Thursday, March 31, 2005

JPII

What is it with this pope and canonizing people with highly questionable WWII-era biographies? Pius XII, coward and party to kidnapping, has been on the carpool lane to sainthood for some time now. Fine. But this guy? Really?

The physical decline of John Paul II and the moral decline of the Catholic Church: linked by time's arrow.

R.I.P.

Mitch Hedburg (hat tip to that girl). I don't think it would be disrespectful to say that the cause of death isn't really an intractable Buddhist mystery. But fuck man, I fucking loved that guy.

The Harlem Globetrotters...

of inanity:
I see Nat Hentoff and Jesse Jackson have joined the feed-Terri forces, which already included Ralph Nader, Randall Terry, Rush Limbaugh, Bo Gritz, Sean Hannity, and James Dobson. Now if we can just get Alexander Cockburn and Al Sharpton to join in, we'll have a left-right coalition embodying the very cream of the nation's loudmouth dimwitted self-promoting busybodies.

Opinion Duel

For those interested, Jonathan Chait and Jonah Goldberg are having at one another here. Reading their exchange is a bit like watching a mountain lion fight a (particularly fat) peacock: fun.

Progress Of Equality

Loren Krywanczyk has a YDN piece today that argues, among a hodge-podge of other issues, that discrimination against gay people won't be overcome until LGBTQ studies is (universally?) recognized as a legitimate field of academic study.

Her jumping-off point is the contention of Cornell professor Ritch Savin-Williams that homophobia is waning if not already passed away because of "'attention showered on lesbian kisses in the mainstream media' as well as reports that gay youths are bullied no more than other kids." Obviously the first datum is, as Krywanczyk says, "ludicrous," though I have a suspicion that she has not observed the principle of charity in thusly isolating it, and there is something noteworthy about recent developments in the societal view of certain kinds of lesbianism. (And that extends farther than heterosexual male wish fulfillment---it wasn't only in the last few years that straight guys got turned on by girl-girl imagery.)

The second datum is a lot more important, and though Krywanczyk breezily states it only to ignore it for the rest of her column, it in fact really pulls the guts out of her argument. I have no interest in commenting on the intra-Yale politics of the supporters and critics of LKI, but the salient point for me is this: the ability of intelligent and materially prosperous undergraduate and graduate students to study gay/queer issues is rather less significant of the amelioration of non-institutional bigotry (which is far less soluble than de dicto or de lege discrimination) than, say, a decline in the bullying of gay kids.

I also want to answer Krywanczyk's self-congratulatory rhetorical question about the number of queer authors in the DS curriculum. Answer: more than a few Greeks, maybe Shakespeare, and undoubtedly other writers whose sexual lives we just don't know that much about. If her indictment of DS is really that it doesn't cover writers writing specifically about the travails of being queer to the exclusion of all the other spheres of human life, then I'd suggest that she has confused her own one-trick show for an unjustly neglected element of Western civilization's history.

Last, the comment that's going to get me into trouble. LGBTQ studies, gender studies, ______ ethnic group studies, African Amerian studies, Judaic studies, etc: I just don't understand concentrating one's academic life on questions of group identification. There is more to an individual than his/her skin color or sexuality, and there's a lot more to the world than one's own existence and insecurities. I don't doubt that there are interesting classes to take on all these subjects, and interesting papers to be written, but as majors they suggest a fantastic intellectual paucity. If you want to spend four years doing nothing but self-reflection, well, there are analysts for that. Meanwhile, the universe contains a great many phenomena and syntheses that you don't know about, and you will never have a chance after your undergraduate years (graduate studies being obsessively single-minded even within a given field) to do something about that ignorance.

Terri Schiavo, Dead

Your God is a God of mercy, O Israel.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Faustian Bargain

Too interesintg to not post immediately:

Buried in a NYT article about the lawsuit brought by Maher Arar, the rendered Canadian, is this:

If the plane was used to move Mr. Arar, it is the fourth known to have been used to transport suspected terrorists secretly from one country to detention in another.

Among the three identified in previous news reports is one owned by a company apparently set up by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to The Washington Post. Another, first described by The Chicago Tribune, is an ordinary charter jet that was also used by the Boston Red Sox manager between missions ferrying detainees and their guards to Guantánamo, with the Red Sox logo attached to the fuselage or removed, depending on who was aboard.

The Chicago Tribune article is much more in depth, but apparently this plane alternates between a Red Sox charter plane, and one that has gone to places like Syria and Saudi Arabia a number of times in the last few years, each time when someone is accusing the U.S. of shipping them out to get worked over.

I'm clearly not saying the Red Sox are DIRECTLY involved in torture, but Curt Schilling IS a fascist, and maybe this is what it took the Sox to win the Series.

Dutch Euthanasia (Part I Of A Potentially Recurring Series)

The prima facie case against Deborah Bedolla's claims of coercive euthanasia in Holland begins. Here is a summary of the relevant law. Look over the criteria for legality in euthanizing procedures:
The due care criteria which must be met in order to obtain exemption from criminal liability require that the attending physician:

* be satisfied that the patient has made a voluntary and well considered request
* be satisfied that the patient's suffering is unbearable, and that there is no prospect of improvement
* has informed the patient about his or her situation and prospects
* has come to the conclusion, together with the patient, that there is no reasonable alternative in the light of the patient's situation
* has consulted at least one other physician, who must have seen the patient and given a written opinion on the due care criteria referred to above, and
* has terminated the patient's life or provided assistance with suicide with due medical care and attention.
And furthermore:
The legislation covers requests for the termination of life or assistance with suicide by minors. A physician may comply with a request by minors between the ages of 12 and 16 where they are deemed to be capable of making a reasonable appraisal of their own interests and the parent/s or guardians is/are unable to agree to the termination of life or assisted suicide.

With respect to minors aged between 16 and 18, the legislation provides that a physician may comply with a request where they are deemed to be capable of making a reasonable appraisal of their own interests and the physician consults with the parent/s or guardian of the minor.
So. Euthanizing persons under 12 years of age is prohibited. And the law requires, in general, the consent of the patient and multiple medical opinions to the effect that the patient's case is hopeless and his pain is "unbearable." Sanctioning euthanasia under such circumstances is the act of a minimally compassionate society.

There might still be an empirical question about whether or not certain forms of involuntary euthanasia occur in violation of the law (and something tells me that's going to turn out hollow, too), but if so, so what? At worst, Holland's problem is one of law enforcement; the Dutch have clearly not given legal sanction to medical killing of children. (Hat tip to reader MS for the source material.)

Identity Theory

Is the following proposition really controversial?

Consciousness is a necessary condition of personhood.
Or as Julian Sanchez nicely puts it:
Moral status doesn't supervene on DNA. In other words, it's not something inscrutably wonderful about the order of human genes that makes us deserving of respect from our fellows, but our minds—the fact that we're thinking beings, capable of desiring and loving and hating and making plans and feeling pain. It isn't, I think, a terribly controversial position. All our common sense moral talk about why you shouldn't harm people implicitly makes reference to those features: We say things like "don't do that; imagine how you'd feel if someone did that to you." We use consent to distinguish between ranges of things it's permissible and impermissible to do to people, which would be hard to make sense of if it were our genes and bodies that were carriers of intrinsic worth. Boxing and assault can affect bodies identically; the mind makes the difference.
Somehow, this is news to Wesley J. Smith. Actually not news, so much as an axiom of Nazism. Wasn't there a time, and mightn't it be now, in which conservatives liked to profess a greater interest in philosophy than liberals? I guess it just must be that every credible philosopher working on identity theory has a hidden agenda that has something to do with the devaluation of life.

And on a parallel note, I'd rather like to know what caused Ralph Nader to start penning opinion pieces for the Discovery Institute [N.B.: that's Smith's employer and the premier (and only) thinktank for "scientific" creationism (er, intelligent design theory)].

Morals are for Reactionaries

Re: the case in Colorado where death-pen decision was reveresed because jurors were discovered to have consulted Bibles in coming to their decision to off the perp. My good friend Kingspawn blogged the case here.

While I agree with the bulk of King's analysis, I must argue portions of his last point, namely that:

Each juror in the case has the right to make a personal decision based on legal factors, yes, but also moral factors should they have their legally constituted place. The right of jurors to use religion as a guide for moral decisions should not be infringed upon, as it would be a textbook violation of the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment.

King's language is strictly correct in the sense that jurors should be able to consult morals IF "they have their legally constituted place." As the Times reports it, under Colorado law, moral factors DID have a legally constituted place. The law requires judges to give a jury-instruction to the effect that they must consult their personal beliefs and moral intuitions in coming to a death-pently decision. I totally agree with Kingspawn that the appelate judges were "wrong" to reverse the death penalty under the given law. The distinction they're making with regards to anti-Biblical consultation is one that doesn't exist -- between textual and cognitive reference -- given a normal human capacity for memory.

That said, I strongly disagree with King's final sentence, saying that jurors IN GENERAL should be allowed to consult their religious beliefs, as to do otherwise would be an infringement of their first amendment rights. Juries are under all sorts of restrictions which seem to obviate Amendment rights. Gag orders, orders against reading newspapers, all of these are "violations" of Amendment rights. The jury-system relies on jurors to act in a very particular way while they serve which is a very different way than that which is expected of normal citizens.

