"Go not for every grief to the physician, nor for every quarrel to the lawyer, nor for every thirst to the pot." —George Herbert (1593-1633)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Oh, Please Let It Stop: Sekulow and Apparent Financial Stewardship Issues

Nothing burns me like hearing that leaders of various Christian ministries are living the big life in big houses with fast cars and swimming pools all paid for by the donations of regular folks.

These men and women get a television or radio show and start taking large salaries or get houses and cars subsidized. The justification is that they'd be making much more in the secular world.

My response: Guess what, good Christian? You are supposedly engaging in a ministry and that entails certain sacrifices. More is expected of you and you are supposed to expect less for yourself.

The latest article in the series of disappointments focuses on Jay Sekulow:

But there is another side to Jay Sekulow, one that, until now, has been obscured from the public. It is the Jay Sekulow who, through the ACLJ and a string of interconnected nonprofit and for-profit entities, has built a financial empire that generates millions of dollars a year and supports a lavish lifestyle -- complete with multiple homes, chauffeur-driven cars, and a private jet that he once used to ferry Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

That less-known side of Sekulow was revealed in several interviews with former associates of his and in hundreds of pages of court and tax documents reviewed by Legal Times. Critics say Sekulow's lifestyle is at odds with his role as the head of a charitable organization that solicits small donations for legal work in God's name.

For example, in 2001 one of Sekulow's nonprofit organizations paid a total of $2,374,833 to purchase two homes used primarily by Sekulow and his wife. The same nonprofit also subsidized a third home he uses in North Carolina.

At various times in recent years, Sekulow's wife, brother, sister-in-law, and two sons have been on the boards or payrolls of organizations under his control or have received generous payments as contractors. Sekulow's brother Gary is the chief financial officer of both nonprofit organizations that fund his activities, a fact that detractors say diminishes accountability for his spending.

In his defense, he points out that he could be billing $750 an hour at a private firm. If the money is what you value, then go get it in the private sector. Stop the direct mailings and the big appeals to people struggling the pay the mortgage. They don't know too little goes to cover the cases, while too much goes into your residence.

But You Already Had Your Fifteen Minutes . . . TRC and Newsweek

When The Reform Club was a bit younger, I noticed the excellent comments to our posts by a fellow calling himself "TVD" and urged him to reveal himself. He did and I asked Tom Van Dyke, legal headhunter, game show champion, and musician to join our act.

Tom came on board and is the original source for our now stupendously well-circulated line claiming that to be "miered" is to be "unscrupulously torpedoed by an ally." He hasn't gotten the credit because the media powers that be refuse to give him any additional time after his stints as champion of Joker's Wild and Win Ben Stein's Money (a show that will be remembered for unleashing the amazing half talent Jimmy Kimmel upon the world).

Gwinnett County budget-meister Jay Vinicki (a very longtime personal friend of an entire lifespan) called me to say that The Reform Club is once again in the mass media as part of Newsweek's Blog Watch. Color me impressed.

Thanks, Mr. Van Dyke. Great things may lie ahead. I can remember when we were thrilled to be mentioned at NRO's The Corner. (Actually, we'd be thrilled to see that again. Do it, Goldberg. Do it, Ramesh.)

I'd be remiss if I didn't say that I dispute (and disputed) the definition of being "miered." In my book, Ms. Harriet was not torpedoed and it was not unscrupulous. The cannon were all fired from above the surface of the water and war was fairly declared. The result was a good one.

Still, the turn of phrase was brilliant and there is NO argument about that.

More Unpleasant Guests



Apropos Dr. London's post below, Paris is in its fifth straight night of rioting. Occasional TRC commenter Pastorius
has been on top of it, at his provocative blog CUANAS (Christians United Against the New Anti-Semitism.) Bookmark him.

A Challenge The West Must Confront

While American forces are on the battlefield in Iraq to thwart the influence of radical Islamists, the West seems to be engaged in a form of preemptive surrender.

Targeted assassinations in the Netherlands have intimidated Dutch leaders.

The British in one provincial government are voluntarily covering porcine images fearing some offense against Muslims in their midst.

American military leaders were engaged in a thorough examination of allegations about urine splattered Korans in the Guantanamo Bay prison.

Four people died in Alexandria, Egypt when a stage play deemed offensive to Muslims was recorded and distributed on a DVD. Five thousand Muslim rioters rampaged through two predominately Christian neighborhoods.

Although the French government was primarily concerned about Muslim garb in this ostensibly Christian nation, it banned all religious displays so that Muslims would not consider themselves targeted.

The willingness of radical Islamists to employ violence in response to real or perceived grievances is a tactic that has intimidated many leaders worldwide. There is scarcely a Western leader – I cannot think of one – who has been critical of Islam’s violent Koranic characteristics.

