Friday, December 13, 2002

Jonah concurs: Jonah Goldberg agrees with me on Krugman's column. By Krugman's logic, that makes me part of the Jewish "White guy from Seattle strategy." Or something.
Lott--will he or won't he? Speculation is rife about whether Trent Lott will resign. I won't bother linking because all of the links and conspiracy theories will be irrelevant in a hour or so, when his press conference begins.

Lots of conservatives are saying Lott must step down as majority leader to preserve the viabilty of the Republicans. But might it not be better for the party as a whole if they were given a chance to chuck Lott out of office? To say: "We reject this guy so fully that we actually voted against him!"

I'm no expert on politics, but it seems to me that such an opportunity might be more valuable to the party as a whole, even if it's humiliating for Lott.
Cross Burning: I'm tired of the people who claim that cross-burning is just a form of free speech. HELLO!!! A burning cross does NOT convey the message "I don't like people with dark skin and I think they should have their own drinking fountains," a message which would be protected by the Constitution.

A burning cross on someone's front lawn says "I'm going to kill you nigger!" just as surely as if you'd worn a sandwich board with those words and walked up to the front door with a shotgun. Death threats are NOT protected speech.

Now, a burning cross on private land with the owner's permission, as part of a KKK rally, rather than in someone's front lawn or in a predominantly black neighborhood, is a little different. The message is still pretty damn disturbing, but I'm not so sure it amounts to an Constitutionally unprotected direct threat. I'm more conflicted about that one, and tending generally to say that it is protected, if terribly offensive. Context counts a lot here: was the cross burned specifically to target and intimidate a particular person or group? Or was it part of the local Kleegle's annual convention and spagetti dinner? (Do racists eat Italian food?) The former would clearly be unprotected, the latter probably protected.
Red Flags: There are certain rhetorical red flags which alert you to the character of a person's worldview. If someone talks about "corporate hegemony," chances are that person does not spend a lot of time volunteering for Republicans. On the other side, the phrase "gun-ban lobby" is unlikely to be uttered by, say the president of the ACLU, a fact which gives you a hint of exactly which parts of the Bill of Rights the ACLU takes seriously (How does the ACLU count to 10? 1, 3, 4...).

One of my favorite bipartisan red flags is "what's really going on" and variations on that theme. Certainly not every use of this phrase is indicative of political extremism ("What the Russians are really doing in Grozny," for instance, refers to atrocities which are genuinly not widely known), but most people who say this sort of thing are on the fringes. Their thinking runs thus: most of the country doesn't agree with me. Since my thinking is so obviously correct, that must be because they don't understand me. They don't understand because they are ignorant, that is, because the don't know what's really going on.

You can find this phrase lots of places. College newspapers editorials are rife with talk of the oppression of, for instance, factory workers, and the supposed ignorance of privileged college students of the workers' fates. The workers themselves are also generally considered ignorant of how pernicious their satellite TV receiver is, being a conduit for Republican corporatist-consumerist ideology in the form of advertising. But this phrase is not limited to the Left--paranoid right-wing web sites tell us that John Ashcroft is busy constructing concentration camps for gun owners and Christians, which would indeed be shocking given that he would be forced to arrest and incarcerate himself.

In all cases, the fringy editorialists bemoan the media's suppression of the truth and express anger at the sheep-like individuals who, by not knowing "what's really going on," doom themselves and the Brazillian 24-Segmented Green Earthworm to death or Communist tyranny, or possibly both. In all cases, the writer assumes a smug and self-satisfied attitude--he knows the truth, he must be superior to all the dumb sheeple who are too foolish to understand, he has an obligation to scream and yell until the fools who live in Duluth "get it."

It is disturbing, therefore, to read Paul Krugman adopting exactly this turn of phrase and exactly the same arrogant dismissal of the judgement of ordinary people in his latest column:
The Republican Party's longstanding "Southern strategy" — which rests on appealing to the minority of voters who do share Mr. Lott's views — is no secret. But because the majority doesn't share those views, the party must present two faces to the nation.

Has it occurred to Krugman that the Republicans present more than two faces to the nation--indeed, they present literally thousands of faces to the nation? I didn't vote for Trent Lott, I voted for Slade Gorton, a man whose tolerance and personal integrity are unquestionable.
...Still, pulling off a two-faced political strategy is tricky. What prevents reporters from explaining to the majority the coded messages that are being sent to the minority?

