Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Gay Marriage

In today's Daily Dish entry Andrew Sullivan takes James Taranto to task for his views on Gay Marriage. Taranto makes the error of proposing a compromise over an issue dear to gays, and of course no compromise is acceptable where gays are concerned, to Mr. Sullivan. I wrote him a letter in reply but, seeing as how I expect to get no play on Andrew's blog, I print my reply here. Read his entry first, then my reply....


In today's blog entry on Taranto's column on gay marriage, and in previous writings, you seem to blur the distinction between conservatives and social conservatives or the religious right. There are, as you well know, all sorts of people and views that self-describe as conservatives and conservative. Clearly libertarian-leaning conservatives and neocons tend toward a more inclusive view on this and other issues. After all, you yourself are a self-described conservative.

The problem that I and others, coming from a libertarian point of view, have with same-sex marriage is that marriage is a religious, not a state function. Giving gays the civil, legal, benefits of marriage is not a problem for me/us. Calling it marriage in a legal sense crosses the border between state and religion. This is not a rhetorical difference. Why do you persist in denouncing those to whom the difference is an important one?

In your article, "Why Civil Unions Aren't Enough," linked in your post, you claim that compromise is not an option, and further claim that the difference is merely rhetorical, but then go on to make the rhetoric a deal breaker. You say, "Marriage, under any interpretation of American constitutional law, is among the most basic civil rights," but marriage is and never was a "right," it is a "rite!" Forcing the state to recognise a religious distinction when the religions themselves object is overly coercive. The state should have little power over the church.

You say that "Separate but equal" was a failed and pernicious policy with regard to race, but the truth is that this is mere racist drivel. Why is separate but equal fine for any other group, but is pernicious and evil when applied to blacks, and now gays. Separate but equal is fine for the Italians, the Jews, the Japanese, and almost any other group, but to the rascist mind, the blacks are a specially handicapped group, needing special protection. And now the gays need such special protection....

What we need is a constriction of the laws surrounding civil marriage, not a liberalization of them. You say "Many citizens adhere to no church at all. Should they be required to adhere to a religious teaching in order to be legally married?" I answer: Yes! There are religions that require no particular belief, and others that embrace any different or even bizarre beliefs you can imagine. Why shouldn't marriage be a rite granted solely by a religious institution? Civil law can then do what it does everywhere else: regulate things and ban unacceptable practices, such as polygamy and incest, and grant, in civil union status, the rights you hold dear for purposes such as inheritance, health care benefits, leaseholder rights, etc. You could join the Church of the Sincerely Gay and get married in the church. Why can't you, who self-describes as a conservative, see a solution that needs less government intrusion, rather than more?

Andrew, I've written you before and blogged this several times. Why is it that some gays, and you may be their most visible proponent, need to wear your sexuality on your sleeves. Why must I/we recognise your personal needs? If the state is willing to grant you all of the civil benefits of marriage excluding the word marriage itself, I suggest you grab it. This may be the most you could, or should, get.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Intelligent Design

Now the debate on Darwinian evolution is heating up again. The opposition chooses to use the euphemism "Intelligent Design" instead of "creationism," and is trying to state its case without using a direct reference to God. This is the same dodge used by the pro abortion folks who proclaim a right to "choice" while avoiding any reference to exactly what they wish to choose. If the design is "intelligent," who, exactly, is being intelligent?

The debate focuses upon the idea that the odds of such a complicated system as life coming into existence by random chance are impossibly long. This reminds me of a quote from one of the best books ever written, Innumeracy, by John Allen Paulos, that reads:
[r]arity by itself shouldn't necessarily be evidence of anything. When one is dealt a bridge hand of thirteen cards, the probability of being dealt that particular hand is less than one in 600 billion. Still, it would be absurd for someone to be dealt a hand, examine it carefully, calculate that the probability of getting it is less than one in 600 billion, and then conclude that he must not have been dealt that very hand because it is so very improbable.
While that is a cute bit of mathematical rhetoric, it doesn't add anything to the debate, This matter can, however, be dealt with very quickly.

