Do Police Kill Blacks At The Same Rate as Lynching?

So, I encountered the following badge on Facebook:

That is a shocking claim, isn't it? I decided to try and see if it was true.

The source for the claim seems to be this article in the UK Guardian. Here's the fuller version of the claim:
Not terribly long ago in a country that many people misremember, if they knew it at all, a black person was killed in public every four days for often the most mundane of infractions, or rather accusation of infractions – for taking a hog, making boastful remarks, for stealing 75 cents. For the most banal of missteps, the penalty could be an hours-long spectacle of torture and lynching. No trial, no jury, no judge, no appeal. Now, well into a new century, as a family in Ferguson, Missouri, buries yet another American teenager killed at the hands of authorities, the rate of police killings of black Americans is nearly the same as the rate of lynchings in the early decades of the 20th century.

About twice a week, or every three or four days, an African American has been killed by a white police officer in the seven years ending in 2012, according to studies of the latest data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That number is incomplete and likely an undercount, as only a fraction of local police jurisdictions even report such deaths – and those reported are the ones deemed somehow “justifiable”. That means that despite the attention given the deaths of teenagers Trayvon Martin (killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman) and Jordan Davis (killed by a white man for playing his music too loud), their cases would not have been included in that already grim statistic – not only because they were not killed by police but because the state of Florida, for example, is not included in the limited data compiled by the FBI.
So the "rate" that she's talking about is "once every three or four days."

However, there's an ambiguity at work. The American black population in 1900 was 8.8 million; today, it is over 38 million. Thus, the "rate" in the statistical sense is only 0.231 the rate of lynchings in 1900 (assuming that 1900 is a good proxy for her claim about when lynchings were four a day, and that all her numbers are right).

So is the claim true? Yes, and at the same time also no.

Religious Tests

Matt Walsh writes:
The answer is clear. We object to the baker or the photographer refusing to service gay weddings because we’ve deemed that expression to be anti-gay. And anti-gay expression is always wrong. Remember what we’ve said time after time: it has no place in our society. Churches are in our society, aren’t they?...

We force chapels to marry gays and bakers to bake cakes for gay weddings because we find Christianity abhorrent and detest the very thought of anyone attempting to live by its tenets.

That’s all. That’s it. That’s what everything comes down to. Nothing more, nothing less.

If we have banned people from practicing their faith in their private lives because we disagree with it, why wouldn’t we try and eradicate the hive itself?

If Christians are barred from running their private businesses according to their religious convictions, then haven’t we made a statement about those convictions? They’re unwelcome. Illegitimate. There’s no place in a civilized society for them.

Spurious Connections

The correlations are legitimate, but...

No Common Ground

This is a fairly basic principle, and it's hard to see how you can work around the disagreement.
During an National Rifle Association event in Iowa in 2012, state Sen. Joni Ernst, now the Republican nominee for Senate in the state, said she carries a 9-millimeter gun around everywhere and believes in the right to use it even if it’s against the government if they disregard her rights.

“I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere,” Ernst said during a speech at the NRA’s Iowa Firearms Coalition Second Amendment Rally in Searsboro, Iowa, as flagged by The Huffington Post on Thursday. “But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

As opposed to what exactly? The opposite of this statement is the following:

“I do not believe in the right to carry, and I do not believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

Is there any free person anywhere that doesn’t reserve the right to defend himself against a person who would do him harm, or who believes that, should the government turn, he would be better off going quietly into the night?
The alternative positions are pretty hostile. Really, some of the ones linked by Memeorandum are so hostile and vile that I won't link to them. But here's Ed Kilgore, at least:
Now this is a guaranteed applause line among Con Con audiences, for reasons that have relatively little to do with gun regulation. The idea here is to intimidate liberals, and “looters” and secular socialists, and those people, that there are limits to what the good virtuous folk of the country will put up with in the way of interference with their property rights and their religious convictions and their sense of how the world ought to work. If push comes to shove, they’re heavily armed, and bullets outweigh ballots. It’s a reminder that if politics fails in protecting their very broad notion of their “rights,” then revolutionary violence—which after all, made this great country possible in the first place—is always an option. And if that sounds “anti-democratic,” well, as the John Birch Society has always maintained, this is a Republic, not a democracy.
I can understand not appreciating what you are reading as an attempt to intimidate you, personally. Still, the principle sounds reasonable to me. In fact, if I were going to articulate it, I'd not focus as she does on a right to defend. The right -- the one the Founders asserted -- is not limited to defense from the government's depredations. It is a right "to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Is there any American who doesn't believe that? Is it possible to be an American, in the spiritual sense, without believing it? The 14th Amendment makes citizens of everyone born here, but perhaps that isn't wise: perhaps it isn't birth but faith that makes Americans.

