Sago Boulevard

Monday, October 31, 2005

Sui Genocide

I don't even know where to start on this one. Just too weird. Any thoughts?

Bush Nominates Alito

CNN.com reports:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Monday he has nominated 3rd Circuit Appeals Court Judge Samuel Alito for the U.S. Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
...
Alito, a former U.S. attorney who has been a judge for 15 years, is considered a favorite of the conservative movement and is Bush's third pick for O'Connor's seat.

It looks like this nominee will bring the political battle many conservatives have been hoping for. Harry Reid doesn't appear to be too happy about it:
[T]he choice of Alito "would create a lot of problems."

"That is not one of the names that I've suggested to the president," he said. "In fact, I've done the opposite."

I'll post my thoughts on Alito after I have a chance to do some reading. In the meantime, The Volokh Conspiracy already has some interested commentary.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Ushpizin

I saw Ushpizin last night with my parents. The three of us agree that it was very good. While the story itself is very interesting, what's more important is how the film opened a window into Jerusalem's haredi community. It was both respectful and highly accurate - both commendable accomplishments when making a film about Orthodox Judaism.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Possibly Big News

At least an indication that the White House just might be regretting the Miers nomination:
The White House has begun making contingency plans for the withdrawal of Harriet Miers as President Bush's choice to fill a seat on the Supreme Court, conservative sources said yesterday.

"White House senior staff are starting to ask outside people, saying, 'We're not discussing pulling out her nomination, but if we were to, do you have any advice as to how we should do it?' " a conservative Republican with ties to the White House told The Washington Times yesterday.

The White House denied making such calls.
...
"The political people in the White House are very worried about how she will do in the hearings," the second conservative leader said. "I think they have finally awakened."

This is obviously far from conclusive and possibly even a conspiracy theory. But it's something to hope for.

(via Orin Kerr)

Discussion Post

I'm trying something new. I want to get a better idea of what my readers are interested in and encourage more discussion. The comments section is hereby open for anything you have to say. Tell us what's on your mind.

Friday, October 21, 2005

A Post On Miers

I was going to post my thoughts on the Miers nomination, but instead I'll let Krauthammer speak for me:
It's no secret that I think the Harriet Miers nomination was a mistake.
...
The president's mistake was thinking he could sneak a reliable conservative past the liberal litmus tests (on abortion, above all) by nominating a candidate at once exceptionally obscure and exceptionally well known to him.

The problem is that this strategy blew up in his face. Her obscurity is the result of her lack of constitutional history, which, in turn, robs her of the minimum qualifications for service on the Supreme Court. And while, post-Robert Bork, stealth seems to be the most precious asset a conservative Supreme Court nominee can have, how stealthy is a candidate who has come out publicly for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion?
...
Conservatives such as Sen. Sam Brownback... will try to establish some grounds to believe that (a) she has a judicial philosophy and (b) it is conservative.

And then there will be the Democrats who, in their first act of political wisdom in this millennium, have held their fire on Miers, under the political axiom that when your opponent is committing suicide, you get out of the way. But now that Miers is so exposed on abortion, the Democrats will be poised like a reserve cavalry to come over the hills to attack her from the left -- assuming she has survived the attack from the right.

The omens are not good.

Miers isn't getting through the Senate, nor should she. We could speculate about what Bush was thinking until we're blue in the face but it's probably more productive to start thinking about Bush's next pick.

Gallagher On Gay Marriage

Maggie Gallagher has been guest-posting on The Volokh Conspiracy this past week. None of her arguments are particular suprising or enlightening. And I don't think they would convince any gay-marriage-supporter. That said, Gallagher is one of the more articulate conservatives againat gay marriage and her posts are a good place to start if you're interested in the debate. Her basic argument is, I think, best summed up by Orin Kerr:
...extending marriage to include same-sex couples would not just give rights to a small subset of the population, but would radically transform what marriage is. So long as only opposite-sex couples can marry... marriage is linked to procreation; if same-sex couples can marry, too, then marriage is transformed into something else entirely. Adding same-sex marriage would ruin the old institution and create a new one, and the new institution would not longer retain a focus on having and raising children. Viewed in that light, same sex marriage is a threat to society: by redefining the institution, it will kill off its most important feature.

