The End of Judgment

Melanie Phillips’ latest article is entitled “The drowning of common sense“. It was written after a young boy named Jordon Lyon drowned while emergency workers allegedly dithered rather than trying to save him. Not surprisingly, the police have a different understanding of the tragedy. Somehow it seems difficult to lay blame on the police now and from this distance, though Phillips believes otherwise.

Melanie goes on to write brilliantly about a problem in British society that is prevalent here in the U.S. as well – the “compensation culture” that demands that someone be made to pay for every unfortunate event that happens.

The truth is that unpleasant things happen and it’s not always an individual’s fault or indicative of a problem with business, government, or society. Wondering why the opposite opinion so often rules the day in our media, courts, and legislatures, Phillips says:

The answer surely lies in a far broader and deeper transformation of British society that has taken place. From being perhaps the most independently minded, practical and commonsensical people on earth, we have become a society which is increasingly unable to act at all unless someone gives us permission to do so.

Across the board, our professions have become paralysed by rules, regulations and red tape. Their ability to use their own judgment has been steadily undermined by rules and codes governing their behaviour which are handed down from above and ruthlessly enforced.

Teachers and doctors thus got so tied up in red tape they were unable to attend properly to pupils or patients.
Human rights law further undermined the ability of all in positions of authority – from teachers to park attendants, from care workers to police officers – to enforce discipline, since it made it an offence even to touch a child.

This has resulted in the absurdity of delinquents thumbing their noses at authority while those trying to restrain them are prosecuted.

Such law has had an even more profound effect than fuelling the ruinous compensation culture. It has actually changed the default mechanism that governs assumptions about behaviour.

This is because it is based on the belief that rules governing behaviour have to be explicitly codified. This happens to run directly against the grain of the English common law, which holds that everything is permitted unless it is specifically prohibited.

The process of legalization that Phillips describes is the enemy of democracy, innovation, and personal freedom. We’re told too often that we have no right to prefer one way of living life to another, to hold standard as being inherently more valuable than another, or to value one person more than another. We have no right to choose, we’re told, and too often we don’t.

That is a mistake. The ideology that says that our individual reason is less valid than the combined multitude’s ethereal consciousness is incorrect – no such group mind exists. Neither is there any discernable “common good” save for the general uplifting of society that results from improved corporate profits, resurgent stock markets, and increases in individuals’ take home pay.

The wealth and comfort of western civilization has been on a steady climb upward since the end of the Dark Ages. This progress was and is fueled almost exclusively by people who wanted a richer, happier life for themselves and their loved ones and the freedom to worship as their pleased. Remove the freedom to think and choose and act from these same people and the result would be, on a world-wide scale, equal to the economic and social devastation of the failed Soviet Union and its satellites.

Indeed, the Russians showed the world the danger of over-thinking a problem when their planned economy, built on lies as it was, inevitably collapsed. But the problem of legal calcification in western democracies is no less insidious.

If a doctor is sued for malpractice after stopping at a road side emergency how many physicians will stop at the next crisis? It’s obvious what the result of our improper application of legal remedies will be and the Lyon case may well demonstrate that outcome in action.

Ms. Phillips says:

At the heart of this obsession with codifying rules of behaviour lies a fundamental loss of trust in people to do the right thing. Instead the state – and, increasingly, the courts – believe that they must tell them how to behave.

We clearly see this in the United States when the federal government expands its powers to peer ever more closely into the minutia of ordinary peoples’ lives, the judiciary fails to curb its own ambitions and actively seeks to dictate what should be personal choices, and groups like the ACLU use the legal system as a weapon to dictate patterns of behavior in schools, offices, and public venues.

Ironic that this agenda of control is championed by the generation that ranted about they hated “the system”. Evidently it was only talk. Under their control the tangle of laws and regulations and the brain-dead policy of of group-think has become more oppressive than ever.

What should we expect from our governments? Do we need endless volumes of legal approval that grants us permission to act in every aspect of our lives?

No. What free people should demand from their leadership is amazingly simple: We need less of it. Fewer rules, laws, and taxes. Fewer entitlements, programs, and projects. Less of everything save for the single purpose for which a national government is suited: the common defense.

