Paying the Price - Radley Balko on the pro-choice conversion of Representative Kucinich:
As a Democrat, you are permitted to support the war with Iraq (see Sens. Edwards and Kerry). You may support school choice (see Sen. Lieberman and former Gov. Howard Dean). You can even diverge from the party line on gun control (see Gov. Dean). But if you want to be president, you simply can’t stray from the idea that abortion should be available on demand.

That’s why Kucinich flipped. He sold his soul. Right there on national television.
As Balko says: he's just another politician. Just so. But then what do you expect? Blako then goes into strange waters for a libertarian:
If the left truly valued "choice," they’d push for Roe to be overturned. Such a move would not, as many believe, outlaw abortion. Rather, it would take the issue away from the federal government and return it to states and municipalities, where it belongs.
No. The "choice" in pro-choice is about an asserted individual right. If you believe in such a right, then it should not be a subject of democratic decisionmaking. Individual rights are the opposite of socialism (of which democracy is the kindest, gentlest variant). Given that the courts are the most undemocratic institutions in our democracy, they are the place you would most expect pro-choicer to want to fight their battle in.

There is certainly an argument to be made that Roe was a bad decision. But it is not an argument from "choice"; it's an argument about what constitutionalism means, and what powers the central government really should have. And there is also, following Balko above, an argument to be made from a different sort of choice - democratic socialism, in essence: that abortion should not be an individual right, but a subject of democratic decisionmaking; and that the best place to make the decision is at as local a level as possible. If you buy that, they having the national level be the place where it is decided seems unnecessary and divisive.

What's odd about the left and "choice" is not that they want choice to be upheld universally and undemocratically as possible. That's how a right should be. It's that they want it to be upheld as an individual right. This from the same people that think it is necessary for democratic governance of almost everything: education, corporations, drugs, guns, rents, personal saving, insurance, speech, etc, etc. Basically they think that all of life should be put up to a vote and regulated by experts - except abortion, and the first amendment. That's what odd. David Boaz makes this point clearly.
Government efficiency - Airbus, the European government sponsored airplane manufacturer, demonstrates a pathology of democratic socialism:
Perhaps the biggest challenge lies in getting the various parts of the airframe to the assembly site in southern France. The wings of the A380 will come from Broughton in north Wales, the rear and forward fuselage from Hamburg in Germany, the tail plane from Cadiz in Spain and the cockpit and front fuselage from St Nazaire on the French Atlantic coast.

In all previous Airbus programmes, the four-nation plane maker has been able to rely on its fleet of "guppy" transport aircraft– giant flying fish with huge mouths and cavernous cargo holds – to ferry component parts from the manufacturing sites to Toulouse. But the A380 is simply too large.

So instead, Airbus is having a specially designed ro-ro ship built in China to collect the wings, fuselage sections and tail fins and then transport them by sea to Bordeaux. From there they will be towed by special barge 100 kilometres down the River Garonne to the town of Langon before being deposited on to giant road trailers for the remainder of their journey. Because the trailers are so huge, the roads from Langon to Toulouse will have to be widened, at the expense of the French taxpayer. And because the journey will take three nights, special secure parking areas are having to be built along the route where the convoys can rest up during the day. At the peak of production, when Airbus is building four A380s a month, the main roads into Toulouse from the north-west will be clogged 12 nights a month with this slow-moving procession.
I wonder how much cost per plane the distribution of the factories adds?
Proliferation Watch - More evidence that Iran is preparing to go nuclear: Inspectors in Iran Examine Machines to Enrich Uranium. Thus the Bush doctrine ("we'll push around non-nuclear powers who we think might have WMDs") fails. Unintentended consequences, if something as obvious as "we only push around non-nuclear states" promoting proliferation can be considered unintended.
Victim Worship - Essentially everyone I know I would consider a feminist (meaning, someone who believes in the political and moral equality of women; that women should be allowed to vote, own property, have equal access to the justice system, etc.). But only a minority self-identify as "feminist". Some people - mostly women - don't get why the majority of American women now eschew the label. Well, it's for reasons like this: in Harvard Crimson some foolish young woman writes proudly of destroying artwork for political reasons. The artwork was a penis, you see... an awful, threatening, rape-inspiring, sexually abusive male-dominating penis.

"Feminism" has largely achieved its political aims. Anyone who does not realize that is a fool. But success is never the end of radical ideologues, nor fund-raising institutions. The professional feminists have had their raison d'etre subverted by their success, and have gone on to new, more radical ideas. They took their label with them; and that is why people no longer identify as "feminist", even though they are.
Right and Left, on Proliferation -
Whatever happens, we have got
The Atom Bomb, and they have not
Pat Buchanan writes on The Great Equalizer:
God may have created all men, but it was Sam Colt who made them equal. So it was said of the Old West, where Colt’s six-shooter gave the small man a certain equality. In the 21st century, the atom bomb is the great equalizer. No matter how evil the outlaw regime, acquisition of an atom bomb can earn it respect. When one has the bomb, attention must be paid.

Compare how America treats Kim Jong Il, the Stalinist who has starved millions, and Saddam, who has gassed thousands.
Meanwhile, writing in the Nation, Jonathan Schell writes a very interesting (and much longer) piece about the war. Some excepts:
Wars, let us recall, are not fought for their own sake but to achieve aims. Victory cannot be judged only by the outcome of battles. In the American Revolutionary War, for example, Edmund Burke, a leader of England's antiwar movement, said, "Our victories can only complete our ruin." Almost two centuries later, in Vietnam, the United States triumphed in almost every military engagement, yet lost the war. If the aim is lost, the war is lost, whatever happens on the battlefield. The novelty this time is that the defeat has preceded the inauguration of hostilities.

The aim of the Iraq war has never been only to disarm Iraq. George Bush set forth the full aim of his war policy in unmistakable terms on January 29, 2002, in his first State of the Union address. It was to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, not only in Iraq but everywhere in the world, through the use of military force. ...

