Friday, 28 February 2003

Israeli coalition invested

The final coalition has been invested by the Knesset, according to the Jersualem Post and Haaretz:

Meanwhile, the formation of the coalition still hasn't stopped Mitzna and the coalition parties from sniping at each other, or apparently from still negotiating alternate coalitions, according to the Jerusalem Post:

Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna warned Sharon that the economic and security situations will not improve until negotiations with the Palestinians are resumed and an agreement is reached to establish "two states for two peoples." He also blamed Sharon for the fact that a national-unity government was not established. "It was within reach, but he did not chose to do so," he said, noting that he had chosen National Union leader Avigdor Lieberman and NRP leader Effi Eitam instead.

Shinui MK Yosef Paritzky shot back: "You're to blame," and Shinui leader Yosef Lapid told Labor that it is "not too late to join the government" and create a secular government that can make sweeping reforms.

Of course, the part that warms the heart of my inner political science geek are these coalition promises:

Sharon promised to work to pass a constitution "by consensus" after a number of basic laws are completed.

He also noted that the parties in the coalition have committed to raising the electoral threshold to 2 percent to reduce factionalism.

It's not quite the Lawrence plan (in comments), but it's better than nothing...

Ira Sharkansky (father of Shark Blog's Stefan Sharkansky) has some comments on the coalition's possible outlook on the Palestinian conflict.

Thursday, 27 February 2003

Repealing the 17th Amendment

Eugene Volokh today talks about the 17th Amendment (while Jacob T. Levy links to a September post of his discussing the same topic). The 17th Amendment, adopted 80 years ago, changed the system for election of senators to the current system of popular election; originally, they were elected by the state legislatures (Article I, Section 3, Paragraph 1). The indirect election of Senators was primarily designed to give the states direct input in federal policymaking (see, for example, Federalist 62), and thus in some sense to reinforce federalism by acting as a check on the House of Representatives deciding to exceed the enumerated powers of Congress. (Some argue that the 17th Amendment, rather than the 16th, was the true enabler for big government.)

Of course, there are other issues at work that prevented the Senate from being an effective bulwark on federal power (even before the 17th Amendment); the principal-agent problem loomed large, with the interests of senators not necessarily coinciding with the state legislatures that chose them. One reason why the German Bundesrat works and persists as a powerful, indirectly elected chamber is that its members are true agents of the Land's parliament; by contrast, the pre-17th Senate had very weak principal-agent links (in order to promote institutional stability, another goal of the Senate's design), although whether the Framers intended it that way is unclear.

Jacob writes:

Even if the original 1787 apparatus were clearly better as a matter of constitutional engineering than the current mechanism, it might have been too politically fragile. If it had not bent with the 17th amendment, it might have broken later say, during the Terrible Twenties and Thirties when constitutional democracies were swept away by populist-authoritarianism in much of the world, and we had Longs, Coughlins, and Roosevelts of our own. A defense of the 17th along these lines is kind of like a defense of the 1937 "switch in time that saved nine" by the Supreme Court, not because the switch was constitutionally correct, but because it did manage to "save nine"-- that is, to save substantial judicial independence from a court packing precedent that would have left us with New Deal constitutional revisionism and with a cowed, subservient judiciary and with a precedent for presidents changing the constitutional rules whenever they weren't getting their way.

On balance, I think that the 17th Amendment had little effect in the long term. By the time of its passage, over half the states already had a de facto system for electing senators by popular vote; doubtless most other states would have followed suit eventually. In other words, the 17th is the result of a trend that was taking place anyway, codifying (and legitimating) the Progressivist change that was already on its way to being implemented nationwide. (And, among those changes, it was probably the least harmful procedural change that could have been institutionalized in the Constitution; far more harmful would have been a constitutionally-blessed role for parties as public utilities or a mandate for open primary elections. Of course, in other realms, the 18th was orders of magnitude worse, and also the result of Progressivist do-gooderism.) Ultimately the 17th was no more than a small chink in the armor of federalism, but if the Senate had remained a truly appointed body into the 1930s I agree its legitimacy would have been called into serious question — and perhaps its powers would have been evicerated by a Supreme Court more interested in preserving Marbury v. Madison and judicial review than federalism.

Incidentally, the relative design of the European Council of Ministers and the European Parliament is similar to that of the Bundesrat and Bundestag, although the EU institutions may be the sole current example of asymmetrical bicameralism where the upper chamber is vastly more powerful than the lower; however, it is telling that the phrase “democratic deficit” is virtually synonymous with the EU.

Revealing the man behind the curtain

Steven Den Beste has been one of the more strident pro-war voices in recent months. Today he (along with Josh Chafetz at OxBlog) thinks the administration has finally revealed the true motivation behind the Iraqi phase of the War on Terror:

The answer is that I do believe they were thinking along these lines [using Iraq to prod along regional regime change] all along, but that for them to go public with it back then would have led to serious grief by making clear to such stalwarts as Saudi Arabia just what we really intended. I'm happy, therefore, that we've reached the point where we no longer think we require the good wishes of the Sauds, and thus Bush has indeed publicly stated the real goal for this war, and the only way in the long run we can really win it: liberalization of the Arabs. And, as mentioned above, Iraq will be used to create an example in the [M]iddle East of how it's done, and most of that process will be financed by sales of Iraq's oil.

Is this a realistic hope? Perhaps. Among Middle Eastern states, there are basically four major candidate states for democratization:

  • Egypt: Like Iraq, it has a large middle class. Unlike Iraq, Hosni Mubarak isn't a murderous dictator, even though the state security services do have their ruthless streak. Egypt also has a more radicalized Islamic population than Iraq.

  • Iran: Unlike Egypt and Iraq, Iran is governed by a quasi-democratic theocracy rather than a dictator.

  • Iraq

  • Pakistan: Somewhere on the borders of democracy, dictatorship and anarchy. Unlike the three other states, has at least some experience with democratic institutions, and some of those institutions persist under the Musharraf regime.

In all the cases except Iraq, there is a realistic possibility of further democratization from within. The problem of succession in Egypt may lead Mubarak to liberalize the political system. The Iranian government is generally believed to be on the verge of collapse, with many clerics becoming tired of the secular job of running the country; the collapse of the Iraqi regime may be the triggering event for regime change in Iran too. As for Pakistan, it is unclear how sincere the Musharraf regime is about a return to democracy, but the persistence of independent institutions (such as the judiciary) is encouraging.

So, if the goal is to precipitate a democratic revolution in the Middle East, Iraq is probably the most suitable target. Of course, this leads to some legitimate questions:

  1. Is precipitating regime change a legitimate end of U.S. foreign policy? Probably, if there is no reasonable prospect of internal reform or change. Unlike the communist dictatorships of central and eastern Europe, there is no external actor directly propping up the Iraqi regime; thus we cannot expect a homegrown democratic revolution. In the particular case of Iraq, one can make a legitimate argument that we owe the Iraqi people for the West's role supporting the Ba'athist regime (including our own role prior to the first Gulf War).

  2. Can regime change in Iraq lead to change elsewhere? Many political leaders in the Middle East (and some scholars in the western world) believe that Muslims are incapable of operating a democratic regime. While Turkey and Bangladesh are useful counterexamples, neither of these states are Arab. A successful democracy in Iraq may lead citizens other states (including the Palestinians) to reconsider why their countries are not democratic.

  3. Are there any better options? At this point, probably not. In 1991, perhaps we could have “marched on Baghdad,” but such an attack probably would have led to the collapse of the coalition and would have been about as popular worldwide as the current plans for war. In 1998, we may have had an opportunity to walk away from the sanctions regime; however, that would have consolidated Saddam's power and freed him even more to develop weapons of mass destruction. Today, we have few choices: back down (and destroy our own credibility and that of the United Nations), commit ourselves to stationing a large permanent force in the region (which would be required by any plan to continue inspections), or go to war now. Realistically, those are the only three options for the foreseeable future, barring an unexpected event like the whole Hussein family being killed in some accident, along with the rest of the senior Ba'ath Party leadership.

  4. Is this approach likely to succeed? It largely depends on the long-term commitment of the United States and its allies. The international community is going to have to devote several years to reconstruction (in the Civil War sense) in Iraq before full sovereignty can be restored, although some degree of “home rule” will be essential from the start. A half-hearted commitment, or a withdrawal of U.S. support by the next administration if Bush loses in 2004, is likely to lead to disaster.

At this point, it is almost certain that there will be war (barring a successful Iraqi coup in the next week). We can only hope the war will be brief and that few will die. But if the war leads to a free and democratic Iraq it will have been a worthy and just war.

Bill Hobbs has some similar thoughts (which I only just noticed).

Wednesday, 26 February 2003

Obligatory daily meta-post

Mark Pilgrim has an interesting post today on using rewrite rules to configure Apache to keep out nasty bots; if you run your own server, it's a must-read.

In order to be a good boy myself, I hacked up the trackback module in LSblog to obey robots.txt files, even though I'm not sure it's strictly necessary (the worst it can do is go two posts deep in a site: once to find a trackback URL, and once to access the URL). But, on the upside, it should stop some 403 errors with tracking back to Google.

Since I'm sort-of-iced-in (although the promised ice storm hasn't materialized here, I didn't feel like risking being stranded away from the house), I also moved LSblog to mod_python 3.0.1; it took some fiddling with RewriteRules to make it all work nicely. It's currently using the CGI emulation (which incidentally is buggy — apply this patch), although I'll probably move to the Publisher module eventually, mainly since it has a cooler interface. Currently both the main page and the RSS feed are being served via mod_python; it seems to have halved the page-load times. (There's still some icky database queries that have to be run each page-load; maybe eventually I'll stick a reverse caching proxy in front, if the load ever justifies it. But currently my load average is pegged at 1.00, so I'm in no hurry.)

