Tuesday, April 30

The Return of the Red Menace

More evidence today that the New York Sun is developing a distinctive voice and, in the process, giving readers a real alternative to the product being peddled by the Old Gray Lady. This morning's Sun has resurrected the venerable political epithet "Red China," wielding it proudly in the lead headline on its front page no less--"Bloomberg Meets With Leader of Red China." And the headline is no aberration. The body of the story refers to Hu Jintao as a "Red Chinese leader" and the photo accompanying the story is captioned "GREETING A DICTATOR: Mayor Bloomberg met yesterday with the vice president of Communist China." In case the message was not made strongly enough on the front page, in an unrelated story headline on page 2, North Korea is also referred to as "Red Korea" ("Red Korea Invites US Envoy"). It is good to see at least one New York paper giving the story prominent coverage and declining to sugar-coat the truth.

The story's presence on the front page of the Sun is also significant for a more subtle reason. Making good on its promise to focus on New York stories in order to fill the void created by the New York Times's increasing concern with becoming a national newspaper at the expense of local coverage, the Sun gives this story the prominence it deserves. In contrast with the Times, which does not even mention the high profile meeting on its front page, the Sun reports that Mayor Bloomberg broke with Giuliani's policy of refusing to meet with Chinese government officials when he met with Chinese vice president Hu Jintao yesterday. However, in a press conference following the meeting, Mayor Bloomberg acknowledged the reality that Taiwan and China are two separate countries--a reality that it is usually American policy to avoid mentioning for fear of offending the Chinese communist party, which maintains a strict One-China policy under which Taiwan is regarded a renegade province. His aides later cautioned listeners not to read too much into the Mayor's declaration that he "would certainly meet visitors from either country [i.e. China and Taiwan]," but, off the record, a senior Senate Republican foreign affairs staffer endorsed Bloomberg's position, saying "[his] remarks represent the basic good instincts of the American people."

No link, as usual. This is the NY Sun--don't you have a subscription yet?

Monday, April 29

Back in the Club--But What a Club!

Well, it was a welcome break, but now the United States has been officially re-elected to the UN Commission on Human Rights. It is now time to ask, in a twist on the old Groucho Marx saying, the big question: Does the US really want to be a member of a club that would have its fellow members as members? Specifically, I am referring to current members such as Cuba, Libya, and the Sudan as well as the other countries elected and re-elected along with the US today, Zimbabwe, Ukraine and China. For the first time, I think that it is actually reasonable to question whether American interests are best served by serving on the soi-disant "Human Rights" Committee that has displayed such a serious and escalating hostility towards its ally Israel, as well as to the very idea of anti-semitism, which it has formally dropped from the list of issues that it is concerned with this year. On the one hand, the US may be able to raise its voice at the table in support of equal treatment for all victims of oppression, including Saudi women, Israeli victims of terror, and the entire populations of committee members Cuba, Zimbabwe, Congo . . . actually almost all of them! (list not updated to reflect today's elections). On the other hand, the sheer number of confrontational and dissenting positions that the US will be forced to take if it is to uphold basic principles of fairness may end up alienating its current and potential allies (from France, Germany, and Russia to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) in future stages of the war on terror. For now, I am reserving judgment on this one until I have thought and read some more, but that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Access Washington

Supreme Court scuttlebutt, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, is for me what I can only imagine ponies must be for pre-teen girls or big-haired broads are for Clinton. So you can imagine my delight when I stumbled across John Dean's latest FindLaw column. In it, Dean (author and former Counsel to President Nixon) serves up some tantalizing gossip regarding the likelihood of various justices retiring in the near future. The article also provides some opinions on the blossoming of Justices Breyer and Thomas in recent terms from DC appellate litigation insiders. As for possible appointees? Dean backs retiring Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, dismisses Alberto Gonzales as non-starter and nixes the possibility of a Justice Hatch.

Poetry II

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 is 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 adultress, 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.

Sunday, April 28

My Bundle of Neuroses, Prejudices, and Biases Reduced to A Point on A Graph

I am collecting snapshots of where I currently fall on the political spectrum according to different online quizzes. The first is from the humane folk at the Institute for Humane studies, whose quiz can be found here.


(Cute touch including Stalin and Hitler in a position diametrically opposed to that occupied by most IHS members).

The second is from politicalcompass.org. This quiz is English, so you have to translate a few questions into the appropriate local context (American, Canadian, etc...).

NOTE I can't seem to reproduce the image from this graph, which is probably just as well as it does not seem that my position falls anywhere like it did on the graph above. Curious. But when I compare my position with that of the British politicians whose positions are plotted on the graph it seems about right, i.e. somewhere between where Kenneth Clark was in 1996 and where Michael Portillo was in 2001 (you'll have to take the quiz to see what I mean).

Senator John "Do you hear a siren? 'Cause I think I heard a siren" Edwards

Roll Call, the weekly newspaper of Congress, is reporting that Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) is relying almost exclusively on the deep pockets of the nation's trial lawyers to fund the campaign that everyone expects him to launch for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. Sen. Edwards, whom I once uncharitably described as "an earnest young pantywaist with presidential ambitions", is a former trial lawyer himself, so it is not surprising that he has the support of that powerful and generous lobby. In fact, of the $1.39 million he has raised for his New American Optimists PAC (you see where the "earnest pantywaist" charge comes from?), fully $1.19 million has come from fellow lawyers, their employees, or their families.

According to Roll Call, "[n]o other Congressional leader or potential presidential contender has such a heavy reliance on a single industry for their leadership PAC." Sen. Edwards's people are embracing this fact (what else could they do?), opining that "[i]t's a positive thing to say about someone that the people who know him the best support him." That is certainly one way of looking at the situation. Another is that the trial lawyers expect a substantial return on their investment from someone who knows just how lucrative a patients' bill of rights could be for them and, conversely, how damaging meaningful tort reform would be. Just looking at the $50,000 donated by the law firm of Weitz & Luxenburg, which describes itself as "one of the nation's foremost mass torts, product liability, and personal injury law firms" (New Yorkers will be familiar with the firm's omnipresent asbestos lawsuit ads and their groundbreaking work in the junk science field of breast implant litigation), I would say that the "pigs slathering at the anticipation of slop" perspective is more realistic than the "for he's a jolly good fellow" view.

It should also come as no surprise that, other than being mistaken for a boy scout who has wondered away from his troop's tour of the Capitol building, the young senator is best known in Washington for leading the Democrats' fight for a patients' bill of rights without a meaningful cap on the potential recovery of damages by trial lawyers, er, injured patients. As for the other pet concern of the trial lawyers' lobby, anyone who doubts what these sultans of the slip-and-fall have to lose, and what American citizens stand to gain, from meaningful tort reform should spend a few minutes reading the collected stories on the Trial Lawyers and Politics page of overlawyered.com.

Saturday, April 27

Gun Control, British-Style

If you think that gun control is too strict in America, consider the plight of the following poor Daily Telegraph reader whose letter to the editor appears in today's edition:

SIR - Thank you for your attack on the gun laws. What is not commonly realised is the range of these laws.

I own a one-inch Very Light signalling pistol used by my father, Capt F. W. Vaughan, in an action in the First World War in which he won the Military Cross. It has one chamber and fires a single Very Light flare. It has been in my family for more than 80 years.

I am now told that I cannot renew its licence as I have "no good reason" to retain it, and must dispose of it by the end of May.

My obvious reasons for wishing to keep this memento of a brave man are dismissed as merely "sentimental", an attitude that appears to me to insult the memory of everyone who fought and often died in that distant conflict.

Police sources inform me that one-inch flares are no longer obtainable. To effect any sort of discharge from the pistol one would have to obtain black powder, which one could not get without applying for a separate licence.

To classify such a relic with revolvers is nonsensical, and illustrates the pervasive extension of laws that are themselves unsound.

Meanwhile, I understand from common report that Britain is awash with illegal ammunition and highly effective handguns.


Yet more evidence of the value of a healthy, written constitution that constrains overzealous government regulators.

