Monday, January 31, 2005

U.N.: No Genocide in Darfur

Reports Reuters just now.

Well, that's just great. If the U.N. doesn't do something, they're screwed. Obviously the U.S. won't/can't do anything, despite W's recent bombastic (but apparently not-to-be-taken-seriously) rhetoric about spreading freedom. Maybe if we spread the rumor that there's oil there...or that that's where they hid the WMDs...

"Never again"--what a joke. Never again only because it never really stopped. "In perpetuity" would be a better genocide-related slogan.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

More Wisdom from Crazy Freddie

The party man. The true party man learns no longer--he only experiences and judges; while Solon, who was never a party man but pursued his goal alongside and above the parties, or against them, is characteristically the father of that plain maxim in which the health and inexhaustibility of Athens is contained: "I grow old and always continue to learn."

--Nietzsche, Mixed Opinions and Maxims
WaPo: Good News Re: Iraqi Elections

Like it says. God, might this whole mess really turn out to be a non-total disaster in the end? If so, it's better than we deserve. Still, today may be a day for a very slight--guarded, tentative--sigh of relief.

My guess is that the adminstration hopes that they can get a plausible Iraqi government in place asap and then rely on it--or encourage it--to ask us to leave before the sh*t can really hit the fan.

Despite the reprehensible actions of the Bush administration and its irresponsible conduct of the war, I personally believe that democracy is such a strong force that it might even be able to take root under conditions like those in Iraq. Despite our best efforts to screw this up, I still believe that there is a better than 50/50 chance that this will all work out for the best in the (very, very) long run.

The downside is that we alienated the world and inflamed the Middle East in the process, and that may end up making the whole thing a losing proposition in the end. But most of the American electorate don't really pay attention to that part.

The other downside, of course, is that Bush will get credit for any success we might have in Iraq despite his ineptitude and dishonesty. That sucks bad, but it beats failure in Iraq.

And that's the way it works in American politics--and probably elsewhere, too. You don't get graded on how smart your policies are, nor on how likely they are to succeed. You get graded on whether things work out or fail to work out after you implement your policy. If a U.S. president took the entire contents of the U.S. treasury to Vegas and bet it all on red and won, he'd be a hero. A dumbass, but a hero.

And still democracy is the best form of government there is. Scary, huh?

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Words of Wisdom from Crazy Freddy

"How good bad music and bad reasons sound when one marches against an enemy!"

--Nietzsche, The Dawn
NRO: Still Silly

Well, the National Review, online or otherwise, is obviously not a publication for serious people. But before heading out into the snow, I thought I'd snarkily point this out over at The Corner.

No, Mr. Derbyshire, it's a theory AND it's a fact. Or, more precisely: given that it's such an extraordinarily good theory, it's likely to be factual.

(Not the particulars of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, which I sort of expect to be radically revised and/or overturned in my lifetime. But no honest person who knows the facts about the fossil record can doubt that evolution of some kind has occurred.)

Snow snow snow snow snow snow SNOW SNOW SNOW!!!!!!!! SNOW!!

It's snowing it's snowing it's snowing! Hot DAMN, it's snowing! Oh, man, I love snow. It looks so cool, it's like a little mini-adventure! Woo-hoo! Yer on yer own, I gotta go play in the SNOW!
Civility and Political Discourse

Check out Colbert I. King in today's WaPo.

As you know, I agree that a lack of civility and calm rationality in our public discussions is one of the major problems facing us today. I am pessimistic about it changing any time soon, however. As I've made clear in the past, I'm in a bad rhetorical spot on this one--though I think not a bad logical one.

As you know, I tend to agree more with liberals than I do with conservatives. I also think that the current lack of civility is primarily the fault of conservatives. So, it's hard for me to say what I think about this issue and be taken seriously. It comes out sounding like "yes, we need more civility and understanding--and it's their fault we don't have it!"

But it seems to me that the tone in American politics became truly vicious during the '92 election when the ascendant radical right decided to try to crush Bill Clinton. This seemed to more-or-less coincide with the rise of right-wing rant radio. Today there is no comparison between the conservative punditocracy and what passes for its liberal analog--none of the prominent more-or-less centrists who get tapped to represent the left can come anywhere close to spewing forth the kind of vituperation that is routinely emitted from the mouths of e.g. Coulter, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Liddy, or Hannity. That is to the credit of the centrist liberals in question like E. J. Dionne and Peter Beinart, but that's not the point here. The point is that the two ends of the spectrum are not equally responsible for the current sorry state of "civil" discourse in this country.

