Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Why I Hate Constitutional Law

Well, here it is: Too much depends on arguments based on bad precedents. Given PLANNED PARENTHOOD v. CASEY, I can’t see why repugnance of some kind can be used to deny a woman’s "liberty" or right to the most safe or healthy imaginable abortion given her circumstances at any time prior to "viability." Given PLANNED PARENTHOOD, I think Ginsburg is right and Kennedy is wrong. But I also think that PLANNED PARENTHOOD is a fairly bizarre, judicially arrogant, and borderline nihilistic interpretation of the Constitution that doesn’t deserve to stand--one, for example, based on the candid admission that even if the essential holding of ROE was a cosntitutional error it must be reaffirmed to sustain the Court’s self-appointed power to end decisively national controversies. Kennedy is open to the criticism that his repugnance/respecting-the-value-of-life is imposing some Catholic sensibility on the Constitution, and he is sincerely engaged in a mission impossible in trying to reconcile his moral sense with the liberty asserted in PLANNED PARENTHOOD. On the other hand, Scalia’s core position that the Constitution neither commands nor precludes the states’ protecting fetal life isn’t particularly Catholic at all, and that position is the foundation of the moral argument our country really needs to have over abortion, as unpleasant as it might be. The continuing controversy over abortion and the resulting politicization of everything surrounding our judiciary is evidence that the Court should get out of the abortion business. And when that finally happens and the properly moral/political argument comes, we would do well not to depend on visceral repugance but on sober and truthful reflection on what kind of being the fetus/baby is.

Was Gonzales v. Carhart a Catholic decision?

Geoffrey Stone and others call it that. Rick Garnett and others regard this as a bigoted response, one that avoids having to engage in the arguments Kennedy and his colleagues make.

There’s of course a lot more to be said about the decision. Claremont’s Michael Uhlmann offers a good beginning. Richard John Neuhaus is hopeful for the catholicity of the Catholics on the Court:

I expect it is in the minds of many, but so far there has been only marginal public comment on the fact that all five in the Carhart majority are Catholics. What can one say? Know-Nothings of the world unite? It is not a peculiarly Catholic perception, but it is an emphatically Catholic perception, that legitimate law cannot be divorced from morality. And in this constitutional order of representative democracy, the relationship between moral judgment and law is best expressed by the legislature.

Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the majority certainly relies on the commonsensical (and not particularly Catholic) morality of revulsion to show how a legislature might reasonably reject partial-birth abortion (or, if you must, intact D & E). Neuhaus notes:

Quite apart from specific decisions of the Court, the focus on partial-birth abortion has been a great success in educating the public to the reality of unborn life and the horror of abortion. In the dissent, Justice Ginsburg objects that the moral repugnance triggered by partial-birth abortion is true of all abortions. Precisely.

I’ll leave it at that for now.

Romney Viewed More Negatively Than Hillary

A race between them would be interesting, if only because a majority of self-described independents say they would never vote for either of them. Meanwhile, Obama is doing the best in avoiding the "no, never" reaction. And party registration is moving steadily in the Democratic directon. All this, of course, is depressing. Romney deserves to be given a chance. Obama is my "no, never" guy. And right now it would be reasonable to say that Republican partisanship will not be the key to victory in 2008.

McCain Can’t Sing

But his Beach Boys-inspired "Bomb Iran" joke was no outrage. It would even have been funny had his voice and timing been half-decent. No apology needed or offered.

"Pretty Well as Near to the Horse’s Mouth as You Can Get"

A must read piece in The Spectator about WMDs in Iraq. Hat Tip: Power Line’s Scott Johnson.

