Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The right's love affair with political correctness: Or, how I learned that it was hurtful and offensive to say mean things about war

I confess to a certain fascination with Andrew Coyne. He is logical, unusually well-informed about matters of law and policy for a journalist, and, by my lights, wrong about everything. He is on the left constitutionally -- in favour of a superempowered judiciary and federal government -- and on the right when it comes to bombing anyone who refuses to become an ideal consumer. Back in the happier times when politics was mostly about privatization, free trade and fiscal caution, I was generally on the same side as Andrew, except when he would periodically threaten to send in the troops to crush separatism, but them days are over.

So I was saddened, but not entirely surprised to see a column by Coyne making the most explicit version of the neoconservative reduction I have yet seen (not on the Internet, although you can get the first paragraph here). Opposition to Bush is anti-Americanism. Opposition to Israel's wars is anti-Semitism. You know the drill.

The topic of anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel has been done to death in the blogosphere. I'm not really up for it on a fine August day. The question of anti-Americanism is also a delicate one, but not quite so much, and it lets me quote Graham Greene. The voice of Greene's jaded English war correspondent expresses the combination of irritation, affection and unease so many of us who share the English language and Protestant-style civilization feel about our Yankee cousins.

"Have you any hunch," the economic attaché asked, "why they killed him? and who?"

Suddenly, I was angry; I was tired of the whole pack of them with their private stores of Coca Cola and their portable hospitals and their too wide cars and their not quite latest guns. I said, "Yes. They killed him because he was too innocent to live. He was young and ignorant and silly and he got involved. He had no more of a notion than any of you what the whole affair's about, and you gave him money and Bernard Lewis's York Harding's books on the Middle East and said, 'Go ahead. Win the Middle East for democracy.' He never saw anything he hadn't heard in a lecture-hall, and his writers and lecturers made a fool of him. When he saw a dead body he couldn't even see the wounds. An IslamofascistA Red menace, a soldier of democracy."

"I thought you were his friend," he said in a tone of reproach.

"I was his friend. I'd have liked to see him reading the Sunday supplements at home and following the baseball. I'd have liked to see him safe with a standardized American girl who subscribed to the Book Club."

It's not at all clear that Greene's narrator really was the young American's friend: they are rivals for the love of a beautiful Vietnamese opium addict. But it is clear that he would have done well to take the Brit's advice. So too George W. Bush should have listened to Messrs. Chréien and Chirac. They didn't know what he was getting into either, but they had a bad feeling about it.

It is quite true that there is a strain of envy running through all anti-Americanism, and Canadian anti-Americanism most of all. And a strain of ingratitude. And the Pithlord has nothing good to say about the type of leftism Social Science and Humanities faculties generate at the rate the tar sands generates greenhouse gas emissions. But, as in ordinary life, we can often see rather clearly the character flaws of those we resent. The most robust finding of real social science is that stereotypes are true to the first approximation. Including the stereotypes of Americans -- of loud, bad listeners, of people more than usually inclined to identify their own interests with the commands of the universe itself.

We all have our faults, and I feel bad rasing those of our neighbours, since few other people are so optimistic, and few other Westerners are so willing to take necessary risks. There are forms of cant that the whole rest of the OECD is far more steeped in than the USA. But no other Western country is able to pretend that its own will is all that matters, that the only real question is how generous it feels.

Whatever our resentments, it certainly is not in my country's interests to have some other hegemon. What we want is not to depose America as monarch of the world, but to impose a constitutional settlement on her.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The McWhorter Fallacy

Those who pay attention to the scandals of the American political blogosphere doubtless know that George Allen -- a more-than-expectedly unappealing potential Republican nominee for President in 2008 -- called one of his opponents' staffers a "maccaca" and bid him "Welcome to America." The staffer in question is of South Asian descent and the hivemind quickly discovered that "maccaca" was a slur used by French colonists against North Africans. Allen's mother was a French colonist in Algeria, and it seems plausible (particulalry in light of the absence of competing explanations) that he consciously or sub-consciously had this meaning in his head. The Allen campaign can't admit any of this, of course, because it would suggest that Senator Allen is part French.

All of that is by way of background for those of readers and spambots who do not obssessively follow American politics.The point I wanted to make came from John McWhorter's defence of Allen, related by publius here:

Imagine for a moment that Allen actually knew that a "macaque" is a kind of monkey, or that in French the term is sometimes used as an insult for North Africans (Allen denied having known about either). Who, then, believes that Allen would use the slur against an opposition campaigner aiming a camera straight at him?

The logic, as I understand it is as follows:

-If P said X, then P would be criticized for violating some public norm.
-P therefore could not have said X since it would result in public criticism, which would reduce P's electability.
-Therefore, public criticism is unjustified.

The second premise depends on the idea that politicians, even in moments of stress, always act rationally. It also assumes that everything blameworthy will, in fact, be blamed. Since these are unsuound assumptions, the argument is a stupid one. This could actually be used as a warning about rational choice models, or just about the fact that in the public discourse today, someone will defend anything.

But more interesting is that the argument undermines itself to the extent that it is believed. McWhorter's Fallacy logically compels the conclusion that no politicians will ever say antyhing blameworthy. If people accept McWhorter's Fallacy, then, of course, they won't criticize politicians for what they say. But if that is true, then rational politicians, fearing no criticism and seeking the psychic satsifaction of insulting people will start saying blameworthy things again.

In other words, racial slurs by politicians become frequency-dependent strategies. If they are uncommon enough, they will not be criticized (on the assumption that their use is too irrational to occur). But then they will become a cheap way of letting loose. But if too many politicians start employing this method of stress relief, the McWhorter reasoning loses its hold and politicians start being criticized for being boors and bigots again.

