Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What's Your Point?

I just stumbled upon a blog on Townhall, "American 4 Truth"*, which seems to have it in for McCain. But the problem is, all it seems to do is tell us that McCain's father was involved in illegal liquor business.

To which I have to say, so what? I don't bash the Kennedys because of Joe's misdeeds. I don't fault Obama for his father's actions, I don't even know what his father may have done or not done. What this blogger seems to miss is that McCain did not commit the acts of his father, and crime is not inherited. His father may be every bit as bad as this blogger suggests, but so what? It has nothing to do with McCain.

Apparently, that is the tenor of this race. Obama can attend a racist church, associate with criminals and terrorists, say there are 57 states, run on a content free platform and then later say we should invade Pakistan, and we can mention none of it. We are just supposed to love him.On the other hand, McCain can say Iran is supporting al Qaida, which may be true, yet because it goes against the media's assumption we are told it is a "gaffe" and McCain is an idiot. McCain's father commits misdeeds, maybe, and this blogger documents them all as if they somehow make McCain guilty.

Then again, the same strategy was tried with Gore and Kerry, though with a bit less shamelessly than with Obama, and it did not succeed. Bush was blamed for his father's acts, he was faulted for every possible mistaken statement, and yet he still won two elections.

So let us hope the strategy works just as well on this third try.

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* Don't trust anyone who is too lazy to write out "for".

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ADDENDUM

By the way, I am not saying this blogger supports Obama, just that he has it in for McCain. On the other hand, his anti-McCain rants seem to follow the Obama supporter strategy, so it doesn't matter what he believes, it is serving the ends of the Obamaniacs anyway.

From his site, it appears that the author may be somewhere on the political fringe,but it is hard to tell where. Some sounds like CFR/NAU conspiracy nonsense, including the rampant Bush bashing, but some sounds decidedly left, like the fear of Haliburton posts.

I recall the poster's name from comments on the major columnist articles, and recall disagreeing strongly, but I can't for the life of me recall his particular slant. I seem to think it was leftward, but I am not entirely sure.

And it doesn't matter. My point still stands, attacking McCain's father has no bearing on the election. Nor do his irrelevant statements about McCain's wife. If you can't say something about McCain, then don't bother.

UPDATE 06/09/2008

The more I think about it, the more likely it seems that the posts are the work of someone on the left. It would not be the first time a left-leaning poster decided to appear to be a "real conservative". In fact, RealAmerican4Truth's tone, his claims, even his name remind me a bit of "True Captain America", who was certainly a left leaning poster.


Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/08.

Sorry, Mr. Chapman, No.

I was reading what is perhaps the most obtuse post I have seen on Townhall. I am referring to Steve Chapman's "Obama and His Labels".

First, I would like to note that Obama has actually agreed with my characterization of him as an inkblot. It is nice to see the candidate himself admit that most of his support has nothing to do with what he actually believes.

And after that point, the article goes completely off the beam.

For instance the author thinks that the characterizations of Obama as naif and sleazy Chicago politician are contradictory. That shows no contradiction, just a failure of imagination on Mr. Chapman's part. Obama could be completely corrupt, incapable of an honest statement, and yet have an absolute inability to understand world politics. Just because he is in Rezko's pocket and plays hardball to exclude primary competitors does not mean that he does not foolishly believe Mr. Ahmadinejad's promises. Naivete and corruption are not mutually exclusive.

However, the confusion does not stop there.

For example, after admitting that by one measure Obama is the most liberal senator, Chapman argue that removing unanimous votes, he is the 10th most liberal. Now, I have two questions, why does it make sense to remove unanimous votes? Second, if we remove unanimous votes for all senators, shouldn't that leave the numbers the same? If he voted for 5 liberal bills and 10 unanimous bills, and other senators voted for 4 liberal bills and 10 unanimous bills, doesn't removing the unanimous bills leave things the same? The percentages change, but the relative rankings do not.

Either Mr. Chapman is misstating what was done, or some funny mathematics are going on.

And Mr. Chapman's argument that HE thinks Kennedy and Pelosi are more liberal does not make much sense. Just because they have a reputation for greater liberalism does not change the nature of votes. That is why we have groups which assess voting records, because impressions may be wrong. Admittedly, voting records can be misleading as well, but they are better than Mr. Chapman's impression as a guide.

The next argument is a bit facile as well. I have mentioned before that Obama normally refuses to take a stand, but when he does, he then has a tendency to adopt every possible position so as to offend no one. So based on his contradictory statements on NAFTA, Mr. Chapman argues that we should ignore his solidly liberal record and instead be prepared for "a different kind of liberal". Apparently, Mr. Chapman is much younger than his picture suggests and this is his first election, as he thinks that a politician's promises are utterly reliable and his record is not. I thought the Clinton years, if not every election before that, disabused us of that notion.

There then follows the most silly argument of the entire essay, and believe me, that was a hard call. Mr. Chapman argues that opposition to the war is not a liberal position, as Ron Paul shares it as well.

Now, let me make this very simple, for those who agree with Mr. Chapman,  just because an idea is shared by another group does not make it any less characteristic of the group in question. For example, Stalin also persecuted Jews, yet that does not mean antisemitism is not characteristic of Nazis. Or Pat Buchanan wants to regulate international trade, but that does not make business regulation any less of a liberal position. And likewise, just because some isolationist conservatives and libertarians exists does not make Obama's opposition to the war any less liberal.

So, how to explain this article?

I want to give Mr. Chapman the benefit of the doubt and blame a small stroke or wood alcohol abuse, but I am afraid I can't, the writing is coherent, if the logic is absent. So there has to be something else.

Unfortunately, it appears that the conservative media is finally joining the mainstream. I suppose it was inevitable, as they became more respected, they would gradually turn into the mainstream media. Just as Fox shifted ever so slightly to the left, it appears several pundits are buying into the media story of Obama. Surrounded by nothing but other media types, they are like those New Yorkers who couldn't figure out how Nixon won.

The conservative media, in short, is slowly insulating itself from the grassroots it used to represent. It is becoming just another part of the media world, and in that world the story of the day is that Obama's charisma is winning over everyone, and soon he will walk all over McCain.

Well, as one of those outside of the media world, I can say it doesn't look that way to me, even living in a blue state like Maryland. Excepting those already in love with Obama, his nomination has not brought him any new throngs of screaming fans. His "charisma" has won him no new votes. (And polls continue to confirm this as they have for some time.) I just don't see his appeal expanding outside of the base he already has, which is hardly enough to win an election.

Wait, I think I need to correct myself. He apparently has won over one small group. Conservative pundits seem to be falling in love with him.

POSTSCRIPT


Just to make this painfully clear for Mr. Chapman, I will ask this: How is Obama different form other liberals?

He has fought for the right to not just third trimester abortion, but actual infanticide should the child be accidentally born. His one concrete economic proposal is to tax the rich. He has emphasized again and again that anthropogenic global warming is the biggest problem we face. He has proposed unconditional talks with dictators, and he believes that talks will solve all disputes. He wants to withdraw immediately from Iraq. His support universal health care. He belongs to a racist church and defended the reverend until it became politically costly to do so. He also believes that the nation is in need of racial healing thanks to continuing racial problems, though he uses supporters to make this point rather than saying it himself. And he believes that it is the purpose of the state to create jobs and regulate industry.

So, what exactly is so different about him?

UPDATE


Perhaps one of the reasons people are willing to believe such patently untrue things about Obama is that we are forbidden to criticize him, and the press is willing to bury critical articles, hide scandals, and generally run interference for him.

However, Mr. Chapman is a member of the press himself, and even from Obama's home town, so you think he would be a bit more skeptical. But his willingness to buy into the myth of Obama's difference tells me that he is as infatuated as any of the leftist journalist who get tingles up their thigh when listening to Obama. (Yes, that means you, Mr. Russert.)

UPDATE II


I can't believe I forgot to mention one of the more stupid things in the article, the final paragraph:


I disagree with Obama's positions more often than not, but reducing a political leader to the sum of his positions is like judging the value of an artwork by adding up the cost of the canvas and paint. Obama didn't get where he is by being a liberal like any other. He got there by being a liberal like no other.

