The Elfin Ethicist LeTourneau University blogger Liberal arts student - history/political science Business student Political orphan Indeed
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3 November 2006 - Friday


I have decided that it is time for me to discontinue The Elfin Ethicist. In fact, I knew several months ago that I would end it around this time.

I began blogging early in my undergraduate career, while I was still a teenager. (That was probably a mistake.) Over the months, The Elfin Ethicist has revealed my moments of creativity and boredom; fear and optimism; irritation and joy; pretentiousness and silliness; and immaturity and, I hope, some growth in understanding. My audience has changed as I have changed, and the site seems to serve a different purpose now from what it once did, if any at all.

Interestingly enough, my subtitle is more appropriate than ever.

Because The Elfin Ethicist bears the scars of my undergraduate years, because it no longer has a clearly defined target audience, because of my desire for a clean break as I begin my graduate studies, and because I anticipate having little time or confidence to post this year, I am stopping now.

Of course, I do not anticipate leaving the blogosphere entirely. I will still be reading weblogs and commenting occasionally. And someday, I may start writing for the web again.

Goodbye, everyone. It's been interesting.

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2 November 2006 - Thursday

History Carnival XLII

The forty-second History Carnival has been posted at Holocaust Controversies. This edition has Pilgrims and castles and lawyers and suffrage and all sorts of other good things.

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1 November 2006 - Wednesday

Being a good neighbor

A couple of weeks ago, I decided I should buy a large bag of cheap candy. I consider myself, after all, a reasonably civic-spirited sort of chap, and it occurred to me that I might get Halloween visitors this year. They might expect candy.

However, I am also a citizen of deep moral conviction. I simply could not encourage the youth of this city to participate in such a wicked, not to mention dentally dangerous, celebration. And I don't particularly like visitors anyway. So last night, I turned off both my inside lights and my porch light to discourage anyone ghoulish from dropping by.

So now I still have this great big bag of candy. Civic-spiritedness should work out this well for everyone.

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The burden of proof

Quick background: in 1793, shortly after Louis XVI was beheaded, France and Britain went to war. Many British reform advocates were sympathetic in varying degrees with the French cause. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, then a moderate liberal in his early twenties, published a lecture entitled "On the Present War." In it, he protested the war with France and the related abridgements of British liberties (including the suspension of habeas corpus).

A few lines in this lecture caught my attention when I read it earlier this week.

But its total Causelessness must be proved: -- as if the War had been just and necessary, it might be thought disputable whether any Calamities could justify our abandonment of it. On a subject so universally discussed it would be a vain endeavour to adduce any new argument. The War might probably have been prevented by Negociation: Negociation was never attempted. It cannot therefore be proved to have been a necessary war, and consequently it is not a just one.
Challenged to show that the British war with France was unjust, Coleridge simply transfers the burden of proof to his opponents. Because they failed to exhaust the alternatives before going to war, they failed to prove the war just; therefore, the war is automatically unjust.

Of course, every time a nation goes to war, somebody is prepared to claim that the war was necessary and unavoidable -- even if it was a war "at a time and place of our choosing." But what actually goes into proving that? Are not our standards of evidence and our judgments about probability a crucial part of determining whether a war is conscionable, especially in democratic societies, where the war must eventually be justified before the people?

So Coleridge's remark got me thinking that it would be interesting to reframe just war theory in terms of probability and evidence. Sure, it's wonderful to declare that a war must be necessary to be just -- but how do we actually determine necessity? And how do we -- the citizens who are ultimately responsible for the actions of our government -- determine whether the war is waged with "right intention" or "proportional means"?

I'm not sure that I am saying anything useful. It's just a hazy notion I got while rushing through a school assignment.

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31 October 2006 - Tuesday

Reverse EULA


IMPORTANT-READ CAREFULLY: This Producer License Agreement ("PROLA") is an agreement between you (as a legal agent of __________, hereafter "COMPANY") and __________ (hereafter "CONSUMER"), for any products purchased by CONSUMER from COMPANY.

