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

Monday, July 03, 2006

A New Mexico?

It could happen. According to the Reuters report, Felipe Calderon, the right of center candidate in Sunday's elections for president of Mexico, appears to have won. Mexico had long been in the grip of a left-wing party, the PRI, which used dubious methods to retain power and kept market reforms at bay. Vicente Fox was a great improvement but not one to make fundamental changes. The rise to power of Calderon, of the National Action Party, would make possible reforms that were beyond contemplation when the PRI and its successors remained in power. Reuters writes:

Mexico's conservative presidential candidate Felipe Calderon declared victory on Monday in a bitterly contested election result as official returns showed him ahead of his left-wing rival.

Calderon said his lead was now "irreversible" because he had an advantage of more than 400,000 votes over Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist former mayor of Mexico City, with almost 95 percent of votes counted.

There are still a lof of ifs in the scenario. If Calderon's opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrado of the Democratic Revolution Party, doesn't encourage his supporters to riot in the streets and hold the government by force (as is the current worry, according to the Reuters story and other reports), Calderon can take office. Then, if Calderon can mobilize legislative action on economic reforms, if the government can enforce the rule of law in local areas—something current President Vicente Fox had a good deal of trouble doing—and if Calderon's party can stick to their guns, then there is truly a chance finally for a long-needed liberalization of the Mexican economy and society.

Liberalizing reform in Mexico is a development all should welcome, excepting only those who wish to exploit people through the powers of a corrupt and oppressive government. NAFTA may well have laid the groundwork for this tidal change, but real reform cannot come until Mexicans decide to take that frightful step from being wards of the state toward being independent actors who can make their own way in the world. This election could be the first step toward Mexico becoming a truly prosperous nation of self-reliant people.

I believe that it will happen, though in fits and starts and against furious opposition.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Watt's Up?

In our battle against the nether regions of Islam, some light at the end of the tunnel.

Years ago, when comic books showed us a light bulb appearing at an idea's point of origin, we scoffed. Now we know it to be true.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Continuing the Top Ten Game: Superhero Movies

You know how you hit somebody else's computer and they never bothered to make a homepage other than MSN.com? Well, that happened to me today and I found this fascinating list of the ten best and five worst superhero flicks.

Having seen what MSN came up with, I've got my own list to post.

10. Darkman -- One of the darkest and quirkiest superhero flicks ever. The main character has major problems with anger and anxiety. Even when he's kicking butt he's quite, shall we say, edgy. Occupies a unique spot in the genre.

9. The Shadow -- This isn't in anyone's list of favorites, but it scored with me. Alec Baldwin captures the old Radio Age Lamont Cranston quite well. I particularly enjoyed the way his face and personality changed when he inhabited the Shadow character. Very much a piece of pulp, but a satisfying one.

8. Batman Returns -- Keaton, Devito, and Michelle Pfeiffer. This film does a wonderful job of exploring the psyche of people who develop these wild meta-personalities with which to encounter a violent world. What keeps the film down is that Batman's ability to solve some problems is more magical than gritty.

7. Batman Begins -- Christian Bale was a brilliant choice to play a young Bruce Wayne. Still an American Psycho, but this time with a moral compass. Sending Bruce to the Orient to learn the ancient arts just as Lamont Cranston (the Shadow) did worked. The action almost didn't even need to return to Gotham to satisfy.

6. Batman -- The original Keaton vehicle was the most pleasant of surprises. After years of pure crapola from the superhero industry (save a couple of Superman movies a decade or so previous), Batman arrived to save the day. Things haven't been the same since. Jack Nicholson steals the show, but that's expected from The Joker.

5. Superman -- There was a reason people cared so much about what happened to Christopher Reeve. This film was it. During an era when superhero entertainment meant bad animation, or worse yet, terrible, terrible live-action, Reeve's Superman was a bolt from the blue. Beautifully filmed. I'll never forget the young Superman bounding across the plains or Reeve's success in portraying a hunky, yet truly nerdish Clark Kent. Margot Kidder was tops as Lois Lane, too. Not glamorous, but spunky and you can see why Superman is torn in his affections between Lois and the world.

4. Superman II -- Based on limits of technology, this one probably ranks as the greatest of all time because it worked without today's special effects. Combat, combat, combat tied in beautifully with a drama and a romantic backstory.

