Saturday, December 31

Vote Canada

I am not sure whether or not I will vote in the upcoming Canadian election. They certainly don't make it too easy for nonresidents to vote, which I don't really have a problem with (conceptually, I mean, I still have the logistical problem of actually voting). In preparation for (possibly) voting, I took this quiz on cbc.ca. The quiz covers twelve issues, presenting the unattributed positions of the four major parties for each issue. Respondents can agree or disagree with as many of the positions as they want. On several issues I agreed with two parties, on one issue I agreed with three parties (Taxes--but I did not agree with all three equally), and on one issue I did not agree with any party (Parliamentary Reform).

Overall, I agreed with the NDP on 2 issues, the Bloc Quebecois on 3, the Liberals on 6, and the Conservatives on 10. (And I disagreed with the NDP on 10 issues, the Bloc Quebecois on 9 issues, the Liberals on 6 issues and the Conservatives on 2.)

If I decide to vote, I will certainly take this result into consideration, but I have much research to do before making any decision.

Wednesday, December 21

MTA v TWU

The New York transit strike continues.

I know that Mayor Bloomberg wants to be liked, doesn't want to be seen as a hard-hearted Giuliani, but his timidity in dealing with the TWU is costing his city hundreds of millions of dollars a day, wrecking small businesses, and consigning seven million citizens to the frozen streets.

The day before the TWU strike, Bloomberg should have ordered all bus drivers to report to work on pain of losing their jobs with no chance of ever being rehired--the same fate met by the 11,000+ Air Traffic Controllers who struck illegally back in 1981. Bus driving is not a high-skill job and other cities have replaced bus drivers at very short notice before. More likely, the drivers would have balked at the prospect of losing their careers, and such measures would not have been necessary. Replacing subway drivers might have been harder (though no more difficult than replacing air traffic controllers), but there is no reason the buses couldn't have been run by replacement drivers (including management and retired drivers) lured by double-time pay until new full-time drivers could be hired.

The MTA was demanding that the retirement age be changed 62 for new workers (a demand it has since, foolishly, dropped in favor of a request that workers contribute 6% of their pre-tax salaries toward their pension for their first 10 years on the job and pay 1% of their salaries for health insurance), and offered 3%, 4%, and 3.5% wage increases over the next three years. In response, the TWU demanded that the MTA lower the retirement age to 50 for current workers and provide 8% annual wage increases over the next three years.

I wonder what country the TWU leaders think they are living in. Their workers' jobs are not particularly skilled, and are in high demand (30 applicants per opening). TWU bus drivers earn, on average, $63,000 annually, subway drivers make $54,000 and subway cleaners make $40,000. Workers get full health benefits, make no contributions to insurance premiums and can retire after 25 years of service or at age 55.

In what private sector industry can workers retire at 50 (as the TWU has demanded) with 50% of their final salary, cost-adjusted, for life? Who do they think pays their salary? The TWU points to a $1 billion surplus in the MTA's operating budget last year, but the MTA also has a $1 billion unfunded pension liability. And pension liability is what this is all about. Underfunded pension-funds--the result of decades of lavish defined-benefit pension plans--have already forced many large private corporations into bankruptcy (United Airlines and Delphi being the most notable), but until now public sector employees have escaped the pension reforms that have swept the private sector over the last few years. The corporations have nobody to blame but themselves for caving in to voracious union demands and are being soundly punished by their shareholders and the bankruptcy system (which, if anything, has coddled them and underwritten their worst excesses). Governments, on the other hand, do not have clear bottom lines--they can always shift liabilities within the budget or raise taxes to compensate for their sops to the unions. Even worse, politicians can make sweeping pension commitments knowing that their successors (potentially even their rivals) will be stuck paying for them decades hence. Bloomberg, a successful private sector boss, has an opportunity to bring some sense to this irresponsible system.

This profligacy has created a situation in New York in which public sector workers earn 15% more, on average, than private sector workers (according to a this report by the New York Citizens Budget Commission, which measured only wages, excluding benefits). Nationally, when benefits packages are included, total compensation is 47% higher in the public than in the private sector.

In New York City, "pension and benefits costs have soared 60%, or about $4 billion, in just four years. The transit system's pension costs alone have tripled since 2002, while the bill for health benefits is up 40%." (source: WSJ).

This is the context in which the TWU is striking (in violation of state law, as if it needed to be added), and the reason why Bloomberg should stick to his demand that the pension age increase to at least 62 (65 or 67 would be preferable), in addition to doing away with defined benefit plans in favor of the defined contribution plans that the rest of the country's workers have. See Time, "Where Pensions are Golden," Dec. 31, 2005. ("Overall, 90 percent of public employees enjoy a defined-benefit pension, compared with only 20 percent (and falling) of the private work force.") (thanks to John Derbyshire for digging this up).

I will save the arguments for why public sector employees should not be allowed to unionize for another post. Instead, I will end with a blast from the past: an audio clip of Reagan's 1981 speech to the air traffic controllers.

Turin 2006

I watched the announcement of the Canadian Olympic hockey team roster live via TSN.com on my computer at work. A detailed final roster of 23 plus three alternates is here.

Goalies:

Martin Brodeur
Roberto Luongo
Marty Turco

Defense:

Rob Blake
Adam Foote
Ed Jovanovski
Scott Niedermayer
Chris Pronger
Wade Redden
Robyn Regehr

Forwards:

Todd Bertuzzi
Shane Doan
Kris Draper
Simon Gagne
Dany Heatley
Jarome Iginla
Vincent Lecavalier
Rick Nash
Brad Richards
Joe Sakic (c)
Ryan Smyth
Martin St-Louis
Joe Thornton

Alternates:

Bryan McCabe
Jason Spezza
Eric Staal

Overall, not bad. Not a surprise, but not bad. Veteran heavy, loaded with proven winners, good combination of speed (Gagne, Nash), grit (Draper, Blake, Regehr), and goalscoring (Nash, Heatley, Iginla). I like the alternates too, although with McCabe plus the seven starting defensemen, the team is overloaded with left-hand shots (only Blake and Foote are righties).

