Cognative Dissident

Friday, February 4

Ward Churchill and the First Amendment

Instapundit, Eugene Volohk, and Professor Bainbridge all* come out against firing Ward Churchill for his noxious rhetoric, for reasons that I can best sum up as, "Firing him would violate the principle of academic tenure, and furthermore constitute a threat to free speech."

I can understand the defense of tenure, even if I disagree with it. They're academics protecting, self-interestedly or on principle, the idea that no member of the academy should be fired simply for the outlandishness or repugnance of their views to the majority. That's a reasonable principle, and I understand how it clearly applies here. I happen to think that it's wrong, and that tenure and the protection it provides is one of the reasons that academia is so pervasively biased in one direction, but that's another argument (Maybe if we could get rid of some of the leftwing hacks, there'd be more room for some conservatives, eh Professor Bainbridge?).

What I don't understand is the invocation of the First Amendment (and I don't mean that rhetorically, when three law professors invoke constitutional protections for speech, I'm probably out of my depth if I want to argue). But here's how I see it, and maybe someone can explain it to me.

The University of Colorado is not a primarily publicly-funded university, and as such I don't see how canning the guy threatens free speech. No one is preventing him from airing his views, vile as they may be. If he wants to publish a book and can find a publisher, nobody's going to stop him.

It seems as if the good professors are saying that we're obligated to continue providing a platform for Churchill's speech. How can that possibly be a reasonable interpretation of the First Amendment? I don't see that the First Amendment is supposed to protect people from the consequences of their speech, only prevent the government from interfering with them saying it. Obviously if the consequences include threats on the life or property of the speaker, it's the obligation of the police to prevent acts of violence or destruction, but beyond that, what is the constitutional issue in firing people as a consequence of their views (I would guess this gets into laws about discrimination, but don't really know).

So what's the deal here? Is firing Churchill really a constitutional issue, or is simply the principle of free speech that the professors want to protect?

*Glenn doesn't explicitly state that his reasoning is based on the First amendment, but endorses the views of the other two, who do explicitly evoke constitutional protections of speech.

Friday, January 28

Zarqawi vs. Democracy

Apparently, Iraqi police have recently arrested a number of close Zarqawi associates, leading Hindrocket at Powerline to speculate that Zarqawi may already be in Iraqi custody and ratting out his friends. If that's the case, it also wouldn't surprise me if the most recent tape, (the one in which he declares "a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it") from Iraq's number one terrorist was "coaxed" out of him by his captors.

Zarqawi has previously been quite media savvy, and I was surprised to see him coming out so openly and forcefully against something that most of the Iraqi population supports. I would have expected something more along the lines of "There can be no true Iraq while the infidel occupies the land," or something similarly critical of the US and the occupation.

It's, of course, impossible to know if Iraqi security forces have Zarqwai locked up and are using him to create propaganda that will almost surely discredit the insurgency in the eyes of regular Iraqis, but if so, good for them.

An alternative possibility is that he's decided that nominative "solidarity" against the Coalition Forces is futile and his moved on to the long term goal of Sharia in Iraq, which means fighting Iraq's shiite majority.

Either way, good news.

Thursday, January 27

Stochastic Error and Election Do-overs

There's been a lot of hue and cry from both Democrats and Republicans about the gubanatorial election in Washington state. I haven't paid a lot of attention other than to note that it does seem an awful lot like the Democrats have stolen it, but I stumbled on (ok, I followed a link from Instapundit) this the other day:

It is built on the principle that government is subservient to the will of the people. Elections are merely a tool for measuring the will of the people. If an election doesn’t measure the will of the people and is just a contest about counting pieces of paper, you might as well just let the candidates pick a winner by playing a game of Rock, Scissors, Paper. And if the elections system that we have today isn’t good enough to measure the will of the people within the margin of sloppiness, incompetence and illegal voting, then we don’t just suck it up for four years with a governor we don’t want. We say enough is enough, this will not stand, we fix the elections system and we measure the will of the people again

It's an interesting point that elections are simply a tool for measuring the will of the people. I work as a software engineer for a firm that writes software which wouldn't need to exist if lots of companies didn't have trouble accurately performing very many, relatively-simple measurements. It's a central truth of applied statistics that all measurement processes have a certain level of random error associated with them. You can do lots of things to reduce it, but you can't ever get rid of it entirely. With any measurement, you never know the true value of what it is you're measuring.

Which is why you need to know about margin of error. GE's vaunted "six sigma," total-quality management program is based around the measurement of error rate and it's systematic reduction to less than "3.4 defects per million opportunities" which means a error rate of only .00034 %. The reason that the six sigma program is so highly regarded is that it's really, really hard to get error rates that low. (Note for those who will point out to me that measured error rates and margin of error in a measurement aren't exactly the same thing: I know, but they're sufficiently analogous for this discussion.)

So if we get back to the idea that elections are a measurement tool, we have to acknowledge that elections have a margin of error in the same way that any other measurement process does. If the results of an election are within the margin of error*, than the true result is literally unknowable.

So what do we do then? I'm sure that lots of people would be tempted to say, "Give it to the person who actually won the vote," which while intuitively tempting, has some problems. First, we don't know what the actual count is. As we've seen in elections since 2000, the result changes every time the votes are counted. We're supposed to imagine that each successive count brings us closer to the "real" count, but I havn't seen any evidence to suppor that. To my mind it's entirely plausible that hand recounts are less accurate than the machine counts that proceed them. The second problem with giving the winner of the last count the election is that it creates an incentive to cheat in a close election, particularly when it comes to recounts.

