The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Monday, February 28, 2005

One Way Traffic

Declassified documents in the National Security Archive provide a fascinating picture of Pakistan's meandering progress toward its own nuclear capability.
One of the major issues that President Carter had campaigned on was the problem of nuclear proliferation. After he came to power, the Pakistani nuclear program remained worrisome, as indicated by Secretary of State Vance, who... hoped to encourage Pakistan to cancel or postpone its reprocessing project. As he noted, one problem was a pending deal with the French for a reprocessing plant at Chashma; the French wanted to disengage from the contract and were already dragging their feet on it. Another complicating factor was China, which was starting to offer fuel services and technical assistance... In any event, when it was evident that the Pakistanis were pushing the French to make good on the reprocessing contract, Carter and his advisers had decided that Islamabad was going too far. In September 1977, without invoking the Symington amendment, the administration cut off military and economic aid to Pakistan.
Hey, the French look like the good guys here:
Later in 1978, when the French drastically slowed down work on the Chashma plant, the Carter administration restored aid to Pakistan. Nevertheless, the Pakistanis pursued alternative strategies for acquiring nuclear fuels leading Carter to formally invoke the Symington amendment in the spring of 1979 and cut off economic and military aid for the second time.
But the Soviet threat was the overriding concern:
Pakistan headed the list -- the "makings… of another Indian disaster" -- and Van Doren reviewed efforts at "slowing down the process", the impact of the Symington amendment, the implications for global nuclear commerce, and apparent Israeli consideration of military action against Pakistan. The United States itself had not discussed "preemption plans." Van Doren also reviewed China's ambivalence: on the one hand, he did not believe they were doing anything to "help" with Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, but on the other hand, Beijing was advising the United States to help Pakistan against the "Soviet peril" and refrain from punitive action: "cutting off your nose to spite your face." When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December the Carter administration would decide that Beijing's advice was correct. In the light of the invasion, Pakistan looked more like an ally than a wayward client and the administration approved an indefinite waiver of Symington amendment sanctions so long as Pakistan did not actually test a nuclear weapon.

Let's review the bidding, then. The United States provided military and economic aid to both Pakistan and its main enemy, India (also to its other major neighbor, Iran). This was not quite as stupid as it looks at this remove, but was due to the continual pressure of the Cold War. When Pakistan's progress toward nuclear capability was too apparent or its steps too aggressive, this aid could be cut off; but its resumption would always be on the table (to preserve America's negotiating position against a potential Soviet offer) and no stronger countermeasures would be considered (note that the U.S. had not even discussed "preemption plans").

In this environment, forward progress would be interspersed with American-enforced periods of idleness, but Pakistan drew inexorably closer to nuclear capability. Probably it was not in America's power to stop them at the time without substantial negative effects on other fronts. However, the lesson is that "slowing down the process", or even stopping it, can only be a stopgap. If we are to prevent proliferation, we must force would-be nuclear nations to move backward, away from the weapons they covet.

This seems to me the greatest flaw in the current negotiations with Iran; even a diplomatic victory would only buy time, until the vigilance of Europe wanes. Only the Bush Administration's "unilateral" determination has kept the hope of backward motion alive. And make no mistake; backward motion is needed, in Iran and elsewhere.

All About Oil

In 1977, the Shah of Iran had dinner at the White House. Part of the press release:
The President emphasized the very great importance to the international community of maintaining world oil price stability, and expressed his strong hope that there would be no oil price increase over the coming year. He expressed his pleasure at His Imperial Majesty's understanding of this issue.
The President also expressed his appreciation for the strong support we have received from Iran on nuclear nonproliferation matters.

It's almost beautiful, isn't it? Back tyrants in return for oil price stability, as long as they don't want nukes. And this is the ineffectual, but allegedly moral, Carter administration.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Nations Are People Too

This post is an expansion of a comment I made this morning at Belmont Club. In the context of discriminating between moral and pragmatic criticisms, I said in part:
"Lawless" and "unilateral" refer to the United States's refusal to submit to international law as embodied in the United Nations; they can be moral criticisms only if you accept international law as a good in and of itself. (This position seems to be widely held, despite its obvious stupidity and immorality -- I call it the "nations are people too" fallacy.)
Much of the writing on international relations today is based on this fallacy. The spurious anthropomorphization makes for superficially plausible lines of argument, like the objection that America was "bullying" Iraq (notably here; all-you-can-drink here). You can even find people claiming, straight-faced, that "nations should be free" -- not meaning the citizens of those nations, but the nations themselves.

So we have to laboriously state axioms which should be too self-evident to even articulate.

1) Nations are not living beings. They are organizations, formed by humans, with certain characteristics (notably the ability to control some territory).

2) Nations have no feelings; no rights; and no moral existence of their own.

2a) Nations cannot do evil -- though their rulers, soldiers or other citizens certainly can.

2b) Nations cannot suffer -- though their inhabitants surely can.

2c) The "death" of a nation is morally meaningless.

Armed with these axioms, we can approach a sort of theorem. To wit: international law is not a good in itself. It may be a means to protect the (real) rights and aspirations of real human beings; or it may be a protective shield for massive cruelty and death. But it must be evaluated by its effects.