So saying "no bible-thumping, real or mental" or more radically "none of your silly slave morality" is not an infringement of anyone's rights. Rather, the idea that a juror should be asked to rely on his or her personal moral compass is insane. The legal system exists, or should exist, to obviate moral claims. Juries were invented to judge the believability of facts and arguments about facts, not to make determinations about the spiritual or moral qualities of an individual. I know this is untrue in practice, but that should be the goal. Laws can be developed based on moral traditions, though I don't really like that either, but once the law exists, the morals, like a ladder that got you there, need to be knocked away. One of the major problems with the death penalty is that it creates the life-in-prison/death dichotomy which must almost always be mediated by some judgment about a persons' soul, sorrowfulness, regret, etc. Cf. the avenging angels on the S. Peterson jury. Torture them all.

Gratuitous Schiavo

How did the Actual God not beat me to this? [He's writing it--ed.]

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Heads Up

FW’s own Jeremy has a piece in the latest Hippolytic on the meaning and uses of the term “catastrophic success.” Here’s what was the money quote for me:
Catastrophic success speaks, if nothing else, about a military operation which is more than just a success. It is a success with conditions attached. “Catastrophic” could admit any and all of the meanings listed by Webster’s above. The adjective allows us to make such grisly associations. These adjectival meanings can either be applied to the “success,” negating the force of Mr. Bush’s claim, or to its consequences for the “enemy,” strengthening, in a violent, romantic way, a vision of American military success. However, in exchange for these associations that the adjective enables, the term demands something from those who hear it, speak it, incorporate it into their language. Admission has a price—not only for Mr. Bush, although that price has not yet been collected—but for us. There is an economy of truth inscribed in “catastrophic success,” its wild paradox, which demands from us a concession, a tribute, in return.
There’s no online edition, so you’ll have to locate it in a dining hall (or wherever there are dead trees) to read the rest. And if you happen to be a Hippolytic editor, you might want to start thinking about an online edition [blogosphere 1, MSM 0–ed.].

Priests Of State Power

I've got a new YDN piece today about some of Congress's latest efforts at destroying individual freedom. As I say here, it's a bipartisan campaign---which is important, I think, to keep in mind, even as the ship of state sinks under the weight of the Schindler family:
The private records of anyone who worked for Major League Baseball in any capacity since 1990 are thus at the whim of Congress to use as it sees fit, including, potentially, to incriminate the person to whom they belong. And if Congress has such a right in the case of MLB employees, it has that right over everyone: in effect, the right to dissolve a citizen's sphere of privacy and private life just in case some barely related investigation takes a cursory look at those with whom the citizen has freely associated. Sens. Stevens and McCain, Congressmen Davis and Waxman -- and all the rest of the priesthood of state power within the government -- make no secret of their belief in the precedence of state before citizen. We can prove them wrong by un-electing the lot of them.

Monday, March 28, 2005

How Cynical Is George W. Bush?

I don't know if quantification is even metaphorically possible for a man who takes a midnight jet to Washington to sign outrageous theocon legislation and then tucks his tail between his legs and retreats to Crawford once it turns out that the urgent moral cause doesn't poll well.

A cynic and an abject coward. There's your steadfast goddamn leader.

Hitch Strikes Again

I caught a glimpse of the Christopher Hitchens who made me want to be a writer in the first place in the opening graf of his Slate piece on Terri Schiavo:
The immediate crisis has apparently passed. But all through Easter Sunday, one had to be alert to the possibility that, at any moment, the late and long-dead Terri Schiavo would receive the stigmata on both palms and both feet and be wafted across the Florida strait, borne up by wonder-working dolphins, to be united in eternal bliss with the man-child Elián González.
Damn straight. And his concluding call to arms is memorable:
Not content with telling us that we once used to share the earth with dinosaurs and that we should grimly instruct our children in this falsehood, religious fanatics now present their cult of death as if it were a joyous celebration of the only life we have. They have gone too far, and they should be made to regret it most bitterly.
You might even say that he's treading on the same conceptual ground I and especially Jeremy have dwelt in during our exchanges on the meaning of "culture of life."

Hitch even makes a subtle enough philosophical point:
The end of the brain, or the replacement of the brain by a liquefied and shrunken void, is (to return to my earlier point) if not the absolute end of "life," the unarguable conclusion of human life. It disqualifies the victim from any further say in human affairs. Tragic, perhaps, unless you believe in a better life to come (as, oddly enough, the parents of this now non-human entity claim that they do).
Or to draw this out more formally: Though there still exists a physical (and maybe psychophysical) mass that we conventionally refer to as "Terri Schiavo," Terri Schiavo herself ceased to exist 15 years ago. That's because, what's important in determining identity is something like contiguity of consciousness and memory. "Terri Schiavo" and Terri Schiavo are inequivalent, by Leibniz's Law.

So fair enough. If you expected the other shoe to drop, here it is: First of all, Hitchens doesn't seem to be hip to the rather glaring inconsistency in his own conceptual scheme. Before pronouncing "Terri Schiavo" a "non-human entity" (I think that may be inaccurate, but fine, she's in any case a non-Terri Schiavo entity), Hitchens explicates his own idiosyncratic anti-abortion rights position:
I used to have horrible and exhausting arguments with supposedly "pro-choice" militants who only reluctantly conceded that the fetus was alive but who then demanded to know if this truly was a human life. I know casuistry when I see it, and I would respond by asking what other kind of life it could conceivably be.
Is it just me or does he answer this rhetorical question in the excerpt above? It's an analytic truth that a potential life is not a life; to be a potential life is to be not yet a life, therefore not a life at all. And to have a human identity, the consciousness that, say, a zygote lacks, seems like a reasonably agreeable necessary condition.

The unspoken dialectic in Hitchens' piece is more problematic. Hitchens was among the faction that preferred and supported a Republican victory in the last election, on the grounds that the Democrats and John Kerry in particular were too weak-kneed when it came to facing down terrorism and jihadism. Well as someone who shared a lot of Hitchens' (and others') concerns about the Democrats' impotence and evident unseriousness on foreign policy, I have to say I continue to be baffled by the willful overlooking on the part of the national-security-only Bush voters of the nature and power of the extreme right. There are a plethora of things wrong with the Democratic party, and I support them only for the complete lack of a suitable alternative, yet the Democrats are the only institution in the entire country that is capable of acting as a check against religious right outrages.

What bugs me about Hitchens in particular is the way he flippantly brushed aside criticism of the Republicans. Michael Moore, A.N.S.W.E.R., Ramsey Clark, et al., couldn't force an emergency Congressional hearing on dog-collaring, and that would still be true if Nancy Pelosi were Speaker of the House. The equivalent institutions on the right extend to perhaps three-quarters of the elected Republican caucus. There just is no congruity between the extremist fringes of the left and right. The far right controls at least two branches of government; it is angry, it is fanatical, it respects no precedent or Constitutional principle, it respects no concept of personal freedom or privacy, and it is empowered. No nuanced separation from former comrades (or, dare I say it, empty casuistry) can negate the fact that this precise outcome---the unleashing of religious fanatics into all relevant chambers of power---is what Hitchens spent much of 2004 editorializing for. Ignorance of the nature of religious right's agenda is no excuse, both because he certainly was not ignorant of it, nor should he have been if in some possible world he was.

To think, prior to the 2004 election, that the right's assault on civil rights and dignity could be confined only to gays, was a dangerous lunacy now demonstrated beyond any recourse to semantic and semiotic blinders to have been utterly vacuous---and that is to say nothing of the profound cynicism and moral abdication entailed by passively allowing the right to sacrifice our gay fellow citizens on the altar of their "values," just so long as a bellicose foreign policy rhetoric could be retained (there being no reason to have expected any significant shift in foreign policy by a Democratic administration). What I mean to say, briefly, is that there are a lot of people who cast a vote this past November who should have, and did, know much better.

The cynics and fanatics of the Republican caucus (those categories having silently but clearly uprooted the old fiscal vs. social conservative divide) deserve, as Hitchens said, to be made to regret their actions "most bitterly." The state of our society would look a bit less depressing if Hitchens and those who voted as he did and for the same reasons felt some of that same bitter regret.

Addendum

Dan Munz has also seen footage of Deborah Bedolla's abortion of a column (never have I thought that appellation more appropriate). All I'd add to his criticism is that there are a few other doctors, aside from the heart surgeon-cum-neurologist from Tennessee, who dissent from the majority view on Terri Schiavo's condition. Here is how Ronald Cranford, a University of Minnesota Medical School neurologist, described this guy, the standard bearer for the alternative medical opinion:
"He has to be bogus, a pro-life fanatic. You'll not find any credible neurologist or neurosurgeon to get involved at this point and say she's not vegetative."

He said there was no doubt that Ms. Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state. "Her CAT scan shows massive shrinkage of the brain," he said. "Her EEG is flat - flat. There's no electrical activity coming from her brain."
In other words, the reason there is no medical "consensus" as defined by Bedolla is that the Schindlers, the Bushes, Randall Terry, et al, seem to have no trouble locating theophysiognomist quacks like Cheshire to give "expert" testimony.