By contrast, when a soi disant artist plastered elephant dung on a portrait of Madonna in the Brooklyn Museum most establishment figures defended the artist’s right of expression. I can only imagine what would happen if a likeness of Prophet Mohammed were treated in similar fashion.

Where, for example, are the demonstrations of the movie industry over the murder of the Dutch film maker Theo Van Gogh by a Muslim extremist? It is instructive that these same film makers are still aggrieved over the stifling tactics of Joseph McCarthy in the 1950’s, but cannot marshal indignation when one of their brethren is murdered for a film about Islamic women. This can only be described as the silence of intimidation.

For Muslim extremists a willingness, alas an eagerness, to die offers them a distinct public advantage over Westerners who put a justifiable premium on life. As one Muslim critic asked of his detractors in Europe: “Are there causes for which you would die?” In secular societies the answer is increasingly “no”.

Many American students who don’t know that the American Revolution preceded the French Revolution and wear Che Guevara tee shirts with pride would never consider a disparaging word about Islam. They have been trained in incapacity and assume that any form of discrimination is wrong.

The West contends that the separation of church and state is an overarching characteristic of stable societies. For Islam, there is only Sharia, religious law, which transcends governmental decisions. As a consequence, Islamists have great difficulty with the secularization of the laws. Allah is not merely a focus of worship, but the inspiration for all legal and governmental matters.

As Hegel noted, the state is secure when citizens can engage in the renunciation of appetites in behalf of the law. In the West, law is abiding because the law abides. But what emerges when religious fervor doesn’t permit limitation? What happens to Western permissiveness when a sub-culture refuses to embrace the secular dimensions of the law?

The answers are already apparent. Islam is treated as special, a state of religion different from the others. Western authorities avert their gaze from the horrors in their midst. They refuse to consider the necessary steps for stability such as forced deportation. They are confused by religious zealotry at the very moment they have lost their own religious impulses.

We have come to tolerate an intolerant, totalistic sub-culture that prospers in liberal societies that offer ideological cover. Now we must experiment with techniques to control the enemy from within. Thusfar, the score card is not in our favor. Can this condition be reversed? Will the West come to appreciate the threat to their democracies? The future of the West depends on answers to these questions.

Proud to be a Baylor Bear

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute has released its most recent guide to choosing colleges and Baylor made their top ten list of colleges that emphasize American values:

6. Baylor University, Waco, Texas - This Baptist school, with a solid teaching tradition and a newly beefed-up faculty, is a place where conservative students can get a solid liberal arts education. It has one of the best core curricula of any school. Students are required to follow a structured curriculum and to demonstrate a proficiency in a foreign language. General education requirements make up more than half of a student's course load.

College Democrats and Republicans coexist on the Baylor campus, along with a flourishing chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas, a popular political group that has chapters on campuses throughout the state.

Baylor's enrollment has been booming lately. This year's record is likely to be eclipsed significantly by next year's group. Interested parties should remember to thank one Robert Sloan.

Christian Socialist, Meet Christian Libertarian

Jim Wallis gets a lot of mileage out of being the evangelical with a social conscience. In other words, he votes Democrat most of the time. Certain other top-drawer evangelicals swing that way, too, reflecting what I think is usually fear of being labeled a member of the "ignorant" and "non-compassionate" right. The question is, how correct is Wallis in his inclination to lean left? Is he more biblically-correct in his pro-life, but economically statist positions?

Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute does a nice job of addressing the question in his latest for American Spectator. Here's a representative clip from the review of one of Wallis' books:

WALLIS PRESENTS HIS VISION as a fourth option to conservatives, liberals, and libertarians. In his view it "follows from the prophetic religious tradition." In sum, "it is traditional or conservative on issues of family values, sexual integrity, and personal responsibility, while being very progressive, populist, or even radical on issues like poverty and racial justice. It affirms good stewardship of the earth and its resources, supports gender equality, and is more internationally minded than nationalist."

One can make good prudential policy arguments on behalf of all of these positions. But while God says much about people's relationship to him and each other, he says very little about when people should coerce each other -- that is, what government should do. And this failure to distinguish personal moral imperatives from prudential political concerns places him squarely where he does not want to be: standing between Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

Perhaps no where is this more evident than Wallis's reflexive rejection of "tax cuts for the rich." However, the money is not a "public good" to be spent either on government projects or gifts for the wealthy. Rather, the money has been collected from the very people to whom it is being returned. In fact, the rich pay the vast majority of income taxes: for instance, the top one percent pay more than a third of revenues. So any fair tax cut means that the rich will receive more than will the poor. One can justify progressive taxation and social spending, but one must make the argument, rather than simply denounce "tax cuts for the rich."

