Thursday, February 28, 2002

PUT THE BLAME ON HER: Reissued albums from the woman who sang while Gilda smoldered.

[Edited to add that I got this from the same City Paper issue that included the dumb bread story. Credit where it's due.]
NONCONFORMIST: Lileks' Bleat today (2/28/02--check the archives) is better than the uberblogged Screed. Read it.
THE GODFATHER, PART IV: The mob is still on the waterfront.

Check out this article, "How to Run the Mob Out of Gotham," from City Journal.

And need I mention that "On the Waterfront" would be a great movie for a right-wing campus group's movie night?
"To the men we have loved! Stinkers!"
--Eve Arden, "Mildred Pierce"

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

GAUDI ONLINE: Even his storage shed is cool.
MORNING STAR: A moving account of the naming of Venus, a baby girl, in liberated Kabul.
READ THIS. I don't know what else to say. Here's the description of the essay: "My friend Tristin is the publicist at Lookout Records and the smartest person I know. One of her dearest and oldest friends was on American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center on September 11th. In the intensely grief-stricken aftermath, the indecent posturing of many spokesmen for the Left in America led her to embark on a serious self-examination and re-evaluation of her politics. She wrote a powerful and heartfelt letter about it, which she sent to all her friends and associates, and which got forwarded all over the place.

"A punk rock magazine, Punk Planet, asked to her to expand it into an article that they planned to run in their upcoming War on Terror issue. As it happens, the editors of Punk Planet killed the article, saying it was no longer 'timely.' That is their right, of course; but I'm skeptical about their explanation. Most likely they chickened out, worried that this 'alternative' view would not sit well with their usual crowd and its generally Michael Moore-ish view of the world. ...The cover of the issue in question depicts a bomber and the word 'why?' Tristin's essay is as solid and eloquent an answer as any of these people would be likely to come across and it's a shame that most of them won't."
"I know what's going on inside of you, Frank. You're just like any other man, only more so."
--Pamela Britton to Edmond O'Brien, "D.O.A."

Monday, February 25, 2002

VOLUNTEER SLAVERY: Christian anti-slavery groups have been getting scammed in Sudan, according to this Independent report. The anti-slavery groups "redeem"--buy--slaves, then free them and send them back to their villages. But the report is full of stories of villagers posing as slaves, and there's lots of convincing evidence that the slave-redemption numbers don't add up. This has been an accusation made against redemption groups for years, but this is the first in-depth story I've seen on it.

The article doesn't address the other problem with redemption, though. When you increase the demand for something, you can expect the supply to increase. Pumping money into the slave trade could do one of two things: It could increase the supply of real slaves, or it could increase the supply of fake slaves. Sadly, I suspect both results have occurred. Redemption groups have argued that since the main reason for the slave trade is Sudan's civil war, not profit, paying for slaves won't lead to more enslavement. But there's no inconsistency in the belief that slavery is primarily a weapon of war, but also a source of profit. Slave redemption is a bad idea.
CLICHES BITE BACK: The Libertarian Party's answer to those Super Bowl "if you smoke pot, the terrorists will have won!" ads. (Link is PDF.)
TAKING THE CONSTITUTION AWAY FROM THE COURTS: For some bizarre reason, Andrew Sullivan seems to think that Justices Rehnquist, Breyer et al. wrote the Constitution.

Check it out (the numbers are mine): "While I’m at it, I might as well address the issue many of you have emailed me about. That’s the notion that it somehow adds to public cynicism if the Congress passes a law that might well turn out to be unconstitutional in parts. I’m sorry, but I don’t quite buy this. The argument might work if the Congress knew as a metaphysical certainty that parts of the bill would be struck down by the Court. (problem #1) But metaphysical certainty doesn’t exist in politics. And in cases like these, it’s also legitimate for the Congress to say what it wants to happen, but passing it off to the other branch to decide on the constitutional issues. (#2) That sounds to me like a civics lesson, not an exercise in cynicism. The argument is particularly odd coming from some conservative quarters, who are constantly urging the passage of, say, abortion restrictions that might well not pass the current Court. I think they’re right to do so (#3); and CFR, even when parts of it may be constitutionally wobbly, should be held to the same standards."

#1: Whether a bill is Constitutional has very little to do with whether it's upheld or struck down by the Court. The Court has ruled in ways that warp the Constitution any number of times. Or are we to understand that Dred Scott was a good use of interpretive power?

#2: What if you think the bill is unconstitutional, but you don't trust the Court to strike it down? What if you think the bill is Constitutional, but you think the Court will strike it down? What if you think part of Congress's job is to avoid passing unconstitutional laws, regardless of whether the Court can be trusted to uphold the Constitution?

#3: Right, pro-life types keep trying to get this legislation passed, because they believe that the Court's rulings in the past have incorrectly interpreted the Constitution. If they truly believed that Roe v. Wade was an accurate interpretation of the Constitution, they should not try to get unconstitutional laws passed.

I just don't get this post of his at all.

On the other hand, his take on Frank Rich's creepy article on David Brock's new book is great: "What’s really, er, rich is that, under the guise of sounding horrified by muck-raking, Rich goes at it with gusto, citing, among other things, Brock’s lurid accounts of dens of closeted homosexual Washingtonians. I have to say I’ve lived here for more than a decade, know a lot of gay men and a lot of Republicans and have never come across anything even faintly like this. It sounds fun, though."
FINAL WORD ON MEDIA BIAS: For the record, I'm not a fan of the fake posing as "unbiased" that characterizes both the New York Times and FoxNews. Journalists should have a philosophy, something that they believe to be true, something that can guide their actions. That philosophy will almost certainly have some controversial elements. Those controversial elements will color what journalists think is newsworthy (as in the famous NYT headline that went, approx., "Crime Falls, Though Jails Still Full") and how they cover events. Lots of readers will disagree with those judgments. None of this is a problem.

The problems enter in two ways: First, journalists can deny that they actually hold beliefs (as with Fox's denial that it's more conservative than ABC). Even if this claim were true, which it virtually never is, why on earth should amoeba-like intellectual shapelessness be a good thing in a journalist?

The second problem occurs when journalists ignore stories that, if they were being honest, they'd have to admit were "real news," even though it might make their side look bad. The two links I posted below, on coverage of guns and abortion, offer many egregious examples of this kind of team-playing. To come at it from the other side, FoxNews should have done a segment on the fact that many of Al Gore's "lies" actually weren't lies. (Love Canal, inventing the Internet, etc.) Journalists shouldn't fall into the mindset of the "team," whether consciously or unconsciously; they should pursue even stories that are harmful to the political parties or candidates that they favor. You can do that, and still produce "slanted" news. Both the general rightward slant and the particular pro-Gore segment (in the Fox-Gore hypothetical) would be consistent--the Fox stance would be, essentially, "Most of the time, promoting the truth means reporting in a right-leaning way. We wouldn't be conservatives if we thought the left or liberal worldviews were more accurate. But that should never lead us to ignore stories that don't 'slant right.'" The same pursuit of truth can lead to both a general right or left slant, and particular stories that go against that slant.
WE KNEAD REAL NEWS: The Washington City Paper's cover story this week is about bread. No, really. Bread. Fancy schmancy bread, and why D.C. residents are oppressed by big chains who deprive us of yummy fancypants bread like they have in New York City.

Here's a pull-quote [!]: "'You can get better sourdough boules in the San Francisco airport than you can here. And that stuff is for tourists!' —bread aficionado Lucy Bisognano"

Look, I'm basically a big City Paper booster. I landed an internship there in 1998, and it was a great experience--the level of journalistic integrity and hardcore newshound-ness in that office was exhilarating. But what's up with this whiney overfed article? We're not New York! They've got some stuff we haven't got! Stop the presses!

