Punditry Archives

July 06, 2009

California and Reconstruction

I see that California has an intractable budget crisis.

It may even be that California's problems are halting a stage-3 bailout for the other state governments.

Perhaps the "republican government" clause of the Constitution could be used to order California to write a new Constitution that does not include the 2/3 rule.

That might be a bit heavy-handed. But it might also be the only thing that could work.

Posted by Red Ted at 05:13 PM | TrackBack

May 15, 2007

Falwell

I see from the Washington Post that Jerry Falwell has died.

I disagreed with the man on many issues.

But I find myself saddened at his passing.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:47 PM | TrackBack

May 17, 2006

Running Behind

I am not writing down my random thoughts enough.

But now that it is political season, I might start again.

For example, I saw that Santorum will be facing Bob Casey. It should be an interesting November election.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:11 AM | TrackBack

November 09, 2005

Elections

Yesterday I took the boys with me to the voting booth. Elder Son got scared of the dark booth (lever machine, with curtain) and stayed outside with his book. Younger son will go anywhere and do anything if he can be held, and so I held him as we went in to vote. Then I got to try to explain voting and elections to a three-year-old. I don't know if he got it, even after I had the boys start voting on simple household decisions like should we turn right or left as we walk around the lake.

I was glad to see that Corzine won. Now perhaps the Clintons will stop calling our house and telling us to go out and vote. I would be glad that it will once again be safe to turn on the TV without getting negative ads, but the TV is on so rarely that I think that would just be gloating.

And, I am glad that it appears to be safe to move to Dover, PA, even though I will continue to think twice before applying to jobs in Kansas.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:31 AM | TrackBack

September 24, 2005

This is not a surprise

You are a

Social Liberal
(76% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(25% permissive)

You are best described as a:

Strong Democrat




Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid
Posted by Red Ted at 12:27 AM | TrackBack

August 08, 2005

Andrew Jackson on the 2005 Energy Bill

OK, this actually comes from AJ's Bank Veto message. But I think the sentiment is well aimed at the patronage machine currently looting the government coffers for the benefit of its fat cat buddies, to the harm of the nation and its people.

It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society -- the farmers, mechanics, and laborers -- who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing.
Andrew Jackson, Bank Veto Message, July 10, 1832. Cited from James Richardson
A Compilation of the messages and addresses of the Presidents (New York, Bureau of National Literature, c 1897-1911) Vol III, p. 1153.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:57 PM | TrackBack

July 14, 2005

Madison

I was working on James Madison's civil religion this evening and found something that reminded me why I should not read the news.

When I do read the news, I get angry, very angry, at the current administration. I then want to go off and read more, and write more, and vent that anger.

But I do not have the time away from writing to do that, not and finish. So I try to sublimate the anger.

Anyhow, I was working with Madison and found the close of his final annual message. This is the sort of document that, IMO, reveals the political cleavages in America today. I read this, and if I posted it on someplace like The Washington Monthly Kevin Drum would read it as a biting indictment of BushCo. If these same words were posted on one of the republican apologist sites like Powerline, they would take it as a rollicking endorsement. Then again, they have decided that since they like having their backs pissed on it must be raining.

Madison below the fold.

And may I not be allowed to add to this gratifying spectacle that I shall read in the character of the American people, in their devotion to true liberty and to the Constitution which is its palladium, sure presages that the destined career of my country will exhibit a Government pursuing the public good as its sole object, and regulating its means by the great principles consecrated in its charter and by those moral principles to which they are so well allied; a Government which watches over the purity of elections, the freedom of speech and of the press, the trial by jury, and the equal interdict against encroachments and compacts between religion and the state; which maintains inviolably the maxims of public faith, the security of persons and property, and encourages in every authorized mode the general diffusion of knowledge which guarantees to public liberty its permanency and to those who possess the blessing the true enjoyment of it; a Government which avoids intrusions on the internal repose of other nations, and repels them from its own; which does justice to all nations with a readiness equal to the firmness with which it requires justice from them; and which, whilst it refines its domestic code from every ingredient not congenial with the precepts of an enlightened age and the sentiments of a virtuous people, seeks by appeals to reason and by its liberal examples to infuse into the law which governs the civilized world a spirit which may diminish the frequency or circumscribe the calamities of war, and meliorate the social and beneficent relations of peace; a Government, in a word, whose conduct within and without may bespeak the most noble of ambitions - that of promoting peace on earth and good will to man.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:36 PM | TrackBack

April 16, 2005

Concurrent Majority?

The current feeding frenzy over judicial nominations and the filibuster is operating in a serious absence of context, especially on the right side of the blogosphere.

What the right is forgetting, and the left is hammering on, is that the House and Senate have, in recent years, altered their standard operating procedures so as to freeze out the minority party. Judicial nominees have not been filibustered in the past because there were so many other moments where the minority party, or indeed individual senators, could put a hold on objectionable nominees. Those internal checks and balances have been eroded as conscious and intentional Republican policy, leaving the filibuster as the last refuge of the minority.

John C. Calhoun, elitist, racist, and brillian logician, argued that society should be governed by a "concurrent majority, that in any situation where society was clearly divided into to distinct and differing interests that any major decision must be approved by both. He was thinking both about the politics of lowcountry-upcountry South Carolina and the politics of slavery within the union. In effect, the concurrent majority gives a majority of the minority party, or a mere fraction of the whole polity, a veto over legislation. It is a recipe for inaction.

As part of the Northern concession to the South during the Progressive Era, the concurrent majority was added to a number of Senate procedures. Judicial appointments were one of the items where the interests of national unity meant that it was better to tilt the field towards the unobjectionable and against the divisive.

As a procedural matter, the concurrent majority lowers the stakes for any particular election or any particular regional coalition. If, win or lose, your friends are guaranteed to retain some say in legislation and appointments, especially appointments made for life, then it is much easier when you lose to say "we will get them next time." If, on the other hand, the majority of the moment can make changes that will last for decades, then every election is a crisis, every loss a catastrophe, and the higher stakes make it more likely that people will ignore the process in order to achieve a victory.

Thus, even though the concurrent majority and the senate filibuster were used by a racist minority in order to maintain local elites, they also served, and could still serve, a larger purpose as a stabilizing flywheel for the republic.

The debate we should be having is to what extent we want to move our republic towards a democracy, in the language of the founders for whom democracy was a bad word. Do we want the victors every two years to have total control over events and procedures, or do we want to see slower, more consensual change?

More precisely, which parts of governance do we want to see dominated by the victors of the moment, and which parts by the concensus of the entire nation?

The religious revolutionaries who dominate the Republican Party. (They are not conservatives. Edmund Burke was a Conservative. DeLay, Dobson, Frist, and Rove are Revolutionaries.) The religious revolutionaries and recipients of corporate rent-seeking want to increase the power of the moment. In doing so I fear that they are weakening those aspects of the American Republic that were meant to be a contract between those who went before, those now living, and those not yet born.

And I worry, I worry a lot, that after raising the stakes and invoking the infinite in behalf of short-term political goals, that they, or more realistically their more radical supporters, will not be able to accept future election losses. That instead of "wait until next time" we will see "to the barricades!"

Posted by Red Ted at 12:03 PM | TrackBack

April 12, 2005

Fascism, American Style?

When I saw this confluence of religion and nationalism, all I could think of was a few lines from Mussolini

Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal, will of man as a historic entity (11). It is opposed to classical liberalism which arose as a reaction to absolutism and exhausted its historical function when the State became the expression of the conscience and will of the people. Liberalism denied the State in the name of the individual; Fascism reasserts the rights of the State as expressing the real essence of the individual (12). And if liberty is to he the attribute of living men and not of abstract dummies invented by individualistic liberalism, then Fascism stands for liberty, and for the only liberty worth having, the liberty of the State and of the individual within the State (13). The Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism, is totalitarian, and the Fascist State - a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values - interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of a people (14).
But, I fear that the comparison is unfair . . . to Mussolini.

Ah well, there is always the fuck yeah remake.

Hat tips to Atrios and, feh, I forgot who linked me to Atrios.

Posted by Red Ted at 04:14 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 08, 2005

Truth in Advertising ???

After reading the latest raft of things that Tom DeLay has done, and then reading in Sports Consecrated about the stock car being sponsored by a small company that sells diaper rash ointment, it hit me that perhaps we should combine the full disclosure principle, the truth in advertising principle, and the Nascar sponsorship principle for our politicians.

Standard attire for a male politician is a blazer or suit. Women's fashions vary, but we can work something out for them. Lets just say that all money that you, your family, your PAC, and your office receive -- including junkets paid for by the Russian military -- must be represented by appropriately sized pins or placards on the front of your jacket. So, every time you appear in public, the viewing audience can see that you are beholden for so many hundreds of thousands here, so many hundreds of thousands there.

Heck, given the reverse popularity of product placement, it probably won't be long before we see politicians vying to be the Senator from Nike, or Co'Cola.

Or not - the tracking and identity problems would be a mite overwhelming. Still, I do like the idea of combining truth in advertising, NASCAR style sponsorship, and the current crop of careerist politicans.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:01 PM | TrackBack

March 23, 2005

The One in Eight Rule

While we were talking about movies yesterday in class I mentioned the 1 in 8 rule to the kids.

Actually, we were talking about the 1950s, so it was the 1 in 10 rule. (And, I was using 1990 census data, when it was the 1 in 9 rule.)

What is this?

According to the Census Bureau, at the turn of the twentyfirst century, about 12% of the American population is African American. About 12 % is Hispanic, but Hispanic is a racial identity that overlaps with several other and differently visible racial identities. About 4% of the population is Asian

This means that the null hypothesis for racial breakdown is that about one face in eight should be "black", about one face in ten should be "hispanic" and about one face in twenty should be "asian." I use the scare quotes because physical appearance is only a so-so guide to racial identity -- there are a lot of people whose faces could pass for something other than their identity.

So when you look at TV ads, or the characters in a kids picture book, or any other situation where the media is attempting to represent a cross section of America, you should expect to see these ratios. If you do not see them, then ask why.

But, of course, those are national averages. They do not match the population of either Philadelphia or Des Moines. So anytime you do see those ratios, you also have to ask why.

The topic came up as we were talking about 1950s movies, and what portion of the cast was white, especially extras and people in background roles. I had noticed it earlier - I am that sort of a geek - in that the Fisher Price Little People toy set and picture books are an almost perfect one in eight (I counted.) while The Wiggles' extras and cast are lily white. Of course, they made their early videos in a very white province of Australia.

As I said, the One in Eight Rule is the null hypothesis. You almost never see the null hypothesis, but it is what you use to compare the things you actually do see.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:39 PM | TrackBack

February 16, 2005

GWB v RMN ?

While reading about civil religion and Richard Nixon's public theology, and thinking about the role of civil religion in 2005 (ribbons on the backs of cars like ashes on Ash Wednesday? Perhaps.) I had a disturbing random thought.

Who would win a steel cage death match between Richard M. Nixon and George W. Bush?
The sad thing is, I think I would root for Tricky Dicky. I have a soft spot for Cold War Liberals.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:12 AM | TrackBack

November 15, 2004

Chutzpah or the memory hole?

Sometimes I find things that are simply inconceivable at first reading. But they exist. On second reading they show that there are people who have completely different understandings of the world than the ones I use. And yet, even then I have trouble believing that someone would write such words.

Consider this op ed by John Palmer, head of the Verity Media Group. In it Palmer argues that Americans prefer the truth to lies, and that in this recent election BushCo told the truth and were rewarded. He proves this, to his satisfaction, by pointing out that Laura Bush is more truthful than Michael Moore, and having vanquished his straw man he concludes that "Any political party that relies on spin and manipulation of the truth instead of the moral value of honesty forces its supporters to become complicit in their deception."

Look at that quote again.

Any political party that relies on spin and manipulation of the truth instead of the moral value of honesty forces its supporters to become complicit in their deception.
That is a statement that depends for its power on a set of assumptions about the meaning of truth. Now, I don't know where James Palmer finds his truth, perhaps Fox, perhaps Karl Rove's tea leaves, but from where I sit the Bush Administration lies out of policy, out of habit, and out of the implicit assumption that if they ever did tell the truth they would be impeached if not lynched.

That op ed is a lie, in the tradition of Big Brother and the memory hole. Having watched BushCo lie for the first term, and throughout the campaign, he now praises them as the tellers of the truth. That is no speaking truth to power, that is facilitating lies and deception.

I will be writing a letter to the editor, but I want to calm down and make it a powerful letter rather than the incoherent rant I just spewed forth here.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:52 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 12, 2004

Trenchard and Gordon on Rotation in Office

Cato's Letters by Trenchard and Gordon was the single most important influence on the American founders. If they spoke in the language of Locke and Hume, and if that language resonated with the American people, it was because both had read those ideas in Cato.

I was thinking about the problems with gerrymandering and the House of Representatives and came across the following passage while reading Cato's Letters as part of my slow-moving revision of chapter one.

A rotation therefore, in power and magistracy, is essentially necessary to a free government: It is indeed the thing itself; and constitutes, animates, and informs it, as much as the soul constitutes the man. It is a thing sacred and inviolable, where-ever liberty is thought sacred; nor can it ever be committed to the disposal of those who [currently rule].
I was thinking about the notion of a constitutional amendment to insist that legislative districts be drawn by nonpartisan commissions, and it seems to me that Congress could probably pass that with a little application of 18th-century political theory to the Republican Government clause in the Constitution. If it justified Radical Reconstruction, it can justify insisting on nonpartisan electoral district commissions.

Posted by Red Ted at 05:40 PM | TrackBack

November 10, 2004

Proposed Constitutional Amendment

Several people in the lefty blogosphere have been discussing the possibility of creating a new Democratic wedge issue, a popular but unpassable proposal that would put the Republican party on the defensive. Some of these - like having the coastal states cut off their subsidization of the interior states - are not good policy proposals (much of that subsidy is military spending, for example, which NEEDS empty land.) Others, like a proposal to amend the Constitution to end gerrymandering, or to adjust the electoral college, have some potential.

This is an early draft, and ALL my early drafts are murky and unclear. Still it is a start.

I will probably write it up and mail it to my congresscritter later this week - although as he is in a VERY safe district he has no personal need for this sort of a reform.

Whereas the Constitution of the United States guarantees that all states shall be governed under a republican form of government and
whereas the current system of designing electoral districts had produced a nation without competitive elections, real choice, or practical republican governments
Therefore, The United States Constitution shall be modified to add:

All electoral districts shall be drawn up by a non-partisan commission according to the following criteria, in order of importance, viz.
Districts for the House of Representatives shall only be drawn up once per decennial census
Districts for State offices shall only be drawn up following the decennial census or a comprehensive state census, and only once per census period.
Districts shall have the same number of residents, within the limits of error of the census.
Districts shall be competitive between the major parties in that region
Districts shall be as compact as possible
District borders shall be drawn along existing geographic and political borders as much as possible: viz. rivers and streams, ridges and divides, subordinate political boundaries such as county or town borders, or major highways if no other natural or political landmark is available.
Where possible communities and neighborhoods shall not be divided between districts.

This amendment shall apply to all districts drawn for the purpose of electing members of the United States Congress, State Legislatures, and cities and towns with civil officers elected from geographic wards.

In addition, electors for President will be chosen by districts within each state, with presidential electoral districts to be drawn by the same criteria as any other electoral district.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:11 AM | TrackBack

November 09, 2004

Harvey Fierstein

Via Heather Corinna, I find this wonderful commentary by Harvey Fierstein.

He wrote a terrific essay, and he has a good point about the cowardice of self-censorship, but he does misunderstand the workings of the first amendment - you have a right to say what you want, but I have a right to not include it in my compilation if I don't want it. So the final conflict that he frames in first amendment terms is better framed as a moment of political cowardice.

Still, watch the whole thing.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:32 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 08, 2004

Ohio v. the Upper Mississippi

One final question, one that is bugging me about these county purple maps.

When I sketch the U.S. for my students when talking about, well, anything, I always draw an ugly outline of the coast, then run the Mississippi and Ohio rivers up the central valley.

If you look at a population map of the country you will see that both the upper Mississippi and the Ohio are much more thickly settled than the non-riparian counties.

But the upper Mississippi went Democrat or dark purple, the Ohio river valley went red or bright purple. Only when we get to the Kanahaw river valley in West Virginia or the region where the Monongahela and the Allegeny river meet to form the Ohio River at Pittsburgh do we see blue counties in the Ohio River valley.

Why?

My guess, and this is just a guess, is that this is the lingering legacy of the Illinois Central Railroad, connecting Chicago with the Mississippi Delta, and spurring industry all along its line.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:12 AM | TrackBack

Red Counties / Blue Counties II

In the post below I called for a population-scaled cartogram of the county-level Presidential vote. Via Crooked Timber I see that Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman at the University of Michigan have some spiffy election maps. It is much like Suresh's prettier but more distorted (Philadelphia should be 3 times the size of Wyoming, its suburban counties, Wyoming, and Vermont should all be about the same size) map.

In addition to their red/blue/purple county cartogram (map distorted by population) they also have a very useful histogram of counties that went for Bush or Kerry by the percentage of the vote. A few counties gave a huge number of votes for Kerry - Philadelphia alone produced a margin of over 300,000 votes - while a great many counties gave a small majority for Bush.

What this means is that Michelle Malkin was half right (she often is.) Much of the nation did prefer Dubya to Big John. But, most of the places that went for her candidate had a large minority who did not care for him. Her bright red map of triumph should really be a magenta map of cautious optimism.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:03 AM | TrackBack

November 04, 2004

Red Counties / Blue Counties

One of the current grieving mechanisms among the lefty blogosphere is a wish to see the blue (Democratic) states effectively withdraw their support from the national covenant in an attempt to punish or sabotage the red (Republican) states.

Nice wishful thinking, impossible policy. Why?

Take a look at these county vote maps from 2000 and 2004, courtesy of James Joyner. Notice that the real pattern is not red state, blue states but red counties, blue counties. Where are the Democratic votes: The northeast corridor, the California Coast, the Mississippi river valley, the black belt, and parts of coal country. Democrats are moist and urban. The rest of the country, inland, dry, and rural, is Republican. As many have pointed out, this was in many ways an election between urban and rural values.

The irony, of course, is that there is nothing that says that rural has to be conservative. In fact, from the 1870s through the 1920s many rural voters were populist or even socialist (Oklahoma in the 1910s saw a strong correlation between rural counties, fundamentalist religion, and socialist party membership - before the Wilson administration censored the political mail during WW1, crippling the rural network and letting the urban immigrant wing of the American socialist party take over.)

The challenge for Democrats will be to craft a new approach that: embraces fundamental liberties, embraces the use of community and government power to limit the abuses of economic power, encourages individuals to achieve their dreams, and focuses on achieving a better society rather than on hitting some feel-good personal buttons. I want to see the social gospel come back. I want to see the better aspects of the Populist movement - the real one - come back. I want to see a nation that embraces fundamental human liberties, for everyone, rather than making part of our community scapegoats for fear and loathing.

I have no money. I have no time. I have to write more of my own work.

And yet, this election has made me want to run for office in my own right, because darn it we can do better. (I am too shy to do well, but it is a nice pipe dream.)

EDIT: from Rob Vanderbei at Princeton, we have this Red/Blue/Purple county map. This is good mapping. (Now to get a U.S. map with counties scaled by population and do the same thing.)

Posted by Red Ted at 09:03 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 03, 2004

Frodo Failed!

Frodo Failed.

Bush has the ring.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:28 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

I misread the election

Well, I got this one wrong.

Tuesday my students at Urban Research University spent most of class talking about the election. They asked me for my prediction and I gave it:
1, if Badnarik outpolls Nader then Kerry wins
2, PA for Kerry, OH close for Kerry, FL too close to call.
3, Kerry wins, 280-odd electoral votes

I over-estimated Republican dislike for Bush and Libertarian pull for Badnarik. This, I think, is because I did a poor job of compensating for the way that libertarians dominate my blogroll and the internet punditry.

For the other points, the big mistake that I think I made was that I forgot about conservative evangelicals in 2000 as I was using the 2000 polls to interpret the 2004 polls. In 2000, remember, about 4 million conservative evangelicals who had been expected to vote Bush stayed home instead, probably because of the late revelations about Bush's DWI arrest in the 1970s. In 2004, by contrast, not only had they gotten over it but they had gotten downright mobilized. The 2004 Republican Party really has replaced communists with gays, really has organized it as a party "against" and really has used that to define morality in narrowly sexual terms and then get people to vote based on them. The gay-bashing state initiatives all passed by large

The anti-gay bias of the Republicans seems to have given them a lot of voter turnout - they found something to make people mad enough to vote against. NPR reported yesterday afternoon that some 20% of their exit polls had people stating that "morality" was the most important issue in the election - more than the war, or the economy, or anything. The Republican Party has managed to redefine the word morality to refer to : not truth-telling, not concern for others, not accountability, but a simple worry about who is having sex with whom. I do not grok that definition of morality, but there you have it.

So, I got Republican turnout wrong. I hope Kerry pulls it out in Ohio, but I doubt that the Democrats will be able to find the votes. I am also ignoring all the Republicans claiming victory - that is what they did in Florida in order to sabatoge the recount 4 years ago.

Still, first impressions are that the Ohio vote this year was far cleaner than the Florida vote in 2000, even though there are a LOT of stories about Republicans engaging in voter suppression efforts there.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:19 AM | TrackBack

November 02, 2004

Election Day

It is election day today - vote early and often.

Sorry, I just had to say that.

J and I did not vote often, but we were out early. J hit the polls just after they opened at 6:00, holding the cranky baby in her arms. She was voter #4 on the left-hand machine. The infant did not vote.

I had wanted to take the toddler in with me, but he was still sleeping hard. So, I just went solo. I was voter #11 on the left-hand machine, at around 6:20. I did not vote in dressing gown and fuzzy slippers, although I was slightly tempted. I got shy and pulled on real clothes.

We are not in a battleground state, and neither campaign had any presence at the polls this early in the morning. All that was there was the six people running the operation, three for each voting district that uses our polling place. There was no line, just a steady stream of people heading in and out.

I did not get an "I voted" sticker. I am giving my kids class credit for voting. I had originally told them that an "I Voted" sticker was sufficient proof of voting, but I do believe that those stickers were something local to Virginia. I will probably just take their word for it.

Since 6:00 there has been a steady stream of cars and pedestrians going up and down our street. I have grading to do this morning. If it warms up a little I will probably grade while sitting on the front porch watching the parade of voters go by.

And so to walk the hound.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:02 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 01, 2004

Family Values

Philocrites links to a recent study of divorce rates and social justice in Texas and Massachusetts. I won't give the full summary, but will just point out that Divorce rates are lower in Massachusetts, education levels are higher, and social justice is a stronger compontent of public life. As he says, whats so wrong about being a liberal anyway?

Rant below the fold.

I would add that, just as hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, so too is the tendency of Republican voters to assume that their candidate holds more "liberal" views than they really do, and the Republican need to cast their policies in "liberal" terms, a tribute to the enduring legacy and power of social justice and environmental awareness in this country.

If you want to put it in religious terms, God made Adam steward over the earth, not master of the earth; Jesus told us all to love others as we love ourselves, to shed ourselves of riches not to give tax breaks to them; neither would approve of most of the policies but forward by BushCo. Even on the big moral question, I ask whether it is more important to condemn abortions or to reduce them? The first is the Finneyite or abolitionist position - morality consists of making an immediate and public repudiation of the immoral. The latter is a social justice approach - morality consists of getting rid of the immoral. The two can, and do, coincide, but we weight them very differently. Endrant.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:29 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 29, 2004

Mother and Daughter

Now this is a dysfunctional family. (Both articles through the Atlanta Journal Constitution - free registration required.)

Mom is head of the Georgia Christian Coalition and is leading the charge to make same-sex marriages unconstitutional.

Daughter is in a long term same-sex relationship, would be married if she could, and writes a response editorial explaining that Mom's anti-gay bigotry has split the family, estranged her daughter, and left her daughter terrified that Mom will somehow claim custody of daughter's child, especially in the window between daughter getting pregnant and daughter's lover fully filing adoption papers - a problem that married couples NEVER have to face.

