The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Friday, April 29, 2005

Bush (and Franks) in 2005

Dale Franks liveblogged last night's press conference, and he did a brilliant summation. Honest, short, and very funny.

Behind the Spotlights

Tom Maguire posted yesterday on the troubles experienced by Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP, who apparently tended to promote women who had done him sexual favors. His primary source is the Washington Post:
Speaks could mount a credible claim of workplace harassment because of "the impression [that was] created that a woman must provide sexual favors to Mr. Mfume or his associates in order to receive favorable treatment in the workplace," the lawyer wrote in the memo.

The Post's treatment of Mr. Mfume is discreet to the point of euphemism: the headline refers only to "Mfume Accused of Favoritism". Mr. Maguire notes this, and contrasts this with the treatment of former Senator Bob Packwood.

This type of double standard has been noted several times in the past, as well. The evolution of power in America created a dichotomy between those wielding power and those calling them to account, between bosses and watchdogs. The NAACP was conceived as such a watchdog; but it is now a power in its own right, with a $27 million annual budget and advisory control over far larger cashflows.

Though the dichotomy has outlived its applicability, it is a useful illusion to those who can portray themselves as watchdogs. The claim to be disinterested seekers of truth and justice is claimed, for example, by media and by minority advocacy groups (see here for an example from academia). By making this claim, they are trying to maintain their priveleged role as the askers of questions (details here). Anyone can play, except of course corporations.

The NAACP claims the right to shine the spotlight of publicity on racist, or insufficiently proactive, behavior; what happens in the darkness behind that spotlight, we are not meant to inquire.

The current dichotomy between bosses and wattchdogs is a false one, based on an outdated dialectic. We should not forget that it has provided valuable service in the past: the reason Boeing or Merrill Lynch now run a cleaner show than the NAACP is not that they are staffed with better human beings, but that scrutiny has obliged them to do so. In the process they have become more meritocratic and more efficient. As this scrutiny doubles back on the self-styled guardians of righteousness, the process will be painful for some of them, but the majority will survive and be more honest and effective.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


Michael Young, writing at Tech Central Station, discusses Lebanon's future. He includes this, about Syrian siphoning of Lebanon's [comparative] wealth:
At the same time, Syria extorted vast sums of money from the Lebanese economy, usually in collaboration with local politicians. According to a report written by a Lebanese businessman for a presentation before the French Senate in 2003, Syria may have extracted through illicit activities alone as much as $41 million from Lebanon between 1991 and 2001. While the figures cannot be confirmed, they square with many other estimates circulating in recent years.
That's one dollar, per person, per year. For the alleged pillage of an entire nation, this is an absurdly small sum. So, if these "many estimates" are not all ridiculously low, I think it is safe to conclude that there was no high-level policy in Syria to extract money from Lebanon.

[Hat tip: Instapundit.]

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Solipsist's Soliloquy

Tom Friedman, in a New York Times editorial, shows exactly why he doesn't think the U.N. corruption is a problem:
There is no secret about the U.N. - at its worst it is a talking shop, where a lot of people don't speak English and where they occasionally do ridiculous things, like appoint Libya to oversee human rights, and even mendacious things, like declaring Zionism to be racism.
Emphasis mine.

This is what Roger L. Simon has dubbed "reification". I think he is misusing the term. Reification means to treat abstracts as real objects. Mr. Friedman is doing the opposite: he is treating real actions and real people -- those raped by U.N. "peacekeepers", those denied a hearing because the "Human Rights Commission" has been subverted to worse than uselessness -- as abstracts. This confusion does have a name, which is solipsism.

So, Mr. Friedman: is the delivery of food to governments which will use it as a political weapon mendacious (gasp!), or merely ridiculous? What about providing an projection of the dysfunctional fantasies of the Arab world, propagating and supporting tyrannical brutality? What about buying sex from starving children with food?

Ridiculous, I guess he'd say.

[Hat tip: Real Clear Politics. Adding to Beltway Traffic Jam.]

[Update 4 May 2005: Norm Geras has a substantial article in Dissent, which addresses very similar points in much greater depth. He sums up:
The Taliban in Afghanistan; Saddam's Iraq; the reduction of a human being by torture; the use of terror randomly to kill innocents and to smite all those by whom they are cherished; mass murder; ethnic cleansing; all the manifold practices of human evil -- to look upon these and at once see "capitalism," "imperialism," "America," is not only to show a poverty of moral imagination, it is to reveal a diminished understanding of the human world.
His whole article is well considered and strongly argued. If you've read this far, you should read it. Hat tip: Donald Sensing.]

Malloch Brown in 2000

Mark Malloch Brown, the man who might save Kofi Annan, has to date been most influential as head of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). In 2000, at the height of the Internet bubble, he spoke in Tokyo on UNDP's efforts to wire the developing world.

And let me lay my cards on the table right at the start by saying that in my mind there really is no more critical question facing the developing world today than how to face up to the new challenges and opportunities offered by the Information Revolution, and particularly the phenomenon of the Internet. It is now the two edged sword that is leading the process of globalization: wounding those who don't quickly enough grasp how to use it by leaving them ever further behind, but providing unprecedented benefits for those with the courage and willingness to grasp its potential to drive change.

