Thursday, June 23, 2005

On the Recent Hiatus

Just a quick note: I'm still here, even though I have posted little in the last few months. There's been somewhat less stuff happening, and I've been working on several larger projects for this blog which will be posted in due course.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

MLP: Of Holocausts And Gun Control

This essay by Daniel Polsby and Don Kates in the Washington University Law Quarterly may not be new, but it is still among the best on the subject. It opens with a very clear and even-handed view of the source of the disagreement (all emphasis mine):

However, the convictions of gun controllers do differ from those of gun owners in several important ways. First, they make different estimates about the usefulness of firearms for defensive and deterrent purposes. Second, they often differ in how they appraise the morality of using violence against violence. Third and perhaps most important, they are inclined to make very different guesses about how much potential for evil to ascribe to the government of the United States. Few if any of those who are hostile to the institution of an armed civilian populace consider the possibility that our government, with its Constitution, its checks and balances, and its traditions of free speech, civility, and respect for the individual, could ever degenerate into the sort of pitiless totalitarian instrument that has, at one time or another, afflicted most of the peoples of the Old and Third Worlds. The question is whether to label this attitude serenity or insouciance. Whichever it is, the fact remains that from time to time, genocides and other extreme forms of tyranny do occur, even in the midst of high civilization.

In our view, the failure to acknowledge the prospect of rogue government represents a serious failure of imagination. Trusting in the free press and the right to petition government to redress grievances, firearms abolitionists do not envision a world in which satanic rather than benevolent bureaucrats possess the effective monopoly of the means of force. Their gaze is not on more-or-less probable future worlds in which civil atrocities could become just one more idiom of political discourse, but on the world here and now, where criminals and lunatics find it all too easy to acquire powerful weapons and reasons to use them.

We argue that there is a great deal more to weapons policy than some sort of cost-benefit calculation of firearms' crime control benefits versus public health costs. The larger point, that no one who has lived through the greater part of the twentieth century may conscientiously disregard, is that sometimes people in power behave like Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, or Mao Zedong rather than like President Clinton. Of course public policy must acknowledge that exceptional brutality is indeed exceptional rather than commonplace. But it is senseless to pretend that what has happened many times before cannot possibly happen again. Sound policy makes allowances for even remote contingencies when they are grave enough, and denies opportunity to predators whenever it can.

Then it provides a chilling and meticulously documented study of the political views of those who would ban guns (and self-defense):
A preoccupation with stripping civilians of military weaponry, including even some utterly cosmetic attributes of military arms, is one of the dominant ideological strains in the American gun control movement. The idea is that defensive firearms ownership by laymen is alienating and dangerous, and therefore must be banned as part of what has been called the "civilizing process."[9] Garry Wills, one of the country's most distinguished historians, has argued

Mutual protection should be the aim of citizens, not individual self-protection. Until we are willing to outlaw the very existence or manufacture of handguns we have no right to call ourselves citizens or consider our behavior even minimally civil. There is something obscene about a person's appeal to our basic social contract to justify [this] anti-social behavior [i.e., defensive gun ownership].[10]

It is questionable, however, whether individual and collective defense can be divided so nicely. The idea of general deterrence often assumes that these values are intertwined: "my safety" and "the community's safety" overlap substantially. Vindicating the rights of individuals by force means imposing costs on a wrongdoer; placing oneself in a position to put wrongdoers at risk benefits private citizens by ensuring individual security and the public by making wrongdoing more costly.[11] Yet on the commanding heights of our popular culture there remains an abiding reserve of disbelief in the notion that private and public security might be connected. In fact, just the opposite principle is widely accepted. For example, Betty Friedan has called the trend of women buying guns "a horrifying, obscene perversion of feminism."[12] She believes "that lethal violence even in self-defense only engenders more lethal violence and that gun control should override any personal need for safety."[13]

The Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church takes the point a step further, stating that women have a Christian duty to submit to rape rather than do anything that might imperil the rapist's life. "Is the Robber My Brother?" the Board's official publication asks rhetorically, to which it rhetorically answers "yes": although the burglary victim or the "woman accosted in the park by a rapist is not likely to consider the violator to be a neighbor whose safety is of immediate concern . . . , [c]riminals are members of the larger community no less than are others. As such they are our neighbors or, as Jesus put it, our brothers. . . ."[14] (Let it be noted that the Board is the founder of the Coalition to Stop Gun violence, formerly known as the National Coalition to Ban Handguns, the country's premier anti-gun advocacy group, with which it still shares offices.)

(Comment: this is a feckless and despicable position which cannot remotely be described as being Christian. It seems these Methodists have never read the extremely graphic description of the proper Biblical way for a victim to deal with a rapist in Judges 5:24-27, for example.)

If individual and collective security are antithetical, if violence does in fact beget more violence, if the welfare of wrongdoers and innocents occupy the same moral footing, then it follows that firearms, and for that matter weapons of any kind, should not be used for self defense. ...