The Bush policy of using force to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction met its Waterloo last October, when Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly was informed by Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju of North Korea that his country has a perfect right to possess nuclear weapons. ... "We will not permit..." had been Bush's words, but North Korea went ahead and apparently produced nuclear weapons anyway. The Administration now discovered that its policy of pre-emptively using overwhelming force had no application against a proliferator with a serious military capability, much less a nuclear power. North Korea's conventional capacity alone--it has an army of more than a million men and 11,000 artillery pieces capable of striking South Korea's capital, Seoul--imposed a very high cost; the addition of nuclear arms, in combination with missiles capable of striking not only South Korea but Japan, made it obviously prohibitive.
Schell is, of course, against the war. But unlike Buchanan, Schell has a positive agenda as well. He thinks the issue of nuclear weapons does deserve attention.
The Administration has embarked on a nonproliferation policy that has already proved as self-defeating in its own terms as it is likely to be disastrous for the United States and the world. Nevertheless, it would be a fatal mistake for those of us who oppose the war to dismiss the concerns that the Administration has raised. By insisting that the world confront the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, President Bush has raised the right question--or, at any rate, one part of the right question--for our time, even as he has given a calamitously misguided answer. ... the issue of proliferation must be placed at the center of our concerns. For example, even as we argue that containment of Iraq makes more sense than war, we must be clear-eyed in acknowledging that Iraq's acquisition of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction would be a disaster--just as we must recognize that the nuclearization of South Asia and of North Korea have been disasters, greatly increasing the likelihood of nuclear war in the near future. These events, full of peril in themselves, are points on a curve of proliferation that leads to what can only be described as nuclear anarchy.

For a global policy that, unlike the Bush policies, actually will stop--and reverse--proliferation of all weapons of mass destruction is indeed a necessity for a sane, livable twenty-first century.
I tend to agree that proliferation is bad. But I don't think it's a disaster. States, thus far, have been pretty sane about (not) using them. Only one did, and that in the depths of war-feeling that I doubt most people can imagine.

What I worry about more than states having nukes, is that the more nukes there are, in the hands of weak, corrupt, and impoverished states, the more likely it is that some will leak out to non-deterrable actors - "terrorists", or "freedom fighters", or perhaps just criminals of some ilk.

Buchanan's allusion to hand guns is useful here. There is definitely an analog between international arms control, and gun control. I shan't spell it out since probably everyone reading this can easily enough. If it is right, then controlling nukes is not a good idea - they are needed for deterrence. But I think the analogy fails in mapping individuals onto nations. It is possible to selectively attack individuals with guns. But it is not possible to selectively attack states with nukes - to kill one Saddam and the other high ministers of his evil state, you end up slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocent people. This is unacceptable. So the question arises, is there any moral use for nuclear weapons? Should one use them even in self-defense?

This is one of the reasons I am an anarchist. Anarchists don't have to be moral, and can cut off the moral problems associated with the extremal problems of rights-based philosophy. Rights are a good and handy way of approaching almost all political problems, rather like Newton's laws are sufficient for almost any practical physics you could do. But push hard enough, and "rights" collapse into contradiction. Anarchocapitalism generates most of libertarianism without reifying rights. (Push hard enough on Newton - very high speeds, for instance - and you break it, and need relativity. Push even harder and you need, well, some grand unified theory that does not yet exist.)

Anyway, back to nukes. Leaving aside the morality of their use, it is hard to question that they do seem to bring stability to the world. But they would do so in much smaller numbers than currently exist. The US could easily drop down perhaps several hundred nukes in existence, not tens of thousands.

Schell has this interesting observation about possession of nukes:
Nuclear arsenals are endowed with a magical quality. As soon as a nation obtains one it becomes invisible to the possessor. Nuclear danger then seems to emanate only from proliferation--that is, from newcomers to the nuclear club, while the dangers that emanate from one's own arsenal disappear from sight. Gen. Tommy Franks, designated as commander of the Iraq war, recently commented, "The sight of the first mushroom cloud on one of the major population centers on this planet is something that most nations on this planet are willing to go a long ways out of the way to prevent." His forgetfulness of Hiroshima and Nagasaki might seem nothing more than a slip of the tongue if it did not represent a pervasive and deeply ingrained attitude in the United States. Another revealing incident was Secretary of State Powell's comment that North Korea, by seeking nuclear weapons, was arming itself with "fool's gold." But the military establishment that Powell once led is of course stuffed to bursting with this fool's gold.
Schell goes on to argue existing nuclear arsenals are quite visible to the non-nuclear club, as is the prestige of possession. And this, ultimately causes further proliferation. Thus we (and other nuclear powers) cause the problem of proliferation, or at least contribute to it. Yet, as he says above, we are largely blind to our own possession.
The world's prospective nuclear arsenals cannot be dealt with without attending to its existing ones. As long as some countries insist on having any of these, others will try to get them. Until this axiom is understood, neither "dialogue" nor war can succeed. ...

The days of the double standard are over. We cannot preserve it and we should not want to. The struggle to maintain it by force, anachronistically represented by Bush's proposed war on Iraq, in which the United States threatens pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons to stop another country merely from getting them, can only worsen the global problem it seeks to solve. One way or another, the world is on its way to a single standard. Only two in the long run are available: universal permission to possess weapons of mass destruction or their universal prohibition.
Just so. Worth thinking on seriously. I don't think it will end up as universal "permission" - who permits? It will end up as universal possession, though, permitted or not. And that's a pretty scary thing.

Universal possession of nukes may or may not make war obsolete. But it will certainly speed the day when the first terrorists get a nuke. On that day, I want the US to be living at peace with the world, and I want the US to have had been living at peace with the world for many long years. Safety via innocuouty.

