Saturday, November 26, 2005

George Will, arch-Conservative

(Remarks to a friend on the Hillsdale speech copied below.)

Although George Will's general point that ideas are essential is correct (in reforming despotic/backwards countries), he reminds me (and epitomizes to me) of so much that is dangerous about Conservatives. It's no accident, for instance, that he quotes Kant. I've heard other conservatives do the same.

A few years ago Tony Snow had the mike on Limbaugh's show, and went on for 15 minutes on what a great thinker Kant was. This is what passes for deep intellectual thought in Conservative circles. Conservatives will embrace *anything* that enshrines "God" above all else, even to their own demise.

So when Will quotes Kant as saying "a prolonged peace favors the predominance of a mere commercial spirit, and with it a debasing self-interest, cowardice, and effeminacy and tends to degrade the character of the nation", I take it seriously. I don't think it's a chance quote to make another point. I put this together with Will's later point against "materialism" and see a final result (whether Will intended it or not) that is the end of individual rights and the death of the individual in this country. Eventually.

As I said, Conservatives (of the religious ilk, I mean, but they now dominate the breed) will embrace *anything* to enshrine God. That's their overarching principle. Whatever good values they might embrace today (freedom, capitalism, rights) will be tossed aside whenever confronted
with the choice of those ideas -- or faith.

Will is also wrong in saying "one of the mistakes our enemies have made -- and one of the reasons I wish our enemies would study American history to disabuse themselves of some of their grotesque errors -- is their belief that we are squeamish about defending freedom and about the violence of war." I think he is hopelessly naive about where America is right now. He cites examples of WWII, WWI, on back to the Civil War, etc., to "prove" his point that America is a sleeping giant that our enemies will rue ever attacking. (Will's running theme, based on Yamamoto's remark "then what?" in response to the Japanese leadership who asked him to attack Pearl Harbor.)

Will completely misses the sea-change in American culture that has occurred in the last 50 years. While there are good trends offsetting the bad going on, the America of today is *not* the America of December 7, 1941. The Leftist intellectuals have done their work very well in the interim. The American sense of life that Ayn Rand worried so much would be lost is very much on the ropes. In my opinion, something like half the country is no longer American in any important sense. The country is well into the modern equivalent of the Athenian post-classical era (ie, the Hellenistic era).

Ie, post-modernism. The culture is seriously decayed, and most people are bereft of any shred whatsoever of the original animating principles of the Founders. That's what characterized the Hellenistic period, after all. The loss of animating principles. And so the Athenians were conquered. In some important senses, I think the country is well beyond the Hellenistic era in Athens, it was a time (putting it simply) of shallow ideas, but there was still some overarching pride in Athens itself to bind the Athenians (to my reading).

Today, a significant percentage of our country doesn't even have that. The Left has done their job. A significant fraction of the country actually hates it, despises it (epitomized by a negative zero like Ward Churchill) whether it is for capitalism, industrialism, consumerism, etc., or even just for displacing the primitive tribes that once roamed the place. That's why so much of the vocal Left is now actually rooting for our defeat and trumpet every alleged "atrocity" of a terrorist prisoner (like, he didn't get to say his evening prayers to Allah).

So when Will naively suggests that we will all rally 'round the flag if we are attacked, I have to say -- some may; but I doubt it will be much of a rally. I watched what happened after 9/11. I heard people (including my own father) say that it was "our" fault we were attacked. (My father is a *non-* religious conservative in the Nixon mold.) I was in California that day and I saw the reaction of the company employees on the morning of 9/11 -- while a few were in deep shock, the attitude of the rest was almost utter indifference, and even shock when *I* said Iran should be glassified as the source of the disease.

A few days later, when another employee in Boston, of the same company, distributed a company-wide email letter soliciting signatures for a petition along the lines of Rodney King's famous "can't we all just get along?" (yeah, I quote Rodney a lot -- he epitomizes so much of the problem) and expressing sympathy for the *other side*, it was not *he* who was punished, but *me* who was forced to apologize for scaring people by responding in kind with a company-wide email (I hit 'reply to all') calling him a sonofabitch sympathizer of our enemies (a few days after 9/11!), and me who was ultimately fired because of it.

There's Will's spirit that will rally round the flag (my term for his position) if we are attacked. No doubt many will, but many won't.

And it almost certainly will go to WWIII. I don't think the Chamberlain's among us are so powerful that we will just capitulate to any attack, but as I've said before, if we are attacked at the level of mass casualties, as Will suggests, it can go almost nowhere else other than rapid escalation and a flacid response. The Iranians, Chinese, North Koreans, etc, etc, are opportunists, but our military *cannot* fight two or more major wars on multiple fronts without going nuclear.

Hell, under the leadership of the neocons and the cons, we can't even fight and win in one piss-ant pesthole in the Middle East after 4 years and 400 billion dollars of our money being poured down that sewer. So how does Will think we are going to unite and win a global conflagration? Sure, we'll get dragged into it incrementally, but will our political leaders of any stripe use nukes to stop Iran from attacking Israel? North Korea from attacking South Korea? China from invading Taiwan?

Not. Hell, even the Republican-controlled House and Senate voted to kill the development of a nuke to use against *underground* Iranian nuclear sites. How would they ever authorize the use of *above ground* weapons against an enemy? Would the President even use them on his own authority? Not too likely. He won't want to be condemned as a war criminal by the International Criminal Court, or even half the population of our own country.

George Will himself can't even grasp the concept of fascism and that China is a threat -- "We are today engaged in a great race to see if we can integrate China into the community..." He accepts the basic, hopelessly
naive idea of the inevitability of capitalism in turning China into an ally -- even while ostensibly rejecting the inevitability of democracy in turning Iraq into a bastion of enlightenment. That's the "power of ideas" he embraces. Ultimately, a form of hypocritical determinism.

