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

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Supreme Court: Not All Properties Are Wetlands

A wide variety of interpretations has already arisen regarding the Supreme Court's decision yesterday on federally enforced wetlands preservation. Two things seem clear, however: that the federal government may regulate human development of wetlands (which was not in doubt), and that the definition of what is a wetland cannot be stretched beyond reasonable bounds. This makes sense. Here is the libertarian Cato Institute's description of and opinion on the decision:

Supreme Court Rebuffs Senseless EPA Regulation
Supreme Court Sides with Cato Brief

WASHINGTON -- Today, the U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed an expansive reading of federal power by environmental regulators. In Rapanos v. United States, regulators claimed federal wetlands laws allow them to micromanage development of Michigan property through which a trickle of water drained, even though the land was high, dry, and land-locked. The landowner, John Rapanos, fought back, arguing that the federal Clean Water Act doesn't give regulators control over any land from which water might occasionally flow. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court agreed.

According to Tim Lynch and Mark Moller, authors of Cato's friend-of-the-court brief in support of Mr. Rapanos, the Court reached the right decision: "If the government can regulate any land from which water occasionally drains, no matter how speculative the effect of this drainage on navigable water, wetlands law gives it almost limitless jurisdiction over private property, except perhaps in the heart of the Mojave desert. In essence, the federal government's reading of the Clean Water Act would turn the EPA into a vast national zoning board.

"The English language says otherwise. The Clean Water Act gives the federal government the power to protect navigable water and regulate some land 'adjacent' to navigable water -- not control every rivulet of water that trickles through your lawn. What's remarkable about this case is not the outcome -- but the government's ability to argue its reading of federal law with a straight face."

Picture for Future Use

Just getting a headshot up where it can be viewed:

Interesting Immigration Proposal

Tech Central Station contributing writer Nathan Smith offers an interesting proposal regarding immigration, in today's issue of TCS Daily. Smith's idea is that instead of putting a number on the amount of people allowed to immigrate into the United States, or allowing all comers to live here as long as they like without having to meet any criteria for their presence here, we should tax immigration.

His proposal has merit in that, as he says, it applies economic incentives to let the market find an answer to how many immigrants should be here at any given time. He also leaves open the question of exactly what the right numbers for the taxes should be, though he gives suggestions to start the discussion rolling.

Smith's proposal does not directly address assimilation, though it is possible that his proposed tax program could be used to create incentives for immigrants to assimilate and could be used to indemnify the nation's current residents for any losses of cultural values.

Naturally, the tax numbers and associated policies, including enforcement measures, would become a matter for gross political manipulition, but at least the discussion would be out in the open and legislators and presidential administrations could be held accountable for their positions. That would be a great improvement over the current situation.

Of course, if the U.S. Senate and House can reconcile their two very different bills, it's possible that this train has already sailed. But if that doesn't happen, this would be something to consider.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Science and the Problem of Political Values (EXTENDED)

Sometimes we act like the scientific method was only invented a few hundred years ago. Don't you know that even an absolute savage seeing a thin tree spanning a narrow river would use something like the scientific method in deciding whether to cross at that point? He'd probably figure in his mind whether the the tree would bear his weight. He'd test it near the bank. He might get as far out as he could without totally committing and then come back. If he were really ambitious he might even roll a heavy log out onto the tree to see if it would hold. Then, he would take his data and decide whether he should cross. That's scientific thinking and it's been going on probably for as long as there have been human beings.

We like the scientific method. I'm a devout person, but I prefer knowledge vetted via the scientific method to any other kind. I think everyone does. If I hear about someone claiming to have been healed of cancer, I ask whether they've had it confirmed by a doctor and some tests. Anybody who tells you they don't like knowing things scientifically is probably lying. The scientific process is a good thing.

However, the scientific method is really limited in terms of what it can tell us about life and how to live it. No matter how much we learn about the natural world and how it works, the simple fact is that science has zilch to say about most of what we talk about in politics. For example, there is a lot of passion on this website about the policy the United States takes toward dealing with poor people. What does science have to say about that? Is mercy a scientific matter? Is compassion? The truth is that virtually all of us want to see the poor better off, but if we try to discuss why that should be, science just won't much enter the picture.

Science helps us figure out how to do things we want to do, but it is very little aid in figuring out what the wants are. Does science say whether we should have an anti-poverty policy? No. Does science say whether we should be aggressive or pacifist in our foreign policy? No. Does science say whether we should rebuild Iraq? No. Does science say whether we should have an affirmative action policy or that we should have ended slavery? No. Science is blind to most of politics and not surprisingly, to much of life.

Values help us figure out what our wants are. Things like freedom, loyalty, brotherhood, mercy, love, bravery, honesty, commitment, etc. Now, there are different ways to decide what your values are, but none of them are dead-on scientifically rational. I'm sorry, but it's true. This is why we get jarring statements like the one from Richard Dawkins the atheist who tells us he is a passionate Darwinist (and atheist) who is just as passionately anti-Darwinist in his politics. He is telling you that scientific knowledge about the world won't resolve the issue of your politics and for once, he is right.

What will resolve the issue of your politics? The answer is that you have to think about things like what is the nature of human beings, what is good for human beings, what does good even look like, whether something like evil exists and if so what qualifies as evil, what should you care about, what should government care about, etc. In figuring out your politics you figure out yourself. For most people, that process includes thinking about what God thinks and looking for clues to answer that question in religion. It should be clear, however, that those who do not look to religion to help answer these questions are no more rational or scientific than their religious co-seekers. Both persons or groups of persons, religious and irreligious, are filling their cups of value with something and they are not doing so on the basis of scientific analysis.

I think that is the substance behind Ann Coulters's claim that left-liberals are religious. They are engaged in the experience of determining their values and they do so in a way that is no more logical or reasonable than those who are religious. This is the ineffable territory of the soul -- defined as who you are.

Further Thoughts

This inability of science to provide any warrant for our longing for things like justice, good order, compassion, fairness, truth, etc. leads us to where we are and have been for some time. Despite the moniker "political science" we have no science of determining political (or personal, for that matter) ends. Thus, we accept the non-mathematical precision presented us by politics (as did Aristotle) and try to reason from experience and observation about ourselves and society. Natural law tries to deduce our morality in this way.

Religion enters the picture either as a mystical dropping out, a dismissal of the earthly world as an illusion, or (more relevantly) as a massive claim upon history. This last is what we encounter with the Jewish and Christian faiths in particular. Both say "This really happened (the giving of the law or the resurrection of Jesus)" and "Because this thing happened we can draw the following conclusions from it." The Christian faith in particular offers us this way out of the conundrum of little-explained or mysterious values.

The first kind of religion, that which drops out, is in fact irrational and proudly so. The latter kind, that based on a witness of real history, can only be seen as an attempt at rigorous rationality, perhaps even of the scientific kind. Thus, the Christian claims to have a better idea of what values one should advocate than others who grasp at the issue with no better guide than practical reason well beyond the parameters of the scientific method.

Acton's Jordan Ballor Responds on Christianity, the State, and Gay Marriage

Got this from Jordan Ballor last week:

There are at least two ways I see that are helpful for getting at the question of the church's attitude toward the recognition of gay marriage by the government. I'll outline the short way, and give some hints at the long way, which I believe both end up arriving at the same conclusion.

Before this, however, I want to take a moment to define some terms. For the purposes of this discussion, I will use the term gay marriage to refer to the legal and public recognition of the union of two same-sex partners. My use of this term should not be construed as an acknowledgment of this social relation as a species of the genus marriage. I explicitly do not believe that so-called gay marriage is really marriage at all.

First, the short way. If we take Aquinas' rule of thumb as a starting point, that not all immoral things are to be illegal (quoted here), the determining factor becomes whether the criminalization of an immoral behavior would result in more or less evil, i.e. whether by doing so the state would be stirring up more evil or restraining it.

From a Christian perspective, that gay marriage is immoral is beyond doubt and that it violates at least the commandment regarding adultery is undisputed. Note that the scope of the seventh commandment is sexual purity, and that as has been the traditional Protestant and Roman Catholic practice is to interpret these commandments with both positive and negative aspects.

As part of the second table, Calvin, Luther, and others would agree that the enforcement of the adultery commandment at least theoretically falls under the purview of the state. The traditional differences which you relate that are often observed about the relationships between the first and second table are thus of no real relevance for this discussion, since first table commandments are not at issue. Gay marriage is not simply a "religious" issue as the first table is often construed, but a moral/civic one relating to the second table. With this in mind, we must at least consider the possibility whether or not homosexual activity, and certainly the kind of homosexual relations characteristic of gay marriage, ought to be criminalized.

