The last refuge

We’ve been debating this for a while, but it’s time we took another turn through the internet tubes.

This from Instapundit, a right wing blogger, on 11/11/2005:

>The White House needs to go on the offensive here in a big way — and Bush needs to be very plain that this is all about Democratic politicans pandering to the antiwar base, that it’s deeply dishonest, and that it hurts our troops abroad.

>And yes, he should question their patriotism. Because they’re acting unpatriotically.


>UPDATE: Reader Kathleen Boerger emails: “Could you do me a favor and define ‘patriotism’ please?”

>I think it starts with not uttering falsehoods that damage the country in time of war, simply because your donor base wants to hear them.

>Patriotic people could — and did — oppose the war. But so did a lot of scoundrels. And some who supported the war were not patriotic, if they did it out of opportunism or political calculation rather than honest belief. Those who are now trying to recast their prior positions through dishonest rewriting of history are not patriotic now, nor were they when they supported the war, if they did so then out of opportunism –which today’s revisionist history suggests.

We’re intrigued that patriotism asks so little of the patriot: simply believe the irresponsible tripe you say. So, one might wonder, how does patriotism differ from just plain honesty?

And this underscores the general pointlessness of questioning others’ motives–the you’re just saying that because (you want to be on TV, you want sympathy, you want money, you want votes, girls, attention and so on): motives are private, often even to ourselves. The only things we can fairly and responsibly judge are *reasons*–yes, the things that compose *arguments*.

If we confined ourselves to arguments, we’d all be better off.

Question answered

Why do the Israelis fight, asks Charles Krauthammer, especially in light of the following circumstances:

>Exhibit A: Gaza. Just last September, Israel evacuated Gaza completely. It declared the border between Israel and Gaza an international frontier, renouncing any claim to the territory. Gaza became the first independent Palestinian territory in history. Yet the Gazans continued the war. They turned Gaza into a base for launching rocket attacks against Israel and for digging tunnels under the border to conduct attacks such as the one that killed two Israeli soldiers on June 25 and yielded a wounded hostage brought back to Gaza. Israeli tanks have now had to return to Gaza to try to rescue the hostage and suppress the rocket fire. [emphasis added]

I’m very much a non-expert about the region (see previous post), but I’m curious about the language Krauthammer employs.

In the first part of the paragraph, Israel is the agent–it declares it has no claim on Gaza (where’s Gaza in this? Was it agreed that the case was then closed by Israel’s withdrawl?).

Despite Israel’s action Gaza continues (unreasonably we can only suppose–at least Krauthammer doesn’t mention any reasons) to wage “war”.

In this “war” the Gazans captured a “hostage”. Typically in war one captures “prisoners.” One might wonder if Israel has any “hostages”. Or do they have “prisoners”? Perhaps like us they have “detainees.”

Now in light of the action of the Gazans, Israel is forced into the role of passive responder: they have had to–they have no choice but to–return to Gaza with tanks. As I say, I’m not an expert, but maybe there were other options.

Question Authority

Especially when the authority is unqualified. From our recent excursions into the blogosphere, a not so recent (2/5/05–for us there is no expiration date) post:

>I think it is time to be frank about some things. Jonah Goldberg knows absolutely nothing about Iraq. I wonder if he has even ever read a single book on Iraq, much less written one. He knows no Arabic. He has never lived in an Arab country. He can’t read Iraqi newspapers or those of Iraq’s neighbors. He knows nothing whatsoever about Shiite Islam, the branch of the religion to which a majority of Iraqis adheres. Why should we pretend that Jonah Goldberg’s opinion on the significance and nature of the elections in Iraq last Sunday matters? It does not.

That’s Juan Cole, professor of Mid-East History at the University of Michigan. He’s a qualified authority on the Middle East. The mass of pundits so frequently called upon to comment on Iraq and Iran, are not:

>In Iraq, the American liberators [many did–just not me and my brethren commentators] didnít understand what would happen if brutalized Iraqis were left in a state of nature, and didnít or couldnít impose a humane order.

That’s David Brooks, not an expert on much.


Richard Cohen, one of the Washington Post’s “liberals” pens a column on gay marriage: he’s for it. In arguing for it, however, he makes the following puzzling distinction:

>Gay marriage, like abortion, is a highly emotional issue and, at the moment, commands nowhere near overwhelming support. Depending on how the question is asked, and the polling organization itself, anywhere from 40 to nearly 60 percent of Americans oppose same-sex marriage. If the latter figure is accurate, permitting same-sex marriage by judicial fiat would produce yet another protracted fight over yet another social issue. Roe has been bad enough, thank you.

