Thursday, October 03, 2002

I'm off for the weekend-- to this conference on "Minorities Within Minorities" at the University of Nebraska, which will keep me away from this one being attended by some of my fellow scholar-bloggers. Nothing new to add on New Jersey; Eugene Volokh, Mickey Kaus, and Instapundit have already said it...

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Representative James

"McDermott said he was not a pacifist but had 'a responsibility as a patriot, as someone who loves his country, to speak up for what I believe.' War, added Bonior, 'destroys lives in such a profound way.'"

"Destroys lives in such a profound way?" Would it be better to destroy lives in a shallow and trivial way?
GEEK ALERT; SKIP TO BELOW IF YOU'RE ONLY INTERESTED IN COMMENTARY ABOUT THE REAL WORLD: I can't say enough about how wonderful I think Peter Jackson's take on Lord of the Rings is, and I'm pretty damned excited about Two Towers. But the new trailer continues a troubling (well, it troubles me) trend from the first movie: the exaggeration-to-the-point-of-distortion of racial themes and racial tension. The books, to be sure, have a certain amount of queasy-making race-talk. But Jackson's making the problem worse.

In the first movie, Elrond (who, let us not forget, is the son of an elf and a man, and whose brother made the choice to be a man) engages in an inordinate amount of Man-bashing, and he and Gandalf engage in an argument that depends rather a lot on race-talk. The dignified and grave Council of Elrond is reduced to an absurd racial squabble ("...before I see the Ring in the hands of an Elf!") The creepiness of Cate Blanchett's Galadriel costs us the sense that the elves in general and the High Elves in particular are a reliable, constant, and powerful, though unseen, ally against Sauron. The cutting of the Gimli-Galadriel plotline (possibly restored in the extended-version DVD) deprives us of Tolkien's example of racial reconciliation.

Now in the trailer for Two Towers, Elrond and the elves are talking about turning tail and leaving Middle Earth in the middle of the war. Elrond declares the alliance of men and elves over (instead of mourning the estrangement of the two kindred races since Gil-Galad's time)-- and does so in a way that suggests the elves aren't going to fight Sauron now. And the early stages of the War of the Ring are described by Aragorn as a war to destroy the world of men, and the army of the Uruk-Hai is described as aiming to exterminate the race of men. But men are the race that, in the books, fights on both sides. Indeed there's a strong suggestion that the men of Harad and Rhun outnumber the men of the West; in other words, more men fight for Sauron than against him. (Elves are more reliable; none has stood with Sauron since the forging of the Ring.) Neither Sauron nor Saruman ever set out to exterminate Men, only to subjugate them. And one of the most-stressed values in the books-- emphasized by Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and Aragorn-- is that of all the free peoples of the West standing together, and not dividing against each other. Why is Jackson changing that?
I was supposd to be off blogging for the week, in order to get some grant applications out. But I can't resist the following.

The argumentative basket into which the New Jersey Democratic Party seems to be placing all of its eggs for replacing Torricelli on the ballot, the argument endorsed by the New York Times, is that there's some sort of right on the part of voters to have a choice. I think this argument has been suitably demolished already (notably by this NYT op-ed).

But it's also worth noting that the argument rests on a willful factual mistake. That is, even if there were some overriding right to have a choice of candidates-- a right that somehow doesn't invalidate all those House elections, and the vast number of state legislative elections, in which one candidate runs unopposed-- it wouldn't yield a right to put Lautenberg on the ballot, because the minor premise of the syllogism doesn't apply. To wit: Forrester is not running unopposed. Two minutes of web searching on the two leading third parties turned up Libertarian Elizabeth Macron and Green Ted Glick. (There may be more; I didn't keep looking.) I don't know anything about these candidates and am not endorsing either one. But the fact is that there will be a choice among candidates on the November New Jersey ballot.

The Democratic argument then has to make one of two moves. One would be to say that these candidates have no chance of winning and therefore don't offer a real choice to voters. But that, surely, is up to the voters. (And there would be more than a whiff of hypocrisy about the Democratic Party suddenly complaining that third parties, which they've spent years helping to keep off ballots and out of debates-- including this year's NJ Senate debates-- aren't viable!) Moreover, the "right" to two viable candidates is violated even more routinely than is the "right" to two candidates at all. After all, more than 90% of House races in most years are utterly non-competitive, partly due to the advantages of incumbency, partly due to gerrymandering. The second available move is to say that the Democratic and Republican Parties are constitutionally different from third parties, that only their candidates count for purposes of seeing whether the voters are being offered a choice. And this is utter constitutional nonsense. The courts haven't objected to differentiating parties on the basis of their popular support in regular election rules, i.e. to placing candidates on the ballot automatically only if their parties reached a threshold of support in the last election. But they have not endorsed rules that aren't at least formally neutral among parties-- that is, rules that formally hold the two big parties to be permanently legally unlike all other parties. Now we have (at least) three parties that have qualified candidates for the ballot according to the regular rules, and the Democratic Party is asking to have the rules be suspended, just because none of those candidates is a Democrat.

Neither of those argumentative moves succeed; neither has any grounding in the Constitution or in the presumptions in favor of contested elections found in some election law cases. The Democratic case should fail, and New Jersey voters who don't like Forrester should start to look around at their other options. If they find that they don't like any of them... well, we've all had at least one election like that, haven't we?

