Friday, December 23, 2005


I found the movie a little boring, actually, and I can't say I see what all the fuss was about. One thing did bother me. In the book Edmond apologizes personally to each of his siblings. In the movie, his big brother cuts him off before he could. In the scene before, Peter explains to Aslan that Peter had been too hard on Edmond. The contemporary mind can't stand the idea of a kid just being bad. He has to have been made bad by authority, even if it is only his big brother. It makes the film feel kind of weird. Both Edmond and Peter are so vile to one another that you can't figure out which one is supposed to be the good guy.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

True, but Irrelevant

In judging whether someone made the right decision, we must look at the evidence the decision maker had available to him at the time he made the decision.

Pundits seem to have recognized this principle in discussing the recent shooting of an erratic passenger by US Air-marshals. The one thing that has not been brought up in evaluating the performance of the marshals is the fact that the man did not, in fact, have a bomb. While there some dispute over what occurred before Rigoberto Alpizaro was shot, what was found or not found in his backpack after he was shot is rightly considered irrelevant to how we judge the marshals’ decision. Their decision must be evaluated on the basis of the information they had at the time.

This is a good thing to keep in mind in the debate about Iraq. Pointing out that after the war Sadaam Hussein was found not to be in possession of WMD is like pointing out that Alpizaro’s backpack did not contain a bomb: true, but irrelevant.

A good test is to imagine how we would react if the situation had been the opposite. In the case of the marshals, suppose the man really did have a bomb and they had decided not to shoot? One can imagine the pundits excoriating the Air-marshals for not shooting, “So here’s a guy saying he has a bomb in his backpack running toward the plane and they do nothing. A man claiming to have a bomb that is coming toward you, refusing orders from armed men to stop—why would someone do that unless they intended to do harm?”

Sadaam’s behavior was little different. In the face of orders from the UN backed by a clear threat of war from the US to comply with inspections he refused to fully comply with the resolution, as even the UN commissioners admitted. And he did this even though by complying he could have saved himself upwards of $100 billion in lost revenue due to the sanctions. Add to this his provision of financial support and a safe haven for a broad network of terrorist murders of Americans and you have the national equivalent of a man running at armed officers claiming to have a bomb.

That the evidence at the time of the decision pointed to his having WMD is attested to by the fact that all major intelligence services had come to the same conclusion. The Germans thought he was closer to having a nuclear weapon than we did. You can demonstrate this to yourself with a Google to see what people were saying at the time. The statements of prominent Democrats in 1998 when President Clinton made it national policy to depose Sadaam are, if anything, more alarmist than those of the Bush administration. Even those nations opposed to the invasion (the example of France comes to mind) didn’t say it was because they believed he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, but rather based their objections on the claim that containment was working.

Sadaam had even fooled his closest confidants. Of all the bizarre revelations about the Iraqi regime that came out of the Duelfler report (the US’s post-war investigation into Iraq’s WMD programs) was that all the generals in the Iraqi army had taken great trouble to equip their units with chemical weapons suits and counter measures. Even though each knew that his own unit did not have chemical weapons, they took it for granted that the units next to them did. It is hard to image a higher standard for intelligence than having the same information as the top generals in the opposing army. That this information turns out to be false is a measure not of our intelligence failure so much as the bizarre and twisted nature of the regime we were trying to gain intelligence on. Iraq under Sadaam truly was the international analogue of a psychotic patient off his meds.

Of course the analogy is not perfect. The Bush administration had a lot more time to make the decision and should therefore be held to a much higher standard. But on the other hand, the Air-marshals in Miami had no information about their suspect’s past behavior. Not so with Sadaam. He had killed thousands with chemical weapons, many his own citizens and all his fellow Muslims. He had twice—at the end of the first Gulf war and again two years later—been certified by the UN as having rid himself of all WMD programs, only to be subsequently discovered with large quantities of chemical weapons and an advanced program to build a nuclear bomb. Indeed, according to the UN, Sadaam’s possession of WMD was never in doubt. Iraq had previously admitted and the UN had certified possession of tons of VX nerve gas. The only dispute was whether to accept Sadaam’s explanation of where the nerve gas was now: “I got rid of it but I can’t remember where or when.”

In assessing the costs of having gone into Iraq we should not neglect the costs we would face had we not gone into Iraq. In the aftermath of the marshals’ shooting of a man that did not have a bomb, airline passengers reported feel more safe, not less, and we have seen an increase in airline reservations. What if, instead, the story had been that a man claiming to have a bomb had been allowed to board a plan unopposed by the armed marshals? Surely, those people that actually do intend to bring bombs onto planes would have taken encouragement.

According to the Duefler report, Sadaam was convinced that making others believe that he had WMD protected him from all-out US attack. If, by backing down, we had confirmed him in this belief, we would face a whole new set of problems. If, after defying 17 UN resolutions, openly supporting terrorism and offering a “dog ate my homework” explanation for the whereabouts of his known stocks of VX nerve gas, Sadaam had made the US back down, not only would he have concluded that possessing WMD rendered him invulnerable to US retaliation, so would have every other dictatorial regime. Instead of Libya voluntarily giving up its nuclear program to avoid Sadaam’s fate, other dictators would be starting their own programs to imitate his success.

What ever credibility problems we face now because of Sadaam’s ‘empty backpack,’ they pale in comparison to the credibility problems we would face had we let him bluff his way back on to the plane.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Durban and Mur...

Sorry, forgot the guy's name.

It was a no problem when Senator Durban pointed out the similarities between the Nazi treatment of prisoners and our treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo, he was merely making a learned analogy. But for some reason it is out of order to extend the same favor to Democrats.
The fact that democrats, liberals and the press have the same definition of the conflict in Iraq as do the insurgents is something that we are not allowed to talk about. To point this out is to somehow play dirty pool, to, one more time for the ages, question their patriotism.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Thomas Sowell

Great quote from Thomas Sowell's editorial on from T.S. Elliot

'T.S. Eliot understood this more than half a century ago when he wrote: "Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm -- but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves."'

Something I have been trying to put into words for years. Moral vanity is the driver in human affairs, not material interest. This is the reason that we are opposed by most of the world. The segment of advanced civilization that has chosen to hide behind our defenses cannot admit to itself it is on the wrong side, that the precious "international law" it hides behind is a sheild for the most monstrous dictators and thugs while the force of our arms is the source of what good has happened to humanity in the post war world. They fixate on Abu Gahrib and blind themselves to mass graves for children filled by the regimes they, the international community, sheild.

It is a form of religious politics. A religion of absolutes that blinds itself to any harm it engenders, excusing itself on the grounds of the wondrous new world of peace, order and tranquility if only we give the dictators what they want.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Katrina + 6

the dean has said we can stay in our offices over night if to take advantage of the airconditioning here. We are under a curfew. I don't know why--all we have are a few streetlights out. It is like a sympathy curfew with New Orleans. They need a curfew but can't enforce, we don't but can. Maybe by having a curfew here the residents of New Orleans will enjoy some vicarious order. Anyway, I am staying in my office tonight. No place to sleep, but I have made one of those discoveries that only adversity can force you to find the inner resources to discover: with enough beer anything can become a bed.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

order and forces on hand

I think that it is not the case that there are not enough police on hand to do the job of protecting relief workers, it is the way we have defined their job that makes it impossible. A couple of generations ago when the forces of order had the benefit of the doubt the firepower on hand would have been more than adequate. What is different now is that you have to have so many oks before using deadly force, that you have to fire only when you can prove in court that your life was threatened, and that is was not just a matter of keeping order or establishing dominance. You have a bunch of thugs on the dock waving guns around. You tell them to get lost or you will shoot them and then count to three. There is more than enough fire power to do that. But no, that would violate someone’s rights. Their mother (no father but probably a mother) would show up on TV saying how he was a good boy. The scum of the earth must be given every benefit of a doubt while patients can’t move from the hospital and relief workers must dodge bullets. But no, don’t shoot the gangs of monsters. That would violate their rights.

You know you are in Mississippi

One good thing might grow out of this is a bit less tolerance for looting and disorder. The insurance commisioner’s comments that seemed so ridiculous yesterday are starting to sound very sensible today.

The NPR guy (and I must say, the NPR coverage has been quite reasonable in my opinion. Maybe it is that they don’t have pictures but they don’t seem to focus on whining nearly as much as the TV networks.) was interviewing some Louisiana official about the insurance situation. The guy was so articulate but had such a poetic way of speaking in a thick deep-south drawl. The NPR guy was really warming up to him and kept the segment going. The guy was making a really interesting argument about how charging high re-insurance rates had made it possible now to handle the crisis financially and that all the people who had been complaining should now see what a mistake they were making.

Then the NPR guy asks him about looting. The commissioner answers, “well, you know, people like that, I just think that people who would do that ought to be shot. I wish they would just shoot them.”

