irish American, beautiful, alcoholic long dead aunt Mugga, the evil psychotic bitch Sister Ambrosia, my fifth grade teacher, visiting Ireland to make pilgrimage to the places of Yeats's poetry, and what does Blogger do? It eats the post. Poof. Gone. No backup. It may have been destiny or what ever the Celtic word for wyrd is, but even so. I just don't have it in me to do it again. Happy belated St. Pat's everyone. We are going to switch to typepad.
March 17, 2005
Barbara Boxer Endorses Supermajority Rules
By Mike Rappaport
Here. And I didn't even vote for her.
Capitalism and Happiness
By Chris Wonnell
The Left has never liked capitalism, but that doesn't mean it has been consistent in its critique through the years. During the 1930s the Left attacked capitalism for not producing the jobs and the products that people desired. Now that it does seem to be producing what people desire, the New Left critique is that giving people what they desire will not ultimately make them happy.
What are we to make of this criticism? Given a moderate interpretation, it is not an especially damning argument, and may very well have elements of truth. We may be wired to desire certain things that were good for our genetic ancestors in another era, like high fat foods, that now disserve our long run interests. But the critique is usually meant in some more comprehensive sense, that there simply is no relationship between what people desire and what will actually make them happy. We are constantly finding, after we get what we desire, that it didn't make us as happy as we thought it would.
Let us play amateur sociobiologist again. Evolution has programmed us to stay alive and to reproduce, not to be either happy or unhappy as such. Indeed, it can't be good for an organism to walk around in either rapturous bliss or in stultifying dejection. We need to be calm, and to respond pragmatically to our environment, and this requires a moderate background state and the possibility of feeling significant gains or losses from that background based on the incremental actions we take. So it should not be surprising that our bodies give us jolts of short-term pleasure and pain to reward or punish us for our choices and then return us to that normal state fairly soon after that choice, whatever it was.
If this description of human nature is plausible, what does it say about the critique of capitalism? First of all, the argument is not especially about capitalism at all. There is no reason to believe we would be happier if our desires were systematically frustrated. Rather, this biological tendency makes it difficult to make people enduringly happy with any social system, capitalist or otherwise. However, champions of capitalism would like a better answer than that. Is there no room for a utilitarian defense of capitalism against a nihilistic charge that any social system is destined to produce about the same level of happiness in the long run?
I think there is a better answer. We should distinguish between immediate sensory experience and the retrospective intellectualization of that experience. I am from Chicago originally, and now live in San Diego. My observation is that people complain about the weather roughly the same amount in the two cities. That doesn't mean it wasn't genuinely painful to walk the streets of Chicago in the winter and feel like you were being stuck by needles. In intellectualizing the experience, however, Chicagoans simply took it stoically and could honestly state that the weather did not make them especially unhappy. There was the pain, but hey, it is winter time. Of course, when given the choice, a lot of Chicagoans moved to San Diego, and not that many have moved back.
Progress may consist more of improvements in immediate sensory experience than in changes in reflective intellectualization of one's condition. Surely our nature wires us to detect when it is too cold for us out there, so that we will tend to the problem when we can. The feeling of pain is genuine, but it doesn't translate into existential suffering because that would not be good for us. I think that this is largely the kind of progress that capitalism has achieved. It has made our lives as they are pre-intellectually experienced much more pleasurable and less painful than they were before capitalism, not only in terms of mitigating bodily pain but also in terms of immediate experiences of cognitive or aesthetic pleasure. But when we are in the mood for assessing our condition reflectively we are not going to see ourselves as especially happy or unhappy. The normative claim is that it is better to live lives that are pleasurable rather than painful even if one will, at the end of the day, answer a question "how happy are you on a scale of 1 to 10?" the same in either state.
By Maimon Schwarzschild
Eugene Volokh is one of the loveliest people there is, and one of the smartest and wisest. It is almost reassuring that he too has aberrational moments, as have we all. Eugene posts in support of an Iranian execution of a serial killer and child rapist. The culprit first was publicly whipped -- 100 lashes, with the crowd baying "Harder! Harder!" -- then stabbed by a brother of one of the killer's victims (this may not have been planned by the authorities, although they certainly didn't prevent it), then publicly hanged from a crane so that he slowly strangled, the noose having been put round his neck by the mother of another victim. Further details here from the BBC.
The culprit -- I assume, or at least I hope, that the man punished really was the culprit -- had kidnapped, sexually molested, and murdered at least twenty boys. Eugene says:
I like civilization, but some forms of savagery deserve to be met not just with cold, bloodless justice but with the deliberate infliction of pain, with cruel vengeance rather than with supposed humaneness or squeamishness. I think it slights the burning injustice of the murders, and the pain of the families, to react in any other way.I think not.
This man was "executed" by being publicly tortured to death, with relatives of the victims egged on by the authorities to participate. It was a lynching, and lynching is not the "rule of law": lynching is what the rule of law is meant to sublimate and replace.
(Let's be clear. A lynching victim is not necessarily innocent as charged; and many people have no doubt been lynched on evidence as good as might be acceptable to a court in the Islamic Republic of Iran.)
As the BBC notes in passing, "hanging by strangling" -- more about this method in a moment -- is common in Iran. In other words, executions in this fashion are common for "culprits" who are not serial killers. People are executed in this way for political offences, and certainly for acts that would scarcely be crimes in most countries. The psychology of the situation, though, is that all such executions are more "legitimate" if any of them is. This may not be logical, but I don't doubt that the Mullahs are shrewd in thinking along these lines.
It is no accident that civilised countries don't torture people to death. One reason is that there's no way, really, of restricting the torture to people who "deserve" it. On the contrary, torture obviously encourages bloodlust, and Hobbesian behaviour generally. Is it coincidental that the Iranian authorities are channelling popular rage in South Tehran -- the poorer part of the capital -- towards this wretched man, at a time that their regime is threatened and democratic aspirations are mounting?
(The Communists used to say "It's no accident" about things that were accidental, or that didn't even happen: it was one of Stalin's standard, paranoid, rhetorical tropes. But this really is no accident.)
Anyhow, if you "execute" the serial killer of twenty children in this way, what do you do to criminals who are worse still? A substantial fraction of the population of Rwanda recently participated in genocide-by-machete. Many still alive in Russia (and the former USSR) officiated in the Gulag. What would Eugene wish the State of Israel to have done with Adolf Eichmann? And what would he have done with the tens of thousands, no, hundreds of thousands and more -- from camp guards on up (or down) -- who carried out the Nazi Final Solution?
George Orwell wrote about this just after the Nazi defeat, in November, 1946:
There is one question which at first sight looks both petty and disgusting but which I should like to see answered. It is this: In the innumerable hangings of war criminals which have taken place all over Europe during the past few years, which method has been followed—the old method of strangulation, or the modern, comparatively humane method which is supposed to break the victim’s neck at one snap?I hope Eugene's post was satirical, in dark Swiftian style. But if not, here's a vote for George Orwell, and against what Eugene rightly calls "cruel vengeance".