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Saturday, March 16, 2002
The Scourge of Richard Cohen, Vol. IX

(Ed. – The following is a bit of mean spiritedness that will be an on-going feature of this blog. Normally the author will endeavor to be reasonably fair, but this is an exception.)

For someone who is nominally presumed to be reputable and an A-list dinner guest, Richard Cohen seems to be slipping into the nether regions of idiotarianism normally populated by the likes of Senor Fartybutt (aka The Odor) and Chunkybutt (aka THE Stupid White Man). In his latest column, Richard reaches deep into his bag of vile and pulls out one of his old standards. Not content to express his complete and total disagreement with what someone else thinks or does, he stoops to calling them crazy – not wrong, not even stupid or ignorant, but crazy – and then does his unlevel-headed best to justify such a charge.

Earlier this week, Andrea Yates was found guilty of murdering her five children. Subsequent to the publication of this Richard Cohen column, Andrea Yates was spared the death penalty and sentenced to life in prison, making her eligible for parole when her youngest victim would have been 40 years old.

I firmly believe that it would have been a travesty for Andrea Yates to have been found not guilty. There can be no question that Andrea Yates was very disturbed. Who could methodically murder five children and not be less than in complete control of their faculties? But her specific actions in accomplishing this terrible deed – waiting for her husband to leave, drawing the bath, killing her children one by one, and then calling the police when she had finished – also indicate that she knew what she was doing and that it was not right. As to the sentencing, it doesn’t bother me that she got life, and it wouldn’t have bothered me if she had been sentenced to death. Either is arguable in my humble opinion, so I’ll go with the jury’s recommendation.

The nature and extent of Andrea Yates psychosis is a matter on which the accredited professionals cannot agree, so how can the general populace or even interested and educated laymen be expected to be able to determine the extent that this should mitigate the crime? This seems to be one of the recurring problems with the application of the use of insanity or diminished capability defenses in criminal law. Richard Cohen, of course, tries to exploit this as just another wedge in his arguments against the death penalty. But, at the time this column was written Andrea Yates was not yet sentenced to death, and as noted above, she will not face the death penalty in any case.

Richard Cohen and I covered some of this ground before when he wrote an earlier column on Andrea Yates and I scourged it on 21 February 2002, especially as it relates to problems with the death penalty per se. The link is here, but chances are it won’t work, since none of my Blogspot links seem to work anymore. Maybe you can get it by viewing the archives for that week, if they still are there. If anybody wants it, but cannot get to it, just drop me an e-mail and I will happily forward it. When the new site is up, all the Scourges will be indexed as well. But, I digress.

Richard Cohen steps into a hall of mirrors and gets disoriented as he asks: Are We Insane?

After 17 days of trial, after hearing from 38 witnesses, after sitting through a tutorial on the nature of schizophrenia, postpartum depression and psychosis -- after all of that and everything they knew from their own lives, a Texas jury of eight women and four men took just 3 1/2 hours to convict Andrea Yates of capital murder.

The facts are not in dispute.

I don't blame them. Like Yates, they knew right from wrong but could not help themselves.

Here we go. The jurors must be stupid or worse because they cannot look at the same set of facts and reach the same conclusion as Richard. It just occurred to me that perhaps the problem is that the jurors are Texans. After all, being a Texan has been sufficient cause for a number of other people to be subjected to the rhetorical wrath of Richard Cohen. I think it is truly reprehensible to impugn the motives and intelligence of people just because you don’t agree with them, but I’ll try and give Richard a chance to justify a statement like this.

Now, wide-eyed and dutiful, they must continue to follow the illogical logic of the law and proceed to the sentencing phase of their duty.

This being my ninth Scourge, Richard’s feeble attempts at sarcasm have become completely transparent, but wide-eyed and dutiful is at least new. And what’s with “the illogical logic of the law?” Is Richard complaining that they followed the law or that they didn’t follow the law? I sincerely hope he’s not suggesting that the jurors should just ignore the law. If Richard has a problem with the law itself, he should know that he needs to take it up with the Texas legislature, not these jurors. Perhaps Richard’s oft-expressed desire for judges to legislate from the bench has him a little confused here.

They must decide whether Yates should die -- surely a mercy killing in her case -- or remain locked up for at least 40 years.

I have to assume this is another attempt at sarcasm, otherwise a staunch opponent of the death penalty is actually arguing in favor of it for Andrea Yates. But I cannot recall the death penalty ever being advocated previously for the mercy of the murderer. If mercy is ever mentioned, it is usually to assuage the grief of those affected by the heinous acts.

The latter course is the more cruel and inhumane, because someday she's going to come out of her state, realize she's murdered her children and spend the rest of her life screaming her head off.

This was a dumb thing to write on 21 February and it’s even dumber now watching her conduct through the trial. It is impossible to know what “state” she is in, whether she will ever move to another “state,” whether that “state” would be an “improvement,” or if she would start screaming her head off in any case. And by the way, some of us think that she damn well ought to be in that “state” now. My God, she murdered her children one by one, not in some terrible moment of anger. If someone did this to five children that weren’t theirs, would Richard make any of these arguments on their behalf? Would this other child murderer be any saner?

There have never been any good choices in this case.

But this hasn’t stopped Richard from criticizing some of those choices in the harshest terms possible – even when he admits that it is far from clear.

One by one Yates drowned her kids in nine inches of cold water. One of them, 5-year-old John, fought so hard he was found with his mother's hair in his fist. All but one of the kids were lined up in the bed, as if they were asleep; the fifth and oldest child, 7-year-old Noah, was left floating in the bathtub. Then Yates called the police and confessed.

