Saturday, September 04, 2004

Hundreds Dead in Russian School

An unholy cross between a Columbine-like school shooting and separatist terrorism has left, at latest count, more than 200 dead in a Russian School.

Not quite two years ago, a similar crisis occurred in a Moscow theatre. Here, Russian special forces used fentanyl to anesthetize everyone in the theatre before attacking. A great plan, but nearly 130 hostages died because of overdoses. Some, perhaps many of these deaths were preventable with naloxone (a drug which reverses the effects of fentanyl), but, because medics hadn't been warned, not enough was available. BBC Coverage of the theatre incident.

One would think that this hostage fiasco would have convinced Russia to shape up their counter-terrorism operations. It seems not. The story of the current crisis goes like this: a bunch of kids are being held as hostages, but one of the hostage-takers had rigged a bomb wrong. It fell, and detonated. Panic ensued, and the children (hostages) tried to flee, at which point gunmen opened fire. Russian Special forces returned fire, and tried to storm the building with a number of armed civilians (!). Unfortunately, no one had a clue - the special forces were not yet ready to assault the building; the BBC notes that some were in such a hurry to do something that they forgot to wear armbands that would let them be identified as friendly.

How many wake up calls does a country need before it realizes that competent counter-terrorism is important?

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Anticipating Bush

What can I say, I'm psyched for Bush's speech tonight, and I'll be sure to write an analysis piece... tomorrow. Besides, I'd stand a significant chance of "misunderestimating" my favorite politician were I to write before watching. In the mean time, Tom Toles, editorial cartoonist for The Washington Post, raises a very important question: how will they decorate?

(courtesy of

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Realpolitik Online

Rep. Edward L. Schrock withdrew his re-election bid in Virginia's 2nd District. Today's Washington Post helps to explain why (page A7, By Peter Whoriskey and Chris L. Jenkins):
The claim that the Republican congressman pursued gay trysts had been presented to journalists and political opponents as far back as three years ago and had never found its way into print. But Michael Rogers, the publisher of, which he says aims to expose the hypocrisy of gay politicians who vote against gay rights, ran with it Aug. 19. He posted an audio file in which a man asks "to get together with a guy from time to time to just to play," later suggesting oral sex.

Rogers's blog never offered proof that the voice was Schrock's, but it led Schrock to withdraw from the race 11 days after its posting.


Rogers said he was angered by stands that Schrock had taken on gay-rights issues, including co-sponsoring a proposed constitutional amendment that would bar same-sex marriages.

He scoffed at any suggestion that the congressman might have been misidentified on the audio.

"When is the last time a congressman resigned over baseless allegations?" Rogers said. "If the congressman believes it is untrue, I welcome him to file a libel or slander suit against me."

Dave promised his faithful readership (of how many...?) that I'd write on ethics. Here, it's easy to get other issues out of the way: I think the legality of this is pretty clear, assuming the story is true, and it's publication is probably also a helpful thing, since such writing helps to keep the media accountable. Ethical? I think not. Mostly, I have a problem at a fundamental level with character assassination of any sort: in politics, in the courts, or elsewhere. Attacks on character serve one purpose and one purpose only: subverting reasoned opinions by arousing base emotions. Attacks such as these twist our capacity for moral judgment, and eliminate our capacity for unbiased decision making. In most political societies, we think of that as a bad thing.

Let me be up front. I don't think we should erect far reaching sanctions against personal attacks (assuming they're true - otherwise, they're slander/libel). My view is that a little bit of social ethics would go a long way - don't publish private lives, and don't be personal in attacks. My personal favorite philosopher, Thomas Nagel, phrases this very nicely:

Thomas Nagel in "Concealment and Exposure"
Originally published in Philosophy and Public Affairs 1998 (vol 27 no 1)

Clarence Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court could have been legitimately rejected by the Senate on grounds of competence and judicial philosophy, but I believe the challenge on the basis of his sexual victimization of Anita Hill was quite unjustified, even though I'm sure it was all true. At the time I was ambivalent; like a lot of people, I would have been glad to see Thomas rejected for any reason. But that is no excuse for abandoning the private-public distinction: This sort of bad personal conduct is completely irrelevant to the occupation of a position of public trust, and if the press hadn't made an issue of it, the Senate Judiciary Committee might have been able to ignore the rumors. There was no evidence that Thomas didn't believe in the equal rights of women. It is true that Hill was his professional subordinate, but his essential fault was being personally crude and offensive: It was no more relevant than would have been a true charge of serious maltreatment from his ex-wife.

