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"Bookbanning":

The brouhaha over Palin's alleged "bookbanning" assumes the right answer to an issue I deem controversial: do citizens acting through their elected representatives have any right to try to influence library policy regarding which books are on the library shelves, and whether such books are available to children.

Let's start with first principles. From a libertarian perspective, the government shouldn't run libraries, not just because libertarians don't like the government to run almost anything, but because running a library inherently involves making a content-based decision as to what books are worthy or not worthy of being on the library shelves.

But we don't live in a libertarian society, and the government does run libraries. Librarians make content-based decisions as to what books should be on the shelves every day. Well-run libraries apparently typically have set policies as to how to determine whether or not to acquire books, but, as Earl Maltz points out, these policies obviously reflect background social/political norms. You're certainly not going to find a "classics comics" version of Mein Kampf in a public library, nor are you likely to find children's books (or, outside research libraries, adult books) that advocate slavery, racism, or other ideas deemed socially unacceptable. You are also unlikely to find Playboy, much less more hard-core pornographic magazines or books.

So, libraries engage in "censorship" every day; they just call it "professional discretion based on objective policies."

The question, then, is why taxpayers must defer to the professional librarians' decisions. Sure, librarians are "professionals." But citizens who complain about a particular children's book (for its presence or absence) may have Ph.D.s in child psychology, have raised 10 children and have 20 grandchildren, have MSWs and work with children all day, spent 20 years teaching in a seminary, or otherwise have a range of knowledge and experience that make them potentially more qualified than a librarian to determine what is or is not appropriate material for children.

For that matter, we don't let teachers teach whatever the heck they want simply because they are "professionals" relying on some allegedly objective criteria established by teachers' organizations. We have elected school boards that take public input into account.

Let's consider the book that Palin allegedly expressed concern about, "Daddy's Roommate." You can "search inside" this book on Amazon. From the pages I can see, it's about a boy whose parents got divorced last year, and whose father now has a male roommate, with whom he eats, works, and sleeps (with a picture of them in bed together). Readers are later told that Daddy and his roommate Frank are gay and that "being gay is just one more kind of love."

For the record, the book doesn't offend me, and indeed, I'd probably endorse its sentiments (I'd know better if I could read the whole thing). But the book would quite obviously be offensive to many parents who have traditional religious/moral views about sexual matters, as well as to parents who think that such mature content shouldn't be on the shelves for children to discover without parental permission/guidance.

Should these parents have a say in whether this book is available in the library? To what ages? With or without parental permission?

The way the Palin controversy has erupted, apparently parents (or elected officials) raising such questions would be "book banners."

But let's say a library stocked a children's book called "Adam and Eve." The book, which has sold 50,000 copies nationwide, explains that The Lord intended men and women to be couples, and that people who have same-sex relationships are violating the laws of God and nature, and are risking eternal damnation. The librarian had received several requests for this book, and finds it an age-appropriate way of explaining the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic position on sexuality to children.

A progressive parent complains that her child read this book in the library, and now is convinced that gay people are bad. She asks that the library remove the book from the shelf. Is she a "bookbanner?" If the librarian had refused to stock the book to begin with, despite its strong sales, the requests, and a finding of educational value and age-appropriateness, is he a "bookbanner"?

Dave N (mail):
It is an interesting hypothetical.

For that matter, if a librarian made a decision not to use library funds to purchase Daddy's Roommmate or Heather Has Two Mommies (or any other book for that matter), is it censorship? Or does it depend on the library budget?

For that matter, who establishes the standards that are used to purchase ANY book at a library? Should they reflect "community standards" (whatever they might be)? If not, what is the criteria?
9.15.2008 11:50am
loki13 (mail):
DB-

That hypothetical book is called the Bible. It is available in my library, as well as hotels nationwide. I do believe many children have the chance to be exposed to it.
9.15.2008 11:50am
ArtEclectic (mail):
Jeez. A financial meltdown bigger than the one that caused the Great Depression is in progress and you people are still pumping Palin. Take off the partisan blinders. Palin drama will be ancient history by the end of the week after WaMu fails.
9.15.2008 11:56am
Floridan:
So, are you saying that you don't find any problem with government officials, on an ad hoc basis, trying to have books they don't like removed from public libraries?
9.15.2008 11:58am
Rodger Lodger (mail):
You've proven that book-banning controversies reduce to disagreements about the policies advocated by the books in question. It is very clever, though, of liberals to claim the issue is actually not, e.g., policy re education about gays, but censorship and other aspects of tyranny. Another problem for the conservatives or libertarians here is that the public usually doesn't take into account the finitude of budgets. Think of the limitless funds the public wants to spend to get that trapped little girl out of the well, funds that could innoculate or feed and house the poor.
9.15.2008 12:03pm
Suzy (mail):
I'm offended by poorly written literature.
9.15.2008 12:03pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Are you saying that you don't find any problem with librarians, who are also government officials, on an ad hoc basis, refusing to purchase books they don't like for the library?
9.15.2008 12:03pm
karl newman:
I agree with ArtEclectic. Could we have a thread on the impact of regulation or lack thereof on this current financial meltdown. What is the libertarian perspective on that? What are the ramifications of the Bush Admin taking over Freddie/Fannie? Social wedge issues are a distraction from real issues facing this country.
9.15.2008 12:03pm
Dave N (mail):
Loki13,

There is actually a children's book called The Story of Adam and Eve. I have no idea if this is the hypothetical book that DB mentions. Let's assume for the sake of argument it is. The question isn't whether the Bible should be banned, but rather whether a homophobic book geared at 7 and 8 year olds should be.
9.15.2008 12:04pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
David, answers to your questions can be found here, on the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom website.
9.15.2008 12:06pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

Are you saying that you don't find any problem with librarians, who are also government officials, on an ad hoc basis, refusing to purchase books they don't like for the library?

I find problems with strawman arguments. If you think your library should own certain books, ask them to obtain them.
9.15.2008 12:08pm
The Ace (mail):
being gay is just one more kind of love

Good grief, no it is not.
9.15.2008 12:10pm
Arvin (mail) (www):

being gay is just one more kind of love

Good grief, no it is not.

Oh my god, yes it is.
9.15.2008 12:12pm
DiverDan (mail):
How about we start with the whole notion that any decision about whether or not to stock a book in a library amounts to "bookbanning". Since the decision to not make any given book available at the library does NOT result in the book being removed from Bookstores, or Amazon, and does NOT limit in any way the rights of any person who wishes to purchase the book (or borrow it from their neighbor, or trade for it among their book club membership, etc.), and does NOT limit any person's right to read the book in public (unlike that assinine University which threatened sanctions against a student for reading a book on slavery among a mixed-race crowd), it bears NO RELATIONSHIP AT ALL to Bookbanning. Any idiot (and that includes MSM reporters) who refers to Palin as supporting bookbanning simply because she expressed a preference that certain books not be purchased by the local library should be treated with exactly the amount of respect due them - i.e., none whatsoever.
9.15.2008 12:13pm
MP (mail) (www):
I don't understand why librarians should get a free pass to populate their shelves with whatever they want. Why shouldn't they be accountable to taxpayers?

I also disagree with this notion that not making a book available for free at the library is book banning. If you want the book, just go out and buy it.

All that being said, I do believe that a good librarian should be basing decisions on the quality of the works, and the maintenance of a diverse selection. I don't want a Christian library any more than I want a Multi-cultural library any more than I want a Pornographic library. A good public library shouldn't skew towards any particular theme.
9.15.2008 12:15pm
The Ace (mail):

Oh my god, yes it is.

So you believe the same thing about pedophillia &bestiality, right?

As a point of fact, being gay is abnormal, immoral, and unhealthy.
9.15.2008 12:18pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Below is what the ALA has to say. I think it's clear that under the ALA's own interpretation, librarians engage in "censorship" all the time.

Don't Librarians Censor Everything They Choose Not To Buy For The Library?

No library can make everything available, and selection decisions must be made. Selection is an inclusive process, where the library affirmatively seeks out materials which will serve its mission of providing a broad diversity of points of view and subject matter. By contrast, censorship is an exclusive process, by which individuals or institutions seek to deny access to or otherwise suppress ideas and information because they find those ideas offensive and do not want others to have access to them. There are many objective reasons unrelated to the ideas expressed in materials that a library might decide not to add those materials to its collection: redundancy, lack of community interest, expense, space, etc. Unless the decision is based on a disapproval of the ideas expressed and desire to keep those ideas away from public access, a decision not to select materials for a library collection is not censorship.
9.15.2008 12:20pm
For those that don't know...:
... many libraries have a "challenge" policy (there are lots of names for it) that allows the PUBLIC to challenge the inclusion or exclusion of a particular book. Challenges are treated very carefully and not usually determined by a single individual. The Wasilla had such a policy, but Palin was probing on the issues before challenging a book.

Also, there are lots of kinds of "self-censorship" in library systems: purchasing decisions, categorization (an issue with one book in Wasilla for the creation of a "young adult" section), placement, etc. With respect to the non-purchasing of books, libraries will frequently take donations. If someone really wanted a book on the shelf, they could probably donate it and, but for some other objections (pornography, etc), it will likely get placed on the shelf.

For me, the only thing that is really newsworthy about this whole escapade is the fact that Ms. Palin actually fired the librarian for not playing along with her. If there were ever a reason not to vote for a person, it's their total valuation of "loyalty" over expertise.
9.15.2008 12:22pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
BTW, with the stock market down less than 2%, apparently financial armaggedon is not yet upon us (unless we happen to work for Lehman Brothers).
9.15.2008 12:23pm
Seamus (mail):
David, answers to your questions can be found here, on the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom website.


That website says that "Unless the decision is based on a disapproval of the ideas expressed and desire to keep those ideas away from public access, a decision not to select materials for a library collection is not censorship."

It also answers the question, "What If I Can't Find Something In My Library That Represents My Point Of View?" with: "Ask for the materials you want. Libraries strive to serve the interests of the entire community."

So I guess that if a bunch of residents ask the Fairfax County Public Library to start subscribing to National Vanguard, I can soon expect to see it on the shelves? If not, I'm sure the reason will have nothing to do with "disapproval of the ideas expressed and desire to keep those ideas away from public access." It will all be because of "redundancy, lack of community interest, expense, space, etc." Right. I totally believe that.
9.15.2008 12:24pm
The Ace (mail):
A financial meltdown bigger than the one that caused the Great Depression is in progress

One must wonder what you've ever read on the great depression...
9.15.2008 12:25pm
Grover Gardner (mail):

I think it's clear that under the ALA's own interpretation, librarians engage in "censorship" all the time.


I say we keep diluting the meaning of words like "censorship" and "racism" until they become ordinary, everyday activities that no one has to feel bad about.
9.15.2008 12:26pm
Norman Bates (mail):

Jeez. A financial meltdown bigger than the one that caused the Great Depression is in progress and you people are still pumping Palin. Take off the partisan blinders. Palin drama will be ancient history by the end of the week after WaMu fails.


It really would be great if the Democrats would stop their negative attacks on Palin so we could move on to more important issues. But I see little sign of their doing so and this is largely because a tighter focus on many of Senator Obama's more detailed policy positions, e.g., increasing taxes during a period when the country appears to be on the brink of an economic recession, might cause a further meltdown in his already rapidly dissipating support.
9.15.2008 12:27pm
theobromophile (www):
Wading into waters I should not even step my toe into: yesterday, the Boston Globe reported that the genes which influence homosexual behaviour also cause heterosexual people with the gene to have more opposite-sex partners. Ergo, there is some evolutionary advantage to having that gene.

Now, back to book-banning: I, too, despise the notion that anything which is not purchased with government funds is "banned." May I complain about BMW banning, since my town won't buy one for my personal use - or even as a Zipcar-type arrangement?

As a second point: many local libraries accept donated books. If people want certain books on the shelves, they can donate them. That only brings up the question of whether those books should be available in the library, but it's mostly a question of placement - a book like Adam &Eve or Daddy and his roommates can be placed in a "religious" or "young adult" section, rather than in the children's section.
9.15.2008 12:27pm
pete (mail) (www):
I am public librarian who makes these sort of purchasing decisions on a regular basis for a large public library system (thankfully I do not have to buy for children, although I do occasionally buy for teens). Most libraries operate in pretty much the same way we do and will buy any book patrons ask for if they have the money to do so, the book is in print and available from the vendor, and it meets minimum standards for what we think is appropriate for the collection. For selection criteria that usually means there are not mostly bad reviews if we can find them, it is not way overpriced, not self published, and that it is something that we think a significant number of the public will read, which mainly eliminates overly academic texts. I will buy pretty much anything that people ask for as long as it meets those qualifications. I regularly buy controversal religious, racial, political, artistic and other books that I do not agree with or I think are offensive. We also have a complaint process for people who have complaints about books, but usually that results in the book being moved into a different section rather than removed.

Our selection criteria our drawn up by staff with decades of experience and approved by a board appointed by the city council. If you can think up a better way that will satisfy more people and still be democratic let me know.

The best answer I can give you is that you are responsible for what your child checks out of the library, not us. If you do not want your child to read that item then you need to tell them not to or directly supervise them while they are here. The other day I bought the DVD of Lust/Caution for our library system because someone asked that we buy it and it met our criteria for purchase, which for DVDs is getting at least X number of stars out of one of two review services. Any kid can walk up and check that out.

In the response to the hypothetical progressive, yes she is a book banner and should do a better job controlling what her kids read and leave other parents alone.
9.15.2008 12:28pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
karl newman &ArtEclectic: I don't think anyone blogging here has any particular expertise on the financial crisis. Maybe I, as an economist interested in privatization and quasi-governmental organizations, should know something about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but fact is, I don't. And most of the other bloggers here are pure lawyers. While many of them have instinctive views against government intervention, actually talking about the issue intelligently requires Actual Knowledge.

Now maybe we don't have special knowledge about Palin either. But at least the library censorship issue is something that lawyers, and people versed in libertarian political theory, may well have well-informed views on. Consider, for instance, the First Amendment case, Pico, which talks about the First Amendment implications of library book-stocking and book-removal decisions. Probably Eugene even discusses the case in his First Amendment casebook.

The Ace: Yes, being gay is just another form of love. Bestiality may or may not be love depending whether you think it matters whether the object of your love can reciprocate, but in any event, nothing wrong with that. As for pedophilia, the only reason it's wrong has to do with our views on whether the partners are capable of (morally relevant) consent, which in this case is really just a function of their age.
9.15.2008 12:29pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The first two library systems I checked had thirteen and twelve copies of "Confessions of An Economic Hit Man" due, said the head librarian, to demand. All were on the shelves. They had fewer of each of the Potter books. Once, when "Men Are From Mars, Women Are from Venus" was hot, I ordered it. There were six copies and seventy-six holds in front of me.
IOW, the "demand" answer was a lie.
The next half-dozen systems I checked had ten-plus of the Perkins abomination in four, and two or three in the remaining two systems.
And our county still has four copies of "Arming America" even after I've sent them various items about how its awares have been revoked and its author fired and so forth.
While budgets are finite and choices must be made, some choices seem to be made on bases other than those professed by the ALA.
SURprise.
9.15.2008 12:30pm
Seamus (mail):
All that being said, I do believe that a good librarian should be basing decisions on the quality of the works, and the maintenance of a diverse selection. I don't want a Christian library any more than I want a Multi-cultural library any more than I want a Pornographic library. A good public library shouldn't skew towards any particular theme.

As far as I can see, what motivates my local library is the desire to cater to the tastes of residents who are too cheap to buy their romance novels and bestsellers at Waldenbooks, and the politically correct inclinations of the librarians. The idea of making quality works available is way down on the list of criteria for purchasing and purging books, if it appears there at all.
9.15.2008 12:30pm
JB:

BTW, with the stock market down less than 2%, apparently financial armaggedon is not yet upon us (unless we happen to work for Lehman Brothers).


Do write a blog post arguing this position at greater length. Many people believe financial armageddon is upon us, and your arguments to the contrary would undoubtedly be interesting, provocative, and helpful to those arguing against the doomsayers.
9.15.2008 12:31pm
SeaDrive:
I to favor an inclusive view for libraries. It's more important for the public to be able to find what it wants than to worry about someone tripping over something he finds disagreeable. If your library doesn't hold something you disagree with, it isn't much good. Parents have to guide children through the popular culture anyway, and the library is the least of their problems.

You have a lot more control over what you child sees in the library than what shows up in his classroom. When our son was in fourth grade, the class read about 5 books in a row in which a major character dies. ("Sadako and the thousand paper cranes" is the only one that I remember off-hand. Aside from the gloom of death, there is a message of American evilness due to the A-bomb.) Complaints fell on deaf ears.
9.15.2008 12:32pm
Norman Bates (mail):
By the way, as regards library censorship: Friends and I had no trouble getting our local library to order a very expensive and very specialized book on mathematics (an abstract, advanced treatment of analysis a la Dieudonne/Bourbaki). Using the same technique to get an inexpensive, one-year subscription to a firearms magazine proved an exercise in futility. The discounted price of a permanent subscription to the magazine was less than the price of the book; the magazine had a far wider potential audience than the book; and the same number of individuals requested both. Why -- other than censorship -- was the book and not the magazine ordered?
9.15.2008 12:34pm
josh:
Seriously, SV, don't try to engage The Ace in rational dialogue. He's a little angry. Often a topic of banning on various other threads (not sure if the threat has come from your brother or Professor Kerr.)

But as to the merits of your response, I'd say the distinguishing feature has to do more with the ability to consent, no? I don't think there's much debate about animals' ability to consent, and the law has long held that children can't consent.
9.15.2008 12:34pm
Floridan:
DB: "Are you saying that you don't find any problem with librarians, who are also government officials, on an ad hoc basis, refusing to purchase books they don't like for the library?"

Not particularly responsive to my question (10:58 am), but in answer to your's, yes, I would have a problem with a librarian refusing on an ad hoc basis to purchase a book he or she didn't like.

Do you have any specific incidents of this in mind? Or are you saying that the Wasilla librarian engaged in this practice?

Most libraries have some sort of policy on what books are added to the collection, although I would suspect most encourage patrons to recommend books for purchase.

The proper role of elected officials is to review the policies and make revisions, if necessary.
9.15.2008 12:34pm
byomtov (mail):
I, too, despise the notion that anything which is not purchased with government funds is "banned."

I think we're talking about books that have already been purchased.
9.15.2008 12:35pm
pete (mail) (www):

As a second point: many local libraries accept donated books. If people want certain books on the shelves, they can donate them.


Most libraries accept donated books that meet the criteria I mentioned above criteria and are in good shape. Most libraries do not want donated books for the most part because the books people tend to donate will not get checked out much.