But back to his main point. (I think it's his main point, but his speech rambles like everything else he's ever written.) Ie, his point that America has the resolve to unite and respond to a devastating attack. Do we?

Let's say the WWIII scenario arises. Do we have enough troops to send against either of those places, or, god forbid, to Europe to put down the Muslim hordes who may rise again as they did in France? Even after a nuclear attack on *this* country, I'm not so sure.

What I *am* sure about is that *the greater the attack on us*, the greater will be the cry for restraint on *our part* after a mass-casualty attack. The Left has done their job. Even Will recognizes that "today there are more Marxists on the Harvard faculty than there are in Eastern Europe" -- but he doesn't grasp the implications of that.

That's why I think Will is naive. Hopelessly. He's deluding himself with hope, rather than facts, into thinking we will respond as we did in WWII. The fact is -- we didn't. As many people were lost on 9/11 than in Pearl Harbor -- civilians! In New York City! -- and *a Republican President* took months to decide to go to war -- in Afghanistan, the most pathetic, poorist, beaten-down shithole on the planet! And he couldn't capture the leader of the attack of 9/11 because he stopped -- out of concern of violating the border "rights" of -- Pakistan! Where many of the enemy came from!

There is the *real* resolve. Meanwhile, Bush was condemned and backpedaled faster than a fish getting sucked into a turbopump after our initial wet response was briefly called "Infinite Justice" and after a casual reference to our response as a "crusade" -- out of fear it would create a religious war ("infinite justice" being a term for that, as you know) -- after an attack by religious zealots! It *is* a religious war -- their religion against our survival. (I think one of his earliest responses after the attacks was to say first and foremost what a great religion the Muslims have, that it had only been "hijacked" by a few malcontents, as we've heard time and again since.)

Given all this, we can almost put aside Bush's long slow slide away from that insensitive remark before Congress where he actually referred to the enemy as an "axis of evil" -- How bloody naive can you be!

Meanwhile, in the four years of vacillation in the face of the one enemy he should have nuked, ie, Iran, he's allowed them 4 more years to develop their own nukes (and you may be sure they didn't slow the process in the interim), while *still* playing the pathetic diplomacy game before the U.N. and the weasily Europeans, *even as* the Iranians train and support the terrorists in Iraq killing our people. (And Iran, in my opinion, probably has a nuke by now -- nothing else explains Ahmadinejad's recent behavior.)

All this under a *Republican* administration that *controls both Houses*.

How will we respond to another attack? Sure, they'll do something, but matters could blow up so rapidly over such an extent around the globe that I think within thirty microseconds of the attack the voices of vacillation will drown out any calls for a serious response. (And what would the response be if the Dems are in charge? -- almost certain in the next election, I think.)

Of course, this isn't all Will said. He did try to make the point that
"ideas matter" and are fundamental to instilling freedom, capitalism around the world (though his idea of freedom and capitalism rests on Kant).

But what ideas matter to Will? He quotes the Declaration (guaranteed, religious conservatives always quote the first line of the Declaration) saying people are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights", and he refers to our "God-given natural rights". No accident he inserted that part about "god-given" in there. There is *no idea* that the Conservatives won't preface with "god-given". For them that is the "power of ideas" that Will refers to. Damn them -- I wish *just once* someone would stand up in public and answer those smarmy sanctimonious fools and say "goddamn you, our rights are not 'god-given' and the most rudimentary reading of history shows this country was *not* based on god."

But that's all the ideas that ultimately matter to Will and his ilk. 1.) God. 2.) God. 3.) God. Somewhere near the bottom of his list is "freedom, rights, capitalism, yadayada", which is important to him so long as he doesn't (yet) see a conflict with ideas 1, 2, 3 ad infinitum, and so long as it gives him a means of selling 1, 2, 3, etc.

With this in mind, I interpret his point of the "long, 572-year uphill march from Runnymede to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787." For him, this is the 572 year march to subvert the Renaissance and the Enlightment with Kant while making some kind of uneasy compromise with individual rights.

A lot more could be said. To be sure, Will probably doesn't appreciate all the contradictions in his ideas (I don't think), and would probably be aghast at some of my assertions. But there's the essence of what he is ultimately defending -- a giant contradiction, faith and reason. Which is
why they have embraced Kant as their intellectual mentor. (Never mind Kant was the root of communism!) I would, however, agree with him on this point: "Our enemy has ideas. They are vicious, bad, retrograde, medieval, intolerant, and suicidal ideas, but ideas nevertheless."

I think that's what Will is ultimately defending.
The Doctrine of Preemption
George F. Will, Journalist

George F. Will writes a twice-weekly column that appears in more than 450 newspapers and a biweekly column in Newsweek. He also appears regularly on ABC's This Week on Sunday mornings. In 1977, he won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. He has published seven collections of his columns as well as several other books, including Statecraft as Soulcraft: What Government Does and Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball. Mr. Will was educated at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and at Oxford and Princeton universities, and taught political philosophy at Michigan State and Toronto universities prior to entering journalism.

The following is adapted from a speech delivered on May 23, 2005, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar in Dallas, Texas.

What I will say tonight about the war on terror draws heavily on my earlier life as a professor and student of political philosophy. A long life in journalism and around Washington, D.C., has taught me not just that ideas have consequences, but that only ideas have large and lasting consequences. We are in a war of terror being waged by people who take ideas with lethal seriousness, and we had better take our own ideas seriously as well.

I think the beginning of understanding the war is to understand what happened on 9/11. What happened was that we as a people were summoned back from a holiday from history that we had understandably taken at the end of the Cold War. History is served up to the American people with uncanny arithmetic precision. Almost exactly sixty years passed from the October 1929 collapse of the stock market to the November 1989 crumbling of the Berlin Wall-sixty years of depression, hot war, and cold war, at the end of which the American people said: "Enough, we are not interested in war anymore."

