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The FlyingFlamingSkull
Wednesday, November 23, 2005  
Welcome, Cassandra

Cassandra, similarly disaffected and beleaguered by our increasingly anti-intellectual and rapaciously hedonistic world, has joined forces with Magister Bibendi to bring you relevant commentary, stylishly rendered. God help you all.

12:39 PM

Wednesday, August 31, 2005  
The Real China

American corporations send $ billions to China as it opens itself increasingly to capitalism. However, as other commentators have noted, China is moving not towards free market capitalism with its concomitant political freedoms, but rather towards facism. It still openly oppresses government opponents, religious organizations and other perceived threats to government authority. In certain respects, China's government is getting the best of both worlds--capitalist enrichment and communist power--because we and other trading partners overlook its "little human rights problem".

Below is a NYT article detailing the punishment of its reporter, Zhao Yan, incarcerated since 9/7/04 without even minimal due process on suspicion of leaking government information. What government information is precluded from disclosure is, of course, a matter of the government's pleasure. This article forthrightly raises the question of the cost of our profits. There are many reasons not to invest in oppressive regimes, and many counterpoints justifying such investment. That debate is too complicated for this space. But this story reminds us again that China's government hasn't gotten religion along with Pizza Hut, Yahoo and other American values.

August 31, 2005
Secrecy Veils China's Jailing of a Journalist
BEIJING, Aug. 30 - For the more than 11 months that he has been incarcerated, Zhao Yan has been held in one of the darkest corners of China's legal system because of the accusation against him: that he leaked state secrets to his employer, The New York Times.
The accusation, which Mr. Zhao and The Times deny, deprives a defendant in China of almost all rights. Mr. Zhao still has not had a court hearing. No public explanation has been given for his arrest. He is forbidden to see his family. His lawyer's efforts to post bail were denied not by a judge but by the Ministry of State Security, the agency that arrested him.
Mr. Zhao, 43, who worked as a researcher for the newspaper's bureau in Beijing, was no stranger to State Security when it picked him up last Sept. 17 at a Pizza Hut in Shanghai. His previous work as a muckraking journalist and rural activist earned him regular visits from agents and invited speculation that his past life was the reason for his arrest.
But a confidential State Security report and interviews confirm that Mr. Zhao was the focus of a high-level investigation begun in response to an article in The Times on Sept. 7.
The article, which cited two anonymous sources, stated that Jiang Zemin, the former president and Communist Party chief, had unexpectedly offered to resign his last leadership position, as head of the military - an exclusive report that was proved accurate when Mr. Jiang retired on Sept. 19.
In many other countries, information about the future of a political leader would be considered in the public domain. But even as China's authoritarian leaders now promise a more impartial legal system to their citizens and the multinational corporations that do business here, they continue to use the loosely defined state secrets law to single out political enemies and prevent journalists from prying into the inner workings of the top leadership of the ruling Communist Party.
The Times has stated that Mr. Zhao did not provide any information about Mr. Jiang's resignation. And the confidential State Security report, which was described by Jerome A. Cohen, an adviser retained by The Times to assist with Mr. Zhao's defense, does not accuse him of doing so.
Major Piece of Evidence
Instead, the key evidence cited is a photocopy of a note Mr. Zhao wrote, two months before the Sept. 7 article, that makes no mention of Mr. Jiang's resignation.
The original note remains in the Beijing office of The Times, raising questions about whether state security agents induced a Chinese employee of the office to provide a copy without authorization or conducted a search without permission. In either case, under Chinese law, the photocopy would be inadmissible as evidence.
"How did they get this note?" asked Mr. Cohen, a specialist in Chinese law at New York University Law School. "China has detailed provisions about what you have to do to execute a search."
The contents of the note underscore how broadly China defines a state secret. It is a few paragraphs of political gossip about jockeying between Mr. Jiang and his successor, Hu Jintao, over the promotions of two generals.
The information was included at the bottom of the Sept. 7 article to provide context about the rivalry between the leaders.
