Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Walker, Treason, Words, Actions, and the Bill of Rights

The very funny Larry Miller has a piece in the current Daily Standard on the pathetic John Walker. As many have, he stresses Walker's saying he supported September 11 and the USS Cole attack. It's a big mistake. Those remarks, detestable as they are, do not make up an element of any crime charged, nor of treason, and are as irrelevant as his lawyers' and parents' current protestations that "John loves America." (While one might argue persuasively that the remarks show a state of mind predisposed to the acts Walker is charged with, a fair judge would exclude the remarks as their prejudicial impact outweighs the probative value.) Irritating as it is, this mutt is an American citizen, and he enjoys the right to free speech. He must be convicted based on his actions. If the proof of those actions makes out a case for treason, as it seems to me it should, unless Marcia Clark is assigned to prosecute, then by all means hang him. However, the end of appropriately judging this case is not served by taking the easy route and concentrating on Walker's words. Indeed, such runs the risk of playing into a defense argument that the government, lacking proof of treasonous acts, seeks to punish Walker for his odious views

Nor does attacking the defense of civil liberties by lambasting every conservative's favorite whipping boy, the ACLU, advance the ball. Vigorous support of the Bill of Rights is not inconsistent with vigorous patriotism, nor with robust law enforcement, whether against the common thief or a creature like Walker. It is, in fact, the height of informed patriotism to insist that we can and will enforce the laws to protect our society in a manner consistent with fundamental notions of fairness and justice. Viewing the Bill of Rights as an impediment to justice shows a lack of understanding, a lack of faith, or both.

Tuesday, January 22, 2002


Lest I be thought too hard on The American Prospect, I must endorse the linked article as a well written, researched, and reasoned essay on why Leon Kass is so dangerous. Perhaps scariest: "The Madisonian idea ... of a marketplace in which good ideas will eventually chase off bad ones is lost on him." I won't further rehash the article, but I think Dr. Kass' insistence on Huxley's Brave New World as the paradigm of what we are in store for if we embrace genetic science is instructive. Huxley, of course, was an irresolute pessimist. His work has been enfolded into the literary canon such that most that graduated high school, at least in the US, have read the book. Along with1984 (penned by perhaps a greater pessimist than Huxley, Orwell), Brave New World is about the only near-future cultural speculation many of us are exposed to in our youth. For this we must blame the literature departments, whose criteria for the canon, at least as far as twentieth century works go, seem to include pessimism. Perhaps Dr. Kass has been exposed to only these works in the genre -- certainly he has expressed a contempt for science fiction in the past. This is too bad, because there are examples aplenty of optimistic speculative fiction written in the last 50-75 years, and many are a darn sight more enjoyable, and just as "literary" as Huxley or Orwell.

A shining example is the work of Robert A. Heinlein, a Naval Acedemy graduate who loved the military but thought the draft was always immoral, rugged individualist, civil libertarian in the extreme, hard-core pro-American and anti-communist, and tireless advocate for questioning everything, from religion to sexual mores (hard to pigeon hole, eh?). Best known for Hugo-winning novels such as Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers, Heinlein also wrote Beyond Thiis Horizon, a rousing adventure and exercise in cultural commentary set in a world where genetic design of children for the improvement of humanity was, and had been for many generations, practiced. This was accomplished by government encouraging, but never coercing, specific genetically well-endowed couples whose genotypes would, it was thought, make for good offspring, to pair off and have kids together. Couples were offered the opportunity to select the best chromosomes out of their genetic material for their children. The difference between Heinlein's world and Huxley's or Orwell's is that in the former, a libertarian society, people were free to choose for themselves whether to participate. Some chose to have kids the old fashioned way, with no genetic manipulation.

While I'm not running a comparative literature seminar, I think this exercise is important becaue it so well illustrates what should be obvious, but appears lost in the ESCCR discussion: The danger lies not in genetic research, nor in the development of genetic technologies, but that those technologies will be used coercively and immorally by an oppressive government. That's why comparisons to Mengele and the Nazis, while good for scaring the children, don't advance this debate.

