Friday, May 31, 2002

While still ignoring the reprecussions of an invasion of Iraq, Josh Micah Marshall is at least addressing the arguments against invasion, and he makes a valid point about the problems entailed in continuing a sanctions and containment regime. What he continues to miss, however, are the very real international problems that such an invasion would cause. His analogy about "lancing a boil" is utterly inaccurate; it would be more like forcible cosmetic surgery.

Frankly, in my darker thoughts I'm starting to wonder if 9/11 has completely eradicated any concept of non-American national sovereignty from the minds of the citizens of the United States outside of the so-called "loony left". The litmus tests that I mentioned earlier really have less to do with being pro- or anti-American and a lot more to do with whether or not one believes the United States has the ability and the moral right to do whatever suits its interests, and whether it should or can compromise on any issue. This doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the war on terrorism, because the invasion of Iraq would have very little to do with that war and I know for sure that the ICC, Kyoto treaty, and the Farm bill have nothing to do with it. The debate now solely centers around whether something is in the United States' interests; any questioning of the primacy of those interests from any source is now dismissed as "anti-Americanism". Whether someone is actually American or not. I wonder whether this is a temporary reaction to the brutality of Al-Qaeda's attack, or a permanent change in American attitudes. I don't think I even want to know what it would mean if the latter were the case.
So, it would appear that the echo chamber has once again decided that Krugman=bad. Hoystory is just the first one I've visited so far, but he's already jumped on Paul for defending the WHO when it it's obviously a cesspool of governmental waste. Let's see...

The difference between contributing through taxes and through a charitable organization is a "donor" has more say in where the money goes and how it is used. The WHO uses more than one third of its budget at its headquarters (see Page 12). [Link requires Adobe Acrobat]. One can safely assume that those costs are administrative. You can also assume that some small portion of the costs for the other geographic areas is administrative.

Compare that to the American Institute of Philanthropy's guidelines for charitable organizations:

Percent Spent on Charitable Purpose
This is the portion of total expenses that is spent on charitable programs. In AIP?s view, 60% or greater is reasonable for most charities. The remaining percentage is spent on fundraising and general administration.

That 60 percent figure takes into account the fact that, unlike the WTO, most charities also spend money on fundraising campaigns. The WTO just lobbies governments. A generous look at the WTO's numbers suggests that if they were a charity, their administrative costs may be reasonable -- but not necessarily good. (For a list of charities that fare better look here.)

Well, Hoy, you mixed up the WTO and WHO there, and seem to have missed that according to the guideline you just cited, the WHO's budgeting for administration comes under the 40% allowable under the AIP's guidelines. This is especially important considering that the WHO is an administrative body; or did you think that the sort of intergovernmental work that any enterprise of this sort entails is done for free? The WHO does a fair bit of research; does it not make sense that the research would be done at headquarters?

I'll agree that there is only a tenuous connection between the estate tax and the WHO's request for more foreign aid, but Krugman is (obviously) trying to illustrate a point; that there is a trend in the United States, especially in the executive branch, towards cutting taxes for the wealthy and cutting benefits for the poor. The estate tax and the WHO are simply the most egregious examples of such; the farm bill is certainly another valid example.

I don't see exactly why Hoy thinks that Krugman is republican-bashing, though. He seems to be handing out plenty of blame for all; saying that his mockery of the term "compassionate conservatives" implies that he's simply Republican bashing assumes that only Republicans are conservative. That is, of course, absurd.

One other point, illustrated by a quotation Hoy used from the New York Times:

During a visit to a well in Wakiso, an area outside of Uganda's capital, Kampala, the Treasury secretary emphasized how cheaply the well had been built, noting that it cost $1,000 and provided clean water to more than 400 people. Using "back-of-the-envelope arithmetic," he said, he and Uganda's central bank governor had calculated the night before that wells serving all of the nation's people could be drilled for about $25 million. He questioned why it couldn't be done within a year.

"Last year the World Bank lent $300 million to Uganda," he said later in the day to a university audience. "What was so important that there wasn't $25 million to $30 million to give everyone in Uganda clean water? Where did the money go?"

This actually supports and illustrates Bono's real agenda. Where did the money go? I can't say for sure, but I can probably guess: arms, administration, and interest payments. Big, fat, lucrative interest payments. Bono's big cause is debt forgiveness, and this fits example actually fits in quite nicely. I can't say for sure, obviously, but neither can Hoy. His assumption that "much of the money that is targeted for aid is gobbled up by bureaucracy at some international aid agencies, and, when the money finally arrives in a country it is often stolen by government officials who use it to live a life of luxury while their people die" is really popular among the right-wingers who like to think that absolutely no foreign aid ever gets to whomever it's directed at, but is utterly unprovable unless he has access to the Ugandan budget and all the foreign aid organizations working there. I find this unlikely.

I have no doubt that other parts of the echo chamber are saying much the same thing, but I'm not about to spend the entire day rebutting each and every one. I'll leave it at Hoy. At least he didn't use the silly "line 47" thing again.

Update: Apparently, I have reading comprehension problems. Anybody who wants to toddle on over and check out what I wrote in his comments section is welcome to do so and respond here. Did I go overboard about Hoy? Did I mess up citation? Am I a liberal commie pinko bastard who should be arrested for treason and made to run through the streets naked whilst being stabbed repeatedly by lovely laudable laughing libertarians?

By all means, let me know.

(Edit: That quote wasn't from Krugman, it was from a different article that Hoy was using to illustrate his point. Fair 'nuff; it is changed)
I was originally going to respond in Ye Olde Blogge's comment section, but have changed my mind and am going to respond here. At least I'm on my own turf.

I'm not overly surprised by the reaction. I was wondering how long it would take before I would be lumped in with Chomsky et al for questioning the wisdom of invading Iraq. It would appear my entry about "litmus tests" was more accurate than I knew- I'm sure it's only a matter of time before I'm called "loony left" or something of that sort. I wouldn't be overly surprised at being labelled anti-Semitic as well; it seems to be the fate of anybody who seriously breaks the litmus tests nowadays, whether they have any position on Israel or not. (For the record, I support the existence of Israel and the concept of a Jewish homeland in Israel. This is just so I don't get some plump 'n juicy character assassination from David Horowitz if and when I become visible enough for him to try it.)

In any case, I understand the arguments being made by Harris and Braue perfectly well. There is a difference (which is recognized by Japanese culture and sadly ignored by our own) between understanding an argument and agreeing with it. I can understand the argument being made in favour of invading Iraq; I simply don't agree with it. The whole "communication" and "ramen vs. varelse" thing is simply a sideshow; Saddam was never varelse before the Persian Gulf, we talked with him before, he hasn't changed much since the Iran/Iraq war, so why is it different now?

Ok, first point of dispute:

I must admit I don't really understand this perception. I don't know where it comes from, nor do I get the (repeated in the next paragraph) assertion that the American right is "obsessed" with Iraq.

Did you read the National Review prior to 9/11, or several other right-wing mags? Inasmuch as such publications represent the right wing of American punditry, I can assure you that there was continual and loud calls for the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein. This has been going on since the Gulf War; have you not read the right-wing critiques of Bush's actions in the Gulf War?

Next point:

In any case, I don't know what evidence my government has linking Iraq to Al Qaeda, or to any of the actual attacks on US citizens. I can well believe that investigators have had trouble finding conclusive evidence that would be sufficient backing for a regime change; our 'intelligence' community doesn't seem to be able to match both halves of their own ass. But it's also easy to suppose that Mr./Ms. D. tosses off the idea of Hussein's involvement much too easily, as if we should say, sure, Hussein's a thug and a dictator, but who are we to tell his people they deserve better?

Ah, and here's the meat of the post. (Aside from the knee-jerk accusation of anti-Americanism that I'll ignore as a courtesy to Ms. Harris). I'll break it down into two concepts (which, yes, I understand). First, the idea that there is evidence linking Saddam to 9/11. There isn't, not really. At best they've been able to find an incredibly weak connection between one Iraqi spy and Al Qaeda that doesn't prove much of anything except the power of coincidence. Investigators haven't been able to find any because no such thing exists, much as the extreme right would really, really, really like to believe there's one. The Bush administration has been desperate to find one in order to provide a legitimate reason to invade Iraq. The fact that they haven't found one that could even conceivably be used to justify the invasion to their own soldiers (let alone the public and let alone the international community) speaks volumes. (Even if the FBI sucks, you know that their allies would love to find one too. Can you honestly claim that, say, Mossad or MI6 wouldn't be able to find such a connection if they were really looking for it and it actually existed?)

The second claim comes back to the question of legitimacy and sovereignty, two points that Cliff brought up in my comments section. The claim argued by both Harris and Cliff is that Saddam is not legitimate because he is a Warrior; he clawed his way to the top and crushed those who opposed him. Since he isn't legitimate, his nation cannot have sovereignty; since his nation cannot have sovereignty, the United States would not be engaging in gunboat diplomacy if it invaded Iraq. The problem with this argument is that such governments are universal, and there has never, ever, EVER been a precedent in international law or even in American law that argues that elected governments is free to crush unelected governments whenever it has a disagreement with them.