Now, first of all, I would contend that on the south side of Chicago Obama could not have gotten anywhere had he NOT been a liberal like any other. Being unique in Chicago would have gotten him axed, not elected. He played corrupt Chicago politics better than his rivals, but he is just as cut throat and corrupt and, yes, liberal, as every other Chicago politician in his position.

But the truly silly part is the idea that we are not to judge a politician as the sum of his positions. As we were earlier told not to judge him by his record, and we are apparently not to judge him by his positions, how are we to judge him?

Maybe Mr. Chapman gives us a clue in his art analogy. As we have destroyed any objective criteria in the art world and left judgment up to critics, making art whatever the critics say it is, maybe Mr. Chapman is suggesting we should just stop thinking and accept the opinion of pundits as to what a politician really means.


Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/08.

Clever Mrs. Clinton

The Clinton concession did come at a good time in one way. If we assume, as I did in my last post, that Clinton is best served by an Obama defeat, then she did drop out at just the right time.

Why do I say that? Michigan and Florida.  Both states were in play for the Democrats, though Florida was a bit of a reach. BUt still, Mrs. Clinton has ensured that neither will be an easy win for the Democrats. Around a month ago, the issue of having no say in the Democratic primaries had settled down somewhat. Though it still seemed unlikely the Democrats would win either, the issue had remained quiet enough that they might have a chance. Then Clinton revived the issue, and the Democrats stupidly responded by telling those two states that they would be worth half as much as everyone else, ensuring a loss in November in both.

But the really clever part was what came next. Mrs. Clinton conceded. Now nothing will fix that problem. The last memory will always be that, when it still counted, Florida and Michigan were worth half a person. Even if the Democrats seat them now with full votes, it won't matter, the damage is done.

And it isn't as if Clinton was going to get the nomination. Even if she got all the delegates seated, the superdelegates would counterbalance them, she may even have lost more superdelegate by continuing to fight. She knew that, and knew she had clearly lost, so the concession cost her nothing, but it did allow one final blow against Obama, and one that cannot be repaired.

And, as I said in my last post, should Obama suffer a horrible crisis before the convention, despite the concession she is still in place to accept a nomination. The concession does not prevent her from becoming the nominee.

So, she really lost nothing, but she did strike a blow against him, helping to ensure he will lose should he win the nomination.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/08.

NOTE: As I have said elsewhere, my predictions proved wrong. For reasons why, see the note following "Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword".

Clinton Concession

Well, the Clinton concession finally came. I have to admit I am a bit surprised, I expected her to hang on until the bitter end, hoping for the one final scandal that would break the Obama candidacy. Then again, she probably realized what we all have, that the media will insulate Obama from any scandal, at least until McCain runs ads in the general election. So, unless she is ready to appear disloyal to the party by running her own attack ads on Obama, no matter what scandal broke, he was destined for the nomination. She really had no choice.

Now on to the other foolishness that has been bouncing around the media for some time, the question of  a Clinton vice presidential spot. It isn't going to happen, because it is bad for both of them.

For him, it brings nothing and risks quite a bit. The thought is that it will bring Clinton's partisans back into the fold, but I think the opposite will be true. Many Obama supporters who really can't stand Clinton will be turned off, and some may even sit it out. Likewise, those who believe Obama is a "different kind of politician" will be put off by such an opportunistic move, and may reconsider their support. And, for all these costs, it is unlikely that a token position like vice president will appease Clinton's supporters, so Obama will get very little in exchange for all the support he will have lost.

And Clinton has little reason to jump on board either.She is still young enough to be considering 2012. It is in her best interest for Obama to lose. If she is on the ticket, it is harder for her to covertly work for his defeat. Also, if she is on the ticket and he does lose, it does little to help her prospects in 2012, when she will be remembered as the wife of Bill Clinton who helped lose in 2008. And, of course, if Obama wins, she is still not much better off. True vice presidents almost always get the nomination if they seek it (though not always, and not without a fight), but being Obama's vice president won't help her much. Either she will serve until 2012 and Obama will lose, making her wait until 2016 to run as the former vice president of a one term president, or he will win and she may get the nomination in 2016, but, after eight years of Obama she will be suffering from party exhaustion the way Gore did in 2000, and the way McCain is now. It is not that big an impediment, but, given the large number of voters with a negative opinion of her, Clinton does not need added impediments.

Now, I have read other pundits who have differing opinions, but I think we all agree that from Clinton's perspective, the best outcome would be for Obama to lose, as it would allow her to run in 2012. If he does not lose, then she won't be able to run again until 2016 no matter what. The question of what is best for her depends on what we expect from an Obama presidency. If he is destined to serve two terms and retire a beloved president, perhaps she would be best served by becoming his vice president, but odds of that happening are slight. If he serves only one term, it won't help in 2016 to have been vice president during a failed presidency. And if he ekes out two terms, but ends up with low approval ratings, his vice president will probably get the nomination in 2016, but has a very high likelihood of losing.

So, as I said, I don't think either Clinton or Obama is helped by putting her on his ticket. The only advantage anyone gets is a slight benefit for Obama that I mentioned before, if Clinton is on his ticket she can't secretly work to help defeat him. But given all the other harm it will do, that benefit is too small to make it worthwhile.

ADDENDUM

One thing to note is that Clinton's concession makes little difference. Had she not conceded she would still be in the same place. Likewise, the concession means nothing if a horrible scandal arises before the convention. Despite Clinton's concession, should Obama self-destruct in a way even the Obama infatuated media can't bury, then Clinton is still the obvious choice at the convention.

So, the concession scored her points with the party for being good enough to drop out, and set her up to be a favorite in 2012, should Obama fail, but it does not prevent her from stepping into the role of front runner should some really deadly skeleton emerge from Obama's closet.

In other words, the concession is the most over-reported non-event of the week.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/07.

NOTE: Though wrong in part, I was also right, and in the more important part of the prediction. Clinton did not take a VP slot on the Obama ticket, which would have saddled her with his failures, should anything go wrong. She did take the Secretary of State post, but that position can openly oppose the president without charges of disloyalty, allowing her to remain distant from any failings, and so was a good choice for her, keeping her from being tainted by any Obama failures, while still saying in the public eye. And for Obama it gave him many of those Clinton votes without forcing him to adopt any parts of her platform as he would have had she become VP. It was overall a good decision for both. One I failed to anticipate, but a good decision, nevertheless.

Live By The Sword, Die By The Sword

Amanda Carpenter's column brings up some interesting numbers. It appears that McCain may actually be ahead in the white female vote.

Now some of this has nothing to do with the race or sex. There are simply many conservative white females who would support McCain anyway. In addition there are women who were open to either side who either support McCain out of disappointment over Clinton's loss, or because they oppose Obama's policy. Then there are those who follow the pattern I have been proposing for blue collar Democrats, who are turned off both by Obama's elitism, and by the perception that he will place racial issues above issues which interest them such as jobs, the economy, and labor issues.

But there are also a number of Democrats who oppose Obama because he is a man.

The Democrats have spent decades playing identity politics, dividing the country into warring factions, such as blacks, women, hispanics, gays, and so on. It is a policy which paid dividends to the Democrats for a long time.

But now it is turning to bite them.

It appears that having found their new dream candidate, who the Democrats believe will win by virtue of charisma alone, divorced from any actual platform, they may be hoist by their own petard. Some Democrats, it appears, took the identity politics seriously, and see Obama's victory as a victory for blacks and a defeat for women. And thus, white women in the party, who take the identity politics message seriously, see no reason to support Obama. They may not support McCain either, but even if they just sit it out, it is a serious blow for Obama's campaign.

It remains to be seen how much damage it does, but it is yet another blow against the Obama campaign before it even gets started.

Then again, given the nature of identity and grievance politics, it was inevitable. The Democrats were always playing a risky game.


Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/07.

NOTE: This is more temperate in tone than my earlier predictions, though it too proved wrong in the end. However, at the time it was written, polls were generally quite favorable toward McCain, so its conclusions are not that unreasonable. Shortly after this was written, the media began its "Obama Love Tour" and the numbers began to shift, but that was in the future when I wrote this. For more discussion of why these predictions were to prove incorrect, see the notes following "Swimming Against the Current" and "I Almost Feel Sorry For Them", among others.

