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The news this morning carried an article about Bill Gates investing in land to build a “smart city” in the Arizona desert. It got me to thinking about the word “smart” being used to advance progressive policies.

People who like new-urbanism like to promote “smart-growth”.  The problem with this type of talk is that it makes the unspoken assumption that opposing ideas are by definition, “dumb”.  Hillary Clinton used to talk about “smart power”, the obvious unsaid statement being that other ways of projecting power were the result of ignorance. This came from a person who supported toppling both the Iraq and Libya invasions, against the 2007 surge of American troops, and oversaw the mistake-ridden aftermath in Libya. It takes some nerve to talk about “smart power” after all of those decisions.

I met a whole lot of so-called “smart” people in law school. Some really were smart. Some were merely book-smart. Some were industrious overachievers. And a few, I wondered what they were doing there.  As noted in the famous Fredo and Michael scene in Godfather II, even stupid people hate being considered stupid.

Describing policies as “smart” sounds smug, self-satisfied, exclusive and in a democratic society that depends on the votes of the many, well … kinda dumb.

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Congressional passed a use of force authorization on September 14, 2001, three days after nineteen Saudi Arabian terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It is now October 2017., and high time for the American people, through their Congress, to check our azimuth and see if we want our military to make a course correction. We shouldn’t drift aimlessly into the next armed conflict in some country where we least expect it. Our country’s military has fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, Yemen, Somalia amongst others. The Marine Corps has been a major tenant in Djibouti for more than a decade. Millions of Americans were surprised to learn of U.S. troops dying in military operations in Niger and Mali, being wholly unaware we even had troops there.

While it’s not Congress’ job to micromanage combat operations, it is Congress’ job to decide whether we should be in certain theaters of war in the first place. The vast majority of the 2001 authorizers are retired and/or dead. The Senate co-sponsor, Jesse Helms, has been dead for nine years. We are now on our third president since the original authorization. It’s time to review that authorization, scope and bound it if need be, and make sure our military is actually doing what the country wants it to be doing. A review once every sixteen years isn’t too much to ask.

– 1TF

On Las Vegas

Words feel pretty useless at a time like this. On Sunday, October 1st, one man with an arsenal of weapons shot hundreds of concert goers in Las Vegas.

A few thoughts:

1) The gunman shot people attending a Jason Aldean concert. That makes me question . While most folks on the coasts probably aren’t familiar with Aldean, he is immensely popular amongst those in the “Flyover States” (which is also the name of a major Aldean hit on country radio). It seems an odd demographic to shoot up if the gunman was simply a conservative “angry white male” striking out at the modern world. There’s something else going on here, which brings me to #2.

2) Look hard at the gunman’s finances. He’s supposed to have been rich, but he really liked to gamble.  A lot.  Maybe he lost a lot more money than those around him realized, and was angry about it.

3) ISIS has claimed credit.  On the one hand, ISIS tends not to claim credit for attacks that aren’t there’s, so it’s worth checking this claim more deeply.  On the other hand, the facts as released so far don’t appear to bear their claim out.  Perhaps ISIS, whose land under control is down to just a sliver along the Iraqi-Syrian border, is trying to change the narrative by claiming this shooting.  But still … worth checking.

4) My guess is that a week ago, most folks had never heard of bump stocks; I know I didn’t.  Fully automatic weapons are for all intents and purposes illegal.  So should be something that operates as a workaround to turn a semi-automatic weapon (which is legal) into a fully automatic one (which is not). I support the Second Amendment fairly broadly, but I think reasonable people across the spectrum ought to agree in the narrow area of bump stocks and another workaround, trigger cranks.

5) He shot from the 32nd floor, making it virtually impossible for anyone to return fire. It’s a scenario I hadn’t considered before. Those of us who are Second Amendment supporters need to think how we address that situation. The shooter has opened a terrifying window. Does anyone think terrorists haven’t noticed? In the short term, perhaps large city police forces may have a sniper on standby or stationed at a high perch over large assemblies. But in the long term, we really need to consider how we are to deal with the high altitude shooter. A bump stock and trigger crank ban is a good start, but don’t expect the bad guys to actually follow the rule. How do we deal with the next one? The idea that we simply accept it as the “cost of freedom” isn’t the right answer. Scrapping the Second Amendment isn’t the right answer either. We’ve got to come up with a better one.

– 1TF

Yesterday, former acting CIA Director Michael Morrell resigned his position at Harvard to protest the school’s Institute of Politics’ fellowship offer to former Army Private First Class Chelsea Manning, who as PFC Bradley Manning, was troubled by actions of military personnel in Afghanistan and thus passed along secret military information to WikiLeaks.  Late word has come down that Harvard has rescinded that disputed fellowship offer.  I think the school  belatedly made the right decision.

