Category ►►► Pompous Pedantry

October 27, 2012

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Cry Racism

Pompous Pedantry
Hatched by Korso

Picked up this headline from the Associated Press on the NBC News website: "Poll: Majority harbor prejudice against blacks." Now, I'm certain that the timing of this study -- a scant week before the first black president makes his stand for re-election -- was just a happy coincidence, but that didn't stop the kind folks at NBC from sharing with us the obvious political implications:

Racial attitudes have not improved in the four years since the United States elected its first black president, an Associated Press poll finds, as a slight majority of Americans now express prejudice toward blacks whether they recognize those feelings or not.

Those views could cost President Barack Obama votes as he tries for re-election, the survey found, though the effects are mitigated by some Americans' more favorable views of blacks.

Racial prejudice has increased slightly since 2008 whether those feelings were measured using questions that explicitly asked respondents about racist attitudes, or through an experimental test that measured implicit views toward race without asking questions about that topic directly.

Did you catch the money quote? In case you missed it, here it is: "A slight majority of Americans now express prejudice toward blacks whether they recognize those feelings or not." That's right, folks. You may be a racist and not even realize it! So how will all this affect Barack Obama?

Overall, the survey found that by virtue of racial prejudice, Obama could lose 5 percentage points off his share of the popular vote in his Nov. 6 contest against Republican challenger Mitt Romney. However, Obama also stands to benefit from a 3 percentage point gain due to pro-black sentiment, researchers said. Overall, that means an estimated net loss of 2 percentage points due to anti-black attitudes.

Of course, the study has nothing to say about the contigent of the electorate that will be voting for Obama primarily because he's black, because as we all know only white people can be guilty of racism. Still, even if you take all this hoo-hah at face value, you end up having to ask yourself: If whites are so racist, how is it that so many of them voted for Barack Obama the first time around?

You might think that what we have here is a gen-u-ine paradox -- until you look at the purpose of this study, as seen through the cynical lens of racial politics. First off, it's a naked effort to delegitimize Mitt Romney's election if Obama loses. Secondly -- and most importantly, in my view -- it's an attempt to guilt trip people who voted Obama in 2008 and who might now be considering Romney. That whole line about how people might not even be aware of their own prejudice? It practically screams out for them to prove to themselves that they're not bigots.

And what better way to prove you're not a bigot than to vote for Barack Obama?

Pretty sick stuff, I know, but I expect nothing less from the mainstream media. So deperate is their desire to see Obama re-elected -- and so desperate is the state of his campaign right now -- that they will try every ploy they can, no matter how damaging to the fabric of the nation. Compare that to the hope and change of 2008. What a crock it all seems in retrospect.

Hatched by Korso on this day, October 27, 2012, at the time of 11:33 AM | Comments (1)

January 23, 2010

The Latitudes of a Liberal

Pompous Pedantry
Hatched by Dafydd

In pondering the opposite of the set of characteristic traits of conservatives, I realized I was by and large describing liberals. In other words, contrary to what some libertarians, "moderates," and assorted third parties believe, conservatives and liberals really are nearly 180° apart from each other.

Again, other groups may share some of these traits; they are not exclusive to liberals. For example, socialists share many but not all.

As you can see, I have only one of these "liberal" traits (in bold italics); and even that one is conditional: I do believe the United States is the greatest country that has ever existed... but I still have a preference for governance below the level of the modern nation-state (with some doubts about its feasibility).

I would consider anyone with 13 of the 17 traits (about 75%) firmly in the "liberal" camp.

So here are the liberal traits; never let it be said I was not even-handed in my high-handedness.

Liberal characteristics

  1. Deep belief in utopia and the perfectability (via deconstruction and reconstruction) of humanity
  2. Anger, bitterness, and pessimism, possibly because their belief in utopia and perfectability constantly leaves them disappointed (as commenter BigLeeH suggested)
  3. Quasi-internationalism: They believe there is a place for nationalism, just as there is for state and local government; but some international standards should trump provincial nationalism (e.g., the "World Court of Justice")
  4. Allergy to American exceptionalism, which they consider provincial
  5. Rejection of "kneejerk" patriotism, which they consider chauvinist, but not to the point of hatred of America
  6. Rejection any large or adventurous role for America on the world stage -- unless we have no national interest whatsoever, our intervention is purely altruistic
  7. Preference for collectivist solutions, whenever possible
  8. Preference for "highly regulated capitalism;" in particular, they have it in for small business. Strong support for huge corporations, especially multinational corporations -- perhaps because multinationals are (a) internationalist and (b) always willing to play "Let's Make a Deal" with governments
  9. Belief in as large a government as possible, while still retaining the mixed and regulated form of Capitalism
  10. Preference for top-down decision-making, especially by unelected judges, due to a lack of trust in mere voters; but without the complete rejection of democracy (in theory, it's perfectable!)
  11. Belief in extreme version of Darwinian biological evolution -- which they believe proves the nonexistence of God
  12. Belief that all religion is just community consciousness and social control (which can be good or bad, depending on how it's directed)
  13. Denial that personhood begins at conception; some seem reluctant to admit that personhood begins even at birth; passionate support for abortion, including late-term abortion, as a "woman's right to choose"
  14. Passionate belief in the legislating of good health habits
  15. Strong distrust of the American military, security, and intelligence apparatuses as "agents of oppression"
  16. Preference for minorities over the majority -- on the basis of race, sex (women are honorary minorities), sexual preference, and ethnicity
  17. Love of non-Americans over Americans

Again, your definition of a liberal may differ from mine; this is just my inductively reasoned extraction of characteristic liberal traits as I see them. Comment is welcome!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 23, 2010, at the time of 2:04 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 22, 2010

The Consciousness of a Conservative

Pompous Pedantry
Hatched by Dafydd

In correspondence with my pal and sometime co-conspirator Brad Linaweaver -- currently publisher of Mondo Cult magazine -- I coughed up a list of characteristics of conservatives.

Mind, this is not some authoritarian, top-down deduction from first principles; I developed this list by inductive reasoning, not deductive: I have studied the conservatives I know for years, and I observed the following traits.

Naturally, not every conservative has every trait; but all of those I would call "conservative" (and who call themselves conservative) satisfy the lion's share of these characteristics. Similarly, not every trait is exclusive to conservatives; for example, libertarians share many.

I have some (those in bold italics) but lack others. My score is 44%, seven out of 16, but I do not call myself a consevative. My personal definition of a contemporary conservative ca. 2010 is that he has 12 out of the 16 traits, or 75%.

Update: I added two traits, one in response to commenter Baggi (belief in small government), the other because I just thought of it (nationalism). I also added examples to clarify the trait, belief in the legislating of virtue.

This has, of course, altered the numbering; so in commenting, please use the current numbers -- else everyone will be confused!

Conservative characteristics

  1. Optimism about the future and the courage to face its challenges
  2. The complete rejection of utopianism or human-achievable perfection -- this one was suggested by Brad; I hadn't thought of it, but Brad is right!
  3. Adventurousness, dreaming big, achieving the "impossible"
  4. Individualism, in contrast to collectivism
  5. Capitalism, in particular, small-business entrepeneurship
  6. Strong tendency towards preserving American traditions, whether good or bad
  7. Patriotism
  8. Nationalism, as opposed to internationalism
  9. Religiosity
  10. A strong tendency to reject evolution by natural selection as denying God and the spiritual nature of Man
  11. A strong belief that personhood begins at conception, thus that abortion is nearly always morally bad
  12. Belief in the legislating of virtue; i.e., laws against "sodomy" and other forms of unusual sex, drug use, prostitution, public nudity (at beaches, for example); censorship of sex and "excessive" violence on TV, in comics, and in videogames; tax exemptions for religious institutions; protection of (mostly Judeo-Christian) religious expressions in public institutions
  13. Belief in small government -- but still large enough to defend the country, provide for the needy, and legislate virtue
  14. Deep respect for and appreciation of the American military
  15. Respect for the democratic decisions of the people -- extreme distaste for oligarchy (especially kritarchy)
  16. Distrust of foreigners, especially immigrants

(Note that 2 and 3 do not contradict; conservatives reject utopianism... but they also reject defeatism. That's all I meant by these two.)