The trouble is, as Trotsky once said, "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you." And this was a war with a new kind of enemy-suicidal, and hence impossible to deter, melding modern science with a kind of religious primitivism. Furthermore, our enemy today has no return address in the way that previous adversaries, be it Nazi Germany or Stalin's Russia, had return addresses. When attacks emanated from Germany or Russia, we could respond militarily or we could put in place a structure of deterrence and containment. Not true with this new lot.

Our enemy today refutes an axiom that has governed international relations for nearly 400 years, since the Peace of Westphalia, when the nation-state system began to emerge in Europe. The axiom was that a nation could only be mortally threatened or seriously wounded by another nation-by massed armies and fleets on the seas, and an economic infrastructure to support both. This is no longer true. It is perfectly clear now that one maniac with a small vial of smallpox spores can kill millions of Americans. That is a guess, but an educated guess based on a U.S. government simulated disaster that started in an Oklahoma shopping center. Smallpox is a strange disease; it has a ten-day incubation period when no one knows they have it. We are mobile people, we fly around, we breathe each other's airplane air. The U.S. government, taking this mobility into account, estimated that in just three weeks, one million Americans in 25 states would die from one outbreak like that.

On the other hand, the enemies who attacked us on 9/11 failed to ask themselves the question, "But then what?" That is the question Admiral Yamamoto asked when the Japanese government summoned him in 1940 and asked him to take a fleet stealthily across the North Pacific and deliver a devastating blow against the American navy at Pearl Harbor. Yamamoto said he could do that if his government would design some shallow running torpedoes and a few other things. He said he could run wild in the Pacific for six months, or maybe a year. But he asked his government, "Then what?" Yamamoto knew America, and he loved America. He studied at Harvard and had been back to the U.S. as a diplomat in Washington. He knew that after Pearl Harbor, Japan would have an enraged, united, incandescent, continental superpower on its hands, and that Japan's ultimate defeat would be implicit in its initial victory. Our current enemies will learn the same thing.

Preemption: Necessary but Problematic

Meanwhile we have worries-and these are not new worries. In 1946, Congress held what are today remembered, by the few who remember such things, as the "Screwdriver Hearings." They summoned J. Robert Oppenheimer, head of the Manhattan Project, and asked him if it would be possible to smuggle an atomic device into New York City and detonate it. Oppenheimer replied that of course it would be possible. Congress then asked how it would be possible to detect such a device. Oppenheimer answered: "With a screwdriver." What he meant was that every container that came into the city of New York would have to be opened and inspected.
This year, seven million seaborn shipping containers will pass through our ports. About five percent will be given cursory examination. About 30,000 trucks crossed our international borders today. If this was a normal day, about 21,000 pounds of cocaine, marijuana, and heroin were smuggled into our country. How hard would it be, then, to smuggle in a football-sized lump of highly enriched uranium sufficient to make a ten-kiloton nuclear weapon to make Manhattan uninhabitable for a hundred years?

To enrich uranium is an enormous, complex process that requires scientists and vast physical plants. But once you have it, making a nuclear weapon requires only two or three good physics graduate students. And there is an enormous amount of fissile material floating around the world. In 1993, some officials from the U.S. Energy Department, along with some Russian colleagues, went to a Soviet-era scientific facility outside Moscow and used bolt cutters to snip off the padlock-the sum of all the security at this place. Inside, they found enough highly enriched uranium for 20 nuclear weapons. In 2002, enough fissile material for three weapons was recovered in a laboratory in a Belgrade suburb. And so it goes. The Soviet Union, in its short and deplorable life, deployed about 22,000 nuclear weapons. Who believes they have all been accounted for? The moral of this story is: you cannot fight terrorism at the ports of Long Beach or Newark. You have to go get it. You have to disrupt terrorism at its sources. This is a gray area. It's a shadow war. But it is not a war that we have any choice but to fight.

This leads us directly to the doctrine of preemption, with which there are several problems. First, we do not yet have-as it has been made painfully clear-the intelligence capacity that a doctrine of preemption really requires. The second problem with preemption is encapsulated in Colin
Powell's famous "Pottery Barn principle," which Mr. Powell explained to the President before the second war with Iraq began: If you break it, you own it. Iraq is broken; we own it for the moment. And we are therefore engaged in nation building.

This is particularly a problem for conservatives, who understand that societies and nations are complex, organic things-not put together and taken apart like Tinker Toys. The phrase "nation building" sounds to many conservatives much the way the phrase "orchid building" would sound. An orchid is a complex, wonderful, beautiful, natural thing, but it is not something that can be built. Conservatives know it took thirty years in this country to rebuild the south Bronx. And now we have taken on a nation to build.

There are those who say that neoconservatives-and most of my friends are neoconservatives, although I am not quite-have exported the impulse for social engineering that conservatives have so rightly criticized over the years at home. There is, of course, an element in this critique of President Bush's policies that echoes in part the contemporary liberal version of isolationism. The old isolationism of the 1920s and 1930s was a conservative isolationism, and it held that America should not go abroad into the world because America is too good for the world. The contemporary liberal brand of isolationism-the Michael Moore view of the world-is that America should not be deeply involved in the world because the world is too good for America. This is not a serious argument, even though seriously held.

The serious argument over nation building is an argument conducted between conservatives of good will with one another. On the one hand, we have a school broadly called the realist school, and on the other hand, there is a school associated with Woodrow Wilson and his crusading zeal for the export of democracy. President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, two intelligent and very good men, have in them a large share of Wilson's crusading messianic spirit, a spirit that is quite natural to America. Once you enunciate a country founded on principles that have universality written in them, as our Declaration of Independence does-i.e., "all men are created equal . . . endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights"-a kind of universal eligibility for these rights is postulated. What the realists remind us is that over time, it is the details that matter.

