Saturday, October 05, 2002

One more thing: Atrios has a really solid post about the Left-Right partisanship debate. Some choice excerpts:

“…it is that a common undercurrent of the rhetoric is that liberals wish to destroy all that makes our country great.”

Well, yes. Conservatives do believe that much (perhaps not all) of what liberals want will do severe harm to our country, and will undermine many of the things that make our country great. If we agreed that liberals’ ideas were good, or at least harmless, we wouldn’t be conservatives (duh). Saying “Atrios wants to do something that will destroy our country” is NOT the same as saying “Atrios wants to destroy the country.” The former is a claim about Atrios’ idea; the latter is a comment on Atrios’ motives. The former is a perfectly legitimate argument; the latter is not. It is important to distinguish between them, both when making an argument and when evaluating your opponent’s argument. I think that people commonly mislead themselves in whatever way is most convenient for their side; that was the point of my long post below about Bill Quick.

And, of course, if you convince yourself of the factual correctness of the conservative position—if you strongly believe that, say, affirmative action is highly destructive, then the position of some liberals looks to you like anti-Americanism. If you think we absolutely must invade Iraq to save American lives, people who oppose that look stupid or hateful to you.

I might also point out that it is a common undercurrent of Left rhetoric that conservatives are racist, fascist, sexist, etc., that conservatives don’t care about the poor or the sick, or that Republican presidents throw old people off of cliffs. If you are strongly convinced that Social Security is literally saving lives, it becomes easy to portray Bush as a murderer. If you strongly oppose war in Iraq, then Jim McDermott’s frankly foolish comments get a free pass because he’s supporting a good cause. To be honest, I rather be called unpatriotic than racist.

(BTW, I’d love to see my favorite liberals spin this Flash movie—just a joke, right? Not nearly as serious as a Bush quote out of context, right? Does this not illustrate beautifully what I mean?)

Yes, Atrios, I think you (and Al Gore, and Ted Barlow) are trying to destroy the country, in the sense that I think you support some exceptionally bad ideas. Yes, I think you want to change the character of the U.S. to something different than what the Founders intended. Presumably you think my ideas are terrible, as well, and perhaps that I am obstructing the proper realization of the Founder’s ideals. That doesn’t mean I hate you or want to have you shot in the street, or want to exclude you from the debate, or whatever. But the rioters who burn David Horowitz’s books, or deny Netanyahu the chance to speak have a different perspective on the proper place of conservatives. I am unaware of any conservative riots which have shut down liberal speakers, but I’m open to hearing about them.

And, incidentally, I don’t thing that hatred of America automatically disqualifies anyone from the debate. It lessens their credibility, sure. But motivations are less important that actual argument.

Friday, October 04, 2002

I'm outta here: I'll be gone for a week; I don't know if I'll be able to blog or not. But if you want to insult conservatives without qualification, demand that the U.S. turn over the keys to the ICBMs to the U.N., try to ban handguns, or set up a shrine to Jim McDermott, or write long essays on Michael Moore's brilliance, this is probably the week to do it without me bugging you.

(Now that I think about it, that thing with the ICBM's and the U.N. is a really good thought experiment. Would you really consider the world a safer place if the Security Council had a veto on U.S. launches? Do you think Iraq, or for that matter China would respect the Security Council's resolutions in that respect? Hmmmm...)
Public Health: An interesting little debate courtesy of Ted Barlow: Instapundit disses the WHO and reveals his gun-control paranoia (which, I should mention, I share). Also a factor in Glenn's rant: he doesn't like the U.N. (neither do I). But The Bloviator shoots back about the importance of public health and the difficulty of getting funding for the unsexy cause of tracking pnemonia.

I happen to be a great believer in public health; the only structural amendment I would like to see to the Constitution would be to authorize Congress to spend money on the CDC and NIH. But Glenn and others have a really good point here--when doctors step out of their expertise and start pontificating on politically hot topics, the result is a general decline in the credibility of their work. Glenn jumps on the WHO, and mentions gun control in connection with a study of suicide. Why on Earth would he do that? Well, because doctors at the CDC and AMA have begun describing guns as a "virus" which must be eliminated. They back this up with junk science "studies" which, if they were on any other topic, such as, say, HIV, would be dumped in the trash in a second. Now, I actually carry a liability form with me when I go to the doctor. If he tries to discuss the "health risk" of guns (which discussion the AMA leadership has endorsed) I'll make him sign a form declaring that he is a Gun Safety Expert Doctor, and declaring that his malpractice insurance covers gun-safety advice that he might give. Of course no insurance does cover such a thing; it is the NRA which certifies and insures gun safety teachers, and rightly so. We gunnies have a saying: I'll get advice from the JAMA on guns right after I get advice from Guns & Ammo on heart surgery.