Some Final Thoughts on the Primaries

Now that everyone is assuming the primary process is over, I guess it is time to sum up all that happened.

The Republican primary was a strange one. The very vocal conservative wing of the party appears to have lost out, though not so much to other Republicans as to media hype and independents and Democrats in open primaries. McCain, on the other hand, seems to slowly be realizing that he needs conservative support, and is running right, just like the Democrats do after a primary win.

There were several mostly conservative candidates, both economic and social conservative. Huckabee definitely drew the lion's share of the social conservatives, though his history of rather liberal spending drove some away. The remaining conservatives tended to split their votes between Thompson, Hunter, Tancredo, and others, with some pragmatically choosing Romney, despite some questions about some compromises he made while governor.

Unfortunately, long before a single conservative could gain enough support to become the front-runner and draw together the conservatives behind a single candidate, media hype and open primaries managed to thrust McCain to the front. Huckabee and Romney fought on but it was a lost cause. Romney simply never found a voice. He start off running to the left of the more conservative candidates, and, as they dropped out, he tried to position himself as the conservative choice, but it came too late. Likewise, Huckabee had no hope, as his rather liberal economic policies left little to distinguish him form McCain, and as McCain had enough correct positions (eg. on abortion) to draw in social conservative voters, there was simply nothing left to distinguish Huckabee.

The Democrats had more of a competitive race, in fact, despite the press, it still isn't settled. The states have all decided, and the question of Florida and Michigan appears to be settled, but thanks to the tremendous power of the super delegates, the race is still not decided. Clinton could still be nominated should something change the minds of the super delegates before the convention.

But barring that, it does appear that the race has been decided in favor of Obama. Which is an interesting choice. Obama has enough negatives in the general election that, despite statements in the press, I think he will have quite an uphill fight. Besides his questionable friendships with Wright, Pfleger, Rezko and Ayers, and his elitism, there is the simple fact that he ran on no platform and still has enunciated very few clear positions.

And that is what makes the Democrat choice so odd. Hillary Clinton may not have been a popular individual, but she ran on the now standard liberal-triangulating-to-the-center ticket that worked well for Gore and Kerry, not to mention her husband. instead of opting for this "liberal in centrist's clothing" choice, the Democrats chose Obama. He has no clear position, except being for change, but he still generates huge enthusiasm among those on the left. However, I think the Democrats are mistaken in their belief that this enthusiasm will spread tot eh rest of the nation. The left may love the policy of "I don't know what he believes, but isn't he cute?" but independents tend to demand at least some positions of their candidates.

Well, I have spoken on this enough in the past, so I won't bore you with my thought again. I will simply say that, while the Democrats are banking on independents being just as enraptured by Obama as they are, I think they will instead see the blue collar Democrats crossing over to support McCain. And, while McCain caused some upset in the party at first, that is subsiding, both as McCain begins to move to the right to solidify his base, and as the conservatives who opposed him realize how bad an Obama presidency will be.

Obama's one hope is to follow the traditional Democrat strategy of running right after the primaries in hopes of winning back those blue collar Democrats. But, in his case, that holds special risks, as taking firm centrist positions would not only risk losing his cult-like supporters, but it would destroy his image as a different kind of politician. If he is willing to compromise to win votes, he is just another politician.

Well, we shall see. It seems right now that Obama is trying to continue his content free campaign all the way to November. It surely will help him keep his base, but at the cost of the center, as well as the more conservative Democrats. Meanwhile, McCain appears to be shifting slightly right, not enough to scare off cross over voters, but enough to appeal to some of the conservatives who rejected him.

To me it appears that should things continue in the same vein until the election, McCain has a much better chance than Obama, no matter what the pundits say, but we shall see.

POSTSCRIPT

For those interested in my earlier thoughts, here are a few essays I wrote on the primaries:

Quick Thoughts on the Election
Why McCain Will Win
Time For McCain to Decorate the Lincoln Bedroom
More Democrat Woes
Am I Missing Something?
Looking Forward
Calling the Race Too Early
Too Clever For Their Own Good
Swimming Against the Current

You can find a full list in my blog index. Look under the headings "McCain", "Obama", and "General Election".

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/07.

NOTE: Obviously my predictions were to prove pretty far off the mark. For more discussion of why these predictions were to prove incorrect, see the notes following "Swimming Against the Current" and "I Almost Feel Sorry For Them".

Notes For A Future Essay

It seems one of our biggest problems, both in terms of terms limits, of limiting spending, or reigning in government, and in throwing out the incumbents, is the ability of incumbent politicians to use tax payer money to essentially buy votes. For all the talk of removing undue influence of lobbyist money or corporate money, for all of McCain's high sounding rhetoric about limiting campaign advertising, no one has talked about this immensely unfair advantage that incumbents have.

Recently I have turned my thoughts to ways to limit this power, especially as the McCain-Lieberman Incumbent Protection Act, er, I mean campaign finance reform, has made this access to taxpayer money even more of a decisive influence. However, the problem is that it simply is a difficult problem to solve.

Well, not that difficult. The simple solution is to return the government to the minimal form envisioned in the Constitution, to revive the principles that argued that paying for highways was an incorrect application of federal funds. But that is not going to happen soon, partly because those incumbent funds will be used to fight it.

Thus I was left thinking of less drastic schemes, but they all fell a bit short of the mark, or allowed loopholes through which politicians could circumvent the laws. For example, I thought of proposing a law which would prohibit any representative from proposing or voting on a bill which would profit his district or state. However, that would just lead to agreements between pairs of congressmen where X would vote bills that helped Y's district and Y would propose and vote on bills that helped X's district. Pork would continue unabated, it would just be slightly less honest and straightforward.

And so I continue to try to come up with ways to limit the ability of incumbents to buy votes, and once I do I will be certain to share them with my readers, but for the moment I am unable to explain how it can be done.


Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/06.

A Much More Simple Abortion Question

In my previous essay I asked some difficult questions about abortion, this time I plan to ask a much more simple question. Under what conceivable logic can people propose abortion without parental notification?

Legally, children have very few rights, and in the area of medicine those rights are even fewer. Children cannot contract, except under very specific circumstances. They cannot consent to sexual intercourse. They cannot choose whether or not they should undergo a medical procedure.

That last rule exists for several very good reasons. First, the general assumption underlying all legal disabilities applied to minors, the presumption that they are not competent yet to make such decisions. But in the case of medical procedures it is even more important as, should something go wrong, it will be the responsibility of the parent to provide for the care of that child. So should they be disabled in a surgical mishap, it will be the parents who will be obligated to make arrangements for their care afterwards. That is why even for simple things such as ear piercings we have traditionally required parental consent for minors, excepting those who have been emancipated. And in the case of parents who refuse necessary treatment, the law does allow for the court to overrule parental choices, should it decide that the child's interests would be best served by a different decision.

All of which makes sense and has served us well since the founding of the common law. For centuries there has been no need to really change this law. The social reforming spirit of the twentieth century did layer all kinds of bureaucratic meddling on top of the law, adding childrens' services, adult protective services, and a host of other professional do gooders to the mix. But, basically, the original common law rules still provides a sound foundation for handling medical decisions for children.

Until 1973 and one very bad ruling which trashed so much of our law. Taking an old concept from Blackstone and blowing it up to cover situations that jurist never imagined, Roe v Wade created the concept of "reproductive rights" out of whole cloth and read it into the emanations of the penumbras of the Constitution*.

With the birth of the concept of "reproductive rights" we suddenly had a conflict with this ancient precedent. Before a child's rights were very limited and their decisions largely controlled by their parents. However, the courts rightly saw that reproductive rights had to be paramount in all cases. if they admitted that the right to privacy could be limited by other rights, then they could not argue for an absolute right to abortion**. So, even in the case of children, they had to demand that reproductive rights were absolute and paramount.

Which brings us to the strange position of many pro-choice proponents. They argue that, while children have to have parental consent to have their ears pierced or to get a tattoo, they should be able to have abortions without even notifying their parents.

Again, I cannot make sense of this. I understand the reasoning on the other side, but legally it is nonsense.