Related aside on the issue of gun control: I am, at best, a fainthearted libertarian (the subtitle of this narcisite was originally "where Burkean conservatism meets fainthearted libertarianism"). Being raised in a society where all handguns were illegal and virtually unknown, I find it difficult to get worked up about the criminalization of handgun possession. Nor have I read enough to take a firm position on the "individual right" vs. "collective right" debate over the 2nd Amendment, although the balance seems to be tipping in favor of the former since Tribe's unexpected endorsement of it. I am, however, naturally wary of any attempt to restrict arbitrarily the freedom of property ownership and I am not convinced that there is a significant enough correlation between legal gun ownership and murder rates to justify sweeping restrictions on gun ownership. National and local cultures are too different to establish a link between homicide rates and either gun ownership rates or the existence of gun control laws solely by comparing those statistics, divorced from the larger cultural context, between different societies . Absent a convincing causal connection, if law abiding citizens want to own guns for display purposes, for target shooting, for hunting or even for self defense, I do not have a serious problem with that. On the other hand, I have no problem whatsoever with prohibiting gun ownership by anyone with a felony conviction or any conviction related to assault--in fact I strongly support such measures. I also support even stricter penalties for violations of existing gun laws and would encourage prosecutors to seek the maximum sentence available for anyone whose negligent use or storage of a gun results in an accidental injury or death or who illegally possesses a gun. Beyond that, I am open to reasonable suggestions for improving gun safety but am not prepared to go to anything like the lengths advocated by most gun control advocates.

UPDATE: If my rather vague and imprecise discussion of this topic does not satisfy those of you who crave hard data, precise legal analysis and take-no-prisoners commentary, I suggest that you surf over to the list of "liberal, moderate, and conservative" gun policy experts and 2nd Amendment scholars "whose research has led them to be skeptical of gun control" that UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh has compiled at gunscholar.org. Those are the people you want, not me.

P.S. As the last three exams of my law school career (and possibly my nine-year academic career) loom larger with each passing day, my posts for the next two weeks will be a bit thinner than usual. I will, however, try to add at least one new post (some may be quite short) each day for the benefit of loyal readers.

~H.

Friday, April 26

The Callousness of the PLO Spin Machine

Today's New York Post editorial, "An Obscene Objection," subjects the Arafat-controlled WAFA's reaction to the aborted suicide bombings by three Palestinian schoolboys to the harshest treatment possible: it prints them in black and white for the world to read. Reaching new levels of obduracy, the official PLO news agency expresses regret not that the children tried to kill themselves in the vain pursuit of a vile cause--slaughtering innocent Jews--but that their actions may have undermined its carefully orchestrated media campaign, which highlighted the alleged massacre at Jenin but studiously sweeps summary executions of suspected collaborators under the carpet.

RELATED THOUGHT: I can't imagine how the boys ever got such an idea. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with the Palestinian habit of strapping fake explosives to their children and running them through military drills in front of beaming grandparents. "Look at little Abdullah, he's growing up so fast. It seems like only yesterday he and his playmates were pretending to blow up little Lego synagogues and now he's almost big enough to do it for real. I only hope I live to see him die." Sick.

Columbia Under Increasing Pressure to Bring Back ROTC

In a front page story today, the New York Sun is reporting that, since September 11th, there has been a growing movement at Columbia University to bring back the on-campus ROTC program that was banned in 1969. A group with the depressingly uninspired name of "Students United for Victory" (sorry boys, love the cause, but come on) has been formed with the express goal of reversing the current university policy, which prohibits on campus drilling and classes. Today, if Columbia students want to participate in an ROTC program, they must do so by attending classes at Fordham, Manhattan College, or the State University of New York Maritime College (guess which one is home to the Navy ROTC program).

I would like to throw my insignificant weight behind this fledgling--and long overdue--movement. The ROTC program allows poor and middle-class students, who would not otherwise be able to afford the soaring cost of an Ivy League education, to attend elite schools. As a Columbia alumnus quoted in the Sun notes, "[t]he nation's military officers have to come from somewhere; I'd rather see them come from Columbia U. than Redneck U." Actually, I wouldn't mind seeing some come from both, but the lack of almost any officers from elite American schools is disturbing.

It is disturbing because it contributes to the polarization of opinion in this country which in turn creates a gulf between the North Eastern and California intellectual elite who exercise a disproportionate amount of power in the media and in politics and the rest of the country. You can say what you want about the tradition of an hereditary officer class such as existed in Britain until WWII (and I am not interested in defending it in other contexts), but the effect of having boys from the most privileged families in the country serving their country and often dying for it created a bond between the classes that does not exist in the United States today. Today, almost no one who attends an Ivy League school or a comparably elite liberal arts college knows anyone who serves in the military; the country's armed forces are overwhelmingly made up of poor, often Southern, men. No wonder there is so much reflexive anti-war sentiment among the chattering classes. War is something that they have been raised to regard as beneath them, a primitive ritual practiced by less enlightened brutes who attended colleges that ended in "A&M." Obviously one does not have to propose resurrecting the idea of an hereditary officer class to bridge the gulf between these two solitudes. In fact, bringing ROTC back onto elite university campuses and encouraging participation by students seems to be the most reasonable solution.

As usual, there is no link to the New York Sun story. How many times do I have to tell you that you should surf over to their website and get a subscription?

UPDATE: I received the following letter from a reader, which I think is worth posting so that I may respond to his point.

Great Sun story. You mentioned that ROTC programs exist at Fordham and Manhattan colleges, among others. Then you noted this quote in your post on the Sun: Although it's been awhile since my graduation (three years), I cannot recall Lynyrd Skynyrd or Jeff Foxworthy concerts at Fordham University. The streets of the Bronx, as I recall, were nearly banjo-free, and the boll weevil, thankfully, left us alone. FU is not RU. Yeah. I'm pretty confident about that. Best wishes, [name removed].

Touche, sir. My response follows:

Dear Mr. [removed],

Thank you for your response. I regret the unfortunate juxtaposition of the information regarding where Columbia students can take ROTC classes and the comment by the quoted alumnus. I will look over my piece and see if I can make it clear that they are not directly related. In the mean time, I hope that you can ignore the unintentional slur against your alma mater and appreciate the point that the quoted gentleman was trying to make regarding the fact that while ROTC programs are active on some North Eastern and California campuses, they are much less common here than on Southern campuses and almost nonexistent on the most exclusive campuses (according to the Sun, Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, Yale, and Stanford have similar bans). The unfortunate, implicit bias against Southern universities in the comparison notwithstanding, his point ties in with my humble comment on the matter.

Thank you again for your time and consideration.


I hope this clears things up a bit.

Thursday, April 25

Monkeying Around with the Constitution

Respected Harvard Constitutional Law Prof. Larry Tribe (he argued one of the Bush v. Gore cases before the Supreme Court, for Gore) has expressed the view that the Constitution grants "nonhuman animals" such as chimpanzees rights as "persons" under the Constitution. He articulates his position, hitherto only advocated by fringe PETA-types on Law School Campuses, on the front page of this morning's Wall Street Journal (subscription required to read the full story). Specifically, he says that the 13th Amendment's prohibition of slavery and the 8th Amendment's prohibition of "cruel and unusual" punishments should apply equally to chimps and humans because "nowhere does it state that only humans are covered [in these Amendments]"

There too many problems with Professor Tribe's position to address them all in the short time I have, but I will offer one of the most important ones. Just because something is not explicitly spelled out in a law does not mean that the law does not have a single, fixed and correct interpretation. Saying that the 13th Amendment generally bars "slavery" does not support a conclusion that the Amendment should be interpreted to apply to the "enslavement" of animals. If the rule of law means anything, it means that the laws have static definitions that are not subject to later reinterpretation in light of changing patterns of language use. There is no doubt that the drafters of the 13th Amendment, and anyone reading it at the time of its enactment, understood slavery only in terms of one man's forciable subjugation of another man. That animal ownership or the use of animals as sources of food and entertainment was considered to be an entirely different phenomenon than real "slavery" in the minds of 19th Century Americans can easily be demonstrated by looking at the way in which they talked about and treated animals at the very same time that they were debating the separate issue of slavery. To say that because a small cadre of animal rights radicals use the term "slavery" today to apply to the condition of animals kept by humans means that their usage of the word should supplant that of the drafters of the 13th Amendment and the society in which they lived is absurd. The underlying meanings of laws change only when they are formally changed by elected bodies or, in the case of the Constitution, by the amendment process spelled out in Article 5. Nobody can, with a straight face, deny that the 13th Amendment was, at the time it was enacted, understood to end the practice of humans treating other humans as chattel and only that practice. To suggest that the 13th Amendment should be applied to chimpanzees or any other animal therefore amounts to an illegitimate amendment of the constitution.

Besides, if "slavery" means only what the furthest edge of the radical wedge thinks it means, then what is to stop some activists from claiming that the 13th Amendment should also apply to dogs, gerbils, trees or flowers? There are, of course, responses to this sort of slippery slope argument, but their hollowness in this case is betrayed by the fact that they are the same arguments that would have been employed to end the slope at humans, before it reached other primates, scant decades ago.

