Friday, March 31, 2006

[Licking finger and chalking one up to Jonah on the imaginary air-chalkboard]

Jonah Goldberg delivers himself of a zinger well worthy of plagiarism (don't you have a long list of people in your own mind to whom this obviously applies?):

Again, I hate to be such a pain in the butt to Cynthia McKinney, but as I've noted before, it is the quickest route to her brain.
And yes, I realize I'm probably on your list...

And why aren't we saying anything?

If you want to know why Arabs detest the American government, here's you three reasons, in no particular order:

1. We aren't Muslim.

2. We support Israel.

3. We've spent fifty years giving billions of dollars to evil brutes like Ben Ali, which rather seriously undercuts any attempt to say that our support for Israel comes from a love of human rights. I don't buy the tribalistic group-rights nonsense about how "the Palestianians" have the right to dominate all of what is currently Israel, and so don't have any problems with the American government's support for the existence of the nation of Israel -- but just because "the Palestinians" don't have rights doesn't mean individual Palestinians and Jordanians and Egyptians and Tunisians don't have rights. I don't expect us to invade Tunisia because of Neila Charchour Hachicha, but so far as I know we can't even be bothered to "express deep concern."

The State Department is willing publicly to criticize Danish newspapers who publish cartoons that the wacko element of the Muslim world chooses to consider a cause for riot and bloodshed. Has anybody heard the State Department making any public statements about the Tunisian government's treatment of Neila Charchour Hachicha?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Stuff I saw

I loved this military recruiter's reminiscences.

This guy has thought much more about illegal (Mexican) immigration than I have, but he sounds like a kindred spirit -- if I had thought about it, there's a good chance I'd be sounding a whole lot like the Lizard.

Now, for a good ol' Dennis Miller-style rant (though not, alas, with Miller's deadly humor):

Ms. Young may write me down in her book of shame as somebody who absolutely believes that the child's interest should outweigh the biological dad's and certainly should outweigh any desire to see to it that men and women are treated "fairly," and that generally speaking a man who has the poor morals to sleep with women he's not married to and the poor judgment to sleep with women who are willing to try to hide from him the fact that he's fathered a child, is not likely to make that great a dad. And that's especially true if the dad is selfish enough to demand his own right to take a two- or three-year-old child away from the only parents the child has ever known -- no man who is willing to do that to a child, has any business being the parent of a child. You don't want to father a child and not find out about it until the child's been adopted and you can't raise him? Great -- have the good taste to sleep with women who will tell you if they get pregnant. If you're too stupid to pull that one off, then you're nowhere near smart enough to raise a kid.

But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

(Um, fair disclosure, though I can't imagine that anybody reading this doesn't already know it...I've adopted four children, and fathered four others; but my wife has always been careful to tell me when she was pregnant.)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Why I originally called it the Therapy metaphor

It's because of people like Sally Quinn (who -- why am I not surprised? -- thinks Elaine Pagels is a fine scholar):

What I think is particularly refreshing about Karen Armstrong's view is the idea that The important this is not what you believe but how you behave. This seems to me to be seminal in terms of religious thought. So many of the problems we have today are because people don't respect the beliefs of others. My feeling is, whatever helps you make it through the night.
You know what I think is the most characteristic sentence? The last one -- because she uses "my feeling" rather than "my thought." How very American.

By the way, Sally, one of the most widespread religious beliefs in America is the belief that beliefs about religion matter and can be true or false; and that believing something false about religion can be disastrously self-destructive even if that particular false belief helps you feel good temporarily. I wonder how much respect you have for those people's religious belief?

This, in case you're not one of the three or four old-time readers of this blog, refers to an old discussion about the metaphors that underlie how we think and feel and speak about religion. Some of the posts:

The metaphor wars -- in which I introduce the core concepts
Defusing religious conflict -- in which I explain why I'm really interested in the metaphors (because I want to help my kids understand and get along better with people who don't come from the Truth metaphor like my kids do).
OneTrueGodBlog -- the metaphors applied to a problem raised on the OneTrueGodBlog.
Time to meet the new guest blogger -- in which my friend Jim, who does not come from my own religious metaphor, politely points out that I'm being a jerk.
Okay, not Therapy, then -- in which I accept that "Therapy" probably is not the term I want.

There were other later ones but I seem to be having some archive problems in finding them.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

On human rights

In what follows I present a highly simplified view of my political philosophy, as it relates to group-rights questions such as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or slavery reparations. It is significantly oversimplified (for example, it does not address the situation of children or persons mentally unfit to care for themselves). I assume that my readers know that logical fallacies are a bad thing, and that they know in particular what the fallacy of hypostasization is (namely, the fallacy of taking something that is an abstration or metaphor and reasoning as though it were a concrete entity).

Furthermore, it's a first draft and probably unreadable. Fair warning has been issued.

The main incentive for doing this post is ATB's Israel/Palestine discussion going on here, here and here. If you're going to ask another person to explain his views you should be prepared to provide at least a rough outline of your own; but I didn't want to inflict them on people who were just trying to follow the ATB discussion.