This gets to the heart of the issue surrounding the disposition of Andrea Yates. No question that she is to some extent crazy. There would also seem to be little doubt that to some extent she was in control of her faculties and knew this was wrong. The argument that people who have a diminished capacity of some sort shouldn’t be held responsible for their crimes ought to strike terror into the hearts of the people who care for them and love them. I believe that if this line of reasoning is pursued to its logical end that it must inevitably lead society to take anyone who might be a little “crazy” off the streets for their protection and ours, but I don’t think this is what anybody really wants. This is, incidentally, similar to what we are now doing with terrorists, actual or suspected, for not entirely dissimilar reasons.

"She made the choice to fill the tub," one of the prosecutors, Kaylynn Williford, told the jury. "She made the choice to kill these children. She knew it was wrong." No, Ms. Williford. You are wrong -- and you know it. If you had the wit to get out of law school and to dress yourself in the morning, then you must know that what Yates knew is that others would deem her actions wrong. But as for herself, she was right. Her children were not "righteous." She was saving them from eternal damnation by sending them to heaven. That, Ms. Williford, was Yates's twisted thinking. The terms right and wrong simply do not apply.

Where to start? Perhaps Richard is unfamiliar with the job of elected prosecutors – no, that can’t be it. Perhaps Richard thinks that everyone really agrees with him, but that anybody who expresses disagreement with him has changed their mind at the expense of others for personal gain – no, not even Richard is that crass and insulting, is he? But since no form of logic I am familiar with would allow one to infer that you must agree with Richard if you can get through law school and know how to dress yourself in the morning, maybe Richard is being that wicked and slanderous. Doesn’t it seem a little disingenuous to write that “what Yates knew is that others would deem her action wrong” since murdering children goes a little farther than just being wrong. It’s not as though she merely failed to buckle her children in their car seats, even though everyone would also think that is wrong too. To a very great extent that Mr. Cohen may not appreciate, I don’t give a damn what she was thinking or how she rationalized the act, and apparently the prosecutor and jury didn’t either. The terms “right” and “wrong” absolutely apply. That’s why there was a trial. For goodness sake, even Andrea Yates said she knew it was wrong! I don’t think Andrea said that she thought other people would think it was wrong. This distinction is perhaps too subtle to someone whose moral certainty has him intoxicated and addicted.

For the defense, I now call Duke Cohen. He was my dog, beloved and sorely missed to this day -- so smart I used to joke that he could touch-type. In the state of Texas, he would be considered as knowing right from wrong.

My theory that Richard Cohen believes people are guilty/stupid/corrupt/crazy while Texan is looking better all the time.

I used to come home and sometimes catch him asleep on the couch. That was forbidden. Wrong. He knew it. He would hang his head and retreat to the kitchen. "Bad dog," I would say, and he would look so stricken it could break your heart. Did he know right from wrong? Yes and no. He knew what I didn't like. But he lacked morality.

No doubt he lacked Richard’s moral certainty as well. If Richard Cohen is ever elected dictator, the rest of you better start paying close attention to what he likes. I’m pretty sure it is too late for me. And probably for Texans as well.

Yates knew what the authorities would not like. But she was psychotic. Everyone agrees on that. She had twice attempted suicide. She had been medicated. What she did -- the crime she made no attempt to hide -- was just plain nuts. She did not run or come up with some lame story about going out for a quart of milk and coming back to a scene of horror. Her actions were insane. If they were not, then the word has no meaning.

Writing that her actions were insane, is not the same thing as writing that she was insane. And I’m having some trouble following the reasoning here. Is she insane because she murdered her children, because she didn’t try to hide it, or both?

The insanity defense was tightened after John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan and others in 1981.

And rightly so.

Hinckley was acquitted by reason of insanity. (He shot Reagan to get the attention of Jodie Foster, remember?) Innocent though he legally may be, he remains institutionalized. Guilty or not, the outcome would have been about the same.

Not even close to being true, but I’m getting tired of arguing with Richard at this point.

That is not the case with Yates. She faces death -- a remote possibility, I would imagine, but one that casts a shadow over this whole case. Here we have a woman who, everyone concedes, is sick, and Texas, in the person of District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, recommends that she be treated by execution. This is bizarre.

As noted, she no longer faces the death penalty, at least not officially by the state. And has Richard got a Jones for Texas or what?

This is medieval.

No, damnit, it is not. I don’t know what planet Richard is from, but medieval must have a different meaning there than here on Earth. In medieval times, Andrea Yates would already be dead. If she were lucky, she might have only been hung, but in all probability she would have suffered a demise for which the term cruel and unusual would not be in dispute.


Zowie? Did he really write "Zowie!"?

This could be the path to higher political office.

Or it could be justice, or maybe both. But it is much easier for Richard to just imagine that those darn Texans will do anything to get ahead, including climbing over the corpses of child murderers.

For the sake of others, I almost hope the jury doesn't flinch. I almost hope it does not go in for jury nullification or any independent thinking.

If there is anything I have learned about Richard Cohen, it is that he does not like independent thinking.

I almost hope it follows the dictates of the law, listens with care to the prosecutors and clings to the certainty that Yates knew, in some vague and meaningless way, that it was wrong to murder the children she very much loved.

Almost, but not quite.

I almost hope it does this to confront us all with the insanity of the insanity defense and the barbarity of the death penalty.

I’ll concur largely on the insanity of the insanity defense, or at least what it has evolved to today. But the death penalty is in my humble opinion, not as barbarous as Richard believes it to be. Richard is free to believe what he wants. I may disagree with him on specific items of belief, oh hell, on most everything, but that isn’t why I do this. I am the Scourge of Richard Cohen because he cannot argue his beliefs on their merits. Richard feels he must denigrate and insult others who disagree with him. I find this despicable and unworthy of someone in his position.

Andrea Yates is sick. What's our excuse?

That pretty well seals it, doesn’t it. If you don’t agree with Richard, you are sick. Just like Andrea Yates.


My Apologies

You probably know by now that any links to this site aren't working. I don't know why. It cannot be because of anything I've done, since I haven't modified the template -- not even to add links to all the blogs that have been kind enough to link to me.

