Thursday, April 26, 2007

Rudy on "Interrogation"

Sully nails Rudy for his recent foreign policy speech. He asks an important question. Giuliani says that, if the Democrats are elected, “We will wave the white flag on Iraq. We will cut back on the Patriot Act, electronic surveillance, interrogation and we will be back to our pre-Sept. 11 attitude of defense.”

So, Sullivan asks, "does Giuliani support the Bush-Cheney policy of detainee imprisonment without charges, rendition, abuse, and torture?" I think that's a critical question.

This administration has sanctioned torture, and it has been a stain on the honor of the United States. I'm not naive -- I know that torture happened before now. But this is the first President who has embraced torture as a matter of policy. It's wrong, and it's dangerous, and it's stupid. What they don't understand is that Islamic terrorists are not an existential threat to the United States. They can kill Americans, and yes, we should take steps to fight Islamic jihadism. But they can't take our freedom or our honor. Only we can do that.

Ronald Reagan used to call America a "shining city on a hill." But you can't be a shining city on a hill if you have a torture chamber in the basement.

Whoever the next President is, he -- or she -- must erase this stain on our national honor. I fear that a President Guiliani would be a dangerous authoritarian, an even meaner George W. Bush with a higher IQ.


Why is it that when defenders of theism are beaten in a debate, they resort to gobbledygook?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

80% of Blogs Contain "Offensive" Content

According to a study by a company called ScanSafe, up to 80% of blogs contain "offensive" content. By a happy coincidence, ScanSafe makes products designed to protect the precious bodily fluids of corporate computers. By Scansafe's definition, a blog is "offensive" if it contains even a single use of an obscene word.

Oh shit.

This is Your Brain. This is Your Brain on the War On Drugs

Back at her own blog, Megan McAardle cites an article by John Tierney in the New York Times about the now-ongoing trial of Virginia pain specialist, Doctor William E. Hurwitz. (More can be found here.) Dr. Hurwitz is now on trial for prescribing "too much" pain medication to some of his patients, some of whom either sold the medication on the street or used it recreationally themselves. Megan asks:

I don't even understand how it is possible that, in order to keep some people from ruining their lives with prescription painkillers, we are willing to condemn other people to horrendous suffering. Why have so few other people noticed that this is not merely wrong, but also thoroughly silly?

It's not just silly, Megan, it's murderous. As John Tierney notes, two of Hurwitz's former patients, unable to find doctors who would treat their pain, committed suicide.

That's right. They were in so much pain that killed themselves after Hurwitz shut down his practice. He shut down his practice due to the federal investigation.

The folks who work at the DEA who investigated Hurtwitz manage to feed and clothe themselves, to tie their own shoes and to do the normal things that adults of ordinary intelligence do in their lives. The prosecutors who prosecute him may not have been at the top of their class, but they graduated from law school. Anybody who didn't ride the short bus to school ought to be able to tell that prosecuting Hurwitz is a thoroughly idiotic thing to do.

So why, Megan asks, do we do it?

Well, the "war on drugs" gets its emotional oomph because certain substances are demonized. They aren't just bad in the ordinary sense that using them to excess will result in undesirable consequences. No, they become a symbol, a manifestation of Evil Incarnate. And in order to stop their abuse, we must have a "WAR" on drugs. The folks who become involved in that enterprise become emotionally attached to it. They're not just enforcing a law; they're purging the world of Evil.

People who buy into the notion that Drugs Are Evil lose their sense of balance and proportion. Ideas about costs and benefits just don't apply, because the War on Drugs is about Virtue, about Right and Wrong. The very real costs associated with it just don't get counted. A zealot never thinks about costs and benefits, only The Cause. The War on Drugs is itself a mind-altering substance.

This all goes back to the Secret Fear theory. Above all else, the Drug Warriors fear the notion of addiction -- the idea that an Evil Substance could totally take over a person's life, become the be-all and end-all. The drug warrior fears losing rationality and control. Deep down, the Drug Warriors are afraid it could happen to them, they could become "addicted." They could be taken over by an Evil Drug.

And so they become addicted, but not in the way they fear. Addicted to control. Addicted to rules. Addicted to a constant "get tough," "get tougher," get toughest" mentality. Never mind that tougher enforcement has never worked -- they're addicted to the War on Drugs. It's what gives their lives meaning and purpose.

The fact is that many drugs -- and opiods certainly fall into this category -- are "dual use." That is, they can be used recreationally, to get high, or medically, to alleviate pain. A policy of banning recreational drug use (except for alcohol and tobacco and caffeine) therefore inevitably entails a policy of restricting dual-use drugs. If we allowed unrestricted access to opiods while continuing to ban recreational drugs like pot and heroin and cocaine, people would just substitute the opiods.

Such restrictions require that we distinguish between true medical users -- people in pain -- and people who just want to get high. Here's the rub: we don't have a painometer to see who is lying about being in pain. We have to take people's word. Inevitably, some people will lie. And they will either sell the drugs illicitly or use them recreationally. Therefore, an inevitable consequence of the War on Drugs is some social mechanism for determining who is really in pain, and who's faking it.

