Friday, October 18, 2002

North Korea vs. Iraq: I am totally at a loss to understand some of the commentary about North Korea's revelation that it has a secret nuclear program inviolation of its 1994 agreement with the U.S.

Some people are asking why we aren't threatening to invade, or conversely, why we don't use diplomacy with Iraq as we are doing with North Korea.

Um...maybe because diplomacy, agreements, and arms inspections were a total fricking failure with North Korea? Maybe because you can't trust dictators to carry out agreements? Maybe because, thanks to bad diplomatic decisions and misplaced trust, we now have to deal with a potentially nuclear-armed loony in the Far East, and we don't want another one in the Middle East?

As to the invasion question, perhaps we should have invaded North Korea in 1994. But they have a huge army, the ability to hit Seoul with chemical weapons, and might well have been backed by the Chinese. Ideally, our tanks would already be in Pyongyang, but that may be simply impossible at this point. Should we avoid ousting Saddam (a possible task) simply because we can't oust Kim Jong Il? Or should we irresponsibly rush to war against a tough enemy in order to have the "moral authority" to take on a relatively weak one? Or should we just give up, sign "agreements" with both countries which neither intends to keep, and hope for the best?

The way I see it, this North Korea revelation strengthens the case for deposing Saddam (rather than going for inspections and agreements), inasmuch as we wish to prevent him from being able to deter us, the way that North Korea is currently able to deter us.
Hostages in Germany: Cnn.com reports that a 16-year-old is holding 4 12-year-olds hostage and is armed with an "automatic weapon." (Probably not--that report comes from a school teacher who was released by the hostage taker). The hostage taker wants $1 million ransom and a getaway car.

Personally, I have always favored the Israeli approach to hostage situations, but probably they'll just wait for the kid to get tired and give up.

UPDATE: Fox News has a more detailed account. Apparently this is all taking place at a "Peace School." Hmmm...looks like this handgun-waving former student didn't do all of his homework.
Darwin in Schools: One of the reasons I'm so uncomfortable calling myself a "conservative" is the hostility expressed by some conservatives to science. Specifically, some people on the Right seem to have adopted an "anything but evolution" approach to biology. Creationism, intelligent design, whatever, just so long as it isn't evolution.

National Review Online, which I respect and trust, has given space to one Pamela Winnick to discuss the controversy. In fairness to NRO and Ms. Winnick, this is a pretty straight report of the controversy in Ohio. But it cuts a little close to home for me. I've seen anti-evolution piece on many otherwise-sensible conservative sites, and it makes me pretty uncomfortable to be anywhere near such people. I sure wish the anti-evolutionists would either put up--with evidence and reason--or shut up.
Voter participation: I have never understood the people who make voter participation a big priority in their lives. If some guy won't trouble himself to vote, why should we trouble ourselves to get him to vote? If he can't find the time to send in his registration, how will he find the time to understand the issues? Do we really want more people in the voting booth who make their decisions based on the sexual attractiveness of the candidates (Hillary is so much hotter than that Lazio guy...)?

Some counties in Washington are offering ballots in languages other than English, because of a Federal law requiring them to do so. Now, I know that the U.S. doesn't have an official language, but is this really a good idea? It seems to me that immigrants ought to consider learning our unofficial language part of their responsiblity in coming to this country. If I moved to Japan or Mexico or the Czech Republic, would I have a right to demand that they print ballots for me in English?

I am not a racist, nativist, or anti-immigration activist. My wife's parents immigrated from Korea; my entire family is composed of immigrants. But my in-laws took the time to learn English well enough to get an MBA from Harvard and to work as a nurse in a VA hospital. When I was 16, I worked at a fast-food joint with a Mexican guy who had two full-time jobs AND an English class. What's wrong with King County voters that they can't put out the same effort? This fits in generally with my belief in assimulation--immigrants who choose the U.S. because of freedom, economic opportunity, etc. have a responsiblity to become Americans, and to adopt at least some of the cultural norms of the country which is giving them this opportunity. There's nothing wrong with reading a newspaper in your native language, and there's a lot right with teaching your children to be bilingual. But immigrants ought to be able to communicate with police and to read proposed laws so that they can fully participate in society and self-government.

Someone who can't understand English can't understand candidates' positions, can't read any op-eds other than the tiny number in their native-language newspaper, can't read referenda, and perhaps most importantly, can't read the Constitution except in translation. Such a person is probably poorly prepared to step into the voting booth, and is in a sense cut off from most of his fellow Americans. It seems foolish to me to actively encourage people to maintain this separation from both society and government, rather than pushing them to overcome the language barrier. It seems especially foolish to do so in the name of "voter participation," as the folks in the above article are doing.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

More on Ballistic Fingerprinting: Steven Milloy weighs in. The really annoying thing about this debate (and many gun-related debates) is that the pro-fingerprinting side simply don't address the criticisms of gun experts.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., announced he would introduce legislation for a national program. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence told the Washington Post that ballistic fingerprinting would have "solved this crime after the first shooting."

