Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Tuesday, April 30, 2002
Folks have probably noticed I've made a bunch of anti-cloning posts. I'm not sure why that is. I haven't worked out all the details of my feelings about the whole question, but I'm certainly not a clean anti-cloning vote. Indeed, I suspect I'm a pro-research-cloning vote, in the context of the proper regulatory infrastructure. I think reproductive cloning would be extremely dangerous - like, the clones would be sickly and the doctors should be liable for doing harm to people for bringing sick people into being - and so should be banned at the present time for that reason alone. I'm very leery of any process that results in the legal ownership of other human beings, and I don't think we have a good definition of a human being yet that would guarantee that such a thing wouldn't happen. I'd like the regulatory architecture to prevent outcomes like that to develop before the outcomes happen, not after the fact.

But I don't think abortion is always unjustified, nor that a zygote has the status of a human being. I lean towards a capacities test for humanhood, which would suggest I am absolutely against abortions beyond some date but not before it, and I'm certainly not opposed to IVF or other procedures that create embryos that will inevitably be discarded. The body, after all, does much the same. I think that genetic manipulation to eliminte disease is not only justified but morally necessary, the same as other kinds of medical treatment. And I am reluctant to have the government intervene in private decisions; I don't think women undertake abortions lightly, and in general I prefer to trust parents to make moral decisions rather than the government.

I do very much worry about the slippery-slope, however, particularly in the context of the necessary vaguess of application of any kind of capacities test. And because of that I am willing to entertain arguments that are more aggressive than those I might make myself in the pro-life direction. I don't think we're on a good moral footing on these issues in this country. And specifically, I am very distressed by the degree to which rights-talk has usurped wrongs-talk in this area. Where something is asserted to be a right, it is very hard to argue that that something is wrong. And as the rhetoric of the right to choose has escalated, I feel very much like I am watching a repeat of the 1850s, as an institution that was accommodated because eliminating it seemed to be a graver injustice than tolerating it became an absolute right that could never be challenged, warping the political and moral fabric of the country. Not that I'm expecting civil war over abortion; I'm certainly not. Not am I comparing abortion to slavery as an enormity; I'm not. But the rhetorical and legal aggression of NARAL do remind me of those of John Calhoun - as the extremism of Randall Terry reminds me of Garrison and John Brown - and these thing give me pause.

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit points out again that The Constitution doesn't give Congress the authority to ban cloning. I'm not sure he's right that to do so would involve an over-broad reading of the commerce clause. In general, economic activity that isn't exclusively local gets wrapped up in said clause. The high-profile cases where Congressional legislation didn't meet this test weren't economic at all - e.g. the law that banned guns on school grounds. Research cloning would be undertaken by laboratories funded by pharmaceutical and biotech companies, for the purpose of obtaining patents for products traded in interstate commerce. It's hard to see how you could strike down a cloning ban without threatening a whole host of established regulatory authorities. For example, OSHA regulates laboratories. Why can OSHA do that if labs aren't engaged in interstate commerce? Anyone think the Court is going to declare OSHA unconstitutional? And how about the 1964 Civil Rights Act, also based on commerce clause reasoning, and also applied to laboratories. Anyone see it being struck down soon? Frankly, I suspect Bush could ban cloning on administrative rule basis, arguing that if any cloning is allowed then a ban on reproductive cloning is unenforceable, and that reproductive cloning is a dangerous medical practice, the sort of thing Federal agencies routinely regulate.

But there's a more radical grounds for Congressional action on cloning: the 13th Amendment. You know, the one banning slavery, the ownership of a human being. I think a perfectly reasonable argument could be made that Congress does have the authority to define a human being. (The Supreme Court has already made it clear that they think that they do, per Roe v. Wade. Why does Congress have less authority than the Supremes? At least they are elected.) But of course, if Congress were to do that, it would raise the implication that the 14th Amendment might apply to unborn people, effectively imposing a ban on abortion, etc. etc. That isn't going to happen. But even if it doesn't, I'm not so sure the Court is going to rule that Congress has no legitimate say in defining what is or isn't human, and what the scope is of the state's interest in protecting humans from enslavement. Those enabling legislation clauses at the end of the civil war amendments are pretty broad.

A fascinating article in the most recent Atlantic (unfortunately, if you want to read it online, you have to pay for it; or you can just walk to a newstand and read it there, like I did) about how we all have very recent common ancestors. Go back a couple of thousand years, and everyone then living is either a common ancestor of everyone currently living or has no living descendants. This is based on mathematical models, not comprehensive genealogies. A simple mathematic model assuming equal-opportunity random mating converges on common ancestry for the entire world in a few hundred years; controlling for things like geographic boundaries and class pushes things back to a couple of thousand years. I doubt any of this is literally true - after all, the same mathematical models would probably have predicted in 1491 that everyone in the world had common ancestors circa 500 B.C., which would surely be untrue since America and Australia were still then terra incognita. But be that as it may, it's an interesting modelling exercise. And it sounds like a very valid model for populations that are in regular contact with one another.

And it got me to thinking: one of the things that seems most implausible about the sojourn in Egypt is the notion that Jacob and his family of 70 souls are the progenitors of a mighty nation of 600,000 men of fighting age, plus women and children (and much cattle!). But if you follow the logic of these models, you don't need to mutter about "the wonders of compound interest" and hope that suffices. The notion of Jacob as the common ancestor of an entire nation is entirely reasonable. Assume that Jacob's family is one family among many in Egypt; assume (as we know from Egyptian records) that there's a large population of Asiatics living in Egypt in the era of Joseph (presumably the era of the Hyksos Pharaohs, themselves Asiatic conquerors). Jacob's family itself hailed from Mesopotamia, according to the biblical account, and the wives of the patriarchs all came from their home region. It's reasonable to assume that Jacob's family would similarly make marriages among the other Asiatic peoples in Egypt. 400 years pass and, based on the kinds of models the article describes, it's likely that the entire Asiatic population of Egypt would technically be descended from Jacob. And this could be a very large number of people even in the absence of population growth.

Of course, any number of unnamed Asiatic men and women would also have been common ancestors of that entire population. That's the thing about genealogy: it's a multi-dimensional matrix of inter-connections, not a tree, as commonly represented. But we remember the name of Jacob. And that's, ultimately, what it means to be a patriarch: that it is your name that is carried on by your descendants.

Neat, huh?