UPDATE: Now that this post has been linked to by the Almighty, er, InstaPundit, I'm sure that reams of comments will flood in to both myself and InstaPundit refuting my point, castigating the legal system, and generally spitting calumny in my (virtual) direction. Fair enough. I asked for it by starting a narcisite (I prefer the term to "'blog" and think it is more mellifluous than "vanity site") in the first place. However, I would like to clarify two things.

First, I agree with InstaPundit's incisive comment regarding the inability of chimps to sue lawyers for malpractice. The natural consequence of this situation would be a court-appointed lawyer for the chimp's malpractice claim suing the court-appointed lawyer for the initial claim. Top that, Fox TV.

Second, I am fully aware that my assumptions about our legal system being based on a rule of law in the way I described a "rule of law" (i.e., in textualist, "original meaning" terms) are far from universally accepted in the looking-glass world of legal scholarship, particularly within the unrepentant neo-Marxist camps that currently hold sway in many elite law schools. I know, I attend one, and that's part of my point. I began by identifying Professor Tribe as a respected legal scholar and I realize that his opinions carry great weight in the groves of legal academe; he is probably on more Democratic shortlists for the Supreme Court than any other academic. These things are all true. It is also true, however, that his proposal in this article is laughable and intellectually bankrupt. Even very intelligent people believe some pretty outrageous things. If you don't believe me, go to law school.

UPDATE II: Having just read UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh's new article on The Mechanisms of the Slippery Slope (forthcoming in the Harvard Law Review--not too shabby!) I would like to backpedal a bit on my suggestion that the same arguments could be applied to dogs, gerbils, trees, flowers, etc. But dolphins and whales could still covered by the rapidly expanding Constitutional penumbra that is visible only to Prof. Tribe. Thanks to Professor Volokh, we are forever foreclosed from couching our objections in the imprecise metaphor of the slippery slope without identifying the precise mechanism(s) that we fear will lead from decision A to possible consequence B. In this case, I don't feel compelled to dwell at any length on the specific mechanism that might lead to applying Constitutional protection to whales or dolphins because I actually object to decision A (granting such rights to chimps) on its own terms. However, if Prof. Tribe's reason for granting chimps rights is that a grown chimp is as mentally developed as a four-year-old human child, who clearly has constitutional rights, then I believe that the same argument could be applied to an adult dolphin, which I believe stacks up well in the grey matter department against a young child. It is also possible to push back Prof. Tribe's arbitrary choice of a four-year-old child to a one-day-old child, who also has constitutional rights, and whose intellectual and emotional development would not compare favorably with fully grown animals of many other species.

"The Defense of Property Rights" or "A Hard Row Tahoe"

Lane McFadden, who knows far more about property rights and the takings clause than anyone his age has any business knowing, has weighed in with a comprehensive analysis of the Supreme Court's recent Tahoe-Sierra decision. It is a clear, accessible and informative account of an inordinately complex issue and I defer to his better judgment on every point.

Wednesday, April 24

Le Pen in His Own Words

The latest edition of The Spectator is running the first post-election, English language interview with Jean-Marie Le Pen, which does a good job of gently probing some of his more eye-brow raising tendencies. It is a surprisingly subtle but cleverly conducted interview and well worth reading. It can be found here.

In related news, Boris Johnson, the editor of The Spectator and a Tory MP, has written the definitive piece on M Le Pen's runner-up finish in the French presidential election, which is available here.

Professor Volokh Does a Turn as William Tell

Now that Professor Volokh, a legal scholar whom I hold in the highest esteem, has made light of the superficiality and intellectual irresponsibility of my comment regarding his earlier post (see SPEAKING OF APPLES AND EDUCATION--brilliant title, by the way), I feel that I must pull up my socks and clarify my position.

As I thought my earlier post made clear, I was not claiming that the gradual movement from exclusive state and local funding and control of education to an active federal role in those areas was solely responsible for the decline in educational standards, nor was I even claiming that it was a significant cause of the phenomenon. I was merely noting that the federalization of education was an important post-1960 phenomenon and one that deserves consideration as a contributing factor in the decline of educational standards. I am quite aware that correlation does not imply causation, which is why I presented the observation as a throw away line and made no attempt to support it with the data that such a claim would demand.

I will, however, say one thing for the theory that federalization may account for the seeming paradox of increased spending leading to declining standards. Federal initiatives such as Head Start, which are often implemented as unaccountable political panaceas, have accounted for an increasing amount of the money allocated to education since 1960. However, study after study has shown that Head Start does not have a measurable long-term impact on student performance and the best that can be said for it is that it has produced inconclusive results over its first 35+ years. See here for a short description of the failures of Head Start program. (The same criticism, of course, could be leveled at many other federal education programs, but I will concentrate on Head Start because it is so well known, has been so well studied and yet, puzzlingly, is still so well regarded.) This lackluster performance does not seem to discourage the federal government, which has taken a remarkably optimistic view of these inconclusive results and decided repeatedly to increase the program's funding (most recently in the last budget). Using Head Start as an example, it does not take too much exertion of the old cerebellum to see that the sort of broad, policy driven programs that are the only kind a centralized federal government is able to implement may not result in the most efficient expenditure of education dollars.

I agree wholeheartedly with Professor Volokh's point that it would require marshalling a substantial amount of data in order to actually demonstrate a real correlation between increased federalization and sliding student performance. I would go even further and posit that it would actually be impossible to ever establish such a correlation given the almost infinite variables affecting the national education system, which is itself the product of innumerable larger social pressures. Given the unlikelihood of ever being able to pin the blame for lower standards on centralization and federalization, I am not prepared to press too hard in that direction (hence the casual flippancy of the charge in my earlier post). I do not, however, think that it is too much to ask for increased vigilance by the federal government in monitoring its national education programs. This Republican White House in particular should insist on measurable positive gains by each of its national programs and should not be afraid to pull funding when results are not forthcoming.

I have already spent far too much time trying to justify a rather unassuming initial comment, so I will let the matter rest for now. I will, however, post any interesting responses I receive regarding this or any other topic on my site. And thank you Professor Volokh for keeping me on my toes.

Further Evidence of Moral Decay

As if further proof were needed, Ms. Margaret Lehman documents the rapid slouch of society towards oblivion. Courtesy of The Onion.

One Major Educational Change Since 1960

Eugene Volokh has collected some interesting statistics on education spending in the last four decades. He shows that, adjusted for inflation, the amount of spending per student, the ratio of students per teacher, and spending as a percentage of GDP have all risen, yet most people accept that educational standards have steadily declined in the same period. What could explain this counter-intuitive result? Well, it is only since 1960 that the Federal Government blundered into the picture, increasingly involving itself in both funding and setting education policy. But surely that couldn't be part of it.

Thanks to InstaPundit for the link.

Girl Talk

As someone who has spent more than one third of my life at university, it hardly comes as a revelation to me that many campus women's groups are engaging in intellectually bankrupt behavior. In fact, it has occurred to me on more than one occasion that the basic goal of most of these groups is fundamentally hypocritical. Their mission, which they execute with unbounded zeal, is to open the eyes of the freshwomyn who arrive on campus each Fall and show them that they have been browbeaten and shamed into “traditional gender roles" enforced by a strict patriarchy. They accomplish this, of course, by browbeating and shaming the same young women into adopting non-traditional gender roles, which are then strictly enforced by a strict campus matriarchy.

Fortunately for naive college students of both sexes, the astute ladies over at the Independent Women's Forum, who are much too intelligent and sensible to be browbeaten by anyone, have come out with a devastating critique of the most popular Women's Studies textbooks used in introductory courses at universities across the country. Some of the things that they found were:

1. The major Women's Studies textbooks misrepresent or distort statistics about unequal pay for the sexes in the labor force.

2. The authors of the textbooks patronizingly attribute the choices of any women to work at home, to work in traditionally female professions, or to have traditional families or marriages as the product of slavish gender conformity rather than personal preference.

3. They habitually pass off discredited junk science as medical fact. Examples of this include perpetuating the debunked myth that silicone implants seriously compromise the health of women and the incorrect assertion that medical studies routinely exclude women as test subjects. The reality in the latter situation is that the National Institute for Health used women in more than 90% of its clinical trials as far back as 1979 and, currently, women represent 60% of all subjects in its trials.

4. They exhibit a pervasive skepticism of all scientific studies because the results of scientific experiments are themselves the product of "the dominant male culture." They go so far as to label the "masculine" pursuit of scientific knowledge, which has resulted in the discovery of sources of power like nuclear energy, as incredibly dangerous and warn that "the present 'masculinity of science' may very well kill us." Of course, anectodotal evidence, especially gathered by or from fellow activists, is considered much more reliable.