Hmm. The whole "obey robots.txt" thing didn't work out as well as hoped; it seems we might want to access a cgi-bin directory, but robots are normally excluded from those. (I guess it boils down to a question of how autonomous a robot must be before it's a robot...)

Deeply strange hoodoo. There must be some wacky interaction between LSblog's trackback and Mark's tb.cgi; the comment count goes up, but the comments page doesn't get updated.

Not shielding much

As I read more about the so-called “human shields” going to Iraq, I have to say I'm becoming even less impressed with them. As Daniel Drezner suggests today, the human shields aren't risking their lives; Tim Blair's conclusion over the weekend was similar, and Virginia Postrel pointed out yesterday that many of them don't seem to be playing with a full deck:

Clue for the clueless: Orphanages already have human shields. They're called "orphans."

It's like their thought process goes something like this:

  • Dubya wants to bomb Iraq.

  • Dubya hates brown people.

  • Iraq is full of brown people.

  • I'm white.

  • If I go to Iraq there will be white people there.

  • Dubya won't bomb Iraq if whitey's there.

To which there are a number of responses:

  • The "Dubya hates brown people" premise is intensely stupid and demonstrably untrue, if you've noticed (a) his cabinet and (b) his family.

  • Even assuming that the premises are accurate (which they're not), Dubya still gets to kill lots of brown people, even if your stupid white ass is in the way.

  • You're a potential Democratic voter in 2004. The Iraqis aren't. Dubya actually has more incentive to attack Iraq after you go there, because not only does he get to shore up his support with the bloodthirsty hawk warmongers, he also gets to reduce the number of people who might vote for his opponent in 2004. Same goes for Tony Blair and John Howard.

  • The only place Noam Chomsky's belief system is valid is within his thick skull. Try thinking for yourself for a change.

Perhaps Salam Pax was right when he called them War Tourists. Even that might be too charitable... at this rate, they'll be seeing less action than a hooker at a Promise Keepers' convention.

UNSC Watch

Steven Den Beste has taken a valium since yesterday. Porphyrogenitus has a lengthy analysis of what the proposed UNSC resolution actually says. Conrad is reminded of The Prince — not the one from Minneapolis, by the way. And, for the completists out there, you can read all 18 UNSC resolutions dealing with Iraq since it invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Me? I like HappyFunPundit's resolution. Strangely enough, it's like the U.S.-British-Spanish proposal, but translated by Subliminal Man.

Tuesday, 25 February 2003

New Xft Phoenix build

I've built a new build of Phoenix with Xft enabled for Linux; unlike previous builds, it's based on GNOME 2 and built with gcc 3.2.3, so it probably won't run except on a very recent system (like Debian unstable). Download it here.

Air Force brat nostalgia

Apparently, ten anti-war protestors got themselves arrested when some decided “to heck with the whole non-violence thing” and attacked Ministry of Defence police guarding RAF Fairford in England.

RAF Fairford was where I was twelve years ago during the first Gulf War; I spent a lot of time loitering around my dad's office in Base Operations — I think it's the building in the background of that picture on the front page, which they'd taken out of mothballs after shutting down most of the base just a few months earlier — watching CNN with the airmen and officers who were quartered in the then-unused second floor. I don't remember a bunch of war protestors back then, but there may have been a few (we never seemed to get the CND activity). Back then, Fairford was a staging area for B-52 flights armed with conventional ordinance (in addition to Diego Garcia); some early B-52 flights in the war actually originated from Barksdale Air Force Base (Shreveport, Louisiana).

Anyway, go surf the unofficial site; it's got some pretty interesting stuff, including information on some of the past uses RAF Fairford saw. (I can verify that Fairford was/is the Transatlantic abort site for the Space Shuttle in certain orbits; my dad went to the Cape for special training in 1989 or so, and would have been responsible for coordinating things until a dedicated NASA team arrived.)

Donahue Canned

One of the philosophical questions of the ages has been answered: if Phil Donahue's show was cancelled, and nobody was watching it, would anyone find out?

Apparently, the answer is yes. Philosophers are still working on that “tree in the woods” thing, though.

The word comes via Donald Sensing; clearly, I wouldn't have found out about it another way.

Monday, 24 February 2003

Deconstructing Avril

Matthew Yglesias and Katie have been having fun deconstructing the lyrics to Avril Lavigne's “Sk8er Boi” (on her debut album, Let Go). Frankly, it's all slick marketing — she may really be a skater punk, but the album isn't what you'd think of as skater punk. IMHO, the gems of the album aren't among the tracks getting airplay; “Losing Grip,” “UnWanted,” and “Things I'll Never Say.”

Anyway, if you won't believe me, believe Ryan McGee, who's down with the Mox's peeps. So he must be cool or right or something.

Separated at birth?

I blog, you decide: Taylor Dent and Erik Estrada.

The dea(r)th of French liberalism

Jacob T. Levy has an interesting post on where the liberal tradition in France is going — mostly straight down the tubes. There's also some discussion in the comments at Matthew Yglesias's site.

I'm not sure if Yglesias is “quite the fashionable place to hang out these days,” but it's definitely more civil than most of the comment sections out there. Hence why I don't have comments here myself; too much hassle. If you want to comment, blog it and TrackBack (see the « links) here. :-)

Missile Defense

C.D. Harris (Ipse Dixit) rightly takes the administration to task for inserting an operational readiness testing exemption for the national missile defense system in the FY2004 budget proposal. C.D.'s more interesting comment is:

I have never understood - and I have tried - the Left's deep-seated loathing of missile defense. Why a purely defensive system - one which would exist for no purpose other than to protect American cities from nuclear annihilation - engenders such a consistent and emotional rejection from the peace, love and u-u-understanding set is, frankly, beyond me.

Me, I'm pretty agnostic on national missile defense. A 100%-effective NMD system (capable of stopping a large strategic missile attack) would be incredibly destabilizing to the nuclear balance of power, because it would effectively neutralize the threat of mutual assured destruction; at some level, this is probably the origin of the left's opposition (although it being a cornerstone of Ronald Reagan's defense policy probably didn't hurt). Of course, this isn't what the administration is planning; they want something that would stop a limited attack (say, no more than a dozen missiles), in essence to neutralize the first-strike threat by a minor nuclear power (say, North Korea).

Bret, from C.D.'s comments, makes two arguments against NMD:

  1. It doesn't work. Scientists have said for years that the technology is barely even in its infancy, and won't be mature for at least 10 years.

  2. It's incredibly expensive. I can't give you the exact numbers right now, but it's in the hundreds of billions.

To point 1: the technology won't even be developed if there isn't an impetus for it. So if we decide in 2010 or 2100 or 3000 that we want national missile defense, we still need to wait 10 years to develop it.

To point 2: it is incredibly expensive. Is it worth, say, $200 billion to ensure that Kim Jong Il can't nuke Honululu, Seattle, or Los Angeles? Or to ensure that a nuclear-armed fundamentalist Islamic state (say Pakistan or Iran) can't wipe out Diego Garcia or London?

Now, I don't know the answer to those questions. It's fundamentally a risk analysis.

On the other hand, there are far less expensive, but equally effective, delivery systems for nuclear weapons; for example, one could be loaded in the hold of a container ship or commercial jetliner, for example. National missile defense would be ineffective against the former, and there are other, cheaper methods (traditional SAMs, fighter jets) for dealing with the latter, if they are detected in time.

The bottom line: NMD alone would be an ineffective strategy. But, NMD might be a part of an effective overall strategy (also including improved human intelligence and signals intelligence) against WMD, if it can be developed cost-effectively, and there might be some civilian side-benefits to developing NMD (such as improved pattern-recognition systems, more efficient lasers, and better geolocation capabilities).

Likud coalition set

The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and CNN, among others, report that Ariel Sharon has secured a 61-seat minimum winning coalition consisting of the Likud (and the remnants of Yisrael Ba'aliya which joined it last month), the National Religious Party (NRP), and Shinui. Talks are apparently underway to possibly bring in other parties to bolster the size of the coalition, including the National Union. Nobody seems to really know what the coalition's positions on the peace process or settlements are; most of the discussion (as always) is about internal Israeli politics.

Strangely enough, the Independent runs with an AP report with a headline calling this a “hard-line coalition”; one wonders how they'd have described a Shas-NRP-NU-Likud coalition.

Matthew Yglesias has some new comments as well; I basically agree with him that we're looking at an interim coalition until events (i.e. war in Iraq or some obvious incident of bad faith on the part of the Palestinians) force Labor to abandon its “no coalition with Sharon” pledge, especially since some reports note that Sharon is updating Mitzna on the progress of the coalition talks (which seems rather odd since Mitzna isn't leading Labor into the coalition).

Previous discussion here.

More fun with READY.GOV graphics

Part two of an ongoing series...

Image of an oversized man walking toward a building.

Steve was so confident that the listeners of WXWZ had lodged enough protests against the “Former Mouseketeers” block that he felt safe to reenter the building.

This will make no sense if you haven't already read the first set...

Three clocks, positioned over a television, radio, and laptop computer.

Watching television, listening to the radio, and surfing the Internet are just three ways to occupy yourself while procrastinating on writing your dissertation.

Patrick Carver has assembled some additional captions of his own.

Who's a journalist?

Donald Sensing reflects on that question in response to his experience on a Nashville morning radio show on Friday. Donald makes two interesting statements:

  • Journalism is a job, not a profession. In fact, I have extensive formal journalism training, and I can tell you that there is no particular skill to it that is particularly difficult or unobtainable by average people.