It would then follow that there is a slur ESS. Anyone thinking of modelling this should give me credit. I realize it might be a bit embarrassing to suggest your idea came from an anonymous fellow on the Internet named "Pithlord", so I suggest P. Lord of the Institute for Pith and Substance. You're welcome.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Neoconservatism explained

Much praise out there for Michael Brendan Dougherty's take on fortune cookies and neoconservatism. So I praise it.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Old Man

As you might have guessed from this post, I have been reading Donald Creighton's biography of John A. Macdonald, and I've decided I quite like him (Macdonald, not Creighton). Personally, Macdonald was an attractive combination of humour, hard work, loyalty to family (including to a very sick first wife and a hydrocephalic daughter) and mild alcoholism. Politically, he was the ideal progressive conservative, combining a firm loyalty to his own with a sympathetic openness to the other, rejecting equally the bigoted right and the doctrinaire left.

Throughout his career, Macdonald was initially suspicious of the great reforms and projects he ended up accomplishing -- from the abolition of the church reserves and seigneurial system when he was a young man to the federal union of British North America and the acquisition of the West at the climax of his life. In each case he was cautious about the wisdom of the idea before he took it on, but was tenacious and pragmatic once he was convinced it was necessary.

Throughout Macdonald's career, racial and religious divisions between French Catholics and Anglo-Scottish Protestants dominated everything. "Liberal" and "radical" politicians -- from Durham to Brown -- deliberately inflamed these divisions. Macdonald was a Tory Presbyterian, and had no hesitation about his loyalties -- he was willing to take firm action, including hanging Riel after his last rebellion. He was a happy partisan. But he was above all hostile to polarization and "principled" demagogy. The mark Macdonald left in the politics of this country still maddens heirs of Brown like Andrew Coyne, who prefer Trudeau's governing by a combination of machismo and abstraction. Dangerous men, the Coynes and Browns.

It's a bit silly to pretend that the Presbyterian bourgeois Victorian lawyer was a throne-and-altar CONSERVATIVE, or that the Tories of his era created some fundamentally anti-modern anti-liberal trend in Canadian society. Macdonald had a lawyer's respect for conservatism of form. He knew that the development of half a continent could best be promoted by secure property and free contract. He was a protectionist, although on other occasions he hoped for comprehensive free trade with the US. I don't suppose he ever imagined human nature was perfectible, or that ethnic antagonism could be eliminated, as opposed to managed. He thought education should be Christian, although he wanted each sect, even Papists, to educate its own children as they wished.

There have been periodic attempts to turn Macdonaldism into a uniquely Canadian ideology. Protectionists are particularly inclined to do this with the National Policy. It makes little sense, since what he stood for -- a pragmatic respect for tradition, combined with an openness to necessary change -- mean different things in different eras. Unlike ideology, they do not acquit us from having to think the issues of our own day over again. As a supporter of provincial autonomy, I am pleased that his constitutional vision was ultimately modified by the struggles of his articling student, Oliver Mowat, and the Judicial Committee. The British tie could never have been retained in the form Macdonald understood it. But all in all, we were lucky in our founding father.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Originalist Fork

Marcus of Washington Syndrome, in a response to Jack Balkin's new article (which I promise to read and comment on, but you've heard those promises before, I know), sets out the dilemma of originalism with great pith and no little substance here.

In short, to the extent we identify meaning with expected application, originalism would result in terrible things. To the extent we separate meaning and expected application, originalism has no force at all. If we seriously tried to apply "liberty" as the Framers would have applied it, we would provoke social revolution. If we say the meaning of "liberty" does not change when we apply it differently (which makes sense to me), then originalism provides no solution to the problem of judicial discretion.

Personally, I accept the "separate meaning from expected application" side of the fork. In Canada, at least, no one really wants the other side of the fork, since that involves trying to read the mind of Jean Chréien circa 1981, not a task anyone ever thought would be rewarding. But that means I have to find some other basis for avoiding judicial tyranny.

Update: Looking further at Marcus's blog, it seems he has been advancing these sensible ideas and distinctions for some time. I guess the point that originalism and the living constitution are perfectly compatible has been out there in the law school world for some time, since I can't really recall where I picked it up. I do recall reading Scalia in A Matter of Interpretation accepting Dworkin's distinction between semantic intent and whatever-he-called-the-bad-kind-of-intent, and realizing that the game was up.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Finnish Revolutionary and the Father of Confederation

Nils von Schoultz was born Nils Gustaf Ulric in 1807 in Finland. He fought in the Polish revolution of 1830, was captured by the Russians, but somehow escaped to join the French foreign legion. After a brief marriage to a British woman, in 1836 he changed his name to von Schoultz and moved to the United States.

The next year saw short-lived republican uprisings in both Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec). The Upper Canadian revolt led by William McKenzie, in particular, had little real base of support, but it was hard to get Americans to understand that. Steeped in the thinking of Michael Gerson, they thought it obvious that any people under the British Crown would want a revolution. They greeted McKenzie and his band with open arms, and organized bands of revolutionaries to "liberate" Canada. One such, based in Cleveland, was called the Hunters' Society, which held its first and only convention on September 16, 1938, resolving to use armed struggle to free the Canadians from the not-very-oppressive yoke of Queen Victoria and the Colonial Office.

With the memories of 1812 still fresh, the royalist pro-colonial Upper Canadians responded by organizing their own militias. An obscure Kingston lawyer named John Macdonald joined one of them, the "Loyal Scotch Volunteer Independent Light Infantry Company." (As Max Shachtman once remarked about Trotskyist sects, the length of the name is always in inverse proportion to the size of the group).

As Donald Creighton relates, "[U]nder the emphatic but dubious instruction of the Hunters, [von Schoultz] reached the romantic conclusion that the Canadians were serfs groaning under an oppression indistinguishable from that of the Poles." On November 11, 1838, he and 180 others boarded the steamer The United States and crossed Lake Ontario.

