Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: The Year of the Tea Party

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

-- Mohandas K. Gandhi

In 2009, they were ignored by the establishment and mainstream media, then ridiculed (not grass roots, but stroturf!).

In 2010 they were taken seriously enough to vilified as racist.* Then they began to win. And win, and win.

Even their electoral defeats -- in Delaware and Nevada -- were victories in a deeper sense. They resulted from primary elections in which Tea Party voters "imprudently" gave a black eye to the corrupt, disgraced Republican establishment, nominating (gasp!) unapproved candidates. In so doing, they made it very plain that electing Republicans is not their goal at all. They want to change things -- at least to reign in the worst excesses of the present corporatist system. You can't do that by being "prudentl"

Happy New Year everybody!

While I am at it, here is a charming essay by Peggy Noonan on the wonderful Robbie Burns song, Old Long Since (Auld Lang Syne).

* As reported in the Washington Post, a UCLA graduate student carefully photographed every visible sign (about 250 of them) at a recent major TP rally. Among her findings: " ...There were uglier messages, too - including 'Obama Bin Lyin' - Impeach Now' and 'Somewhere in Kenya a Village is Missing its Idiot.' But Ekins's analysis showed that only about a quarter of all signs reflected direct anger with Obama. Only 5 percent of the total mentioned the president's race or religion, and slightly more than 1 percent questioned his American citizenship." If these data are indicative, they suggest that the TP as a whole is actually less racist than America as a whole.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Denis Dutton, RIP

I just heard from Noël Carroll that Denis, an old friend of mine from college, died yesterday. The last I had heard from him was a month or so ago, when his cancer had re-emerged and he had gone back into chemo. I had expected this, but not so soon. He had been struggling with the disease for some years. Cheated the Old Man out of several more, he did!

Soon after graduate school, Denis made the unusual career move of relocating to New Zealand, so our contacts were sporadic for a long time. I once asked him how he liked living in this dinky, middle of nowhere country. He said there were advantages to living in a small country. For instance, he knew is own Prime Minister -- personally. (I now think all countries should be small.)

For at least twenty years, we never met face to face. Then about ten years ago we met up again at a meeting of the American Society for Aesthetics. At dinner with Robert Solomon (now also forðférde, or "journeyed forth," as my pagan ancestors used to say) we talked about Denis's remarkable career to date. Soon out of graduate school, he rounded up the few distinguished philosophers who had discussed the presentation of philosophical ideas in literary works (Peter Winch and Stanley Cavell prominent among them) and with their support founded the journal, Philosophy and Literature. To this day, it is the only journal I know of dedicated to this subject, one that is dear to me, as you may know.

Years later, he scored another and greater triumph, with Arts and Letters Daily, sometimes called "the greatest web site in the world). If you go there quickly, you can find links to many obituaries for him in the left column.

At these ASA meetings, he had recently sold the site to the magazine Lingua Franca, and was managing it as their employee (along with performing his more conventional academic duties). Not wanting uncouthly ask how much dough he got for it, I said that, gee whiz, I bet they paid him a tidy sum. He just said, "How do you think I could afford this suit?", pointing a thumb at his lapel. I had no idea what a thousand dollar suit would look like, but this nonetheless made his point pretty effectively.

At dinner with Bob Solomon, though, he was in a glum mood. His whole career has been based on the ideas of others, he said. He was little more than a conduit through which others communicate. Nonsense, we said. You've found something, something important, that you do better than anyone else. How many can say that?

When we had lunch the next day, he told me about some new ideas he had been working on, involving the remarkable persistence of some visual motifs in the most popular landscape paintings, and the possibility of explaining them via evolutionary psychology. Within a few years, he had produced a book that created something of a sensation in the artworld. It is one of the very few books of real philosophy that in my lifetime has had a strong effect outside the tiny world of academic philosophy. Conduit indeed!

He had climbed his last mountain!

In the last message I got from him, he didn't seem to be much happier than you or I would be to die while still in his prime. But I'm sure he realized that he had lived a very full life. Full to overflowing.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Now Chris Matthews Wants to See O's Birth Certificate

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Matthews asks, it seems to me, a legitimate question: Is there any good reason why Obama should not do what other Presidents have done, and request the release of his full birth certificate? His interlocutors stumble around and finally agree that, sure, why not, he might as well do that.

As I have said before (see this link) the real issue here, unless you are insane, is not whether he was born here, it is whether this man has to play by the same rules to which others are subjected. He has persistently refused to release a wide spectrum of primary documents about himself that customarily are released by presidents and presidential candidates (see the same link). The most powerful human on planet Earth should have fewer privacy rights than the rest of us, not more.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Would Jesus be a Liberal Democrat?

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Jesus Is a Liberal Democrat
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>March to Keep Fear Alive

There is an issue here that even non-Christians like me and Bernie Goldberg can find interesting. The immediate issue is: Are people who vote for the government to give resources to people who need them practicing Christian charity? Behind this is a deeper issue, which does not presuppose Christian ethics: Are they practicing some virtue of benevolence or other -- perhaps generosity?

Colbert thinks the answer to both questions is obviously yes. I think the correct answer is no, for two reasons.

(Both are different from the reason O'Reilly gives, which is that , as he sees it, Christian charity and liberal charity are different traits, as the former is qualified by ideas, such as individual responsibility, which are absent from the latter. This is the idea that Colbert is ignorantly ridiculing in the above video.)

First: If you are really generous, charitable, etc., you have already given to the needy. The only thing your vote can add, at most, is to force others to give. Now, if I give you my coat, that may be generous, but if I give you someone else's coat, it cannot be. You can only be generous, etc., with your own property. If Al Capone tips a shoeshine boy with a stolen $100 bill, he is not being generous. His subjective affect at that moment may be identical to what a generous person might feel, but generosity is a moral concept, not a psychological one. A mere feeling is never sufficient to make an act virtuous.

Second: Further, by voting, you are not even forcing others to give. When you vote, you are never doing anything but voting. Unless the tally, minus you, turns out to be 1,395,735 to 1,395,735, with yours being the tie-breaking vote, your vote has no effect on the outcome of the election whatsoever. As Thoreau put it: "Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it." Voting is thus a great corrupter of morals, a smugifier, a hypocriter. Well, at least I've done something about the problem now! No, you haven't. Now get off your fat ass and really do something.