You Know I'm Right

More demands for an apology, these from Australia, where the National Council of Churches says:

We further deplore that this decision has been taken so soon in the life of the re-elected Howard Government, when the Australian people gave no mandate for an escalation of such dangerous military adventurism.
We deeply regret that the Prime Minister again offers no apology for the misleading path on which he has led the nation over Iraq and we call for a statement from him regretting past mistakes.

I would offer to put this in plain English, but it is already pretty plain. The NCC has decided that Howard is wrong, and furthermore that everyone must agree that he is wrong. The inconvenient fact of his reelection, against an opponent who campaigned strongly against the Iraq war, is set aside with the bald assertion that he has "no mandate". The cure is for him to confess and abase himself.

Perhaps I shouldn't keep writing about this, but it annoys me every time I see it.

[Hat tip: Tim Blair.]

Thursday, February 24, 2005

What Good Is a Glass Dagger?

[With apologies to Larry Niven.]

New Rose Hotel is William Gibson's "other" Sprawl story, forever in the shadow of Burning Chrome. It is also a chilling commentary on the superhuman power of corporations:
We ran. Out a service door, into Tokyo traffic, and down into Shinjuku. That was when I understood for the first time the real extent of Hosaka's reach.
Every door was closed. People we'd done business with for two years saw us coming, and I'd see steel shutters slam behind their eyes. We'd get out before they had a chance to reach for the phone.
This power may not be as reliable in our world as in Gibson's, but it is real enough to be feared.

As well as a weapon, a corporation is a tremendously useful tool -- for example, it directs contracts which are wonderful for enriching one's friends. This kind of cronyism is a subtle but steady drag on the wealth of nations, and as it gets more extreme, segues smoothly from somewhat corrupt corporations to corporatized corruption (think of Germany, Japan, South Korea, Columbia and Russia).

Yet corporations have been incontrovertibly proven to be absolutely necessary if we are to maintain a standard of living above that of, say, 17th-Century France. We wish to preserve this wealth-creating ability, while minimizing the power of the corporation as a weapon or tool.

The proximate key is transparency of operation, so that the giant's activities can be watched; but often the suitability of these activities cannot be easily evaluated unless we also have transparency of objectives. That is, the corporation's aims must be clearly stated to provide a yardstick by which its actions can be measured. This twofold transparency makes the corporation into a glass dagger, useless to the wielder.

Not surprisingly, publicly traded for-profit corporations lead the field in transparency of objectives; indeed, a frequent criticism (see yesterday's post) is that American corporations, in particular, are too transparently focused on short-term profits. Closely held corporations, and those headquartered in countries which minimize shareholder power, are far behind. Nonprofit foundations are the paradigm of opacity of objectives, though some transparency of operations is required to protect their nonprofit status.

Germany, in particular, is an interesting case here. German corporate law gives shareholders minimal power, and an eroding but still powerful web of cross-holdings among large corporations (often with shared directors) increases the opacity of objectives. One visible consequence is that German corporations consistently seek power and prestige, not profit: witness Deutsche Bank's enormously expensive expansion in investment banking, or the resistance of Mannesmann to a generous buyout whose cost left the much more profitable Vodaphone reeling.

Obviously, complete operational transparency is unattainable; investment banks cannot afford to reveal their client trades or their proprietary market positions, and technology firms cannot disclose details of their research. But a greater degree of transparency, and a small and highly restrictive set of stated corporate aims, should always be sought.

Finally, this leads me to suspect community development initiatives and the like, because they destroy transparency of objectives. As long as corporations exist only to make money, their visible actions can be judged; but a license to engage in unprofitable activity creates an opportunity for the abuse of the vast power embodied in these rich, immortal creatures.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Look, Don't Kick

In the 1980's, when Japanese ascendancy was just around the corner [even Japanese beer seemed clean and modern], one of the most-cited apparent causes was the short-sightedness of American corporations, compared with the careful and ambitious long-term planning of the Japanese. [For an example, consider Michael Crichton's Rising Sun.]

This seeming invinciblity was propelled by a demographic bulge, which as the time was manifested as a legion of workers with neither aged parents nor minor children to distract them from making a maximal economic contribution. Haruki Murakami's stories of the period, such as "Television People", paint a picture of people interacting mainly through their possessions, with life almost completely reduced to its economic aspect.

Now that same demographic bulge is Japan's greatest weakness, and the system which it supported is greatly weakened. While Japanese triumphalism (and American pessimism) were greatly overstated 15 or 20 years ago [see this excellent article for a review], it seems likely that the keiretsu is now being blamed for faults which are not its own.

Japan's accomplishments far exceed Italy's, for example, though both countries have similar gridlock-prone governments. We should be trying to understand what features of the Japanese system enabled these accomplishments, rather than crowing over the failure of semi-collectivist Japan Inc.

Of particular concern is the possibility that the fabled Japanese quality may be dependent on the cultural homogeneity of the workforce. To achieve truly high reliability, people must work together in the broadest sense; in particular, they must be willing to incur inconvenience and extra work by pointing out problems which are not quite in their field of responsibility (and for which they would not be blamed if someone else noticed them). This is dependent on a sense of team identity and mutual responsibility, which is much easier to foster in an already homogeneous group. In particular, a sense of special entitlement, or of resentment against a perceived entitlement, is certain to erode the necessary esprit de corps.

