Michael Brendan Dougherty Has Said It Well

Regarding Mike Huckabee’s have-it-both-ways answer to the question of whether Jesus would support the death penalty, MBD says, “Basically, he’d kill them but he’d cry about it afterwards.” When asked tonight — and earlier when asked at the Morgan State University debate in Baltimore — Huck said that he supports the death penalty but feel really bad about it, since he’s actually had to execute prisoners (not personally, of course) as governor of Arkansas. The particular question he was asked tonight, however, and which Anderson Cooper reiterated and pressed Huck upon, was whether Jesus would support capital punishment. For all that Huck put on his “serious face” and wrung his hands about his decisions as Arkansas governor, when pressed he evaded the question by cracking a joke: Jesus was smart enough not to get into politics, he said. Funny, but why not answer the question? Presumably because an honest answer wouldn’t have served Huck’s political interests.

I’ve come around on capital punishment. I used to be for it, and in my gut I still am. But the gut is not the place for careful consideration of life-and-death matters. I changed my mind after thinking about the criticisms of capital punishment that John Paul II and Benedict XVI have made and asking myself whether it could ever be right to take the life of a man who is not in a position to pose a threat to anyone. The deterrent effects of capital punishment are debatable, and other countries have been able to control their crime problems without resort to the death penalty. There are other, I think better, cases to be made for capital punishment on moral grounds — that it’s the proportionate punishment for the crime, for example. But confronted with a choice between the principle of proportionality on the one hand and the principles of mercy and of precedence on the other (by precedence I mean that God has a higher claim to a man’s life, even a criminal’s life, than the State can ever have) I think the Christian should side with mercy and precedence.

Of course, there’s a overwhelmingly compelling secular reason to oppose capital punishment as well. If Mike Huckabee, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and the great mass of the American people all support a policy, it must be very bad indeed.


Uncooked Thoughts on Tonight’s YouTube Debate

I think Ron Paul should talk more about cutting taxes — he deservedly got good applause for talking about abolishing the Departments of Energy, Education, and Homeland Security, but he was almost upstaged by Huckabee — Tax-Hike Mike — who proposed abolishing something Americans despise much more, the IRS. Huckabee is a big government, tax and spend liberal. Ron Paul, and for that matter even the other candidates, should not be conceding any applause lines for cutting taxes to him.

I still like Thompson’s jokes, and what I like even better is that Thompson looks like he might die in office if elected. So I think Thompson would be my second choice, a distant second after Paul.

Romney continues to be the sleaziest and weaselliest candidate. His response when confronted about his abortion flip-flopping almost sounded sincere — he said he had been mistaken to favor abortion rights and that if the public wants someone who has never made a mistake, he’d be the wrong candidate. But in light of his later responses about gays in the military and waterboarding, it’s pretty clear that Romney is only able to answer the abortion question adequately because he’s focus-grouped it and come down on which position is most advantageous for himself. Anderson Cooper did good work by keeping the pressure on Romney to give a straight answer about his past remark that he looks forward to the day when gays and lesbians can serve openly in the armed forces. Cooper asked Romney whether he still looked forward to that day, and all the slimy ex-governor could do was hem and haw and say that the day hasn’t arrived and that he’d defer to whatever the generals told him. (Which is not a good answer from the point of view of civilian-military relations. Gays or no gays in the military, that’s not a call for the generals to be making.) Romney’s answer on waterboarding was similarly equivocal and disingenuous: he said he was firmly against torture, but he doesn’t know what tactics, including waterboarding, may or may not be torture. McCain, who actually does have some gravity on this issue (even if he can’t be trusted), made it clear to Romney that the practice violates the Geneva Conventions and is unconscionable. I just wish McCain or Cooper had confronted Romney with the question of how he can say he’s against torture if he doesn’t know what torture is.

Romney did at least come down on one side on the Confederate battle flag question toward the end: he’s against it, and he made it seems as if he was offended even to be asked about it, claiming that we there can’t be two Americas. Here Romney didn’t give even the slightest impression of seeing the other side to the question, that many Southerners don’t want their history thrown down the memory hole.

McCain tried mixing it up with Paul over Iraq, but the audience seemed to be at least as much in Paul’s corner as in McCain’s. Paul received quite a lot of applause tonight, as well as a smattering of boos.