And speaking of the Kremlin: David Satter has a depressing piece on the 1999 apartment bombings in Russian on National Review Online. Nothing really new here, but the last time I thought about this story - and the likelihood that the Yeltsin "family" had hundreds of innocent Russians murdered to ensure Putin's election - was around the time of the bombings themselves, when Russia looked like it was spiralling down the drain at an accelerating pace, and it didn't seem to matter so much just how awful things were; they were clearly too awful to worry about. (Kind of how we thought about Afghanistan for the past decade.) Anyhow, I've been very impressed at the strategic direction Putin has taken - I think he's far more Western-oriented than Satter does - and at the strategic insight the Bush Administration has had in partnering up with his regime. But that only makes this blast-from-the-past (as it were) more disturbing and depressing. Because if Putin's regime is really founded on mass-murder then I agree with Satter that whatever Russia builds is built on sand. Actually, it's worse than that. If Putin had come to power by killing a bunch of "troublemakers" - a la Tiananmen Square or the Santiago stadium - his regime could possibly be salvaged by pointing to a higher cause. Perhaps those who died did not deserve to die, but they were leading to "disorder," and this justified "strong measures." This is the way dictators talk all the time, and a transition to democracy can be made if the "emergency" is over and the dictator can be convinced to relinquish power, as happened in Spain, Chile, Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines and many other countries. But if the apartment bombings were a Kremlin plot, then the regime is guilty of murdering people selected entirely at random, and selected in order to cause disorder not to quell it. The Putin government would be less legitimate than the Nazis who came to power after setting the Reichstag fire. I'm really finding it hard to come up with proper comparisons. And to the extent that our government is strategically linked to Putin's, the potential downside for ultimate relations with the United States is significant. But I don't know what the U.S. can do about it. Something to worry about for the future.

I hope Michael Barone is right that Bush is on a steady course, threading his way through the diplomatic rocks but always headed toward the same goal: victory in the war. But I must admit, today's Wall Street Journal reference to how efforts to understand the White House's policy verge on the Kremlinological really hit home. I don't like not know what our government's policy is. I don't expect them to tell me when they are going to attack Iraq; I want them to win, not suffer losses in an effort to keep me informed. But I do wish things could be a little clearer. "Trust me, I know what I'm doing" goes only so far.

Remember that Peggy Noonan piece about how we shouldn't make rash statements about nuking Mecca, etc. because the people we're dealing with in this war are certifiable lunatics, and when dealing with a lunatic the last thing you want to do is get him riled up. Well, take a look at the Chairman of the Arab Psychiatrists Association's diagnoses of Bush and of the typical suicide bomber. With shrinks like these, who needs lunatics?

Monday, April 29, 2002
I did a little figuring on the numbers, apropos of this article from Arutz Sheva about bringing 1,000,000 Jews to Israel in ten years. If you could get 30% from France, 30% from the Former Soviet Union, 30% from Latin America, 3% from North America, and a reasonable number of Jews from elsewhere (South Africa, Britain, Hungary, and so forth) you could just barely do it. There are about 9 million Jews (estimated) outside of Israel, so 11% of the total would be necessary (net of emigration, of course). I think substantial emigration from France and Argentina is highly likely. Elsewhere? More questionable. But it's particularly hard to figure how many Jews there are in Russia and the other former Soviet states. They keep turning up more and more, particularly as people learn about Jewish roots they had never been told of, and particularly in poor areas where Jewish organizations are providing food, education, etc. So it's hard to say. One thing I will say: 3% is a very optimistic number from North America. Hence the campaign described in the article, I suppose.

Myself, I have always held that it is possible - indeed, necessary - to live a full Jewish life in the Diaspora. The notion that Jews must live in Israel to be fully Jewish is vulgar nationalism, not a tenet of Judaism. Jews have a religious mission to the whole world, not only in Israel, much as the priests and Levites did in all of the Land, and not only in Jerusalem. Nonetheless, Israel is always the center, as Jerusalem is always the center in Israel. More on this some other time.

Arutz Sheva reports on the Satmar condemnation of the Neturei Karta activists who showed up at the anti-Israel rally in Washington earlier this month. The Satmar are the most anti-Zionist Hareidi group out there. The Neturei Karta are a splinter group reviled even by them. But reporters have no idea about any of this, and happily snapped hundreds of pictures of hassidic Jews arm-in-arm with pro-PLO activists, thus convincing the world that there is genuine disagreement among traditional Jews about the nature of the enemy in this conflict.

Of course, I guess on the whole this could be a good thing, since if observers are inclined to favor the other side anyhow, at least they will think that some traditional Jews are not children of Satan. Nah, not worth it.

Ponnuru in NRO says Senator Hatch is going to come out in favor of research cloning. This is not really a surprise. The LDS Church holds that human life begins at implantation, not conception. This is a perfectly reasonable hard-line test; until an embryo is implanted, it has no way of becoming a human being, and we should no more adopt a hard-line stance regarding its "rights" than we should the majority of such entities disposed of naturally by the body. (That does not, of course, mean that potential human life is a mere thing; see my arguments in earlier posts for an intermediate position.) I'd expect Hatch to be more concerned with what his Mormon constituents think than what the Catholic Church or other conceptionists do in this matter.

The cover story of the latest Weekly Standard - Liberte, Egalite, Judeophobie - is the best exposition I've read yet on the nature of the new anti-Semitism. Really, worth a subscription to the magazine. Read it.

I wanted to clarify one thing regarding Effie Eitam, on whom I posted yesterday. I don't know that he himself is the kind of dangerous character that Ha'aretz was talking about - the sorts of folks who want to blow up the Dome of the Rock and so forth. If folks out there know more about him that I do, and are convinced he's rational, that's encouraging. He is clearly on the extreme Right, but that doesn't mean he's crazy. But what is significant is that there are members of the national religious camp who do seem to believe that God is going to fight for them if they, for example, blow up the Dome of the Rock. And there are members of that camp - and of the Haredi camp - who believe that the Arabs are sub-humans. These kinds of sentiments are extraordinarily dangerous, in addition to being evil. Israel cannot afford even one incident of Baruch Goldstein-style Jewish terrorism. I hope that Eitam, and Elon, and Ze'evi fils, and Lieberman, and all the rest of the hard-right understand the danger, and are able to keep their lunatics in check. And that none of them are lunatics themselves. also thinks that DEBKA's Machiavellian scenario - Israel grooming Barghouti to replace Arafat - is plausible. I'm still skeptical.'s analysis of the Le Pen showing is particularly acute. The key point: Le Pen carried not only the provinces with large Arab populations but also the provinces on the German border. In other words, his vote was against German and Belgian immigration as well as Algerian and Moroccan. Maybe his anti-EU ranting was more important than I give credit. And if that is the case, then Le Pen may have longer legs than I give him credit for, as the European heartland is still deeply ambivalent about the whole EU project.

More evidence that what the European right needs is a National Liberalism before they wind up with National Socialism.

An old article from last spring about the Wolpe controversy (the rabbi who announced to his congregation that the Exodus didn't happen). I'll be returning to this later. For right now, just take a look at how Wolpe talks about his own "revelation" to his congregation: "sunlight" blinding the eyes when you come out from the dark, etc., etc. Then look how a dispassionate scholar like Jeffrey Tigay talks about the same issues: there's enough evidence in favor that it's reasonable to conclude that there was an Exodus; the lack of corroborating archaeological evidence is troubling but not decisive; the importance of the Exodus tradition and the oddity of it (what people makes up a past as slaves?) are strong arguments for some basis in history; and actual events can get exaggerated or distorted but that doesn't mean they are made up whole cloth.