I highly recommend reading the whole piece.
Introversion - Jonathan Rauch writes about introversion. I reckon this puppy is gonna shoot up blogdex. It's far too precious, too funny, and (alas) too true for a red-blooded blogger to pass up.
Extroverts are easy for introverts to understand, because extroverts spend so much of their time working out who they are in voluble, and frequently inescapable, interaction with other people. They are as inscrutable as puppy dogs. But the street does not run both ways. Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion. As often as I have tried to explain the matter to extroverts, I have never sensed that any of them really understood. They listen for a moment and then go back to barking and yipping.
I bet a majority of bloggers are introverts. Or at least, a majority of the people who write blogs about politics, systems, and things.
African AIDS Scandal - If this turns out to be true, it's a huge scandal. Review of Research finds most African AIDS caused by dirty needles.
United States researchers [found that] most HIV infections in Africa result from dirty medical needles.

The suggestion that the spread of the virus that can cause Aids is closely linked to unsafe medical care challenges widely held scientific views.

The research estimates that about 60% of people with HIV in Africa become infected mainly through contaminated needles rather than through sexual contact, but the UNAids organisation puts the figure at nearer 5%. ...

The US researchers reviewed hundreds of studies on HIV transmission across Africa, going back 20 years, and concluded the main cause was the use of dirty needles for medical injections.
Here's some commentary at medpundit:
My very first thought when I read this was, “My God! Medical professionals reuse needles in Africa?” My second thought was, “Why would any organization object to the findings?” It’s much easier to provide clean needles than to change people’s sexual behavior.

Then, I read the study. It turns out that the crux of its argument is that before 1988, when the public health community adopted a consensus opinion that AIDS was transmitted in Africa mostly through heterosexual sex, there was plenty of statistical evidence that the HIV epidemic in Africa was caused by dirty medical needles. That evidence, according to the authors, was not only ignored, but suppressed by the world public health community...
A link to a pdf file of the study can be found at medpundit.
Monopoly Protection Agency - chasing referrers, I came across the Improved Clinch blog. Some interesting stuff there, and the guy who runs it, John Venlet, seems to post a lot. So check it out. One particular item of interest to me was this first-hand account of dealing with the police. Nothing extraordinary. Police appear at his doorstep looking for a visitor, and are rather pushy. Venlet deals with them firmly, not letting them in his house with no warrant. And he manages to deal with the visitor's situation probably better than the police would have.
How Democracy Actually Works - I laughed out loud reading this: 'McCain-Feingold School' Finds Many Bewildered. It seems that politicians did not really know what was in McCain-Feingold. They just voted for it.
It began as a modest idea: a series of small seminars by Democratic Party lawyers for elected officials, political consultants and Congressional aides on the intricacies of the new McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. ...

By the end of last week, that low-key undertaking had drawn more than 400 people over the course of a month, a turnout that has astonished its organizers. ...

"We sometimes leave our audiences in a state of complete shock" at what they hear, said Robert F. Bauer, a lawyer for the Democrats' House and Senate campaign committees. "A sort of slack-jawed amazement at how far this thing reached" is not uncommon at the seminars, Mr. Bauer said. Nor are "a lot of very anxious questions."

Benjamin L. Ginsberg, a Republican Party lawyer who has conducted seminars for the other side of the aisle, said lawmakers were startled to hear that once-standard practices like acting as host at a fund-raiser for a home-state governor might now be illegal. "There's an initial stage where the reaction is, 'This can't be true,' " Mr. Ginsberg said. "And then there's the actual anger stage."
Hoist on their own petard, as it were. This is the fun part:
The new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Representative Robert T. Matsui of California, who voted for McCain-Feingold, says he has been surprised by its fine print.

"I didn't realize what all was in it," Mr. Matsui said.
Radley Balko has a nice commentary on the piece:
Now, if Rep. Matsui votes for and vigorously endorses legislation directly affecting him, without reading or really understanding said piece of legislation, imagine how much attention he gives legislation that affects only you, or me -- or minutia-laden OHSA or HIPAA regulations -- before he blindly casts his vote.
IE - dealing with technical difficulties.
The Personal Defies the Political - The recent NYTimes magazine had this fascinating article by a disabled person, Harriet McBryde Johnson, discussing her interactions with Peter Singer. (The NYTimes will try to charge for the article eventually; if so read it here or google for it.) Singer has pushed his liberal utilitarianism to the point where many people feel uncomfortable. In particular he propounds the idea that infanticide is acceptable in some circumstances - in particularly, when the infant is profoundly disabled. Naturally this makes Johnson, who was such an infant, very angry. She wants to hate Singer. Yet, she cannot. She ends up with respect for Singer:
The tragic view comes closest to describing how I now look at Peter Singer. He is a man of unusual gifts, reaching for the heights. He writes that he is trying to create a system of ethics derived from fact and reason, that largely throws off the perspectives of religion, place, family, tribe, community and maybe even species -- to ''take the point of view of the universe.'' His is a grand, heroic undertaking.

But like the protagonist in a classical drama, Singer has his flaw. It is his unexamined assumption that disabled people are inherently ''worse off,'' that we ''suffer,'' that we have lesser ''prospects of a happy life.'' Because of this all-too-common prejudice, and his rare courage in taking it to its logical conclusion, catastrophe looms. Here in the midpoint of the play, I can't look at him without fellow-feeling.

I am regularly confronted by people who tell me that Singer doesn't deserve my human sympathy. I should make him an object of implacable wrath, to be cut off, silenced, destroyed absolutely. And I find myself lacking a logical argument to the contrary.

I am talking to my sister Beth on the phone. ''You kind of like the monster, don't you?'' she says.