The great irony is that Mom's rant includes some howlers -- "marriage has always been between one man and one woman" -- with a very good point that divorce has indeed weakened the institution of marriage. Daughter would like to strengthen marriage, but Mom can't see it.

Posted by Red Ted at 02:44 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Faith Based Parks?

Via Wonkette, I see that there is a group of National Park Service employees who are a mite cranky that the Bush Administration is revamping the informational materials available at our national parks to reflect a creationist understanding of geological processes.

The most recent flap - the Grand Canyon is handing out books saying the canyon was created by Noah's flood and when the Bush adminstration promised to look into the books, they did not and kept them active.

The whole business about "reality-based worldviews" was getting to be a tedious meme, but then I keep hitting things like this that remind me that it sort of fits. Despite its name, creation science is not science.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:29 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Crawford Weekend?

I believe that GWB is still planning to spend this weekend, the weekend before the election, at home in Crawford. This seems a mite odd, and I know that the lefty blogosphere has been speculating about it. I see three plausible explanations: he is lazy, he is planning a surprise trip, or he is seriously ill. None are likely to change my voting decision.

EDIT - it appears that GWB is indeed campaigning this weekend. Please disregard the following conspiracy theories.

1, He is lazy. This is the least likely of the three. While it is true that GWB is the vacation president (tm), taking more time off than even Chester Arthur (the previous gold standard for lazy), he is also a very competitive person. In fact, if I were to tell GWB as an Aristotelian tragedy I would focus on his competitiveness as his tragic trait. I find it highly unlikely that he would let his laziness take over his competitive streak in a long-planned last minute rest.

2, He is planning something. This is the most popular interpretation among people who remember Bush's earlier Thanksgiving trip to Iraq. That trip left from Crawford, and the thought is that he may have planned something similar as a bit of election-eve grandstanding. If this is the case, I see it as a gamble by BushCo that the symbolism of the moment will resonate immediately while the cynical response will lag a few days. They did, after all, get a nice short-term boost out of the carrier landing, and this is a crowd that will do almost anything for a short-term political gain.

The smart money seems to be on a trip to Afghanistan, which just completed elections, rather than a trip to the far more dangerous Iraq. In either case, it will be interested to see if he gets a short term boost, or if the earlier carrier landing and Thanksgiving dinner have primed us to read his actions as expensive abuses of taxpayer money for political junkets. Still, they say that the point of flattery is not that the person believes what they are telling you, but that they care enough to go to the trouble to find a lie you will like. Enough voters may feel flattered by the gimmick to vote for GWB, and in a close election that might just do it.

3, The most disturbing option is that Bush is actually very ill. People have been speculating about the bulge in Bush's suits and the harness he appears to wear at all times. It may be a wire and earpiece, or it may be a medical device. The fact that Bush deferred his public checkup until after the election, despite having had several off days during the cycle, makes folks wonder if he is hiding some sort of health problem.

If he has been hiding something, and lying about wearing a device, then it will cause more serious harm to his credibility and to the credibility of his office. This is a man who will say anything for short-term gain. If he has lied to voters about his ability to serve, during an election, well, that gets into Woodrow Wilson territory. (You remember him - incapacitated with a stroke, he let his wife run the government for the last year of his term. Laura Bush is more competant than Edith Wilson, but still.)

I hope this third case is not the real story, both for his sake and for the sake of the nation.

The cynical bastard in me wonders if we will see BushCo win the election, Cheney step down due to heart troubles, Bush appoint a buddy as Veep, and then GWB step down due to his health troubles. That would be troubling. It is also a very unlikely scenario.

I am betting either on Afghanistan as in case number 2, or in a decision to call off the flying trip because it will lose more voters than it will win.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:29 AM | TrackBack

October 22, 2004

Political Ads

I followed links to these organizations recently and was struck by their political ads.

Marriage Rights has been running these ads on MTV and other spots where young adults might see them. They take aim at something that most teens and 20-somethings approve of, most old fogeys dislike, and use them to encourage folks to get out and vote.

My favorite was "Threats," which shows a couple opening the door of their house to see various threats to their marriage - the horny UPS guy for her, the sexy co-worker for him, and so on.

Josh Marshall just gave approval to the political ads at Win Back Respect an anti-Bush organization focusing on convincing Republicans that Bush was a bad idea. Marshall liked their most recent ad, which compares Bush's stupid schtick about looking for WMD in the corners of the Oval Office with an interview with a woman whose brother was killed in Iraq while looking for those WMD.

The site has put together several ads over the election cycle - my favorite was the one with relatives of the troops in Iraq commenting on Bush's "its hard." They were disgusted by his little grin. The site comes back to a couple of themes - Bush does not take world problems seriously; he lacks good judgement; and real people are hurt because of his callowness.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:49 AM | TrackBack

October 21, 2004

Bush and abortion

Glen Stassen, an evangelical theologian, wrote a strong op-ed for the Houston Chronicle explaining why George W. Bush has increased abortions in the United States.

He dug through the available data on abortion rates in the 1990s, and suggests that compared to earlier trends, there have been 50,000 more abortions since 2001 than there would have been had earlier trends continued. That is a lot of abortions, even as Dubyais posturing about partial birth abortions, pandering to the right, and sending coded signals about Roe v. Wade. Why the disconnect between words and deeds?

It turns out that the most common reason people give for having an abortion is that they can not afford to have another baby. And, well, we are in one heck of a slump and Bush chose to target his tax cuts to his supporters rather than using them to create real economic stimulus.

Other prime reasons for getting abortions are lack of health care, lack of confidence in the future, or lack of a reliable mate. Bush's proposals for health care do less than Kerry's to extend health care to the uncovered - the biggest public health problem the nation faces. His approach to the real marriage problem - child-spawning without a commitment to child-rearing - has been to sponsor an amendment to stigmatize gays and cut back on unmarried heterosexual long-term partnerships.

Finally, the Bush folks have been against birth control, insisting instead on abstinence. You might make a case for teaching teenagers abstinence first - but what about adults? What about married adults who have enough kids? I notice that the Bushes only have a couple of kids - has anyone asked them what they use for family planning? Abstinence, rhythm, or the products that they want to ban for other people?

Stassen's piece adds evidence to Amy Sullivan's piece on faith and works and presidential candidates. Read it.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:26 AM | TrackBack

Is it drafty?

The political notion for the month is the likelihood of a new draft. Kerry and his supporters are warning about one. Bush and his supporters are denying that there is any chance of a nationwide draft of eligible young people. Both have some good points. Lets lay out the situation and see if we can figure out what is going on.

I see three major factors shaping military policy in the next few years.
1, the military is overextended.
2, the people who staff the modern career military don't want draftees
3, a draft would be political suicide in 2005, even though it could well have passed in October, 2001.

1, The military is overextended.
The first thing to point out is that the blackhorse cavalry, the designated OpFor at the national training center, has just been ordered to Iraq. As Phil Carter says, putting your training cadre into the field is a case of eating your seed corn. The military has had to rely heavily on reserves and guard units, is issuing stop-loss orders to maintain staffing, and as the Wall Street Journal reports (via Jeralyn Merritt) is struggling to reach its current recruiting goals.

Kerry says we need another 40,000 troops, half combat half support, and will add them to the army by increasing recruitment efforts. Bush says we don't need anything more than the expansion Congress already authorized, and that the military is not overstretched. Really it is not. Trust me. His thought is that if we can redeploy troops from Europe and Korea, turn parts of Iraq over to Iraqi security forces, and wind down our commitment in Iraq, we will get past this short-term hump in commitment.

Meanwhile, some of Bush's buddies are talking about Iran, Syria, or other expansions of the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive invasion of countries that are trying to go nuclear and that are friendly to terrorists. Those invasions would need a lot more warm bodies, regardless of what Rumsfield says about the value of light, quick, fast-moving forces in the modern battlefield.

2, The career military does not want draftees. Sgt. Mom is eloquent about all the ways in which career non-coms - the folks who make the military work - don't want to see a draft.

The American military establishment does not want a draft! A draft would be like kryptonite to Superman, garlic to a vampire, like Woody Allen signed to play for the San Antonio Spurs! That is, an element not only toxic but #%*#ing useless!
Her point is that the modern military expects soldiers to be in for stretches of 4 to 6 years at a time, and for the career non-coms to have several of these tours. It takes up to two years to fully train someone - basic, branch training, MOS training - and then more time for them to come fully up to speed by learning-by-doing on the job. Any draft would have to be for short terms of duty, any short-term soldier would be unable to be trained for much more than light weapons infantryman, and those folks are a small portion of the army. More than the training problem, she is worried about the ways in which a large pool of people who don't want to be there will corrupt or disrupt a military made up of dedicated professionals who do want to be there.

I agree with her second point. I am not sure about her first point. While the best solution to the security problem in Iraq would have been to keep the Iraqi army in existence after the invasion, and while the second-best solution would be an arabic-speaking military police contingent from other nations, the other possible solutions to the security problem are to flood the country with guys on the ground or turn to collective punishment the way that the British did when they occupied the country in the 1920s - bombing villages in retaliation for attacks on British soldiers. A draft - lots of people trained for a year, serving for a year, and going home - would provide warm bodies to flood the country.

3, Political costs. During the 1990s several people in Congress warned that the danger in a professional military is that there is little political cost to deploying it. The people who serve want to be there. The people who do not want to serve are not there. Most middle class (and voting) American families do not have friends or family in the service while the lower classes, which are disproportionately represented in the military, tend not to vote. Thus the political cost of intervening in Kosovo, or Somalia, or elsewhere is lower than it would be if every intervention meant that every Congress critter would have to write letters of condolence to voting constituents whose sons had been drafted and then killed. The idea was to return to a draft as a way to reign in military intervention in the third world. But that was before 9/11.

After 9/11 when we told Afghanistan that they had to either turn over OBL or face invasion, and then in 2002 when we started forcing a confrontation with Iraq, I wrote to my Congressman and asked for a formal declaration of war. Why? I was bothered by Bushes decision to follow in Lyndon Johnson's footsteps and wage war on the cheap, from a peacetime economy. My thought, simplistic though it is, is that if we care enough about this war on terror to be prosecuting it, then we should care enough about this war on terror to treat it as a real war. That means sacrifice, not "go shopping". That means a draft, not because we needed more warm bodies to invade Afghanistan, not because we needed to make the political costs of intervention higher, but because a draft is the symbolic inclusion of all Americans in a war that had been declared to a major national crisis.

Were it up to me in October 2001, I would have put through a war declaration and instituted a symbolic draft - only as many people as the career military would accept - as part of shifting to a political economy of sacrifice and service instead of a political economy of posturing and politics.

But, I care about the war on terror, and the more I see of the Bush White House the more I see that they care about winning the next election and making their contributors happy. They don't really care about the War on Terror, or at least they have not prosecuted that war in a manner that makes me think they take it seriously.

So, even if the military gets itself overextended, and even if the neocons push for an expansion into Syria, I do not see the Bush White House instituting a draft until after the midterm Congressional elections. After that, Bush will be a lame duck and all bets are off. W might find ourselves in the position that Louis XVI's France was facing in the mid 1780s, where we can not afford to have a foreign policy - in this case because we have no troops to spare rather than Louis XVI's problem of having no money to pay his troops - but we are unlikely to see a draft.

What if Kerry wins? He has proposed policy measures that would help ease the pressure on the career military. He is highly unlikely to authorize action against Syria, North Korea, or Iran. For these reasons he is less likely to face the systematic pressure for more troops that Bush is looking at. On the other hand, he has also indicated more tough bilateral and multi-lateral discussion with Iran and North Korea, and he may want troops to back his bluff. He is also more comfortable with the rhetoric of sacrifice and collective effort than Bush is.

Finally, if I held stock in the military contractors making the new Air Force fighter, Navy submarines, or Marine Ospreys, I would sell. I see those large-item procurement projects getting scrapped to pay for operating costs, recruitment, and veterans' medical care.

Still, whoever wins I think it more likely that we retain an all volunteer military, cripple it by overwork, and end up with a force of experienced, burned out, but effective soldiers. And we may or may not be able to afford future military interventions for several years while we recover from Bush's actions.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:57 AM | TrackBack

October 20, 2004

WWJED

On the recent exam I asked my kids what John Winthrop would think about the U.S. Constitution. In other contexts I sometimes as What Would Jonathan Edwards Do? I was reminded of that latter question by Amy Sullivan's recent piece at The Washington Monthly.

Amy points to Ron Suskind's piece on Bush's thought process but focuses on Ayelish McGarvey's recent piece suggesting that Bush is not really a Christian at all. She does not go as far as McGarvey, but she does point out that Bush's Christianity boils down to the claim that he is a Christian, powerful words about Christianity that were probably penned by his speech writer, and policy positions that emphasize anti-abortion, anti-stem-cell and anti-homosexuality but that ignore the rest of Christian teachings.

Rather than dive into the 300-plus comments there, I want to ramble on about this at length here.

The skinny:

Some Christians think of faith and salvation as things that are created through good works. Some Christians think that salvation comes from faith alone, and that works are not necessary. Jonathan Edwards, together with most of Christian tradition, think that while salvation is a matter of faith, the test of that faith is what sort of live a person lives. Works are not cause but consequence of a true faith, and if they are lacking then the faith probably is as well.

Lets start by asking what is a "real Christian"? My theological background is heavy on 19th-century Presbyterians and so I tend to break that question down into three sub-questions or three gradations of Christian.

The first is the self-labeled Christian. This is the largest possible tent and it includes anyone who wants to place themselves in it - so Unitarians are in, so are Mormons and George W. Bush, but Jews for Jesus don't want this label so they don't count. Whether a person belongs in this group or not is a question that can only be answered by that person, and the only criteria for using this label is that a person wants it. So, by this largest of all possible tents, George W. Bush is as Christian as Thomas Jefferson.

The second is what the 19th century guys called a historic faith: publicly proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah, accepting that the New Testament is scripture (by whatever definition you want to use for scripture), and attempting to follow the commandments in that book. Jews for Jesus fit in this group, so too do almost all Christian Churches and almost all self-labeled Christians. Jefferson is out, as are Unitarians, but even bigoted anti-Catholics like James Henley Thornwell agreed that the Roman Catholic Church possessed a historic faith. By this standard both Kerry and Bush are real Christians, with Kerry being more traditional in his formulations and creeds (as expected from a Catholic) and Bush being vague and fuzzy (as expected from a self-help therapeutic Christian).

The third and hardest to evaluate is what Thornwell called a real Christian, what Evangelicals call born again, and what Jonathan Edwards accepted as a full member of his church in Northampton. This would be a person with some emotional attachment to the divine, that attachment expressed through the Christian language of sin, redemption, and joy, and that attachment proved by a change in life, habits or morals. Lets call this a heart Christian, although many people have different terms for the same folks.

McGarvey and several of Sullivan's commenters argue that Bush does not have this sort of faith, that his faith is a simple therapeutic faith that he credits for moral certainty and calm, and that the only fruits of this faith are a turn away from (most) alcohol - he still drinks near-beer like O'Douls - and a turn towards exercise. But drink and exercise alone do not make a life of faith. Sullivan is less sure, but she too looks to works as the test of faith. Kerry did the same when comparing his more social gospel with Bush's vocal gospel.

And this, finally, gets me to the question in the header - What would Jonathan Edwards do? The distinction between faith and works is old. The modern Arguments about faith and works date back to the Reformation, with precursors to that debate going back to Augustine. There are three common interpretations, each of which can be abused and turned into a vicious form of hypocrisy and heresy, each of which can drive people to live noble lives marked by caring for others - love as benevolence.

The first interpretation of faith and works is that we are justified by works. That is, our salvation and our ability to overcome original sin will come because we do good works. These works, taken on hopefully and humbly, will bring us from sin into salvation. For many Baptism is a saving or cleansing ordinance - it wipes away part of original sin and lets one make moral decisions. For some Communion is a saving sacrament - each time you participate you move closer to salvation. While this is traditional Catholic doctrine, it is not limited to Catholics: Jonathan Edwards' grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, held the Puritan version of this belief. These works include deeds done for others. Medieval social services were provided by confraternities, groups of people who banded together to do good deeds and thus earn salvation. Some, including Ben Franklin the notorious skeptic, argue that it is by doing good deeds and acting like a good person that one, actually, becomes a better person.

This, I should add, is close to modern American Judaism - we are commanded to perform mitzvot - good deeds - some of these are mitzvot to God, like prayer, others are mitzvot to those around us - caring for the sick, and so on. Jews have their own extensive discussions about what is a good deed, how do we adapt the commandments written in ancient Judah to the modern world, and so on, but the underlying premise is that you do good things because God told you to.

There is extensive discussion in the Gospel about the importance of doing good deeds for the sake of others and not for the public honor of appearing to do good. That is the gaping pit in this approach to salvation - it encourages the hypocrisy of doing good deeds purely for fire insurance or notoriety, of following the letter of the law and ignoring the spirit. Every church has these people. It is always tempting to proclaim how moral or generous or kind one is.

The second interpretation of faith and works is built on St. Augustine and Martin Luther. This argues that we are saved by faith alone. Luther looked at indulgences - gifts to charity extorted from people by promises of clemency in the afterlife in exchange for cash on the barrelhead today - and concluded that salvation through works was a confidence game. Instead he argued that we are saved by faith alone, that we get that faith directly from God, and that we need to read the scripture to figure out how to talk with God and get that faith. He cut back on the instruments of mediation and instead urged a clear strong faith. It worked - it gave us the Protestant Reformation - but it also created its own crop of bad citizens.

The danger in this understanding is that you will have people who are so convinced that faith is what matters that they will ignore the needs of this world in order to rejoice in their own faith or bring that faith to others. Whether it is the "Jesus loves me, but he hates you" of the failed Puritan or the pre-millennial temptation to ignore doing good deeds in exchange for proselytizing, because the world will end soon and only those with faith will survive the transition, or the 19th century social worker who told poor, hungry, working class people that they were poor, and dirty, and ignorant, and trapped in their situation, because they had not yet accepted Jesus, and that if they got religion then they would surely rise out of this miser, the focus on faith gives us a temptation to ignore our duties to the physical needs of this world.

And here, with the third interpretation of faith and works, is where Jonathan Edwards, Mr. Protestant for the 18th century, comes into his own. Edwards helped kick off the Great Awakening, a series of emotional religious revivals that revitalized Protestantism in the Atlantic Basin, split churches into new lights and old lights, and argued that the only real religion was emotional, not historic. He was challenged on this last point and asked why people were claiming to be saved by faith alone, why they were claiming that faith without hot emotion was not really religion at all, and how he could tell this sort of faith from temptations and snares produced by the devil?

Edwards' answer was works: not works done to gain salvation, but works as the test of salvation. This is the point that Amy Sullivan was referring to way up at the top of this post, but I thought it worthwhile to do a little religious history while getting here.

As Edwards put it in his sermon cycle The Religious Affections we are saved by faith alone. We generally become aware of that faith through our emotions. But emotions can lie. So we must test that faith. The test of faith is that it leads us to do good deeds: if someone has a moment of faith and then acts as they always did, then it was a false conversion; if someone has a moment of faith and then acts with benevolence towards mankind in general, then it was probably a true conversion.

So, if we are going to ask ourselves if Bush and Kerry have a self-labeled faith, a historic faith, and a heart faith, we have to ask ourselves what are their public professions? What are their works of benevolence? To what extent did their works of benevolence change as they matured in their faith?

Both have a self-labeled faith.

Both appear to have a historic faith. Kerry, like many New Englanders, does not feel comfortable witnessing his faith in public. He does, however, regularly attend services. Bush tends to refer to his faith before TV cameras, witness to his faith before gatherings of other faithful, and avoid all organized religious services. He is a prayer-group Christian. Still, there is no one true church organization.

The big question is what is the relationship between their faith and their works? Do their works provide a passing grade as a test of their faith?

Kerry is easier to measure. He claims to have taken up public office as an act of service to others, to have taken on particular causes as part of building a better world, and his generally liberal voting record matches with his professed social gospel understanding of the demands of faith. If we use Edwards' test of benevolence towards mankind in general, Kerry passes. The exception that someone will certainly make here is abortion and stem-cell policy. But there, it seems clear to me, Kerry places the lives and welfare of the people currently living above the lives and welfare of people not yet born, and especially above those not yet viable. Consider the moral dilemma of a childbirth gone wrong. Posit that you can save either the fetus or the mother, but not both. Who do you save? Bush would save the fetus, Kerry the mother; neither is an easy choice.

Bush is trickier. He has taken up strong positions on abortion and stem-cell research, in all cases taking the point that there is no moral difference between killing a set of cells and killing a cute little babbling baby - both are fully human, and we have a strong moral and evolutionary incentive to protect the young at the expense of the old. Where he falls down is on almost everything else.

I happen to believe that his policies towards gays and lesbians is as inappropriate as forbidding civil rights to people because of their handedness. Marriage is both a civil and a religious sacrament. If people want to stand up before the divine and their community and declare themselves married, then they have a religious marriage. The only details are procedural, not functional. If they want the civil consequences of that marriage - visitation rights, child custody, intergenerational transfer of property, breaks on their taxes, automatic access to the spouse's health coverage, etc. - then they have to fulfill a set of conditions imposed by the state - marriage license, not too closely related, and so on. It is possible to get many of the benefits of marriage by filing a raft of separate legal documents, but it is a hassle and it carries the stigma of being a second class citizen. Imagine, for example, that Bush wanted to give right-handed people a drivers license that let them drive any vehicle of the appropriate size class while left-handed people had to get a separate license and documentation for EVERY INDIVIDUAL CAR they want to drive. We would find that an imposition, an imposition made without any justification other than prejudice and that prejudice sanctified by selective citation of bits of scripture and some fuzzy-headed appeals to nature.

Sullivan was thinking more about environmental policy, corporate welfare policy, cuts in social services, and of course the war in Iraq. Here again it is clear that Bush's policies are generally in favor of a sort of corporate capitalism that enriches the rich while justifying its actions under rhetoric of equal opportunity and self help. His pre-emptive invasion of Iraq was rushed, and it was not justified under traditional doctrines of just war. There too Bush falls short.

My sourcing from this last point is weak - I read it on a conservative weblog somewhere - but worth making. The one place where Bush does appear to be acting out some of his works is his charitable contributions, which appear to be a substantial part of his income. And, to his credit, he does not brag about them.

Finally, how have their works changed over their years? Is there a relationship between their professions of faith and the works that serve to test that relationship?

Kerry, like most Catholics, does not claim to have had a moment of sudden salvation. Instead I get the sense that his faith has matured slowly, that his experiences in Vietnam and then afterwards in the anti-war protests helped him articulate that faith, and that he continues to work on it regularly. There is a quote in Gone Upriver about what the war reminded him about daily life. To paraphrase, every day is gift, it always is, but after experiencing that river, you are aware of the importance of that gift, every single day. He punches that last phrase, and it sticks in the ear. This is a man who thinks he was saved from peril through luck or Providence, and who now has the duty to make the most of the extra time he has been given. My favorite verse of scripture is the psalm "this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it" and I get the sense that Kerry has taken the spirit of that verse and turned it into a daily mantra. Again, he is quiet about his faith, but that is my reading.

Bush also had a slow transition from his drinking days to his current faith. It took him about four years from his first conversation with Billy Graham to his mid-40s therapeutic faith. Evangelical conversions stereotypically come quickly, but more often come as a moment of breakthrough after a long period of contemplation and crisis. His faith does appear to be more therapeutic than evangelical: faith gives him certainty and calm; faith helped him wrestle with his personal demon of drink; faith guides him as he makes moral decisions. What his faith does not appear to do, or what he does not publicly admit to at least, is provide humility. Jimmy Carter lusted in his heart. Most of us do. Carter was willing to admit it, although he did not expect to see that admission in Playboy. I don't know if Bush would admit to it, for that would appear to be a mistake or it would appear to be an opening to sin. He seems to deny the existence of any evil within, to project that evil onto outsiders or others, and then to find certainty in his wars against those outside evils. That bothers me. That is the action of Thomas Jefferson at his least attractive. That is certainly not Lincoln's faith, or even that of Adams and Hamilton.

As others have pointed out, Bush's faith seems to be fairly immature. He got to the therapeutic certainty point, and then stopped. He lives in a world where others do not contradict him even when he is wrong, and where he appears to absolutely believe whatever he is saying at the moment (except when he goes into blinking surrender-monkey mode, as he did during the first debate.)