UPDATE: According to this AP article, "some legal experts agreed" with the Democrats' argument. "'It's almost as if the arguing parties – the Democrats and Republicans – are irrelevant in the legal analysis,' said Richard Perr, an election law professor at Rutgers University Law School. 'The focus is on the voters right to cast a meaningful vote and they can't do that if only one name is on the ballot.'" This is a novel principle in election law to begin with; but, again, it wouldn't apply here. Similarly, "Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said that by objecting to Torricelli's request, Republicans were 'denying the people of New Jersey a choice.'" This is true only in the sense that the voters would be denied the particular choice of Lautenberg. It's not true that they would have no choice of candidates.

For more, see Man Without Qualities; several serious analyses by Eugene Volokh, James Lilek's dead-on Bleat, or Instapundit's round-up.

UPDATE: The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled for the Democrats. State supreme courts are the final interpreters of state statutes; and the military-absentee-ballot route into federal court seems unlikely to succeed. (The federal statute doesn't incorporate the state's 51-day statutory rule.) So I suspect that's that. Color me disgusted. I wonder how the court is going to explain its interpretation of what would trigger the 51-day rule. I wonder whether we're going to see a) rampant candidate-swtiching in a way that turns our fairly-regular procedures into poll-driven banana republic populist plebiscites or b) a rapid abandoment of this precedent, so that the "competitive elections" principle will turn out to have been a one-time-only gift to the Democrats. And I wonder whether any court will subsequently allow a third-party candidate onto the ballot, despite failing to meet ballot access requirements, because the need for a contested election trumps election statutes.
If you've come here because of Ramesh Ponnuru's article in National Review (not online but extentively quoted from by Instapundit ), the post Ponnuru quotes from is here. I'm pleased to have been noticed as part of a story about the intra-libertarian split on the war, but am not quite sure why Ponnuru took this post to be a declaration of agnosticism on invading Iraq. More later...

Sunday, September 29, 2002

CAMPUS WATCH WATCH: (NB: For my previous posts on Campus Watch, see here and here and here.)

First the good news. The CW website has now eliminated the language of “dossiers” on either persons or institutions, and has ceased to have a separate page listing individual professors by name. This is a clear improvement—though of course CW will now forever be known in academia as having “dossiers,” and I shan’t offer them much sympathy. Other good news: CW now includes extensive links to critical stories about itself.

Now the bad news. In an interview on Hannity and Colmes, Daniel Pipes (the creator of Campus Watch) objected when the website was described as concerned with “anti-Israeli” bias.

This is not about Israel. This is about Middle East studies. There are some of us who are Middle East specialists who believe that our colleagues at the universities are doing a bad job. They're making profound mistakes. They're extremists. They're abusing their power in the classroom. They're intolerant of other views. And we have set up this Web site to watch what they're doing, to monitor what they're saying, to critique what they're saying, and to improve what they're going to be doing and saying, and we're looking not just …

COLMES: Well, you...

PIPES: ... let me just finish … not just at Israel, but also militant Islam, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, a host of issues. It's not about anti-Semitism. I don't know where you got that idea.

[This is Jacob again:] This is a lie.

Let’s look at Campus Watch. Returning first to the University of Chicago page, we find: “Jewish and pro-Israel students at the University of Chicago subject to intimidation and hate,” with a list of “Bias incidents at University of Chicago “ that includes a joke about Auschwitz, a teacher’s attack on Biblical Judaism and the “ancient Israelite’s God,” a student newspaper’s distortion of the Torah, the scheduling of university events so that they conflicted with the Jewish Sabbath, one person shouting “all Jews should go to Hell,” and another shouting “Hitler should have finished the job.” Half of the NYU page is taken up with an article “NYU's President Honors Student who Circulated an Anti-Jewish Diatribe of David Duke.” These aren’t about Middle East Studies, about militant Islam, about Iraq, or about Saudi Arabia. They’re about anti-Semitism. (The coverage of the recent Berkeley controversy over red, white, and blue ribbons on the commemoration of September 11th’s anniversary isn’t even about anti-Semitism, and certainly isn’t about the Middle East; it’s about knee-jerk anti-Americanism or opposition to patriotism; interesting, but irrelevant to Campus Watch’s stated purposes.) If anti-Semitism is worth monitoring and exposing (even when expressed in nonviolent student speech) then Pipes should own up to the mission of doing so. As it is, Pipes is eliding his work with that of his colleague Martin Kramer, who really does emphasize arguing with the practitioners of Middle East Studies for their biases and blind spots. Campus Watch is not simply doing what Kramer does, not doing what Pipes says it’s doing. Either Pipes should stop using Campus Watch to monitor non-violent student expressions of anti-Semitism, or he should stop lying about doing so.

In her review of Pipes’ new book in this Sunday’s NYT book review, Judith Miller writes “Still another essay deplores the extent to which some of the nation’s most prominent—or most vocal—Islamic groups have defended and endorsed violence against Israeli civilians and used American freedoms to promote the Islamist agenda within the United States. But such sentiments are constitutionally protected speech and should not be confused with support for terrorism, a distinction that Pipes sometimes seems to blur.” Just so; Campus Watch blurs such distinctions routinely.