I forgot to mention that one of my other job responsibilities is getting rid of books, which I have done thousands of times. Usually because they are out of date, damaged, or no one is interested in them anymore.
9.15.2008 12:40pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
DB: "Are you saying that you don't find any problem with librarians, who are also government officials, on an ad hoc basis, refusing to purchase books they don't like for the library?"

Not particularly responsive to my question (10:58 am), but in answer to your's, yes, I would have a problem with a librarian refusing on an ad hoc basis to purchase a book he or she didn't like.

Do you have any specific incidents of this in mind? Or are you saying that the Wasilla librarian engaged in this practice?
I'm referring to my "Adam and Eve" hypo.
9.15.2008 12:44pm
Alan Gunn (mail):

For that matter, who establishes the standards that are used to purchase ANY book at a library? Should they reflect "community standards" (whatever they might be)? If not, what is the criteria?

My local public library's only criterion is circulation, probably because good circulation figures impress the people who set their budget. Unfortunately, this focus means that they buy multiple copies of best-sellers and then sell them for a dollar each after the fad for particular books has passed. This may not be the wisest use of library funds.

I have heard rumors of law-school libraries that made purchasing decisions largely on the basis of most volumes for the money, supposedly because having many volumes impresses accrediting bodies.
9.15.2008 12:45pm
pete (mail) (www):

The first two library systems I checked had thirteen and twelve copies of "Confessions of An Economic Hit Man" due, said the head librarian, to demand. All were on the shelves. They had fewer of each of the Potter books. Once, when "Men Are From Mars, Women Are from Venus" was hot, I ordered it. There were six copies and seventy-six holds in front of me.


For books we check our database about once a month to see if any titles have more than a 3 to 1 ratio of holds to copies. If they have more than that ratio we buy more copies. Most libraries have similar policies if they have the budget for it and the item is available from a vendor. And realize that many if not most public libraries have to arrange low bid contracts with vendors to purchase items just like any other government agency. So we can not just go to amazon and order the item even if you can. This has caused us lots of headaches in the past when our vendors say that it will take months to get the items to us when anywone else could just walk over to the local bookstore and get it.
9.15.2008 12:46pm
Floridan:
DiverDan: "Any idiot (and that includes MSM reporters) who refers to Palin as supporting bookbanning simply because she expressed a preference that certain books not be purchased by the local library should be treated with exactly the amount of respect due them - i.e., none whatsoever."

Nice try, but you are wrong.

She wasn't inquiring about future purchases. She was asking about how to get rid of books that were already on the library's shelves.
9.15.2008 12:47pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
It's my understanding that many public libraries do indeed carry Playboy.
9.15.2008 12:48pm
Floridan:
DB:
DB: "Are you saying that you don't find any problem with librarians, who are also government officials, on an ad hoc basis, refusing to purchase books they don't like for the library?"

Not particularly responsive to my question (10:58 am), but in answer to your's, yes, I would have a problem with a librarian refusing on an ad hoc basis to purchase a book he or she didn't like.

Do you have any specific incidents of this in mind? Or are you saying that the Wasilla librarian engaged in this practice?


"I'm referring to my "Adam and Eve" hypo."


Oh, I get it . . .it's made up.
9.15.2008 12:52pm
Arvin (mail) (www):

So you believe the same thing about pedophillia &bestiality, right?

Nope.

As a point of fact, being gay is abnormal, immoral, and unhealthy.

As a point of fact, no it's not.
9.15.2008 12:52pm
DNL (mail):
This happens every day in the art world. Museums make judgments as to the quality of the art all the time.
9.15.2008 12:53pm
pete (mail) (www):

It's my understanding that many public libraries do indeed carry Playboy.


Mainly academic libraries do, but only for the articles.
9.15.2008 12:53pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
josh: I wasn't sure from your comment whether you were agreeing or disagreeing with me. To recap: I think neither animals nor small children have the morally relevant ability to consent. However, I don't care morally about animals, but I do care about small children. Therefore, bestiality should be permissible but pedophilia should be impermissible.
9.15.2008 12:54pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
I'm going to wade into this in a way that some people may find objectionable. Statistics could prove me wrong, but my impression is that librarians and other people who go into the public-service professions tend to be liberal or progressive. (This point has been discussed at VC on several occasions in the past in relation to university education and government service.) I know that when my company published an audio version of Unfit for Command four years ago, we received complaints from a lot of our library accounts and even lost a few. (The audio was also released in retail and, while Barnes and Noble and other stores placed enthusiastic orders, it also saw the biggest volume of returns we've ever had, to the extent that only a few copies were actually sold, and we learned a painful economic lesson about certain types of titles.)

The question is, is it really a bad thing that libraries, like many colleges and universities, are (possibly) bastions of progressive/liberal thought? While some librarians might react negatively to certain conservative views, it is also true that they staunchly object to government monitoring of their customers, encourage literacy and education, and work very hard to offer balanced collections that suit their patrons tastes and needs. If they didn't, our public library systems would have collapsed long ago.

If your local library collection is so skewed or limited that it really fails to serve the tastes and needs of you and your neighbors, I would suggest that that particular library is a failure and continued funding could be fairly questioned. Otherwise I think library-bashing is a cheap sport that only hurts the interests people claim to be so eager to protect.
9.15.2008 1:06pm
The Ace (mail):
The Ace: Yes, being gay is just another form of love.

No, it is not.

Seriously, SV, don't try to engage The Ace in rational dialogue

Translation: You can't deal with the substance on any topic.
9.15.2008 1:09pm
josh:
SV

Not quite. Guess I do care corally about animals and children (although, sorry I have to state explicitly, not equally). It seems to me that the distinguishing feature in our laws for when sex can be regulated and when it cannot not turns (IN PART. I really don't want to get off track here) on the ability for both parties to consent to the sexual act. You agree neither children nor animals can consent, but b/c you don't morally care about animals, bestiality should be OK.

I bet I can squeeze some provisos in there, no? Do you believe dog fighting should be permissible? Abuse with no purpose? Certainly there must be allowed some modicum of regulation protecting animals, and then doesn't it become a line-drawing issue? If that's the case, I guess I just draw the line a little further out ...
9.15.2008 1:10pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Pete.
How many copies of "Arming America" do you have? "Confessions of An Economic Hit Man", just to name two I've followed?
To think that any system serving 400k people or less needs a dozen of "Confessions" because of demand simply doesn't pass the howlingwithhelplesslaughter test.
Quite literally, it is more likely that Soros sent a case to every system he could find.
Clearly, our system has a hold-copy ratio procedure which is overridden by PC when appropriate.
Yeah. My local branch had The Nation for years, but not National Review. The head librarian moved on and that was remedied.
All according the the ALA (the non-public stuff).
I once asked a librarian why they had on the shelves half a dozen different books explaining the wonderfulness of the Soviet Union after it had imploded. It would have been one thing while the Sovs were getting tongue baths from so many liberals for all their macho ways. But when they're gone? He had no answer.
9.15.2008 1:12pm
Angus:

A progressive parent complains that her child read this book in the library, and now is convinced that gay people are bad. She asks that the library remove the book from the shelf. Is she a "bookbanner?"
Can I just say, unequivocally, "Yes".

As for the librarian, if the subject matter is the cause for not ordering it (aside from cost, anticipated demand, etc.), another unequivocal "Yes."

How about the library being there for information, and allowing patrons decide what to check out for themselves or their kids?
9.15.2008 1:15pm
The Ace (mail):
As a point of fact, no it's not.

Yes, it is.

Here is the definition of "abnormal"
not normal; not typical or usual or regular or conforming to a norm

By any objective measure, being gay fits that definition.

As to immoral, well in the eyes of God, it certainly is.

To see exactly how risky being gay is to your health, see: here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and yes, you are going to read these next 3 links correctly, gay males intentionally try and catch HIV: here, and here, and here. Finally, read this.

Gays have higher incidences of STD's, HIV, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide than heterosexuals. Period.
9.15.2008 1:15pm
The Ace (mail):
Nope.

Then you are incoherent.

If being gay is just "another form of love" how can beastiality or pedophillia not be?

Don't worry, you couldn't possibly answer.
9.15.2008 1:17pm
Angus:

Gays have higher incidences of STD's, HIV, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide than heterosexuals. Period.
The last 3, in large part, because of anti-gay bigots and the hatred they express towards gays.
9.15.2008 1:17pm
The Ace (mail):
Bestiality may or may not be love depending whether you think it matters whether the object of your love can reciprocate, but in any event, nothing wrong with that.

Um, are you saying there is nothing wrong with bestiality?

As for pedophilia, the only reason it's wrong has to do with our views on whether the partners are capable of (morally relevant) consent

Um, are you saying there is nothing wrong with an adult having sex with a child?
9.15.2008 1:18pm
The Ace (mail):
The last 3, in large part, because of anti-gay bigots and the hatred they express towards gays.

Something you have no proof of.

Otherwise, what you said, does not in any way refute the fact that being gay is unhealthy.
9.15.2008 1:19pm
The Ace (mail):
because of anti-gay bigots and the hatred they express towards gays.

Really?


California's Supreme Court has just legalized gay marriage. There are gay characters on popular TV shows such as "Gossip Girl" and "Ugly Betty," and no one seems to notice. Kids like Larry are so comfortable with the concept of being openly gay that they are coming out younger and younger.


I bet you have some proof of your assertions.
9.15.2008 1:24pm
Bored Lawyer:
This may or may not be relevant to what Palin did, but:

Control over what is in the children's part of the library is even less an issue of censorship. The law does not presume that children have the same discernment as do adults. Parents have the right to expect some level of control exercised over what is in the children's section.

I would think (although who knows) that everyone would agree that there is a big difference between determining that a book does not belong in the children's library as that a book does not belong in the adult part of the library.

Query: where the books at issue for Palin in the children's or adult section?
9.15.2008 1:24pm
Sarcastro (www):
This censorship First Amendment stuff is boring. Could we get a retred of the gay marriage debate, only without all the marriage substance?

And if you could just use short, declarative sentences free of anything other than insults and talking points that'd be awesome.

Thanks!
9.15.2008 1:25pm
josh:
The Ace

"Seriously, SV, don't try to engage The Ace in rational dialogue. Translation: You can't deal with the substance on any topic."

No, I can't deal with intellectually dishonest debate; (2) animus directed blindly at entire groups, be it based on political philosophy or sexual orientation; and (3) debate conducted with such hatred and anger that the debater is blinded into relying on whatever position or tone supports his preconceived conclusion ex ante.
9.15.2008 1:29pm
SeaDrive:

As to immoral, well in the eyes of God, it certainly is.

Now there's a proposition that takes some proving. By the way, citation of the Bible isn't proof of anything. (It's just a citation, not an argument. You need an argument to prove something.)

Being and acting gay is normal for gay people, just like being and acting tall is normal for tall people.
9.15.2008 1:30pm
ejo:
we know why they would stock the Nation but not NR. just like, if you wrote a book about how living on the down low ain't cool (as opposed to Daddy's Got a Boyfriend, Meaning He Lied to Mommy and Exposed Her to Disease for Years), it similarly wouldn't get stocked.
9.15.2008 1:31pm
Oren:

I to favor an inclusive view for libraries. It's more important for the public to be able to find what it wants than to worry about someone tripping over something he finds disagreeable.

Amen to that. As much as possible, libraries should include any book that the public wants to read. Opposition (either from biblical literalists like The Ace, PC-nutjobs on the left or the shrill 'think of the children' lady) should be a sign that the book contains important ideas that are worthy of debate. Disagreement about social and political ideas is the lifeblood of a democratic body politic.
9.15.2008 1:32pm
josh:
Ace

Your 12:15 pm post demonstrates your really odd and quite reprehensible hatred towwards people with whom you disagree. For example, you cite in support of your homophobia (not even the right term. What do you call hatred of homosexuals) some articles (one by a center dedicated to "treating" homosexuality) discussing some individuals who actually go out and try to get HIV. And then you use that anecdotal evidence to claim you have "proof" that supports your assertions against the entire homosexual community.

I don't know where all your anger and hatred comes from, but I mean this seriously, have you ever thought about seeking some therapy? Reasonable minds can disagree about a great many things on both sides of the spectrum, but your frantic shouting of PROOF" that measures up to nothing more than evidence of your hatred doesn't do anything to advance any aspect of the debate -- liberal or conservative.
9.15.2008 1:36pm
Oren:

Parents have the right to expect some level of control exercised over what is in the children's section.

Why should some other guy in the community control what my child gets to read? It's not like children aren't perfectly free to go to the library and take books from the adult section and read them, so by that logic, objectionable books would have to be "behind the desk" (or on very high shelves) or else the parent's right to keep that book from their child is thwarted.

Moreover, I have consistently disputed the right of parents to challenge any possible exposure of their children to views contrary to their teaching as somehow a violation of their rights. It's absurd to think that such a right implies the right to negate anyone else's speech to the extent that it contradicts what you teach. Followed to its logical end, it would effectively kill the concept of free speech entirely.
9.15.2008 1:40pm
Oren:
josh, you are just feeding the troll. Leave him be.
9.15.2008 1:41pm
Overgetter:
I guess this newest post of David Bernstein's, where he argues that it's a reasonable position that the democratic judgment and cultural traditions of the public could reasonably trump the professional judgment of academically trained librarians, is yet further proof that he is NOT, NOT, NOT a conservative.

(Yes, I'm being just a little sarcastic.)
9.15.2008 1:42pm
Bored Lawyer:

Why should some other guy in the community control what my child gets to read?


So, Oren, acc. to you, the children's section could have anything in it that the adult section might have? Playboy? Mein Kampf? The latest rantings of Louis Farrakhan?

Or do you think it is alright if the librarian makes the decision, but not if the parent or parents try to influence that decision?
9.15.2008 1:43pm
Mark Rockwell (mail):

Otherwise, what you said, does not in any way refute the fact that being gay is unhealthy.


The plain difference is that straight sex never leads to injury, STDs, or emotional distress. Gay sex is intended only to catch AIDS on purpose.
9.15.2008 1:45pm
Sarcastro (www):
When I take my kid to the library, not only do I allow him to brows unsupervised for hours at a time, I also feel obligated to check out whatever he finds for him.
9.15.2008 1:52pm
josh:
Oren

You're right.
9.15.2008 1:53pm
Oren:
So, Oren, acc. to you, the children's section could have anything in it that the adult section might have? Playboy? Mein Kampf? The latest rantings of Louis Farrakhan?
The sections are merely a guide, not an enforced exclusion. If Mein Kampf is in the adult section (which is absolutely ought to be) then any child can access it freely.

Playboy, on the other hand, should not be in the adult section for that exact same reason -- kids can just wander over and get it. If the library carries it at all (which is suspect), it should be "behind the desk".

Or do you think it is alright if the librarian makes the decision, but not if the parent or parents try to influence that decision?
Leaving your child to wander the library unsupervised implies a certain deference in judgment. She could wander into the adult section and start reading Kinsey for all you know.
9.15.2008 1:54pm
Mark Rockwell (mail):
Whatever he finds for who?
9.15.2008 1:54pm
Zubon (mail) (www):
Just to back the poster from the field, everything Pete has said has been letter-perfect to how librarians are trained to engage in collection development. (The 3:1 ratio is not universal, but that threshold is a library-level policy issue.)

And yes, some librarians will violate this. They are lousy at collection development. I cannot speak to school libraries, as they have far more control issues and are more subject to "inappropriate for age" challenges.
9.15.2008 1:55pm
pete (mail) (www):

How many copies of "Arming America" do you have? "Confessions of An Economic Hit Man", just to name two I've followed?


6 of arming america and all of them have checked out at least once in the past year. I actually used arming america in a class during grad school as an example of a book that librarians should not recommend because it is poorly sourced. We should still own it even though it is full of lies.

7 of hitman all of which have checked out at least 3 times in the past year.


The question is, is it really a bad thing that libraries, like many colleges and universities, are (possibly) bastions of progressive/liberal thought?


Your assumptions are correct and it is an overwhelmingly liberal field. Some of my more liberal coworkers know I am one of the few conservative republicans in the building. But they are professionals and have told me they would buy conservative books even if they hate them. Unfortunatley like any profession, their are bad apples. Statistically they are more likely to be liberals banning conservative items, but not always. I knew the librarian who made the drudge report a few years ago for unsuscribing to the New York Times because it leaked about the phone surveilance under the Bush Administration (a normally good librarian who made a dumb choice).
9.15.2008 1:56pm
Floridan:
Richard Aubrey, the library you are describing sounds like it's not serving the entire community.

How about letting us know what library you are referring to so that the spotlight can shine on it?

You are talking about a real library, aren't you?
9.15.2008 1:58pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
As a point of fact, being gay is abnormal, immoral, and unhealthy.


The first two matters are concerns of opinion, not fact; both standards of difference determining abnormality, and what system of morality is especially worthwhile, depend entirely on your personal opinion. The Ancient Greek rule system advocated both homosexual and heterosexual intercourse for most men for a period of time, making it 'normal' then, and some cultures in the modern world have similar standards. Likewise, not even all interpretations of Christianity hold the matter to be morally improper (mostly due to the antithesis of the law not covering the matter particularly clearly), and most of the remaining objection sticking to the Covenant within Genesis that could be interpreted as optional (chaste monks were not considered immoral yet violated said Covenant). Other religions may not even touch the matter. That's not to simply toss out these objections : both you and a sizable portion of American society find the matter abnormal and immoral. It's simply to point out that, as the words have no completely objective standard, there are rational viewpoints on the matter which would find otherwise.

The matter of healthiness is pretty cut-and-dry -- receptive anal sex with an infected individual is roughly 5 times as likely to transmit a sufficient viral load of HIV to infect a person than receptive vaginal sex with an infected individual, and even the 'top' party is still 30% more likely to be infected than in vaginal intercourse (although it should be noted that rates involving oral sex are close enough to the same to be indistinguishable, which many gay men do without ever going to anal, and heterosexual couples are capable of doing anal) -- although I'd warn against using the statistics you've linked to too hard. Firstly because the odds of HIV transmission with an uninfected partner are and remain 0. NARTH and similar groups have a well-stated bias on this matter -- their very existence assumes several facts related to sexual orientation and the morality thereof, making them ineffective at changing the minds of people who do not make those assumptions -- and many assumptions involving barebacking and "bug chasers" are more internet rumor and fancy talk than reality as compared to the medical studies on the matter. The rate of HIV transmission within the group of homosexual men, as well as within (non-drug using African-Americans and Haitians) is also going to be inherently higher not due to something as ethically interesting as the risks of an individual act, but because the population simply had an earlier and insular infection and thus a greater percentage of the population could be infected without showing up on tests. I do not personally advocate having multiple sexual partners within a three month period (the typical maximum time period before modern tests can detect a more elusive HIV infection), but it's sadly because a cultural norm within America, regardless of sexuality.
9.15.2008 2:01pm
Connie:
"Behind the desk" anecdote: Think 1970s, Iowa, small town public library. Tolkien books were in the card catalogue, but I could never find them on the shelves. As ~ a 9th grader, I finally asked the librarian. In a whisper, she said they kept them behind the desk, because "those people, those hippies [?!], they steal them and sell them for money for drugs!"
9.15.2008 2:02pm
EH (mail):
The Ace:
Here is the definition of "abnormal"
not normal; not typical or usual or regular or conforming to a norm


By which we can conclude that The Ace's commenting practices on the site here are abnormal.
9.15.2008 2:07pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
As for Mr. Bernstein's questions, Constitutionally the options a publically-funded library has are rather limited : as either a nonpublic forum or a limited public forum, the library can only remove books based on content, not viewpoint (unless the matter involves a compelling government interest which is reached through narrowly tailored and least restrictive means, such as banning or limiting access to a book on do-it-yourself explosives. Bans based on public morality have not be overwhelmingly successful on such a metric).

