Monday, 17 September 2007

The Lunatic Fringe

I leave you this fine evening with a column by the inimitable Jed Babbin.


I said the other day, with a heavy heart, that it’s over for my beloved Detroit Tigers. It’s now all but official. The Cleveland Indians came back from a 5-1 deficit this evening to beat the Tigers, 6-5, in 11 innings. I’ve seen this sort of tenaciousness all year. It’s almost as though the Indians enjoy letting their opponents build a lead. Don’t be surprised to see the Indians in the World Series.

Addendum: The Chicago Cubs scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Cincinnati Reds, 7-6. This allowed the Cubs to retain their one-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central Division (although the teams are tied in the all-important loss column). How does a Cubs/Indians World Series sound? We can call it the Great Lakes Series. (That would also be true of a Brewers/Indians World Series.)


This makes me proud to be a member of an institution of higher education. Not!

Twenty Years Ago

9-17-87 . . . The United States Constitution was signed 200 years ago today. Naturally, there were celebrations all over the country, but they were nothing like the celebration that we had on 4 July 1976, the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Those were festive; these were cerebral. For example, there were Constitution readings, historical exhibits and plays, and articles about the meaning and significance of the Constitution. Former Chief Justice Warren Burger [1907-1995], a nondescript justice as far as I’m concerned, is leading the festivities. Of course, things are not yet over. In days, weeks, months, and years to come, we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of (1) each state’s ratification of the Constitution; (2) the adoption of the Constitution following the ninth state ratification; (3) the ratification of the Bill of Rights; and (4) the inauguration of the first president. I fear that we shall have many more “celebrations” in the next few years. [Party pooper!]

To me, the Constitution is a valuable document. It expresses the constitution of our society. But it is not perfect, it was not created by “demigods” (as [Thomas] Jefferson [1743-1826] said), and I have never worshipped it. It was framed by fallible, self-interested white males. As citizens of the twentieth century, we should take that which is valuable in the Constitution and use it, but reject that which is useless or counterproductive. That’s why we need theories of the Constitution. We need to breathe life into this document, and the only way to do that is to first of all consider our needs and values, then interpret the Constitution in such a way that it meets those needs and promotes those values. People like Robert Bork, who insist that we follow the intentions, meanings, understandings, and beliefs of the framers, would delegate this crucial power and responsibility to others. As Harry Truman [1884-1972] reputedly said, the buck stops here, with us. We should not look to the past for guidance unless we have independent reason to think that such guidance is good.

. . .

Pope John Paul II [1920-2005] is in the middle of a ten-day tour of the United States. He was in Phoenix the other day and will visit Detroit before returning to the Vatican. I’m sickened by the fawning that occurs in his presence and the press attention that he receives. I’m also outraged that tax dollars (millions of them) are spent to protect him and his entourage. I’ll be glad when he goes back to Italy. In the meantime, his sheep are bleating contentedly. Is it any wonder that they call him the “shepherd of the flock”?

Oil and Water

Is it possible for Christians and Muslims to live together? See here.

Health Care

Hillary Clinton has announced a plan that will redistribute wealth from the healthy to the sick, from the responsible to the irresponsible, from the productive to the unproductive, and from the disciplined to the undisciplined. Can you say “Nanny State”?

Addendum: Have you ever read a news story so fawning as this one? Imagine how the Times would cover a health-care proposal by President Bush or one of the Republicans currently running for president.

Bush-Hatin’ Paul

Are you ready for some kick-ass good times? The New York Times has announced that, as of tomorrow, it will no longer charge people to read Paul Krugman’s* semiweekly column. That means I get not only to read him, but to dismantle him. Stay tuned.

* “Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults” (Daniel Okrent, “13 Things I Meant to Write About but Never Did,” The New York Times, 22 May 2005).

A. P. Martinich on Hobbes’s Single Greatest Argument

The most important addition to the second edition [of De Cive (1647)] is the Preface to the Reader. It contains what is in my opinion Hobbes’s single greatest argument, which I have called ‘The Great Ignorance and Fear Argument’: Only a few people are evil, but because we do not know how to distinguish them from the good, “there is a necessity of suspecting, heeding, anticipating, subjugating, self-defending, ever incident to the most honest and fairest conditioned.”

What makes this argument so impressive, in addition to the fact that the premises are plausible, is that its applications are wide-ranging. Schoolchildren are taught that they need to fear all strangers because some strangers are dangerous. Many women fear all men because they know that some men are rapists. Police officers fear every person they stop for a traffic offense because they know that some of the people they stop are dangerous. Many whites fear all African Americans because they know that a disproportionate percentage of certain crimes are committed by them. Many African Americans anticipate racist behavior from all whites because they know that some whites are racists.

The Great Ignorance and Fear Argument has another impressive feature: It can be ramified. In addition to every person being suspicious of every other person, every person is made even more suspicious by the knowledge that he is suspected by everyone else. Honest citizens, males, African Americans, and whites resent the cautious behavior of police, women, whites, and African Americans, respectively. They become not only resentful but more standoffish in their own behavior, knowing that even well-intentioned movements may be misinterpreted as threatening. These new suspicions themselves get ramified. When males, African Americans, and whites see that females, whites, and African Americans are standoffish, they interpret the behavior as unfriendly, which upsets them and confirms their initial suspicions. Given this line of argument, Hobbes’s repeated assertion that the state of nature is a war “of all men against all men” does not sound hyperbolic.

(A. P. Martinich, Hobbes: A Biography [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999], 206 [endnotes omitted])

Best of the Web Today


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

While trumpeting the noble-sounding goal of spreading American ideals of freedom and religious tolerance abroad, the Bush administration and its Justice Department minions have once again showed just how little regard they have for the same ideals at home.

President Bush seems to be all for religious freedom as long as the religion is his own; he regularly undermines the principles of separation of church and state when it allows him to further the agenda of the religious right, then turns his back on constitutional guarantees intended to protect all faiths when it suits his national security “needs.”

When the administration has finished stretching, bending and overruling the laws intended to ensure our civil liberties, will there be anything left of the American way of life in which he claims to take such pride?

Louise T. Guinther
Forest Hills, Queens, Sept. 10, 2007

A Year Ago



I caught a few minutes of Taxi Driver (1976) yesterday between innings of a baseball game. Does anyone remember the scene in which Albert Brooks’s character complains (via the telephone) to the maker of campaign buttons? The buttons are supposed to say “We are the people” (with the word “are” underlined). The button maker produced buttons reading “We are the people” (with the word “We” underlined). Brooks says the incorrect underlining changes the meaning, but evidently the button maker wasn’t buying it. The scene is hilarious. I imagined a follow-up scene in which the buttons were remade to say “We are the people.