Just how, for the sake of those interested, did Cheshire arrive at his variant diagnosis? Let the man himself explain:
Although Terri did not demonstrate during our 90-minute visit compelling evidence of verbalization, conscious awareness or volitional behavior...yet the visitor has the distinct sense of the presence of a living human being who seems at some level to be aware of some things around her [emphasis mine].
That's right folks, telepathy. So only one question lingers: don't you have to be born a telepath, and if so, what good is medical school training?

And The Winner Is...

Deborah Bedolla, president of Choose Life at Yale, in the category of most batshit-insane commentary yet put into print on the Passion of the Schiavo. This needs to be read in full to be appreciated---I'm fairly certain I could write separate response columns on every individual paragraph (including the Mother Teresa stuff: somebody forgot to read The Missionary Position). But I have reason to post one excerpt:
The Dutch have gone down this road. They started by euthanizing people with terminal illness who requested death. Then they started euthanizing people who just requested death, with or without a terminal illness. Then they started euthanizing people who never requested death, such as those with Alzheimer's. Now they are euthanizing children under 12, oftentimes without even consulting their parents. Many people, out of fear, now wear bracelets informing doctors not to kill them. Sounds too horrific to be true? Wait 10 years.
Does this sound fishy to anyone else? It sounds to me like precisely the sort of nonsense religious right organizations will now and again fabricate. Or perhaps it's a wild distortion. Coercive euthanasia for Alzheimer's patients? Children under 12? I'll admit it if I'm wrong, but I can't conceive of these claims being true. [Note to recidivist attendees of the Wake: any help tracking down the facts of the matter on these claims would be much appreciated--ed.]

Then there's the further ambiguity: "Sounds too horrific to be true? Wait 10 years." This could mean one of two things (by my count). It might mean that the author fears that the widespread euthanasia currently gripping Holland will be imported to America within 10 years if (sniff) we permit the courts to murder Terri Schiavo. Or it might mean that none of the preceding allegations of the Dutch eros for thanatos were actually true, but rather were a pro-lifer's hallucinatory envisaging of what might happen if (sniff) people suffering in hopeless and terminal conditions are treated with mercy.

My Homeland Calls Me

In this long and fairly snooze-inducing article on the "Jewish perspective" on what to do with/about Terri Schiavo, who pops up to bequeath his widsom unto the masses but "Rabbi David Feldman, who had an Orthodox ordination and defines himself as 'traditional,' is rabbi emeritus of the Conservadox Jewish Center of Teaneck, N.J."

[For those not in the know, Teaneck, my home town, is a land of a thousand synagogues. And I might have visited all of them at some point during the year when my peers and I were having our bar mitzvahs (all of my friends when I was younger were either Jewish or black)--ed.]


So, what does Rabbi Feldman think on't?
"There's a dispute here between a husband and parents, but none of that makes any difference as far as halachah is concerned," said Feldman, the author of "Birth Control and Abortion in Jewish Law" and the dean of the Jewish Institute of Bioethics. "You can't hasten death yourself, with your own hands. If death comes, you can thank G- d because it's a relief, but you can't decide yourself that it has to be done."

The only time it would be acceptable to remove a medical device, Feldman said, would be if "something worse would happen-if leaving it in would cause infection, or more pain.

"You can kill someone pursuing you, you can kill the soldier in the enemy army, maybe very cautiously you can kill if there is a death penalty, but you can't kill an innocent person because of illness," he said.
Okay, so there you have it. Now who wants to suggest an over/under on the percentage of American Jews on the side of mercy in this case? I would say 85.

The Choice Of Comrades

Now look who's joined the cult of the Virgin Terri: you guessed it, Ralph Nader.

Could someone explain to me the substantive differences between Nader's politics and, say, Pat Buchanan's. Both are protectionists. Both are isolationists. Both advocate conservative "cultural values," to the point of likening Terri Schiavo's postponed and merciful release to murder.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Non-Schiavo News

There is some, sometimes. Like this interesting set of headlines:
* "U.S. Alleges Illegal Nuclear Deals By Pakistan"
* "U.S. Is Set to Sell Jets to Pakistan; India Is Critical"

Crazy Times

Mr. Finnegan has been handling this whole Terri Schiavo, fascist takeover very clearly and in the good name of the revolution. I've been unable to write in a while and have a few longer things to say, but let me just add right now that this is what is becoming classic New York Times style false-consciousness obfuscation. Brooks, who's usually just plain awful, takes a very Kristoffian-Friedmanian stylistic stance on this Schiavo business. Trust him: he's very sane and very thoughtful and very urbane yet not out of touch with the manic intellectual perversions of normal Americans. In this editorial he sort of says "both sides are wrong," arguing that the right has morality on its side while the left has protection of personal choice, individual freedom, on theirs. Well, now, that's a bat-shit crazy thing to say. As the F-Wake has been pointing out, these people have absolutely transcended questions of rule of law, governance, jurisprudence, anything they usually tout haughtily as the "foundations of our country"! Look, I'm all for breaking the law in violent, popular uprisings, but the idea that 13 percent of Americans and a pair of parents who should spend all the money they're getting from Franciscan monks on therapy and not court battles suddenly dictate some bizarre medieval standard of vitalism as morality, is, well, bat-shit crazy. It's not deep, moral thought versus personal freedom. Personal freedom is deeply moral. That used to be the fucking conservatives' point!!! These crazies are so confusing, I can't even keep up with it.

Putsch Interruptus

Via Kevin Drum:
Hours after a judge ordered that Terri Schiavo wasn't to be removed from her hospice, a team of Florida law enforcement agents were en route to seize her and have her feeding tube reinserted — but they stopped short when local police told them they would enforce the judge's order, The Miami Herald has learned.
If not for some courageous local cops, the forcible nullification of judicial authority would already be underway. Jeb Bush should be impeached.

Let me also say, while I understand the point Kingspawn is making here, the cops who stood up to Bush's thugs deserve better. Very few of us will ever get to say something like this:
We told them that unless they had the judge with them when they came, they were not going to get in.

See The Forest

Majikthise has the best post yet on the Schiavo affair.

Worst Of The Worst

Ted Barlow makes a decent case for awarding the "Worst Blogger in America" prize to Kim du Toit. Even so, how could this not go to Glenn Reynolds. He's the '72 Dolphins of bad blogging.

UPDATE: Okay, let's be clear, this might be the worst written composition in the history of the English language. But by the end I was feeling sorry for the guy. How does someone come to hate women that much? Traumatic divorce? For Christ's sake, he refers to the mom character in a Cheerios ad as a "castrating bitch."

Eric Muller: Love Doctor

Actually, I think Eric's diagnosis was wrong. It wasn't his presence per se, but the discussion of "Distinctive Features of American Criminal Justice" that got 'em horny.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Fractured Caucus

Is the Terri Schiavo circus going to catalyze a major schism in the Republican party? It's certainly possible. What really startles me is the (sincere, as far as I can tell) professions of innocence on the part of libertarians and fiscal conservatives about just how much power the Religious right wields in the party, and how destructively it is prepared to use that power. How, say, did the folks who were able to convince themselves to vote for George Bush on national security grounds despite his social policy and fiscal profligacy, suddenly awake to the fact that the Republican leadership is dominated by theocrats and cowardly retainers? I'm genuinely curious.

One consequence of this nightmare might be a shift of libertarians and Yankee (or blue-state and exurban) Republicans to the Democrats. What will that do the Democratic party? Perhaps change it for the better. Ex-Republicans, unburdened by the humiliating task of carrying water for Tom Delay et al., might actually be able to put into practice a principle of solvent and accountable government.

Whatever happens, this much is crystal clear: There is simply no equivalency to be adduced between the extremist fringes of the two parties. Anyone who defends the Republicans by engaging in on-the-other-handism about Michael Moore or A.N.S.W.E.R. or whatever ought simply to be ignored. In fact, I propose a corollary to Godwin's law---call it Koffler's law---to deal with just such situations.

Fashion Criticism Corner

Think what you will of me for writing this, but...

On the way back from getting food with my roommate (and skipping out on the Persian Nowruz party---I couldn't go if my lifeline wasn't going to be there), I noticed an apparent freshman heading in the same direction. I noticed because: She was wearing a rainbow-striped Old Navy rugby shirt, a green skirt, black tights, and ugg boots. In other words, every stupid trend from the last year and a half was present in some form on her. It's a losing battle, but I blame Sex and the City for this dreck.