No modern individual human being can survive without help from others. So every person has to find a way to get other people to help him. ...continue reading...

Others can help you because they’re nice people. They can help you because you ask them to. They can help you because you offer to help them in return. This is cooperation.

When others will not cooperate with you, you can trick them into doing what you want. You can promise them help that you do not in fact intend to give, for example; or you can convince them that they need help from you that they do not in fact need. This is fraud.

If they will not cooperate with you; and if they are too shrewd to be taken in by your attempt at fraud, or if you have moral scruples against dishonesty; then you can force them to do what you want through violence or the credible threat of violence. This is, well, violence.

If they will not cooperate with you; and if you are either unwilling or unable to obtain your desires through fraud or violence; then you can attempt to obtain intervention from others. If these others are humans, then you face exactly the same problem as before but with a different set of characters. If you are appealing to God, then only cooperation is an option, God being (presumably) to smart to fool and too strong to coerce.

Cooperation is unique in that cooperation flourishes only in an environment in which those who cooperate are convinced that those with whom they cooperate can be trusted to resort neither to violence nor to fraud. We have, then, the principle that those who themselves are willing to use violence and/or fraud, cannot expect cooperation from those whom they are willing to target. I do not state this here as a principle of morality or justice, but as a simple matter of pragmatic fact.

Those who believe in an objective morality, who believe that “rights” and “justice” are in some sense real and not arbitrary, and who believe that in general it is wrong (lacking extenuating circumstances) to hurt people and lie, can promote this pragmatic principle into a core principle of individual human rights – even if they do not agree on the reasons they accept that principle. That principle is that every individual has the right not to be subjected to violence or fraud unless he started it. But note that making a credible threat to commit violence or fraud in itself destroys the cooperative environment and is therefore, to a certain degree, “starting it.” I would also add that the right in question consists both of a very strong claim against those who would practice fraud or violence, and also of a rather weaker claim against those who would simply stand by and allow the fraud or violence to be practiced.

The instant and obvious question becomes, “Well, fine, but there are going to be lots of people who practice violence and fraud anyway.” That is to say, there will be many people who will practice violence and/or fraud unless they are cowed by violence directed at themselves or else outfoxed. A cooperative solution to the problem of violence or fraud must be found; and the only tenable such solution (barring Divine intervention) is for those who are willing to honor the tenets of cooperation and mutual respect of human rights, to cooperate in wielding violence and/or fraud as necessary to restrain the violent and fraudulent. That is to say, the free market cannot create itself; and a group of people who wish to live free of violence must either be prepared to inflict violence themselves, or else must be fortunate enough to live under the protection of others who will inflict violence on their behalf. I would add that, if you believe (as I do) that violence and fraud (unless made necessary by others’ violence and fraud) are not just conventionally wrong, but are deeply morally wrong, then you will justify only the violence and fraud that a reasonable person would find necessary to restrain the evildoers and reestablish the cooperative environment. The attempt to extend the right to be safe from violence or fraud, to those who themselves practice some degree of uninstigated violence or fraud, is a sign not of moral superiority in those making the attempt, but of folly and shallowness of thought.

It will also instantly be seen that any person who considers himself obliged by religious duty to execute persons whose only crime is to cease to accept the doctrines of his religion, is outside the sphere of cooperation in that respect – and is, to the degree that he does not respect the fundamental rights of others outside of his religion, in a state of war against those others, by his own choice. Furthermore such a person has no valid claim to the right to religious freedom; indeed he claims (with justification that can only be accepted by his coreligionists) special religious privilege to impose his will upon others. Should those whom he threatens choose to kill him instead of submitting to him, he can complain only to God, not to them; if he did not want them to wage war against him then he should not have declared war on them to begin with.

The outcomes of cooperation may be described, metaphorically, as the “actions” of the cooperative group. It is however always critical to remember that the group (which exists only as an abstraction convenient for efficiencies of speech) does not in fact act; only the individuals within the group act, and the group’s “action” is the net effect of what can be a highly complex set of interactions between the individuals’ true actions. Consider the radical differences among the following examples of corporate “action”:

1. Paths are formed across university greens or through open meadows as each person simply tries to find the easiest and quickest way across – and each person’s act of taking a particular path makes that path easier for the next person to follow. There is no conscious cooperation at all, yet the group “makes” a path.

2. A whole bunch of white people dislike black people and therefore no individual white person is attracted enough to any black person to be willing to marry them. The group “refuses to intermarry with black people,” not by conspiracy or conscious cooperation, but simply by a universally shared set of tastes.

3. Of a whole bunch of white people, a slight majority dislike black people and want to keep them in their place; while a sizable minority think this is silly. The racists, having a majority, pass democratic laws forbidding miscegenation; or perhaps they simply practice social ostracization. We may again say that, “The white race refuses to intermarry with the black race.” Clearly, however, this is quite a different scenario from #2.