I think there are a significant number of liberals who believe the Colbert thesis: that simply voting a certain way and having certain opinions makes them more virtuous than people who do otherwise. It would explain the moral contempt some of them seem to show toward people who are to the right of them. It would also explain why they are often so easy on people who are to the left of them. Stalin may have murdered millions, but at least he presided over a state that gave free medical care to those it did not kill. (The same thing is true of Hitler, but nevermind that.)

The intuitive idea behind this is obvious: the liberal voter, the charitable Christian, and the Communist dictator do have something in common: all care about the needy. That may be true. But it does not show that liberals and socialists are more virtuous than others. Aside from the empirical fact that there are plenty of people who care and yet do not fit this political profile, there are reasons #1 and #2, above.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Christmas Festival

We've played a number of different classical-music-style Christmas medleys in the Madison Community Orchestra over the years, and this one is clearly the best.

One reason is that it really isn't a medley at all. People who have tried to present it as a sing-along -- distributing lyrics to the audience -- have found that some of the keys that composer Leroy Anderson uses make part of it impossible for most people to sing.

It really is a symphonic movement, with the familiar tunes treated at times as orchestral "motives." It begins with one phrase -- half a bar long -- from "Joy to the World" and then rushes into "Deck the Halls," shifting back to "Joy" in the seventh measure.

The last section is a majestic version of "Adeste Fidelis" accompanied by a rhythmic phrase derived from "Jingle Bells." Amazingly -- it works! The coda is a rollicking jumble based on the opening phrases of “Jingle Bells,” interrupted briefly by “Joy to the World,” and a few measures that seem to derive from “Hark the Herald,” ending by hammering away fortissimo at the first two notes of the chorus of “Jingle Bells.”

Try doing that as an audience sing-along. But, boy, is it fun to play!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bubba's Return

Warning: Coarse language at 1:45.

For those of you who are too young to remember, this is what an actual, adult-type President sounds like. He doesn't just use language in order to cheer-lead and "inspire" people. He uses it to, like, you know, explain stuff. Also, to present rational arguments.

Obama's skill set is impressive but extremely narrow: mainly, he's good at giving a certain sort of speech. So far, he doesn't seem to be outstandingly good at much of anything else. Soon we will all know whether he has the sort of humility (I can't think of another word for it) that it takes to fundamentally re-orient yourself and learn profoundly new things. The evidence, to me, is still ambiguous. On the one hand, he seems to be trying to learn a thing or two about running a giant nation-state from Bill Clinton. That's a good sign. On the other, he voluntarily did this news conference with Clinton (even going through the trouble of as it were hunting for the key to the briefing room), when many of us could have warned him that Bubba's performance would make him look, well, weak by comparison. That's not a good sign. He does seem to be a person who is profoundly unaware of his own limitations.

Below is the entire press conference. The laugh-out-loud moment, where Obama says he can't stick around because he can't keep the Ol' Ball 'n' Chain waiting, is at 10:40.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

WikiLeaks: Pro et Contra

I'm of two minds about the Wikileaks revelations. Is this a good thing or not?

Polymath right-wing commentator John Derbyshire, in his weekly audio blog, is also of two minds, and expresses both of his minds pretty well:

Julian Assange, the Wikileaker, is said — by his mother, who ought to know — to be driven by, quote, "a deep-seated mistrust of authority." Now, a deep-seated mistrust of authority is no bad thing. It is in fact a very American thing, though Mr. Assange is Australian. Let X be the number of people — world-wide, throughout history — who lost their property, liberty, or life through placing too much trust in authority; and let Y be the number of people who lost their property, liberty, or life through placing too little trust in authority. Is there any doubt that X is much, much bigger than Y? Is there any righteous American conservative who doesn't feelsome sympathy stirring in his breast at hearing the phrase "a deep-seated mistrust of authority," in an age when authority is instantiated in the likes of Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and Hillary Clinton?. ...

Well, all of that was the heart speaking. Then the head spoke up; and for the record, I am very much a head guy, not a heart guy. Raison d'etat is not an empty phrase in my lexicon. To preserve and advance the interests of their citizens, nations need to do certain things, not all of which should be made known. There are useful lies to be told, useful pretences to be preserved, useful people to be protected. Some of that needs secrecy.

Right now, I lean to the side of John's "heart." On the one hand, I have no problem with government secrecy per se. Everyone has a right of self-defense against bad guys, and that right includes not only the use of force but of deceit as well. You do owe not an obligation of truthfulness to those who are actively trying to rob or assault you. Legitimate governments -- assuming any such exist -- excercise these rights on our behalf, and any organization that is going to use defensive force and fraud must also use secrecy.

But this is, if you'll pardon my cliche, a double-edged sword, which can cut the wielder before it damages the enemy. Government secrecy protects it against its legitimate enemies -- and its own citizens as well. This is an evil that seems to be inherent in the nature of government itself. There are no states without state secrets. And yet state secrecy makes it impossible for the voters to have exercise any real control over the state. You have no hope of controlling a thing if you don't even know what it is. And some of the information Wikileaks is revealing is clearly stuff the voters should know.

There is no perfect institutional solution to this problem. The notion of a state that is democratically controlled by its own citizenry is thus an illusion. Maybe a necessary part of the best solution we can have -- a partial, inadequate, and dangerous one -- is such non-institutional, indeed criminal, initiatives as these leaks.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

We Are 500!

Our son Nat pointed out to me a few days ago that I recently posted my 500th post. To be specific, it was this one.

I just took a sample of some posts, figured the average length, multiplied by 500, and came up with the result that the posts on this site comprise over a quarter of a million words.

Talk about chronicles of wasted time! (Okay okay, I know that's not what Shakespeare meant.) Oh well, if I haven't stopped yet I don't suppose I will do so any time soon.

We at E Pur Si Muove! thank you for your support.

By the way, I just noticed that Kali Fontecchio (see "Some Sites I Try to Keep Up With", left sidebar) posted a 300th-post anniversary message, which included this cute video by Nico Colaleo:

Kali's 300th Blog Post from Nico Colaleo on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Anti-Scanner/Grope Civil Disobedience

The other day, as my class was discussing Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" a student raised the concern that Thoreau's method was not very practicable as a means of changing the law. I mentioned the possibility of refusing to go through airport scanners as a means of stopping their use. I later learned of Opt-Out Day, the day before Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving morning, I saw a report on Fox News gloating that Opt Out Day was "a bust" because travellers accept the judgement of the government, that these measures are "necessary" to "keep us safe" against (in a clip of Cong. Peter King speaking) "an enemy that's out to kill us." This AP story takes the same line.