My only quibbles, and they are not criticisms:

I think there is a good case for including Spezza in the starting roster to center Heatley, as he has done so productively in Ottawa. But that would involve dropping one of the other centers (Richards, Lecavalier, Sakic, Thornton, Draper), which is not easy. Although Heatley was just as productive before he joined Ottawa, I generally like keeping lines or partnerships together for short tournaments when there is not much chance for a hastily assembled all-star team to prepare.

While it is hardly possible for a player to do more to justify inclusion than Staal has this year, he suffers from the same overabundance of centers. Still, I would favor Staal over Ryan Smyth or Rick Nash. Nash has not had much time to play himself up to speed (5 games, two goals, no assists) and Smyth, even at his best, isn't quite as good as Staal has been this year. Smyth, however, has a history of international competition in which he has performed well. Again, not an easy call, but I don't think that any team can afford to overlook the best all-round player in the NHL this year.

Turco over CuJo was probably the only surprise. This is probably a coin toss, but Turco has been exceptional, so I can't reasonably object.

Enough about the team. There will be plenty of time to dissect it between now and February. My biggest criticisms are of the announcement ceremony itself. What an embarrassment. It was late, slow, and cringe-inducingly amateurish. Either Hockey Canada should just issue a press release or it should go all out and have a star-studded affair, with a proper emcee (Ron McLean?) and a big screen, with highlights of each player as he is announced. What they gave us instead was a half-blocked off GM Centre rink with a red carpet (which made for bad lighting and acoustics), some Hockey Canada officials on folding chairs, hesitant announcers, and a child parading across the carpet in the sweater of each player as he or she was announced. Confusingly, the men's and women's teams were announced simultaneously--women alternating with men--another bad idea. Even worse, some of the men's team players were represented by girls (especially the first few announced), which was rather discombobulating. What a waste of half an hour.

Still, I'm seriously excited for Turin.

"Frankly I can[] hardly believe that we are having this absurd debate."

I liked this quote because it sums up my visceral reaction to the NSA domestic spying issue. Of course, there are very interesting (and mostly quite esoteric) legal issues to debate--most of which are far from absurd. The best forum for this debate that I have found is Prof. Orin Kerr's post on the Volokh Conspiracy and the 300-odd comments that follow it.

Based on this article, thecomments, analysis on several other websites, and my own research, my conclusions are that:

1. The intercepts probably do not violate the Fourth Amendment (for generally the same reasons that Prof. Kerr provides).

2. The President has inherent authority to authorize warrentless intercepts under Catgegory 3 of Justice Jackson's Steel Seizure opinion, see Youngstown Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579, 640(1952), a principle that even the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court ("FISC") appears to accept. See In re Sealed Case, 310 F.3d 717, 742 (FICR 2002) ("The Truong court, as did all the other courts to have decided the issue, held that the President did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information. It was incumbent upon the court, therefore, to determine the boundaries of that constitutional authority in the case before it. We take for granted that the President does have that authority and, assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the President's constitutional power.") (emphasis added).

3. If any branch of the goverment overstepped its bounds, it was Congress when it passed the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act ("FISA") in 1978, which polices the President's authority to wage war. Congress's role in waging war is to authorize a war, to fund it (or withhold funds), and to regulate the armed forces; it does not extend to setting the rules of engagement, including intelligence gathering.

Finally, returning to this post's titular quote, it comes from former Reagan Justice Department official Mark Levin, who expressed my gut reaction exactly:

Moreover, where is the historical precedent for a commander-in-chief, especially during war, being required to ask permission from a court to spy on the enemy, including intercepting communications? Did Abraham Lincoln (Civil War), Woodrow Wilson (World War I), FDR/Harry Truman (World War II), Ike (Korean War), and/or JFK/LBJ/Richard Nixon (Vietnam War) use probable cause as the basis for intercepting enemy communications? Did they go to court each time and ask permission from a judge to intercept foreign intelligence? Of course not. And as pointed out by Byron York and others, recent presidents such as Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton have all issued presidential orders making clear that while they will attempt to follow FISA, they retain their inherent constitutional authority to gather foreign intelligence, protect our national security, and wage war. The Fourth Amendment doesn't apply to al-Qaeda terrorists as they conspire to blow up our cities.

. . . And it's only after the creation of the FISC in 1978 that intercepting enemy communications became lawful? You have to be kidding. . . .

The president has not acted in a reckless or lawless way. He has sought and received extensive legal advice from scores of legal experts, many of whom are no doubt civil servants. He has numerous internal checks built into the process, requiring a constant review of procedures. And despite the pronouncements of some on the Hill, certain members of Congress were briefed, i.e., it's not as if they weren't aware of the program. Sometimes a president has to do what's right in his eyes and be prepared to defend it, as Bush is now. We used to call that leadership.

Or, to paraphrase another commentator (whose name I don't recall), if there is another domestic terrorist attack it is the president, not Congress and not the FISC, who will carry the blame. Authority should follow responsibility.

This principle does not support a boundless grant of power, but, for the three reasons I briefly sketched above, I don't think this administration abused its power. And, even if he does push the boundaries, a president should receive the benefit of doubt in waging war, because he certainly won't receive any benefit of doubt once the ground is littered with U.S. corpses.

UPDATE: Researching another post, I came across this article by John Schmidt, an Associate Attorney General in the Clinton Justice Department, which reaches about the same conclusions that I did.

Hit Parade

While this page receives a regular stream of hits as a result of routine internet searches for topics I have actually written about, some of the searches that bring viewers to my page are less easily explained. I thought that I would share some of the odder examples from the last week:

ladies seeking causal encounters.com

york pa best prime rib

young dutch teen sex brawn-sex.com

stalin experiments with women and chimps

pre-teen nude voyeur

floating rib pain

front rib pain
if I hear back from the chap above, I'll put you in touch

Pay for play

Congress is grumbling at being kept in Washington during Christmas week to vote on several end-of-session bills. Poor diddums.

I'd be quite pleased if they cut Congressmen's and Senator's pay by 50% so that they could work a second job during the year and spend much, much less time cluttering up my adopted city. Such was, and still to some extent is, the British parliamentary model. It is not uncommon there for even high-ranking members of parliament to hold a day job in addition to their seat in the House of Commons. Oliver Letwin, one of the brightest minds in the City, maintained his directorship at Rothschilds until quite recently while holding several shadow secretaryships in the Conservative party. And, of course, Boris Johnson balances his spare time between editing the Spectator magazine, writing an erudite and always entertaining column for the Daily Telegraph, and penning novels, all while serving as shadow Minister for Higher Education. (When he found time to fit in his adulterous assignations, I'll never know.) By contrast, the Senate is doing all it can to prevent Senator Coburn from continuing to practice as an OB-GYN in his spare time. For two interesting discussions of the Coburn debate, see the WSJ and the Washington Post.