I find myself unable to evade, certainly unwilling to lie. ''Yeah, in a way. And he's not exactly a monster.''
Well worth reading, for the philosophy (though they're both wrong), and for the very honest and refreshing view of people with authentic, real, and painful differences. Yet they nonetheless interact personally with friendship and even grace. The personal, here, is not the political. It's worth thinking on why that is or how it can be.

I think Singer is wrong not in drawing out the implications of his philosophy, but in advocating utilitarianism to begin with. The problem with any philosophy grounded in utility is that utility can not be seen, nor measured. Absent that, problems crop up exactly like the one at the heart of the article. Johnson feels her life has value, to herself, and to "society". Probably Singer agrees, or at least he treats her that way. But how can either of them know whether or not her life (or his!), "really" is of positive utility? They cannot. Utility - of her life, or of his - is not measurable. There is no such thing as a "utilitometer" we can point at a person and objectively measure with.

Absent that, there is only opinion. Opinion can be wrong. I think that Singer grasps this, at least somewhat: otherwise he might advocate that the state should kill infants. After all, if someone's life is objectively going to suck, then it is not merely a "good idea" to kill them. Rather it is the duty of the utility-maximizing demos; and it should not be left to the parents to decide.

There are other, further, problems with utility. Here's one: the "utility monster". It may be that some people experience pleasure and pain much more strongly than other people. Take, for example, a psychopath who achieves tremendous sexual pleasure from torture. To a utilitarian, the psycho's utility must be measured against the disutility to potential victims. If his is greater, then society should condone torture (by him) - greatest good to the greatest number, you know. His victims can take solace in helping to create, overall, a happier world. This is, to a rights-theorist like me, horribly wrong. People are not means to the ends of other people, even if that would increase "utility". But you will never get that result in utilitarianism.

A final problem for utilitarianism is the problem of comparability. In the "utility monster" problem, and more broadly in utility theory, it is assumed that the utility that different people experience is comparable. My pleasure in eating an apple is greater than yours, or it is less than, or it is equal to. If utility is a single number, that must be true. But what if utility is not that simple? What if my utility for an apple is not a scalar - "1", but a vector - "(1,5,3)"? If yours is then "(2,4,2)", is overall utility increased if you get the apple instead? We simple cannot say - vectors are not simply compared as are numbers.

So, enough potshots at utilitarianism. Now I want to discuss Johnson. Her ideas are not as clear from the article as Singer's are. Nonetheless, I can see two big holes in her argument.

First, she is vehement that disability is not utility-reducing:
What has him so convinced it would be best to allow parents to kill babies with severe disabilities, and not other kinds of babies, if no infant is a ''person'' with a right to life? I learn it is partly that both biological and adoptive parents prefer healthy babies. But I have trouble with basing life-and-death decisions on market considerations when the market is structured by prejudice. I offer a hypothetical comparison: ''What about mixed-race babies, especially when the combination is entirely nonwhite, who I believe are just about as unadoptable as babies with disabilities?'' Wouldn't a law allowing the killing of these undervalued babies validate race prejudice? Singer agrees there is a problem. ''It would be horrible,'' he says, ''to see mixed-race babies being killed because they can't be adopted, whereas white ones could be.'' What's the difference? Preferences based on race are unreasonable. Preferences based on ability are not. Why? To Singer, it's pretty simple: disability makes a person ''worse off.''

Are we ''worse off''? I don't think so. Not in any meaningful sense. There are too many variables. For those of us with congenital conditions, disability shapes all we are. Those disabled later in life adapt. We take constraints that no one would choose and build rich and satisfying lives within them. We enjoy pleasures other people enjoy, and pleasures peculiarly our own. We have something the world needs.
I believe being disabled would lower my utility. (My few weeks of life on crutches definitely seemed lower in utility, but maybe it just that I was not used to it.) But as I said previously, that's not actually measurable. So it remains just an opinion of mine, although, an opinion I feel that most sensible people would share.

The problem is, that opinion, even if widespread, cannot justify anything. It can certainly prevail de-facto in a democracy. But that does not make it right.

I do wonder, if Johnson were presented with a magic button that would heal her: would she press it? I believe she would. It is hard to see why unless you think that she thinks that her life would be better without being crippled.

But then again, I have seen reports of deaf parents selectively aborting to get deaf children. Perhaps Johnson feels that the challenges she overcomes are worth it. I don't agree with that, but then, in my hypothetical the button-press was not mine, but hers. If the button were presented to me (which would heal her), I would consult her if I could. If I could not for some reason, I would press it. That's my prejudice showing.

I definitely disagree with Johnson's ideas that "society" owes disabled people care. No, we are not born with positive claims on each other. Indeed, in the article Johnson makes it clear how much she depends on modern technology.
The sight of me is routinely discombobulating. The power wheelchair is enough to inspire gawking, but that's the least of it. Much more impressive is the impact on my body of more than four decades of a muscle-wasting disease. ...

I am in the first generation to survive to such
decrepitude. Because antibiotics were available, we didn't
die from the childhood pneumonias that often come with
weakened respiratory systems.
What of disabled people born 100 years ago? If we are to construct, as Singer wants to, an ethical theory that applies to all people, at all times, then it is obvious that disabled people cannot be "owed" antibiotics and power chairs, no more than they are "owed" corrective genetic manipulation by nanobots. Yet neither Singer not Johnson appear to notice this; I assume since they are both philosophically attuned to John Rawls.

Indeed, the very idea that disabled people are owed anything by their society, is an admission that they have "needs", which is to say, that they would be worse off than average people without extra help. And if one believes in scalar utility (I don't, but at least Singer does), then there is no way to avoid the idea that disabled people have lower utility, unaided. This is, in fact, common sense. Johnson seems not to see it, even though she certainly does see the ways in which her life is exceptional.
Truth Police: The "truth police" is how I refer to my own scepticism, scientism and other strategies for trying to believe only true things. I am always surprised to find people that believe in astrology, afterlives, the Force, meaning in coincidence, etc. Where's people's Truth Police? With God at least I can see how people get sucked in - parents, long history, tradition, etc. But most of the modern superstitions seem to come from nowhere and promise little. Why believe in that stuff?