My Donahue picture has disappeared as well.

Patience, my friends. I'm working on it.

Friday, March 15, 2002

By now everyone knows that Ruben Rivera stole Derek Jeter's bat and glove and sold them for a little pocket change. The Yankees did the right thing and cut him. Ruben responds by saying that he :

...made a mistake that he hoped would not end his career. "I made a rookie's error," the 28-year-old reserve outfielder said ...Rivera acknowledged in the interview he took Jeter's glove and a bat from the shortstop's locker and sold them to a sports memorabilia dealer for $2,500.

Trying to take third base from first base on a single to left and being thrown out because you forgot that left fielder has a cannon for an arm is a rookie mistake. Stealing someone else's things makes you a thief, not a rookie. The fact that Ruben cannot seem to comprehend that his actions were wrong would seem to mean that he has no chance of ever playing professional baseball again.

And rightly so.

One Man's News Service Is Another Man's National Enquirer

(With apologies to Stephen Green).

Do you think Reuters employees have fist fights over who gets to write a headline like this?

Iraq Brands President Bush as 'A Criminal'


Kinda Fonda Mistress Wanda

Agreeing to wipe the name Yugoslavia from the map of Europe, the federation's two remaining republics committed Thursday to forming a loose joint state with a new name: Serbia and Montenegro.

The Federation of S&M sounds like a great vacation getaway!



I'm going to publish three books next week.

The first book will be a sweeping history of two immigrant families, their rise to become potent political dynasties, and the marriage that brought the two together to found the most powerful family in America. Drawing on unprecedented access to the family and its private papers, I will take readers from John Francis "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald's baptism in 1863 through his reign as mayor of Boston, to the inauguration of his grandson as president ninety-eight years later. Each character emerges unforgettably: the young, shrewdly political Rose Fitzgerald; her powerful, manipulative husband, Joseph P. Kennedy; and the "Golden Trio" of Kennedy children -- Joe Jr., Kathleen, and Jack -- whose promise was eclipsed by the family's legacy of tragedy.

The second book will be a compelling chronicle of a nation and its leaders during the period when modern America was created. With an uncanny feel for detail and a novelist's grasp of drama and depth, I will brilliantly narrate the interrelationship between the inner workings of the Roosevelt White House and the destiny of the United States. I will paint a comprehensive, intimate portrait that fills in a historical gap in the story of our nation under the Roosevelts.

The third book will be an anomaly: a imagined reminiscence that is suitable, in fact ideal, for a preadolescent readership of not just girls but boys too. Move over, Judy Blume, Matt Christopher and the American Girl doll books. For self-esteem-building female role models, for baseball lore and inning-by-inning action and for a lively trip into the recent American past, you could hardly do better.

You don't think Doris will mind if a use her writing as an unattributed source do you?


The Old Laughing Lady

Tipper Gore wants to run for the Senate from the great state of Tennessee. Personally, I think all the people I know in Tennessee aren't going to be nearly as fond of someone who doesn't actually live in their state as New Yorker's seem to be. Oh, and having the last name of Gore is not exactly a plus in Tennessee anymore.

As to the title of this post, my friend Vince picked Neil Young over Elvis Costello, so my new touchstone is in place. Too bad, I had a lot of ideas for the King.

You Link Me! You Really Link Me!

Terry Oglesby of Possumblog has graciously included me in the Axis of Weevil.

Once again I am humbled and honored. Without question I happily look forward to the Dreamland Ribs, though I’m more partial to pulled pork from a pig that’s been cooked in the ground; I’ll pass the grits on to wife who enjoys them substantially more than I; the tea sounds just like my grandma used to make with sugar and saccharine to make it sooooo sweet; unfortunately I’m not currently driving a pickup, though I have for most of my adult life -- switched to a mini-van to accommodate the kids (hmmm, a gun rack on a mini-van, that’ll piss off the soccer moms!); the beef jerky is great for long trips or backpacking; I may need the underpinning for my 60+ year old house or I have some relatives that can take advantage of it; and my wife insists that I pass on the four comely, busty co-eds who shave their legs and wear makeup – I’m sure that won’t go wasted though (and by the way, there are some that would argue quite strongly that Missouri was a de facto member of the South, think about Quantrill’s Raiders – but shoot, I know a lot of people that don’t think Tennessee is part of the Confederacy).

As to the qualifications for membership in the Axis of Weevil:

1) Born in, or now live in, or once lived in, or would like to live in, Alabama;

I lived in Alabama from September 1985 – March 1995, although I spent almost all of 1994 in England, I maintained my primary residence in Alabama. I also spent a lot of time growing up in Tennessee, primarily on long holidays and about 6 weeks every summer on my grandparents’ farms. I think I’ve spent more time in Tennessee than former Tennessee Senator Al Gore. Or Tennessee Senator wannabe Tipper Gore.

2) Not ashamed to admit to #1;

On our annual North-South golf trip to the Carolinas, I play on the South squad.

3) Staunchly anti-idiotarian, or can at least pretend pretty good

‘Tis a tale told by an anti-idiotarian, full of sound and fury, scourging Cohen.

4) Functionally literate

The last 10 books I've read aloud are:
I Spy Treasure Hunt, by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick
Clovis Crawfish and the Orphan Zo-Zo, by Mary Alice Fontenot and Eric Vincent
Wipe Your feet, by Daniel Lehan
Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak
Dikou and the Baby Star, by Elzbieta
Kouk and the Ice Bear, by Ann Rocard-Morgan
A Spider and a Pig, by Carol Morley
Rolie Polie Olie, by William Joyce
Everyone Poops, by Taro Gomi
Richard Scarry's Best Read-It-Youself Book Ever, by Richard Scarry

The last 10 books I’ve read or reread (not aloud) are:
Eat the Rich, by P. J. O’Rourke
Carnage and Culture, by Victor Davis Hanson
Beowulf, as translated by Seamus Heaney
King Lear, by William Shakespeare
The Middle East, by Bernard Lewis
In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson
The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco
The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
The Fatal Shore, by Robert Hughes

5) Don't type in ALL CAPS or all e.e. cummings case or MiXeD.