Smart, Smart Diplomacy

Secretary of State John Kerry:
We've said from day one that if North Korea wants to rejoin the community of nations, it knows how to do it. It can come to the talks prepared to discuss denuclearization. And the United States is fully prepared -- if they do that and begin that process, we are prepared to begin the process of reducing the need for American force and presence in the region because the threat itself would then be reduced.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, a few hours later:
We the United States do not intend to change our policy on deployment of our forces in the Republic of Korea. In fact, I think it's just the opposite. We continue to strengthen and advance that policy we've had for over 60 years. We are upgrading it, adjusting on deployments, on rotational deployments. We think there is more stability, more security, more continuity in those deployments.

Bowling with Ebola

If you've been wondering how thoroughly an Ebola case in New York City would convulse the nation's media outlets, wonder no more.  Just turn on any cable new show or google "New York Ebola doctor."  It's going to be wall-to-wall for the duration.

Who Doesn't Benefit From A New Racial Slur?

So apparently in the confines of academia, there's a sense that it would be really nice if we could come up with a good racial slur to use against whites. Well, non-Southern whites, that is: everyone already knows a mess of slurs for uppity Southerners.
I cajole a few of them into “Cracker” and “Red Neck.” We can usually get to “Hillbilly” or “Trailer Trash” or “White Trash,” possibly even “Peckerwood,” before folks recognize the “Cletus the slack-jawed yokel” pattern of class discrimination here. And being that we are at a top ranked west coast university, not only do we all share basic middle class aspirations, but we can feel pretty safe in the fact that there are no “Red Necks” here to insult.
There probably are quite few. Southern poor whites are as underprivileged -- and as poor -- as almost any minority group. So naturally, of course, they're the one the culture is readiest to insult should they break out of their hills and come down into town where they don't belong.

What is really wanted is a good way to insult the rest of the white community. The first author takes a stab at it -- given that he's looking for a good way to insult white, left-leaning college students at his own university, I was amused to see that we'd gotten there first.

Still, it's not good enough, argues a second thinker. The problem is that it's possible to avoid being slandered by changing behavior, which is not how racial slurs are supposed to work. They're supposed to taint you forever, no matter what you do:
It is a label that denies the individuality of the target and forces him to into a set of predefined stereotypes. And there is nothing the target to can do to exempt himself. It is beyond achievement, effort, or choice. You just *are* are Black or Latino or Jewish or “white privileged”. Definitively, a person of Euro-Caucasian descent can never stop being white privileged.

And just like those other racial slurs, being white privileged undercuts anything a person individually accomplishes. Maybe he can be the nicest of the White Privileged that his Black and Latino friends know. Maybe he can be “one of the good ones” who “knows his place” as the beneficiary of American institutional racism. But he can never be other than white privileged. White privileged is the Bizarro-world version of the presumption that a Black student was accepted to an exclusive university because of his skin-color. If you are white privileged, it means that — although you might have never treated anyone inequitably based on their race, creed, or national origin, although you might have even shown a degree of favoritism to races different than your own, although you might have had no valuable socio-economic connections when starting out, although you might have worked very hard and risked much to achieve whatever you have — but still you vicariously share in the sin of every cop (white or black or brown) who stops and tickets a black man in an expensive car because he stood out on the highway. And it asserts you have even reaped unspecified rewards from those encounters—rewards not shared by other categories.

White privileged is the true white racial slur, and no one has been slow to throw it around. It is used the same as any other racial slurs: To deny the target his individuality, to brand him with the failures of the worst member of his category and with the stereotypes in the minds of others, to disparage the quality of his achievements and potential, and to implicitly demand more from him than others.
There's some merit to this suggestion. No one should be expected to take seriously an argument framed around a racial slur, which would dismiss 'privilege' arguments on the same terms. Further, it justifies a response exactly similar to the response we expect should we call someone of a given race by a slur. If that ends badly for you, most people will agree that you brought it on yourself.