The NPR guy thinks he is talking about police, but no. “I just think that when they see something like that, I just wish they would get their gun and shoot them.” He adds, just to show his isn’t a complete Neanderthal, “Now, you don’t have to kill them, but I just think they ought to shoot them.

Instead of getting all self-righteous the NPR guy tries to give the guy an out by assuming that he is just speaking figuratively about law enforcement taking strong measures and suggest that the local sheriff has said he will expand the jail system to keep looters incarcerated. The guy says, “no, the jails, they will get full up and, uh, no, just go on and shoot them.”

You know you are in Mississippi.

An interesting thing about the above dialogue is the way the commissioner assumes that “people” a) refers to his listeners and b) refers to law abiding citizens that should have the authority to shoot the bad people, who apparently aren’t listeners to NPR. That is, the Commissioner implicitly thinks that there is a thing called society that is competent to use deadly force and that these are the people in his audience. No appeal to people not to loot. That kind of person isn’t listening to the broadcast or is beyond the appeal to reason.

Of course he may be thinking that such people are listening and aiming his comments toward potential looters. He communicates to potential looters not only the cost of looting but also the degree of contempt they are held in by “people” that is the part of humanity that can be considered worthy of the name humanity. Who knows? Maybe if instead of chin scratching about what makes people loot we just talked about what we ought to do to them we would have a better effect then asking what is troubling them?


It is astonishing that they are directing anger toward the government and not toward the people committing crimes. The most salient fact about someone firing at doctors is their depravity as individuals, not the question of whether there was a police officer on the scene. It is unbelievable that we are interested in finding a way to blame stuff on Bush. Elites are not interested in the rot and vileness of people that would take advantage of a such a situation and look instead at something different Bush could have done.

Note that no one is making a case that there was something that should have been done that wasn’t. The mere fact that something bad is happening and the government is not able to prevent it is enough to use it against Bush.

But there is something even more creepy. The way they ask questions of minor officials who are not especially Republican or Democrat.

You can never direct anger against other people, you always have to direct it toward the government, because even if people are doing something wrong it is only because of something the government hasn’t done for them.

People can’t take pride in how well they cope with something horrible because that would weaken their claim against the government.


What will be made use of in this situation? The conservatives will point out that it is the result of an infantilized society where the family is destroyed. Where the men have abandoned their families. Black people in the 1930s didn’t have this problem they had no choice.

Liberals will say it is because we have all our army and resources in Iraq.


“They have no shade” what did people do before the government invented shade? These people don’t know how to do anything. Can people do anything for themselves? People can build shade. I don’t care. And you can’t criticize people because that is cruel.

There are people out dying because they can’t get their medicine. The news media plays up their complaints as if they are legitimate, as if they are victims of the government. No shame.


It was amazing how they couldn’t find anyone to interview on TV that was coping. You saw a few people in the background that were not standing there panicking, but everyone that got an on-camera interview was a balling mound of helplessness. That seemed to be some sort of rule. No getting on camera unless you were a basket case. .

Friday, August 19, 2005

Yazoo Clay

The ground here keeps moving, like there is some great prehistoric beast underneath the ground shifting position on a decades long time scale.

Monday, August 15, 2005


Even if it is true that there were too many false positives on the Able Danger list it seems like this story is not getting the attention it deserves. We have reorganized our intelligence services to reduce the autonomy of the one agency in the government that appears to have had a clue, outlawed the technology that produced the clue and gave a pass to the people that decided the clue should be ignored. And yet the story seems to be going away already. After the breathless reception given to the CIA's quoting a 2 year old TV interview as an answer to HIS request for more information the speed with which this story is going away is truly perplexing.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


The Scum of the earth through their bodily wastes at our soldiers and we are worrying about the music being too loud. The 'men' held in Guantanimo are there for their membership in an organization that aims at killing American women and children, establish Sharia by force and uses whatever prisoners it can take as props in their recruitment videos--you know, the ones where they make someone beg before they carve off their head singing Allah Akbar? And we are worrying about crossing our legs in front of them. Have you heard a word of sympathy or respect from our intellectuals for the guards that are doing the horrible job of guarding and dealing with these monsters?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

power hungry Europeans

The big problem we have in dealing with propaganda wars with the Europeans is a publicly available and plausible analysis of their motives. If the Europeans are mad at us it must be our fault because, as we all know, those who want multilateral institutions are good seeking the betterment of all mankind while those who defend the right of nation states to determine their own affairs and, particularly, to fight wars, are on the side of selfish aggrandizement.

First of all, we should make clear that power is a good that nations and peoples pursue for its own sake. The European powers know that the only means of competing with us at their disposal is through multilateral institutions. This doesn't make their motives bad--power can be sought for good and bad reasons, but it is always sought--but there is no reason it should not entitle them to a presumption of having good motives.

We should also constantly remind people that international institutions are not servants of all the people of the world, just all their governments. Some of these governments are good but many are not.

But even if they were all democratic--and most of the democratic ones are critical of us as well--that should not entitle them to the presumption of good motives relative to ours. Even if people are democratic it does not mean that their motives are good. Anyone on the left who criticizes the second Bush administration must at least admit that people can be misled about their true interests since it is obviously the case that Bush was democratically elected. If the American electorate can be mislead by ignorance or emotions of false pride into backing a policy that is against mankind's true best interests, why cannot the publics of advanced European democracies make the same sort of mistake?

Surely it requires a certain amount of willful ignorance to blame all our problems with the Muslim world on Israel. For instance, where is the Israel factor in the 325 Thais that have been killed so far this year in the Muslim quest to impose Sharia on that most tolerant of countries? Eight of these people have been beheaded, 27 of the dead are school teachers. But we can't expect this to go away until there is justice for the Palestinians. Then everything will be fine. And is it impossible to see how more than a little false pride may be at work when America is criticized by the UN for threatening to send Guantanimo detainees to their countries of origin while the human rights records of these same countries are not only not criticized but even rewarded (think of the Sudanese replacing the Libyans on the Human Rights Commission). Surely some of the indignation at America's supposed hypocrisy in claiming to be promoting Human Rights while countenancing such abuses could be motivated by the guilty knowledge of our detractors that they are by any measure far worse (it is, for instance, hard to make a brief for France on this score).

Which brings us to a final point. When criticizing another nation for human rights violations a nation inevitably makes itself open to scrutiny on the same issues. It would be rather a delicate thing for France to criticize the US for selling arms to Sadaam when they themselves sold about 250 times as much to him over any comparable period. Complaints about the Patriot Act would be rather hard to make if you were a government—and this includes almost any country on the planet, democracy or not—that grants its police even more latitude in investigations of even ordinary crimes. But put the criticism in the UN and the hypocrisy problem is solved. The UN has no human rights record to defend. It is a creature of the nations that compose it. Voicing criticisms through it has the effect of washing away all sins.

And why wouldn’t a nation take advantage of mechanism so beautifully adapted to the needs of the small, numerous and morally compromised. The thing we should remember is that the desire to take power from the US and put it into international institutions is not selfless—it results in an increase in power for almost all of the nations of the world. The desire for power is just as natural for small nations as for large—and not necessarily any more admirable.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


What are the implications of home-grown suicide bombers in America and now in England for the homeschooling and voucher movement? I used to be of the opinion that a few white supremacy/black supremacy fruit-loop operations would be a small price to pay for the efficiency gains to be had from breaking the public school monopoly. Now I am not so sure. Has anyone thought about this or seen anything on the subject? Of course one possibility is that there could be a trade off--a gain at the mean in exchange for a few bad outliers.

Necessary Murder

Defeat them utterly. That is the way to save lives. We talk about the wars caused by humiliating an enemy, but what about the wars caused by not humiliating an enemy? We blame WWII on the unfair peace imposed on the Germans in WWI, but the real problem might have been the incomplete victory imposed on them. Nail Ferguson talks about the German high command capitulating after they had purposely allowed a civilian government to be installed just in time to take the blame. Even though the situation was clearly hopeless they knew that the German people and most of their army, fed only the high command's propaganda, did not know that. So, when they found out Germany had surrendered they began the theorizing about conspiracies that lead to the rise of the radical parties, whose whole program were variants on finding out who betrayed us from within. On the other side, the clear lack of suffering on the German side was part of the reason the Allied population insisted on harsh surrender terms that continued seemingly forever.

The same thing happened in Iraq. Instead of paying the cost for total victory we decided to take a half victory. Instead, to achieve our war aims by ‘consent’ of the defeated, we imposed sanctions which went on hurting the innocent and allowing Sadaam to play the victim. By trying to be ‘kind’, to respect rights our enemy never reciprocated by respecting for us, we ended up hurting the people we claimed to be trying to help.