In his article, John Tierney talks about Dr. Robin Hamill-Ruth, one of the prosecution's paid witnesses in the Hurwitz case. He makes her look like a fool. One of her patients was a woman who had suffered really bad migraines -- so bad they put her completely out of action. I mean, bad. Really bad -- so bad she once got taken away in handcuffs because she was suicidal. This woman had actually gone to doctor Hurwitz and gotten adequate treatment, treatment that included opoids. But she couldn't do that any more, since Hurwitz's practice had been shut down. So she went to the government's "expert," Dr. Robin Hamill-Ruth. Dr. Robin Hamill-Ruth's clinic wouldn't give the poor woman medication that would, you know, help her -- you see the philosophy of Dr. Robin Hamill-Ruth's clinic "includes avoidance of all opioids in chronic headache management." So what did Dr. Robin Hamill-Ruth give to the woman who suffered chronic and debilitating migraine headaches? She gave her an anxiety medication called BuSpar. And the side effects from BuSpar include -- headaches.

Now, when I read about something like that, I have an urge to start screaming obscenities, but once I calm down, I realize that there's a certain logic at work here. We've already established that a policy of banning recreational drug use (except for alcohol and tobacco and caffeine) inevitably entails a policy of restricting dual-use drugs. We know that some people will lie -- and a headache is the easiest thing in the world to fake, for anybody with even a dollop of thespian talent. We don't have the painometer.

Perfect isn't an option. Errors will occur. We can make the error giving recreational drug users or illicit drug sellers an opening to get opiods. Or we can make some people suffer, in some cases to the point of suicide in order to stop a few recreational drug users or dealers from getting their hands on percocet or vicoden. Now, to anybody with even a dollop of reason, compassion, humanity, or empathy, it is an obvious choice: who the fuck cares if a few prescription meds get diverted for recrational use? Give people the pain relief they need.

But to the Drug Warrior, Drugs are Evil, and if a few people have to suffer, well so be it. If they end up committing suicide, too bad. Acceptable losses in the War on Drugs.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Wiccans Get Their Own Graveyard Marker

Eugene Volokh links to an article about a settlement between the Department of Veterans affairs and a group of Wiccans who wanted to be allowed to place their symbol -- a pentacle -- on the gravestones of deceased Wiccans. I had always sort of assumed that official gravestones were only marked with a cross, or maybe a Star of David, but of course that's not the case -- oodles of religions get to use their symbol, a list of which can be found here. And the Wiccan pentacle is already there -- number 37 on the list.

I have to sat I just LOVE the Atheist symbol! It's got this great fifties-retro-sci-fi feel to it. It is definitely the coolest symbol on the list. The Sikh symbol is pretty cool too -- they look like Romulans.

(Prior Volokh posts here and here.)

An Obaminable Reason To Vote For Somebody

David Greenberg has this article in Slate trotting out the already-tired comparison between Barack Obama and JFK. Like JFK, we learn, Obama "manages to inspire people with sex appeal, cerebral cool, and a message of generational change."

Fine. Whatever.

But the article goes on to make a more specific comparison. Kennedy, you see, was Catholic, and at the time he ran this was thought by many to be a Big Deal. Obama is black, or at least he so identifies. (He is of mixed race, and by the not-particularly-logical rules of American culture, this makes somebody "black," unless they work very hard to stress their racially-mixed background.) And this may turn out to be a Big Deal as well. According to Greenberg's account, Kennedy was down big going into the West Virginia primary, a state where his Catholicism could really hurt him. But Kennedy turned it around: he gave an interview with Franklin Roosevelt Jr. where he dealt candidly with the issue of his Catholicism. In so doing, he made it an issue of tolerance: vote for Kennedy and prove you aren't an anti-Catholic bigot.

Greenburg thinks that Obama is using a similar tactic: implicitly telling white voters that a vote for him is a way of demonstrating their own moral rectitude.

Now I know I shouldn't be "Shocked! Shocked!" at any campaign tactics, but isn't this a really bad reason to vote for a guy? Sure, if you think Obama will make a great President, you ought to vote for him. By the same token, if you think he'd make a really bad President, you ought to vote against him.

As an individualist, I would certainly say it's stupid to vote against somebody because of their race, or gender, or other irrelevant characteristic. But, by the same token, it's stupid to vote for somebody as a sort of fashion statement. I mean, couldn't people just drive a Volvo instead?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran

John McCain's littly ditty about bombing Iran has Mark Kleiman outraged. With typical Kleiman restraint, he uses this as a springboard to attack not just McCain's opponents, but also Republican primary voters generally. You're going a bit far there, Mark.

I'll be happy to condemn him, if that will make Kleiman happy. But then,McCain-Feingold, as well as McCain's generally authoritarian tendancies are more than sufficient rationale for me to vote against him, so I'm already predisposed not to like the guy. But this sort of levity regarding the possiblity of bombing a counrty which we might well end up bombing is not appropriate for a Senator and Presidential candidate. It probably doesn't reveal excessive homicidal tendancies, but it was irresponsible.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Infants In the Magic Kingdom

Ross Douthat, guest-blogging at Sully's, links to an article which gives some great news: "After several years of study, the Vatican's International Theological Commission said there are good reasons to hope that babies who die without being baptized go to heaven." Well, that is a huge relief. I am so glad to know that unbaptized get to frolic in the magic kingdom too. Thank the Spaghetti Monster for all those theologians studying away!

At first when I started to read this article, I was so very relieved. But then I came upon this passage, and my relief lessened:

The commission said hopefulness was not the same as certainty about the destiny of such infants.

"It must be clearly acknowledged that the church does not have sure knowledge about the salvation of unbaptized infants who die," it said.

