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

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Rev. Wright...

So how to think about the quite estimable Rev. Wright, the now not-so-close adviser to Sen. Obama? Well, take two poles out of play: I doubt it's the case that Obama shares many of Rev. Wright's particular views (e.g. that AIDS was brought on by "Whitey" to get the black man) but neither do I think that he's entirely immaterial to our evaluation of Obama. Very few of us churchgoers agree entirely with our pastors and sometimes we may even stay at churches where the pastor makes us grind our teeth on a weekly basis. But being a part of a church that's so powerfully centered around the personality of a particular pastor for *20 years* has to suggest that Obama at the very least didn't feel all *that* uncomfortable with Wright (and here I'm assuming that he's basically lying when he says that he wasn't aware of Wright's controversial statements - even if he didn't know anything about those particular statements, it beggars the imagination to suppose that Wright hadn't said similar things in his presence) and, what's more, he felt comfortable enough about the church that had his two daughters there and continued to tithe pretty well. That Obama didn't suppose that Wright would be a problem for him and his campaign also speaks a great deal to Obama's real blindness about Wright - and how extreme his statements sound to most Americans. And that's the real problem here: to the degree that Obama continued to play up his association with his church and Rev. Wright, it at the very least shows that he thinks Wright's noxious statements are not outside the pale, regardless of whatever damage control he's begun. It's not unlike Edwards' willingness to nod and look thoughtful when the 9/11 "Truthers" would go on about the government's complicity with terrorist attacks. (Note that Bill Clinton, in contrast, has been pretty forceful in slapping down the wackadoos...). Neither really believes that crap, but their willingness to allow it into the national conversation is troubling, to say the least.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Everything I ever needed to know, I learned in Rome . . . .

This should sound familiar:

"The fact of the matter, nonetheless, was that Vespasian and Mucianus had agreed on a plan of action already. When they received the news of Otho's accession, during Titus' absence, they decided to acknowledge him as their emperor, and administered the oath of allegiance to their troops forthwith. Neither of them was particularly enthused about Otho's cause. Rather, they were playing a waiting game, planning--according to Tacitus--to sit on the sidelines while Otho and Vitellius slugged it out. In their view, it did not matter which contender won the war, because both were so horribly flawed that the one would be brought doen by the war, the other by his victory. This is a classic example of a motif as popular with Greco-Roman historians as are conspiratorial theories of history today, that of the tertius gaudens, the third party who waits till a struggle between two other rivals has been fought, and the victor has been so weakened by his success that he can be defeated."

--Gwyn Morgan, 69 A.D.: The Year of Four Emperors at 180 (OUP 2006).

We are now in for five solid weeks of Hillary v. Obama, no holds barred. "Tertius gaudens" seems like a pretty good strategy for Sen. McCain, eh?

The Crimes of Spitzer

My contempt for Eliot Spitzer is absolute, but it seems to me (an amateur) that the criminal charges that are being talked about are just this side of phony. The Mann Act? Please. The financial structuring issue seems dubious to me as well, since I've seen no reports that any one of the services purchased by Spitzer cost more than the $10,000 threshold for a formal financial report; instead, it looks like he purchased a series of services, each of which cost less than $5000, but the total of which summed to more than $10,000. I can't believe that to be a structuring violation; over the course of a year, I spend more than $10,000 at the Agoura Deli for corned-beef sandwiches, $10.95 (plus tip) at a time. Is that "structuring"? Interstate travel to commit a crime? See comment on the Mann Act above. Wire fraud? The last refuge of prosecutorial scoundrels. Conspiracy to commit money laundering? It looks more to me like a conspiracy to preserve anonimity. Etc.

We aged veterans of the NKVD know that strict adherence to the letter of the law is essential; that's why confessions, however obtained, are necessary. Spitzer, of course, during his salad days as an Aspiring Governor knew this as well, which is the source of the supreme contempt that he enjoys from, well, everyone. Yes, he deserves to rot in hell, and, for that matter, to rot long before he gets there. But that is no excuse for the current efforts of the prosecutors to find some paddle, any paddle, that would fit his backside. This is supposed to be a nation governed by the rule of law.

Should Prostitution Be Illegal?

As Tom commands, so I obey...

So over at The Corner (and elsewhere) they're having a rather spirited discussion of whether prostitution ought to be illegal in the wake of Gov. Spitzer's recent shenanigans, with Andrew Stuttaford leading the libertarian (and libertine?) charge. He's wrong (as is so often the case), but not for the reasons typically adduced.