President Bush has said, in a phrase he got from Ronald Reagan, that it is cultural condescension to say that some people are not ready for democracy. Tony Blair, in July 2003, after the fall of Baghdad, came before a joint session of Congress and gave a wonderful, generous, good ally speech, in which he said that it is a "myth" that our values are simply "Western values," or simply a product of our culture. Our principles, he said, are "universal," embraced by all "ordinary people." The problem is that this belief-that every person is at heart a Jeffersonian Democrat, that all the masses of the world are ready for democracy-might lead you not to plan very carefully for post-war nation building. If this is true, then nation building should be a snap, because everyone is ready for democracy.

Realists know better. They know there was a long, 572-year uphill march from Runnymede to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. Even more sobering, our Constitutional Convention was followed in less than 75 years by the bloodiest Civil War the world had ever seen, to settle some leftover constitutional questions. We know from our history how difficult regime change is. When the president speaks of regime change, he is using a term from Aristotle. For Aristotle, changing a regime did not mean substituting a
few public officials for other public officials. For Aristotle, a regime meant the habits, mores, customs, dispositions, public philosophy, and culture of politics that sustain public institutions. Therefore, regime change is statecraft and soulcraft; it is changing the temperament of a people. It is very complicated.

Major League Baseball managers often say in spring training that they are just two players away from a World Series. Unfortunately, the two players are Ruth and Gehrig. Likewise, Iraq is just four statesmen away from sturdy constitutionalism. All they need is a George Washington, a charismatic figure to unify the nation; a James Madison, a genius of constitutional architecture; an Alexander Hamilton, who can create from whole cloth a functioning economy; and a John Marshall, a jurist who knows how to change a constitution from words on parchment into a breathing, functioning document. Most of all, of course, they need the astonishingly rich social soil of America in the second half of the 18th century from which Washington, Madison, Hamilton and Marshall sprang. All of which is to say that Iraq may not be close to constitutional democracy just yet.

The Miracle of America

I say this not to disparage the Iraqi people but to increase our appreciation of what a miracle the United States is. John Adams said that the American Revolution was accomplished before the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Everyone used to learn-we do not learn these things anymore-Emerson's great poem about the battle of Concord's bridge: "by the rude bridge that arched the flood/their flag to April's breeze unfurled/here once the embattled farmers stood/and fired the shot heard round the world." But before that shot was fired, according to John Adams, independence had already been accomplished, because the spirit of independence was in the
hearts and minds of the American people, a people prepared to shed blood in defense of their God-given natural rights.

One of the mistakes our enemies have made-and one of the reasons I wish our enemies would study American history to disabuse themselves of some of their grotesque errors-is their belief that we are squeamish about defending freedom and about the violence of war. They persist in the assumption that we are casualty averse. Osama Bin Laden said as much after the Somalia debacle when President Clinton, after suffering some casualties, immediately withdrew American forces. Whether or not we should have been in Somalia is another matter, but the means by which we left Somalia clearly convinced our enemies that we were paper tigers. People have been making that mistake since General Howe made it in the Battle of Brooklyn Heights in the Revolutionary War. He chased us across the East River and figured that was that. It was said again after the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862-up to that day the bloodiest day in American history. Many observers thought the North would sue for accommodation and, in the words of Horace Greeley, let our erring sisters go in peace. It did not turn out that way.

A few days after Shiloh, some men were seen on the still corpse-strewn fields of northern Maryland, men carrying strange devices. They were from Mathew Brady's photography studio in New York, and they took pictures. Three months later, these photos became an exhibit of devastating impact in Manhattan called "The Dead of Antietam." It was the first time graphic journalism had brought the real face of war to a democratic public. And it raised the question that to this day affects us and troubles political leaders: Does graphic journalism-first photography and then, of course, television-that brings war into our living rooms, in real time, cause nations to crack when they see the real face of battle?

The First World War produced the worst carnage the world had ever seen, but not once during the war did a picture of a dead Brit or dead Frenchman or dead German or dead American soldier appear in a newspaper of any of those countries. In the Second World War, the first picture of an American soldier dead in the surf in the Pacific did not appear in Life magazine until it had been held up in the War Department (as the Pentagon was then known) for nine months. The war in Vietnam produced more anxiety about graphic journalism, where it was suggested that in fact it was television that caused the American will to break. In fact, the American will never broke-but that is another matter. This has been a constant recurring anxiety in America, as Winston Churchill could have told us-and in fact did tell us when he came to North America immediately after Pearl Harbor. Churchill gave a speech in which he said, "We have not journeyed all this way across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy." No, we are not. We are much tougher than our enemies understand.

Character and the Power of Ideas

One hundred years ago, people believed not only that war was inevitable, but that war was good for us. Without it, they thought, we would have to look for strenuous domestic challenges that would be the moral equivalent of war- something elevating that would pull us out of ourselves and into great collective endeavors as war does. Tocqueville said, "war almost always enlarges the thought of a people and elevates its heart." Stravinsky, the great composer, said war is "necessary for human progress." All of these men echoed Immanuel Kant, who said "a prolonged peace favors the predominance of a mere commercial spirit, and with it a debasing self-interest, cowardice, and effeminacy and tends to degrade the character
of the nation."

There is much to be said for the commercial spirit, because the commercial spirit is a civilizing spirit. It is a spirit conducive to cooperation among peoples and within a political community. We are today engaged in a great race to see if we can integrate China into the community of nations with less catastrophic violence then that which accompanied the attempt 100 years ago to integrate the newly muscular and buoyant and dynamic nation of Germany into the community of nations. In the 33 years since President Nixon went to China in 1972, Republicans and Democrats alike have followed the same national policy, which holds that if we can only suffuse China with the commercial spirit, it can be tranquilized and made civilized. The reason for believing this is that commerce, entrepreneurship, and all the various elements of capitalism form an enveloping, civilizing culture.