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* I will confess that my position on abortion has changed over the years, but strangely my position on Roe has not. Whatever I believed at the time, I always viewed it as bad law. It simply does not fit with the way our Constitutional law works, and it creates an imaginary right which fits very poorly with the existing rights. Had the court been determined to find a right to abortion, as it appears they were, it would have been better had they done so using an existing right, rather than creating this new right out of thin air.

** If the right to an abortion can be limited by other legal concepts, such as the traditional disability of children, then it opens the door to states creating abortion restricting legislation, which they could then justify on the basis of a compelling state interest. Only by arguing that reproductive rights are absolute is this pitfall avoided.


Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/06.

A Few Questions on Abortion

When I listen to debate on the abortion issue, it strikes me that the most emphatic argument comes from people who hold some of the most dubious positions. Or at least positions which, if logically followed, would lead to some strange conclusions. Nor are they all on one side of the debate. In the case of abortion, there are inconsistencies on both sides.

We will leave the middle of the road out of this debate entirely, as effectively there are only two positions. Either one would allow abortion or one would not. Those who would allow abortion may differ as to how late in the pregnancy abortion is allowed, what restrictions will be applied, what access minors will have, and so on, but we will deal with those details later. The essential question is whether abortion should or should not be legal, and such binary questions leave no middle ground, either one answers yes or no1.

Let's start with the pro-life side. Or rather the pro-choice group which calls itself pro-life, because, despite their beliefs, most pro-lifers are actually pro-choice, just with very stringent restrictions. In reality there are very few consistent pro-lifers.

Why do I say that? One simple phrase "except in the case of rape or incest". As I said before the question is whether abortion should be legal or not, and by admitting to the legality of abortion, even in very limited circumstances, takes one out of the pro-life camp. Of course, having raised this once before, I know the answer is that most pro-lifers don't really believe in those exceptions, but put them in to get laws passed. To which I reply that you don't open negotiations by making a concession to your opponent, and you do not put compromises in your platform. If you truly believe that abortion should always be illegal, then say so. You don't see NARAL arguing for limits on third trimester abortions. They ask for everything and then compromise. So I must assume those allowing the rape and incest exemption either believe it, or they are very bad negotiators.

Of course, some will argue that the exemptions are consistent with pro-life positions, that allowing abortion for rape and incest is simply compassionate, and does not violate their pro-life beliefs. However, I am afraid that makes no sense. If the argument is that a child is a person from the moment of conception, then how do the circumstances of conception justify killing that child? After the child is born, he is still the product of rape or incest, so can we kill him with impunity? If not, then why does that status justify abortion if it is otherwise illegal2?

Not that the pro-choice side is any more consistent, especially when it comes to late term abortion. The basic argument of the pro-choice side is that the fetus is not a person until some set point. The point at which the fetus becomes a person differs from person to person, but for the most part they are rather arbitrary dates, such as six months, three months, birth. There is much talk of nervous system development and ability to survive outside of the womb, but I have yet to meet anyone who proposes that a fetus is a person once it develops a functioning frontal lobe, it is always some arbitrary calendar date.

So, why do I say the pro-choice side is inconsistent? So far I have only shown that they are somewhat arbitrary in their choice of dates, not that any beliefs are inconsistent.

Well, in a past essay, I wrote at greater length about the inconsistency of fetal murder statutes and how the logic of those decisions, if carried through consistently, would support not only infanticide, but murder of children by their mothers up to the age of majority. But having already written that, I will leave that alone and refer those interested to my older essay. Instead, I will look at the specific question of justifications offered and the logical problems they pose.

As I said, the basic argument of the pro-choice side is that the fetus is not a person until some fixed date or event. And as I said before the dates bear only the most tenuous connection to the justifications provided. And what are those justifications? Most common is that the fetus in the early stages is too poorly developed to be considered a person. Others tend to justify it on more mercenary arguments that "it can't survive on its own", essentially likening a fetus to a parasite. Beyond that, especially for late term abortions, the justifications tend to drift into the pragmatic, bringing up child abuse, psychological harm, the poor prospects of teen mothers, all bolstered with copious statistics.

The first argument is the most plausible, though it does raise some troubling questions. It is arguable that to be considered human, some degree of cognitive ability is required, that one could say that before the fetus develops certain features of the nervous system it is incapable of being called human. The problem being that this raises questions about force euthanasia of the retarded as, if cognitive ability determines humanity, then why can we not kill adult beings whose cognitive faculties are no greater than that fetus? Not to mention those suffering brain damage which reduces their cognitive abilities to those of a fetus.

Then again, there is an even bigger problem. For all the talk of the fetus lacking the brain and nervous system to feel pain or qualify as a human, the laws proposed by pro-choice proponents don't fit with the reality. As the brain starts to form by three weeks, and develops fairly quickly into a complex system, for laws to match this belief, we would need to prohibit abortion after about the eighth week. However, those using this justification inevitably allow abortion through at least the end of the twelfth week, and many through the second trimester, when not only is the nervous system developed but many fetuses are viable outside of the womb. So, while the argument is semi-plausible, with some disturbing implications, it is not much more than a rationalization never followed in practice.

A slightly less plausible, if more honest explanation is that the fetus cannot survive outside of the mother's body, and so were she to "evict" this "parasite" it would not survive anyway, so abortion is the only way she can be freed of this entity. It is rarely worded so plainly, but that is the essence of a variety of more euphemistically worded arguments. At the core, this argument, and the next, are based on a somewhat legalistic argument that rights don't attach until late in the process or even at birth. Unlike the nervous system argument, no rationale is provided, it is simply taken as a given that no right to life exists.It is a consistent argument, though it is rarely stated so clearly.

Instead, this argument is usually followed by the third argument for abortion, the utilitarian argument. We hear arguments about the prevalence of abuse against unwanted children, of the suffering of both child and mother in the case of teenage pregnancies and unwanted births. We hear of suicide rates and drug abuse. All sorts of sociology is brought to bear3.

The one real problem with using utilitarian arguments is that there is no way to limit such arguments4. Why does a right to life attach at three months? Or six months? Or at birth? If it is harmful to have to carry an unwanted child, is it not also harmful to have one around the house? What if the thought of giving it up for adoption is too painful? What prevents me from pragmatically removing the child rather than risk a bad couple adopting it? Once we allow an arbitrary cut off for the right to life, what is to prevent us from moving that date out even farther? Why not after birth? What is to prevent infanticide being justified by the same argument?

Lest anyone think I am going too far, and that no one would seriously propose infanticide, I would remind them that a presidential candidate in the present race actually spent quite a lot of political capital fighting for the right to infanticide. Obama actually went farther in his arguments than NARAL was willing to go, thinking it would be political suicide. Yet, Obama argued quite forcefully that to prevent doctors from allowing unwanted children to die of exposure was to limit a mother's right to choose.

And that really is the biggest inconsistency on the pro-choice side. They tend to portray their opponents as ignorant, superstitious religious types who are fighting for an arbitrary belief that life begins at conception, yet they themselves are just as arbitrary int he position they adopt. Sometimes they will bring out the nervous system argument, but never will they suggest that abortion should be permitted only when an MRI or ultrasound shows an incomplete nervous system. Instead, for all their supposed rationality, they adopt arbitrary cut-off dates, such as six months, or when the final bit of child leaves the birth canal.

We can see this most simply in the case of extremely late term abortions, the ones that pro-life supporters call partial birth abortions. In this case the child is almost completely delivers, but the doctor is careful to keep some of the body in the birth canal so it remains a "fetus" rather than being a child. Which is perhaps the best illustration of our confusion over abortion, the fact that if a twitch of the leg extracts the "fetus'" foot, it suddenly becomes a child. A movement of a few inches changes it from a "clump of cells" into a person fully endowed with rights.

I simply cannot make sense of such a belief.

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1. For purposes of this argument, I am leaving aside the question of whether or not the state should actually pay for abortion. Back when I was in college the pro-choice movement made a big deal out of "safe, available and free" abortions, and took "abortion on demand" to mean abortion at state expense. I think they have realized how much of a non-starter this is with most Americans. I believe there probably still is a significant percentage of pro-choice groups which still believe in full state funding, but, for the most part, they remain quiet about this.