Which is not to say that I think liberals are blameless. As I've said many times, I think that liberals were complicitous in the rise of the radical right by being insufficiently critical of the radical-left PC movement on college campuses in the '80's and early '90's. For a case study in mindless, hateful PC radicalism sending someone over the right-wing edge, read the first few chapters of David Brock's Blinded by the Right.

Add to all of this that we currently have a president that seems intent on dividing the nation and the world, and there is simply no reason for optimism that we'll make any progress on this problem. After engaging in relentless character assassination against his opponents in the 2000 and 2004 elections--and, more importantly, after having in essence stolen the former election--this president continues to push an extreme conservative agenda that could not be more divisive if it were calculated to. One might try to dismiss this as sore losing on the part of American liberals; but that case is harder to make given that a majority of almost all other relevant nations in the world also detest Mr. Bush and his administration, and not without good reason. Bush's boosters have, of course, tried to spin his vices as virtues, arguing that it is his courageous, straight-talking, good-natured American idealism--together with his all-American simplicity and swagger--that have alienated the world. None but the most desperately pro-Bush could, however, believe this peurile explanation. I, like many others in this country, would flock to the polls to support a genuinely courageous, straight-talking, good-natured American idealist. It's the phoney kind I loathe.

So will things get more civil around here? I dunno--will conservatives quit writing books titled e.g. How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must) and Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism? Will conservatives stop their propaganda campaign to make 'liberal' into a dirty word? Will the president make at least some effort to govern from the center? Will he stop lying to us in order to manufacture support for his policies? Will the vilification of Democratic presidential candidates stop?

If so, then American politics will become more civil. Unfortunately, there's not much liberals can do about any of this.

It's mostly up to the conservatives.

Friday, January 28, 2005

CNN: Third Columnist Paid to Help Promote Bush Policy

Like it says. If we keep this headline template, it'll be fun when we get to five...

These people are despicable.
Powerline vs. The Reality-Based Community

Oh, this is rich. I don't know anything at all about Milwaukee in 2004, and, since I trust the Democrats only a little bit (well, o.k., a moderate bit) more than I trust the GOP, I can't say it would blow me away if this were true. But it does, you must admit, detract from the prima facie plausibility of their case when they write that it is becoming "increasingly clear" (increasingly? Huh?) that the Democratic party "perpetrated massive voter fraud in state after state" in the last's the kicker....wait for it...wait for it....:

"...just as it did in the 2000 election."

My god these people are loathsome. Unbelievable, eh? They steal the election, and who can expect them to admit it? But to then accuse us of having tried to steal it...pathetic.

Hell is the absence of reason.

This reminds me of walking through the book store and seeing, for the first time, that book titled If it Isn't Close They Can't Cheat.

Damn straight, I thought. I almost couldn't believe my eyes when I picked it up and realized what it was about...

This is, perhaps, a part of a general strategy that the right seems to have been employing of late. See, Bill Clinton was a pretty good president, and that's pretty much what Democrats said about him. Pretty good. About a B+. If it weren't for the Lewinsky fiasco, he could maybe be an A-. The Republicans decided, however, that he was the Anti-Christ before he was even inaugurated, and they launched an eight-year (well, twelve year by this point) effort to defame him (an effort he helped along with his Oval Office antics). Anway, your average Joe on the street who doesn't really follow politics tends to split the difference on these things: one side says he's pretty good, the other says he's the he must be a pretty darned bad guy.

With W, the right is taking no chances. Here's a very bad president who is recognized as such by almost the entire world, and the right seems mindful of the inevitable difference-splitting. It's kind of embarrassing when they even try to make him out to be adequate, but they aren't going to stop there. They've basically deified the guy. They've compared him to Churchill, for chrissake! Such a comparison is enough to make a normal person a tad queasy. It's the silliest thing since the Republicans used to say that Reagan was "the best president since Thomas Jefferson," [sic] a statement at which the mind reels.

At any rate, I guess they're going to try the same thing with the election of 2000. Not content to have in essence stolen it, not content to deny that they did, I suppose their line now is that we tried to steal it and they it back?