For the record, here are my nominations for Six Things That Would Have Made Better Cover Stories:
* Mayor Williams' plan to "anchor" decaying neighborhoods by attracting showy building projects. Won't work.
* Welfare reform: Has the District reformed? What's happened?
* (especially given events in New York) Inside a crisis pregnancy center
* (similarly) Inside an abortion clinic
* Marion Barry: We found the snow of yesteryear!
* Blelvis, The Black Elvis.

Anything's better than yuppie bread.
"I probably shan't return before dawn. How I detest the dawn. The grass looks like it's been left out all night."
--Clifton Webb to Kirt Kreuger, "The Dark Corner"

Saturday, February 23, 2002

Just one post today, and a sad one: Chuck Jones, of Looney Tunes fame, is dead at 89. He was not only a creator of great cartoons (including "Rabbit Hood," "Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century," "What's Opera, Doc?", "Nelly's Folly," "One Froggy Evening," too many fine Pepe Le Pew shorts to count, and--wait for it--"Martian Through Georgia"). He was also the author of one of the funniest books I've ever read: Chuck Amuck, his autobiography.


Friday, February 22, 2002

TWO CLONING LINKS: Good stuff from Shiloh Bucher and Thomas Nephew. I found these through Nephew's Newsrack blog, which in turn I found through Ted Barlow, because I'm waiting for a phone call that's now 46 mins. late. Oy.

Also, this New Republic article is well worth your time. (Why do I keep saying that? I'm confused. Make the neolib goodness stop!) It's about immigrants, their children, and why it's harder to make it in America than you might think. Unsurprisingly, I think the article should have focused more on family breakdown, but it's still a compelling piece.
KEATS AND YEATS ARE ON YOUR SIDE (WHILE WILDE IS ON MINE): Poetry links... An Anglo-Saxon riddle. Philip Larkin, "Aubade". T.L. Beddoes, "The Last Man." G.K. Chesterton, "The Rolling English Road." I'll post more later. And if anyone can find Eliot's "Sweeney Agonistes" online, or Larkin's "Party Politics," please let me know...
JIANG PLAYS GRETA GARBO: An amazing report from the Times of London. Read this if you have any interest in China.
Read this intriguing Matt Welch post on Slovakia.
SUPER CHOMSKY BROTHERS: So there's this new PlayStation game, "State of Emergency," in which you get to play an anti-globalization rioter. And Salon has this article on it. Now, I don't want this site to become SalonSkipper; but this is too good to resist...

First off, apparently none of the righteous rioters are white. From the game intro: "...its me and Ricky Trang, and a rainbow coalition of kickass who gots our backs -- cholos, niggaz, kung fu kids from Chinatown, all going hella wild on the racist, consumerist, globalist system, looting it clean, and it is friggin [hee hee!] beautiful." You can play "Hector Soldado, the reformed Latino gangbanger who believes the Corporation is doing more harm to his neighborhood than the daily drive-bys; [or] Libra, the biracial human rights lawyer who decides the only true justice now possible comes from the brick and the gun." (Can you play Sari Ross, the riot grrrl who milks her Indian heritage for every ounce of political positioning it's worth? Or Jake Phipps, the white liberal who becomes increasingly frustrated with Sari's posturing, and takes it out through passive-aggressive comments about how focusing on racial issues may "distract from the economic points we're trying to make here"? If you hit the "jump" button twice, both of them talk for three hours, effectively winning any battle they join.)

The second neat thing we learn is that the rioters aren't reacting against capitalism. They think they are, but they ain't. Here's the setup: "State of Emergency is set in a very near future, when the wildest anti-globalization prophecies have to come to pass: A giant multinational corporation now dominates the entire country, devastating the environment, dissolving all democratic governance, controlling all media. Dissent is prohibited, and the only glimmer of resistance is from the Freedom Movement, an underground affiliation of young people who take to the street with their faces masked by bandanas."

Remind me again how this differs from the USSR. Just like adding "The People's Democratic Republic of" before your name doesn't make you populist, democratic or republican, so adding "Corp." after it doesn't make you a free-marketeer. Tyranny isn't exactly in the Robert Nozick/Libertarian Samizdata/Reason magazine gameplan. (Related thought: How cool would it be if there was a PlayStation game where you could fight back in Tiananmen Square? Think it'll happen? What about "Priest on the Run," where you try to outwit the ChiCom goons while still saying Mass every day? Somehow I betcha Rockstar won't be coming out with those anytime soon.)

If the sole idea here is that corporations can become tyrannical, uh, sure, does anyone dispute that? (Although in order for it to happen, the corp.s must be able to ally with repressive governments, as in Burma, Nigeria* or the Belgian Congo. This in no way excuses the corporations; it just points out that there are more villains on the scene than the Black Bloc might want to acknowledge.) But the PlayStation game speaks with forked tongue. Originally, the rioters were supposed to battle the "American Trade Organization," thus mirroring the actual Ruckus Society & friends. But then the scenario was changed, so that now they're fighting what is actually a just battle against a real oppressor, rather than an idiotic campaign that downplays and obscures the real problems with globalization, in favor of breaking windows in ordinary people's cars and smashing up McDonalds storefronts owned by striving immigrants. Cute-o.

(*That New Criterion article on Ken Saro-Wiwa is disappointing in two ways--it has the typical NC hopelessness, the belief that conservatism means that every effort to improve the world just makes things worse, so there's no need to suggest alternative solutions--and it doesn't mention Shell Oil. I linked to it because it takes Saro-Wiwa seriously as a writer, unlike most of the stuff you'll find on the Internet about him, and it demonstrates that Shell couldn't do anything without the dictator Abacha.)

Erik Wolpaw of Old Man Murray has some great comments: "'Totalitarian corporations are basically right behind fascist aliens and Nazis on the list of overworked video-game villains,' says Wolpaw. "They're even ahead of mean elves.' ...Wolpaw even examined one popular gamer bulletin board to see if interest in anti-globalization issues had been spurred by State of Emergency. But so far, 'after wading through 46 pages of posts, I couldn't find a single message dealing with the WTO, capitalism or Indonesian child laborers ... On the other hand, I did find a lot of posters begging for the code that makes people's heads pop off when you punch them.'"

And the Salon story helpfully links to these stories providing info on the anti-globalization movement's corporate funders. In a CNN-Enron-hearings touch, there's this para.: "On the arts-and-entertainment side, anti-globalization has been promoted by Michael Moore's films and books (from Disney and Fox Newscorp, respectively), while its marches are accompanied by the music of Rage Against the Machine (Sony) and Manu Chao (Virgin)."

But corporations stifle dissent, of course. Of course. Yargh... enough.
AYN TOO PROUD TO BLOG: Uh, right. If you were looking for that Questions for Objectivists site, it's here. Sorry I forgot to link to it in previous post. Localized brain breakdown. (It's also linked over on the left-hand side of the page there, so you can always find it! Isn't that helpful?)
"Tony, when you let guys use you, be sure they're smart guys."
--Robert Ryan to Tito Vuolo, "The Racket"

Thursday, February 21, 2002

Almost forgot...

"You begin to interest me... vaguely."
--Dorothy Malone to Humphrey Bogart, "The Big Sleep"
HERE WE GO AGAIN: This story on whether pro-life pregnancy centers mislead women and this defense of cloning by Glenn Reynolds lead me to re-post stuff I posted already over on (urgh) GeoCities: "What to Look for in a Crisis Pregnancy Center" and "Love in the Time of Cloning." Sorry about the formatting, folks.
LIFT EV'RY VOICE AND SING: Here are several links with, as promised, cheerier stuff about black America. They go from most to least depressing. All are from City Journal... because I'm lazy.

