4/26/2003

Good comedy can often be found in the bios of reality TV participants. The girls of Joe Millionaire were particularly funny. As I watched the Oakland-Cleveland game this afternoon, I checked out the participants of The Real Cancun.

The cast was asked to list their favorite quotes. Both Jorell and Paul say “Who’s your daddy” is their choice while David, who’s going to Harvard, this fall says any line from Dumb and Dumber. And then there was the bizarre choice of BU co-ed Brittany who decided to quote German Chemist Carl Duisberg who said:

The object of amalgamation of capital and production units…must always be the largest possible reduction in the cost of production, administration and sales with a view to achieving the highest possible profits by eliminating ruinous.

Huh? I mean I’m all for the productivity benefits of capitalism but as a favorite quote?

Maybe the explanation is in the “wildest thing [she’s] ever done:

“Drive my car into a street pole, head on.”

4/25/2003

Tacitus - good to see him back - in his analysis of the consequences of not finding Iraq's WMD, has a great summary of the neo-con argument for why we went to war:

I never bought into the WMD line. Not because I thought Iraq had none (I was fairly sure it did, and wrongly predicted their use in a Gotterdammerung ploy at the gates of Baghdad), but because I never felt that it was, in itself, a casus belli. The real justifications for war with Iraq lay in its failure to scrupulously adhere to the 1991 ceasefire, and the nature of the Iraqi tyranny itself. WMD was merely a red herring -- a concocted line with all the validity of North Vietnamese PT boat attacks in the Gulf of Tonkin. As the Syrians pointed out last week, if we were really serious about ridding the region of WMDs, we'd turn our attention to the Israeli nuclear arsenal. I wouldn't suggest such a thing -- it takes only the barest amount of common sense to discern the qualitative difference between an Israeli nuclear weapon and an Iraqi one -- but it does point up the ultimate futility of the WMD line. They aren't intrinsically evil of themselves; what matters is who has them.
The bottom line was, I think, this: We took Iraq because it was low-hanging fruit, and we needed a significant Arab nation with which to begin the neocon grand scheme of remaking the Middle East in the democratic image. WMD as a casus belli was sure to find justification in the immediate postwar period, so we ran with it.
There’s an interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal (no link – sorry) on the “Economics of Hate.” Harvard Economist Michael Kremer, in one of the more interesting argument’s I’m heard to date on the need to forgive Iraqi debt, says that such a program would make lenders less likely to financially support dictators in the future as their countries would have no liability for the debt if its leader is deposed. Kremer suggests getting the UN to “declare future borrowings by tyrants illegitimate.”

I found this reasoning compelling because thus far the debate has focused on Iraq in a bubble, calling on France, Germany, and Russia, due to their stated prewar commitment to the people of Iraq, to cancel all of Saddam’s debts.

Now, there are two problems with this proposal. The first is that it requires the world to define who is and who is not a tyrant. Kremer says this doesn’t have to be done through the UN, but even through another “coalition of the willing.” Yet as much as I’d love to see America and Britain put together an “enemies of humanity” list, this would probably prove politically impossible. Remember the uproar over the Axis of Evil? Well those were the worst of the worst. Could Bush really get away with calling China a rogue state?

Secondly, what would define a new government? Clearly post-Saddam Iraq is not the same country as the former Baathist regime, but what if one of his generals would have been the one to overthrow Saddam? Or what if Castro calls for free elections in Cuba? Are these new states eligible for debt forgiveness? Remember, the junior Senator from Massachussetts thinks that if he beats Bush in ’04, that election would constitute a regime change.