Zero Base Thinking is a way to simplify many of the great questions of the day, and usually amounts to a realization that the Emperor has no clothes. That is what we have here. For, if the lifeforms in the Universe must have had a sentient designer, doesn't that just beg the question? I mean, who designed the designer? At some point, intelligence had to arise from nothing, somehow. Even God had to spring into existence at some point, didn't he? I avoid theological debate, because there is nothing logical in theological. It's all about blind faith. Those who would like to make this into a logical debate are attempting to play with a deck that is significantly short of the requisite 52 cards. Bringing the creation debate down to a debate on the complexity of DNA is a sham. Once there was nothing. Then there was something. Ergo, a means existed to create something from nothing. God herself had to be created. Darwin showed a way for pure dumb luck to improve a very complicated system. We don't know how the first bit of organization sprang forth, so it could be improved upon. That's what we know. Until something better comes along, the debate stops right here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Miranda Warnings

Any watcher of TV police dramas knows that the police try as hard as they can to elicit confessions from suspects, and they obey precious few rules in the pursuit of same. I have had a (very) few close calls with the police myself in my storied past, and can assure those of you who don't already know this, the truth is even harder to bear. Thus, one of my favorite pastimes is to observe the way a free society must promulgate rules intended to rein in the police, and the way the police and prosecutors avoid and defeat these rules to make their jobs easier.

Of course, most conservatives have precious little personal experience with the police, and tend to believe that "you have nothing to hide if you've done nothing wrong." What surprises me is the neocons: who I prefer to call "ex-liberals," who should take the middle path on this issue, but all too often take the more hard line approach to "law-and-order" issues. Recently one of my favorite neocons, Jack Rich, over at Haganah, took up the subject of the Miranda warning, and his recommendations for its future. Rather that paraphrase, I repeat here his entire post, and our colloquy issuing therefrom. Of course, you can and should go over to his site and read the original post. Or just read it right here:

Watching Miranda by Jack Rich

With apologies for a near-pun, it appears that the Supremes, once again, will wade into the fray on the so-called Miranda Warning. From The Washington Post, this story, headlined "High Court to Reconsider Miranda Warnings." That warning, now enshrined in police-drama lore as a "constitutional" right against self-incrimination, has been a bane to police and prosecutors. The original 1966 decision, was, most people may not remember, a close call; a 5-4 decision by the very liberal Warren Court.

This narrow reading of what is permissible police conduct works has been falsely enshrined as a constitutional bulwark. It works against the best interests of society. Those who love it best are so-called liberals, who, correctly, note that it was, and remains, primarily the poor and uneducated who benefit. This may be a worthy goal, but the Constitution is a rather blunt and inappropriate instrument to further it.

What Miranda accomplishes is to make harder to convict the guilty while not really protecting the innocent. As for confession that is given in the absence of an attorney, this is obviously not a violation on its face of the Fifth Amendment ("...nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself..."). Absent physical or harsh psychological coercion, a confession has not been compelled. The liberal view, which I can't espouse, would likely be that the average schlub who's been arrested is too dumb to know that the Fifth Amendment exists; hence will confess just to get out of the interrogation room.

And here is the flip side of the libertarian coin -- knowledge of one's rights. Rights of citizenship come with some obligations. The simplest of these is some basic knowledge of what your rights are, and what they are not. Just as we are told that ignorance of the law is no excuse, we should be expected to know that we have the right to not bear witness against ourselves.

Beyond treating us all as ignoramuses, Miranda creates a garden of loopholes in which that notorious "fruit of a poisoned tree" may flourish. In simple English, it lets the guilty go free on technicalities rather than on questions of guilt or innocence. And hence the violence done to simple English jurisprudence.

Without Miranda warnings, it is certain that there would be some, hopefully and in my opinion few, innocents who confess. My sense, however, is that these few would be far outnumbered by the guilty perpetrators who would no longer get off on technicalities.

Let's look at what four of the Nine had to say in their dissent:
The new rules are not designed to guard against police brutality or other unmistakably banned forms of coercion. Those who use third-degree tactics and deny them in court are equally able and destined to lie as skillfully about warnings and waivers. Rather, the thrust of the new rules is to negate all pressures, to reinforce the nervous or ignorant suspect, and ultimately to discourage any confession at all. The aim in short is toward "voluntariness" in a utopian sense, or to view it from a different angle, voluntariness with a vengeance. . . .
Miranda has hampered police and the courts. It is one of the worst examples of the government telling us that we are incompetent citizens who know not our basic rights. Let's hope that this time the Court makes the right choice.

Posted by Jack Rich at 04:14 PM

You dismiss over two hundred years of American jurisprudential experience with a glib smugness. Unlike you, I was once suspected of a crime by those myrmidons of the law, the police. Even with the Miranda protections, the amount of pressure applied to me to confess or reveal something was Kafkaesque. My demands to see an attorney were ignored and ridiculed. When my alibi panned out, I was released without apology. When I went to complain, no record of my detainment existed. This occurred in New York City.