To lawyers steeped in the defense-privileging traditions of common law, these accounts of right conduct seem curious, so lest they be considered mere offhand remarks rather than a thought-out view of the matter, we quote Professor Wills as to why "individual self protection" is in and of itself a form of "anti-social behavior": "Every civilized society must disarm its citizens against each other. Those who do not trust their own people become predators upon their own people. The sick thing is that haters of fellow Americans often think of themselves as patriots."[18]

Professor Wills, resonating the views of a large and influential constituency, asserts that not seeking to possess the means of self-defense is a defining element of civilized life. Good citizens should depend instead on the military and police for their physical safety. The mere desire to defend hearth and home counts "among the worst instincts in the human character."[19] The ownership of firearms for defensive purposes is "vigilantism,"[20] a usurpation by citizens of what should be the exclusive prerogative of the collective power, "anarchy, not order under law--a jungle where each relies on himself for survival."[21] It follows, many gun control activists argue, that there ought to be a national gun licensing program, which would assign to whomever sought to own a gun a burden of explaining the reason. The need or desire to defend oneself or one's neighbors would not be counted as an acceptable reason to own a firearm.[22]

Finally, the essay gets to the meat of the argument with lots of historical examples of genocides, including some American ones that didn't happen (and if you don't know what those might be, you really need to go and read the essay now).

(courtesy of a brief mention in InstaPundit as a rebuttal to this piece of elitist crap).

Friday, January 28, 2005

A Very Special Effect

Looking at the latest pictures of pre-election violence in Iraq, this little gem fairly leapt out at me. Look at the pictures carefully, then read the analysis below.

An Iraqi boy runs past a car just as it explodes in front of al-Nahdha High School which was scheduled to be used as a voting centre in Baghdad, January 28, 2005. Hours earlier in the same area in southern Baghdad, a car bomb exploded next to a police station, killing four Iraqi civilians, police said. REUTERS/Ali Jasim

A car bursts into flames after it exploded in front of a school which was scheduled to be used as a voting centre in Baghdad, January 28, 2005. Hours earlier in the same area in southern Baghdad, a car bomb exploded next to a police station, killing four Iraqi civilians, police said. REUTERS/Ali Jasim

A car bursts into flames after it exploded in front of a school which was scheduled to be used as a voting center in Baghdad January 28, 2005. Hours earlier in the same area in southern Baghdad, a car bomb exploded next to a police station, killing four Iraqi civilians, police said. REUTERS/Ali Jasim

A photographer takes pictures of a car just as it explodes in front of a school which was scheduled to be used as a voting center in Baghdad January 28, 2005. Hours earlier in the same area in southern Baghdad, a car bomb exploded next to a police station, killing four Iraqi civilians, police said. REUTERS/Ali Jasim

A second explosion (white smoke) is seen from a burning car moments after it detonated close to a polling station in southern Baghdad. Insurgents set off a car bomb and attacked polling stations and security forces in several Iraqi cities, killing at least six people as Iraqi exiles across the globe began voting in their country's landmark election.(AFP/Ali Al-Saadi)

A Baghdad resident runs away from a car engulfed in flames after a car bomb blast in a nearby vehicle in Baghdad's Dora neighborhood, Friday, Jan 28, 2005. Car bombing's rattled Baghdad's Dora neighborhood, as insurgents targeted polling sites across the country with just two days to go before historic elections. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Flames engulf a car following a nearby car bomb blast in another vehicle in Baghdad's Dora neighborhood, Iraq (news - web sites) Friday, Jan 28, 2005. Car bombings rattled Baghdad's Dora neighborhood, as insurgents targeted polling sites across the country with just two days to go before historic elections. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)


What do you see? A car on fire, apparently not close to anything flammable. We are told this is in front of a school, but we do not see the school. The fire looks like petrol, probably in cans in the back of the vehicle, set off with an incendiary WP shell (White Phosphorus - the white smoke and sparks). There are people running, but they are not leaning at the angle of people who're running in a hurry. There are some people standing around in the background at what would be danger-close distance for shrapnel even from a single 152mm HE shell. You can see a second photographer in one of the pictures. The stories are inconsistent: one says "flames engulf a car following a nearby car bomb blast in another vehicle", another says "a car just as it explodes".

The key and blindingly obvious point: there are at least three photojournalists from different outfits there exactly at the time it goes off! This is not a lucky coincidence. The pictures are clearly taken less than a minute after the original explosion and less than a minute apart. Also: all of the photographers are stringers, not regular staff photographers.

Interpretation: One, this was staged, the particulars of the bomb ensure it will be ineffective and safe from the distance from which it was photographed, but visually spectacular. The people running are most likely also staged. Two, the reporters were invited to see it. Three, they knew it was staged.

My only question: who are these photographers - Ali Jasim, Ali Al-Saadi and Khalid Mohammed - really working for?

UPDATE: Chester has great commentary here and here. These are exactly the questions that need to be asked.

UPDATE: Commenter JB looks at the background of the reporters who are credited with this:

A google search of the photographers shows that while Khalid Mohammed has few photos to his name, none of which show an obvious pattern, the same does not apply to the other two.

Both Ali Jasim and Ali Al-Saadi have quite a number of photos of insurgents in action with the Sadr militia and Mehdi army. Also both are credited with photos of the american corpses hanging from the bridge in Fallujah. Ali Jasim's are the most recognized as he has the snap of the people beating the men's ashes with their shoes. This would seem to indicate that they have good contacts with the insurgents and could, I am not saying that they were, have been notified that something would happen there at that time. Ali Jasim does have several pictures of bombs in which the flames are still quite active which seems to indicate the event was recent.

Well, what did you expect?

UPDATE: Thank you to everyone who commented! I have not seen the video footage of the event yet, so I cannot say anything about that yet, but I will try to find it.