Let's assume for the sake of this argument, as so much of American society already has, that this sort of legal prohibition does not meet Aquinas' prudential criterion: it creates more evil (in the form of an intrusive government, among other things) than it restrains. This, I believe, is a possible and tenable argument against the criminalization of homosexual activity.

This recognition does not leave us with only one option, that is, for the government to recognize gay marriage. This merely leaves us without any laws whatsoever from the government on this point, and thus leaves the government's approval or disapproval of this activity as moral or immoral ambiguous at best.

But for the government to actively recognize and therefore promote gay marriage would be to explicitly sanction this activity as morally praiseworthy, just, and helpful for society. We have already established that homosexual activity is immoral, and therefore the government has no valid role in promoting or establishing such activity as normative. There is thus a difference between saying something is legally permissible and that it is morally permissible or even praiseworthy.

In this way, the Christian view of the government's role regarding gay marriage can take two forms. First, the Christian might say that the government should prohibit and enforce this portion of the second table in pursuit of restraining evil. Second, the Christian might make a prudential judgment and say that the government would create more evil by making and enforcing such laws, and should therefore make no positive law on this point. There is no third option for the Christian view of the state, that is, that it should actively promote, recognize, and protect an immoral set of social relations.

I understand the current attempts of Christians to argue in favor of some sort of marriage amendment to prevent the third (non)option, in favor of the second, which leaves homosexual relations legal but does not allow for them to be codified and sanctioned by the state.

The long way of going about this argument would be to outline the roles and relationships between the various institutions, spheres, or mandates, specifically regarding marriage/family, government, and church. I understand these in a similar way to what Bonhoeffer says regarding the four divine mandates (marriage, work, government, church), which I believe is consistent with a line of social thought including at least one possible form of Kuyper's view of sphere sovereignty (not specifically Dooyeweerdian conceptions, for example) and going back through various Reformers including Wolfgang Musculus, who wrote of three laws in the Garden of Eden, relating to procreation, dominion, and work/provision of food.

On this account, marriage and family exist apart from and distinct from government and the church, and so both of these latter institutions merely recognize, affirm, and ratify the prior relationship rather than creating it de novo. I believe gay marriage would be a legal creation, not the recognition of an actual prior social relation that is continuous with the created and preserved order of heterosexual marriage. I don't have time more than to hint at this latter method, but again, the result would be that the state certainly has no obligation, or even permission, to recognize, promote, and/or establish, a set of social relations that violate the moral order, especially as articulated in the second table commandments.

A few other issues:

1. Can you explicate further this distinction between an instrumental vs. sacred function of the state to which you refer? Do you get this terminology from Luther? For Luther, the state is sacred, insofar as it is God's rule with his left hand.

2. The recognition of the state as an order arising from the Fall rather than something embedded in creation is of ambiguous relevance. Calvin would certainly agree that the coercive nature of government arises as a result of sin, even though he might argue that government without this characteristic is at least hypothetically manifest in the primal state. But Calvin is not representative of the entire Reformed tradition. A more modern example, like Brunner, who at least in some ways is taken to represent a Reformed position, argues explicitly that the state is an order of preservation arising after the Fall, distinguishing it from an order of creation.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Ann the Impaler

It's common for people on both left and right to repudiate Ann Coulter for her rhetoric and largely ignore what she says. The latest example, of course, is her critique, which seems perfectly reasonable to me, of certain unhappy ladies whose husbands were killed in the 9/11 attacks and who have decided to use their personal loss as a credential authorizing them to criticize the Bush administration's prosecution of the War on Terror. Their predictably hysterical reaction to Ms. Coulter's criticism strikes me as ludicrously immature and logically requiring instant dismissal: if you are going to use a personal tragedy as an opportunity to step on the national stage and give your opinions about political matters, you should expect criticism of both your policy proposals and your qualifications to broadcast them. You should thus be prepared to answer such criticisms or quietly step aside. Instead, these ladies act as if questioning their qualifications were unethical. Pah! Anybody who listens to them is a horse's backside, I say.

Personally, I like both Ms. Coulter's rhetoric and her ideas. Yes, she's often too much of a cheerleader for President Bush and the Republicans, but given the only plausible alternative—the Democrats, who continuously strain to prove themselves crazier than bedbugs—I can understand her willingness to accept some of the Republicans' flaws. They're like bad-tasting medicine, but at least they're not toxic and/or psychedelic like their madcap opponents.

Hence it's interesting to see David Klinghoffer, who is a very religious man and a writer of high moral sensitivity, saying nice things about the ferocious Ms. Coulter. Mr. Klinghoffer wisely goes to the heart of the matter, identifying Ms. Coulter's thesis:

Godless is actually about the calcification of liberalism into a form of religion, half-jokingly identified by Coulter with Druidism. What’s religious about secular liberalism? The theologian Paul Tillich defined “religion” as a person’s “ultimate concern.” Whatever matters most to you, whatever tells you what else should matter and why, that is your religion.

Values are by definition religious, whether you believe they come from a God (like Jews or Christians do) or not (like Buddhists). Having turned from God, secularism automatically turns to another religion, by whatever name you call it.

The Secular Church even merits to be capitalized, since it forms a fairly unified ideology. As Coulter puts it, “Everything liberals believe is in elegant opposition to basic Biblical precepts.

Now, that really nails it. If one wants to predict the modern liberal's position on any issue, one could not do better than to think, what would an orthodox Christian think of this?, and take the opposite position.

That is modern left liberalism exactly.

Klinghoffer quotes some of Coulter's examples, to prove the point to any souls benighted enough to doubt it, and for the full argument one should refer to Coulter's book. It's all there in perfectly gory detail.

Klinghoffer concludes that Coulter's great value is that she pours on modern left-liberals the very same level of contempt that they pour on the right:

She exaggerates, but who cares? What is most valuable about Coulter is the trademarked contempt that she breathes forth. It’s why her books sell better than pretty much any other conservative’s do.

Obviously, dispassionate analysis should be expected most of the time, from most of us. But let’s say a word in favor of rollicking disgust poured out upon liberal pieties. There is the constant danger of inhaling too deeply from the fumes of the respect you insist on giving to those you disagree with. The result can be a subtle assimilating of some of their values.

The rhetoric of the left, with its incessant cries of Nazi and fascist and its passion for sanctions against "insensitive" talk, wants to use whatever means it can to limit the amount that its tenets can even be questioned. As noted, Coulter sees this as an open declaration of war on the body of ideas that made the West and that indeed created the modern liberal political-economic order.

Instead of turning the other cheek, Coulter recognizes that she is in a war, and, as Martin Luther suggested, she has no qualms about being a superior warrior.

I'll take that any day over the bowtied TV phonies who gladly sell their civilization down the river just to gain a spot on the panel of Meet the Press and invitations to dinner parties infested by other smug blowhards. Write on, Ann.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Academic Virtue

I'm in the process of putting my classes together for next semester, and for one of my classes (an Introduction to Contemporary Political Thought), we'll spend a week on conservatives. I was going through some of Harvey Mansfield's essays collected in The Spirit of Liberalism (looking for a good article or chapter that's representative of Straussian political thought) and I came across this gem of a quote:

No one is more ridiculous than an angry professor. He stamps his foot and bites his tongue as he tries to articulate his wrathful words, and when they are said, they may somehow suit either his office or his anger but never both. In love, a professor cuts a more acceptable figure, as the legion of former students, now faculty wives, must testify...


Peretz and Summers

Marty Peretz takes out the big lumber in support of Larry Summers. He heaps scorn on Nannerl Keohane (she of oh so recently the Presidency at Duke) and basically accuses his enemies of moral cowardice, intelllectual mediocrity, and worse. I'm thinking he won't get quite as many invitations to those soirees in Martha's Vineyard this year...

Striking Against Illegal Immigration

On a Republican Party website, a Deputy County Attorney with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, Rachel Alexander, documents an interesting program by her county sheriff's office to use laws currently on the books to fight illegal immigration. Alexander writes,

The top two criminal law enforcement officials in Arizona have teamed up to arrest and prosecute illegal immigrants crossing the border into Arizona using a new state human smuggling law, and the courts agree. Arizona is the first state in the nation to pass a law against human smuggling.

Toughest prosecutor Andrew ThomasToughest Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Following the legal advice of Maricopa County’s tough on crime prosecutor Andrew Thomas, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio began arresting illegal immigrants under the new law and referring them for prosecution. Since the enforcement began, 272 illegal immigrants have been arrested and charged. Twenty-three illegal immigrants and one coyote have pled guilty, and will serve jail-time before being deported. With a felony on their record, they will have a slim chance at ever entering the U.S. legally or obtaining U.S. citizenship.