"The [sniper] shootings are a perfect example of how valuable complete ballistic fingerprinting would be," said a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

"Doesn't it make sense for us to give law enforcement the tools they need in order to solve such crimes?" asked Sarah Brady of the Brady Campaign.

But we (people who know guns) have pointed out over and over the errors in these statements. Where is the recognition by these well-intentioned advocates that they don't have any clue what they're talking about? Do they even try to understand what we're saying? Do they care at all?
Sniper update: From CNN.com:
The man told authorities he had seen a cream-colored van with a malfunctioning taillight, that he saw a man shouldering a weapon and that the gun involved was an AK-74, a military assault rifle. The shooting happened Monday night outside a Home Depot store in Falls Church, Virginia.

But after further questioning by investigators, the witness admitted he had been inside the store and had not been a witness, CNN has learned.


What a jerk. Isn't there some penalty for lying to police like that?

I'm back to thinking this is a bolt-action rifle that doesn't eject brass. And I STILL want the perpetrator dead.
Does Kim Jong Il work for Bush? How else to explain North Korea's sudden announcement that (Jimmy Carter sponsored) diplomacy and weapons inspections failed spectacularly to prevent them from operating a nuclear weapons program? Is he trying to whip up support for war in Iraq?

Actually, there is another explanation: "Dear Leader" Kim is worried he might be up next for "regime change" and wants to head it off.

I'm getting more hawkish all the time. Jaw-Jaw leads to secret weapons programs; War-War seems to be doing better. Time to give up on naive idealism, folks. Will anyone tell the NYT?
Organic Food: On Monday, the USDA's new regulations come into force, and the word "organic," as applied to food, has a specific government-enforced definition.

So, are the organic farmers celebrating? Not according to Samuel Fromartz. In fact, some of them will be dropping the term "organic" altogether. Why? Gratuitous paperwork and idiotic bureaucratic hassles:
Farmers also chafed at rules that sought to standardize practices that vary by farm or region. Composting guidelines, for example, proved unworkable for some farmers; they required such frequent turnings of piles (to kill potential pathogens) that some actually caught fire.

These rules are expected to be rewritten. But some farmers who had been organic for years, composting safely without this specific regime, were offended at being told to alter their methods, especially when they saw only higher costs as a result.

I can only say one thing: I told you so.
Even More Guns: There comes a time when every pro-gun activist must draw the line clearly between the weapons he thinks should be protected and those he thinks can be banned.

Now is that time for me. My belief in the individual right to posses and carry weapons ("keep and bear arms") flows from my conception of self-defense as the "first law of nature." You have an unquestionable right, by virtue of merely being alive, to defend your life, bodily integrity, and property from criminal assault. As with all rights, the existance of this fundamental right creates ancillary rights--in particular, the right to posses the means to enforce your right. "Freedom of the press" is meaningless if paper and ink are banned. "Freedom of speech" in meaningless if the government institutes a 5-day waiting period and a "fact check" to make sure you don't publish something deemed untrue. Likewise, a right to self-defense is meaningless unless you have the ancillary right to posses tools which will permit you to defend yourself. In determining which tools you have a right to posses, due regard must be given to the tools your attackers will be using. A government monopoly on television is not acceptable even if paper and ink are freely available.

In addition, this right, like all rights, is inherent to individuals, not groups, and not society as a whole. Society does not have the right to take away an individual's right to arms (and, by so doing, the individual's right to self-defense in the face of armed or stronger attackers) without some justification related to that individual's past behavior or mental state. Appeals to the alleged "social cost" of gun ownership are not any more sufficient to justify gun control than appeals to social cost of irresponsible reproduction are sufficient to justfy forced sterilization of persons unable to demonstrate childrearing skills.

In the modern world, realistic self-defense requires a sturdy handgun or rifle, either self-loading or a revolver. Therefore I draw the line between .22 single-shots and hydrogen bombs thus:

Weapons which are useful to my self-defense or the defense of the community against common threats such as crime and riots, and which can be operated by a single man with precision against single or multiple attackers, should be considered the right of every American. Yes, I include select-fire rifles. Exceptions may be made for children, convicted violent felons (but not tax-evaders), the mentally ill, etc. but these exceptions must be tied to provable past behavior on the part of the individuals excepted (or the fact that the individual is a minor, and thus properly deprived of many legal rights). This principle preserves what I consider to be the essential feature of weapons ownership: protection agaisnt crime and tyranny. It also preserves the centrality of the individual in our legal system.

