"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, October 24, 2005

Comments Policy

A club is a place where people can comfortably discuss whatever they wish, in the company of others who share their delight in ideas and display good manners. To ensure that rotten cads do not tromp about our common room in muddy boots, scatter the newspapers all over, drink excessive quantities of our liquor, and spit tobacco juice on the furniture, we are instituting the following comments policy and have placed it in the informational sidebar for the site:


The Reform Club is a place where serious thinkers discuss crucial issues in a comfortable setting, with the maximum amount of wisdom, intellectual passion, and civility. Comments by visitors are quite welcome.

All commenters are guests and are expected to act accordingly. Comments not in a spirit of comity will be removed without explanation or apology.

We trust that this policy will make your visits to the Reform Club even more edifying and enjoyable.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Frozen Out of Comments, But I Must Comment

The abortion issue always gets my attention, but blogger is freezing me out of the comments section. So forgive another post.

Connie raised utilitarianism as an answer to the abortion issue, to which I respond:

Utilitarianism is a bankrupt philosophy. That has been demonstrated repeatedly. If you accept greatest good for the greatest number you can easily justify punishing the wrong person (even if you know it is the wrong person) for a crime in order to deter others from committing similar crimes.

What really happens with utilitarians is that they inevitably have to sneak other philosophical value models into their own in order to make it work. There is always a "why" lurking in the utilitarian's choices that goes well-beyond "greatest good for the greatest number" because it is a largely vacuous concept aside from the stark opportunity for one person to jump on a grenade to save several.

But EVEN that example raises questions. Why should one individual commit suicide to save a number of others? Why are several people more valuable than one? What is the justification there? I suppose it would have to depend on the value of persons. Utilitarianism takes that for granted and thus relies on some other value system (like Christianity), which is not shocking considering the heritage of the folks who started pushing utilitarianism. (Is Christ the ultimate utilitarian? He who ransomed his life for the billions? Unlikely, for he also emphasized leaving the flock untended to go after the single stray.)

Still, let's just accept utilitarianism in the abortion dispute. It gives us no answers. One utilitarian could say, "We must allow abortion because it is usually poor mothers who would give birth to these unwanted children and we would experience a strain on our social services PLUS we'd probably have more crime down the road." Another utilitarian could say, "We should compel these women to have the children because we have a growing population of the aged who must be supported by a growing pool of workers among our younger population." Both would be using utilitarian reasoning but delivering the opposite result. In neither case would either have any concern for human rights, which has interesting implications for utilitarianism as a method of governing.

Jay wondered why his fellow Jews are so detached from the pro-life movement which he believes is their heritage, to which I respond:

I think about Francis Schaeffer in this connection, Jay. When Roe v. Wade came down, the evangelical Christian society was out to lunch. They didn't care. You can find quotes from heavy duty Christian types expressing basic cluelessness on the issue. Schaeffer brought the sanctity of life issue to his community via the prophetic mode.

His basic message? This is evil and wrong. It is so evil and wrong that I and everyone else must question whether Christianity is real at all if you have no will to oppose it. You don't oppose it because you are too caught up in your real values of personal peace and affluence to care. He pierced some shells of indifference with that message and the evangelical world joined the Catholics as opponents of abortion on demand.

If a Christian can be prophetic about abortion, I KNOW a Jewish person can do the same. Who is that person, Jay?

Wilma, Meet Solomon

There is a longstanding Jewish tradition that the standardized cycle of Bible readings throughout the year is somehow prophetically attuned to feeding you the appropriate information at just the right moment.

With Hurricane Wilma bearing down on us here in South Florida, I bestirred myself to the synagogue today to hear the once-a-year reading of Ecclesiastes, always done on the Sabbath which falls during the nine-day holiday of Tabernacles (which began last Monday night and ends this Wednesday night).

I was struck by the timeliness of the following verse (11:5): "Just as you do not know what is the path of the wind, like the enclosure of the full womb, so you cannot foretell the actions of the Lord, Who makes all." (My translation, radically unlike King James: "As thou knowest not what is the ways of the spirit..." The word ruach in Hebrew sometimes means "wind" and sometimes "spirit".)

The classic commentator, Rashi (1035-1105), explains: "There are times that you think you can recognize in the clouds that the windstorm is coming, but it does not arrive there because it passes by and heads to a different land... as you do not know the things that are closed and sealed in the full womb, and despite the fact that you can see the outward bulge you do not know what is in the womb... so, too, the decrees of the Omnipresent concerning poverty and wealth are hidden from you. Therefore you should not hold back from charity for worry of losing assets and becoming poor; you should not say 'I cannot take time from work to study the Torah or I will become poor'; you should not say 'I cannot get married and have children because they are too expensive'."

How's that for a lesson from the uncertain path of the hurricane?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Poll: Strong Support For Abortion Rights

Well, that's the headline on CBSnews.com's 2003 story on American abortion attitudes at the 30th anniversary of Roe, but more accurate might be

Poll: Strong Support For Tighter
Restrictions on Abortions
Most Think Roe Sucks

About 60% of us favor either more restrictions on abortions or an outright ban. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, that includes 56% of Democrats.


As for who decides, men are actually slightly (40%-37%) more in favor of the current general availability of abortion than women. Women are also slightly (24%-20%) more in favor of an outright ban than men. So much for sexism. Go figure.

Women of childbearing age, under 45, were 2% more in favor of today's more liberal laws but they were also more in favor of a total ban than their older counterparts. Later for the smugness of menopause, then.

What can we learn from this? That the current law does not represent the moral consensus of this country, I'd say. Now, moral consensus in this country once permitted slavery, so it's neither infallible nor essentially good and moral. But as Scalia (and Bork I think) might argue, what else we got?

(Our new & good friend Connie claims a bit of Habermas and I suppose thereby Rawls in her background---perhaps she can stand in for them.)

But doesn't any society, whether kicking it around the campfire or the internet, consider the questions of right and wrong, come to something resembling a conclusion, and proceed accordingly? Are we not men? Are we Devo?

We would not want to accuse the supporters of unrestricted abortion of working solely for own interests, modus vivendi-types as Rawls might put it, potentially pregnant sybarites and the men who are willing to chance knocking them up. Surely there's a principle at work here.

Roe is ostensibly based on an old, and secularly sacred (oxymoron, I know) document, our Constitution. The issue of abortion is nowhere directly addressed there, on this we can all agree. But the law of our land is now based on an interpretation of that document by five of our "elders." We're not even into GK Chesterton's "democracy of the dead," we're into Quetzlcotl time, bloodily and copiously appeasing some god named Jefferson, Hamilton or Madison because some high priests say it is the will of the gods.

"Living" document, indeed. And my faithfulness to it requires my own heart be torn out. Luckily for me, only metaphorically.

(As for CBS News' reportage, Ed Murrow (not to mention Dan Rather) would be proud. Take the data and explain it backwards. Somehow, some way, in some sort of miracle, a bare majority of us have trained ourselves how not to read between the facts. We shall continue to share the wealth.)

Just a Little More on Abortion, Courtesy of Connie

Connie made the following remarks on my post about abortion and the increased level of intellectual/emotional honesty we are hearing from various persons:

As a woman I get annoyed with men discussing abortion. They aren't the ones that have life changing decisions to make. I've been there, faced the medical consequences and said "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, I want my baby". But nobody else could make that decision for me.

For the first few months after conception, the baby is irretrievably linked to mom. It can't survive without her and is factually a parasite (yes, she created the parasite). It gets into a sticky quagmire when we start assigning equal rights because the two can't be separated. That is, BTW, why I think partial birth abortions are an abomination and libs and feminists should be shot for supporting them.

I would sacrifice right to abortions (sans life of mom) if the opponents would budge on access to education about birth control, sex, etc. To me its a trade-off to rare. If we would get teenagers information about sex and prevention we'd end up with less pregnancies. The quality of life for women goes down drastically the younger they are and having babies. Ditto for funding for child care, education as to adoption alternatives, etc.

I have to take issue with a couple of things here and maybe agree with something else.

First, it antagonizes me and many other men to no end when women claim abortion is somehow off-limits for discussion. It hits on several levels.

I'm a human being and if I see something that appears to be a manifest injustice, then it's wrong for me to turn a blind eye. We are indisputably talking about a human being. A dependent human. A very small human, but a human.

I'm also a father of two. When my first child was in utero, my wife and I watched him on ultrasound for what probably amounted to hours (the wife had access to a machine). I was amazed by what he looked like and could do at even seven weeks. About halfway through the pregnancy, I woke up one morning to find my wife sitting on the floor of the bathroom crying because she was bleeding. We were afraid we were losing him. We got in to see a doctor before opening hours and got a scan. Our son was okay. My wife was immensely relieved. I'd been numb. After hearing the good news, it was like a dam broke inside me. All that fear and pain of loss I was holding at bay had to come out. The experience confirmed something for me. My feelings for our child were just as powerful as my wife's. Sure, I didn't carry him, but I was as fully invested in his life as anyone could be. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that just because some men don't give a damn if their child lives or dies inside the womb, others of us care like nothing else matters. We do not deserve to be X'ed out of the equation, here.

