Monday, March 28, 2005


OK class, the assignment for this week:

Compare and contrast Terri Schiavo and Stephen Hawking.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Krauthammer on Schiavo 

Charles Krauthammer's opinion piece in today's Washington Post on the Terri Schiavo predicament is one of the most well thought out and well-expressed statements I have read on the subject. Here is the nut of it:

The crucial issue in deciding whether one would want to intervene to keep her alive is whether there is, as one bioethicist put it to me, "anyone home." Her parents, who see her often, believe that there is. The husband maintains that there is no one home. (But then again he has another home, making his judgment somewhat suspect.) The husband has not allowed a lot of medical testing in the past few years. I have tried to find out what her neurological condition actually is. But the evidence is sketchy, old and conflicting. The Florida court found that most of her cerebral cortex is gone. But "most" does not mean all. There may be some cortex functioning. The severely retarded or brain-damaged can have some consciousness. And we do not go around euthanizing the minimally conscious in the back wards of mental hospitals on the grounds that their lives are not worth living.

Given our lack of certainty, given that there are loved ones prepared to keep her alive and care for her, how can you allow the husband to end her life on his say-so? Because following the sensible rules of Florida custody laws, conducted with due diligence and great care over many years in this case, this is where the law led.

For Congress and the president to then step in and try to override that by shifting the venue to a federal court was a legal travesty, a flagrant violation of federalism and the separation of powers. The federal judge who refused to reverse the Florida court was certainly true to the law. But the law, while scrupulous, has been merciless, and its conclusion very troubling morally. We ended up having to choose between a legal travesty on the one hand and human tragedy on the other.

Read the whole thing.

Krauthammer is a Harvard-educated MD, and was once chief resident in psychiatry at Mass. General Hospital -- he is better equipped than the vast majority of commentators to assess the medical issues in the Schiavo case.

Many have opined, and I agree, that nothing good will come of this case. Much that smells rotten has already grown out of it, both morally and legally. That's bad for all of us. It will take a long time to repair the damage to our social fabric that's already been done.

What's bad for Terri Schiavo is that for all of our society's sophistication and legal complexity, when you get right down to it she is being put down like an old dog. Whether she's allowed to die of dehydration or given a lethal injection, the result is the same, and the burden will rest just as heavily on the consciences of those who make it happen. As Jay Tea observes, "... [T]he difference between sins/lies of omission and of commission is illusory. It is the consequences of such acts that matter in the long run, not whether you acted or simply allowed events to unfold. If you have the ability to prevent a wrong and choose not to, then you have become a party to that wrongdoing."

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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Dean's At It Again 

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said in Toronto on March 19 that the Democrats lost to "brain dead" Republicans in 2004. This should be kept in mind the next time Democrats talk about "bipartisanship" and "willingness to work with" the Republicans in Congress and the White House.

Even allowing that the DNC Chairman is the party's cheerleader, and is expected to indulge in red meat rhetoric, this seems extreme to me. If the Dems want to reverse their recent political losses, they can't base their campaigns on hating the Republicans. They've got to come up with new ideas to solve the problems facing the nation, and they've got to deliver those ideas in a positive way. So far, they're only talking about the delivery -- new ideas are nowhere to be seen. Especially, the Dems have to develop credibility on national security issues, which they haven't had much of since Scoop Jackson died.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Handwriting On The Wall 

OK, so I'm late to the party, as usual. Earlier this week Bernie Ebbers, onetime CEO of WorldCom, was found guilty of fraud, conspiracy and securities violations. He testified in his own defense that he never really knew what was going on with his company's accounting, blaming the chief witness against him, Scott Sullivan, the former CFO of WorldCom. Trouble is, when he was riding high Mr. Ebbers bragged about what a "hands-on" CEO he was. Can't have it both ways, Bernie.

This verdict has to have the unconvicted Enron management, along with a whole bunch of folks whose names we haven't seen in the headlines, shaking in their shoes.

