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.

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"?