Your definition of conservative may not match mine; your mileage may vary. Many people call themselves conservatives who I would call liberals or libertarians or even Leftists (e.g., Andrew Sullivan). I'm not saying my definition is the true one or even the best; it's just... mine.

Naturally, readers are encouraged to comment on the list -- what should be deleted, added, or modified. You may fire when ready, Buckley!

A brief liberal interlude... As I see them, liberals score nearly zero on this set of traits; but they have their own set. See next post.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 22, 2010, at the time of 10:05 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 12, 2010

Why I Am Not a Racist. No, Really.

Pompous Pedantry , Risible Racialism
Hatched by Dafydd

I am unreliably informed that everybody is a racist. This is, of course, a load of ferret kidneys.

To be a racist, one must, at the very least, believe in the concept of race -- where "race" means some discrete and self-perpetuating subgroup of humans, defined by skin color and a certain morphology, but that also affects behavior and (some argue) thought itself. Anybody who accuses (e.g.) Clarence Thomas of "acting white" passionately believes in race-determinism.

This seems accurate to most people; but I simply don't believe in different "races" of Man: The morphology is inconsistent and its connection with behavior and thought is utterly spurious. What most folks imagine to be "racial" is in fact cultural... and I most certainly believe in different and often belligerent subcultures of Mankind.

But -- the critical difference -- while race is determined by birth, one's culture is, in the final analysis, consciously chosen... however much it may be influenced by upbringing.

We know that culture (a.k.a., subculture) is not determined by upbringing, because children of identical upbringing often embrace completely different cultures. There is no corner of the globe (does a sphere have corners?) so remote that it does not provide access to more than one culture. Even the most repressive third-world neighborhood, imbued in Islamism or animism or cannibalism or human sacrifice, cannot help but admit American Borg culture (A.B.C. -- "Resistance is futile!") -- from Tinkerbell t-shirts to Coca-Cola to McDonalds to reruns of Baywatch.

I doubt there's even a single country, region, province, or village that doesn't provide (if unwillingly) access to more than two cultures... perhaps Fundamental Materialist Euroculture or Catholocism or Baha'i or something spawned by historical colonialism, in addition to A.B.C.; so most people have their choice of three or more cultures to choose from, once they're old enough to notice the difference. Whichever they embrace is, by definition, their conscious choice.

Where am I going with this? Whenever options are available, choice is unavoidable: Of necessity, each adolescent must choose between all available cultureal options. That choice defines the path the individual takes... nothing cultural is carved in stone nor genetically determined.

There's that pesky word, individual. It crops up whenever we discuss thought, behavior, responsibility, accountability, liberty, conscience, and ultimately behavior. Simply put, we cannot foist upon others, or upon the impersonal Fates, accountability for our own behavior.

If Hutus slaughter Tutsis in Rwanda (or vice-versa), they cannot excuse their behavior by saying "that's the culture I was brought up in;" because many others brought up in that same culture did not participate in the attempted genocides on both sides and even tried to stop them. Just as a majority of those raised in Compton or Harlem or East L.A. or East St. Louis do not join gangs, do not engage in random violence, do not assault, rape, or murder innocents.

For those who do, their crimes are their own; they cannot blame "society."

In fact, all of the heresies of civilization, from socialism to racism to tribalism, stem from the same original sin: collectivism. The only way to sustain such cultures of hatred is to dehumanize outsiders; but to dehumanize, it's almost a logical necessity to view each human being not as an individual, not as a cardinal number, but as an ordinal number -- a representative of an entire class.

Thus, Barack H. Obama is not a man with his own strengths and weaknesses, his own ideals and blind spots, but simply "the first black president," or "a leftist" or "the One We Have Been Waiting For." George W. Bush is simply "the son of the 41st president" or "a Texan" or "a conservative warmonger."

When you insist, against all odds, on seeing each person as an individual, not as a cog in a giant collective, then "race" dissipates like morning fog in the noonday sun; the morphologies that define each race are seen as points on a continuum that are interesting to a painter, perhaps, but are orthogonal (at right angles) to all that which makes a man or woman. I'm a pale-skinned white; my wife Sachi is a dark-tinged Oriental; yet we share an intense and dispositive worldview linking us like the strong nuclear force, far more tightly than could possibly be parted by mere melanin level.

Thus I disbelieve in the concept of "race."

Ergo, by rigorous logic, I cannot be a "racist." Asking me what race I am is like asking whether I'm a good Martian or a bad Martian: The only valid response is, "will U. kindly F.O.?"

Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 12, 2010, at the time of 3:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 18, 2009

Women in Politics

Pompous Pedantry
Hatched by Dave Ross

The other day a lady called on the phone; during a conversation about something else, she asked me, “Mr. Ross, do you dislike women politicians?”

I immediately replied that I liked Sarah Palin, to which she shot back, “But that’s only because she’s foxy!” I should have said, “I really like her since I saw her on the cover of Newsweek!” But instead I replied that I also liked Margaret Thatcher, the former, great conservative British prime minister, who by no one’s estimation, even when she was a young woman, could have been called “foxy” or even attractive.

The lady’s point was that I had once again (in an editorial) attacked Hillary Clinton by pointing out how shrill she can be. She concluded that I don’t like women in politics.

This seems to be a common theme among Democrats too; just last week, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL, 100%) issued the statement that the GOP is a "party that doesn't respect women” and said that it is “repulsed” by women.

That’s silly. I dislike liberal women politicians, because they are liberals, not because they are women. The fact that most liberal women are shrill and unattractive and make taking a vow of celibacy look fetching at times only underscores my point.

And that point is that currently, most of the prominent women in politics are liberals. Or at least it was until fairly recently; but with the rise of Sarah Palin -- and two weeks ago Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN, 100%), who organized the huge protests in Washington to try to defeat the House health care plan -- it’s just plain inaccurate to say that there aren’t good, prominent women conservatives in politics. And I like ‘em.

On the other hand, it isn’t hard to divine that liberals and Democrats have their own problem with women in politics who are, as my interlocutor of last week said, “foxy.” This could be because their most prominent representatives are people like Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer, who are to “foxy” as Edsel is to T-Bird. Or, to brutalize a dead horse, Hillary again... about whom no one will ever write, “Hillary Clinton, in a glamorous off the shoulders Georgio Armani pantsuit straight off the runway." But that’s all right; we want secretaries of state to be intimidating. (I’m being unkind: None of them would stop a clock, although she might make it lose an hour or two a day.)

I’ve had fun with Mrs. Bill Clinton’s less attractive characteristics -- mainly her ability to sound like most men’s ex-wives -- as well as her tendency towards authoritarianism. That and the fact that every week she reminds me more and more of former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. [Or perhaps former Secretary of State Warren Christopher. -- DaH]

But I digress.

That’s a whole level of discussion removed from the way the media, and especially liberals, piled onto Sarah Palin, attacking her for her supposed lack of intelligence and dignity (compared to the man who is now vice president) and implying that she was a bad mother because she brought a Downs syndrome baby to term. Or for being from the Podunk state of Alaska, home of the snowbillies. No good universities there to get prestigious degrees from, like say, Bryn Mawr [a.k.a. Vowelless U. -- DaH].

She was also, almost by definition, attacked for being beautiful, as though it is wrong to be both smart and sexy. Oh, and conservative! And lest we forget, that Mrs. Palin speaks like one of the common people. Those sort of attacks will probably also now be aimed at Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, who, needless to say, is also a very attractive woman.