The Death of Spinsanity

Well, hell.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

George F. Will On Summers and Innate Cognitive Differences

You know the left has gone too far when even George F. Will can score serious points against them. Although I used to take Will seriously, he--IMO--turned into pure conservative hack some years ago. These days he only scores serious points when the left leaves itself open--way open.

His take-down of Hopkins gets it just right I'd say. It's one thing to raise sensible questions about Summers's claims. It's another to allow one's reactions and criticisms to decend to the level of the theatrical and the hyperbolic. As does professor Hopkins.

If liberals tolerate this kind of stuff on their side of the fence, it's little wonder that otherwise reasonable people end up identifying more strongly with conservatism.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

W: Crusader for Democracy and Liberty?

So, I didn't listen to the inauguration speech. It was already a weird day...overcast, looked like snow...prediction for big snow storm...and couldn't shake the feeling that I'd slipped into an alternative dimension, one in which slightly more than half of the American electorate had gone mad...

So I didn't listen.

Then I started hearing clips from the speech. At first I was enraged, taking it all for BS. After in essence stealing the election of 2000, how could this man have the audacity to stand up and proclaim a committment to spreading democracy around the world? Why was Carter vilified by the right for talking that talk, while W was--yet again--deified? (Conservatives have had a tendency, over the last 20 years, to deify their point man at the drop of a hat.)

Boy, was I ever pissed.

Then I started thinking: maybe I was wrong about this guy. Maybe he really did mean it. Maybe he'd seen the error of his ways. Sure, the war in Iraq was not undertaken for humanitarian reasons. Sure he started talking like an idealist in order to distract us after the WMD justification was exposed as a dud. Sure he seems like a rat fink...but shouldn't I be supporting any president who has the goal of actively promoting democracy around the world?

No, I decided, this guy and his cronies (a) don't have the right sentiments and (b) can't be trusted and (c) are incompetent anyway, so they tend to (d) cause more harm than good.

But still...a president committed--whatever the reason--to promoting democracy and fighting tyranny... God, it's almost impossible for me to resist... Was I just locked into a partisan anti-Bush mindset?

I tormented myself about these questions all weekend.

Turns out I needn't have bothered.
Why I'm Pro-Second Amendment, Episode MLXVIII

Since I'm alienating the local liberals anyway, I guess I might as well direct your attention to this story on, which, I must admit, warms my heart. At least one of the two innocent shopkeepers in this story would be dead if they hadn't been armed.

Liberal gunphobia is something that most people who grew up where I grew up simply do not and perhaps cannot understand. I suppose if I could wave a magic wand and eliminate all privately-owned firearms--including those possessed by criminals--I'd have to think long and hard about whether to do it. But, of course, in the real world criminals would be the last to surrender their guns.

I've puzzled a lot over the attitude liberals seem to have developed to firearms over the past 30 or 40 years. Seems to me that the liberal attitude about firearms--like the liberal attitude about drugs--should be that the government has no right to tell you what to do until you are a threat to others. If you get high and drive--or if you use a gun in a crime--then the penalties should be severe. But until that time the government simply does not have any interest in--or authority to--tell you what you can own or ingest.

But, oddly, many liberals I know are against stiffer penalties for those who use guns in crimes, preferring to take guns away from law-abiding citizens instead. This seems decidedgly illiberal to me. Many liberals seem to have come to believe that we can turn over our duty of self-defense to the state, but this is not true. For one thing the state is incapable of protecting individuals under many or perhaps even most circumstances.

Well, anyway, at least this was one gunfight with a happy outcome. Chalk one up for the good guys!
New Thoughts on the Innate Differences Dust-Up

I've now talked to three extremely intelligent and reasonable females of my acquaintance, including the extraordinarily reasonable Johnny Quest, about Summers's comments. All three conversations went roughly the same way, to wit: initial annoyance (note: not "offence") at the comments, then genuine curiosity about the data, then an almost embarrassed admission that they found the comments angrifying even if they turned out to be true.

Given my large chunk of respect for all three of these double-X-chromosome types, I'm now more sympathetic with (but still unconvinced by) the anti-Summers position.

It does seem to be true that there are some truths that one has a moral obligation not to speak under some circumstances. For example, one shouldn't go up to someone with a sever physical deformity and say, e.g., "Hey, you are deformed. Most people find such deformities gruesome."

