GOA Alert-- June 28, 2005

A Particularly Bad Bill:

"Anti-gang" legislation shouldn't leave families facing ten years in Federal prison. I suspect a jury would refuse to convict on these terms, but juries are always something of a crap shoot. This is one bill we ought to defeat before it gets out of the Senate.

Winds of Change.NET: Why does Brian Leiter Want to Kill Poor People?

Gentlemen & Politics:

The Armed Liberal over at Winds Of Change takes on "progressive" rudeness. It is done in response to this post celebrating harsh rudeness as, I gather, an effective means to persuade people. Mr. Leiter argues that one should slap down points of view that are -- well, he would say that they are uninformed and not worth taking seriously. By controlling what game is welcome on the playing field, then, you can have only arguments that support your basic worldview: you can argue about the proper expression of liberalism, but not about whether liberalism has the right answers to the underlying questions (or whether conservatism does, since either side can attempt this technique).

The only rules for discourse at Grim's Hall are that you must be kind to your neighbors, though you are free to disassemble their ideas if you can; and you must be willing to stand and fight for what you assert, rather than being hit-and-run spammers who won't engage with the other readers. I think that system works very well. I don't know how many of you have had your minds changed here about many things -- but I suspect that the influence of a polite debate among free men and women is stronger than Mr. Leiter believes it to be.

I think A.L. raises a very proper objection, by pointing out that the "easy questions" Mr. Leiter proposes are in fact very difficult questions.

One of them -- whether Bush's economic policies are good for "most" people -- I've written about, arguing the other side. Presumably Mr. Leiter would not care to discuss the opposite viewpoint, which is fine; I have no interest in talking to people who are going to be rude to me, or to my commenters. Still, there is a fully developed alternative understanding of the question, one that is based in real-world experience and deeply moving to many people. A political strain that flatly refuses to even consider it is going to do badly in a democracy, which underlines Armed Liberal's point about the problems Leiter et al have in politics.

That is to say that those Liberals among you who read Grim's Hall are better equipped for the political arena than the liberals who read Leiter, even if you're not persuaded at all. It's hard to persuade someone when you've never stopped to consider what they already believe to be true. Any persuasive argument has to start from the ground that the other person currently holds. You have to know where that ground is in order to figure out how to move them to the ground where you want them to be.

That is to say: you can't move a rock without pushing it, and you can't push against it if you don't really know where it is. Even if you actually are 100% correct, you can't persuade people you won't listen to.

Consider Doc Russia's post today, in which he proposes a compromise between Left and Right on judicial nominations: essentially, that we agree to set aside abortion entirely, not considering one way or the other what a nominee's opinions might be, and focus instead on the problem of Kelo. Here, he notes correctly, Left and Right have a common agreement about what we want from a judge, even if there is some difference in how we get to that position. We could, therefore, search for someone on whom we'd agree, rather than simply getting ready to fight over anyone who was nominated.

(An aside: The difference in methods may not be quite as great as Doc suggests. I think most of you would locate me on the Right, but my objection is as much about injustice and political corruption as it is about property rights. I adhere to the defense of property rights because it is so powerful a means to the end of protecting individual liberty, and restraining the powerful from injustice. I think the position on the Right doesn't stop with, "Well, because he owns it," but continues on to add, "and being able to be secure in your property is how good folk can build and defend the dreams they really care about -- home, hearth, family -- without being pushed around by the high and mighty.")

Still, Doc takes the time to understand the Left's position, to consider how it might braid with his own, and offers a compromise that would allow us to move forward smoothly in what is likely to be a difficult and nasty political dispute. That's exactly the kind of thinking that has worked in American politics through the centuries, and it's a fitting expression on Independence Day weekend.

That's not to say it always works -- frankly, I think it's doubtful that either side will let abortion go, and indeed I'm certain that there are many on each side who think it's far more important than any other issue at stake. But I think Doc is right to try to look for a way forward. Old Doc likes to call himself "Grunt" in his posts, and I've heard him say of himself that he's 'really just a thug.' But there's more wisdom in that thug than in some professors, and there's an end on it.

UPDATE: Ok, not quite the end. There's another thing. I appreciate intelligent prose as much as the next fellow, and my favorite writers -- Sir Walter Scott, for example -- can turn a phrase with anyone. But you ought to try to be clear about what you're saying, if only so you yourself realize when you're sounding like a crank. Leiter quotes a fellow who wrote to agree on the importance of shutting down debate:

I teach a 'comparative world religions' course, and chills run up and down my spine when we come to Christianity and must discuss such things as apocalyptic eschatology and substitutionary atonement, knowing what power such doctrines and ideas have held over the masses then and now, here and elsewhere. Reading your blog reminds me that not everyone has gone mad, that not everyone has succumbed to the 'pathology of normalcy' Erich Fromm diagnosed as lacking a disposition toward truth, in his words: 'the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.'
"Substitutionary atonement" means, in this case, "believing that Jesus could die to release mankind of sin." "Pathology" is "the study of disease and its causes."