Look: the concept of sovereignty and legitimacy have nothing to do with whether or not a government is popularly elected. On the contrary, they rest solely on who controls the state, and therefore the legitimacy that a state has as a matter of course. The idea of state sovereignty predates the United States and representative democracy itself, and there have been several influential writers (Thomas Hobbes chief among them) who have argued that legitimate sovereignty not only has nothing to do with representative democracy but is actually impossible in representative democracies! (I don't support this view, but it does exist). Other political philosophers that have directly influenced the formation of the United States such as Locke and Rousseau would hardly argue that it takes a democracy to bestow legitimacy on a government: Rousseau didn't even think representative government was legitimate because people "were only sovereign when voting!"

What bestows legitimacy on a government is the willingness of the people to obey it. Why they are willing is unimportant; if they obey in order to avoid being shot, then that is as legitimate as any belief that their leaders are wise and/or representative. If they are willing to be subject to its rule, then it is legitimate. If they are not, then they set themselves in opposition to it and either destroy it or are destroyed by it. This is what rebellion or revolution is; it is the rejection of the legitimacy of the state and an attempt to form a new state. Whether or not that government is democratic, whether or not it is oppressive (and how many libertarians have argued that the American government itself is oppressive, despite the representative assemblies), whether or not they shoot every tenth citizen because they're sick, twisted, insane bastards; they're legitimate until the people decide otherwise. From that flows sovereignty; whomever has the legitimate use of force (or ability to decide who gets to use force) is sovereign. In modern times, that's the state. In Iraq, that's Saddam Hussein, whether the United States likes him or not.

This is why the United States used the tactics it did in Afghanistan, by the way, and why it's been trying to build up a native Iraqi resistance for a decade now. It wants the Iraqis to rise up and say "you are no longer legitimate" to Saddam and his government and throw them down. They haven't, and likely won't. In Afghanistan it was different; there were competing factions, and the United States simply made sure that one faction beat another. The Taliban wasn't really a legitimate government and the United States was attacked by an organization it was connected to and therefore could aid: the Northern Alliance. The U.S. was also retaliating against aggression; there is plenty of precedent for that. The same is not true of Iraq; it is not connected to Al-Qaeda (as I mentioned earlier), and therefore cannot be attacked on those grounds.

Iraq's government is legitimate in Iraq. The United States is not legitimate in Iraq. The international system that has existed since the Treaty of Westphalia has emphasized that the affairs of a legitimate state (such as Iraq's) remain their own affairs unless and until they harm another state. These concepts are at the foundation of the United Nations, and the United States has always been extremely quick to defend these ideas when it comes to their own sovereignty. The United States rejected the International Criminal Court for this very reason; because they didn't want to give up their sovereign control over their own citizens to another body. To take this position with your own country and not with another is not only hypocritical but dangerous, because the entire reason this sort of system works is simply because states trust each other to play by the rules. If the United States invades Iraq, it shows to the rest of the world that it cannot be trusted, and that it doesn't truly care about national sovereignty unless it suits the U.S.'s own interests. (Note that this isn't limited to the United States: any nation doing this would be censored by the United Nations and the international community. If Iraq hadn't broken this basic rule, the Gulf War would have never happened. The United States is simply the only nation in the world which could pull it off right now, although China invading Taiwan would be equally egregious, as would be, say, an Indian invasion of Pakistan or vice-versa.)

Would this have reprecussions? Yes it would. The ICC would have proof that the United States' claims to sovereignty are invalid, and therefore could feel free to try any U.S. citizens it feels necessary, with the U.S' protestations of national sovereignty falling on deaf ears. The rest of the world would view the United States much differently in a strategic sense; although the United States could still be worked with, it would never be trusted. It would likely have economic repercussions; since the United States cannot be trusted to respect the strategic sovereignty of other nations, why would it be trusted to respect the economic sovereignty of other nations? What's to stop the United States from leaning on, say, Singapore until they agree to enact intellectual property laws that suit American interests? Singapore's government isn't popularly elected either, and yet I bet Harris has things in her home that were made there. Sure, the "money is flowing", but there's an awful lot of money out there that ain't U.S. dollars and investments that aren't in the United States; if you can't trust a country, why trade with it more than is absolutely necessary? (That's already starting to happen with the steel issue; other steel-importing countries are licking their lips over all the cheap steel imports they'll be able to get from outside the United States. The new intellectual property and copyright laws will only make this worse.)

Yes, Andrea Harris, I fully understand your point. yes, John Braue, I fully understand your point. And yes, Virginia, Saddam is unfortunately legitimate. Whether we like that or not is unimportant. Whether we think it's fair or not is unimportant. Whether we think that he might be a threat to us in at some point in the future is unimportant (and it's not a simple question: Saddam is not mad, and doesn't want to die, which he most certainly would if Baghdad was nuked to glass). The only real question from an international relations standpoint is whether the United States will invade anyway, and what repercussions that will have. I'm not sure about the answer to the first question, but am pretty sure of the answer to the second.

(Slight Edit: fixed a few spelling mistakes and increased the clarity a little.)

Thursday, May 30, 2002

When reading a response to a response to a response (sigh) on Akatsukami'ssite I ran across a bit that said "The Unaboard (definitely not to be confused with The UnaBlogger)." Curious, I decided to find out what the UnaBlogger was all about.

Umm, yeah. Needless to say, that site is Not Work Safe. Still, if one wants to stir up interests in weblogs, (and it really does have a great list of different blogs, which is a running joke on the site), I've seen worse tactics.

(I wonder how many people have that as their start page?)
I'm all in favour of environmentalism; the Earth has a vital and intricate ecosystem that I don't believe we fully understand and yet feel comfortable screwing with in many and sundry ways. But let's be honest here. There is no need for environmentalism on the moon. The Moon is Dead. Dead. There is no life up there, at least none that we've ever found (and we've certainly explored it more than we have Mars). I can see the value in keeping some of Mars intact and in carefully checking for indigenous life, but the Moon is dead. Period. The only way there will be life on the moon is if we put it there. Environmentalism is not needed where there is no environment. Heck, there isn't even an atmosphere to pollute. If anything I'd say that the sooner we get as many people up there as possible, the better, because it'll help alleviate conditions here on Earth, where there really is life and it really is being threatened.
Ann Coulter appears to be living in a parallel universe.

All I can say is that she's done a better job of making the right look like knuckle-dragging throwbacks than any liberal "slander".
Rarely if ever am I reduced to a simple "what the..." when reading something, but somehow Glenn Reynolds (aka Instapundit) managed to pull it off in his Fox News column about teen sex.

First, I actually agree with Glenn about the problem of society infantalizing teens. They aren't infants, nor are they children (except in the way that we all are). They're teenagers, which is a different thing entirely. Part of that "different thing" is that they are sexually mature, and (just like their parents before them) are going to want to do something with that, whether their parents (or their pastor) want them to do it or not. The "cliche" about teenagers having sex whether their parents want them to or not is true. That's why it became a cliche. I think Glenn missed the nuance involved in this, since teenagers are paradoxically both infantalized and sexualized by society (and probably partially by biology; it is the middle ground between childhood and adulthood after all) but by and large he has the right of it.

So, just as I'm thinking "you go Instapundit!" I read this:

I recommend a different approach: If we want teen-agers to be more adult, in their virtues as well as their vices, we should try treating them more like adults. Teen-agers should be encouraged to hold jobs in addition to going to school. (Or instead of since high school is not for everyone.)

No. Just No. This is ludicrous. Part of the reason teenagers do poorly in school is because they're carrying part-time jobs in order to pay for all the things they're expected to have nowadays, and their studies have suffered for it. This is not a topic for debate; there have been several studies that have supported it, and it simply makes sense that teenagers who work do less well in school. Why the heck would we want to encourage this? Because "high school is not for everyone"? And why is that, exactly? I could see the argument that "college is not for everyone" but most of those I know who dropped out of high school didn't do it because they had a bright future ahead of them that couldn't wait; they dropped out because they had little choice, or were so unbelievably shortsighted (which is, sadly, also a part of being 13-18) and anxious to get out into the "real world" (as is this) and anxious to get out from under their parents control (as is this). What, exactly, was Glenn thinking, dooming all these kids to what would likely be a lifetime of poor-paying unskilled labour at best and welfare at worst?

Much of high school is wasted time: School meets only about 180 days a year, with a lot of class time wasted on going over the same ground from one year to the next. Teen-agers with a powerful desire to be adults should be allowed to follow an accelerated program, with earlier graduation (and perhaps other privileges) as a reward. Many teen-agers would take advantage of this, rather than spending extra years in what's little more than a pre-adult holding tank.

Ah, he was thinking this. I've heard this argument before, and it gets sillier every time. First because it can be pushed back as far as you want; why the hell should kids go to elementary school... it's just a "holding tank", right? Who needs to know how to read anyway? I'll agree that there's a lot of wasted time and potential in high school but that isn't a function of the concept but a problem with the implementation. If high school weren't necessary adults wouldn't be going back to get their diplomas all the time. Which they are. (And I'd like to take a moment to express my support of alternate schools, which pick up a lot of the "free spirits" that Glenn is lionizing after they come to their senses and decide to move out of the trailer park.) Glenn is assuming that because teenagers aren't children and can exercise enough judgement to have sex they must be fully mature in every way. I somehow doubt that, considering the brain keeps on developing up until age 18 and considering the average teenager's hormonal levels could drop a healthy horse.