3. Spiderman II -- Successfully continued the Peter Parker hard luck story with amazing battle scenes with our hero and Doctor Octopus. Extremely enjoyable and guess what (Spoiler), Peter gets the girl. In fact, the girl next door.

2. Spiderman -- The origin story magnificently rendered. Superhero movies had already improved with the resurgence of Batman, but this was another level.

1. I know one of the three top spots will belong to the newest Spiderman movie, so here's a big vote of confidence.

Biggest Disappointments

5. Daredevil -- I didn't hate it the way so many reviewers did, but it failed to capture the feeling of the comic. I'm not sure it was a great idea to combine the origin story and famed Electra tragedy in one go-round either.

4. The Hulk -- This movie was going somewhere for the first hour, but it all fell to pieces. Try again.

3. All the X-Men films -- Really not bad, but far, far short of the original comics. I've gone to each with high expectations and have each time thought it was worth the money, but not amazing. The last one really screwed up by combining favorite bits and pieces from lots of different stories in one film. Hodge-podge can be fun, but it's no substitute for a little literary discipline.

2. Fantastic Four -- Not bad as entertainment, but again falling short of places where the comic has been. Reed Richards was definitely too young and Sue Storm was too much sex appeal and not enough maturity.

1. Superman III and IV plus whatever the heck the Clooney Batman was. 'Nuff said.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Top Ten New Names for the Holy Trinity

Well, those Presbyterians are at it again, and I think it's about time.

Seems Christianity's Big One/Three needs a retitling. Too, I dunno, biblical, I guess.


Well, a couple of their new really good ones are omitted here for lack of risibility, but here are my favorites from what they came up with:


• Sun, Light and Burning Ray

• Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and Life-giving Womb

• Rainbow of Promise, Ark of Salvation and Dove of Peace

• Overflowing Font, Living Water, Flowing River

• Fire That Consumes, Sword That Divides, and Storm That Melts Mountains


Eh. Mankind has already tried the Sun God thing, and too much of Him gives you skin cancer. "Our Rainbow Who Art (Am, Is) Wherever" makes me want to fetch my Divine Coloring Book. With the recent floods in the northeast, overflow is counterintuitive: Dear Overflow, leave us alone, willya? And here in California, a Storm That Melts Mountains caused a landslide that almost took out my patio deck.

I don't think the Presbs go nearly far enough. Everybody sees God in his, her or its own way, so what we need here is some market research and narrowcasting to our core focus groups and potential customers.

--Solar, Wind, and Clean-Burning Hydrogen Power (Enviro-God)
--Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Holy Flamingo (Kung-Fu God)
--Owner, Driver, Pit Crew (NASCAR God)
--Apatosaurus, T. Rex and Archaeopteryx (Jurassic God)
--Pop, Snap & Crackle (Breakfast God)
--Tinker to Evers to Chance (Teamwork God)
--Townshend, Daltry, Entwistle (The Writer, The Song and The One Who Plays Bass God)
--Life, Liberty & The Pursuit of Happiness (Separation of Church and God God)
--Mother Sheehan, Brother Murtha, and BTW, What's in My Womb is None of Your Damn Business Anyway (Kos God)

Well, it's quite a fruitful vein. One Presbyter said you might as well call 'em Huey, Dewey and Louie, but I think he isn't quite down with the Spirit of the thing. The Deity Formerly Known as The Triune God has got to get into the 21st century.

I bet y'all have a topper, but in the meantime, for now I'll think of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as:

Rock, Paper, Scissors
. A Good God. A Great Game.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Superman: Will to Power or Will to Love?

Jordan Ballor is less than thrilled with the evangelical bandwagon to baptize Superman as yet another in a long line of literary and pop-cultural Christ figures. Maybe it is a bit uncritical and perhaps a bit overdone. But I have to take issue with Ballor when he suggests that Superman is more reminiscent of Nietzsche's Ubermensch than he is of the Son of Man.

Having read my share of Superman comics through the years and having taken in many, many pop manifestations of the character, one thing is clear: Superman is not Nietzschean. Although he has all the power in the world, he has a prevailing morality that trumps his own power. A perfect example of the anti-Nietzschean aspect of the comic Superman is that he has virtually always refused to kill, even when a villain richly deserves it. He is also the type of fellow, who though often indestructible, has always been ready to sacrifice himself for his friends (and everybody else).

