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"Indeed, the rage of theorists to make constitutions a vehicle for the conveyance of their own crude, and visionary aphorisms of government, requires to be guarded against with the most unceasing vigilance."
     -- Joseph Story
     Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States
     Book III, § 1857.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

This is just a keep-alive post; I don't want Blogger to scratch this blog before I figure out how I'm going to preserve it.

-- posted by Clayton 1/07/2006 03:00:00 AM | comments (1)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Just in case I had any readers left -- which, of course, presupposes I ever had readers in the first place -- to wonder why more than four months had gone by without a post, well, Bill Quick invited me to be a contributor to Daily Pundit, and I've been over there ever since. I've been enjoying the hell out of it, too, wading into debate with some very sharp persons who care just as much as I do about the law and what happens to it.

A note to the Cyber Nomads, Seattle Apathons, and other MSNBC refugees: You're very welcome over there, but be careful. Check the place out for a while; get the tone of it before you start posting comments. To judge by his online persona, at least, Bill is the kind of person from whom sphygmomanometers run screaming, and he has no mercy for those whose only interest is flame warring.

-- posted by Clayton 10/13/2005 01:14:00 AM

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Some California legislative idiocy, by way of Joanne Jacobs, and I'm late to the party.

One of the commenters raises the question, why would Goldberg be doing this? Call me cynical, but my guess is, Goldberg wants all those kids spending a lot of time surfing the net, and banking on their parents not having the time to supervise them when they do; her nebulous hope is that wallowing in swill will later incline those children toward the Democratic Party.

My wife and I have been talking every once in a while for the past year or so about whether we ought to give up on this hellhole of a state and shake its dust off our shoes. This might just do it.

-- posted by Clayton 6/01/2005 08:27:00 PM | comments (3)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Here's something really dumb, even on its own terms, courtesy of Instapundit.

Uhhh, guys, the goal is "submission to the will of God," not "compliance with His edicts." If you require the threat of deadly diseases to get them to obey, you've already failed.

-- posted by Clayton 5/04/2005 03:43:00 PM | comments (0)

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Here's how thoroughly out of it I am right now: Bill Quick has linked the post below, and it didn't even occur to me until now that I ought to acknowledge it here. Bill, please accept my thanks.

-- posted by Clayton 5/03/2005 06:58:00 PM | comments (0)

There is no worse hell than outliving your children.

I just got back from a funeral for one of the kids in the neighborhood. Jared used to be one of my informal piano students; he'd drop by every once in a while over the years to show off what he was working on, and I'd give him pointers on performance. To judge by appearances, he was just an ordinary teenager, just noodling around, without much in the way of direction in his life, but he must have been working really hard on the piano, because every time he showed up he'd be a lot farther along than I was expecting. Several persons at his service commented on how well he played; that and his fluency in Spanish appear to have covered all the accomplishments anyone could remember, all that he had to carry him through life. It cannot have been easy for him when his father announced to his stepmother a little more than a year ago, I want a divorce, and you're moving out, because, well, this is my partner, and he's moving in; it cannot have helped things that the piano went out the door with his stepmother. I last saw Jared when I took the family out for dinner at Chili's a while back; he was waiting tables. He told us he wasn't playing piano any more, but he seemed cheerful enough. Anyway, he overdosed on methadone sometime Friday night; he was twenty-three.

-- posted by Clayton 5/03/2005 05:09:00 PM | comments (0)

Friday, March 25, 2005

My browsing took me to yet another site (deliberately unlinked) complaining about Congress's intervening in the Schiavo matter "for political gain." No sale: If it's the right thing to do, the members are entitled to that "political gain" from doing it; if not, it's not the "political gain" that impeaches it.

-- posted by Clayton 3/25/2005 01:18:00 AM | comments (0)

The Corner notes Ralph Nader's entry into the Schiavo mess.

It can't be comfortable for them. The knowledge that Nader agreed with me upon any point would be sufficient cause for me to re-examine the whole schmear from the ground up, looking for any errors I might have committed.

-- posted by Clayton 3/25/2005 12:38:00 AM | comments (0)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

This, by way of the Corner, where the slugfest continues:

There is a genuine dispute as to what Ms. Schiavo believed and expressed about life with severe disability before she herself became incapacitated; certainly, she never stated her preferences in an advance directive like a living will.
And any question upon that point, according to Florida law, is for the courts to determine, and they have done so.
If we assume that Ms. Schiavo is aware and conscious, it is possible that, like most people who live with severe disability for as long as she has, she has abandoned her preconceived fears of the life she is now living.
It's also possible that she has been screaming inside for going on two decades, now. What's your point?
We have no idea whether she wishes to be bound by things she might have said when she was living a very different life.
And also no reason to suppose she has changed her mind. She has no mind.
If we assume she is unaware and unconscious, we can't justify her death as her preference. She has no preference.
She is not confined to the present tense in this regard.

-- posted by Clayton 3/24/2005 08:29:00 PM | comments (0)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Since it's all anyone is talking about, here we go: Terri Schiavo. It's depressing, the number of ordinarily sensible persons who have turned into foot-stomping whiners over this one. See the Corner for a lot of them gathered in one place, just barely restraining themselves from calling each other's mammas names. Not, mind you, that there's anything special about the Corner in this regard: It's serial tantrums no matter where you look.

No matter how anyone chooses to act about it, and no matter how much pouting he threatens to do otherwise, there is no single controlling legal or philosophical authority to decide this matter. There are enough mutually contradictory premises floating around among all the debating parties -- not to mention in each and every one of them -- that about the only outcome that would not find some widely accepted supporting authority would be feeding her into a plastic shredder. Ya wanna bitch about Congress enacting a special bill? about Congress intruding upon the functions of state law and state courts? Every part of the authority Congress would need for such a thing is already conceded in the passage and upholding of measures restraining protesting in the vicinity of abortion clinics. Ya wanna bitch about Congress intruding directly in the care and feeding of Terri Schiavo? interfering in the practice of medicine? Every part of the authority Congress would need for such a thing is already conceded in the establishment and continuation of the FDA. Ya wanna bitch about Congress and the Federal courts looking into the personhood of Terri Schiavo? Every part of the authority they would need for such a thing was handed down from the Mount in Roe v. Wade. Ya wanna bitch about the courts at all levels flagrantly defying the law and the coordinate branches of government in favor of trendy outcomes? Every part of the authority they would need for such a thing is already conceded in (insert decision here). Ya wanna bitch about Congress issuing a grotesque and pointless subpoena just for the pleasure of grandstanding at a freak show, not caring who else they screw over in the meantime? Every part of the authority they would need for such a thing is already conceded in (insert congressional inquiry here).

On the other side: Sometimes, ya know, it just happens, those who are discovered to have the authority to make decisions the calamitous effects of which fall upon others, turn out to be really shitty persons. It is not a requirement, for the exercise of their undoubted authority, that everyone else weigh and approve the purity of their motives; all the overblown vituperation heaped upon Michael Schiavo is beside the point. Whatever else may be said of Terri Schiavo's viewpoint now or in the past, she obviously, at one point or another, approved enough of her husband's judgment that she married him, thus handing him this authority he now seeks to exercise, under the supervision of Florida's courts, as set down in Florida law. Ya think Michael Schiavo is lying? that his serving up personalized hearsay years after the supposed fact is just a tad too facile and convenient? The authority to weigh and decide upon those points belongs to those courts, whether the bench be filled with shitty persons or not. Ya think the law is wrong, and ought to be changed? The authority to weigh and decide upon those points belongs to the legislatures, no matter how bad the reek from collecting so much shit in one place. Pay attention: There is no such thing, and can never be such a thing, as self-operating law; the good character of those having power under the law will always be important. If ya fill yer families, and yer communities, and yer legislatures, and yer agencies, and yer courts, with shitty persons, the law -- constitutional, statutory, customary, whatever -- is not going to sanitize the result for ya.

Myself, I think the "dump Terri" crowd is just a bit too energetic right now, rushing things as fast as possible with the idea, if the bitch would just die, no one will ever be able to prove their judgment defective after the fact, so it's best to shove her out the door before someone changes his mind. On the other hand, the frenzied efforts of the "keep Terri" crowd have all the stigmata of the straw-grasping appeals customary in the courts long after the actual propriety of a prospective death has been well established.

-- posted by Clayton 3/23/2005 10:27:00 PM | comments (0)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Sorry about the dry spell. I've been so furious with the Supreme Court, and especially with that idiot, Justice Kennedy, that I've not had the energy to think about much else, much less write about it, and my fury would not lend the subject the attention it needed.

So, anyway, off to other topics, finally. Bill Quick provides this, taking a swing at, what has gone wrong? Here's his take:

Because the loners, losers, and outcasts in our nation's schools have learned the hard way that "fists and the occasional knife fight," not to mention appeals to parents, other adults, teachers, and school administrators, do nothing to mitigate the rule of vicious bullies in our schools. If you are unlucky enough to become the designated victim of such bullies, you have nothing to look forward to until graduation but torture, humiliation, violence, and fear.

This describes the symptom, not the problem. Here is the problem:

  • It is far more true of children's disputes than of adults', that justice ought to be swift and certain. Childish misbehavior is most properly and sensibly handled in a summary fashion.
  • Those who have the running of schools these days are, by and large, not the kind that ought to be trusted with powers of summary justice; in fact, many of them are unfit to have any supervision -- much less education -- of children whatsoever.
  • The idiotic procedural "safeguards" in which all school discipline is now wrapped make the proper handling of any problem, even with all the good will in the world, so much more costly, in time and effort, than the problem is worth, that the temptation simply to ignore the problem is almost irresistible.
  • The various legislatures have almost completely stripped the schools of any power to deal with children in a sensible manner. The schools are far from being victims in this regard; they actively lobbied those same legislatures to have those powers stripped away.
  • The schools are therefore powerless in the face of misbehavior.
  • And the children know it.