2. This does not apply to the question of "life of the mother" abortions, as in that case at least one party will die, if not both. As someone is going to die, choosing which will and which will live is not a violation of even the most strict pro-life position. As pro-life beliefs do not place any greater importance on the child or parent, there is no need to emphasize saving one or the other, and aborting to save the life of the mother is perfectly consistent with a pro-life position. Rather vague "well being of the mother" arguments are another matter., but with legal abortion those arguments have become much less common, mostly having been used to get around anti-abortion laws in the days before Roe v Wade.

3. Of course, I could use such figures to argue for anything. I could show how my happiness would be greatly improved were I allowed to steal without punishment. Does that justify legalizing my thefts? The fact is utilitarianism does not provide a basis for eliminating rights.

4. Science fiction writer Phillip K Dick, wrote a short story that provides an interesting take on this. Dick was politically quite liberal, often to the point of paranoia, going so far in one of his stories as to claim his friend Bishop Pike was assassinated for political beliefs. But he also had strong, if rather unorthodox, religious beliefs. In any case, he wrote a short story in which the government decreed that the soul was not present until children could perform higher mathematics, allowing abortion of unwanted children up until the age of eight or older.It is a bit silly, but it does provide an illuminating look at the rather arbitrary selection of abortion cut off dates.

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POSTSCRIPT

Obviously, I am not a fan of either side in the current debate, as both are riddled with inconsistencies. But they could be made into valid arguments, were some simple logic applied. A pro-life movement which allowed no exemptions (saving the life of the mother is not an exemption, as someone must die in such cases, so choosing mother or child is not an abortion issue, but a medical decision which must be based on available information) would be consistent and intelligible.

It is harder to justify the pro-choice side. I am sure some Objectivists will tell me that it is easy because a fetus is not a rational being (or maybe is incapable of rationality), and thus has no rights, but I would argue that that would allow us to murder the irrational among adults as well. I think the best argument is that a fetus is not yet a human being and is not possessed of the capacity for rational thought, but even that allows for some unpleasant extrapolations.

And that truly is the problem with almost any pro-choice argument, as soon as you allow that a fetus can be killed, you open the door for extrapolation from that position to analogies among older entities. And almost none of those extrapolations is anything we would want. There may be  an argument out there which does not allow for such extrapolation, but I have yet to hear it.

Basically once criteria are established for depriving one of rights based on something other than actions, the door is opened for all kinds of problems. (Which is why I am hesitant to endorse such things as involuntary commitment, or even depriving the supposedly insane of the right to contract. But more on that in a later essay.)

ADDENDUM


For those interested in legal problems raised by the question of abortion, see my older essay "Legal Schizophrenia". It is also interesting to compare this to the legal problems involved in the other end of life, especially the right to die, as I discuss in my essay "The Right to Die".


Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/06.

A Peek Inside the Mind of an Obama Supporter

It is informative sometimes to see what the rank and file are thinking. From Townhall I have a pretty good grasp on those  supporting McCain. Many are simply supporting him because the alternatives are so much more frightening. Some, including your author, are supporting him because, wrong as he is on many issues, he is right on defense, which is the most pressing issue of the day. (And in my case, because I think he is still open to pressure to move right on other issues.) Some support him because they think his personal history show him to be an honorable man. Some support him because they agree with most or all of his beliefs. Some, leaning more to the left, support him because his maverick persona make them think he will have a more progressive approach than most Republicans. And then there are some Democrats, perhaps a considerable number who are crossing party lines either because their candidate lost, or because they have more in common with McCain than Obama.

Nor is it that hard to see what Democrats who support Hillary Clinton find in her. She is promoting the old Clinton line, a mix of left and center, with the implicit promise that she will move left as soon as the campaign is over. It is pretty much the same thing her husband promised, and the same set of promises which accompanied the last winning Democratic presidential campaign. It may be hard to see how Democrats can overcome the personal distaste so many feel for Clinton, but that they support Clinton makes sense. They are liberals, she is promising a center-liberal platform, it make sense.

What I can't fathom is the rabid support Obama receives. I have made attempt after attempt to figure this out, but it still seems incredible that the man could have built up such an enthusiastic following while campaigning on essentially no platform. He may be a traditional die hard liberal in practice, but his campaign has eschewed any reference to his record. And now, though he has been forced to adopt positions, he has still avoided being cast as a traditional liberal. Well, he has adopted some liberal positions, such as his boundless faith in negotiations, but he quickly stepped back from his liberal stance, or, in some cases, adopted more than one position.

Well, I have finally found an honest look into one of those rank and file Obamaniacs.

And what strikes me most is that not one thing that appeals to her has anything to do with actually being president. Her description sounds, appropriately enough, like a teenager describing her dream boyfriend, or a precocious elementary school writing about why her dad is so great, rather than a grad student writing about politics.

And I think that may be the real secret of Obama, why his platform doesn't matter, why it would even hinder him, why he can even drop his drumbeat of "change" and "hope" and still keep going.

Obama isn't campaigning; he isn't asking for votes; to his supporters, he's dating them.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/05.
 

Can A Man This Dense Be President?

Obama is saying about Tony Rezko "this is not the Tony Rezko I know".

Did he not also say that about Reverend Wright? And claim that after 20 years he did not know what sort of church he attended? And apparently his adviser and recipient of state funds voted on by Obama, Father Pfleger was also not the man Obama knew. Nor did he know the Billy Ayers who set bombs.

The only person he apparently knew was his racist white granny.

So, either this man is a terrible liar who has surrounded himself knowingly with criminals, terrorists,  and racists, or he is so delusional that he has no idea that he has accidentally surrounded himself with criminals, terrorists and racists. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt, do we want that man as president?

Do we want to hear him explaining a gas attack in New York or a mushroom cloud over the middle east by telling us "that's not the Ahmadinejad I knew"?

POSTSCRIPT

Just to show how convergent evolution of ideas can produce pseudo-plagiarism on the internet, I discovered that I was anticipated in this comment by the Daily Mail. Let this be a warning to those who claim to have been the origin of any idea on the internet. Odds are good that someone else came up with it independently. And, thanks to the low cost of publication, it is probably recorded somewhere.

UPDATE

By the way, due to my age, sometimes when I criticize sixties "radicals" as terrorists, some elder of a liberal bent will tell me that I do not understand, that I "had to be there". However, for anyone posing that line of argument, I have one reply: Did you set bombs? Well, Ayers and his associates did. I don't need to know any more to call him a terrorist. There may be circumstances which justify such actions, but they certainly don't apply to the United States in the sixties or early seventies.

Or is someone actually contending that the US was so oppressive in the 1960's that bombing universities, government buildings and military installations was justified? If so, I would love to hear that argument.


Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/05.

Statistical Artifacts

I recently saw another news report about anti-Thimerosal protesters, and one again I am struck by the way people confuse increases in reported incidents with increases in absolute numbers. Now, I am not going to argue here whether or not Thimerosal has anything to do with autism, the medical community has done a pretty good case in presenting their arguments. What I want to discus is the possibility that autism numbers are increasing for reasons other than an increase in the absolute number of people suffering from autism*.

In the past decade we have seen an explosion of diagnostic tests being applied to children. In the past only a small fraction of the children who are diagnosed today would have even seen a therapist. In addition, as diagnostic criteria are expanded, more and more people fall under the rubric of autism. Where previously only today's most severe cases of autism would have been called autism, today people are diagnosed autistic who would have been considered healthy, if a bit strange, in the past.

Now many will say "if you ever knew anyone with autism you wouldn't say that"**. But they ignore the fact that the "spectrum of autism" now covers people with Asperger's, which can be so mild that an Asperger's sufferer competed on America's Next Top Model. That is hardly the definition of a crippling disease. Yes, there are horribly debilitating cases of autism, but autism is also applied to much less severe cases. So please do not tell me that people diagnosed today with autism could not have been missed completely in the past.

All of which is a long winded way of saying that perhaps the increase in cases has nothing to do with Thimerosal, or any other cause, but is instead an artifact caused by increased reporting. If it is nothing but an indication of either improved diagnostics or a shift in diagnostic criteria, then there really is no need to look for a cause, as it is not so much an increase in cases as an indication that we are finding cases we would previously have missed, or classified differently.