Oh darn. They're not sure? Like theologians are sure about so many other things? Maybe we should lock them up in a room and make them study whatever it is they study for a few more years. Then they can come out and tell us, and we'll really know what happens to unbaptized infants.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Obaminable Speech

I've gotten a chance to read the transcript of the speech that I blogged about a few days ago -- before I had just listened to the tape -- and it really is a bad speech. (Link via Steve Sailer and Powerline) Like Ann Althouse, I'm struck by what a "gasbag" Obama is, although I suspect that it's partly attributable to the fact that everybody has been telling him what a great orator he is, and he's starting to believe his own publicity.

It really is pretty bad. It's no wonder he quotes a 1968 Robert Kennedy speech: the guy's still living in '68, mouthing those left-liberal platitudes and advancing bog-standard left-liberal policies. For all his faults, Bill Clinton understood that the seventies and eighties had happened, that there had been a powerful critique of conventional big-government liberalism, and that the Democrats had to at least pretend to adapt to the notion that business and commerce and markets are, like, good things. Obama's liberalism is boring, conventional, and utterly retrograde. Bill Clinton at least pretended to be a "New Democrat" -- he understood that the Spirit of '68, however emotionally compelling it might be to some folks, simply was not an answer to Ronald Reagan and everything that had gone into his election.

Obama is a throwback, a true believer in the Spirit of '68.

Mark Kleiman Points and Sputters

Mark Kleiman refers to Steve Sailer's American Conservative article on Obama's book Dreams of My Father as a "dishonest, bigoted, anti-Obama screed." Kleiman accuses Sailer of being a "lying racist" and wonders aloud if any non-lying non-racist conservatives still exist.

What I find fascinating is that Kleiman's post contain nothing but invective. That is, at no point does he attempt to identify any specific "lies" that Steve Sailer tells about Obama or Obama's book. He refers to Sailer's article as a "piece of trash" filled with "racist lies," but there's absolutely no substance, no argument, not even an attempt at an argument.

He does cite Alexander Konetzki's critique of Sailer, which actually contain some argument, so I suppose he's piggybacking on that. But you know, from somebody of Kleiman's academic credentials, I would expect him to at least try to parse the arguments, and explain why he thinks Konetzki is right and Sailer wrong. (Sailer responds to Kontezki here.) Indeed, Kleiman doesn't even indicate whether he's read the book!

For myself, I will reserve judgment on whether Sailer's article is fair -- the book is in the mail, and when I read it, I may choose to enter the fray.

D'Souzan Theology

In my last post, I took on D'Souza's notion that we should reject atheism because it offers less comfort to the bereaved. In addition to offering this rather thin defense of theism, D'Souza engages in some theological musings. Those who responded to his attack on atheists ask the obvious question: why didn't God, or the Sky Guy, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster intervene to stop the attack? I mean, if I could have stopped Cho's massacre by dropping a pencil, I surely would have done it. Since the Sky Guy is supposed to be omnipotent, well, stopping Cho would have been easier for him than dropping a pencil would be for me. Giving Cho a cerebral aneurysm in the second before his first murder would be child's play to somebody who can produce a pillar of fire or part the Red Sea on command.

This is, of course, the classic Problem of Evil. And it certainly comes to mind after an attack like this. It is, it seems to me, contra D'Souza, a far bigger problem for theism than the lack of comfort is for atheism.

Following in the footsteps of centureis of theologians, D'Souza takes his own whack at the Problem of Evil. His words must be read to be believed:

This is a deep question about God's hiddenness in the world. Why doesn't God make himself manifest, especially when there is tragedy to be averted? Here's one possible reason. Imagine if there was divine intervention to prevent Cho from doing what he did. Leave aside the issue of what happens to human free will. Just focus on the consequences. Cho would have been--let us say by miraculous intrusion--disarmed, the shootings would have been prevented, and life would go on.

In short, life would proceed as if God had not intervened in the first place. So God in this view becomes a kind of cosmic errand boy, who is supposed to do our chores and clean up our messes and we then wish him a very good day and return to our everyday lives. But perhaps God's purpose in the world (I am only thinking aloud here) is to draw his creatures to him. And you have to admit that tragedies like this one at Virginia Tech help to do that!

Now, I would dispute the notion that a God who intervened to stop evil acts like this would be an errand boy -- he would be more like Superman, whom we all admire.

But think about D'Souza's claim here: God allowed this attack in order to "draw his creatures [that is, us] to him." If you accept this view, then Cho isn't really evil is he? After all, he did God's work by drawing us closer to him! And the folks whom he killed are all frolicking in the Magic Kingdom anyway, so what's the harm?

What kind of God would allow more than thirty people to be murdered in order to "draw his creatures to him"? D'Souza's deity is about as kind, loving, and moral as the villain in the movie Saw, who tortures and murders people, supposedly in order to make them appreciate life more. Imagine telling the parent of a twenty-year-old college student that God let Cho murder your son or daughter in order to draw you closer to him?

Couldn't God use a burning bush, or maybe a vision on the road to Richmond, or even really vivid dreams? Did he have to use mass murder to further his purposes? D'Souza posits the eixstence of a sadistic psychopath with omnipotent powers. What comfort!

UPDATE: PZ Myers takes D'Souza's theology to its logical extreme: He's going to take a ball peen hammer to the cats in order to unite his family in love. (Note to the irony-impaired: he doesn't actually plan to do this. Rather, it's an example of where D'Souza's theology leads.)

D'Souza Attacks Atheists

Guest-blogging over at Sully's, Megan McCardle wonders how Dinesh D'Souza "acquire[d] this remarkable talent for opening his mouth wide enough to fit his entire foot in clear down to the small intestine?" (via Alex Massie and Andrew Stuttaford over at The Corner.)