Hunter, Tancredo, and Huckabee did their usual routines. Huckabee seemed to get more than his fair share of attention at this debate, but maybe that impression is just a product of his ability to seem livelier than the rest of the field. I really hope Huck humiliates Romney in Iowa, but I don’t think Huck is going to get anywhere near the nomination. Maybe the VP nod, though — a horrible thought. Unfortunately, I fear Huckster-ism is the future of the GOP — big government with a cheerful disposition and a Christian gloss. Huck even said he wanted to boost NASA spending and send a man (or better yet a woman, namely Hillary Clinton) to Mars, and made some very dubious claims about the benefits NASA technology has conferred on us all. Even GPS has less to do with NASA, I’m pretty sure, than with military satellites. Tancredo got in his best line of the night replying to Huck on NASA: how can anyone say that government spending is a problem and then go and support boondoggles like NASA? Tancredo said that candidates like Huck wanted to be everything to everyone.

The Invaders

It’s a thrill to discover that something you liked as a kid has a pedigree you can respect as an adult. In this case, I’ve just learned that a classic “Twilight Zone” episode that scared the wits out of me when I first saw it 22 years ago (age eight or so) was written by Richard Matheson. Matheson is best known for his novella “I Am Legend,” which is getting yet another cinematic treatment later this year, this time starring Will Smith. (I’m a fan of the 1971 Charlton Heston version, “The Omega Man.” There have been variations as well — arguably the whole zombie genre, from “Night of the Living Dead” to “28 Days Later,” owes almost everything to “I Am Legend.”) The “Twilight Zone” episode that made such an impression on me is “The Invaders,” about twelve-inch-tall robots terrorizing a woman in a rural house. Seeing it again tonight, I could understand why I found it so creepy as a youngster: it’s not only heavily atmospheric (and almost dialogue-free, which adds to the feeling of alienation and claustrophobia) but surprisingly violent, from the radiation-burn blisters the robots inflict on the woman to the attempt by one of the robots to saw off her foot with a kitchen knife.

I remembered the twist ending quite vividly — the invaders turn out to be from the U.S. Air Force. I’ve been referring to them as robots, which is how I remembered them from the first time I saw the episode, but my memory was wrong: they’re actually humans in space suits and (in what’s a “Twilight Zone” cliche) the seemingly ordinary woman is actually a giant. No wonder it’s Matheson: “The Invaders” is virtually the same story as “I Am Legend.” Same set-up: solitary human being against a terrifying menace. Same resolution: a reversal of the monster-protagonist roles. What’s artful is that Matheson leads his readers/viewers to identify with different sides in each story. The harried woman remains the most sympathetic figure in “The Invaders” right till the credits roll. “I am Legend” gives us the story from the other side of the divide. Both stories play off of the ambiguity of who’s really the monster. Unfortunately, I don’t hold out much hope that the Will Smith “I Am Legend” will preserve any of the story’s essential ambiguity and irony: Smith presumably has to be a clear hero. “The Omega Man” didn’t preserve those elements either, but it did staple onto the story some Christian allegory, which counts for a little, and it had 70’s sci-fi Charlton Heston cred (it was filmed between “Soylent Green” and “Planet of the Apes”), which counts for a lot.

More about Matheson and his work can be found here. I highly recommend “I Am Legend,” though unfortunately I haven’t read much of his other work.

Disgruntled Authors Sue Regnery

Lefty websites are having a field day with this story, particularly Richard Miniter’s whine, “Why is Regnery acting like a Marxist cartoon of a capitalist company?” Miniter, Joel Mowbray, Bill Gertz, Jerome “Swift Boat” Corsi, and Buzz Patterson are suing their former publisher, claiming that Eagle Publishing’s self-dealing — Eagle owns publisher Regnery, as well as the Conservative Book Club, Human Events, The Evans-Novak Report, and various other operations — has cost them significant royalties. The authors receive fewer royalties on book-club sales, no royalties at all on copies that are given away as promotions for Eagle’s other projects, and their sales to book clubs (including the Conservative Book Club) don’t count toward the Nielson BookScan sales figures, which discounts their bargaining power with other publishers.

