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Saturday, December 24, 2005
A Little Christmas Eve Madison
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:40 am

This is probably my favorite passage from the Federalist Papers

From Federalist #51:

It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

Note: the context is in the discussion of separation of powers and checks and balances, and in the generic discussion of limiting government and preventing tyranny.

The contemporary context is my general disquietude about ongoing revelations regarding the Bush administration and its focus on security at the expense of adequate consultation with the other branches.

Government does many good things, but its capacity for evil is remarkable. I don’t wish to seem hyperbolic here, and I hardly find myself in the camp with would proclaim the constitution to already be in shreds. Still, it is troubling, and worthy of attention when those in positions of power start to think of themselves as wiser than the established institutions within which they work. It is doubly dangerous when they do so in the name of protecting the people, as the need for security is such that many (both in and out of government) will be seduced by the notion that the bending (if nor ignoring) of the rules is justified because the motivations are worthy.

Even if we assume a best case scenario in terms of motivations, the unmooring of governmental power from proper institutional constraints is always a bad idea. As I have been arguing for several days: if the current rules, procedures, and institutions are inadequate, then let’s have the proper debate and then alter them as needed, within the proper constraints of the system.

Unfettered, unconstrained executive power in the pursuance of security has, in the history of mankind, led to far more disasters than to stirring triumphs. I am not arguing that we are on some headlong fall into dictatorship, but I am arguing that we should be far more cautious in simply assuming that everything that is done in the name of protecting us from terrorists is, by definition, a good idea.

Reasoned, measured consideration is needed, and proper safeguards need to be in place because regardless of which party is in power, we are not governed by angels, but mere human beings. And therefore the issue becomes not how to catch terrorists as much as it is how much power are we, and should we, be willing to vest in mere humans?

Filed under: US Politics, War on Terror, Political Philosophy/ Theory | Comments (2) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Thursday, December 1, 2005
Fifty Years Later
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:04 am

It seems illogical and anti-American that certain persons, because of an abundance of melanin, should have to surrender seats on public transportation to those who are amongst the melanin-deprived.

Yet, nonetheless, fifty years ago today, Rosa Parks was arrested for failing to surrender a bus seat to a white man (she being of darker hue).

So often one looks back and has to ask: what were we thinking? More unfortunately, we often have to ask what some of our fellow citizens still think.

There will be a march in downtown Montgomery to commemorate the day.

Also: Rosa Parks building named today in Detroit.

And remember: more than simple commemorating a single act, or even a specific person, noting this anniversary should remind of us where we were, how far we have come, and lso where we may yet need to go in assuring that we remember we are all human beings, equal in our rights and value.

More on the anniversary:

From the Birmingham News: Boycott’s unsung heroes finally heard.

From the BBC “On This Day” file: 1955: Black woman challenges race law

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Arguing with signposts... linked with An eternal question
Fruits and Votes » Blog Archive » Remembering the courage of Rosa Parks linked with [...] a bus to someone who just happened to be of the more privileged skin color. Recommended: Poliblog’s post this morning. Block where planted: Politics (general) Pro [...]
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Drezner on Schelling
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 11:41 am

Thomas Schelling gets his due from Sweden — but not from Slate

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Saturday, September 24, 2005
Fun with Quizzes
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:33 pm

I didn’t wholly like all the questions, and it seems like there needed to be a fifth “neutral” response category. Plus serious answers would require far more nuance than Strongly Disagree/Disagree/Agree/Strongly Disagree, but still, about where I would put myself, I guess.

Although, ideological labels make me itchy. “Social liberal” really doesn’t describe me, except in the sense that I don’t think that the government ought to be telling citizens what to do on a host of issues. Now, when it comes to what I think is right and wrong, I am far more socially conservative.

For example, I am a praying person who does not believe in school prayer.

If anything, I am a classic liberal-but then again, that all just gets to the linguistic fact that we don’t fully understand the term liberal in our (i.e., US) political discourse.

You are a

Social Liberal
(71% permissive)

and an…

Economic Conservative
(80% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on OkCupid Free Online Dating

Filed under: Political Philosophy/ Theory, Blogging | Comments (11) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

Fruits and Votes linked with Sanders, socialism, and the ideological spectrum
PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » A False Dichotomy linked with [...] ervative” mean both in general terms and in the American political context (although I have noted before that I am not all that happy with those labels). Avoiding that discussion for at least th [...]
» Am I the real “moderate voice”? » Arguing with signposts… » Blog Archive linked with [...] Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid via another “social liberal,” poliblogger Steven Taylor. | RSS | Inlinks | Blogging | Politics • Tim [...]
Saturday, September 17, 2005
Perhaps the Fouth Time…
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:02 pm

Ok, I have finally figured out the main point of contention between myself, Scott Gosnell and Matthew Shugart. (At least I think I have).