Similarly flawed is Wallis's discussion of poverty, both domestic and international. No faithful Christian can ignore the enormity of the problem of poverty. But a requirement that one help the poor does not authorize one to force others to help the poor. You will search Scripture long and hard to find such an authorization.

I think Bandow has hit the nail on the head. It's refreshing to read such a well-informed bit of reasoning on church and state. I've often hoped someone would address these issues raised by the Wallis position and am glad to see Doug Bandow gets the job done so in such measured fashion. The entire review is worth reading.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Miami After Dark

When I heard that Scooter might be going to jail to protect George, my natural reaction was: "Is Rizzuto really that loyal to Steinbrenner?" This caused my children to remind me once again that I am out of touch. Well, as Charlie Chan would say: "Indubitably."

Touch is not all I'm out of; I'm still out of power: who will speak for the powerless?

But a pal from ten miles north got his power back and generously stopped by to hook up his generator to my refrigerator, television, computer and a few light bulbs, so I finally have a few minutes to spend on line catching up with all the excitement. (I promised the neighbors to shut down the generator at 1 a.m., it being an awfully noisy contraption.)

Oh, and Tom, thanks for the plug about my dictated column. It's true, I shot the serif - but I did not shoot the deputy, or the intern for that matter.

And, my man Karnick, did I call the Sox thing or what? Cinderella finally gets to marry the ballplayer formerly known as Prince.

Thanks, buddies, for holding up your end of holding down the fort while I try to hold out hope and hold in my frustration.

Media Medea

Brother Jay Homnick, still without electrizical power in post-hurricane Miami, dictated every serif and comma of this piece of brilliance to a friendly but nettled intern over the phone, where it now appears on American Spectator Online.

Timely and sage (as is his custom), it chronicles how the torpedoing of the Miers nomination marks a coming-of-age for the righty blogosphere, from gadflies to kingmakers (or at least holders of veto power). We're here, we're queer (in our own way), get used to it.

The title refers to Greek tragedy and the MSM, and the article throws some baseball into the pot to create a lively stew. Taste it for yerself.

(It occurs to me that since Jay has no access to the internet, this would be a great time to talk about him behind his back. Hehe.)

Alito Prediction

The good Samuel Alito (who reminds me of Sandy Stern from the Scott Turow novels) will win confirmation without as much difficulty as many expect.

The O'Connor seat is not the crucial seat. Even if we have Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and Roberts, the other team has Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Mr. "Sweet Mystery of Life" Kennedy. This seat is not the one that changes the balance. It makes the middle depend almost entirely on Kennedy, that's all.

Where it's going to get ugly is if a Republican gets a chance to nominate Stevens' replacement.

Alito Nomination

Well, we're definitely going to have the War Over Judicial Philosophy that the hardliners on the Right were hoping for before the Miers nomination. Alito's position on issues likely to come before the Court is fairly clear, and his resume is impressive. It seems likely that he would be much like former Chief Justice Rehnquist on the Court, and that is a prospect that Democrats cannot enjoy, given that Alito has been nominated to replace Justice O'Connor, a rather waffly Rightist vote.

Initial opposition from Senate Democrats, however, was not as intense as one might have expected. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (NV) said, "The Senate needs to find out if the man replacing Miers is too radical for the American people." Fair enough. Teddy Kennedy (MA) said, "Rather than selecting a nominee for the good of the nation and the court, President Bush has picked a nominee whom he hopes will stop the massive hemorrhaging of support on his right wing. This is a nomination based on weakness, not on strength." That may sound fairly harsh, but it's nothing when compared with the tirade he engaged in upon the nomination of Judge Bork to the Court two decades ago. Of course, there's still time for Teddy to ratchet up the rhetoric. . . .

The interim president of Planned Parenthood, a group that lobbies for universal, legal access to abortions, called the nomination "outrageous," which was only to be expected. Alito's position on abortion, however, has been more nuanced than the Planned Parenthood president's statement suggests. In 2000, he voted to strike down a New Jersey law banning late-term abortions, as unconstitutional. His reasoning in the case, however, appears to have been based on a simple attempt to follow the Supreme Court's Roe and post-Roe precedents in abortion cases. That does not quite tell us how he would vote if given a chance to affect the Court's position on those issues.

It will be an interesting debate.

Now That's More Like It

Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court. Whew. Now why couldn't Bush have just done that in the first place, and saved us all three weeks of unnecessary mudwrestling?

Since Alito is the un-Miers, oozing qualifications out every pore and with a fifteen year history on the federal bench to deconstruct, there will be more confusing information to digest than when you were trying to decide which flat screen TV to buy. We'll try to hold our own in what will be a crowded field, which I expect will be headed by Bench Memos, Volokh, the Right Coast, Althouse, and Southern Appeal.

What a great time this is to be a blogger.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Google Traffic Deluxe: I Discover Michael Been!