Fish Rotting From The Head

In the current issue of First Things (if you don't know what that is, consider yourself blessed), Richard John Neuhaus, a more or less openly theocratic Catholic ideologue, attacks Jamie Kirchick's review of God on the Quad (no weblink):
Fifty-three years after Bill Buckley's God and Man at Yale, one might expect Yalies to be a bit less snooty on some questions. James Kirchick, a columnist for the Yale Daily News, reviews Naomi Schaefer Riley's God on the Quad in the New York Sun. Ms. Riley offers a generally favorable assessment of the religiously affihated colleges and universities she has studied. Mr. Kirchick is having none of it. He writes, "How, just to cite one of many examples, does the establishment by Baptist Baylor University of a center to study 'intelligent design' (a trendy euphemism for Creationism) point to her contention that the students who attend these schools are not 'intellectually backward?"' Baylor, we are told, is evidence of religious colleges being "strictly informed by unquestioning and narrow dogma." Really? Leaving aside the scientific merits of intelligent design theory, it is controversial because it dares to challenge the strictly enforced, unquestioned, and narrow dogma of Darwinian evolutionism. (And what, one wonders, might be a questioning dogma?) "The self-proclaimed values of the modern university," writes Mr. Kirchick, "are a commitment to a liberal education." Never mind the grammar, the point is that you wouldn't find a modern university like Yale tolerating such freedom of inquiry. He says of Ms. Riley that "her positivism is unhindered" by what Mr. Kirchick thinks unattractive about religious colleges. I rather doubt that Ms. Riley is a positivist. I suppose he meant that she is an optimist. In any event, the deficiencies in Mr. Kirchnick's education are not necessarily representative of Yale. Although I expect the snootiness about that "other America" may be.
I find there's little more entertaining than observing someone who thinks he's talking down to his opponents when in fact his head is crammed up his own ass. Let's leave the scientific merits of intelligent design theory aside, indeed.

Aside from creationism, other subjects you will not find taught at Yale include: alchemy, cryptozoology, snipe hunting, phrenetics, fortune telling, the authenticity of the Hitler Diaries, trepanation, physiognomy, cryogenics.

The Worst Is Yet To Come

John Gibson fancies himself a Jacobin:
I think Jeb Bush should give serious thought to storming the Bastille.
I have another label for him. For example, see here:
I know lawyers and judges don't think that way, but real people do.

Oh John, you're not saying judges aren't real people, are you?

Well, judging by what happened here, I'd say yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.

So Jeb, call out the troops, storm the Bastille and tell 'em I sent you.
Would it be murder to kill a judge or a lawyer, in light of Gibson's discovery that they are not real people? And remind me which side is guilty of Nazi-like dehumanization.

Okay, so now we have Gibson, Bill Bennett, and Brian T. Kennedy all endorsing a putsch; and why not presume that there are more than a few other persons who agree with that policy. How many individual fascists does it take to constitute a fascist movement?

Small addendum: One of the means by which the cult of the Virgin Terri villainizes her husband is continuous teeth-sucking reference to the fact that he has a new family. Gibson, for example
notes with interest that Michael Schiavo has a new love interest and has been engaged in living long enough that he has two children by her.
And who among us would not note that with interest. In a completely original and different editorial, Gibson distills this notation into something like a principle:
Michael Schiavo has, in the view of many, a compromised standing as Terri's decision maker and as a witness to her statements. Not compromised because of money, or trying to hide something somebody thinks he might have done to her, but simply because he has another "wife" and has moved on.

The courts recognize him as the husband, but many people in the public do not and are suspicious of his decisions for Terri, while conversely they see no questionable interest on the part of the parents and trust their judgment.
Sorry, actually there are two principles. One is that universal public affirmation is a condition of the proper application of law.

The other is that a man whose wife ceased to be 15 years ago has no right to fall in love again. That's the culture of life, remember.

Take it away, John Gibson:
That's why the public is sticking its nose into this private family matter, through its elected politicians. The public smells something wrong, doesn't like it, and wants its politicians to do something.
And surely, that nose-sticking segment of the public (a small minority, but let's not let reality get in the way of reactionary populist incitement) has a Constitutional right to exert its will in this private family matter. I mean, that is a Constitutional right. Or some other kind of right, I forget which. (Original link via God.)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Do We Get To Use The F-Word Yet?

Bill Bennett (and Brian T. Kennedy) in National Review, this morning:
It is a mistake to believe that the courts have the ultimate say as to what a constitution means. Every governor is bound by oath to uphold and protect his state constitution. In the case of Florida, the constitution Mr. Bush pledged to defend declares that, "All natural persons, female and male alike, are equal before the law and have inalienable rights, among which are the right to enjoy and defend life and liberty..." If the governor believes that he and the Florida legislature possess the constitutional authority and duty to save Terri's life, then he is bound by his oath of office to do so...

It is time, therefore, for Governor Bush to execute the law and protect her rights, and, in turn, he should take responsibility for his actions. Using the state police powers, Governor Bush can order the feeding tube reinserted [emphasis mine].
Bennett and co-author are arguing for a putsch. There's no other way to describe it.

Earlier today, when I heard that the Supreme Court had correctly declined to prolong this spectacle any further, I held out hope that it might finally be over. So much for that. If a slick tv-personality like Bennett is prepared to urge a violent overthrow of the judicial branch of government, is there any doubt that there are extant cadres of silvershirts just waiting for any excuse to "save" Terri Schiavo? I doubt that this will end peacefully.

Wer War Schuld Daran?

Sorry for the deficit of posts recently; I'm staring down some deadlines which seem to be getting closer (though how can I be sure), of which a few pertain to the dilemma of what I'm going to do with my summer/life. I'll try to remedy the situation tonight and over the weekend...but no promises.

The Importance Of Symbols

TNR's editorial from yesterday argues that although keeping Tom Delay in power would be in the interest of Democrats, the national interest would be served by his resignation.

The Bull Moose (Marshall Wittman) makes a great point in response:
For the good of Congress, they urge the Republicans to dump DeLay. The Moose begs to differ from his good friends at TNR. The Moose strongly believes in representative democracy, and no single individual reflects the banal corruption, the subservience to monied interests and the Elmer Gantry demagoguery of the Republican Party better than the esteemed Congressman from Sugar Land. The GOP House Republicans have spoken and now they must be punished.
If TNR's advice were adopted, Boss Tweed might be pitched off the side but Tammany would remain. Delay's crimes and trespasses of decency are just the most visible facet of the colossal wreck of Republican ethics.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

That Liberal Media

Jesus.

Speechless

I wanted to say something about this, but it beggars commentary (link via Jesse Taylor).

Strong Words

Chris Shays, Repub of Conn., on the Schiavo calamity:
"This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy," Mr. Shays said. "There are going to be repercussions from this vote. There are a number of people who feel that the government is getting involved in their personal lives in a way that scares them."

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Gender Parity

Let me third this proposal (after Matt Yglesias seconded it and Katha Pollit firsted it) and add that Dahlia Lithwick would probably be head and shoulders above any of the Times' current columnists.

UPDATE: David Adesnik provides a medium-sized answer to a dumb question:
SHE DOTH PROTEST TOO MUCH, METHINKS:

The eminent Ms. Dowd writes that:
I'm often asked how I can be so "mean" - a question that Tom Friedman, who writes plenty of tough columns, doesn't get.
Let me take a stab at that one: Is it because Tom Friedman writes columns are substantive and coherent (if sometimes a little kooky)?

Moving on, Ms. Dowd is also unhappy with the Freudian connotations attached to her columns:
Even the metaphors used to describe my column play into the castration theme: my scalpel, my cutting barbs, razor-sharp hatchet, Clinton-skewering and Bush-whacking.
I think I'm going to have to send MoDo a dollar so she can buy herself a clue. I mean, just consider the first sentence of this selfsame column in which she complains about being subjected to sexist cliches:
When I need to work up my nerve to write a tough column, I try to think of myself as Emma Peel in a black leather catsuit, giving a kung fu kick to any diabolical mastermind who merits it.
You see, Maureen, Tom and Bill and all those other men you work with have kindly spared us the image of themselves in fetish gear. The problem here isn't sexism. It's you.

Schiavo No Mo' (?)

Mercifully, the federal court to which the Terri Schiavo matter was inappropriately assigned has declined to intervene, essentially upholding the decision of the Florida courts. Is it over? Scanning the Corner, it looks like there will be yet more appeals.

I first heard about this case on HANNITY & [colmes] a few years ago, and I have a hunch I'll be hearing about it a few years hence.

UPDATE: Very nice Richard Cohen column about the question of the day:
[W]hy not insist that whatever state she's in, she keeps getting a chance at life -- forever? After all, a miracle could happen (DeLay), and she recognizes visual stimuli (Frist) and "she can recover substantially if she gets the proper rehabilitation" (Frist again, this time citing another doctor). Almost no one here is a hands-on doctor, but they don't hesitate to play one on TV.


UPDATE: I read the transcript of that girl's conversation with Terri Schiavo, and I must say, although the issues they discussed were more relevant to the nation's welfare and security than, say, the Schiavo matter, the transcriber greatly overstated Terri Schiavo's level of verbal coherence.

L'Affaire Volokh: Closing Thoughts

Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber makes a good point:
At least Eugene is being honest here. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suspect that most of the nonsensical defences of torture that we see, invoking ticking bombs and the like, are so many insincere public justifications of an underlying desire to torture the terrorists not to get information, but because they’re terrorists (and if a few innocents get caught up in the system, you can’t make an omelette &c &c).
I try my best not to psychoanalyze those with whom I disagree---I feel obliged to attack their arguments on their merits---except that in some cases, torture-defending prominently among them, there just is no rational merit to the argument. Hence, if such an argument is being advanced by ostensibly rational people (rational in the most stripped-down, minimalist sense, to be sure), it's hard not to conclude that the argument is also being advanced insincerely or with ulterior motive.

