"A sharp example of bottom-feeding riffraff"
- Ted Barlow

Search this site, if you'd like.

Is my Blog HOT or NOT?

Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Saturday, August 03, 2002
My wife, who is an Australian, suggests that the thing that differentiates the anglosphere from everywhere else is the fact that mass immigration has forced people there to go along to get along.

I think that mass immigration countries like Australia and the United States have, by necessity, replaced a blood and soil identity with an identity of ideas.

So, we agree.

Fair dinkum.

Meryl Yourish says she's still giving Bush the lesser the benefit of the doubt. For the life of me, I can't understand why.

Matt Yglesias, the liberal InstaPundit, characterizes one of my posts as conceding that "Bush can do his job fine from Crawford due to the wonders of modern technology."

What I wrote was: "Of course the president's location is irrelevant to his capacity to do his job."

I'll leave it to astute readers to decide whether Matt has mischaracterized my line.

The redoubtable InstaPundit says that I am unfair when I criticize Bush the lesser for taking a vacation while storm clouds gather. Surely I must realize, he suggests, that the president can do his job from Crawford just as well as he does it in Washington.

Well, I think that Glenn misses the point. Of course the president's location is irrelevant to his capacity to do his job. Nevertheless, his flacks say that he will be focusing on issues other than the war on terrorism during his vacation. And apart from this, doesn't the president have an obligation at least to seem as if he is engaged in the country's business? Decamping to the Waco White House wouldn't appear to be the best way to send that message. And I'm sure that Hamas isn't planning on taking August off.

The InstaPundit goes on to suggest that I might "feel more favorably" about Bush's vacation if there were signs of progress elsewhere, and alludes to successes "best left unmentioned." I can think of no more apt description of the putative successes of Bush the lesser.

Glenn concludes by conceding that there hasn't been "a lot of visible follow through" on our "victory" in Afghanistan, and suspects that "Bush may lose the benefit of the doubt" if he continues on the path of bogus programs like the Department of Homeland Security.

Frankly, as far as I'm concerned, that benefit is already lost. The only question is when others will wake up to the manifest incapacity of this administration, as well.

Bush the lesser returns to the heartland where he will bestir himself occasionally by "focusing on education, the economy and trade."

Meanwhile, the Times of London reports on Saddam's plans to supply a Palestinian terrorist group with biological weapons.

Enjoy your vacation, Mr President. Perhaps after Tel Aviv suffers a bioweapons attack, Israel will obliterate Iraq for you. Only those nettlesome Jews will suffer, and they don't vote Republican anyway.

This article in the Washington Post got me to thinking. Can anyone articulate what exactly we've accomplished in Afghanistan and what the purpose of our continuing mission there is?

Sure, we dislodged the Taliban. They, and al-Queda, have decamped to Pakistan and now Afghanistan is ruled by a motley collection of local warlords, under a nominal national government whose writ doesn't run beyond Kabul.

10,000 ground troops, plus air support, now have not much to do beyond shooting up weddings.

It's starting to seem to me that attacking Afghanistan was the easiest way to satisfy our desire to strike back. Yet, al-Queda has just moved to the next lawless area over, our troops don't have a well defined mission and discontent is breaking out.

Matt Yglesias, the liberal InstaPundit, has expressed some confusion over Peter Beinart's article in TNR about Percy Yutar, erstwhile attorney general of the Transvaal under the Apartheid regime, prosecutor of Mandela, and devout orthodox Jew.

What I took from the article is that our relationship with the transcendent, such as it is and whatever that might mean, really has very little to say about our actions in the world. This is not to say that people aren't motivated by religion, but rather that, since religion can be used to justify just about anything, it winds up being a justification for nothing but itself.

A little blog music
I'm listening to Broadcasting From Home by Penguin Cafe Orchestra, and think that this disc, only in part because of its title, makes great music to blog to.

Demosthenes has a go at Horowitz over his suggestion that "the West Bank must be occupied by military force, disarmed and denazified".

Now I'm no fan of Horowitz, but I think Demosthenes's critique goes wide of the mark in highlighting potential opposition from proponents of the second amendment, to wit: "I'm amazed his gun-loving friends on the right haven't explained to him the contradiction between the latter two concepts."

Nevertheless, I think he's on to something in expressing scepticism over the record of denazification. Never fully implemented in Germany, and of limited applicability in Japan, the process of removing all former adherents of failed ideologies from civic life probably didn't have much to do with the later peacefulness of either of these societies.

