Children don’t do tragedy

I have spent the past few days watching old videos of the civil-rights era, the King era, and there is something unexpectedly poignant in them. When you see those involved in that momentous time, you notice: They dressed as adults, with dignity. They presented themselves with self-respect. Those who moved against segregation and racial indignity went forward in adult attire—suits, dresses, coats, ties, hats—as if adulthood were something to which to aspire. As if a claiming of just rights required a showing of gravity. Look at the pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking, the pictures of those marching across the Edmund Pettus bridge, of those in attendance that day when George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door and then stepped aside to the force of the federal government, and suddenly the University of Alabama was integrated. Even the first students who went in, all young, acted and presented themselves as adults. Of course they won. Who could stop such people?

I miss their style and seriousness. What we’re stuck with now is Mark Zuckerberg’s .

The signal fact of Mr. Zuckerberg is that he is supremely gifted in one area—monetizing technical expertise by marrying it to a canny sense of human weakness. Beyond that, what a shallow and banal figure. He too appears to have difficulties coming to terms with who he is. Perhaps he hopes to keep you, too, from coming to terms with it, by literally dressing as a child, in T-shirts, hoodies and jeans—soft clothes, the kind 5-year-olds favor. In interviews he presents an oddly blank look, as if perhaps his audiences will take blankness for innocence. As has been said here, he is like one of those hollow-eyed busts of forgotten Caesars you see in museums.

But he is no child; he is a giant bestride the age, a titan, one of the richest men not only in the world but in the history of the world. His power is awesome.

His public reputation is now damaged, and about this he is very concerned. Next week he will appear before Congress. The Onion recently headlined that he was preparing for his questioning by studying up on the private data of congressmen. The comic Albert Brooks tweeted: “I sent Mark Zuckerberg my entire medical history just to save him some time.”

His current problems may have yielded a moment of promise, however. Tim Cook of Apple, in an impressive and sober interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, said last week something startling, almost revolutionary: “Privacy to us is a human right.” This was stunning because it was the exact opposite of what Silicon Valley has been telling us since social media’s inception, which is: Privacy is dead. Get over it. Some variation on that statement has been made over and over by Silicon Valley’s pioneers, and they say it blithely, cavalierly, with no apparent sense of tragedy.

Because they don’t do tragedy. They do children’s clothes.

(Peggy Noonan, If Adults Won’t Grow Up, Nobody Will)

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Impeach Judge Polster

News from last week:

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio announced that on Friday 16 defendants were sentenced on hate crime charges growing out of a series of assaults on members of a rival Amish group in which the victims’  hair or beards were cut. (See prior posting.) As reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Bergholz Amish bishop Samuel Mullet received a 15 year sentence. Other defendants received sentences ranging from 7 years to just over one year. In imposing the sentences, federal district judge Dan Aaron Polster told the defendants:

Each and every one of you did more than terrorize, traumatize and disfigure the victims. You trampled on the Constitution.

(Religion Clause; emphasis added)

First, let me preemptively deny what a casual reader might suspect:

  • I’m not saying that bishop Samuel Mullet isn’t the mastermind of the attacks on completing Amish groups.
  • I’m not denying that the attacks were meant to humiliate, intimidate and to deprive the victims of an outward sign of their religious identity.
  • I’m not saying that the “beard trimmings” and “haircuts” were not motivated by hatred for the competing Amish.
  • I’m not saying that bishop Mullet’s group isn’t a cult or that he isn’t dangerous.
  • I’m not saying that unauthorized beard trimmings and haircuts shouldn’t be a crime or that they’re not crimes. They certainly are a form of criminal battery.
  • I’m not saying that 15 years is too long a sentence.

I now am saying that not one of the Defendants “trampled on the Constitution.”I am saying that the federal judge who said they did  sounds like a constitutional ignoramus or a motor-mouth, both of which disqualify him for a federal judgeship in my opinion. (I’m probably in a minority. In a world of Judge Judies, we seemingly want our judges to be tart-tongued purveyors of black-robed bread and circuses.)

The Constitution limits government. Got that?

As my constitutional law professor, the late Patrick Baude put it, “If the Pope of Rome, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and the Rev. Billy Graham got together and engineered the assassination of the President because of some common religious animus, they would not thereby violate the Constitution.” The first amendment has no application whatever to what any church, priest, pastor, curate, or other officer of a religious society may do.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ….

The Constitution limits government.

There are too may people already who fancy that a Church or pastor can violate the “separation of Church and state.” We don’t need Federal Judges pouring gasoline on that fire.

Federal prosecutors argued that bishop Mullet should get a life sentence. I already hinted elsewhere that a law whereby a man might be imprisoned for life for unauthorized beard trimmings and haircuts if motivated by “hate” is a tool I don’t want government to have. But the prosecutors’ Happy Dance Press Release was a model of sobriety compared the judge’s sloppy extemporizing.