Now I know that is still a controversial point of view in some quarters. How in a world where this city for example, - Tokyo -- still has more telephones than all of Africa, where the primary needs of the poor are still the bare essentials of food, shelter and basic healthcare, how in such a situation can the head of a global development agency legitimately stand here and say: the answer lies in information and communication technology?

In my view, such questions completely miss the fundamental point that we are talking about a revolution in the true sense of that word. ICT is transforming everything it touches, from politics, to business, to culture, to education and to health.

The examples he gives -- small farmers obtaining access to weather forecasts, small businesses reducing transaction costs -- seem valid, if less than revolutionary. In the weakest part of his speech, Mr. Malloch Brown then talks about "Connectivity and Competition":

Basic connectivity is a critical precursor to the Internet revolution. It is next to impossible to envision a broad ICT market with less than 5% current voice penetration. Yet that is currently the case in much of sub-Saharan Africa. We have to overcome this to leapfrog into the Information Age.

At the same time, experience shows time and again that competition leads to greater investment, decreased prices, user growth and new technology development. And not just for multinationals. Removing regulatory bottlenecks and encouraging new public-private partnerships leads to the quick growth of a domestic sector providing portals, content, local cellular service and other new services. But effective competition also requires political will, credible and autonomous regulatory bodies, effective interconnection policies and controls against anti-competitive behavior.

Yes, once sub-Saharan Africa has autonomous regulators and honest antitrust controls, internet connectivity will be easier to obtain. In other news, I have heard that most wild birds will let themselves be caught if you first place a little salt upon their tails. [Mr. Malloch Brown also displays a weird lack of technical expertise:
Countries now have a wide array of options from which to seek out least cost technology ranging from IP, fiber optic, ADSL and fixed wireless to third generation cellular and satellite telephony.
I cannot think whom this was intended to impress.]
Later on, though, Mr. Malloch Brown hits his stride. He seems to have recognized this problem, and wants aid to be made more useful:

Second, and potentially even more important, is the still untapped potential for using ICT as a tool for disintermediating Development Assistance.

It will transform how individuals and governments donate and the level of accountability they expect; for instance the Netaid website we have set up in cooperation with CISCO systems. It allows the individual who goes online to select the project they want to support; and we are now innovating feedback loops, not just to track the financial and implementation progress of the project, but also, for example, to see stream video interviews with project personnel who respond to e-mail queries about the project. This may radically flatten the traditional aid agency, creating a much more direct link between donor and project.

More radical still, the Internet allows the possibility of offering an array of financial services to the poor that can change the basic power equation in development : where government or an aid agency at present decides what is "good" for the poor, we may be on the verge of being able to transfer the power of "choice" to the poor themselves.

And he is not blind to the effect on domestic politics:
But it is not just development co-operation that will be transformed. So will government itself : its role as service provider will be revolutionised if it can transfer much of its service delivery system from a poorly functioning group of local officials to e-governance. People will also be better informed of their service rights and therefore will be able to hold officials accountable and demand more efficient services.
Mr. Malloch Brown may be a man of the bureaucracy; he does note that
The specifics of these and other targets obviously need to be discussed and debated more fully in the appropriate forums.
And it is possible that he is a Trojan Horse, or will act as one within the U.N. -- bold speech with no implementation will siphon money and effort away from other useful projects. But he certainly talks a good game.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Whose Side Is Europe On?

I had the good fortune to speak this week with a well-placed former politician, who has been peripherally involved with the European project. His optimism on Europe surprised me, and finally I dropped the pretense of neutrality and said something like:

Europe has tremendous structural problems. One: an ongoing demographic bust, which can be redressed only by taking in masses of uneducated, unassimilated and frankly uncivil immigrants. Two: dominant unions which mandate inefficient labor laws, preventing the reallocation of capital into growth industries and guaranteeing extremely high unemployment, especially among youth, thus creating an unskilled labor force. Three: generous welfare and pension guarantees which the countries cannot sustain in the face of the first two.

de facto European government being created in Brussels will be utterly unresponsive to these problems. First because it is dominated by its bureaucracy, and need not even notice public pressure; second because the corps of bureaucrats with lifetime employment will make Brussels itself recession-proof (buoyed by tax money from across the continent).

The Continental opponents of the European Union are the extremists on both sides. As Europe inevitably falls on hard times, these extremists will grow more powerful by blaming the ongoing economic malaise on the Union. As times get worse, they will grow stronger; victories in any one country will catalyze more of the same elsewhere. They will ineluctably grow strong enough to tear the Union down, and put something worse -- and far worse than the current system -- in its place.

Is the future of Europe not written plain for all to see? How could it end any other way?

The response I received (from someone who is better informed on EU politics than I) is worth noting. I will paraphrase it to the best of my ability.
There are indeed great structural inefficiencies in Europe. For example, Southern European governments still subsidize the growing of tobacco, which is then bought by the government and sold at a loss in places like India. The European Commission has been created with a mandate to promulgate free trade, which means getting rid of subsidies like that. They haven't yet had the power to do the job, because horse-trading between the individual nations can keep favored subsidies alive (not always: the forcible privatization of Iberia in 1995 is a success story for the EU). The effect of the constitution is to allow the bureaucrats to override national governments.

The situation with labor laws is similar. Union shops and restrictive work practices are barriers to the movement of people (another Commission mandate), and the constitution will give the bureaucracy power to prevent that. In this case, the hard left in Europe has it right: the constitution truly is an attempt to make Europe more Anglospheric.

