Thursday, May 30

Scaling Back

Like others in my situation, I am forced to modify my 'blogging regimen. Having left the conveniences of law school behind, I no longer have either the time or the computer access that I had when I began this modest enterprise. My intended solution (again, taking my cue from others) is to reduce my output to one substantial post per week, with intermittent posts when the independent elements of time, inspiration, and computer access converge. The last couple of months maintaining this site have been fun, rewarding and exhausting; I hope that this new format will retain the first two of those characteristics while banishing the last.

Tuesday, May 21

Derbyshire's Wrong on Iraq . . . For Now

John Derbyshire has a hunch (which, by his own admission, is difficult to support with hard facts) that the United States is not on course for a war with Iraq.* In his opinion, war just is not in the air. I can't bring myself to agree, but neither do I have any information on which to base a clear rebuttal. This much, however, I do know:

1. Regime change in Iraq has been the unstated (or softly spoken) goal of international sanctions and general external pressure since at least the Gulf War and it would only be a change of tactics rather than a change of goals to add military pressure into the mix.

2. Saddam Hussein has called the international community's bluff many times by playing games with inspection teams and refusing to cooperate in their attempts to verify his claims that he does not possess a nascent nuclear program, banned armaments or chemical or biological weapons. At this point, because of his refusal to cooperate with inspectors, we can never be certain whether he possesses such weapons or not (and the strong presumption of every major player, including the UN inspectors, is that he does, not least because he had them as recently as ten years ago and he has not produced evidence of their destruction).

3. We could send teams of inspectors around the country for years but as long as there is a suspicion that he is manipulating the process, no firm conclusion that he does not possess such weapons can ever be reached. This alone is a justification for invasion: we could then carry out the inspection process in the way that UN resolutions contemplated it being carried out. This may not be a sufficient reason on its own for war, but combined with the good that could be brought to the country by removing its vicious leader and the deterrent effect on neighbouring rogue states (this means you Syria and Iran), it is an important part of a sound argument in support of war.

Does a sound argument make war either (a) on balance a good idea or (b) likely? I'm not sure about the former: I don't think the reasons for invading are significantly stronger today than they have been for the last ten years (in fact, I think we have about the same amount to gain but more to lose today than five years ago), but neither am I so opposed to the idea that I wouldn't support an invasion. As for the latter, I think it is quite likely and definitely more likely than Derbyshire thinks it is. We will see.

One caveat: if the United States suffers another attack comparable in physical or psychological devastation to the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks--something that Rumsfeld and Cheney have both declared is certain to happen--then the mood in the country will shift quickly in favor of all out war against any country perceived to have harbored, armed or financed terrorists. This is not just a hunch.

*I do not know much about the terminology and protocol of warfare and, consequently, am going out on an unsteady limb here, but I don't think that the resumption of war against Iraq would techinically be a new war. As I understand it, the first part of the Gulf War ended in a ceasefire rather than a formal cessation of hostilities and a new invasion would, technically, be a continuation of the earlier conflict rather than a new war. If this (admittedly incomplete) understanding is correct, then referring to a new conflict as Gulf War II or the second Gulf War would be incorrect.

A Place in the Sun for 'Blogs

Today's New York Sun devotes nearly an entire page (page 11 for those in the city) to two stories about 'blogs (or, in my preferred term, narcissites) and 'blogging.

The first, by Mathew Honan and entitled "The World According to Blogs, How to Create a Site of One's Own," begins by relating the story of Andrew Sullivan--who, after his martyrdom at the hands of the NYT Magazine, is surely now the patron saint of 'bloggers--and his turbulent attempt to straddle the worlds of professional journalism and 'blogging. The Mickey Kaus leap from amateur to professional, the success of Glenn Reynolds, and an obscure 'blog devoted to cat poetry are all also noted before the story shifts to a discussion about the degree to which 'blogging programs have made participation in the 'blogosphere accessible to even the most computer illiterate among us (yes, I mean me). Blogger is highly recommended for neophytes, as are Diarlyland.com, Pitas.com, and Userland.com. There is also a brief discussion of advanced 'blogging, including references to Greymatter and Movable Type. For those Sun readers who are also following Prof. Reynolds' leap from Blogger to MT, the experience is reminiscent of listening to airplane safety instructions while watching the stewardesses act them out for you.

The second article, "With a Blog Comes Great Responsibility" (which should have been called "With a Popular Blog Comes Great Responsibility"--withness the foolishness elsewhere on this page) by David Propson, is less of a "how to" piece, focusing rather on the power of what it calls "amateur journalists" (i.e. 'bloggers) to influence Google's search engine and the impact that the blogosphere can have on the dissemination of stories or opinions that are underreported in the mainstream press. The article uses the example of John Hiler and his transformation from "just another bespectacled, slightly balding 27-year-old geek" to nationally cited and sought author (cited by the Weekly Standard and solicited by Slate for a story) to demonstrate the power of a well-written 'blog to catapult a quotidian poster to the lofty (well, higher) status of a minor public figure. There is nothing in the story that would be earth-shattering news to anyone who has spent a month or so in this incestuous, virtual world, but the reactions that Mr. Hiler says that he has received from professional reporters are amusing. He reports, for example, getting "a series of semi-hysterical e-mails from journalists who want Weblogs to be regulated or monitored" (and you still say that there isn't leftist bias in the media?). This anecdote leads into a discussion of voluntary self-regulation in the blogosphere, with references to Mr. Hiler's own "blogger's code of ethics" and the ethical guidelines contained in Rebecca Blood's forthcoming "Bloggers Handbook." Again, nothing new to current 'bloggers but, if the mainstream press keeps up this level of reporting, we can expect a flood of company in the months ahead.