So, motion carried. Good to know that our fine academic minds are still working on solving the hard problems bedeviling the nation! Thanks to their tireless efforts, we've devised a new racial slur. Surely there's nothing America needed more.

Better microscopes

I heard recently that a Nobel Prize had been given for advances in light microscopy, and wondered why we would be fooling around with light after determining some time back that really detailed pictures required electromagnetic radiation with smaller wavelengths.  The answer turns out to be that those smaller wavelengths really tear up whatever we're trying to look at, particularly living cells.  The new microscopy uses some kind of system of multiple passes that makes possible fantastic videos of living processes such as cell division, as you can see in the remarkable videos here.

Travel monitors

This actually strikes me as a pretty sane measure:  state health officials will be trying to monitor all incoming travelers from the Ebola-stricken countries for 21 days.  It's not airtight, obviously, and I have real doubts about whether the health officials will have the resources or the determination to follow through instead of treating this like a public-relations box to check off, but it's a step.  All our experience, including our good luck with the families of Thomas Duncan, Nina Pham, Amber Vinson, and the Spanish nurse, points to the probability that Ebola doesn't spread very readily early on.  If we keep a sharp eye on the people most likely to be developing symptoms in the next few weeks, we increase our chances of getting them into isolation before they're most dangerous.  At least, I'd like to hope that no one on this "watch list" could be turned away unthinkingly from an ER.

The Beggar's Opera - in Italian!

And a very good production, too (outside of Mrs. Peachum).

Sergeant at Arms, Do Your Office

The Sergeant at Arms is an ancient office that, for quite some time, has been chiefly ceremonial. Not today.

According to reports, most of downtown Ottawa has been locked down as at least one suspect is still reportedly on the loose. The gunman reportedly first attacked the soldier at the National War Memorial and then went into the Canadian parliament building. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is safe. Harper reportedly was to meet with Malala Yousefzai, who was recently named a co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize....

Media reports now indicate that police are searching for multiple gunmen, and are also trying to block bridges into Quebec. One gunman who entered the Canadian parliament building was reportedly killed by Parliament's sergeant at arms.
Well done, brother.

UPDATE: Confirmation.
Fantino said parliament's head of security, Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, a former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), had shot a suspect dead.

"All the details are not in, but the sergeant-at-arms, a former Mountie, is the one that engaged the gunman, or one of them at least, and stopped this," Fantino said. "He did a great job and, from what I know, shot the gunman and he is now deceased."
UPDATE: "Sergeant at Arms gets standing ovation after shooting terrorist while wearing tails."

Why Would Any Man Vote Democrat?

So asks Dr. Gordon Finley, via Dr. Helen, via Dr. Glen Reynolds. Since such a well-educated consort wants to know, allow me to answer.

As a citizen of the Great State of Georgia, allow me to say that I am seriously considering voting for Michelle Nunn. My reasons are the same reasons she is doing very well across the state.
The reason Michelle Nunn is running more-or-less even with Perdue is that she comes from a family famous in the state for excellent service in the Senate. Her father is almost a watchword for what a good Senator should look like. In addition, she's made her career working with the Bush family ever since the first Bush administration. So Republicans can look at her and see a woman who can reach across the aisle, has plenty of respect from their own party, and has a kind of life-long apprenticeship from the man whose Senate career Georgia voters already most respect.

David Perdue comes from the same family as Sonny Perdue, a recent governor who broke key election promises to base voters, and was unimpressive as governor. David Perdue has no experience in politics from which to judge, but he made his career on Wall Street, a place whose name normally turns up in Georgia elections as a curse: e.g., 'If elected, I will defend the values of Main Street against Wall Street.'
For that matter, I am considering voting for Jason Carter, Jimmy Carter's grandson. This is not because I am enthusiastic about him as a candidate. It is because Nathan Deal, the Republican incumbent, has been a terrible governor. Longtime readers of the page will remember that I supported his candidacy in 2010, on the strength of his having been a perfectly decent congressman (in my district) for a long time. His performance as governor ought to be disqualifying for a second term.

Partly I think the length of his service in Washington is responsible, as it detached him from his state for so long and attached him to powerful national interests instead. A man who had spent more time at home would not have bungled last year's blizzard so badly, because any native son of Georgia should have known how huge a disaster even a few inches of snow and ice would be for the state.