What you see in Europe is an attempt to do something that has never been tried before: to create a supranational entity that is not a sovereign state (lacking powers for foreign policy, defense, and internal law and order), but helps make its members more prosperous. Of course there are a lot of problems -- just as, when America fought the cold war, there were problems like Vietnam and Chile -- but they are small compared to the scale of the things being done right.

I cannot share my respondent's sanguinity about a powerful bureaucracy, but he paints a very different picture of the European project than we have been accustomed to see.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Bellow in 1987

I stumbled over this cute paragraph in More Die of Heartbreak [p. 40 in the Penguin trade paperback]:
It galls my father that my perfect French is wasted in the U.S.A. Who was there to talk to in any language, and whom did I see -- the family? Uncle Vilitzer? I only read about Great-Uncle Harold in the papers, I seldom saw him or his family. This old-time pol and ward-boss, a machine alderman, was as crooked as they came. Grand juries couldn't nail him, though they often tried. No exaggeration to say that he could fill the bleachers of a major league ballpark with the officials he owned, and thinking it might entertain Daddy, I tried to explain some of Vilitzer's operations. He took my offering coldly. Compared to a Jacques Chirac, what was a Vilitzer? A crude American youpin.

Plus ca change...

Friday, April 22, 2005


Megan McArdle, in discussing the moral impact (or lack thereof) of bankruptcy reform, added this aside:

... morally it's hard to argue people who borrow money they have no reasonable hope of repaying are somehow less culpable than the fellows who lent them the rope with which to hang themselves. To say otherwise is to deny moral agency to a huge swathe of our citizenry, which raises the question: why are we letting such moral lackwits vote?
Implicit in this question is the view that voting is an act of judgement -- in which the morally deficient cannot meaningfully participate. It is both a right and a duty.

On the other hand, those who support enlarging the pool of voters through same-day registration feel that voting is purely a right: it provides the citizen with a way to act in his own interests. In contrast to Mrs. McArdle's, they view voting as an act of desire.

How odd to see the right supporting social duty, while the left discovers the virtue of selfishness. This also helps to explain the liberal apoplexy (as in What's the Matter with Kansas?) when voters do not act in their own (short-term, economic) self-interest.

[Aside: In poking around while writing this, I was forcibly given a large dose of the strong medicine of honesty.]

[Update 17 May 2005: Mrs. McArdle revisits the question, saying "I've never understood how the belief that a large swathe of our society is in need of a nanny is reconciled, ideologically speaking, with the belief that we should do everything we can to encourage those people to vote."]

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Scale of Nations

Gary Becker and Richard Posner have posted, with their usual authority, an analysis of the competing pressures encouraging larger or smaller nations. Some of their comments tie in with my previous posts on homogeneity and group initiative [not that I claim to have inspired them].

Becker focuses on some trends of the past half century, and on the incentives which have propelled them.
Smaller nations even have some advantages in a world with much international trade. Their exports are too little to be considered a threat to other nations, so they are not subject to as many barriers as those from large nations, They often specialize in niche markets that are too insignificant, or not accessible, to large nations. For example, the tiny principality of Monte Carlo with about 5000 citizens has become a tax haven and gambling center for rich sports stars and other wealthy individuals. Singapore and Hong Kong have been mainly trading centers for shipments of goods to their much larger neighbors. Mauritius has succeeded by concentrating on textiles and tourism.
Apropos of Hamilton’s other arguments, small nations can now free ride on the military umbrella provided by the United States, NATO, or the United Nations. Small nations may still be at a disadvantage in providing other government services, but powerful groups in large nations often use the economies of scale in raising taxes and dispensing subsidies to exploit weaker ethnic, national, or economic groups. Smaller nations are usually also more homogeneous, so the powerful interests there have fewer other groups to exploit.

This analysis seems accurate. However, to assume that it will remain applicable in the future, we must assume that the environment providing these incentives will persist.

First, consider the military free ride -- made possible outwide Europe largely by the American near-monopoly on the use of cross-border force, which dates only from the demise of the USSR. Dammit, Blogger ate my post. Starting over. The rise of China as a rival to the United States would almost certainly drive a new Cold War, possibly more intense than the last one due to China's much greater strategic vulnerability (stemming from its lack of oil and metals). Like its predecessors, this war would be fought through proxies; small and militarily weak countries, instead of profiting from a free ride, would find that they had become perfect stepping stones for superpower encroachment.

A related topic is the economic free ride enjoyed by tax havens. Monaco [referred to by Posner as Monte Carlo] is an interesting special case. Its location near the Italian border protects it from French coercion [short of outright invasion] in a nationally divided Europe. If European unification proceeds to the point of centralizing both tax and trade authority, however, this protection will not avail; it will be a simple matter for a unified Europe to coerce Monaco [e.g., through crippling tariffs or the threat of embargo] into exposing the wealth it is currently hiding from the taxman. This shows how fragmentation can encourage further fragmentation, by providing more niches for small countries.

Posner, in noting the strengths of large nations, provides a cogent case for federalism:
For just as a business firm can minimize diseconomies of scale and scope by decentralization, so a nation can greatly reduce those diseconomies by federalism. As a result, a large nation like the United States is able to compete economically with much smaller nations. In addition, its population size and consequent aggregate wealth enable it to achieve great military power, which prosperous small nations cannot do.