The car may have been set on fire by police shooting at it, and that may have set off whatever was in it prematurely. I agree that it is not a high-explosive device. I think this is more than just a full tank of gasoline, however. Particularly, I think the first photo shows White Phosphorus particles and characteristic white smoke from an incendiary munition. (Observe the low-lying smoke on the ground where the early spray of particles falls.) Perhaps someone who is familiar with such can comment?

Commenter Seixon posted several still frames from the video footage which clearly shows three photographers standing around and taking pictures. There is obviously a fourth person recording the video itself.

Curiously in the early photos there is another person standing out in the open (not trying to get behind cover) some distance behind the car, to the right. He is wearing dark or black clothes. He's gone in the last picture.

The theory that the photographers were present in response to an earlier bombing probably does not hold water since the caption says that occured "hours earlier" and "in the same area".

Also, nobody acts in the least concerned or threatened, especially in this still from the video. Looking at that, can you believe there was gunfire in the vicinity just seconds ago?

UPDATE: I've tried to calculate if what we're seeing requires anything more than just a full gas tank exploding. The big fireball is on the order of 50,000 cubic feet. This may be a gas tank if it combusted all at once - it contains more than enough energy for that. However, from comparing with a few other photos of cars on fire that I could find, I would guess this is bigger, possibly in the 50-100 gallon range. Also the fire seems to be coming from inside the car, not from underneath. Any firefighters who would like to comment?

UPDATE: A short video of the explosion from CBS (at 40 to 47 seconds into the video). You see a man and a boy running towards(!) the car then away. Here are all of the different photos of this event that I could find: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.

UPDATE: There are a few people on the web who have suggested that the running boy was added digitally, or that other parts of the stills have been tampered with, or that the media falsely tried to present this as multiple attacks. Just to be absolutely clear, I never claimed any of these things. I don't think the photos were retouched. But there are some good questions to ask anyway.

UPDATE: The bottom line: there are two troubling aspects of this. One, why are all of those reporters there at the exact right time and place? Two, what exactly is this? Whatever it is, clearly it is not a regular car bomb. It may be a made-for-TV fire-bomb, or it may be a vehicle that caught on fire as a result of shots fired by police, and in the latter case it may or may not have been carrying additional flammables; or it may be a few other things. In any case this is not what it is represented as in the captions, namely a car-bomb attack on the nearby school used as a polling center. All of the possible explanations for what you see require bogosity, the only question is what particular kind.

UPDATE: Dan Rather's narration over this footage of the event is, shall we say, enlightening: "But the Zarqawi-inspired terror campaign is accelerating. More Iraqi civilians died today in car-bombings. Countelss others got the message that this could be waiting for them, if they vote Sunday." Thanks, Dan, for explaining it all to us.

Monday, November 08, 2004

What Bias? What Ignorance?

Let's compare the news coverage of the beginning of the battle for Fallujah: the capture of the main hospital by the Iraqi 36th Commando with US spec ops troops in support.

In short: AP mangles the story. Some sources do better, but the AP story and photos have been reproduced almost everywhere.

From best to worst coverage:

NY Times has a rather nice description of the hospital fight. Quote: "Iraqi troops eagerly kicked the doors in" and "A man who identified himself as a fighter from Morocco was wheeled down the hallway, where he pointed out several others he said were also anti-American fighters from other countries." The apparent use of the hospital by spotters for the insurgents is also mentioned. A side photo shows "a soldier with the Iraqi 36th Commando Battalion". In another story, one of the four AP photos is described as "a soldier". All in all, a good job.

CBS covers the hospital fight and correctly identifies photos as "Iraqi coalition troops" [sic] and "U.S. and Iraqi troops". Well, they should be correct: their reporter Kirk Spitzer - who is a very brave man - took the footage. CBS seems to be on the mend, at least in this case.

CNN describes the operation as "Iraqi soldiers backed by U.S. Marines have staged a key raid", which is almost right. The AP photos are described as "troops" or "soldiers". They are also the only ones to note this: "When Iraqi commandos raised the Iraqi flag at the hospital, the insurgents began an unrelenting barrage".

The Telegraph of London mentions Iraqi troops only about half a page down, but at least correctly attributes the AP photo as "Iraqi troops attack the main hospital in Fallujah".

SF Chronicle's article titled "U.S. forces press offensive ..." mentions Iraqi forces about a page down, and has one of the AP photos as "a U.S. soldier". This is typical of papers that used the AP pool photos.

Washington Post leads with "U.S. Marines, Army's 1st Infantry Division Lead Operation Phantom Fury" and hardly mentions Iraqi troops until the second page. A side photo shows insurgents firing a mortar at U.S. and Iraqi troops. Free propaganda for the jihadis, why not.

LA Times "Coalition Forces Fight Way Into Fallouja" does not mention the hospital fight, but says "The Interim Iraqi government tried to frame the Fallouja fight as a battle between "Iraqis" and "terrorists." ". The quotes imply we're not supposed to believe that, it's just a "frame". Iraqi troops are mentioned briefly most of the way down the page. A side photo shows "a soldier". There is also a cheery article titled "Why America Has Waged a Losing Battle on Fallouja".

But the all-time worst award goes to the Associated Press. They distributed to all their photo pool customers four stills probably taken from Spitzer's footage which obviously show Iraqi commandos. However, to the idiots at AP, they are... "US soldiers", "a US soldier", "a US soldier", and "US soldiers". Are they totally ignorant or do they have an agenda, or both? Can they tell an AK47 from an M16? Do they know what US uniforms and gear look like? Apparently not.