That said, I think Kremer’s on to something and just because we cannot be fully consistent in our implementation of his plan doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. Simply talking about such a plan will further pressure the world’s despots into reforming.
Victor Davis Hanson reminds us to relax and keep our perspective on Iraq:

[F]or the first time in decades, time is on our side in that part of the world. Most would laugh at such optimism. But billions of dollars in world aid will soon pour into Baghdad, as oil revenues now freed from Saddam's clutches are used to finance reconstruction projections. Kuwait and other Gulf states have experience in building businesses and will be eager to invest in Iraq; they themselves are more likely to liberalize than to return to reactionary fundamentalism. And — unfortunately — we have about a year's worth of grisly discoveries to come from some 30 years' worth of Saddam's terror. So it is odd to say that "the war was easy, the peace will be the hard part" — as if defeating Hitler and Tojo had been easier than the postbellum reconstruction of Germany and Japan.

The sheer number of factions emerging in Iraq is proof of the birth-pangs of democracy, the principled reluctance of the United States to impose its own rule, and the near-impossibility of fundamentalists controlling the wide political landscape. For all their sinister cabals, Marxism and Khomeinism are both spent forces that have no resonance outside (and little even within) a bankrupt Cuba, North Korea, or Iran. These tired ideologies are more like the dreary bureaucracy of the 1980s Soviet Union than the Communist juggernaut of the postcolonial late Forties. If a few agents and saboteurs inside Iraq are dealt with promptly and firmly in the next few weeks, there will be little chance of mass uprisings.


Exactly. The next time you hear someone predicting doom about the post-war situation in Iraq, ask them if we should therefore give it back to the Baathists.
A letter over at Andrew Sullivan

"In high school, I had to worry about nosy parents barging in if I was with a girl in my room. In college, I sometimes fear an overzealous roommate who forgets to knock when I am getting my game on. And now, according to Rick Santorum, when I graduate in May, I should have to worry about cops banging down my door if I am getting (or giving) head. Perhaps I'll stay another year in school. And never, ever, vote Republican."

One thing I’ll never understand about the vast middle of America’s political spectrum is why the Republican party is far more associated with its extreme than the Dems are with its own nutcases. I’ve heard the argument that the GOP’s conservative Christians and other such “extremists” are a much smaller portion of the party and, as such, their power is more disproportionate. Perhaps true, but to me irrelevant. If the point is to not be associated with a party whose agenda is controlled by extremists on the right or the left, what does it matter if this wing is 5% or 25% of the party’s population? Indeed, it would be easier for moderates to gain control over the party whose extreme is a smaller total group.

So why would this Sullivan reader say she would never vote Republican? Doesn’t that mean that she’ll now vote only Democrat, a party whose elected officials travel to Baghdad and say we should listen to and trust one of the worst butchers of all time? And a party who has one of the worst race-baiters of the past 30 years as a primary candidate? How can this person be so aghast at Santorum’s remarks and yet ignore the loonies of the left?

There seems to be two reasonable explanations for this phenomenon.

One, the reader is already a partisan. He may say he’ll “never, ever, vote Republican,” but it’s possible that he had no intention to do so in the first place. This is very likely partisan rhetoric, and is the equivalent to me saying that I will never vote Democrat. I wouldn’t anyway.

But there are others who I know aren’t partisans who take a similar view. Sullivan himself wrote of Santorum and company:

“They make tolerant people who support Republicans look like fools.”

OK, maybe, but doesn’t David Bonior and Reverend Al make their supporters look stupid?

And that, I think, is the second explanation for the double standard – that for many good Americans, it is better to be stupid than mean. Arguments with no basis in fact or logic, like those we saw at anti-war rallies, can be more easily dismissed because the protestors care. They mean well. Therefore a moderate can easily disagree with a particular stance by the left without having to repudiate that individual’s entire value structure. It is therefore easier to write off that person as an irrelevant extremist because it is his views, not his value structure, that is flawed.

This is a very dangerous way of thinking. While it’s nice to pretend to care about the fate of Iraqi children, when your beliefs, however well intentioned they may be, perpetuate one of history’s most despicable regimes, your views become far more damaging than any so-called hatred coming from the right.