Under that metric, a book could be removed from the library if it involved a (I assume extremely mildly) sexualized picture of two men in a bed only if other similarly sexualized images involving two people in a bed were not allowed. Likewise, you could ban making moral statements on a matter like sexuality, racism, or other matters, but not just one side of the debate.

In reality, that's obviously not how things are going to play out, nor do I expect anyone would have standing to sue on the matter anyway. In practice, I expect that the capabilities of a mayor allow him or her to dictate policy regarding books, should any of the librarian's choices come to the mayor's attention, while the mayor's potential actions being politically popular enough to not result in loses in the future.

I think I can live with that standard.
9.15.2008 2:12pm
Suzy (mail):
I don't follow Bernstein's argument that, "under the ALA's own interpretation, librarians engage in "censorship" all the time." I assume he must reject the ALA's premise that selection is an inclusive process and censorship is an exclusive one. Given the ALA's view that censorship, "is based on a disapproval of the ideas expressed and desire to keep those ideas away from public access", it seems clear that the ALA does not think that librarians engage in "censorship" all the time.

Perhaps Bernstein would count any decision not to maintain a collection of books promoting a certain ideology as censorship in the selection process? To make such a claim, though, we would have to show both that the libraries actually refuse to stock materials that have certain ideologies, and that they refuse because they find the content of the ideas offensive, as opposed to other reasons (e.g. lack of community interest, space, etc). Given the vast range of ideological content you can find in the materials of many libraries, even small ones, I don't think it will be easy to support those premises.

For example, maybe they don't stock certain kinds of materials about pedophilia. Yet they probably stock _Lolita_. Choices are made there, but it's not because they have a purely ideological objection to something.
9.15.2008 2:16pm
Bored Lawyer:

The sections are merely a guide, not an enforced exclusion. If Mein Kampf is in the adult section (which is absolutely ought to be) then any child can access it freely


I don't know about your local public library, but this was NOT the case where I grew up. The children's section was on a completely different floor. If a child was found wandering around the adults' floor, then he was directed upstairs. (I don't mean high schoolers -- I mean elementary school children, who in any event generally would gravitate to the children's portion if for no other reason than reading ability.)

And even you seem to agree that some books -- Playboy -- should be behind the desk and hence adult's only.

So I repeat -- who determines that? The librarian? Are parents and other citizens not entitled to have input into that decision?


Leaving your child to wander the library unsupervised implies a certain deference in judgment. She could wander into the adult section and start reading Kinsey for all you know.


This strikes me as naive. There are many parents who would let their child wander the children's section/floor but not the entire library.
9.15.2008 2:19pm
Ken Arromdee:
As much as possible, libraries should include any book that the public wants to read. Opposition (either from biblical literalists like The Ace, PC-nutjobs on the left or the shrill 'think of the children' lady) should be a sign that the book contains important ideas that are worthy of debate.

By this reasoning, Mein Kampf contains important ideas that are worthy of debate.
9.15.2008 2:22pm
nicestrategy (mail):
Sarcastro,
you are the best thing to happen to this blog evah.

Josh,
don't feed the troll. Libertarian blogs are loath to ban people, we just have to ignore them.

Which is what I thought libertarians would think about libraries. Removing a book that circulates because some parents want to "protect" their children from supposedly harmful influences is just abdicating parental responsibility to the state. If said parents can't burn antipathy to homosexuals into their child's mind well enough that one book or one childhood playmate with (gasp!) gay parents (to reference a past thread) are going to undo all their teaching and 2000 years of moral clarity, well, perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with their position.

It would be hypocritical for liberal parents to block books they deem harmful to their kids that are grounded in religious tradition. If I had a child come home with an Adam and Eve book, wondering why me and his other Dad are defying God's will, I'm quite sure I could explain things to his or her satisfaction, and return the book, fine in hand, well after the due date... ;)

It would be entirely different if the book made false statements. Most conservative objections to homosexuality still rest on false statements about "choice" that have no application unless you believe all people are biologically oriented to be bisexual and that heterosexuality only happens because of social construction. People who need to believe that either have their own psychological nut to crack or are advancing a hateful political agenda, and yes, a book filled with lies about an unpopular minority in the community ought not be stocked on the shelf. The same would apply to books that lie about the tenets of Christianity, e.g. it would be OK to criticize Christianity but it is not OK to say that Christians believe in revenge, spreading lies about people, or murder when the vast majority of self-described Christians don't believe any of those things.
9.15.2008 2:24pm
pete (mail) (www):
One more thing is that many librarians are very full of themselves when it comes to censorship issues. They think they are the lone defender against Bushitler coming in and scourging the community of any books they might possibly find offensive. You should have heard the crap I heard about the patriot act in grad school, none of which had the slightest relevance to what was actually in the act. Most professors were actually better than the students is bringin things back to reality.

And the ALA is an extremely liberal organization. I have never been a member of it mainly because it takes views and publishes statements that have nothing to do with how to best run libraries and are mainly just Bush/conservative bashing. Here is the ALA's International Responsibilities Task Force webpage of links for an example. Here is their position on Iraq War (why does a library associationg even have a position of the Iraq war?)
9.15.2008 2:27pm
The Ace (mail):
By the way, citation of the Bible isn't proof of anything. (It's just a citation, not an argument. You need an argument to prove something.)

Laugh out loud funny.

The word of God isn't the word of God!!!
9.15.2008 2:28pm
The Ace (mail):
Being and acting gay is normal for gay people

Which has nothing to do with the definition of "normal" or in this case, "abnormal"

Using this "logic" no behavior can be anything but normal.

Which leaves us with the question of why the word "abnormal" was ever created.
9.15.2008 2:29pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
And, for the record, I do not advocate the Ancient Greek method of sexuality (ephebophilia is still rape), nor beastiality, nor pedophilia. The simple disparity of power is more than enough of a reason; the first and the last are rape by all worthwhile definitions of the term, and when other forms of abuse of animals are (sadly) not considered horrible crimes by most legal systems, sex seems important enough to humans and animals to justify a special category of "just not right!"
9.15.2008 2:30pm
The Ace (mail):
The first two matters are concerns of opinion, not fact;

Um, no.
There is a definition of the word "abnormal" which I posted.
Given the % of population that is gay, the definition fits.

You not liking something and it being true are 2 different things.
9.15.2008 2:31pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

my impression is that librarians and other people who go into the public-service professions tend to be liberal or progressive.

This no longer surprises me. As David said at the top of his post, From a libertarian perspective, the government shouldn't run libraries A libertarian public librarian would spend every workday suffering from cognitive dissonance. Likewise, no fiscal conservative would want to earn his living by sucking from the public teat. That leaves only liberals and progressives to man the circ desks.
9.15.2008 2:31pm
Bored Lawyer:
BTW, another difference (albeit one probably not relevant to Palin) is between a SCHOOL library and an adult library. School libraries are funded for the use of the children, not adults. One would expect some control by the librarians to select what is "age appropriate" -- and not only as to reading level.
9.15.2008 2:31pm
The Ace (mail):
For example, you cite in support of your homophobia (not even the right term. What do you call hatred of homosexuals) some articles (one by a center dedicated to "treating" homosexuality) discussing some individuals who actually go out and try to get HIV. And then you use that anecdotal evidence to claim you have "proof" that supports your assertions against the entire homosexual community.

Um, I cited a Rolling Stone piece about this practice.

Otherwise, that wasn't all I posted. So why are you pretending it is?
9.15.2008 2:33pm
TheOneEyedMan (www):
I've been to many NY public libraries (not just the research ones) that carry Playboy. I don't remember any special requirements to read it and it was near the other popular periodicals like Time and The Economist
9.15.2008 2:35pm
The Ace (mail):
Reasonable minds can disagree about a great many things on both sides of the spectrum, but your frantic shouting of PROOF" that measures up to nothing more than evidence of your hatred doesn't do anything to advance any aspect of the debate -- liberal or conservative.

Except there is no "evidence" that I hate anyone.

I made a statement of fact and backed it up with evidence.

Since you really have nothing substantive to say, you shout "hatred" and continue on with silliness.
9.15.2008 2:36pm
A.C.:
Where I grew up, the children's section of the library was to the left of the entrance and circulation desk, and the rest of the library was to the right. Small children were definitely steered to the children's section, as much for the benefit of other patrons as for their own.

More to the point, children's library cards were a different color and did not have full borrowing privileges. Getting a grown-up library card was a minor right of passage that happened around the time kids graduated to the young adult section. Is this still a common practice?
9.15.2008 2:41pm
pete (mail) (www):

By this reasoning, Mein Kampf contains important ideas that are worthy of debate.


And we own several copies of Mein Kampf as well as other similarly offensive books. All of which are in the adult section and which children can check out if they want to.

I recently tried to buy a psuedoscience book about how white people are gentically inferior to blacks and that black skin radiates intelligence (if I remember correctly it was out of print) because someone requested it and a lot of other public libraries own it and I thought it had some historical value. I buy a lot of books I personally think are worthless or wrong because our selection criteria call for it. I happen to be in charge of the religion, philosophy, astrology, occult, and political books and I do general non-fiction purchasing as well so I get lots of opportunity to buy books I disagree with.
9.15.2008 2:43pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):

There is a definition of the word "abnormal" which I posted.
Given the % of population that is gay, the definition fits.


Your definition of abnormal was "not normal; not typical or usual or regular or conforming to a norm". The phrases typical or usual or regular could be dependent on the percentage of the population that self-identifies as gay, although I notice that typical or usual or regular don't seem to have exact percentages listed in their definition, and thus would be opinion anyway. Onto the matter of "conforming to a norm", in places like San Francisco or similar areas it is the norm (which can be a bit creepy if you're not expecting it), as was it in places like pre-1700 China (where an individual infamously stated "none do not know this pleasure").
9.15.2008 2:46pm
Melancton Smith:
The Ace wrote:

Otherwise, what you said, does not in any way refute the fact that being gay is unhealthy.


This is one of the arguments that gun-prohibitionists use to argue against gun ownership.

If studies consistently showed that gun ownership was unhealthy would you support gun prohibition?
9.15.2008 2:49pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Floridan,
Genesee Country (Michigan) district library had thirteen "confessions" last year, when I checked. A friend of mine challenged me to read it but, try as I could, my stomach was not up to it. When I checked Amazon for reviews, it was up to 500 and almost entirely negative.
Four Armings.
Ottawa County (Michigan) had twelve of Confessions--I didn't check for "Arming"--and fewer people than Genesee County (Gen. Cty has about 400,000, or less recently, I suppose).

I tried working my way through various other systems on line, which is difficult for a techtard like me, but I found more had "confessions" in the high single digits and up than two or three.

Do the publically available copies of "arming" include the course syllabus about the book being a huge lie? If not, why not?

So the system will buy what a patron asks for.... I suppose I could ask in good faith for various books from, say, the Conservative Book Club. Or the History Book Club. Many of them are quite good. Then we'd see. Hey, with all the rest of the stuff I have to do, I might be able to squeeze an hour or so a week to the effort. Cool. I could keep records.
And here I was wondering what I'd do when I got old.
9.15.2008 2:53pm
josh:
Melancton Smith

See the above comments. Ignore the troll
9.15.2008 2:54pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
josh: In fact, I take the same view about dog fighting or animal abuse with no good reason -- you've got the right to do both, and neither should be banned. It's pretty much for the same reason -- I don't think animals have rights, and since it takes a right to beat a right, the animal owner's property right trumps. (On the somewhat different question of whether it's a good thing to do -- I think animal cruelty can show that you're a sick guy, much like writing violently pornographic stories or mutilating yourself, but being a sick guy isn't a moral failing and doesn't justify government regulation.)
9.15.2008 3:01pm
Casper the Friendly Guest:

A progressive parent complains that her child read this book in the library, and now is convinced that gay people are bad. She asks that the library remove the book from the shelf. Is she a "bookbanner?" If the librarian had refused to stock the book to begin with, despite its strong sales, the requests, and a finding of educational value and age-appropriateness, is he a "bookbanner"?



Yes and yes. Next question?
9.15.2008 3:07pm
eddiehaskel (mail):
I'm all for hypotheticals, but can anyone please point out one instance of anyone demanding that the Bible be removed from a library. Or any book about Adam and Eve. This is a classic strawman.

Another straw man against which we must rail is the lonely librarian: in Jonah Goldberg's world the ultimate fascist.

Of course, librarians make choices: but can the professor provide clear and convincing evidence that the "content-based" selection is any greater than a budgetary decision. It is absurd to posit that since a library cannot possibly have "all the books" that any type of narrowing is based upon . . . and what was that based upon.

Is the FCC any more qualified than a librarian with respect to what is appropriate for the air waves.

All of this is simply a bunch of hot air. Should Newton's books be removed; should Mark Twain's books be removed; should Homer's books be removed?

Where does this end?
9.15.2008 3:09pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
eddiehaskel: I'm not sure what the FCC reference is accomplishing here. Is it to show that since the FCC's judgment is clearly permissible in allowing things onto the airwaves, a librarian's judgment is even more clearly permissible?

From a libertarian perspective, the whole concept of the government being able to say what gets on the airwaves is clearly impermissible.
9.15.2008 3:15pm
A.W. (mail):
I think all of the Supreme Court cases limiting the power of a government to regulate its own libraries represents a profound confusion between the free speech and the religion clauses.

Of course the government should not coerce you to speak or not to speak, according to political issues.

But the government can and should have an opinion on issues that can be characterized as political. For instance, the government shouldn't pretend to believe equally in the Declaration of Independence and in Mein Kampf, or that both are equally valid. But, on the other hand, the government shouldn't care whether you are Christian or what. Likewise, a library may choose to run Newsweek but not Playboy.

The correct policy I favor is age appropriate content, with nothing too pornographic on their shelves (especially given how many libraries have significant DVD collections). Mein Kampf and the Declaration of Independence should be on the shelf. The reason for the Declaration of Independence is obvious, the reason for Mien Kampf is research: so people can read how clearly Hitler warned us and how clueless we were in response to that clear warning. Kind of like the left is doing now with the nujob in charge of Iran.

But that is policy. The constitution frankly has nothing to say on the subject. The government subsidizing certain speech does not infringe your right to speak to the contrary. And as I pointed out toward the beginning, there is no establishment clause for freedom of speech; which means that while the government generally cannot coerce expression or silence, but the government is allowed to say "this point of view is better than another" and if you don't like it, all you can do is speak yourself to counter it.

All of which doesn't mean that we cannot ask if Palin tried to ban books and if she did, evaluate her decisions. Just because a particular police doesn't violate the constitution doesn't mean it's a good idea. Indeed, one of the travesties in modern politics is the confusion between constitutionality and the value of a policy.
9.15.2008 3:28pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Which leaves us with the question of why the word "abnormal" was ever created.

The term clearly has no "normative" meaning. Abnormal simply means an unusual percentage. Left handed people are "abnormal" in the same sense that homosexuals are (% of the population). Folks who have IQ high enough to get into Mensa have an "abnormally" high IQ, not at all a bad thing.
9.15.2008 3:30pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
SV said:

you've got the right to do both [abuse animals and fight your dog], and neither should be banned.

Funnily enough, ASPCA founder Henry Bergh was motivated to fight cruelty towards animals after witnessing how common animal abuse was in Russia, when he was a US diplomat at the court of Czar Alexander II.
9.15.2008 3:30pm
Oren:
First off, it's getting hard to debate library censorship while you guys conduct a parallel debate on the propriety of homosexuality. Please, take it elsewhere!

I don't know about your local public library, but this was NOT the case where I grew up. The children's section was on a completely different floor. If a child was found wandering around the adults' floor, then he was directed upstairs.
You are right, that is not my experience. I had no trouble, even as a child, browsing in the adult section. I would have thrown a serious fit if a librarian tried to banish me to the children's section (since all the good books on military history were in the adult section).

Did the librarians in your dystopic library check id or something? What if a child insisted that they wanted to get a book (they looked it up by reference #) that was in the adult section? Sounds entirely unsavory.


And even you seem to agree that some books -- Playboy -- should be behind the desk and hence adult's only.
Well, I wouldn't stock playboy at all. But if I had to say, it would a standard similar to the legal standard for selling pornography to children -- no depictions of explicitly sexual content.
9.15.2008 3:31pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

Otherwise, what you said, does not in any way refute the fact that being gay is unhealthy.


The unhealthy argument seems pretty ridiculous. It ignores the fact that there are healthy ways to practice homosexual sex. And for those homosexuals who do take risks and pay the consequences for them...then what? Homosexuality is the moral equivalent of eating too many Big Macs and getting a premature heart attack?

Re taking risks young (and some not so young) men take risks all the time, shortening their lives and endangering their health without it raising any kind of "normative" questions. NASCAR kills young racers dead. But you don't see Christian conservatives arguing it's unhealthy thus immoral. To the contrary they tend to be NASCAR's biggest fans.
9.15.2008 3:33pm
Tocqueville:
Excellent post, as always, David. You are one of my favorite bloggers.
9.15.2008 3:36pm
pete (mail) (www):

So the system will buy what a patron asks for.... I suppose I could ask in good faith for various books from, say, the Conservative Book Club. Or the History Book Club. Many of them are quite good. Then we'd see. Hey, with all the rest of the stuff I have to do, I might be able to squeeze an hour or so a week to the effort. Cool. I could keep records.