The ostensible leaders of the expedition decided not to disembark. The skipper Bill Johnston, who took the title Commodore of the Navy of the Canadian Republic, insisted that his duty was with the fleet, while the "commander" of the land forces, John Birge, claimed intestinal distress. Von Schoultz found himself leading the invading army. They landed at Windmill Point near Prescott and took the eponymous windmill. This gave them a certain tactical advantage when they were attacked by the Johnstown Militia (with a small number of redcoats in support). 60 Canadians were wounded and 16 killed, among them the commander Lieutenant Johnston, whose body was mutilated, much to the indignation of Upper Canadian opinion. But the invaders were eventually surrounded and surrendered.

The leaders, including von Schoultz, were court martialed under a colonial statute, An Act to Protect the Inhabitants of this Province against Lawless aggressions from the Subjects of Foreign Countries at Peace with Her Majesty, 1 Vic. c.3. The statute provided hanging for citizens of foreign countries at peace with Britain who associated themselves with traitorous and rebellious British subjects and made war against the Queen slaying or wounding divers of Her Majesty's subjects.

The court martial procedure did not allow for defence counsel, but civilian lawyers were allowed to assist the accused in defending themselves. John A. Macdonald, then 23, was asked to do so by a Canadian relative of one of the defendants. As can be imagined, it was not a popular cause in Tory Kingston. But Macdonald decided to take it on. As Creighton put it:

It was a difficult, unprofessional, unpopular and possibly dangerous task. In a court martial, bereft of his usual status and prerogatives, [Macdonald] would be a nobody in an alien and perhaps hostile world. It would be almost impossible for him to secure an acquittal, or even to mitigate the death sentence, for the statute was clear and comprehensive enough, and the prisoners had been caught red-handed. Yet even an ineffectual defence might arouse the whole community against him. The prisoners were hated, as only foreigners who interfere by force in the affairs of others can be hated. The town was mad with grief and rage and horror. The futile enormity of the invasion itself, the long, needless list of dead and wounded at the Battle of the Windmill, the revolting mutilation of Lieutenant Johnston's body, and the heap of carved, double-edged bowie knives which had been taken from the Bandits and exhibited to the astounded Kingstonians -- all worked like madness in the minds of the townspeople. Every circumstance seemed unfavourable. It was surely wisdom to have nothing to do with the whole affair. And yet, he took the case. Even he might have found it difficult to say why. A curious interest in people, a relish for cases which were odd and difficult, a jaunty recognition of the fact that professional prestige involved publicity, and, perhaps, a certain stubborn, independent conviction that these helpless and deluded men deserved at least the bare minimum of assistance -- all these may have helped to move him to his decision.

Macdonald was not able to save von Schoultz. Over the warnings of the Judge-Advocate (who was also the Solicitor General of the Province), von Schoultz pleaded guilty. His main concern was to deny that he had any involvement in the shameful mutilation of the opposing commander's body. He was immediately sentenced to hang. Macdonald drafted his will. According to Creighton, Macdonald referred to his experience with von Schoultz for the rest of his life, including in a letter written shortly after the hanging of Riel.

Update: Ella Pipping wrote a biography of von Schoultz, which is out-of-print and which I haven't read. Here is Wikipedia's article on the Battle of the Windmill.

Google also provides the charming news that Kathleen Herron, a Grade 6 student at Rideau Public School, penned these lines in celebration of John A's willingness to champion the marginal:

Nils Von Schoultz, a Swedish man
Barking mad and on the loose
Attacked our great Canadian land
Soon was forced to face the noose

A fiery defender of the underdog
The underdog, the underdog
A fiery defender of the underdog
Who's that?
The wee John A.

Someone give that girl a grant!

Pope Fires Chief Astronomer Over Opposition to "Intelligent Design"

This is bad.

(Via Volokh).

Update: One of Volokh's commenters points to this article in the National Catholic Reporter, a left-Catholic American newspaper. It doesn't reassure me. Obviously, the Pope is not going to endorse young earth Genesis literalism, but he does appear to think it is important that God intervene naturalistically in evoution. There is plenty of room in modern science for a transcendent intelligent creator, but not for the denial of natural selection as a blind, mechanistic process.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Good advice from Kevin Drum

Gentle reader, should you ever obtain a position of high executive office in a Western country, I implore you never to use the word "Islamofascist".

The fact that Bush is using this garbage term is grounds enough for impeachment.

Update: By e-mail, the literatus politely questions my objections to the term "Islamofascism." No doubt that those crazy extremists seek a total state and lack respect for human life. So what's the problem with the term? That it is inaccurate or that it isn't nice?

Well, both. Let's start with the lack of niceness. That's not a problem to the extent that the audience consists of confirmed terrorist theocrats. We have no reason to be nice to them. They are still going to try to kill us. Calling them names probably won't do any good either, but it might make us feel better, and I like to feel better.

But the trouble is that there is a whole 'nother audience. This consists of Muslims, more or less devout, who do not have the present intention of becoming suicide bombers. The attitudes of these people form a bell curve. At one tail are the people who are thinking about going off to Pakistan to train to fight infidels, but want to finish their organic chemistry exams first. They are on the verge of taking the step, but haven't yet. At the other tail are confirmed liberal democrats, furiously opposed to extremists, but committed to their ancestral faith. In between are the mass of people who suffer from some cognitive dissonance -- they don't approve of bin Laden's methods, or necessarily want to live under a Taliban-style regime, but they wouldn't completely reject all of his rhetoric.

Any marginal shift in this bell curve matters to us. When a Muslim who disapproves of terrorism, but doesn't think it right to call the cops about strange goings-on at the mosque, becomes a person who think that calling the cops is the right thing to do, that improves airline safety. The opposite movement decreases airline safety. As a frequent flyer, the Pithlord has an interest here.

