Ds Get Healthier

The Democratic Party Gets A Bit Healthier:

Or, meet the Green Party's nominee.


The Hound of the Hall:

I mentioned a while ago that the 20th of June is a major celebration around here, for various reasons. This year, my wife decided to get me a dog. We haven't had a pet in years, due to lease restrictions -- we move so often that we've just rented and not owned a house. While I was in Iraq, however, she convinced our landlord that she needed a dog for protection, and they altered the lease to permit one dog. However, she never actually got around to getting one.

It took almost a month, but we found the right one after much searching at area shelters. His name is Buck -- short for Buckaroo -- and I see no reason to change it.

I think he'll be happy here.

Eucharist Desecration

Freedom At Work:

Cassandra is doing ethics today. I love ethics -- it is one of the most interesting branches of philosophy. Studying it, though, does require that you spend a few hours, or years, challenging things that might otherwise be bedrock principles of your life:

Well, in fairness, if you put people into an ethics class, you are asking them to try using their minds to challenge ethical teachings. The concept is to reaffirm ethics by teaching them not just what is wrong, but why it is wrong.

That means they have to pose challenges to the principles. You're supposed to try to see if there are ways around the principle at work: then, if there aren't, you've found something solid.

A lot of students grasp that they're supposed to try to challenge the principles -- that's the point of the class -- but lack the background or understanding to pose a real challenge. They end up sounding like idiots, but they really are doing what students are supposed to do.

This is the work of philosophy, though, which can lead you to refine what you had thought was a precisely formulated ethical principle.
Still, as the discussion shows, the momentary idiocy kept in the class can lead to a better, truer understanding of ethics to guide you through the rest of your life. That's the whole point of teaching the class.

If a student of ethics says something foolish, then, cut him some slack. If a professor of ethics says something horrible in class, he is probably trying to challenge the students in the other direction -- to challenge the principles they hold true, to force them to find a way to defend them. That, also, leads to a deeper understanding of the principles.

A professor of biology will have a harder time justifying himself.
Here is an excerpt of his July 8 post, “It’s a Frackin’ Cracker!”:

“Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers?” Myers continued by saying, “if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won’t be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web.”

I gather from his reply (at the link) that he considers himself a sort of counter-Crusader, boldly standing against religion in the... well, against religion. He objects to Catholics trying to get him fired for using a University-owned computer and server to try and organize an attack on their faith. (Actually, being only an associate professor, he's probably in some real danger of getting fired over the matter.)

So, let's do ethics here. What is the ethical principle the professor is using to justify his behavior? Can it, in fact, be justified? Are the Catholics wrong to respond as they are doing, by trying to get him fired for this behavior? If so, why? If not, why not?

UPDATE: There appears to be some confusion about the server's ownership: I'm now seeing reports that actually it's a private server, to which the University's webpages simply link. Does that change the moral issues at work? Is it wrong to try to fire the man his private conduct? Is the fact that the University links to the blog (assuming it proves out that it is privately owned) important, or irrelevant?

Heros in Hollywood

Heroism in Hollywood:

James Bowman has penned a confused critique of Hollywood that nevertheless contains a large kernel of truth: Hollywood has largely quit portraying American heroism in its traditional fashion.

American movies have forgotten how to portray heroism, while a large part of their disappearing audience still wants to see celluloid heroes. I mean real heroes, unqualified heroes, not those who have dominated American cinema over the past 30 years and who can be classified as one of three types: the whistle-blower hero, the victim hero, and the cartoon or superhero. The heroes of most of last year’s flopperoos belonged to one of the first two types, although, according to Scott, the only one that made any money, “The Kingdom,” starred “a team of superheroes” on the loose in Saudi Arabia.
The confusion he experiences arises later in the piece, and seems to have two causes. First, he wants to say that Hollywood has changed recently, but finds roots for all the problems he cites going back through the 1930s, and especially in the postwar. This problem is easy to dispose of: it used to be that Hollywood could explore both genuine heroism and these other models; but now, it rarely attempts genuine heroism.

The second problem is larger, and odd given his profession. He misunderstands at least two critical examples: one that he uses at length, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and one he fails to cite where it is most necessary, Open Range.