5. They present highly controversial assertions regarding domestic abuse as received wisdom. For example, although leading social scientists such as Richard J. Gelles and Murray A. Strauss have demonstrated that women are just as likely to initiate violence as men (though, not surprisingly, women are more likely to suffer injury as a result of these encounters), such studies are entirely ignored in favor of unsubstantiated claims that "when both partners engage in violence, men tend to be the primary perpetrators." The Independent Women's Forum, however, cites a recent study published in the journal Criminology and Public Policy in 2001, which found that women were just as likely--and, in some cases, more likely--to initiate violence. The conclusion of this study was that, as a result of these statistics, both men and women should be treated as potential instigators of violence in the home. Such a rational conclusion is in direct contrast to the "feminist-oriented intervention programs" favored by the Women's Studies textbooks, which trivialize women's violence against men as "a phenomenon that has been exaggerated in the media."

6. The textbooks repeat the party line that women are the victims of systematic institutional repression throughout the education system. One textbook, for example, states that "as compared to boys, girls receive less attention and praise from teachers; request less help; and are less dominant in class. . . . Even at the college level, teachers pay more attention to male students than to female students." This information, which relies primarily on research produced by politicized organizations such as the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund and the American Association of University Women (AAUW), is presented as an undisputed reflection of reality. Nowhere does one find any acknowledgment that these studies have been exposed as superficial, methodologically-flawed and biased by, among others, Judith Kleinfeld and Christina Hoff Sommers in her book Who Stole Feminism?, which the deflated the hyperbolic claims of the AAUW report. As the Independent Women's Forum notes, the reality is that: "One hundred years ago, women were barred from entering most universities; today, they receive the majority of bachelor's and master's degrees, and within a decade are projected to receive the majority of Ph.Ds." So much for institutional bias.

7. The authors of the textbooks suggest that all resistance to their agenda is evidence of "the extent to which new knowledge from women's studies and the different racial and ethnic programs [that attack the Western Canon] challenges existing ways of thought." It couldn't possibly be that John Milton and Jane Austen's works are simply better than "I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala," a work much touted by the textbooks' authors but which has been shown to be factually fraudulent (not to mention embarrassingly juvenile in its writing style).

8. Anything smacking of something that might have seemed normal to someone raised in the 1950s is dismissed out of hand as racist, sexist, heterosexist and abusively patriarchal. Listen to the way that the authors of the textbook Women's Realities, Women's Choices talk about marriage: "[O]ur experiences, whether or not we were involved in stable, 'happy' marriages, led us to take a uniformly critical stance on this institution, to regard it as an instrument of social oppression." One has to feel sorry for someone who feels so guilty about feeling happy. Apologies, I meant "happy." Whatever that means.

9. Not surprisingly, the authors of these textbooks are uncritical cheerleaders for increased government intervention in the everyday lives of citizens--as long as it favors their positions. They argue, for example, that "there has been inadequate effort to provide for the children of working mothers." In the face of such certainty it seems uncharitable to raise the objection that maybe it is not the government's responsibility to look after the nation's children who already have parents. There is also no mention of the fact that surveys consistently reveal that a strong majority of Americans find institutionalized daycare to be the least desirable form of childcare.

10. Language comes under special scrutiny from the authors of the texbooks. Although one is prepared for such assertions as "the practice of using the word 'man' to refer generically to all people makes women invisible" (Lane, I didn't know that you possessed such power!), it is hard to maintain a straight face while reading the accusation that the words "input," "plugs into," "thrust," and "penetrate" are phallic linguistic interlopers.

11. Politically successful women are viewed with suspicion. This is especially true if they refuse to be martyrs for the radical feminist cause and, god forbid, succeed in a "man's world." It is beyond the narrow minds of the textbooks' authors to imagine how a successful woman (or, gasp!, a successful woman of color or lesbian) like Margaret Thatcher, Condi Rice, Linda Chavez, or Lynn or Mary Cheney, can steadfastly refuse to share their view of a conservative conspiracy against the female sex. The texts are also uninterested in exploring what these women might have to say in response. Good thing too; they might depict "the present abusive gender system as natural and desirable" and contradict the authors' portrayal of the world as "oppos[ing] women's freedom and . . . denigrat[ing] our selfhood."

12. Any dissenting position, particularly one associated with conservatives or even moderate centrists is automatically discounted as a hostile and biased one. The authors of the textbook Thinking About Women explain why: "Although appeals to family values at times stem from genuine concern about troubled families, they also represent a conservative view that regards many new family forms as symbolic of all that has gone wrong with the traditional values in the society." Um ... do you mean committed gay couples in monogamous relationships or 19-year-old high school dropouts with three children by different fathers? Nuance is not a strength of these books. Indeed, one of their major flaws is that these textbooks depict the world in highly charged, with-us-or-against-us, terms, which leave no room for debate or reasonable dissent. There is nothing like fighting alleged indoctrination with counter-indoctrination!

13. Capitalist? In favor of any armed conflict? Traitor!

14. First Lady (now Senator) Hilary Clinton is trumpeted as a feminist champion who was "publicly ridiculed and hailed as out of line for trying to share power with her husband." The Independent Women's Forum's take on this situation is a little more accurate and insightful: "The lesson the textbook author draws from [Hilary's] experience is that 'some women can move into politics, but it is still a man's world--where women are not expected to exercise equal power.' Another lesson that could be drawn is that much of the criticism of Hilary Clinton's role as First Lady was not that women shouldn't exercise power, but that they should first be elected to exercise it, particularly when it comes to complicated and divisive policy issues such as a national health care system."

I will leave the last word to the authors of the Independent Women's Forum's study, who sum up the general tenor of the Women's Studies textbooks as follows:

"By limiting the scope of intellectual inquiry, by misrepresenting or ignoring their critics, and by ignoring facts in favor of myth, Women's Studies textbooks encourage students to embrace aggrievement, not knowledge. As its textbooks demonstrate, the field of Women's Studies has turned "rooms of their own" into narrow intellectual prisons presided over by matriarchs of mediocrity who mistake ideology for learning and scholarship."

For more information on the Independent Women's Forum, including links to all their publications and information on how to start a campus chapter, please click here.

Tuesday, April 23

Taking Stock of Tahoe-Sierra

Although I have but skimmed it, here is my first impression of the Supreme Court's latest decision:

Put bluntly, it is atrocious. The distinction drawn by the majority between a temporary and a permanent takings rests on infirm ground both precedentially and historically. On its face, the language of the Fifth Amendment merely says, "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." No distinction is made between land that is taken for five, ten, or fifty years and then given back to the owner and land that is taken permanently. Furthermore, it makes no sense to say that the deprivation of the use of land for six years or 32 months (there is a dispute between the majority and the main dissent over the real length of the deprivation) is "justly" compensated by no payment whatsoever.

Even under the Court's fact-specific and byzantine takings doctrine, it is disingenuous for the majority to say that this lengthy deprivation was a temporary taking but that the taking in Lucas, which turned out to be only a two-year deprivation of use due to subsequent legal developments, was a permanent taking deserving of compensation. Experience shows that what turns out to be permanent and what turns out to be temporary is not an easy distinction for the courts to make ex ante. Common sense, therefore, suggests that all takings be compensated for the duration of the actual deprivation of use.

The majority also insists that normal procedural delays in obtaining zoning or building approval are not the sort of deprivations of use that give rise to a taking. Fair enough. But when the procedural delay in making such a regulatory decision reach two or six years, surely the failure of the government to afford the plaintiff due process within a reasonable length of time supports a policy of requiring the government to compensate him for the lost use of his land.

One final note. Justice Thomas is to be congratulated for yet another penetrating opinion in which he flays the majority with his common sense; entering his second decade on the Court, he is becoming the clear heir to the late Potter Stevens when it comes to insisting that difficult decisions be grounded on clear, unassailable logic. In his dissent, he gently mocks the assurances of the majority that "a temporary prohibition on economic use" cannot be a taking because "logically, the property will recover value as soon as the prohibition is limited." Thomas responds that "the 'logical' assurance that a 'temporary restriction . . . merely causes a diminution in value' is cold comfort to the property owners in this case or any other. After all, 'in the long run, we are all dead.' John Maynard Keynes, Monetary Reform 88 (1924)." That sound you hear is the air rushing out of the majority's opinion.

Happy Birthday Shakespeare ...

... and happy St. George's Day. In honor of 438 glorious years, here are my two favorite sonnets:

Sonnet LXXIII.

THAT time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.


Sonnet CXVI.

LET me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love ’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error, and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.


The Sun Comes Out Swinging

A banner day for the fledgling Sun. Today's New York Sun is overflowing with hard-hitting and contrarian editorials and opinion pieces. Ellen Bork writes perceptively on the European reaction to Israel, Alicia Colon takes the City Council to task for its spendthrift ways, J.P. Avalon calls for New York City to adopt a non-partisan electoral system, and the editorial staff shoots an arrow of political reality through the heart of President Carter's recent revisionism concerning his ham-fisted handling of the Middle East question.

