Thursday, September 30, 2004

Coup Foiled in Sudan?

The BBC reports that the Sudanese government claims to have supressed a coup from a splinter Islamist group that helped put the current regime in power:

At least 28 people, mostly members of the security forces, have been charged with trying to overthrow Sudan's government in a coup.
State prosecutors accused them of declaring war on the state, planning to assassinate political leaders and cut communication links.
AFP news agency reports that they are members of the Islamist Popular National Congress of Hassan al-Turabi.

[...]

Mr Turabi who was jailed in March in connection with a previous alleged coup, denies any involvement with the coups, or links to the rebels.

However, he says he sympathises with some of their demands, such as decentralisation of power from the capital, Khartoum, to impoverished regions such as Darfur.

Mr Turabi was once a close ally of President Omar al-Bashir but he lost out in a power-struggle between the two in 1999.

On the one hand, I am glad to see the Islamists fighting among themselves. But it isn't clear that either faction should be governing Sudan. I have slightly better hopes for the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) which at least pays lip service to the idea of a democratic Sudan. Of course Chad doesn't like either group because they mess up the peace process. But I can't really cheer for a peace that doesn't include liberty and justice.

NOTE: Here is a link to another BBC story that outlines the different rebel groups.

Drugs, Crime and Christianity

Evidently there is a movement afoot to legalize psychadelics for medical use. According to Wired News:

Psychedelic drugs are inching their way slowly but surely toward prescription status in the United States, thanks to a group of persistent scientists who believe drugs like ecstasy and psilocybin can help people with terminal cancer, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, to name just a few.

The Heffter Research Institute, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies and others have managed to persuade the Food and Drug Administration to approve a handful of clinical trials using psychedelics. The movement seems to be gaining ground in recent years. Since 2001, the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration have given the go-ahead to three clinical trials testing psychedelics on symptomatic patients, and several more are on deck.

Doctors who saw their patients benefit from psychedelic drugs back when they were legal are dedicated to jumping through bureaucratic hoops and diminishing the drugs' party stigma to get psychedelics in patients' hands, and brains.

[...]

At first blush, it seems like an uphill battle more challenging than the one medical-marijuana advocates have been facing. MDMA has been vilified by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and in news stories, making it seem unlikely that federal agencies will ever allow the legal use of psychedelics.

But it might actually be easier to get psychedelics through the approval process than marijuana, according to Rick Doblin, founder and president of MAPS. The roadblock with marijuana has centered on supply. A government-controlled crop in Mississippi is the only marijuana the government will allow in clinical trials. But the supply of psychedelics is decentralized, and the researchers have control of much of it.

[...]

"I'm very optimistic for the future," Grob said. "I think these compounds have tremendous untapped potential to be utilized within medicine and psychology. I think they need to be demystified, and safety parameters need to be established and studied. But with good controls, I think they can be used safely and effectively."

I usually don't have much patience for the "medical use" arguments for currently illegal drugs because I don't acknowledge that regulating such things is a proper governmental function in the first place. The market can do a much better job of determining what risks people are willing to assume and the moral aspects of drug abuse are better left to churches and/or secular advocacy groups. (Although I think the latter are mostly full of crap.) The relation of criminal activity to drug use is a valid concern, but punishing criminals, regardless of their motivations or influences, is a more reasonable approach than preventatively criminalizing drug use.

My conservative friends often ask me, when this subject comes up, whether I would also be in favor of legalizing prostitution. The idea in their minds seems to be that if one immoral activity should be legal, why not all of them? But this argument doesn't wash because there is simply no biblical reason to suppose that drug use is immoral. The nearest analogy in the bible is with alcohol and, while drunkenness is certainly condemned, drinking as such is not. In fact, Deuteronomy 14:26 positively commands it: "and thou shalt bestow the money for whatsoever thy soul desireth, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul asketh of thee; and thou shalt eat there before Jehovah thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou and thy household." The whole episode of Prohibition ought to have taught us what happens when we try to be more righteous than God in condemning what he has made.

Of course, I realize that with public opinion focused (rightly) on the War on Terror there is not much chance of such laws being repealed any time soon. I could actually make a case that, since some of the money that finances terror comes from drug sales (think of the opium fields in Afghanistan) that undercutting the market would actually be helpful to winning the war. But I am realistic enough to understand that this meme isn't going to get much attention. So, in the meantime, I look at developments such as the article cited above as minor steps in the right direction, even if their fundamental logic is still flawed.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Liberal Churches and Human Rights

A fascinating, but unsurprising, study of human rights criticisms made by the top four "mainline" denominations at the Volokh Conspiracy:

We analyzed human rights criticisms made by four mainline Protestant denominations (the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) and two ecumenical bodies (the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches) over a period of four years (2000-2003) to determine which nations were criticized for human rights violations and why.