"What's Holding Blacks Back?", by John McWhorter.

"Washington's Lost Black Aristocracy," by Tucker Carlson.

"Toward a Usable Black History," by John McWhorter.

"Still Coming to Dinner" (on interracial marriage rates), by Matthew Robinson.

"A Whole Different Crop of Black Leaders," by Tamar Jacoby.

AYN, BABY: So I finally got around to starting that Questions for Objectivists site that I yammered about back when I was stuck on (gah) GeoCities. Comments, questions, vilification should go to, but be forewarned, the site's template is very "beta." Should get better fairly soon, maybe this weekend.

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

PRIMARY COLORS: I'm going to do one of those line-by-line bloggy things where you dissect some article by someone who actually got paid for his writing. If you hate those, skip. This is on that interview with DeWayne Wickham about why black people overwhelmingly picked Clinton as the country's best president. Several of my points here are from Shamed; you can assume they're the good ones.

First, some good points by Wickham: "Of the first 15 presidents, 13 of them were staunch supporters of slavery. Eight of them actually owned slaves. Only John Adams and John Quincy Adams had no stomach for the institution. When you start talking about 41 presidents, you've already lost a third of them right there.

"Then, what you find is that most presidents ran away from the black community. It was a difficult issue during slavery for white politicians. It was a difficult issue in the post-slavery period for politicians."

"[Clinton] convinced us in words and in deeds that this relationship was at least partly in his heart, as well as in his head. This guy grew up in the back of his grandfather's store in Hope, Ark., hanging out with black kids. ...And he hung out with black folk, he understood our music, he understood our culture and he understood how to connect. So by the time he entered the political world, here was a white man who could say, not just 'I have some black friends,' but say it and mean it."

This rings true to me.

Then the lameness starts: "Black folk have a built-in radar for B.S., particularly when it's racial B.S. It started with slavery..."

Look, nobody has a built-in radar for B.S. And if black people's B.S. radar existed, and it started with slavery, I think I should get at least half a Jewish B.S. radar that would be much, much better. After all, the Jews have millennia's worth of "racial memory"! Oh wait, that doesn't exist. Oops.

"If you look at our struggle, what you find is that there's great sympathy among African-American people. Even in our greatest time of need, we always seem to have just a little space in our heart for somebody else. Whether we're talking about the Seminole Indians with whom we formed a relationship when we were slaves, or whether you're talking about the Asian-Americans who came to work on the Transcontinental Railroad that we bonded with, we always find a spot in our heart for others who we thought were downtrodden."

Except the Koreans. Oh, and the Irish, back in the day. (Oh, and the women Clinton jerked around, harassed, and probably raped.) Self-congratulatory racial blather. But wait!

"It all helps, by the way, if the person who we perceive as being set upon is someone that we also perceive as being a friend."

Oh, that explains it.

Next, the interviewee does report that most black people support welfare reform. (Does he think welfare reform arose out of "spot in our heart for others who we thought were downtrodden"? Just curious...) He also compares Clinton's large numbers of black appointees to Dubya's large number of Hispanic appointees (like Jessica Gavora). He doesn't comment on this, though. If you ask yourself, "Should a president be closer to black people, or to Hispanics?", you start to see why a lot of the bean-count-y questions don't really make much sense.

"The amazing thing about government is that the White House, the president and his staff at best can control about 10 percent of what happens in government. When they send appointees over to Treasury or Agriculture or Labor or wherever, they can focus in on the top two or three issues from the White House. The rest they have to leave to the appointees. When you have a large number of African-Americans in those positions, you can understand why in the Clinton administration, black unemployment went down, black home ownership came up, black business ownership grew. You had so many people in place dealing with a broad range of issues that impacted the ability of African-Americans to achieve in those areas."

OK, maybe, just maybe, Wickham can produce evidence that Clinton's appointees actually caused employment rates, business ownership, and home ownership to rise. But without such evidence, this paragraph makes it sound like government is omnipotent. Also, either a) any effect of Clinton appointees on black people's wallets occurred via magic, or b) there are specific policies that caused these changes. If b), why can't these policies be promoted by white, Asian, Hispanic, Eskimo, etc. appointees? Are we to assume that only black bureaucrats (armed with their B.S. radars) can properly manage the economy?

...Somewhere around this part of the article, I started noticing a creepy aura of "At last! A white guy told us we mattered!" Yeah, I'd want that too--but to sign a political blank check on the basis of some barbecue wings, sax solos and Walter Mosley novels?

"The answer is, he did it [showed a love of black culture] and no one else did. Whether he did it because he was serious in his intent to understand a significant portion of the population of this country, or whether he did it because he saw them as the Democratic Party's most loyal constituency, he did it."

But Lincoln gets no credit for the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, because he didn't do it out of the pure goodness of his heart?

The point that Clinton made the first official presidential visit to Africa, ever, is really good. I'd be more impressed if I thought Clinton went there because Africans are important, rather than because Africans could help him score points with black Americans.

"If your greatest goals and expectations are not realized, and they never are, what you have to then come to some understanding of is, 'Who has come closer to helping you realize these goals among those who have been occupants of the Oval Office?' Bill Clinton is on the shortlist."

What were those goals? Ending slavery--nope. Desegregation in schools and the military--nope. Civil Rights Acts--nope. Welfare reform--yup, apparently. Looking like he cared about black people--100%.

"The pardons that Clinton got the most attention for in the black community had to do with African-Americans, including Kemba Smith [a young black woman sentenced to 24 years in prison without possibility of parole for her role in her boyfriend's drug ring]. While most people in the media were focused on his pardoning some rather notorious white folk, the black community was applauding his pardon of Kemba Smith. Again, we separated it out and looked at it from our perspective."

Kemba Smith pardon: Yay! (And it should have gotten a lot more mainstream coverage.) But isn't the basic attitude here narrow-minded and even somewhat grasping? Forget about the pardons for influential criminals--we got one of ours!

A depressing interview. Tomorrow I'll post cheerier stuff about black America.
ANDREW SULLIVAN SHOULD SUBSCRIBE TO THE REGISTER: So that he'd know that he's wigging about Scalia's death-penalty remarks. (Scroll down.) Rod Dreher answered him pretty well over at The Stealth Bloggers, but just in case you're still wondering whether "the usual defenders of Catholic orthodoxy" really were as silent as Sullivan says, here's that Reg editorial again. But Sullivan often trots out this weird attitude that the Church's teaching on the death penalty (which he fudges anyway) is more stringent, requiring a higher level of fidelity, than the Church's teaching on sexual morality (especially contraception and homosexual sex). There's nothing that says the Church's teaching on the death penalty is more stringent simply because it deals with "matters of life and death," rather than merely how we show our love for one another, or what we do with the bodies God gave us.
TNR ROX!: Well, no. But today's articles on pork (mmm, pork) and especially, of course, farm subsidies were good solid work.

I think "Hold still, little catfish!" should feature in some Natalija-esque libertarian porno.
PET SEMATARY, THE SEQUEL: Charles Murtaugh has a piece on cloning in NRO, but, oddly, he writes as if cloning would bring a dead pet back to life. It won't. Clones aren't Xerox copies.

In other Murtaugh-related news, I feel like an idiot for not getting his point about why organ-selling is like drug-selling. (There's much goodness on that site today; scroll up.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

AND NOW FOR SOME FAIR AND BALANCED REPORTING: I've been following the Shamed/Barlow media bias controversy . Barlow's post is vast, and I'll just address a couple points.