There are a couple of examples that go against the grain. For instance, in the lamentable Superman IV, our hero drops any pretense of respect for democracy and imposes his will on the globe when it comes to nuclear weapons. He simply throws them all into outer space. No word on whether he then intended to police every border where the Soviets might have had tanks ready to roll! I would argue this Superman is a version (a lefty-liberal Greenpeacey type) of the will-to-power superman, but he is an exception that virtually all fans would excise from the legend. Another example occurred in a graphic novel tracing out alternative worlds with a Superman. In one of the alternate planes, he sets himself up as a king. Pretty logical, eh? But again, this was the authors' funnin' around and not setting up a new idea of the hero.

The C.S Lewis-Anscombe Debate Revised

It's been referenced here at the Reform Club and is often mentioned here and there in the literature. C.S. Lewis was well known as an unbeatable debater until he ran up against Elizabeth Anscombe. The history of the event is that Anscombe won the debate and that C.S. Lewis abandoned apologetics (reasoned defense of Christianity) for other things like children's literature. Victor Reppert, who has written his own book about Lewis, disagrees vigorously with the idea that Lewis abandoned apologetics after the Anscombe debate. Read about it here.

In addition, I think the general thought is that Anscombe beating Lewis in debate represented some triumph of the non-Christian over the Christian. She was actually a serious Catholic who was later in life arrested for pro-life activities in England similar to what Operation Rescue did in the United States. More about her and a confirmation of Victor Reppert's report on Lewis's continued interest in apologetics here at First Things.

Paid College Athletics

So here's a story at Inside Higher Ed on track athletes who are turning professional and eschewing a college career. I'm not so interested in the fact that track athletes are doing what others (especially baseball, hockey, and basketball players) have been doing for years, but it does pose an interesting question. (And that question is not about students taking the money and leaving college early - most everyone, I would assume, would skip their last couple of years in college for a seven-figure salary). The NCAA prohibits student-athletes from receiving goods that they wouldn't otherwise receive except that they are athletes. So the local car dealer can't spot you a new Corolla because you're the third-string punter. But to be equitable, shouldn't we extend that to all students? Shouldn't the computer science major be barred from making money on the side working for some start-up? Or the journalism major be prohibited from taking that part-time job with a newspaper? There's a difference, of course. The "regular" students are, in some sense, merely getting a head start on their careers (and probably learning more about their profession than they do in the classroom) while whatever sorts of benefits might come the punter's way are probably just a way of enticing him to join the team. But I've never quite understood the case for barring benefits to student-athletes: why shouldn't they be able to trade on their skills as they see fit? (As a side note, it would as well help ease the corruption that currently infects big-time college athletics. While direct payments are probably relatively rare, I'd bet that there are lots of places in the country where students live in housing at, er, "reduced" rates, drive much nicer cars than they should be able to afford, have relatives with very lucrative jobs, etc. And what's more, the strict rules against providing anything to athletes means that when an athlete actually does need help - say, to get home for Thanksgiving - if you play by the rules, there's little you can do). Let the punter get his Corolla, I say.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Western Europe At The Barricades

At a recent conference in Switzerland student representatives asked, how could the Muslim population gain traction so quickly in Western Europe? It is a simple and direct question that could easily be addressed with reference to the disparity between Christian and Muslim birthrates and immigration patterns.

But numbers do not tell the whole story, nor do these numbers reveal very much about European attitudes. There are philosophic underpinngs that reveal more than any statistical analysis can provide.

The first of these is multi-culturalism, an attitude which suggests each culture should be treated on its own terms without regard to universal considerations. For example, female deformation in the form of cliterdectomy is not wrong; it is simply the manifestation of a different culture.

The second, and arguably the view that represents the most significant shift in European attitudes, is secular humanism, a turning away from the spiritual to the temporal. European churches are now ostensibly museums, not places of worship. The moral teachings of Christianity have been largely interred replaced by relativism or “new age” phenomenology, such as pantheistic environmentalism.

The third shift in attitude might be characterized as extreme liberalism. In this case the virtues of liberalism such as tolerance have been perverted into an unwillingness to discriminate. Right and wrong are seen as archaic concepts belonging to the ash heap of history. What counts is openness, a strange form of egalitarianism in which all opinions have equal value if rendered earnestly.

The fourth attitudinal consideration is transnationalism. A project to reduce or eliminate the national heritage of European states through continental harmonization has had the unintended effect of making citizens rudderless, of losing an identity and deracinating patriotism. Do the bureaucrats in Brussels represent the will of the European people? And can a continental parliament rely on consent of the governed or even care about those governed? Answers beg the questions.

