None the Wiser

"Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think." --J.S. Mill

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Friday, June 27, 2003

OK, am I the only one who thinks this reporter's use of quotation marks, as pointed out by Matt Welch at Hit and Run, is just friggin' hilarious?

Yeah, probably so.

The Deep Thoughts of Tex

Tex at Whackingday has been somewhat en fuego lately. His latest missive about Anne Coulter:

Being an anti-communist doesn't give you a right to suck.

What he said.

Strom, R.I.P.

Strom Thurmond's dead, at age 100.

Being a native South Carolinian, this is something of a strange moment for me. After all, I grew up in a state that never had more than one Senate race at a time, and the guy holding the other seat had been there for a percentage of our history reaching into the double-digits.

There's not too much I can say that won't be said elsewhere. I didn't think Strom helped the State's image at all, and it is a bit of a shame that he didn't retire fifteen years ago and enjoy the fruits of a very long, hard-fought life. I do think that all of us will feel at least a mild sting at his passing, though. Whatever cruel things the children at Democratic Underground or have to say, I for one hope to live a life even half so rich.

To have lived the entire twentieth century, fought in its greatest wars, witnessed its upheavals, marveled at its accomplishments and stood aghast at its horrors--we should all be so lucky. Strom, you crazy old son of a bitch, may your soul rejoice.

The Voice of Sobriety

I have a bumper sticker that reads "Charles Krauthammer: Dictator." It's a customized version of those election sticker templates, with the name and the office in red white and blue.

One of the reasons for my admiration of the Strangelovian columnist is his ability to calmly and dispassionately assess risks, outcomes, consequences...all those things rarely given their due in overheated policy debates, and totally beyond the mental grasp of chatty little Manhattanite head cases like Maureen Dowd. I know of absolutely no one else who could articulate a case for a pained acceptance of this past week's travesty at the Supreme Court.

His reason for celebrating the affirmative action rulings (which he recognizes as the logical and legal monstrosities that they are) is the only one that makes sense, and it's also (incidentally) the best reason to lament Roe. That is, the Supremes declined, in the end, to short circuit a democratic debate on a contentious issue by handing down a sweeping ruling that was certain to have very deep, divisive repercussions.

Let's be clear that in the final analysis, I think Charles is wrong, and that he misapprehends the actual legal impact this set of rulings will have. He misgauges the depth of support that racial preferences actually enjoy among the public, who overwhelmingly would not mourn their passing, and who would benefit immeasurably from a strong affirmation by our highest court that the Constitution means what it says with regard to the legal equality of all Americans, which is so fundamental to the existing order. Censorship is also popular with large swaths of the population at any given time, but the First Amendment exists precisely to counteract the whimsy of the mob where sensitive political speech is concerned. After all, there would be no need for a First (or, certainly, a Fourteenth) Amendment if the rights affirmed by it were uncontroversial and immune to attack by self-interested ideologues.

But some words worth pondering are here:

We learned from the abortion issue the doleful consequences of such judicial imperialism. In 1973, changes in public opinion and action in state legislatures were altering the landscape on abortion. At which point the court stepped in and took the issue out of the political arena. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued before she ascended to the Supreme Court, ``Roe v. Wade ... halted a political process that was moving in a reform direction and thereby, I believe, prolonged divisiveness and deferred stable settlement of the issue.'' The result has been 30 years of strife and agitation, as a disenfranchised minority continues to carry the fight against policy for which it has no political recourse.

It would be a pity to re-enact the experience with affirmative action. Popular referendums have already abolished racial preferences in California and Washington state. Such acts of abolition enjoy the kind of political legitimacy that--as conservatives, of all people, should acknowledge--is lacking when handed down by unelected judges.

Go read the whole thing. If there is a case for O'Connor's astonishing abdication of her duty, this is it.

UPDATE: Something just occurred to me that, to my mind, completely invalidates this line of reasoning by Krauthammer. That is, that the democratic process he's referring to as inviolable has actually already happened: it's called the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI is pretty clear on the issue of race discrimination at schools recieving federal funds, and the entire point of having a judiciary is to see that the plain meaning of the law is implemented wherever applicable. It isn't to refer back to the people what they meant when they said "no" to counting by race. Determining the intent of the legislature is an interpretive function of the Court, isn't it? Does Charles mean to suggest that the meaning of the Civil Rights Act is best left to local referendums and craven, spineless University administrators who, through their peculiar position as the supposed guardians of enlightened thought, are devilishly well-equipped to control the terms of any real debate on the issue?