The author of this piece might have chosen to write, "I teach a 'comparative world religions course,' and chills run up and down my spine when we come to Christianity. Many of my students are sick, because they believe that Jesus died for their sins. Thank goodness not everyone has gone mad, although millions of people share this mental disease." This phrasing is better, if only because it clearly prompts a question: Given that diseases require a cure, just what are you suggesting here?

The answer to that question is frightening enough that it cannot be spoken directly. That is the real reason for the use of jargon words like "substitutionary atonement" -- to provide a barrier between words and actions. The author says he is one of the few who have "a disposition towards truth," but in fact, he is afraid even of the truth of his own thoughts. He dares not phrase them plainly, so they might be understood, so they might require action.

Grim's Hall

Moving (Largely) Finished:

The "moving house without a proper truck" saga has finally concluded itself, and now all that remains is unpacking in the new place. (Hot topic for discussion at Grim's Hall: "Hey, have you seen the other bottle of hornet killer? These things are everywhere.")

Thank you for your patience during this slow-posting week. Hopefully things will resume their usual (ahem) breakneck pace.

Starting tomorrow. I think I need a day of rest today.

Winds of Change.NET: The Alliance: U.S. & India Sign Major 10-Year Defense Pact

Joe's Right:

The India-US Defense Pact is a very big deal. You'll all want to read what he's got about it today. The pact itself is huge, but it's of even larger potential importance: if managed carefully, an India-US alliance could become the most important global force since the height of NATO.

Boffins create zombie dogs | The Other Side | Breaking News 24/7 - NEWS.com.au (27-06-2005)

Oh, Yea! Zombies!

Surely there must be a torch-bearing mob somewhere in the US? Apparently not.

Racial Disparities Found in Pinpointing Mental Illness

Another Psychology Post:

I was a little alarmed to see this week that Tom Cruise came out against psychology. His reasons for doing so are doubtless different from my own reasons (which are described particularly in the comments to this post). I know nothing at all about Scientology, so I'm not in a position to judge its reasoning here. Still, finding Tom Cruise on your side on issues of sanity is somewhat like finding Michael Moore on your side on issues of foreign policy: It has to be alarming.

So, I'd like to take a moment to underline two articles from today's worldwide press that support my contention that psychology is not a science, and ought not to be allowed to exercise the power it does in our legal system and, indeed, our general society. The first is from the Washington Post, and is called "Racial Disparities Found in Pinpointing Mental Illness." Here are some important paragraphs.

Although schizophrenia has been shown to affect all ethnic groups at the same rate, the scientist found that blacks in the United States were more than four times as likely to be diagnosed with the disorder as whites. Hispanics were more than three times as likely to be diagnosed as whites....

The data confirm the fears of experts who have warned for years that minorities are more likely to be misdiagnosed as having serious psychiatric problems. "Bias is a very real issue," said Francis Lu, a psychiatrist at the University of California at San Francisco. "We don't talk about it -- it's upsetting. We see ourselves as unbiased and rational and scientific." ...

Unlike AIDS or cancer, mental illnesses cannot be diagnosed with a brain scan or a blood test. The impressions of doctors -- drawn from verbal and nonverbal cues -- determine whether a patient is healthy or sick.

"Because we have no lab test, the only way we can test if someone is psychotic is, we use ourselves as the measure," said Michael Smith, a psychiatrist at the University of California at Los Angeles who studies the effects of culture and ethnicity on psychiatry. "If it sounds unusual to us, we call it psychotic."

Emphasis added. I assume that the reader understand why that is alarming. This isn't just a "race" story: if anyone's experience, goals, or thoughts sound "unusual" to psychologists, they're insane. You may just need to be medicated for your own good, as in the case of "one thirty-year-old woman" who was talking fast, called people at all hours, and didn't seem to need much sleep. "[H]er charts showed she had been hospitalized for schizophrenia and treated with injectable medications, which suggested that her doctors thought her schizophrenia was particularly severe." In fact, she didn't have schizophrenia at all.

The story lists other things that can be diagnosed as severe mental illness. One of them is "intense religious belief." What constitutes "intense" is obviously just as variable as anything else in this business: whatever strikes the psychologist as "unusual... we call it psychotic."

