Here's a question to ponder as you honor the Memorial Day weekend in your own way: Who else should be allowed to sneak F bombs into television commercials, now that thetruth.com has rolled out its whudafxup campaign? I have no complaints with the content of the first whudafxup commercial, which unclouds the public mind about British-American Tobacco Co.'s use of the word "Zephyr" as a code for "cancer" in internal documents in the 1950s. And I'm not recommending that FCC chairman Kevin Martin—last seen puzzling over the contextual riddle of when and where the word fuck can be uttered, pursuing TV stations with $32,500 and $325,000 fines for using unsigned advertorials, and deciding not to investigate the question of whether it was lawful for three major phone carriers to provide confidential customer information to the National Security Agency—exert himself pursuing a bunch of antitobacco do-gooders. I'm just saying take a look at the commercial: These bullhorned public servants are embedding more fucks than there were in the Clam-Plate Orgy. Who else is allowed to play?
David Link wonders why California's schools are enforcing political correctness for literary gays.
Ari Paul investigates the movement to stiff Holy Land professors.
John J. Miller's National Review list of the "50 Best Conservative Songs" is getting the kind of attention usually reserved for a Rolling Stone anniversary issue or a round of coitus at the Clintons' house. But the list gets off to a bumpy start with The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," which Miller pegs as "oath that swears off naive idealism once and for all." It's never been clear that this is what Pete Townsend was writing about. People have claimed the song is really an anti-war anthem, which is more likely than the Ballad of David Horowitz interpreted by Miller. Still, Republicans have glommed onto WGFA more than any other rock song, as remembered here by disgraced pundit Ben Domenech.
I'll never forget sitting in the First Union Center in Philadelphia for the 2000 GOP Convention, listening in between speakers as the Latin-themed canned music that played in the auditorium came to an abrupt, drum-crashing stop. The speakers suddenly started blasting Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow," [sic] that horrid theme The Bill used during his dual campaigns. My mouth dropped in shock. Delegates started booing. What idiot had picked this music?
As the song hit the chorus, the track skipped, blipped, and Stevie Nicks screeched to a grinding halt...replaced by the patented Roger Daltrey shriek and the crunching Pete Townshend riff of "Won't Get Fooled Again." Images of Gore came to mind: "Meet the new boss/same as the old boss."
The hall erupted in applause, and I started laughing hysterically.
Hysterical laughter, of course, is the natural reaction to any situation involving Ben Domenech. Hysteria or depression is probably a better reaction to the idea that Republicans heard a guy sing "meet the new boss/same as the old boss" and thought of Al Gore before George W. Bush.
In another groundbreaking study, the Kaiser Family Foundation discovers that parents use TV to keep their kids occupied. The New York Times story about the study includes comments by parents who not only admit to this secret shame but let the paper use their real names.
The headline over the story is "Parents Making Use of TV Despite Risks." Yet the Times never gets around to explaining exactly what those risks are. Here is the closest it comes:
Dr. Stanley Greenspan, a child psychiatrist and author of books on child development, said the results of the study are troubling.
"We are moving as a society in the wrong direction when it comes to important principles of child direction and development," Dr. Greenspan said. "Parents are being misguided by societal messages, and this study gives us a chance to correct these misperceptions."
Dr. Greenspan and others said that given the trend toward pushing the benefits of educational television and videos for infant and toddler development, more research needs to focus on that area. Studies have proven that educational programs like "Sesame Street" can aid learning for older children. But few studies have focused on developmental outcomes for children under 3.
So because TV has not been conclusively shown to "aid learning" by toddlers, it must be bad for them? What if it merely entertains them while Mom or Dad cooks dinner or takes a phone call?
Another day, another story of a crackdown on a desperate medical marijuna smoker. This time it's in Vermont and the victim is MS sufferer Shayne Higgins.
Higgins is one of 29 Vermonters registered with the Department of Public Safety to legally consume cannabis under the state's medical marijuana law, which took effect in October 2004. But unlike other medical marijuana patients, Higgins isn't allowed to consume cannabis in his own home. Starr Farm's administrators have told him that they could lose their Medicaid certification and federal funding if they allow him to possess or use a drug the U.S. government considers illegal.
Last summer, a Starr Farm staff member found a marijuana cigarette in Higgins' belongings and called the police. Although he had a Marijuana Registry ID card, the Burlington officer confiscated the joint; no charges were filed. Since then, the nursing home's administrator has told Higgins that he may not keep marijuana in his private room or smoke it anywhere on the grounds.
I have a solution. Shayne Higgins for Congress!
Friday fun link: If you like semi-psychedelic musicals about an androgynous sprite who teaches kids how to use the telephone -- and who doesn't? -- check out Telezonia, a classroom movie I saw in the second grade and have spent the rest of my life describing to people who refuse to believe the film exists. Thank you, Google Video!
More news from my old school district here.
[Hat tip: Emil Gilliam.]
The Los Angeles Press Club has announced finalists for the 48th annual Southern California Journalism Awards. Last year, Reason's Tim Cavanaugh took home top honors for best online column and Hit & Run won best group blog for our coverage of the Democratic National Convention. (Whole list here.)
This time around we've got a bunch of finalists in the hunt for gold, including Maia Szalavitz for her essay "In Defense of Happy Pills"; Matt Welch for his exploration of the role of free agency in pro sports; Ronald Bailey for his online column about "Creation Summer Camp"; and me for my obit of slain journalist Steven Vincent. On top of that, Hit & Run is up for top honors again in the best group blog category and Reason Online is being considered for the best web site accolade.
Brendan O'Neill talks with Roy Innis, national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Who's the legendary civil rights champion doing battle with now? Environmentalists, whose policies on GM foods and DDT are strangling Africa and killing black babies:
Innis has seen for himself the devastation caused by malaria. At Christmas his nephew, also a CORE activist, returned to a school in Uganda that he sponsors and found that 50 of the 500 children had died from malaria in a 12-month period. 'What a waste of human life', says Innis. 'What an avoidable tragedy.' He says the reason the malaria thing makes him so angry is that even in the poorest parts of Africa this disease can be stopped by a simple application of DDT. 'You just spray a small amount, twice a year, on the walls of homes and it keeps 90 per cent of mosquitoes from coming in. It irritates those that do come in, which means they rarely bite. Every African home that needs it should have DDT sprayed on the walls.'
It isn't only the restrictions on DDT that anger Innis. He also champions the development of genetically modified crops, arguing that they could massively benefit African farmers. 'Lots of people in America and Europe panic about GM, but I've spoken to Africans who want it', he says. 'We don't want Africa to be left behind again and to lose out on this scientific revolution. GM could increase yields and ensure a good quality of nutrition.' And he isn't very impressed by arguments for sustainable development, claiming that it 'stagnates real development, which is what Africa needs'.
Innis recognises that most green activists mean well. 'They want to do right, but they are so wrong on some things', he says. His main concern is that environmentalist thinking has been elevated into an official dogma, taking centre stage in numerous debates about the developing world at the UN and the EU. He goes so far as to claim that green thinking about the Third World is 'like a new form of colonialism'; he talks of 'eco-imperialism'. 'It is a colonialist mentality', he says. 'Making decisions for other people from one's own perspective rather than from the perspective of the people being affected - that is my definition of a colonialist mentality and that is the approach taken by some officials and green activists to the Third World.'
This may not be as shocking as Brendan thinks. Innis famously moved to the right in the eighties. Environmentalists have been keeping dossiers on him for some time, and there are civil rights oldsters who say he was a COINTELPRO plant all along. (Come to think of it, isn't that the bold Innis line I detect in the Black Panther Coloring Book?)
