Breathing Homer’s Pure Serene

Why Homer Matters is the best book about literature I have read in decades. Significantly, its author, Adam Nicolson, is not a tenured professor at some famous university or even an independent classical scholar. And this difference shows, all to the benefit of the reader.  An accomplished sailor, Nicolson has endured gales and felt the spume and spray of sail, like Odysseus. He has faced the cold steel of a dagger point against him on the plains of the Levant, not unlike the warriors of Troy.  He is not some old, bald head, annotating lines from his study, but instead advances our understanding of the poems through his own travels and personal discoveries from a life fully lived.   Particularly in this age when so much literature is refracted through the prism of political correctness, it is invigorating to read a book so loud and bold in its reassertion of the centrality of these canonical texts to seeing our own world.

That is not to say that the book is not learned. Nicolson has a comprehensive understanding of the most important aspects of Homeric scholarship.

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The Dismal Performance in Federal Policy-Making: A Discussion with Peter Schuck

govt fails

Peter Schuck comes to Liberty Law Talk to discuss Why Government Fails So Often. Like James Buckley and John DiIulio, Schuck doesn’t have much good news for the large majority of Americans who are disgusted with the performance of the federal government and its ability to devise and execute policies. Schuck notes that in April 2013, only 28% of Americans had a favorable opinion of the federal government. Many have tried to explain this phenomenon with various government affirming answers, but Schuck is forthright in the book and this interview when he states that the best answer is that the…

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Why Should ‘Electoral Integrity’ Exclude Freedom of Speech?

George Washington ready to party.

In Citizens Divided: Campaign Finance Reform and the Constitution, Robert C. Post, the dean of Yale Law School, makes it his task to “elaborate a constitutional framework in which First Amendment doctrine and campaign finance reform can be connected to each other in a coherent and theoretically satisfactory manner.”

Despite its title, Citizens Divided is not so much about the controversial 2010 Supreme Court case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission as it is a discourse on the debate about the constitutionality of campaign-finance regulation—a debate that has raged since the Court’s seminal decision in Buckley v. Valeo (1976).

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Why Can’t a Man Be More Like a Woman?

In My Fair Lady (based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion), Professor Higgins asks why can’t a woman be more like a man?  But these days, the sentiments underlying that question are more likely to be reversed.

In this article, a 50 year old woman laments the behavior of men.

There seems to be a gender imbalance, vis-a-vis [appearance]. All the women I know are tolerant of middle age showing itself in a chap. We quite like a late flowering, in fact: the silvering, the smile lines, the coming of bodily sturdiness.

By contrast, she notes that 50 year old men favor younger females:

It’s true that men don’t see me any more. It’s sobering to walk down the street observing how the 50-year-old men behave, paying attention to what they’re looking at as they stroll along. They are not looking in shop windows. They are not looking at me. They are looking at women half their age.

The suggestion is that men are somehow more superficial and really inferior.  Women are after substance; men are after looks.  And so, why can’t men be more like women?

But this story is a mirage – a false tale that our age seems to repeat.

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Trust Us, We’re the IRS

IRS

I am a faithful subscriber to the Washington Post: morning after morning, it makes for merriment. Its editorial and op-ed pages, for instance, have been given over for weeks to the regurgitation of ACA defenses cranked up in New Haven or in the PR offices of the country’s health care lobbies (interspersed with an occasional George Will column). Then yesterday, the Post (printed version) conveniently supplied a long piece detailing “Five Myths About King v. Burwell”—written by a pro-ACA advocate in the litigation, who nonetheless earnestly professed to sort “fact from fiction” in the case. That was a good one.

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The Political Thought of Walter Berns

walter-berns

The death of Walter Berns (1919-2015) has deprived this country of a patriot both remarkably devoted and remarkably thoughtful. He was a thinker resolutely loyal to, yet resolutely reflective about, the United States. These two qualities were also characteristic of Walter as a person and as a friend.

Among the numerous subjects that this political theorist addressed, I am selecting for special (though far from exhaustive) attention these: constitutionalism, patriotism, punishment, public morality, civic education, and religion. How, and to what extent, has he illuminated these subjects? How consistent are his viewpoints regarding them, advanced in various contexts over many years?

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We Grow More Equal as Technology Dematerializes the World

Futuristic smart glasses

At this year’s Federalist Society student symposium Richard Epstein and I spoke on a panel on Innovation and Inequality.  We agreed that the innovation created by capitalism has hugely benefited the poorest in society.  We disagreed over the extent to which the very nature of modern innovation itself has a tempering effect on inequality.

In my view, modern innovation helps reduce real inequality both around the globe and in the United States. And it does so for fundamental reasons. Information technology creates value by better arranging material resources.  And because of the nature of our accelerating technology the know-how for such information technology rapidly becomes common property benefiting everyone.

Another way of putting this point is that modern information technology dematerializes the world and thus democratizes it, because it is material things that are scarce. The move from its to bits is also a move to equality, because bits can be enjoyed by the many simultaneously. Income inequality gives a misleading picture because we all enjoy the benefits of a growing pool of expressions of ideas.

Let me give some concrete examples. Watson, the machine that beat the best players at Jeopardy, is going into medical diagnostics.

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Character, Controversies, and Kill Zones

in bilico

It is as if the stars in the heavens were faltering in their orbits. One media icon is down; another has been damaged. “Bill O’Reilly Has His Own Brian Williams Problem,” blared the headline in Mother Jones magazine. The Fox News Channel host stands accused of recounting “stories about his own war reporting that don’t withstand scrutiny.”

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Federal Preemption: The Numbers

The federal preemption of state law is a subject that only dorks could love. Four of them (Jon Klick, Mike Petrino, J.P. Sevilla, yours truly) have just published an empirical analysis of preemption decisions in the Rehnquist and the Roberts Courts. Preemption is the Supreme Court’s daily diet, with three or four cases each Term. So you can actually do the numbers. What the numbers show is that the once-humdrum preemption issue has become a matter of intense ideological contestation.  Preemption cases are less likely to be (nearly) unanimous than the general run of decided cases; and in contested cases, the…

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Article III’s Case-or-Controversy Requirement: The Original Meaning

Another of the papers held at the Works-in-Progress Conference at the Originalism Center at the University of San Diego this past weekend was The Contested History of Article III’s Case-or-Controversy by James Pfander of Northwestern University Law School.  Pfander’s paper provides evidence that early Congresses authorized and courts allowed lawsuits that do not seem to satisfy the modern Article III doctrine in terms of injury in fact and adverseness of the parties.  (While Pfander’s paper is not yet available online, a longer related paper is.)

One of Pfander’s examples is the naturalization proceeding that involved an action by an individual in court seeking citizenship.  The government was not a party to the proceeding.  According to Pfander, this proceeding does not involve an injury in fact and does not involve adverseness.  It does not involve injury in fact, because the applicant for citizenship has not been denied his citizenship by the government.  He is simply applying for it in court.  It does not involve adverseness because the government has not taken an adverse position to the applicant for citizenship.  The government is not involved. Other noncontentious proceedings included administrative proceedings in bankruptcy jurisdiction and ex parte warrant applications.

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