4. Of a whole bunch of white people, a majority have nothing against blacks, but a 40% minority that cares very much about keeping the niggers in their place has exceptionally high voter turnout and is able to maintain control of the government. Again, the white race “objects to intermarriage” – that is to say, the majority of white individuals do not, but their elected representatives still outlaw intermarriage. The corporate action of the white community is to forbid intermarriage, albeit in defiance of the opinions of a majority of white people.

5. The majority of white people do not object to intermarriage, but a small and well-organized terrorist block of some 20% of the white population makes it clear that they will lynch any white who marries a black and vice versa. In fear of this terrorist group, white people and blacks alike refrain from intermarriage.

Under the fundamental principle of human rights set out above, the white people in case #2 are violating nobody’s rights (though we may have purely moral objections to their attitude, and may also find it moronic). In cases 3 through 5, it is not only the rights of black people that are being violated, but also the rights of those white people who are restrained, by fear of violence, from being able to act as they would in an environment where they could feel safe from any threat of violence as long as they themselves were not being violent or dishonest. When intermarriage is proscribed by law or terrorism, the rights of as many white people as black people are violated – intermarriage requiring, by definition, one person of each race (the natural assumption being that each person is by the proscription restrained from marrying whom they choose). This is true even though “the white race” is proscribing the intermarriage.

A group of people may also cooperate to inflict violence or fraud upon neighbors who have not threatened violence or fraud, and may abuse the forms of government in order so to do. Consider the following scenarios:

1. My neighbor, who is Roman Catholic, is bigger than I am, and he informs me that if I leave the Catholic Church he will beat the crap out of me.

2. The majority of the people in my town are Roman Catholic. I decide that I do not believe the doctrines of the Catholic Church. They come en masse to my house and beat the crap out of me.

3. The majority of the people in my town are Roman Catholic. They elect a government that tells the rest of us that if we do not swear allegiance to the Pope we will be forced to pay a special tax imposed only on non-Catholics. Otherwise they beat the crap out of us.

My point is that the nature of the violent action does not change just because it is the action of a majority or because they use formal government constructs in order to impose it with impunity. If a group acts corporately in order to impose violence upon persons who they have no good reason to think are themselves violent or fraudulent, the violent group cannot pretend to base their actions on the basis of ensuring fundamental individual human rights.

It is a simple fact that government is the more or less successful attempt to monopolize the power to threaten and inflict violence. For practical purposes everything the government does, it does either by violence, or by threat of violence, or by paying with money that is collected through violence or the threat thereof. Insofar as the violent actions of the government are directed against those who themselves initiate violence and fraud, and are reasonably proportionate responses, I hold the government to be at least potentially legitimate, an honest attempt to establish a safe sphere of cooperation. Insofar as the purpose of the violent actions of the government are directed at persons whose offense does not involve violence or fraud, I hold the government to be in abuse of individual human rights, generally speaking.

Therefore the form of government does not per se determine its legitimacy. An absolute monarchy in which the king is diligent in the protection of his citizens’ rights against those who would destroy or defraud them, and who is careful never to abuse his own position, heads a government that is vastly more legitimate than is a democracy in which a dominant majority allow their disproportionate political power to be used to oppress a minority (as in the Jim Crow South).

However, it is a melancholy fact of human nature that the moment a community forms a cooperative monopoly of force to protect themselves against the violent, those who wish to practice violence set about scheming to obtain control of that monopoly – and, if they succeed, then they are often in much better position to wreak savagery at will than they ever could have been as private criminals. (Stalin is an excellent example.) Dictatorships are a bad form of government simply because it is easier for a vicious and violent man to seize the power of the state when it is constructed as a dictatorship than when it is constructed in any other form. But pure democracies (as Aristotle and the American Founding Fathers knew well, but as Woodrow Wilson was apparently too much of a jackass to comprehend) are also a bad form of government because once the majority has gotten control of the government so that it cannot be exploited by the violent few, the majority usually makes use of that power to exploit and oppress nonviolent minorities. Still, it is critical to note that generally speaking democracies are harder to corrupt than are dictatorships, and on that ground are generally preferable to dictatorships. The best forms of government are those in which individual human rights are most clearly recognized and where checks and balances make it most difficult for any single person or small group of persons to seize control of the violent apparatus of government for their own ends. But democracy is only a means to an end, it is not an end in itself; and democracy is a good thing only in those situations where democracy is that one of the practically available systems that is most likely best to protect individual human rights.

Consider a situation in which a country is inhabited 45% by members of Culture A, a culture with extremely strong commitment to individual rights and very strong military sponsorship from external allies, and 55% by members of Culture B, whose tradition is to enforce religious opinions at swordpoint and whose members hate the other culture. Imagine further that Culture B is itself composed of three different religious sects in a 55% / 30% / 15% ratio who also hate each other, though not nearly as much as they hate Culture A. Here are two different storylines, one in which democracy is held to be paramount by Culture A's external allies, and in the other of which those allies hold individual human rights to be paramount.

In the first, the external allies of the minority group refrain from meddling. Culture B wins power by virtue of its 55% majority. It proceeds to persecute and harass Culture A until that Culture A is eliminated by death, flight or slavery.