Under Arizona’s statutes, the crime of conspiracy automatically applies to felonies unless specifically exempted by statute. After thorough legally researching the issue, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas provided a legal opinion to Sheriff Arpaio confirming that illegal immigrants caught using the services of a coyote to sneak across the border could be arrested along with the coyotes for conspiracy to commit human smuggling.

The County Superior Court has upheld the program, Alexander notes:

Judge Thomas O’Toole of Maricopa County Superior Court issued an opinion on June 9, 2006, dismissing defense arguments that federal law preempted the state law, and noting that the states are only preempted from making law where specifically prohibited in federal law. O’Toole cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision De Canas v. Bica (1976), which held that California law penalizing employers for hiring illegal immigrants was not preempted by the exclusive federal law to regulate immigration. The Supreme Court opinion stated, “[This court] has never held that every state enactment which in any way deals with aliens is a regulation of immigration and thus per se preempted by this constitutional power, whether latent or exercised.”

The federal government has not made any law or regulation preempting the states from passing laws regulating human smuggling. Although preemption is an excuse frequently referred to by politicians, it is a red herring used to avoid debate on the merits of enforcing laws against illegal immigration.

Judge O’Toole was equally dismissive of arguments that conspiracy doesn’t apply to the crime of human smuggling. The defense argued that the legislature didn’t intend to apply conspiracy law to the new statute. O’Toole said this wasn’t true, and that the legislative history and plain language of the statute clearly supported application of the conspiracy law.

Defense attorneys and allied groups intend to appeal the decision. I think the county's policy is a very good one, and I hope that it will contine to pass muster as it moves through the courts.

Inspiring Europe (?)

The St. Gallen Symposium in St. Gallen Switzerland brings together university students, global business leaders and scholars in an effort to limn Europe’s future. This year’s program was entitled “Inspiring Europe.” The title has intentional double entendre: Does Europe need inspiration or is Europe a source of inspiration?

Europe today is rich, somewhat complacent, peaceful and, considering its history, remarkably stable. In an historical sense, Europe is an uncontested success.

Yet the Europe that emerged from World War II as a bulwark against communism and as a model of economic recovery is now in a different stage of development.

European spokesmen at this conference readily admitted that the continental economy is lagging and the unfunded liability for prospective retirees is an enormous potential drag on the economy.

Moreover, affluence has bred complacency. It is widely believed that Europeans deserve six week vacations each year and retirement at 55. My suggestion that these conditions are not sustainable was greeted with derision.

There was much discussion about reinventing the continental economy. A spokesman for Bayer, for example, mentioned his belief in “a core business strategy,” but it was difficult to determine whether this was an idiosyncratic example or a systemic recommendation.

The Japanese president of E-Mobile introduced the constrants of reality by noting “99 percent of the electronic products in Switzerland were produced in China.” When asked if there is an alternative, he merely shrugged his shoulders.

Those who assumed the recent Japanese economic recovery has lessons for Europe were also disappointed. Japanese spokesmen noted that social security and employee benefits are not as generous as those in Europe and, as a consequence, do not serve as anti-competitive factors. Moreover, the Japanese put a greater stock in research and development and the resultant innovation than their European counterparts.

Perhaps the most serious oversight at the conference was a seeming unwillingness to consider the rise of radical Islam in European capitals and its chilling effect on economic competitiveness. When I made reference to the totalistic impulses of the jihadists and the rising secularism among Christians, my comment was greeted with blank stares. There appears to be a common belief that this cultural tension will sort itself out with Muslims ultimately integrating into European societies.

This “what me worry?” attitude is, to some degree, understandable. Looking over the horizon to a time when European prosperity cannot be taken for granted is difficult, if not impossible. Even the demographic nightmare of declining populations all over western Europe did not evoke alarm.

When a spokesman from the International Monetary Fund pointed out that Europeans work fewer hours per annum than North Americans and Asians, this was viewed as an indication of superior European work habits rather than uncompetitive productivity rates.

Considering relative satisfaction with the cradle to grave welfare arrangements and a belief in the natural order of social reconciliation, it is hard to understand what Europeans mean by reinvention. As I see it, European societies need inspiration, a catalyst for social reform. But, after all, they are democracies that depend for change on the will of their people.

Surely there are many Europeans who appreciate the anti-competitive impulse of lassitude. Yet they don’t know how to change. Tightly contested elections throughout the continent make it difficult to conceive of consensus for modification in the welfare system. The overhang of social expenditures makes it extremely hard for industries to reduce the price of products or for capital to be raised for innovation.

Is this scenario a dead-end? Is Europe necessarily on the road to marginality?

While the St. Gallen conference didn’t offer immediate answers, history does possess surprises. The resiliency Europe displayed after the war may reemerge. A generation of college educated students is eager to plot a new course for the future and European broadband developments indicate that there are some bright flourishes in a generally gray background.

What we know about Europe today is surely a guide to the next act in continental history, but it isn’t an inevitable guide. Realism dictates skepticism; hope suggests possibility. An inspired Europe needs some of both as a compass for the path ahead.

Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001). London maintains a website, www.herblondon.org.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Your Tax Dollars at Work

AP reports that the GAO has found that a huge amount of the federal tax money spent for victims of last year's hurricanes was misspent, or as we normal people say, stolen:

Houston divorce lawyer Mark Lipkin says he can't recall anyone paying for his services with a FEMA debit card, but congressional investigators say one of his clients did just that.

The $1,000 payment was just one example cited in an audit that concluded that up to $1.4 billion -- perhaps as much as 16 percent of the billions of dollars in assistance expended after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita -- was spent for bogus reasons.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency also was hoodwinked to pay for season football tickets, a tropical vacation and a sex change operation, the audit found. Prison inmates, a supposed victim who used a New Orleans cemetery for a home address and a person who spent 70 days at a Hawaiian hotel all were able to get taxpayer help, according to evidence that gives a new black eye to the nation's disaster relief agency.

Some of the thievery was amazingly frivolous and appalling, according to the audit, the
AP story reported:

* An all-inclusive, one-week Caribbean vacation in the Punta Cana resort in the Dominican Republic.

* Five season tickets to New Orleans Saints professional football games.

* Adult erotica products in Houston and "Girls Gone Wild" videos in Santa Monica, Calif.

* Dom Perignon champagne and other alcoholic beverages in San Antonio.

If you are at all surprised at this, I can direct you to some oceanfront land in Alabama you can have for a bargain price.

They ARE Soldiers

In an excellent article in the June 19 issue of the Weekly Standard, Mike Fumento has documented the extraordinary courage, wisdom, decoency, and fortitude of our troops in Iraq. Fumento's article, also available on his website, is particularly valuable in documenting that our current-day soldiers are just as fine as those who fought in World War II, as the latter have been honored by a string of books, movies, television programs, and the like during recent years. Whereas our WWII troops were mostly draftees responding impressively to a situation they did not choose to be in, our current day troops are all volunteers, whose extraordinary courage and self-sacrifice should be h0nored by all, regardless of one's opinion on the merits of the war.

Fumento went to " [t]errorist-infested Ramadi in the wild west of Iraq[,] . . . for U.S. troops the meanest place in the country, 'the graveyard of the Americans' as graffiti around town boast," to live among these soldiers and tell their story. This brings out a tale rather more revealing than most reports from Iraq. As Fumento notes (entirely without rancor),

The Iraq war is covered mostly by reporters who hole up in Baghdad hotels and send out Iraqi stringers to collect what the reporters deem news, as an article in the April 6, 2006, New York Review of Books described in great detail. The reporters convert these accounts into prose and put them on the wire. Except for that all-powerful "Baghdad" dateline, they might just as well be writing from Podunk.

The piece is not a slam against the press, however, but instead an up-close view of the on-ground realities:

[H]ere in this hellhole, I found men who would have made their famous World War II forerunners proud. They are no longer paratroopers but are brave, bold, and elite in every sense of the word. The actions of these men in fighting an enemy less skilled than the Germans yet far more vicious and fanatical tell a story that has remained largely ignored.

Fumento, at some serious risk of his own life and limb, has gone right to the source to report on this story that has indeed been insufficiently reported on. Read it here.

Admissions Revolution?