The "diseconomies" to which Becker alludes fall into two main categories. Some are false economies; for example, a nation without a common language cannot benefit much from the free movement of workers, whose productivity is substantially tied to their ability to communicate. There are also ways in which scale causes outright harm, the most important of which are in the disconnect between the making of decisions and their impact.

As a nation increases in scale, its government inevitably becomes less responsive to the citizens, while the citizens simultaneously lose the incentive to make responsible decisions. Bureaucracy and short-sighted populism are the result. "Small government" is a good thing, but "government of the small" -- government whose scope is the minimum necessary for its mission -- is even better. Federalism is the application of this principle at the national level, but it also holds for states and cities. The military force of a world power requires the weight of a continent behind it; a high school does not.

In fact, it is the schools which show most clearly the need for minimal scope. Small schools in areas of low population density consistently produce literate graduates, while far more heavily funded urban schools repeatedly fail. Attempts to mandate performance from on high, as currently implemented, seem more harmful than helpful. It is necessary to the nation that we have a mobile, assimilated [i.e., English-fluent] and literate populace; but Federal attempts to mandate the means for this will fatally separate causes from consequences. Yet we have chosen to mandate means rather than ends, adding Federal oversight while permitting bilingual, Spanish-only, and anti-scientific education to flourish. We have inherited the best of both worlds, if only we do not throw it away.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Joseph Britt has an insightful post on the judicial confirmation process, at Belgravia Dispatch.

I think, though, that there is something missing from his discussion. He points out the reasons that Republican senators may well not care much about, or want to spend much time on, judges; but then says
There are ways of bringing debate in the Senate to a halt, by the approval of supermajorities for cloture motions of course but also by not insisting on nominations and legislation violently obnoxious to a large minority of the Senate.
The idea that these nominees are "violently obnoxious" to any significant number of Democrats is exactly the fallacy that Mr. Britt has just attacked on the Republican side. This is a battle between two small minorities, enabled by party loyalty and laziness, and should not be mischaracterized as anything else.


When Cardinal Karol Wojytla was chosen to succeed Pope John Paul I, there was widespread startlement at the selection of a non-Italian Pope. The emphasis, in the news of the day, was on what the new John Paul II was not; this limited consideration of what he was.

Of course, in the event, his Polish origin turned out to be crucial in invigorating the Church's stand against Communism. Without demeaning his accomplishments as a bishop and cardinal, I think it is safe to say that most of the Poles who flocked to see and hear him had never heard of him before his elevation.

Now Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has become Pope Benedict XVI. Most of the focus has been on his orthodoxy; there has been precious little attention to his geography (though it was mentioned in one Guardian article).

The Church's enemy in the world is not European communism, which has now fallen, or Chinese communism, which is seen as the shackle it is. It is the Godlessness and enforced amorality of the West, which holds itself out as the vision of the future of Man. Just as John Paul II journeyed to the East to kindle the flames of a religion forbidden by the State; so Benedict XVI will journey to the West in an attempt to reinvigorate the practice of religion, in the face of condescension, in opposition to the religions of inclusiveness and consumerism.

It is a great task, fighting for the future of the world, and we cannot know its outcome. The attempts to marginalize the new Pope by painting him as an extremist are the first shots of this battle.

Friday, April 15, 2005


It seems almost sacreligious for me to be commenting on Bellow. Nonetheless.

Most of Europe, in the late 1940's, was busy with the business of survival. The recent past was blotted from memory, with the grateful assent of the priveleged and intellectual classes. As Gunter Grass wrote in The Rat:
And then?
We remembered
Fine bathing weather in the summer of '38.
And then, and after that?
Then came the currency reform.
The taint of collaboration which burdened the French conscience was less onerous than the unspeakable collective guilt felt by the Germans; nonetheless it was worth forgetting.

One of the mechanisms of this forgetting was the dissociation of the individual from the State; obviously this served to lessen the individual's culpability. Probably the leading exponent of this was Albert Camus, with The Plague offering a mechanistic metaphor for the occupation, and The Stranger showing a man who is surrounded by society, but neither contributes to it nor receives support from it.

Bellow's work militantly opposed this reasoning. He recognized that society is amalgamated of individuals, as the tidal sum of their needs, plans and desires. Bellow did not minimize these greater-than-human forces, but he did not depersonalize them either. Herzog, whose protagonist writes to the world's great men as well as to his own acquaintances, most exemplifies this; he is part of the world, and aware of that, not an exogenous Stranger. The world has grown larger, but man need not be powerless in it.

Bellow also retained a sharp focus on personal responsibility, and stood squarely against invented systems of morality that serve mainly to excuse their authors. His finest writing remains this ringing finale:
... he did meet the terms of his contract. The terms which, in his inmost heart, each of us knows. As I know mine. As all know. For that is the truth of it, Lord: that we know, that we all know, that we know, we know, we know.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Beautiful and Damned

Hans Christian Andersen, having been born in 1805, has been in the news this year. The lucid beauty and stark tragedy of his tales has been commented on in many other reviews. I would like to add a comment on why Andersen's use of inhuman and even inanimate characters, rather than diluting this tragedy, instead enhances it.