I recommend that you only ask for classic books in print or ones that have just come out, try to include references to reviews if their is a spce on the form for comments, and do not spam the library with requests (do not give them mulitple requests for the same book or twenty requests each week). Many libraries let local patrons make requests via their website or else they have a paper form at the library. And you are probably better off asking for them to buy the book rather than donating it.
9.15.2008 3:36pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
And by the way the only reason why pedophilia is wrong is because it harms children (which entirely distinguishes itself from homosexuality). And homosexual relations look a HELL of a lot more like heterosexual relations than they do man on dog relations. There is no logical reason to lump it in with bestiality as opposed to ordinary heterosexual relations.
9.15.2008 3:42pm
Anon1111:


As a point of fact, being gay is abnormal, immoral, and unhealthy.


Except for super hot lesbians.
9.15.2008 3:49pm
Zubon (www):
Richard Aubrey: MeLCat
You can search for titles, and it will tell you which libraries have what. Not every Michigan library is on the system, but you can request books from other libraries if yours does not have a title. And yep, fourteen libraries in the Genesee District Library system have Confessions, with one copy checked out and another missing.

If you are just trying for a library count, WorldCat works well.

I'm not sure what is meant by the "core syllabus" of a book's being a lie. Libraries are not in the habit of attaching rebuttal pamphlets to books. Mein Kamph just sits there on the shelf, self-refuting.
9.15.2008 4:00pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):

democratic judgment and cultural traditions of the public could reasonably trump the professional judgment of academically trained librarians


Why is that not a reasonable position? We are talking about public financed libraries in a democracy. I trust the people much more than blind deference to "academically trained" people.

A low level government official makes a decision on the use of a public facility and public funds. The people whose money is used and whose book it is should have a right to have the government follow their wishes.

(DB is a self described libertarian, not a conservative, so I suppose that is why you can easily find evidence that he is not a conservative.)
9.15.2008 4:17pm
eeyn524:
<i>All of which doesn't mean that we cannot ask if Palin tried to ban books and if she did, evaluate her decisions. Just because a particular police doesn't violate the constitution doesn't mean it's a good idea. Indeed, one of the travesties in modern politics is the confusion between constitutionality and the value of a policy.</i>

Finally someone said it. Thanks, A.W.

The president is C-in-C, s/he could call up junior officers in the field and give them direct orders. As chief executive, s/he could order some DA to try and indict a particular person, or ask the FBI to investigate someone. But these actions, except in special circumstances, would show poor judgment and questionable motives. Micromanaging the librarian isn't quite as bad but has the same problems.
9.15.2008 4:19pm
The Ace (mail):

If studies consistently showed that gun ownership was unhealthy would you support gun prohibition?

Considering owning a gun is a constitutional right, and I am not proposing making being gay illegal, no.
9.15.2008 4:25pm
The Ace (mail):
The unhealthy argument seems pretty ridiculous. It ignores the fact that there are healthy ways to practice homosexual sex.

It isn't ridiculous, it is true.
Even if there are "healthy" ways to practice gay sex, that doesn't mean that statistically speaking you are any healthier as a gay person.
9.15.2008 4:28pm
deepthought:
While I don't know if it's a coincidence with this *discussion* (and I use the term loosely), Banned Books Week is coming up. While books like Mein Kampf have obvious historical value (I even remember reading The Collected Works of Mao Tse-tung in my high school, circa 1976), book banning goes far beyond Daddy's Roommate (#2 on the ALA's list of most frequently challenged books 1990-2000) and Heather Has Two Mommies (#11, behind John Steinbeck, J.K. Rowling, and Mark Twain among others). Neither book makes the top 10 for 2007.

Over the years, hundreds of famous titles have been banned or attempts have been made to ban them: 1984, The Great Gatsby, Leaves of Grass, Catcher in the Rye, The Lord of the Flies, The Grapes of Wrath, The Color Purple, Ulysses, Of Mice and Men, Brave New World, and A Farewell to Arms. See also here. Which ones would you ban?

Book banning is really about the fear of ideas. Is our country (or your community) so weak that if a library (or bookstore) contains a book that you disapprove of it must be banned? So we should become like the Middle East, Asia or Europe, where countries ban books that *insult* religions or leaders or whatever else they disapprove of? The United States stands above all for freedom, esp. the free exchange of ideas, and banning books, from whatever venue, for whatever reason, is against our core values. Again, this *discussion* seems to be about four books, two of which deal with gay relationships and two that go against conservative politics. Should the latter two also be banned for their viewpoints? What ideas are you afraid of?

If parents are truly concerned about their children receiving ideas contrary to their own, they should send them to a private school, have home schooling, and buy them the books they want them to read. As long as libraries are public, they should not cater to the lowest common denominator. They should cater to the broadest audience possible. Those who are offended can set up their own library.

Good ahead. Read a banned book. I dare you.
9.15.2008 4:29pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Regarding highly popular books and their presence in libraries: People I knew stayed up all night so they could buy copies of Harry Potter. They did not want to wait for their crack at a library copy. "Men are from Mars" was not in the Harry Potter league, but it was widely popular among my friends, including the single guy I knew who read it at lunchtime every day, hoping to attract women's who passed his table in the cafeteria.
9.15.2008 4:30pm
pjohnson (mail):

Likewise, no fiscal conservative would want to earn his living by sucking from the public teat.

Quite right. None of the fiscally conservative law professors on this board would accept a nomination to the Supreme Court.
9.15.2008 4:31pm
The Ace (mail):
NASCAR kills young racers dead. But you don't see Christian conservatives arguing it's unhealthy thus immoral.

And you don't see NASCAR asking for handouts from federal, state, and local governments to subsidize their activities.

Nor do you see the federal government funding NASCAR research, and you do not see NASCAR saying it is the same thing as baseball.
9.15.2008 4:32pm
Hoosier:
I wish our public libraries would ban Harry Potter books. God, those suck.

Also, any books claiming that JFK was murdered by anyone other than Oswald. Enough of this silliness already.

And all libraries across America should be required to buy the entire back-catalogue of albums by the Melvins. So that I can bootleg them.
9.15.2008 4:32pm
Hoosier:
Which ones would you ban?

Not fair! You get me started making a list like that and I'll get no work done this afternoon.
9.15.2008 4:33pm
Suzy (mail):

Even if there are "healthy" ways to practice gay sex, that doesn't mean that statistically speaking you are any healthier as a gay person.


So your original claim should be amended to something like "statistically speaking, you are no healthier as a gay person"? Well, there goes that incentive.
9.15.2008 4:34pm
The Ace (mail):
josh:

If I am a "troll" why do you think you constantly distort what I actually say, and can not respond substantively?

If I am a 'troll' given your behavior, what does that make you?
9.15.2008 4:34pm
The Ace (mail):
So your original claim should be amended to something like "statistically speaking, you are no healthier as a gay person"?

Um, no. Because the facts and the statistics do not support what is being said by that commenter.

That would be like me saying cancer doesn't kill you because some people survive it.
9.15.2008 4:39pm
Ken Arromdee:
And we own several copies of Mein Kampf as well as other similarly offensive books.

But you don't own them because the ideas in them are worthy of debate. Oren says that if someone wants to ban a book because of its ideas, that shows that the ideas are worthy of debate, and that just isn't true. You might want to read Mein Kampf because of historical importance, or as an example of propaganda, but you're not going to read it because its ideas are worthy of debate.
9.15.2008 4:39pm
Hoosier:
Suzy

Even if there are "healthy" ways to practice gay sex, that doesn't mean that statistically speaking you are any healthier as a gay person.

So your original claim should be amended to something like "statistically speaking, you are no healthier as a gay person"? Well, there goes that incentive.


Not enitirely. I hear that the gays have a really good dental plan.
9.15.2008 4:40pm
The Ace (mail):
Left handed people are "abnormal" in the same sense that homosexuals are (% of the population).

Um, ok? But, there are more left handed people than gay people.


Folks who have IQ high enough to get into Mensa have an "abnormally" high IQ, not at all a bad thing.

True. I use the word "abnormal" because gay propogandists say that being gay is "normal" and "healthy." In fact, they are teaching that to school children.

It is neither.
9.15.2008 4:42pm
Oren:

But you don't own them because the ideas in them are worthy of debate. Oren says that if someone wants to ban a book because of its ideas, that shows that the ideas are worthy of debate, and that just isn't true. You might want to read Mein Kampf because of historical importance, or as an example of propaganda, but you're not going to read it because its ideas are worthy of debate.

I think you are splitting hairs. The ideas in Mein Kampf are important and no librarian should remove it from shelves simply because they are uncomfortable with it.

Nobody seriously believes in Greek mythology either (Zeus is probably pretty angry about it too) and nobody reads it because the theology is worthy of serious debate. Still, the ideas expressed are very important.
9.15.2008 4:52pm
trad and anon:
Seems to me that you are deliberately conflating two issues:

1) Standards for library acquisition decisions.
2) Standards for removal of books that the library already has.

They are not the same.
9.15.2008 4:52pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
zubon.
"arming" is not self-refuting. It is internally consistent. I understand it was cited, or a brief was prepared for presentation citing it, in a court case.
The question is, I guess, if the librarian would have bought it knowing it was a lie. If not, and if the librarian now knows it's a lie, why keep it?
That was my question.

I was referring to Pete, a professional librarian, I believe, who kept Arming around to teach about lying books. If that's how bad it is, would you not feel required to put the course syllabus in the book if it's on the shelf?

My reference to Potter was that demand is a pretty thin excuse for "confessions" when Potter and Mars/Venus, to make two examples, were substantially fewer in the system. Because those had demand, as I described wrt mars/venus. I calculated that the seventy-six holds in front of me would take about six months to get a copy to me. I gather I could get "confessions" somewhat more quickly.
9.15.2008 4:58pm
pete (mail) (www):

A low level government official makes a decision on the use of a public facility and public funds. The people whose money is used and whose book it is should have a right to have the government follow their wishes.


I will quote myself above:

"Our selection criteria our drawn up by staff with decades of experience and approved by a board appointed by the city council. If you can think up a better way that will satisfy more people and still be democratic let me know."

Most large public libraries are governed by boards who are answerable to elected officials in some ways. But like any government job you want to set up independent policies that anyone can follow without being constantly second guessed. I spend about $4000 a typical week and will buy up to 75 different titles and I only buy stuff as a portion of my job. Some people do nothing but buy stuff and buy several multiples of what I buy.

And public libraries are supposed to serve the public, including people who hold views that you think are offensive. Racists, homosexuals, christians, atheists, muslims, libertarians, communists, liberals, conservatives and ramonce novel fans all have one thing in common: they all pay taxes. If you are going to have a public library all of them should have reasonable access to books they like. If you do not like the book you can always not read it and not allow your children to read it.
9.15.2008 5:03pm
trad and anon:
The term clearly has no "normative" meaning. Abnormal simply means an unusual percentage. Left handed people are "abnormal" in the same sense that homosexuals are (% of the population). Folks who have IQ high enough to get into Mensa have an "abnormally" high IQ, not at all a bad thing.
If people want to say "an unusual percentage" in a non-loaded way, they say "unusual," "uncommon," "infrequent," "different," "X%" (where X is small), or some other such phrase. They do not say "abnormal." There are even terms like "exceptional" or "special" that put a positive spin on uncommonality.

There are also terms like "deviant" that put a negative spin on uncommonality. This is the category "abnormal" falls into.
9.15.2008 5:06pm
John Morre (www):
Our local library, one of the largest in the US:

-normally has far more conservative books on hold or totally unavailable than it has liberal books. Often a conservative best seller has long hold lists with only a couple of books copied, while a contemporaneous liberal book that has smaller sales but more buzz is available in large numbers.

-has more books on display on Wicca than Catholicism, in a 40% Catholic state

-takes donated books on certain subjects (religious, conservative) and immediate sells them

The ALA is notorious for it's leftist advocacy.

Public libraries may not be "censoring" - but many are hardly "fair and balanced."
9.15.2008 5:12pm
one of many:
Jon Rowe:

NASCAR kills young racers dead. But you don't see Christian conservatives arguing it's unhealthy thus immoral.


I hate to tell you this but I have had a Christan conservative argue this although he mostly went on about the immorality of watching for a crash. He is anti-football too (it encourages violence). Nice guy, but I have no intention of ever spending a Sunday afternoon at his house.
9.15.2008 5:14pm
A.W. (mail):
First a minor correction. I wrote:

"Just because a particular police doesn't violate the constitution doesn't mean it's a good idea. Indeed, one of the travesties in modern politics is the confusion between constitutionality and the value of a policy."

I meant to write:

Just because a particular POLICY doesn't violate the constitution doesn't mean it's a good idea. Indeed, one of the travesties in modern politics is the confusion between constitutionality and the value of a policy.

My bad. I think ya'll got it, but oh well.

Eeyn

I suspect there is a subtext to your comments. I imagine you are thinking of tasergate, too.

If you are, I am with you on that. I don't believe her when she said she didn't try to fire her ex-brother-in-law's supervisor, because frankly if I was the governor and someone beat my sister and threatened my father, trying to get the abusive cop fired is the least I would do, and I think Palin is too "ordinary" to come out differently. But for the same reason I call it a righteous firing, in the case of her supervisor. If you don't think threatening to kill someone and beating your wife disqualifies you from being a state trooper, you shouldn't be one either.

Sheesh, I am old enough to remember when democrats cared about preventing violence against women and police brutality. Of course I am also old enough to remember when it was an open secret that McCain was the Democrats' top choice for Veep (and now he is the devil—who knew?), so I guess a lot has changed when I wasn't looking.

Tony

You hit on a good point. I would almost want to ban every popular book just by virtue of the fact they are popular and easy to obtain.
9.15.2008 5:21pm
Hoosier:
Nice guy, but I have no intention of ever spending a Sunday afternoon at his house.

All chips, no beer.
9.15.2008 5:22pm
pete (mail) (www):

I was referring to Pete, a professional librarian, I believe, who kept Arming around to teach about lying books. If that's how bad it is, would you not feel required to put the course syllabus in the book if it's on the shelf


No, I used it as an example when I was a student of a book with bad sourcing that librarians should not recommend even though it got good reviews and was "scholarly" because I was in school right after when the book was shown to be false and as an example to fellow graduate students to double check primary sources.

I think it should be kept on the shelf because people still check it out and it has some historical significance. Although you could make a good case that it is now outdated and should be removed for that reason. Before being disproven it was fairly significant and controversal book and I would have bought it. I would not go out of my way to buy it now however, unless I worked at an academic library where its historical signifinace might override its being proven false.
9.15.2008 5:29pm
josh:
Prof Volokh:

Agree to disagree, I guess. But I do appreciate what is an entirely consistent libertarian argument from you.

I have to confess I haven't thought through your point that "you need a right to trump a right." Is that your view of how the law IS, or how it SHOULD BE? Are all government regulations strictly tied to a corresponding right? In other words, if the government bans X behavior, is it required (by the Constitution, I guess) to be upholding a corresponding right Y?

The notion of animal rights reminds me of the Lorax and Lujan standing issues. Who speaks for the trees. Obviously, the environment has no "rights," but I guess your point is that in enacting regulations governing the enivronment, the government is somehow upholding corresponding rights of the public (IE, members of the Defenders of Wildlife?)? If that's the case, can't I just create some similar gloss that, rather than relating to the public's "rights" with respect to the environment, applies to our "rights" with respect to animals?

I'm not saying I'm advocating such a position, but it seems the logical outcome of your argument. To me, it seems there is a public interest in criminalizing dog fighting, for example, just as there's an interest in enforcing EPA regulations ...
9.15.2008 5:39pm
Hoosier:
pete--Just curious. Knopf withdrew "Arming of America." Would this have any impact upon your decision concerning whether to leave a book on the shelf? Second scenario: A publisher recalled a book a couple years ago because one of the essays had been plagiarized. (From a friend's dissertation, which is how I learned about this.) Would that make a difference?

I could see pulling a book as grossly fraudulent as Arming. I think I'd feel compelled to pull and return the second book, since allowing access to it would make me complicit in theft of intellectual property.

I just have no idea what libraries do in such circumstances. You insights?
9.15.2008 5:43pm
pete (mail) (www):

-normally has far more conservative books on hold or totally unavailable than it has liberal books. Often a conservative best seller has long hold lists with only a couple of books copied, while a contemporaneous liberal book that has smaller sales but more buzz is available in large numbers.


Could be anything from incompitence to more liberals asking for books to malice towards conservatives. Also could be a result of buzz since much of modern library purchasing is automated now and vendors will send us books they think will be good sellers. Our library bought several copies of Nancy Pelosi's book, even though pretty much no else did. I thought this was funny, but not that this was a liberal conspiracy.


-has more books on display on Wicca than Catholicism, in a 40% Catholic state


And I bet those Wiccan books circulate a whole lot more even if not on display. I would never do a wiccan display because the wiccan books always get stolen (I assume by "wiccans") and there are never enough to pull from the shelves to actually make a display. I once did a display on popes fairly soon after John Paul II died and hardly any of the books moved even though I am in city that is 60%+ Catholic.


-takes donated books on certain subjects (religious, conservative) and immediate sells them


They may do that to all books. That is pretty much what our library system does unless we notice a hardback book in good condition that is relatively recent/that we think will cirulate well/is already in the system. For large library systems there better be multiple copies because just adding one copy of a book to the system can be more trouble than it is worth, expecially if it is out of print.
9.15.2008 5:45pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Does a library implicitly affirm that a non-fiction book is largely correct when it makes the book available?
9.15.2008 5:47pm
John M. Perkins (mail):
Took a quick look at our local public library catalog. I'm in a district that voted heavily for W, and had the most conservative Democrat in Congress, who is a former law prof, and features gun rights in his ads.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, 40 copies, 7 currently checked out.

Arming America, 25 copies, 1 currently checked out.

One obvious reason for more copies of Confessions is that it is a year more recent that Arming.

BTW, no relation to author John Perkins
9.15.2008 5:49pm
deepthought:
DavidBernstein at 11:23am:

The Dow fell nearly 504.5 points (-4.42%), below 11,000, "its worst single-day pullback since the market reopened six days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001". Low enough for you?
9.15.2008 5:55pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
John.
I wonder where Confessions is on Amazon?
Seems like that old demand thing is dead on arrival.
Be nice to talk to your head purchaser, huh?
BTW: How about, say, Harry Potter's most recent? Patrick O'Brian (hell of a talent for naming his heroes)?
Joe Heywood's Woods Cop series.
If I were more interested in this, or had more time, I expect I could embarrass more librarians. If they were capable of embarrassment.
But I think I will start asking for an occasional title from Conservative Book Club. Might get it.
9.15.2008 5:56pm
neurodoc:
But we don't live in a libertarian society, and the government does run libraries.
Thank goodness!

