Vainly Naming - The logic of the Iraq situation is terrible. I've opined on this many times before. It will take nothing less than a Terror to change Iraqi culture. But Americans won't injure, kill, and torture anyone except official combatants. That's all to our credit, but it means we cannot control Iraq.

Jim Henley gets heated thinking about how the situation in Iraq is fraying:
God damn the men who put our troops in this situation. God damn the men who brought our country to this pass. God damn Cheney and Rumsfeld and their cadre of little geniuses. God damn the media poodles who obligingly spun the way they were spun. God damn Colin Powell for the narcissistic lie he told himself about how he was needed "inside the system" when he had the chance to blow it all open by publically resigning. God damn George W. Bush for accepting the advice of knaves and dreamers. God damn Tony Blair and the Third Way messianism that sees war as the engine of human progress, damn the cowardly Democrats in Congress for confusing their short-term political viability with the welfare of the country and damn the freelance cheerleaders, with blogs or syndicated columns, who imagined that their September 11-induced post-traumatic stress disorder was clarity and toughness rather than hysteria. Damn every Annie Hall with a keyboard demanding that Woody Allen come over and kill the spider now, and not just the one in her apartment but every spider on earth, dammit, because someday, someday, one of them just might bite her. God damn every fool who decided to support the war just because the protesters were icky.

Most of all, god damn you if you promise that if we just knock over Iran now, or Syria, or whoever, that all the old lies will come true. God damn your smug, cowardly little souls to hell.
Ouch. That's a lot more heat than seems appropriate this early in the game. On the other hand, if events do spin out of control they way I think they will, Jim will be very well positioned to hand out I-told-you-sos and complementary plates of crow.
Sex Discrimination - One time I talking to a female friend in the gym about my dating situation, and I somewhat flippantly referred to myself as "sexist". She was shocked - to her "sexism" meant, basically, "evil". I had to explain that it was a word with a specific definition, to wit (
1 : prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially : discrimination against women
2 : behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex
I was not interested in dating men; without knowing them or even meeting them once I was ruling them out as possible partners. That is discrimination. Since it is discrimination based on sex, it is sexism. Once I explained that to her, you could see the little lightbulb go on.

Sexism isn't (always) evil. That people think so today indicates more than just a random shift in English usage. It indicates how much of what used to be private is now public.

With that in mind, two minor issues of the day. First up: Annika Sorenstam. There is much handwringing amongst the paleoconservatives about her entry into a "male" tournament. Of course who plays is up to the (private) tournament; everyone agrees on that. Still, isn't there an issue of fairness here? If "we" let her in, don't women's tourneys have to admit men? For example, Fred Reed:
What I don't see is why the club should let women compete against men in the first place. Sure, it sounds like high principle and real fair and American, like Superman. But I notice that all this fairness is one-sided. If men wanted to shoot in ladies' clubs, or play in the women's golf tournaments, every feminist and all her litter-mates would go crazy. Na-a-wwww, that wouldn't be fair.

It seems like women want to compete with the men when they think they can win, but want protection from male competition when they can't, which in sports is usually.
Yes. If we let women join men's tournaments but not vice-versa, it's not fair. But then, neither is it fair for men to have all the testosterone. Life isn't fair. The point in sport is simply to get good competition. As long as we know that one sex or the other is superior in any given sport, then we can, for that sport, have one league with truly open entry, and a second protected league only allowing in the inferior sex. Is that sexist? Yes! But it is no more sexist than having two different sexually segregated leagues. It does require superior knowledge: we need to know which sex is superior wrt that particular sport. But that is hardly difficult to do: set up the open-entry league, then watch for a while and see if women or men cannot compete.

Furthermore, allowing open entry into one league has one huge benefit, from the libertarian (or conservative) angle. And that is, that it allows us to compare the sexes, and thereby maintain a realistic picture of sexual differences. As it happened, Sorenstam's performance in the Colonial was predicable: Steve Sailer predicted it perfectly. But it is one thing to predict, another to do. The only true way to truly know how women and men compare at any given task, is to simply let them do it, and compare them. There is simply no way that you can look at Sorenstam's performance and hold onto the idea that women and men are equal wrt golf-playing. They aren't, and never will be (short of genetic manipulation). Sailer rates Sorenstam, the women's champ, as perhaps the 400th or 500th best golfer in the world (he has no permalinks on his blog it seems; scroll down).

Only with a realistic idea of the comparative strengths and weaknesses of men and women, can we realistically make policy for us all. That "we" have to make policy at all, I reject; but that's not up to me. As long as the state is with us, we need that information.

A good example of need for honest information about sex differences is the issue of women in combat. You find a lot of silly misinformation about what women can do, such as this silly Karen De Coster piece. De Coster argues, among other things, that women and men can't serve together because they are too interested in sex. Given that men are going to be there, then doesn't that mean we should exclude women? No. If it is really a problem, segregate sexes by unit. Perhaps by company or battalion. There is no reason that men and women have to share foxholes to share an army, if that's a practical problem.