Consider the brutally abrupt ending of "The Shepherdess and the Sweep":
And so the little china people remained together, and were glad of the grandfather’s rivet, and continued to love each other till they were broken to pieces.
The finitude of "happily ever after" is implicit in tales with mortal protagonists. Here is it brought starkly to light.

Bear in mind that Andersen wrote in the period before Christianity retired from public discourse. The promise of immortality of the soul would have vitiated the tales of complete tragedy he wished to tell. The Fir Tree and the Steadfast Tin Soldier are preterite, and thus their tragedy is complete:

By this time the soldier was reduced to a mere lump, and when the maid took away the ashes next morning she found him, in the shape of a small tin heart. All that was left of the dancer was her spangle, and that was burnt as black as a coal.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Sins of the Fathers

A statement of libertarian principles, started with the harshest purity of intention, stumbles at one point: children. Here is an example. Surely the principles of personal responsibility cannot be applied here; we look for a morally acceptable escape route that does not utterly compromise the foundation of the libertarian philosophy.

English psychologist Theodore Dalrymple, in a moving and frightening essay in City Journal, shows why we are aiming too high.
I have had hundreds of conversations with men who have abandoned their children in this fashion, and they all know perfectly well what the consequences are for the mother and, more important, for the children. They all know that they are condemning their children to lives of brutality, poverty, abuse, and hopelessness. They tell me so themselves. And yet they do it over and over again, to such an extent that I should guess that nearly a quarter of British children are now brought up this way.
And, later:
There has been an unholy alliance between those on the Left, who believe that man is endowed with rights but no duties, and libertarians on the Right, who believe that consumer choice is the answer to all social questions, an idea eagerly adopted by the Left in precisely those areas where it does not apply. Thus people have a right to bring forth children any way they like, and the children, of course, have the right not to be deprived of anything, at least anything material.

Dalrymple's words, and the reality we can all see looming behind them, show that the dream of insulating innocent children from the faults of their parents is beyond our reach. For every child saved from hunger and cold, ten or a hundred will grow up in violent but comfortable barbarism -- as will their children, and those children's children...

Like many in my generation, I learned through Ursula LeGuin of Dostoyevsky's dilemma, of a joyful society built on the suffering of one innocent. Only one! But the agency of government cannot reach in to save any of this new preterite, without in the process magnifying it in both size and malevolence. Their salvation is beyond our power.

[Hat tip: Wretchard.]

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


We have become inured to the American left's attempts to inject the multicultural agenda into the papal succession. Almost as idiotic, though, is this utterly misguided editorial by William Rees-Mogg in the London Times. [Rees-Mogg has had some excellent moments, like this insightful retrospective on Jim Callaghan.] Rees-Mogg reviews the progress of liberal (i.e., non-collective) thought from Adam Smith through Frederick Hayek, sprinkling in several gratuitous references to his own publishing firm on the way. He sums up:
Free economic competition is not a zero-sum game. Free competition creates complex mutual benefits, by what Adam Smith called “the hidden hand”. Liberalism has changed the world because it works and socialism does not. The history of liberal theory explains why that is so.
Fortunately, by the time he writes this he has forgotten all about the Pope in his eagerness to make a buck by shilling his business in the Times. But the hook on which he chooses to hang his story betrays a deep and studied ignorance.

The Church's central mission is to change the nature of man. Liberalism has changed the world because it works with that nature as it is, functioning despite omnipresent fallibility and greed. There can be no reconciling these two goals.

[Hat tip: Instapundit, who apparently approves of this appalling sophistry.]

An Older First

The full text of the classic economics book, Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson, is now online. One passage [p.38] caught my attention:
If the reader will consult such a book as Recent Economic Changes, by David A. Wells, published in 1889, he will find passages that, except for the dates and absolute amounts involved, might have been written by our technophobes (if I may coin a needed word) of today.
Emphasis mine.

[Hat tip: Megan McArdle.]

Monday, April 11, 2005


Charles at Obsidian Wings is Anticipating the John Bolton Confirmation Tempest and has a good round-up of the opening salvos. One thing missing from his analysis, however, is the interaction between the Bolton nomination and the ongoing struggle over judicial confirmations.

How is Mr. Bolton different from a conservative judge nominated to an Appellate Court? The first answer is that he is likely more outspoken; the deeper answer is that his job is that of spokesman (and negotiator). Bolton's perceived anti-UN comments, which have so alienated the Democratic opposition, sound to his supporters like robust and realistic support of the national interest. Anyone can sympathize with the issues at stake, which are made much clearer in Mr. Bolton's world than in the dry balancing of interests which dominates the judicial world.

Democratic Senators from conservative States can get away with a great deal of obstructionism of judicial nominees, even when it would not be popular with their constituents, because it judicial obstruction is a very poor attack issue. A commenter an another Obsidian Wings post, on filibusters, said:
By the way, have you checked out the nominees? They are a districtly strange and abnormal group of weirdos. There is nothing partisan about opposing them.
This kind of countercharge is sufficient to euthanize the debate; by the time one finishes the discussion of whether these judges are or are not "abnormal weirdos", the audience has gone to sleep. Not so with Mr. Bolton.

Mr. Bolton's pithy and sometimes inflammatory attacks on the UN and on America's opponents clearly have the US national interest at heart. To oppose him, one must oppose his rhetoric with nuanced explanations of the necessity of subordinating that interest. There may be some truth to these protestations, but they will not carry sufficient weight to defend those who obstruct Mr. Bolton's nomination.