[...]

Overall, criticisms of Israel amounted to 37 percent of the 197 human rights criticisms offered by the churches during those years, only slightly higher than the 32 percent of criticisms leveled at the United States. The remaining 31 percent of criticisms were shared by twenty other nations. For every one criticism of any other foreign nation, one criticism was made of the United States and one of Israel. Nearly all churches demonstrated this focus on the United States and Israel in their legislative actions, their statements, their news sources, or all three.

As a result, nearly three out of four human rights criticisms were made of nations designated as free (mostly the United States and Israel) by the Freedom House assessments. Those rated not free totaled 19 percent of criticisms, while partly free nations totalled only 8 percent of criticisms. Of the fifteen worst human rights offenders in the world, only five were criticized by the churches during the four year period studied.

Regions like the Middle East (apart from Israel) and Central Asia (former Soviet republics) were the most notable areas ignored by the churches in their human rights advocacy. Partly free nations, where church influence might be most effective in widening the limited civic space already open to indigenous Christians and other citizens, received the least attention.

Conclusions

The mainline churches are not adequately addressing the wide range of human rights abuses taking place in the world. Denominations are focusing on the United States and Israel as the primary perpetrators of human rights violations. Great attention to the United States may be expected from churches that find their homes there. But the dramatic focus on Israel as opposed to many more repressive regimes, including other U.S. allies known for human rights abuses (such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt), must be challenged.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the churches made the mistake of supporting oppressive Soviet-sponsored liberation movements around the world. They largely ignored human rights abuses in the Soviet Union and its satellite states, instead focusing on U.S. policy as the primary source of abuse. It appears that mainline denominations may be making the same mistake today with the Arab and Muslim worlds, ignoring many of the most serious abuses while apparently laying heavy blame upon the United States and Israel not only for their own lesser abuses, but also for the abuses of others. . . .
One of the original reasons these sorts of churches called themselves liberal was that they wanted to focus on liberty and justice in this world. Their criticism of traditional Christianity was that, by teaching people to place all of their hope in the next world, it made them complacent with tyranny and corruption. Seems that criticism has come full circle. Would anyone think it was too obvious or too snarky if I quoted Matthew 6:33?
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Don't Break Your Arm Patting Yourself on the Back

Ironbear at Who Tends the Fire has some useful commentary on the role of Blogging in taking down big media:

I do hope that I'm not the only one that can hear the long knives on the whetstones between the lines of every congratulatory "Bloggers get the credit!!!" major mainstream media story.

Some of the celebration is probably even genuine... but in every "Bloggers help take down CBS!" expose, every journalist has that other voice whispering in his/her ear: "Next time, that might be me." Old Media's going to be watching "Pajama Media" a *lot* more closely from here on in. We were instrumental in knocking a hole in not just the credibility of CBS and Rather, but potentially also wrecking the long term credibility of every other old media organ. It's more than a bit of human nature to not place all the blame for Rather's embarassment on Rather's sloppiness and willingness to lunge at a story - but to place a lot of it on the "upstart medium" that was instrumental in shooting him down. Everyone felt the toxic splash, the amount and degree of distancing and damage control attests to that.

There's a probable perception here and there that we're easier to "fix" than the problems that led to Rather's denouement. The attempts to "fix" the problem that new media represents should be interesting, and vastly entertaining.

This is worth noting, but it occurs to me that the blogosphere is already fairly self-correcting so I am not all that concerned that Big Media might be watching. Of course, no system can be completely self-correcting, especially when dealing with the interface between truth and the perceptions of fallen humans, but some systems work better than others and a decentralized, spontaneous system like the blogosphere is probably about as good as it gets. But pride goeth before a fall and it certainly isn't advisable to start thinking that we've ushered in a new era of Truth, Justice and the American Way.