Why should we rely on science fiction to guide us as we decide these critical issues? Maybe we shouldn't, but Dr. Kass et al certainly have, and their exclusively citing the pessimistic viewpoint when there are other views of the furture to be drawn from undermines their credibility and any semblance of objectivity. Further, we shouldn't underestimate the ability of science fiction authors to predict the future. Everything from atomic power and weapons and space flight to waterbeds appeared in science fiction stories and novels, often in remarkable detail, long before these items became a reality. One author writing about atom bombs in the early 40s guessed so close that he got a visit from the FBI, who thought he'd penetrated the Manhattan Project.

Monday, January 21, 2002


Just to prove my bitch with ESCCR opponents does not run only to those on the right, let's talk about opposition on the left. Who can guess what the liberal opposition is? That's right, a fear of exacerbating inequality. As I've stated, political equality and equaility of opportunity is about all we can achieve. We cannot -- nor should we wish to -- equalize all in terms of abilities or outcomes. This pipedream of the left -- sort of a watered down Marxism -- is at risk, liberal opponents of ESCCR and genetic science fear, from the development and use of genetic science. The linked article from The American Prospect spells it out: We are in danger of becoming split into the genetically rich and poor (as if we weren't already) and, as that might lead to more haves and have nots (both in terms of abilities and achievements, including economic achievement) this is a result to be avoided. At this point, I consider my thesis that we must embrace genetic science and all it promises proved, simply by the vehement opposition on both ends of the political spectrum.

Sunday, January 20, 2002


Dr. Kass and his cohorts' views boil down to a grotesque pessimism which has at its heart the principle that if we truly seek to sunder the physical limitations which bind men, we will end up less than human. I say this is treason to the human race, to our promise, and yes, to our God-given gifts and the best use thereof. The escape from disease, from hunger, from ignorance that has marked the ascent of man has not debased him; on the contrary, it has freed him to the possibility, if not always the result, of a nobler existence. Further elimination of disease, extension of lifespans, even actual enhancements to the human animal, all within the reach of budding genetic science, hold much risk it is sure. The forces harnessed in the last century prove that the more powerful the tool, the greater harm from misuse. But the risk is one we must take for two reasons. First, to deny the chance of lives governed less by fear of the weaknesses of the body would foreclose billions of more enlightened and enlightening lives, and the awesome cumulative benefit to civilization of the achievements of those lives. Perhaps more importantly, to turn our backs on exploration, on reaching for the stars, on trying to better ourselves, runs the unacceptable risk of permanent psychological damage to the culture. Denying the use of this science, based on fear, risks stunting our inquisitive nature and the instinct towards bettering life -- a recipe for societal suicide.

Saturday, January 19, 2002


Opponents of embryonic stem cell and cloning research (ESCCR) have staked out their position based on a simple axiom from which flows an articulate ethical opposition to this science. The axiom is direct, concise and emotionally charged: any human embryo is a human being. From here it is no leap at all to rejecting any benefi ts of ESCCR on the ground that the destruction of human beings to benefi t others is ethically unacceptable, especially considering the total disparity in power between the sacrificed and the saved.

ESCCR supporters’ response has generally been twofold. First, proponents disavow, with minimal supporting argument, the above axiom and argue, in the same breath, the truly earth-shattering potential benefits of ESCCR – which comes across as a logically bankrupt attempt to bootstrap the former proposition by virtue of the strength of the latter. Second, supporters point out, correctly, that Pandora’s box is open: ESCCR will continue, at least today.