The difficulty which public health efforts have in getting funding is partly caused by their success. Few people die in massive epidemics any more; water is safe to drink and food is generally safe to eat. This means, in order to justify funding, that public health agencies must trump up minor threats--fried potatoes will cause cancer and kill you!!!!--or find sexy causes that politicians can campaign on ("I fought to put a stop to gun violence through research conducted by these people in white lab coats!"). A similar difficulty faces, for instance, enviormental advocates (Senator Gordon wants to blow up mountains and poison little children!), civil rights campaigners (Al Sharpton, anyone?), and gun-control advocates in Great Britain (who are currently working to ban replicas of pistols and severly restrict BB guns). Success doesn't make these people irrelevant, but it does make them harder to see.

I don't think that violence is an illegitimate thing for public health to study, but the path the medical community has been following is highly politicized and polemical. If The Bloviator and other concerned parties want public health, and most especially public-health approaches to violence and suicide, to get the respect it deserves from Glenn and myself, they need to put a stop to the politicization of medicine. They need to prevent doctors from using their white coats and M.D. credibility to violate my rights. They need to limit doctors' pronouncements to the area of their expertise, and limit "medical opinions" to those which are substantiated by solid science. This is not to say that a doctor isn't entitled to an opinion on gun control; it is to say that his opinion isn't more meaningful because he's a doctor, and he shouldn't act like it is. I'll be frank: I don't have a good action plan to ensure adequate funding for critical public health concerns. I wish I did; I'm sympathetic to the problem and I genuinly want a solution.

But pissing off the NRA and wasting your credibility on political crusades is the worst solution I can think of, and The Bloviator and his fellow public-health fans should repudiate that path in a hurry, whatever their personal opinions on guns.
More on cheap insults from allies: In this post I criticized a Canadian who claimed that George Bush was more dangerous than Saddam. Mark Steyn is doing the same thing, and he's a lot funnier than I am.

UPDATE: My interlocutor over at Armed Liberal quite correctly points out that the U.S.'s allies have been providing security assistance to the U.S. for years. It hasn't been a one way street--even as Schroeder was ramping up his anti-American rhetoric, German police were rounding up terrorists. I've heard wonderful things about Canadian snipers in Afghanistan. But this assistance, great as it is, does not justify cheap insults.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

Left insulting the Right: OK, I'll get off this topic in just a few more posts. Many people, especially Democrats, are offended by this quote:
"[T]he Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people."
-George W. Bush

In context, it isn't nearly as bad as out of context--Bush specifically mentions "good Democrats and good Republicans." But it's still an insult. Fair enough.

Where, then, is the sense of outrage over the oft-repeated accusation that this is a war for oil? It can be summed up in these words:
"George Bush is more concerned about the profits of his cronies in the oil business than the lives of American soldiers."
--Anyone who claims this is a war for oil or otherwise mentions oil and profits in connection with war in Iraq.

I'm not seeing a really huge difference here. Especially because the blood-for-oil claim is so implausible. Who has been pushing sanctions agaisnt Iraq for years? If we wanted their oil, all we need to do is ask and Saddam will be delighted to sell us more, probably at a discount.

Where's the outrage?
(It's times like this I wish I could get my damn comments to work!)
Blowhards: (This is a really long post. If you just want the conclusion, click here.)

UPDATE: Oops, I blew that one badly. I finally made it over to Quick's page for a full read--damn it, he's off the deep end and I can't begin to defend him. He really does mean Daschle and Gephardt. Shit, man did you have to make me look like a total idiot? Oh, wait, I do that fine without any help...well, I won't take this down even though it is largely wrong. I'll leave it out here for your consideration. And I'll read more carefully before writing next time.

This post over at Ted Barlow's has generated an interesting comment discussion, which has gotten me thinking about overheated rhetoric, and the insults which typically fly between Right and Left.

Unsurprisingly, the lefties think that right-wingers sling worse insults; I, the designated annoying conservative in the Barlow house, think that lefties do. It has unfortunately been a bad week for me; lots of idiots on the right mouthing off; not a lot of time for me to find counterexamples from the left. The counterexamples I did find were written off as not coming from sufficiently important sources, and in any case the claim is pretty vague and hard to disprove. Anyone other than Daschle or Gephardt can be written off as "not important enough."

But I was thinking about why it is that each side seems to think that the other side is worse, beyond the obvious circle-the-wagons mentality which rough politics can create. There are several things I thought of, but the most important is this: the insults which are thrown around are typically code words, rather than straight up insults. Not even Ann Coulter, queen of uh, well, something, simply calls someone a "butt head," which truly would be a meaningless insult. What are insults to one side are references and evocations of much deeper arguments to the other. This does not justify or excuse the stupid stuff that gets thrown around. But it does explain why something that deeply offends or shocks one side gets ignored or quickly forgotten by the other.

Let's parse this post from Bill Quick, which upset both Ted and Jeff Cooper.

The left is clueless, suicidal, morally bankrupt, and ethically a contradiction, concerned only with power for the sake of power and, yes, in their lust for a phony "internationalism," deeply and profoundly unpatriotic. They hate the spirit of the Constitution, wish to pick and choose among those few parts of it they like, loathe America, are ashamed to be American (despite all their lies about "loving America, they don't really love this country - they love only their desperate, ugly wish for an America structured to the socialist, statist horror they truly desire), and would destroy the America of the Founders and the Constitution in a moment if they could wave a magic red wand and do so.