Crew-served weapons, or weapons which are useful only in large tactical formations--tanks, artillery pieces, etc., may (but need not necessarily) be regulated or banned. These weapons are distinguished from ordinary infantry rifles and pistols in that they are not appropriate for individual self-defense or defense of family; their destructive power is too great to avoid innocent casualties even in legitimate self-defense encounters. Grandma can safely off a burgler with her Uzi, but she can't avoid hurting the neighbors if she uses a howitzer or a grenade.

This philosophy does not protect hunting rifles. This is not because I think hunting rifles should be banned, but because hunting is not a right in the same sense that self-defense is a right. In addition, nothing in this philosphy requires the regulation of hunting rifles or tanks, but rather merely allows such regulation if it is considered socially useful. Personally, I do not consider it socially useful.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Wow. I wish I had written this. (Via Steven Den Beste).
Sorry Glenn, but you're wrong and Ted Barlow is right.

The story: allegedly, a couple of PETA protesters, dressed in cow suits, were doused with milk by schoolkids who didn't like their anti-milk message. Glenn says they deserved it because PETA has used similar tactics in the past.

C'mon, now dude, you're a lawyer--can I justify socking some asshole by saying "Well, your Honor, he has been known to punch people in the past!"?

Nope. I think that PETA is mostly composed of jackasses--certainly their public image is one of unmitigated jackassery. And I strongly condemn their violent tactics such as throwing blood on old ladies in fur coats. But their stupid and illegal tactics don't justify stupid and illegal responses.

Even if prior bad acts justified this kind of treatment, our legal and moral system reject group guilt--is their any evidence that the cow-suiters were also blood-throwers? It's one think thing to hunt down and kill al Queda; quite another to assault overzealous but peaceful members of a group associated with violence.

Hey, I thought it was funny, too. But I don't want to see more of it, from any part of the political spectrum.
All guns all the time: The news is reporting that the D.C. sniper is using an AK-74 (74, not 47). This is based on witness accounts. Doubtless the witness identified an AK-47, and the investigators guessed -74 based on the ballistics. The two guns look almost alike; I doubt I could tell them apart without handling them.

Since the blogosphere seems to be confused about this, let me clarify based on my knowledge:

The AK-47 fires a .30 caliber bullet.

The AK-74 is available in the U.S. in two chamberings: a Russian 5.45mm round, and the NATO 5.45mm round, which is identical to the .223 Remington.

This is not America's most common gun, but it isn't hard to find, either. I can think of at least 4 Seattle gun shops that probably have one in stock right now. Any of them could order it.

This is not a particularly good choice of gun for a couple of reasons: it ejects brass a good 30 feet. Unless the killer has a brass catcher, he'd have to stick around for a long time trying to pick up evidence. It is also not especially accurate, although at 100 yards or less it should be good enough. Also, it is substantially more expensive than a cheap bolt-action varminter ($300-$1200, compared to $100 for a used bolt-action). It is distinctive and looks scary, and is thus more likely to arouse the suspicion of neighbors, friends, and law enforcement.

There are several advantages: it is a better weapon for fighting with police or armed citizens attempting to capture the sniper at the scene. If the shooter is al Queda, it is widely available in the sorts of places al Queda likes to train, permitting the shooter to used a familiar weapon. If the shooter is just some nutcase, it permits him to indulge in military fantasies.

I hope they catch this asshole soon. Part of me just wants him to die in a shootout and save the public the cost of a trial. The other part of me is thinking that this guy may know something we need to know. Not terribly charitable thoughts, I know, and I'm glad that I'm not in a position of power in the D.C. area. I would be awfully tempted to abuse it.

UPDATE: It appears that the guns in my local shops may be mislabeled. I have now read that they are probably NOT actual AK-74's or copies, but AK-47's which are chambered for .223 of 5.45 russian. I don't know what the truth is, but I'm quite sure that anyone who could see the difference between a -47 and a -74 could give us a damn good description of the shooter.

UPDATE 2: The "witness" was lying anyway, so who cares?
But, But, But aren't all rights subject to "reasonable" limitations? You can't yell "FIRE" in a crowded theater, right?

Right. But the legal restriction on yelling "FIRE" when the theater is not, in fact, burning is based on the substantial threat of injury and property damage which the insuing stampede would cause. Likewise libel law punishes proven harm to reputation, and inciting a riot is illegal because it makes speech the proximate cause of harm to others. On the other hand, publishing a pamphlet full of racisim is not illegal, even though such a pamphlet might lead some nutjob to set a bomb in a black church.