Proponents of ESCCR should be troubled by the state of the debate for two reasons, one practical, one philosophical. The current discussion seems to assume there will come a time when no new embryonic stem cells will be needed. What if this is untrue and a continuing supply is needed, not only for research, but for actual treatments? What if treatments require the use of embryos cloned from individual patients, as the need for genetic matches suggests they will? Absent a sound ethical basis for the use of embryonic stem cells and cloned embryos for research, and ultimately treatment, the practice will come under new attack with each development. Attacks will be most viable, and thus the risk of total banning will be greatest, when actual, clinically proven treatments become widely available. At that time, the temporary fiction of using only cells from embryos left over from in vitro fertilizations will vanish; embryos created or cloned specifically for stem cell harvest will be needed, and in volume. And when the benefits are concrete – cured Parkinson’s, a new heart that genetically matches the recipient – the glaring juxtaposition of the boons of this science and its costs will force the debate back to its fundamental terms, if an ethical consensus is not sooner reached.

Except for a jaded minority, ESCCR proponents don’t want to be labeled – or think of themselves – as moral outlaws. An ethical justifi cation must be developed and articulated, allowing supporters to claim the moral high ground as proudly and sincerely as do ESCCR opponents. And, upon examina-tion, such an ethos must be extendable to the larger issue of human cloning, for the creation and use of an embryo for experimentation and/or treatment is either morally justifiable or not, irrespective of whether the embryo is made from two persons’ DNA or one. This essay constructs such an ethical justifi cation, beginning with the opponents’ home ground: the theology underlying the axiom that a human embryo is a human being. ESCCR opponents tend to be originalists in Constitutional scholarship (see, i.e., Ann Coulter’s July 26, 2001 piece on National Review Online), chary of any broadening of civil liberties beyond the explicit text, yet they ignore – purposely, one suspects -- the complete absence of any specific foundation for the embryo axiom in the Bible (or any other fundamental religious document). Even if we adopt a Brennan-like expansive view of the Bible, possible justifications for the embryo axiom are hard to fi nd (the proscription of Onanism might support inferentially the idea that sperm is to be used exclusively for procreation, but it’s a stretch from there to embryos are people).

Try as one might, one finds no basis in the Bible for the position that an embryo, created in a petri dish, removed from marriage, any volition to conceive a child, or even the physical act of love, is a human being. In Genesis, God breathes life into Adam, in marked contrast to His wholesale creation of animals, establishing that men have souls and beasts do not (three year sentences for dog-tossing notwithstanding). Eve is cursed to bear children, Biblically the exclusive method for new people to enter the world. God tells Jeremiah (1:5): "I knew you before I formed you in your mother's womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my spokesman to the world." While a favorite of pro-life advocates, this verse can certainly be read to support the idea that the soul attaches only after implantation in the womb (whether by natural migration following intercourse or by direct impantation of an embryo) and not on fertilization. Contrast the springing full-grown and whatnot found in classical mythology – might we not consider Aphrodite, said in one version to have sprang from the foam that gathered round the severed genitals of Uranus as they floated in the sea, the first clone? Relying exclusively on the Bible, one might argue that persons born by Caesarian lack souls – and whither MacDuff, torn from the womb?

Opponents state that each embryo is genetically unique, with he potential to become a living, breathing person, ignoring the case of identical twins. Twins aside, genetic uniqueness, while a statistical likelihood, is by no means a mathematical certainty. Who’s to say that, out of the hundred billion or so homo sapiens that have lived, two or more didn’t end up with the same genetic makeup? And a test tube embryo’s potential to grow into a person can only be realized by a further manmade intervention – implantation. The biggest problem with the uniqueness/potential argument is that there is nothing particular to human beings about it; whatever we can say about the genetic uniqueness and potential to become an living, breathing creature of a human embryo is equally true of a cat, dog or chimp embryo. In that respect we are just like the animals.
Whatever metaphysical characteristic separates us, makes us more than just animals, is not grounded in DNA or the mechanics of reproduction, and no one has mustered any proof that that characteristic
attaches at conception, particularly in a test tube. Opponents raise the specter of creating hideously abnormal, pain-wracked defectives as we grope our way towards mastering this science. This risk – and it is one that will be realized, tragically – is the same risk of all exploration. As long as we proceed in good faith, doing our best to minimize such occurrences, we need fear neither the judgment of history nor that of Providence. The argument that this risk it too much to bear is often juxtaposed with allusions to Nazi atrocities, the clear implication being that American society’s veneer of civilization is in danger of being stripped to expose a nation of Mengeles, if we embrace ESCCR. I reject that and offer as the best evidence the vehemence of the current debate. American ethical values are up to the task of applying this science for good.