This is merely one manifestation of a much larger problem, which is, the concerted effort by the legal profession, over the last four decades, to eliminate every last trace of official discretion. It is, after all, a very simple argument: If we allow discretion, then it might be used in a discriminatory manner, and we can't have that, can we? So there is no longer any such thing, in this country, as an office of trust; there are only ministers, marching to the courts' dreary procedural tune. As applied to the schools, those procedural "safeguards" are -- literally -- deadly.

-- posted by Clayton 3/22/2005 11:22:00 PM | comments (0)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Posted, just now, to a WikiPedia discussion page:

Please note, the Blogosphere is beginning to take up discussion of an apparent WikiPedia editorial POV in all matters savoring of politics; this discussion, and especially the tone of a lot of it, cannot possibly help matters. Keep in mind, It is no more possible for WikiPedia than for anyone else, to be "a little bit pregnant."
I'm preserving it here, because at least some among the WikiPedia editors are now apparently driving a definitely partisan POV in all matters political, so it may succumb to "editing."

I happen to like WikiPedia, and I'd hate to see it poisoned by the likes of RickK, but it looks more and more like that's what's going to happen.

-- posted by Clayton 2/20/2005 05:34:00 PM | comments (0)

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Compare Ward Churchill and Eason Jordan. The links are to Instapundit; from there you can chase them lots of different places. See, especially, Eugene Volokh on academic freedom.

Note the general agreement on how Eason Jordan, after what is, according to the current scandal, only probably a single slander (accounts differ), delivered to a wholly voluntary -- not to mention, for the most part, appreciative -- audience, ought to lose his job (no part of the salary of which comes from anyone who has no choice not to pay it), never mind that he is a direct beneficiary of the First Amendment: but Ward Churchill, having, according to that same current scandal, made a career out of nothing but lies, frauds, slanders, libels, romanticizing violent insurrection, and adhering to our enemies, giving them aid and comfort, all this heaped year-in and year-out upon captive audiences, nevertheless ought to keep his job, dinging unwilling taxpayers for more of the same, as the beneficiary of some nebulous "academic freedom" which, whatever its value may be, is not part of the supreme Law of the Land, and thus not binding upon anyone.

It is possible, of course, that there is something truly transcendent about "academic freedom" that makes it even more important and absolute than the First Amendment. Of course it is also possible that Glenn Reynolds and Eugene Volokh know where their bread is buttered.

Since Volokh is proposing compromises, I'd like to propose one myself: Jordan and Churchill should both be fired.

(I note for the record, I'm unable to see most of what Volokh has written on this matter, and thus must rely upon second-hand reports, which may not be doing him justice. For some reason, the links at The Volokh Conspiracy, whether for current posts or archives, are only bringing back a small part of what should actually appear.)

-- posted by Clayton 2/08/2005 09:09:00 PM | comments (2)

Sunday, January 23, 2005

By way of Hugh Hewitt, I came across this post on The Fourth Rail. An excerpt:

The media's motivations to provide negative press on the war in Iraq and the greater Global War on Terror may vary: some outlets have a political ax to grind with the Bush administration; some are reflexively anti American; some are anti war; some are pro-terrorist; and some are lazy and use canned news without considering the content or its impact.
This misses the MSM's biggest single motivation: that, by reflexively opposing government policy, they re-prove their independence to themselves. If you don't believe me, just look into the details of their responses, when anyone suggests to them the possibility that they might try supporting it.

-- posted by Clayton 1/23/2005 05:04:00 PM | comments (0)

Saturday, January 01, 2005

From the Los Angeles Times (by way of Drudge), nonsense on stilts. Here's an excerpt:

WASHINGTON — Ailing Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said today that judges must be protected from political threats, including from conservative Republicans who maintain that "judicial activists" should be impeached and removed from office.
"The Constitution protects judicial independence not to benefit judges, but to promote the rule of law: Judges are expected to administer the law fairly, without regard to public reaction," the chief justice, whose future on the court is subject to wide speculation, said in his traditional year-end report on the federal courts.
The public, the press and politicians are certainly free to criticize judges, Rehnquist said, but politicians cross the line when they try to punish or impeach judges for decisions they do not agree with.
His comments come as the new Congress faces what many predict will be a contentious battle over President Bush's nominees to the federal bench. And if Rehnquist's health forces him to announce his retirement, there would be more partisan wrangling over his successor.
A judge's judicial acts may not serve as a basis for impeachment. Any other rule would destroy judicial independence," Rehnquist said. "Instead of trying to apply the law fairly, regardless of public opinion, judges would be concerned about inflaming any group that might be able to muster the votes in Congress to impeach and convict them."

Rehnquist has forgotten that bit about "checks and balances." By the Framers' design, each of the branches of government have a check upon the others. The impeachment power is one of Congress' checks upon the Supreme Court, and Congress requires neither approval nor permission from either the Supreme Court or the President in order to exercise it, for any reason or no reason. If Congress elects to remove Rehnquist because they think those fatuous Gilbert-and-Sullivan chevrons detract from the dignity of the Judiciary, no other power under the Constitution can keep him on the Court.

It has been a long, long time since the Federal courts were concerned only with "apply[ing] the law fairly, regardless of public opinion." Since the courts are more and more intent upon playing a political role, they have no complaint -- at least, no honest complaint -- to make if the other branches start treating them as political players.

"A judge's judicial acts may not serve as a basis for impeachment." Nonsense. Of course they can. If, say, the Ninth Circuit took it into its collective head to set the Supreme Court at defiance, deciding matters according to its own predilections and ignoring contrary rulings from the Supreme Court, presumably Rehnquist would see nothing wrong with Congress stepping in to clean house in San Francisco; it would make no difference that it were only judicial acts that were complained of. Federal judges have been impeached and removed before now for bribery; presumably Rehnquist would not see them still warming the bench, merely because their judicial acts were inseparable parts of their offenses. And if a majority of the Justices, in a formal opinion, were to overturn the result in Hayburn's Case, ruling that Congress could sit as a formal Court of Errors over the Supreme Court itself, I think it's safe to assume that Rehnquist would welcome the impeachment and removal of said majority, judicial acts or no.

And there is a special measure of chutzpah in that "regardless of public opinion" bit. I've lost count of the number of outrageous Supreme Court opinions I've read, the "justification" for which was set out in terms of nothing more than public opinion. The Court has no principled complaint to make, now, if public opinion should run in directions it doesn't like.

There are at least six members of the current Court that ought to be impeached and removed for blatant judicial malfeasance. That this has not happened is due to Congress, which has, in this matter, more respect for the Constitutional Design than do the Justices.

-- posted by Clayton 1/01/2005 04:29:00 PM | comments (0)

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

By way of Instapundit, something to raise your blood pressure. Can you say "compounding a felony"? Well, it's legal now, joining barratry, champerty, maintenance, and more recently perjury and subornation. Embracery is still a work in progress; there are many years to go yet before that project pays off. No one has worked out, yet, how to get the courts' positive endorsement for bribery and extortion, but they are increasingly more honored in the breach.

One by one, though, they're all going away, all those ancient crimes that kept the legal system from degenerating into nothing more than a money tree for lawyers.

-- posted by Clayton 12/28/2004 04:18:00 PM | comments (2)

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Being a conservative in the traditional sense, and therefore disapproving of ex post facto ideology, I don't hold much with the Republican Party. Still, they wind up getting my vote far more often than not; it's very rare that I find myself voting for a Democrat. Not that Republicans aren't capable of idiocy, but that, for Democrats, idiocy is by and large an integral part of the platform, whereas for Republicans it's more of a hit-and-miss thing (I don't mean the kind of idiocy that's just dumb for its own sake; I mean that kind which, being enacted into law, screws up a lot of things very badly). But I have, in the past, voted for the occasional Democrat. As a general rule, Democratic candidates lose my vote without even trying; still, every once in a while, either they put forward an extraordinarily good candidate, or the Republicans screw up big time.

Now for the most part, Dianne Feinstein is possessed of much more ordinary common sense than most Democrats. If I faced a choice, for example, between her and our other Senator, the toxic Barbara Boxer, there is no question where my vote would go. Every once in a while, though, Feinstein dishes up some piece or other of mind-boggling stupidity.

One may find many excellent reasons for the Electoral College mentioned in the debates of the Convention of 1787, mostly having to do with the defects of all other modes that were proposed. And one of the aims of the Electoral College (that of preventing nationwide cabal, by having each state's Electors meet and vote in their respective state capitols upon the same day) has been obviated by modern communications. The best reason for keeping the College, though, is one the Framers never considered: that only rarely will there be any possible benefits of cheating that are not enormously outweighed by the risks.

Here's what it took to turn the 2000 Presidential election into a circus:

  1. The vote in the Electoral College had to be close enough that a different result in a single state could change the overall outcome. Compare, say, the 1984 blowout: No single state could have come anywhere close to changing who became President.
  2. The vote in that state had to be close enough to hold out hope of changing the result. Compare the 2004 election, where Ohio might have changed things, but wasn't close enough to make it feasible (though some bitter-enders were trying nevertheless).
  3. The losing candidate, and party, must have been willing to put the entire Country through the wringer, trying to change the result. Compare the 1960 election, which was colorably worth challenging, except that the loser (Nixon, no less) refused to do so.
Even when things go haywire, as they did in 2000, we still have the inestimable benefit, that the mess, no matter how ugly it gets, cannot spill out of the single state under challenge.

Now compare, say, the late Gubernatorial election in Washington, where the election runs upon such lines as Feinstein wishes upon the Country for the Presidency. Given the fact of a close election, every precinct, no matter how definite the local verdict, becomes embroiled in the overall challenge, and any cheating anywhere might swing the result. As it stands now, the election hinges upon ten votes found, lost, or changed anywhere in the State, and whichever way the thing settles, no one is going to trust it. This is what Feinstein would have for the entire Country, for a much more important office. We can count ourselves lucky, that her proposal will never go anywhere.

As I said, every once in a while she gives way to mind-boggling stupidity. Which is why, unless the Republicans really screw up, she will never have my vote.