6) Update your blog more than once a month

So far, so good. Although Blogspot been discouraging of late and seems to have eaten my archives.

7) Willing to be made fun of

As if I had a choice.

8) Willing to make fun of yourself

I’m laughing with me, not at me…

9) Have a framed picture of John Moses Browning

I must settle for a picture from a Browning brochure for the time being, unless I’ve got a better picture buried in one of my 50+ U.S. Civil War books. Or I’ll just stare at my Browning A-Bolt II White Gold Medallion (.270 Winchester) with a Nikon 3-9x40 scope. There is no finer deer gun available, and none that looks as good.

10) Personal library must contain more books than you will ever read

I’ve moved to another state or country 6 times since college. You should see the looks on the movers’ faces when they start doing an inventory of my library.

11) Must be able to recite Monty Python and the Holy Grail and give an episode synopsis of all Andy Griffith shows from memory

As for British Comedy, I can do the full Monty (Python), Blackadder, the Young Ones, Have I Got News For You, Fawlty Towers, and a few more that you’ve probably never heard of. Andy is cool, you got a problem with that?

12) Your pickup truck must be in good working order--use of ether to get it started is not recommended, but will be allowed on a case-by-case basis

As indicated above, I am in a pickupless mode at the moment, but this situation will be rectified in the near future – even if I have to buy another gun rack because the one in the mini-van is just too cool.

I’ll assume this merits a passing grade for full membership in the Axis of Weevil unless someone tells me otherwise.

More Blogspot Trouble

My archives seem to have disappeared. Being a novice, I may have lost about a weeks worth of posts -- but fortunately not any of the Scourges.

Here's my quasi-lyrical take on my feelings about Blogspot:

Working on the Blogspot
It's going down down
Working on the Blogspot
Whoops, it musta slipped down

Thursday, March 14, 2002

Coming Soon!

Blogspot is seriously hosed. Until I know its working again, I won't be posting the next volume of the Scourge of Richard Cohen. And that's too bad, because Richard has really pissed me off today.

Let's go with that next release of Movable Type...


Are We Alone?

Mr. Den Beste has a long exposition on the big question for a mechanistic atheist. Mr. Thomason was inspired to weigh in as well the evolution of intelligence.

Steven thinks that life on earth is essentially the end result of a low probability occurrence. He may be right, but the numbers in the universe are very large. Even a statistically small possibility can become a probability with enough chances. But with the unimaginably huge distances involved, it is unlikely that we will ever encounter any other life even if it does exist. Unless, of course, we find life in our solar system -- in which case I’d be watching out for one of those 2001 monoliths to pop into view, and start covering my ears.

To paraphrase the old philosophical question, if a tree falls in another galaxy but is beyond our event horizon, does it make a sound? How would we know? How could we know?

Mr. Thomason moves on to the question of the evolution of intelligence – not just life. Quite difficult to be sure, but from an evolutionary perspective, the massive leaps forward in intelligence seem to come in bursts reminiscent of Mr. Gould’s punctuated equilibria, where a period of stasis is suddenly shattered by an explosive leap forward. If anything is clear from the fossil record, it would seem to be that the evolution of intelligence is not linear in nature. How far back would one have to go before our ancestors were not genetically "equivalent" to us today with respect to their capacity for intellectual development?

I wonder if the information age we are in now is helping to shape a new evolutionary change in intelligence, although I cannot clearly identify or define it. Despite the wailing about education going down the tubes, what most people are complaining about in education these days is the disappearance of that with which they are familiar. My daughter is using our PC to do symbolic processing in the sixth grade that exceeds some of what I was doing in graduate school 20 years ago. How can this not affect the development of her brain and thought processes? Can these nurture driven expressions of intelligence find their way into nature driven genetic inheritance? I remember reading evidence somewhere a few years ago that perhaps Lamarck was not completely wrong. And what are the implications to the people throwing rocks at each other in the third world either way?

Lots of questions and speculation here. Perhaps someone has a few answers.

Double Damn Blogspot

Arrrrrrggghhhhhh! I'm losing links from USS Clueless!!!!

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Damn Blogspot

If you got here via USS Clueless, scroll up.


Moving Soon

At their suggestion, I'm waiting for Movable Type 2.0 to be released before loading it on the new site and learning how to use it. Then my friend Ron will do his Java and Flash magic to make something really peachy keen. If everything goes as swell as planned, the new and improved site should be so bitchin' that my hits will double, meaning that as many people will see this site each day as view Instapundit every 4 minutes. But that's cool, I'm not sure I want the bandwidth charges anyway.

The 9/11 Documentary

Watched it. Taped it so that I can show it to my kids in a few years to help them understand.

The bodies impacting the ground, and the reactions of the firefighters to the sound. I'd bet none of them had ever heard anything quite like that before. And it kept happening. Strong, brave, and sometimes vulnerable men doing their best under impossible circumstances. Watching men who we know have faced danger before going to face it again -- and being overwhelmed by it. When we watched the documentary we knew what was coming, but they didn't. They would not -- they could not -- have reacted the same way had they known what was going to happen. It was gut wrenching, witnessing their transformation from jocularity, to seriousness with a purpose, to stunned disbelief, and finally to relief for their friends and co-workers that made it and the enduring sadness for those that didn't. Then immediately regrouping to get back to work. It all brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it now.

One year ago, nobody would have believed a story like this. Both WTC Towers hit by planes and collapsing. Fire House 1, within walking distance of the WTC, had a doumentary film crew in residence. They just happen to be in the right place at the right time to witness the first plane impacting WTC 1. The men of Fire House 1 respond and enter WTC 1. WTC 2 is then hit by another plane and collapses first. Every single man from Fire House 1 gets out alive. The brothers, each not knowing the fate of the other, and the company having only one man unaccounted for -- the probationary focus of the documentary. Absolutely unbelievable, and yet it is so.