I think Glenn is trying to hearken back to a time when high school really wasn't necessary, and I can appreciate that. The simple fact of the matter, however, is that today's society *is* more complex than the ones where high-school wasn't necessary and eight years of education is enough. While there may be wasted time in high school, a lot of that time is "wasted" because of programs that are intended to evoke an interest in a subject that a student can use to guide his or her career choices, or programs whose value isn't immediately apparent, but comes in incredibly handy down the road. (Math and English, anyone?) I mean, how is anybody supposed to be able to hold down a white-collar job if they neither know basic mathematics nor how to write a report or essay?

For that matter, how exactly are people supposed to become able citizens without the kind of historical, geographical, and political training that one gets at the high-school level (and not nearly enough as it is?) I realize that the intended audience for Fox News isn't exactly high on the concepts of responsible citizenship that don't involve shooting gub'mint agents, but like it or not we're citizens, and we get the education we need to be citizens at the high-school level. (How the heck do you teach little kids about the historical bases of the United States' governmental system with the kind of depth they need to be able to interpret that when called upon to vote?) Without some sort of critical and civic training, these "responsible, uneducated adults" are at the mercy of demagogues, whose arguments pander to what they want to hear and which these people are ill equipped to deal with.

Perhaps if teen-agers were encouraged to take on adult responsibilities and win status and recognition in constructive ways, they'd probably start acting more like citizens, and less like a leisure class, with all the vices that have historically attended leisure classes.

Which is a good idea, although I think Glenn has missed the chicken-and-egg nature of boomers infantalizing their children in order to assert their own youth. Rest assured, though, leaving teenagers with an eighth grade education (if that: elementary schools push kids forward in ways that high schools don't) is not going to make them "citizens" in any way, shape, or form. At best, they'll be vocationally trained production/consumption machines; at worst, ignorant fools who betray everything that freedom and democracy stands for.

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

I don't really believe in the sort of blog vs. blog pissing matches that this sort of thing can provoke (Quasipundit's trials are fresh in my mind), but I'll write a (relatively) short response to Akatsukami, who critiqued my own critique of Josh Marshall.

First, I'm not an isolationist, I'm an internationalist (or multilateralist); as would appear obvious from reading the rest of the post. My concern is that the neo-conservative parts of the United States is willing and ready to become an international pariah (my exact words, even) because of this idea that they absolutely must kill Saddam, and violate international sovereignty and collective security in order to do it. I'm not saying that the United States should become Fortress America, far from it; I'm saying that if the United States "goes it alone" in removing Saddam from power, it has usurped sovereign power from the people of Iraq, the legitimate (if nauseating) government of Iraq, and the international community. It has arbitrarily chosen who will be free and who will not, who can be a leader and who cannot. (And the choice is arbitrary...there are other countries that pose much greater threats).

Second, it's funny that one of the principal examples he uses undermines his own argument:

The outcome of this position was seen in during the Hungarian uprising in 1956; after much brave rhetoric about freedom, Eisenhower and his minions watched, dry-eyed, whilst Russian troops murdered Hungarian freedom fighters. It may be convincingly argued, of course, that we were incapable of intervening in that conflict without unleashing events that would have had far more disastrous consequences.

It may be convincingly argued? It was about as close to God-Given truth as one can get without wandering in the desert, climbing a mountain, and borrowing a few tablets! It's an excellent supporting argument against unilateralism; international support lends legitimacy that is not present when one country is simply invading another, as does the recognition of the concept of national sovereignty. It's also irrelevant to the current situation; Iraq is not currently invading or oppressing any other nation, and doesn't have the capability to do so. Even with WoMD it wouldn't have the capability to do so; it could unleash devestation, but not only would it ensure the fiery end of Saddam himself but it still wouldn't help him take over any other country. That requires modern conventional arms, something Saddam doesn't have.

Thirdly and finally, Saddam is not varelse. He is human, he is understandable, and according to the best examinations of his character he is entirely sane (if megalomaniacal). he may be a brutal dictator, but that does not and never has given license to the United States to remove him, any more than the United States had license to (covertly) remove South American governments it didn't like (or oppositions it didn't like) because they advocated a political system that the United States abhorred. Besides, if one actually reads Ender's Game (and the series in general), one might figure out that the Bugs were not really varelse after all, and in fact never were. Ender's Game is a mockery of such concepts: the "Us vs. the Other" conflict was ultimately won by Ender, who was the "Other" all his life. Heck, Demosthenes and Locke were ultimately "Others" as well; Peter and Valentine chose those anonymous personae because they were children, and therefore "Other" themselves.

Oh, one other thing: in the future, when attempting to discredit or debate my points, I would suggest you read the whole post. The paragraph starting with "see, there's the problem here.." does a good job of explaining the problem of sovereignty, but you only quoted (and apparently read) the earlier section. Now, if you think that the United States shouldn't respect the national sovereignty of other nations, then by all means make that argument: it'd actually be very interesting, and one I'd be happy to engage. Trying to break down a misrepresentation of my own arguments is, frankly, just dull.
Heh. Media Whores Online has a new friend. Mediawhoresonline Watch is a new weblog that purports to correct MWO's falsehoods (or something along that line). Pity that, from what I've seen, the attempts to "debunk" MWO are mostly miserable failures, built on strawman arguments, baseless assumptions, and bald-faced assertions. Yes, MWO is partisan; it's supposed to be, in order to respond to the partisanship of most of the professional punditry one sees on television. Trying to score points by calling it partisan is useless, but it would appear that attacks on their credibility aren't working very well, either.

Let's just hope the echo chamber doesn't accord this site more respect than it deserves.
Josef Joffe seems to think that a comparison exists (and makes it) between GWB and Otto Von Bismarck. His reasoning? Prussia before WWI, like the United States now, was powerful but afraid of a concerted response from other powers, and like Bismarck Bush is doing his best to make his country indispensible and keep potential opponents from banding together. It's not a bad theory, but it has some holes.

First, none of the actions that Joffe cites (making friends with Russia, trying to keep India and Pakistan friendly with the US, toning down anti-chinese rhetoric, and trying to mediate in the middle east) necessarily prove that this particular style of diplomacy is the one Bush adheres to. All of these things are useful for the United States in a more general strategic sense, and could probably fit in dozens of strategic plans. Why just Bismarcks, a plan suited for a "balance of power" that simply doesn't exist anymore?

Second, I don't really see the connection between these actions- that there's even a guiding goal for all this, instead of Bush's simple reactions to what's already going on around him. The administration is known to be quite divided- I doubt Bismarck was lead around by his (contradicting) advisors instead of leading himself. There's no reason to believe there is really a grand strategic plan, instead of vague strategic goals being vaguely followed. The cohesion that Joffe is trying to find just isn't there.

Third, One of the big connections and fundamental goals for Bismarck was keeping France isolated from the world community so as to prevent that country from getting its revenge on Prussia for Frances' humiliation in the Franco-Prussian war. Where is the equivalent nowadays? The terrorists hardly count, and if he's trying to use this strategy against the "axis of evil" countries he's failing spectacularly, so much so I have to wonder if he's even doing it at all.

Fourth, and most importantly: Bismarck's actions led to WWI. Bush (or at least his advisors) knows that, and I honestly doubt that they'd be engaging a strategy that led to World War, considering the nightmarish possibilities that exist when one considers the eventual end of the "War on Terrorism". Even the most hawkish Bush advisor wants to avoid WWIII.

It's a nice theory, Josef, but it just doesn't fit the situation at hand.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Discovered at "The Conservative Underground":



The sight of a conservative making an utter fool of himself somewhere where he thinks only other conservabloggers will notice him...

Well, this has to be one of the oddest things you've ever written, Josh. (Edit: Link fixed)

For those who didn't immediately follow that link or don't know what I'm talking about, Josh Michah Marshall has just written an article praising the "hawks" for their foresight in seeing the need to topple Saddam even as he criticizes their vision of doing so. Why is he advocating it? Well, actually, that's an excellent question. He admits that there is little to no evidence to suggest that Iraq was involved in 9/11, he knows that there are serious problems involved in any such invasion, he knows that the "hawks" here are largely basing their strategy on overly-optimistic theorizing about what such a war would entail, and he knows that these sorts of things historically can and do fall apart (and admits it grudgingly).

What he doesn't seem to know is exactly what he's advocating. Josh et al, listen when I tell you: if Iraq is not connected to 9/11, then the "war on terrorism" cannot be extended there without grave, grave consequences that I don't think Josh has figured out yet. The United States has repeatedly said that their war is with terrorists generally and Al-Qaeda specifically, yet they have found only the slimmest of ties between either and Iraq, ties much more tenuous than those between, say, Saudi Arabia and terrorism/Al Qaeda. Everybody knows this, internationally, so absolutely no one outside the United States would buy the argument that "he's going to help terrorists realsoonnow". What would they believe? They would believe the truth:

The United States is now willing and able to remove any and all regimes it doesn't like by whatever means necessary.

What kind of message does this send out? What kind of international reputation is the United States going to have? Aside from all that nonsense of "we'll go it alone if we have to", is the United States really willing to become an international pariah, feared and hated by anybody who isn't trying to profit from the size of their economy because of the right wing's obsession with Saddam Hussein? Iraq, for better or worse, is a sovereign nation that is not currently attacking the United States. It has a brutal dictator at the helm, yes; but so does a good chunk of the planet and most of Africa. Invading Iraq isn't even justified from the standpoint of preserving the oil supply, because the destruction of the Iraqi regime would turn the region into a powderkeg as everybody else wonders: "are we next?"