So if the folks in the middle of this massive bell curve consider it offensive to tie their religion to a disreputable European political movement of the last century, then the Pithlord is prepared to accommodate them. I'm against offending people's religious sensibilities, but if you think that's too wimpy, then just see it as a sacrifice you have to make to further the struggle. Kind of like War Bonds.

Then we get to accuracy. There is, in fact, no connection between fascism and Islamic theocratic extremism other than that they are both totalitarian and nasty. There are other totalitarian and nasty things out there -- like the Chinese government or Robert Mugabe -- and it is not a source of insight to call them fascist.

As Larison points out somewhere in his massively expanding opus of posts (wasn't he supposed to be taking a break), the comparison between the Ba'athists and European fascism has some sense to it, but Islamic extremism has completley different roots. Briefly, it is theocratic, not ultra-nationalist.

Are Women Better Looking than Men?

Well, I tend to think so. But, through LGM, I have news that there is a purportedly scientific study that says it's a fact.

But isn't there an inherent methodological problem here? How can anyone meaningfully say that women are more attractive than men on average, or vice versa. Presumably heterosexual males and lesbians are going to think women are more attractive, and heterosexual females and gay men are going to think men are more attractive. Only a bisexual could provide a common metric, and a bisexual who thought one sex more attractive than the other would just be revealing where he or she was on the Kinsey scale. The only real metric would be the preferences of an absolutely gender-indifferent bisexual, but such a person would (by definition) not have a preference.

I suppose my assumption that judgments of aesthetic beauty are reducible to statements of sexual interest could be challenged. On Seinfeld, Elaine, as a heterosexual woman, expressed the view that the female form is one of beauty and elegance, while the male body is like a jeep. I can certainly distinguish an attractive man from an unattractive one, although it is not done in our culture for straight guys to express these opinions. Still, when heterosexual women or gay men disagree with me about whether a woman is attractive, I feel an epistemic authority that they do not possess. And when the readers of Chatelaine continually report that Sean Connery is the sexiest man alive, I don't feel it is my place to contradict them (although I confess that I don't get it).

In principle, everybody could be wrong about whether the sun orbits the earth. More controversially, I think everybody could be wrong about some deeply held moral belief. But could everyone be wrong about who in their preferred sex is attractive? Isn't the quality of being attractive simply the probability that a person who prefers the sex to which you belong will be attracted? And does it not follow that there is no absolute scale of attractiveness?

OK, OK, back to work.

Science Update: In our continuing effort to bring you the latest in hot-button issues, and in response to complaints about the lack of a picture for this post, I point you to a new book that claims that persons of mixed racial background are healthier and more attractive than the rest of us. Hybrid vigour, and all that.

Monday, August 21, 2006

What a Jerk

I know it is a totally uncool, earnest left-wing point, but our Prime Minister is a big jerk for missing the AIDS conference in Toronto. Would he miss a similarly high-powered international conference about terrorism? Which is killing more people, and by how many orders of magnitude?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

This Publius is a mighty Publius

If you follow these things, you probably know that a federal judge on the Sixth Circuit on the US District Court for the East District of Michigan struck down the Bush Administration's secret spying program. Her strongest grounds for doing this were undoubtedly that it violates a Congressional statute, FISA, and that FISA has not been implicitly repealed by the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in the "War on Terror." Her shakier, although perfectly reasonable, grounds are that it interferes with freedom of association under the First Amendment to illegally wiretap dissident groups, and that the warrantless searches cannot be justified under the Fourth Amendment.

The Pithlord immediately wondered why the controversial constitutional rulings were necessary if a more straightforward statutory basis for the decision was available. But Publius has been doing the Lord's work demonstrating that she shouold never have got to this point on a summary judgment application.

The argument at Publius's and at Lawyers, Guns and Money quickly got to the point where the Pithlord felt he couldn't add value. To really advance things, I would need to know the US Federal Court rules, and how they have been applied, in some detail.

However, if I can add a comparative angle, the Canadian courts have held that it is almost never appropriate to strike down legislation or give a wide-ranging constitutional remedy on the basis of our equivalent procedures. As a lawyer, it bugs me to think that decisions of this magnitude could be made without giving the government a chance to provide its evidence or (really) make its argument.

My main point, though, is just to suck up. Publius, despite being a liberal supportive of the result, came up with a way better argument than any of the conservative lawyery-pundit-types, of whom there are many. He deserves wide exposure.

Like publius, I can't get too outraged about this -- the judge's actions outside her appropriate constitutional role pale in comparison to those of the Bush administration, and will likely be corrected on appeal. I suspect publius is doing a good thing for the cause -- since reversal of at least part of the decision is almost inevitable, publius's analysis might help some journalist somewhere realize that it is still a vicotry for the good guys if the Government's motion to dismiss is rejected at the appellate level. But however the politics play out, it is important not to cheat ... and good on Publius for thinking so.

Update: Charley has taken me to task in the comments. I'm obviously outclassed in discussing US Federal Court procedure, but I will try to post something explaining why I'm biased in favour of Publius' position (even though the bigger picture, surely, is the Bush administration's repudiation of the rule of law).

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Do you know your ancestors?

If you are of European descent, then according to a recent article in PLOS Genetics, you're about 5% Neanderthal. It's a pretty controversial view, and the fossil and mitochondrial DNA evidence tends to support the counter-thesis that modern humans out of Africa completely displaced previous hominid lineages. Still, it helps explain David Lee Roth.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

P&S's Parizeau moment

Matthew Shugart wisely corrects me for saying that Israel has zero sympathy in "Quebec". It is an exaggeration however you slice it, but I clearly was not thinking of English-speaking Montreal, which, as MSS points out, is still one of the great Jewish cities of the world. Despite its decline. Which was not, it must be said, an accidental decline.