Wolpe is the one using quasi-religious language about enlightening his congregation. The (relative) traditionalist is the one who sounds like an honest scholar and scientist, weighing evidence and coming to conditional, limited conclusions. And this is the most important point about the controversy. The Wolpes of the world are motivated not by a scientist's love of truth but by an ideologue's scientism premised on the inherent unreliability and, indeed, falsity of the biblical account. And you can't argue from a premise like that and be a rabbi - period, paragraph.

A good article from Ha'aretz on how Palestinians in the territories may be carrying out the "right to return" piecemeal - through liberal family-unification laws - and how Israel is tightening those laws to prevent it. This is also a security issue; a large number of Palestinians living in the territories but holding Israeli I.D.s means a significant pool of potential terrorist recruits - or simply sources for documents - that would be very hard to keep out, even with a fence.

Halevi says: revive the Jordan option. Only one problem: this can only be done in explicit collaboration with Israel. How long do you think the Hashemite kingdom lasts after such an action?

The Jordanians didn't give up their claims to the territories because Likud opposed it; they gave up the claims because they preferred to let Israel deal with the problem.

I agree absolutely that Jordan has to be part of the solution, that the territories have to be partitioned between Jordan and Israel, with the Arab population centers going to Jordan. But such a solution could only be implemented after a massive transformation of the Middle East in the context of an American victory over Iraq. Otherwise, a Jordanian incursion into the West Bank would just be an invitation to a revolution backed by an Iraqi invasion.

Speaking of which, anyone recall DEBKA's piece from last week (no longer on their site) about troop movements in the region? Claim was, Iraqi troops were moving to the Jordanian border, followed by Israeli troops into the Jordan valley, followed by Saudi troops to their northern frontier. And the Jordanian royal family was supposedly spirited off to Aqaba for safe-keeping. Who says Bush is going to have the leisure to wait until next year for their Iraqi campaign?

Attempt to blow up Azrieli Towers thwarted (JPost). Don't you think it would be a good idea if someone let Arafat - and, more important, Crown Prince Abdullah - know that if a massive attack like this ever succeeded, Israel will level all the cities of the West Bank and Gaza and forcibly remove the population? That Israel is prepared to use nuclear weapons in retaliation against mass-casualty attacks? These people are trying to ignite Armageddon. Wouldn't it be a good idea to let them know that, if they carry out their designs, they will succeed? I worry sometimes that the U.S. set a bad precedent by not reducing Afghanistan to radioactive slag in response to September 11. It suggests we care primarily about how many people will kill in retaliation, when, in fact, that is a distant secondary consideration next to how many will die if we don't retaliate harshly enough. Ditto for Israel, and for any other country under attack.

Martin Sieff says Jean-Marie Le Pen can win, based on a similar analysis of the vote to the one I did. I think that's an ultra long-shot; I expect most of the far left to stay home, not swing to Le Pen or Chirac. But he makes some valid points.

Michael Ledeen on Iran on National Review Online - a must read. This is the most important fight in the war on terrorism, and I include in that estimation the continuing war in Afghanistan, the continuing war in the territories, and the upcoming war against Iraq. This is the most important and most under-reported story of the war, and thank God at least someone is covering it.

In today's WSJ: Le Pen Voters Fed Up With Crime. Duh. Anyhow, the article makes basically the case I made right after the election: the issue is crime and social disorder, and how the dominant parties refuse to address it because, in the new Europe, there is less and less incentive for the mainstream parties to be responsive to the needs of the actual people. Also of note: there have been a number of anecdotes of French Jews talking about voting for Le Pen. Anyhow, my George Wallace analogy is looking pretty good.

I continue to predict he has a good chance of cracking 30% in the runoff. Particularly when you realize that he has a chance of picking up votes from the extreme left (who may like his anti-Americanism) and, most important, that many French people may not think it's worth their while to vote at all in the runoff, given that the outcome is a foregone conclusion and no one particularly likes Chirac.

Let's look at the totals.

Chirac is certain to get his own votes, those of Jospin, those of Bayrou and Madelin. That totals about 47% of the first-round electorate, assuming they all vote (which I think is safe to assume). Le Pen will get all his votes from the first round, or 17%. Could he pick off any others? Let's see. Chevenement got 5% on a Eurosceptic platform. Would his voters turn out for Chirac, Le Pen, neither, or would they possibly split? With Brussels essentially ordering the French to vote for Chirac, some votes for Le Pen look possible. Let's assume they go 3:2 for Chirac; we're now at 50:19. Saint-Josse ran on a rural regionalist sportsman platform, and got 4%. A 2:2 split between Chirac and Le Pen seems conservative, don't you think? That's 52:21. Megret ran on a right-wing platform, and Boutin on an anti-abortion platform; they got about 2% and 1% respectively. I don't think it's crazy to think Le Pen gets all of these, but let's say 1% don't bother to show up. We're now 52:23. Mamere and Le Page, the two green candidates, should turn out Chirac voters; that's 59:23. That leaves us with the approximately 15% of the electorate that voted for the hard-left. Suppose none of them bother to vote in an election that pits a center-right candidate against a far-right one. That doesn't seem impossible. Then Le Pen gets 28% of the total vote in the runoff. Let's assume the far-left types all show up but break 2:1 for Chirac. Then Le Pen gets 29%. Let's say they break 50:50. Then Le Pen gets over 31%. Even if they all show up and all vote Chirac, Le Pen still gets almost 24% of the total vote, nearly a quarter. And I think it's reasonably possible that Le Pen will gain votes up to the election, as people who want to voice their protest realize this is their best chance to do so, and that the vote is safe because Le Pen isn't going to get elected. Moreover, I expect the polls to understate Le Pen's vote because people will be embarrassed to tell interviewers that they are considering voting for him. All told, I think a reasonable market on Le Pen's final talley is 25% to 35% of the total vote.

Incidentally, he's now polling 22%.

An article in the WSJ on Canada's military makes me sad. Canada, after all, is the only country in the world to have beaten the United States twice in war. Canadians repulsed American invaders during the American War of Independence and again during the War of 1812. The Canadians have made major contributions to Britain's war effort in World War I and to the allied side in World War II, and to the American-led war in Korea. Whatever the current Liberal government may think, this is a country with a substantial martial history.

