The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Thursday, March 31, 2005


In the course of writing the previous post, I realized something about the motivations of big-government supporters. What could be better than having the government tell everybody to do something you were going to do anyway?

When people believe their views cannot sway the majority, they suddenly see the merits of individual choice. But for those who believe the opposite, there is a continual temptation to ensure that everyone is obliged to make the same choice, because they are confident it will be their choice.

The fuzzy intellectual left, for example, is almost perfectly selected from those have become accustomed to being in the majority; e.g., they go through college in the center of the central group, surrounded by people whose views are agreeable to them, while smokers, fat people and conservatives lurk on the near-invisible fringe. They expect that most people will agree with them (hence their despair when an election is lost); they expect that their own opinions, skillfully phrased, will carry more weight than most (hence their frustration at opposition voters who are too stupid to listen). They expect to win.

Today's "big-government conservatives" provide a more sinister example of the same motivation. They have learned from experience that they can, indeed, sway the law to their own desires; and now they wish to maximize the effects of doing so.

ALL-US: Civil Liberty

This is a partial response to Bill Quick's challenge to enunciate a coherent conservative policy. I will address his second plank, "Civil Liberty".

There are two balancing points I can see. One is the need to distinguish between protection from harm and protection from insult; the latter leads inevitably to restrictive speech codes and a loss of civil liberty. The second is the tradeoff between allowing individual freedom of action and indulging discrimination. Libertarian ideals have too often been used as a cloak for racism and sexism, and ALL must avoid being tainted with that brush. [Conversely, the cause of equality has been used as a cover for government intrusion.] I use "person" rather than the more ringing "man" in what follows (though I draw the line at "he or she").

OPPORTUNITY Every person is the best judge of how to conduct his own life. People may choose safety or adventure, wealth or leisure, family or independence. The proper role of government is never to control these choices, but only to defend the liberties that enable them. Their choices may be wrong, but the government must not protect them by restraint. Prior restraint of conduct, like prior restraint of speech, is an abuse of government power and an unacceptable curtailment of freedom. Restraint in the name of the good of society is simply the tyranny of the majority under another name. The government has only the power to punish those who break established law; and laws should be established only as a last resort, to defend those who have no other means of defense.

RESPONSIBILITY People will choose most wisely when they bear the consequences. Government action to mitigate the harm that people cause to themselves is a reward for recklessness, and will breed more of the same. The opportunity that liberty creates will offer second chances to those who have so far failed, and also to those who have succceeded; it will lift both up instead leveling both together. Localities should govern themselves whenever possible. Local government keeps the consequences of choices proximate to their causes, encouraging better choices.

FREEDOM The Constitution enumerates certain rights and freedoms, which are guaranteed to all. Government may not justly curtail or restrict these rights, or limit them to some part of the populace. No person may create new rights. If the broad and universally valuable rights already guaranteed are found to be inadequate, the Constitution may be amended appropriately. Unfettered creation of narrowly tailored rights is an attempt to subvert the democratic process, and weakens the standing of the crucial rights.

JUSTICE Opportunity should always remain within the reach of the helpless. We have an obligation to ensure that each child may rise as far as his abilities and choices permit. We cannot redress all suffering or prevent all hardship. We cannot enforce equality, and to attempt to do so is an assault on personal responsibility. Just as our desire for fairness should be tempered by mercy, so must our mercy be tempered by respect. Our obligation to help anyone is always less that that person's obligation to help himself.

[Update 4 April 2005: Added support for federalism.]

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


A lot of people, especially those on the political right in America, are talking about a clash of civilizations. Not enough attention is paid to Steven Den Beste's essay, written in January 2004, in which he points out that there are three, not two, sides to this clash of civilizations. I intend to do Mr. Den Beste a slight disservice here, by calling the three sides God, State and Man, based on where they would place the center of public affairs, and where the final burden of responsibility falls:
If equality is one way to tell these three apart, responsibility is another. The Islamists believe that Allah is responsible for it all; the duty of believers is to follow His will, and leave all else in His hands. For the idealists, responsibility lies with the state. Citizens should rely on the state for all things, and let the state be responsible for taking care of it all. For the realists, everyone has primary responsibility for their own fate, and though they may rely to some extent on others, or on the state, or on God, ultimately each person should look out for themself as much as they can.

Mr. Den Beste was pointing out the common error of conflating State and Man into a generic "West"; this post seems to round up several essays on the subject. There is another conflation now at work, for example in Bat Ye'or's Eurabia (introduction here), showing the current alliance of State and God in Europe. We must keep in mind that Ms. Ye'or's work is meant to illuminate one phase of an ongoing struggle; it arose largely because State found itself the weakest of the participants (odd how that keeps happening) and needed an ally, even on unfavorable terms.

God and State both envision a world government, and both place minimal value on the common man's right to reject the wisdom of his betters. Even if world government is not a sure recipe for world tyranny (and I believe that it is), the world governments being advanced would start out halfway down the slope.

The sciences that can change our lives today are those of exploration; either away from Earth, or away from the bonds of fragile and imperfect flesh. How can such exploration survive under a world government? What God-fearing or equality-loving bureaucrat would fund, or even permit, attempts to augment a select few? What world government would oversee the creation of an unearthly society? Those with dreams of what this world may offer should be very clear on what is at stake, as summarized by Jerry Pournelle:
I always knew I'd see the first man on the Moon. I never dreamed I'd see the last.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


John Weidner delivers an intemperate thrashing of the New York Times. I would argue that their two viewpoints do provide a balance (though of course the Times would claim that it occupies the center and Mr. Weidner the fringe).

I will be off for a week or so.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Carnival of the Vanities

I submitted Citizens of the World to the Carnival of the Vanities, though Civilized Humanity is better if you have the patience.

The Glittering Eye reached deep into the past to compare George Kennan and Walter Lippman.

