Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Twenty Years Ago

11-7-87 The drama goes on. To my surprise, Douglas Ginsburg asked President [Ronald] Reagan to withdraw his nomination to the [United States] Supreme Court. I was on my lunch break at Deli Heaven when I heard the news. Ginsburg called a press conference, explained that his marijuana use had made discussion of legal issues impossible, and announced that he was asking that his name be withdrawn. Reagan immediately acceded to the request. Yesterday, Secretary of Education William Bennett called Ginsburg to suggest that he withdraw. Bennett, a radical conservative who has spent much of his time in office railing against drug use, said that Ginsburg was not a proper role model for the nation’s youth. That’s not true, of course. What he should have said, because it’s true, is that Ginsburg made the Reagans look like hypocrites. Both Ron and Nancy have made drugs an issue during their nearly seven years in office. To now appoint someone who admits to using illegal drugs would be inconsistent. So Ginsburg is out. Two down [Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg] and who knows how many to go.

In a way, I feel sorry for Ginsburg. Whatever our political disagreements, and they are probably many, he’s bright and well-qualified for the job. Never again will he be considered for the Supreme Court, even if he spends the next thirty years on the Circuit bench. It’s tragic that something like marijuana use can disqualify a person for a job on the Supreme Court.


Progressives love to boast of their “nuanced” approach to public affairs. Things are not always black or white, they insist. Sometimes they’re gray. Why, then, do so many progressives want a categorical prohibition of torture? Are there no circumstances in which torture would be permissible? Do we want to ban torture even in those cases where it is necessary to save thousands of lives? This column by law professor Alan Dershowitz gets to the heart of the matter.

Distributive Justice

Justice is one part of morality, and distributive justice is one part of justice. Here is a flowchart that shows the main theories of distributive justice:

Is there a right of self-ownership?

No. This is strict egalitarianism. Proponents include G. A. Cohen.

Yes. This is liberalism. Is there a right of world-ownership?

No. This is liberal egalitarianism. Is the right of self-ownership alienable?

No. This is Rawlsianism and luck egalitarianism. Proponents include (respectively) John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin.

Yes. This is left-libertarianism. Proponents include Michael Otsuka.

Yes. This is right-libertarianism. Proponents include Robert Nozick.

If someone would make an actual flowchart for me (using arrows and boxes), I’d appreciate it. I have set things up so that the left side of the flowchart represents the political left and the right the right.

Note 1: Here is Otsuka’s statement of the right of self-ownership:

A very stringent right of control over and use of one’s mind and body that bars others from intentionally using one as a means by forcing one to sacrifice life, limb, or labor, where such force operates by means of incursions or threats of incursions upon one’s mind and body (including assault and battery and forcible arrest, detention, and imprisonment).

Those who endorse this right (an agent-centered restriction, in Samuel Scheffler‘s terminology) are liberals. Note that all liberals are deontologists, for only deontologists endorse agent-centered restrictions. Some strict egalitarians are consequentialists, inasmuch as they reject all agent-centered restrictions. A strict egalitarian can be a deontologist if he or she endorses some other agent-centered restriction besides the right of self-ownership.

Note 2: As the flowchart shows, all left-libertarians are liberal egalitarians, but not all liberal egalitarians are left-libertarians. I have noted only one difference (alienability of the right of self-ownership) between left-libertarians and other liberal egalitarians. There are other differences as well.

Note 3: Some versions of left-libertarianism are (or could be) extensionally equivalent to other types of liberal egalitarianism, but that doesn’t (wouldn’t) make them the same theory. For example, it could be the case that Rawls, Dworkin, and Otsuka arrive at the same conclusions. This would not mean that their theories are identical.

Note 4: Left-libertarianism has also been called “Lockean egalitarianism” and “libertarianism without inequality.”

Best of the Web Today



If you were a judge, would you allow cellphones in your courtroom? If you were a professor, would you allow cellphones in your classroom? See here for a New York Times story. You’re probably wondering about my policy. To be honest, I haven’t had a problem with noisy cellphones. Every now and then, a student’s device makes a noise. I stop talking while the student shuts it off. During this time, everyone in the room is looking at the student. I figure that’s punishment enough.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “New Life for Initiative to Apportion Electoral Vote” (news article, Nov. 3):

Is this the best the “beacon of democracy” can offer the world?

Instead of making the American electoral system ever more opaque and complicated by creating exceptions to the already anachronistic Electoral College system, as this California ballot initiative does, let’s do away with the college altogether and institute a true one-man-one-vote system for electing presidential candidates.

Thomas Linder
New York, Nov. 3, 2007

Note from KBJ: I have a better idea: Let’s not.

Hall of Fame?

Buddy Bell. (For an explanation of this feature, see here.)

A Year Ago


Baseball Notes

1. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez won his 13th Gold Glove award yesterday. He’s the best catcher in baseball, by far, and has been since the day he put on a Major League uniform. Those of you who said he didn’t deserve to be the All Star starting catcher should be ashamed of yourselves. What the hell were you thinking? Maybe the problem is that you weren’t thinking. Pudge will be an All Star until the day he retires. No other catcher in baseball even comes close to having his skills.

2. Here are the latest trade rumors. I love the off-season. It’s when trade rumors fly and hope springs eternal. Each team thinks it’s one player away from the World Series. Who was it who said he needed only two players—Sandy Koufax and Willie Mays—to get to the World Series? What a great line.

Addendum: It was Whitey Herzog who said it, and I got the line wrong. See here.

From the Mailbag

An exciting confrontation is shaping up between my two favorite otherwordly politicians, Dick “Darth Vader” Cheney, and the Vulcan-eared, Vulcan-coiffed Dennis “DeniK” Kucinich, who has moved to impeach the Evil One.

What is particularly interesting here is how the U.S. Constitution assigns the roles in this impending drama. Article 1, Section 3 says, “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. . . . When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside.” But the Chief Justice presides only at the impeachment trial of the president. Who presides when some other official is on trial? The Senate itself will handle the trial. And who presides over the Senate? Article 1, Section 3 again: “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate.” So the person who presides at the trial of Dick Cheney must be the President of the Senate, who is the Vice President of the United States, who is . . . Dick Cheney!

’Twill be a clash of extra-terrestrial titans!

Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)