Should women be allowed in combat? The answer should be arrived at in the free market; but since we don't have that luxury, we must decide based on political factors. And there the answer must be informed by our liberal values: women are just as much people as men. So of course they must be allowed in combat! But that doesn't mean there cannot be objective criteria to be allowed in; in particular, it may be that for some combat roles very few women will be able to meet the criteria. Very few women can, for instance, carry 100 pound packs for 20 mile hikes. Is that really necessary for an infantry-person? I don't know. Whether or not it is is to some degree simply political. But given that it is, the leg infantry may have to stay mostly or even all male.

Nonetheless, there are many combat jobs that it would seem women could fill very aptly. In particular, it seems women would make great tankers. Small is better in the cramped interior of a vehicle; in fact the USSR used to have height restrictions of 5'5" for its (male) tankers due to the design of their tanks.

Now, I am pretty much against war in all circumstances. But, given that the US is going to act as a hegemonist against all-male armies, I love the idea of an all-female armor battalion annihilating some Arab all-male armor division. Talk about a reality check.
The War Nerd - Via Steve Sailer, I found the War Nerd. This guy is extreme un-PC, which helps when discussing war from a strategic point of view. As a fellow war nerd but socially conditioned liberal, I couldn't help but laugh at some of his lines. Here's one of his better efforts, an article about the wars in Central Africa:
The Hutu and the Tutsi are real law-abiding, organized people. If you've only heard about them from the genocide news out of Rwanda, that might seem surprising. But...well, to understand this you have to be willing to tell the bitter truth. And here it is: the people who do genocide best are law-abiding, decent, stand-up folks. Strange but true. Take the Germans: wouldn't hurt a fly...unless someone in uniform told them to. Then they would fry every fly on the planet.
The analysis of some of the more obscure wars on the planet is good:
So the two countries [Eritrea and Ethiopia] decided to fight over the crummiest, most worthless land around: a triangle of scrub around the town of Badme, where the border was hard to define. Both sides had plenty of manpower, even after fifteen years of border wars, because the Horn of Africa has some of the highest birthrates in the world. A whole new generation of kids was ready for call-up. The Eritrean leader, Issaias, said he was glad that the new “Coca-Cola generation” of Eritreans were going to get the chance to see what his generation had gone through. (Issaias has an AK round imbedded in his skull, which may explain this comment.)

While the US fumbled around doing its usual “Now can't y'all shake hands and be friends?” routine, the Ethiopians went on a shopping spree: MiGs, antitank missiles, radar systems - if it was on sale and came in olive drab, they bought it. The Eritreans, with less capital, went for construction, making their “Skyline Trenches” even deeper, stronger, more impregnable.
Now can't y'all shake hands and be friends?
A System of Control - Jim Henley lists the recent presidents he would have impeached. His list has some surprises. Unfortunately he is not clear about conviction as opposed to impeachment: Clinton got the one, but not the other. And a lot of people felt that was about the right level of punishment. So Jim, which presidents would you have just impeached, and which would you have impeached and convicted?

The great thing about impeachment, from my perspective, is that it ties up the legislative branch. They are busy little beavers, and if they are not busy impeaching they will be busy passing new laws; and almost by definition, all new laws are counterproductive. (Question: if a law is really so necessary, why isn't it already passed? Aren't the things which hurt people already against the law?) The Devil finds work for idle legislative hands.

Another good thing about impeachment is that it shows the nature of the state: it's made of men (also some women). Humans. Fallible people, not angels. This is something the lumpenvoter likes to forget, when she votes For The Children. Angels can rule us better than we can rule ourselves, for they know the mind of God. Other humans, we know, cannot rule us better than we rule ourselves.

These things aside: shouldn't all presidents be impeached? They have all, from the very start, signed laws that are immoral. From an anarchist perspective the government itself is untenable; for it immorally coerces people who have not delegated it the power to do so. But hey, we're not all anarchists, are we? As such I think that it is silly to judge presidents on that basis; they ought to be judged in context. Roosevelt himself probably thought he was saving capitalism, not destroying it. (I'd still have impeached him and convicted based on his violating his oath; he knew damn well he was subverting the Constitution. And that's not even mentioning his traitorous actions in the Pacific.)

The Constitution, like the Matrix, is a system of control. Such systems have an internal logic; and it is worthwhile and interesting to analyze them in their own terms. It is also valuable to be able to step outside, and say: this entire system is morally wrong and should be abolished. But those are two different things.