What does this say about faith and works?

It is entirely possible that Bush himself really does believe that his coal pollution and mercury policies constitute taking good stewardship of the earth. It is entirely possible that Bush thinks that Iraq was a just war undertaken at the last possible moment. It is entirely possible that Bush thinks that the best way to improve the lives and well-being of the poor is to give tax cuts to the rich and encourage a society where the gap between rich and poor is ever widening. It is entirely possible that Bush thinks that promotion is the best reward for incompetence. It is entirely possible, in short, that Bush is both sincere in his faith and a terrible decision maker.

The alternative is that he is one of the several varieties of hypocrite and is very good at making short term decisions that reward his base at the expense of the nation and the world.

I doubt that we will figure it out in the next two weeks. Perhaps he will reveal the answer in his memoirs. Let us give him the chance to start writing them early.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:56 PM | TrackBack

October 14, 2004

Debate Thoughts III

I did not take notes this time. In addition, the kids woke up screaming around 9:30 and remained up for a while. So my attention was divided between the two men differing with one another on the TV screen and the little man screaming into my left ear.

I did have a couple of quick impressions.

When Bush is challenged about jobs, he talks about education. He talks well about education -- it does appear to be something he has pushed both as governor and as president. He centers his education program on No Child Left Behind, a program that I am not so sure about. On the plus side, it is designed to keep kids from slipping through the cracks of the public education system. This is good. On the bad side it focuses on teaching to the test, to the detriment of other subjects. (I am a historian -- this gores my ox.) More importantly, the basic studies and programs that the program is based on were in Houston, and it now turns out that they got those fine scores the old fashioned way - they cooked the data. So we are engaged on a national educational experiment based on cooked data.

My other worry about NCLB is that while the stated purpose of the law is to improve education, many of the implementation requirements, including the way that it chops the student body into lots of little groups and fails a school if any group has a bad year, seems designed to give lots and lots of public school systems the public stigma of being a failed school. This division might make good sense in multi-ethnic districts where about a third of the students identify hispanic, a third black, and two thirds white - the pattern in a Houston suburb. It does not make sense in New Jersey districts where there are not a lot of hispanic students, and where a normal statistical variation in class size and test performance can blast a school's image. The whole thing seems to have the secondary purpose of steering parents away from public school and towards a public-private partnership like vouchers.

Back to the debate.

I thought Kerry did a good job of elucidating the differences between the two on abortion. I also was struck by the extent to which he brought his faith forward, and the extent to which he accused Bush of being a bad Christian. Kerry says that faith without deeds is worthless, that the measure of deeds is what we do for the least fortunate among us, and that Bush has taken care of the rich while leaving the poor to flounder. Which Bush has - economic inequality has been rising sharply since 1980, even more sharply since 2000. The irony, of course, is that according to what I saw on some of the right wing web sites, Bush gives a larger percentage of his income in charity than Kerry does. Still, what sort of a person does a good deed in their own name while helping their friends take advantage of others for profit or pleasure?

Bush's faith, by contrast, is a personal touchstone. He prays for strength and clarity; he associates some of his core values with his faith, especially liberty; he did a good job of presenting himself as a closet christian rather than a practitioner of any social gospel or collective faith.

I wanted Kerry to talk more about class and inequality. He did not. He should have. Instead Kerry talked about the middle class, the middle class, the middle class.

After seeing the video of Bush's gubernatorial debate I was struck by the changes in his diction and word choice. He must have been having a bad day, because it appeared to me that he was putting pauses between his sentences in an attempt to add gravitas - the Paul Harvey effect. He uses short simple sentances, not the compound diction of the Texas debate, but this could well be a conscious decision to speak to the voters and not to the reporters.

More importantly for Bush, he did not lose his temper. I only saw him going into frantic eye-blink mode once, and forgot to note which point Kerry was making at the time, but overall he looked less pressured and more comfortable than he had during the first debate. This is bad for Kerry.

I agree with Kerry's message, so it is hard for me to judge the debate. I want to give it to the man who said the things that I agree with. I do think they did a good job of clarifying the differences between the two.

At times it was unclear if Kerry was running against Tom DeLay or George Bush. Then again, the two do go together. I was appalled to see Bush moan and groan about partisanship in national government. He and his administration appear to have made a conscious policy decision to emphasize partisan differences, perhaps as a response to the Nader 2000 charge that the parties were interchangable. But, that decision did not have to extend to systematic abuse of Congressional rules and procedures, which it has.

Reading back it appears that most of this commentary is about Bush. That makes sense - the election is both a referendum on Bush's performance in the last four years and also a choice of direction and priorities for the next four years.

I like Kerry's direction and style. I think Bush needs to go back to business school and re-take his courses on corporate leadership. He has run his administration like a corporation, but like a failed corporation, insisting on being told what he wants to hear and not what is really going on, firing people for challenging his positions but not for lying about their actions or bungling the execution of those policies. It is an administration of yes-men and sycophants. And that is no way to run a railroad.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:53 AM | TrackBack

October 12, 2004

Debate Thoughts II

Thoughts on the second Presidential debate.

Scroll down for the "real war on terror" as presented by both candidates.

I started writing this on Friday after the debate and was interrupted by screaming toddlers. I did not get back to it until Tuesday morning and am not going to bother fine-tuning the arguments. Why not? This was intended to be an initial response, before spin or analysis, and I have been unable to seal myself away from the news.

Both candidates were trying to game the debate, ignoring or redirecting hard questions put to them while trying to present their opponent's record in the worst possible light. It got frustrating, because some of those questions needed good answers, but to use the example I took notes on, when Kerry was asked what he would do about Iran, he answered by first arguing the Bush had failed in Iraq. He then said he would not rely on the UN or on sanctions, and finally said he would lead the world to crack down on states trying to join the nuclear club. Finally, after spending some 20 of his 120 seconds answering the question, he turned to control of loose nuclear material in the former Soviet Union and repeated his talking point from the first debate. Bush did something similar whenever he got a tough question.

I might be showing my biases here, but it seemed to me that Kerry had the luxury of attacking his opponent's actions as President while Bush had to manufacture accusations out of Kerry's senate record. I know that the "most liberal senator" line is a nominal truth, effective lie: the magazine that ran the study did not have enough votes on most issues to rate either Kerry or Edwards, and the one issue they did rate was the one where both men trend "liberal." But, it is nominally true despite being intentionally misleading, and so Dubya used it at least twice. That sort of rhetoric panders to his base, offends those of us who follow the campaign, and will hit the swing voters based on whether they get scared by the word liberal or scared by people playing "pin the label on the Democrat." For me, it reinforced my expectation that Bush will misrepresent everything possible. He lies, if not in letter then in spirit, and everything he said about Kerry's Senate record was similarly misleading.

When they turned to the environment, Kerry called Bush for taking credit for things that he had opposed. Bush did this as governor, he is doing it on clean air and environmental policy. He guts measures put into place by his opposition or his predecessor, then takes the moment when the old is bearing fruit and his new poison has not yet blighted the branches to take credit for the fine beautiful tree. It makes me wonder, why he wants to take credit for something he is trying to get rid of? Does he know that his policies are unpopular? Does he suspect that they might be wrong? But no, we are never wrong, it is better to be steadfast and unpopular, because being unpopular is proof that you are right. That is what he said about foreign policy, it must also be true about the environment, women's legislation, and most of the Democratic (and popular) social agenda.

Both tried to make the same argument on future supreme court appointees - they want someone who will "simply uphold the law" while supporting their preferred policies. Kerry did a much better job of it: when Bush said that justices who want to take the words "under God" out of the pledge are following personal biases while justices who want to keep it in are following the law, it made me wonder if he actually _read_ anything from the decisions. Even Clarence Thomas agrees that if Newdow had gotten standing, then the consensus understanding of church and state in the 20th century would have taken those words out of the pledge. But, the judges found a way to not have to make that unpopular decision, a decision that produces strong emotional responses. I then cringed when he went to Dredd Scott. Are Newdow and Dredd Scott the only bad cases in American history? Are they the best measure of judges putting personal preference into their reading of statute, precedent, custom, and original intent? You could argue that Brown v. Board was just as influenced by Justice Warren's personal understanding that segregation was morally wrong, and by his attempt to find a legal formula that would right that wrong. But, that would mean challenging a great touchstone of the modern era, so Bush floundered.

Kerry did better with the exact same response. He had a good quote memorized for the occasion, the challenger has more chance to prepare and this is the sort of a quote that a lawyer should love: a good justice writes a brief that does not display the author's sex, politics, or policy preferences; it just shows good law.

EDIT - since the debate I have learned that Dred Scott is shorthand for Roe v Wade. In other words, Bush promised to only appoint justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, return abortion to a state-by-state matter, and to all intents and purposes make abortion a class-linked medical procedure. Those who can afford to travel will get safe and legal abortions. Those who can not afford to travel will get unsafe and illegal abortions or will bear a child that they did not want to raise. Abortions will drop, mostly among poor people, and the cycle of class-based immiseration will continue. Thanks George.

Bush's position on abortion was similarly simple and wrong. Kerry was nuanced - I half expected him to use Clinton's line about "safe, legal, and rare" - but I felt that he was uncomfortable with this part of the discussion.

More on this later.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:23 AM | TrackBack

October 08, 2004

The "real war on terror" ?

Again, I watched the debate on C-Span and again I have a few thoughts to get down before I turn to the spin. This is a long one, and gets written up separately.

I thought that both candidates presented wrong interpretations of the "real war on terror." Kerry condemned Bush for turning away from OBL and to Iraq, claiming that the "real war on terror" was against Bin Laden. Bush responded that no, the "war on terror is not OBL, it is an attempt to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terror organizations" - paraphrase, so expect a silent edit after I check the transcript.

I disagree. The real war on terror is to convince most moderate and semi-radical muslims around the world that the hatemongers like bin Laden and Zarqawi should be shunned and condemned, much as we in the US shun and condemn Christian identity and the American Nazi Party. Haters are always with us. The difference between a healthy and a failed society is that in one the haters are marginalized, ridiculed, or ignored. They may be able to engage in a few spectacular moments of hatred, Oklahoma City for example, but they can not create any sort of a mass movement or permanant change in power, culture, or society.

So Kerry's tight focus on OBL and nuclear proliferation, focused on the various successor states in the former Soviet Union, on North Korea, and on Iran, is a purely tactical and short term answer. It will be worthless if he loses the future political war, cultural war, around the world. His call for alliances and reaching out might help, but so far he has been longer on wishful thinking than on anything else.

Bush's invasion of Iraq might have served a valuable purpose in that larger war on terror. Instead it has to this point served to legitimize the arguments put forward by the haters. Look, they said, the West hates us, the West pushes us around, the West wants our oil, and we must rally against it and fight our way back to the worst possible combination of tribal custom and medeival theology. And now Bush talks of crusades - he stopped for a while but the word creeps back into his vocabulary. Bush supports a general who speaks about Islam as a "false religion" that must be combatted. Bush invades a nation claiming to be serving democracy, and then engages in activities that appear to be intended to put an American figurehead in charge. Even if that is not our goal, the ham-handed and incompetant actions in Iraq, and the way we got gamed by Chalabi, made it look that way. So while Bush has some good intentions in the larger war on terror - that democratization urge that Cheney was so eloquent about - his has screwed up the execution so badly that he has hurt rather than helped his purpose.

More, by arguing that the "real war on terror" is an attempt to keep WMD out of the hands of terror organizations, Bush signaled that he too is ignoring the larger intellectual and cultural struggle in favor of a strictly military and short term solution. He is focused on particular weapons, really on nuclear weapons, and on states who might spread these weapons to terror organizations. Let them hate us, this suggests, so long as they can't do much about it. It is also a short term approach, which should not be surprising given the short-term approach he and his crew have used for almost every problem they face, and Bush has not done a good job of figuring out who actually had nuclear capabilities.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 06, 2004

Pre-Spin thoughts on the Veep debate

A couple of thoughts about last night's VP debate. I wrote this this morning, before reading the news or checking he blogosphere.

Cheney may be the prince of darkness, but he is also a policy wonk and an impressive one. I found him more impressive than Edwards, even though I disagree with most of his positions and analyses.

Cheney may be addicted to linking Saddam Hussein with the war on terror, but he is also a good insider - his critique of Edwards as Senator stay-at-home was powerful: "I am in the Senate every Tuesday. The first time I met Senator Edwards was tonight."

Both debaters turned to talking points from the stump speeches every time they hit something they did not want to talk about. For Edwards, it was Halliburtan, for Cheney it was attempts to spin Kerry and Edwards' Senate record, either by saying they were absentee, saying they were trimming politicos, or mis-representing their voting records.

Bush and Cheney have the easier forensic argument: we did the right thing in Iraq, things are getting better, democracy is a good thing and we are building it, our opponents want to cut and run just on the edge of victory. It may not be right, but it is mightily consistent and it lets them insert paens to democracy in the middle of any piece of policy rhetoric. Cheney sings these paens well; we respond to them; it is powerful political rhetoric.

Kerry and Edwards are making a nuanced argument: these guys drove us into the ditch, they are spinning their wheels, and we need to try a better way of getting out of that ditch. Or, to use a better metaphor, those guys tried to drain the swamp without planning for alligators. We are all up to our ass in alligators in Iraq. We would not have drained this swamp first, but now that we are here we will do a better job than they are of deterring alligators and draining the swamp. It might be true, but as Cheney repeated and repeated, and as Bush had repeated in the first debate, every rhetoric that makes it clear that the original ditch-driving or alligator clearing was poorly planned does make it a little harder to rally folks to help lift the car or drain the swamp. But then, standing there while you get spattered with mud from the spinning car wheels also gives folks an incentive to walk away until the driver stops blindly gunning the engine.

Cheney obviously disagrees with the Texas Republicans about gay marriage. He did the obligatory shuffle for the cause, then let the issue drop. Edwards was gracious to Cheney, and it worked.

Edwards was more comfortable talking about domestic issues than foreign policy. Still, he reminded me a bit of Bush back in 2000: both are telegenic men who have a compelling vision of themself, a disciplined focus on talking points, and a thin grasp of policy details. Bush, as much as I despise the man, did grow in office. Edwards will do the same. For that matter, so did Dan Quayle. Will Edwards grow enough? I hope so. His record before government is impressive and he appears to be a quick study.

Still, over the course of the debate I still found Cheney to be more impressive - even when he was making claims that disagree with other information I have picked up because I am a news junkie. Sell the sizzle, not the steak, and Cheney may be a cranky pitbull, but he is a pitbull with sizzle.

EDIT, here is the NYT
factchecking the debate.
Looks like I missed a couple of whoppers from Cheney, including the bit about never having met Edwards, and that as expected the Halliburton accusations were making much ado over nothing - Halliburton had won earlier bidded contracts for military services, and so were the only organization in place to fulfill the increase in those services.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:28 AM | TrackBack

October 02, 2004

Brooks on Bush-Kerry

David Brooks in the New York Times has a good op-ed today looking at the debate perfomances the other night and using them as windows into the two candidates.

He argues that Kerry is great on details - an engineer and problem solver - but fails to wrap his command of the facts into a compelling package or principle. Bush is the other way around - he has a compelling narrative of life and purpose but is completely incompetant about the facts.

To translate, Bush would be a brilliant sketch artist or designer but if he were an architect no one would dare enter any structure he built. Kerry would get the math right, but the building would be an awkward sprawl of good ideas without any coherent design or purpose.

By this scheme, Clinton was so effective because he had both the wonky command of details and the inspired ability to build a compelling narrative around those details.

Brooks made me think, which is all I ask of a good op-ed piece.

EDIT - Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings disagrees - he thinks Brooks' piece is utter rubbish because it makes bad arguments using wrong assumptions and bad data.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:22 AM | TrackBack

September 30, 2004

Debate Thoughts

I just finished watching the debate and wanted to jot down a couple of thoughts.

I was watching the C-Span version - split screen closeups of the two men throughout the entire debate.

What struck me was the differing moments when both candidates spoke fluidly and fervently: Kerry on nuclear proliferation, Bush on the importance of remaining steadfast in Iraq.

I prefer Kerry on the policies, so add salt to this observation, but at the start of the debate Kerry was looking a little gaunt and horse-faced while Bush was looking good - it was the little things like the Presidential tailoring, but they looked like challenger and president. By the end of the debate, perhaps my eye had adjusted to the contours of Kerry's long face, but the two images had reversed. Kerry's closing half hour looked presidential - he projected a lot of gravitas in his conclusion, passion in his discussions of nuclear proliferation, and humor in his passing comments. It was an impressive package. By the end Bush was looking less presidential, especially during his closing remarks when his eyes were blinking like a hazard warning light. Bush shrank during the course of the debate.

Both candidates hit their packaged talking points hard, coming back to them again and again. Bush focused on steadfast policy in Iraq, the difficulties of leading soldiers through a war that you have previously labeled a mistake, and on Kerry's back and forthing. Kerry defended his record and several times accused Bush of being willfully misleading; he went out of his way never to say the word "lie," but Jim Lehrer used it for him.

I kept waiting for Lehrer to to ask the two why it was that Kerry was calling for a broader coalition in Iraq, bilateral talks with North Korea, while Bush was arguing that the coalition in Iraq was broad enough --- he never said it, but he said as much -- while we needed to maintain the six-way talks with North Korea, talks that Bush claimed would be destroyed by any bilateral discussion.

Both candidates ducked some questions, turned others to pre-packaged talking points, and otherwise played the sound bite game. I was a little more disappointed in Kerry for this, probably because I had higher expectations for him.

These debates are bizarre and heavily scripted performances. In addition, both Bush and Kerry have been avoiding open news conferences and other positions where they would have to take multiple questions or deal with complex followups to their answers. Both have been giving speeches or participated in partisan rallies, and both have eschewed formal press conferences. I am not sure if an American equivalent of the British Question Time would be a useful way to pick a President, or even to vet a President, but it would tilt the political system to emphasize people who can either be a little more clear about their plans and policies or who can be more effective obfuscators.

I keep coming back to those closing statements. Bush blinked a lot; I forget if he is a fast blinker or a slow blinker, but he was blinking a lot more at the end of the debate, and even more during his closing speech. A blink is a sign of nervousness or of being unsure -- it is why some people use a change in blink patterns as a low-tech form of lie detector -- and Bush had a lot less gravitas at the end of the exchange.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:32 PM | TrackBack

September 27, 2004

Unfair political gibe

Some folks call Dubya "the chimp" because his face looks somehow simian.

Other folks, myself included, don't care for the man, his friends, or their policies.

Still, I have to ask myself, would we be better off today if instead of Bush we had elected an actual chimpanzee to the Presidency?

I think so, if only because he would have dealt with Saddaam Hussein by screaming and throwing poop at him.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:41 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 24, 2004

Kerry - consistent policy, incoherent message

Today's Fluffya Inkwire has a fascinating story about Kerry's position on Iraq. The article argues that Kerry has been consistent all along in wanting a strong policy to contain Hussein, approved of a broad-based coalition to fight Hussein if he rejected ultimatum, voted authorization for action as part of presenting a united front, but thinks that Bush went to war too quickly, too alone, and to incompenantly. In short, Kerry voted for war because he wanted to bluff Hussein, and he says that Bush told the Senate he needed the authority as a bluff. He claims not to be opposed to going to war in Iraq, but to be opposed to going to war alone, early, and incompetantly.

It is a hard position to boil down to a sound bite.

As I argued a while back, Bush and friends are short-term thinkers. In the vote for war, as in the steel tariffs and a lot of other decisions, they said whatever they had to say to achieve their policy of the moment. The only real question is whether this pattern of lies, overstatements, and obfuscations will catch up with them in November of 2004 or with the whole nation between 2005 and 2008.

Their lies make good sound bites but terrible policy, a point I am far from the first to make.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:12 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 23, 2004

Defending Marriage?

I double-checked the text of the Louisiana marriage amendment and, according to the Lafayette Advertiser here it is:

Amendment No. 1, Regular Session, 2004, A JOINT RESOLUTION “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Louisiana, to enact Article XII, Section 15, relative to marriage; to require that marriage in the state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman; to provide that the legal incidents of marriage shall be conferred only upon such union; to prohibit the validation or recognition of the legal status of any union of unmarried individuals; to prohibit the recognition of a marriage contracted in another jurisdiction which is not the union of one man and one woman; to provide for submission of the proposed amendment to the electors and provide a ballot proposition; and to provide for related matters.”
What struck me was that this amendment bans one false threat to marriage, ignores a real but rarely discussed threat to marriage, and barely touches on the largest threat to the institution.

I think of marriage as companionate marriage: two people promising to care for one another. This is a contrast to patriarchal marriage, where he promises to protect and she promises to obey. Over the 20th century companionate marriage has mostly replaced patriarchal marriage in most industrial societies.

What is the greatest threat to marriage? I believe that the biggest two threats are broken marriages and marriages never entered into. When teaching about colonial Virginia I ask my students how many of them have friends or neighbors in a broken or blended marriage. Almost everyone raises a hand - not surprising since about one marriage in three ends in divorce (statistics that are remarkably robust across religious, regional, and class lines.) I then use that to point out that colonial Virginia had a comparable number of broken and blended marriages, but that the culprit there was death and not divorce. I digress.

About one in three marriages ends in divorce, many of them after the couple has kids. This is a historically high level of broken marriages, comparable to conditions in colonial Virginia, and has important social ramifications. Divorce is the most obvious blow against marriage; it is clearly against New Testament teachings; and even 34% of Evangelicals believe that divorce without adultery is acceptable despite it being clearly condemned in the gospels. The pragmatics of being humans with a certain urge towards infidelity and serial monagamy outweigh religious teachings, and along the way they have created a nation with a lot of broken and blended families. This is the obvious but rarely discussed threat to marriage. It is obvious because of all the divorces - heck, politicians including conservative politicians appear to be prone to serial divorce - but we choose not to talk about it because, by and large, we prefer to escape unhappy marriages than to be trapped in them. As Kieran Heally of Crooked Timber pointed out a few months ago, even Ireland now has legalized divorce.

The largest threat to the institution is that it might become irrelevant. Why get married? You can provide for your kids, commit to your honey, and still know that you can walk away and do it again with another person. From this perspective it is striking that while the entertainment heroes of mid-century were notorious for their marriages and divorces, it is commonplace for the entertainment heros of today to have several children by several partners and never a wedding license in sight. They do not cause behavior, but I am struck by the change from being titillated by star divorces to being blase about stars making bastards. On a more prosaic level, conversations with young men about marriage often boil down to the fact that they want to have the benefits of polygamy combined with the lack of responsibility that comes with being single. This is a potential social time-bomb.

The Louisiana statute defines marriage as one man and one woman, and then provides "that the legal incidents of marriage shall be conferred only upon such union." If read strictly, this would mean that long term heterosexual partners, boyfriend and girlfriend raising a family and owning property together, would have the same lack of visitation, custody, and financial rights that same-sex couples now have. This would re-introduce a legal stigma to living together without wedlock and might, although it is doubtful, encourage some of these couples to head down to the county clerk and pick up the paperwork.

Marriage these days consists of three discrete moments. There is a bit of legal paperwork from the state or county - cheap and accessible for heterosexual couples, restricted for same-sex couples. There is a religious ceremony, optional for all, with some religious groups encouraging same-sex marriage, others banning it, and all applauding heterosexual marriage. Finally there is the kick-ass party. Some people don't do the first because they can't afford the third. (Disclaimer, we spent too much on our party because, well, J wanted a big party and I was in a manners phase.)

If we are serious about defending marriage we should do more to make getting hitched easy, the first part. This would involve re-thinking the "women and children first" logic of AFDC and reworking our social safety net to look more like the European dole, thus removing one economic disincentive for marriage. We could revise the tax code to increase the transfer payments from single people to married people. We might want to revise our public institutions so as to systematically shame those who have children out of wedlock, with the challenge being to blame the parents and not the child. I don't know how politically viable these proposals are, but they would "defend" the institution of marriage. Several of them would also offend the people who are most vocal about defending marriage from same-sex unions. So be it - we clearly distinguish between principle and rhetoric only when someone chooses an action because it conforms with their principles even tough it is against their other interests

We have already taken authority over marriages from religious groups and moved it to the state - part of the separation of church and state is that the government and not the church tells us which cousins can and can't get married, what age is too young, and so on. Religious groups are currently free to hold whatever ceremonies they desire for whatever couples they desire, knowing that the ceremony has no legal validity without the state paperwork. I know that the PC(USA) is currently debating same-sex marriage, that debate will continue in that and in other religious groups. I suspect that the Presbyterians will remain against same-sex marriage for another decade or longer.