Prosecutors are still deliberating whether to indict Mr. Zhao formally on the state secrets charge and a lesser charge of fraud, which was added later in the investigation. On July 9, prosecutors returned the case to State Security agents for another month of investigation. Legal analysts say prosecutors may believe that they need more evidence or they may simply want to delay a formal indictment.
The timing is particularly delicate because next week Mr. Hu is making his first official visit to the United States and is scheduled to meet with President Bush at the White House on Sept. 7. Mr. Zhao's case has already drawn protests from international human rights groups, as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
For Mr. Zhao, a conviction could mean 10 years or more in prison. His lawyer, Mo Shaoping, has argued in filings to prosecutors that both charges are without merit. He noted that investigators had not presented any evidence that Mr. Zhao had received any government documents or spoken to any government officials. Mr. Mo also argued that discussing a possible shuffling of generals should not constitute a state secret.
"We've submitted that citizens have the fundamental right to know about changes in state personnel," Mr. Mo said.
The current state secrets law was codified in 1988. In recent years academics and even some government officials have pushed to rewrite the law and tighten the definitions of state secrets. Yu Ping, a research fellow at New York University Law School and an expert on the secrets law, said that the reform process had resulted in more than a dozen drafts of a proposed new law but that so far nothing had been approved.
Mr. Yu said the current law was particularly outdated now that more information was flowing into Chinese society. Under the law, he said, some materials available in bookstores could be classified as state secrets. He said he believed that many Chinese officials initially denied the spread of sudden acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2003 because revealing such an outbreak would have constituted revealing a state secret.
"Nobody is safe if the system stays this way," Mr. Yu said. He estimated that a few hundred people were charged under the law every year.
Mr. Zhao is jailed at a Ministry of Public Security detention center in southern Beijing. He has lost 22 pounds and has requested but been denied a biopsy for several lumps on his skin. "Mentally he's fine, but has also been very emotional," Mr. Mo said. "He's very emotional about these charges. He thinks they are absurd."
Mr. Zhao's arrest followed an unlikely sequence of events. Infuriated after finding a cockroach in his salad at the Pizza Hut, he complained in vain to the manager and then turned on his cellphone to ask a local reporter to come to the scene. Days earlier he had switched the phone off as a precaution.
Under Surveillance
He often told friends that state security agents tracked his movements through surveillance of his phone. His fit of temper apparently proved it. Shortly after he activated the phone, three agents arrived and took him away.
Mr. Zhao joined The Times in April 2004 after working for more than a decade at Chinese publications, writing articles about the plight of farmers and exposés of government corruption.
Flamboyant and swaggering, Mr. Zhao was once a police officer in his hometown, Harbin, the bitterly cold provincial capital in northeast China.
But friends say he found his passion as a journalist. One friend, Li Baiguang, recalled that Mr. Zhao, under the pretense of a family visit, once dressed up as a peasant and sneaked into a prison to interview a group of farmers jailed by a corrupt official.
Asked once whether he was one of the better journalists in China, he responded with typical bravado, "I am the best." Mr. Zhao, who is divorced, introduced himself to at least one potential girlfriend as "an anticorruption warrior."
In 2002 he joined China Reform Magazine and became one of a trio of writers known for aggressive reporting on rural issues. But he soon blurred the lines between journalism and activism as he began advising farmers about drafting legal documents or petitioning officials in Beijing.
By 2003, working with Mr. Li, Mr. Zhao embraced riskier strategies and was instructing farmers on organizing recall movements against corrupt officials. He also helped prepare a lawsuit against China's cabinet.
"He's got a strong sense of justice," said Liu Jie, the woman who filed the lawsuit. "It was Zhao Yan who inspired me to learn about the law and to use it to protect myself."
But his actions did not endear him to local officials or the Ministry of State Security. By 2001 he had been detained and questioned at least once. State Security assigned agents to watch him or meet him for occasional dinners to question him about his activities.
Friends say Mr. Zhao maintained a careful relationship with the agents. When he was once late to a meeting, an agent threatened to approach his boss at China Reform. Mr. Zhao wrote the agent an apology and delivered a gift through an intermediary.