When called on it, they can only issue the following lame excuse for a correction: "Correcting that there were also Iraqi troops as well as US soldiers involved in seizing Fallujah hospital and that, due to the quality of the TV grabs, a positive identification of the soldiers is not possible."

Which is a bullshit excuse if there ever was one. A positive identification is not only possible, it is trivial, to anybody who has a clue. But I guess certain things - like Iraqis fighting side-by-side with US troops to secure their own country from jihadi terrorists from abroad - are so far outside the worldview of the guys at AP that they cannot even register. Not even when they are pointed out to them.

You decide: bias, ignorance or both?

Whatever it is, it is certainly not credible reporting.

UPDATE: For a better view of what is going on, read Belmont Club's excellent analysis here, here and here; and Chester for live analysis from a military intelligence specialist. This letter from Marine LtCol Dave Bellon in Fallujah provides some essential background.

UPDATE: Rantingprofs is keeping a close eye specifically on the quality of news coverage, with some interesting notes about embedding with the enemy and why we took the hospital first.

UPDATE: Pierre Legrand who independently noticed the mis-identified AP photos, perhaps a little before me. He has some choice words for the media.

UPDATE: As of this morning, Fox has corrected the captions here at least. Now they say "coalition soldiers" instead of "U.S. soldiers". Progress, sort of. Still no response from AP. Question: does AP have an ombudsman? It seems they need one.

Red and Blue: Reprise 2004

The long expected 2004 vote maps by county are finally here! The same city/suburb/rural patterns that were in the 2000 data are still present.

The votes by county for 2004 and 2000 side-by-side (red=100% Bush, blue=100% Kerry or Gore, gray=50%/50%).

2004 Votes by County (click for larger image)

2000 Votes by County (click for larger image)

Next, the same maps with population density shown as lightness/darkness (log scale, black=10,000 per sq mile, white=0)

2004 Votes by County with Population Density (click for larger image)

2000 Votes by County with Population Density (click for larger image)

Finally, the percentage change between 2000 and 2004. Pure red is an increase in Bush voters of 10% or more, pure blue is decrease in Bush voters of 10% or more, and gray is no change between 2000 and 2004.

Difference between 2000 and 2004 Votes (click for larger image)

The last one is the real paydirt. Apparently the voters in Barry Goldwater-conservative states like Utah or Wyoming were unenthused with the president. They voted for him anyway, but less than in 2000. He made big gains in many other unlikely areas like New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Illinois. But it was his huge gains in Appalachia and the Southern Lowlands that ultimately gave him the election.

OTHER MAPS: Some other maps are worth a look.

CommonWealth Magazine has an most excellent 10-region model of the country which you can picture on top of the county maps. It really begins to explain things.

ElectionLine has a map of the voting technologies used in each county. Comparing that with my map of changes from 2000 to 2004 should hopefully discourage any Diebold conspiracy theories. Yes, e-voting without a paper trail is still very broken, but it doesn't seem to have affected this election's outcome.

ESRI has a 3D map of counties with number of voters as height. Nice because cities look like high-rises.

Ouside the Beltway has the original USA Today maps from 2000 and 2004.

Mark Newman has cartograms and a fascinating histogram of votes by county. I do not agree with his analysis, but this is something worth pursuing [UPDATE: turns out the histogram was just bad data, the corrected histogram is not unusual].

BoingBoing has a "Purple Haze" map which is mostly purple. Colorimetrically, the mid- and end-points are off, creating the highly inaccurate appearance of a mostly-moderate, perhaps slightly-blueish country.

Kiernan Healy has several maps, including another misleadingly purple map by Robert Vanderbel and a nice state-level cartogram from the NY Times.

NOTE: Astute readers will notice that the vote+density maps are slightly different from the original maps for 2000. Yes, I've tweaked the color algorithm, which is why I show the new 2004 and 2000 side-by-side.

NOTE: Maine and large parts of Massachusets, New Hampshire and Vermont are missing. If I can obtain reliable county-level data for those states I will add them. Sorry.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Heads We Win, Tails You Lose

I will try to simultaneously abstract and respond to the rather interesting essay "The Road To Victory Goes Through the End of the Democratic Coalition" by Timothy Burke (pdf here). Mr. Burke is looking for a way forward for the Democratic party. Along the way, he engages in some brutally honest self-assesment, and at the same time gives us some unbelievably arrogant and high-handed dismissals of the opposition. I will note the latter primarily because they highlight the reason why Democrats will not reform easily; but aside from that I would imagine they are simply due to after-election reaction and atypical of Mr. Burke.

To give a spoiler, the conclusion is that the Democrats will have to either become a federalist party, forfeiting the attempt to use the long arm of the central government to advance their agendas nationally, and instead seeks to allow each state and principality to govern itself as it sees fit; or else they will become a soft-libertarian party, abandoning most of the agendas of the left and embracing individual rights.

From the point of view of this libertarian: heads we win, tails you lose.

We lost, and more importantly, we lost under conditions that are about as favorable as you could ask for. We really lost: it's got nothing to do with rain or electronic voting machines or Ralph Nader or Fox News. John Kerry ran the best campaign he could, and he was a reasonable enough standard-bearer for the Democratic Party as it stood before November 2, 2004. It's a matter of cold, hard numbers. The old Democratic coalition got all of its people to the polls, it got all of its people mobilized, it got angry and motivated and had a razor-sharp focus on a single goal, and it lost.