Instead of leveling Faluja as we would have done in WWII we have not only let ourselves in for a lot more trouble but have let a lot more Iraqis get killed. Afraid of criticism of the people that would have had Sadaam in charge this very day we have sentenced the people of Iraq to more murder at the hands of the old regime and the Jihadis. All this drivel about the moral superiority of a justice system that lets a hundred guilty men go free rather punish one innocent is fine unless those hundred are trying to overthrow your government by means of suicide bombing aimed at school children.

Imagine what would have happened in Japan and Germany if we had negotiated a settlement to WWII. No wholesale transformation, no complete abandonment of the old regime. Suppose we had combined a half victory with the policy of rehiring Nazis and Fascists from the old regime. We could afford to use people that were tainted by the past because the past was so utterly discredited. The regimes had based their legitimacy on might. Only complete defeat would de-legitimate them. Having shown our ability and willingness to slaughter we could afford to be magnanimous.

The if-only hawks, the people that were for the war and now say that we wouldn’t have these problems if only we had after the war done _____, make their main argument that we shouldn’t have disbanded the Iraqi army. Only half right. Fine to hire them once you have killed enough of them.

Sunday, July 31, 2005


Steve Chapman notes that if a comercial airline lost passengers at the same rate as the shuttle we would be losing 40 planes a day. He points out that such risk might be acceptable for a mission to Mars but not for the sort of routine missions the Shuttle is doing now.

The funny thing is that when it was going where no man had gone before the Shuttle compiled a safety record that commercial airlines of the time could envy. Now that they are going where anyone with a spare $20 million and a reason (though, given that we are now soliciting ideas for experiments from 3rd graders even those seem to be in short supply), they have a record that would ground a six seat Alaskan adventure tour operator. The Shuttle was originally going to make going into space as routine as commuting to work. If every 60th trip to the office everyone in your car got incinerated I think you would be asked to take your name off the office car pool list.

There is an obvious solution—the Russians. They have a vehicle that gets things into space far more cheaply than ours and doesn’t blow up. And we owe them one. Apparently, during the late 70 d├ętente period we grew a little careless about our security. The Russians got a-hold of the plans for the Shuttle and built an exact replica. The Russian scientist complained to their political masters that they didn’t think the thing was sound and that they were better off using their old fashioned rockets. Their political betters brushed them off, “The Americans are spending billions on this thing, do you think they are stupid?” To their credit, the Russians never flew theirs. Still, I think we owe the Russians some compensation for allowing such a dangerous piece of technology escape into the world where it could do serious harm.

Styen on my mind

From Mark Steyn, again:

"...Since the beginning of the year, for example, some 10 percent of southern Thailand's Buddhist population has abandoned their homes -- a far bigger disruption than the tsunami, yet all but unreported in the Western press."

The Thais that have been beheaded by Muslims--700 this year--go utterly unmentioned in our press while the fantasies of Muslim prisoners about the Koran going down the toilet are cause for weeks of moral handwringing. It really disturbs me how the Thais' persecution has gotten no attention. It is like they are in a free fire zone as far as the press is concerned. The Thais have a well deserved reputation as among the most tolerant and welcoming people in the world. That they are being preyed upon by these mosters and we don't even give them the dignity of a mention is shameful. But the reason the Thais are ignored is because their case doesn't support one of the theories of the war flattering to Western intellectuals. If the Muslims in Thailand would announce that they are doing this because of the Thai support of the US then the Western Press would be recounting their sufferings in loving detail. Unfortunately for the Thais the Muslim attack on them has been open about its goals: establishing Sharia over Muslims and Infidels alike. Since this has nothing to do with Bush and the US it is of no interest to the press.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Expected Utility

Evaluating decisions by expected utility changes the way we evaluate decisions. It brings home the point that we can’t evaluate decisions with hindsight. Getting hit by a meteor on the way to the store doesn’t make buying bread a bad idea anymore than winning the lottery doesn’t make spending your food money on power ball a good idea.

Critics of President Bush’s decision to go into Iraq are in effect saying “look at that meteor! How can you say buying bread is a good idea?”

Did they have evidence that Hussein was pretending to have WMD? Did any of them suggest that he might be purposely defying the inspectors in order to keep the possibility alive in the minds of other nations that he might still have the weapons that he had used before?

More importantly, if Hussein found it so valuable to have others believe that he had these weapons, might that not mean there was a cost to us of allowing him to succeed in creating that perception, independent of the weapons’ existence? If he thought that the behavior of other actors would be changed in ways that were beneficial enough to him to justify the years of sanctions and threat of war, is it not possible that the behavior of other actors in that case would have been a problem to us?

If, say, we adopted Kyoto, and, in the end, we find that future scientist, on the basis of be a superior understanding of the causal processes involved find that global warming would not have occurred anyway, would that make adopting Kyoto a bad decision? Surely the only way to evaluate decisions is based on the best information we have at the time.


So yesterday all I heard was Lance Armstrong saying, "For those of you who don't believe in this sport, you'd better start believing." I would be walking down the street and I would hear from a barroom TV set, "you'd better start believing." It started to feel ominous.

Do I believe in cycling? What does it mean to not believe in cycling? And what if I am not one of those that believes in cycling? What happens to me?

I suppose I would be better off if I did a little cycling, though in that case, it seems strange to specify cycling. Wouldn't I be just as well off doing a bit of jogging, or swimming or even some more walking? And why be so alarmist? Why not give me positive reasons to cycle?

Now if he meant believe in watching cycling, if anything, I think that is even a harder sell. Cycling is a sport that counts cummulative performance. It aggregates over the entire series of events. In other words, there are no events. It is as if the world series were decided by total points over the 7 games and how any particular nine innings turned out was of no particular consequence. Only the Europeans could come up with something so dismally rational. One would think after the French revolution, Communism and Fascism they would have got the whole mania for rationality guiding action out of thier systems, but no. If we can't come up with a theory that justifies murdering people then we can at least come up with one that bores them.

Of course, as a theory goes this one isn't bad. There is no doubt that LA was the best cyclist in the field, that much was tediously clear. After his early lead it was just watching a continent pray for a single bicyclist to ram into a tree. Which is, I gather, pretty much what the sport has been over the 6 or 7 years that Mr. Armstrong has dominated it. A fine test of overall cycling ability but not much fun to watch. Instead of an event each day was just another installment of the same catastrophe watch. One day was no different from any other.

Which brings us to proposals for majority popular voting in the US. Whatever other merits such proposals have, surely it is clear they would make elections a lot less interesting. For the purposes of voting, a trip through one place would be just like another. Each of the fifty states would mean no more or less than the different days of the Cycling event. Being in Ohio would mean no more than being in Mississippi. The only difference between places would be the size of thier television markets.

Political scientists have developed models that show this would put small states at a disadvantage. But more importantly would be the homogenizing effect on all of us. One state would be like the next. Hey, remember day 2? or was it day 3 or 4 or.....

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Give War a Chance

The big problem in conflicts today is the unwillingness to let anyone lose. If the Sunnis lost in Iraq, really lost, so that they could no longer tell themselves that they are doing everyone a favor by showing up to put their two cents in, they might behave a lot better. If the Germans had really lost in WWI, i.e., had seen their army destroyed, then the inter-war years would not have been dominated by conspiracy theories about who was responsible for the sell-out. If the Palestinians were given a taste the no-holds bared war they are waging against Israel would they go on? Would their political culture be an endless argument about finding the ‘collaborators’? Anger is pain plus the idea that you are being treated unjustly. We avoid winning completely to avoid pain but the cost is reinforcing the argument that they are being treated unjustly. WWII ended in our becoming friends with our enemies precisely because we beat them in a way that discredited the previous regime completely. If WWII had ended with a negotiated settlement with us making a lot of concessions on the legitimate pre-war grievances of Japan and German wouldn’t it have increased the leverage of those arguing that the war and the consequent pain was the fault of the other side? Like P. J. O’Rouke says, give war a chance.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Gitmo and Orwell

Just reading Orwell again. He talks about the way that visiting Germany after WWII made him lose all his disire for vengence against the Germans. He describes a Jew that was serving as an interpreter for the Americans as going through the motions of taking vengence on the SS men in his charge. He makes the interesting point that, in Orwell's opinion, the guy didn't really seem to be enjoying it that much. It struck Orwell that the man was going through the motions like someone on vacation, trying to convince himself that he is enjoying it. He describes vengence as the sort of things you image wanting to do when you are powerless but that once you can, once you actually are in power, the desire evaporates.

I wonder if that is true?

In any case, it started me wondering about Gitmo. Do I feel any less angry towards them now that they are in orange jump suits and look vaguely pathetic? I can't say I have the feelings of pity Orwell describes himself as having. One reason may be that Orwell is a better man than I am. Certainly it would seem that the Germans had done much worse and in ways that affected Orwell much more directly than what Al Qaeda has done. He would have had several personal acquantances that were killed by the Germans at the very least.

