Saturday, December 07, 2002

Marriage: Steven Den Beste writes:
I think that our marriage laws are still archaic, for one thing. I believe that any group of people who truly love each other should be permitted to legally marry. I favor gay marriage, and I don't see any good reason to outlaw polygamy, or polyandry either.

This throwaway comment also generated a follow-up post, in which Den Beste acknowledged that polygamy might well lead to individual misery, but that anything that doesn't cause society collective harm is none of society's business.

Fair enough--I agree with the generally libertarian principle at work here. But I should point out that nothing is stopping Den Beste from marrying another man, or several other men, or several other men and several women, plus two dogs and a goat (although animal cruelty laws might have something to say about marital activities with the dogs and goat). That is, if he can find someone from the Church of Atheism or whatever organization might bless such a union to do the blessing, no law prevents it. Oh, there are a few places where sodomy, fornication, and adultery are actually illegal, but such laws wouldn't be likely to survive a court challenge. The freedom which Den Beste demands already exists.

What homosexuals and polyamorists can't do is get the State to bless their union with a marriage certificate. And there's nothing fundamentally philosophically wrong with that. For a marriage certificate is not an entitlement or a grant of special rights unavailable to unmarried members of society, it is a contract which grants certain specific rights and imposes certain specific obligations on the persons getting married. It also alters their obligations to and relationship with the State and with others with whom they form contracts. In particular, a marriage certificate alters the relationship of two people with regards to property ownership, and alters their relationship with the state with regards to taxation. From a legal point of view, marriage has nothing at all to do with love, fidelity (except insofar as infidelity is a kind of breach of contract), childrearing, sex, or happiness. It has to do with who inherits what, what the marginal tax rates of the married couple is, and who has the right to make medical decisions for those in a coma.

From this perspective, civil marriage does not exist to unite people who "truly love each other," indeed, it isn't clear how the State would determine such a thing, or why on Earth a libertarian thinker like Den Beste would want it to try. It exists to promote specific public-policy goals, e.g., encourage (but not guarantee) that children will be raised in a two-parent household (which will reduce their tendency to become criminals), promote public health by discouraging disease-spreading promiscuity, and permit individuals to artificially grant the person of their choice status as "next of kin" in favor of blood relatives for a variety of legal purposes.

For my part, I favor gay marriage as I believe it advances the goal of encouraging fidelity and offers considerable benefit to those who want medical and financial decisions to be made by their romantic partner rather than parents or siblings. I see no harm and lots of benefit to both individuals and society in it. However, it is the proponents of gay marriage who have an obligation to argue that creating a new provision in the marriage law benefits society; they cannot simply sit back and chant "equal rights" because marriage isn't a right inherent to our humanity (such as freedom of conscience or self-defense), it's a privilege granted because it's good public policy.

I'm a lot less certain about polygamy; it's hard for me to see the benefit to society or even to individuals. The web of competing property interests seems to be a sure-fire recipe for disaster. How would "joint (several?) tenancy with right of survivorship" apply to 6 lovers? Would 5 of them be required to divorce the sixth, or would a majority vote (3-2) be enough? Could person A marry both person B and person C, without B being married to C? If so, how would the property be divided up in the event of a divorce? Half to A, half to B, half to C?

I don't support prosecuting a guy who has several women living in his home as his "wives," and if that's what's happening, we should put a stop to it. But I can't really imagine a good way to sanction multiple-partner marriages in the same way we could easily sanction gay marriage.

Den Beste is a smart guy; I don't think he thought this all the way through. And of course I could be wrong in believing that no one would be prosecuted for living in a big house and sleeping with everyone there.
The Gentleman from Mississippi is a fucking idiot: Trent Lott:
Speaking Thursday at a 100th birthday party and retirement celebration for Sen. Thurmond (R-S.C.) in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Lott said, "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

Right. If only we'd kept the Negros from invading our schools, marrying our daughters, and advising our presidents, we wouldn't be facing this god-damn Social Security insolvency problem. AND we'd still have the WTC.

Let's make this a web-wide chant: REsign! REsign! REsign!

(Via Armed Liberal.)

UPDATE: Lott's from Mississippi, not SC. It's Thurmond whose from SC. Error corrected.

