March 31, 2005

Terry Schiavo, R.I.P.

Terry Schiavo died.

May she rest in peace. May her family find peace and comfort.

May the nation reflect on these events and learn from them.

March 27, 2005

More Than a Cavil

Bill Quick lambastes the inconsistencies (and worse) of the Bushies and the GOP, which he thinks has generally abandoned small-government principles.

There's much justice in what he says, though he takes it too far (impeachment for signing a bad bill?). Still and all, some organized dissent in the GOP would nto be a bad thing.

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely."

HT: Instapundit.

March 26, 2005

Second Thoughts on Terri Schiavo

I have been thinking about this case since my last post on it.

On reflection, I was wrong on one critical point. I wrote that the distinction between artificial life support (ventilators and so on) and the feeding tube was one without a difference.

On reflection, there is an important difference. Even if through a tube or intravenously, hydrating and feeding someone are qualitatively different than heroic measures (the paddles familiar from doctor shows on TV, dialysis, and so on). One must conclude that removing a feeding tube is closer to intentional killing than is, say, refraining from performing dialysis on a patient suffering from end-state kidney disease. It follows that removing the tube on what may well be (I haven't read the record) less than clear and convincing evidence is far more questionable, even if probably Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state in which most of us would not want to stay alive.

I remember when my wife's mother, who had Alzheimer's, died of lung cancer, my wife said she had been "gone" a long time before she died.

Two other points:

  1. Did Congress act wisely or well? Constitutionally, the last-minute intervention was unwise, because it passed a law dealing with one woman rather than one of general application, and invaded a subject matter traditionally (and wisely) left to the states. And yet--this case had become symbolic if only because of the publicity. It cannot be gainsaid that the congressional action was a gesture, even if it turned out to be symbolic, on the side of life. Whatever the political motivations, better to act on the side of life than against it.

  2. Once Congress acted, however, Judge Whittemore and the Eleventh Circuit, I think, got it wrong. A fair reading of the Congressional act was that the federal courts should consider the matter de novo. Even if ultimately the conclusion were to be that the act was constitutionally infirm, a new trial was not called for but merely a review of the record, and the record supported no action by the federal courts, those are not conclusions so obvious they should be reached in haste when a life, even a severely compromised life, was at stake. Therefore, I would have granted the temporary restraining order, so the matter could be fully briefed, argued and appealed. A respect for the intent of the legislative branch demanded at least that much. The balancing of the equities (certain death versus further delay, expense and inconvenience) supported a grant of emergency relief.

All in all, a sad case, in which no one comes out well. The parents' wishful thinking, Michael Schiavo's questionable motivations, Judge Greer's ruling on what seems to be flimsy evidence, the doctors' unjustified certainty about the "painless" death by dehydration, Congress's constitutionally suspect intervention, and Judge Whittemore's precipitous denial of emergency relief all were flawed.

"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23).

March 21, 2005

Dickens Had Nothing On Our Spammers

I've been getting all kinds of spam these days. Nothing new about that. But some comes from imaginative imaginary people with clever Dickensian names:

* Patronizing U. Langerhans

* Dalmatian L. Hookey

* Vichyssoise H. Carnivore

I assume these names are genrated by some kind of randomizing program and are designed to trick anti-spam software. Mac Mail gets most of them, but I must say, even at the risk of being offered yet another mortgage or yet another package of fake Cialis, these names are amusing to me in my tedious little life.

Stranger Than Florida Fiction

American Digest points to the bizarre beliefs and practices of Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George Felos. His wife is a prize, too.

Evidence, I suppose, for the proposition that if we stop believing in God, we'll believe in anything.

California might be able to claim some credit. These people live in Florida.

Carl Hiaasen couldn't have made these people up.

The Politics of Wastrels


Foundation Influence Peddling

This account suggests that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law was the product of subsidies by lefty foundations and supposedly public-spirited organizations with high-falutin' names.

And NPR is sullied, too.

Since 1994, National Public Radio has accepted more than $1.2 million from liberal foundations promoting campaign-finance reform for items such as (to quote the official disclosure statements) "news coverage of financial influence in political decision-making." About $400,000 of that directly funded a program called, "Money, Power and Influence."

NPR claims that there has never been any contact between the funders and the reporters. NPR also claims that some of the $1.2 million went to non-campaign-finance-related coverage. But at least $860,000 can be tied directly to coverage of money in politics.

* Lastly, the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation accepted $935,000 between 1995 and 2001 from liberal foundations promoting campaign-finance reform for things like a "training initiative to help television, radio and print journalists provide better news coverage of the influence of private money on electoral, legislative and regulatory processes."

The president of RTNDF, Barbara Cochran, assured me that "We did not receive money to promote campaign-finance reform." Cochran also made clear that RTNDF does not provide news coverage, it only trains journalists. But she wouldn't provide The Post with any of the training materials it produced with the foundation money.

Liberal chutzpah knows no bounds.

HT: Mickey Kaus via Instapundit.

March 20, 2005

The Insufferable Week in Review

This story relates that the insufferable Frank Rich will be moving his column from the Gray Lady's Arts section to a revamped News of the Week in Review.

A small step for Frank. A giant step for this fisker.