Abortion is About Equality

With the Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of a ban on Partial Birth Abortion, debate about what it will mean is now raging. Cass Sunstein argues that Ginsburg’s dissent founded in an argument about female equality rather than in a so-called "privacy right" offers pro-abortion forces a better footing for their position and that she is likely to get support for that view in future court appointments. About that last point, I believe he is likely to be correct. But I do not despair. I would like the debate to shift to a real argument about the meaning of equality rather than focus on this nebulous concept of "privacy." Why? Because it seems to me that a fair hearing of the case will lead a rational person to conclude that equal rights for women does not mean we can or must change nature so as to make women’s access to sex equally devoid of consequences as that of men’s. Equality does not demand that we become the same. If there is an argument to be made on behalf of equality, it must be in favor of the equal right to life that a baby has as well as its mother. So bring it on, Ruth.

Earlier this week when the decision was handed down, there was some question about how conservatives should respond. I argued here that we should be cheered by this turn of events and welcome the shifting ground in this too-long inert debate. Kathleen Parker has taken exactly the kind of step I had hoped to see conservative commentators take. We have to keep the momentum going, insist on precision in the language, and refuse to shrink in the face of offending people’s feelings or sensibilities . . . at least for awhile. People have grown tired of the abortion debate precisely because it has been so successfully characterized as a dry and dusty debate about privacy and rights. Let’s talk about equality and what it means to be a human being. It is long, long overdue.

Noonan: where were and are the adults?

A snippet:

With all the therapy in our great therapized nation, with all our devotion to emotions and feelings, one senses we are becoming a colder culture, and a colder country. We purport to be compassionate--we must respect Mr. Cho’s privacy rights and personal autonomy--but of course it is cold not to have protected others from him. It is cold not to have protected him from himself.

Read the whole thing

Sic transit gloria mundi....

Apparently the world’s longest-surviving continuously-operating company folded in 2006, faced with "excess debt and an unfavorable business climate." Kongo Gumi, a firm that specialized in building Buddhist temples, started operations in 578, and the business remained under the control of the same family for fourteen centuries. While the company was best known for building temples, it occasionally branched out into other areas--during World War II, for instance, it made coffins.

Hat tip: Division of Labour.

No No Nanette

Last night, Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle pitched a no-hitter against the Texas Rangers. Until a few years ago, Buehrle would have been credited with a perfect game because he faced the minimum number of batters (27). Sammy Sosa, who walked in the fifth inning, was picked off first. In the old way of accounting, Buehrle recorded 27 consecutive outs, thus a perfect game. Major League Baseball changed that interpretation, however, about 1990, and in doing so took off the books what had been the first combined perfect game, pitched in 1917.

That year, a promsing young Boston Red Sox pitcher walked the first batter against the Washington Nationals (Senators). He got into an argument with the umpire over ball four and was ejected from the game. (No word if the umpire was an ancestor of Joey Crawford.) He was relieved by Ernie Shore. The base runner was thrown out trying to steal second and Shore retired the next 26 batters. The two men were credited with a combined perfect game, since downgraded, if that’s the correct term, to a combined no hitter.

The young, hotheaded pitcher? He’s the answer to almost all obscure pitching trivia questions. Babe Ruth.

Benedict the Augustinian

Our friend John von Heyking sends notice of this appreciation of Benedict XVI, the Augustinian, complementing John Paul II, the Thomist.

If you haven’t read John’s book on Augustine, you should.

A Fine Defense of Vonnegut

Kurt is a clear writer who awakens bourgeois high school kids to the sheer contingency of human existence and the unprecedented loneliness of our time. And he does it in a funny and even "sophomoric" way. Then the kid spends the rest of his life diverting himself with uneven success from what he really knows, with Vonnegut remaining his guilty and furtive pleasure. Vonnegut would have been better had he known anything about the personal God or the personal pride of political life. And you’d be better off reading Pascal or St. Augustine or even Walker Percy instead. But Pascal and St. Augustine are relatively short on the jokes, and Percy isn’t always so clear. And even with our evangelical and orthodox outposts, most of our high school kids aren’t moved by that religious stuff.

