Blargh Blog

Monday, January 23, 2006


A month ago, I wrote about a study, "Narrow-Tent Democrats and Fringe Others: The Policy Views of Social Science Professors", which purported to show that Democrats in academia have a narrower tent than Republicans in academia. My argument, which I found convincing, was that it showed nothing of the sort. The first author of that study, Dan Klein, has posted a response to criticisms from the Volokh Conspiracy comments, some of which are similar to my argument. The crux of his response: "I really don’t see anything about the 18 questions that would deflate the diversity of the Dems or puff it up for the Repubs. Think about it, very few Dems really favor free enterprise and all favor redist/welfare state/protect the weak type policies." Unsurprisingly, I remain unconvinced.

In the comments, I level a more basic criticism against their results: their methodology can't support the kinds of conclusions that they're trying to draw. Obviously, the variance of Democrats' and Republicans' responses to a set of questions depends on what questions you ask. So, if you want the variance to tell you something meaningful, you need to have some systematic way of selecting what questions to ask, and you have to be able to argue that your procedure for selecting questions is a reliable and fair way to investigate the issue that you're interested in. Klein and Stern did not have any method at all for selecting questions. They just made them up. They also did not present any evidence, beyond the variance of responses to their 18 questions, to support their claims that the amount of diversity of opinion among Democratic academics was 1) less than is desirable, or 2) a result of a "party line" or "narrow tent" which enforces conformity.

Follow the links if you're interested in reading more. (Duh.)

More recently, I posted answers to Welch's and Sandefur's questions. Welch has a summary of the responses to his questions here. I score a 7.5 out of 10 on the libertarian-like-Welch scale by his count (a 7.0 by my count), ranking 6th most libertarian-like-Welch out of 15 responders, a surprisingly high ranking given that I am not, in fact, a libertarian. The answers to Sandefur's ten questions are collected here, and he gives his take on the questions and the various answers here.

Sandefur quotes me approvingly in response to question 4 ("Precisely what (if anything) do you propose the United States do about the Iranian nuclear weapons program?"), so I should point out that I'm not entirely in agreement with what he said. After criticizing two versions of the answer "Nothing", he writes:
An infinitely more reasonable position is taken by Blargh Blog: “We should try to stop Iran from getting nukes without getting into a war with them. Give me a year and the highest level of security clearance and I might be capable of proposing precise methods.” Exactly. If we all had the right information, we would all be in a position to solve this problem. And, of course, we ought to avoid a war with Iran if it is at all possible. But we must do something. “Peace is not secured by praising its virtues,” as Churchill said. Certainly it is not secured by allowing thugs with an avowed mission of making war on free and law abiding peoples to arm themselves with nuclear weapons.
Flattering, no? Let me deflate that and emphasize my ignorance. What should we do about Iran's nuclear program? I don't know. I expect that that year of study would do me more good than that security clearance, and I should stress that might. If we had the right information, would we be able to deal with this problem? I don't know. Will it be possible to both 1) stop Iran from getting nukes and 2) not get into a war with them? I don't know. If Iran is really set on getting nukes, then it's not clear that we could stop them with anything short of war (though of course there are plenty of things we can try). If it comes down to the choice of war or Iranian nukes, I think that I'd prefer that they get the bomb. Fewer expected deaths that way, I reckon. Sandefur seems to prefer the other horn, possibly because he thinks it's likely that they'd use the nukes once they got 'em. (Of course, there's a benefit in having Iran think that we're willing to go to war to stop them from getting nuclear weapons, but I'm not in the business of creating impressions within the Iranian government.) I should also add that there may be other unpalatable horns to this "multilemma" which I might not prefer to either of the original two (like if Iran was only willing to halt its nuclear program if we paid them $1 trillion/year, indefinitely).

Again, follow the links as interested, and, if you like controversy, these other links take you through the drama that unfolded at Positive Liberty over Sandefur's questions and answers (note: I was a participant in said drama, not an observer).


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

20 Answers to 10 Questions

Okay, now that that's behind me, on to those questions. First, the Welch ten, which are all yes/no hypotheticals intended to narrow down the overriding question "How far is too far in the War on Terror?" I'm not a pro-war libertarian (for a quick label, I'd pick something like "anti-war progressive" or "liberal opposed to the Iraq war"), but here I go anyways.

1) Should the National Security Agency or CIA have the ability to monitor domestic phone calls or e-mails without obtaining judicial approval?