Such a statistical artifact is not unique. When our testing ability went from registering parts per million to parts per billion to parts per trillion, reports began that our drinking water was becoming ever less safe. Unfortunately, the truth was somewhat different. The parts per trillion of various chemicals had always been present, we simply could not see them. But, since we can now detect them where we could not before, scientifically illiterate newscasters suddenly began running reports on the dramatic increase in pollution.

It is an unfortunate side effect of our sound bite society, the incorrect 30 second blurb get reported because the accurate report takes too long to present. It is easy to shout "we're all going to die" and much harder to explain improvements in testing techniques.

I hoped that with the birth of the 24 hour news cycle the increased time available would allow for more in depth reports and act as something of a counterbalance to this trend, but it appears the 24 hours of the cycle are still filled with 30 second sound bites, meaning news has increased greatly in quantity but not one iota in quality.

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* I wrote before that I am sympathetic to some of the claims of Thomas Szasz. Despite his association with a Scientologist front group (which shows he has bad judgment, not that his arguments are invalid). I am not entirely convinced that our conception of mental illness is the proper approach. On the other hand, I am also open to alternate positions. In this case my mind is not completely made up. I tend to discount biological explanations, but I am still open to any argument.

** During college, before working in the refinancing field, I worked teaching mentally retarded adults to perform janitorial jobs, so I have quite a bit of experience with severe cognitive impairments as well as mental disorders, as the retarded seem to suffer from more mental illness than normal. So I have quite a bit of first hand experience with mental problems, I am hardly speaking from ignorance. (My wife also worked as a social worker in a mental hospital prior to receiving her RN, so I have some second-hand experience as well, for what that may be worth.) Granted someone suffering form both mental retardation and a mental illness is a different case than someone with only a mental illness, but I am hardly unfamiliar with mental disorders.

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POSTSCRIPT

By the way, to those who argue that we should just eliminate Thimerosal, we are doing so. And so are many other nations, in most cases several years before the increase in autism began. However, one consequence has been that immunizations have become more expensive, as, without preservatives, larger containers of vaccines will spoil, so they need to be packaged in smaller containers. It likely does not matter to relatively affluent westerners, but it will have quite an impact on attempts to inoculate less wealthy nations. If ther eis no health consequence to using Thimerosal,. then we will be depriving these less affluent people of needed vaccinations in order to avoid an imaginary threat. (Then again, in the case of DDT we allowed millions of deaths to avoid imaginary dangers, so perhaps that is not enough to dissuade policy makers.)

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/05.

The Carter Analogy

Can we survive an Obama presidency? In the short term, of course we can. No one is contesting that. No matter how bad the next 4 years are that is insufficient time to completely destroy the United States, even the Civil war took more than 4 years and still did not destroy us. We will doubtless survive in some form the presidency of Obama, should it come to that.

But I still cannot agree with those who oppose McCain with the logic "we survived Carter, we will survive Obama": It just does not make sense. Yes, we will doubtless survive Obama, but the damage done will be massive, and, in the long run, we may not survive Obama. Just because we are standing in 4 years it does not mean that Obama did not sow the seeds of our eventual destruction.

Don't believe me? Look at our current crisis and ask yourself, why are we worried about a nuclear Iran? Because Carter failed to support the Shah, and, afterward, failed to oppose the ayatollahs. He then allowed Iranians to hold hostages for over a year, making the rest of the world think that America was hopelessly weak. So, if we do eventually find a mushroom cloud rising over an American city, we can thank that president Carter whose single term we "survived".

And that is the problem with this "principled" opposition to McCain, it looks at immediate effects and not at the long term. Carter rules four years, but the pain still continues. Not only did he set up an Iran that continues to be one of our more prominent threats, and in the process created the impression of American weakness, he did much more. When OPEC began to flex its muscles, rather than encouraging domestic exploration, or removing the disastrous Nixon price caps, he caved in and allowed OPEC to exert ever stronger control over world oil supplies. Worse still, he prohibited nuclear fuel reprocessing, hampering future nuclear development and creating the nuclear waste problems we face today. (Not to mention effectively ending nuclear power as an alternative energy source.)

And it goes on and on. His disastrous inflation led directly to the eventual collapse of the Savings and Loan industry, as well as creating a crisis mindset which hampered investment well into the next decade. And, of course, the inevitable crash which followed his "stagflation" slowed economic growth throughout the first half of the 1980's.

It is simply wrong to argue that any one president cannot do that much harm, or to say that since we survived one bad president we can survive another. Think of all the changes to our economy wrought by a single president. FDR changed the entire way we look at government, Wilson gave us the income tax, and Nixon's disastrous economics policies gave us the groundwork upon which Carter built both his eventual oil crisis and his disastrous inflation*.

I have argued before, more than once, that our situation does not allow us to allow an Obama presidency to "send a message" or so "Obama gets the blame" for any bad policies. McCain may be far from ideal, but Obama is worse, and right now we cannot afford the luxury of feeling superior by "refusing to vote for the lesser of two evils".

If we want a conservative candidate, the primaries are the time for that fight. The general election is the time to close ranks and keep the worse candidate from taking office, even if it means voting for a candidate we find less than ideal.

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* Nixon did damage enough in closing the gold window and placing price caps afterward, but it was Carter's inept follow up that turned small crises into true disasters. One need only look at Reagan's first term to see how those Nixon mistakes could have been easily remedied by a competent president.

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POSTSCRIPT

Yet again, Thomas Sowell has written an essay on this very topic, making a much more concise argument, but saying essentially the same thing I did.

Also, for a more thorough look at our former president turned terrorist spokesman, read my old post "Memories of Jimmy".


Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/05.

The Failure of Negotiation

The President caused quite a stir when he used the analogy of Chamberlain's trip to Munich to argue against negotiating with terrorists, but I think he passed up a better example.

The Chamberlain example was not bad, but in some ways it was a poor fit. Chamberlain was dealing with an expansionist nation, a situation Europe had seen many times, and so he had no reason to believe that Hitler was in any way unique. And as Bismarck had been satisfied with the unification of all German speaking states1, Chamberlain thought Hitler could be satisfied once all the irredenta were returned2. Chamberlain, making the mistake of taking Hitler's rhetoric at face value, believed Hitler wanted only to restore the former German empire, to get back what had been lost after the last war. In Chamberlain's mind, this limited German goal allowed for negotiation, and had Hitler been sincere, it would have. The problem was that Chamberlain badly misread Hitler, and could not see that his rhetoric disguised his real goal of a German dominated Europe.

That is a poor fit for the situation in Israel, or of Middle Eastern terrorism in general. The terrorists, even when negotiating, make no secret of their goals, they are not playing Hitler's game of making limited claims to disguise their goals. They state outright that they want to push Israel into the sea, to destroy the great Satan America,  and to bring Islamic rule to as much of the world as possible3. I suppose in the case of a few specific groups, if we were willing to surrender Israel to them, we may be able to negotiate, but only if we were willing to help them eliminate Israel. And even then there are more than enough other groups who would still despise us, so it would buy us no peace, just deprive us of a valuable ally in the region.

All of which makes the Chamberlain analogy a bad choice. But the better choice was probably not a viable option for the president as he did not wish to insult a living former president. You see, the better analogy for the Carter Middle East strategy, which is also shared by Pelosi and Obama, is the Oslo peace accord.

For those who do not remember, Israel was almost at peace prior to Oslo. Egypt had been at peace since before Camp David, and Jordan had been observing a de facto peace as well. Syria was aware of their relative weakness, and their involvement in Lebanon left them even weaker. The remaining Arab League nations may have still despised Israel, but without the cooperation of her immediate neighbors, they had little hope of staging another invasion.

On the terrorist front things were similarly quiet. Admittedly there was some terrorism, but by the time of Oslo, it was more peaceful than it had been for some time. After the invasion of Lebanon and the eradication of the PLO bases there, the PLO was largely shattered, its leaders in exile. The defensive buffer along the northern border kept Hezbollah and Hamas away from civilians, and Jordan provided no real haven for terrorists since the PLO had made themselves unwelcome there.

All of which makes the Oslo Accords the most puzzling diplomatic initiative ever.

Israel was enjoying more peace than they had in some time, their terrorist enemies were either in hiding or, at worst, separated from the civilian population by a wide militarized zone. So, what would any wise statesman do? Bring back the defeated terrorists, restore them to power and turn over 30% of the nation to them! Isn't it obvious?