I don't read a lot of fiction any more. There's just too much history and real life to catch up on first.

Tuesday, March 12, 2002
The Scourge of Richard Cohen, Vol. VIII

(Ed. – The following is a bit of mean spiritedness that will be an on-going feature of this blog. Normally the author will endeavor to be reasonably fair, but this is an exception.)

In today’s Richard Cohen column, we have a fine example of using offense as a defense. Richard swears up and down that what is happening isn’t really happening, and then tries to shield himself from criticism for despicable acts by claiming – wink, wink – that they really aren’t despicable.

Judge Charles Pickering has been nominated for a seat on an 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Bush, but the Democrat controlled Judiciary Committee seems poised to not even let him get to the floor for a vote. I don’t know Judge Pickering and even if I did, I wouldn’t be qualified to know whether he should be elevated to this position or not. I also think the Democrats are entitled to vote against anyone they are opposed to for whatever reasons they see fit, or to use parliamentary tactics to exert their influence in such matters. But I do not think they are entitled to slander a man, to taint him with guilt by association, and to assault his reputation as political blood sport with the President, i.e., to Bork him. For what its worth, I don’t know if Judge Bork should have been on the Supreme Court either, but he sure as hell didn’t deserve to be treated as he was. And the same people that maltreated Judge Bork and sullied his reputation are the same people using the same tactics now on Judge Pickering.

Richard Cohen on the other hand does seem to believe this is perfectly acceptable. And according to Richard, Judge Pickering is being Opposed – but Not Borked:

In sentences that locked together like Legos, with wit and erudition, [Meg Greenfield] bewailed the Borking of Bork. She celebrated his experience, saluted his intellect, hailed his intellectual courage and, in the end, found him unfit for the highest court. Since then, the extremely extremist Bork has proved her right.

What an incredible specimen, too bad he was a conservative in Meg’s eyes. Richard pulls out that hoariest of hoary liberal activist donation letter adjectives and adverbs – “extreme” – to make sure we know just how bad Judge Bork is. But, Judge Bork is not just “extreme” mind you; he is “extremely extreme,” just in case you missed the point. Ah, the glories of the word “extreme.” It is used to conjure up visions in the non-critically thinking of every evil imaginable. Republicans and Conservatives at their reactionary worst – starving children, throwing old people into the street, disenfranchising minorities, poisoning the water and air, increasing the deficit, introducing God into the schools, destroying Social Security, and stealing the election from Al Gore. Its use is so powerful and has become so ubiquitous that it requires no proof or justification. The mere accusation of being “extreme” brings so many mental images forward that it has become by far the most used catchword in every political speech by Democrats. And Judge Bork was the worst of the worst, so he deserved everything he got, right Richard?

I wonder if Richard ever considered that since being slandered and denied his seat on the Supreme Court that perhaps Judge Bork became something of a bitter man and now reacts in ways that he might never have acted, had this farce never occurred. Perhaps Judge Bork would have been like Supreme Court Justice Scalia, a man with whom you rarely agree, but one whose experience, intellect, and intellectual courage is unassailable; not that that helped Judge Bork, of course.

Greenfield found Bork to be outside a certain comfort zone -- a legal scholar with a passion for the law but not necessarily for justice. The distinction is a subtle one and is, I think, what the opponents of Charles Pickering are essentially saying. Pickering is the federal judge whose nomination to an appeals court apparently is doomed.

This is the heart of the problem. From what I understand, Judge Bork was an outstanding legal scholar, but one who believed the job of the courts was to strictly interpret the law, not to make the law. As this runs counter to your knee-jerk liberal belief in an activist court that will bend the law to mete justice as it sees fit, I can understand why you, and the People for the American Way, Nina Totenberg and the gang at NPR, Senator Biden and others found it necessary to destroy Judge Bork politically, since you could not challenge him on the basis of his fitness to serve.

When one considers how much you have invested in Bill Clinton, expressing love for him and hatred for his enemies, this is astounding. If there was ever anyone at a loss to connect the moral, ethical and legal dots together it was Bill Clinton. And what is justice but the application of morality and ethics through the law, if this in fact be a nation of laws?

What compelled me to read my Greenfield was the constant mention by Pickering's supporters of Bork's name. It is not possible to read the conservative press on this nomination without coming across the word "Borking" to explain what is happening to poor Pickering.

If the shoe fits, wear it. And your condescension in choice of adjectives for Judge Pickering is duly noted. “Poor” Judge Pickering will be worthy of no sympathy as he is destroyed.

It is not possible, either, to quibble with his positions regarding race without being accused of Borking him as a racist, which, as a white Mississippian raised on the gruel of Jim Crow, he once was. (As a law school student, he suggested a way to tighten the state's ban on interracial marriages.)

I’ve read slightly different interpretations of that event, but I doubt that you’d accept them since they came from the “conservative press.” I’m not close enough to the material to take a position either way, but don’t you think he might deserve the benefit of the doubt here before labeling him a racist? And were all white Mississippian’s raised on the gruel of Jim Crow automatically racists? I find your blanket condemnation hollow and insulting.

But that was then, we are told, and this is now.

You don’t seem to have any trouble accepting that some people can change and shouldn’t be condemned forever for sins of their youth. Why is it so hard for Judge Pickering to pass through the eye of your needle? Judge Pickering fought the Klan in Mississippi, not that anyone would have known that from reading your column. Are only Democrats like Senator Byrd, Senator Hollings, or Governor Wallace allowed to be reconstructed? This is now. People can change and renounce their past sins and errors. Unless, apparently, President Bush wants to nominate them for a federal appeals court.