Professor Bernstein, if you were our philosopher-king, would we have neither school libraries, nor public ones, in order to avoid empowering anyone to "mak(e) a content-based decision as to what books are worthy or not worthy of being on the library shelves" on our collective behaves? As an alternative to school and public libraries, would you come up with some voucher scheme so those in the community without the financial wherewithal to pay the full cost for themselves could chose among "charter" libraries the either private enterprises or philanthropies would establish and maintain? Or would even that be too much of a role for government to play in your libertarian utopia?

When ideologic "first principles" lead you to a not so attractive place, that doesn't do a lot to recommend the ideology.
9.15.2008 5:59pm
pete (mail) (www):

pete--Just curious. Knopf withdrew "Arming of America." Would this have any impact upon your decision concerning whether to leave a book on the shelf? Second scenario: A publisher recalled a book a couple years ago because one of the essays had been plagiarized.


I think a reasonable case could be made that arming america should be withdrawn. Library's are supposed to provide the most accurate information reasonably possible and arming of america is not accurate even though it claims to be an accurate history of the US. I do not think any serious scholar still defends the research. But I err on the side of caution and would not remove it since there is still demand for it at our library and it has some historical value because of the controversy around it. I would be reluctant to replace it if we lost all of our copies, however.

Plagerism would not make as much of difference since the content itself is relatively accurate. In general it is not a library's job to decide if a book is in full accord with intellectual property rights.
9.15.2008 6:00pm
pete (mail) (www):

Does a library implicitly affirm that a non-fiction book is largely correct when it makes the book available?


Most of the time, no. We have lots of books that contradict each other. Take religious books for example. We have books in favor of, nuetral about and opposed to every major religion including primary scripture. They can not all be true. That is not counting the historic, political, philosophical and other books where opinion counts as much as fact in many cases. Librarians do not check to see if any information in books is accurate beyond possibly reading reviews. And lots of information once true becomes outdated and no longer accurate if it has been on the shelf for a while.
9.15.2008 6:21pm
Hoosier:
pete--OK. Thanks. I'm surprised about the plagiarism answer, but I suspect it just shows what I know about these things.

I know this university's library returned the book in question to the publisher to be destroyed. I suppose that's where I got the idea that this was SOP. But perhaps the fact that the scholar whose work was stolen had an affiliation with the U in the past may have made this a more sensitive issue here.
9.15.2008 6:23pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
josh: Throughout our discussion in this thread, my impression is that we've been discussing purely normative matters (whether homosexuality, bestiality, animal cruelty, etc., are immoral), not legal matters. So nothing I've been saying should be interpreted as an explanation of what the law is.

Normatively, I think the only justification for laws is to protect someone's rights. So you need a rights theory before you can talk about what laws are justifiable. Descriptively, there are lots of laws out there that don't protect anyone's rights. Sure there's a _reason_ for the laws to exist, and they presumably serve someone's _interest_, but not every interest is a right.

So when I say that you need a right to trump a right, what I mean, in the context of animal stuff, is: First, we have property rights in animals. This isn't self-evident -- after all, people once believed we could have property rights in humans. So this depends on a prior judgment that animals aren't moral beings in a way that can prevent them from rightfully being owned. Anyway, if you accept that, then you can accept that you can have a property right in an animal. (You can disagree with that if you like, but just so you understand where I'm coming from on this first bit.)

Next, you have a claim that it's immoral for me to abuse an animal. (I presume that you mean you think it's O.K. to have laws against animal abuse. But maybe you just mean it's immoral but shouldn't be made illegal... that's O.K. But I'll keep talking as if you were proposing the rightfulness of making it illegal.) Because you're proposing that an exercise of my rights should be illegal, you'd better tell me what competing right this proposal would protect.

One possibility would be the right of the animal itself. But I reject this, for basically the same reason I accepted ownership of animals earlier. (In principle, you could believe that animals have limited rights, so they don't have a right against ownership, but do have a right against abuse. This is fair enough; but I've taken the stronger view that animals aren't moral beings, so they have no right against either ownership or abuse or killing, etc.)

Another possibility would be the right of other people to not have animals killed. I also reject this, for reasons going back to the basic natural rights theory that many versions of libertarianism are based on: you have a right to the stuff you're born with or rightfully acquire, which includes your own bodily integrity, your own liberty, and the property you've rightfully acquired. You don't have rights in other people's lives, other people's liberty, or other people's property. So I reject this too.

Therefore, I say there's no valid right that can trump my own exercise of my property right in an animal.

Now descriptively, there's nothing stopping the government from passing a law banning dog fighting, just like there's nothing stopping the government from passing lots of laws; and a law banning dog fighting may well be constitutional. I think the "you need a right to trump a right" idea isn't necessarily written into the constitution; the constitution may well allow the democratic process to protect mere interests. Such laws would be immoral, but the constitution doesn't necessarily prevent all immoral laws. (I'm expressing myself tentatively because I don't have a strong view on whether the constitution _should_ be interpreted to conform more closely to my views.)

So if a dog fighting ban came before the Supreme Court and I were a justice there, I may well rule that there's a sufficient public interest in banning it. But when I just put on my pure morality hat, I have no trouble saying that the law violates a right without protecting some other right in exchange, and is therefore an immoral violation of rights.
9.15.2008 6:24pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
Show me proof that Palin is a book banner.
9.15.2008 6:26pm
pete (mail) (www):

I know this university's library returned the book in question to the publisher to be destroyed. I suppose that's where I got the idea that this was SOP


If the publisher asked for it back and was giving us a refund that would also help sway my decision. That has never happened to us as far as I know so I would have to ask.
9.15.2008 6:32pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Statistically speaking there are probably not that many more left handed folks than there are homosexuals. Both of under 10% making both "abnormal" or "deviant" from a raw % of the population standpoint.
9.15.2008 6:36pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Here another interesting article that can be used to analogize homosexuality with lefthandedness. Anyone who knows anything about Western Culture, Arts &Literature knows homosexuals, for all their problems, are vastly disproportionately talented. It seems a similar dynamic exists with those other "abnormals" the southpaws. Though after seeing how phony homosexual lifespan figures have been peddled by religious conservatives (see Paul Cameron) I wouldn't trust these figures before some serious vetting. Anyway here is a taste of the article:


I feel your pain, brother--I'm left-handed too. So were all the major candidates in the last two presidential elections, assuming your idea of major is Bush, Clinton, Dole, and Perot (though I suppose Dole's war injury makes him a special case). Five of the last ten U.S. presidents have been left-handed, although lefties account for only 10 percent of the population.

Obviously we have a gift for leadership. The only problem is a lot of us don't live long enough to use it. At any rate that's the thesis of psychologist Stanley Coren, the man largely responsible for changing the image of lefties from lovable klutzes to doomed race. Coren's 1992 book The Left-Hander Syndrome argued that for a variety of reasons, ranging from less immunity to disease to a higher accident rate, lefties didn't live as long as righties. Based on a survey of the relatives of a thousand recently deceased people in California, Coren claimed that the average lefty died nine years sooner than the average righty (66 versus 75).

[...]

Other research has failed to substantiate Coren's claim, finding either a much smaller difference in life expectancy or no difference at all. Coren's own previous study of baseball players' life spans (drawn, charmingly enough, from the Baseball Encyclopedia) found only an eight-month gap, and even that has been vigorously disputed.

Coren now seems to have conceded that the nine-year gap may be a little off. A study of British cricket players found a two-year gap, which he's described as reasonable.

Still, even a two-year gap is sizable. If it turns out to be legit, you wouldn't be surprised to find life-insurance applications with "left-handed" on the risk-factor checkoff list right after "smokes" and "does drugs."

So we're left to ponder the question: Can this be, pardon the expression, right?

[...]

There's a fair amount of evidence that left-handedness is caused by minor brain damage at birth (though there seems to be a genetic component as well). Possibly as a result, lefties are clumsier if perhaps also more creative.

Looking through the medical literature, I find studies reporting that lefties have a higher accident rate, are more likely to have their fingers amputated due to power-tool accidents, suffer more wrist fractures, etc. What's more, lefties suffer a higher incidence of allergies, epilepsy, schizophrenia, and certain learning disabilities.

Lefties, a 1992 article in the Atlantic notes, also show unusually high frequencies of depression, drug abuse, bed-wetting, attempted suicide, lower-than-normal birth weight, sleeping disorders, and autoimmune diseases


Can we now say: Lefthanded is neither normal nor healthy, period! Or lefties suffer a higher incidence of allergies, epilepsy, schizophrenia, and certain learning disabilities period!
9.15.2008 6:46pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Regarding Arming in America: I think libraries should retain it (assuming it circulates) just as evidence that academics can commit fraud. I would want a comprehensive errata sheet pasted inside though, for the benefit of unsuspecting high school students who might be writing a term paper on gun control.
9.15.2008 7:13pm
Oren:
Tony, can we get an errata sheet on the bible too, pointing out that certain allegation contained therein have been proven false (e.g. burning bush, parting water, virgin bush)?
9.15.2008 7:22pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Re bestiality it's my understanding that Texas legalized this behavior before Lawrence v. Texas.

I would just stick with the point that there is nothing that logically connects bestiality with homosexuality, instead of homosexuality with heterosexuality. If we've got three things, apples, oranges and crabgrass, you'd say apples &oranges are closest to one another and both furthest removed from crabgrass. Homosexuality and heterosexuality are the apples &oranges, bestiality is the crabgrass.

That said, if you can eat and wear animals, it doesn't violate their rights to have sex with them. However, I rather none of these things done in a way that is abusive towards the animal. If the animal doesn't mind the sex, bestiality should be viewed as having sex with a blowup doll; I don't know why you'd want to do it, but there are more important things in the world about which to be concerned. This seemed to be Texas' attitude circa 2003.
9.15.2008 7:40pm
Gilbert (mail):
Without suggesting it settles the question (because I think it entirely appropriate to stock the Bible and Torah, etc in a library) your hypothetical is not very helpful because while the Constitution forbids government endorsement of religion it does not forbid government endorsement of homosexuality.
9.15.2008 7:42pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
I remember once arguing with a paleoconservative on homosexuality (Lawrence Auster) and he noted he was against any kind of gay rights because any of these enactments "established" homosexuality. He wanted to know why I supported government "established" homosexuality.

I don't know if I replied this at the time but that was a very interesting definition of "establishment," one I know he doesn't support when it came to the "Establishment Clause" of the US Constitution.
9.15.2008 7:48pm
Michael B (mail):
"Show me proof that Palin is a book banner."

This ceased being about Palin's book banning tendencies when these types of facts surfaced. (Barack Obama, even absent executive responsibilities and authority as a governor or a mayor, has banned as many books as Palin has.)

The subject now concerns such weighty matters as "liberals" being suggestive of how open-minded they are, or how much "intellectual heft" they possess. I.e. it's ending much as it began, farce fronted with a serious facade.
9.15.2008 7:49pm
Malvolio:
Professor Bernstein, if you were our philosopher-king, would we have neither school libraries, nor public ones, in order to avoid empowering anyone to "mak(e) a content-based decision as to what books are worthy or not worthy of being on the library shelves" on our collective behaves?
Dunno about him, but if libertarian I were the philosopher-king, books would be provided the same way food, and clothes, and cars, and, hey!, books are today: by the free market.
When ideologic "first principles" lead you to a not so attractive place, that doesn't do a lot to recommend the ideology.
Exactly what I would say.

Would you rather live in a country dedicated to the free market, free enterprise, free speech? Or welfare, conformity, government subsidies for favorite industries and artists?

It's an easy call for me -- I already live in a country that 70% or 80% the way I want. It could, theoretically, be more free, but it's near the top of all existing countries.
9.15.2008 7:59pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
If Republicans can chastise Obama for earmarks his wife's employer never received, surely Democrats can chastise Palin for books she never banned.
9.15.2008 7:59pm
Michael B (mail):
"I would just stick with the point that there is nothing that logically connects bestiality with homosexuality, instead of homosexuality with heterosexuality. If we've got three things, apples, oranges and crabgrass, you'd say apples & oranges are closest to one another and both furthest removed from crabgrass. Homosexuality and heterosexuality are the apples & oranges, bestiality is the crabgrass." Jon Rowe

How is that anything other than incoherent? Or, at most, an assertion posing as informed opinion?

For example, when the Animal Farm videos (actual, graphic bestiality on film) began hitting some avante garde film festivals (and largely to some rave reviews, within that milieu), they were forwarded as part and parcel of that industry, not as something anathema to that industry, as a weed to be rooted out. Indeed, they because highly sought after by that milieu and within the porn buying population at large.

You've made a set of assertions. You haven't forwarded a cogent argument.
9.15.2008 8:05pm
whit:
in re: the financial crisis

1) we are in a bear market. people keep forgetting that, every time the market has a decent day. the TREND is down, and has been for a while.

2) it was a very nice selloff. i trade futures, and LOVED today. i love strong trend days.

the financials are #($#($#(. just pull up a 5 yr chart of XLF. the same could be said about tech stocks not too long ago.

today was the worst one day selloff since 9/11, if that puts it in perspective.

great day to be a trader. not so great for most long-biased IRA's :)
9.15.2008 8:06pm
Smokey:
EIDE_Interface:
Show me proof that Palin is a book banner.
Since that's asking the impossible, the fall back liberals' position is ad hominem character assassination, along with a big dose of their psychological projection - imputing their own faults onto others.

Note that when NASA's resident liberal James Hansen recently demanded that global warming skeptics must be sent to prison for their views, only conservatives raised a fuss. Libs were fine with Hansen's final solution.

You have to admit that in the scheme of things, imprisoning someone for a contrary scientific view is worse than [Palin's non-existent] book banning.

Projection -- what would libs do without it?
9.15.2008 8:12pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Michael,

The argument I made I thought was based on an observation of human nature and nature and, quite frankly, not at all controversial -- a "self evident truth." I don't know if you know any gay couples that are in a "like married" relationship, but I can pretty much guarantee you their relationship will be much more like that of a "man and wife" than a relationship between a man who does his dog.
9.15.2008 8:15pm
byomtov (mail):
In principle, you could believe that animals have limited rights, so they don't have a right against ownership, but do have a right against abuse. This is fair enough; but I've taken the stronger view that animals aren't moral beings, so they have no right against either ownership or abuse or killing, etc

Sasha,

I think you slid past this a bit too quickly. You have an opinion about animals' rights. Fine. But your whole argument rests on your opinion that animals have zero rights. So really there's no logical train here. It's just a question of what rights you happen to think animals have.

I believe this is a good example of what is actually meant by "begging the question," - assuming that which you wish to prove.
9.15.2008 8:19pm
jb (mail):
"certain allegation contained therein have been proven false (e.g. burning bush, parting water, virgin bush)?"

LOL. Virgin bush might be reasonably rare these days, but I wouldn't say its been proven entirely false.
9.15.2008 8:22pm
dr:
jb wins the thread.
9.15.2008 8:23pm
Michael B (mail):
"If Republicans can chastise Obama for earmarks his wife's employer never received, surely Democrats can chastise Palin for books she never banned." Tony Tutins

A study in contrasts:

No books were ever banned. Palin never requested a single book be banned.

By contrast, re, Michelle Obama and the $1,000,000 earmark requested by Barack Obama for the University of Chicago Hospital, his wife's employer, excerpt, emphases added:

"In 2006, the Chicago Tribune reported that Mrs. Obama's compensation at the University of Chicago Hospital, where she is a vice president for community affairs, jumped from $121,910 in 2004, just before her husband was elected to the Senate, to $316,962 in 2005, just after he took office."

Michelle's salary, pre-Senator Obama: 121K

Michelle's salary, post-Senator Obama: 317k

And which charge have we heard more of in the press - and on blogs such as VC?

The charge that is substantially true, or the one that is entirely false?
9.15.2008 8:25pm
Michael B (mail):
Jon Rowe,

Yes I understood you believed it to be prima facie apparent. Nice tap dance. Do you sing as well? Maybe a rendition of "God bless America"?

Btw, the Animal Farm video previously alluded to is focused upon a Danish woman who had an extremely "natural," continuous and in fact live-in relationship with her animals. It was not porn in a staged, manipulated or acted/directed sense - it more simply documented their on-going relationships. So even your tap dancing, prima facie argument falls apart.
9.15.2008 8:42pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
byomtov: I agree that I haven't proven my point -- I haven't explained why I believe that animals have zero rights. But it's not "begging the question." Rather, it's giving a necessarily incomplete explanation of what I believe. I wasn't trying to build up my entire philosophy from first principles; I was just trying to answer some of Josh's questions.

Now if we wanted to explain why animals don't have rights, it would be more difficult, and I don't propose to give that whole explanation. But I should note that I'm not actually against all animals' rights. Moreover, I oppose speciesism, and don't see how one can say that all members of an entire species necessarily have rights while all members of another one don't. Without getting into details, I think that rights have something to do with cognitive development, so I'm willing to say, in principle, given the right research, that some animals do have rights, while some humans don't.

Just I haven't seen satisfying research so far for any non-human animals, so based on my current knowledge, I recognize zero rights in any non-human animal. And while I don't think that all humans necessarily have rights, I think it's better to have an overinclusive bright-line rule, and the most stable one, which, I think, leads to the least error, is one that protects all humans starting at birth.
9.15.2008 8:47pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Michael: Honestly I don't care about this woman's "animal farm" relationship. And if she ain't harmin' no one, it ain't no skin off my back. Perhaps the fact that I have overcome these cultural prejudices on these issues makes me more able to see clearly these issues. You won't be able to back me into a "reductio ad absurdum" corner of "that would justify bestiality!"

All that said, you still are ducking MY observation that when you meet a gay couple in a "married" like relationship their relationship will look a hell of a lot closer to that of a man and a wife than even the most wonderful and fulfilling Animal Farm relationship.
9.15.2008 8:54pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

I think that rights have something to do with cognitive development, so I'm willing to say, in principle, given the right research, that some animals do have rights, while some humans don't.


I think this is exactly right. I have two dogs and I know I can't reason with them as I can with humans so their rights are inferior to humans; but I know they can feel pain and have emotions so I don't want dogs to be subject to cruelty but I have no problem euthanizing a dog or asserting human rights over animal rights.

I have a puppy that I rescued from a poor household that wasn't well taking care of her (3 months old, Pom/Chihuahua mix in the Phila. area, email me if you are interested in adopting her) and my parents want me to put it in a kennel. I've seen her cry when I put her in a crate, I see how she "needs" to sleep next to me at night, and I would have her euthanized before I subject her to that cruelty. She knows nothing of her "person" doesn't understand concepts of life or death, so painlessly euthanizing her (or any dog) wouldn't be a big deal. Though she CAN feel pain and inflicting suffering on dogs IS a big deal.

