Sunday, November 26, 2006

Judicial activism in the 19th century

In one of the Supreme Court's most notorious decisions, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote the maority opinion that ruled that the laws of slave states applied to slave Dred Scott even after his master had moved him to a free state. As the WSJ wrote:
The opinion Taney wrote for the majority in Dred Scott not only guaranteed slaveholders' ability to move slavery into the territories but also tacked on the gratuitous announcement that blacks were incapable of rising to the level of citizenship and therefore had no rights, under the Constitution, that could be violated by enslavement.
Nothing in the constitution supported Taney's conclusions: his decision was simply judicial activism. His activism came from the same source as today's activists. Taney was appointed to the Supreme Court by Andrew Jackson, the US president from the newly formed Democratic party. Only two justices dissented from the Dred Scott decision: Benjamin Robbins Curtis and John McLean. Curtis was was appointed to the Court by President Fillmore of the Whig party, which was, for a while, the main opposition to the Democrats. Originally a Jackson Democrat, McLean's strong opposition to slavery lead him eventually to join the Republican Party where he was twice a candidate for the Republican nomination for president.

Friday, November 24, 2006

This is not the age of reason

Jeff at Caerdroia meditates on the role of reason in public debate on four pressing issues ranging from global warming to Iraq.

Poison: the choice of emperors

The body of Alexander Litvinenko, the dead Putin critic, was found to have unexplained high levels of deadly radioactive Polonium-210. Poison was the tradition means for solving political disputes in the Roman, Chinese, and Mongol empires. The USSR took this to new levels of sophistication when the KGB poisoned Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov by stabbing him with a ricin-tipped umbrella in 1978.

UPDATE: After Putin's denial, James Taranto has an interesting theory: Maybe the intention was to poison Litvinenko with a very slight dose of Po-210, just enough to give him terminal cancer that would appear natural.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Government knows best

Las Vegas has government social services providers set up to help the homeless. There was a problem: the homeless didn't want these services. Rather than admit that the city might have had the wrong approach, the city instead passed a law banning private citizens from donating food to the homeless:
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman had argued that [private] handouts discourage homeless people from seeking help from social service providers set up to handle mental health and substance abuse problems...."The main thing is to make sure these people get professional care," Goodman said of homeless and indigent people....
where, of course, the "professional care" that he prefers is government care. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones has issued an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the city's ordinance.

Not mentioned in the AP article is that the mayor who wants to ban private citizens from feeding the homeless is a Democrat.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The great flood and other mega-disasters

Through a combination of satellite imagery and geological samples collected on Earth, some scientists now believe that they have evidence that large asteroid and comet impacts are much more common than previously thought. One such impact may have occurred 4,800 years ago in the Indian Ocean, leaving a crater 18 miles in diameter.

Dr. Bruce Masse, of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, has been collecting an analyzing 175 flood myths from around the world. There is speculation that that impact 4,800 years ago could have caused a large tsunami and worldwide weather change, including torrential rains, that are described in the myths. 14 of the myths mention a full solar eclipse which Dr. Masse speculates could be used to date the impact to May, 2807 BC.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Victims never have to be responsible

Steven Den Beste notes a difference between how Republicans and Democrats accept electoral defeat:
2000, Democrats: "We wuz robbed!"
2002, Democrats: "We wuz robbed again!"
2004, Democrats: "We wuz robbed yet again!"
2006, Republicans: "Bummer. Oh, well, we'll do better next time."

Note that right-wing pundits and bloggers don't seem to be fixating on voter fraud, despite documented evidence that the Democrats have been doing that kind of thing? Note that Republican candidates who lost very narrowly gave in gracefully, without demanding recounts or resorting to the courts? Why the difference?

I think it's the basic Democrat culture of entitlement showing through. Democrats were angry in 2000, 2002, and 2004 because they felt that they deserved to win. Republicans don't feel that anyone deserves anything. They believe that all rewards have to be earned.

There's another way of looking at this. In 2000, 2002, and 2004, Democrats explained their defeat by looking to see what the Republicans had done to inflict defeat on the Democrats. In 2006, the Republicans seem to be explaining their defeat by loo king for all the ways they themselves loused up. The Democrats are showing their investment in the cult of the victim. They didn't lose because of any fault or failure of their own; they lost because of the nefarious acts of villainous Republicans.