To begin with, my first instinct on reading this is to exclude Ted Barlow, and indeed even Tom Daschle from "the left" as described here. That's not a legit thing to do, I know--Quick doesn't do it, why should I? But I do it, automatically, without thinking, because I know who Quick is talking about, and it certainly isn't Ted or Tom (I think--I could be wrong, of course). When some of Ted's commenters refer to "rabid righties," they are excluding me (I think) without thinking about it.
The left is clueless, suicidal, morally bankrupt, and ethically a contradiction...

I know exactly what Quick is saying because I've seen the argument from right-leaning bloggers and pundits a hundred times: Noam Chomsky and Edward Said can't talk about Sept. 11. They want to talk about Pinochet. Anti-war protesters prance about nearly naked wearing suicide-bomber bikinis to show their solidarity with Palistinian terrorists--and fit this description perfectly.
concerned only with power for the sake of power

Well, that's pretty much true of any politician. their lust for a phony "internationalism," deeply and profoundly unpatriotic...

The reference to phony internationalism is really important. Go read this Jonah Goldberg piece. If you get past his flippant style, you will find that getting U.N. approval for war in Iraq may turn out to be deeply IMmoral--yet no one in the pro-U.N. camp has meaningfully answered these issues, which have been around for decades. As for patriotism, if patriotism means "love of country," then the people with the AmeriKKKa signs don't qualify. That, I think anyway, is the sort of thing Quick is referring to.
They hate the spirit of the Constitution, wish to pick and choose among those few parts of it they like...

How does the ACLU count to ten? 1, 1(prenumbras),3,4,5(optional),6,7,8. Of course, the Right has similar problems. There is no doubt that liberals at least dislike the spirit of the Constitution as Bill Quick understands it. There are volumes that could be written (actually, there have been volumes written) on the "spirit of the Constitution." Refer to these if you want to see the argument in full which Quick here makes in an overly abbreviated form.
...loathe America, are ashamed to be American (despite all their lies about "loving America, they don't really love this country - they love only their desperate, ugly wish for an America structured to the socialist, statist horror they truly desire)

Refer to AmeriKKKa, Chomsky, Sontag, etc. above. And, frankly, it cannot be denied that much of the liberal adgenda--even the center-left Democratic adgenda--is socialism lite. Nor can it be denied that the left favors government-oriented solutions to problems; that's a large measure of how we tell "left" from "right." And if the editors of The New Republic were made dictators tomorrow, I would probably be horrified at many of the things they did, though not nearly as horrified as if, say, The Nation were the one to sieze power.

The Conclusion: This is the conclusion to the post immediatly above. If you have the time, read the whole thing.

So the point is not that Quick's post or Coulter's columns are good or meaningful contributions to the debate. They are not. But neither are they simply insults tossed out because the author is motivated by hate, bile or because the author is a cornered weasel. They are abbreviations, placeholders; they serve to tell the faithful "I am making argument #421(c) in response to opposing arguments #117(b-f)." In this way the lazy or busy can pile hundreds of pages of philosopy, political science, opinion research and ideology into a few sentences. (In some cases, of course, they are simply all an ignorant author knows how to write.)

But this means that when I see a stupid, over-the-top paragraph like Quick's above, I don't see Ted Barlow or Anna Quindlen being spit on. I see Daniel Pipes carefully taking Said apart. I see Jonah Goldberg crushing the "moral superiority" of the U.N. I see Eugene Volokh shredding Gary Wills. I can even see the outrageous David Horowitz successfully defeating the even more outrageous Al Sharpton. And, by contrast, when I see a corresponding attack piece on "conservatives," because I don't know or strongly disagree with the arguments behind it, I just see a fool who is too lazy or too dumb to actually engage in debate.

There lies, I think, the essential nature of the partisan hackery behind this debate.
Obligatory post: Who says conservatives don't criticize their own? Jerry Falwell is an idiot.
Bush disappoints me profoundly: The Iraqis put a perfectly good offer on the table, and the White House rejects it without a second glance.
Cheap insults: A commentor (self-identified as Canadian) over at Armed Liberal makes this remark:
"[F]or the rest of the world, the Bush doctrine poses as much, much (sic) more of a security problem than Saddam does. "

To which I replied:

Right. Bush wants to invade Canada, but he won't make it the 51st state because he wants the population as slaves. The ceaselessly annoying Fifth Republic will finally be overthrown, and replaced by a friendly dictator, say, Pat Buchannan, which is no better than the French, and Pat, deserve. Then we must turn our attention to Australian imperialism--do those people really need an ENTIRE continent?

Seriously--what the hell do you mean? The U.S. poses no threat to anyone who does not threaten the U.S., its citizens, and its allies. In analogous case, Armed Liberal, despite being armed, poses no threat to anyone who is not a criminal attacking him or his neighbors. Bush does threaten the "international system," but that's because the "system" mostly consists of people who want to tell the U.S. what to do. You might think Bush unpredictable, but I find his actions fairly easy to predict--but I don't share your faith in Iraq.