Alternatively we could flip a coin. This is the solution I favor and is functionally identical to giving the election to the winner of the last count without the incentive to cheat. But it's not very satisfying to have your governor, representative or councilperson chosen by a coin flip, particularly in bitterly contested elections. In a close election where the electorate doesn't perceive much difference between the candidates, this could be a viable solution, but in situations like Florida 2000, or Washington 2004, you're going to have a hard time selling this to the party that ends up losing, and it could exacerbate the perception that the winner didn't really win.

Which, as far as I can tell, leaves us with only one other option, namely holding a new election, and hoping that the new election gives a result that is outside the margin of error. I think a good solution would be to pass laws triggering an automatic re-vote in the case where a) The margin of victory is within some pre-specified range, perhaps 0.1 % of the votes cast and b) a single recount reduces the margin of victory (which includes changing the victor).

One would hope that a second election would lead to an undisputed victory, but if that were not the case, one could just continue re-voting until a clear victor emerged.

*It would be nice if we knew what that margin of error in a given election was, but unless people were willing to fill out a separate error-check ballot, we'd initially have to guess. If we were determined, we'd be able to measure the various components of the process of balloting and tabulating results, and come up with a good estimate of it's margin of error.

Monday, January 24

Why they hate us

Matthew Yglesias has a post commenting about why they (The Arab Muslim World) hate us. He comments about how the "we're free, they're not" line doesn't seem to bear up under the weight of evidence:
The terrorists of the IRA and the ETA (and whatever you call that Corsican terrorist group) live in democracies as well. The object to the ground rules of democratic politics as practiced in Northern Ireland or Spain (or wherever) for what are basically unrelated reasons. Malaysia and Indonesia have given birth to more than there fair share of terrorists, and while neither quite counts as a fully paid-up member of the democratic brotherhood, both are far from being the most autocratic states in the Middle East. Indeed, harsh dictatorships like Syria and Iraq have barely generated any terrorists whatsoever

It's a good point. It's not like repressive socities are that way for their health. It's because repression basically works, if you try hard enough. But the point about our freedome being threatening isn't about free the societies in which radicals thrive are, it's how threatened certain members of given societies are by what they perceive to be the forces of modernization.

It's got to be gauling for a culture that so devalues compromise and puts such emphasis on personal, familial and tribal honor, to be so blatantly far behind a culture which values compromise and "win-win" conflict resolution.

It's pretty easy to imagine that many middle-eastern muslims have a hard time imagining how they will modernize without losing what they may consider to be pillars of their culture. Like being able to treat women as property. Or honor killings. Or other shit that the west has managed to leave behind in the last 50 - 500 years. (And let's not pretend it was never a part of Western culture. We just had the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and managed to get rid of many of the most self-destructive practices of society)

And the fact is, they won't be modernized without losing those things. As they join the moder world, they are going to lose those parts of their culture. And because, as opposed to the west, where human rights were an untested concept when they took hold, the middle east has someone to blame for spreading these tradition destroying ideas, they point the finger at us, saying, in effect, "it's your fault we will lose our culture."

And hell, to some extent, it is. But that doesn't make it wrong. I'm perfectly comfortable with the idea of enforcing women's rights world wide. And I'm perfectly happy to do it at the point of a gun.

I know a lot of people aren't, but seriously, people get pissed off at Larry Summers because he dare suggest that genetic variation might account for some difference between the number of male and female math/science teachers but spare the Arab world their fury where women are routinely killed by their brother/father/cousin/uncle because they lost their virginity when their brother/father/cousin/uncle/neighbor raped them? Does that strike anyone else as myopic?

So, as far as I can tell, those in the Arab and/or Muslim world who hate us do so because we will drag them into the modern world (and not just into the world of cell phones and computers. Into the world of basic human rights, and most particularly, women's rights. Muslim communities in Europe fall dramatically short on that count), and they're going to fight like hell. Reactionaries always do.

Thursday, January 20

Banished from the holy order of Poly Sigh PhDs!

In addtion to missing the absurdity of "excommunicating" someone with views different than one's own, I think that Alexandra Samuael (hat tip: Jim Lindgren) is a bit confused about what a Ph. D actually is.

Unlike a medical license or accreditation by a State's bar, a Ph.D isn't a license to practice a particular trade. There is no political science version of the AMA or the ABA, without acknowedgement from which, one is by law unable to practice in a particular field.

A Ph.D doesn't, by itself, grant you the right or ability to do anything. It's nothing more than a certificate indicating completition of a given program of study at a particular institution. To be sure, many editors of journals, or university faculties won't grant you and iota of respect without one (though that's more a commentary on the degree to which academica has been infected by a fetish for credentials in preference to knowledge and ideas), but there are surely some who do, and it's possible to practice political science, which is to say, publish papers, conduct research, "promulgate ideas or institute policies" without ever having recieved a PhD.

There isn't any equivilent of disbarment or Excommunication because there isn't anything like the bar (the passage of which is seperate from the completion of a law degree), nor Confirmaton, where specifically gains certain responsibilities and privilages relating to the organization one is joining. A PhD in political science, on the other hand, doesn't admit you into any organization whose members also include Rice and Kissinger and Daniel Drezner, and so it would be quite a feat to kick any of them out of something that they never belonged to in the first place, and indeed, doesn't exist.

Friday, January 14

More like this please

We need more liberals to denounce islamic violence. It would be nice if they were islamic liberals, but we should take what we can get.

How apt

This is funny:
No wonder the "Proud Members of the Reality-Based Community" haven't had many things go their way politically lately.

But we knew that all along, right?

Thursday, January 13

Les fromages qui puent, qui puent!