I'm not unsympathetic to the kinds of worries expressed here about the ways in which colleges and universities conduct their admissions (though my worries are more directed to the ways in which financial considerations play a role). But four things strike me about the article. First, the fact that a few highly selective and already very wealthy liberal arts schools are thinking about changing how they do admissions doesn't seem all that important to me. Because students are more willing to travel across the country and have access to better information about schools, these sorts of colleges, whose incoming classes probably number no more than a thousand (and likely a good bit less), don't have to worry about filling their slots with qualified students. Big state universities don't have that kind of luxury. Second, nowhere does the article mention what I would take to be a big motivator in dropping things like the SAT: finding ways to increase "diversity." That is, these schools are trying to get more black students on campus and they can't do it without watering down entrance requirements or changing them significantly - hence, the drive to get rid of the SAT. Third, I worry significantly about the push to get rid of merit-based scholarships. Maybe because that's how I was able to afford to go to school, I'm a bit sensitive on the point, but if you get rid of or seriously limit merit-based scholarships, what you are doing is pushing middle-class kids out of elite colleges. If your family makes, say, $70,000 a year, you aren't going to get much financial aid (and what you get will be mostly loans). And families that make that kind of money can't afford $30-$40,000 a year schools. Finally, I should say that I think this article is more hope than reality. There is a certain segment of the population that firmly believes that if their child does not attend an elite college or university, they will be severely limited in what they can do with their lives. I've seen parents stress over preschools (even preparing 3-yr old CVs "Participation in Play Circles; Date of Potty Training; Number of Vocabulary Words" - I'm not kidding at all) because which preschool the child gets into determines which elementary school which...determines whether one has a happy and flourishing life. That's not going away.

Friday, June 09, 2006


Back above water, briefly. And so a few tidbits. First out of the gate is the ineffable William Jefferson, formerly the proud owner of oodles of cold cash in his freezer, who refuses to resign from the House Ways and Means Committee on the grounds that he has not been charged with a crime. And so the Goddess of the Culture of Noncorruption, the stalwart Nancy Pelosi, whose campaign mantra for this fall's House races has been destroyed singlehandedly by Jefferson, now is trying to find a way to remove him. Alas, the Congressional Black Caucus is in no mood to cooperate. And so if the Republicans are smart, they will refrain from charging Jefferson with anything until the election is past, thus preserving the most amusing spectacle seen in the Beltway since, well, a few weeks ago, when the Honorable Rep. Patrick Kennedy was tucked into bed by the Capitol Hill cops. It just doesn't get any better than this.

Speaking of Patrick, is he not a godsend for that other giant among Congressional intellectuals, Cynthia McKinney? How are they going to charge Her Black Highness with assault when White Bread Patrick got off with a teddy bear, warm milk, and a bedtime story about a 3am vote on the floor of the House? Yes, racism accusations are a dime a dozen, worthy of all the contempt that we habor for them; but---let us be honest---they are useful indeed when threatened against guilt-ridden liberal elites inside the Beltway.

Speaking of intellectuals, we now have Bill Lockyer and Fabian Nunez, respectively the Attorney General (and Democratic nominee for State Treasurer) and Speaker of the State Assembly, calling for "temporary" price controls on gasoline during "abnormal market disruptions." It is not clear what "normal market disruptions" might be, but, anyway, this would apply only to California, of course; beyond the obvious effects in terms of gasoline lines, the larger effect would be to shift supplies out of California to other states, thus lowering their prices. And so the cheers you hear for this bill are those not of California gasoline consumers, already the victims of so very much government compassion, but instead of consumers in the rest of the west. Yes, the boutique gasoline regulations will temper this effect somewhat, but far from fully. Can these people possibly be that stupid and that cynical? Well, actually, yes. Emphatically. And that stalwart defender of Milton Friedman's principles, Governor Arnold, has not yet taken a position on the bill.

I see that repeal of the death tax failed to achieve cloture in the Senate. Can it possibly be the case that the remaining red-state Democrats are happy about this? This behavior on the part of Harry Reid and the Senate Democratic leadership suggests to me that the degree to which they are beholden to the DailyKosMoveOn.OrgMichaelMoorePaulKrugmanBarbraSteisand crowd is worse than anyone imagined. Do they want a party only of leftists? Apparently, yes indeed.

May the Ayatollah Zarqawi be blessed with the 72 virgins promised somewhere in the fine print, and may they be the losers in the past pageant stampedes for Miss Burkha. Anyway, all the reports claim that Zarqawi's location was divulged by an inside source; even if not true, this is useful disinformation, in that it might create suspicions and greater compartmentalization than otherwise would be the case. But everyone---from DoD spokemen to Iraqi government officials---are claiming this. Loudly. Which leads me to doubt that it is true; if it were, it would be far more effective to let the fact of such treachery leak out. That it has been broadcast from the rooftops loudly and often looks like someone protesting too much. The other hypothesis is that it is true, and the CIA in its usual incompetence has spread the word stupidly. Only my plumber knows, and he's not talking.

Luther, Calvin, and Gay Marriage

How exactly is the Christian to view the state? The answer to that question answers a slew of other ones, including, perhaps, the thorny question of gay marriage sanctioned by the state.

Three options jump out at me as I think about Christianity and the state:

1. The medieval Catholic view
2. Calvin's view
3. Luther's view

The medieval Catholic view has the state below the church. If we were to draw an org chart, the state would be at the bottom, the church in the middle, and God at the top. In this scheme of things, it clearly makes sense to speak of a Christian state.

Calvin's view is a little different. The church and the state are not in a hierarchical relationship. Each answers to God separately, but the implications are not what you might think. Because God invests government with authority, governors should be primarily concerned with things like right worship and doctrine. Heresy would absolutely be a punishable offense.

What is similar about the two views described above is that the state is a sacred entity and it is going to be involved in matters of religion.

Luther represents a definitive break. His state is not sacred or confessional. Instead, it is purely instrumental, which is to say that the state has no eternal destiny but it has a job to do. The job is simple: restrain evil. Because of the fallen state of man, sin is everywhere on the earth and without the restraint of rulers the world would be a desert as the wolves preyed endlessly on the sheep. Luther's state shouldn't worry so much about correct doctrine and punishing heretics. That is for the church to handle through persuasion and excommunication. Instead, the state should wield the sword against those who will do evil in the form of violence, theft, and fraud.

Of the three options, it may be clear that I think Luther's view is the best and is of the closest accord with the New Testament. Christ really didn't bring a doctrine of the sacred state, at least not as far as I can tell. The church's mission is far more important than the state's, but we often act as if we believe the state is where all the action is. I think that is a legacy of Calvin. I should also add that I see foreshadows of Locke in Luther, but Luther rarely gets the credit.

Gay marriage comes into the picture because it is of such great moment for Christians involved in American politics. I still recall talking to John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute in 1998 with a group of fellow summer associates. Whitehead told us gay marriage was already lost. We protested. I think he was right and we were wrong. The question is how upset we should be about that.

If you take Calvin's view of the state, then I think gay marriage is completely unacceptable. The honor of God is implicated in the Calvinistic state and something so clearly at odds with Christian doctrine would be an ultimate affront. The result is that you have to fight and fight hard because the state is a covenant entity and God will punish a faithless people.

If you take Luther's view, the picture is a bit less bleak. Gay marriage is really outside of what the state should be doing, but the honor of God is not on the line because we are only talking about an instrumental entity for earthly convenience. It is quite possible that gay marriage will represent a milestone that immediately fades into insignificance as we discover the whole thing was primarily about making a point rather than about the desire to build nuclear families.

Just to clarify a bit through comparison we can see that in Calvin's world gay marriage would be every bit the problem abortion is. Gay marriage might be even worse than abortion because it runs directly counter to scripture. In Luther's world, abortion would be far more grave because the state is licensing real harm and violence against innocent parties. Gay marriage represents something less troublesome by several degrees.

Love to hear discussion and feedback on this one. The thinking here is early and tentative.

Update: I mentioned three models of the state from a Christian point of view, but there are others. For example, one could embrace a radical reformation view in which the church withdraws almost completely from the state, viewing it as a source of corruption and malignant worldliness.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Zarqawi Is Dead

The killing of insurgency leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a major accomplishment for the Iraqi government and allied forces, without question. The question now is how much difference it will make in the hostilities there. Certainly the Sunni hatred of Shias, which Zarqawi worked hard to foment, will remain, as will the corresponding feeling of Shias toward Sunnis. That is the heart of the conflict, and this does not change that. Zarqawi was a skilled tactician and strong leader, but replacements will arise. However, it is important to remember that each leader killed is a message to the rest: We're coming for you, and it's only a matter of time. Leaders do make a difference.

Of course, having bin Laden's head on a platter would send a much stronger message, but let us be happy with each victory in the long process of bringing some sense to a highly disturbed region of the world.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bill Shatner: Rocket Man

Back before Bill Shatner realized the value of parody, he simply was the single greatest unintentional purveyor of cheese the world has ever known.

