Sorry Jim Faulconer

October 14, 2004

I almost didn’t post this merely out of respect for Jim Faulconer, and many of the other fine professors of philosophy that I have actually known (I’ve never actually met Jim Faulconer). But this was just too entertaining and somehow accurate that I couldn’t pass it up, especially considering Jim’s comment in the current discussion of Nietzsche at T&S.

I relish John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey series and am enjoying his Second Rumpole Omnibus at the moment. Rumpole is a crusty old English criminal defense barrister who works mostly down in London’s Old Bailey, defending society’s worst reprobates, solving mysteries, psychologically battling She Who Must Be Obeyed, imagining himself a good father to his son Nick, and deluding himself of his own prowess and intellectual ability. He does make it out of London, on occasion, to try a case elsewhere. And in the case of “the gentle art of blackmail,” Rumpole makes his way out to Oxford to defend a young man against charges of using a homosexual affair to blackmail Sir Michael Tuffnell, Oxford University Professor of Philosophy. Even though Sir Michael happens also to be Principal of St. Joseph’s College at Oxford (Rumple’s old college from his school days), Rumpole does not spare him his characteristic caustic mental evaluation upon meeting him. Rumpole describes him thus:

Sir Michael Tuffnell, Oxford Professor of Moral Philosophy, Principal of St Joseph’s College for the past five years, was a popular guru known to millions. He was a grey-haired and distinguished-looking old party, with a twinkling eye and a considerable sense of humour, always ready to be wheeled on to the telly or ‘Any Questions’ when anyone wanted a snap answer on such troublesome points as ‘What is the meaning of meaning?’ Or ‘Is God dead?’

Sir Michael was a person, certainly, of the utmost brilliance and respectability, whose grasp of the Nature of the Universe was such that God no doubt relied on him to tell him whether or not He existed, a question that Sir Michael answered with a respectful and tentative negative, meanwhile keeping his options open.

John Mortimer, “Rumple and the Gentle Art of Blackmail,” in The Second Rumpole Omnibus 48 (Penguin ed. 1988).

Brilliant, really, I must confess. This description of an Oxford professor of philosophy–or a professor of philosophy generally, or an Oxford professor generally, for that matter (believe me, I met a few like this while a student at Oxford)–seems just too fitting, and thus very funny. I guess the reason that it is funny is that it encapsulates some of the frustration of non-philosophers with philosophers generally. . . .


An Election for Idealists

October 11, 2004

As I watched the second debate, the thought occured to me that this really is an election made for idealists. This is an ironic observation considering the lip-service that I am hearing from many on both sides to the effect that this election is a choice between the lesser of two evils. Although this statement has merit for those in the middle, it is patently untrue for those on the political extremes. In crass, oversimplified terms, here is what I witnessed on Friday night in the debate:

(This is how those on the idealistic extremes would have viewed it.)

Bush: The Conservative Ideal

Bush personifies the very core of the ideal conservative. He is the rugged individualist American from the wide west (i.e. Texas), the land of the free and the brave and the last frontier where every man thrives or fails according to the management of the creature (i.e. their capacity for hard work and self-sufficiency). He is brash and confident in his own moral certainty. He believes that every American is entitled to the product of his or her own labor–but he sticks by that as the limits of entitlement (i.e. a meritocracy). He is deeply religious and adheres to ultra-conservative religious doctrine–doctrine that is associated with the very Pilgrims who fled to America. Responsibility is as important as rights. The federal government is evil and must be stopped and limited wherever possible.

Kerry: The Liberal Ideal

Kerry personifies the very core of the ideal liberal. He is cultured and sophisticated. His worldview is nuanced and complicated. He is the soft collectivist from the populous and civilized Northeast (i.e. the heart of it all–Boston), the land of the liberated and the smart where every person thrives or fails according to the management of the creature (i.e. their intellectual prowess and capacity to earn seven figures). But he doesn’t disparage those who can’t cut it in his world: for the millions who have failed to manage the intellectual creature, they’re okay too (except for conservatives who are stupid). He is diplomatic and confident in his own moral superiority. He believes every American is entitled to receive a certain standard of living and collection of rights in a world of entitlements and empowerments. He is culturally religious and adheres to an open-minded view of religion–none is more right than the others, and nothing guarantees that any of them are right at all. Rights trump responsibility (i.e. everyone is entitled to their growing litany of inalienable rights). The federal government is the champion of civil society and should administer to the needs of all.