While slashing U.S. politicians' pay and workloads sounds just fine to me in the abstract, one likely result would be that only the very rich would be able to afford to stand. It was to avoid this exclusion that the Founding Fathers first proposed a congressional salary--an innovation at the time* (Madison recorded the debate in his Records of the Federal Convention; but the best analysis of the matter is, as usual, provided by Justice Story in his Commentaries, Vol. 2, §§ 849-853). On the other hand, Congress isn't exactly teeming with the working poor under the current system, so the impact would hardly be drastic. As with all such radical changes, however, my conservative procedural instincts counsel caution, so I will add this to my list of opinions I hold but would hesitate to implement.

* Article I, §6 provides that “The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States.” The Articles of Confederation had required each State to pay for its own delegates (Art. V) (“Each State shall maintain its own delegates in a meeting of the States, and while they act as members of the committee of the States.”)

Tuesday, December 20

2005 Top Ten


'Tis the season for top ten lists, so I thought I would post some of my own: Top Ten Books/Movies/CDs/what-have-you. The rub was quickly apparent when I tried to tally ten books, movies, and CDs that I actually read, watched, or listened to this year. Either the lists would have to be somewhat less than discriminating, or another idea would have to be found. So, I humbly present, the first (and likely last) annual:

Ribstone Pippin Top Ten Books/movies/music/restaurants/drinks/art/parties List

1. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. There are some books that you just can't appreciate until you have paid certain dues in this world, dues that take several decades to pay. Anna Karenina, which I found turgid twelve years ago, was captivating this time round. For my reread, I chose a modern revision of the classic Constance Garnett translation, which my untrained ear found quite satisfying, though it would take some skill to mangle Tolstoy's genius. Genius is not a word I toss about lightly (who was it who said that Canada has only produced one authentic genius, Glenn Gould? I don't recall, but that is about the right rationing of the word in my book), but Anna Karenina ranks with Pride & Prejudice and The Mill on the Floss as one of the three greatest novels I've ever read.

2. Will in the World, by Stephen Greenblatt. I'm a sucker for anything Shakespearian and for the history of London, so this speculative but well-defended "biography" of the man and his time was my favorite escapist read of the year. Pure candy. And it sneaks under the wire as a Christmas present from 2004, which I finished in early 2005. Between Greenblatt, Marjorie Garber, and Helen Vendler, Harvard is a veritable factory of interesting Shakespearian scholarship and popular writing these days, for which I am endlessly grateful.

3. Wine: Domaine Serene, Mark Bradford Vineyard 2000. Tasted at an informal Oregon/New Zealand Pinot Noir dinner in London organized by my good friend Linden Wilkie, whose wine-tasting company, the Fine Wine Experience, is probably the best in Britain or Europe. Not an especially expensive bottle, but very difficult to find these days, mine was a generous farewell present from a friend in Portland. We had the 2002 at the same time, which is likely to be equally special in a few years. Honorable mentions: 1975 Ch. Yquem at my friend Brian's 30th birthday dinner; 1962 Latour (always underrated) at the same dinner; 1990 Salon at Le Grand Vefour.

4. Restaurants: The Sooke Harbour House, Sooke, B.C. Joanne Kates of the Globe and Mail justly named this the top restaurant in Canada back in 1997 and it hasn't slipped an inch since then. That it is also a first class guesthouse makes it one of the places anywhere to spend a weekend. Honorable mentions: Annisa (still the most consistently enjoyable restaurant I know, and they get bonus points for finally recognizing me after all these years!); Taillevent; Paley's Place (one of the highlights of life in Portland was Friday night dinners at the bar with the rest of the regulars--great friends all, but the special menu for Jules and Engred's anniversary was the standout meal); and Olea (unfortunately, this place only opened as I was leaving Portland, or I would have been a regular. The lobster pot pie at one of my going away dinners (which Olea generously hosted) paired with the 1990 Krug, was one of my top three dishes of the year).

5. 30th birthday/goodbye party at Annabel's. Graciously hosted by Edwina Acheson, and attended by about 20 of my dearest friends in London, this black-tie dinner/dance at one of my favorite places in the city was an unbeatable going away party. I got up the next day, packed my toothbrush, and boarded a plane to Portland. What a send off!

6. The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I saw it for the first time on video this year, so it counts for my 2005 list. I know many respectable people who hated this movie, but I found it deeply moving. I didn't even mind Jim Carrey or Kate Winslet, both of whom I usually can't abide. I enjoyed it so much I watched it again a week later, which is something I haven't done since Lone Star.

7. The Ashes celebration in London. (One of my photos from the parade is above.) Five days spent in a London pub building up to Kevin Pietersen's heroic 158 on the final day. Even better than the 2003 World Cup of Rugby. This is why sport is the greatest theater.

8. Beer: Bridgeport IPA. The best everyday beer I've found. There are many, many reasons to love Portland, OR, but this beer is one of the top.

9. The National Gallery of Art's Mediaeval and Renaissance collection. My girlfriend may be a 20th Century scholar, but my heart is always with the mediaeval and early renaissance masters. For images of some of my favorites in the National Gallery (DC), see here, here and here.

10. The London Symphony Orchestra's recording of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 8. I attended the live performance at which this CD was recorded back in 2004 (or at least one of the two performances, one of which was recorded--I don't know which). While the CD does not quite capture the live experience (can it ever?), it is a terrifying and awesome rendition of a very personal symphony by Shostakovich's good friend Mstislav Rostropovich.

Tommy Boy

The Dismal Magazine

I have been meaning to say something about this for some time, but I dare not bore my colleagues with my idiosyncrasies, so I will post here briefly and be done with it.