Open Range is something I cited in a piece on this topic in 2005.
In some respects, Open Range is almost a reversal of High Noon: the entire town comes out with rifles, unasked, to defend strangers they really aren't sure about; and in the end, the ability of one of those strangers to do violence for justice is enough to win him a place in their hearts. Where Gary Cooper left in disgust, Kevin Costner found a home and the respect of a people.
In the context of Bowman's piece, Open Range is even more important. Boss Spearman, played by Robert Duvall, is exactly a hero of the type he says that Hollywood doesn't do anymore:
But it is “3:10 to Yuma” that offers the most interesting contrast between the old-fashioned sort of Western and the new breed. It was a remake of a movie first made in 1957, directed by Delmer Daves and starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin. Like so many other Westerns of the period, it was a parable of the heroism of the ordinary people who brought civilization, peace, and prosperity to the Wild West. Heflin’s character, Dan Evans, is a simple farmer in danger of losing his farm to drought who, for the $200 it would take to pay the mortgage, accepts the task of escorting Ford’s Ben Wade, a dangerous killer, to catch the eponymous train to trial. At a moment when it looks as if he is sure to die in the attempt, Evans explains to his wife that he is no longer escorting the prisoner for the money but as a civic duty. “The town drunk gave his life because he thought people should be able to live in peace and decency together,” he said. “Can I do less?”

Needless to say, there is no comparable line in the remake.
There is in Open Range. While Kevin Costner's character, Charlie Waite, qualifies as a 'victim hero' of the type Bowman describes, Boss Spearman is a genuine hero. He is a decent, honest, hardworking man. He tries to help others who need it, including the boy they have taken in from starvation to train as a cowboy until they can find him other work. People respond to his example, like the troubled Waite, who has followed him for ten years just because he sees in Spearman's example a way to overcome his past and live a decent life in spite of his dark impulses.

He is finally roused to full battle over the same principle Evans cites: a fury at a rancher who will not allow people to live in peace and decency. After a murderous attack on his small band, who were only passing through, he comes to town to settle up.
We got a warrant sworn for attempted murder for them that tried to kill the boy who's laying over there at the doc's. Swore out another one for them that murdered the big fellow you had in your cell. Only ours ain't writ by no tin star bought and paid for, Marshal.... Baxter's men bushwhacked our friend and shot him dead. Shot a 15-year-old boy, too. And clubbed him so hard, he might not live. Tried to take our cattle. Your marshal here ain't gonna do nothing about it.... A man's got a right to protect his property and his life.
As noted above, what is so inspiring about the movie is how -- once someone finally stands up to the tyrant rancher -- the townsfolk increasingly start to side with the embattled cattlemen, finally coming out in full. It is the reverse of High Noon in another thing too: at the end of the movie, the town embraces them. The two cattlemen enter into a partnership to run the saloon in town, and Waite -- finally relieved of so much of his fear and loneliness -- falls in love with and marries the sister of the town's doctor.

Bowman is not wrong to say that such movies are rare. Nevertheless, the abscence of Open Range is a critical failing in a piece devoted to this topic.

Meanwhile, his concept of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is simply wrong.
The subtext of films featuring the whistle-blower hero, the cartoon hero, and the victim hero is that heroism—heroism of the, say, Gary Cooper type—belongs to the public and communal sphere, now universally supposed to be cruel and corrupt, and therefore is really no longer possible or even, perhaps, desirable.

That seems to have been the point of the great John Ford film of 1962 called “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” In it, John Wayne plays rancher Tom Doniphon in the Wild West town of Shinbone, which is still part of a territory not admitted to statehood and has only a comically feckless Andy Devine resembling anything like a duly constituted authority. Shinbone is terrorized by an outlaw named Liberty Valance, played by the great Lee Marvin. An idealistic lawyer named Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) comes to town to practice his profession only to find that there is no law there. In fact, he himself is robbed by Liberty on his way into town, yet he can find no one there who thinks that this is any of his business, or that it is even possible for this outlaw to be brought to justice. The law is helpless where there is no law enforcement. As Doniphon advises the newcomer, “Out here men take care of their own problems.”

Doniphon is the only man in town capable of standing up to Liberty, but as he himself hasn’t been robbed he doesn’t quite see why anyone else being robbed, let alone this geeky stranger, should be any business of his. Eventually, the idea of a larger civic responsibility begins to sink in—and, with it, a sense that it has become incumbent on him to do what no one else can do. Yet it can only be done outside the law, which remains powerless. This puts Doniphon and Liberty (the name is of course significant) on the same side. Both are outlaws whose would-be heroic struggle has no place in a civilized community. When Wayne triumphs, a way must be found for the townspeople to pretend that it is the law which has rid them of the depredations of Liberty and his gang, and a way duly is found. Stoddard is hailed as a hero and Doniphon, the real hero, is forgotten.

Ford’s film was a parable less of the coming of civilization to the West than of the cultural transformation that was taking place in the postwar period in America and elsewhere—a transformation which resulted in an early but unmistakable foreshadowing of the death of the hero in the 1970s.
Tom Doniphon does reject "a larger civic responsibility" in the early parts of the movie, but not nearly so emphatically as Mr. Bowman describes -- and not at all for the reason he suggests. First of all, Doniphon does help Ransom Stoddard in several ways: rescuing him on the trail, arranging to feed him until he can get back on his feet, and protecting him when Liberty Valance bullies him at the steakhouse. Because there is a code of honor at work, he must find a pretense to step in: the one he chooses is the steak lost when Stoddard is tripped by Liberty, which was Tom's own steak. In addition, he has a role in civic responsibility -- he helps to run the meeting to appoint delegates to the territorial convention.