The part I'm willing to agree with you on is the social support end of things. If it were possible to make some grand bargain of the type where one side yields protection for the unborn child and the other yields national health insurance, I'd go along despite my reservations about big government and its ill effects. I think you'd be surprised by the large number of social conservatives feel that way. I've asked several and have never had anyone say they wouldn't go for that arrangement.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Alert Atlanta Metro Area Reform Club Readers:

My old organization, the Georgia Family Council, is having its annual banquet on Tuesday night at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia.

It's a fundraiser, but it is also intended to introduce the organization to interested parties. Sponsors frequently buy more seats than they fill, so they can probably find a place for the motivated attender.

The GFC dinner is always a great Atlanta event. Past speakers include Jack Kemp and Sean Hannity. This year features the new president of Focus on the Family, Jim Daly. GFC is a Focus-affiliate.

And just so you know, I'll be there. So look me up.If you're interested, email kylee@gafam.org.

Update: I've already had one well-heeled taker contact me and the above-mentioned Kylee. I've got room for a few more. Email kylee@gafam.org and give her your name and whether you'd like to bring a guest. Tell her I sent you.

By the way, this is typically not a bad place to meet state legislators.

More on What Is Public

Two commenters bring up the following cases regarding the definition of what is public:

What about a Greyhound bus?

Roads are constructed using taxes and thus are "public."

If a Greyhound bus is using said road, is it, in essence, being subsidized by the public?

Here is where I feel the argument about "public" can get expanded to mean just about anything.

I do not necessarily advocate that argument, but the argument does exist.


A more direct example would be a shopping mall that contains a police substation.

My answers:

The roads are public, but the vehicle is private. Smoking on a bus does no harm whatever to the road or any other vehicle on it. Hence, the vehicle owner has the right to decide on a smoking policy that fits the owner's wishes.

Expanding the definition of public further than this is sophistry, plain and simple, designed to enable people to enforce their will over property they do not own.

Item two. The shopping mall is owned by a private firm, and hence the owner has the right to decide on a smoking policy that fits the owner's wishes. If the police substation is owned by the public, the owners (i.e., the people through their government) have the right to decide on a smoking policy to have in place within that substation. If, however, the substation is owned by the mall owners and leased to the police or given to them free of charge, the mall owner has the right to decide on a smoking policy. Presumably, the owner would accommodate what the police desired, in order to ensure that the substation would remain in operation. But it would be up to the owner—and not anyone else—to decide.

OK, and now on to the next question that will be asked: What if the public, through their representatives, say that they will allow the police substation to operate only if the mall owners institute a particular smoking policy throughout the entire mall? Answer: It will then be up to the owners to decide whether the value of faster police protection outweighs the value of their preferred smoking policy. That will be entirely the owners' call.

I will say, however, that it is utterly dishonorable and wrongheaded of the public to force such a decision on a property owner. Society should provide a public service based on the value of that service to the effort of fostering ordered liberty, creating the highest amount of both liberty and order simultaneously—and on no other consideration. The attempt to constrain liberty (in the form of restrictions on private individuals' property rights) as a tradeoff for the creation of greater order is dishonorable (in that it uses threat of disaster as a means of cowing people into doing others' will) and inimical to the functioning of a free society.

Hence, it is wrong to impose a smoking policy on private buses as a tradeoff for the orderly movement of transportation, and it is wrong to impose a smoking policy on shopping malls as a tradeoff for efficient police protection.

He's Not My Hero, But It's Legend Time

This is supposed to be a MUG SHOT. Check out the lefty sites. They're freaking out at the unsuitability of this photo for campaign ads.

The only thing I would have done differently would have been to wear a "Vote for Pedro" shirt.

Smoking and Toxicity—What Is Public?

A commenter on the smoking-bans issue has posed the following important question:

I believe the real question is what one considers "public".

I define a public space as being a common area, one owned by the public at large as opposed to a private owner. The fact that a property owner invites strangers onto his property cannot justly overwhelm his right to use his property as he sees fit in any way that does not affect other properties. A space does not become the property of the public just because an owner invites the public to enjoy its benefits if they should wish to do so. They have the right to stay away from that property, and therefore they do not have the right to control its use or conditions.

Smoking and Toxicity

A commenter on my posting on smoking bans asked the following:

Here's a question: At what level of toxicity to others should an activity be prohibited in public?

The answer was evident in my previous posting, but I will restate it. (I will leave aside for the moment the question of whether secondhand smoke can be accurately described as toxic. We will kindly assume that the commenter was indulging in a bit of hyperbole.)

My position:

The government should regulate public lands, and owners of private spaces should make their own decisions regarding what kind and level of toxins they will allow, provided that these toxins do not move into other people's spaces (including public ones).

So, in practical terms, what level of toxicity should a tavern, restaurant, or store owner be allowed by law to permit within their own space? Whatever level they choose.

It's a New Ballgame on an Old Debate

Check out the Washington Post on the Dover school board Intelligent Design case:

By any measure, the professor appeared trapped on the legal ropes.

Biochemistry professor Michael J. Behe had just conceded in federal court that precious few scientists support the intelligent design theory, which holds that the machinery of life is so complex as to require the hand of an intelligent creator. Now came another question: Isn't it true, professor, that the nation's most esteemed scientific organization denounced the theory as non-science?

Behe, who is bespectacled and bearded, sat straight up in the witness chair.

"Their statement is a political document without any marshaling of evidence," Behe said with rising voice earlier this week. "Talk about scholarly malfeasance. . . . Science has marched on. We have now data to reopen the evidence for design in nature."

It has been hailed as another Scopes "Monkey Trial," in which the forces of science would again vanquish those who would inject religion into the science classroom. But as the trial in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg reached a midpoint this week, victory has proven elusive.

Good article. Much more balanced than expected.

Heroine Overdose

Two Cinderellas and just one hero-formerly-known-as-Prince. Talk about messing up the story line?!

Too many nice guys in this year's World Serious (ala Ring Lardner).

Read all about it here...

They're Just Not That Into Her

John Tabin of American Spectator thinks the Miers nomination is finis. I'm inclined to think he's right. I've learned to pay attention to him.

(Let's just say that when I was REALLY BULLISH on Alan Keyes in Illinois, Mr. Tabin was appropriately skeptical.)

Cohen Knocks the Old Orthodoxy on Roe

I gave up reading Richard Cohen a long time ago, but my friends at the American Spectator blog drew my attention to his latest effort. If the headline didn't give it away, Cohen (though still pro-choice) admits he's no fan of Roe:

I no longer see abortion as directly related to sexual freedom or feminism, and I no longer see it strictly as a matter of personal privacy, either. It entails questions about life -- maybe more so at the end of the process than at the beginning, but life nonetheless.

This is not a fashionable view in some circles, but it is one that usually gets grudging acceptance when I mention it. I know of no one who has flipped on the abortion issue, but I do know of plenty of people who no longer think of it as a minor procedure that only prudes and right-wingers oppose. The antiabortion movement has made headway.

There is such a thing as cognitive dissonance. It is not possible to keep going as a culture that celebrates the ultrasound and the abortion license at the same time. Cohen is one more indicator of that fact.

Smoking Bans

In our comments section, Connie Deady asked,

One other thing, where are the conservatives on smoking bans? I can't think of any greater restrictions of freedom. If I own a restaurant and I want to let people smoke in it, why shouldn't I be able? Why should cities be able to tell every restaurant they can't have smoking.

This is one case I'd let free market work. If people want non-smoking restaurants, people will operate them and patrons will go.

I am not a conservative (I am a liberal of the right, also known as a classical liberal or English Whig liberal), nor have I ever smoked (in fact, I detest the smell of tobacco smoke), but I'll answer:

I am absolutely against government bans on smoking in private establishments.

I acknowledge that cities and states have the authority to impose such bans, but I think that they should not do so.

People should take a little responsibility for themselves. If you are bothered by other people's cigarette smoke but wish to drink in a particular tavern or eat in a particular restaurant, decide for yourself which you'd rather miss: the company and provender in that place, or fresh air. It's up to you.

To stay away from a restaurant because you think it disgusting that the owners allow people to smoke on the premises is a perfectly reasonable and honorable thing. And if enough people do so, the restaurateur will most likely get the point and find a way to accommodate both kinds of customer. On the other hand, to get the police to stop everybody else from smoking somewhere just that that the royal You can eat your vegetarian pasta dish without the risk that you might vaguely smell the smoke of someone's cancer stick—that is the height of swinishness.

The government's only role in this should be to ensure that private establishments are allowed and enabled to enforce whatever smoking policy they think best.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Anarchy, State, and Utopia

As many of you know, I'm on a 100 book tear as I prepare for my doctoral prelims. The latest book on my list was Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia. I wasn't sure it would be more than a book to get through, but I was wrong.