I agree w/Barlow on media hype of Gore's "lies," and Bush did get a pass on some problems that didn't fit the dumb-Texan stereotype (like the AWOL accusation, which I haven't checked out so I won't comment on). Also agree that Ann Coulter is egregious, and her comments are comparable to Julianne Malveaux's (who said she wished Clarence Thomas's wife would feed him so much lard--mmm, lard--that he'd have a heart attack and die). But I'd wager that if a black conservative had wished (out loud) for the death of a specific black liberal (it's always easier to go nuclear in rhetoric against an abstraction than against a specific real person; and I am sure race plays into this, though probably in fairly complicated ways) she would receive much more denunciation, much more publicly, than Malveaux ever did. She might still be able to get on the air, though--having a Coulter type as your spokeswoman for the right is fun, and easier on leftists than having someone who's more than a caricature.

But the bigger issues seem to be 1) bias in news reporting vs. bias in op-ed, "talk show"-y things; and 2) bias on particular issues. So here are two links on point #2; they're reports on media coverage of abortion and guns. The abortion report was a four-part series in the Los Angeles Times, though their archives are sketchy and I couldn't get it from their site. The guy whose site I'm linking to is pro-life, and seems to have excerpted the articles for no real reason [edited: No he didn't. My mistake], so I'd recommend you get them off Nexis if you have an account there. (Look up "los angeles times AND abortion" between July 1 and 4, 1990.) Anyway, here's the link.

And here's a similar report from Reason on gun coverage.

I think Barlow is right to move, toward the end of his most recent post on bias, toward an issue-focused approach rather than a global one. Off the top of my head I can't think of any issues on which the big-name city media skews right--not even the war, really. Free trade, maybe. Then again, the NY Times is just messed up--it's noticeably farther left than its biggest national competitor, the Washington Post. So the NYT may be skewing my impressions of the media as a whole.

Oh, and Barlow hasn't yet addressed the point that anti-Gore stories (like anti-Clinton and pro-McCain stories) often reflected reporters' belief that Gore and Clinton were sellouts--the stories were often attacks from the left, not the right. I'm not into this enough to get cites; maybe someone else is.
GREAT MOMENTS IN LEFTY SLOGANEERING: Check out the poster furthest to the right in the photo here. Awesome. (Link will not work after 2/19--go to the YDN archive site and click on 2/19.)
POTTER IS NOT A GATEWAY DRUG: Very cool letter in the Feb. 3-9 National Catholic Register from a 14-year-old defender of the bespectacled wizardling. Anne Marie Sohler writes, after quoting a Register op-ed slamming Rowling's "pseudo-morality": "I do not deny that modern culture is chock-full of pseudo morality, dipped in a nice sugar coating--to please parents, of course. I have found the Harry Potter series to be filled with evil. Real, terrifying, unwholesome evil. However.

"J.K. Rowling does not glorify it. ...She shows, equally, the forces of good. The joy and power of innocence, the holiness of human life, and the absolute love in self-sacrifice."

Sohler quotes one of the Potter books: "'Harry Potter, do you know what unicorn blood is used for?' 'No,' said Harry, startled by the odd question. 'We have only used horn and tail in potions.'

"'That is because it is a monstrous thing to slay a unicorn,' said Firenze. 'Only one that has nothing to lose and everything to gain would commit such a crime. The blood of a unicorn will keep you alive, even an inch from death, but at a terrible price. You have slain something pure and defenseless to save yourself, and you will have nothing but a half life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips.' Harry stared at the back of Firenze's head, dappled silver in the moonlight. 'But who'd be that desperate?'"

Sohler: "Some may look at that and think, 'Hey, do I see some pro-life undertones there?' Others: 'Did Harry say potions? Lord help us!'"
"What do you know about scenery? Or beauty? Or any of the things that really make life worth living? You're just an animal--coarse, muscled, barbaric."
"You keep right on talking, honey. I like the way you run me down like that."

--Barrie Chase and Robert Mitchum, "Cape Fear"

Monday, February 18, 2002

SUPPORT GROUP FORMING: WITCHES FOR JESUS. The previous post should indicate that I don't have much patience for the people who think any books with sympathetic witches and wizards must be anti-Christian. Sure, fantasy books can be implicitly anti-Catholic, like The Spellkey, a book that is great on many levels but cliched and annoying in its attempts to portray the Church as a conspiracy of the vile. And I haven't read Harry Potter, so I can't comment on what's up with those books. But there are two different questions here: Should kids read books with magic spells in them? and, Should kids read books with anti-Christian worldviews?

My opinions are strongly colored by my own experience: The ideas I was introduced to in fantasy books were ideas that are mostly discredited in mainstream American kid culture. Honor, sacrifice, chivalry, and awe (C.S. Lewis points, rightly, to the Piper at the Gates of Dawn in The Wind and the Willows) are not much in abundance in this culture, and if you don't believe in any of them, I'm not sure you can believe in Christ. Could you even find Him relevant? There are many places to find these ideas; but fantasy books tend to do a pretty good job with them. I'm willing to put up with a little propaganda for contraception in order to introduce my kid to complex, realistic portrayals of honorable characters.

I don't mean to downplay the dangers. I did the usual half-assed futzing around with Wicca (although I really think that was more influenced by "nonfiction," like the fake history of The Magic Cauldron, than fantasy). That's very sketchy and very dangerous, and I'm glad that the priest who guided my catechism asked about it and exorcised our whole RCIA group. (That's not as weird as it may sound, by the way. We weren't unusually demonic or anything. I think.) Moreover, there are books whose worldviews are deeply anti-Christian. Here's a very good essay on Philip Pullman, who's declared his intention to write anti-Christian kids' books. I'd also point to Susan Price, whose "ghost" series is, I kid you not, the only nihilist children's series I know of.

But Price's novels also contain some of the best, most vivid and powerful writing in children's lit. Does that make them better (great art always contains beauty, and therefore some goodness) or worse (attractive evil)? I think that in the most "utilitarian" sense, the beauty of her writing will spur kids to seek other authors, who will counterbalance her nihilism. On a deeper level, I do believe that kids can intuit many aspects of the nihilist worldview--the possibility that suffering is meaningless, or that the only thing that happens after death is putrefaction. It's better to have all the consequences of that worldview made plain, than to allow those beliefs to seep, unnoticed, into the soil of a child's mind.
THE HOUSE WITH THE WEST IN ITS WALLS: I can't recall now what made me think of John Bellairs. I was on the S2, heading down 16th Street toward the house where I grew up, when I remembered his funny, weird horror books for kids. In Bellairs-land, Catholicism is more of an atmosphere than a creed; his towns are populated by struggling families, fierce nuns, librarians and professors, and people who've made pacts with the Devil. Probably my favorite Bellairs books are The House With a Clock in Its Walls, The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull, and The Curse of the Blue Figurine. Try to find the editions with Edward Gorey illustrations. After his death, other authors churned out books under the Bellairs name. I tried one of the postmortem books (The Mansion in the Mist, I think), and it was everything I expected, so I can't recommend those.

But the thing I noticed yesterday about Bellairs is how he helped furnish my mind. I first learned from Bellairs: "A great reckoning in a little room"; the Litany of Loreto; the Latin for "Judge me, O God" and "I come"; what the Urim and the Thummim were; and many more shards from the religious and literary life of the West. Later, when I learned the real significance of these items, the shock of recognition made them even more powerful than they would have been if I'd never heard them before.