But American workforces cannot be homogenized in most cases, except by excluding everyone outside the dominant cultural group. If the inhomogeneity is relevant to the job (or to the qualifications or pay), then it will necessarily be a source of friction. In short, inequality is the enemy of quality.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Two Deaths

Hearing of the death of Hunter Thompson makes us mourn two things. We mourn the man, whose intensity of rage and despair must have been terrible to bear, and the fact that the coruscating life he brought to his words was not enough to sustain him.

And, more selfishly, we mourn the writer, whose long demise over the last three decades is now brutally final. Others including Tim Blair have already focused on his lyrical lament for the dying Sixties:
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

But this is really an atypical passage. Thompson is relentlessly focused on the personal and small-scale, and on the incandescent present. And he illuminated that present in a way no one else ever had. Thompson's books are hilarious and nihilistic, but that does not make them worthless comedies. Besides Heller's Catch-22, I can think of no comparable example of great comic prose style in the last century.

My ideology is opposite to Thompson's, but I cannot oppose his writing. His beliefs led him to madness and death, but I can claim no victory; I can only wish there were more like him. Mr. Thompson, we salute you.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Hey, Partner

I was reading an editorial by Quentin Peel in the Financial Times [17 Feb 2005] to the effect that both the U.S. and Europe should be nicer to each other. Chancellor Schroeder's speech was read by his defense minister, Peter Struck, so it seems a trustworthy indication of German sentiment:
[The current US-EU relationship] does justice neither to the Union's growing importance, nor to the new demands on transatlantic co-operation.
At first, I found only humor in the claim of "growing importance". Every country in western Europe is shrinking in population and in relative share of the world economy -- and by some bizarre double negative this is translated to growth.

Of course, what Mr. Schroeder meant is that the EU itself, rather than its members, is growing in importance. Washington continues to expect to negotiate with each country separately (to divide and conquer, from the EU point of view), while Schroeder means for the EU to take a unified position (possibly after internal debate).

Let us examine some recent diplomatic events. In dealing with Iran, it appears that the UK, France and Germany have presented a united front -- this front is for all practical purposes the EU position. Earlier, in the debate over the invasion of Iraq, the often-heard conventional wisdom was that "Europe" opposed it -- yet more than half of the EU countries joined. There is every reason to believe that Germany, and often France, would find itself in a minority within the EU on controversial issues, so their national influence need not be increased at all.

It certainly appears that France and Germany expect to wield disproportionate influence inside the EU. This seems odd if you think of the EU as a democracy of consenting nations -- as if Virginia and Pennsylvania were to insist on an outsized say in American policy. But this is a misleading way to think of Europe.

A better model for understanding the EU is a law firm. France and Germany are the founding partners. No matter how hard other partners work, their status can never be quite equal. But is this simply a Franco-German ideal, or an enforceable reality?

It can be argued that, since the real executive power lies not in the European Parliament but in the (unelected) European Commission, that influence with the Commission is the hard currency of Europe. It is more than likely that the "founding partners" are relatively overrepresented in the (undismissable) middle echelons of the Commission bureaucracy; it is quite possible, though not certain, that this imbalance could persist for a generation or more. The junior partners, for the most part poorer countries, would still be willing to accept this imbalance in return for a share of their neighbors' wealth (either in direct subsidies like those that have enriched Ireland, or simply through access to their markets).

[Steven DenBeste has written a harsh critique of the European project, now being updated daily at the EU Referendum Blog.]

Thursday, February 17, 2005


From Harvard President Larry Summers, it is now clear, no apology will be sufficiently lowly to quell the criticisms. This is not unexpected. From a New York Times account of a faculty meeting:

Professor [of "Comparative Religion and Indian Studies"] Eck recounted part of what she had said: "My question, Mr. President, is one I ask only with reluctance and respect: how will you now respond to what is clearly a widening crisis of confidence in your fitness to lead our university?"

"It's as if the business of the university has ground to a halt until this matter is resolved," said Prof. Henry Louis Gates, the chairman of the African American and African studies department, adding, "It is clear that much of President Summers's legacy will be determined by how he deals with this crisis."

Do you suppose that the Mathematics department has ground to a halt? Or Chemistry? I imagine not. The scientists are carrying on with their work, while the pseudo-scientists whose real concern is with their institutional power fret about politics.

Sherman in 1864 (Commentary)

A couple of points raised in General Sherman's letter to the leaders of Atlanta do merit reflection. Sherman first hints at the campaign he foresees:
To defeat those armies, we must prepare the way to reach them in their recesses, provided with the arms and instruments which enable us to accomplish our purpose. Now, I know the vindictive nature of our enemy, that we may have many years of military operations from this quarter; and, therefore, deem it wise and prudent to prepare in time.
Then, immediately after the famous "War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it", Sherman describes the war's necessity:
You cannot have peace and a division of our country. If the United States submits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war. The United States does and must assert its authority, wherever it once had power; for, if it relaxes one bit to pressure, it is gone.