Sleazo-Cons

You'd almost think David Brooks didn't vote for these people. But seriously, a great editorial (via Atrios via Dan Munz).

Monday, March 21, 2005

Religion Right Or Wrong

James Wolcott sure can turn a phrase:
Just as bad is the almost pornographic glee with which ghouls like Dan Burton and Bill Frist and Peggy Noonan insist that Schiavo is a conscious being because she smiles and responds. They're treating this poor woman as if she were their personal pet rock. I suprised Peggy hasn't urged canonization for Terri, to declare her the first martyred saint of euthanasia.

One of the side-effects of the 2004 election revealed by this despicable exploitative schmaltzfest is that the media has to tippytoe around making any disparaging remarks about religious fervor and its pathologies. Compare how little ink and airtime is given to the fact that the accused BTK serial killer is a prominent member of his church (and a registered Republican) to all the inspirational uplift being wrung out of the Atlanta hostage case, with CNN devoting a whole kabob to The Purpose-Driven Life. The positive side of religious faith is hailed to the rafters while the sadism and mastery over others seething in the negative side is now considered impolite to mention, as is the willful, retarded ignorance of those who cling to their Bibles and reject reason and science. "It is true that the rules of civil discourse demand that Reason wears a veil when she ventures out in public," writes Sam Harris in The End of Faith. "But the rules of discourse must change." Especially when the alternative is a sordid circus like we have now with those prayer vigils and cro-magnon conservatives in Florida.

Tick Tock

I know we've covered this plenty already, but Kieran Healey puts some more nails in the coffin of the ticking time-bomb excuse for torture:
[I]t’s because it’s an effective slippery-slope. If you get me to agree to torturing someone when there’s a ticking bomb, then how hard is it to get me to agree to the following case: we’ve picked up ten guys for questioning but only one of them has the true information. We don’t know which one, so we have to torture the lot. Isn’t torture still justified? Think of the children who’ll be incinerated in that nuclear explosion. Preventing that is surely as close to an infinite payoff as we can manage. Now, it has to be true that the more suspected terrorists we pick up, the greater the certainty we have that at least one of them has the relevant vital information. And maybe the bomb won’t go off this afternoon, but they’re certainly building it. At least, they certainly want to build it. Pretty soon you have me agreeing to just rounding people up on the off chance that they know something unspecified—or know someone who might know something—about an unspecified plan to harm us all. And this is what the systematic practice of torture looks like in actual practice anyway.
What just about about every torture excuse has in common is this: If the groundrules are such that any stipulative tinkering with the ontological and ethical scales is permissible, then virtually any outcome can be justified. If that sounds like a definition of sophistry, it's because it is.

Freedom On The March

Unequivocally good news: Switzerland has lifted its ban on the production of absinthe.

The Value Of (A) Life

Dan Munz takes up the rhetorical question I posed earlier. He quotes me asking why and how the religious right venerates a death---Jesus's---and a life---Terri Schiavo's---and what the two have in common.

He says that I'm focusing too much on consequences (which would certainly be out of character from the previous post). And he says that the common thread is suffering:
Sure, Jesus died materially on one day, but he was later spiritually reborn to live for all eternity - without his suffering, he would have died a simple, mortal death. Terri’s death as an ordinary, mundane mortal occurred some 15 years ago. Now, she has become exactly what Jesus became when he rose back into life: A vessel for society’s aspiration to triumph over itself. The manifest cruelty of a reality that could produce both a beaten, bloodied messiah and a gurgling, drooling, half-alive shell of a formerly sentient woman seems somehow too cruel to be comprehended. If that were all there was to life - a crucifiction or a cardiac arrest, and then an eternity of darkness - life would be simply unlivable. So, we look for something else. For right-wingers, that “something else” is suffering. They valorize suffering because suffering, to them, embodies humanity’s aspiration to rise above the things it does to itself. If you cannot cope with being part of a humanity that would kill Jesus or Terri Schiavo, your only choice is to imagine to yourself that somehow, secretly, you are on the side of the angels, fighting against the cruelty of humanity. Suffering ennobles these people, because it makes this self-delusion seem plausible.
This does sound plausible to me, and thinking of the right's "life-worship" as an actual worship of suffering might be precisely the right conception. However, there is one counterexample that springs immediately to mind. Aside from Terri Schiavo, the other sort of life---the only other sort of life---that the religious right holds in esteem is the life of fetuses. Fetuses, of course, do not suffer. It could be that the Jesus and Terri Schiavo cases have nothing to do with abortion cases, or that Terri Schiavo and fetuses have nothing to do with Jesus, or that Jesus and fetuses have nothing to do with Terri Schiavo---all of these at least in the sense that there are separate religious doctrines governing each grouping. Nor is it terribly unlikely that the religious right's ideology is inconsistent. But if so to either of the above, we at least need an explanation of why.

One conceptual separation that makes some prima facie sense is between cynics in legislatures and the core constituency of the movement. For the former, Jeremy's theory of "culture of life" as a "culture of state power," i.e. an ideology of state control of individual spiritual and material existences, does rather neatly bind all three objects of worship. For the latter, such a conceptualization makes less sense; unless it is the position of the rank-and-file of the religious right that liberty, even negative liberty, is not for the likes of them or any other commoners. I don't want to tread too much on Jeremy's theory, but one helpful amendation/addition might be something like this: The goal of a fascist movement is not to forcefully invalidate the rights of citizenship, but to bring about a state of affairs in which the demos willingly---enthusiastically---relinquishes its own freedoms.

Contra Matt

I said I would return to the Volokh-inspired "cruel vengeance" amendation of criminal jurisprudence, so here goes. The response to Volokh that (as far as I can tell) generated the most blogospheric noise and attention is Matt Yglesias's. Now, obviously, I think Volokh is (was) as wrong as wrong can be, but Matt's criticism strikes me as fairly misguided. His argument is essentially about the social ramifications of implementing a "cruel vengeance policy." The meat of the argument is this:
There are plenty of instances of wrongdoing -- some serious, some not so serious -- that take place outside the context of criminal law. Oftentimes, these non-criminal instances of wrongdoing are likewise met with retributions that stand outside the context of criminal law. The natural result of giving official sanction and encouragement to the desire to inflict suffering beyond the amount of suffering that serves a constructive purpose within the context of criminal law will be to encourage people to act on similar impulses (and, indeed, to have the impulses themselves) in non-criminal contexts as well. The result would, simply put, be a social disaster in which individuals are encouraged to nurse grudges, indulge spite and envy, and generally speak wreak havoc upon their fellow man. Cruel vengeance has a certain grandeur about it when it comes to the sort of grevious wrongoings Volokh is concerning himself with. It exists, however, on an uncertain continuum with acts of petty vengeance and cruelty that have no such grandeur. Encouraging unconstructive acts of vengeance and cruelty will lead simply to more vengeance and cruelty throughout the social and political system.
Part of what I think is wrong with this is that it's an entirely consequentialist argument, and indeed, it almost provides an argument for the practice of cruel and unnecessary vengeance just in case the societal consequences could be blunted or somehow ameliorated, or, no less plausibly, it turns out that the widespread encouragement of grudge-nursing and vengeance actually provides a net positive to society, say, by inflating the GDP or something. (Don't mess with me about these hypotheticals; I'm not an economist, my point is only that these are coherent descriptions of possible worlds, and who knows (nobody), maybe the actual world.)

I don't mean to go stringently deontologist. This is just a particular case in which the slippery-slopey argument Matt is putting forward looks especially uncompelling. In fact, I'm not quite convinced that we're not already, through a variety of factors having nothing to do with criminal justice, in the state of semi-official encouragement of bloodthirstiness and vengeance that Matt fears. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, I'd be very hesitant to embrace any variety of "government sanction of X = official encouragement of Y" argument. That is, to put it concretely, precisely the sort of logic that keeps the Drug War going.

Matt is on much firmer ground when he says:
Volokh notes that even torturing and killing a man who raped and killed dozens of children is, from a certain point of view, "ridiculously inadequate." Which is quite right and entirely part of the point. Unleashing excess cruelty on serious wrongdoers doesn't, in the end, solve anything, or balance out any sort of scales. Dead kids aren't revived and they're not really avenged, either. Family members pain and loss doesn't go away.
Let's take this point to the destination it was meant to arrive at. Volokh wasn't suggesting that victims of say, petty theft, get to torture their trespassers. He was suggesting that the family of the victims of true atrocities have that right. But it is in the case of a smaller, less egregious crime like theft, where retribution and justice appear to be the same thing. Jones steals $500 from Johnson. Jones is apprehended, tried, and convicted; he is forced to remunerate the same $500 to Johnson. Perhaps he is forced to pay and addition $500 to the state or to his victim, whatever. Likewise in cases like arson, vandalism, even potentially assault. What defines the Jones/Johnson variety of crime is that the offense is quantifiable. Reciprocation and justice overlap in such cases because remedy for the transgression was immediately and rationally assessable.