Innis addresses the Uncle Tom accusations in the interview. I'd be interested in hearing what environmentalists have to say in response to claims that green policies are hurting Africa. Ron Bailey attacked European biotech policies for starving the world's poor, and got sprayed by DDT haters when he suggested bringing the insecticide back into action. Yet it's always nature bunnies like Jim Bob Moffett who get accused of environmental racism. Has any green group ever responded to the argument that environmental policies hurt developing countries? A quick search suggests not, but if anybody knows of an example...
In his unsuccessful effort to remove earmarks for dairy education, local museum construction, and other vitally important national projects from spending bills Congress is considering this week, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) went too far rhetorically. Or so says Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas), who was offended by remarks in which Flake mentioned felonious former California congressman Randy Cunningham and larcenous lobbyist Jack Abramoff while condemning pork:
"We have one of our former members in jail right now for basically selling earmarks," Mr. Flake said. "He was able to get his earmarks through the legislative process without being challenged. Jack Abramoff reportedly referred to the Appropriations Committee as an 'earmark favor factory.'"
"Really bad form," said Bonilla, referring not to the actions of Cunningham and Abramoff but to Flake's indelicacy in bringing them up. Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), the senior Democrat at the earmark favor factory, seconded the sentiment: "I don't think that we need to drag in a reference to an obscene player in the game like Mr. Abramoff."
Like most of their colleagues, Bonilla and Obey think buying votes with other people's money is perfectly honorable--indeed, something (unlike respecting the Constitution) they are obligated to do as the people's representatives. Hence it is light years away from the blatant corruption represented by such malefactors as Cunningham and Abramoff. Flake's point, which Bonilla and Obey pretended to miss, was that the earmark system, by allowing legislators to quietly slip in funding for pet projects, invites such corruption.
But pork is also a form of corruption in itself, involving the use of taxpayer money not to perform the legitimate functions of the federal government but to serve the legislator's own interest--in this case, staying in power, which brings with it all sorts of perks. Cunningham did pretty much the same thing, bringing federal money to his district at the behest of his constituents, except that he got some additional goodies in the process. If the actions are the same, does the antique armoire make all the difference?
Author Chuck Palahniuk writes (gloomily, of course) in the Guardian about the healing power of death and murder in horror movies. According to the author of Fight Club, stories where relatable characters die and the narrative suggests more will die the same way are as calm and soothing as a Brian Eno-Penguin Cafe Orchestra mixtape.
If nothing else, there's comfort in recognising that no matter how much we fail and sin, death will limit our suffering. Even if it's just the death of our innocence - the petty, vain, plotting person we've always been - just seeing that ego destroyed provides a kind of relief.
TGIF! All right!
Ronald Bailey asks whether people are really healthier in the land of bangers and mash.
If you've been following the rumors about wonderboy director J.J. Abrams' plan to make Star Trek XI, you know that Abrams and his team claim to be working on a new movie for the franchise. Paramount Pictures, which owns the Trek franchise, has not confirmed that...until now! Doing phone calls for my upcoming 40th Trek birthday dilithium explosion, I just got a Paramount spokesperson to confirm that the movie is in the works.
I saw the Abrams joint M:I:3 a few weeks ago, and while there wasn't anything in it you hadn't seen a million times, it was a fairly intelligent piece of directing. I've never seen a full episode of either Lost or Alias. So if anybody's going to take the old grey Enterprise out for one more voyage, it might as well be J.J.
Contemplate that on the tree of woe, and wonder what kind of ion storm could have transported you to this universe where there have been ten Star Trek movies.
Was anyone expecting President Bush to enter on Rep. Bill Jefferson's (D-La.) side in his corruption case? That's what just happened, in a big way.
President Bush stepped into the Justice Department's constitutional confrontation with Congress on Thursday and ordered that documents seized in an FBI raid on a congressman's office be sealed for 45 days.
"Our government has not faced such a dilemma in more than two centuries," the president said. "Yet after days of discussions, it is clear these differences will require more time to be worked out."
Constitutionally, this isn't a huge surprise from the president who signed McCain-Feingold. Politically, what's the use? Does it drag the Jefferson scandal out longer? Is it a bone thrown to House Speaker Denny Hastert?
Guys, tired of those reams of spam promising to make up for any deficiencies you may have in the love-making department? Well, modern science may soon come to the rescue of those feel the need to give themselves a little something extra. Tissue engineers are reporting that they have created working penises--for rabbits. "Our goal is eventually to treat infants and adults with birth defects, penis trauma, or penis cancer," researcher Anthony Atala tells WebMD. "But this is a future goal." Cosmetic enhancement will not be far behind.
Earlier this week, I recorded an episode of Blogging Heads TV with my friend and fellow pale-as-hell-political-writer-with-a-Hispanic-last-name, Matt Yglesias. (In keeping with whatever perverse principle required the first couple generations of ska bands to include some pun involving "ska" in their names, they're calling these "diavlogs.") Alas, our discussion was aborted due to technical difficulties just as we were getting to the planned topics on which I'm actually quasi-competent to comment (NSA wiretapping, my marriage article, and political indie rock lyrics), but if you want to hear me grope my way through a conversation on net neutrality and immigration, check it out.
The Hill's Jonathan E. Kaplan reports on Democrats and Republicans both using a fiendishly wimpy tactic to knock their opponents off the airwaves.
Republicans pressured the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) last week into revising a radio advertisement in Kentucky, and Democrats did the same to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) in Ohio.
Other independent political groups, such as MoveOn.org, have had advertisements pulled from the airwaves. MoveOn's advertisements linking GOP incumbents to scandal-tarred lobbyist Jack Abramoff were yanked off the air in Hartford, Conn., and Columbus, Ohio.
In January, a Houston television station refused to air an advertisement that liberal groups paid for attacking Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the former majority leader, after receiving a letter from DeLay's lawyer pointing out that broadcasters can be held liable for erroneous content.
Yes, Tom DeLay is setting another campaign trend. That was a nice constitutional republic we had for a while, there.
"North Korean capitalism is thriving," says former Far Eastern Economic Review correspondent Bertil Lintner, "just not in North Korea." The dictatorship is playing entrepreneur abroad to keep its socialist paradise afloat at home, setting up small businesses that funnel money back to the regime. Exhibit A, says Lintner, is Pyongyang's answer to Planet Hollywood:
Consider, for instance, Cafe Pyongyang, one of Vladivostok's most popular eateries. It is so popular, in fact, that there are plans to build a new restaurant in the shape of a North Korean peasant's hut, similar to the one where the late leader Kim Il-sung was born in 1912. Here, gracefully clothed North Korean women serve up traditional Korean fare, while patrons sing popular Korean tunes.
Similarly themed restaurants have popped up in Beijing and Shanghai in China, and Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia.
Whole thing here.
I'm doing a show called These Days on San Diego's NPR affiliate KPBS, discussing Laura J. Miller's book Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. Listen in live on the web, or if you're in America's Finest City, tune in to 89.5 FM.
Greg Beato reports on the mainstreaming of gambling, and why you should be happy about it.
The Christian Science Monitor reports on a supposedly oncoming wave of lawsuits against phone companies for giving up private customer data to the NSA. Reportorial lacuna in this piece: except for an ACLU of Illinois suit against AT & T, the reference in the CSM piece to "From New York to Kentucky to Texas, lawyers specializing in class-action litigation are lining up to sue phone firms alleged to have handed over customer records to the National Security Agency without a court order" is not backed up with a single specific named lawyer, or even direct quote from one wishing to remain anonymous for now. The story is also filled with carefully worded denials from various phone companies. And warning for those suffering from certain allergies: this CSM story contains a quote from Studs Terkel.
Among his manifold qualities, Hugo Chavez is apparently an Orson Scott Card fan. He thinks America is developing video games that will train its young people for a Venezuelan land invasion.