Carnegie Endowment Policy Brief, 2002

This policy brief was released in October 2002 by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. It is too long to reproduce in detail here; I will focus only on the guidelines they offer for successful democracy promotion.
Do not reflexively attempt to marginalize Islamist groups.
I guess the test case here is Sadr, not Sistani. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems that this was done about right, though it was grueling at the time.
Do not overemphasize support for westernized nongovernmental organizations and individuals with impeccable liberal credentials but little influence in their societies.
This may have been some of this in Bremer's CPA. The newer whole-hog approach has certainly not made this mistake.
Don't confuse a "sell America" campaign with democracy promotion.
Considering the sorry state of our efforts to sell America, this is sound advice.
Do not support lackluster institutional reform programs -- such as with stagnant parliaments and judiciaries -- in lieu of real political reform.
Account for major differences in political starting points and potential for political change. Shape policies accordingly.
This is why Iraq was such a compelling choice for the test bed of democracy.
Review carefully everything we have done so far in the name of democracy promotion.

All this aside, the money quote is from the editorial desk of the New York Times [sic]:
Recently President Bush demanded democratic reform from the Palestinians. Washington should support similar demands for the entire region. For too long, America embraced corrupt and autocratic Arab leaders, asking only that they accomodate Western oil needs and not make excessive trouble for Israel. As a result, too many young Arabs now identify the United States more readily with the repressive dictators it supports in the Middle East than with the tolerant democracy it practices at home. Islamic terrorist groups are adept at manipulating their anger and despair.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


You may recall Lionel Trilling's famous commentary on Nabokov's Lolita:
Lolita is about love. Perhaps I shall be better understood if I put the statement in this form: Lolita is not about sex, but about love. Almost every page sets forth some explicit erotic emotion or some overt erotic action and still it is not about sex. It is about love.
This is probably the single most egregious mistake I have seen in any literary review. Not because the converse is true; for I have no difficulty agreeing with Mr. Trilling that Lolita is not about sex. Lolita is about hate. The staggering vitality of its prose is driven by the incandescent heat of the hatred which propels almost every line.
Consider Humbert Humbert's eulogy for his first wife:
But no matter. I had my little revenge in due time. A man from Pasadena told me one day that Mrs. Maximovich née Zborovski had died in childbirth around 1945; the couple had somehow got over to California and had been used there, for an excellent salary, in a year-long experiment conducted by a distinguished American ethnologist. The experiment dealt with human and racial reactions to a diet of bananas and dates in a constant position on all fours. My informant, a doctor, swore he had seen with his own eyes obese Valechka and her colonel, by then gray-haired and also quite corpulent, diligently crawling about the well-swept floors of a brightly lit set of rooms (fruit in one, water in another, mats in a third and so on) in the company of several other hired quadrupeds, selected from indigent and helpless groups. I tried to find the results of these tests in the Review of Anthropology; but they appear not to have been published yet. These scientific products take of course some time to fructuate. I hope they will be illustrated with photographs when they do get printed, although it is not very likely that a prison library will harbor such erudite works.
Humbert's deepest loathing is reserved for himself:

O Reader! Laugh not, as you imagine me, on the very rack of joy noisily emitting dimes and quarters, and great big silver dollars like some sonorous, jingly and wholly demented machine vomiting riches; and in the margin of that leaping epilepsy she would firmly clutch a handful of coins in her little fist, which, anyway, I used to pry open afterwards unless she gave me the slip, scrambling away to hide her loot.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Civilized Humanity

Kevin Drum, unsurprisingly, has the most thoughtful response to Eugene Volokh's support for painful punishment.
Aside from material advances, the primary achievement of human civilization — slow and spotty as it's been — has been moral progress: we don't keep slaves anymore, we don't execute heretics, and we don't allow eight-year-olds to work 12-hour days in front of power looms.
But this progress has been tenuous and halting, with our inner demons never far from the surface — and accepting a reversal in our slow march toward moral improvement is playing with fire: as both recent history and current history demonstrate, the veneer of civilization continues to be mighty thin.
This is powerful and largely correct. The one thing missing is the recognition that moral progress is not equally distributed, either around the world or in our own countries or towns. To trade the sword for the pen is civilization; to refuse to take it up again when faced with the need of others is decadence. If the promise of great cruelty deters sadistic monsters (like the one who inspired Mr. Volokh's original post), then we as a civilization have no right to eschew it.

Mr. Volokh's position has been characterized as "meeting savagery with savagery", with the implication that we, the executors, are demeaned by the use of crual punishments. This may even be true, but it is beside the point because this is not about us -- it is about the victims and possible future victims. Turning the other cheek may or may not be right; turning someone else's other cheek is never so.

I believe that it is our moral duty to meet savagery with whatever tools will be most effective, up to and including the equally savage. We should not seek cruelty, but we should not reject it to spare our own sensibilities. The occurrence of any heinous crime is a failure of civilization, greater than the failure inherent in cruel punishment. Vindictive disapproval (to borrow Mr. Kleiman's terminology) can serve the victim's interest and limit the damage to society. This is the first-order effect of punishment, while Mr. Drum is considering the second-order effect. The real meaning of Mr. Drum's argument is that we must never err on the side of cruelty if there is doubt as to its efficacy.

My omission here is in assuming a monolithic "we". In practice, each society reaches an effective consensus, which changes through time, as to what retributive punishments can be considered.

In the United States today, we have reached an unclean compromise. Setting aside the (rare) death penalty, the most cruel punishment is confinement in cells which are mandated to fairly high nominal standards of cleanliness and roominess -- so the State has the appearance of highly civilized mercy. Then, in practice, standards slip and the State turns a blind eye to prisoner abuse at the hands of other prisoners, so as a practical matter imprisonment is a mixture of bland inconvenience and brutal abuse.

Those who wish for harsher punishments ignore this problem because it has an effect they find desirable; those who wish for greater leniency might wish to change the situation, but their proposals tend to a nominal level of leniency which is completely unacceptable to society. We could reduce jailhouse brutality and prisoner rape, increase the deterrent effect of prison terms, reduce their value as a training ground for criminals, and simultaneously save money -- simply by isolating prisoners more in smaller cells, instead of giving them just enough "rights" to let them create jungle societies.

[Update: expanded and slightly rewritten after reading M.A.R. Kleinman's detailed post.]