The Five Catholic Justices Vote Together to Limit Abortion

But they gave very different reasons. Alito and Roberts simply joined Kennedy’s opinion that was, although very detailed, very limited in scope and uncritical of PLANNED PARENTHOOD v. CASEY. Only Scalia and Thomas took the occasion to oppose the Court’s abortion precedents in principle. So Alito and Roberts said nothing to suggest that they opposed "abortion rights," with the exception of the use of a very rare procedure.

Why I’m in this business

I spent the better part of the last eight hours in the company of some perfectly delightful former students, all early in their academic careers. As part of our annual Liberal Arts Symposium, we invited some young professorial and graduate student alumni back to campus, to show our current students what might happen if they took this stuff seriously. While I of course couldn’t gauge the student response by my own, but I was extremely pleased to be bouncing between two panels populated by people like this fellow, this young sociologist, and a young woman who’s enjoying this experience. The papers were interesting, and reflected something of the sparks they set off when they were in the classroom over the past fifteen years.

After the academic formalities were over, we had time to visit over drinks and snacks. These were serious thoughtful people. I don’t need to agree with them about everything, but I do know that they’ve carried something of their experience with my colleagues and me with them. The students who encounter them will be in pretty good hands.

I feel more like a proud poppa than is probably healthy. (Of couse, I’d brag even more on my own kids.)

Court upholds partial-birth abortion ban

Story here. Opinion here and here. Needless to say, I haven’t yet read the 73 page opinion. Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority (the usual suspects); Clarence Thomas wrote a separate concurrence; and Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the dissent, joined by the usual suspects on that side. Matthew Franck offers this preliminary observation:

[T]here is something wrong when we wait with bated breath for the decision of one Supreme Court justice on a question of such importance. Justice Kennedy did what any reader of his dissent in the last such case (seven years ago) would have expected him to do. But the struggle for the heart and mind of Anthony Kennedy feels sometimes like the punishment of Sisyphus—and one never knows when one’s grip on the boulder will give way. Today persistence paid off. Next time, who knows?

He’s right.

Iranian arms in Afghanistan

This time, you can’t blame the Austrians.

Media Kudos

Hugh Hewitt is right. When the mainstream media do something right and good, we should be near the first of the line to say so, instead of merely making criticism at their daily wrongs. Both the NY Times and the WaPo are running features about each victim of the VT atrocity. As has been often said, we give too much attention to the bad guys. In my next Reagan book, I decided that I would not include the name of his attempted assassin. He’s had enough attention; no more from me.


This WaPo article describes some of Cho Seung Hui’s behavior at Virginia Tech. You can read more about his creepy creative writing here, with some general perspective from those who teach creative writing here. There were people who tried to reach out to him and help him:

[Virginia Tech creative writing professor Lucinda] Roy, 51, said in a telephone interview that she also urged Cho to seek counseling and told him that she would walk to the counseling center with him. He said he would think about it.

Roy said she warned school officials. "I was determined that people were going to take notice," Roy said. "I felt I’d said to so many people, ’Please, will you look at this young man?’ "

Roy, now the alumni distinguished professor of English and co-director of the creative writing program, said university officials were responsive and sympathetic to her warnings but indicated that because Cho had made no direct threats, there was little they could do.

"I don’t want to be accusatory or blaming other people," Roy said. "I do just want to say, though, it’s such a shame if people don’t listen very carefully and if the law constricts them so that they can’t do what is best for the student."

The law apparently limits what we can do and, as noted in this WSJ editorial, is itself limited in what it can do.

Obama’s First Blunder?

Lots of interesting chatter about Obama’s cosmic musings about the Virginia Tech shootings, where he stretches the metaphor of violence as far as outsourcing of jobs overseas, and other things that display the kind of unseriousness that damaged liberals in the 1960s and 1970s. Not a good sign. Radley Balko of Reason and Ben Smith of The Politico are suitably harsh on Obama’s rhetorical extravagance and the intellectual flabbiness it suggests.