Science rolls on, even in the matters of human belief. In the Telegraph, discoveries about people who think they have been abducted by aliens. Seems they have a common feature: "a personality profile of 'abducted' people showed that almost all suffered from sleep paralysis, a condition in which terrifying sensations and sinister figures from the world of dreams intrude upon the waking brain."

In a related vein, this research into false memories.
With a little ingenuity and the power of suggestion, it really is possible to make people believe the improbable -- that they kissed a frog or shook hands with Bugs Bunny at Disneyland.

The findings are among the latest work on false memories by UC Irvine cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus and her researchers. ...

"Give me enough time with somebody, and I'll make them believe in just about everything," Loftus said.
Even easier when people have, seemingly, near-zero scepticism and other mental defenses.

War by Propaganda - something I did not notice last fall when it was first published. But worth meme-spreading. 40 years ago, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Wanted to Provoke War With Cuba. Provoke, as in, Gulf of Tonkin:
Code named Operation Northwoods, the plans reportedly included the possible assassination of Cuban émigrés, sinking boats of Cuban refugees on the high seas, hijacking planes, blowing up a U.S. ship, and even orchestrating violent terrorism in U.S. cities. ...

America's top military brass even contemplated causing U.S. military casualties, writing: "We could blow up a U.S. ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba," and, "casualty lists in U.S. newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation."
When you look at American history, it seems as if not a single war actually started "fairly" - with the American people knowing the truth about what was going on in the executive branch. Well, the Revolution.

One must naturally wonder how much of the current information about Iraq that is coming from "official sources" and intelligence agencies, is nothing more than warmongering lies.
Amen, Brother: Having attended the recent "commie" peace rally, I felt just like Peter Bagge evidently did in Observations from a Reluctant Anti-warrior:
(Hippie addressing crowd): "... It's so great to look down upon this sea of diversity I see before me..."
(Bagge thinks): "Diversity"? All I see is a bunch of middle-class, college educated white people!
So did I. And I have to love this observation:
Let's face it: masculinity and pacifism are an awkward match.
Yes. The only way is armed neutrality. Libertarians can pull it off with a modicum of masculinity. Coming from liberals it just looks like wimpiness.
RKBA on the march: A judge has ruled that Ohio's law against carrying a concealed weapon is unconstitutional:
"The statute deprives Ohio citizens of an effective means of self-defense," said Common Pleas Judge Michael P. Kelbley in an 18-page ruling filed Tuesday. "The Constitution states in clear terms that the people of Ohio have the right to bear arms."

Kathryn J. Howard, 28, 1208D Peeler Drive, Fostoria, was facing one count of carrying a concealed weapon stemming from a June 2002 traffic stop in Fostoria in which a loaded 9mm pistol was found under her seat, according to papers in the now-closed case.
Coming soon to a jurisdiction near you!
Proliferation Watch: Hypothetical: you just been declared officially "evil" by the US... you're militarily vulnerable, or may be. You don't want to be invaded. What should you do?

Answer: get nuclear weapons ASAP! Iran Mines Uranium for Nuclear Plant. The Iranians claim civilian use:
"Iran has discovered reserves and extracted uranium...we are determined to use nuclear technology for civilian purposes," IRNA quoted [President] Khatami as saying.
Certainly the use is peaceful now. And intent is hard to prove. But it would be almost criminally negligent for Iran's leaders not to develop nukes, now that Bush has made clear that they are the only sure-fire means to deter the US.
Why Peace: I love a good argument. (Must imagine that with Monty Python accent.) Currently there has been a "blog debate" proposed which seems interesting. Partisans of both sides, for and against war on Iraq, have developed questions to ask the other side. (I didn't take part in that; I might have suggested some other questions for the warmongers, but the ones there are good enough.) Anyway, without further ado links to Cross-Blog Iraq Debate: The Questions, and also the same questions posted on Stand Down.

Here's my take on the questions from the warmongers.
1) If you were President of the United States, what would be your policy toward Iraq over the next year? What advantages and disadvantages do you see in your proposed policies versus the current path being pursued by the Bush administration?
I would, first of all, pull back all military forces. I would apologize to the world for my shameless warmongering, and announce the new US policy of isolationism: trade with all, entangling alliances with none. And I would announce in particular that the US renounces aggressive, unprovoked war. That we view it as profoundly destabilizing.

Second, I would end the American sanctions. It is the right of all peaceful people to trade freely, including American citizens, and this right should not be abridged by the US government. (If the UN wants to keep up the sanctions, I would disapprove, but that's their business.)

The disadvantage of such a course should be obvious enough: Saddam stays in power. The Iraqi people continue to groan under his boot. Lucrative oil-service contracts remain with French, German, and Russian companies, not American companies. The advantages I will get into shortly.

2) Is there any circumstance that you can conceive of where the United States would be justified in using military force without the support of the UN Security Council --- or does the UN always have a veto against US military action for whatever reason?
I put little credence in the U.N. So it matters not what they say: that a war is justified or not; their support has no bearing on whether or not the US should fight.

The US should go to war only to defend the life, liberty, and/or property of US citizens. In such circumstances, assuming the offender is another state or organization which cannot be negotiated with to cease its offenses, then war may be justified. Otherwise, war is unjustified, and being what war is, evil.
3) American and British military force has allowed Northern Iraq to develop a society which, while imperfect, is clearly a freer and more open society than existed under Saddam Hussein's direct rule. Do you agree that the no-fly zones have been beneficial to Northern Iraq --- and if so, why should this concept not be extended to remove Hussein's regime entirely and spread those freedoms to all Iraqis?
Yes, the no-fly zones are beneficial. There's a simple reason for this: nonhomogeneous states don't work, to the extent that they are socialistic. And Iraq is extremely socialistic. In such circumstances Kurds cannot live "with" Tikrits, for the simple reason that "with" isn't really "with"; it's "under". The Kurds are clearly better off not under Saddam's thumb. Saddam is a cruel dictator. No surprise there.