And here the smugness creeps in. Those stupid bumpkins are too foolish to understand. It isn't that they vote for people, not parties, and find the local Republicans to be decent and tolerant, it's that they're too stupid to realize that all Republicans either racists or tolerant of racists. We, the wise writers for the NYT, know better. And we have an obligation to explain it to the bumpkins, in words of one syllable.
...It's about time for those of us in the press to pay attention, and let this great, tolerant nation know what's really going on.

There's that damn phrase. I'd say the voters know what's going on, and prefer even so to risk a couple of annoying remarks from Lott rather than a couple of annoying pork bills from the gentleman from Robert C. Byrdistan. One thing about Republicans: however bigoted, narrowminded, and foolish they might be, for the most part they are unable to enact those feelings into law. How many pro-lynching bills has Lott shepherded through the Senate? How many anti-gun bills has Ted Kennedy gotten passed? In other words, the voters are more worried about "what's really going on" in the government than they are about "what's really being thought in private." Now, Krugman may disagree with that philosophy. But that doesn't make it a journalistic obligation to fight to change their minds.

And, of course, his entire column is based on the premise that Southerners are bigots themselves. Lovely. I've heard that this guy is supposed to be brilliant. Why does he have to be a jerk?

Thursday, December 12, 2002

This makes me want to support hate crimes laws: As a rule, I don't support hate crimes laws. There are a number of reasons: for one, they punish not deeds, but thoughts (killing a man is a deed which deserves to be punished; making the punishment harsher because of Consitutionally protected thoughts such as racism chills freedom of expression). For another, they seem weirdly inequitable: suppose a white racist who kills a black man and his white friend. Would you want to be the one to tell the white guy's wife, "well, actually, he'll be getting a longer sentence because of the black guy's murder than he will get for killing your husband"? Finally, they are almost always unevenly applied: most any murder of a black man by a white man might be considered a "hate crime," but the reverse is rarely seen. This undermines the rule of law and elevates tribal concerns over equality.

But when you see something like this, a death penalty case in which the prosecutor explcitly asked the jury to consider the defendant's homosexuality (not simply as a statement of fact--the defendant was in a gay relationship which he feared would end--but as evidence of the "kind of person" on trial), you have no choice but to stop and think. In a sense, it would be nice to be able to slap that prosecutor down with a reference to the criminal code, wouldn't it?

(Link via Jeff Cooper.)
More Canadian Gun Control: Dave Kopel's convincing take.

And, thanks to Dave, The Law-abiding Unregisterd Firearms Association in Canada, dedicated to civil disobedience. Nice to see!

Note to Sarah Brady: Americans won't be so darn polite about it.

UPDATE: In addition to NOT registering their own firearms, Canadians should consider flooding the system with millions of bogus registration forms, preferably with the names of anti-gun politicians. If everyone sends in 10 fake forms and 0 real forms, the system will have absolutely no hope.

Can we Americans help with bogus forms from here, as well?
I'm skeptical: The Bush administration is claiming that Saddam has shared his VX nerve gas with Osama.

Now, I like Bush and I think we should have been at war in Iraq months ago. But isn't the timing just a little too cute? Saddam turns over his declaration, and a few days later, instead of declaring that he's lying and we can prove it, some unnamed official leaks an entirely different message. An important message, to be sure--but not what we were expecting.

I still support war against Iraq. But it's pretty hard for me to defend this from people who claim Bush is being dishonest. It just doesn't feel right, and I can't blame the people who don't believe it. On the other hand, I don't want to disbelieve it myself, because the consequences are stunning and would easily justify war without further ado. Failing to act would embolden state sponsors of terrorism and make things worse.

This fact, which doesn't come from Bush, is chilling:
UNSCOM said in its final report, in January 1999, that it could not account for 1.5 tons of the VX known to have been produced in Iraq, and that it could not establish whether additional quantities had been made.

I'm worried.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Guns and Sex: Eugene Volokh links to a column with this comment:
Gun lovers, naturally, are furious at Reinhardt, the "Ninth Circus Court" and San Francisco. The fear of losing one's guns is practically psychosexual.