Pretty broad and likely insulting to both sides, but this stark contrast really came out on Friday night. I think that it was intentional–they need to distinguish themselves and appeal to their bases. What better way to do it than to project the ideal of their respective ideal while battling it out. Or maybe it was merely a function of that battle itself.

Does Bush’s invocation of Dred Scott trump?

October 10, 2004

During the second presidential debate on Friday night, I could hardly believe my ears when President Bush, upon being asked what sort of Justices he might appoint to the Supreme Court, replied that he wouldn’t pick a judge who would decide another Dred Scott. I was beside myself because not only was Dred Scott decided about 150 years ago, making it practically ancient history, but it has also been overturned by at least three amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

(For those who don’t know, Dred Scott was the decision where Justice Taney in 1857 declared that all blacks, both slave and free, were not and never could become United States citizens. Specifically, because Scott was black, he was not a citizen and had no standing to sue.)

I thought, “why in the world would President Bush use THIS case as an example of the sort of judge he would not appoint?” Thanks to Heidi and, via Heidi, Paperwight’s Fair Shot, I think I now understand. Far from being incredibly uninformed and ridiculous, Bush’s answer was actually quite clever. After reading Heidi’s post and some dissenting language in an abortion decision, I am certain that Bush, by invoking Dred Scott here, was really saying that he intended to install Supreme Court judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Indeed, as noted by Paperwight, pro-life advocates have been comparing Roe v. Wade with Dred Scott for years as an example of abhorrent Supreme Court jurisprudence. Scalia sums up that position nicely in his dissent in Stenberg v. Carhart (where the Supreme Court in 2000 struck down Nebraska’s attempt at a partial birth abortion ban):

I am optimistic enough to believe that, one day, Stenberg v. Carhart will be assigned in its rightful place in the history of this Court’s jurisprudence beside Korematsu and Dred Scott. The method of killing a human child- one cannot even accurately say an entirely unborn human child- proscribed by this statute is so horrible that the most clinical description of it evokes a shudder of revulsion . . . The notion that the Constitution of the United States, designed, among other things, “to establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, . . . and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” prohibits the States from simply banning this visibly brutal means of eliminating our half-born posterity is quite simply absurd.

Telling, isn’t it? Indeed, as illustrated by the words in this dissent, for legal conservatives Dred Scott has become a sort of code for Roe v. Wade.

So President Bush, in effect, was basically saying that he would appoint judges to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade, which to conservatives represents just such bad jurisprudence as that found in the infamous Dred Scott. President Bush was not just being ignorant in saying that, but was very cleverly submitting a message to his base.

Now, consider this counsel from Elder Oaks regarding abortion:

The Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience. Our members are taught that, subject only to some very rare exceptions, they must not submit to, perform, encourage, pay for[note: didn’t Kerry say in his portion of the debate that he would not hesitate to provide abortions paid for by our tax dollars? And does that constitute Church members “paying for” an abortion?], or arrange for an abortion.

In today’s world we are not true to our teachings if we are merely pro-choice. We must stand up for the right choice. Those who persist in refusing to think beyond slogans and sound bites like pro-choice wander from the goals they pretend to espouse and wind up giving their support to results they might not support if those results were presented without disguise.

. . .

Some Latter-day Saints say they deplore abortion, but they give these exceptional circumstances as a basis for their pro-choice position that the law should allow abortion on demand in all circumstances. Such persons should face the reality that the circumstances described in these three exceptions are extremely rare. For example, conception by incest or rape—the circumstance most commonly cited by those who use exceptions to argue for abortion on demand—is involved in only a tiny minority of abortions. More than 95 percent of the millions of abortions performed each year extinguish the life of a fetus conceived by consensual relations. Thus the effect in over 95 percent of abortions is not to vindicate choice but to avoid its consequences. Using arguments of “choice” to try to justify altering the consequences of choice is a classic case of omitting what the Savior called “the weightier matters of the law.”

. . .