Ah France... That magical land of wine, romance and hypocrites. Shocking, I know! In this case, it looks as if the Lagardère group is set to buy a 15% stake in Le Monde, one of France's largest (and more left-leaning) newspapers. Like me, you're probably not interested in the mundane details of French "economy," but what makes this story intriguing is that Lagardère, in addition to being a media group, is also one of France's largest suppliers of military hardware and advanced military technology.

Now, I personally don't have any problem with that. Lagardère is a business, and should invest its money where it think it can get the best return. Getting a piece of the selling-hyperoblic-tales-of-the-American-boogyman-to-the-French action sounds like a pretty sure bet to me. But can you imagine the consipiracy theories that would be propagated by outlets like Le Monde if, say, The Carlyle Group were to buy a significant chunk of the New York Times?

Well, I guess it's good to know that it's not only the French Government that will sell out its avowed "principles" for a few bucks.

Friedman Calls Bullshit

Friedman enumerates rules of reporting for the Middle East, and explains why the Iraqi elections shouldn't be postponed:
Their [those who favor postponement] main argument is that an Iraqi election that ensconces the Shiite majority in power, without any participation of the Sunni minority, will sow the seeds of civil war.

That is probably true - but we are already in a civil war in Iraq. That civil war was started by the Sunni Baathists, and their Islamist fascist allies from around the region, the minute the U.S. toppled Saddam. And they started that war not because they felt the Iraqi elections were going to be rigged, but because they knew they weren't going to be rigged.

They started the war not to get their fair share of Iraqi power, but in hopes of retaining their unfair share.

I've gotten to the point where I'm not nearly as confident about the outcome in Iraq as I was a year ago. I'm still vaguely hopeful that it will turn out to be less bad that it was under Hussein(and if it's going to these elections are going to play some not insignificant role in that, and they sure as hell shouldn't be postponed for the very group that doesn't want them to happen in the first place), but I'm less optimistic that it will allow us to change the over-all dynamic in the Middle East.

Barely managing to contain civil war doesn't seem like a cohesive regional policy.

Do nothing, but do it well

The small company I work at just lost one of our best employees to another firm in a country he finds more appealing. He was our system administrator, and he was absolutely fantastic at his job. It was easy to tell that was the case, too, because he spent most of the day, every day, doing absolutely nothing.

If there was ever a problem, he, of course, would spring to activity and get it taken care of post-haste. But the fact is, there were rarely ever problems. And that was because he knew systems and networking backward and forward and was committed to setting up the best possible system. Essentially, he was so good at building the network that it took him almost no time at all to maintain it. And then, in a to-me-unprecedented display of self-assurance he did very little other than maintain the network.

In my experience, people who have very little to do end up making up work to justify their positions. And I suppose, from their stand-point, that makes sense. Most companies aren't going to keep someone who isn't contributing around for very long.

But it seems like an awful lot of people confuse activity with contribution. For example, it's hard for me to come to the conclusion that some of the "team building" activities that various Human Resources departments have forced me to attend have done anything but busy the trainers and justify a portion of the HR budget. I understand that sometimes these things can be useful--when there's a clear need and the workshop addresses that need--but mostly they're just wastes of time.

In an article which I'm pleased was written (it's nice to see some conservatives sticking to a principle other than party loyalty), George Will makes a similar point about government:
Eight decades ago, in a Washington not progressive enough to think that it could or should superintend primary and secondary education, the president set a tone that today's government -- a Leviathan with attention-deficit disorder -- could usefully emulate. "Mr. Coolidge's genius for inactivity," wrote columnist Walter Lippmann, "is developed to a very high point. It is far from being indolent inactivity. It is a grim, determined, alert inactivity." After the debacles of hired and faked journalists, we need a contagion of Coolidgeism

This idea that sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all isn't the main thrust of the article, but I like it nonetheless. Sometimes the best thing a person can contribute to an organization is nothing but vigilance.

Friday, January 7


Jeff Jarvis has an entertaining post about German terms describing communities, and coins the term Gememeschaft to describe communities have that have developed online. It's an interesting idea, but Jarvis' term (along with gecyberschft, which is suggested here) isn't grammatical (as a commenter points out).

While the original article asserts that the quality which differentiates this new state of affairs is that worth of individuals is assessed. While I think that's true, I don't know if that's the most feature of this new social organization. In my mind, the primary qualities characterizing the spontaneous organization of people via the internet are those of connection and engagement. First, connection to the internet. Without being online, this community is largely inaccessible. Beyond the physical connection to the online community is the importance of connections within these communities. Just think about the role of links and linking in the blogosphere.

Additionally, these are active communities. While there are many more people who read blogs and consume online media than produce them, that is clearly a choice they have made. The ease with which one can become engaged and active in this community is unprecedented. In fact, it's this very quality that is causing trouble for people who don't realize that we're all buying ink by the barrel, and it's cheap. Instapundit isn't just a clever name. We can all be pundits at will these days, and the only thing that limits an individual's expression is how willing they are to engage the community.

So, in recognition that connection and engagement are the salient characteristics of this new social organization, and because it seems necessary to propose a term in German, I'll put my entry into the ring: Einshaltschaft

The base word, einschalten means to activate, or to turn on, but can also mean to plug in, or, used reflexively, to engage oneself in something. Thus it captures not just the physical need to be online, but also describes important features of the communities created when people interact via blogs, email and the wider internet.

Entertainingly, it's also the term used to describe the hiring of a lawyer (einen Rechtsanwalt einschalten), which, given the number of law professors, lawyers and law students with blogs, seems somehow additionally appropriate.

The suffix schaft is roughly equivalent to "hood" in English.