Demosthenes thinks that this transformation was wrought, at least in Japan, as a a consequence of "the immense psychological impact of the Big Freaking Bombs that were dropped on two of their cities." I agree that the source of the rejection of warmongering is to be found here, but I suspect not in the way that Demosthenes believes.

Germany and Japan became peaceful because they had been conquered, utterly. To occupy the West Bank and "denazify" it would, therefore, be pointless. The only way a sea change similar to that wrought in Germany and Japan is possible is through conquest.

Friday, August 02, 2002
Postrel on cloning
To take my mind off the continuing follies of Bush the lesser, I checked out Virginia Postrel's comments on the Kass Bioethics Council report, and in particular, her reflections on James Wilson's invocation of human moral intuition. Charles Murtaugh is also a proponent Wilson's views in this regard, and given that I have some difficulties with the concept, I was hoping for some insight. Here's a long excerpt:

You cannot get directly from the "is" of this observation of the human moral sense to an "ought" that that's how we should reason. But it is nonetheless a useful argument because it addresses head on the fear that this research will lead to the callous dissection of fetuses for transplants—a result I find as appalling as Leon Kass does. Wilson gives us reason to think that we won't slide down that slippery slope by explaining why we'll stop ourselves.

Like the second group, I believe that moral personhood requires a brain and capacity for consciousness. But, like the first group (or, for that matter, like Brink Lindsey), I do not think a 12-week-old fetus, or a three-week-old fetus, is morally equivalent to mere tissue. The sympathy that Wilson identifies is not only a fact of human behavior but a moral sentiment worth cultivating. That sympathy is not encouraged but deadened by the sacrifice of living, suffering persons in defense of blastocyst's rights. That sympathy is also deadened by the constant refrain of the likes of Francis Fukuyama that personhood depends on the right genes; one wonders how big a deviation is required since, for instance, people with Down syndrome don't have the normal "human" complement of chromosomes.

The interesting question to me is why I'm willing to draw an earlier line on the issue of research than on the issue of abortion. On abortion, I draw the line at personhood. On experiments, I'd draw it earlier—just as I recognize limits on cruelty to animals, even in the cause of research. Conservation of sympathy matters. Why does it seem to matter less in the case of abortion?

Not because I think abortion is a more important right than research. To the contrary, since sex is generally voluntary, making pregnancy avoidable, biomedical research seems the far more important and morally significant freedom. Unlike, say, Andrew Sullivan, who supports abortion rights and opposes embryonic stem cell research, I do not think the right to have sex without consequences is more fundamental to women's autonomy than the right to do research or the right not to die of a horrible disease.

But the abortion rights crowd does have one point in its favor: the argument for self-defense. A fetus is a parasite, albeit generally a desirable one; it claims not merely the right to exist but the right to depend for life on its mother-host. As a matter of law, which is separate from the matter of personal morality, I don't think abortion should be illegal before the fetus can reasonably be considered a person, which is to say before the development of the cerebral cortex. For the reasons Wilson outlines, as a personal matter, abortion becomes increasingly fraught as the fetus develops, requiring greater justification to be a moral act.

Postrel seems to be saying that Wilson's invocation of moral intuition, while normatively useless, at least puts our minds to rest that we will not slide down some slippery slope into the vivisection of 8 and 1/2 half month old fetuses. As I read Wilson and Murtaugh, however, they are offering up generalized intuition as a basis, maybe the basis, for moral decision making. I don't think that you can have your intuitionist cake and eat it too. If our moral intuitions are not the basis for our decisions regarding cloning, it is pointless to rely on them as some sort of stop-gap to prevent abuses.

Postrel opines that our moral intuitions with regard to embryos, fetuses, babies and clumps of cells are "moral sentiment[s] worth cultivating." But she never explicitly tells us why. Presumably, sympathy is worth cultivating for sympathy's sake. Again, though, to rely on intuitions that contradict reason is an invitation to confusion. As I've said before, eventually all our moral reasoning bottoms out into intuition. It's important, however, to keep the levels clean and distinct, and hauling intuition up from the basement as an ethical circuit breaker certainly can't help in that regard.

Making this muddle worse, Postrel makes use of intuitionism to justify according a moral status to human embryonic tissue different to that accorded to any other clump of non-conscious human tissue. While earlier she had conceded that intuition couldn't be the basis for our moral reasoning as to this issue, now she would argue that it provides reason for a sliding scale of moral worth.