My Movie Debut

A few folks asked in a thread below where they could see my indie-movie, "An Inconvenient Truth. . . or Convenient Fiction?"

You can see it here on this website. The Pacific Research Institute will also send you a DVD for free if you want.


Level the Playing Field

Yesterday, while checking up on how the Red Sox were faring during the annual Patriots’ Day game, I noticed that was updating the progress of the Boston Marathon, including the results of the wheelchair division. That brought to mind this recent Washington Post article about a 17-year-old Paralympic wheelchair racer in Maryland, who has sued twice to force the state to treat her the same as all athletes at the state high school track and field championships. She wants to be entered in a specially-mandated wheelchair division in her event, the 1600 meter race, while racing against able-bodied individuals (if I understand the issue correctly – the article isn’t perfectly clear). Her finish -- first place by definition in her division – would count towards the overall team competition. Presumably, she doesn’t consider herself a true teammate unless her results are scored with the regular team. Other schools naturally object to what they consider a non-competitive bonus for her high school.

The article notes that while the girl considers her equal participation a civil right; many track athletes and coaches consider it an unnecessary threat to the integrity of their sport. The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association contends that it already has exceeded its legal obligations by adding eight nonscoring wheelchair events to this year’s track championships. Regular competitors worry about their safety running beside someone wheeling along at 20 miles an hour – a problem with all road-racing events, although efforts are usually made to segregate the competitors.

This calls to mind the flap a few years back about Casey Martin, a professional golfer (and former college teammate of Tiger Woods) who had a degenerative condition in his right leg. Casey sued the PGA Tour under the Americans with Disability Act for the right to use a golf cart during competitive events. Virtually the entire professional golf establishment – Tiger Woods included – opposed Martin, despite the obvious sympathies. They argued that the tour had the right to set the terms of athletic competition and that walking was an integral and demanding part of the game. If you don’t think so, try walking 36 holes (10 or so miles) on a hilly course during the height of the summer. The Supreme Court disagreed, ruling 7-2 in favor of Martin. The PGA’s practical case was weakened by the fact that golf carts are allowed on the Champions (Senior) Tour, although most golfers won’t use them as a matter of principle. Its moral case was weakened by the long-standing history of racial discrimination among the nation’s country clubs. The PGA Tour itself, astonishingly, had a “Caucasians Only” clause through 1961.

That said, I thought, and think, that as a matter of law and common sense, the Court was dead wrong. Let’s hope the courts in Maryland are smarter. For the record, as things turned out, Casey Martin did not enjoy much professional success and no other individual, handicapped or just a plain old tired golfer, has attempted to take advantage of the Martin precedent. (At least not on the PGA Tour – I’m not certain about the USGA.)

My point? As steroid suspect Barry Bonds approaches Hank Aaron’s home run record, we will find yet another opportunity to debate what exactly constitutes a level playing field in sports.

Categories > Sports

More on Fred

Stephen Hayes gives us more on Fred Thompson and his likely bid for the White House. I like the kinds of details that Hayes notes and the impressions he gleans from them. He is an observant and perceptive reporter and writes with clarity and (I think) purpose. A good read!

Studies Show Chimps More Evolved Than Humans

Well, who can deny that their genes have made them more functional animals than we are? (Thanks to Rob J.)

Campaign fund-raising

Check out this NYT feature. Hat tip: NRO’s Yuval Levin.

Virginia Tech and in loco parentis

I was talking briefly with students this morning about yesterday’s events (which hit close to home, as one student’s cousin attends Virginia Tech; they didn’t know she was O.K. until yesterday evening).

One of the issues we talked about was what authorities should have done after the first murders were discovered. One way of looking at it is to think about what the police force of a small city would have done after having discovered two bodies. I don’t think they would have "locked down" the city while they investigated.