Now, you could argue that Saddam does not threaten the U.S.; that's just fine. But you can't pretend that Canada (which has, by the way, enjoyed America's protection for more than 60 years, and has the teeny-tiny army to prove it) is threatened by the Bush Doctrine, unless you know something about Chretien's intentions that we don't. That's just a cheap insult.

Every country acts in its own best interests, as perceived by the leadership of that nation. For you to argue that the U.S. should NOT do so is to impose a double standard. Canada may have "different priorities" than the U.S.--that's fine by me. If you don't want to help, don't. Just don't get in our way.

This isn't the first time I've see someone make this stupid argument: Bush is a cowboy with access to nukes, he must be stopped before he destroys the world. Really, I don't want to just dismiss critics of a potential war in Iraq. I want to take them seriously. But after a while, I get so tired of this kind of garbage, that I lose my interest in the whole issue, and I find it easy to forget that these sorts of statements are probably atypical. The U.S. has been protecting much of the world--From Taiwan to Luxembourg--for upwards of 60 years. Along the way, we've screwed up big time in a few places--no doubt at all about that--but we've done more good than harm in balance. Canada has been a particular beneficiary of our protection, which has allowed it to engage in decades of moral preening about how their marvelous health care and lack of nuclear weapons (memo to Canada: remember the Soviets? It wasn't the terrifying might of your health care system that brought their government down). And this is the thanks we get. Getting called a greater threat than Saddam by residents of a nation we have held as one of our closest friends for more than a century.

I don't expect thanks. After all, we benefit enormously from our relationship with Canada--and Japan, Germany, etc. But not constantly facing baseless insults would sure be nice.
Elections: Armed Liberal has a great post about the irritating problem of gerrymandering.
More on election by litigation: Eugene Volokh reports that the Republicans will likely ask the SCOTUS to revers the Toricelli decision.

My non-partisan advice: put a sock in it, guys. There isn't even a halfway decent Federal issue here; it's a state court pronouncing on state law. The Florida cases (Lord help us) were built on flimsy Federal ground, this case is even worse. Do you believe in federalism, or don't you?

Campaign on the general sleazyness of the Torch; make an issue out of the bad court decision. But don't waste our time and your money going after another bad court decision.
Election by litigaton: John Fund has an interesting piece on the increasing role of litigation in elections. This is not the only area where unelected judges, lawyers, and juries have overstepped their proper role; tobacco and gun lawsuits were, from the very beginning, just attempts to impose taxes and regulations without troubling to consult legislators who could be voted out of office. Now we have elections in which voters are increasingly secondary.

I'm keeping my eye on this to see if it becomes a real trend. Both the election litigation and the bogus product-liability suits are a big worry for anyone who thinks self-government should be preserved against lawyerocracy. Here's hoping it's just a blip that will go away.
Ted Barlow's on a Roll (sort of): First he calls for Kathrine Harris to be taken off the ballot in Florida. I'm no expert in election law, but I agree with Ted here--Toricelli should be on, Harris should be off. What's the point of a "competitive election" if the outcome doesn't matter--because judges ignore and bend the law made by the people elected? And how is a number (like, say, 51) subject to "interpretation"?

On the subject of the tone in Washington, I'm afraid I must disagree. And, since Ted asked for it: you are a partisan hack, Ted. No, really--he cites a couple of indefensible conservative statements and a couple of defensible but over-the-top ones, and claims that partisanship is "ingrained" in the Republican party. Sure--the Left is just a bunch of saints, right? No one ever insults conservatives, or calls them racists, or stupid, or anything like that. No left-wing blogger routinely uses insults. No prominent Democrat would suggest that Saddam is more trustworthy than a Republican president. Nobody named "howard" regularly issues sweeping, unqualified, and unsupported condemnations of all things Right in you comments, Ted.

Seriously, it is just lame, and yes, partisan, to try to blame one side or the other for rancor in Washington. I don't mean this in the sense that we should simply say "both sides are to blame" and move on because it's convenient. I'm saying it beacause it's true. As Ted himself pointed out in relation to media bias, it's easy to cherry-pick a couple of examples and try to generalize. Any attempt to claim one party or "side" is more partisan, or more insulting, or whatever, would call for a truly massive study with hundreds of pages of rules to decide who constituted a "major right-wing pundit" and who was "an 'important' Democratic politician" and whatnot. And in the end, you'd find that the differences between members of a party were much greater than the differences between the averages of the entire party. Over-the-top rhetoric is everywhere.

I hate partisan rancor. I see it from both sides, and it irritates me. I am expecially peeved by the Iraq debate, which seems to have raised the art of knocking down straw men to a new height (so many people have defended McDermott and Bonoir on the grounds that they "have a right to speak out" that I'm going to be sick--nobody suggested they should be arrested for speaking out, OK? We are just excercising *our* right to speak out and criticize their conduct! Oh and their opposition to the war isn't the real issue in the criticism! Their credulity and willingness to insult a Republican gratuitously because of his party are the issues!).