In all else the government should get the hell out of our way.

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette

Herbert Trashes Republicans

Bob Herbert is mad at Republicans again and wrote in the NY Times that the party is “anti-black”.  His response to the ‘Pubs in the Senate refused to vote for a bill that would have given the District of Columbia a voting seat in the House of Representatives?   

The G.O.P. has spent the last 40 years insulting, disenfranchising and otherwise stomping on the interests of black Americans. Last week, the residents of Washington, D.C., with its majority black population, came remarkably close to realizing a goal they have sought for decades — a voting member of Congress to represent them.

A majority in Congress favored the move, and the House had already approved it. But the Republican minority in the Senate — with the enthusiastic support of President Bush — rose up on Tuesday and said: “No way, baby.”

This because they voted a down a measure that would in effect give Democrats a permanent seat in the House.  Political, certainly.  Racist?  Debatable. 

But Washington D.C. is a city without a state and no real voice in national politics.  That should be remedied in some fashion – various options are discussed here on Wikipedia – but to give the city a full voting seat in the House?  That doesn’t seem right.

Herbert wasn’t done spewing his venom yet:

At the same time that the Republicans were killing Congressional representation for D.C. residents, the major G.O.P. candidates for president were offering a collective slap in the face to black voters nationally by refusing to participate in a long-scheduled, nationally televised debate focusing on issues important to minorities.

The radio and television personality Tavis Smiley worked for a year to have a pair of these debates televised on PBS, one for the Democratic candidates and the other for the Republicans. The Democratic debate was held in June, and all the major candidates participated.

The Republican debate is scheduled for Thursday. But Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson have all told Mr. Smiley: “No way, baby.”

They won’t be there. They can’t be bothered debating issues that might be of interest to black Americans. After all, they’re Republicans.

“No way, baby.”  Seems to a sly play by Herbert on the old Virginia Slim’s slogan of “You’ve come a long way, baby!”  Black voters can’t go anywhere with Republican representation – the message is loud and clear.

Is he upset because of the no-shows at the debate?  Doubtful – the rancor seems to go much deeper than that.

Perhaps if Herbert had used his bully pulpit to browbeat the Democratic candidates who flatly refused to participate in a Fox News-sponsored debate the Republicans would have been more willing to go in front of the cameras on the notoriously liberal PBS network.

But in the liberal press Democrats are heroes when they boycott a new outlet that might play hardball with them, especially an apostate upstart like Fox.  Republicans and conservatives are always the villains in the eyes of men like Herbert, regardless of their actual values and policies.

In perhaps the most transparent slap of them all – and aren’t they already thin enough to see through? – Herbert attacked Justice Clarence Thomas’ appointment to the Supreme Court by the first President Bush.  Why?  Evidently his conservative views are not black (read “liberal”) enough for Mr. Herbert.

In 1991, the first President Bush poked a finger in the eye of black America by selecting the egregious Clarence Thomas for the seat on the Supreme Court that had been held by the revered Thurgood Marshall. The fact that there is a rigid quota on the court, permitting one black and one black only to serve at a time, is itself racist.

Yet we’re to believe that there’s nothing racist about Bob Herbert’s column and his use of the press to push his politics on the public?  One unfortunate side-effect of the Times embracing free access to its content is that hit pieces like this one will be read (and linked to) that much more.

The Gateway Pundit has an interesting counter-point to Herbert’s one-sided attack piece.

h/t memeorandum

Ahmadinejad Who?

The New York Times says that focusing on Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a mistake.

Political analysts here say they are surprised at the degree to which the West focuses on their president, saying that it reflects a general misunderstanding of their system.

Unlike in the United States, in Iran the president is not the head of state nor the commander in chief. That status is held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, whose role combines civil and religious authority. At the moment, this president’s power comes from two sources, they say: the unqualified support of the supreme leader, and the international condemnation he manages to generate when he speaks up.

“The United States pays too much attention to Ahmadinejad,” said an Iranian political scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “He is not that consequential.”

Does the Bush administration really think that is really the moving power behind Iran’s support of terrorism?

I doubt it.  The Iranian presidency has always been a secondary position, held in firmly check by the clerics.  Ahmadinejad is no different at this point. 