Likewise, there is no reason the government should not limit backyard shooting ranges in urban areas or demand that hunting rifles in truck gun racks be unloaded. The risk of harm to others in these cases is substantial. The vague risk posed by mere gun possesion is not in the same league.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Thoughts on Gun Ownership: I've been poking around a bit and thinking about gun ownership and society. Though I've been involved in the Gun Control Wars for some time, I just realized something rather striking about the way the issue is argued.

Generally, we have pro-gun advocates on one side, claiming that deterrence and self-defense help reduce crime, or at any rate do not increase it. On the other side, we have the anti-gunners claiming that stricter gun laws and, usually, reductions in the total number of guns in circulation would lower the crime rate.

Partly, this disagreement arises because the parties are talking about different things. I have no doubt that reducing gun ownership among drug dealers would reduce urban violence. I just don't see how bugging hunters and target shooters will accomplish that. The anti-gunners, on the other hand, don't make a very clear distinction between me and an urban gang-banger. We both have handguns; we are both "potential" murderers.

I've known that for a long time. But I realized something else recently: this entire debate has lost its way from the perspective of the traditional American respect for the individual.

Look, there is no doubt that society could be better off if the people who read pornograpy were reading political philosophy instead. Our nation would be better if, instead of the Monday Night Smack Down, our televisions featured literary discussions or well-moderated debates about the Iraq situation. And, in fact, the same bookstores which sell Big Boobs magazine often sell Locke, and by switching the channel one can easily find intelligent commentary rather than greasy guys in speedos. But we make no attempt to force anyone to do one thing rather than another, because how one spends one's free time is an individual choice.

Somehow, in the gun debate, we have forgotten that. I, personally, do not pose any threat to anyone. I, personally, believe that I am safer with a loaded handgun on the nightstand. I, personally, enjoy breaking clay pigeons on weekends. I can see no justification whatsoever for anyone to attempt to deny me the right to make these choices, just as no one can force me to read Hobbes or prevent me from watching "Survivor."

Certainly, some people do pose a threat to others, and should be denied the right to own guns. Certainly, some weapons (think hydrogen bombs) ought not to be in the possesion of individuals, however upstanding they may be. But I can't think of any reason why ordinary gun possesion--whether of hunting rifles, hi-cap handguns, or even a select-fire rifle or two--should be prohibited to me, personally. Nor can I see any reason why I should be forced to beg for permission from the government or register like a sex offender, any more than buyers of The Communist Manifesto are required to do so. (Notice to McCarthyites: my father owns a copy!)

Gun control inverts the presumption of innocence. It attempts to tar millions of people with the guilt of a few thousand. It is collectivist, and attempts to regulate harmless individual behavior in the name of a nebulous and questionable greater good. It imposes penalties on people who have committed no actual crime, and who have caused no harm and threaten no harm to anyone. By imposing prior restraint, gun control flies in the face of much of the American legal tradition.

Some of these observations are not new. But here's what I realized: gun owners have bought the collectivist logic of gun controllers. We are trying to argue that our indiviual choices have positive social consequences. Screw that. I don't know if my guns make my neighbors safer--though I think they probably do. But they make me safer (at least in my judgment--if you disagree, that's fine, but you don't have the right to force your opinion on me), and pose no threat to anyone. Absent actual proof that I, personally, pose a threat to others' safety, the government has no right to take action against me or presume my guilt.

That is justification enough for my right to keep and bear arms.
Why I oppose war with Iraq: Actually, I don't. But I've criticized anti-war arguments so often, I thought it was time to make what I would regard as a good anti-war case. This will serve as a good excercise for me, and make this site unique among the warbloggers (I hope).

To begin with, the war protester must recognize that there are some circumstances under which war would be acceptable, even desirable. These are:

--If Iraq can be convincingly linked to Sept. 11, the U.S.S. Cole, Khobar towers, Bali, etc. (Note that Iraq is quite publically linked to West Bank terrorism, so for some people this might be enough)

--If Iraq can be shown to be a base for Al Queda.

--If Iraq can be shown to be plotting actual terror attacks against the U.S. or our interestes abroad. This point is important. There is nothing wrong, and much right, with going to war to prevent a specific act of terror. Such a concept of preemption is essential to national security. If you were getting death threats, would you wait until the guy was actually in your house to call 911? It is much more difficult to justify war for the preemption of vague, hypothetical threats.

--If Iraq threatens or invades its neighbors.

Now, here's the key point: None of these condidtions has been met.