I agree with Matthew and Scott that the federal government has the right to collect taxes and then spend that money on items not enumerated in the Constitution, and that the states have the right to refuse that money, at least in theory. As such, the core of federalism is maintained.

My overall objection, which the Byrd Constitution Day requirement brought to fore, is that Congress has been known to abuse this relationship in a way that I think tips the federal scales far more in their direction than ought be the case.

What do I mean by this? Well, it is one thing for Congress to say that, for example, that the federal government will give the states the money to fund the purchases that citizens make under the Food Stamp program so long as the state pays the administrative cost. The federal government, in this case, sees a legitimate public need, but lacks the delivery mechanism at the state level to provide the service, and the cost to develop such an apparatus separate from state institutions would be prohibitive, not to mention a duplication of existing capabilities. The state, on the other hand, has poor citizens in need of assistance, but may not be able to pay for such assistance, yet already has the ability to deliver services directly to citizens. So we end up with a useful policy synergy that involves both levels in our federal system.

States could refuse the offer from the federal government, but there is no good reason to do so. All well and good—although I do think that this element of policy-making and implementation in the United States is poorly taught and poorly understood. Further, it does allow the Congress to involve itself in public policy areas not covered by Article I, Section (neither via the Expressed/Enumerated Powers nor via Implied Powers).

Ok, so what’s my objection and what in the world does it have to do with Robert Byrd and Constitution Day? Well, what I find irksome is when the policy relationship entered into between the state and federal governments can then be used by the feds to adjust its demands on the states. Byrd’s rider in the appropriation bill is just that sort of ex post alteration to the contract (i.e., a generic mandate made on the states that must be complied with, or funds will be withdrawn, but where said mandate had nothing whatsoever to do with the original policy partnership).

This is what Congress did in the 1970s when it mandated a lowering of the speed limit to 55. The states had been receiving highway funds for decades and were highly dependent on the money, and so when Congress said lower the speed limit or lose your highway funds, what choice did the states really have? I would argue none, and I would further argue that that type of action weakens federalism in a way that is not consonant with the Constitution.

In short, the amount of money involved, and the dire need of funds at the state level, means that the federal government can change the terms of the “contract�? at will, at least in practical terms. Sure, the states could stop taking the money and thereby halt the mandate, but that is simply not a realistic option.

So, when Byrd basically threatens to pull funds if states don’t celebrate Constitution Day, I see that an abuse, even if the goal is one that could be considered laudable.

Although, as I noted at Matthew’s place: give Byrd some credit, as he has gotten us to talk about the Constitution!

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Fruits and Votes linked with Federalism and Constitution Day once more
Friday, September 16, 2005
Short(er) Version of My Constitution Day Post
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 5:02 pm

Based on this post at a Knight’s Blog, it may be that I wasn’t wholly clear in my Constitution Day post below.

Setting any normative judgement concerning the evolution of policy making and federalism in the United States, I will say the following:

It is (to me, anyway) profoundly ironic that Robert Byrd has managed to get the whole country talking about the Constitution by using the Congress in a way that has almost nothing to do with the Constitution (at least in terms of direct, actual policy-power granted to Congress): he used the fact that educational institutions get federal funds to leverage those institutions to have Constitution Day events.

I find it ironic, because it is a utilization of federal power that the many of the Founders, especially Madison, would have been horrified by and because careful scrutiny of Byrd’s actions reveals a lot about how policy-making and federalism in the US has evolved in ways not wholly in keeping with either spirit or the letter of our Constitution.

This is simply fact, and should not construed as endorsing Alan Keyes’ ideas of returning to 19th Century federalism. However, I do think that citizens need to understand the fiscal nature of federalism in the current era, as it has clearly enhanced the power of Congress.

There is more to say about Scott’s post, but I will leave at that for the nonce.

(Part of today’s OTB Traffic Jam).

Filed under: US Politics, Political Philosophy/ Theory | Comments (5) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

Random Fate linked with Constitutional irony
A Knight’s Blog » Happy Constitution Day — Again linked with [...] hole train rolling. . . . Steven Taylor continues to answer my previous post and examine (here and here) the problems “inherent in the system” of allowing Congress to use federal (taxpayer [...]
Thursday, September 1, 2005
Hobbes Returns
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:17 am

Via the NYT: Police and Owners Begin to Challenge Looters

Across New Orleans, the rule of law, like the city’s levees, could not hold out after Hurricane Katrina. The desperate and the opportunistic took advantage of an overwhelmed police force and helped themselves to anything that could be carried, wheeled or floated away, including food, water, shoes, television sets, sporting goods and firearms.