Several years back I caught a film on cable starring Willem Dafoe, Susan Sarandon, and Dana Delaney. I didn't see all of it, but what I did see was nearly hypnotic in its effect on me. Over the years I hoped I might run into it again, but I didn't know the title and didn't think about looking for it.

Recently, though, I found the film late at night. The title is Light Sleeper. It's a 1992 movie directed by Paul Schrader. Dafoe is fabulous as a drug dealer who has kicked his own addiction and is now looking to escape the essentially destructive life he's led. Five stars.

What got me this time around -- more than the story -- was the music, particularly a number by Michael Been titled "To Feel This Way." I had to do some digging to figure out the title of the song and the artist, but I did and ended up ordering the entire CD, On the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough, of which it is a part. Wonderful, melancholy stuff. I just want to lay on the floor and listen to it, particularly the track that arrested me in the first place. Hits all the right mood notes, especially regret.

I also discovered (S.T. Karnick is somewhere going "No, DUH.") that Been was the main man behind the Christian band, The Call. I purchased some of their stuff which I don't like quite as well as the Been solo album. It's still good. One of the cuts was apparently used by the Al Gore 2000 campaign! Also found out Bono is a fan of the band.

We'll see if any other TRC types knew these interesting secrets before I did.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

While I Was Away . . .

Hi, everybody. I just spent a week doing things in the North Georgia mountains that three year olds enjoy and infants can tolerate. Thus, the putt putt golf courses, moderate length walking trails, and playgrounds of the region have all been visited and conquered.

There was one condition placed on the trip by the wife. No laptop.

So, anything happen with the Harriet Miers thing while I was gone? :D

Friday, October 28, 2005

It's a Word -- It's a Phrase -- It's Right-Wing Neologue!

Now that we have that whole "Miered" thing squared away, I think we need to mine the political insanity of the past few weeks for even more catchy neologisms that will attract the attention of wire services and Drudge. We have to be quick, though. When Miami's electricity comes back on, Jay will have so many pent-up puns to detonate he'll be sucking the oxygen out of the blogosphere for weeks. I'll start:

Dropping the Krauthammer: using a patently absurd excuse to explain one's unusual actions.

Oh, Just One More Thing...




"If Mr. Libby had only borrowed my raincoat, stood in the shadows of a Washington parking structure, and just told the reporter, "Follow the wife," he'd be the hero of a movie in a couple of years. Instead of a bum, which is what he is, let's face it.

It's such a fine line between stupid, and clever..."

It's a Dirty Job, But...

I'll do it.

Not mentioning Scooter Libby's indictment would be conspicuous in its absence, so here goes. I hate chores, but I'll try to make it enjoyable and also use the term "unscrupulously torpedoed" at least once.

Now, writers at The Reform Club assume their gentle readers have a certain familiarity with the issues of the day. The details of this affair can be found and litigated elsewhere, and besides being too lazy to recap them, we would rather drink bourbon instead of scotch than conduct remediation without compensation.

First and foremost, anyone who was implacable about the violation of "the rule of law" during the Clinton impeachment circus would best help themselves and the republic if they just shut up and take their lumps. (This means YOU, Kay Bailey Hutchinson.) If there is no underlying crime here (and it appears there isn't), neither was there with Clinton. I mean, the Jones lawsuit was a civil case, for one thing.

This also puts the shoe on the other foot, although admittedly not as tightly. But the Libby indictment is for lying and obstructing, again with no underlying crime, so if we're to frogmarch him to the gibbet over that principle, it must be noted that Clinton was equally guilty.

I find the underlying crime, which doesn't exist, more to my own interest than the Law & Order aspects of the case:


Except for the crocodile tears crowd, no one is seriously maintaining that Valerie Plame's "outing" endangered anything or anybody. If she herself were concerned about the fate of her contacts, she wouldn't have posed for that cheesy photo in Vanity Fair.

Joe Wilson is a opportunist and a liar. (Don't take just my word for it--after two official reports debunking him came out, the Kerry campaign, which had co-opted him as an "advisor," dumped him like a bowelful of bad clams.)

Has-been/neverwas Wilson used his wife's access to get back into the Big Game. He secured an unpaid gig to go hang at the pool and drink mint tea in Niger and play International Man of Mystery, and when he got back, wrote an op-ed in the NY Times completely misrepresenting what he discovered in order to try to unscrupulously torpedo the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq. (And mebbe make some new friends, like future president John Kerry.)

Scooter Libby, as any loyal defender of his liege would, promptly and unscrupulously torpedoed Wilson back. That he had it coming was only icing on the cake, and that he indeed got sunk was the cherry on top.

So here we are.

I'm sure Mr. Libby would do the same again, because you don't let twits like Wilson endanger foreign policy, and Libby will dutifully if not cheerfully fall on his sword if necessary. But as right-thinking Americans, I'm sure we'll all presume Brother Scooter is innocent until proven otherwise. Perhaps, as he predicted today, he'll be "completely and totally exonerated."