Monday, May 20

On Europe and the Sinister Rights of Man (unfortunately, pun intended)

Burke! thou shouldst be living at this hour. England hath need of thee.

Decisions by the European Court of Human Rights and by British judges applying The European Convention on Human Rights, have already struck down laws and practices that have roots deep in English soil. Now comes word from Brussels that under the leadership of French president, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the European Commission intends to push for the power to execute a common foreign and domestic policy, including criminal justice powers, over the objection of member states. This “streamlined” authority would abolish the current national veto held by each sovereign nation within Europe and Britain. That a foreign directory, only incidentally and imperfectly answerable to British citizens, is plotting to assume ultimate power over them should provoke riots in the streets of London.

Two hundred years ago, colonial British citizens, well-versed in the English legal and political works of Blackstone and Burke, declared their independence from the tyrannical reign of George III in order to preserve those liberties which have been the chartered rights of all Englishmen since 1689. Their declaration of independence set forth a list of essential powers of free states, including the fundamental right to exercise authority over their people and the laws by which they are governed: “Free and Independent States . . . have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.” How many of these powers does the United Kingdom retain today, subject as it is to the whims of the EU(SSR) commissars and the nebulous strictures of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In 1790, Edmund Burke’s rhetoric helped persuade the English people to adhere to the sound principles of a mixed government and to value the stability of their traditions over the lofty but ultimately evanescent ideals of the bloody-minded French revolutionaries. Today, two centuries on, Burke’s beloved nation of free men is once again in danger of falling under the spell of those abstract “rights of man” he so convincingly denounced. Who today will stand against the coffee house philosophes? Who today speaks for the traditions that are the patrimony of all British citizens and against the chimera of the European Convention on Human Rights? The convention’s abstract guarantees should strike fear into all free British citizens because their noble sentiments mask an empty promise that can only be fulfilled by expanding the powers of the supranational European State ever further into their lives as it substitutes its judgments for those of national legislatures.

Please pardon a North American observer for failing to understand this unprecedented abdication of the rights of an independent state. The citizens of your great nation are free to surrender the sovereign powers of their government to mostly unaccountable foreign bureaucrats if that is their will. But I wonder how many of them have considered fully the implications of doing so and how many will only after it is too late?

Canada, or New France?

Sorry for the oblique Canadian social studies reference, but with three recent attacks on synagogues I felt obliged to subject my (almost) home and native land to the same scrutiny as every other country. According to the National Post, the most recent attack, which occurred last night and targeted Quebec City's only synagogue, did only superficial damage (hardly the point, I know) and came "out of the blue." The best suspect so far is a madman found nearby. For a description of the other attacks on synagogues across the country, see this story.

DIGRESSION: The National Post article describes the Jewish population of Quebec City as numbering about 100 and "dwindling," which seems surprisingly low considering its proximity to Montreal, which is home to an old, large and culturally robust Jewish population. My surprise probably reveals nothing more than my ignorance, but 100 seems like a miniscule Jewish population for a North American city of 650,000 (167,000 in Quebec City proper).

This diversion also gives me an excuse (it's a stretch, but bear with me) to make an observation that has occurred me repeatedly having lived in Montreal for 6 years and New York for 3 regarding the ability of a large and vibrant Jewish community to dominate the culinary identity of a city. New York's defining foods, at least in the minds of the rest of the world, are bagels and pastrami sandwiches on rye and Katz's deli (or several similar deli's scattered throughout the boroughs) is probably the shrine of this cuisine. Now, travel north for about eight hours, and look at Montreal. In the rest of Canada (and, to a lesser extent, the world outside New York), Montreal is known for two foods: the bagel and Montreal smoked meat sandwiches on rye. Like New York, Montreal also has its culinary temples, places like Schwartz's Hebrew Delicatessen and Ben's. Several years ago, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had two bagelmakers, one from Montreal and one from New York, debate the relative merits of the two cities' bagels. This was a waste of everyone's time, of course, as every right-thinking person knows that Montreal bagels are the only true bagel (New York bagels are just flavorless buns with a dent in the middle). What I would be interested in seeing is a comparison by a neutral panel of connoisseurs of the "cured meat" on rye sandwiches from the leading delis in both cities. Let me be the first to volunteer for duty.

Poetry III

After a week off, necessitated by an unrelenting law school exam schedule, the Ribstone Pippin Poetry Club is back. For those not familiar with the concept, the standard description follows. Those familiar with the concept should skip ahead to this week's selection.

The Ribstone Pippin Poetry Club

What? Like a book club, but weekly and with poems instead of books.
Why? Because books are long and most poems aren't. Because I spent six years of my life studying poetry before bolting for law school. Because it gives me an excuse to reread my favorite poems and to read some new ones for the first time.
I'm intrigued, tell me more. The concept is simple. I post a new, relatively short poem each Monday morning and you read it and, if you think it is worth sharing, please post a link to my post on your site accompanied by this description of the club.
What's in it for me? A weekly cultural shot in the arm. Also, if you send me your reactions, thoughts, insights or any comments related even tangentially to the poems, I will sort through the responses and post a sample of them.
This isn't just an excuse to make me read your embarrassing high school poetry, is it? I assure you that I will choose a selection of both popular and less well-known poems by major poets. Hopefully, there will be opportunities to reread poems you read in high school or university as well as to make some pleasant discoveries.