I'm with many of the commentators on her posts that the argument isn't persuasive but read through it and decide for yourself.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pakistan Accepts Jewish Money

After previously refusing aid from Israel and American Jewish groups for earthquake relief, Musharraf is now willing to accept funds. I'm convinced that you have to be pretty committed to hating Jews to refuse aid in this kind of situation.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Introduction to Utilitarianism

Lawrence Solum at Legal Theory Blog gives a overview of utilitarianism, specifically as it relates to law. Summarizing complicated and controversial philosophical positions is incredibly difficult, especially while trying to be objective. Of course, there's what to quibble with in the details but it's as good as introductions get.

They're Voting

Regardless of your politics and view of the Iraq War, the fact of even something resembling an election is a huge success. According to CNN.com, about 15.5 million of Iraq's 26 million people were registered to vote.
"The success in this referendum, it isn't how many people are going to say 'yes' and how many people are going to say 'no,'" said Fareed Ayar, a spokesman for Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission. "The success is that all Iraqis ... found out that the polling station is the way to deal with the political problems in Iraq, to deal with the violence in Iraq."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Still Too Soon

Can't you at least wait 'till baseball's over before suggesting 10 ways to fix the Yankees and make them World Series champions again? I'm not done mourning yet.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Journalists Are My Eyes and Ears

Lindsay's post (featured in Philosophers' Carnival XX) on journalism and objectivity is quite sensible. In particular, she correctly points out what the consumer of news should want from journalists.
We want reporters to be our eyes and ears. If we can't witness an event first hand, we want someone to document it with as little distortion as possible so that we can consume the information and make up our own minds as if we had been able to see for ourselves.

Later in the post, though, she grants journalists a bit more interpretive licence than I feel comfortable with.
A science reporter who knows perfectly well that Intelligent Design is bunk but who still gives equal time to the ID crowd is not reporting objectively. Instead of writing to convey the truth as he understands it, he's writing to conform to an arbitrary standard of balance measured in column inches.

I don't want to get into the ID debate - I've already posted about that a couple times (here and here). But if ID is indeed bunk, shouldn't it be the consumer who makes that call? For one thing, if you grant the reporter licence to call ID bunk, then you ipso facto grant an ID supporter the right to do the same about Darwinism. Whether or not you believe that there's a real scientific debate about this (which there probably isn't), there is certainly a political debate and that alone is reason for a reporter to let me decide what to believe. As Lindsay said, I want journalists to be my eyes and ears, not my faculties of reason.

Of course, the ID debate is just one example and there are plenty of cases where forcing journalists to report on "both sides" would indeed be ridiculous. But in some cases, even when there isn't a scientific debate - global warming is another example - the political one is real enough.

Hopefully, I'll get around to commenting on some other Carnival posts later today.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Some Bad Arguments Against War In Iraq

I haven't posted about the Iraq war mostly because I have mixed feelings. As much as I love debating, something changes for me when the issue at hand involves the lives thousands of soldiers and civilians. Almost all cases of self-defense or perceived self-defense are incredibly complicated, both ethically and politically. That said, I supported invading Iraq, overthrowing Saddam, and establishing democracy there - despite serious doubts that we could have done (and still can do) a better job.

But while I'm timid about making the case for war, I'm never shy about pointing out bad arguments and the current anti-war movement is full of them. The most common criticism goes something like this: "Bush justified this war on the basis of Saddam having WMD. As it turns out, no such weapons were found and likely never existed. Since Bush's primary stated reason for going to war doesn't apply, the war is unjustified."

