Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Why no TenaciousMcD posts of late? Been working on a project. Here she is. Bay Elizabeth arrived on Saturday, April 18 at 10:30 AM: 7 lb., 13 oz., 19 3/4 inches long. She looks to me like the shrunken voodoo head of J. Edgar Hoover, which I mean in the cutest way imaginable. Her sister is thrilled. Bay herself is especially happy to have gotten some pretty new shoes for her one week b-day. For our part, we probably could have timed this better than to coincide with term papers. Hard to complain about that girl, though.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Criminalizing Policy Differences, Begging the Question

I've been seeing this meme a lot recently, raised by GOP flaksters whenever the possibility of prosecutions of Bush administration officials or CIA officers for torture is discussed. "It's wrong to criminalize policy differences," is the refrain.

I find this rather confusing. The meme is clearly missing a clause, in that it should state "It's wrong to criminalize policy differences when the policy at question is not otherwise criminal." Because it's perfectly possible for a policy to be, at the same time, criminal. In which case, there would be nothing improper about criminalizing it. The meme, in short, begs the question of whether the policy was criminal.

Here's an example. Let's say that I'm a city manager, and it's my unwritten but uniformly enforced policy of only contracting with firms that pay me a consideration on the side. I don't call this a "bribe," and I have an elaborate rationale written up by the city attorney that says that, within limits, this program does not violate state or federal law. Besides, the city attorney argues, as a city official, I am part of the state and it is a violation of state sovereignty for federal law to tell me how to run the city. And so on. (It's very poor legal advice, but it was written by an attorney.)

Let's say that a new city council comes in and replaces me. And the new city manager discovers what I've been doing. Can I argue that he just has a different policy toward contracting? That he shouldn't "criminalize" our different ways of doing business? I can, but it is no defense.

There has been debate in the past over criminalizing policy differences, but it has usually been about politically motivated prosecutions for things tangential to policy itself. So one party might investigate the other's officeholders seeking out something to prosecute. This is the sort of argument that Blago makes, and it does happen. The Sigelman case in Alabama is another example, by most accounts.

But this may be the first time that I've seen the argument made the behavior being criminalized was the policy itself.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bee at 10 Months

Monday, April 13, 2009


Fareed Zakaria has a good column in Newseek right now. No, I don't think Robert Gates is a "genius," although I am sure he scores quite high on IQ tests. What he certainly is is a true public servant and, of more interest to me, one hell of a bureaucrat (not a dirty word in this house). I mean, they bring the guy in to clean up Rummie's mess--and I mean the Bush team, by "they," of course--and he stays on under Obama--quite a different administration--to take on the military-industrial complex (sort of). It's hard to imagine two less attractive tasks.

The point I wanted to make, and it is isn't original with me, is, what exactly is all this military might for?

Oh, sure, it's to keep us safe. But 11 carrier groups didn't protect us from 9/11. We can project power all over the world, but in many places (e.g., Darfur) we are loath to do so, and in others (e.g., Iraq) we have been too eager. Our vast arsenal doesn't make the North Korean situation any more tractable, and many of our greatest potential risks, whether nuclear terrorism or climate change, aren't solvable through high explosives.

Military might is not the answer to every question. Indeed, it is hard to say what question today it is the answer to.

But this appears to be one of the things that you can't say in American politics. Good luck to Gates and the Obama administration, but I fear that this game is fixed.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Where Are Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, and the Flying Cows?

So many tornadoes lately it feels like we're inhabiting reruns of Twister on TBS. How often do I have to blog on this? I guess I should just be thankful that I'm here--the whole family safe--to blog about this. Another close hit to our little Kincaid cottage, not as close as the last, but much scarier.

The Good Friday tornado cut a brutal path E/NE through the north side of town, wrecking hundreds of houses (42 destroyed in the city, 200+ more damaged) over 15 miles and killing a young mom and her baby daughter who were trying to get into their car as the winds hit. The dad is critical, along with several other people. At its closest point, it ran a mile and a half north of us, which is where that family lived. Lang and I drive near that house at least once a week. It is on the way to the greenway trailhead--also hit--where I take her to run, ooh at the puppies, and throw shells and rocks into the river. Luckily, I don't need to drive that way for anything more essential, so I can avoid the disaster zone. Too close for comfort nonetheless.

Wherever you live there's always something weather-related to fear. Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Forrest fires. Mud slides. This is our hazard, and mostly we get used to it. April and May means making sure the dirt floor basement is ready for hunkering: batteries in the lantern and radio, a jug of water, a couple of plastic chairs. Most people around here don't have basements. We've got shallow soil over a hard rock base and a lot of quickie development from the last twenty-five years during which the town has roughly tripled to 100K. Not sure I could live in such a house. I'm a pretty chicken shit guy when it comes to physical dangers. No sky diving or storm chasing for me. When bad conditions loom, I'm instinctively calm but cautious. Now that I'm a father, however, I can't help but think of my girl first. Where is she, and is she safe? Seems silly to say it, like I'm writing for a B-movie. No basement at the sitter's where she goes a couple of days a week. Our sitter took Good Friday off to go boating, and Lang and Mrs. TMcD got to enjoy the pleasures of our dank little space underneath while I was in the cinderblock fortitude of my 1960s-vintage classroom building. They drove to get me during a lull, but the weather turned ominous again, and we all hunkered together in the windowless interior office for which I was unusually glad.

