Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Federalism and Self_Restraint

It could be argued that someone who could write this makes a strong case for why he should be President:

This discussion is not an idle exercise. Republicans have struggled in recent years, because they have strayed from basic principles. Federalism is one of those principles. It is something we all give lip service to and then proceed to ignore when it serves our purposes. During my eight years in the Senate, I tried to adhere to this principle. For me it was a lodestar. Not only was it what our Founding Fathers created — a federal government with limited, enumerated powers with respect for other levels of government, it also provided a basis for a proper analysis of most issues: “Is this something government should be doing? If so, at what level of government?”....

Adhering to the principles of federalism is not easy. As one who was on the short end of a couple of 99-1 votes, I can personally attest to it. Federalism sometimes restrains you from doing things you want to do. You have to leave the job to someone else — who may even choose not to do it at all. However, if conservatives abandon this valued principle that limits the federal government, or if we selectively use it as a tool with which to reward our friends and strike our enemies, then we will be doing a disservice to our country as well as the cause of conservatism.

Read the rest of what Fred Thompson has to say in this piece about federalism here.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Maybe They Should, but It Was Not the Court's Place to Require It

One of the problems with the politicization of the courts is that the public does not understand their function. Too many people, including those in positions of leadership, treat the courts as quasi-legislatures.

Thus, an editorial in this morning's The Tennessean notes that Senator Lamar Alexander agreed with the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Massachussetts et al vs. EPA. However, they don't really say what Alexander agreed with and imply by what follows that he agrees because he thinks that greenhouse gasses should be regulated. However, that is not what the court decided.

The court ruled that the plaintiffs in the case had standing to bring a cause of action in court, that the EPA had acted insufficiently on a request for rulemaking related to greenhouse gasses, and that the EPA does have standing to regulate on such issues. The two dissents in the case do not address whether the federal government should regulate greenhouse gasses. The dissent written by Chief Justice Roberts argues compellingly that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the suit. That offered by Justice Scalia contends that even if they had standing, that the case was decided wrongly, as the statute does not compel the agency to take the steps that the plaintiffs desired.

But, for those who skipped those civics classes from high school dealing with the proper function of the courts, I would offer this line from the Chief Justice's dissent:

Petitioners’ difficulty in demonstrating causation and redressability is not surprising given the evident mismatch between the source of their alleged injury—catastrophic global warming—and the narrow subject matter of the Clean Air Act provision at issue in this suit.The mismatch suggests that petitioners’ true goal for this litigation may be more symbolic than anything else. The constitutional role of the courts, however, is to decide concrete cases—not to serve as a convenient forum for policy debates.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

No Trust in This Process

In today's editorial, The Tennessean opines in favor of racial discrimination in Metro Nashville Police Department promotion practices. The process that had been in place until recently had resulted in promotions for relatively few minority officers, so that system has been changed to allow the police chief to pass over officers with higher scores in order to promote some who made lower ones.

Arguing as only The Tennessean's editorial writer can, the piece somehow contends that a policy that promotes officers with worse scores "instills a level of trust that can be important for the force."

Having said that, it should be admitted that it is concerning that such a small number of minority candidates were promoted under the old system, and it would be in the best interests of the police department to try to figure out why that was the case. If the promotional process, which relied heavily on performance on written tests, was flawed, it should be altered or scrapped in favor of a better one. However, Metro has chosen the worst possible course. They have retained the possibly flawed process and chosen to simply allow the chief arbitrarily on the basis of race to pass over those who perform better.

That is a process that does not instill trust.

Irony Unnoticed

Did the editors at The Tennessean not see the rich irony in this?

The entire left hand column of the front page of today's paper is devoted to a story on --seriously -- a local company that received free advertising.

I'm not kidding.

The writer of the article is identified in the byline as Bryan Mullen, who is described as a staff writer for the newspaper. That is helpful, as the reader might have otherwise thought he was a PR coordinator for SeeMore Putter Company, a Brentwood based firm thrilled that its product was shown repeatedly over the weekend in the hands of Zach Johnson, the winner at the Masters golf tournament.