Chavez supporters in Venezuela's National Assembly suspect the makers of "Mercenaries 2: World in Flames" are doing Washington's bidding by drumming up support among Americans for an eventual move to overthrow Chavez.
"I think the U.S. government knows how to prepare campaigns of psychological terror so they can make things happen later," Congressman Ismael Garcia said, citing the video game developed by Los Angeles-based Pandemic Studios.
Or so declares a press release for a new article in the Journal of Medical Ethics. According to the press release, London School of Economics philospher Luc Bovens argues:
If all oral contraceptive users converted to the rhythm method, then they would be effectively causing the deaths of millions of embryos.
Similarly, regular condom users, whose choice of contraception is deemed to be 95% effective in preventing pregnancy, would "cause less embryonic deaths than the rhythm method," he says.
"...the rhythm method may well be responsible for massive embryonic death, and the same logic that turned pro-lifers away from morning after pills, IUDs, and pill usage, should also make them nervous about the rhythm method," he contends.
The whole article is here.
As a soon-to-be resident of Dallas, I'm pleased to see that the Lone Star State, where I was warned about roof-destroying hail in the winter and 100-plus temperatures in the summer, at least has "the best overall tort climate."
Applying the same logic that is used to claim that smoking bans cause immediate, dramatic reductions in heart attacks, Michael Siegel finds that "sharp cuts in funding for anti-smoking programs" in Nebraska and South Carolina produced similar results.
Michael Young takes you to the center of French politics, where nothing is sacre.
So embattled, scandal-plagued Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) is feeling the love of congressional Republicans who are all a-titter over what The Hill calls the "the first-time-ever search of a sitting congressman's office."
Here's a long story about it and the possible separation of powers issues that it raises (or not), which are serious and important. And then there's improbable cameo during a press conference by Jefferson:
In a surreal moment at Jefferson's news conference, entertainer Dave Chappelle wandered through, having just come from Wright Patman Congressional Federal Credit Union, where he does his banking. The comedian signed a few autographs before moving on.
End times? Or just good times? It's tough to tell anymore. More here.
In reviewing the new X-Men flick, opening wide tomorrow, Rober Ebert--nobody's idea of homo superior--channels Lou Dobbs re: Mexicans and proclaims "My guess is there are just plain too many mutants" while giving a thumbs up to X-Men: The Last Stand:
I enjoyed "X-Men: The Last Stand." I liked the action, I liked the absurdity, I liked the incongruous use and misuse of mutant powers, and I especially liked the way it introduces all of those political issues and lets them fight it out with the special effects
As Nick noted the other day, CBS News has realized what other media outlets noticed months ago and what critics of the drug war (ahem) predicted last year: Although the state and federal crackdown on over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine seems to have reduced the number of domestic mom-and-pop meth labs, large-volume Mexican traffickers have taken up the slack, so the policy has had no discernible impact on the level of meth use:
Drug enforcement agents report the number of meth labs in the U.S. has plummeted.
"Yes, drastically down, in fact," says John Fernandes of the Drug Enforcement Administration. But, he adds, "Unfortunately there is an explosion of meth use."
The epidemic of meth use is still rampant because the drug is still plentiful on America's streets. Why?
"They just came across into Mexico to start production," said Fuillermo Gonzalez of the Tijuana Police Department.
This deadly drug is now a growth industry for Mexico's deadly drug cartels. They're replacing small U.S. kitchen labs with Mexican super labs....
By some estimates, as much at 80 percent of the meth on U.S. streets comes from Mexico.
Actually, that was the DEA's estimate before the crusade against off-the-shelf cold and allergy remedies, which makes you wonder if it was accurate then (in which case the current number is, let's say, 90 percent) or if all these numbers are pretty much pulled out of thin air.
Reader John Gilmore sends word of the ACLU's latest cause: stifling internal dissent.
From a NY Times account:
"Where an individual director disagrees with a board position on matters of civil liberties policy, the director should refrain from publicly highlighting the fact of such disagreement," the committee that compiled the standards wrote in its proposals.
"Directors should remember that there is always a material prospect that public airing of the disagreement will affect the A.C.L.U. adversely in terms of public support and fund-raising," the proposals state.
Given the organization's longtime commitment to defending free speech, some former board members were shocked by the proposals.
Nat Hentoff, a writer and former A.C.L.U. board member, was incredulous. "You sure that didn't come out of Dick Cheney's office?" he asked.
"For the national board to consider promulgating a gag order on its members--I can't think of anything more contrary to the reason the A.C.L.U. exists," Mr. Hentoff added.
Unexpurgated bit here.
Yesterday a jury acquiited Erie, Pennsylvania, doctor Paul Heberle of overprescribing narcotics, rejecting 14 drug charges and 12 Medicaid fraud charges brought by Attorney General Tom Corbett. (Two other charges were dropped at the beginning of the trial.) The state's investigation of Heberle began after one of his patients died of a fentanyl overdose; according to Heberle, the patient tore open a timed-release patch and swallowed a three-day supply all at once. Corbett's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation also said it had received complaints from pharmacists who thought Heberle was too generous with painkillers. According to A.P., jurors interviewed after the verdict said they concluded that "Heberle did the best he could treating patients that other doctors didn't want." The Pain Relief Network, which played a key role in Heberle's defense, reports that half a dozen of his pain patients attempted suicide after the state disrupted his practice, one of them successfully.
Lebanese presidential candidate Chibli Mallat gives an update on the state of the democratic revolution.
I'll be doing ten minutes on a radio show called FOX Across America with Spencer Hughes, described as "a daily trip from border-to-border and coast-to-coast exploring the major topics, newsmakers, personalities and everyday people, places and things that make this the greatest country in the world." Sounds like my kind of show.
Update: They want me to stay on a little longer, so go out and buy an XM radio right now or I'll denounce you like Howard Stern.
The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a conservative education think tank headed by former Assistant Secretary of Education Chester E. Finn Jr., editorializes against the Higher Education Act's denial of federal aid to students convicted of drug offenses:
Eighteen-year-olds are not noted for their rational thinking. It's naive to assume that the high school senior, offered some marijuana at a party, will base his or her inhalation decision on calculations of opportunity cost and forthcoming Pell Grant dollars.
That lack of maturity doesn't excuse the 18-year-old's behavior. But it does challenge the economic justification behind withholding student aid from convicted drug users. If the fear of being arrested and temporarily jailed doesn't stop an impulsive young person from enjoying a little weed, are we to believe that concerns over future college loans will do the trick? That's just bad thinking.
So while the federal government has set up a dubious incentive for young people to shun drugs, it has inadvertently created a direct incentive--by withholding money--for young people to avoid college.
It's not exactly a ringing condemnation of the war on drugs, especially since it's preceded by three paragraphs emphasizing that Drugs Are Bad, but it's notable coming from an organization headed by Finn, a longtime associate of Bill Bennett who worked for the former drug czar at the Education Department.
I hasten to add that I'm not endorsing taxpayer-funded grants and loans to college students. What I find objectionable about the policy is a feature the Fordham Foundation barely alludes to: the bizarre decision to treat pot smokers as less worthy of aid than predatory criminals.
[Thanks to Chaim Katz for the link.]
A new study from UCLA finds no link between marijuana smoking and lung cancer. Some details from a Reuters report:
The study, which compared the lifestyles of 611 Los Angeles County lung cancer patients and 601 patients with head and neck cancers with those of 1,040 people without cancer, found no elevated cancer risk for even the heaviest pot smokers. It did find a 20-fold increased risk of lung cancer in people who smoked two or more packs of cigarettes a day......
Previous studies showed marijuana tar contained about 50 percent more of the chemicals linked to lung cancer, compared with tobacco tar....In addition, smoking a marijuana joint deposits four times more tar in the lungs than smoking an equivalent amount of tobacco.