But a college is different. We parents (I’m not quite there yet, as my kids have a few years to go before we ship them off) somehow trust or hope that the college authorities will look after our not-quite-kids/not-quite-adults in our absence. If a murderer might be on the loose in my neighborhood, I’ll lock down my house, wihtout any prompting from the authorities. Could I, should I, have expected similar caution and concern from the Virginia Tech’s administration?

I think that these matters are complicated, and that they’re bound up with the increasing freedom claimed by and granted to college students. In loco parentis, once the norm (and perhaps still the half-conscious expectation of many parents), exists only in odd ways. Consider, for example, this federal appellate opinion from the late 70s:

Our beginning point is a recognition that the modern American college is not an insurer of the safety of its students. Whatever may have been its responsibility in an earlier era, the authoritarian role of today’s college
administrations has been notably diluted in recent decades. Trustees, administrators, and faculties have been required to yield to the expanding rights and privileges of their students.

Consider, also, Justice William O. Douglas’ concurring opinion in this early 70s collegiate First Amendment case:

Many, inside and out of faculty circles, realize that one of the main problems of faculty members is their own re-education or re-orientation. Some have narrow specialties that are hardly relevant to modern times. History has passed others by, leaving them interesting relics of a bygone day. More often than not they represent those who withered under the pressures of McCarthyism or other forces of conformity and represent but a timid replica of those who once brought distinction to the ideal of academic freedom.

The confrontation between them and the oncoming students has often been upsetting. The problem is not one of choosing sides. Students - who, by reason of the Twenty-sixth Amendment, become eligible to vote when 18 years of age - are adults who are members of the college or university community. Their interests and concerns are often quite different from those of the faculty. They often have values, views, and ideologies that are at war with the ones which the college has traditionally espoused or indoctrinated. When they ask for change, they, the students, speak in the tradition of Jefferson and Madison and the First Amendment.

This libertarian article complains that a version of in loco parentis has made a comeback, driven largely by liability concerns and political correctness. I’m not as confident as the author that everyone intra the murales can and should take care of himself or herself, but I am willing to go along in deprecating the legalism that marks the contemporary university. Whatever the law may say, these not-quite-adults are still-our-kids, and we want them to be as safe as possible. Hence our uneasiness about the university’s response.

Update: For a more "citified" view, see this NRO piece.

Have alcohol, will taxi

Scott Johnson notes that the Twin Cities Metropolitan Airports Commission has ruled unanimously that airport taxi drivers who refuse to transport riders carrying alcohol will be suspended and, after a second infraction, can be denied a license. Muslims will, no doubt, take it to the courts.

Virginia Tech

Reflection on random killing caused by insanity shouldn’t lead us to anything but prayer for those who died young and without warning and about what it really means to be human.

Giuliani Fading and McCain Surging?

With Thompson and Gingrich both in the race, Rudy’s lead over McCain almost disappears. And the Democratic race is polarizing on class- and ideology-based lines with Obama closing in on Hillary.

Studies Show Having Children Makes People Happy

...OR, more precisely, having a child. Additional offspring don’t increase parental happiness. If sociobiology were simply true, our social instincts wouldn’t reward such a risky approach to gene spreading.


Just in case you haven’t seen this horror.

Pipelines to government

Jonah Goldberg links to Mickey Kaus’s critique of this unconvincing Paul Krugman screed, which recycles the worst of the Chris Hedges/Michelle Goldberg/Kevin Phillips school of thinking about religious conservatives in American politics (and in the Bush Administration in particular).

Jonah observes and asks:

I am very much open — indeed, somewhat convinced — that Bush has peppered the government with too many hacks. I’m just unpersuaded that it matters very much that some of them are Christian hacks. Though I should say that I am not one who sees Monica Goodling as some hero of the Republic for taking the Fifth. She may be brilliant, I’ve just seen no evidence for it.