I think the best result of the exposure of Memogate would be that journalism ceases to be thought of as a profession of oracles and becomes what it always should have been: a useful division of labor in a free information market. Journalists provide a valuable service by doing the research and correlation that most of us don't have time or resources to accomplish on our own. If they stick to that vision of themselves they are no less likely to become corrupt than the average butcher, baker or candelstick maker. The problem comes when, like the priesthood at the start of the Middle Ages, they begin to see their profession as somehow loftier or more central (depending on the governing metaphor) than any other laborer. Then a Nietzchean sort of master morality kicks in and they begin to see that they need not live by the same rules as the little people -- with wholly predictable results.
(Via: You Know Who)

Monday, September 27, 2004

NASA's World Wind

NASA has a nifty application that allows you to zoom in on a 3-D representation of the globe from Satelite to Local Landmark level:

World Wind allows any user to zoom from satellite altitude into any place on Earth, leveraging high resolution LandSat imagery and SRTM elevation data to experience Earth in visually rich 3D, just as if they were really there.

Particular focus was put into the ease of usability so people of all ages can enjoy World Wind. All one needs to control World Wind is a two button mouse. Additional guides and features can be accessed though a simplified menu. Navigation is automated with single clicks of a mouse as well as the ability to type in any location and automatically zoom into it.

My wife loves this kind of thing.
(Via: Cerebrum)

Who the Heck is Paying for All This Part 2

Over the weekend I was researching RSS feeds in order to accomodate the aggregator for the League of Reformed Bloggers (LORB). Blogger directed me to FeedBurner but that evidently doesn't work on the LORB server. Expecting to do some more research this evening, I discovered that my task was completed for me by David at JollyBlogger, who signed me and several other LORBers up with BlogStreet.

So now I have two new feeds, in addition to the Atom feed that Blogger supplies, all completely free of charge. As a confirmed capitalist, this makes me somewhat nervous. I understand, and even share, the motivations of someone like JollyBlogger: Chrisitian charity, desire to advance the Kingdom, etc. But how do sites that offer such useful services for free support themselves?

UPDATE: While I am on the topic of Christian charity, I wanted to thank Adrian Warnock, Tim Challies and, of course, David Wayne for putting the LORB together.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Paypal Censorship

Hmm. William Quick at Daily Pundit received a discouraging note from his Paypal account:

Dear William Quick,

We appreciate the fact that you chose PayPal to send and receive payments for your transactions.

However, your account has been limited for violating PayPal's Acceptable Use Policy regarding Offensive Material. The Policy prohibits the use of PayPal in the sale of items or in support of organizations that promote hate, violence, or racial intolerance; items which graphically portray violence or victims of violence; or items closely associated with individuals notorious for committing murderous acts within the last 100 years. Further, PayPal prohibits a person convicted of a violent felony, or his relatives or associates, from using PayPal to benefit financially from the convict's criminal notoriety. The complete Acceptable Use Policy addressing Offensive Material can be found at the following URL:

http://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=p/gen/
ua/use/index_frame-outside&ed=offensive

To appeal the limitation on your account, you will need to:

1. Remove those items from your website that violate PayPal's Acceptable Use Policy. For example, any link to images or videos of terrorsit executions; and

2. Submit the online Acceptable Use Policy affidavit. This is not intended to be an all-inclusive review or list of your Internet sites in violation. Furthermore, the violations of the Policy described above are not intended to be an all-inclusive list. It is the responsibility of the user to ensure that all transactions comply with the Acceptable Use Policy.

For more information about the status of your account and for instructions on how to restore full use of your account, please log in to your PayPal account. We encourage you to login and restore full access as soon as possible. Should access to your account remain limited for an extended period of time, it may result in account closure. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. If you have any questions, please contact the PayPal Compliance Department at aup@paypal.com.

Sincerely, PayPal Compliance Department PayPal, an eBay Company
Emphasis mine.

I can understand a policy that disallows advocating violence, but I fail to see how linking to videos of terroris executions qualifies. This sounds like the sort of zero tolerance nonsense that gets kids thrown out of kindergarten for drawing pictures of guns.

Bill comments:
What do you think? My initial inclination is to tell these little tin gods to take their attempts to dictate the nature of my content elsewhere.

My second is to wonder if anybody has any free legal advice.

My third is to give these would-be control freaks as much bad publicity as I can.

Anybody want to help me spread the word?

Consider it done.

Madonna's Flight to Egypt Cancelled

From al Bawaba:

Egyptian Parliament members have submitted an order to Government demanding that American singer Madonna be prohibited from entering Egyptian soil. Parliament members also included a number of other international singers on their list of people forbidden from entering Egypt and called on all their embassies abroad to not grant any of them visas into Egypt or be allowed to shoot any of their music videos on Egyptian soil.