Thankfully, I think many moderates are realizing this very point. While for a long time, due to idealized memories Vietnam era protests, the left generally got a free pass on its foreign policy positions. Now, after seeing their monstrous stand on Iraq, many moderates are finally recognizing that not only are many of the left’s positions illogical, but often are just as, yes, mean, as those of the right.

4/24/2003

Virginia Postrel makes an excellent point about the difference between classical and modern liberalism and conservatism:

[L]imited government is a liberal idea. It only seems conservative in the Anglo-American context because we've had several hundred years of liberal tradition. But there are older, pre-liberal conservative traditions, including a rather prominent one to which Rich Santorum outspokenly adheres--a tradition that honors hierarchy, solidarity, and "natural law" and sees liberal individualism as a source of decay.

Absolutely right. The terms “liberal” and “conservative” have lost all traditional meaning. On foreign policy, for example, it is the neo-cons who are the advocates of change while the liberals are the defenders of the old post-war order. This is likewise the case with affirmative action, welfare, and social security. Modern conservatives, generally speaking, are classical liberals economically and, at least since 9/11, Gladstonian internationally.

The better descriptions of modern conservatives and liberals, therefore, might be classicalists vs. modernists. The right, with its seemingly contradictory libertarian bent on economics and its traditional views on morality (Santorum’s remarks), takes its values from the great thinkers of the 17th through 19th centuries when free trade, the primacy of the state, and Victorian morals were most persuasively argued. The modern left, in contrast, sees post-WWII style institution building, both domestically (the welfare state) and internationally (the UN) as its inspiration. “Conservatism” and “liberalism” are nothing more than easy monikers to denote adherents to these two values sets.
I found this comment by Eugene Volokh interesting:

If most libertarians thought that the government really was likely to ban abortion (libertarians may in theory be pro-life, but most of the ones I know are pretty firmly pro-choice) or send homosexuals to jail, then they might well vote Democrat to prevent that. (Likewise, if they thought the Democrats would decriminalize drugs and the Republicans wouldn't, then they might vote for the Democrats, too.) But right now, they believe that the Republican errors (on matters such as sexual practices or abortion) aren't that likely to be implemented into law; but they think the equally serious Democratic errors -- on matters such as taxes, economic liberty, gun rights, the government-run school monopoly, and so on -- are much more likely to be implemented into law. Therefore, right now, the Democrats seem to many (though not all) libertarians to be more dangerous to libertarian ideals than Republicans are.

I’ve always believed that voters – myself included – have a hierarchy of values through which they view political choice. For myself, it is responsible foreign policy followed by largely libertarian economic policy. I don’t cast my vote based on, for example, sodomy laws because from my perspective they are simply less important than, say, lower taxes. Volokh’s theory that these choices are made also based on which party is less likely to actually implement its most harmful policies is something I’ve never really considered, and I wonder how many voters use my approach vs. Eugene’s lesser of two evils method.
More Santorum Fun:

Andrew Sullivan writes:

They were minors! Doesn't that make a difference? In fact, isn't their being under-age the entire criminal issue here? Not to Santorum. In his view, the abuse of minors is a "basic homosexual relationship." In this quote, Santorum conflates the abuse of minors with adult homosexual relationships. He calls every homosexual in a relationship the equivalent of a child-molester. That is a despicable charge and Santorum must withdraw it.

I don’t think this is what Santorum meant at all. Earlier in the interview he said:

You have the problem within the church. Again, it goes back to this moral relativism, which is very accepting of a variety of different lifestyles.

Santorum wasn’t saying that pedophilia could be a consensual relationship, but that tolerance towards priests in adult homosexual relationships has created a culture within the clergy that leads to pedophilia. While I’m not sure if I agree with this argument, Santorum is not the first to make this case. And this is not the same as equating homosexuality with pedophilia.