Bush, if he had balls, would carve up Iraq and make three nations that might actually work as modern nation-states. But this won't happen.

The reasons not to "extend the zone" are the reasons not to be at war in the first place. There are two. First, aggressive war is unjust, and thus evil. See above. Second, war is not the national interest of the United States. Pushing around Arabs will not make us friends in the Arab world, long term, or short term. The exertion of force certainly can get us fearful allies, like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. But they are not friends. Bullies don't have friends.

Other nations are our friends not because we push them around, but because they are tied to us by culture, history, and trade. These are things which build lasting friendships. Not aggression.

Nation-destruction is something modern nation-states can do effectively. We can conquer Iraq. Nation-building is not something the nation-state can do. We may even try, halfheartedly, to rebuild Iraq. But regardless of our effort level, we will fail. Iraq will get a new dictator, though, one quite friendly to the US - just like the Saudis. This will leave a bunch of pissed-off Iraqis. And they will, with some fairness, blame the US. This will be a new pool of talent for Muslim extremists to recruit in.

Meanwhile, the American belligerent stance vs Iraq, and our dovish negotiation with North Korea, are making it clear to every repressive regime in the world that the US respects only nuclear weapons. What they will do, given this awareness, seems rather obvious.

Given nuclear proliferation, and given the open nature of our society, it becomes obvious that someday terrorists will have both the will and means to hurt us badly. We may be able to affect the speed at which that day comes, but not its coming. The main warmonger argument seems to be that somehow the nuclear genie can be contained. It cannot, barring a world-state with police powers that should be unacceptable to any American.

The question is thus: when the day comes that terrorists have a nuke, what sort of relationship do you want the US to have with the world? One of aggression, hegemony, and the resulting anger and resentment? Or one of peace and free trade, and the resulting uncaringness?

I choose the latter. And given the level of anger and resentment that there currently are, I think it is imperative for the US to start acting peacefully now, so that in ten or twenty years when the bad proliferation happens, it is not us that terrorists select for their target.
4) Do you believe an inspection and sanctions regime is sufficient and capable of keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of the Hussein regime --- and should this be a goal of U.S. policy? In what way is an inspection/containment/sanctions regime preferable to invasion? Civilian casualties? Expense? Geopolitical outcome?
Yes, I believe an inspection and sanctions regime is sufficient and capable of keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of the Hussein regime. For instance, something like what the Germans and French are currently proposing.

However, I do not regard having anything to do with inspections as in the interest of the US. Saddam is no threat to us, with or without WMDs. Or anyway, no more of a threat than many other possessors of WMDs. These weapons, in general, are a threat. Their possession by any country increases the risk that they will fall into undeterrable hands. But we cannot eradicate WMDs; the best we can do is try to maintain a world where most regimes don't feel the need for them. Especially tinhorn dictators and impoverished basket-states, which are the ones which will feel most imperiled by US aggression.

Furthermore, as the warmongers' question above alludes, I think an inspections regime which works can only be maintained by rather high levels of threatened force. Iraq is cooperating more now only because of the threat of war. Remove the army (as I would do), and Iraq would cease to cooperate. Inspections cannot work without threats. (National sovereignty is like that.)

I am rather agnostic on the question of whether or not inspections (with necessary force backing them) is superior to simple invasion. Either are acts of war. Outright attack has the disadvantage of destroying the lives and property of many priceless, precious innocent individuals. But it promises liberty for the survivors; and over time inspections (and the army placed there to make them happen adequately) are injurious to our own liberty, while being useless to Iraqi liberty. It's a hard call either way.

Fortunately, I regard this choice as moot. Simple withdrawal and peaceful relations are better than either option. Peace is both moral and practical.

5) What, in your opinion, is the source of national sovereignty? If you believe it to be the consent of the governed, should liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein's regime be U.S. policy? If so, how do you propose to accomplish this goal absent military action? (And if in your view the sovereignty of a state does not derive from the consent of the governed, then what is the source of sovereignty?)
The source of national sovereignty is the willingness to unjustly use force. The state is akin to a criminal gang writ large, although, very much domesticated. Sovereignty is the bargain between the individual and the State: I "agree" to let it violate my property and liberty. The State agrees not to violate me worse than, well, the average person will put up with. (That's democracy in action.)

Government should spring from the consent of the governed, it is true. But government is not sovereign, unless it arrogates to itself the sole, ultimate right of decisionmaking. This can, practically, never come from the governed, for the exact same reason that I cannot bind third parties in my contracts. You cannot give consent for someone else (at least, not without his consent, or the consent-power of guardianship). In theory one might have a valid nation-state where each person has fully offered his or her consent to the arrangement. It won't happen in practice. People are not uniform like that.

These things stated, I have answered the question. But let me address what I think the 'mongers are getting at.

Is Iraq a horrific example of a state? Yes it is. Is it morally superior to the US? In no way I can think of. Does it violate the life, liberty, and property of its unfortunate citizens far more egregiously than the US does? Yes.

Does this justify "regime change"? Yes, or at least, it certainly justifies force against Saddam and the Ba'athist party, the police, and anyone else in Iraq who is violating people's rights.

If individual Americans want to go and attempt to change the regime in Iraq, I believe that is their right. To the extent that warfare is actually good for foreigners, it should be treated as other international welfare: let it be done privately. Let the bigmouth birds show if they are eagles, or chickens. Let them go to war themselves, not send the army that should be defending me. Let them send their own money, not my taxes.