Opening the envelope containing this letter constitutes acceptance of this PROLA. By accepting this PROLA, you agree that COMPANY will terminate immediately any End-User License Agreement ("EULA") associated with any product purchased by CONSUMER, without terminating the latter's right to possess and use the products purchased. If you do not agree to the terms of this PROLA, COMPANY must immediately surrender to CONSUMER its copyright and any other intellectual-property title to the products in question.

By accepting this PROLA, you further agree that COMPANY will not use CONSUMER's name in any legal correspondence or court filings.

This PROLA is governed by the laws of the Isle of Sark, Channel Islands. Should any legal proceeding result from this PROLA, you agree that COMPANY waives its right to trial by a jury consisting of anyone other than CONSUMER's immediate family and intimate friends. Should any portion of this PROLA be held invalid or unenforceable by any legal authority, this will not affect the enforceability of any other provision of this PROLA.

Inspired by a suggestion here.

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30 October 2006 - Monday

Selected scenes at Syracuse

For once, the weather was good for photographs this morning, so I took a few pictures of my part of campus -- while we still have leaves left.

The university's department of public safety uses this building.

Continue reading "Selected scenes at Syracuse" . . .

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21 October 2006 - Saturday

Reading list

Terry Eagleton excoriates Richard Dawkins for "philistinism and provincialism."

Richard N. Haass believes we are entering a new era of Middle Eastern history -- an age in which Western powers are losing influence as local radicals gain power.

Peter Berkowitz disparages George Lakoff's attempt to distinguish between liberal and conservative views of freedom in America.

National Review's Jonah Goldberg admits that the Iraq war was "a worthy mistake."

Update: An early modern edition of Carnivalesque is up at Recent Finds Weblog.

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18 October 2006 - Wednesday

Muslimism again rears it head

Is our leaders knowledgeable?

Take Representative Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who is vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence.

"Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?" I asked him a few weeks ago.

Mr. Everett responded with a low chuckle. He thought for a moment: "One's in one location, another's in another location. No, to be honest with you, I don't know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something."

To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. "Now that you’ve explained it to me," he replied, "what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area."

Via The Agitator.

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17 October 2006 - Tuesday

A state of fear

It's been a long time since I last visited the "conservative news and community" site RedState. Here is the sort of thing I've been missing:

Why hasn't American clerics enacted a Fatwa against any Muslim who commits an act of terror? Because we are not retaliating in any way against Muslims. We should threaten that if any American Muslims are caught, and they already have been caught, planning a terror attack or committing a terror attack then we are going to deport all Muslims. Yes, you heard me deport all Muslims. Then you can bet there would be fatwas against terrorist.

In WWII we rounded up Japanese, Italians and Germans in this country, so why are we allowing Muslims to run free during this war on radical Islam? Yes the Left has gotten everyone brainwashed about the internment camps during WWII. It was not all Japanese and they were places that many people didn't even want to leave when the war was over.

In this war it makes even more sense to either make American Muslims stand up against Islamic terrorists or get out.

(Via ITL)

Meanwhile, in real life:

"Muslim Americans Condemn Attack" (11 September 2001 -- statements by American Muslim Political Coordination Council, American Muslim Alliance, American Muslim Council, American Muslims for Jerusalem, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Minaret of Freedom Institute, and Shari'a Scholars Association of North America, among others)

"(fill in the blanks to be used as press release)" (11 September 2001)

"Response from the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) to the tragedy of September 11th" (14 September 2001)

"Our Categorical and Unequivocal Condemnation of Crimes Against Humanity" (20 September 2001)

"American Muslim Military Participation in the War Clarified by American Muslim Scholars" (11 October 2001)

"A Muslim's Anguish in the Midst of the Attack on America" (30 November 2001)

"American Muslims and Scholars denounce Terrorism" (9 September 2002)

"Kill us, too: We are also Americans" (10 September 2006)

And just for fun:

"Muslims endorse Gov Bush" (23 October 2000. Remember this? In the 2000 presidential race, the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council endorsed George W. Bush -- because of his positions on social and foreign policy, as well as because of his opposition to the use of secret evidence in deportation hearings.)