(The Ninth Circuit just declared that the Second Amendment doesn't protect your right to own a gun. See Clayton Cramer for info and links on why this was a bad decision.)

Now, I could get all huffy about this stupid and cheap insult. But I won't. I'll just say this: I hope Rob Morse, the author who wrote that line, has a strong psychosexual attachment to his freedom of speech. Because if he doesn't get at least as upset by the prospect of losing First Amendment protection for his words as I get at the thought of having my guns taken, we're all doomed.

Mr. Morse: the proper way protect fundamental rights with passionate zeal. If that's what you call "psychosexual," fine.

And, despite the fact that you're an asshole for making that comment, I would still welcome you into my home if, for some strange reason, the government attempted to prosecute you for excercising your free speech rights, and I would be happy to protect you with my oh-so-phallic guns. I take freedom seriously, including the freedom of idiots to say idiotic things.
Media Bias: Well, Ted Barlow's been back long enough. Honeymoon's over; time for me to tell him he's wrong.

First off, it was a mistake for Ted to write about media bias. Jeez dude, will you ever learn?

Second, he makes the common mistake of confusing "liberal media bias" with "Democratic media bias." As I commented, it is entirely possible for the media to be liberal--by, for instance, subtly supporting single-payer health care by giving lots of airtime to its supporters, and none to critics--and pro-Republican, by ignoring scandals involving Republicans.

Third, Ted complains that the Republicans, owing to such institutions as the Washington Times and FoxNews, have convenient mouthpieces with which to saturate the media world with their message. That may well be true--but of course the Democrats have ABC, NBC, NYT, etc. Even if you think that "mainstream" news is totally unbiased and that the Republicans therefore have an advantage because of FoxNews, the solution is NOT to complain. It is to start a "liberal" news service to counterbalance Fox. If such a service fails to gain marketshare and prosper, that's not the Republicans' fault.

The real problem isn't that news outlets have bias--that's the inevitable product of being run by human beings. The problem is that they pretend they're perfectly neutral, which is manifestly false. Readers of The Nation may see Dan Rather as a reactionary capitalist; I see him as a flaming liberal. In both cases we're right, since Dan quite obviously sits in the center-left of American politics, making him left of me but right of Barbra. The really frustrating thing is that Dan refuses to acknowledge the obvious, much as Howell "40 stories and counting about Augusta" Raines does. Nobody can be totally objective; it is that much harder to be objective in an environment where 90% of your colleagues voted for Al Gore. Why not just admit it?

Finally, by way of full disclosure, I should point out that my view on this question is tinted by my commitment to Second Amendment rights, which are treated like crap in virtually all mainstream media outlets, local or national. Naturally that limits my ability to be, ahem, objective.
Gay Marriage, again: Let's be clear: I support gay marriage. I think it's a good idea. But this argument is pretty foolish:
But, since he asks, yes, as a matter of principle, I think the denial of marriage rights to 3 percent of the population is a grotesque denial of a basic civil right - more profound than denying the right to vote, in fact.

But as I've pointed out before, civil marriage isn't a right. Being married doesn't confer special rights on me the way that being white in the Jim Crow south or being a man before 1920 conferred special rights. There are no "marrieds only" drinking fountains or "couples only" elections.

Certainly, the right to love whom you wish, sleep with whom you wish, live with whom you wish, and leave your estate (via a will) to whom you wish are fundamental rights. Because of their intensely personal nature, it could easily be argued that these rights are prior to voting; we certainly do not presume to control the love lives of convicted felons, who are often barred from voting. And religious freedom prevents the government from interfering in a church's decision on which marriages to bless and which not to. A good case can be made that gay marriage serves the public interest.

But civil marriage (unlike religious marriage) is principally an economic transaction, not a symbolic expression of love or the offical blessing of God on one's sex life. To add a new catagory of transations to the law books, Sullivan and his fellow travelers should be arguing their case on public-interest grounds (which might win some converts) rather than equal-protection grounds, where their case is weak and they can't convince anyone anyway. It's pretty easy to distinguish between two men and a mixed-sex couple on equal-protection grounds (for instance, one "public purpose" for heterosexual marriage might be "the promotion of childbearing," which two men can't manage), but I think it would be hard to seriously argue that the public interest is harmed by gay marriage. Other than the weird claim that straight marriage is somehow threatened (a claim as fanciful as Sullivan's "civil right" claim), there isn't much out there.