And, in one of the most unexpected and refreshing editorials I have seen in months, the Sun dares to lock horns with the United Way (and other New York charities) and excoriate them for adopting the political platform of leftist lobby groups while living off the teat of public funding. The United Way, as is reported on the Sun's front page, has recently thrown its clout behind calls for an increase in the federal minimum wage, expanding the earned income tax credit, and holding federal welfare spending steady despite a 60% drop in the number of people on welfare. Worse, in a report entitled "Beyond Ground Zero: Challenges and Implications in New York City Post September 11th," the United Way tries to pass off these policies as necessary responses to the economic effects of September 11th. The problem is that these initiatives were all championed by the report's co-authors, who are a veritable who's who of New York City charities, long before that fateful event. The editorial then proceeds to show how these issues, which are presented as being of pressing need for New Yorkers are more accurately characterized as being of pressing need for the New York charities that are calling for them despite already receiving a significantly higher percentage of their funding (50-70%) from the public purse than the national average (~40%). Don't get me (or the paper) wrong; many of these charities do admirable work. But when the fact that they are overwhelmingly funded by taxpayer money is combined with their increasingly activist political stance, they become ripe targets for an editorial takedown by a paper with the stones to do it. Hopefully this is a sign that the ambitious editorial staff is hitting its stride. I look forward to more goring of sacred cows in the weeks ahead. Two humble suggestions: Al Sharpton or, if that is too easy, the tax-exempt status of the hyper-political NAACP. Have at 'em!

Sorry, no links to any of the Sun's content are available; you will have to buy it yourself or, better, get a subscription--a steal at $2.50/week. And if you don't live in New York City? Well, I feel sorry for anyone who doesn't live here.

Monday, April 22

Snopes TV

Yet another reason to get cable (I presume that this show will not air on regular TV). Everybody's favorite debunking website (at least one of them for those who have more than one--you know who you are) has completed a pilot. Go here for a preview.

A Victorian Solution to an Enduring Problem

Although far from comprehensive, this short piece from the current issue of Philanthropy says (sort of) what I have been saying to anyone who will listen (a rapidly shrinking group) for a while now. Specifically, that government welfare programs are not only unnecessarily coercive (giving beggars a license to pick my pocket every April 15th instead of letting me give freely throughout the year to charities that I think are effective) but also inferior to most traditional charitable organizations, which the governments here in the US and in Britain actively tried to crush in the early part of the last century.

New Kid on the Block

I encourage everyone to surf over to Sad and Tired, a new vanity site by Josh Schneider which, if the introductory post is anything to go by, could prove to be an interesting chronicle of the Dark Night of the Progressive Soul. A new voice and a new perspective are exactly what my incestuous world of links needs, so thank you Mr. Schneider.

Related and possibly revealing fact about me that I have only in the last week or two been able to bring myself to confess to my friends: In my first year of undergrad, I declined to join the university's Marxist-Leninist Society because it was not radical enough.

Sunday, April 21

A Final Sports-Related Post

WishWatch has come out against my suggestion of dropping age restrictions in North American professional sports leagues. Mr. Wishnia, wither your free-market instincts? You don't have to favor child labor to see the fundamental inconsistency of allowing a 16-year-old with no specific talent or career prospects of any kind to drop out of school to pump gas for a living while denying his supremely talented 16-year-old classmate the ability to leave school to pursue a lucrative career as a professional athlete.

Two further points make the artificial distinction even more absurd.

1. 16-year-old American athletes can already leave school to earn salaries as professional athletes . . . provided the sport they happen excel at is soccer. Young Canadian and American footballers already sign with European soccer teams when they are as young as 15. I also think that, after the success of 19-year-old French point guard Tony Parker in San Antonio and Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas, who played professionally in Germany before he was eligible for the NBA draft, we will begin to see a trend towards high-school basketball starts signing with European pro teams for a year or two before they are draft eligible.

2. The nature of North American professional sports will impose its own limit on the number of players who could ever make the leap to the professional ranks at a young age. Wayne Gretzky, a once-in-a-lifetime talent if ever there was one, played professional hockey at the age of 17 (as have a few Russian players in recent years) but hockey is too physically demanding for most teenagers to survive at the highest level. Ditto football, but even more so. Baseball and basketball are the two sports in which an outstanding 16 or 17-year-old might be able to play with grown men, but even in these sports it would be much more unlikely than in a sport that relies far more on skill than brawn like soccer.

Post away!

Anarchy, Sport, and Utopia

Because everyone (by which, of course, I mean Megan McCardle, Jon Wishnia, and Lane McFadden) is talking about Steve Kuhn's post intimating that North American professional sports leagues are promoting Marxist values, I thought that I would toss out my proverbial $.02.

$.01 No.1: I generally agree with Jon Wishnia's take on the situation, which is, in brief, that sports leagues rather than their constituent teams should be viewed as the appropriate entity to which the rules of a competitive marketplace should be applied. That is, the goal of each league is to beat out the other professional sports leagues (and all other competing entertainment sources) in providing the best product for consumers. Each league has, independently, decided that the best product results from a reasonable level of parity so that fans in small or poorer markets still have some reason to follow the game and fans from bigger markets do not get bored seeing the Yankees, for example, roll over every other team (o.k., bad example, but even they don't win every year). The leagues have, therefore, instituted various internal mechanisms which balance the interests of the players with those of the owners and fans, such as revenue-sharing (though not all leagues have this) and both entry and expansion drafts. I would add that if the players really feel that their rights are not being respected they can (1) go play somewhere else (Europe, Japan, Canada) or (2) start another league (each of the current Big Four professional leagues is the product of the combination of smaller leagues).

$.01 No.2: On the other hand, I have never opposed totally changing the nature of North American sports leagues and adopting the rules of European leagues. It has always struck me as odd that in this limited industry the Europeans would have an infinitely more free-market, laissez-faire approach to regulation. If Real Madrid and Manchester United both covet a young soccer star, they compete against each other to buy him. Transfer fees of upwards of $50 million are not unheard of.

Two other aspects of the European system also seem much more enlightened to me. First, they do not have the absurdly high and arbitrary age restrictions on signing players that North American leagues do. If a player is able to play at a high enough level, or if a team thinks that a young player's potential is worth the risk of signing him at age 15, they can sign him. This is far more sensible than the North American college-sports farce, in which players who would not otherwise think twice about going to university are given huge "scholarships" (there is nothing scholarly about the process, and the name is an insult to actual scholars) to attend Stanford or, worse, Middle Tennessee State, as a stepping stone to the NBA, NFL or MLB. The draft process and the rules against signing players younger than 18 are entirely responsible for this massive and corrupt industry, which is a goiter on the neck of academia. The whole system makes no sense. Imagine if Austria had had rules that prohibited Mozart from selling his compositions or performing in public until he was 18. Even in the United States today, a 16 year old is free to drop out of school and work at McDonalds for $6.00/hr but, if he is fortunate and hard-working enough to be a star athlete, he is prohibited from earning a single dollar playing sports until his 18th birthday. No wonder the latest 17-year-old high-school basketball sensation is considering moving to Europe where he would be able to get paid while plying his chosen profession, at least until he qualifies for the NBA draft.

Second, in Europe, at least in sports that are popular to support enough teams, there is a competitive market even within leagues. The English professional soccer league (the FA) is stratified into multiple divisions, with the Premier League at the top, followed by the First Division, Second Division, and so on. At the end of each season, the best teams in each division are promoted to the division above them while the worst teams in each division are relegated to the division below. If we had a system like this in North America, the owners of perennial losers like the Golden State Warriors, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Florida Marlins would have a real incentive to improve their teams or risk being relegated to the CBA, the CFL, or AAA Baseball, respectively. Critics of such a system point out that in a brutal free-market sports system, you inevitably end up with a few power-house teams like Juventus, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Manchester United who can afford to shell out astronomical salaries year after year, while small market teams not fortunate enough to be owned by billionaires end up mired in the second or third division. There are two responses to this. First, so what? Second, the system works in Europe and there is reason to believe that is could work here. College basketball and football are enormously popular despite featuring an objectively poor level of play compared to even the worst professional sports teams, but people watch because the product is good enough, the games are usually competitive, and they have established regional loyalties to certain teams. If you gutted college sports of its best athletes (or, at least, turned it into a competition among athletes who are in college for the education and have no designs on a professional career) and created dozens of new local sports teams and eliminated the minor leagues of hockey and baseball by integrating them with the Majors and the NHL, you could create the same sort of thing in professional sports. By simultaneously expanding the total number of professional teams and contracting the number of teams in the each division, you create parity throughout the league, resulting in a better product from top to bottom and adding the extra thrill of making games between last-place teams meaningful.

