Saturday, December 14, 2002

Split personality
Most columnists have their ups and downs, an intriguing and clever column followed by a dull and sanctimonious one. Ellen Goodman has the remarkable ability to manage both in the same column. Taking up the lawsuit against McDonald's by the fat kids, she writes:
I would have called the case frivolous, except my dictionary defines frivolous lawsuits as "of little or no weight." Nevertheless, the story was enough to make me want to cross lawyers off my dinner party list. Who wants to be sued for serving cheesecake?
But then she goes downhill with the sanctimony:
They're not forcing hamburgers down open gullets. But if people have their share of personal responsibility for what they eat, is it really frivolous to expect some responsibility on the part of corporations for what and how they market? If parents are supposed to protect their little kids' health, is it really okay for Big Food to market and advertise in and around and over the heads of parents?
To the lawyers: hands off my Big Mac. [Just a phrase, actually. I have long been partial to the fish sandwich.]
A less stupid New York Times
Bill Keller tries to make a case for a moralistic foreign policy. I am not altogether persuaded, but it is an intelligent effort. Keller at least grasps that Bush and Blair's comments about torture in Iraq are part of a realist case for war.
But the barbarity of the regime is subtext to everything. It animates the moralist faction within the administration, apparently including Mr. Bush, whose revulsion at the misery of Iraq seems genuine enough to me. Saddam's cruelties also touch a little on two central questions about any exercise against Iraq: What's the evidence that Saddam is a real threat? (Any leader who encourages the torture of children as a mechanism of control is probably never going to become a good neighbor.) How will Iraqis react to an invasion? (Many of them with an outpouring of relief, wouldn't you think?)
He also recognizes that moralism can lead to its own corruption.
This high-minded quandary reached a sort of apotheosis in a Time magazine interview with Scott Ritter, the former weapons inspector turned antiwar crusader. Mr. Ritter, one of the few outsiders to have visited a notorious children's prison in Iraq, was asked what he had seen. "Actually I'm not going to describe what I saw there," he said, "because what I saw was so horrible that it can be used by those who would want to promote war with Iraq, and right now I'm waging peace." Ah.
It really is too bad this man is not running the Times.
Just the facts, ma'am
Over at the American Prowler, Judd Magilnick writes about Jack Webb of Dragnet fame, an actor, writer, producer, and director, and an early battler against Hollywood political correctness.
Today, as we gird ourselves to both conquer a lethal international threat and at the same time wage a domestic war to restore our sick culture, it's good to remember the man who took that first bullet. Remember how all his characters chose sacrifice over self-actualization. Remember how he always emphasized that crime, at its root, was the residue of the society's moral level. Remember that, sometimes, the difference between good and evil is very clear.

I picked this up from Mike DeBow of Samford University's law school. He really should have his own blog.

Friday, December 13, 2002

My cynical sense of humor
Should Trent Lott go as majority leader? Obviously. If you have any doubts, try Thomas Sowell's comments. But the New York Times still generates cynical amusement. Adam Clymer writes a news article on the supposed racism of the whole Republican Party, quoting Robert Strauss and Donna Brazile, then tossing in liberal Republican Richard Wirthlin and a couple of college professors. Willie Horton gets dragged in, and like his fellow Times pundit Bob Herbert (let us waste no time pretending Clymer is being a reporter here), lets Al Gore off the hook for dragging out old Willie first.

I repeat my question: why does anyone take the Times seriously?

Thursday, December 12, 2002

What constitutes a threat?
The Washington Post picks up the story of cross burning case being argued in the Supreme Court, focusing on comments made by Justice Thomas.
Thomas told Michael Dreeben, an assistant U.S. solicitor general arguing in favor of Virginia's law, that Dreeben had actually "understated" how menacing cross-burning is. "There is no other purpose to the cross -- no communication, no particular message. It was intended to cause fear and to terrorize a population," Thomas said.