(HT: Galley Slaves)

Internecine Warfare over NC Prosecution

In a comment on my first Duke post, below, Michael Simpson notes that he did not explicitly state that the Duke players had committed the rape of which they were accused. I acknowledge that, and wish to correct the implication that he did so. He did not. The conviction to which I was referring when I wrote about Michael's earlier post was his claim convicting the Dukies of extraordinary boorishness, utterly embarrassing behavior, and other hyperbolic descriptions of desperate immorality. And I must note that it would have been disingenuous for me to fail to mention that such opinions, which I was criticizing in my post, had appeared on this very blog. It would have left us open to charges of favoritism.

As noted, Michael Simpson stopped short of saying the Dukies had commited the rape of which they wre accused, but he did exemplify the conservatives' rush to judgment in claiming that this case shows the decline of Western civ., etc. And that's his prerogative, as it is mine to seek a little truth in and perspective on the matter.

Another commenter referred to the racial epithets supposedly flung by the Dukies at the party, and the nasty email that was sent afterward, as proving that these players, all 30 or so of them, are strange monsters given to utterly perverse and fiendish activities at which Mr. Hyde would have shrunk in revulsion. I emphatically disagree. I have said that I don't believe the epithets happened, as they are an additional charge by the person who says a lot of other things happened that couldn't have happened. The claim is embroidery on a phony story, and we have no reason whatever to believe that it is true. And even if someone did say something racial at the party, this is no news story, much less a sign of the moral collapse of the West. It would have been wrong to do, of course, but lots of wrong things happen in this world without causing a ripple in the national press. As I've pointed out repeatedly, it is the false charge of rape that gives this story (false) significance: Does anyone here really believe that every shouted racial epithet should be a major newspaper story? If so, there would be no room for anything else.

As to the email, yes, that was putrid. But did all 30 players sign it? Then how can anyone but a fool condemn them all for it? In addition, young males say things like this all the time, and good young men as well as the slimy ones do so. It's wrong, but not exactly a hydrogen bomb. The difference here is that the individual put it in an email, which could get into the wrong hands (and unfortunately did—those of the colege administration and district attorney's office). In its original form, a message to a single individual, the statement could not have hurt anyone, given that it was absurdly unlikely that anyone would tell the next stripper what this fellow had written. (Bad business practice, that, at the very least.) The email would never have gotten out to the public had not the authorities sent it out to the press in the first place. So, who is more responsible for any hurt feelings the message might have created, the player who sent it to one person who would surely not have repeated it to anyone whose feelings might be hurt by it, or the authorities who sent it out to the world? Without the false rape charge, this email stays where it belongs, in the fevered fantasies of a hormone-engorged college boy. But the authorities chose to publicize it. Let's put the relative responsibility where it belongs.

How this entire incident could be exemplary of the decline of society is utterly beyond my comprehension, given that the Duke players have been much better than the average college student, as noted repeatedly in my previous postings on the subject, as documented by Duke's own witchhunt, er, study. It's important to remember that even in conservatives' beloved Victorian era, things like this happened. They're incidents, not things by which we can characterize people's entire lives. Anybody with a soul has said things they regret, whether drunk or not. Who here really has the right to cast this particular stone? Well? Just so: a single email or attendance at a drunken party surely cannot establish one as an example of utter depravity except in the most lurid and hypocritical kind of mind. I do not believe that Michael Simpson or most of the other critics of the Duke lacrosse team have such minds, and I press this point so that we can all understand exactly what is important about this incident.

It is the evil power of politics that stands out most vividly here.

Political Propaganda From The Academy

In a startling new book The Enemy of My Enemy: The Alarming Convergence of Militant Islam and the Extreme Right, George Michael, the author, disinters Richard Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style in American Politics. This time, however, the views are so wildly inaccurate and prejudicial as to appear as caricature.

Professor Michael asserts, for example, that because David Duke, the former Klan leader, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, both condemn the state of Israel, there is some right wing – Islamic nexus. Yes, both figures may be anti-semitic and anti-Zionist, surely both deserve condemnation, but one may have nuclear weapons which can destroy the state of Israel and the other is an appropriately discredited individual without any influence.

Michael also notes that Muslims and right-wingers (a term he doesn’t define) have similar critiques of American foreign policy in the Middle East, modernity and globalization. “Both see the U.S. government as hopelessly under the control of Jews or Zionists,” he writes.

One could far more comfortably – I believe – make this statement about the left. After all, the left has reflexively embraced the Palestinian cause from Tony Kushner to Ramsay Clark. The argument that the U.S. government is under a hypnotic spell of Zionists was recently made by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, two university professors more aligned with the left than the right. Demonstrations against globalization in Europe were mobilized almost entirely by left wing organizations and when it comes to the challenges to modernity, it is again primarily left wing environmental groups in the forefront.

Clearly Mr. Michael has an axe to grind. Evidence is marshaled to make his case without a glance at the other side of the political spectrum. He is not the first and he certainly won’t be the last to employ quasi-scholarship as a propagandistic exercise.

What is truly maddening about the book is its assumption that right wingers and Islamists have much in common. I could easily assert that Stalinists and Islamists have much in common. I can assert as well that ACTUP and NOW have much in common with Muslims. I can further assert that the National Guild of Lawyers, a left wing hothouse, has been a defender of radical Islamic terrorists.

That David Duke appears as a right wing exemplar is revealing. Surely Michael could have selected Pat Robertson. He is a religious leader, supports right wing causes and has made irrational – in my view – comments about homosexuals. But he is conspicuously omitted from the treatise because he is an undeviating supporter of Israel. This comes under the heading of “if it doesn’t fit, ignore it.”

That anyone would call this book a work of scholarship is laughable. Then again that which satisfies the gods of political correctness will have legitimacy. No enemies on my left is still a theme from Hollywood to Greenwich Village. Only the right can be caricatured.

Facts, however, have a strange way of being persistent. What are the areas of right wing and Islamic cooperation which are inferred in the book? Unless one relies on the author’s tortured logic, they are hard to find.

When Paranoid Style… was written decades ago Hofstadter also ignored paranoia on the left, which was exemplified with the Weathermen and Black Panthers, but, at least, he made his case with appropriate examples. In Michael’s book he begins his analysis with a prejudice and ends with a prejudice sandwiched between ipse dixit.

Yes, there can be paranoia on the right and paranoia on the extreme left. There may be some crack pot who identifies with Ahmadinejad and is a right winger and he may have a counterpart on the left. If political science research is to be more than polemical it should follow the evidence wherever it may lead.

Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of "Decade of Denial" (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2001) and maintains a Web site, www.herblondon.org.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Could the Dukies Be Guilty After All?

A persistent commenter has asked what evidence suggests the Duke lacrosse players are innocent. Well, let's see. As regards the DNA under the accuser's fingernails, no one denies that she was at the party, and that is all that that bit of evidence confirms. She has made exactly this kind of false accusation before. The DNA found, ahem, inside the accuser was that of her girlfriend. The photos she was shown in the photo "lineup" were only of Duke lacrosse players. And so on and so on. And since when, in this society, are we supposed to have to prove people innocent, even in the court of public opinion? There is no evidence whatsoever showing that the accused young men raped that girl. None. These young men are innocent, and that woman accused them falsely, and that is precisely what the evidence shows.

If this were any other case but allegedly rich white boys and a stripper from a minority group, people like the commenter would be outraged at the rush to judgment and the prosecutor's outrageous behavior. They should be so regardless of the color and financial status of the individuals involved. That is what justice requires.

More on the NC False Prosecution Scandal

A comment on my previous post on this subject suggested that I was judging the truth of the Duke lacrosse rape allegation too soon, just as I have accused those who assumed the players did it, of having done.

If we await a trial, however, we will never be able to comment, as there will be no trial of the Duke lacrosse players charged of rape. That is an absolute certainty.

Fortuntely, it is perfectly fair and reasonable to comment now. The evidence is in, and the charge is false, just as I said.

Unlike those who rushed to blame the players, I withheld public judgment until the evidence was clear. (Look at the date on my Reform Club post, and also note that I got it right when Newsweek was getting it spectacularly wrong, as noted below.) It did not take very long for the evidence to become clear, as it happens.

The Newsweek story referenced here is a good example of the kind of hooey that was being written shortly after the allegations arose. The DNA tests had already come back negative, but the story recounted the prosecutor's claims of use of a date rape drug, etc., suggesting that the accuser's accusations would prove true anyway. Characteristic of the piece is this claim: "From the beginning, the case has provided a tawdry real-world blend of true crime, high life and low manners, for the likes of novelists John Grisham and Tom Wolfe." The main problem with that assessment is that there was no "real-world . . . crime" of the sort they were suggesting, only the despicable crime of a made-up accusation of rape.