But another reason is that in an important sense the war is not over even though a number of the enemy are in our hands. Yes, the countries have been conquered (though we don't like to use that term) but the men that are in our hands are part of an organization and movement that is still trying to and capable of doing us harm.

thus, it is different from taking revenge. We mail feel less restrained about what we do to get information from them but it is to get information to prevent future attacks in an ongoing conflict. This is what makes the "better to let 100 guilty go free rather than punish one innocent man" misplaced. Blackstone's aphorism was directed at cases where the crime had been committed and our only purpose was to punish the guilty and at most deter similar acts by others. Here we are not punishing but preventing.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A Stone that Cuts Both Ways

Great I.F. Stone quote passed on my Hitchens: few people are so foolish as to counterfeit a bankrupt currency. The point here was that it was no accident that the faked Italian memo actually was accurate. Of course, the same thing could be said in defense of the “fake but accurate” memo touted by Dan Rather.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Collective suicide

Why do nations commit cultural suicide? The Hapsburg empire allowed itself to decompose over a 50 year period by not maintaining a common language. Why do we do the same? We are actively encouraging a generation to develop a geographically rooted non-English speaking zone in the Southwest of the continental US. It is a source of strength to have diverse immigrants come and learn English. It is a source of weakness to have sections of the country that can't talk to one another. Most countries in this situation have arrived there by accident or outside intervention. We seem to be a first: a country that has actively promoted the process.

In one sense the rise of China may be a good thing. The existence of a hostile and aggressive power may help knock us out of the complacency which is encouraging this slide into a nation divided.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


One of the worst consequences of our abandonment of the idea of manhood and its obligations is that we have no, or less grounds for criticizing terrorists that regularly hide behind women and children. The NAZIs killed other people's women and children but they protected, rather than hid behind, their own. The reason is not part of the Western tradition of protecting non-combatants. It is something even more basic. It is the idea of being a man. It never would have occurred the NAZIs to hide behind the women and children for the same reason that it would not have occurred to a native American or a caveman for that matter.

The Palestinian terrorists have set a new low. They are being unmanly. But we have no vocabulary to point it out.

enforcing the Geneva Conventions

Great comments on Senator Durbin form James Taranto and the gang at Opinion Journal, especially the part about the Geneva conventions representing reciprocal obligations. I would just add that instead of defending the US by saying that we are not abandoning the Geneva Conventions he could go even farther and say we are enforcing them. The whole point of the conventions is to create incentives to obey the laws of war and discourage irregular combatants. Treating those who attack and hide behind civilians as if they were honorable soldiers is just as wrong, and just as against the conventions, as treating soldiers like irregular combatants. Afterall, why should a man wear a uniform, make himself a target and forego all the advantages that can be had from hiding behind women and children if he gets the same treatment regardless?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Kristof and Pervez

Great opinion piece from Kristof. The one thing I have to disagree with is the emphasis on Musharrif's culpability. I think it is too easy for us to just blame the leaders of the country. What about the guy from Pakistan that was criticizing us for our lack of respect for the Koran? He gets off scott free. The President of Pakistan who is trying to help us at some considerable risk to himself is pressured but we let the critics of the US go without having to answer tough questions about his own culture. The hypocritical critics of our regime are treated like allies and our real allies are forced to pay the cost.

Monday, June 13, 2005


the most incriminating thing in the Jackson case was the defenese. The reason he got off was that people are giving the benefit of a doubt to personal idiosyncracies rather than social standards. 20 years ago a man that slept with 13 year old boys would have have the burden of proof. Now it is on the boy. It is as if we are concerned to make the world safe for rich men with a thing for sleeping with (nothing more, of course) 12 year olds and looking at gay porn. Earlier we would have been concerned to make the world safe for our children, not our celebrities.

Jackson claims that the witnesses could not have seen him committing lewd acts because his bedroom has an alarm system outside it that alerts him when anyone comes within 50 feet. He claims that he has a good reason for sleeping with kids because--poor thing--he can't have relationships with adults. He admits to sleeping with a 12-13 year old boy for 365 nights a year. he has both hetro and homosexual porn in the bedroom with him and the objects of his affections--but no pedo on the computer. His defenders say we can't believe his accusers because what kind of parent would let their boy sleep with a 45 year old man. They were looking for money, just like the other three boys he paid over 60 million dollars [2x check] (and who happen to look just like this kid--i.e., his type?). And look at all the boys he slept with that say he didn't have sex with him.

A dysfunctional man incapable of having a relationship with adults who spends his every night with a series of 13 year olds of the same type behind a locked, alarmed door to whom he has paid over 60 million to hush up. That is the defense?!?

We are more concerned about the rights of deviant celebrities than about the rights of children.

The interesting thing to me is that the easy way out for a jury 20 years ago would have been to come down on the side of protecting the child, of protecting morality. Now the easy way out, the way to protect yourself from hard questions, is to protect deviance. Before, people were concerned about being considered lacking in moral probity, now they are concerned about being seen as judgemental.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005


What is really appalling about the comparison to the Gulag is the trivialization it entails about the deaths of up to 20 million human beings, people who did nothing wrong other than have the wrong class or ethnic background. The apology that is owed is to the victims of Communism. To make such a comparison is to trivialize their suffering and to impune thier character--these people were not members of a terrorist organization. The idea of comparing people--men, women and children--that were starved to death for the 'crime' of being in the wrong ethnic group to members of a terrorist organization whose main health complaint has been gaining weight is, frankly, sick.

Monday, May 09, 2005


Why is it that we are supposed to be agast when an investigator starts out with pre-concieved notions about what he will find unless the pre-concieved notions are ones of which the intellegentsia approves? If a social scientist started out to find the ill effects of abortions or divorce he would be charged with being unscientific but if he is committed to drawing attention ot the ill-effects of global warming we applaud his public spiritedness?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Felon disenfranchisment

It seems the minium requirement for a voice in writing the laws is obeying them yourself. How can anyone who does not follow the law claim a voice in deciding what rules his fellow citizens should be punished for not following? It seems as basic as taxation without representation. Indeed, it seems closely aligned to the obverse proposition: if you don't pay your taxes why should you be allowed a voice in deciding them? Voters gleefully apply this maxim to candidates all the time.

Just Because People Hate You

David Ignatius makes an interesting parallel between our situation after the Civil War and the War in Iraq. Both had unexpectedly difficult postwar periods marked by insurgents undermining democracy.

The key point to remember is that the bad outcome in the South was driven by the success of the KKK in making the main cleavage racial instead of economic. The white planter elite succeeded in making the poor whites side with them against their natural economic and political allies, the newly freed slaves. The fact that the white elites succeeded didn't make them right; it was all the more reason to oppose them.

Apply this thinking to Iraq. The insurgents are trying to make the main cleavage Islam vs. the West. They are, fortunately, succeeding to a much lesser extent that the KKK did a century ago. But to the extent they do succeed there are some in the West that want to take this as a reason to abandone the project. Such people are in the same position as those who said that we should abandone the South to the KKK.

Moral Balance of Power

One of the things that makes a lot of reasonable people wonder about our foreign policy is the fact that so much of world public opinion is against us. How can so many of our allies be against us if we are doing the right thing? In fact, the allies being against us is not strange at all if one thinks in terms of moral politics. Nations strive, not just for security, but for the ability to think well of themselves.

Balance of power politics can be played out in moral realms just as easily as in territorial contests. In many ways, the same rules apply. The weaker combine together against the stronger. In the case of moral politics the moral leadership of the world community which we are constantly warned we are in danger of losing or have already squandered by alienating world opinion, is precisely the reason world opinion has turned against us.

We are in the moral leader of the world. As the nation that has done the most to effect moral outcomes in the world, the rest of the world’s nations, in ganging up on us, are only doing in the realm of moral politics what nations have always done in the realm of power politics. If one doubts this motivation look at the UN human rights record. Virtually the only human rights issues dealt with are those that can be laid at the door step of the US or Israel. Is it really plausible to think that nothing worth comment by the international human rights community has occurred in China or North Korea? Why such silence? Because the talk’s only purpose is only to redress an imbalance of moral standing, moral power. The goal of such international organizations is not to create a more moral world but to see that moral credibility is distributed more evenly, or at least is not monopolized by one power.

Think of the US in the interwar years again. All of our moral censure was directed against the British, we had very little to say about the Germans or the Japanese, or at least that was the case for a significant subset of US opinion. The reason is that in addition to being militarily superior Britain was a moral superpower and, as such, out chief competitor. As we were protected by Britain’s armed power we had a moral incentive to take them down a notch in the moral realm. The cognitive dissonance of being the beneficiary of Britain’s engagement in the real world was a threat to our good opinion of ourselves, our moral vanity. This required us to focus on Britain’s moral shortcomings, real or imagined, to the near exclusion of the moral failings of the other side.