Now, I work in publishing, and ISI Books, like many publishers, is diversified into other things. We even have our own book club of sorts. So I do theoretically have a financial stake somewhere in this dispute. I also interned a decade ago for one of the litigants, surprisingly enough. I mention all that just for the sake of full disclosure, because none of it affects my opinion of this case: it doesn’t have an ounce of merit, not unless Eagle was actually sabotaging its own publishing arm in order to be able to give away books as premiums for newsletters and whatnot and to subsidize the Conservative Book Club. That isn’t very likely: I’m sure Eagle makes more money from a full-price book sale through an outside vendor than it does from giving away books or selling them at a steep, steep discount through CBC.

The complaint about BookScan is utter tripe, since BookScan doesn’t count any book-club sales. Moreover, given the ideological nature of their work, if any of these authors had published their books with another company, I’m quite sure they still would have been picked up by CBC. That undercuts the authors’ claims about lost full-price sales, too, since again they still would have sold a lot of books through book clubs, including CBC itself, even if they had signed with another publisher. I know just what a hard bargain CBC drives with other publishers: they don’t take a book unless the discounts are extraordinary, to the point where smaller publishers can barely make a profit through such sales, assuming they can make a profit at all.

As for the free copies given away as premiums, I suspect that’s what happens when Eagle finds itself stuck with overstock of some poorly selling or vastly overprinted title. It’s true that there’s a huge amount of self-dealing involved in Eagle’s activities, but some of that redounds to authors’ benefit — selling books that otherwise would not have sold and, if not explicitly promoting these books through Eagle’s other arms, at least creating an environment (not to mention a wide network of contacts and associations) in which these books can flourish.

The lefty blogs are jeering at the hypocrisy of presumably fat-cat loving right-wing authors complaining about their capitalist master. But there’s no hypocrisy here, just pure piracy: these authors are out to pad their incomes, which I’m sure were quite healthy already, by any means possible, including a trumped-up lawsuit. You’ll notice that the Times story reports that Miniter, who started this litigation, is already involved in “a separate arbitration initiated by Regnery over a canceled contract.” That suggests to me that this fight is a front in a larger battle with Regnery.

If the authors won, the precedent could create shockwaves in the publishing industry far beyond Regnery–just think about all the diversified concerns that Bertelsmann AG, which owns Random House, is involved in. But precisely because these kinds of arrangements are not so unusual, I don’t think this case any merit. These authors can’t even claim ignorance in their defense: they knew full well how diverse Eagle’s projects were when they signed their contracts with Regnery, which I’m sure pointed out in detail exactly what kind of royalties authors would receive for different kinds of sales.

This seems like as good a place as any for me to make a crack about the Hollywood writers’ strike. I think it’s great. What we really need, though, are some old-fashioned Pinkerton rent-a-cop strikebreakers to come in and club the picketing writers. Film it, release it as a documentary, or a reality TV show, and it’ll be a massive hit. Remember folks, these writers, who churn out the crap that infests multiplexes and flatscreens near you, are striking because they want to raise the price of DVDs and on-line content.

Update: Here are Al Regnery’s thoughts on the lawsuit. And here’s Dan Flynn’s cogent input.

Update 2: The left has been spinning this as a big corporation taking unfair advantage of the little guys, albeit little guys who formerly did the corporation’s bidding. Well, the realities of the publishing industry are otherwise: big corporations or not (and Regnery / Eagle is a minnow next to a behemoth like Bertelsmann), publishers tend to have rather delicate bottom lines. They gamble every time they decide on a print run or accept a manuscript. (And for that reason, they are extremely conservative in the worst sense of the word, to the extent that most publishers are only keen to accept books by established “brands” or that fit neatly into a high-selling genre — like Da Vinci Code knock-offs or, say, right-wing screeds.) Just as it’s wrong to assume that these authors are homeless urchins, it’s not a safe bet that Regnery is just sitting on piles of windfall profits.

Give Till It Hurts!

If you need inspiration, just look at the lede of David Kirpatrick’s NYT article on Ron Paul’s fund-raising today:

Historians and British school children remember Guy Fawkes as the Catholic, anti-Protestant rebel who on Nov. 5, 1605, unsuccessfully tried to assassinate King James I by blowing up the parliament.

Supporters of the long-shot Republican primary campaign of libertarian Representative Ron Paul may remember Guy Fawkes as a wildly successful fund-raising gimmick.

Whether you want to celebrate the historical Guy Fawkes, or just like V for Vendetta, or just want to help Ron Paul raise more money in a day than any other Republican, go here to donate.