It is easy for us, at such a long remove, to forget what Sherman faced. He saw the very real possibility, nearly forgotten now, of a protracted guerrilla insurrection. [More here.] A history professor of mine used to say, only half in jest, that the North should have let the South secede "and in fifty years, they could have colonized it" -- but Sherman, from his much better vantage, saw the impossibility of this. An independent South would have led almost certainly to an independent West, and given the old European powers a point of entry into the politics of North America. The nation we know, where internal peace has been taken for granted for over a century, was not fated to exist; it was created by men like Lincoln and Sherman, who determined to do whatever was necessary to preserve it, even to the point of dislodging the "old and feeble", many to their deaths, so that their city could be burned.

Sherman in 1864

Atlanta, Georgia,
James M. Calhoun, Mayor,
E.E. Rawson and S.C. Wells, representing City Council of Atlanta.

Gentlemen: I have your letter of the 11th, in the nature of a petition to revoke my orders removing all the inhabitants from Atlanta. I have read it carefully, and give full credit to your statements of distress that will be occasioned, and yet shall not revoke my orders, because they were not designed to meet the humanities of the cause, but to prepare for the future struggles in which millions of good people outside of Atlanta have a deep interest. We must have peace, not only at Atlanta, but in all America. To secure this, we must stop the war that now desolates our once happy and favored country. To stop war, we must defeat the rebel armies which are arrayed against the laws and Constitution that all must respect and obey. To defeat those armies, we must prepare the way to reach them in their recesses, provided with the arms and instruments which enable us to accomplish our purpose. Now, I know the vindictive nature of our enemy, that we may have many years of military operations from this quarter; and, therefore, deem it wise and prudent to prepare in time. The use of Atlanta for warlike purposes in inconsistent with its character as a home for families. There will be no manufacturers, commerce, or agriculture here, for the maintenance of families, and sooner or later want will compel the inhabitants to go. Why not go now, when all the arrangements are completed for the transfer, instead of waiting till the plunging shot of contending armies will renew the scenes of the past month? Of course, I do not apprehend any such things at this moment, but you do not suppose this army will be here until the war is over. I cannot discuss this subject with you fairly, because I cannot impart to you what we propose to do, but I assert that our military plans make it necessary for the inhabitants to go away, and I can only renew my offer of services to make their exodus in any direction as easy and comfortable as possible.

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and a division of our country. If the United States submits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war. The United States does and must assert its authority, wherever it once had power; for, if it relaxes one bit to pressure, it is gone, and I believe that such is the national feeling. This feeling assumes various shapes, but always comes back to that of Union. Once admit the Union, once more acknowledge the authority of the national Government, and, instead of devoting your houses and streets and roads to the dread uses of war, I and this army become at once your protectors and supporters, shielding you from danger, let it come from what quarter it may. I know that a few individuals cannot resist a torrent of error and passion, such as swept the South into rebellion, but you can point out, so that we may know those who desire a government, and those who insist on war and its desolation.

You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable, and the only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home, is to stop the war, which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride.

We don't want your Negroes, or your horses, or your lands, or any thing you have, but we do want and will have a just obedience to the laws of the United States. That we will have, and if it involved the destruction of your improvements, we cannot help it.

You have heretofore read public sentiment in your newspapers, that live by falsehood and excitement; and the quicker you seek for truth in other quarters, the better. I repeat then that, bu the original compact of government, the United States had certain rights in Georgia, which have never been relinquished and never will be; that the South began the war by seizing forts, arsenals, mints, custom-houses, etc., etc., long before Mr. Lincoln was installed, and before the South had one jot or tittle of provocation. I myself have seen in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, hundreds and thousands of women and children fleeing from your armies and desperadoes, hungry and with bleeding feet. In Memphis, Vicksburg, and Mississippi, we fed thousands and thousands of the families of rebel soldiers left on our hands, and whom we could not see starve. Now that war comes to you, you feel very different. You deprecate its horrors, but did not feel them when you sent car-loads of soldiers and ammunition, and moulded shells and shot, to carry war into Kentucky and Tennessee, to desolate the homes of hundreds and thousands of good people who only asked to live in peace at their old homes, and under the Government of their inheritance. But these comparisons are idle. I want peace, and believe it can only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect an early success.

But, my dear sirs, when peace does come, you may call on me for any thing. Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.

Now you must go, and take with you the old and feeble, feed and nurse them, and build for them, in more quiet places, proper habitations to shield them against the weather until the mad passions of men cool down, and allow the Union and peace once more to settle over your old homes in Atlanta. Yours in haste,

W.T. Sherman, Major-General commanding

[This was put online at, but bandwidth restrictions have made it unavailable from there. I have taken the liberty of copying this text from the Google cache. Commentary, if any, will be in a separate post.]

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Copycat Extortion

Inevitably, Eliot Spitzer's success in using negative publicity and the threat of more negative publicity -- without any prosecutions of note -- to extort money from the corporations that support his state, and the fame he has garnered in the process, have enabled him to attempt to move on to bigger and better things.

With equal inevitability, a crowd of wannabee extortionists from other states are looking to his example:
Mr. Spitzer has redefined the powers of the office so fundamentally, that during the last election cycle three attorney general candidates around the country asked to meet with him when forming their visions of what they could bring to the office.
Still more pavement artists are vying to succeed him. Like drawing from a menu, you can vote for whom you want to see shaken down next:
Charlie King, who runs a nonprofit agency for the homeless, says he would use the Spitzer model of reforming institutions in a profound way and apply it to education. “I would take the model from Wall Street to Sesame Street,” he says.
If the schools aren't your target of choice, you could try construction (Richard Brodsky), retailers (Mark Green), or another run at finance (Michael Gianaris). With so many juicy targets, how are New Yorkers to choose?