HT: American Digest.

Take Nanny Out to the Ball Game

The Congressional hearings on steroid use among professional baseball players show just how far we have to go to stop the growth of the "Nanny State." Members of both parties ranted and postured about this "problem." Baseball is a business. Why not let them take care of it, if it's a problem.

The rationale for government involvement usually is that professional ball players are role models for children, and if they are known to use steroids, young athletes will do so also. I doubt whether anyone idolizes professional athletes any more, and further, we should be wary of those who use perceived threats to children as an excuse for more and more regulation of adults.

Taking the Pledge

It seems improbable for it to lead to anything, but the Federal Election Commission is trying to figure out if blogging in favor of a candidate, or linking to a candidate's website is a political contribution subject to government regulation. Patterico says this:

This led to me wonder how unusual my position really is. I suspect that my attitude is widely shared by bloggers, including those who have signed the open letter to the FEC.

I think it's time to put the question to you directly. Who out there will make this pledge:

If the FEC makes rules that limit my First Amendment right to express my opinion on core political issues, I will not obey those rules.

Beldar and Billy Beck have clearly said this. Slim999, who bears a startling resemblance to Keanu Reeves, has created a blog for the express purpose of defying the FEC on this issue. I think that counts.

Judging from the comments I have read over the past few days, I believe there are plenty of others out there who feel the same way. Some of you have said as much in comments, and some of you have written blog posts that are consistent with my view. But I want to see if people will expressly make this pledge on their blog.

Who else will make this pledge? Do a blog post about it, e-mail me at patterico -AT- patterico -DOT- com, and I'll link it here.

I've always thought campaign finance reformers are sanctimonious nitwits and campaign finance regulation, other than the requirement of disclosure, takes a major bite out of the First Amendment.

So yes, I'll take the pledge.

Blogging Terri Schiavo

I haven’t blogged the Terry Schiavo controversy. There is something about it I find distasteful. I’ll admit I’m squeamish about dealing with severe disabilities, especially mental ones. I find offensive all the public attention to the private sorrow surrounding a woman in such terrible circumstances; and everyone is so certain of his position in an area where such certainty isn’t really merited.

That said, this has now become not only a public issue, but a national one, and I’ve thought about it a lot. And so I’ll share my thoughts.

How one analyzes this situation, first of all, depends a great deal on the facts. And the facts are in dispute with respect to her diagnosis, her prognosis, and her wishes.

Michael Schiavo, her husband, says she is in a “persistent vegetative state,” has no prospect of substantial improvement, and unequivocally expressed a wish to be allowed to die in such a circumstance. The trial court found this to be her wish, and found that it was so by “clear and convincing evidence,” which requires more certainty than an ordinary civil trial, where one can win with a “preponderance of evidence,” i.e., slightly more than 50 per cent, but less than a criminal trial, which requires proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” See a complete legal timeline here. The trial court also found that she had no realistic hope of recovery, indeed, that much of her thinking brain has been replaced by spinal fluid.

Her parents and the opponents of the court decision to remove the feeding tube, content that she is not dying, shows some signs of consciousness, has been neglected for many years, and would very likely improve if treated aggressively. They also question whether she ever expressed the wishes that Michael Schiavo claims she did. A good example is here.

If what the trial court found to be true is in fact true, and Terry Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state, there is no chance of restoring her to any form of conscious functioning, and it was her clearly expressed wish that in these circumstances she not be kept alive by artificial means, I believe, and I think most would agree, those wishes should be followed, and certainly the courts should not interfere, and even less should Congress do so.

The trial court applied the “clear and convincing evidence” test and found Terri’s wishes are not to be kept alive “hooked to a machine.” Although a feeding tube is not literally a machine, the distinction is one without a difference in this case.

The appellate courts will only disturb the findings of a trial judge on the facts if there is no substantial evidence to support it. Such findings are very rare. Although there were hearings on alleged additional facts, none has been shown to change or negate the ruling of the trial judge. You can read the trial judge’s ruling here (it’s a .pdf file).

Might the judge be wrong? Yes, but both sides have been well-represented, and the matter has been exhaustively appealed. Having read the opinion, my conclusion is that although something less than systematic, it showed a clear grasp of the fact and the basic legal rules on this issue, which make sense.

What is going on here? Several things, I think:

  • The parents and their lawyers have been extremely persistent. Michael Schiavo lived with them for a long period of time. The trial court suggests that after Michael received a malpractice settlement he and Terri’s parents had a falling out over money, the parents wanting a share of the settlement.

  • The anti-abortion movement has adopted this case as a cause celebre, either to advance its agenda or to use the case as a symbol of what they believe to a “culture of death” growing in this country. One adviser to the parents, for example, is Randall Terry, who made a career of organizing civil disobedience demonstrations at abortion clinics. Sincere or not, these folks have concerns that go way beyond the details of this one case.

  • As a result of publicity and press coverage, millions of sincere Christians and other people committed to life believe the facts of the case to be much more in line with what the parents believe than with the court decision. If Terri Schiavo really were saying words, were responsive to contact and communication, and there were a body of serious medical opinion that said she could improve, removal of food and water, even if administered by tube, would be, as these folks believe it to be, morally questionable, and the rhetoric comparing her situation to that of condemned murders, who receive exhaustive state and federal review of their cases, would have some merit.