"On the one hand, Zhao Yan was respectful of State Security," said a longtime friend who insisted on remaining anonymous because of fear of reprisals. "On the other hand, he didn't let it affect his work. He was willing to maintain good relations, but he also knew how to handle them."
By early 2004, China Reform was under pressure to tone down its aggressive reporting. Mr. Zhao's friends say he quit before he could be fired. But he had become too controversial to be hired by a Chinese publication. He was also becoming desperate for income. His daughter was entering college, and he had just bought an apartment in Beijing.
He had contacts in the international press and met in April with Joseph Kahn, the Times bureau chief in Beijing. Mr. Kahn, who first met Mr. Zhao in 2003, hired him as a researcher on the condition that he stop his activism. His job would be to use his contacts to help arrange interviews and assist in developing articles.
Friends say Mr. Zhao was excited about the prestige of working for a well-known foreign newspaper and had new name cards. But some friends were worried. State Security agents often approach Chinese employees of foreign news organizations about providing information. Sometimes they offer bribes; in some cases they make threats. Some friends fretted that by helping a major foreign news outlet, Mr. Zhao would become a more vulnerable target for the many enemies he had made with his reporting and activism.
"He seemed happy, and I was happy too," the longtime friend said. "But there were other people who thought it was too sensitive and dangerous. Any job like that where Chinese and foreigners mix would have uncertainties."
Mr. Kahn said he told every new Chinese employee that his or her job was "treated as a sensitive matter by the authorities and that it is possible they would come under some type of pressure." Mr. Zhao was not concerned, he said.
"He was very confident that he could handle any sort of situation that might arise," Mr. Kahn said, adding, "I saw him as someone who could help us monitor the media and keep in touch with friends in the world of advocates."
Mr. Zhao started in May and began researching rural articles. By July several foreign newspapers and wire services were reporting possible infighting between President Hu and Mr. Jiang.
Gossip About 2 Generals
One day, Mr. Zhao arrived with a tidbit of gossip in that vein that he handed to Mr. Kahn: that Mr. Jiang had rejected two of Mr. Hu's candidates for promotions on the Central Military Commission. It later turned out that one of the generals was, in fact, promoted.
Mr. Kahn said he had filed the item away as "potentially interesting, if true, but not something really worthy of a story in itself."
But two months later, with a major Communist Party meeting about to convene, Mr. Kahn got a tip that Mr. Jiang was offering to retire. He says he incorporated Mr. Zhao's note at the bottom of the article to help illustrate the rivalry with Mr. Hu. Otherwise, he said, Mr. Zhao was not involved.
"He had no substantial reporting role at all," Mr. Kahn said. "I think he knew about the story, and I believe he was very skeptical, just from chatting with him, about the possibility that Jiang would resign."
Within a week of the article's publication, Mr. Kahn said, Mr. Zhao arrived in the office, obviously worried. "He said he had been told that Hu Jintao had ordered an investigation of how that information got into The New York Times," Mr. Kahn recalled.
A person with a well-placed source in the government also confirmed the leak investigation.
The person, who asked not to be identified because of the political delicacy of the issue and the potential for reprisals, said the source had described it as a "high level" investigation but could not confirm any linkage to Mr. Hu.
Mr. Zhao said he had been told that he was a chief target of the investigation. "I said to him: 'You didn't have any crucial role in that story. It shouldn't be a problem,' " Mr. Kahn recalled. "He said, 'You don't know how they work.' "
Mr. Zhao asked if he could take a few days off work until the investigation calmed down. He also said he would turn off his telephone. "Then he disappeared," Mr. Kahn said.
Mr. Kahn said he learned that Mr. Zhao had been detained on the same day that Mr. Jiang's retirement was officially announced.
State secrets trials are closed to the public, and witnesses often are too afraid to appear on behalf of defendants. But Mr. Mo, the lawyer, said he planned to call Mr. Kahn as a witness in what would be a rare appearance by a foreigner at such a secret tribunal.
Mr. Zhao has apparently not buckled under the pressure of prison, isolation and nearly a year of interrogation. The State Security report to the prosecutors recommended that Mr. Zhao be indicted and noted that he had neither confessed nor been cooperative.
As a result, agents recommended a harsher sentence.