Still, it would be interesting to hear from someone on the Christian right, with some serious experience both in government and among movement Christian conservatives try to parse some of these issues. Are there real consequences — good or bad — from using Christian colleges and the like as feeders for government service? Considering how much Ivy League bashing goes on the right, presumably it is a significant change when a Republican administration starts looking elsewhere for recruits. For me at least, it’s an interesting sociological question, not a theological or philosophical one.

He reports on some responses
here and here, and elicits this from ADF’s David French, of which this paragraph serves as a nice summary:

Are there scary, incompetent, and overly-ideological graduates of Christian law schools? Of course. Are there scary, incompetent, and overly-ideological graduates of Harvard, Yale, or Stanford? You betcha — and they are perhaps more dangerous because too many people are in awe of their degree and bestow on them (undeserved) intellectual and moral authority. The problem I have with the Krugman critique or even with some fellow Christian commenters is two-fold: First, the use of a school’s academic reputation as a stand-in for evaluating individual merit (for example, the individual who said that Regent grads "may be brilliant but probably aren’t" should know the same statement applies to Harvard grads) is just lazy and all too often inaccurate. Second, it is just flat-out wrong to believe that Christian schools like Regent are any more mission-focused than virtually every major secular law school in America. Secular law schools have distinct points of view on abortion, same-sex marriage, the War on Terror, economics, so-called "social justice," etc. And — as I said before — there is no doubt that the faculty spends much of its time ensuring that students will parrot the school’s approved view when their students enter the workforce.

I agree with French that there’s ample evidence that smart people attend schools that folks in the Bos-Wash corridor don’t generally regard as elite (to put it mildly). In some cases, those students get a very good education. In others, they may well be on their way to something like indoctrination.

I think I differ with French in thinking that it’s perhaps somewhat easier to be a religious conservative at an elite college or university than it is to be a secular liberal at a deeply religious institution. In both cases, the institutional culture militates against the "minority" position, but the "official" openness of the elite college or university offers at least a small space for dissenting from the secular liberal mainstream. I think that there can or ought to be a kind of engagement with "the world" at the best religious institutions, and that serious students there have a powerful stake in discerning the truth, as it emerges, not only from Scripture, but also from what one might call general revelation and/or reason.

There is a danger, not exclusive to religious institutions by any means, of subordinating learning to an activist agenda (as French stresses about elite law schools, and as seems to be all too clear about Patrick Henry College, perhaps a little less so about Regent University). For liberal arts colleges, the "antidote" is to emphasize liberal learning for its own sake. For Christian institutions, a focus on humility is surely appropriate. Professional programs are perhaps somewhat harder to rein in, since they’re more interested in "practical applications" and less interested in contemplating the good, the true, and the beautiful. Genuine humility might be good here, too, where it can be achieved (much harder, you’d think, in high-status institutions than elsewhere).

My hope is not that religious folk disappointed by the failures of the Bush Administration will "fast from politics", but that, having been chastened, they will be more modest in their expectations of political life. Everyone should be reading Augustine, as well as Robert Kraynak (and of course Peter Lawler).

Has Homeland Security Gone too Far?

I’m for fighting the War on Terror, but there’s no call for what the Bureau of Homeland Security has done now. They’ve apparently collected a database of all of our drivers’ licenses, including photographs. Fortunately, it’s possible to opt out of the system. Visit this site and search for your license using your name, city, and state, then click the box marked "Please Remove."

This has been a public service announcement from your friends at No Left Turns. Thank you.

Intellectual diversity in Missouri

This Inside Higher Ed article describes the Missouri counterpart to the Georgia bill I discussed here.

Although the two measures have significant parallels, there are also differences, above all the reference to "Biblical inerrancy" in the Missouri measure. Connected with that is a provision in the Missouri bill that institutions could

"[d]evelop methods for disseminating best practices to ensure that conflicts between personal beliefs and classroom assignments that may contradict such beliefs can be resolved in a manner that achieves educational objectives without requiring a student to act against his or her conscience....