There is much talk about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. After losing the Gulf War, Iraq agreed to destroy its WMD, and it would be justifiable for the U.S. or the U.N. to use force to hold Iraq to that promise. After all, if surrender agreements are not enforced, there is little point in having them. Furthermore, a WMD-armed Iraq poses a significant threat to its neighbors, U.S. interests, and an unacceptably high risk of mass casualties in a terror attack. Thus we add one more causus belli:

--If Iraq refuses to disarm.

Now, that last point is the key one. It serves as the pricipal justification for Bush's demand that the U.N. act. It might be argued that Iraq has already given us reason to go to war, by refusing to readmit inspectors in 1998. However, our failure to act at that time must serve as a brake on action today. A careful investigation of treaties and agreements since 1945 would probably reveal all sorts of broken promises in most of the nations of the world. We must adopt a sort of statute of limitations priciple, or we will find 20-year-old grudges used as pretexts for war around the world. Thus we must demonstrate anew that Iraq is unwilling to disarm.

Though we certainly should not, as Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA, my district damn him!), "take Saddam at his word," we should not underestimate the power of credible threats. Already a single speech by President Bush has caused rapid reversals in Iraqi policy, and the experience of Afghanistan probably weighs heavily on the mind of senior Iraqi leaders. Foreign policy and anti-terrorism policy in the past has been weak and feckless, encoraging Saddam and other terrorists to think of the United States as limp-wristed and easily frightened. Since Sept. 11, our much stronger responses have given our threats new meaning--perhaps enough meaning to make war itself unnecessary.

The inspectors must go back into Iraq. They must have strong logistical support and the ability to inspect anywhere, anytime, without interference. We must be prepared to go to war at a moment's notice, and we must make it entirely clear to Iraq that we are so prepared. We must show firm resolve if we wish Iraq to comply. Just that show of resolve will probably be enough, however. As long as our threat of war is believed by Saddam, actually going to war will probably prove unnecessary. Saddam does not deserve another chance--but if we given him one, and only one chance, we can avert war while achieving our goal of disarming him.

To be sure, this strategy has risks. Perhaps Iraq is only months away from a nuclear bomb, and inspections will give Saddam the time he needs to finish construction. Perhaps the loss of momentum cause by months of inspections will make our resolve weaker and our threats less credible. Perhaps terrorist leaders are meeting with the Iraqi military right now and a well-placed bomb could kill Saddam, bin Laden, and Arafat all in one blow. But a rush to war also has risks, and very significant ones at that. Peace deserves one last chance.

A final justification for war, advanced by some hawks, is a sort of colonial reorganization of the Middle East into a group of liberal democracies. Such a project, if it could be accomplished, would be a boon to the residents of that area, and to the world, for centuries to come. But it is an immense task, whose scale dwarfs the military regency of Japan to which it is commonly compared. There is no reason to believe the people of the Middle East incapable of governing themselves. But it is doubtful that we could cause them to do so. Occupation by a truly despised enemy is unlikely to result in the occupied adopting the ways of their occupier. Prior to WWII, Germany and Japan had a surprising level of cultural exchange and trade with the United States; large numbers of Japanese and German emigres were already living there, western dress, food, and values were not regarded as utterly foreign (Japan was stronly pro-Western during the Meji restoration, in the latter half of the 19th century), successful industrialization and homegrown economic innovation were features of both societies, and the visceral hatred of Americans so prominent on the Arab street was not a feature of either before the war. The differences were great enough that such adventurism is dangerous and should not be attempted.

There you have it. I disagree with much of what I say here, but at least I'm trying harder to think up something new that Noam Chomsky or Robert Fisk.

Monday, October 14, 2002

A wonderful quote: Steven Den Beste captures beautifully what I rambled on about below:
There are many who believe that the kind of peace and freedom that we enjoy is the natural state of the human race, the default to which all will return if only they could somehow convince us all to disband our armies and stop fighting. But the natural state for humans is barbarism, cruelty, violence and death; our peace and prosperity is an artificial bubble which must actively be maintained and defended at all times. If we cease to be vigilant it will vanish.

Bingo. We have it easy, which permits us the luxury of indulging in nonsensical theorizing without consequences. Transforming such idle theory into practice is a recipie for disaster.
Nobel, Guns, and why I became a "conservative": So Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize. All I can say is, at least it wasn't the U.N. I'm actually going to refrain from judging the merits of this case--maybe he deserved it, maybe he didn't--but I will say that it was entirely predictable. I don't mean that I won a huge pile of money by betting that Carter would win, I mean that Carter (and the U.N.) is exactly the sort of guy who would will the N.P.P. these days. The circumstances surrounding this particular case, along with a remark which appeared in Armed Liberal's comments, served as a reminder why I became a "conservative."