4/23/2003

Brilliant piece by Mark Goldblatt on America’s benevolence and the left’s inability to recognize it. My favorite part:

There's something more significant going on here than a profound lack of historical perspective or a skewed understanding of the scholarly record. Both of those are signs of ordinary ignorance. But this is willful ignorance — which is much more insidious. It's as if the very suggestion of America's fundamental benevolence triggers an intellectual gag reflex among hardcore leftists. It cannot be tolerated; the system rejects it whole, regardless of the mental contortions that follow, because allowing it to penetrate would gum up the entire works.
Concede American benevolence — concede, in other words, what cannot be denied by a reasonable observer — and the epistemological underpinning of radical politics crumbles to dust. Can Gore Vidal continue to publish once that concession is made? Can Noam Chomsky continue to deliver speeches? Can Tim Robbins even go out in public?
Teresa Heinz Kerry, responding to a Bush administration official’s comment that her husband, Senator Kerry “looks French,” said yesterday:

``They'll probably say ‘he's French, he's Jewish . . . he's a monkey.’”

Holy cow.

Ms. Kerry, responding to a comment to which her husband “laughed about,” draws a parallel to one of the great anti-Semitic slurs. This is especially funny because it was the anti-war left, along with their pro-Saddam Arab friends, who were most recently breaking out the “monkey” reference.

Now that’s chutzpah.
Domenico Bettinelli doesn’t agree with Kathy and me on the Church taking political positions on controversial political issues:

Excuse me, but what is more important than the most defenseless and innocent of all people being murdered in their wombs and-- almost as bad-- the majority of people having no problem with that? Should we have told the German bishops of 1930s and 1940s to stop talking so much about the Holocaust because we needed more soup kitchens and door-to-door evangelists?
I think there’s a danger after more than 20 years of fighting legalized abortion that we’re becoming used to it.
Besides, I don’t the US bishops devote nearly the time and effort to fighting abortion as they do to other causes. The fact that a pro-abortion politician being publicly rebuked by his bishop (which didn’t actually happen in the Daschle case) is news shows that the bishops don’t take it seriously. When was the last time the bishops tried to mobilize the faithful to support laws banning abortion?


Domenico makes an excellent point, and shows why this is such a difficult issue. I’m not saying that the Church should never take controversial stances – the Holocaust certainly being a prime example. Even with abortion, I don’t favor Church’s remaining silent on this issue, as so many American Catholic parishes seem want to. My concern is rhetoric over substance. If specific goals can be advanced then, by all means, the Church should make its feelings known. If, on the other hand, a statement – like those of the Church on Iraq or Bishop Robert Carlson’s on Daschle – serves to produce nothing but animosity from otherwise loyal Catholics, we might consider the practical good of those official statements.
I’ve remained silent on the Santorum controversy because, frankly, I haven’t fully formulated a position on the subject. I’d say I generally agree with Eugene Volokh’s take:

Santorum's point is that if the Constitution is interpreted to secure a constitutional right to consensual gay sex, then it would be likely to be interpreted to secure a constitutional right to (presumably consensual on all sides) bigamy, polygamy, incest, and adultery. This is actually quite a plausible prediction; if two gay men are constitutionally entitled to have sex (as I think they should be), then adult siblings would similarly be constitutionally entitled to have sex (as I think they should be); one could draw a legally viable distinction, but there's a good chance that the courts wouldn't be persuaded by such a distinction, and conclude that the two should be treated equally.

Absolutely right. The only question is whether, as Jacob Levy argued this morning, Santorum was using this Constitutional argument as a cover to allow him “to say 'homosexuality' in the same breath as 'incest.'”

I guess what you believe is based on your larger impression of Santorum and, more generally, Republicans.

I did want to comment, however, on another quote from Santorum’s interview. He states:

You have the problem within the church. Again, it goes back to this moral relativism, which is very accepting of a variety of different lifestyles. And if you make the case that if you can do whatever you want to do, as long as it's in the privacy of your own home, this "right to privacy," then why be surprised that people are doing things that are deviant within their own home? If you say, there is no deviant as long as it's private, as long as it's consensual, then don't be surprised what you get. You're going to get a lot of things that you're sending signals that as long as you do it privately and consensually, we don't really care what you do. And that leads to a culture that is not one that is nurturing and necessarily healthy. I would make the argument in areas where you have that as an accepted lifestyle, don't be surprised that you get more of it.