I know not what course other men may take, but give me beautiful women in my Republican party, or give me death. That’s preferable to Hillary, Barbara, and Nancy put together -- a rather daunting visual image.

Hatched by Dave Ross on this day, November 18, 2009, at the time of 3:08 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 11, 2009

Isakson Aims at Palin, Hits Own Foot

Health Insurance Insurrections , Pompous Pedantry
Hatched by Dafydd

Recently, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA, 76%) offered a succinct "debunking" of a recent Facebook comment by Sarah Palin anent ObamaCare: He said Palin's take was "nuts."

This was immediately picked up by numerous lefty sites, including ThinkProgress and the Hufflepuffington Post, of course; but recently, even some very anti-liberal friends of mine (who already dislike Palin) have quoted Isakson's brilliant counterargument as if it were definitive... and that this proves Palin really is nuts.

But has any of them personally looked into her claims, compared them to Isakson's counterargument, and decided which is correct? I doubt it; because if anyone had, he would never bring up the humiliating, self-immolating Isakson attack again, and might think a second time before ever using Isakson as an authority on anything.

Not everybody has seen Palin's actual words; you can read the cause of all this hysteria on her Facebook page. The specific paragraph Isakson, et al, refers to is this:

The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

Palin only notes what has happened in every other country on Earth that has implemented a single-payer system -- which Barack H. Obama repeatedly stated in the past was his ultimate goal, and which many of his most prominent supporters on ObamaCare say is the inevitable end result of a "government option," as George Will noted last June. Government control never leads to cost savings; Palin quotes Thomas Sowell on this point. Thus, when government finds it cannot pay for what it has promised, it is inevitably driven to health-care rationing.

This has already happened in Great Britain, in Canada, in Japan, and in every other country with socialized medicine: Sooner or later, a government panel must decide who receives health care, and who is told, "sorry, none for you."

  • An 87 year old woman falls and breaks her hip. She needs a hip replacement. The panel decides that it's a waste of scarce resources, because she isn't going to live long anyway.
  • The government-run health-care plan cannot afford to give every baby that needs it expensive incubator medical treatment; so the panel decides that a severely handicapped baby, one not expected to live to see age eight anyway, should not get that treatment, because it's a waste of resources.

This is not speculative; this is what already happens in countries such as Canada, our closest neighbor (not just geographically but culturally). Hence the "joke" (uncomfortable fact put into a humorous context to avoid despair) that the health-care plan of many Canadians is "head south."

So joking aside, what is Sen. Isakson's actual counterargument to Palin's point? This is it, from the ThinkProgress piece linked up top:

[Washington Post’s Ezra] KLEIN: How did this become a question of euthanasia?

ISAKSON: I have no idea. I understand -- and you have to check this out -- I just had a phone call where someone said Sarah Palin’s web site had talked about the House bill having death panels on it where people would be euthanized. How someone could take an end of life directive or a living will as that is nuts. You’re putting the authority in the individual rather than the government. I don’t know how that got so mixed up. [...]

It empowers you to be able to make decisions at a difficult time rather than having the government making them for you.

In the first place, only two people here are "so mixed up," Ezra Klein and Johnny Isakson. Sarah Palin never said "euthanized," and she was not referring to a "living will" or an "end of life directive;" she was referring to health-care rationing, and to the government panel that must eventually decide who receives scarce health-care resources, and who does not.

Why does Isakson so completely misunderstand a very clear and understandable point? The major clue is in his first statement: He gets his entire take on what Palin is saying from "a phone call where someone said..."

He hasn't even read her Facebook post! He's calling Palin "nuts," and accusing her of getting things "so mixed up," and he hasn't even read the Facebook entry he's criticizing.

Is this the authority anyone really wants to rely upon -- a senator who calls the former governor of Alaska insane... based upon what "somebody" told him in a telephone call? Isakson is not really arguing against Palin's position; he is arguing against a caricature of her position that "someone" passed along to him over the phone -- he doesn't even appear to know who.

But what possible counterargument could anyone make to the Palin point... that the "government option" won't eventually push everyone in to government health care? That we, uniquely -- unlike every other country with government health care -- won't end up with government rationing? That rationing won't fall disproportionately on the elderly and the disabled? Who then would be at the short end of the stick -- the hale and hearty young?

Or is Isakson just saying that, while Palin may be perfectly correct, it's unseemly of her to bring up such inconvenient truths? After all, he does support a government option in health-care reform; and there aren't too many logical arguments in favor of that position beyond, "'Shut up,' he explained."

In this case, Palin is simply right, and Isakson is simply wrong; but more than wrong, he is humiliating himself by attacking her sanity and her comprehension -- based upon a ludicrous "mixup" caused by Isakson relying upon a hearsay caricature by "someone" who is obviously hostile to Sarah Palin.

We already know that Democrats have no sense of shame, but does Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 11, 2009, at the time of 3:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 17, 2009

What's a Conservative Anyway?

Confusticated Conservatives , Opinions: Nasty, Brutish, and Shortsighted , Pompous Pedantry
Hatched by Dafydd

As before, I'm not looking for every possible policy position held by conservatives, but rather the core principles of conservatism. Particular policies should be derived from the principles of the ideology; we must never again allow the arrow of causality to point in the other direction. That, in a nuthouse, is what happened during the Bush years in which the GOP controlled Congress: Ideology was rewritten to retroactively justify the grab for power, sex, and money engaged in by Republicans, conservative and non-conservative alike.

Bear in mind that non-conservatives don't automatically hold the opposite of every principle below. Liberals are not obliged to reject all traditions, embrace all radical change, deliberately enact laws designed to encourage evil, and be atheists. My point in this list is that liberalism does not demand any of the following virtues. The liberal can reject tradition, embrace radical change, push for the mandatory abortion of "defective" foetuses, and write books entitled Atheism, unGod's Great Gift to Mankind, yet still remain a liberal in good standing among other liberals.

A conservative who did the same would be shunned by his erstwhile fellows; that is the sort of principle I try to deduce here... what would get you drummed out of the club if they caught you at it.

But remember, I am not myself a conservative; some of these principles I more or less support, though perhaps not exactly as a conservative would understand them; others I completely reject; still others seem "orthogonal" to my own principles (oh, look it up, for Pete's sake.) If any actual conservatives take issue with some of these principles, well, the comments section is your friend; argue away! (Just always bear in mind the commenting rules.)

I'll try to put these in order of increasing specificity (or decreasing generality):

Support for tradition and established order

This is the most fundamental, basic definition of conservatism: the wish to conserve what is already here, except for those elements that are completely incompatible with other principles of conservatism (e.g., slavery, which conflicts with human liberty).

Resistance to fundamental change

This flows from the first principle, but it's such an innate characteristic of conservatives that I think it deserves its own bullet point.

There is a tradition that, on his return from France, Jefferson called Washington to account at the breadfast-table for having agreed to a second chamber. "Why," asked Washington, "did you pour that coffee into your saucer?" "To cool it," quoth Jefferson. "Even so," said Washington, "we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it."

(From Max Farrand's Records of the Federal Convention of 1787)

Resistance to change can be good, as when conservatives vigorously oppose the radical changes envisions by the One We Have All Been Dreading. But it can also be bad (to my way of thinking), such as when conservatives fight against cultural changes that enrich the American Borg culture: interesting new forms of music and art; cultural elements imported from other countries via immigration; scientific innovation (genetic research, for example, even when they do not require killing human embryos, as with cloning); fundamental change towards something positive, such as more Capitalism; and so forth.

Clearly not every conservative takes everything to extremes; but there are forms of conservatism that do, such as the Amish. And the tendency is there and must be fought in cases where fundamental change is good or even necessary.

Belief in God

I suppose it's technically possible to define conservatism such that an atheist can be a conservative; but it would be a conservatism unrecognizable to nearly everyone who calls himself a conservative, hence a useless exercise; when a label means anything at all, then it really means nothing at all.