The demand came after Madonna announced that she will celebrate the Jewish New Years in Israel and that she had converted to Judaism....
Nothing terribly new here. We already knew that you couldn't enter Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, UAE or Yemen with an Israeli-stamped passport. Now Egypt jumps on the band wagon (at least for high-profile jews). Big surprise.
(Via: Damian who notes, "The Egyptians have done the impossible: they've made me feel sorry for Madonna. (Or whatever she calls herself this week.)"

UPDATE: Pastorius at Christians United Against the New Anti-Semitism (CUANAS) has some further comments on this:
It might not be a big surprise to many of us, but it should come as a moral shock to our souls that there are entire countries, here in the 21st century, who are hanging a sign on their front door that says,

NO JEWS ALLOWED

I've always disliked Madonna's courting of controversial subject matter for the sake of publicity. It seems to me that Madonna has never really cared about the issues on which she speaks, but instead merely uses them like pawns in her game of world media domination.

Finally now, I can see a use for Madonna. I would imagine she's angry and disgusted by this situation. I'm guessing that maybe, even though Jack isn't surprised by the reality on the ground in the Arab world, Madonna might be almost wholly unaware of what's going on. Madonna probably thinks the Burkhas is a marvellous fashion statement.

Now that Madonna is a Jew, or whatever ever she is, she might recognize that this puts her in a real line of fire for the first time in her blessed life. All these years Madonna has ground her hips in protest against the oppression of women and minorities here in the United States, she's done so in complete freedom, with fabulous wealth and accolades for her efforts. In other parts of the world, Madonna would be showered with stones for her behavior, not riches.

Maybe this Jew thing will finally bring it home to her and her fame and fortune can be used by God to do what a thousand screaming blogger and the ADL, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Holocaust Museum, etc. have not been able to do. That is, make people aware of the plain fact that the Arab world is possesed by the terrible evil of anti-Semitism and the situation is frightening.


FURTHER UPDATE: Jane at Armies of Liberation points out this article that was censored from the print edition of the Middle East Times (The link won't take you directly to the article. Look for the title Madonna draws recruits to the Kabbalah):
The American pop singer Madonna’s much-publicized visit to Israel drew to a close on Monday with Israeli tourism minister Gideon Ezra thanking her for helping to boost the country’s flagging tourism industry.

But rather than a flood of new tourist arrivals to Israel, the singer’s five-day break has prompted a stream of new recruits to the Los Angeles-based Kabbalah Center, which organized the festival that drew her to Tel Aviv.

The Kabbalah Center has 24 branches across the globe and is one of the most controversial branches for the study of the Kabbalah – an ancient Jewish spiritual practice that has attracted a whole host of celebrity followers. Alongside Madonna, Britney Spears, Elizabeth Taylor, Demi Moore, Mick Jagger and, most recently, the Beckhams have all been spotted sporting the $26 red string bracelets sold by the Kabbalah Center to ward off the ‘evil eye.’

[...]

Given the current tendency in the West to jump on any new spiritual bandwagon, it is perhaps little wonder that the Kabbalah Center has seen a dramatic leap in membership, with high-profile celebrities abandoning Tibetan Buddhism and Scientology to join forces with Rabbi Berg.

I am not sure if this exactly confirms Pastorius' point above, but it seems like a related issue. Both the fadism of Pop music and the fadism of Alternative Religions are distractions from the true source of meaning:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Zarqawi's Cleric Killed

According to the Boston Globe, Zarqawi's "spiritual leader", has been killed in a US airstrike:

The spiritual leader of the group believed to have beheaded two American hostages in Iraq this week has been killed in a U.S. airstrike, his family and Islamic clerics said Wednesday.

The death of Sheik Abu Anas al-Shami is a blow to Iraq's most active militant group, Tawhid and Jihad, which is led by Jordanian-born militant Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, experts said. But they add that such groups manage to survive, with other militants replacing the slain ones.

Al-Shami, a Palestinian who holds Jordanian citizenship, was killed Sept. 17 when a missile hit the car in which he was traveling in a western Baghdad suburb, said the clerics, who have close ties to the family and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Al-Shami's father, Youssef Jumah, said he learned of the death Monday from his eldest son Jumah, who lives in the United Arab Emirates. He declined to say how his son was informed.
That last line is interesting in light of these two posts by Belmont Club on the importance for taking down terrorist cells of understanding social networks:
While U.S. forces up to then had been preoccupied with finding "high value targets" from the Bush administration's list of the top 55 most-wanted Iraqis, Odierno said those family diagrams led his forces to lower-level, but nonetheless highly trusted, relatives and clan members harboring Hussein and helping him move around the countryside.
I am not sure if the targeting of Al-Shami is a step toward the larger goal of taking out Zarqawi, or if Al-Shami's death is a terminal of this particular line of inquiry. But it seems like a hopeful sign in either case.