Conservatives, it seems to me, have the same problem on moral issues as Liberals have on economic issues. Liberals see homelessness, poverty, or other suffering and say “something must be done!” Similarly, Conservatives see homosexuality or other acts they see as deviant and say “something must be done!” They are further disturbed as the Church and other moral leaders, according to Santorum and others, has abandoned their duty to speak out against these abominations. Therefore the right, like Liberals for economic policy, turns to the government for solutions. Unfortunately, in both morality and economic redistribution, governments are no good at affecting solutions to these problems.

And this is where the right gets itself into trouble. It knows what it sees as the problem, but like the left on Iraq, it cannot propose a real solution because there is no legislative solution to moral questions like this. As Andrew Sullivan notes, Santorum “therefore believes that if I were to have sex with my boyfriend in my own bedroom, I should be liable to cops' raiding my apartment and throwing me in jail.” Obviously no one (or nearly no one) would honestly support this policy. Therefore the right, like liberals who believe in massive economic redistribution but know they can’t politically sell it, is forced to make nebulous statements that can be sold both to both the base and to mainstream America.

Yet as Santorum is discovering, such initiatives only serve to get you in trouble.
The Carnival is up over at The Kitchen Cabinet.

4/22/2003

Fortunately, he does not have a playing card, so if we catch him, he'll be available for Celebrity Jeopardy.
Kathy Shaidle writes:

Yes, abortion is important, and Daschle shouldn't be supporting it. But I'll say it again: the hierarchy's obsession with it, to the exclusion of almost every other issue, lends credence that old joke--that the Catholic Church believes life begins at conception... and ends at birth...

Exactly right. An emailer sums it up best:

I agree, abortion is important. But so is proclaiming the risen Christ, reaching out to the downtrodden and helping each other answer the call to holiness.

While I like the Church taking positions on political issues, but the danger is that these stances, whether on abortion or the war in Iraq, can distract or often alienates the faithful from the Church's true more important messages.
I've a new op-ed piece over at the Command Post, discussing whether the Republican's recent good fortune is temporary or if Iraq will affect a permanent shift in America's political landscape.
Andrew Sullivan posts his take on a tentative GOP move to become more accepting of Homosexuality:

They increasingly understand thay many gays are conservative and moderate and have intelligently reached out to conservative thinkers, writers and politicians. Heck, Jonah Goldberg and David Brooks addressed the same conference as Racicot. The Bush administration needs to know that its impulse for inclusion is the right one; in fact, it's the only one that will give the GOP a healthy and moral future.
As we consider France’s latest effort to get back in America’s good graces, I think it’s worth examining the very nature of history’s alliances to see what they can teach us about where to take the trans-Atlantic Entente.

For most of human history alliances have been collaborations of mutual interest. Two nations, facing a common adversary, would combine forces in an attempt to defeat the opposition. Usually these opponents were other states, but we’ve also seen alliances based on shared domestic troubles – the Congress of Vienna and ensuing efforts to suppress French Revolution style fun being the clearest example. Alliances based on common identity have been attempted – Catholic Leagues or the Crusader Alliances of the Middle Ages, for instance – but when national interest diverged from shared identity, these collaborative efforts proved fragile. During the 30 Years War, for example, Catholic France eventually teamed with the Protestant combatants against Hapsburg Austria despite their shared faith. This betrayal, if you will, marked a turning point in Europe’s last great Reformation Era war.

Even Muslim powers have not been immune to the pull of national interest. While their armies were advancing from victory to victory, the Ottomans found the notion of alliances with nations of the infidel west repugnant. Yet as their fortunes waned, they realized the necessity of allying either unofficially or officially first with Britain or France against the Austrians, and later with the Germans during the First World War.