The Last Unicorn (a classic of fine writing and wisdom) did much the same for "The sweet and bitter fool shall presently appear." I suspect Agatha Christie initiated many children, raised atheist or Jewish-ish as I was, into the basic, taken-for-granted mental framework of Christianity. Clearly you can become Christian without that kind of preparation--people do it all the time--but there's a certain mindset that is likely to view Christianity as simply irrelevant without some sense of what it would be like to be Christian. There are questions and emphases that distinctively mark Christianity (like the emphasis on redemption through suffering and humility)--it's not that Christianity is the only thing that ever deals with these subjects, of course, but rather that these subjects provide the framework for Christian thought. Even many of the varieties of atheism that inhabit the Christian world can only be understood against the background of the religion they rejected. And in order to understand Christianity, you have to know why people would believe it; you can't dismiss it all as a childish search for comfort. (Christianity? That ferocious, unslakable tornado of a religion? It is to laugh. Comfort is not one of the things I was looking for, and, thus far, it hasn't been one of the things I've found.)

Basically, Christianity is a very strange thing for anyone to believe. I think I would have had less ability to understand it if I had not been steeped in books that took it, and the cultures it has created, for granted. Bellairs was a very (very) small part of that; he helped me see what an imagination might do, if it had grown up implicitly Catholic and literary. He didn't dilute the strangeness of the religion, but he did show me one way of living within it, and I think that helped make the religion itself more believable. He also (and I do realize this is a separate issue) helped to embed me in the Western world, in its books and its recurring images and its native sources of horror. He made it more believable that Shakespeare would be important enough to change my life. And that, too, turned out to be true.

Requiescat in pace.
PSSST... WANNA BUY AN ORGAN?: Charles Murtaugh has some very good stuff on organ-selling and why we should welcome it. I'd add that I think some of the resistance to organ sales is based on one mistaken belief and one real danger. The mistaken belief is that we're discussing selling your organs while you live--like donating blood for cash, a la Midnight Cowboy. Poor people would line up to trade a kidney for the rent. I'm sure there are many libertarians out there who would love to see this marketplace of entrails, but that's not what the current policy debate is about.

The real danger is fairly grim: Whenever a family benefits from the death of one of its members, there's an incentive to provide less care, to hasten Grandma to that undiscovered country. When I was working on this story (about recoveries made by patients in comas and so-called "persistent vegetative states"), I heard many horror stories of lackadaisical care and relatives (especially spouses, I hate to report) who were practically sifting the gravedirt through their fingers with anticipation. [Edited to add: I realized that this sounds really, really callous to family members who want to spare their dying relatives pain. I didn't even think of that, because most of the horror stories I heard were about spouses who were, frankly, relieved rather than sorry that death would soon part them. But obviously that's not why most people rush their relatives through treatment--many times, doctors give inaccurate information about what kinds of pain relief are available and what prospects for recovery the patient has. Anyway, I'm really sorry if I caused any pain.] Doctors got in on the act as well, prematurely declaring patients dead so that the organ-mining could commence. But in all honesty, I don't think this is a problem organ-selling will do much to exacerbate. It requires a bigger shift in how we think about pain relief at the end of life, and how we train doctors.

Murtaugh also quotes the often-acute Gilbert Meilaender to the effect that organ-selling would divorce a person from his body, making the body a commodity "owned" by the person rather than an element of personhood. It seems to me that in fact, because whether or not your organs are sold would be entirely dependent on your will (in both senses of the word), organ-selling would maintain the connection between person and body. Just as organ donation and requests for specific types of burial emphasize the connection between person and body, so too, I think, would organ sales. Unless, that is, you believe that selling an organ is somehow tainted in a way that donating one is not (insert prostitution analogy here); and I haven't read any arguments on that score, but for the moment it seems pretty weak.

I'm not sure what Murtaugh's getting at with his claim that the organ-selling debate parallels the drug-legalization one, though.
"The work of the police, like that of women, is never over."
--voice-over narration, "He Walked By Night"

Thursday, February 14, 2002

NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER VS. SCALIA: For those following the death-penalty story.
THE FUTURE IS OURS, COMRADE?: A list of the "50 Fantasy and Science Fiction Works that Socialists Should Read." I can't remember which blog I found this on, sorry... Ayn Rand is on there (to "know your enemy"), as is Wilde. I'd dispute Wilde's inclusion, since he gets on the list for The Happy Prince and other stories, which are much more Christian than anything else; their worldview is very different, I think, from that of "The Soul of Man Under Socialism." Anyway, thought you'd be interested.
RETURN TO THE VALLEY OF THE PORN WARS: Kathy Kinsley has some incongruously non-bellicose things to say about my Roth post. Her main point: "[Eve] says: 'If sex were just another leisure activity, somewhere between horseback riding and scratching an itch, that book would be simply incomprehensible.' I agree, but Natalije and I were not relegating it quite to that lack of importance -- we have been comparing it to eating. I think one could write a similar book about someone who indulges himself in tasting everything -- including taboo foods -- and overindulging in food. Gluttony, after all, is right up there with lust as one of the 'seven deadly sins.'"

That's fair; the horseback riding comparison was Radic's, but my main point still stands. One could write a book about a glutton; but one doesn't. It's not just Roth. Literature, in general, makes no sense if you think sex is just the pleasurable contact of epidermis on epidermis. (I'd use the actual quote from the incisive Jean Paulhan intro to Story of O, but I don't have my copy at work. For reasons that should be obvious.)
"I guess you don't remember me, huh, Mae?"
"I don't remember a lot of things."

--Paul Douglas and Barbara Stanwyck, "Clash by Night"

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

IT'S ASH WEDNESDAY, so the film noir quote will almost certainly be the only post today. (Besides this one, of course.) Back with lots of goodies tomorrow.
"I guess you don't remember me, huh, Mae?"
"I don't remember a lot of things."

--Paul Douglas and Barbara Stanwyck, "Clash by Night"

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

SCREW U. Oh, Yale needs this like it needs a hole in the head... Really, I don't know what to say to people who think we need to "weaken the taboo on sex." Here's a relevant YFP article: "The problem with the Yale sex drive is not that it is too strong, but that it is too weak."

Oh, and the Free Press blog has another great slogan: "Vast. Right. Winged." Check 'em out. (Give 'em money!)
"You can never depend on girls named Dolores."
--George Raft, "Nocturne"

Monday, February 11, 2002

WENDELL BERRY + VIRGINIA POSTREL = BIG FUN. Check it out, over at The Farm Dole, my anti-farm-subsidies site. (Yes, there is an anti-farm-subsidies site on Blogger. Bet ya didn't know that.)
BACK IN THE HIGH LIFE AGAIN. Hey look, it's the '80s! The National Journal's Hotline points out all the Reagan-era Dems who hope to make 2004 the Opposites Day version of 1988: Gore, Gephardt, et al. We're at war with a worldwide, ideologically driven, societally suicidal enemy. The president, a tax-cutting Republican with a devoted wife, is living down his wacky pre-White House career by calling evil things evil. And Marion Barry is running for mayor. (That link takes you to a summary, rather than the whole, pricey Washington Post piece.) My only question: When do we get the cool music?
WHAT ROTH BEAST?: I appreciate the link from Libertarian Samizdata. Really I do. But Natalija Radic's quickie anti-anti-porn piece leads me to bite the blog that feeds me.

I'm not going to do an in-depth discussion of nudie mags because a) you don't want to read it, do you? and b) this is my blog and I don't wanna. But as far as I can tell, Radic's argument boils down to:
1) Porn is natural because people do it and they've done it for a long time.

2) Porn may cause "emotional and physical damage," but so do "most close personal relationships, or football, or being a war correspondent or riding a horse."