If Harvard is looking to have a transgender fellow for its Institute of Politics, surely the number of transgender individuals is such that Harvard can look a little harder and do better than to hire someone who gave confidential military information to WikiLeaks.  If Harvard is looking to have a Fellow with ground-level knowledge of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are literally thousands of former Marine and Army squad leaders who led troops and interacted with the native population in both peace and war – black, white, male, female, liberal, conservative, gay, straight, etc.  It’s a population large enough that if Harvard looks hard enough, it can pretty much find exactly what it wants ideologically without resorting to someone who gave away secrets.   Plus, they could offer a more granular level of knowledge of what it’s like to be front-line soldier.  Former Private First Class Manning manned a computer at an operations center; it’s relevant, but it’s not front-line knowledge.

I understand PFC Manning’s deep concerns about some ways in which the war was being conducted.  But that’s why there’s an Inspector General in each Army division.  There was a legal way to raise a red flag and it would have been well within PFC Manning’s rights and responsibility to do so.  But PFC Manning chose a path that was illegal and potentially dangerous for fellow American servicemembers.  And that’s just not okay with Director Morrell and the vast majority of American soldiers.

-1TF

 

Yesterday was the Feast of the Holy Cross in the Roman Catholic Church. This got me to thinking – when, one steps away and looks at it from a distance, the veneration of the cross is a strange thing. Victims of the Holocaust remember the crematoriums, but they certainly don’t venerate them. People may respect the patriots Crispus Attucks and Nathan Hale, but they don’t venerate the rifles or rope which ended them. Thomas More fans don’t venerate the ax.

So why this veneration of the implement of execution?  It may be the idea of displacement.  This has been seen done by the homosexual community appropriating the words gay and queer, and by doing so, turning them from pejorative terms four decades ago into mere descriptions these days.  More recently, “deplorables” and “nasty woman” were terms uttered by presidential candidates that were then gleefully used by their opponents to describe themselves.  In each of these cases, the objects of scorn turned the use of a term back on itself.

The cross on which Jesus was crucified may have been more in the shape of a capital “T” then in the form we think of now.  It appears this, not the current symbol was what early Christians used, taking its place with the fish, lamb and an X that supposedly represented Christ.   This implement of torture and death has been turned back on itself.  The practice has been largely eliminated; the church and its symbol go on.

So why the cross?  It’s not clear, but I propose on possibility:  it might just be smart politics.  While the fish was a way to say Christ would provide, the cross could be a way to say either “Christ loved us enough to die for us” or in the alternative “I am willing to take up my cross, and not even death will stop us.”  That can be a useful symbol of power and affirmation in a church that consisted of the poor and powerless for its first three centuries.  If nothing else, it didn’t appear to hurt.  By the time of the Emperor Constantine’s conversion in 315 A.D., Christians were regularly making the sign of the cross (although “crucifixes” or crosses with Christ on them wouldn’t appear for another 200 years.)

This implement of torture and death has been turned back on itself.  The practice has been largely eliminated; the church and its symbol go on.

` 1TF

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee took up the nominations of two candidates for positions on the Federal bench. One of them, Notre Dame Law Professor Amy Coney Barrett, was grilled by Democratic members Diane Feinstein and Richard Durbin for being a faithful Catholic. Feinstein, in her best Obi-Wan Kenobi imitation, declared, “the dogma lives loudly in you.” Feinstein, whom I normally respect, displayed a disappointing narrow-mindedness regarding faithful Catholics. She continued, “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” I think she’s referring to abortion and forced contraception funding. Perhaps if Barrett had been another, more “in vogue” religion, this line of questioning would be called out on the left. But Barrett’s a Catholic, so she just gracefully had to endure it.

Richard Durbin chimed in asking, “Are you an orthodox Catholic?” Sen. Durbin himself apparently attends Mass at Old St. Patrick’s, a liberal parish in Chicago, and frequently votes at odds with the Catholic hierarchy. He acted confused, saying he hadn’t heard the term “orthodox Catholic” before. That surprised me, because I’ve heard it a fair amount. I suspect he’s heard it, too. He appeared to be feeling out just how conservative Barrett was. She parried his jab by praising Pope Francis, which Durbin appreciated. She also did her best to explain, as if it were necessary, that while she is a faithful to her religion, she is also faithful to the Constitution.

The bottom line is that progressive members of the Senate see Professor Barrett as a threat. She has served as a clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia, and may (or may not) be a pro-life judge. Scalia tended to hire one liberal clerk per term, thinking it sharpened his thinking. Barrett was quoted in a 2013 Notre Dame Magazine article as saying scholars on both side of debate had criticized Roe v. Wade for unecessarily igniting a political firestorm, but she also said she found it very unlikely the core finding of Roe would ever be overturned.

