Sunday, 13 January 2008


I leave you this fine evening with a column by Jonah Goldberg.


Here is the penultimate paragraph of this New York Times editorial opinion:

Another crucial question is the issue of pre-emptive war—or in the case of Iraq, preventive war. The United States must be prepared to use military force to pre-empt another attack on American soil. In Iraq, Mr. Bush went much further, invading a country that he imagined might someday pose a threat to the United States—not pre-empting an imminent threat but preventing the possibility of a threat. To justify his actions, he persuaded Americans that Saddam Hussein had chemical, biological and, especially, nuclear weapons programs—a claim that proved to be specious.

The final sentence is curious. What better justification could there be for taking down Saddam Hussein than that he had chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons? But that’s not what the Times means, is it? The Times is implying that at the time President Bush made these statements, he believed them to be false. In other words, he was lying. This is a terrible charge. If it’s so obvious that President Bush lied, why won’t the Times establish it, by making a case that, at the time he spoke, President Bush believed Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction? And what about the “specious” part? Suppose President Bush believed—falsely—that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. How could that undermine his justification for going to war? Do we evaluate actions by what is in fact the case or by what it is reasonable to believe is the case? Was it not reasonable to believe, in March 2003, that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? Didn’t most experts believe that? Didn’t many prominent Democrats believe that? This is a fundamentally dishonest editorial opinion, but we’ve come to expect that from the Times, haven’t we?

The Logic of Change

The mantra of the 2008 presidential election is “change.” Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama appear to be having a contest to see who can say the word the most times (or with the most feeling). Let’s think about change for a moment. First, note that change can be for the better or for the worse. The former is called “progress,” the latter “regress.” What Clinton and Obama want is not change simpliciter, but change for the better. They want to move forward, not backward. Second, one person’s progress is another person’s regress. Clinton and Obama think coercing people into purchasing health insurance is progress. I and many others think it is regress. There are few changes that are universally viewed as progress, even in a homogeneous society. So what Clinton and Obama want, really, are changes that they and many or most people view as progress. Third, progress, like any other good, has costs. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Wouldn’t it be nice if Clinton and Obama (1) specified which changes they want and (2) quantified the costs and benefits of each change, so as to (3) rationally persuade people to support their proposals? This would be work, obviously, and it would make explicit what they want to keep hidden, which is the costs of the changes they propose. Their goal is to mobilize, not antagonize. Finally, nobody, not even the most hidebound conservative, is categorically opposed to change, so calling for change without specifying which changes you’re calling for is vacuous. The only people it can affect are (1) those who are bored with the status quo and prefer change for its own sake and (2) those who believe that the status quo is thoroughly bad, so that any change must be for the better.

Addendum: There are three other aspects or dimensions of change:

1. Magnitude. There are big changes and there are small changes. Other things being equal, conservatives prefer small changes to big changes. Progressives either have no preference at all or prefer big changes to small changes.

2. Pace. Change can take place quickly or slowly. Other things being equal, conservatives prefer slow change to quick change. Progressives either have no preference at all or prefer quick change to slow change.

3. Source. Change can come from within or without the institution or practice concerned. Other things being equal, conservatives prefer endogenous change to exogenous change. Progressives either have no preference at all or prefer exogenous change to endogenous change.

I should write a column about change for Tech Central Station. How many of you would like that?

Addendum 2: Here is a column by Timothy Noah.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Michael Kinsley (“Stirred, Not Shaken,” Op-Ed, Jan. 6) thinks that Americans have it “pretty good” and actually long for “protection from change” in a rapidly evolving world of globalization. I don’t believe that is what voters are demanding.

Here’s what we want changed: the gridlock in Washington, the ascendancy of corporations and lobbyists, the disintegration of our democratic protections, the torture of prisoners, the lack of an immigration or environmental policy, a wasteful war in the Middle East, the outsourcing of jobs.

To suggest that things are going well and that we voters are fearful of change is condescending and out of touch. The change we want is for our government to work for us again.

Judith Treise
Minneapolis, Jan. 7, 2008

Note from KBJ: “We”? Speak for yourself, Judith.

The Sexes

Only someone who views male sexuality as the norm—that is, only someone in the grip of feminist ideology—could think it “unfair” that women, but not men, can get pregnant. I have news for such people: Men and women are different, both physically and psychologically. These differences give sex a different meaning to the sexes. If women persist in acting like men, they will suffer for it—and men, who crave uncommitted sex, will benefit. Perhaps one day women will grasp the awful truth that contraception, abortion, and no-fault divorce are oppressive male institutions. By the way, nothing in nature is unfair. Nature is amoral.

A Year Ago


John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, Paragraph 33

But though direct moral teaching does much, indirect does more; and the effect my father produced on my character, did not depend solely on what he said or did with that direct object, but also, and still more, on what manner of man he was.

Note from KBJ: The term wasn’t invented yet (so far as I know), but Mill was referring to “role models.” Boys who grow up without fathers are deprived of this. They may find a substitute in the form of an uncle, a grandfather, a neighbor, a coach, or a teacher, but it’s not the same. One reason our society is in such bad shape is that, under the influence of feminism, we have subsidized fatherless childrearing. If you subsidize something, you get more of it.

Safire on Language