"Antiwar" Protest

Only the Chinese media have bothered to report on Prague's anemic antiwar protest yesterday, which saw 200 people march through the tourist district. Most of the protesters seemed to be in their late twenties, though a few should have been old enough to know better. They carried a few anti-Bush posters, a few posters of Che Guevara, and some much larger red banners (bedsheet-sized) reading "Revolucion!". They marched, unconscious of the irony, past the Falun Gong displays; past a street display calling on Castro to free political prisoners; and past the place where Jan Palach immolated himself in 1969 to call attention to what their "revolucion" really meant.

Shush, Little People

Britain's Conservative Party is attempting to make its proposal to lower the upper age limit on abortions, from the current 24 weeks after conception to 20, an issue in the general election campaign. Solicitor General Harriet Harman [who serves at the pleasure of the ruling Labour Party, to which she belongs -- the distinction between politicians and bureaucrats is not so pronounced in the UK as in the US] does not want it to come to a vote, and most certainly does not want feedback from the populace.
"This has always been a matter of individual conscience. If something is a free vote it cannot be in a general election campaign. We can debate it later."

[Emphasis mine.] The more one scrutinizes that sentence, the more dishonest it appears. Ms. Harman says, in essence, that we cannot let the will of the people interfere with the expression of conscience of the governing class.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Citizens of the World

Late in 2004, Belmont Club pointed out in "The Odds Against" and "Haifa Street" that the distinction between journalists as Americans commonly understand the term, and stringers acting as terrorist mouthpieces, was dangerously blurred. Readers not familiar with the story would profit from reviewing it in full.

[The short version: an AP photographer produced film of a street murder of two election workers during the morning rush hour. Wretchard pointed out the improbability that the photographer could have been on that particular block without foreknowledge of the attack, and further, that his behavior once the shooting began demonstrated either foreknowledge or implausible bravado.]

Next, consider this Guardian article from October 2004:

In two shifts, starting at 3.30pm and ending at 4am the next day, Mr. Veedon's six-person team [in Bangalore] is part of an effort by the company to expand coverage of small and mid-cap companies listed in New York.
The journalists described here are engaged in secondary journalism, poring through public-domain information for newsworthy patterns or outliers, rather than the primary journalism which occurred on Haifa Street.

One conservative blogger (sorry, can't find the link) recently suggested that the AP/Reuters dominance of primary news could come to an end as other wire services, such as those based in Latin America, gained ground. However, this would make the tenor of news reporting less, not more, American. As this trend progresses, it would seem that the best we can hope for it that the international (non-embedded) press might be neutral between our cause and our enemy's.

However, the situation is worse than that, for two reasons. First, in a place like Iraq, where terrorists have a strategy of dealing random death while American soldiers attempt to keep order, the safest place to be is with the terrorists. Every reporter has an incentive to get close to our enemy (until we set out to kill that enemy, whereupon he will proclaim his neutrality and innocence). There is not much we can do about this.

The second reason is from the old saw that "if it bleeds, it leads." We are trying to stop the bleeding, while our enemies strive to increase it. Which is more compatible with grabbing headlines? As long as spectacular pictures dominate news coverage, the side that is in the business of creating such images will have an unassailable advantage. There is not terribly much individuals can do about this, either; it will improve only to the extent that news coverage begins to have a memory, to be able to compare today with yesterday, or last week, or last year. Right now the entire sphere of news -- the blogosphere included -- is like an infant in the night, terrified anew by each atrocity, beguiled by each pretty dancing flame.

[Update, 21 March: corrected typo -- "less, not more" was reversed.]
[Update, 13 June: Jay Rosen addresses a similar problem, focusing on the mindset of individual reporters.]

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Perimeter Defenses

The Wikipedia entry on the late Jacques Derrida contains excerpts. For purposes of this discussion, I will focus on those from "Spectres of Marx", but any other essay would serve my purpose. They are remarkably consistent in form and presentation. Consider:
Let us take the chance, then, after so many glosses, of an ingenuous reading. Let us try to see what happens. But is this not right away impossible? Marx warns us with the first words. The point is right away to go be rid, in one fell swoop, the first glance and thus to see there where this glance is blind, to open one's eyes wide there where one does not see what one sees. One must see, at first sight, what does not let itself be seen. And this is invisibility itself. For what first sight misses is the invisible. The flaw, the error of first sight is to see, and not to notice the invisible. If one does not give oneself up to this invisibility, then the table-commodity, immediately perceived, remains what it is not, a simple thing deemed to be trivial and too obvious.

Two salient features of this snippet claim our attention. First, there is a tremendous emphasis on the process of reading, rather than on the material being read. ["Let us take the chance," indeed. Aren't we brave?] This is consistent with Mr. Derrida's theories, which consistently seek to minimize the idea of intrinsic content of a work. It also has the effect of magnifying the importance of the critic relative to the thing criticized. This obviously tends to gratify the ego of the practitioner. In addition, it authorizes the introduction by the critic of extraneous material on the grounds that it is relevant to his reading process; this abets the increase in the volume of criticism relative to that of the work being criticized, removing a potential barrier to the growth of the criticism industry.

The other noteworthy feature is the artificial signification of many phrases. To a naive reader, the idea that something "remains what it is not" is simply an obvious piece of nonsense. This is, in fact, true; but it does not mean that the phrase serves no purpose. It enables a linguistic game in which such phrases can, in fact, be granted meaning by changing the definitions of their components, and then critized in turn according to the new meanings, in the variant language created for the purpose.

This retreat from the fixed language of the non-academic world is a valuable defense for deconstructionists. Their words have meaning in a private language which is nowhere transcribed; but they can defend themselves haughtily against the charge of mere meaninglessness. This exclusion of all who demand plainer language -- i.e., of all who do not participate in the deconstructionist game -- is the first line of defense for the citadel in whose courtyard Derrida's successors continue their carefree play.

Carnival of the Vanities

The new Carnival of the Vanities is up, at The Bird's Eye View. Acephalous has exhumed a thing better left alone. I am chastised for submitting Kerry in 2002:

I guess it makes sense to clear up the loose threads from 2004. But after this, pal, it's time to accept victory and get on with life, okay?

Fair enough.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Expectations (III: Cui Bono?)

[Further to recent posts here, here and there about the costs and benefits of affirmative action.]