Similar examples abound on both sides. Personally, I find the Left to be worse then the Right--but I'm pretty sure that's because I'm a partisan hack.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Law? What Law?: Remember when I said the judges shouldn't rewrite black letter law just because they think the statute is unfair or improper? Well, evidently the New Jersey Supreme Court disagrees. Their decision is unanimous, but oddly short on argumentation. They simply assert that they want a fair election, and then decide that this requires that Toricelli's name be replaced by someone else. (Via Eugene Volokh)

So now, can either party replace any candidate on shorter-than-statutorially-required notice, simply because that candidate is losing? Are the results of a primary election simply to be ignored if the polls don't look good a month from the general election? Lovely.

Somebody (oddly, I can't seem to find the link) has pointed out that campaign-finance "reform" has added a new wrinkle to this debate. Suppose candidate A has a bad record on the environment, but is popular with pro-enviornment voters because they are unaware of this. Candidate B has a good record, but is unlikely to be elected for ethics reasons. Simply make Candidate A sit out the primary--assuring that B will win. After the 60-day window arrives (during the 60 days before an election, McCain-Feingold forbids "issue" ads by third party special interests, like Greenpeace or the NRA), force B to drop out, and replace with A. Voila! The Sierra Club and Greenpeace CAN'T RUN ADS, and thus A's bad environmental record is likely to remain unknown unless a newspaper wants to make a big deal out of it. Actually, NJ election law already allows this sort of manuvering, and thanks to the NJSC, the legislature won't be able to ban it without having their ban ignored outright.

We conservatives were right--McCain-Feingold really is a pernicious anti-democratic attack on free speech.

UPDATE: Eugene Volokh has more.
OUCH!: Jim McDermott, while accusing Bush of lying to the American people, was lying himself!

Why, I'm shocked, just shocked.

If I were a Democrat, I'd want to strangle this guy. If I were a Republican, I'd buy him airtime and use it as a campaign ad. This ad paid for by People Who Want To Watch The Democrats Teach Gun Safety By Shooting Themselves In The Foot.
I should have known better: Jonah Goldberg over at The Corner pegged this Letter to the Editor as "100% Guaranteed to annoy conservatives," and boy was he right. The writer is responding to conservative complaints that university professors vote overwhelmingly Democratic, and that this bias inevitably seeps into their teaching. The good professor emeritus has the decency help out the conservative complainers by providing a solid example of exactly how illiberal many liberals can be:

In short, universities want people of some depth, subtlety and intelligence. People like that usually vote for the Democrats. So what?

Thank goodness this guy taught physics, and not polysci or English. I think the worries about "liberal academia" are simultaneously well-founded and overblown. On the one hand, it wasn't considered fashionable to be a conservative on my college campus, nor is it fashionable on my current grad-school campus. Liberal (more like leftist, really) bias certainly does creep into the classroom, and can be quite damaging when the professors are as arrogant and closed-minded as this guy. On the other hand, most students don't seem to care much about politics, conservatives aren't really "oppressed," and the dismissiveness demonstrated by this letter, combined with the excessive silliness of many left-wing campus activists, actually makes campus conservatives look pretty good in comparison. I wish that P.C. censorship weren't so common, but given how terribly ineffective it is, it doesn't pose a huge threat.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

The Torch: I haven't followed Robert Toricelli's ethics problems. Generally I don't bother with political scandals because it takes so much effort to wade through the charges and counter-charges and get some kind of understanding. So I don't know if I think he should have run for reelection, or if his ethics issues are important enough to influence me. I don't know anything about his politics, either.

But this much is clear: He was nominated by his party in a perfectly legal primary. He didn't withdraw to be replaced by the statutory 51-day deadline. His decision to withdraw from the race is based entirely on partisan considerations--he knows he probably can't win, and he hopes to be replaced by someone who can.

The current effort by Democrats to circumvent state law and place a new candidate on the ballot is disgraceful. If the Torch couldn't win, they shouldn't have nominated him. And if they only found out he couldn't win after the primary, too bad. There is no Constitutional right to a close election.



Dave Kopel on the legal issues.
Conservatives for PETA: If you pay much attention to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, you're aware that it gives the impression of a bunch of lunatics. They recently tried to get fishing banned in Washington State parks, referring to it as a "violent activity." They once compared the slaughter of animals for mean to the slaughter of Jews by Hitler; one famous quote from a PETA leader has him saying that a human child should be no different than a rat or a pig under the law. Last fall a hoax story claimed that PETA had tried to foil hunters by putting orange jackets on deer, with the predictable result that many more deer were shot. That story was false, but it was entirely plausible. They have a way of shooting themselves in the foot.