[Dr. Donald Tashkin] theorized that tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a chemical in marijuana smoke that produces its psychotropic effect, may encourage aging, damaged cells to die off before they become cancerous.
In an earlier discussion of his research on pot and cancer, Dr. Tashkin even offered that, given his data, it is not an unreasonable hypothesis to further explore that marijuana just might have some protective effect against lung cancer.
A happy day in Baltimore: A judge has stopped the city from seizing a bar:
Citing last year's Supreme Court ruling that affirmed government's right to seize private property for economic development, [Judge John Philip] Miller wrote that Kelo v. New London showed that to take property for economic development, a city must show "a carefully considered development plan."
Baltimore, the judge ruled, did not.
Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Scott Bullock, who argued Kelo before the Supreme Court on behalf of the property owners and was aware of Baltimore's Charles North case, said it shows how in the aftermath of Kelo, courts are increasingly scrutinizing property seizure cases.
"It demonstrates that the courts are now embarking to set their own course when it comes to eminent domain abuse," Bullock said. "It seemed like this case was so egregious and so sloppy."
In other Baltimore, bar, and business news, one of our local taverns is selling its liquor license on eBay.
Elsewhere in Reason: Our post-Kelo interview with Bullock is here.
Want to live forever? OK, if that's not possible, how about twice as long as you would "naturally"? Let's say that researchers develop a pill that enables you to retain your youthful vigor until you're 140 years old. Sounds good, right? Not so fast, say some bioethicists, who warn that you will have to work longer if you live longer. To which I respond--here's the deal--you can have your social security at age 67 or you can live and work another 70 years--which do you pick?
In this LiveScience article, "Toward Immortality: The Social Burden of Longer Lives," some bioethicists also fret over:
(1) Marriage--would people want to stay married for 100 years?
If not, they can get divorced just like they do today.
(2) Progeny--what would happen if people had children born decades apart? Nothing much.
(3) Job mobility--what if greedy geezers refused to let young turks get promoted? The young turks won't wait for the oldsters to die--they'll go out and found their own companies, schools and so forth and outcompete the stodgy geezers just like Bill Gates and Michael Dell did. It's not like the economy is a zero sum game with only so many jobs.
Even the anti-immortality President's Council on Bioethics acknowledged: "It seems increasingly likely... that something like age-retardation is in fact possible." I say let's get on with it and talk about the "social problems" that longer healthier lives cause when I'm 150.
Commercial break: If you're interested in my further musings on immmortality, stem cells and designer babies, you could always buy my book, Liberation Biology.
Journalism student Casey Parks has won a "once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity to accompany Nick Kristof" on his next trip to
Africa. The attempt to
"stir up a broader interest in the developing world among young
people" should provide Kristof fans with at least a few more
salacious descriptions of nubile
young sex workers in need of Kristofian salvation. Parks
snagged the top prize with lines like
"I want to learn by seeing. I feel deeply, and I know journalism. I'm strong, and have no need for 5-star hotels or other luxuries. In person, I'm charming and sweet and considerate, but still bold and fearless...
"I saw my mother skip meals. I saw my father pawn everything he loved. I saw our cars repossessed. I never saw France or London."
A grad student who has never summered in Europe?? That's just like being raised in Equatorial Guinea. At any rate, both should consult Granta's superb guide to writing about Africa before taking off.
Is this a man who would behave like "old-fashioned royalty?" London's High Court didn't think so either, and has ordered the Daily Mail to pay Sir Elton John £100,000 in libel damages for portraying the flamboyant Lestat composer as a "tinpot dictator" in its articles "Senora Spice Goes Flamenco" and "Speak only when you're spoken to, Sir Elton tells his party guests." The judge in the case notes that when Sir Elton complained about the articles, the Mail immediately apologized to the litigious performer and made no effort to substantiate its claims. Says Rocketman's lawyer:
"The articles falsely alleged that Sir Elton had issued a bizarre and absurd edict to guests invited to his annual charity fundraising White Tie and Tiara summer ball ordering them not to approach him during that event, thereby acting like old-fashioned royalty or some tinpot dictator and exhibiting self-important, arrogant and rude behaviour bordering on paranoia," said Nigel Tait, a solicitor-advocate for the star.
"In fact, not only was no such edict issued at all, Sir Elton greets each guest as they arrive and is well-known for chatting to as many people as possible who attend the ball, not least to thank them for helping him with his fundraising efforts."
Having vanquished the counter-revolutionaries, Tinpot Dictator Elton now appears to be consolidating his power, openly calling for paparazzi to be shot.
The fifth (and arguably finest) season of "American Idol" wraps up tonight. Going into last night's final set of performances, Alabaman Joe Cocker-wannabe Taylor Hicks was the odds-on favorite to defeat Katharine McPhee, a so-so pop singer who happens to be hotter than a thousand dying suns. Post-show, Hicks was even more of a favorite - the betting site Tradesports puts the odds of a Hicks victory at better than 85%. Slate's Jody Rosen does a good job unpacking the success of the show in general and this year in particular. And there's a helpful Daily Kos diary reposting the front pages of Alabama newspapers. Red-staters have always won American Idol - the lack of connection from the music industry and the slow news of the contestants' home states probably doesn't hurt.
In 2003, Charles Paul Freund wrote on reality TV's impact in the Middle East.
I've received about 50 emails so far in response to my LA Times piece yesterday—of which my favorite subject line is the succinct and easily satisfied "Shut Up!" There were many more positive responses than I had expected, though they were still far outnumbered by the negatives. Two different people have asked whether there is any group or lobby advocating the visaless intra-NAFTA exchange I proposed, so maybe there's a movement starting! My favorite response was one that took Keynesian economics to where it would have ended up if John Maynard Keynes had been Dr. Strangelove: "We have to eliminate the jobs to eliminate the incentive."
A guy named Mark Sethre said he was going to post my exchange with him on his blog, and I said I'd throw him a link, but it turns out to be pretty much a caveblog and our exchange didn't make it in. Anyway, Sethre raised an issue that was common to most of the dissenters: lack of reciprocity by Canada and Mexico. According to this claim, our neighbors to the north and south will never allow Americans to settle, work, start businesses, or otherwise come and go freely. So why should we?
I'm not too well equipped to address this issue, because I don't know if it's true. I can say I went through more document searches and security rigamarole getting into a press screening of Fellowship of the Ring than I did getting into Canada: They asked to see my passport and I showed it, but I hear tell that I could have just shown them a drivers license, and in any event Mrs. Cavanaugh, in a different line, did not have to show a passport. I've never been to Mexico at all, and am still working off my vision of it as the great lawless frontier where Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw can disappear with their hundreds of thousands of stolen dollars. Is there really anything preventing an American from going down to Mexico, staying indefinitely, working, or starting a business?
If so, I'd be interested in knowing how much of a barrier such regulations actually present. In any event, reciprocity works the same way in law as in oral sex: One partner has to go downtown first.
Here's this week's evidence.
A mock evacuation that was supposed to be part of a two-day statewide hurricane preparedness drill was canceled after a misunderstanding about who had jurisdiction over a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer park.
Force-feeding a suspect laxatives to get him to... produce his suspected drug stash is now a-OK in Wisconsin.
The graphics department at Lou Dobbs Tonight has fewer qualms than you might think about using the Council of Conservative Citizens as a source of anti-Mexican propaganda. But Dobbs is a ways off from doing what the hosts of Fox and Friends did, and playing country singer Michael Anthony's anti-Mexican anthem "Fly With The Eagle" on the air. Here are some of Anthony's lyrics:
America's seen the wayward hearts
And opened up her shores
Said if you live by the law of the land
You could not ask for more.
But her resources are fadin'
She's on the verge of goin' bust
From those that we've let cross her lines
And abuse her sacred trust.