Social Security Privatization Memo

I think this memo was intended to be leaked. It reads like a very candid and compelling case for privatization. If the Dems jump on this, they're going to get burned.

Wednesday, January 5

And when the great wave fell back, the UN stood revealed, Notably Useless

Note: This is a reproduction of an article from The Times reproduced here because for some reason I can't see the url at which this article can be found. If you search the title on the main page you can access it there as well.

And when the great wave fell back, the UN stood revealed, Notably Useless
Tim Hames

ADLAI STEVENSON once argued that a politician is a statesman who “approaches every question with an open mouth”. If the performance of Jan Egeland, of the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is an indication, the same is true of those paid by the United Nations.

A week ago, despite just one day having passed since the Asian tsunami, with the reported death toll one tenth of what it is now believed to be, and ignoring the fact that public holidays are never the easiest times to start organising an aid effort, Mr Egeland saw fit to dismiss the reaction of the international community as “stingy”.

By Saturday, however, he was announcing pledges of more than $2 billion in aid and acknowledging “the biggest outpouring of relief in such a short period of time”. His original comments were perhaps the most unfortunate by a public official since Hubert Humphrey, a former US Vice-President, responded to a failed attempt to shoot President Gerald Ford by saying: “There are far too many guns in the hands of people who don’t know how to use them.”

Yet such is the reverence displayed towards the UN that Mr Egeland will doubtless be hailed as the man who humiliated George W. Bush and Tony Blair into action. After all, when the US President declared that he had formed a “contact group” with Australia, India and Japan to co-ordinate aid, the response from the likes of Clare Short was to accuse Washington of deliberately undermining Kofi Annan and his colleagues. Mr Blair thus felt obliged to reassure us that he had spoken to Mr Bush about this and it had merely been an unfortunate “misunderstanding”. The President had made it “very clear” that he wanted the UN to be “in the lead” and he was “very much supportive of that”.

It is not merely the verbal ineptitude of Mr Egeland that makes one squirm. Wickham Steed observed of the Habsburg Empire that it operated on what he dubbed an “AEIOU” policy — Austriae est imperare orbi universo (to Austria belongs universal rule). There appears to be another AEIOU attitude towards the UN today; that, regardless of its competence, Anything Else Is Obviously Unacceptable. What has been eulogised, by Mr Blair among many others, as its “unique moral mandate” apparently awards it a sort of monopoly on political legitimacy.

It is a sacred-cow status that is rarely justified by the evidence. The blunt truth is that on international crises ranging from war in Iraq to the waters of the Indian Ocean, the UN is philosophically redundant, structurally irrelevant and bureaucratically ossified.

It is philosophically redundant because technology has eroded the need for a permanent global meeting place and the idea that it might serve as a prototype for “world government” has become laughable in practice and, surely, increasingly unappealing in theory.

It is structurally irrelevant because it relies on a Security Council built on the global order of 1945, which invites impotence through the veto and where decisions on whether or not to counter the atrocities of tyrants can be placed in the hands of those awash in blood themselves. It is more inconsequential still because the body does not have and could not have any serious role in macro economics — the matter that has most impact on the daily lives of humankind.

It is bureaucratically ossified because, as Rosemary Righter pointed out here last week, the UN has become essentially a holding company for agency upon agency, overlapping and competing, all of which prove that John Le Carré was correct which he noted that “a committee is an animal with four back legs”. Yet, this Tower of Babble is saluted for a “unique moral mandate”.

In so far as there is any rational explanation for this, it is the defensive retort that “this is the only UN we have”. In a narrow sense this is accurate. If the broader claim is that the UN is the sole organisation capable of global authority, it is not. For what the events of the past few years should have taught us is that there is an alternative that benefits from a looser structure, one that better reflects where world power lies and which is rooted in economics. With modest adjustment, it is the G8, the presidency of which Britain has assumed, that must be prepared to take on the mantle of world leadership.

If Mr Blair really wants to help the poorest of the world, then the more that he does to build up the G8 over the next 12 months the better. There are three reforms that he can champion which would allow it to provide the international leadership of which the UN is now institutionally incapable.

The first would be to move almost immediately from G8 to G10 by incorporating China and India. Within a decade, Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa can also be invited. That would create a de facto Security Council of 15 members that was appropriate for the modern world and one that was flexible enough eventually to include Argentina, Nigeria and South Korea.

Mr Blair should also press for a careful expansion of a future G10’s activities. The finance and foreign ministers of the present members convene regularly. Those in charge of trade, international development and counter-terrorism should make similar arrangements. Finally, it makes sense to establish a modest secretariat to assist the country that holds the presidency. It might be diplomatically astute to locate it in Ottawa — Canada having (oddly) evolved into a Switzerland with Mounties.

A.J. Ayer asserted that “no morality can be founded on authority, even if the authority were divine”. The cult of the UN for its own sake has become counter-productive. It has its virtues, but has neither a unique ethical merit nor unrivalled practical credibility. It is time to recognise reality. To fail to do would be, to borrow a word, profoundly “stingy”.


A friend of mine got this off the Bloomberg wire service. I've removed a number of countries to shorten the list a bit.
Jan. 5 (Bloomberg) -- The following is a list of aidpledged by governments as of 6 p.m. Hong Kong time today to countries affected by the Dec. 26 Asian earthquake and tsunami, which left more than 155,000
people dead or missing.

Donations by companies and individuals aren't
Country/EntityPledged Amount
Germany$665 million
Japan$500 million
U.S. $350 million
Canada $80 millionon
France $56 millionon
British Columbia$8 million
Finland $6 million
Ontario $5 million

As my friend put it, "It seems that British Columbia and Ontario have managed something that those moaning Quebequois never could." Maybe the rest of Canada could seceed from Quebec?