Then he says,

>Yet the case for same-sex marriage is so much clearer and easier to make than the complexities that produced the tortured reasoning of Roe . It is based primarily on the easily understood and widely accepted words of the Declaration of Independence: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness .” Since none of the counterarguments can prove any damage at all to society, the New York state high court missed a chance to further an education process and, justly, grant to homosexuals and lesbians the benefits of marriage so casually granted to heterosexuals. Way before getting to 316, it’s clear one of the benefits is as American as apple pie: the pursuit of happiness itself.

It’s hard to appreciate Cohen’s distinction between these two cases: abortion and gay marriage raise fundamental constitutional questions (especially when people organize to deny access to them). It’s obvious to many that gay marriage and the right to abortion follow from simple constitutional principles (and so are the proper objects of judicial review–what he calls “judicial fiat”).

But it’s not obvious to some disproportionately vocal and (at times) violent individuals. They think such things do not follow easily from the foundational principles of the constitution. While they are likely wrong, Cohen ought to show them how they are wrong. Merely claiming that gay marriage, but not (puzzlingly) reproductive rights, follow from the “pursuit of happiness” begs the question in the most textbook fashion: he asserts without argument what he needs to demonstrate.

My way or the highway

After a brief excursus on the wonders of–get this–taxpayer funded interstate highways (what he would in other circumstances call “welfare”) George Will concludes:

>American scolds blame the IHS and the automobile for everything from obesity (fried food at every interchange) to desperate housewives (isolated in distant suburbs without sidewalks).

I’m beginning to think he just can’t help himself: every view of his must be presented against a completely ridiculous alternative. In what could have been an innocuous piece about the virtues of highways, turns out to be whiny piece about people who would suggest they aren’t an unqualified good:

>This senator who did so much to put postwar America on roads suitable to bigger, more powerful cars was Al Gore Sr. His son may consider this marriage of concrete and the internal combustion engine sinful, but Tennessee’s per capita income, which was just 70 percent of the national average in 1956, today is 90 percent.

So, Al Gore, who has foolishly and sanctimoniously suggested we might rethink our dependence on fossil fuels (an inexhaustible resource), simultaneously betrays his father, his home state, his country and reason. The only way to account for Tennessee’s prosperity–and the only way it could have happened, and thus the only way it can be maintained–is with bigger and more fuel-guzzling cars.

Even crazed environmentalists appreciate the freedom of the open road (well maintained with tax dollars), perhaps they just don’t think it should be the only way to get around.

War is no place for logic

I find this claim very strange, even for Krauthammer:

>But no matter. Logic has little place here. The court has decreed: There is no war — or we will pretend so — and henceforth it shall be conducted by the court. God save the United States. (This honorable court can fend for itself.) [emphasis added]

Here is the reason I find it strange:

>They declared illegal President Bush’s military tribunals for the likes of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver and bodyguard. First, because they were not established in accordance with congressional authority. And, second, because they violated the Geneva Conventions.

Is it a war or not?

Here’s the answer–yes and no. Yes when Krauthammer wants it to be, no when he doesn’t. But you can’t have it both ways. In this case, it’s a contradiction.

If it’s a war, then the Geneva conventions apply. If it’s a war, then people we capture are “prisoners of war” and should be treated accordingly (if unlike the crazy John Yoo we want to abide by the Geneva Conventions). Also if it’s a war, then Congress declares it.

If it’s not a war, then the people we capture are prisoners of another kind.

These are not the same thing.


As one anonymous commentator noted, one of the problems with slippery slope arguments is that they fail to argue against the thing they claim to argue against. They seem to argue against more extreme things. To illustrate this point, two bioethicist types argue in the Washington Post:

>We have seen where this amoral logic leads us — to shameful abuses of research subjects, which surely no one wants to repeat. But we have also seen, in the stem cell debate, how moral lines erode quickly — from using only “spare” embryos left over in fertility clinics to creating human embryos solely for research to creating (or trying to create) cloned embryos solely for research. What will be next? Probably proposals for “fetal farming” — the gestation of human embryos to later developmental stages, when potentially more useful stabilized stem cells can be obtained and organ primordia can be “harvested.”

They forgot to mention soylent green. The problem, of course, is that it isn’t logic that leads us there. It’s the hyperbolized rhetoric of policy advocates, such as the authors of this piece. So, by way of illustrating the observation of the commentator, what is wrong with stem cell research as it is now (or as it is proposed by various bills)? When you answer, don’t tell us about embryo farming. But if you do tell us about that, tell us what is wrong with it. For the real slippery slope, such as this one, argues neither against the top nor the bottom of the slope.