Iraq is an obsession of the American right. Partially that's for good reason, although Josh doesn't really seem to get into the festering obsession with the man that has only the barest connection with the weapons of mass destruction that he may be putting together. The obsession's causes are not something I'm going to explore (I'm no armchair psychologist) but it's definitely there, and it's definitely one of the most single-minded fixations that I've seen since the Terminator started chasing Sarah Connor. I'm not about to advocate though policing; they are free to hate Saddam as much as they wish. That doesn't mean they get to invade Iraq and kill American soldiers in order to satisfy it, though.

Josh certainly implies that they'd kill off a goodly number of soldiers, too:

The hawks' first priority is not how it is done or even that it is done right--it is ensuring that the opportunity to finish off Saddam does not, once again, slip away. More than anything else, they are animated by the desire to get America into the fight and committed, even if that means doing so without the full commitment of manpower and military hardware that may eventually prove necessary or fully apprising the American people of what they may be getting into.

This is sick. This is utterly sick and twisted. What Josh is saying is that these people are willing to lie, cheat, and kill; willing to completely undermine and mock the concepts that their country is supposed to be built on, willing to create another Vietnam or Somalia (the Powell Doctrine exists for a reason; a reason that these idiots seem to have forgotten) that sends American soldiers through a meatgrinder of their own countryman's construction, willing to prompt Saddam to use those weapons of mass destruction in order defend his regime(you don't think he will? Keep hoping, Pollyanna) all because they don't like him, and they never got the closure of having shot the bastard.

See, there's the problem here. Saddam is a bastard. A murderous thug. No-one would deny that. Just because he's a monstrous prick, however, does not mean that the United States can therefore invade his country, depose his government, install a government friendly to them (at least until they leave), destabilize the region, and prove not only that they're perfectly willing to piss all over the concept of national sovereignty (except when it's theirs) and collective security, all over their international reputation, all over their "moral clarity", and all over any future prospects of anybody else actually trusting the United States to not kill anybody it doesn't like. The darkest prophecies and most paranoid rantings of the "loony left" will be brought to vivid life; the United States will finally be the "imperial" force that the left has been trying (and failing) to label it as for years. It has failed because by and large the United States hasn't acted as arrogant or dominant as any past empires; it has been willing to work within the international system.

Invade Iraq, and that time is over. Invade Iraq, and the United States becomes an imperial power. Invade Iraq, and the United States shows it will destroy those who disagree with it. Invade Iraq, and America's military might is the only thing protecting it from the rage and scorn of the rest of the world. Invade Iraq, and the war on terrorism will inevitably become the war that everybody has been dreading, the war that I personally hope never to see but fear I will: the war of the United States against the rest of the world. Not perhaps in an "active battle" sort of way, but more like Hobbes' "state of war"; a state where nobody trusts the United States as far as they can throw them. No matter how much time passes or how many good things the United States does, the idea will always remain at the back of anybody dealing with the United States: "don't ever trust these bastards.

(And to forestall the inevitable rantings: I'm not anti-American. Even if I were none of what I say would therefore be true or not true, but I'm not actually anti-American. I am, however, interested in eventually coming out of this "war" in one piece, and invading Iraq makes that infinitely less likely.)

Monday, May 27, 2002

Thomas L. Friedman wrote a new column today exploring whether or not the opinions of Silicon Valley have changed, and whether or not they should consider security in the future. In some respects this is a fairly old issue (the question of security vs. privacy/ease of use is far older than the Internet) but it's still a worthy one to investigate. Friedman himself stays fairly neutral within his "observer" status, but the comments made show that there's a growing leaning towards security. One big example?

Silicon Valley staunchly opposed the Clipper Chip, which would have given the government a back-door key to all U.S. encrypted data. Now some wonder whether they shouldn't have opposed it. John Doerr, the venture capitalist, said, "Culturally, the Valley was already maturing before 9/11, but since then it's definitely developed a deeper respect for leaders and government institutions."

I wonder, however, whether this will remain the case. Despite the constant warnings, America hasn't been attacked since 9/11, and despite the constant rhetoric the "war" seems to be at a low ebb. After all, would Bush really be able to get away with trying to drum up support for Gulf War II if there were a more pressing potential theatre for this increasingly strange and unpredictable war? (Besides the Israel/Palestine conflict, that is). People can and probably will return to a version of their old beliefs, and that will probably include the tech types. Hope springs eternal in the human breast, as does the resistance to unwanted repression.

The biggest real change that this war seems to be engendering is the growth of new connected "litmus tests"... whether you are for Israel or Palestine, and whether you are pro- or anti-America. These tests seem entirely seperated from the "right vs. left" continuum; there seems to be increasing numbers of commentators (including bloggers) who take a stand on and judge others based on their position on these litmus tests regardless of whether they're "left" or "right". The very concept of the "loony left" has been transformed from "those who support socialism" to "those who criticize the United States and/or Israel". Being seen as anti- U.S. is downright dangerous, nowadays, whether the criticism is valid or not, and being anti-Israel (as a state's government) is a good way of being labelled and dismissed as anti-Semitic (as a people).

Now let's not be simplistic: there are points to be made for both of these. Some of those who criticize Israel are indeed anti-semitic, and some of those who criticize the United States do it irrationally (even if that "envy" excuse is usually pathetic self-aggrandisement of the worst sort). Still, these sorts of litmus tests are pretty inappropriate for issues so complex that they make the abortion debate look relatively benign in comparison.

Saturday, May 25, 2002

When you're called "unpardonable", you know you've hit home, or at the very least caught some attention. I won't do a point-for-point response (because those lead to nothing useful), but will respond generally. I'm also not overly worried about the hits, but thanks anyway.

First: every "individual right" recognized by a state and a society is a moral and ethical decision on the part of the state, the society, and the individuals that are the basis of both. Indeed, the concept of individual rights itself is not something to be taken for granted, nor is it something that is considered "God-given" outside of, perhaps, certain segments of the United States. If rights are morals, then those protecting and defending those rights (ie police) are at least indirectly defending the morals of society. The comparison I made is valid. One is free to criticize those morals and beliefs that are defended and the way in which they are defended, but the nature of the beast doesn't change. (Until it does: there's a reason that there's an appetite for reform in Iran)

Oh, and for the record, I don't support Islamic fundamentalism, but at the same time I don't support reflexive anti-Islamicism. (which was the context of the first post; the context that privateer left out)

Second, and this is a point I want to emphasize: I am not inflexibly and irrationally anti-conservativism. I am a liberal and have no problem identifying myself as such, but I'm not about to call conservatives "evil" unless they deserve it. I have no idea why Privateer cited Welch; that post of Welch's was a cesspool of strawman arguments and ludicrous generalizations, including the typical identification of the entire left with the cartoonish decontextualized version of Chomsky that the right loves to beat on. (If Horowitz got savaged by liberals half as much as Chomsky is by conservatives...). If nothing else, I am most certainly not willing to admit that the "United States is the primary source for geopolitical good"; not without much better evidence than Welch brings to the table.

Third and final point: a common argument I've heard from the right about the left is that "you can't say 'socialism wasn't done properly'; it either works, or it doesn't. Since it killed people, it didn't work. Therefore, since total state control doesn't work, it can't work in any case". The "bad implementation" argument, IOW, does not work if Walkerton is taken into account, because it leaves the right in a bind: either they have to give up the first argument (and therefore their chief argument against socialism specifically or state control generally falls apart) or the latter argument (and therefore the moral superiority of their position falls apart; there is no reason to necessarily believe that a private market can do a better job). Whether it was "done wrong" or not is immaterial; the people are dead either way, and one has to decide where the fault lies. In the case of that judge and that case, the fault was found in the ideology itself.

By the way, considering that removing progressive taxation (as he advocates) would utterly change how our society works, I hardly think that deregulating "the least important things" fits that case. How, exactly, does one define "the least important things" after the life-threatening level, anyway?

Thanks for the link and the discussion, but I'm not about to cede the point just yet.
26 hits... not bad for my first day with a meter on a new site that doesn't feature pornography.

Don't worry, I have no intention of dwelling on the number of hits I get, but political discussion tends to be marginalized in our society, and too many people I know either don't seek out political discussion or actively avoid political discussion. I think part of the reason why relatively extreme conservatives and libertarians are so successful is because they actually pay attention to what's going on; even if they're only furthering an agenda, they're actually going out there and lobbying and campaigning and talking and, yes, voting. (There's an old axiom about how Republicans winning if there's a low turnout, and Democrats winning if there's a high turnout. This is partially due to demographics, but I think there's more to it than that).

This is partially due to the relative prosperity that we've enjoyed, but it's more because of the demonization of government and politics in our society. I remember being flabbergasted when I learned that the Greeks thought that politics was integral to a healthy society... what a huge change from what we live with now, where even the slimiest businessman is accorded greater virtue than even the most upright politician. One of my best high school teachers was also a city alderman, and the man was intelligent, squeaky-clean ethically, a great teacher, and a decent person. I've read Machiavelli and understand that sometimes personal ethics needs to be discarded in the interests of the people, but that doesn't need to be the rule and, in fact, isn't as prevalent as some people seem to think.