The TSA is bragging that there were virtually no delays on Opt Out Day because the public accepts their policies. Meanwhile, traveler on their Twitter accounts blogs are indicating that this is basically a lie. There were no delays because a great many of the scanners were turned off. (See also this.) As usual, the mainstream press takes the government line, but there are a few local stories about local airports that give the same impression.

A lot of protesters are ticked off that the government did not give them the opportunity to opt out.

If this is so, the campaign of civil disobedience was a success of sorts: it provoked the TSA to back off for one day.

It was also a devastating admission on the part of the TSA.

If, as TSA chief John Pistole alleged (see "update" at the end of this article), the Opt-Out Day idea was "irresponsible" then turning off the scanners was much more so, and for all the same reasons. Imagine turning off security measures on the busiest flight day of the year, measures that are "needed" to "keep us safe," simply in order to avoid some slow-downs and some embarrassment to themselves!

It actually shows that they do not believe their own alarmist propaganda: they don't believe that, in any straightforwardly literal sense of the words, that this is necessary to keep us safe.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dear Voters: You Have Disappointed Us and Will Have to be Replaced

Charles Franklin, a prominent political scientist who works about a block up Bascom Hill from me, made a bit of a splash with a comment he made in an article by local opinionator Bill Leuders:

In my questions to Franklin, I noted that the public seemed to vote against its own interests and stated desires, for instance by electing candidates who'll drive up the deficit with fiscally reckless giveaways to the rich.

Franklin, perhaps a bit too candidly, conceded the point. "I'm not endorsing the American voter," he answered. "They're pretty damn stupid."

"Thank you, professor," I responded. "That's the answer I was looking for.

I was struck by the fact that what struck Prof. Franklin as "stupid" was not anything in Leuders' question -- not, eg., the apparent assumption that what causes deficits isn't those entitlements you have been reading about, those vast giveaways to ordinary citizens, but giveaways to the rich -- rather it was the people themselves who are stupid.

The exchange reminded me of a poem that Communist Bertolt Brecht wrote in the wake of the revolt against the East German government in 1953:
Die Lösung
Bertolt Brecht

Nach dem Aufstand des 17. Juni
Ließ der Sekretär des Schriftstellerverbands
In der Stalinallee Flugblätter verteilen
Auf denen zu lesen war, daß das Volk
Das Vertrauen der Regierung verscherzt habe
Und es nur durch verdoppelte Arbeit
Zurückerobern könne. Wäre es da
Nicht doch einfacher, die Regierung
Löste das Volk auf und
Wählte ein anderes?

The Solution
Bertolt Brecht

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writer's Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

The English translation is from Bertolt Brecht, Poems 1913-1956, eds. John Willett and Ralph Manheim (Methuen 1976), p. 440.

Hat tip to The Monthly Review for the Brecht text.

Velma Hart Fired

You must remember Velma Hart, who confronted Obama a couple of months ago with such unpretentious dignity about how "exhausted" she was with defending him in this stagnant economy. She was worried about whether she and her family would return to the "franks and beans" period of their life.

Yesterday we learned that she has now lost her job. She had been refusing requests for interviews, but I just now saw her tell CNBC that she still supports Obama and that the economy is "improving."

The assembled talking heads seemed a little surprised at this and, unless I was imagining things, relieved. I was neither.

I would say that in a liberal democracy there are three kinds of citizens. First, there are those who don't care and don't participate. Then there are the moderates and swing voters, who have no very clear ideology and whose support for one candidate or policy or another shifts with shifting conditions (eg., in terms of the unemployment rate, the economy is not improving). Then there are the ideological voters. Their position does not change with the facts at all. Rather they use their ideologies to interpret the facts. For the most part, their positions only change with life-changing crises. I am thinking for instance of liberals who became neocons in the wake of 9/11. Another case would be those in my generation who were driven into radical positions during the Vietnam era, as a result of realizing that their own government wanted to send them to a place where they may well be violently killed -- and for no very good reason.

Come to think of it, this last group includes me.

I don't think losing your job is such a life-changing experience, especially if, as in Ms. Hart's case, you still have a family member with a job.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Airport Body Scanners

For weeks, I wasn't sure what I thought of those dandy new airport "pornocanners" but then I heard the arguments in favor of them. Mainly on their account, I decided these things should be removed and incinerated. Those arguments are so lame! For instance:

This policy was actually initiated during the Bush administration. Huh? When did Bush become the gold standard of what is just, decent, or even sane?

The alternative to the scanners is a mere back-of-the hand pat-down. Sorry, but according to this article that policy was rescinded by bureaucratic fiat last week. The alternative is now The Grope (Interesting that the photojournalist in this link had to break the law in order to get this evidence of what is actually going on.)

The policy isn't really coercive or unjust, because the alternative is merely to use some other means of transportation. It is simply a condition upon your right to get on the plane. Again, this is factually incorrect. According to the same above-linked article, if you refuse both scanner and "pat-down" you may be fined $11,000 and branded a threat to national security.

Further, even if it were factually correct, this would still be a bad argument. It would be like saying, in the event that the government subjected you to this sort of invasive procedure as a condition of walking anywhere, that you can still go by bicycle, Segue, car, etc., so this isn't coercive or unjust. The big difference between walking and flying is that, because of regulations and other coercive measures, the feds have monopoly power over access to flight. But this does not give them the moral right to do anything, in my opinion. It only gives them sheer, brute power.

But, you might be thinking, there is another difference between walking and flying: Where flying is concerned this is necessary to keep us safe. In the first place, this will not "keep you safe". These scanners will not detect explosive breast implants in women, or material packed inside the rectum (room for plenty of stuff in there!). In fact, according to a comment in this interview, the manufacturers of the scanners have admitted that their machines would not even have caught the Christmas Day underpants bomber. So forget about being "kept safe." It is a mirage. If you give up rights for that reason, you give them up in exchange for nothing.

Further, why is this "necessary"? What disaster has occurred, which these scanners are needed to prevent? Almost a year ago, a guy burned himself with a device hidden in his underpants. And, now because he burned his junk, a faceless bureaucrat can see yours. It just goes to show you, as government responds to problems, every reaction is an over-reaction.