The Newsweek story characterized all lacrosse players as spoiled rich boys, which is an incredibly stupid thing to write, and entirely wrong, if you must have it spelled out for you. The article says, "The antics of the lacrosse team had attracted the notice of administrators at Duke, both for raucous tailgating parties before football games and a high rate of campus misdemeanors, like public underage drinking (15 of the 47 players on the roster have been cited by police at some point in the last three years)." But as K. C. Johnson noted in NRO and I quoted in my posting here, "An investigation headed by James Coleman, a Duke law professor and former (Democratic) counsel to the House Ethics Committee, confirmed that while the men’s lacrosse players had a disproportionate number of alcohol violations, they also performed extensive community service, achieved athletic excellence, and demonstrated unfailing courtesy to Duke staff. The Coleman Committee found no evidence that 'the cohesiveness of this group is either sexist or racist.' On the academic front, more than half the team made the ACC’s academic honor roll; one professor recalled that “the lacrosse players were willing to defend unpopular positions in class.' "

The facts are indeed in, and they prove that Nifong, Broadhead, the accuser, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Newsweek, and all the other agitators, journalists, and political commentators who jumped in to convict the Duke lacrosse team and its coach were wrong, and that many of them were utterly despicable in their cynicism.

You know, if you care.

The Scandal of the Conservative Mind

In an article on National Review Online today, K. C. Johnson notes that most conservatives jumped on the bandwagon when an ambitious prosecutor in North Carolina went after what he clearly saw as an ideal group of Great White Defendants, to use Tom Wolfe's astutely devised term from Bonfire of the Vanities, and pushed ahead with a no-evidence case against three Duke University lacrosse players accused by a stripper of rape allegedly done at a party at which she had been performing her great art. It's entirely clear now, that this case was a railroading from the start, and it is going to fall by the wayside quietly in the end, without the accused ever getting a chance to clear their names.

Equally repugnant was the rush to judgment by Duke University president Richard Broadhead, documented in sickening detail by Michael Rubin in NRO today. Rubin writes,

On March 25, Duke University President Richard Brodhead issued a statement declaring, “Physical coercion and sexual assault are unacceptable in any setting and have no place at Duke.” Of course, he issued the caveat, “People are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” but on campuses today, such presumption is secondary. On April 5, Brodhead canceled the lacrosse team’s season and promised an investigation of the culture of college athletes as well as Duke’s own response. The lacrosse coach resigned.

Months later, more is known about the incident. While District Attorney Mike Nifong is pressing on with charges of rape and related accusations against three lacrosse players, his case is unraveling. Photos, witnesses, alibis, inconclusive DNA evidence, and even passed polygraphs make his case increasingly tenuous.

That last sentence is an understatement. Nifong has no case, and he knows it, but he doesn't care because he got what he wanted out of it: renomination to office on the votes of people gulled into thinking he was protecting them when in fact he was using them as cynically as could be.

I understand that there were valid reasons for Duke coach Mike Pressler to resign, given that his charges had taken part in underage drinking and hired a stripper, both of which are common activities among young people but which the college formally opposes. It was understandable that his head should roll, even though he is not known to have condoned his players' behavior. But if not for the charge of rape, which was entirely false, would there have been any public stain on Duke's program? Of course not. I certainly hope that Pressler will catch on somewhere soon and continue the fine coaching work he was doing at Duke.

Along with the Duke players who foolishly put themselves in position to be exploited as socioeconomic tackling dummies, it is Nifong, Broadhead, and the accuser who are to blame for this ugly incident, not Pressler.

Brodhead should resign and apologize. Nifong should be impeached, and the accuser should be prosecuted. Of course, none of these things will happen, which is an indictment of the voters of North Carolina and Duke University's trustees, donors, and parents.

The interesting political angle that Johnson points out in his NRO piece is how political conservatives jumped on the bandwagon to convict the Duke team before a shred of real evidence was in. Even our own, esteemed Reform Clubber Michael Simpson did so, writing on our site, "Duke's lacrosse team has managed to thoroughly embarrass itself and the rest of the school by hiring strippers for a party and then, allegedly, taunting one of the strippers (who was black, while the team is almost entirely white) with racial taunts and then (again, allegedly) raping her. A real class act, these guys." Yes, Michael did use the word allegedly, but the thrust of his comment was to place the blame squarely on the Duke players and then on the permissve attitude toward student sexual behavior that prevails among college and university administrators. Michael's point was that this kind of behavior was the inevitable repulsive consequence of the prevailing campus ethos.

But other than the underage drinking and presence of a stripper, and possibly the racial taunts (though I very much doubt they occurred), the team did nothing at all outside the mainstream of college behavior, and certainly did nothing at all that could be characterized as "thoroughly embarrassing." It was the rape claim that made this story important, and that was false.

As Johnson puts it,

A few conservative bloggers and columnists have seared Nifong’s behavior, and the issue has received play on talk radio and television. But many conservative thinkers either have declined comment or concentrated on condemning the lacrosse players’ acknowledged behavior (drinking, hiring a stripper for a party) while calling for more focus on academics at colleges.

Typical of such sentiments is John Hood, president of North Carolina’s John Locke Foundation, who denounced the players as “irresponsible louts” and called for colleges to refocus on “the life of the mind, not the life of the party.” Vin Cannato compared the lacrosse scandal to Harvard’s treatment of Larry Summers and Yale’s admitting a former Taliban official as a student—two of the most indefensible events in higher education in the past year. At NRO’s Phi Beta Cons, Carol Iannone cited the case to endorse “the return of in loco parentis, and preferably the old-fashioned kind of parens. It’s only four years and you can actually live without strippers for that time.”

Although not a conservative, your present correspondent was one of those happy few on the Right who criticized Nifong and argued that the Dukies were being railroaded unconscionably. I wrote,

The recent case in North Carolina—in which a prosecutor rushed forward with indictments against two Duke University lacrosse players despite a complete lack of plausible evidence against them and openly disregarded undeniable exculpatory evidence regarding one of them, in order to court votes from people of the same skin color as the accuser during primary elections that were then just a couple 0f weeks away—was just one of the more blatant examples of prosecutorial misconduct in recent months.

I think that this case illustrates the difference between conservatives and classical liberals. The former are intensely (and appropriately) concerned about the need for social order, whereas we classical liberals seek the right balance between liberty and order. In the present case, a little attention to classical liberal values went a long way toward finding a reasonable position. Having attended many a bacchanal that got out of hand in my young adult years, and having been to the occasional party at which there happened to be naked prostitutes and the like, I recognize that these things happen, and I cannot see any reason why an otherwise exemplary person—which is precisely what the Duke lacrosse team consists of—should be cast into the third circle of hell merely for a little spirited hijinks.

As Johnson notes regarding the Duke players,

Ironically, the calumny heaped upon them has obscured the lacrosse players’ actual records. An investigation headed by James Coleman, a Duke law professor and former (Democratic) counsel to the House Ethics Committee, confirmed that while the men’s lacrosse players had a disproportionate number of alcohol violations, they also performed extensive community service, achieved athletic excellence, and demonstrated unfailing courtesy to Duke staff. The Coleman Committee found no evidence that “the cohesiveness of this group is either sexist or racist.” On the academic front, more than half the team made the ACC’s academic honor roll; one professor recalled that “the lacrosse players were willing to defend unpopular positions in class.” Given the ideological tenor of the Duke faculty, the positions that the players took can easily be imagined.

Those who still wonder if the players’ character should distract from a campaign to restore justice in Durham should follow the lead of Duke’s women’s lacrosse team. Coach Kerstin Kimel explained, “There is a strong camaraderie between our teams, and my players—being smart, savvy young women—would not associate with them if they felt on the whole, there was an issue of character.” And so, having made the 2006 Final Four, the women’s team members wore “innocent” headbands to express solidarity with Nifong’s targets. In light of their own faculty’s response to the case, this demonstration of personal values and courage should make even the strongest critics of the Duke lacrosse program reconsider.

Yes, what the Dukies did at the party was stupid and wrong, but real adults don't fly into a panic about such things.

Political conservatives often do exactly that, however, and that is why the Republicans so frequently run into entirely unnecessary political trouble. They're very willing to take the good with the bad when it comes to having a market-oriented economy, but when it comes to college students having a few beers—and possibly, heaven forbid, having a few too many—suddenly liberty is a dangerous thing. Real people, however, know better than to blow up over a little tomfoolery, and this kind of silly crusade is precisely what turns people off about current-day political conservatism.