Not so with tortures, rapes, or murders, the Volokh-crimes. These are quite clearly non-quantifiable. No criminal sentence, no matter how light or severe could be adequate compensation for the victims. These crimes are irreparable by their intrinsic natures. If you'll permit me a digression that I think is edifying, recall God's words in the epilogue to the Book of Job [to Eliphaz the Temanite, one of Job's tormentors]:
My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken what is right of me, as my servant Job has.
In other words, Job's condemnations of divine justice were right, and the pious insistences of his interlocutors were wrong. Job in the end is given seven new sons and three new daughters; but is that justice? His original family is still dead. If I shoot your dog, can I compensate you by buying you a new one, no matter how much he looks like the old dog?

Problem: The unquantifiable cases, in which the desire for vengeance is most strongly felt, are the ones in which a "cruel vengeance" policy achieves the least---not because of its broader implications for society, but because reciprocation and justice come apart entirely in such cases. Conversely, in the quantifiable cases, reciprocation might be justice, but "cruel vengeance" is an absurd overstatement of what reciprocation would entail.

Now a word about Volokh's supposed renunciation of his proposal. I'll be brief. Volokh says Mark Kleiman convinced him to change his mind, on the essential grounds that imposing a "cruel vengeance" provision would make the operation of the judicial system pragmatically impossible. This is not impressive. To be against the praxis, no matter how strongly, but for the principle (even wistful about it) is evidence of a fairly sick imagination.

Expertise

Bill Frist, a heart surgeon, thinks he can overrule a couple dozen neurologists and give a variant diagnosis to Terri Schiavo after observing her on a homemade video tape. Sounds to me like Frist should have his medical license revoked, even moreso if this is nothing but a stupid cynical ploy to boost his chances of winning the Republican primary. Remember, as Amy Sullivan points out, this is the same Good Doctor who thinks the jury is still out on whether or not HIV can be spread through tears or saliva.

In other news, via Dan Munz, I see that Jonah Goldberg has thrown down a gauntlet:
I would respect the Democrats more if they had the courage to argue that Terri should die. That is their position.
I'm not actually sure that is the Democrats' position. Significant chunks of them voted for the horrendous legislation stripping the Florida courts of their jurisdiction, the relevant physicians' of their authority as physicians, and Michael Schiavo of his rights as a husband, as a legal guardian, and as a citizen.

It is, however, my position. Terri Schiavo should die. That is the only position in this matter that evinces the slightest respect for human life.

Big Government

The Senate and House passed, and the president signed into law, a bill that accomplishes nothing other than an egregious violation of Michael Schiavo's civil rights. Watch the Cornerites ejaculate.

UPDATE: Jamie Kirchick has a nice editorial on this subject. Money quote:
Last weekend, congressional Republicans rammed through legislation to allow Terri Schiavo's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, to bring their case before a federal panel. This circumvention of the judicial system is something no American citizen, barring an act of Congress, can do. But an extra-judicial act that makes a mockery out of federalism should come as no surprise from this Republican Party. After all, it has no problem ignoring its supposed opposition to federal intrusion and has already demonstrated its disregard for the sacred nature of the Constitution by trying to pass a federal amendment banning gay marriage. National Republicans have simply taken a cue from their juniors in Florida, where in 2003 Gov. Jeb Bush signed "Terri's Law," which was passed by the Republican-dominated state legislature. This executive fiat voided a court judgment ordering that Schiavo's tube be removed and was later deemed unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court on separation of powers grounds.

One in five American children lives in poverty. AIDS is killing Africans at a genocidal rate. But never mind, for these concerns do not raise the ire of Republicans and the "right to life" movement -- unlike the case of an individual woman who has been kept alive for 15 years due solely to artificial means.
Jamie noticed a similarity between the way that the social right fetishizes the death of Jesus and the continued agonized existence of Terri Schiavo. But the question is, why is it that in one case, the object of their veneration is a death, and in the other, a life? Just what sort of life do they worship? The answers to those questions, I think, are the beginning of an understanding of what contemporary right-wing ideology has become.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Deranged

I'm late to the game on this but I'll hope to make up for it with the substance of the posts that follow. For now, if you haven't seen it yet, I'd call your attention to Eugene Volokh's proposal for inflicting unnecessarily cruel punishment as vengeance in certain kinds of criminal cases, e.g. allowing a the relatives of a murder victim to torture the murderer.

Before you get too excited---bit of a spoiler---Volokh has (sort-of) recanted. Before you don't get excited enough, bear in mind that in writing the original post, he was "being perfectly serious." What interests me isn't Volokh's final position on the issue, though I have some thoughts about that too, but rather the philosophical questions of criminal justice that he raises and which quite a few other competent voices in the blogosphere have addressed. More in a bit.

Shocking

Just a heads-up: this won't be of interest to you if you don't follow rugby. If you do, and you're pissed off about Fox Sports World becoming Fox Soccer Channel and the consequent blackout on rugby coverage in America, you'll be even more pissed to find out that this year's Six Nations was one of the most memorable ever. Why? Because Wales ran the table, won the Grand Slam and the Triple Crown for the first time in God knows how many years. With a resurgent South Africa, the game's finally getting exciting again, as the England/France/Australia/New Zealand oligarchy is in tatters.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

I'll Show You Interesting

Brains, brawn, and a whole lot more....

Friday, March 18, 2005

Brief

This is very interesting -- the whole thing.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Broken Records

As I write the Waxman/Davis inquisition is blanketing TV. There are more malicious ways for Big Brother to be watching us, but none more stupid. Curt Schilling, unsurprisingly, is a total narc.

I'm starting to like Mark McGwire's way of repeatedly taking the fifth: "I'm not here to talk about the past, I'm here to talk about the positive side of this issue." So he juiced. So what. Why do we need to make a federal case out of this?

UPDATE: Some choleric-looking US Representative, I'm not quite sure who, was wise enough to point out that players who are unwilling to say categorically that they've never taken anything are creating a public perception that they are guilty. Therefore, he concluded, MLB players need only give concrete proof of their innocence to clear their names. It's that simple.

UPDATE: Fuck Jose Canseco and his book.

UPDATE: Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is saying something about child poverty. And also that this hearing isn't---repeat, isn't---futile gasbaggery.

UPDATE: Dennis Kucinich is angry that the committee isn't looking at the "win at all costs mentality which has infected not just sports, but business and politics" and much more besides, I'm sure. Kucinich: "Our steroids [i.e., politicians' steroids] are called PACs."

UPDATE: And now this. Kucinich just addressed Sammy Sosa in Spanish. No, no grandstanding here.

Merchants Of Death

I caught a few minutes of the Abrams spectacle Jeremy referred to. Despite watching very briefly, I was fortunate enough to hear some well-manicured and neatly goateed lawpundit explain that (slight paraphrase) "the big question now is whether or not Laci Peterson's family will live long enough to see Scott Peterson die" (repeat, only slight paraphrase). It has a brilliance and a cunning to it, no?

The universal salient truth that emerged on cable news yesterday seemed to be that Scott Peterson deserved the death penalty because he displayed no emotion during the sentencing proceedings, and maybe also because he comes from a privileged socio-economic background. (I actually heard someone advertised to be a legal expert on one of these channels claim that the poor and minorities get leeway in death penalty cases because judges and jurors have sympathy for them.)

What Abrams and his colleagues in legal showbiz have done is remarkable: Though they haven't the slightest legitimacy as magistrates, they have nevertheless been able to introduce a new axiom into criminal jurisprudence, i.e., that the emotional reaction of a defendant to his trial and sentencing hearing strongly determines the justice of a particular sentence. That statement is not a joke and I mean it literally; Abrams et al., because of the reach of their medium, are in a position to impose ad hoc criminal law. The pool of potential jurors for any trial is constituted by persons who will increasingly adhere to the Abrams Doctrine of Matching Punishments to Defendants' Emotive Displays Rather Than Their Crimes.

With that in mind, I want to offer a small amendment to Jeremy's proposed sentencing reform. If a jury arrives at a death sentence, the jurors are to draw lots and divide into two groups. One group will be responsible for the physical and emotional torture of the others. (And if you like, keep the Saudi and Syrian torturers around just in case a torturans refuses to torture a torturandum. But something tells me these people will have no difficulty following orders.)

Stone Cold Scott . . .

That's what one of the mulleted former prosecutors on the Abrams Report passion play called Scott Peterson, sentenced to death today by some brave public servant. I won't link to any particular story because I believe that America's death penalty machine can only truly exist on TV, which may have been created solely to feed the vicarious frenzy of our pseudo-erotic state death obsession.

The people on Abrams tonight were very upset that Scott showed no emotion, surely a sign that he is the representative of a unique and most deplorable form of evil. The festivities did not bring him properly to orgasm.

My feelings about the death penalty are so strong I don't even want to get into it.

If the death penalty is here to stay, however, and I don't think it will go away anytime soon, as it is a vital component of the system of distraction and hallucination that makes Americans unfit for political turmoil, I would like to amend the death penalty process in one way:

When a jury comes down with a guilty verdict, and opts to apply the death penalty, each member is to undergo 24 hours of torture at the hands of a diverse admixture of CIA and Syrian/Saudi interrogators. As a true symbol of the gravity of their civic duty and their sense of justice, they will submit, by handing down the death penalty, to a day of vicious physical, mental and emotional abuse. It is a small price to pay for the assurance of justice served.