Likewise with lower forms of animals where there is less cognitive development, I think it is more ethical (or less unethenical) to slaughter and eat them. I'm not an expert on the science, and I've had some arguments with my students on this, but I seriously doubt a fish feels much pain when you catch it, and there isn't a whole lot going on up there; so I don't see eating fish as a big deal. On the other hand, if pigs (I am told) have the same level of cognitive and emotional development as dogs, then eating (and mistreating) pigs IS the moral equivalent of eating and mistreating dogs.
9.15.2008 9:05pm
Oren:

On the other hand, if pigs (I am told) have the same level of cognitive and emotional development as dogs, then eating (and mistreating) pigs IS the moral equivalent of eating and mistreating dogs.

Since we already so far off topic -- what is the problem with killing and eating an intelligent animal, provided that it does not suffer in either its life or death? I've hunted wild boar and, intelligent or not, seemed to live a happy life in the wilderness and was killed instantly by a large round to the brain. Seems fine to me.
9.15.2008 9:16pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
"[W]hat is the problem with killing and eating an intelligent animal, provided that it does not suffer in either its life or death?"

There is, it seems to me, no moral problem with it as long as the intelligent animal is not a human.
9.15.2008 9:28pm
Randy R. (mail):
"Are you saying that you don't find any problem with librarians, who are also government officials, on an ad hoc basis, refusing to purchase books they don't like for the library?"

We hire librarians to use their judgment in selecting books in our libraries. If we don't like the way they are selecting the books, or the kinds of books, then we can make our voice known through various means -- most libraries have a "Friends of the Library" organization, or a local governing board, or a town council. Or you can write to your local newspaper in protest. My experience with librarians is that they are happy to hear from anyone about suggestions for purchasing books, but they bristle at anyone asking that books be removed.
9.15.2008 9:30pm
Smokey:
If Republicans can chastise Obama for earmarks his wife's employer never received, surely Democrats can chastise Palin for books she never banned.
Well, that's a pretty clear admission of dishonesty. [Disclosure: IANAR.]

Using perceived misinformation to justify Tutin's now admittedly dishonest attacks from Dems and the MSM [same-same] is the level that the Sarah Plain attackers and 0bama apologists have sunk to.

However, when it comes to their own, like Rep. William Jefferson, D-Corrupt, who was caught red-handed with $90,000 in marked FBI bills in his freezer, or Rep. John Conyers, who intercepted dozens of Thanksgiving turkeys for his personal use that were donated to him to give to the poor in his district, or Sen. Barbara Boxer, who kited over a hundred bad checks for cash over several years at the Senate Post Office [and who refused to reimburse one dime -- until it hit the newspapers thanks to a P.O. employee], and Obama's influence peddling, tax-sucking wife, and Obama's cronies, felons Ayers, Rezko, etc., etc., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whose husband gets handed no-bid contracts totaling hundreds of millions of tax dollars, year after year -- by the very same Committee chaired by Feinstein, and a hundred other thoroughly corrupt, law-breaking Democrats, then all the liberal contingent wants to do is to outright lie, as Tutins admits, about a Governor who has put corrupt politicians in prison [from both Parties]. Now they claim, with no basis in fact, that she bans books.

The book banning is just the latest talking point, out of endless similar fabricated Dan Rather-style talking points that are generated by completely corrupt politicians, who are terrified of a Vice President Palin, who will no doubt start to scrutinize their corrupt taxpayer swindles and influence selling.

So continue on with your scripted talking points, libs. You're just string puppets being used by dishonest politicians in both parties, who are quaking in their boots over the prospect of someone with Palin's influence goosing federal prosecutors to investigate and take long overdue action.

Rank-and-file Americans are sick of the corruption and special-interest politics. 0bama's pick of the corrupt serial intellectual property thief himself, Joe Biden, shows clearly that the corrupt pigs will have both front feet in the taxpayer trough if 0 were to ever get in -- backed by a corrupt and free-spending Dem Congress and senate.
9.15.2008 9:36pm
Randy R. (mail):
To bring two subjects here together, I have a friend who has written a series of novels geared towards teenagers and the books all have male characters dealing with their homosexuality, some better than others. He says that school librarians are the true heros because his books are *very* popular, particularly with high school girls and so are often read by them. The librarians are often asked to pull the books off the shelves, but they almost never do.

I say hurray for them. If you don't want your kids to read the books, tell them they can't, but don't penalize the others because you don't like something.
9.15.2008 9:38pm
byomtov (mail):
Sasha,

OK. Thanks for the explanation.
9.15.2008 9:45pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Another thing about cannibalism and I don't know what to make of this is, whereas many animals taste great and smell real good while cooking, I understand that humans taste and smell real bad. Perhaps that signifies an why it would be more unethical to eat humans.
9.15.2008 9:53pm
karrde (mail) (www):
To those who are counting copies of Michael Bellesiles' Arming America, have you looked to see if the library has a copy of Clayton Cramer's Armed America?

My local library has Bellesiles' book (3 copies) in the 327 section of the Dewey Decimal code, while is has Cramer's book (1 copy) in the 363 section.

Currently, Bellesiles' books are all on the shelf, while Cramer's book is on hold for someone.

(While searching, be sure to distinguish Clayton Cramer's book from Kyle Cassidy's book of the same title.)
9.15.2008 9:56pm
Michael Edward McNeil (mail) (www):
I'm offended by my local library's refusal to obtain The Mechanical Universe, a superb introduction to classical mechanics (from CalTech; it costs around $500), nor would they attempt to acquire it for me via interlibrary loan, which they happily do for all manner of trivial TV series and movies (I just got to see Season 1 of the Lost in Space original series via that route, for instance).

Now I see from the WorldCat site that was pointed to earlier (thanks!) that only some eight libraries across the country even appear to possess it (at least the DVD version). Considering the number of libraries that have been shown above to possess dozens of copies each of Arming America (which hasn't just been proven false but was obviously deliberate fraud), this situation is downright obscene.

Interestingly, one of the heartbreakingly few libraries that does make The Mechanical Universe available is in that oh-so hick state of Alaska — must be yet another manifestation of Gov. Palin's book banning proclivities.

Meanwhile, folks here explain that librarians generally feel no obligation to identify even thoroughly fraudulent books like Arming America as a tissue of lies — certainly not by also acquiring one of the debunkings that have been performed by professional historians.

Great work “professional” librarians!
9.15.2008 10:05pm
neurodoc:
Malvolio:...if libertarian I were the philosopher-king, books would be provided the same way food, and clothes, and cars, and, hey!, books are today: by the free market.
Books have been sold since time immemorial, and the advent of public libraries has only encouraged the free market for them. So no conflict or tension there. Now, the question you stepped in to answer for Professor Bernstein, but haven't, is whether "real" libertarians must wish to see public libraries defunded and shuttered to avoid empowering anyone to "mak(e) a content-based decision as to what books are worthy or not worthy of being on the library shelves" on our collective behalf. Do you think Andrew Carnegie did a bad thing by contributing to the creation of so many public libraries, causing so many content-based decisions to be made? Does libertarianism dictate such nutty policy positions?
9.15.2008 10:20pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
I, too, can't speak for David Bernstein, but I think "real" libertarians should wish to see public libraries defunded and shuttered. For me, the principal reason is that they take money from taxpayers, for which I'd demand to see that they protect some right in exchange; but I don't see a very strong argument for how this contributes to rights protection under the standard libertarian view of rights. (If a library can be fully supported by private contributions, then I don't really have a problem with it, even if it's government-run.)

Now even though I've just expressed a belief in the opposite, I'm open to the view that libraries do contribute to rights protection to an extent that exceeds the rights violation of the tax money they're taking. If I were convinced of that, then I'd agree to have libraries, even though there are inevitably decisions to be made about what books to stock, and these decisions will inevitably be not only discriminatory in some way, but will also probably incorporate, even if subtly, some form of content or even viewpoint discrimination.

But if I'm right that libraries aren't justifiable based on their rights-protective attributes, then the content discrimination is an additional negative to place in the balance.
9.15.2008 10:32pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
I think George Will once called Public Libraries "pork for the articulate" and he's right. Being a "bookworm" is, for the most part, associated with the social classes that don't need public assistance or subsidization in the first place.
9.15.2008 10:56pm
Jmaie (mail):
Whit - hope I can offer a friendly FU from those of us with long term IRA equity holdings. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.
9.15.2008 11:31pm
Jmaie (mail):
Forgot to add an emoticon :<)
9.15.2008 11:32pm
Michael B (mail):
Jon Rowe,

I didn't duck a thing. I called you on it, noting your "argument" is not supported in the prima facie manner you're suggesting. I can support my position at length, I was asking you to support your position with more than a tap dance routine and a harrumph.

And this: "Honestly I don't care about this woman's "animal farm" relationship. And if she ain't harmin' no one, it ain't no skin off my back. Perhaps the fact that I have overcome these cultural prejudices on these issues makes me more able to see clearly these issues. You won't be able to back me into a "reductio ad absurdum" corner of "that would justify bestiality!""

This continues to be utterly incoherent. The fact you "don't care" is obvious, it needs no emphasis whatsoever. "To care," concerning bestiality, would be to take a moral rather than a neutral or amoral position and "as we all know," "you can't legislate morality." (Though in fact, morality is the basic spur for every legislative act, without exception. Even where corruption is involved in the legislation, the motivation is to somehow thwart and corrupt more genuine moral considerations.)

As to any reductio ad absurdum argument, you overtly justified bestiality so why would a reductio ad absurdum or any other type of counter-argument need to be forwarded?

Btw, the woman in question, the subject of the Animal Farm documentary and porn film, died at the age of 40. Tragically on several levels and utterly debauched on several levels. But the bestiality cannot be conceived as an aspect of her debauched existence, not from the pov of late modern sophisticates who prize their "open mindedness" and caring concern for "the other".
9.15.2008 11:42pm
Hoosier:
I don't know how we got from banning books to eating animals.

Put me down with Matt Scully as the other of the two conservatives who thinks it's wrong to kill and eat animals. (I'm also against eating librarians, if that helps get things back on track.)
9.15.2008 11:59pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Hoosier: What about eating libertarians?
9.16.2008 12:04am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Well Michael you still haven't done anything to connect bestiality with homosexuality. I think that's what we are all waiting for. Whatever I personally think of bestiality, I made a point that still stands: An observation of heterosexual, homosexual and bestial relations reveals hetero and homo relations to be the most similar and hence the most analogous.

So why don't you tell us what it was about her bestial relationships that made her die tragically at age 40 because your post at 7:42pm intimates some kind of positive and fulfilling aspect to her sexual and emotional relations with her animals.
9.16.2008 12:06am
Nate in Alice:
As a homosexual, can I just say that it would be nice to talk with conservatives about gay people without being compared to zoophiliacs.

Godwin's law for discussions about gays should, of course, end the conversation when someone brings up bestiality.
9.16.2008 12:19am
one of many:
But Sasha what about those public libraries which were founded by private donations and are funded by private endowments? My local public library has received a smallish amount of money from the taxpayers (to fund programs which have little or nothing to do lending books, usually federal outreach programs) but is otherwise free of tax derived monies. How do "true libertarians" feel about privately funded but supervised by the government libraries?
9.16.2008 12:24am
loki13 (mail):
Michael B,

Wow. You sure do know a lot about this Animal Farm. Why is it the people that argue against homosexuality seem to revel in getting all... hot.. and... bothered with their lurid imaginings of frequent gay copulation and bizarre rants about beastiality?

You correctly pointe out Jon Rowe didn't really care about the issue. Clearly, you care a great deal.
9.16.2008 12:25am
A.W. (mail):
Sasha

> Without getting into details, I think that rights have something to do with cognitive development, so I'm willing to say, in principle, given the right research, that some animals do have rights, while some humans don't.

So... Sarah Palin's baby has no rights? If you shot the baby, you wouldn't deserve punishment? Where are you going with this?

I'll tell you where you are going: down an extremely dangerous road.

> For me, the principal reason is that they take money from taxpayers, for which I'd demand to see that they protect some right in exchange; but I don't see a very strong argument for how this contributes to rights protection under the standard libertarian view of rights.

This is a perfect example of what I said above. Libertarians screw themselves up by failing to understand the value of protecting the republic. And see my comments above for a full explanation.

If you don't think a library helps a person protect their rights, and their property, for that matter, you are frankly short-sighted.

Jon

Nothing could discredit your point of view than saying you have no trouble with bestiality.

Oh, except maybe for agreeing with what Sasha said above and human rights for some and not others.

And, by the way, if you believe that some animals have rights, then shouldn't you be against bestiality as a form of rape?

Or, for that matter supposing the only reason why you shouldn't engage in cannibalism is because human tastes bad. That tends to discredit you, too.

Frankly, if you want to argue that the break down of family values leads to a complete breakdown of all standards, there is no better example to point toward, than your posts on this threat, to the point that I almost have to suspect you are a ringer.
9.16.2008 12:37am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
"Nothing could discredit your point of view than saying you have no trouble with bestiality."

Why don't you describe to me your "trouble" with bestiality? I analogized it to having sex with a blow up doll, something about which most folks probably shouldn't be concerned. What is unreasonable about that?

"Oh, except maybe for agreeing with what Sasha said above and human rights for some and not others."

Well he's a Georgetown Law Prof. so I'll defer to him on that. I was personally thinking that a fertilized egg might be a "human right" but because there is no cognitive development it has no human rights. Most folks, by the way, don't believe destruction of a fertilized egg is the murder of a baby if that's what you are getting at.

"And, by the way, if you believe that some animals have rights, then shouldn't you be against bestiality as a form of rape?"

Yes, and I think I made this clear: If the animal seems to mind, I think it raises a moral concern. But what if the animal doesn't seem to mind? Is it still "rape"?

"Or, for that matter supposing the only reason why you shouldn't engage in cannibalism is because human tastes bad. That tends to discredit you, too."

I didn't say it was the only reason, just perhaps a telling reason. I am against cannibalism in all circumstances even if human flesh did taste good. Except of course if you are lost out at sea like in Regina v. Dudley and Stevens and need to survive. Though I think they should have waited till he died and then they'd be legally justified because, after all, the common law rule is necessity is a defense to all crimes except homicide and I'd imagine that must include cannibalizing the dead to keep from starving.

"Frankly, if you want to argue that the break down of family values leads to a complete breakdown of all standards, there is no better example to point toward, than your posts on this threat, to the point that I almost have to suspect you are a ringer."

I consider myself firmly to the right of Princeton Ethics Prof. Pete Singer on these matters.
9.16.2008 12:47am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Ooops. This should have read: I was personally thinking that a fertilized egg might be a "human life" but because there is no cognitive development it has no human rights.
9.16.2008 12:49am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
A.W: Read my entire comment above, and you'll see I ended it with the following:

And while I don't think that all humans necessarily have rights, I think it's better to have an overinclusive bright-line rule, and the most stable one, which, I think, leads to the least error, is one that protects all humans starting at birth.

So, even if my view implies that babies, or some people with severe developmental disabilities, don't have rights, I still think that all humans should be legally protected from birth, because any other line (like a functional line based on actual cognitive development) would be too manipulable by self-interested would-be child killers, and moreover it wouldn't have the emotional staying power that would make it a politically stable policy.

So I do think that any killer of an already-born baby should be punished.

Incidentally, the problem with cannibalism isn't the eating, but the killing of the people to begin with! (That was the problem in Dudley &Stevens too -- the cannibalism was a side note; the issue was the murder! Now if everyone in the lifeboat had unanimously agreed to draw lots and the loser would be killed and eaten, that would be an entirely unobjectionable decision process for me.) Once someone is dead, I don't think there's any problem with eating them, provided you properly own the body and the dead guy hasn't given other instructions in his will.
9.16.2008 12:56am
A.W. (mail):
Jon

There's nothing more to said. You have utterly discredited yourself.

Sasha

I read that second part and it only slightly mitigated the first. Seriously you are on dangerous ground.

> Once someone is dead, I don't think there's any problem with eating them

Oy vey, the depravity you and Jon have demonstrated is just plain shocking.

I dare you to try to say this at any cocktail party. Or on the pulpit of any church. The average American would think you are nuts.

By the way, given your culinary ethics, I wouldn't be caught dead at one of your cocktail parties. I don't want to have to wonder what or, more precisely, whom I am eating.

To be blunt, if you are the real Sasha Volokh, you have become a self-parody of an academic so up in his own keister on theory that you don't have any sense of morality.

I will go as far as to say I suspect you are a ringer, too.

I feel like the kids on South Park, in the NAMBLA episode. The NAMBLA spokesman keeps trying to say that we should be tolerant, etc. And then the kids reply to each argument, "DUDE, you have SEX with children!"

So to Jon's arguments... Dude, you justify sex with animals.

To you... Dude, you say its okay to eat people.

You have lost any and all respect I ever felt for you.
9.16.2008 1:18am
metro1 (mail) (www):
Professor Bernstein:

I know this is a bit off topic, but...

I have begun to notice over the past two days that the Democrats are using an old tack: they calculate that maybe they can make something be true by repeating it over and over (even though it's not true)

old example: the earth is warming; it's caused by man (primarily greedy Republicans in factories and SUV's); the only way to stop it is to send lots of money to Al Gore and the government; repeat; repeat

new example: the public will stop caring about Sarah Palin when the media stops talking about her; repeat; repeat

i've got a little newsflash for the spinmeisters of the Left (I'm looking at you Bob Shrum and CBS News): the public likes Sarah Palin (and will continue to like her and be interested in her) DESPITE the media - not BECAUSE of the media

Rock 'em, Sarah-
9.16.2008 1:36am
loki13 (mail):
metro1,

Methinks you are confused. While I think Mrs. Palin was a great pick by McCain (who else was he going to pick), it was because of the base. I can tell that both by anecdote, and by data.

Anecdote- while the GOP guys I know *love* SP, they love her a little too much, if you know what I mean. The GOP women are favorable, if a little nonplussed. And fundraising is great and enthusiasm is up (although the crowds haven't been what *ahem* has been reported).

Data- SP's polling numbers (favorable/unfavorable) have plummeted. Her net favorable is barely positive, and the trend line looks like today's stockmarket. She has worse ratings than McCain, Obama, and (by far) Biden.

Was she a good pick? Yes.

Does the public like her? You need to get out of your echo chamber. The GOP base loves her. The democratis party base despises her. And the independents are viewing her unfavorably.
9.16.2008 1:43am
neurodoc:
What about eating libertarians?
If the choice was libertarians or librarians, definitely the former. The latter have a useful role to play in society and would be missed.
9.16.2008 1:48am
iambatman:
"I dare you to try to say this at any cocktail party. Or on the pulpit of any church. The average American would think you are nuts. "

And if the average American, who thinks there was a conspiracy to kill JFK and that Saddam planned 9/11, disagrees with you. It is proof positive that you are factually incorrect!