How to explain the Canadian central government's domination by Euro-oriented fools? There's a simple answer: Quebec. Since the politics of separatism came to dominate Ottawa, the rest of Canada has been held hostage to Quebec's addiction to a high-cost welfare state. While Ottawa has trended leftward, the dominant Anglo provinces have trended rightward. Ontario has been governed for years by a relatively right-wing Conservative who has cut taxes and restored competitiveness. British Columbia, while very liberal on environmental and social-lifestyle issues, is a future- and Pacific-oriented province increasingly impatient with Ottawa's and Quebec's domination of Canada's economic agenda. And we don't even have to talk about Alberta, heartland of the Alliance party. Canada is not a friendly environment for the kind of Southern-style religious conservatism that has made such an impact on the U.S. (Religious fundamentalist overtones have been an albatross around the neck of the Alliance from its inception.) But a patriotic, pro-market, future-oriented party could do quite well in Anglo Canada, and redress a lot of what the author of this piece laments about the current state of the Canadian national ethos.

Ralph Peters has an excellent piece on the Journal editorial page today. His point: we can't fight fundamentalist Islam without engaging with other streams of Islam, and the former is over-represented in the Arab world while the latter is over-represented in the non-Arab Muslim world of Central and Southeast Asia. Hence, our policy should be anti-Arab not anti-Muslim. In broad strokes, I heartily agree. Two caveats. First, such a policy cannot be implemented without a regime change in Iran. That's why an authentic, indigenous counter-revolution in Iran should be a top aim of the American war effort. Second, it's of course not possible to write off the Arab world entirely. Peters takes particular aim at Egypt, which I think is misguided. So far, Egypt has been performing pretty well, making it clear that the government will not get involved in a war against Israel and helping America on the intelligence front. Egypt is, I think, better compared to Pakistan than to Saudi Arabia: a seriously screwed-up country where the leadership is terrified of the Islamists, and understands they are their worst enemy, but where endemic corruption has so weakened the ruling regime that the risk of Islamist takeover is real. We have a significant interest in preventing that from happening, though our active collaboration with the governments of these countries raises the risk of provoking the very revolution we are trying to prevent. In any event, America does indeed have a very strong interest in promoting pluralism in Islam, which means opposing the Saudis and supporting the dominant faiths of places like Uzbekistan and Bangladesh above all - a strategy which just happens to dovetail perfectly with a geopolitical strategy organized around alliances with Turkey, Russia and India.

Sunday, April 28, 2002
Another item from Ha'aretz, an opinion piece on Effie Eitam. As one would expect, it's hysterical. But is it wrong? The kinds of horrible sentiments they attribute to Eitam are far from rare in the national religious camp. I think it's worth emphasizing that he has not a prayer of becoming Prime Minister. But a significant portion of the religious right in Israel has been infected with ideas that are un-Jewish and, indeed, have most in common with Christian Identity types. The rabbinate has to do more to fight this.

Haaretz reports on the Israeli cabinet's acceptance of the U.S. proposal for U.S. and/or U.K. troops to guard Ze'evi's killers - to ensure that they are not sprung from prison by Arafat's men. Looks to me like the first step towards putting American troops into the conflict in a more general way. Potentially a dangerous precedent, particularly if we get into this piecemeal. What happens when Jihad Islami terrorists start shooting at our troops - do we shoot back? Hunt them down? We should figure out where we're going with this before we let the State Department drag us into a Beirut-style no-win situation. And I'm saying this as an advocate of an imposed solution!

Friday, April 26, 2002
David Lewis Schaefer has a piece in NRO about how France's electoral system is to blame for Le Pen's victory. His point: direct elections for the Presidency, with a runoff to ensure that the victor has a majority, encourages the formation of splinter groups. Therefore, America should not have direct elections to the Presidency lest the same thing happen here.

The first point is true, but the latter doesn't follow. It's not direct elections that encourage the splintering of the vote by extremist parties; it's having runoffs. If you allow a plurality victory, the incentives are very strong to back the strongest horse you can stomach, rather than help the enemy by supporting a fringe candidate certain to lose. Another alternative to runoffs: preference voting. If there are five candidates, you designate first, second, third and fourth choices. If there's no majority, you divvy up the last-place finisher's votes by second-choice; if there's still no majority, you continue up the line until there is. Of course, preference voting has its own absurd effects. In France, it might have resulted in a Socialist victory. After all, most of the fringe groups were far-left, and most of their voters would probably have chosen Jospin for second place. It's not inconceivable that Jospin would have won the election in a preference-voting system. In general, preference voting will empower the extremes because the victor will to some extent be beholden to the votes cast for more extreme parties but who picked him second. But, while preference voting can result in some quite perverse outcomes, it is very unlikely that a fringe candidate could win under such a system, because, while such candidates can hold a core of strong supporters, they will get very few second-choice ballots.

The real reason why the electoral college is good is that it reduces the leverage in the system. If the Florida recount fiasco had happened under a system of direct elections, you'd have to recount all the ballots nationwide. If you want an electoral college reform that would really respond to Florida, you would have to move to congressional district-based allocation of electoral votes, the system in place in Maine and Nebraska. Under the current system, most electioneering energy is spent on swing states, and this pushes the system to the center. But that campaigning can take the form of base-oriented voting, as was in fact the case in the last Presidential election, at least on the Democratic side. Gore carried Michigan, for example, and nearly Florida because of an unprecedented turnout by black voters. But these voters were frequently concentrated in safe Democratic congressional districts. A district-based electoral vote allocation would have forced a different strategy, one focused on swing districts rather than swing states. It would also reduce the leverage in the system, since a close vote in one or another district would affect only the allocation of one electoral vote, not, in Florida's case, 25 (or, in a direct-election system, the entire election). The main downside of such a system is twofold. First, while it would have the salutary effect of pushing campaigns to the center, it would have the deleterious effect of focusing all campaigns on what would likely be demographically similar suburban districts. Rural and urban America, the former reliably Republican, the latter reliably Democratic, would get even less attention than they do now. Second, it would increase the leverage on the redistricting process, since this would now not only affect the outcome in Congress but potentially the outcome in Presidential elections as well. And this is probably not a good thing.

Thursday, April 25, 2002
Mickey Kaus has a very interesting piece saying that McCain-Feingold is actually toothless (with respect to the ad ban, the most egregious and unconstitutional part of the law) because the ban applies only to corporations. The title of the piece: Everyone Was Wrong.

But the most important question: did the Bush Administration know this when he signed it? If so, they are smarter than even I thought, and I think they are pretty smart. Bush signs a law that the media (who hates him) loves, winning points with them. It's also McCain's signature issue, giving him one less reason to run against him or otherwise make his life miserable. He angers conservatives, who accuse him of selling out principle; this gives him a reserve of points with moderates to cater to conservatives on something else, to make up for his previous infidelity. And it turns out that (a) the bill doesn't have any teeth, and (b) is more in-line with Bush's principles than originally thought (since, if the loophole is there for any reason, it's there to restrict the ad-ban to for-profit corporations, something Bush has expressed no particular opposition to). If this was all part of Bush's plan, he's brilliant.