This is good to keep in mind when we feel self righteous about the moral preening of the Europeans, criticizing us while they have prospered under our protection. They are only doing what we did to Britain for over a century.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

more on Kaplan

Oh yes, and lets not forget Mr. Kaplan’s shock that Bush failed to mention the disgruntled Sunni’s in his catalogue of who we are fighting in Iraq. K agrees that it is mainly former regime holdouts and Jihadists, but feels it an unforgivable lapse in nuance that Mr. Bush failed to mention the plain garden variety Sunni tribesmen that don’t particularly like the fact that, at 20% of the population, the Sunnis will no longer call the shots in a new democratic Iraq. Notice the sly way he puts it: "driven by Sunni fears." They are worried that the Shiites won’t treat them right, you see.

Now that is a nice circumlocution. No need to ask if there is any basis to these fears. No need to actually catalogue any mistreatment of the Sunnis by the new government. You just have to refer to their ‘fears’ that they might be. So, having no choice in the face of such fears they do what any other reasonable group with such fears might do and launch a campaign of murdering civilians, a great many of whom are Sunnis too.

He cites Sunni fears because there is no actual mistreatment. The fact is that the Shiites and Kurds have acted with amazing forbearance and the holdout Sunnis that Mr. Kaplan is so solicitous of aren’t even a majority in their own minority. And what does it mean to point out that some of the Sunnis fighting now were not in Sadaam’s regime? Have they made any demands? Have they put forward any constructive proposals for constitutional reform or safeguards for Sunni interests? Can you remind yourself how extraordinary that is, to be fighting without any list of demands? How can you fight without saying what it is that you want? Of course they do say one thing they want, the Americans and other international forces out. Is there any reason to think that if they got what they wanted, the removal of American troops, they would do anything other than set up a new dictatorship of a Sunni strongman? That is when you fight without making a list of demands for the kind of government you want: when the kind of government you want is so morally unacceptable that it can’t be defended in public. Not even with the UN crowd.

So what if some or even most of them did not serve in the former regime? A lot of Clansmen spent the real civil war behind the lines and only decided to join the fight when it could be waged against civilians instead of armed men. Does that make them somehow more legitimate? Here again in his ignorance of some details I think bush has grasped the nettle better than his more informed intellectual critics: we are fighting for democracy against people that want a dictatorship. We cannot give up just because the people that want to rule their society by force are willing to murder.

Politicians and Intellectuals

For the most part, what we intellectuals ‘consume’ from policy is confirmation of our own belief system. We have all taken a big lifetime pay-cut to seek after truth. But truth very quickly and inevitable becomes ‘our truth,’ a set of propositions we are committed to proving. Moreover, the propositions we are proving are ones that are not easily disconfirmable—if they were, they would not be the provenance of intellectuals but of professionals and technocrats. For most policies, the consumer gets something tangible and measurable. They get a bridge or an education or an unemployment benefit or farm subsidy. For the intellectual he gets the satisfaction of seeing his belief system defended. Notice, that the great thing about the intellectual as client in politics is that you can pay him off even better when you loose the vote than when you win it.

If you are trying to please a constituent interested in having the highway in front of his store improved you do little for yourself by sending him a reproduction of your impassioned floor speech denouncing the rival politician that got the money to go to improve a different highway in a different district (or extreme environmentalist that got the funds diverted to a different concern altogether—though in that case there may be some ideological satisfaction involved from being about to explain one’s hardships on the basis of actions by ideological opponents—loosing to a politician with the same desire to distribute tangible goods to his constituents is just admitting you aren’t as good at is as he is, rather than being the victim of an evil ideology). Since politicians never have to compromise with other politicians to deliver for their intellectual constituents they are free to make unreasonable demands and vilify their opponents. Indeed, vilifying their opponents may be part of the ‘good’ they are delivering.

This is why foreign policy is the ultimate fountain of ‘distributive politics’ for politicians hoping to cater to intellectuals. They are able to deliver an endless supply of self-righteous condemnations of opposing believe systems with even less concern than in arenas like education, where something might actually have to be done at the end of the day. In foreign policy one can moralize, escape responsibility for the policies chosen by the national government (since, after all, in this case the people doing the choosing aren’t even other legislators but the President), and not even have to worry about your constituents suffering for your decisions. the only people hurt are usually people that can’t vote in the first place.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Power Use

How ironic that Kaplan’s criticism of Bush’s press conference performance and statements on Iraq and North Korea is entitled “Power Failure” after Kaplan’s thesis that the President’s answers disclose a misunderstanding of power. The real failure in this regard is Kaplan’s.

Kaplan’s analysis of the President’s demand for six party talks instead of sitting down one on one is that the President fails to understand that the US is the only country with the power to give the North Koreans what they want: security guarantees. “does he really not understand why the North Koreans want one-on-one talks? Is he really blind to the power politics of the situation—to the power that the North Koreans are trying to amass by going nuclear and to the power that they see in the United States as the one country that can provide those security guarantees?”

Doe Kaplan really think the North Koreans are only pursuing these weapons because they are afraid of the US? That part of the reason they are afraid of the US is because they do things that should make them afraid of us and that they would like to go on doing if they could only get US assurances of their security or be able to guarantee it with the ability to blackmail us and our allies with nuclear weapons? And is he really so blind to the fact that power is based on having something the other side needs? And that in addition to security guarantees from the US the North Koreans need practically everything? And that they get practically everything for the other parties in the six party talks?

The only way the North Koreans will ever be brought to heal is if the nations that enable them—China and to a lesser extent Russia, Japan and South Korea—step up to their responsibilities and cut their pets off. The only way to make them do that is to make the other powers sit down and agree to do so. The whole idea that Bush wants six power talks because he thinks that five people telling you to play nice is better than one is laughable. The reason he wants them is to make others responsible. In any case, even if one believed like Kaplan that the only thing motivating the North Korea’s was their fear of us, what difference does that make? Why does that require that there be bilateral talks with the US and the North Korea’s? Can’t the security guarantee’s that supposedly motivate the course of action they embarked on so long before Bush was on the scene be given in the context of six party talks? Indeed, if they were really so mistrustful of the US—and I can only consider the mistrust of such scum a badge of honor—wouldn't’t they

I am so indignant that Kaplan has the temerity to blame Bush for this situation because finally someone hand the guts to point out the plane facts—that this is an evil regime. I am made physically ill at the suggestion that we can only have peace with dictators if we agree speak in a kind of code that doesn't’t call murder, depravity and evil by their names and that anyone who dares to do so has brought whatever vile regimes like the North Koreans do to us on themselves. I am sure that if Kaplan had been around during the interwar years he would have castigated Churchill for stoking Hitler’s insecurities by calling attention to his atrocities. Appeasement of the kind that Kaplan advocates is what got us into this mess.

The real criticism of Bush is not that he is unwilling to truck down to North Korea’s demands and give him a security guarantee. It is that Bush hasn’t been hard enough on China. It is only China that has any real leverage. If the US did give North Korea security guarantees would that change anything? They started their program while Clinton was in the White House and sold it to us the first time for billions in aid. Did the North Korea’s fear that Clinton was going to invade them because of their human rights violations? Did Clinton’s actions in Kosovo, based on humanitarian considerations, cause the North Korea’s to be afraid? Force them to develop a nuclear program out of concerns of being invaded by the great crusader from Hope?

The North Korea’s want the weapons because they give them power. They might be willing to sign agreements to get rid of them in exchange for yet more billions in aid. But those agreements will never be worth anything until they are backed up by something the North Korea’s really fear.

The real flaw in Bush’s performance

This is the real failure of the Bush policy. Having the six party talks at least puts the people with the power to actually force them to change their behavior in the same room together. But to really change the North Korea’s he has to pressure their enablers. First and foremost this means the Chinese. The security guarantees against a hypothetical future US invasion that Kaplan believes the North Korea’s are worried are worth a lot less than the fact that North Korea can hardly feed itself, hardly keep its lights on for a day without the Chinese.

Pressuring the Chinese is something the administration has so far been unwilling to do, at least publicly. Until they do nothing the administration does or does not do will make any difference. I think the solution is straightforward. The Chinese are aiming missiles at Taiwan. Give Taiwan nuclear missiles unless the North Korea’s come clean. This would be the only thing we could do that would hurt the Chinese without costing us much money or trade. It would force the Chinese to either get the North Korea”s to come around or allow us to do something that I think would be good to do anyway. And in opposing it the Chinese would be forced to justify their own placements of offensive nuclear missiles aimed at the very people they are supposedly hoping to ‘liberate’.

The fact that North Korea can’t go without Chinese support for an afternoon without a power failure is the real pressure point. And the failure of the Bush administration to make the Chinese pay for their support of this vile regime in the same way he holds regimes that give aid and comfort to Islamic terrorists is the real power failure of the Bush administration.