6:49 AM

Friday, August 26, 2005  
Having it both ways on the SCOTUS

Yesterday, the New York Times published this piece about Justice John Paul Stevens' misgivings about two critical decisions from the Court's last term. Below is the piece and my reaction to it, originally posted at Reason Magazine's "Hit and Run" site.

Stevens: Kelo decision "unwise"

August 25, 2005
Justice Weighs Desire v. Duty (Duty Prevails)
WASHINGTON, Aug. 24 - It is not every day that a Supreme Court justice calls his own decisions unwise. But with unusual candor, Justice John Paul Stevens did that last week in a speech in which he explored the gap that sometimes lies between a judge's desire and duty.
Addressing a bar association meeting in Las Vegas, Justice Stevens dissected several of the recent term's decisions, including his own majority opinions in two of the term's most prominent cases. The outcomes were "unwise," he said, but "in each I was convinced that the law compelled a result that I would have opposed if I were a legislator."
In one, the eminent domain case that became the term's most controversial decision, he said that his majority opinion that upheld the government's "taking" of private homes for a commercial development in New London, Conn., brought about a result "entirely divorced from my judgment concerning the wisdom of the program" that was under constitutional attack.
His own view, Justice Stevens told the Clark County Bar Association, was that "the free play of market forces is more likely to produce acceptable results in the long run than the best-intentioned plans of public officials." But he said that the planned development fit the definition of "public use" that, in his view, the Constitution permitted for the exercise of eminent domain.
Justice Stevens said he also regretted having to rule in favor of the federal government's ability to enforce its narcotics laws and thus trump California's medical marijuana initiative. "I have no hesitation in telling you that I agree with the policy choice made by the millions of California voters," he said. But given the broader stakes for the power of Congress to regulate commerce, he added, "our duty to uphold the application of the federal statute was pellucidly clear."
The court's press office made the text of his speech available here.
While the substance of his remarks was interesting, so was the timing. The 85-year-old Justice Stevens, who will observe his 30th anniversary on the court this fall, is a savvy observer of the political landscape. It certainly did not escape his notice that Supreme Court confirmation hearings were looming and that a microscopic examination of the views of the nominee, Judge John G. Roberts Jr., was under way.
Perhaps Justice Stevens intended a gentle reminder that no matter what views Judge Roberts held as a young lawyer in the Reagan White House, the real question was one that only the nominee could answer: not what views he holds today, but the impact he would permit those views to have on his work as a Supreme Court justice.
While Justice Stevens is the only member of the court to have addressed the issue in a speech, others have used their written opinions to acknowledge the conflict between a judge's policy preferences and decisions the judge may feel forced to render because of legal precedent or judicial philosophy.
In March, for example, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whom Judge Roberts would succeed, dissented from the court's opinion that declared unconstitutional the execution of those who commit capital murder before the age of 18.
"Were my office that of a legislator, rather than a judge, then I, too, would be inclined to support legislation setting a minimum age of 18," Justice O'Connor wrote in her dissenting opinion in Roper v. Simmons in the course of explaining why, in her view, the Constitution did not support that outcome.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, in providing a fifth vote for the court's 1989 decision that burning an American flag as a political protest is protected by the First Amendment, noted that the decision "exacts its personal toll." In his concurring opinion in the case, Texas v. Johnson, Justice Kennedy wrote: "The hard fact is that sometimes we must make decisions we do not like. We make them because they are right, right in the sense that the law and the Constitution, as we see them, compel the result. And so great is our commitment to the process that, except in the rare case, we do not pause to express distaste for the result, perhaps for fear of undermining a valued principle that dictates the decision."
For a justice on the speaking circuit, Justice Stevens gives unusually good value. Rather than retreating to the safety of historical anecdotes or constitutional platitudes, as some others do, he often talks about what is actually on his mind. This month, he went to the American Bar Association's annual meeting in his home city, Chicago, and offered some pointed criticism of the death penalty.
Sometimes, of course, justices and other judges express themselves at their peril, as Justice Antonin Scalia learned after criticizing an appeals court decision that barred the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public school classrooms. He was obliged to recuse himself a few months later when the case reached the Supreme Court.
On the other hand, Justice Scalia's more abstract discussion of his jurisprudence, in a book titled "A Matter of Interpretation," has proved a steady seller since its publication in 1997.
Next month, his colleague and occasional debating partner, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, will offer his own very different views of constitutional interpretation in a new book titled "Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution."
Justice Breyer's book is based on the Tanner Lectures on Human Values, which he delivered last year at Harvard. Justice Scalia's book was based on his lectures in the same series, which he delivered at Princeton in 1995.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

1. I tried to find a copy of Stephens' address, which has yet to be published on SCOTUS' website. NYT has a story with choice quotes from the speech, but it doesn't appear to have a copy either.

2. Playing the martyr, playing the fool: Justice Stephens' self-proclaimed constitutional martyrdom reminds me of the ship captain's justification for executing Billy Budd in Herman Melville's famous short story: "Is it ignorance or is it irony?" In that story, a ship captain feels compelled to execute a deckhand who murders an officer after the officer maliciously and falsely accuses him of wrongdoing. The shiphand's response is to kill the officer. The captain, fearing that any punishment short of execution will be seen as undermining his authority, orders Billy Budd's execution. The captain's fear is quite overblown, but he pulls the trigger anyhow. The story raises precisely the questions Stephens' position does: Duty to what, and for whose benefit? The law doesn't exist like some Platonic form for its own self. It exists for "We the People". Any other view is legal idolatry.

3. Shades of Dred Scott, shades of Germany: SCOTUS upheld the law of slavery and (arguably) prompted the civil war. Legal academics continue to ponder whether or not Nazis had law, given that their legal system sanctioned genocide. One wonders if Justice Stevens, were he faced with upholding the legality of either slavery or genocide, would stand up for law in the face of principle. As an upholder of Roe v. Wade, which is premised Griswold's extremely tortured iterpretation of the Bill of Rights ("penumbras"), it seems he would likely derive some linguistic trick to avoid doing so while upholding "the law" .

3. What the Constitution permits: As other posters have asked, what's Stephens' hermeneutical strategy? If he doesn't look at history (arguing that the Founders would approve of Kelo seems utterly preposterous, especially since they conditioned voting rights on real property ownership), he seems left to a kind of linguistic postmodernism cabined only by opportunistic references to stare decisis, ideology and whatever other phantoms he chooses (or feels compelled by).

7:24 AM

Wednesday, July 27, 2005  
Vegetarianism, Revisited

I'm vegetarian. Technically, I'm ovo-lacto-pesco-vegetarian, which, to purists, means I sold out (or never fully got religion). I don't like eating animals, particularly intelligent ones, unless it's me or them.

About 3 years ago, I penned this manifesto, which elicited derisive howls from friends knowing me as an In-n-Out, Fatburger & veal connoisseur. I stand by it. Bon appetit.

The Manifesto

Of late I've begun to embrace vegetarianism. Before someone accuses me of going soft (indeed, I remain a hardcore libertarian), let me elucidate the reasons why.

