Dynamist Blog


This lawsuit is just plain mean. I'm shocked that Debra Bowen, who's one of California's better legislators, approves. (Thanks to reader Edward Martin Schulze for the tip.)


Given his professed views on how gambling threatens "our belief in an ordered cosmos, governed either by providence or a fundamental rationality," I wonder what Public Interest Editor Adam Wolfson thinks of Bill Bennett's habit? Wolfson's wife apparently was one of the Bennett factory's scribes (scroll down to highlighted words).


If you want to track every movement of the Bill Bennett mini-scandal, go to www.AndrewSullivan.com. Having defended Bennett, Andrew is posting the responses of his readers and of various other moralizers.

I don't like Bennett, but I don't see it as particularly scandalous that he gambles away significant portions of his fortune. It's his money, and he's rich. Plus the losses being reported are gross, not net.

Bennett's gambling is expensive entertainment and, to my mind, pretty boring, but there's no sign that it's destroying his life--or that he's hypocritical. Nineteenth-century entertainments are taboo among some conservative Protestants, but Bennett is a Catholic, not an evangelical. Last time I checked Catholics didn't have any problem with gambling (or drinking or dancing). Neither do most of the critics who are making heavy weather of his hobby.

The argument that he must be a hypocrite because some of his moralizing allies oppose gambling is silly. I certainly wouldn't want to be held responsible for every opinion voiced by someone who agreed with me on, say, the importance of scientific freedom. Bennett speaks for himself, not for Gary Bauer. Besides, he's either wrong or right on the merits, regardless of his personal behavior.

This story is old news in Washington, even though everyone is acting shocked, shocked. Michael Lynch told me years ago, when he was Reason's DC editor, that Bennett was well known for his high-stakes trips to Vegas. Nobody including us reported it, most likely because nobody, definitely including us, thought his gambling was that interesting. He isn't, after all, opposed to the practice.

But, then, my assessments of Bill Bennett's ethics seem to represent a minority opinion. I thought it was an ethical offense for a public intellectual with a Ph.D.--as opposed to, say, a professional athlete or even a presidential candidate--to use other anonymous twentysomethings to write "his" books and articles. The general reader response was that I was making a big deal of nothing. (For background, go here and scroll down.) Obviously ethical standards vary--which, of course, doesn't make mine wrong!


I did some much-delayed office organizing and rearranging this weekend and have come to the conclusion that we're a long, long, loooong way from a wireless world. Despite pruning, my desk and floor still look like snakepits. My wireless Internet connection doesn't require a cord to my computer, but it still clutters my desktop with five cords to supply power and network connections.

As a design-catalog addict, I've noticed that they almost never show the cords on lamps. (See here and here). The lamps look sleeker and more flexible without cords but, alas, electricity does not just come out of the air. You still need a wire.


My fall speaking schedule is beginnning to fill up, and we haven't yet planned the official tour for The Substance of Style.

I'll be in the Chicago from September 18-23; in New York City on November 12-13 and possibly surrounding dates; and in St. Louis on November 20 and possibly surrounding dates. If you have a group in any of these cities that would be interested in having me speak around these dates, please drop me a line at virginia-at-dynamist.com as soon as possible. Thanks for all the interest.


Several readers have objected to my use of the term mitzvot in the post below, so let me unpack my argument. It is true that mitzvah (the singular form) means "commandment," not "taboo." Jews colloquially use the term to mean "good deed," and a lot of people think that's the definition. But many mitzvot are negative commandments, not positive actions. ("Thou shalt not murder" is a mitzvah, and so is "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk.") Most of those negative commandments are what we would call taboos if they were not in a Western context. Much of Jewish law--including such famous provisions as the observance of the Sabbath and the keeping of the dietary laws--is concerned with separation, the clean/unclean distinction, and holiness. Those laws function as taboos, not guides for spiritual practices or behavior toward other people. Hence my loose application of the term below.


How brave is Bill McKibben's book Enough? So brave that its author, normally a scholar in residence at Middlebury College, spent a year working on it at the Center for the Study of Values and Public Life at Harvard. Such are the punishments suffered by those who write bravely.

Science blogger David Appell reviews the book here.

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