This week's selection is one of the best-known and greatest poems by one of the last century's best-known and greatest poets. W[yston] H[ugh] Auden's "As I Walked Out One Evening" will, hopefully, be familiar to you from high school English classes, but the poem's unsettling expression of deep melancholy using nursery rhyme metres and phrases never fails to move and disturb, no matter how often it is reread.

As I Walked Out One Evening

As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
'Love has no ending.

'I'll love you, dear, I'll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,

'I'll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.

'The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.'

But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
'O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.

'In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.

'In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
To-morrow or to-day.

'Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver's brilliant bow.

'O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you've missed.

'The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.

'Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
And Jill goes down on her back.

'O look, look in the mirror?
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.

'O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.'

It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.

Auden wrote this poem in 1940. For more on Auden the man and the poet, click here.
To visit the Auden Society's website, click here.

Saturday, May 18

To Complete the Trilogy . . .

. . . of Middle East related posts, here is an interesting story courtesy of The Volokh Conspiracy and confirmed by the L.A. Times.

Like Volokh Conspiracy reader Jonathan Zasloff, I find it curious that a peace plan closely mirroring the Camp David accord and proposed by Labor Party leader and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer has been met with silence by the New York Times, The Washington Post and comparable European papers of record. When one of the Times's own columnists drew up a peace plan with the help of an Arab potentate it received pages of ink every day for several weeks, but when a high-profile profile Israeli politician like Mr. Ben-Eliezer "unveil[s] his own peace package that would share Jerusalem with the Palestinians and grant them sovereignty over most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip" (L.A. Times) and advocates "Israeli withdrawal from the "vast majority" the West Bank and Gaza (i.e. 97%+), dismantling of dozens of settlements, maintaining only those settlements close to the 1967 borders, land swaps to make up for territory lost, and giving the Palestinians a capital in East Jerusalem" (Mr. Zasloff, from TVC), they can't muster the energy to hoist a quill to support, criticize or even neutrally report it. Mr. Ben-Eliezer's plan was first made public on Wednesday and I had to learn about it via the blogosphere?

I agree with Mr. Zasloff that something about this doesn't seem quite right (and I don't mean Arafat's chin whiskers):

Why the silence? There's an obvious reason: the international press (particularly the Guardian and the Independent) are heavily invested in the idea that the "brutal Israeli occupation" is the cause of the current war. It's so simple, they say: end the occupation and peace will break out.

When major Israeli political figures essentially offer to end the occupation in exchange for the Palestinians recognizing the right of a Jewish state to exist, but are met with silence and rejection from the Palestinians, it doesn't compute. So they keep telling their readers about how the occupation has caused all the problems and pretend as if the story never happened.

According to this theory, Ben-Eliezer should be a hero now. Palestinians should be praising him to the skies. But they aren't, for a very good reason: They aren't fighting for an end to the occupation. They are fighting for an end to Israel.

There simply is no Palestinian peace movement to talk to. It is deeply embarrassing for the Palestinian leadership to keep rejecting repeated Israeli peace offers because it exposes their true goals. So they just ignore it and hope that everyone else does, too. And thanks to the press, the strategy appears to have worked.


For a local take on the plan, see The Jerusalem Post, which adds that "Ben-Eliezer's plan calls for initiating complete security separation from the Palestinians, with a wall but without setting a border or withdrawing the IDF until a diplomatic agreement is reached along the lines of the Clinton-Barak plan, but more conservative on the Jerusalem issue" (from Lexis, also available on the Jerusalem Post website for subscribers, in a story entitled "Netanyahu: I will defang PA state threat," May 15, 2002).

Palestinian Election Update

So far, Arafat's lone challenger is Abdel Sattar Qassem, a "Palestinian political scientist and dissident jailed for 14 months by Arafat's security forces." According to the AP, "Qassem, a 53-year-old professor at An Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus, said Friday he would run on an anti-corruption platform." So far, so good. The bad news (don't tell me you didn't expect some bad news) follows. He is described as "Western-educated and secular, but [he] sympathizes with Islamic militant groups and supports suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. He does not recognize Israel, and opposes the interim peace agreements Arafat has made with Israel." Sound familiar? At least Qassem is anti-corruption.

Two other possible candidates are hearing their names bandied about in the American press these days, Omar Karsou (see Robert L. Pollock's "We Need a Palestinian Mandela" in yesterday's WSJ OpinionJournal) and Hanan Ashrawi (see AP story above). Other than their names, I know as little about these two people as they probably know about me, but if either is willing to accept Israel's right to exist and to bargain in good faith, then they are already light-years ahead of the current candidates.

I do know that I don't think much of the suggestion, made by "Iyad Sarraj, a Palestinian human rights advocate [already my guard is up] in the Palestinian daily Al-Quds . . . that Ashrawi could take up a new position of prime minister while Arafat would take on the role of head of state." First, the division of powers between the Prime Minister and the Head of State would have to be clearly defined and I doubt that Arafat will accept a symbolic but impotent post like that of a constitutional monarch (aside: and I can't imagine that his presence could symbolize anything positive). Second, this would have to be achieved democratically, which means that no matter how attractive the scenario might be to Sarraj, it will have to pass muster with the Palestinian people (as well as Arafat) before it can be become a reality. Finally, as long as Arafat has a toe in the door, a new government would do well to weather even a minor crisis without dissolving into bitter factionalism.

As for Omar Karsou, even if he is as compelling as Pollack's profile of him suggests, I think that D.A. Shephard's response sums up my feelings:

I had never heard of Mr. Karsou prior to this commentary by Mr. Pollock. On the one hand it is very encouraging to know that there is actually an educated Palestinian who is a real moderate and willing to find a nonviolent solution to the question of Palestine. On the other hand I fear that the next time I read about Mr. Karsou, it will be of him hanging by his feet from a television antenna in Ramallah, after being dragged into the street and shot in the head for being a "collaborator."