3) "Conservatives" who disapprove of porn must think, arrogantly, that deep down inside everyone agrees with them. [Edited to add that this apparently comes from the article she's responding to, which I didn't read, because I'm lame.]

4) Sex can mean whatever you want it to mean. You have total control of the meaning of what you do with your body.

5) People really, really, really want sex without personalities, i.e. porn. Did I mention that people want porn? (Would Radic be so blithe about propaganda for a different kind of dehumanized, fake, lying interaction between people--one that didn't involve sex? Would she be as chill about an industry that published magazines showing people living happily under Communism, say? Would she worry, at least a little, about the impulses that made those pictures and stories attractive? [Edited to add that I'm not saying "porn is as bad as Communism!" I'm just pointing out that if we felt impulses toward faked-up depictions of happy Commie slaves, our judgment of those impulses would be conditioned by what we thought of actual Communism. So why shouldn't our judgment of porn be conditioned by what we think about actual soulless, mate-as-appliance sex?])

6) People can separate their "fantasies" (porn) from their "real lives." (Actually, of course, if you view porn, that is part of your real life--because it's part of your mental furniture, and because other people out in "real reality" have to spend their workday producing porn for you to look at.)

Anyway, the main point I want to address is #4; and I don't have an argument, just a suggestion or challenge. Anyone who wants some insight into why one might think this pro-porn claim is wrong should read Philip Roth's great book, Sabbath's Theater. (You should read it anyway, really.) If sex were just another leisure activity, somewhere between horseback riding and scratching an itch, that book would be simply incomprehensible. I'm not trying to be snarky here--if Radic, or anyone who basically shares her views, has read ST, I'd be interested in what she/you all thought of it. (And I note that Amazon offers "Valentine's Day shipping" of this book, which is... disturbing.)
"Well, the place looks lived in."
"Yeah, but by what?"

--Richard Erdman and Dick Powell, "Cry Danger"

Saturday, February 09, 2002

"I'll never think of our moments together without nausea."
--Brian Donlevy to Helen Walker, "Impact"
FAKE FREE TRADERS: Here's that article I was looking for--the libertarian case against world trade oversight bodies.
YALE'S FINEST PUBLICATION has a blog. I live in fear. (Best new YFP slogan: "We put the 'gin' in 'virgins.'" Best old YFP slogan: "Above the Law. Under the Table. Beyond Good and Evil. And somewhere to the Right of Attila the Hun.")

Friday, February 08, 2002

PRAY FOR THE UNIONS, FIGHT LIKE HELL FOR THE WORKERS: I live near the headquarters of AFSCME, the government employees' union. Because so many of the heroes of 9/11 were government employees (firefighters, police officers, even, as Dick Gephardt noted in his State of the Union reply, postal workers), the headquarters' showcase window displays an enormous American flag and a banner reading, "Mourn the Dead, Fight for the Living." I could never begrudge them the sentiment, but every time I pass that banner I think of the quote they're bowdlerizing, Mother Jones' famous challenge: "Pray for the dead, fight like hell for the living." By sanitizing that sharp, untameable woman's words, AFSCME managed to capture in one banner the union movement's slide into irrelevance. AFSCME no longer dares to use the language of unionism's courageous founders. It's given up on genuinely representing workers--the closed shop and the politicking with union dues have turned unions into leeches on the workers rather than their spokesmen. Unions have become just another boss.

Virginia Postrel offers a hopeful vision of the future of organized labor here. Not as eloquent as Mother Jones, but more accurate and ultimately more helpful to workers.
THE DARKER SIDE OF THE BLACKLIST: This OpJo snapshot catches a crowd of tinseled anti-anti-Communists patting themselves on the back. This Reason article, on the other hand, details Communism's real Hollywood influence during the first half of this century--and asks why we've seen so few movies about the great, dramatic horrors of the Communist states. The Reason article is a terrific read in its own right--and could also help right-leaning college students come up with nifty ideas for movie nights. Or you could run a "Banned Movies" series, showing films that can't be seen in their countries of origin--like China's "The Blue Kite" and Cuba's "Strawberry and Chocolate."
"Darlene, what do you do?"
"Oh, I'm sort of a part-time model."

--Dick Powell and Jean Porter, "Cry Danger"

Thursday, February 07, 2002

S-CHIP IS STILL NOT PRO-LIFE: Yeah, OK, so the Bush administration got slammed for expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Programs to cover "unborn children." And the usual suspects yelled about how this is an assault on Roe v. Wade (yay!). But so far no one has pointed out that in most states, S-CHIP funds abortions. (The program varies by state, in ways too complex to deal with right now.) This seems like the more fundamental issue--even though I acknowledge the importance of rhetoric, language, and a focus on prenatal care.
ADBUSTERS!: Thanks to the Jenislawskis for buying off my banner ad!
SLAVERY AND THE LEFT: Jay Nordlinger appropriately rips into this Michael Ignatieff piece for stating that "a coalition of liberals and black churches" were the main forces behind the American movement "to end slavery [in Sudan] and stop Khartoum's war against the south." As Nordlinger points out, "For years, conservatives had been trying to draw attention to Sudan and its slavery, and no one cared." Mainstream human rights groups certainly noticed the atrocities, and did some good reporting on them, but in no way led a public outcry on the subject. But Nordlinger wrongly suggests that "liberals" turned a blind eye to the horror in Sudan (and Mauritania). A.M. Rosenthal and Nat Hentoff, not exactly men of the Right, have been tireless on this matter. Black fraternities and sororities--not organizations whose booths you'd expect to find at CPAC--have also done great work here. The main dividing line seems to be those Christians and non-Christians who welcome the growing Christian human rights movement, and those Christians and non-Christians who fear it as yet another example of repressive white Western phallogocentrism. Anyway, if you want updates on this crucial work, sign up for an e-newsletter here. (I'm not going to get into the "slave redemption" controversy--that's for another post, when I have more time--but you can sign up without endorsing every tactic of every anti-slavery group.) More great human rights links are here, here, here, and here. (That last also offers a free e-newsletter, including thoughtful "letters from the director"--the gallant Lawrence Uzzell--on all kinds of aspects of religious freedom.)

If Ignatieff is right that "mainstream" human rights groups like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (he doesn't name the latter two, but I can't think who else he might mean) are losing their relevance in a post-9/11 world, it isn't because Americans no longer care about human rights. It's because those organizations have discredited themselves by consistently siding against America and wigging out about fashionable lefty causes. (When I was at Yale, HRW actually took a stand in favor of the unrecognized graduate student union and against the university. What this has to do with the child soldiers of Sierra Leone is anybody's guess.) HRW and the rest have also been noticeably quiet on population-control abuses, like those described in this article on a leaked U.N. report. Their reputation is collapsing, at least temporarily. I predict that Freedom House, Keston, and the other smaller, more responsible groups, which dole out praise and blame on a genuinely nonpartisan basis, will not suffer any loss of relevance. They're more relevant than ever. It would be great if Ignatieff checked them out. You'll have to do it for him.
AN EFFERVESCENT HOMAGE TO THE SUBJUNCTIVE TENSE: (OK, I am never using a hed like that again. Promise.) This is a great Bleat about Scott Fitzgerald and why his "glimmering ghosts" and champagne prose don't quite capture the '20s. Lileks suggests John O'Hara's Appointment at Samarra instead. I haven't read that, so I'll put in a word for the lurid, corroded allegory of Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts, one of the best American novels I've read.
"If I'd been a ranch, they would have named me the Bar Nothing."
--Rita Hayworth to Glenn Ford, "Gilda"