Finally, I see one good reason to take this issue seriously. If it stays in place and becomes "the new normal," this policy could represent a significant change in the sorts of things Americans think government may legitimately do to them. If so, it may well lead to worse things in the future. If it weren't for that, I really wouldn't care about it that much.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tough Love from the Debt Commission

Neal has a point. I've seen a lot of moaning about these recommendations from all over the political spectrum. Nancy Pelosi has said "This proposal is simply unacceptable" (of course!), and various right-wingers have denounced it as well. As a whole, it seems to me as sensible as a dictionary. Below I've listed a selection of their recommendations, all taken from here.

My favorite, other than taking the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools out behind the barn and killing it with an ax (that stuff is no dam bizniz of the feds anyhoo), is slashing our overseas military presence by one third. Why on Earth should the American taxpayer be providing a large portion of the national defense of big, strong, grown-up countries like Germany, South Korea, and Japan? Can't they tie their own shoes and wipe their own butts by now? Sheesh.

Unless we do something like what's on this list, we will soon be living illustrations of Maggie Thatcher's great aphorism, "The problem with socialism is sooner or later you run out of other people's money."

Social Security cuts:

  • Index the retirement age to longevity -- i.e., increase the retirement age to qualify for Social Security -- to age 69 by 2075.
  • Index Social Security yearly increases to a lower inflation rate, which will generally mean lower cost of living increases and less money per average recipient.
  • "Increase progressivity of benefit formula" -- i.e., reduce benefits by 2050 for middle, and, especially, higher earners, relative to current benefits.

Tax reform:

  • The co-chairs suggest capping both government expenditures and revenue at 21% of GDP eventually.
  • They suggest reducing the tax brackets to three personal brackets and one corporate rate while eliminated all credits and deductions. Without any credits or deductions (including the EITC and mortgage interest deductions), the 3 tax rates would be 8, 14 and 23 percent.
  • Eliminate the mortgage interest deduction.
  • All their proposals limit Congress to collecting taxes on income made within the United States, reducing or eliminating taxes on American expats and revenues companies earn abroad.
  • They also suggest raising the federal gas tax by 15 cents per gallon.

Medicaid/Medicare cuts

  • Force more low-income individuals into Medicaid managed care.
  • Increase Medicaid co-pays.
  • Accelerate already-planned cuts to Medicare Advantage and home health care programs.
  • Create a cap for Medicaid/Medicare growth that would force Congress and the President to increase premiums or co-pays or raise the Medicare eligibility age (among other options) if the system encounters cost overruns over the course of 5 years.

Discretionary spending cuts

  • Eliminate all earmarks.
  • Eliminate the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools.
  • Freeze federal worker wage increases through 2014; eliminate 200,000 federal jobs by 2020; and eliminate 250,000 federal non-defense contractor jobs by 2015.
  • Require the Smithsonian museums to start charging entrance fees and raise fees at the national parks.
  • Eliminate funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
  • Reduce farm subsidies by $3 billion per year.
  • Merge the Department of Commerce and the Small Business Administration and cut its budget by 10 percent.
  • Cut the State Department's overseas budget by 10 percent by 2015; reduce the proposed foreign aid budget by 10 percent in 2015; and cut voluntary contributions to the United Nations by 10 percent in 2015.
  • Eliminate the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which provides subsidized financing and political risk insurance for U.S. companies' investments abroad.
  • Cut $900 million in fossil fuel research funds.
  • Force airlines to increase their contributions to airline security costs and allow them to increase per-ticket security fees.

Defense spending cuts:

  • Double the number of defense contractor positions scheduled for elimination from 10 percent of current staff augmentees to 20 percent.
  • Reduce procurement by 15 percent, or $20 billion.
  • Cancel or reduce various military vehicle or weapon programs now in development.
  • Reduce military forces in Europe and Asia by one-third.
  • Send all military children based in the U.S. to local schools.

The report also recommends tort reform as a way to reduce Medicare and Medicaid expenditure

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Taser Madness


The first time I heard about stun guns it was from a student of mine, a long time ago. In fact, the student is now a retired Lieutenant General of the US Army. He enthusiastically described how they could be used in hostage situations, where you wouldn't want to use a gun -- that is, the kind that fires slugs -- for fear of hitting the hostage.

I just noticed on the Wikipedia page for tasers that the original inventor was motivated by the shooting deaths of two friends. He wanted to help prevent such things in the future.

On the continuum of violence -- from least to most violent means of physical force -- tasers were originally meant to substitute for more violent methods. That is not the way they are being used by police today. Police are applying these weapons as if they were at the low end of the continuum of violence, similar to pepper spray, baton use, or striking nerve centers. Because they are in fact more violent than that, this means the introduction of these weapons has resulted in a dramatic, massive increase of police violence against the citizenry in recent years.

Among the justifications for taser use I have heard in particular cases are the following:

He was being snotty.

He was giving us trouble.

He was disrespecting the officer.

He wouldn't calm down.

He was being belligerent (ie., loud).

We warned him we would taser him.

Indeed, in the famous "don't tase me Bro" incident, the victim's apparent offense was to say "I'm not resisting" in a tone of voice too loud to suit the university police who were removing him from a lecture hall.

Isn't it obvious that none of these justify administering a devastating electric shock? Indeed, in many cases the cops seem to be using tasers as a form of summary punishment -- something that is not only illegal but unconsititutional.

We need clear rules specifying justified taser use and reining this craziness in.

There are so many videos on Youtube documenting excessive taser use that it is difficult to select one or two. The following are taken almost at random.

Here is one in which the police apparently are using a stun gun as a form of summary punishment (I like the narrator's comment on America's foreign policy at the end!):

This one is for those who doubt that tasers are a particularly violent form of physical force (warning -- graphic image):

Oh, and here's one I just found. It is so egregious that, unlike the overwhelming majority of cases, it did result in some (apparently very mild) disciplinary action against the cops involved.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Now Here is a Tasering that was Clearly Justified

This story is from the web site Smoking Gun, one of my favorites. It speaks for itself (be sure to take a look at the comments section in the above linked artilce -- it is a delight!):


11/10 UPDATE/CORRECTION: According to cops, the mouse recovered was of the computer variety (not, as we initially reported, a pint-sized mammal). Sorry for the confusion/additional repulsion.