1. At Yale I took a course in which Singer's Animal Liberation was required reading. Without judging that book in the context of Singer's other arguments (particularly his rather logical, if monstrous,arguments concerning infanticide), I tend to agree that if one respects life one should abstain from killing unnecessarily. Indeed, most of the arguments elucidated below are treated in one way or another in Singer's book, which I recommend to those seeking a more reflective life of consumption. Modern nutritionhas arguably rendered meat-eating non-necessary for preserving human health (all you health professionals,tear me apart if you can prove otherwise) and the abundance of non-meat foodstuffs makes eating meat needless.

2. Compounding my leanings is the state of modern,factory farming (which Singer also details) in whichanimals live in close-cramped quarters and are overfed until they're led to the slaughterhouse to become the next Double Double or Colonel's Chicken Strip. Singer may have compared these conditions to those of concentration camps in that they represent the utter subjugation of life to some higher goal (in this case, efficient production of meat for the American consumer). Indeed, most of you know that the bestveal comes from calves that have their legs broken andthen are penned closely together and overfed so thattheir body tissues become fatter (and therefore yummier). As far as I know, good pate comes from Strasbourg geese that are forcibly overfed until their livers become suitably diseased for good pate. I think that participating in such a system by eating the meat produced by it contributes to unnecessary suffering and killing, and therefore is wrong. It arguably reduces people's respect for life and therefore contributes to the "banality of evil[,]" in that killing becomes a humdrum occurence unmentioned because it is regarded as unimportant (except that itshould be done cleanly to avoid e. coli or mad cow disease outbreaks). Additionally, the "free range"option in which the animals designated for the dinner plate are allowed to romp outdoors before their appointment with the gallows is bullshit. One either believes that unnecessary killing of animals is wrong or that it isn't. Sweetening the animals' plight bygiving them a little freedom before the end doesn't change the fact that they're killed for food.3. Some of you may argue that many of the creatures killed for food would never have lived but for thispurpose, and if I value life than it is better for these creatures to have lived, however miserably andtemporarily, than never to have existed. Indeed, if people ate less meat, fewer creatures arguably would exist. While this point enjoys some validity, I don't think it justifies the suffering imparted to those animals raised for slaughter. Respect for life, like other ethical doctrines, requires some cost-benefit analysis, and in this case it is arguably disrespectful to life to bring it into existence merely to eat it. Indeed, just because something was allowed to live for a short time while it was fattened up doesn't mean that its existence demonstrated some kind of respect for life. In such acase the creation of life is arguably incidental to the creation of a food source. It is arguably more respectful of life not to produce animals for food that happen to live long enough that they can become fitted to human consumption. Additionally, just because one respects life doesn't mean that one should desire as much life as possible. As Derek Parfit argues in Reasons and Persons, life arguably becomes less worth living as the multiplicity of life increases. While this argument begins to approach themore sinister tones of the pro-abortion population control types at the U.N. and elsewhere, it'sdifferent because even anti-abortion dogmatists willconcede (unless they're kooky) that God did not intendpeople to mindlessly overpopulate the planet through uncontrolled sexual relations. Even Catholic doctrine on family planning concedes that regulating procreation is a valid goal in the family context. Similarly, if people can regulate their own reproduction, it is arguable that they can regulate that of animals.

4. Ah, someone will object, but if you're going to respect animal's lives, how can you deny that they have other rights? Why should people come first in organizing the world and its resources? This objection is arguably easy to deal with, though it requires a leap of faith to do so. I'll answer itfirst from a secular and then from a Christian perspective. From a secular point of view, animals don't have rights, except those that we give them. Save the possibility than higher animals like chimpanzees and porpoises have highly developed ethical communities that we haven't the technology to appreciate, animals don't have rights because they don't have systems of rights and obligations governing their activities. Most of them operate out of instinct and self-preservation that is arguably indifferent to the conception of theories of desert and respect for one's fellows. Animals don't codify laws, publish and enforce them against deviants in order to protect other animals' interests. They arguably haven't conceived of rights or the inviolability of the individual being (the deontological basis of rights founding Kantian, Rawlsian and Nozickian theories of rights). Some will argue that I'm being "speciesist" byinsisting that animals only have rights if they can somehow indicate to us (in our allegedly privileged power position) that they have rights meriting respect according to our arbitrary notions of rights. Indeed, positing as much requires the assumption than peopleare superior to animals, or that they have the right to dispose of animals' fates according to conceptions of right and wrong arguably of their own design. However, one could equally argue that human beings, while they are able to conceive of notions protecting animals' lives, are equally disposed to eating animals because they're tasty. Hedonists arguing that life is about pleasure might subjugate animal rights to the rights of their palates. It is unclear why one ideology is more tenable than they other. For, as has been observed before, without God everything is permitted.