The alternative is that Bush had no idea about the loophole. In which case, he's even luckier than we all thought. And everyone thinks he's lucky.

Our topic for the day is: Cloning, Gay Priests and Menstruation.

One of the less-well-known details of Jewish law is the prohibition of intercourse with a woman who is menstruating or has menstruated within the past seven days. (I promise, this is not going to get gory.) The area of law related to this matter is called niddah, and the preferred English-language euphamism is "family purity." I say less-well-known in spite of the fact that the biblical sections dealing with this matter (primarily Leviticus 15:19ff) are far from obscure; rather, I think it is generally assumed that this is an aspect of biblical-era practice that has been abandoned along with animal sacrifice and other "primitive" rituals. (Indeed, the verse is specifically mentioned in the famous "Dear Dr. Laura" letter that made the rounds of the internet a couple of years ago, mocking the notion that the bible could be cited against homosexuality given all the other wacky things the bible says, a letter that was later modified into a speech by President Jeremiah Bartlett on The West Wing.)

But while the subject is not part of typical UJA fundraising chatter, niddah is indeed practiced by hundreds of thousands of strictly observant traditional Jews around the world. The basics of the laws are simple: intercourse is forbidden while the woman is menstruating, and, once a menstrual period is complete, a woman must wait seven days before going to a ritual bath to be purified (in a procedure similar to and historically related to Christian baptism). In general, this means that a traditionally observant Jewish married couple remains celibate for two weeks out of every four, and marriage follows a regular cycle of separation and sexual reunification every month.

Why on earth would anyone do this? What possible reason could there be for following such a regimen? In general, traditional Jews argue that the commandment is primary and the explanation secondary. There are certainly reasons for all of God's commandments, but we may be unable to discern them because we are only human, and so we should simply follow them and hopefully by following them their reason will become clear. This is fine for women who have already decided to accept the yoke of the commandments, but is unlikely to be persuasive to someone outside the system. So I think it is appropriate and even productive to speculate about the reasons for laws, even if one does not observe them all oneself.

One explanation that I find very persuasive is that niddah is a kind of mini-mourning. Judaism is, above all, a religion of life. "Choose life" is Moses' final message to the people he led through the desert before they enter the Land of Israel. The unique power that women have been granted by God is the ability to bring forth new human life. When menstruation happens, it is a sign that, this month at least, no such life was brought forth. Another one of a woman's finite supply of eggs has been released and, having been unfertilized, unable to implant or dislodged from its point of implantation, has been expelled to die. Another potential life is not to be. This is a not a great tragedy, usually, though it is a time of great sadness for women who are trying to conceive, or feel that they may have conceived. But, in a way that registers slightly or largely, something significant to the universe at large - the potential for a new human life, a unique consciousness, made in the image of God - has been lost. The period of separation during and after menstruation is a period of mourning for this loss.

Why is this expressed as "impurity"? Well, impurity is the opposite of holiness. Before menstruation, when a woman can potentially become pregnant, that capacity makes her more holy than she normally is. She is on a higher plane, spiritually, like an electron bumped up to a higher energy state by collision with a photon. Once she has menstruated (once the electron has emitted a photon, and dropped to a lower energy state), this capacity is temporarily lost, and this loss of holiness (relative, not total) is impurity. To be purified, she needs to emerse herself in living water (the mikvah, or ritual bath). This explanation also makes sense of the otherwise peculiar laws for purification after pregnancy (Leviticus 12:2ff). When a woman gives birth to a boy, she is impure for seven days and must then go to the mikvah to be purified. When she gives birth to a girl, she is impure for fourteen days. Why? Well, why is she impure at all? Because, while pregnant, she is in a hightened spiritual state as she exercises her power to bring forth new life, and post-partum she has experienced a spiritual drop, expressed as ritual impurity. But if she is carrying a girl, she is doubly exalted, because she is bringing forth a being who will herself be able to bring forth new life. Hence, post-partum, the doubly deep relative spiritual drop, and hence the double period of impurity.

Why am I going on about this today? Well, I read the following article in the Times (notice courtesy of Instapundit) by Michael S. Gazzinga, a member of President Bush's bio-ethics panel, articulating his disappointment that the President has made a decision about research cloning without first allowing the panel to come to its conclusions. And, in the course of his argument in favor of such cloning, he says the following:

At this point [once a blastocyst is created in a lab] we encounter a conflation of ideas, beliefs and facts. Some religious groups and ethicists argue that the moment of transfer of cellular material is an initiation of life and establishes a moral equivalency between a developing group of cells and a human being. This point of view is problematic when viewed with modern biological knowledge.

We wouldn't consider this clump of cells even equivalent to an embryo formed in normal human reproduction. And we now know that in normal reproduction as many as 50 percent to 80 percent of all fertilized eggs spontaneously abort and are simply expelled from the woman's body. It is hard to believe that under any religious belief system people would grieve and hold funerals for these natural events. Yet, if these unfortunate zygotes are considered human beings, then logically people should.

It may be hard for Gazzinga to believe that such religious belief systems exist, but they do. One of them is possibly the world's oldest living religion (the competition being Hinduism, whose origin is hard to date), the wellspring religion of Christianity and Islam, the two largest religions (by population or geographic extent) in the world. So there.

The reason that such a belief seems inexplicable is because, to the modern mind, inherent value is expressed as a matter of rights, which are an all-or-nothing thing. Hence my objection to Ramesh Ponnuru yesterday (and thanks, Instapundit, for linking to it). He's a pro-life absolutist: a zygote is a baby, end of story. And he can't understand why one would have any objection to treating a zygote any differently from a hunk of iron ore but for holding to such a syllogism. But, in fact, one can hold to the view that potential human life - a living organism which, under the right conditions, will develop into a human being - has inherent value by virtue of that potential. Contra the British government, you can hold such a view even if the organism is less than 14 days old, and may yet divide into two unique beings. You can even hold such a view without knowing whether the organism exists or not, whether an egg has successfully fertilized at all, knowing only that some degree of such potential exists inside a woman at a given time.

Jonah Goldberg complains about the success of the fringes and the decay of the center, particularly with respect to free speech but also with respect to abortion and guns and other matters. But this is a natural consequence of rights-talk. If the whole debate is a matter of right, then either the object of scrutiny has rights (a fetus to life or a woman to an abortion) or doesn't. If it has rights, these are absolute, and if it doesn't then it has no rights at all. A zygote either has a right to life or it is a mere thing. But that's not what our moral intuitions say, or at least it's not what mine say. Mine say that nothing connected with bringing forth life is morally neutral; all related activities are imbued with inherent significance. We don't mourn the passing of a zygote; that would be absurd. But we do note its passing, and the significance of its passing to God and not only to our individual desires.