NOVEMBER 9--A naked South Carolina man who had a computer mouse lodged in his rectum was arrested Saturday evening after he allegedly burglarized a home and later attacked officers responding to a call about the break-in.

Noah Smith, 24, slapped, kicked, and tried to bite Oconee County Sheriff’s Office deputies, who responded by using pepper spray, a Taser, and their batons to subdue the suspect, according to an incident report.

Deputies noted that Smith, pictured in the above mug shot, later told doctors that he could not recall fighting with law enforcement officers. It was in the hospital emergency room where a “physician noticed a mouse could hanging from male subjects rectum. X-rays shown part of the mouse was lodged in the male subjects rectum.” A police representative told TSG that the word "could" was a typo and should have read "cord."

That mistake contributed to initital reports that the mouse found was a rodent, not a computer peripheral.

The police report provides no further insight as to how the mouse ended up inside Smith.

Deputies noted that witnesses surmised that Smith “was most likely under the influence of mushrooms.” Smith was charged with burglary, assault, resisting arrest, and indecent exposure. He is being held without bond in the county jail.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

R and R

Here is a l
ovely version of Monteverdi's magnificent "Domine ad adjuvandum me festina" (Lord, Help Me Now) from the Vespers of 1610 (the most ambitious piece of liturgical music before Bach).

Below is a version that is far more visually stunning, set as it is in a Gothic cathedral in Lisbon. However, in this one you can't hear the instruments very well, and it's those highlights on the upper brasses that really make the piece, at least for me. Also, you might find the tempi a little draggy. The conductor's enthusiasm, however, is infectious.

Monday, November 08, 2010

More Trouble with Tasers: The BART Shooter Sentenced

Johannes Mehserle was sentenced Friday for shooting young Oscar Grant in the back as he lay face down on the ground -- to the minimum sentence. When time served taken off, he could be out in seven months.

Of course we knew there would be riots. I don't approve of people rioting when a trial does not come out their way, but in this case I agree with the rioters that the sentence was probably not just. I have one very specific reason for saying that.

The judge and the jury found reasonable doubt that Mehserle intentionally shot Grant, that his own story -- that he mistakenly drew his gun thinking it was his Taser -- may well have been true. This makes sense to me. As I have said before, the intentional homicide version of events makes no sense and does not fit the above video of the tragic event. So far, I am with the judge and not with the rioters, who think Mehserle shot Grant for no reason other than that he was black.

Where the judge goes wrong is in holding that this is the only culpable mistake that Mehserle made. As it says in the above story, the judge maintains that "Mehserle would have been justified in using the Taser because Grant was resisting the attempts to handcuff him."

I cannot think of a scenario that is consistent with the images in the above video that would justify tasering. What appears to be happening is that Grant is extending an uncuffed arm straight behind him, while lying face down, and not moving that arm close enough to the other to permit its being cuffed. Look, whatever is going on there, would it justify punching Grant? Kicking him? Hitting him with a board? Of course not. Then why on Earth would it justify administering a sever electric shock?

Tasering someone is a violent act. One reason we have rules about when use of violence is reasonable and when it is not is that it has bad unforeseen consequences. People have died of heart attacks induced by tasers, or been injured by the fall tasering typically causes. One of the many bad things that can happen when a cop reaches for his/her taser is that they might mistakenly draw their gun and shoot someone.

I think Mehserle was wrong to reach for his taser in the first place. This is another reason, in addition to the one recognized by the judge, why he was criminally responsible for Grant's death, and I think it would have justified a heavier sentence than he got.

Friday, November 05, 2010

What Obama Doesn't Get

Wow. This is one of the strangest things I've heard this man say yet. Here he is explaining, in his upcoming 60 Minutes interview, how Tuesday's election-day catastrophe was partly his fault. He thinks that, just as he has the power to make legislation, he has a power to "bring people together" and get them to approve of it. The only reason he did not achieve this result was that he "forgot" to do it. He was just so busy! Still, he takes full responsibility for being so busy and forgetful.

I think there is more going on here than egregiously maladroit spin-doctoring. There's that, yes, but there is also an attitude that a lot of liberals have, including a lot of classical liberals (which is what at I used to be, until I finally gave up on the idea of good government). It's the notion that the great problems of politics are really technical problems, solvable by experts. All people of good will agree on what the goals are. Once the technical fix that will get us there has been figured out, you will be on board with it unless a) it hasn't been explained to you, b) you are too ignorant or stupid to understand the explanation, or c) you are too selfish and venal to care about getting there in the first place.

His remarks over the last two days also suggest another notion, which leads to the same conclusion: Americans are non-ideological and only care about how the system affects them. If they are well-off, they vote for incumbents. If they are badly off, they get mad and throw them out. In other words, precisely because they are selfish and venal, but not completely stupid, if you convince them that your policy will be good for them eventually, they won't worry their little heads about abstract notions like Liberty and Power, and they won't be bothered by a few nuts waving placards about the Constitution.

Both ideas are simply wrong. There are differences between people -- differences of principle -- that often make it impossible to "bring them together" with a technical fix. It is true that Americans are not very ideological, but they do tend to believe that the best society is one that offers freedom. They want the opportunity to improve their own lives, and if they make the wrong choices or have bad luck, well such is the price of freedom.

Obama on the other hand thinks the best society is a fair one, and fairness in this sense is a structural feature of the system that can only be brought about by government coercion.

There is a trade-off between freedom and fairness: you can only get more of one by giving up some of the other.

Obama is convinced that it is fair to force the young and healthy to buy lavish insurance policies they don't need, in order to pay for the care of the old and infirm. To a great many Americans, however, it makes no sense for the government to abridge their liberty by forcing them to buy health insurance they may not want, and another hundred or so speeches about it (no, he didn't "forget" to do that) will not convince them otherwise.

Speeches can change people's opinions about the facts, but they cannot change their principles. That is why, the more speeches he gives about it, the worse it gets.

Update: Here is Greg Gutfeld's satire on this sort of reaction to the elections:

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Great Political Earthquake of 2010

.I think people don't realize how shockingly huge Tuesday's political earthquake was. Partly, this is because the national media are not reporting local election results very much. I suppose one reason is that vote-counting seems to be slower in these micro-elections.