Tuesday, January 4

Federalism and "The Constitution in Exile"

Orin Kerr over at The Volohk Conspiracy continues a discussion about Cass Sunstein's use of the phrase "Constitution in Exile" to describe what Sunstein purports to be a conservative judicial movement to roll back the expansion of federal powers since The New Deal.

As Kerr pointed out earlier, it seems that professor Sunstein is the only person using this term. Sunstein has apparently conceded this point but argues that while he may be the one responsible for popularlizing the term "Constitution in Exile," semantics don't really matter, rather that it's the desire to undo much of the jurisprudence of the last half of the 20th century that's important:
Randy Barnett's powerful book, Restoring the Lost Constitution, is definitely in the same general vein (consider the title!); so too is some of the work of my colleague Richard Epstein, especially but not only on the commerce power. So too for much conservative writing on the nondelegation doctrine. Justice Thomas writes significant opinions that support the general goal (restoring the lost constitution, or what Judge Ginsburg calls the Constitution in Exile), as of course you know; and Scalia is often with him.
The idea of the lost Constitution, or the Constitution in Exile, or the original constitution, is very prominent in the conservative community. In fact the idea of originalism goes hand-in-hand, for many people, with the idea of a Constitution in Exile, whether or not that phrase is used. I think the Constitution in Exile phrase is especially evocative, and I admire Judge Ginsburg a great deal (despite major disagreements on this point). But the goal is what's important, not the specific term, and it seems to me that we've all witnessed the rise of that goal, especially in the last decade or so, with the increasing assertion of a certain form of originalism.

Kerr indicates that while it may be true that conservatives are, in fact, conservative on the role of the Federal government, this doesn't constitute a movement, any more than some liberals who believe that "the Constitution must be reconceived to serve a basic purpose: the protection of human dignity," are a comparable liberal movement.

Whether or not a movement to restore "The Constitution In Exile" really exists seems a bit beside the point to me. The fact is that society has largely come to accept and rely on the provisions of The New Deal and the expanded federal powers that came with it. Despite all the conservative rage about "Judicial Activism," courts, from the Supremes on down, simply don't have the power to make such an enormous change sitck without substantial social and political support.

One might argue, based on Bush's relection and the composition of Congress, that sufficient political support is there for such an agenda (though I suspect that congressional support for such a reactionary agenda would be very limited), there's no evidence that even a substantial minority of the electorate want The New Deal undone.

Unless they're interested in seeing an amendment to the Constitution that explicitly grants broad regulatory powers to Congress, I think that those who favor a limited roll for the federal government should be very careful about using Constitutional grounds to undo social saftey-net programs which are broadly popular.

Given Sunstein's writings about FDR's "Second Bill of Rights", maybe that's something he wouldn't mind so much.

Yes, but...

This is more or less true, but a bit beside the point. The blogosphere's main complaints about bias in the MSM aren't due to the fact of bias, but because the MSM pretends to be without it. The blogosphere, on the other hand, acknowedges it's biases. If the LA Times (for instance) simply admitted that they are a liberal paper, I have a feeling that the blogosphere wouldn't be nearly as hard on them.

Sunday, January 2

Back again

It's been a long time since I last posted, but between getting married, applying to Law School, going on honeymoon, Thanksgiving, Christmas and wrapping up a series of projects at work I haven't had time for blogging. Or writing one at least. My reading list has grown, if anything. Hopefully, I'll be able to be write more regularly now that those things are done.

Post Cold War Russia

There's a good article by Niall Ferguson about Russia's descent into authoritarian rule in the Telegraph today. It discusses the paralells between post cold war Russia and post World War One Germany.
Born in 1919 in the wake of Germany's humiliating defeat in the First World War, the Weimar Republic suffered hyperinflation, an illusory boom, a slump and then, starting in 1930, a slide into authoritarian rule, culminating in 1933 with Hitler's appointment as chancellor. Total life: slightly less than 14 years.

Born in 1991 in the wake of the Soviet Union's humiliating defeat in the Cold War, today's Russian Federation has suffered a slump, hyperinflation and is currently enjoying a boom on the back of high oil prices. Its slide into authoritarian rule has been gradual since Putin came to power in 1999. Is it going to culminate - 14 years on - in a full-scale dictatorship in 2005? That is beginning to look more and more likely.

While these comparisons, and the others that Ferguson makes in the article, are accurate, he leaves out what I think is one important difference. In the inter-war period, Germany was treated as a pariah, and the reperations it had to pay according to the treaty of Versailles were crippling. Today, neighboring countries would like nothing more than to have Russia smoothly integrated into the global economy.

Putin's flirting with fascism is certainly alarming, however.

Rooting For Disaster

As Tim Blair has noted some people aren't content to limit themselves to rooting for the enemies of civil society, but cheer on natural disasters as well. There's a particularly obtuse example of Tsunami worship in The Sunday Times today:

A small, insistent voice in the back of my head says: “Isn’t this amazing!” A minor but insuppressible part of me has almost relished — yes, relished — those huge numbers. As the newspaper headlines spoke greedily of the numbers of dead “approaching” twenty, then fifty, then eighty, then a hundred thousand, something undeniable twitched in the back of my brain. It was a sort of excitement as the figures mounted; as though some great auctioneer of calamity were taking bids from the media floor, and I was willing the bidding to carry on upwards. When will it reach a hundred thousand? Could it reach a quarter of a million? Was this a record? How did it stand in the history of these disasters? That high! Wow!