I survived, but since then I have had an acute sensitivity to the fact that the police will abuse their power in every way possible when they believe that they have a guilty person in their grasp. And they believe almost everyone to be guilty. You smug people, who believe that you have nothing to fear if you have done nothing wrong, do no service to the pursuit of liberty. Felix Frankfurter said that it is better that one hundred guilty go free than one innocent be imprisoned. I think he went a little far, but I know for a fact that the innocent must be protected from the power of the law. As a Jew, I knew this, even before I experienced it first hand. Why don't you realize that the power of the police must be restrained? Do you really feel that, in order to avoid a guilty person's use of a "loophole," you must leave the innocent without protection?

Posted by Michael Gersh at April 22, 2003 01:40 PM
Michael Gersh raises a fair point. Those of us who've never been in the star chamber can be smug -- it's easy to talk about what others have to endure. My apologies if that is what came across; it wasn't intended.

It brings to mind an old bromide, that a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged, and a liberal is a conservative who's been arrested.

But I dispute that I somehow "don't realize that the power of the police must be restrained." It is not for nothing that I wrote "Absent physical or harsh psychological coercion..." I also purposefully included this from the minority:
The new rules are not designed to guard against police brutality or other unmistakably banned forms of coercion.My post was not about having no fetters on the police; it was about how Miranda hampers the justice system and allows more criminals to return to the streets to deprive us of some of our liberty.

Posted by Jack Rich at April 22, 2003 04:54 PM
The police are in the business of prosecuting the guilty, not protecting the innocent. Under our system of laws, it is up to the state to prove the guilt of those it believes to be culpable offenders. Forcing those it believes to be guilty to confess is a means that the police use to short circuit the process, and avoid having to do the more difficult part of their job.

That being the nature of things, it is up to the state to impede the police from taking control of the process, by restraining the police through a system of rules. We therefore have a system that affords rights and protections to the accused. However, until a suspect is arrested, he has very little of that protection.

Miranda is an imperfect means of restraint over the police. But it is one of the few protections that the innocent have, prior to an arrest, as I learned the hard way. It is a very weak protection at best. Before you advocate weakening or removing the Miranda rule, you must propose something to replace it. Personally, I would strengthen it. Who in their right mind would confess anyway? There are a few who truly wish to confess, and I would allow them that, once they are represented by counsel. But since almost all confessions are coerced, and therefore should be suspect, I would favor a rule that no confessions should be allowed before a suspect is represented by counsel. Once we have established such a rule, you can repeal Miranda if you so desire.

Posted by Michael Gersh at April 23, 2003 10:46 AM

Saturday, April 19, 2003

Umm Qasr, Success Story

If this story is correct, the way the British are handling the civilianization of Umm Qasr should serve as the template for the way regime change should be handled in the rest if Iraq. Rather than having "leaders" just appearing, as seems to be happening other places in Iraq, in Umm Qasr the military is organizing things based upon locals handling the work, but a Colonel making sure that some semblance of order and fairness are followed. As I keep saying, it is crucial that we pursue the peace with the same competence that we used to pursue the war.

Beside the inherent problems of democracy, we are seeing some of the ugliness inherent in theocracy. While it is all fine and well to establish a democratic template for the future governance of Iraq, we must remember the tendency for the majority to establish a tyranny of its own. We must guard against that happening at all costs, otherwise most of the accomplishment of our victory over the despot may be lost.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Military Intelligence

We hear so much these days about the power of our combined arms attack. We forget that our tanks are 1970s technology, Certainly the M1 Abrams tank has less of an advantage over the T-72 than the German tanks used in WWII, even the lowly Pz. Kw IV, had over the Sherman, yet the puny Sherman beat the German Tigers, through superior numbers and tactics. The combined arms attack was invented in 1918, and surely even an amateur will realize that the Blitz Krieg combined attack of Stuka bombers and Panzers is exactly the combination we used in this war.

No, the difference in 2003 war versus 1940 war is battlefield intelligence. While the credulous press embeds keep referring to our Predator drones, those in the know will point to the fact that our artillery commanders have access to their own battlefield drones. Sattelite and U2 photography, combined with JStars radar planes alerted our airmen to armored targets before they arrived on scene. The difference between the wars is in the intelligence, almost entirely. Can you imagine a Battle of the Bulge today? Armored divisions could not sneak through a forest with these intel assets at work.

Before anyone credits our supposed "gee whiz" infantry weapons, credit military intelligence and battlefield awareness. I know that military intelligence is supposed to be an oxymoron, but not any more.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Rules of War

There has been a bit of babble on the tube about the Iraqi forces "not playing by the rules" of warfare, the Geneva convention, or whatever. These are the same newscasters who shamlessly cheer American tactical victories and gloat about how the Iraqis would be destroyed if only they would come out in the open with their uniforms on.