Hey, if you're legal,
You can fly with the eagle
And live the dream
And make yourself a name.
But if you ain't legal,
You can't fly with the eagle, no,
You need to leave here
And go back from where you came.
So, who wants to break it to him that the eagle is one of the symbols of Mexico?
Jacob Sullum starts sizing up crusading journalists for handcuffs.
Bill Kauffman, one of my favorite writers and a long-ago Reason staffer, has a new book out, Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Activists, and a new temporary group blog discussing the issues it raises. (Our own Jesse Walker is among the bloggers there.) Check in there for defenses of radical localism when it comes to time, BBQing, political and musical heroes, and the SDS.
Kauffman explains his intentions better than I could, deracinated cosmopolite that I am. (I always believed, though, that my book, This is Burning Man, a celebration of one of my "home towns," arose from the same salubrious instinct as Kauffman's wonderful book Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette, his own account of his relationship with his real hometown of Batavia and its history, though he'd undoubtedly pish-tosh me, or the Batavian equivalent, on that point.) Here's some of what he has to say about himself:
I am an American patriot. A Jeffersonian decentralist. A fanatical localist. And I am an anarchist. Not a sallow garret-rat translating Proudhon by pirated kilowatt, nor a militiaman catechized by the Classic Comics version of The Turner Diaries; rather, I am the love child of Henry Thoreau and Dorothy Day, conceived amidst the asters and goldenrod of an Upstate New York autumn. Like so many of the subjects of this book, I am also a reactionary radical, which is to say I believe in peace and justice but I do not believe in smart bombs, daycare centers, Wal-Mart, television, or Melissa Etheridge's test-tube baby.
And his new book:
In Look Homeward, America, Bill Kauffman introduces us to the reactionary radicals, front-porch anarchists, and traditionalist rebels who give American culture and politics its pith, vim, and life. Blending history, memoir, digressive literariness, and polemic, Kauffman provides fresh portaiture of such American originals as Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, regionalist painter Grant Wood, farmer-writer Wendell Berry, publisher Henry Regnery, maverick U.S. senators Eugene McCarthy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and other Americans who can't--or shouldn't--be filed away in the usual boxes labeled "liberal" and "conservative." Ranging from Millard Fillmore to Easy Rider, from Robert Frost to Mother Jones, Kauffman limns an alternative America that draws its breath from local cultures, traditional liberties, small-scale institutions, and neighborliness. There is an America left that is worth saving: these are its paragons, its poets, its pantheon.
I've always been attracted to Kauffman's loving localism, though in a more intellectual sense than something I'm dedicated to living out--no, I wasn't born in L.A.--which from the true localist perspective is worth less than nothing. I do adore human variety, and loving and connected community, and the spirited and eccentric, but I don't hate modernity, don't mind whatever Melissa Etheridge does to herself, and am too attracted in that modern capitalist way to choosing my own communities to even come close to embracing his outlook in full--in fact, so far from it that my tendency to cheer most everything he writes is somewhat strange, and a sign of his overpowering intelligent passion for what he has to say.
Since many, if not most, of the blanderizing, standardizing aspects of modernity arise from the choices our compatriots make, there is sometimes a regrettable sniff of what you could even call putting on airs and placing oneself above others in the localist celebration of the quality of its ways vs. the sad semi-life that cosmopolite moderns live. But maybe that's just me being defensive. To the extent they represent the celebration of varied and unique human life as it is lived outside the fetid games of busybodying, national, international, or local, I wish reactionary radicals a long and fecund life and always enjoy what they have to say about themselves, their communities, their heroes, and their (our) country.
The SF Chronicle profiles the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or more specifically, looks at how EFF's lawsuit over AT&T's "Collaboration with [the National Security Agency's] Illegal Domestic Spying Program" has moved this group of harmless manifesto writers and litigious cranks into the mainstream of American politics:
The AT&T case is a typical foundation suit in some respects. It pits the organization and its allies against the might of both the telecommunications industry and the federal government, which has intervened to seek dismissal of the case on the grounds that it would expose military secrets.
But in one sense, the case is unusual for the foundation, because it asserts rights that are familiar to ordinary Americans, like the right to keep Big Brother out of one's private conversations. More commonly, the organization has a hard time convincing the courts and the public that its clients represent essential freedoms.
Brian Doherty profiled The Coyote himself, John Perry Barlow, and reported on co-founder John Gilmore's quixotic struggle to fly on a passenger plane with a "Suspected Terrorist" button. Back in Old '96, Virginia Postrel interviewed Esther Dyson.
In the LA Times, Tim Cavanaugh argues that our immigration policy should be as free as our trade.
According to the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Serge Brammertz, the United Nations investigator looking into the assassination of the late Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, is now almost certain there was an underground blast in the operation. Brammertz apparently increasingly believes that there were, in fact, two blasts, one above ground and one below, a theory initially raised privately by members of the Hariri family. This is not the first time that the hypothesis has resurfaced, but this time there is much more to suggest that Brammertz is indeed thinking along these lines. I've heard from a very reliable UN source that investigators have found new information from the blast site, and in his first report, dated March 14, Brammertz noted that his team had "also further examined the possibility of an aboveground, underground or combination impact."
An underground explosion would virtually seal the murder as a Syrian-led operation, since only the Syrians would have had the bureaucratic means, and influence, to organize the road works needed to plant a device of that magnitude. I've also heard that one of the more important of the four Lebanese generals arrested on suspicion of participating in the crime has started to spill the beans, has given several names of other participants, and is requesting witness protection. According to the source, President Emile Lahoud's recent request for the generals to be released was at least partly designed to prevent this from happening, given the central role allegedly played by the general in the plot.
A third thing I have heard, this from several sources, is that the Syrian witness Houssam Houssam, who alleged that the Hariri family had tried to compel him to present false testimony to UN investigators, and who appeared in Damascus last year to blacken the investigation, was driven to the Syrian border and, therefore, removed from Lebanese custody, by Hezbollah. This information, like that of the general who has started to talk, must of course be confirmed, but is what is circulating in political circles in Beirut.
For an English-language summary of the Al-Sharq al-Awsat piece, go here.
Nixon goes to China, McGovern goes to slap unions in the face. From an op-ed by the legendarily failed presidential candidate in today's L.A. Times:
I have been reminded of legendary union leader John L. Lewis, who was once asked what his miners were after. His answer? "More."
It was a funny answer, and perhaps it was honest too. But these days, it's not a very effective strategy.....
"More" has, unfortunately, become "too much" in a global and far more competitive economy.
Many of my friends will consider this view heretical. But it is based on stark reality.
It can be galling to hear companies argue that they have to cut wages and benefits for hourly workers--even as they reward top executives with millions of dollars in stock options. The chief executive of Wal-Mart earns $27 million a year, while the company's average worker takes home only about $10 an hour. But let's assume that the chief executive got 27 cents instead of $27 million, and that Wal-Mart distributed the savings to its hourly workers. They would each receive a bonus of less than $20. It's not executive pay that has created this new world.
......many large corporations operate with razor-thin profit margins as competitors, both foreign and domestic, strive to attract consumers by offering lower prices.
The current frenzy over Wal-Mart is instructive. Its size is unprecedented. Yet for all its billions in profit, it still amounts to less than four cents on the dollar. Raise the cost of employing people, and the company will eliminate jobs. Its business model only works on low prices, which require low labor costs. Whether that is fair or not is a debate for another time. It is instructive, however, that consumers continue to enjoy these low prices and that thousands of applicants continue to apply for those jobs.
Our own Nick Gillespie wrote on the War on Wal-Mart presciently back in 1995.