Many people with property brought out their own shotguns and sidearms. Many without brought out shopping carts. The two groups have moved warily in and out of each other’s paths for the last three days, and the rising danger has kept even some rescue efforts from proceeding.

While certainly disasters bring out the best in man, so too do they often bring out the worst.

And if looting isn’t bad enough, some idiots are shooting at military helicopters, which has caused a suspension of the evacuation of the Superdome.

Further, people in local hotels were rushing the buses intended for the Superdome evacuees, according to NPR.

No doubt more and more people still in the city will start to panic and further, some of the looting is likely linked to people looking for food and water.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005
But Does He Drag His Knuckles?
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 2:40 pm

Sully has tagged Steve Bainbridge as a paleocon.

Steve ain’t none too happy.

I can’t say I blame him.

I personally am not fond of simplistic ideological labelling, and of the things one might want to be called, “paleocon” is waay down my personal list.

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Friday, August 19, 2005
Comparable Worth
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 1:22 pm

It would seem that a number of folks (for example: here, here, and here-and some others I have seen, but did not make note of) are unaware of what the term “comparable worth” means.

Comparable worth DOES NOT MEAN that men and women should be paid the same in the same job. It means that men and women in DIFFERENT, but somehow “comparable,” positions should be paid identically. For example, if most of the groundskeepers at a particular business are males and most of the janitors are female, but the groundskeepers make more than the janitors, then equalization should occurs in pay-that is the essence comparable worth.

Here’s a simple definition from Britannica online

Comparable worth is the principle that men and women should be compensated equally for work requiring comparable skills, responsibilities, and effort. The concept, also referred to as sex equity or pay equity, was introduced in the 1970s by reformers seeking to correct inequities in pay for occupations traditionally held by men and women. Following Congressional passage of the Equal Pay Act (1963), which required that men and women receive “equal pay for equal work,” wages for occupations in which most working women were concentrated continued to lag behind those for comparably skilled but predominantly male occupations. Efforts to correct such discrepancies through legislation have met with skepticism from those who object that application of the principle interferes with the operation of a free market and that the worth of an occupation is not absolute and cannot be compared.

One may find this to be a laudable concept. However, it is a controversial one, as it is radically difficult to determine exactly what “comparable skills, responsibilities, and effort” means. Exactly how does one operationalize those concepts, and any such operationalization will be debatable. What really takes more effort, being a janitor or a groundskeeper? How do we know? Maybe the groundkeepers are harder to find, and that’s why they get paid more, among any number of other potential reasons.

Regardless of one’s position, it needs to be made clear: being against “comparable worth” is not the same thing as being opposed to men and women being paid the same for the same job.

Understand: if Roberts was in favor of women getting less than a man for the exact same job, I would find such a position offensive. However, the notion that rectification of pay inequity between the genders requires a construct which somehow provides equivalencies across jobs is simply problematic, in my opinion. First, it vitiates basic market forces, which dictate price, including the price of labor. Second, it is difficult to accomplish and is lawsuit-fodder extraordinaire.

Also: Professor Bainbridge has a post on this subject (i.e., comparable worth) from a few days ago that I missed, but is worth reading.

Likewise, Amy Ridenour has a lengthy post on this topic.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005
T.O.: Member of the Proletariat
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 11:10 am


Terrell only asks what every other worker in America asks for, respect and dignity.

That, and about $10 million a year.

Workers of the world, unite!

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Friday, August 12, 2005
More on ID, Evolution and Epistemology
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:23 am

Fellow blogging Troy University Professor Scott Nokes has a very nice post on the rhetoric in the ID/evolution debate. Of course, I like it because it harmonized well with what I was trying to get across the other day-i.e., that at the root of the entire debate is how we know what we know and the fact that we use the ID/evolution debate as a proxy war for other issues.

As Scott rightly notes:

All the rhetoric I have seen on the issue thus far is destructive. Both sides suffer from terminal hubris. [a nice alternative version of what Megan McArdle was saying the other day-Ed.]


In the end, there is no debate about biology or faith – just some angry mobs demanding people choose sides, and ignoring epistemology.