It is clear that my perception of the prevalence of affirmative action differs from Mr. Whitlock's, and I expect this is in large part because we see different parts of the economy. My experience is in investment banking (where it is nonexistent) and before that in academia (where it is omnipresent). [The graduate school I attended had a simple formula for sorting candidates: 0-3 points for alma mater and GPA, 0-3 for GRE scores, 0-3 for recommendations, and then 0-1 for gender, 0-1 for race, 0-1 for disabled status, and a few others. Applications on the cusp (probably 7 points) were considered individually.] [The real world is something I experience only through Mr. Whitlock's reports.]

In this post, I will mainly focus on academia. Since the law on affirmative action is currently so fuzzy (see the Kinsley analysis referenced below), we may assume that policies are driven by perceived public opinion. The personal preferences of the school's administrators may have an impact, but the gain to the institution is purely in public relations. Each policy represents a balancing act, attempting to gain respect for diversity without (unduly) sacrificing respect for research excellence.

Those favored by affirmative action are rewarded in the same currency, of prestige. Academia (outside Computer Science departments) has little money to offer, compared to industry; instead it pays with social status and inviolable security. Law schools may be an exception.

The biggest beneficiaries of this system, though, are the elite students among underrepresented minorities. Assuming there is some truth to the justifications for affirmative action -- that differences in opportunities across racial groups are reflected in the visible qualifications of students emerging from them -- the same must be true within racial groups as well. The poor are not being helped, but the wealthy and powerful who happen to share their skin color are.

What do they offer in return for this benefit? Steady support for the institutions that continue to provide it, and loud public opprobrium for those that cease. The worst of it, though, it that the means of their power is the exploitation of others of their race, who will never benefit from affirmative action at Yale Law, but will suffer the rebound of racism thus created.

United Nations Revue

Dan Simon has posted a comment at Matt Yglesias's site, which is a link-rich post in its own right.


Wretchard has a play-by-play of the latest fiasco in the Phillippines, with cogent analysis. Start at The End of the Road, and you can use the "previous posts" to backtrack.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Expectations (II: Game Theory)

I wrote last week a post called Expectations, about how affirmative action has the effect of undermining the credentials of potential beneficiaries, even if they did not receive any preference. R. Alex Whitlock responded with In Case of a Tie, arguing that quiet racism was still more widespread that I surmised, and might still be in need of correction:
We're all wired to judge people based on appearence and skin tone is one of its most obvious features. We're all inclined to make judgments about people based on incomplete data. An interview is about more than a resume. If it was just a matter of qualified/not-qualified there wouldn't even need to be interviews. During an interview, an employer tries to get a feel for who they are going to hire: Will they fit in? Do they have the personal traits we're looking for? A lot of these subjective judgments come down to impressions. Impressions are subject to our biases. People feel more comfortable with people like themselves. People are more likely to think that those that look more like everyone else will get along better than everyone else.
The point to all of this is that it's not hard to see that the deck might - just might - be stacked pretty heavily in favor of the norm. Racially speaking, the norm is presently white.
(I'm glad Alex makes the point about fitting in, which lets me link to this. Another corrosive consequence of affirmative action is, I think, that it makes it harder for minorities to fit in once hired.)

The exchange I am interested in is in Mr. Whitlock's comments section. I said:
Second, the existence of affirmative action is now the most potent weapon of the quiet racists. It lets them cast doubt on the achievements of any minority student, at any level -- and I can't deny their potential validity.
Mr. Whitlock replied:
The problem with weighing too much into that is that it makes white prejudices ("he only got in because of affirmative action") advantageous to the person that holds them. While on a different scale, it's analogous to using the hardships that blacks faced in the newly integrated military decades ago to keep blacks out. If whites just hold out long enough, their prejudices will prevail.
We need to study two aspects of this argument. First, we must distinguish carefully between struggling against racism and against racists, and also between internal and observable racism. I do not care about internal racism per se, and do not think it a fit subject for government intervention, since people's thoughts are their own. If policy changes would help racists, or be perceived by them as vindication, this is not in itself a significant argument against such changes.

My claim is essentially that affirmative action increases internal racism in such a way as to also increase observable racism, in such a way that it is not beneficial in toto to the groups being "helped". Evaluation of this claim requires a judgement of how prevalent affirmative action is (I believe that it is more widespread in middle-salary white-collar and academic jobs than anywhere else, so perceptions of its impact will depend on one's distance from this hotspot), and on how widespread the quiet racism faced by minority job-seekers is.

I think the idea that affirmative action increases racism is highly defensible. Consider the assaults on Clarence Thomas following Grutter v. Bollinger. The attackers may be quiet racists, but they publicly supported affirmative action -- and their means of defense was to denigrate Mr. Thomas's affirmative-action-aided achievements. Quiet racists would, I suppose, have a quiet chuckle at this. [Yes, it is unfair to use Maureen Dowd's words as a criticism of thinking beings. Blame the yokels.]

I think that Mr. Whitlock's worry, that the end of affirmative action means racist views will "prevail", is overstated. Racism is not gone, and we should try to gently ease it into that good night, but the end of affirmative action is not the same as the rise of racism. Further, if the argument against letting racists prevail is translated into action, you are engaging in a test of strength with a determined enemy, while simultaneously providing ammunition to that enemy. This is unlikely to lead to good in the long run.

[Note: the definitive analysis of the Bolliger cases is by Michael Kinsley.]

Friday, March 11, 2005

Kerry in 2002

The full text of Senator Kerry's speech, in which he voted in favor of authorizing the invasion of Iraq (the famous "voted for it before" part) is available online. Its first striking feature is its length: 6445 words. I estimate that it would take me 30 to 33 minutes to read aloud, and Kerry, who is not a rapid speaker, probably took over 40. I will assume a 45-minute speech for purposes of reference. [I don't want to bore people by kicking the corpse, so I will attempt to restrain my dislike for Kerry and focus on the content of the speech itself. In practice, ad hominem arguments will be restricted to this mutter-sized font.]

Because of the sheer bulk of it, we will have to start with statistical measures. The word "Iraq" appears 76 times, "Saddam Hussein" 42 times, and "Saddam" alone once, about a third of the way through. [Consider the disciplined bloviation needed to say the full name every single time.] "President" appears 41 times, "Bush" five times (one in a reference to the G.H.W. Bush administration) and "Senate" nine.