Leo--Could we drop the War Thing?

Future historians forced to rely on Hollywood movies to recontruct the concerns of 21st Century Americans would be justified in identifying the cheif threat to the security of ordinary Americans was neo-Nazi cabals ensconsed in the highest reaches of government. There would certainly be little evidence to suppor the contention that some Americans were worried about Muslim terrorists. A young maverick assistent prof looking for tenure will advance the bizarre thesis that there was such a thing as Islamic terrorists and that for a few years Americans were prone to cite terrorism from these groups as their chief security concern--neo-Nazis didn't even make the list. He will build this iconoclastic thesis on the slim reed of a single documentary by one Michael Moore, which claimed to examine the greatest single attack on the leading country in the 21st century in its history.

His collegues will make some prefuctory comments to the effect of admiring his enginuety in coming up with this thesis but then proceed to dismantle his argument. The weight of the cellioud evidence is overwhelming on the side of the Nazi-corporate nexus at the heart of the US government. Can our young scholar cite a single additional piece of evidence supporting his argument? Is it really plausible that an industry that survives on market revenues and revels in any excuse to explode things on screen would ignore WWIII happening in front of it. Why would an industry facing competitive pressures serving a religious and intensly patriotic market bother to mine the exploits of Greek pedophiles from 2,500 years ago ignore a subject with such dramatic possibilities and ready made interest from their customers?

Say what you will about the biases 1940s film makers brought to thier treatments of WWII, you must credit them with having noticed that WWII was happening. To an economist at the time that fact would have seemed an instantiation of a sort of universal law--a market driven industry will have no choice but to make movies about what its customers care about, regardless of the ideological convictions of the film makers themselves. Otherwise, someone would make films closer to the concerns of the ticket buying public and steal market share from them. Not happening. Go through your local video store at any time in the last four years and try to convince a Martian that the chief security issue confronting Americans is terrorism. Outside of a few documentaries exposing American perfidity--grabbing oil on the pretext of fighting terrorism, say--there is no evidence that such a thing as an Islamic terrorist exists.

The most striking cases of this can be seen when Hollywood adapts a novel. Islamic terrorists, no matter how central to the plot, are invariably changed to evil right-wingers. Such was the fate of Clancey's "The Sum of All Fears".

This Hollywood aversion to certain kinds of controversy is not limited to books about terrorism. "The Bonfire of the Vanities" was adapted straight to the screen except for the theme of the entire book--race. (even more bizarrely from the entertainment perspective, they also took out the endlessly entertaining America hating, alcoholic English journalist and changed him into a generic Bruce Willis smart ass)

It's like taking the War out of War and Peace. Anna Kirenina--great book, but could we not make them adulters? Brothers Karamozov--great murder mistery once you get rid of all that God stuff. "The Possesed"--are people going to want to sit through all that 19th century radical politics? Why spoil a great male bonding movie?

It can't be just fear of ethnic protest that makes Hollywood avoid its most interesting and marketable topics. It seems that a public that is willing to pay to see things blown up by military men would be only more willing to pay if these pyrotechnics involves story lines with some relevance to their lives. Its like we are living in one of those communist countries where they could only make historical movies--anything that happened under the current regime was too sensitive. Of course we can make movies set in our own times as long as the villians are strictly re-animated Nurenburg defendents (defendants from the Tokyo trials need not apply).

Monday, April 04, 2005

Gay marriage

Libertarian Jane Galt makes an interesting argument about gay marriage that largely parallels my own thinking. She makes a point that I have made myself, but she uses economic thinking. She argues that saying, "Letting gay people marry is not going to change my decision about getting married," is wrong because "you" might not be the marginal case. Just as in many situations in economics where an incentive might not change the behavior of the typical person but might have an effect at someone at one extreme or another of the distribution the same may be true of Gay marriage. A change in the minimum wage might not make you fire anyone but then your business might not, indeed probably is not, the marginal case.

She brings in the examples of welfare benefits and its effect on marriage in poor communities. The argument is more or less the same one that a lot of neo-conservatives made in the '90s about changing social rules on the basis of thier effect on the upper-middle-class while failing to take into account that an arrangment that might work well for the group making the rules could have disasterous effects on those farther down in the distribution of income, intellegence and education. This is really the argument at the center of Murray's book, Losing Ground. The framing in terms of economics and marginal effects is a real contribution, I think.

The other really nice thing about the post (and it is a very long one) is her citing of an argument made by G. K. Chesterton. He argues that those who see no need whatever for a social institution are precisely the people who have no business getting rid of it. Her setup and the quote itself are both worth reproducing at lenght:

"But as G.K. Chesterton points out, people who don't see the use of a social institution are the last people who should be allowed to reform it:

'In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."
This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.'

Now, of course, this can turn into a sort of precautionary principle that prevents reform from ever happening. That would be bad; all sorts of things need changing all the time, because society and our environment change. But as a matter of principle, it is probably a bad idea to let someone go mucking around with social arrangements, such as the way we treat unwed parenthood, if their idea about that institution is that "it just growed". You don't have to be a rock-ribbed conservative to recognise that there is something of an evolutionary process in society: institutional features are not necessarily the best possible arrangement, but they have been selected for a certain amount of fitness.

It might also be, of course, that the feature is what evolutionary biologists call a spandrel. It's a term taken from architecture; spandrels are the pretty little spaces between vaulted arches. They are not designed for; they are a useless, but pretty, side effect of the physical properties of arches. In evolutionary biology, spandrel is some feature which is not selected for, but appears as a byproduct of other traits that are selected for. Belly buttons are a neat place to put piercings, but they're not there because of that; they're a byproduct of mammalian reproduction.

However, and architect will be happy to tell you that if you try to rip out the spandrel, you might easily bring down the building."

That whole way of thinking should be kept in mind when thinking about social reform. The fact that you can't imagine what purpose is served by such and such a rule is precisely why you should be careful about doing away with it. It is evidence not that the arrangment is useless (though it well might be) but that you don't understand the process that brought it about.

Of course the problem with social arrangements like marriage is precisely that people do think they understand the process that brought them about--religion. In former times people had these strange ideas about the Bible and Preists having some sort of supernatural insight into God's laws and people adopted them in much the same way that people earlier adopted practices like animal sacrifice. If the process that enforces practices like hetrosexual marriage are the products of the same process that inspecting lamb entrails before battle then we understand and reject the process that brought it about and feel perfectly free to discard the social arrangement.

That is why I think the evolutionary analogy is so useful in her argument (again one I have made many times). The very thing that makes ancient social arrangments suspect on process grounds--their association with ancient reasoning systems which no have credibility (at least among an influential subsection of the population)--ends up being what should make us reluctant to discard them willy-nilly on evolutionary grounds. Old arrangments are ones that have been selected for. Ultimately, she is saying that the religious arguments butressing social arrangements like marriage are artifactual.

I think the "spandrel" terminology is quite useful here. It focuses on a body of knowledge and a bit of experience that we all find accessible. The interesting thing is that it also cuts both ways. The arguments of environmentalists also have the spandrel idea in them. The argument against allowing species to go extinct because we can see no apparent use for them is precisely what should make us nervous about allowing them to go extinct.

Monday, March 28, 2005

freedom of speech vs. freedom from fear

Here is an interesting item in today's Opinion Journal round up of good news from Iraq:

"the poll showed 60 percent of those interviewed thought that democracy was preferable to any other kind of government. Democracy could give better education, jobs and wages for more of the population, they said. Ninety-one percent said living without fear was essential to democracy, but freedom of speech and political participation ranked lower. "

Notice how ranking freedom from fear higher than freedom of speech and participation is viewed as a mistake. Isn't that rather parochial on our part? Maybe given the situation of Iraqis they are right. We don't have a memory of a time when people were killed for expressing the wrong views or being preceived as being on the wrong side. Remember in the aftermath of the Italian journalist's shooting at the check point it came out that one of the problems with the system was that Iraqis are afraid to slow down and look--under the old regime, if you looked at the security officers you were liable to get a knock on the door in the middle of the night. With a society facing that level of fear the ability to read the newspaper you want is reasonably less important than freedom from being targeted by the police. The closest thing we have to the level of terror that Iraqis face is among blacks in the deep south. Ask people that were getting lynched for looking at someone the wrong way to rank freedom from fear against freedom of the press.

Sunday, March 27, 2005


I am telling you, these living wills will never work. Please, save us all some trouble. We can't go through another media feeding frenzy like this. If you are going to go in the hospital and think you might be incapacitated the only prudent thing to do is kill someone.

Saturday, March 26, 2005


Want to be safe from death by starvation? Kill someone. That was Terri’s big mistake. Being a wife and beloved friend was what doomed her.

