Archives for May, 2005

Why Did James Madison Hate America?

Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manner and of morals, engendered in both. No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasuries are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venal love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.

–Madison, “Helvidius” No. 4.

Posted on May 31, 2005 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Now That’s Soft on Crime

I was reading an entry on Metafilter about Varg Vikernes, a satanic/pagan/neo-nazi norwegian metalhead and murderer I’d read about in this hilarious review of David Frum and Richard Perle’s End to Evil, and I jumped to this link. Which made me wonder: what do you have to do to get hard time in Norway? This guy stabbed another metal star to death for not being “evil enough,” he’s totally unrepentant, and in fact thinks it’s funny, and burned down several churches, including one built in the 12th century. And he’s only going to end up serving around 10 years. The Wikipedia entry notes:

In October 2003, Vikernes failed to return to his low-security prison in T��?���¸nsberg, Norway after having been granted a short leave. After hijacking a car, Varg was apprehended by the police. He was caught with an unloaded assault rifle, a handheld GPS system, military uniforms, and camouflage clothes.

He received an additional sentence of 13 months for the incident.

Posted on May 31, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Nuclear Compromise

UCLA’s Professor Bainbridge, a conservative, talks sense about the filibuster deal here.

Meanwhile, the letters at the American Spectator are pretty funny:

After reading Gene Healy’s unrealistic “Nuclear Climbdown,” I had to wonder whether the Cato Institute is a drug-free workplace….

You know, much of the time I agree with libertarians wholeheartedly, but then sometimes I think you guys are playin’ solitaire with a short deck….

Your [sic] in good company however, the “Gang of 14″ doesn’t understand the Constitution either.

Posted on May 27, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment


I have a piece up on the American Spectator’s website today, about the filibuster climbdown.

Posted on May 26, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Costs of Empire

I’ve always thought the best way for a right-winger to get into the New York Times is by taking a punch at another right-winger. Apparently, there’s another way: discredit the right by making a complete ass out of yourself. Here’s Niall Ferguson from yesterday’s NYT:

As many of the war’s opponents seem to have forgotten, civil war and chaos tend to break out when American military interventions have been aborted. Think not only of Vietnam and Cambodia, but also of Lebanon in 1983 and Haiti in 1996. To talk glibly of “finding a way out of Iraq,” as if it were just a matter of hailing a cab and heading for the Baghdad airport, is to underestimate the danger of a bloody internecine conflict among Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiites.

Bloody conflict between the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites? Is that possible? Man, if I knew that, I’d never have supported the war! It really takes stones for Ferguson to condescend to the people who warned from the outset that “civil war and chaos” were a real possibility.

We go on to learn the good news that only two-thirds of counterinsurgencies have failed historically, and that with a million troops and 10 years, we can be assured of pulling this one off. I thought I was pessimistic.

Posted on May 25, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Give Us Our Judges, and You Can Keep Your New Deal!

The Federalist Society has a new paper (.pdf) asking “Can Bush Supreme Court Appointments Lead to a Rollback of the New Deal?” and answering, no. Now, as it happens, I think this is true. The Court doesn’t have some sort of Archimedian lever by which it can singlehandedly move the country in a direction it doesn’t want to go (or isn’t already going). Thinking it does is a “Hollow Hope.” But since this is so, it’s hard to get fire in the belly over junking the judicial filibuster. I mean, if I thought confirming Janice Rogers Brown and others like her would actually mean that we’d shutter half the federal buildings in D.C., I’d be thrilled (despite what it might do to my property values). But since the stakes aren’t nearly that high, I’m loath to risk losing a check on the majority’s ability to do what it likes.

Incidentally, it’s a damned shame there’s apparently no such thing as a Constitution-in-Exile movement (move along people, nothing to see here…). Because if there were, I’d really like to send them a check or something.

Posted on May 22, 2005 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Ban the Ban Again

In case you didn’t know, the push for a DC Smoking Ban is back. It’s like social policy herpes. The DCist has posted about it, and SmokeFreeDC hasn’t noticed the thread yet, so comments are running surprisingly anti-ban. Of course, you get this from “Lisa,” a view that in its prissy self-righteousness is typical of the banners (and a nice response from “So Cool”):

I support the smoking ban. I don’t smoke and when I am around smoke it gives me hives. I am all for establishments that cater to both sets of clients but like stated before this is often done poorly and the smoke still exists.

If there WERE smoke free establishments that were “as cool as” non-smoke free establishments in D.C. I would go to them. Go to NYC and see our smoke free establishments are not the same. I should be able to enjoy my meal without smelling smoke- and you should be able to smoke yourself to death somewhere else that doesn’t affect me.

Posted by: Lisa at May 19, 2005 03:12 PM

So Lisa, the smoking ban issue really comes down to, you wanna be where the cool kids are, but you don’t like what the cool kids do. You are so cool.

Posted by: So Cool at May 19, 2005 03:43 PM

“So Cool” nails it–I’ve said much the same before. A desire to hang out with cool people, but not on their terms, and the God-given inalienable right not to get smoke in your hair are what’s behind this push. And do I really have to show a straight face to the worker’s health argument in a world where we still allow people to serve as bike messengers, professional boxers, or big-firm lawyers (high risk of alcoholism, depression, and heart disease there)?