In any case, I would be plenty happy if our elected officials would read and understood the plain meaning of the Constitution (which I think they do), and then acted to abolish all the unconstitutional things the USA are doing (which they will never do). Even to do that -- for us to live under the Constitution as it was written -- would be a revolution larger than anything seen since 1865. At that point I would part company with the minarchist libertarians, ideologically. But that is so far down the road that we shall not reach it in my lifetime, I fear.
Ending Liberty - any good strategist knows that you attack the enemy where he is weak. That applies in politics as well as war. Franklin Roosevelt, master politician that he was, surely knew this. When he went to end the form of government that America was, he found the key fault line in the Constitution and exploited it. Here's a libertarian view of the "switch in time that saved nine", that is, the acquiencence of the Supreme Court to the New Deal. The piece, by John Attarian is about Social Security; that's worth reading, but I was particularly interested in the description of how FDR masterfully subjugated the Supreme Court:
[Initially] the Supreme Court hammered the New Deal. On May 27, 1935, in a crushing defeat for Roosevelt, it voided the National Industrial Recovery Act and the Frazier-Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act. It struck down the Agricultural Adjustment Act on January 6, 1936, the Guffey Coal Act on May 18, and the Municipal Bankruptcy Act and a New York state law setting minimum wages for women on May 25.

Enraged, Roosevelt decided to subdue the Court. His megalomania inflated by his 1936 landslide, on February 5, 1937 he abruptly asked Congress to enact a bill empowering him to appoint one additional Justice for every one who turned 70 and did not retire, for a maximum of six, thus enlarging the Supreme Court from nine Justices to up to fifteen.

A firestorm ensued. Critics rightly called Roosevelt’s proposal a plan to pack the Court. Even liberals who deplored the Court’s decisions, including many congressional Democrats, opposed it.

Its arm cruelly twisted by Roosevelt’s threat to its independence, the Supreme Court began surrendering in self-preservation. On March 29, the Court upheld a revised Frazier-Lemke Act; the National Firearms Act; the Railway Labor Act, which promoted collective bargaining; and a Washington state law providing for minimum wages for women.

Then cases arose involving the blatantly pro-labor Wagner Act and the Social Security Act. The Court was in a hideous bind. Most of the Justices opposed the expansion of government power which these laws entailed – but if they voided them, Congress would probably enact Roosevelt’s Court pack.

On April 12, the Court upheld the Wagner Act. On May 18, Van Devanter announced his imminent retirement, enabling Roosevelt to nominate a Justice.

The case for his bill was weakening. But Roosevelt would not quit.

Such was the situation when the Supreme Court considered the Helvering v. Davis case.
(Helvering v. Davis was the case that legitimized Social Security.)

There were three loopholes in the Constitution as it was written that, retrospectively, turned out to be keys in its subversion. Two were just loosely specified phrases that were readapted later ("interstate commerce" and "general welfare"). That sort of thing it would seem is inevitable; indeed the same sort of thing obtains around, for example, the second amendment; it's just that the 2nd cannot by its nature be used to justify much lawmaking; the interstate commerce and general welfare clauses can. But if they did not exist, then other loose phrases would have probably been found. And in any case, words don't enforce themselves, so overt loopholes or not, the Constitution is only as good as the people who enforce it.

The third fault line in the Constitution was a simple oversight that the founders should not have made: not specifying the size of the Supreme Court. The founders clearly understood that the Court had to be independent; that's why they gave life tenure and specified that their salaries could not be lowered while they were in office. But independence is clearly threatened by the ability to redefine the size of the Court. It is interesting to speculate what might have happened in the 30s had FDR not been able to threaten the Court. How much less socialism would we have today?
Comradeship - Lew Rockwell has posted the text of Chris Hedges notorious speech. This speech seems to me entirely inappropriate for a graduation. But as a political tract it is interesting. There is a certain amount of lefty babble to it, true. The stuff about Iraq at the beginning is not that interesting. But it does get good about 2/3 of the way through.
War allows us to rise above our small stations in life; we find nobility in a cause and feelings of selflessness and even bliss. And at a time of soaring deficits and financial scandals and the very deterioration of our domestic fabric, war is a fine diversion. ... War gives us a distorted sense of self; it gives us meaning.
Neither here, nor in his book, does Hedges discuss evolutionary psychology; but it is clearly pertinent here. We are all decended from lines of successful warriors: people who genocided competing neighboring tribes. We can expect to have psychological adaptations to promote our success in war. So Hedges idea that war "distorts" our sense of self is, I think, wrong. It gives us a different sense; it opens up mental boxes that are usually closed, that we may not even know we have. These boxes may well be non-adaptive in their modern context. But they are just as real as the mental features we normally sense.

"Comradeship" is probably such an adaptation.
Once in war, the conflict obliterates the past and the future all is one heady intoxicating present. You feel every heartbeat in war, colors are brighter, your mind races ahead of itself. We feel in wartime comradeship. We confuse this with friendship, with love. There are those who will insist that the comradeship of war is love – the exotic glow that makes us in war feel as one people, one entity, is real, but this is part of war's intoxication.
Hedges wants to privilege love and friendship over comradeship. I don't see why. Love and friendship are just as much evolved mental faculties, and just as intoxicating. Indeed I don't see that these three forms of social affiliation drive are really that different; they have different "triggers" but the effects are very similar. The reason to be against comradeship is a practical one: it promotes war, and war is bad. But war is not bad for evolutionary reasons; from the POV of mother nature (meaning: certain selfish genes) war is at least sometimes good. (Otherwise we would not be evolved to do it.) War allows people to get a larger territory; lebensraum. It allows men to get more than their share of women. War is natural. But we should never fall into the naturalistic fallacy: what is natural is not necessarily good.