  • Many have come to mistrust the judiciary. As our political system has thrust unpopular issues upon the courts, and more and more the courts have accepted the right to decide not just what the law says, but to find in the law what they think ought to be there, the level of distrust grows. For example, abortion never would have become so controversial if the states had been left to work the issue out legislatively; because unelected judges found an unexpressed penumbral “right to privacy” in the Constitution, to strongly held religious views about the morality of abortion is added a belief that judges are legislating by finding in the Constitution things that aren’t written there, that the majority of people does not agree with. How easy it is, then, to believe that Judge Greer in Florida is a thoughtless, life-destroying ogre rather than a trial judge trying to find the true facts and apply the written law to a difficult case.

Unless their motives are wholly mercenary, which I don’t believe. I can’t fault the parents. Parents cling to hope, and believe what they hope is true to be true.

I can’t fault those who sincerely believe a great injustice is being done for their concern about the case. Even a gravely disabled person is a human being. In an age where the fate of many is to be over-treated at the end of life, this case has a very poignant personal impact.

The suspicion of the judiciary is also well-founded. The recent decision on execution of minors is anti-democratic, inconsistent with past jurisprudence, and typifies a judicial departure from finding the law to making the law.

If, however, some in the pro-life movement are using the misery of a severely disabled woman and her family as a cynical ploy to obtain partisan advantage, their conduct is sleazy and opportunistic. Unfortunately, there are grounds to believe that this is the case.

Convinced as I am that doctors should never kill, and the resort to intentional “euthanasia” of human beings is beyond the pale, I am also convinced that keeping a person with no hope alive by artificial means (even a feeding tube, which is not a machine the way a respirator is), against their wishes, is also wrong.

I also believe that federalizing this issue is a bad precedent. True, if I believed the state of Florida was conniving in wrongfully killing Terri Schiavo, I would probably want the Feds to take a hand. However, when Congress intervenes in a single case, even a life-and-death case, our federal system, which is even now an important thing to preserve, suffers.

Update: changed "equally wrong" to "also wrong." More accurate, I think.

Update 2: Gerard over at American Digest has a contrary view, set forth with the eloquence we've come to expect. Food for thought.

Update 3: My second thoughts, including admission of a critical error, here.

YACT (Yet Another Conspiracy Theory)

LebanonMatters posts this satirical leaflet--reflecting an imaginary conspiracy theory. Unfortunately, although imaginary, not that atypical.

HT: Publius.

March 18, 2005

March 14, 2005

It Really Is the Scarebus

This story reminds us of the joys of French technology. Reminds me of time in Central America that I got into a 737 and found the signs on the seats were in Romanian. White-knuckle time.

At 35 000 feet above the Caribbean, Air Transat flight 961 was heading home to Quebec with 270 passengers and crew. At 3.45pm last Sunday, the pilot noticed something very unusual. His Airbus A310's rudder -- a structure over 8m high -- had fallen off and tumbled into the sea. In the world of aviation, the shock waves have yet to subside.

Mercifully, the crew was able to turn the plane around, and by steering it with their wing and tail flaps managed to land at their point of departure in Varadero, Cuba, without loss of life. But as Canadian investigators try to discover what caused this near catastrophe, the specialist internet bulletin boards used by pilots, accident investigators and engineers are buzzing.

One former Airbus pilot, who now flies Boeings for a major United States airline, told The Observer: "This just isn't supposed to happen. No one I know has ever seen an airliner's rudder disintegrate like that. It raises worrying questions about the materials and build of the aircraft, and about its maintenance and inspection regime. We have to ask as things stand, would evidence of this type of deterioration ever be noticed before an incident like this in the air?"

Take a Boeing.

March 13, 2005

Does Comstockery Reign?

Frank Rich's latest once again sounds the alarm bells. Censors are apparently poised to throttle all creativity and freedom in the American media, and Anthony Comstock rides again.

Rich starts out by claiming that a post 9/11 telling of a very old joke at a roast for Hugh Hefner was a liberating moment, and excoriating a supposed post 9/11 trend to suppress everything from cartoon baby buttocks to federally sponsored history pamphlets. Frank goes on to praise the quality of NYPD Blue and Deadwood.

'Twould be tedious to go through all of Frank's examples. The ominousness of the threat to worthy forms of indecency as depicted in this column is odd, to say the least, because in past columns Frank made much of the irrepressible drive of the free market in masscult product toward the tawdry and the indecent, fueled as much by the red-state as the blue-state market. Which is it? Does the demand for such product guarantee mass-production of the vulgar, or are we on the verge of a new era of strait-laced suppression of the narsty?

It's hard to tell, if you read the guy from week to week. Frank's right, of course, that some excellent cultural products are raunchy. He's also right in his previous columns that suggest that there's a continuing demand for raunch regardless of quality.

I happen to like NYPD Blue, although I happen to think most of the bare-assed scenes are gratuitous. Even though it's beautifully produced, I gave up on Deadwood because I found the flow of profanity, although perhaps in character, annoying and unpleasant, and the show just too dark to follow week after week.