Wednesday, February 06, 2002

GET UNHAPPY!: Insightful, challenging article from the New York Times Magazine (which I found on Arts & Letters Daily) suggests that our problem is too much self-esteem, not too little. The author offers blend of psychoanalytic research, quick-and-dirty philosophy, and common sense. (Although she traces the history of the self-esteem movement to Ralph "Transparent Eyeball" Emerson, she doesn't mention the Ayn Rand--> Nathaniel Branden--> self-esteem movement daisy chain.) My elementary school ran a self-esteem program called "I am soMEbody!", promoted by Jesse Jackson himself, and I can tell you it did about as much for my self-esteem as a snorkel does for a Bedouin. If you want real insight into the "self," why Americans are obsessed with it, and whether it should esteem itself, you could try Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. Or you could just read St. Francis ("If God can work through me, he can work through anyone"; "Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self").
BEST LINE FROM THIS WEEK'S "SAVAGE LOVE": "[Ashton Kutcher] is frequently the subject of heavy-breathing stories in teenybopper magazines like Teen People and The New Republic."
LITTLE BOOKS THAT STARTED OUR BIG WARS: Scores of prominent folk name and briefly cite the books that changed their lives. Good stuff. I got this link from The Rallying Point.
"He's been fightin' something inside him, something decent trying to crawl out."
--Jean Peters, "Pickup on South Street"

Tuesday, February 05, 2002

AND SPEAKING OF SCALIA: I think he's off-base in his statement that Catholic judges who believe the death penalty is unjust should resign. There's a lot to say (scroll down on that link) about Catholic teaching on the death penalty. Fortunately for Scalia, it's a lot more complex than he seems to believe. But that's not what I want to talk about. I just want to know why he thinks judges who have substantial disagreements with some portion of the law should resign, rather than simply recusing themselves when the issue arises. Scalia's position would seem to keep virtually everyone who believes any portion of current law to be unjust off the bench--pro-lifers, pro-choicers, people who hate the drug laws, and so forth. There's a simpler solution; and one that doesn't keep faithful Catholics out of the judiciary.

Also, of course, Scalia might want to stop sounding like a cafeteria Catholic of the right. Especially since he can still disagree with the Pope without rejecting Church teaching.
MESSAGE TO JUDGES: STOP IN THE NAME OF THE LAW: This fine Iain Murray post discusses what England and America (and India) share in our understanding of laws, rights, and constitutional guarantees. The basic point is that culture, not contracts or constitutions, guarantees our rights. A country with a culture that respects the rights of citizens will preserve those rights even without a constitution; a country with a constitution can lose its respect for rights and reinterpret its constitution to override them. (Who could that be?)

Murray quotes Walter Williams on one of the major benefits of the rule of laws as vs. the rule of men: You know what the law is. You can tell what's legal from what's illegal, and that makes it possible for you to predict and plan. (Hayek hammers on this in The Road to Serfdom.) But we've lost a hefty chunk of this advantage of the rule of law. Williams cites the hulking tomes of regulations that no actual human has ever read; I'd also cite the power we've given judges to determine, case by case, what those regulations and laws really mean.

When I worked at the National Catholic Register (subscribe today!), I wrote a story on mandatory contraceptive coverage. The EEOC (pardon my French) handed down a decision stating that any business with more than 15 employees must cover prescription contraceptives for its employees in its health plan. If it didn't offer the coverage, it would be guilty of sex discrimination.

So I called around, trying to find out what this meant for Catholic organizations and Catholic business owners. I'm sorry, I was told by pretty much everybody, nobody knows. Nobody knows if Jane Catholic could get a religious exemption. Or Georgetown University. Or Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. The only way to find out what the law actually meant was for some unlucky Catholic to refuse coverage for her employees; get sued; let a lawyer snuff up her bank account; and watch as the courts decide either for or against her. Cute, no?

This is why Justice Scalia's two essays in A Matter of Interpretation are so refreshing. Alone of all the contributors to the book, he focuses on the citizen, the subject of the laws, the person who wants to avoid illegal action. By interpreting the laws in terms of their plain meaning (textualism), he hopes to make the laws intelligible and predictable to that average citizen. He's trying to (among other things) minimize ex post facto lawmaking.

There are drawbacks and fissures here, of course. At least one of the contributors (Laurence Tribe, I think) points out that it's hard to determine the "plain meaning" of the sweeping language of many Constitutional guarantees. The grand, general language of, for example, the First Amendment looks like a License to Philosophize for judges and legal writers. And if Scalia's interpretive philosophy were applied across the board (which he doesn't do, for a number of complex reasons), the First Amendment today would mean only what it would have meant to most late-18th-century citizens. (If that could even be determined.) There are good reasons to restrict the First Amendment that narrowly. If I vote for an amendment that says "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..." I don't want it to be interpreted, centuries later, as meaning, "The KKK must get federal money," or "Municipalities shall make no law abridging the freedom of nude dancing." Nonetheless, it's evident that plain-old-original-meaning interpretation, however admirably it handles most legal disputes, handles like a Mack truck on a NASCAR track when it comes to grand Bill of Rights-type guarantees. I'm not sure where Scalia ultimately comes down on this question.

My own stance, for what it's worth: Broadly-phrased guarantees offer more wiggle room than most laws. That means the courts should not overturn legislation that falls within the wiggle room. But the wiggle room is not infinite. What would someone trying to follow the law think the law meant? What would such a person have thought when the law was passed? When those two answers conflict, the latter should "trump," because a preference for "original meaning" (not original intent of the legislators) forces more stability and thus follow-ability onto the law. The ideal here is to make judging less fun and exciting; I am pro-boring judges. (In their decisions, anyway. Scalia has a swift, satirical, morally serious style that is a joy to read.) And to bring this vast post full circle, this kind of quiet, citizen-centered judicial philosophy can only be sustained by a culture on the bench, in the law schools, and in society at large. Words on paper won't do it, since we're talking about the people who interpret those words. Only ethos can sustain judicial ethics.

But this is a very lay laywoman's opinion. Corrections, clarifications, arguments, and stray thoughts are all welcomed at We Never Close.

Final question: Scalia lays out a number of guidelines for interpreting fuzzy statutes and precedents. But he fights very shy of using natural law as one of those guidelines. I can understand why--allowing judges to be philosophers is necessarily allowing them to be kings, inflicting their own particular judgments of natural law on all of us. But any legal philosophy requires underlying beliefs about truth, right conduct, and the purpose of the laws. Why should it forbid judges from using moral reasoning as well (when, and only when, the textual meaning is unclear)? Can judges be forbidden from doing that?
BUT FIRST... Lee Miller. She was a Surrealist photographer during World War II, and one of the first Americans to see the liberated death camps. Although this site doesn't include many of her best pictures (like the woman singing in the bombed-out opera house), it does give a flavor of her great artistic talent, moral acuity, and grim sense of humor.
DEEP THOUGHTS IN THE BLOGOSPHERE. Much goodness today. James Lileks has a thoughtful (if conclusion-free) ramble about regulation, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, and unions. (My only caveat is that he doesn't note that unions exploited the actual awfulness of working conditions in order to push their own variations on Communism--exploiting exploitation, I suppose.) Then you get Unqualified Offerings' praise of Paul Prudhomme, plus an often-overlooked point about capitalism and luxury goods. And finally you get The Edge of England's Sword, which is so spiffy today that it'll get its own post. Hang on.
"Do you know what Communism is?"
"Who cares?"