He looks guilty as hell to me, but if he somehow slips the noose, I hope he devotes the rest of his life to tracking down the real leakers.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Alex Haley or: Why Perception Equals Reality

Recently on this blog, a regular and valued commenter put forth that the current endangered state of the Black family in America was due to the legacy of slavery.

This idea is commonly held by both the majority culture and by Blacks themselves. I mean, we've all seen Roots. Kizzy gets sold, and Chicken George's family is scattered to the four winds. Seems a reasonable conclusion, then. Certainly white folks have no personal knowledge about this.

Roots is history, but it really isn't. For example, "jumping the broom" is a European, not African custom, although it is observed in Black America today compliments of Alex Haley, the author of Roots.

So out of driven curiosity, I researched the history of the American Black family for meself. Found a scholar named Herbert Gutman who discovered there was a grapevine network during slavery to keep track of family members.

So, slavery certainly fractured the family, but it didn't die. Anecdotally, after emancipation there were tales of Black men scouring the countryside for traces of their families.

But let's stick to facts. Move on to W.E.B. DuBois studying Black families in Philadelphia. As early as the 1890s, just 35-odd years after the death of slavery, Black marriage and family rates were already nearly the same as whites:

"DuBois finds the similarities in marital state
between blacks and whites surprising. He writes that
'On the whole it is noticeable that the conjugal
condition of the Negroes approaches so nearly that of
the whites, when the economic and social history of
the two groups has been so strikingly different'":

"...[I]t must be remembered that the Negro home and the
stable marriage state is for the mass of the colored
people...a new social institution. The strictly
guarded savage home life of Africa, which with all its
shortcomings protected womanhood, was broken up
completely by the slave ship, and the promiscuous
herding of the West Indian plantation....With
emancipation the Negro family was first made
independent and with the migration to cities we see
for the first time the thoroughly independent Negro
family. On the whole it is a more successful
institution than we had a right to expect...
"--W. E. B. DuBois, The Philadelphia Negro: A social study.(1899)

Before we approach the 1960's, when a lot of funky social stuff happened, we see that Black and white marriage and illegitimacy rates are nearly identical. This is from Ebony Magazine:

"The percentage of Black women who are married
declined from 62 percent to 31 percent between 1950
and 2002." [The rate for whites in 1950 was 66%, not a statistically significant difference.---TVD]

"In 1963 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I
Have a Dream" speech, more than 70 percent of all
Black families were headed by married couples. In 2002
that number was 48 percent."

"The Black family has crumbled more in the last 30
years than it did in the entire 14 decades since
slavery," says Dr. Julia Hare, author, psychologist
and executive director of San Francisco's the Black
Think Tank."

So if I read my history right, the slave ships decimated the Black family, but Black folk adjusted to their heinous conditions, and after gaining their freedom quickly adapted to the American nuclear family structure.

The story of the American Black family is not an unbroken line from Kunta Kinte to 21st century baby daddies. Something happened in the 1960s, and I think we all know what it is. What's happened in these last 50 years has nothing to do with slavery and cannot be helped by politics. Social forces have threatened all families, but when whites sneeze, Blacks get pneumonia.

A call to return to the greatness Black America achieved, of adapting to an alien culture after being loosed from their chains with just the clothes on their backs, and not just surviving but thriving despite all the obstacles, seems to me a much finer message than one of perpetual hopelessness. I think mebbe there should be a march. A million men might show up to regain their legacy, one that was lost not so very long ago at all. Who knows?

I'm thinking mebbe whites should hold one, too. It's not like they're doing all that well, either.

Borking and Miering

AP mentions the Reform Club prominently in its story on whether "to Mier" will become part of the nation's political parlance:

A contributor to The Reform Club, a right-leaning blog, wrote that to get "borked" was "to be unscrupulously torpedoed by an opponent," while to get "miered" was to be "unscrupulously torpedoed by an ally."

S.T. Karnick, co-editor of The Reform Club, elaborated.

"If you have a president who is willing to instigate a big controversy, the prospect of being `borked' will be the major possibility," he said. "But if you have a president who is always trying to get consensus, then it's much more likely that nominees will get `miered.'"

You can read the full article here.

Art, Money, and Markets

An article on art, money, and markets, by this author, is now available on Tech Central Station. Read it here.

Go! Go! White Sox!

I can't let the day pass without commenting on something truly timeless:

The Chicago White Sox have won the 2005 World Series!

As a native Chicagoan and congenitally athletics-minded individual, I have been a White Sox fan since childhood. This is a dream come true. What makes it even sweeter is that this team has played the right way and won the championship in a really entertaining, inspiring, and edifying fashion. They have fought hard all season long for this achievement, without famed superstars or big egos, and they have stuck together as a true team.