This isn't a damn football game! Those numbers represent real lives, and though, for the sake of appearances, Matthew acknowledges such, it's pretty clear he doesn't really care. He apparently assumes his disaffection to be universal, and asks what I'm sure he thinks is an oh-so-clever question:
Suppose it within your power to usher in instead an age where the seasons and the harvests were regular, the oceans calm, the Earth’s crust quiescent, the weather predictable; an age when mankind lost its former nervous respect for a planet which could smash lives without warning; would you welcome such an age? Would you banish random, man humbling catastrophes?

Well, would you? I think you hesitated.

I have to say, no, I didn't hesitate. If it were within my power to ensure regular harvests and prevent natural disasters, you're damn right I'd do it, and without thinking twice.

And frankly, I find it appalling that Matthew prefers to root for chaos. To express excitement at the rising death toll in modern history's most devastating natural disaster is nothing more than nihilism, covered with a veneer of pseudo-intellectual claptrap about "unmastered mastery" or no. It's simple hatred of civilization.

It's tragic, not entertaining, that the hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives or their families and that millions of more have lost their homes, and livelihood.

There certainly is something awe-inspiring and humbling about the power of nature, particularly when on such ferocious display, but recognizing and respecting that power is something completely different than hoping that it runs up the bodycount.

Tuesday, October 26

Quote of the Day

KipEsquire gets it dead on:
Yes, I might prefer Bush over Kerry, in the same way I might "prefer" being deaf to being blind. But that doesn't mean I have to shove an awl in my ear.

Friday, October 1

Dead on

A good quote from an interesting piece by Martin Peretz in The New Republic:
Still, Iraq without Saddam Hussein is like Russia without Josef Stalin: By no means perfect, but a vast improvement.

Damn right.

Thursday, September 30

No, no. Turkey's version of Islam is the one we like...

Stephen Green links to a post about the inevitability of an "Islamic Europe" in the Weekly Standard, and says that it makes him rethink his support for Turkey's entry into the EU. I'm not sure why it should. The article sites difficulties assimilating the culture, in particular, the fact that it's Islamic:
[One problem] is that immigration is turning the E.U. into "an Austro-Hungarian empire on a grand scale." He alluded to certain great cities that will soon be minority-European--two of the most important of which, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, are in his own country--and warned that the (projected) addition of 83 million Muslim Turks would further the Islamization of Europe.

I agree that Muslim pluralities in major European cities are going to cause problems, but these pluralities are going to develop regardless of whether or not Turkey is admitted into the EU.

And Europe will be a lot better off if those Muslim pluralities are predominantly Turkish rather than Algerian.

As far as I can tell, Turkey is the hope of the Islamic world. Mostly obviously, it's not a home to radical islamists. Though the party which recently came to power has fundamentalist roots, it's hasn't made any nods towards sharia. It provides a clear and real example of how Islam and Western values can co-exist. Isn't that precisely what we're trying to do in Iraq?

Additionally, it's a democracy. Sure, it's not perfect, but it's come a long way in the last 10 years, and more importantly it's going in the right direction. The incentive to join the EU is powerful, and has helped the government make lots of reforms that would otherwise be impossible.

Finally, it's economy is relatively good. Granted, it's much poorer than the average EU country, but it won't be joining for at least 10 years, perhaps more and if it maintains anything like the 13.4% growth it had last year (from the most recent issue of The Economist, but requires a subscription), it's going to be just fine by the time it joins. But beyond that, a growing economy is one that provides disaffected young men with something to do besides blow things up.

And that can't be anything but good.

Uh, no.

I'm not sure I know enough ways to say no to this:
So perhaps it's time to make a modest proposal. If everyone in the world will be affected by this election, shouldn't everyone in the world have a vote?

It may sound wacky, but the idea could not be more American. After all, the country was founded on the notion that human beings must have a say in the decisions that govern their lives. The rebels' slogan of "No taxation without representation" endures two centuries later because it speaks about something larger than the narrow business of raising taxes. It says that those who pay for a government's actions must have a right to choose the government that takes them.

You're goddamn right it sounds wacky. When you start paying tribute, er, taxes to our federal government, we'll think about giving you a vote. Although, on second though, since paying taxes is one of the things you're best at, why don't we just say no and get it out of the way.

From Vodka Pundit via Steyn.

Maybe they should call him "Bureaucracy Sucks"

Let's put aside why anyone would want to name their child afterSuperman. As anyone knows, Batman, Spiderman and hell, even Captain America are all cooler than Superman.

But who the hell are these people to tell parents what they can and can't name their children?
Swedish MPs are calling for legislation on babies' names to be changed after a Gothenburg woman was refused permission to call her son Staalman (or Superman).

The parents wanted their son to be named after the cartoon superhero, because he was born with one arm pointing upwards - as Superman flies.

Local tax authorities refused the request, saying the name could lead to the boy being ridiculed in later life.
Didn't the boy named Sue grow up to be a badass? I guess that explains what's happened to Sweden, where in my experience the women are way tougher than the men.

Guilty is as guilty does

Fox news has a story on what guilty people say when they're caught. It sounds remarkably familiar.
As any police officer or prosecutor will tell you, there is a remarkable consistency in the statements made by people pulled over by police while driving a stolen vehicle.

"I didn't know it was stolen. I just bought it from this guy I met," the driver will say. When pressed for details, the driver will usually insist that he bought the nearly new vehicle for about $1000, almost always from an unknown individual or person whose name doesn't check out, customarily at about 4:00 a.m., on a street whose name he can't recall.

Prosecutors use these statements as evidence of a consciousness of guilt. That, combined with possession of the stolen vehicle, is enough to secure a criminal conviction.
Maybe some one should check out Dan Rather's car.