The Democratic Party as we have known it since the New Deal is finally dead. I come to bury it, and from its ashes, reinvent a coalition that can drive a wedge right into the heart of the Republican Party and take back national power from the hardcore constituencies behind George W. Bush.

"Drive a stake into the heart of the (undead) Republican Party"... my, those are fighting words.

Not all constituencies behind Mr Bush are hardcore, nor are they particularly unified as wielders of "national pwoer". In fact it is the soft and quite diverse moderate middle which proved decisive in this election.

Much as I would like to think so, it's also not enough to wait for four more years of failure, dishonor and malfeasance and think that this will make enough people come around to our point of view. Because the case was made very clearly this time that Bush and his colleagues were incompetent.

Some of us disagree. Even if that were true, incompetently right beats competently wrong, every time.

More than anything else, this has fueled the despair among those of us who oppose him. Can't they see? Don't they know? Are they stupid? Are they blind?

Arrogance: exhibit A. If anyone disagrees, they must be stupid or ignorant.

I've asked the same questions, voiced the same cries. What I've had to face in the last three days is this: a desire for competency and respect for political process is a cultural value, as surely as abortion is. My intense belief in the importance of those things is just that, a belief. More to the point, it is a self-serving belief, a belief that advances the interests of my own social class. I believe in the importance of competency, knowledge, "best practices" of decision-making because I've been trained to be part of an elite that holds those things to be of importance, and aspires to them as a matter of course.

Arrogance: exhibit B. I'm part of an elite which has a monopoly on competence.

On the morning of November 3rd, many of us awoke and asked, "Why do they hate us so?" Because really, they do. It's no use talking of unity and sweetness and how we're all Americans and so on, not yet, not now. If this marriage is to be saved, we're going to have to get real. Using "moral values" first as their shield and now as their sword, the heart of the red-states is on the march. Any casual contempt a blue-stater might feel for a rural Alabaman is returned, much of the time, a hundred-fold.

Arrogance: exhibit C. A blue-stater feels casual contempt for a rural Alabaman.

I would imagine a rural Alabaman would feel not contempt but mainly puzzlement in response.

Regarding "moral values" as a "sword"... the Democrats have relentlessly pushed their agenda in many areas through judicial activism and legislative skulduggery, and the "sword" consists merely of passing legislation that explicitly re-asserts the status quo.

They hate us because we are in economic and social and cultural terms the winners, the owners of the future. Because they are the losers.

Arrogance: exhibit D. We are the winners and they are the losers.

Whomever is left in the red states is left because they have no skills which are transportable, because they have no capital to pay for the costs of relocation, because they have no social networks to act as their safety net in the blue-state world, because they have family or friends who are not leaving and that they cannot bear to leave, because some dominant person in their life terrorizes them and bullies them into staying. Because they like it where they live and figure nowhere else could be better, even if there aren't any jobs besides minimum-wage service jobs where they are. Because, like my paternal grandfather, they don't particularly have any ambitions beyond getting along ok. Because they don't know the people who live in cities and suburbs, or what they think they know of them, they don't like.

Arrogance: exhibit E. Red-staters are unskilled, low-wage, unambitious people with no prospects. Oh, and they've never been to a city.

Now the facts are just a little bit different. The population of red regions is actually growing much faster than of blue (see the CommonWealth 10-region model) as a result of both migration and brith rates. As a result, Bush got more electoral votes from reapportionment since the last election. Economically, Bush voters are a majority in every income bracket over $50,000, while Kerry voters are a majority only in the under-$30,000 income brackets. Educationally, Bush voters are a majority in every category except (a) no high school diploma or (b) postgraduate - the only two categories in which Kerry voters are a majority. (source: CNN exit polls).

Much of this echoes the argument made by Thomas Frank in What's the Matter With Kansas?, but I depart sharply from Frank in his view that the red-staters are the duped zombie armies of a plutocratic business elite, that they have come to support policies and governance which have accelerated their decline and suffering.

Any book that suggests half of America is inhabited by "duped zombie armies" is hardly worth serious consideration. However, Josh Chafetz has nicely demolished that so-called book.

This is where we arrive at the necessary end of the old Democratic coalition, which I would summarize as unions, racial minorities and educated cosmopolitan elites. In different elections and moments, there have been other significant constituencies added to this core, but these are the essential three legs on which Democratic victories and political power have rested.

Remarkably concise and enlightening summary.

The problem is that the Republicans stitch together a larger number of potentially antagonistic constituencies and more crucially, they do it across a larger range of geographic space.

Indeed. And why might that be?

In its current form, the Democratic coalition can capture no new major constituencies. That's what 2004 proved. The youth are not coming: they didn't vote much, and split evenly when they did. The white suburbanites are not coming: they stuck to the Republicans, seeing little in common with at least two of the three legs of the Democratic coalition (unions and minorities). The women are not coming. No one is coming.

Cry me a river. Again, why?

The opposition to Bush will need to command the dedicated, structurally solid loyalty of at least one, possibly more, major American constituencies that it does not presently command in order to meaningfully oppose the forces that put Bush back into office in 2004. The opposition can only get to that point by throwing overboard at least one of the major historic components of its former coalition. More importantly, it will require the complete abandonment of many of the treasured causes and ideals that have characterized Democratic politics over the past two decades.

I'm intrigued...

Russell Arben Fox has explored one with great subtlety and imagination. Essentially it amounts to choosing the traditions of communitarianism and "moral values" within the history of the American left and making them the glue that cements together an opposition to Bush.