Okay. But now -- which is to say the past 20 years or so -- encompasses a political-judicial career that has been so conservative it is downright reactionary. Not racist, mind you, but hostile to the Voting Rights Act. Not racist, but hostile to the concept of one man, one vote. Not racist, but hostile to plaintiffs in employment discrimination cases and a bit too solicitous of a goon who burned a cross on the lawn of an interracial couple.

If you didn’t think “poor” Judge Pickering was a racist, I think writing it once would have been sufficient. Writing it three times in a row leads me to believe that you are trying to be so, well, just so clever in letting us all read between the lines. If you are correct about all of this then he should be barred from getting this position, but as I said earlier, I don’t know if he is or isn't. But, I do know enough to write that every statement you just made is an interpretation that other reasonable people have seen in an entirely different light.

To his opponents on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- Democrats all -- this cross-burning case stands out. It does so because it is an example of Pickering's getting so worked up over something that he busted through ethical barriers to achieve his purpose.

Again, you give the game away without intending to. Are we to believe that Republicans and Democrats are so clearly delineated in their moral and ethical viewpoints that all Democrats would fall on one side of the line and all Republicans on the other? I seethe with anger every time you slyly accuse people like me of harboring racist sentiments because I do not share all your opinions on how to address past injustices to create a fair and equitable society today. I guess since President Lincoln thought his primary duty was to preserve the Union, that made him a racist too. I’m curious, if Senator Jeffords had not betrayed his constituents, would the Democrats have used a filibuster to keep this from going forward? Would that have made what is going on here a little more obvious?

Pickering is opposed by his state's black law association as well as the state and national NAACP. It's apparently true that in his hometown, the minority community likes him just fine, but they are judging the man and not the jurist. It is the latter who could do real damage to the body of laws that protect civil rights, not because he is a racist but because he is implacably and, sometimes, hyperventally conservative.

An awful lot of lawyers seem to be fed up with the politicization of various law associations these days, so not getting their approval is not surprising. Knowing the stance of the NAACP and the People for the American Way, not getting their approval is not exactly a badge of dishonor either – except to people who accuse others of being “hyperventally conservative.” And knowing what we now know about Bill Clinton, isn’t it about time we started paying just a little more attention to the qualities of the man (or woman) in addition to their professional skills?

George W. Bush sent the Senate a nominee it cannot swallow. Instead, they have mounted a smear campaign, insisting that Pickering is being smeared -- unfairly called a racist, among other things.

Blame the victim. Absolutely amazing. And this is the sixth time that you’ve now gone to the trouble of saying that Judge Pickering is not a racist. Why would we still think that?

But just as it was with Bork himself, not all criticism can be deflected by yelling "Borking."

True, but that’s what I meant at the outset. You think that by saying “I’m not Borking him” you can then Bork away with impunity. And remember, Bork doesn’t mean oppose, by my definition or yours. In fact, it’s still not clear to me that you believe Borking shouldn’t be permissible as a means to achieve your ends.

Pickering, too, is outside some undefined comfort zone.

It’s awfully damned hard to know who is going to meet your criteria if you leave them undefined.

He is no racist, …

That’s seven times now.

… and he may be, as his champions say, a great guy and a worthy man. But he has been an awful judge.

I’ll grant that this may be correct.

And that ain't Borking.

But just about everything else in this column is. You are free to oppose him for whatever reason you want, but the character assassination is reprehensible.

That's the truth.



Postscript: Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way. Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs at Shouting 'Cross the Potomac each took their own shots at Richard Cohen today on some of the same grounds, though not as harshly as I.


Encarta defines ”bork” as: to deny Senate confirmation of a nominee, especially for a U.S. Supreme Court or federal judgeship, by use of sustained public disparagement (slang) I don’t think that definition does justice, because implied in the usage is that the disparagement (criticism, discrediting) is without merit and injust. Clearly, much of the criticism of Judge Bork was without merit, but was he denied confirmation on the meritless criticism?

John MacKenzie argued in a May 2001 opinion column that Judge Bork wasn’t really borked because what earned him rejection wasn’t the unfair criticism, but his own outspokenness in promoting a judicial philosophy that the Democrats couldn’t be expected to swallow. But, MacKenzie’s argument is disingenuous to the extent that even where the criticism had merit, it was couched in language that was at face value offensive.

I’m one of those people who believes that there’s nothing wrong with an ideological test in judicial confirmation proceeding – so long as the test is not on specific issues, but on constitutional philosophy. I’m pretty sure that’s where Greenfield faulted Judge Bork – the soundness of his philosophy rather than his qualifications as a jurist. But, I’ll agree that nothing is proven (after all, he wasn’t allowed to prove himself), making Cohen’s statement nothing more than assertion.

What I would like to see in the Pickering deliberations, as should have happened in Bork’s case, is less rhetoric and more examination. There may be very good reasons in Pickering’s record as a jurist (How often has he been overturned? How often has he been upheld?), and reasonable ideological grounds, for the Senate to deny his confirmation.

And Will:

Post-Borking Richard Cohen makes an observation that I think is fallacious. He opposes Charles Pickering's nomination to the Appeals Court and his point is that Pickering isn't being "Borked." Fair enough. But check the last sentence of this quote from his column:

{When The Post back in 1987 announced its position on the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork, there was no doubt the writer was the late Meg Greenfield. In sentences that locked together like Legos, with wit and erudition, she bewailed the Borking of Bork. She celebrated his experience, saluted his intellect, hailed his intellectual courage and, in the end, found him unfit for the highest court. Since then, the extremely extremist Bork has proved her right.}

Robert Bork's positions and opinions, once he was defeated for the court, cannot be used to "prove" what he might have done on the court, or why he would have been a bad choice. Must a person who has demonstrated "judicial temperament" as a judge, as Bork did on the Appeals Court prior to his confirmation battle, continue that temperament once a private citizen? I think not.