But all this speculation may still prove to be in vain. Already Arafat is qualifying his support for free elections and demanding a full withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank before he will consider making good on the Palestinian parliamentary resolution to hold elections by next year. Honest commitment to democratic principles or desperate negotiating tactic? Did you really ever think it was the former?

Friday, May 17

Democracy and Distrust

The most significant development in the Middle East situation in the last few days has been Yasser Arafat's pledge that he will hold local elections in the next few months, which are to be followed by parliamentary, and presidential elections next year. Of course, as a commodity, Mr. Arafat's word has been significantly devalued by a series broken promises and is currently trading in the "highly speculative" realm of subordinated K-Mart bonds and the Argentine peso. As I see it, the news is, at best, mixed.

Ideally, if all the planets are aligned and TMers everywhere are thinking really, really happy thoughts about it, the elections could prove to be good news. In this ideal future, the elections are held, Arafat loses, and Israel is given the perfect excuse in the eyes of the world (it already has the perfect excuse--complicity in terrorism--but the eyes of the world happen to be blind to it) never to deal with him again. The biggest problem with this scenario is that the elections are at least a year a way, which is way too long to expect Israel to wait before deciding whether or not it is going to give Arafat an umpteenth chance to prove his trustworthiness. In fact, it is difficult to regard the election pledge as anything more than an attempt to con the European nations and the appeasement crowd in America (who appear to be tripping over themselves in their eagerness to be taken in again) into pressuring Israel to maintain diplomatic ties with charmin' Arafat.

The problem is that, even ignoring the probability that the promise of elections is just another desperate bluff by a man more skilled at maintaining power than wielding it, the possibility of clean, fair elections is about as tangible as a West Bank desert mirage. If Newark can't hold clean elections, what chance does Nablus have? Arafat has held on to power for three decades because he is as adept as any other successful organized crime boss at throwing his weight around and at executing whatever strategy (or rival) will ensure his continued supremacy. Thus, the worst case scenario would be if Arafat were to win a flawed election and assume a mandate to represent the Palestinian people. Israel would decry the legitimacy of the election, Arafat and the Arab nations would decry Israel's refusal to acknowledge Arafat's legitimacy, French students would strike (actually, that can be assumed, whatever other variables are changed) and we would be right back where we are today.

The only way to ensure that Arafat does not unduly influence the outcome of his elections is to have them run, from beginning to end, by an impartial international body, but such a thing is rare these days. The United States? The Palestinians would object and the US would never let itself be dragged into that crossfire. The EU(SSR)? Israel would never consider the result impartial. The United Nations? You can't be serious (see also, the EU(SSR)). You see the problem? Maybe a motley crew of representatives from all of these groups could be jumbled together, but then the Arab countries would demand to be represented (and rightly so, it affects them as much as anyone) and the resultant infighting, posturing, sabotage, and finger-pointing would hardly be worth the effort.

I hope that this appraisal of the situation is overly pessimistic, but as long as it comes from the mouth of Arafat, the promise of democratic accountability rings hollow in these ears.

Thursday, May 16

Why Federal Adverstising Dollars Are Not the Anti-Drug

Collin Levey, writing in the WSJ this morning, explains why "$929 million worth of taxpayer-funded antidrug advertising campaigns haven't discouraged drug use among children at all" and what lessons should be drawn from this costly failure. Although it goes against all my better instincts, I regard it as a matter of principle that I remain a (very unenthusiastic) supporter of (some) "soft" drug decriminalization (did you catch all those qualifications!). That, however, is not about to happen any time soon and, even if it did, Levey's suggestions represent a much more sensible way to squander taxpayer dollars than the government's current plan.

New York Tax Hike Coming

E.J. McMahon predicts that, based on the irrational combination of a $7 billion loss in revenue and an estimated $1.7 billion increase in spending in Pataki's anticipated budget, New Yorkers are in for a year reminiscent of 1990-91's fiscal disaster, complete with midyear cuts in school aid and tax and fee hikes. Who would have thought that at this point in the race Andrew Cuomo, late of federal economic black-hole HUD, would appear to be the more fiscally responsible gubernatorial candidate? Note, I said appear.

Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Smell Blood

Congressman Dick Gephardt (D-Mo) is calling for an open Congressional hearing on the FBI intelligence warnings about the possibility of Islamist terrorists hijacking planes before September 11th. According to Gephardt, "the way to do better is to understand what happened in the past. Was there a failure of intelligence? Did the right officials not act on the intelligence in the proper way? These are things we need to find out." Agreed. I think that Professor Reynolds was exactly right when he expressed the following, similar sentiment: "I have no confidence, at this point, that the intelligence system is being given the shakeup it needs to do the job it faces. I'd very much like to be wrong in this, and it's possible that behind the wall of secrecy everything is being done right. It's also possible that we have the same "top men" working on this as were featured at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. And I'm sorry to say that I know which way to bet." Certainly, a thorough evaluation of the FBI's intelligence gathering and disseminating procedures is long overdue and the recent revelations are a suitable occasion for reviewing the Bureau's relationship with the ultimate decisionmakers in the White House. I only wish that I had more confidence that Gephardt's inquiry will not degenerate into pre-presidential nomination posturing. Unfortunately, my pessimism is not relieved by the news that Senator John Edwards (D-NC)--never shy about wearing his ambition on his sleeve--has already jumped into the fray, opining on Good Morning America that "there should have been bells and whistles going off." It is amazing how just a couple of sessions on the Intelligence Committee can turn a senatorial greenhorn into Jack Ryan.