So why do people think that? It partially gets back to those with an agenda against government and in favour of "the free market" (which usually means lining their own pockets). As I've mentioned earlier, they've captured the terms of the debate, which means that instead of discussing the proper role of government the only discussion is how quickly to get rid of it, that politics is considered a parasitic business because it doesn't make money and can't be privatized, and that political discussion is somehow "dirty". There are other factors in why people shy away from politics (attack ads like that DemocRATS thing and the media's focus on governmental problems as opposed to market problems, academia's disconnection from "politics on the ground") but if you stop and think about who it benefits, the answer becomes pretty clear.

Politics is not a dirty business. It shouldn't be marginalized, and it is vitally important. As Robert A. Heinlein said "Politics is the only game for adults. The only one. All the rest are for children".

Friday, May 24, 2002

There's nothing sadder than a new site counter. "1 visitor". Yeesh.
Oh, lovely. National Review, the site that advocates "moral clarity" and simple solutions to complex problems (conservatives hate the "nuance argument") has just published a fascinating article by Joel Mowbray about the difference between Cuba and China, and why we should trade with the one and not with the other.

Some of the highlights:

-Cuba is close to us, and China is far away, so we can let China stay communist because it won't affect us. I bet the Australians, Koreans, Indians and Russians love that argument. I'm sure Taiwan and Hong Kong will have people printing it out and pasting it to the walls.

-China isn't purely communist, just "market socialist", so it's better. Apparently "sweatshops still flourish on the mainland, particularly in the south, but there are also pockets of free markets scattered throughout urban centers, most notably in Shanghai, where someone can actually open up the want ads and choose a job."

Glory be! People can actually choose a job! That makes up for all the brutal repression and harsh governmental control, and certainly makes the difference between Cuba and China clear. Guess all Castro really needs to do is set aside a town or something to be a little capitalist enclave, and therefore all is well.

Well, it would be, except for one thing. He also says "China and later Cuba have both turned to capitalism as a last ditch effort to preserve communism." So I guess there's no difference after all.

-"Doing business with Cuba unavoidably props up the regime"... and this differs from China... how? Cuba gets "propped up", whereas China gets reformed? Guess it comes back to this "market socialism" thing. I thought NRO was against socialism in all its forms, but apparently it depends on geography. Political NIMBYism is so interesting to watch, isn't it?

-"Chinese employees of American companies are immediately vaulted into the middle, and often the upper-middle, class. Many of these employees of American corporations make enough money to send their kids to private schools, a freedom that would never be allowed in Castro's brutal society."

Oh, well, that makes sense. The rich kids of those lucky enough to live in an area where their parents can foreign jobs get great educations. Poor kids work in sweatshops. That's what makes China superior. What sucks about Cuba is that everybody suffers equally... if some suffered gross violations of their human rights so that others could go to expensive schools in Cuba, it'd be fine. Perhaps Castro could open a private school? After all, he's already embracing capitalism.

Ok, enough nonsense. Let's cut through the bull and figure out what he's really saying. Something like "Cuba won't make my employers and political masters money, whereas China will?" Yep, sounds about right. There's probably something in there about "China is a great power, whereas Cuba is just a source of fanatically anti-Castro emigres whose votes Bush needs" too.

-"In the end, moral clarity should carry the day".

I'm sure it will. What you're saying is pretty clear from over here, Joel. After all, it's not like "moral clarity" is an empty buzzword.
A memo to Sullivan, Steyn et al:

Maybe they know something you don't.
Thanks to Vaara for permalinking him on his page. For those who didn't come here from there, go check it out. For those who did, great poem, huh?
Let it never be said that I don't listen to conservatives.

John Derbyshire's review of David Cannadine's "Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire" contains a quote that I'm going to be chewing over for a while:

This is a lovely book, full of insights and unfamiliar perspectives. Were the rulers of Victoria’s empire more snobbish, or more racist? They hardly knew the difference, for the common people of their own nation were very little less mysterious or threatening to them than the dark sullen masses of India or Africa. At least this much can be said, though, and David Cannadine says it: the snobbery diluted and tempered the racism. “It may be that hierarchical empires and societies, where inequality was the norm, were ... less racist than egalitarian societies, where there was (and is?) no alternative vision of the social order from that of collective, antagonistic and often racial identities.” On this, as on much else, he is provocative — and may very well be right.

Class conflicts (in the traditional British sense, not in the Marxist sense) mitigate or transform racial conflicts? It really does remind me of what one of my university professors once said, though turned on its head: "the reason why socialism never took off in the United States is because people didn't identify as a class; and the reason they never identified as a class was because racial division dominates American political culture, not class division." Perhaps its somewhat of a Chicken-and-Egg situation... it's ironic that an article about the Brits could open up interesting questions about the U.S.

It's a pity, of course, that he also writes jingoistic nonsense as well. Newsflash: the entirety of the Rest of the World is not characterized by dictatorial governmental control, and there is a difference between disliking the political actions of America-the-State and the people or life within that country itself. I'd say that the drive to immigrate to the U.S. might just have something to do with the U.S. benefiting its own residents at the expense of everybody else. I'm not saying it does, but it's a legitimate explanation that fits the facts as well as "they want our freedom".

I mean, comments like this:

As D’Souza argues in his final chapter, American liberty, under American law, actually produces a superior type of human being — one who, free to choose, chooses virtue and nobility of spirit much more often than not: “[A] vast improvement,” as he says, “over the wretched, servile, fatalistic and intolerant human being that traditional societies have always produced, and that Islamic societies produce now.”

...are so unbelievably stupid and arrogant that I feel tempted to throw rocks at an embassy myself. If anything fuels Anti-Americanism, it's this notion that the U.S. is a better country and Americans are better people than everybody else. Disputing that point isn't envy; it's sanity.

(Canadians must fume when they read this sort of thing, huh?)
Many of my American readers may not be aware of this, but libertarianism is not actually as fringe a political philosophy as you'd originally think. Sure, the Libertarian party itself can't elect anybody higher than dogcatchers, but that's just in the U.S. The province of Ontario has had a neo-conservative government (which essentially means libertarianism "lite") for almost two terms now. It has cut spending, it has cut taxes, it has preached the wisdom of the free market...

and it has killed people.

Murray Campbell outlines the "second part" of the inquiry results into the Walkerton tragedy in today's Globe and Mail, and what it means for neo-conservative philosophy. Canadian readers will no doubt already know that the "Walkerton tragedy" was a outbreak of E. Coli in the small town of Walkerton, Ontario, that left about a dozen people dead and hundreds of other people extremely sick, and not sure whether they'd live or die. The reason why they became sick is because of libertarian philosophy. See, the Ontario neo-conservative (read: libertarian) government believed that deregulation was the answer to everything... that everything could best be provided by the market, including safe drinking water, and that government oversight of the environment was "statist" and undesirable. I'll let Murray tell it:

The second issue facing Mr. Eves stems from the clear link between actions and consequences etched by Judge O'Connor.

In 1996, as part of the cuts, the province shut down its own water-testing labs and did not require that municipalities report to the Environment Ministry unsafe-water tests received from private labs. As Judge O'Connor stated elegantly last January, the budget cuts "made it less likely" that the ministry would pursue "proactive measures" that would have identified the need to continuously monitor the Walkerton well that contaminated the town's water supply.

For those who may be a little too charitable, trust me when I tell you that the Judge is saying that the ideology is at fault. That the ideology killed people. That LIBERTARIAN ideology killed people. It killed them by forcing this "market is best" crap down the throats of the people of Walkerton, Ontario and carrying a bunch of bacteria along for the ride. It killed them by forgetting that the reason *why* the bureaucracy can get so big and unwieldy is because it needs to be accountable (hence all the paperwork) and there needs to be oversight (hence the rigid heirarchy) and without those, locals can and do mess it up. The "market failure" in this case isn't something that people can walk away from, though. It leaves bodies behind, and shows that some things can't be trusted to the market.

So the next time some doctrinaire neo-con or libertarian on the Internet blathers on about how many people Communism has killed, and about how you can't blame the flawed interpretation of the ideology but must blame the ideology itself, remember the people of Walkerton. Remember that libertarianism has claimed its share of lives, too. There may not be as many, but give it time. If we let it, I have no doubt it'll catch up.

Thursday, May 23, 2002

Right now on Crossfire, Tucker Carlson and Senator Bob Smith are both attacking Senate Democrats for being "obstructionist". The reason they give is, basically, that "they're frustrating the president's agenda". Aside from any factual inconsistencies, there's a basic problem:

Who the hell ever said that Democrats had to fulfill the president's agenda?

If they don't want to support Bush, that's Bush's problem, not theirs. The entire point of having a seperate, independent legislature is that they can and do "frustrate the president's agenda" whenever they want, and introduce their own agenda whenever they want. If they don't support missile defense (and I wouldn't blame them), then they not only have a right, but a duty to fight that. If the Republicans don't like it, tough. They stepped all over the Democrats when they controlled all three houses. The era of lying, scheming, and duplicious calls for "bipartisanship" is long over.
In an interesting column on Islam, Jamie Glazov writes:

The typical Muslim tells me that I am wrong about Islam because it does allow free will. So then I inquire whether, in the real Islam, a woman will have the free choice to drink alcohol, go dirty dancing at a bar, pick up a guy and take him home. This always crystallizes the issue quite quickly. The Muslim usually gets very upset and responds, with much anger, about how this behavior is very wrong, how decadent the West is, and how Islam simply does not allow such immorality.