That's me. I happen not to like scary movies or violent movies, and hence never saw The Passion of the Christ in spite of the fact that it was an important cultural moment.

Should the government be suppressing this sort of thing? I think not. That there should be a time for families to turn on free TV without unexpected exposure to profanity, sodomy, or Dennis Franz's buttocks, does seem reasonable to me. The "parents can always turn it off" meme doesn't reflect how most Americans live. Should there be times and venues when Dennis's buttocks, the "f-word" and dirty jokes are available? If there's a market for this sort of thing, and there is, I don't trust the government to say no.

What I don't share is Frank's constant state of alarm. Plenty of good films, maybe more than we see today, were made when the Hays office limited what could be shown and said in Hollywood movies. The Republic and the culture survived, as they will survive the Rev. Wildmon, Bent Bozell, and Sen. Ted Stevens ringing the indecency alarm bells.

Sore Losers in Papeete

This report suggests that Gaston Flosse's buddies still don't get that fact that they've lost the Polynesian elections:
"The former ruling party in French Polynesia has accused the new government of engaging in a witch-hunt by appointing new Boards into key public institutions.

"The accusation comes after President Oscar Temaru's cabinet appointed new Board directors in French Polynesia's most prominent public companies."

Giuliana Sgrena Revealed

Jack Kelly, previously unknown to me, is a wise columnist. Here, he debunks the slanders of our soldiers by the recently released Italian columnistg, Giuliana Sgrena.

Among the revelations is the strange fact that the supposed hail of bullets only made one hole in Sgrena's vehicle.

The death of the Italian security man is unfortunate, of course, but the placement of the blame on our troops is also unfortunate and apparetnly unfair.

Sgrena comes across as an arrogant, anti-American harpy.

March 12, 2005

Gov. Moonbeam Sticks His Nose Out of the Teapot

There's been some discussion in our local rag, the Orange County Register, about the need to build more highways, as opposed, say, to light rail, which the libertarian Register despises. Who should emerge after a column criticized him but Governor Moonbeam itself, Jerry Brown, now improbably Mayor of Oakland. Moonbeam improbably claims to have been a master builder:

Assemblyman Ray Haynes' column, "Governor gridlock" [California Focus, Opinion, Feb. 16], claims that California came to a "grinding halt" and "stopped improving its existing freeway system" during the eight years I was governor. Nothing could be further from the truth.

During that remarkable period in California history - 1975 through 1982 - our state, with only 10 percent of America's population, produced one out of every four jobs in the nation and 102 miles of new freeway. That's nearly three times the amount of freeway miles added during the combined gubernatorial tenures of George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson.

Haynes also ignores the fact that as the number of freeway miles increases, so does the cost of maintenance. During my administration, we made sure that sufficient sums were spent to keep our roads in top shape. The big problem then was that gas tax revenues became totally insufficient to fund all the projects people wanted. What was true then is even truer today.

Haynes is fooling himself and his constituents if he thinks our roads can be maintained and freeways expanded without raising the gas tax. If he can convince businessmen to build - at their expense - new toll roads, let's hear the proposal. And, while he is at it, please check in with the voters to find out how much they are willing to pay - either in taxes or tolls or both.

As for planning nightmares, let the Terminator in Sacramento break those boxes and get things moving. What Southern California needs is not cheesy political rhetoric but courage and wise action on the part of the governor and the Legislature.

The man who gave us the late unlamented Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird was in fact a complete bust as governor.

On the transportation front, how well I remember agonizing and interminable trips on the choked Santa Monica Freeway, out of which Gov. Moonbeam and his horrid highway chief, Adriana Gianturco, carved a "diamond lane" a.k.a. "HOV" or "High Occupancy Vehicle" lane. This lamebrained exercise clogged the freeway for months, all day and all night, until the public outcry finally forced a change.

This lamebrained scheme emerged full-grown out of the New Age ideology espoused by Gov. Brown and his acolytes. Force asceticism on the people. Solve perceived problems by punishing the hard-working and the law-abiding. Have it in for the passenger car and the lone driver? Make driving impossible! Concerned about gun crime? Forbid the law-abiding to defend themselves!

These were the apostles of slow growth and no growth, of "small is beautiful" and a swarm of other crackpot nostrums. It was in this era that the sad decline of our public life began in earnest.

Jerry Brown was a moonbat then, and he's a moonbat now, notwithstanding his attempts to rewrite history.

Oh, How the Mighty Have Fallen!

The decline of one of many great American institutions is chronicled here:

"The heresy began with 'Double Stuffed' Oreos. This simple-minded d-oh moment came when somebody thought, 'Hey, let's double the stuffing!' It did not matter to them that the perfect proportion of white cream stuffing had already been achieved. Nope, this is the DoublePattyWhopper school of marketing drool: 'If one is good, two is twice as good.' Actually, if one is good, two in the same bun or cookie wafers is a bloody mess. And in addition, in order to get the double stuffing working correctly, they've upped the glue in the stuffing. No double stuffed Oreo comes apart neatly and cleanly. It always shatters. The pleasure of the original Oreo was that you could take it apart and have a chocolate wafer option. A bittersweet chocolate wafer option. Now even the wafer's been made sweet"

It's not just the decline of brands -- it's called market segmentation. Do we really need several kinds of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup?