Dinesh D'Souza uses the Virgnia Tech massacre as a way of attacking atheists:

Notice something interesting about the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings? Atheists are nowhere to be found. Every time there is a public gathering there is talk of God and divine mercy and spiritual healing. Even secular people like the poet Nikki Giovanni use language that is heavily drenched with religious symbolism and meaning.

In a follow up post, D'Souza explains himself further, claiming that "that if evil and suffering are a problem for religion--and they are--they are an even bigger problem for atheism." Why, you ask? Apparently because religions makes people feel better:

When there is a tragedy like the one at Virginia Tech, the ones who are suffering cannot help asking questions, "Why did this have to happen?" "Why is there so much evil in the world?" "How can I possibly go on after losing my child?" And so on. . . .

My point was that atheism has nothing to offer in the face of tragedy except C'est la vie. Deal with it. Get over it. This is why the ceremonies were suffused with religious rhetoric. Only the language of religion seems appropriate to the magnitude of tragedy. Only God seems to have the power to heal hearts in such circumstances.

Huh? Sure, religion may be more comforting in the wake of a senseless attack like this. But that doesn't make it true. Yes, it is comforting to believe that dead loved ones are alive in the Magic Kingdom rather than actually dead. Other beliefs might be comforting as well: those who don't believe in the Magic Kingdom might substitute a belief in reincarnation. More vengeful bereaved might take comfort in the notion that Cho is alive in hell, where he is suffering horrible tortures (unless in the second before his own death he got right with The Man, in which case he is in the Magic Kingdom too).

One of the reason I think that massacre is so horrifying is that I really do think that the people whom Cho murdered really are dead. That is, the consciousness of each victim, which was a product of the physical brain, is gone from our universe forever. And of course I believe the same of people whom I cared about who are now dead. It might indeed make me feel better if I believed that those people were alive in the Magic Kingdom eating cotton candy and looking down on me. But I just can't abide the notion that one should embrace comforting delusions. I would rather know the truth and deal with that.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Happy Birthday!

Today is Radley Balko's birthday. Happy Birthday, from the Cheerful Iconoclast.

Blog War!

Well, not really. Or at least I hope not. In my earlier post, I took issue with Radley Balko on a couple of matters, and he was kind enough to leave a comment defending his honor. First of all, let me say that I'm a huge fan of Balko, both of his work at The Agitator and his stuff at Reason. If I believed in God, I would say he's doing god's work, particularly his stuff on Corey Maye, and the continuing attention he's paid to the issue of paramilitary police raids. I agree with him lots of the time, really I do.

But I still think his comment about the Duke Lacrosse case and the defenders of the players was wrong, or at least unproven. To recapitulate: Balko criticized law-and-order conservatives for not caring about due process except when it came to affluent white Duke Lacrosse players. MichaelW took issue with Balko, and Balko responded to him. I then entered the fray here, and both Balko and MichaelW were kind enough to add comments to my blog.

Anybody who wants to get the full flavor of the exchange is welcome to dig through all the past posts on it. As I see it, the crux of the debate is the existence of law-and-order conservatives who generally oppose (or don't care about) due process, but who suddenly began to care in the Duke case. Now, I don't deny, in principle, that such individuals might exist, but I do think that Balko paints with too broad a brush, and that he fails to prove that such an attitude is widespread among conservatives. In fact, he has yet to demonstrate that even a single person fits his description.

In his comment here, Balko claims to have given several examples in the posts that I linked. Actually, as MichaelW pointed out, no, he didn't.

So how could Balko prove his argument? Two ways that I can think of. First, he could show that a particular law-and-order conservative had made comments disdainful of due process ("who cares about the trial? Hang 'em high!"), but that he or she had suddenly become all concerned in the Duke case. Or, alternatively, Balko could show that somebody with a long record of writing on criminal justice issues had never before evinced concern about due process or prosecutorial misconduct, except in the Duke case. This would, at a minimum, require him to make some overall assessment of the body of a commentator's work.

Balko's first post gives no links at all. He merely points out a google search reveals that the Duke case was a bigger story than the case of James Giles. Well, maybe it shouldn't be, but there really isn't a lot of logic as to what becomes a big story and what doesn't. And it's highly relevant that the Duke case originally became a big story because the identity politics left so very much wanted to believe the accusations to be true. More to the point, the fact that the Duke Lacrosse story was a bigger story than the James Giles story doesn't prove Balko's point about law-and-order conservatives and due process. It proves that some stories get the limelight while others don't, and that the process by which this happens is neither predictable nor logical.

Balko's second post is long and covers a lot of ground, and it does contain links, but none of them prove his point. He links to material by Jack Dunphy, Michele Malkin, and Heather MacDonald, but those links don't prove Balko's case. Dunphy's article points out the rather obvious fact that the Duke case became a big media case largely because it was affluent white lacrosse players accused of raping a black stripper. He observes, correctly, that more heinous crimes by blacks against whites or other blacks don't get the same media attention. None of this is at all relevant to Balko's original claim: that law-and-order conservatives don't care about due process except in this one case.

Malkin's blog post is just a blip, linking to Dunphy and MacDonald -- she makes the same point that they do: that the media scrutiny given to the Duke case obscures the reality of black crime rates. Now, I suppose you could make an argument that Malkin supports his claim that law-and-order conservatives only care about due process in the Duke case. She did, after all, write that book defending internment (which I have not read), and so could be considered an enemy of due process. There's an argument there, but, notably, Balko didn't actually make it -- I did.

The problem, though, is that, while I haven't read her book, I certainly get the sense that she defended internment as an emergency wartime measure. I don't know of any evidence that she disparages due process generally in ordinary criminal cases, and Balko doesn't point to any.