-- posted by Clayton 12/23/2004 06:42:00 PM | comments (0)

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Instapundit points to an account of what brought on Steven Den Beste's retirement.

Let me add here, again, my own "Thank you!," for what it's worth, and my commiseration for the mysterious ailment.

-- posted by Clayton 12/21/2004 03:50:00 PM | comments (0)

Thursday, December 09, 2004

By way of Drudge, the latest teenage antics from

Might I say, this is a truly marvellous move: guaranteed to endear to all those bought-and-owned Democrats out there; guaranteed to clinch the loyalty of the bought-and-owned Democratic Party machine; guaranteed to get all those bought-and-owned new donors pounding on the door; guaranteed to flush out all those new bought-and-owned National-stature candidates; guaranteed to win future elections with all those bought-and-owned votes.

All those freshly raging hormones, a strange new tumescent feeling, and naturally the nearest available hole is going to get pounded at the first opportunity. Pity about it being Mom, but hey, it's a big tent.

-- posted by Clayton 12/09/2004 07:51:00 PM | comments (0)

Monday, December 06, 2004

By way of Instapundit: A new blog launches with a debate on pre-emptive war.

Here's the simple answer, guys, but you're not going to like it. The question of war, for whatever reason, is for Congress in its wisdom to consider, and its power in this regard is absolute and without control. The only second-guessing allowed on this matter is at the ballot box, wherein there is no special weight given whatever expertise anyone cares to claim.

-- posted by Clayton 12/06/2004 06:05:00 PM | comments (0)

Thursday, November 18, 2004

From all over the place, but I'll pick on Hugh Hewitt as representative, since he's got an informal symposium going on it. Target has decided to ban Salvation Army bell-ringers from its stores. The official excuse is, they're finding it increasingly difficult to make an exception, for the Salvation Army, to their policy that otherwise bans solicitors.

Here's some news for you, Target. I know it will be hard for you to believe. Are you ready for it? Here it is....

You're not a court of law.

Big shocker, right? Not at all fashionable these days, is it, for a corporation to think that way. I assure you, though, you're not. So there's no reason why you can't make whatever exceptions you wish to whatever policies it pleases you to have, for whatever reason seems good to you, or for no reason at all. And guess what? There's no appeal.

On the other hand, there are really good reasons not to irritate your customers. And -- just in case you haven't had enough surprises -- there's no appeal there, either.

-- posted by Clayton 11/18/2004 11:00:00 PM | comments (4)

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Via Instapundit, a discussion of voting vs. population density.

That population density predicts voting has been obvious for a long time; the question is, why? The proposals put forward by the author don't convince, so here's another. Consider the following:

  • The higher the population density, the safer it is for those in local government to ignore constituents' views.
  • The higher the population density, the longer it will have been the case, that it is safe for those in local government to ignore constituents' views.
  • The safer it is for those in local government to ignore constituents' views, the more likely it is, that local government will fill up with those pursuing their own ends.
  • The higher the population density, the fuller local government will be with those pursuing their own ends.
  • The higher the population density, the longer it will be, that those in local government have been pursuing their own ends.
  • Those who enter local government for the pursuit of their own ends, are far more likely to be attracted to, rather than wary of, the powers of government.
  • Those in local government are far more likely to fill the public payroll with persons who agree with them, than with persons who disagree.
  • The higher the population density, the fuller the public payroll will be with persons who are attracted to, rather than wary of, the powers of government.
  • The faculties of public schools are part of the public payroll.
  • The higher the population density, the fuller the public schools' faculties will be with persons who are attracted to, rather than wary of, the powers of government.
  • The closer the public schools approach to a monolithic orthodoxy, the more likely it will be that they train their students to that same orthodoxy.
  • The longer the public schools' faculties remain a monolithic orthodoxy, the less likely that said orthodoxy will face serious challenge.
  • The higher the population density, the more susceptible it is to the establishment of an unchallenged orthodoxy attracted to, rather than wary of, the powers of government.

This explains why high-population areas trend Democratic. As to low-population areas trending Republican, the explanation is even simpler:

  • The lower the population density, the more likely it is that a person will often find himself alone.
  • The more often a person finds himself alone, the higher the premium placed upon self-reliance.
  • The lower the population density, the higher the premium placed upon self-reliance.
  • The higher the premium placed upon self-reliance, the more likely it is that a person will be wary of, rather than attracted to, the powers of government.
  • The lower the population density, the more likely it is that a person will be wary of, rather than attracted to, the powers of government.
  • The lower the population density, the more perilous it is for those in local government to ignore consituents' views.
  • The lower the population density, the more likely it is that local policy will favor self-reliance.

Note that this is more fragile than the Democratic hold upon urban areas, because it is not assisted by a systemic self-perpetuating orthodoxy; indeed, orthodoxy and self-reliance are antithetical.

Finally, an observation on a difference in approach to disagreements with local policy, and its consequences. Persons who are self-reliant (and thus wary of the powers of government), when confronted with a disagreeable local policy, are far more likely to solve the problem by moving elsewhere; persons who are attracted to the powers of government (and thus less self-reliant) are far more likely to agitate for a solution based in local policy. Thus it happens, that Democrats become progressively more obnoxious, and Republicans then vote with their feet.

Which means, of course, that I don't expect the current rancor to abate any time soon.

-- posted by Clayton 11/17/2004 05:03:00 PM | comments (0)

Monday, November 15, 2004

James Lileks:

Yay Condi Rice. I want her to go to Saudi Arabia, and I want her first words upon getting off the plane to be “I’ll drive.”
Beautiful, just beautiful....

-- posted by Clayton 11/15/2004 10:57:00 PM | comments (0)

Can you say, "wasteful complexity"? From today's Corner:

Dave Hoppe recommends:
My proposal would be to change the Senate rules so that every nominee would be guaranteed a vote on the floor. The committees would retain an advisory role, but wouldn't be able to scuttle a nominee. After a nominee is submitted to the Senate and has handed in the paperwork, the committee would have 20 session days to hold a hearing. Then the committee would have another 20 session days to vote on the nominee. If after these days have elapsed, the committee has not voted on the nomination, the nominee would be discharged from the committee and placed on the executive calendar. Then the full Senate would have 20 session days to vote on the nominee on the floor. If it has not voted after these days have elapsed, any senator would be allowed to bring up the nomination for a four-hour debate and vote. No extended debate would be allowed on a floor vote on a nomination. Every nominee could get a vote in the Senate after his nomination has been in the Senate for 60 session days.

Hey, guys, you're making this way too complex. There's no need to nail down Senate procedure; all that need be provided is that, if the Senate fails to vote on a nominee within 60 days, that nominee is automatically confirmed.

-- posted by Clayton 11/15/2004 08:58:00 PM | comments (0)

Monday, October 25, 2004

Instapundit points to this story on problems in the History profession.

From what I've seen lately, the biggest problem with this profession is that it has wrapped itself up in a personalities cult. Historians want to pick out a single person and write about him as the prime mover of this, that, or the other great historical event or trend. The problem is, in this country, the primum mobile is the people itself, and only rarely will a great historical event or trend not bear too many fingerprints to catalogue.

Take, as an example, David McCullough's very successful biography of John Adams. McCullough's readers may be forgiven if they conclude, from his writing, that Adams singlehandedly touched off the American Revolution. Other authors as relentlessly tout their own favored candidates for that same honor. The trouble is, it belongs to none of them. The people itself was so thoroughly fed up with the Crown, that, when it came to revolution, only about a third of the populace cared to stand against it. The great men of the day, great as they were, were not an avant garde; more often than not, they lagged the trend in public opinion, and took up the Revolution only when it had become the only practical course remaining to them. It is well known, for example, that the members of the New York delegation to the convention in Philadelphia in 1776 had firm instructions from their Legislature, prohibiting them from agreeing to a course that would establish American independence. Why should this be, unless independence were already on everyone's mind? Our independence was the people's vision, not the Founding Fathers'; it is sufficient honor to them that they achieved it, without trying to scrape up every particle of its imagining and dump it upon the head of one man. But this is an inconvenient fact for a historian caught up in personality-worship.

It's not so much that they can't see the forest for the trees, as that the forest is already well mapped, and they want to draw something new. While there are many, many trees, though, that are well worth describing, none of them caused the forest.

-- posted by Clayton 10/25/2004 10:09:00 AM | comments (2)

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The funniest piece of viciousness I've come across so far this election cycle.

-- posted by Clayton 10/23/2004 01:09:00 AM | comments (0)

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Roger Simon on Andrew Sullivan (by way of Wretchard). I have the feeling he hasn't been watching Sullivan too closely, or he wouldn't have written this:

What's behind a lot of Andrew's assertions seems to be a belief that the occupation of Iraq was botched.

The fact of the matter is, Andrew Sullivan went off the deep end when the Massachusetts Supreme Court plumped for gay marriage, and he hasn't come up for air since. Everything Andrew does, now, is directed toward that one end. He was staunchly for the President, and the conduct of the war, right up until the FMA proposal made its appearance, and he's been throwing a snit ever since. All the facts on the ground -- especially the war in Iraq -- were instantly reappraised, all the inferences just as quickly reversed, a replacement sheaf of premises derived in haste from the all-important conclusion, for no better reason than, "I'll make you soooo sorry." It would be funny if it weren't so grotesque, especially given that, before the meltdown, he was eminently worth reading.

Don't take my word for it, though. Have a go through the archives over at Daily Dish, and pay attention to the timeline.

-- posted by Clayton 10/17/2004 01:49:00 AM | comments (0)

Friday, October 15, 2004

Hugh Hewitt on Kerry romping all over Mary Cheney. I read this differently. This wasn't aimed at costing Bush some of the Christian vote, or, if it was, that was only gravy.

There are, especially among, shall we say, the more vociferously liberal part of our society, an increasing number of persons who just like to cause unredressable anguish. They adopt positions, and make statements, and do things, not because some system of belief drives them in that direction, but because those positions, statements, and acts offer the best chance that someone, somewhere, will be hurt thereby and unable to do anything about it. Kerry is one of them.