If my fears are confirmed and the hearings prove little more than cover for a stealth attack on President Bush or a forum for Democratic grandstanding, it will be doubly unfortunate. Not only will the nation be subjected to self-aggrandizing Monday-morning quarterbacking masquerading as civic duty, but a real opportunity to rectify what problems may exist in the American intelligence community will slip by. Washington--sometimes for good, more usually for ill--has the attention span of a gnat raised by MTV veejays; a chance to review an agency or a difficult issue comes around once a decade at most. If the opportunity for meaningful change is missed, there is almost no hope of getting anyone to revisit the problem unless another national crisis implicates the agency. In this case, that would be the worst imaginable scenario.

Saturday, May 11

Your Reading Assignment for the Evening

Margaret Wente on Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in the Globe and Mail.
Dahlia Lithwick on the charade of international law in the context of the war on terror in Slate.
Mark Steyn's brilliant skewering of the politics behind the use of political labels in the Telegraph.

Wednesday, May 8

Nazi Propaganda or Egyptian Daily: You Be the Judge!

Courtesy of the Telegraph, comes this story, which would be unbelievable if it were not so, well, believable. This is the sort of charming fare that Al-Akhbar, the Egyptian government daily newspaper that is readily available in London, is serving up for its readers on a regular basis:

"They are accursed in heaven and on earth a catastrophe for the human race They are the virus of the generation they are the plague of the generation and the bacterium of all time Their history was and always will be stained with treachery, falseness and lying they are a model of debasement and degradation."

Do I even have to reveal who "they" are? (And no, smart-ass, "they" are not Saudi princes or Independent reporters). And is the fact that who "they" are is so painfully obvious not profoundly disturbing? If Bush is looking to nominate a fourth member to the Axis of Evil club, I think that Egypt just formally threw its hat into the ring.

Nothing New Under the Sun

Having subjected myself to the study of classics at almost every stage of my academic career, I was pleased to see Dr. Weevil demonstrate once again that everything we think and do has already been thought and done, and usually better thought and better done, by the Romans. Juvenal, it seems, would "get" 'blogging--and what I wouldn't pay to read his narcisite! For more from Juvenal's caustic pen, see here (WARNING: Not for the easily offended--some of this stuff makes Ann Coulter sound like Oprah by comparison).

Tuesday, May 7

Law Professors Boycott Justice

Nat Hentoff, writing in the Times, reports that all five black faculty members of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Law School boycotted the recent visit of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Mr. Hentoff explains why this was a particularly inappropriate response:

The irony of this abdication of professional responsibility to students is Justice Thomas' record at the Supreme Court as one of the strongest voices for free speech. From the bench, he has said (as the lone justice who wanted to review an egregious repression of free speech in Avis Rent a Car System vs. Aguilar): "A theory deeply etched in our law is that a free society prefers to punish the few who abuse rights of speech after they break the law than to throttle them and all others beforehand. It is always difficult to know in advance what an individual will say, and the line between legitimate and illegitimate speech is often so finely drawn that the risks of freewheeling censorship are formidable."

Mr. Hentoff concedes that the professors have every right to protest the appearance of Justice Thomas but questions the message that doing so sends to their students. I agree. Their arrogance in refusing even to challenge the "anti-progressive" views of Justice Thomas will be discouragingly familiar to many students and faculty on law school campuses (see here for a reprint of a column I have written on this topic). Typical of this dismissive attitude is the explanation by Bruce Nestor, President of the stridently leftist National Lawyer's Guild, of why he is not concerned with the refusal of many faculty to engage in a debate with conservative or libertarian legal scholars: "They want to debate things that have been fundamentally accepted by the law-school community. I don't think the refusal to debate a bad and outdated idea is a bad idea or demonstrates a lack of intellectual diversity." What sort of "bad and outdated ideas" is Mr. Nestor referring to that are so beyond the pale that their very acknowledgment is a waste of precious breath? Phrenology, eugenics, slavery? Hardly. The taboo topics include the elimination of cradle-to-grave welfarism, the death penalty and the views of critics of affirmative action--in short, ideas considered not only possible but actually propitious by at least half of Americans.

The habitual stifling of debate is regrettable in any context; in law school it rises to the level of fraud. It is a fraud perpetrated on the legal community as a whole and on law students in particular. And the greatest harm is not even to those students whose views are cavalierly dismissed as extreme despite garnering the support of most of the country beyond walls of the legal quadrangle. They at least are constantly exposed to both sides of every issue and are able to hone their positions by testing them against contrary arguments. The greater harm is to the students who cleave to the academic orthodoxy. Mill warned that "[h]e who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that." By that measure, most law students graduate knowing very little indeed.

There is another disturbing aspect to Mr. Hentoff's story. The black faculty at UNC apparently considered themselves obligated to protest Justice Thomas's visit because they share his skin color. According to Mr. Hentoff, Marilyn Yarbrough, one of the boycotting professors, explained that, "[s]ince we are all black, we did not want to lend cover to him." Professor Yarbrough believed that "[j]oining Justice Thomas . . . would have been seen as an endorsement, or at least a tacit approval, of his views." Why? The professors have every opportunity to make their positions known through their classroom teaching, their academic and non-academic writing, campus debates, support for and sponsorship of student organizations and public lectures. Judging from the extreme response of these professors to the mere presence of a legal figure whose views they regard as inimical to theirs, I would be surprised if any of their students was in danger of confusing their appearance at an event with Clarence Thomas as an endorsement of his jurisprudence.