Well put. So, how's about I go have sex with some children, shoot a few guys, fist a sheep, dig up a grave and distribute the pieces of the body on my neighbour's lawn, and then play music so loud my family goes deaf and my neighbours call the cops, who I then proceed to gun down?

What's that?
You don't think I should do that?
And why is that, Jamie? Oh right... morals. I imagine you have them. Where do they come from, and do you believe that they should be enforced somehow? I'd imagine that at least a few of them come from your religious upbringing, and although atheistic moral systems are not only possible but do exist, the ones that underpin American mores sure aren't derived from secular sources. Don't get me wrong; I'm not exactly a big support of Sharia, nor of corpse chunk distribution. It's just that this kind of argument is utterly ridiculous. If you're going to have a discussion of morals, do so, but don't play these silly games.

It was used, of course, in order to defend the idea that Muslims are hopelessly backwards and completely unable to join "the real world". What exactly "dirty dancing" has to do with that is beyond me, but it misses a pretty vital point that a lot of these people either don't know or ignore: what many Imams are teaching is only loosely connected to Islam, and that most Muslims do not feel this way. It's rather similar to most Christians not believing that women should defer to men and obey them (although the fundamentalist baptists usually do) or that sex is inherently sinful (although many Victorians certainly did) or that homosexuality is an unpardonable sin (although many do). Screw Islam... is there hope for Christianity?

It also raises questions... what, exactly, is Jamie arguing in favor of? He keeps arguing that "Islam can't join the modern world". Other than that being utterly ridiculous in-and-of-itself, what does Jamie say should be done about this? The elimination of Islam? How does one, exactly, eliminate a religion? The Soviets tried it with Russian Orthodoxy- it didn't work. I hate to Godwin myself, but there's only one real Final Solution to a religion that you don't like, and it's one that I doubt even Jamie would support.

By the way, Jamie, there are relatively secular and peaceful Muslim nations out there. I don't recall the Indonesians or Malaysians blowing up anything in the name of Allah, and both Pakistan and Turkey have had (elected!) female leaders. East Timor is a black mark on Indonesia, but the country is becoming democratic, which Jamie appears to believe would never happen. I'd say the problems with many of the nations he's describing is the government, not the religion. Perhaps he should be raging against monarchy?
Linked on The O'Rourkian is an article onNational Review Online about the terrible trials and tribulations of a conservative on campus. Perhaps I should describe it as "yet another".

First, there appears to be an odd discrepency here: although Nordlinger talks about how brutally left-wing colleges used to be and how they might have improved somewhat, Dave Horowitz said, in his column on the same subject that they've become awful now, and the Universities used to be bastions of fair thought. So, which is correct? Is it just the difference in the ages, or could, perhaps, the perception be just a little subjective?

Second, I have to respond with a loud "so what?" Nordlinger's "war stories" serve only to show that the far left is present on campus, and that the far left can get a little nutty. He fails to show why a left-wing skew on campus is actually a bad thing. He obviously didn't get really bad grades, and his example:

[I] had to take [a paper] to the professor, suggesting that I had been ideologically graded... he agreed...and plunked an A on that speech

...only shows that the system of assignment review by professors works. (If he had a better example of systemic bias, why didn't he use it?)

Third, I find this kind of thing amusing. "Conservative" is a bad name on campus. (Well, it's actually somewhat chic, but anyway...) "Liberal" is a bad name in the rest of the United States. Calling yourself a "socialist" can get you beaten up in much of the U.S., whether you actually agree with totalitarianism or not. (Woe to the anarchist who has to try to explain why he doesn't like the Commies or the U.S.). His "hard time" on campus led to what is obviously an accepted and influential position in society, which is more than his leftist compatriots usually get. The whining about university bias just makes conservatives look that much more pathetic. Which is odd, considering their overwhelming control over most media and the profound marginalization of academia in current society. Why whine about one sector of society when you're hegemon over the rest?

Fourth and finally, he's intentionally or unintentionally drawing a comparison between the process of coming out as a conservative (snicker) and coming out as gay or bisexual. The framework of the story reminds me of countless "coming out" stories that I've read, and which conservatives love to adopt when whining about university. Well, guess what: gays go though about three thousand times the hell that any campus conservative does, and it's the fundamentalist ideology that many (if not most) conservatives use as a basis for their beliefs that fuels the fires of that hell. He might reply that it's not as bad to come out as gay nowadays. It was, however, never that bad to come out as a conservative.

Nowadays, you usually get a bogus "think tank" for your trouble. (Hello, David Horowitz!)
The spectacle of Andrew Sullivan complaining about the negative effects of commentators is almost too sad to read.

The victims of these commentators pile up. The commentators merely pile on to the next one.

Like Paul Krugman, perchance, viciously attacked over and over again by Sullivan and his followers and fellow travellers? Hit with ludicrous accusations over and over, despite his repeated and complete debunking of such? Strawman arguments left and right? The hypocrisy would be funny, were it not so terrible.

Just to add my voice to the horde: Josh, you're a beacon in the darkness. Keep Preaching.

No wonder the right tends to avoid discussion of him.
Give me a break. Yet another journalist, this timeMargaret Wente, has written yet another article about how "global warming ain't so bad" after experiencing the odd Toronto weather. Like so many others, she doesn't really understand the science behind global warming, complaining that "trying to get my head around the ins and outs of carbon sinks, emissions trading, and megatons of CO2" is apparently too much work. Like so many others, her ignorance of the scientific bases leads her to the laughable conclusion that "it isn't about reason. It's about faith". Yeah, because peer-review is big on faith. Finally, like so many others, she invokes the name of Bjorn Lomberg in her defense, hauling out his heavily-criticized book as a way of supporting her point of view without an eye to possible flaws.

It wouldn't be so bad were it not for passages like this:

Mr. Lomborg has become Public Enemy No. 1 among environmental groups. Even in the science world, which is supposed to operate on facts and logic, he has been reviled. Scientific American devoted a large part of an issue to rebutting him. Science trashed him. Nature likened him to a Holocaust denier.

All good points, which she then goes on to ignore in her apparent zeal to support Lomborg because he agrees with them. Margaret, did it possibly cross your mind that those rebuttals, trashings, and the like are actually valid? That the scientists just might have a legitimate point? I can understand this sort of behaviour from some random neo-con dork emailing Sullivan, but I would have thought that one of the premier columnists in Canada would know better. At the very least, this sort of thing...

Even so, I don't advise you to go around in public suggesting that global warming might not be so bad after all. People will be chilly. Global warming is at the heart of our cultural belief system. And it's never prudent to attack the faith. just juvenile. Even the worst doctrinaire blogger would rethink this sort of argument.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002


Jeez, if this keeps up, the echo chamber might even lose its stranglehold on online political thought, which currently runs the gamut from conservative-libertarian to libertarian-conservative. At the risk of repeating myself: Yay!

Heh. We can only hope.
No, Tapped, the Internet is not liberal yet.
This is just sad. Somebody should let these people know that Jango Fett was not the villian... Count Dooku and Darth Sidious were. Both were, of course, as lily white as the heroes.

(How and why they were the villians I'll avoid for the benefit of those who haven't seen Attack of the Clones yet. It isn't that bad; in my opinion the critics are overreacting.)

People wonder why the right keeps on hammering the left and has been since the late 70's... it's because of nonsensical identity politics like this. Wasting your time chasing down stereotypes only benefits those who know where the real action is. You look like humorless loons and waste time, money, and energy that could be better spent.
Well, it would appear that Tapped is starting to change their mind about conservative dominance:

Just in the past month or so, Tapped, Max Sawicky, and now Alterman have all emerged as bloggers. Not to mention the fact that we currently have a huge backlog of e-mails suggesting the names of numerous other liberal bloggers, many of whose sites we still haven't gotten the chance to check out. Not to mention that Josh Marshall and Mickey Kaus have been doing this forever. Could the notion of a "conservative" blogosophere be on the verge of becoming passe?

In a word? No. A few high-profile blogs are not going to stem the conservative tide online, although they'll certainly help. The notion that a conservative blogosphere is "passe" would be the best weapon that conservatives could ever wish for, because self-congratulatory liberals would think that parity has been achieved. There is no parity. There is no "passe".
Sometimes I surf to things I wish I hadn't. Usually it's some form of grotesque pornography (have to watch the links people put in message board postings and the like), but occasionally it's something much worse. While reading Media Whores Online today I noticed an article by David Horowitz that they were critiquing, an article that blames Clinton for the bombing of the WTC. That's no surprise, and it's a testament to the skill and intelligence of the MWO people that they are so easily able to dismiss such ludicrous arguments. While on the page, though, I discovered a link to a different article: One called "Can There Be A Decent Left? Michael Walzer’s Second Thoughts". Horowitz takes Walzer's criticism of the left and extends it, calling leftists (and, by implication, even moderate liberals) murderous, delusionary, nihilistic... "indecent" barely begins to cover it.