Now the nation is composed 55% of people who (a) support a particular one of the three Culture B sects and (b) are prepared to impose their will by violence. We are in exactly the same situation we were before; only now the 45% minority is what used to be part of the majority – and which now discovers that the rights it did not respect when it was somebody else that was getting screwed, are not respected now when they have become the target of choice. Thus not only do the 45% minority that constituted the first culture suffer severe violation of their individual human rights – but so do 45% of the majority culture itself. Close to 70% of the original inhabitants have suffered severe loss of individual human rights.

In the second storyline, the culture that respects individual rights recognizes the threat, seizes control of the government, but institutes a government with the strictly limited goal of proscribing violence and fraud. All members of the second (majority) culture are left free to live their lives so long as they do not engage in violence, and the government protects their property and persons. However, they are not allowed to vote.

From the perspective of individual human rights, in the second case nobody’s fundamental rights are lost except for those who engage in violence or fraud – and who therefore have (assuming proportionality is respected) forfeited their rights by their own behavior. The legitimate purpose of government (ensuring a sphere of cooperation free of violence and fraud) is met, including on behalf of the 55% who are not allowed to vote; if there is anything that they are not getting from the government, it is something that the government could not legitimately give them anyway. 70% of the population has more protection of their individual human rights than they would have had under a democracy, and 0% of the population has lost any fundamental human rights that they have not forfeited by their own action. The rights of the 45% of the 55% are much safer if they can’t vote, than if they can; and giving them the vote sets them on the path to a general loss of rights.

Therefore democracy, and the right to vote, is not a fundamental human right, nor is “promoting democracy” a per se noble end (though it may be the most generally effective means to the per se noble end of promoting the protection of genuinely fundamental individual human rights). The right to vote is at most a procedural right under a particular system of trying to ensure the protection of fundamental rights. I certainly believe that it is a valid generalization to say that most of the time, the best of the available options for governmental structures available in any given situation, will include a universal right to vote for those who do not engage in violence or fraud. But that is only a generalization and there can certainly be exceptions.

In particular, when a society is dominated by people who do not respect individual human rights, then democracy can be expected to result in widespread lack of individual human rights, as the dominant majority wields its power abusively. (This has always seemed to me to be a tremendous problem with George W. Bush’s push for “democracy” in the Middle East; what the Middle East requires is not democracy, but the protection of individual human rights, and there are certainly empirical grounds to suspect that a democracy of Middle Eastern Arab Muslims may not prove diligent in the protection of individual human rights, especially at the religious level. We may all hope that Bush’s optimism is proved justified in the event; but skepticism is certainly understandable.) The more overwhelming is the violent majority, the fewer individuals whose rights are violated – but the more egregious the violations and the more hopeless the situation of members of the oppressed minority. The tribalistic history of humanity is one in which the We is pitted against the Other and only the We are considered to have rights – because only the We can be trusted to cooperate with us. But tribalism has always lent itself to gross abuse of the rights of the Other; and a pure democracy of tribalists lends itself to the tyranny of the largest tribe. The intellectual legacy of tribalism remains with us to this day in the group-think that places the locus of rights in the group (in an ethnic group, as in the politics of the Black Panthers, or in a hypostasized social class, as in Marxism, or whatever) rather than in the individual. Such tribalism is flaunted in defiance of the laws of logic but much to the gratification of the powerful We – or of the powerless but aggrieved We.

In practice, governments are a mixed bag. Every government extant today includes a greater or lesser element of abuse of power. In making choices (such as deciding how to cast one’s vote in a specific election in which one does not care for any of the candidates) one chooses the best available option on a pragmatic basis.

Take, for example, the question of immigration. Consider a country in which the government is expected only to, and empowered only to, safeguard basic rights; in this country the function of the government is not to defend special privileges for a dominant tribe. In such a country immigration policy would be a largely open policy, and also would be distinct from citizenship policy. Persons known to be violent or dishonest would not be allowed in; and while nonviolent and honest people who yet not accept the basic principles of justice might be allowed in, they would not be offered citizenship, as the fundamental responsibility of citizenship would be to help cooperate to ensure that those basic principles of justice were followed. If there were a culture that was known to reject those principles, immigration from that culture might well be generally restricted, especially compared to immigration from a culture whose members were known to have, generally speaking, a passionate respect for individual human rights.

In the real world in which government power is abused to serve a great many ends other than the control of violence or fraud, including especially redistribution of wealth through government-subsidized (that is, funded by coercive taxation) institutions (welfare, public health services, etc.), one would naturally need to control immigration lest a bunch of people pour into your country in order to live off of redistributed wealth. But that would be a problem created by the use of the government to redistribute wealth. Again, if the government power were being abused to protect racial purity or similar cultural values other than respect for the rights of others, immigration from racial undesirables would be proscribed; but that would be an artifact of the abuse of government power to impose tribalism on the unwilling. (But note that the “cultural value” of respect for the rights of others is unique in that it is central to the essence of cooperation across any culture – it is a prerequisite for any sphere of cooperation to exist – and is therefore may validly be insisted upon as a precondition for immigration and absolutely as a precondition for citizenship.)