First off, Nozick performs the most convincing take-down of John Rawls that I've ever seen. They were both high-powered Ivy League types, so I'd love to know if they ever discussed the issues in person. Probably not. Nozick praises Rawls to the heavens, but absolutely wins the debate as far as I'm concerned. I make the remark about Nozick and Rawls to tantalize. Go read it for yourself.

Second, and more to the point of this post, I found myself arrested by an amazing sequence in which Nozick shows anything more than a minimal state is essentially equal to slavery. I'm pasting it in below:

"The Tale of the Slave"from Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pp. 290-292.

Consider the following sequence of cases, which we shall call the Tale of the Slave, and imagine it is about you.

1. There is a slave completely at the mercy of his brutal master's whims. He often is cruelly beaten, called out in the middle of the night, and so on.

2. The master is kindlier and beats the slave only for stated infractions of his rules (not fulfilling the work quota, and so on). He gives the slave some free time.

3. The master has a group of slaves, and he decides how things are to be allocated among them on nice grounds, taking into account their needs, merit, and so on.

4. The master allows his slaves four days on their own and requires them to work only three days a week on his land. The rest of the time is their own.

5. The master allows his slaves to go off and work in the city (or anywhere they wish) for wages. He requires only that they send back to him three-sevenths of their wages. He also retains the power to recall them to the plantation if some emergency threatens his land; and to raise or lower the three-sevenths amount required to be turned over to him. He further retains the right to restrict the slaves from participating in certain dangerous activities that threaten his financial return, for example, mountain climbing, cigarette smoking.

6. The master allows all of his 10,000 slaves, except you, to vote, and the joint decision is made by all of them. There is open discussion, and so forth, among them, and they have the power to determine to what uses to put whatever percentage of your (and their) earnings they decide to take; what activities legitimately may be forbidden to you, and so on.

Let us pause in this sequence of cases to take stock. If the master contracts this transfer of power so that he cannot withdraw it, you have a change of master. You now have 10,000 masters instead of just one; rather you have one 10,000-headed master. Perhaps the 10,000 even will be kindlier than the benevolent master in case 2. Still, they are your master. However, still more can be done. A kindly single master (as in case 2) might allow his slave(s) to speak up and try to persuade him to make a certain decision. The 10,000-headed monster can do this also.

7. Though still not having the vote, you are at liberty (and are given the right) to enter into the discussions of the 10,000, to try to persuade them to adopt various policies and to treat you and themselves in a certain way. They then go off to vote to decide upon policies covering the vast range of their powers.

8. In appreciation of your useful contributions to discussion, the 10,000 allow you to vote if they are deadlocked; they commit themselves to this procedure. After the discussion you mark your vote on a slip of paper, and they go off and vote. In the eventuality that they divide evenly on some issue, 5,000 for and 5,000 against, they look at your ballot and count it in. This has never yet happened; they have never yet had occasion to open your ballot. (A single master also might commit himself to letting his slave decide any issue concerning him about which he, the master, was absolutely indifferent.)

9. They throw your vote in with theirs. If they are exactly tied your vote carries the issue. Otherwise it makes no difference to the electoral outcome.

The question is: which transition from case 1 to case 9 made it no longer the tale of a slave?

I thought about getting into my own thoughts about this passage and how it relates to my understanding of the Bible, for instance, but I decided to draw back and see what others might say. Discuss, if you like.

Could Maryland Be In Play?

I have just received an coyly worded email from the Maryland GOP that is not quite coy enough to prevent me from concluding that Michael Steele, currently our lieutenant governor, is going to announce next Tuesday that he will seek the Senate seat being vacated when Paul Sarbanes retires in 2006. This is wonderful news for Maryland Republicans, and potentially a great moment for Maryland as well.

Michael Steele is the genuine article: a conservative Catholic African-American, he has lived his whole life in Maryland. He rose up through the ranks of county politics, and at the age of 47 is the highest-ranking black state political office-holder in the country. In 2002, the Ehrlich-Steele ticket took the statehouse away from the Democrats, in this bluest of blue states, largely because the black voters of Baltimore and Prince George's County were so ambivalent and apathetic towards the Democratic nominee, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. In the intervening years Baltimore has continued to suffer under the leadership of the Democrat mayor, Martin O'Malley, while Prince George's has benefitted from the pro-growth state policies of the Ehrlich administration. The time may have finally come when Maryland Republicans can make some inroads with this key voting group, now that there are some concrete accomplishments we can point to.

After the disappointment of the Miers nomination, I needed some cheering up. And this does it -- I'm excited about this prospect.

Why Johnny Is Fat

In a recent article on Tech Central Station, health-policy writer John Luik provides an excellent analysis noting that the real cause of the rise in childhood obesity in recent years is infrequency of physical exercise, not dietary problems. Luik writes,

[A] recent Canadian study looked at the eating and physical activity habits of 4,298 school children in an effort to determine which risk factors were important for overweight and obese children. The researchers included questions about whether the children ate breakfast, whether their lunch was brought from home or purchased at school, how often they ate in fast-food restaurants, whether there were regular family dinners and whether dinner was eaten in front of the television.

The results are startling, for they disprove so much of what passes for contemporary "wisdom" about childhood obesity. First, eating in a fast-food restaurant (which according to the Fat Police is the major source of childhood obesity) was not statistically significant as a risk factor for obesity, even in children who eat in such restaurants more than three times a week.

Second, the study found that there was not a statistically significant difference between the quantity of fizzy drinks consumed by children attending schools that did not sell fizzy drinks and those that did. Children in schools that sold fizzy drinks consumed an average of 4 cans of soda per week, while children at schools which did not sell fizzy drinks consumed 3.6 per week. This works out to 33.5 and 32.5 grams of sucrose per day, with the extra gram adding four calories for the kids where fizzy drinks were sold—an insignificant amount in terms of total daily caloric intake.

Third, there was not a statistically significant association between the availability of fizzy drinks at schools or schools with food vending machines and the risk of children being overweight or obese. As the authors noted: "We observed that children attending schools that sell soft drinks consumed somewhat more soft drinks and sugar, but the amounts were likely insufficient to bring about differences in body weight."

In addition to this, research shows that kids who are normal in weight actually eat more "junk" food than their overweight peers. Luik cites a World Health Organization study released this summer which found that in "91% of the countries examined, the frequency of sweets intake was lower in overweight than normal weight youth." The study found a "negative relationship between the intake of sweets (candy, chocolate) and BMI classification in 31 out of the 34 countries such that higher sweets intake was associated with a lower odds of overweight," in the words of the study report.

This means that children who eat more junk food are actually less likely to overweight than their peers. In addition, the study found, "Overweight status was not associated with the intake of fruits, vegetables, and soft drinks."

Luik points out that these studies confirm the conclusions reached by countless earlier ones, some of which he cites, and he notes that their conclusions regarding physical activity are as follows:

While the Canadian study and others have failed to find a connection between fizzy drinks and childhood obesity, they have found a striking association between obesity and children's physical activity levels in general and the frequency of physical education classes at their schools in particular. "Children attending schools with more frequent physical education classes," they write, "were increasingly more likely to have normal body weight."

As for physical activity in general, they note that "frequency of physical activity appears to be the only activity-related factor independently associated with overweight."

Despite this clear evidence, however, schools continue to cut back on physical education classes while concentrating on getting "junk" food out of their cafeterias. The latter may well be a good thing to do, but it has virtually no effect in reducing childhood obesity. Educators should stop thinking so much about the cafeteria and vending area and should get the kids into the gyms and on the playgrounds.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

When Perjury Destroys Justice

Rafael Palmiero, the first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles and one of only four players to have hit more than 500 homeruns and 3000 hits, testified before the House of Representatives subcommittee on the illegal use of steroids. He looked at the interrogators, pointed at them with all the sincerity he could muster and said, “I have never used steroids.”

Fast forward several months. As a result of random drug testing it is now clear that Palmiero was using steroids.

Newspaper accounts blasted him for hypocrisy and an obvious lie, albeit he now says “he never intentionally used steroids” – an alteration in his statement that is probably impossible to prove.

What the press stories omitted, however, is that Palmiero’s lie was made under oath; in other words, he engaged in the lie of lies or perjury.

Here in unvarnished form is one of the great unmentioned issues of our time. Lying under oath has become a common practice undermining our system of law and justice.

As a dear friend of mine noted when his litigation was slogging through the court system, “Perjury is the problem with America.” As he pointed out, “Our defendant perjured himself in court documents to an astounding level…when we discussed whether this was actionable, most lawyers laughed. ‘Everybody lies. Forget about it. No one cares. Get on with your life.’”

Of course getting on with your life means rejecting fundamental principles on which the nation was founded. Our pledge of allegiance does proudly include “liberty and justice for all.” But what kind of justice is possible if perjury is permissible?