Now, I want to be very careful in how I say this. I've been complaining about liberal bloggers bashing conservatives, and I want to avoid simply doing the reverse. Still, I called myself a liberal, or a moderate, for years, and I called myself a libertarian for a while after that. I don't think I used the c-word until this year. I still don't use it in an entirely unqualified way. I've been chewing on this all week while I couldn't blog, and today I have two perfect quotes to illustrate what I have been thinking about.

Here's what the Seattle P-I (the "liberal" paper here) said in an editorial:
Former President Jimmy Carter, the Nobel Committee says, "has stood by the principles that conflicts must as far as possible be resolved through mediation and international cooperation based on international law, respect for human rights and economic development."

Such a philosophy seems quaint and nostalgic as the United States pushes for military action against Iraq. The comparison may have been quite intentional, according to Gunnar Berge, Nobel Committee chairman, who said Friday that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Carter "should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken. It's a kick in the leg to all that follow the same line as the United States."

First of all, Berge's comments--and the "quaint and nostalgic" line from the editorialists--are frankly an insult directed at Bush and his supporters. Apparently Republicans don't believe in mediation, cooperation, human rights, or economic development. Oh really? I don't suppose it's possible, just maybe, that the Iraq situation has gone "as far as possible" with diplomacy? Does the Nobel Prize committee see any connection between Bush's saber rattling and the sudden friendliness of the Iraqis to international arms inspectors? Just a coincidence, right?

Now here's the quote from one of Armed Liberal's critics (UPDATE: the author if this quote says he isn't a critic at all, but simply a guy trying to explain the thinking of both sides on their own terms.):
Guns are tools for doing harm to people, but outside of video fantasies, someone carrying a firearm is highly unlikely to use it during any given day -- or year. What makes the gun so controversial is that the gun carrier is sending a message: 'I think we live in a violent world, where we might be attacked at any time, and if it happens, I'm going to deal out some violence too.'

The principled non-carrier is also sending a message: 'I think we may live in a society where violence could occur at any moment, but I refuse to be part of the culture of violence. By refusing in advance to prepare for violence, I will help stamp it out.'

In short, one says "I'm dangerous, watch out for me,", the other "Give peace a chance." What's really at stake is a question of how people ought to live.

Can you see Einstein hiding behind this idea? "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." The logical extension of this belief is that police should be unarmed. No pistols, certainly. But no batons and no pepper spray either, I'd think, since those are tools of violence. After all, if it is immoral for you to use violence to defend yourself, it is surely immoral for you to hire someone to use violence on your behalf. You can't get out of a murder charge by paying someone else to pull the trigger; self-defense is no more moral if the police do it for you. Let's all just be nice to each other.

Can you guess how I feel about this idea? Let's just put it this way: try to rape my wife, and she'll make sure you never rape anyone ever again. Personally, I think that's better than calling the neighborhood together to produce Neighboorhood Resolution #324(b) declaring rapists to be in violation of international law. If a little unilateral action on her part stops a crime, so be it.

These two beliefs--eschewing violence in the face of any and all threats--are basically the same thing. The philosophy behind the Nobel Prize this year seems to be gun control writ large. And, without wishing to smear lots of intellegent people or gloss over nuances, these beliefs are both "liberal," in the sense that the form part of a left wing/progressive/Democratic party worldview and agenda. I truly can't understand how people can hold these views, and since the people who hold them don't seem to want to explain or refine them in the face of criticism, I can't identify with them in any meaningful way.

These two belifs are absolutly batty. Really, how can you stamp out violence by presenting yourself as the perfect victim? Do you really think that the reason muggers attack people is that some of those people are armed? Huh? And what's with calling gun owners (and, of course, martial artists, police officers, women who take self-defense classes, and security guards) part of a "culture of violence"? I would say that concealed carry, and karate classes, and armed bank guards, are all responses to a culture of violence which they do not create. Certainly, the rule of law (and a culture of respect for life) is a more reliable protector of human life than simply passing out guns for free. But the rule of law is maintained by the threat of force. Commit a crime and, if you survive your victim's defenses, men with guns will forcibly stuff you into a little room and make you stay there for a long time. Self-defense is part of a culture which respects life--specifically, innocent life--and is willing to protect it against aggression. Allowing yourself to be killed or maimed by an attacker is not merely a private choice--in declining to resist and failing to kill or capture your attacker you place others at risk of attack. To borrow Kant's technique for evaluating morality: if everyone did it, the result would be barbarism, therefore resistance to attack is a moral imperative. "Giving peace a chance" is not only suicidal in this context, it is an immoral abdication of your duty to your fellow citizens. (Thanks to Jeff Snyder. Go read his piece. Now.)