I know why Clinton involved himself in the Oslo accords, as it was part of his efforts to build a legacy. Having seen how much mileage Carter got out of Camp David, almost enough to make people forget how disastrous the rest of his presidency was, Clinton decided to schedule his own Camp David. And I can understand Arafat. He has been defeated, was in exile, teetered on the edge of irrelevance, and hew as suddenly given the opportunity to not only revive his movement, but be handed almost everything he had asked in the past? Who wouldn't take that opportunity.

What I can't understand is why Israel would enter into these negotiations. yes, the Palestinians were discontented, but they were less violent than they had been in a long time. And yes world opinion was against Israel, but it was always against Israel, and still is. Oslo changed nothing there. But perhaps that was the incentive. Israel was told they would finally make the world love them by entering into the Oslo accords, and they foolishly bought into it.

It doesn't matter. Whatever the motives, it seems to me Oslo is the best analogy for any negotiations with today's terrorists. Look at the two sides. Israel, a modern, civilized nation with no ambition but to be left in peace and the PLO with nothing to offer but a cessation fo hostilities. It is almost identical to our current position with regard to the terrorists. And, just as the PLO learned that they could break their promise and exact additional concessions, so will the terrorists.

And that is the problem with any negotiations with terrorists4. Once you negotiate with them, you have already conceded too much. First, you have told the world that you accept that their position has some validity, which makes it harder to argue against them in the court of world opinion5. More importantly, you have told them that you fear them enough to be willing to give up something to make those attacks stop.

And once they are armed with that knowledge, what is to stop them from exploiting it to the hilt? All that negotiations with terrorists will ever exact from terrorists is a promise to be good, maybe the surrender of some weapons. But weapons can be obtained, and promises can be broken.  As soon as the terrorists know the other side is afraid, why would they stop? They can attack again and again, and negotiate again and again, until they have everything they desire. It would make no sense to stop attacking until they are completely satisfied.

Nor do the terrorists have anything to lose. Again, they are more like the PLO than Hitler. The western world could threaten Hitler with attack, occupation, bombing, anything that would harm his nation. What can we do to threaten terrorists? We don't even know where they are. They have no lands to defend, or for us to occupy. We have nothing to hold as surety against good behavior.

In short, if we negotiate with terrorists, we give up real value for a heap of hollow promises. How does that work out to our advantage?

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1. Technically, Bismarck was pursuing the kleindeutsch solution, which excluded Catholic lands. He did eventually incorporate Catholic Bavaria in the Prussian dominated German empire, but the Austrian lands remained independent. The opposing grossdeutsch solution would have included Austria as well.

2. On the other hand, Chamberlain should have realized, with irredenta communities as far afield as the Baltic states and the Balkans, that Hitler's claims would not be satisfied without the surrender of more than some Czechoslovak border lands.

3. Admittedly, not all groups share all these goals. Nominally secular groups, such as the PLO, do not endorse spreading Islam as a goal,

4. I wrote elsewhere of the problems with negotiating with rogue nations such as Iran, so I will deal here only with terrorist groups.

5. Personally, I could not care less about world opinion. But as those who push negotiations also make a big deal about how the world sees us, I figure this may be something they would wish to avoid.


Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/05.

Message to My Son

I doubt my son will ever read this, and if he does it probably won't be here, but I have nowhere else to write it, so here it is.

Someday you will have a son of your own, and you will find yourself reading him Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. And you will realize a page or two in that the little guy has no idea what any of it means. And you will realize that it sounds as dated as a Woody Guthrie song. But you won't be able to stop, just because your father read it to you, and read it so often that it became your favorite book, though you don't know why. And when you read it, your son will fall asleep halfway through, but you won't be able to stop reading. You'll keep going, reading to him while he snores, just because your father read the same book to you while you slept.

And when you finally finish, you'll find yourself tearing up for no good reason, and you'll think about what your parents did for you, and you'll feel a little bad about how little you appreciated it all. But you'll also understand that it doesn't matter. You may have never appreciated what your parents did, but you know they would have done it all no matter whether you appreciated it or not, because you realize you would do anything for your little boy, whether he ever appreciates it or not.

Well, that's it. If my son ever sees this he probably won't understand. But I had to say it somewhere. Maybe in a decade or two, when he is old enough to begin to understand, he will stumble across this in some archive somewhere and get a chuckle. Maybe he will be a bit embarrassed at his maudlin father. Doesn't really matter. He'll decide when he reads it.

To everyone else, sorry for the distraction.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/05.
 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Oh, The Successful Stevenson Campaign Strategy

I see that Democrats are reviving several successful former strategies

First, and most obvious, Obama's supporters are reviving the Adlai Stevenson claim that all intelligent people support Obama. But they don't stop there. They have revived Kerry elitism in Obama's argulula comment, though his "bitter" comments sound more like Howard Dean's "guns, G-d, and gays" than Kerry. And not content to just steal once from Kerry, they have also revived Kerry's swiftboat defense, basically saying "you're not allowed to criticize Obama", though forgetting to explain why. Beyond that Obama has revived Mondale's promises to raise taxes and McGovern's promises to negotiate with virtually anyone.

They have so far kept Obama out of a tank, and have not mentioned whether or not he is a card carrying member of the ACLU, so no Dukakis moments, but other than that, they have hit all the high points.

Is it any wonder the pundits are predicting an Obama sweep? With precedents like that to build on, who wouldn't predict a victory?

ADDENDUM

How could I have forgotten Obama's hidden asset and secret weapon? Mrs. Obama makes Mrs. Heinz-Kerry look like Laura Bush. And as they say, "behind every good man stands a woman who was never proud of America until her husband was nominated."

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/05.

Nerf World

Yet again, CSPI is pushing for another ban. In this case it is for food dyes, as they claim it can cause already hyperactive children who are "predisposed to be sensitive to dyes" to become more hyperactive. Of course the news is playing it up into "dyes cause hyperactivity", and hyping the story even more.

I have questioned this tendency before, the willingness we show to ban anything that might harm some minute group. I started questioning this when peanuts were banned in many locales to protect those with peanut allergies. Of course, whenever I mention this, someone who knows a person with peanut allergies gets angry with me for opposing such a "sensible" ban.

But they miss my point, yes for the small group which has peanut allergies it seems a sensible move, but what about every other allergy out there? If the small group that has peanut allergies justifies a ban, then does not the group with shrimp allergies justify a shrimp ban? And do not those with celiac disease justify banning wheat, as I think they are even more numerous than peanut allergies? And the list goes on and on until we have nothing left but water.

Now, if private companies want to stop using peanuts or preservatives of dyes, that is their choice. But I do not think the government should get into the business of banning substances because they are troublesome to a small segment of the population. It makes no sense to restrict 99% or more of the population when the less than 1% could simply take care to avoid the substance*.

Perhaps a personal example would help. I am both a vegetarian and keep kosher. Yet I do not demand the government mandate that all food be certified by Vaad Ha Kashrus or the Union of Orthodox Rabbis. Nor do I call for a ban on meat, fowl and fish. Instead of imposing my will on my fellows, I simply read labels.

I am sure some will reply "But what if the label doesn't tell you what is in it?" My reply is you treat it the same way I treat food without kosher certification, you skip it and move on. Nothing says companies have to cater to you, but you can punish those who don't label by buying from competitors. It still is not an excuse to use government force against the rest of us.

Then again, we have all become so used to the government becoming involved in every dispute, protecting us from every possible ill, that these words most likely fall on deaf ears. People have become so familiar with a world where the government does not inspect and certify food, require that information be placed on labels, and prohibit anything it finds objectionable, that my suggestion sounds radical. Which for such a modest suggestion really is rather disheartening.

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* I realize some very small group is susceptible to airborne particles, though I doubt that they are even 0.01% of the population. It is a shame that they are so sensitive, but to limit the rest of the population due to a peculiar disability of a minute fraction of the population still strikes me as a bad idea. It is sad for them that they have this problem, but are we going to limit the entire populace for every condition that effects 100 or more people? We would need to pretty severely limit everyone's options if we do that.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/04.