By quintiles: at 9 minutes, Kerry is criticizing the Bush administration for not taking out Iraq right after 9/11. At 18, he is describing [presumably for the uninitiated] Iraq's defiance of inspections. At 27, he is making clear that weapons of mass destruction are the sole casus belli. At 36, he is emphasizing the limitations of the authorization, in particular its insistence on multilateralism to the greatest extent possible.

The first point is worth a brief look.

The Senate worked to urge action in early 1998. I joined with Senator McCain, Senator Hagel, and other Senators, in a resolution urging the President to "take all necessary and appropriate actions to respond to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end his weapons of mass destruction program." That was 1998 that we thought we needed a more serious response.

Later in the year, Congress enacted legislation declaring Iraq in material, unacceptable breach of its disarmament obligations and urging the President to take appropriate action to bring Iraq into compliance. In fact, had we done so, President Bush could well have taken his office, backed by our sense of urgency about holding Saddam Hussein accountable and, with an international United Nations, backed a multilateral stamp of approval record on a clear demand for the disarmament of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. We could have had that and we would not be here debating this today. But the administration missed an opportunity 2 years ago and particularly a year ago after September 11.

Kerry appears to be blaming the Bush administration for its inaction in 1998!

All the subsequent arguments, though, have centered on the last two quintiles. Let me try to get a manageable extract. At 21 minutes:

The reason for going to war, if we must fight, is not because Saddam Hussein has failed to deliver gulf war prisoners or Kuwaiti property. As much as we decry the way he has treated his people, regime change alone is not a sufficient reason for going to war, as desirable as it is to change the regime.

Regime change has been an American policy under the Clinton administration, and it is the current policy. I support the policy. But regime change in and of itself is not sufficient justification for going to war--particularly unilaterally--unless regime change is the only way to disarm Iraq of the weapons of mass destruction pursuant to the United Nations resolution.

As bad as he is, Saddam Hussein, the dictator, is not the cause of war. Saddam Hussein sitting in Baghdad with an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction is a different matter.

Kerry is very clear that he desires a narrow authorization. At 24 minutes:

I want to underscore that this administration began this debate with a resolution that granted exceedingly broad authority to the President to use force. I regret that some in the Congress rushed so quickly to support it. I would have opposed it. It gave the President the authority to use force not only to enforce all of the U.N. resolutions as a cause of war, but also to produce regime change in Iraq, and to restore international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region. It made no mention of the President's efforts at the United Nations or the need to build multilateral support for whatever course of action we ultimately would take.

I am pleased that our pressure, and the questions we have asked, and the criticisms that have been raised publicly, the debate in our democracy has pushed this administration to adopt important changes, both in language as well as in the promises that they make.

The revised White House text, which we will vote on, limits the grant of authority to the President to the use of force only with respect to Iraq. It does not empower him to use force throughout the Persian Gulf region.

And at 27 minutes:

In his speech on Monday night, President Bush confirmed what Secretary Powell told the committee. In the clearest presentation to date, the President laid out a strong, comprehensive, and compelling argument why Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs are a threat to the United States and the international community. The President said: "Saddam Hussein must disarm himself, or, for the sake of peace, we will lead a coalition to disarm him."

This statement left no doubt that the casus belli for the United States will be Iraq's failure to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction.

I would have preferred that the President agree to the approach drafted by Senators Biden and Lugar because that resolution would authorize the use of force for the explicit purpose of disarming Iraq and countering the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

[Emphasis mine.] The Biden/Lugar proposal would have written the restrictions (which President Bush and Colin Powell verbally supported) into the Senate resolution itself. It failed, but Kerry is aiming in this speech to make sure that its spirit will live on; to tie the Bush administration to the most restrictive reading of its words, even though those words were not reflected in the resolution.

This is part of the genesis of the "Bush Lied!" meme, I think. The Senate passed a resolution authorizing the use of force to enforce "all relevant Security Council resolutions related to Iraq." But, in negotiating for its passage, Bush and Mr. Powell gave some reason to believe that only those resolutions dealing with weapons of mass destruction would be relevant.

To fully accept the Kerry position of late 2004, though, we have to follow a tortuous chain of stilted attempts at logic. The Senate resolution said what it said -- less than the administration originally aimed for, but more than the Biden/Lugar counterproposal. Next, we have to consider Kerry's plea for multilateralism. At 35 minutes:
Let there be no doubt or confusion about where we stand on this. I will support a multilateral effort to disarm him by force, if we ever exhaust those other options, as the President has promised, but I will not support a unilateral U.S. war against Iraq unless that threat is imminent and the multilateral effort has not proven possible under any circumstances.
The contrapositive of Kerry's statement is that he will only support a multilateral war, or a war after multilateral efforts have failed. I would maintain that the administration met both of these criteria: the Iraq war was multilateral, undertaken with the active support of more than half of Europe; and a more multilateral approach was, indeed, not possible under any circumstances. But certainly one criterion was met. In particular, if "multilateral" means "with United Nations approval" the second criterion is met; under any weaker definition of "multilateral", the first is.

Finally, Kerry closes with a stirring clarion call, blasting away the cobwebs of vacillation:
I yield the floor.

[Update 28 April 2005: Welcome, fellow Tom Maguire fans! I have slightly clarified the last paragraph.]

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Joy of Battle

The cascade of recent events in the Middle East has been surprising to nearly everyone. Certainly, some good things have happened in Iraq, in Lebanon, possibly in Egpyt, and more recently, perhaps, in Jordan. But they have not been clean wins, and we must not see them as such.

There is a powerful tendency, after the long, static and bloody wait, to feel a rush of excitement. I fear this excitement, because I believe that it can lead to overoptimism. It is a vicarious joy in battle, in events that hold the promise to make the world new; a diluted version of what Rupert Brooke expressed in 1914:

Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary.

The road ahead is longer than Brooke knew.

Re: Expectations

R. Alex Whitlock has a lengthy and thoughful post of his own, partly in response to mine.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Great Communicator?