In their New Republic Online piece (posted 7/27/01 for the 8/06/01 issue) arguing for a total cloning ban, Dr. Kass and Professor Callahan warn against a wave of eugenics and the ushering-in of the “post-human future”. Their opposition embraces the anti-ESCCR arguments discussed above, along with concerns about creating classes of citizens based on their genetics. With all due respect to their sincere and well-reasoned presentation, that horse has left the barn. Is there any aspect of life where discrimination on account of genetics does not impinge? What high schooler chooses to ask out the ugly date, seeks tutoring from the slow-witted, or picks the clumsy kid for basketball? Don’t companies hire based on all sorts of traits that are partly genetic, partly acquired? We’ve achieved – largely, at least – a legal system that guarantees equal treatment by the law for all, despite disparities in genetic traits that make people more or less attractive or acceptable to their fellow citizens. As a culture, we have come a long way but trail the law in treating folks equally. Why should we fear a world in which genetic disparities are chosen rather than the result of chance? Surely such will challenge our institutions, but those institutions have proven equal to challenges arguably far greater than ensuring civil rights for those that might receive pre-birth genetic treatments, and, equally importantly, those that don’t. As for the “post-human future”, perhaps appropriate recourse may be had to the prosaic: the contemporary mythology of Star Trekand star Wars. Anyone familiar with the adventures of Captain Kirk et al knows that humanity is not measured in terms of where one gets ones chromosomes, or even by the color of ones blood, but by the quality of ones spirit. Yoda assured Luke that "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter [flesh and blood]." No matter how skilled we might become in manipulating the biological makeup of man, his spirit will always be subject to a higher design.

Strangely absent from the debate has been any consideration of fundamental liberty interests. That the producers of sperm and eggs should have a superior say, even the only say, in the use of their gametes is a proposition wholly consistent with the American covenant. This argument will take on added, even preeminent, importance if opponents have their way and not only is funding denied, but ESCCR and/or cloning are prohibited (as in the House legislation passed 8/01/01). Two things are certain to flow from such action: a brain drain out of this country of our most talented bio-scientists (one has already announced his move to England) and a wave of civil disobedience on a level not seen since the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Tragically for America, the first consequence will crest far in advance of the second, which will only kick in when the first miraculous benefits of this science become available overseas. Those that can’t travel to Europe to be aided by former American doctors applying the fruits of former American researchers’ efforts will quite understandably demand access to the science; a thriving black market in better health and healthier offspring may well spring up. This is a welcome prospect, as the fl outing of silly laws can lead to their repeal.

There is a moral imperative at work on the side of ESCCR and cloning research, of course. The duty in this regard goes beyond the curing of diseases and the avoidance of handicaps. More generally, we should work to improve man’s lot – indeed, to improve man himself, else what use are the pursuit of ethics and philosophy? Man’s unique gift, the ability and inclination to seek out knowledge about ourselves and our world, and make use of that knowledge, like any other human trait, will atrophy with disuse. The physical exploration of the earth is largely complete. The next clear challenge is to apply our gifts to ourselves. To reject this challenge rejects our essential humanity. Conducting ESCCR and embracing the benefi ts it may lead to, even though we stumble and err along the way, does not debase, but enriches human life. It nurtures both the spark of curiosity and the desire to make life better that define humanity.

(This piece was published in the September, 2001, issue of Telicom, the journal of the International Society for Philosophical Enquiry. This version contains minor revisions.)