Conservatives must believe in God, and He must be the God of the Book, more or less... some aspect of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. It's very difficult to have a conservative polytheist, for instance, because by its very nature, polytheism does not lend itself to universal morality -- a signal attribute of conservatism (see below); if you worship Hermes, god of thieves, then thievery is not only acceptable, it's a sacrament! Likewise, a Buddhist could easily be a fatalist, but not a conservative, I believe; I won't argue the point here, but perhaps in the comments, if anyone takes issue.

Belief in essential human libery, dignity, and life

Because God created humans in His own image, each person has an implicate holiness. It may be unrealized, it may be brutally suppressed by the personal evil of the individual... but no person is beyond the reach of God's grace. Hence every person must be accorded certain "unalienable rights," until and unless he forfeits them by his actions.

Of course, conservatives can and do differ on the specifics; does "human dignity" require society to guarantee a "living wage" to every worker, or does the "human liberty" of employers to set their own wages and conditions of employment trump dignity? But those who would deny liberty, dignity, or life altogether, such as the Khomeiniists in Iran or the unholy warriors of al-Qaeda, cannot qualify as "conservatives." They are radicals... in this case, radical, militant Islamists. (For heaven's sake, you can hardly call a man a conservative if he leads a Jacobite revolution against a somewhat functional democracy.)

Strong version of pro-life position, along with traditional morality

The strong version says that abortion is always morally wrong, even evil, except in the narrowest case: when absolutely necessary to preserve the life (not merely the "health") of the mother. (The weak version would ban abortion after some point later than conception, or would only ban some types of abortions.)

Traditional morality presupposes that a universal morality exists -- some things are absolutely right, others are absolutely wrong, and humans can determine what those things are -- and the belief that it is the duty of the government to enforce the most vital elements of that universal morality.

Beyond that point, there is much disagreement among conservatives. Some grudgingly allow that abortion should remain up to the states, believing that Federalism (liberty) trumps life; others believe in a constitutional amendment banning all abortions, believing that life trumps the liberty of Federalism. But every person I've met who calls himself a conservative fits one of two patterns: Either he believes abortion is always a great evil, or else he has many other facets of what I would call liberalism... he is a "CINO."

There is even more disagreement about what exactly "traditional morality" entails; a few conservatives (e.g. Patterico) reject privileging traditional, opposite-sex marriage over same-sex marriage; but most are more like the lads at Power Line, however, rejecting both same-sex marriage and also court rulings like Lawrence v. Texas, which found laws banning "sodomy" to be unconstitutional; they believe the State can and should legislate many more aspects of morality than it now does, or than libertarian-conservatives would tolerate.

(A few conservative Moslems and Mormons privilege polygamy over monogamy; but most who hold that position simply cannot be shoehorned into "conservatism;" they are radicals, and not just on the marriage question.)

Typically in the West, "traditional moral values" is adequately described by the Ten Commandments -- or Ten Mitzvahs, "blessings," to Jews -- plus whatever Talmudic dicta is necessary to flesh out the broad rules.

Government policy should encourage moral behavior and religious belief and discourage the opposite.

This is a stronger version of "the rule of consistency" than found in the Republican version; the latter requires only that the government not violate principle, while the former requires active legislation and regulation to enforce principle. Thus there may well be conflict between a conservative and the Republican Party, especially over libertarian issues; this is why some conservatives (especially "single-issue" cons) can also be found in the Democratic Party, the Reform Party, various nationalist parties, and suchlike -- not just in the GOP.

Again summing up, I believe the core principles of conservatism (in order of increasing specificity) are:

  • Support for tradition and established order;
  • Resistance to fundamental change;
  • Belief in God;
  • Belief in essential human libery, dignity, and life;
  • Strong version of pro-life position, along with traditional morality;
  • Government policy should be consistent with conservative ideology.

But as I said before, this is to a much larger extent "terra incognita" to me than was the previous post; because, while I am not a conservative, I am a Republican.

Working and playing well with each other

So conservatism and the Republican Party are not synonymous, nor is one a subset of the other; there is, however, a very large insection between the two sets. There are a number of points of agreement; and if we focus on these, instead of the few areas of disagreement, both conservatives and Republicans will benefit -- as will the nation itself.

First, because the American tradition is more fiscally conservative, supports a very strong national defense, and has generally been more pro-trade than anti, a conservative's orientation towards a traditional understanding of hot-button issues will tend to drive him towards the GOP, rather than the Democratic Party (currently on the leash of the radical Left).

Second, both sets include the principle "Belief in essential human libery, dignity, and life," albeit not for the same reasons: Republicans deduce it from the necessity of free, reasoning individuals to run an enlightened government, while conservatives tend to profess it as deriving from the implicate Godliness of Man.

By contrast, neither liberals nor Democrats demand support for any of those three qualities as a prerequisite of membership in "the club." Thus again, conservatives will naturally feel more comfortable with the morals of the GOP, rather than the morals of the Democratic Party (which are those of an alley cat).

Third, most conservatives mistrust the government. But the Democratic Party demands far more trust in the Capo di Tutti Capi than does the GOP. Again, conservatives are nudged rather strongly towards the Republicans.

In fact, conservatives are so strongly identified with the Republicans, now that we're at least two generations past the terrible division of segregation, that some conservatives mistakenly believe that they are the Republican Party... or at least that they should be the only drivers on that bus.

We very much need to distinguish between commonplace and truly universal positions among Republicans; in other words, which is actually a shibboleth to identify who is and who is not a bona fide member of the party. There are a lot of fights we must join immediately which are fought entirely within the realm of core GOP/conservative principles; for instance, Obama wants to radically remake America (anti-conservative) into a Eurofascist welfare state (anti-Republican).

If we stick to those battles and set aside, for the moment, our internecine squabbles, we shall have a very good chance to make great gains in 2010 -- and maybe even take back the House of Representatives. But if we spend more time going after the heretics in the hall than the barbarians at the gate, we can kiss the next twenty-plus years goodbye.

I'm very interested to see where this finally goes; please comment to your heart's desire.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 17, 2009, at the time of 3:02 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

What's a Republican Anyway?

Opinions: Nasty, Brutish, and Shortsighted , Politics 101 , Pompous Pedantry
Hatched by Dafydd

I often note that while I'm a Republican, I'm not a conservative -- generally to hoots of disbelief from liberals, who see everyone to the right of Lincoln Chafee as a "hard-right extremist proto-domestic terrorist." But readers of this blog surely ken that there are many types of Republican within RR's big tent. Some are just barely Republican... RINOs like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Arlen Specter Michael Bloomberg. (The former because to be a Democrat in California is to be a Socialist; the latter purely for expediency -- Bloomberg didn't think he could win the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City.)

But there exist other "non-conservatives" who will remain honest and loyal members of the GOP, so long as the party itself stays true to its principles. So what are those principles, and how do they differ from the principles of conservatives, whether Republican or Democratic? We'll have to answer this question ourselves.

Let's try to identify the core principles that underpin the Republican Party; later we'll find the core principles of conservatism, then compare the two.

Here we go:

Fiscal conservatism: Low taxes, balanced budgets, low interest rates to encourage entrepeneurship, strong support for Capitalism

If you don't believe in Capitalism and all that it requires, including rule of law, less regulation, and government taking no more of our money than is absolutely necessary, then what would you want to be a Republican for anyway? Such people have only underhanded reasons to join our party... and we should have the bouncers bounce them out of the tent.

If a person cannot at least say that Capitalism serves America better than Oogo-Chavez style nationalist Socialism, then he can find some other party, and good riddance to bad rubbish.