Powerline has some unexpected praise for George Bush:
When was the last time an American president laid out his philosophy, his strategy and his vision in such a series of speeches? For over three years now, Bush has given one after another: eloquent, determined, clear and persuasive. When collected, they may represent the most substantial body of speeches delivered by any President since Lincoln.

I can't immediately judge the truth of this, but it is certainly out of line with my preconceptions. And Mr. Hinderaker's view is certainly not universally held; this would be more typical. Kevin Drum asserted last year that Bush's inarticulacy was increasing (can't find the post) and speculated on the causes. Tony Blair is generally regarded by war supporters as a far more articulate proponent (e.g., here).

For example, in the speech which prompted Mr. Hinderaker's praise, Bush said:
When a dictatorship controls the political life of a country, responsible opposition cannot develop, and dissent is driven underground and toward the extreme. And to draw attention away from their social and economic failures, dictators place blame on other countries and other races, and stir the hatred that leads to violence. This status quo of despotism and anger cannot be ignored or appeased, kept in a box or bought off, because we have witnessed how the violence in that region can reach easily across borders and oceans. The entire world has an urgent interest in the progress, and hope, and freedom in the broader Middle East.

All true, certainly. But these same dictatorships are not without their own tools and weapons, including the old chestnut of "uniting" their countries against American "meddling". Bush's speeches stir hope and show that this cause can be noble, but their inspirational tone makes them less effective as calls to concrete action, and easier for any opponents to cynically dismiss.

No Chess

Oddly, according to the Ayatollah Sistani, one should not play chess:
Question: Is playing a chess allowed?
Answer: It is absolutely unlawful.

I do not know the theological reasoning behind this. I don't even know if the site is real, though it's very elaborate for a gag. (Hat tip: Jesse Walker.)

Any Number Can Play

Greg Djerejian at Belgravia Dispatch has unearthed what he calls a "golden oldie" -- Bolton in 1999.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Trevor Phillips, head of Britain's Commission for Racial Equality, has caused a small furor by floating the suggestion that black boys should be taught in segregated classes for their own good.

I have no opinion in this matter, except to note that Mr. Phillips is at least focused on the correct problem: increasing performance, rather than mandating acceptance.

Before the Civil Rights revolution of the 1960's, there is no question that blacks were actively discriminated against; that is, from an economic point of view, they were offered lesser positions than their qualifications would have merited. Today, with affirmative action widespread, I think it is universally accepted that blacks will often be offered better positions than merited on the basis of qualifications. The debate over affirmative action is a disagreement over whether this is a good thing.

In attempting to correct negative discrimination, the Civil Rights movement was swimming downstream -- they were bringing causes (the offer of a university place or a good job) into line with effects (intelligence, training and diligence), when the two had previously been separated by racism. In going beyond that, today's affirmative action proponents are attempting to again separate the two.

But people are not so easily fooled. One of the highest hurdles for a black man or woman to overcome, when entering the workplace, is the widely held suspicion that perhaps he has been the beneficiary of placement beyond his qualifications. This prejudice is going to be even harder to eradicate than the racism of fifty years ago, because it has an ineluctable truth behind it -- and even if that cause is removed, the suspicion will taint every potential past beneficiary for a generation. The government lacks the power to make people ignore this -- it is swimming upstream, and the current does not slacken.

Such is the lasting legacy of affirmative action.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Lead from Strength

A post by Ed Morrissey criticized defeatism:
In all of these cases, ankle-biters abounded to predict our defeat if we fought for freedom and liberty as well as our own security, and that we should learn to live with the ascendancy of tyranny. In its way, this pattern reminds one of Jimmy Carter's infamous and embarassing "malaise" speech, an ingrained defeatism that pretends to hold out a promise of a brighter day as long as we accept our defeat as inevitable and accept second-tier status for ourselves.
Why does this defeatism spread so widely, and resist disproof so strongly? Because defeatism avoids responsibility.

When we adopt a non-defeatist position, we are making a promise: if the course we advocate is taken, then some desirable result will follow. So the claim that good outcomes are possible is an acceptance of responsibility (unless we advocate means which we know will not be used).

If we say that nothing can be done, that the situation is beyond our power to improve, then we avoid this burden. Similarly, if we say that things can be improved only if some implausible measures are taken, then we can be confident that no one will take us up on our bluff; again, we will not become responsible.

I imagine that everyone is familiar with that heavy, depressed feeling which accompanies the start of any difficult task, the first line of code or the first sentence of a long essay. When that difficulty is compounded with the problem of promises made -- so that the essay, or program, or operation is only a step on a long road, and we have accepted responsibility for the final outcome -- how much heavier this burden seems, how unlikely success:
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
Yet make allowance for their doubting too...

Settling for less is not always wrong; but it is always easy. Defeatism can never be proved wrong before the event. Thus it provides an unassailable fallback in debates: it is an impregnable fortress which must be circumnavigated, not besieged. This is why advocates of action never assail defeatism on its own terms, preferring instead to challenge their opponents to present a competing plan.

The only balancing factor is that, in a kind of contagion, one man's determination can bolster those around him. The acceptance of responsibility, and taking up arms against a sea of troubles, ennobles the one and emboldens the many. To mangle Keats: Duty is strength, strength duty.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Leverett in 2004

Flynt Leverett has worked for the CIA and NSA (the latter as senior director for Middle Eastern affairs, though it is not clear how many "senior directors" exist at once). He is now at the Brookings Institute. He has recently written in the New York Times, urging accomodation with Syria.

In January 2004, when Libya announced that it was dismantling its nuclear-weapons programs, the Bush administration (and particularly its willingness to uphold international law by invading Iraq) was widely credited. Leverett, in a New York Times editorial, largely disagreed.
The roots of the recent progress with Libya go back not to the eve of the Iraq war, but to the Bush administration's first year in office. Indeed, to be fair, some credit should even be given to the second Clinton administration. Tired of international isolation and economic sanctions, the Libyans decided in the late 1990's to seek normalized relations with the United States, and held secret discussions with Clinton administration officials to convey that message. The Clinton White House made clear that no movement toward better relations was possible until Libya met its responsibilities stemming from the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.
These discussions, along with mediation by the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, produced a breakthrough: Libya turned over two intelligence officers implicated in the Pan Am 103 attack to the Netherlands for trial by a Scottish court, and in 1999 Washington acquiesced to the suspension of United Nations sanctions against Libya.