Also, the establishment of the 14th Amendment came on the heels of the American Civil War, a war justified by decades of semantic gamesmanship and cowardly, legalistic hair-splitting of the race issue at all levels of government. What more do we as Americans need to suffer, in order to ensconce equal protection permanently into our Constitution? Hundreds of thousands of more dead Americans? More marches on Washington? Charles writes as though the ideal of a colorblind society were not saturating the legal landcape already, as though we had not had quite enough debate and democratic wrangling, as though new civil rights legislation were needed every twenty-five years to prove our commitment to the dream. When, exactly, will the principle of equality before the law be adequately asserted by the people?

Thursday, June 26, 2003
Peacekeeping Mercenaries?

That's the subject of this intriguing Noah Shachtman article at Tech Central Station today. The idea is that the United Nations could hire professional soldiers to do the nasty work of keeping the peace in the Congo, thus sparing the Congolese civilian populace any more rapine and bloodshed. Higher on the U.N.'s list of incentives, naturally, would be its own reputation as a viable instrument of global policing.

Though Brian at Samizdata is high on the idea (he thinks of it as a "private sector solution" that is certain to shame its blue-helmeted predecessor) I think it's positively insane.

It isn't that I doubt Brian's assumption that private troops would be a much more effective force than the current amalgamation of French, EU, and UN soldiers. Sure, they'd get the job done. What's more, they'd do it in such a way that--as Brian suggests--everyone will wonder why the hell we need multinational UN peacekeepers in the first place.

What bothers me is the likelihood that this could develop into a pattern. Yeah, that's what the UN is worried about too, but I don't think it's because they're concerned about getting shown up. The centralizing, command-and-control political culture at the UN is just incompatible with the supposed risks of independent action and lower-tiered decision-making.

I'm just very uncomfortable with the idea of some faceless, unaccountable bureaucracy like the UN bringing disinterested executioners to bear on undesirable armed movements--or individuals. I'd much prefer that whatever happens on the UN's watch happened with its very own powder blue seal of UN approval prominently emblazoned right on the package.

The question of command structure and force monitoring would be so convoluted that in the end, nobody's head at the UN is going to wind up on the chopping block should a force of mercenaries rape or murder some civilian--or group of civilians. UN accountability is already virtually nonexistent, but when such an organization starts simply paying its way out of bloody messes largely of its own creation, then the problem could get stickier yet. I'm not sure the UN's own record provides much consolation that their judgment can be trusted to such an extent that I'd be willing to channel US funds into its coffers, just for the sake of putting out contracts on militias who have embarrassed that august body in one way or another (which, let's be honest, is the UN's only motivation to get off its ass and help out under any circumstances).

Taken as an individual case, of course, there's not much the UN could do at this point in the Congo that would be worse than what it's doing at the moment, which is to say nothing much. But funding one side of, or some third party to, any given conflict is not the same as raising your own banner and wading into it yourself, putting your own blood, honor, and prestige at stake. I'd prefer that any atrocities, outrail failures, and serious fuck-ups were placed squarely on the shoulders of the UN itself, leaving it no room for absolution for its sins.

If the UN is going to continue to represent itself as some sort of neutral, peacekeeping lawgiver serving the interests of humanity, I want to see it put more than just its money where its mouth is.

A Couple of Education-Oriented Links

Photon Courier has a fantabulistic collection of thoughts about "the dictatorship of theory" in the humanities.

Erin O'Connor reminds me why I'm not going into academia (again) with an email from a professor who is being suspended without pay for violating the school's harassment code (again)--for allowing a classroom discussion about the sexual content of a work of literature.

Oh, and Tex at Whackingday is right about Clifford Curtis.

Blogger Problems...

Have kept me away, but it seems our new format is finished. It's ok. So anyhow, I'm back in business.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003
We Were This Close...

Ever notice how the Palestinians are always just a few hours away from negotiating a ceasefire with Hamas? Operations commander assassinated? "Oh, well, now you've done it, because we were just within hours of negotiating a ceasefire." Terror suspect arrested in his home? "That's too bad, because we had just finalized a truce with Hamas which is now null and void." And so on.

Again, I only wish this was an insult to the intelligence of Western observers. Considering the fact that it works like a charm to convince people that the conflict is some kind of tit-for-tat boxing match, and that Hamas is ever at any time not planning and executing attacks on Israeli civilians, the reality is that people really are fucking morons.