  • There is no "accountability" of journalists in any meaningful sense. There is no equivalent of a bar exam for journalists. There is no licensing procedure for journalists. There is no minimum education level required, nor any particular special kind of training at all. Fill out an employment application, get hired at minimum wage or better, and presto, you're a journalist. Or just take a pad and pencil, call some folks on the phone and do some interviews, and you're a journalist, too.

I've wandered in and out of journalism in my life — I started a short-lived student newspaper in school in Britain, spent two years writing and copy editing for the teen section of the Ocala Star-Banner, and wrote for The Rose Thorn. But, I've never taken a formal journalism class in my life, and I'm not sure one would need to take a journalism class to be a good journalist. The key qualification is the ability to write clearly; the rest can be learned with a copy of the AP Stylebook and by paying attention to a copy editor — in essence, learning on the job.

The bigger question is: is this journalism? It's not reporting; it's more like the opinion page, or perhaps what the New York Times might call “news analysis” (which increasingly look quite similar). There is some first-person reportage here, most notably in the Roadgeekery category, but that's in the distinct minority. Rather, this weblog (and most weblogs) leverage traditional journalism mostly to have something to talk about, rather than engaging in reporting. But, consider this definition, from Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913):

  1. The keeping of a journal or diary. [Obs.]

  2. The periodical collection and publication of current news; the business of managing, editing, or writing for, journals or newspapers; as, political journalism.

Clearly, this blog, like many others, engages in the “periodical collection and publication of current news,” regardless of whether that news is on the conduct of university professors at USF or how Moxie's blind date went on Friday night (after all, newspapers have “society” pages). So I guess blogging is journalism. Sort of.

Bill Hobbs has some worthwhile thoughts on the subject, and he should know.

Taking “warblogging” literally

I discovered L.T. Smash today in my browsings; it's the weblog of a U.S. Army reserve officer at a very insecure undisclosed location surrounded by lots and lots of sand. Betweem L.T. and Salam Pax in Baghdad, it looks like we've got Iraq covered. Now if we could just get a North Korean blogger to explain what the heck Kim Jong Il is up to…

Sunday, 23 February 2003

Sami Al-Arian

Tacitus reports on Florida's reaction to the indictment of Sami Al-Arian, the University of South Florida professor who was suspended by USF while he was under investigation (see USF's archives on the Al-Arian case).

On a seemingly unrelated note (at least, at first glance), InstaPundit links to this New York Post piece by Byron York looking at the financial underpinnings of “Not in Our Name”, the celebrity-driven anti-war movement, seemingly written before the weekend's events. Dig down and you'll find this astounding revelation:

FOR its fund raising, the Not In Our Name Project is allied with another foundation, this one called the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization. Founded by several New Left leaders in 1967 to "advance the struggles of oppressed people for justice and self-determination," IFCO was originally created to serve as the fundraising arm of a variety of activist organizations that lacked the resources to raise money for themselves.

In recent years, IFCO served as fiscal sponsor for an organization called the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom (their partnership ended when the coalition formed its own tax-exempt foundation). Founded in 1997 as a reaction to the 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act, the coalition says its function is to oppose the use of secret evidence in terrorism prosecutions.

Until recently, the group's president was Sami Al-Arian, a University of South Florida computer-science professor who has been suspended for alleged ties to terrorism. (He is still a member of the coalition's board.) According to a New York Times report last year, Al-Arian is accused of having sent hundreds of thousands of dollars, raised by another charity he runs, to Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The Times also reported that FBI investigators "suspected Mr. Al-Arian operated 'a fund-raising front' for the Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine from the late 1980s to 1995." Al-Arian also brought a man named Ramadan Abdullah Shallah to the University of South Florida to raise money for one of Al-Arian's foundations - a job Shallah held until he later became the head of Islamic Jihad.

Of course, the conspiracy theorists will argue that Al-Arian was indicted to silence and discredit the anti-war movement (never mind that large chunks of it have managed to do that on their own, with no help from the government). But it's an interesting development nonetheless, and one that shouldn't be lost on those who ignored the underpinnings of ANSWER.

Meanwhile, you can read the indictment for yourself (via Martin Kramer, who has some pointed commentary on the academic community's past defense of Al-Arian).

Can Alberta go it alone?

Christopher Johnson of the Midwest Conservative Journal notes the recent use of the “S word” — secession — by Alberta premier Ralph Klein. Christopher's analysis seems spot-on:

Assuming British Columbia decided to stay put, could Alberta go it alone? It would be difficult; Alberta would have no port facilities and would have to arrange something with Vancouver or get real chummy with Seattle. But independence would not be impossible. Money would not be a problem; the United States would quite happily buy as much Albertan oil as Edmonton was willing to sell and its transport south could be facilitated with as much American capital as Alberta desired.

Would Alberta become the 51st American state? It probably wouldn't have to. Relations between Alberta and states like Montana and Idaho would be extremely intimate regardless of what Washington thought about it. Indeed, an independent Alberta or Western Canada would be a powerful attraction to many western American states during their periodic outbreaks of anti-Washingtonism. Theoretically, Edmonton could have all the benefits of close association with the United States without the burden of bureaucratic oversight from Washington.

As a practical matter, an independent Western Canada (or just Alberta on its own) would probably be a more functional solution for post-breakup Alberta: there would be no need to conform legal systems, or interminable debate about whether a parliamentary legislature is compatible with the Constitution's guarantee of a republican form of government. Unlike Québec, Alberta is a net financial contributor to Canada's federal government, so financing the needs fulfilled by Ottawa would not be difficult (although disentanglement with the rump Canada might lead to some short-term problems).

Should they do it? Beats me. But it would probably be less painful than even the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, generally regarded as the most amicable national divorce on record, and clearly a lot of Albertans are fed up with their isolation from, and lack of input to, federal decision-making.

Saturday, 22 February 2003

Nauru Incommunicado

Hit & Run passes on word that the Pacific island-state of Nauru (population approximately 12,000; area 1/10th that of the District of Columbia) has apparently dropped off the face of the earth. Sounds like someone needs to airdrop a few Iridium satellite phones or something.

Friday, 21 February 2003

Belittling READY.GOV

The latest craze in the blogosphere is apparently to make fun of READY.GOV, the Department of Homeland Security's website where you too can learn how to save your ass in the event of a WMD attack.

While I agree at some level with The Fat Guy's critique of the craze (the site does seem to have some moderately useful information, in contrast with the downright creepy main DHS site), you've got to admit that the free graphics are providing a field day for the artistically-impaired; take, for example Kieran Healy's storyboard of the Iraq crisis, Amish Tech Support's “The Adventures of... THE FLAMING FART!”, Michele's captioning series, a two-parter at The Short Strange Trip, and general humor from Davezilla, among others. And, since I'm nothing if not artistically-impaired, here's my contribution to the genre:

Image of a man next to a filing cabinet and a bookshelf, with a NO sign.

Bob resolved then and there to quit his paper-pushing job and to return to school so he could hone his true passion, interpretive dance.

Image of a radio with a man deciding whether to duck and cover or run away.

When Christina Aguilera's “Dirrty” came on the radio, Steve was again faced with his classic dilemma: should he cower in fear and hope the song would end soon, or should he flee the building entirely on the premise that it's just the start of a “Former Mouseketeers” block?

Thanks to Jeff Jarvis and the others who have linked (some of whom are listed in the TrackBack link below). If it's your first visit, feel free to look around. And don't miss the continuation of the series

Iraq and containment

One of the more reasoned (and reasonable) arguments against a war in Iraq is that Iraq can be effectively contained. In the short term, containment is a viable option; however, beyond the short term, containment solves relatively few problems:

  • Effective containment requires the inspection process to continue. Without the imminent threat of U.S. and allied military action, the Iraqi regime is unlikely to continue to cooperate (and I use that term loosely) with inspectors.

  • Effective containment requires a long-term U.S. commitment to maintain an imminent threat of military action. The U.S. cannot afford to station a large permanent force in the region for years, perhaps decades. “Friendly” states like Saudi Arabia cannot host a large permanent force for domestic political reasons, at least under their current regimes.

  • Effective containment requires the sanctions regime to remain in place. France, China, and Russia are on record as wanting to loosen the sanctions or eliminate the sanctions regime altogether.

  • Effective containment does nothing to hasten the end of the Iraqi regime. Twelve years of sanctions, enforced about as well as one can reasonably expect, have given Saddam Hussein a pretext to impoverish and starve the Iraqi people but otherwise have had little impact on his ability to enrich himself or consolidate his hold on power.

The only realistic long-term alternative to war in Iraq, or regime change accomplished by some other (unspecified) means, is a complete dismantling of the sanctions regime and an end to any pretense of containment. So, the big question is: in 2020, do we want a different regime in Iraq, or do we want Saddam or Uday still running the show with a rebuilt military and large quantities of WMD at their disposal?

E. Nough has some additional thoughts on Iraqi exceptionalism (or, why we're not planning invasions of Venezuela and Zimbabwe). Meanwhile, here's one for the “those who don't learn history” file. Neville Chamberlain would be proud.

Of two-by-fours and men

Mindles H. Dreck, the less-fair half of Asymmetrical Information, brings us the ultimate cultural exegesis of the role of the two-by-four in modern American culture, including a link to this bizarre photo essay obviously produced by drunk college students.

Thursday, 20 February 2003

“No Blood for Mount Doom”

Domenico Bettinelli passes on word that Middle Earthers have been holding a peace protest against the war on Mordor. (Link via Josh Chafetz @ OxBlog.)

SC road trip report

For the full details on my trip last weekend, see this misc.transport.road post.