There is another, oft-mentioned reason for the practice of niddah, a moral reason rather than a metaphysical one. Traditional Judaism has an elaborate system of ethics revolving around the relation between the sexes, and niddah is at its heart. Very observant men will not touch a woman to whom he is not married. Indeed, he won't allow himself to be alone in a closed room with her. Why? To avoid the temptation to sin by engaging in sexual activity with a married woman (one of the gravest sins) or with a woman who is impure (a serious violation of the law). Niddah, then, is an aid to sexual continence. And yet it operates within marriage as well; even with his own wife, there are times when a traditionally observant man cannot touch his wife, cannot sleep in the same bed with her. Sexual relations within marriage are sanctified, but only if they are themselves restrained by the structure of niddah, and the periodic abstinence it imposes.

The point is not to suppress desire, or to make sex dirty or evil. The point is to train one's desires, as a rose bush on a trellis, to follow the paths that will lead to virtue, and not those that lead to sin. It is to make one's animal desires, an essential part of our nature without which, in the rabbinic formulation, no one would build a house or found a business or start a family, serve our higher natures and, thereby, serve God in this world. And the point is not to restrict the capacities or opportunities of women. Traditionally observant Jewish women are professionals and businesswomen as well as homemakers; their ability to participate in modern society and the economy, should they wish it, is unrestricted by their religion. Indeed, within the traditional world they are taking on increasingly important roles in religious life itself, becoming experts and, in all but name, decisors on questions particularly related to niddah. (And lest this seem like a faint accomplishment, it should be recalled that a rabbi is, essentially, a legal decisor; rabbis have no sacramental function.) Rather, the point (or one point) is to put a certain social distance between the sexes, across which they can relate more correctly and, indeed, more equally.

This was the aspect of niddah that made me think of the current Catholic Church scandals, and the controversy it is arousing regarding gay priests. Let me say first that, as I have blogged before, I think the real scandal has nothing to do with either church teaching on sexuality or its flouting by sexually active gay priests; the real scandal is about clericism, the heirarchy's instinctive preference for self-protection at the expense of their flock. This is a species of cowardice that has repeatedly plagued the Catholic Church and had brought on it most if not all of the trials and persecutions that the church has suffered in this world. That said, one of the undercurrents of the opposition to a gay clergy (or gay scout leaders, or gay teachers) is the assumption that the likelihood is too high that gay men in such intimate situations will sexually abuse the boys under their charge, and this is often translated as the assumption that gay men are more likely to victimize teenage boys than straight men are teenage girls. But the latter does not follow from the former.

Gay men must grow up in a world of temptation essentially unimaginable to straight men. We assume a casual intimacy between individuals of the same sex - less than we used to, but we still do. If we pulled down the barriers to intimacy between youths of different sexes as fully as we inevitably do between youths of the same sex, there would be rampant sexual activity, significant sexual victimization, and potentially serious damage to healthy psycho-sexual development. (Oh, wait. We have done that, and that's precisely what happened.) Gay men grow up in a world where these physical barriers are all down, and the only thing standing between their desires and their ruin is their self-control. It is a testament to the incredibly strong character of most gay men that there are not more incidents of victimization; the temptations are surely more frequent than for straight men and girls.

Nonetheless, character is not the only question. Exposure to temptation and the experience of frequent resistence is probably a good way to build up some degree of immunity. But it is also and unavoidably a constant risk. And it is reasonable for a society to take precautions to protect against temptation. Of course, it is only fair to apply these sorts of rules across the board. So long as we have a high tolerance for intimacy, even promiscuity, among heterosexuals, even between professors and students and Presidents and interns, then it's hard to argue with a straight face that gay men - who are probably, as a class, better able to resist temptation than straight men are - should be excluded from roles that will bring them into intimate situations with youngsters of the same sex. So perhaps the right way to get a handle on this whole question is in the context of our social sexual ethics generally. We don't need to make a fetish of the question of gay scoutmasters or gay priests. We need to address the more general social question of proper sexual relations, and what the proper social relations are that would reinforce these.

And this brings us to the question of gay marriage or its equivalent. I'm not going to spend a lot of energy on this topic right now - there's more coming specifically on it, and specifically from a Jewish context. But I will just note that, if there is no prescribed social role that gay men can fit into, that can train their desires in a Godly direction, then the only way to bring about a reevaluation of our social-sexual mores would be by forcing gay men back into the closet, stigmatizing them for having desires that cannot be socially assimilated. And, quite apart from the direct evil this would mean, a reasonable argument can be made - is being made by Andrew Sullivan among others, precisely apropos of the church pedophilia scandals - that the closet is the source of much gay pathology, and hence a breeding ground for precisely the kind of horrors that have occurred under church auspises. I have always viewed the gay marriage question as more a matter of wrongs than of rights - that is to say, it's not a question of whether gays have a right to marry but of whether society can maintain a healthy code of sexual morality without doing grave wrong to innocent gay people, and other innocents in consequence.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002
Charles Krauthammer in The New Republic thinks all cloning should be banned. He looks at four arguments, and disposes of all but the last.

First, you could oppose all cloning on the grounds that a blastocyst has personhood, and all the rights that this implies. Krauthammer assumes, incorrectly, that this is necessarily a religious viewpoint (it usually is, but it doesn't have to be, unless you assert that any notion of individual rights is, in a deep sense, grounded in a religious viewpoint, which may be true but isn't what Krauthammer means), and says he doesn't believe it.

Second, you could oppose all cloning on the prudential grounds that the biotech revolution will give humans too much power for potentially evil ends. He makes an analogy to the splitting of the atom; nothing intrinsically wrong, but it made possible for the first time the destruction of the planet. Maybe that was reason enough not to split it in the first place. He rejects this argument, too, without telling us why. I'll make an argument for him: the analogy to splitting the atom is apt. We developed the bomb because we were afraid the Germans would first, and use it on us. Human genetic engineering will take place - in Europe, Japan, China and elsewhere. If America is uninvolved, we'll just have less influence on the outcome. If we are involved, we have some hope of influencing the ethics of the whole business.

Third, you could oppose all cloning on the prudential grounds that there's a slippery slope. We'll start with blastocysts, move on to fetuses and finally to Peter Singer's world of a right to infanticide. Krauthammer isn't too worried about this in the end, but it's not clear to me why. The slippery slope argument is a good one. Those who subscribe to a view that personhood begins some time after conception need to identify when this point is, and justify it, so that it can attain the force of law. If you can't come up with such a point, you have a slippery-slope problem. We're dealing with this right now, in the real world, with partial birth abortions and "born alive" protection laws. What was originally articulated as a right to an early-term abortion (on the grounds that first-trimester fetuses have too few characteristics of personhood to give the state an overriding interest in protecting them) became a right to a late-term abortion (on the grounds that the acid test is viability, regardless of the degree of personhood the fetus has, and if a doctor says the fetus isn't viable, none may gainsay his judgement), which became a right to a dead fetus (on the grounds that we all know the procedure was intended to kill the fetus, so if it fails and the fetus is born alive why should that fetus have a right to life). The pro-abortion folks think they are fighting the anti-abortion folks from chipping away at womens' Constitutional Rights, but it sure doesn't look that way from where I sit; it looks like the slippery slope is sliding along and the anti-abortion forces are trying to throw something - anything - into the way to slow or stop the slide. In any event, Krauthammer isn't worried about the slippery slope.