Last is the loss of confidence. The retreat of apostolic teaching has resulted in an absence of authority. Catholicism is in retreat, not only as a religion but as a voice of moral conviction.

On the other side of the west European ledger is Islam, a fanatical faith with an obsessive desire for control and conversion. Using the freedoms conferred by western European states, Muslims employ strong conviction and physical intimidation to promote their faith. Their mosques are not merely centers for religious observance, but political centers for subversion. Any attempt to interfere with these activities is deemed an affront, a violation of liberal precepts.

As a consequence, the governments seem powerless, unable to interfere. Scholars are intimidated if they don’t share interfaith egalitarianism and religious figures dare not criticize, fearful of being charged with bigotry.

The march to dominance therefore appears inexorable unless the western European societies can regain their traditions and recapture the convictions that led to Christianity’s dominance in the first place. You cannot defeat an implacable adversary with verbal pabulum.

Western Europe needs to assert its traditions and liberties, but, more importantly, it should insist that its basic ideas are imbibed by all citizens. Isolated cultural pockets removed from the prevailing positions of the host societies will not do. Liberalism should ensure freedom, but not the freedom to destroy.

Moreover, western European governments should demand reciprocity with Muslim states. The freedom Muslims enjoy in Europe should not be a freedom denied to minority communities in Muslim states, which is presently the case throughout the Islamic world.

European Muslims sense that Europe is in a defensive mode as the present dominant attitudes suggest. Hence there is the leap for a final solution, caliphates throughout the continent. It is widely believed that the vacuum of a soulless Europe will be filled by an Islam of determined will and fanaticism.

There cannot be any doubt at this point what is at stake. The issue is one of civilizational survival. The antidote to the march of Islam is reChrististianizing Europe through a Great Awakening. Is there a contemporary Wilberforce eager to lead this struggle? Is history on the side of fanaticism? Can the war of ideas be engaged by series exemplars of Christian doctrine? And has attitudinal drift emasculated Western Europe from the brave and defiant heart that is needed?

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.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Who Built Their Houses?

I see that a number of Democratic activists here in the Golden State, at least rhetorically are reluctant to support Treasurer Phil Angelides in the Governor's race against Arnold because Angelides used to be a "developer," an epithet that apparently for those people ranks right up there with "child molester," "capitalist," "conservative," and "Republican." Anyway, did those people build their own houses? Or did they buy houses previously built by... developers? Or do they live in caves, and I refer here not to the intellectual kind? Just asking.

Federalism, Will of People Win in Supreme Court's Death Penalty Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a Kansas law mandating that juries impose the death penalty in cases where there is an equal weight of factors aggravating the severity of the crime and those tending to explain a defendant's actions. In order words, the law held that juries should impose the death penalty if mitigating factors do not explicitly outweigh aggravating ones. Tie goes to the victims, you might say. (Or to the executioner, if you think convicted murderers are more important than victims and their families.)

While not stating it directly, the New York Times story revealed that the Court's decision had a strong federalist component:

[T]he five conservatives, including Alito, overturned a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that found the law violated the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment. . . .

The ruling affirms the court's long-held position that states should determine how juries weigh factors presented by the prosecution and defense in capital cases. . . .

According to the Times story, Justice Scalia wrote a separate opinion explicitly suggesting deference to state legislation on death penalty matters:

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a separate opinion on Monday to defend the death penalty and the court's ruling in the Kansas case. [The claim that Scalia's opinion defended the death penalty as such is incorrect: his opinion was centered on allowing the people to decide these matters through their legislative representatives and governors. Note the next paragraph from the Times story.]

"The American people have determined that the good to be derived from capital punishment—in deterrence, and perhaps most of all in the meting out of condign justice for horrible crimes—outweighs the risk of error. It is no proper part of the business of this court, or of its justices, to second-guess that judgment, much less to impugn it before the world . . . ,'' Scalia wrote.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said the decision ''signals that a majority of the court is not inclined to invent new procedural restrictions on the death penalty.''

That appears to be the correct interpretation of the ruling.

Why We Incarcerate

A frequent commenter wrote, in our thread regarding crime and leniency in Great Britain:

Based on these trends, 2% of the adult population in this country is likely to continuously break the law. Punishment seems to work dandy, yessirree!