There is a very tricky ambiguity in the idea of Quebec, and even more, of the Québécois. Its manifest meaning is resident of the province of Quebec, and yet we all know that its latent meaning is what was once called a French Canadian (although it clearly excludes an Acadian or Franco-Ontarian). One idea behind the change in terminology is that it would be more appealingly liberal to define nationalism on the basis of a territory than of a people, but, as Parizeau blurted out, and everyone knows anyway, there are Québécois and then there are Québécois. The result is paradoxically less liberal. Before, anyone could be Québécois, although not canadien. Now, everyone is Québécois at the manifest level, but not everyone is at the latent level.

The Pithlord appears not to have negotiated this ambiguity any better than Parizeau. By the definition civilized civic nationalists are comfortable with, there are, of course, many Québécois passionately supportive of Israel. By the definition that lurks beneath, not so much.

For a while, Harper did have a plan of making a breakthrough in English Québec only (which would itself be a change, since there have been no loyaller Grits). The last election showed that the old blue coalition was -- at least potentially -- within his grasp. It may still be, or it may not, but it would be quite a retreat to return to the earlier vision.

Part of me wants to apologize for the gaffe. That's the better part, so I do. But Michael Kinsley's not just right about politicians. The gaffe reveals something about how we think in this country, something a bit uncomfortable.

Update: The literatus writes to point out that I can't really pontificate on this subject without reading Mordecai Richler, and asks if I have. As a father of an eight year old, I've read 3 of the Jacob Two Two books, and a fair bit of op-edish ephemera, but that's it. Discount accordingly.


It's easy to make fun of the Trudeau clan. Easy and fun:

when Michel was around 8 years old, I remember him complaining to my mother that my older brother and I both had more friends than he did. My mother told him that, unlike us, he had the greatest friend of all: he had Fidel.

So writes Sacha of the dying communist dictator. Readers of the Toronto Star are treated to an exercise in a dying prose form, the over-the-top sycophantic tribute to a Stalinist thug. Castro, like Ceaucescu and Kim Il Sung before him, is a "superman", a "monumental intellect" and "an expert on everything."

Pith & Substance declares a winner. Sacha has wrested the title of most-embarrassing-Trudeau from his aging mother and the dim Justin.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Three Words Bob Rae Needs to Say

"Canada's National Interest"

We seem to have two parties of elite opinion in this country. One would have us fight and die for some romantic union of Chosen Peoples - Anglo Saxons and Jews against everybody else. The most rational proponents of this view think they will always enjoy technological superiority. The less rational have read Revelations backwards.

The second party would have us fight and die for universal human rights and reduced carbon gas emissions. We will defeat those who seek to harm us through a special ninja army of earnestness. That will be tres useful in Darfur or whatever other African conflict the do-gooders take interest in (although not enough interest to actually learn anything about it or propose realistic scenarios for what we could do).

I can't support Ignatieff because he seems to combine the worst of both tendencies.

Rae could mark some new ground just by looking at things through the lens of Canadian interest. I suspect there is a lot of hunger for this approach out among the people, who are not really enamored of either George Bush or Kofi Annan.

The trouble is that it goes against Rae's basic instincts. He doesn't like particularistic appeals. The result is that when he opposes Harper/Ignatieff's vision, he comes across sounding like a Grateful Dead groupie.

It's time to ask, "What's in it for us?"

Make Flamewar, Not Nuke War

According to the Financial Times, the Holocaust-denying, ambassador-kidnapping populist President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has started blogging here. English, French, Arabic and Farsi versions are available.

Ahmadinejad definitely needs to work on a pithier prose style. On the other hand, he gets points for not just linking to Sheikh Nasrallah's "classic takedown of the colonialist Zionist entity and its imperialist backers," and commenting "Indeed," "Ouch" or "Heh."

Harper and the Middle East Crisis

Even if today's ceasefire holds, warfare isn't over. Hopefully, some of the world's attention will turn to Gaza and the humanitarian nightmare unfolding there.

But I'm going to use the occasion to comment on Harper and the weaknesses these events have exposed in the Conservative game plan to become a majority government.

A few caveats are in order. Foreign policy is rarely a highly salient issue in Canadian politics. With the economy humming along and the deficit conquered, the Conservatives find themselves on the right side of the remaining domestic issues - crime and kids. They could screw up crime by getting too heavy handed on the drug war. They probably aren't going to come out of another vote on same-sex marriage looking good (I predict SSM is safe in this Parliament). But domestic issues look like winners for them. And domestic issues determine most federal elections.

But a superficial glance at Canadian history shows that foreign affairs - really our relations with Britain and the US - have swung a substantial minority of elections. The Conservatives seem to have backed off on the moribund softwood deal as the basis for an election - wisely, if I'm right that they don't want to fight a referendum on how close we should be to George Bush.

The war on Lebanon showed Harper at his infuriating worst (and I have a soft spot for the man). It wasn't just the position he took, or the fact that it was at odds with his deemphasis of support for the Iraq war in the last election. It was the arrogance of the way he expressed it. It was the overt politicization of external ethnic loyalties (a taboo in Canada since it is a recipe for importing the world's conflicts).

I don't imagine it will make a big difference in English Canada. It plays to one of his weaknesses - the feeling that his loyalties are not with Canada, but with a deracinated and militant neoconservative ideology. But he probably doesn't need the votes of George Grant conservatives. Still, even in English Canada, the Tories need to realize that stealing from the Republican playbook doesn't work when knee-jerk nationalism cuts against you.