It is foolish for the American state to attack Iraq (or in general act as a hegemon), for the reason discussed in question (3). The USA is chartered to protect and serve Americans. It is not to help foreigners. If individual Americans, or American organizations, want to help Iraq, then they are welcome to try. But please, leave my country out of it. I don't want the taxes to pay for your bombs. I don't want the liberty restrictions that come with the terrorism your policies provoke. And I don't want the death and destruction that an atomic weapon will bring, to us, as part of that terrorism.
When it comes to welfare - politicians spending your money on others - most conservatives get it. They understand why it doesn't work:
  • waste caused by a bad incentive structure: people spend money most carefully when they are spending their own money on themselves. They spend money less carefully if it is someone else's money, or if it is being spent on someone other than themselves. Money is spent least carefully when it is someone else's money, being spent on others. This status describes welfare.
  • moral hazard: you get more of what you subsidize; rewarding antisocial behavior is a bad idea.
  • rent-seeking: subsidies create client classes; in democracy those classes can vote and make ending or altering subsidies politically impossible.
But when it comes to aggressive warfare, the same people don't get it. Note that none of the three reasons above are different for warfare or welfare.

The main beneficiaries if we remove Saddam are Iraqis, not American taxpayers. By paying for far more "defense" than we need for defense, we encourage warfare; standing armies get used. And quite obviously the warfare state has created a client class: soldiers, defense workers, and the military-industrial complex.
Security: A man with knack for meeting people he's not supposed to.
The Rev. Richard "Rich" Weaver, nicknamed "Handshake Man" because of his knack for getting up close and personal with the high and mighty, struck again yesterday morning. ... Weaver, a nondenominational Christian minister from Sacramento, crashed the National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton, breezing through the ballroom entrance without a ticket and handed President Bush what he later described as an eight-page typed "message from God" about Iraq.

"It's just God, buddy," Weaver [said]. "They asked everyone else for a ticket. They didn't ask me." With his conservative blue suit, neat haircut and hearty, gregarious manner, Weaver easily passed through the metal detector. "I don't try to sneak in," Weaver explained. "I just go where I feel like God wants me to go."
The most heavily protected person in America, and a borderline loony can walk right up to him. He did walk through a metal-detector. Nonetheless, it's a bit surprising.

It's also wonderfully American.
Conservatives and Pop Culture: An Interview With Paul Cantor, who wrote Gilligan Unbound:
Conservatives are always saying take a lesson from history. Well, here’s a lesson to take from history: Don’t scorn popular culture. Everyone who bet against the dominant form of popular culture at any point of history has lost the aesthetic bet. Conservatives of Shakespeare’s day hated the theatre, they wanted to close it down and eventually succeeded in doing it in the 1640s. But, again, there’s almost no form of what we now regard as high culture that was not, in it’s own day, condemned. The reason is simple. When a cultural form is popular and alive and vibrant it produces lots of stuff and the majority of it is bad. It is, again, a familiar market argument. What popular culture does is to produce lots of stuff and it has to be sorted out in market fashion over time. You look at products in the marketplace. Most new products are bad and they lose. They lose in the marketplace. At first, it’s easy to criticize them. So, indeed, popular culture is a form of marketplace and, over time, the cream comes to the top and that becomes the source of our great art.
Read the whole interview; it's a very interesting discussion of popular culture and its history, and how conservatives have viewed it.

Reality Check: Some good advice for doves by Matthew Parris:
1) Don’t kid yourself that Saddam might really have nothing to hide. Of course he does. He’s a mass-murderer and an international gangster: a bad man running a wicked Goverment; the British Prime Minister and the US President are good men running good Governments.

2) Don’t hide behind the UN. The organisation may in the end be browbeaten into “authorising” an attack. If it really is your judgment that an attack would be morally wrong or practically hazardous, how could UN endorsement make it wise?

3) Don’t count on France, Germany or Russia to maintain their opposition to war. They may just be holding out for improved offers.

4) Don’t attach yourself to predictions about the military outcome. If the Pentagon thinks an invasion could easily succeed, the Pentagon may be right.

5) Don’t become an instant pundit on internal Iraqi politics, and how Shias, Kurds and Sunnis will be at each other’s throats when Saddam falls. You do not know that.

6) Don’t assume that moderate Arab opinion will be outraged. Moderate Arab opinion likes winners. America may be the winner.

7) Don’t get tangled up in conspiracy theories about oil. It is insulting to many principled and intelligent people in the British and US administrations to say that this can be understood as an oil-grabbing plot. Besides, you drive a car, don’t you? Is the security of our oil supplies not a consideration in foreign policy?
All good advice excepting (7). The war is about oil - in part. And it's worthwhile to point that out. What we should avoid is the meme that the war is only about oil, which is obviously false. Yet it is the clear suggestion of "no blood for oil".

My predictions: there will be a war. The US will win, easily, inflicting perhaps 20000 Iraqi deaths at the price of a handful of American deaths. Most of the deaths will be Iraqi soldiers. Thousands will be civilians. Nobody will care, much. Most of the US casualties will be accidents, not results of enemy activity per se. In the aftermath of the war, all sorts of unsavory things will come out about Saddam and his regime. Chem and biological weapons will be found. Scientists will come forward to tell what they have been doing - trying to develop WMDs. And the torture victims will tell their stories. The Iraqi people will be happy to have been liberated.

France, Germany, and Russia will come around. Their interest in peace comes from three things: great power politics, public opinion, and their current privileged oil-service contracts under food-for-oil. As it becomes clear the USA will attack regardless of what the security council does, the politicians concerned with great-power politics, and the corporations concerned with oil-service profits, will change their tunes. This will result in the states changing policy. Public opinion will remain against the war, but most will shut up quickly after the quick victory comes. (Just look at how much people now talk about Afghanistan.)