More Jacko

Michael Jackson, who hasn't done anything of consequence in the past decade, continues to be the center of media attention this week — apparently, we're just 30 minutes away from another two hours of Jacko. At this rate, we could have a whole cable network devoted to rerunning footage from Jackson interviews.

More new stuff

I've now added support for the ThreadTrack feature in Janes' Blogosphere; the » links will show other blogs that are talking about the same links (hopefully!).

Wednesday, 19 February 2003

Back in the online life again

Apologies for the downtime today; has migrated to a new server.

The good news is that during the downtime I added an automatic ping to in LSblog's posting code, so now tools that leverage data from will see what's happening here. (The oft-promised public release of LSblog is still a little while off, though.)

Oxford getting more movies

According to the Daily Mississippian, Mid-South megaplex operator Malco has taken over the local movie theater (the ignorantly-punctuated “Cine’ 4”) and will turn the former Stage department store in the Oxford Mall into a new, modern eightplex.

Thursday's Oxford Eagle reports, in an article by Lucy Schultze (that won't stay online for more than a day, so I'm not going to bother with a link) that an additional ten screens are planned to be built by another developer at a new shopping center at Highway 7 and Sisk Avenue on the east side of town. The developer originally planned to work with Malco, but their purchase of the “Cine’ 4” (mercifully renamed “Cinema 4” on Malco's website) has apparently thrown a wrench into those plans.

Reading the fine print

Jacob Sullum @ Hit & Run notes that Congress is finally reading the fine print of the monstrosity known as the McCain-Feingold “Campaign Finance Reform” bill, and the results aren't pretty.

On a related note, the word of the day is schadenfreude. But then again, that's our word of the day every day...

Via the InstaMan.

Friday, 14 February 2003

Media coverage of “terror” and third-person effects

Glenn Reynolds writes today on Howard Kurtz's observation that the media thinks we're more terrified than we actually are:

And yet, most people are going about their daily business. They have lived through so many stretches of media shrillness – abducted women, missing children, killer sharks – that it has become background noise. Repeated warnings about terrorism, and all the false alarms, have diluted their effectiveness. An orange alert becomes like a snow alert, just another fact of life.

Yes. Every time I see some anchor talk about how "frightened" and "jittery" we are, it just reminds me how out of touch Big Media people are.

We're not "jittery." Americans are determined, and angry. Spoiled media bigshots, used to living in a cocoon of bodyguards and obsequious staffers, are the ones who are "jittery." We saw this in the overwrought reaction to the anthrax attacks last year, and we're seeing it again.

The good news is that their shrillness, as Kurtz notes, actually works against the terrorists. They've managed to make terrorism boring.

The interesting question here is: What are the likely effects of this exaggeration on public opinion?

Diana Mutz and Joe Soss, in their article “Reading Public Opinion: The Influence of News Coverage on Perceptions of Public Sentiment” (Public Opinion Quarterly vol. 61 [1997]) looked at the effect of a “public journalism” effort in Madison, Wisconsin, where one local newspaper highlighted an alleged lack of affordable housing and the other didn't. While they found that the public journalism effort didn't really affect how readers perceived the issue (readers of both newspapers had approximately equal opinions about the problem), those who read the paper that emphasized the issue were more likely to think that their fellow citizens thought the issue was important. (This is termed a “third-person effect.”)

So, what does this have to do with media hysteria about terror? What it suggests is that while people won't individually feel less secure, they will feel like their communities believe they are less secure. This could lead to more widespread support for anti-terrorism measures that otherwise would exist — undermining traditional support for civil liberties by media elites. In other words, “terror exaggeration” is likely to erode public support for values that most of the media (and indeed, most Americans) find desirable: freedom of expression and association and the right to privacy.

Thursday, 13 February 2003

Today's pre-roadtrip roundup

I'm going to be in the car all day, so the usual diet of misanthropy will be limited. The good news is: I have links!

As an aside, I was brutally disappointed when I turned on C-SPAN late last night and there was no evidence of Robert Byrd reading the phone book. I thought we were supposed to be having a good old-fashioned filibuster? Meanwhile, Howard Bashman suggests the possibility of a double-whammy filibuster; I, too, have never heard of a committee meeting being filibustered. No word yet either on whether this will hold up final passage of the four-month-overdue Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which I can hopefully pore over in detail by tonight (assuming the GPO is on the ball).

Wednesday, 12 February 2003

TABOR amendment legislation in Tennessee

Bill Hobbs is reporting that several state legislators have introduced legislation calling for a constitutional convention to propose a Taxpayers' Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment to the Tennessee constitution.

As Bill notes, it's the first step in a long battle — but an important one. Tennesseans should encourage their state representatives and senators to support this legislation; while it may not pass this year, with sufficient support it could pass eventually.

Working on metadata

David Janes, of Janes' Blogosphere fame, is working on some specifications for weblog metadata to improve the life of aggregators and others who are trying to get useful information out of weblogs' content.

Silly meta-question

At Critical Mass, Erin O'Connor reports on yet another blackface incident, this time at the University of Texas. Leaving aside the legal questions (I tend to agree with critics like O'Connor who think the real harm in these incidents is often vastly overstated), the larger question is: why do fraternities seem to choose this particular meme? I've never had the urge to go out in blackface, and I honestly can't say I understand the appeal. Surely one can make social commentary about rappers, or even African Americans in general, without covering one's face with shoe polish. Plus, you'd think after the publicity surrounding other fraternities getting in trouble for it (not only with public university administrators, where there's a clear First Amendment issue, but also with national fraternity officials, where there normally isn't one), eventually frats would get the message that doing stuff in blackface is just asking for trouble.

Tuesday, 11 February 2003

Bicameralism and Lords Reform

Michael Jennings has a new post that talks about upper houses in Australia; unlike Canada (where, if I recall correctly, none of the upper houses remain except the federal Senate, which more resembles the Lords than either the Australian or American Senate in its powers and composition), five of the six Australian states still have upper houses, yet also have parliamentary governments, which tend to lead to weak upper houses.

My personal observation is that bicameralism works best when powers are symmetric; asymmetric bicameralism can quickly reduce one house, normally the upper house, to irrelevance. But, asymetric systems can be useful in a parliamentary system, provided the restraint provided by an upper house is seen to be legitimate.

Incidentally, the U.S. Senate, like the upper houses in most Washingtonian presidential systems*, does have slightly more power than the House — primarily, the confirmation power of “advice and consent.” However, most scholars consider Congress symmetric, and that is certainly the case in terms of the ordinary legislative powers of the two chambers.

Link via Jacob Levy; previous discussion is here.

* My spur-of-the-moment coinage to compare with “Westminster parliamentary systems,” to describe the presidential systems used in most Latin American countries and the Philippines, which are based on the U.S. system of separation of powers. (Nebraska wouldn't be a pure Washingtonian system, because of the lack of an upper house. This is the most egregious example, but most states depart from the Washingtonian model in certain respects.) Let's see if that one's as successful as “Lottroversy.”

Monday, 10 February 2003

More Lords Reform

Jacob T. Levy has the scoop on the latest discussions in blog-world (from Iain Murray and Michael Jennings) on the abject failure of Lords reform in Britain to get anywhere. (I meant to post on it earlier but got distracted by bright, shiny objects.) The telling sentence:

Now that the traditional British constitution has been abolished, with astonishingly little debate and no clear sense of what to replace it with, that's proving to be a real disadvantage.

Incidentally, upper houses in general have proved themselves rather pointless without either federalism or feudalism as a justification. Take U.S. states for example, post-Baker v. Carr (369 U.S. 186)*: one state (Nebraska) has abolished its upper house, while the rest just plod along with an upper house that's smaller but otherwise elected on the same basis of representation (single member districts, first-past-the-post) as the lower house. While this arrangement does preserve the check of requiring both bodies to agree, it's not clear how much of a check this is as a practical matter (free grad student paper idea: compare the rate of passage of legislation in the Nebraska legislature to a bicameral state).

It seems to me that proportional representation (either pure PR, or the “top-off” form used in Britain's subnational legislatures that still allows some districts) is the ideal solution for making upper houses more relevant: it also has the bonus (if you go for pure PR) of not requiring redistricting fights. Even regional PR might be a good idea — states like Mississippi and Tennessee that have notable sub-state regions (the three Supreme Court districts of Mississippi and Tennessee's Grand Divisions) could use them as the basis for regional lists, apportioning the seats by population.

The downside is that it would probably lead to more partisan state legislatures, so PR Senates may only be desirable in states that already have strongly partisan legislatures — so Tennessee would probably be a reasonable case, while Mississippi may not be.

Previous discussion here.

* Baker v. Carr and its successors invalidated the apportionment of legislative chambers in the United States on any basis other than population under the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, with the sole exception of the U.S. Senate (whose apportionment is specified in the Constitution in a particularly airtight fashion).

Campaign Themes

To elaborate some from the announcement, here are some of the themes I hope to bring up during the campaign (some of which will make little sense if you live outside the district):

Limiting state spending

This year, Mississippi will spend $3.6 billion, most of which comes directly from citizens' pockets. In the past few weeks, our legislators have passed a $236 million budget increase for education, an increase of over 11% above what was planned for 2003, and they don't have a clue where the extra money is going to come from in the long term — the tobacco trust fund and casino taxes aren't a bottomless well of revenue, despite popular belief to the contrary.

To keep state spending on an even keel, and to help ensure Mississippi remains a business-friendly, low-tax state, we need additional constraints on taxing and spending — specifically, we need a Taxpayers' Bill of Rights (TABOR) Amendment that limits state and local spending growth without voters' approval. It's worked well in Colorado and it can work in Mississippi. (For more details on how Colorado's TABOR works, see this white paper by Nashville journalist Bill Hobbs.)