I wish I had something profound to say. There are greater tragedies than this one somewhere almost every single day. The headline of the DNJ ("RESURRECTION") was a tad "on the nose," as they say. Natural evils are a hard case for us Christians, harder than willed evil as Rousseau and Kant knew better than Augustine. I tend to think about such questions bottom-up, as is my station. Religion, as Kant held, is in part a "metaphysics of morals": to find God, we project transcendent significance upon our deepest commitments. (This is both religion's existential strength and its logical vulnerability.) The Stoics thought the fundamental moral truth was that reason was stronger than death, such that nothing external could "harm" a virtuous man. The Christian claim starts with similar simplicity, but replaces reason with love and virtue with faith: if love is our true knowledge of divinity, then death may bring suffering but neither can rob us of the humanity love bestows. Where there is love there is hope. For me, also relief, sadness, and anger. No Stoic, I.

To all those affected this holy week by suffering, explicable and not, my deepest condolences and heartfelt prayers.

Update: Apparently, early reports vastly understated the damage of what was an EF-4 tornado with winds reaching 170 mph over a 22 (!) mile path. The two patches of damage I've seen were eye-popping, and I haven't been anywhere near the worst stretch. Holy cow.

Training Update

Not that anyone cares, but the first quarter of 2009 is over, so I thought I would update everyone on the running. It was a rather disappointing first quarter, in many ways, as I fell woefully short of my "aspirational" goal of 30 miles a week. In fact, in the first thirteen weeks of 2009 I ran 30 miles in a "training week" (Monday-Sunday) exactly once, in week five (30.3 miles). I came close a few times, hitting 90 percent of the goal three times (28.6, 27.9, 27.1). I ran more than 30 miles in at least one other seven day period, but not an official training week (a longish run on a Tuesday added to the previous week's Wednesday through Sunday total, for example).

My median week for the quarter was 25 miles even. So I ran less than 25 miles/week a little less than half of the time.

Oh, I have excuses--a bad cold for a couple weeks, the Inauguration mess in week four was a big deterrent to running in DC (that was my worst week of the quarter, only 11.7 miles). There's the whole baby thing.

But the real problem is mathematical. The problem with 30 miles a week as a goal is that I never plan to run more than that many. So to average that, I have to run it every week. And I don't have the time to do that right now.

My new goal is to average 25 miles. I was able to hit that more than half the time (seven out of 13 weeks). If I can bring up the low mileage weeks, and hit 28 miles every third week or so--which I was able to do last quarter--I should be able to improve the numbers next quarter.

Of course, total mileage ("quantity") doesn't tell one anything about quality of training. For the mid-year report, maybe I'll work up some stats on pace.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Damascus Road Cafeteria and Gas

On Faux News Sunday this week, Chris Wallace asked Newt Gingrich about his recent conversion to Roman Catholicism. Did you see it?

I wouldn't want to question anyone else's faith, and won't do so here. The twice divorced Gingrich may indeed have embraced Catholicism. He assured Wallace that he had complied with Church law regarding the divorces, etc., and I'm sure that he did--not that I really care. That's his business.

But Wallace didn't ask about all the key areas where Gingrich's views diverge so radically from the Church's--the war in Iraq, social welfare, foreign aid, etc.

In U.S. conservative circles, it seems more and more that the RC Church is about one issue--abortion.

Again, I don't mean to question the sincerity of anyone's views. But it seems strange that Gingrich--who earlier in the same interview was essentially calling for preemptive strikes against North Korea--has embraced the Church's views on war and peace issues. It seems doubly strange that he wouldn't be asked about it.

When Democratic Catholic pols are pro-choice, that's an issue. Then diverging from Church doctrine is a political issue. Being a cafeteria Catholic matters, for some reason I can never quite figure out . . . and, like I said, I don't care myself whether pols share the orthodox views of their nominal faith. That's their business, except when it becomes a political issue.

But when a pro-life Catholic pol disagrees with the Pope about something like the, say, the Iraq war. Not an issue. It doesn't matter, at least not very much. No one gets denied communion because they believe in preventative war.

Now, I understand that there is a political dimension here. The reason that being pro-choice matters is that there is a vocal pro-life movement, both within and outside the Church, that makes a ruckus about it. To the extent that there is an antiwar movement, it makes less noise. My sense is that this is almost all there is to the explanation.

But is there just a bit more?

Is it that, for some reason, what the Church says about abortion (or euthanasia, or other similar issues) is somehow different from other issues on which the Church takes positions--poverty, for example. Is it that, for some reason, the Church's views on economic policy, or foreign affairs, carry less weight in the discourse, than in what could be defined as "morality." As in, what we generally call "social issues"? That on those issues, one cannot pick and choose. But that on others, one can.

Is that where the discourse is at? How did we ever get here?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Product Placement

So when we moved to the new house, we moved the television from the 'living room' to the finished basement. The new house doesn't really have a 'living room.' It has a sitting room upstairs (first florr: sitting room, dining room, kitchen, and hall--it's a Hill house). But the house pre-dates teevee, so that room isn't designed for a CRT, or even a flat screen.

Thank goodness for the finished basement.

But I've noticed that with the teevee in the basement--I just watch a lot less teevee. It isn't on while cooking, or eating, it isn't just background all the time. I still watch some teevee. But not nearly as much.

This is probably very good for my state of mind. And I'm really sure that it's good for the baby.