2) Should the government have the ability to hold an American citizen without charge, indefinitely, without access to a lawyer, if he is believed to be part of a terrorist cell?


3) Can you imagine a situation in which the government would be justified in waterboarding an American citizen?

As in "well, I can imagine an evil demon..."? Then "yes". (This seems to be Sandefur's interpretation.) There even exists a possible world not all that remote from our own with a situation in which such waterboarding could be justified. But in the actual world, I am not aware of there being any situations that bear much resemblance to one where waterboarding would be justified.

4) Are there American journalists who should be investigated for possible treason? Should Sedition laws be re-introduced?

Again, there are two interpretations. If J is the set of all Americans who are journalists, and T is the set of all Americans who have done something suspicious enough to warrant an investigation for treason, then do you think that it is likely that the intersection of J and T is non-empty? This appears to be Sandefur's interpretation, and he says "Yes." Even under that interpretation I say "probably not" (since the set T is so tiny). Under the alternative interpretation, which asks whether any American journalists have done anything as journalists to warrant such an investigation, I say no. I agree with Sandefur that the answer to the second question, on Sedition laws, is "No".

5) Should the CIA be able to legally assassinate people in countries with which the U.S. is not at war?

Only with the consent of the host country, and even that may not be enough (it's the "legally" that I'm not sure about).

6) Should anti-terrorism cops be given every single law-enforcement tool available in non-terrorist cases?

Like Sandefur, I'm not sure what Welch is getting at here. Why not?

7) Should law enforcement be able to seize the property of a suspected (though not charged) American terrorist, and then sell it?


8) Should the U.S. military be tasked with enforcing domestic crime?


9) Should there be a national I.D. card, and should it be made available to law enforcement on demand?

"Possibly" for the first part and "No" for the second.

10) Should a higher percentage of national security-related activities and documents be made classified, and kept from the eyes of the Congress, the courts, and the public?


Now, on to the ten Sandefur-based questions that the first bunch spawned. Unlike Welch, Sandefur did not organize his questions around a single overriding question, and he did not limit himself to yes/no questions, so I apologize if some of my responses seem overly abbreviated. Blame finite time and limited expertise.

1) When, if ever, is preemptive war is justified?

Right at the top, an essay question: defend a theory of preemptive war. Here's a sketch of an answer, which I'm not entirely confident in. In general, a preemptive war against a country is justified when 1) there is strong evidence that they are on the verge of attacking you or some other country worth defending, 2) their attack would cause significant damage, 3) there are no promising alternatives to preemptive war (where an alternative's promise depends on what it is, its chances of working to prevent the attack, and the chances that it will allow the country to attack before you can preempt them), and 4) your preemptive war is likely to be successful (with its success depending on factors like reducing the damage caused by the conflict and preventing countries from being conquered or destroyed).

There are other cases where violence can be justified against a country that has not initiated an attack (such as enforcing really important treaties or sanctions), but they are either not preemptive or not war.

2) When, if ever, is the United States justified in removing a foreign dictator from power?

- When the dictator is in the process of doing awful things (e.g. genocide, conquest)

- When the dictator has recently seized power against the will of the people of the country (though the US should generally not be making this determination on its own)

- When a legitimate international authority has used the proper procedures to determine that the removal is justified

I'm sure there are others.

3) Do you agree with the position—recently quoted approvingly on this blog by Dr. Kuznicki—that Islamic terrorism is not a serious threat, but a hobgoblin used by the Bush Administration to increase its authority?

This question, like asking if I believe that Dr. Kuznicki should stop beating his wife, is wrong on so many levels. Yes, terrorism is a serious threat. Yes, Bush is using terrorism to increase his authority, deflect and delegitimize criticism of policies that violate other important values, and justify actions that have little to do with reducing the threat of terrorism. No, the person who Kuznicki quoted approvingly did not deny that Islamic terrorism was a serious threat. He challenged the Bush Administration for portraying terrorism as an "extreme and unprecedented threat" of an "incomparably powerful enemy on the precipice of destroying us" which puts our civilization's "very existence ... in imminent jeopardy." No, Islamic terrorism is not that serious of a threat.

4) Precisely what (if anything) do you propose the United States do about the Iranian nuclear weapons program?

We should try to stop Iran from getting nukes without getting into a war with them. Give me a year and the highest level of security clearance and I might be capable of proposing precise methods.