Keeping the judiciary accountable

Much has been made over the past few years over the increasing cost and politicization of judicial campaigns in our state. Some legislators, including my opponent, argue that we should solve this perceived problem by having our governor appoint the Supreme Court. However, it is unlikely that the actual effect would be to depoliticize the court; rather, it would encourage governors to appoint justices who share their politics. Even though the system my opponent proposes would include a retention vote every eight years, replacing the competitive elections we have today, The open and vigorous campaigns we have today are essential for voters to make informed decisions; retention elections, by comparison, would put incumbent justices at a much greater advantage and remove their decisions further from public view and debate.

Ending “Jackpot Justice”

Our state has become widely perceived as a venue for “jackpot justice” — the use of frivolous or exaggerated legal claims to gain large settlements and jury awards against Mississippi and out-of-state businesses. While the tort reform package passed in 2002's special session is a good first step, we need more comprehensive tort reform efforts to discourage “venue shopping” by litigants and stronger rules on certification of class actions. At the same time, we need to make sure that citizens who have suffered real harm retain access to the court system.

Improving Transportation

Mississippi is working with federal officials to designate two new Interstate highways through our state: Interstate 69 through the Delta, passing through Clarksdale, and Interstate 22 across the northern part of our state, passing through Tupelo. Connecting those two highways is Mississippi 6, the main artery through this district. If elected, I will work with MDOT and our federal officials to complete the four-laning of Highway 6 from Clarksdale to Tupelo, including a new southern bypass of Batesville, upgrading the West Jackson intersection in Oxford to an interchange, and improving the safety of Oxford's dangerous Highway 7 interchange.

I will also work with federal and state transportation officials to complete the northwest loop of Oxford to improve access to Highway 6 and Jackson Avenue from Old Sardis Road and College Hill. Also, I will pursue additional funding to repair and replace rural bridges in Lafayette, Panola and Tallahatchie counties.

This listing is preliminary and subject to later revision.

Sekimori to Ben: Get a clue

Sekimori has some sage words of advice for Ben Affleck regarding “Little Miss Thang” aka J-Lo... not that he's going to listen. (Via VodkaMan.)

Sunday, 9 February 2003

Random Sunday Thoughts

  • Building Phoenix is a royal pain in the butt. But I think I've figured out the magic to create a new Xft-enabled build... if it works, it'll be up shortly.

  • Patriot II (the Wrath of Ashcroft) is a monumentally stupid idea. Of course, so was Patriot I. (Having said that, I echo Tacitus' position; I consider myself under no obligation to blog about every topic under the sun. That's why there are lots of blogs out there; I talk about what particularly pisses me off, or pleases me, or whatever, and let other people talk about things they want to talk about. It's called agenda-setting; deal with it.)

  • I'm debating what I'm going to hack into LSblog next; it'll probably be behind-the-scenes stuff so I don't have to (always) write raw HTML into the text area widget. Probably something on the order of UBBCode or its various ripoffs, or maybe something more sophisticated. I'll probably add a preview, too. Maybe also something to translate HTML entities on-the-fly too.

No dice on Phoenix; it built, but then it segfaulted when I ran it. On the other hand, I did put together a a page of information about Interstate 555. While I realize these aren't perfect substitutes for each other, something's better than nothing, no? (Today's other big project will be the position statement I promised below...)

More Laptop Woes

Well, the Toshiba's given up the ghost again. At this rate, Best Buy may be taking it back as a lemon before Toshiba gives me a refund for its half-of-advertised performance. Grr.

Saturday, 8 February 2003

Random Safari UI Requests

Dave Hyatt is asking for more feedback on the GUI for Safari, Apple's new Mac OS X web browser based on KHTML. Here's what I'd find most useful:

  • A “Page Info” dialog like that in Mozilla and Phoenix; I'd like to be able to see the Modified and Expired times for the page, at least. Bonus points if you show the last time the page was locally cached (which Mozilla doesn't do).

  • Import for Mozilla/Phoenix bookmarks. One thing that keeps me on Phoenix under OS X is that I can use the same bookmarks file on every platform I use (Windows, Linux, OS X).

  • There's no way to accept SSL certificates that aren't signed by a trusted registry. (I've reported this as a bug already.)

  • I'm not a huge fan of tabbed browsing, but I think a large chunk of people think it's needed.

I'm not sure these things would get me to convert to Safari completely — cross-platform capabilities are a big plus in my book, which is why I'm very enamored with Phoenix (which manages to be cross-platform without being too bloated, thanks to the unofficial OS X build) — but they'd probably be enough to make it the autostart browser on the very low-end (Beige G3) OS X box I use as my work desktop.

Friday, 7 February 2003

Stupidity in the NC water?

I know I'm breaking the First Commandment here (“Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican”), but North Carolina GOP representatives Howard Coble and Sue Myrick are both saying deeply idiotic things; Coble apparently thinks the internment of Japanese-Americans was just dandy, and Myrick's not happy about the ownership of convenience stores in this country.

Ah well, at least the Mississippi GOP doesn't have a monopoly on idiots.


About two weeks ago, I outlined here why I can't be a member of the Libertarian Party any more. Today, I'm going to talk about how I'm going to advance libertarian ideas another way.

Mississippi has historically been a one-party state. Post-Reconstruction, the Democrats dominated state politics, and even the “Southern Strategy” of Richard Nixon produced relatively little movement to the Republican Party. At the state level, the Democratic Party dominates most offices. If there has been a realignment in the South, it skipped Mississippi's state offices completely, or at the very least has been delayed by over 30 years.

Part of the Republicans' problem in Mississippi politics is that most Republicans offer little that is different than the Democrats. Both parties are socially conservative, by and large. About the only meaningful difference that can be discerned, other than the fact the Democrats are far more inclusive of Mississippi's blacks than the Republicans are, is that Republicans want a somewhat smaller state government. The conservative coalition agenda is hardly earth-shattering in its scope, discussing a rather bland array of issues. This is hardly surprising, since most of the states' Republicans are just Democrats who have figured out which way the wind was blowing.

Yet Mississippi does face serious problems. Legislators are spending 2003 playing games with the budget so they can put off a tax increase into 2004. They have passed a massive increase in education spending, with nothing to increase accountability — no vouchers, no school district consolidation. They have failed to provide meaningful oversight of spending from Mississippi's anti-tobacco lawsuit proceeds.

We need to stop the budget games. Mississippi is a relatively poor state, and we can't afford more taxes to pay for an uneeded Labor Department, or to throw more taxpayers' money at higher education that could, instead, come from higher tuition. We need a more accountable, smaller state government.

So, rather than simply complain about these things in my blog, I'm going to do something. On Monday, I sent my $15 qualifying fee to the Mississippi Republican Party to be a candidate for the 10th House District in the 2003 statewide election. The 10th District has a population of nearly 23,000, representing parts of Lafayette, south and eastern Panola and northern Tallahatchie counties in northern Mississippi, including parts of Abbeville, Batesville, Courtland, and some of the suburbs surrounding Oxford. The district is about 75.4% white, 23.4% black, and 1.2% persons of other races, and is currently represented by Warner F. McBride, a three-term Democrat from Eureka Springs in Panola County (Mississippi legislators serve four-year terms).

I'll set up a campaign web page in the next few days, with a proper announcement and issue statement (a preview: you'll see the phrase “Taxpayers' Bill of Rights”); it will be linked from the web page. I'll write some about my experiences on the campaign trail here, but there probably won't be a substantial shift in the general melange of topics that come up.

Thanks to Bill Hobbs for some extra publicity with a link from his blog. I'm hoping to have everything ready to roll (the website, platform/position statement, and bank account) in the next couple of weeks. However, up front: I will be endorsing a TABOR Amendment like Colorado's to the state constitution, as well as continuing the direct election of our supreme court (my opponent has proposed legislation that would change to Tennessee-style elections where public input would be greatly reduced). I think this is a winnable district — it went heavily for Bush/Cheney in 2000, even though Batesville's own Ronnie Musgrove will be at the top of the ballot in November.

Thanks to Greg Wythe and neo-conspirator Jacob T, Levy for additional linkage. Now, if I could just get some bloggers to move here; it'd save a bundle on campaign ads.

Thursday, 6 February 2003

Happy 2nd to Michele

Wednesday, 5 February 2003

Israel CoalitionWatch Day n

Noah Millman thinks Shinui's leader, Tommy Lapid, is “making an ass of himself” by still refusing to sit in government with the ultra-Orthodox (and Sephardim) Shas, while willing to sit with the ultra-Orthodox (and Ashkenazi) United Torah Judaism. Shas accuses Lapid of racism, while Millman just accuses Lapid of rank stupidity. I don't understand all the policy and religious distinctions in play here, but it's pretty clear that a whole bunch of people are going to have to tone down their rhetoric and get to the business of running the country.

February 5, 2003: The day the Security Council became irrelevant

At least, that's the emerging consensus among the free people of this planet about what will be on the UNSC's epitath if it fails to authorize military force against Iraq. Consider:

  • Statement of the Vilnius Group Countries, 21 November 2002: “We support the goal of the international community for full disarmament of Iraq as stipulated in the UN Security Council Resolution 1441. In the event of non-compliance with the terms of this resolution, we are prepared to contribute to an international coalition to enforce its provisions and the disarmament of Iraq.”

  • George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, 28 January 2003: “[L]et there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.”