MacDonald's article makes the same point Dunphy does: that the black crime rate is a serious problem. And she ties it in with a specific example of a widely-condemned police shooting which, she argues, was justified under the circumstances. Again, it doesn't prove Balko's point.

Finally, in his comment her, Balko gives a laundry list of people who, presumably, fit his generalization: "How about LaShawn Barber? The Powerline bloggers? The bloggers at Red State? Also, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh. Michelle Malkin. John Derbyshire. Jack Dunphy." It's quite possible that some of them do -- particularly the radio guys like Savage, Hannity, and Limbaugh. However, the truth is that I don't really listen to any of them, or read their stuff on the web, so I don't have much of a sense of the body of their work. In any case, simply listing somebody's name doesn't prove they fit a particular generalization.

Look, I don't deny that there may indeed be law-and-order conservatives who give short shrift to issues of due process and prosecutorial misconduct. And maybe a few of them "got religion" in the Duke lacrosse case. I'm just saying that Balko hasn't identified any, nor has he shown that such an attitude is widespread or typical. I probably agree with Balko more than, say, Michelle Malkin, and I certainly like him a lot more than Sean Hannity, who has the IQ of a chipmunk. But I just think one ought to try to be fair to people, even if one disagrees with them.

Maybe I've given this more attention than it deserves, and if Balko replies, either here or on his blog, I'll probably let him have the last word, unless he accuses me of raping pandas or something. But I just didn't think his initial comment was fair.

Let me address one tangential issue. The folks whom he cited -- Dunphy, Malkin, and MacDonald don't demonstrate Balko's original point, but he makes a somewhat different point about them, which I think is worth examining separately:

When people write this kind of tripe, I always wonder, so what's your point? That is, what do they want to happen?

Should every crime story come with a disclaimer that says, "NOTE: The Daily Herald wants its readers to know that black people commit disproportionately more crimes than white people"? Should Time magazine do a cover story on "The Dangerously Criminal Black Man?" What's the point in letting everybody know what races commit the most crimes?

Are they giving us these statistics for the purposes of making public policy? What would a public policy look like that takes these statistics into consideration? Would it mean that black people should get fewer constitutional protections than white people because of their propensity to commit more crime? Would it be a justification for racial profiling--for police to randomly pull over black men in nice cars because there's a higher chance that they're dealing drugs? Does it excuse some of the horrible police attitudes toward black people?

I'm not sure why Balko feels the need to refer to these articles as "tripe" when he doesn't seem to dispute their factual accuracy. Is he saying that people ought not write articles containing factually accurate information if the facts are inconvenient? Isn't it defense enough to say that the article reports the truth, and it's good to know the truth generally?

If nothing else, the media tends to report man-bites-dog stories precisely because such stories are unusual. But there is a risk that because something is widely reported, people will think that it is common. For example, I have no problem with the fact that the media gave a lot of attention to the shooting at Virginia Tech. But I would certainly welcome an article pointing out that it is a very rare event. At the public policy level, it's quite possible that there simply aren't any real conclusions to be drawn from this atrocity. Going back to the Duke lacrosse case, if the initial accusations had been borne out, many people might have had the impression that rich white young men routinely rape black women, and the truth is that while that does happen, it is very rare.

But Bako does have a valid question: what, if anything is the policy relevance of the points that Dunphy and MacDonald make? It's possible that there are no implications at all, that for purposes of public policy we should ignore the relatively higher black crime rate. But let's find out the truth first, think about what the numbers are, discuss the ways they might be relevant to public policy and debate the question before we decide that there aren't any implications.

That said, I can think of a couple areas of possible relevance, and no I don't think that the police ought to be allowed to pull over black men at random. I'm not taking any policy position here, but just throwing out some questions we might want to think about.

First of all, knowing these statistics might give us pause when claims about racial profiling are made based solely upon disparities in raw numbers. For example, it might well be the case that more black men will be pulled over, or arrested, or whatever. Real police racism, when it occurs, should be rooted out and punished, but we should examine accusations very carefully, particularly when they rely upon statistical disparities in raw numbers.

Second, as Balko himself notes, at least some of this disparity may well be driven by the war-on-drugs, both because it can suck young black men out of the legitimate economy and because of various aspects of our policy, such as the crack-powder distinction. In arguing for reform of our drug laws, running the gamut from legalization to eliminating the crack-powder sentencing disparity, might it be nice to know how those laws affect black-white disparities?

Third, while Balko and I might agree that the government ought to get out of the business of social engineering, it's clear it is in that business, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. I'd like to see the welfare state eliminated, but even I realize this is not a viable short-term goal. Given that fact, maybe we should at least consider the possibility of redesigning the welfare system to incentivize black family formation and/or reduce crime rates. But like they say, the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sing it, Radley!

Radley Balko was kind enough to add a comment to my post taking issue with him, and I do promise a response. (I still think he is wrong, but I need to take some time to formulate my thoughts.) In any case, he reminded me of why I like his blog: his take on the Corzine accident is exactly right. Instead of castigating Corzine for not wearing his seat belt, Balko points out that his SUV was driving 91 miles per hour on the Garden State Parkway. And it would appear, at least if the report he cites is correct, that the excessive speed was the cause of the accident.