I am actually very curious to see what the result of this amendation would be. I wonder if death penalty verdicts would decline precipitously, or if the average American is even more masochistic than his or her voting tendencies imply.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Thank You Moses

The double-edged sword of reading Leon Wieseltier: I feel my soul is enlightened, but OTOH, I question what business I have wanting to be a writer in the first place:
Still, troubling things were said. A number of the justices declared--dispositively, as they like to say--that "we are a religious nation." The implication was that there is a quantitative answer to a philosophical question. But what does the prevalence of a belief have to do with its veracity, or with its legitimacy? If every American but one were religious, we would still have to construct our moral and political order upon respect for that one. In its form, the proposition that "we are a religious nation" is like the proposition that "we are a white nation" or that "we are a Christian nation" or that "we are a heterosexual nation," which is to say, it is a prescription for the tyranny of a majority. And if the opposite generalization were the case, if we were not "a religious nation," if we were a multitude of heretics and voluptuaries, would the case for tolerating a public display of the Mosaic creed be less powerful? The joke here is on the believers. They hold their faith not because it is popular, but because it is true. If they resort to the argument from numbers, however, they will rob their beliefs of philosophical prestige, and abandon them to the netherworld of popular nonsense. There is strength in numbers, but there is not truth. In this regard, the moral sensibilities of minorities are more refined than the moral sensibilities of majorities. They are never flattered by empiricism, never tempted by triumphalism.
It only gets better. This is reason enough to subscribe to TNR, if you haven't yet done so.

When You're Hot

Julian Sanchez has a fantastic analysis of the San Francisco Superior Court ruling:
If state discrimination against gay couples—as opposed to gay individuals, who still have not been ruled to constitute a suspect class—is viewed as gender discrimination subject to strict scrutiny, then the state must supply not merely a "rational basis" for legislation to pass constitutional muster, but rather advance a "compelling state interest" for making a distinction. If the California Supreme Court agrees with that aspect of Kramer's reasoning, it will set a precedent for a far higher level of protection for gay families than they have heretofore enjoyed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Heads Up

Two recent reports in Reason caught my eye: this one, by Nick Gillespie, on Senator Ted Stevens assault on free speech; and this one, by Matt Welch, on Congressman Henry Waxman's assault on due process. In keeping with my efforts at making this vacation a productive one, I just finished a YDN piece connecting the dots between the two stories. The connective thread is the control of our government by a bipartisan priesthood of state power. Developing....

Shamelessly Shilling

Desert Pepper Trading Company Corn, Black Bean, Roasted Red Pepper Salsa is the best salsa on the market. I could have told you that years ago.

Venture Capital

I've decided to get in on a potentially lucrative investment proposal: a gay Christian bar to be called "The Power and the Glory Hole."

Liberty And Justice For All

A California judge has taken the first tentative steps towards equal marriage rights:
In a tentative ruling, the judge, Richard A. Kramer of San Francisco County Superior Court, said "the denial of marriage to same-sex couples appears impermissibly arbitrary," thus violating the equal protection clause of the state's Constitution. The ruling will not be made final until the judge meets with the various parties to the litigation on March 30.
There's still a long fight ahead. The bad news: this ruling (justly) overturns a 2000 direct popular referendum. Which means that the "judicial tyrants" nonsense is about to explode all over the media. Cf. Stanley Kurtz's first (abominably stupid) salvo:
I assume (although I haven’t checked this) that California has no law like the Massachusetts statute that bans marrying out-of-state couples if the marriage in question would be illegal in their home state. If true, this would turn California into the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage.
Kurtz then goes on to predict a new Civil War between "recognizing states" and "non-recognizing states." Whatever.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan provides some background on the judge and his reasoning:
Kramer is not a radical. He's a Catholic Republican appointed by a former Republican governor. But his intellectual honesty simply compels him to state that equality means equality. And when state constitutions insist upon it, you have to have a much stronger argument to keep a minority disenfranchised than the current anti-marriage forces have been able to marshall. Tradition? So was the ban on inter-racial marriage. Procreation? Non-procreative straight couples can get civil licenses. The potential collapse of civilization? Impossible to prove or even argue convincingly. Once you have accepted that there is no moral difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality, the arguments against same-sex marriage collapse.

Must Not See

Against my better judgement, I caught a few minutes of Blue Collar TV tonight. How bad was it? They were telling Uranus jokes (sounds like "your anus," get it?).

Monday, March 14, 2005

History's Cunning

Another hundreds-of-thousands strong protest in Beirut. This time against the Syrian occupation. And it appears that there are Sunni and Shiite Muslims among the anti-Baathist factions. Good:
"We don't want Syrian spies and secret police, we don't want any foreign intervention," said Noha Dahir, a veiled, 18-year-old Sunni Muslim student who came by bus from the northern city of Tripoli. "Those Lebanese who want the Syrians to stay can go live in Syria, there are plenty of Lebanese here to fill the country."
...
"This will counterbalance last Tuesday, and now we can sit and talk," said Mazen al-Zain, a 30-year-old financial analyst, noting that he himself was a member of an illustrious Shiite clan from southern Lebanon. "What is really important after today's gathering is that we all sit down at the same table."

Shilling

Pre-emption: I'm not a corporate whore.

However: I do feel like saying that my flights to and from the Bahamas on Song Airline (Delta's cheap-seats imitation of jetBlue) were probably the most bearable flights I've ever been on. That's because Song lets you watch movies that are actually good for $5 a pop. I saw The Incredibles going and Sideways coming. Quick verdicts: I was blown away by The Incredibles. And no, it's not Randian (thank God). Sideways was good, but I can sympathize with the anti-Sideways backlash. In real life, the bald, bearded, overweight, middle-aged, penurious struggling writer might end up with the witty, sweet, intelligent girl, but she's not going to look much like Virginia Madsen. Probably. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Marginally interesting anecdote: My dad and Bart Giamatti were near classmates and friends at Yale. My grandfather and Giamatti's father were very close friends at Yale. So I was in line to be homeboys with Paul Giamatti. But then my dad's first marriage collapsed and my Giamatti-befriending was invalidated by the postponement of my conception by about 15 years.

Paul Giamatti is a fine actor, though.

Masters Of The Universe

Kieran Healy's got a nice round-up of torture-related blogging activities here. Following the Juan Non-Volokh link will give you a sense of why reading Volokh and his co-conspirators can be so damned frustrating: When they're wrong, they usually know better.

And triple points to Belle Waring for her sly He-Man reference in the best debunking I've ever seen of the noxious "ticking time-bomb" argument. Bottom line: The nature of moral philosophy itself is such that if any and all stipulation is permissible, there is almost nothing, maybe nothing at all, that couldn't under some scenario be morally justified. The difficulty (and, I would argue, futility) of trying to clearly distinguish legitimate from illegitimate counterfactuals and hypotheticals is why I tend to focus my energies on easily resolvable questions like "What is being?" and "What exists?".

Just Curious

Whatever happened to Bulldog Blue? Who started dating Yoko? Surely somebody can set me straight.

Bum Rap

I don't often defend Republican senators, but I have to say that Lindsey Graham doesn't deserve the stoning he might be about to get. Steve Gilliard explains in detail. Graham is wrong about plenty, but he's a basically decent guy.

Inspiration

Just a thought. Was Jeremy psychically channeling Milan Kundera in his comments about the Lebanese political situation? Kundera wrote that the Czechoslovak Communists in 1948
took power not in bloodshed and violence, but to the cheers of about half the population. And please note: the half that cheered was the more dynamic, the more intelligent, the better half.
Double points if so.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The New Politics Cont'd.

Now down to business. Here are the issues before the House: Matt Welch argued for reshaping the Democrats as a party committed to limiting the encroachments of state power. Dan Munz took exception, on the grounds that "government is just like anything else: In good hands, it does good," and he cited the Clinton presidency as an example of the good uses of government power in good hands.

In all likelihood (I hope), Dan's opposition was not to the specific proposals Matt insinuated. How could it be? They were: budgetary restrain (good idea); cutting the tax burden of those people who would benefit from a lower tax burden (good idea); abolishing the FCC (great idea); federalism in general and drug issues in particular (good idea); fighting the government's Eminent Domain abuses (long overdue idea); and junking knee-jerk anti-free trade rhetoric in favor of policies that will make globalization more equitable (unavoidably necessary idea).

The objection Dan and maybe a lot of other Democrats will make is not to taking positions that happen to be anti-government because they coincide with liberal values, or even to using anti-government rhetoric and policy instrumentally, but to adopting anti-government positions for their own sake.

This is a pity. I'm in a difficult position to say why: the basis of my own libertarianism is unsticking principles of freedom-maximization from principles of government minimization. But here goes.

First, a historical point: The Clinton presidency was anything but exemplary of the benign application of state power. Clinton's record on civil liberties was a horror-show, and it was Clinton's concessions to Republican authoritarians (e.g. the Effective Death Penalty and Anti-terrorism Act) that laid the groundwork for the Bush administration's civil liberties abuses. The reason the Patriot Act and its successor policies passed with barely a whimper is that the public was conditioned to accept, and maybe even affirm, an erosion of its own freedom. They had become, to coin a term, "normalized" to it. Clinton wasn't the originator of this phenomenon. But he was an enabler.