We have all felt the allure of comradeship:
Think back on the days after the attacks on 9-11. Suddenly we no longer felt alone; we connected with strangers, even with people we did not like. We felt we belonged, that we were somehow wrapped in the embrace of the nation, the community; in short, we no longer felt alienated.
I felt it. Did you?
As this feeling dissipated in the weeks after the attack, there was a kind of nostalgia for its warm glow and wartime always brings with it this comradeship, which is the opposite of friendship. Friends are predetermined; friendship takes place between men and women who possess an intellectual and emotional affinity for each other. But comradeship – that ecstatic bliss that comes with belonging to the crowd in wartime – is within our reach. We can all have comrades.

The danger of the external threat that comes when we have an enemy does not create friendship; it creates comradeship. And those in wartime are deceived about what they are undergoing. And this is why once the threat is over, once war ends, comrades again become strangers to us. This is why after war we fall into despair.
Some people may be deceived in wartime; I was not. I knew what I was feeling after 9/11, and why. But it did not change the reality of the feeling.

The problem with the world is not people; it is institutions. With good institutions, we act well. The market is the paradigm here. With bad institutions, we act badly. The State is the paradigm here. The market, if it were free to do so, would channel comradeship into specific forms. I cannot predict what those would be for a 9/11 style event; of course, 9/11 would not have happened to strictly market-based society. The State always channels comradeship in one direction: towards socialism.
...with comradeship, the kind that comes to us in patriotic fervor, there is a suppression of self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-possession. Comrades lose their identities in wartime for the collective rush of a common cause – a common purpose. In comradeship there are no demands on the self. This is part of its appeal and one of the reasons we miss it and seek to recreate it.
The whole point of comradeship as an evolved response is to suppress our normal selfishness. In the environment we evolved in, this would allow a tribe to more effectively band together (in order to wipe out a neighboring tribe). After the war, things would return to normal.

In our current environment, when we set up socialism during wars, things never return to the antebellum status quo. Practically all of the socialism we have now was a result of either WWI (including in that the establishment of the Fed and thus the causing of the Depression, and its political results), WWII, or the cold war. In each war liberty was restricted hugely during the crisis, and some liberty returned afterwards - but never all of what was lost. So comradeship, war and the state are like a ratchet: always moving in one direction. That is why comradeship is suspect. Remove war, or remove the state, and comradeship would be a perfectly safe emotion.
Redistribution Politics - here's a fascinating series of posts on a practical experiment run by a college professor:
I ask my students how many of them are in favor of progressive redistribution -- taking from those who have a little more and giving it to those who have a little less. About half to 60% of the class stands up (I make them commit to their position by standing up.) I then tell them what I actually was thinking about was the progressive distribution of their grades, taking a few grade points from those who are above the median grade and distributing those extra points to those below the median.... The immediate reaction is that almost all the students sit down, only one or two students actually remain standing or stand up. Assuming that most of them thought I was originally referring to income (or wealth, not the same thing), I then ask them to explain why they were in favor of income/wealth redistribution but not grade distribution.
See also followups on his site, here and here.

My take on it: people treat small, individualized morality as something completely different from morality as applied to large groups. I don't understand why, but there it is. People who would never dream of owning a gun, much less shooting a criminal, expect "society" to do that for them. People who would never dream of ratting out their sister for smoking a little marijuana want even more draconian enforcement of drug laws.

And people who would never dream of stealing their neighbor's stuff, and fencing it for the cash, expect society to tax the neighbor and give them their social security.
Money Market - In Iraq, the central bank is dead - for now anyway. But expectations are a funny thing: apparently the people expect the currency to continue to be worth something. The dinar is rising against the dollar.
Unexpectedly, the unregulated market has helped the dinar rise in value. Two weeks ago a dollar could buy nearly 2,000 dinars; now it will bring 750 to 1,100, exchange rates not seen since 1996. ...

Baghdad's Central Bank is flooded, surrounded by razor wire and guarded by American soldiers. There is no government, no monetary policy and no one at the helm. ...

The money traders give the same reason for the dinar's rapid rise: U.S. authorities have flooded Iraq with dollars, and the dollar is thus less rare and less valuable and gives the dinar its unaccustomed strength.
I'm not sure that I buy this explanation. When Saddam was still there, the dinar was subject to his whims. But now there are no new dinars coming into circulation. The dollar should retain the value it has in the world, unless there is some big disconnect in the ability to get it out (which there may well be).