If we say we are anti-abortion in our personal life but pro-choice in public policy, we are saying that we will not use our influence to establish public policies that encourage righteous choices on matters God’s servants have defined as serious sins. I urge Latter-day Saints who have taken that position to ask themselves which other grievous sins should be decriminalized or smiled on by the law due to this theory that persons should not be hampered in their choices.

Dallin H. Oaks, “Weightier Matters”, Ensign 13 (Jan. 2001).

That was a long quote, perhaps too long, and I hope you are still reading. Because Bush as much as said that he would appoint Supreme Court judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade if given the opportunity, and because Senator Kerry basically said that he would allow our tax dollars to fund abortions, I wonder if Elder Oaks counsel makes a compelling case for Latter-day Saints to vote for President Bush in November, despite the other important issues on which President Bush has perhaps failed the country.

And that, people, is my current quandary. Does the mandate to oppose abortion trump other important policy considerations for Latter-day Saints? I personally am one who does not think that President Bush has been terribly effective as President. I think that our country is worse-off than it could be after 9/11 because of his Presidency. Americans need health care and jobs, and the top income earners don’t need a tax break. But I feel very strongly against abortion, against allowing it in this country, and ESPECIALLY against my tax dollars funding such a heinous act.

So which issue trumps?

Make Oil Not Love

October 6, 2004

Back when things were really heating up with Iraq in the winter and spring of 2003, the Wall Street Opinion Journal ran several pieces about French and German companies who had allegedly violated UN sanctions in trading secretly with Iraq. Those were serious allegations and insinuated that France and Germany might have ulterior motives in opposing the Iraq War.

Now, an even more alarming revelation has surfaced about the UN Oil for Food Programme. The London Times has exposed a preliminary report on the wide-spread corruption that saturated that program, identifying the method and individuals who profited from the scheme. Among others, France, China, and Russia all benefitted from ultra-cheap oil and turned a large profit off of the plan, according to the report:

“The regime gave priority to Russia, China and France. This was because they were permanent members of, and hence had the ability to influence decisions made by, the UN Security Council. The regime . . . allocated ‘private oil’ to individuals or political parties that sympathised in some way with the regime.”

As to Russia,

A former senior aide to Putin allegedly organised the sale of almost 4m barrels of oil at a profit of more than £330,000. At the time the oil was sold, Russia was blocking the UN from supporting America’s demands to attack Iraq. According to the report, the aide, who worked in the presidential office, received 3.9m barrels of oil between May and December 2002.

As to France,

A French oil company teamed up with the regime to bribe a UN-appointed inspector monitoring exports of Iraqi oil. The inspector, a Portuguese national working for Saybolt, a Dutch firm, was paid a total of £58,000 in cash to forge export documents.

The French firm is linked to a close associate of Jacques Chirac, the country’s president. A spokesman for Saybolt said it would be investigating the allegations.

And interestingly, the corruption in this program allowed Saddam to make arrangements for himself in case of an invasion:

In the two months during the run-up to the war, the Iraqi regime illegally sold about £30m of oil to a Jordanian-based company with the money deposited in a Jordanian bank account established by the regime. This is suspected to have been an attempt to secure safe passage for Saddam’s family in the event of war.

This is exactly the type of thing that conservatives have long criticized about the UN. First of all, it is stereotypical of the conservative criticisms of the inefficiencies of “big government.” Second, it underscores the fundamental distrust of conservatives for the international community. It actually seems that these concerns of theirs, which the Left labels as scaremongering or dismisses as slippery slope argumentation, are to some extent justified. After all, if the networks and business systems in the countries that make up the body of the UN are so corrupt that they don’t even function properly, then how can the UN body be expected to function properly, even if it is funded largely by the United States, a country that has a well functioning economy and government.

At the very least, these revelations should temper France’s and others’ criticisms of the United States in choosing to award reconstruction contracts only to those countries who supported the Coalition (because France and those other countries were already profiting from the other side, so why should they expect to profit from the regime’s downfall as well?).

The other implication of this is that France’s, China’s, and Russia’s rhetoric about diplomacy and temperance etc. is somewhat suspect. France and the others were profiting from the UN Oil for Food Programme. Also, if the reports in the Wall Street Opinion Journal are true, then private companies in those countries were also profiting by violating UN Sanctions, another sign of corruption. Perhaps France’s real interest was in making oil not love.


October 1, 2004