Rantophilia

Cincinnati & national politics -- movies -- music -- law

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Rationalizing


Okay, so we all know about the issue of whether invading Iraq should have been described as part of the War on Terrorism, and we've heard the discussions about whether Saddam and Al-Qaeda had contacts or connections or collaborated or whatever. Now, at least one blog has pointed to a call that Osama Bin Laden made in 1998 for attacks against the U.S. because of American bombing raids in Iraq. This shows, according to the blogger, that "Bin Laden certainly believed that Iraq was part of his war against the United States."

Wow. Stunning. Shocking. Osama Bin Laden, using some American action in the Arab world as justification for calling for attacks on America? How unheard of. Except, of course, that Osama Bin Laden clearly would use any American action on the Arabian peninsula as an excuse to call for attacks against America. And, come on, are we now justifying our foreign policy based on who Osama Bin Laden chooses to align himself with? That's what they call the tail wagging the dog, or, more appropriately, the bloodthirsty Arab terrorist wagging the superpower. If supporters of the Bush Administration are getting to that point, they're grasping at straws.

As for Instapundit's articles about Al Qaeda and Iraqi discussions about offering bin Laden asylum, they provide meager support, at best, for the War on Terrorism justification. After all, there is no dispute that bin Laden did not take refuge in Iraq and that bin Laden was elsewhere during the invasion of Iraq. It's a question of priorities--do we go after the proven threat to the U.S., or do we divert resources to take on an admittedly evil dictator, but one who clearly did not pose the same level of threat? We did the second, and the Bush Administration needs to justify that. And combing through four year old news articles isn't doing it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

A stupefying perversion of faith


Today's NYT features a new height in cynicism. And I'm not talking about the corrections page. No, this example of "cringeworthiness" can be found in David Brooks's column, entitled, The New York Times > A Matter of Faith.

Brooks argument is quite simple: Democrats, and most notably John Kerry, need to exude religiosity in order to win election. This is because Americans dig people who dig on God. However, the Democratic party has been taken over by a bloc of secularists who are united by their hatred of fundamentalists and the pro-life movement. Unless these secularists are overthrown, Kerry will lose.

Without question, such a bloc exists. And maybe Democrats do need to find a way to reach out to nonsecular liberals, who may tend to vote Republican by religious affiliation.

But Brooks isn't asking for a change in policy, he suggests only a change in perception. He argues that Kerry should act more religious, not be more religious. Is that really what we've come to? Is religion something that we should encourage people who don't believe to put on? Isn't that more cynical and more heretical than not being religious in the first place? Put another way, is nothing sacred?

Now, I believe that religion should play a minor part, at most, in public debate. But I also realize that my way of thinking does not carry the day. So instead I ask for the same thing in this area that I hope for in all debate: honesty. And I have trouble stomaching a call for dishonesty in the one area of life where true faith, or lack thereof, would seem most important.

Friday, June 18, 2004

What Did Our Government Know?



An interesting story from Russia. I wonder what will happen to it.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Credibility


Thanks to law roark for this link to a post by Eugene Volokh. There, Volkokh notes that in 1982 Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. said, "[T]hose in the United States who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse, ready with one small push to go over the brink are wishful thinkers who are only kidding themselves." And now, Schlesinger says that "surely the thing that did in the Russians was that time had proved communism an economic, political and moral disaster." According to Volokh, the discrepancy between these two statements "does undermine to some extent Schlesinger's credibility, no?"

Well, no. Volokh is smart enough to point out that any number of factors could explain Schlesinger's change of heart, but his ultimate conclusion shows a love of consistency that I think is misguided. A man should be permitted to change his opinion, particularly about an issue as complex as the fall of the Soviet Union, over the course of twenty-two years. Indeed, I believe that a person's willingness to rethink a position should be applauded, not criticized. Moreover, I think that "credibility" is a poor choice of words. Certainly, one could challenge Schlesinger's "intellectual rigor," but the implication that Schlesinger is now lying is pretty far-fetched without any more proof.

Then again, I also can't help but read Volokh's criticism and wonder if it really stems more from a basic disagreement with Schlesinger's point-of-view than anything else.