Put simply, Mr. Bolton is a perfect flypaper candidate. Killing his nomination in committee would provide a perfect weapon against those who opposed him.

[Update 12 May 2005: The Center for Security Policy has released a web video ad attacking Bolton's attackers. Transcript here. Hat tip: Instapundit.]


The mantra "Count Every Vote" has become a rallying cry for a certain kind of democracy. In this version, voting is to be as easy and painless as possible. From Senator Hillary Clinton's website:
To encourage more citizens to exercise their right to vote, the Count Every Vote Act designates Election Day a federal holiday and requires early voting in each state. The bill also enacts "no-excuse" absentee balloting, enacts fair and uniform voter registration and identification, and requires states to allow citizens to register to vote on Election Day. It also requires the Election Assistance Commission to work with states to reduce wait times for voters at polling places.
In tandem with this, the Count Every Vote Act seeks to ensure a clear paper trail:
The Count Every Vote Act of 2005 will provide a voter verified paper ballot for every vote cast in electronic voting machines and ensures access to voter verification for all citizens, including language minority voters, illiterate voters and voters with disabilities. The bill mandates that this ballot be the official ballot for purposes of a recount.
This ties in with the view of votes as a precious natural resource, not fully renewable but amenable to extraordinary extractive efforts. Consider The Nation's paean to Washington State gubernatorial candidate Christine Gregoire:
Maybe someday, if the Democrats really want to win the presidency, they will nominate someone like Christine Gregoire. Gregoire is the Washington state attorney general who this year was nominated by Democrats to run for governor of that state. She is hardly a perfect politician -- like too many Democrats, she is more of a manager than a visionary; and she is as ideologically drab as Gore or Kerry.
But Gregoire had one thing going for her, and that was her determination to win.
When the initial count showed her trailing Republican Dino Rossi by more than 200 votes, she refused to accept the result. Certain that there were Democratic votes that had yet to be tallied, she demanded a recount. The second review showed her trailing Rossi by 42 votes and -- as in the 2000 fight over recounting presidential ballots in Florida -- the Republicans accused Gregoire of traumatizing the state by continuing to demand that every vote be counted.
The Governor's race in Washington is instructive in that it shows, in embryonic form, what the Count Every Vote movement would bring. The endless supply of paper means that there are always more resources to be extracted, somewhere. As we are learning, extraction and creation seem to overlap somewhat.

But the most important long-term characteristic of this movement is the way in which is redistributes power. There have been many disclosures -- of uncounted votes, of illegitimate votes, and of unlawfully excluded votes. Before these began, Dino Rossi had more votes than Ms. Gregoire; when they are done, it is extremely probable that Mr. Rossi will again have more votes. But there was a magical interlude in the middle when this was not the case; and Mrs. Gregoire is now acting as Governor. Timing is everything.

And timing is something that county-level election offices can control, easily and with impunity. Destroying ballots is risky business, but "misplacing" them is unlikely to have any consequences. The ongoing process of recounting serves to maximize the power vested in these election officials -- at the expense of every voter.

This is of a piece with the push for on-the-spot registration, and for maximal absentee balloting. Each of these measures increases the power of the electoral apparatus to best serve whoever controls it, without demanding fanatical lawlessness from the workers there. Machine politics is coming back.

Friday, April 08, 2005

A First

According to Google, I am the first person to say "tongue-dangling idiocy" on the internet. I'm rather pleased with that.

Thursday, April 07, 2005


The fight over the apparently stolen Governorship of Washington State continues. It's a wonder this doesn't draw more attention. Hats off to Mr. Sharkansky.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Scorched Earth

At this point, it should be clear to all that the UN under Kofi Annan can never appear credible to a majority of Americans. Centrists on both sides are willing to believe that Annan himself is the problem, and that his departure would be at least a partial remedy. Kenneth Cain, former UN lawyer and co-author of Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures, writes in the Guardian:
Annan asks - no, orders - unarmed civilians to risk their lives every day as election observers, human rights monitors, drivers and secretaries in the most dangerous conditions all over the world. They do it, heroically, every day. And, in the service of peace, some pay with their lives; others with their sanity. How can he then not ask of himself the courage to risk his job in the cause of preventing genocide? At the very least, he could go down trying to save lives, as opposed to going down trying to explain why he didn't.
Annan is not personally corrupt or incompetent. But the UN cannot have failed more catastrophically when the stakes have been highest. If he does not lose his job for that, then for what? And if not now, when?
And Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) editorializes in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
For six months, I have insisted that Annan be held accountable for the U.N.'s gross mismanagement of the Oil-for-Food Program. Last week, the U.N.'s own investigators issued a report criticizing Annan's own conduct -- including his failure to resolve a serious conflict of interest concerning his son -- and the conduct of his chief of staff.
The Volcker report did not "exonerate" Annan, as many have claimed; to the contrary, it pointed the finger directly at him. Indeed, one member of Volcker's committee, Mark Pieth, made that point loud and clear: "We did not exonerate Kofi Annan."
With that in mind, I reiterate my call for Annan's resignation.
They are opposed from both ends; by die-hard internationalists who cannot face the admission of vast corruption in the very font of salvation, and by cynical nationalists who want to see Kofi stay on as long as possible, so that the damage to the UN can be maximized.