Nearly every word of the story is devoted to the facts that the company received free media advertising and that the owners are thrilled about it.

Of course, a legitimate news story could have been done on a company that found itself in this fortuitous situation. A story could have mentioned the television coverage before reporting on how they came to have a relationship with Mr. Johnson, the background of the company, the financial history of the company and their goals for the future, how they market their products, the background of the owners (one sentence is devoted to this in today's story), or any number of other related matters. The story would have belonged in the Business section. If it were well-written, it might even go on the front page of that section.

I should add that The Oracle has no journalism education or experience. However, I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once. I am also looking for a job, should anyone be interested.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

While Thinking about Personal Responsibility....

An Associated Press report explains the root cause of the famous and extended dispute among the Hatfield and McCoy families: bad genes.

Specifically, something called Von Hippel-Lindau disease, which is reportedly prevalent in the McCoy gene pool, allegedly can "cause... 'fight or flight' stress hormones" that may "lead to hair-trigger rage and violent outbursts."

I wonder how often that one has been used by criminal defense attorneys? It sounds much better than the twinkie defense.

Thompson on Wrong Side on Campaign Finance

While many conservatives are heralding the possibility that former U.S. Senator from Tennessee Fred Thompson will enter the race for the Republican nomination for President, one may mark Washington Post columnist George Will as unimpressed. Will is primarily concerned with Thompson's ill advised support of the suppression of political speech encompassed in the McCain Feingold campaign finance regulation.

Will is correct that such support shows a lack of wisdom in terms of public policy. However, demagoguery about the role of money in politics is publicly popular and, and past support probably will not hurt Thompson among average voters.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Yet Neglected Means of Political Communication

For a 2006 study of the quality of Congressional websites, see here. The study found most of the websites to be "disappointing."

Hat Tip: The Thicket

Pharmaceutical Ads

For a perceptive and balanced look at the problems associated with pharmaceutical advertising, see Dr. Frank Boehm here.

I would only quibble with Dr. Boehm on one point: he says that over time he has become "more understanding and accepting" of physician advertising. I continue to believe that much of the advertising demeans the profession and tends to encourage overutilization of some types of medical services. About all that you can say in favor of physician advertising is that it isn't as demeaning as that engaged in by the legal profession.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Inhumanity to Man

For an interesting report on conditions inside California's overcrowded prison system, see here.

People often complain about an overabundance of rights and amenities -- cable television, law libraries, weight lifting rooms, etc. -- enjoyed by inmates, and in some instances those complaints are justified. However, the public is not served, and justice is not done, by a prison system that treats people inhumanely. Reasonable people across the political spectrum ought to be able to find ways to address these issues in practical ways that avoid ideological solutions that pretend that prison populations are either mistreated angels or unworthy of basic humanitarian concern.

Carbon Offsets and the Onset of Hypocrisy

Evidently, the purchase of carbon offsets has become the latest rage for well-meaning people who fail to discern the galling hypocrisy of it. It is the moral equivalent of a pimp promoting the conservation of morals by providing funding for abstinence education.

The article in the above link speaks of using offsets to make up for "unavoidable" excessive energy use. One suspects that it is actually not unavoidable (a great deal can be avoided if one genuinely believes there is a crisis); it is merely inconvenient to give up.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Rumors Greatly Exaggerated

I had forgotten what day of the year this is, but that did not stop a person from using my name as a part of an April Fool's gag. A woman with whom I have had some acquaintance recently called me this morning to say that her mother had e-mailed several family members to inform them that her daughter (the one who called me) had been given an engagement ring by me the previous night.

The woman in question is attractive, successful, and interesting, so the idea that she would be wearing my ring was obviously a gag.

The Oracle remains blissfully uncommitted, though ongoing work-related stress may yet require me to be committed.

But Can We Boo in Church?