Example: A few scant centuries ago, it was factually true that the sun revolves around earth. People's opinions changed, so the facts must have changed. (Let's all ignore the fact that it was some pesky intellectual with his telescope and charts who changed folk's minds!)
9.16.2008 2:03am
iambatman:
I would also add that certain posters probably have a self-interested reason to believe that the mentally retarded should retain a right to life.

(Not saying they're wrong; just self interested-- that is, retarded.)
9.16.2008 2:05am
metro1 (mail) (www):
loki13:

that's the kind of stuff you were saying to yourself, no doubt, before each of Reagan's landslide elections.

meanwhile, while we focus on whether or not Sarah Palin paid her 4-H dues in 1972, The One has gone ahead and started his own foreign policy ... attempting to undermine the sitting President of the United States:

* * *
Obama's Breach [Amy Holmes]

I was stunned to read the report today in Amir Taheri's column that Obama attempted to undermine force strength negotiations of the sitting Commander in Chief in a time of war through secret, backdoor, election year negotiations of his own. If true, the implications would, it seems to me, be serious and stunning.

A question for Corner experts: What does the Constitution have to say about such an act? My understanding is that the International Commerce Acts of 1798 prohibits any private citizen or party from negotiating with a foreign power in matters of national policy or military action. (H/T Google.) Has this prohibition lost its power in modern politics (e.g. Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson's freelance diplomatic efforts.) Is there any precedence for a presidential candidate to attempt to undermine a Commander in Chief and manipulate war time negotiations with a foreign power for his own electoral advantage?

One of the Democrats' favorite conspiracy theories against Reagan is that he secretly struck a deal with the Iranians during the hostage crisis to keep our fellow Americans imprisoned to ensure Carter's defeat and his own election. I've never read anything to substantiate this claim, but I've certainly heard and read plenty about it from the Left. It is one of their key indictments against Reagan.

If Amir Taheri's reporting is accurate, what are we to make of it?

Corner experts, I defer to you.
* * *

See here
9.16.2008 2:26am
A.W. (mail):
Iambatman

> And if the average American, who thinks there was a conspiracy to kill JFK and that Saddam planned 9/11, disagrees with you. It is proof positive that you are factually incorrect!

So... you're okay with bestiality and cannibalism?

By the way, as for your argument that it is okay if people's understanding changes, well, let me show you again how far you have divorced yourself from Dr. King:

> But I'm here to say to you this morning that some things are right and some things are wrong. (Yes) Eternally so, absolutely so. It's wrong to hate. (Yes, That's right) It always has been wrong and it always will be wrong. (Amen) It's wrong in America, it's wrong in Germany, it's wrong in Russia, it's wrong in China. (Lord help him) It was wrong in 2000 B.C., and it's wrong in 1954 A.D. It always has been wrong, (That's right) and it always will be wrong. (That's right) It's wrong to throw our lives away in riotous living. (Yeah) No matter if everybody in Detroit is doing it, it's wrong. (Yes) It always will be wrong, and it always has been wrong. It's wrong in every age and it's wrong in every nation. Some things are right and some things are wrong, no matter if everybody is doing the contrary. Some things in this universe are absolute. The God of the universe has made it so. And so long as we adopt this relative attitude toward right and wrong, we're revolting against the very laws of God himself. (Amen)

As for the rest of your comments.. first, you confuse facts with morality. Second, you again show liberal tolerance and sensitivity that the liberals are so famous for.
9.16.2008 2:56am
iambatman:
I absolutely believe you have a right to be a retard. Sounds like tolerance to me. I am however inclined to be against enshrining your retardation as a governing principle, Chuckles.


"So... you're okay with bestiality and cannibalism?"

No, but congrats on letting your 'tard flag fly. I was simply pointing out that it is fallacious reasoning to say "a large number of people believe X, therefore X is true." I believe if you use your 'tard brain real hard, and make choo-choo train noises while eating breakfast out of your neckbeard, you might think of some moral issue you disagree with a majority of people on, precious.

That's the point.

(Am I really supposed to believe people who went to Yale don't understand what a logical fallacy is?)
9.16.2008 3:27am
iambatman:
But, just for laughs, let's debunk your notion that popular acclaim = morality with a Y/N quiz.

Was slavery (and later, segregation) in the South moral?

Is abortion in *very* secular left European states moral?

Is it moral to pull out of Iraq like a majority of Americans say they believe we should?

A hypothetical: If teh defeatOCRAT Liebrulz (or whatever the hip slang is) win this election and as a consequence radical Islam spreads to all four corners of the globe and becomes the majority worldview, would killing all the Jews become moral?

Remember, this is a yes or no exam? No credit for hemming, hawing, or being a pussy (obviously that would get you an automatic A).
9.16.2008 3:40am
Milhouse (www):
Randy R., care to give your friend's books a plug? Author's name, series title, or a few individual titles?
9.16.2008 5:28am
byomtov (mail):
What about eating libertarians?

If the choice was libertarians or librarians, definitely the former. The latter have a useful role to play in society and would be missed.


True. Also, most libertarians are teenagers, so they're more tender.
9.16.2008 5:56am
loki13 (mail):
metro1,

Really? Reagan? Is that the best you could come up with? Not only was I gracious enough to say that I thought Palin was (politically) a good pick, but I actually pointed to the most recent relevant polls to show you her wide popularity. She is a polarizing figure., and her wide trend line is down. I am sorry you were not aware of that. Unlike, say, a Regaan, she does not have broad (no pun intended) to independents. McCain is more appealing to them.
9.16.2008 8:31am
loki13 (mail):
btw, by wide popularity I did not mean she is widely popular, but rather her popularity (favorable/disfavorable at +4) among the general public.
9.16.2008 8:33am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
byomtov.
Yeah, but you know this "nobody can tell me what I can put into my body" thing? They're hardly organic.
9.16.2008 8:34am
A.W. (mail):
Iambatman

I guess the theme we are developing in this thread is people discrediting themselves. Interesting.

Let's take your postings. Our argument began in a thread on 9-11, where I decried how since then the left had divided America. You argued it was right that had done so.

Then in this thread, I come out against cannibalism and bestiality, and you are upset not because you support those things, but because you think my logic is flawed.

First, in saying that you are hallucinating my reasoning. I never said that all majorities are right all the time. As a good small D democrat I do believe they are usually right, but not always. The Dr. King quote I threw at you should have cleared that up.

So now, you were agreeing with my conclusion (that cannibalism and bestiality is wrong), but hallucinating erroneous logic in reaching the correct conclusion, and how do you express that disagreement? Did you say, "I think you are reaching the right conclusion, but your logic is flawed" or anything half as civil?

No. You responded with anger and playground insults.

So back to our last discussion. Between us, who is dividing us? This thread presented you a golden opportunity to seem like you are reasonable and in search of common ground. And you didn't exactly rise up to that opportunity, did you?

Thus, you have discredited yourself.
9.16.2008 9:47am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Maybe the Volokh Conspiracy should give AW the honor of giving gold stars and negative gold stars to all the posters who "credit" or "discredit" themselves.
9.16.2008 10:16am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
one of many: I mentioned in my 9:32 comment: "If a library can be fully supported by private contributions, then I don't really have a problem with it, even if it's government-run." My preference would still be to say, "Look, why not just go private then?", but I really don't have much to complain about if it takes no money and doesn't regulate anyone. If it only takes a small amount of money, then my problem with it is small, to precisely that extent.

A.W: Heh, decide that someone's a ringer just because he states views, which -- while opposed to yours and definitely out of the mainstream -- are totally comprehensible within the libertarianism that you know I subscribe to? Anyway, yes, it's really me, though I don't know how to prove that to you, short of a blog post saying "Yes, that's me in the comments," which seems excessive to me. Or you could write to me at volokh at post dot harvard dot edu and I'll confirm that it's me. My views are my views, what can I say.
9.16.2008 11:12am
A.W. (mail):
Sasha,

Well, I did say suspect, but how about this challenge instead. Why don't you explain that at your next staff meeting. For fun, you could cater it, too, and see how comfortable they are eating what you offer after you say it. "How is your bacon cheeseburger? By the way, I believe its okay to grind people up, put them into patties and eat them, with cheese and back on top--so long as they consent. How is that burger, btw?"

But really if you think that libertarianism is so radical that it can't even condemn cannibalism just for the fun of it, then that is an indictment on libertarianism. And it is a classic example of getting so wrapped up in a theory that you miss the essence of life.

And, for bonus points, it completely discredits the notion that this is what the founders wanted.
9.16.2008 11:36am
A.W. (mail):
Eh, i shouldn't post this close to lunch. correction above. i wrote:

> with cheese and back on top

meant to write:

> with cheese and BACON on top.

My bad.
9.16.2008 11:39am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
A.W: Um, I'd want consent from the people eating it too! Duh. Seriously though, a view that condemns an innocent practice like consensual cannibalism just on the basis that it seems icky and most people find it revolting (if you had more arguments up there in the comments that I missed, let me know) -- now that's what I find discreditable. That kind of reasoning, and you'll end up opposing other innocent practices like homosexuality on equally ridiculous grounds.

Bonus points: And I care what the founders wanted because...?
9.16.2008 11:44am
Zubon (www):
Considering the number of libraries that have been shown above to possess dozens of copies each of Arming America

Correction: library systems that have that many. The check in Michigan for Arming and Confessions did not show more than one copy at each library, just multiple libraries in a county system that had it. You can argue the value of that given inter-library loan.


I think George Will once called Public Libraries "pork for the articulate" and he's right. Being a "bookworm" is, for the most part, associated with the social classes that don't need public assistance or subsidization in the first place.

It's a mixed bag. Big readers tend to be more educated and therefore more wealthy. Wealthy readers are also more likely to buy books, and the people who are most interested in free books are those who cannot afford them. You see a lot at that end of the economic spectrum. Again using Michigan as an example, some government services have been moved online, and people are encouraged to access them from local public libraries. Many people frequent libraries for free internet access. You also see a lot of students and other young folks at the library, and the young tend to be poorer.
9.16.2008 12:10pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

And, for bonus points, it completely discredits the notion that this is what the founders wanted.


Not really Thomas Jefferson proposed to decriminalize bestiality for probably the same reason that Texas did so before 2003, that it wouldn't make "progress" among mankind. He did this in the same dithering where he grouped sodomy &bestiality together and proposed castration as a punishment for sodomy which was a reduction from execution.
9.16.2008 12:23pm
A.W. (mail):
Sasha,

Well, I didn't say you should actually feed the faculty soylent green burgers, just merely discuss your views in a context that makes them wonder what exactly they are eating.

And as for the founders, I admit I might have grouped you in with those who claim that libertarianism is in the constitution somewhere.

As for the idea that moral revulsion is not a sufficient justification for banning a practice, I would suggest you look in the mirror. The fallacy you are engaged in is the notion that there can ever be a completely rational theory of law or morality, with no leaps in faith or logic. Allow me to demonstrate that you are wrong. The libertarian ideal, as I understand it, is I should be allowed to do whatever I want so long as I don't hurt anyone else. You take that a little further allowing for "harm" that is consensual.

Then I might say, "why should we care whether we hurt anyone else?"

And then you might cite some other principle that this libertarian principle springs from. So maybe you say, "in order to keep our society orderly." That's a common answer, though it might not be your answer.

So then I say, "and why should we care about that?"

My point is not to pin a specific answer to each of my questions on you (that would be the ultimate straw man), but to make the point that each explanation, each link in your chain of logic is based on a prior principle. So you expound principle A, which is based on B, which is in turn based on C, and so on, but at some point you reach the end of the chain of logic, and you have nowhere else to go. And you are forced to say, either "because [insert favorite deity] says so," or just "because it is."

And even in your own enunciated view there is irrationality. What possible relevance could there be that a person didn't want to be eaten after they died? If you are dead, what do you care? It seems strange to me that you believe that the unintelligent human matter of a just-fertilized egg has no rights—and can presumably be eaten, by your logic—but a corpse has the right to veto your menu. Unconsenting fetus burgers ("Stem Cell goodness!:), but only consensual eating of those who were born and later died.

So, yes, my answer to cannibalism is "its wrong because it is wrong." I don't even pretend that it is a principle based on other principles based on yet others. I acknowledge that in every principle of policy, law or moral code, there is a hidden moment of the logical equivalent of spontaneous generation.

The fact you can hide yours in a veneer of logic, doesn't change the fact that the spontaneous generation of principle is in operation behind your claims as much as they are in mine.

Or to put it more succinctly, every syllogism begins with one or more "givens"—that is, things taken for granted. However many links there are in a single syllogism, you have to start somewhere. At some point, however, you reach the original "given," the logical or moral axiom from which all of your claims flow. And when you examine it, you recognize that it is not as rational as you supposed.
9.16.2008 12:33pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
AW: Your relishing in our refusal to embrace the reductio ad absurdum "but that would justify bestiality!" does nothing to tarnish libertarianism as a political philosophy. The majority (if not a majority a strong number) of libertarians are probably socially conservative in their worldview and frown upon things like adultery, homosexuality, bestiality and cannibalism but realize society can still posit those social norms without the need to write them into law. Again I remind you that Jefferson proposed to decriminalize bestiality as many states currently do today without the need for a Supreme Court decision on the matter. And while I don't care about someone's bestial relations as long as they keep it private I do find that and cannibalism icky and have no problem with society peddling as a social norm anti-cannibal (even consensual) or anti-bestial notions.

I find these things entirely different however from homosexuality because, as I noted, a homosexual couple is far closer to a heterosexual couple than a bestial couple or a cannibal. I'm willing to make room folks who hold longstanding traditional religious convictions against homosexuality but not for folks who say "that's icky." But again, as a libertarian if you want to hold that view fine, I'll just frown upon it.
9.16.2008 12:33pm
A.W. (mail):
Jon,

Reducing punishment is not decriminalization.
9.16.2008 12:34pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
I didn't say Jefferson wanted to decriminalize sodomy. He DID want to decriminalize bestiality. Do you want to see the primary source?
9.16.2008 12:35pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
A.W: Of course I agree that everyone's worldview is based on various unprovable axioms, and I didn't mean to suggest that mine is objective while yours is irrational. Just that I find ickiness as a sufficient justification for not doing something, but an insufficient justification for banning a practice. If forced to choose between the non-rational axiom of ickiness and the non-rational principle of freedom and rights, I just prefer the latter.
9.16.2008 12:39pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

The fallacy you are engaged in is the notion that there can ever be a completely rational theory of law or morality, with no leaps in faith or logic. Allow me to demonstrate that you are wrong.


Wow. You sound like an arrogant fool. I wouldn't say this if you said something like this to me, a nobody community college professor (I did, however, write the entry on George Washington for the Cato Institute's Encyclopedia of Libertarianism). But it seems to me that you don't know who you are dealing with.
9.16.2008 12:40pm
byomtov (mail):
Richard,

Yeah, but you know this "nobody can tell me what I can put into my body" thing? They're hardly organic.

True, but they do tend to use organic fertilizer.
9.16.2008 12:42pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Sasha's smackdown at 11:39am is pretty much what I'm talking about. Sorry I got a little mad and engaged in name calling. It's just that what AW was trying to explain in his 11:33am post, Eugene has made this exact point many times (in a much better way). And so has Richard Posner. It would be like me trying to explain to a Supreme Court Justice constitutional law which they know much better.
9.16.2008 12:48pm
iambatman:
Anyone who thinks my posts "discredits" me should try to demonstrate, using *logic* (as opposed to sophistry) how I am wrong.

And yes, I do oppose shoddy reasoning, even if I may agree with the conclusion asserted, that doesn't excuse shitty logic. Since you admit that a majority opinion does not make an act moral or immoral, it is sheer fallacy to try to debate Sasha on those grounds.

So yes, this is a law blog, where (theoretically) logical reasoning is prized, so I'll call a 'tard a 'tard, thank you very much, Neckbeard.
9.16.2008 1:00pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
michael b:

the $1,000,000 earmark requested by Barack Obama for the University of Chicago Hospital, his wife's employer


The NRO article you cited does a nice job of not mentioning that Obama's request didn't pass:

among those that had been killed were his request in 2006 for $1 million for an expansion of the University of Chicago Medical Center


Another important fact you seem to not know: also on Obama's list were earmarks for about eight other Chicago hospitals. And most of those other earmarks were larger.

If he really wanted to help his wife's career, he wouldn't be doing so much to support the institutions that compete with her employer. The facts show that he was advocating for health care in general, and not for one hospital.
9.16.2008 1:27pm
A.W. (mail):
Sasha

> Of course I agree that everyone's worldview is based on various unprovable axioms, and I didn't mean to suggest that mine is objective while yours is irrational.

Well, I have to say you are unique in recognizing that. And I mean that as sincere compliment.

But still, dress it up as you will in axioms of freedom and all that, but you are still saying cannibalism is A-Ok (if its consensual and all that). And bluntly, it does your cause more harm than good. But there isn't much else to say on it than that.

And it would be false on my part to say this was my logic, but I could see how you can build a libertarian case against cannibalism. Imagine a world where people could allow themselves to become food upon death. And imagine further that all moral objections and just plain queasiness is overcome. So then a whole industry would arise, and so on. And so long as it is consensual, and the people getting the food didn't kill the food, by your logic, it is okay.

The problem, the principled libertarian could say, is that by commodifying a human body this way, you run an increasing risk of the profit motive causing people to be murdered for their meat, or for consent to either be forged or falsely obtained, so that inevitably those evils you don't want to see happen do happen and with enough frequency for a principled libertarian to say, "okay, then a complete ban is justified."

Like I said, its not my logic. My logic is "eating people is wrong because it just is." But that is a good and principled way for a libertarian to say "cannibalism is wrong."

Jon

> But it seems to me that you don't know who you are dealing with.

You don't give Sasha enough credit. He is a professor, not king of the realm, and as you can see from our respectful argument, he's not afraid to be challenged and to meet that challenge. Really, I find nothing more annoying here at VC than how many people argue that the people who post in the main channel are infallible and therefore cannot be challenged. They turn on their comments for a reason: because they want us to challenge them. And while no one likes to be wrong, they are open to the possibility that at the end of a thread, they might find themselves agreeing with one of us, and deciding they were wrong in the first place. I respect that in them. You should show them similar respect and get out of your keister-kissing pose.

That, and your little attempt at bragging, is nothing more the inverse of the ad hominem, a.k.a. the appeal to authority fallacy. He is an undeniably intelligent man, but he is wrong on this, and I assure you he will be wrong on something else someday in the future, just as I will be wrong on something sometime, too. There is only one perfect man to have walked on this earth, and he ain't been around for around 2000 years.