Leverett then describes the lengthy negotiations by which Libya was persuaded to compensate the victims' families and even apologize. He next addresses the weapons issue:
But during these two years of talks, American negotiators consistently told the Libyans that resolving the Lockerbie situation would lead to no more than elimination of United Nations sanctions. To get out from under the separate United States sanctions, Libya would have to address other concerns, particularly regarding its programs in weapons of mass destruction.
This is the context in which Libyan officials approached the United States and Britain last spring to discuss dismantling Libya's weapons program. The Iraq war, which had not yet started, was not the driving force behind Libya's move.
Leverett emphasizes the carrot (lifting of United States sanctions) over the stick. Certainly it is disingenuous of him to point out that the Iraq war "had not yet started", since the "rush to war" had been under way for over three months. He then urges the application of the same carrot-first approach to Syria:

Likewise, senior Syrian officials — including President Bashar al-Assad himself, in a conversation in Damascus last week — have told me that they want a better strategic understanding with the United States. To achieve this, however, Washington needs to be willing to spell out what Syria would get in return for giving up its ties to terrorists and its chemical weapons and ballistic missiles. As Mr. Assad told me, Syria is "a state, not a charity" — if it gives up something, it must know what it will gain in return.
One reason the Bush administration was able to take a more constructive course with Libya was that the White House, uncharacteristically, sidelined the administration's neoconservative wing — which strongly opposes any offer of carrots to state sponsors of terrorism, even when carrots could help end such problematic behavior — when crucial decisions were made. The initial approach on the Lockerbie case was approved by an informal coalition made up of Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Likewise, in the lead up to the negotiations involving Libyan weapons of mass destruction, the neoconservatives at the Pentagon and in the shop of Under Secretary of State John Bolton were left out of the loop.

Mr. Leverett's recent article is a natural extension of his earlier writings. His case is plausible, but cannot explain the curious coincidence of timing by which Libya's disarmament came on the heels of the Iraq invasion, and Syria's newfound accomodation on those of those historic elections.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Gullibility Watch

Hugh Hewitt administers a much-deserved spanking to the Los Angeles Times for this deplorable recycling of a North Korean press release.

Update [4 March]: Gerard Vanderleun describes how to do something.


Here is an idea whose time is, I think, fast approaching: some State will discontinue funding for university courses outside Science and Engineering.

The reasons are clear. The idea of State universities open to all qualified applicants, as a helping hand to increase their freedom and prosperity, originated in the 1950's and '60's -- and received a huge boost from the draft deferral given to all college students. At the time, a university education was presumed to mean an education in science or engineering; the liberal arts were a luxury for those who did not need to make a living.

This original purpose was suborned by the growth of humanities and social science departments, but this very growth kept the problem out of the public eye, since ever more professors were hired to teach the next generation of students.

A supply of qualified technical graduates can be expected to be beneficial to a State's economy, encouraging insourcing of high-quality jobs (and the multiplier jobs that will accompany them). Eventually, some State will ask what societal purpose is served by other sorts of education. But which State?

It cannot be one which is dedicated to the ideals espoused in the Academy (California, Washington); or an insecure state frightened of the criticism that would ensue (North Carolina, Mississippi). And it will most likely be a State with budget problems and growing debt. But when the case has once been made, it will shift the terms of debate. Instead of thinking of Ward Churchill's "right" to retain his fraudulently obtained tenured sinecure, we will begin thinking of his entire department's "right" to a constant flow of State-subsidized students through its degree mill. Spring Break will never be the same again.

Update [4 March]: Chicago Boyz has a cutting analogy on a similar topic.
Update [4 March]: An example of the wrong approach: Mike Rosen wants to fight fire with fire.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Blair in 2003

On March 18, 2003, Tony Blair spoke before the House of Commons. The full text of his remarks can be found here. He had to explain to his own party, which holds a comfortable majority, why he felt it worthwhile to risk their popularity and power on this venture.
So: why does it matter so much? Because the outcome of this issue will now determine more than the fate of the Iraqi regime and more than the future of the Iraqi people, for so long brutalised by Saddam. It will determine the way Britain and the world confront the central security threat of the 21st century; the development of the UN; the relationship between Europe and the US; the relations within the EU and the way the US engages with the rest of the world. It will determine the pattern of international politics for the next generation.
Blair then begins a discussion of unconventional weapons, which occupies most of the first half of the speech, with a gradual segue into the long history of United Nations resolutions. He describes clearly the perfidy of the untenable French position:
Then, on Monday night, France said it would veto a second resolution whatever the circumstances. Then France denounced the six tests. Later that day, Iraq rejected them. Still, we continued to negotiate.
Last Friday, France said they could not accept any ultimatum. On Monday, we made final efforts to secure agreement. But they remain utterly opposed to anything which lays down an ultimatum authorising action in the event of non-compliance by Saddam.
Just consider the position we are asked to adopt. Those on the security council opposed to us say they want Saddam to disarm but will not countenance any new resolution that authorises force in the event of non-compliance. That is their position. No to any ultimatum; no to any resolution that stipulates that failure to comply will lead to military action.
So we must demand he disarm but relinquish any concept of a threat if he doesn't.
And, a little later:
Now the very length of time counts against us. You've waited 12 years. Why not wait a little longer?
And indeed we have.
1441 gave a final opportunity. The first test was the 8th of December. He failed it. But still we waited. Until January 27, the first inspection report that showed the absence of full cooperation. Another breach. And still we waited.
Until February 14 and then February 28 with concessions, according to the old familiar routine, tossed to us to whet our appetite for hope and further waiting. But still no-one, not the inspectors nor any member of the security council, not any half-way rational observer, believes Saddam is cooperating fully or unconditionally or immediately.
Our fault has not been impatience.
The truth is our patience should have been exhausted weeks and months and years ago. Even now, when if the world united and gave him an ultimatum: comply or face forcible disarmament, he might just do it, the world hesitates and in that hesitation he senses the weakness and therefore continues to defy.
What would any tyrannical regime possessing WMD think viewing the history of the world's diplomatic dance with Saddam? That our capacity to pass firm resolutions is only matched by our feebleness in implementing them.
International law with no policemen is no law at all; and Blair has always clearly understood, and clearly articulated, that the alternative to an invasion of Iraq was acquiescence to the de facto demise of that law. Those who are quickest to invoke the vague ectoplasm of multilateralism to condemn America's actions, are the slowest to realize that a toothless law is worst than no law at all. In a geopolitical equivalent of Gresham's Law, they advocate a comfortable illusion of law which would fill its place, and which would prevent the emergence of any true law. (More here.)