The final piece of the puzzle, which makes the European sports system so exciting, is the presence of a competition for an annual trophy in which all teams, from all divisions, compete in a two game knock-out format (North American sports would probably require a one or three game format). Such a competition would pit the Yankees against the Brooklyn Cyclones or the Philadelphia Flyers against the Philadelphia Phantoms in a short series in which anything could happen. Could you imagine the atmosphere in the Brooklyn stadium if the Cyclones beat the Yankees? The European experience shows that even the mightiest teams can fall to lowly clubs in a short series and the experience for the giant-killing team's fans is unmatched by anything in North American sports.

This is all, of course, wild, seat-of-the-pants speculation and I know that there are insurmountable institutional barriers to these changes ever being implemented in addition to many good reasons why they should not be. But it does make for an interesting "What if ..." discussion.

Saturday, April 20

A Spy in the House of Misdirected Hormonal Energy

Although Lane McFadden beat me to it, I wanted to add a link to Radley Balko's riveting (if often sloppily written) post about going undercover to participate in an anti-globalization, anti-capitalism, anti-civilization, anti-rule-of-law, etc... rally, on the remote chance that anyone reading my site does not also read Lane's.

Related thought No.1, prompted by a brief post by Jon Wishnia: If a crowd of self-proclaimed anarchists gets beaten like a pack of rented mules by counter-protestors, who can they complain to?

Related thought No.2.: If you have not already caught this subversive post from COINTELPRO Tool, you should read it now:

"Seeds of hope. I haven't seen much from this weekend's anti-everything-that-exemplifies-Western-values protests in DC. More of the same stale sloganeering in lieu of oratory, designed to get some kind of Pavlovian imprint into our collective memory. If there has been a low point, I'd say it was the parading of orthodox Jews on stage, whose statement pleaded for the world not to judge Judaism by Zionism. They also blamed Israel for the recent rise in anti-Semitism in the world, just as their intellectual cellmates have blamed the fathers of Zionism for the holocaust.

But I did find one thing heartening: on Newschannel 8's coverage of yesterday's bicycle protest and subsequent arrests, one demonstrator was interviewed about her ordeal at the hands of DC's finest. In addition to not being forewarned that riding into oncoming traffic was illegal, this Unshorn Sister of the Apocalypse claimed the police had no right to confiscate their bikes.

'Those are our private property,' she wailed.

Hypocrisy, or progress? We report, you decide."

Friday, April 19

Racial Quotas for Actors? I Could Never Make this Stuff Up

The Times is reporting that, due to the underrepresentation of minority actors in regional theatre companies, the government may impose mandatory quotas, which are referred to in typical bureaucratic double-speak as "non-negotiable targets." In the meantime, the Arts Council will "monitor" the situation, which is a not very subtle way of saying "do it yourself or you'll wish you had."

A Victory for Cat-Mutilating Artists Everywhere!

Sometimes a judicial sentence just doesn't seem to fit the crime. Three months of jail time to be served on weekends and some house arrest for stealing "a healthy pet cat, vivisect[ing] it, skinn[ing] it as it twitched and mewed, and goug[ing] out its eyeball, all the while videotaping [the] acts as part of what [he] said was an art project." This is one disturbed child and one out-of-touch judge. You have to read the story to believe it (search in the paper's archives for "Sentences for cat killers spark outrage"). When you do, make sure that you read the judge's reason for imposing a lenient sentence.

A Welcome Addition to the New York Skyline

The Times this morning has a full-page-plus feature on the 24-story skyscraper that is the new home of the Austrian Cultural Forum. This building is the second in what this writer hopes is the beginning of a trend towards architecturally innovative and aesthetically delightful mini-skyscrapers (if someone reading this is looking for a lexicographical challenge, there is a definite need for a neologism to describe them ). The first, of course, being the dazzling new LVMH headquarters(23-stories), which opened in December of 1999. The new Austrian Cultural Forum was designed, appropriately, by Austrian-born New York architect Raimund Abraham, while the LVMH building was designed by Pritzker prize-winner Christian de Portzamparc. If anyone cares to inspect them in person, they are located at 11 East 52nd Street and 19th East 57th Street, respectively.

On the Road with the Fat Guy, Part II

How did I miss this? The latest installment of the Fat Guy's Grand Tour of the North American continent has been up for almost 10 days and I only just became aware of it! He is in Florida and, as usual, it is food writing at its best but with the added pleasures of outstanding travel journalism. Enjoy.

Color Me Unimpressed

This piece by Stephen Hayes raises some disturbing questions about the media's blurring of the line between reporting the news and making the news when it comes to stories involving race.

Yet Another Useful Lesson in Political Reality

No sooner have a posted "Political Rebel with a Cause" than I come across this piece, which presents an alternative view of The Hon. Dr. Martin's actions. The merits of his cause aside, it was an exciting moment.

Political Rebel with a Cause

At least once a decade, a Canadian or British MP makes the most dramatic gesture available to an elected politician in either of those countries by seizing the Mace. The gesture, which is the ultimate demonstration of parliamentary rebellion, has itself almost become a tradition but is no less shocking for that fact. The effect in the House of Commons is something like that produced by a child at the family dinner table who completely loses his head and swears at a parent, striking his siblings dumb with shock, terror, and more than a little awe. The most recent such outburst occurred yesterday when Dr. Keith Martin "hoisted the Mace in the air, declaring 'Parliament is not a democracy anymore.'" To a devotee of Canadian or British parliamentary procedure (we are a small but loyal band), this is thrilling stuff--a frisson of adolescent anarchy defying the hallowed traditions of the Commons but safely contained within the confines of that chamber. In order to understand the significance of this act, the Mace-wielding MP himself explains it as follows:

"The Mace, the golden staff that sits on the floor of the House of Commons, is a hallowed symbol of democracy. MPs are forbidden even to touch it, out of respect for our democratic institutions. On Wednesday, I broke that tradition . . .. I took this extreme step to draw attention to an unprecedented attack by the government on the rights of every MP and every Canadian."

The rest of the article, available here, is worth reading even for non-followers of Canadian politics. It turns out that the ruling Liberal Party has been gradually restricting the power of MPs to bring traditional private member bills to a vote of the House and that this MP, a medical doctor, was protesting the fact that he has been thwarted in his efforts to bring a bill calling for the decriminalization--not legalization--of the simple possession of marijuana, a policy which he claims is supported by a majority of MPs and 70% of Canadians.

Thursday, April 18

Good "Old Britain"

Much has been written lately about how some members of the British press corps (not to be confused with any military corps that might have actually done its bit for its country) seem to be playing a sick game of "who can most closely toe the PA party line." Well, I am glad to report that at least two reliably sensible sources are sitting out this match and razzing the participants from the sidelines. The first is the Telegraph, which is much cited to on these pages and the other is the Spectator, that grand old lady of the London magazine world, whose current edition contains a story by Melanie Phillips, who dissents admirably from the position mainstream British and European press.

Dear Mr. Sullivan,

I do not think think that it has much chance of being published, so here is the text of my response to Andrew Sullivan's response to a reader's letter defending marijuana decriminalization. It makes only a modest point, and was entitled "A Cavil with Your Marijuana Response." You should probably read the original letter to which it refers and Mr. Sullivan's response to it (both available here, scroll down to "So I Asked For It") to understand the point I make.

"While I want to make it clear that I am not taking a contrary position to you on the larger topic of marijuana legalization, your response to the letter defending drug laws falls short in one respect. You protest that the problems with drug legalization in the Netherlands are due to it being a small state in a larger, increasingly federated continent--"It's almost inevitable if one place - with open access to the rest of Europe - legalizes dope, while the rest don't, it could still become a haven for drug-criminals across Europe"--but ignore the fact that this would inevitably be the case in America as well.

"Assuming Congress were to have a collective aneurysm and strike down federal marijuana laws, it could safely be assumed that a dozen or so states would act on their previously indicated preferences and follow suit. However, it is equally certain that many if not most states would retain prohibitionary laws, resulting in the same state-by-state legal imbalance that exists in Europe. The likely consequences would be interstate border patrols and an increase in criminal conduct, particularly smuggling and attendant crimes, in those states that decriminalized the drug.

"Unfortunately, I do not think that your hypothesized scenario of "[a] continent-wide liberalization of marijuana laws in the U.S." is realistic, and therefore the sort of problems that the Netherlands has encountered would be unavoidable."