For the moderately partisan left, this is a lose-lose situation; their reaction has been silence. For example, Kevin Drum has not mentioned Mr. Annan since May 12, 2004, except for this brief apologia. Now, Mr. Drum has no real power over whether Mr. Annan keeps his job, so his reluctance to talk about this affair is understandable.

But among those who have some power, and do not share the desire to see the UN mauled, why is there no move to scapegoat Mr. Annan? Why is Jacques Chirac, leader of the nation which benefits most from the UN's remaining authority, silent? Perhaps it is through tender sympathy, wishing to spare Mr. Annan the suffering of a quiet retirement to the first-class lounges of the world's airports. But it seems more plausible to believe that the UN's allies are still backing Mr. Annan because they do not mind the corruption and brutality; they do not fear the falling of the fig leaf of false legitimacy; and they still think they can win.

[Hat tip: Instapundit.]

[Update 7 April 2005: An article in the Telegraph, on the appointment of Mark Malloch Brown, contains this startling bit:
The shake-up comes after an extraordinary meeting last month in the Manhattan flat of Bill Clinton's former UN ambassador, Richard Holbrooke.
He gathered a group of foreign policy experts to "save Kofi" and persuade him to change his staff.
Apparently Mr. Holbrooke is among those who thinks nothing has gone terribly wrong.]

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Cornyn in 2005

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) said in a speech on the Senate floor:
It causes a lot of people, including me, great distress to see judges use the authority that they have been given to make raw political or ideological decisions... the Supreme Court has taken on this role as a policymaker rather than an enforcer of political decisions made by elected representatives of the people... I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country... And I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in, engage in violence. Certainly without any justification, but a concern that I have.
Does this merit calls for hs resignation? This is a non-party issue: Texas is firmly in Republican hands, so an appointed successor would be a party-line Republican. I don't know yet; but if he combines the intemperance to make these remarks with the stupidity to apologize, then he should be made to resign.

[Update 6 April 2005: Cornyn clarifies without apologizing, which shows good sense. Hat tip: Instapundit.]
[Update 6 April 2005: Beldar has a convincing defense of Cornyn.]

Khatami in 1998

In 1998, President Khatami of Iran spoke to the United Nations General Assembly. Recall that at this stage relations between Iran and the US were uneasy, but more cordial than today's; also that Khatami was for a time hailed as a reformer, before apparently being co-opted by hardline conservatives.

The speech itself is quite long, and I will just focus on a few parts I think are instructive. It is in six sections, separated by the salutation "Mr. President." The first section is a call for self-determination.
It is only a few centuries since genuine knowledge was construed as the source of power, rather than an agent of its control. Ever since, knowledge has, instead of serving human salvation and instead of exalting human character, been used as an instrument in the hands of those whose only object was to advance their narrow utilitarian self-interest. Despite its magnificent progress, humanity has suffered massively over these centuries form [sic] discrimination and anguish.
In short, the Enlightenment was a source of evil.
Particularly desperate is the situation of the countries in the underdeveloped world, where... some remain at the mercy of rulers who do not even take the trouble of pretending respect for democratic standards or enjoying popular support.
A perfect line for the representative of a government which does take the trouble.
Primarily responsible here, are those powers whose intelligence services take pride in their dark record of overthrowing popular governments and supporting unpopular ones. This image of our world is indeed grim and repulsive. Until the day that the wise and the learned wrest the reins of power form the unwise and the capricious, this image can not, all at once, be transformed.
This is the picture of Iran's recent history Khatami would wish to paint; only the wise (in this case, the theocrats) can be entrusted with power.
The second section is a paean to Islamic Iran. For example:
Allow me to speak here as a man form the East, the origin of brilliant civilizations and the birth place of Divine Prophets... I come from the noble land of Iran, representing a great and renowned nation, famous for its age old civilization as well as its distinguished contribution to the founding and expansion of the Islamic civilization; a nation that has survived the strong winds of despotism, reactionism and submission, relying on its cultural and human wealth; a nation which pioneered in the East the establishment of civil society and constitutional governments...
Note the repeated invocation of Iran's ancient greatness. The colonial period, and the Shah's rule, are construed as a brief glitch in the passage from glory to glory.
There follows an exhortation for peaceful and diplomatic relations between countries.
The establishment and continued functioning of the United Nations is a testament to the progressive path of the world and of human society... The twentieth century did not only witness the manifestation of violence and human sufferings at the hands of old colonialists and the unprecedented injustice of their modern inheritors, but it was also the century of the rise and fall of totalitarian regimes. Let up hope that in the coming century resort to force and violence shall not be glorified, and the essence of political power be compassion and justice, externally manifested in dialogue between civilizations.
Readers may be ideologically divided here. It is possible to view this as a sincere plea for peace, or as the temporizing of a hostile but presently weak government.
In the fourth section, we get two proposals, one of which actually has substance.
I would like to propose, in the name of the Islamic Republic of Iran, that the United Nations, as a first step, designate the year 2001 as the "Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations," with the earnest hope that through such a dialogue the realization of universal justice and liberty be initiated.
The United Nations took shape in a dark era of human history, when many of its current members were still experiencing the bitter and abominable conditions of colonial rule. As a consequence, the new Organization reflected the domination of the powerful few. Things have changed now, and the opportunity has presented itself to restructure this Organization, particularly its Security Council. Here, I would like to refer to the wise words of the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran in his inaugural address to the Eighth Session of the Islamic Summit Conference in Tehran that the Islamic countries, representing one billion and several hundred million people should acquire a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council with the same privileges that are enjoyed by current Permanent Members.
This seems to stop just short of calling for a security council seat; no actual proposal is tabled. I honestly can't see why not.
The penultimate section is a rousing attack on Israel [hardly newsworthy], and then on the Taliban.
The Afghan people, as other peoples in the world, have the inalienable right to determine their own destiny, and have the right to enjoy a broad-based government representing all ethnic groups, communities and tendencies in that country. This is the only way to restore tranquility in Afghanistan. This requires resolute international cooperation in order to inhibit the lucrative and deadly business of production and smuggling of narcotics, illicit trafficking in weapons and cultivating of terrorism.
Finally, Khatami closes with a call for nuclear disarmament and global environmentalism.
At the threshold of the third millennium, the world also needs to be liberated from the nightmare of nuclear war and weapons of mass destruction. Recent nuclear tests in our region, which have led to further complications, make such a necessity all the more imperative. We should all realize that the idea of attaining security through the acquisition of such armaments is nothing but an illusion. The manifestation of a resolute global determination to eliminate all existing arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, within an agreed time frame, would render clarity of objective, lend credence and add dynamism to the international efforts against the production and proliferation of these deadly weapons.
Comprehensive peace, over and above peace among human beings, also calls for peace between mankind and nature, which in turn requires that mankind bring to a halt the systematic devouring of nature and instead emphasize the coordination of man and nature. The preservation of the environment, as the common natural heritage of mankind, constitutes the most important priority of the coming century. I thank you for your attention.

