What We Have to Look Forward To

November 2016 is a long way off.  A reminder of what’s ahead: (more…)

Thoughts on the criminal charges in the Freddie Gray case [Updated by John]

As John discussed below, the Baltimore State’s Attorney is bringing criminal charges against all six of the Baltimore police officers who were involved in the arrest and handling of Freddie Gray. I have a few observations about this story.

First, in the accounts I have have read, the race of the six officers charged — Caesar R. Goodson Jr. (who is charged with second-degree murder), Brian W. Rice, William G. Porter, Alicia D. White, Edward M. Nero, and Garrett E. Miller — is not disclosed.

Their race is, of course, immaterial to their guilt or innocence. However, it is relevant to any attempt to argue that the treatment of Freddie Gray was racially motivated. I’m guessing that some of the six officers are Black and that if all of them were White, this would have been reported.

Second, as John notes, the Fraternal Order of Police has expressed concern that the Baltimore State’s Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, is married to Baltimore City Council member Nick Mosby. As I understand it, Nick Mosby represents a portion of West Baltimore where many African-Americans protested the treatment of Freddie Gray.

Arguably, the potential for a conflict of interest exists here. If Marilyn Mosby doesn’t throw the book at the six officers, might that not have an adverse effect on the political career of her husband?

I’m not taking a position on whether or not Marilyn Mosby should step aside in this matter. But I understand FOP’s concern.

Third, in announcing the charges against the six officers, Marilyn Mosby said:

To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America, I heard your call for ‘no justice, no peace.’ Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man, those that are angry or hurt or have their own experience of injustice.

This strikes me as an ill-advised comment. It suggests that Mosby may have been influenced by the desire to pacify protesters. I don’t say that she has been, but Mosby shouldn’t be making comments that allow anyone to assert this possibility. Absent political motivation, it would be smarter for Mosby not to say anything to “demonstrators.”

Finally, though it is important not to rush to judgment about this case, some sort of serious criminal prosecution may well be in order here. It appears that Gray died due to a severed spinal cord suffered while in police custody. Under these circumstances, there is plausibility to Mosby’s claim that her investigation revealed police misconduct that rises to the level of criminality. If that’s the case, then those who acted criminally must be punished.

To say more than this about the merits would be premature.

JOHN adds: Given that the whole point of this exercise is race, there has been surprisingly little information about the race of the police officers who were charged today. The photos I have seen of the arresting officers indicate, as I recall, that they were white. But the enterprising Steve Sailer has discerned that the officer who was charged with murder, Caesar R. Goodson Jr., is evidently African-American.

FURTHER UPDATE: It appears that three of the six police officers who were charged today are African-Americans.

Homicide Charges Brought Against Baltimore Police [Updated]

This morning, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that she is bringing criminal charges against all six of the Baltimore police officers who were involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray. Ms. Mosby said that her office has been conducting its own investigation since the day after Gray’s death, and both her decision and the timing of her announcement are independent of any other agency.

Mosby is charging one of the defendants, the driver of the van, with second degree murder. Nothing in Mosby’s press conference or in the news accounts I have seen suggests evidence that the van driver or anyone else intended to kill Gray, so I assume that Maryland’s statute allows reckless indifference, or some such standard, as the basis for a second degree murder charge. Three of the other defendants are charged with involuntary manslaughter.

In her press conference, Mosby alleged that the officers’ arrest of Gray was unwarranted and illegal. Contrary to prior reports, she says Gray was not carrying a switchblade, but simply a legal knife.

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Mosby has rejected calls for an independent prosecutor:

The Fraternal Order of Police asked Mosby to appoint an independent prosecutor in the case, citing her ties to the Gray family’s attorney, William Murphy, as well as her lead prosecutor’s connections to members of the local media. Murphy donated $5,000 to Mosby’s campaign and served on her transition committee. …

The FOP letter also expresses concerns regarding Mosby’s marriage to Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby. …

Mosby responded to that request by saying: “The people of Baltimore City elected me and there is no accountability with a special prosecutor.”

“I will prosecute any case within my jurisdiction,” she added.

Based on the facts as I understand them, I agree with her.

Arrest warrants have been issued for all six officers.

Mosby, just 35 years old, is an interesting figure. She is the daughter of police officers and won an upset victory over the incumbent state’s attorney in November. She has been in office for only three months.

UPDATE: There has been little comment on the race of the officers who have been charged, which seems odd given that coverage of the Baltimore riots has focused mostly on race. In any event, it appears that the officer who was charged with murder, Caesar R. Goodson Jr., is African-American.