But the bigger deal is that this might - I'm not making any firm predictions yet - sour Quebec on reviving the old blue coalition. There is zero sympathy for Israel in Quebec and some cultural ties to Lebanon. Again, people can live with some disagreement, but the arrogance with which Harper has expressed Canada's position on this isn't going to go over well.

Everytime it has been put together, the coalition between Anglo conservatives and Quebec nationalists against the federal government has fallen apart. With the exception of the most recent breakdown on whether to recognize Quebec symbolically in the Constitution, all the previous ones were over our foreign loyalties. Will it happen again?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Seymour Hersh: US Gave the Green Light

Seymour Hersh has a new article providing the not-too-surprising information that the Bush administration pre-authorized Israel's attack on Lebanon.

I may comment more in an update, but I've got something on the boil.

Update while simmering The key passage is the following:

Israel believed that, by targeting Lebanon’s infrastructure, including highways, fuel depots, and even the civilian runways at the main Beirut airport, it could persuade Lebanon’s large Christian and Sunni populations to turn against Hezbollah, according to the former senior intelligence official.

In other words, Israel's plan, approved by the Bushies long before the July 12 kidnappings, was to terrorise the non-Shi'ite population of Lebanon in the hope that this would reignite civil war.

As anyone paying attention could tell, this was not about striking at Hezbollah military capacity and accidentally hitting some bystanders. The bystanders were the target.

Viewed through racist assumptions about Arabs, the idea was that they would react to this punishment by their betters by being docile and doing what Israel and the US wanted. On the more reasonable assumption that Arabs react to being bombed like Israelis or Americans and other humans do, it would have the opposite effect, uniting the Lebanese population.

Well, the experiment has been done. Olmert will try to get what face saving he can before the ceasefire takes effect tomorrow. But no one really thinks Israel has advanced its strategic objectives. And America owes France big time.

Supid and immoral. Stupid and immoral. I'm ashamed at my country's complicity, a complicity only mitigated by the fact that we were never important enough to be given advance notice.

You Can Learn Something From a Paleocon

That was the biggest revelation to me as a result of this whole Iraq war business. The crazed Buchananite nationalists turned out to be more sensible than the people I though of as the reasonable wing of the right. If you don't believe me, you should go read Daniel Larison. If x were to represent how reactionary you were, and you were to take the limit of x as it approaches an arbitrarily large number, you couldn't be as reactionary as Larison. But he's got a whole bunch of good stuff up lately.

Update: This post got me a link on Mr. Larison's blogroll. I'm excited, of course, but I have to warn any Jacobites who show up that we at Pith & Substance aren't going to compromise our firm belief that erecting a Court of Commissioners for Ecclesiastical Causes, and all other commissions and courts of like nature are illegal and pernicious, just for a higher hit count!

Liberal Imperialism: The Flaw

The permanent question raised by the Iraq war is whether and when liberal imperialism is justified. After all, the war proponents were right that Ba'ath Iraq was an unimaginably brutal tyranny. Imagine Ontario run by Bernardo and Homolka. The realist and security-based argument for invading Iraq was always, to my mind, transparently weak. Once the inspectors were in there, and finding nothing, it was without any conceivable merit. But I couldn't dismiss the case for externally imposed armed liberation so easily.

Will Wilkinson has an interesting post in which he spells out the dilemma. Liberalism is rare in the world. It is also a good thing, at least in comparison to the nihilistic tyrannies that seem to be the alternative nowadays.

We cannot be certain how much of this is because of deep-rooted cultural factors, which are resistant to external change, and how much is due to the illiberal countries not obtaining a threshold of widespread non-resource-based wealth. I find both hypotheses plausible, and as a good Anglican (OK, a bad Anglican) imagine the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Wilkinson's dilemma can be stated as follows: to the extent that illiberalism is deep-rooted culturally, external military force will be ineffective at bringing about liberalism; conversely, to the extent illiberalism is the result of a lack of (the right sort) of development, external military force is unnecessary (and, because necessarily internally-generated-wealth-destroying, counter-productive) to bringing about liberalism. Either way, imperial liberalism doesn't work.

If imperial liberalism was prepared to be strictly Singapore-style or Raj-style authoritarian, and internally-generated liberalism was the product of economic development, then this argument might not work. The imperial power wouldn't allow elections, but would guarantee incorruptible justice and free markets.

The difficulty is that nationalist and democratic aspirations of the conquered people would necessarily manifest themselves in armed resistance to the imperial liberal regime. This would have to be met with illiberal force. The occupying army would have trouble distinguishing between resisting and non-resisting members of the conquered people, and, let's face it, would have no motivation to do so. Frankly, the distinction would be dubious -- there might be some who would collaborate with the occupation for personal advantage, but no one is ever going to side with occupiers because they are liberal. As E.O. Wilson, expert on ants, said about communism, "Good theory -- wrong species."

So, in the end, liberal imperialism is never going to work. It is especially not going to work when the members of the imperial army have a recent tribal grievance against the people they are occupying.

It is still possible that economic development will ultimately make the Middle East a more liberal place. It is also possible that nothing will ever do that. But what is never going to happen is that liberalism will come as a present of the US Marine Corps.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Are Yellow Stars taken?

Reason magazine reports on a Gallup poll indicating that 39% of Americans favour requiring Muslims to wear "special ID."

If we are going to "stand with our allies", don't they need to be allies?

Straussian political theorist Clifford Orwin takes to the national newspaper's op ed pages to argue that we should reject the role of "honest broker" and stand with our allies, Israel and the US, war crimes or no.

One problem with this line of thinking is that Israel is not our ally. We have no treaty of alliance with it. Israel has always rejected any security guarantees that could compromise its freedom of action. What is being proposed is not an alliance, but a blank cheque.