Mohammad Khatami, transnational progressivist! Who'd've thought it?

Monday, April 04, 2005


I have updated last week's post on civil liberties.

The Altar of the State

Christopher Hitchens, writing in Slate, sharply criticizes the late Pope John Paul II. His criticism has three parts. The first is a grade-school complaint about the problem of pain, which can safely be ignored. The second, and weightiest, part is an attack of the Vatican's handling of Cardinal Bernard Law, who fled there when his involvement in his diocese's pedophilia scandal became apparent. This is a strong point, which Hitchens makes with his characteristic force. But in the followup and final part, he goes entirely off the rails:
A few weeks ago, when the Supreme Court ruled against the execution of minors and specified the need to conform to international consensus on this, the Christian Right was outraged at the idea of foreign governments influencing American courts. But Terri Schiavo's parents were in court only moments afterward, instructing their lawyer to ask a judge to consider the church's [sic] teaching on purgatory and hell, and the state of the late Ms. Schiavo's soul. The Vatican is actually a foreign government, recognized as such by an exchange of ambassadors. Are we expected to be complacent when its clerical supporters try to short-circuit the U.S. Constitution with pleas of this kind?
This nonsense rests on a peculiar conflation of ideas. To equate the influence of foreign courts with that of foreign theologians, Mr. Hitchens ignores the faith of Americans. The Church's teaching is not in itself important to the court; it is relevant because it codifies the beliefs of a significant part of the citizens from whose consent the court derives its just powers.

In fact, Mr. Hitchens has unwittingly laid bare precisely what is most repugnant about Justice Kennedy's opinion in Roper v. Simmons. Mr. Kennedy takes the moral advice of foreign dignitaries who prosetlyze "evolving standards of decency" -- this is fundamentally the same as taking the spiritual advice of foreign religious leaders, except that the religion in question is Progress rather than Christianity. His decision to impose moral leadership by the courts, rather than respect the beliefs of the citizenry, is deplorable for precisely the same reasons that the Schiavos' appeal is justified.

Mr. Hitchens concludes:
But let nobody confuse the undermining of a Stalinist bureaucracy in a majority Catholic nation [Poland] with the insidious attempt to thwart or bend the law in a secular democracy. And let nobody say that this is no problem.
Well, let me be the first to say that the exercise of power by the citizens of a nation, guided by their belief in what is right, wielded without the advocacy of coercion, is no problem.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Pursuit of Mathematics

Amy Sullivan, guestblogging at Washington Monthly, notes an article about mathematics teaching methods which seem to improve girls' participation and performance. So far, so good; but then she tries to tie it to the issue of academic representation, saying "More evidence to combat the idea of innate aptitude." In doing so, she betrays an unfortunate lack of understanding about what mathematics is like for its real practitioners.

These are masses of students, sitting together, working on problems within the reach of all, and holding up their answers when they are done. They bear as much resemblance to the research of a Ribet or an Atiyah as a rubber-band vehicle does to a space shuttle. And they are almost as dissimilar when contrasted with the activities of the top young mathematicians and future scholars, even as teenagers.

I have had the good fortune to meet some of these people, and the misfortune to on occasion compete with them. Even as teenagers, they are forging ahead into deep and counterintuitive realms, moving away from the workaday world of concrete numbers to other systems and formal languages.

Mathematics is perhaps the most solitary of occupations. Even the most prolific and sociable practicing mathematician, for every step in every published proof, will have mentally explored hundreds of alternate avenues. The talent and interest for this may be present, or not, in a fifteen-year-old; but holding up answers to arithmetic problems will not create, enhance or detect it.