UPDATE: Similar thoughts at PowerLine:
Reader Mark Sebald draws our attention to this article from today's Washington Times: "Zarqawi's mentor said to be killed by a U.S. hit." The Times reports:
The Muslim cleric responsible for the practice of beheading hostages in Iraq — including two Americans this week — has been killed in a U.S. air strike, a newspaper and Islamic clerics said yesterday. The Muslim cleric, Sheik Abu Anas Shami, 35, was killed when a missile hit the car he was traveling in on Friday in the western Baghdad suburb of Abu Ghraib.

Mr. Sebald observes:
Notice any similarities to the way Israel takes out terrorists? To me this is good news. It implies that U.S. forces are developing intelligence sources and making progress fighting the insurgents. I had thought there would be some reaction to this by now, but so far I haven't seen any.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Homeschool Terrorists

Michelle Malkin reports that a public school in Michigan has instituted a drill to prepare for terrorist attacks. Not a bad idea, you say? Except for the fact that the attackers are from a fictitious homeschool group called "Wackos Against Schools and Education":

"The exercise will simulate an attack by a fictitious radical group called Wackos Against Schools and Education who believe everyone should be homeschooled. Under the scenario, a bomb is placed on the bus and is detonated while the bus is traveling on Durham, causing the bus to land on its side and fill with smoke."
My guess is this started as a joke somewhere in the bureaucracy and -- as is typical in such groupthink situations -- no one ever came to their senses and considered the broader moral implications of equating homeschoolers with terrorists. I am not sure if that makes the story more depressing or less.

Carnival of the Reformation?

Jollyblogger is floating the idea of a carnival for Reformed bloggers. The inaugural posting would tentatively be on October 31 to coincide with the anniversary of Martin Luther tacking the 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg. The scheme would be to have a monthly collection of posts, initially on the topics of the 5 Solas starting with Sola Scriptura.

Stay tuned for more details.

Media Midway

I know I'm way behind the curve on the forged Killian documents story. I didn't think it was going anywhere when I first read about it and by the time I started taking it seriously (about 24 hours later) it had gotten so big that I didn't have time to write anything coherent that hadn't already been said multiple times.

But it looks like I am still ahead of Dan Rather. Having given his personal apology for airing the discredited documents (after stonewalling for over a week) Rather is now qualifying that statement:

Do I think they're forged? No," Rather said. "But it's not good enough to use the documents on the air if we can't vouch for them, and we can't vouch for them."

Rather said he had no regrets for his defense of the story.

"I believed in it," he said. "I wouldn't have put it on the air if I hadn't of believed in it. And what kind of reporter would I be if I put something on the air in which I believed, and as soon as it's attacked and under pressure, you run, you fold, you fade, you side-wind? That's not the kind of person I am, and it's not the kind of reporter I am."
(Memo to Dan: If you still think you are in front of this story, try facing the other way!)

Tony Snow once characterized the Clinton administration's approach to scandal as, "We didn't do it, it wasn't wrong, and we'll never do it again." Most people realized at the time that this sort of micro confession -- admitting error a little bit at a time in order to diffuse the full impact of the admission -- wouldn't have worked in an environment in which the press was doing its job. It is disturbing to see a member of that very press adopting the same tactics to diffuse his own scandal.

I look at this moment as analogous to the battle of Midway in World War II. After that battle, the Japanese never regained their domination of the Pacific theater, but the war was far from over. In the same way, I think this scandal has been a decisive defeat for the elite press, but I don't look for the consequences to be immediately apparent. Dan Rather should resign or be fired, but I don't expect that to happen. Like Pharaoh in the book of Exodus, he is too attached to his own power to let it go over a question of integrity. I predict that he -- and the Old Media that he represents -- will weather the current storm but that history will show that this was the point at which their lack of credibility began to be generally recognized.

(Via Allah, who has been particularly akbar on this story and hasn't really gotten the credit he deserves.)