First, we might think that prostitution should be illegal because it's immoral. (Note that Stuttaford has not yet - so far as I can tell - actually said that he thinks prostitution is even immoral; he merely grants it arguendo). But that clearly won't fly, as there are plenty of things that are immoral that we don't make illegal. If we were to make lying a crime, for example, we'd have to lock up darned near every real estate agent in the country. Not that that would be a bad thing, but still....

Another line of reasoning might suggest that we make prostitution illegal because of its pernicious consequences. Lisa Schiffren at NRO has taken this line, noting that, for whatever reason, the particularities of prostitution seems inevitably to include coercion, violence, exploitation and the like. That seems right as a practical matter, but it's vulnerable to the breezy Stuttafordian reply that we can solve such problems with proper enforcement and that in any case making it illegal merely exacerbates those problems. I can't really say which of the two has the better empirical case and imagine that there are plenty of arguments on both sides.

My argument for making prostitution illegal rests on quite different grounds, though it may help explain why prostitution seems to end up involving all sorts of nasty characters, whether it is illegal or not. Consider the following: in western liberal societies we recognize something we might call sexual liberty. At a minimum, this means that we think that someone should not be obligated to have sex with someone without his or her consent. The exact extent of this sexual liberty is, of course, deeply disputed, but consent certainly is a common touchstone. Well, why do we have this view? In large part, I think, we have this view because we understand sex (as with, say, religion) to be something of such intimate importance that to have the clumsy, bumbling state involved makes for some very bad policy outcomes. Whatever else human beings are, we are the sorts of creatures who value greatly our ability to live "in conscience," in accordance with what we take to be true; coercing us in matters of sex treads on that ability in important, even crucial, ways.

Making prostitution legal might seem to accord with a generalized sexual liberty but it actually runs deeply against the grounds for such liberty precisely in that it makes sex out to be something quite different than the generalized liberty claim depends upon. When we legalize prostitution, we say then that sex is or can be a mere commodity, a "thing" that can be the object of an economic transaction. But to be that sort of "thing," it then cannot be the sort of deeply personal, crucially important "thing" that grounds our claims to sexual liberty. If sex is a thing we can legitimately pay for, then it may be a thing that we can regulate, tax and tie up in all sorts of minute state control, much like any other "recreational" activity. We can treat it like rockclimbing and can largely do what we want with it politically. But that's not what sex is and whether we admit or not - and our popular culture tries powerfully to convince us that it's just another recreational "thing" - we recognize that as such, which is why even its "legal" manifestations are rife with coercion, violence, and nasty characters. Prostitution is inherently vicious and degrading and it is no surprise that when we try and make it legal, its vices don't go away.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Eliot Spitzer, Human Being, or: Eliot Spitzer, Human Being?

Since Spitzer's a Democrat, and quite a self-righteous one, I'm trying not to enjoy this all too much. A GOP senator named Vitter got named in a DC hooker ring, and he was given a pass, as it was indeed a private matter between him and his wife.

Proper, in my view.

But Spitzer was a prosecutor. My rules for hypocrisy are pretty liberal---Spitzer said he failed to live up to his own standards, and that's fair---among human beings who actually have standards, failure is inevitable.

But to prosecute---persecute---others for the same thing you do yourself, and he apparently did, is another matter entirely, and fits my definition of hypocrisy. Spitzer, according to the link above, prosecuted prostitution.

Now, if it turns out he gave hookers a break---and because there is no moral difference here between buyer and seller---perhaps he's just the victim of bad luck.

Me, I just wonder how he could afford Emperor's Club courtesans on a civil servant's salary. Up to five grand a pop? At least we can hope he selected from the Three Diamond menu instead of the Seven, as any fiscally responsible politician would.

[Nice to see Messrs. Simpson and Evanston check in. This blog has always been about dialogue and not speechifying. There will be much to dialogue about in the coming months about the future and fate of this here republic...]

Sunday, March 09, 2008

So Sorry...

To have been gone from these parts for so long. It has been an "interesting" few months, as we've been considering changing jobs, cities, and much else. But I'm back around and will try to throw things up for your oh-so patient consideration a bit more in the days to come...