I think the issue is a more general avoidance by liberals and the left of any uncomfortable introspection. Thus, liberals would not look inside for what why they lost elections. Similarly but on the left, Karl Marx wrote endlessly on the supposed faults of capitalism but never examined critically his ideas of communism (Just how was his communist government supposed to 'wither' away?).

On some larger levels, they will introspect endlessly: Democrats obsess on foreign policy issues like "why they hate us?" However, they obsess on this only in ways that leave liberals as the innocent victims of the wrong-headed policies of others. An example would be Sen. Murray's (D-Wa) famous theory that Islamic fundamentalists hate the US because the US has not spent enough money on foreign aid to build daycare centers in Islamic countries.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

"I don't fall down"

A left-blogger, Mike McIntee, claimed to have proof of the White House editing videos to remove the "mission accomplished" banner. As reported in Spiegel Online, the claim has been debunked another blogger. Links to both videos are here.

While Mr. McIntee's mistake may well have been an honest one, his response to its exposure has been curious: it is alleged that he has been deleting comments exposing his error. Abusive comments are often best deleted but left-bloggers, such as, have a reputation for deleting polite and rational comments merely because the comments present facts or evidence that makes liberals uncomfortable. This seems to me to be of a kind with Sen. Kerry's ski trip, as the New York Times reported (March 19, 2004, "Amid Natural Splendor in Idaho, a Weary Kerry Gets Away From It All" by David M. Halbfinger):
The image-conscious candidate and his aides prevailed upon reporters and photographers to let him have a first run down the mountain solo, except for two agents and Marvin Nicholson, his omnipresent right-hand man.

His next trip down, a reporter and a camera crew were allowed to follow along on skis just in time to see Mr. Kerry taken out by one of the Secret Service men, who had inadvertently moved into his path, sending him into the snow.

When asked about the mishap a moment later, he said sharply, "I don't fall down," then used an expletive to describe the agent who "knocked me over."
Reportedly, Sen Kerry fell six times that day when not in eye-shot of camera men. This is natural: All real skiers fall. Yet, Sen. Kerry doesn't want to admit to it, just as Mr. McIntee would rather delete comments than admit to an error interpreting a black bar. At least for our government leaders, I would prefer a higher level of emotional maturity.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Problem spotters vs problem solvers

David Simon spent 13 years as a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun before rising to prominence with the publication of his 1991 book: Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, the inspiration for two TV series. He and collaborator, Ed Burns, a narcotics detective and 20-year veteran of the Baltimore police department were on a promotional tour and were asked about the drug problem:
Ed Burns and I spoke at one of those groups. There came this point where a guy said, "Well, what is the solution? Give me the paragraph; give me the lede. What's the solution, if not drug prohibition?"

I very painstakingly said: "Look. For 35 years, you've systematically deindustrialized these cities. You've rendered them inhospitable to the working class, economically. You have marginalized a certain percentage of your population, most of them minority, and placed them in a situation where the only viable economic engine in their hypersegregated neighborhoods is the drug trade. Then you've alienated them further by fighting this draconian war in their neighborhoods, and not being able to distinguish between friend or foe and between that which is truly dangerous or that which is just illegal. And you want to sit across the table from me and say 'What's the solution?' and get it in a paragraph? The solution is to undo the last 35 years, brick by brick. How long is that going to take? I don't know, but until you start it's only going to get worse."

And the guy looked at me and went, "But what's the solution?" He said it again. Ed Burns restrained me.

Mr. Simon has a keen eye for what has gone wrong but doesn't seem to know what a "solution" is: "Undo[ing] the last 35 years" is a wish, not a plan. Center-cities, for example, have deindustrialized for a variety of good reasons and there are no policies that people can agree on that would reverse it. Often the people who can identify problems in emotionally compelling terms seem unable to recognize that, compared to finding the solution, identifying the problem was the easy part.

UPDATE: On the same theme, Democrats can identify problems with our policies in Iraq but soldiers interviewed in the Washington Post point out that the proposed Democratic "solutions" would be worse than the problems. Ann Althouse comments.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Global warming, again

Anxiety does not engage the higher brain functions. Consequently, beliefs driven by fear are often wrong. Take, for example, fear-based climate-predictions, as summarized by Christopher Monckton in today's London Telegraph:
In 1988, James Hansen, a climatologist, told the US Congress that temperature would rise 0.3C by the end of the century (it rose 0.1C), and that sea level would rise several feet (no, one inch).
The rest of the article is as good a summary of the science issues as one will find in a popular newspaper.
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