The second story comes from the Bangkok Post. It is called "Mental Health Problems Soar in Bangkok." The story takes it as read that these problems are real -- after all, psychologists say that they are real.
The number of Bangkok people with mental health problems has soared 900% from 587 per 100,000 to 5,485 in three years, according to a National Economic and Social Development Board report.
The number of people with problems has soared 900%. In three years.

Gonna need a few more "hospitals" to confine these people.


Kelo II:

The more I think about this, the madder I get. Doc has a post on the topic, and at the bottom in an update he notes that a town in Texas has already moved to take several buildings away from existing companies, in order to build a marina. "The Great SCOTUS Land Grab," they call it.

One of the things that's always bothered me about the way we do things in this country, to be honest, is that you've never been able to own anything free and clear. You pay for it, you pay off any loan you took to cover the cost, and you "own" it -- but only so long as you continue to pay the government, every single year, whatever tax it cares to asses against you for the privilege.

If you fail, of course, they are free to take your land, or whatever else they like, and sell it in order to pay the taxes you "owe" -- based on whatever valuation their own assessors care to put on the value of your property.

The fact that you worked your whole life to build something means nothing at all. In Savannah, I saw many old folks run out of homes they'd lived in all their lives because suddenly, following the publication of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, it became fashionable to have a second home in Savannah. Nicholas Cage and the like were buying up places; real estate values rose; and the government raised taxes on the basis of this inflated, temporary bubble.

Then they sold those people's houses to pay themselves the taxes that they felt entitled to collect. Rob from the poor to feed the rich.

This is not what America was meant to be about. As I've said from time to time, I'm a Georgia Democrat -- the party that is best known today for producing Zell Miller. But in an earlier generation, it had a truly titanic figure at its head: James Jackson, hero of the Revolution, Senator, State Senator, Governor. James Jackson, "the prince of duelists," was the founder of the party and the defender of its ideals in the difficult days to follow the Revolution.

James Jackson fought four duels during his quest to put an end to just such lawlessness as this.

It was called 'the Yazoo Land Fraud.' The duels were on pretenses, with men famed as killers trying to slay Jackson to keep him from winning his cause. My alma mater, Georgia State University, has it this way:

In 1795 the Georgia legislature sold the state's western (or "Yazoo") lands to several companies of speculators. Rumors abounded that the purchasers had used bribery to secure passage of the Yazoo Act. Jackson, a member of the U.S. Senate since 1793, resigned his seat, returned to Georgia, and won a seat in the state legislature in order to personally organize an anti-Yazoo campaign.... Jackson and his supporters rescinded the Yazoo Act and arranged the public destruction of records associated with the sale. After being elected governor in 1798 Jackson saw to it that the substance of the Rescinding Act of 1796 was engrafted onto a revised state constitution.
"Arranged the public destruction of records" is entirely too dry. Here is what he did: when he had finally gotten the law rescinded that allowed these speculators to buy up all the land, he had the records of all these fraudulent "sales" put together in a big pile on the lawn of the statehouse. An old man he knew came forth with a magnifying glass, and focused the rays of the sun on them until they caught fire and burned. The folks of Georgia said that the Yazoo law 'had been destroyed by fire out of heaven.'

Jackson believed in the 'yeoman farmer,' that ideal of Jefferson's which held that a man who owned his land was free, free in a way that no other man could be. He took those lands and saw that they became the property, not of speculators, but of families.

Still today, the man who owns his land -- his house -- his small business -- that man is free, in a way that no one else truly is. Kelo, along with these punitive and speculation-based taxes, are a direct assault on the principle that James Jackson fought to uphold.

We are called today to remember his daring, his courage, and his ideals. This scourge has been beaten down once before. It can be again: but we will have to be bold.


A Salute:

The family and I have managed to go from "nothing's going right" to "nothing's going quite right," which is a big step. I'm sorry not to have more time to blog right now, but hopefully as the move settles down things will improve.

In the meanwhile, I have something you might enjoy. I found it while reading The Bangkok Post, an interesting newspaper in many respects. This is a local feature story about all those Thai stuntment who suffer so much to make Hollywood's spoiled brats look good:

Kawee Sirikhanaerat has long learned to accept the inevitable: In every single film he appears in, his character is destined to suffer a brutal death, usually being murdered in the most sadistic and photogenic fashion. One of his dearest memories was in Lara Croft Tomb Raider 2, in which he plays a disposable baddy who's crushed to death by a giant Doric pillar in an aquatic city. "The earth splits and the roof crumbles," he says. "It's quite a death, isn't it?"
I have to say, I didn't see it. But I'm sure it was remarkable.