Friday, February 29, 2008

Remembering A Memorable Man

When I heard that William F. Buckley Jr. had departed, I thought of this oft-quoted epigram from the Talmud: “The righteous need no monuments, their words provide their memories.” Beneath that burnished truism lies an unexamined premise; namely, that one can hardly lay claim to righteousness without leaving words to edify the public, words to treasure. Mister Buckley clearly bequeathed a rich legacy of words and his memory shall not lack for laurels, for garlands or for wreaths.
Like so many others, my political consciousness was firmed up under his tutelage. I began with his columns in the New York Daily News, then I read a number of his books. Whether he was winning me over, or confirming my own intuition, is worth pondering, but the outcome was undeniable: his camp was my camp.
Buckley was many things, some of which have died with him, but the modern conservative movement, much enhanced by his ministrations, will continue to edge its way forward, if a trifle attenuated by his absence. It has been argued, sometimes by Reagan himself, that Reagan could not have become President sans Buckley, but those larger causes and effects juggle too many variables to allow for definitive assertion. This much is indisputable: that the movement that Reagan led by mood, by a nod and a wink and a grin, by a gibe and a vibe and a shrug, Buckley and his protégés ensouled with words.
Yet, if one spark of inspiration must be gleaned from his fiery cascade of ideas, I would choose this very simple idea. The idea of naming the movement “conservatism”.
Even if conservative and movement are not deemed oxymoronic in their partnership, the title would have been absurd anyway, based on its formative context. Buckley’s very first book, God and Man at Yale, was published in 1952, and it is already quite clear that liberal political thought was the regnant orthodoxy of the public square, academia most of all. He demonstrates in that work the systematized, if not quite systematic, effort by faculty to stamp out religious consciousness from the impressionable mind of the Yale undergraduate.
The movement Buckley was encouraging was the furthest thing from conservative, if that adjective is construed as preservative of a status quo. Four decades before that time, Woodrow Wilson had declared the Constitution outmoded and irrelevant, and no one thought it worth a reference except as a fig leaf to cover the prurient. Franklin Roosevelt had certainly paid it no mind in fashioning a vision of modern governance. Buckley and friends were proposing a notion that was not so much conservative as restorative, irredentist if you will, revanchist if you must.
The genius inhered in the realization that the general conservative impulse of the Middle American family man, the kind that winced at sexualization of the culture, that grimaced at the glorification of violence, could be harnessed to support this Constitutionalist drive. The person who feels that the best parts of his sensibility are the ones that are least incendiary can be shown that it is the last residue of the wisdom of our Founders that is animating his better angels.
He used all the arguments for the Constitution that clergymen use for the Bible – and that the Bible uses for itself. It is the right thing to do, it actually works better, you owe it to previous generations, you owe it to future generations. He did a tight-rope walk between the argument that enlightened self-interest produces virtue and the argument that the citizen’s spirit of altruistic philanthropy is what entitles him to be the arbiter of his own compassion. He was by turns trenchant and piquant, cerebral and playful, but he never demanded obeisance by entitlement. He forbore to work for every logical point he scored.
What the future holds for this set of ideas seems to be in abeyance, by most accounts. This is at least partially because past victories have dulled the urgency of the revolution. Stop any Democrat at random and mention ninety percent tax rates under Roosevelt, and he will be completely shocked and astounded.
There was really nothing to conserve before Buckley came, save a yellowed document and a cracked bell. William F. Buckley Jr. lives no more, but he leaves behind a Constitution that is not ‘living’ but alive, and a bell that tolls for thee and thine freedom.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Nothing Human is Alien to Him

Barack Obama is enduring some ridicule for dressing up in a silly local costume while touring a foreign country:

Not the first time a Democratic presidential candidate looked like a mook while trying out the silly customs and dress of a strange people in an unfamiliar land:

Mississippi, I think it was. Kentucky, mebbe.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Can Something Bad Happen and It's Nobody's Fault?

Not in America, it seems. You can always sue somebody, right?

But Riegel v. Medtronic is creating quite a stir in the legal industry.

Basically, the Supreme Court decided just the other day that those huge medical-device product liability suits cannot proceed if the FDA pre-approved the medical device.

In short, what we're seeing here is that the federal government, via what's commonly called the Interstate Commerce Clause [that's in the Constitution, for those who came in late], can short-circuit state laws and state lawsuits against corporations that do business nationally.

The interesting thing is that the decision was 7-1, Justice Breyer mugwumping and only Justice Ginsburg dissenting, on grounds that states have compelling interests, etc., etc.

Now, I'm a Fred Thompson federalist---power devolved to the states---but it seems that the ICC is totally applicable here, and the best thing is that it's not another chafing, apparently partisan-ideological 5-4 decision.

Even the Supreme Court can largely agree on what the Constitution means every once in awhile. Thank God and may He continue to bless This Here Republic.

Next up: lawsuits on pharmaceuticals---Warner-Lambert v. Kent, and more here. The powerful plaintiff's bar---which at the top levels makes far more money than those grunts who defend corporations---is in quite a tizzy, running out of people to sue.

A fair reading of the constitution beats even "tort reform" anyday.