About Me

I was born in the late 1960's. I received a Bachelors' in Physics from a second-tier American university, and a Ph.D. from a top-tier one. I am now a middle-ranking investment banker working "in the loop" of New York and London. I am married with school-aged children.

Not Yet the Bottom

There has been a lot of notice taken lately of Ward Churchill, who had built a successful career on fraud until he unwisely raised his profile. In particular, Paul Campos suggests:
Churchill thus represents the reductio ad absurdum of the contemporary university's willingness to subordinate all other values to affirmative action. When such a grotesque fraud - a white man pretending to be an Indian, an intellectual charlatan spewing polemical garbage festooned with phony footnotes, a shameless demagogue fabricating imaginary historical incidents to justify his pathological hatreds, an apparent plagiarist who steals and distorts the work of real scholars - manages to scam his way into a full professorship at what is still a serious research university, we know the practice of affirmative action has hit rock bottom. Or at least we can hope so.
Campos diagnoses the academy as a patient with a particular disease, a cancerous overemphasis on diversity; he focuses on curing this disease. But he is wrong; it is not simply the case that other values are being "subordinated" to affirmative action. It is more accurate to say that the other values have been laid aside. The patient is dead.

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Straight Man

[Warning: contains (very mild) spoilers for The Big Sleep and The Little Sister.]

Raymond Chandler's detective, Philip Marlowe, is associated today with film noir and the hard-boiled:

Marlowe is a private detective, a smart and tough lone wolf with a sense of honor.

What is lost in this summary is Marlowe's stern and judgemental morality. He has a keen eye for police corruption and brutality (like that of Captain Gregorius in The Long Goodbye), but his real disgust is reserved for the pointless corruption and joyless debauchery of the rich and idle. In The Big Sleep:
"I do all this for twenty-five bucks a day--and maybe just a little to protect what little pride a broken and sick old man has left in his blood, in the thought that his blood is not poison, and that although his two little girls are a trifle wild, as many girls are these days, they are not perverts or killers."

Even when he knows the truth. Or, most devastatingly, in The Little Sister:
"Wonderful what Hollywood will do to a nobody. It will make a radiant glamour queen out of a drab little wench who ought to be ironing a truck driver's shirts, a he-man hero with shining eyes and brilliant smile reeking of sexual charm out of some overgrown kid who was meant to go to work with a lunchbox. Out of a Texas car hop with the literacy of a character in a comic strip it will make an international courtesan, married six times to six millionaires and so blase and decadent at the end of it that her idea of a thrill is to seduce a furniture mover in a sweaty undershirt."
More than his homophobia or residual sexism, it is his relentless and unforgiving moral evaluation that marks Marlowe, today, as a relic of a past time. He sees the parade of pornographers and pimps not as merely harmful, but as irremediably depraved. But all this is a necessary part of him. Without the possibility of condemnation, there can be no meaningful praise; only Marlowe's harshness gives weight to his eulogy for the fallen villain of The Lady in the Lake:
Something that had been a man.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Advice Device

From Google:
Results 1 - 10 of about 598 for "advice to democrats". (0.38 seconds)
Results 1 - 10 of about 1,430 for "advice to the democrats". (0.33 seconds)

Let us immediately be clear on one thing: the authors of this advice are not disinterested supporters of the American Democratic Party. Often they are supporters of an agenda within that party -- unsurprisingly, the advice of centrists is "be more centrist" and the advice of the activist faithful is "be less centrist". They are attempting to maximize their influence by using the power vacuum created by their party's recent defeat, which is perfectly normal; they have simply chosen a disingenuous rhetorical device as their vehicle.

Still more common, and still less useful, are the pieces of "advice" which come from the party's opponents. These generally do not have even the excuse of an ulterior motive: they are pure onanism. As a mechanism for gloating, they served well in the immediate aftermath of the November election. Now that time has passed; the device has become stale, and its false veneer of outreach is even thinner.

Who can such a piece ever persuade? If the aim is to weaken the radical left while engaging the honest majority of Democrats, the effect of the advice device is precisely the opposite. Smugness is not an invitation to discussion.

Far better to state forthrightly: I believe that a substantial segment of your party is in the hands of cynics, extremists, and defeatists, and I would like to discuss the future of our country with you, and without them.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

King Coal

I am sure John Willis believed his goals to be noble:
At Greenpeace International he oversaw the successful Greenpeace effort to halt nuclear industry expansion into Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.
What will they use instead, John?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Unit of Civilization

An interesting thread at Belmont Club is discussing the threat to civilization latent in the diffusion of increasing destructive power into the hands of smaller groups. To summarize: small groups are more prone to radicalization and less easy to deter; the State containing the group can be deterred, but is unaware of the group's existence; thus the State has an incentive to strict policing, lest it be punished for its citizens' misdeeds.

Clearly, the important question is how States will accomplish this policing, and at what cost? One of Belmont Club's comments describes a surveillance state reminiscent of the world of, say, Niven's "Madness Has Its Place". But such surveillance will inevitably be abused by whoever can use it for gain.