Many lawyers are passively complicit in this practice. After all, the more lies, the more delays, the more tactics to drag out the procedure, the more hours to be billed. At the root of this national problem are judges and district attorneys who allow perjury to occur as standard operating procedure. If perjury isn’t accompanied by an implicit act of enforcement, then it is tantamount to a non-event.

Civil perjury is a crime that has fines and possible imprisonment attached to it, but it is almost never enforced. Like mandatory long-term drug abuse penalties, a potential seven year prison term for perjury often militates against enforcement.

It may seem simplistic, but suppose the court system no longer tolerated lying. Suppose a realistic penalty were imposed, one that was fair and, at the same time, recognized that perjury was an egregious act that undermined our legal system. My suspicion is this would lead to a major transformation – a salutary transformation – in the American legal system.

I can understand why Rafael Palmiero lied before a Congressional Committee. His baseball achievements make him a virtual shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. However, this disclosure about steroid use puts his accomplishments in a new light. He is simply one of those “juiced” athletes who ignored the rules.

The same might be said of hundreds of defendants who believe lying is better than serving a prison sentence or they have rationalized perjury as a legitimate defense position.

If we avert our gaze to this growing problem, America will emerge with a post-modern legal belief that truth can never be obtained. For those who accept this contention, a system without truth is also a system without justice. At that point we might as well rely solely on what defendants tell us and ignore the factual basis for any judicial procedure.

This is a slippery path we are on. Should the public not awaken to the issue our court system could go the way of the dinosaur – an interesting relic of the past, but one that has little relevance to the present.

Remo Williams—The Adventure Continues

[In the Great Minds Think Alike category of phenomena, here is a post I composed before reading Hunter Baker's contribution of this morning.]

In today's edition of National Review online, novelist James Mullaney has a wonderful appreciation of Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir's "Destroyer" novels that featured the character of Remo Williams (badly depicted in a lame movie in the 1980s). Mullaney describes the appeal of the series as follows:

Five years before Blackford Oakes was Saving the Queen, a far less cultured, far more blue-collar super spy by the name of Remo Williams was taking popular fiction in a direction unheard of in the culture wars at that time: To the right.

If you're wondering where you've heard the name Remo Williams even though you've never heard of The Destroyer novel series, which has been chronicling Remo's adventures since 1971, lay blame at the feet of Showtime, Cinemax, and about a million UHF stations which have been running the dreadful 1985 film Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins" in endless midnight rotation for the past 20 years. And if you're unlucky enough to have seen the movie, rest assured that the film has about as much in common with the books that inspired it as Roger Moore's campy Bond had with Ian Fleming's cold, calculating master spy.

The foundation for all that follows is set up in the first book, Created, The Destroyer. Remo, a simple Newark beat cop, is framed for a murder he didn't commit, is sentenced to die in an electric chair that doesn't work, and is revived and bamboozled into working for CURE, a super-secret agency that operates only at the suggestion, never at the order, of the president. By the end of Created, Remo has become CURE's enforcement arm — its Destroyer — who, with the mercenary Chiun, does battle with America's enemies at home and abroad. It's a fight for truth, justice, and the American way, and if there's cynicism in the books it's directed at those who view such clear-eyed pro-Americanism as dated, jingoistic cliché.

Often the villain in a given Destroyer novel is guided by a left-wing agenda. Back in the 1970s, the Wounded Knee protesters were mercilessly mocked; the conservative dream of a U.N. out of the U.S. was finally, blessedly (albeit fictionally), realized; and Carter CIA head Stansfield Turner was rightly called to task for making a hash of Central Intelligence. More recently, the Clintons and their cronies came under repeated fire. The humor in the series is wickedly pointed and decidedly un-P.C. Environmentalists, Hollywood celebrities, and journalists in particular have been targets of satire in The Destroyer for years.

The Destroyer books really are great fun, and I hope that they will find a new publisher who is more in tune with what has made the series so popular during the past three decades.

Remo Williams: Not Your Everyday Men's Action/Adventure Hero

Some people mark their lives in terms of great events. Others remember what they were reading at a particular time. During 1996-1997, I was in reading bliss because my father-in-law, a great book collector, loaned me a large box full of the adventures of Remo Williams: The Destroyer. During that year, I made my way through about 80 volumes of the awesome pulp fiction series and counted myself a lucky man to have such an interesting father-in-law.

Some of you are probably thinking the men's action/adventure genre is blandly similar. The hero arrives in town, has a shower, a steak, a woman, and then gets down to business blowing all the baddies away. Remo didn't fit that pattern. He was a former Vietnam vet/beat cop framed up for the express purpose of becoming the one man enforcement arm of a special organization named CURE. The group would freely violate the Constitution in order to enforce it.

Remo was trained by the Asian assassin Chiun, a self-satisfiedly racist old man with the deadliest hands and feet in the world. He accompanies Remo on his adventures because he can't stand to see his good work endangered. Remo is only a white man, Chiun reminds him, but he has almost transcended his racial limitations. The old Asian creates much of the comedic relief in the series, particularly as he interacts with hippies and other assorted leftists. They regularly praise him and give him honor because he's "third world," but don't realize that he is about as royalist and reactionary as anyone could be. Nevertheless, he soaks up their laurels. Chiun also amuses with his horrendous poetry.

Remo becomes almost as deadly as Chiun through his training and often resents his transformation from man to superman. He is bored with sex because he knows all the technical details about how to drive women wild. He also yearns for American junk food, but his body has been so purified he is only able to eat fish and rice, like Chiun. His body rejects anything else. Despite his annoyance with life as a super-assassin, Remo enjoys bringing bad guys (and girls) down and displays a lot of style in so doing.

Finally, there is the head of CURE, one Dr. Smith. Smith is simultaneously brilliant and terribly dull. He was selected to head the organization because of his lack of imagination. A visionary type would figure out how to turn CURE into a platform for subtle world domination. The highlight of Smith's day, on the other hand, is eating his usual prune whip yogurt. He runs things behind the scenes from the Folcroft Sanitarium.

The series was created by Warren Murphy and Dick Sapir. It was quite good until Sapir died and Murphy quit writing them. Since the 80's, it has been licensed to various publishers with varying results. Of late, Remo has been in the hands of a Canadian publisher who doesn't understand the property. Which is why I wrote this entire post, just to link to this National Review story about the recent fate of Remo.

The Trouble with Harriet

I've been a little relentless. Reading Tom's posts send a message of re-focus and clarity. Seek truth in a community of friendship. He's right.

Unfortunately, there are more problems with the Harriet Miers nomination that should be discussed. First off is this strange report from John Fund about the teleconference between Christian conservatives and Texas judges Hecht and Kinkeade to discuss Miers. According to Fund, the two judges gave strong assurances that Miers would be a vote against Roe.

I should be happy about this, right? After all, I am seriously pro-life and have to try not to think about it too much to avoid being sick and miserable all the time about the loss of innocent life.

Readers and TRCers, I am not happy.

I do not believe that we achieve justice by stacking the court in favor of a particular position on a particular issue. It is basically a disgusting phenomenon that every time a Supreme Court justice is nominated all anybody wants to know is what they think about Roe. Even liberal legal types know what's wrong with Roe, it's just a matter of whether they will interpret the law squarely and fairly.

The right course, the only course is to choose nominees who are dedicated to interpreting the law and the Constitution in a manner closely tied to its text and intent. If we can find justices who will do that, it will not matter what their policy preferences are. We have lost something precious with the left-wing move toward justices who embrace policy over strict interpretation of law. To the extent that we should ever embrace that mistake, except to substitute right-wing preferences, then we, too, will be in error.

Now, we don't know how a Justice Miers would approach the problem since she lacks the indicators of judicial philosophy that would inform us. However, the Fund story gives all the appearances of a stealth nominee designed to stack the court on an issue rather than to give it a guiding philosophy. I think that's the wrong approach. If Roe is going to be overturned, then it had better be via the fairest and cleanest hands method available. The way to do that is to bring back a correct judicial philosophy. And the way to do that is to appoint judges who have thought deeply about the act of judging.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Truth Be Hanged

I blame Dick Wolf. Mebbe Jacques Derrida, too.

Derrida you can look up for yourself, but Wolf is of course the mastermind of the 68 versions of Law & Order, an episode of which is airing right now somewhere on cable regardless of when you're reading this.

In this course of my work, I lunched today with a grizzled litigator, a "trial dog," who in his younger days prosecuted and convicted Sam the Plumber DeCavalcante, a pretty big fish in the New Jersey Mafia.

His take on trial technique is that you find a hole in the other side's story, and you win. What if you're prosecuting, I asked. Same deal, he replied. Even when you have the burden of proof, you bullseye the other guy.

Ah, it occurred to me. That's what's happened to social intercourse. We're all lawyers now. We no longer hold joint inquiries looking for truth, like the old days of Socrates, symposia or the original Reform Club, whose members included polar opposites GK Chesterton and GB Shaw.