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15 October 2006 - Sunday

History Carnival XLI

The forty-first History Carnival is up at ClioWeb. Among the entries:

Andy F. Brian tells the sad, sad tale of Indiana Jones' denial of tenure. >>

Mark Grimsley has challenged his readers to decide which fields should be represented on a 15-member history faculty. >>

Tim Abbott notes that Willie and Joe, Bill Mauldin's cartoon GIs, had a rocky career after the Second World War ended. >>

Blogger "Gracchi" critiques Bailyn critiquing Berlin critiquing utopians. >>

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7 October 2006 - Saturday

But have you read Vizzini?

Barista 1: "You ever read The Republic, by Plato?

Barista 2: "Sure."

Barista 1: "I just got through reading it."

Barista 2: "Good book, huh?"

Barista 1: "Yeah, lotta good stuff. Smart guy."

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6 October 2006 - Friday

Two constitutionalisms in the 18th century

Three theories competed to explain the British constitution in the 18th century: divine right, the original contract, and the ancient constitution.

Most of us are familiar with the "divine right of kings," of course, so I won't bother to elaborate on that. The second theory in this list, the "original contract," was the belief that the British constitution was the result of a social compact, an agreement by which the people had handed over some of their freedom to a government so that it would protect their interests. Last, the "ancient constitution" was the belief that Britain was governed according to venerable customs; the people had liberties, but these liberties were theirs because of historical precedent rather than because of natural rights.

According to H.T. Dickinson, the first of these theories began losing importance after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and had largely disappeared from British thought by the middle of the 1700s. The second, articulated most notably by John Locke around 1690, gained the support of some radicals in the second half of the 18th century but was not very influential in the first half. The last theory, the ancient constitution, was the only one to receive "overwhelming support" during the 1700s, even among Whigs.

Yet although the original social contract was a minority view in Britain, it seems to have had widespread following on the other side of the Atlantic during the same period. Bernard Bailyn notes that Enlightenment natural-rights theorists, including John Locke, were so widely accepted by the time of the American Revolution that "everyone, whatever his position on Independence or his judgment of Parliament's actions, cited them as authoritative." Right up to the time that independence was declared, American loyalists rarely rejected the views of Locke, Montesquieu, Voltaire, "or even Rousseau"; in fact, sometimes they cited Locke to justify their loyalism. By the 1760s, it seems, the colonists generally accepted a contractarian account of government -- a view that was still relatively unusual in the home country.

I'm going to cite several 18th-century American sermons and political pamphlets to illustrate that discrepancy and trace the influence of the social contract theory in the colonies during the century. I think I have an explanation for the early and widespread acceptance of contractarianism in America. Two factors in particular seem to be responsible for allowing the language of contract to capture the colonial imagination so easily: Puritan covenant theology in New England, and colonial experiences with self-government. These elements facilitated the enthusiastic reception of Lockean ideas, and thereby helped to create a distinct American view of the British constitution.

Continue reading "Two constitutionalisms in the 18th century" . . .

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5 October 2006 - Thursday


Listening to the radio this morning, I heard a comment that President Bush made at a fundraiser yesterday. This comment intrigued me, so I pulled up the transcript.

The speech wanders here and there, taking lots of shots at "the Democrats," particularly in their effeminate response to terrorism and their total inability to comprehend how important it is that we continue to win decisively in Iraq. I'm not going to get into that again right now.

Here's what caught my attention when I heard it:

We believe strongly that we must take action to prevent attacks from happening in the first place. They [the Democrats] view this election -- they view the threats we face like law enforcement, and that is, we respond after we're attacked. And it's a fundamental difference.
It is not entirely clear what President Bush thinks the alternative to law enforcement is. In my experience, however, when Republicans repudiate a law-enforcement approach to counterterror, they do so in favor of a specifically military approach.