A strong national defense: Defending the nation using any means necessary, short of betraying America's own principles

For a counter-example, I could never support "defending America" by enslaving people -- American Moslems, for example -- and forcing them to build tanks at gunpoint, as the Soviets did with political dissidents and the Nazis did with the Jews. An America that did that would not be an America worth defending.

But leaving adolescent hypotheticals behind, any Republican should, I believe, support such policies as missile defense; harsh interrogation of unlawful enemy combatants that does not amount to torture (room for diversity of opinion on what does constitute torture); and taking the fight to the enemy. Anyone who believes in "fortress America" -- that we should simply bring all of our soldiers home, ring our borders with them, and otherwise refuse to sally forth to other countries to fight the Iran/al-Qaeda axis there -- is an isolationist; and while isolationism (typically born of xenophobia) was a respectable position prior to World War II, I believe there is no room for it in the post-Holocaust GOP. (This doesn't mean I think isolationists are evil; but they differ so fundamentally with the mainstream of the Republican Party that I think they should join another or start their own.)

Belief in essential human libery, dignity, and life

Note that this does not mean an absolute pro-life position; we're still talking about the principles of Republicanism, not yet the stricter principles of conservatism.

But even non-conservative Republicans should oppose such flagrantly anti-life positions as late-term abortions for no necessary medical reason; involuntary euthanasia of "defectives;" policies that trap innocent souls in degrading, subhuman lives (no Republican should support policies that lead to beaten, abused, or starving children, for example); involuntary servitude except upon conviction of an actual crime (not the "crime" of being born the wrong color); and denial of basic liberties, including freedom of speech, worship, and the vote.

Treating each person as an individual, not as the representative of some group defined by characteristics beyond his or her control

This is not only fundamental, it should be obvious. For the most obvious example, Republicans should never support putative "affirmative action" by the State unless it's administered individually, rather than collectively. I applaud the EEOC helping some particular individual who can show that he, personally has been discriminated against; but it's morally corrupt for the State to favor Jesse Jackson's children over those of a middle-income white family, just because Jackson is black.

(I personally think it's even morally corrupt for the government to favor the poor over the rich; but that's one of my personal principles, not one I think the GOP must assume. Note that wealth is not a characteristic "beyond the individual's control.")

A foreign and domestic policy consistent with the principles above; that is, Republicans must believe that our principles are not simply things we say when engaged in moral preening; our principles are actual core elements of our government's ideology and policy

This may be the most controversial element of my GOP creed: I reject as a true Republican anybody who believes in a ban or even a moratorium on all immigration, or on immigration by certain types of people determined not by individual action but by inherent characteristic (e.g., a ban on all immigrants from Venezuela). This is simply another and uglier aspect of isolationism, combined with tribalism.

But I don't feel as strongly about, for instance, a ban on all immigrants who have been members of any group on the list of terrorist organizations, even if he insists that he has since changed his mind (I think such a blanket policy is foolish but not unRepublican).

I also think that those who in general reject treaties, including free-trade agreements (FTAs), with other countries are unRepublican and should join some other party; but of course, there may be good reasons to reject some particular FTA, if it's not good for the United States.

And proper Republicans cannot support excessive regulation of the market (I understand that "excessive" is a weasel-word), onerous government intrusion into citizens' lives, or attacks on certain religions or religion in general -- and yes, that includes Islam; it's urgent to attack the type of Islam that poses a direct threat to the nation... but not to attack Islam in general or, e.g., put all Moslems under surveillance.

All religions must obey the law; but the law should not discriminate against any religion, against religion in general, or against irreligion. So no government-mandated prayer in schools and no government ban on wearing a cross, a yarmulke, or praying towards Mecca (excepting regulations obviously crafted just to avoid conflict, of course).

So to boil it down, here are what I consider to be the core elements of the Republican Party; anyone who opposes one or more is being unRepublican and should seriously reevaluate whether the GOP is the right home for him:

  • Fiscal conservatism;
  • Strong national defense;
  • Belief in essential human libery, dignity, and life;
  • Treating each person as an individual;
  • And a foreign and domestic policy consistent with the other four principles;

Next we'll tackle conservatism and see how its principles intersect with those of the Republican Party.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 17, 2009, at the time of 5:57 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 24, 2006

Doom Is Nigh - for "Movement Libertarianism"

Gun Rights and Occasional Wrongs , Pompous Pedantry , War Against Radical Islamism
Hatched by Dafydd

Daniel Weintraub, in his excellent Bee-blog California Insider, published a brief little post about the 92 year old woman who was shot by Atlanta police after she opened fire on them when they attempted to execute a search warrant. This is Weintraub's entire take on the matter:

The government is spying on peace protestors in Sacramento and killing a 92-year-old woman in Atlanta after breaking down her door in a "no-knock raid" while looking for a drug dealer. Maybe it is time for the government to take a time-out.

As a fellow libertarian, I found his take rather disturbing. I thought maybe he simply wasn't aware of all the facts and was just believing the liberal hype. So I sent him links to the two stories on Patterico's Pontifications that brought forward factors that should mitigate too quick a pronouncement of police brutality:

(Patterico just now put up another post, Cops in Atlanta Shouted that They Were Police and Wore Vests Labeled “Police”; but I didn't send this one to Weintraub.)

Weintraub's response confirmed what I thought originally: he e-mailed me that, since he opposed the entire drug war and supports legalization, the fact that the cops were serving a lawful search warrant when she opened fire did not change his mind at all: police shouldn't break through doors (even after identifying themselves as police) to catch drug dealers. If they had to enforce such laws (Weintraub asks), why didn't they just stake out the residence and arrest him outside?

Daniel Weintraub and I are both libertarians, and his response perfectly encapsulates the terrible crisis facing contemporary libertarianism... which will shortly kill it if not addressed. His comment, and his subsequent defense of it appealing to the libertarian impulse against anti-drug laws, has touched a raw nerve: this, on a nutshell, is why, since 9/11, I find myself reluctant to admit I'm a libertarian. Libertarianism has not responded well (or at all, actually) to the crises we face today.

First, I also support legalization of all drugs (except antibiotics). But that's not the point, and it wasn't the point Weintraub made -- no matter what he intended.

First, surely he doesn't believe that cops should only enforce laws they personally support? For a libertarian, that would be far worse than the situation now -- since a libertarian (such as myself) must assume that the laws the cops don't support are precisely those that protect our liberties from abuse by the government. Police tend to be authoritarian; that's why they're drawn to law enforcement. Do we really want them picking and choosing which laws they like?

The points about the shooting that Weintraub's brief brief missed, which Patterico brought out, are these:

  1. The police were attempting to search the premises on the basis of a legitimate search warrant -- not the "wrong house" (as early reports claimed);
  2. It was the old woman, not the cops, who began shooting;
  3. She shot three officers before they returned fire;
  4. Bullets fired by a 92 year old are just as deadly as bullets fired by a 22 year old;
  5. The police have every legal right, and 95% of Americans would say moral right, to return fire when fired upon.

If you're going to attack the cops' actions, you must respond to these points; if not, the natural response of readers who have learnt them is to dismiss you as a crank, which I'm sure was not Weintraub's intention.

He raises the question of why they didn't just arrest that one guy. But how should they know he's the only person involved in the crime? For that matter, how does Weintraub know that the old lady wasn't involved herself? Old people commit crimes too. Maybe she liked the money.

Patterico also notes that a few days ago, a Texas state trooper pulled over a motorist to cite him for violating the state's seatbelt law. Now, I oppose seatbelt laws too, though I always wear my seatbelt (and always have since long before the same law was enacted in California); but again, I hope we agree that police shouldn't get to pick and choose which laws they enforce and which they routinely ignore.

As he approached, the motorist, who later stated he thought the stop was "unconstitutional," stepped out of his car and shot the officer point blank with a Ruger Mini-14 -- a gun that is functionally identical to the semi-automatic version of the M-16. The officer died.