UPDATE: If I am behind the curve, where the heck is Newsday?
The Republican National Committee operates its own 24/7 anti-news network to monitor coverage and orchestrate a rapid response. Salon reports that the story casting doubt on the documents was first pushed into the news stream by Creative Response Concepts, a Republican public relations firm. Then, selected bloggers went to work led by an Atlanta lawyer who helped get President Bill Clinton disbarred and was the first who called the memos fakes. His charges spread like a prairie fire through the rabid conservative grapevine and amen corner. The goal: Focus the media on Rather, not Bush. CBS initially stood by the documents, then hedged, saying that even if they were flawed, the story that Bush had disobeyed his commander's order to have a physical was accurate in essence. But it finally had to concede it was a mistake to run the story.
780 words and not one mention of the fact that CBS aired forged documents in support of its case. And I love the line about "selected bloggers". Sheesh!
(Also via Allah.)

UPDATE: OK, that last piece wasn't by Newsday's editorial staff, it was an op-ed by Danny Schechter. Protein Wisdom gives the column a fisking.

Friday, September 17, 2004

The Accidental Patriot

Michael Moore's hatchet piece on Bush is having some unintended consequences in Iran. Fahrenheit 9/11 was passed by the censors because it criticizes Bush, but Iranian viewers admire the freedom of Americans to criticize their government:

"It sure is a great country, where someone like Moore trashes the president and gets away with it -- and makes so much money!" he laughed.

Another woman said she was impressed with the scene where Moore chases US congressmen to ask them if they would send their children to Iraq.

"How many top officials here sent their offspring to fight in the Iran-Iraq war?" asked the woman, one of several who directed their frustrations at Iranian authorities -- and not President Bush.

(Via Damien who notes: "Moore says he made Fahrenheit 9/11 to facilitate 'regime change' in America, but the film may instead help to bring down the theocratic government of Iran. Which makes me wonder which one Moore would prefer."

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Law Students Say the Darnedest Things

Will at Crescat Sententia makes the surprising assertion that ... legislatures can make laws!

To the extent we're worried about what I'll call the O'Connor objection (that's Beth O'Connor, not Sandra Day)-- this objection is that people might threaten to do illegal acts just so that people will pay them to go away-- we can eliminate those contracts by individual legislative decision. It's important to remember that in our system the courts do not stand alone as the makers of law: Unlike courts, legislatures are not obligated to follow their logic to its endpoints, and are free to make judgment calls. In this case, if legislatures decide that letting people contract to not-assault one another is a bad idea, they can criminalize it, and the court needn't try to craft a too-loose solution of its own. [Emphasis mine.]

I realize this was probably intended as irony, but isn't it telling that such a reversal can be tossed off as a commonplace? Anyone who still doubts that the courts have become altogether too intrusive just isn't paying attention.

(Regarding the substance of his point, doesn't this argument cut both ways? If a legislature can specify limits to a judicial ruling that contracts can enjoin forbearance from illegal action, why can't the legislature simply specify that such contracts are valuable in the first place? This would remove the role of interpretation entirely. But the fact that legislatures have generally not done so is indicative of the consensus that such contracts are not popularly desired, whether or not they are desirable in the abstract.)

UPDATE
Will Baude replies:
1: The statement was meant ironically. But remember, time was when courts *did* make law, and nobody thought this was a problem. That was the common law. And it's still the reality in many states, and in all of contract law (which was the focus of my post). There is much to be said for the view that the court should keep its nose out of things except where it is authorized-- it is a view that I share. But it's worth remembering that judicial activism is illegitimate only when it is unauthorized, not *per se*.

2: Surely you recognize the importance of default rules. There is little lobby or energy to make refraining from illegal acts into valid consideration, but there is also little energy to do the opposite (except perhaps in the limited protection racket case). This only shows that the stakes are lowish-- not that the status quo is correct.

I think I am in essential agreement with both points. But common law assumes a body of shared precepts which I think are lacking in our current society. This is why (or at least partly why) the objection to judicial activism is so strong -- the decisions of the courts are no longer reliably consistent with the common understanding of justice. I think it may also be why society has become simultaneously more litigious and more insistent that minor details be spelled out in positive law. Interpretation of loopholes is a dangerous business when there is no agreed upon standard.

Furthermore, in such a climate, it is not unreasonable to urge caution in making any change, even if the stakes are low. The status quo may not be correct, but it is the devil we know.

But having said that, I think Will's case that refraining from illegal acts can form a valid consideration is a reasonable one. My objection is procedural rather than substantive.