Apparently the marketers think so.

For Decisiveness

National treasure Victor Davis Hanson plumps for bold assertiveness in American foreign policy, and ticks off examples:

Every time the United States the last quarter century had acted boldly — its removal of Noriega and aid for the Contras, instantaneous support for a reunified Germany, extension of NATO, preference for Yeltsin instead of Gorbachev, Gulf War I, bombing of Milosevic, support for Sharon's fence, withdrawal from Gaza and decapitation of the Hamas killer elite, taking out the Taliban and Saddam-good things have ensued. In contrast, on every occasion that we have temporized — abject withdrawal from Lebanon, appeasement of Arafat at Oslo, a decade of inaction in the Balkans, paralysis in Rwanda, sloth in the face of terrorist attacks, not going to Baghdad in 1991 — corpses pile up and the United States became either less secure or less respected or both.

So it is also in this present war, in which our unheralded successes far outweigh our notorious mistakes. A number of books right now in galleys are going to look very, very silly, as they forecast American defeat, a failed Middle East, and the wages of not listening to their far smarter recommendations of using the U.N. more, listening to Europe, or bringing back the Clinton A-Team.

There's a long way to go, but Hanson's insight seems profound to me. History does not belong to the namby-pamby, even as it disappoints the reckless.

March 9, 2005

Dead Metaphors In the Making: McCarthyism, Holocaust, Nazi

Outgoing Colorado University President Betsy Thompson announced just before calling it quits that a new era of "McCarthyism" is besetting the universities.

This claim is patent nonsense when applied to the hounds baying for the resignation of pseudo-Indian art-forger Professor Ward Churchill. Churchill, in turn, is in Dutch for calling the dead, well, at least the stockbroker dead at the World Trade Center, "little Eichmanns." Doddering relic Sen. Robert Byrd has been the butt of criticism for comparing a possible Republican attempt to restrict the right to filibuster Presidential nominees to the behavior of Hitler when he first came to power.

Others have divagated at length on the accuracy of these particular statements, and I will leave that task to them. What interests me instead is the continued currency of three memes commonly used as epithets:

  • "McCarthyism" and its variant, "witchhunt."

  • Comparison of any pattern of cruelty or murder to the "Holocaust."

  • The more general and someone less severe "Nazi" analogy, whether applied to George Bush, Bill Frist, or an arrogant dispenser of soup on the TV comedy Seinfeld.

These epithets are in constant use, and like any metaphor in constant use, they tend to flatten and become divorced from their original meaning. Take the term "shibboleth," which originated in a Bible story in which the choice of pronouncing the word as "shibboleth" or "sibboleth" meant death for those who used the wrong dialect.

Judges 12:4 (NIV) Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, "You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh."

Judges 12:5 (NIV) The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, "Let me cross over," the men of Gilead asked him, "Are you an Ephraimite?" If he replied, "No,"

Judges 12:6 (NIV) they said, "All right, say "Shibboleth." If he said, "Sibboleth," because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.

Today a "shibboleth" is defined here as no more than a " A word or phrase identified with a particular group or cause; a catchword." Only to those familiar with the Bible story does it connote a massacre of a particular tribe.

The term "McCarthyism" and its partner "witchhunt" are now a dime a dozen. "McCarthyism" is used mostly, but not exclusively, by liberals and leftists to tag critics with irresponsibility and a desire to suppress speech they disagree with. Most of the people who use it know very little about McCarthy or his era. McCarthy, of course, was right on the central themes of his message -- American communists were subservient to a hostile and murderous state, Stalin's USSR, and had obtained substantial influence in the New Deal government, the unions, and the nation's cultural life. In a time of conflict with the USSR and its philosophy, sometimes hot as in Korea, and sometimes "cold," as in occupied Germany, explaining these facts and exposing secret communists in such places was a legitimate exercise, as I discuss in more detail here.

The related "witchhunt" analogy comes from the late Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible. The pressure on certain witnesses to "name names," or identify other communists and ex-communists, was analogized to the use of torture on accused witches to force them to identify others. It was a silly analogy to start with because few "victims" in the McCarthy era were accused entirely falsely, nor was torture a part of the process.

People today use "McCarthyism" to denounce any unwelcome questioning of the political views of others. Incredibly, Betsy Hoffman, a university president, no less, compared the statements of those who said they'd like Ward Churchill fired to the McCarthyism of myth -- a reputed use of power to suppress legitimate dissent and social criticism.

Whether one thinks that not firing Churchill for his disgusting remark is a price we pay for First Amendment liberties, or whether one thinks that the Republic will survive if, in a time of war, a repulsive fraud is canned for his repulsive remarks, the remarks are repulsive and unworthy of any substantive defense, and those who object to them neither intend to nor are likely to usher in an age of intolerance and autos-da-fé.

All this may be true, but the "McCarthyism" meme used to define any systematic attack on critical speech is no doubt here to stay, used not just by liberals and leftists, but by center-rightists as well as a kind of terminological judo.