I don’t take politics too seriously. Really. I can have calm, polite discussions with people about whether the state should seize my property to add a parking lot to Walmart or whether we should bomb innocent foreigners simply because we can achieve good results by doing so, and I generally don’t personalize it. But I think I’m congenitally incapable of sober argument with a despicable harpy with a boundless sense of entitlement like “Lisa.” No further argument should be needed, beyond “this is America. We can smoke in bars here.”

But so it goes. Once more into the breach with Ban the Ban. Stand athwart the tide of history, and give her the finger as she rolls over you.

Posted on May 19, 2005 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

History of the Comics

I learned many neat things from Gerald Jones’s thoroughly enjoyable Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, which is basically the nonfiction version of Kavalier and Clay, and thus, more interesting. Among them:

* Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel’s father was murdered when Siegel was a teen. His dad owned a hat shop, and was shot and robbed while closing the place up one night. You’d have thought it would have been Bob Kane, the Batman guy (or Bill Finger, who really came up with the idea and the origin story).

* Captain Marvel (Shazam!) got run out of business by a copyright suit by National Comics, holders of the Superman copyright. Judge Learned Hand manned the gavel.

* Jack Kirby, my favorite comic artist as a kid and now, was, like just about everybody else in the comics business, Jewish. Jacob Kurtzburg from the Lower East Side. There’s a great scene where Kirby, all five-foot-two and 130 pounds of him, offers to beat up a mafia thug shaking down Will Eisner. (Here’s a picture of Kirby and Frank Zappa. I don’t know either.)

* I knew there was controversy over the supercool E.C. Comics from the ’50s, and that it resulted in the Comics Code Authority stamp. But I didn’t know that there were Senate hearings chaired by Estes Kefauver, the same guy who held the organized crime hearings dramatized in Godfather II. Nor was I aware of the key role played by lefty shrink Fredric Wertham, a fan of commie Theodor Adorno. Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent helped convince America that comic books were corrupting America’s yout’. “People like to be nonviolent,” wrote Wertham, “There is no reason to believe that violence is indigenous to human behavior.” I’d like to get a degree that allows me to perform Jedi mind tricks like that–one that allows you to spew obvious nonsense and have people nod solemnly instead of laughing in your face. You can only go so far with the J.D.

* But probably the oddest thing I learned was that Wonder Woman was created by a shrink, a poor man’s Kinsey named William Marston, who used the character to advance his theories of gender relations and the coming gyneocracy. (Marston, as it happens, also did key research for the development of the lie detector).

“Wonder Woman,” Marston said, “is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.” His core belief, his explanation of the world’s ills (and perhaps his secret to happy polygamy) was that hatred and violence could be eliminated only by the surrender of male power to female.

Jones notes that nearly every issue of WW features a saucy bondage scene. And there was method to the masochism; Marston explained that “The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound…. Only when the control of self by others is more pleasant than the unbounded assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society.” More here.

The comics. They’re all right.

Posted on May 18, 2005 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Culture of Criminalization

I have a piece on that subject on the Cato website today. It ran in the DC Examiner last week, but I like this version better.

Posted on May 18, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment


You know what would really improve the Becker-Posner blog? If every so often, amidst the leaden seriousness and dueling Hand formulas, one or the other of them would link to, say, a picture of a dog-riding monkey cowboy.

Posted on May 17, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off


Friday’s Krauthammer column is as good a jumping-off point as any for discussing this filibuster business. Krauthammer makes the case that filibustering judicial nominees is essentially unprecedented. Gliding over the Fortas case, he concedes that “In 2000, a small number of Republicans tried to filibuster two Clinton judicial nominees but were defeated in that attempt not only by Democrats but also by Republicans voting roughly 3 to 1 for cloture.” It might have been interesting here for the reader to learn that Bill Frist joined the filibuster against Clinton nominee Richard Paez. So not only is it not unprecedented, there’s a precedent involving the guy leading the filibuster fight right now. Of course, embarassment being alien to the breed, that doesn’t stop Frist from sounding off like this:

Frist did not speak with reporters but issued a statement. “Republicans believe in the regular order of fair up and down votes and letting the Senate decide yes or no on judicial confirmations free from procedural gimmicks like the filibuster,” he said, “and I hope Senator Reid and others know our door is always open to reasonable proposals for fair up or down votes for judicial nominees.”

True, the GOP didn’t filibuster a lot of Clinton judges. They didn’t have to. They controlled the Senate, so they could tie up qualified nominees in committee, like Elena Kagan, now dean of Harvard Law School. If the Democrats’ offense is denying nominees with majority support a vote, what difference does it make what procedural manuever is used?

And can someone please explain to me why it’s ok to filibuster the president’s nominee for surgeon general–as the GOP did with Henry Foster–but it’s a violation of Senate comity and possibly the Constitution to filibuster federal judges? The surgeon general has no power to do anything except nag you about smoking and urge teens to masturbate (something that one would think needed no urging). Federal judges are appointed for life and have considerable powers. A 60-vote hurdle hardly seems unreasonable.