That's truly unfortunate, because there are some very real problems with the raising of livestock, whether for meat or for other products, such as fur. There is very real cruelty involved which deserves wider attention; it would be nice if the people highlighting abuses had credibility with the mainstream Americans whose buying habits they hope to change. Matt Labash of the Weekly Standard writes a solid article about his soft spot for PETA despite his meat eating ways. The article is worth your time, wherever you are on the radical vegan/meat & potatoes spectrum. I can't say I agree with much of what he says, but I think most of it deserves attention. One thing, however, irritated me:
Still, though it doesn't happen often, there is always the slight pang of conscience when I stop to consider that the plate of flesh and bone in front of me was once one of God's living, breathing, sentient creatures. It was a creature with a mom, a creature that could be affectionate or hungry or scared or feel pain, a creature that my kid throws his arms around when he encounters it at a state fair. It is a creature who was slaughtered because in creation's hierarchy, it does not enjoy primacy over my appetites.
To live with myself, I cheat, pretending that animal welfare is of great importance to me. I don't hunt...

Labash--and PETA--are way, way off the mark when they take hunting as a sign of unconcern for animal welfare. On the contrary--hunters take full responsiblity for the pain and suffering they inflict. They have to witness it first hand, rather than hiding behind plastic wrap and foam trays. The animals that hunters kill have lived wild, free lives far superior to the miseries Labash describes in factory farms. Hunters deal with the gutting, skinning, and often also the butchering of animals which Labash spares himself by buying meat at supermarkets. Labash takes a cheap shot at Ted Nugent, who wears his bowhunting hobby on his sleeve. Nugent is an easy target, but not so easy as Labash believes. I have much more respect for a man who stalks and kills what he eats than a man who makes snarky comments about hunting while enjoying his factory-farm raised steak. Once again I return to the theme of the tone of debate--it would have been worth Labash's time to call up Nugent and talk to him about why he hunts, or even simply to buy and read a couple chapters of one of Nugent's books.

Labash would have found that Nugent--like many hunters--shares Labash's (and PETA's) concerns about the treatment of animals raised for human consumption. If he were just a little more open-minded, Labash might have learned that Nugent's solution--kill what you eat, so you know for certain it didn't suffer more than necessary--is far more meaningful and far less hypocritical than Labash's solution: just don't think about it.
REALLY Stupid Anti-war Argument: From Steve Lopez at the L.A. Times:
Forget what you've heard.

National polls, some of which suggest 70% of Americans support a war against Iraq, are not to be trusted. Roughly 75% of the readers of this column are opposed, and that many people can't be wrong.

Twice now I've raised questions about the wisdom of such an undertaking, and several hundred people have backed me up.

So who's out of step? Us, or Washington?

You Steve, definitely you. And the statistically illiterate editor who let you get away with publishing this.

The ironic and sad thing is that the rest of his column actually contains some very good, very important anti-war arguments, but he just had to lead with that crap.

Via Best of the Web.
Silly Anti-War Arguments: Jonah Goldberg takes on some of the dumber objections to war in Iraq. There are good reasons to oppose war--but these are not those reasons.
Suing Gun Makers: You may have heard about the lawsuits, filed mostly by cities and states, against gun companies. The suits allege that gun makers have engaged in negligent marketing which has helped criminals to get guns, thus contributing to crime and violence.

Now, you might be able to guess that I think such suits are a terrible idea. If the government doesn't like the marketing practices of gun makers, lawmakers should enact new statutes to further regulate commerce in firearms. Since such laws are politicially difficult to enact, desperate gun controllers have turned to the courts. From a philisophical perspective, this is terribly anti-democratic. If you can't win in the legislature, the appropriate solution is try to change minds, not simply try to bankrupt the companies you don't like.

Now, according to the New York Times, a letter written by the BATF has become an issue in one lawsuit. In the letter, a BATF agent recommends that one particular gun maker, Taurus, begin tracking gun "traces" to see if an unusually high number of "crime guns" come from one particular dealer or distributor, and to refuse to sell to that distributor. There are a number of problems with this approach. Not every gun recovered crimes is traced by law enforcement; it may well be that a particular distributor has a high number of traces simply because the police in that area are aggressive about tracing recovered guns. It is not clear what an "unusually high number" of traces might be. If most gun stores get 0.1% of their guns traced, then a store with 1% would have a rate ten times as high--but that doesn't make them criminals. Tracing is useless if the gun in question turns out to have been reported stolen--one can hardly blame a store owner if his customer's house is burglarized. Taurus does not have the powers of subpoena which the BATF can use--so they can't "look closely at the business practices" of their wholesalers unless those wholesalers want them to.

And, of course, it really isn't Taurus' job to enforce the law anyway. Here's a brainstorm: If the BATF discovers that a dealer has an "unusually high" number of traced crime guns, maybe the BATF should look into that dealer--subpoena records, arrange a sting, or something along those lines. I hear that some police departments are trying this radical new approach: diverting resources from the Division of Writing Letters to Uninvolved Third Parties and putting them towards the Division of Arresting and Prosecuting Criminals.