Take any of the arguments being put forward to justify the slow starvation death of Terri Schiavo to justify the execution of a murderer and you would be—what—called a murderer yourself. We are told without a trace of doubt that a convicted murderer put to death on the word of a jail house snitch who testifies in exchange for a lighter sentence that society is executing an innocent man. But question whether the word of an estranged husband (living with his new “wife” and two kids) who stands to gain a cool million that had been awarded to him to pay for Terri’s care and you are given a tired lecture on the importance of states rights.

Of course I can believe that Mr. Schiavo has her best interests at heart, I could even believe he did suddenly remember the little snatch of conversation that justifies the claim that we are only carrying out Terri’s wishes in starving her to death. But what I can’t believe is that a reasonable person can’t have some doubt. And that is the standard that we apply to murderers before we subject them to a painless death. Why is the bar so much lower to subject someone to this agony. And the person I saw on TV definitely looks like someone that can feel pain.

What is so striking is the seeming rush to judgment. To act when there is no necessity to do so. Her loving and distraught family ready to take all the responsibility and expense of her care.


We want this to be about living wills. What nonsense. What can hardly be less than clear is that there was a decision made. The judge and Terri’s husband decided the outcome they wanted and looked for a way to get it. They found it in some imagined statement that supports the argument that Terri would have wanted it this way. They ignored evidence on the other side of the proposition that was clearly stronger.

But the idea that a living will would stop the professionals from doing what they want to do is fanciful. Remember the first the issue in the case was whether the husband of the family had the right to make the decision. When that stopped working the TV utterance was discovered. And it happily jogged the memory of The husband’s sister and old friend. The legion of Terri’s friends and family that remembered the exact opposite views from this devout Catholic woman were found to be not credible (if he bothered to pronounce on them at all). But if it had been the other way around, if the parties on the side of death and raising the bar to a be considered a living human being had been reversed is there any doubt that the exact opposite parties would have been found to be credible? Or that some other principle in the law would have been found to make the parents the final arbiters?


What is happening in this country. The judge orders death and no pictures. No recording devices. No way are we allowed to judge for ourselves. The pictures that we see of Terri and her eyes watching the balloon were taken illegally, against the judge’s orders. If the evidence in a murder case were kept away from the public like this we would be outraged. If the judge’s decision, the precious words of his opinion that are the really important thing nowadays, were kept from the public the outrage would be palpable. The people cannot be deprived of moral instruction, but evidence—that is for the important people to see.

But what is so disturbing is that people don’t seem to mind the evidence being kept from them. They want to keep this out of sight.


Mickey Kaus:
“One way of putting it is that the end of life is so messy, and riddled with potentially guilt-inducing glitches, that nobody wants to be judgmental about it (as the pro-tube position requires).”
But that is the key thing. How is it that the life side is the judgmental one? What has happened that not wanting to starve a person to death is judgmental? It would seem that the people wanting to end a life on the reasoning that the life in question is not worth living are at least as judgmental as the ones that want to give a person food and water.


We have unknowingly decided to change what medicine is. We have changed it from being a group of people that try to keep you alive to a profession that decides whether to keep you alive. We have changed the hospital to a place where they decide whether your life is worth living. People think that will make things better. I think they will be disappointed.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Schiavo--random thoughts

The real key to winning political battles is to have your interests defined as disinterested. That has clearly been achieved by the pro-euthanasia side.

The judge considered dis-interested. The supporters of Schiavo are said to have interests or, worse, ideological/political motivations. The parents have personal interests which lead them astray, make it impossible to see the truth that is so obvious to experts. They are to be pitied but not respected in their judgments. The pro-life people are ideologically motivated. This is the big no-no. But those who want life redefined as a bundle of goods to be weighed as plusses and minuses are the dis-interested voice of reason. They do not have an ideology. Thus a judge who goes to perverse lengths to ignore or not hear evidence that might work against his ideology’s preferred conclusion.

A judge, a real judge, has decided not once but twice that she has no hope and would want to die. People actually say this as if it should convince anyone. Would that cut any ice if it were a murderer we were talking about killing?

It is very important and little remarked upon that the debate has shifted from the husband’s right to speak for the wife to a simple question of what would Terry have wanted. Apparently this had always been the basis for the judge’s ruling. How did attention come to be shifted to this aspect of the case, or, rather, why was it on the ‘husband’s’ authority issue before?

Polarity of the fork. The other key to ideological hegemony is the polarity of forks. Every fork cuts both ways, has two heads, so to speak. In this case the two sides face the federalism fork. Pro-life people are forked between federalism and their preferred policy outcome. They are usually in the position of wanting state autonomy. The pro-euthanasia forces are facing the opposite fork. They are usually in the position of federal supremacy. They are forced to choose between their preferred policy outcome and federal supremacy. The fact that the pro-life forces are the ones routinely forced to account for the tension in their principles while the pro-euthanasia forces are not is a good indicator of which side is hegemonic.

An alternative hypothesis is that the side that is asking for a change in the status quo is the one that has to face this sort of question. A possible answer to this hypothesis is that defining one side or the other as changing the status quo is itself part of the powers of ideological hegemony. Maybe any policy involves changes in the status quo. In the Schiavo case there is a change—taking out the feeding tube for starters. What is considered a “change” of the sort that must give an account of itself is itself socially constructed.

Isn’t this a lot like those cases where the guy is convicted of murder on the strength of the testimony of a jailhouse informant? The guy claims that his cellmate one day just admitted to the murder. This is bad because the informant has an interest—he gets his sentence reduced. In the case at hand he gets a million dollars that he can think of a better use for than therapy for an invalid wife.

And I am so sick of the “how can we waste time on this while the ________ problem goes un-addressed?” comment. Some problems are important because of the value conflicts they involve, not the dollar amounts or number of persons immediately effected by their outcome.
And how bad were the Romans, anyway? Terri has a lot more going on than the average newborn. So we don’t starve babies because they are going to get better. But is it that far away?

Terri Schiavo

What about the 8th Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment? Death by starvation would certainly be considered cruel and unusual punishment if she were a murderer. Would the "trial" that effectively sentenced a human being to death by starvation even begin to pass muster for a murderer?


The key to winning a political debate is getting the other side to buy into your assumptions, to argue on your turf. A case in point is this entry from "Rantingprofs" on a Newsweek article describing an insurgent ambush that left 26 enemy dead with no American KIA:

"Then comes the daily roundup of violence.
No doubt, there's a daily roundup of violence to be had, no doubt the security situation isn't good, isn't what it should be.
The place ain't Shangri-la.
But there are more and more people on the ground saying the situation isn't just getting better, but that it's getting better to the point that it genuinely looks as if the enemy is in real trouble."

I think it is interesting to note the defensiveness in the author's analysis of the situation. It is as if we are to apologize for the lack of security. Here are Iraqis killing other Iraqis in order to impose a dictatorship and we are apologetic because we haven't "provided" enough security.

This way of looking at it just seems so wrong. Our soldiers are selflessly laying down their lives, taking no profit or tribute from the people of Iraq, only fighting to give the people of Iraq the right to live freely under a government of their own choosing and still we are somehow to apologize because some other Iraqis, who want to re-impose a dictatorship, are going around killing people at random. The thing that is so perverse is that we feel an obligation to put a good light on this because if the Iraqis trying to impose a dictatorship on the rest of the country.

We are trying to protect people and the more murderous the other side is the more we are apologetic about not providing enough security? It is as if the Federals and Abolitionists were expected to apologize for freeing the slaves because of the Klu Klux Clan riding around hanging black people. Was the violence of the Klu Klux Clan, the terrorism, used as an argument for not fighting the Civil War? How can the degenerate terrorism of the Baathists and Jihadists be used as an argument for having left them in charge?

N. B. Forest

Reading great biography of Nathan Bedford Forest.

He is a study in contrasts. He begins his life as a slave trader and ends--at no small cost to himself--as an advocate of a racially inclusive democratic party. First Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Clan he ends up disbanding it in Tennessee and denouncing its continued operations elsewhere.

He illustraites and challenges a lot of theories. Famous for having 30 horses shot out from under him, he would seem to be the embodiment of the sort of "charge with banners flying" ethos we associate with 19th century military. But, untrained in military theory, he was one of the few civil War era generals that saw the futility of the frontal assault. All of his victories, and they were almost always victories when he was in sole command, were won by doing exactly what theory of the time said you should never do: divide his forces. He rebukes a superior saying, "If I knew as much about West Point tactics as you do I'd get whipped everytime for sure."

