- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Gambling is morally neutral

I join Mona Charen (“The vicemongers,” Commentary, Saturday) and Suzanne Fields (“Betting on Bill Bennett,” Op-Ed, Monday) in their defense of William J. Bennett. Whether one reacts with glee or dismay over the revelation that he is a big-figure gambler depends on subjective feelings, but honest judgment is always based on principle.

The ethical principle in this case is that gambling involves a morally neutral contract where one party agrees to reward a winner in a game of skill or chance. The insurance industry is predicated on such a contract: The insurer is betting that you will not become sick or have a car accident, and you are betting that you will.

Even though man-made laws often forbid gambling and many religious people rail against it, it is, according to Roman Catholic ethics texts, a legitimate form of recreation if the following conditions exist: The stakes are owned by the gambler and are not required to satisfy other obligations (i.e., one cannot gamble with someone else’s money); there is no cheating; and gambling does not effect counterproductive habits such as stealing, drinking or the neglect of one’s responsibilities and duties.

Another principle involved here is the right a man has to his good name and the respect due him for his accomplishments. This may not be taken away from him except for a very serious reason. Morally neutral activities are not sufficient cause to besmirch the reputation of a virtuous man who also happens to be a major contributor to human decency. While gambling is not a virtue or a vice, character assassination is definitely a vice.

Yet, considering the sums that Mr. Bennett risked, my only question would be: Is he overpaid?

ELIZABETH NOTTRODT

Baltimore

‘We will triumph over SARS’

I agree with Michael Fumento that severe acute respiratory syndrome is soon becoming a case of much ado about nothing (“SARS hysteria,” Commentary, yesterday). I would like to share some more comforting facts with your readers:

SARS carries a mortality rate of 5 percent. This means that 95 percent of those who get SARS will survive.

Once you recover from an attack of SARS, there are no known long-term effects.

There are many countries that are still free of SARS, even six months after the disease began. This indicates that although SARS is spreading, it is not doing so at a mind-boggling rate.

Vietnam, a country originally declared SARS affected by the World Health Organization, has now managed to contain the spread and has been removed from the list of affected countries. This itself is cause for celebration

Children get SARS in a milder form, are less infectious to others, and rarely need respirators and other lifesaving devices.

Chinese authorities are confident that a vaccine will be available in two to three months.

Today, there are much bigger problems worldwide — for example, terrorism, poverty, unemployment, disease and malnutrition — and we should take courage in the fact that we have always survived the worst. We will triumph over SARS, too.

DR. P.V. VAIDYANATHAM

Mumbai, India

Legalism vs. life

I want to respond to Rep. Joe Pitts’ piece “Protecting Conner and Heaven” (Forum, Sunday), in which he argues for legislation to punish acts of violence against unborn children. Mr. Pitts describes two horrible crimes involving the deaths of unborn children, and then makes a mighty attempt to draw a legal distinction between the death of an unborn child due to a crime of violence and the death of an unborn child due to abortion.

The fact is that there is no difference to the child. Only a lawyer — or perhaps a lawmaker — could imagine that one exists. In either case, the child loses his life without having any say in the matter.

Ironically, Marva Stark, president of the National Organization for Women’s chapter for Morris County, N.J., accurately saw through this attempt to split the unsplittable hair.

She is quoted as saying, “If this is murder, well, then any time a late-term fetus is aborted, they could call it murder.”

Quite so. Surely it can only be a short time until a legal confirmation of Miss Stark’s argument emerges. If a fetus is a “person” whose injury or death via a criminal act must be punished, then how can death by abortion be countenanced simply because the mother decides to have her child destroyed? Since when has such power over the life of a child been invested in a mere parent? Two thousand years of Western civilization and jurisprudence stand against it. Yet, serious people such as Mr. Pitts continue to construct distinctions made of whole cloth.

His attempt is reminiscent of society’s contemporary stratification of murders. We now call some killings “heinous” to justify a capital sentence. Such crimes include the murder of a police officer, a politician, a mother of small children, or a child — also, a particularly gruesome murder or a crime involving multiple killings.

Other murders apparently considered “ordinary” — e.g., a businessman, cab driver, clerk, prostitute, etc. — usually are punished only by jail time. (As I write this, I still have not decided if a nonheinous murder is so designated because it supposedly doesn’t hurt as much, or because the life of the victim isn’t as valuable to society or even to himself.)

Well, within my lifetime, most killers convicted of murder with “malice aforethought” — i.e., murder in the first degree — could expect a date with either the electric chair or the gas chamber. The station of the victim had no bearing on the sentence. That a life had been deliberately and violently taken was prima facie evidence that a “heinous” crime had been committed. Forfeiture of the perpetrator’s life was the customary penalty exacted by the state.

Just so, aborted children are just as dead via abortion as if their death resulted from the commission of another crime. Only legal sophistry imagines a distinction not perceptible to the ordinary citizen.

ELWOOD E. ZIMMERMAN

Sterling, Va.

Defending Democratic filibusters

Nat Hentoff’s opposition to the Senate Democrats’ filibuster of two judicial nominees is wrongheaded on many levels (“Judicial selection gone awry,” Op-Ed, Monday).

First, he wonders where in the Constitution Democratic senators get the right to do this. How about the power of each chamber of Congress to set its own rules, including those pertaining to filibusters, to guide its proceedings?

Second, these are not the first examples of filibusters on the appellate level, even putting aside various delaying tactics. For example, Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s nomination to the appellate bench was filibustered.

Third, he wrongly suggests the Democratic opposition to Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen is due to her conscientious stand over the right of parental consent to teenagers having abortions. Actually, this is a stand shared by the majority of Americans. Yet, as discussed in an article accessible at https://bbs.slate.msn.com/?id=3936&m;=6630376, this is a truly misleading statement that underestimates the breadth of the opposition to her nomination.

Senate Democrats are merely concerned about the most egregious, ultraconservative nominations to the bench that would further judicial decisions that Mr. Hentoff almost weekly bemoans. And, suddenly, he suggests it is the president who is the true hero for pushing ultraconservatives who most people do not want.

Mr. Hentoff has eyes, but does not see.

JOSEPH COCURULLO

Bronx, N.Y.


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