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...