The aftermath of the war is what is to be feared. American statists (both right and left) will learn what they always learn from war: that it "works". (It certain does work to destroy; but the state is awful at building.) America will be just as belligerent in future. Iraq will flounder as a democracy. The Wilsonian mission will fail. Muslims worldwide will continue to hate us. The victory will temporarily dampen their enthusiasm, but the failure of the resulting regime and its descent into despotism, unchecked by the USA, will reawaken their hatred. Terrorism will not be affected.

Worst of all, the USA has clearly signalled that every state that does not want to be pushed around by the USA had better get nuclear weapons. The leaders of these states have their own self-interest in mind. So, they will get nukes ASAP. The resulting proliferation will make it easier for terrorists to get a bomb, and eventually they will. And, what with America still pushing around the world, supporting authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia, and still being hated for doing so, terrorists will use the bomb on us. New York or Washington. 10-20 years.

That's my prediction. I hope I am wrong.
NASA Admits Failure: About 2/3 of the way down this page, NASAs 2003 budget estimate from the Office of Management and Budget, there is a graph of launch costs per-pound to orbit. Click here . It's a chart that shows three numbers: the cost to orbit of the shuttle, the cost to orbit of "U.S. Commercial Rockets", and the cost to goal for the "Space Launch Initiative". These numbers are: $12000/lb, $6000/lb, and $2000. Source: NASA and FAA.

NASA's own numbers admit the shuttle is obsolete. And it is striking that even with competition from the heavily subsidized shuttle, commercial vendors still have their launch costs down to $6000/lb. Imagine where they would be if NASA had not monopolizing the business for the past 30 years. Shuttles carry payloads up to 25000 kg, or 55000lbs; so they waste up to $330 million per mission.

It's worth remembering here how NASA sold the shuttle to Congress, way back when. Launch costs then, on Saturn V, were about $10000/lb. (Yes, they are actually worse now.) The shuttle was billed as going to cut costs tenfold - to $1000/lb. That was the promise, the bait-and-switch. Now we have the lemon that resulted. 30 years of technical development; computers cost 1/1000 of what they did then; and the shuttle has actually raised costs. The state in action.
Synthetic Radio Programming: I don't normally link the NYTimes because access to the material is lost after two weeks. But this is really cool: Turning a Digital Database Into Local Radio. The host, Carson Daly, is real. He records snippets: names of songs, intros to artists, jokes, etc. This material is then digitally composed to make different top-ten shows for 11 different cities.
That has not always gone smoothly. Mr. Dunston, the sound designer, said that at one point a new Michael Jackson song, "You Rock My World," unexpectedly showed up on the charts. Mr. Daly was unavailable that day, and because he had never introduced a song by Mr. Jackson, the engineers had to dig through old recordings to find a segment in which he made an offhand reference to the singer. Then they hunted down bits of the song title and assembled all the pieces.

"We had to cobble things together," Mr. Dunston said.
How long until they dispense with the human?

I don't really get why people worry about Clear Channel owning lots of stations. But this is a good example of the market adapting to stupid regulation. Radio stations are mandated to serve local audiences. Well, CC does: digitally. It's a national, localized show.
Interventionism Always Spreads: Jim Henley discusses whether it would be possible to have a libertarian system at home while being interventionist abroad:
It still looks to me like statism abroad leads to more statism at home. For instance, suppose we not only can "rebuild Afghanistan" (which I doubt), but do. Liberals will then demand "How about some 'nation-building' in our [inner city/distressed agricultural regions/declining industrial areas]?" Conservatives will want to know why we shouldn't insist on the same respect for authority at home as we do in the provinces.
I quite agree. There is no bright line separating the rest of the world from us. "Our actions" there are in fact actions of specific Americans, both here and abroad. Those molding foreigners do not cease to be Americans when they return to the states (or when they step out of their government buildings into the DC burbs). If they are successful in molding foreigners, they will naturally feel that American problems need their touch.

As with all socialism, trying to control anything is like trying to push a balloon intro a certain shape. Every squeeze you make will create a bulge elsewhere; only by completely enclosing the balloon, so that you are controlling all of its surfaces, can you dictate the shape.

People are like that. We resist being molded.
Shuttle Warning from 1986: "This letter was run in its entirety in the November 1986 edition of Physics Today, the general interest magazine of the American Physical Society.":
Unfortunately, there is another safety problem that has no easy remedy. The problems with the insulating tiles are well known, and the potential for disaster if a tile is lost over a critical area of the shuttle reentry is obvious. What is not so well known is that such a disaster has almost occurred. One shuttle on the reentry came within seconds of burning through a main wing support due to loss of tiles. The failure of this support would have caused the shuttle to crash, killing all on board.

Given the size of the shuttle, it is not feasible to return to the proven heat-resistant alloys used on previous manned space vehicles. Given the problems with keeping the tiles attached during launch and reentry, it is inevitable that despite NASA's best efforts a critical tile will someday fall off and another shuttle crew will go up in flames with their shuttle.
They call for privitizing space launch. Sane.
Fred Reed is mystified by America's Iraq policy:
It seems that we're going to blow up Iraq. Some folk will call it a war, but it'll be more like drowning a litter of puppies. Iraq is a primitive country and hasn't got a chance. That's convenient, and lots of fun, but it ain't war.

Now, understand: I'm patriotic, and believe in blowing up as many people as possible, wherever we can find them. But… why Iraq? It's mysterious. Sure, Hussein is a good, serviceable, every-day sort of monster and ought to be shot. So are about half the rulers in the world. Why this one? Bobby Mugabe needs it more, I reckon. Have we thought about Zaire?

Explain it to me. A ratpack of Saudis blew up New York, so we're going to wreck Iraq. We're going to do it because Hussein has Weapons of Mass Destruction, except that he doesn't, as far as anyone can tell. The more he doesn't have them, the more we want to blow him up because he does, or doesn't, or would if he did. Maybe.