We look to prove the other guy wrong. That a flawed argument can contain more truth than the polished but limited one is an alien concept. A man's reach must equal his grasp, and may not exceed it, or else he is an idiot or a liar. We don't search for truth together anymore---truth is a solitary pursuit, and everybody else is our adversary.

To me that's a shame, because the Symposium, the original Reform Club, and the Algonquin Roundtable were parties, not an excuse to inflict one's misery upon others. Knock back a few, dress in women's clothing (in drag, I look a little like Susan Estrich), make a few bad puns, consider the universe, and mebbe walk away with something of lasting value or in the least, a good buzz.

I suppose there was a good time to be had at a public execution back in the day, although why escapes me. We put the truth on trial at all times these days, and it is always guilty. It's not surprising nobody says nothing anymore, because the hangman always wins. Everybody gets what they came for.

With Friends Like These . . .

Harriet Miers would do well to ask her defenders to take a breather.

Hugh Hewitt has advanced the "powerful" argument that "constitutional law" just isn't that hard, so we shouldn't worry about whether Miers is a brainiac. The inferences aren't good for Miers and are worse for Bush's governing philosophy.

Is this really how we want to make our appointments? "Well, being head of FEMA isn't rocket science, so let's not trouble ourselves overmuch about getting the top, top candidate." Besides, constitutional law is harder than it looks and being a Supreme Court judge involves the rest of federal law, which is deep, complex, and confounding.

If I were Harriet, I'd have Hugh back off 'cuz he ain't helping.

Go For The Guffaw

Lately I have not written that many columns in which I aimed to achieve laugh-out-loud funny.

Today I took a shot.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Bush League Diplomacy

Our friend Mr. Elliott will be happy to note that this column is not one that I considered to be a suitable venue for my trademark wordplay.

Regrettably I was impelled to spank the President. In private conversation, he uses a sort of prophetic language that has a legitimate context in human affairs. Yet he is careful not to use it on the national stage. Nobody could imagine him standing up and saying at a press conference or a stump speech (even in a church) that God told him to go into Afghanistan or Iraq - even if he believes in his heart that this is the case.

Then how is it smart or appropriate to tell it to the Palestinian "leaders"?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Movement Economics

Our new, courteous, welcome, and breath-of-fresh-air correspondent Connie Deady writes:

Perhaps maybe the face of small business is changing. I'm a small consulting business (me and hubby). But where I live, lots of small retail businesses have had to close because they can't financially compete with large chains. Maybe it's not bad, but it is changing from ownership to worker.

Personally, I'd love to see more Republican support for small businesses.

Well, I think the GOP support for business in general obscures its support for small business, which employs about half of Americans, if I recall. Big business is actually closer to Hobbes' Leviathan, and elicits support from both parties alike as an easy mark to tap for political cash. (Republicans like it because it's business, Democrats like it because it's big and therefore more easily centralized and controlled. But it's mostly about the cash, and its contributions are self-interestedly fair and balanced.)

If I may imprudently help the other side, a Democrat push for "Buy American" (the current [or any] administration could hardly start an ideological trade war with China) would have great resonance in this here USA. Breaking our addiction to cheap but largely crap consumer goods from foreign shores would make economic sense as well as support our fellow Americans of the working class.

Not much downside, except for screwing with Wal-Mart, where America tends to go on Sundays after church, if not instead of...

A Critique of Pure Reason

Our resident anonymous liberal, Liberal Anonymous (which sounds like a good name for a self-help group), writes to my colleague:

Actions speak louder than words, Hunter, and Scalia has shown himself to be a rank hypocrite whenever he disagrees with the outcome of the law.

Aye, that's our real world, LA. We are all human, and thus vulnerable to rationalizations and therefore hypocrisy---although I personally think Scalia's batting average for fidelity to his judicial philosophy might make him the court's ranking non-hypocrite. To wit: Justice Ginsburg fully allows that Roe is bad law, but won't lift a finger to overturn it, or even tame it.

Do you favor turning your back on essential questions of right and wrong when the law dictates the contrary of your moral sense? I mean, surely a person of your obvious cosmic rectitude would have dissented in the Dred Scott decision.

Or as our current President Bush (two down, one to go) so eloquently put it:

"Another example would be the Dred Scott case, which is where judges, years ago, said that the Constitution allowed slavery because of personal property rights.

That's a personal opinion. That's not what the Constitution says. The Constitution of the United States says we're all—--you know, it doesn't say that..."

Precisely. Ah, the inarticulate speech of the heart: he is the master.

Trusty Slate lefty Tim Noah associates
, and not unfairly, Roe with Scott, and why Bush says he wouldn't appoint someone so reasonable as to agree with the Constitution (at that time) on the latter.

I ask you this not to put you on the spot, LA, but to open the gates of heaven and hell to all on this Miers thing. I mean, it's far easier and quicker to learn someone else's mind than their heart, which is why I think Bush went this way. Peter Singer or FDR? Sensibility or sense? Nietzsche or Jesus? Justice or mercy? Winston Churchill or Viggo Mortensen?

"Be kind. It’s worthwhile to make an effort to learn about other people and figure out what you might have in common with them. If you allow yourself to be somewhat curious — and if you get into the habit of doing that—it’s the first step to being open minded… and realizing that your points of view aren’t totally opposite. I don’t think anyone’s are, in the end. It’s just a question of finding out by spending time with them or giving their ideas a chance to be considered."
---Viggo Mortensen, Artist, Actor, Activist

(Very interested as to what Brother Viggo has found in common with al-Qaeda and the janjaweed, and to hear his plan for Congo, but that should not diminish the universialityness of his sentiment. I'd think we could count him as firmly in Ms. Miers' court. What a nice man. If he had spent 10 years at Harriet Miers' side, spending time with her and giving her ideas a chance to be considered, I'm sure he would have nominated her himself.)

Friday, October 14, 2005

From Blog King to Waterboy

Oh, Hugh, now you're just getting a little too sensitive:

On Miers' side to date: Ken Starr, Lino Gralia, Thomas Sowell, James Dobson, Jay Sekulow, Marvin Olasky, Chuck Colson, Michael Medved, William Rusher, R. Emmett Tyrrell and of course Fred Barnes. Against her: The Corner, Tucker Carlson, Bill Kristol, Robert Bork, Mark Levin, George Will, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Michael Savage, and Charles Krauthhammer. I like those odds.

Oh, yes. President Bush thinks she'll make a fine Associate Justice. A strong case allows the weak case as much time as it wants. A weak case shouts down its opposite, and refuses to engage.

Hauling water for Bush on Miers has made Hugh Hewitt weary. First, he puts R. Emmett Tyrrell in the Miers camp when Tyrrell scarcely declared a side. Instead, he noted the ugliness and uselessness of fighting over something that is going to happen. He also said conservatives have every right to be disappointed with the choice. Hey, if that's what counts as support, then the thinness of the fabric is starting to show.

Second, Hewitt declares the anti-Miers crowd has a weak case and is shouting down the "stronger" case for Miers. We've heard the case for Miers, haven't we? Trust the president. Trust the president. And oh, by the way, trust the president. On the other hand, the critics of the nomination have examined her record, her writings, and her resume' and have concluded there are many better options. That doesn't exactly qualify as shouting down a stronger case.Give it up, Hugh. You've gone from "clutch" to just plain "clutching."

Dim Bulbs, Big City

(If you can't tell that the following piece is in tribute to Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerny, you probably would have more fun reading the obituaries.)

You open your eyes on a world shooting piercing rays of angry light through the gray. You turn over and fall off the bed into a damp pool of unidentifiable detritus from last night's romp. You stagger upright and your knee goes from twinge to jolt in a second flat.

You stare into the bathroom mirror and see a perfect zit on your nose, too small to squeeze but too big to ignore. You shave like a John Deere contraption hacking through the underbrush and when the simian quality is cleared, a pair of scowling jowls are revealed.

You kick the dog on the way to the kitchen and all you hear behind you is a whimper and then a wheeze. You press a mess of buttons on the percolator for some exotic Italian coffee but all you get is some Spanish plain - after the rain fell mainly on it and turned it into mud. You crack an egg for scrambling but it explodes out of the shell onto the counter and then slithers - phloop! - onto the floor.

You sit down at the blasted table to read the bloody morning paper. You're tired of your own problems and very receptive to learning the misery of others. You turn to the society page and you see that Jay McInerney has just begun his third marriage - to heiress Ann Hearst.

You take your Ray-Ban sunglasses and stomp up and down on them until no sliver exceeds the size of a mustard seed. You grab some fresh-baked bread and squeeze it into Silly Putty, then fling projectiles at the door of the microwave. Life goes on.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Send Andy and Karen on a Junket. Bring in Peggy

Peggy Noonan knows just how the President can get out of this mess.

Let's hope he'll listen, because the dynamic has become unwinnable. Every reassurance to the right bounces off like teflon because the Pres. ripped his pants insincerely calling them sexist and elitist and besides they've been Soutered, Stevensed, Warrened, Brennaned, etc. ad infinitum. At the same time those reassurances alienate the left.