--Federal agent and Richard Widmark, "Pickup on South Street"

Monday, February 04, 2002

DISTURBING SEARCH REQUESTS. Don't read this where your boss can see.
FINAL WEF NOTE: You've probably seen this already, but Matt Welch has a nifty round-up of what the puppetistas get right. I tried to link to an article presenting the basic libertarian case against globalization-as-corporate-control (vs. globalization-as-free-trade), but it's not online yet, because Yale's Finest Publication is shanking. (Are you reading this, De Feo?) Of course, when I was editor-in-chief, we didn't even have a web page. (Or a staff.)
SHE'S SUCH A LITTLE TEASE: Shamed sent me this headline from US News' "Washington Whispers" column: "Scalia: Have shotgun, will travel."

With a setup like that, it comes as a real blow to learn that the story is about... duck hunting.
GLOBOFLUFF: What the WEFers are doing with their evenings, from that same old Post article (note that this is what the WEF participants are up to, not the protesters--I think my original e-mail to Glenn Reynolds was unclear): "Ravi Shankar discusses 'What is Sacred in Today's World.' Yusuf Islam (aka 1960s folk singer Cat Stevens) discusses education with Sidney Poitier and Quincy Jones. And the really big thinkers ponder 'Me and Everybody Else: Identity in a Globalized World' over some fine vintage Bordeaux at Le Bernardin on West 51st Street.

"For those who are Sybill-inclined, there is a chance to nestle into a confab with Hollywood activist types Warren Beatty and Michael Mann. Their identity-twisting topic seems perfect for a world turned upside down.

"The title of their seminar: 'Friction with Fiction: How Do I Become Someone Else?'"
KINDER GENTLER WEF: Some interesting quotes (but what do they mean?), from Sunday's Post: "The remaining politicians, and more than a few millionaire multinationalists, spent the day emoting and sounding a lot like their anti-globalization critics. Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo spoke of how her nation's resources are 'geared to the fight against poverty,' which she described as the 'handmaiden of terrorism.'

"U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell delivered a compassionate message with none of the 'evildoers' rhetoric that has marked recent Oval Office discourse. [But there's no liberal media bias.--ed.] 'We have to put hope back in the hearts of people,' Powell told a warmly receptive audience. 'We have to show people who might move in the direction of terrorism that there is a better way.'

"Even Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, who cultivates an image as the cranky uncle of world capitalism, told the audience that rich nations should help poor ones borrow money in the least painful fashion possible."

That sounds well enough, but again, making it easier for dictators to get loans removes any incentive for change. Far better are plans that focus on liberal reforms, and reward nations that undertake them (with relief of debts racked up by previous dictators, or with easier loan privileges).
BEST QUOTES FROM THE WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM: Washington Post Style Section, 2/3: "After chatting with [a protester] a while, this reporter offered her business card. Ward refused it. 'It's paper,' he said. 'I'm against paper.'" (I note that he had no problem making a big styrofoam globe.)

Best quote, Self-Aware column: Washington Post, 2/3: "U2's Bono kept a low profile today after on Thursday proclaiming himself a 'spoiled-rotten rock star' who loves cake, champagne and the world's poor." (If it ever becomes relevant again, I'll probably post something on the problems with Bono's--and John Paul II's--push for debt relief that doesn't discriminate against dictatorships.)
WHEN SENSITIVITIES COLLIDE: This movie very carefully avoided portraying Arabs as the baddies. Instead, it features Colombians. Predictably, Colombians got furious. Maybe we should just go back to Russkie villains.
"I used to live in a sewer. Now I live in a swamp. I've come up in the world."
--Linda Darnell, "No Way Out"

Sunday, February 03, 2002

"I GUESS WE GET MARRIED NOW..."*: Someday when you have a huge supply of liquor and a strong desire to understand the USA, try watching, in order, "Heathers," "The Ice Storm," and "Grosse Pointe Blank." As I understand it, the first movie is simply bubblegum Gnostic ("Life sucks! Let's blow up the school!" Oh for crying out loud, who cares? We all thought high school would kill us... if we didn't kill it first. My favorite line from HS: "Homophobia is so gay!"). "The Ice Storm" is a negative movie (like Nirvana's "Nevermind"), in which all the characters realize that the world they're trapped in is wrong, but they have no alternative. In "Grosse Pointe Blank," the characters do actually identify a positive alternative--hello, having babies and not killing anybody. Tough talk for post-Roe America. The point here is that... [liquorous rant about abortion and the meaning of life removed for your convenience].
*This line is actually from "River's Edge," which was mentioned in this post but got axed. Oh well. A confusing side note for a confused post... Still, "The Ice Storm" is a great movie--City Paper's capsule review slammed it for being "reactionary," which of course it is. When you recognize that your society is slurring into nihilism, yet you don't believe in any alternative vision of the world, reactionary is all you can be.
'C'MON HEATHER, WHAT DID YOU HAVE FOR BREAKFAST, A BRAIN TUMOR?" : Yeah, I'm watching "Heathers" as we speak. Despite the hideous ending (apparently in the original ending J.D. actually blew up the school, but it was "too depressing"), the movie is hysterical. And it's startling how much it--like the excellent "Ice Storm"--just assumes that a disruption of the family is a disaster for teens. (J.D. and his father ironically switch roles; in Heather #2's big radio-show confessional, the last thing you hear her say is, "My parents are divorced..." etc.) But anyway, questions of human nature aside, it's a great flick, go see it. "Eskimo!"
TWO CONTESTS: First, posters for the protesters in NYC. For example: "SHOPLIFTERS OF THE WORLD UNITE." Or... VISUALIZE BETTER PUPPETS." Or "KEEP INDUSTRY OUT OF INDIA." Whatever. Second, rejected campaign theme songs. You know how every candidate has a snazzy theme song, like "Don't Stop Thinkin' About Tomorrow." ('Cause there's nothing that says "slinkster cool" quite like an aging Southern politico.) Well, I want your suggestions for the presidential and congressional races of 2002. Some examples are in order. Al Gore: David Bowie, "China Girl." Ralph Nader: Beck, "Loser." John Edwards: Men at Work, "Who Can It Be Now?" Alan Keyes: Billy Joel, "You May Be Right (I May Be Crazy)." Ted Kennedy (oh, this is too easy): Elton John, "Bridge Over Troubled Water." They Might Be Giants, "Lie Still Little Bottle." Hillary Clinton: Tammy Wynette, "Stand By Your Man." Psychedelic Furs, "Pretty in Pink."

And so much more. Please send suggestions to

Saturday, February 02, 2002

NEW JERSEY STATE OF MIND: My father's home state has produced two of the most interesting and articulate voices of the pro-life movement--Bret Schundler and Lauryn Hill. Just a random observation.

Friday, February 01, 2002

WE CAN BLOG IF WE WANT TO, we can leave GeoCities behind. Because GeoCities is muy lame. So here's the deal: You can view my old page (if for some reason you want to) here. The Farm Dole, where I rake muck from the federal trough and call for farm welfare reform, is here. The Booklog (stuff I've said about stuff I've read) is here. Right now it has comments on Andre Gide's Corydon, Pat Cadigan's Mindplayers, Rebecca Brown's The Terrible Girls, William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, and Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. If you're looking for War Drink recipes (and if you're not, what's your problem?), tips for a crisis pregnancy center, or my pieces on therapeutic and reproductive cloning, they're still on Geocities. The contests are coming soon. Like tomorrow.

Oh, and if you're looking for a great critique of Bush's "USA Freedom Corps," click here. If you just want to read an amazing review of Alberto Giacometti, click here instead. I used to hate the "weird drippy people," but now I'm in awe.
AN EVIL PETTING ZOO!: "Angered by snubbing, Libya, China, Syria form Axis of Just As Evil." Enjoy; the article is funny all the way down.