Or how about these weekly declarations that now all bets are off. "Now we're going to target all Israelis." This within hours of some bus-bombing, or some ambush on a carload of children. Who are these people who actually buy this shit? I'll tell you. They're the same people who backed the Khmer Rouge, who apologized for Stalin, who back up Castro no matter what he short, they're leftists.

Charles has an interesting breakdown of headlines from the last month or so that illustrates this point beautifully.

Today's Top Blogosphere Story... Dick Gephardt's statement to a Rainbow Push gathering with regard to affirmative action:

"When I'm president, we'll do executive orders to overcome any wrong thing the Supreme Court does tomorrow or any other day," said Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri.

As everyone is now saying: hold on just a damned minute, Dick.

First of all, the Constitution doesn't enumerate that kind of authority to the office of the President, and he has to know this. Why have a Supreme Court at all, if any ruling the President doesn't like can simply be brushed aside by Executive Order? Would such a system remotely resemble the America in which we presently live? Could it have produced the kind of result we see around us? What was FDR's court-packing scheme all about anyway? As others have pointed out, this is just an insult to the intelligence of his audience--and judging by the reaction from the left (nonexistent), it was a perfectly justified insult at that.

Pop Quiz.

Which is scarier: The fact that, A) a presidential hopeful could utter such a sentence, or the fact that, B) he could be cheered for it by a crowd of politically powerful ignoramuses?

Answer: Trick question. In reality, the two exist in a kind of simbiotic relationship.

Secondly, this isn't just a statement about affirmative action specifically. "Any wrong thing" the SCOTUS does on "any day"? Any at all? This is the Democrats' idea of democratic process? Of separation of powers? Well, actually, it is.

The basic Democratic--let's say leftist--viewpoint for the last fifteen or so years has been that the system we have is sacred, just so long as it doesn't constrain their efforts to remake society. While the goal--reshaping society in toto--is identifiably leftist in all respects, I find it endlessly fascinating that, at least in the U.S., this is accompanied by an extreme cognitive dissonance regarding the actual legal means.

OK, I'm being a little obscure. One good example is the 2002 Senatorial race in New Jersey, and the left's approach to it as distinct from their approach to the 2000 Presidential race. No one needs me to tell them about the way the left has interpreted the Florida ballot controversy in 2000. In essence, the rule of law had been subverted, the Supreme Court had "appointed" Bush as President, etc., etc. I'm not going into the particulars here. They aren't the point. The bottom line is that the left feels as though the system was corrupted irreparably, by a court who simply flouted the rules in order to get a politically desirable result.

Now, I don't know if that's true. I really don't. I've seen convincing arguments made either way, and I don't think we'll ever settle the debate. Once some time has passed, and tempers have cooled, I imagine we may reach some kind of historical consensus, but even that is a long way off. In any case, to this day the left howls with rage over the subversion of the law that supposedly occurred at the Supreme Court.

Now, compare this to the left's total abandonment of anything remotely resembling principle, or respect for the hallowed rule of law, just two years later when one of their own was on the ropes. Robert Toricelli was going to lose that NJ race, plain and simple, and everybody knew it. The law stated explicitly and unequivocally that the Torch absolutely could not drop out and have his party replace him on the ballot. There was a plainly stated number of days before an election after which this was simply illegal in the state of NJ. The primaries had already happened, and no party could legally "switch horses," as it were. The Torch dropped out altogether, in the face of serious fallout from a major corruption scandal.

So, the Democrats went to court. They argued before the Supreme Court of NJ that the people were entitled to a Democratic candidate. Of course, the fact that Toricelli had decided to drop out meant that they didn't have one. Of course, this would be illegal, but the Supreme Court of New Jersey found that the law had deprived the people of a "competitive" race, to which they were (somehow) entitled.

Frank Lautenberg went on to defeat the Republican, Doug Forrester, and the Democrats held their seat. Meanwhile, the campaign laws of New Jersey were essentially declared dead by the all-Democratically-appointed SCONJ. The law was written to ban exactly what the Democrats did, and the courts simply stated that the state legislature had made a mistake, and should rewrite the law. There was absolutely no legal, much less Constitutional, foundation for their ruling; even taking the least cynical approach it was a piece of pure self-serving political philosophy, with no justification beyond the fact that the Democrats shouldn't get their asses handed to them in New Jersey, now or ever.

Under questioning from the media, a Democratic campaign spokesman simply said that all these "legal niceties" were less important than the two-party system. One wonders.