UPDATE: I suppose, having said that, and having shamelessly sent a link to Hewitt for his symposium, I ought to take a stab at the question he asked. So:

This gaffe hasn't dug Kerry much of a hole, for the simple reason that he has already dug an enormous pit, which this latest shovelful doesn't enlarge much, and the only ones who don't know this already are those for whom everything between the coasts is "flyover country."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Having reviewed the symposium entries so far posted, now, I note that only one of them agrees even halfway with what I wrote. "One Destination" wrote that Kerry's remark (and Edwards') was the result of "pathological narcissis[m]": "He is completely unconscious of the pain he inflicts on other people." No, he's not. He knows exactly how much pain he inflicts, and cherishes each and every wince.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Hey, I made the symposium! So, welcome, Hewitt readers!

ENOUGH WITH THE UPDATES, ALREADY: Paging through the new additions, I came across "Caring for the USA." His position is, Kerry is a pathological liar, and the thrill for such persons lies in making people jump. One can say the same thing of sadists, as well, but it leaves something out.

The voting, though, is heavily in favor of the "driving a wedge between Bush/Cheney and the Christians" line of thought. To my mind, this confuses the reason why someone does something he knows he shouldn't, with the justification he concocts to push him over the hump.

-- posted by Clayton 10/15/2004 07:21:00 PM | comments (0)

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Here's a post that's been kicking around for a while, now, waiting to be written. Thanks to Wretchard for providing the context on which to hang it.

Here's the fundamental contradiction at the core of human nature:

  • Other persons can be dangerous.
  • The dangerousness of another person depends upon what he is thinking.
  • Therefore, it is crucial to know what other persons are thinking.
  • But it is impossible to know what other persons are thinking.
All the things that go to make what we call human nature are reducible, one way or another, to approximate solutions aimed at this insoluble problem.

Most persons take this a bit further:

  • It is important, not only to know what other persons are thinking, but to understand those thoughts.
  • The easiest thoughts to understand are one's own.
  • Therefore, the easiest way out of this whole mess is to require that everyone think the same things.
This is why, in all the societies of the world, the most dangerous thing anyone can do is to give his neighbors to understand, "I don't think the same way you do" on some touchous point or other. This is also why, in all those same societies, there are any number of tests for smoking out heresy, which challenges may be offered at any time, and the failure to provide immediate satisfaction is also extremely dangerous.

The first point I want to make is, all societies work this way, differing only in the specific points on which orthodoxy is required. Even those who fondly imagine themselves anarchists, supposing they could realize their dream, would still eject from their society one way or another, as unfit to live, anyone who voiced doubts about "live and let live."

These are the points on which I measure societies: Is orthodoxy required of all things? or only some? Is only one answer acceptable? or is it only that some answers are unacceptable? Are those points, on which orthodoxy is required, actually related to the problem of living together without bloodshed? or not? And do the required answers actually contribute to the solution of that problem? or not?

My second point is a response to Wretchard: This is not, like perception, something passive. And it is the result of learning, not evolution.

My last point: This gives an indication of what it is that those who style themselves professional dissidents are doing wrong. Every act they undertake is deliberately directed toward frustrating the basic requirements of the society in which they live. It is amusing, though, to note that, among themselves, they have erected a rival orthodoxy more stringent and obnoxious than anything their parent society has devised, and they enforce it upon each other with far more relish in their own vindictiveness than they would ever face from the society whose demands they flaunt.

(I have a number of these posts piled up, and some vague notion of building them together in a more-or-less orderly and coherent scheme, but I must work on them in the little time I can steal away from work and family, both of which are voracious. This is the post I had picked out for the starting point, though, so the thing is off to a decent start. Thanks, Wretchard!)

-- posted by Clayton 10/14/2004 07:25:00 PM | comments (0)

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Hugh Hewitt on why the CBS forgery controversy is hurting Kerry, even though there's no reason to suppose his campaign had anything to do with the forgeries. There's too much psychologizing in there for my taste.

Here's a much simpler explanation. John Kerry has always been a poor candidate; on an even playing field he wouldn't have a chance. This playing field, though, has been anything but even: The "unbiased" mainstream media have been doing everything possible to push Kerry into the White House, and even with all the stops pulled out the best Kerry could manage was to break even every now and again. Without this substantial tilt to the field, Kerry is doomed; he needs the artificial high ground the media have been providing him. The last thing he wanted, of course, was an enormous sinkhole suddenly collapsing underneath him; for that, he (and we) can thank Dan Rather.

-- posted by Clayton 9/19/2004 08:38:00 PM | comments (0)

Friday, September 17, 2004

This is something that has worried me for a very long time, now. This needs a much longer post, which I do not have the time to write just now, especially as I would need to be very careful about what I can and cannot say. For now, I will note, market pressures are producing new business practices that will increasingly sap the accuracy and reliability of the public records, and it will go on until enough buyers-in-good-faith get burned that they move the State legislatures to "do something about it." It's that last part that has me really worried: It's been a long time since legislatures were known for thinking out the consequences of the laws they passed.

About this specific fraud: Let's say you're a lender, and you're looking to cut costs. Well, those drive-by appraisals cost something, don't they? After all, the person doing the driving wants to get paid for it, and he spends a lot more time unproductively driving between properties, than productively appraising the properties as he drives by them. So instead you derive a "probable value" from the transfer tax on the most recent deed, and you call it good. Well, here's some news for you: County recorders are happy to accept more transfer tax than is actually owed. Here in California, each additional $1.10 of transfer tax stands for an additional $1000 of supposed property worth, so every extra dollar you "invest" in transfer tax can bring a return of over 90,800%; all it takes is a lazy lender, and as long as you're not too greedy, no one will ever notice. Then, of course, if your neighbors are doing it too, there are artificially-inflated comps all over the place, making the fraud even more undetectable.

-- posted by Clayton 9/17/2004 01:45:00 PM | comments (0)

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A couple of things.

First, re-reading that last post, something in the back of my mind said, "The model number on that Linotron was 202, not 200." Hey, this was twenty years ago; for all I know, it may be right. In any case, it's not important enough to go looking it up.

Second, I've decided to experiment with the comment facility here. I have decided its tenure, like that of Federal judges, shall be dum bene se gesserit, so behave. I do not hold with the promulgation of rules for such things, as there are too many persons nowadays for which a rules list means only, permission to push the boundaries to the limit. I will, however, delete anything I choose, without warning and without appeal. Comments are currently open to everyone, since I find registration just as annoying and intrusive as the next guy. If I see spam, though, or anonymous abuse, I will start locking things down.

-- posted by Clayton 9/15/2004 10:51:00 PM | comments (4)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

My input, for what it's worth, on the Dan Rather forgery flap.

In the early and mid-Eighties, I worked Summers and Christmases as a computer programmer in the ADP department at Sigonella, Sicily. For those that don't know, Sigonella is a Naval Air Station. The office considered itself more or less high-tech, but, being a military base overseas, this must be taken with a grain of salt. Fully ten years after the supposed date of composition of Rather's forged memos, what did the military have available to it in its data processing center? Our office had two IBM DisplayWriters, sharing a single daisy-wheel printer. The DisplayWriter, and the printer, were barely capable of primitive proportional-font printing; the wheel for this stayed locked up in the department secretary's desk drawer, partly because it was more expensive, but mostly because it was so much trouble to use that no one (including the secretary) wanted to haul it out. The problem had nothing to do with printing; instead, it was, that the monospaced DisplayWriter screen made it more difficult to judge the result one would get once it were sent to the printer. The proportional wheel, after the secretary's few experiments in trying it out, wound up not getting used at all: It just wasn't worth the bother. And the quality of print, using that proportional wheel, wasn't anything wonderful; any laser printer these days can produce much better output.

Keep in mind, this is what was available to the Navy. The National Guard would not have been as well equipped. I find the idea that a National Guard unit, ten years earlier, would have had even better equipment, very difficult to believe.

In the same time period, I was also production editor for a college newspaper, which meant, I created the layout, and then typeset all the stories to fit the layout. So I'm also familiar with what it took, ten years after the supposed time of composition, to produce output such as we see in these "memos." In our case, it took a Linotron 200 H&J typesetter sitting in the basement of the university Admin building, which produced its copy by rolling photosensitive paper past a high-quality cathode-ray tube, which paper must then be run through developing fluid, allowed to dry, then cut, waxed, and pasted onto the flats for the day's paper.

Since I could make that Linotron sing for its supper, I also wound up typesetting resumés for graduating Journalism majors. Here's what it involved: I would typeset the text; the production department would then run it through the Linotron, develop the paper, and dry it; the result would be cut, waxed, and pasted on an ordinary 8½-by-11 sheet of paper, and the whole finally Xeroxed onto good stock. This is what it took to get high-quality print in the mid-Eighties. Even assuming such things were possible in the early Seventies (and that a National Guard installation would have all the necessary equipment), the idea that anyone would go to such bother for a simple file memorandum is ludicrous. Also, I can assert with full confidence: Any military personnel that did go to all that bother (and expense!) for a simple memorandum would be risking court-martial for fraud, waste, and abuse.

It is obvious that these documents are forgeries. It is also obvious, the forger is either young enough, or self-centered enough, that the idea that the cheap-and-easy desktop publishing capabilities we have today are of recent vintage didn't even register. It is impossible to defend these documents from a position of knowledge; they can only be defended by the deliberate cultivation of a studied ignorance.

-- posted by Clayton 9/14/2004 02:01:00 AM | comments (0)

Friday, July 23, 2004

Here's a rarity: A post that's not a response to anything, except perhaps a deadline, which in this case is the opening of the DNC next week.

The sense I've had for a long while now of the tenor of public debate is, the lunatic fringe on the left has deliberately and thoroughly talked itself out of what last few remaining scruples it had. So here's my -- well, "prediction" is the wrong word -- for what it's worth. It's not that I expect there to be violence at the Conventions, nor that I will be surprised if there isn't; it's just, there's no way in hell I'd bet against it happening.