The motorist was 72 years old. The police video got out to YouTube, and it's clear the officer hesitated to shoot at the motorist when the guy pointed his rifle... probably because he didn't want to shoot an old man; this hesitation led to his death.

We libertarians oppose seatbelt laws; so should we blame the Texas trooper for stopping the motorist, and think he more or less got what he deserved for enforcing such an anti-liberty law as the seatbelt requirement? Is this a mature political philosophy?

Movement libertarians (as opposed to Republican libertarians -- and not just the Libertarian Party) have opposed, almost en masse, virtually every security response we made to 9/11; but they have proposed nothing to take their place. They're worse on this score than the liberals, who at least accept that we need some security. The whole L. Neil Smith/Sam Konkin/New Libertarian/New Isolationist branch of libertarianism ("movement libertarianism") flatly states that "George Bush is the real enemy," and jihadism is either ficticious -- lies spread by "the State" -- or merely the moral, libertarian response of Moslems to our "oppression" of them (which they never specify).

This puts me in a real crisis of conscience: I have considered myself a movement libertarian since I was 19 years old; but on the other hand, liberties don't just float in air: liberty and duty are the obverse and reverse of the same coin.

E.g., as a libertarian, I believe that every sane, non-criminal, mature person should be allowed to carry a concealed gun. But by the same coin, it's also the duty of every person to intervene, as best he can, to protect the innocent from criminal attack. That's the bargain, that's the duty side of the liberty of carrying a gun. Without such social trade-offs, society crashes to the ground. Even libertarian "saints" like Murray Rothbard, Friederich Hayek, and Robert Heinlein understood that.

Suppose we had a libertarian society where anyone who wanted was allowed to carried a gun. Now suppose there is a violent criminal assault against an innocent victim who cannot fight back -- a child, say, or an old person, or a petite woman who cannot handle a gun properly, or a handicapped person. If none of the smug libertarians standing around intervene to save the innocent, if they "stand on their principles" that it's the responsibility of the victim to defend himself (even if he physically can't), and if such attacks therefore become routine... how long do you think that "libertarian society" will last? A society of pure narcissism is unsustainable.

The failure to recognize any duty whatsoever (in trade for liberty) is the great failing of the contemporary libertarian movement: it has morphed from Jeffersonian liberalism to ultimate narcissism. Most libertarians today demand an end to drug laws, not because they really believe in liberty -- because if they did, they would be at war with the greatest destroyers of libertry in the world today, Communists and jihadis -- but because they want to smoke dope.

Most contemporary "libertarians" are in fact simple libertines; but a society of human beings cannot be governed by libertinism. Even those who are not libertines but actually support (verbally, that is) human freedom have been duped by libertines into believing that we can have liberty without the responsibility to defend it, by force if necessary.

But Weintraub didn't just attack the Atlanta cops; he also attacked "spying on peace protestors in Sacramento" as a similar example of (one must presume) un-libertarian activity by the State.

Can he really be unaware that many of those "peace protester" groups -- such as International ANSWER, International Solidarity Movement, and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) -- are in fact front groups for either Stalinists or jihadis? That they raise money for terrorists and aid and abet "sleeper cells?"

Don't libertarians support "spying" on people who are plotting to take away our liberty, and who have demonstrated the willingness to kill us by the thousands in order to do so?

And we know that we libertarians oppose the drug war, but what about the drug problem? Drugs do, in fact, cause terrible problems in society -- and not just those associated with the artificially high price of drugs, like burglary and robbery to support the habit.

Drugs are very dangerous and destructive. So where is the libertarian program to minimize that destruction? I have been a movement libertarian for 27 years now, ever since I read David ("son of Milton") Friedman's book the Machinery of Freedom... and I have never heard anything but mantras that people have the freedom to "kill themselves." All right in theory; but in practice, rampant drug use destroys minds, souls, and society... what are we libertarians going to do about that, to take the place of the anti-liberty "drug war?"

The sound of crickets chirping.

Weintraub fails to mention that the "92 year old woman" opened fire on the officers first while they were simply trying to conduct a search pursuant to a lawful search warrant. They didn't simply kick down a door and assassinate some random nonagenarian, which is what his phrasing implied. Do we libertarians say that the cops should just refuse to enforce laws we don't like? Or are we saying those officers got what they deserved, and in future, they should just walk away whenever someone resists using deadly force?

If libertarianism continues down the path it currently follows, it will utterly discredit itself -- and utterly discredit the principle of maximal liberty in the process. If libertarians, working hand in hand with liberals, manage to overturn all the security measures we've enacted since 9/11 woke us up (movement libertarians oppose the Patriot Act, tracking terrorist financing, aggressive interrogation of enemy combatants, the Iraq war, the Afghanistan War, and surveillance of any kind, against any target, by "our enemy, the State"), then we will get hit again and again... and the response will not be pretty.

The American people, who (quite understandably) want to survive, will demand intrusions upon our liberty so much more severe than what we have now that even liberals will look back and long for the days of the Patriot Act, NSA surveillance, and the SWIFT program.

Like it or hate it, we are at war; the war was declared by the other side in 1979; and those people have not the slightest interest in, concern for, or even the vaguest understanding of liberty for Daniel Weintraub or Dafydd ab Hugh: to them, most of Americans are dhimmis, fit only to serve the Faithful... and Weintraub and I are nothing but Zionist pigs, fit only for death, as their version of the Koran demands. Why aren't libertarians standing up as a group -- or even as individuals -- to defend liberty against these monsters?

And if we're ever going to see the day Weintraub and I both hope for, where no drugs (in his case) or only one class of drugs (in mine) are proscribed or controlled by the State, then the absolute worst way to go about it is to imply that officers who get shot while trying to execute legitimate search warrants, and who return fire against the person shooting (rather than just walking away and refusing to enforce the law), are simply assassins who like killing old women.

We cannot skate by on Harry Browne libertarianism. Now that he's dead, let's bury that crabbed and egocentric vision of libertarianism deep, at a crossroads, with a stake through its heart.

We need a robust and responsible libertarianism that equally recognizes responsibility and duty alongside liberty, tails alongside heads, the yang to complement the yin. We need a libertarianism that can identify the true enemies of liberty, not simply those closest to home. And we need a libertarianism that accepts practicality when necessary, rather than always being willing to let the other guy die for our lofty theories.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 24, 2006, at the time of 5:12 PM | Comments (62) | TrackBack

November 10, 2006

Mrs. P Rallies the Troops

Pompous Pedantry
Hatched by Lee

Incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was interviewed by Brit Hume on Special Report Wednesday. Hume asked her whether it was more important to win in Iraq or more important to leave Iraq.

Here is her inspirational answer:

The point is, this isn't a war to win, it's a situation to be solved. You define 'winning' any way you want, but you must solve the problem.

This certainly compares very favorably with the less sophisticated Shakespearian speech by King Hal in the Life of King Henry the Fifth, act 4, scene 3 -- the speech that ends this way:

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

It's too bad Shakespeare didn't have Nancy Pelosi editing him; the play would have been much shorter, and it would be easier for students to memorize the important bits.

Hatched by Lee on this day, November 10, 2006, at the time of 4:59 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

September 14, 2006

Qwik Hitz

Pompous Pedantry
Hatched by Dafydd

Just some musings that don't seem large enough to warrant separate posts apiece. These are the nagging questions that sometimes jolt me awake in the middle of the day.

You're either with us...

In the international arena, we are fighting a battle that ultimately reduces to civilization versus barbarity.

But in the national arena, the real battle is between courage and cowardice: every man and woman in the county is either acting courageously... or he is playing the coward.

May I cut in?

Since this phase of the war against jihadi terrorism began five years ago, the British have been our most stalwart allies, while the French our weakest and most untrustworthy -- so much so that many of us consider Crock Jacques Chirac to have at least one doddering foot in the training camps of our enemies.