FURTHER UPDATE: Apparently three of the six police officers who were charged today are African-Americans.

Dogmatism Rightly Understood

Last weekend I got to spend some time with a bunch of impressive students that the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) rounded up for one of their periodic leadership conferences, this time in Casper, Wyoming. One of the things I shared with the assembled students (who were really really bright) was my short list of indispensable essays or parts of classic books that everyone should re-read at least annually.

My list isn’t actually fixed, and it is not uniform, as it depends on the interests of the person or general topic area. I have slightly different recommendations for economics, literature, philosophy, history, etc.  But there are a few I recommend to just about everyone, starting first with Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.”  Always useful to have on hand when, for example, the Obama Administration describes the Ft. Hood shooting as “workplace violence,” or the Libya bombing campaign as a “kinetic activity” rather than hostile military action. Beyond Orwell’s takedown of political euphemisms, his essay is a decent guide to clear writing.

Another important essay is F.A. Hayek’s “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” (Or click here for a PDF file of the original AER version.)  First published in 1945, Hayek spells out his basic cognitive critique of the limits of political control over social phenomena, which he later boiled down to a single sentence: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” (His 1974 Nobel Prize lecture, “The Pretense of Knowledge,” works well, too.) You could consider this Hayek’s own modern restatement of Socratic ignorance and therefore the beginning of wisdom: I know that I know nothing.  You rather wish the architects of Obamacare, or Dodd-Frank, or just about any piece of contemporary legislation, would be made to study this essay every morning.  (Worth noting, incidentally, that Hayek’s classic essay was just selected as one of the 20 most significant articles to have appeared in the 100-year history of the American Economic Review.)

There are several others on my list, but one short book that I discussed at some length the other night: C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. It is short enough to read in one sitting.  First published in 1947, it is astoundingly prescient about what we’ve come to call “post-modernism,” or at least the widespread view that there are no rational foundations for moral principles, or no moral truths. I first read it as a high school senior in 1976, and still go back to it regularly today, appreciating it more and more every time. Lewis foresaw the implications of the spreading nihilism of the 20th century, along with Leo Strauss (Natural Right and History), Eric Voegelin (The New Science of Politics), and Richard Weaver (Ideas Have Consequences), among others.

Lewis’s elegant critique of the consequences of what we’ve come to call, somewhat oversimply, “relativism” culminates in this ringing sentence:

“A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not a tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.”

One the surface this statement might seem contradictory, if not in a sense shocking.  Why dogmatic?  If moral truths have an objective basis in reason (that is, natural law), why any need for dogmatism?

To give an answer to that question, let’s turn for a moment to a similar “dogmatic” declaration from the canon: Leo Strauss’s remark in his essay “Liberal Education and Responsibility” that “wisdom requires unhesitating loyalty to a decent constitution and even to the cause of constitutionalism.”  So it’s loyalty oaths and dogmatism?

Explaining the reasons why these two seemingly shocking statements are not shocking at all but highly necessary in our time could require a whole book (or a semester in the classroom), though a short version might be found, oddly enough, in an unlikely place: Federalist Paper #31, which is ostensibly just about the taxing power.  But Number 31 begins with a long preface of moral philosophy that boils down to this central point: the objective basis of moral truth is like proofs in geometry: they are grasped intuitively by “antecedent evidence” in Hamilton’s words, and if someone “doesn’t get it,” no amount of rational argument can establish the existence of moral truths.  “Where it produces not this effect,” Hamilton writes, “it must proceed either from some defect or disorder in the organs of perception, or from the influence of some strong interest, passion, or prejudice.” Today the “strong interest, passion, and prejudice” of the liberal mind is the unlimited autonomy or will of the Self, which cannot abide any constraint rooted in human nature. It is but a step from this unarticulated premise to a philosophy of unlimited government.

The trick of democratic politics, Federalist #51 explained, was enabling the government to be powerful enough to control the governed, but able to control (or limit) itself—that is, not so powerful that it threatens the natural rights of the people.  For liberals, rights today aren’t based in nature, but on will: anything you want becomes a “right” that government must secure by taxing and/or coercing your fellow citizens. It is a formula for tyranny; just ask Christian-owned bakeries right now. This is why Lewis says belief in objective value is necessary; the need for it to be “dogmatic” arises from the corruption of the liberal mind that more and more often today rejects reason and objectivity tout court. Against this highly trained incapacity to think, dogmatism is necessary, lest civilization itself slip inexorably away beneath the waves of nihilism.