Thus, applying these principles pragmatically to illegal immigration into the U.S. from Mexico, we can immediately see two lines of reasoning by which a person committed to my philosophy might argue for restrictive immigration laws (though I hasten to say that this is not a subject to which I have given much thought and I do not endorse either argument):

1. As long as the American taxpayer is expected to fund massive amounts of social spending on behalf of Mexicans living in the U.S. (whether they arrived legally or not), American taxpayers might reasonably complain about an unrestricted flood of immigrants if it could be shown that they would disproportionately require such social spending.

2. The second line of objection may be captured in this joke, told to me years ago by a Mexican friend freshly back from a jaunt to Mexico City:

A Mexican and a Texan are discussing politics, and the Texan asks in some mystification, “Tell me, why do you Mexicans hate Americans so much?”

“Well, señor,” responds the Mexican, “you gringos stole half our country. And as if that weren’t bad enough – you stole the half that has all the paved roads!”

The serious point, of course, is that the flood of Mexican immigration into the United States is directly related to the fact that the citizens of Mexico have never managed in four centuries to govern themselves anything but execrably badly, and they come to the parts of America that the United States took from Mexico, precisely to enjoy the benefits that would not be available to Mexicans in those lands if Mexico still governed them. The best thing that ever happened for modern-day Mexicans living in Arizona and Texas and New Mexico and California, was when the United States stole Arizona and Texas and New Mexico and California away from Mexico. If in light of this an American wishes to argue that there are grounds for concern that immigrants from the Mexican culture lack the understanding of and commitment to individual rights that any truly healthy nation must foster in its citizens, there is certainly a prima facie possibility that his concerns are well-founded. (I happen to think that in the specific case of Mexican immigrants they are not well-founded, and that most Mexican immigrants understand very well that American-style government is vastly superior to Mexican-style government; but an argument such as the one I just outlined would be consistent with my principles...just not with what appear to me to be the empirical facts. Then again, as recent protests in California hint -- see the photo at the right -- maybe I'm wrong. It doesn't get much more tribalist than that.)

Consider another illustrative, hypothetical application of my principles. A part of the world settled predominantly by white fundamentalist Christians (“WFC’s”) and long governed under a regime that respected white fundamentalist Christians’ rights to buy and sell their own private property, has recently been conquered in war and is being governed by an foreign power whose presence is deeply resented by the local residents. That government begins to allow Nigerians to enter Fundamentalistan and to buy property from willing WFC’s. The Nigerians wish to be confident that they and their children will be safe, and they conceive that this will only be possible if they can build a community of like-minded Nigerians who will be sufficiently numerous to give them control of the political situation – but they intend to use that control only to ensure their fundamental individual human rights, which rights they are also happy for others to enjoy. Therefore they encourage their friends and family to come and join them in their settlements.

First question: If the WFC’s resent the coming of the Nigerians on the grounds that “this is our country,” and they refer to the coming of the Nigerians as an “invasion” and “stealing our land,” are they justified in so doing?

Immediately we note the presence of group language and hence the likelihood of the fallacy of hypostasization. If we were to restate their position in individual terms with only a naive translation, we would have the claim that the WFC’s share corporate ownership of the land such that the community could veto the purchase and sale decisions of individual WFC’s – which is not, in fact, the way Fundamentalistan has (in our example) approached property rights in the past. Furthermore, the language of “invasion” and “theft” implies the use of violence and fraud – neither of which, ex hypothesi, the Nigerians are committing. The claim of the racist WFC’s is in fact a claim that those members of the WFC community who do not want Nigerians in their midst – on grounds other than a Nigerian propensity for violence or fraud – should be able to veto the individual rights of individual WFC’s to sell their property to the highest bidders. Indeed, if the WFC’s claim that the government should “do something,” then they are claiming that their right to cultural or racial purity (or whatever) supercedes their neighbor’s right to dispose of his property as he sees fit, and that they may use violence to interfere with their neighbor’s action. Thus they themselves are not respecting the rights of their neighbors – and by this I mean their WFC neighbors, not only the Nigerians – and cannot, on this issue, make any claim to rights themselves.

I must emphasize as strongly as possible that tribalism claims to be acting on the part of the tribe as a whole, but almost always in fact involves oppression of those members of the tribe who object to the tribe’s behavior. (Ask any black American conservative.) For the “tribe” does not exist: there are individuals who have obtained the power to act “as the tribe” and individuals who are in the tribe but who have no power to influence what “the tribe does.” Among the victims of the Jim Crow laws restricting where blacks could sit on Alabama streetcars were the white-owned streetcar companies – who did not want to discriminate in that manner. (If they had been willing to discriminate of their own free will, no Jim Crow law would have been necessary to require them to; and even when the laws were first passed the streetcar companies resisted them.) When tribes “act,” it is generally a special interest group within the tribe that “acts,” and they generally do so without regard to the interests, and frequently over the objections, of such tribal members as are excluded from the special interest group. (To cite the example of black Americans again, statistics that show the "inequity" between blacks and whites – an inequity that arises from the exceptionally deep poverty experienced by the particular blacks who are at the bottom of the totem pole – are constantly used to rationalize affirmative action programs whose beneficial effects are felt disproportionately by upper-middle-class blacks and whose negative effects are felt disproportionately by those particular blacks who live in poverty. Only the hypostasization that treats "blacks" and "whites" as two single homogenous units disguises the fact that upper-middle-class blacks profit from these programs at the expense of their underprivileged "brothers".)