5. I found my belief about life's sanctity onChristian theology. Animals should be respected as God's creatues and if we don't have to kill them (for food, self-protection or self-preservation), we shouldn't do so. However, this doesn't end the matter. God arguably condones the killing of animals (for arguably unnecessary reasons). Didn't God supplyAbraham a lamb to kill in lieu of Isaac (did Godreally need that lamb sacrificed to Him?)? Didn't Jesus multiply the loaves and fishes for people to eat(why not just the loaves?)? There is clear evidence that God does not intend that we not eat animals (though a rabbi I studied under suggests that animal eating was out, at least in the Garden of Eden, given that there's no evidence that Adam and Eve ate any animals pre-fall and that God, in instructing Adam tokeep and till the garden, said that "'You may freely eat of every tree of the garden . . .'" except the one of knowledge of good and evil.). So, while I don't think it unChristian to eat animals (St. Anselm argues that they don't have souls), I don't think God lookswell upon factory farming, which arguably denigrates His creations by making their lives secondary to unfettered human appetites. So choosing whether or not to eat animals, while not a requirement, can be a means of showing respect for life that further glorifies God.

6. Some might challenge one of the assumptions ofthis argument that I've the right to kill and to eat animals in case of self-preservation. Why should I be allowed to privilege my life over those of animals? This could be answered on two fronts. On a secular front, one could argue that animals would eat us,given capacity and opportunity, so we should be allowed to eat them, given that survival is a fundamental right of all creatures trumping all otherrights (absent certain circumstances in which one forefeits one's right to life). Then there's Darwin's answer: Survival of the fittest. Even without some principal, one could argue that because we can, we should, or that it is our instinct to eat animals and so we should. In terms ofChristian theology, it is arguably better to eat animals than to commit suicide by not doing so (God having made us in his image and all that). Some mightargue that there's a certain selflessness to dying foranother living being, but the priority of human lifein Christian theology trumps that notion. It also trumps the notion that we can't use animals (where necessary) as test subjects to save human life. Onecan maintain this position while concurrentlyacknowledging the non-necessity of eating Chicken McNuggets.

7. Isn't this a holocaust for plants? Just because plants don't appear to be sentient doesn't mean thatwe have the right to discriminate against them (isn'tdiscrimination against the non-sentient what justifies certain forms of abortion and euthanasia?). Doesn't respecting life mean killing no life in order to survive? But doesn't that mean disrespecting one's own life (dying) to protect other life? Some would say that this is eminently Christ-like. Still, one solution (aside from the logical extentions of arguments considered above) would be to eat fruit that fell from the trees and to plant the seeds of that fruit so as not to disrupt the life cycle of thetrees.

I'm open to refutation.

12:07 PM

Monday, April 18, 2005  
"Is it ignorance or is it irony?"

American activist dies in Iraq blast Ruzicka founded group to aid civilian victims
The Associated Press
Updated: 10:47 p.m. ET April 17, 2005
SAN FRANCISCO - A woman who led an effort to help those ravaged by violence in Iraq fell victim to the war herself when a car bomb killed her and two other people, officials said Sunday.
Marla Ruzicka, founder of Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, died Saturday in the blast, which also killed an Iraqi and another foreigner, officials said. She had been in Iraq conducting door-to-door surveys trying to determine the number of civilian casualties in the country.
Ruzicka, 28, of Lakeport, founded CIVIC in 2003 and was instrumental in securing millions of dollars in aid money from the federal government for distribution in Iraq.
A force in WashingtonU.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said it was Ruzicka’s idea to put a special fund in last year’s multibillion-dollar foreign aid bill to help Iraqis whose businesses had been bombed by mistake or as collateral damage.
“She was constantly calling us to say (lawmakers were) moving too slowly,” he said by telephone on Sunday. “Just from the force of her personality, we decided to take a chance on it.”
Ruzicka’s parents said they were notified of her death just hours after the explosion. U.S. Embassy officials publicly released Ruzicka’s name Sunday.
“We’ve been very worried about her but we know better than to tell our children not to do anything. We were supportive and just reminded her to be careful,” said her mother, Nancy Ruzicka.
‘Love and help’She said her daughter had left her a telephone message the night before her death that said, “Mom and dad, I love you. I’m OK.”
“She cared about people and gave people her love and help,” Nancy Ruzicka said. “I’ll remember the love she spread around the world and the good ambassador that she was for her country.”
A skinny, ever-smiling woman with curly blond tresses, Ruzicka was untiring and undaunted as she went up against military and political bureaucracies in her effort to win help for Iraqi civilian victims of the war.
Leahy remembered Ruzicka as a fiery young woman who came into his office about two years seeking federal money to aid civilians.
Leahy said $10 million was added to the foreign aid bill last year for that purpose and another $10 million has been set aside for next year. The money was being distributed by government aid workers with Ruzicka’s help, he said.
‘Wanted to learn about the world’Leahy said he would speak about Ruzicka on the Senate floor Monday, and possibly help plan a memorial service for the woman in Washington.
“I said to her father this morning, ‘A lot of people spend their whole lives and do not begin to accomplish what she’s done,”’ Leahy said.
The young American had begun campaigning for civilian victims in Afghanistan in 2002. That work helped produce precedent-setting legislation in Washington, sponsored by Leahy, authorizing aid to Afghans who suffered losses in U.S. military operations.
Ruzicka got her start working for non-governmental organizations 10 years ago at the San Francisco-based human rights group Global Exchange.Medea Benjamin, the group’s director, said Ruzicka was a “pretty, peppy, vivacious young woman who wanted to learn about the world.” Ruzicka worked on projects ranging from AIDS in Africa to the travel embargo against Cuba, she said.
“It’s a terrible tragedy and a tragic irony that somebody who devoted her life to helping the victims of war would herself become a victim of war,” Benjamin said.
Determined to ‘spread the word’ When the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in March 2003, Ruzicka was already in Baghdad with Code Pink, said Jodi Evans, co-founder of the women’s anti-war group.
Other activists decided to return to the United States to talk about how the Iraqi people were affected by the invasion, but Ruzicka made a commitment to stay, Evans said. She founded the group CIVIC that year.
“Marla thought she would be more effective staying, because once the bombs started falling, people would be hurt and she needed to help them get their lives back together,” Evans said.
Even as fighting continued to rage in sections of Baghdad in mid-April 2003, Ruzicka arrived back in the Iraqi capital, set up office in an unprotected hotel and soon was a regular visitor to the city’s makeshift newsrooms, encouraging media interest in the civilian-casualty story.
“Spread the word — it will be what we make of it,” she e-mailed friends as she began her Iraq work.
Ruzicka is among several foreign aid workers killed in Iraq. Others included Margaret Hassan, a British aid worker who was abducted in Baghdad in October and later shown on video pleading for her life, and four workers for a Southern Baptist missionary group who were trying to find a way to provide clean water to people in the northern city of Mosul.
© 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
© 2005