When he left himself unbuckled, Corzine endangered himself, and he is now paying the consequences for that. I think he was stupid for not wearing his seat belt, but I think he had the right to make that choice, nanny-state seat belt laws notwithstanding. But when he travelled along a reasonably-busy highway at over ninety miles per hour, he endangered innocent people. Like Radley I doubt that he told his driver to ignore normal traffic rules, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn he said "I'm late, step on it," or words to that effect. Even if he said nothing, he certainly could tell that his vehicle was moving over the speed limit, and he is the governor -- he could have told his driver to slow down and obey traffic laws. But he didn't.

I know he's hurt, and I don't wish anybody ill -- I hope that Governor Corzine makes a full recovery. At the same time, however, he endangered everybody else on that road, so that he could attend a meeting between -- wait for it -- Imus and the Rutgers Women's Basketball Team. That's right. Corzine endangerd other people's lives to be present at an utterly unimportant meeting.

Now Balko is a classy guy, and he doesn't want to single Corzine out. Not being as classy as Balko, I think that Corzine should be hammered over this. The truth is that Jon Corzine doesn't give a shit about those girls or Imus's offense -- he was going to the meeting for purely political reasons. Fine! That's what politicians do. But it's not important enough to disrupt traffic and make other people late, much less endanger their lives. His revealed preferences show that he ranks a minor political stunt as being more important than the lives of his constituents.

And yeah, Balko is right -- other politicians do it too. It trickles down, because politicians get "motorcade envy." Balko cites a case where the Mayor of D.C. got criticized for blowing through stoplights to make it to a political fundraiser. The truth is, it's fun to go to the head of the line. I've gone to amusement parks and purchased front-of-line passes, and I admit to taking a certain childish pleasure in the fact that other people had to wait while I got right on. The difference, of course, is that I paid extra for the privilege. Politicians like to be in motorcades with sirens blazing and cars pulling over for them because it's fun, and it makes them feel important and powerful.

But unless we're talking about the President or Vice President -- who really do have legitimate security concerns -- it is a pleasure they should be denied, except in an actual emergency. (Being late to a meeting does not count.) The Mayor of D.C. should have to navigate through D.C. traffic, just like the rest of us. And if Governor Corzine think that 65 is too slow on the Garden State Parkway, well maybe he should look into raising the speed limit.

Pretty Darn Obscene

According to Kaus, Obama's speech, in which he tries to link the Virginia Tech massacre to his pet list of political issues -- including losing one's health care coverage due to foreign competition and Imus's comment (!) -- "doesn't come off quite as obscene as you'd expect when you listen to it." I don't know -- I think it's pretty obscene, myself. It's also absurd -- Imus was a shock jock, and however stupid and obnoxious his comments, they don't compare to mass murder. And the health care hook is just a non-sequiter. His comments were logically incoherent, and yes, he was clearly pumping the Virginia Tech massacre for his own political purposes. Which I do find obscene, even if his phrasing was typically low-key.

So the question is: will the media (and even bloggers) continue to give Obama the free ride he's been getting?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My Take On Imus:

I don't give a shit.

Selective Outrage?

Last week, shortly after the Duke Lacrosse players were vindicated, Radly Balko (whose blog I really do like) posted a somewhat snarky comment observing that many of the folks who were outraged about the attempted railroading of the Duke Lacrosse players were utterly ignorant of Jame Giles, a Texas man, recently exonerated by DNA evidence after spending ten years behind bars (and another 14 on probation as a "registered sex offender") for a rape he did not commit.

This generated a response from MichaelW over at A Second Hand Conjecture who rather convincingly points out some of the salient differences between the two cases. Balko, in an admittedly rambling post, backpedals a bit:

Well first, I wasn't saying that everyone who has written or commented on the Duke case is a bigot. I'm saying the sudden rush of coverage and I-do-declare outrage from law-and-order conservatives strikes me as disingenuous, given that for many, this is the first time they've ever given a damn about prosecutoral misconduct and due process. Generally, they spend their time doing their damndest to underplay the former and undermine the latter. If MichaelW doesn't fit into this category (and he doesn't), then I wasn't talking about him, and he has nothing to take offense at.

Fine. Balko isn't talking about MichaelW, and I assume he isn't talking about me, as a) I've never blogged about the Duke case before now, and b) I'm a libertarian not a law-and-order conservative. Just who is he talking about, then? Who are the "many" who are giving a damn about "prosecutorial misconduct and due process" for the first time here? Can Balko identify one person who generally evinced apathy about due process before, but who became outraged about the Duke case? I mean, he says there are many, but he doesn't identify even one. I think that he's attacking a caricature here, and that his inability to generate even one example is indicative of that.

But let's suppose he's right. Let us suppose that there are some law-and-order conservatives who generally don't care about due process, but who suddenly recognized its importance in the Duke case. Wouldn't it be better to use their newfound awareness of the possibility of prosecutorial misconduct -- whatever its source -- to get them to think about other cases in new ways?

By the way, I do agree with one of Balko's larger points -- that some cases get pumped up in the media while others don't. That is surely true. In and ideal world, we would all give every matter the attention it deserves, and so we would all know both about James Giles and the Duke Lacrosse players. But hey, we don't live in an ideal world -- we live in a world of media feeding frenzies. The Duke Lacrosse case may have been overcovered relative to the vindication of other innocent individuals, but it's certainly more newsworthy than the various legal proceeding involving the late Anna Nicole Smith.

But Balko is so anxious to kick the law-and-order conservatives in the shins that he skates around a pretty salient fact. The case of the Duke Lacrosse players became a big media event in the first place because, as originally pitched, it played so well into the hands of the identity politics driven left. Many of the more cynical among us have noted that on the TV show Law and Order, one can usually identify the criminal early on: the real perp is almost always the rich white person. Well, as the story originally was told, this case was like a pretty predictable episode of Law and Order: rich, white, privileged jocks at a tony private university rape poor black stripper.

