Archive for October, 2010

I’m enjoying a fine Saturday day on campus working in my university’s library and in my office.  I feel delightfully out of touch with the political goings-on, including the Rally to Restore Sanity which seems like theatre/political art designed to promote a particular political vision that is by no means non-ideological or even non-partisan.  

Given what has gone on in Congress over the last two years decade, I hope November 2nd is the real rally to restore sanity as friends of fiscal sanity help elect some serious deficit hawks, defeat incumbents like Harry Reid, and provoke great fear among those who survive.  And if the Republicans blow it again this time, I hope that these latter-day Mugwumps (yes, I know, the parallel is not exact) out there will then vote against the GOP with the same fervor with which they now excoriate the Democrats!

UPDATE:  Yup, the folks at the rally certainly sounded post-partisan and moderate: http://reason.com/blog/2010/10/30/what-we-saw-at-the-rally-to-re (of course, the social scientist in me insists that I note the selection bias here, nonetheless….).

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Defending the absurd

I’ve written before about children’s right to be protected, but the issue of protection from lawsuits had never crossed my mind before.  This changed when I saw that a judge has ruled that a 4-year-old who struck an old woman with her bike can, indeed, be sued.  If she had been 3, she couldn’t be held negligent, but at 4 she clearly understands the consequences of her risk-taking behavior.  Yeah, right.

I’m sure that a variety of lawyers (including the judge and the ones in this case), can come up with legalistic reasons for why this was the right decision.  “Legalistic” is a euphamism for nonsense.

Human institutions being what they are, the rule of law sometimes means that we get legal outcomes that are nonsensical and unfair when applied to particular individual cases.  That is unavoidable.  The judge apparently felt he couldn’t make new law in this case.  I’m generally a fan of judges being conservative about making new law (especially trial judges).  Not being a lawyer and not having full knowledge of the case, I don’t know how I would rule.  I’m glad I’m not the judge, who now has to take a lot of flack for the obvious absurdity of the outcome.

This reminds me of another 4-year-old done an even greater injustice.  Several years ago when I lived in Chicago, there was a prominent case where the Illinois Supreme Court literally ripped a 4-year-old boy out of the arms loving parents, the only parents he had ever known, in favor of an adoptive father who seemed kind of creepy and devoid of the true paternal instincts that would have prevented him from doing this type of abuse to a child (obviously, Solomon was not a judge in this case).  The court, which was divided on the issue, claimed that they didn’t have the ability, under law, to weigh the interests of the child in this case.  I wonder how “Baby Richard” is doing these days.  I think he might have been moved out of the country.  But, regardless, it was still state-sanctioned abuse.

These are cases that are very frustrating for those who want justice for children and who want, at the same time, to preserve the rule of law.  What I really wish is that we had more proactive effort to modify ridiculous legal standards before they chew up people’s lives.  I know the gears of justice grind slowly, but you’d think that since quite a few lawyers and legal experts knew about this standard in the law, that they would have taken it upon themselves to advocate for more nuanced, reasonable standards to be enacted, perhaps by statute.

I guess that since they can’t bill for those hours, the absurdity persists.

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I am a policy guy, so my expertise in electoral politics (i.e., “the talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity,”  to quote Publius) is quite limited. But I will put my Sharon Angle “man pants on” and challenge my fellow Pilieus bloggers to do the same. Here are my predictions:

The Senate: the GOP will end up with a slim minority of 49 seats

Of those that are currently toss ups, the GOP will take Illinois (Kirk), Colorado (Buck), Angle (Nevada) and Pennsylvania (Toomey).

  • All this could change if the Democrats are successful in throwing Meek under the bus in hopes of preventing Rubio from being elected (the horror! A young charismatic Latino conservative!)
  • Alternatively, if the wave is as big as some predict hope, the GOP could take Washington and West Virginia, thereby claiming a slim majority (BTW, if this happens, there are two words that will never be used together by the media when discussing the actions of the minority: Democratic obstructionism).
  • The wave will be a Tsunami if Fiorina beats Boxer in California
  • Abandon ye all hope if O’Donnell throws a spell on the Delaware electorate

The House: Obviously going GOP. My best guess is that the GOP will pick up 64 to give it a 242 to 193 margin.

Like I said earlier, I am a policy guy. My prediction: even if the GOP wins a majority in both chambers, all of the populist, small government rhetoric will dissipate quickly. No one can look back to the last GOP majority and harbor any hope of responsible governance, balanced budgets, transparency, etc. If the GOP does what the GOP has done in the recent past, the 2012 elections will likely flip things once again.

So I am throwing it down. Grover, Sven, James, Jason and Marcus…time to pull on the “man pants” and put some numbers down.

Reader predictions are most welcomed!


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An interesting story, if true, on Scalia introducing Kagan to the sport of skeet shooting.

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More hunger

If you have young readers in your house, there is a good chance you’ve already seen Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy.  These books are about a 16-year-old girl’s struggle to survive and protect her loved one’s against a savage totalitarian state.  The prose is easily accessible to youth, though I wouldn’t encourage most pre-teens to read it because it is quite brutal, and the themes are more mature than, for instance, what one finds in Harry Potter.