7:32 AM

Thursday, March 17, 2005  

Scott Peterson's in Quentin, awaiting the needle. Media speculators suggest his conviction owes in part to his smiling disposition during the trial. Jurors, squarejohn citizens, must have been outraged by such a callous response to such a grave proceeding, and perhaps convicted to punish such behavior. Frighteningly enough, the commentators may be correct.

I'm a trial lawyer. Much trial lawyer training consists in "storytelling" skills. We learn to tell our side of the story to the jury, all the while critically aware of whether the jury likes us or our clients. It's essentially a popularity contest. Voluminous social science data supports this fact.

So, an innocent but unlikeable defendant can get fucked because jurors don't like him. It's that simple.

God bless America.

5:23 AM

Thursday, March 03, 2005  
Beware the Scourge of Heteronormativity!

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot, "The Four Quartets" (1943)

Posted below is a well-crafted Harvard Crimson piece of Onion-caliber absurdity. Before proceeding further, ethics demand I disclose I'm a Yalie.

The skinny: Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of Hollywood megastar Will Smith, somehow won the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relation's "Artist of the Year" award (selection criteria unknown). Upon acceptance, she spoke at and hosted the Foundation's 20th Annual members of Harvard's Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Supporters Alliance (BGLTSA) (hermaphrodites note that "transgendered" doesn't necessarily encompass hermaphoroditism and should perhaps consider themselves excluded) because they were too "heteronormative":

BGLTSA Co-Chair Jordan B. Woods ’06 said that, while many BGLTSA members thought Pinkett Smith’s speech was “motivational,” some were insulted because they thought she narrowly defined the roles of men and women in relationships.
“Some of the content was extremely heteronormative, and made BGLTSA members feel uncomfortable,” he said.
Calling the comments heteronormative, according to Woods, means they implied that standard sexual relationships are only between males and females.
“Our position is that the comments weren’t homophobic, but the content was specific to male-female relationships,” Woods said.

Subtext, implication and exclusionary inferences are favored weapons of those prowling for offense. Even when one isn't overtly exclusionary or "homophobic", one can be insensitive by implying one's experience, particularly one's romantic experience, is normal. Normalcy, or, if you're a Derridian or Foucaultian deconstructionist, "normativity", is a sin, er, error, because deconstructionism seeks deposition of norms because they inherently oppress. Even black females like Pinkett Smith, traditionally championed (at least in stereotype) by deconstructionists as captives of the white, male power structure, can oppress. I suppose that BGLTSA's outrage at a black female's comments "imply" that race and gender minority don't excuse exclusivity, however unintentional.

This may be considered progress, given that the traditional hard left taxonomy links race and gender oppression with sexual orientation discrimination. One hopes that race activism aimed at improving equality or acceptance would do both and therefore would obviate such activismOr perhaps gender identity and sexual orientation activists are attempting a crypto-facist, internecine junta to make their issues the priority of leftist activism. Exempla gratiae: I recall an ROTC recruiting debate at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, which endured great controversy for considering allowing ROTC to recruit on campus notwithstanding its "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Amid the debate, a black student noted that he wanted ROTC to recruit because the U.S. military still practiced affirmative action. Divide and conquer!