Thomas's remarks electrified the courtroom and appeared to bolster Virginia's case, by signaling that a key member of the court strongly agreed with a crucial element of the state's argument: that its law proscribes not mere "hate speech," but actual threatening conduct.
This is not an easy decision for the court. It is comforting, though, to see a clear rejection of post-modernist notions that clear meaning is impossible. A cross burning means either "I hate you" or 'I'm going to get you". by saying it means the latter, Justice Thomas is saying that its meaning can be clearly deduced. Good for him.
Liar or inept
I swore to myself that I would not write anything about T***t L**t, a porker senator who never had any business in any leadership business. But Bob Herbert's column is just too much. The whole Republican Party is thoroughly racist, he assures his readers, because Ronald Reagan backed states' rights, because Bush went to Bob Jones University, and because of the Willie Horton affair. Willie Horton was introduced to the 1988 campaign by Al Gore. This is widely known, as in say this ABC story. So, is the Democratic Party racist too? Either Herbert is simply distorting the truth deliberately, or he is utterly inept. No wonder he writes for the Times.
Arrested adolescence
I like Friends and Frazier, two very funny shows about people I really would not like to meet. The characters are people who are still suffering from arrested adolescence. Adolescents fixate on petty slights; they refuse to let go of things to the point of self-destructiveness; they are utterly self-absorbed; they get wrapped up in silly searches for authenticity, and think nothing can be worse than hypocrisy. These are the sorts of things that make teenagers so hard to live with. But teenagers are going to behave that way, because it is built into their hormones, and it is a parent's job to get them past it. It is not really fair to simply condemn a teenager for being a teenagers.

It is fair, however, to condemn adults who behave that way. Mark Steel, in the Independent, gives us some more "Saddam is wicked, but it is really not right to do anything about him" stuff.

More recently, in January 2001 an Iraqi refugee, who'd been detained and tortured by the good people of the Iraqi state, had an application for asylum rejected by the Home Office. The letter read: "The Secretary of State (Jack Straw) is aware that the Iraqi security forces would only convict and sentence a person in the courts with the provision of a proper jurisdiction. He is satisfied that, if there are any charges against you, you could expect to receive a fair trial under an independent and properly constituted judiciary." Perhaps Jack Straw is under the impression there are two Iraqs, one an evil regime packed with weapons of mass destruction, and the other a charming happy-go-lucky village that comes under Hereford county council. This Government's warmongering wouldn't be more hypocritical if they declared Iraq had to be bombed as it had introduced tuition fees for students and refused to give its firefighters the same pay rise it gave to its politicians.
None of this is to suggest Saddam isn't a monster, only that the impending war has nothing to do with his monsterness.
And so what? He has discovered that Jack Straw is not pure of heart, unlike Mark Steel. His picture suggests he is at least 40. More than enough time to grow up.
Wimp or warrior?
No, no, not Iraq. The weather. In the Washington Post, Paul Farhi divides people between weather wimps and weather warriors.
The wimp drives a standard two-wheel-drive car but thinks seriously about buying a jacked-up 4WD Navigator for the three days of the year it might come in handy.

The warrior is shopping for a new Harley.

The wimp's motto is "Omigod."

The warrior's is "Get over it."

The wimp bundles up, wearing a parka over snow pants over flannel shirt, long johns and thermal undershirt, accessorizing with a ski cap and mittens, to take advantage of the insulating effects of "layering."

The warrior debates whether to put on his flip-flops to shovel the driveway.

Wimps rush to the store at the sight of the first flake to stock up on milk, bread, canned goods and toilet paper.

Warriors go out in the middle of the storm because they've run out of beer.

The wimp seeks a carefully plowed parking space, no matter how far from the destination.

The warrior knows how to parallel-park in ice ruts and snowbanks.
The whole thing is pretty funny.
Will Europe cave?
Michiel Visser reports on Dyab Abu Jahjah, who runs the Arab European League, a front for radical Islam in Europe. Over at The Corner, Rod Dreher says that Europe is not up to dealing with this kind of threat, because it has entered "a neo-Weimar period of decadence". Sounds about right.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Fighting off the competition
The Independent defends the Australian court's libel decision.
On the face of it, the court's decision that a libel suit brought by a resident of Melbourne can be heard in Australia seems only reasonable: where else should it be heard?
. . .
But this week's ruling, which obliges the US giant, Dow Jones, to defend itself in an Australian court, gives individuals the right to protect themselves against the impersonal – and sometimes irresponsible – power of the internet. Responsible Web publishers should welcome it; the rest should see the writing on the wall.
Britain's libel laws are notorious for their suppression of free speech, and they are a superb method by which British politicians can suppress criticism (their Irish counterparts do pretty much the same). So what can the Independent be thinking? Perhaps the Independent is trying its own hand at suppressing the competition. It is primarily a hard copy paper, selling in Britain under the constraints of the libel laws, as well as prior restraint. So British readers have to turn to the web to get past Britain's oppressive legal regime (cutting into the Independent's sales).