Mr. Sullivan's site is also worth checking out today (I mean, of course, even more worth checking out than usual) as it contains links to some enlightening pieces on gay marriages and why social conservatives should support them.

Canadian Troops Killed by US Allies

I am going to reserve judgment on this one until more information is known, but I have far less of a problem with this event than I would have if the US was not regularly doing the same thing to their own troops. I think that this story from the National Post takes the right perspective.

Better Late than Never

Canada's National Democratic Party (don't be fooled by the moderate name, these are dyed in the wool socialists) has relieved shameless publicity hound and ideological loony Svend Robinson of his foreign affairs critic position. On his recent trip to the Middle East Mr. Robinson expressed a desire to join Mr. Arafat in a goose-stepping competition around the temple mount but, after the Israeli government refused him access to his hero, he settled for being a celebrity judge at the Miss Teen Palestine Bomber of the Year Pageant. Or something like that. Anyway, congrats to the NDP for displaying some moral backbone; I didn't know they had it in them.

Wednesday, April 17

Priceless Slip

Sometimes parody writes itself. This gem is from the Washington Post's "In the Loop":

On the White House Office of Management and Budget Web site we find: "Thank you for responding to the request for comments on Federal regulations that we make each year in our draft Report to Congress on the Costs and Costs of Federal Regulations." No benefits here.

Unfortunately, the error has since been spotted and corrected(?).

I'm Not Holding My Breath for a RICO Investigation

Although it hardly counts as an earth-shaking revelation, Jesse Jackson's "newly released tax forms for the year 2000 reveal that his top donors were a who's who of companies that had been threatened with boycotts or other sanctions by Mr. Jackson." The article goes on to say that:

His contributors for 2000 include many firms that have had business dealings with Mr. Jackson in the past. Viacom, Bell Atlantic and GTE all gave to Mr. Jackson in 2000, and all have been threatened with boycotts or other sanctions by him. Blaylock & Partners, which received a $750,000 account from AT&T at Mr. Jackson's behest, donated $30,000 to the education fund in 2000. AT&T contributed $425,000. SBC Communications, which solicited and received the support of Mr. Jackson for its merger with Ameritech, contributed $500,000. The New York Stock Exchange, which Mr. Jackson has accused of "redlining" minorities, donated $194,634.
Mr. Jackson's office did not return repeated phone calls. Targets of Jackson boycott threats such as Toyota and SBC Communications have denied any quid pro quo in their subsequent donations.

With this kind of fundraising clout, Jackson ought to run for President. Oh, right, that didn't work out so well for him. The same lack of popular support that unseated his quixotic presidential campaign also explains why he has to resort to extortionist tactics to fund his vanity projects.

We Don't Need An Education (Board)

Today's New York Sun (sorry, no link, you will have to shell out $.50 to buy a hard copy) contains an illuminating column by J.P. Avalon on Mayor Bloomberg's praiseworthy attempts to dismantle the fiscal black-hole that masquerades as the New York City Board of Education. The column contains the following noteworthy information:

1. Under Giuliani, funding for public schools increased from $8 billion to $12 billion annually but high school graduation rates remained at 50%. This should quell the clamoring of those who believe that the best solution to a social problem is to throw more taxpayer money at it.
2. Barely half of the $12 billion dollars spent annually reaches the city's classrooms.
3. After initially coming out swinging in defense of the Board of Ed. (probably an instinctive, anti-Giuliani reflex), Sen. Clinton has now joined Peter Vallone, Mark Green, and Chuck Schumer in denouncing the Board and calling for its abolition. If these voices are lined up against a government program then something must really be wrong with it.

Ochlocracy vs. Representative Democracy

As a student in a class entitled "Law and Democracy," taught by one of the foremost legal scholars of democratic institutions, I have had occasion to consider at length the pros and cons of "direct democracy," which usually takes the form of ballot initiatives or popular referenda. On balance, for reasons too complicated to go into here, I have concluded that they are not a good idea (but keep an eye out for such a post in the future). For now, I will let this piece from the Globe and Mail on the B.C. Treaty referendum, which demonstrates a typical problem with referenda, speak for itself.

Lawsuit or Black-mail?

The Washington Square News, NYU's campus-wide newspaper (as opposed to The Commentator, the Law School's broadsheet that generously allows me to air my private bundle of biases, delusions, and unexamined prejudices twice a month) recently printed a letter from a self-righteous student (actually, "self-righteous" may be redundant), who decried any attempt to deny the irresistable logic and ultimate justice of reparations to blacks as immoral and racist (which is apparently much worse that being merely immoral). In this brief piece, occasioned by the recent reparations lawsuit, Professor McWhorter explains exactly why that student is wrong.

The High (and Good) Life

Count on the inimitable Taki to remind us of all that our lives could be.

Of Bullfighting and Bull.

In the course of this report from Madrid (no envy here, I assure you) on the difference between the relaxed Spanish appreciation of bullfighting and the frenzied English crusade against fox-hunting, Daniel Johnson demonstrates the possible reconciliation of traditional liberalism, which today is most frequently manifested as a strain of libertarianism, and Burkean conservatism. All that, and he manages to quote both Ortega y Gasset and Hans-Georg Gadamer!

Lies, Damned Lies, and Student Journalism

Claudia Winkler reports on some quite unprofessional behavior by the reporters and editors of tomorrow.

Sun, Sun, and more Sun

After heralding the arrival of the New York Sun yesterday, I would like to follow up with a slightly more detailed analysis of the paper thus far.

First, the layout. I like both the size and appearance of the paper. It is clearly a niche paper and does not try to be all things to all people. If you want 20 pages of sports, read the Post, if you want ten pages of in depth coverage of headline stories on the Middle East, read the Times, if you want detailed business coverage, read the WSJ. The Sun is for people who get the bulk of their news (including all their national news) from another source, be it the Times, the internet, or television, and who want a cheap supplement with a fresh perspective and a New York focus. It is also the ideal commuter or lunch-break paper because it is short enough to be read in its entirety in less than an hour. The six and seven column format folds well for on the go reading and the headline, subhead, and body text scans quickly. Overall, the look is a combination of the new WSJ format and Canada's National Post, while the front page banner, lifted from the old New York Sun, gives the paper the visual elan to set it apart.

Second, so far the balance of topics has been quirky but pleasing. There is, as promised, a New York focus with only peripheral coverage of national and international news (again, as promised) which suits the paper's position as a secondary source of news (see paragraph above). What is unexpected is the prominence of carefully selected "News of the Weird"-type stories. Yesterday's front page carried a small story about the world's largest ant colony and today's front page broadcasts the tabloid headline "Monkeys Going on Birth Control." While such headlines and stories might strike some readers as jarring in a newspaper that bills itself as providing the highest possible standards of journalistic quality and integrity, my impression is that they strike just the right note of levity to ease an early-rising reader into the paper's more substantial stories, of which there are many. And, to the editor's credit, these seemingly frivolous stories have so far been very interesting, so please keep them coming.

Thirdly, the inclusion of DailyCandy as a regular feature is a stroke of genius. The ladies at DailyCandy have been unearthing quintessentially New York restaurants, hang-outs, shops, trends, and sales for a couple of years now and they do it better than any paper could do itself. I suspect that the inclusion of this feature was the idea of the former editor of smartertimes.com, which pointed out on at least one occasion that I recall, that DailyCandy had beaten the Times to reporting on a trend by several months. Kudos to the Sun for recognizing the usefulness of tapping into the fashionable-woman-on-the-street vibe at which DailyCandy excels.

Finally, I have one minor criticism. Two people with whom I have discussed the paper have complained that the use of large photos that are not related to any written story in the paper is confusing. For example, today's front page features a photo of Brooklyn President Marty Markowitz being weighed in to promote his "Lighten Up Brooklyn" campaign to encourage Brooklynites to lose weight. None of the stories surrounding the large, color photo is related to it in any way and one story on a French inventor who has invented a chute for skyscrapers, which appears immediately to the photo's left, inadvertently makes it look as though the photo of Mr. Markowitz is actually that of someone about to try out the French chute. To solve this confusion, the paper needs to either tie all photos to actual stories or provide longer captions that do a better job of conveying the importance of the attached photo.

All in all, a wholly satisfying debut. I look forward to reading more in the days ahead.

Tuesday, April 16

The Death of Common Sense?

In an editorial today on the new Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leadership, the Globe and Mail predicts the demise of the "Common Sense Revolution," which swept the party to power in 1995 and has kept it there until the present. Reasonable minds can only hope that the rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated.