Almost Blue

I am disappointed. I offered to let the first person to notice pick the next source of somewhat more frequent than average references and puns. It could be that nobody read it, or worse that nobody cared. Either can be seriously deflating to an ego substantially more fragile than Sgt. Strykers'.

The choices are between Neil Young and Elvis Costello. The first respondent to mail me a preference gets to pick between them. If no one has expressed a preference by midnight, it will default to Elvis Costello.

The 9/11 Documentary

Watched it. Taped it so that I can show it to my kids in a few years to help them understand.

The bodies impacting the ground, and the reactions of the firefighters to the sound. I'd bet none of them had ever heard anything quite like that before. And it kept happening. Strong, brave, and sometimes vulnerable men doing their best under impossible circumstances. Watching men who we know have faced danger before going to face it again -- and being overwhelmed by it. When we watched the documentary we knew what was coming, but they didn't. They would not -- they could not -- have reacted the same way had they known what was going to happen. It was gut wrenching, witnessing their transformation from jocularity, to seriousness with a purpose, to stunned disbelief, and finally to relief for their friends and co-workers that made it and the enduring sadness for those that didn't. Then immediately regrouping to get back to work. It all brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it now.

One year ago, nobody would have believed a story like this. Both WTC Towers hit by planes and collapsing. Fire House 1, within walking distance of the WTC, had a doumentary film crew in residence. They just happen to be in the right place at the right time to witness the first plane impacting WTC 1. The men of Fire House 1 respond and enter WTC 1. WTC 2 is then hit by another plane and collapses first. Every single man from Fire House 1 gets out alive. The brothers, each not knowing the fate of the other, and the company having only one man unaccounted for -- the probationary focus of the documentary. Absolutely unbelievable, and yet it is so.

I don't read a lot of fiction any more. There's just too much history and real life to catch up on first.


Let Right Be Done

Andrea Yates has been found guilty of murdering her five children. It's nothing to feel good about, but it seems like justice to me.


EU says will be ready to fight U.S. steel duties

Whew, sure glad that nasty terrorism thing is over so we can get back to fighting with our allies over the really important stuff.

No, this isn't a defense of President Bush's sorry decision on steel tarriffs. One of the things my managers tell me from time to time is that we have to pick our battles. It just seems funny to me which ones the EUnuchs choose to fight.


Hey Mikhail, I Think He Loathes It

So Mikhail Gorbachev says now that Communism was "pure propoganda."

We haven't heard much from Mikhail lately. I think he's getting off a little easy here though. Were the gulags "pure propoganda?" Were all the proxy battles of the Cold War "pure propoganda?" Are Cuba and North Korea "pure propoganda?"

And what exactly does Communist China think of this pronouncement?


If Only That Were All

We know that Yasser Arafat hasn't been out much lately, but this is ridiculous:

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Tuesday accused Israeli troops of tattooing numbers on the arms of dozens of Palestinian prisoners in the Tulkarem refugee camp in the West Bank. In an interview with the Abu Dhabi-based Gulf Arab satellite TV channel in the day, Arafat described the action as "the same the Nazi was doing against the Jews in Europe."

The horror! Actually, this may be significant. At the very least it is a tacit acknowledgment that the Holocaust happened, which is a lot more than we are accustomed to hearing from Yasser Arafat. But what dimension of the bizarro universe does he occupy where the great crime of the Nazi's was tattooing the Jews of Europe? As it turns out, the numbers written on the Palestinians will be nothing but a memory after they wash up:

Israel Radio quoted an Israeli army spokesman as saying that the Israeli army was using color pens in writing numbers on the hands of the prisoners, and noting that those colored numbers can be easily erased.

Imagine for a moment how different things might be today if the great shame of the Holocaust had been limited to drawing numbers on the hands of the Jews of Europe with erasable markers. Now, imagine that in the coming week a Palestinian whips out an indelible Sharpie marker and draws numbers on the hands of eleven people in a cafe, instead of strapping on a nail laden bomb and killing them.


Oskee Wow Wow

In the BOTWT today, James Taranto missed a great segue. In the next to the last item he notes that Native American's don't really mind mascots named after them. I'm certainly not offended by anybody that wants to go around calling themselves the Fighting Whities. But apparently, as he noted in the last item, University of Illinois Law Professor Francis Boyle (lighten up Francis!) certainly does object to something very similar to this, whinging about a Pre-St. Patrick's Day Bar Crawl being offensive to him because he's Irish.

How can you have these two stories together and not take the opportunity to mention Chief Illiniwek? I strongly support the Chief, who only appears at halftime to lead the crowd in the singing of the Alma Mater, does a traditional dance, and then leaves. No clowning around on the sidelines before or after. No goofy tomahawk chops. A respectful remembrance of what used to be. The University has gone to great lengths to consult with Native Americans concerning the clothes and the dance. And anybody who doesn't think they wouldn't have been proud to be thought of as warriors needs a serious history lesson. Why do they think we are attending the University of ILLINOIS anyway?

And another thing... earlier today BOTWT listed my alma mater as being located in Urbana-Champagne. It has now been corrected. I also noticed an obvious misplaced word in Bill Buckleys NRO article earlier today that has now been corrected. I only bring this up since the denizens of Blog County were collectively chastised by the Blogfather last week for our typos. Why are we held to a higher standard than the pros?

Less Than Zero

OK, the elections are over, although it's not clear they ever really began. Mugabe has been effectively declared the victor without counting the votes, Morgan Tsvangirai fears for his life, and the people of Zimbabwe are f****d. "A proper f***k?" asked Tommy. "Yea, a proper f***k, Tommy." replied Turkish.

Let's see what the Commonwealth, the EU, and the US do about it now.

Monday, March 11, 2002

6 Months and Counting

As my friends and attentive readers know, I live in St. Louis, MO. But at about this time six months ago, I was sitting in a hotel room in Chantilly, VA, with one of my staff wondering what to do next. The three days of meetings we were in Northern Virginia to attend had been abruptly interrupted and terminated that morning at about 0900. The people we were meeting with now had something more urgent to attend to. We all had something more important to attend to now, but what exactly? And how?