Krauthammer correctly points out that all of the above points would apply equally well to any research on living embryos. Cloning doesn't really add much to the objections. And, since Krauthammer favors research on embryos created for IVF and set to be discarded, he wants to find another argument against cloning, which he opposes.

He finds it in his fourth argument. And that is: cloning for research would involve the creation of potential human beings solely for instrumental purposes. In the case of IVF, this isn't true, as the blastocysts are created in order to grow into human beings. In-vitro fertilization is a mimicry rather than a mockery of the process of natural procreation. How to justify using the un-implanted embryos for research? Krauthammer isn't clear, but I suspect he would say something like the following: treating these entities as persons is absurd, hence spending large amounts of money to keep them frozen and viable is an unreasonable use of resources. But wasting them is also crazy; if we're going to let them die, we might as well learn something from them before they go. But cloning is different, because these embryos would be created solely for an instrumental purpose. Destruction of potential life is not the bi-product of a legitimate endeavor but the endeavor itself.

Ramesh Ponnuru doesn't think this is a very good argument. After all, he says, if blastocysts aren't persons, what's wrong with treating them as things?

Well, I don't think that Ponnuru's argument is very good. By analogy, I draw his attention to Abraham Lincoln's arguments against the proposal by his arch-nemesis, Stephen Douglas, for popular sovereignty on the question of slavery.

Douglas argued that the solution to the slavery problem in the territories was to let the territories decide, individually and separately, whether to be slave or free. What could be more democratic? After all, slavery was already legal in many states, and no one proposed interfering with it there. Why should a Georgian have a right that a Kansan should lack? Why should not the people of every new state, acting in their newly sovereign capacity, decide what rights they should respect?

There were many arguments against this, the most obvious being that it was a practical failure. Douglas's intent was to calm tensions between North and South by cutting the Gordian knot of the status of slavery in the territories. The Missouri Compromise had (barely) preserved the union by keeping a balance between slave and free states. Opening all the territories to slavery would destroy that balance, and tear up the union. Warfare erupted in Kansas immediately after Douglas's proposal, illustrating to all how popular sovereignty would not solve the sectional crisis of slavery but exacerbate it.

But Lincoln's strongest rhetoric was deployed behind another argument, a moral one. Lincoln was not an abolitionist. He didn't like slavery, and would have rather seen it abolished, but he did not abuse the South for its peculiar institution. In his view, the South was a victim of historical circumstance; the people there came from the same lands and practiced the same faith as the people of the North. Differences in climate made for different economics and, in turn, different culture. It was foolish to call the Southerners evil for a practice that all accepted at the time it was established, and developing an addiction to it that the North was able to avoid because of geography, not inherent merit. For this reason, Lincoln was quite moderate in his views on how to deal with slavery where it already was established, and felt that any solution would have to be phased in over a lengthy period and on the basis of mutual agreement between Southern and Northern interests.

Nonetheless, Lincoln saw a great moral evil in the notion of popular sovereignty, for the following reason. The premise of popular sovereignty on the slavery question was that slavery was just another political question, with no great moral weight. A state could vote to allow slavery or not as it could vote to build a canal or not. While individuals might have strong opinions - even moral ones - about the question of slavery, by permitted popular sovereignty to determine the question the United States would effectively be saying that as a society there was no moral consensus that slavery was wrong. This Lincoln could not accept. He could accept that slavery was an evil that could not be eradicated without perpetrating worse evil, and he could tolerate it on those grounds. But he could not accept that the United States of America would declare that slavery was not evil, that reasonable people could differ on whether it was or was not evil. For that, Lincoln felt, would inevitably mean that all of America would eventually be slave territory, and none free.

There is a pretty strong analogy to human cloning. We may disagree about precisely when and how personhood should be recognized in a developing human being. Even among those who feel that, in the end, a fertilized egg is a person, we may disagree about how and when to eliminate the many evils - from abortions to miscarriages - that are thereby recognized. For those of us who draw the line later, or who see a sliding scale rather than a bright line when personhood begins, we can disagree whether, at some intermediate stage of not-quite-personhood, the right to life of the developing human overrides or does not override the right of the pregnant woman not to carry an unwanted child. But we can all agree that people are properly ends and not means, and that creating a potential human being solely to be destroyed is repugnant. It is not that we all agree on where the line between right and wrong lies, but that we all agree that something lies on the side of wrong, and that allowing human cloning makes it impossible any longer to draw any such lines.

I'm not sure I buy this argument myself. Indeed, it seems to me that unless one is willing to ascribe personhood to a blastocyst, one has to draw the line against horrors elsewhere - presumably at implantation. Contrary to Krauthammer, it is not a moral absurdity to say that it should be illegal to implant a clone but not illegal to create one. Indeed, to say this is a moral absurdity is to presume the conclusion: that there is something uniquely repugnant about creating embryos for the purpose of research and, ultimately, destruction. It does seem to me possible to draw lines elsewhere, if one is worried about the slippery-slope. But if one is worried about the moral status of a blastocyst, then Krauthammer is right. If it is permitted to create a potential human being solely to be destroyed, then such an entity truly is a mere thing, and there is no moral basis for any restriction on what one does to it. If, on the other hand, there is any moral status to this entity - if it has, or may have, some degree of personhood - then it must be unacceptable to create such entities for purely instrumental purposes.

Rich Lowry gives a blow-by-blow of Tim Russert's interview with Adel al-Jubeir, foreign-policy advisor to Crown Prince Abdullah. And in the process of skewering the Saudi, he makes a key point. Here's an extract from the original interview:

MR. RUSSERT: As a way to bridge the path to peace, why won’t Saudi Arabia today unilaterally say, “We recognize Israel’s right to exist and we urge all other Arab nations to do the same”?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: We’ve done that at the Arab summit. The Arab summit adopted the crown prince’s initiative. You have 22 Arab countries that have said yes to normalization with Israel, yes to peace with Israel, yes to peace agreements with Israel in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.