I have two thoughts about these differences. First, the latter provision is driven by the Emily Brooker case. If you click on the last link, you’ll see how bad things had gotten in the Missouri State University social work program. If you click on the first, you’ll see that the case could be cited as an example of how the current system works, though it did take a lawsuit to provoke the corrective action. The legislation encourages, but doesn’t require, that institutions be proactive.

The Biblical inerrancy provision is more problematical. Here’s how it reads:

2. The coordinating board for higher education shall require each public institution to report annually to the general assembly detailing the steps the institution is taking to ensure intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas.

(1) The report required in this subsection shall address the specific measures taken by the institution to ensure and promote intellectual diversity and academic freedom. The report may include steps taken by the institution to:


(e) Include intellectual diversity concerns in the institution’s guidelines on teaching and program development and such concerns shall include but not be limited to the protection of religious freedom including the viewpoint that the Bible is inerrant....

The report is "required," but it "may include" references to "intellectual diversity concerns in the institution’s guidelines on teaching and program development," which in turn "shall of religious freedom including the viewpoint that the Bible is inerrant." So administrators clearly know what they may or shall do, don’t they? If this bill, passed by the Missouri House, becomes law, civil liberties litigators will be licking their lips. It calls to mind the legislative attempts to include creationism or intelligent design in school curricula, all of which have been struck down by the courts. (I’ve discussed two recent cases here and here.) The bill’s language is complicated, not to say confusing. I don’t know whether it mandates anything, but I do know that it will provide work for the ACLU.

Lastly, you can download a critique of the intellectual diversity legislation here. It’s tendentious in a variety of ways, regularly suggesting, for example, the prospect of the worst sort of interference by outsiders. By itself, of course, the bill’s reporting requirement doesn’t do any of that.

In the end, as I’ve said before, I’d rather there not be any legislation. I’d rather that institutions be scrupulous about policing themselves. But a reporting requirement encourages such self-policing, and subsequent ham-handed legislative interference would, I’m sure, meet with even greater resistance. Still, if I had to choose between the Georgia and Missouri bills, the former strikes me as less problematical.

Keeneland, Kentucky

I just got back from spending the day at Keeneland, paying special attention to the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and saw Dominican (as in cigar from) win it by a nose and therefore a slot in the Kentucky Derby. The three year old won on the (oddly) silent oatmeal colored Polytrack, the only one in the U.S. The artifical track was especially useful because it had been raining most of the day; it drains very well. Great race, lovely place, great looking horses...and the well-dressed ladies with their lilting tones were also noticed and appreciated, and not only by the northern boys. I have always had a fondness for Kentucky; after all, I met Isabella there. My host was the secretary of the Kentucky Senate, Jay Hartz. Thanks, Jay, had a fine time and only lost a bit.


Honoring #42

The first few weeks of the baseball season have been dominated by abysmal weather conditions (cue the Al Gore jokes) and preparations to celebrate today’s (Sunday) 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game as a Brooklyn Dodger. (These two items have unfortunately collided today, with a number of rainouts on the East Coast.) George Will reflects on that event. In 1997 major league baseball permanently retired Robinson’s jersey number, 42, for all teams. With the permission of the Robinson family, a number of individual players (primarily but not exclusively African-Americans) such as Ken Griffey, Jr., and some entire teams, notably the Dodgers, will wear #42 on Sunday. The jerseys will then be signed by the players and auctioned off to benefit the Jackie Robinson Foundation. The original idea was that only one player per team would wear #42. A few, such as Minnesota’s Torii Hunter have complained that this proliferation dilutes the honor paid to Robinson. The general view, however, is – the more the merrier.