Wednesday, September 29

Fleeing a communist hellhole

Fourty-four North Koreans jumped the Canadian Embassy's fence in Beijing hoping to be allowed to enter South Korea.

I can't imagine that there's a worse place on Earth to live. When people are fleeing for the relative freedom of China, you know that you've achieved a whole new level of oppression.

Tuesday, September 28

Reaction to Terrorism

Horsefeathers has a letter to Jihadis posted. It's an incredibly harsh description of what will happen if fanatic Islamists push America too far.

It's not nice to acknowledge what we will do if pushed too far, and we will surely be ashamed of ourselves afterward, but it's not an inaccurate depiction of what will happen if a nuclear weapon (dirty or otherwise) goes off in an American city.

Though we're more focused on fighting terrorism than any other Western country except Israel, we're not mobilized. Afganistan, Iraq? That's us half-assing a response. We're trying to strangle Islamic fascism in its cradle and with only minor disruption to the life of the average civilian.

But if another major attack occurs on US soil, and we're compelled to mobilize as we did for WWI and WWII, the results will be unpleasant for all concerned, but much more so for those living in countries which breed terrorists.

The vision described by horsefeathers is not one I look forward to. So here's to hoping that we can keep islamofascism from spreading.

History Repeating Itself

I'm currently reading ?"Colossus" by Niall Ferguson and finding it an interesting retrospective on American Imperial tendencies. But I came across this passage, which terrifies me:
[The relative failure] in the Philippines has unfortuately proved to be far more typical of American overseas experience than what happened in Hawaii and Puerto Rico. To be precise, seven characteristic phases of American engagement can be discerned:
  1. Impressive inital military success
  2. A flawed assessment of indigenous sentiment
  3. A strategy of limited war and gradual escalation of forces
  4. Domestic disillusionment in the face of protracted and nasty conflict
  5. Premature democratization
  6. The ascendency of domestic economic considerations
  7. Ultimate withdrawl
Scary, isn't it?

Monday, September 27

Violence begats...

One of the lines I hear repeated most often by those who are against fighting terrorism with the agressive use of force is something along the lines of, "Well sure, I'm all for killing terrorists, but it just breeds more terrorists, and doesn't bring us any closer to a solution."

On its face, it's a good argument. It doesn't open one up to charges of being soft on terrorism, but still condems the use of force. The trouble is, there's no evidence that it's actually true. As intuitively appealing as it may be, available evidence indicates that the use of force against terrorists does in fact deter terrorists:
Yet it's now undeniable that the "military solution" that so many believed could not work has brought Israelis an interlude of relative peace. In 2002, 228 Israelis died in 42 suicide bombings; in March 2002, as Sharon launched his offensive, 85 died in nine attacks. This year there have been 10 suicide bombings and 53 Israeli deaths; last week's bombing in Jerusalem was only the second such bombing in more than six months. While the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement remain dismal, and no one expects the violence to end, life in Israel has returned to something approaching normal.

I've always been skeptical that there is an indefinite supply of people willing to kill themselves in anger and vengence, but more than that, it's necessary to realize that by itself the desire to strap on a belt of C4 doesn't mean that you'll be able to get the C4, get past the new security fence or the IDF, who are pretty damn good at foiling suicide bombers, or manage to kill anyone when you blow yourself up.

Israel, instead of acting to reduce the pool of potential bombers, has instead been very aggressive about preventing those potential bombers from getting the training and organization required to make them dangerous to Israeli citizens. The policy of assassinations has almost certainly raised the level of anger among Palestinians, but it's gotten a lot harder for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatwa to turn pissed-off, disaffected, young men into killers.

Pro-War responses to Orin Kerr

Orin Kerr from the Volokh Conspiracy asks questions of bloggers who were advocates of the war in Iraq. I wasn't a blogger at the time, but I've been meaning to start a blog after my wedding on the 9th of Oct. and finishing law school applications.

And if I waited that long, I'd miss a great chance to be part of the discussion on what is, to my mind, the most important issue of the day. I’m a bit embarrassed about the lack of even a basic blogroll, and the fact that I don’t have trackbacks set up yet, but I guess I’ll just have to grin and beg forgiveness from the blogosphere ;-)

Orin asks 3 questions of pro-war bloggers, which I'll paraphrase as:

  • Given you supported the war initially, how do you feel about it today?
  • What do you think about the recent spate of bad news?
  • Going forward, how should we define and measure success?

Since I don't have a pre-war record available, you'll just have to take it on faith that I was (and am) basically hawkish. My support for the invasion of Iraq was predicated on three things (in order of importance).

First, I believed that it was imperative to prevent Saddam from acquiring nuclear weapons. I was always less worried about him passing those weapons on to terrorists than I was about what a nuclear armed Saddam would mean for the Middle East. A nuclear Iraq under Saddam Hussein would have been able to invade Kuwait, northern Saudi Arabia (i.e. where the oil is) and southwestern Iran (again, where the oil is) with little fear of retaliation from the US or the rest of the world. That would give Saddam direct control of something like 20%of the world's oil production capacity and a huge chunk of the world’s known reserves. Given that the world economy (and the American economy in particular) runs on oil, giving Saddam that big a lever was not an acceptable option.

Second, I believe that Saddam’s regime was a neo-Stalinist dictatorship that had no place in the modern world. Saddam Hussein, his sons, and his goons gassed his own citizens, decapitated husbands in front of their wives, raped wives and daughters in front of their husbands and fathers, brutally tortured people on a whim, and terrorized hundreds of thousands of people. The regime re-sold baby food bought under the oil-for-food program to other countries and used pictures of the children he starved as propaganda. Saddam was a dominant figure in the current pantheon of dictators previously populated with the likes of Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Kim Jong II, Slobodan Milosvic and the current leadership in Khartoum. He was evil, and I felt that removing him from power was a moral good.