If you read the well-articulated pieces opposing stem cell/cloning research as I have, you find that the ultimate objection goes not to the research methods, but to the ends which this science might logically lead: dramatic increases in health and lifespan, and genetic improvements in the human species. An almost superstitious "don't go there" mentality pervades the articles. Leon Kass, just appointed by the President to head the presidential commission on this science, is firmly in this camp, warning of a "post-human future". This is what truly angers me. I grew up embracing the speculative fiction of the thirties and forties, whose theme was the constant upward march of mankind, whether through better technology at home, exploration of the universe, or, frequently, the improvement of man himself. I believe in my bones that our destiny lies along that path, and to frustrate that journey betrays our essential humanity.

Friday, January 18, 2002


Before 9/11, this topic was dominating the news and was heavy on my mind. Now it looks sure to heat up again in a hurry. A National Academy of Sciences panel came out Thursday against reproductive cloning, but in favor of cloning for medical research (sometimes confusingly referred to as "therapeutic cloning"). The same day, the President's bioethics committee, which was announced in his half-a-loaf speech on stem cell research months ago, met for the first time. This committee, chaired by the very well-respected and amazingly Luddite Leon Kass of the University of Chicago (much more on him and his positions in a later installment), is packed with opponents of all this research, and dollars gets you doughnuts its recommendations will be to stop it.

This is a complex topic and it's going to take me a number of posts to lay out the issues, which involve the most basic questions about humanity and our place in the universe. A few teasers:

1. The "destroying embryos destroys human life and is therefore wrong" argument, while a powerful and emotional weapon, is not the fundamental objection that Dr. Kass and the deep thinkers opposing this research raise. They'd be just as opposed if no embryos were involved, because they perceive the ultimate ends of the research to be so wrong, they should be forbidden to everyone. I think their conclusions in this regard are a betrayal of man's destiny, not to mention the Western tradition of intellectual inquiry and fundamental liberties.

2. There is equally vehement opposition from the Left to the ends of this research, and an equal betrayal of human destiny lies in accepting those views.

3. The implications of this science are on a par with, say, the discovery of fire (and remember what happened to Prometheus).


Following a guilty plea, this Symbionese Liberation Army (remember Patty Hearst?) figure just got 20 to life for her involvement in an unsuccessful 25 year ago conspiracy to bomb police cars in Los Angeles. She has been lving in Minnesota under an assumed name. She married and raised a family. A colleague I respect queries whether it serves any purpose to imprison this woman, who she argues has spent her life at large rehabilitating herself.

I say shoot the bitch. Irrespective of how exemplary a life she led as a fugitive, remaining at large compounds, not mitigates, her crime. By depriving the state of the opportunity to incarcerate her through the prime of her life, a punishment she richly deserved, she thumbed her nose at society -- not surprising, given the contempt for society the SLA represented -- and accounts must be settled.

Thursday, January 17, 2002


(N.B.: This is a "reprint" of an email rant I sent out some time ago that still tickles me. Sorry, but I am the sort that laughs at his own jokes. I have updated a few references. See if you can spot the changes, if you are absolutely out of things to do.)

1. The Declaration of Independence is a document of political aspiration, an outline for the establishment of a government that treasures individual liberty. It is not in any way a statement of genetic fact, so get over the idea that your drooling idiot son should go to college and become a doctor. You don't see me petitioning for a starting spot in the NBA, because I wasn't issued the tools. No law can change that.

2. The idea that the "wave" of youth violence is caused by violent media, or the lack of prayer in schools, is as bankrupt as Enron. By the time a kid is sent off to kindergarten, his parents had better have taught him the fundamentals of right and wrong and that God is watching, or it's too damn late; he's already 8-5 to turn out a sociopath. And here's an idea: maybe mom should be home every day at 3:00 when the kid gets out of school and spend some time talking and listening to him. He is sure to get a lot of crazy ideas at school, from teachers and fellow students; someone has to help him separate the truth from nonsense. Of course, it would be nice if life in the richest country in history were such that it didn't take two incomes to run the average household.