I am continually disappointed by the fact that the Economist magazine is so wildly popular and influential. Disappointed, but not surprised. It is, superficially, a very appealing publication and usefully summarizes a week's worth of news for someone who doesn't have the time or inclination to read daily papers. Despite these undoubted virtues, there is no magazine I won't reach for on a long-haul flight before the Economist: Field & Stream, People, even Parenting. I know that there must be others who can't bring themselves to wade through its smug editorials (yes, the pot recognizes the kettle), its bien pensant capitalism, the anonymous, Magdalen-cabal uniformity of its worldview, and its recycled business news.

To date, however, I've only ever come across two negative critiques of the magazine. The first was Andrew Sullivan's scathing review in The New Republic in 1999, of which I only recently became aware. This article touches on most of the problems I have noticed, but doesn't quite capture the patronizing smarm that infects both the news and editorials (hardly a clean line to begin with); Sullivan calls it "glib," but that is too tame. The second great naysayer is David Frum, who has written at least twice about the Economist's inept surveys of his home country, Canada. I have not been able to locate his 2000 column, which he alludes to in this 2003 column, but assume it is similar. I can't vouch for the Economist's coverage of other countries (though Sullivan's information on their sparse reportorial coverage doesn't augur much good), but when a magazine so thoroughly botches a report on a subject I know well, it makes me question everything else it publishes.

Or maybe it is just the fact that the magazine is invariably described as "conservative." Capitalist, perhaps, but conservative? For goodness sake, the Economist endorsed John Kerry in 2004, and is unwavering in its opposition to capital punishment and its support of same-sex marriage and open borders. As long as I have known it, the magazine has been socially libertarian and economically pseudo-libertarian. It may have been a useful defender of free-markets during the Cold War, but, by the time I encountered it, it had already drifted from its traditional liberal English position to its current squishy Europeanism. On most cultural issues, and almost anything to do with the United States, the magazine is so wet its pages practically drip condescension. It is largely the prospect of having to read their smug pronouncements on the "torture" tizzy, the Tookie Williams execution, or the canonization of David Cameron that keeps me a safe distance from the Economist.

Frum refers to the Economist as "a magazine that for reasons that elude me may well be the most influential in the English-speaking world. In my opinion, however, the only good thing that can be said about the Economist is that after reading it, I find I don't mind the New York Times nearly so much as I usually do." Sullivan's response, which I parroted to begin this post, provides the elusive answer to Frum's bewilderment: "as a weekly compost of world news and economics, it's hard to beat - a kind of Reader's Digest for the upper classes." The bite in this phrase in unmistakable, but it also betrays a grudging admiration and accurately identifies the magazine's great achievement. It is for this reason that I have no problem with other people reading the Economist--it is usually a good indicator of a curious character and a serious outlook and I would probably be much more knowledgeable about world affairs if I read it. I just can't stomach it. My loss, I suppose.

When I raised this topic with David Frum in an old email, he described his position on the Economist as "fulminating in silence." Such has been my position (give or take the odd half-hearted public objection) until now.

Tuesday, December 13

Great Movies from Great Books

This is something I've thought about, intermittently, for several years, but the question was raised again by Joseph Bottum, the new editor of First Things and former Books and Arts editor of The Weekly Standard, on a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute on Monday evening: Have any great books ever made great movies? Joseph Bottum's unhelpful, if candid, answer was a slow "maybe."

I resolved to think hard on the matter for at least an hour. What follows is my elaboration on Bottum's equivocation. The answer, however, is the same: a confident "maybe."

First, I considered several sources of great films and great books. For films, I looked at the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest American Films and Time's 100 Greatest Movies of all TIME (not because I think highly of their opinions, but they are available online and, frankly, probably identify most of the great movies between them.)

Reliable book lists were much more difficult to find, no doubt because there have been so many more books written than films made. I decided to make things easy by choosing one fairly comprehensive list and supplementing it with my own knowledge and opinion. The list I settled on was Harold Bloom's list from The Western Canon.

Next, some ground rules. I have ruled out plays that have been turned into movies, for the obvious reason that they were written to be performed and their adaptations are, therefore, incapable of meaningful comparison with those of novels, histories, or biographies. So Olivier's definitive Henry V (1946) was out (despite James Agee's contemporary review, which announced that "The movies have produced one of their rare great works of art.") Ditto Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, and Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire.

I also ruled out the television miniseries, so the delightful 1995 Pride and Prejudice (starring the American Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth) and the 1981 Brideshead Revisited, (starring Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews, Sir John Gielgud, and Sir Laurence Olivier) which is possibly the greatest television miniseries ever made, are also out, along with countless Masterpiece Theater productions.

That settled, and before I even began looking for duplication across the great book-movie divide, I began noticing many possible, but not convincing cases, from each list.

From Bloom's list, books that made poor, good, or very good, but not great movies include:

Theroux's The Mosquito Coast
Updike's The Witches of Eastwick
Roth's Porntoy's Complaint
Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby
Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms
Wharton's The Age of Innocence
Carey's Oscar and Lucinda
Franklin's My Brilliant Career
Isherwood's The Berlin Stories (as Cabaret)
Forster's Howards End and A Passage to India
Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles (as Tess) and Jude the Obscure (as Jude) (why, I wonder, the urge to monsyllabize Hardy?)
Giono's The Horseman on the Roof

I could go list dozens more, but as these are not the films we are interested in, let us leave them here and move on.

Similarly, from the movie lists, the following movies are based on poor, good, or very good, but not great books:

Puzo's The Godfather
Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind
Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
Woolrich's Rear Window (short story)
Cain's Double Indemnity
Harris's The Silence of the Lambs
Hooker's M*A*S*H
Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (as Blade Runner)
Duras's The Lover
Du Maurier's Rebecca
Hammett's Maltese Falcon and Red Harvest and Glass Key (the latter two, together, as Miller's Crossing)

But, again, these also rans are not the subject of this post.

Moving along, I have compiled a broad list of movies that closely approach or achieve greatness, which are based on books that are either on Bloom's list, or which I would argue are great, or miss greatness by a hair's breath. These are books/movies that I hope all readers will agree deserve careful consideration. Whether they provide a definitive answer to the question is the proper subject of reasonable debate between informed, intelligent persons. I don't believe that any makes the cut, but they are definitely contenders and a plausible case can be made for some of them.