Assuming that the president has this dichotomy in mind, I think he is mistaken about the methods of both law enforcement and the military.

First, the law-enforcement model for counterterrorism does not at all preclude prevention. Nothing stops a police agency from disrupting a criminal conspiracy before it carries out its plans. In fact, this happens all the time, and this is exactly what the Democrats seem to want to happen in counterterrorism operations. Planning to commit a terrorist act is a crime under American law; the police do not have to wait for an attack to occur.

Second, there is no reason to believe that a military model necessarily involves prevention; if anything, military force is less likely (in governments with any sort of scruple) to be used preventively. Traditionally, it is the police who engage problems as they develop, while the military waits for the shooting to start. The former serve as a deterrent by finding and imprisoning conspirators; the latter by standing around looking lethal. And that's precisely why I favor the law-enforcement model.

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4 October 2006 - Wednesday

Reading list

In the current issue of The American Conservative, John Zmirak tries to combat the polarization of American politics by asking both parties to play an uncomfortable game of Let's Pretend. (HT: Caelum et Terra)

Crooked Timber's famous academic blogroll is now a wiki with its own URL.

Teachers happen because of the example of other teachers. Mark Grimsley got a chance to say thank you to one of his.

A Non-Philosopher's Guide to Philosophical Terms. (HT: Siris)

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2 October 2006 - Monday

Recent legislation

29 September 2006, at 2:47 p.m.:

Congress passed the Military Commissions Act. Among other things, this law bars foreign prisoners from our court system:

No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.
In other words, once a noncitizen is accused of being an enemy combatant, he or she may be imprisoned indefinitely, and no court on earth will be allowed to intervene.


6:31 p.m. that same day:

The House of Representatives passed the Private Property Rights Implementation Act. This bill, if also passed by the Senate, will

simplify and expedite access to the Federal courts for injured parties whose rights and privileges under the United States Constitution have been deprived by final actions of Federal agencies or other government officials or entities acting under color of State law, and for other purposes.
In other words, this act will make it easier for people to sue in federal court to protect their property from eminent domain.


The first bill passed the House by a vote of 250-170. The second bill passed the House by a vote of 231-181. For the most part, the representatives who voted for the first one also voted for the second.

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History Carnival XL

The fortieth History Carnival is up at Old is the New New. This edition uses Dave Davisson's recent Patahistory Manifesto as a theme. (Host Rob MacDougall strikes me as a very patahistorical thinker, which may or may not be an insulting thing for me to say.)

On the 29th of last month, Axis of Evel Knievel celebrated the 68th birthday of "the worst historical analogy ever" -- and offered a helpful reinterpretation of the event, to boot. >>

David Tiley describes a utopian group called the Panacea Society and the mysterious sealed box it claims to guard. >>

Bill DeRouchey runs a weblog on the history of the button. >>

Gus Van Horn remembers last year's evacuation of 2.5 million Houston residents. >>

As always, there's lots more to see at the carnival itself.

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29 September 2006 - Friday

There's a new edition coming out

You scored as A college textbook. You're an authority on something, you just know it. Everyone else does, too, but that doesn't mean they like you. Since you think very highly of everything you say, you charge a pretty penny to entertain your listeners. Those forced to pay do so grudgingly and try to defray the costs of learning from you by selling portions of their access to your charms to others. As a result of this speedy dissemination of your knowledge, you constantly add to your repertoire--and then hike your price. Despite your usefullness, which is rarely in doubt, nobody likes you. They find you didactic, boring and irrelevant--but still necessary.

A college textbook


A coloring book


A paperback romance novel


The back of a froot loops box


A classic novel


An electronics user's manual




Your Literary Personality
created with

Via Jared, who is (appropriately enough) a classic novel.

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Photos from a museum.

In Cambodia.

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