Usually


Usually, I try actually to rebut ridiculous things on their merits rather than just pointing them out saying, "Come on." Then again, usually what's published in the Enquirer isn't such a picture-perfect representation of everything that can be wrong with America. Today's Enquirer in not the usual case, and Otto Perry of Anderson is just flaming crazy. Come on.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Fined for Speech


Well, here's one reason to be glad we don't live in Freedom, I mean, France.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Disappointment


With the Bush re-election campaign inviting people to submit their fond memories, I figured I'd get in on the action. Unfortunately, my contributation was not deemed worthy of publication: "Ronald Reagan was a fine President. It's just too bad that the Bush campaign feels the need to exploit his death for their political gain. God bless America." Stay tuned as I test the limits of this bulletin board for as long as it entertains me.

Butchering of what?


In today's letters to the editor in the Enquirer, Karen Henderson of Independence, Kentucky bemoans the "dumbing down" of society, as shown by "young people's spelling skills." The irony of this letter isn't complete, because she does manage to spell all the words right. But her letter evidences at least two glaring grammatical errors. Enjoy:

No wonder spelling is going downhill

Will young people's spelling skills diminish then disappear as a result of the computer, you ask? We can hope, but all indications are that it's not just the computer's fault. The way people speak on television, the way people write and our general lack of caring have all contributed to not only the butchering of the English language but to many other aspects of life. Recently while watching the Sopranos, Tony Soprano used the word "irregardless." The dictionary says the word should be avoided in favor of "regardless."

It's no wonder people are graduating from college with skills that are deplorable. We as a society are slowly but surely "dumbing down" our standards in order to make everyone feel good. The stance and motto adopted by our educational system, "No Child Left Behind" is going to do nothing but turn out a generation of mediocre people.

Karen Henderson Independence

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Coverage of Reagan: What Do People Want?


lawroark tells us that he's "appalled" by the NYT coverage of Reagan's death and finds comfort in a Weekly Standard article entitled, The Times vs. Ronald Reagan. Curious, I read the Weekly Standard article and came away with one question: what is it exactly that is so "appalling?"

Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard contrasts the coverage of Reagan's death in the WaPo with the coverage in the NYT. First, he gives us the Post's coverage:


*One banner headline, in bold type, "Ronald Reagan Dies," followed by the subhead, "40th President Reshaped American politics."

*Four front-page stories, including articles on Reagan's life ("Actor, Governor, President, Icon"), death (the aforementioned "40th President Reshaped American politics"), and legacies foreign ("Hastening an End to the Cold War") and domestic ("Sagging GOP Rebuilt in His Image").

*An eight-page pull-out section, titled "Ronald Wilson Reagan: 1911-2004: A Life, A Legacy" and featuring in-depth reporting on everything from Reagan's rise to plans for the president's state funeral to dissections of the spontaneous crowds and memorials that formed outside the Bel Air, California, funeral home where Reagan's body is being prepared for burial.

*Four additional articles in the Post's Style section under the group headline "The Leading Man."

*An appreciation from columnist George F. Will, and a separate, unsigned editorial on Reagan's legacy.


This, apparently, is good. Then, he gives us the NYT coverage:

*One three-column headline, "Ronald Reagan dies at 93; Fostered Cold-War might and Curbs on Government," followed by a 10,820-word obituary penned by chief obituary writer Marilyn Berger.

"That," as Continetti says, "is it."

Continetti goes on to chronicle the criticism and backhanded compliments contained in Berger's obituary. He then concludes, that the NYT piece shows "clear hostility" towards Reagan.

Which gets me to my questions: what exactly is the problem? Is it the lack of space devoted to Reagan or is it the failure to limit the coverage of his death to obviously laudatory pieces like those in the WaPo? And that brings us to a more basic underlying question: what is the role of the press in an event like this? Is an effusive lovefest the right way to go or do we want something more, like a balanced analysis of the individual's life?

I tend more towards the latter, but that's not to say that the NYT got it right. But can't the criticisms be equally as valid as the compliments? Or is it an issue of volume? If so, well, buy the WaPo, not the NYT. I doubt people think that very few people think Reagan's death is unimportant because it didn't dominate the front page of the NYT.

Now, to be fair, there's plenty of anger on the other side of the spectrum, as some liberals kvetch that the coverage of Reagan is too positive. For instance, check out the comments attached to this post on Cincinnati Blog or, as you'd expect, Atrios.

All I can say on the merits is that when I turned on SportsCenter on Sunday and they were reporting on Reagan's death and showing clips from "Knute Rockne All American," I almost threw my remote control through my TV. Don't fuck with my SportsCenter.