A second series of historical events, the murder of millions of Jews by the Nazis, now conventionally and inappropriately called the "Holocaust" (because the Biblical holocaust was part of a religious ritual, and there was nothing sacred or holy about the Nazi mass murders), is used to refer to everything from other genocides, to Israeli misdeeds against Palestinians, to the factory farming of chickens, as in PETA's notorious "Holocaust on your plate" campaign.

The Holocaust is a far more horrible and emotional concept than McCarthyism, and the battle over who can appropriate it for what purpose rages on. There are those who contend it is unique and incommensurable with any other event or series of events in history, while others would confine its use to mass genocides such as in Rwanda or Cambodia. In part this notion of the Holocaust as sui generis is part of an effort to use horror at the Nazi murders as an emotion-evoking symbol to try to unify an otherwise discordant Jewish community, and to discredit criticism of Israeli policy.

Even Israeli opponents of Ariel Sharon's planned evacuation of Gaza use Nazi-era phrases like Judenrein (clean, or empty of Jews). The phrase, and the concept, in short, are undergoing generalization, to the extent that it is becoming a virtually "dead metaphor."

Dead metaphors, by definition, normally go unnoticed; people are typically unaware of the origin of words. For instance, consideration is a metaphor meaning "take the stars into account", mantel means "cloak or hood to catch smoke", gorge means throat, and so forth for thousands more.
"Holocaust" is just coming to refer to any acts of cruelty applied to large groups.

Inappropriate, and in the case of PETA, disgusting, but probably inevitable.

The related "Nazi" term is less emotionally charged than "Holocaust," and is now used to refer to any form of harsh or authoritarian behavior. On the comedy show Seinfeld, a nasty soup-seller is referred to as the "Soup Nazi." Rush Limbaugh coined the term "feminazis" to refer to aggressive, know-it-all feminists. And Sen. Byrd compares a possible restriction on filibusters to the political process that led to dictatorship and the death of 40 million people in World War II. If people were more circumspect, the Nazi analogy would be reserved for the Saddam Husseins of the world, torturers, totalitarians, and exterminationist racists. But people are not circumspect, and "Nazi" is on its way to becoming a dead metaphor. It's no doubt a dishonor to the victims of the real Nazis, but it's a common usage, and there's not much to be done about it.

March 8, 2005

Speak Truth to Failure

This piece praises the nomination of John Bolton as UN Ambassador.

Apparently some Democrats are trying to make this appointment an issue. We need an appointee who knows a failed institution when he sees it, and tells the truth. It's a cartel of tyrants, a sinecure for third-world bureaucrats who live pampered lives in New York and Geneva, a corrupt, ineffective, bloated dinosaur.

The UN bureaucracy and the liberals who fetishize the "dream" of the UN and ignore the reality won't like the appointment, which is one reason it's such a good one. The American people, who have lost patience with the UN, to the extent they follow it at all, will like it. Once again the Dems will cut their own throats.

March 6, 2005

Coptic Murder Update: It Wasn't Sectarian, Cops Think

It appears that the horrific murders of the Coptic Christian Armanious family in Jersey City, New Jersey, were the work of small-time criminals, two of whom were arrested last week for the murders, and not the work of Muslim extremists.

If so, it's a relief, although that doesn't make the murders less horrific.

It doesn't solve the long-standing issues between Copts and Muslims, but this crime may not be the harbinger of personal, sectarian murders (as opposed to terrorist attacks) in the U.S. Keep your fingers crossed, and let's hope the cops got the right guys.

Frank's Eulogy for the MSM

Frank Rich, our favorite whipping boy (it's nasty work, but someone has to do it), has come up with a typically snarky, but if analyzed, refreshingly candid take on the news media.

The conceit of the piece is a eulogy of sorts for the late Hunter S. Thompson, self-proclaimed "gonzo" journalist and professional character. Frank allows as how HST originated a revival of the type of journalism in which the reporter's personality and experience of the story become part of the piece. The first person is joined with the third person. Frank's appreciation of HST is by way of comparison to what he sees as an inbred and timid in-group of mainstream print and network journalists whose behavior is herd-like and timid.

Frank does not attempt to defend Dan Rather/CBS's fake document story, acknowledging its shabbiness, but soon segues into the Jeff Gannon story, lamenting the fact that it has disappeared from sight, and attributing that to the laziness and timidity of most reporters. In fact, aside from the strange journey of Mr. Guckert/Gannon himself, it's not much of a story. A reporter for a Republican website throws the Press Secretary and the President some softball questions. Oh the horror!

Rich, letting his leftism overcome his usual obsession with gay martyrdom, discounts the gay-bashing aspect of the coverage of the Gannon story because some of the center-right comments on this aspect of the story strike him as insincere.

What Rich doesn't discuss, of course, is the charge, well-supported in my opinion, that MSM journalism is not merely timid and in-groupy, but the in-group tends sharply to the liberal side of the political spectrum, whose norm is increasingly similar to the anti-Bush crazy left. To me, that's pretty well established, and Rich doesn't address it. Nor does he address the sad decline of his own newspaper.

But we can't demand too much of the man. That he's acknowledged the increasing timidity and irrelevance of the MSM, and the shameful conduct of CBS in the fake documents matter is to his credit.

So award the credit when it's due, and here's my bet: Frank will descend into foaming-at-the-mouth moonbattery within two weeks.