At this point, we need to examine an important element of recent conservative thought, which does not seem to have a name. I will call it the Initiative Hypothesis, and state it as follows:

The rate of both technological and material progress within a society inevitably increases with increasing freedom.

This hypothesis is certainly not original to me; it originates with Adam Smith and was greatly developed and bolstered by Friedrich Hayek (my first victim). I have tried to make it explicit that freedom is assumed to be a good in both the short and the long term, and to focus on technology, the main driver of long-term progress. Bill Whittle has provided an eloquent defense of this idea, but it must still be regarded as only a hypothesis.

With the growth of technology (and especially of nanotechnology) the importance of technological prowess is sharpened; it becomes a question not of prosperity, but of survival. The idea of a small Islamist cell setting out to cause great harm to the West is a threatening one; but similar cells attacking other parts of their own more-primitive world, which will always be softer targets, will be far more likely (or, in the worst case, far more common).

Suppose for the moment that the Initiative Hypothesis holds, and that the future belongs (almost literally) to whatever state will obtain the most freedom for its citizens without being destroyed in the process. States will be able to obtain security with less policing if they are smaller, more homogeneous, and have closely controlled borders. All these are disadvantages to economic competition in today's world, leading to the dominance of large nations and the European drive to join the ranks of behemoths. But in a less secure world, the optimal balance would tip in the other direction. Small designer communities could come to lead the drive to the stars.

Monday, February 07, 2005


A long and fascinating article on backbiting at San Francisco State University's College of Ethnic Studies, in SF Weekly, contains much food for thought. The short version: the College's Dean, Tomas Almaguer, unwillingly resigned amid much criticism from his professors.

The funniest part comes at the beginning, as Mr. Almaguer defends his calling one lecturer a "bitch":

"As a gay man, in the Castro in San Francisco, and camp such as it is, we refer to ourselves in very gendered terms," says Tomás Almaguer, who spent 4 1/2 years as dean before resigning this past fall amid accusations that he created a hostile work environment within the college. "You might notice that my e-mail address is 'tomasa' -- it's a play. Have I ever referred to myself and my friends as bitches? All the time! I've been referred to as Queen Bitch of the Universe! Megabitch! That's one of my identities."
The amazing fluidity of offensiveness -- so that "bitch" is sometimes sexist slander and sometimes "one of my identities", and the word I may not write [our culture's only remaining obscenity] is repeated perhaps 100 times in August Wilson's [excellent] Fences -- is a natural cover for any sort of charlatan. Now we turn to the College's home page:

The Ethnic Studies field is unique as an educational experience that redefines the lives of people of color from their own perspectives.
The focus on perspectives here is a crucial step. It enshrines the fallacy of argumentum ad hominem into the foundation of the institution's mission. Those with the appropriate "own perspectives" are authorities, while others can never become so. The same "perspective" is used to defend them from attacks from the outside.

But in an internecine struggle, this Super Power can no longer serve to stifle criticism. Almaguer's description of the situation when he arrived, if valid, is highly damning:

So when people don't show up to class, when people don't turn in a syllabus, when people don't do course evaluations, when people are teaching a subject matter that leads to a ton of student complaints about perspective, basically arguing there was racism, it's my responsibility to talk to those people. You had a Wild West situation where everyone did what they did with impunity, without any accountability."

At least some of the staff were displeased with the Almaguer administration, so they immediately complained:
According to an officer in the California Faculty Association, the union representing academics in the California State University system, a grievance involving Almaguer was filed during his first semester on campus -- and at least seven were filed during his first two years. Almaguer says that "every one of the union's formal grievances and complaints that they moved forward -- not one of them was ever, ever validated or affirmed." Indeed, none of the grievances went to arbitration, according to Edwin Waite, the university's director of employee relations. They were resolved with no admission of liability.
The complaints seemed to center on Almaguer's personality...
... when Dong approached the dean to complain about the reallocation of the access-and-retention money, Almaguer waved her off. "He said something to me that shows he's fallen into the trap" of believing that Asians represent a model minority, Dong says. "He said something along the lines of, 'Well, you guys are doing fine. You don't need help. You're victims of your own success.' That made me very unhappy -- to hear that from the dean." (Almaguer counters that Asian American studies had received a disproportionate share of the money in the past, especially considering that Asians are overrepresented at the university. "We didn't get enough Koreans," Dong says. And so on.)

Later, a complaint was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; Mr. Almaguer finally resigned in October 2004.
Today, faculty members insist that the discord over Almaguer's term centered on management style and policies, not on race or racial discord. But it's hard to see how this was not, on some level, about race. As Okutsu says, "Race really matters in a college like this." Here in a college built atop America's biggest fault lines, where academic and political aims converge, is there anything -- a new hire, an uncouth remark, a line item in a budget -- that isn't ultimately about race?
The lesson seems to be that anything is about race if you are sufficiently determined to make it so. Ms. Dong's positioning is particularly instructive. She would like to criticize Mr. Almaguer for reverse racism, in that he would be less willing to help Asians if they were less in need of help; but she must realize that charges of reverse racism are an attack on the foundations of her College. So she falls back on an underrepresented minority. If not Koreans, possibly North Koreans will be underrepresented -- or fat North Koreans. There is always someone.