First of all, as Russel Roberts points out, Bush didn't make up the idea of WMD. Saddam somehow managed to convince the whole world that he either had or was building weapons. Even the countries that most strongly opposed the American-led invasion didn't deny that he had them. Secondly, arguing that Bush justified this war on the basis of Saddam having WMD is misleading. He justified the war on the basis of having sufficient reason to believe that Saddam had WMD. According to the facts available to Bush, Blair, and other world leaders, it was the reasonable conclusion to draw. And faced with the possibility of a nuclear or chemical attack, it was reasonable to take military action based on that conclusion. None of this changes in light of the new information that in fact, no such weapons exist.

An analogy from poker: You're holding kings and the flop turns up another one. The guy across from you raises all-in. You call and he draws a flush. You lose. So you must have made the wrong move - should've folded, right? No, of course not. Given the information available, knowing neither what the other guy is holding nor the next two cards in the deck, that's the right decision. Foreign policy is necessarily based on limited information and the best action is one that will yield the desired result based on that limited information.

You could argue that the condition itself is insufficient for going to war. That is to say, if faced with the threat of attack by a homicidal maniac dictator who's used chemical weapons on his own people and, according to available intelligence, is prepared to launch a nuclear or biological attack, invasion is still not justified. But my point remains. The fact that no weapons were found has no bearing on the justifiability of the war.

Among the other reasons given for opposing the war is that it makes the US hated around the world. Of course, those who depend on Saddam staying in power will hate us, as well as those whose interests are hurt by an increase in US influence. More importantly, though, we have no reliable way of knowing what feelings Joe-average Iraqi will have about the US when all is said and done. To quote Roberts again:
A lot of times, people are glad when the US army shows up. They're glad in New Orleans. They were glad in Paris in 1945. Are they glad in Baghdad? I have no idea. Let me say that again. I have no idea. And neither does anyone else who lives here and watches the nightly news and reads the papers. There just isn't enough information.

I think there is a case to be made for the war, particularly on human-rights grounds. But I'll leave that for another post.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Warning: Religion May Be Dangerous

So concludes a survey published in the latest Journal of Religion and Society:
The study, by evolutionary scientist Gregory S. Paul, looks at the correlation between levels of "popular religiosity" and various "quantifiable societal health" indicators in 18 prosperous democracies, including the United States.
...
He found that the most religious democracies exhibited substantially higher degrees of social dysfunction than societies with larger percentages of atheists and agnostics. Of the nations studied, the U.S. — which has by far the largest percentage of people who take the Bible literally and express absolute belief in God (and the lowest percentage of atheists and agnostics) — also has by far the highest levels of homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

As you can probably guess, the logic here isn't exactly ironclad. Particularly telling is Paul's already-skewed version of religion from the outset:
Paul ranked societies based on the percentage of their population expressing absolute belief in God, the frequency of prayer reported by their citizens and their frequency of attendance at religious services.

Notice how none of the criteria for what qualifies as "religious society" has anything to do with morality. But, as everyone knows, all major Western religions (probably all world religions but I can only talk about what I know) stress giving charity, helping the less fortunate, honoring parents, and respecting fellow human beings. If those were added to the criteria, I suspect the results would look a quite different. What Paul may conclude, if he wasn't already bent on religion-bashing, is that mere ritual observance and proclamations of faith don't correlate with such "quantifiable societal health indicators" - but that's nothing new. The Prophets of the Bible condemn ritual observance that isn't accompanied by ethical behavior over and over again.

Rosa Brooks, the article's author, predicts "that right-wing evangelicals will do their best to discredit Paul's substantive findings." Or maybe they'll just point to the Bible and say "yeah, we already knew that."

(via Jill)

Monday, October 03, 2005

Rosh Hashanah

I wish you a happy and sweet new year. May you be inscribed and sealed in the book of life. Blogging will resume after Rosh Hashanah.