Likewise in the second half of Lewis’s sentence, the idea of objective value is the only basis on which to answer the first question of political obligation: why should you obey the law? Post-modern liberals cannot answer the “why” of this question, and openly say that law is based only on force. Most of the time I am tempted to respond by saying: “Fine—how many of you are members of the NRA?” That’s how I let my dogma run over their (smart)-karma.

Clinton Cash with Lou Dobbs

Peter Schweizer appeared on Lou Dobbs’s excellent Fox Business Channel show this past Wednesday night for two short segments on his forthcoming book, Clinton Cash. Video of the first of the two segments is below.

Dobbs sets up the segment with a brief excerpt of Madam Hillary’s speech at Columbia University this week. At Columbia Ma’am Hillary read awkwardly from the Telepromter — awkwardly but very, very slowly, for the mentally challenged — on the need for the fox to restore trust among the hens in the henhouse. It was the perfect introduction to our friend Mr. Schweizer.

Peter alludes in the course of his remarks to some disturbing fallout from his book. The curious viewer may have his curiosity satisfied in the Business Insider report “The author of a book hammering Hillary Clinton says he now has full time security.”

The passion of “Tess”

We’re finishing the Victorian novel class I have been taking at a college in St. Paul with Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. I want to offer a few notes on the novel in the hope that some readers may share their thoughts and others may take up the novel if they haven’t read it before. It is an essential novel.

Our great young teacher has structured the course with four novels that evoke the plight of women in Victorian fiction. With Tess we reach the summit (or a summit) of this plight. Tess is an extraordinarily lovable woman who experiences great suffering. The proximate cause of her greatest suffering is the application of the double standard by the good man whom she marries to her premarital encounter with the villainous Alec d’Urbervilles.

The novel is full of Tess’s suffering. With a hundred pages to go, I had no idea where the novel was headed. The twists and turns make perfect sense, yet they took me by surprise. Tess is an incredibly powerful character. Those last hundred pages are full of sadness. We don’t want to let Tess go. She lives on in the reader’s imagination.

Hardy gave the novel the subtitle A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented. In his 1912 preface to the novel, he explains that he appended the subtitle “at the last moment, after reading the final proofs, as being the the estimate left in a candid mind of the heroine’s character–an estimate that nobody would be likely to dispute.” He added: “It was disputed more than anything else in the book.”

Hardy loved Tess and so does the reader. Late in life (and he lived a long one), Hardy fell in love with a young actress portraying Tess in a theatrical adaptation. Tess certainly lived on in his imagination.

In Far From the Madding Crowd, Hardy writes of Farmer Oak’s sheepdog, who methodically pushes his flock of sheep over the cliff to their death: “[The dog] had done his work so thoroughly that he was considered too good a workman to live, and was, in fact, taken and tragically shot that same day–another instance of the untoward fate which so often attends dogs and philosophers who follow out a train of reasoning to its logical conclusion, and attempt perfectly consistent conduct in a world made up largely of compromise.”

Hardy sought to avoid “the untoward fate” of the philosopher by working under the mask of the novel. He struggled with the effect of the Victorian loss of faith in the wake of Darwin and others. Can you have “an ethical system without any dogma” or morals without theology? Tess proposes “the religion of loving-kindness and purity[.]”

The novel’s villain jeers: “O no. I’m a different sort of fellow from that! If there’s nobody to say, ‘Do this, and it will be a good thing for your after you are dead: do that, and it will be a bad thing for you,’ I can’t warm up.” He needs faith in something higher than himself, and Tess is at his mercy when he lacks it.

Much as one feels Hardy’s loss of faith, the novel is overlaid with allusions to Paradise Lost. The novel is suffused with Paradise Lost. Indeed, it is probably impossible to understand the novel without some knowledge of Paradise Lost. It is part of the fabric of the novel’s art. Professor James Heffernan makes great use of Paradise Lost in his close reading of the novel, “‘Cruel persuasion’: Seduction, temptation, and agency in Hardy’s Tess.” I recommend it to you after you have read the novel.

The mainspring of Tess is most peculiar. I don’t know what to make of it.

Tess’s father is a drunken good-for-nothing named John Durbyfield. The novel begins when he is hailed as as “Sir John” on his way home from work one day. He is informed by the studious Parson Tringham, who has been studying local genealogy, that Durbyfield descends from the noble d’Urberville family, long since died out. Durbyfield is unduly impressed by his noble lineage. Before long Durbyfield is recalling the family’s glory days with “King Norman.”