Even if Barrett were pro-life, as a federal circuit judge she would be obliged to follow the precedent set down in Roe. But I suspect the deep concerns and probable opposition of Feinstein, Durbin and other progressives isn’t really about Seventh Circuit. Some readers may recall the campaign to destroy Miguel Estrada’s chances of serving on the federal bench. That was because Democrats were afraid the conservative Estrada would later be nominated to the Supreme Court, and they didn’t want to fight against the possible first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee. That time it worked out for them; Estrada was rejected and the honor of being the Court’s first Hispanic justice went to the more progressive Sonia Sotomayor. A similar calculus may be working here, with them trying to avoid opposing a smart and reasonable female Supreme Court nominee by stopping her at the federal level.

-1TF

I read a rather extraordinary piece in the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail. It is called “Don’t bother trying to understand those on the ‘other side'”, and is written by a University of Toronto philosophy professor named Mark Kingwell.

Professor Kingwell writes:

“There is a moral baseline that Nazism is indefensible; we ought likewise to recognize that most people can’t actually be reasoned with.” I was with him about the Nazis, but that is quite a left turn in the next sentence.

More:
“The utopia of a rational public sphere is an illusion, and efforts to unearth it – in the form of core American values, Canadian tolerance or some other political chimera – fool’s errands. What we need, instead, is what social scientists call scaffolding.”

In simple forms, scaffolding means things such as air-traffic control, highway roundabouts, exit signage, and queuing conventions – small mechanisms that allow humans to co-ordinate action when their individual interests might otherwise generate chaos. … Why don’t we acknowledge that political belief is also an aspect of human behaviour in need of external control? ”

Professor Kingwell would do well to re-introduce himself to the recent work of Jonathan Haidt at New York University on Moral Foundations Theory. Haidt theorizes that there are several moral values people share – liberals and conservatives agree that fairness and compassion are important. Conservatives also value loyalty, authority and sanctity. So when a liberal makes an assertion based on fairness or compassion, a conservative often can understand from where the liberal is coming. But when a conservative tries to balance those ideas, liberals can’t understand why those other values even matter.

Mr. Kingwell, rather than make further attempts to understand the other (ie. conservative) side, instead seeks to proscribe certain kinds of speech:
“Curbs on speech and strict rules of engagement – no interruptions, no slogans, no talking points – may be the right answer here. We already, in this country, ban hateful speech. Let’s go farther and insist on discourse rules, limits on public outrage and aggressively regulated social media. We could even ban media panel discussions.”

The sheer impossibility of enforcing such rules makes this suggestion sound silly. What exactly is the penalty for interrupting anyway? There are people on the fringes of each side that don’t listen to reason. But I disagree with Professor Kingwell when he says:
“Classical liberals argue that bad speech should be met with more and better speech, that the marketplace of ideas will short bad stocks and return investment on good ones. Alas, not so.”
On the contrary, I say that most people, given a compelling message and messenger, will take opposing arguments into account. As an anonymous blogger (due to job concerns), I don’t make personal attacks. I think if you do, you should name yourself. I’m sure Professor Kingwell means well, but I found his prescription unconvincing.

He’s not completely wrong, though in that, there are things more than rational arguments sometimes. I have found people are much more receptive to a message if the person making it has led by example. This leads me to another a much more useful Globe and Mail article entitled “I was a neo-Nazi. I know the cure for hate” by Tony McAleer. In short, the answer was compassion. I think Mr. McAleer raises a strong point. He speaks that one of the reasons he joined one of those groups is because it was the first place he felt connected and appreciated by others.  It wasn’t hate that attracted him; it was acceptance.  It mirrored a recent article by a sixty-something Catholic priest in Virginia’s Arlington Diocese speaking with regret of his time with white supremacists in his (pre-seminary) early twenties. It also mirrors the reason a lot of young men of any race join street gangs. One thing I noticed about the Charlottesville marchers – a lot of them were very young. Attack their gross ideology, sure, but don’t write them off as unworthy of salvaging. Many of them are working out personal issues of which hate is a symptom, not a cause. If you want to organize large, peaceful counter-demonstrations, fine.  But I don’t see screaming and violence doing much to help. It is more productive to talk in a manner as to separate the young and impressionable from the hard-core racists. Simply calling those young people – not their actions, but them – “evil” is counterproductive. That isolation and disdain from others is what helped create them in the first place. More isolation and disdain isn’t likely to fix them. Compassion may though.  That’s one of those universal values conservatives and liberals actually agree on.

– 1TF

P.S.  Professor Kingwell raised a point I thought he was dead right on, namely his calling out those who “deliberately misinterpret” what their opponent is saying. I share his exasperation with that, if not his prescription for it.  I hope I have accurately reflected his position on these matters. If not, it’s not deliberate.