It would be interesting if he were to gain enough power and stature to challenge the Muslim clerics and consolidate real power in his own hands.  But would we really want this to happen?

Ride a Bike, Save Time

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Look familiar to anyone?  The Houston Chronicle says that "traffic congestion in the Houston area and around the country is getting worse".  No kidding. 

More:

Some drivers blame the supposed waste of highway dollars on mass transit, or the wrong kind of mass transit. Transit advocates, and some who say they’d ride transit if only it went where and when they want it to, blame the waste of potential transit dollars on concrete.

Peter Wang took a third path, pedaling serenely from his home in Copperfield to a meeting 12 miles away near Dairy Ashford and the Katy Freeway.

"It took one hour, with all of the stop lights, which I did obey," Wang writes. "The gridlock was un-be-liev-able at 7:45 am. I didn’t ride hard; it was pretty leisurely."

Wang figures he made the trip in about the same time a car would probably take, but without the unpredictable delays. The bike may go slower than a car, but at least it keeps wheeling along.

"It really is no fun at all to be in a powerful car capable of 100 mph, except the speedometer says zero."

Let the man gloat. Just wait till it starts to pour down rain, or gets really cold.

But he has a good point: "Bikes are a valid transportation mode … We need to plan to accommodate them."

Very true.  In the U.S., bikes have been traditionally associated with optional play and exercise time and dismissed as a low-tech transportation solution. 

I’d like to see that change.  It’s obvious that more bikes than cars can travel down a given stretch of road simultaneously.  Bikes are clearly more friendly to the environment and to our bodies as well. 

America is a fat country.  There’s really no other way to say it.  We’re fat.  It’s more than a little sickening, really, to hang around a McDonald’s and watch who is eating what.  Biking to work may not clear those Quarter Pounder-clogged arteries but it sure as heck would let a few people, myself included, fit into last year’s pants.

Unfortunately, Wang’s final point is all-too true:  America’s roads are too dangerous for bikers to use.  In 2005, 784 bikers were killed in traffic accidents, 2% of the U.S. total.  That’s not an unusual number, according to the NHTSA:

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Imagine the carnage that would occur if people were to actually use bicycles as a real transportation device given the current mentality of American drivers who, while they may not be bad compared to those in other nations, in many cases do not consider bikes to be a valid use of "their" road.

That attitude would have to change, presumedly through enforcement of traffic laws and punishment of automobile drivers who infringe on the rights of bikers.  Not an easy or popular thing to do, especially in truck-happy Texas, but worthwhile nonetheless.

The Texas Transportation Institute’s 2007 report (PDF alert) for Houston shows that it is the 7th, 8th, or 9th most congested city in the nation, depending on your measure of choice.  The most important one to me personally is the number of hours wasted per year in traffic.  According to TTI, Houston’s number is 56 hours.

That doesn’t sound too bad, really.  Unfortunately it’s complete bull puckey to Joe Suburbs.  Things certainly have not improved since 2001, the year I last commuted regularly to downtown Houston, a 39 mile jaunt that took me 70 minutes, on average, to cover by car.  On Saturday, however, I could easily reach the office in 45 minutes or less, meaning I was losing 50 minutes every day to traffic congestion.  This equates to about 170 hours per year, a number far above the TTI number and one far more relevant to the average suburbanite.

Even if we accept the TTI’s number as valid – California also complained the report understated the problem – over 92 million gallons of gasoline were wasted on congestion-related idling of automobiles.

That’s a lot of barrels of oil, friends, and a lot of money going into Saudi, Iran, and Venezuela – countries that we don’t want to be funding any more than we have to.  We can do more than vote with our wallets if we put our minds to it.  The practical effect of cutting commuter gas consumption by half would be quite telling in the oil market.  Why shouldn’t we work toward that goal?

I understand that transportation entities are unwilling to retrofit existing roads to ensure bike safety.  That would cost a lot of money.  But neither is it acceptable for new road construction to ignore the need for bikes to be used as mainstream transportation devices.  All new roads should provide safe, dedicated bike lanes, particularly those moving traffic to and from living areas to working areas. 

It’s only common sense – give bikes the right!

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.