Blair anchors his case with a moral plea:
The brutality of the repression - the death and torture camps, the barbaric prisons for political opponents, the routine beatings for anyone or their families suspected of disloyalty are well documented.
Just last week, someone slandering Saddam was tied to a lamp post in a street in Baghdad, his tongue cut out, mutilated and left to bleed to death, as a warning to others.
I recall a few weeks ago talking to an Iraqi exile and saying to her that I understood how grim it must be under the lash of Saddam. "But you don't", she replied. "You cannot. You do not know what it is like to live in perpetual fear."
And she is right. We take our freedom for granted. But imagine not to be able to speak or discuss or debate or even question the society you live in. To see friends and family taken away and never daring to complain. To suffer the humility of failing courage in face of pitiless terror. That is how the Iraqi people live. Leave Saddam in place and that is how they will continue to live.
We must face the consequences of the actions we advocate. For me, that means all the dangers of war. But for others, opposed to this course, it means -- let us be clear -- that the Iraqi people, whose only true hope of liberation lies in the removal of Saddam, for them, the darkness will close back over them again; and he will be free to take his revenge upon those he must know wish him gone.
And if this house now demands that at this moment, faced with this threat from this regime, that British troops are pulled back, that we turn away at the point of reckoning, and that is what it means - what then?
What will Saddam feel? Strengthened beyond measure. What will the other states who tyrannise their people, the terrorists who threaten our existence, what will they take from that? That the will confronting them is decaying and feeble.
Who will celebrate and who will weep?

Really, the most surprising thing is how unsurprising the past three years have been. We were surprised in September 2001, and again in February 2005; but the time between was like a slow middle game in chess. The world's terrorists, tyrants and appeasers played their part; and, thankfully, we played ours faithfully in return.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Prague Spring

This morning I was reminded (over at Belgravia Dispatch) of the Prague Spring. The bare bones of the case are summarized here:
The reforms that enabled this growing freedom were - in the words of Alexandr Dubcek - an attempt to create "Socialism with a human face," and came to be known as the "Prague Spring." They were also considered to be terribly threatening by those in power in the Soviet Union, as they compromised the uniformity of the Soviet bloc.
The Soviet Union and its satellites began to more vocally criticize the renegade Czechoslovak Republic. This political pressure from around the bloc peaked in the summer of 1968. The Czechoslovaks didn't listen.
Over the night of August 20-21 1968, Warsaw Pact forces (with the exception of Romania, which refused to participate) invaded Czechoslovakia,
beginning a 20-year period of occupation and "normalization."
This "normalization" was a great increase in repressiveness, with the regime's thought police ready to punish any perceived subversiveness in arts, letters or music.

The greatest study of the Prague Spring and its aftermath is Milan Kundera's overwhelming novel, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. It is a coming to terms with the knowledge that communism, even more than most forms of repression, cannot permit the freedom of thought and memory which makes great art possible:
There are all kinds of ghosts prowling these confused streets. They are the ghost of monuments demolished—demolished by the Czech Reformation, demolished by the Austrian Counterreformation, demolished by the Czechoslovak Republic, demolished by the Communists. Even statues of Stalin have been torn down. All over the country wherever statures were thus destroyed, Lenin statues have sprouted up by the thousands. They grow like weeds on the ruins, like melancholy flowers of forgetting.
Kundera's characters (excluding the enigmatic Tamina) are the degenerati of post-1968 Prague, intellectuals robbed of their means of expression. And this is one of the most striking dimensions of this amazing book: written about this despairing cultural waste land, by a man steeped in its practices, it is nonetheless a profoundly moral novel. Allowed to say nothing worth hearing, walled off from their own past by relentless revisionism, these lost souls have only their bodies left.

The Legacy Project has an interesting excerpt from a 1980 interview, in which Kundera makes this point more explicitly:
The basic event of the book is the story of totalitarianism, which deprives people of memory and thus retools them into a nation of children.
There is so much more in this novel than I can do justice to here. It includes a precis on the lightness of Being, with more content packed into two pages than the bloviating novel of that name manages in three hundred; stabbing insights into interpersonal relationships; a blistering criticism of "the Idiot of Music" and the replacement of intellectual order with the purely visceral appeal of new pop music; and, as Michael Ondaatje said of Underworld, multitudes.

But Kundera's greatest achievement is the careful illustration, in many-faceted mirrors, of the way in which communism must, for its own survival, crush the minds and souls of its subjects. May we, the happy children of the West, never forget how lucky we have been.

Subtitles (rambling)

In some novels, the subtitles are a significant contribution to the enjoyment of the reading. For example, think of DeLillo's Underworld:
The Triumph Of Death
1. Long Tall Sally
2. Elegy for Left Hand Alone
3. The Cloud of Unknowing
4. Cocksucker Blues
5. Better Things for Better Living through Chemistry
6. Arrangement in Gray and Black
Das Kapital
These are intriguing -- they promise interesting things, regardless of what the rest of the book contains. [For another good example, take just about any Djam Karet album. If only Mozart had had the benefit of someone like Chuck Oken.]

Some books cannot benefit from this treatment; what titles could possibly be given to the sections of The Sound and the Fury? Others suffer under ignominious subtitles, notably Gardner's The Sunlight Dialogues (praised here) which is laden with 27 clunkers like "The Dialogue of Wood and Stone", "A Mother's Love", and "Winged Figure Carrying Sacrificial Animal".

Finally, we come around to a willfully obscure title which has, almost by itself, kept one of the dozen or so most important books ever written out of the mainstream. [Think before you click.] So if you want to be a novelist, write the title first. That's as far as most people will ever get, so you'll at least be tied.