I don't have any specific convincing evidence I can point at for this -- well, "conclusion" is the wrong word, too. All I have to go on is a general distillation from my browsing around the Internet, observing the news, and the reaction to the news, and the discussion of the news, and the reaction to the discussion, and so on. And what I see is a lynch mob straight out of The Mysterious Stranger, its members cheering each other over the brink; each vying with all the others in the measure of his exertion, though it carry him to his destruction; each person on guard against all the others, poised to trample anyone who shows the slightest sign of changing course; each hoping against all knowledge that the cliff they're rapidly approaching isn't really all that high.

-- posted by Clayton 7/23/2004 08:45:00 PM

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Steven Den Beste critiques Andrew Sullivan and Rich Lowry on the gay marriage flap.

The Fourteenth Amendment does not go as far as Den Beste thinks; it does not, as he says, forbid the result in Plessy v. Ferguson ("separate but equal"). What produced the result in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas -- if we ignore the Court's psychologizing, which is constitutionally irrelevant -- was more prudential than constitutional, along the lines of: "In all the litigation over this issue, we have never seen a 'separation' statute the point of which was anything other than inequality, so the States have confronted us with a clear choice between upholding Plessy v. Ferguson and upholding the Fourteenth Amendment itself, and we choose the Fourteenth Amendment." The Constitution does not require this result, but it does permit it. Fine so far, but the Court then proceeded to twist the Fourteenth Amendment into something those who enacted it would not have recognized, broadening this bit out of all proportion, ignoring that bit outright, and transforming the other bit over there into, as Monty Python would say, something completely different.

As to "broadened out of all proportion": The Fourteenth Amendment speaks of "privileges and immunities," of "due process," and of "equal protection of the law." It does not speak in terms of "no discrimination whatsoever." The line of thought that says it does is a comparatively recent creation of the various law reviews, as part of a "rewriting" binge launched by Brown, which rewrite has been partially, but not completely, endorsed by the Supreme Court. That the Fourteenth Amendment does not actually mean that, is easily demonstrated: If it did, then the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, and Twenty-Sixth Amendments were a waste of time, and the failed Equal Rights Amendment was already a done deal a century before it was proposed. And, as to the specific area of "gay rights," we also have it that the proponents of the Equal Rights Amendment (who, let us remember, thought they were proposing something new, and necessary) emphatically denied, in the face of their opponents' contrary claims, that it would produce any such result (in passing, it is amusing to note, the recent modification to the Massachusetts Constitution, as a result of which its Supreme Court foisted gay marriage upon us, is, in its terms, almost exactly the same as the failed ERA, which, we were assured ad nauseum, had no such consequence). The Fourteenth Amendment does not say what specific classifications it prohibits, though the Fifteenth at least gives us a clue ("race, color, or previous condition of servitude"); it is absurd, though, to claim that it prohibits all such classification.

As to "ignored completely": No matter how broadly we read the Fourteenth Amendment on the subject of discrimination, it acts only upon the States ("No State shall..."); it imposes no limitation whatsoever upon the Federal government. Yet the Supreme Court decided Bolling v. Sharpe (challenging "separate but equal" schools in the District of Columbia, a matter of Federal, not State, law) with nothing more than a wave of the hand in the general direction of Brown v. Board of Education, and not a word about how they accomplished that trick.

As to "something completely different": Again, no matter how broadly we read the prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment, it requires only that, whatever burdens or privileges the law provides, it must spread them equally. It does not specify what those burdens or privileges must be. But the Supreme Court has transformed "due process" (and, later, "equal protection") into specific guarantees of what both the State and Federal governments must do, and what they cannot do, whether the laws in question apply equally or not.

The controversy between "the letter of the law" and "the spirit of the law" is well known. What is not well known is, these two do not cover all the parts of the controversy any more. Now we have:

  • The letter of the law: The law reaches only what it proclaims on its face. This is still the rule -- at least for the most part -- in the criminal law, and properly so: No prosecution can be brought, except upon the terms explicitly authorized by the legislature.
  • The spirit of the law: The law also reaches similar circumstances, even though by its terms they are excluded, so long it might fairly be said, if the legislature had been confronted with this variant, it would have included it also within the law's terms. An example of this is, the extension of the Fourth Amendment to government interception of electronic communications: It is absurd to imagine that the Framers should have foreseen the possibility of such things, but eminently reasonable to suppose, if they had, they would have included them.
  • The aspiration of the law: The law also reaches those circumstances the legislature ought to have included, even though by its terms they are excluded. An example of this is, the extension of the Sixth Amendment's right to employ counsel into a right to demand counsel regardless of ability to pay. By the bare terms of the text, there is little to distinguish, here, between the "spirit" and the "aspiration": the Sixth Amendment can be read either way. Unlike electronic communications, though, indigent defendants are not a modern phenomenon, and the uniform practice under the Sixth Amendment for the best part of two centuries bespeaks a right to employ counsel, not a right to demand, so Gideon v. Wainwright is an "aspiration," not a "spirit," decision. Another example is, the Supreme Court of Nevada using its own Constitution to strike down other provisions of that same Constitution, so as to redesign the funding of education according to its own preferences.
  • The underlying principle of the law: The law also reaches all circumstances whatsoever which are contained within the underlying principle that justifies the law, even though by its terms they are excluded. An example of this is, the combination of speech, press, and religion under the First Amendment into a general underlying "freedom of expression," which then decides such matters as burning the flag.
  • The justice of the law: The law reaches just results, whatever they are, without regard to its terms, whatever they are. There are very few clear examples of this, because the Supreme Court prefers to dress up its decisions, wherever possible, in some sort of justification under the Constitution or laws, rather than baldly proclaim, we decide this upon whatever grounds seem good to us, without regard to any provision of law (the law reviews, though, have no such compunction). There are overtones of this in Lawrence v. Texas, to the extent that the Supreme Court's wholly illegitimate invocation of foreign law contributed to the result. The distinction between this and the previous category is, here, neither the Constitution nor its Framing is a starting point; to the extent they make an appearance at all, they are a mere fig leaf for some wholly external ideology.

As one progresses down this list, one is further and further removed from legitimacy. Between "letter" and "spirit," there is still due deference to the power of the legislature to make what laws it pleases, upon such reasons as seem good to it, and that a court's refusal to comply must itself be founded upon the law; we have also, that whatever errors the courts make can be corrected by the legislature clarifying its meaning. Once we get to "aspiration," though, the legislature is no longer a power in its own right; no matter how clearly it drafts its laws, they are subject to equitable revision by the courts. Proceeding to "underlying principle," this illegitimate revisionary power is no longer confined only to the subjects of the laws actually passed: The dots can be connected to form whatever grand picture the courts wish to draw. When we arrive at "justice," the dots themselves are no longer a concern, and representative self-government is obliterated.

Andrew Sullivan's position, if truth were told, is founded upon "the justice of the law": He knows what he wants, and he doesn't care how he gets it. His dressing the matter up in general "anti-discrimination" terms (an "underlying principle" approach to the Fourteenth Amendment) is only a subterfuge, and a recent one at that: Right up until just before Lawrence v. Texas was handed down, he would regularly disclaim that same argument. His position at the time, many times stated, was, "Give us the right to sodomy, and we'll be satisfied; we promise that we won't immediately launch a new effort over gay marriage, which we couldn't justify under the law in any case." So far from being merely misguided upon this point, he is explicitly dishonest about it, and any argument with him about it is thus a waste of time.

UPDATE: Reading this through again later in the evening, I was reminded of one of the points I originally had in mind before I started writing it. In mitigation, let me say, this post was not composed with full attention over the course of a serenely peaceful afternoon; it was composed in whatever little bits and pieces of time I could snag whilst on continuous duty to break up all the fights between my three children in the pool. They're asleep, now, finally, so...

As I alluded above, discrimination on the basis of sex is controlled by the Nineteenth Amendment, not the Fourteenth. All that the Nineteenth Amendment says is, the suffrage cannot be conditioned upon sex. Voting aside, the legislatures are free to make distinction between the sexes for whatever purpose they wish; those who deplore this state of affairs took their best shot with the ERA, and failed. So even if we gather "discrimination against homosexuals" within "discrimination on the basis of sex," the only consequence is, the right to vote cannot be conditioned upon homosexuality.

-- posted by Clayton 7/18/2004 07:45:00 PM | comments (0)

Sunday, June 27, 2004

From Andrew Sullivan, upon whom the irony is lost:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "But there is an added technique for weakening a nation at its very roots ... The method is simple. It is first, a dissemination of discord. A group - not too large - a group that may be sectional or racial or political - is encouraged to exploit its prejudices through false slogans and emotional appeals. The aim of those who deliberately egg on these groups is to create confusion of counsel, public indecision, political paralysis and, eventually, a state of panic. Sound national policies come to be viewed with a new and unreasoning skepticism ... As a result of these techniques, armament programs may be dangerously delayed. Singleness of national purpose may be undermined. . . . The unity of the state can be so sapped that its strength is destroyed. All this is no idle dream. It has happened time after time, in nation after nation, during the last two years." - FDR, May 26, 1940. I wonder what Roosevelt would have made of Michael Moore, don't you?
Probably just what he'd make of Andrew Sullivan. After all, the perfect time to shove a controversial and illegitimate agenda through the courts, to publicly proclaim one's intent to pout on the sidelines if anyone dare push back, and to travel around the country encouraging others to do the same, is when there's a war on.

-- posted by Clayton 6/27/2004 05:06:00 PM | comments (0)

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Various persons are hashing over Andrew Sullivan's state of mind.

You're approaching this from the wrong angle, people. All Andrew needs is a pirin tablet -- that, and a supporting cast to worry over whether he takes it or not.

-- posted by Clayton 6/20/2004 08:16:00 AM | comments (0)

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Al-Qaeda has beheaded another one. Sure makes me want to rush to the bargaining table, that one does.