They truly deserve our respect and congratulations, and I hereby offer them to all involved. Cheers!

Comments on Comments on Comments

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We are, of course, grateful for the suggestions.

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We prefer to remain on the honor system in this matter. Specifically, we ask that readers whose comments are removed not resubmit the identical comment. Obviously our removal of a comment indicates our desire that it not be on the site, and to put it on again, unaltered, is a definite breach of trust. Such behavior, now that the request has been given, can be seen only as caddish and vile. We trust that all readers will accede to our wishes in sustaining the kind of dialogue we wish to present.

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How Do You Spell Relief?

In April 2002, I was sitting at my desk in my office at the U. of Minnesota when the phone rang. It was my physician's office, telling me that a radiologist had spotted a suspicious shadow on what until that moment had been a routine mammogram, and could I please hold while Scheduling arranged an ultrasound test.

HMOs, university medical centers, and myself being what they all are, it was three weeks later when once again, as I sat at my desk, my physician's office rang me up. The more sensitive ultrasound test had identified the potentially cancerous lump as nothing more than a pocket of adipose tissue. Clean bill of health. For three weeks I had been denying I was at all concerned. I put my head down on my desk and bawled so immoderately that my secretary ran in with a box of tissues in one hand and an airline shot of single malt scotch in the other.

Just over three weeks ago, I was driving home after dropping my daughter off at school when Ann Compton broke into the regular morning talk show with an ABC Special Report: George Bush was nominating Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. I whimpered in impotent rage and disappointment. I knew this was bad, but didn't know it would keep getting worse, day after day after day.

This morning, I was driving home after dropping my daughter off at school when Ann Compton broke into the regular morning talk show with an ABC special report: George Bush had accepted Harriet Miers's withdrawal from consideration for a seat on the Supreme Court. I pumped my fist in the air and bellowed, "Yes! Yes!!!!" The sun shines again in the District. Tomorrow there may be bad news, but today is a day of respite. Simple common sense dictates that the relief I experience today differs not just in degree but in kind from the relief I felt at the news I did not in fact have a mortal disease. But heck if I can tell the difference.

Now where the hell's my single malt?

Know-It-Alls

A very interesting article by Robert McHenry, former editor in chief of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, on Tech Central Station considers what the author sees as a decreasing interest of journalists, academics, and the general public in getting their facts right, with a "rightness" of thought replacing mundane considerations of accuracy and conforming of one's ideas to reality. McHenry suggests that this trend is part of a general trend in American society:

I'm inclined to see this as a particular instance of a more general phenomenon, the replacement of the adult by the adolescent as the paradigm citizen.

Adolescents already know all they need to know. They are uninterested in what may have come before them and confident that it did so for naught. They see instantly into the heart of the world's problems and believe them to be simple of solution. They value sincerity, authenticity, getting real, over experience or effort. Approved attitude trumps informed opinion with them, and does so by means of social pressure rather than by, say, demonstrated efficacy. And their sense of entitlement can sometimes border on solipsism.

For some time now, and increasingly, our schooling, our politics, and our cultural life have played to the adolescent in us. Young students are encouraged to focus on their feelings and to express them in any way they find comfortable, while teachers are discouraged from correcting them. Officeholders and seekers rely on the sound bite and the scandal, not to mention their allies in the braying media, to steer or frustrate public policy. Jejune amusements are labeled "Adult." And the marketers who control our media and what passes for our national dialogue are only too happy to pander to the free-spending of any age or persuasion. It's a no-sweat world, and welcome to it.

The adolescentization of politics, begun in the 1960s, has given us the politics of gesture. A couple of years ago some 60-ish women of my acquaintance, as a protest of the Iraq war, went down to the beach and took their clothes off. This seemed to satisfy them, though as I watched the newspapers closely for days afterward I could detect no effect. We are increasingly countenancing an education of gesture, in which self-expression does not merely take precedence over but displaces that which is worth expressing; in which the tokens of achievement are wholly disconnected from achievement itself; in which teachers-in-training are being turned out of their chosen career, not on account of a subpar GPA, but because they fail to display the approved attitude toward certain issues of "social justice'; in which, to put it in plain and concrete terms, a majority of our high school graduates cannot read with comprehension the sixth-grade McGuffey Reader of yore. And do they care? lol


I think that McHenry's observations are indeed accurate.

Bush Triangulates

The interesting thing to me in the Miers withdrawal is the political angle: President Bush has managed to distance himself from the "radical right" wing of his party without noticeably damaging—and has perhaps even strengthened—the likelihood that he will be able to place another strict constructionist Justice on the Supreme Court. It is a classic case of triangulation.

