Monday, March 28, 2005

freedom of speech vs. freedom from fear

Here is an interesting item in today's Opinion Journal round up of good news from Iraq:

"the poll showed 60 percent of those interviewed thought that democracy was preferable to any other kind of government. Democracy could give better education, jobs and wages for more of the population, they said. Ninety-one percent said living without fear was essential to democracy, but freedom of speech and political participation ranked lower. "

Notice how ranking freedom from fear higher than freedom of speech and participation is viewed as a mistake. Isn't that rather parochial on our part? Maybe given the situation of Iraqis they are right. We don't have a memory of a time when people were killed for expressing the wrong views or being preceived as being on the wrong side. Remember in the aftermath of the Italian journalist's shooting at the check point it came out that one of the problems with the system was that Iraqis are afraid to slow down and look--under the old regime, if you looked at the security officers you were liable to get a knock on the door in the middle of the night. With a society facing that level of fear the ability to read the newspaper you want is reasonably less important than freedom from being targeted by the police. The closest thing we have to the level of terror that Iraqis face is among blacks in the deep south. Ask people that were getting lynched for looking at someone the wrong way to rank freedom from fear against freedom of the press.

Sunday, March 27, 2005


I am telling you, these living wills will never work. Please, save us all some trouble. We can't go through another media feeding frenzy like this. If you are going to go in the hospital and think you might be incapacitated the only prudent thing to do is kill someone.

Saturday, March 26, 2005


Want to be safe from death by starvation? Kill someone. That was Terri’s big mistake. Being a wife and beloved friend was what doomed her.

Take any of the arguments being put forward to justify the slow starvation death of Terri Schiavo to justify the execution of a murderer and you would be—what—called a murderer yourself. We are told without a trace of doubt that a convicted murderer put to death on the word of a jail house snitch who testifies in exchange for a lighter sentence that society is executing an innocent man. But question whether the word of an estranged husband (living with his new “wife” and two kids) who stands to gain a cool million that had been awarded to him to pay for Terri’s care and you are given a tired lecture on the importance of states rights.

Of course I can believe that Mr. Schiavo has her best interests at heart, I could even believe he did suddenly remember the little snatch of conversation that justifies the claim that we are only carrying out Terri’s wishes in starving her to death. But what I can’t believe is that a reasonable person can’t have some doubt. And that is the standard that we apply to murderers before we subject them to a painless death. Why is the bar so much lower to subject someone to this agony. And the person I saw on TV definitely looks like someone that can feel pain.

What is so striking is the seeming rush to judgment. To act when there is no necessity to do so. Her loving and distraught family ready to take all the responsibility and expense of her care.


We want this to be about living wills. What nonsense. What can hardly be less than clear is that there was a decision made. The judge and Terri’s husband decided the outcome they wanted and looked for a way to get it. They found it in some imagined statement that supports the argument that Terri would have wanted it this way. They ignored evidence on the other side of the proposition that was clearly stronger.

But the idea that a living will would stop the professionals from doing what they want to do is fanciful. Remember the first the issue in the case was whether the husband of the family had the right to make the decision. When that stopped working the TV utterance was discovered. And it happily jogged the memory of The husband’s sister and old friend. The legion of Terri’s friends and family that remembered the exact opposite views from this devout Catholic woman were found to be not credible (if he bothered to pronounce on them at all). But if it had been the other way around, if the parties on the side of death and raising the bar to a be considered a living human being had been reversed is there any doubt that the exact opposite parties would have been found to be credible? Or that some other principle in the law would have been found to make the parents the final arbiters?


What is happening in this country. The judge orders death and no pictures. No recording devices. No way are we allowed to judge for ourselves. The pictures that we see of Terri and her eyes watching the balloon were taken illegally, against the judge’s orders. If the evidence in a murder case were kept away from the public like this we would be outraged. If the judge’s decision, the precious words of his opinion that are the really important thing nowadays, were kept from the public the outrage would be palpable. The people cannot be deprived of moral instruction, but evidence—that is for the important people to see.

