Monday, March 24, 2008


Now that the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war has passed, it seems logical that now would be a good time to appraise the enterprise. I don't think that this is the case, however. Right now, discussion of the war is too imbued with emotionalism, partisanship, and frank hysteria.

One of the most paralyzing shortcoming of current analysis is the tendency to attribute any undesirable outcomes to someone's bad character. Thus, it is often stated without authority that "Bush lied" or that he was influenced by nefarious "Neocons" harboring malignant motives.

These unhelpful attributes of the current debate are exacerbated by the simultaneous political campaigns. What would otherwise be dismissed as campaign rhetoric gets mixed into more thoughful discussion and clouds, rather than illuminates the issue.

In the coming years, Bush's decision-making process will be scrutinized by more thoughtful and less biased scholars, and I suspect that he will come off considerably better than one would predict solely from today's discourse. It is fortunate for Mr. Obama that he was not a member of the United States Senate, required to make a consequential decision on the type of data presented to President Bush and Hillary Clinton. That data was far from perfect, and less than conclusive, but the decisions demanded at the time were not of a type that could await certainty.

What is most interesting is that the intelligence that was available to decision makers was colored by the recent intelligence failures of 9/11. This understandably led some in the intelligence community to be more aggressive in their analyses. No one was eager to be accused of "failing to connect the dots," particularly with the consequences of the most recent lapse frresh in memory. Likewise, policy makers, from the President, to his cabinet, to congressmen and senators could resonably be excused for interpreting the data in a light favoring a present threat. These were not due to poor judgment, incompetence, or improper motives; they were the understandable actions of persons who did not have the luxury of defering decisions that had potentially grave and immediate consequences.

An enlightening appraisal of the treatment of prewar intelligence can be found int eReport of the Senate Select Committe on intelligence dealing with the same topic, which can be found here .

Of particular interest is the way in which intelligence assessments were made to sound more conclusive by a stylistic edit removing phrases like "we judge," which was intended to eliminate the plural pronouns, but which had the effect of making the intelligence sound more definite. It is contained in Section X, regarding the White Paper on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Standing by your man

Magazines, television talking heads and water cooler chatter concerning the Eliot Spitzer matter keep asking why political wives "stand by their man" in the face of scandalous behavior. Is it quant to hope that somehow, it might have something to do with "for better or for worse?" Really, isn't that what a person who takes her wedding vows seriously is supposed to do?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Here's an example of what I mean when institutions go overboard in pandering to individual sensitivities:

IUPUI stupidity

The most immediate threat to civil liberties in America is the notion the subjective feelings should be protected by government power. There is presently a campaign to purge both public and private discourse of "offensive" speech and images, and to limit expression based solely on the potential emotional response of the audience. This is not merely a question of interpretation regarding freedom of speech; it is fundamentally an issue of the appropriate use of govenrment force in regulating discourse.

There is no right to not be offended. There is no valid governmental authority that would protect an individual from the expression of another. There is, however, and this must be repeated as clearly as possible, a right to engage in offensive expression. This is true even if such expression is for the sole purpose of causing offense.

Refraining from injuring or offending the subjective sensibilities of others is a matter of manners and good character, not a proper invocation of the police power. The government has no legitimate interest in the impossible task of guarding against hurt feelings, regardless of whether one perceives insult based on race, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation or any other grounds. Free expression is more important than individual feelings.

The legal actions for libel and slander protect reputation, not feelings. There is no such thing as objectively offensive because offense is subjective. Regulations, such as the odious speech codes that afflict college campuses, that seek to guard subjective sensitivities have an ever-changing object, and thus lose one of the main benefits of having regulations and laws: predictability in application.

Defense of civil rights necessarily entails defending the unpopular and even repugnant, and this is true in the case of offensive speech. Institutions cannot be guarantors of our feelings; they only cause harm and injustice when they try to be. There is something quite insidious and corrosive about an institution forcing someone to defend his thoughts against a charge that someone's feelings were hurt by them.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The first problem to be encountered in healthcare reform is determining just what exactly healthcare is. This seems trivial until one actually undertakes to do it. Is abortion healthcare? In all circumstances? How about chiropractic care? Many people derive benefit from chiropractic treatment, but how about chiropractic care to treat cancer or infertility? Aroma therapy? Faith healing.

Then there is the problem of therapy that is scientifically efficacious but ruinously expensive. Should a reformed healthcare system guarantee access to all for those therapies?

The most logical, and therefore less emotionally appealing approaches is to only allow therapies that have been scientifically demonstrated to be cost effective, with cost effectiveness measured against the cost per year of life saved in hemodialysis patients. This would solve a lot of problems. Quack therpies would not be cost effective because they are not effective at all. The same would apply to demonstrably futile therapies, such a transplants in end stage cancer patients. There would be a competetive pressure to make therapies more efficient, and reach the cost-effectiveness threshhold. Non-cost effective therapies would still be available, but the healthcare system would have no obligation to provide them.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The prominent role that potential Supreme Court nominations play in presidential campaigns suggests that Court itself has becomje too prominent in American government. To remedy this, I propose the following constitutional adjustments:

1.) The term of Supreme Court Justices shall be limited to twenty years, and

2.) The precedential value of all Supreme Court decisions shall expire after twenty years; i.e. lower courts would not be bound to follow High Court decisions after twenty years.