The College has faced down threats before, as shown in former Dean D. Phillip McGee's obituary [June 1999]:
In the mid-1980s, the Academic Senate at S.F. State turned back a plan that would have lowered the status of the College of Ethnic Studies and in 1990 President Corrigan reaffirmed his support to the College of Ethnic Studies in the wake of allegations it was being threatened.
Under McGee's tenure, S.F. State's College of Ethnic Studies, the only such college in the country, has grown from less than 200 undergraduate and graduate students taking classes to approximately 10,000 students. More than 200 students are currently pursing undergraduate or graduate degrees in ethnic studies at S.F. State. More than 80 faculty members teach in the college's departments and students earn bachelor degrees in Asian American Studies, Black Studies and La Raza Studies. And just recently the college developed a Vietnamese American Studies component in its Asian American Studies Department. The college began offering a master's degree in ethnic studies in 1992 and there are plans to offer a master's degree in Asian American Studies.

This is a big business -- a college larger than Princeton -- and those who would lead it must fight hard, but always with one eye on the hostile outside world. Complaints about unrelated issues are one weapon; withdrawal of the protective shield that makes offensive statements permissible when they come from the right "perspective" is another. The latter tactic becomes more useful as the varieties of offensive speech become more plentiful, in the same way that a corrupt state creates many laws to make selective enforcement easier.

On another note, this gem is from a 2001 interview:

[Q]: The last question, your prediction for the left. What does the left need to do to become more relevant outside the academy?
Tomas: They need to retire!! Those old white boys and girls just need to cash in their IRA accounts and just get out of the way. That would be the very best thing they could do. And I say that to the degree that many of them have become obstacles and impediments to us rather than natural allies that help promote and shepherd folks of color through the academy.

Emphasis mine.
[Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds. I do not wish to be construed as sympathizing with Mr. Almaguer; my intent is only to illuminate the means used against him.]

Friday, February 04, 2005

Premises, Premises

George Soros, in an editorial syndicated to the Lebanese Daily Star, praises President Bush's stated goal of advancing freedom while differing sharply on the means. His critique is, to a great extent, a psychoanalysis of America:

Paradoxically, the most successful open society in the world, the U.S., does not properly understand the first principles of an open society; indeed, its current leadership actively disavows them. The concept of open society is based on recognition that nobody possesses the ultimate truth, that one may be wrong. Yet being wrong is precisely the possibility that Bush refuses to acknowledge, and his denial appeals to a significant segment of the American public. An equally significant segment is appalled. This has left the U.S. not only deeply divided, but also at loggerheads with much of the rest of the world, which considers its policies high-handed and arbitrary.
Bush regards his reelection as an endorsement of his policies, and feels reinforced in his distorted view of the world. The "accountability moment" has passed, he claims, and he is ready to confront tyranny throughout the world according to his own lights. But the critical process that is at the core of an open society - which the U.S. abandoned for 18 months after Sept. 11, 2001 - cannot be forsaken. That absence of self-criticism is what led America into the Iraq quagmire.
[I'm ignoring Mr. Soros's use of "quagmire" here, not because I agree with him.] So the problem is America's lack of self-criticism, and its failure to recognize that it is wrong. This seems to mean several things.

First, America did not choose to invade Iraq after national reflection. Soros simply excludes the possibility that the arguments against invasion were tried, weighed, and found wanting. He believes they were adequate, and assumes that no one, on reflection, could fail to agree.

Second, it would be somehow better if Mr. Bush were to ackowledge "being wrong." It is clear that Bush has four options; he can admit or not admit his wrongness, and he can change or not change his course. If he wishes to stay the course, "acknowledging" its wrongness will make his task infinitely more difficult. Of course, Mr. Soros is well aware of this -- he desires the words of admission only as a prelude to the facts of withdrawal. [See my earlier post on Tragedy and Disgrace for more on this sophomoric tactic.] Even if Mr. Bush believes himself to be wrong, it would be foolish -- and harmful to America -- for him to acknowledge it. [One could split this more finely, arguing that Mr. Bush should "confess" [note the verbiage of humiliation which surrounds all these demands for words of repentance] to his smaller errors, even while defending the overall goal. However, bad strategy on the large scale is also bad tactics on the small.]

Third, if the U.S. is "at loggerheads with much of the rest of the world," this necessarily illustrates a problem which lies with the U.S. We should note, as Mr. Soros does not, that an "equally significant segment" of the world is not opposing America. We should question his unstated assumption that other nations have purer motives, or that the motives of an aggregate of nations embodied in "international law" are higher than those of individual nations. In fact, just the opposite is likely to be true.

Mr. Soros makes one strong point at the end:
Bush is right to assert that repressive regimes can no longer hide behind a cloak of sovereignty: what goes on inside tyrannies and failed states is of vital interest to the rest of the world. But intervention in other states' internal affairs must be legitimate, which requires clearly established rules.
To Mr. Soros, this clearly implies that the U.S. should more closely adhere to the existing rubric of international law, and its embodiment in the United Nations. But his premises are mistaken. What the U.S. should do, and what Mr. Bush's administration appears to be preparing to attempt, is to establish rules which will work in the best interests of freedom, replacing the decayed and malevolent international order in the process.

[Hat tip: Charles Johnson. Update 7 Feb: fixed broken link noted by R. Alex.]