I think this verdict was a good thing for all of us. I'm not an anti-corporate type but when CEOs and top level management are being paid obscene amounts of compensation to run a company -- sometimes several hundred times the compensation of the company's lowest-paid workers -- it defies logic that they should be able to avoid accountability for fraud and other bad acts by claiming ignorance. They're very well paid to know what's going on and to fix things that are broken, so they'd better have a strong case for conspiracy by underlings in order to get off the hook when something like the WorldCom debacle occurs. Bernie didn't, and he rightly took the fall.

People don't get to be CEOs of large businesses without being pretty smart and pretty talented. They have to be willing to take risks and they have to be able to recognize opportunities that others don't see, and they also have to be tough enough to fire their best friend in the company (even if they never actually have to). Another ingredient in their success is luck. There are a lot of smart, tough, risk-accepting and perceptive executives out there, maybe some that compare favorably to, say, Jack Welch or Bill Gates, but if they aren't at the right place at the right time, they'll never have the opportunity to show what they can do. That said, I suspect that some of these barons of commerce get to a point where they start believing their own press releases, and feel that they can do no wrong. They are so taken with the notion of being the Big Boss that they forget that they have bosses, too -- the shareholders of their enterprise. That may be what happened to Mr. Ebbers. I think there's a lesson here for everyone who bears the title of CEO.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Render Unto Caesar ... 

Thanks to the ruling of a San Francisco Superior Court judge, this topic is once again in the headlines. I haven't blogged on the issue of same-sex marriage until now because I wanted to let the issue ferment in my own mind for a while. Now I finally think I can make a semi-reasoned post on the issue.

It seems to me that there are two societal aspects to the institution of marriage: the legal and the communal. The legal aspect is the one that the state has an interest in because the state doesn't want its courts clogged with litigation over, for example, who has rights in a deceased person's estate, or who has obligations of support, or who has family status for purposes of access to hospital patients. The state is interested in such things as an orderly property rights system and clear guidelines about obligations to support a cohabiting partner, but the state doesn't (or at least shouldn't) have any interest in whether a particular relationship has or has not been solemnified, whether in a religious setting or .

The communal aspect of marriage, on the other hand, has to do with how the relationship between cohabiting partners is regarded and respected by the community of persons to which the partners belong. This aspect is where the religious traditions of marriage reside, and it is of minimal, if any, concern to the state.

Taking a cue from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 22, I have concluded that on the issue of marriage, whether conventional or same-sex, society should “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.” That is, the notion of legal rights and obligations should be separated from the notion of “marriage” as a status in the community.

As I envision it, the state would issue a domestic partnership license to any two people who meet the state's requirements as to competency and whatever other criteria it may reasonably apply. Couples who have received such a license would have the status of “domestic partners,” which would confer on the partners all the legal rights, privileges and obligations that are currently associated with marriage. Having received such a certificate, those couples who wished to be “married” could either participate in a civil ceremony as a public expression of their domestic partnership or could go to a religious leader for a marriage ceremony that would fulfill whatever requirements that particular religion establishes to solemnify the couple's joining in matrimony. The status of domestic partnership would arise immediately upon issuance of the license and would not be affected in any way by any later marriage ceremony, or lack of one. In the case of same-sex marriages, if the domestic partners belong to or can find a religious group that would sanction such relationships, more power to them, but such sanction would have no effect on the legal rights and obligations of the domestic partners.

Dissolution of the domestic partnership would be accomplished in much the same way as a marriage is dissolved today. On the communal side, divorce or dissolution or annulment would be accomplished pursuant to the relevant religious laws, but would have no effect one way or the other on the legal rights of the parties – only the dissolution of domestic partnership could affect those rights and obligations.