This quote is priceless: "'One of the ways the companies do this is to basically sell to anyone with a federal firearms license,' said Dennis Henigan, the legal director of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and a co-counsel in the California suits." Uh, yeah. The Federal government issues those licenses, and requires that people who have them--commonly called "FFLs"--comply with extensive regulations. States also pile on additional rules and laws. The whole point of the FFL system is to insure that only honest, law-abiding businesses are permitted to sell guns, and the license is meant as an assurance to wholesalers and customers that one is law-abiding. If Dennis Henigan thinks some FFLs are corrupt (he's probably right, by the way--every group has its bad apples), then he should be badgering the Feds to do something about it, not the suing companies who sell to them. If the BATF wants to force gun makers to play a law-enforcement role, it should lobby for Congressional action with specific, clear requirements, not send out form letters with vague, easy to misunderstand requests. Again: a key principle of American justice is that the law must be clear in advance so that anyone acting in good faith can comply. The BATF's letter fails miserably.

At the end of the day, we can pile on all the rules, regulations, lawsuits, and whatnot we want. To buy cocaine legally in this country, you need to show a legitimate need (by doing medical research, for example). You need a license from the DEA. You need to comply with an complicated regulatory scheme, and keep records of what happens to every last gram of the stuff. You face regular audits backed by the threat of legal action. But that wouldn't stop me from leaving this computer right now and coming back in an hour with hits for all my friends. The same is true with guns and illegal immigration. Getting mad at Merck because some pharmacies have their drugs stolen, or getting mad at Blue Cross because some doctors are too loose with the prescription pad, is a great way to make life hard on people who need prescriptions. It doesn't do a damn thing to stop the crime in question.

P.S.: Why aren't we going after beer companies, whose distributors and dealers may be selling liquor to minors, thus contributing to the drunk-driving problem?
Tone and Courtesy: I really hate it when politicians, bloggers, or pundits on either side of the spectrum forget the rules of debate and decide to get rude and mean. A lot of what I post here is and will be a kind of meta-debate--not so much taking a position as objecting to how others--Maureen Dowd and Hubert Locke, for instance--are distorting the positions of others. I hate it when we are forced to listen to straw-man arguments--"Republicans want to bring back slavery! Democrats are trying to drum up business for abortion doctors!" A little joke now and then, some anger and frustration at the right moment--I can handle that sort of thing. And sometimes your opponents' actions are so divorced from their words that you just have to wonder what they have up their sleeves. But to use insults as a routine part of your argument ("Chickenhawks," say), or to intentionally distort the positions of you opponents--well, that's just lame. Lileks agrees, and is a lot funnier than I am.

And why in heaven's name would you issue death threats against a guy called Armed Liberal?

Monday, September 30, 2002

A wonderful article: from The American Prospect about the D.C. protests, and the far more revolutionary solar-power competition that occurred at the same time, in the same city. Richard Just is evidently my kind of liberal--and that's saying something, let me tell you.
Why I have such contempt for the "international community": and, in particular, the E.U. In response to Robert Mugabe's depredations, the E.U. slapped sanctions on a Zimbabwe. These included a travel ban to E.U. nations for top government officials. So what is Zimbabwe's Trade Minister doing in Brussels? This, in my mind at least, exposes the worthlessness of most (not necessarily all) international organizations and bodies. They strike a wonderful moral pose; but they don't back it up with, you know, action. No follow through at all. That's the U.N. approach to Iraq; that was the U.S.'s approach to Al Queda until Sept. 11. That's basically the E.U.'s approach to all international issues. They seem to think that "international law" is a bunch of vague socialist wishes proving their moral superiority to the dumb Americans; Americans tend to believe that laws are, you know, mandatory, and uh, just maybe, should be enforced. That's one of the reasons the U.S. is so hesitant to sign onto all kinds of well-meaning but useless treaties outlawing racism, sexism, or whatever. We tend to take law seriously, and we aren't so sure we want Robert Mugabe investigating our civil-rights situation. Good intentions aren't good enough.

And, of course, when you don't bother to enforce "international law," the lawbreakers start ignoring it. Making empty threats isn't a good idea--it makes you look weak, stupid, and easy to exploit. But that's what the E.U. excels at.

via Brian Carnell via Instapundit.

P.S. More reasons I have contempt for "international law": One principle of Anglo-American justice is that the law must be clearly written so that anyone can learn in advance whether his proposed action is lawful or unlawful. Another is that laws should be enacted by the representatives of the people who are expected to obey it. A third is that laws should be enforced by independant judges who are divorced from both the law-making function and the police. A fourth is the jury of one's peers. A fifth principle is actually a group of principles known as "due process." International "law" fails on all five counts, being mostly the vague desires of jet-set elites, neither duly enacted or indeed codified in any way, infinitly maleable to suit the ends of these elites.
I hate Haloscan comments! I'll try a new one tomorrow...
Rich Lowry on deterrence, as applied to Iraq. I don't like the concept of deterrence AT ALL. We did it in the Cold War because we had no choice--there was simply no way we could have preemptively defeated the Red Army. That fact cost millions of Europeans their lives and hopes under Soviet tyranny which was little better than the facist tyranny we bled profusely to end. It would have been worth doubling the bloodshed to unseat Stalin, if only that had been possible. It would have enhanced our security, world peace, and the lives of Russian and Eastern European people. Well, today we can preemptively destroy a tyrant who threatens our nation, world peace, and his own people. Let's get to it.