Capitalism requires the diffusion of decision-making and the diffusion of information. Capitalism requires contracts-a culture of promise-keeping enforced by the judicial system. It requires banks to make self-interested, calculated, and rational allocations of wealth and opportunity. It sublimates the troublesome passions of mankind into improving the material well-being of people. It is for this reason that what we want to do with the fever swamps of the Middle East that produce our enemies is to try and drain those swamps and bring to them enterprise cultures. It is altogether right that Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the war against Iraq, is now going to the World Bank where he can try and help the next stage of development, which is to spread the commercial spirit. In some ways, this is the American spirit.

On the other hand, as Tocqueville warned us, if a people is only concerned with material well-being, only concerned with commercialism, they lack
something-they lack the heights of nobility and character and aspiration. But first things first: get people into this enveloping culture of capitalism. Nor is this to say that we Americans are a materialist people. The stupidest political slogan I have heard in three-and-a-half decades in Washington was the Clinton slogan in 1992, "It's the economy, stupid." The American people almost never vote their pocketbook as is commonly said, and almost never vote merely on economics. We are a much more morally serious and complicated people than that.

In the 1790s, our party system began to coalesce with, on the one hand, Jefferson advocating a sturdy yeoman republic, a static society of the kind he lived in, and, on the other hand, Hamilton urging a speculative, entrepreneurial society with a system of credit, a dynamic urban society. Hamilton's "Report on Manufactures" was obviously couched in economic terms, but it was not about economics at all. It was about national character and what kind of people we would be. Later, Andrew Jackson defined modern democratic populist politics with his attack on the Bank of the United States. It was not about a bank; it was about morality. He argued that speculators earn their dishonest living through banks. Jackson did not understand much about the modern world or capitalism, but he held that people who earn their living that way are bad people. He thought it was bad for the soul. And throughout our history it has not mattered whether we were arguing about abolitionism, immigration, prohibition or desegregation. All of the great arguments that have roiled American politics over the years have not been pocketbook issues. They have been about the soul of the country and what kind of people we would be.

Well, the kind of people we are is a people who rise to the challenge of the new kind of enemy we have today. Our enemy has ideas. They are vicious, bad, retrograde, medieval, intolerant, and suicidal ideas, but ideas nevertheless. And we oppose them with the great ideas of freedom and democracy, which America has defined better than anyone in the world. And we turn to these people with an energy they could not have counted on. Edward Grey once said, "The United States is like a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it, there is no limit to the power it can generate." And these enemies improvidently lit a fire under us.

We have done this before. In September 1942, General Les McGraw of the Army Corps of Engineers bought for the government about 90,000 acres of Tennessee wilderness. There was nothing there-no roads, no towns, nothing. It was along the Clinch River, in eastern Tennessee, not far from Knoxville. But very soon there were streets and shops and schools and homes and some of the finest physics labs the world had ever seen. And 35 months later, on a desert in New Mexico, there was a flash brighter than a thousand suns and the atomic age began. Thirty-five months from wilderness to Alamogordo. That is what America does when aroused, because, as I say, we are not made of sugar candy.

Today we are the legatees of all the giants on whose shoulders we stand. We live in circumstances our parents did not live in, or our grandparents. We live in a time in which there is no rival model to the American model for how to run a modern industrial commercial society. Socialism is gone. Fascism is gone. Al-Qaeda has no rival model about how to run a modern society. Al-Qaeda has a howl of rage against the idea of modernity. We began in 1945 an astonishingly clear social experiment: We divided the city of Berlin, the country of Germany, the continent of Europe, indeed the whole world, and we had a test. On one side was the socialist model that says that society is best run by edicts, issued from a coterie of experts from above.

The American model, on the other hand, called for a maximum dispersal of decision-making and information markets allocating wealth and opportunity. The results are clear: We are here, they are not. The Soviet Union tried for 70 years to plant Marxism with bayonets in Eastern Europe. Today there are more Marxists on the Harvard faculty than there are in Eastern Europe.

We must struggle today with the fact that the doctrine of preemption is necessary, and with the serious problems it entails. But what we must have overall is the confidence that our ideas are right. I grew up in Lincoln country and I am reminded that in 1859, with war clouds lowering over the country, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech at the Wisconsin State Fair. In the course of this speech, Lincoln told the story of an Eastern despot who summoned his wise men and gave them an assignment. Go away and think, he said, and come back and give me a proposition to be carved in stone to be forever in view and forever true. The wise men went away and came back some days later, and the proposition they gave to him was: "And this, too, shall pass away." Lincoln said: perhaps not. If we Americans cultivate our inner lives and our moral selves as industriously and productively as we cultivate the material world around us, he said, then perhaps we of all peoples can long endure. He was right. We have and we shall persevere, in no small measure because of the plucky brand of people, true to these ideas, such as those that have formed around the college we here celebrate tonight.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

More CO2 Now Than Past 650K Years

A letter to the NY Times:

"Study: More CO2 Now Than Past 650K Years"

How can AP class this as a news story? Consider these excerpts:
"By analyzing tiny air bubbles preserved in Antarctic ice for millennia, a team
of European researchers highlights how people are dramatically influencing the
buildup of these gases."
"The remarkable research promises to ..."
"Those measurements are disturbing: Levels of carbon dioxide have climbed from
280 parts per million two centuries ago to 380 ppm today. ...
"Skeptics sometimes dismiss the rise in greenhouse gases as part of a naturally
fluctuating cycle. The new study provides ever-more definitive evidence
countering that view, however."
The first paragraph is a breathless introduction more suited to a fiction writer than reporter, and the second paragraph is not even barely contained glee packaged with obvious agreement between reporter and study. (Or should I say, publicist and study.)

The third paragraph also starts out with a normative statement, but one even more biased than the first: it is a clear statement of the "reporter's" judgement that the levels are "disturbing". This is not a fact, but his assessment of the fact.