Merry Antichristmas (6-6-'06)

Wishing you all the joys and horrors of the day. Posted by Hello

Monday, June 05, 2006

Buy, Sell, or Hold: Google and Gay Marriage

It's time to sell whatever stock you're holding in the Bush effort to ban gay marriage. I'm one of those people who is generally opposed to the concept of legalized gay marriage, but even I can't help but view Republican work on the issue with anything but the most world-weary cynicism. It just feels as though the GOP rolls opposition to gay marriage out whenever they feel worried about their base. It's not working. The base is just feeling manipulated. Small government is going to eventually become the defining GOP issue again in the future -- that and pro-life, which is a heckuva lot easier to argue than gay marriage (but that's another post entirely).

It's also time to sell Google, not just till the price is better, but entirely. I watched the Google stock price soar through the roof and never understood it. Sure, it's the first option in search, but it doesn't have some unassailable technology that can't easily be matched or replaced. The truth is that Yahoo does virtually everything Google does and has a commanding lead in email users. Yet, for some reason I've yet to fathom Google is worth far more than Yahoo. How to explain apart from a feeling. I think Google is another example of irrational exuberance and it will fall farther and harder, yet.

The Problem of Evil, and Politics

In his column on Pope Benedict's speech at Auschwitz, Jeff Jacoby gives an excellent presentation of the problem of evil. The existence of evil, of course, has often been used as an argument against the existence of the Judeo-Christian God, and the answer is not difficult to explain but is extremely awful to comprehend. Jacoby wisely considers the matter from both the global perspective, as in the examples of Nazism, the gulags, the slaughters by the Khmer Rouge, and other such mass atrocities, and in the acts of individual criminals. He asks the atheists' question: Why would a benevolent and all-powerful God allow such things? Jacoby's answer, as excerpted below, is the answer long given by Christian theologians, and it is the right one.

The importance to politics, our subject here, is precisely what the Founders of the United States placed their greatest emphasis on: the need to create a secular realm that enables and encourages people to be good and discourages evil. And it was to do this for entirely practical, secular reasons, not religious ones. Although the Founders realized that religions, specifically the Christian religion, created the foundations for a proper morality, religion was not seen as the logical foundation for their form of government. The logic behind our form of government was a practical matter, as the Founders recognized that the encouragement of virtue in the people was the way to create the greatest combination of liberty and social order simultaneously.

Their insisghts still remain true.

This political structure is an entirely different matter, the Founders understood, from executing God's judgments on the world, a point that Puritan-descended Evangelicals and Fundamentalists too often forget. God will execute his judgments himself, but human beings must govern themselves. This thinking is a straightforward expression of Martin Luther's Two Kingdoms theology, which is itself the foundation of modern, classical liberal political philosophy. Luther's insight was precisely that although God is free to execute his judgments in the world, he allows human beings moral freedom, and that creates the need for government. And in creating the need for governmnent, our moral freedom establishes the logical limitations on what government should do.

Here is a goodly excerpt from Jeff Jacoby's excellent column:

The Nazis' ultimate goal, Benedict argued, was to rip out Christian morality by its Jewish roots, replacing it with "a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful." Hitler knew that his will to power could triumph only if he first destroyed Judeo-Christian values. In the Thousand-Year Reich, God and his moral code would be wiped out. Man, unencumbered by conscience, would reign in his place. It is the oldest of temptations, and Auschwitz is what it leads to.

"Where was God in those days?" asked the pope. How could a just and loving Creator have allowed trainload after trainload of human beings to be murdered at Auschwitz? But why ask such a question only in Auschwitz? Where, after all, was God in the Gulag? Where was God when the Khmer Rouge slaughtered 1.7 million Cambodians? Where was God during the Armenian holocaust? Where was God in Rwanda? Where is God in Darfur?

For that matter, where is God when even one innocent victim is being murdered or raped or abused?

The answer, though the pope didn't say so clearly, is that a world in which God always intervened to prevent cruelty and violence would be a world without freedom -- and life without freedom would be meaningless. God endows human beings with the power to choose between good and evil. Some choose to help their neighbor; others choose to hurt him. There were those in Nazi Europe who herded Jews into gas chambers. And there were those who risked their lives to hide Jews from the Gestapo.

The God "who spoke on Sinai" was not addressing himself to angels or robots who could do no wrong even if they wanted to. He was speaking to real people with real choices to make, and real consequences that flow from those choices. Auschwitz wasn't God's fault. He didn't build the place. And only by changing those who did build it from free moral agents into puppets could he have stopped them from committing their horrific crimes.

It was not God who failed during the Holocaust or in the Gulag, or on 9/11, or in Bosnia. It is not God who fails when human beings do barbaric things to other human beings. Auschwitz is not what happens when the God who says "Thou shalt not murder" and "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" is silent. It is what happens when men and women refuse to listen.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Spectator of Events

Well, it's time for the party of linkin'. Weekend impends. Tranquility beckons. The easy chair, the tall glass of something chilled, the feeling of utter relaxation: the perfect mood for a Jay Homnick column.

What did the old boy cover this week? Well, over at the Spectator he was bemoaning and bewailing the weird transmogrification of the '60s crowd into a bunch of killjoy spoilsports whose nouveau secular religion prohibits anything with a modicum of risk.

He used Al Gore's film as the foil. This new bit of cinema purportedly documents our sin against Ma Nature, bringing her to a slow boil with our excess. (Sad to have to criticise a movie directed by Elisabeth Shue's husband.) Well, we have moped enough about the mo-ped. It's his Democratic Party and he can cry if he wants to: count Jay out.

In his humor-in-events column over at Human Events, he chuckles at the chuckleheads of Right and Left who were all still gung-ho about collecting the phone tax, a relic of the Spanish-American war of 1898 that managed to function in three centuries. Finally, the courts tossed most of it out, saying it could only be applied to long-distance calls billed by the minute, which are becoming increasingly rare. So the government agreed to stop collecting it.

Although Jay does not go into that level of detail in the column, this is also a case of the arrogance of power. There has been no repeal, but because it has had its wings clipped, the Executive branch decides that it's just not worth the hassle. All in all, the workings of government, seen lately in a series of close-ups, have emerged as markedly unpretty.

An Excellent Aphorism

Chicago Tribune sports columnist Sam Smith, a very talented and imaginative writer, came up with a classic bit of satire in his column of today. Here it is:

An unscientific survey, by the way, is usually where we make up the results. That differs from a scientific survey, in which professional pollsters make up the results.

Funny and true.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Return to a Familiar Theme: The Natural Law

Friends, neighbors, TRC'ers, I have returned. Your faithful correspondent was back in Waco taking his doctoral preliminary exams.

I can report two things.

First, I have now equalled one Dick Cheney in terms of progress toward the Ph.D. He is ABD and so am I. (Cue the Bentsen-tribute where a ghostly voice reminds me that I'm no Dick Cheney.)

Second, the subject of the natural law came up in a talk with a friend. She is very passionate about the rights of illegal aliens, border issues, etc. I happened to know prior to the conversation that she considers herself a "nontheist." If I understand correctly, the word nontheist is being used by some to get away from the highly negative associations attached to the word atheist.

Anyway, I listened to her talk about the rights of various people and finally had to ask: "Where do those rights come from?"

She thought about it and said, "I think I'd go with the Constitution on that." (This would strike some as a bad response, but it isn't so wrong. Just because one doesn't have all the constitutional rights as with a youth, prisoner, or illegal alien, it doesn't mean one has no constitutional rights.)

I replied, "Those are just words on a piece of paper. They could easily say something else."

She then returned, "I can't see the answer being natural law."

Me: Why not? I have a friend from Nigeria and we agree on the essentials. Lying is wrong. Stealing is wrong. Murder is wrong. Unprovoked assault is wrong. Yet, we are on opposite sides of the globe. These notions seem to be built into the structure of reality.

She: But there have been people who sacrificed virgins!

Me: That doesn't do anything to undercut natural law.

She: Huh?

Me: The people who have sacrificed virgins have offered justifications for doing so. In fact, they offer an ultimate justification -- to satisfy a god. What would damage natural law thinking would be if they thought it wonderful to sacrifice virgins for no reason at all. They may be wrong about the justification, but they aren't wrong that one must have a good one before murdering innocent people.

And at that, we had to switch the subject because she did not wish to be converted to natural law any more than to Christianity.

The Work Americans Won't Do

Last week, the normally able and perceptive economist Thomas Sowell published a series of three columns claiming to debunk the myths of immigration bill proponents. I do not disagree with his entire analysis: I do believe there that crass political opportunism is shaping large areas of the congressional debate, and the worries about unassimilated immigrants isolated by tongue and economic status need to be openly addressed.