Willful Ignorance

The latest Labour education initiative is a real head-scratcher. The plan is to reward universities for taking students with low grades who happen to come from schools designated as underperforming. Mushy sentimentalism aside, this plan has nothing to commend it. What kind of incentive does it provide underperforming schools to improve their standards if they are more likely to place students in university if they remain underperforming institutions? The article makes a similar point:

"It is for the schools to prepare their pupils to the highest possible standard and, if they don't, that is where government should be stepping in, using its resources to improve bad schools, rather than reward poor universities for admitting students who haven't made the grade."

The natural progression of this policy, of course, is tediously predictable. Universities are encouraged to admit unqualified students. Those students underperform at university and drop out at a disproportionately high rate. The universities are forced to combat the drop out rate by (1) lowering internal standards and (2) creating less academically challenging degree programs that are really dressed up remedial programs. Eventually, the country ends up with a system in which students are cheated at every stage of their education, from elementary school to graduate school, and dumbed-down universities churn out record numbers of meaningless degrees.

But what, I hear you ask, is the remedy? Well, reform must be radical, aimed at the elementary and high school levels, and should proceed along the lines outlined by former School's Inspector Chris Woodhead in his recent indictment of the current British education system "Class Wars" (not available on Amazon yet, but you can read a review here). And the Labour government must give up its crusade against standards which, in the blind pursuit of radical egalitarianism, ends up depriving all students of a chance at a real education.

Still Don't Think the Judicial Nomination Process is Out of Whack?

This disturbing prediction from The Corner: If Justice White, a Democratic nominee who consistently supported the federal usurpation of state authority (including one shocking case that supported a court-ordered tax increase--think about the separation of powers problem there for a second--to finance a desegregation plan), were nominated today, he wouldn't be confirmed by the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee.

More "Human Rights" Hypocrisy: UN Endorses Palestinian Terrorism

As if one needed another reason to dismiss the UN Human Rights Commission as irrelevant, the National Post reports here that it has endorsed a resolution penned by the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference with the help of China, Cuba, and Vietnam, which supports the use of "all available means, including armed struggle" to establish a Palestinian state and simultaneously condemns Israel for numerous human rights abuses. EU nations signing the resolution include Austria, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, and, surprise, surprise, France. Canada, Britain, and Germany opposed the resolution.

UN vs. US: Two Approaches to Lasting Peace in Afghanistan

Every so often an opinion piece strikes me as being both novel and dead right. Yesterday's New York Post column by Charles Santos is such a piece. It takes the U.N. to task for trying to impose a doomed centralized government on Afghanistan and endorses a more regionally based approach similar to the one used by the United States in toppling the Taliban government. The reasoning is sound, the writing is clear, and the conclusion is unassailable.

Here Comes "The Sun"

OK, the expression might be hackneyed, but the debut of the new daily newspaper today is a momentous occasion. In the hierarchy of difficult undertakings, starting a daily newspaper in a major market ranks far ahead of opening a vegetarian restaurant in rural Texas and only slightly behind establishing an independent nation in South Asia, so get to your local newsstand and pick up a copy or, better yet, get a subscription for only $2.50 a week here. Today's issue contains a probing interview with Mayor Bloomberg, an obituary of Justice Byron White by Glenn "InstaPundit" Reynolds, and a comprehensive preview of tomorrow's 2nd Circuit argument over New York state's Prohibition-era law requiring all liquor entering the state to be imported by licensed wholesalers. Not too shabby.

Monday, April 15

Israeli and Arab Propagandists, European Intellectuals, and Some Very Unhappy "Campers."

I have abandoned my attempt to articulate a clear position on the current conflict and a way forward. For now, I am content to defer to former Israeli Prime Minister Barak's experience and endorse his position as described in the New York Times yesterday (see "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors" below"). So, until there is a major development in the region, I will stop writing about it. Others with more time and better information are doing the job better than I could. To wit:

Writing in today's Telegraph, Barbara Amiel (Lady Black) identifies seven sources of the current European antipathy towards Israel's position. Every once in a while (usually after reading something by David Frum, Barbara Amiel, or Mark Steyn) I reflect that maybe there is hope for Canada after all. Of course, the fact that, of these three, only Mark Steyn spends any significant amount of time in Canada probably says something.

In related news, The National Post sent a reporter into the Jenin area to try to make some sense of the conflicting reports coming out of that city. His article is revealing in its lack of any real revelations. For now, it is "he said, she said" and neither the official Israeli Army news outlet nor hysterical Arab rumor-mongering seems particularly reliable. Based on this reporter's story, however, which graphically illustrates how a propaganda-induced victim-mentality and a lack of verifiable information can combine to produce a potent strain of mass hysteria, I would give the credibility edge to the Israeli news sources, but it is a close call.

As for the official Arab news agencies, I never had much faith in them and my incredulity is reinforced by this story, which quotes Saudi Prince Sultan bin Abd al-Aziz al-Saud describing the enforced isolation of PLO leader Yasser Arafat and the current Israeli military offensive as "the greatest crime in the history of humanity." With allies like these, American unilateralism is looking better and better. I am not denying that the Israeli incursion into the disputed territories has resulted in civilian casualties. I am even prepared to accept that, once the dust settles, there may be a much higher death toll than the IDF is currently admitting, although nothing will be known for sure for several weeks and possibly months. However, it is important to keep things in perspective; as Nissan Ratzlav-Katz chronicles here, such unfortunate civilian deaths have accompanied every military operation in recent memory, from Grenada to Afghanistan. Any attempt to equate the events of the last week to The Final Solution, Stalinist purges, or Iraq's treatment of its indigenous Kurdish population gives blinkered fanaticism a bad name.

While I am writing on the topic for the last time, I want to make one more point about Jenin and similar settlements that has been nagging me for a couple of days now. The media consistently refers to these cities as "refugee camps." From this description, one would expects the "camp" to consist of temporary residences, pitched tents, trailers, and the like, yet television coverage shows the "camps" actually to consist of housing not much different from that found in parts of Israel or in more established arab communities in the West Bank and Jordan. A quick investigation reveals why this is so. Most of these "refugee camps" have actually been settled for more than 50 years now, long enough for their residents to put down roots and for the communities to take on all the trappings of permanent settlements. It makes no sense to continue to refer to places like Jenin, in which two generations have been raised to adulthood and which are physically indistinguishable from other towns in the region, as "refugee camps." By the same criteria, many Israeli towns could still be referred to as "refugee camps" for fleeing European Jews. If the Palestinian Authority's oil-rich allies were so concerned about the plight of these "refugees," they could have taken them in decades ago or spent the last 50 years building up the infrastructure of the camps/cities and creating a real Palestinian state. Of course, this would have required abandoning their very real hope, shared by Arafat and Hamas bombers alike, that these "camps" really are just places for Palestinians to wait until the destruction of Israel.

Sunday, April 14

Canada's Half-Hearted Disavowal of Terrorism

This piece, reporting on former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's chastisement of the current government for failing to stand firmly beside Israel during the current Middle East conflict, also contains the following nugget:

"Canada, like the European Union, has listed the military wing of Hezbollah--known as Hezbollah Foreign Security Apparatus--as a terrorist organization, but says the group's political and social wings still do important humanitarian work. The distinction allows Canadian and European charities to fund the groups, as long as the money is earmarked for social programs in Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority."

Good for Mr. Mulroney for bringing this indefensible state of affairs to light. Distinguishing between the social and military wings of a terrorist organization is like distinguishing between the Nazi Government's welfare system and its military establishment and saying that it is alright for Canadians to funnel money into the Third Reich as long as it is earmarked for nursing homes in Berlin. Allowing a corrupt and evil organization to increase its status among its people through the provision of health and social services strengthens the organization as a whole, which, having built up a base of popular support, is then able to draw on the good will of its people when it launches military attacks. If Canada is concerned with funding humanitarian efforts in the Middle East, it should encourage its citizens to donate to United Nations relief agencies or it should finance a special Canadian mission to the region. The last thing it should do is allow Canadians to fund terrorist booster clubs.

Oh, and the same goes for Sinn Fein.

You're Welcome, France

According to this story in the National Post, the French Government is planning to disinter 400 Canadian war graves (including those of two Victoria Cross recipients) to make way for a new airport outside Paris. I think one line from a WWII veteran quoted in the article sums up my sentiments on this issue pretty well: "They wouldn't have been able to move ahead at all if they hadn't been rescued twice, and the least they can do is treat those bodies with respect." According to the article, there are some folks in Canada do not oppose this disrespectful treatment of their nation's dead. Expressing sympathy with the French developers, Cliff Chadderton explains that "cemetaries in the area are so numerous they appear virtually every half-kilometre along local highways ... It must have hurt the French economy and Belgian economy." Think about that sentence carefully, Mr. Chadderton.