It's a Nice Day to Start Again

AP writes,

Under withering attack from conservatives, President Bush ended his push to put loyalist Harriet Miers on the Supreme Court Thursday and promised a quick replacement. Democrats accused him of bowing to the "radical right wing of the Republican Party."
See, I told you there was nothing to worry about!

How I Suffer, Martyr-Like, Even

I've been seriously considering spending real actual cash money to subscribe to the centrist (I'm told) The New Republic. That's TNR as opposed to NR, the National Review, for all you acronym Nazis out there. (NR, for the record, is the official publication of the American Nazi Party. You should subscribe immediately.)

Anywayz, my subscription to TNR was just a couple mouseclicks away 'til I got my TNRArts email newsletter:

The Family Man
by Christopher Benfey
Post date 10.22.05 | Issue date 10.31.05
During the half-century since his death in 1955, James Agee has maintained a saintly aura, though it remains unclear just what sort of martyrdom he suffered. He had in excess what used to be called "advantages." Born into comfortable circumstances in Tennessee in 1909, he was educated at Exeter and Harvard and employed by the Luce empire at Fortune and Time. Among his closest and most loyal friends were influential editors and publishers, many of whom he had known at school.

Tall and rangy, Agee was (as photographs attest) spectacularly good-looking, attractive to women and to men. As a writer, he was a quick study and a dazzling stylist, adept at many forms and many voices. His vices were those of his generation: alcohol, womanizing, a marauding egotism. Not quite a poète maudit--where is the curse in a Harvard education or a Luce paycheck?--Agee settled for the lesser role of the bad boy in powerful organizations; he had a temper tantrum when the Fortune editors tampered with his piece on the cultivation of orchids.

And yet the sense of martyrdom persists. His friend and Time colleague Robert Fitzgerald called the callous on Agee's right middle finger "one of his stigmata as a writer."...


You gotta be kidding me. I dunno who James Agee was, and I'm sure I would have found his spectacularly good-looking tall and rangy self attractive, but I hope he rots in hell, one not-quite-a-poète maudit to another. (And if Hunter Baker messes with my upcoming piece on hydrangeas, he's going to get some C4 up his wazoo, not some lame middle finger.)

I ain't no martyr.



And oh, yeah, TNR, you can forget about my 60 bucks, you godless bastards.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Geese, Ganders, &c.

I'm not big on charging folks with hypocrisy. I suppose the difference to me is how one goes about things--if you aspire or try to inspire toward virtue but fall short, it goes with the territory of being human.

On the other hand, if you judge and condemn others for their shortcomings, then for with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, like the man said. But still, I don't get much pleasure from purveying fire and brimstone, even when somebody has it coming.

Peter Schweitzer, though, (via S.T. Karnick) highlights something quite cynical and quite unrelated to moral smugness:
"After researching the book I really truly believe that the leading lights of the Left — Moore, Franken, Clinton, Pelosi, Kennedy, etc. — really honestly don't believe what they are selling us. Their own experiences teach them that their ideas don't work."

Wow. Imposing standards that you don't even hold yourself? This is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

For instance, in the Atlantic a few months ago, reliable NPR lefty Sandra Tsing Loh wrote of her spirited attempt to get her own little sub-genius into private school. (She failed.)

Due to a bit of testing ineptitude on the part of her little darling, and a lot of a lack of money (she got fired for cussing on the air), little Sandra Jr. is now an inmate of the Los Angeles Unified Skool District. But what a turnaround from Mom! I was duly impressed with Ms. Tsing Loh's spirited defense of public schools in last Sunday's LA Times, castigating the paper for treating the LAUSD system as if it had "cooties." She's also taking a newfound joy in the cultural diversity that the public school system offers, and she suggested that "Times editors and writers should be required to live in the neighborhoods and send their kids to the public schools the paper covers."

Now, imposing standards on others she herself did not hold even a few months ago might open her to charges of hypocrisy, but not from me. I say good onya, Sister Sandra. But like anyone who gets religion late in life, say, Anne Rice finding Jesus, it'll be interesting to see if it sticks.

Welcome Home, Vampire Maker!

Novelist Anne Rice, author of numerous, bestselling gothic novels such as the highly influential series that started with Interview with a Vampire (and some oversexed romances under a pseudonym), has returned to the church after an absence of many years. (She left at age 18 and is now 64.)

According to Newsweek, Rice said that she "will publish Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, a novel about the 7-year-old Jesus, narrated by Christ himself. 'I promised,' she says, 'that from now on I would write only for the Lord.' It's the most startling public turnaround since Bob Dylan's Slow Train Coming announced that he'd been born again."

It certainly is an interesting event, but as in Dylan's case, each author's earlier work provides hints of the change that would ultimately come. The Newsweek article notes that Rice "sees a continuity with her old books, whose compulsive, conscience-stricken evildoers reflect her long spiritual unease. 'I mean, I was in despair.' In that afterword she calls Christ 'the ultimate supernatural hero . . . the ultimate immortal of them all.'"