Friday, December 06, 2002

Religion in politics: The 2000 election raised many questions about the role of religion in public life, what with a conservative Jew and an born-again Christian in the race. The "Religious Right" is the most common bogeyman for those who object to religion in politics, but increasingly conservatives are getting into the game by accusing the environmental movement, among others, of being a quasi-religious faith rather than a serious public-policy movement. There is some substantial merit in that accusation, but as I pointed out before, that doesn't make them wrong. Motivations are less important than merit.

I judge the merit of a law by three principal measures:

1) Does it aim to achieve some public good?
2) Does it actually achieve that good?
3) Is it cost effective, that is, is the good worth the price, in money, freedom, or whatever the costs might be?

Frankly, for most public projects, if you can get 1) and 2), you're way ahead of the game, and 3) is nothing but gravy for policy wonks and beancounters.

Oddly, you will find that almost all laws and policies pass test 1). I'm staunchly opposed to both gun control and government-mandated charity, but that's largely because I think they fail miserably on test 2), and therefore also on test 3). Reducing crime and poverty seem like worthy goals to me. Frankly, I think I can agree with 90% of the goals of the most loony left San Franscisco flower child--though we would differ rather sharply on the means.

Where you need to watch out for religion in politcs, though, is when people start talking about "values." Such people--be they Bible-thumping Baptists or tree-sitting anti-logging animists--are not interested in using law as an instrument for promoting the general welfare. They seek to use the law for expression and promotions of the nation's virtue (which, of course, they define). Thus it becomes important to all kinds of faith-filled folks that symbolic prohibitions and mandates become statute, both as a very public expression of their faith and as a means to forcibly convert.

All kinds of public policy--good and bad--are cast in terms of an apocalyptic good-vs.-evil struggle, as (for instance) the Knights of Compassion struggle against the Dark Forces of Republicanism, or the Heros of Free Markets slay the Democratic Dragon. Really--I'm not kidding. Once you start looking for religion in politics, you will quickly find that it is literally everywhere. As a sociological and political-science matter, this may be inevitable, but from where I sit, it looks a lot more dangerous than the girlishly giggly Pat Roberson.

Exhibit A for my point is Canada's current gun-control debate, which I've mentioned before. The short version: Canada has required that every gun in the country be registered with the central government. Parliament was told that this would cost taxpayers $2 million after license fees were collected; the current cost is roughly $1 billion (Canadian, but still!) and climbing, with an annual operating cost running over $100 million. In some areas, non-compliance is reported to run as high a 40%; any attempt to enforce this law in those areas will be staggeringly expensive, even assuming the non-compliers don't just start shooting the bastards.

Plugging this into my three-part law evaluator, we can only presume that the purpose of this boondoggle was to reduce violence; thus it passes test 1). Whether it has actually reduced crime is unclear; I doubt it very much. Surely, however, it fails test 3)--for a billion bucks you can hire a lot of cops and build a lot of jail cells. Or you could overhaul a good-sized school system, if that's your preferred approach to crime control. I'm not even counting the cost to freedom and cost in respect for the legitimacy of government which comes from treating duck hunters like sex offenders; those are both substantial as well.

Naturally, the guy behind the law, Allen Rock, is coming under attack.
His aides were calling journalists all day, saying Mr. Rock would welcome a chance to defend himself against the wide array of people he believes is out to undermine him -- from the gun lobby to the Opposition, from the U.S. "gun culture" to his Liberal colleagues.

"The Alliance party in particular, but the gun lobby in general, is trying to use this as an occasion to reopen the debate that they lost seven years ago," Mr. Rock said yesterday, in an interview at his Parliament Hill office. "And I can also tell you that the law we adopted in 1995 really reflects what Canadians want to see -- it reflects Canadian values, it reflects the decision we've made about the kind of country we want, it's important in that respect. I'm hearing the same arguments that failed in 1995."

Sheila Fraser, the Auditor-General, renders verdicts on value for money, he said, but she does not pronounce on values in general. And gun control is an important Liberal -- and Canadian -- value, he argued.

I like the claim that the U.S. "gun culture" is out to undermine Mr. Rock. As the unofficial spokesman for the gun culture, let me say this: we don't give a rat's ass about you so long as you don't cross the border to bother us. The only action we'll take to "undermine" you will be to send boxes of ammo to our brothers to the north if they decide they've had enough of you.

What is most interesting though, is his claim that gun control is a "Canadian value." Apparently having the serial number and address of the owner of every O/U shotgun in a government computer is as dear to Canadian hearts as, say, equality before the law is to American hearts. I find that more than a little weird. But what we are seeing here is the expression of religious faith--Mr. Rock believes, as a matter of canonical principle, that guns must be registered. Hence any debate is not merely unnecessary, but an affront to Canada's honor, much as a debate about whether or not to ship black people "back" to Africa is out of bounds for Americans. Just as Americans recoil before the notion of racial clensing, Canadians should recoil in horror before the prospect of having gun laws remotely like America's.

Note well this sentence: "The Alliance party in particular, but the gun lobby in general, is trying to use this as an occasion to reopen the debate that they lost seven years ago." It would seem to me that the release of an auditor's report showing that a particular program--any program--was 5000% over budget would be the perfect moment to reopen the debate on the merits of a policy. But no. Since, in Mr. Rock's mind, the goal is not crime control, but the expression of national virtue, cost and effectiveness are not even on the radar; the policy achieves its end merely by existing, and to discontinue it, whatever the reason, would be heresy. Repeal would mean, not more murders, but the end of "the kind of country we want."

Apparently that kind of country likes to spend lots of money merely to prove it isn't the U.S. If that accurately represents Canadian values, then Canadian values are as pathetic as they come.

I say, let's keep religion--including weird modern secular religions--the hell out of the political process. Law isn't about proving how pious you are, it's about making the best choices for everyone in the country.
We need a new prize: The world has lots of prestigious prizes, like the Nobels, the Wolf Prizes, and the European Award for Excellence in Concrete.

We need a new one, however. Consider this priest:
Three women testified that Fr Meffan had come to their dormitory or summoned them to his rectory office when they were teenagers [and studying to be nuns], told them to undress and persuaded them to stroke and kiss his genitals and perform other sexual acts short of intercourse, telling them to imagine making love with Christ.

Fr Meffan, now 73, has not apologised. "I was trying to get them to love Christ even more intimately and even more closely," he told the Boston Globe. "To me they were just wonderful, wonderful young people. It was a very beautiful, I thought, beautiful, spiritual relationship that was physical and sexual."

(Note that nuns are sometimes referred to as "brides of Christ," and evidently this guy took that idea quite literally--come suck Christ's dick, honey. Then make His dinner and start His laundry.)

Now, guys, let's all be honest. We like sex, preferably with young, beautiful women. Most of us keep our hands off of teenagers for moral and legal reasons, but when we try to get sex--from our girlfriends, wives, sluttily-dressed strangers in bars, etc.--no one is at all surprised. Nor does anyone bother to enquire into our motivations--we like it, and that's enough justification for most of us.

Well, this priest deserves an award for his awesome capacity of rationalization. Never have I witnessed someone so amazingly self-deluded. He wasn't exploiting his position of power to get sexual favors from naive and powerless girls, he was helping them become more religious! Naturally he didn't do it because he liked how it felt to grope young, attractive, and evidently submissive females--he made the tremendous sacrifice of his bodily privacy for the benefit of their religious education. I'm sure they also thought that having their breasts fondled by the creepy old guy with the cold hands was part of a "beautiful, spiritual relationship" with Jesus. That level of denial deserves some kind of recognition, don't you think?

Perhaps the ATLA can endow a new prize: The Robert Torricelli Prize for Dissembling and Rationalization. Comes complete with a mild slap on the wrist and an appointment to a position supervising small children.

I'm just praying that on Judgement Day, I get to stand behind this guy in line. Assuming that Jesus doesn't share Clinton's views on the "non-sexishness" of oral sex--and I suspect he doesn't--Meffan's act would be one of the easiest in history to follow. Hell, line up the entire Boston Archdiocese in front of me--suddenly taking the Lord's name in vain doesn't seem so bad.
Democrats and War in Iraq: As promised, I tracked down some sources regarding Democrat behavior in the Iraq debate, in response to Jeff Cooper's claim that the Democrats were simply misunderstood. It seems to me that Carl Levin was the chief U.N. voluptuary (I love that word, with the sordid implication of sexual arousal at the mere mention of the Twenty Second Session of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum). Here he is, saying "I believe that Congress should support a request to the United Nations and set a deadline...We ought to speak with one voice urging the U.N. to act." Of course, if the U.N. ever actually acted, we wouldn't be in this mess. I guess I can see how a guy with this mentality would urge you to dial 911 instead of dialing, say, 1911. 3 AM, the Levin home: "Daddy, there's a man breaking my bedroom window! Stop him!" "Pipe down, junior, and stop urging such an unsophisticated, unilateral approach. I believe that we as a family must speak with one voice in urging the criminal justice system to act."

Let's just say that I favor unilateral approaches in dealing with burglers and muggers, as well as international outlaws.

More seriously, I have no problem with the general principle of international involvement, and I think Bush was probably right to go to the U.N. and ask for approval (probably, because I think the U.N. is roughly the international equivalent of a jury composed of theives and murderers, and I don't trust them any more than I trust such a jury to convict a burgler). But here's Levin doing something more than just talk:
Supporters of the White House-backed measure Thursday turned back an amendment by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, that would have limited U.S. military action to enforcing a new U.N. resolution to eliminate Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs. If the United Nations did not act, Bush could seek a second vote to move against Iraq without U.N. support.

But if Iraq is actually a threat, then why require two trips to Congress, with two chances for anti-war obstructionists to stonewall? It's fine with me if the gentleman from Michigan doesn't think Iraq is a threat--I disagree, but at least that's honest--but why in hell should we have two debates about the same thing? This looks a lot like surrendering the initiative to the U.N.

Two more articles with similar stuff from Levin: here and here.

I would also like to note that all four of these pieces come from after Sept. 12, when Bush spoke at the U.N. and declared that the U.S. would "work with the U.N.S.C.for the necessary resolutions," which makes any Democratic whining about U.N. involvement entirely superfluous--UNLESS they had something other than mere "involvement" (something like "asking mommy U.N. for permission") in mind.

Perhaps I've misunderstood Levin here, and perhaps all of the pro-U.N. harping I recall from the debate really was as anodyne as Jeff makes it out. But in that case the Dem's have a very serious problem with their packaging and clarity, because I came away with the exact impression that Jeff is trying to refute.

UPDATE: Of course, it's not at all fair to take Carl Levin as the spokesman for the entire Democratic party. We'll throw in Robert C. Byrd, too (he makes a couple of cameos to say that the US is a nation that "believes in human rights," which he somehow turns into a reason NOT to kill Saddam Hussein). At some point, though, if no one else is stepping forward to dispute those two (and Daschle laid about as low as you can for a guy in elected office), it isn't crazy to start assuming they speak for their more electorally threatened fellow Dems. But my general point is this: since Bush was already working with the U.N., why even bring it up?

And why do we conflate "working with other nations" (almost always a good idea) with "working with the U.N.," (almost always a waste of time and energy) anyway? Wait, never mind, we're talking about the party that confuses "spending huge piles of taxpayer money on anti-poverty programs" with "helping poor people." (And "trust fund" with "pile of IOUs we wrote to ourselves.")

Someday I'll do a similar hypocrisy list for the Republicans, too.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

OK, one more post: A while back, I started gathering examples of "gun bigots," that is, people who are prejudiced against gun owners. You'll find otherwise responsible people saying some pretty outrageous things about gun owners, things they would never say about any other group outside of, perhaps, serial child rapists.

BoTW points to this article about a California county which seeks to ban gun shows on county property. I think that a stupid enough thing to be doing, but check out this quote: "[Board of Supervisor's President Mike] Nevin said the gun shows bring large crowds of people interested in guns together in one place and that is inherently dangerous." Now, this isn't a direct quote, and the journalist might have phrased it badly. But it sure looks like this jerk is accusing law-abiding gun owners of being a significant threat to public safety whenever they gather in groups larger than two. And the effort to ban gun shows is itself an expression of that bigoted attitude.

I'd love to see this asshole's examples of gun shows that are half as violent as, say, some of the nightclubs here in Seattle. The last time I heard about violence at a gun show, it was some anti-gun moron turning over tables and attacking the peaceful gun dealers while yelling obscinities.

Why doesn't liberal "tolerance" extend to me?
Material Breach:From the AP, via BoTW:
Among other things, Perricos reported that on a five-hour inspection of a desert installation his experts secured a dozen Iraqi artillery shells — previously known to be there — that were loaded with a powerful chemical weapon, the agent for mustard gas. It was the first report of such armaments traced and controlled in the week-old round of new inspections.

With apologies to Mark Steyn: you've written your last romance novel, mustache boy. And I thought you had no WMD at all?

My master's exam in in less than two hours, but more bloggage tomorrow. Specifically, I hope to refute Jeff Cooper's claim that the Democrats are unfairly portrayed as wanting to turn U.S. defense policy over to the U.N., when they actually simply want to keep the U.N. involved. I'll be linking to sources when I have time to find them. For now, Jeff, answer this: given that Bush asked for U.N. approval on Sept. 12, and that the Congressional debate took place in October, how was the U.N. "uninvolved," such that the Dems needed to harp on that point? And doesn't the attempt by some senators to add a provision to the war resolution requiring U.N. approval smack of surrendering the initiative? As I said, sources to follow when I have time...

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

"Islam means peace": It is common for political commentators to portray their opponents as being represented by the most extremist elements within their movement; to make Noam Chomsky and Pat Robertson out to be the spokesmen for the Democrats and the Republicans, respectively. In order to insulate themselves from such rhetoric, mainstream liberals and conservatives will often make pro-forma statements criticizing the fringes; thus does Bush proclaim that "Islam means peace" to separate himself from Jerry Falwell.

I'd like to see some liberals take a moment to denounce this comment from Julianne Malveaux. I mean, give me a break.

And for my part, I'll just say that whatever Ann Coulter wrote this week, it was probably unnecessarly inflammatory and full of factual errors.
Hypocrisy: Can I be considered "hypocritical" if I believe something different than my father? Or if I take a different position than my predecessor in office?

Some opponents of war with Iraq have called the U.S. "hypocritical" for having once supported Saddam. As Hitchens and others have pointed out, that just increases our culpability and makes it morally imperitive that we clean up messes we ourselves made. But there's another, more diffucult question: to what extent are we bound by decisions that we ourselves couldn't control?

Reagan made lots of decisions about such things as support for Afghan fighters and Iraq's war against the clerics in Iran. He had his reasons; they may have been good or bad. I, meanwhile, was a five-year-old dreaming of growing up to be a famous football player. Am I somehow a hypocrite to believe that U.S. policy towards Iraq should be belligerent? More to the point, is GW a hypocrite because he takes a different position than the administration in which his father was vice-president? Is Bush 41 a hypocrite because Reagan supported Saddam and Bush drove Saddam out of Kuwait?

Or is it possible, just maybe, that conditions are different today than they were in 1982, and that American policy should reflect those realities rather than cling to badly outdated policies which made more sense at the time? Are we to make consistency in bad decisions a greater virtue than willingness to admit and correct mistakes?

I don't think that nations, movements, or political parties are really capable of hypocrisy. Only individuals are. Even then, seemingly contradictory positions (toward Cuba and China, for instance) may be well-grounded in ideology, or may simply be politically unavoidable. Yelling about it doesn't make for workable policy--it's just moral vanity, no better than mocking a man because his tie clashes with his shirt.
Gun Control and Good Government: From Canada's National Post:
OTTAWA - Canadians have been kept in the dark about the skyrocketing costs of the government's $1-billion gun registration system, which has run to hundreds of times the initial estimate of $2-million, Sheila Fraser, the Auditor-General, reported yesterday.

So it was supposed to cost $2 million, and it actually costs 500 times that? Now would be a good time for a little cost-benefit analysis: how many police salaries would $1 billion pay? As for benefits:
Mr. Rock defended the registry, saying it has "saved lives" and reinforced "Canadian values" by distinguishing Canada from the United States on the issue of gun control.

Ah. So the principal benefit of spending $1 billion to treat law-abiding gun owers like sex offenders has been to prove that Canada isn't the U.S. Holy shit, I can't believe they say that sort of thing in public.

Unmentioned in this article are the hundreds of thousands of Canadian gun owners who openly refuse to register their guns, and will present themselves at police stations for arrest when the first unregistered-gun prosecution of a duck hunter takes place.

For those of you who like the idea of a national gun registry in the U.S., this should give you pause--we have more guns, and we're a lot less cooperative with government than Canadians (Canada and the U.S. officially went Metric at the same time--gives you some idea of how obedient the average American is vs. the average Canadian).

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

I'm sick: and I'm busy. Back later.