Now, if the WFC’s believed the Nigerians to be secretly nursing plans to take over the country and claim special rights for themselves that they were unwilling to grant to the WFC’s, then they would have a legitimate beef...but in that case one would demand at least a modicum of evidence that such were in fact the Nigerians’ intentions. If the WFC’s only argument is, “There’s more of us than there are of you and most of us don’t like niggers and don’t want ’em livin’ near us so we’re not going to let you in even though that interferes with the rights of those of us who are not in fact contemptible racists,” then...well, then they are contemptible racists. And the moral obligation of individual WFC’s is to resist the majority’s oppression of the minority of WFC’s who wish to transact business with the Nigerians freely – not to side with Their People on the grounds that This Land Is Our Land And The Nigger Bastards Are Trying To Steal It.

Second question: Let us now suppose that, many Nigerians having settled in Fundamentalistan, the leaders of the WFC’s begin speaking openly of their intention to drive the Nigerians out by force, and WFC lynch mobs begin to descend upon Nigerian farms, killing the Nigerian families they find there. May the Nigerians fight back?

Clearly I would say that they could – though it would be necessary for them to respond with reasonably proportionate force, and also for them to make a reasonable effort to distinguish among the WFC’s living among them. You could roughly classify WFC’s into those who were actively engaged in the violence, those who were not engaged in violence but were apathetic to the plight of the Nigerians, those who were sympathetic to the Nigerians but feared the violence of their WFC neighbors, and those who actively attempted to assist the Nigerians. With due allowances for the uncertainties of war (the degree of latitude being proportional to the imminence and seriousness of the threat faced by the Nigerians), we would demand that the Nigerians respect the distinctions among at least those four types of WFC’s, insofar as it were possible to do so without losing the war.

Third question: If the Nigerians were to win the war and establish a government of their own, despite being a minority, would this be justified?

Absolutely, so long as they continued to protect and respect the individual human rights of those WFC’s who had not engaged in the war against them.

Fourth question: Would their government be legitimate even if they denied citizenship to the WFC’s living among them and outnumbering them?

I would say that it would be theoretically legitimate so long as the fundamental individual human rights of the law-abiding, non-violent and non-fraudulent WFC’s were respected. And if the overwhelming majority of WFC’s continued to make it clear by speech and action that, if they were to get any political power, they would make use of that power to assail the Nigerians, then it would be hard to condemn the Nigerians for refusing to grant citizenship to any WFC’s who did not individually show clear evidence of being exceptions to the general WFC rule. All the same, a government in which a significant number of people are disenfranchised is unlikely to be a government in which, in the long term, the fundamental rights of the disenfranchised are respected; and therefore we would very much want the Nigerians to show evidence that they were willing to grant citizenship to WFC’s who were willing to respect the individual rights of all.

But I, at least, would have not the slightest sympathy for the whining of any WFC who continued to spout a litany of hatred against Nigerians and yet claimed a “right” to a role in a government whose fundamental purpose (the protection of the individual human rights of all) he had every intention of subverting at the first opportunity.

Finally, we look briefly at the real-life example of the Israelis and the Palestinians – which, I hasten to say, I am not claiming precisely mirrors my hypothetical Nigerians and WFC’s. The Nigerian hypothetical was carefully constructed to show that the Nigerians could only be accused of violating group rights, in a sense that could not survive unless the fallacy of hypostasization were tolerated and the moral claims of tribalism granted. It does not precisely mirror any particular real-life situation (in all of which there have been wrongs on both sides).

The moral question facing American policy makers is, to my mind, simply this: of the options available to us, which is most likely best to ensure the enjoyment of fundamental individual human rights by those Palestinians and Jews who do not wish to inflict violence or fraud on others? There would seem to be four possibilities:

1. The Jews run the whole thing.

2. The Arabs run the whole thing.

3. There is a state dominated by Jewish Israelis and a state dominated by Palestinian Arabs.

4. An outside power takes over.

My own opinion is that the best choice at present is a two-state solution at least temporarily – precisely so that we can compare how individual rights fare under the two regimes. And I think the indicator that is most critical, is to compare how individual Palestinians fare under the two regimes, or more specifically, how fare individual Palestinians who do not agree with those who control the government under which they happen to live. At the moment, if you are an Arab in Israel, you can introduce motions into the Knesset itself calling for the dissolution of the state of Israel, and go home at night secure in the knowledge that you and your family will sleep safely. If you are an Arab girl in Gaza who refuses to kowtow to the misogynistic fundamentalism of Hamas, you run the quite serious risk of being targeted by Hamas’s gangs, and if they do target you then you are in very, very bad trouble – for wearing fingernail polish, or whatever.