Turning to the field of international relations, we find the same mentality at work. We must use diplomacy to thwart Saddam Hussein. The threats of unilateral action which Bush is making are immoral. But wait just a moment: how much did diplomacy get us between 1998 and 2002? For that matter, how much did diplomacy get us from 1991 forward? Zilch. The U.S. doesn't threated military action when it negotiates with Japan over trade rules and tariffs. The U.S. has never attempted to militarily overthrow the WTO. This is the case because Japan, and the nations of the WTO, generally negotiate in good faith, and generally respect the rule of international "law," at least to the extent that they don't go around invading neighbors or refusing to respect agreements whicht they have made. In like manner, I don't need to shoot my neighbors if they play their stereos too loud; I can ask them to turn it down.

In the extreme case of recalitrant stereo players, I call the police to invoke the noise ordinace. The threat which the police represent to my neigbors--force, and prison or fines--gives my polite request for quiet real meaning. The presence of a real threat makes diplomatic negotiation possible: I can accept noise at certain times of day, or on one day each month, in exchange for amicable relations and less hassle than the police would involve. But I also have a trump card should I need to play it. In a city with no police, or with police too busy to take noise complaints, I just have to live with loud neighbors, or use force myself.

Well, Saddam has been able to get away with playing games because no one has wanted to call the police. He knew for years that there was no chance of meaningful military action against him, so he ignored the piles of paperwork which the U.N. produced against him. Now that Bush is waving a gun in his face, he has had a change of heart. It may well be that the credible threat of war which Bush is presenting will make arms inspections possible--and yet we are forced to listen to endless complaints about how horrible Bush is for actually getting results, and how wonderful the U.N. is for dithering without effect for years. Just as few police officers ever need to draw their guns, war may not be neccessary in Iraq, or in most trouble spots in the world. But the credible threat of war, like a holstered sidearm, is essential for keeping the peace. Bush is threatening war not out of a desire to be Ceasar or Hitler, but because diplomacy has failed. Einstein was a brilliant physicist (I'm a physicist, so I'm deeply indebted to his discoveries) but he was flat wrong about war: you can't prevent war unless you are well prepared for it. Unilateral disarmarment--whether by literal distruction of weapons or simply by refusing to ever use them--is a dumb idea which invites violence because weak victims are attractive to thugs.

In these two quotes lies the essence what drove me from liberalism to conservativism. I am not a conservative because I'm a racist, because I enjoy pollution, because I think coal miners deserve to die in accidents, because I think poor people deserve to starve to death, or because I think war is wonderful and I want as many wars as possible to feed my twisted imagination. I share Gunnar Berge's belief that diplomacy is essential and that war should be a last resort. I share Greenpeace's love of the woods and water, and Martin Luther King's thirst for justice. I share Sarah Brady's abhorrence of violence and the ACLU's passion for freedom. I believe in charity and compassion for the poor and oppressed. But on a host of issues--gun control, Social Security, the environment, workplace safety, civil rights, I find the "liberal" arguments--as advanced by elected officials like Ted Kennedy, by NGOs like the Sierra Club, and by well-known pundits like Helen Thomas--to be rooted in fantasy and magical thinking. In a perfect world, no one would need to use a gun to defend themselves. Therefore, we must outlaw self-defense. In a perfect world, humans would have no impact on the natural enviorment, and would eat organic foods. Therefore, we must battle pesticides and fertilizer while simultaneously railing against deforestation which fertilizer makes unnecssary. In a perfect world, no one would be poor. Therefore, we must use the power of the federal government to give the poor money, and accuse anyone who thinks charity should be voluntary of wanting to throw children into the street. In a perfect world, Saddam would be a rational actor who negotiates in good faith. Therefore, we must pretend he is exactly what he most certainly is not. The U.N. is the "Parliament of Man" which somehow expresses the will of the world's people, rather than the self-interest of 190 governments, most of them dictatorial. I am a conservative because it appears that being a liberal requires a suspension of disbelief more extreme than the average James Bond flick.

Now, that last paragraph is more than a little bit unfair, and I could easily be accused of smearing liberals indiscriminatly. That's not what I'm trying to do here. Part of the problem is how we identify ourselves. During the debate two weeks ago about liberals and conservatives smearing each other, a number of people said, "Well, when we say 'conservatives do X' of course we didn't mean you, Rob." I don't doubt that they meant it. Likewise, I don't want to lump all of the good liberals I've met blogging in with Michael Moore and Maureen Dowd. I also suspect that a good number of people who agree with me on 90% of these issues would say that I'm "not really conservative" just as I would say they "aren't really liberal."