A curiosity: When Al-Qaeda first threatened Johnson's beheading, I saw their demands reported as, Saudi Arabia to release all these prisoners (see list), and that all United States personnel leave the Middle East, all within 72 hours. The second demand disappeared in all subsequent reports. Does anyone else recall it?

Of course, it's perfectly understandable why it would disappear. After all, it's not like Al-Qaeda, or Johnson's beheading, has anything to do with the war, y'know, and any journalist would be irresponsible, who would leave anything lying around that might send the lumpen proletariat jumping to conclusions.

-- posted by Clayton 6/19/2004 12:41:00 AM | comments (0)

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Nick Berg, it appears, has been insufficiently dissected.

When I watched the video, my general sense was, "Something is wrong, here." And I don't mean the obvious. It was a really clumsy patch job. We see shots of Berg alone against a wall, and of Berg with the five terrorists behind him; in the shots with the terrorists, he is in different postures, but we never see him moving. The sound, though it has no synchrony at all with the video, runs pretty much continuously over these discontinuous stills, right up until just before "God is great!" and the scream, but is patched together from fragments, together with the odd silence, from that point on. I say odd, because, before the murder, there is a constant background hum from the videocamera's motors, but during and after the murder it, shall we say, cuts in and out. Also, I would not suspect the director of this fetid production of any delicacy or restraint, and yet there are too many gory bits edited out of the murder itself, details said director would have been desperate to salvage from the, errr, cutting room floor, if he had any choice in the matter. The body finally shown getting its cervical vertebrae sawn has been dead for a while; the death itself is nowhere. Why?

Thus much for what the terrorists put on the tape. What about Berg himself? He did not look at all frightened, or even concerned, to me. He did not react at all to what was going on around him; he had no reaction, either considered or reflexive, even when he was shoved to the floor; he sat unmoving -- though in several postures -- through the whole inept prelude, with a single expression stuck to his face throughout. And that expression did not ring true. My first impression was, he was trying desperately not to burst into tears, which is perfectly understandable. Five minutes of same ol' same ol', though, distributed over all the takes that obviously went into this production, along with the complete absence of any nervousness, tension, or fear, all took their toll on that impression, and it began to look more and more like some sappy amateur-theatrical attempt at a "penitent" appearance.

Then we have the wholly disgraceful curtain-chewing performance of his family since his murder, which speaks volumes about the Berg moral atmosphere. We also have the remarkable coincidence of his prior linkage with Zacarias Moussaoui, and some strange behavior in Iraq when he was running around free.

I don't want to read much into Berg's behavior on the video. It's too far removed from my experience -- and, we may continue to hope, from everyone else's -- for the general "phoniness" feel of it to be anything more than a first impression, and I have no confidence in it. We have all these other things, though, and, while they do nothing to confirm that impression, they dish up a lot of collateral support, and there is nothing, really, to urge against it, other than the general disposition to put the best possible face upon the acts of one who cannot defend himself. Along those lines, though, we can also explain Berg's behavior -- well, lack thereof -- on that video, with more credit to himself, by the not-at-all-outlandish supposition that his captors had drugged him to just this side of insensibility. It doesn't explain his other strange behavior while roaming around Iraq, but it sure as hell answers what his eyes looked like on that video. And we can note the unbelievable assholes he had by way of family without that fact impeaching him.

So here are the possibilities. Either Nick Berg was an innocent who got shoved onstage, intoxicated and against his will, for a bit part in a script he didn't understand, or he was a willing participant in all but the final Hitchcock twist. I regret to say, all the circumstances incline me toward the latter view: that Berg was, as Rachel Corrie was, a useful idiot, and he said or did something during his murder that revealed the betrayals -- his captors' of him, and his of us -- which is why most of it didn't make the cut.

But I would be happy to be wrong.

-- posted by Clayton 5/26/2004 07:22:00 PM | comments (0)

Friday, May 21, 2004

An angst roundup from Instapundit, a continuing series. And there's plenty more out there that he's missed, especially lately.

If you focus on "Anti-Bush slant" or "undermining the war effort," or whatnot, you're missing what's really going on, here. Considerations like upcoming elections and treason are secondary. Air time and column inches are secondary, as well. The primary consideration is, these are journalists -- mind you, I did not say "reporters" -- and they live and breathe to make a difference. What kind of difference doesn't matter; it can make things better, or worse; it can be an unmixed blessing, or a catastrophe; it can be the final triumphant outbreak of worldwide prosperity and happiness, or "We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when"; whatever. Don't bother them with details. But they absolutely insist upon making that difference, and -- here's the kicker -- knowing that they made it, themselves. It's an important profession, damn you, important, and those doing it are important, too, the most important of all, don't you dare say different, and the proof of it is all the difference they make. So nothing is more to be expected than that they will set themselves crosswise to everyone and everything around them, agitating for the achievement of that which anyone in his right mind would prevent at all costs, so that, once it is achieved, whatever it is, no one can say, it was not their achievement.

It is a mistake to say these persons have no regard for consequences. Consequences are all they think about. They're just not the same consequences the rest of us have in mind.

There's a lot of this in the legal profession, as well. Which, for example, do you think is actually the most important consideration to Michael Newdow: the future ease, comfort, and well-being of his daughter? that she not "suffer" the "violation" of being "forced" to say "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance? or that it's his name on the briefs, the arguments, and the case title that just might make a difference, and be damned to anyone else, including his daughter?

-- posted by Clayton 5/21/2004 06:28:00 PM | comments (0)

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Thanks to something Steven Den Beste posted, I spent a long time this evening wandering around Amritas' blog, reading his critiques of Chomsky. I had not previously come across any details of what it is Chomsky has been up to; all I had was the general impression, he is held in contempt by all right-thinking persons, who are identified as right-thinking by the fact that they hold Chomsky in contempt. So now I have a general impression of what the fighting is about, and a basic understanding of the particular brand of snake-oil Chomsky has been selling.

I found myself reminded of something out of atomic logic. And here we hit a digression: since I only suppose this blog has readers, I can just as easily suppose they need that term explained. Atomic logic is the name (well, one of the names, and the name that was fashionable when I went to college) for that part of formal logic that deals with "atoms" -- what a programmer would call boolean variables -- and the operators that work upon them in expressions. Atoms are either true or false; the operators that work upon them likewise give a result of either true or false. These operators are:

  • AND -- the value of the expression "A AND B" is true only when both A and B are true
  • OR -- the value of the expression "A OR B" is true when either A or B (or both) is true
  • NOT -- the value of the expression "NOT A" is true only when A is false
  • XOR -- the value of the expression "A XOR B" is true when either A or B (but not both) is true
  • IMP -- the value of the expression "A IMP B" is true when either A is false or B is true (or both)
  • EQV -- the value of the expression "A EQV B" is true when A and B are either both true or both false
  • NAND -- the value of the expression "A NAND B" is true when either A or B (or both) is false
  • NOR -- the value of the expression "A NOR B" is true only when both A and B are false.
(Visual Basic programmers will recognize most of the operator names. I chose the VB forms, because they're easiest to type.)

Now, out of the list above, which would you say are "basic" operators, and which "derived"? A layman would object to the formal definition of OR, since the word as used in ordinary speech means XOR instead; he would choose AND, XOR, and NOT as the basic operations, and derive the rest:

  • A OR B :== (A XOR B) XOR (A AND B)
  • A EQV B :== (A AND B) XOR ((NOT A) AND (NOT B))
  • A IMP B :== ((NOT A) XOR B) XOR (A AND B)
  • A NAND B :== NOT (A AND B)
  • A NOR B :== (NOT A) AND (NOT B)
A person more comfortable with the field would choose AND, OR, and NOT:
  • A XOR B :== (A OR B) AND (NOT (A AND B))
  • A EQV B :== (A AND B) OR ((NOT A) AND (NOT B))
  • A IMP B :== (NOT A) OR B
  • A NAND B :== NOT (A AND B)
  • A NOR B :== NOT (A OR B)
But this doesn't take into account a really arcane trick. All the other operators can be defined in terms of NAND, as follows:
  • NOT A :== A NAND A
  • A AND B :== NOT (A NAND B) :== (A NAND B) NAND (A NAND B)
  • A OR B :== (NOT A) NAND (NOT B) :== (A NAND A) NAND (B NAND B)
-- and so on. We can pull exactly the same trick with NOR:
  • NOT A :== A NOR A
  • A OR B :== NOT (A NOR B) :== (A NOR B) NOR (A NOR B)
  • A AND B :== (NOT A) NOR (NOT B) :== (A NOR A) NOR (B NOR B)
-- and so on.

As far as I know, this trick has only one real-world application, which is in the construction of integrated circuits. The actual nitty-gritty of putting together NAND and NOR gates is a lot simpler (and the gates work a lot faster) than any of the others, so this trick is used all over the place in microprocessors. Other than that, NAND and NOR are pretty much useless; there is no expression in which they can be used that cannot be made clearer by not using them.

This didn't stop one of my professors in college from jumping all over this trick. It showed that NAND and NOR were more "basic," you see. He even assigned an ugly problem on the final: Write an equivalent to this ordinary expression using only the NAND operator. And we did it, too. Something that started out as an easily understood half-of-a-line became an impassable four-line thicket of up-arrows (the glyph for NAND) and parentheses. We had our revenge by the same act, though, since the idiot no doubt went blind trying to grade them.

Now from what I saw on Amritas' board, the prototypical Chomskyite would go right along with said idiot professor, concluding, either NAND or NOR (take your pick) is the actual internal mechanism (the "deep structure") of all thought, and all the other operators are merely derivative ("surface structure"). Whereas the truth is self-evidently the opposite: AND, XOR, and NOT are the workhorses of everyday thought, and all the others are derivative; the OR and IMP operators, as defined, actually contradict the equivalent everyday usage, and NAND and NOR contribute nothing to understanding, but instead obstruct it.