That's what set off the initial media feeding frenzy. That's what made activist members of the Duke faculty so anxious to comment. That's what made it a national story. If these guys had been black football players who were accused of raping a white cheerleader, it would have been a one-day blip. And it certainly would not have been used as a vehicle for larger social commentary -- the perpetrators would then have been seen as isolated bad guys.

In this case, we have a situation in which the identity-politics left drove a story to the front page because, they thought, it was the perfect story. They wanted these guys to be guilty, because it fed their larger narrative about how rich white people victimize blacks. Once the story had come to national prominence, it was perfectly legitimate to continue to pay attention as the case unravelled.

Condolance Gap?

Mary Katherine Ham over at the blog observes that all three major Democratic candidates managed to get messages of condolence up about the Virginia Tech shooting in a timely manner yesterday, while none of the Republicans managed to do the same. In truth, I doubt if this means that the three Republicans care any less, but it does demonstrate a lack of nimbleness.

And that raises a question, for me at least. In the early days of blogging, it certainly seemed that rightish blogs -- libertarian and conservative -- seemed to predominate. And even though that's changed with Kos and the like, quite a few of the leading blogs still lean that way. And yet the Democrats seem to have embraced the web much more rapidly and effectively as a political tool.

I don't have any elaborate theory yet, although I am sure I will come up with one at some point. I do wonder how it will play out.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


According to one report, Alan Mulally, the CEO of Ford, prevented President Bush from plugging an electrical outlet into the wrong socket in a prototype hydrogen/electric hybrid automobile, thereby averting a Cheney presidency by preventing a detonation which might well have killed the Leader of the Free World. (Via The Rude Pundit and Think Progress.)

Leaving aside the inevitable anti-Bush humor -- for now I leave that to the Rude Pundit -- isn't it a bit, uh, weird, that Ford has a prototype that will explode if you stick an electric plug in the wrong hole? Note to CEO Mulally: change that before mass-producing the thing and selling it to the public. Or is this just a creative way to finally make everybody forget the Ford Pinto?


Cathy Young has an interesting article in Reason about the College Republicans at San Francisco State University who were brought up on charges because they trampled upon paper "flags" of Hamas and Hezbollah. These flags contain Arabic script (which I think it ugly on a flag), and does it shock anybody to learn that the script includes the word "Allah." This didn't go over too well with some Muslim students, who objected to the trampling upon the name of Allah. Apparently believing this objection to be reasonable, some of the college Republicans invited an offended Muslim to scratch out the name of Allah with magic marker. I guess his theory was that scratching out the name with magic marker and then trampling wouldn't be offensive. Predictably, this did not satisfy other offended Muslims, the demonstration broke up without violence, and a disciplinary complaint was filed. San Francisco State has now cleared the College Republicans of all charges. Hooray!

But Cathy Young objects to one supposed defense of the students over at National Review Online. Brendon Conway conceded that "The objection to the trampling of the name of Allah is reasonable. Done willfully, it would be an act of religious intolerance."

Sure, trampling on the name of Allah demonstrates disdain for Islam. So?

This is America. People have the right to be disdainful, of Islam or any religion for that matter. They have the right to trample upon the name of Allah, to print the Koran on toilet paper and wipe their ass with it if they want. Now certain forms of religious intolerance are verboten -- for example, one is not allowed to kill Muslims, or beat them up, or even discriminate against them in employment.

But blasphemy? Hey, that's what freedom is about, man.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Democrats Are STILL Idiots

I have spent a lot of time on this blog criticizing George W. Bush, largely because, well, he's the President, and he's the one screwing up. But that doesn't mean I like the Donkeys. Recently, Michigan Democrats -- facing a huge budget deficit -- proposed a budget that would involving purchasing an iPod for every school child in the state.

Why? Why would anybody think that this was an intelligent use of taxpayer dollars? Particularly when the state is facing a deficit? You know, if the Democrats have any hope for a liberaltarian alliance, they might refrain from making proposals this transparently, um, idiotic.

Andrew Sullivan -- Straussian?

Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris have continued the exchange that I blogged about earlier. To be honest, I find it difficult to untangle Sullivan's thought. He writes and writes and writes, but he seems unable to develop anything resembling an argument for his position -- rather, he believes what he wants to believe, and rational thought doesn't enter into it much.

That said, Sullivan does develop on interesting strain of thought: he speculates that perhaps people are hard-wired for religious faith, or something of the sort. Now, as an argument for the truth of religion, this is transparently specious. The mere fact that we are hard-wired to tend to believe something doesn't make that thing true. And, predictably, Harris make short work of Sullivan's argument.

Now Sullivan has a response. He doesn't actually try to defend the notion that religion is true because faith is, allegedly, programmed in at some level. Rather, he argues that, since faith exists, it ought to be tamed and channelled:

I argued that because we may be programmed by evolution for faith, faith may be intrinsic to being human and therefore something we should engage rather than deny. You make the solid point that we are also programmed by evolution for rape. Does that make rape defensible? Of course not, even though, as you point out, rape is a very effective and very natural way to disseminate DNA. But my response would not be to say that the evolutionary impulse to inseminate should be resisted entirely. I'd argue that the sex rive should be channeled respectfully toward others, i.e. moderated. So rape cedes to consensual DNA dissemination. Similarly, the drive for faith needs to be channeled respectfully toward others, i.e. moderated. Fundamentalism cedes to toleration. Hence my insistence on maintaining the humility apropriate for such immense claims about the meaning of everything; and hence my support for a faith that is live-and-let-believe in its social manifestation.