Not sure I understand.

The political alliance that this road envisions brings together those in the old Democratic coalition who hold the trope of community close to their hearts and identities--the African-American church tradition, the old communalist-socialist left, some parts of the union movement, much of what lies behind "identity politics"--with some of the abiding interests and constituencies in the red-state social world. ... Such an alliance would almost inevitably be implicitly anti-capitalist, protectionist, anti- globalization, on both the right and the left.

Hmm... are we talking about class-war and race-war? I am uncertain in how to parse this.

Here I am dead serious: such a devolution is a necessary precondition of a successful alliance against the politics of resentment, against the slide towards a proto- fascist mobilization.

Proto-fascist? Not even crypto-fascist? Memo to VRWC: mobilize faster.

Those on the left joining such an alliance would have to know that its price is conceding to all localities profound powers of self-governance. The old Democratic coalition in this configuration must surrender gun control. It must surrender abortion rights. It must surrender affirmative action. It must surrender rigid enforcement of church-state separation. Not surrender those things in its own communities: that would be the terms of the bargain. To each his own, to every state and town, its own values.

It's called federalism and we've had it for a while. Generally, it is a good idea.

It is not my road. I am with the part of the old coalition that would be tossed overboard. My narrative is not the New Jerusalem. It is "don't tread on me". It is America as the experiment in the universal promise of freedom, as unified by its constitutional guarantees.

I applaud the sentiment, but... Democrats as the libertarian party? To turn an essentially statist party into a limited-government party appears an impossible task.

The other road gives up on the red-staters, or at least on the people trapped in old, dying rural communities.

I don't see how. The red-staters appear quite content to live in their "old, dying" rural communities as long as nobody "treads on them".

Instead, it turns to the business elite and to suburbanites and says, "You guys are playing with fire, and you're going to get burned if you keep it up. Leave while you still can."

There are more than a few people who are uneasy with Bush. However, uneasy with Bush and comletely at odds with the left-wing agenda still translates into a vote for Bush. Remember, the other choice is an openly big-government party, and so there is essentially no choice.

It is a soft libertarian road, characterized by an intense commitment to the universal enforcement of constitutional rights, by an uncompromising protection of free speech, free assembly, to the restraint of the power and capacity of the federal government, any government, to intrude on the rights of its citizens. But this road also has to abandon the strong version of the welfare state, to throw overboard strong regimes of governmental regulation of business, to subject government intervention in economic and social issues to very strong needs-tests and very intensive assessment of effectiveness.

It is mindbending to contemplate that the above paragraph could apply to any offspring of the present-day Democrats, who stand for the exact opposite.

The rhetoric of this road would have to strongly favor meritocratic visions and conceptions of social mobility and economic policy.

Social mobility and economic policy are hardly pillars of libertarian thought.

Essentially this embraces the common interests of suburbanites, business elites and cosmopolitan liberals, and I strongly suspect, many of the so-called "Reagan babies" and "South Park Republicans", who vote Republican when they do much more for these logics than because of red-state "moral values" rhetoric.

In the inconceivable event that a party came about with the agenda you describe, then yes, it will probably split off a large group from the present Republican coalition.

What I am certain of is that to a greater or lesser degree, this is what the opposition to the current coalition behind George W. Bush is going to have to look like. It will have to walk one of these two pathways in some fashion. There are no more voters, no more money, no more commitments, no clever tactics, no charismatic leaders, no better media, no nothing that is going to make the Democratic Party as it presently stands capable of stopping the cumulating economic, political and social disaster of the politics of resentment that drove Bush's victory in 2004. Communalism or soft libertarianism or some exotic combination thereof: you take your pick. Just don't stand still and wait for things to shake out differently the next time.

IF, if, if...

If either of these two paths were to materialize, the Neo-Democrats (or whatever they call themselves) will provide a valuable and much needed counterweight. I agree that these are the available paths forward, and I am partial to the same one that Mr. Burke prefers.

However, the likelyhood of this actually happening? Nil. There is almost no prominent figure in the present party leadership who can stay on. It is likely that the Democrats will have to suffer a few more crushing defeats before the message sinks in. I consider it a lot more likely that something like the soft-libertarian party might emerge from the present Republican party, and gather up the moderate Democrats who have been alienated by their increasingly far-left leadership. In any case, it is clear what the tension lines are, and it is equally clear that a serious imbalance in politics - one perhaps we are seeing the emergence of today - naturally leads to a dramatic realignment.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Dragging the Democrats Back From the Precipice On the Left

Some advice for Democrats from a sympathetic libertarian/conservative:

Time for a reality check. You have lost the presidential race, House and Senate. Perhaps it is time to consider that you are doing something wrong. It is easy to blame it on fraud by the other side, but - come on! - 3.5 million fraudulent votes? Plus a hefty margin in senate races? You lost big. Learn from it and move on.

I think there are two groups within the Democratic party. The moderate majority (union workers, suburban mothers, poor minorities), and the socialist fringe (limousine liberals, radical college students, trial lawyers, and a lot of the party leadership). While the socialists are a small minority positioned so far to the left that they are practically off the map, they set a lot of the tone of the whole party. Republicans have their extremists too (which are quite influential), but yours are utterly out of control. Fire them and come back to the center.