3. This obsession with regulating ones neighbors' lives has got to be rooted out of the population and especially the Congress and legislatures. Prohibitions on human cloning are being bandied about from Austin to Washington and guess what? If I or a member of my family need a new liver, heart, etc., and can grow a genetic match in a tank, I by God am going to do it -- and will run the risk of Him striking me down, as I perceive Him to be a lot more compassionate than his louder self-proclaimed representatives -- and if you mean to stop me, send tanks. You want to stop abortion, get into counseling and convince kids to respect themselves and their bodies. Decide for yourself whether preaching abstinence or birth control is the way to go. But stop wasting everyones time trying to legislate your idea of the moral solution. The courts are going to keep sending you home without supper. And if you bomb a clinic or shoot a doctor, expect to be hunted down like the insane coward you are.

4. Along the same lines, the Bill of Rights is not a Chinese menu; you don't get to pick the ones that suit your tastes. That means Billy Bob can arm himself and defend his home, even from his neighbor Larry Liberal's coked-up son who slips into Billy's at night to liberate that big screen TV. And as long as Larry keeps the noise down, he can practice voodoo, have sex with Taiwanese triplets, and preach gay-Indian-Black-Martian rights; if Billy objects, he can move.

5. Actors, athletes and other entertainers have every right to sound off on politics and other weighty issues, but if you take what they say seriously, you belong in a mental institution. These people float on a sea of self-absorption, divorced from any economic reality other than they are paid a lot of money to amuse their fellow man. They have no idea how wealth is generated or capital formed. They live in a world where there are pain-free solutions to their most trivial concerns. Many subscribe to Scientology, which is merely total selfishness packaged as some sort of deep philosophy, and was invented by a science fiction writer in the 40's on a bet that he couldn't create a religion and profit from it. Any wonder he chose entertainers as his prime marks?

6. The reason that we trial lawyers sue big business, big insurance, and big medicine is because people are wrongly maimed, killed, cheated and defrauded daily, and those institutions, which are largely populated with honest, decent people, do zero to self-regulate (See Enron). Ask your doctor on your next visit if he has ever taken steps to run a hack out of the profession. Ask him, if he had clear evidence of malpractice causing a serious injury or death, would he testify against the offender? Check out what business and insurance are doing to promote ethics and safety: lobbying the courts, legislatures and Congress to lower or eliminate standards and cap or eliminate consumer remedies. Does anyone believe it's a coincidence that the Ford/Firestone tragedy arose in this era of "tort reform"?

7. The education departments in the universities shoud be shut down, now. To teach math you ought to have a math degree, and one three hour semester-long class in educational methodology, plus another semester spent in supervised student teaching. Teachers unions should be prohibited from bargaining for anything other than economics. Curriculum, hours, class size, etc., don't belong as part of any labor agreement. The ratio of teachers to adminsitrators should be about 50-1, and any district that violates that standard should be defunded. Except for math and science, the curriculum should look like that of a 19th century English boarding school. Don't know where you'll find a slot for Latin? Jettison "social studies". Separate the students and schools into college prep/learn a trade tracks after competitive exams in the 8th grade.

8. Promoting self-esteem by distorting history is societal suicide. The Egyptians were not Negroid, they couldn't fly, with or without airplanes, which they did not invent. Blacks in Africa were an essential part of the slave trade. Mexico under Santa Anna was a miserable dictatorship, not unlike what they've had there up until the election of Vincente Fox, who may or may not succeed in reforming the mess. Everyone who was born in the US, not Mexico, as a result of the Texas Revolution and the Mexican War, ought to offer up prayers for Travis, Houston, et al for their good fortune.

9. Ditto "multiculturalism", or as I like to think of it, cultural slumming. We'd better stop teaching our kids that a society grounded in political and religious freedom, the pursuit of knowledge, and a free economy is no better than your average tribe of grub-worshipping, genital-mutilating ignoramuses whose biggest achievement was adopting a law prohibiting defecating upstream from the village water supply. Noble savage my behind.