But now it appears that over the next two years, the British will drift away from the United States as Tony Blair leaves -- but the French will likely become much closer to us, if, as expected, Nicholas Sarkozy is the next president of France.

When the music changes, are our minds flexible enough to change partners?

Hair of the dog

Scientists have devised a fascinating scheme to repopulate the world with wooly mammoths by recovering mammoth semen (no jokes) from the creatures' frozen mammoth generative organs (all right, so I couldn't help myself).

Perhaps they'll come in handy when the global-warming crowd flip-flops again and begans warning, in dire, sepulchral tones, of the pending catastrophe of global cooling. You wouldn't want your mammoth to get cold, would you?

The premature-death tax

The current estate tax -- or "death tax," as anyone without pennies on his eyes calls it -- is currently slated to drop and drop until it finally reaches 0% in 2010; but then, the next year, if nothing it done in Congress to permanize the cuts, it's scheduled to leap right back up to where it began: 47%.

So if the Democrats continue to block meaningful permanent reform of the death tax... how many additional premature deaths will occur in late 2010 -- either voluntarily or with a little help from heirs -- as rational people act rationally, if not morally, to save an inheritance?

Call this figure the Democrats' "premature-death" tax.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 14, 2006, at the time of 7:00 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 19, 2006

The Value of Uniqueness

God in the Dry Dock , Matrimonial Madness , Pompous Pedantry
Hatched by Dafydd

The most typical response from those who support same-sex marriage to anyone who opposes it is this: "suppose your state adopted same-sex marriage; would that somehow hurt your own relationship with your wife? Would you love her any less just because two guys or two girls could also get married?"

The second question masquerades as a restatement or clarification of the first, but it's actually an insulting irrelevancy. We're not talking about love; pure love between any number of people has never been illegal. Only certain manifestations of love have been legally proscribed.

One such manifestation is sex. Sex other than within a traditional marriage used to be illegal nearly everywhere within Christendom (and Jewishdom); over the centuries, societies recognized the foolishness of trying to enforce marital fidelity by law.

Then, until recently, what were considered the most extreme versions of sex (to some people) were outlawed by the all-purpose word "sodomy," which typically referred, it seemed, to anything the judge wouldn't do with his own wife. I have argued for nearly twenty years that our organic documents -- especially the Declaration of Independence -- recognize a general "liberty interest" that more or less says the government should not try to regulate purely private "matters of conscience."

This, the Libertarian Axiom, has never been accepted as generally true; but in specific cases it has. And in particular, in the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court struck down all laws banning "sodomy," however defined.

So let's drop the "love" and "sex" stuff and get back to marriage.

First, same-sex marriage is not itself a "liberty interest." Liberty is the freedom to do something, to undertake some action -- from saying something to assembling to transacting business to having sex. But legal recognition of a same-sex union as "marriage" does not confer any freedom of action; you are already free to have gay sex, to live together, to call yourselves married in other than legal circumstances.

Rather, it's a demand for social approval of certain actions... and "social approval" is never a liberty interest.

Thus, society can restrict what kinds of relationships get dubbed "marriages" without restricting liberty. But should it? Does same-sex marriage actually harm society... and more specifically, does it actually harm already existing marriages?

The answer to the first question above -- does legal same-sex marriage somehow hurt my relationship with my wife? -- is Yes, of course it does... because it cheapens the unique value of that relationship.

Semantic note, it wouldn't hurt my relations with my wife (we would still interact the same)... but it would hurt the relationship as a separate entity, just as it would if we suddenly discovered the rabbi who married us was really an imposter, and we weren't actually legally married.

The reason is that uniqueness is itself a value; take away the unique nature of marriage, and the value is greatly diminished. All that stands between marriage and shacking up is that unique nature.

Illustration: suppose you go out with the girl of your dreams. Or, if you are a girl, the boy of your dreams. (If you are gay, please reverse those... see how ecumenical I am?) You have been friends with this person for some time, and you secretly love her. Him. Whatever.

At the end of the date, this person turns to you, takes you by the hands, and says "Pat" -- let's hope your name actually is Pat -- "I love you." Then the person kisses you passionately.

You're ecstatic. You're walking on air. All the way hope, it's like a Fred Astaire movie.

Then the next day, you tell you friends... and they solemnly inform you that she (or he) says that to every person she dates... kiss and all.

Now how do you feel? You feel like crap, because you realize that there was no uniqueness in that proclamation: she loves everybody, which is the same as saying she doesn't love anybody, especially not you. What made the three words valuable (even holy or sacred) was your mistaken idea that they were unique, something she shared with you and with nobody else. As soon as you realize those same words were offered to every Tom, Joaquin, and Yuri, they cease to have any value.

So we agree, I hope, that uniqueness itself is a quality that can imbue a situation or relationship with high, even holy value. Make the unique universal, and the value it adds vanishes altogether.

Back to marriage. Relationships have value not only to individuals but to the groups and societies those individuals form. A lawyer-client relationship, for example; it's useful to the individuals involved, but it's also useful to society to have an avenue where people can get advice without having to worry that their problems will be spread all over the community.

So we reward such relationships with special privileges (confidentiality, for example) -- and we confine them by special rules (defining who is a lawyer and who is a client of that lawyer). This is because we, as a society, believe that lawyer-client relationships benefit our society -- so we want to encourage them, and we also want to regulate them to ensure people are not just taking advantage of rights without fulfilling the obligations.

Marriage is the same: society has decided (rightly, in my opinion) that traditional marriage is a huge benefit not just to the individuals involved (typically more than two: husband, wife, but also children and potentially Grandma and Grandpa), but also to society as a whole: it nurtures children in the best possible environment, it combines the male with the female principles, it civilizes men, it protects women, and it provides an axis around which the wheels of larger institutions rotate, including property ownership, parental obligations, and our interaction with the government from testimony to taxes.

So we encourage it. But such encouragement is meaningless and useless if it's universally applied to every imaginable relationship of one or more human beings.

A "marriage" of thirteen women and six men is not the same as a traditional marriage: it does not have the same qualities, it does not have the same effect, it does not underpin our society the same way as does the particular relationship we have always called Marriage.

When society jettisons all distinctions between different types of relationships and chooses (or is forced) to call everything "marriage," then Marriage loses its uniqueness as an institution, hence its value to society and the individuals within the marriage.

It's like saying that any two or three or fifty chums chatting with each other are the same as a lawyer talking with his client, and they get all the same rights and privileges. There are rights of universalism and rights of exclusion; marriage is the latter. When an exclusive right is granted to all, it loses any value it obtained from uniqueness... which means all value whatsoever.

So the answer is yes: if California were to change the law to allow same-sex couples to legally marry (or groups larger than two, or persons already married, or consanguineous groups, or groups that do not obtain a license or go through a marriage ceremony), it would indeed damage my relationship (not relations) with my wife: the change would diminish its value, because it would remove the quality of uniqueness that underpins that value.

Thus, there is real damage to society from opening "marriage" up to all sorts of other relationships. And make no mistake: those advocating same-sex marriage also advocate the other changes listed in the paragraph above, because they rightly recognize that their real enemy is the very concept that any form of relationship at all can be excluded from the state of matrimony. If you recognize that society, in the form of the State, has any say whatsoever in determining who is "married," then there is no reason why it cannot restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples.

Their only consistent argument is to say "marriage for all, under any form of relationship." And marriage-for-all is ths same thing as marriage-for-none: definitions are by nature exclusionary; and Humpty-Dumpty aside, when you can simply redefine a word to mean anything convenient at the moment -- then that word actually means nothing at all.