Canada and the US are signatories to the North Atlantic Treaty. Of course, so is France, and we are not invited to think of it as an ally to whose judgment in foreign affairs we must always defer. Also Article 5 restricts the alliance to defensive purposes and confines its geographic scope to Europe and North America. This was at the insistence of the Truman Administration, which did not want to defend the European colonial empires. Fair enough... The North Atlantic Treaty also incorporates the principles of the UN Charter, which the Orwins of the world regard as anathema.

NORAD is confined to the air defence of the North American continent.

What is being asked for is not a clear-headed alliance based on mutual interest. What is being asked for is one-sided loyalty, the "Ready, Aye, Ready" attitude that Canadians buried in the Somme along with half a generation.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Vive la France

Looks like France bailed the US and Israel out of a tricky situation.

I hope that Lebanon's politicians can do something with the newfound unity in their country to build the capacity of their state, although I wouldn't count on it. I wish the new UNFIL the best of luck.

Much to worry about -- but for now, it is a triumph of French diplomacy. After all the bullshit in the last five years, the White House had to admit that it needed the Elysée.

Update: Child blogger Matthew Yglesias has earned the right to gloat. He's like, fifteen, and he outstrategized the Israeli cabinet. (I also sympathize with his hastily retracted proposal to eugenically sterilize Mel Gibson, although I have to admit that the doubts about the continuing authority of Buck v. Bell and the non-existence of a "poetic justice" exception to the Fourteenth Amendment might render this constitutionally problematic.

Why give costs in any event of the cause to successful SCC leave applicants?

Canadian costs law generally exists to discourage people from bringing unsuccessful litigation, and, to a lesser degree, to discourage defendants from contesting successful cases. The basic rule therefore is that "costs follow the event" -- if you win, you get costs. Most provinces have additional rules that let people make formal offers to settle which, if they beat, they get their costs when they otherwise wouldn't, or, in the case of plaintiffs, they get extra costs.

Pre-trial applications generally follow a rule where costs go to the successful party "in the cause". In other words, to get your costs of a pre-trial application, you generally have to win both the application and the underlying law suit.

Oddly, though, the Supreme Court of Canada seems to like to give the costs of leave applications (equivalent of certiorari in the SCOTUS) to the successful appellant "in any event of the cause." That means even if they lose the ultimate appeal, the other side has to pay them for (some) of the legal cost of arguing the leave application (which is now done solely in writing).Two successful leave applicants got their costs that way yesterday.

This seems a bit perverse. A leave applicant lost in the Court of Appeal. If they also lose in the SCC, then they are 0-2 in appellate courts. At least half also lost in the trial court. So why do they get some of the costs that were necessitated by bringing the legal process to bear?

The SCC almost never gives reasons for leave decisions (which makes sense), so we don't know what the thinking is. Any former insiders are invited to post anonymously. Uninformed speculation is invited as well.

How many Canuck Creationists?

Science has a chart showing the results of a survey of belief in evolution in 34 countries. The US is second only to Turkey in creationists. What's worse is that creationists are more common now than in 1985. Currently, only 40% of Americans believe human beings descended from an earlier species of animal.This CBS poll gets the same total result for descent from another species (only 17 per cent of Americans thought evolution occurred without divine help).

Unfortunately, this survey didn't include Canada. That is too bad from our parochial point-of-view, but also as a dencent comparator for the U.S.

A COMPAS poll conducted at the behest of the National Post prior to the 2000 election showed Canadians split 47/53 on creation vs. evolution, but its methodology is criticized here. Reading the critique, the question seems to be really bad, and the number of creationists in Canada is probably less than 20%. Unfortunately, the authors of the critique used their own survey of first year undergraduates at Wilfred Laurier, which, while perhaps useful in distinguishing variants of "creationism", is obviously not representative of the Canadian population.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Wondering about school choice

Neil McCluskey makes a decent argument for school choice. Well, he falls into a typically liberal/libertarian fallacies -- for example, that disagreement about whether a proposition is true implies that there is no correct answer to whether the proposition is true. But he's right that parents in a free society disagree about what a good education consists in, and that diversity ought to be respected.

The only logical and liberal solution to the perennial Canadian issue of funding schools for religious, linguistic and ethnic minorities is undoubtedly parental choice. Ontario's solution of funding Catholic schools, but no one else's, isn't defensible. Nor are funded French schools, but not Cantonese schools. Nor the move to fund native schools, but not Afro-Caribbean schools.

But there is a but, here. For all their faults, public schools put the great majority of the society through a common institution for a number of years. They socialize people the same way. Anyone who went to a different kind of school, or was home-schooled, is still a bit weird. Full parental choice means there really are no longer any "public schools."

Does that turn us into Lebanon a couple generations from now? Can someone reassure me about this?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Human Rights Watch on War Crimes in Lebanon

Any real discussion of the issue of the IDF's culpability in Lebanon is going to have to start with this Human Rights Watch report.

Based on investigations on the ground, HRW has documented what should be unsurprising to anyone following the conflict: the IDF is targeting sites with little or no military value with total disregard for civilian casualties. Of the 153 civilian deaths documented by name (the total is undoubtedly much higher), 63 were children.

HRW debunks apologist arguments that most of the attacks are in areas of Hezbollah activity.

There is no doubt that Hezbollah is also violating the laws of war, and therefore deserves the designation of "terrorist group", and HRW makes that point. I haven't been making this point because I suspect it is obvious and uncontroversial to the people who read me. But if we judge matters by sheer magnitude, the deaths Israel is inflicting are greater. Also, I do not live in a country where the Prime Minister is discounting Hezbollah atrocities, let alone attacks on Canadian nationals and soldiers.

(Via Crooked Timber)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

An Empire? US? What do you mean?

Rob Farley is decidedly unimpressed with Niall Ferguson's Colossus.

