Friday, September 27, 2002

Hmm...Comment test...
Foreign policy and "moral authority": An exchange with TonyB has raised the issue of both our "allies" criticisms of our conduct and the question of whether we have the "moral authority" to invade a country and depose a tyrant whom we, after all, helped create.

Here's a pair of key principles with which I think many might disagree:
1)The purpose of foreign policy is to advance our national interest, as we understand it. All other concerns are secondary at best, irrelevant at worst.
2)Something is defined by what it DOES, not by how it makes us or anyone else feel.

Applying these principles, let us turn to the question of our allies. Germany doesn't want to fight in Iraq. Fine. That won't inhibit a swift U.S. victory. China is "concerned" by the possiblity of an Iraq war. Fine. They won't do anything other than busily express "concern," which of course will have no effect whatsoever on our military campaign. So, applying the second principle, I can see no reason to care what our allies, our enemies, or anyone else thinks. The only question is: does this war advance our national interest? I think it does; many people disagree with me. That's fine--I understand them, for the most part, and they have a right to their opinion. But I don't see where the opinion of the French or the Brazilians or the "Burmese street" enters the picture. TonyB points out the risk that American action will drive the Chinese and the Russians to form an anti-U.S. partnership. That's a very real concern, and worth keeping a close eye on, but for the moment it doesn't seem to be developing into a major short-term problem.

Some people claim that unilateralism will cost us "cooperation" in future action against terrorists. I consider this possiblity very remote. After all, it serves Germany's interest to cooperate with us; they seem to have piles of terrorists within their borders, and they don't want to be terror victims any more than we do. Pakistan was a major patron of the Taliban, yet they cooperated in the destruction of their clients! Stomping on Saddam may paradoxically increase cooperation, as other local dictators fall all over themselves to avoid the same fate. If I thought this critique were correct--if Europe or Pakistan were contemplating taking actions which would hurt us as a result of our decisions--I would take it seriously indeed, but because decreased cooperation would compromise our national interest, not because cooperation gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.

Moving on to "moral authority," I must turn to the second principle first once again. Some have claimed that by acting unilaterally, we have lost our moral authority, and wasted the goodwill of other nations. Now, I don't think this is true--very few nations had any true goodwill for us, even after Sept. 11, they just temporarily suspended their dislike--but even if it was, who cares? Let me ask: Does "moral authority" make the Europeans agree with us? (Could anything make the Europeans agree with Bush?) What about the Saudis? The Chinese? Will it make battlefield victory more likely? Will it forestall terrorist acts? No. It does none of these things because foreign nations are too busy applying principle #1. The Saudis don't want us to be a major regional power, and they certainly don't want a democracy next door. The Europeans don't like the fact that our military might is making their massive divisions of hot-air generators irrelevant. The Russians want $8 billion in debt which Iraq owes them. China hopes to use the "moral authority" argument to restrain us in the event that they invade Taiwan and wants to give it a test-drive. The terrorists, meanwhile, whatever their motivations, are certainly not going to give up their desire to murder Americans just because the U.N. Security Council stamps our plans with the seal of "moral authority." Moral authority is useful only for relieving guilt. It has no value in the real world where nations persue their self-interest. It will not change the opinions of foreign leaders one whit, since their opinions are based not on abstract intellectual principles, but on self-interest and re-election hopes. It will not change the minds of the various "streets" in the world, many of whom will hate us no matter what we do. Moral authority cannot advance our national interest, so I don't care about it.

Actually, you can apply the same principles to any foreign policy action which the U.S. has undertaken recently: Kyoto, the ICC, etc. Arguments for these actions need to be made at the level of national interest--for instance, by claiming that the Kyoto treaty would head off an environmental disaster which would harm us--not by saying "everyone else is doing it!" Do you recall how your mother responded to that argument? And yet, we see supposedly mature, well-informed intellectuals telling us we need to take some action--even actions which violate the Constitution, as the ICC would do--simply because others are doing it. To borrow a theme from Maureed Dowd, is teenage conformity really a "principle" on which to base diplomacy?

If you are seeking a principle other than national interest on which to base foreign policy, humanitarianism might be a good place to start. But certainly not conformity or worship of the fantasies of Euro-socialism.

(I swear I'll have comments by Monday--I'm sure some of you want to vent your speen after reading this post. No blogging this weekend, but I hope to have a long post about war and economic interest up Monday.)
Filming up women's skirts: The Washington State Supreme court has gotten
national attention with this decision that secretly videotaping up a woman's skirt, while "digusting and reprehensible," is not illegal under RCW 9A.44.115. This has set legally ignorant but well meaning folks into fits of rage. Take, for example these three letters to the editor. One woman believes that spraying a voyeur with pepper spray would not lead to an assault charge (as a kick or punch would) because you don't actually end up touching the pervert. Try again; by that logic you could shoot him dead, too. The other two apparently missed the "disgusting and reprehensible" language in the decision and presumed that the court either endorsed voyeurism or cluelessly didn't realize that privacy is one reason people wear clothes.