It's called "assymetric warfare," of "guerrila tactics." When the sides are so unbalanced that there is no chance for the weaker to survive in open combat, that is what our enemies have historically resorted to. The only other option is surrender, and this enemy has decided not to surrender. Yet.

You can't have it both ways. There is no rule of warfare that says a combatant must commit suicide. There are no rules when bullets are headed your way. You say they use hospitals for military bases? They hide tanks in playgrounds? They store ammo in schools? What else do you expect them to do? We can reach out and destroy any target that we can identify. The enemy can either act on that fact, or capitulate. I, personally, wish that they would capitulate, but since they will not, I find it silly to complain about the tactics of guerrilla war as if this really was just a video game. It's not. If it was, if warfare was waged logically, and the weaker forces would just surrender to the side with the stronger armmy, then the U.S.A. would just declare the entire world as a part of the American Empire, and world peace would descend upon the planet.

I for one would not object to the imposition of such a Pax Americana. But most of the rest of the world would. It's too bad, really.

EA-6B Prowler

I recently noticed, in video from the deck of one of our Aircraft Carriers, that the A-6 jet fighter that was being launched seemed to have an extra window. Now, the A-6 is known as our oldest carrier-based fighter, which was distinctive for its side-by-side seating and its use in an anti-radiation role. That's a very dangerous mission - to attract the attention of a surface to air missile site radar, and then to shoot a HARM (high speed, anti-radiation missile) at the radar that was "painting" the fighter in order to shoot it down. The A-6 had taken over for the F-4 Phantom "Wild Weasel" of Viet Nam fame but, rather than the rakish lines of the legendary Phantom jet, the A-6 was rather, well, dowdy. That look didn't go with the penache of what is, arguably, the most dangerous job in aviation.

What happened to the A-6? In this day of newer, better, faster, sleeker combat tools, why wasn't the vererable fighter being mothballed? The story is not like the story of the B-52, which was, slowly, steadily, improved and renewed as the years went by. The A-6 was redesigned, and rebuilt from the wheels up. While the A-6 was first deployed in 1960, the first EA-6B Prowler was not flown until 1971, when the need for an electronic countermeasures platform became obvious. This was not a mere upgrade, since the fuselage had to be lengthened to allow for the addition of an additional pair of crewmembers. The venerable little bomber, which actually delivered more ordnance than the B-52 in the Viet Nam war, became a high-tech platform for the latest electronic gear.

So, while the old A-6 was retired after the first Gulf war, the EA-6B Prowler is still a required part of the complement of every Aircraft Carrier, and the Marines forward deploy them everywhere they go. When I was a little boy, the A-6 was the latest thing. The idea of making it an electronic warfare platform with a crew of four seemed, well, quaint. But here we are, decades later, and the little bomber has been retired, while its big brother soldiers on, carrying the latest gear, with a mission that the military finds absolutely necessary to its offensive operations. There's hope for us old guys yet.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003


In this atmosphere of superlatives, I pause before making the statement I plan to make here. We are told that this has been the fastest assault in military history. The longest supply lines, The most bombs. The most planes. I am not sure if these statements are true. But they sound true. So here goes: We are witnessing the most selfish act in the history of the human race.

Never in the course of human history has one man, for reasons of his own personal aggrandisement, caused and allowed so many people to die and suffer. We compare Saddam to Hitler, but at least Hitler had a chance of success. Some might say that he did, indeed, accomplish something. After all, he did preside over the murder of European Jewry, in perhaps the most successful genocide we know about. And Hitler might actually have won his war. But Saddam? He has absolutely no shot to accomplish anything more at this point, other than a paragraph in a history book, and he would get that anyway.

Once he prosecuted the Anfal Campaign, Saddam lost the right to govern. The world community (if there is such a thing) should have put him down then. For those who might have missed this historical detail, a sample (from Human Rights Watch):
The campaigns of 1987-1989 were characterized by the following gross violations of human rights:

mass summary executions and mass disappearance of many tens of thousands of non-combatants, including large numbers of women and children, and sometimes the entire population of villages;

the widespread use of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and the nerve agent GB, or Sarin, against the town of Halabja as well as dozens of Kurdish villages, killing many thousands of people, mainly women and children;

the wholesale destruction of some 2,000 villages, which are described in government documents as having been "burned," "destroyed," "demolished" and "purified," as well as at least a dozen larger towns and administrative centers (nahyas and qadhas);

the wholesale destruction of civilian objects by Army engineers, including all schools, mosques, wells and other non-residential structures in the targeted villages, and a number of electricity substations;

looting of civilian property and farm animals on a vast scale by army troops and pro-government militia;

arbitrary arrest of all villagers captured in designated "prohibited areas" (manateq al-mahdoureh), despite the fact that these were their own homes and lands;

arbitrary jailing and warehousing for months, in conditions of extreme deprivation, of tens of thousands of women, children and elderly people, without judicial order or any cause other than their presumed sympathies for the Kurdish opposition. Many hundreds of them were allowed to die of malnutrition and disease;

forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of villagers upon the demolition of their homes, their release from jail or return from exile; these civilians were trucked into areas of Kurdistan far from their homes and dumped there by the army with only minimal governmental compensation or none at all for their destroyed property, or any provision for relief, housing, clothing or food, and forbidden to return to their villages of origin on pain of death. In these conditions, many died within a year of their forced displacement;

destruction of the rural Kurdish economy and infrastructure.
From 1989, Saddam had forfeited his right to rule. After his invasion of Kuwait, it is a crime that Bush and the U.N. failed to remove him. But as of 2 weeks ago, he knew that the game was up. There is no force on Earth that can save his power for him. And that is what it is all about. His Power. Nothing else.

He could have gone to any number of places and live out his days in luxury. Surely Saudi Arabia would have let him live in the mansion next door to Idi Amin, the former dictator of Uganda. Up until two weeks ago, surely the U.N. Security Council would have granted him some kind of binding immunity. Right up until two weeks ago, he could have spared the world, his own people, and himself, the consequences of the war and its aftermath. But no. Not him.

I know that I rail a lot about the illogic that drives many events. I try to point out that the Emperor has no clothes, when seemingly no one will see that he is, indeed, naked. But it seems to me that this one fact is so clear, that everyone should be saying this: Saddam Hussein is Mad. The killing can stop now. He must go. But no. For whatever reason, various groups and individuals find the continued existence of this monster to be useful. The ruling class in Iraq need him for their reflected power and glory to continue. The ruling despots in the rest of Arabia need him as an example against whom their own monstrosity looks rather tame. The anti-war left needs anything that might make Bush look bad. The Islamic world needs a champion, whatever that is (when your champion is a mass murdering psychopath). So the killing goes on. And in war, there is no winner. There are only different levels of loss. Everyone loses. But one thing we do know.

When the smoke clears, the biggest loser will be So Dumb Insane. And those who supported him.

War Polarizes

As the war progresses, the opinions expressed by those citizens who respond to pollsters have become more polarized. Not only are more people going over to the "Hawk" side, the number of "undecided" pollees has gone down as well. This phenomenon has infiltrated all strata of society. Now, even my wife, Beverly, who is not a very political woman, has taken a very strong stand on the side of goodness and light. (How a "not a very political woman" can stand to live with me is another story, one that will never be told)

She received an email, its subject and sender are unimportant, and it set her off. An excerpt of the email she wrote me follows:
No doubt, this organization's intent is to coddle our children, hide our kids from the truth so they won't have any baaaaaad effects from our nation being at war... so they won't be affected as adults and need therapy when they grow up... no instead, let's make war very touchy feelie, express your feelings... we know it's a baaaaad thing, and we know this baaaaaad President of ours is doing a baaaaaad thing and it's okay to feel baaaaaad. And that's okay because he's not really OUR President... remember, he stole the election. Just let it all out and tell us how baaaaaad this makes you feel. Ooooooh, pooooooor babies...

I fear we are a nation of wimps, creating a whole new nation of wimps. Wimps spawned by protesters of the late 60's and 70's who only knew to protest the Viet Nam War because it was the "thing" to do at the time if you were cool.

Some people are under the misguided notion that this war is about oil... or that nothing could happen on our soils, so why are WE at war???!!! They don't want to acknowledge that 9-11 happened on our soils, and could happen again -- from the nuke you believe could be sitting in our harbors, to a deadly virus (hmmmm... SARS, ya think), to more suicide bombings a la 911, we are sitting ducks and can only anticipate what evils a madman might dream up out of his hatred for our nation. I've heard it said that Bush allowed 9-11 to happen to us. What??? Who could've predicted that 4 planes, all on the same day, coming from all parts of the land, would come together to perform such a heinous -- no, outrageous act??! I would say that Clinton cutting our Services down by 50%, or his making friends with every nation no matter how cruel their policies so Americans would be distracted from the fact that he was getting a blow job, was far more to blame for the state of our nation's freedoms and securities, or lack thereof.

Well, now I'm ranting...
Rant away Bev!!! Just one more example that where you stand depends upon where you sit.