Now, I like the Red Team’s judges for the most part. I’d like to see them confirmed. I think they deserve an up or down vote. What the Dems are doing may be unfair, but it’s not unprecedented. Let’s not pretend there’s some high constitutional principle at stake here. This is politics–same as it ever was, same as it ever was. And bad policy to boot, since it may end up nuking the legislative filibuster as well.

Posted on May 17, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

…And Another Thing: Those Jedi Children Were a Threat!

So George Lucas has admitted that “Revenge of the Sith” contains a (none-too-subtle, apparantly) critique of Bush administration foreign policy.

But the guys at the Weekly Standard knew that already, to judge from this May 2002 tongue-only-partially-in-cheek review of Attack of the Clones, which argues: “the truth is that from the beginning, Lucas confused the good guys with the bad. The deep lesson of Star Wars is that the Empire is good.”


But look closer. When Palpatine is still a senator, he says, “The Republic is not what it once was. The Senate is full of greedy, squabbling delegates. There is no interest in the common good.” At one point he laments that “the bureaucrats are in charge now.”

Palpatine believes that the political order must be manipulated to produce peace and stability. When he mutters, “There is no civility, there is only politics,” we see that at heart, he’s an esoteric Straussian.

Make no mistake, as emperor, Palpatine is a dictator–but a relatively benign one, like Pinochet. It’s a dictatorship people can do business with. They collect taxes and patrol the skies. They try to stop organized crime (in the form of the smuggling rings run by the Hutts). The Empire has virtually no effect on the daily life of the average, law-abiding citizen.

Also, unlike the divine-right Jedi, the Empire is a meritocracy. The Empire runs academies throughout the galaxy (Han Solo begins his career at an Imperial academy), and those who show promise are promoted, often rapidly. In “The Empire Strikes Back” Captain Piett is quickly promoted to admiral when his predecessor “falls down on the job.”

But the most compelling evidence that the Empire isn’t evil comes in “The Empire Strikes Back” when Darth Vader is battling Luke Skywalker. After an exhausting fight, Vader is poised to finish Luke off, but he stays his hand. He tries to convert Luke to the Dark Side with this simple plea: “There is no escape. Don’t make me destroy you. . . . Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.” It is here we find the real controlling impulse for the Dark Side and the Empire. The Empire doesn’t want slaves or destruction or “evil.” It wants order.

The writer even makes the case for the planet-destroying Death Star. Alderaan might have had weapons of mass destruction, after all:

The destruction of Alderaan is often cited as ipso facto proof of the Empire’s “evilness” because it seems like mass murder–planeticide, even. As Tarkin prepares to fire the Death Star, Princess Leia implores him to spare the planet, saying, “Alderaan is peaceful. We have no weapons.” Her plea is important, if true.

But the audience has no reason to believe that Leia is telling the truth. In Episode IV, every bit of information she gives the Empire is willfully untrue. In the opening, she tells Darth Vader that she is on a diplomatic mission of mercy, when in fact she is on a spy mission, trying to deliver schematics of the Death Star to the Rebel Alliance. When asked where the Alliance is headquartered, she lies again.

Leia’s lies are perfectly defensible–she thinks she’s serving the greater good–but they make her wholly unreliable on the question of whether or not Alderaan really is peaceful and defenseless. If anything, since Leia is a high-ranking member of the rebellion and the princess of Alderaan, it would be reasonable to suspect that Alderaan is a front for Rebel activity or at least home to many more spies and insurgents like Leia.

Whatever the case, the important thing to recognize is that the Empire is not committing random acts of terror. It is engaged in a fight for the survival of its regime against a violent group of rebels who are committed to its destruction.

Is this satire? I really can’t tell. It’s pretty deadpan and earnest, and hell, Max Boot sang the praises of the U.S. counterinsurgency in the Philippines, with its 200,000 dead, so who can tell with these people?

Posted on May 16, 2005 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

You! Go to Cato U.

There’s a particularly excellent Cato University coming up June 2, and you should make arrangements to attend. It’s the History and Philosophy of Liberty and Power. A number of my colleagues are lecturing as well as Jeffrey Rogers Hummell, who wrote my favorite book on the Civil War, and Jim Powell, scourge of Wilson and FDR. History you didn’t get in public school: I recommend it highly.

Posted on May 15, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Monte in the House

Via Instapundit, I see that Canadian MP Monte Solberg is blogging from the floor of the Canadian House. I got to meet Monte last October at Cato University, where he gave a terrific speech and a toast to a Free Canada. He’s a great guy and somebody I could vote for unironically and happily if I lived in the riding of Medicine Hat, which he represents. Plus, I love the name “Medicine Hat.”

Posted on May 12, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Tougher than Texas

The article doesn’t appear to be online, but the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine has a piece by Charles Lane about how they do the death penalty in Japan. It’s closed to the press, but that’s not the interesting part. It’s by hanging, but that’s not the interesting part either. The interesting part is that, when you’re on death row, they don’t tell you the day you’re going to die. They just come for you.

Posted on May 4, 2005 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments