Friday, January 03, 2003

OK, I give up: Having been badgered in Ted Barlow's comments to either get comments or post an email address, I've given in. I tried for a long time to make comments work; I can't make it happen, and my new library time restrictions make it unlikely that I'll have time in the future. So here's an email: bigots-at-keepandbeararms-dot-com.

Originally, I used this to gather examples of egregious anti-gun-owner bigotry. But a funny thing has happened over the past year: very few examples have been coming to light. It's odd. I don't know if it has anything to do with Sept. 11, but the worst I've seen since then is a couple of "gun nuts" lines from Mary McGrory.

Please, people, the reason I didn't put up an email originally was because I already get enough from trolls at my various email addresses, so don't make me shut this account down. Also, I have no interest in seeing pretty little white gayboys suck big beautiful black cock, so could the guy who sends me that stuff please stop?

Seriously, I doubt that I'll have time to reply to many emails, but I certainly will try to read them all. Please keep them polite!
Pretending to be the President: It strikes me that some of the criticism of Bush (and political figures generally) is rather unfair because it demands the impossible. For instance, many people are demanding that the U.S. take a harder line toward Saudi Arabia. I'll grant you, when a Saudi official said on the news last night that it was unfair to accuse his government of turning a blind eye to terrorism, my reaction was, "Well, yeah, after all, you are the #1 sponsor of terrorism."

Still, we can't expect Bush to confront the Saudi government directly until after Iraq has fallen. We need their bases, we need their diplomatic support, and yes, we need their oil (those who angrily denounce Bush on this point would have more credibility if they suggested practical alternatives). Once we have Iraq, we can expect and demand a tougher line.

Likewise, the Bush administration's attitude toward North Korea is eerily calm. Personally, I'm freaking out. But they have to play it cool. And, as Den Beste points out, their calm veneer might very well be part of a diplomatic strategy to force the North Koreans to blink first. Of course, the difference between Bush's approach to NK and Iraq is NOT related to oil--but rather to Kim Jong Il's ability to deter us by threatening South Korea and Japan, which ablility Bush wishes to deny to Saddam.

I think that we, as critics on the outside looking in, have a certain obligation to imagine ourselves in the seat of power, and to refrain from demanding actions which are clearly impossible politically or diplomatically. It makes no sense, except as a partisan cheap shot, to complain that Bush isn't doing things he can't do, such as calling for the ouster of the House of Saud. Certainly it makes sense to criticize the Saudis, but Bush simply cannot do so at this time.
Registering visitors to the U.S.: Here's an article from Canada about a Pakistani-born Canadian scientist who was refused entry to the U.S. because he didn't want to be fingerprinted and photographed. He was offended by the alleged religious and ethnic profiling involved.

On the one hand, the INS has the right to do whatever they want with foreign nationals, since there is no "right" to enter the U.S. And the worries about sleepers cells are real, especially given Canada's lax asylum policies.

Still, I have to wonder what the fingerprinting and photographing will accomplish. If we have a list of terror suspects, complete with photos and fingerprints, to compare everyone to, then it might make some sense. But I haven't seen any reports on the development of a "National Instant Check System" for people entering the country. I strongly suspect this is nothing but ass-covering--bureaucrats building a database because it makes them look like they're doing something. But doing things like this won't do us much good without a truly huge and integrated effort. And even if the INS had access to a new kind of NICS computer, it wouldn't stop the terrorists with fake U.S. passports, who wouldn't be run through the system.

Real immigration control would require massive commitments to a range of agencies and projects. Half-assed measures accomplish nothing worthwhile, but do annoy innocent people and waste tax money.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

Free Market Analysis: I saw a real-estate agency sign offering a "free market analysis." Obviously this was a real-estate broker of the Chicago school. Perhaps the University of Washington's English department should open up a real-estate business offering "marxist analysis" to passers-by. Or the women's studies folks could pitch their "eco-feminist analysis." Why not? The value of your home is just part of a patriarchal conspiracy to oppress the producing classes anyway.
Blogging from the library: I'm experimenting with blogging from the library. It seems to work fine for pre-written posts, but I only get 45 minutes a day to read and comment on my favorite blogs, which will hurt.
Race and AA: Marianne Means is a charter member of my personal Axis of Annoying People, and this column makes it obvious why. On the question of racial preferences at the University of Michigan:
Politically, taking a position opposed to giving a helping hand to disadvantaged people requires making a credible argument that artificially created racial and gender diversity is a bad thing. This is extremely difficult to do without sounding bigoted.

It's going to take me a while to unpack all of the BS that she managed to pack into just 38 words, so bear with me.

To begin with, given the way that AA works at Michigan, Means simply assumes that "Black or Hispanic = disadvantaged." After all, it has been reported that being black is worth more than a perfect 1600 on the SAT (although I haven't been able to confirm that, so it may just be an unfounded rumor). Yet this equation is silly; there are privileged blacks and hispanics just as surely as there are disadvantaged whites and asians. As has been pointed out on hundreds of occasions, the biggest beneficiaries of AA are middle-class black kids, which makes one wonder why they needed a "helping hand" at all.

Moving right along, it isn't at all clear that letting admitting students whose academic records alone do not justify admission actually constitutes a "helping hand." It might well be better for them to attend a university whose standards more closely match their qualifications, rather than getting in over their heads.

Nor is it necessarily bigoted to argue that artificial diversity is bad. If minority students on campus are perceived as having been admitted only because of their value as window dressing, the result will be increased, not decreased, discrimination. This can only make them resentful, and contribute to a balkanized campus atmosphere--which is, undeniably, a bad thing. Everyone makes fun of meathead athletes and whiny rich legacy kids--should minorities really want to find themselves in the same category, as people who don't belong but had to be admitted anyway?

Means says of AA:
Its aim is to compensate for the limited educational background that many minorities have.

Um, if the issue is limited educational backgrounds, they why is AA based on race, which correlates only somewhat with pre-college education, and not on educational background itself, which correlates perfectly? And, while we're at it, why in Heaven's name would we want to intentionally admit people with weak educations? Isn't the whole point of admissions standards to separate those who will thrive at a given school from those who wouldn't?

Setting aside Means, whose column I really should learn not to read, let us consider for a moment the question of racism for a moment. I am perfectly willing to endorse quotas--yes, literal quotas--as a way to fight literal racism. If a college takes the position "We will admit no Negroes," it is perfectly acceptable for the government to demand that a certain number of blacks be admitted or threaten to deny funding. No one can possibly claim that the University of Michigan, or any other credible university, takes such an egregious position. Indeed, quite the opposite is true; most admissions departments positively love minorities and will do anything--including spending vast sums on lawyers--to admit more of them. Against such a background, it seems silly to demand that minorities get anything other than what is offered to whites. It seems even sillier to demand that certain minorities--blacks and hispanics, in particular--get special consideration which is not afforded to, for instance, asians or Jews.

Perhaps poor people should get a leg up; I'm skeptical but open to the possibility. But to offer the son of a black doctor preference over the son of a white prostitute--and claim that this is necessary because the black kid is "disadvantaged"--is simply stupid.

I don't mean to deny that racism exist; of course it does. And of course it would be great if we could put a stop to all of it. But we can't stop bigotry by running the other way in hopes of compensating. We need to fight discrimination where it is, not where it isn't--which means that, frustratingly, we need affirmative action in precisely those places where we are least likely to get it (in the presence of bigots), and we don't need it where it is easiest to enact, at our left-oriented universities. There's no cosmic balance to be achieved by being pro-minority while others are anti; we should rather strive to be neutral and convince others to do the same.

Means complains that we have not yet achieved a colorblind society. In this, she is correct. Of course, it is not likely that we well ever achieve such an ideal in this imperfect world, and AA makes it that much less likely by declaring, in essence, that 1) minorities are incapable of "white" levels of academic achievement and 2) the presence of "diversity" (of the appropriate kind) on campus is necessary to the education of white people. The former point is an insult, the latter an objectification. Neither contributes much to racial reconciliation. Means may well think it foolish for whites to resent AA, and perhaps she is correct. But the fact is that many non-racist whites do resent it, and that fact makes AA bad for the future of colorblindness. It matters not a whit that Means wants the world to be different; it is the way it is, and only a fool makes policy based on what he wishes rather than what is.

The question which is pertinent in discussion of racial inequality is certainly not "Does every group have an exactly proportional share of everything?" but rather "Can any determined individual succeed?" Exact proportionality is unlikely, and discrimination need not be the sole cause of disparities. I believe that a determined individual of any race can lead a comfortable middle-class life in whatever profession he or she wishes in the United States in 2002. That was not true 50 years ago, but amazing progress has been made, thanks no doubt in part to the actions of the government. Today's young black man might have to put of with some offensive mall security guards, and I wish that weren't true. But the fact is that mall rent-a-cops moonlight as captains of industry and college admissions officers only very rarely, so that kind of racism isn't important except as a source of gift certificates and flowery letters of apology from store owners.

True, poor people of all races have it worse than rich people, and thanks to centuries of racism, more minorities have it bad than whites. But the fate and future of each individual is today mostly in the hands of that individual, and it is up to him or her to do what millions before have done without the benefit of special set-asides.
The West Wing: I don't usually watch The West Wing, not so much because of the politics, but because I find the characters insufferable. And what kind of self-important TV show needs to be letterboxed? But my wife wanted noise, and (amazingly), everything else was worse (we don't have cable).

But, as it turned out, there was one funny thing and one interesting thing on last night's episode.

Funny thing: Forced to think of something "liberal," that is, something which would please Democrats and displease Republicans, one of the characters said, "Death is bad."

Oh yeah. Every Republican Party meeting I've ever been to has ended with the Official Conservative Battle Cry: Death! Death! Death!

Interesting thing: The primary theme of the episode was Martin Sheen's desire to include a "Apollo program" line in his State of the Union--to commit to curing cancer in the next decade. Some oncologists over for dinner with the First Lady convinced him that a big push would be enough to make cancer chronic rather than terminal.

What I find interesting is the question of whether this would work or not. If the government really could cure cancer with a big research push, I certainly would not oppose it. My small-government principles would go right out the window for something like that.

On the other hand, it isn't at all clear that this could succeed. The Apollo program was a massive engineering project. The scientific principles at work were well understood; the problem was simply one of designing a big enough rocket. I don't mean to demean the greatest engineering project of all time; I just want to point out that engineering problems are much more susceptible to solution by brute force. Since engineers, for the most part, rely on known scientific principles, they spend a lot less time thrashing around in the dark than do scientists.

Engineers also work on problems that break down in to units much more easily. If we're building a rocket, I can work on the fuel pumps while you work on life support systems. As long as both of us meet our pre-determined specs, we don't every really need to talk. No specifications can be given to scientists; no one knows what they might be. Research is, in my experience, about 90% blundering and 10% brilliant ideas from other people; take away interaction with colleagues and you're left with blundering. Pouring more money in to add more people doesn't cure the interaction problem because one's social circle in inevitably limited.

A massive bureaucratic program is an excellent way to get to the moon; it probably wouldn't work at all for curing cancer. Yet politically, how could you possibly say no? I mean, forget cost-benefit analysis--"Congressman Smith voted pro-cancer in 3 separate votes. Tell him to stop listening to the NRA, the Christian Coalition, and other members of the cancer lobby."

All of this gets at a broader question which periodically gets asked in right-wing circles: would you be a socialist if socialism actually worked? There are lots of good ideological reasons to support small government and capitalism, but the best reason, and the one that motivates me the most, is much more practical: it works. Collectivism doesn't. There are lots of nuances here and there to argue about--hence blogging--but broadly speaking, it's hard to argue with that.

But I think even I'd be a socialist if 1) it worked and 2) I got to keep my guns.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Cloning: I don't believe for one minute the Raelian claim to have cloned a human infant. I'm perfectly willing to retract if they prove their case, but their behavior so far--in particular, holding a press conference before they had their ducks in a row on the question of verification--does not give them an air of credibility.

In any case, the announcement has led to denunciations and calls for legislative action.

Instapundit demands that the opponents of cloning come up with an argument more substantive that the one they characterize as "it gives me the willies." Since one of my recurring themes is civility, I'd like to say that that's a pretty facile and smart-ass way of blowing off a sincere religious argument which starts not from butterflies in the stomach, but from a belief in the sanctity of life.

But that said, I agree with him in principle; I can't see any reason to ban cloning any more than I can see a reason to ban in-vitro fertility treatments, outside of the desire not to destroy embryos. As someone who likes ejaculation rather more than, say, a broken nose, I think it sounds like a stupid waste of money, but I think it more moral for a wealthy couple to create a clone than a deadbeat serial inseminator to drop his sperm all over the countryside.

Except...except that we don't know how well this will work. The threat of strange birth defects, premature aging, etc. are non-trivial, and also hardly understood at all. So actually, I would like to see some oversight, perhaps by the FDA, to be ensure that this process will not bring crippled babies with 30-year life expectancies into the world. And no, I do not consider the market an adequate safeguard, as some people are really such self-absorbed idiots that they don't care about the risk. Exhibit A: the mother of this cloned baby, assuming that this is for real.

Yes, people will go to offshore clinics, just as they do today for quack cancer cures. That some people will evade the law does not necessarily prove that the law is a bad idea. In any case, I'm not calling for an outright ban, just for enough regulatory oversight to protect children from their parents.
How depressing: Den Beste, Yglesias and Barlow kindly linked me all on the same day, driving my hits over 100 in a single day for the first time ever...but they're back down to 20 or so today. So much for stickiness!

I suspect part of the problem is the lack of new posts. Sorry--I don't have access to the internet at work any more, because I don't have work any more. I'll try to get to the library or something, assuming the continuing budget crisis hasn't shut them all down.

It always surprises me which of my posts generate the most interest. I thought the North Korea one was kind of poorly written (I self-spiked a post about race at the same time because I was tired and incoherent) and short on facts. It was just some vague impressions from a 3-day visit to L.A. which involved fixing my in-laws' plumbing and reading the paper version of the L.A. Times, which made some similar points.

Well, Happy New Year to everyone, anyway. May it be a year of no more violence than necessary.

Sunday, December 29, 2002

North Korea: I'm worried as hell about North Korea, and I wanted to do a post on it, but Steven Den Beste beat me to it, with lots of good links to boot. OK, France, step up the plate and show us how to solve this problem.

I wanted to add a couple of comments, though, based on my Christmas with my wife's Korean parents, and on the L.A. Times, which has good coverage of Asia. One of the largest obstacles we face is the racial obtuseness of the Asian powers involved--China, Japan, and South Korea. Koreans from the south seem to regard North Koreans as kin--which of course they are--and therefore not dangerous. This is a ludicrous attitude. Meanwhile, they strongly mistrust the Japanese, who of course were responsible for a brutal colonial occupation in the first half of the 20th century. Some of my wife's aunts speak Japanese because they grew up under occupation. The Chinese have a similar mistrust of the Japanese, and of course the South Koreans don't trust the Chinese at all. And nobody trusts the Americans, who are the only power in the region which can credibly enforce its will against Kim Jong Il (maybe the Chinese could too, but they don't want the refugee problem).

This is seriously screwed up, from an American perspective. If I were going into combat, I'd rather have a bunch of battle-trained black guys than English ballet dancers backing me up, despite my ethnic heritage. My priority would be winning, and screw skin color. But in Asia, there's so much cultural and racial hatred and mistrust, lots of South Koreans will take their chances with a lunatic Stalinist rather than trust a white guy from Texas.

Meanwhile, if North Korea does put together a credible nuclear deterrent, then South Korea needs one, and then Japan would probably want one too, which would make everyone REALLY squirrelly. Christ. Do we have enough anti-artillery missiles to kill the reported 11,000 guns aimed at Seoul? 'Cause an invasion would be great except for that whole killing-200,000-South-Korean-civillians thing.

I can't begin to guess how we'll fix this mess. But when your "allies" trust you less than they trust your common enemy--as seems to be the case for some South Koreans--and when your "allies" hate each other--it's pretty hard to accomplish anything.

And here's an ethical quesiton: Since South Korea is in the most danger here, should we let them dictate policy--even if the policy they dictate is incredibly stupid and dangerous for them? Should we let their racialism get in the way of smart defense moves? Or should we ignore their ethnic prejudice and something they don't like, but which is in their best interest. I mean that seriously--Asian racism is already interfering with diplomacy and is leading countries to push policies based on ethnic prejudice rather than reflective consideration of the issues. Should we let them do that, considering that Kim Jong Il's missles can't hit our coast yet?