The last is the social status of the kick-ass party. We have all heard the anecdotes about people who don't get married because they can't afford $10,000 for a reception. This is silly logic, but it grows out of the American bridal industry and our tendency to use coming of age rituals for rituals of conspicuous consumption. You don't have to have a big expensive party. Up until the mid 19th century Protestant weddings were small affairs held in the house with a few family members around. Only when American middle-class people began copying English middle-class people who were copying Queen Victoria did we start to see the big white dress, the reception, and the rituals of consumption and display. Even the folks who talk about the big expensive wedding they went to last weekend would probably be just as happy with a small intimate affair.

A marriage, in the end, is two people standing up before friends and family and, invoking the Divine for aid, pledging to build a lasting relationship. If we can remind ourselves of that, the party can also stop being a barrier to marriage.

We can make a good case that civil partnership is a threat to marriage, because it offers a sort of half-way marriage, with the economic benefits but not the public blessings and support of friends and community. A civil partnership coupled with a religious ceremony and a party would be better, and would strengthen the institution, but letting any two people march into city hall, show common residence and presto-chango get preferential legal treatment and transfer payments from single people might well threaten the institution.

Civil unions as a half-way marriage would threaten the institution if people got civil unions instead of a full marriage. They would strengthen the institution if people got civil unions instead of being long-time boyfriend and girlfriend. I have no idea which way it would go for heterosexual couples - it looks like a wonderful research agenda for someone in the humanities.

Based on what we have seen in San Francisco, Massachusetts, and Canada, same-sex couples are taking half-way marriage and combining it with religious ceremonies, the blessings of friends and families, and a public committment to a stable long-term relationship. For them, half-way marriage strengthens marriage, and if we want to protect the institution of marriage we should be encouraging more same-sex unions.

That Louisiana amendment does nothing about divorce, might do something about long-term relationships that fall short of marriage, and is an exercise of bigotry against same sex couples. It is a poor job of defending marriage, a good job of justifying discrimination.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:53 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 22, 2004

Tort Reform?

Kevin Drum points out an L.A. Times article about Bush and his buddies and "tort reform" in Texas.

In short, changes in the laws of liability and civil damages in Texas, laws promoted as an end to "frivolous lawsuits" and to promote efficiency in markets, have replaced the right to sue a home builder for defects with the right to, erm, pay thousands of dollars in upfront costs before submitting the case to binding arbitration in a forum provided by the builder.

As the article points out, lawsuits and damages serve two roles. At the moment of the suit they serve to punish wrongdoers and provide a redress for damages done. Over an extended period of time, knowing that you can get sued for a screwup provides a major incentive for someone to get it right the first time. The case that is the focus of the newspaper article is a family who bought a $750,000 house, new construction, with a faulty roof that leaked and caused $300,000 in damage to the wallboard and interior. The builder refused to make more than token efforts - $10,000 towards roof work but nothing about the other damage. The homeowners only option was to sue, which the new laws prevented, or to go to binding arbitration, which they felt was stacked against them. They ended up putting a large sign in their front yard telling the world that the builder was a lying hack. He then tried to sue them.

As a reminder to anyone entering into a major contract, actually to anyone who is asked to sign a standardized form - the only thing that makes it a form is that someone printed it. If there is a clause you don't like - cross it out. If you live in Texas, cross out the arbitration clauses and refuse to deal unless the builder agrees.

Oh, and next time someone talks about Tort reform, ask if they are protecting the economy, protecting consumers, or protecting big business with political connections.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:56 AM | TrackBack

September 14, 2004

Of Flags and Costs

In the days following September 11, 2001 American flags sprouted everywhere. They appeared on bumper stickers, on lapel pins, on car flags, and on buildings.

Some of those flags are still there, including one particular eyesore visible from the Ben Franklin Bridge heading into Philadelphia - a huge building-side flag that is now sagging, faded, discolored and covered in dark stains that are probably mildew. No picture - don't like shooting from the car while driving on the bridge - but it is a very large and very sad image.

The people who displayed flags after 9/11 and then did not care for them made me think of the animal shelters who, every spring, are flooded with baby ducks, chickens and rabbits from people who bought a pet without considering that once you own it, you are responsible for it.

The American Flag Code gives guidelines for displaying an American flag; I suspect that other nations have their own guidelines. I do not know if the Flag Code has the force of law or if it is simply written custom, but I do know that it condemns the display of a worn, tattered, or faded flag. One of my neighbors has flown the same flag in front of his house, day and night, since before I moved in; it is very faded and grey. Elsewhere I have seen people running strips and tatters down a flag pole - I hope they replaced it.

The American Military guidelines, for places with normal weather, are that a flag flown on a vertical pole from dawn to dusk will need replacement after 90 days of use. Flags flown 24/7 will last only about a third that long. I have gotten over a year of use out of the sewn American flag in front of our house, and it should last until next flag day. Of course, I also alternate it with a Betsy Ross flag from time to time, and when I start adding to my flag collection next year I will be adding more variants of the Stars and Stripes.

So flying a flag from your house means $35 a year for replacements (flag day is a good day to change the flag), plus replacement for the pole, grommets, and other hardware as needed. It is not a large cost, but it is a continuing cost. You don't just plunk down your $20 or $35, run the thing up the pole, and walk away. Or, in the case of that disgrace in Philadelphia, you don't plunk out the couple of thousand for a mega flag and then just leave it hanging. They have to be maintained - at night you either run the flag down or shine a light on it, but don't leave it all alone in the dark - they have to be replaced; they can be repaired and resewn.

The Flag Code suggests that the only way to dispose of a worn flag is to respectfully burn it, and most American legion chapters have an annual flag funeral day where they will safely and respectfully perform this duty.

I thought about dropping a letter to my Representative suggesting that any flag-burning amendment include a provision mandating that people not display worn, tattered or soiled flags. I did not, if only because there are occasional stories of people who own a particular flag with great sentimental value, and who fly that flag to tatters for some family emotional purpose. The example that comes to mind is a family whose father served in Korea and brought back a flag, and who flew that thing throughout the three years or more of his long, lingering, final illness. That tattered rag was an important family symbol.

I do not know if the flag of shame in Philadelphia is an emotional symbol or if it is something that was run up after September 11 and then left to rot. I fear it is the latter.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:40 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 13, 2004

The Chocolate Cake Argument

Many of my students used the Chocolate Cake Argument in their first homework. This is a common argument in polemics and politics - Eric Muller castigates Michelle Malkin for using a chocolate cake argument to smear Richard Kotoshirodo.

What is a chocolate cake argument?

Chocolate cake contains eggs, milk, and flour, all of which are good things; it is a perfectly reasonable breakfast food.
As you can see, I get the term from a Bill Cosby comedy routine. But, it is a serious rhetorical fallacy. If you only present a portion of the evidence, you can make an argument for almost anything, from the banal as in the comedy sketch to the shameless as in what Malkin does to Kotoshirodo to the tragic. It is sloppy thought and sloppy reasoning.

The chocolate cake argument is also remarkably brittle. It ignores all evidence, or all meaningful evidence, contravening the speaker's point. Because it does not address this evidence, balance it, or try to fit it into the speaker's narrative, the narrative can almost always be derailed by a small dose of cold hard fact. I tell the kids that it is far better to acknowledge contravening evidence and then tell the reader why their argument is BETTER, advice that makes it much harder to argue anything you want but that makes for a much higher quality of debate.

But, it does make for weaker comedy. "Dad is great! He give us chocolate cake! . . . Daddy made us eat this chocolate cake and grapefruit juice."

Posted by Red Ted at 02:46 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 08, 2004

Catholic Voter Guide

Amy Sullivan at the Washington Monthly has a very good eye for religion and politics.

Today she points us to the Catholic Voter Guide - a set of policy questions that test the extent to which your policy views align with those of the Council of Catholic Bishops, George W. Bush, and John Kerry.

I was not surprised to see that I align more closely with Kerry than with the Bishops, and that I disagree with Dubya pretty much across the board.

I should not have been surprised to see the strong emphasis on social justice and respect for individuals in the quiz questions, but I was.

I got low scores for "supporting the family" because, well, I believe that marriage is a long-term committment between two individuals, that society as a whole has a stake in building and preserving strong marriages, and that humans are flawed, make mistakes, and do need to be able to end broken marriages.

As I read the research: humans are hard-wired for serial monogamy with some level of cheating; children do best when raised in a stable, loving, environment with two parents; increased life expectancy has means that divorce has replaced death as the primary cause of broken and blended families; children do best in traditional male-female families, almost as well in same-sex families, fairly poorly in single-parent families, and badly on their own.

But, I disagree with the Thomist logic that the Catholic Church uses to parse matters of sexuality.

I am neither philosopher nor theologian, so I will probably mangle this explanation.

St. Thomas Aquinus proposed that people measure human choices and options by measuring them against God's desires. His knowledge of God came not solely from scripture but also from nature; like many folks he read the book of nature and the books of revelation as complementary texts.

As a practical matter, that means that Catholics tend to look at matters of sexuality and ask "what is natural?" "what did God intend by making (or causing evolution to make) things this way?"

Thus you will find a Catholic argument against anal sex based on the notion that the vagina is self-lubricating, thick-walled, and heals quickly while the anus is fragile - clearly one was intended for intercours, the other for elimination, and never shall they trade their "natural" roles.

This approach, with a healthy taste of St. Paul's prudery, shapes their broader approach to sexuality. The Thomists argue that the primary purpose of sex is procreation. Any enjoyment or pleasure that comes with sexuality is there merely as an encouragement to procreate. All forms of non-procreative sex - basically anything but PiV without protection - are thus a bad thing and should be discouraged.

I am willing to work with them on the whole "what is natural" argument, but I start from a position I first found in Aristotle. He asks how do humans differ from animals? His answer focuses on the fact that humans make things - to be human is to create - a position that Karl Marx picked up on while making his own arguments about alienated labor.

Turning to sexuality and nature, I ask how does human sexuality differ from animal sexuality? Most mammals only have intercourse during estrus; that is the only time the women are interested. (Dogs humping each other are engaged in dominance negotiations, a different set of rituals.) Humans are always ready for intercourse but only sometimes fertile. That suggests that the "natural" purpose of human sexuality is not merely procreation. So what is it?

Drawing on Ghandi, I argue that sex ties into our emotions. The purpose of sex is love - the physical act and the intimacy that comes with it are an encouragement and a reward for emotional intimacy. Thus where the Catholics will argue that non-procreative sex is sinful, I argue that non-loving sex is sinful.

This difference has policy implications. Rather than treating marriage as an arrangement for transferring property from one generation to the next, or as a little commonwealth that provides a miniature model of the state, or as an instrument for raising children, I would treat it as an institution designed to create and preserve lasting bonds between loving individuals. If you have those, then the children will follow, one way or another.

So, if I wanted to strenghten the institution of marriage I would not limit access to the institution to people with mixed plumbing; I would limit access to the institution to people who were making a serious committment. Perhaps we should bring back the mandatory delay between engagement and formal marriage - no more Vegas or Gatlinburg instant marriages.

But what about children out of wedlock? How do we encourage single parents - often kids who think that it is cool to spawn a pack o kids and turn them loose like baby turtles - to settle down with a helpmeet?

The intrusive state solution would be to mandate that everyone receive long-lasting contraceptive implants at puberty. If you have crotch hair, you get a Norplant (or a male equivalent, not yet invented.) They could only be removed by married individuals who present a letter signed by BOTH members of the couple. That is a level of intrusion into private life that even the Peoples' Republic of China would not accept; it carries un-measured health risks; it would be bad policy. What else?

The most likely what else is to continue the current U.S. policy of bribing people to get married, increasing the bribe if they have kids. Or, to put it in other terms, to engage in transfer payments from single and child-less people to married people with kids. We would have to alter the current AFDC and turn it from support for single moms to support for single moms and poor couples; we would have to engage in a cultural teaching moment to remind folks that 10 minutes with the town clerk is JUST as binding as a day with 300 of your closest friends, a big white dress, an open bar, and a feast; we would have to revise the laws on adoption and parental rights to give a preference to married parents, and to give step-parents legal rights and connections with the children that they raise; it would be a big set of changes.

But, that would defend marriage in a far more meaningful sense than either telling same-sex couples that they are not allowed or telling people that once you say "I do" you can enver say "whoops, re-do."

Take the quiz, how do you stand?

Posted by Red Ted at 08:28 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 27, 2004

Letter from a (former) Republican

In a linking mood today.

From this morning's Inkwire we have an op-ed from Steven Poppell, a lifelong Republican, explaining that the party of 2004 is no longer the party of 1960 and suggesting that the best defenders of conservative values - fiscal prudence, state sovereignty, individual rights - are now in the Democratic party.

He argues that neoconservatives have remade the party into a travesty of its former self. I would blame the Texas Republican Party. In any case, this reminds me of some earlier discussions about political realignment.

Some political scientists break the past down into periods of "party systems" - relatively stable eras in which coherent groups opposed one another over linked sets of issues - and then focus their studies on the changes between party systems, such as the collapse of the Whig party and the birth of the Republican party in the 1850s.

I have seen some suggestions that we are in the middle of a change in the party structure, but most of those suggestions have seemed very presentist - if Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan, and Dubya all engaged in the same sudden change, then how sudden was it?

Still, it is worth noting that there is some ideological consistency between Goldwater, and Reagan. (Nixon is best thought of as a Cold War Liberal, closer to Truman than to Reagan, despite his campaigning techniques) And, I agree with Poppell's point that Dubya's Republican party is radical with reactionary tendencies, not conservative.

Is this a transformation or an evolution? I suspect it comes down to an argument about semantics and definitions. It does appear to be a change (but remember that Reagan both praised budget discipline and ran budget deficits.)

That was a remarkably unfocused and unfinished thought. But it was a good solid Op-Ed.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:49 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 26, 2004

Whither Christendom?

I am digging back into chapter one, my discussion of state sovereignty and religious establishments. Last night, while I was thinking about how exactly I wanted to frame my argument about the relationship between religious belief, state formation, and inalienable rights, I stumbled on Allen Brill's explanation of the Darla Wynne Case in Great Falls, South Carolina.

Allen links to the decision by the 4th circuit, one of the more conservative circuit courts, and also to a narrative of the events that led to the case by Darla Wynne.

Ms Wynne had a perfectly reasonable request to make at her town council meeting; she wanted extra law enforcement at a stop sign where crack dealers were harassing motorists. When she arrived at the meeting the commissioners noticed that she had Wiccan bumper stickers. Things went downhill from there: when she stood to speak they asked about her religion and did not let her make her point; they have always started meetings with a prayer, those meetings always mention Jesus Christ, and when she stopped bowing her head during those prayers (after going to five or six meetings without getting a chance to deliver her petition) they began to harass her further. I just skimmed her account, but it appears that her property has been repeatedly vandalized - 20 to 50 tires slashed, pet animals killed, etc - the town officials and police have made a policy to deny her all permits and condemn her at all inspections, she is being harassed, intimidated, and yelled at. All because she has Wiccan bumper stickers and asked the town council to either use a generic theism in their prayers "giving thanks to the almighty" rather than "giving thanks to Jesus Christ" or at least ask members of other faith traditions to rotate in giving the prayers. In short, because she has unusual religious beliefs she has been denied her rights as a citizen, denied the protection of the law, and become a target of government rather than a member of society.

So, she sued the town for its policy of using its opening Christian prayer to intimidate and coerce. The 4th court opinion above is very solid and very straight-forward. It repeats the court consensus on ceremonial religion, as laid down in Marsh and Allegheny, namely that while legislative meetings may open with prayer and government may provide funds for civic ceremonies that include religious elements, official prayers and displays can not provide any sectarian preference and can not systematically exclude or drive away people because of their religious belief. i.e. You can have a chaplain or open with prayer, but those chaplains should not all be from the same sect and that prayer must be inclusive - a generic "God" is OK but Jesus, the Mother, and Adonai are all sectarian phrasings that should be avoided.

The 4th circuit is repeating the legal consensus, a consensus that many commentators attack for being internally inconsistent but that I argue is close to the founders' intentions: they did not want to see sectarian preference, did not want religious-political conflict for control of government, but did think that religious belief led to better magistrates and better society -- especially a belief in some future reward and punishment.

Ceremonial deism has been attacked because it turns the divine from an Awesome spectacle to a banal recitation, but there is a long acceptance of ceremonial deism as a workable compromise between free conscience and civil religion. Newdow's argument in the Pledge was an attack on that consensus, arguing that belief in the divine is itself a sectarian belief that should not be allowed. His arguments convinced Justice Thomas, who mentioned in passing that if the court had accepted the case and if it had followed its precedents involving the 14th amendment, then he would have agreed with Newdow. They did not convince those who try to argue that atheism is itself a firmly held belief about divinity, and that the state should remain agnostic about belief, supportive of citizens who wish to practice faith.

I bring Newdow in because Wynne's experience turns on the same questions: What, exactly, is religion in general? What, exactly, is sectarian religion?

Several members of the Great Falls council tried to argue that they were expressing "just plain religion" or religion in general: God is Jesus, so when we pray to Jesus we are praying to God and she should pray with us because there is only one God. (paraphrase) In that locality, before Darla Wynne moved to town, they could reasonably believe that they lived within a religious consensus. They almost certainly did not, but Wynne's experience shows why none before her had publicly challenged the local assumption of consensus and uniformity, and so they could tell themselves that everyone agreed.

We like to tell ourselves that the United States has always been a land of movers and mixers; everyone comes from somewhere else. Certainly colonists moved around, Jacksonians moved around, the antebellum South was a constant hive of relocations and resettlements. And with that mixture of place came a mixture of experience, one of the most common comments made by people who moved to Ohio, Kansas, or California was that people came from all over, and mixed, and saw how each other thought, spoke, and worshiped.

At some point we lost that mobility, or we lost it in pockets. There are now towns in the South and the Midwest where everyone who lives there was born there; people move out but they don't move in. It is not merely a rural condition, think of all the neighborhoods in Philadelphia and the other cities where people spend their lives within blocks of where their parents or grandparents lived. We put down roots as a nation sometime between the Civil War and the Great Depression, or rather, despite the massive waves of migration that started then and still continue, there are and always will be little eddies in the stream where people live like peas in a pod, all alike.

I titled this rambling rant Whither Christendom for a reason. Emperor Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, replacing pagan gods and emperor worship. The Romans had long held that the only thing that tied their empire together was that all worshiped the same gods - you did not have to believe, but you had to partake in the civil rituals, and to do otherwise led to things like the Judean revolt. Constantine took this imperial policy and combined it with the new and successful Jewish heresy. Now the empire was Christian, Christianity was no longer a subversive religion but the bulwark of the state, and the state would only be secure so long as all belonged (or at least publicly attended) the new faith.

The tie between church and state continued, and through the Reformation we continued to define the boundaries of the state by the boundaries of the church; if you owed allegiance to a prince you also attended whatever church he chose, and Anglicans and Englishmen were the same thing. Even with the changes of the enlightenment, some of that thought continued and some of that thought shaped early American definitions of their states. South Carolina was one of many to include a formal establishment of religion; they dropped their state establishment by the 1790s but retain a strong sense of homogeneity as a source of social strength. (An aside, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, founded as a colony for religious freedom, explicitly restricts office holding to people who acknowledge "the being of a God, and a future state of rewards and punishments.")

However, the new nation defined its religious establishments and religious tests in broad, theistic terms. Pennsylvania makes a good example - "the being of a God" (emphasis added). What matters on the state level is that people believe in something, not that they all believe in the same thing.

And so, the 4th circuit is absolutely right to overturn Great Falls, and the town is absolutely wrong to continue to appeal. But, seeing social strength in outward consensus just like Constantine did, and defining themselves around the God rather than a God, they will continue to appeal, they will continue to lose, and the scare mongers on the religious right will probably moan about religion being forced out of the public square.

Religion still defines the borders of a state, that is part of what the conflict with Al Quaeda and the islamofascists is all about. The difference is that we define our state around the dual notion that religion is a good thing, and religion need not be uniform, while they are pursuing their own version of Christendom (Islamdom?), with one sect imposing its version of religion on all of society just as the town fathers of Great Falls are trying to pressure Darla Wynne into either converting or moving out.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:22 AM | TrackBack

Keyes - Constitutionally correct, politically maladroit

I see that Alan Keyes has recently opined that the Second Amendment should guarantee all citizens the right to own militarily useful weapons - he used machine guns as his example. He qualified this by insisting on some form of licensing, but the gist of his argument is a logical extension of one originalist reading of the 2nd Amendment.

Guess what, I agree with him on that original intent.

The founders bought into the myth of a people in arms as the best defence against tyranny, something they had picked up from Trenchard and Gordon and from the Exclusion Crisis and Glorious Revolution in England. The militia fought at Lexington and Concord; the militia besieged Boston; the militia fought a couple of crucial engagements in the Carolinas; clearly the people in arms are a necessary balance of power.

It is worth noting that the 2nd amendment is just that, an amendment, part of the slate of changes in the Constution forced by anti-Federalists who were unable to block ratification but who tried to cripple the new frame of government by improving it. The Bill of Rights was a statement by the people that the Federal government had gone too far, and it built on the existing notion of states as a counterweight to the federal government by emphasizing the role of the militia as a counterweight to the states and as a counterweight to the federal armed forces. Heck, in 1800 it is likely that if the election had gone the other way Virginia would have mobilized its militia against the Federalists.

However, it is also worth noting that we do not live in the world that the founders made. Even during the Revolution itself, Washington, Greene and the other American generals - British as well, militia fought on both sides - concluded that the militia was not a reliable military force. Some militia units were solid, but any large task left to them would be left undone. It was the militia who let the British onto Long Island. More, their lack standards of training and drill meant that they were less effective in a fixed battle, more likely to flee. Washington has a number of very cranky letters, see for example GW to John Jay after the Battle of the Brandywine, where he claims that his regulars would have beaten the British except that the militia turned and fled.

Militia performance went down hill consistently from the 1630s onward. Militia trounced the Narraganset indians in the seventeenth century, got trounced in Ohio in the 1790s. Militia was most effective as political police during the American Revolution. During the War of 1812 they were even less useful: some militia fled outside of Washington DC, breaking the lines and leading to defeat and the burning of the capital; the New York militia refused to cross the border into Canada and watched the regulars march in and lose a battle a couple of miles away; only Andrew Jackson got the militia to fight, and that because he had them under his arbitrary discipline for over a year and they were far far more terrified of him than they were of the soldiers who had just beaten Napoleon.

By the 1840s, the militia was useless. Instead of mandated service, people organized voluntary military groups, especially in the South, and the same people who would have provided the core of the citizen militia now belonged to volunteer companies. These volunteer companies did train, if only because it let them wear their fancy uniforms, and they did turn out and serve first in the Mexican War and then in the Civil War.

These volunteers were brave, sometimes vicious, but ragged. The militia itself remained a sort of home guard, militarily useless but politically influential. And, of course, the Civil War was a bloody exercise in rebellion against the federal government, and in the postwar years anyone who argued that the states needed to defend themselves would have been accused of trying to fight a second round.

This was the situation that led Congress and the states to disband the volunteers and then later transform the militia into a national guard. From here the Supreme Court argued that the 2nd amendment referred to the right of the States to arm themselves against the federal government, and thus that as long as the National Guard had military weaponry the citizenry did not need it.

Keyes is trying to turn the clock back to 1791. He is right - if someone in 1791 had tried to tell the American people that they could not own a Brown Bess but had to content themselves with fowling pieces, they would have been pilloried in the press and voted out of office. But, the nation is not frozen in 1776, or 1787, or 1791, or 1800, or at any single previous point. Instead we try to create a moving interpretation of timeless principles.