On another tack, I was reminded of an argument I had once on the internet with a woman who absolutely insisted that brown was not a color. She had the artist's "insider" perspective, you see: One finds brown on a color wheel by starting out with red, or orange, or yellow, and decreasing the luminance, so there is no such thing as brown; there is only dark red, or dark orange, or dark yellow. It made no difference to her that that perception doesn't work that way, that it requires an effort of will to see the underlying similarity of what ordinary perception insists on treating as qualitatively different, and more than a little self-deception to say that the qualitative difference doesn't matter.

Back to the immediate subject. Chomsky is full of shit. I say this with all the confidence of long introspection on the underlying problem (and with no other authority), and, if Amritas' depiction of the field is anything to go by, it probably helps that I have no training in it. The actual structure of thought, if we must have it in those terms, is an amorphous digraph interconnected to a fare-thee-well, where both the vertices and the edges have any number of qualities, but nothing is in any particular order. Grammar is not a necessary component of thought itself; it arises from the requirement of representing this graph somehow in a linear form (since words must be uttered one after another), and there is no one "right" or "best" or "fundamental" way to do this. The syntactical system, whichever one it is, picks out enough of the highlights to communicate, not the entirety of the graph, but enough (the "meaning") so that it can be reconstructed in the listener's mind (again, in no particular order); the wholly internal art of resupplying the bits and pieces that didn't get sent, thus pulling reasonable certainty out of uncertain materials, is what goes by the name of "understanding."

(I've played around with the idea of constructing a computer model along these lines, but actually doing it would require a lot more time than I have to spend on it. Mostly it would have to do with deciding what ought to be a vertex, and what an edge, and what all the possible attributes (qualities) of each would be, and growing the whole thing in much the same order that a child learns to speak. The end result, I suspect, would be a picture of language, and of the basic knowledge required to understand language, that would show only slight echoes of what grammarians have been maintaining for centuries; in particular, I suspect that the "parts of speech" actually required to describe and run a working language would bear very little resemblance to the old categories of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and so on.)

Also: If Chomsky's universal "deep structure" idea is right, and if, as he has it, it mirrors the syntactical patterns of English, then English ought to be one of the easiest languages for foreigners to learn. Whereas we know, it's one of the hardest.

-- posted by Clayton 5/13/2004 01:23:00 AM | comments (7)

Friday, May 07, 2004

Well, if this blog ever had readers, they've surely drifted off by now, but I'll struggle to keep up the fiction. Apologies for dropping off the map. All I can plead in mitigation is the unremitting gall of employers who actually want projects finished on schedule. It's been heads-down time here for a good month and a half. It's not just this blog that has suffered; I've basically been out of touch the whole time, and there's a lot of news to get caught up on before I would have anything to say about it that anyone else would think were worth reading.

I notice, however, that Steven Den Beste is still in a funk over the quality of feedback he receives. And what I have to say in just a bit will no doubt qualify, in his mind, as just the sort of sideline trees-instead-of-the-forest nitpicking he complains about.

I wind up agreeing with Steven most of the time. Every once in a while, one of the overtones of what he has said will make me uneasy, but there is very little of his output with which I would disagree, and, most times, very little (if anything) that I would add to it, and anyway he says it a whole hell of a lot better than I would. (I like to flatter myself that this has something to do with the relative amounts of free time each of us has, to say nothing of the fact that writing, like any other art, improves with exercise. If I should ever find myself with sufficient leisure, though, Steven, I'll be gunning for you. Just letting you know, is all.) If I don't have anything of my own to say, I'm not going to waste space here posting that nothing, nor will I waste anyone else's time (again, keeping up the fiction) grinding through "I agree," "me too," and "read this." Steven runs one of the only two blogs, so far as I know, that have ever linked here (the other being Emperor Misha); I assume anyone who winds up here will already be an avid reader of USS Clueless, and will already have seen whatever I might otherwise link. The same applies to any email I might send.

Still, there's that funk to worry about. What worries me about it is that it has much the same feel to it as was present and growing in Steven's posts on his discussion groups just before he pulled the plug on them. And the overall sense I get from his recent posts on the topic is, he'd like, every once in a while, to have the sense that there are at least decent odds of finding something in his inbox that makes it worth the effort of firing up the damn program and slogging through everything else.

I hope you realize, Steven, that's a very tall order. Even if we overlook the torrent of spam, and the residual drip, drip, drip of pointless "gotcha!"s, both of which already have the scales heavily tilted the other way, it's an intimidating assignment. "Attaboy!" only goes so far, and it doesn't work more than a couple of times, even assuming you have any reason to think my approbation is worth something. The alternative is, actually coming up with something just as interesting to say back, but that takes a lot more work.

OK, that said, here's the potshot I alluded to above, again addressing those troubling overtones. Actually, I have two of them. First, it's "rights," Steven, not "natural rights." The important part is that there be things government cannot do. Where those rights arise, whether from the nature of government, or from the nature of man, or from philosophy, or from law, or what have you, is unimportant, and the term "natural rights" has some legal baggage you might not want to tote along.

Second, the idea of "perpetual revolution" is troubling. Human nature is what it is; it effortlessly defeats any attempt to change it, and clobbers any scheme predicated upon its being somehow different. And it is human nature itself, in the last analysis, that drives the determination of the proper forms and powers of government. So there is no intrinsic value in "change" apart from the merits (or lack thereof) of a particular proposal; it is far more important that the law be known -- which includes that it be stable -- than that it be just; and we've been at it for a few centuries, now, refining this, that, and the other, and pretty much have most things right already. And I must say, I find it difficult to reconcile your admiration for the idea of "perpetual revolution" with what, to paraphrase Aristotle, anyone must have before he comes to the study of engineering: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The remarkable thing about our government is its long-running stability. The world has seen tyrannies, whether stable or fragile, one after another, with dreary monotony, for millennia; it has also seen, here and there, the occasional short-lived outbreak of freedom, and usually they shake themselves apart. Ours is the only one that has lasted.

(I should perhaps clarify what I mean when I say, "Human nature is what it is." The trouble is, it would take much more time than I have right now. Let's see if this does the trick, though: "Law" is to "justice" is to "human nature," what "statement" is to "truth" is to "fact." What I want to avoid, here, is any confusion arising from the failure to distinguish between human nature itself, on the one hand, and all the -- mutually contradictory -- systems that have attempted to describe and/or control it, on the other. My statement about the knowability of the law being more important than its justice, though, is in a different category; it depends upon a specific view of human nature, and thus invites all those mutually contradictory systems to take their whacks at it.)

Moving on to a different post, here's a final observation. One of the indications -- I was going to say "stigmata" -- of "p-idealist" thought is the attempting to explain the behavior of multitudes in terms of specific personal motives.

-- posted by Clayton 5/07/2004 09:44:00 PM | comments (0)

Monday, April 12, 2004

From Bastard Sword (who just got blogrolled by Den Beste, and I am so jealous), a dissection of the usual boilerplate global-warming copy. Some of the commenters on the thread lit upon an error in this paragraph of the original:

But Jonathan Gregory, of the Hadley Centre for climate prediction at the University of Reading, and colleagues from Brussels and Bremerhaven, report in the journal Nature that an average annual warming in the region of 2.7C (37F) would mean that the rate of melting would outpace the annual snowfall.

As one of the commenters pointed out, while an absolute temperature of 2.7°Celsius is the same as 37°F, the same number as a difference in temperatures comes out to 4.9°F. And everyone took that up as evidence of the original author's stupidity. The article is packed with other evidence of the author's stupidity, but this one doesn't fit the bill.

The aphorism, "Never ascribe to malice what can be explained by simple stupidity," has a corollary for the modern age: "Never ascribe to simple stupidity what can be explained by computers." And the parenthetical "37°F," simply because it is such a stupid and obvious error, shows all the hallmarks of having been inserted into the text after the fact by a computer program that scans posted copy, inserting English-to-metric and metric-to-English conversions whenever something trips its wires. I've seen the same sort of thing happen on news web sites, where the author's unfortunate choice of phrase just happens to look like a Fortune 500 company, and the scanning software, without any regard to the contextual error, inserts a parenthetical containing links to the NYSE listing.

-- posted by Clayton 4/12/2004 09:20:00 PM | comments (0)

Friday, March 26, 2004

From Crescat Sententia, an interview with Eugene Volokh. Here's question #8, and its response:

8: Most (hopefully all) scholars of Constitutional Law can name some laws that they think are constitutional but undesirable-- things that the government legally can do, but shouldn't anyway. What about the reverse? Are there any laws or policies that you think would be on-the-whole good policies to have, if only the Constitution permitted them?
I'm not an expert on this, but my sense is that the privilege against self-incrimination is a bad idea. I don't see why the prosecutors shouldn't be able to subpoena the defendant and ask him to explain just where he was the night of this-and-such. Sure, the privilege is a check on government power -- but it's not clear to me that it's the right sort of check on government power, and that its benefits outweigh its tendency to foster injustice (both acquittal of the guilty and, in some cases, conviction of the innocent). Still, it's right in there in the constitution, and it has to be enforced.
Here we can see the modern lawyer's perspective: Perjury is no big deal, or, if it is, it is only a problem for the legal system itself. Such persons see things like an oath, "to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God," as nothing more than quaint and amusing forms set down by our ancestors, of no relevance outside the courtroom. But the privilege against self-incrimination arises from the refusal to present a guilty defendant with the intolerable dilemma, either confess the crime (and thus suffer the temporal punishment) or violate an oath taken before God (and thus suffer eternal torment).

It's a deliberate concession to religion, and it's written into the Constitution itself, so it doesn't quite square with this fragment from Volokh's answer to question 15:

I think the Court's [] Establishment Clause doctrine is mostly right, at least at the level of the big picture; ...
-- since any court applying current doctrine, once confronted with the justification, would pretty much be forced to conclude, the privilege is an unconstitutional establishment of religion. It's a good thing, then, that the Fifth Amendment stands in the way of any such conclusion.