5) Do you believe that the United States should defend Israel, either militarily, by the sale of arms, or in other ways (please specify)?

These questions do cover a lot of ground, don't they? I say: Yes, but not through the direct involvement of our armed forces in their conflict. As with any of our allies, we want to help them stay protected from those who would harm them. But we don't want to get too entangled with a foreign government or with a complex and controversial conflict. We can share tactics, technology, and intelligence, sell equipment (perhaps at a discount), that sort of thing. We might also threaten to retaliate against any country that attacks them. We could do something similar for any other ally, though our assistance would probably be less intensive, since our other allies are not involved in intensive conflicts.

6) Can you name a specific case in which an American dissenter, not actually affiliated with a terrorist organization, has been jailed or otherwise deprived of civil rights under the PATRIOT Act?

It is hard to cite specific cases when information about specific cases is classified, but this story suggests tens of thousands of cases that might be worth looking into.

7) Do you believe that we ought to remove American troops from Iraq immediately, regardless of the consequences to Iraqis?


8) With regard to interrogation or incarceration: do you believe that infringements of religious sensitivities (e.g., mistreating the Koran) or personal sensibilities (e.g., making men wear women’s underwear on their heads) ought to be regarded as comparable with physical torture?

"Comparable"? I think that it's wrong (and counterproductive) to try to break detainees down by violating their deeply held religious, moral, or cultural values, and that such practices can damage a person just as gravely as physical torture. But 'infringing on sensitivities and sensibilities' doesn't sound like it's always so bad.

9) What, if any, legal consequences do you believe flow from a declaration of war?


10) Do you believe that the Bush Administration purposely manipulated intelligence information in order to persuade the Congress to authorize military intervention in Iraq?

Yes. They tried to portray the intelligence in whatever way seemed to support the invasion, rather than assessing the evidence on its merits or presenting the evidence in a way that would allow others to make that assessment.


Name Calling

At Reason, Matt Welch asks ten questions of those he calls “pro-war libertarians.” He seems to really be interested in conversation, so I thought I’d offer some answers. But I’ll begin by noting that it is absolutely unwarranted to refer to us as “pro-war.” If it’s wrong to call you guys cowards and traitors, then it’s wrong to call us “pro-war.” We believe in victory, not in war, and if victory could be accomplished without war, we would be in favor of that. If Mr. Welch really is interested in understanding the other side, calling them names is not a wise course of action.
Tim Sandefur proceeds to respond to Welch's 10 questions, and returns the favor with "ten questions for the other side." For some reason I had an urge to answer their questions, but... But. But I just can't get past that first paragraph. No, it's not a parody. Read it again, with that possibility out of your mind. Apparently, nothing shows contempt and disparagement like calling someone who favors a war "pro-war". Who knew?

What's the equivalent of the label "pro-war" for someone who opposed going to war? No, silly, not that; it's obviously "traitor" or "coward". Try it out. "You traitorous bastard! How could you feel that way?" "You pro-war bastard! How could you feel that way?" See, exactly the same! Let's try some more. "There's no point talking to you - you're just a coward." Compare: "There's no point talking to you - you're just pro-war." Or, "We're trying to have an open dialogue where people who are pro-war can feel comfortable talking to those with different viewpoints." Compare: "We're trying to have an open dialogue where people who are cowards and traitors can feel comfortable talking to those with different viewpoints." They're perfect equivalents. The man has such an ear for offensiveness - those who are on the "other side" sure could learn something from him!

That's all from his negative argument, against that nasty, divisive partisan language that would caricature some people as "pro-war". Things get much better when Sandefur reaches his positive proposal: victory! It's not that so-called "pro-war" people are in favor of the war, he explains. They're in favor of winning the war. If they could win the war without fighting the war, then, believe me, they'd be in favor of that.

Wait, is that not what Sandefur meant by "victory"? Then what did he mean? Victory in the War on Terror? Of course! That is the obvious distinction between people who are sometimes referred to as "pro-war" and those who are not: one group has the controversial but firmly held belief that we should win the war on terror. It's a good thing that we have been able to escape from the muck of partisan name-calling to clarify the identities of the different sides in this debate.

Is there still a shadow of a doubt in your mind about what "victory" Sandefur is talking about? Put your mind at ease - I think I've pretty much exhausted all of the possibilities. What other opponent is there that pro-war people could want to triumph over?