The current consensus on guns is an interpretation. Guns for the states, that is the National Guard and they get all manner of military equipment. Guns for personal defense, that is a question of social policy and not of fundamental rights, and we can and should regulate which guns are available under which conditions. Ban private ownership of all guns? Probably not, both as a matter of principle and as a matter of vote counting.

The original intent is important. But the original intent on much of the Constitution did not survive from 1787 to 1791, much less past the early 1800s. With guns as with religion as with the electoral college as with the Supreme Court, the point is not what they guys in Philadelphia planned or the guys in New York implemented, the point is how those original intentions evolved to meet changing circumstances.

Keyes is making a valid constitutional argument, but it is also an argument that is contrary to the American fuzzy consensus on guns: guns yes, scary or military guns no.

It was famously said of Henry Clay that he would rather be right than be president. No one who knew him believed he had ever said that. It appears that Keyes would rather be right than be Senator. I wonder if someone will ask him that? I know what his on the record answer is. His rhetorical choices suggest that, unlike Clay, Keyes means it.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:31 AM | TrackBack

Swift Boat Souljah?

Bill Clinton famously had his "Sistah Souljah" moment when someone who supported him and who was from a constituency that supported him made some stupid and inflammatory statements. He condemned her, rightly, and did so in a manner that pushed him towards the center while only singing his bridges to his radical left.

Could Bush be planning a similar moment with the Swift Boat folks? I suspect that he and Rove considered it, but decided that they could not plausibly denounce the Swift Boat smears without offending their mutual friends who bankroll both the party and these 527s.

Kerry has been able to condemn specific ads from Moveon.org, but his deep pockets are separated from their deep pockets by a bit more distance than we find between the Swift Boats and the Texas Republican Party.

527 organizations are tricky. They are engaged in free speech. In fact, when Bush signed the campaign finance reform bill that created them he worried that the legislation was putting TOO MUCH restriction on political speech. How do you try to minimize the ability of the rich and powerful to drive media and elections without systematically infringing on fundamental rights of free speech? The best suggestion I have heard is to go to snap elections, but that would garble the basic elements of Madison's system.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:21 AM | TrackBack

August 25, 2004

Anger and Lies

Sgt Mom over at Sgt Stryker hits the nail on the head in this rant about the veterans, the Swift boat group, and John Kerry, just as she got it wrong in her previous comments on the Swift vets.

She is darn right today when she discusses the anger that many vets feel at Kerry for his actions in 1971 and afterward. Vietnam is still a painful memory. If Kerry loses the election because veterans and others decide that his actions in the early 1970s harmed the nation more than they helped the nation, that is how things are supposed to work.

However, the Swift Boat Hacks for Bush took their anger one step farther, and made up lies. They shifted from the politics of being critical about the record to the politics of personal destruction. More, they used the big lie of personal destruction. So when Sgt Mom asks why the mainstream media barely covers these guys and then mostly covers them in order to debunk them, it is because their statements smell like rat.

What I find interesting, shifting to the metadebate, is the fine line between exploring a person's record and engaging in personal destruction. The difference seems to be that the latter makes up lies or fails the basic rule of honest paraphrasing - if you are going to represent another person's position, do so in a manner that summarizes the WHOLE thing. Otherwise, all you do is score cheap points against a straw man.

So, to use a more recent and useful example, Kerry voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq. He did so on the understanding that this was yet another confrontation that would end with Hussein backing down. When Bush did not try to resolve the confrontation but instead went out of his way to turn confrontation into combat, Kerry like many other Senators felt that the administration had mis-represented their intended policies. So, when they tried to ask to borrow money to fight that war, he voted against it. He now says he would have voted for the money if it had come out of current spending; he may even be right about that.

That is something we can debate on - should we have forced the confrontation in Iraq? Should we fund the war in Iraq by raising taxes, cutting services, or borrowing? Or rather, what balance between these three should we use? Those are valid policy questions. "He voted for it before he voted against it" is not.

Let me be clear that while I see Republicans engaging in more of this sort of misrepresentation, there is a similar systematic misreading in slogans like "Bush lied; people died," or "No war for oil," or "George Bush is a deserter." The politics of personal destruction cross party lines -- look at Ann Coulter's critics -- and I don't like it at all.

More on this in the post on media bias that I will write later today.

Posted by Red Ted at 05:35 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Muller v Malkin

In the background I am streaming the WHYY radio broadcast of the debate between Michelle Malkin and Eric Muller. It is a frustrating thing to listen to. Malkin is working desparately to prove that there was at some point a military rationale for the camps, and then argues that because there was some military background then NONE of the crucial decisions were bad policies based on racial prejudice. Muller, meanwhile, is constantly showing that the people who implemented and shaped the policy of getting Japanese-Americans off the West Coast were driven by racist assumptions, suggesting that the procedural implementation of the Japanese internments means that the real decision was racial not military.

I have to admit that I am biased toward's Muller's position. He did, after all, do extensive research in the primary documents while Malkin did a quick read through selected documents. He is aware that procedural matters have more to do with real, working justice, than do stated goals. She looks at laws and has very little sympathy for other people's pain, he looks at experience and hopes that our nation can do better.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:47 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 18, 2004

I cast magic missile

Shamelessly stolen from Jeff Freeman, including the caption:

I cast magic missile

Posted by Red Ted at 11:20 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 17, 2004

Move On Please?

This amused me: Move On Please.

I agree with moveon's goals, but in many ways they are the geeky over-excited kid of politics, jumping around and making themselves obnoxious.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:19 AM | TrackBack

August 10, 2004

Swift Boat Nixonites for Bush

I probably should have chosen a more polite title for these guys. I didn't. Then again, I did not call them raving moonbats either although I should have after their ranting about Kerry's medals.

What bugs me about these guys, and about the warblogger and bushblogger embrace of them, is that they have three points that they are completely merging and mangling.

The first is the whole "all Vietnam veterans were involved with war crimes" thing - something that has them frothing at the mouth. The second is John Kerry's role as an anti-war activist in the 1970s. The third is whether or not JK made up stories during his anti-war activism.

On the first of these, all the Nixonites have to offer is outrage. Kerry offered up a syllogism in the 1970s, and all O'Neil's efforts and all their rage do nothing to challenge the syllogism. At the lowest common denominator, Kerry pointed out that the Geneva Convention regards free fire zones as a war crime. The American military made such extensive use of free fire zones during the Vietnam war that every serviceman either participated in one or supported someone who participated in one. Therefore, all who served were complicit in war crimes. They have never challenged this syllogism; they have just expressed outrage that JK could accuse veterans who did not think they did anything wrong of participating in war crimes. Until they tackle this logic, they are moonbats.

The second, connected to the first, is Kerry's role as an anti-war activist. His actions in the 1970s got O'Neill and Nixon involved with countering him. In addition, his high-profile status led to him presenting the findings of the Winter Soldier investigation to Congress. To the best of my understanding, that investigation made some stuff up. To the best of my understanding, Kerry had no reason to challenge their findings at the time, and presented their material for them in good faith. To the best of my understanding, Kerry distanced himself from the Winter Soldier crowd after he learned more about their details. As many have pointed out, Kerry's role here is one that many find offensive, but the specific actions are a sub-set of the larger question:

What should a patriot who wants to improve his country do when he sees his country engaged in what he believes to be an immoral war? Do you shut up because it is wartime? That is the route to moral hell. Do you only say things that you have good evidence for? You try to do that. Do you remain silent in the face of emotional appeals to continue the war, or do you manufacture your own emotional appeals against that war? And, finally, what should the United States have done in 1975? In 1972? In 1968? In 1965? In 1963? In 1956? In 1954? At every stage in the American involvement in the region, creating, propping up, and then abandoning the South Vietnamese government, there were several alternatives. And, at every stage the war path seemed prudent given the assumptions of the Cold War and the domestic politics of Cold War Liberalism.

Finally, of course, we have the Cambodia story that the warbloggers are focusing on this week. If things are as they describe it, then it looks like someone was making up stories to make a rhetorical point. Given the past history of right wing smears, I rather suspect that they have left bits out. But that is my skepticism, based on politics over the last 15 years or so.

I did not discuss the entire moonbat stuff about Kerry not deserving medals. That whole line of argument is a return to stupid cop tricks by the right - we know he is guilty, so lets frame him for something. The arguments about Kerry's medals are not credible. They lower the credibility of the Swift Boat Nixonites' entire position. They are a big lie, with all the power and pitfalls of a big lie.

Like James Joyner, I was surprised by the extent to which the Kerry campaign and the Democratic Convention focused on Vietnam. I can see why they did it - they were pre-empting any Republican attempt to pull a Max Cleland on Kerry. But, it had the downside of giving legitimacy to the Swift Boat Nixonites for Bush.

I still say we should re-defeat Dubya in 2004.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:42 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Most Liberal Senator

I thought that line about the most liberal senator was bogus. And so it is.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:37 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 05, 2004

Methods and Conclusions

Winston Smith, the dreaded Philosoraptor, explains that he dislikes most of the current political commentary because folks ignore reason and process in order to come up with their desired conclusions.

I caught clips from Bill O'Reilly's interview of Michael Moore. Now, both of these guys are full of shit. I tend to dislike Moore less since I'm more inclined to agree with many of his conclusions; however I think conclusions are less important than most people think they are. I'm more inclined to identify someone as an ally because his methods of inquiry are rational than I am to identify that person as an ally because I happen to agree with his/her conclusions. Moore is willing to distort the facts when they don't support his preferred conclusion, and that is the cardinal sin in all inquiry, including political inquiry.
I have to say that I agree with him. I will accept a good argument if it proves me wrong about something. I hate a bad argument even if it is for a true point. And, alas, far too much of the GWB crowd has been along the lines of "the sky is blue because the cat pissed on it." "Why are you complaining about the details of cat piss - can't you see that the sky is blue!" And then, of course, spending billions on airborne cat piss reduction initiatives. Or not, depending on whether pissing cats produce jobs.

You know, I think I need a better metaphor. I also need to clean the @&^#%$ catbox.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:25 AM | TrackBack

August 04, 2004

Tragedy and Farce

Karl Marx comments someplace that when history repeats itself, the first time is tragedy and the second time is farce.

Elsewhere many have commented about life imitating art, art imitating life, and various iterations of the two.

I was thinking about these two things and realized that the Bush approach to Iraq imitates the underwear gnomes, and that contrary to Marx's prediction, here we have a tragedy imitating a farce. Let me explain.

The underwear gnomes have a guaranteed 3 part plan for world domination.
1, Steal all the underwear
2, ???
3, Rule the world.

They know their plan will lead to world domination, they are sure that it starts with stealing all the underwear, but they just don't know what that crucial intermediate step might be. It is quite funny.

Now look at the long term Bush strategy for the war on terror.
1, Topple Saddam Hussein
2, ???
3, Spread democracy throughout the Middle East, undermining the support for islamofascism.

This is the Wolfowitz plan, the plan that I still think underlay the Iraq invasion. (The next most plausible alternative is that they invaded Iraq because it was on their to-do list, and it seemed like something they could get done.) As I posted earlier, the Wolfowitz plan was a high-risk high-reward approach.

The first and third steps are both good. We can all agree that SH was a bad man, a vicious Stalinist dictator, a man who once had WMD, who was assumed to still have them, and who would probably have re-started his WMD programs if he could have somehow escaped the sanctions, inspections, and no-fly zones.

Spreading democracy is intuitively acceptable to those of us who believe in American exceptionalism and in the promise of democracy. I support that approach, although I would have started with soft power in the centers of gravity in the Middle East - Egypt, Iran, Arabia - rather than with an invasion in a place that could just as easily have remained isolated and contained.

In the long run the conflict against islamofacism will continue until the haters become as isolated and ignored in the Middle East as, say, Christian Identity hate groups are isolated and ignored in the United States. Spreading democracy, human rights, and perhaps an Islamic Reformation, are the best way to make these lasting changes. So the first step is a perfectly reasonable step, and the final goal is probably the best long-term strategy for the War on Terror. Why am I upset about it?

The tragedy comes from the missing part 2 in their plan. The Bush crew assumed success. They assumed it so darn completely that they made almost no plans for the immediate aftermath of the invasion - they were expecting to be providing tents and emergency food supplies to a semi-coherent and broadly accepted interim government. Instead, because of this lack of planning, the military was left holding the bag and improvising. They have done a remarkable job considering the handicaps they have been under - no plan, unclear support, no international legitimacy to provide moral cover for nation-building, and a Bush administration that systematically undermined the rebuilding process.

What do I mean? Well, you attack a problem very differently if you assume that things will work out than if you assume it will be a close-run thing that might fail. If things will work out, then you don't really have to worry about the details. Instead you can hire staffers based on their political credentials back home, send folks over to pad their resumes, freeze out the local experts, freeze out anyone who might interfere with your turf, and use the place to experiment with your favorite social and political theories. And that is exactly what the Bushies have done. Like the WW1 Russian general who armed the entire army with baynets and sabers because everyone knew that cannon, explosive shells, and machine guns were unreliable things and battles are only really decided by cold steel, Iraq would be a farce except for the human costs. Those costs turn it into a tragedy, the worst sort of tragedy for it is one caused not by random chance, not by a clash of opposites, but by unthinking hubris and a tendency to play politics with everything, including national security.

The poor planning and execution of the Iraq invasion and occupation have made the long term project of spreading democracy and human rights in order to undermine islamofascism more difficult. I hope Kerry and the Democrats can deploy a better mix of hard and soft power, a better group of allies, and a better nation-building team and thus salvage Iraq. I have no hope for the Bush administration. I don't know whether Dean's cut-and-run or Bush's willful blindness would be worse, but I fear that we will find out.

Finally, the gaps in part two of the plan make it incredibly frustrating to read many of the warbloggers. They pound and pound on points one and three, points I agree with and that many Americans agree with. They ignore point two, which is where the whole thing breaks down.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:33 PM | TrackBack

Beach Boys and the Patriot Act

I knew something was bugging me about the Patriot Act and the way the administration has been using and defending it. The Beach Boys finally explained it for me.

If we deconstruct the story of one of their big hits, a young lady explains to her father that she would like to borrow his car to go to the library. He agrees and gives her the keys. She promptly forgets "all about the library, like she told the old man now" and instead goes "driving just as fast as she can now," having "fun, fun, fun till her daddy takes the T-bird away."

The Patriot Act was passed very quickly after 9/11. It contains a mixture of good ideas, law enforcement wish lists, and "it seemed like a good idea at the time." It is a rough draft of a revised criminal code.

In the recent Justice Department releases defending the Patriot Act, Ashcroft has emphasized a lot of cases where the provisions in the act were used to convict non-terrorists of ordinary crimes. He has made a number of vague and ill-defined claims about its power in thwarting or deterring terrorism, and appears to have botched every single Justice Department terror investigation - or more precisely every investigation that has become public has been botched.

Now, it may be that we want to revise our criminal code and investigatory procedures so that the loosened rules in the Patriot Act can be used for ordinary criminal prosecutions. That is a perfectly reasonable proposal and one that deserves debate. I know that I would support several of the changes in the Patriot Act as common-sense ways to update 1920s law to 21st century technology. For example, give investigators the choice between getting a wiretap warrant for a particular phone or on a particular person. If they get a warrant on the person, then they can listen in to anything they can find, but anything they get on any other person is no go.

But, what Ashcroft has done instead is tell us that he needs the T-bird to go to the library, and then he has gone tooling around having fun with his friends. The logical response is to take the T-bird away, even if he whines that he really NEEDS to go to the library. Even if he does, he can find another vehicle.

Alas, Bush and Rove seem to have determined to use the Patriot Act as a litmus test for patriotism. A vote against it, they suggest, is a vote for Osama Bin Laden. And then they praise Ashcroft for his diligence in using the Act in ways that were certainly not intended by Congress when they passed it. I see why Brad DeLong talks about encouraging the grown-up Republicans, because the Bush administration is acting, in far too many ways, like a batch of spoiled children. And it is hurting all of us.

The metaphor breaks down at this point. The daddy in the song can take the T-bird away but is unlikely to disown his daughter. We as voters are likely to respond to GWB's attempts to make the Patriot Act a referendum on his administration by turning them out of office and then hopefully writing a coherent and distinctive set of revised criminal codes and anti-terror codes. Send the daughter to reform school, adopt a nerd, and send HER to the library in the T-bird.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:20 PM | TrackBack

July 30, 2004

First Impressions of Kerry Speech

These are the notes I jotted down last night. I want to dig into the comparison between Cold War Liberalism and Kerry's approach to the Islamofascists, but right now I am typing in edits while the (sick) toddler naps.


Kerry is not Clinton, but very few people are. A better speaker than GWB, but many people are.

Felt like he had too much material. As a result he worked too quickly, stifling his audience at several points rather than feeding back from them. Killed the energy in order to get his words in.

Needs an editor.

Fascinated that the first time he challenged GWB on values, he muted the accusation - literally he dropped his voice and told the audience not to cheer the line about values are not words, but deeds.

Audience liked hearing his later discussion about values, especially his use of Lincoln - I will never claim that God is on our side, but with AL I will pray that we are on God's side.

Amused, he ran through the faults of the Bush admin - will not hire a VP who makes secret deals with polluters, will not hire a sec def who refuses to listen to the professional soldiers, will hire an atty genl who will uphold the Constitution - then towards the end challenged GWB to argue the issues and not politicize the Constitution.

Trying to work a nuanced position on trade - fair trade, no tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas, tax breaks for keeping jobs here. Did not hear what I wanted to hear, a simpler tax code. Instead appeared to be raising corporate taxes, repealing GWB's "windfall to the rich," engaging in extensive give-aways through tax breaks and targeted relief.

What is the 21st century equivalent of Cold War Liberalism? Because much of his move to the right of GWB on the war on terror was made using CWL approach - best way to win an ideological war is to uphold the promise of American values, strong military with strong domestic, mix hard and soft power abroad.

Strong critique of the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war. Remember, GWB himself in his call for invasion of Iraq agreed that the threat was NOT imminent. JFK would wait until there was imminent danger, or at least a clear and present danger, rather than GWB's clear and future danger. (And, of course, we later found out it was not so clear.)

Posted by Red Ted at 12:33 PM | TrackBack

July 28, 2004

Federal Reserve on Civil Religion

I have been wrestling with the chapter on civil religion over the last few weeks, most recently on a section discussiong what happened when civil religion met the Jacksonian party system.

I was thus amused to see that the St. Louis Federal Reserve has a short article on civil religion and prosperity. They focus their analysis on fear of hell, on eternal punishments and not on eternal rewards, but that does seem to be a reasonable proxy for their test. They find a high correlation between low corruption and high prosperity, a moderate correlation (correlation coefficient .34) between fear of hell and low corruption.

One of the problems that Americans wrestled with during the early nineteenth century was how to balance individual religious freedom - something that everyone praised - with the social consequences of religious belief. Antebellum Americans, as Tocqueville pointed out, felt more comfortable when surrounded by people who feared that their actions on this world would be judged after death.

The section I am having trouble framing discusses the interaction between political parties, civil religion, and politicized religion, something that appears in national politics today in a way unlike the abstract correlations of the Federal Reserve article or, for that matter, of Tocqueville's analysis. The problem comes in the details - the point of my dissertation. Everyone agreed that a more religious society would be a better society; they differed on how best to achieve that religious society. More, one person's attempt to build a common Christianity that all could agree on was another's sectarian imposition.

So, how do I want to tie the Anti-masonic movement of the 1820s, Clay and Jackson in the 1830s, Frelinghuysen and Catholics in the 1840s, and frame it all in a few powerful pages?

And back to work.

Posted by Red Ted at 04:12 PM | TrackBack

Powerful rhetoric, broken streams

I did not watch the first couple of days of the Democratic convention. I did skim a couple of transcripts earlier today, and I have the CSPAN feed of Monday's speeches lurching in the background.

They say not to bitch about things you get for free, but it is hard to follow the thread of a speech when it constantly stops to refresh the buffer - not sure if this is CSPAN's servers being pummeled, the worm du jour hitting the internet, or the inherent suckiness of RealOne Player, but it makes it hard to follow the flow.

Bitching aside, Obama gave a good speech, Carter gave a solid Carter speech, and Clinton, who is streaming in the background, gave a wonderful speech.

I got about halfway through Clinton's memoirs before having to return it to the library, I will finish it when it comes around to me again, but one of the things that I noticed in that book is also true about this speech; retirement has been good for Bill, as a person. It has given him a chance to think about what he did and what he did not do, to engage in a perior of introspection, and to discuss his record without the pressure to be right, a pressure that inflicts all Presidents while they are in office. Clinton's best moments in this speech, and in his memoirs, use self-knowledge to make a larger point. Ulysses S. Grant did something similar in his memoirs, and that is why many have made the comparison between Grant and Clinton. For that matter, Alexander Hamilton did the same, although few have linked Clinton to Ham..

My final convention thought, one that may be carried out tonight, is that the Democrats are making the very strong point that their values are consensus values, that they are the party of uniters while the Republicans are dividers. I happen to believe that Bush followed his violently partisan domestic agenda in part to discredit Nader's accusation that the parties were all alike, and that the Democrats are being very smart to take advantage of GWB's leap to the right.

More later.

EDIT - The Democratic National Convention has much better streams. This makes sense; they are spending a lot of money on their infomercial.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:08 PM | TrackBack

July 19, 2004

Assault Weapon Ban?

The Washington Post is lobbying for a renewal of the assault rifle ban.

Via Rocket Jones, I see that a number of people on the pro-gun side are not so happy about the prospect with a number of single-issue pro-gun voters intending to vote against GWB if he signs an extension.

I have to admit I have mixed feelings about the measure. On the one hand, the law is profoundly stupid. It bans a few weapons by name, based largely on their styling, and appears to have had little effect on gun violence. On the other hand, this political posturing does send an important rhetorical message about the dangers of gun violence. Personally, I will be voting against GWB on other grounds, so this won't make a difference with me.

However, if I could come up with my own gun bill, it would be something that would never ever pass. I would ban all short guns and all concealed carry. I would then legalize any long gun: rifle, shotgun, or military rifle, including fully automatic M16s or AK 47s, and subsidize gun safety courses - perhaps even making a gun safety course a requirement for graduating high school.

Why?

The original intent of the founders was that a well armed militia would be a crucial part of the balance of power. Now, even though they very quickly discovered that most citizens had no desire to maintain their own military weapons - all states I have examined quickly went from requiring to providing muskets for the state militia - they still kept the idea of an armed citizenry. That ideal has faded as a professional police force has replaced the hue and cry and the posse comitas and as the national guard has replaced state militia. Still, you can make a good case for citizens having the right to possess military arms for their own defence, and the modern descendent of the Brown Bess is the AK 47.

Hunters use long guns - rifles and shotguns. They would not be affected by the ban. People who actually think they will be defending their homes are better off with a shotgun than a handgun - they will not be much affected by the ban. What the ban will restrict is easily carried and hidden guns, Saturday night specials, and the like.

Now, this proposal will get the police mad - they don't like the idea of facing assault weapons even though few criminals use them. And, while the assault weapon ban is a sop to police morale just like quiet suburban police forces going to Glock 14 revolvers, morale matters.

This proposal will get the pro-gun folks mad - they think that they are only safe in a society where a meaningful percentage of the population is packing hidden heat, thus making it dangerous for anyone to attack anyone.

And, this proposal will get the folks who think that guns are scary mad, wrongly so, because I am far more scared of a handgun than a long gun - if only because my kids' friends' parents are less likely to have a long gun in their bedside table.

As for the proposed renewal - sometimes you go with the experts. If the police chiefs want the ban, even though it is largely symbolic, then give it to them, for it is largely symbolic.

Posted by Red Ted at 04:44 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

July 13, 2004

Buddy can you spare a name?

Eugene Volokh points out an incredibly bad Missoury State Supreme Court Decision. Comic book artist Todd McFarlane used the name Tony Twist for a villain in his Spawn comic books. Tony Twist is also a semi-famous hockey player - I had never heard of him before, but it appears that the comic book character's name was copied from the real person. The hockey player sued and won.

Volokh wrote a very good amicus curae brief that, I was amused to note, made extensive use of Robert A. Heinlein, both as an author who used real people's names for fictional characters and as a real person who appears as a fictionalized character in other people's work (although, in the work cited, the Robert Anson character was supposed to be RAH while in the comic book case the artist is arguing that the villain was NOT supposed to be the hockey player.