That Prof. Yarbrough readily concedes that her fellow black professors would not have boycotted the event if Justice Scalia rather than Justice Thomas had been the guest demonstrates that, despite the more benign explanation offered for the boycott, it was really motivated by the faculty members' hostility to the combination of Justice Thomas's race and his jurisprudence. The common portrayal of Justice Thomas as a traitor to his race, an "Uncle Tom," and worse by prominent black commentators--even at law schools--is nothing short of disgusting. Ironically, it is in large part Justice Thomas's unwavering refusal to accept the inevitability or usefulness of racial stereotypes, whether applied by the government with invidious or "benign" intentions, that has earned him the enmity of these professors, who scorn him for not conforming to their "progressive" view of what legal positions it is appropriate for a black man to hold. It is the hostility of these professors towards a black judge whose jurisprudence is not "progressive" enough and their fear that students will think that they hold the same substantive beliefs as another man just because they share the same skin color that make Justice Thomas's presence on the Court and his refusal to condone any form of racial stereotyping so necessary.

Apparently I'm Not Alone

Instapundit reports that he has been receiving many emails from people who share my reaction to Pim Fortuyn's assasination: it seems like a much bigger deal than it ought to. Prof. Reynolds has some thoughtful words on that subject (scroll down to Monday, May 6th, at 10:19).

Monday, May 6

Con. Law. Geek Alert!

In case you haven't already seen it, UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh is running an informal contest to come up with your own Amendment to the Constitution. It is not as easy as it sounds, especially given the cautionary advice that Prof. Volokh provides to would-be entrants. I have sent mine in (no, it does not repeal the condition that American Presidents be either natural born citizens or 227 years old) and I encourage you to have a go as well.

Good News and Bad News

The bad news first. And, unfortunately, it is pretty horrible. Multiple sources are reporting that Dutch Politician Pim Fortuyn, 54 was shot six times by an unidentified gunman and suffered multiple wounds in the chest and neck earlier today. Depending on which source you read, he is either on his deathbed or already dead. Fortuyn was shot after giving a radio interview in anticipation of next week's general elections in which, according to opinion polls, Fortuyn's new party, set up just months ago, was on course to win around 15 percent of the vote. That may not sound like much, but in a multiparty system it is a significant achievement and Fortuyn's party was poised to wield great influence in the legislature. Fortuyn is best known in America for standing out in the almost outlandishly liberal Netherlands as a nattily-attired, buzz-cut, gay conservative (by Dutch standards only, he was more like a moderate libertarian) critic of Europe's lax immigration policy and the growing menace of unassimilated, immigrant communities.

UPDATE He is now, officially dead. Andrew Sullivan, who in many obvious and less obvious ways is Fortuyn's Anglo-American spiritual brother (gay, buzz-cut, conservative to libertarian politics, motivated by the courage of his convictions--those are the obvious ways) has some, insightful comments and good links posted already and will, no doubt, lead the web in coverage of l'affaire Fortuyn in the days ahead. I don't know why this story has disturbed me so much--I barely knew anything about him beyond the coverage in London and American papers--but it feels like a portentous event in the increasingly chaotic context of European politics. What it prefaces, I do not know.

UPDATE II: Courtesy of The Corner, comes this statement of Pim Fortuyn's position with regard to the Netherlands's Muslim community, for which he was targeted by rival politicians as a right-wing zealot:

Large groups in the community are lagging behind in social and cultural terms. These groups often originate from countries which did not participate in the Judeo-Christian-humanist developments which have been taking place in Europe for centuries. These shortfalls in development are highly regrettable, as they result in a divide in society and form a threat to the functioning of our large cities. This must be tackled vigorously, on the one hand by paying extra attention to housing, schools and cultural education for these groups, but on the other by requiring these groups to make a maximum effort themselves. Cultural developments which are diametrically opposed to the desired integration and emancipation, such as arranged marriages, honour revenge and female circumcision, must be fought by means of legislation and public information. Discrimination against women in fundamentalist Islamic circles is particularly unacceptable. In a democratic society like ours, all citizens have the same rights and obligations, irrespective of race, gender, beliefs and nature. There is a division of Church and State in the Netherlands, and therefore also of mosque and state. Thanks to the division of powers (the executive, legislative and judiciary powers), citizens can develop themselves in relative freedom. Our hard-fought freedoms are worth protecting against increasing fundamentalism. We must carry out a study into whether the introduction of a social and military service for boys and girls of eighteen years of age or older can contribute to integration.

This story is accompanied by a great photo of Fortuyn.

Now the good news. (For why it is good, read this and this.)

The Return of the Ribstone Pippin Poetry Club

What? Like a book club, but weekly and with poems instead of books.
Why? Because books are long and most poems aren't. Because I spent six years of my life studying poetry before bolting for law school. Because it gives me an excuse to reread my favorite poems and to read some new ones for the first time.
I'm intrigued, tell me more. The concept is simple. I post a new, relatively short poem each Monday morning and you read it and, if you think it is worth sharing, please post a link to my post on your site accompanied by this description of the club.
What's in it for me? A weekly cultural shot in the arm. Also, if you send me your reactions, thoughts, insights or any comments related even tangentially to the poems, I will sort through the responses and post a sample of them.
This isn't just an excuse to make me read your embarrassing high school poetry, is it? I assure you that I will choose a selection of both popular and less well-known poems by major poets. Hopefully, there will be opportunities to reread poems you read in high school or university as well as to make some pleasant discoveries.