The commenter's sarcasm is absurdly misplaced. Holding those people in prison definitely prevents them from committing crimes against the public during the period of their incarceration. In this way, incarceration most certainly works to reduce crime.

It is true that a punishment should fit the crime, but that means not only that it should not be too severe but also that it should not be too mild. The appropriate severity of punishment for any particular crime is a valid matter for debate. What is not debatable, however, is that incarceration reduces crime. It does so, at the very least by taking the criminal out of circulation.

It is only when one shifts one's concern exclusively to the welfare of the criminals over that of their real and potential victims that one can see inarceration as risible.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Brits Worried Over Lenience on Crime

In an excellent and highly informative article in Tech Central Station, former British Crown Prosecution Service executive Peter C. Glover points out that a steady stream of high-profile cases in which serious offenders have received minimal sentences has created a rising sense of fear of violent crime among the English public. As happened in abundance in the 1970s in the United States as crime rates rose, this public concern in Britain is reflected in a film currently in production:

The minimum five-year sentence for convicted pedophile Craig Sweeney has deepened the public's crisis of confidence in the British criminal justice system -- and stirred the government into pledging a 'sentencing review'. But while the mother of Sweeney's three-year-old victim spoke of wanting to "throttle the judge" who sentenced Sweeney, it is actually the liberalized system itself which may need "throttling". That's the point soon to be made by an explosive new film currently in production entitled Outlaw.

Nick Love's film, starring Sean Bean and Bob Hoskins, is designed to show the devastating consequences of a British justice system soft on criminals. The film focuses on five vigilantes who, "betrayed by their government and let down by the police", take matters into their own hands, meting out summary justice with baseball bats, knives and fists. What Charles Bronson's Death Wish character brought to cheering audiences in the 1970s, Love's Outlaw appears destined to repeat for contemporary audiences.

Outlaw is more than just another film for Love, who is himself a reformed teenage criminal and heroin user who claims to have been saved by the "short sharp shock" Tory policy of the 1980s. "I'm the living proof, if you like, that taking a hardline approach to young criminals works," says Love.

Love began writing the screenplay two years ago. At the time he suspected the British public were already beginning to lose patience with the government's liberalizing of criminal policies. He could not have realized how soon that patience might run out.

Love is an example of an individual reforming from a life of crime, but his redemption came through paying a hard price for his crime, he notes, not by immersion in therapeutic treatments by a system more concerned about offenders than for victims and the community. As Glover puts it,

Love's film is set to further highlight how a society soft on criminals suffers when it makes the basic mistake of deeming pragmatic liberalizing policies - revealing a greater concern for the offender than for the victim and for the individual than for the community - a higher priority than justice.

Love's film, Glover's article, and the situation in Britain all point out that true justice has real, positive, practical consequences. As Glover notes,

Nick Love's Outlaw is not, as some will undoubtedly claim, a prescription for vigilantism on the streets. Rather, it is a stark warning of the perhaps inevitable consequences when a state fails to perform its central function: the protection of society and its law-abiding citizenry.

As Love's movie lead puts it, "If you want to spend the rest of your life being raped and bullied . . . and letting the pedophiles wander the playgrounds while you smile mutely and pay your taxes, then walk out the door." I suspect there won't be too many "walking out" on Outlaw however, unless it is because of its explicit content.

Two decades ago I wrote a long article for Chronicles magazine in which I pointed out that vigilante narratives have a long tradition and that they tend to arise when crime rates are rising and government authorities do not appear to be doing enough about stemming the increase. As such, I pointed out, they are a useful barometer of public attitudes. I also pointed out that they are not calls for vigilante violence but warnings about how the public can see itself as forced to step in when their government fails to do its elemtary duty of keeping the public peace.

Vigilante films, although still occasionally made these days—the recent remake of Walking Tall, for example, or some of the comic-book films such as The Punisher and the Spider-Man series—are not nearly so popular as they were in the 1970s. That's a good sign for the United States. Outlaw is indicative of the current uneasiness regarding crime in Great Britian. Whether it will spur a lasting trend in the UK cinema is up to the government and will depend entirely on its resolve in ensuring that criminals pay for their crimes.

Glover's article includes much more detail on and examples of some of the decisions that have disturbed the British public, and I strongly recommend that you read the full article, especially before commenting on the issue if you are so inclined.

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...


Heh.

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

Miscellany

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.