As you may know, here in Wisconsin, a Tea Party candidate was elected governor on Tuesday. The previous occupant of the office was a Democrat. And another Tea Party candidate replaced my favorite liberal in the Senate, eighteen-year veteran Russ Feingold.

Here's some stuff you may not know. According to yesterday's Wisconsin State Journal (incredibly, today's WSJ does not contain a follow-up), given the tallies so far, the State Assembly will apparently flip from Democratic majority to Republican majority, and the State Senate will do likewise. More shockingly, if such is possible, the majority leaders of both houses -- that's right both houses -- were voted out of office and replaced with Republicans.

Not only has the government shifted in the Democrat-to-Republican direction but, more important, the Republican party has veered sharply in the direction of smaller-government, pro-market ideas.

Nothing like this has happened in my lifetime (and I was born right after WW II, just as soon as my father could return from the Philippines, marry my mother, and get her pregnant).

Why has it happened?

As to Feingold, one thing is that he made the tactical mistakes of campaigning proudly on "health care," and of welcoming Obama here to campaign for him. But these errors, at worst, merely converted a defeat into and decisive defeat (by 5%). And of course this is not just about him.

Wisconsin has been ruled by Democrats for some years, and they have spent their way into some serious fiscal problems. They haven't ruled as long as they have in California or New York, but then our problems are not as serious as theirs, yet. Conditions here are a lot like those of the federal government, except that we can't print money and must make ends meet somehow.

The voters of Wisconsin, who are not utterly and completely irrational, are trying to do something -- as to whether it will make a difference, we can only wait and see -- to rectify the situation.

Just now, on TV, I heard another progressive commentator saying "Oh, the voters are just unhappy because the economy isn't mending very fast. This doesn't mean anything. Ignore the man behind the curtain. We are the Great and Powerful Oz!"

No, you're not.

Update: A day later, I see the true extent of the earthquake is beginning to be reported. According to this article, the Republicans have not controlled this many state legislatures since 1928. In Minnesota, they captured the Senate for the first time in the state's history[later: but see the comments section] ; in Alabama, for the first time since Reconstruction.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Our Well-Informed Electorate

Can you distinguish between a Keynesian and a Kenyan? Then you know more than these pitiable and dangerous fools, who showed up a the "Rally for Sanity" to support Obama, but obviously haven't taken the trouble to do any serious thinking about the great issues of the day. I say they are "dangerous" because their vote counts just as much as yours does.

Think about that!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Under Attack

This post is a re-run. I published it last year and am inclined to repeat every word of it today. So I will:

A school near me has announced that for a Halloween even this week students are only allowed to come to school in Wisconsin-themed costumes: you know, like dairy farmer. I'm sure Ed Gein would not qualify.

To some extent, I would imagine, this is due to a desire to avoid complaints from religious nut-jobs who think Halloween is about worshiping evil. (In the world of government schooling, everyone has veto-power. Hence the bland tediousness of the product they dispense.)

I think, however, that this is also part of a wider trend, to take the fright out of Halloween. This of course destroys the whole point of it, which is to be frightening. I see this trend as in interaction between two of the most repellent aspects of our culture today: our cowardly yearning to eliminate all causes of fear and anxiety, and our sentimental, diaper-sniffing worship of children. Together they have produced many results, including the virtual extinction of chemistry sets, the near-impossibility of kids wandering off and playing without the supervision of an adult who maintains a play-date calendar, the doomed efforts of many educated Americans to turn their boys into girls, and -- over many years -- the gradual erosion of the spirit of Halloween.

The universe is a dangerous place and everything is bad for you. Even if we have a rational response to objective occasions for fear, there is still the subjective one of remaining fears themselves. Coping with fear is something we need to learn early.

The Halloween approach to fear is, not to run away from it and censor those who remind you of it, but to confront it and master it. Halloween is when kids get to be scary. A scary kid is not a scared kid. Being scary and grossing your friends out is empowering. Also, pretending to be the thing you fear tends to demystify it. Familiarity breeds not fear but contempt.

In a world where people are continually trying to manipulate you through your fears, turning fear into a game can actually be liberating. I think Halloween is good for kids and should be bigger and scarier than it already is.

(Hat tip to Uncle Eddie for the vintage postcard illustration.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ticked-Off Crowd Pledges Allegiance Anyway

There is something about this that seems to summarize life in America today: touching, chaotic, nutty, and, well, just embarrassing -- all these qualities being mixed up with a moderate dose of hostility and anger. Just like the good ol' U S of A!

According to this story on a right wing web site, it all began normally enough, when things suddenly took a side trip into Goofyland:

At a U.S. congressional candidate debate this past week, the crowd of approximately 300 in attendance drowned out the moderator's objections, not to protest over government policies or to argue some candidate's comments, but to insist upon reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Illinois' 8th Congressional District candidates had gathered at Grayslake Central High School in Grayslake, Ill., to participate in a debate moderated by Kathy Tate-Bradish of the League of Women Voters, Evanston branch.

During Tate-Bradish's opening comments, an audience member [who apparently thought he had walked into ninth grade homeroom -- LH] stood to ask if the Pledge of Allegiance would be recited.

"No, we are not," the moderator responded, "That is not part of the proposal tonight."

Several in the crowd then began to shout, "Why not?"[while others shouted "Boo!"]

When it became clear Tate-Bradish was not going to allow the Pledge to be recited, the audience stood and said it anyway.
I suppose I would have joined in the Pledge myself -- a thing the Democrat and the Republican did and the Green Party candidate did not. But the reason is mainly that I hate to be a party pooper. If the folks around me are having fun doing something, and my non-participation would have a wet blanket effect, then I'll generally join in, provided I see no harm in the thing.

On the other hand, I've never really cared for the Pledge. And the idea of having children begin every day by swearing their loyalty to the state really bothers me.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Juan Williams Fired at NPR

When I saw this in prime time the other evening (yes I watch O'Reilly -- so shoot me) I immediately had two reactions. The first was, Juan, that's a little creepy. He was confessing what is in fact a predjudiced emotion, and in a tone that suggests that such a feeling is understandable, perhaps even rational. The second was that he had just damaged himself.

Little did I know! Soon Williams was fired from his decade-old job at National Public Radio by means of a phone call -- no discussions, no meeting, no appeal, and despite his having a contract. (This last may mean he can sue them. I sure hope so!)