As I said, it is apparent that the Iraqi people expect the dinar to continue to be worth something. Presumably they expect that when a new government appears, it will honor the (old) dinar.
Steak Economics - A letter posted at the Corner gives an interesting take on the economics of ranching:
Contrary to general perception, cattle attain most of their weight not by being fed corn in a feedlot, but by grazing on ground which is, generally speaking, not arable (i.e. farmable). They are fed in feedlots only during their, shall we say, golden months. The industry works this way because it utilizes resources (range grass) that are renewable, cheap, and not otherwise useful. The feedlot part of the cycle illustrates the irony that faces cattlemen. Wholly grass fed beef is lean and nutritious. But what fat there is, is brownish in color and doesn't taste all that great. By contrast, corn fed beef shows nice white colored fat layers that look wholesome (but are no more so) to the shopper down at the Piggly Wiggly. Ultimately, the undeniable truth that screams from the marketplace is...people like the taste of fat! They say they want lean and healthy, but they absolutely don't. And they won't buy it.
Mmm... beef.
Tasty Read - Andrew Sullivan has a great review of Sidney Blumenthal's book The Clinton Wars. I care much less about the topic (Clinton, and Blumenthal's take on him), than Sullivan's writing - which is really great here.
It has the tone and manner and piety of one of those "Lives of the Saints" books most Catholic school kids were once forced to read at some point or other. It's not a memoir, or a history. It's a Gospel. ... the picture we get of Mr. Clinton from this book is strangely blank. No foibles; no expletives; no tears; no wit; not a single memorable phrase; not even a fresh insight into the man's psycho-sexual compulsions. That's what happens when the religious temperament prevails. The need to prove not just that Mr. Clinton's opponents were evil, wrong, dumb, malign, gob-smackingly corrupt and duplicitous in every single respect, but that the President was noble, grand, progressive, epic and world-historical must, by its very nature, obscure nuance. Nuance, after all, could lead to doubt; and doubt to error; and error to damnation. And beyond damnation, there's always the danger of becoming a Republican.
Chortle. A good review obviates the need to read any but the best book; this is the case here.
Practical Socialism - Student Wins Valedictorian Lawsuit In Moorestown:
U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson ordered the Moorestown district to name Blair L. Hornstine the valedictorian for the class of 2003.

Hornstine, who completed many of her courses over the last two years with tutors because of an immune deficiency, argued that since she has the highest grades at Moorestown High School, she should be valedictorian.

Her school district looks at the disagreement another way: Because of the immune deficiency, Hornstine is classified as a disabled student and has taken a class load that doesn't include physical education and involves her spending part of her school day studying at home.

The two other Moorestown High School seniors with nearly perfect grades could not match her grade-point average, officials said, because classes like gym receive less weight in calculating the grade-point average, or GPA.

On Thursday, Wolfson said that to appoint two valedictorians "would send the message that we have two valedictorians this year, a disabled one and a nondisabled one," the Courier-Post of Cherry Hill reported.

In a written statement, Hornstine said sharing the valedictorian title would have "left unprotected the next disabled student."
A classic case of the effects of socialism. No point is too petty to fight about when you are fighting for not just the imprimateur of a small institution, but all of Society. If this school was private, what do you think would happen? They would have chosen their covaledictorians, and that would be that. It is the public ownership of the school that causes the problem; for the state does guarantee privileges to the disabled, which necessarily extend even to such trivialities as the computation of GPAs in public schools. To the extent that a society has social norms, it may be able to handle socialism without continual, massive conflict. We have norms against using the legal system to fight trivial, meaningless actions like this. But clearly those are breaking down; and it is every man for himself. And every whiny, self-righteous, "handicapped" protolawyer, as well.
The Blair Albatross - Radley Balko with a piece worth reading . He 'fesses up to some forbidden thinking:
When I first read of the Jayson Blair fiasco now unfolding at the New York Times, I didn't pay much attention. "Dumb reporter, ruined his career," I thought, and went on to other reading. What's unfortunate - and what I'm loathe to admit - was my reaction when, a couple of days later, I saw his picture. "He's black," I said as a foul thought emerged from the darker corners of my thinking: "probably an affirmative action case."
My reaction was the same. But unlike Balko I am not ashamed of it. We have stereotypes for a vital reason: they are a cognitive shorthand that allows us to act in the world; to act in real time. Without stereotypes, we'd all be sitting here, thinking, rederiving all of our conclusions continually. We must stereotype; our brains are designed to do little else.

The danger in stereotyping is in coming to believe incorrect, irrational stereotypes, or applying rational ones inappropriately. This is a danger because stereotypes tend to be self-reinforcing. So it is important to be open-minded, and to challenge your own premises from time to time.

That said, let's consider the case against affirmative action that Balko alludes to. The charge is that affirmative action leads people to believe that all of its potential beneficiaries are incompetent. As Balko puts it:
The real damage policies like Raines' do goes beyond arguments for viewpoint diversity, meritocracy, or the rights of any theoretical white reporter who was passed over for promotion in favor of Jayson Blair. The real damage comes from the stigmatization stories like Blair's impose on qualified, talented black professionals who forever fight the perception that every black professional's success comes not from merit, but from the charity of benevolent white managers like Howell Raines.