On the issues:

You make sense on social issues, and (within reason) the majority of Americans agree with you there. It is not black and white. The majority wants to ban most third trimester abortions, but allow first trimester abortions. The majority is opposed to gay marriages, but is in favor of equal rights for civil unions. The majority strongly supports the second ammendment for self-defense, but does not want machine guns or grenades to be legal, or guns to be available to felons. The majority is uneasy with some of the provisions of the Patriot Act, but wants to keep other parts of it. The majority wants paper trails in electronic voting, but does not believe in massive vote fraud conspiracy theories. The majority wants everyone to be able to vote, as long as they prove they are eligible. The majority wants equality of opportunity in education, but not racial quotas or handicaps. You can get a lot of your agenda here, as long as you're willing to compromise. This is your strong point.

You are mostly wrong on economic issues. People want a safety net that catches those who are in real trouble. People don't want corporate welfare. However, that is where the agreement ends: people certainly don't want government-run health care. They don't want higher taxes. They don't want unrestricted immigration. They don't want full welfare for illegal immigrants. They do want more choice in education, with vouchers and school performance standards. And they don't want protectionist tariffs and trade barriers that will make almost everything more expensive. You can get only a little of your agenda here.

You are completely wrong on foreign policy, although I can understand where you're coming from. Because we are concerned with justice and peace, our first thought is "did we do anything wrong?" rather than "let's destroy our enemies". However, we should also think of those millions around the world who dream of freedom and justice but do not have it. Our enemies are their enemies as well. Maybe Bin Laden can keep his promise and not attack America if we leave him alone - maybe - but will he not attack and terrorize the vast majority of Muslims who disagree with his interpretation of Islam? After all, he and his band of terrorists have killed far more Muslims in their long career of mayhem than they have killed Americans. Bin Laden and the other Islamists want above all to control fellow Muslims under a barbaric religious rule. We have seen that at work anywhere they hold sway, from the Taliban-ized Afghanistan to Falluja's religious courts. They are attacking moderate governments, moderate politicians and moderate clerics across three continents, from the Phillipines to Nigeria. Every time they are in elections, they lose, whereupon they start bombing and assassinating again. America may be an obstacle to them, an enemy to rally against, and a way to gain prestige by terrorist attacks, but we are largely on the periphery of the fight the soul of Muslim civilization. Most Muslims do not hate us. Most Muslims want to be us, to live in societies where they have our rights and freedoms. We can plan better, we can use economic or political tools instead of military force where possible, we can fight more precisely and be more sensitive to their concerns, but we cannot simply walk away from them and leave them to the wolves. Isolationism is not an option now.

What you should do:

I would like to see a strong opposition party that offers a credible alternative to the Republicans.

The present Democrat party is not a credible alternative.

To be that, you need to compromise a little in social and a lot in economic issues, which will get you majority support in those areas. Don't bow to interest groups within the party, such as trial lawyers, insurers, teachers unions, the gay lobby, and the abortion lobby, which tend to push your agenda to extremes. Most of all, do not EVER try to play the class or race card. It turns people off.

In foreign policy, you need to - RIGHT NOW - dump the 60s-reruns radicals that think American soldiers eat babies for breakfast, who advocate for them to "frag" their officers and desert, and who refer to the terrorists in Iraq as "the Minutemen". We need to see Democrats ostrachise the anti-democracy and pro-Islamist defeatists, not select them as flag-bearers (start with Michael Moore). We have sent our very best young men and women to far away and dangerous places in order to defuse a potential threat to our country and to help free fifty million oppressed people. We may be doing a piss-poor job of it - certainly our enemies have not made it very easy - but that is what we are doing, with some success. Contrary to what seems to be the popular wisdom on the left, we are not putting in puppet governments, we are not indiscriminately slaughtering civilians, we are not there for the oil, and there is no popular uprising against us. The locals know exactly what we are doing, and while they do not particularly love us, they strive for the same goals as we do. Because of that, thousands and thousands volunteer to fight at our side, even when it is extremely dangerous. We are on the same side with the vast majority of them, and they know it. Accept that, and you can begin to formulate a foreign policy that will not turn people away from you in disgust, even when they agree with you on many other issues.

Your criticism of the war on terrorism (really War on Islamofascism, and to hell with political correctness) has to be reality-based. That does not mean Al-Jazeera-reality, it means boots-on-the-ground-reality. The troops vote overwhelmingly for Bush because they have met our enemies and our friends in Iraq, because they belive in our cause, and because they know you don't. Many, many hawks at home feel the same way. Therefore you'd better find some faith, quick. Your only hope is to adopt the project of modernising the Middle East, and to do so without saying that it a) was a bad idea b) unworkable c) too expensive and d) the middle-easterners are unworthy or incapable of it. You will have to adopt the neocons' goals, although not necessarily their methods.

Yeah, I know, it is a very bitter pill.

You can either learn from your loss and come back as a credible opposition party, or you can watch your support erode and lose even more ground in the next election. Your choice.

UPDATE: Don't miss the roundup of post-election essays at Winds of Change. Peggy Noonan's Dem Problems is also worth a read, even though it was written before the election.

UPDATE: An excellent article from Marc Cooper - count at least one democrat who wants to learn from the results of this election. Great discussion in the comments section as well.

Whatever slim hope that Democrats might have of extracting something positive from this week’s resounding defeat depends entirely on how much authentic introspection they are willing to inflict on themselves. To the degree that they look outward –instead of inward—to identify the causes of the 2004 debacle, the more certain they are doomed.