What amazes me is that he made this statement in illustrating the idea that political correctness can make it impossible to discuss reality as it exists. I guess NPR doesn't do irony. They also don't seem to care about the PC (but sensible) things Williams went on to say in this interview (see the above link.)

If we are going to discuss prejudice, people have to be able to confess to it. And the idea that it can be understandable is one of the views that have to be defended. That is an indispensable part of the process of assessing the truth of such ideas. NPR has made a mighty move to paralyze such discussion.

Update: Here is an article with an online poll on whether NPR should have fired Williams. Even though the site is one that would attract people who appreciate "politically correct" concerns, the vote is overwhelmingly "no." This is heartening!

So You Want to Go to Law School!

It's the time of year when a millions of seniors are thinking about whether to apply to law school, to some other sort of school, or simply to hope they will be one of the lucky few who can find a job in this economy.

Here is the last post I wrote about this vexing issue. I am tempted to just repost it here, but maybe a link to the wise is sufficient.

A while ago I got a grant and spent a year sitting in on law classes and reading a lot of cases. I did it because I have enormous respect and admiration for the legal systems that evolved out of the English common law, and for the centuries of brilliant people whose tireless work created this great framework for civilization. It soon became very obvious that I was absolutely the only person there who had this attitude, or any attitude that resembles it.

One prof, since deceased, described to me a case he was working on in his private practice. It was a boundary dispute between two guys who owned some vacation property in northern Wisconsin. It had been going for years, swallowing time and money as it crept along at virtually Dickensian pace. Something about my reaction -- honest, I was trying to be polite! -- caused him to look down, a little shamefaced, and say: "Yes, lot of the work we do is as warriors fighting for people who hate each other."

Update! This just in: Law Student Asks for a Refund.

Friday, October 15, 2010

An Offensive Truth?

I just don't get this. At 1:50 Bill O'Reilly makes a statement that all the world (minus the Truthers, who don't really count) knows is simply, literally true ... and Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar stalk out of the set in a snit! (Gee, Jimmy Kimmel cracked, you'd think that people with names like "Joy" and "Whoopie!" would be more cheerful.)

I don't care for the way O'Reilly consistently exaggerates the importance of symbolic, "values" issues like "the ground zero mosque," but on the other hand anger at the truth just makes no sense to me. Unless the particular truth involved is an invasion of privacy or some kind of proprietary secret, true statements should not make you mad.

What we have here is of course an example of what people call Political Correctness, which I would define as "selective linguistic sensitivity." The idea is that it is always wrong to say anything that "demeans" or "degrades" members of a list of oppressed groups. Against this doctrine consistently applied, truth is no defense. If a truth demeans a protected group, that truth is Verboten.

My own standard -- and I know it can be very difficult and painful to apply -- is that if you find the truth demeaning, you should try to come to grips with it, not forbid others to ever mention it.

Make your peace with the truth. It's going to win anyway.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wow! The Nobels Give the Prize to Someone Who Deserves It!

The 2010 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature is one of my favorite living authors: Peruvian expat Mario Vargas Llosa. Here is a student at Princeton University, where Vargas Llosa is currently a professor, blogging about his addressing some students about the award:
I just returned from attending the reception in the Chancellor Greene Rotunda honoring Professor Mario Vargas Llosa, this year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. I am still fighting an overwhelming sense of wooziness from having just observed history in the making. As I stood listening intently to Professor Llosa’s words, I could only marvel at how beneath his humble, sophisticated demeanor, there exists this remarkable internal landscape of profound wisdom, astute intelligence, and unbounded passion. Professor Llosa is the embodiment of an individual who dares to exercise the freedom to think independently and to follow the pathway paved by his ideas, as evidenced in his writings on freedom and his decision to run for the Peruvian presidency in 1990. In witnessing Llosa speak of the importance to read with a voracious appetite, I was moved by the profound power of ideas. Llosa described reading as one of the greatest pleasures life affords us. To carry on the message, propitiously in time for midterms but also for life....
I couldn't have said it better!

I would describe his aesthetic as nineteenth century realism updated with a post-modern sensibility. His works are often big, epic in scope, thematically ambitious, and yet absorbingly narrated. Well-known factoid: about a quarter century ago, he underwent a sort of political conversion, instigated by his young son Alvaro, from collectivism to individualism. Afterward, he had a heated encounter in the Mexico City Opera House with collectivist Gabriel Garcia Marquez which ended with Vargas Llosa punching Marquez in the nose.

Every ten years or so, he publishes a collection of essays that are very much worth reading. One essay I remember especially fondly was written the day he finished reading the complete works of José Ortega y Gasset (and I thought I was a big fan of Ortega!). He says it is a shame the twentieth century did not place him in the position occupied by Jean Paul Sartre. One reason Ortega would have been a better choice: mejor prosa.

Update: I told the above story about the Mexico City Opera House from memory. I've since found out that the incident occurred before V-Ll's conversion. Neither man has ever divulged the cause of their quarrel, which seems to have been personal and not political. Further, the blow was to Marquez's eye, not his nose. We at E pur si muove! are zealous to avoid becoming a source of misinformation, like so much of what you see on the web.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Freedom of Speech, According to John Waters

In the segment that begins at 6:40, the always-interesting John Waters becomes possibly even more pro-free-speech than I am, by saying "you should be able to yell 'fire' in a crowded theater."

Come to think of it, I guess I agree with him there. As far as the fundamental issue of principle involved -- the issue of what our rights are -- I think it is both true and important to say that you should indeed be able to yell "fire" in a crowded theater.

After all, what offense am I committing, exactly, if I do falsely yell fire and start a panic? I would be committing exactly the same offense if I simply threw the fire alarm switch, with the same results but without saying a word. This simple fact shows that, the right is that is violated by shouting fire is not a right against being harmed by another person's speech. It has nothing to do with speech or freedom of speech.

But surely, under normal circumstances, the person who maliciously causes a panic is violating a right. What right is that? Consider another little thought experiment, proposed by Walter Block years ago in one of the most thought-provoking books ever written: Before you enter the theater, you can see, printed very clearly on the ticket, the following warning:
Meanwhile, I have devised a plan to do something -- far more clever and imaginative that yelling fire or throwing a switch -- that will send you and the others flying for the exit before you think Wait! Stop! We've been tricked! What fun!