Ultimately, I don't think Ms Postrel has shed much light on the issue of intuition's place in moral reasoning. If anything, for me at least, she's muddied the waters. To round out the confusion, she concludes with some observations on why she's "willing to draw an earlier line on the issue of research than on the issue of abortion." Here, I finally find at least some reason to agree. Postrel takes a fetus to be like the famed unconscious violinist, a parasite on the mother-to-be's life. Nevertheless, in seeming opposition to her earlier take, she concludes that the law regarding abortion should rely exclusively on our reasoned conclusion that that which cannot experience is not a person. Why our intuitions should intrude into lawmaking on the issue of cloning research, but not into lawmaking on abortion, she does not say.

To me the answer is clear. Before the development of the capacity to suffer and to have interests, no clump of cells has any rights. After that time, the rights of the mother-to-be and the child-to-be are in conflict. Where we come out in resolving that conflict is, and should be, a matter of reason. If moral intuition has a role to play, Postrel certainly hasn't made a case for it.

Thursday, August 01, 2002
Two paragraphs from the NY Times sum up much of what's wrong with this administration:

"We're responding all across the globe to murders of Americans," Mr. Bush said. "We're responding by working with our Arab friends and Israel, of course, to track these people down. The war on terror is fought on many fronts. And I just — I cannot speak strongly enough about how we must collectively get after those who kill in the name of — in the name of some kind of false religion."

Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, said after Mr. Bush's remarks that the president had not meant to disparage Islam, but rather the Islamic militants who kill in the name of Allah. "The president believes very deeply that Islam is a religion of peace, and there are people who use the pretext of religion as an excuse to kill Jews, to kill Israelis and now to kill Americans," Mr. Fleischer said. "And the president will oppose that with every fiber of his body."

First, the president misspeaks. Then, his spokesman serves up some piffle. Islam isn't a false religion, but neither is it particularly characterized by a commitment to peace. The Society of Friends is a religion of peace. Islam isn't.

And last time I checked, religion wasn't a pretext for al-Queda or Hamas, as in a false reason given to conceal the real reason for their crimes. Their religious beliefs are the reason.

Good thing, though, that the president "will oppose" using religion as a pretext for committing crimes.

All-in-all, it's hard to believe anything the administration says when the president can't articulate what he seemingly wants to say, and the president's spokesman can only spin disingenuous cant.

In the Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru pans an unlinked New Republic piece on cloning for using "all the old polemical standbys." This is a bit rich coming from the guy who wrote the weak National Review editorial on the subject, discussed previously in Homeobox here.

Am I a patriot?
I just finished reading InstaPundit's post responding to Chuck Herrick's charge of "conditional patriotism," and it made me think about the evolution of my own attitudes toward the administration over the past 11 months.

In the days immediately following 9/11, I was gravely concerned that the president wasn't up to the job of leading the country in its response to that great atrocity. Frankly, I had always thought that Bush the lesser was a bit of a dim bulb, and while in ordinary times he might have been able to coast on the competence of advisors, a national emergency demanded at least a solidly competent man at the top. A ten to two work day and a limited grasp of the fundamentals did not inspire confidence. And when I heard his speech before Congress, I shuddered in dismay, followed soon afterward with incredulity when the media pronounced it Churchillian.

But, over the next weeks and months, my opinion changed. I found the president's apparent moral clarity refreshing. We had been viciously attacked, and what was important was tracking down those responsible and destroying them. There was a job to do, and by God, George Bush was going to see to it that it was done. No weasel words, no pussyfooting, no appeals to an incredibly complicated geostrategic situation requiring nuance, sophistication and agreement with the French. To hell with Noam Chomsky and claims that what we really needed to do was understand the root causes of atrocity and how it was, at least partially, our own fault.

So to war we went, and I along with the rest. Swift victory followed in Afghanistan, doom mongers be damned. Millions of civilians starving or killed? Hardly. The world united in hatred of American unilateralist bullying? Wrong universe.

Then January came, and the president told us that storm clouds still gathered. An axis of evil plotted the destruction of freedom loving people everywhere. Bush would not stand idle.

Or would he?

Months passed, and more and more it seemed that the House of Saud were our enemies, too. The religiously fanatic monarchy was, after all, the homeland of most of those who attacked us, and of Osama bin Laden as well. But, they were our allies, you see, a moderate regime. And, sotto voce, we do a lot of business with them by the way.