This is a great time for a lesson in something called separation of powers. The courts don't make the law--that's for the legislature. If, somehow, lawmakers fail to outlaw something which should be illegal, it isn't the place of the court system to make up for that failure. Courts interpret and uphold the law. You might read the court's decision and the relevant law in the above links and conclude that the court misunderstood the statute, but you certainly shoudn't expect the court to declare something illegal just because everyone thinks it should be.

Asking courts to make law, rather than interpret it, undermines democracy and is generally a very bad idea. I fully expect the legislature to rectify this error in about 5 minutes by unanimous vote as soon as they reconvene. Until they do, I say just kick the pervert. Do you really think they could find a jury to convict you of assault?
I don't have time to post today: but I'm going to anyway. Hubert Locke, columnist for the Seattle time, spills this crap all over my morning newspaper. I thought it was just boilerplate anti-war stuff--not worth blogging about--until he approvingly quotes some Euro-elitist talking about a straw man America made up of "self-righteous Christian fundamentalists, of military machismo, of gun shops, lethal injections, anti-abortion zealots and gas-guzzling pickup trucks spewing out greenhouse gases." Adding his own little insult, Locke refers to conservative voters as "smug, self-satisfied, [and] insular." On Oct. 27, 2000 Locke lectured us on the value of tolerance (albeit by telling us how intolerant one particular Republican was). Locke's age (he's retired) and race (he's black) lead me to suspect that he has faced the irrational prejudice of ignorant fools more than once in his life; his 2000 column on tolerance has him (rightly) condemning the intolerance of right-wing talk radio. Why, then, does he think that ill-informed anti-conservative bigotry is A-OK?

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Statistics in the news: Brad DeLong points out an error in Kausfiles. Brad's right, of course. But I wouldn't suggest he make a career out of trying to fact-check statistics, either from Kaus, the NYT, or anyone else. He'd never have time for anything else. Everyone makes this kind of stupid statistical mistake, especially when it supports their ideological preconceptions (see: confirmation bias). I can't tell you how many times I've been annoyed or even angered by this and many other kinds of sloppy statistical reporting; it is, depressingly, the norm rather than the exception. More...

(Via Ted Barlow)
Comments: I've already gotten one request for comments. You may have noticed that I haven't published my email address; seriously, I thought about it, and concluded that I get enough offers from young ladies of elastic virtue, enough crap from trolls, and enough weird emails from foreigners asking me about guns. My participation on other fora has maxed out my email tolerance. I really feel bad about it, but I'm not going to make my email any easier to get.

I do want feedback, though. The whole point of a blog is to have a conversation, not give a lecture. So I'll try to add comments sometime soon. YACCS isn't taking newcomers, and some of the other systems seem to have reliablilty issues. I'll add them as soon as I have time to find a good system and figure out how to add it. In the meantime, those of you who are so inclined can complain about the "suppression of dissent."
"Politicizing" the war: Since Sept. 11, we have heard many people and many politicians proclaim that their opponents were "politicizing" terrorism, or the war, or national security, or some such thing. No one has bothered to define what the HELL they mean by this, but we the people are supposed to be suitably offended by such a thing. What do they mean?

It could mean that someone is using the war for political gain. What a shock! Politicians using something for political gain! Now, I admit it is unseemly. But politicians routinly do all manner of unseemly things, even in matters of life and death, such as politicizing street crime, or politicizing medical care, or having sex without condoms.

Perhaps it means using (or, in the Democrats' case, avoiding) discussions about war in Iraq for partisan purposes. But again, even though this is annoying, what can we expect? Of course Republicans want to talk about the war. Of course Democrats want to talk about how the government can become you own personal ATM. This has more to do with who occupies the White House than anything else. Dems were eager to send troops to Bosnia, where we had nothing resembling a vital interest; today many of them seem overly concerned that oil may be motivating us--but the oil supply definitly IS a vital interest. Either they only want us to fight where we have no stake in the outcome (Krauthammer's theory) or they were eager to support the last president and eager to oppose this one. Nothing wrong with that, of course, unless you make angry speeches about playing politics with our troops.