P.S. Memo: The UN is not the font of all legitimacy and law. It is a thoroughly corrupt organization, comprised mostly of petty dictatorships. Stop funding it, clean up the corruption, and meanwhile start exploring alternative organizations (perhaps a League of Democracies?).

Memo: Our so-called allies, France and Germany, follow their own national interests, which they don't see as being very close to ours. Their military is nearly incapable of force projection, and even if it was, they are not willing to help. Our real allies are the UK, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Israel. Nobody else is both willing and able to help. Fortunately, our allies have four of the ten strongest militaries in the world, and two of the ten largest economies. We could do worse.

Memo: When Iraqis approve of the war far more than Kerry voters do, who is out of touch?

Friday, October 29, 2004

Pick a number, any number

The Lancet stepped in with its bid for "October Surprise" in the US elections with a study that breathlessly announces that "100000 excess deaths, or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq" and "most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children". Damning claims, if true. But is it?

The original study is available here and here. Major newspapers are already running stories based on it, for example the Washington Post.

A quick summary of the data:

The sample is of ~7500 residents in 33 clusters of 30 households in 11 out of the 18 provinces. There are 21 recorded violent deaths over the 18 months after the invasion: 4 children, 13 men, 2 women, and 2 elderly people. Of these, 9 are due to the coalition military, 7 are criminal murders, 2 terrorist attacks, 2 unknown and 1 by the former regime. Of the deaths due to the coalition military, 2 were known accidents. In this summary the data from Falluja are excluded for reasons which are described in the study itself.


The sex ratio suggests that the excess men and possibly some of the under-15 children were combatants. The study makes no effort to count the number of combatants. The mortality for men would be higher in any case because they travel more and engage in more dangerous activities. If the risk from all non-combat-related causes is assumed to be twice higher for males (comparable to the ratio of accident-related deaths between males and females), out of the 21 violent deaths in this study, approximately 6 were combatant men and 1 was a combatant child under 15. This would put the countrywide total of combatants killed at 25,000 - not an unreasonable number, considering the number of military personnel killed during the invasion itself has been estimated to be 9,000 (PDA) and that number would be included in this study. Under these assumptions, the number of noncombatants killed by the coalition military in this sample would be 1 or 2, in other words too small to be meaningfully measured (but note that the study mentions two known accidental deaths caused by coalition military). The corresponding number of noncombatants killed countrywide would be under six thousand. If the gender risk ratio estimate above is correct, 80% of those killed by the coalition military are combatant men.

As measured by this study, the criminal murder rate is 60 per 100,000 per year, which is in the same ballpark as other estimates (like this, or this). That should be compared to 40 per 100,000 in Washington, DC and 80 in Compton, Los Angeles. The combatant death rate is the same as the murder rate, 60 per 100,000 per year.

Each death recorded in the study is a proxy for roughly 3500 deaths countrywide. Since the numbers we are trying to measure are on the same order of magnitude, it is obvious that the sample is too small. A decent sample size would be five to ten times larger.

Violent deaths were recorded in only 15 out of the 33 clusters. That means that as seen by this study, the violent death rate in most of the country (containing a population of 15 million) is effectively zero. Of course, it is impossible to know which half, since the study does not give us the geographic distribution of violent deaths by governorate. It is possible that they are concentrated in only a couple of governorates (perhaps Baghdad and two or three others?).

The geographic distribution of the data in general is very suspect. A full geographical breakdown by cause and province is not provided, only overall mortality (all causes) by province. Some of the more peaceful provinces (Irbil, Basra, Al Muthanna) were not sampled at all. Some of the provinces which saw heavy fighting show no change in the mortality rate (Ninawa, Karbala) while other provinces which saw little fighting show large increases (Wasit, Missan). This discrepancy casts doubt on the reliability of the sampling technique. One province (Al Sulaymaniya) shows a 3-fold drop. It is impossible to know what the extent of the sampling bias was without knowing which communities were sampled, and comparing them to known areas of heavy fighting.


Based on the data in the study, we can reasonably estimate (in other words guess) that 23000 +- 9000 combatants and 7000 +- 9000 non-combatant civilians were killed by coalition military forces. This is comparable to other estimates, within the large margin of error.

Crime is obviously a huge problem in Iraq, but criminals and insurgents in many cases work together (for example here and here), and of course insurgents help criminals by specifically targetting police and creating an environment in which law enforcement is impossible.

What about those claims of "mostly women and children"? Excluding the data from Falluja (which is suspect, a subject on which I'll write more in a bit), the truth is the exact opposite: most of those killed (and almost all of those killed by coalition forces) are men of fighting age.

What about the 100,000 overall deaths number? Let's quote the study itself...

"The crude mortality rate [pre-war] was 5.0 per 1000 people per year (95% CI [confidence interval] 3.7-6.3) ... the post-attack mortality is 7.9 per 1000 people per year (95% CI [confidence interval] 5.6-10.2)" and "the risk of death is 1.5-fold (1.1 [to] 2.3) higher after the invasion".

In other words, anywhere between a 10% and 130% increase. This is a damned large margin of error. The headline claim of 100,000 would have you believe that mortality doubled in the entire country. The study certainly proves no such thing.

Next: Why did this study get released right now? Are the Falluja data reliable? Is this scientific research or a psy-op? What are the political goals of the people behind the study - in their own words?

UPDATE: Readers have pointed out a statistical error in the next-to-last paragraph which I have now corrected. A rushed response to a rushed study... let this be a lesson to anyone else who rushes into publication with little or no peer review.