Months passed, and more and more it seemed that Israel was the front line in our war. The corrupt and duplicitous Arafat regime spoke of peace in English while in Arabic whipping its people into a frenzy of death worship to extract, perhaps, a concession or two. Or maybe for motives much darker. But, Arafat was not a terrorist, we were told. At least we were not prepared to label him so. Geostrategic considerations, you know, all very complicated.

Months passed, and more and more it seemed that Saddam plotted to acquire this or that piece of terror ware. His regime was, of course, in violation of the agreement to permit inspections to forestall just such a course. And now he has had, and continues to have, all the time in the world to prepare for our very possible, or maybe not, we'll surely wait 'til after the elections, attack.

But, but, but.

I am no longer convinced that Bush the lesser possesses any clarity of moral vision after all. A president of very limited capability, he is trapped between competing advisors. A man of very limited principle, he has allowed a great national tragedy to be used to forward his political agenda, and has proposed in place of real action a slew of sleight-of-hand programs that seems responsive but, in reality, are at best useless. A manager of very limited talent, he has held no one accountable for the mistakes that led to that calamity, least of all himself. A statesman of very limited vision, he has allowed a moment of great sympathy for America to pass, squandering the opportunity to shape a safer and more democratic world, through force of arms if need be.

If believing these things makes me less of a patriot in some eyes, so be it. I gave the president the benefit of the doubt.

Glenn Reynolds opines rightly that the House of Saud is as much our enemy as Saddam. He confuses me, though, when he concludes that he thinks "even the White House has figured that out." What reason do we have to think that?

Wednesday, July 31, 2002
Glenn Reynolds approvingly quotes Will Allen, who writes:

The fact that not a single bureaucrat has lost their job in the past 11 months is proof of the ineffectiveness of the govenment [sic] response, and the fact that the Democrats are having to be dragged kicking screaming to a bill that might result in a few people getting fired is yet more evidence that a large percentage of people just don't get it.

Sorry, but the strongest evidence that "people just don't get it" is the continuing use of terrorism related security issues to score political points.

Not a single political appointee of the president has lost his job since the events of 9/11. And the president has the power to send them back to lucrative private sector gigs right now. Of course, pinning the blame on some civil service nobody and firing her would be a convenient power for a president who doesn't like to sack his pals. And, of course, it's the Democrats who won't give Bush the lesser the power.

Give me a break. Bush apologists in the blogosphere and beyond need to recognize that it's starting to look like the biggest obstacle to a strong and effective response to terrorism is the administration. Homeland Security, TIPS, leak-a-day Iraq policy. 'Nuff said.

USA Today reports that there will be no pre-election attack on Iraq, quoting "senior administration officials." Let's remember that this is the same paper that reported that, absent some Iraqi provocation, no attack was in the cards at all.

Elsewhere, Matthew Yglesiais likes Tom Friedman's column exploring the oil price consequences of an attack. Matt concludes with what looks like a call for action sooner rather than later. You tell 'em, Matt.

N.Z. Bear says no attack equals surrender.

And Senators Biden and Lugar hype their committee's upcoming hearings on Iraq policy. Better late than never, I guess.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002
Back in the freezer
I read Rand Simberg's defense of cryonics (via InstaPundit), and don't think he's addressed the only important issue. Rand writes:

In the cryonicists' view, if the information needed to repair the body to its former vibrancy remains and can be preserved, and there exists a technology in the future that can perform such a repair, then how can a body preserved in such a manner be said to be irreversibly dead? And how can we, given our current limited knowledge about the nature of life, consciousness and identity, be smart enough to know how much information is required for such a reanimation, or that what is salvaged and preserved by present cryonics techniques is insufficient? Perhaps we can't.

As I have discussed, the point is that cryogenic freezing of anything much larger than a single cell irrevocably scrambles the architecture of the thing frozen. Because the connections between cells are what constitute our identities, cryogenic freezing destroys those identities.

Of course, if this obstacle can be overcome, I think that there would be something to be said for cryonics. And the rest of the Simberg piece is well worth a read.

More on Iraq
Howard Kurtz has a good overview of the bizarre leak frenzy reportage surrounding our (possible) plan to attack Iraq.

Frankly, I think it's impossible to have the necessary debate on this issue when the administration and the press are pumping out six contradictory lines before breakfast.

If Saddam is not completely brain-dead, he must be preparing for an American strike. The only people who are being disinformed are the American people.