And yes, I know that some do engage in actually debate, but the public “discourse” on this topic does tend to be as Nokes describes-which is unusual on a topic wherein most of the partisans on both sides simply know that they are right and that the other sides is utterly wrong.

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Pros and Cons » Intelligent Design witchhunt at the Smithsonian: linked with [...] Details here. So, Dr. Steven “Why Can’t We All be Friends” Taylor (here) and Graham “There’s really no controvery here” Whatever-your-last-name-is (a previous [...]
Friday, August 5, 2005
The ID Brouhaha
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:13 pm

Megan McArdle says some reasonable things about the ID debate, including something that echoes my own feeling on the general evolution busines quite nicely:

one of the things that irks me is that most of the people I know who believe in evolution believe in it on the same basis that most creationists I know (yes, I do know some) believe that the world was created in six days: because their friends and family, and a couple of authority figures they respect, believe it is so. The contempt those self-identified illuminati display for those with a more traditional brand of religious belief is cruel self-parody.


Setting the debate about science and religion, epistemologically there really is little difference between your lay person who adheres to an evolutionist position and a lay person who adheres to a religious/ID version of origins.

I would also note that both sides tend to argue from the position that they hold “truth” in their very hands, and therefore don’t want to listen, at all, to the other side-which is a shame and is counter-productive.

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Pros and Cons » Intelligent Design witchhunt at the Smithsonian: linked with [...] Details here. So, Dr. Steven “Why Can’t We All be Friends” Taylor (here) and Graham “There’s really no controvery here” Whatever-your-last-name-is (a previous [...]
PoliBlog: Politics is the Master Science » More on ID, Evolution and Epistemology linked with [...] ate. Of course, I like it because it harmonized well with what I was trying to get across the other day-i.e., that at the root of the entire debate is how we know what we know and the fact that [...]
Monday, July 4, 2005
Happy Fourth of July
By Steven L. @ 9:12 am

A celebratory link in honor of the Fourth: The National Archives.

This is an incredible site with information on the creation of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and more. It also has background and analysis of the documents, plus information regarding the Founders.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005
On Natalee Holloway, God’s Sovereignty and Luck
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:54 am

(A little deviation into theology this morning. One could also subtitle this: “Yet More Reasons Why I am not a Calvinist�?)

Over at Pros and Cons I noted a debate that started over God’s sovereignty, the issue of luck and Natalee Holloway’s disappearance. It boils down to a discussion of one of the basic tenets of Calvinism: God’s sovereignty and what that may mean. If taken to its logical conclusion, it vitiates the idea of free will. Since I believe that man has free will, I reject a concept of God’s sovereignty that equates to God being directly responsible for all actions.

The debate stars thusly. Bart Harmon notes:

My question is, if the Bible teaches that God is totally sovereign (assuming you believe the Bible), is there any room left for “horribly bad luck?�?

My answer is, of course not.

He then goes to cite a number of Bible verses that support God’s sovereignty.

Sean Farell responds:

I think it is reasonable to believe that God permits a lot of things to happen that are contrary to His will. Otherwise it’s hard for me to understand how we could have free will. Therefore, I think it is reasonable to say that some things happen by chance. If I flip a penny and it comes up tails, it is not necessarily because God decided to aim Abe’s image downward. The coin will obey physical laws that God created, and I’m certain God knew beforehand how the coin would land. But the actual toss is not totally under His control (by His own design).

Bart has a response here.

First off, I would say that part of the problem with this conversation to this point in the infusion of the idea of “luck�?—bad or otherwise. Luck presupposes a certain randomness to an event that cannot be fully explained. If person A is in place B and encounters bad person C it isn’t about randomness, in the true sense of the word. And the way that persons A and C interact while at place B isn’t random and without explanation. Hence, the situation with Natalee Holloway was the result of a series of choices made by numerous individuals. It wasn’t just “bad luck�? or “chance.”

The probability that something bad will happen to me increases if I am out and about town at 1:30am versus being at my hotel in bed. Further, if I am at a place were people are getting intoxicated, my chances of harm also increases. If I leave said place with people I barely know, the chances further increase. And so forth. It isn’t about luck, good or bad. It is about choices people make (and not just Natallee’s, but the choices made by whomever it was who did whatever was done to her). I am not stating that Natalee is directly responsible for what ultimately happened to here, but to argue that her actions didn’t contribute is simply incorrect. As a matter of simple fact, had she gone to bed early that night, she wouldn’t be missing right now. I am not saying that was necessarily what she should have done, per se, but noting that the choices we make dictate the probability of certain outcomes occurring in our lives. Life is not random in that sense. Indeed, I would argue that life is never truly “random”.