Every young black reporter with a string of professional success must now burden himself with the Jayson Blair albatross.
Let's call this aspect of affirmative action the "perceived incompetence" problem, or PIP. First off, is PIP real? Certainly - it exists in, at minimum, both Balko and me. Why? Because, in at least a modest form, PIP is a logical consequence of affirmative action.

The whole point of affirmative action is to allocate jobs in a way they would not otherwise be allocated. This must promote the beneficiary "over his head", unless his promotion would otherwise have been rejected for incorrect, prejudiced reasons. In a society where there is widespread, incorrect prejudice, affirmative action may be helpful, promoting people into positions they are suited for. But in any situation where there is no irrational prejudice amongst the job-allocators, any promotion for reasons not of merit will have the tendancy to promote people beyond their competence. This has nothing to do with the details of the system; it is a logical consequence of what the system is supposed to do.

So we have one very bad aspect of an ongoing campaign of affirmative action: to the extent that irrational prejudice declines in society, affirmative action causes increasingly justified PIP.

There are reasons to be for and against affirmative action outside of PIP. Balko mentions some above: viewpoint diversity, meritocracy, the rights of people not benefited by AA. So whether or not AA is a good idea is not decided by PIP. Nonetheless, the world as I perceive it is not a hotbed of irrational prejudice. (There's another stereotype for you - surely there must be employers that are, still, irrationally prejudiced.) In this world, AA cannot help but cause PIP amongst logical thinkers.

Balko notes the taboo on voicing PIP, and generally I think that is a good thing. You cannot easily come to know, for any specific (potential) beneficiary of AA, whether or not she merits her position. (Indeed, you can't know that for anyone regardless of AA; the market is hardly perfect.) Only by very detailed knowledge of a person's work history can you possibly know if she is competent at her job. It is fairest to give each individual the benefit of the doubt. But that does not mean you need to give everyone collectively the benefit of the doubt. Making this distinction is a fundamental means to distinguish between rational stereotypes and irrational prejudice.

In any case, I don't regard PIP as the right reason to oppose public affirmative action. The correct reason is that people have a right to equal treatment under the law, regardless of race. That's fundamental. It's also enshrined in the Constitution.

Private discrimination is our right, but it's not a good idea, generally. In some cases, for example private affirmative action, it may be justified. But PIP will always bedevil the results of AA programs.

As Balko notes, the truly sad thing about the Blair affair is that PIP is provably true.
in this case, those inclinations were right. And that's what's most unfortunate (and typical) about the Jayson Blair case: It's another example of an altruistic effort to offset white misperceptions about black professionals that, in the end, only reinforces them.
With a sufficient paper trail, it becomes acceptable to talk about PIP. In this case, it can and will be talked about, and it will sustain our stereotypes. That's a shame.
Proliferation and Socialism - Jim Henley says he doesn't know what to think about North Korea as a cautionary tale of intervention. Actually his argument applies much more widely than just to North Korea:
even if we'd let the Communists keep the South in 1950, the PRK might still be a problem. It would still have an adversary in Japan, and Russia and China would still be switching off the "uneasy partner" and "unfriendly neighbor" role....

The PRK would still have an incentive to pursue nuclear weapons. And socialism would still suck. So the PRK would likely still become a nuclear-powered basket case, or anyway try. And it would still be tempted to extort benefices from rich countries or make money selling its weapons on the black market.
Although Jim is talking only about North Korea, in fact the conditions he specifies are widely applicable. The "problem" state is (a) destitute, (b) bordered by another state that is worth deterring, and (c) tempted to try extortion. How many countries does this apply to?

Now (a) is surely a result of (sustained) socialism. So we have to limit this to very socialist states. Deterrence applies to practically every state; they all have armies for this reason. So that does not remove anyone except maybe Costa Rica. And (c), temptation to extort, would seem to be applicable to just about everyone too, at least in theory. All it really boils down to is that people are greedy, and that certainly applies to statesmen.

Even if we chalk up (c) to despotism, we are still left with a rather broad set of states which would seem to fit the bill. Many African nations, for example, are despotisms. That they don't have nukes is a function of complete lack of infrastructure and technical ability. Perhaps they will in the future. And then they will be just as well placed to strongarm the USA as North Korea is now.

But before we become neocons and want to invade the world, two things are worth thinking on. First: that at least two nations have already been socialist, despotic, and poor: the USSR and China. They certainly did pursue nukes, and they got them. Both countries have been problems for us, but neither has sold nukes to terrorists. It seems that while they were poor, they were not destitute enough for that, which, if you think on it, makes sense. Providing nukes to terrorists is a dangerous way to make money.

Why, in spite of their socialism/despotism, did the USSR and PRC not get desperate enough to sell nukes on the black market? It seems that in both cases, when the economy failed long enough, they reformed. North Korea has not reformed, thus far. Will it? Is the current situation transitory? I think so.