But I can't see why anyone--Bush, Daschle, Gore--should be criticized for doing that which helps his agenda. I don't buy the claim that the war should somehow be "above" politics. Sending our soldiers into harm's way (or not doing so, thus possibly endangering civilians here at home) is the most important decision a democratic nation can make, and it should be made in public, by elected officials, not by some unaccountable bipartisan blue-ribbon panel or the president's unelected appointees. If Bush needs to talk trash to get Congressional support for the war, he should do it. If Daschle wants to talk trash to oppose the war, well, that'll be much better than what he is doing--talking trash which has nothing to do with the war at all.

And yes, the war should be the central issue of the midterm elections. If that means "politicizing" it, then let's get right to it. The seniors can bitch about free pills later. Ken Lay isn't going anywhere. If the stock market has hurt your retirement, maybe you should work for another year. There's a war on, haven't you heard?

(Clarification: I once said in Ted Barlow's comments that I thought that a war resolution should be voted on by the next Congress, so that the election could be a kind of referendum on the war. I wasn't thinking clearly; the next Congress won't be seated until January. Various sources claim that a war should start in December to minimize risk to our troops, and in my mind their lives and fighting effectiveness are paramount. Therefore, I believe that the vote should occur before the election, so that we at the very least have the chance to punish our reps if we don't like their votes. Having the vote during a lame duck session would be a travesty.)
Organic food and small government: Newsweek's article also mentions that the USDA has, at long last, come up with specific standards for what may or may not be called "organic." I recoiled in horror when I read that.

Why, exactly, is this the government's business? Certainly, consumers want to know that the "organic" goods they buy are not simply overpriced conventionally-farmed products. But, then, the buyers of kosher foods also want to be assured that they are not buying disguised pork or meat mixed with milk. Eugene Volokh explains why the government cannot legally define "kosher"--it has to do with the First Amendment--and how Jewish organizations have overcome the difficulty. The short version: a group of rabbis decides what standards they wish to apply for foods to be declared kosher, and licenses the use of a trademarked symbol to companies who hope to sell their products to Jews. If the company violates the standards, the license is revoked. If the company uses the trademarked symbol without authorization, they can be sued under trademark law.

Why wouldn't this model work for organic foods? It offers several advantages: it removes the wrangling over "organic" from the public sphere, sparing us endless acrimonious debates in a Congress that has better things to do. It removes the lobbyists from the debate. It saves taxpayers money. It offers consumers more choice--different certifying organizations may have different standards for "organic," and consumers should be permitted to decide which standards they prefer. It means that people dissatisfied with existing standards don't need to spend lots of time "raising awareness" or raising campaign cash--they can just think up a symbol, trademark it, and start offering licenses to companies meeting their standards. I have a neighbor who is a "vegan" gardener--she doesn't use synthetic pesticides, but she does use synthetic fertilizer--because her animal-rights-oriented beliefs forbid her to use manure or bone meal, two common "organic" fertilizers. Will the USDA have to spend the next few years writing stadards for vegan veggies, too?

Government isn't always the solution, and it this case, it turns out to be a pretty lousy one.
Pop Quiz: Newsweek has an interesting article about organic food. This sentence was given great prominence in the print edition: "Well-run organic farms often match conventional ones for productivity, even beat them when water is scarce."

Question 1: What does Newsweek mean by "productivity?
a) Crop yield per acre.
b) Crop yield per man-hour.
c) Crop yield per dollar invested
d) Saleable (undamaged) crop yield per acre/man-hour/dollar
e) Profitablity.

Question 2: Which crops is Newsweek referring to?
a) All crops.
b) Grains only.
c) Legumes only.
d) GMO's only.
e) Tree fruit and root vegetables only.

Question 3: To what size farms does this assertion apply?
a) Farms under 10 acres.
b) Farms between 10 and 100 acres.
c) Farms over 1,000 acres.
d) All farms.

Answers: WHO KNOWS? They don't tell us. I have to assume, though, that this claim is false on some level. If organic farming were just as profitable and scaled easily to 100,000 acre factory farms, one would expect the people running those farms to switch, and tout the switch very loudly. Thanks for that highly informative tidbit!

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Ted Barlow links to this P.L.A blog, and shares their concern that Bush isn't making good decisions. They complain that Bush seems to be stacking scientific panels, making decisions and then massaging data to fit them, etc. etc. They demand that Bush look at the data first, and make his decisions second.

Well it's hard to argue with that. Maybe while we're at it we can wish for pigs to fly, too.

Bush is a politician. He does what he has to do to get elected, which includes doing and saying the things which will please his supporters in the electorate and his fellow travelers in Congress. I have news for the P.L.A and others who have been making this point: Clinton did it. Bush I did it. Hell, every president does it, and so does every member of Congress, and, for that matter, most people anywhere (it's called the confirmation bias).