Yesterday, I went to a talk, "Partnerships for Clean Development, Energy Security and Climate Change," by the chairman of President Bush's Council on Environmental Quality, James Connaughton at the American Enterprise Institute. Generally Connaughton was describing various Bush Administration policies to research and address climate change, but leaving those aside, he made an very interesting observation. He pointed out that the recent run ups in the prices of oil and natural gas basically equaled what the cost of complying with the Kyoto Protocol would have been.
Critics of that climate change treaty have been concerned about the economic damage that complying with it would have caused. However, the economy has continued to hum along quite nicely despite the rise in fuel prices.
Rod Dreher has been blogging from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, where today Alan Wolfe and James Davison Hunter debated whether there really is a culture war. At one point the discussion veered close to one of my pet theories: that it's conservatives and fundamentalists, not liberals and modernists, who are the real pioneers of ecumenicalism. Writes Dreher:
Wolfe says the most important insight from Hunter's work is that in recent times, conservatives within each religious tradition (Catholics, Protestants, Jews) found they had more in common with each other than [with] liberals of their own traditions.
Alas: Wolfe then throws some sand in the gears by predicting "a return to traditional religious divisions." I'm not persuaded by the evidence he offers, but of course I'm just reading a summary of what he said.
Dreher also links to a good column by the Los Angeles Times's Tim Rutten:
So far, "The Da Vinci Code" has sold 60.5 million copies, 21.7 million of them in the United States. We're frequently reminded that America is the most religious country in the developed world, with churchgoing rates unrecorded in any other Western nation for decades. Moreover, militantly assertive Christianity has become a political force demanding to be heard from the corridors of the Capitol to the local school board.
So, who's buying this book? Are there really that many secular humanists who don't care whether their prose has pronouns with antecedents?
Actually, the attitudes that make Americans so "religious" are the same ones that have made them such a ready market for the "Da Vinci" flimflam. This country is suffused with religious sentiments and impulses, but Americans are abysmally -- even willfully -- short on religious knowledge. All the periodic hand-wringing over this country's crisis of faith or creeping secularism notwithstanding, the problem with Americans is not that they don't believe anything; it's that so many think they can believe anything -- and that believing one thing doesn't preclude belief in another....In such an inner landscape, why not entertain the possibility that Jesus scored? After all, it could have happened....
Brown's claims for his book and, by extension, the film adaptation belong to a strong new current in American life -- the culture of assertion, which increasingly pushes logical argument out of our public conversation. According to this schema, things are true because I believe they are true and you have to respect that, because it's what I believe. Thus, the same sensibility most likely to take offense at this film -- that of the religious assertionists -- is the same one that makes things like creationism an issue in our schools and the demands of biblical literalism a force in our politics. Brown and his foolishness are, in fact, a part of this same culture of assertion and not of some wider secular one.
Elsewhere in Reason: Tim Cavanaugh wrote about The Da Vinci Code here, and I tackled it here. I looked into another sort of religious ecumenicalism here. Cathy Young takes on the culture of assertion here.
The quote of the day comes from terrifying Aryan-pop crooner Pat Boone, in re the Dixie Chicks.
If I were the president of Iran, if I were Osama bin Laden or any of the terrorist organizers and I could have my wish list totally. I couldn't ask for anything better than for America's entertainers to bash their president, denigrate him, make him seem like an idiot and a self-serving fool, and then have the media go along with it and promote it like crazy and try to undermine the whole war effort.
"Couldn't ask for anything better"? What about, I dunno -- nukes?
This is a pretty good indicator of how the Dixie Chicks have brushed off the "scandal" of three years back. For more, check out the New York Times story on their strong new record sales. And it's always the right time to read Reason's reporting on musical politics.
Residents of what Ayn Rand thought was the greatest city on Earth, take note: an explicitly Objectivist cafe (vegetarian--not sure Ms. Rand would have approved) has opened on West 10th Street in Manhattan--the Fountainhead Cafe. The carrot and ginger juice is named for the orange-haired Howard Roark. Please make sure your orders are rational choices in accord with your nature, not mere free-floating whims of the moment.
[Hat tip: Michael Malice.]
A freezer full of cash, spying on your browser cache, and the attorney general's teeth gnash... in the new Reason Express.
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), bogged down in a tough re-election fight, has launched a bold new PR strategy: Making shit up. After Democrat Bob Casey won the primary to challenge Santorum, a Democratic leader in Santorum's neighborhood claimed that the senator doesn't actually live in his Pennsylvania residence - he spends all of his time in Virginia. "Their house has no furniture and no drapes," Ed Vecchio said. "They don't live in Penn Hills."
Santorum's campaign took that offhand remark and crafted a frightening tale of deception and fear. Vecchio's story morphed into that of a "Casey campaign operative" peeping into Santorum's window and frightening his children. Instead of a comment the Democratic official made to a TV reporter, it became a revelation uncovered by "a KDKA investigative report."
The consensus is that this is a desparation tactic that's not doing much for the campaign. (Santorum's campaign posted a weepy diary on the conservative site RedState, and the response so far is 10-1 "What's this idiot complaining about?") The irony of Rick Santorum screaming about his precious privacy rights, though - that's worthwhile.
Cathy Young breaks open the latest myth about teen promiscuity.
In what I suspect is an argument with a great deal of relevance to many of our regular readers, Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds stands up against employers who are trying to "crack down" on Internet access by their employees. Reynolds defends output, not time spent (or not spent) IMing, as the relevant metric for smart managers.
An astounding Internet resource, analogous to a treasure trove for fans of science fiction, magazines, 20th century American pop culture history, or freakin' cool images. Find here an introductory page with links to nearly every single cover, organized by year, from the past 76 years of America's most honored and beloved, and still surviving, SF magazine.
Korea, still smarting from the downfall of its favorite ova-mad stem cell researcher, is facing attacks on its national food, fermented cabbage. The L.A. Times breaks the silence on Korea's slow-food conspiracy:
"I'm sorry. I can't talk about the health risks of kimchi in the media. Kimchi is our national food," said a researcher at Seoul National University, who begged not to be quoted by name.
Among the papers not to be found in the vast library of the kimchi museum is one published in June 2005 in the Beijing-based World Journal of Gastroenterology titled "Kimchi and Soybean Pastes Are Risk Factors of Gastric Cancer."
"We found that if you were a very, very heavy eater of kimchi, you had a 50 percent higher risk of getting stomach cancer," said Kim Heon of the department of preventive medicine at Chungbuk National University and one of the authors...
Kim said he tried to publicize the study but a friend who is a science reporter, told him, "This will never be published in Korea."
Brian Doherty deflates the hopes of anti-war politicians everwhere.
The giant sucking sound that robbed Ross Perot of sleep in the early '90s has finally revealed itself. Mexicans are shutting down...good ol' American meth labs. Via CBS News:
Mexican Meth Floods U.S.
...Raids [of U.S. meth labs] don't happen as frequently anymore--not since most states and the federal government put severe restrictions on the sale of over-the-counter medications containing pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in methamphetamine, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker.
Drug enforcement agents report the number of meth labs in the U.S. has plummeted....
"Yes, drastically down, in fact," says John Fernandes of the Drug Enforcement Administration....
This deadly drug is now a growth industry for Mexico's deadly drug cartels. They're replacing small U.S. kitchen labs with Mexican super labs. The cartels are smuggling ephedrine from China, India and Europe and cooking up huge quantities of cheap meth--including an especially potent variety, Mexican Ice. Then the cartels smuggle it north to U.S. users....
By some estimates, as much at 80 percent of the meth on U.S. streets comes from Mexico.
More here. Thanks to Manny Klausner.
I am now appearing on Radio America's Battle Line with Alan Nathan, the "militant moderate" who is sick of "prattling prognosticators," etc.
Go here to listen online.
In a brief paper for the DeVoe Moore Center, Robert Nelson argues [pdf] for adapting the Business Improvement District model to residential neighborhoods.