The close calls:

Keneally's Schindler's List (I haven't read the book, but it is on Bloom's list)
Austen's Sense & Sensibility (as adapted by Emma Thompson)
Greene's The End of the Affair (Julianne Moore, Ralph Fiennes, and Stephen Rea)
Brontë 's Wuthering Heights (Sir Laurence Olivier)
Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Juliette Binoche, Daniel Day Lewis)
Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago
Joynce's The Dead (from Dubliners) (John Huston's last film, directing his daughter)
Grass's The Tin Drum (directed by Volker Schlöndorff)
Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey (I haven't read the book, but it is, by all accounts, a Sci-Fi classic)
Burgess's A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick again - arguably the greatest book adapting director)
Nexø's Pelle the Conqueror (I haven't read the book, but it appears on Bloom's rather stingy list of Scandinavian authors, and Max Von Sydow gives a great performance)

Dreiser's An American Tragedy (as A Place in the Sun)
Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) (the greatest of war novels became the first great war movie)
Steinbeck's East of Eden (James Dean embodying noble aspirations undermined by an irresistible duende)
Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird

Which brings me, finally, to my narrow selection of truly great books that have been adapted as truly great movies.

And . . . the list is empty. I can't in good faith say that any of the above movies is both independently great and based on a great book. I know that I am picky, but great works of art should be the extreme exception, and a great work of art derived from another great work of art--well, that sublime conjunction should be rare indeed. In a more indulgent mood, I might concede that some of the movies from the list above are about as close as one can reasonably expect, but, each time I try to isolate one from the rest, a host of niggling flaws, either in the book or the movie, saps my confidence. If I had to pick two, they would probably be, in no meaningful order: All Quiet on the Western Front and East of Eden. But I name them only under protest.

* * *

As I am almost certain to have overlooked important examples, I welcome any comments, suggestions, or criticisms.

For more information about any of the movies/books mentioned in this post, please go to IMDb (for movies) and Amazon.com (for books).

Monday, December 12

My First Comment and Response

Dear Anonymous,

First, let me thank you for bothering to leave your mark on the site--though, frankly, I'm puzzled how anyone could stumble back to this site so soon after its resurrection. I hope that you don't mind my making your welcome comment an excuse for a rambling, multipart post, but it isn't often that we have visitors around here (I feel like a lonely spinster inviting the encyclopedia salesman in for tea).

Because your comment raised so many questions, I will organize my post loosely around them, in order.

It sure is good to have you back. The years 2002-2005 have seemed much darker in your absence.

Thank you kindly. I would be flattered if I wasn't suspicious that such an over the top compliment wasn't mostly in jest!

Although I must say that after three years away I expected more from a first posting than a fairly superficial analysis of why Tookie must die.

I am sorry that you were disappointed by the superficiality of the Tookie post. I am not going to quibble with your objection, however, because it is really such a straightforward case that it doesn't take much digging to solve. Some questions have easy answers and this was one of them. Had Mr. Williams apologized for the four murders, this would have been a very difficult issue indeed.

[UPDATE: I'm glad to see that Governor Schwarzenegger agreed with my superficial analysis. According to this account, the governor explained his decision to deny Mr. Williams clemency by asking "Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there can be no redemption." Just right.]

Any complications that have been raised in this case are ancillary to the facts. Whether the death penalty is ever an appropriate punishment, for example, is an endlessly debatable, though ultimately fruitless, inquiry. I have written about what essentially boils down to a debate over aesthetics elsewhere, see Capital Punishment, The Salisbury Review, Autumn 2004) (unfortunately, not available online), and didn't feel like revisting the issue here.

And whether, for political reasons, Governor Schwarzeneger should bow to pressure from prominent Hollywood actors and Mr. William's other defenders (some more respectable than others--Mr. Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Tony Robbins, I'm looking at you), is an interesting question for the governor and his political advisors, but not, I'm afraid, for me.

The one point I did want to make was in defense of the institution of executive clemency. I am particularly afraid that, if Governor Schwarzenegger commutes Mr. Williams's sentence, it will inspire a popular movement to limit this privilege of office. Something of the sort happened with respect to the presidential pardon power after President Clinton's midnight pardon of, among others, Frank Rich. For an interesting discussion of that debate, please look here. That I could combine this limited point with a discussion of my favorite cannibalism cases from first year Criminal Law was just a lagniappe!

I was hoping for some sort of intelligent view from the right about the current state of American foreign policy (perhaps the sort of thing Christopher Hitchens might write if he ever sobered up

It is little wonder your expectations have not been met! Though his prolificacy is understandably a constraint on the quality of some of his shorter articles, when Hitchens's quill is sharp, he is a dazzling wordsmith, whether one agrees with him or not. Some of his latest writings on Iraq (which is, admittedly, only a subset of American foreign policy), are available here (the Slate articles from November 22 and 29 in particular), and he will be appearing in a live debate somewhere in upstate New York (i.e., somewhere north of Union Square) on December 20th. The same website has travel details. I cannot vouch for his sobriety.

As for my views on these issues, they may well be forthcoming. Give me a chance to ease back into the habit. Baby steps. Baby steps.

or the state of things in Israel, where even your pal Sharon seems to have abandoned the dead-end Likudnik dream.

My pal Sharon! You must think I travel in much more exalted circles than my nights at home, alone, posting to a single reader would indicate. Since I don't recall much of what I posted on this site three years ago, I did a quick search and didn't turn up a single reference to any Sharon (either as a first or last name). I did, however, find this post, in which I said some positive things about a plan to withdraw from more than 97% of the West Bank and Gaza, to secure the border, and even to offer the Palestinians a capital in East Jerusalem--and that was three years before "my pal" came on board (at least for most of the first two of these proposals). I don't broadly disagree with much from that old post, but I am willing to be convinced otherwise.

As to this posting, as an initial matter I note that the New Yorker had an interesting article analyzing the question of moral hazard in the context of national health insurance. It might be tough to pull yourself away from high-brow reading like the New York Sun (if that rag even still exists), but I'd recommend the New Yorker piece on this question.

Gliding past the cheap jibe about the New York Sun (which continues to provide the best original, local New York news coverage of any paper in that city and whose Op-Ed page is every bit as high-brow as that of the New York Times (are they stil indulging Maureen Dowd's sophomoric Lewinsky/Clinton pee-pee routine?)), I somehow managed to miss the New Yorker piece. During my transition from Portland to Washington, via a month in London, access to my subscription was temporarily interrupted. The piece appeared in the August 29th edition, which explains the oversight. I have now read it, and thank you for bringing it to my attention. My response, such as it is, is below.