  • Statement of the “Gang of 8”, 30 January 2003: “The U.N. Charter charges the Security Council with the task of preserving international peace and security. To do so, the Security Council must maintain its credibility by ensuring full compliance with its resolutions. We cannot allow a dictator to systematically violate those resolutions. If they are not complied with, the Security Council will lose its credibility and world peace will suffer as a result.”

  • Statement of the Vilnius Group Countries, 5 February 2003: “The clear and present danger posed by the Saddam Hussein's regime requires a united response from the community of democracies. We call upon the U.N. Security Council to take the necessary and appropriate action in response to Iraq's continuing threat to international peace and security.”

  • Fred Kaplan, Slate: “[I]f the Security Council does not now take action against Iraq, it might as well disband.”

  • Eugene Volokh: “If the Security Council members took the view that the evidence is not damning, and that Iraq is cooperating, they would be (as best I can tell) completely wrong and irresponsible; but at least then if they persuaded the public of these facts, the recommended consequences would make sense. But if they acknowledge that there should be no meaningful consequences for gross violations of the Security Council's resolutions — then what's the point of having the Security Council?”

OK, that's what a goodly percentage of the world's democracies think. Well, the ones that aren't called France, at least. Now, let's review what the French want to do again:

Let us double, let us triple the number of inspectors. Let us open more regional offices. Let us go further than this, could we not, for example, put up, set up, a specialized body to keep under surveillance the sites and areas that have already been inspected? Let us very significantly reinforce the capacity for monitoring and collecting information in Iraq.

Wow. Saddam must be quaking in his boots. Defy the Security Council for a dozen years, and we'll sick more UN bureaucrats on your country! This may work in the European Union, where quel dommage! a farmer might have to face down an evil minion from Brussels if he's exceeded his milk quota, but outside the fantasy universe of Eurocrats (and the EU), nobody gives a damn. This isn't just more lard for the butter mountain, this is international peace and security we're talking about here.

The truly sad thing (well, at least if you're a Gaullist) is that the U.N. Security Council is about the last place on earth they have even the illusion of real political power. The Franco-German partnership in Europe is starting to look more like the German partnership with Vichy France. French military power is no match for a few malcontents on the streets of Abidjan. And French diplomacy was just emasculated by two editors at the Wall Street Journal's European edition.

Without the Security Council, and the ability to veto legislation there, France's relevance to the world order is rien. Last month, they handed the keys to Europe to the hollowed out regime of Gerhard Schröder. This month, they handed over all of their credibility to Saddam Hussein's. And, before the year is done, neither will remain in power and France is going to have a hard time getting Europe's keys back from the Christian Democrats and its credibility back from the interim civilian government of Iraq.

Adesnik: Reading the tea leaves on Iraq

OxBlog's David Adesnik has a lengthy post that explores what public opinion polling means — both in general and in terms of the coming war with Iraq. My guess: the numbers are going to go much higher in the next few days, partly because of questions that better reflect reality and partly because the debate isn't about “unilateralism” versus “multilateralism” any more. Serious evidence is now on the table that the so-called “multilateral” approach doesn't work, and won't work. David concludes:

Saddam, if you are reading this, I advise you to disarm very, very soon.

At this point, I don't even think disarming would save him.

I could sit here and blather on about how the considerations being evoked by various frames and primes are changing (in part because the political environment has shifted), but (a) few people other than David would understand it and (b) I feel like I'm about ten minutes away from losing consciousness.

Powell at the U.N.: Reaction

Kathy Kinsey has links to transcripts of Powell's presentation before the UNSC. I only got the audio version, and started partway in (due to having a late breakfast at McDonald's), but what I heard was pretty convincing — and, to echo what Stephen Green says, much more than I expected.

As for the French: either they are “slowly retreating,” as Irving Kristol put it on Fox News, or they're burying themselves in a deeper hole — as Tacitus says, de Villepin's prepared statement favoring “tripling” the number of inspectors was refuted before it was even given.

Having said that, I don't think it swayed many minds among the hardcore anti-war group. However, I suspect it will make a difference among the undecided part of the electorate here and in Europe — Powell's discussion Saddam Hussein's links to terror groups like Al Qaeda were clearly not (mostly) aimed at his immediate audience. More than anything else, American and European voters are looking for a clear, convincing case against Saddam Hussein and for war — and I think Powell made it very effectively.

Michele has a very apt analogy for the situation the French are in; it's in the realm of “too little, too late.” Chuck Simmins has some reaction, while VodkaPundit Stephen Green has a letter to anti-war protesters — albeit one I'll be very surprised if they read. As he puts it:

"Nothing new..." "I'm not convinced..." "Powell's heart isn't really in it..."

These familiar refrains, plus, as the ads say, many, many more are all over the no-war side of the blogosphere today.

For you idiots -- and I won't supply any links because I like some of you idiots -- no amount of proof is compelling, the bar can never be set too high, and no amount of reason can ever convince.

<Teal'c Voice>Indeed.</Teal'c Voice>

Steven Den Beste reacts, suggesting that Powell's use of Republican Guard communications may have been also intended as psyops against the Iraqi regime.

VodkaPundit and Dean Esmay reminded me that Conrad's dug up some interesting German links to Iraq's WMD programs in the Asia Times. If verified, this would be very disturbing news... and probably the end of Gerhard Schröder's rule in Germany.

VodkaPundit is LiveBlogging Powell

Stephen Green blogs, you decide. Start at the bottom, scroll up. (I'm listening to it on Fox News Channel via XM Radio in the office.)

Meanwhile, additional material has been revealed that should increase support for the war effort at home.

Lileks fisks an anti-war weenie

James Lileks' genius is on full display. Today's Bleat is a must-read; he dissects a local Green councilwoman's response to the State of the Union address. My burst-out-laughing paragraph (from James):

Ah yes. Selected, not elected. It rhymes, so it must be true. I’ll still take him over Clinton, whose impeachment trials could be described as ERECTED, NOT EJECTED. But tarry if you will over that line: Perhaps it is unfair to expect George W. Bush to understand democracy. The Greens have entered the territory previously occupied by the right-wing fringe who thought Clinton would use Y2K to suspend the Constitution and use FEMA to institute martial law.

Oh yeah, it's also all about the oiiiiil. But you knew that already.

Incidentally, I'm surprised nobody ever comes up with something original — like we're trying to repeat the invasion of Japan so we can introduce baseball in Iraq to help out W's old friend Bud Selig. I mean, don't we all know that Harry Truman really nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki so we'd eventually enjoy the baseball prowess of Hideki Irabu and Ichiro Suzuki? Just think of all the olympic-calibre athletes we could recruit...

Found via VodkaPundit.

Andrea Harris comments (with a new skin!).

Cross-blog war debate

N.Z. Bear (pro-war) and Stand Down (pro-peace) are coordinating a debate on the possibility of war with Iraq. I may or may not actually participate (it depends, at some level, on how silly the anti-war side's questions seem to be), but if you have a question or two you'd like to see the other side answer, nominate it at the appropriate blog — N.Z. Bear is coordinating the pro-war side (so submit questions for the anti-war folks there), and Stand Down is doing likewise for the pro-peace contingent (vice-versa).

Hopefully the exercise will be enlightening for all concerned.

Amygdala has some thoughtful comments on the prospect of war today, well worth a read.

Volokh Conspiracy: The Tip of the Iceberg

Eugene Volokh has a great post in response to some linkage he didn't find very appealing:

NO, THANK YOU: Visitors from StormFront, which linked to this site as a sample of what Web logs are -- please go away. There's nothing technical I can do to stop you reading my page, but since you want to spread your "pro-white and anti-Jew message," would my being a Jew help persuade you to just close the window? That's right, Jew. In fact, of the nonanonymous bloggers on this site, the great majority are Jews, and the others -- well, they're only worse, because they're Aryans who seem to like Jews, no?

Look, if you're still reading, don't you get it? We call ourselves The Volokh Conspiracy. That's obviously an allusion to the International Jewish Conspiracy, no? One of the creators of the Internet was Leonard Kleinrock -- coincidence? I think not! We control the banks; we control the media; we're sleeping with your daughters; now we're controlling cyberspace. What's the point of resisting, really?

See, this is why I run my own server; a little bit of hacking in index.cgi will send unwanted visitors elsewhere on the web. Say, somewhere like the Lieberman 2004 Yarmalke Store. But then again, why let the denizens of StormFront miss out on a post like Eugene's?

And there's probably some JavaScript that would do this as well, but I don't speak JavaScript.

A look at Kim Dae-Jung's MasterCard bill

I hacked into MasterCard's global systems* to look at South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung's last few credit card statements. It was a real eye-opener:

  • Two tickets to The Hours: $15.

  • Double-breasted suit, purchased in Hong Kong: $35.

  • Plane fare for last ASEAN summit (first class): $2,600.

  • One Nobel Peace Prize: $1.7 billion.

  • Handing North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il money to buy more weapons to threaten its neighbors: priceless.

Needless to say, Conrad isn't impressed.

* Actually I didn't, but it's a cool conceit for the story, no?

Tuesday, 4 February 2003

Coalition Politics in Israel (redux)

The Jerusalem Post reports (registration required) that Likud is looking to form a coalition with Shinui, UTJ (United Torah Judaism), and the NRP (National Religious Party), excluding Shas. UTJ apparently would not be represented in the cabinet, and the coalition would have 64 seats in the Knesset. The article also discusses the possibility of a Likud, Shinui, the NRP, and Yisrael B'Aliya coalition (with 61 seats), described by Shinui MK Avraham Poraz as likely to be “both homogeneous and stable.”