It will be interesting to see whether the novel is any good. Newsweek quotes Rice as acknowledging the risk: "Rice knows Out of Egypt and its projected sequels—three, she thinks—could alienate her following; as she writes in the afterword, 'I was ready to do violence to my career.'"

That is probably the best sign of all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Governments and Vaccines

Reform Clubber Dr. Ben Zycher has an excellent column in today's Los Angeles Times, in which he analyzes why, in the light of "a possible—but unlikely—flu pandemic caused by a potential breakout of avian flu among human populations," the "greedy pharmaceutical producers" of the United States have not been "moving mountains in anticipation of this huge potential need, with all of the dollars that would follow."

Zycher's answer: previous federal government behavior toward makers of vaccines and pharmaceuticals—"orchestrated by those pro-business, pro-free enterprise, pro-capitalism Republicans," he correctly notes—has decimated the U.S. vaccine industry: "No business will make large investments that are likely to be confiscated by government, because investors will not allow it."

Zycher points out that although it is perfectly legitimate to say that people should contribute to the betterment of their fellow human beings, is is quite another thing for the government simply to take things from private individuals, without proper compensation, in order to keep their budget numbers looking good, as has been the case in the federal vaccine and pharma takings. Such policies discourage the production of things that benefit mankind and are therefore shortsighted and foolish:

The larger question is whether vaccine producers have a moral responsibility to accept large losses in order to save lives in the here and now. Those who respond with an unqualified "yes" commit two errors: They argue in the name of compassion that government ought to confiscate unlimited amounts of other people's money (products), and they ignore the future lives that will not be saved because of an artificial decrease in incentives to develop new and improved medicines. Yes, pharmaceutical producers have a moral responsibility to those in need. All of us who are more fortunate have that same responsibility, which therefore should be fulfilled through the public budget without confiscation of private property. After all, the 5th and 13th Amendments to the Constitution prohibit takings and involuntary servitude precisely so that political majorities may not impose losses upon unpopular groups.

If the government deems it a public good that people be given free access to a vaccine, the treatments should be paid for out of tax dollars.

Robbing Peter to vaccinate Paul will eventually kill both Peter and Paul.

Political Hypocrisy

Kathryn Lopez has an interesting interview with Peter Schweitzer on National Review Online today, discussing his new book, Do As I Say, Not As I Do. Schweitzer's book documents the many ways in which today's most prominent political left-liberals refuse to live according to the codes to which they hector the rest of us to adhere. The book shows, for example, how wasteful Barbra Streisand is, even though she perpetually criticizes the rest of us for falling for the consumer culture. It shows that Al Franken, who calls conservatives racists, has a worse hiring record of hiring African-Americans than Bob Jones University does. It points out that Michael Moore invests his money in Halliburton, Boeing, and HMOs, and that Moore, Nancy Pelosi, Ralph Nader, and many other left-liberals go out of their way to avoid hiring union labor.

Schweitzer acknowledges that conservatives have hypocrisies of the own, but that the press are aggressive in exposing these transgressions, and that, more importantly, the hypocritical acts of conservatives have a self-regulating component: they damage their own lives and those of their families, etc. The sins of left-liberals, however, actually make their lives better.

Yes, we are all hypocrites and I talk about that in the book. But liberal hypocrisy and conservative hypocrisy are quite different on two accounts. First, you hear about conservative hypocrisy all the time. A pro-family congressman caught in an extramarital affair, a minister caught in the same. This stuff is exposed by the media all the time. The leaders of the liberal-Left get a complete pass on their hypocrisy. Second, and this is even more important, the consequences of liberal hypocrisy are different than for the conservative variety. When conservatives abandon their principles and become hypocrites, they end up hurting themselves and their families. Conservative principles are like guard rails on a winding road. They are irritating but fundamentally good for you. Liberal hypocrisy is the opposite. When the liberal-left abandon their principles and become hypocrites, they actually improve their lives. Their kids end up in better schools, they have more money, and their families are more content. [Their] ideas are truly that bad.

Hence, Schweitzer's point is not that we should not listen to left-liberals because they are morally bankrupt as shown by their hypocrisy, but because their lives show that the ideas they advocate are not good, that they are well aware that what they are asking of others is unreasonable and unwise:

Lopez: Is there something about the book that sums something up philosophically about the Left?

Schweizer: After researching the book I really truly believe that the leading lights of the Left — Moore, Franken, Clinton, Pelosi, Kennedy, etc. — really honestly don't believe what they are selling us. Their own experiences teach them that their ideas don't work.

That is indeed the right argument to make.

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:

Comments

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.

Huh.

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.

and

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.