Setting all that aside, however, how can you excuse the worst unemployment rate in the entire nation? This isn't Detroit! A Republican governor with a Republican legislature, if he accomplishes nothing else, ought at least to be a spur to the economy. If he can't do that -- and very manifestly he cannot -- how can he possibly put himself forward for a second term?

Well, I know the arguments against voting Democratic, because they are helpfully mailed to me by various interest groups. Presumably a Democratic governor and Senator cannot be trusted on gun rights, and will try to drive Georgia against its grain on social issues. A Democratic Senate is harmful in terms of court appointments, including to the Supreme Court in the event that a vacancy should occur. It is also harmful in terms of oversight, and there is perhaps even a positive national program that a unified Congress could push on a reluctant, lame-duck President.

The issues Dr. Helen and her cohort raise frankly don't rise to the same level of consideration. I don't dismiss them, but they pale beside the issues of national destiny and character we face.

Why might a man vote Democratic? I have not decided that I will, because the national concerns especially are very pressing. But now you know why I might: because the Democrats have recruited better candidates, and the Republicans currently serving at the state level have done a disgraceful job.

Excellent News

A paralyzed man is able to walk again, thanks to cells taken from an adult's nose.

It may even be possible for this to be replicated, "if funding can be raised." A comment on the story says:
"Raisman, who hopes to see at least three more patients treated in Poland over the next three to five years if the funding can be raised, said"

Wait - what? "if the funding can be raised"? If this report is accurate, there should be no question of funding. The procedure surely should be repeated in a careful study of 30 to 50 people, with funding from the NHS.

The cost is trivial - if we have (as we do) fixed budgets, then cut back on varicose vein surgery and gender-reassignment surgery to cover the costs of this research, No brainer.
You would think.


People have been arguing for a long time about what tolerance means. I admire this 19th-century attempt to sort out religious vs. civil tolerance and, in the civil sphere, individual vs. government tolerance:
For the purpose of clearing up ideas on toleration as far as lay in my power, I have presented this matter in a point of view but little known; in order to throw still more light upon it, I will say a few words on religious and civil intolerance,--things which are entirely different, although Rousseau absolutely affirms the contrary. Religious or theological intolerance consists in the conviction, that the only true religion is the Catholic, a conviction common to all Catholics. Civil intolerance consists in not allowing in society any other religions than the Catholic. These two definitions are sufficient to make every man of common sense understand that the two kinds of intolerance are not inseparable; indeed, we may very easily conceive that men firmly convinced of the truth of Catholicity may tolerate those who profess another religion, or none at all. Religious intolerance is an act of the mind, an act inseparable from faith; indeed, whoever has a firm belief that his own religion is true, must necessarily be convinced that it is the only true one; for the truth is one. Civil intolerance is an act whereby the will rejects those who do not profess the same religion; this act has different results, according as the intolerance is in the individuals or in the government. On the other hand, religious tolerance consists in believing that all religions are true; which, when rightly understood, means that none are true, since it is impossible for contradictory things to be true at the same time. Civil tolerance is, to allow men who entertain a different religion to live in peace. This tolerance, as well as the co-relative intolerance, produces different effects, according as it exists in individuals or in the government.
from Protestantism and Catholicity compared in their effects on the civilization of Europe, by the Rev. J. Balmes, 1851, p.57.

Prudence and cowardice

A good article in The Federalist about John Adams, including his thoughts on arbitrary government, why laws can never be amoral, and this analysis of prudence:
Fellow revolutionary Benjamin Rush noted to Adams that their friend Charles Lee dismissed prudence as a “rascally virtue.” Adams replied that “his meaning was good. He meant the spirit which evades danger when duty requires us to face it. This is cowardice, not prudence.” That was not prudence properly understood.
By prudence I mean that deliberation and caution, which aims at no ends but good ones, and good ones by none but fair means, and then carefully adjusts and proportions its good means to its good ends. Without this virtue there can be no other. Justice itself cannot exist without it. A disposition to render to every one his right is of no use without prudence to judge what is his right and skill to perform it.
Prudence divorced from the other virtues would become amoral pragmatism.


This weekend I was camped at Stone Mountain for the Highland Games. It's been a long time I've been going. After dark I walked by the lake, and looked at the mountain by night. From the campground the mountain blocks Atlanta. The sky behind that black granite bulk is orange. Look far away to the east, and at last you can see a rebel pair of stars.