A Quick Thought

Why is it that the people who think they can force us to stop smoking, to stop eating transfats, to stop eating anything they deem bad, also are the same people who tell us repeatedly that no matter what we do teens will still have sex? Am I the only one who sees something of a contradiction there?

UPDATE

Actually, the same people who tell us there is no way to stop teens from having sex took money form the tobacco settlement to buy ads to convince those same teens not to smoke. So, they are open to anti-smoking messages from nothing more complex than an advertisement but can't be convinced not to have sex no matter what we do? I am puzzled.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/04.

Maybe His Head Is Swelling to Match Those Ears

I missed Obama's speech until I read Best of the Web today, and all I can say is WOW.

"I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless.
"This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth."
Is it just me or is he claiming more for himself than Isaiah did for the end times? Forget heaven, we have Obama!

ADDENDUM

Is it just me or does that "last, best hope" bit sound like the introductory narration from every science fiction or fantasy b-movie from the 1980's? It could have been the description of every hero in every Italian postapocalyptic film that tried to cash in on Mad Max.

Though it is hard to take seriously the mental image of Obama dressed in strange barbarian leathers, wandering some desert wasteland fighting off mutants. I think its the ears.

(Note for all those wondering about all the ear comments. Read this article. I have gone through the list of all the things we can't criticize about Obama, and the only thing left to mock, apparently, are his ears. As they are the only thing that is still fair game, I plan on running this joke into the ground.)

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/04.

Fear of Trade

Trade occurs when two parties agree to exchange one item for another as each party values the item he will receive as much as or more than what he is giving away. It sounds very basic, but this fact is often lost in talk of international trade.

As soon as we talk of international trade, people suddenly forget all the facts they otherwise understand. Some of this is the fault of the economists, the Keynesian silliness of macroeconomics ends up making people think of trade deficits and balance of payments and other aggregate measures rather than looking at the very basic fact that trade is always balanced, and is always between two individuals.

Now, I am sure I lost some people with that statement. We have heard about trade deficits for so long that we simply cannot believe they are not relevant, but, in many respects, they aren't. And why is that? Because, as I said at the start, trade is always between two individuals who agree to exchange, and thus trade is always balanced.

So, if that is the case, why so much talk about trade deficits? Because money obscures this fact. When we exchange money for goods, we are not immediately giving them any items in exchange, and so the myth develops that there is some deficit, as country X got money while we got goods. And somehow people think this makes us poorer and X richer. But the fact is that X must eventually exchange those dollars for good in the US, either directly by making a purchase, or indirectly, by buying from  someone in country Y who will then buy goods from us. Dollars are only good for eventually buying US goods2, so unless they are going to hoard dollars, eventually our trade partners will eventually buy from us.

Now, given this truth, there remain three fears of those who worry about "balance of trade". First, that country X will not buy consumer goods, but instead purchase land. Second, that the foreign nation would use the money to "buy up" companies in our nation. Third, that country X will simply sit on the money and never buy goods from us. So let us look at those two possibilities.

The first is a familiar one. Back in the time of the gold standard the fear was that the foreign nations would exchange bank notes for gold and we would see an out flowing of gold. The fear of purchasing land or other non-consumer goods is of a similar nature. The problem with this argument is simply that there is no requirement that trade involve only consumer goods. Suppose there are two individuals in our nation, Al and Arthur, and one in a foreign land, Boris. Al buys a car from Boris' factory. Boris then uses the proceeds to buy Arthur's lot. I fail to see how this harms the US economy. Arthur wanted to exchange his lot for land, and did so, and Al wanted to exchange his money for a car and did so. That the transaction crossed national borders dos not make any difference to them. Everyone has what they want. No one is any poorer, and it just puzzles me how this "trade deficit" makes the US any poorer.

The second is even more puzzling. as attracting investment is something we want to do. In fact, attracting foreign investment is one of the ways that the richest nations have become that wealthy. It is a matter of indifference to employee whether or not their owners are from the US. If Ford opens a plant, or Toyota, the jobs are the same, the local economy benefits as much, it makes no difference. True the profits flow to share holders overseas rather than here, but what difference does it make?

But the third fear is the most puzzling. It is a revival of the strange beliefs of the mercantilists, the idea that we are richest if we force another nation to buy our goods, but sell us nothing in return. Both theories rest on confusing money with wealth.

Think of it this way. let us suppose Japan decides to adopt a perfect mercantilist system, they will provide us with any goods we want in exchange for dollars, but they will refuse to buy anything from us. What would happen? We would buy up Japanese goods, and they would sit on the dollars. Other than providing a slight deflationary pressure, the effect would be that we would effectively get Japanese goods for free. Dollars are of very little intrinsic value2, their worth is in what they can purchase. If they are never used to purchase anything, then they are worthless. And that is why this fear seems so far fetched.

Now, I do not mean to oversimplify, the manipulation of fiat currency does make some of these questions a little more difficult. As the dollar loses value, we are effectively stealing money from foreign holders of dollars. But that does not change the basic fact that foreign trade is just trade. If I buy a car from Toyota, it is not "the US" buying from "Japan", I am just buying a car.

Let me approach this differently. I live in Maryland, but buy my clothes from a tailor in Virginia. When I buy my clothes, does Maryland get poorer and Virginia richer? Should I limit my purchases to my home state only? And if I do, should I limit it to the county in which I live so as not to impoverish my home county?

So, if that sounds absurd, why does it become more sensible when we replace state boundaries with national boundaries? Trade is still trade. I am giving up money or goods to get money or goods I value more highly, and the other party is doing the same. There is no national loss, no national gain, simply two individuals engaging in a mutually agreeable exchange.

I imagine that there are some out there who are about to object to this and start talking about "fair trade" and subsidies and national security. For the moment, I will refer them to my older essay "Protectionism" as well as "Exploiting Workers?". I will most likely write an updated version in the near future, but for now that previous work should be adequate.

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1. This is the point ignored by Obama who claimed to want to continue economic isolation of Cuba while allowing remittances to relatives from the US. How exactly would they then spend those dollars if trade between Cuba and the US is prohibited?

2. They have too much printing to be used as note pads, making them valuable only as kindling or toilet paper.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/04.

Off Topic Gripe II

Is anyone else annoyed by the tendency in computer software to show a lot of false erudition?

For example, the meaningless use of mythological names for things, either because they "seem to fit", or because they sound "cool"? For example, there is something called Yggdrasil, which is the world tree of Norse mythology, specifically in its capacity as the tree from which Odin hanged himself to learn the secret of runes. So, what is Yggdrasil? It is one of many releases of the Linux operating system. What does that have to do with the name? It is as if I named a frying pan "Saint Dymphna" or "Rocky Marciano". What does either have to do with frying?

But developers love to show off their grasp of obscure mythology. From Norse myths to Mayan deities there is not one religious tradition which has not been mined for "cool" names. And not just mythology, but historical figures as well. For example, what does a wireless data connection have to do with a king of the Danes? (Harald Bluetooth, bet you wondered where that silly name came from, didn't you?) Can I expect my next power cord to be called Charlemagne and will I eventually entrust my data backup to Otto von Bismarck?

I know there is nothing exciting about practical names such as "wordpad", and the silly marketing words that mean nothing, such as "Camry" and "Altira", are annoying as well, but the mock classicism1 is worse. Especially when picked for the "cool" sound alone. If I hear a name from mythology, I expect the product to have at least some tangential relation to the attributes of that entity. In the past that was the case, but software seems to have broken with that trend and just started picking names at random2. After all, at least Ajax was chosen for strength and tenacity, and Mercury for speed. Past products used classical names as a shorthand, not just because they liked the sound. But that is because in the past, apparently, those assigning names assumed people had some knowledge of mythology. Today it appears they think, perhaps rightly, that mythological names are meaningless to most people.

Unfortunately they aren't. And it only confuses those who do still attach meaning to those names.

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1. I realize "classicism" really only refers to Greek and Roman matters, perhaps Hebrew, but I lack a better catch all term to include world mythology. I am sure there is one, but it eludes me at the moment.

2. Because we imported "chrono-" as a prefix relating to time, Chronos (now usually spelled Kronos, I don't know why) does happen to be used correctly more than most names. Chronos was the titan father of the Greek deities, the Roman Saturn. He was in some respects the classical version of "father time".

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/04.