What Doniphon does in terms of rejection is not done out of a sense of being 'on the same side as Liberty Valance,' that is, the side that is against law. He participates in the attempts to bring law to the territory. He just has other plans for himself, as he says plainly when turning down a nomination to be one of the delegates: and those plans are made crystal clear by the film. He loves Haley, has been building a home for her, plans to marry her, and wants only to live on his ranch with her in peace. What he does by way of rejecting a larger role in civic authority is done out of that love and that desire.

This is also why he is destroyed by the killing of Valance: not because it brings law to the territory, but because it loses him Haley forever. She had been moving increasingly into Stoddard's orbit, and in her reaction to Stoddard's survival and apparent victory against Liberty, Doniphon sees that he has lost everything he ever wanted. He destroys his home, never rebuilds it, and dies eventually in miserable poverty. Without her, he found nothing in life worth wanting.

It is also entirely wrong to say that "a way must be found for the townspeople to pretend that it is the law" that rid them of Liberty. The townspeople don't have to pretend: they have no idea that it wasn't Stoddard who did it. More, they aren't pretending that "the law" had anything to do with it: they love him for shooting Liberty in the street (as they believe that he did). And yet still more, it is absolutely plain that they loved Doniphon just as much -- he was their first choice for delegate, to a roaring approval from the crowd. Had he stepped out into the light and gunned down Liberty, in the name of stopping him from tormenting the people of the town any further, he would have been just as honored for the act as was Stoddard.

I don't wish to be too critical, because Bowman's larger point is well taken. Hollywood does need to do genuine heroism more often. They don't do it well very often at all anymore: Open Range stands, not quite alone, but in small company. The Western is too often overlooked, today: and our modern war movies are unspeakably terrible as a rule.

By the same token, Hollywood has long been able to do darker works, and there is much that can be valuable in it. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, as well as some of the other pieces he cites -- The Maltese Falcon, for example -- are wonderful movies that bear repeated viewing. Human nature has both bright and dark sides. We can profit greatly from reflection.

Buns & Guns

Buns & Guns:

I'm not sure I think much of this Lebanon concept restaurant, except for one thing: I have to admit that the sandbagging surrounding the outside tables really appeals to me. (You can see it in picture 12, among others.)

I think that's an excellent idea for restaurants in the Middle East.

BB Guns

The Graves Act:

I kind of understand this story, except for this part:

Now, the simple unlawful possession of any firearm can bring mandatory penalties for anyone who pleads guilty to or is convicted of that crime alone.
OK, but how is a BB gun "a firearm"? They sell them in the toy department around here.
Neither Narciso, nor his father knew they broke the law by having the gun without a firearms registration card, both men said.

"If we knew it was illegal, my dad never would have gotten it," Narciso said.

And it proved ineffective in controlling the problem in the attic, they said.

"That gun couldn't even kill a squirrel," the father, Emiliano Narciso, said.
Seriously, what? You need a license to own a BB gun in New Jersey?

This isn't a 2nd Amendment issue to my way of thinking, because BB guns don't rise to the level of "arms." Still, is this really a case of "reasonable restriction"?

The Great Backlash

The Great Backlash Begins:

We all knew the day would come.

Probably the fellow did just what I saw a guy do at a bar in Charlotte, NC once. When speaking to one of the local ladies, he said, "Look, b@$$@, I'm from the Bronx and..."

(I'm not sure what meant to say after "and," since he was removed from the premises rather suddenly. I'm sure it would have been inspiring.)

Anyway, of course we regret the need for vigilante violence, even against the Yankee scourge, but...

Wait a minute: dateline Massachusetts?

What's going on here?

(H/t: Hot Air.)


"Public" Online Space:

There was an interesting article on Yahoo/Flickr today, which touches on a topic that interests me. To what degree is the Internet "public" space? On the one hand, there's nothing to stop anyone at all from coming to visit; on the other, no part of it that citizens can use to express themselves is "public" in the traditional sense of the term. It is privately owned.

There are legal consequences to that, but those don't interest me particularly -- what interests me are the normative questions. In other words, I am interested not in what the law currently says, but rather in the question of what the law ought to say.

We increasingly live on the internet: don't we want some of these public-space protections for our speech? What is the tradeoff for getting them? We can make the law say what we want, assuming Congress can be convinced to go along: so what should it say?