Liberty as a Form of Oppression

I have always known that Andrew Sullivan and I had substantive disagreements on the parameters of liberty, but I had thought we shared the same basic view of its nature. This post, however, gives me pause:

NOW, THE PILL: The increasing popularity of laws that allow doctors and pharmacists to opt out of certain practices or even certain kinds of patient is a worrying trend. It was designed in part by the religious right to prevent gay people from having access to good medical care, and also to protect doctors from being forced to perform abortions. Now, its effects are being extended to the birth control pill, which some believe can be a form of abortion. The slow and fitful attempt of the far right to control others' sex lives continues. If you approve, vote Republican.

So, like much of the left whom he generally repudiates, Mr. Sullivan is now asserting that laws giving people options are actually inhibiting the liberty of those that want to enforce conformity. This is not a new theory, of course. All anti-discrimination laws operate on similar presuppositions. The notion is that if a proprietor of, say, a bar has the liberty to refuse service to anyone, that entails his ability to refuse service to Blacks, Jews, Women, Gays, Non-Smokers, or whatever peculiar prejudice he happens to hold and therefore his liberty must be curtailed.

Now reasonable people can disagree as to whether such curtailment of the liberty to discriminate is a proper function of government. It is perfectly within the conservative tradition to argue that, in certain cases as noted above, the limitation on liberty serves a greater social good. I happen to disagree -- preferring to let the market punish such idiocy -- but I can appreciate the argument. If I came upon a bar that did not allow Blacks I would quite happily take my business elsewhere and encourage others to do likewise, but I can sympathize with the impatience of those who want a quicker, more definitive solution. But it is surely a little rich to characterize the libertarian position as an "attempt ... to control others' ... lives." Especially when the discrimination in question is based on demonstrably ancient and presumably sincerely held moral precepts.

To illustrate why this latter point makes a difference, suppose the bartender in my example was discriminating not against Blacks or Gays but against ... Alcoholics. The Civil Rights crowd might (although it tends not to) argue that such discrimination is unfair and that even drunks have a right to be served by a place of public accommodation. But would the bartender necessarily be trying to control the drinking habits of his clientele? Might he not simply wish to refrain from participating in self-destructive behavior? It seems that in such a case, the benefit of the doubt belongs with the bartender.

Now my analogy will not be as compelling if, as Mr. Sullivan asserts, such opt-out laws were "designed in part by the religious right to prevent gay people from having access to good medical care". I am not aware of such motivations and he offers no support for this assertion. But even if this is a factor, surely the predominant impetus has been in the abortion arena where doctors, nurses and pharmacists have been under pressure by the extreme left to provide abortions against their moral and religious convictions.

I do not hold the Roman Catholic position on birth control (nor the modified version of it presented in the BBC article), but it doesn't take much imagination to see how someone who did would want the same ability to opt-out. Charity, if nothing else, should dictate that such a person not be forced to choose between losing his job and violating his religion. But even a failure of such charity would not warrant that his scruples be mischaracterized as malice.

In a culture war, as in any other, the best way to avoid unintended casualties is to use the most precise weaponry available. It is regrettable that a warrior with the obvious marksmanship of Mr. Sullivan should choose to explode such indiscriminate ordnance in the midst of the marketplace of ideas.

UPDATE (In reference to Sullivan's post immediately prior to this one): If he has Blogger Block, what the hell do I have?

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Linked by an Angel

I just noticed that I have been linked to by Gabrielle Reilly the conservative supermodel that I mentioned way back in May. Since I haven't stopped by her sight since, I can only assume that she linked to me quite awhile ago and I am just now noticing. A belated thanks, Gabrielle, and you are now on the blogroll (in the Non-Blog section).

Two other things I noticed (*ahem* ... if I could have your attention?)

1. A link to Right Goths, who describe themselves as "Gothic. Freaky. Conservative." Ah, to be young again...

2. Gabrielle is evidently now a Kansas girl. I've always said that the best women come from Kansas. I know, she is originally from Australia but a mid-westerner by choice is still a mid-westerner.

Friday, September 03, 2004

False Boos Reported at Bush Rally

The AP reported a story that Bush supporters booed his call for prayers regarding Clinton's hospitalization for heart surgery:

President Bush on Friday wished Bill Clinton "best wishes for a swift and speedy recovery."
"He's is in our thoughts and prayers," Bush said at a campaign rally.
Bush's audience of thousands in West Allis, Wis., booed. Bush did nothing to stop them.