So much for the supply side of the problem. On the demand side is a standard libertarian argument for a noninterventionist foreign policy. Terrorists want to attack us because they believe we help oppress them, which is, at least in part, true. We can stop oppressing them. If "they" don't want to hit back at us, then the existence of a few black-market nukes is tolerable.

Of course, meanwhile there is a problem. We are, currently, interventionist, so any terrorist nukes are a problem. Isolation is one way out; I don't see any other. We cannot rule the entire world (or even "just" Africa and the Middle East) at gunpoint. (We can't even rule just Iraq!) Nuclear technology will continue to get cheaper, as technology in general progresses. North Korea may be only the first in a line of nuclear despotisms that we have to, somehow, deal with. I suggest it is time for us to repent: time to pull back to Santa Monica. Now, while we still have a few years to repair our image in the world.
How We'll Fail - a very interesting interview of Hernando de Soto on NR. De Soto is the Peruvian economist who has tirelessly promoted the idea that the third world fails to develop because of (lack of) property rights. He's asked, how important is the establishment of property rights in a post-totalitarian country:
It's obviously crucial... the genesis of a market society is property rights because it relates to the issue of what belongs to whom. Once you determine that, you know who starts with what poker chips. And once people see that the law protects rights that they already have, then people begin to believe in the rule of law.

It's not clear [in most poor countries] who owns what in terms of national records. . . . We've worked for example in Egypt. Now in Egypt it is not clear who owns 90 percent of all assets. In Mexico, 78 percent is not clear.
Will the US implement a solid system of property rights in Iraq? It seems doubtful, especially with all the talk about implementing "democracy". The two are antithetical ideas; choose one. They're currently talking up the wrong one.

Some more interesting stuff in the interview. As a practical matter, in order to reform a nation you must coopt a large class of its citizens. This is true for both internal reformers or revolutionaries, or occupiers. How does one build up a client class? One way which works is via property; property reform is a very powerful method of getting support from the populace. (And unlike other methods of pelf, it's libertarian.)
that's what MacArthur did. The first thing he did was set up a property system. It's very poorly documented. I was very interested [in this] when we had an up and coming politician [in Peru] named Fujimori. Why did they come to Peru and why did the de Sotos not go to Japan? What happened was that after 1945, what MacArthur wanted to do [was] to give the peasants and the poor people and the citizens the title [to land] and take it away from the feudal class.

[At the same time,] Chiang Kai-shek was suddenly losing to Mao Tse-tung . . . and the reason, as MacArthur understood, was that Mao Tse-tung had begun to title. It was collective title, but that was still closer to [the peasants] than the feudal title.

So [the Americans] had a massive title and they spread wealth enormously and millions of Japanese had property. And now it's nine times wealthier than Peru. So you've done that before.

When you went to war in Vietnam — Ho Chi Minh was also a titler. And the lessons that you learned in Japan you forgot in Vietnam. So they basically out-titled you.
Libertarian revolution is possible in places with little liberty. But it is unlikely that the state will deliver it; for the very ideas that underly successful reforms that it would have to implement are antithetical to it. Still, generally speaking there is much more freedom of action for bureaucrats in foreign lands, for the simple reason that the people are "others" and can't vote. So we can hope that the USA gets it right this time.
Rational Action - an interesting article on the social situation of suicide attackers:
As logical as the poverty-breeds-terrorism argument may seem, study after study shows that suicide attackers and their supporters are rarely ignorant or impoverished. Nor are they crazed, cowardly, apathetic or asocial. ...

The Princeton economist Alan Krueger and others released a study in 2002 comparing Lebanese Hezbollah militants who died in violent action to other Lebanese of the same age group. He found that the Hezbollah members were less likely to come from poor homes and more likely to have a secondary school education.

Nasra Hassan, a Pakistani relief worker, interviewed nearly 250 aspiring Palestinian suicide bombers and their recruiters. "None were uneducated, desperately poor, simple-minded or depressed," she reported in 2001. "They all seemed to be entirely normal members of their families."

A 2001 poll by the nonprofit Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research indicated that Palestinian adults with 12 years or more of education are far more likely to support bomb attacks than those who cannot read.

Officials with the Army Defense Intelligence Agency who have interrogated Saudi-born members of Al Qaeda being detained at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have told me that these fundamentalists, especially those in leadership positions, are often educated above reasonable employment level; a surprising number have graduate degrees and come from high-status families. Their motivation and commitment are evident in their willingness to sacrifice material and emotional comforts (families, jobs, physical security), to travel long distances and to pay their own way.

The body of research shows that over all, suicide terrorists tend not to have the attributes of the socially dysfunctional (fatherless, friendless, jobless). They don't vent fear of enemies or express hopelessness or a sense of "nothing to lose" because of lack of a career or social mobility as would be consistent with economic theories of criminal behavior.
It is a mistake to view someone as acting irrationally because you don't understand his motivations. Rationality is about means, not ends. Our ends are, ultimately, beyond rationality. Why do we want to go on living rather than fight the power? Because life is sweet? Why is that? Ultimately our action is grounded in feelings that we cannot explain rationally. We must allow the possibility that other people have feelings too, similar in their motivational power, but different in the actions they motivate.
Judicial Gridlock - Right now there is a borderline crisis in the federal judiciary. Since Clinton, the Senate has been refusing to accept the President's nominees for the bench. Thus gaping holes have started to appear in the Federal judicial ranks. Currently the Senate is filibustering all the judges that Bush wants to put in the judiciary.