The troubles of corrupt Congressman William Jefferson (D-La.) aren't getting a real going-over in the press. The story's so goofy that it's getting covered, of course - a Congressman taking money from a Nigerian politician and stuffing it in his freezer? - but there's not much analysis of who Jefferson is.
1) He's the congressman from the most blighted section of New
2) He could have been the city's mayor.
Both of these factoids hint at how troubled New Orleans really is, and how it re-elected Ray Nagin on Saturday. Jefferson was the frontrunner in the mayoral race of 1986, but his allies ran radio adds accusing opponent Sidney Barthelemy of "passing for white." This did almost nothing to hurt his career - in 1990, he ran for, and won, his seat in Congress. His opponent in that race was Marc Morial, whose momentum was blunted when he admitted that he'd fathered an eight-year-old girl living in the Ivory Coast. Morial, of course, went on to be elected mayor.
Now would be a good time for New Orleans to have hard-charging, ethical representation in Washington - leadership that's held accountable and expected to show results for its work. Unfortunately, that's not how New Orleans elects its leaders.
Last week the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, in a decision reinstating a lawsuit by a smoker's widow against Philip Morris, apparently barred tobacco companies in Massachusetts cases from using their main defense against product liability claims. The gist of the defense, usually known as "assumption of risk," is commonsensical: Since everyone knows cigarettes are dangerous, manufacturers should not be held liable for smoking-related illnesses, a risk voluntarily assumed by people who choose to smoke. In the Massachusetts version, known as the Correia defense, "the user's negligence does not prevent recovery except when he unreasonably uses a product that he knows to be defective and dangerous." But cigarettes are so dangerous, the Supreme Judicial Court concluded, that all use of them is unreasonable, which is to say that no use is:
The Correia defense presumes that the product at issue is, in normal circumstances, reasonably safe and capable of being reasonably safely used, and therefore that the consumer's unreasonable use of the product he knows to be defective and dangerous is appropriately penalized. Here, however, both Philip Morris and the plaintiff agree that cigarette smoking is inherently dangerous and that there is no such thing as a safe cigarette. Because no cigarette can be safely used for its ordinary purpose, smoking, there can be no nonunreasonable use of cigarettes. Thus the Correia defense, which serves to deter unreasonable use of products in a dangerous and defective state, will, in the usual course, be inapplicable.
Philip Morris tried to minimize the significance of this ruling, noting that the court left open the possibility of using the Correia defense in extraordinary circumstances, such as when someone continues to smoke after developing emphysema. But this decision makes it much easier for smokers and their survivors to win damages and will probably result in a lot more litigation.
Liberal blogger Tim Brayton has the second in a multi-part analysis of the saddest monument in the 21st century's culture war - the pro-War on Terror, anti-liberalism comic Liberality for All. In the LfA universe, Al Gore was elected president in 2000. Rather than solving global warming, Social Security, and hurricanes, Gore ushered in an age of American defeat and retreat. In the year 2021, the fate of the US rests with a cybernetically-enhanced Sean Hannity and his ally G. Gordon Liddy. How bad is this comic? Well, here's the G-Man's monologue upon cradling a rare contraband firearm.
The XM-9...You know, I evaluated the XM-8 model for the NRA. Before the organization was officially disbanded...So many cold, dead hands.
It turns out that The Da Vinci Code is a true phenomenon and has put a fair number of asses in the seats while inspiring paranoia on main street. The craptacularly reviewed film beat the living bejezus out of all contenders at the weekend's box office, bringing in $77 million to Over the Hedge's $37 million (and OTH was in more theaters) and Mission: Impossible III's $11 million (to be fair, MI3 is in its third week of release).
Can Da Vinci hang on to the top slot in the face of the latest X-Men flick, which opens this Friday? Not da likely, even with God on its side, I figure, if only because we're all mutants now.
The strangest thing about Jeffrey Rosen's article in the June Atlantic Monthly, in which he projects the political fallout from repealing Roe v. Wade, is his discussion of the possible congressional response. After speculating about national legislation either restricting abortion or restricting abortion restrictions, he notes that the Supreme Court includes a few eccentrics who "believe that Congress, under the Constitution, has limited authority to regulate interstate commerce." He worries that "those justices who are most intensely committed to federalism...might decide that because abortion is a medical activity rather than a commercial one, Congress has no authority to prevent states from banning it." If those crazy federalists were to "inflame national opinion" by striking down an act of Congress guaranteeing access to early-term abortions, he writes, "it would be a brazen act of judicial activism—no less anti-democratic than Roe itself."
In the wake of Gonzales v. Raich, the intensity of the Court's commitment to federalism is questionable, to say the least. But it would be fair to say that Clarence Thomas, sometimes joined by Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, has expressed the view that the Interstate Commerce Clause does not bestow unlimited powers on Congress. In some future case not involving marijuana, Samuel Alito and John Roberts might join these three in suggesting that interstate commerce is not a synonym for everything, especially if taking that position helped them overturn a federal law barring state abortion bans. (If they have an ounce of principle, of course, they should look with equal skepticism on a federal law restricting abortion, such as the "partial birth" abortion ban they're scheduled to consider this fall.)
Rosen seems to believe Congress has unlimited authority to regulate interstate commerce, whether or not the thing being regulated actually is interstate or commerce. But that is not his main objection to overturning a federal law protecting access to abortion. His point is not that such a law ought to be upheld because it's constitutional but that it ought to be upheld because it's popular. Likewise, the problem with Roe is not that it's based on specious constitutional reasoning but that it's "anti-democratic." Throughout the article Rosen argues that the Supreme Court functions best when it goes along with what the public already wants. The title of his new book calls the courts "The Most Democratic Branch," and he means that as a compliment.
Forgive me for asking an unsophisticated question, but if the courts simply reflect the popular will, what's the point? If pure democracy is so wonderful, the Framers went to a lot of trouble to spoil a good thing, deliberately preventing the majority from always having its way. It's hard to believe Rosen really wants the Supreme Court to follow the polls, in which case it would never defend the rights of unpopular minorities. I guess I'll have to read his book to get a clearer idea of his views, but judging from this article he seems to think the courts should interpret the Constitution to mean whatever most Americans want it to mean. Even that gloss may be too generous, since the general response when the Court overturns a popular law often is not so much disagreement with its interpretation as impatience with the very idea of constitutional limits.
The Wall Street Journal, taking the required biweekly swing at anti-war lefties, makes a self-defeating argument in an unsigned editorial.
Rude college kids and left-wing professors are hardly a new story. But the ugliness of the New School crowd toward Mr. McCain reveals the peculiar rage that now animates so many on the political left. Dozens of faculty and students turned their back on the Senator, others booed and heckled, and a senior invited to speak threw out her prepared remarks and mocked their invited guest as he sat nearby. Some 1,200 had signed petitions asking that Mr. McCain be disinvited.
Iraq War backers should probably think twice about equating angry college students with "modern politics" on the left or the right. It was just three years ago that New York Times reporter Chris Hedges was heckled, his microphone unplugged, as he gave a commencement speech at Rockford College. A year later, E.L. Doctorow was booed when he made anti-war, anti-Bush remarks in a Hofstra University address. Neither event inspired any hand-wringing about the crazed student right or the implications for the pro-war movement. And you could argue Hedges' and Doctorow's speeches were, by their nature, less objectionable. Unlike those authors, McCain had actually voted to start and prolong the Iraq war - and unlike them, he was using the speech to test out themes for a presidential run. You can guess why they might be pissed.
UPDATE: Blogger Gateway Pundit notes that Rep. William "Lacy Clay" made anti-war remarks in a commencement speech this weekend, and was heckled and shouted down by angry students. This is proof, says the blogger, of - of course! - the depravity of the anti-war movement. Hate the heckled, love the hecklers.