Rule of play sidenote: Had the Foundation chosen a flamboyantly gay artist who implicitly or explicitly championed homonormativity (I think leftist luminary Herbert Marcuse did so), it's unlikely a BGLTSA member, in the name of ideological integrity, would decry his/her comments. I'd applaud the one who did.

College is a place for undue solipsism and novel navel gazing. Traditionally, the liberal arts and sciences education exposed students to methodologies of learning and a tour of human knowledge equipping them to deal with problems of adulthood and the world. It was supposed to confer wisdom and critical capacities while affording reflection prior to entry into a harsh world. So some self-indulgent self-importance accompanies such a process, if only to posture one for the intellectual humiliation that may lead to real learning. Instead, however, the Foundation and BGLTSA are meeting to improve sensitivity for future ventures. They must preserve themselves from anything but themselves. The hated other, the different person traditionally subject to hatred and discrimination by the normative power structure (and traditionally championed by the left), has a name. She's Jada Pinkett Smith. God help her for she knows not what she does.

Originally published on Wednesday, March 02, 2005 in the News section of The Harvard Crimson.
Pinkett Smith’s Remarks Debated
After some students were offended by Jada Pinkett Smith’s comments at Saturday’s Cultural Rhythms show, the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters Alliance (BGLTSA) and the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations have begun working together to increase sensitivity toward issues of sexuality at Harvard.
Students said that some of Pinkett Smith’s remarks concerning appropriate gender roles were specific to heterosexual relationships.
In a press release circulated yesterday by the BGLTSA—and developed in coordination with the Foundation—the BGLTSA called for an apology from the Foundation and encouraged future discussion of the issue.
According to the Foundation’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC) Co-Chair Yannis M. Paulus ’05, the two groups have already planned concrete ways to address the concerns that Pinkett Smith’s speech rose.
The BGLTSA release acknowledged that the Foundation was not responsible for Pinkett Smith’s comments. But the Foundation has pledged to “take responsibility to inform future speakers that they will be speaking to an audience diverse in race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender and class,” according to the release.
Pinkett Smith was honored as the Foundation’s “Artist of the Year” at its 20th annual Cultural Rhythms show, which she also hosted.
BGLTSA Co-Chair Jordan B. Woods ’06 said that, while many BGLTSA members thought Pinkett Smith’s speech was “motivational,” some were insulted because they thought she narrowly defined the roles of men and women in relationships.
“Some of the content was extremely heteronormative, and made BGLTSA members feel uncomfortable,” he said.
Calling the comments heteronormative, according to Woods, means they implied that standard sexual relationships are only between males and females.
“Our position is that the comments weren’t homophobic, but the content was specific to male-female relationships,” Woods said.
Margaret C. D. Barusch ’06, the other BGLTSA co-chair, said the comments might have seemed insensitive in effect, if not in intent.
“I think the comments had a very strong focus for an extended period of time on how to effectively be in a relationship—a heterosexual relationship,” Barusch said. “I don’t think she meant to be offensive but I just don’t think she was that thoughtful.”
In order to discuss these concerns and ensure that such a misunderstanding doesn’t occur again, Paulus said the BGLTSA and the Foundation are planning a joint breakfast later this week as well as a general discussion forum for all of the SAC member groups.
Paulus added that the Foundation will issue a letter later this week apologizing for any offense the show might have caused and encouraging concerned students to attend the planned discussions.
According to Paulus, the letter will acknowledge that “Pinkett Smith was just giving the story of her life. She just told things from her perspective, and her perspective was a heterosexual perspective. She wasn’t trying to be offensive. But some felt she was taking a narrow view, and some people felt left out.”
Barusch said the dialogue with the Foundation has been “productive.”
“Both groups have really talked about issues of intercultural relationships and sexuality and the way that student groups can talk about these topics in sensitive ways,” she said.
Barusch also referred to a “minor controversy” that occurred earlier this year, in which some members of SAC questioned the BGLTSA’s role in the Foundation.
“They weren’t sure how the BGLTSA would fit into the Foundation...There was some conversation about the relevance of queer issues,” she said.
But Barusch emphasized that the Foundation has been very supportive of the BGLTSA’s efforts to address this weekend’s comments, stressing that the two incidents are unrelated.
“We’re not blaming the Foundation. It’s not about blame. It’s about how we all need to think more about what we’re saying,” she said.
Ofole U. “Fofie” Mgbako ’08, a performer in the Cultural Rhythms show who watched Pinkett Smith’s speech, said he thought the speech was “insightful.”
“You can never appeal to every single group,” he said. “You’ll always in some way be exclusive. I thought her message was clear. I thought it was sincere.”
—Liz C. Goodwin contributed to the reporting of this story. Go back to original article.Copyright © 2005, The Harvard Crimson Inc. All rights reserved.

4:54 AM

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