Robinson’s groundbreaking step in America’s game, one year before President Truman ordered the desegregation of the armed forces, led to the racial and ethnic transformation of the game. By 1975, 27 percent of major league ballplayers were African-American. Waves of Hispanic and Asian athletes have further transformed the game, so that roughly 40 percent of the players are now “minorities.” But African-American participation has declined steadily, to just 8 percent this season. The apparent contradiction has been a cause of considerable puzzlement – and concern, as I have noted here previously. Two explanations are generally given, as
Michael Wilbon considers. First, young American black athletes are attracted increasingly to other sports, especially basketball (due to the marketing of superstars such as Michael Jordan) and to football (because there are many more college scholarships available). Second, the decline of the inner city and the inability or unwillingness of local authorities to maintain baseball parks and leagues. It’s much easier to hang up a basket on an asphalt court, grab a ball and play.

Should this be a cause for concern? The second suggested cause often has racial, if not racist overtones. Has the inner city declined because of white indifference or hostility; misguided government policies; or the disintegration of the black family? Are fathers necessary to teach the skills of baseball and the love of the game, in a way not necessary for basketball (i.e., is baseball an acquired taste)? Is baseball -- otherwise flourishing -- the canary in the coal mine for more than just America’s game?

Categories > Sports

More Cowbell

Since Fung nearly had an acid flashback from my Strauss Rap below, it seems necessary that NLT include a link to the famous "More Cowbell" sketch from SNL.

I Was Born a Rambling Man and Not Even in the South...

Here are some rambling thoughts I put together to the discussion below--mainly between dain and dale--about the Southern identity politics. My hope and even fear is that this is the stuff that inspires spirited discussion:

Well, Dale has said a lot, but here’s one thing I agree with: You can love the South while hating slavery and thinking the Confederacy was really a stupid idea. (See Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, Shelby Foote, William Faulkner, and even numerous African-American intellectuals, musicians, artists, and ordinary untalented people like you and me. O’Connor’s and Percy’s work criticizes northern universalism from the perspective of southern particularism and vice versa; the result was genuinely Thomist realism that transcended the limitations of the North’s abstract individualism and the South’s honorable, unjust, excessively manly self-assertion.)

Let me add, to fuel the fire, that the much-maligned Alexander Stephens of Georgia REALLY thought the Confederacy was a dumb idea (and so opposed secession and sat out most of the war sulking), and the subtext of his notorious corner-stone defense of slavery was ambiguously negative concerning the actual behavior of southern masters. He said what he thought had to be said to make sense of both the South’s "peculiar institution" and the Confederacy claim to a distinctive purpose and to bolster racial paternalism with racial naturalism to humanize as far as possible the master’s treatment of the slave. (God and nature made the African inferior or incapable of self-government but still human; the duty of the white master is to protect--not ruthlessly exploit--him etc.) And his post-war (exceedingly borng) constitutionalist defense of the Confederacy was all about saving Southern pride; he knew he was abstracting from slavery as a cause. Now I don’t doubt for a moment that Stephens genuinely adhered to scientific racism--a monstrous mixture of modern materialism and aristocratic pride--but he was not a monster. He really was deeply troubled by and aimed to mitigate the most brutal excesses of the institution of slavery; he "paternalistically" didn’t participate in that brutality himself, although he did have lots of slaves. I write not to make Stephens anyone’s hero but only to add that, given the horribly, blindly unjust intellectual climate of his time and place, even this strange and brilliant man did give us something, at least, to admire. And don’t forget: He was Lincoln’s good friend.

Second Thoughts on McCain

A lot of people have noted there is rough justice that the principal author of the dreadful Bi-Partisan Campaign Reform Act, John McCain, is lagging badly in fundraising for his presidential campaign. And few people have been harder on McCain for his faux-populism and loose constitutionalism than George Will, which makes all the more remarkable Will’s latest Newsweek column praising McCain for the clarity and forcefulness with which he is sticking by our cause in Iraq.

Americans on the Go

This is cool: a visual representation of air traffic in the United States during a 24 hour period.

Conspiracy Theory Takedown

William Whittle of ejectejecteject offers this magnificent takedown of loopy conspiracy theories, from the moon landing to 9/11. This one is worth bookmarking next time you hear Rosie O’Donnell spout off.