My wife and I like to keep up on what our kids (and other kids) are reading, so I read more youth fiction than I would otherwise.  This trilogy is surprisingly gloomy for youth fiction, but my kids can’t put it down.  The storytelling is excellent and the prose engaging.  I was hooked within a few pages.  The initial surprise is that the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is a girl, since the hunting story the book opens with suggests a boy.  And the books are one of those rare feats that are appealing to boys and girls.   Katniss is a lovely, compelling mix of action hero, tomboy and traditional femininity.  Girls love her and boys are in love with her, though they wouldn’t admit it (the young actress who gets to play her in the planned movie series will become the next Kristen Stewart, who wouldn’t be a bad choice if she were younger).  Over the course of the series, Katniss is very emotionally volatile and, frankly, somewhat exhausting for the reader.  But, then, what teenage girl isn’t emotionally exhausting?

Anyway, I’m bringing this up on Pileus because of the trilogy’s strong political themes.  The books are depressing in the way that 1984 is depressing.  Collins does an excellent job in portraying the horrors of a totalitarian state: the complete control of information flows, the arbitrary brutality, the abject poverty of people exploited for the benefit of a small elite, and, most of all, the sense of utter hopelessness felt by ordinary people living under such a regime.

My family usually likes to watch the Olympics on TV.  But in 2008 I encouraged a boycott.  I couldn’t in good conscience watch an Olympic games hosted by the police state of China.  True, the Olympics are about nations putting aside their political differences and coming together in friendly competition.  But they are also about the celebration of the human spirit.  Given the Chinese regime’s success at squashing the human spirit, I couldn’t stomach any Olympic coverage from Beijing.

I bring this up because the Hunger Games gives parents a good platform to talk with kids about totalitarianism and state oppression more generally.  I could say to my kids, “This is why we boycotted the Olympics, because the Chinese government is like the government in Hunger Games” (which, without giving away too much, centers on the government pitting children against each other in a battle-to-the-death struggle used to entertain the Capitol elite).

China isn’t, of course, totalitarian to the extent the regime is in the books, but the kids are able to get what I’m saying.  I pointed out to them that a Chinese democracy advocate who is in prison just won the Nobel Peace Prize, but that most people in China don’t know anything about him or about the prize because of the way China censors its media and internet (and the way that Western corporations help them do so).

For some reason, I’m thinking kids in China aren’t reading Hunger Games.



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If President Obama is a philosopher, then is this one more strike against Plato?  Is this fan fiction or an argument we should take seriously?

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Save NPR!

I know.  I know.  NPR is a bastion of welfare-state liberalism.  True enough.  I hate the politics of most NPR contributors, staff, and editors as much as anyone.

Still, I love NPR.  What’s more I think conservatives and libertarians should fight to save NPR.   If you made a list of the dumbest things done by smart people, NPR’s recent firing of Juan Williams has to certainly be near the top of the list.  Wrong on the merits.  Wrong on the strategy.  (Or maybe NPR has a weird management strategy where the really dumb people get left with the important decisions like the rapid firing of Williams before taking the time to rub two of their brain cells to figure out how ridiculous this is–you know the people who do the pledge drive and the only thing they can think of to say is the phone number over and over.  Those people.)

Here is why conservatives and libertarians should preserve NPR and not listen to all the rabble that talk about killing it: It is really the only good place to hear conservative and libertarian positions on the radio.  The print media and the web are full of lots of thoughtful people.  But radio?  It is almost entirely a wasteland, which is sad because radio is really the only media form that allows one to multi-task and do other things, like have a life (as opposed to blog reading, for example!)

Sure, they don’t give the Right equal time; they are condescending; they are godless; they are snobs and elitists; they can barely keep their biases and left-wing politics hidden beneath the facade.  I don’t care.  They make damn good radio.  In fact, the only radio really worth listening to.

Leftists talk about how they don’t have a good option to all the conservative talk radio, which they try to suppress through government action by advocating outrageous policies like the Fairness Doctrine.    Give me a break.  The left has NPR and the whole network media enterprise on their side.  The real issue is that conservatives don’t have a good option to NPR.  My local affiliate recently did an hour long conversation with David Boaz.  It was thoughtful and balanced and featured a prominent libertarian intellectual.  When has Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh done a thoughtful hour of programming on….well…anything?  Seriously, crying on air with a flag rippling in the background doesn’t make what you are saying meaningful, or even patriotic for that matter.

Most of what comes over NPR airwaves isn’t that political.  It is just interesting and engaging (most of the time).  And they at least do a passable job at trying to bring in varying opinions, even if it is obvious they don’t respect them.   Almost all the intelligent commentary I have heard over the airwaves over the years has come from NPR.  I still recall an NPR reporter in Chicago trying to take on the brilliant, libertarian legal scholar Richard Epstein.  Even though that was a hilarious mismatch, can you imagine Limbaugh having an intelligent conversation with Epstein–well he might, as long as he let Epstein do all the talking (which he wouldn’t do, because the main problem with these conservative radio jocks is that they love to hear their own silly voices).

The right still hasn’t recovered from the loss of it’s intellectual godfather,  Bill Buckley.  As long as NPR continues to talk with people on the right and the left and give them their say, I say let them flourish.  If they were forced to go private, they would probably become much more liberal and less intelligent.  Do we really need more Olbermans?

Jonah Goldberg argues that even though he doesn’t think they deserve public funding, the Republicans would be stupid to try to take this on as an issue because it would backfire and only give Democrats ammunition in the culture war.  I would add that federal funding for NPR is a pittance.  There are so many more worthwhile targets for libertarian disgust than NPR.  Find one and shoot at it instead!

[I would also add that my spouse, who is a fairly conservative, stay-at-home mom, listens to NPR frequently and, as a result, knows a huge amount of interesting stuff.  I get great external benefits from this, since I don’t get to listen all that much myself, but I get to talk with her.  You should all be so lucky!]

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