Hmm... However, there are some places in which anything true and relevant should be assertable, and scholarly conferences are the paradigm example. In fact, I read somewhere that the no transcripts rule at this conference was instituted specifically in order to facilitate the free expression of ideas. Making the innate differences hypothesis sound like a hypothesis that we aren't supposed to discuss ever, under any conditions, even the most ideal. And that's clearly wrong.

I will admit this: this is a harder problem than I first thought.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Sex-Based Cognitive Differences: Why The Dust-Up?

The thing that puzzles me most about the recent dust-up over Lawrence Summers's suggestions about sex-based cognitive differences is...well, why the dust-up? That is, why all the anger?

This is not an attempt to poo-poo the anger, I'm really interested.

I remember when The Bell Curve came out. My reaction was twofold:

(a) so what?
(b) wonder whether it's true?

What puzzled me was why any given individual should care whether members of his/her group are, on average, better or worse than the members of some other group. For example, let's say that tomorrow we get ironclad evidence that Asians tend to be smarter, what's the PC term? Whites? Caucasians? Oh, hell, let's say that we find out that Asians tend to be smarter--for biological reasons--than white farm boys from Missouri.

Does this bother me? No, it does not. What do I care about the relative averages of the two groups? None of it makes me any smarter or dumber. I'm still however smart I actually am. It matters not a whit to me whether most people who share my biology or upbringing are smarter or dumber than most people of some other group.

It has been suggested to me that the reason that this doesn't matter to me is that my IQ is going to be significantly higher than average for any identifiable biological group, and that if I had an average or below-average IQ I might feel differently. I agree that I might, but I assert that I shouldn't, by the same reasoning discussed above. If I had a low IQ I'd be bummed because I had a low IQ...not because of differential group averages.

Perhaps what's making people mad is that they think that, if we acknowledge some intellectual difference between two groups, then we are committed to endorsing differential treatment for those groups, but that isn't so. Even if Summers is right, it in no way means that it's o.k. to start discriminating against females, math-wise. Individual talent is still all that should matter in admission and employment decisions.

(And, interestingly, even if the flatter-male-intelligence-curve hypothesis is true, and even if this did entail the appropriateness of discrimination, it would seem to entail an equal amount of discrimination against males and females since there will be more males at both the good and the bad ends of the curve.)

Anyway, here's another reason why such things shouldn't bother you even if true: the difference between the number of people in your own biological group who are smarter than you and the number of people in any other group who are smarter than you will be negligible even if the most pessimistic of the reasonably hypotheses are true. If 499 people out of 1000 in your own group are smarter than you are, then it probably shouldn't worry you that much that 500 [changed numbers-- ed.] people out of 1000 in some other group are smarter than you. (Wait...that's another way of putting one of the points above...but for some reason my browser isn't letting me cut and paste. So deal with it.)

Incidentally, I usually avoid saying the following out of stubbornness and irritation at the irrationality that this topic provokes, but: no, I do not think that males are smarter than females. I don't even hope they are. In fact, I'd be really, really happy if it turned out that females were actually smarter than males on average. That would seem like a fitting end (?) to thousands of years of oppression of women. And it would really piss off the right wing and the fundamentalists (Christian, Jewish, Islamic, etc.) and the (as they used to say) male sexist pigs. And women are still underdogs in the world, and I can't help rooting for the underdog.

But, even given all that, I still don't see anything wrong with what Summers said. Er...or seems to have said...or may or may not have said...or is alleged to have thought...or might have suggested... Hmm... Guess this really is kinda pointless given that we really don't know the facts in the case... So I'm shutting up now.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Steven Pinker on Summers and the Innate Intellectual Differences Dust-Up

Like the title says. Pinker doesn't really say anything there that I haven't already said...but, hey, he's Steven Pinker. He--to say the least--knows the literature better than I do.

[Thanks to the mighty Arminius for the link.]

Thursday, January 20, 2005

More on Lawrence Summers and the Innate Differences "Tsunami"

It is with a heavy heart that I report that the Lawrence Summers affair hasn't died down yet. Academicus lefticus does love to be outraged. In fact, in my experience, being easily offended is a badge of honor among A. lefticus. If, say, I am offended by a comment and you are not, this shows that my sensibilities are more finely-honed than yours. So, for example, I could demonstrate my moral and political superiority to Professor Denice Denton--who said "I think [Summers's comments] provoked an intellectual tsunami"--like so:
"I am offended [extra points for 'deeply offended'] by Dr.
Denton's comments, which show inexcusable insensitivity to the plight of Third
World people [extra points for 'persons'] affected by the recent tsunami."

Check out the link above for details about the pathetic arguments being offered against Summers.

Let me note that it isn't that I don't view the innate differences claim with suspicion, for I do, I do. I view it with very much suspicion indeed. But it's the lack of intellectual rigor combined with the carefully-cultivated hair-trigger offence reflexes that irritate me.

I might take the time to analyze the anti-Summers arguments in detail later, but at first glance they don't really seem to be worth it. At least some of them seem to boil down to "you may have hurt the feewings of some of our [radically overprivileged] students!" And life's too short to waste on such drivel.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

CNN: Nation Split on Bush as Uniter or Divider

I am not making that headline up, as you can easily confirm.

Kai, of OrangeBand, brought this headline to my attention, so I should take this opportunity to direct you to the OrangeBand page. Let me begin by confessing up front that I am the faculty advisor for this group, hence have some affiliation with them. But it's a really great organization. OrangeBand is a resolutely non-partisan organization that seeks to promote civil, informed dialogue about social and political issues. Kai started this organization less than two years ago, and it's already had a big impact on campus. One of their forums--in which JMU student soldiers who had returned from Iraq talked about their experiences there--was even on C-SPAN last year.

Anyway, the organization is at a stage in its development at which even small (tax-deductable!) contributions can make a big difference--hint, hint... Perhaps even more important, however, is getting the word out about the organization. I'll be putting up a link to them soon, and hope some of you will consider doing the same. And if you have any interest in starting a chapter in your own area, there's information on how to do so on the website.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Evil Harvard President Suggests Possible Differences Between Sexes
Why I Am Not A Lefty, Part MXLVIII

So, as far as I can tell from this story, Lawrence H. Summers, president of Harvard, was giving a talk at an economics conference and noted that some people (but not he himself) had done research which might indicate that there might be cognitive differences between men and women that play some role in preventing female scientists and engineers from advancing at top universities.

As a result--and remember, this made person walked out and five other people reported being "offended." Later, the person who walked out, one Nancy Hopkins, said:

"It is so upsetting that all these brilliant young women (at Harvard) are
being led by a man who views them this way"

Um...let's replay that: It is so upsetting that all these brilliant young women are being led by a man who views them this way. First, according to Summers he doesn't "view them this way," nor did he say that he did. He said that some research suggested that it was true. Second, even if he did view them "that way," there's nothing wrong with doing so if that's what the data indicates. Third, everything he said is perfectly consistent with thinking that these (gush!) brilliant young women are (GUSH!) brilliant...and consistent with thinking that they are discriminated against.

I don't know much about this issue, but the last thing I read on it suggested that there ARE cognitive differences between males and females. Furthermore, the cognitive differences that were indicated would, in fact, explain the phenomenon in question--and some other mysterious phenomena as well. According to what I've read--y'all correct me if you know better--males have a flatter intelligence curve than females. Upshot: more very highly intelligent males and more male idiots. If so, this would explain not only why (a) more top scientists, scholars, and engineers are male, it would also help to explain why (b) more males end up in prison and (c) why more females are being admitted to universities for undergraduate work.

With regard to (c): remember, you don't need to be a genius to be admitted to most undergrad programs, you really just need to be above-average in intelligence (and reasonably diligent). At any rate, it may very well be that more women than men are above-average in intelligence but more men than women are far above average in intelligence. If most scholars and scientists at top universities are well above-average in intelligence, then, if the intelligence curves are as I've described them, then we should expect more male professors and more female students.

Anyway, none of this in any way indicates that women aren't discriminated against. Whether they are or not in academia is, IMHO, an open question. If I absolutely had to guess about it, I'd guess that there still is some kind of background assumption that men are in general more intelligent than women; on the other hand, women do (in philosophy, anyway) frequently get truly extraordinary affirmative action benefits. Maybe it all balances out, maybe it doesn't. I just don't know.