My followup thought was more personal. I sometimes contemplate writing fiction, although I am a slow distractable writer and I have all I can handle with the monster. Still, I do expect to write it again someday. If this ruling holds, would I have to do due diligence on all my character names to make sure that they are not the same name as someone who could reasonably claim to be famous? We all have our 15 minutes of fame after all.

I hope it will be overturned, but considering the success that rent-seeking entities have had with copyright law lately, including the Sonny Bono steal-from-the-future-in-the-name-of-the-past Copyright Extension Bill, I worry.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:11 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 18, 2004

Veep?

Hmm, after reading about John Kerry seeking a Veep I realized that I had strong gut feelings about most of the big names currently being floated around.

I will list a few of them here. Read them, come up with your own gut reactions, then click the extended entry to see mine.

John McCain
John Edwards
Richard Gephardt
Joe Biden
Hillary Clinton
Wesley Clarke
Robert Graham
Howard Dean

There are a couple of other front runners that I just don't have an opinion of, Bayh for example.

McCain - should be president now, except for South Carolina. Won't do it. I wonder, if Kerry called him, who he would recommend?

John Edwards - not the psychic, the doctor and populist. Southern, charismatic, knows the politics of class, my preferred choice.

Richard Gephardt - Gephardt reminds me of James Buchanan. And that is NOT a good thing.

Joe Biden - makes me feel slimy. No one is as smart as they think they are, but Biden is not nearly as smart as he pretends to be. I would not buy a used car from this man.

Hillary Clinton - clever idea, big negatives, she won't go for it. Kerry should probably not ask. Again, despite the Clintons having their own agenda, I wonder who she would recommend, and why.

Wesley Clarke - more big negatives here, this time among party operatives. I like him for cabinet, not for veep.

Robert Graham - my second choice. Old, but a polished campaigner and a Florida boy which could mean a LOT. A strong hawk on terrorism, and a strong critic of Iraq as a distraction from Al Qaeda.

Howard Dean - Other than being another northeast liberal, my guess for veep. I can't explain why I don't like him, but he reminds me of Carter in 1975 - a governor with an odd set of credentials, mixed ideological messages, and a so-so track record, who can deploy rhetoric that matches the signs of the times.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:16 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Stupid Prosecutor Tricks

Robert Tanenbaum, the former NYC prosecutor turned thriller novelist, has a recurring theme in his books, "stupid cop tricks." By this he refers to the process of making up evidence, sweating confessions, phoning in their own tips, and otherwise cutting corners in an investigation where they either have a hunch that one guy did it or where they would rather get evidence than create a strong case.

It is a bad habit, for several reasons. While a hunch can be right, and while often a policeman will know that someone did one set of crimes but not be able to prove it, and will then frame that person for a different set of crimes to get him off the street, it also carries a high risk of prosecuting the innocent and leaving the guilty free to keep acting. (See, for example, the Atlanta Olympics bombing for hunches, or the Central Park Jogger for pressured confessions.) These are bad things.

The checks and balances of the criminal justice system should, if used properly, reduce the use of screwy evidence and poorly aimed prosecutions. Of course, these checks and balances get in the way and sometimes let the guilty go free, and so especially if you have a strong hunch, a Hollywood-style hunch, that one particular person did something you tend to collect evidence that will convict your target and ignore evidence that will explain what really happened. Anytime those institutional checks and balances are reduced or hidden the system ends up relying on the professionalism and ethics of the prosecutors and investigators.

Knowing that, it is deeply disturbing to see the stupid cop tricks that investigators have been using in recent national security investigations. Hat tip to Sgt Stryker.

I worry that the Bush administration is trying to prosecute the war on terror the way that Texas ran its war on drugs in Tulia.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:53 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 16, 2004

Torture Memos

I might as well write this, it is bugging me and getting in the way of the real work.

I have been thinking about natural law and the law of nations the last few days, and trying to square the "king" theory of laws that some of the recent Justice Department and Pentagon memos included with antebellum notions of natural law and the law of nations.

What do I mean?

Jefferson, Jackson, and Lincoln all appealed to the law of nations as derived from natural law in order to perform duties not regulated by the Constitution which they found necessary to the survival of the nation.

Jefferson wanted to buy Louisiana. There is nothing in the Constitution that gives the President the power to buy new territory for the nation. Rather than calling for an amendment to give himself the power, Jefferson argued that the constitution, like all frames of government, is drawn from natural law. The law of nature that governs the actions of sovereign states is the law of nations, basically Locke's state of nature with nation states instead of individuals as the crucial actors. (The common law is the law of nature as applied to events within a nation's borders, and in the Madisonian scheme the common law belongs to the several states. I digress.) The first rule of the law of nations as expressed in Vattel and the other 18th-century theorists was that a nation's first duty is self preservation. By extension, the executive of a nation has the power to take actions that will preserve the nation, thus while there was no constitutional right to buy Louisiana, that power was implicit in the law of nations as derived from the law of nature, and he could do it. So he did.

Similarly, during the nullification crisis Jackson reasoned that the principle of nullification, if permitted to operate, would necessarily lead to the dissolution of the United States. Holding, with Joseph Story that the nation preceded the Constitution, Jackson applied the law of nations to nullification to conclude that the compact theory of the nation was a suicide pact. Accordingly, he faced down South Carolina and held the nation together for an extra three decades.

Lincoln is the most famous of these examples. Not only did he appeal to Jackson's logic in the nullification proclamation as he tried to hold the nation together, he went farther and suspended habeus corpus and established military law in several states in order to keep these states in the union. He extended the power of the presidency because, in his opinion, not to do so was to see the nation dissolve.

Let us compare Jefferson, Jackson, and Lincoln to the claims made by the lawyers for the Bush administration. Jefferson said that the President can buy territory and enlarge the nation. Jackson said that states can not nullify federal law; the nation will not splinter. Lincoln said that during time of insurrection some civil liberties can be suspended in order to keep the nation from splintering. Bush's lawyers have said that the President can excuse people from having to obey laws, and that the adminstration can torture suspected enemies of the state.

I skimmed the various memos that have been posted by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and other newspapers, and none of them seem to use the natural law background I lay out here. I suspect that they did not for several reasons. The first is that I am using antebellum constitutional theory and they tend to look at the more recent stuff. The second is that I am making an argument from first principles and most constitutional and legal jurisprudence is much more comfortable working with precedents and citations. The third is that to have done so would be to invite the comparison I am making here.

Jefferson - double the size of the nation by buying territory.
Jackson - prevent a single state from nullifying federal law.
Lincoln - put down a domestic insurrection and preserve the nation.
Bush 43 - torture random people as part of a poorly defined war on terror.

Jefferson, Jackson, and Lincoln all took their policies to the polls (Jackson indirectly as nullification came to a head during the winter after his re-election). All were vindicated by the voters.

So I suppose a vote for GWB is a vote for torture as a matter of state policy. Do you want to cast that vote?

Posted by Red Ted at 02:06 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Pledge

I have been writing, or rather brainstorming, a lot these last few days and not blogging much at all. I have been wrestling with the nature of American Civil Religion and with the relationship between Christianity and the common law.

The more I dig into the antebellum understanding of the common law and religion, and of the relationships between the states and the union, the more I realized that the 1954 Pledge of Allegiance is just plain wrong.

Why?

Religion is a state matter, not a national matter. That is the one thing that the founders and the folks who ratified the Constitution all agreed on. It appears that Justice Thomas agrees, which confuses Eric Muller.

And, drawing on the notion of natural law and the law of nations, Jefferson, Madison, Jackson and Lincoln all agreed that the United States has its own existence prior to the Constitution, generally dating from the Continental Congress in 1775 (If we dated it from the Declaration of Independence, then Virginia would be separate because it declared independence in June, 1776) The nation has been proven to be indivisible; states have divided themselves again and again - the entire midwest was once Virginia.

What does that mean? I would argue that the FEDERAL goverment can approve a Pledge of Allegiance that reads "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all" while the STATE governments can approve pledges that read "our commonwealth, under God, with liberty and justice for all."

Thus while Justice Thomas suggests that the pledge policy is constitutional because it does not infringe on free exercise rights, I would suggest that it would only be constitutional if the state were to modify the pledge to apply to the state "under god" and the federal government "indivisible."

Of course, that then opens the can of worms about how does the notion that the 14th Amendment applies the Bill of Rights to the states affect the Establishment Clause and the 10th Amendment which were designed to protect the states from encroachment by the Federal Government. Eugene Volokh likes to think of the establishment clause and the free exercise clause as countervailing clauses, the first protecting government from religion, the second protecting religion from the government. It is not a bad way to read it; I do not know what John Jay, John Marshal, Joseph Story, or even the lamented Robert Taney would say about it.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:06 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 08, 2004

Elections!

Today is Primary Election Day in New Jersey.

I am dreadfully excited; I will get to walk down the block and cast my ballot for which candidate should stand in the Presidential election.

I always try to vote as if my vote were the tie-breaker and would decide the entire contest. I shall have to work hard to choose between John Kerry, John Kerry, and John Kerry.

If only there was a LaRouche Republican running, I could switch parties and be a jerk.

EDIT: at 10:20 this morning, I was the third Democratic voter in my district. The election staff were getting ready to start cruising the streets to corral voters, just so they would have some business.

EDIT 2: at 6:15 at night, J was the 16th Democrat; there had also been 11 Republicans. Now that is a low turnout.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:33 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 07, 2004

Burke on Iraq

Timothy Burke has a crie de coeur looking at all the ways in which the Bush administration has taken steps in Iraq and the war on terror that undermine and destroy its stated goals. He is a far more eloquent writer than I am, and he blogs more rarely but with more effort on each piece - the overall effect powerful.

Burke opens his piece by replying to the people who argued that anyone who opposed the invasion of Iraq was in favor of Saddam Hussein's petit-Stalinism.

There is a struggle against terror, injustice, illiberalism. It is real. It will be with us all our lives. We must fight it as best we can. The people who backed the war in Iraq, especially the people who backed it uncritically, unskeptically, ideologically, who still refuse to be skeptical, who refuse to exact a political price for it, who refuse to learn the lessons it has taught, sabotaged that struggle. Some of them like to accuse their critics of giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Right back at you, then. You bungled, and you don’t even have the grace or authentic commitment to your alleged aims to confess your error.
Everyone believes in the need to defend liberty, but Burke argues that the Bushies' policies have weakened liberty around the world while claiming to protect it, and that they have done so not just by misrepresenting the purpose of the war, not just by going in with a plan for a fast victory and no plan for a transition, but by the very nature of their attempt.
Liberalism and democracy do not come from formalisms slapped down on top of social landscape: they come from the small covenants of everyday life, and rise from those towards formalisms which guarantee and extend their benefits rigorously and predictably. Constitutions, laws, procedures: these are important. But they cannot be unpacked from a box alongside a shipment of MREs and dispensed by soldiers. They do not make a liberal society by themselves.
Instead, Burke argues, the process of teaching how to become a liberal society requires that the teachers expose themselves to the locals, showing by example what an open society means. And, by the very nature of this activity, this makes the teachers vulnerable to any opposition within the society. He identifies a paradox - you must open the door in order to teach democracy, close it in order to survive your stint as instructor.

I had a slightly different take on the humanitarian argument about the Iraq invasion - I argue that for a major American international intervention to be politically successful it must meet two distinct criteria: it must be a plausible humanitarian or just war action, and it must clearly serve America's realpolitik interests. One only, and that dog won't hunt.

So, Iraq can be explained as a humanitarian effort to rid the world of a brutal petty Stalinist. That is a good deed - he is not the worst leader in the world but he certainly makes the top twenty and anything that overthrows anyone in the top twenty and replaces them with something better is a good thing.

Iraq was also explained as a crucial step in the global war against terror, by a number of different justifications. Unfortunately, the war plan was focused on getting to Baghdad, not on achieving post-war policy goals, and the whole process is in danger of collapsing on realpolitik grounds.

What next? Unfortunately credibility is like groundwater - it accumulates slowly over time but can be drawn down and spent very quickly. I don't want to just wring my hands and say this is terrible, but I also want to have a day and will stop writing at this point. More later, next time I want to do some blogging to jump start my writing day.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:06 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 05, 2004

Hashem Aghajari

I see that the Iranian intermediate court has reaffirmed its death sentence against Hashem Aghajari, who had an earlier sentence removed by the Iranian Supreme court after appeals and widespread student protests.

What has Aghajari done that is so dangerous? Well, he teaches history. More than that, he tries to apply lessons from history to modern life.

Hashem Aghajari is a war veteran who lost a leg in the Iran-Iraq war. He is a long-time radical who participated in the seige of the US Embassy. He is a former member in the Tudeh, the Iranian Communist party. In other words, he is a nationalist, a revolutionary, and someone who has acted in the past to improve what he saw as a poor society. In some ways he reminds me of Martin Luther, only with a different accent.

A couple of years ago he made a speech calling for an Islamic Reformation. Where traditional Shiia is structured around religious leaders who issue injunctions or interpretations, and muslims who can freely choose which Mullah to follow but then bind themselves to adhere to that Mullah's interpretations of Koran and of the oral tradition, Aghajari argued that muslims should read the Koran for themselves and come to their own conclusions. He really does want to see an Islamic version of sola scriptura, sola sancta -- a turning away from intermediary authorities and towards a direct relationship between Allah and man.

The nineteenth-century dudes who I study took as a matter of faith that American democracy began with Martin Luther. They were, of course, engaged in some wishful thinking about the past, but they also hit on a very real connection: democracy depends on a continuous set of informed choices, and post-Reformation Christianity encourages people to make informed choices about their relationships to the divine and to others.

I agree with the neoconservative notion that the best way to create a long-term settlement in the Middle East is to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli crisis in a matter that most people on both sides find tolerable and to undermine the political and economic despair that fuels Islamic fundamentalism by promoting democracy and social justice. If I were in the State Department, I would not have pursued those goals by going after Saddam Hussein but by giving support and encouragement to Hashem Aghajari and his fellows; I would not have worried about Iraq and Syria but would have looked to Iran and Egypt, the large populous states that influence all around them.

But we are no longer in 2002, we are in 2004. Still, we all need to worry about the future of Hashem Aghajari and of people like him. Their road will not lead to Tocqueville's democracy, but it may well lead to a world where individual opinions matter, where democracy and religious freedom reign, and where the Islamofascists get the same disgusted response in the Middle East that Christian Identity radicals get in North America.

Posted by Red Ted at 02:35 AM | TrackBack

May 01, 2004

Dinosaurs without Darwin

Via the New York Times, I see an article on Dinosaurs without Darwin, discussing Creationist theme parks created to sell religion and creationism without any of that pesky business about millions of years or evolution. Nope, Dinosaurs were made at creation, some 6,000 years ago. The Colorado River could not have cut the Grand Canyon because the head of the river is 4,000 feet below the top of the canyon walls and "water does not flow uphill."

I find it striking on two levels. The first is that there exist a large group of people who embrace scientific nonsense and yet participate in a modern technical society, although I suppose that outside of health and science fields most folks don't use evolutionary logic all that often.

The second is to once again boggle at the folks who got caught in the 18th century trap of responding to enlightenment critiques of Scripture on evidentiary grounds. Once one argues that the only possible justification for religious belief is the accounts of miracles in the Scriptures, then one has to argue either that the entire Bible is literally true or that one's chosen miracles are so clearly unlike the narratives in Genesis that they qualify as completely different stories. Religious conservatives, especially Americans, backed into a literalist textual position as part of the late 18th and early 19th century discussion about reason and revelation, and then when scientific knowledge contradicted Biblical narrative in the late 19th and early 20th century, they dug in and held on where they were.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:17 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 27, 2004

Evaluating GWB II

A few months ago I started a series called Evaluating GWB where I intended to review GWB and the War on Terror.

Since then there has been a spate of insider books on the Bush White House and a dramatic change in the nature of the Iraqi occupation.

I have not been reading those books and I have not been keeping up on the details of what is happening in Iraq, and so I have not been pontificating about GWB.

Instead of the detailed series I proposed, let me just pick a few points to make, good and bad.

Crusade - GWB's first response to 9/11 was to proclaim a crusade against terrorists - a good idea and a magnificently tone-deaf presentation of the idea. The language was quickly altered by his staffers, and GWB remembered not to say crusade again. Net impact - the word itself encouraged the radical Islamic groups who are trying to unify Islam by provoking the West, the retraction worked to the extent that people in the Islamic world decide that Bush is inarticulate rather than offensive.

With us or Against Us - the thing that first inspired me to write about GWB. By setting up a binary choice between terror and liberty, at least I think he defined non-terror with a positive term, Bush did a good job of pressuring Middle East leaders who might have hoped to straddle the gap between the US and radical Islam. The binary distribution seems to have been helpful in diplomacy with Libya and, to a lesser extent, with Syria and Egypt. Net result for the Middle East proper, positive.

However, With us or against us has effectively made the United States policy towards resistance movements a policy that hinges on the means used by the resistance movement and not the merits of the resistance or the abuses of the regime. Where Kissinger pushed a policy of realpolitik, aiding people who aided us, and where Carter pushed a policy of human rights, aiding nations that dealt with their subjects properly, Bush has turned to a morally neutral and outcome-blind policy that, in the case of things like Putin and the Chechin rebellion, may well have given a free hand to repression. One car bomb is now a get-out-of-sanctions-free card for the regime, and they can then do whatever they want because the insurgents are suddenly "terrorists." Net result for Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union, negative.

More later

Posted by Red Ted at 03:29 AM | TrackBack

April 26, 2004

Stalin and GWB

This is an unfinished thought. Perhaps by blogging it I will get a better handle on it.

Locke, Paine, and the contract theorists suggest that it is morally impossible for a population to freely bind themselves and their posterity to slavery; while it is possible to freely elect a despot, that despot can not be hereditary for by creating a hereditary despot this generation will have infringed on the rights of the generation not yet born.

But, what do you do when a population freely elects to create a government that you, an outsider with some level of power and control over them, do not approve of? It is an old chestnut in political science, one that generations of undergraduates have written little think papers on, but it is a chestnut because it is a very real question - to what extent should a free population have the ability to choose a bad or even disastrous course of action?

So where do GWB and Uncle Joe come in?

I taught the early Cold War last week. At the end of WWII Stalin had an absolute commitment to preventing any future German invasion of Russia/USSR. They had done it in 1917, devastated the country, and killed millions. They had done it in 1941, devastated the country, and killed tens of millions (about 25,000,000 Soviet citizens died in the war, two thirds of them civilians). He did not want to see the third act. So, he expanded the Soviet Union Westward, expanded Poland Westward, and made sure that the minor states along his border would not serve as a stepping off point for any future invasion.

This desire received great power approval at Yalta, where the Big Three agreed that the states of Eastern Europe would have democratically elected governments, and that they would conform their foreign policies to that of the Soviet Union.

In 1946, when Poland and Hungary and the other Eastern nations began to hold elections, anti-Communists and, more importantly, anti-Russians won the elections. Faced with a choice between keeping his word about democratic elections and keeping these states closely within the Soviet orbit, Stalin chose to subvert democracy and use force to impose Communist governments against the will of the inhabitants. Those governments remained in place until the collapse of the Brezhnev Doctrine in 1989-91. The inhabitants of these countries generally regarded their government as illegitimate, as dominated by outsiders, and as a very bad idea. They rejected it as soon as possible, with Hungary in 1956 and Poland in the 1980s both creating their own democratic challenges to Communism.

In Iraq right now, we are at some level engaged in trying to install a liberal democracy based on human rights, individual self worth, free elections, and an open and mobile society. Many of the people in Iraq, perhaps most of them, would prefer a government that does not fulfill the full range of human rights, feminist rights, open speech, and the other components of our current understanding of a liberal democracy. So, to what extent should the Coalition of the Willing use either military force or occupation pressure to force Iraq to conform to a liberal ideal?

The differences between the two cases are legion, starting with the fact that we believe that liberal democracy is a very good thing and doctrinaire communism is a very bad thing. But, at some level, both are driven by thoughts of false consciousness - the belief that people are misinformed and if only they knew better they would act as we wish they would act. False consciousness is not limited to Marxists, although Marxists have long used it to explain why working classes vote against socialist government.

Jefferson, for example, never considered that most Americans in 1796 preferred John Adams and the Jay Treaty over Thomas Jefferson and ties with France; instead he argued that they had been misled by "priestcraft" and a "reign of witches" then distracted by the "frenzy" of the X.Y.Z. affair and otherwise misled by a conspiratorial aristocratic elite. If they were free of superstition and frenzy, then they would prefer TJ, and so he must continue.

I do not know to what extent Stalin was a true believer in Stalinist Communism and to what extent he was a true believer in paranoia, personal power, and Russian dominance of the USSR. One could easily imagine the case of a person who truly believed that Communism was the best possible form of government and who worked to impose it by force on Poland, Hungary, and other nations for their own good, just as every day we see brave and dedicated people in Iraq who do believe that democracy is the best possible (or least terrible) form of government and who work to make it possible in Iraq.

I do support the movement to liberal democracies over the world. I worry that any attempt to impose them by force will, if badly done, look like Stalin in Hungary. And yet, without some use of force, we cede control to the people who are willing to use violence to institute personal rule, ethnic domination, or islamofascism.

But, there is a difference between imposing outside rule and convincing people that our idea is the best idea. As Jefferson put it when talking about religion, force may make a person a hypocrite, it can never make him a better man. Instead reason and conviction are the only lasting ways to change people's minds about their essential beliefs.

So, GWB and Stalin are alike in that both GWB's policy of using force to create a democratic Iraq and Stalin's actions using force to create Communist satellite states can be seen as an outside power using the logic of false-consciousness to impose a regime that the outside power approves of. If it is done well, the inhabitants of the regime will go along with it. If it is done badly, or ham-handedly, then it will undermine the legitimacy of the new regime.

So let us be careful.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:56 AM | TrackBack

April 17, 2004

Gmail and email

As I understand Gmail, the new service from Google, they are offering a pretty darn spiffy free email service, making a profit by running ads in the corner of the email, and fine-tuning the ads by scanning incoming emails for keywords.

This last aspect has some folks very worried about the privacy aspects, especially for people who send email to g-mail users but who may not want their content scanned for keywords and content. Others are less worried.

Like Eszter from Crooked Timber, I am only half-sympathetic to these worries. As I told folks back when I did technical consulting, email is a post card. More, it is a post card that you drop in the inter-office mail where it sits around as your co-workers walk by before it gets sent out into the wider postal stream. Do not write anything in an email that you would not write on a post card, and do not write anything in an email that you would not be willing to ask the office gopher to run down and photocopy for you.

These post cards are photocopied as they leave the office, at several points in the transmission system, and at the destination. Just because you hit send or the recipient hit delete does not mean that the email went away - there are still copies lying around on servers and backups and transmission nodes.

The only security any particular email has is either your decision to encode it with something like PGP, which means that only folks who are serious about reading your post card will be able to read it, or the fact that there are billions of emails streaming around the world every day and any particular message is lost in the clutter unless someone has a reason to look for it (or unless the content trips an internal filter that someone has set up in the mail stream - like having the word Visa and a sixteen digit number in the same email). The only security the copies of your email have is that space costs money and so people purge the old email spools after a few days or weeks except for internal mail spools at places that are legally obliged to keep a permanent record of all communications. Again, security through obscurity.

So, in practice G-mail is not exposing your email to any scrutiny that email does not already face on a regular basis. However, and this is the difference, Google is being up-front about their intention to scan email for content and then feed that content to their very smart software running on what is effectively a proprietary supercomputer.

I have low expectations for email privacy, and as a result I have low concerns about g-mail. On the other hand, I do recommend that everyone keep at least three separate email accounts: one through the workplace to use solely for work-related communication, one personal account to use for most personal communication, and one junk account through hotmail or yahoo that you use for situations where you have to give an email but know that it is likely to lead to spam. I actually have, erm, four work emails - one per college, three personal emails - two on this server, one through yahoo, and two junk emails - one for gaming, one for random web pages. That is a lot of email accounts.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:24 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 05, 2004

Doing my bit

Via Crooked Timber I see that if you Google the word "Jew," the top ranking result is an anti-semitic site. So, CT and Normblog are urging people to google bomb the Wikipedia entry for Jew in order to sort things more reasonably.