Obviously, no one would do this, but I would say that this bizarre, crazy arrangement would not violate the rights of the bizarre, crazy adults who agree to enter into it.

This mere theoretical possibility shows that Oliver Wendell Holmes was wrong when he first made the "shouting fire" point in Schenck v. U. S. His point was that the government can prohibit speech with a certain content (in the Schenck case, criticism of military conscription) simply on the ground of the physical consequences of that content -- the "clear and present danger" it creates (in Schenck, danger to the government).

The right that is violated by falsely shouting fire is a contractual right, and the most important single feature of contractual rights is that they can be altered by mutual consent.

Under ordinary circumstances, I should be punished for falsely shouting fire, but the reason for this has nothing to do with the government's alleged right to censor certain messages on the ground that they are inherently "dangerous." One way to make this point is to say, as John does, "you should be able to yell 'fire' in a crowded theater."

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Bob Dylan: Another Racist Exposed!

A comment in Obama's interview with Rolling Stone last week raise some new interest in, of all things, Bob Dylan's political views. Speaking of Dylan's appearance at a White House concert commemorating the civil rights movement, the POTUS said:
He didn’t want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn’t show up to for that. ... Finishes the song, steps off the stage — I’m sitting right in the front row — comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves. And that was it — then he left. That was our only interaction with him.
Here is an article that recounts two possible explanations for this strange phenomenon -- a celeb who's not gaga for Obama, who doesn't go for O, who doesn't doff his fez for the Prez. How can we explain this?

One Dylanologist (an actual word!) says that Dylan is clearly a "racist" who "hates blacks." The evidence? He decodes the lyrics of Dylans songs, offering for instance this hermeneutical nugget:

And he says, “the pump don’t work, ’cause the vandals took the handles.” The pump, pumping money into the economy, giving blacks money, doesn’t work ‘cause the vandals, the liberals, took the handles. The ax handles, like Lester Maddox used to give out pickaxe handles in his chicken place to beat blacks so the whites can beat up blacks over the head with them. Get it?
The interviewer says "Yeah." My sentiments exactly, if by "yeah" you mean "you're insane."

Another Dylanologist avers that Dylan is simply way less leftist than people think and probably is not a fan of Obama's policies, offering as evidence Dylan's explicit statements. For instance, speaking of his political views during the hippie days in his autobiography, Dylan says: "My favorite politician was Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater ..., and there wasn't any way to explain that to anybody." Chronicles (Simon and Schuster: 2004, p. 283).

I have to vote for the second interpreter. I never much cared for the old "intentional fallacy" idea, which entails that the artist's explicit statements are irrelevant to interpreting a work of art. I once heard John Searle call it "the intentional fallacy fallacy." Right on, John!

On the other hand, the intentional fallacy, or something like it, is a pretty handy idea if you want to find "racism" in everyone who does not worship at your altar.

I admit that there are some hidden meanings and ominous signs in the world, but people who do a lot of decoding are almost always charlatans or paranoiacs. At their most sinister, they try to "expose" your hidden meanings in order to prevent people from hearing what you are explicitly saying in plain English. When they do that, they become character-assassins and enemies of open discussion.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Tea Party Concept of the Constitution

Katy Abrams' famous "sleeping giant" speech begins at 5:38. I was initially confused by her comment that Sen. Specter had abandoned "the Constitution." I think Specter's baffled answer, about opposing illegal wiretaps and activist judges, also misses her point.

Jonah Goldberg in a recent column reported something that I suspect involves the same sort of confusion:
"I have been fascinated by (Delaware GOP Senate candidate) Christine O'Donnell's constitutional worldview ..." Slate magazine senior editor Dahlia Lithwick confessed. O'Donnell had said in a debate, "When I go to Washington, D.C., the litmus test by which I cast my vote for every piece of legislation that comes across my desk will be whether or not it is constitutional."

To which Lithwick, a former appellate law clerk, Stanford Law grad and widely cited expert on the Supreme Court, responded, "How weird is that, I thought. Isn't it a court's job to determine whether or not something is, in fact, constitutional? And isn't that sort of provided for in, well, the Constitution?"
(First of all, if I may be so pedantic, the Court's power of striking down unconstitutional legislation is not in the Constitution. It was seized by the Marshall court early on because to them it made logical sense, not because it is mentioned in that venerable old document. An expert on the Supreme Court not knowing this --
how weird is that?)

Anyway, this is what I think is actually going on here: When people like Ms. Abrams and Ms. O'Donnell talk about "the Constitution," they often don't mean the literal word of the law as contained in that piece of parchment, and they definitely aren't referring to current SC interpretation of it. What they really have in mind is the conception of government that originally lay behind the Constitution -- a smaller, smarter government. It was a government that cares enough about the people to avoid burying them in a crushing load of debt. (Note that the generation of the framers and the next generation of leaders actually reduced the public debt from a staggering $50 million -- that's in 1790 dollars, not 2010 ones -- to zero. They did so in part by selling off government assets. Hey, there's an idea!) When O'Donnell says she will use constitutionality as the main test of whether to vote for a law or not, I think the test she has in mind is that older conception of government, not whether it ought to be struck down by the Supremes.

As an academic myself, I prefer to speak more precisely and literally than this. When I say "the Constitution," I mean the actual constitution, not some vague "philosophy" behind it. But I see no harm is using the word in this short-hand, symbolic sort of way in the public forum, provided that people understand what it is actually supposed to mean. Otherwise, what these folks are saying will sound "weird" -- or plain stupid. It's not stupid at all -- Dahlia Lithwick's embarrassingly patronizing remarks notwithstanding.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Campaigns Go Negative

This is a hilarious parody of Alan Grayson's by-now-notorious "Taliban Dan" ad, aimed at an opponent who -- surprise, surprise! -- is leading him in the polls.

And then there is this, my favorite parody attack ad:

Seriously, though, folks, with the nation within sight of a serious fiscal crisis, isn't the current plague of negative campaigning simply irresponsible? One of the cliches of the punditry is that (a) people say in poll after poll that they hate negative ads, but (b) they work. I think this time (b) will turn out to be false. With the nation in sight of a serious fiscal crisis, most people will see these attack ads as something akin to fiddling while Rome burns. If your opponent has committed a felony, by all means expose it. Otherwise, talk about the issues! Update: Note the refinement/revision of the above that I introduce in response to a comment, below.