Eugene Volokh also has a piece on deterrence.

UPDATE: Steven Den Beste adds a helpful traffic analogy.
I hope the Devil has a special place for Jim McDermott in Hell: McDermott is my Congressman (I think--they just redrew the districts, and I only lived a couple of blocks from the line, so who knows?). On This Week he said that we should take Saddam at his word when he offers "unfettered" inspections. Not a minute later he implied that Bush is lying in order to push us into war. It would be an insult to naive people to call the first position naive, and I don't think the authors of the dictionary had something this amazing in mind when they wrote the entry for fatuous. The second, "Bush is lying" assertion is mildly offensive without evidence, but not that big of a deal. Indeed, we should be glad that someone is looking critically at what Bush says and not simply taking it all on faith. But taken together they imply that McDermott trusts the Butcher of Bahgdad more than the President of the United States. Bill Clinton hardly did anything but lie, and I hated him for it, but I would never have suggested, or believed, that Saddam was more honest than Clinton.

I watched the whole thing and I couldn't believe it. And the Democrats wonder why some people call them unpatriotic. Unfortunately, this bastard wins his district with 80% of the vote, so "regime change" is unlikely.

Check out Pundit Watch for details.
Blood and Oil: I don't understand the claim that the War on Terrorism, or the proposed war in Iraq, is all about oil. If we had wanted Saddam's oil, we would have taken it in 1991. And Kuwait's and the Saudis', too. But then, this claim is typically made by the same people who claimed that we went into Kosovo for oil, so it shouldn't be taken too seriously.

Still, it is undeniable that at least some aspects of our foreign policy--our cozy relationship with the terrorist-sponsoring, woman-oppressing, oligarchial Saudis, for instance--are dictated by the need to secure a stable oil supply. This upsets a lot of people, who decry our "addiction" or "dependance" on foreign oil.

I don't think most of these people are too clear on exactly what it means to be dependant on oil. I would heartily support someone who, for instance, carried a sign reading "No Blood for Tobacco." After all, if our tobacco supply dried up tomorrow, there'd be a lot of irritable people gaining a lot of weight, but other than that, not much would happen.

Without oil, by contrast, millions of Americans would starve. Think about it. The Teamsters are fond of saying, "If you bought it, a truck brought it." And that truck was powered by diesel. So was the tractor that plowed the field, and the combine that harvested it, and the train that brought the fertilizer to the farm supply store. And, most likely, the vehicle you drove to the store was powered by some kind of petro-product. Your food was likely wrapped in plastic derived from petrochemicals, and is now in a refrigerator replete with plastics and refrigerants. When someone says "the U.S. is dependant on oil," that doesn't mean we get the shakes if we don't get our daily hit. It means that most Americans' food supply totally and completly depends on a stable supply of oil.

Now, it would be nice if this weren't true. It would be great if some alternative existed, and someday, that alternative will undoubtedly exist. Personally, I have great hopes for hydrocarbon fuel cells, which may well have the ability to make solar and wind energy economically realistic. But the answers are not easy, at least for anyone with some knowledge of engineering and an appreciation for the scale of the problem. The writer of a letter to the editor faults Bush for not doing enough to conserve energy. Conservation is a good thing for many reasons, but expecting it to meaningfully reduce our dependance on foreign oil is like trying to reduce greenhouse gasses by holding your breath. We need to cut our energy use by orders of magnitude, not 20%, if we want to stop importing oil. (The people who oppose drilling in ANWR and urge the breaching of the Snake River dams and oppose nuclear power and don't like coal aren't helping out much here.)

I'll try to blog more about energy issues--conservation, taxes, subsidies, etc--in the next couple of days. For now remember these three points:

1) Your life depends on a stable oil supply.

2) In the short to medium term, that isn't going to change, and there isn't anything Bush or anyone else can do about it. Yelling about how corrupt Dick Cheney is only generates CO2, not meaningful solutions. Steven Den Beste, who is a retired engineer, has done a series of posts on alternative energy.

3) Even if we don't starve, oil prices in the $150/barrel range will screw over poor people more than anyone else--they'll lose their jobs in the shrinking economy, they'll face rapid increases in the price of basic necessities, and the collapse of tax revenues will leave no money for welfare programs. If you are left-leaning, you should strongly favor cheap oil because of its role in creating jobs, keeping prices down, and increasing revenue for your favorite redistributive programs.

So a foreign policy--yes, including even a war--to secure oil--and yes, to keep the price down--isn't just important for rich oil company executives. It's important to your life, and in the life of single mothers and struggling factory workers and underpaid janitors throughout the country. Bill Gates can afford economic collapse--I can't.