The trouble is, the boos never showed up on the audio tape and multiple witnesses claim there was no booing at all. The story has since been changed twice without a formal retraction. And several AP feed sites still contain the original version.
(Food Chain: Instapundit -> Swimming Through The Spin)

UPDATE: Left-blogger Atrios still links to the original story, despite multiple comments that point out the retraction. I guess the Eschaton is not all that immanent, hmm?

UPDATE: Just for the record, the stories about cheers at the announcement of Reagan's Alzheimers were for real. Tammy Bruce is on our side now, but she confesses to having cheered back when she was a leftist.

UPDATE: Hindrocket at Powerline is also on this story.
Note that the AP didn't say "there were scattered boos" (there weren't) or even "one guy booed." The AP reported, falsely, that "Bush's audience of thousands in West Allis, Wis., booed." That isn't spin; it's a flat-out lie. And the AP writer added the malicious embellishment that Bush did nothing to stop the (nonexistent) booing.

And note his update. Evidently the lie is spreading:
The AP's lie is spreading rapidly around the globe. Salon says: "Audience boos as Bush offers best wishes for Clinton's recovery." WSTM television in New York has a slightly different version of the story, with an AP copyright, which says: "Many in Bush's audience booed when Clinton's name was mentioned. The president made no comment on that and continued with his rally speech." WRIC television in northern Virginia has the same "many booed" story. In Iowa, KWWL television reports that "Many in Bush's audience booed when Clinton's name was mentioned. The president made no comment on that and continued with his rally speech." The same misinformation is being promulgated in Georgia, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, California, Tennessee, Indiana, the Carolinas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Minnesota, and New York again.

I'll stop there, but there are many more. Do you suppose that all of these news outlets will offer corrections? What proportion of the people who hear this story will ever find out that it was a complete lie, fabricated, apparently, by a Democrat who works for the AP?
[...]
This, folks, is a scandal. The blogosphere should not rest until the AP is brought to account.

Amen.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Civil Discourse in NY

A young liberal woman sitting on a street corner with the following sign:

Young liberal idealist looking for conservative or Republican person to discuss hopes and plans for the future of our society

I am slimly informed, a good listener and believe people can make sense to each other.

If you share an interest in conversation between the right and the left please sit down with me.

A woman after my own heart. And she is probably not as slimly informed as she thinks. At least she knows what makes this country work.

This is the only time during this campaign season I have wished I had gone to the convention.

(Peter Northrup has pictures.)

Lebanese Sovereignty

The US is pushing for a resolution to stop Syria from interfering with Lebanon's constitution:

A senior State Department official said Washington hoped to table the resolution in the coming days, before Lebanon's Parliament is expected to vote on Cabinet's Syrian-orchestrated proposal to extend President Emile Lahoud's term by three years.

The official said it was unlikely the draft resolution would contain provisions that could lead to UN sanctions against Syria but would rather reaffirm the Security Council's longstanding position that Lebanon's sovereignty be respected.

[...]

An official with the French delegation to the Security Council told The Daily Star Tuesday afternoon that one of the points already written and agreed on by Washington and Paris was the disarmaments of all militias in Lebanon. He said he could not remember if the term used was "radical organizations" as mentioned in one of the local newspapers here. Another point was the restoration of Lebanese control over all Lebanese territories, he said.

[...]

Lebanese Foreign Minister Jean Obeid told reporters that relations between Lebanon and Syria "are resolved by the Lebanese and Syrians."

The minister said bilateral relations between the two neighboring states were "not an international affair."

He criticized France and the United States without naming them, saying: "Those states that are interfering now are unable to even give an advice to Israeli policies and other oppressive practices in the West Bank and Iraq."

[...]

Boucher said, however, it was not clear whether Obeid's protests were representative of the Lebanese people and all members of its government.

"Obviously, we want to consider the position of the Lebanese government, but we want to consider the position of the Lebanese take without undue outside influence and I don't think it's clear what that position is," he said.

He noted that there appeared to be considerable opposition to the amendment within Lebanon as well as criticism "of the kind of pressure that's being applied and the kind of decisions that are being made."

Jane at Armies of Liberation finds it shocking that France is a co-sponsor of the resolution, but since it has no real teeth, it is hard to see what risk France would be taking. It is interesting, though, that they are cooperating with the evil US on a Mid-East policy issue.

I am thinking this signals that Syria, rather than Iran, will be next in the crosshairs in the War on Terror. But nothing is particularly clear at the moment.