This is no surprise. This sort of thing is common enough, and Horowitz is often named as one of your nuttier right wing-nuts. Like Limbaugh, like Coulter, like Sullivan, and like all those little right-wing blogs, though, it reminds those on the liberal side: many of them hate us, and many of those that don't support those that do. Not just dislike. Not just disagree. Hate. Hate with a black rage and an overwhelming belief that they are right, a belief founded in the quasi-mystical bases of their ideology (that I exposed earlier on when discussing Jane Galt's column on American Exceptionalism) and founded on the hard-core religious certainties that the omni-religious (and largely secular) left simply doesn't share. There's a reason there are no liberal militias. There's a reason that "liberal" became such a dirty word in American politics. There's a reason why Coulter was able to get away with saying that liberals should be scared into submission, or possibly executed. There's a reason why even mild left-wing critiques of the current administration is now called "Anti-American", in a disturbing shift back to McCarthyism. Hatred of the left runs wide, and runs deep.

Would this matter if there were equal numbers and equal power on each side? No, it wouldn't. I have no doubt that there are leftists who hate the right as much, although without the religious and mystical bases that allow American-style conservatism so much cohesion (barring the libertarian/conservative split). I also have no doubt that there are conservatives that are friendly to liberals who also don't share their views; I've met them, and actually have good friends who fit that description. There are not equal numbers, though, not where it matters, and certainly not equal power. There are not equal numbers on the radio. There are not equal numbers on television (corporation-friendly blandness and sensationalism does not count as a "liberal bias"), there are not equal numbers in the think tanks (and certainly not in the power or funding of those think-tanks), and there have never been equal numbers on the Internet. There are, however, equal numbers out there, as the 2000 election showed. What does that matter, though, if one side is raging and the other isn't?

There are already signs that things are changing and that the left is finally realizing that one side is playing hardball and the other isn't; it is beginning to respond in turn. One of the best is the previously mentioned MWO, which provides a valuable service in exposing the media's deference to the administration. Another is Paul Krugman's column, which, bit by bit, is unravelling the aura of fiscal responsibility and economic superiority that the right has taken for granted for too long. (Hence the reason the libertarian blogosphere is freaking out over Krugman; he's tearing apart their scripture and exposing that their alliance-of-convenience with the Republicans is nothing more than a hollow lie for those who actually value economic efficiency over lining their own pockets). Others are the liberal blogs I've found and the liberal sources online, which are slowly returning the Internet to parity... I hope. Parity will not matter, however, if the left does not remember that there are many on the right who think that we are, yes, evil. They cannot be dismissed. They cannot be ignored. They have too much power, they have too much influence, they have too much money for that. They must be met with all the wit and ferocity that the progressive community holds dear, and that community itself must learn to function with the kind of cohesion and strength that the right brings to bear every day, or it will be swamped.
Eric Alterman just started a quasi-blog named Altercation yesterday, with the full rollout today. He kicked it off with a brilliant comment on media bias and the "blogosphere":

Aside from that, all I can promise you is that it will reflect my obsessions: with the actually conservative leanings of the so-called “liberal media”; with the self-satisfied stupidity of the so much of the punditocracy; with the appalling lack of historical, economic, and sociological context of even the best U.S. reporting; with the never-ending wimpiness of the Democrats, with the perennially self-defeating obsession with holier-than-thou moral purity of so much of the Left; with the amazingly insane views regularly put forth by the Congressional Republican leadership and certain members of the Bush Administration (Thanks, Ralph); with the musical greatness of Bruce Springsteen; with Jews in general and Israel/Palestine in particular; and with lots of movies, music, plays, etc, so I can keep up the flow of free stuff. (As God is my witness, however, I promise never to write about anything that happens in my bathroom, my dinners with “Hitch,” and in the extremely unlikely event they ever happen, my car dates with Drudge.

Beautifully put, and a nice summation of why a liberal viewpoint is absolutely vital in any medium. It's tragic that they're so rare. I wish Alterman luck, and welcome his presence online, but I shudder to think of what will happen when the hordes of libertarian and conservative bloggers descend upon his column. Their howling attacks on Paul Krugman (for telling the truth) are bad enough, and he didn't invade their own space.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Yet another Krugman attack column.Random Jottings had already referred to Krugman as "Commissar Krugman" (always a good way of making your point), and this time takes the market fundamentalist position that Hoy was advocating earlier- that "The Market Will Provide" and that accounting practices will "evolve and adapt...grow and flex with the needs of the day". Pity it didn't work in Russia, and pity that this sort of mock "organic" way of describing what is, in essence, a human-built institution only serves to hide any real criticism of government intervention in this case.

I mean, give me a break. It "evolved and adapted" into the current mess it's in right now, didn't it? Evolution is a blind process... who's to say that it simply won't "evolve" into new accounting tricks to fiddle with stock prices that aren't as visible as the ones before? Who's to say that it will "evolve" at all, instead of changing juuust long enough to make investors think that everything is hunky-dory and then nudging things back to the way they used to be, except with less visibility?

He asks: "What would be the state of American capital markets today if GAAP had been written 200 years ago by the likes of Sens. Sarbanes, Levin and McCain?" I don't have an answer to that. Neither does Random Jottings, obviously. The state that they're in right now isn't exactly admirable, though, and the market "evolved" into it, just as the fundamentalists predicted.

Just goes to show: the last thing that market fundamentalists want to learn about is economics. Or, for that matter, evolution.

(This was linked from the Amateur Economist, who appears to be desperately trying to win the contest for "most obsessive Krugman basher". He's got tough competition, obviously, but unlike Hoy appears to avoid that stupid "Enron flack" gambit that hoisted Sullivan on his own petard and unlike Galt isn't trying to establish Groupthink in America. One wonders why they bother- if the columns are as bad as they say, surely nobody is listening, right?)
First time I've commented on this particular Blog:Live from the WTC, written by Jane Galt (I'm not sure if it's a Randian pseudonym or not), has an article defending the United States from European criticism that the country is unilateralist and exceptionalist. It includes a rather stirring defense of the U.S:

Because America is an idea. America is the idea that if you leave people alone to get on with things, they get it right most of the time. It's the idea that where you come from is a great deal less important than where you're going. It's the idea that if you don't like something, you can pick up a wrench, get in there, and start fixing it. It's the idea that if your solution doesn't work out the first time, there's always room to try again. It's the idea that the most important thing a person can do in life can only really be known to them, and the most important thing a government can do is get out of their way while they look for it. It's the idea that individuals aren't available in groups; they can only be packaged individually. It's the idea that liberty is worth our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. It's the expectation that you do the best you can with what you have. And it's the knowlege that if there are a bunch of people who are violating these ideas, one way or another, you don't have to beat them into submission -- you can pick up and go somewhere else, where the people are more congenial.

...and that's why we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, to whoever we want. That's why we can break our own rules when we want, break the rules we impose on others whenever we want, and support regimes which don't share our beliefs if it is in our own interests. We believe this and you do not, so you are not allowed to criticize us.

Does the U.S. actually do this? No, not necessarily, although there have been rather nasty cases in the past. The problem is that "a unique idea" (which is not in fact unique... these ideas largely come from European political theorists) does not in-and-of-itself grant divine wisdom. She starts the article by saying "No, I do not want to submit our foreign policy, economy, tax regime, or other important questions to a vote in which Europe carries the majority, no way nohow...because I think they'd do it wrong".

Listen: if an idea is superior, it is superior everywhere. If it isn't, then there is some nuance to the idea that eluded whoever originally thought it up. If it is superior, then (as J.S. Mill argued) it can be demonstrated to be superior, and can convince others by dint of its superiority. A state is not an idea. A state is a physical entity, with real people, real interests, and a diversity of thought. (Not all Europeans fit her simplistic stereotype; neither do most Americans). The biggest problem that the rest of the world has with the United States (North "America" actually includes three countries: it's telling that the United States took that name for its own "idea" which the other countries do not share) is that it continually mixes up its interests and ideals, calling interest ideal and ideal interest. There is no way to justify something like the support of the South American "National Security" states in the 70's and 80's by some "ideal". It was done because it fit American national interests.

The right always complains about the left and their "groupthink"... well, I can't think of any example of "groupthink" more disturbing than insisting that "either you believe this, or you aren't "American" (a problematic term, as I said above). Screw that. You're American if you were either born or immigrated there. That's it. Nothing else. If you like an idea, argue in favour if it, but don't use this sort of lame tactic to prop it up.

And like clockwork...Hoystory comes out with an attack on Krugman. Especially insightful was this passage:

Seriously, according to Krugman, Sarbanes bill is perfect as it stands. Contains no flaws and should simply pass both houses of Congress by voice vote. Why don't we just elect Sarbanes, with Krugman's consent, emperor? Debate and compromise is part of how democratic institutions work.

I love that "emperor" thing; good thing that the Blogosphere provides such quality journalism; how else would we get to hear the adult equivalent of "if you like it so much, why don't you marry it? It's immaterial. When Graham says he wants to "kill the bill" it doesn't mean "change the bill", it doesn't mean "hold off on the bill", and it doesn't mean "I think that word over there should be put over here. It means "I want to kill this piece of legislation".

Other than that, it's mostly the same kind of market-fundamentalist hogwash that got us into this situation in the first place, mixed with a heaping helping of ad hominem attacks, fresh-smelling strawmen (he wasn't just talking about Enron, and in fact only said the word twice), and a ludicrous "bet" that implies that a company has to be in bankruptcy court to bilk investors and pervert the market. (I'd personally advise Paul to avoid it.)

