Oct 292002

William F. Buckley reports on the raging controversy:

The major battleground next week is in Nevada, where people will vote on Question 9. If the vote is affirmative, in 2004 a constitutional ratifying amendment will be on the ballot which would legalize pot, which is to say, permit 3-ounce packets of it to be sold with impunity. How much is three ounces? On that point, as on so many others raised by Question 9, there is disagreement. The pro-pot people claim that the allowance is only enough to make up 80 joints. The antis insist it’s enough to make 250 joints.

WFB, dude, that all depends on whether you’re rolling bombers or pinners. (Link from Spoons via Wickens.)

Oct 292002

This topic been circulating for a while. Jim at Philosoblog kicked things off by discussing (scroll down, Blogger permalinks busted as usual) the role of envy in leftist politics. I pointed out that envy can be animated by such tiny distinctions that placating it is of no use. Michael of Team Blowhard jumped in, arguing that envy isn’t the only explanation, that there’s a coolness factor to consider:

…the motivation I encounter that interests me most is this one: leftie-ism is attractive.
That’s spelled a-t-t-r-a-c-t-i-v-e, and I think it’s a huge mistake not to take it seriously. Far-out art? Good food? Bookstores with personalities? Performers who take wild chances? Glamour and sex? Snazzy design? If these things mean much to you, you’re going to be spending more time exploring the left-hand part of the room than the left-hand part. And the more time you spend there, the more likely it is that you’ll take on leftie coloring… where’s the envy?

Well, neither Jim nor I proposed envy as the sole explanation of leftist politics. (For the purposes of this discussion I will call “leftist” anyone who thinks the government ought to redistribute wealth to poor people. People who think the government ought to redistribute wealth to rich people are Republicans.) Envy is usually underrated, however, because everyone suffers from it, to a greater or lesser degree, and no one likes to admit it. It is, shall we say, unattractive.

By “attractiveness” don’t we really mean youth, at least partly? The young, we all know, tend to be leftist, because leftism requires ignoring the unseen, long-range consequences of one’s decisions, which is quintessentially adolescent. I myself remember taping up McGovern posters in sixth grade. This tendency may or may not be immutable but is in any case of very long standing. The young also tend to be attractive. So leftism tends to be attractive. Whaddaya know?

The right also tends to be Christian in this country. Now of course going to church is way uncool, so that’s more points for the left right there. Christianity deals effectively with envy, as Nietzsche pointed out, by shunting it to the afterlife. In the next world, to be sure, all the buggers who stepped on you will get what’s coming to them, but for now render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. This heads off the envious desire for “social justice” at the pass.

In the absence of Christianity, the left supplies its own religion, art-worship. Membership requires a firm belief in art as self-expression (“Whatever I spit, that is art.” –Picasso) and artists as the vanguard liberators from tiresome bourgeois constraints. Self-expression has been the reigning aesthetic in the West for about 200 years, since the publication of the Lyrical Ballads in 1798, so this is usually no problem. One can detect vestigial traces of the requisite attitude even in Blowhard Michael when he refers to “far-out art” and “performers who take chances.” (The art cult also compares unfavorably to Christianity in the envy-avoidance department.)

Genuine aesthetes are welcome in the art cult but no actual interest in art is required. People who attend Karen Finley shows or Sonic Youth concerts or other art-events that are objectively terrible are surely members of the art-cult yet, almost as surely, not interested in art in the slightest. There are as many aesthetes, people with a genuine interest in art, on the right as on the left. But the right has deserted the battle, leaving the field clear for the art cultists.

Oct 292002

I was listening to Jerry Cronin, the Right-to-Life Party gubernatorial candidate in New York, on the radio this morning, and he claimed that the Hippocratic Oath proscribes abortion. This sounded wrong to me, so I looked it up. Turns out he’s right. The injunctions of the original oath are remarkable. They are:

  • To tithe one’s income to one’s teacher and his offspring;
  • To teach, for free, anyone who swears the same oath;
  • To help the sick and not to harm them (the oft-cited “first, do no harm” clause, although it isn’t put exactly that way);
  • No euthanasia;
  • No abortion;
  • No surgery;
  • No sex with patients;
  • To protect the privacy of patients and their families.

Leaving aside the question of whether this medical advice is actually Hippocratic, it is certainly, for the most part, medical advice. (Unsound and out-of-date medical advice in my view, but that’s another matter.) The modern version, to which the overwhelming majority of medical students are still required to swear, is rather different. There are many but this is among the most popular.