We need some themes in this blog. I'm confident neither Polynesia, Harvard, nor Mr. Insufferable will disappoint us.

I Haven't Disappeared

The gap in blogging came about because, alas, il faut manger (one must make a living). Had I managed my affairs better, no doubt I could be riding bicycles, blogging and learning languages full time.

Alas, I was improvident, if not a wastrel, in my youth, and so business sometimes calls. But I'm back.

March 3, 2005

Temaru Elected in Polynesia

Tahitipresse reports:

Le candidat de l'UPLD (Union pour la démocratie) Oscar Temaru a été élu, jeudi, sans surprise, président de la Polynésie. Sur un total de 57 représentants siègeant à l'Assemblée de Polynésie, il a obtenu 29 voix, contre 26 pour le candidat du Tahoeraa huiraatira, Gaston Tong Sang, avec également deux bulletins blancs.

Cette éection vient couronner le succès de l'UPLD acquis dans les urnes, le 13 février dernier, aux Îles du Vent (Tahiti et Moorea), scrutin au terme duquel l'UPLD avait dévancé d'environ 6 000 voix le Tahoeraa huiraatira de Gaston Flosse. Elle est également une revanche personnelle pour Oscar Temaru qui avait été éélu une première fois à ce poste, au mois de juin dernier, mais pour finalement n'y rester que quatre mois, jusqu'au mois d'octobre, son gouvernement chutant après l'adoption d'une motion de censure initiée par le parti de Gaston Flosse.
The candidate of the UPLD (Union for Democracy), Oscar Temaru was elected Thursday, as expected, President of Polynesia. Out of 57 representatives seated in the Polynesian Assembly, Temaru got 29 votes, while the candidate of the Tahoeraa huiraatira, Gaston Tong Sang, got 26, with two blank ballots.

This election confirms the UPLD's electoral success on Feb. 13, in the Windward Islands (Tahiti and Mo'orea). At the end of the election the UPLD had a margin of about 6,000 votes over Gaston Flosse's Tahoeraa huiraatira. It is also a personal vindication of Oscar Temaru, who was elected to the post for the first time last June, but served only four months, until October, his government falling after the adoption of a censure motion made by Gaston Flosse's party.

Temaru was quoted as saying independence was not now in the cards, and would only be discussed when there was a popular demand for it.

It appears that the corrupt Flosse, a sidekick of Jacques Chirac, is now history. Whether his legendary corruption will be the subject of an inquiry remains uncertain. It is also uncelar whether there will be a change in French "welfare colonialism" in Polynesia.

Something Random: Today's Bard

Then should you be nothing but musical for you are altogether governed by humours. Lie still, ye thief, and hear the lady sing in Welsh.

I had rather hear Lady, my brach, howl in Irish.

Wouldst thou have thy head broken?


Then be still.

A 'brach" is a "bitch."

Don't know why this stuck in my head from 10th grade English. "Random," as my daughter would say.

Things haven't changed much. I'd say what Hotspur says here, and my wife would shut me up as Lady Percy does here.

Is Byrd Senile Or Just a Racist Idiot?

Michelle Malkin goes into detail about the aged West Virginia Senator and patronage king, Robert Byrd. Like Hugo Black, who later became a "First Amendment absolutist" on the Supreme Court, he had a youthful flirtation with the KKK. Unlike Black, he seems to have retained the ideology, if not his actual membership.

Byrd's latest is an oration comparing the Republican quest for a majority vote on judicial nominees to Hitler's use of German law to assume power and carry out his program. An inept and inexact comparison that recruits Hitler and his murderous régime to yet another cause, in this case an unprecented obstruction of the majority will.

No doubt they'll be wheeling in his wasted body and addled mind for a few more years yet. Hillary must be beside herself. Can she distance herself from the rampant moonbattery of her party enough to triangulate her way into the White House? I don't underestimate Hillary, but I doubt it, as long as she's chained to Byrd, Dean, Schumer, Sharpton and Moore.

The Anti-Defamation League of course piped up. How dare Byrd cop from their Hitler franchise? Everybody does it, so that restricting Nazi analogies to Jewish causes is a hopeless task. When a cranky soup merchant is the "soup Nazi," and 9/11 victims are "little Eichmanns," the ADL might as well dismount their high horse, 'cause it's just a mule that will go nowhere. The Hitler and Holocaust trademarks are diluted to the point where they are common parlance. My advice: it's good for an essay or too. Otherwise, fuggedabait.

In any event, for the record, here's a bit of Michelle's piece on Sen. Byrd. She's hot.

The ex-Klansman later filibustered the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act -- supported by a majority of those "mean-spirited" Republicans -- for more than 14 hours. He also opposed the nominations of the Supreme Court's two black justices, liberal Thurgood Marshall and conservative Clarence Thomas. In fact, the ex-Klansman had the gall to accuse Justice Thomas of "injecting racism" into the Senate hearings. Meanwhile, author Graham Smith recently discovered another letter Sen. Byrd wrote after he quit the KKK, this time attacking desegregation of the armed forces.

The ex-Klansman vowed never to fight "with a Negro by my side. Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds."

If this ex-Klansman were a conservative Republican, he would never hear the end of his sordid past. "Ex-Klansman who opposed civil rights and black justices" would appear in every reference to Sen. Byrd. And even the "ex-" would be in doubt. Maxine Waters and Ralph Neas and Julianne Malveaux and Al Sharpton and all the other left-wing bloodhounds who sniff racism in every crevice of American life would be barking up a storm over Sen. Byrd's latest fulminations. Instead, the attack dogs are busy decrying latent racial bigotry where it doesn't exist, while the real thing roams wild and free in their own political backyard.

She's right. The Racists Beset Me Riff, like the Adolf Analogy, is used to attack one's enemies, not one's buds.

Hacks, who'd make H.L.Mencken proud.

Update 3/4/2005: corrected typo in "Holocaust."

March 1, 2005

Darfur and Indifference

Nick Kristof of the New York Times is reminding us all of the horrors of the genocide now going on in Darfur in the Sudan.

This is the human rights story of the century so far. It's racial, at least in part. Where are the Randall Robinsons and the Jesse Jacksons? Where are Michael Moore and Barbara Boxer? Kofi Annan?

"The heart of man is evil from his birth."

More Beirut Pictures

Here, from the English-language Beirut Daily Star.

OK, I'll Talk About Ward Churchill If I Must, But Just This Once

Tapscott rounds up some of the latest blogosphere chatter about Ward Churchill, the University of Colorado ethnic studies professor who called the 9/11 victims "little Eichmanns" (later making an exception for the murdered busboys and such, but holding fast to celebrating the deaths of the bond broker victims and their ilk.)

The hounds are baying after Churchill, a stance that is certainly justified morally. There's evidence, so they say, that:

  • Churchill was hired in part because he claimed to be an American Indian, a claim he's made in the past. He's no Indian.

  • He's plagiarized art work.

  • He assaulted a TV reporter who questioned him about the art theft.
  • Has no academic qualifications to speak of. His scholarship is full of inaccuracies such as made-up citations.

This all raises fascinating legal and policy questions. Let's stipulate that the guy is a swine. That's a given.

Can (and should) he be fired for his disgusting statement about the 9/ll victims? The University of Colorado is a public institution, so anything it does is "state action" and is subject to the restrictions of the First Amendment, including free speech, which our courts have held to be applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. This "incorporation" doctrine is in itself problematic, but won't change in this case. And a court would likely find Churchill's remark to be protected speech. Freedom of speech protection is unneeded for conventional utterances, goes the argument, but only for unpopular ones.

Should the law protect a professor's job in this circumstance? I think not. A professor is supposed to teach, and be something a model of scholarship and probity to the students and the community. This remark is inconsistent with that. It's not as if he had a dissenting view on Indian casino gambling or Lewis and Clark. It's an affront to the nation and not a contribution to any rational discussion. However, the "where do you draw the line" argument will prevail here.

A separate question is whether Churchill can be fired for falsifying his résumé or plagiarizing art. Generally, I'd say, yes, even if these things were discovered because the offensive remark led to their discovery. As long as these would be firing offenses for tenured faculty generally, he's fair game.

The lie about being an American Indian is interesting. Normally you couldn't fire someone for being, or not being, of a particular ethnic background. It's so clear here that ethnic background was the reason Churchill was hired, though, that if it's material on the hiring end, lying about it ought to be material on the firing end. Even if in my view ethnicity shouldn't have been a basis for hiring in the first place. Alfred Kroeber, the great Berkeley anthropologist, was an expert on American Indians, but wasn't Indian himself. Churchill, Indian or not, appears not to be an expert about anything.

Two asides about this discussion: The first: why the hell was this jerk hired in the first place? He has no academic distinctions that I know of; apparently his books are unscholarly, polemical rants, and he made his reputation as an agitator of no great skill. The answer is because of guilt, sit-ins, and a misplaced commitment to multiculturalism and affirmative action, universities have caved in to the ethnic studies racket, whereby every group with enough clout and enough victimhood gets its own department, mostly limited to its own ethnic group, where normal standards of scholarship do not apply, and hacks like Churchill can get hired. The whole thing is a racket and a scandal. The normal standards of scholarship don't apply -- the rule is, give them their department, hold your nose, and get on with life. This is an abdication by universities, but one of long standing.

Second: the "little Eichmanns" remark. Once again, the murder of Europe's Jews during World War II is exploited for rhetorical purposes. Just about everybody does it. Various Jewish circles do it to support their agendas, in part because it's an emotionally satisfying substitute for putting forth the positive content of Jewish religion and culture, and a conversation-stopper. Who's going to criticize Elie Wiesel, for instance? After all, he survived the camps. The Pope just did it, referring to abortion, the killing of the not-yet-alive. PETA does it to refer to killing animals for food. Churchill did it to blacken the 9/11 dead. All poor analogies. Better analogies: Darfur, Rwanda, Cambodia. (No, I'm not going to get into the debate about whether the Holocaust was sui generis, unique; isn't every historical event unique in some ways?) It's easy and often a cheap device, to appropriate the emotional impact of these murders for some unrelated purpose. Often it's cheap, inaccurate, and in bad taste. ("Soup Nazi.") It's routine, and it won't stop.