There are no good moves remaining. The nomination is sunk unless pushed through via unseen coercion and sheer cussedness, which will please exactly no one and create a bunker mentality in the White House that will last a very long three years.

The Difference between Borking and Getting Miered

The gang at NRO's The Corner has come up with the multiple meanings of "Getting Miered":

1. Good --

To put your own allies in the most untenable position possible based upon exceptionally bad decsion making.

2. Better --

While steadlily going in reverse in the driveway of your own home, intentionally abruptly pressing gas pedal as to crash into garage door for no apparent reason.

3. Best --

Getting used to everyone hating you except your core supporters and thinking what the hell, it'd be cool to see what it's like to have everyone hate you at same time.

More Mendacious Lefty BullSputum

The same kind of lame crap we've been getting in Democrat rhetoric for decades is served up fresh by John Kerry:

“I can’t find anything in any religion anywhere, I certainly cannot find anything in the three-year ministry of Jesus Christ, that says you ought to take health care away from poor children or money away from the poorest people in the country to give it to the wealthiest people in the nation.”

Kerry made the statement to a Democrat women's group in Iowa.

What I would love is for any of the lefty-lurkers at Reform Club (well-loved, of course) to defend Kerry's statement. Exactly how does this transfer take place? What program takes health care and money from the poor and shovels it into the accounts of the wealthy? I haven't heard of it or seen it debated on Capitol Hill. It must have been covered extensively. I mean, it sounds so terrible.

Is this just willful mendacity?

This May Be the Final Stroke . . .

Given that we host some pretty serious writers on this blog our internal dissent over Harriet Miers may come to an end as you read this Southern Appeal post by Francis Beckwith quoting David Brooks quoting Harriet Miers (hot damn, that's writing!).

I reproduce the post below:

This is painful to read - Harriet Miers in her own words, as documented by David Brooks.

The following appeared in David Brooks' column in this morning's New York Times:

....In the early 90's, while [Miers] was president of the Texas bar association, Miers wrote a column called ''President's Opinion'' for The Texas Bar Journal. It is the largest body of public writing we have from her, and sad to say, the quality of thought and writing doesn't even rise to the level of pedestrian.

Of course, we have to make allowances for the fact that the first job of any association president is to not offend her members. Still, nothing excuses sentences like this:

''More and more, the intractable problems in our society have one answer: broad-based intolerance of unacceptable conditions and a commitment by many to fix problems.''

Or this: ''We must end collective acceptance of inappropriate conduct and increase education in professionalism.''

Or this: ''When consensus of diverse leadership can be achieved on issues of importance, the greatest impact can be achieved.''

Or passages like this:

''An organization must also implement programs to fulfill strategies established through its goals and mission. Methods for evaluation of these strategies are a necessity. With the framework of mission, goals, strategies, programs, and methods for evaluation in place, a meaningful budgeting process can begin.''

Or, finally, this: ''We have to understand and appreciate that achieving justice for all is in jeopardy before a call to arms to assist in obtaining support for the justice system will be effective. Achieving the necessary understanding and appreciation of why the challenge is so important, we can then turn to the task of providing the much needed support.''

I don't know if by mere quotation I can fully convey the relentless march of vapid abstractions that mark Miers's prose. Nearly every idea is vague and depersonalized. Nearly every debatable point is elided. It's not that Miers didn't attempt to tackle interesting subjects. She wrote about unequal access to the justice system, about the underrepresentation of minorities in the law and about whether pro bono work should be mandatory. But she presents no arguments or ideas, except the repetition of the bromide that bad things can be eliminated if people of good will come together to eliminate bad things.

Or as she puts it, ''There is always a necessity to tend to a myriad of responsibilities on a number of cases as well as matters not directly related to the practice of law.''

And yet, ''Disciplining ourselves to provide the opportunity for thought and analysis has to rise again to a high priority.''

Throw aside ideology. Surely the threshold skill required of a Supreme Court justice is the ability to write clearly and argue incisively. Miers's columns provide no evidence of that.


The Babe Theory Part III

Sorry, couldn't resist.

(Credit: Map Books 4 U)

What, Me Worry?

The intensely negative reaction of some of my Reform Club colleagues in response to the Harriet Miers nomination certainly gives me cause to pause and think. My position, as our readers are well aware, has been one of rather blithe unconcern. Hunter Baker, Esq., describes it correctly as follows:

We've had S.T. play the "she'll vote fine" card and Tom urge tolerance in light of core values the president may be observing and those are good things to say. I count them better men than I for holding their water with so much less volatility.

I suppose that I should make it clear that I do not for a moment imagine that Ms. Miers is the "most qualified" person possible to name to the Court. (I also must admit that I could not begin to guess who is the person most qualified to do so.) I think it a misstep on President Bush's part to expect his fellow Republicans to "take it on faith" that Miers would suit their purposes if she takes a seat on the Court. When I heard the news of Bush's nomination, I said, "Who?" exactly like just about everybody else.

Yet, as mentioned earlier, I have found it very difficult to see precisely what there is to worry about here. If, as seems perfectly evident, Miers will provide a solid strict-constructionist vote on the Court, she should be exactly what Republicans have been calling for over the past couple of decades.

Perhaps this is a matter of personal temperament. To me, outcomes are everything, and any way of getting there is fine with me. It's just the way I'm wired. And as Hunter suggests, I haven't yet seen a problem with the ultimate outcome here, and hence don't see any need to get upset about the situation—yet.

But the world also needs people who are concerned about processes, and that is why I cannot and do not fault President Bush's Republican opponents on this matter for feeling uneasy. They are worried about the message this nomination sends (or fails to send) about the role of judicial philosophy in American governance, and although I think their worries are misplaced in the present case, I recognize the value of such concerns and the importance of the debate.

I think that Fred Barnes's article today on the Weekly Standard website hits just the right tone and reflects the same considerations I have been writing about. Barnes concedes that those on the Right who are angry with Bush for this nomination have valid concerns. Nonetheless, Barnes says, Miers has yet to testify before the Senate, and that is the point at which we will see what she is made of. Until then, some grumbling and suspicion are understandable, but the sense of betrayal and horror many on the Right have displayed is difficult for us goal-oriented types to fathom. Hence, at the risk of further angering some of his friends, Barnes concludes that a bit of forbearance would have worked better for those on the Right who are concerned about the role of the judiciary in American life:

My conclusion is: Bush supporters who were angry over Miers should have waited. That's the bottom line. Rather than bellow that Miers isn't qualified and won't turn the Court to the right, they should have

given her a chance to prove her conservatism at the hearings. They owed Bush at least that much. Of course it's not too late for Miers, in her testimony, to change their minds. But my fear is that the rift the Miers nomination opened between Bush and his (mostly conservative) followers will be slow to heal. It shouldn't have been this way.

Barnes is correct: it shouldn't have been this way. Yes, President Bush made it possible by nominating Harriet Miers, which now appears to have been a stupid move from a political standpoint—but his critics on the right share at least equal resposibility for this disagreement. The President's critics on the right complain that Bush has been wrong to expect them to "take it on faith" that Miers will serve the purposes they wish to see achieved on the Court. Yet could not the President equally complain that his critics on the Right have broken faith with him by suddenly asserting the importance of process over results?

Sometimes we all have to stand back, take a deep breath, and remind ourselves of what the real goal is.

Evangelicals Aren't Identity Voters

I have no idea why Hugh Hewitt has attached his significant credibility to defending the Miers nomination no matter how weak the arguments he has to serve.

First of all, Mark Levin, who was once chief of staff to the Attorney General, challenged Hugh on the exalted significance he attaches to the White House counsel office, where Hugh once worked and which Miers currently heads. Specifically Levin said, "Sorry, Hugh. They're not considered the Constitutional engine that runs the government."

Second, Hewitt continues his absurd notion that the resistance to Miers will somehow do massive damage to evangelical support of the conservative movement. After Howard Fineman suggested (as have several of us at SA) that a GOP primary candidate would be well-advised to vote against a Miers confirmation, Hewitt said,

"That is simply wrong. To vote against Miers because the Bos-Wash Axis of Elitism is against her is not the way to gain Evangelical favor. The opposite, in fact."

Evangelicals are not identity-voters. If they were, Ronald Reagan would never have beaten Jimmy Carter, an established evangelical Christian at the time. Evangelicals vote issues. When it comes to the court, the issue is whether it will be empowered to settle all disputes over sex, marriage, and reproduction. They have been sorely disappointed with several nominees and are quite unlikely to lash out at those who complain Harriet Miers' judicial philosophy is unknown and untested.Contra Hewitt, conservative evangelicals are going to act a lot more like Missourians than bloc identity voters. Show us, baby. We ain't budgin' till you do.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Art (If Any) of Popular Music

In the current issue of the Weekly Standard, Sean Curnyn provides a very interesting review of rock music critic Greil Marcus's new book on Bob Dylan, Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads. Judging by Curnyn's review, Marcus's book looks about as silly as his previous writings, which would make it very risible indeed. The reason for the absurdity of Marcus's work is its relentless fulfillment of a classic characteristic of comedy: exaggeration. In Marcus's case, he exaggerates the literary importance of the works he considers (while usually showing little real knowledge of music). This is true of all too many rock critics, especially those associated with Rolling Stone magazine over the years.

I see two reasons for this great distance between reach and grasp. One is the fact that rock critics are so intent on creating intellectual respectability for this popular art form that they love (and they see intellectual respectability as residing largely in the words of the songs). They love Elvis, the Beatles, Dylan, Elvis Costello, U2, Public Enemy, Nirvana, Alicia Keys, and whatever, and they want people to understand that this is not mind-rotting, time-wasting nonsense but is in fact really good stuff—art even. This desire is nothing of which to be ashamed: critics throughout the ages have done exactly that, from Aristotle's attempt to show the value of stage tragedies, in the Poetics, to the efforts of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English novelists and critics to afford some respectability to that brash, popular, low-class substitute for poetry and stage drama, the novel.

Rock music critics, however, are hampered by an additional problem: a lack of a real definition for the art form they are writing about. Rock music is an olio, an amalgam of several different forms of music, and popular music has never really been defined as an art form and analyzed as something discrete from other music. It has never had its Poetics or The Art of Fiction.

Hence, critics tend to praise in their favorite music the things that they like the most in life itself and that they think will bring the most respectability among the music's audience. For most rock critics this involves notions such as passion, authenticity, intensity, surface originality (but absolute, fundamental orthodoxy to a particular mindset perhaps best described as hedonistic materialism), occasional surprises (but not much musical complexity), personal drama, contemporary relevance, emotional expressiveness, and the like. (Yes, these critics are products of the last half of the twentieth century and hence a bit kooky and unmoored.) Musical works that express these characteristics are seen as good, and those that do not do so sufficiently are seen as bad.

You see the problem, of course. Passion, authenticity, intensity, surface originality, contemporary relevance, emotional expressiveness, and the like are very good things in their place, but they do not compose a coherent structure or model by which things may be tested and compared to one another. They are all too easily turned into subjective matters with no real standards of achievement that can apply to the entire body of works to be considered. In addition, they entirely lack intellectual content and hence cannot convey respectability in that realm.

I'll write more on this subject in the coming weeks, but to get the ball rolling, I will hazard a definition of popular music, one that includes all that is pop music and excludes what is not it. Here it is:

Pop music takes the form of dramatic poetry set to music.

A few notes:

One, I do not intend this definition to suggest that pop music lyrics are poetry. It takes the form of dramatic poetry, which is something a bit different from actually being dramatic poetry. Let's be realistic: pop music lyrics simply are not poetry. Some song lyrics can be quite poetic, but they are almost never true poetry, by any classically defensible definition. Read the song lyrics of the greatest lyricists, whomever you would choose, and then compare them to even middle-level poetry, and you will see this truth starkly revealed. (Note that this definition does not apply to opera librettos. The latter are poetic dramas, as opposed to dramatic poety, and can be classified as either drama or poetry or both. Operas are basically narrative in form, whereas pop music concentrates on presentation of character, particularly in moments of crisis.)

Two, pop music lyrics are dramatic, in that they typically present the thoughts and feelings of a character playing out over the course of the song. That is, they are strongly allied to performance. Even those songs that seem to take the form of a personal essay, like so many of Bob Dylan's songs, are actually brief dramas.

Third, pop music is usually much briefer than poetic drama, in deference to the form's emphasis on moments of crisis.

Fourth, the music in pop music likewise tends to serve the creation of drama.

Fifth, pop music can convey thoughts, but that is not what it does best. It is most effective at conveying motives and drama—the manifestations of human character.

Sixth, the creation of drama and expression of human character in both lyrics and music has a logic to it that can be identified and codified into principles that allow comparison and reasonably objective analysis of pop music to the extent that such things are possible with any art form.

As noted earlier, I'll write more about this in future, but I offer this definition as a way to begin the process of establishing some standards by which to analyze and judge popular music in a rather more objective way.

Miered in the Slough of Despond

Hunter is sounding like a man who can't take much more of this. He's obviously not looking at the nomination through the lens of self-interest. This Miers kerfuffle is the biggest gift to hit the right-wing blogosphere since Rathergate. It's such a complete and utter disaster, there's really nothing to do but try to get some laughs and traffic out of it.

Miers is a homonym of mires.
Mire is a synonym of swamp.
Other synonyms of swamp are:
(my favorite)
The Miers nomination is a dismal morass. QED.

If you were looking for something that was actually clever and funny, you should visit Dylan over at Still Angry, where George and Harriet are given the Mark Antony treatment and a chorus of bloggers including Bainbridge, Patterico, and Feddie from Southern Appeal play supporting roles. It is the funniest thing I've read in days, and when Dylan declaims

I come not, friends, to steal away your hearts: I am no orator, as Bush is.

my coffee went four different directions. Dylan tops himself in his own comments box, however, when he explains

I'm a Texas A&M grad with a University of Houston J.D., so I know an underqualified Texas legal hack when I see one.


Language, Mr. Baker, Language

I need this Harriet Miers thing to go away.

My reflections on Bush have nearly reached the pitch blackness of the worst moments of the Clinton era when he pled for an end to the Monica story because he needed to be about the business of the American people, as though there was a room somewhere that required his steady hand on the controls.

At least Bush can claim he's been distracted by the extraordinary challenge of Iraq.

But it's not good enough, not nearly. I'd love to hear from the other RC'ers on this question, but I do believe the Miers nomination is the biggest political <expletives deleted> screw-up (the replacement term) I have ever seen in my lengthening life.

We've had S.T. play the "she'll vote fine" card and Tom urge tolerance in light of core values the president may be observing and those are good things to say. I count them better men than I for holding their water with so much less volatility.

But all of this ignores the fact that there has been a conservative legal movement going strong for about twenty years now. It has certain identifiable members. Resume's from that group look a certain way. They are a lot like Bork except more diplomatic and more careful. Bush was very definitely understood to be referring to this group of people when he said he wanted originalists like Scalia and Thomas.

Many members of this group are quite well-accomplished as academics, jurists, or both. The expectation has been building for this entire period, really longer than twenty years, that when we had both the White House and the Senate, we would nominate these people and WIN.

For the President to choose any other course of action is almost willfully dense or offensive. To compound the offense by claiming he selected the most-qualified person available is insulting. To the extent men I admire, like James Dobson and Chuck Colson, seconded Bush in this choice I can only imagine that they found it difficult to oppose a personal request from the President when he offered his word of honor.

For the White House to expect the controversy would blow over in 48 hours displays the same kind of tone-deafness that utterly failed to prepare the American people for the size and duration of the action in Iraq.

There is no other way out than to start over. The President is picking Hugo Black over Learned Hand and that is just not the way to do things (forgive me for an illustration that may not resonate with non-legal types). It isn't fair to the people who have prepared for these opportunities. It isn't fair to Harriet Miers. It boggles my mind that she didn't refuse him if he brought up the idea.

What's going on is more of the old LBJ, Bull----, down-home politics and that just isn't the way you handle the court. If Bill Clinton can nominate and confirm a former ACLU bigwig like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then I dare say we need not do less when our opportunities arise.

Call time out, Mr. President. Step back from the plate. Clear your head. Find an honorable way to start over. Then, swing away.

Conspiracy Theory

Although I don't buy conspiracy theories most of the time, that doesn't mean I don't think of them. Here's the latest:

1. Peggy Noonan and others have complained the Bushes and Clintons are unhealthily chummy.

2. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that the Bushes have a deal with the Clintons to put Hillary in the White House in 2008.

3. At the very moment Clinton FBI Head Louis Freeh releases his book blasting the Clintons for their terrible management of law enforcement/terrorism, President Bush nominates Harriet Miers.

4. The Miers controversy sucks all the air out of the press and the Freeh book gets about 10% of the publicity it might ordinarily have gotten.

5. BUSHCLINTON triumphs again!!!!

Bwwwuh-HAHA! Bwwwuh-HAHA!!!!

Oh, Jay Is Guilty Again

So you have built up an appetite (you remember the Seinfeld dialogue... Jerry: George, do you ever yearn?; George: I crave, I crave incessantly, but I don't yearn...) for an article by Jay Homnick, and who can blame you?

It's not my way to deny my devotees their wishes. Here it is.

What is it about? About 800 words. On what subject? Harriet Miers - what else is there?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Desperate Assertions by Team Bush

I've just read a transcript of the Today show interview between Matt Lauer and President Bush and wife (forgive me for not linking).

What has left me more appalled than ever are the terrible arguments made in favor of Ms. Miers by those who love her most for the position of Supreme Court Justice. Here are the key assertions made by the Bushes this morning:

1. "Harriet Miers is the single most qualified candidate for the nomination."

Ulp, urrrk . . . I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. I mean, did anybody notify the the Guinness Book people? I think Bush just broke the record for least plausible political statement set by Bill Clinton with his thing about abortion being "safe, legal, and RARE."

2. "The conservative opposition to Ms. Miers is likely sexist in nature."

Is there any way to respond to this with a straight face? Does anybody believe that a Priscilla Owen or Edith Jones nomination would have aroused the atomic opposition of legal conservatives? Noooooooooooooooooo.

Meanwhile, the normally very astute Hugh Hewitt keeps saying, "Trust the President. He has his reasons. He knows her. Trust him." In Hewitt's view, that wascally Bush is going to outfox the Dems again.

I'm looking at things a bit differently. Remember Bush 41? He made a deal with the Democrats on tax increases and destroyed his presidency politically. That brings us to the third assertion in the interview:

3. "I listened to people who said it's time to bring in someone from outside the judiciary."

Who might have been saying that? I'm guessing Dems and maybe RINO's. The Harry Reid "delighted" response was a bit of a dead give-away. Thus, instead of doing the Reagan thing, Bush is doing just like dear-old Dad and is making unhelpful deals with the other team that will destroy him.

What I'm saying is that Harriet Miers is "No New Taxes" all over again. (If Bush has learned anything, it seems to be "wait until the second term to piss off the base.")

This little bit of compromise is particularly damaging because Bush's bond with the conservative movement has involved a huge helping of "Trust me."

Given the uncertain status of the war in Iraq and a bloated federal government, I'm fresh out of trust. What I needed was a slam-dunk, not another relationship test.

Monday, October 10, 2005

TRC Hall of Famer: Buckley

Everyone has their heroes. One of mine, since the tender age of about 18, has been William F. Buckley. I'm thinking about him because of this lovely profile in the NYT. Without Buckley, I seriously doubt there would ever have been a Goldwater presidential run or a Reagan presidency. It is a cliche', a true one, but still a cliche', to say that Buckley gave the conservative movement style and wit. Some claim him as the founding modern conservative intellectual, but one would need to make a bit of room for Russell Kirk (who showed us the historical pedigree of conservatism) and Whitaker Chambers (who never accepted the conservative label), too.

In an article about the Rush Limbaugh/ESPN/Donovan McNabb fiasco, I wrote the following about Buckley:

While a graduate student at the University of Georgia in the early nineties, I had the privilege of attending a speech given by William F. Buckley. The elder statesman of the movement amazed the large crowd with both his wit and his wardrobe. To this day, I remember his navy sportcoat, yellow shirt, khaki pants, and RED belt. You’ve got to be good to pull that look off, but Buckley was equal to the task.

At the end of his presentation, he allowed questions. The first supplicant approached the microphone and hopefully inquired, "Mr. Buckley, what do you think about Rush Limbaugh?" This was during the time when Rush was still something of a rising star. His rhetoric was bombastic, hard-edged, and wickedly funny. Members of the audience shifted forward in their seats expectantly as Buckley answered by telling the following story.

There were two Spaniards sitting in a bar. One asked the other, "What do you think about General Franco?" Instead of answering, the man gestured for his friend to follow him outside. Once on the sidewalk, he motioned for the friend to follow him to his car. They got in the car and drove to a forest. Deep in the woods, he parked the car and beckoned the friend to hike with him down to a lake. At the edge of the lake, he pointed to a boat which they boarded. He grabbed the oars and rowed to the center of the lake. Finally, he sat still, looked his friend in the eyes and paused for a moment. "I like him." Buckley told the story so brilliantly and created so much suspense, the denouement brought the house down amid gales of laughter and happy applause.

Not as many will take notice when Buckley finishes his time among us as did when Ronald Reagan passed on, but I'm quite sure there will be some of us who may feel the loss even more deeply when it comes.

Buckley was/is incomparable. The NYT story carries the suggestion that Buckley became so much larger than life because he stood alone without much competition. I think he'd shine in any crowd.

Experts Say Hurricanes-Global Warming Connection Is False

A forthcoming article from the November issue of Environment and Climate News (which this author serves as senior editor), published by the Heartland Institute, quotes the past president of the American Association of State Climatologists as debunking the notion that hurricanes are increasing in intensity because of global warming. Pat Michales points out that the circumstances that cause the fiercest hurricanes have not changed at all in recent years:

“It is a contravention of science to attempt to link Katrina’s intensity to global warming,” said Pat Michaels, past president of the American Association of State Climatologists and senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

“Since 1982 we have had weekly records of sea surface temperature,” Michaels noted. “During this time period we can examine on a fine scale the relationship between hurricanes and sea-surface temperature. The threshold water temperature for category 3 hurricanes is 28 degrees C. Interestingly, for category 4 or 5 hurricanes, there is no statistical relationship with the amount of elevation beyond 28C. The Gulf of Mexico reaches 28 C every year, whether or not the planet has warmed or is cold.”

“The most intense tropical cyclone to ever strike the United States was hurricane Camille in 1969,” observed Michaels. “Camille landed very, very close to where Katrina landed. Significantly, Camille occurred when the temperature of the northern hemisphere was at its low point for its last 80 years. Camille simply needed an ocean temperature of 28 C. Clearly, it is irresponsible to link severe Gulf of Mexico hurricanes to global warming.”

The article goes on to quote Competitive Enterprise Institute senior fellow and statistician Iain Murray confirming that the sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico reaching 28 C is nothing new:

“For hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, sea surface temperatures need only get above 28 degrees C for them to help make the hurricane Category 4 or 5,” Murray said. “Sea surface temperatures there regularly go above that level, and have done so for as long as we can remember.”

Of course, we need only await the next incidence of severe weather somewhere in the world if we wish to hear the next crackpot theory about how human-caused global warming is causing previously unimaginable catastrophes. The scenario Michael Crichton outlined in his excellent novel State of Fear is still being played out in the U.S. and European media.

Demographics 1 for Journalists

I have noted in the past that modern-day journalists---predominantly English or Political Science majors who failed to get into law school---are ignorant, stupid, lazy, dishonest, biased, and arrogant.

I was too kind. Take a look at today's LA Times, which "reports" that drug overdoses increasingly are concentrated among people in their 40s; in 1985, the dominant age was 32. And so the geniuses at the LAT seem to conclude that drug use increasingly will be a phenomenon of the middle-aged, and that new programs are needed to deal with this new trend.

Oh, dear. Has it occurred to our crack reporters that there is a cohort---the ineffable boomers---that for whatever reason is more prone to drug use, and that drug use becomes increasingly concentrated in that aging cohort as time moves on? Or does the Times actually believe that this "trend" indicates that those now in their twenties increasingly will turn to drug use over the next two decades?

It's really quite unbelievable. Is so elementary an analytic dimension of basic demographics beyond the understanding of our modern journalists? Or are they the ones on drugs?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

TRC Film Review: A History of Violence

By virtue of his work in the LOTR trilogy, Viggo Mortensen has clearly made his way into the top tier of Hollywood leading men. The fact that he got the juicy role of Tom Stall in A History of Violence proves it.

HOV is a superb film. I haven't seen anything in the theatre that has caught my interest in the way this movie did in a long time. It is violent, graphically violent in a smoothly choreographed fashion, but this isn't action movie violence. It isn't glorified. At every point you see the dualistic nature of violence, justified or not, and the way even the justified violence leaves you feeling a little sick.

The basic story is about a simple, small-town man who kills men about to commit rape, robbery, and murder in his cafe'. He is so successful in thwarting the attack of these bad men, he attracts attention from the media who view him as a hero and from less savory characters who think he is one of their number from the past. These big-city mob types want to kill Tom Stall as revenge for something they believe he did years ago. They think his name is Joey and that he maimed a made man.

Whether he is the man they are looking for or not, I leave for you to find out.

In any case, the film is very successful in riveting the viewer's interest and stimulating thought. You care about the characters and become invested in the outcome.

Finally, William Hurt had a small, but very important part in the film. He may be on screen for ten minutes, but they all count. He's magnificent in his role. If they give an Oscar for a brief, but powerful appearance, it's his.

Side note: There are two sex scenes in the film between Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello. The scenes are semi-gratuitous. I say semi because they do contribute to the development of the story, but the same could have been done with less graphic scenes. I wouldn't mention it except that the scenes are far from cookie-cutter, so you end up reflecting on them.

Side note 2: Despite the fact that I clearly asked for a ticket to A History of Violence, the cashier gave me a ticket to The 40 Year Old Virgin. Since it was a weeknight and it didn't matter, I didn't ask for a new ticket. After the film, however, I wondered whether the mistake could have been intentional. Think of it, my money went to a film I didn't see. Unethical individuals could arrange something like that with bribes or favors to cashiers. I could be on an imagination trip, but it seems possible.