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

The tithing and teaching provisions have been reduced to an anodyne exhortation to “respect” and “gladly share” one’s scientific knowledge. The medical advice has disappeared altogether, replaced by vague social duties. What are the “special obligations” that doctors owe to the “sound of mind and body”? To what extent, exactly, is a doctor obliged to account for his patient’s “family and economic stability,” and how is this a medical matter?

Respecting patients’ privacy survives more or less intact; the rest is cuddle clauses. If you want a warm, sympathetic, understanding, humble doctor with awareness of his own frailty, be my guest. I’d prefer a cold, nasty, arrogant doctor whose knowledge if his field is current and who will back, when necessary, his best medical judgment to the hilt. You can have Charles Bovary; I’ll take Monsieur Larivire. Doctors of my acquaintance tell me that no one takes the modern oath very seriously, which is fortunate. But if it isn’t taken seriously why should it be taken at all?

Oct 282002

Radley Balko finally unburdens himself about war with Iraq. He’s against:

Id say yes if I could see definitive proof that Iraq had nuclear capabilities and had plans to put them into action. Id say yes if I could see definitive proof that Saddams own sense of self-preservation and survival were overwhelmed by his hatred of the United States.

In other words, to support war with Iraq, he would have to be certain — I assume that’s what he means by “definitive” — that Saddam had nuclear weapons and planned to use them against an American city, because, presumably, his “sense of self-preservation [was] overwhelmed by his hatred of the United States.”

Certain. Is he sure? If Radley thought the probability were 90%, that wouldn’t suffice? How about 50%? I think even a 10% risk of such a catastrophe would justify war with Iraq, but hey, that’s just me. War has serious costs. But surely the threshold probability, when we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of American civilians dying, lies considerably south of “definitive.”

Oct 272002

From The Sum of Life

Nothing to do but work,
Nothing to eat but food,
Nothing to wear but clothes,
To keep one from going nude.

Nothing to breathe but air,
Quick as a flash ’tis gone;
Nowhere to fall but off,
Nowhere to stand but on.

Nothing to sing but songs;
Ah well, alas, alack!
Nowhere to go but out,
Nowhere to come but back.

Nothing to strike but a gait;
Everything moves that goes.
Nothing at all but common sense
Can ever withstand these woes.

–Benjamin Franklin King Jr.

Oct 262002

Title: Those Evil Warbloggers
Stardate: 20021026.1025
Word Count: 2,247
Impetus: Some Brit blogger who’s upset that actual conservatives use the Internet too. And that whole Little Green Footballs vs. Anil Dash MSNBC hate speech thing.
Thesis: If speech is unrestricted, truth will out.
Historical Reference: Justice Holmes’ 1919 dissent, in Abrams v. U.S.: “The best test of truth is the power to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”
Evaluation: I doubt it. And “the marketplace of ideas” is a lousy reason to defend free speech anyway. If said marketplace failed to disseminate truth effectively — and there can be no denying that certain false ideas, like astrology, have made considerable market headway — would that be a good reason to restrict speech? Holmes’ jurisprudence indicates that he would have answered that question yes. What would Den Beste answer?

Oct 252002

Senator Paul Wellstone, who was killed in a plane crash this afternoon, was a professor of political science at Carleton College in the early 1980s, when I went there. Even then he was a charismatic figure, with a cadre of student followers, the “Wellstoners,” who tried to stir up the usual lefty trouble, organizing the local farmers into coops or persuading the cafeteria ladies to strike.

Wellstone’s introductory poli sci course was the most popular on campus. Its core text was Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky, and it was agitprop. This bothered me more then than it does now. Wellstone did openly what other professors did snarkily and on the sly. With him you knew where you stood.

In the Senate he was much the same way. Anti-corporation, sure; but he also refused corporate campaign contributions. Never saw a tax cut he liked. Advocated a seven-year freeze on defense spending. Voted the true-blue AFL-CIO line. Opposed war with Iraq. Always wrong, in short; but forthright too, and incorruptible. Few on the left or right were like him, and I’m sorry he’s dead.

Oct 252002

Now that “meta” and “fisk” have been removed, one hopes, from discourse by Stephen Green and Colby Cosh, respectively, can we lose “meme” too? “Meme,” like “meta,” is a useful technical term. It was coined by Richard Dawkins and it means “cultural information transmitted by imitation,” like bird songs or dolphin whistles. It does not mean “cool shit on the web that you can link to.”

This has been a public service announcement.