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Is economics baffling?
Dwight Lee of the University of Georgia has a simple, intelligent, and non-threatening introduction to how markets work, courtesy of the Dallas Fed. It is called "Free Enterprise: The Economics of Cooperation" and it is a reminder of why some unsavory people do not like Robert McTeer, the head of the Dallas Fed.

Monday, December 09, 2002

The New York Times reminds us again why it is trash
The New York Times has an article on Chesa Boudin, who just became a Rhodes scholar, and (sob, sob) his parents have not been able to congratulate him.
As with the other triumphs of his young life, Chesa Boudin was unable to celebrate with his parents on Saturday afternoon when he was named a Rhodes scholar. He could not even share the good news.
Is that not sad and touching? His parents are Katherine Boudin and David Gilbert, members of the Weather Underground, are in a maximum security prison for their role in a bank robbery where two guards and a policement were murdered. He was raised by Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, two other leaders of that gang.

Two observations: although I do not believe that children should be blamed for wrongs of their parents, the story casually notes that

Mr. Boudin has rigged his dorm room at Yale University to override the block on collect calls
How appropriate. Boudin and Gilbert were part of a gang that murdered three men that day: policemen Waverly Brown and Ed O'Grady, and Brink's guard Pete Paige. The Times cannot be bothered to name them. Nor can it bother to mention that O'Grady had three children, Edward, 6, Patricia, 2, and Kimberly, 6 months, and Paige also had three children, Susan, 19, Michael, 16, and Peter, 9. Gee, no sad stories about them, growing up without a father around. This is the same Times that gave us an adulatory bit about Bill Ayers (ugly details here). The Times ends the story with this repulsive bit:
A red-star revolutionary pin on his jacket, his Weatherman tattoo (and 17 others) hidden from sight, Mr. Ayers smiled as he watched his adopted son, fresh from his Rhodes interview, in the suit that Ms. Dohrn had helped pick.

"You know what I love about listening to Chesa?" Mr. Ayers said. "He confirms the natural cycle that your kids are always so much smarter and better than you."
The kid will have a tough time being worse. Will someone tell me why intelligent, sane people have the time of day for the Times?
Supply restrictions
Sasha Volokh has a post on a lawsuit in Tennessee over a state requirement that caskets can be sold only by licensed funeral directors. As a legal issue, I have no thoughts on it, but I am baffled why it would make any difference to prices. Presumably, licensing funeral directors has restricted their supply (I do not know this; I am only guessing). If so, then the prices charged by funeral directors is higher than it otherwise would be. What imposes limits on the price a funeral home can charge? You can go to a different funeral home, or you can look for alternatives (e.g., skip the funeral and have the body cremated). How big a constraint this is does not particularly matter here. All that matters is that there is an upper limit to how much a funeral home director can charge, no matter how expensive you think it is. Suppose the funeral director can get away with $10,000, including the casket. Now suppose caskets can be purchased by funeral directors in a competitive market for $2000. (These numbers are obviously hypothetical.) If the buyer will walk for any price above $10,000, what difference does it make whether the funeral director charges $8,000 for the service, and $2,000 for the casket, or $5,000 for the service and $5,000 for the casket. Either way, the funeral director makes $10,000. Now suppose customers can buy their own caskets for $2000. They still need a funeral director, for which they are willing to pay $8000. So now the funeral director can only charge $8000 ($2000 less) but his costs have fallen by $2000 because he is not providing the casket. The price gouging comes from the restriction on the supply of funeral directors, not on funeral director's control over casket supply.
Pay more attention to the Volokh Conspiracy
InstaPundit complains about pop-ups at the Democratic Party website. Serves him right for even going there. (Just kidding, guys) Why were they not paying attention when the Volokh Conspiracy recommended the free software from Panicware that very neatly shuts down pop-up windows. In case you want the pop-up window (e.g., if you want to add a comment to a blogsite), you only have to click with the control key pressed down. They have a fancier version they charge for, but the free version has worked wonders.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

A kind word for Jimmy Carter
I always figure you learn something about people by their enemies. In the Guardian, Tariq Ali gets all worked up because Jimmy Carter gets his peace prize on Tuesday. He pretty much wants to blame Carter for everything, including the Nicaraguan contras, and even the rise of the Christian right.