The fourth paragraph is an open slam again the skeptics, and takes the new "study" as gospel for refuting the skeptics.

Is AP in the news business or in the "news" business? Make up your mind. This is the sort of "reporting" that used to be found in Soviet "Pravda". ("Pravda" = truth, unless you were living in Soviet Russia, which case it meant the opposite.)

If you want to really be objective, rather than pretending to be, do a story on what the *skeptics* say about this study. I think you will find that the study itself is even more non-objective than AP.

Study: More CO2 Now Than Past 650K Years
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: November 24, 2005
Filed at 6:01 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today than at any point during the last 650,000 years, says a major new study that let scientists peer back in time at ''greenhouse gases'' that can help fuel global warming.

By analyzing tiny air bubbles preserved in Antarctic ice for millennia, a team of European researchers highlights how people are dramatically influencing the buildup of these gases.

The remarkable research promises to spur ''dramatically improved understanding'' of climate change, said geosciences specialist Edward Brook of Oregon State University.

The study, by the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica, is published Friday in the journal Science.

Today, scientists directly measure levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which accumulate in the atmosphere as a result of fuel-burning and other processes. Those gases help trap solar heat, like the greenhouses for which they are named, resulting in a gradual warming of the planet.

Those measurements are disturbing: Levels of carbon dioxide have climbed from 280 parts per million two centuries ago to 380 ppm today. Earth's average temperature, meanwhile, increased about 1 degree Fahrenheit in recent decades, a relatively rapid rise. Many climate specialists warn that continued warming could have severe impacts, such as rising sea levels and changing rainfall patterns.

Skeptics sometimes dismiss the rise in greenhouse gases as part of a naturally fluctuating cycle. The new study provides ever-more definitive evidence countering that view, however.

Deep Antarctic ice encases tiny air bubbles formed when snowflakes fell over hundreds of thousands of years. Extracting the air allows a direct measurement of the atmosphere at past points in time, to determine the naturally fluctuating range.

A previous ice-core sample had traced greenhouse gases back about 440,000 years. This new sample, from East Antarctica, goes 210,000 years further back in time.

Today's still rising level of carbon dioxide already is 27 percent higher than its peak during all those millennia, said lead researcher Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern, Switzerland.

''We are out of that natural range today,'' he said.

Moreover, that rise is occurring at a speed that ''is over a factor of a hundred faster than anything we are seeing in the natural cycles,'' Stocker added. ''It puts the present changes in context.''

The team, which included scientists from France and Germany, found similar results for methane, another greenhouse gas.

Researchers also compared the gas levels to the Antarctic temperature over that time period, covering eight cycles of alternating glacial or ice ages and warm periods. They found a stable pattern: Lower levels of gases during cold periods and higher levels during warm periods.

The bottom line: ''There's no natural condition that we know about in a really long time where the greenhouse gas levels were anywhere near what they are now. And these studies tell us that there's a strong relationship between temperature and greenhouse gases,'' explained Oregon State's Brook. ''Which logically leads you to the conclusion that maybe we should worry about temperature change in the future.''

A lengthening history of greenhouse gas concentrations should help climate specialists build better models about what the future might bring, Stocker said. It also may help answer additional questions such as how long ago humans started influencing greenhouse gas accumulations, and what impact other factors such as ocean currents play in the complexities of climate change.

Just a decade ago, scientists weren't sure it was possible to trace greenhouse gas concentrations back so far in ice. Now, Brook is part of another international research team preparing to hunt an ice-core sample dating back a million years or more, hoping to reach eras when Earth's temperature was significantly warmer.


On the Web:


Sunday, November 6, 2005

Government Surveillance

(to a friend, in response to his letter following this, and my letter at bottom.)

Generally, I agree with what you write below. So long as individual rights are protected -- and especially, in the context of surveillance, property rights -- I see no inherent problem in "surveillance". Where property rights are involved, search warrants are appropriate (the 1964 Supreme Court decision requiring them for wiretaps was correct, I think). This would apply to any kind of internet monitering from a private ISP. Of course, some valid standard for granting the warrant and the scope and extent of the electronic "search" must be established. I'm of mixed opinion on what that should be, but it's a fine point.

In the case of the internet, if an ISP was required to allow federal monitering of all its traffic, I think you can reasonably say that any information passing through is the ISP's property, in lieu of an agreement with subscribers otherwise, so the Feds should be able to legally moniter all of it. But what if there was some agreement that said the ISP was merely the "agent" of the information transmittal? There must be some case law applicable to "agents". I suspect a slightly more stringent standard for what can be monitered and what can't be monitered might apply, but in essence the agent would be regarded as the defacto property "owner" of the information while the information was on its system, so the monitering of all traffic could still be done. (And, how could there be an explicit assumption that the ISP is an agent? Most traffic comes from people the ISP doesn't even know (or whatever you call all those who route internet traffic). So in that case, I would say the ISP is responsible for whatever is going through their portal, and the warrant could examine anything.

As a side note, right now the ISPs / routers of internet traffic legitimately don't want to be subject to criminal prosecution for traffic through their servers. Some DA's have abused their power in that regard. I think a law that said an ISP is responsible t submit to a search warrant of all traffic on their systems is valid, but not a law that allows the ISP to be charged as an accomplice, merely for the information flow. This would put a break on abusive DAs. But again, this is a fine point of the law that could easily be resolved in some kind of objective society -- limit the power of the DA to charge an ISP with a crime (unless he actually has evidence the ISP is truly complicit in an illegality), but allow a search warrant to moniter all traffic if there is reasonable basis for assuming criminal activity passing through.