Now, if Sasha starts walking on water, healing with a touch, etc., I might reconsider that, but for now, I consider his views challengeable and occasionally wrong.

And your cheerleading is lame and out of place, too.

Iambatman

You know, you are a joke, right? Right?

Do you really think you can act so childish and expect to be taken seriously?

Consider yourself ignored.
9.16.2008 2:03pm
iambatman:
Being ignored by a pussy is better than being ignored *by pussy, a status I am sure AW is used to no matter how much he combs his neckbeard. But if I were a retard I wouldn't try to win a debate using logic either.
9.16.2008 2:20pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
AW: I think I explained myself out of the "appeal to authority" fallacy above. He certainly wasn't wrong in embracing the fallacy which you accused him of. Again, it's like me trying to explain constitutional law to Justice Scalia; that's how you can off.
9.16.2008 2:22pm
A.W. (mail):
Yeah, you keep telling yourself that. But no one respects a sychophant, least of all the sychophant himself.
9.16.2008 2:27pm
LM (mail):
Jon Rowe:

Another thing about cannibalism and I don't know what to make of this is, whereas many animals taste great and smell real good while cooking, I understand that humans taste and smell real bad. Perhaps that signifies an why it would be more unethical to eat humans.

Not unlike the ethical objections to my girlfriend's cooking.

It would be like me trying to explain to a Supreme Court Justice constitutional law which they know much better.

Good luck convincing some commenters around here that Supreme Court Justices know constitutional law at law, much less better than they do.
9.16.2008 2:44pm
LM (mail):
loki,

Does the public like her? You need to get out of your echo chamber. The GOP base loves her. The democratis party base despises her. And the independents are viewing her unfavorably.

I don't know if you're suggesting anything to the contrary, but my understanding is she's politically polarizing, but her personal favorables are a lot broader. If that's wrong, please point me to the polling. I'd really like to see it. Otherwise I'm inclined to agree with Sean Quinn's take at FiveThirtyEight.com.
9.16.2008 2:48pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
A.W: For the record, I think your proposed libertarian argument against cannibalism is quite good. This is precisely how I think good libertarians ought to approach the issue. For instance, I'm a strong supporter of the right to commit suicide, have people help you commit suicide, pay people to help you commit suicide, etc. But there's a libertarian argument against legalized assisted suicide that's concerned about murder dressed itself up as assisted suicide. Same with your proposed libertarian argument against cannibalism: what if people start murdering for the food, and it becomes too difficult for us to tell the true consent cases apart from the murder cases?

Now these arguments aren't open and shut. You can't just claim that this will happen. In particular, one has to exhaust the possibilities short of a ban. For instance, what if we required lots of procedural protections, like someone claiming many times, over a period of time, in front of witnesses, that he wants to commit suicide (or be eaten)? In the context of assisted suicide (where it's legal for terminal conditions), I think some protections like this are required. Some states (I'm thinking the Cruzan constitutional case) require a higher level of proof than usual for showing consent.

But all this is how to structure a _legal_ system. Even if you go through all those hoops, you might convince me that, on libertarian grounds, it's appropriate to ban eating people consensually (or helping them commit suicide). Still, there remains the individual moral point -- suppose it was just you and the other guy, alone, and no one would ever find out. Then, would it be moral? Then all those considerations above are irrelevant, because the two of you can be perfectly agreed that consent exists.
9.16.2008 2:54pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
byomtov.
You know the earliest name for organic fertilizer?
9.16.2008 3:33pm
A.W. (mail):
Sasha

Ah, but here is my critique of your "let it fail first" approach. I think you can rationally say no, I prefer not to let it fail, for the simple reason of risk aversion. That is you could say the outcome of a few people, or even one person being killed for their meat, or merely unconsentingly turned into meat is so horrible that it justifies a complete ban on cannibalism, with the only possible exception being maybe if you are in a plane wreck in the Andes or something like that (think of the movie "Alive"). The fact is, telling a person they can't eat people isn't much of a limitation on their freedom. Even assuming eating human was not revolting, flavor-wise, its not like you don't have a lot of other choices. So this restraint on freedom isn't terribly impactful. I mean really, who is going around saying, "why can't I find one place that serve a decent human burger around here?"

So I am saying that you are leaving out (or not properly accounting for) a risk aversion cost/benefit analysis, which I think solves your logical conundrum of working from only the libertarian axiom. There is little to no benefit to society of being allowed to eat people; there is an unacceptable risk of those horrible outcomes. Even if it is a low risk, the outcome is so horrific that ANY risk is unacceptable.

I will also add that once an industry springs up, it might be hard to then kill it off; it might be hard to put the genie back in the bottle. Slavery, for instance, is evil under any sane philosophy, but because there was money behind it, it was extremely hard to root out. The most telling example of that was in England where they first had to financially destroy the slave-shipping industry, and only after they made it unprofitable could they ban it.

Finally I will refine one comment from last time. I said it would be false before to rely on the libertarian argument against cannibalism that I offered. More like, its not the main or most important reason. It's the icing on the cake of my argument, but the "cake" in my metaphor is the belief that cannibalism is evil and at best might rarely be a necessary evil (i.e. the "Alive" scenario).
9.16.2008 3:50pm
LM (mail):
If cannibalism is morally objectionable, I'd like someone to explain what a number of VC commenters did to Russell Korobkin.
9.16.2008 4:06pm
A.W. (mail):
LM

Re: Russel

Heh.

*Burp*, he was delicious.

In all humor, that was a remarkably poorly written post, imho, but if you want to debate it, let's talk about it in that thread.
9.16.2008 4:20pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
A.W: You're mistaken that my argument is "let it fail first." My argument would support banning the practice ahead of time, without having had any experience with the practice. All that would be required is a good reason to believe that the rights protected thereby (i.e., no murders for eating) would exceed the rights violated thereby (i.e., wrongly stopping consensual cannibalism).

If you believe that a murder-for-eating is SO morally reprehensible that it outweighs ANY wrongly stopping consensual cannibalism, then the argument would justify your banning consensual cannibalism even if the argument that it would foster murder is fairly flimsy.

On the other hand, I don't take so strongly a view about the relative strength of the two. Murder is bad, but restrictions on liberty are also bad, and I don't think consensual cannibalism is any less worthy of respect than any other exercise of people's liberty.

However, what does make a difference to me is that consensual cannibalism would probably be exceedingly rare if it were legal. Therefore, THAT's an argument that would carry weight with me. Banning cannibalism could prevent some murders-disguished-as-consensual-killing, and the innocent killings that it would wrongly prevent would be very few.

So that's an even better libertarian argument for banning consensual cannibalism. However, it's still vulnerable to the following two critiques:

1. I'm still not convinced that a full ban is necessary, when one could just regulate it instead. I'd have to have a reason to believe that regulation -- e.g, requiring better-than-usual evidence of true consent -- wouldn't work just as well (or almost just as well) while still allowing the true consensual killings or eatings (or both together) to go forward.

2. This still doesn't get to the Actual Morality of the deed; it only goes to what should be illegal. This argument is essentially prophylactic -- it argues that we should ban some innocent deeds because it's hard to tell them apart from the not-innocent deeds. But, as I said above, if it's just you and me and no one will ever find out, we still have to face the question whether it's morally acceptable. So if no one would ever find out, I would say it's still wrong to murder someone. But, if it were just you and me and you really consented to be killed and eaten, then it would be fully moral for me to do so.
9.16.2008 4:22pm
A.W. (mail):
Sasha

Well, first, to the extent that I misunderstood you, sorry.

And as for the substance, I suppose we will just have to agree to disagree on that, too. Not all restrictions on freedom are created equal. The fact that we can get along just fine not eating people is proven by the fact that, well, we are. I don't see people craving people (I think Streisand once sang something like "people who crave people are the luckiest people of all..."), I don't see a whole lot of people in jail for mere cannibalism, or evidence of a secret underground movement of it that the police look the other way on. I am sure there is one goofy religion somewhere that will get all bent out of shape, but oh well. You have unlimited freedom of belief, but not practice.

And so you balance that against the threat to human life, and the fear of an entrenched industry of death? Yeah, this isn't a particularly tough call for me.

But then at the bottom it does come down to how you feel about cannibalism. If you don't have a very strong objection to it, the weighting becomes very different. You value the "freedom" to cannibalize more than I do.
9.16.2008 4:54pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

Slavery, for instance, is evil under any sane philosophy, but because there was money behind it, it was extremely hard to root out. The most telling example of that was in England where they first had to financially destroy the slave-shipping industry, and only after they made it unprofitable could they ban it.


This is a terrible example to prove your point. The notion that slavery is evil under any sane philosophy sounds nice, and because I agree slavery is bad everywhere everytime, I'll support your moral assertion. However, the slavery genie was never really "in the bottle" when England had its problem with it. Slavery was one of the oldest cross cultural traditions right next to the family. The Western move to eradicate slavery that only got off the ground in the late 16th early 17th century was extremely novel and anti-traditional. That's why it was so hard to uproot.
9.16.2008 5:03pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

However, what does make a difference to me is that consensual cannibalism would probably be exceedingly rare if it were legal. Therefore, THAT's an argument that would carry weight with me.


This was Jefferson's exact reason why he wanted to decriminalize bestiality but not sodomy. Bestiality could never make any progress with human kind but sodomy could. But, perversely it's also instructive of why homosexuality is not at all like bestiality and does not deserve to be grouped with it, but with heterosexuality. Clearly homosexual orientations are much more deeply ingrained in human nature. And there is lots of evidence of homosexual couples flourishing in their relationships in a way that is a) similar to that of a man and a woman, and b) not at all like ANY kind of bestial relationship could ever be.
9.16.2008 5:10pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
If interested here is the passage where Jefferson proposed bestiality to be decriminalized.


Buggery is twofold. 1. With mankind, 2. with beasts. Buggery is the genus, of which Sodomy and Bestaility, are the species.... [Edward Coke] says "it appears by the ancient authorities of the law that [sodomy] was felony." Yet [a statute of Henry VIII] declares it felony, as if supposed not to be so.... Bestiality can never make any progress; it cannot therefore be injurious to society in any great degree, which is the true measure of criminality in foro civili, and will ever be properly and severely punished, by universal derision. It may, therefore, be omitted. It was anciently punished with death, as it has been latterly.
9.16.2008 5:22pm
A.W. (mail):
Jon

Are you arguing that slavery was not harder to destroy because of the financial interest in it?

There is no doubt that there was a change in our culture in choosing liberation, but especially in England, there was no one saying, "Gosh, isn't slavery wonderful." In England in particular, it wasn't a change from believing slavery was moral to believing it was immoral; it as from being indifferent to the morality, to being concerned with the morality. But even then, they had to kill the money behind it, before they could kill it.

Mark Steyn had a wonderful essay on the culture change involved. http://www.macleans.ca/homepage/ magazine/article.jsp?content =20070319_103231_103231

Remove the spaces and then cut and paste the link. Its really worth reading wholly apart from any point I am making.

And no, slavery was never "in the bottle" in the first place, at least not in recorded human history. But I don't see how that has anything to do with anything. The point was to say its hard to kill a thing like this off.

> This was Jefferson's exact reason why he wanted to decriminalize bestiality but not sodomy.

That source you cite is about as clear as mud on this point. Is everything in the footnotes definitely his words? Hard to say--I would have to study your book more. But let me concede the point for now: I might argue with you about it later.

But as you yourself concede, Jefferson is saying (assuming still it was him), is that he believed that bestiality would remain so taboo that even legalization wouldn't increase it significantly, but that sodomy—which is not necessarily limited to same sex relations—would grow in popularity ("progress"). Rather than enunciating a libertarian view that the state had no right to regulate it, he was making the classic formulation of "the more tempting it is, the harsher the punishment for doing it." So imagine he passes a law allowing bestiality but banning sodomy and then in the next year suddenly everyone had a bovine lover? Then we could safely assume Jefferson would have supported banning it again. That is not libertarianism.

Clearly even Jefferson thought the mere existence of that kind of behavior harmed society and could be regulated. He was just quibbling on the details and you have blown that up into pretending that he supported bestiality. Jefferson is not as radical as you might think.

P.S.: Isn't it exceptionally cool that google makes that book available in its entirety? Google has been creeping me out recently, but I have to hand it to them on this.
9.16.2008 6:03pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Yes, if it's in the public domain you get the whole book (many newer ones aren't because of damned copyright laws).

The Jefferson quote I gave you is valid -- his words. The source I hadn't even seen until today; it was just the quickest one that came up when I typed in the quote, which I've seen authenticated at other places, into google.

I never tried to make Jefferson out to be pro-bestiality, but rather someone who believed bestiality should be decriminalized. This is a marker of libertarianism. Many libertarians, I've noted above, have a socially conservative worldview but do not believe government needs laws to regulate their comprehensive personal moral system.

It should be noted though that Jefferson's take on sodomy WAS a reduction from the common law penalty of execution. AND sodomy laws were invariably used to punish non-consensual acts.

Here is Timothy Sandefur's discussion on the matter where he does find libertarianism in Jefferson's philosophy.
9.16.2008 6:18pm
A.W. (mail):
Jon

Here's the elephant in the room with Jefferson, though. In fact, I held this point back the last time. You are citing a man who treated humans as livestock for the principle that you should be able to have sex with livestock as you would with a human. Let's not forget that he saw African Americans as subhuman, so in his mind, his affair with Sally Hemmings was akin to bestiality. My patriot heart aches to say that, but that is the truth of the matter. And here is the other truth of the matter; its not likely that this sex was consensual either. As much as the modern libertarians likes to cite Jefferson, he was not a libertarian, because he so thoroughly transgressed the other part of the philosophy. The classic libertarian formulation is to say you can do whatever you want so long as you do not harm others, or limit their freedom. He got all the freedom involved, without the limitations. If he chaffed at the limitations on bestiality then doesn't take on as much heft as you might hope for.

Anyway, a man who believes you have a right to harm others, and that you can ban private consensual conduct just because you don't like it is not a libertarian in my book.
9.16.2008 6:31pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

Let's not forget that he saw African Americans as subhuman, so in his mind, his affair with Sally Hemmings was akin to bestiality. My patriot heart aches to say that, but that is the truth of the matter.


You get Jefferson wrong. He didn't believe blacks were subhuman; in fact his Declaration of Independence held the opposite of this. He did hold slaves and believe blacks were genetically different in certain intellectual respects. But he didn't doubt their humanness.

Now, many of the average "Joe Americans" at the time of the Founding, THEY probably believed the DOI only applied to whites, but not Jefferson and the other key Founders.
9.16.2008 6:37pm
Nick B (mail):
The right to try? Sure.
The right to do so? Not so much.
9.16.2008 7:02pm
A.W. (mail):
Jon

> You get Jefferson wrong. He didn't believe blacks were subhuman; in fact his Declaration of Independence held the opposite of this.

I don't dispute that, but later in life, he was racist as hell.
9.16.2008 8:42pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Honestly I don't think his racism (the stuff written in Notes on the State of Virginia) was that unusual for the time period.
9.16.2008 8:54pm
A.W. (mail):
I didn't say it was unusual. But the shining example of Thad Stevens shows you don't have to fall into the failings of your time.
9.16.2008 10:12pm
wfjag:
Dear Jon:

I believe that A.W. has better historical support for his assertions than you do. "Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase" by Roger G. Kennedy (2003), shows that Jefferson's primary sources of income were land speculation in that area of Virginia that later became Kentucky, and selling slaves to western landholders.

A critical review of the book is at Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 111, No. 4, on line at www.vahistorical.org/publications/review_Bernstein.htm by R. B. Bernstein, New York Law School (relation to our DB, unknown).

Anyway, this is part of what Prof. Bernstein's review said:


The "lost cause" of Kennedy's title is Jefferson's vision, which the Virginian memorably articulated in Notes on the State of Virginia, of an ever-expanding agrarian republic of individual yeoman farmers, each tending his own vine and fig tree. Kennedy insists that President Jefferson abandoned that commitment to accommodate the interests of the expanding system of plantation slavery, devoted to such soil-damaging crops as tobacco and cotton. That betrayal helped to bring about an expansionist America that repeatedly damaged the land its land-hungry planters sought to acquire and exploit and that carried within itself the seeds of sectional conflict that threatened its destruction for decades and, in 1861, ultimately plunged the nation into civil war.

So, in judging Jefferson's words, I think that to be fair, you also have to take the position that "actions speak" also. With Jefferson, particularly given the way he treated slaves, you can cynically conclude that his words about all people being created equal was much closer to the "just words" category than a deeply-held-belief-on-which-principled-action-is-based category.

As A.W. notes, Thad Stevens' actions actually reflected his words.
9.17.2008 11:10am
A.W. (mail):
Wfjag

Let me add that I'm not one of those people who single Jefferson out for more scorn. Yes, Jefferson's actions don't match his words, but his words mitigate his atrocious actions.

I believe Jefferson was sincere when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, and intended it to cover African Americans. Hypocrisy? I call it more like his saving grace.

I think for me you can rank it like this.

The unmitigated slaveholders (think John C. Calhoun, William B. Yancey)—very evil.

The unadulterated abolitionists (think Stevens and Owen Lovejoy)—very good. And I would say that even if they were still racists, because regardless of their inaccurate understanding of the facts, they advocated and worked toward the right goals: freedom from slavery and equality before the law.

And then in the middle somewhere is Jefferson, who committed great evil, but did one thing so good it might absolve him of that evil. When this republic was formed, he realized that slavery was evil, and while he were not strong enough to stop his own sin, he made sure his sin didn't stain that founding document. And he set slavery on the path of ultimate destruction. So he kept a few hundred in chains, but his words led directly to freedom for 4 million people, almost a century later. That makes whether he was on balance a good man or a bad one a tougher call.

Which is neither here nor there on our previous points of discussion, but it was kind of raised by wf's comment.
9.17.2008 4:17pm
wfjag:
A.W.

IMO, Jefferson was simply human -- although he wrote better than almost anyone else of his time. A contradiction between words and deeds is fairly common with public and historic figures. To the extent I have an objection to Jefferson, it is in the secular deification of him. He was neither all wise nor perfect. He did, however, accomplish much and left his nation a better place.

Likewise I don't vilify people like Calhoon.

This goes back to a fundamental objection I have with the way history is taught. These were men (and quite a few women) who did good and bad things. I do not, however, see them as much different than people today. In the end they generally made good decisions and improved their society and nation because, among other reasons, they took the time to study history and determine what had and had not worked before. They worked hard, and if they are giants, then it is because they were willing to grow themselves into such. But, such growth is difficult, and painful. There certainly was partisianship, but usually they understood that rank partisianship was destructive and ultimately self-defeating.

That would be a useful lesson for today.
9.17.2008 5:41pm