But what is so disturbing is that people don’t seem to mind the evidence being kept from them. They want to keep this out of sight.


Mickey Kaus:
“One way of putting it is that the end of life is so messy, and riddled with potentially guilt-inducing glitches, that nobody wants to be judgmental about it (as the pro-tube position requires).”
But that is the key thing. How is it that the life side is the judgmental one? What has happened that not wanting to starve a person to death is judgmental? It would seem that the people wanting to end a life on the reasoning that the life in question is not worth living are at least as judgmental as the ones that want to give a person food and water.


We have unknowingly decided to change what medicine is. We have changed it from being a group of people that try to keep you alive to a profession that decides whether to keep you alive. We have changed the hospital to a place where they decide whether your life is worth living. People think that will make things better. I think they will be disappointed.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Schiavo--random thoughts

The real key to winning political battles is to have your interests defined as disinterested. That has clearly been achieved by the pro-euthanasia side.

The judge considered dis-interested. The supporters of Schiavo are said to have interests or, worse, ideological/political motivations. The parents have personal interests which lead them astray, make it impossible to see the truth that is so obvious to experts. They are to be pitied but not respected in their judgments. The pro-life people are ideologically motivated. This is the big no-no. But those who want life redefined as a bundle of goods to be weighed as plusses and minuses are the dis-interested voice of reason. They do not have an ideology. Thus a judge who goes to perverse lengths to ignore or not hear evidence that might work against his ideology’s preferred conclusion.

A judge, a real judge, has decided not once but twice that she has no hope and would want to die. People actually say this as if it should convince anyone. Would that cut any ice if it were a murderer we were talking about killing?

It is very important and little remarked upon that the debate has shifted from the husband’s right to speak for the wife to a simple question of what would Terry have wanted. Apparently this had always been the basis for the judge’s ruling. How did attention come to be shifted to this aspect of the case, or, rather, why was it on the ‘husband’s’ authority issue before?

Polarity of the fork. The other key to ideological hegemony is the polarity of forks. Every fork cuts both ways, has two heads, so to speak. In this case the two sides face the federalism fork. Pro-life people are forked between federalism and their preferred policy outcome. They are usually in the position of wanting state autonomy. The pro-euthanasia forces are facing the opposite fork. They are usually in the position of federal supremacy. They are forced to choose between their preferred policy outcome and federal supremacy. The fact that the pro-life forces are the ones routinely forced to account for the tension in their principles while the pro-euthanasia forces are not is a good indicator of which side is hegemonic.

An alternative hypothesis is that the side that is asking for a change in the status quo is the one that has to face this sort of question. A possible answer to this hypothesis is that defining one side or the other as changing the status quo is itself part of the powers of ideological hegemony. Maybe any policy involves changes in the status quo. In the Schiavo case there is a change—taking out the feeding tube for starters. What is considered a “change” of the sort that must give an account of itself is itself socially constructed.

Isn’t this a lot like those cases where the guy is convicted of murder on the strength of the testimony of a jailhouse informant? The guy claims that his cellmate one day just admitted to the murder. This is bad because the informant has an interest—he gets his sentence reduced. In the case at hand he gets a million dollars that he can think of a better use for than therapy for an invalid wife.

And I am so sick of the “how can we waste time on this while the ________ problem goes un-addressed?” comment. Some problems are important because of the value conflicts they involve, not the dollar amounts or number of persons immediately effected by their outcome.
And how bad were the Romans, anyway? Terri has a lot more going on than the average newborn. So we don’t starve babies because they are going to get better. But is it that far away?

Terri Schiavo

What about the 8th Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment? Death by starvation would certainly be considered cruel and unusual punishment if she were a murderer. Would the "trial" that effectively sentenced a human being to death by starvation even begin to pass muster for a murderer?


The key to winning a political debate is getting the other side to buy into your assumptions, to argue on your turf. A case in point is this entry from "Rantingprofs" on a Newsweek article describing an insurgent ambush that left 26 enemy dead with no American KIA:

"Then comes the daily roundup of violence.
No doubt, there's a daily roundup of violence to be had, no doubt the security situation isn't good, isn't what it should be.
The place ain't Shangri-la.
But there are more and more people on the ground saying the situation isn't just getting better, but that it's getting better to the point that it genuinely looks as if the enemy is in real trouble."