There's a meme going about the conservative world lately, that Bush should use the recess appointment power as a club over the Senate Democrats:
The one real power Republicans have over the Democrats in this fight is the recess-appointment power. It's the only threat that could force Senate Dems to budge. ...
The main problem with a recess strategy is that it makes the GOP's best nominees temporary second-class judges. Not only would this fail to realign the judiciary, but it would deter the most promising judicial candidates from accepting. For this reason, recess appointments, as currently conceived, are not a credible threat. Well, until you add a twist.

President Bush could threaten to line judicial openings with committed conservative and libertarian recess appointees, people who are too old, too young, too smart, too conservative, or too burned by previous failed nominations to ever be considered for ordinary judicial appointments.... For the White House, the point of the exercise would be to propose a list of bright and articulate judges who are far more ideologically objectionable to the Democrats and their activist support groups than the president's current nominees. ...

The beauty of this threat is that it need never be implemented. Once a suitably long list is circulated privately — or, if need be, publicly — President Bush can offer not to appoint any of them in return for a floor vote on all his current and future nominees. Senate Democrats won't have to commit to voting for the president's nominees, they would just need to commit to allowing a full-Senate vote.
This does seem like a good idea. In fact, so good that one wonders why it hasn't happened before. The reason, I think, is that the Federal bench has never been as powerful as it is now; and thus as important (and high stakes). This comes in part from the incorporation doctrine, but largely from the awesome growth of government power starting with the New Deal. When the Feds just ran a tiny army and the post office, gentleman's deals about the Supreme Court were possible. Now they are not: the Feds control 30% of the GNP; your body (drugs, abortion); your children (schools); your job (affirmative action, regulation); your property (forfeiture, environmental regs); and your civil rights. And so we have seen the system for appointing judges gradually unravel over time. But starting with Clinton, we saw a tipping point - the time when the system catestrophically collapsed.

Now we are in an transition period. I don't think it will be possible to go back to the older way; too much is at stake. But it is also clear that the Federal judiciary will eventually grind to a halt if no appointments happen.

In the quoted section above, Randy Barnett suggests a possible equilibribium that may eventually obtain: by using the recess appointment power as a threat, the Senate may be induced to effectively give up the filibuster 60% supermajority approval for judges. Thus we will see less centrists appointments: more federalist judges from the Republicans (a good thing); more socialist judges from the Dems (bad).

Another possible equilibrium exists, though. That is that the minority in the Senate does not back down. In that case, what we will see is no more successful appointments to the judiciary; instead it will be run completely by recess appointees. Thus the entire Federal judiciary will change hands along with the presidency. Currently, IMO, the strongest argument for voting for one of the lesser-of-two-evil parties, is the "court argument": the need to get good judges appointed. You know: "we need to vote for Gore to protect Choice at the Supreme Court" - that sort of thing. If this second equilibrium happens, then it will raise the stakes in the "court argument" by a tremendous amount.

Probably what will result is something between the two extremes. Some appointments will take place. But a lot of recess appointments will also be there, continually. I don't see this as completely a bad thing. One upside: it allows us to take a judge for a test run. With hindsight, we can see that part of the unravelling of the judicial appointment process was the modern practice of nominating very young judges with little or no paper trail of experience. Remember Clarence Thomas' assertion that he'd never formed an opinion abortion? Ludicrous. A system wherein most judges are never appointed for life, at least until they have a track record, would cut off this sort of dishonest discourse. Still, on balance I think the system of lifetime tenure for judges is a good idea. But it may well go by the wayside.

It is important to emphasize that this future is a result not of some mystical modern "breakdown in civility" or something. It is a predictable consequence of democratic socialism, played out in the particular structure of our constitutional system.
Snipe Hunt! Via Jim Henley, this piece by the Cogent Provocateur is a witty and readable summary of the WMD situation:
The Snipe Hunt is an American folk tradition, a rite of passage for the novice outdoorsman ... an elaborate practical joke which ends with the initiate crouching alone in the woods, in the dark, literally "holding the bag", waiting for the nonexistent Snipe.

What if we sift through all the sand in Iraq without finding WMDs? (That means hundreds of tons, as advertised ... not lab samples, training rounds or inventory strays.) We're alone in the woods, in the dark, holding the bag.
I love the image of the snipe hunt. It's perfect: the American people as the innocent but gullible rube, blundering in the dark, while the soft hoot of the elusive snipe calls in the distance... "whooo! whooo!!". Ask not for whom the snipe whoos.... it whoos for thee.