Thus it seems to me that if you are somebody who actually cares about individual Palestinians and who has been paying attention to how Palestinians and Israelis have on the whole spent the last ten to fifteen years behaving, it’s very hard for you to countenance any attempt to replace the Israeli government with a Palestinian government. I incline to Mark Steyn’s view:

They’re not fighting for a state, they’re fighting for the destruction of a state – Israel. I defy anyone to visit the West Bank and Gaza and detect signs of anything resembling a nationalist movement as opposed to a Jew-killing movement.

And I would add that the bloodthirsty sections of the Middle Eastern Arab populace tend to be much better at killing fellow Muslims than they are at killing Jews, that the brutality directed against innocent Palestinians by Arafat or Hamas at least rivals anything the state of Israel has done, and that Arab citizens of Israel would find themselves very much worse off if their citizenship and residence were to be transferred from a state run by Jews to a state run by people capable of being elected to office by the electorate that just put Hamas into power.

But I could be wrong. The delightful thing about Sharon’s decision to pull out and let the Palestinians try to run their own country is that we will no longer be forced to speculate. We can simply watch and see.

At any rate, the question of whether “the Jews” and/or “the Palestinians” behaved badly in the 1940’s, is of little interest to me. David ben Gurion is dead. Golda Meir is dead. Moshe Dayan is dead. Menachem Begin is dead. The Grand Mufti is dead. Yasser Arafat is dead. Even Ariel Sharon might as well be dead, when it comes down to it. If the Jews of the 1940’s or the Palestinians of the 1940’s did bad things, it’s too late to punish them for it. If we punish the modern-day Israelis who were born and raised in the only home they’ve ever known, on the grounds that “the Jews” did bad things half a century ago to “the Palestinians,” we do not thereby reestablish justice, we merely inflict new injustice on those who have themselves done no wrong – for these are different individuals, and only individuals actually exist, act, choose and suffer.

The land never belonged to “the Palestinians.” It does not now belong to “the Jews.” There is only one question that matters in my mind: how do we ensure the protection of the basic human rights of individual Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace so long as they do not inflict violence and fraud on other people – it is tribalistic nonsense to say “another people” rather than “other people” – who didn’t start it?

And right now, if I had to put my money on one side or the other (which the U.S. does), I'd risk a heckuva lot more on the good behavior of the Israelis than on the good behavior of the Palestinians.

Stephen Colbert questions the Virgin Islands' virtue

From an interview in which Colbert was interviewing Donna Christensen of the U.S. Virgin Islands...

Colbert observes that the Virgin Islands have been governed by Denmark, France and Spain and now are a U.S. protectorate, then asks:

COLBERT: Isn't it time to drop the whole virgin act?

CHRISTENSEN: What else would we call ourselves?

COLBERT: Trollop Islands? The Been-around-the-Block Islands? The Not-Until-the-Third-Date Islands?...
You can see that in giving up The Colbert Report for Lent, I have made a genuinely serious sacrifice.

Kenny rises to new heights of geekdom

Or sinks to new depths, depending on your perspective.

John Derbyshire of The Corner passes on an anecdote that I find richly amusing...

Polish mathematician Antoni Zygmund once wandered past a room where lots of people were watching the World Series. One of his students helpfully explained to Zygmund, who knew nothing about baseball, what was going on. Zygmund's response: "I think it should be called the World Sequence."

The Princess at confession

The Princess (my 14-year-old daughter Kasia, a candid photo of whom is appended) and I were talking the other evening to Veta Berry, youth director at our former church back in Austin. Kasia had recently attended a youth Eucharist at a church here in town that is nominally Episcopalian but that appears to include the liturgical elements of the service only because the Bishop makes them. (Though the music -- which they genuinely care about -- is first-rate.) Because of scheduling constraints, the priest had run in to hand out the bread and wine first thing in the service, and then he scooted back out and the youth proceeded on with the rest of the liturgy -- most of which, of course, is meant to help you prepare for the Eucharist. (I'll do a post sometime on the role and purpose of liturgy in worship, but all you really need to understand for this story is that in a liturgical service each part is fitted together very carefully, and doing the bread-and-wine bit first completely blasts the liturgical sense of the service to smithereens.)

Kasia is telling Veta this, and it's obvious from what she's saying that she understands how the liturgy fits together (which is unusual in a teenager), and Veta breaks in to say, "Kasia, you are just so amazing -- I can't believe you understand so much about the liturgy at your age!"

The Princess gives Veta a crooked smile and looks over at me out of the corners of her eyes. "Well, it's because of Dad," she says wryly. "Every week when I was six or seven years old, I can remember so clearly how he always made me stop coloring and kneel when we got to the General Confession -- even though nobody was saying anything and it was totally boring. And he would always whisper, 'This is the part where we tell God we're sorry for anything we've done wrong this week; so if there's anything you need to tell God you're sorry for, tell him now.' So I remember I always had to start off with, 'Okay, God, I'm really sorry that I'm so mad at Daddy right now...'"