An interesting thing about 19th century battles was that because communications were so slow and uncertain on the battle field, most coordination depended crucially on commanders being able to anticipate what their fellow commanders (on the same side) would do in a given situation. This is one of the reasons Forest does not work well in groups where he is not in sole command but is instead the head of only a part of the army. Once the battle begins the other commanders are not able to anticipate what he will do. This causes problems even though his decisions are sometimes, in fact, usually, better than what the other commanders expect him to do. The local efficiency represented by Forest's ability to make full use of local information is to some extent counterbalanced by the loss in coordination with other commanders. Chicamagua is a possible case in point (though there even more traditionally trained commanders would have done what Forest was expecting others to do and it was only the unusual timidity of ?Buford? that lead to a failure to follow up on the initial breakthrough in Federal lines). An army may sometimes be better off with a lot of commanders making bad decisions, but the same bad decisions, than having individual geniuses making better but unpredictable decisions.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Interesting article on liberal icon Alfred Kinsey from the City Journal by Edward Feser:

"One particularly monstrous pedophile, a man who had sexual relations with various of his family members and molested hundreds of children, kept regular contact with Kinsey and his associates. They assured him that they wouldn’t turn him in to the authorities, despite the fact that he continued to molest children throughout the time of their correspondence. Kinsey justified such aiding and abetting of criminality in the name of “science,” of course. "

Reminds me of the Tuskegee syphilis study that is so justly infamous. Notice how in both cases the researcher is not causing the problem, just allowing it to go on. Of course the number of victims was much larger in the Tuskegee incident and the harm presumably greater to each individual victim (though the harm of a pedophile to his victim may be as great as an early death and the harm of not getting medical care for syphalis in the mid-20th century may, due to the state of medical science at the time, much less than we might suppose--I genuinely have no idea on either account). Still, it is lucky for the sake of Kinsey's reputation that none of the pedophile's victims were African American.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Democracy and the Middle East

I think that the arguments against the possibility of democracy in the Middle East are wide of the mark. One of the more common themes in such arguments is that Democracy takes a long time to grow and has to be the result of an historical negotiation, not something imposed by force. The first has a ring of truth. Most democracies were the result of a long historical development. But that doesn't mean all of them have to be. The analogy could be with market economies. The first market economies take centuries to develope, but once the template is developed and seen to be working it is a much shorter process to adopt in late adopting societies. We are all quite unsurprised to see countries that have never had anything like the long process that lead to market economies in the West quickly adopting them successfully in the last half of the 20th Century. This is because market economies may have developed according to a very historically specific process but the elements of human nature that drive them are just that--elements of human nature. Likewise with democracy. The second argument, that you can't impose democracy by force, faces some obvious counter-examples, noteably Germany and Japan after WWII. But more to the point, the question to ask is why would not democracy be the sort of thing you could impose by force? You can certainly impose other sorts of governments by force? It is quite simple to impose it. The question is do the majority of the people in a country want to keep it? If they do, then the only way to stop democracy is by force. Democracy has become the only legitimate form of government. By legitimate, I mean it is the only one that can be defended by rational argument among political elites throughout the world. The fact that democracy is still rare in parts of the world is a reflection not of its legitimacy but of force. The fact that we are still fighting opponents of the government in Iraq is evidence not that democracy is unpopular there but that the people fighting it are unpopular. If it were otherwise, they wouldn't be fighting.

Monday, January 31, 2005

right again

ok, gloating done.

Now, on to the fun part, complaining. I find it a little tiresome, this line that people have on the election, that, now, OK, the ball is in the court of the Shias to show that they can be responsible and give the Sunni's a place at the table anyway. Obviously it would be prudent to try and peel off the moderate Sunni's to the extent practicable, but does anyone else find it a bit odious that we continue to put the onus on the Shias? Have they been the ones going around threatening to and sometimes succeed at blowing people up for having the termerity to vote? I think the most striking fact has been the amazing restraint shown by the Shia in the face of the most extraordinary provocation. It is a little like going down to Mississippi after the voting rights act is passed and saying, "Ok, now, the important thing is for the negroes to act responsibly and make sure that the KKK supporters have a reason to feel that their interests are not going to be prejudiced by the fact that they succeeded in terrorizing so many people from going to the polls."

Thursday, January 27, 2005


Andrew Sullivan reports:

"RELEASED WITHOUT CHARGE: The final four Brits in Guantanamo were immediately released by the British government upon returning to the UK. They are charging torture. No formal charges of terrorism have been brought against them. Either we should be deeply concerned that potential terrorists are now at large or that innocent men have been held without any due process for three years and, if they were not British, would still be in jail. Which is it?"

I think he asks a very interesting question but one that excludes the middle, as Aristotle would say. One would presume that a large number of Al Qaed members were in Afghanistan but that most had never gotten to the point where they had committed what would normally be called a crime, i.e., participating in a direct conspiracy to perform a specific terrorist act at a specific time and place. There must be a large number of detainees that they were members of al Qaeda and had therefore taken an oath to attack America, went through a training program to do that and fought with them in the war. Those actions are good reasons for the Americans to hold them even though none of those actions are explicitly crimes. Applying standards of criminal law to such persons would mean they were innocent.

But innocent does not mean not dangerous. Imagine that they had been let free soon after being picked up in Afghanistan but were subsequently involved in a terrorist act against the US. What would be our reaction? I can imagine us saying now, "Well, that is the price we pay for being a civilized world," but I can also imagine a government being in a great deal of trouble. After all, they had by their actions clearly conveyed in a general sense thier intention to do harm to the US. No government whose citizens having subsequently been attacked by such people would have a right to say they didn't see it coming.

I think there is a problem applying the legal paradigm to this problem. After all, I would imagine that many of the soldiers in the German or Japanese Armies never fired a shot in anger or directly participated in anything that they could be arrested for. My Uncle delivered mail in the Phillipines in WWII, not a crime against the Japanese but still part of the American War effort and still enough for any Japanese soldier that saw him to lawfully shoot him or take him prisoner. Maybe the problem is that we need to make joining certain types of organizations itself a crime?

The whole thrust of western civilization has been to move from treating people as members of collectives to treating them as individuals. This is surely an advance to the extent membership in these collectives were based on characteristics that a person can do nothing about, e.g., being of a certain race or nationality. But that may not be true for a collective one voluntarily joins. The reason you can shoot members of the opposing army without inquiring what they have done as individuals is that war is a clash of groups, not individuals. Asking what crimes these released members of Al Qaeda have committed seems to being applying the standards applied to individual activity through criminal law to the collective activity of war.

Michael Reinhard

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


I predict these elections in Iraq will be a huge success. I think the turnout will be above 60% even in Sunni areas and even if it isn't it won't matter. Sunni's not being able to vote because of Sunni terrorists is really not a knock on the other 80% of Iraqis and in any case, a democratically elected government is a very hard thing to dismiss.


I have a horrible cold and workload that prevent me from blogging just at the moment, but I would just like to go on the record for the benefit of the contemporary world and posterity that I think the Iraqi elections will be a big success. I have thought that all along and nothing has happened to make me less confident. I think turn out will be in the 60% range enven in Sunni areas and even if it isn't I predict that it will not matter. A democratically elected government is a difficult thing to dismiss.

Monday, January 10, 2005

society for self-congradulatory anachronism

There is a pattern in movies where we go back but take most of ourselves with us.
The pattern is straightforward. A hero, tortured by the his own past and his participation in the crimes of his own society is thrust into the midsts of an oppressed group. He learns their ways and comes to understand them. Then he has a great moral revalation about the importance and moral superiority of this oppressed group and, of course, the moral inferiority of his own group. The climax of the story is involves the hero making some sort of revelatory speech and members of the oppressed group looking on in gratitude for his revalation of thier own moral superiority and members of the hero's group sputtering in anger and storming away in a huff as only those who know deep down inside that they are truly the guilty ones can do.
These movies serve a political purpose just as plain as the movies made during WWII did--they validate the moral order that reigns among the people making the movies. The key is that the hero reacts to the situation not as a man of that time would but as a person of our time would. And the oppressed and oppressors have little relation to the historical groups they are to represent but are fully determined by the supposed virtues and faults of the contemporary political collectives they are meant to represent. Even when the story draws from a history situation where there was a hero acting against an oppressive group the hero's motives and conduct are not one of a person of thier time but of a person of our time transplanted into historical reality that is only costume deep. The three examples of the genre I will examine in this chapter are "Dances with Wolves," "The Last Samurai," and "Iron Jawed Angles."


Fellow came up to me. He was from Sri Lanka. He mentioned how funny it was the Americans started doing something about disaster relief only after the argument was made that failure to do so would be used by Al Qaeda to increase support among the Muslim victims of the disaster. Aside from being patently false the interesting thing is that he did not expect me to be offended. Nor did he have any reason to think I would be. After all, I am an academic and academics aren’t Americans, they are citizens of the world. His years in the U.S. academic world had lead him to expect that a professor would naturally see himself as a citizen of the world, not of America. He was not being provocative in insulting my country since, as a fellow academic, he implicitly assumed that my country was the “cosmopolitos” or “cosmotopia” that imagined community of the enlightened that will one day rule the world as soon as the U.S. can be persuaded to cede sovereignty to the UN and fund enough international bureaucrats.