But consider the situation we are in: The only way to avoid damage to someone's reputation by facts of this kind, in spite of their irrelevance to qualification for public office, is through a powerful convention of nonacknowledgment. If this is rejected as a form of male mutual self-protection, then we are stuck with masses of irrelevant and titillating material clogging up our public life and the procedures for selection of public officials, and shrinking the pool of willing and viable candidates for responsible positions. I'm not objecting to the regulation of conduct at the individual level. It is a good thing that sexual coercion of an employee or a student should be legally actionable, and that the transgression of civilized norms should be an occasion for personal rebuke. What is unfortunate is the expansion of control beyond this by a broadening of the conception of sexual harassment to include all forms of unwelcome or objectionable sexual attention, and the increasingly vigilant enforcement of expressive taboos. Too much in the personal conduct of individuals is being made a matter for public censure, either legally or through the force of powerful social norms. As Mill pointed out in On Liberty, the power of public opinion can be as effective an instrument of coercion as law in an intrusive society.

from Concealment and Exposure

One good thing to come out of this is a sound demonstration of the effects of blogging. I'm feeling powerful already.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

On the Ball

The New York Times Magazine points to the instability of the current Republican party and the possibility of a massive conservative civil war if Bush loses this election.

So now we have two sorts of Republicans. The first group is made up of people who still mouth the words about reducing the size of government but don't even pretend to live according to their creed. These Republicans, mostly in Congress, go home to their states and districts and rail against Washington and big government. Then when they get back to Capitol Hill they behave like members of any majority party. They try to use their control over the federal purse to buy votes. They embrace appropriations and champion pork with an enthusiasm that makes your eyes pop.

For them, the old anti-statist governing philosophy exists in the airy-fairy realm of ideals. When it actually comes time to make some decisions about priorities and spending, they have no governing philosophy and hence no discipline. The money just splurges out. ''The current version of the Republican Party is engaged in an outrageous spending binge, and they're being steadied and encouraged by Democrats,'' John McCain observed recently.

The money is appropriated in increments large and small -- a $180 billion corporate tax bill one week, a steady stream of pork projects all the rest. In 1994, there were 4,126 ''earmarks'' -- special spending provisions -- attached to the 13 annual appropriations bills. In 2004, there were around 14,000. Real federal spending on the Departments of Education, Commerce and Health and Human Services has roughly doubled since the Republicans took control of the House in 1994. This is a governing majority without shape, coherence or discipline.

The second group of Republicans is at least trying to come up with a governing philosophy that applies to the times. It understands the paradox that if you don't have a positive vision of government, you won't be able to limit the growth of government. If you can't offer people a vision of what government should do, you won't be able to persuade them about the things it shouldn't do. If the Republican Party is going to evolve into a principled majority party, members of this group are going to have to build a governing philosophy based on this insight.

This is hardly the only schism in the Republican party, however.

There used to be a spirit of solidarity binding all the embattled members of the conservative movement. But with conservatism ascendant, that spirit has eroded. Should Bush lose, it will be like a pack of wolves that suddenly turns on itself. The civil war over the future of the party will be ruthless and bloody. The foreign-policy realists will battle the democracy-promoting Reaganites. The immigrant-bashing nativists will battle the free marketeers. The tax-cutting growth wing will battle the fiscally prudent deficit hawks. The social conservatives will war with the social moderates, the biotech skeptics with the biotech enthusiasts, the K Street corporatists with the tariff-loving populists, the civil libertarians with the security-minded Ashcroftians. In short, the Republican Party is unstable.

Of course, I could be misreading the situation. The GOP could implode even if it wins this election (subscription only).

In any event, I just love being ahead of the curve (twice no less!).

(Credit to Daniel Drezner for the link, who as usual beat me to the punch.)

Campaign Finance Flipflop

This is too good to pass up.

At least the National Review is paying attention, though the timing is suspect.