Ok, this is starting to bug me. Is anybody out there in the blogosphere actually defending one of the country's better economic commentators, and I'm missing them? Or is thought here so rigidly controlled and homogenized by the Libs that all we get is the kind self-congratulatory pablum we all got sick of in Wired about how those fresh, funky bloggers are "taking down the big shots". (Krugman is apparently a big shot now). The right complains about being shut out of academe; the left is shut out of everything else!

Ah well. maybe Hoy's right. The Market Will Provide.
Going on in today's NYT Op-Ed section, Nicholas Kristof wrote today about the newest force in international politics, Evangelical Christians. I tend to stay away from issues of religion; it's too easy to offend those you don't mean to offend, and you aren't likely to change anybody's mind. (That's one of the reasons I tend to stay out of Israel vs. Palestine discussions; that first entry was an anomaly). The question of religion and politics is one that I feel is important, however, and this sort of thing worries me. There's no question that religious groups can and do benefit people both domestically and around the world. The problem is that there's usually a catch. Take a look at this example:

The evangelical movement encompasses one-quarter of Americans and is growing quickly. One measure of its increasing influence is that a newsstand in the United Nations has carried the "Left Behind" series of religious novels by Tim LaHaye. These books, which have sold 50 million copies so far, describe the battles that precede the Second Coming, and there is indeed a United Nations connection: In the novels, the Antichrist is the secretary general

This concerns me. I'm not sure how many people actually believe those "Left Behind" books are in any way an accurate portrayal of what a Christian apocalypse might look like, but their (literal) demonization of the UN and the beliefs the books reflect are worrying. The only way that many of the problems that are facing the world can get solved, and the only way that the world continues to function more-or-less normally, is through international treaties and international organizations like the UN. While those who mistrust the UN have every right to that belief, dogmatic fear of visible international institutions like the UN not only hurts the people who benefit from these organizations, but empowers those who oppose the UN and related organizations because it opposes their own ill-gotten and ill-used concentrations of wealth and power. These kinds of people can and do use the beliefs of the common man to forward their personal agendas. I would not want the United States to go down that road.
In another column that is sure to provoke a loud response from ideologues (both blogger and non-blogger), Paul Krugman traces both the reasons for and the opposition to accounting reform. In essense, it's about executive compensation: thanks to the popularity of stock options executives were compelling to do whatever it took to create a smoothly rising stock price whether the fundamentals of the business warranted it or not. That's fairly uncontroversial, except perhaps among chapter-and-verse market fundamentalists. But Krugman goes on to show us where the opposition is:

Time for reform? Not according to some people. Today the Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to take up a bill drafted by Paul Sarbanes, the committee's chairman... Senator Phil Gramm, throwing his weight behind an all-out lobbying effort by the accounting industry, has made it clear that he will try to kill the bill.

I'd like to be nonpartisan here — really I would. And there are indeed Democrats who have gotten large contributions from accounting firms. But the current effort to prevent any meaningful accounting reform is explicitly a Republican initiative, one directed from the very top: The New York Times reports that Mr. Gramm is "working closely with the Bush administration" in his efforts to block the Sarbanes bill.

It seems those "partisan" comments and that ludicrous "study" have actually hit their mark a little bit. Krugman's earlier defense of his columns still applies, however: it isn't simple partisanship if the criticism is valid. You'd think the attack-dog Right would know this implicity- their entire case against Bill Clinton was built on this basic idea. Now that their boy is in the White House, though, they've changed their tune. Not surprising. That was the entire idea all along.

Monday, May 20, 2002

An interesting article about the differences between Canadians and Americans from John Ibbitsonhere. It mostly goes over the usual suspects (one of the biggest differences to me, actually, is that Canadians ask this question and Americans don't) but there was one paragraph in particular that arrested my attention:

One of the most perceptive missives pointed out that, while the American Constitution was formed in the age of the European Enlightenment, with its emphasis on individual rights, the British North America Act was crafted almost 100 years later, "at the high noon of 19th-century English liberalism." A utilitarian document, it emphasizes collective good over individual liberty. So a Canadians v. Americans debate is really about 19th-century v. 18th-century liberalism.

Lockean vs. Utilitarian concepts of liberalism, government and property; that actually comes closer to the mark than many (if not most) of the analyses of the differences between the two societies. It certainly explains the differences between the governmental systems and treatment of firearms. It's too bad that Ibbitson had to keep his sources secret, because I'd love to hear more about this theory.

Saturday, May 18, 2002

Well, the whole "Bush Knew" flap has hit Sullivan's site and as anybody who was paying attention could tell, he's spinning in favour of the president.

So far as I can tell, there were no specific threats, no suggestion of commandeering planes to use as missiles, nothng that could be differentiated from any number of such warnings before or since. John Ellis is right about this.

Really? That's interesting, considering that Media Whores Online quoted this story on bloomberg that seems to imply that the warning did happen, and with enough specificity to be taken seriously. Pardon me if I don't take Donald Rumsfeld spinning like a top on Rush Limbaugh seriously as an answer to this. Rush isn't going to criticize, and Rumsfeld wouldn't answer criticism. Rush was just trying to help Rumsfeld take the heat off: they talked about the scandal for only as long as necessary to dismiss it. Most of the Rush interview was about Crusader and Iraq.

Do I think Bush actively covered it up or was directly responsible? No, I don't. If there was a systemic failure in the administration, though... if this could have been prevented, Bush should know that the buck stops with him. That's his job: he's the one that takes the credit, and he's the one that takes the heat. I doubt he will because his handlers don't want him to, but that's what the job is supposed to entail.

Friday, May 17, 2002

More blather from Matthew Hoy's Hoystory anti-Krugman attack column today. I'm not overly worried about this guy actually scoring a blow; Krugman, with typical ease, both answered and humiliated that moronic "partisan" charge with this lovely little blurb on his main site, and it's ludicrous to think that the garden-variety neo-cons Krugman critics like Hoy could actually score points on the man. This particular entry was actually fairly complimentary to Krugman, but there are still some good parts.

Let's take a look at some highlights, shall we?

In the wake of the Enron scandal and the ripple effect it's had on the accounting world, I certainly agree that accounting rules have to be strengthened. Where I disagree with Krugman is the necessity that the government take a lead role.I think that most corporations, at least for the next few years, are going to want their accountants to follow the strictest accounting rules possible. If Standard & Poor's guidelines for one-time expenses are more informative to investors then investors will act on that information. As long as public corporations' books are open to scrutiny and accountants are honest, the system works. The problem with Enron was in how they cooked their books, with the aid of Arthur Anderson.

The problem is that this is a classic Free Rider situation. Every company in the business is going to want to look like they've remedied their practices and are going to want someone (else) to do the proper work so they can actually make proper forecasts for their own clients. They aren't going to want to do it themselves, though; "cooked books" and bad advice are just too lucrative to give up. Krugman's beloved "moral hazard" would come into play sooner or later, even after that "next few years". Much of this came out of the last big boom... what happens when the next one hits and corporations decide that creative accounting is "the wave of the future" once again? What happens when the the "dumb money" decides that everything's hunky-dory, and somebody decides to cash in on their ignorance? There's a reason regulatory bodies exist, and its to deal with corporations when they're feeling larcenous (like before) not when they've been caught with their hands in the cookie jar and get slapped (like now).

That's a fairly minor economic point, though, that just shows that Hoy doesn't understand Krugman very well. The comments on the tax column on his page made that pretty clear (before he deleted them... heh) but it's a point worth repeating. What's really funny are garden-variety bashes like this:

When I flipped to the second printed page of Krugman, I was overcome with relief. Krugman had not been abducted by aliens. He had not been replaced by a "pod-person"

There it was, in black and white, an attack on President Bush.

What if it's deserved? I refer you back to this. Krugman seems to delight in mocking and humiliating his critics. He certainly has a gift for it, even as they keep on swinging and missing, swinging and missing...

Finally, it appears that Krugman may be adjusting his columns in an attempt to remove himself from the top of lying in ponds list of most partisan pundits...Add the negative on Bush to the negative on Levin along with the positives of McCain and Levin and this column balances out very nice.

There is power in the blogosphere.

The self-congratulatory nature of bloggers, especially neo-con bloggers, is part of the reason I felt compelled to start this. Honestly, if I didn't like the medium so much I would have stayed away because of the attitude. Birds of a feather, I suppose. This particular bird, however, needs to learn something about methodology, because the methodological base of this "partisan pundits" thing is utter nonsense. It is, as my old political theory prof would say, "Dangerously Wrong". I haven't seen statistical science this bad since The Bell Curve. The very notion that Krugman can "massage" it only shows how barmy it truly is.

Somebody else is swinging-and-missing over here. I'd suggest that Krugman start his own blog, but he's too busy writing a textbook on economics.

The "Amateur Economist" suggests that

in order to test Krugman's assertion, he needs to be compared to other economists who are columnists.

Well, actually his argument is that his columns are demonstrably true and accurate and that the reason is because he understands economics. Horse vs. cart, friend. Still, I'll agree. Lets find other columnists who are currently writing a textbook on economics and we'll talk, hmm?

The neo-con sector of the "Blogosphere" needs to do a little speedbag work, I think. It's getting pummelled.