Justice for Ashton?

Ashton Glover was 16 years old when she was murdered by two high school classmates last year. 

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After his arrest, Matthew McCombs, the trigger “man”, stated to police that he’d done it out of “morbid curiosity.” 

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The evidence agreed:

There was no fight or adversarial relationship between the girl and the two suspects that led to the killing, and the three had known each other for a long time. The sheriff also said none of the three students had been drinking.

McCombs and [ed. accomplice Sean] Brown left Glover’s body in the field where she’d been shot. “Afterwards, they went and had breakfast, then they buried the body, then they went to bed,” he said.

Her body was found around noon July 10, buried in a shallow grave at a construction site off Oilfield Road south of Sugar Land. About two hours later, law enforcement officials say, Brown and McCombs fled Sugar Land in a black Dodge pickup believed to belong to Brown’s father.

The pair fled to Port Huron, where they attempted to cross the border into Canada.

McCombs and Brown were brought back to Texas and the former today agreed to plead guilty to the crime in exchange for a 50 year sentence with the possibility of parole at the half way point, 25 years from now.  He had faced a life sentence before accepting the plea agreement.

From the article:

Ashton’s parents, Terry Glover and Sue Smith, were consulted by prosecutors about the plea arrangement before it was finalized and agreed to the terms. Both, along with other family and friends, were in court today.

Texas law allows for the death penalty under several different sets of circumstances, such as a murder committed during the commission of a secondary felony, the murder of a police officer, or a murder involving multiple victims.  None of the statutory reasons for a capital murder charge fit the circumstances of Glover’s death.

I’m glad for the parents that this ordeal is winding down and I hope they are content in their souls with the punishment meted out to the boy who killed their daughter.

As far as I am concerned it is a travesty of justice that Ashton’s killers will walk free someday, be it 25 or 50 years from now.  A young girl’s life was taken away simply to satisfy this scumbag’s curiosity.  What more despicable act is there?

Texas leads the U.S. in murders put to death.  Today one got off easy.  That should make the bleeding hearts happy.

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.

Bush Wants Permanent Spy Powers

From Reuters:

President George W. Bush urged Congress on Wednesday to expand the government’s domestic spying powers permanently or risk leaving the country vulnerable to another terrorist attack.

The Democratic-led Congress in August temporarily expanded the Bush administration’s authority to monitor phone calls, e-mails and other electronic communications between individuals in the United States and someone overseas suspected of terrorism ties, without obtaining court approval.

"Without these tools it’ll be harder to figure out what our enemies are doing to train, recruit and infiltrate operatives into America," Bush said during a visit to the National Security Agency, which conducts surveillance of electronic communications on targets around the world.

"Without these tools, our country will be much more vulnerable to attack," Bush added.

That is probably true, especially given America’s lax attitude about closing its borders.  But why does the president’s authority need to be made permanent now, only weeks after having been granted on a temporary basis?

One theory is that Bush and Cheney, with emphasis on the latter, have actively sought to expand the presidency’s power in ways that the Constitution never intended.

Whether that’s true or not I think this is one place to draw the line.  There is no reason to make the Bush administration’s domestic espionage program permanent at this time.

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.

Saudi Women Want to Drive

And why not?

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The BBC says that a group of Saudi women plan to deliver a petition to the King Abdullah which would, if approved, allow them to drive cars for the first time.

Members of the Committee of Demanders of Women’s Right to Drive Cars plan to deliver a petition to King Abdullah by Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s National Day.

A founding member of the Committee of Demanders of Women’s Right to Drive Cars, Fawzia al-Oyouni, said its electronic petition would highlight what many Saudi men and women consider a "stolen right".

"We would like to remind officials that this is, as many have said, a social and not religious or political issue," she told the Associated Press. "Since it’s a social issue, we have the right to lobby for it."

"This is a right that has been delayed for too long."

This has been an ongoing struggle for the women of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is the only Gulf state to ban women from the road.

Correspondents say Saudi women lead some of the most restricted lives in the world, with everything but the most minor public transaction requiring approval from their husbands or fathers.

Those who have tried in the past to defy the ban have been punished for their trouble.