UPDATE: Here's Stanley Kurtz:
A radical pre-conventional right to marriage is really a right to redefine marriage into nothingness. Many will avail themselves of such a right.

This is a pretty weird take. After all, many people are already availing themselves of the right to redefine marriage into nothingness, by going to swingers' clubs, cheating, marrying and divorcing many times, never marrying their lovers at all, etc. Now, Kurtz may deplore all of this, and he may even be right about the negative social consequences it will have (or is having). But that has nothing to do with the question at hand, which, I emphasize again has nothing to do with people's sex or love lives. We already have the freedom to screw who we want, when and where we want, with as many video cameras and extra participants as we want, whether or not we are married to the various writhing bodies involved. The question at hand is not a cultural one; we are not deciding whether of not to endorse anyone's sexual or romantic practices. It is not: Should we allow this sort of hanky-panky in polite company or should we ostracize the participants?

The question at hand is a dry legal one: Should two men (or two women) be permitted to file their tax returns jointly, in the same manner that one man and one woman currently are?
International Cooperation: How many times have we been told that American "arrogance" (also know as "the refusal to abase ourselves before the god of Eurosocialism") and "bullying" ("actually doing something, instead of talking about it") will lead other nations to refuse to cooperate in the War on Terror?

And how many times have we been told that it was great mistake to include North Korea in the Axis of Evil?

I'll accept your apologies now:
One dozen Scud missiles were found aboard a ship stopped in the Indian Ocean by a Spanish frigate that had to fire warning shots to keep the unflagged vessel from fleeing, U.S. and Spanish authorities said Tuesday...

The ship had been tracked by U.S. intelligence since leaving North Korea several days ago headed for the Arabian Sea region, Pentagon officials said.


What the hell? Ted Barlow's back! I'll make him a daily stop. This despite the fact that he donsn't agree with me 100% of the time, a sure sign of diminished mental capacity.

Welcome back, Ted!
Helen Thomas: Helen Thomas is high on my list of People Who Annoy Me. It is therefore something of a pleasure to say that I agree with about 90% of this column. Her over-the-top rhetoric is annoying (hence her charter member status on my list) but she has generally the right idea.

Here are my two points of disagreement:

1) She compares the ill-starred TIPS program to "something out of Nazi Germany." Please. Amtrak, our heavily subsidized passenger-rail company, is something out of Nazi Germany, too, with the crucial difference that it does not run on time. Something isn't evil just because the Nazis did it--presumably even Hitler's government put burglers and rapists (at least, those who weren't cabinet ministers) in jail. In any case, the TIPS program never seemed like much of a big deal--if your neighbor was making bombs in his garage, would you refuse to call the police because that would make you a snitch, just like in East Germany? The TIA thing seems worse to me.

2) She goes out of her way to jab at the National Rifle Association, and thus highlight her own hypocricy. She doesn't want the government tracking her credit-card purchase of lipstick, but she does want the government to moniter law-abiding citizens with guns. Now, I realize that lipstick is an unlikely terrorist weapon, but it is equally true that the government will never consider banning lipstick outright. Meanwhile, Thomas and her friends continually agitate for ever tighter restrictions on guns.

Now, I don't like Nazi comparisons, but as long as Thomas is making them, why not mention that the Nazis made it a point to disarm the German population before letting their rule get really out of control? And if Thomas is so worried about tyranny, isn't at least part of the solution to keep a couple of guns handy?

But that's not the point here. The point is that Republicans and their red-neck supporters in flyover country are Nazis. Which would be the 10% of this column I don't agree with.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

What would Jesus drive?: Eugene Volokh weighs in with this:
Carpenters, I imagine, find larger cars -- whether pickups or SUVs -- pretty useful.

You bet. And anyone who has 13 guys following him around probably needs more room than he can get with a Honda Insight.
More on Lott: Interesting piece by Mark Levin over at NRO. He doesn't defend Lott, he just points out an interesting double standard.
Affirmative Action: There's been a bit of discussion about racial preferences because of recent court decisions; yesterday my daily paper ran a particulary horrible op-ed in support of preferences. What made it horrible was its naked racism--the first sentence blamed opposition to AA on "white greed," as though principled white conservatives and serious black scholars are nothing but old-fashioned bigots. Sorry I can't link to the piece; some contractual obligation prevents them from putting it online. That a sense of shame should have prevented them from printing it at all--no one would print an essay attributing support for preferences to "black avarice"--is beside the point.