It is on the front page of The Tennessean, so it must be important to know that Christians, having solved all of the important problems, are engaged in disputes over whether one should clap one's hands in a worship service. Actually, the author of the piece, religion writer Anita Wadhwani, correctly describes this as a part of a larger dispute over worship styles. The nature of that disagreement is important for what it says about the current state of evangelicalism.

The entire debate in churches is over style of worship, and it is sad that few take up the more significant issue of the substance of Christian worship, which is poor in many traditional churches and arguably worse in contemporary ones. Much of contemporary worship -- if the term "worship" can be used to describe what takes place -- involves the mindless but enthusiastic repetition of catchy phrases. However, it can hardly be thought much worse than supposedly traditional hymns like the old favorite, "In the Garden," which is perhaps the prototypical "God is my boyfriend" type of song:

"And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own.
And the joys we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known."


Even those defending bad worship practices instinctively realize that worship should be centered on the one being worshipped, and so defenders of clapping make an effort to explain that the applause is being directed to God. Really? The skeptic might wonder why congregations are more likely to applaud God when the singer nails a high note at the end, regardless of the content of what has been sung.

A legalistic ban on clapping would be silly, but the prevalence of clapping in some places reinforces the notion that much of what is called worship merely involves working up the crowd. One wishes that Christian congregations would worry less over whether organs are more spiritual than guitars and drums and instead concern themselves with whether their worship is God or man centered.

Someone Please Send Copies of Strunk and White to The Tennessean's Editorial Department

The editorial writers for The Tennessean, having evidently decided that its sports columnists were not up to the task, decided to weigh in today on the important matter of the current status of one Adam Jones, who the paper decrees to be "an embarrassment for the Tennessee Titans, the city and the state." Perhaps it was only due to lack of space that they failed to add the United States of America and the human race. Nonetheless, the editorial is so poorly written, that a critic hardly even knows where to begin. Should one start with the awkward wording, the factual inaccuracies, or the simplistic thinking of what is little more than an uninformed rant?

Awkward writing: "But what's worse is that Jones has become the prime example of a problem in the National Football League that increasingly shows a lack of discipline and accountability for players who get into trouble." I think that the writer means that the NFL has failed to require discipline and accountability, but that is a rather strained way of saying it.

Awkward writing: "Another statistic, which has gone far too unspoken, is that Jones leads his team in second chances...." Unspoken?

Awkward writing: "The most recent trouble for Jones is his being linked to an incident that involved a shooting Feb. 19 in Las Vegas." It would have been more smooth to say, "Jones has recently been connected with...."

Awkward writing: "The excuses for Jones are long since tiresome." "Have become" reads better than "are long since."

Awkward writing: "The seductive nature of watching Jones make an interception or return a punt for a touchdown shouldn't skew people's judgment, but that is what has happened." Seductive? The seductive nature skewed? Which people?

There is more awkward writing, but one must move on.

Factual inaccuracy: "The most quoted statistic in the NFL at the moment is that Jones has been involved in 10 incidents where he was either questioned or arrested by police since being drafted by the Titans in 2005." Really? No stats are quoted more?

Simplistic thinking: "It's high time the Titans acted on Pacman. If the reason for inaction has anything to do with money, that says plenty about the principles and priorities of the team. The Titans shouldn't have to wait for the commissioner to deal with wider league problems in order to clean up their own house. Owner Bud Adams and his front office should get with it now and cut Jones." Perhaps it has not occurred to the writer that by waiting for events to unfold the Titans are improving their chances of not having to pay Mr. Jones more money?

Here is my favorite statement in the entire piece: "But not even [Vince] Young, the brightest new light in the NFL, can keep his delinquent teammate off the front page of the newspaper." That is true, but The Tennessean editors could -- if they would decide to keep news about athletes in the Sports section.

And news about entertainers in an entertainment section.... And news and pictures of good looking female teachers who have sex with students somewhere in the state and local news section....

But one mustn't ask too much of this paper.