So, partly, what we all need to do is to get beyond partisan labels. But more important than that is to begin cricizing our own side. Earlier I said that the D.C. sniper shootings don't make a good case for concealed carry of handguns. I stand by that statement. I support concealed carry--but I think that people using this sniper to make the pro-gun argument are wrong. I'll do another: I think Ann Coulter is a fool. She can be enertaining--just like Moore, for instance--but she contributes nothing meaningful to the debate other than laughs for people who agree with her. And another: conservatives' arguments against gay marriage are lame and don't hold up when compared to the needs of real gay people in our society. Another: Dick Armey is a priceless nitwit with his "liberal Jews" comment. I'd like to see more conservatives taking time to criticize this sort of thing publically.

I would also like to see a liberal explaining why the Democrats' Social Security flash video is wrong. There are about 10 different ways to point it out, evening ignoring the Bush-as-murderer smear. I'd like to see someone explain why it matters that Greenpeace lies so often. I'd like to see a liberal explain when, exactly, life does begin. I'd like to see a liberal who understands the importance of healthy small business in creating jobs, and who can explain to other liberals why ergonomics rules imposed by the feds might not be a good idea. I'd like to see a liberal organic-food activist talk intelligently about crop yields and toxicology, or at least a liberal blogger explain why the outlandish theories of the anti-GMO people don't hold scientific water. I'd like to see a liberal who either presents credible evidence of the suppression of civil liberties or points out that the more paranoid fantasies of Ashcroft-as-jackbooted-thug don't seem to be materializing.

What liberalism needs today--in addition to leaders with some spine and less emphasis on polls--is to rediscover its roots in making life better for real people rather than abstract theorizing. It needs to step back and start responding to the changes of the last 40 years, rather than making the same arguments again and again, as though '30s union-busting and '50s Jim Crow were current, pressing problems. Again, the Iraq debate provides a constructive example: the "debate" consisted of Democrats asking "questions," followed by Republicans responding with answers, followed by Democrats repeating themselves several more times without variation. One could be forgiven for thinking the Dems were either deaf or too stupid to understand what was being said. This is no to say that no one had a good arguments against the war. But insofar as those arguments were heard in Congress, no one really made an effort to refine them when conservatives started responding, or to respond to pro-war arguments with anything more sophisticated than "I don't agree." Frankly, an honest disagreement even without argument would have been preferable to the vacillating crap we got. (In fairness, the Bush tax cut saw the situation reversed. And both sides support farm subsidies without any debate.)

So I find myself, somewhat surprised, in the "conservative" camp, simply because I think that results matter more than intentions, and reality--which looks damn good, by the way, on just about every front which matters to liberals--more than grossly outdated theory. I didn't mean to end up here, and I didn't think coming in that it would happen. And, of course, I may move on in time.
More on ballistic fingerprinting: Armed Liberal, a pretty sensible guy, suggests that perhaps a third-party ballistic fingerprinting database would mitigate the concerns of gun owners regarding registration while giving the police a potentially valuable tool. I say: no way. Look, the NRA cannot and will not violate the law--even a law which the membership considers illegitimate. That would cost them their non-profit status and 100% of their influence in Washington. If Congress demands that the records be turned over, the NRA will turn over the records. If Congress makes it a crime to destroy the database, the NRA will not destroy the database. If some survivalists try to avoid the law by running a wildcat gun registry, the FBI will hack their way in, or infiltrate with moles, or simply decline to renew the registry's certification. Any registration business with be just that: a business, and will place its continued survival and revenues above the needs of its customers. Great service and the trust of your customers doesn't mean anything if the government just shut you down. And I'd bet all my guns that the government would demand that an out-of-business private registry turn their records over to the government. That, after all, is exactly what they require gun stores going out of business to do with the Form 4473's.

That's just the paranoid ranting part. Even worse is the cost of this scheme. Millions of dollars will be spent to fingerprint and store the information. What good will it do? As I pointed out below, anyone can alter a gun to change the fingerprint. Proper bullet selection will minimize the chance of an identifiable bullet being recovered. A black market will spring up in "unfingerprinted" guns. Burglary victims will wake up with the SWAT team in their house, only to point out that the gun used in the most recent shooting was stolen from their home two years ago. So we spend millions of dollars and get what? A big fat goose egg. A.L., wouldn't you rather spend that money on hospitals, or police officers, or schools, or something?

I don't oppose gun control because I want kids to get shot. I oppose it because it's useless.