Peter Bagge takes a fully-illustrated trip to the boundaries of the drug war.
Marriage maven Maggie Gallagher has a long and thoughtful response at the Marriage Debate blog to my review-essay from the June ish on her favorite topic. First, I'm gratified both that she took the time to reply, and in particular that she seems to agree with what I saw as my central contention that it's too simplistic (and not a little unfair to poor unmarried mothers) to view the problems with marriage in the U.S.--which are largely the problems of the poorest and least educated--as centrally being problems of "values" or diminishing respect for marriage as an institution. There are, however, a few points she takes issue with, so let me respond on those points. (Moved after the jump, for those of you who don't care for long posts...)
I still would like to know, from Julian whether he thinks that it would be good if fewers children were born out of wedlock, and if more marriages lasted.
Sure; insofar as there's good evidence this is better for kids, I'd like to see more marriages last and fewer children born out of wedlock, though in the latter case it seems as though more women's postponing childbearing until they're settled and mature enough to have picked suitable spouses (as opposed to their still having the kids young and marrying the fathers) would be the preferable way for that to happen. Or, to be a little more precise, in the many cases where a particular couple's marrying seems likely to yield a more stable and healthy environment for the child, I would (of course) be glad to see them make that choice. I thought something like that was implicit in the various things I said about ways marriage often benefits kids.
Sanchez asks: When people choose to marry, or not to marry, or to have a child out of wedlock, or to divorce, on what grounds can any outsider judge this decision as right or wrong, given it expresses the revealed preferences of someone with more information than we have about particular circumstances? [....] One might as well, on this ground, abandon the idea of moral norm altogether. "Systematic attempts to alter the revealed preferences of individuals in a given society" would be a good law and econ definition of culture. By the terms Sanchez sets out culture itself appears to be an illegitimate enterprise. [....]Here's what striking to me: Libertarians tend to be let's say, not pessimistic about much, theoretically. Why so fatalistic about the possiblity of reducing unwed childbearing or divorce? Sanchez I think lapses into marital fatalism because he cannot really embrace the idea that increasing number of children born out of marriage (or experiencing divorce) is a good thing, so it must be a Complex Thing, about which external judgments are not possible. He can't really bring himself to condemn the idea of marriage education for the poor as horrible, so he mus explain (before we try it) that it cannot possibly help.
A couple points. First, I am not sure what picture of my ideological commitments Maggie holds, but it's apparently such that what I really wanted to do was celebrate divorce and out-of-wedlock childbirth, but since (perhaps despite my best efforts) I couldn't quite manage that, I had to fall back on the consolation-prize argument that the problems with marriage for poor women are complex. (Didn't Maggie herself just agree with that last part?) In the event that anyone else came away from the piece with that impression, this is not the case.
Second, while I suppose libertarians, at least of the Reason stripe, do tend to be generally optimistic by disposition, I don't think libertarian pessimism about the prospects for solving social problems through well-intentioned government social programs is very unusual at all. I might go so far as to say it's the distinguishing feature of libertarian thinking... though it was less of a distinguishing feature back in those halcyon days when conservatives tended to share it. (I suppose that's one way I *do* think things were better in the 50s.) I don't know how much Maggie tends to disagree with conservatives who regard government as typically incompetent at teaching poor people basic skills and help them find jobs, but if the answer is "not much," then I'd think what's really striking is that she's more sanguine about its ability to help them navigate dysfunctional intimate relationships.
Let me also emphasize that the basis for my skepticism about the wisdom of second guessing revealed preferences isn't just a kind of broad Millian confidence in people's general ability to judge best their own needs and interests--though I'll plead guilty to harboring a measure of that. Rather, it was rooted in the thought that the particular accounts the women themselves gave (in the sociological study that was one of the subjects of my review) of why they aren't marrying the fathers of their children often involve what are at least prima facie quite good reasons for not doing so, and that lack of appropriate respect for the idea of marriage, or even lack of the kind of "relationship skills" that programs funded by the Healthy Marriage Initiative seek to teach, are not the central problem--a point with which Maggie herself seemed to agree at least somewhat. (As for giving up on norms, need I really point out that the way culture genuine evolved norms reciprocally shape and interact with individual preferences is different from an attempt to shape preferences through government-sponsored classes and public awareness campaigns?)
I do say, incidentally, that insofar as it's federal rather than state or local government spending money trying to help families stay together (probably suboptimal, but that's another issue), it probably isn't, in itself, doing any *harm* to make available some kind of voluntary, non-intrusive class that advises people who are eager to make their relationships work. (Though had I more time to do a broader piece on the topic outside the context of a book review, I would have been interested to visit some of the programs, especially those run by faith-based initiatives, to see what they're actually teaching; if we're using tax dollars to hard-sell theologically-frieghted views of how to conduct relationships, I would have separate issues with that.) I just think the stories the women themselves tell give us ample reason to think that the problems with marriage are to a large extent epiphenomenal--a function of a series of other problems with violence, drugs, and high male-incarceration rates--and so trying to cure the illness by focusing on one particular symptom is likely to be of limited usefulness at best and a seductive distraction at worst. I suppose we'll see soon enough.
Well, there's my pessimism; but I also tried to separate myself, at least a bit, from Coontz's particularly extreme brand of fatalism, which frankly struck me as odd in light of her own findings. Where she seemed to be saying "Well, marriage is over, let's just cope," I was trying to say "Look, marriage has gone through all these upheavals and changes that Coontz herself chronicles, and maybe before carving the tombstone, we should consider the possibility that we're just in another period of change and adjustment: People on the ground will adapt the institution, but it will survive... even if what comes out on the other end doesn't look like the 1950s version any more than 1950s marriage looked like 1650s marriage or 350 BCE marriage."
One final, somewhat distinct issue. Maggie writes:
I cannot resist noting here as a sideline that 'institutions must change from the ground up', unless a liberal Massachusetts judge decides to order them changed from the top down, in which case resistance is apparently also futile, and attempts to interfere with this top down rule reformulation in the only possible way (a constitutional amendment) gets recast as a nonHayekian lack of respect for the bottom up nature of social institutions. . .
To the extent I had a point about gay marraige there--and past the introduction, I don't really talk about it much--it was that marriage has changed in all these ways over the centuries, and so saying that we're going to have the law take a snapshot of the most recent vintage and freeze it there (and on the rather bizarre grounds that this relatively novel variant is "traditional" marriage) isn't any less "technocratic" than saying it should look some other way. To extend an analogy I used in the piece: It's as though we'd had a free market for a few hundred years, and then legislators said: "Ok, there! Henceforth, the firms currently in existence will produce the same quantities of goods, and sell them at the same price." And if, after a bit of this, someone suggested that perhaps we should let new firms form and choose how much to sell at what price, we objected: "No, no, you're tampering with the evolved wisdom of the market!"
If individual communities and churches could decide what to recognize as a "marriage," gay marriage would already be pervasive. Making it a matter of law that those choices don't get to count is no less a case of "imposing" than saying they will count. Just as, I suppose, the First Amendment "imposes" the expression of unpopular political views on communities that might want to forbid them and unpopular religious practices on communities that might prefer not to countenance them. I don't think it's all that mysterious why we might regard "imposing" one sort of rule rather than another as more in line with the ideal of bottom-up change.
Addendum: Of related interest, there's an interesting-looking essay in the Cambridge Journal of Economics (I've only just started in on it) which tries to sketch what a Hayekian theory of the family would look like.
Climatologist (and longtime source) Roy Spencer's EcoEnquirer site is doing for global warming what The Onion does for just about everything else. Sample headlines: "Speculators Push Arctic Sea Ice to $20 per Ton," "Pristine Alaskan Glacier Turns Into Tropical Wasteland," and "Environmental Education Stressing American Students."
For an MSM assessment see this Washington Post article.