Iraq's Groundhog Day

Perhaps it's fitting that Sunday was Groundhog Day; as Daniel Drezner points out, “it's déjà vu all over again” when it comes to Iraq:

The current cycle of opinion seems like a replay of September/October all over again -- publics/pundits feeling queasy about aggressive action, antiwar activists decrying U.S. imperialism, European leaders either categorically rejecting the U.S. position or calling for more time for "the process" to sort itself out, Russia constantly hemming and hawing, China shrugging its shoulders, and Iraq flipping the bird to anyone and everyone.

Then -- presto! -- Bush makes a compelling speech that points out the implications for the security of the U.S. and the prestige of the U.N. if no action is taken.

It's now clear President Bush was wrong when he said that “this looks like a re-run of a bad movie”; Groundhog Day was a pretty good one...

Monday, 3 February 2003

WSJ on the “New Europe” letter

Somewhat lost in the shuffle today has been the Wall Street Journal's editorial and comments on how the so-called “Gang of 8” letter came about. Money quote from the editorial:

The notion that France and Germany speak for all of Europe is especially absurd, akin to assuming that New York City and Washington, D.C., speak for all of America. Down in the polls, German leader Gerhard Schröder barely speaks for a majority in his own country. The fact that France's Jacques Chirac threw him some anti-American political cover is news, but still a dog-bites-man story of Gallic hauteur. The vote in NATO on helping the U.S. in Iraq was after all 15–4 in favor, with the other opponents being the global powers of Belgium and Luxembourg.

The commentary by Michael Gonzalez, who along with Terri Raphael, solicited the letter, meanwhile contains this choice statement:

The Journal is an independent newspaper and doesn't carry water for any government.

Unlike certain other New York-based newspapers we could mention.

Ryan McGee: Blogger I could hang out with

I'm serious. He's like my evil twin or something. Take his comments on Avril Lavigne for example:

I hate saying it, but she has the best pop record of the year. I like every single one of these songs. Everyone who I’ve pushed to listen to this disc grudgingly agrees this is a great album, even if “Complicated” generates a nervous tic in their eyes (it’s recently replaced “Blurry” by Puddle of Mudd for the “Livin’ La Vida Loca Overplayed Song of the Year” Award). Great record, great hooks, non-wince inducing ain't gonna change the world but as disposable musicianship this ranks pretty high.

So, if you want to know what I'd write in my blog if I watched Buffy and was fixated on Jennifer Garner (as David Letterman would say, she's easy on the eyes), read Wading in The Velvet Sea.

This post brought to you by the Department of Having Nothing Worthwhile to Post.

Dini and Evolution

Susanna, Jane Galt, Kevin Drum (CalPundit) and the Volokh Conspiracy (principally Eugene) have been posting about the Texas Tech professor, Michael Dini, whose policy is not to write letters of recommendation for students who refuse to acknowledge the Theory of Evolution. Or, as Dini explains:

If you set up an appointment to discuss the writing of a letter of recommendation, I will ask you: "How do you think the human species originated?" If you cannot truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer to this question, then you should not seek my recommendation for admittance to further education in the biomedical sciences.

Now, there are a few questions to be asked here:

  1. Does Dini have the right to set this condition? Yes. He's a professor, and he has the sole right to decide who he wants to write letters of recommendation for; it's not like he's promising to go back and give the students an “F” in the class.

  2. Is it a valid condition? Well, the Theory of Evolution is pretty fundamental to modern biology. On the other hand, I'm not convinced you need subscribe to the Theory of Evolution to be a successful doctor or dentist. But, it's Dini's condition, not mine, so he's the appropriate judge of the relative merits.

  3. Is the Theory of Evolution a “belief”? I don't think so, in the sense that like all scientific theories, it is falsifiable; the presence of evidence to the contrary, like evidence that humans existed before other mammals existed on Earth, would show it to be invalid. Creationism, however, isn't falsifiable; any piece of evidence against it can simply be rationalized as something created by God (to what end, however, is a mystery: why would God deliberately create evidence that would place doubts in the minds of men about the biblical account of creation?).

The bottom line, for me at least, is I'm glad I don't teach biology; it's hard enough trying to explain the scientific method when you're talking about political science, which has no theories anywhere near as politically controversial as evolution. (We have our own internal debates over whether or not people who call themselves “political scientists” ought to use the scientific method, but nobody outside the discipline cares.)

I somehow forgot to link to Mark Kleiman's excellent discussion. And my personal policy on the matter — not that I get a lot of requests for recommendations — is equivalent to that expressed by Mark:

My job as a teacher is to supply my students with the facts, the skills, and the ideas required for them to be able to form serious opinions on whatever it is I'm trying to teach them about. It's not my job to make their opinions coincide with mine. That's the difference between a university and a fundamentalist seminary. And I happily write enthusiastic recommendations for students whose political beliefs differ radically from mine.

It also happens to be representative of my teaching policy in general. I've shot down students who've spouted pure ignorant drivel on essay exams (I vividly recall a particular student who alleged that blacks were treated equally in the U.S. before the 1960s, but then started demanding all sorts of special privileges), but only because they've been factually wrong. notes

I've been playing with the stylesheet a bit recently. The most visible change is probably the background on the sidebar, which should show up as a light gray (on my laptop's LCD, it actually has a bluish tint). I've also set the stylesheet to just use your default sans-serif font (which probably means Verdana or some Helvetica variant), rather than the first font it could find in the long list of possibilities that was there before. (You can also choose the Serif look in some browsers, but it doesn't seem to stick so it's not very useful at present.) Of course, you can override the stylesheet rules if you like. Also, there's a printing stylesheet that most recent browsers recognize; the main thing it does is remove the sidebar when printing.

As you may also have noticed, I've simplified the TrackBack links; they're the links to the right of the Permalink icon that look like « (X), where X is the number of trackbacks to that entry. (The link is bold if X is non-zero.)

Finally, I've debated about whether or not to post a blogroll. Since I wouldn't use it myself, the value to me would be minimal; plus, I'd rather not be in a position to be accused of “playing favorites.” There are plenty of great blogs out there, and you don't need me pointing you in the right direction. (I have put some links to some services I've found useful, however; GeoURL and Janes' Blogosphere are both neat tools that I recommend heartily.)

Another brief note: I've fiddled some with the headers of the pages, so Internet Explorer should finally understand that this blog is in UTF-8 encoding. Grrr.

Road trust fund on the table in Tennessee

Bill Hobbs passes on word from the Nashville Tennessean that Gov. Phil Bredesen is considering using gas tax dollars to balance the general fund budget. While I don't share Bill's enthusiasm for raiding highway funds, and think it would be counterproductive to start accruing debt to pay for highway construction and maintenance, I'll reiterate my position that it would be reasonable to fund the Highway Patrol out of the gasoline and diesel tax. TDOT also should seriously consider using its dormant legal authority to build toll roads in rapidly-growing areas.

Bill has a longer post at the Political State Report.

Kevin Raybould also has a post at Also, a minor correction: the Tennessee Tollway Authority was sunsetted on 30 June 2000 after the legislature failed to pass legislation to reauthorize it for six more years.

48 Hours with Al Qaeda

Sunday, 2 February 2003

Coalition Formation in Israel

Matthew Yglesias, back from blogging haitus, briefly looks at Shinui's possible role in an Israeli coalition government. The case of Israel's 120-member unicameral parliament, the Knesset, is particularly interesting because of its abnormally high number of political parties — 13 parties received Knesset seats in the January 2003 election because they received over 1.5% of the popular vote. (The Knesset uses pure proportional representation within one, nationwide district.) Leaving aside the question of why such a low threshold was chosen — Israel's is the lowest in the world — the large degree of fragmentation leads to serious barriers to coalition formation.

Michael Laver and Norman Schofield's Multiparty Government discusses this problem, although it mainly concentrates on European countries where the major parties are larger. In the most recent Israeli election, by contrast, no party received more than 30% of the total vote, and the Likud only received 38 seats — 23 seats short of a Knesset majority. This makes coalition formation particularly problematic because no single party can provide an overall majority — even a coalition with second-place Labor, with 19 seats, is too small to win an investiture vote (Israel's laws require a Knesset majority to vote in favor of forming a coalition, which makes a minority government exceedingly unlikely). So, what sorts of coalitions are possible?

Some theories suggest that the most likely coalitions to form are “minimal winning” coalitions — coalitions that involve the least number of parties while still gaining a majority of seats; i.e., where the loss of one party would make the coalition a minority. William Riker goes further to predict that the most likely coalitions to form are “minimum winning” (or bare majority) coalitions: ones that produce the smallest possible majority. Looking at the incoming Knesset, the following 3-member minimal winning coalitions are possible:

  • Likud + Labor + Torah Judaism (62)

  • Likud + Labor + NRP (63)

  • Likud + Labor + Meretz (63)

  • Likud + Labor + National Unity (64)

  • Likud + Shinui + Shas (64)

  • Likud + Shas + Labor (68)

  • Likud + Labor + Shinui (72)

There are actually 3,615 possible minimal winning coalitions (out of 4,044 possible majority coalitions, most of which, unsurprisingly, involve the Likud). Furthermore, there are 92 minimum winning coalitions, with the coalition holding 61 seats; most of them involve large numbers of parties. The smallest minimum winning coalitions involve 4 parties:

  • Likud + Labor + Yisrael Ba'aliya + United Arab List

  • Likud + Shas + Meretz + NRP

  • Likud + Shas + National Unity + Torah Judaism

  • Likud + Shinui + Meretz + United Arab List

  • Likud + Shinui + Meretz + Yisrael Ba'aliya

  • Likud + Shinui + NRP + United Arab List

  • Likud + Shinui + NRP + Yisrael Ba'aliya

  • Likud + Shinui + Torah Judaism + Am Ehad

  • Likud + Shinui + Torah Judaism + Balad

  • Likud + Shinui + Torah Judaism + Hadash

However, from a policy standpoint, few of these coalitions make much sense; Arab parties (Balad and UAL) aren't going to be part of a Likud coalition, and neither is the communist Hadash. Meretz is unlikely to join with Shas and the NRP. The only coalition here that seems remotely plausible from a policy standpoint is Likud + Shas + National Unity + Torah Judaism.