The post-WWII world, however, saw the renewed emergence of the idea that two nations could be natural allies – that their common identities would bind them beyond immediate shared interest. Although the great democracies of the West certainly did have a strategic need in banding together – the Soviet threat – the end of the Cold War renewed the idea that these democracies would stick together in the UN and other forums to advance a global order beyond short-term natural interest.

The current war in Iraq has, in many ways, shattered that ideal. The very concept of a “coalition of the willing” is a direct return to the old nature of alliances. We accept the help of repressive regimes in formerly Soviet central in the fight against terror and Saddam Hussein while “natural” allies like France and Germany, due to domestic politics and economic self interest – the exact ratio depends on your level of cynicism – decline to join our alliance in any meaningful capacity. This is clearly a return to pre-WWII style alliance building as nations form and break alliances on a case-by-case basis with decisions decided by sovereign national interest.

The idea of the “Anglosphere” has been advanced as an alternative to either the post-Soviet utopian order based on shared democracy and an old-fashioned alliance system built on national interest. James C. Bennett, in his excellent “Anglosphere Primer,” writes, “To be part of the Anglosphere requires adherence to the fundamental customs and values that form the core of English-speaking cultures. These include individualism, rule of law, honoring contracts and covenants, and the elevation of freedom to the first rank of political and cultural values.”

Certainly an interesting concept, and one that keeps alive the notion that nations can be bound by more than simply self-interest. It also explains why Britain and Australia, and not Germany and France, joined with us in Iraq despite having similar cultural ties to America as well as a seemingly shared strategic interest in eliminating Iraq’s WMD.

I’m not going to analyze here whether this is a correct new paradigm of international relations although I do think there is certainly something to the ties that bind the Anglosphere together. The question I’m asking is whether America’s post-9/11 alliance structure should be based on national interest or on an attempt to keep alive the vision of a world where international institutions can exist independent of strategic considerations. Choosing the former does not invalidate the Anglosphere concept – we have great strategic and political interest in maintaining close ties to Britain, Australia, and Eastern Europe. But what about democracies France and Germany? Do we want to keep alive the postwar dream that our ties will forever supercede our differences? We need to bring France and Germany into postwar Iraq if this is the case. Similarly, what about the thugocracies of Central Asia and the Middle East? If we decide to continue our return to an 18th century style of alliance building, we can keep our new ties with these dictators, but such an alliance structure would certainly hurt any moral claim we’d make of building a new world order based on a shared vision of natural and civil rights.

My prediction? Human nature really doesn’t change, and nations will always put their strategic interest first. Bush, thankfully, understands this reality.
One last note about my trip – I flew Continental again and, again, I had a superb experience. Unlike the other major carriers, who really are the gang who can’t shoot straight, Bethune’s airline is top notch. This is not a paid advertisement – just my humble opinion.
Cool – I’m Sir Lancelot!

lancelot
Let's not bicker and argue about who killed who!


What Monty Python Character are you?
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I hate medical privacy restrictions. I was trying to get the date for my childhood MMR inoculation, but my old pediatrician’s office won’t release it except in person. Why? Who other than me would want to see if I'm immune from mumps? Really determined terrorists who want to target specifically me and have weaponized measles?

Absurd.
I also had a chance to get the latest edition of Robert Young Pelton’s World’s Most Dangerous Places. Excellent, fun read and probably one of the most honest looks at the political situation in many of the world’s shit-holes, although he does, due to friendships he has forged with thugs around the world, take an almost blame-America stance for terrorism. Another Grille-Approved Reading Selection.
I did have a chance to read both of Bernard Lewis’ post-9/11 books, What Went Wrong and The Crisis of Islam. I’ll post my thoughts on them at a later time, but suffice to say now that they are two of the best and most honest looks at the history of the Islamic world.
Sorry for the lack of blogging lately. I was doing the family Holy Week/Easter thing, but now I’m back home and normal blogging should begin again.