This was originally an unofficial ban, but it became law after an incident in 1990, when 47 women from the Saudi intelligentsia challenged the authorities by taking their husbands’ and brothers’ cars out for a drive.

The backlash from the Saudi religious elite was swift. Many of the women lost their jobs or were harassed in other ways.

Regarding this week’s petition, the usual repressive response is predicted:

Correspondents say the demand is likely to be rejected, as conservatives argue if women are allowed to drive, they will be able to mix freely with men.

The horror, the horror.

Now, if Saudi men were to say that they don’t want their wives to drive because it’s dangerous, that I could understand.

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Driving is hazardous in Saudi, what with a per-vehicle traffic fatality rate roughly 7 times that of the U.S. 

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Safety of loved ones is certainly a logical and defensible argument, even if it is somewhat condescending toward women.

But no.  It’s always the same knee-jerk reaction to the possible mixing of the sexes.  Never mind the hypocrisy of a social system that allows men to have multiple wives while denying women even the most basic rights.  Men and women might see actually each other and they can’t have that.

The issue is perhaps best summarized by Prince Nayef, who said:  "We consider [the question] to be secondary, not a priority.  These matters are decided according to the general good and what is dictated by women’s honour…"

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.

Robert Jordan Dies at 58

Robert Jordan, the author of the popular Wheel of Time series of fantasy novels died yesterday at the age of 58.

I’m sorry to see Jordan die so young.  He was a talented writer whose WoT series was terrific for the first few books.  The last few were not as good and now I wonder if Jordan’s health was not part of the problem.

Sad to say that we may never know how the books would have ended if Jordan’s health would not have failed him.

God speed, Mr. Jordan.

Basra, Test Case for Withdrawal

The Christian Science Monitor says that Basra is turning into an emerging "Shiite Taliban state" now that the British are packing up their kit bags and leaving town:

The billboard in Umm al-Broom Square was meant to advertise a cellphone service. Instead, it has become a message to those who dare to resist the rising tide of fundamentalist Islam in Iraq’s second largest city.

The female model’s face is now covered with black paint. Graffiti scrawled below reads, "No! No to unveiled women."

That message joins the chorus of ultraconservative voices and radical militias that are transforming this once liberal port city that boasted some of Iraq’s most lively nightclubs into a bastion for hard-line Shiite Islamists

with the British gone, many say, they leave open the possibility that Iran could extend its influence within the mosques, religious schools, and militant party headquarters. Over the past four years, Basra has undergone its own Islamic revolution of sorts.

Posters of the leader of Iran’s 1979 social and religious revolt, Ayatollah Khomeini, who at the time imposed similar limits on his society, are plastered everywhere in Basra.

Public parties are banned. Selling musical CDs is forbidden in shops. Those who sell or consume alcohol face recrimination, even death. Artists and performers are severely restricted and even labeled as heretics. A famous city landmark, a replica of the Lion of Babylon statue that stood here for decades was blown up by militants in July. It was considered idolatrous, according to the strict interpretation of Islam.

Signs ordering women to cover up appear throughout the city. One woman, an Iraqi female activist from Basra, says the notices even threaten death. One banner, she says, said unveiled women could be murdered and no one could remove their bodies from the street.

CSM’s view of what what the vandalized billboard represents is too narrow.  What it really gives us is a graphic foreshadowing of what would likely happen all over Iraq if the American troops were to leave prematurely.

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.

Basic Morality Index

Michael van der Galien and Jason Steck both wrote about this article in the NY Times:

Many people will say it is morally acceptable to pull a switch that diverts a train, killing just one person instead of the five on the other track. But if asked to save the same five lives by throwing a person in the train’s path, people will say the action is wrong. This may be evidence for an ancient subconscious morality that deters causing direct physical harm to someone else. An equally strong moral sanction has not yet evolved for harming someone indirectly.

Where do moral rules come from? From reason, some philosophers say. From God, say believers. Seldom considered is a source now being advocated by some biologists, that of evolution.

Here’s a link to a morality test recommended by Ann Althouse.

My results:

my_morals

Conservative/liberal baseline:

baseline_morals

The graphs do reveal something about my personal philosophy, which is that if people simply take care of their down business and do what’s right that fairness will take care of itself.