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Prophecies that Work

From The Economist:
But what can be done now? All the options are terrible:
1) Continue with containment, ie, the status quo, allowing Iraq to blame America (to which the UN sanctions are ascribed) for children's deaths while rebuilding its weapons programme.
2) Demand that Iraq submit to a new inspections regime.
3) Give up altogether and wait till Saddam does something aggressive or barbaric that he can be punished for. This would make him a hero to those Arabs who like the thought of him seeing off the West.
4) Try to get a UN consensus to support an American-led invasion, intended to depose Saddam and to bring in a new regime willing to abide by Iraq's past international commitments.
5) Just invade, hoping that success will convince others that it was a good idea.
The apparent multilateral consensus is for either the second of these options or the
fourth, though agreement is not universal even on those measures. And the question still arises: what do you do if either measure is (in effect) voted down or, in the case of a new inspections agreement, fails? Thus, the limit to a purely multilateral approach, under the ambit of the 1945 UN Charter, is exposed. Beyond economic sanctions, which have already failed or been scuppered by UN members, there is no enforcement mechanism except for American leadership. And that is what is likely to happen. There will be a multilateral process along the lines of option two. It will fail. And then America will invade.
This story is dated June 27, 2002. The next nine months were just the gestation, toward an end which should have surprised no one.

The Virtue of Understanding Selfishness

The "Law of Unintended Consequences" has surfaced enough times that one would think it would be a part of policy-makers' thinking by now. When considering any policy, we should consider how it will be used by those affected.

The classic example is welfare. Unlimited-life benefits amounting to a wage substantially above the norm for unskilled labor led, amazingly enough, to a permanently dependent underclass. New York's apparent coup in using Federal money, on top of its own, to make generous welfare payments made the city a welfare magnet. At this point, the lesson is clear enough that only a die-hard few choose to ignore it.

But in making foreign policy, the babes in the woods have not yet realized they are lost. They are often admirable people, like Christine Ahn of Food First (perhaps), who said in December:

Most experts agree that complex factors played a role in North Korea's famine, most of which were events beyond the control of the government. The country's slide towards famine began with diminishing agricultural production in the 1980s. Then, in 1991, the socialist-trading bloc collapsed with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and North Korea's agricultural system went into a tailspin....
If we truly care about the human rights of North Korean people, peace and engagement, not war and sanctions, must be the foundation to promote and protect human rights there.

Notice how events which do not appear to be beyond the government's control are carefully couched in the passive voice. Even better, the observed failure of the Soviet government is seen as excusing the (very similar) North Korean government, rather than showing the brutal failure of its premises. But most telling is the thing which is missing altogether from this discussion: what if there is no connection between food aid and the hunger of these people? What if food aid is only one more weapon to use against any restive provinces? In short, what if the rulers of North Korea are more concerned with their own power than with their people -- if they are selfish?

The same issue shows up in evaluating the United Nations. Those who favor multilateralism and argue that the UN provides the appropriate framework for resolution of most disputes, simply by framing that argument, are glossing over the problem of how the UN may be manipulated. What if the UN charter protects dictators and allows small acts of aggression by setting a high standard for retaliation -- or, in the alternative reality, provides diplomatic cover which makes war easier? What if members of the UN know this? What if the UN elites are not motivated by altruism, but enjoy their sinecures as permanent tourists -- if they are selfish?

The American left sometimes accuses conservatives of selfishness, but it would be more accurate to say that conservatism arises from an understanding of selfishness. Not everyone wants to play on a level field; not every treaty is honored; not every enemy can be negotiated with.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Earth by Night

With news spreading of the possible disintegration of the North Korean regime, we can thank the Christians:
Word has spread like wildfire of the Christian underground that helps fugitives to reach South Korea. People who lived in silent fear now dare to speak about escape. The regime has almost given up trying to stop them going, although it can savagely punish those caught and sent back.
“Everybody knows there is a way out,” said a woman, who for obvious reasons cannot be identified but who spoke in front of several witnesses. “They know there is a Christian network to put them in contact with the underground, to break into embassies in Beijing or to get into Vietnam. They know, but you have to pay a lot of money to middlemen who have the Christian contacts.”
Her knowledge was remarkable. North Korean newspapers are stifled by state control. Televisions receive only one channel which is devoted to the Dear Leader’s deeds. Radios are fixed to a single frequency. For most citizens the internet is just a word. Yet North Koreans confirmed that they knew that escapers to China should look for buildings displaying a Christian cross and should ask among Korean speakers for people who knew the word of Jesus.

Douglas Shin, an American pastor, has been a leader for some time in helping North Koreans gain information about the world and escape from their Stalinist hellhole. His example and energy have made a vast difference to thousands; but more impressive still are the nameless Christians who have risked torture and death in the very jaws of the Dear Leader's machine.

In a view of Earth by night, South Korea shows about as brightly as Spain (though, to be fair, it is more densely populated). It looks like an island, separated from the mainland by the swath of darkness that is North Korea. The dim point that is Pyongyang glows as brightly as Alice Springs, or Akureyri. This darkness is an apt metaphor for the destitution and human waste wrought by fifty years of Communism. We should support, in both words and deeds, Shin and anyone else who can bring a light to this darkness.