This is my bit.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:03 AM | TrackBack

April 02, 2004

Flags and allegiances

More references to Crooked Timber - there is a reason why they are the first thing I read most mornings.

Chris Bertram visited the US from Britain and was struck by the prevalence of American flags on display here. A very interesting discussion then ensued in the comments with a number of European commenters speculating about why Americans fly flags. Some of it was silly, but the discussion made some interesting digressions into the difference between a President and a Prime Minister, between a King and a Constitution.

This is something I write about as I tackle the problem of church and state in the United States. Traditional pre-modern states were defined by loyalty to a monarch. Membership in the state was defined either by an oath of loyalty to the monarch or by membership in the state church - so to be an Englishman you either swore loyalty to the King or participated in the Church of England. Test Acts, especially in the English context, required people to take the Sacraments of the State church and swear that they believed in its principles. Membership in the church was the test for service to the nation.

The United States had no king and one of the least divisive aspects in the Constitution was Article Six, clause three: "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

In other words, there is an oath defining service to the state, that oath is sworn to the Constitution itself, and there is no other religious test. So, instead of citizenship being defined by loyalty to a king or membership in a church, it is defined by swearing to a document.

What does it mean to swear to support a document? I argue, in classic Cold War style, that this means swearing to uphold a set of values and principles, an idea of government, and more broadly the ideal of rule by law and not rule by men. The people are sovereign, a notion that came out of the ratification debates, but we swear loyalty to the law that structures how the people are to rule themselves.

The people are sovereign, but the President is both head of state and head of government. In the common European system the jobs are separated, with the head of state being either a monarch or an elected president while the head of government, chosen by the legislature, has efffective power. This combination of head of state and head of government means that people jump to their feet when the Prez walks into a room just as they accord ceremonial respect to the Queen. We don't jump to our feet for the Speaker of the House, nor for a Prime Minister. But, because the head of state is also head of government, and holds his position only as a condition of having sworn to "faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," some of the symbolic role that is held by a monarch in other nations is held by the Constitution, by the Union, and by the visible symbols of that Union.

How is this related to flags? I blame the Civil War. Most Union soldiers fought to preserve the Union, especially at the start of the war. They fought under the flag for the principle that the Union should continue. This, as Jean Baker argues in Affairs of party was a side effect of the ancestor-worship and nation worship of antebellum public education, but the pressures of the war and the common tendency to interpret the war in Providential terms, imbued the physical object of the flag with the emotional content of the Union.

Just as the British Union Jack shows the combination of the various kingdoms into one political entity, so too does the American combination of a fly made up of stripes for every state (soon changed to the first 13 states) and a field of blue with a star for every state "arranged in a new constellation" represent the union. You could perhaps read the field as showing the multiplicity of states, the fly as showing the common Revolutionary heritage.

Bellamy, writing in an era when Americans were actively discussing putting an end to the emotional divisions of the American Civil War, focused on the union flag as a symbol of the republic. The 1892 pledge is, in many ways, a Northern oath: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and (to*) the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." He ties the flag to the republic, and argues that secession was a mistake. Six years later, during the Spanish American War, a Southerner would be the first to fall in battle and pundits all over the nation would argue that North and South had been reunited at the summit of San Juan Hill, for both sections had joined in this new war. Bellamy, in other words, tied the flag to the republic, imbued both with the ferver to preserve the union, and did so in memorable language that served to reinforce the flag as national symbol.

For me, at least, when I fly a flag in front of my house, it is a sign of patriotism - in the sense of a respect for the union and for the constitution. And, rather than "my country right or wrong" it is a case of "my country, let us keep it in the right." I think that is what is at the root of my deep love for flags from the Revolutionary War era. In fact, later today I am going to go and order my new flag for April, probably the "Continental" flag that was flown on Bunker Hill - red fly, white field, green pine tree in the field.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:09 AM | TrackBack

March 15, 2004

I blame Jackson

Brad DeLong quotes Jack Balkin on the politicization of the policy process in the Bush White House and suggests that many of the governance and policy problems since January 2001 stem from the double whammy that senior appointees are political and not professional and that they have decided to make most policy decisions on purely political grounds. Some of Brad's commenters might be sharing the sour grapes of a pushed-aside technocrat, but there seems to be more than just sour grapes going on.

I blame Andrew Jackson. He, after all, is associated with the idea that government ought to be simple enough that anybody with a basic education could fill any government job: no technocrats, no elites, just good solid Jackson men filling the Post Office and other government programs. Chester Arthur cut back on this, of course, with Civil Service Reform, but we still have a tension between the notion that government is a special calling for career professionals and the notion that government ought to be available to everybody - consider the scene in the holly-populist movie Dave where Dave brings in his accountant to fix the federal budget over a dinner of keilbosa and kraut, and the entire budget fits in a single three-ring binder.

Actually, I am being unfair to Jackson. The problems Brad and others see in the GWB White House are a matter of intentions as much as execution. If you intend to run a government agency to carry out its stated policies, and don't, then you are incompetant at your job. If you intend to use government agencies to carry out political policies regardless of what the charter of the agency says it ought to be doing, then you are engaged in a very different effort.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:01 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 14, 2004

How much does it cost? I'll buy it!

I saw some good news and some disturbing news in the Philadelphia Inquirer this morning. The good news is that the Iraqi economy seems to be improving - a necessary condition for political stability and a good thing in and of itself. The disturbing news is that the Bush administration continues to refuse to estimate the costs of further actions in Iraq. This continues their pattern of trying to keep the Iraq war outside the budget, funded by special appropriations and without the usual layers of planning and tradeoffs.

I can see why they want to avoid places where congress might do to them what Wilbur Mills did to Lyndon Johnson, forcing a President to choose between domestic policies and a war, but it is a disturbing pattern. It suggests that the Bush administration believes that the American people do not care enough about the Iraqi front in the War on Terror to pay the costs of the war. And yet, they are doing it anyhow. This is either an act of bold leadership, or it is a disavowal of the democratic principle, depending on how you want to spin things.

What I find disturbing is that it is part of a continuing pattern where the Bush administration speaks loudly about the War on Terror when needed to pass a policy or achieve something that it wants, but it does not take the further steps that would go along with a real war. It has aspects of a phony war, a sitzkrieg, with lots of words, limited conflict, and a domestic front that moves along as if nothing was happening. One could argue that a normal life at home is victory in a war on terror, but I remain troubled by their unwillingness to enact domestic economic and financial policies that correspond with their rhetoric about international events.

"Do or do not", sez Yoda, and yet I fear we are seeing a bit of "Do be do be do" from the White House.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:09 AM | TrackBack

March 11, 2004

Clinton on Middle East

Via Matthew Yglasias I find this speech (pdf - new window) given by Bill Clinton in Qatar on Jan 12, 2004, about the United States and Islam.

The defining feature of the modern world is not terror, nor is it trade nor technology, although terror, trade, and technology are manifestations of the defining feature of the modern world, which is its interdependence--a word I far prefer to "globalization," the more common word, because for most people globalization has a largely economic meaning. "Interdependence" is a broader word. It simply means we cannot escape each other. And our relationships go far beyond economics.
and
Terrorism, indeed all political extremism in all countries, never accepts any responsibility for any problem. They always blame the others. It's always their fault. Blaming outsiders, as all of us who have been in office knows, can be very good politics in the short run. It's always nice to convince your people that you can demonize someone else. The problem is in the long run. Blaming outsiders is a path to powerlessness. By contrast, assuming responsibility to build a different future is empowering.
Clinton is a clever man, and I very much like this speech.
Posted by Red Ted at 12:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Evaluating GWB I

One of the striking things about people is that smart folks can look at the same body of information, focus on different aspects of it, and come to radically different conclusions. This process is fun to look at from the outside, but dreadfully frustrating when otherwise smart people look at the same body of information that you are looking at, and then come out completely opposed to your views. How, one asks, can someone who is otherwise so clever, be so very wrong? And does this mean that I am wrong? I can't be wrong!

This pattern has been quite obvious in recent weeks as people take partisan stands on the War on Terror and on the 2004 Presidential election as a referendum on the War on Terror to date. I know of several people who generally disagree with GWB on policy, on the people he hires, on the style of his particular imperial presidency, and on the general membership of his party, but who have resolved to hold their noses and vote for GWB because he has done a good job in the war on terror. To name a few names, among many, we find Michelle, Sheila O'Malley, Michael Totten, and Dennis Miller in this camp.

Others, both from the foreign policy world or from Democratic political circles, look at the same war on terror and conclude that GWB has been a miserable failure as a war President. They have looked at the same information, have focused on execution rather than on goals, and have not been impressed. This group includes the usual suspects of the left, Brad DeLong, Kevin Drum, and others. It also includes disgruntled conservatives like Phil Carter, who by training and inclination both favor an aggressive foreign policy and insists that these policies be carried out effectively. These folks generally believe in a strong military, believe that the military must both intervene and retain the potential to intervene internationally in order to promote American interests, and dislike the details of current military policy.

What I want to do in this series is work through the major events since 9/11 and come up with a measured reading of GWB and his policies - set of think pieces to help me figure out what to praise and what to challenge. My presupposition as I start this exercise is that the NeoCon notion of using contagious democracy to remove the underpinnings of Islamic terrorism is a strategy with a wonderful upside if it works, but a policy that will be hard to implement effectively.

As I go through the exercise I will be using as the test of American policy the criterion of "reasonable decision, effectively implemented." I am not looking for the perfect strategy, the perfect is the enemy of the good. I am looking for something that was good enough, and that was implemented well enough to be effective. It is a lower bar, but a realistic bar - heaven save us all from an administration that tries to do the "perfect" thing in every instance, for the key to effective leadership is making decisions that are good enough, making them in imperfect information, executing them well enough, and adjusting execution on the fly so as to achieve the original goals.

I thought about doing it in one big post, but then I made a list of all the things I want to talk about, and decided that I don't have time to write it and you have no desire to read it. So I will do a series, like my interrupted but not forgotten series on Body Issues.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:46 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 01, 2004

Ashcroft again

According to the Washington Post editorial board, Motor City Mess John Ashcroft's Justice Department seems to have had a bad day during its war on terror.

What worries me about Ashcroft, Bush, and Texas-style Justice (tm) is that they seem blind to the dangers that these sort of "stupid cop tricks" and "sleazy prosecutor tricks" hold for the rest of us. They do not just endanger the people who may have been accused of things that they did not committ, they also endanger everyone else because while the unlucky get railroaded the guilty are free to go about their business.

File me with the many people who would have fewer problems with the War on Terror if it were led by different people, and that implies that the Patriot Act and the other paraphenalia are better suited to a government of men not of laws, and that implies that there are problems with the process of extra law, secret prosecutions, and selectively suspended rights.

This editorial is particularly striking because over the last couple of years folks have been accusing the Post of shifting from its reliably leftish anti-Nixon heritage to a pro-Iraq mouthpiece of the GWB White House. Is this the same newspaper that essentially tells its reporters not to bother asking followup questions or double-checking the numbers in White House press releases?

Posted by Red Ted at 12:14 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 26, 2004

A Solecism in Patriarchy

The very notion of same sex marriage just makes no sense. I mean, think about it.

Everyone knows that marriage is the way that we transfer property between generations; without a legitimate heir (and she had darn well better be faithful or we will disinherit the funny-looking kid) how do we decide who gets the property and with it the liberties and rights that are attached to that property?

More than that, in a marriage the woman loses her legal identity to her husband. She enters his household and he has governance over her and over the children just as a magistrate has governance over the whole of society. The family is a little commonwealth or a little kingdom, take your pick. Either way, women and children are dependents, taking their legal existence from the husband, sworn to obey his wishes, and subject to his desires and corrections.

So if we have a same-sex marriage, how do we figure out whose identity gets subsumed into the other? If two men marry, do they both get to chastise the other with a stick no thicker than their thumb? If two women marry, do their legal identities vanish completely? Who is the patriarch and who is the dependent? Who gains property rights in the other's body? Do they just draw straws to decide which one vows to obey and which one vows to honor? The whole idea is a solecism in patriarchy.

What, marriage no longer works that way?

Never mind.

Posted by Red Ted at 03:44 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 22, 2004

James Webb, Iraq, Vietnam, and Novels

Brad DeLong quotes approvingly from James Webb ripping the Bush Administration for pursuing a war of choice in Iraq.

Bush arguably has committed the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory. To put it bluntly, he attacked the wrong target. While he boasts of removing Saddam Hussein from power, he did far more than that. He decapitated the government of a country that was not directly threatening the United States and, in so doing, bogged down a huge percentage of our military in a region that never has known peace. Our military is being forced to trade away its maneuverability in the wider war against terrorism while being placed on the defensive in a single country that never will fully accept its presence. There is no historical precedent for taking such action when our country was not being directly threatened. The reckless course that Bush and his advisers have set will affect the economic and military energy of our nation for decades. It is only the tactical competence of our military that, to this point, has protected him from the harsh judgment that he deserves.
Strong Stuff. DeLong presents Webb as an "unmuzzled republican." He is right, I think, to point out the grumbling from the Cold War military establishment about the way that the Bushies have conducted the war on terror, and Webb is right to remind us that not only was Iraq a war of choice, it was a war expressly explained as the answer to a clear and future threat - GWB never explicitly stated that Saddam Hussein was an immediate hazard, just that if he were not overthrown then eventually he would aid some large-scare terrorist attack on the USA. The only thing in the Bushies' original call to arms that was time critical was that the soldiers had already begun to deploy and they could not be pulled back or rescheduled without losing their training edge - a line that sounded distressingly like the way the generals in August 1914 told their politicians that they had no plans to reverse or even halt mobilization once it had begun. The time-critical aspect of Iraq appears to have been the neocons' belief that an invasion in the Middle East followed by a democratic republic in the Middle East would have a therapeutic effect on other states in the region.

But that is not why I wanted to blog on this, much as I like DeLong's thought and much as I agree with Webb's comments. DeLong frames Webb as a Reaganaut and a former Secretary of the Navy, which he was. He does not point out that Webb has had an unusual career after leaving the Pentagon. The man went from running the Navy to writing novels, novels with specific messages about the state of the union and the dangers of American foreign policy. My copies are all in boxes. I liked several of them and wanted to talk about them, so the following is from memory.

I first encountered Webb through his 1985 attempt at the Great American Novel,
A Country Such as This, a book completed shortly after he left his day job. Webb looks at three classmates at the US Naval Academy, an institution he had written about in his 1981 novel, and traces them through graduation just after World War Two, through Korea, and into the Vietnam era: one is smart, and becomes a very unhappy rocket scientist; one is the All American Boy, a second generation Polish-American from coal country Pennsylvania; one is an Appalachian mountain boy who becomes a Marine, an FBI agent, a minister, and a US Representative in that order. The All-American Boy (Webb calls him that) dies in an accident while exploring a Pacific Battlefield with a Japanese friend - both are obsessed with the war and obsessed with making connections across the Pacific: something that makes sense when we remember that the story of the early 1980s was that the Japanese industrial juggernaut was going to eat America's lunch.

In other words, the book is very much a creature of its times, of the early 1980s, and of a set of worries that the US was trapped in the past, losing track of its future, weak on morality and, most importantly, weak on community. The All American Boy comes from a tight-knit community, the rural minister creates one. It is a good book, I might have to go re-read it.

Afterwards, Webb wrote a series of cautionary tales about the dangers of getting involved in the third world without a clear set of missions. Like his A Sense of Honor (1981) and A Country Such as This, they were meditations on the meaning of masculinity in the post modern age, but unlike them they also carried a direct foreign policy message - don't mess with dirty little wars, and certainly don't mess unless you know exactly what you are getting into and why you are going there.

All of Webb's books are, to some extent, an attempt to make sense of the Vietnam War - why was the United States involved, what were the various costs of our involvement, what if anything did we gain from our presence there, what are the lasting legacies of the conflict, and what are the real mistakes of the war that we must be careful not to repeat. In his earlier novels Webb was skeptical of the war and skeptical of the common 1980s myth that the US could have and should have tried harder to win in Vietnam, and this is one of the things that distinguished him from a Reagan White House that was looking for a winnable war. Note that I am working from my memory of almost 20 year old newspaper accounts and from his fiction. I would have to do research to figure out the role that Webb played in the Carter-Reagen military buildup. I want to say that he worked hard to rebuild the armed forces after Vietnam and that he worked hard to keep the military and the national presence around the world from being frittered away uselessly, but don't quote me on that.

Webb has a long track record of preferring that the US exercise what Joshua Micah Marshal has recently described as "soft power" - influence, economy, culture and desire - rather than "hard power" - soldiers and violence. I remember from the 1980s that Webb was something of an odd duck in the Reagan White House. I am not surprised that he has decided to become something of an odd duck by attacking GWB - his criticism is in character for the man and his record, even if DeLong affects surprise that a Republican would turn the knives on a sitting president for doing something stupid.

Read his novels. They are good action-adventure with a foreign policy component and some very good thoughts about the differences between manhood and adulthood.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:50 AM | TrackBack

February 11, 2004

Clarke to the Cabinet?

I see from the Washington Post that Wesley Clarke has dropped out of the Presidential race.

About a month ago he rejected the notion of serving as Vice President, although politicians are allowed to change their minds if they want to. I was thinking though that he would be an interesting choice to serve in a Democratic cabinet. On the pro side, he is smart, capable, and has good ties with NATO and good experience with foreign policy and coalitions. He might make a very good Sec Def, Sec State, or NSA. On the down side, he has a LOT of political baggage including enemies in the Pentagon and on Capital Hill. He might provoke more controversy than he would provide utility.

But this is just speculation as I find myself not wanting to write up the class I just taught.

And so to go read history instead.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:52 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 02, 2004

The danger of broad definitions



When categorizing the world I normally break things into large fuzzy groups and then use adjectives of sub-groups to define the details. Thus I would say that bloggers, warbloggers, livejournals, other journals, sexblogs, kidblogs, munivians, and anyone else who maintains a regularly updated web space organized into discrete chronological entries, is involved in the same general activity.

This way of thinking can be dangerous if you use a work in its broad sense that also has an important and detailed technical meaning. Recently Michael Moore and the Democrats have encountered this problem when talking about GWB's service record during the 1970s. It is the meme de jour, especially now that the chairman of the Democratic National Committee has weighed in. Silthery D has a good review of what GWB did and did not do. Jack Balkin emphasizes the importance that the Democratic National Committee is putting on resurrecting this story, suggesting that this portends a nasty campaign season.

What the story boils down to is that:

  • The Bush family pulled strings to get GWB into the Air National Guard where GWB got to peform the dangerous but fun duty of flying jets.
  • GWB trained properly and performed part of his guard duty perfectly normally.
  • GWB went to Alabama to work on a senate campaign and seems to have forgotten to do his guard duty there.
  • GWB missed his flight physical and was taken off of flying status.
  • GWB returned to Texas and then went several months without checking in with the Texas ANG, who thought he was still in Alabama.
  • After nagging and a threat letter, GWB did a mess of catch-up guard assignments before being released early from his obligation in order to go to B-school.

The real question is what do we make of this little narrative?

GWB performed some military service and pulled strings to get away from Vietnam, but so did many other people. GWB missed some Guard training, and the rhetorical question is how do we best depict that missed time. Michael Moore used the most inflammatory term he could find for "missed military service during time of war," not realizing or not caring that the word deserter has a precise definition and penalties under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Desertion generally requires an intent to never return, taking service with another nation, or comparable action. It is a very rare charge. Bush did not desert, he did go AWOL in Alabama and, more importantly, in Texas after his return.

Checking the various military blogs, I see that AWOL is not usually a big deal unless it means that a person misses a required movement or misses participating in a moment of danger: if you go AWOL for a week or two to deal with personal matters, return on your own, and don't miss a movement or a fight, it is generally handled on the local level - at least for enlisted men. This, in effect, is what GWB did. He did not miss any combat operation or any deployment; the Texas ANG was staying put. He missed a batch of drill during the last two years of his required committment. While missing drill during voluntary service after the required obligation is not a big deal, missing drill during your obligation is important.

By all accounts including his own, GWB was drinking and taking cocaine during the early 1970s. He did not skip the flight physical because he was afraid of drug testing - it was not yet being done - but he may have been too hungover or, more likely, meaning to do it next week. I am not sure if during the 1970s officers were expected to hold themselves to a higher level of conduct than enlisted men - at one point there was a clear distinction in terms of honor and expectations between enlisted men and officers, those boundaries have since blurred.

So, a politically connected young man prefers to party and take care of his own business than to fulfill the last portion of his very loosely defined military committment, probably through procrastination rather than ill intent. We can not call GWB a coward, he is not. We can not call him a deserter, he is not. We may even want to cut him some slack because this was during his drinking years. Still, he swore an oath and then forgot to fulfill it. Oaths matter.

We can conclude that this was a young man with a strong sense of entitlement, a willingness to put his own desires before the needs of others, and a selective memory about parts of his past - including a willingness to lie or stonewall in an attempt to cover up something he felt embarrassed about or feared would hurt his political chances. It tells us, in other words, that GWB is a selfish egoist whose sense of honor runs second to his sense of self. And that is not news, nor should it be.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:52 AM | TrackBack

February 01, 2004

Heh, Indeed


The Onion reports on Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign rhetoric

BOSTON—Addressing guests at a $2,000-a-plate fundraiser, George W. Bush pledged Monday that, if re-elected in November, he and running mate Dick Cheney will "restore honor and dignity to the White House."

"After years of false statements and empty promises, it's time for big changes in Washington," Bush said. "We need a president who will finally stand up and fight against the lies and corruption. It's time to renew the faith the people once had in the White House. If elected, I pledge to usher in a new era of integrity inside the Oval Office."

There is more. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Cardinal Collective for the link.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:11 AM | TrackBack

January 29, 2004

Kerry as FDR ?


Harold Meyerson has a nice Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post about John Kerry. He argues that real men will like Kerry, and that Rove will be unable to unman Kerry the way that Lee Atwater unmanned Michael Dukakis.

I was struck by his use of gender roles in his analysis. I was also struck by his argument that Kerry fits into the FDR mold: a patrician who has been humanized by tragedy and cares about people and their opportunities.

Like FDR, Kerry doesn't claim the populist mantle, nor does he have to. "What I'm talking about is fundamental fairness," he told me while bouncing down a New Hampshire highway the day before the primary, addressing people's outrage "that powerful lobbyists could achieve their ends on the Medicare bill to the detriment of the larger interest of the country. I don't call that populism; I call that Teddy Roosevelt-style 'Let's make the market fair.' Republicans misjudge the sense of institutionalized unfairness that Americans are confronted with every day."
I wonder if a focus on "institutionalized unfairness" and principles of common basic decency might not cut through some of Karl Rove's smoke and mirrors.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:03 AM | TrackBack

Hear Hear

John Quiggin at Crooked Timber has a nice piece comparing political correctness and civility. He points out the essential similarities between the two:

the central claim [of both] is that modes of speech are an appropriate subject of concern and that some form of government action to encourage more socially appropriate modes of speech, ranging from subtle pressure to direct coercion, is desirable. The only difference between the two positions is that they have different lists of inappropriate words.
His take on language police is much like mine - I ascribe more power to language than he does, or perhaps he is wise to spot that terms are slippery and twist their meaning: handicapped was once the polite form of crippled, but now it is an insulting word for many.

When debating knee-jerk rightists in the past I have generally tried to argue that what they decry as political correctness is closer to misfeasance than malfeasance, that their most egregious examples of PC are a poorly implemented attempt to enforce common decency and limit verbal cruelty.

I then generally turn perverse and reflexive and point out that if we argue that using charged language to distinguish and demean a particular set of behaviors for political purposes is, well, a bad thing, then the folks who scream and yell about PC are actually the people who are doing the most to use charged language to distinguish and deman a particular set of behaviors for political purposes. You can make a reasoned case about the value of using the blunt instrument of law and speech codes to enforce civil behavior, but most of the people who rant about PC do not make that case.