However, I find it puzzling that a serious, thoughtful economist like Sowell makes this kind of mistake:

Even in occupations where illegals are concentrated, such as agriculture, cleaning, construction, and food preparation, the great majority of the work is still being done by people who are not illegal aliens.....(T)he highest concentration of illegals is in agriculture, where they are 24 percent of the people employed. That means three-quarters of the people are not illegal aliens. But when will the glib phrase-mongers stop telling us that the illegals are simply taking "jobs that Americans won't do"?

Professor Sowell knows full well that the level of aggregation used to construct large industry categories like "agriculture" and "construction" empties this statement of analytic content. He also knows, I would have thought better than I, that economic decisions are not about averages, but about what happens at the margin. The U.S. arguably has the freest labor markets in the world, yet the burden of regulation still affects hiring and production decisions at the margin. The use of illegal, off-books and grey market labor has for years been the safety valve that excused our politicos from having to confront the real costs imposed by the absurdly low levels of legal immigration permitted by our current laws.

We do not need illegal immigration; in fact, it is a national shame that we have looked the other way while it has gone on unabated ever since Simpson-Mazzoli. What we do need is greatly increased legal immigration. There should be no attempt to ration access to the U.S. labor market for any reasons other than criminal background or public health threat. Because there is one job Americans won't do, and haven't done for thirty years or more. Americans will not do the work of begetting and raising children.

The total fertility rate of American women fell below replacement in 1971, and although it has increased slightly since the rate hit bottom in 1976, Americans still do not replace themselves through reproduction. Even more telling , the percent of American women who age beyond childbearing without having borne a single child has, over the same time period, doubled -- from 10% to nearly 20%.

There are many adjustments an economy makes in the face of fewer, and therefore more expensive, workers. One, of course, is to replace labor with capital. The American economy is adept at such realignments, and if we insist on halting illegal immigration without substituting the legal kind, economic actors will make those adjustments. But there are some professions, and some industries, where there is a limit to how much a machine can do.

Thomas Sowell and Tom Tancredo and James Sensenbrenner may not think we need more workers to pick the strawberries, build the roads, or cut up the chickens. But who is going to drain their catheters, swab their bedsores, and spoon feed them Jello when they are too old and frail to blockade the borders?

Movies and Whether to Obsess

Being as we have young children about the house, we don't get out much. Heck, we don't even get to do all that much at home. But having joined the Netflix cult, we watched Mad Hot Ballroom last night, a movie about kids in NYC public schools preparing for and competing in the city's ballroom dance competition. To tell the truth, I was a bit disappointed in the documentary. It really dragged - too many shots of NYC streets and kids sort of playing, too little about the kids and how dance was fitting into their broader lives. You saw glimpses of their homes, their families, their neighborhoods, but that's it, just glimpses. One of the instructors disappeared from practices for about 45 minutes of the movie without any explanation. Some nice moments, but just got the feeling that the whole thing was a missed opportunity for the filmmakers.

It got me to thinking, though, about how we structure our kids' education. There is a part of me that thinks the most important thing is to try and help your kid become "well-rounded," exposed the variety of art, sports, literature, etc. that the world has to offer. Who doesn't want to be well-rounded, after all? But there's another part of me that thinks the thing to do is to help the child find the thing that really engages him and let him embrace that almost obsessively. The problem with being well-rounded is that, unless you're a polymath, you end up being mediocre at lots of things, and I think the obsession model (if I can put it that way) has the virtue of really engaging children in the pursuit of "excellence." Once you learn what excellence really feels like and have a desire to be excellent, whatever else you want to do flows thereon. Or so I muse...what say ye?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bob Kerrey and The New School Commencement

Bob Kerrey defends (sort of) his rowdy students' rude treatment of Sen. McCain at The New School's commencement:

I now speak in defense of the behavior of my students – the minority who protested and the majority who did not. On the surface, some of the tactics of the protest were rude, noisy, and disrespectful. Less obvious, however, was the self-restraint that prevented the protestors from behaving in a fashion that would have shut down the commencement or made it impossible for Senator McCain or me to continue. Though many in the audience – including Senator McCain and I – were offended by the heckling, at no time were we in danger of not being able to proceed. By the end of the program, we had awarded five honorary degrees and graduated 2,630 students in The New School’s 70th Commencement ceremony.

More importantly -- and also lost in the charges and counter-charges -- is this fact: student protests are a necessary and essential part of democratic free expression. Did we not love the brave and disrespectful students at Tiananmen? Did we not applaud the determination of the student led movements that helped bring down the dictators that ruled Eastern Europe in 1991? Have we forgotten the critical difference students made in reversing an unlawful election in Ukraine or in driving the Syrians from Lebanon or who still seethe in discontent under the religious law of Iran’s mullahs?

So, let's see. The students are to be commended because they didn't upend the ceremonies or prevent McCain from speaking. Talk about low expectations. Then, we should embrace student rowdiness because....well, because students have been important in the overthrow of noxious dictatorships. So Sen. McCain is comparable to noxious dictatorships? And what's so special about students anyway? Sometimes they're on the side of liberty and sometimes they're on the side of the dictators (as they were in the 1979 Iranian Revolution).

Better to say that they just acted immaturely.

The Christianity Today Book Awards

Christianity Today has their book awards out. I've read two of them (Jacobs' book on C.S. Lewis and Christian Smith's book on teenager spirituality). Some good stuff there.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Merry, But Quite Contrary

A conclusion is boring its way inexorably into my consciousness: namely, the people in Washington whom I write about think in lines that run opposite to mine. Perhaps I have become a true contrarian. (My definition of 'contrarian': a farmer who marries the traveling salesman's daughter.)

For example, I thought nothing of the fact that the FBI executed a search warrant in the Capitol building. That did not "chill me" in the least. There was a suspicion, a judge issued a warrant, everything was aboveboard.

But what chills the marrow in my bones is President Bush issuing an "order" to seal the evidence for 45 days. This was the calming move designed to defuse a constitutional crisis? An executive gives an order to a policing body not to examine the evidence that it has lawfully collected in an active investigation. Now, that is scary. Have you ever seen a mayor instruct a police commissioner in this manner? Or a governor instruct a state's attorney? Very unpleasantly autocratic in my book.


As I have been remiss lately in linking my columns, here are two weeks worth.

1) Last Friday, at Spectator, my proposal to allow Mexico a role in jointly policing the border.
2) This Wednesday, at Spectator, my analysis of the difference between our inability to fight against evil purposes and our ability to fight against evil tactics.
3) Last Wednesday, at Human Events, my observation that the immigration situation yielded some good news for conservatives, in that they were able to push back and affect the orientation of the debate.
4) Yesterday, at Human Events, my comedy-laden attack on the habit of debating and voting on long bills that nobody has read but a few scheming aides.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

GDP Surprises

Real GDP has grown at a 4 percent annual rate ever since the second quarter of 2003, when marginal tax rates were reduced on dividends, capital gains and human capital (professional and managerial salaries). Real GDP from nonfarm businesses did even better – rising at an annual rate of 4.7 percent. Some call that a coincidence.

What has been most surprising is that the economy did so well despite the burden of increasingly expensive imported oil. Part of the answer is that U.S. exports have grown very rapidly -- particularly exports of manufactured and farm goods rather than services. Since the third quarter of 2003, real exports of goods have increased a 9.7 percent annual rate, while imports of goods (including oil, of course) increased at a 9.2 percent rate.

The GDP report contains a useful measure of inflation which minimizes the use of estimates and is instead “based on household expenditures for which there are observable price measures.” It is called Market-based PCE (personal consumption expenditures).

With energy and food included, the market-based PCE rose at 3.9 percent rate in the third quarter of 2005, 2.6 percent in fourth quarter and 1.7 percent in the first quarter of 2006. The “core” version, without food and energy, was 1.5 percent in 2004, 1.7 percent in 2005 and 1.6 percent in the most recent quarter. Food is essentially irrelevant -- energy alone is what creates the statistical illusion of inflation (such as that 3.9 percent annualized figure in the third quarter).

Aside from the relative price of energy, I have yet to see anyone present any evidence of higher inflation. I have seen many words about higher inflation, but no facts. The consumer price index less energy rose 2.2 percent in 2004 and 2005 and it also rose 2.2 percent for the 12 months ending in April. The April PPI was only 0.8 percent higher than a year before.

Rising energy costs do reduce real wage growth and squeeze profit margins in energy-gobbling industries. Yet U.S. business has been coping surprisingly well.

If it ain’t broke, don’t ask the Fed to fix it.