-- posted by Clayton 3/26/2004 06:51:00 PM | comments (0)

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Steven Den Beste on heaving things out to the Lagrange points. The difficulties he points out can be solved by lobbing more than one mass.

Say I fire off a mass today on a Simon orbit (Steven's terminology) with a period of twenty-two months. A year from now, I fire off another mass on an Alvin orbit with a period of ten months. At the beginning of 2006, both these masses wind up at L4, and Alvin's energy deficit can be balanced by Simon's energy excess by choosing how much to send each time.

It's still easier to hit L4. One can hit L5 by the same means, but Alvin will need to make several orbits, and we must take care to miss L4. For example, today we fire off Alvin on a nine-and-a-half-month orbit, and two years from now, we fire off Simon on a fourteen-month orbit. The great chipmunk reunion takes place at L5 at the beginning of May, 2007.

-- posted by Clayton 3/03/2004 01:45:00 AM | comments (0)

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Everyone's taking whacks at the proposed FMA, so here's mine. The proposed amendment goes too far, and not far enough. Given my druthers, this is what I would enact:

Section 1.
No existing provision of this Constitution, nor of any State Constitution, nor of any Federal or State law, shall be construed to define marriage as anything other than a union of one man and one woman. Any change to the institution of marriage shall enter the law through the acts of the people of the various States, speaking clearly through their elected representatives.
Section 2.
The Supreme Court of the United States is hereby reminded, the power set forth in the second sentence of Article IV, Section 1, of this Constitution, is given to Congress.
Section 3.
The people declare that, were it not for the unlawful actions of dishonest judges, this amendment would not have been enacted, and they deplore the judicial contempt for this Country's laws and institutions that made this amendment necessary. That the lesson not be lost, they further enact that Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall and Justices John M. Greaney, Roderick L. Ireland, and Judith A. Cowin, all of the Supreme Judicial Court of the State of Massachussets, are hereby deprived of their offices, and are forever unable to hold any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States or any of them, and that no act or order of the said Court, in any dispute pending on or after the First day of February, 2004, shall have any effect until their successors shall have been seated and rehear the matter.
That about covers it, I think.

-- posted by Clayton 2/26/2004 12:43:00 AM | comments (0)

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Hmmm. My invitation was unaccountably lost in the mail, so here's my entry.

Top Ten Ways the Loony Moonbat Left Will Make Themselves Look Even MORE Hopelessly Ridiculous in 2004

  1. Former Vice President Al Gore, attempting to speak at Democratic rallies across the country, is continually attacked by rabid minks earlier "liberated" by ELF. Retired General Wesley Clark is subsequently charged with cruelty to animals.
  2. In a bid to revive flagging media interest in covering its protest marches, International A.N.S.W.E.R. starts buying its own bulldozers. It claims "vindication" when its "Drivers Wanted" web page is soon receiving more hits than Google.
  3. Fresh from receiving an honorary LL.D. from Harvard University, Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco announces that the City will register all voters that apply, without regard to constitutionally-suspect categories like nationality, citizenship, and species. Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago sends him a telegram congratulating him for "thinking outside the box."
  4. Self-described "comedian" Al Franken challenges former President Ronald Reagan to a debate -- and loses.
  5. Invited to give a few brief comments at the Democratic Convention, Bill Clinton finally winds up his speech only after the DNC, in a last desperate attempt to reclaim the podium, sends Angela Lansbury onto the floor dressed as the Queen of Diamonds. In her speech the next day, Hillary Clinton chides the Party for its "lack of follow-through."
  6. After failing to win the nomination, the ketchup-spattered John Edwards, one of the few survivors of the Convention debacle, files a class-action suit on behalf of trial lawyers, and all others similarly situated, against the Democratic National Committee. The ATLA enthusiastically joins the suit, looking forward to a profitable decade spent individually deposing all registered voters.
  7. In a bold move to forestall a recurrence of the voting irregularities that marred the previous Presidential election, the Florida Supreme Court decrees that, in order to allow enough time for court challenges, tallies shall be due from each county five days before the election. The Canvassing Boards of Broward and Dade Counties easily meet this obligation, and Al Gore is certified the winner of Florida's electoral votes.
  8. A congressional investigation into the mayhem at the Democratic Convention discovers that the voting was rigged, and that the trigger for the massive carnage was a bucket of tomato ketchup suspended over the stage. The death of former candidate Howard Dean in a freak auto accident that same night is dismissed as a "mere coincidence."
  9. The United States Supreme Court, in Edwards v. Democratic National Committee, rules that whatever public purpose a legislature may wish to advance in preserving ballot secrecy (which, it notes, is not mentioned in the Constitution) cannot outweigh the rights of a plaintiff in a civil suit. Responding to cries of "un-American!" from the right-wing fringe, Justices Souter and Ginsburg flash metallic stars attached to their right breasts; the last remaining manufacturer of syrup of ipecac goes out of business.
  10. After losing the National election in a landslide, John Kerry swears himself into office as the "real President" in San Francisco, and begins assembling a Cabinet. The entire city is then flattened during an A.N.S.W.E.R. protest.

-- posted by Clayton 2/24/2004 01:03:00 AM | comments (0)

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Eugene Volokh on a proposed approach to a Federal Marriage Amendment.

Consider the Article V process. Consider the enormous investment of time and effort required to get anything through it. Consider how much greater that investment must be, when the subject matter is as contentious as this one. Now picture the man who undertakes all this, when the goal of all his striving is, "We agree to disagree." Does this look just the slightest bit unrealistic, maybe?

Constitutional amendments are nuclear missiles, not spitwads. The courts have been able to get away with as much as they have, because the country isn't willing to reach for the nukes every time the courts go on a toot. And when the country is finally driven to push the button, it's not going to confine itself to half-measures; it will make sure the job gets done.

I find it interesting, though, that Volokh, a professor of law, is saying "I agree entirely" of a measure that openly proclaims, "We don't trust the courts."

And why do I have this suspicion that what Professor Bainbridge means by "reach[ing] consensus" is what Andrew Sullivan means in the same context? which is, "You've got one chance to see things our way, before we shove it down your throat."

-- posted by Clayton 2/10/2004 11:06:00 PM | comments (0)

Monday, February 09, 2004

Steven Den Beste on treason and dissent.

First, elaborating further on "enemies": The term, as used in Article III, has a specific meaning; it does not mean "who- or whatever the Federal government chooses to call an 'enemy.' " For a thing to qualify as an "enemy" under Article III, there must be an actual war on between us and it. The U.S. citizen giving aid and comfort to Jacques Chirac, say, is no traitor, no matter how hostile Chirac may be to our National purposes.

Second, elaborating upon the common-law idea of "treason": There were other reasons to define treason explicitly in the Constitution, besides its use throughout English history as a particularly gruesome weapon between rival factions. The common law of England defined many other things to be treason. Some of them were simply inapplicable to our republic, as, for example, "if a man do imagine or compass the death of our lord the King": murder still being murder, and the President, as the Framers emphasized, merely one among all us other civilians, requiring no special legal eminence in the matter of his death. Some were repugnant: An attempt on the chastity of the Queen, or of the King's eldest daughter, or of his eldest son's wife, was treason; such concerns, whatever their merits in an hereditary monarchy, do not apply when an office is elective. Some were and are crimes, though the Constitution forbids that they be treason: Counterfeiting, for example, was treason under English law; it is, at least for those familiar with 25 Edw. III c. 2, conspicuously excluded from the definition in Article III, but placed squarely within the authority of Congress in Article I, Section 8. A large part, also, of what motivated the Article III definition was the impulse that later expressed itself more clearly in the Eighth Amendment: No one with his head on straight would say that filing coins ought to be punished like that. This is not to ignore the more inventive constructive treasons as part of the Framers' motivation, but they do not tell the whole story.

Third, a reservation as to "dissent." As anyone who has raised small children knows, there is no value to be had in dissent per se. The value of any thought, or of any expression of thought, is in its content, and not in its accord with, conflict with, or indifference to any prevailing orthodoxy. Certainly dissent is nothing to tout for its own sake; if we set aside any consideration of the actual content of thought, we ought rather to prefer harmony to discord. We have, for example, the "prevailing orthodoxy," if you will, that the Earth is round; the man who insists on its flatness is a fool with nothing of value to contribute, his "dissent" earns nothing but contempt from me. We've seen a lot of this, especially, in the last two years: Utter ass-aches screaming at everyone they can force to listen: "Pay attention, I'm dissenting!": the subject under dispute, whatever it is, a mere detail to them; the magic word "dissent," on the other hand, all-important. The rejoinder comes, it is the freedom to dissent that is of such tremendous importance: to which I answer, that doesn't improve my opinion of the man who makes nothing more of his life than a chronic, dreary, obnoxious proof that, hey, it's still there.

Finally, as to wholly repugnant ideas: We forbid our government to interfere, not because all thoughts are deserving of protection, but because no one has ever found a way to empower the government drawing a line here without its eventually growing into the power to draw lines everywhere. If a clear principle were possible, such that decent society stood on the one side and NAMBLA (to use Steven's pet example) on the other, I would not at all mind watching every last squidgy bit of NAMBLA being crushed out of existence. Note, however, that phrase, "drawing a line." It is only recently under the Supreme Court's "expression" jurisprudence (insisting on the explicit drawing of all lines) that NAMBLA's advocacy has been protected; for most of this country's history such advocacy would have been criminal, not because anyone could point to a definite line crossed, but from the general common-sense view that the line, wherever it was, would have been crossed long since. And freedom, somehow, was not imperilled thereby.

Here's something for you to mull over, Steven: The fact that common sense is subject to the occasional pitfall does not invalidate it; it is still, in many contexts, far more valuable than any substitute rationalism can hope to provide. And if this is not the case, then there is no special value to be had in government by the people, and no reason to prefer it to, say, the new Byzantium erecting itself in Brussels.

-- posted by Clayton 2/09/2004 10:43:00 PM | comments (0)




For the more forensically inclined