Saturday, December 07, 2002

It's always been unclear at best whether Trent Lott had fully come to terms with the results of the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement. Turns out that the answer is: no. This is vile. Get rid of him.

UPDATE: If you're here, you've almost certainly already seen InstaPundit's coverage, which I won't try to top. But let me second Virginia Postrel's call to the press not to let this go. All sorts of silly things have prompted saturation of some public person or would-be-public-person (Cabinet nominees, for example) until he or she was driven from the scene. We know the press knows how to do this sort of thing. Now's the time.

Friday, December 06, 2002

University of Chicago e-mail crashed days ago and still isn't back up. If you've tried to contact me (or Dan Drezner), please forgive the delay in responding; and it couldn't hurt to send your message again, in case the server has lost some of the incoming messages altogether.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

I had been doing all right on the whole waiting-for-Two-Towers-to-come-out thing. But the Flying Monkeys have now seen it, and that makes it much less okay. Two weeks and counting...

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Glenn Reynolds and Stephen Chapman are quite right to take on the charge that Lord of the Rings is some sort of racist allegory. But, as I've blogged before, the movie adaptations (which, so far, I adore) are shifting the plot and themes of the book in a disturbingly racialized direction-- having to do with Middle Earth races, not our-earth races.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Huh? Emily Bazelon says that the flurry of state supreme court decisions finding that state constitutions require government funding abortions aren't getting much attention, because conservatives and pro-lifers aren't making a big deal out of them. She then closes with:

There's a nice irony here: Conservatives, who usually argue
for state-based solutions, and liberals, who usually argue for
federal ones, find themselves switching sides. It's an odd swap
of strategy (and principle) that's at least somewhat reminiscent
of the upside-down notions of federalism that pervaded the arguments
in Bush v. Gore. It takes some sleight of hand on the part of conservatives
to go from lauding the states as incubators of democratic innovation to
blasting them for daring to disagree with their federal betters—although
it's no more astonishing than hearing liberals importuning state courts to
save them from the mistakes of the federal Constitution. Maybe consistency
is too much to ask for here. But the lurking question in these abortion cases
is whether, all the yammering about federalism notwithstanding, "states' rights"
is anything more than a label of convenience to be grabbed by whomever the
grabbing is good for.

But she's just finished telling us that, with very few exceptions, conservatives aren't making a big deal out of these cases. And she hasn't quoted any conservatives who are doing anything like complaining that the state judges are "disagreeing with their federal betters." No one, for example, has appealed one of these decisions to the Supreme Court. (There would be no legal grounds to do so; but that's part of the point.) State supreme courts may interpret even state constitutional clauses identical to ones in the federal constitution very differently from how the federal courts interpret the latter, and state constitutions differ from the federal one in all sorts of interesting ways. I'm willing to bet that no legal scholar who has an even remotely federalist bent (i.e. no fair using Hadley Arkes as the counterexample) has disputed any of this, even in the context of decisions he or she thinks were a) wrong as a matter of state law or b) morally repugnant. If I'm right about that, then the quoted paragraph is a cheap shot, and a gratuitous Bush v Gore invocation where it doesn't actually make any sense.

Now some conservatives (who mostly aren't libertarians) have a majoritarian bent, and a preference for judicial minimalism. They're skeptics about amy judiciary overriding any legislature on other-than-very-compelling grounds. And those democratic-conservatives are often federalists because they think that democratic self-government is best served by governments smaller in scale than the central one. Those conservatives can, with perfect consistency, prefer state legislative outcomes to Congressional outcomes, and prefer state legislative outcomes to state judicial outcomes. Seeing the states as "incubators of democratic innovation" is entirely compatible with thinking that state legislatures (the, y'know, democratically elected branch) should have priority over state judiciaries. And so those conservatives who are much exercised by "judicial activism" can critique it at the state as well as the federal level, at no cost to their federalist principles.

(Note: The Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas opinion in Bush v Gore-- the one not joined by O'Connor and Kennedy-- depended in large part on an argument related to this, haing to do with the relative priority of the Florida legislature and the Florida Supreme Court. It's the other opinion, the equal protection one that either O'Connor or Kennedy or both wanted instead, that justifies accusations of federalism-hypocrisy.)
Virginia's back!
Dan Simonthinks that Eugene Volokh, InstaPundit, and I are missing something important in our various commentaries regarding free speech on campus. I think he's mistaken.

"In fact, too much free expression has sometimes threatened the academic health of universities as seriously as too little of it. Thuggish behavior on campus--shouting down of speakers, destruction of leaflets or newspapers, even physically threatening behavior--often masquerades as "protest", with its perpetrators demanding absolute protection from punishment in the name of "free speech"."

In case I've ever been remotely unclear on this: I do not consider the suppression of the speech of others to be protected expression. But I'm pretty sure that I haven't been unclear on this, and neither have Eugene or Glenn. This is a red herring.

' "[T]he regulation of merely offensive speech in classroom settings is an utterly noxious idea," writes Levy,
and the rest resoundingly agree. I admit to being a trifle confused; my understanding was that the whole point
of universities is that a student whose speech--in classroom presentations, on exam papers, in course
assignments--is not even offensive but merely insufficiently scholarly can face penalties as severe as
expulsion. Have things changed that much since I went to school?'

Here Simon supposes that speech that "offensive" is further in the same direction as "insufficiently scholarly." It's not. I wrote "merely offensive" quite advisedly. In-class speech that fails to advance an argument or to contribute to the academic enterprise is, of course, discouraged. But whether speech is "offensive" or not is a question nearly orthogonal to the question of whether it is sufficiently scholarly.