After a modestly successful debut last week, the Poetry Club is back with its second selection. I received more responses than I had anticipated last week, but they were all of the "great idea" and "wow, what an amazing poem" variety, which was very gratifying but not exactly the sort of thing that cried out for posting on this site. This week's poem, Punishment, by the Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, was occasioned by the intersection of two events: the discovery of 2,000 year-old mummified bodies in bogs in Denmark and the British Isles, one of which is commonly assumed to be that of a ritually killed young adulteress, and the poet's reaction to the sight of Irish women who had been tarred and handcuffed to railings by Irish Nationalists for dating British soldiers stationed in Northen Ireland.

Punishment

I can feel the tug
of the halter at the nape
of her neck, the wind
on her naked front.

It blows her nipples
to amber beads,
it shakes the frail rigging
of her ribs.

I can see her drowned
body in the bog,
the weighing stone,
the floating rods and boughs.

Under which at first
she was a barked sapling
that is dug up
oak-bone, brain-firkin:

her shaved head
like a stubble of black corn,
her blindfold a soiled bandage,
her noose a ring

to store
the memories of love.
Little adulteress,
before they punished you

you were flaxen-haired,
undernourished, and your
tar-black face was beautiful.
My poor scapegoat,

I almost love you
but would have cast, I know,
the stones of silence.
I am the artful voyeur

of your brain's exposed
and darkening combs,
your muscles' webbing
and all your numbered bones:

I who have stood dumb
when your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings,

who would connive
in civilised outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge.

For more about Seamus Heaney, click here.

To submit a response of any kind to this poem or its selection, please email me at ha266-at-nyu.edu.

Friday, May 3

Digression

In the interest of rewarding a truly monumental achievement in the field of time wasting, I present a shot-by-shot rendering
of Star Wars in telnet form! (Not my work, I'm merely passing it along.)

Type: telnet towel.blinkenlights.nl into the run tab of your start menu and, um, enjoy.

The Protocols of the Elders of Europe

If only these protocols were a hoax. Alas, no--the Council of Europe commisars have outdone themselves again. Not content to have abolished the death penalty for run-of-the-mill serial baby killers and homicidal cannibals, the Council today took the extraordinary measure of abolishing the death penalty even in times of war and "exceptional circumstances." In other words, if this law had been in effect in WWII and the Allies had captured Hitler alive, Europe would have had to live with the knowledge of his morally malodorous presence among them for decades. If fate were particularly cruel, we might to this day be subjected to frivolous lawsuits from prison by a senile ex-Fuhrer complaining about lumpy mattresses, Jewish guards, and a lack of painting supplies. That's moral progress for you. More tediously predictable moral hectoring follows:

"The Council of Europe was already proud to have banished the death penalty in peacetime on a continent where more than 800 million people live," said Walter Schwimmer, secretary-general of the council, which works to promote democracy and human rights.

Needless to say, I don't recall this decision being put to the citizens of the individual nations of Europe or even being a matter of much debate in the legislatures of the signatory nations. The Council can hardly be expected to sully itself with that sort of simple-minded "democracy" or with defining "human rights" in accordance with the consensus of the little people, not when there is an amorphous philosophical ideal to be imposed!

Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights, signed in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, abolishes capital punishment even in cases of war, imminent threat of war or "exceptional circumstances".

I'm sure that "exceptional circumstances" is a term of art, but if it isn't covered by times of peace, war, or imminent war, then I have no idea what it could mean. Maybe it means "even Israeli Prime Ministers." Which could be considered progress. Sort of.

"Protocol No. 13 opens the way to abolishing this barbaric punishment in all circumstances. We hope that this will be a decisive step towards a universal abolition of the death penalty and we shall spare no effort in achieving this," Schwimmer said.

We shall spare no effort in achieving this? Except capital punishment, you mean.

Thursday, May 2

Of Reynolds, Rats, and Rotten Puns

Well, I am going to chalk this one up to growing pains at a new paper, but Professor Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds's much-anticipated story on intellectual property and Big Media does not appear to have found its way into this morning's New York Sun. In fact, the paper seems a bit thin on interesting news of any kind today--a sharp break from recent editions, which have seen the paper find its voice and test it out on some controversial subjects (see, "Return of the Red Menace, below). The most interesting story is plucked from the AP wire and involves the creation of "Bionic" rats by a team of scientists led by Prof. John Chapin at SUNY Brooklyn. By implanting tiny electrodes, attached to small powerpack backpacks, in the rats' brains, the scientists were able to control their movement, sort of like living remote control cars. The brief description claims that "[w]hen signaled by a laptop computer, the electrodes stimulated the rodents' brains and cued them to scurry in the desired direction, then rewarded them by stimulating a pleasure center in the brain." The scientists hope that the technology may someday be used to recover survivors and locate bodies in disaster areas. There is no link to the NY Sun story, of course, but Lane has kindly pointed out another source for the story, complete with cute picture.

The other noteworthy feature (and I use that term generously) of the Sun today is a ludicrously titled piece on the "first-ever" (!) Museum of Salad, which is announced with the headline "Caesar The Moment: 'Salad Museum' Opens Its Doors at South Street Seaport" and the subheading "Lettuce Ponder The History Of The Green Leafy Stuff, At A New Tourist Destination That Can't Be Beet." All I can say is, sprout time.

Wednesday, May 1

Protesting Too Much?

Everyone else seems to have commented on it, so I figured, why not have a go at the dead horse myself?

It seems to be common these days to remark derisively that those "crazy Frenchmen" are mounting huge, futile protests against themselves! This interpretation of the recent French protests is, of course, absurd. The people marching against Le Pen are not the same people who voted for him--those would be the weasels across the street with the Joan of Arc posters. But this does not answer the question of what, exactly, the French are getting all worked up over these days. The protests in France are truly baffling, which is not to say that they are at all surprising or out of character. After all, it's spring, when a young Frenchman's thoughts turn to '68.