"Levees of the World" Dept

Thanks to Cajun buddy Randy Guidry for the attached evidence of American economic supremacy and governmental efficiency...

Here's how the British keep London from being flooded:

The Dutch solution to protecting an entire nation that exists below sea level:

In Venice, they have installed giant hinged platforms that rise out of the water to defend the city when the waves get too high.

And in the richest, most powerful and technologically advanced nation in the world...well, hey, it takes a lot of money to keep corrupt Lousiana politicians corrupt.

"Husband of the Year" Dept

The expert panel of Deepak Ghimire and myself are hereby overruling the verdict of the original judges -- we accept their three finalists but they clearly got the order wrong.

Third place goes to our finalist from...Ireland! The judges were especially impressed with Mr. Ireland's tender romanticism. (He's holding her sweet.)

Second place goes to...Mr. Serbia! My friend Alexandra von Maltzen will be so proud.

But the winner -- thanks to the crowning touch of the cigarette -- hails from the cradle of Western civilization. Gentlemen, I give you the Husband of the Year: Mr. Greece! [applause...]

I love stuff like this...

...because I am a geek at heart. (HT: The Corner.)

That's also why I love enlightening stories such as this one...

An Indian chief of yore was blessed with three wives, all of whom he loved (though, admittedly, he did have a favorite). Being a relatively wise man, however -- not wise enough to keep from saddling himself with multiple menstrual periods per month, but still not being a complete fool -- he didn't try to keep all three women happy in the same tepee; each wife had her own. Wife #1 had a very nice tepee made of the local buffalo hide. Wife #2 had a rather smaller tepee, but it was made of deerhide imported from the Appalachians, with matching beaded moccasins (the chief had a brother-in-law in the import/export business). But for Wife #3, the chief arranged to have shipped in, at great expense, the raw materials for what became the only hippopotamus-hide tepee on the entire Great Plains.

The chief was a vigorous man in his prime, and all three wives were shortly with child. Indeed, they all gave birth on the same day: Wife #1 had a beautiful baby girl and Wife #2 had a big strong baby boy. But Wife #3 won again: she had twins, a boy and a girl.

Which just proved once again that the squaw of the hippopotamus is equal to the sum of the squaws of the other two hides.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Hillary's futures trading

With Anya having an epileptic seizure about once every three days, and with the deadline looming for my software enhancements to pass testing even though the IL boys can't give me a decent testing environment, I haven't done much blogging. This is going to change soon as I tell some stories on The Princess. In the meantime, I can't resist following up on Her Anchorship's bit on Hillary's futures trading adventure.

You have to realize that I was a futures trader and broker at the time this story broke, and that my partner had worked for (and knew) the guy who, um, facilitated Hillary's little success story. And I remember just laughing my butt off at the very idea that Hillary had done what she said she had done:

1. Given a buddy (though certainly not somebody who owed her a political favor or might stand to benefit from a cozy relationship with the Governor's wife, oh certainly not that, never) a thousand bucks in order to open a futures account, which she was then allowed to trade aggressively by Arkansas-based (and ethically challenged) Refco despite being chronically undermargined, at one point going an entire month without enough money to cover the exchange-mandated margins and yet never getting margin-called.

2. Traded her $1,000 up to about $100,000 in ten months.

3. Closed the account and never traded again.

Now, cattle was going wild in 1979 and Refco was telling everybody to trade it, as Bill (my late partner) remembered very well himself; and I can understand Hillary's giving her friend some money to play with (though if memory serves she at first made the absurd claim that she had done most of the trading herself); and I can even accept that (given Refco's general sloppiness) it was understood by all concerned that Blair was good for any money she might lose so that his capital on account was informally applied to her margins (illegal, but not unthinkable).

But what was so unreasonable as to be comic was the idea that she would never take another shot -- unless she knew all along she wasn't really risking anything. And yet she tried, with a straight face (I can't imagine how) to pretend that she was doing real honest-to-God trading. I'm sorry, you will never convince me that Blair hadn't guaranteed to cover anything she might lose on his trading, and that when the guarantee was withdrawn, she closed the account. She didn't make $100,000 gambling with $1,000 in ten months, because if that's what she had done, she would have gambled some more later on -- hey, she'd've been playing with the house's money. That's how the 10% of us who make money on futures trading (not that I do it anymore, having retired after a very nice run because I was tired of the stress) make that money -- because you amateurs can never quit when you're ahead.

Hillary made $100,000 with no gambling at all because the guy doing the trading for her had told her he'd be good for anything she lost, and Refco didn't margin-call her because they knew perfectly well whose pockets any necessary money was going to come from. If you don't understand that then you don't know the futures game. Simple as that.

Whether you want to crucify her over it politically, by the way, is entirely up to you and does not interest me in the slightest. I myself just find the whole no-really-it-was-real-futures-trading shtick hilarious.