As a boy I lived in a land full of stars, but I can remember the first time I saw the orange glow. It was on the horizon to the south, when I was a teenager. Atlanta was advancing into the county, a bit at a time, and it was eating up the stars. Now it is hard to see the stars from that place by night.

Since then I've lived in China, where the sky can be viewed in gradations. Walk up a hill as tall as Stone, and looking back down you can see the sky divided like a sand sculpture into a half-dozen stacking fields of increasing dark. Of course, you lived down there where it was worst.

I've also lived in Iraq, where the natural sky was clear and weatherless by day as by night: but once in a while, when a dust storm would come up, it would all turn as red as Mars.

Currently I live in a place where I can see the stars again, as they were when I was a boy. I don't know how long I can stay in such places. What a luxury it is, and how strange that it should be one. How sad, too, to think of all the boys growing up in all the cities -- most of humanity, now -- who never see the stars.

2LT Grigsby, 10th Indiana Cav.

A man after Ymar's very heart.

The adults step in

In a really satisfying courtroom/scandal thriller, after our heroes struggle seemingly in vain against the shadowy forces of conspiracy, Wilford Brimley shows up in the last scene to drag everyone into a conference room, dress them down, and announce how this stinking corruption is going to be shut down once and for all.  Sadly, it doesn't happen that often in real life, but it sure seems to have happened recently in California, where corrupt DOJ officials got caught extorting $55 million out of Sierra Pacific on trumped-up charges that it started a 2007 wildfire.  The grown-ups in the federal judiciary, instead of closing ranks, stepped up and did their jobs.  The Chief Judge for the Eastern District of California took the unheard-of step of recusing all Eastern District judges from the case and asking his bosses in the Ninth Circuit to appoint a new judge from outside his district.

I admit this is not a case I've been following closely, so I won't claim to have sifted the evidence or to possess any inside information supporting Sierra Pacific's claims.  It would be fair to suspect me of being quick to believe accusations of corruption against Eric Holder's agency.  The fact remains that the California federal district judges are not known for their hostility to the DOJ, so if the Chief Judge for the Eastern District  smells a rat, and is enthusiastically backed up by the Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit, I imagine there's real fire underneath all that smoke.


I've been reading Atul Gawande's fine new book, "Being Mortal," about that perennial favorite topic of mine, our insanely inadequate approach to end-of-life care.  When my aunt was enduring her final years in an assisted-living facility and, after she become bedridden with an inoperable broken hip, a nursing home, my cousins were mystified and exasperated by her unhappiness.  She had not been safe alone in her home in East Texas.  The assisted-living facility was a very nice one of its kind.  The family was reasonably attentive and generous.  Why was she always unhappy?  In describing the experience of his wife's grandmother, he almost exactly captures my aunt's woe:
Giving up her home on Greencastle Street meant giving up the life she had built for herself over decades. The things that made Longwood House so much safer and more manageable than the house were precisely what made it hard for her to endure. Her apartment might have been called "independent living," but it involved the imposition of more structure and supervision than she'd ever had to deal with before. Aides watched her diet. Nurse monitored her health. They observed her growing unsteadiness and made her use a walker. This was reassuring for Alice's children, but she didn't like being nannied or controlled. And the regulation of her life only increased with time. When the staff became concerned that she was missing doses of her medications, they informed her that unless she kept her medications with the nurses and came down to their station twice a day to take them under direct supervision, she would have to move out of independent living to the nursing home wing. [Her son and daughter-in-law] hired a part-time aide named Mary to help Alice comply, to give her some company, and to stave off the day she would have to transfer. She liked Mary. But having her hanging around the apartment for hours on end, often with little to do, only made the situation more depressing.
For Alice, it must have felt as if she had crossed into an alien land that she would never be allowed to leave. The border guards were friendly and cheerful enough. They promised her a nice place to live where she'd be well taken care of. But she didn't really want anyone to take care of her; she just wanted to live a life of her own. And those cheerful border guards had taken her keys and her passport. With her home went her control.
Gawande traces the treatment of the destitute elderly from  the disgraceful poorhouses of the early 20th century.  The first change, meant to be an improvement, was to hospitalize them.  At the time, medicine had little to offer beyond a clean, warm bed, adequate food and water, and kind nursing for those unlucky enough not to be able to find such things at home, with family.  Starting with the World War II era, the ability to treat infections with antibiotics suddenly converted hospitals from convalescent nursing homes to places of rapid, expert, intensive intervention and frequent cure.  Between 1946 and 1966 the U.S. built 9,000 new hospitals.  For a while, we emptied the poorhouses and placed their residents in hospitals.