Throughout his post Simon endorses what, in another context, would be referred to as "time, place, and manner" restrictions-- no shouting outside dorms late at night, no shouting down speakers, and so on. Such restrictions are very different from content-based restrictions, which are necessary for the regulation of merely offensive speech. In my own classes I certainly try not to give offense gratuitously. But it is difficult to fully unpack Hobbes' thought without saying some things that might well be offensive to Catholics, or ot any Christians. It's difficult to explore the tension between respecting religious pluralism and protecting the rights of women without saying something potentially offensive to Muslims or Orthodox Jews or Mormons. It's impossible to conduct an academic discussion of multiculturalism and ethnic politics if everyone is worried about triggering "hate speech" codes. Civility is of course a virtue, and it's one that I think most people try to uphold in scholarly settings. But the content of what is said might well be offensive. It could harldy be otherwise, since many people much of the time are offended when their received ideas are challenged.

To single out a student for abuse, to throw racial epithets at a particular person, to threaten with violence-- these are over the line. They're violations of professional ethics and may well warrant university intervention. But mere offensiveness isn't sufficient; and to regulate speech for being merely offensive is deeply dangerous to intellectual pursuits. Simon supposes that Eugene, Glenn, and I might be worried about the abuse of an offensive-speech policy by those with a particular agenda. Speaking for myself, I am; but that worry isn't the primary reason for my opposition to such policies. Content regulation of speech in intellectual settings (by which I mean not only classrooms but also scholarly publications, student newspapers, public lectures and debates, and the whole panoply of ways in which ideas are expressed at a university) is necessarily at odds with the mission of a university.

UPDATE: Dan Simon has posted a reply. More on it later, but please note that I didn't write the University of Chicago policy from which he quotes; it long precedes my arrival here.
Science fiction fans have an ambivalent relationship with the SciFi network that started way 'back when they decided to name the thing "SciFi" (an abbreviation little-beloved by fandom). The network has broadcast some programs that are important (The Twilight Zone, ST:TOS, the X-Files), some that have significant nostalgia value (Battlestar Galactica), some that are underappreciated (Alien Nation), and some that are enjoyable straight-to-syndication types (Highlander, Forever Knight). It's produced, among other things, a quite good adaptation of Dune, something that can outweigh a lot of demerits. On the other hand, fo rthe past few years it's been riding the despicable "Crossing Over," a show in which a fraudulent psychic purports to put people in touch with their dead relatives. Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein would not have been amused. And now the network has turned itself over for ten nights to a man who has done massive damage to the name and concept of science fiction: Steven Spielberg. After the brilliant "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," Spielberg has done nothing but harm to the genre. His movies demonstrate an unconcealed hatred for science; they have ever since the nasty, scary scientists showed up in "E.T." Spielberg's imagination works in entirely magical terms... which would be fine for the creator of fantasy movies. But, because his movies have aliens and robots and genetically-recreated dinosaurs, people mistake them for science fiction, much to the latter's detriment. Now SciFi and Spielberg are indulging and exploiting the alien-abduction superstition, and Spielberg talks about it in pseudo-religious terms (higher powers, etc) in today's NYT. Bah, humbug.

Yes, I know that that ran through the X-FIles; but when that show was at its best, that streak was kept in a very careful balance with skepticism and respect for science. That's part of what made the show work so well for so long.
Last night's episode of Andy Richter Controls the Universe was one of the funniest, bravest commentaries on 90's-style American race-and-diversity talk that I've ever seen. Richter seems much too innocent and inoffensive to be a really biting satirist, and the truth is that the episode doesn't finally take a stand (it laughs at everybody) in the way that really biting and important satire does. But this episode was I-can't-believe-they're-saying-that-on-television surprising in addition to being laugh-out-loud hilarious. The expedient of making the black characters also be Irish, then conducting the discussion about race exclusively in terms of Irishness-- never again mentioning their blackness in the dialogue while leaving it fully in view, so that the audience was always aware of the contrast-- sounds like a recipe for a wimp-out, but it turned out to be inspired.
The NYT reports that John DiIulio says that "the religious right and libertarians trust Mr. Rove 'to keep Bush 43 from behaving too much like Bush 41 and moving too far to the center or inching at all to the center-left.'"

A show of hands, please? Are there any libertarians who trust Karl "steel tariffs and farm bill" Rove to push the administration in a desirable direction, on more or less anything?

Now DiIulio is a very smart man, and this would be an awfully dumb thing to say. So it wouldn't shock me to find that this is a problem in the NYT reporter's paraphrase ['the religious right and libertarians trust Mr.Rove' are the NYT's words, not attributed to DiIulio], not something he said himself. It could also be the Esquire reporter. We won't know until the Esquire article comes out. But whoever said it, this is the silliest statement I've seen in the paper in... oh, days now, since 'way back when the Times claimed that Nozick considered Rawls' view "nonsense."

UPDATE: Look at that: Dan had already blogged telling me to "take it away" on precisely that comment. Dan's got a burst of new stuff today; take a look.

UPDATE AGAIN: DiIulio says that the article misquotes him and makes stuff up (via InstaPundit).

FINAL UPDATE: He said it.
The Republican base constituencies, including beltway libertarian policy elites and religious right leaders, trust him to keep Bush "43" from behaving like Bush "41" and moving too far to the center or inching at all center-left. Their shared fiction, supported by zero empirical electoral studies, is that "41" lost in '92 because he lost these right-wing fans. There are not ten House districts in America where either the libertarian litany or the right-wing religious policy creed would draw majority popular approval, and, most studies suggest, Bush "43" could have done better versus Gore had he stayed more centrist, but, anyway, the fiction is enshrined as fact.