OK, so let me get this straight. Sullivan isn't saying that faith is true. He's saying that since faith is hard-wired in, people might as well believe something relatively harmless. I suppose so -- I mean if people have to believe in a Great Sky Being, far better for them to believe in one who commands them to eat their vegetables, exercise regularly, and generally be nice to people, rather than one who commands them to Kill The Infidels! But so what?

I never really made much sense out of Leo Strauss, but isn't this his argument? That there are certain higher truths that only the enlightened elite are ready for while the masses have to console themselves with comforting lies. It's the "you can't handle the truth!" theory. So at at the end of the day, Sully seems to concede that atheism is more-likely-than-not true, but since people are going to believe something, he wants them not to be fundamentalists.

I never took him to be a Straussian.

Oh, and by the way: Happy Easter!

UPDATE: A perceptive but anonymous commenter tells me that I've got Strauss all wrong. Well, I said I never made much sense out of him, so it wouldn't surprise me if my commenter is right. So instead of calling Sully a Straussian, I'll call him a "You can't handle the truther."

Saturday, April 7, 2007

What Hath Woo Wrought?

Well, I have to say that, despite whatever humiliation that Britain and the United States may have suffered, I, for one, am happy that the caputred British sailors and Marines are home, safe and relatively uharmed. I'm certainly glad it didn't drag on forever like the Iranian Hostage Crisis I remember from my youth.

It now turns out, predictably, that the British sailors were "blindfolded, isolated in cold stone cells and tricked into fearing execution . . . ." Well, color me outraged -- and I am outraged that the Iranian government chose to parade them people on TV to further their propaganda.

And yet my degree of justifiable outrage is somewhat limited. You see, it appears that these people weren't subject to waterboarding, or forced to stand in stress positions for hours on end, or attacked with dogs, or subjected to sleep deprivation, or forced to form naked human pyramids.

People have always been abused -- undoubtedly prisoners have been mistreated by American troops in every war our country has ever fought. But the Bush Administration has made mistreatment of prisoners a matter of policy. Which makes it far more difficult for us to muster world opinion if our guys (or, in this case, our allies' guys) are mistreated. The damage that the Bush administration has done to our moral authority is simply incalculable.

Friday, April 6, 2007


Oliver Willis thinks that Bill O'Reilly has gone crazy. Looking at this Youtube video, he does kind of have a point -- O'Reilly seems to be a bit out of control. I'm not a defender of Bill O'Reilly; I think he's an ignorant, arrogant blowhard, and, even worse, a bit of a bully to people who appear on his show.

In this case, however, O'Reilly isn't being his usual bullying self, because his interlocutor is Geraldo Rivera, a longtime TV veteran himself who is more than comfortable and able to hold his own in a TV environment. He's not picking on some poor schlub who's squinting at the lights; he's going toe-to-toe with a worthy adversary. As Ann Althouse says of Geraldo, "He's going to hold his own and he does. O'Reilly knows he can roll out his righteous anger in a grandly theatrical way and he does." However Geraldo and O'Reilly might differ, they both have a flair for dramatic showmanship, and that's what they're doing.

It's also worth noting that Willis makes a fairly common mistake among folks on the left -- he identifies O'Reilly as being a "conservative." O'Reilly may have some cultural conservative leangings -- he hammers rappers whose music he finds objectionable, and he likes to highlight cases of child molesters whose sentences are too lenient. His overall views are all over the map. If he's anything, O'Reilly is a right-leaning populist. But he's certainly not a movement conservative, or a Republican "team player" like, say, Rush Limbaugh.

Oh, and on the substantive argument, for once O'Reilly has a point. Allison Kunhardt (17), and Tessa Tranchant (16) were killed by a 22-year-old illegal immigrant with a history of arrests, at least one of which appears to have been alcohol-related. Why isn't the fact that he had been previously arrested, but not deported, a relevant question? The fact is that he's here illegally, and two teenage girls are dead because of his conduct. If he had been deported earlier, they would not be dead.

And Geraldo's notion that we "lured" the illegal immigrants here is ludicrous. "Lured," how? By having a more successful economy than Mexico and other Latin American countries? That's our fault? How? Rivera is simply being deliberately obtuse.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Flag Burning!

Three Yalies, Hyder Akbar Said, Nikolaos Angelopoulos, Farhad Anklesaria were arrested for burning an American flag. "How can that be?" you might be asking, as flag-burning is constitutionally-protected. Well, it turns out that the flag which they decided to burn was attached to somebody's house, and that the threesome have been arrested for arson. It's kind of funny in a way, and apparently nobody was hurt in this case. But they could have burned the victim's house down, could even have killed some of the occupants, or firefighters coming to extinguish the blaze. Let's hope that this is treated like the serious criminal offense it is, and not as a college "prank."

And by the way, I don't think that Yale gets off blameless here. Two of these guys are foreign students studying at Yale, and the third is an American citizen born in Pakistan. If nothing else, they are being bad guests. Two of these guys are visiting another country getting a chance to study in one of our premier educational institutions. A lot of young American citizens don't get into Yale. Isn't it just really rude to burn an American flag while you're studying here? To commit arson while a guest in another country? And shouldn't Yale impress upon its foreign students that they have some obligation to behave while they are here?

UPDATE: As I predicted, the students are now trying to characterize this act of arson as a prank. Lighting fire to a flag that is attached to a house is arson; it doesn't become a "prank" because the arsonist is a college student.