We were disappointed to find, however, that the poorhouse problem hadn't gone away, despite the implementation of Social Security.  The problem was that the poorhouses weren't only for the poor:  they were also for those too frail to look after themselves alone. For those without family to care for them, it takes more than the ordinary pension to solve that problem.  Hospitals couldn't handle the burden, and in any case were ill-suited to long-term custodial care.  In 1954 Congress allocated funding for a wave of new "nursing homes":  13,000 were built by 1970.

If Gawande's wife's grandmother was uneasy about the loss of control in assisted living, she was devastated when she broke a hips and had to move into a nursing home, where she had no control over when to wake, sleep, bathe, or eat, or with whom she'd share a room; like my aunt, she was subjected to a series of abrupt changes in roommate, many of them delirious enough to keep her awake all night shouting.  "She felt incarcerated, like she was in prison for being old."  The home was not deliberately punitive, but it was an involuntary institutionalization, devoid of purpose or privacy.

Is it not possible, Gawande wonders, to maintain a life of freedom and worth when one has lost physical independence?  Are nursing homes and their inmates doomed to fight each other for control?
In the horrible places, the battle for control escalates until you get tied down or locked into your Geri-chair or chemically subdued with psychotropic medications. In the nice ones, a staff member cracks a joke, wags an affectionate finger, and takes your brownie stash away. In almost none does anyone sit down with you and try to figure out what living a life really means to you under the circumstances, let alone help you make a home where that life becomes possible.
This is the consequence of a society that faces the final phase of the human life cycle by trying not to think about it. We end up with institutions that address any number of societal goals--from freeing up hospital beds to taking burdens off families' hands to coping with poverty among the elderly--but never the goal that matters to the people who reside in them: how to make life worth living when we're weak and frail and can't fend for ourselves anymore.
 I haven't finished the book.  I'm hoping he has some ideas.  One of them certainly is going to be for elderly relatives to move in with the younger generation, an idea we've been wrestling with regarding my mother-in-law for some time.  I know that she'd hate leaving her home, even to live with us.  I have only to imagine leaving my home to move in with her to get an inkling of the horrifying prospect.  The only thing good that could be said about the plan is that it would beat a nursing home.

We should all be so lucky as to die relatively abruptly, at home.  My mother, stepmother, and father all died at home, not--unfortunately--abruptly, but at least without institutionalization.

Beyond red v. blue

Enough about political leanings.  Here are the important distinctions among states.

Our household is split 50/50 on this critical metric.

Not rendering unto Caesar

Russell Moore on the City of Houston's subpoena of anti-gay sermons:
Every authority, under God, is limited. Daniel is obedient to King Nebuchadnezzar, until the king decreed the way prayers should be offered. Peter and John are obedient to the authorities, until they are told how to preach, in which case they defy this authority (Acts 4:19-20).
Moreover, the issue is even clearer when we recognize that the City of Houston, and beyond that the broader American governing system, is, unlike in the case of Caesar, not the rule of one man (or one woman). There were all sorts of governing officials up and down the chain in the Roman Empire, but the ultimate accountability was Caesar himself. In our system of government, the ultimate “king” is the people. As citizens, we bear responsibility for electing officials, for speaking to laws that are made in our name, and for setting precedents by our actions. Shrugging this off is not the equivalent of Jesus standing silently before Pilate. It’s the equivalent of Pilate washing his hands, so as not to bear accountability for our own decisions and precedents set.
How would people react to a subpoena of Reverend Wright's sermons?

Repeal and replace

Gillespie's plan sounds like an improvement to me, even when reviewed in relentlessly hostile terms.

What's the federal government for?

It gets harder and harder to tell:
The shocking competence gap and the cavernous honesty gap — brought to you by the “most transparent administration in history” — make our heads spin as we careen from debacle to government-induced debacle. In the tumult, we can miss the main point: Why do we have a federal government?
Its purpose is to safeguard the American people and pursue our interests in the world, not to solve the world’s problems on our dime and, occasionally, by using us as laboratory mice. As free people, we can try to save the planet. The federal government, however, was not created to do it for us, much less to coerce us into implausible “humanitarian” schemes that always manage to line some crony’s pocket. National interest is our government’s only reliable compass, yet it has been discarded.