It took hours to get through to our families to check on them and to let them know that we were alright. We were 800 miles from home, and approximately twelve hours after the first plane hit the first WTC tower nobody knew what to expect next. Would there be curfews or travel restrictions? Even martial law seemed like a remote possibility if the attacks continued. By that evening, it was obvious that there wouldn't be more plane attacks, but speculation was rampant about what might happen next. What should we do? We were close to our local office, but they had been evacuated, so we couldn't go there. We had little interest in staying in our hotel rooms, but at least we had hotel rooms, unlike a lot of people nearby at Dulles. We also had a rental car too, which was unavailable at about any price by this time. More than anything else, we wanted to get home, yet it seemed obvious that there weren't going to be any planes leaving anytime soon -- some early statements that the US would be flying again the next day notwithstanding.

Ultimately we decided to drive home, but even that was problematic. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, but we couldn't make it home on one tank of gas and there was some concern about hitting the road and getting stranded. The lines at the gas stations were already long and there were stories that gas was up to $5 a gallon within 12 hours. I could care less by then how much the gas was going to cost, but it wasn't obvious that gas would be available at any price. One of the side effects of the just-in-time approach to retail is that stocks are fairly low and depend on a constant resupply. A disruption of the supply chain for even a few days can cause significant shortages. In hindsight it all seems like so much paranoia, but it sure seemed like a legitimate concern then.

It all seemed so unreal. Yet the television kept showing the WTC towers falling and the Pentagon burning. It's a cliché, but I really couldn't believe it. That evening, casualties were still expected to be around 10,000 people. Confusion, anger, and incomplete information were the order of the moment. For the first few hours it was abundantly clear that the networks were running on a few facts and a lot of speculation. We checked to make sure all the people we knew in the area were accounted for. We would later find out that one of the men who had briefed Monday's session was on the plane that was crashed into the Pentagon. He had finished his brief early and had rescheduled his flight rather than hang around.

Wednesday was just as bad. Some facts were starting to become apparent, but there was still a lot of speculation and some misinformation floating about. We decided to leave the next morning.

The trip home was remarkably and pleasantly uneventful, but odd. Traffic was light. The sky was an unbroken sea of blue without clouds or condensation trails. Gas and food were readily available at their regular prices. A few hours into our journey, we saw several large Red Cross busses and some unusual vehicles, but it wasn’t until we were home that we realized we had passed through the Pennsylvania County where some true heroes had perished two days before.

At about 10:00 PM we pulled into St. Louis. I think the rental car bill was $550, but it didn’t seem to matter much then. We were tired, but we were home. I can still remember thinking, “the stupid bastards, do they realize what they have done?”

I know this pales in comparison to everything that happened in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in a remote area of Pennsylvania. But the apprehension and fear of the unknown, the rage at the perpetrators and disgust at scenes of celebration in some areas of the world, the sorrow for the victims and the hurt for my country, the surge in patriotism and a renewed sense of duty and honor, the pride I felt for the brave souls who acted that day and for those who would bear the burdens in the days that lay ahead – these feelings were universal.

Our meetings were rescheduled three months later. There was a new sense of rekindled purpose and a firm determination to help find and kill the bastards that dared attack us and do whatever we can to make sure it never happens again. I worked with someone that died that day. I worked with people that have been called up and are serving in uniform today in forward areas. And I am humbled and honored to work with people every day that are dedicated to doing our part, however small or large, to defend and protect what we hold dear.

We shall prevail!

Sunday, March 10, 2002
The Loyal Opposition

Reading through the Letters section on Andrew Sullivan's blog this morning, there are a number of arguments made that Tom Daschle deserves credit for questioning President Bush on the war, especially so that we avoid some of the painful mistakes of Vietnam. I have two problems with this.

1. Why is he first expressing his criticisms publicly throught the media? If his primary concern was for President Bush to be as successful as possible in defending the US, wouldn't any insightful criticism be best offered in private? But what most convinces me that his true convictions lie elsewhere is that as soon as he starts to take flack he backs off his criticism immediately. Where's the principle? And where are the specifics? I've written previously that this all smells like trial balloons to see what works in the never-ending zero sum game of politics in Washington, DC.

2. The parallels to Vietnam are extremely tenuous and far too numerous to treat completely here. But, one letter writer offers that Senator McGovern started out with the same sort of mild criticism that later evolved into full throated condemnation of the US. But the war in Vietnam had been going on for years before Senator McGovern even started to express his first reservations and Vietnam was never a threat to the US. As of this morning, it has still been less than six months since the US was attacked, and unfortunately it may not be over.

I don't want to stifle meaningful debate or dissent. I am more concerned that Senator Daschle risks being ignored when he finally has something important to say if he keeps crying wolf just to stay in the news cycle. Acting in foolish opposition makes it harder for him to be the leader of a loyal opposition.

But Wait, There's More!

Let's examine Ted Rall's reasoning ability a little further. Using the analysis just completed here, there was probably no more than 1 widow created on 9/11 who is behaving in a less than dignified manner, and that's if we are generous and round up. So Ted thinks that inflicting pain and mental anguish on all of those women is justified so he can make a point about the 1 woman who may be:

... more interested in raising money, promoting a religious agenda, or even a partisan political agenda.

I remember a line in The Killing Fields where Sidney Schanberg is challenged for perhaps having been too soft on the Khmer Rouge initially, and he responds that "perhaps we underestimated the madness that dropping a million tons of bombs would cause" or something like that. Even if there is a woman out there doing this, perhaps she's merits our sympathy and understanding rather than ridicule. At least she has a potential excuse for her behavior, unlike Ted.

Is Ted short for Theodore? If it is, perhaps we should just drop the final "e" and begin referring to him as The Odor.

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