I think it is interesting to note the defensiveness in the author's analysis of the situation. It is as if we are to apologize for the lack of security. Here are Iraqis killing other Iraqis in order to impose a dictatorship and we are apologetic because we haven't "provided" enough security.

This way of looking at it just seems so wrong. Our soldiers are selflessly laying down their lives, taking no profit or tribute from the people of Iraq, only fighting to give the people of Iraq the right to live freely under a government of their own choosing and still we are somehow to apologize because some other Iraqis, who want to re-impose a dictatorship, are going around killing people at random. The thing that is so perverse is that we feel an obligation to put a good light on this because if the Iraqis trying to impose a dictatorship on the rest of the country.

We are trying to protect people and the more murderous the other side is the more we are apologetic about not providing enough security? It is as if the Federals and Abolitionists were expected to apologize for freeing the slaves because of the Klu Klux Clan riding around hanging black people. Was the violence of the Klu Klux Clan, the terrorism, used as an argument for not fighting the Civil War? How can the degenerate terrorism of the Baathists and Jihadists be used as an argument for having left them in charge?

N. B. Forest

Reading great biography of Nathan Bedford Forest.

He is a study in contrasts. He begins his life as a slave trader and ends--at no small cost to himself--as an advocate of a racially inclusive democratic party. First Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Clan he ends up disbanding it in Tennessee and denouncing its continued operations elsewhere.

He illustraites and challenges a lot of theories. Famous for having 30 horses shot out from under him, he would seem to be the embodiment of the sort of "charge with banners flying" ethos we associate with 19th century military. But, untrained in military theory, he was one of the few civil War era generals that saw the futility of the frontal assault. All of his victories, and they were almost always victories when he was in sole command, were won by doing exactly what theory of the time said you should never do: divide his forces. He rebukes a superior saying, "If I knew as much about West Point tactics as you do I'd get whipped everytime for sure."

An interesting thing about 19th century battles was that because communications were so slow and uncertain on the battle field, most coordination depended crucially on commanders being able to anticipate what their fellow commanders (on the same side) would do in a given situation. This is one of the reasons Forest does not work well in groups where he is not in sole command but is instead the head of only a part of the army. Once the battle begins the other commanders are not able to anticipate what he will do. This causes problems even though his decisions are sometimes, in fact, usually, better than what the other commanders expect him to do. The local efficiency represented by Forest's ability to make full use of local information is to some extent counterbalanced by the loss in coordination with other commanders. Chicamagua is a possible case in point (though there even more traditionally trained commanders would have done what Forest was expecting others to do and it was only the unusual timidity of ?Buford? that lead to a failure to follow up on the initial breakthrough in Federal lines). An army may sometimes be better off with a lot of commanders making bad decisions, but the same bad decisions, than having individual geniuses making better but unpredictable decisions.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Interesting article on liberal icon Alfred Kinsey from the City Journal by Edward Feser:

"One particularly monstrous pedophile, a man who had sexual relations with various of his family members and molested hundreds of children, kept regular contact with Kinsey and his associates. They assured him that they wouldn’t turn him in to the authorities, despite the fact that he continued to molest children throughout the time of their correspondence. Kinsey justified such aiding and abetting of criminality in the name of “science,” of course. "

Reminds me of the Tuskegee syphilis study that is so justly infamous. Notice how in both cases the researcher is not causing the problem, just allowing it to go on. Of course the number of victims was much larger in the Tuskegee incident and the harm presumably greater to each individual victim (though the harm of a pedophile to his victim may be as great as an early death and the harm of not getting medical care for syphalis in the mid-20th century may, due to the state of medical science at the time, much less than we might suppose--I genuinely have no idea on either account). Still, it is lucky for the sake of Kinsey's reputation that none of the pedophile's victims were African American.