Friday Night MV

I think Fred and Ginger would have approved.

Why a travel ban wouldn't work

. . . and other hogwash from Politico.

1. It would choke off aid and could worsen the outbreak. Politico argues that a charter flight could cost $200,000 per person, and would stifle the inflow of health supplies to West Africa. But suppose we let commercial flights fly in, but not take any people out who hadn't been quarantined first? Sure, airlines would be reluctant to sell one-way tickets for $1,200 and take a loss on an empty return flight, but they could charge double for all one-way tickets. $2,400 a seat still beats $200,000. In any case, we've already got the military sending in supplies. What's more, every time we treat a case of Ebola here we spend a minimum of $500,000 in direct medical costs, not to mention the cost of all the after-the-fact tracking and isolation efforts.  Letting Duncan in has resulted in three such bills so far.  I don't see the good sense in economizing on charter-flight expenses.  What do you think it's cost Frontier Airlines for word to get out that one of its aircraft may have been contaminated?  How much money will Texas Health Presbyterian lose?  Would you schedule surgery there now?

2. It would make it harder to track infected people. Because they would lie and hide. None of that happening now, I guess.

3. Lawmakers are long on opinions, short on practical ideas. This is the usual "but Republicans won't get specific about alternatives" complaint, which works only when you're determined not to read a word Republicans publish on whatever the subject is, from healthcare to Ebola. What's the mystery about the practical way to make a travel ban work? We do it with communicable diseases in plants and animals all the time. More than a dozen countries already have imposed a travel ban on West Africa. Are their bans imprecise, impractical, or confusing in some way?

4. The math doesn't add up. The argument here seems to be that airport temperature screenings don't often turn up a problem. What to make of such a bizarre objection? Who's proposing airport temperature screenings that they're already supposedly doing anyway? We're talking about either an outright ban until the epidemic abates in West Africa, or a strict 21-day quarantine. We'd hope that a quarantine wouldn't identify many infected people, either, but the point isn't all the people who breathe a sigh of relief after 21 days and keep traveling: it's the occasional person who comes down with symptoms in that time and immediately goes into super-isolation and treatment. Politico's other argument is the vague "best to treat the problem at its source" business that I've been hearing everywhere. I agree it's a really good idea to treat the problem at its source, but that obviously entails keeping the problem largely at its source while we try to treat it. Ebola is not going to get any easier to stamp out if we let it swamp all the first-world hospitals, too.

Sense and Nonsense

I'm going to talk about this case that Instapundit mentions, about a transgender student who is now disqualified from serving in elected office because 'she's now a white male,' and we all know (and the student agrees!) that white males in power is a terrible thing.

The philosopher Wittgenstein was worried that a lot of things we say are nonsense. He meant something specific by that. Suppose I tell you: "I have parked my zonk in the garage." Now you might be thinking that you have almost understood what I said. If only you could learn what a zonk is, you'd have a complete picture of the sense of my sentence. But in fact, there is no such thing as a zonk (except the beloved military expression): my alleged sentence is nonsense.

The danger of nonsense is that I have confused your vision of the world. You now believe in something that doesn't exist. Possibly I will find you snooping around my garage later, attempting to locate this mysterious object that you believe exists, but which in fact does not and never has existed.

Wittgenstein extended this concept in a very famous argument called 'the private language argument.' Briefly, he suggests you imagine that you are having a feeling now that you've never had before. You decide to name it with a private word. Later, you have another feeling, and try to decide if you should call it by the same name. What standard is there to judge if the feeling is the same? Well, we can't really bring back the original feeling and compare it: as everyone knows (and as is a great blessing), remembering grief is wholly different from grieving. So all you have to go on is your own sense that the two things are the same: but that is just what you wanted to check. There is no objective standard against which you can test the sense you have right now that the two feelings are the same feeling. You therefore have no objective reason to say "I feel X," where X is the private name you gave to your original feeling.

So what do you do with the biological adult female who doesn't want to be called a woman, but instead wishes to be called by a male name and referred to with male pronouns? She says she is 'masculine of center,' but what's the objective standard for judging that? She has never experienced being a man. How is she going to check her experience objectively against the experience of being a man? How can she say it is the same experience? There's no objective standard.

There are three sensible ways of dealing with this.