I'm not going to make all the of the usual anti-preferences arguments; for a good summary see Jane Galt.

I'm just thinking that, as my wife and I apply to law school, we might find ourselves in competition with other graduates of Williams College, some of whom might happen to be black. And some of those black Ephs might have attended Phillips Exeter Academy, paid for out of their father's generous salary as a doctor. As it happens, I knew several black kids who fit this description when I was in college.

So my question is, why should the graduates of elite liberal arts colleges, who also happen to be graduates of elite boarding schools, be, in some cases, hundreds of times more likely to be be admitted, even if they have inferior test scores and grades, just because of the color of their skin? Is this not the very definition of racism? Can we really call a student who grew up in a fancy home and attended a high school costing nearly $30,000/yr "underprivileged"? If not, then why are all AA plans based on race, rather than, say, income?

Just wondering.
Blogroll Ceremony: My daily reading list has expanded a little, so I've added some links to the blogroll. Many thanks to all those who have blogrolled me!

[Insert ceremonious music here]

Note that I won't every bother with ceremonious (sanctimonious?) delinking. Unless I do.

Monday, December 09, 2002

It's official: I will no longer take anyone who prattles about "International Law" (or, for that matter, about the Constitution) seriously unless they provide me with citations.

And not just citations to random texts, but citations to documents demonstrating the authority of those texts. In other words, if this were a question of the law in Washington State, I wouldn't be content with citations to the Washington Administrative Code (the administrative rules formulated by executive agencies), I would also want to see a reference to the statutory grant of authority in the Revised Code of Washington (the statutes passed by the legislature and signed by the governor), and probably also a reference to the Washington State Constitution, which controls the legislature's authority.

Likewise, for international "law," I will henceforth require the name of the relevant treaty, a proper citation that allows me to find the relevant passage easily and--this is the deal breaker most of the time--the date on which the treaty was ratified by the United States Senate.

I'll also expect that the "law" will be fairly and evenly applied to all nations by impartial judges, and not just as a bill of attainder aimed at the United States. I will not accept the legitimacy of laws designed or enforced exclusively to handicap my nation.

Some people say they want to bring the rule of law into the international arena; fine. Let them make the law clear, so that anyone who wants to know what is mandatory and what is forbidden can know; let them make the law fairly enforced so that nations know they will get a fair shake; let them respect the principle of the consent of the governed, and not claim jurisdiction over nation which explicitly rejects their attempts to impose their will.

Until these conditions are met--and indeed, whenever international "law" in mentioned without an explicit citation--I have to assume that this isn't about the rule of law, it's about grabbing a wholly undeserved mantle of morality in the pursuit of power.
This is odd: A number of bloggers are reporting that the New York Times hasn't run a story on Trent Lott's stupid comment.

Well, of course not. A golf club with 300 male members is much more important.

As for those who are defending Lott by saying that "maybe he wan't talking about segregation, but rather big government" I should point out that there was a Republican running that year (as in "Dewey defeats Truman").

I should also point out that this guy is a politician, and he should therefore know better.

Resign, Trent.

UPDATE: I've been told that I'm not being clear here. So: I don't think Trent Lott is actually a racist or a believer in segregation. I'm saying that he made a comment that was supportive of segregation, and that such comments are totally unacceptable for Majority Leaders in the U.S. Senate. I'm also saying that trying to spin his comment as supportive of federalism, or small government, etc. doesn't wash, because such a comment should have been directed at Dewey, the Republican candidate in 1948, not Thurmond, a racist Dixiecrat. Even so, a comment supportive of segregation is not proof that a person is an unreconstructed racist, especially in the context of trying to flatter a reconstructed racist.

Lott should have said "I wish that you had been President, Strom. Why didn't you run in 1968, instead of Nixon?" Or he could have been even vaguer--"The country is worse off because you never had a chance to serve in the Oval Office." He shouldn't have gone out of his way to praise the 1948 Dixiecrat effort. So he should resign his post as Majority Leader, but let the voters decide if they want to keep him as their Senator.