Now a political argument. Dan writes:
Liberals don’t dislike government. To many liberals, Reagan’s declaration that "government is the problem" amounted to political hate speech. I still bristle at Clinton’s "era of big government" schtick.
I hope he doesn't mean this. Liberals don't dislike government? Everyone raise your hands who's dealt with the friendly service at the DMV. Seen payroll taxes deducted from a paycheck. Been turned away from an R-rated movie, from buying cigarettes, liquor, or pornography. Been told what to eat, drink, or smoke, and threatened on pain of legal sanction for defiance. Been subject to encroachment on property through pointless zoning regulations. Etc. These are things people dislike, and dislike profoundly, and these are everyday expressions of government power in people's lives. Liberals might rationalize them on any number of grounds, but liberals are still people. If they actually enjoy these infringements, they have become zombies, but I'm optimistic enough to doubt that.

Government power is a corrosive thing. In principle it is possible to use it for justified and beneficial ends. In practice, it tends to be used for just the opposite. The reason for liberals to be at best skeptical of exansions of government authority and power is that the things liberals care about most are often threatened by them. Let's say for the sake of argument that universal healthcare is a Good and Necessary Thing. Its enactment requires an expansion of the sphere of government into individual life. This is a trade-off that can't simply be wished away. And an expansion of government power is content-neutral. It enables Good and Necessary Things one moment; and in the next, the very same expanded power enables Bad Things. I don't know exactly how to decide what's more important in a particular case, doing Good Things or limiting government power. Denial that this tension exists is pure illiberalism.

As I said, Dan's problem with the "Goldwater Democrats" idea is a problem with the justificatory process and not its conclusions:
None of the causes he listed - none of them - are supported by liberals because of a belief in limited government. Our support for gay marriage stems from a belief in equal rights; how many liberals would use the limited-government argument to oppose a constitutional amendment guaranteeing gays the right to marry? Support for environmentalism and marijuana legalization stem from a belief in providing the best natural environment and health care possible, irrespective of ideology. Our paeans to fiscal responsibility are premised largely on our disgust with what created our current deficits: A dubious foreign adventure, and two unnecessary tax cuts that screwed the middle class with their pants on.
I doubt a lot of this very much. The limited-government argument against the FMA is the argument that government has absolutely no business imposing moral (cough, religious) norms on a civil institution. That just is the contrapositive version of the equal rights argument. Support for environmentalism and marijuana legalization cannot possibly be rooted in the same concern, and the latter in particular surely has very little to do with wishing for an improvement in national healthcare. The reason marijuana should be legal is not that it's good for people with certain kinds of serious illnesses (though it is, and that's why bans on medical marijuana are beyond morally indecent); marijuana should be legal because there isn't one, not one, non-bullshit reason for it to be illegal, and because absent such reasons, government exceeds its legitimate authority in constricting personal freedom. I don't deny that there are self-professed "liberals" who disagree; there are also self-professed "liberals" behind the ubiquitous bans on tobacco smoking. Liberalism is not equivalent to bien-pensant PC puritanism, and liberals are in a heap of immediate and long-term political trouble if they don't realize that.

Now permit me a philosophical moment. It occurs to me that I've never really defined my own libertarianism on this blog, so I'll try to do so.

What is libertarianism? I ask because the definition seems so multi-form. The most concrete and specific definition I would give without fear of committing myself to any propositions I would reject is that libertarianism is the political philosophy that seeks to maximize individual liberty wherever possible and to the full extent possible. One might add further provisos making exceptions for temporary suspensions of liberty in gravely urgent circumstances. As for calculating how individual liberty is maximized, I leave that as a question for empirical political and social science, the only fields, however flawed, that have a prayer of providing an answer.

The conditions for defining libertarianism among a probable majority of self-professed libertarians (leaving aside the anarcho-capialist sub-set) might more accurately be described as favoring an extension of Smithian/Ricardoian (is that the right adjective for Ricardo?), or perhaps Friedmanian economics across the full range of political and social issues. Just how such an extension is made is certainly contentious---though that never stops individual (self-avowed) libertarians from claiming that their own unique political theory is an indubitably valid deduction based on the (primarily) economic premises that serve as first principles.

If libertarianism is going to be defined as a principle of minimizing the involvement of government in the lives of citizens A) in all cases without exception, or B) to the extent that's practicable running asymptotically to the point where the state ceases to exist (that captures the essence of the fork)), then I think we can rather easily identify counterexamples that force a re-examination of the principle both its strong (A) and weak (B) forms.

Consider the state in which the government collects exactly zero tax revenue, and functions to do nothing other than provide a collective defense and define national boundaries, with the funding for the military coming from revenues garnered from business conducted in precisely the same manner as a corporation, namely providing for-profit goods and services to individual consumers at market-determined prices rather than conducting involuntary collective transactions at arbitrarily determined prices (setting aside the issue of second-order justification of market values, i.e., in virtue of what the market price is the right price). If we want to get really detailed, we can say that the government builds its military from volunteers drawn from across the state, who are quite happy to join the army because the government's various agitprops for recruitment (also funded by business profits) is consistently successful at maintaining necessary troop levels.

This, I think is the minimal state. (If there's something more minimal I'd like to hear it). I hope we can all imagine the infinitude of ways that such a state could as easily be a libertarian hell as a libertarian heaven. Since there is a absolute vacuum of centralized authority in all areas except the distribution of military force, any private entity, however benign or malevolent, can seize whatever spheres of domestic life it is within its power to seize. The composition of the government itself, whose members wouldn't really be responsible for anything other than approving defense budgets and nationalistic ad campaigns, could take any form whatsoever, from one man rule to Athenian democracy. Those libertarians who would contend that the "invisible hand of the market" or something like that will preserve a persistent equilibrium in which maximal liberty is available are not contending much more than "just because I say so." If the state's only concern is national security, then any private entity has perfect freedom to infringe on the liberties of others so long as he/it/they does/do not overreach into the highly limited sphere of purely state affairs. Such a state could (and likely would, given how fundamentally crappy human nature is) devolve into an amalgamation of corporate-controlled regions in which individuals have zero political power and only as much personal liberty as is necessary to support target levels of productivity. Those who say that what we're actually talking about are separate states that are all ruled despotically are ignoring crucial socio-cultural data: common national identity and self-identification, common culture, common language, common demographic distributions, cross-regional unified military service, popular acceptance of the state's legitimacy within its recognized boundaries, etc.

Furthermore, if we were to ignore all that for the sake of argument and just assume that the above description is not of a single state but of several, then the strong-form state-minimalism is still making a fatal concession, namely that the potential for private-sector despotism and oppression is built into its definition. The point of all this, is less concrete and more meta- than I have perhaps suggested. There quite simply is no a priori logical relationship between the state-minimization principle and the liberty-maximization principle, so any connection between them is going to be (excluding the weird analytical philosophers' problem cases of contingent a priori and necessary a posteriori propositions) contingent and synthetic. In fact, what we have seen is that any formal resemblance between the states governed on liberty-maximization principles and the states governed on strong-form state-minimization principles are going to be purely incidental and indicative of nothing either in counterfactual or future instantiations. And you'll find as well that the same is true---any correlation is accidental---between weak-form state-minimization theory and liberty-maximization theory, though the contingency and unrepresentativeness of such correlation is easier to mask because the weak form of the theory is willing to make compromises.

How does this relate back to, say, gay marriage? Well, since I've already gone on too long, I'll leave it at this: I think it's contentious whether or not legal ratification of gay marriage is justified on pure state-minimization grounds. (I think it is, as per above.) But this doesn't matter because the state-minimization criterion is fatally flawed and hence unreliable as a rubric of individual liberty expansion. Conversely, the legalization of gay marriage, I think, is quite self-evidently justified on maximization of personal liberty grounds. And this poses a problem for liberals like Dan who apparently reject libertarianism: what is deficient about such a justification of gay marriage or gay rights in general?

If I have mischaracterized libertarianism I'll be pleased to hear why. But I'd contend, echoing Wittgenstein, that labels like "libertarian" are empty vessels, and the only definition of libertarianism that is even remotely intelligible to me is one that proceeds from some form of liberty-maximization principles.

If one's agenda is only and always shrinking the size of the state, then one would be foolish not to pursue policies that achieve that end, but don't insist that there is some indivisible equivalence between that aim and one that has nothing, except perhaps accidentally, to do with it, namely the expansion of liberty.

Here’s why my initial comment on Matt's column was that he nailed it: The connection between liberty-maximization and state-minimization might not be true in virtue of meaning, but it is a real connection despite its syntheticity. For the duration of the Bush administration, embracing the former and embracing the latter will look like very much the same thing. The point Dan misses, I think, is that they will resemble each other pretty closely even when Democrats are in power, too.

Unlike Matt, I'm at least registered as a Democrat. But let's be citizens first and Democrats afterwards. We'll be better Democrats, and better democrats, for doing so.

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