1) We can follow Wittgenstein's general recommendation, and stick to what we can talk about objectively. Then, she is a woman, and that's that. However, we can still respect that she is a woman with unusual tastes and sensibilities and -- if we want to -- elect to respect her wish to be referred to as "him" instead of "her" and so forth. This is not done out of justice, if we are sticking to Wittgenstein's love of the objective, because nothing objective exists to convince of the validity of the claim. Rather, it is being done out of the milk of human kindness. We're doing it because we want her to feel more comfortable, and less stressed, and that's fine. We all know we're talking about a woman, but we agree to talk in the way this person prefers.

2) We can meet Wittgenstein halfway. We can sever sex and gender, as is very popular in the academy just now. Then there is an objective standard for the claim: what our student is saying is not that 'she is really a man,' but that of the observable behaviors typical of males and females, the male behaviors are more comfortable. Because we can all observe and compare them, these genders are objective. So the claim that 'this is a white male' is objective fact, although good luck getting him to father your children. So we have to keep these categories in mind, and never forget that sex really exists and gender really exists, and a person has one of the first and at least one of the second. And the reason to go to all this trouble is the same as the reason in (1), which is that we want to make this person more comfortable out of human sympathy.

3) We can accept the peril of speaking nonsense, and talk about things that we experience in non-objective ways. We do this all the time. Strictly speaking, Wittgenstein's private language argument ends up making nonsense out of all talk of emotions. After all, every emotion we experience is like this; and if we call it 'sadness' or 'joy' or by some private word isn't the real point. I have no way of knowing if the word you use that means 'joy' refers to the same emotion that I refer to by that name, no more than I can be sure that today's "joy" is really the same thing as last week's. All talk of emotions is nonsense.

Now I said something that ought to call that proposition into question. I said that we all know that experiencing grief is not like remembering it. That's not an objective claim, but it is one to which we will all assent. We can come up with a lot of these agreements: this thing I call 'grief' is the emotion I experienced after a damaging loss of a loved one; it seemed to strip meaning from the world; etc. We can't be perfectly sure that the experience was exactly the same, but we can talk around it a lot and discover that it is sort-of the same.

We have strong reasons, then, to think that many things Wittgenstein would have to classify as nonsense really are ontological facts. Grief exists. We might wish it didn't, but it does.

So we can say, on this model, that the claim that 'she is really a man' doesn't refer to anything objective, but to something immediate and subjective: perhaps the spirit. This commits us to a belief in the reality of the spirit, and furthermore to the idea that it carries a kind of sex: there are spirits of men and spirits of women. Even severed from a physical body, the spirit retains this essential quality. And that is a very ordinary way of speaking for Christians, who don't think their grandmother ceased to be a woman when she passed on to the realm of waiting for the Resurrection; certainly not that St. Mary did!

On this model, we are really accepting the claim of the transgendered person at face value. They really are in the wrong kind of body, somehow. But that's not so surprising: people are often born in bodies that are imperfect, and imperfectable. They are born blind, or without limbs, or in other similar ways. We don't believe that they are deformed essentially, not in spirit. Indeed it is a point of doctrine that their body will be perfected according to the nature of their spirit in the end times.


The choice of roads is up to you. I am not offering a prescription on this one, just a sketch of the philosophical problems it raises.

If you took the first road, you would never think of running a campaign against this student for 'being a white male.' On the first road, you'd be keenly aware that she was a woman, and the fiction that she was a male was being maintained merely out of human kindness. If the only reason to maintain the fiction is human kindness, it won't do to slap her around. The whole point was to make her feel better in your community.

If you take the second road, you might speak and even think that there is a real sense in which this is a white male: but it is a sense separate from sex. Thus, there are no reasons to be concerned that 'a white male' in the sexual sense would be being elected. You have failed to maintain clarity about your categories. This is a male only in the gender sense, not at all in the sexual sense. If you are a sexist who believes sexual-males should not hold power, be at ease. I would be willing to wager heavily that this gender-male does not hold three values that I do, and is apparently the first one to line up and agree that people like me shouldn't hold power. We're dangerous and scary. (True facts, actually! From where I sit that's just why we're the right ones to elect to exercise certain kinds of power. Separate conversation.)

Only if you take the third road is this really a man, in the same sense that I am a man: essentially. If you take that road, you are committing to an ontology that includes the spiritual. Good if you do, but beware: there are many consequences that follow from that choice.