There is a fancy word for this: nihilism. And those who are most forceful in advocating same-sex marriage are by and large marital nihilists who simply want to eliminate legal marriage altogether. Bear that in mind when you listen to their blandishment; substitute "polygamy" for "same-sex marriage," and you'll see that their arguments survive intact.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 19, 2006, at the time of 2:49 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

April 24, 2006

Contemplation and Cogitation On Chatty Canaries, Cages, and Current Classified Controversies

Pompous Pedantry
Hatched by Dafydd

I've been thinking about "canary traps" for the last couple of days, ever since Rick Moran of Right Wing Nuthouse suggested the possibility that the "secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe" story was just such a thing -- though he did not use that specific term (he said "sting"). It's actually a fascinating subject that lends itself to logical extrapolation.

What the heck is a "canary trap" anyway?

Suppose you believe you have a mole or leaker in your organization, and you want to find out who it is. Let's say you've narrowed it down to two suspects (the base-level canary trap).

You approach each suspect separately and give him supposed specifications on a new fighter jet the company is designing. You tell each suspect -- call them Fred and Barney -- that this information is absolutely top-secret, and they're to divulge it to nobody, inside or outside of the company. "Aviation Week would pay millions for these specs!"

In reality, however, there is no such airplane; you just made it up.

Label the specs you give to Fred "Specs-F;" Barney gets "Specs-B." Specs-F and -B each describe an advanced fighter jet, and they are substantially similar to each other... except that in Specs-F, there is a performance summary that says:

The Bat-Jet has a very high ceiling, but its real advantage is that it can fly at Mach 3.2 for brief periods of time.

But in Specs-B, the performance summary says:

The Bat-Jet is as fast as the fastest current fighter, but its real advantage is that it can operate up to altitudes of 175,000 feet above mean sea level.

Now you keep reading Aviation Week assiduously: when the article appears, if it includes the datum that the plane can fly Mach 3.2, then you know that Fred is the leaker; if it says the plane can fly up to 175,000 feet, then you know it's Barney. If both "facts" appear, then you fire both those two clods!

Let's generalize: if there are a twenty possible suspects, you prepare twenty different versions, each of which is substantially the same except for particular "enticing" details, something no journalist could resist including. If there are a hundred different suspects, you prepare a hundred versions: the mail-merge ability of word processors make this fairly easy: you need only keep the unique paragraphs in a database, along with a link to the person who received it. When the details appear, the inclusion or exclusion of various (invented) facts point the finger at the leaker -- or leakers.

In this case, we can suppose that Porter Goss may have distributed, say, ten different versions of the secret-prison story to ten top Agency employees -- those who had already been identified as likely leakers on the basis of earlier, actual classified intelligence that found its way to the antique media... with the list of suspects possibly filtered on the basis of obvious political biases of particular CIA employees.

If Goss did this, then the version Mary O. McCarthy got -- and leaked -- had some uniquely identifying details not found in any other version. When those details showed up in Dana Priest's story, Goss knew that McCarthy was the leaker... it remained only to focus the investigation on her until they could prove it.

Who would use such a weird tactic?

Canary traps have become ubiquitous in fields ranging from Hollywood screenplays to computer-software error-trapping. Studios use them to discover who has been copying scripts and selling them to rival production companies: each suspect gets a slightly different version of the script, and your own mole inside Colossal Pictures makes a copy of the version that arrived there: et voilà, you know who leaked it.

I have used canary traps myself in debugging the simplistic, clunky, and useless programs I've written for myself. In this case, I'm not trying to find a "leaker;" I'm hunting for the particular program object that is crashing the application.

I program each object in the code to print out its name before doing whatever it's supposed to do. When the program crashes, the last name on the screen is the module in which the crash occurred. (There are cleverer ways of doing this, but they require cleverer programers than I!)

Police use them, businesses use them; canary traps have shown up as plot devices in TV shows such as Mission: Impossible. You can even use them yourself, if one of your friends is gossiping about you behind your back. Because of how the practice has spread, it's tough to track the provenance of the term "canary trap" itself; many people say Tom Clancy originated it in his novel Patriot Games, but I vaguely remember seeing the term long before 1987, when that book was published. Has anybody ever asked him?

Hasn't the CIA already admitted the story was true?

John Hinderaker of Power Line is skeptical that the secret-prisons story could be a canary trap, among other reasons because some high-ranking CIA officials have "confirmed" that such prisons existed. But actually, that's not good evidence.

One point about a legal- or intelligence-related "canary trap" is that you can never admit it was a canary trap. In the present case, that fact would be known only to Porter Goss and perhaps one or two people he trusts utterly, the ones who helped him concoct it. The reason is twofold:

  • First of all, if the defense attorney found out that the intel leaked was concocted, then he would argue that it constituted "entrapment," making it that much tougher to get a conviction. Is this dirty pool? Perhaps... but not as dirty as leaking critical classified intelligence to the Post or the New York Times, for our enemies to read (I mean al-Qaeda, not Reid and Pelosi).
  • Second, the attorney would argue that since the leaked intelligence wasn't real, it couldn't have harmed national security; this might get his client off the hook. The fancy lawyer could always argue that the defendant knew it was fake all along and would never, ever have leaked real intelligence!

    Of course, if that were true, then the attorney would already know it was fake, and he would make that argument even if the prosecutor didn't tell him. It only makes a difference if the defendant really thought it was real, but his lawyer plans to lie about it.

So Goss will never willingly reveal that it was a canary trap, whether it was or wasn't.

Instead, the basics of the story (secret prisons) must be circulated department-wide as if they were true, because the suspect -- let's use "Mary McCarthy" as a name chosen at random -- will surely nose around first and try to find corroboration before leaking it to anyone.

Even if McCarthy doesn't suspect a trap, she may still suspect the ubiquitous bum intel that permeates any huge government bureaucracy like the Agency. If she hears the same story from five or six colleagues, however, she'll believe it and will be ready to pass it along to the Washington Post.

Thus, most of the story (let's say 90%) is circulated to everybody in the CIA who would be likely to know about such prisons if they really existed. Naturally, this list includes some high-level people: only the fine details would change from suspect to suspect.

And therefore, when the scandal breaks and top CIA personnel are hauled before Congress and questioned, nearly every one of them, from the bottom to almost the very top, will corroborate the basics of the story... because they actually think it's true. Even those two or three officials who know for a fact that it's false will nevertheless pretend it's true, just to maintain cover.

Note that this is not proof that the whole story was a canary trap, of course; but the mere fact that high-ranking officers believe it's true is likewise not proof that it is.

So is it is, or is it ain't?

Certainly, I have never heard any CIA agent claim actually to have been inside one of these secret prisons; nor have any guards been produced, nor administrators, secretaries, or even janitors. No buildings have been found, and you'd think a building as big and solid as a prison wouldn't be moved around very often.

None of the people who claim to have been held there as prisoners can lead investigators to a site or identify any of their captors or interrogators. If even the Europeans are saying there is no evidence -- when we know they're predisposed to accept "evidence" that would be laughed out of an American court -- that raises huge, huge suspicions. These suspicions are not insurmountable... but they're darned close.

Which Hinderaker himself notes, asking if "this is one secret the CIA has actually been able to keep, but for the leak."

At first, I was very skeptical of Rick Moran's canary-trap hypothesis; but now I'm only somewhat skeptical... and the only reason I'm still "somewhat skeptical" is that it would be such a Christmas gift if the whole story were concocted just to catch the chatty canary -- and I don't believe in Santa Clause.

But I sure I wish some reporter would just stand up and ask Director Goss flat out, "Porthos, old friend, tell us true: was the 'secret prisons in Eastern Europe' story just a canary trap?" On video; I want to see his facial reaction!

So how do you think he would react? Would he freeze just for a moment before sliding into a speedy denial? Would he show a reaction that Decker would notice in the movie Blade Runner? Or would he be so smooth, studied, practiced, that we would be left groping in the dark, as we are today?

I don't know, but I'd sure like to find out.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 24, 2006, at the time of 3:42 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

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