As I see it, to the extent that the protestors are actually protesting something, it must be one of two, equally silly things. Either they are protesting the fact that Le Pen received something like 17% of the popular vote in the first leg of the presidential election and thereby qualified for the two-way runoff election, in which case they are protesting the (or at least their) democratic process itself, or they are rallying to show their support for his opponent in the run-off, in which case their response is wildly disproportionate to the threat posed, because everyone expects Chirac to win in a walkover (pace Mr. Sieff).

So there it is. The protests are either anti-democratic or a huge waste of everyone's time. I am inclined to think it is the latter. After all, with a state-mandated 35-hour workweek, the French have a lot of time to waste. Look closely at the story linked to above. What emerges? The scene is described as having "a carnival atmosphere" complete with the "sound of innumerable musical beats" and a quoted participant turns out to be "a drama student walking on a pair of stilts" (ahhh! a university education--you can't beat it!). These are overwhelmingly young, hormonally-driven lycee students rallying for the sake of a good rally. None of them can really believe that Le Pen poses a threat to Chirac, but an excuse to party is an excuse to party and if there are going to be drama students on stilts, well, allons-y.

But there is also a darker aspect to the crowd's enthusiastic dismissal of Le Pen and his unpopular message, which appears to be a public affirmation of Chirac's foolish decision not to debate his democratically selected opponent. A banner described in the article proudly encourages readers to "Spit on the FN's flame to put it out." One might expect better in the land of Voltaire. What happened to defending to the death the right to of others to say disagreeable things? If he were alive today, I would expect Voltaire to encourage Chirac and the student radicals to respond to Le Pen's inflammatory rhetoric with reasoned debate. I am sure that he would not be rushing for his stilts.

The New, Unofficial, Logo of Ribstone Pippin


Keep this in mind, anthem booers!

With all due thanks to Shawn for sending me the image and Lane for allowing me to piggyback on his ISP.

New Narcis(s)ite Recommendation!

In addition to displaying way more interest in Canadian culture than anyone not raised north of the 49th parallel ever should, the revived and remodeled SLBLOG is a topnotch source for cultural and legal commentary. Besides all this, the author proved his critical mettle by approving the publication of my first work of legal scholarship. What better evidence of brilliance can there be? Check it out.

Gentrification News Lag

If it is common wisdom that bad news travels fast, there is also evidence the opposite may be true: good news travels in company with sloths and snails. Instapundit Glenn Reynolds linked last night to an ABCNews story, which claims that the gentrification of a neighborhood may be good not only for new residents drawn by the dynamic culture, hip-factor, and low rents (which everyone already believed) but also for long-time residents (which almost nobody believed). Thinking that the story sounded vaguely familiar, I did some quick research and, sure enough, the study referred to in the ABCNews report was the subject of a substantially similar story in the New York times more than a month ago. When I first launched this narcisite at the beginning of April, I wanted to link to that NY Times story but it was already too late to do so for free, so I gave up and forgot about it until I came across the latest story this morning. If anyone has access to old NY Times stories, I highly recommend checking this one out. It was entitled "The Gentry, Misjudged As Neighbors," was written by John Tierney, and ran on March 26, on page B1. If you don't have access to old Times stories, the important passages were as follows:

WE all think we know how gentrification works. Developers and yuppies discover charm in an old neighborhood, and soon the very people who created the neighborhood can't afford it anymore. Janitors and artists are forced out of their homes to make room for lawyers and bankers.

This process has been routinely denounced in neighborhoods like Harlem and Park Slope in Brooklyn. But when researchers recently looked for evidence of such turnover, the results were surprising. . . . Just the opposite happens: people with relatively little income and education become more likely to stick around. The rate of turnover declines, apparently because people don't like to leave a neighborhood when it's improving.

You may have a hard time believing these results, but you can't dismiss them as propaganda from developers. The New York study was done by Lance Freeman, a professor of planning at Columbia University, and Frank Braconi, an economist and the executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, a well-respected nonprofit research organization with a centrist position in New York's housing wars.

* * *

"You've got two competing forces in a gentrifying neighborhood," Dr. Braconi said. "The prices are going up, which gives low-income people an incentive to leave. But the neighborhood's getting nicer, so people have more incentive to stay. There's been an assumption by community activists that the incentive to leave is stronger, but that turns out to be wrong. You don't displace the poor. You actually slow down the process of people moving out of the neighborhood."

* * *

[E]ven tenants in unregulated apartments were more likely to remain in gentrifying neighborhoods than elsewhere, he said. . . . How did the poor manage to stay? "I didn't find much evidence of more people crowding into the homes," Dr. Vigdor said. "For the most part, people simply paid more." About 3 percent of the people, typically elderly tenants on fixed incomes, complained that the higher rents weren't accompanied by improvement in living conditions, but most people said they were benefiting from improvements to their dwellings and their neighborhood as well as better public services. Most people's income rose at least as fast as the rents, in some cases presumably because of new jobs that came into the neighborhood.


* * *

When you add up all these advantages, it may seem hard to imagine how the opponents of gentrification could keep up the fight. If the neighborhood's improving and old-timers aren't being displaced, what's not to like? But let's see what new complaints they come up with.

Read that last part again. Can you believe this actually ran in a prominently placed story in the New York Times? I like to flatter myself that I am quick to give credit where credit is due, and here it certainly is. To paraphrase Orwell, I guess that something can be true even though the New York Times says it's true.