My suspicion is that the "brilliant" women from "elite" universities are, like most of the other students at elite universities, mostly rich kids who had innumerable advantages, and that they will be the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action programs. There is, of course, some reason to believe that the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action are the wealthy--wealthy women and minorities, that is, who are already advantaged relative to even highly intelligent white males from, say, Appalachia. Again, this isn't my area of expertise, that's just the upshot of the latest stuff I read. Again: please do correct me if I'm wrong.

Anyway, this little story reveals a lot about what's wrong with the academic left. In fact, I'm offended by the very suggestion that there are lefties in academia...AND by the suggestion that there might be some reason to believe that some of them might have been offended at some point! That's it. I'm walking out of this blog right now...

Monday, January 17, 2005

Old Dominion Fornicators Rejoice!

Via the ever-amusing BoingBoing comes this news that I missed from the Post: sex between unmarried people is now legal in Virginia. Until last week, it was punishable by a $250 fine. (Meaning, incidentally, that by my calculations I owe the Commonwealth about a half a million bucks. Guess I should have stayed in North Carolina...)

If conservatives really were interested in smaller government and more freedom, this is, of course, exactly the kind of law they'd go after. But they aren't and they didn't. Whatever it is that conservatives really want, smaller government and more freedom isn't it.

Although the law hasn't been enforced since 1847, it's infuriating that an asinine, puritannical piece of legislative crap could remain on the books into the 21st century.

And if you go over to BoingBoing, make sure to check out the new Mr. Potato Head Darth Tater, the impending giant iceberg-glacier collision, and our evil 50's-era SLAM/Project Pluto.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Postmodern Presidency 1/16/05

If you missed Frank Rich's "All the President's Newsmen," tucked inexplicably away in the Arts section of the NYT, then check it out.

Rich expresses justified happiness at the demise of CNN's loathsome "Crossfire," noting that the show had--in addition to its other sins--contributed (wittingly or not) to whitewashing the Armstrong Williams scandal. Rich also notes that that propaganda scandal is not an anomaly, but is, rather, merely one piece of this administration's concerted effort to (as they might put it) "manage public opinion." Williams has even asserted that he has "no doubt" that there are "others like him" on the administration's payroll. Proving yet again that this administration has absolutely no respect for the truth.

Has anyone since Nixon even come close to so sullying the presidency?

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Brooks: The Horrors of Childlessness, Part Deux

Back in December, David Brooks sang the virtues of "natalism," i.e. having (too many, by my lights) kids. I took him to task for that (somewhat exaggerating his claims in the process, I fear). He's at it again today. Brooks's main points in "Empty Nests, and Hearts" seem to be (1) that the start your career first, then have kids pattern may be good for men, but may not be for women and (2) it would be good if society made it easier for women to have kids first, during their more fertile years, and then move on to careers later. Maybe he's right about those things; I have no opinion on the matters.

But, as in Brooks's "natalism" op-ed, the more important issues lurk in the background. First, Brooks claims that we aren't reproducing enough:
I suspect that if more people had the chance to focus exclusively on
child-rearing before training for and launching a career, fertility rates would
rise. That would be good for the country, for as Phillip Longman, author of "The
Empty Cradle," has argued, we are consuming more human capital than we are
producing - or to put it another way, we don't have enough young people to
support our old people.

This may be true, but I suspect it isn't. At any rate, it suggests a strategy--increasing the population or at least keeping it steady--that may be good in the short run, but is sure to be bad in the long run. The population issue is a controversial one, but I am among those who incline to think that the Earth is already overpopulated. I won't argue for that claim here, but suffice to say that many of the standard responses to this claim are patently irrelevant--e.g. that if humans were evenly distributed over the surface of the planet there would only be a handful of people per square mile, and so forth. At any rate, there are, of course, limits to how quickly population reduction can be effected without imposing undue hardships on any given generation; but to fail to effect any population reduction at all is to impose great hardships on countless future generations. Longman's claim, endorsed by Brooks, is consistent with an endorsement of slow population reduction, but I suspect that is not what they have in mind, and I suspect that is not how most people will interpret the claim. So, as in the case of Brooks's natalism piece, I have fewer objections to what he actually says than I do to what he might--intentionally or unintentionally--suggest.

The second important claim Brooks makes has to do with the relation between reproduction and happiness:
Over the past 30 years, the fraction of women over 40 who have no children has nearly doubled, to about a fifth. According to the Gallup Organization, 70 percent of these women regret that they have no kids.
It's possible that some of these women regret not having children in the way they regret not taking more time off after college. But for others, this longing for the kids they did not have is a profound, soul-encompassing sadness.
And it is part of a large pattern. Most American still tell pollsters that the ideal family has two or three children. But fewer and fewer Americans get to live in that kind of family.