10. Not that we don't have to be vigilant to prevent the degradation of our own culture. I'm not talking about legal coercion or censorship, a sure case of the cure being terribly worse than the disease, but about all of us taking responsibility for elevating the culture. Pick up a book and turn off the damn TV. If you are on a jury and some pimp-rolling, gang-banging piece of human refuse wants a walk because of his tough childhood, flush him. Reject the notion that the least educated and stupidest among us set cultural norms in entertainment, etc. Explain to your kid how Shakespeare is better than the Porky's movies; if you don't know how, study until you find out. Serves you right for sleeping through English Lit. Above all, don't tolerate dishonesty in the public discourse; if you see some idiot spewing what you know to be rank nonsense on Crossfire, call him out. Write an Op-Ep piece, set up a web site with the truth, and don't be afraid to ridicule the ridiculous, regardless of sacred cow status. There's a reason parody and sarcasm have been freely employed by the great political thinkers and doers (Churchill comes to mind); they are among the most effective tools in exposing the falsity of inaccurate conventional wisdom.

If you think you spotted some contradictions above, so what? It's a complex world and every benefit carries a cost. Remember consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.


...act one can commit against ones neighbors, in a big city dependent on the automobile for moving people around (like Houston, Los Angeles, and everywhere else that grew up after cars were invented) is to drive a truck -- sometimes euphemistically referred to as a sports utility vehicle or SUV -- as ones car. Now, I'm not complaining about those that need a truck as part of their job... movers, repairmen, and the like. Nor am I going "green". I could care less about gas consumption or smog. I'm talking about space. As in it's in short supply on the roads and in the parking lots, and all of you that drive trucks instead of cars are taking up too much. I can't see to pass you. Even if I could see, there's no room to move my standard size car past you as you take up a lane and a half. You're spilling over the yellow stripes on either side of your parking place, leaving enough room for me to park next to you, if I don't mind exiting and reentering my car by the sunroof. Yes, this includes car-pooling soccer moms; figure out another way to move your brood and all their stuff. Yes, this includes people who drive a truck for "safety". Whose safety? Certainly not mine, as that 300 pound razor-edged cow catcher on the front of your truck sits high enough to decapitate me if we collide. This especially includes those that drive trucks because they can ride high and see better. You want a view, climb a mountain.

I like cars, especially fast, or at least nimble, cars. I like to think that I drive with an awareness that the roads are crowded, and that we do our neighbors a favor by nimbly moving about our business, staying out of others' way as much as possible. A truck user, on the other hand, knows at least subconsciously that he places his own convenience ahead of his fellows' everytime he pulls his behemoth onto a public street. It's about damn time that that knowledge became a source of embarrassment.

Wednesday, January 16, 2002


Does the death penalty deter crime? Of course it does, at least by those who are executed. The tougher question is: does the threat of the death penalty deter the living from committing crimes? There is much disagreement and the proposition is neither provable nor disprovable. Even if the answer is "no" or "maybe", arguments exist for the death penalty -- sufficient arguments, in my view. My favorite is: "We shoot rabid dogs, don't we?" But if there is no deterrence (other than the simple case ) arguing deterrence lacks intellectual, not to mention persuasive, merit. Worse, death penalty proponents play into the opposition's hands by arguing deterrence as the prime reason to have a death penalty, given the problematic nature of proving deterrence. Why lead with an argument whose premise is disputable? I suspect it's because arguing punishment, or more to the point, vengeance, discomfits proponents who are trying to appear sensitive (or convince themselves that they are in fact too sensitive to be motivated by such base desires). News flash: reliable punishment for wrongdoing is not only OK but essential to a civilization's survival, and vengeance for heinous acts is often appropriate.

Don't get caught in the deterrence trap.


...boldy into the world of self-published political and cultural commentary. While some may see this as a catastrophe, others, chiefly, I suspect, those who have been receiving my essays by email and will now find some respite, may welcome the change. Why the title and the Adams quote? To remind me and promise the reader that, except for obvious forays into parody, sarcasm and other forms of fiction, the opinions and arguments here will be grounded in fact. This quote comes from Adam's famous defense of the despised British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre, which defense shiningly illustrates that a just civilization requires open and fair courts, manned by zealous advocates.