Keep in mind, random means that all event are equally likely—such as the fact that there is a 1 in 6 chance of a die coming up a certain number when rolled. Not all events are equally likely to happen to all of us. I drive almost 40 miles to work one way every day. My chances of getting in a car wreck are therefore far higher than someone who drives 5 miles each way to work each day.

Such is life.

Also: I think Bart misses Sean’s point about coin flipping. The point of bringing up coin flipping isn’t that God makes decisions on the flip of a coin, but rather that coins flip within the context of the natural laws of the universe, i.e., the law of gravity and so forth. God, therefore, doesn’t concern himself directly with each flip of each coin, exercising his sovereign power over each turn of the coin in the air. He set up the rules, and he lets the coin function within those rules.

So, too, I would argue, does He do with human beings. While He has the power and right to intervene (hence the Pharaoh example from Exodus), I see no logical or theological reason to extrapolate that example as a general model for explaining human behavior or the functioning of the universe or of God’s role in that universe. That God can intervene in the normal flow of affairs does not mean that God does intervene and direct everything that happens.

If He does, and this gets to the heart of at least one reason why I do not subscribe to Calvinist theology, then not only does the entire concept of faith go out the window logically, it also means that God is responsible, directly, for every single thing that happens on the face of the Earth. Not only does that put the concept of good and evil on its head (if God directs all acts specifically, how can we call any of them evil?) and means that I, as a man, have no room to criticize anything that happens or to complain (because if God specifically wanted X to happen, who am I to get upset about it or question it?). There is no reason to be upset about Terri Schiavo, or Supreme Court rulings or the Holocaust, for that matter, because, if God directs all things, He ordained those things for His reasons.

And really, if that’s the case, what’s the point of anything?

No, I think that we have free will to act and to choose and that sometime we choose rightly, and sometimes we choose wrongly—and some choose very wrongly. We operate within a system of established rules, like the aforementioned coin, but our every move is not preordained and controlled. Again, if that were true, what is the point of anything that we do or think?

Filed under: Political Philosophy/ Theory, Religion | Comments (6) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

PoliBlog: Politics is the Master Science » More Theology linked with [...] mp over to my post on God and the weather over at Pros and Cons. This fits into something I posted here on PoliBlog several weeks back and is part of a topic I plan to return to. [...]
Pros and Cons » Joining the Theological Battle (So to Speak) linked with [...] on God’s sovereignty, luck and free will has elicited a response. I have posted it here. I suppose the can of worms should be considered open. Scott and I started to discuss Calvinism at a res [...]
Friday, June 3, 2005
The Political Ethics of Star Wars
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:03 pm

Robert Hayes takes on the political ethics of the Star Wars universe in an essay over at the Blogger News Network. It is quite interesting, and worth a read. It is a good illustration of the shallowness of Lucas’ writing and reminds me yet agian of how good a story this could have been had better writing (and more thought) been utilized.

He raises some legitimate points about both the Republic and the Empire. The politics of the Republic make no sense. As I mentioned in my own review of Attack of the Clones how can there be a 1000 (indeed 1000s)-world political system, but no standing army? Exactly how does the Senate work? As Hayes notes, is it really “democracy” when Senators seem to be appointed, and at least in the case of Naboo (ugh, what a name) and Alderaan, are representative of monarchies?

And in regards to the Empire, most of what we see in terms of evil-ness comes in the form of fighting the rebellion (that and wearing black and speaking with menacing voices).

Imagine if the politics of the Republic and the Empire had actually been thought out and well developed-how much better would the story have been? What if the behavior of the Jedi in episode I-III made sense?

Robert comes to the following conclusions, for which he does give some interesting supporting evidence:


The Jedi are (were), basically, selfish and evil.

The Empire is (was), basically a normal human political entity, flawed but not unredeemable.

George Lucas has a moral compass that’s about 90 degrees skewed from what most of us would consider right.

I really don’t think that Lucas’ moral compass is the problem, per se, as much as is his infantile writing: the movies, despite the fact that they do have a strong compelling element, are constructed so as to say: the good guys are good because they wear white and we say that they are good, and the bad guys are bad for the opposite reasons. To be fair, the movies were supposed to be homages to the serials of the 1930s, which were hardly complex literary presentations. However, that works for one movie, it may even work for three, but one one has the chance to add nine hours to a saga that are supposed to explain the other nine, then one’s get-out-of-simplicity free card has been revoked.

Filed under: Pop Culture, Movies, Political Philosophy/ Theory, SciFi | Comments (13) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

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