Maybe that's the administration strategy.

Iraq, now?
N.Z. Bear says we should attack Iraq now. Waiting only gives Saddam the time to plan a retaliation.

Opposition to the Bear's call to arms comes from both sides. Some suggest that we are in the process of carefully placing our pieces into position on the board. Only when this process is complete will the devastating blow fall. Beginning the attack now, with airpower perhaps, only risks lives, jeopardizes our chances of success and invites a brutal retaliation, most likely against Israel.

I'm not sure I find this argument convincing. If Saddam has prepared a devastating counter-strike, he'll take the option now or then. Commencing operations today can only degrade his capacities. Perhaps, though, the response we seek to preclude is not a WMD attack, but rather a conventional push against, say, Kuwait. Again, acting today seems the best way to ensure that such an attack doesn't happen.

Bear also takes hits from the opposite end of the spectrum. These critics oppose action on the theory that, absent an immediate threat of Iraqi attack on the U.S., an invasion of Iraq would be immoral, contrary to international law, counterproductive given the obvious success of a deterrence strategy or some combination of the above. Clearly, though, these arguments aren't directed at the question of attacking Iraq now. They are directed against the idea of attacking Iraq ever. As a consequence, I find them to be beside the point. A discussion of when to attack Iraq has to be predicated on the assumption that there should be an attack. Which is not to say that there should not be debate on the prior question of the advisability of such an attack, just that it's better to deal with the two questions separately.

Ultimately, I'm beginning to suspect that there will never be an attack on Iraq. The president has been posturing belligerently for months now. Battle plan leaks, in an administration famously averse to leaks, have been legion. Saddam is now as on guard as he is likely to be. Apologists for the administration will claim that this is all a clever disinformation campaign. But it is not the particulars of the campaign that matter. It is the fact that there is going to be one.

I begin to suspect as well that, if a campaign is in the cards, its timing and character will be strongly influenced by political calculation. How can I suggest this? Well, on the homefront, the president has been more concerned with Rovian P.R. stunts, like the Department of Homeland Security, than taking real measures, like identifying and correcting failures in the intelligence apparatus. Why should this obvious political emphasis not bleed over into war planning?

Monday, July 29, 2002
Charles Murtaugh doesn't think much of the NR editorial on cloning either. Check it out.

Sully Market Watch
Last week's rally helped Andrew Sullivan make up some losses, but he's still in the red. Closes on Friday: Dow - 8264, down 420 since Andrew made his buy recommendation; S&P 500 - 853, down 68; NASDAQ - 1262, down 111. Tune in next week.

More on cloning
The National Review editorializes on the final report of the Kass Bioethics Council. And gets it wrong.

Taking on the position that I advocate, NR editors write:

The most compelling argument that the dissenters mounted was that an embryo lacks a nervous system, consciousness, and the capacity for suffering, and that it is these attributes that confer people with the right to be treated with concern and respect, including the right not to be killed for the possible benefit of others. But if rights depend on consciousness, why should newborn infants or the comatose be protected? Why, for that matter, protect people who are sleeping? They could be killed in a painless manner, with no suffering involved.

The objections raised here are, I think, disingenuous, and in any event easily answered. Newborn infants should be accorded rights exactly because they are conscious. The comatose, and obviously, the sleeping, should be accorded rights because the states they find themselves in aren't permanent.

Of course, the NR editorial team, being reasonably smart and educated, realizes this. That this is the best objection they can come up with indicates that their position is pure polemics.

More bafflegarb:

Implicitly or explicitly, proponents of cloning believe that our rights depend on our having certain traits, such as mental functions. Since these traits come in varying degrees (and well after birth), it is hard to see how the pro-cloning view can be made consistent with the basic American belief that people are equal in dignity and rights. If, on the other hand, human beings are intrinsically valuable — if they deserve protection from harm merely by virtue of being human beings, and not because of any additional traits they may or may not have — then they must have worth and deserve protection regardless of their size, age, or stage of development.

This ducks the question: What is a human being? I don't dispute that an in vitro embryo is human, just as a skin cell from my hand is human. I deny that such an embryo is a person or human being.

Ultimately, proponents of the view that embryos are human beings make that determination based on the possession by the embryo of "certain traits." They just choose different traits than I do. To suggest otherwise is either to misunderstand the question, or to seek to confuse.

All human beings do have equal dignity. But in vitro embryos aren't human beings.