When property rights aren't involved, I think the standard of "in the public domain" (my term, cause I'm not a lawyer) is all that's required. For instance, if some damn fool is in his living room printing counterfeit money and the cops take a picture through his window of him doing it, I don't think a warrant should have been required. (Currently, I think the courts recently ruled otherwise for a guy growing pot in his living room.) Or if some idiot terrorist is using his own wireless network at home, I think whatever is out on the airwaves should be free for anyone else to decode. The burden is on the guy to do his own encryption. (Unfortunately, this, too has been attacked by the courts or by Congress -- for instance, it's now a federal crime to log in to a neighbor's wireless network, or to decode his transmissions, even if they are coming into your own home.)

The law is just a total hodge-podge of inconsistency. But to answer your question of "who watches the watcher", I think it comes down to the original system of the courts -- they grant the search warrants and suit may be filed by defendents, etc. I don't know how else it could be done. But it damn sure shouldn't be left to the arbitrary discretion of the cops.

Some of this ties into your other comment of how the Constitution could have been written to prevent the relativists / statists from distorting original intent. While I think the Constitution could have been better written to prevent some of the corruption we've suffered (most famously, the corruptions allowed by the Commerce Clause), at some point, no amount of better phrasing or additional prohibitions against government abuse will make any difference if the culture at large doesn't hold the right philosophy. (Leonard made this point once, I think.) There's got to be the philosophic foundation for a culture to sustain itself.

For instance, if everyone in this country was a commie and they couldn't distort the Constitution to their liking, they would just make up a new constitution, and damn the one we have. Hell, that's almost what's happened already.

In that sense, I compare this period in the history of the United States to the post-Classical Hellenistic period of ancient Greece, when there was a total loss of the original ideals of Athens, and the culture spiraled into a decline that left it philosophically bankrupt, constantly engaged in internecine warfare devoid of overarching principles, bereft of any original, creative art (always a key symptom of cultural decline), and ultimately defeated by the Macedonians, and reduced to the second-rate status of "losers".

On the other hand, maybe the more common comparison to the decline and fall of Rome is also appropriate. For one, we face a return to the barbarisms of the Dark Ages if we allow the decline of this country and the ascendency of the Muslim world to continue. Look at France today (literally, today): it's rather like the sacking of the Visigoths. And like the Romans, the French have no clue how to defend their culture against the barbarians. (In some ways I prefer the Greek comparison cause the Greeks actually believed in something philosophical in their classical period; the Romans didn't to nearly the same extent. But the Visigoth comparison is surely apt.)

-----Original Message-----
From: Steve
Sent: Sunday, November 06, 2005 1:01 PM
Subject: Re: New Law Fuels Technology-Government Clash

In principle, I see no inherent "civil liberties" issue regarding government surveillance, it is a valid form of the "cop on the beat". The idea that the "privacy" of an act automatically precludes a goverment from protecting its citizens is a prescription for all sorts of disasters, and an immoral dereliction of duty. Can't it just gather info without any further action on their part? A rational culture, which presumes a rational goverment, has no fear of protection by its fellow citizens who are officials.

I don't see how someone who is breaking the law (assuming it is designed to protect and not infringe, on Individual rights), in effect declaring himself an "out"law, can then turnaround and invoke law to protect him against prosecution. Is the proper role of goverment only to wait for "crimes" to happen, or can it stop it from total fruition by interceding in the process of commission?

Now the above raises the issue of "if you don't know of any criminal acts in process", how can you validly claim the necessity to monitor or survey a particular individual or group? When does a "hunch" become a "suspicion"? And what actions of an official gave him a reason to "hunch" in the first place? How does an official legitimately gather info, of any kind and in any way, during the "actionline" of a citizens life? What are the actions that portend a criminal act in the making? What is it that an official "reacts to"? When doesn't he "initiate" actions?

This is all such a big deal today because we are in -
1) a situation where special-interest groups are engaging in a legalised civil war that demands one-upmanship
2) a culture that has no respect for, even knowledge of, Individual rights and so everyone of these groups are scared of the others. They know the sky is the limit for their antagonists in power.

We are in a process of disintegration through internal balkanization thanks to a Constitution that isn't explicit enough in absolutely protecting Individual Rights against the onslaught of relativism. We are in a process of suicide thanks to a generation of politicians who couldn't defend their daughters much less their country, against the onslaught of killers who explicitly and publicly state their intentions. It all depends on "what is, is" and so they invoke phony rights with the idea of not offending those who wish to kill them, coupled with not invoking their fundamental and absolute right of self-preservation.

It has become so bad today that the issue is not one of "Who watches the Watcher?", but just, "What Watcher?".

----- Original Message -----
From: Robb
Sent: Sunday, November 06, 2005 10:36 AM
Subject: New Law Fuels Technology-Government Clash

Speak of the devil...

"Today, this tug of war is playing out over the Federal Communications Commission's demands that a phone-wiretapping law be extended to voice-over-Internet services and broadband networks."

This was also news to me:

"(The FBI eventually dropped Carnivore in favor of commercial software; frequent cooperation from Internet service providers often made the technology unnecessary anyway.)"

"Now the communications network is built to be wiretap-ready, so you don't need Carnivore anymore. It's just intrinsic to the system.";_ylt=A86.I1BAQ25D6WQBlAes0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3cjE0b2MwBHNlYwM3Mzg-

New Law Fuels Technology-Government Clash

By BRIAN BERGSTEIN, AP Technology Writer
Sat Nov 5,12:56 PM ET

BOSTON - A new method of communicating is creating intriguing services that beat old ways of sending information. But law enforcement makes a somber claim: These new networks will become a boon to criminals and terrorists unless the government can easily listen in. This was the story line in the mid-1990s when the Clinton administration sought to have electronic communications encrypted only by a National Security Agency-developed "Clipper Chip," for which the feds would have a key.

The Clipper Chip eventually went the way of clipper ships after industry balked and researchers showed its cryptographic approach was flawed anyway. But while the Clipper Chip died, the dilemma it illuminated remains.

With each new advance in communications, the government wants the same level of snooping power that authorities have exercised over phone conversations for a century. Technologists recoil, accusing the government of micromanaging - and potentially limiting - innovation.