A 61-seat coalition is unlikely simply because of the instability of the parties in general; Sharon probably wants a strong coalition that can withstand a few dissident members (despite the plethora of Israeli parties, party discipline is relatively low). This suggests a policy-based coalition involving the larger parties, to reduce the number of parties involved and the risk.

The “ideal” coalition for this task would be the widely-mooted Likud + Labor + Shinui coalition, which with 72 seats is the largest possible three-party coalition (and which might accrete some additional members from the smaller parties). However, widespread reports that Labor is not willing to join a Likud coalition leave only a Likud + Shinui + Shas three-party coalition, with a more tenuous 64 seats and serious policy differences (Shinui's support is attributed to opposition to excessive patronage to the ultra-Orthodox; Shas is the largest ultra-Orthodox party). Therefore, other possibilities may be considered:

  • One option would be a minority coalition, with Likud + Shinui in the government but with investiture support from Labor. This could allow Labor to keep its promise to stay out of a coalition without necessitating a new election (or a more right-wing coalition).

  • Likud + Shinui + Yisrael Ba'aliya, with support from some defectors from Labor.

  • Likud and Shinui could cobble together a coalition with some of the religious parties (with or without Meretz). Alisa suggests that Shinui is fairly open to working with most of the religious parties, barring Shas.

  • Finally, Likud could fail to form a government, presumably leaving Labor, Shinui, and Meretz to try to cobble together a coalition involving the Arab parties and the Am Ehad (One Nation).

The bottom line: throw the coalition theories out the window when it comes to Israel — at least until they get a sensible threshold on the books.

Ha'aretz has a page with some charts showing some possible alternatives (thanks to The Talking Dog for the link).

Noah Millman, Michael Pine, JB Armstrong, and SharkBlog have some interesting coverage as well.

My theory: Likud + Shinui + Yisrael Ba'aliya + NRP, with either a lot of Labor defectors (probably to Shinui or a new group) or a new Labor leadership.

Saturday, 1 February 2003

Venue-appropriate discussions

Kevin Drum (CalPundit) thinks Erin O'Connor stretches to consider the case of Jendra Loeffelman, an elementary school teacher fired for expressing what O'Connor charitably describes as “controversial views,” to be another in a long line of P.C. outrages. Those controversial views were in expressed when she told her class “that she disapproved of interracial marriage,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, because she believed that the children of such marriages are subject to persecution.

Leaving aside whether or not one can oppose interracial marriage without being a racist (Kevin certainly considers it a racist belief, and it's hard to argue that point), the larger point that I think O'Connor misses is that Loeffelman's audience was eighth graders. While kids of that age certainly are capable of some independent thought, it's one thing to bring up one's personal beliefs when teaching a college seminar, and quite another to do it in an elementary school or junior high classroom. From the published accounts it appears Loeffelman was asked a direct question, but she still could have deflected it or avoided the question entirely.

O'Connor believes avoiding the question would send the wrong message, but the implicit message to the mixed-race children in the room — in essence, “I don't think your parents should have married each other” — is hardly the right message either, and one that most parents would rightly be appalled by. It's the equivalent situation to asking your teacher what he's doing this weekend, and him announcing he's planning on marching at a Klan rally or going to smash the windows of a few SUVs to protest the administration's failure to support Kyoto. Loeffelman wasn't fired for “refusing to pander” to anyone's sensibilities — she was fired for making a virtual endorsement of returning to Jim Crow, and for contributing to the air of persecution that she used to justify her beliefs in the first place.

Erin O'Connor has a followup, in which she summarizes my viewpoint as believing “[Loeffelman's] students are only in eighth-grade, and are therefore too young to cope with her opinions.” (I'd characterize my viewpoint not so much as one of whether or not they can cope, but whether or not they are capable of critically thinking about what a teacher presents in class. The critical thinking skills of many college undergraduates are woefully poor; I'd imagine that 99% of eighth graders take whatever a teacher says as gospel truth.)

While I agree that Loeffelman has some rights under the First Amendment in this case — which wouldn't apply if she was a private school teacher — the question obviously becomes: to what extent can she exercise those rights in her position teaching a class? Does she have the right to teach whatever she wants? More to the point, where's the line between teaching and just expressing one's opinion? If I'm standing in front of my class lecturing, I'm teaching; if two students come by my office and ask me about my personal beliefs, I'm probably not; if I talk to one at the drive-thru at Burger King, I'm definitely not.

The case of the homosexual volleyball coach that O'Connor cites appears different, in that the coach was subject to a broad injunction beforehand of dubious constitutional standing and did not discuss her sexual orientation with an entire class, but rather with an individual student, apparently outside a classroom situation. Fundamentally, there's a “reasonable time, place, and manner” argument to be made in Loeffelman's case, and that's where this case is going to be decided.

Jane Galt has a post on this as well, asking “if the teacher was black, would she be disciplined or fired?” Kevin Drum has a followup comment at Jane's site:

For what it's worth, I think disapproval of interracial marriage is disgusting no matter who it comes from. I know that many blacks disapprove of it too, and I don't like it. I don't like state policies against interracial adoptions, either.

However, there's also a considerable difference between saying something as a private citizen and saying something as a government employee. High school teachers, as agents of the state, simply don't have the right to say things in a classroom that would be protected if they were saying them as private citizens. Loeffelman had been a teacher for a long time and surely knew this.

Having said all I've said, I'm surprised that the school district actually fired her — most would have probably moved her to some job in administration or shipped her off to another school, rather than court controversy.

More on LeBron's Hummer

Colby Cosh has some worthwhile thoughts on LeBron James and amateurism; I'm not sold on whether the NCAA should give up on amateurism completely. Perhaps the real issue is the lack of a real minor league system in basketball and football; at least baseball and hockey players don't have to go to college to have a shot in the pros (the occasional LeBron James or Kevin Garnett aside). On the other hand, men's college basketball and football (in Division I-A) are by far the most popular college sports, precisely because they're the venue where the future pros can make a mark, and preserving this system is what keeps Division I athletic departments in the black.

Of course, once you start paying the players in the “money sports,” that opens a whole other can of worms, particularly in the lawsuit-happy realm of Title IX. So I can certainly see why the NCAA doesn't want to go there.

Previous snarky comment on LeBron James here.

MEGAPOP seeks high-speed Internet backbone

The New Albany Gazette has a lengthy article on plans by a group called MEGAPOP to have a high-speed fiber optic link in northern Mississippi, which would have points of presence in Oxford, Tupelo, Columbus, Starkville and Meridian, mostly using an existing unused (or “dark”) link for much of the backbone; most existing commercial links in this part of state go through Jackson (there are some non-commercial Internet2 connections from the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University, however). The backbone would connect to existing fiber links in Memphis and Meridian to provide high-speed Internet access to the rest of the world.

For your edification: MEGAPOP's website.

Columbia tragedy

I don't have anything to add to the general discussion; go forth and read InstaPundit for the factual roundup and Rand Simberg's site for what this means for America's future exploring space. For a wider roundup, use Janes' Blogosphere's search feature.

Willis on America's role in the world

I heartily recommend reading Oliver Willis's latest on the coming conflict with Iraq; while I disagree about the motivations behind our Iraq policy (it would certainly be easier for us to co-opt Hussein than topple him, if expansionism was our goal), and perhaps even on the degree of politicization of 9-11 (though admittedly a game both major parties have engaged in; such is life in the current era), his conclusion is right on the money:

In the 21st century, we must end the cycle of supporting the lesser of two evils because it is expedient. Our culture grows in depth and understanding every nanosecond, yet our handling of the world and our place in it seems more regressive each passing day. America leads in ideas, and the willingness to implement them. We must not allow simple answers and blind aggression to retard the moral and spiritual growth of a nation. If our leaders always took the easy way out, the brute and the oaf’s path, we would not be the America we are today or the one we can look forward to tomorrow. To demand better of the world, the United States must take its role as leader and create an order that doesn’t oppress and subjugate (either directly or by proxy), but uplifts and educates from the poorest of the poor all the way up to the gilded gates of the elite.

These ideals, these concepts, these beliefs – are what this country stands for. Terror and fear will win when we allow the foundations of freedom to crumble.

To borrow the argument of OxBlog's David Adesnik, the business of American foreign policy should be to promote our core values of liberal democracy and the rule of law in the world; not so much to remake the world in our image as it is to ensure that free people everywhere can remake their societies in theirs. In other words, continuing the foreign policy that created modern Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan — while simultaneously rejecting the expediency of propping up the Mubaraks, Mussharafs, and Sauds of the world.

The more I think about Oliver's piece, though, the more I wonder about his “expansionism” theory for the conflict. Unlike in Afghanistan, there's no existing, credible government or military force (other than the Ba'ath Party itself, which has largely become Saddam's personality cult) that can enforce a post-Saddam order, so there has to be some “occupation force,” for a lack of a better term, to disarm the Ba'athist regime, train a new civilian police force and restructure the armed forces, and there has to be a management structure over the country's oil industry (presumably leading to eventual privatization). Obviously at some point both tasks can be handed off to the U.N. and other military forces, but for a year or so it's hard to imagine a stable Iraq without an occupation of some form.