Here Brooks's point is clear and I have no real objections to it. If people want to reproduce, then I would hope that they would be able to (within reasonable limits). I have some worries, however, about the claims that "most Americans...tell pollsters that the ideal family has two or three children," and that "fewer and fewer Americans get to live in that kind of family." (My emphasis) It might, of course, be the case that most (say, 60%) people think that the idea family has 2.5 kids, while, say, the percentage of families so constituted has decreased from 80% to 70%. A movement of this kind might, in fact, indicate that family size was moving toward what people view as being optimal. That is, just because a majority of people think that ideal families have n children and fewer families have n children does not mean that fewer people have families that they consider to be of optimal size. My suspicion is that more families have too many kids than too few--too many, that is, compared to the number they themselves would choose in a cool hour. Brooks points to social forces that tend to decrease the number of children people have, but those social forces pale in comparison to the strength and number of social forces that work to convince people to have more children than they otherwise might.

Perhaps more importantly, I continue to suspect that Brooks may be pushing a pro-reproduction agenda. It's important to be clear that nothing he says entails this, and it would be very wrong to pin him with such a position in the absence of reasonably clear evidence. I'll just use this discussion of Brooks to express my disdain for pro-reproductionism--that is, the view that basically every sane, well-adjusted couple should have kids. It is sad that so many people have a burning desire for children but can't have any. But it would be wrong to infer from this that everyone should have kids. Let me direct you to this piece from Salon, "To Breed Or Not To Breed," by Michelle Goldberg. I don't agree with everything she says--for example, I find "those sparkling, precocious New York city kids" nauseating. I'd prefer a curious, vibrant farm kid any day. But my disagreements with Goldberg are relatively peripheral ones, and her essay is worth a look.

As Goldberg points out, many people with kids have an obvious (and quasi-pathological) need to convince those of us who are childless that we need to have kids too. Now, I don't always find fervent pro-reproduction cases off-putting. One of my best friends, for example, frequently waxes poetical about the wonderfulness of fatherhood, and I find this nothing but endearing since it is so obviously a direct consequence of the overwhelming affection he has for his daughter and the delight he takes in his relationship with her. No problem there. There are, however, others who push reproduction in the pathetic and desperate way that fundamentalist Christians push their faith. The existence of those who believe or act differently than they themselves do fills them with a doubt and/or rage that simply cannot be assuaged in any way short of converting the wrong-doers/wrong-believers. As Goldberg points out, such people are pathetically transparent. Their attempts to convert are for the most part obviously based in their own doubts about their decisions. Those folks bug me.

I also want to note (as Goldberg does), that couples who choose not to reproduce tend to be happier and have better relationships that those that choose to reproduce. This is something worth keeping in mind if you incline against reproduction but worry that you might be making a Big Mistake. That's the position that Johnny Quest and I find ourselves in, for example. They (capital 'T') will put a lot of pressure on you to breed; They might be right, of course, but we mustn't give in just because they are so many, so influential, or so loud. They'll try to convince you that you are selfish if you don't generate descendents, but, of course, that isn't, in general, true. That charge is particularly amusing given how many people reproduce in order to snag a shred of immortality, or to avoid loneliness in old age.

I hope that none of this suggests that I have contempt for those who do rationally choose to have kids, since I have none. (Contempt for them, that is, not kids. Though (thankfully) I don't have any of those either.) I think offspring can be great if you're into that sort of thing (and sane, and nice, etc.). It's just not for everybody.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Bush Almost Admits Mistake

Stop the presses! W almost admitted that me made a mistake.

Admittedly, it's not much given that this has been one of the most err0r-prone administrations of all time, but it IS a start. One can't help being a bit snarky about this given that (a) the "bring 'em on" comment pales in comparison to, say, lying to Congress and invading Iraq under false pretenses and (b) even in this case W can't quite bring himself to come right out and say "I was wrong."

Still, acknowledging one's fallibility is the first step towards intellectual maturity, so I think we've got to do what we can to encourage the nascent flames of reason in the President.

Way to go, Mr. President! Way to go.

Next important thing to recognize: lies have consequences.