Personally, I didn't hate it as much (although I'm also not convinced). People with actual expertise tend to hate "bigthink" book by people outside their area. But it is a necessary genre, in light of how specialized academic work necessarily has become. Those of us who pontificate on the Internet can hardly get too snooty about fact-checked books.

Still, "bigthink" requires some level of logic, and Farley points out that Ferguson's central thesis -- America is an Empire, and it's a good thing too -- depends fairly crucially on what you mean by "empire." If it just means economic and political influence, then the thesis becomes a "provocative" way of saying America is a really important country. Farley also makes a pretty good point when he suggests Ferguson has an oddly Leninist idea of imperialism, even though he presumably doesn't buy the whole concept of surplus value which makes Lenin/Hobson's theory work. (That theory, in turn, can't survive the elementary point that a consensual transaction generates wealth for both parties to it.)

To some extent, we can just stipulate our definitions: as long as we don't define Rome and Britannia out of the Empire business, we can choose concepts that may keep Athens and the US in or out.

One thing I like about Ferguson, in comparison with the standard American commentator indignantly denying that his country has an empire, is that he knows enough about the British empire to realize that it (and for that matter the Romans) did not eliminate or try to eliminate all self-government for its colonies. He doesn't have a straw Empire in mind. On the other hand, he still needs to do some work to avoid equating influence and imperialism.

To me, the most straightforward definition of Empire centres around sovereignty. You could start with an idealized Weberian sovereign state -- it possesses a monopoly of coercive authority within a defined boundary. Federalism splits that idealized sovereignty in a symmetrical way. Empire, on the other hand, leaves the homeland fully sovereign, but also exercising some jurisdictions in the colonies (without necessarily exercising all of them).

There are types of coercive force that are reserved, in the contemporary world, to the US. There are also forms of sovereignty that only the US can really claim. Much of the liberal Euro-Canadian agenda is to transform these powers into something a bit more federal (at least within the "West") -- much of the Bush agenda is to resist this transformation.

D.B.S.--Case Comment--Concurrence Makes More Sense

One of the vexing issues of family law is whether to award "retroactive" child support. If child support awards don't include back payments, then children are being cheated -- if they do, then it is often difficult for the payor to meet them.

The Pithlord recognizes the need for payment schedules for lump sum back child support, but is otherwise unsympathetic to the payor. In Canada, child support levels are based on a prescribed schedule that depends on the payor parent's income (child support for unmarried parents is within provincial jurisdiction, but most provinces have adopted the same basic system). If your income goes up, you ought to be paying more. If your ass needs to get dragged into court, you shouldn't get the benefit of that.

I'm not particularly sympathetic to judicial discretion in this area, but I recognize that the statutes have retained it. Still, there needs to be some kind of "default rule."

On Monday, the SCC decided a number of related appeals on this issue. Everyone agreed on the disposition of the specific cases, and that there needs to be some discretion, but with a default rule. The court split on what that default rule should be.

Justice Abella, for the minority, thought the default should be to the date the payor parent got the higher income. That makes sense, since that's the date the payor should have been payin'.

The majority, on the other hand, makes the presumptive backdate when the payor got "effective notice" from the other parent. This makes less sense, since we usually know about our own raises before we find out about our exes'. Also, effective notice is a mushy concept, as is the kind of bad behaviour that would justify further backdating.

Case Comment of D.B.S. v. S.R.G.; L.J.W. v. T.A.R.; Henry v. Henry; Hiemstra v. Hiemstra, 2006 SCC 37

Fears of Eurabia -- Grossly Exaggerated

I've said that empirical data that contradicts my prejudices is good for the soul -- but there is no doubt that favourable empirical data is great for the seretonin levels. So I point to data which shows that Muslim/Non-Muslim relations in Europe are fine, and not getting worse, despite the events of the past year (bombs, cartoons and all).

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Ought and Is

Joshua Greene has an article in Nature that raises the most interesting question in meta-ethics: what is the relationship between moral psychology and moral philsophy? Unfortunately, the discussion degenerates into a discussion about the least interesting issue in meta-ethics, whether there is a "fact of the matter" about moral judgments.

A few claims (which I may try to justify later):

-The truth that our moral judgments are basically intuitive does not imply anything about their cognitive structure. Our judgments of whether a sentence sounds right are intuitive, but there can still be a science of linguistics inquiring into why we make those judgments.

-Moral psychology can claim to be the proper heir of the Tradition. This is obviously true of Aristotle, Hume and Smith, but it is also true of Kant, Hegel and Mill. The latter all claim that they are theorizing what we instinctively know.

-It is true that a normative conclusion can only be validly drawn from a set of premises if at least one of these premises has a normative element. But this is not that big a deal. It could be that the normative premise is totally uncontroversial or a universal law.

-Anyone who believes that there is at least one act or omission that is impermissible, and accepts the implications of deontic logic (If A is permissible, then not-A is not-obligatory and A is not forbidden, and so on) is as much of a moral realist as anyone needs to be. Such a person is accepting that there are moral truths, just as there are mathematical truths. Further inquiry into the ontological status of moral qualities is about as useful as arguing about the ontology of number. Unfortunately, the former arguments sound relevant to questions like whether Israel has any obligations in war, while the latter don't.

-Normative argument is possible, which seems to me to refute non-cognitivism. It necessarily involves reasoning from premises the interlocutor grants, but neither party to the argument justifies. But it is no different from any other type of argument in that respect.

-Since normative argument relies on the intuitions of interlocutors, it matters what those intuitions are. Therefore, moral psycholgy is relevant to the most normative of moral philosphies.

-Moral psychology holds out the hope of incremental, scientific progress, so it is a better way for academics to spend their professional time.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Massacre at Qana => War Over: Israel Lost, Hezbollah Won

So says Jonathan Edelstein and the Pithlord has no illusions that he can improve on Edelstein's analysis. Just go read it.