Finally, I thought that the idea of building a pluralistic, democratic Iraq was a good strategic move in the long-term effort against fanatic Islamic terrorism.

So, with those positions laid out, here are my responses to Orin’s questions:

Would I support the invasion of Iraq today?

Knowing what I know today, I would still support the invasion of Iraq. That’s not to say that I support all of the decisions that the administration has made, or that what we’ve got now is anything like a “best case” scenario—far from it—but I don’t believe that the absence of WMD has invalidated the case for removing Saddam from power.

Whether or not he possessed an active nuclear program, Saddam had demonstrated a long-term desire to acquire atomic weapons. The sanctions had become politically untenable, and given his successful corruption of the Oil-for-Food program, it was only a matter of time before the attention of the world was elsewhere and he would use his ill-gotten gains to quietly start reconstituting his WMD programs.

An argument can be made that we could have dealt with him once he actually did restart those programs, but given the poor quality of intelligence we had about Iraqi weapons programs, I wouldn’t have been comfortable waiting until we knew that Saddam was trying to build nukes. Additionally, even if we had high-quality intelligence, we can see how well the “wait and deter” strategy is playing out at this very moment in Iran.

So, based on my first rationale for the war in Iraq—preventing a nuclear Iraq from gaining regional dominance, and hence a scary and disproportionate influence on the global economy—the invasion has been successful.

As for the moral calculus based on the good of ending Saddam's regime vs. the casualties and damage caused, I believe that we’re ahead. Final success on this count will depend on the long-term Iraqi government being better than Iraq’s Ba’ath party, and whether Iraq more resembles Turkey or Syria. But to date, even if we used the obviously biased estimate of15,000Iraqi civilian casualties, that is many fewer than would have been killed had Iraq spent the last year-and-a-half under Saddam. And I don't think any reasonable observer would assert that Iraqis are less free now than they were.

Iraq’s place in the War on Terror is much harder to judge, given how things are going right now. I continue to hope that 1-5 years from now, Iraq will be firmly on the path to modernity, but right now, it’s far from clear that will be the case.

How do I feel about the recent news in Iraq?

Obviously, I’m not at all pleased with what is going on right now in Iraq. Despite some good news, it doesn’t seem like things are improving in Iraq, and quite possibly getting worse. I don’t really trust the MSM to provide an accurate picture of what’s happening, but I have the feeling that if things were really good, we’d mostly be hearing stories about how bad the economy is under Bush. There’s a reason that the MSM and the Kerry campaign are harping on Iraq, and that’s because it’s where they believe the news is worst. Given their ability sniff out bad news, if they can’t find anything worse than Iraq, things probably aren’t going well there.

I think that a substantial proportion of this bad news is owed to poor planning and mismanagement by the administration. They didn’t think much past the “Hulk Smash” stage of the invasion, and we’re reaping what’s been sown.

I’m also extraordinarily disappointed with Bush’s reluctance to communicate directly with the American people about Iraq. We’re not dummies, we knew that this war would be difficult and that there would be casualties. But we want more than platitudes about “staying the course.” Staying the course is great when you’re winning. When you’re losing, doing the same things that got you behind in the first place is a really bad idea.

I want Bush to do more than say he “trust[s] the American people," I want him to demonstrate his trust and level with us about how things are going. If there’s a set-back, I want him to tell us what happened, what it means, what we’re doing about it, and how we’re going to try and prevent it from happening again. That, so far, he hasn’t done.

How can we define and measure progress?

As to what metrics we can use to know whether or not we’re winning or losing in Iraq, it’s really hard to say. Since my primary reason for invading Iraq was fulfilled when Saddam was captured, I want to be able to measure how the government in Baghdad compares to Saddam, and how likely Iraq is to help in the War on Terror.

For both of these, it will be fairly clear in the long term whether we’ve won or lost. If Iraqi society remains relatively open, doesn’t tolerate terrorists in it’s midst, and begins to modernize, our actions will have been successful and ultimately helpful. If the central government turns out to be oppressive and corrupt, or if Iraq collapses into civil war and becomes a breeding ground for terrorists, then we’ve clearly lost.

Whether or not Iraq able to hold elections in January, and to what degree they are viewed as free and fair will be good indicators which of these two situations we’re closer to.

Continued participation in the Iraqi economy is another potential indicator of success. If there are opportunities for people and they are taking them, it pushes Iraq towards modernity. A growing economy also provides jobs, which drains the pool of people willing to plant IDEs for a couple hundred bucks.

The successful disbursement of reconstruction aid and the completion of infrastructure projects are also potential metrics. If aid is being successfully given out, and infrastructure rebuilt, it demonstrates that the insurgency isn’t preventing Iraq from moving forward.

The efficacy of the new Iraqi army and the police who have recently been trained are also critical ingredients to avoiding a collapse into chaos.

What I don’t think are good measures are US casualties, Iraqi civilian casualties caused by coalition forces, insurgent casualties, or number of violent attacks on coalition forces. These all have some effect on the final outcome, but while declining casualties probably means that things are going well, increasing casualties doesn’t necessarily mean that things are getting worse. This will be particularly true when we try to clear out Fallujah. Unfortunately, the casualties are more readily countable, and, in the absence of battles where MSM can report a clear win/loss, they're what we end up using to judge the direction of the war in Iraq.

Thursday, September 23

First Post

First post to a new blog. I hate "hello world" type programs, but I don't have time for anything more substantive so:

Hello world!