You are obviously right that the position espoused by NICE in the Times article is laughable and morally indefensible.

Glad we've settled that.

But with respect to the greater question of moral hazard, I find it hard to believe that you're seriously raising the question of whether a national health system encourages people to engage in risky behaviour that they'd otherwise avoid if forced to deal with their own medical expenses. For the love of God, man, you live in the United States - how can you even ask whether being faced with his or her own medical expenses will affect one's actions in terms of, for example, diet and regularity of exercise. Yes, clearly the lack of national health insurance has made Americans, and in particular the poor and uninsured, paragons of a healthy lifestyle, eschewing fast food at all costs and exercising regularly. The question you raise fails the laugh test. The simple fact is that the specious linking of hazardous lifestyles to effective national health insurance is a typical conservative red herring, unsupported by facts (and by any reasonable view of the world around us), but sufficiently compelling as a sound-bite to gain some currency in the world of Fox News (and, probably, the New York Sun).

Where to begin?

First, you may have noticed that my post did not dwell on this point at length and certainly did not stake out a position on the issue. I merely raised the question and asked for comments (ably provided by you). My real interest was with the second question, which is why the NICE proposal prompted me to post in the first place. But returning to moral hazards, the original question was posed to a British politician and doctor for precisely one of the reasons mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker piece: you don't hear much about the issue outside of the United States. I was curious to learn why. I have an open mind about the issue (which is more than appears to be the case from the tone of your comment) and am interested in learning more (but not so interested that I am prepared to delve into what I have no doubt is a contentious and complicated online debate). Hence the question.

Second, what you dismiss as "a typical conservative red herring, unsupported by facts (and by any reasonable view of the world around us), but sufficiently compelling as a sound-bite to gain some currency in the world of Fox News (and, probably, the New York Sun)" is, according to Gladwell's article, the subject of the "single most influential article in the health economics literature." For a red herring, this one has impressive durability (the article was published in 1968) and persuasive power. Still, for all its influence, the idea of moral hazards in the context of national health insurance may be a crock. I certainly have no empirical evidence either way, but the idea itself most emphatically does pass the laugh test. I would like to learn more (which is why I posed the question), but I would also like to retire to the Scottish highlands one day, so as long as work must take priority over dilletantish pursuits, I will have to rely on the well-presented arguments of others on the issue.

Third, many of those you describe as "paragons of a healthy lifestyle, eschewing fast food at all costs and exercising regularly" are not "poor and uninsured," but are eligible for Medicaid, whether they avail themselves of it or not. Between 1999 and 2004, the number of people eligible for Medicaid coverage increased from 34 million people in 1999 to 47 million in 2004. (See this report for information about the source of the data.) According to this story, "[t]he expansion has cemented government's role as the nation's primary health insurer. About 100 million people — 1 in 3 — now have government coverage through Medicaid, Medicare, the military and federal employee health plans." And "[t]oday, a family of four can earn as much as $40,000 a year in most states and get government health insurance for children. The nation's median household income was $43,318 in 2003, the Census Bureau says." Granted, these last numbers apply only to children, but the basic point--that many of these people neglecting their health, including many of the worst cases, are not the uninsured--stands.

Fourth, I am no economist (which will hardly come as a surprise to anyone who has visited this site before), but then again neither is Malcolm Gladwell (B.A. (History) from Trinity College, University of Toronto, I believe). This latter fact is amply demonstrated by his confusion of some basic concepts. For example, he offers the following as an illustration of a moral hazard:

If your office gives you and your co-workers all the free Pepsi you want—if your employer, in effect, offers universal Pepsi insurance—you’ll drink more Pepsi than you would have otherwise.

Actually, this is not an example of a moral hazard. This is a fairly elementary example of increased demand. But I am not interested solely in pointing out Gladwell's economic ignorance; the same and worse could no doubt be done to me. The question is, does the essence of his article make sense?

I could answer this question better if I understood exactly what it is he is arguing. He seems much more interested in recounting--with distressingly voyeuristic relish--gruesome stories of people extracting their own rotted teeth than marshalling his rhetoric into coherent points. In response to what he does say, I offer the following three observations:

1. Gladwell says that "the fear of moral hazard lies behind the thicket of co-payments and deductibles . . . which characterizes the American health-insurance systems." I don't think that this is accurate, and believe that Gladwell's mistake again lies in his confusion of moral hazards with the basic laws of supply and demand. Most health insurance plans provide for complete coverage of expenses beyond a certain annual amount (I believe that this is about $6,000 in the case of my plan). This is catastrophic insurance, which I think virtually all economists and policymakers, of all stripes, agree is a good thing. Co-payments primarily make the cost of non-catastrophic expenses bearable (i.e., they increase supply), and are not primarily intended as a reaction to a perceived moral hazard problem. My health care plan, as it happens, does provide a good response to the purported moral hazard problem in the form of an incentive to seek basic, preventative care: I receive one free check up each year under my medical plan and (Gladwell will no doubt be disappointed to hear) one free teeth cleaning under my dental plan.

2. Gladwell's article takes a sudden detour away from the issues of moral hazards and tooth decay towards the end of his article. This rhetorical swerve is responsible for much of the article's internal incoherence. What begins as a (slightly confused) discussion of the influence of the idea of moral hazard on American health insurance policy ends as a comparison of what Gladwell calls the actuarial and redistributive models of health insurance. This latter point, which he fails to link satisfactorily to the first point, is what Gladwell chooses to leave his readers with. To wit, his conclusion:

In the rest of the industrialized world, it is assumed that the more equally and widely the burdens of illness are shared, the better off the population as a whole is likely to be. The reason the United States has forty-five million people without coverage is that its health-care policy is in the hands of people who disagree, and who regard health insurance not as the solution but as the problem.

