Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Saturday Reading

I particularly enjoyed this morning's New York Times, and in lieu of anything terribly original, I'm going to share with you the various items that drew my attention and engendered some sort of strong response, pro-, con-, or just tickled. They are arranged in ascending order of importance (to me).

Freud and Schwarzenegger Can't Both Be Wrong: With this unrevealing title, one might expect some sort of article about Austrians or something. Who would expect a tribute to the smoking of fine cigars? Nevertheless, that's what you get here, including a delightful bit on cigar smoking etiquette, right down to the virtues of keeping handy a silk smoking jacket.

Plan to Let F.B.I. Track Mail in Terrorism Inquiries: Yet another in an endless series of encroachments on our freedoms with express preclusion of judicial review. It's getting tiresome reminding this administration of the importance to the constitutional scheme of separation of powers. Checks and balances doesn't just manifest in judges deciding whether legislation is constitutional. The principle, in fact, is most alive where law enforcement officers are denied the opportunity to track our activities absent the imprimatur of a judge who authorizes such probing upon some required showing of cause warranting the intrusion. Oh well, eh?

Taking Luck Seriously: I don't really know Matt Miller, but invoking Rawls' classic suggestion that one should design an ideal society beginning from the premise, in effect true for all of humanity at birth, that you will have to live in that society but won't know where within that society you will be stationed until you wake up one day in the middle of the storm, this short opinion piece provides a very readable and thought provoking discussion of the degree to which liberals and conservatives attribute the success or failure of any individual to the lucky accidents of birth, inherited traits, and so on. Consider:

Try too hard to wipe out the inequities spawned by luck, and you banish luck's societal benefits and go down the road of communism. But harness a healthy awe for luck, and you expand the bounds of empathy in ways that make a living wage for poor workers and great schools for poor children national imperatives. What we're led to is the public agenda missing today, built around passionate commitments - by both liberals and conservatives - to (1) equal opportunity and (2) a minimally decent life, achieved in ways that harness market forces for public purposes.


So the conservative view of the decent minimum comes to this: "You're lucky to be in America; you're lucky to have a job; you're lucky to have the emergency room." A better idea would be "basic health coverage and $9 to $10 an hour, without putting the full burden of this on employers." Turns out we can have such a society for a penny on the national dollar (1% of G.D.P.), and still leave government smaller (21% of G.D.P.) than it was under President Ronald Reagan.

This last proposal intrigues me. It approximately comports with what I imagine, but still. Anyway, by utilizing Rawls and Friedman, this sub for Maureen Dowd restores some robustness to column inches typically wasted on Dowd's fatuous nattering. Maybe she'll stay on book leave for the indefinite future. That'd be nice.

In Rare Threat, Bush Vows Veto of Stem Cell Bill: In this article, the Times reports that Bush has expressed his intention to veto any bill emerging from the House (and, ostensibly, from the Senate as well, though I don't expect Bush to be entirely on top of the mechanical aspects of his job since his respect for separation of powers is passingly minimal) that in any way liberalizes embryonic stem cell research.

"I'm a strong supporter of adult stem cell research, of course. But I made it very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life, is - I'm against that," said Mr. Bush, speaking in the Oval Office during a brief appearance with the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "And therefore, if the bill does that, I will veto it."

Of course, to veto legislation is the president's constitutional prerogative, should the need arise, and I wouldn't fault him his exercise thereof in any context he chooses. He is the duly elected chief executive of these United States, and this is among his enumerated powers. That said, I nonetheless find it intriguing how flagrantly this flouts his supposed veneration of majority will, a frequent talking point in the ongoing battle over the judicial appointment process. If a mere simple majority of the Senate should be sufficient to approve whatever jack-booted revanchist the Republicans see fit to seat upon the federal bench, why shouldn't a majority of the entire Congress be sufficient to pass a bill reflecting the obvious majority will of the people to explore more vigorously therapeutic applications for embryonic stem cells, strictly by utilizing frozen embryonic cells that otherwise will be discarded like so much trash?


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