Anyway, I can't help but imagine what the left would have said had this happened the other way around, say in South Carolina or Texas. You and I know. This is all of a piece with the left's overall political and legal philosophy, though. That's what's behind the absolutely inconscionable filibuster of Bush's court appointees, as everyone knows. Anyone stupid enough to believe that there is some actual, concrete principle at stake here that would have been at all recognized by the country's Founders ought to have their voter registration invalidated. The left's assault on the judiciary has reached such hysterical heights that I might vote straight Republican for the next twenty years just to help put a stop to it. And that makes me as sick as it makes the people who know me.

But this total disregard for the sanctity of an independent judiciary is what Gephardt's statement really reflects. There is an idea that prevails on the left these days that the Constitution is an obstacle to be overcome at every turn, a necessary outgrowth of the idea that its words can be said to mean anything at all, as long as what they mean is acceptable to themselves.

Think to yourself, just for a moment, if the exact same words had been spoken instead by George Bush. Suppose, for the sake of argument, he had made a speech this week to the Center for Equal Opportunity and promised that should the Court rule in favor of Michigan he would immediately overturn it via Executive Order. And for that matter, he'd do the same with every Court ruling he didn't like.

Do I need to paint a mental impression for you of what the screams of protest would sound like? The comparisons to Hitler's Germany? We all know the answer. Strangely, though, all is silent on the leftward front.

By now, is anyone surprised?

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has the goods on Gephardt's (exceedingly lame) response to his critics. And by the by, anyone who says we're taking his statements too literally is full of shit. Just read the quote. There's just no way to finesse what he said without totally mangling its plain meaning. There again, why stop at the Constitution?

UPDATE II: Brian with the Catallarchy crew has this great nugget:

So, I wonder, how is it that the party that is supposed to 'save us' from the civil liberty depriving Bush admin, has within its ranks two candidates for the job of Savior that wholeheartedly support an imperial, autocratic executive? The root problem is the same, just with different objectives, which seems to be the problem in general between the two parties.

That's not salvation, that's simply another master coming by and saying "we've got nicer chains."

How true.

Affirmative Inaction

Well, the SCOTUS has issued a predictably anti-climactic set of rulings which essentially says you can discriminate by race in college admissions, except when you can't. Quotas are unacceptable, as are point systems, proportionality goals, and otherwise explicit numerical "targets," but a "critical mass" of minorities is a supra-constitutional priority of the Republic. Numbers bad. Euphamistic evasions and disingenuous rationalizations good. Uh-huh.

I'm glad you got that all cleared up for us.

I hardly have the energy to comment on this bit of cowardly hair-splitting by the O'Connor court, except to say that the ambiguity and nuance they so often discover in our Constitution, one of the most plain-spoken political documents ever written, is astounding. Astounding in its dishonesty, that is. Universities, of course, are loving this ruling, since it is so infuriatingly vague, and the language so slippery and elastic, that they can go right on doing exactly what they've been doing for years. As long as no one actually finds out what their system is, it's effectively legal.


The bottom line is this: If I, with my self-same academic record, were a minority whose members are on average less intellectually accomplished than the rest of society (black but not Asian, Hispanic but not Indian), I could get into most any college or university I wanted. But I'm not, so I can't. Those are the facts, plain and simple. And this is what passes for "fair treatment" of minorities, and "equal opportunity." Which is to say that it isn't fair to expect blacks and Hispanics to measure up to the rest of society, and only a racist can expect them to win out on merit alone.

I would be so insulted by this concept were I actually a minority, it would take ten men to pull me off the person who said it in my presence. As it is, I'm an "angry white male" who doesn't see the justice in getting a rejection letter from Michigan or Yale on account of my skin color.

UPDATE: John Rosenberg is bummed out as well. Like me, he's a little too sad to be really fuming mad. He gets off this absolutely on-the-money shot at Bush:

I’m primarily struck by how sad it is that SAnDra Day ends her career (it is almost over, isn’t it?) by blasting a hole in the dike that heretofore had dammed (damned?) the waters of racial discrimination. But it is far too late in the day to criticize her for writing political, unprincipled opinions. It is not too late, however, to level that criticism against the Bush administration, and primarily against the president himself. The gutless, insipid Grutter brief he ordered Ted Olson to submit all but invited this result. Let’s hope the president is pleased by it, since a number of his formerly loyal supporters will not be.

UPDATE II: Best quote so far re: the Michigan case comes from Peter Kirsanow:

It is not an exaggeration to say that today a compelling state interest is any nice idea favored by the elite and backed by flimsy social science.


Gone Fishin'

OK, not really, but I've been uninspired to keep up with NTW. Sorry about that.