As long as I’m shooting off my mouth, let me add that we muddle matters when we pass federal laws like the “Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act” (under which bishop Mullet was convicted) and call them “civil rights” laws. This summary, which illustrates the muddle, is mistaken – although it’s sharper than most people’s minds seem to be:

Civil liberties are protections against government actions. For example, the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees citizens the right to practice whatever religion they please. Government, then, cannot interfere in an individual’s freedom of worship. Amendment I gives the individual “liberty” from the actions of the government.

Civil rights, in contrast, refer to positive actions of government should take to create equal conditions for all Americans. The term “civil rights” is often associated with the protection of minority groups, such as African Americans, Hispanics, and women. The government counterbalances the “majority rule” tendency in a democracy that often finds minorities outvoted.

I dissent. “Civil liberties” and “civil rights” are substantially synonymous. I wouldn’t object if someone wanted to say that civil liberties keep the government caged and off our turf, and that civil rights have to do with things we may demand from government – if that list includes only things that are the government’s to give in the first place, such as the franchise, due process, jury trials and the like. But government these days has taken to putting its thumb on the scale balancing the rights of citizens among themselves and calling that “civil rights.” That’s wrong.

The quest for equal conditions for all Americans, insofar as it results in countermanding majority decisions that do not infringe civil liberties or civil rights, is a form of tyranny as it deprives the majority of its right to self-governance. Insofar as it burdens other citizens with obligations to be nice to people they may find odious, or to do business with those they might wish to shun, it is potentially a form of tyranny, and needs very substantial justification.

The Constitution limits government. Including courts. Even if the courts are motivated by a desire for greater equality than the constitution requires.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Rand Paul Civil Rights Act retrospective has a pretty interesting set of reactions to the kefuffle over Rand Paul’s initial equivocation on the public accommodations portions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act:

They’re interesting partly because they are better than the usual charges of media bias that follow a conservative embarrassment in “gotcha moment.”

For my money, Goldberg is the funniest (not surprisingly) and closest to my view of the deepest meaning of this pretty shallow episode:

[T]he only people who are really jazzed to reopen the argument about the Civil Rights Act are liberals.

And they have good reason: They won that argument, politically and morally. This is a fact liberals never stop reminding us, and themselves, about. Like a paunchy middle-aged man who scored the winning touchdown in the high school championship, nostalgic liberals don’t need an excuse to bring up their glory days (which were not the Democratic Party’s glory days, by the way). Give them a living, breathing politician who suggests, no matter how imprecisely or grudgingly, that the Civil Rights Act wasn’t perfect, and they’ll talk your ear off like a drunk uncle at a wedding.

How many activist groups insist that their plight is sublimely analogous to the civil rights struggle? How many times did the Democrats try to make health-care reform a continuation of civil rights? …

What really makes this debate remarkable is that someone has volunteered to be the straw man liberals are always creating.

But Harsanyi’s opener is good, too:

Isn’t it time we started querying our political candidates on issues that really matter?

Let’s start with this one: If you were a convention delegate in 1778, would you have voted to ratify the Constitution of the United States?

If the answer is yes — and you don’t hate America, do you?! — it’s only fair we conclude that you support restricting voting rights to male landowners exclusively. Surely, from your position, we can also deduce that you support slavery.

Easily explainable, but impossible

Michael Gerson challenges not only libertarianism (which I’ve never been able to embrace), but constitutional conservatism, which I have embraced:

The Tea Party movement, being resistant to systemization, is resistant to characterization. But in its simplest form (and there seems to be no other form), it might be called “constitutional conservatism.” It adopts a rigorous hermeneutic: If the Constitution does not specifically mention it, the federal government isn’t allowed to do it. This represents a kind of 10th Amendment fundamentalism — a muscular form of states’ rights that would undo much of the federal role since Franklin Roosevelt, perhaps since Abraham Lincoln.

This philosophy has the virtue of being easily explainable — and the drawback of being impossible. The current federal role did not grow primarily because of the statist ambitions of liberals; it grew in response to democratic choices and global challenges. Federal power advanced to rescue the elderly from penury, to enforce civil rights laws, to establish a stable regulatory framework for a modern economy, to conduct a global Cold War. The “establishment” that advanced and maintained this federal role included Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. In many areas, the federal government has gone too far, becoming bloated and burdensome. But the federal role cannot be abandoned.

So I guess the principle is “if it’s ‘necessary,’ tough luck that the constitution doesn’t allow it.”

Easily explainable, possible – and to my ears, still intolerable.

It puts us in permanent servility to court judgments of whether something “goes too far” or is “bloated and burdensome.” I’d really like a brighter line than that.