Durbyfield’s practical wife wants to make something of what she believes is the family connection to the wealthy family living under the name d’Urberville in a nearby town. She sends Tess off to visit the no-good son to see what she can make of their presumed connection. Not having been afforded an education in the eighteenth-century novels that might have taught her the peril that awaits, Tess is not quite prepared to resist her fate.

Tess was Hardy’s penultimate novel. He gave up the form after the uproar created by Jude the Obscure, devoting himself completely to poetry. He titled his 1914 book of poetry Satires of Circumstance. Hardy compresses a wrenching satire of circumstance into the beginning of this immensely powerful novel.

Thoughts from the ammo line

Ammo Grrrll returns with VISITING MY PEOPLE – Part Four: Pride of Place. As always with her weekly column, previous installments of this series can be accessed by inputting “Grrrll” in our search engine. She writes:

One of the things I love most about our great country is the sense of ownership and pride that our citizens have about where they live. For a politician or a comic, a guaranteed cheap applause line is to mention the city in which he or she is appearing. But woe be upon you, if you get it wrong! It is an affront from which you will not recover. Our emcee once called a comedy club full of NDSU students UND and we couldn’t buy a laugh all night.

No matter how small the town, there is a green sign before the exit listing all the fabulous attractions the city fathers want you to know await you if you would please get out of your car, look around, and by all means, buy something. “See Our Old Round Barn!” one sign urges hopefully.

That rather reminded me of a “self-esteem building” exercise our son had to do in third grade. A piece of paper was passed around for each child and all the other children had to write anonymous morale-boosting things about that child. Several commented on what a good friend he was and how smart he was. But one child when pressed to come up with something positive, could only say, “Jacob has nice pants.” How dramatically that affected the way our son esteemed himself I cannot say, but I’m sure it was decisive.

Some wit in Astoria, South Dakota, the town my mother and John Hinderaker’s father grew up in, of some 237 hardy souls at its peak, has put up a green sign saying “Astoria, Next Four Exits.”

If you don’t stop at some of these things, the rest of your life could be one vast surging regret. You might miss the Sewer Cover Capital, or the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, or a Corn Palace or Car Henge. Maybe it’s not the Grand Canyon, The Alamo, or the Empire State Building, but, by golly, it’s what the locals have to offer and they’re proud. When I was a kid, I used to dream of being locked in the public library until I had read all the books. Now I dream of an endless road trip in which I see every single roadside attraction.

IMG_0044 Other faded signs on the way into town trumpet a local sports team’s long-ago accomplishments from the Girls’ Softball team to the Boys’ Basketball team. And coming soon to a town near you the Trans-Gender Rugby Tournament and Bake-Off!

This town sports a Spam museum; that one an Apothecary Museum; here a Runestone Museum; there a Quilt Museum and Shop with the hand-made sign: “Ladies, scream until your husband stops.” The sweet, quaint assumption there being that the husband is driving and that every woman interested in quilts has one. A husband, not a quilt. Anyone can get a quilt. Here an Ostrich Ranch with but a single ostrich; there a herd of buffalo. Or goats. Or a longhorn whose name is probably Valium to sit upon for a photograph in Ft. Worth.

There’s historic sites aplenty; homes of John Wayne, Jesse James, Laura Ingalls Wilder, more green signs mentioning astronauts and Olympians, golfers and NASCAR drivers. In Missouri you can’t swing a cat without hitting a Harry S Truman statue, plaque, or memento.

If festivals are your cup of tea, you could opt for German Fest, Cajun Fest, a Barbecue Cook-off, Chuckwagon Cook-off, Krazy Daze.

The smallest town has a little park, valuable real estate set aside just for community pleasure and respite. Money is spent for sheer beautification. And has been, of course, since a lady living in the Lascaux cave in France looked at the wall and said, “You know what that wall needs, cher? Some pictures of our kids.” And her husband said, “I can’t draw people. How about some nice bison?” And then the neighbor lady asked her husband, “How come we don’t have bison?” and the first interior decorator was born.

When a basket is functional, why waste any effort to also make it beautiful? But we humans do. Something within us compels us to make things pretty. And so it is in the small towns of my people. Seasonal decorations line the streets; flags fly from posts every few feet on the main drag. Often there are even Christmas decorations for perhaps a few more years before they are deemed Hate Speech along with American flags. Flower boxes surround somewhat shabby stores.

Even the old leftie song “Bread and Roses” about the 1911 Shirtwaist Factory Fire Disaster contained the line, “Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses.” America is chock-a-block full of roses, actual and metaphorical. Stop and smell them.