Gladwell never explains how a country in the thrall of policymakers who recoil at the thought of redistributive health insurance has overseen a rapid increase in the number of people insured by government, to a point where fully a third of the population, including the poorest and the elderly, receive virtually free health care. Neither does he offer any quotes from or even references to contemporary economists who oppose Medicaid, or some such system of government health insurance for the poor. His pitchfork is aimed squarely at a straw man. I certainly haven't heard so much as a peep from a Republican Congress, a Republican Senate, or a Republican Presidential administration, about restructuring government health insurance. Wait, I can think of one example, but that one added a hugely expensive prescription health benefit and received bipartisan support.

3. I obviously haven't thought about this issue as much as many, many people (which puts me firmly in the Gladwell camp). My uninformed preference, however, is for something similar to the health plan proposed by Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. You can find Romney's own defense of his plan here. Briefly, it requires all people to purchase basic catastrophic health insurance (which I have some minor qualms about, but clearly some compromises must be made by all sides in this debate) and provides for a sliding scale of assistance based on income. (Interesting numbers from Romney's opinion piece: in Massachusetts, there are 460,000 uninsured, 106,000 of which are actually eligible for Medicaid and 168,000 of which are members of families earning more than $56,000/year). For a positive review of the plan by a (from as far as I can gather) libertarian economist no less, please see here.

Finally, for what it is worth (and I don't hold isolated, anecdotal evidence in high regard myself), the moral hazard argument fairly accurately reflects my experience of health care, which is why it first intrigued me (long before I read any of this economic mumbo jumbo). The number of trips I make to the doctor after my $300 deductible has been met increases substantially. Persistent clicking in the ear? "Funny ache" in my leg? Odd swallowing sensation? Off to the doctor! Heck, it's not much more than the price of a movie and brings peace of mind--something few movies can boast. Now, you might retort that I am an atypical and self-indulgent hypochondriac (to which I, of course, plead guilty) but facts is facts.

I apologize for the haphazard response, but I can only devote so much time to nonbillable vanity projects. I may revise this post over the next day or so (or at least reread it for grammatical and spelling mistakes.)

"The State has no business in the kitchens of the nation"

This article from the Times of London is disturbing for more reasons than I can articulate in a single post. The salient passages are:

One of Britain’s leading surgeons has called on the government to introduce curbs on the sale of alcohol, limiting the amount that customers can consume per visit to a pub or bar. John Smith, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, believes that such restrictions would be the logical next step to improving the nation’s health following the ban on smoking in public buildings.

. . .

If, as a nation, we are serious about trying to prevent illnesses associated with social habits, then this is something that must be considered seriously.

. . .

Last week the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice), which advises on the cost effectiveness of providing treatment on the National Health Service, said patients who endangered their health by smoking, gross overeating or heavy drinking should be denied medical treatment.

These passages are a good illustration of some questions I posed to the then Conservative Party Shadow Health Minister, Dr. Liam Fox, at a question and answer event. Unfortunately, I was detained at work and was unable to attend the actual event, so I have no idea if Dr. Fox responded to my pre-submitted questions. I am going to use this opportunity to pose the questions again to the general (and generally nonexistent on this site) reading public. If anyone has any comments, I would be very interested to hear them.

Without further ado, the questions:

"To what extant does nationalised health care insurance (1) create a moral hazard, and (2) give the government an excuse to interfere in the otherwise private choices of citizens to engage in risky activities?

"To expand the first part of the question, to what extent does the knowledge that they will not have to pay directly for medical procedures affect the choices that individuals (especially those in lower tax brackets or who are exempt from paying taxes) make when it comes to engaging in, or failing to abandon, behaviour that will seriously affect their health in the future, such as smoking, poor diet, and lack of regular exercise?

"To expand the second part of the question, to what extent does the fact that the financial costs of health risks are spread across the entire population and are not borne disproportionately by those who engage in high-risk activities (such as smoking, using drugs, cycling without a helmet, eating fatty foods) give the government an excuse to legislate against the otherwise private choices of individuals who enjoy these activities? In other words, does a nationalised health care system result in a significant increase in governmental regulation of other, tangentially related spheres of activity? If so, is there any way to avoid this while retaining an NHS-style system? Well, those were the questions as posed two years ago (with a few British-to-American spelling changes)."

The Times article certainly illustrates some of the concerns underlying my questions. I find the proposal from NICE (now doesn't that provoke a nice Orwellian chill) particularly galling. It is certainly another example of who the transformation of medicine from a treatment-oriented profession to a public health-oriented profession has profound implications for individual liberty and personal responsibility. One hears of physicians sometimes developing a "god complex," but in this case an entire profession seems to ooze ambitions worthy of a divine pretender. Without even probing the political, social, or moral quagmire that is the public health debate, the practical objections to NICE's policy are legion. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least five questions that I'd like to hear NICE answer:

1. Who would have the authority to withhold treatment? An individual physician? A hospital? The entire NHS?

2. Would there by any appeal process? And, if so, wouldn't that create an administrative nightmare and entail the further expansion of an already bloated NHS bureaucracy to create a quasi-legal system?

3. Would there by a requirement that a decision to withhold treatment be based on solid, proven evidence? How would a physician ever know this? How would he know if an alcoholic patient has been drinking, assuming the patient showed up sober for appointments? Smoking and overeating would be even more difficult to prove. And there is the question of causation--how does a doctor know that a patient's lung cancer is due to four decades of smoking rather than four decades of inhaling solvents at his factory job?

4. Why single out smoking, drinking, and overeating? Why treat people who don't wear seatbelts? Or speed? Or play dangerous sports? Or engage in high-risk sexual practices? Why provide abortions to women who had consensual sex? Each of these activities involves the same sort of choice that as smoking, drinking, and overeating, and involves a likelihood or certainty that taxpayers will have to cover the costs of resulting medical treatment. I think it is a fair question to ask why the NHS should deny treatment to an alcoholic suffering from liver disease but continue to provide expensive drugs to a man who contracted AIDS through unprotected sex? (I mean, of course, "[i]f, as a nation, we are serious about trying to prevent illnesses associated with social habits.")

5. Are they serious? Would they really stand by as an obese man collapsed and died of a heart attack in an emergency room? Of course not. This is all self-indulgent moral preening.

At least someone in Jolly Olde seems to have retained an ounce (or its EU-mandated metric equivalent) of common sense. The article ends with the following observation:

Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said such a ban would be unworkable. “One thing I found during the smoking debate was that some of the medical profession lack common sense when it comes to dealing with real issues in the real world,” he said. “The idea of restricting the number of drinks is unworkable, impractical and would erode personal freedoms.”