A Death Row Fetish


Check out the Cincinnati Post's almost fetishistic article describing the execution of William G. Zuern. It describes his last breakfast and dinner, the way his head turned purple as he died, that his eyes alternated between shut and narrowly open, that he slept fitfully the night before, and his refusal to speak to prison counselors. What the hell is wrong with us, that we want to know these kind of details?

We also hear from the friends and relatives of his victims, who compared him to an animal being put down and who were disappointed that he went so "easy." I wonder if a study has ever been done comparing the psychological well-being of the relatives of murder victims when the murdered has been convicted and put to death, convicted and sentenced to prison, and never found. One of the justifications given for the death penalty is closure for the victims close friends and kin. From the small sample of relatives and friends described in the article, I question the death penalty's efficacy in that department.

Ashcroft Takes a Stand: "This Administration Rejects Torture"



Ashcroft has restored my faith in the Bush Adminstration by declaring, under "tense questioning" by the Senate Judiciary Committee, "The president of the United States has not ordered any conduct that would violate the Constitution of the United States, that would violate not one of the laws enacted by the Congress, or that would violate any of the various treaties."

This risky statement comes as the Bush Administration is dealing with a handful of internal memoranda that have come to light putting forth legal arguments contending, among other things, that the president is above laws criminalizing torture and the Geneva Conventions do not apply to prisoners from the war in Afghanistan.

Two thoughts:

(1) As an intellectual exercise after the September 11 attacks, I don't fault anyone for raising the question of when torture is appropriate, legally, ethically, and practically. Internal memoranda investigating these sorts of questions do not bother me, because I think our Government sometimes has the unenviable task of asking these sorts of difficult questions.

(2) What troubles me is that those internal inquiries may have led to a policy within the Bush Administration that it now disavows and the roots of which it refuses to discuss. Certainly, on the spectrum running between those things which should be fully public and those which should be hidden, the specific treatment of prisoners tends somewhat toward the latter, but obfuscation and even intentional deception, should they be occurring, are improper.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Cicadas



I've intentionally avoided blogging about cicadas because I found the hype about them almost as annoying as the bugs themselves. However, one impressed me this morning as it clung to my windshield wiper all th way to work, including about 7 miles on the highway, where I reached speeds nearing 80 miles per hour. It turned me around. At first, I wanted to see it fly off and spiral into oblivion (aka the windshield of the car behind me). By the end, I was rooting for it. What can I say? I love an underdog.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Acknowledging Dissent


Bush will take a huge step forward in acknowledging that not all people who disagree with him in fact love terrorism when he
gives the Pope the Medal of Freedom during his trip to the Vatican this week. Or maybe he's just trying to show that, unlike Kerry who refuses to toe the Vatican line on abortion, he actually likes the Pope. Well, whatever the reason or significance of the award, it seems like a pretty bizarre gesture to me. After all, Pope = highest person in Catholic Church, Catholicism (at least by its own measure) > United States, therefore Pope > United States, and Medal of Freedom is pretty meaningless, at least to the Pope.

Bizarro World


In the bizarro world of child "academic" competitions, I think this story of a kid at the spelling bee fainting before reviving himself and correctly spelling the word takes the cake. My favorite line: "Akshay went back to his chair, looking uncomfortable, when a Bee employee came to escort him off stage. He received medical help and was expected to return." Is there a 15-day DL for the spelling bee?

For those of you fascinated by this sort of thing, apparently you could have watched the National Mathcounts competition on ESPN2 earlier today. In that one, seventh and eighth graders answer difficult math questions in a ladder format similar to bowling (i.e., the top ten students compete, no. 10 v. no. 9, the winner facing no. 8, etc.). As someone who competed in Mathcounts but never made it to nationals, I get some giddy pleasure from the fact that it's shown on a putative sports network.

UPDATE: Akshay Buddiga, the 13 year-old who collapsed on-stage at the National Spelling Bee today returned and managed to place second. A 14 year-old from Indiana, David Tidmarsh, who did not collapse on stage, won.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Maybe I can be President



As a child, I always labored under the impression that as a foreign-born child of two American parents, I could not be President, because the Constitution requires the President to be a "natural born citizen." Only recently have lawyer friends pointed out that I may be a "natural born citizen" able to be elected president. Apparently, I'm not the only one curious about what this language means, as Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma has introduced a bill that would include anyone born to American parents outside of the United States within the definition of "natural born citizen." (See the article in the International Herald Tribune.) But this begs a question: can Congress legislate what words in the Constitution mean? I wouldn't think so, but I'll gladly be shown otherwise.