Today, this tug of war is playing out over the Federal Communications Commission's demands that a phone-wiretapping law be extended to voice-over-Internet services and broadband networks.

Opponents are trying to block the ruling on various grounds: that it goes beyond the original scope of the law, that it will force network owners to make complicated changes at their own expense, or that it will have questionable value in improving security.

No matter who wins the battle over this law - the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, known as CALEA - this probably won't be the last time authorities raise hackles by seeking a bird's eye view over the freewheeling information flow created by new technology.

Authorities are justified in trying to reduce the ways that technology helps dangerous people operate in the shadows, said Daniel Solove, author of "The Digital Person." But a parallel concern is that technology can end up increasing the government's surveillance power rather than just maintaining it.

"We have to ask ourselves anew the larger question: What surveillance power should the government have?" said Solove, an assistant professor at George Washington University Law School. "And to what extent should the government be allowed to manage the development of technology to embody its surveillance capability?"

Wiretapping - so named because eavesdropping police placed metal clips on the analog wires that carried conversations - has a complex legal history.

A 1928 case, Olmstead v. United States, legitimized the practice, when the Supreme Court ruled it was acceptable for police to monitor the private calls of a suspected bootlegger.

Behind that 5-4 ruling, however, a seminal debate was raging. The dissenting opinion by Justice Louis Brandeis argued, among other things, that the government had no right to open someone's mail, so why should a phone - or other technologies that might emerge - carry different expectations about privacy?

In 1967, as the dawn of the digital age was fulfilling Brandeis' fears that other forms of technological eavesdropping would become possible, the Supreme Court reversed Olmstead. After that, authorities had to get a search warrant before setting wiretaps, even on public payphones.

That apparently hasn't been much of a hindrance.

State and federal authorities have had 30,975 wiretap requests authorized since 1968, with only 30 rejections, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Some 1,710 wiretaps were authorized last year, the most ever, with zero denied.

Since 1980, authorities also have been able to set secret wiretaps with the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which privacy watchdogs say requires a lower standard of evidence than the general warrant process. For the first two decades FISA orders numbered less than 1,000 annually; 2003 and 2004 each saw more than 1,700. Only four FISA applications have been rejected, all in 2003.

But technology began to pose obstacles in the 1980s, as old-fashioned telephone networks were giving way to digital switching systems that could also transmit information. Suddenly some wiretaps had to become virtual, using "packet sniffing" programs that spy on the splintered packets of data that make up network traffic.

Congress passed CALEA in 1994, requiring telecom carriers to ensure that their networks left it relatively easy for law enforcement to set wiretaps. The law applied to landline and cell phone networks but essentially exempted the Internet.

Of course, at the time, federal officials were advocating use of the Clipper Chip to ensure that bad guys couldn't hide by encrypting their online traffic.

The FBI also was developing Carnivore, a program that agents could tailor to grab specific e-mails and other Internet communications defined in a court order. (The FBI eventually dropped Carnivore in favor of commercial software; frequent cooperation from Internet service providers often made the technology unnecessary anyway.)

And all the while the NSA was harvesting the fruits of a system called Echelon, intercepting millions of international telephone calls and feeding them into the agency's humungous maw for analysis.

Justifiably or not, each of these steps unsettled privacy activists. And it is that unease that colors the current fight over expanding CALEA's reach to new services such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) by 2007. The FCC says the move is critical because converting voice calls into data packets essentially replaces the old phone system. VoIP services are expected to attain some 4 million U.S. subscribers by the end of this year.

"CALEA in a sense is the culmination of where we've been," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the technology and liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union. "Now the communications network is built to be wiretap-ready, so you don't need Carnivore anymore. It's just intrinsic to the system."

Clipper Chip objectors a decade ago contended that in addition to being an onerous demand, the technology could be foiled, rendering it pointless.

Similarly, critics of expanding CALEA to broadband networks say the cost of rewiring - estimated as high as $7 billion for universities alone - is excessive. Those against expanding it to VoIP say it leaves too many holes to be effective.

For example, Internet phone services such as Vonage that can route calls to regular phones will be expected to support CALEA. But "peer-to-peer" VoIP services and instant-messaging programs that carry voice conversations from one computer to another are exempt - at least for now.

"If you take the argument to its extreme, every kind of Internet application, including (file-transfer programs) and Web browsing, is capable of transmitting communications. So where does it end?" said Glenn Manishin, an attorney with Kelley Drye & Warren LLP who has handled telecom regulation cases for companies and consumer groups. "Do they now have to have a back door into every Web browser?"

Plus, overseas services aren't covered by the U.S. law. Nor can it touch any home-grown Internet voice programs that serious criminals could develop.

"For the past two years, law enforcement has been saying, `If we just had CALEA we'd catch all the terrorists,'" said John Morris, director of Internet standards, technology and policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology. "Well, if they're sophisticated enough to evade all of our intelligence capabilities, they'll be sophisticated enough not to use a CALEA-compliant phone service."

CALEA critics also say authorities haven't shown that existing monitoring methods are so weak as to justify costly new back doors for government.

Indeed, while they are not nearly as common as phone surveillance, computer wiretaps have been successful even without the extra assistance CALEA might provide. For example, a 2003 report by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts explained how surveillance on a DSL high-speed Internet line in Minnesota intercepted 141,420 "computer messages" in three weeks, aiding a racketeering investigation.

If there's one thing widely agreed upon in this debate, it's that Congress could do well to step in.

Not only could lawmakers clarify how much of CALEA ought to apply to the Internet, but they might also reconsider the overarching Electronic Communications Privacy Act. That was passed in 1986, well before the Internet became the vast commercial and personal medium that redefined our categories of information.

"That pervades CALEA and everything we talk about," Solove said. "This is something that Congress has been very derelict in addressing."