I blogged the article because I wanted to give Quiggen a shout out for the following quote, for I most certainly agree with it:

I find people who think that being "politically incorrect" is exceptionally brave and witty to be among the most tiresome of bores.
Hear Hear!
I might start using that to sign my email.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:54 AM | TrackBack

January 24, 2004

2nd Amendment?


I wonder what the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has to say about the private ownership of an aircraft carrier? I rather think it is more closely suited to the original intent of the 2nd amendment than is, say, a Saturday night special.

Alas, J told me we can't bid on it.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:32 AM | TrackBack

January 23, 2004

Unfair, but funny



Vie Beliefnet I see that Nathan McIintire is imagining Pat Robertson's response if Jesus returned and ran for President of the US on a gospel platform.

The reckless liberalism of Jesus Christ cannot be allowed to take hold of the Christian values this great country has fought so hard to preserve. Jesus' immorality becomes more heinous by the day, and what kind of example is He setting for our children by openly associating with prostitutes?

Frankly, the policies advocated by Christ have not only been Un-American, but, dare I say, Un-Christian. Jesus has refused to condemn homosexuals, abortion doctors, Muslims, feminists, atheists, communists, convicted murderers, or even the ACLU. His moral relativism knows no bounds: "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone," ...

The whole piece is neither fair nor balanced, but it is funny.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:49 AM | TrackBack

January 20, 2004

State of the Union


First responses to GWB's State of the Union Address. All quotes taken from the NYT's posting of the prepared text.

Why does GWB feel the need to frame his positions through false choices and misrepresentations of those who disagree with him? Is he afraid of dealing with a debate on the merits, or is this just political rhetoric in process? If the latter, it suggests that GWB and his speech writers have a poor opinion of American voters' ability to frame questions and debates. What do I mean? Many critics of No Child Left Behind have complained that the criteria and structure it uses are poorly suited to tracking and improving students, that the statistical categories the act uses misrepresent academic performance, and that high-stakes testing can not be the only measure of success. How does he respond? "This Nation will not go back to the days of simply shuffling children along from grade to grade without them learning the basics." That is a false choice. He uses similar rhetoric on the Patriot Act and on how best to respond to Al Qaeda.

Bush is very comfortable with religious language. He framed several key sections of the address in both democratic and providential terms. One paragraph could have come straight from the second generation of Americans, the people who turned from Jefferson's Empire for Democracy to marry Providence and Democracy into a national mission to the world. Here is GWB:

America is a Nation with a mission - and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire. Our aim is a democratic peace - a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman. America acts in this cause with friends and allies at our side, yet we understand our special calling: This great Republic will lead the cause of freedom.

Note the use of "special calling" and of a "Nation with a mission" - especially the capitalization. Bush, like early nineteenth century evangelicals and stemwinders, has married John Winthrop's notion of a national mission and national example with a Jacksonian commitment to democracy. He is also trying to insulate the nation from the charge that Middle East involvement is a pax Americana imposed to protect a world where one country takes the eagle's share of resources.

Bush was unrepentant, no, triumphalist on Iraq. I will repeat my earlier statements on Iraq: it was a high-risk choice to force the confrontation and invasion; the merits of that choice can not be measured until a stable regime is in place. It was a good deed to depose a brutal thug; it will not be so good of a deed if he is replaced by a comparably brutal regime. More, international intervention only works for a Democracy if it can be rationalized (note that word choice) from the perspective of both humanitarian duty and national benefit. Deposing a thug and keeping a new thug from replacing the old one is a humanitarian duty. Was it the best use of American prestige, American military, and American resources? Did it distract from Al Qaeda? Did it make it relations with Iran, Egypt and the places that matter more difficult or more likely? The decision can not be undone, but I have yet to see anything that dispels my lingering doubt that the invasion was NOT in the American national interest. I will be glad to be proved wrong, but so far the jury is still out. Bush's speech did not change my mind, in part because I continue to see a disparity between Saddam Hussein's actual weapons programs and the programs discussed in this and the previous State of the Union addresses. Eric Muller reposted last year's speech - it speaks for itself.

Bush made some interesting statements on sexuality, and used his religious beliefs in a crucially important manner while doing so. He came out for a constitutional amendment making heterosexual marriage the only legitimate form of civil union - a stupid trivialization of the U.S. Constitution. While doing so, he slammed the Fred Phelps and Pat Robinsons: "The outcome of this debate is important - and so is the way we conduct it. The same moral tradition that defines marriage also teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God's sight." Those are very important words, and I thank GWB for using them. There is a lingering whiff of toleration, not equality, but it is still an important reminder to the more rabid members of his base.

Of course, he threw them some raw meat with his repeated calls for faith-based organizations to get more involved in government-funded charities, including his good proposal for a Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative, and with his push for greater abstinence education as part of sex ed in the schools. I had the odd frustration that I often get from GWB rhetoric - "Abstinence for young people is the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases." Does this mean that all programs should teach and support abstinence or that funded programs can only discuss abstinence? The one is admirable and correct. The latter is an all-or-nothing public health strategy that, while it will likely reduce the number of kids having sex will increase the likelihood that those who do will have pregnancies, trade diseases, and screw up their future. "Decisions children make now can affect their health and character for the rest of their lives." - but what does that rhetoric really mean?

Speaking of decisions and children, he wants to make his tax cuts permanent - as expected - which means that the already screwy numbers he used to justify them just got thrown out the window - as predicted. While doing so, he added a throw-away line about privatizing social security with no mention of the costs or process to be followed. Bush is very good at proposing grandiose schemes, terrible at explaining, justifying, or funding them.

All things considered, the speech could have been worse. GWB did make some good points in and among his false choices and poorly framed or justified claims. I fear that I remain a skeptic however. On his good ideas, I wonder how they will be implemented, how they will be funded, and if he will turn it over to the clowns who dominate the upper echelons of the White House? On his bad ideas, I hope that they are throwaway rhetoric but fear we are going to see the Constitution trivialized and religion politicized.

At least now I have done a think piece on the speech - now I know what I think about the thing so I can talk about it coherently tomorrow. I see that a lot of other bloggers are doing the same thing I am. Kevin Drum sez it was short, light, and had "the gall to pretend that the Kay report vindicated all the prewar WMD allegations?" James at Outside the Beltway agrees that it was light but expects to see a lot of soundbites. Phil Carter gives his usual very good military-political analysis, and points out an omission that I had missed: "Osama's name is conspicuous by its absence, and indeed, the President did not really speak in much detail about Al Qaeda at all."

EDIT - spelling and links.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:58 AM | TrackBack

January 07, 2004

Out of Context


We have to be careful when quoting things from out of context. For example, the following paragraph from Lyman Beecher "The Faith Once Delivered to the Saints" sounds at first like a rebuke to the Ralph Reeds of the world.


It is equally manifest, that christians should not attach themselves, exclusively, to any political party, or take a deep interest in political disputes.
No party is so exclusively right, as to render it safe for any man to commit his conscience to its keeping, and act implicitly according to its dictation. Nor can any party, in a popular government, be sufficiently secure from change, to render it safe to identify with it the interests of religion. Besides, if christians enter deeply into political disputes, they will be divided, and one denomination arrayed against another, in their prayers and efforts; and one christian against another, in the same church. A spirit of party zeal creates also, a powerful diversion of interest and effort from the cause of Christ; creates prejudices in christians one against another; and, in the community, against the cause itself. It annihilates spirituality of mind; prevents a spirit of prayer, and efforts for revivals of religion; and renders christians the mere dupes and tools of unprincipled, ambitious men.

But, when we read the entire sermon and remember its context, we see that Beecher was arguing that evangelical religion was the religion of the Old and New Testaments, that it was required for proper civil life, and that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had a compelling interest in limiting Unitarian access to the official establishment - the established churches should be evangelical and evangelical only. He phrased his argument in these terms as a way to encourage low-church Methodists and Arminians to cooperate with high-church Calvinists. For Beecher, as for Joseph Story and many other religious formalists in the 1820s and 1830s, it was perfectly permissible to create a civil religion or favored status for Christianity, or even for one flavor (the "right" flavor) of Christianity so long as no particular church or denomination was favored over others.

In contrast, in the twenty-first century, most Americans would be unwilling to create an evangelical establishment, or a liberal establishment, or even a generic Christian establishment. Where Beecher swam in a sea of Protestant Christianity and worried about which denominational fish might devour the rest, and where a generation later swam in a sea of Christians and worried whether the Catholic or Protestants would devour the other, we swim in a sea of different faith traditions and want all of them respected, none of them endorsed.

The language remains remarkably similar, but the objects of analysis have shifted from particular sects to general families to entire faith traditions. Without an awareness of the context of the earlier language, we can easily quote a person contrary to his own intentions. Beecher would likely have been skeptical of Ralph Reed, tied as he and his organizations are to one particular political party, but he might well have helped Falwell organize the Moral Majority, organized around a non-denominational set of faith and moral policy claims despite being dominated by people from one particular group of Baptists.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:21 AM | TrackBack

January 06, 2004

Leftists and Liberals


Michael J. Totten just jumped onto the public blogroll with this very good piece distinguishing between liberals and leftists.

Now if only the non-wingnuts will stop letting the wingnuts confuse the two, we might have a better discourse.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:30 AM | TrackBack

December 23, 2003

I must be missing something

From today's New York Times I see a case of a kid who committed an arson, was prepared to plead guilty in state juvenile court, but was instead sentenced in federal court and has had the book thrown at him: 30 months imprisonment in a maximum security juvenile facility designed for kids who were uncontrollable in other institutions.

The article suggests that the outrageous prosecution and sentencing came because the arson was in a boathouse storing a boat engine used by George H.W. Bush.

It suggests, it does not prove. In fact, the article is maddeningly incomplete - the parents of the child are withholding last names, the Secret Service has a policy against commenting on protective matters, and the only information the reporter could confirm was a discrepency between the procedures in the state level and the explanation given for moving the case to the federal level.

If the case is as the article suggests, and remember that even the best news reports are only about 70% accurate, then this is a travesty of justice. Law and the rule of law depends on procedure. All people should have the same rights, the same process, and the same expected punishment. In theory, at least, you should be punished for the act you committed and not the status of the person you acted upon.

Now, as anyone who looks at Death Row can clearly see, the status of the victim does have a real-world impact. But it should not. More, it appears that the Ashcroft Justice Department decided to alter procedure in order to punish what it saw as an act of lese majeste. I might be blinded by my dislike of Ashcroft, but this looks to me like rule by men and not rule by law. And that is just wrong.

EDIT
The Curmudgeonly Clerk (see left) by email gave my some very useful context. I now suspect that the story is as much about middle class entitlement (how DARE my child be subjected to the same sorts of penalties as those nasty poor people) as it is about prosecutorial vendettas or presidential protectors run amock. I still want to know more about the story.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:55 AM | TrackBack

I must be missing something

From today's New York Times I see a case of a kid who committed an arson, was prepared to plead guilty in state juvenile court, but was instead sentenced in federal court and has had the book thrown at him: 30 months imprisonment in a maximum security juvenile facility designed for kids who were uncontrollable in other institutions.

The article suggests that the outrageous prosecution and sentencing came because the arson was in a boathouse storing a boat engine used by George H.W. Bush.

It suggests, it does not prove. In fact, the article is maddeningly incomplete - the parents of the child are withholding last names, the Secret Service has a policy against commenting on protective matters, and the only information the reporter could confirm was a discrepency between the procedures in the state level and the explanation given for moving the case to the federal level.

If the case is as the article suggests, and remember that even the best news reports are only about 70% accurate, then this is a travesty of justice. Law and the rule of law depends on procedure. All people should have the same rights, the same process, and the same expected punishment. In theory, at least, you should be punished for the act you committed and not the status of the person you acted upon.

Now, as anyone who looks at Death Row can clearly see, the status of the victim does have a real-world impact. But it should not. More, it appears that the Ashcroft Justice Department decided to alter procedure in order to punish what it saw as an act of lese majeste. I might be blinded by my dislike of Ashcroft, but this looks to me like rule by men and not rule by law. And that is just wrong.

EDIT
The Curmudgeonly Clerk (see left) by email gave my some very useful context. I now suspect that the story is as much about middle class entitlement (how DARE my child be subjected to the same sorts of penalties as those nasty poor people) as it is about prosecutorial vendettas or presidential protectors run amock. I still want to know more about the story.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:55 AM | TrackBack

December 22, 2003

Democratic slogan?

My contribution to the sound bite archives:

There is an old saying, "Take what you want, and pay for it." This administration has changed it. They say we bill our grandchildren instead.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:48 AM | TrackBack

Economist Editorial


Today's editorial from the Economist is good stuff. It reminds me of why I used to take that magazine (I stopped when I decided I was spending too much time reading the news. )

The editorial praises the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, discusses Hussein's career from the perspective of international actors who aided or supported him, then shifts to talk about the prospects for Democracy in Iraw.

Key paragraphs:


Mr Bush has made matters worse by continuing to portray Iraq as part and parcel of the war against al-Qaeda. Although this simplification may play in Peoria (not to mention in the presidential election), it is wrong. Yes, Saddam terrorised his people and his neighbours. But to lump all America's enemies together as “terrorists” is to play with words and, worse, to risk making a muddle of policy. Osama bin Laden is a religious fanatic with an apocalyptic vision of permanent Islamic war against the infidel. Saddam is a secular Arab nationalist who had a rational if reckless dream of acquiring super-weapons and dominating the world's oil reserves. Saddam had to be stopped, but his defeat has not necessarily hastened the defeat of al-Qaeda, and might even make victory harder if it continues to stoke up Muslim rage against the West.

What happens next will not be shaped by the Americans alone. Much also depends on what Iraq itself is capable of. Thanks to the long reign of Mr Hussein, nobody really knows what that may be. It is far from certain that it can even remain one country, let alone grow into the sort of liberal democracy the Americans hope to make of it.

Iraq is one of the awkwarder creations of colonialism. ... And this is the wreckage upon which America now proposes to erect a beacon of hope for the other Arabs. Why expect the first Arab democracy to arise in Iraq, of all places?

The answer is simple. Accident. Democracy has a chance in Iraq because the repeated miscalculations of its dictator resulted in his forcible removal by a superpower which, unlike the departing imperialists of the 20th century, dares not impose any other system. The Americans may not succeed, but now that they are there they are duty-bound to try.

I continue to dislike and distrust GWB and his political advisors. They did a good deed under false pretenses. They have espoused a foriegn policy that is inconsistent, incoherent, and dangerous. However, they have also placed the nation in a situation where we are "duty-bound to try" to create democracy in Iraq. Are they the best people to do this? I doubt it. What worries me is that GWB may be better equipped to build democracy in Iraq than are some of the Democratic candidates, and that the Democrats who are better equipped to conduct a coherent foreign policy may not get chosen as nominees.

And so to turn in grades.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:41 AM | TrackBack

December 14, 2003

Saddam


In case you had not seen it before reading this page, Saddam has been captured!

Hmm, you already knew before you came here?

Darn.

Now I have to say something intelligent, or clever, or at least funny.

But I do not feel intelligent, or clever, or funny. I feel sleepy.

So I will simply say that I am glad he has been caught, and I am amused at the volume of commentary coming out of the woodwork.

If the blogosphere is like a full newspaper full of op-ed pieces, I suspect that the next week or so will be a week of Sunday sections full of op-ed pieces.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:17 AM | TrackBack

December 11, 2003

Two Prong Test

Just War and Realpolitik

During the Gulf War, you often saw people running around with signs saying "No Blood for Oil." Their underlying assumption was that, because the United States was stabilizing its energy supplies, the entire war must have been invalid.

During the Rwandan genocide, the United States did nothing. In part because we learned about it late, and in part because there did not seem to be a power payoff commensurate with the costs - financial and in American lives - of intervening.

The United States was late to get involved in the former Yugoslavia. We stayed out for a long time when it appeared that, like Rwanda, there were human tragedies taking place but there was no immediate threat to American self-interests. We only did get involved when national policy-makers decided that instability in former Yugoslavia was likely to spread, destabilize Europe, and thus cause serious harm to our Realpolitik interests.

There is a pattern to all three of these moments.

If you look over the past, the United States has gone to war - either declared or undeclared - only when two different sets of categories overlapped. The use of organized state violence must promise to deliver Realpolitik rewards in the short or medium term, and it must be possible to make a case that the use of organized state violence is a just war, a proportionate response to an evil intended to produce a net reduction in human misery. We have a two-pronged test for war.

So in the Mexican-American war, Polk pushed for war because he thought that the United States would do well if it seized the Southwest. He was guaranteed either a treaty giving up what is now West Texas and New Mexico, or a war he thought he could win. He provoked that war in such a way that he could claim that American troops had been attacked on American soil, and he then blackmailed Congress into declaring war and appropriating funds to support the soldiers already fighting. Congress hated him for it, which is one reason why Polk was a one-term President and one reason why Northern Congressmen supported the Wilmot Proviso.

In the Gulph War and the Korean War, we argued that we were responding against an incursion by a large state against a small state - the same argument that Britain made when entering the Great War in defense of "gallant little Belgium."

In Vietnam, as in most Cold War conflicts, the underlying humanitarian assumption behind U.S. intervention was that life under Communism was so terrible that anyone who wanted it must have been misled, and that the U.S. needed to save people from themselves, or from being intimidated into joining a terrible political/economic system.

In all of these cases what mattered was not that everyone agreed, because not everyone will agree. Rather, it had to be plausible enough to be argued. Voters, and their representatives in Congress, can and do measure these arguments. And, just as they cut through Polk's claims they tend to cut through bad humanitarian claims given time.

So, there is has historically been a two-pronged test for American military intervention: the intervention must be plausibly humanitarianism, and the intervention must serve the realpolitik goals of the nation.

What does this mean for the twenty-first century?

Lets look at Iraq first, then at possible future interventions.

I have seen three plausible humanitarian or just war claims about Iraq.
- The pre-emptive war was justified because Bush feared that Saddam Hussein posed a clear and future danger to the nation, and claimed that to delay intervention by more than a few months was to defer it forever. That clear and future danger was phrased in terms of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; Saddam Hussein had a once and future nuclear program, and everyone thought he had stocks of chemical and biological weapons.
- The war was justified as part of the War on Terror because the Bush administration either saw loose ties between Iraq and Al Qaida or feared future ties between the two.
- The war has since been justified because Saddam Hussein was a particularly brutal Stalinist with a history of mass murder against his people, especially when putting down uprisings after the Gulf War.

All of these claims are superficially plausible. The first two depend on highly accurate intelligence about other nations, and while the Bush administration claimed that it had that intelligence but could not share its findings without risking operatives, so far the level of detail has not held up. I am phrasing my critique carefully here, for chemical and biological weapon stocks are fairly small things on a national scale and we will continue to discover and inventory arms caches in Iraq for a very long time.

The third claim is what most of the war bloggers are currently focusing on. Every mass grave, every evidence of torture, every evidence that the regime had degenerated from a nationalist movement to a Stalinist thuggery to a kleptocracy is taken as proof that the intervention was morally justified.

The question then comes up, if the United States was morally justified in invading and reconstituting Iraq because its government was a violent, abusive, thuggery, is the United States then morally required to undertake a similar invasion and restructuring of all other violent and repressive regimes. Does Iraq, in other words, provide a precedent for invading Myanmar? Syria? The People's Republic of China?

The answer, of course, is that war requires both prongs. The realpolitik justification for invading Iraq was, IMO, much shakier than the moral justification. Further interventions without a clear connection to the War on Terror and without a higher level of awareness of international concerns will make the U.S. look a lot more like North Korea, Iraq, Napolean's France, or the barbarian hordes of the ancient world - rogue states that regard their neighbor's borders as navigational markers rather than stop signs.

I don't have a broad sweeping conclusion here. I do hope that folks who made it this far will remember to look for, and critically test, BOTH prongs of any future proposal to use American military force.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:06 AM | TrackBack

The power of letting go


This is something that I have been kicking around, and writing it up is more interesting than writing up historiography.

Kevin Drum joins the latest round of commentary pointing out that the Bush administration talks a good line on Democracy but does little on the ground. Regardless of their rhetoric, they join the American foreign-policy tradition of focusing on realpolitik and short-term goals rather than a commitment to democracy, human rights, or free and open trade. You can make a good case that the U.S. government should consider realpolitik when choosing who to piss off, who to stroke, and where to use force; the risk of the high-blown rhetoric is that it might lose us credibility.

I am one of those who thinks that words matter, a lot; ideals matter, a lot; and our most important international capital is the reservoir of good will that we eventually earned as "the great warehouse of the democratic virus." So policy decisions like tearing down Radio Free Europe, under funding Radio Free Iran, and so on are probably the worst possible form of cheese paring in our foreign-policy budget. We get an incredible bang for the buck from open and minimally censored broadcasts. There is a long-term benefit that comes from living up to our rhetoric, even if it requires that we limit our rhetoric to things we can life up to.

Al Qaida is good at figuring out symbols. On 9/11 they picked symbols for their attacks, symbols that they thought would represent the American presence and national identity to an audience in the middle east and Islamic Asia. They targeted the World Trade Center and the Pentagon - the most visible buildings in our commercial capital and the military headquarters. To them, America's international presence was money and guns. (I am not sure where the fourth plane was targeted, I have heard the Capital, the White House, and something else. I would suspect the White House just for the symbolic value. Any of the targets would be packed with lawyers.)

If America's international presence is guns and money, well, it feels like a Warren Zevon song: "Send Lawyers Guns and Money, and get me out of this."

That is a terribly cynical view of the world.

More, if you were to ask a random assortment of Americans what values, or ideals, or symbols America ought to spread to the rest of the world, I doubt that they would say "lawyers, guns, and money." I hope that they would say "democracy," "freedom," "opportunity," and "hope."

So how did we get that disconnect and, more importantly, how can we win the global propaganda war against the Islamofascists?

My worry, my great big worry about the current administration is that they are so SET on short-term goals, so disorganized in their message, and so blinded by ideology, that they are going to bollix up the soft war while trying to win the hard war.

Force is necessary but not sufficient. Rhetoric is necessary but not sufficient. Actions, programs, targeting, and sensitivity are needed to wrap the whole thing up into a coherent set of policy goals.

Another way of thinking about this presence is in terms of buy-in. People are more likely to accept and approve of a plan if they feel that they have been involved in it and that they will get something out of it. The best way, over the long run, to produce those feelings is to bring them in and make sure that everybody takes something home from the bargaining table. This often means that the most powerful person at the table has to relinquish some control over the agenda and some control over the distribution of benefits. They have to make a deal that, in the short run, is sub-optimal. They do so, in the hopes that they will have created a long-term condition that is optimal. Paradoxically, some forms of power are strengthened by letting go. The trick, of course, is to do it well.

More on this broad body of thought later, from a different perspective.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:21 AM | TrackBack

December 03, 2003

Sports


Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post is, IMO, the best of the sports pundits currently active. He writes clearly, forcefully, and with a moral center. This is particularly apparent in todays article on Sylvester Croom. I started reading the Washington Post sports columnists because Tony Kornheiser was funny; I continue to read them because Michael Wilbon makes me think.

Two things jumped out of Wilbon's piece. The first was that it is a shameful thing for ANY organization or group to have to announce the first African-American senior executive. It was a shame when John Thompson was the first black coach in the basketball final four in 1982, it is a shame when Croom is the first black coach in the SEC in 2003.

The second thing that jumped out at me from Wilbon was the story of Bear Bryant of Alabama. For years Bryant ran all-white programs in all-white conferences. The SEC, despite being in football country, was in the south and was slow to integrate its sports teams just as it was slow to integrate its universities. Once he crossed the color line, however, he crossed that sucker. Sylverster Croom was in Bryants third integrated class of football players, Croom's brother Kelvin was on the team and, after a knee injury, a scout and assistant. The Crooms father, a minister, worked with the team. And it was not just one black family, Bryant opened up his program, reached out to black leaders as well as black athletes, and totally transformed his program. It is not surprising in the least that Bryant was so good for so many years - coaching is people skills and he used them.

Sylvester Crumb will be coaching at Mississippi State, not Alabama, but he will be back in the SEC. I am torn: I actually dislike big time college football and yet, as long as there is a cartel of rich schools and rich conferences, I want that cartel to hire on skill, not skin color.

And back to prepping class.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:11 AM | TrackBack