I've read several opinions (sorry, no links) over many months to the effect that allowing same-sex “marriage” would be to step heavily onto a slippery slope that would ultimately result in multi-party marriage, marriage between close kin and the like. This is not necessarily so. I can see many practical reasons why the state would frown on multi-party domestic partnerships, because such arrangements would be much more complicated than simple business partnerships. For example, in multi-party domestic partnership would each partner be considered an equal parent to all of the children produced by the partnership, or would the biological parent(s) have greater rights and responsibilities with respect to their own children, than to the other children of the partnership? How would dissolutions work in a multi-party domestic partnership? If one member wanted out, would that member have rights or responsibilities with respect to alimony and child support for the other members of the partnership and their children? How would community property issues be resolved? There is already a large and complex body of law on these issues as they relate to traditional marriage. How much more litigation would be required to settle such issues in multi-party domestic partnerships?

The “Rendering to Caesar” approach has a number of advantages over trying to adapt the traditional institution of marriage to accommodate same-sex couples. One is that all couples are treated exactly the same by the state. Whether a traditional or same-sex couple, the legal rights and obligations of the parties to a domestic partnership are exactly the same, and the formation of the domestic partnership is achieved by exactly the same process. Another advantage is that this approach achieves total separation of church and state with respect to couples who wish to live together– Baptist, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Wiccan – they are all treated the same by the state. There is no obligation imposed by the state on any religious group to recognize any marriage and the legal rights and obligations of the domestic partners are unaffected by the presence or absence of a sanctioning religious group or ceremony, or civil ceremony. Finally, I think this approach avoids the slippery slope argument with respect to multi-party domestic partnerships because there are clear differences in the practical issues generated by multi-party domestic partnerships as opposed to two-party domestic partnerships, which give rise to legitimate state interests in prohibiting multi-party domestic partnerships.

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Michael Jackson Arrest Warrant 

FNC says Michael Jackson is in hospital with a back injury. How convenient ....

Evidently the trial judge is not too impressed, as he has issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Jackson. Go, Judge!

It is imperative that the judge in a celebrity case retain control over his courtroom and the parties to the case. Otherwise you get a flying circus like the OJ trial. If it appears that Michael Jackson can get away with blowing off the judge and diminishing the solemnity of the proceedings, it's bad for the rule of law, if only because it shows that celebrities get treated differently than Joe Shmo who's being tried for B&E.

I don't like blogging about MJ, but I wanted to make the point that the judge understands that he needs to keep a tight fist on the reins.

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Friday, March 04, 2005

How Ward Churchill Will Improve Our Universities 

Hey! Mike Rosen of the Rocky Mountain News is right on about Ward Churchill and how his antics have put leftist academia under the media microscope, and has some ideas on what to do now. Here's the nut of it:

Whatever the outcome for Churchill, the battle lines have formed and are hardening. Here's what many of us, I hope most, would like to see: substantive change, a revolution even, at the University of Colorado. It must start with electing regents who have a commitment to restoring real, intellectual diversity and an evenhanded exchange of ideas. That means hiring conservative professors to balance the now left-lopsided scales.

It means ending politically correct speech codes for students and the "diversity" and "sensitivity" re-education camps freshmen are forced to attend. It means a housecleaning of administrators, starting with President Betsy Hoffman. It means hiring new administrators with sufficient backbone to take on the entrenched, leftist faculty with knowledge that the regents will stand behind those administrators. If the changing culture disturbs some in the tenured left who preferred their monopoly, let them leave, and good riddance.

Amen, Brother!

Those of us who attended universities in the early 60s have seen a 180 degree shift in the power structure of academe. In that long-past age, university administrations were asserting in loco parentis control over students' daily lives, faculty were largely conservative in thought, if not political leaning (by which I mean that courses in Western civilization and American literature were taught as examples of progress and were mandatory) and the students were demonstrating against the Vietnam war and for free speech. Now administrations have adopted an "anything goes" policy on campus morality, the faculty (other than perhaps the hard sciences and business) is overwhelmingly leftist, Western civilization and American thought are taught only as examples of evil, free speech and independent thought are under assault by the PC police, faculties are almost universally opposed to the GWOT and some students (bless 'em) are beginning to demonstrate in support of true intellectual diversity and (ironically) free speech.

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