Yes, it deserves criticism. But apparently some people think that this is a Republican problem, or a conservative problem. Try again guys--it's a human problem. And, when it comes to stacking government committees and making bad political decisions (or, for that matter, simply being arrogant), it's a politican problem.
Maureen Dowd's latest is even more sophmoric than usual--in the sense that she literally compares the leadership of several nations to teenage girls.

No, Maureen, W is not mad at German Prime Minister Schroeder for opposing war in Iraq. The French oppose the war. The Chinese oppose the war. Al Gore opposes--no, wait, bad example.

W is angry because of the strident anti-American tone of Schroeder's campaign, which featured comparisons of Bush to Hitler and Caesar Augustus, and unilateral declarations that Germany would oppose any war for any reason, even with U.N. approval. Schroeder also demanded "consultations" on the question of war in Iraq, which seems rather pointless considering we know exactly what he thinks.

I imagine the Germans would also be upset if John Ashcroft compared on of their leaders to a famously evil tyrant, or referred to German self-defense as an "adventure." (Maybe Iraq isn't self-defense for us. Fine, but Bush sees it that way, and is due a certain amount of respect even if you disagree.)

Actually, the Seattle P-I had a horrid and painfully biased article on this subject in their print edition this morning, which I had intended to link. Unfortunatly, the P-I helpfully "updates" its online content, so I can't find it. The gist was the same: Bush is mad about opposition to war in Iraq, and he is unreasonable to be. Well, it would be unreasonable to be mad about a simple disagreement, but it isn't unreasonable to be mad when an "ally" claims the right to veto any and all action, and calls you names when you don't grant that veto.

Recasting the President's anger as a petulant, girlish reaction to some imaginary slight makes for a good polemic, but changing the facts to fit your argument doesn't speak well for you, MoDo.
Logical Fallacies. Avoid them if you can!
Walter Williams on the "right" to get money from the government. This short piece is more philosophically sound than 99% of Supreme Court decisions. I'm willing to bet most people don't like his conclusion, but I think it's right on the money.
A question directed at the people who want the U.S to get U.N. approval before any attack on Iraq:

Folks, do you favor or oppose toppling Saddam? It's fine by me either way--I favor it, but I certainly understand people who oppose it. But let's be totally realistic here. If Bush goes to the U.N. Security Council and says "Pretty please, let us attack Iraq!" the answer will be a resounding NO!!! If, on the other hand, he goes and says "We intend to attack Iraq, wanna come along?" the chances are good that he will get the resolutions you say you want. In other words, the only way to get multilateral cooperation is to threaten unilateral action. Being explicitly multilateralist and fully respecting U.N.S.C. resolutions is a guaranteed prescription for NO action.

So I'd like it if the U.N. voluptuaries out there came out honestly in favor or opposed to the war. If you favor it, then you have to put up with unilateral rehetoric. If you favor it but only with U.N. sanction, then you need to put up with unilateral rhetoric until the French come around. If you oppose it, could you be so kind as to say so, instead of hiding behind the U.N.?
I'd like to begin by contradicting myself.

I generally strongly dislike any attempt to examine the motivations or psychology of one's political opponents. Several reasons:

--Such attempts are often little more than protracted insults. I have seen many people argue, for instance, that gun owners' resistance to gun control laws is rooted in sexual insecurity, and that gun owners are seeking compensation for their percieved lack of "potency" in their relentlessly phallic firearms. Other possible explanations--ideology, reason, non-dysfuncional emotion, naked self-interest (guns are expensive), pleasure in sport shooting, whatever--are dismissed in favor of armchair psychobabble. And people wonder why gun owners are so mad.

--Motives have no bearing on the correctness of a position. The filty rich corporate raider may like the free market because he's greedy; the starry-eyed undergrad may worship Marx because he truly cares about working people. That doesn't make the communist right and the capitalist wrong.

--No one can know a person's motives other than that person. Wild, self-serving speculation is not an argument (Bush wants to start a war because of sexual inadequacy! He wants to prove his manhood and overcome his impotence!).

That said, I do think an honest attempt to understand your opponents is valuable, especially if you can't understand them.

Jonah Goldberg has a great piece on the many people, at home and abroad, who accuse the U.S. of "imperialism." I don't know if he's right, but he makes a lot more sense than many of the people he's talking about.
Welcome to my blog. I don't have time for this, but I'm doing it anyway because my wife can't stand to listen to me rant about politics anymore. So...I'll rant about politics here. I am pretty conservative/libertarian, and you can expect my posts to slant strongly in that direction. However, I will make a strong effort to be rigorously logical, and avoid the fallacies, insults, and spin of the "talking points" style of debate. I will also make a special effort to root out and post primary sources so that you can judge for yourself the accuracy of my posts and of published media reports.

I will not, however, be able to provide you with good spelling.

(Special thanks to Ted Barlow, who prodded me into doing this.)