Pretty much sums it up.

Monday, December 5

Took, Took, Tookie Goodbye

There has been so much bloviating on both sides of the Stanley "Tookie" Williams affair that the one certain virtue in his death will be the end of the talk show circus of celebrity self-righteousness and the competing howls for blood.

For what it's worth, I don't think that this is a particularly difficult case.

But let me back up. (You didn't think that I'd let you off that easily, did you?)

I strongly support the institution of executive clemency--what conservative could gainsay such a venerable tradition? It has a particularly useful role as a safety-valve in cases where the appropriate response to an act is strict condemnation, but extenuating circumstances diminish the actor's moral culpability. In other words, the possibility of executive clemency frees a jury to enforce the law consistently, without having to engage in a sophisticated, and often distracting, moral calculus. An example may clarify my point.

Few taboos are as universal and enduring as cannibalism. Sawney Bean, Sweeney Todd, Hannibal Lecter: these are the embodiments of sub-human evil in our culture. In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky offered cannibalism as the exemplar of the most profound depravity when he argued that "[i]f you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality . . . nothing then would be immoral, everything would be permissible, even cannibalism." To the Victorian mind, no figure embodied the moral chasm dividing the civilized world from the unplumbed barbarism of the earth's dark corners so vividly as the cannibal. Against this background, the facts of the case of Regina v. Dudley, 14 Q.B.D. 273 (1885), provoked in Victorian Englishmen an admixture of horror and sympathy, and posed a sticky moral problem for the wretched defendant's jury. Keith Buckley, reference librarian at the Indiana University School of Law, takes up the story:

"In the summer of 1884, Tom Dudley, a sailor of very limited experience, undertook to sail the yacht, Mignonette, from England to Australia, taking with him a crew of two other sailors and a cabin boy, Richard Parker. While in the South Atlantic, the yacht foundered and sank on July 3rd, and the four hapless voyagers took refuge in the yacht's meager dinghy. The four men quickly exhausted what few rations were aboard the dinghy, and on or about July 24th, Dudley and his crew entered legal history by engaging in one of the darker practices of 'the natural law of survival at sea' and decided to eat the [almost unconscious] cabin boy. Soon after the foul deed was perpetrated, the three remaining men on the dinghy were rescued by a passing ship and were eventually returned to England. Once word got out about how the men had dined on the hapless cabin boy, the three sailors were arrested and later tried for murder.

"It is at this point, of course, that contemporary practices of the sea and the laws of land came into conflict. . . . [A.W. Brian Simpson, in his book Cannibalism and the Common Law (Univ. Chicago Press 1984)] makes it quite clear that cannibalism in the name of survival was a well-established, though rarely-discussed, maritime practice. While not every tale of shipwrecked sailors ends with an organized lottery to see who will be diner and dined-upon (in fact, several of the stories end with vicious feeding-frenzies that would rival modern horror films), [Simpson] builds a strong case for the fact that both the public and veterans of sea-travel were aware of the painful necessities should food stores run out. . . . [A]lthough found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang, Dudley et al quickly received a pardon from the Queen, amidst a great outpouring of public sympathy."

As Simpson explains the significance of the legal decision: "The sentence of death was a formality to emphasize condemnation of the 'custom of the sea': there was no question of it ever being put into effect." This is an important point. There are some acts so heinous that our society would endanger the proverbially thin veneer of our civilization if it were to permit the legal process to excuse them. To be a civilized society, we must be prepared to condemn cannibalism unequivocally, even if we whisper "there but for the grace of god . . ." as we do so. Executive clemency allows us to walk this moral tightrope; we can uphold our necessary taboos while still offering a Tom Dudley the mercy we would hope to receive in his place. No doubt many will attack this view as hopelessly hypocritical. I agree. I disagree, however, with the implicit judgment that hypocrisy is everywhere and at all times to be avoided. On the contrary, societies, no less than personal relationships, usually depend on it.

So what does any of this have to do with Mr. Williams, still languishing on death row? Well, not much. Mr. Williams earned his death sentence fair and square. He has had almost twenty-five years of appeals, during which literally dozens of judges--many of them liberal Californians--have considered and rejected his arguments that he is innocent, that the evidence at his trial was defective. and that he was denied an impartial jury. There can be no sympathy attaching to the circumstances of Mr. Wiliams's (literally) gangland-style execution of four innocent victims, for a gross take of about $30 per victim. Any appeal for clemency must, therefore, rest on other grounds.

Other than actual innocence, or sympathetic circumstances (as in Tom Dudley's case), the most obvious basis for clemency is redemption. A person who truly repents his crime and resolves to lead a productive life is a reasonable candidate to have his death sentence commuted to life in prison. This is a difficult judgment to make of any murderer, but there are compelling examples--perhaps most notably that of Alessandro Serenelli. But, again, Mr. Williams is not a candidate of this sort. Despite the strong evidence for his general change of heart, his outspoken criticism of the vicious gang lifestyle he helped popularize, and his much-publicized children's books (has anybody actually read one? are they any good? I'm actually curious), he has never admitted killing Albert Owens, Thsai-Shai Yang, Yen-I Yang, and Yee Chen Lin.

That, for me, is the decisive factor here, and the reason I began this post by noting that this is not a particularly difficult case. If you won't admit guilt, let alone apologize to your victims' families and to your society, then you are not a candidate for clemency. End of story. If we pardon a man who doesn't admit to doing wrong, then what are we pardoning him for? Aren't we tacitly accepting his argument that he is innocent and never belonged on death row? But if he is actually innocent, then that is a matter for the courts to resolve in the first instance, and for the executive to address only if, after all appeals have failed, compelling new evidence comes to light. That rare case, however, is not this case. Mr. Williams's final appeal was rejected by the California Supreme Court just last week and there have been no evidentiary revelations since then. Any appeal for clemency must, therefore, be based on repentance and forgiveness, but Mr. Williams has foreclosed that route by refusing to admit his crime. Appeals for mercy are thus misplaced.

Barring a pardon from Governor Schwarzenegger, Mr. Williams will die on December 13, 2005. May God have mercy on his soul.