This is, of course, a non-answer to Russert's question, which was Rich Lowry's point: all of al-Jubeir's answers are non-sequiturs. But what I think is more notable is Russert's suggestion. It is reasonable for Israel - and for that matter, America - to demand unconditional recognition on the part of the Arab world as a precondition for peace negotiations. France and Germany recognized each other's existence before the Franco-Prussian War, and their war aims with respect to one another were limited. Similarly, there is no reason why Syria cannot recognize Israel's legitimacy and still maintain a state of belligerency until the Golan is returned. But Israel should be under no obligation to speak to anyone about peace who is unwilling to accept at the outset that Israel is a legitimate state, who's war aims are not limited but extend to the annihilation of Israel. And I see no reason why America should not back Israel up in this. We're currently in the process of convening a big international peace conference, supposedly to be attended by much of the Arab world with a view to making progress on the pan-Arab dimension of the Arab-Israeli conflict (such as Muslim rights to holy places under Israeli control). It should be a precondition for attendance to the conference that the invitees unconditionally recognize Israel's legitimacy. There is little that the U.S. could do to further Mideast peace than to make it clear that to the world's only superpower, the only power capable of influencing Israeli policy and the only power capable of removing the government of any Arab state, does not consider the Jewish State's existence to be on the table. Borders, settlements, security arrangements, holy places, water rights, the dimensions and character of a Palestinian entity; all these things are matters for negotiation. But any power that questions Israel's legitimacy is not welcome. And, indeed, likely not long for this world.

Paul Johnson has a good piece on Israel in NRO. Nothing surprising here but two key points: Israel's foreign public relations skills have dramatically deteriorated in recent decades and Israel's currently dominant politicians are gerontocrats. It is worth remembering that Israel used to be great at public relations, and that it had a lot more friends when it did. There are hundreds of private individuals (myself included) who have taken upon themselves a small portion of the burden of making Israel's case to the world. But ultimately it's something Israel has to do, and Israel stinks at it, and didn't used to. What changed? My suggestions: (1) The Israeli foreign service used to be foreign-born, and know something about the outside world. Now it is native-born, and more provincial. (2) The increasing factionalism of Israeli politics has meant that small parties have an increasing role to play in patronage, and the people these parties choose are frequently not the cream of the Israeli education system. David Levy specifically is completely useless but has repeatedly appeared as foreign minister in Likud and Labor governments because of his importance in forming a governing coalition. (3) In the glory days, an overwhelmingly dominant Labor establishment knew exactly what it stood for and why it was right. Now, we have two major (if ever-dwindling) parties, one (Likud) that sees itself as a populist counter-establishment and, as a consequence, has a cultural interest in alienating the rest of the world, while the other (Labor) lacks confidence and has little idea what it stands for. Neither of these is capable of making a strong Israeli case to the world. In the current National Unity government, this is exacerbated by the fact that the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister are pursuing opposite agendas. As for gerontocracy, the dominance of Sharon and Peres is the consequence of the flame-outs of the first two Prime Ministers of the new generation - Barak and Netanyahu. And both of these failures were caused in part by the individual failings of these men, but to a greater extent by the utter dysfunction of the Israeli political system. So here's another reason to support a constitution of the sort I outlined earlier this week: it will dramatically improve hasbara.

The cover story of The American Prospect - Who Is Roger Hertog - is really very good. Thanks to kausfiles for pointing it out. I don't usually read the rag. The article is about Hertog and Steinhart's new support for the New York Sun and the New Republic, and what this means about the confluence of a certain kind of neo-liberalism and a certain kind of neo-conservatism.

My initial opinions of the Sun are below. Since then, I think it's getting better, bit by bit, but still has a long way to go to fulfill its potential. The New Republic I have read for fifteen years, nearly half my life. It has never been better than it is now. Beinart is unequivocally the best editor the magazine has had since I started reading it - and there've been more than a few editors in that time. I often don't agree with his politics, but when I don't he makes the smartest case for the other side. He's a class act. And his politics aren't simply pigeonholed as conventional liberal or, for that matter, neo-liberal (or neo-conservative). I think the reason is that he's really, really young. He represents the best of what the next generation of liberals will be - that is to say, folks who find it natural to see Adam Michnik and Nelson Mandela equally as heroes, something 1980s-era liberals (to say nothing of 1970s-era liberals) were unlikely to do. And he is that rare thing, a liberal who takes conservatives and their ideas seriously.

All that is by way of saying: I don't find it weird that Hertog would back Beinart's TNR, nor that Beinart would welcome that backing. I don't think this portends a burgeoning marriage of "Reform Republicans" and "Conservative Democrats" - as Bill Kristol suggests in the article - because I'm not sure what these terms mean. Conservative Democrats include Joe Lieberman and Mary Landrieu, and while I'm basically fans of both I'm not sure they are coming from the same place, or really share a philosophy at all. "Reform Republicans" meanwhile is mostly a McCain-Moose catchphrase. I'm not sure it refers to anything other than Republicans willing to embrace speech regulation in the form of campaign finance laws.

I think the right way to describe what Hertog and Steinhart are groping towards is National Liberalism. That's probably a political orientation that McCain would find attractive, but I don't think he's really articulated it because he's such an emotional politician. I think it is a pretty good expression of where Bill Kristol is coming from, except for his considerable sympathy for the religious right, which is largely illiberal. It's a better expression of where the rest of the Weekly Standard types are coming from, except in their hands it's mostly an expression of cultural conservatism and an aggressive foreign policy.

The organ that best typifies the kind of political orientation I'm talking about is probably City Journal, which is put out by the Manhattan Institute. Why City Journal? Because unlike a lot of libertarians, theo-cons and populists in the GOP tent, they are urbanists. They care about cities, and making them work. And that means caring about how to make government work, how to live together with people you don't like and disagree with, how to inculcate the civic virtues in a body politic. City Journal is definitely a conservative magazine, but it is also definitely a liberal one in that it believes in human potential and individual liberty. That is to say, it's a modern conservative voice, not the voice of a pre-War conservatism or a Catholic ultra-montanist conservatism.

The Sun is probably going to come out in a similar place ideologically. And friendly opponents, like The New Republic, are opponents mostly of the GOP allies of these National Liberals - the libertarians, the populists, the theo-cons - and not of the National Liberals themselves. After all, TNR has said positive things about welfare reform, tort reform, "broken windows" policing and school vouchers. Their environment guy is Gregg Easterbrook. They are skeptical of a patient's bill of rights and of a Medicare drug benefit. These are not paleo-liberal guys with a muscular foreign policy. And they are distingued from many Conservative Democrats because many of the latter - the Zell Millers of the Democratic Party - are at least as comfortable with the populists and theocons as they are with the National Liberals.

As for McCain, frankly, he has shown little evidence of having a domestic agenda of his own other than campaign finance reform. I mean, how much energy has he spent fighting for tort reform, or school vouchers, or Social Security privatization relative to the energy he's put into supporting a patient's bill of rights? I liked him, voted for him, campaigned for him and donated money to him in the last election. I had high hopes. But there's a reason he's being talked about as a potential Democratic nominee now: he's wandered way, way off the reservation, for reasons that are frankly unclear. Mickey Kaus thinks he'd be the natural candidate of a Hertog-Steinhart-oid constituency, and that may be true, but not because of what he has fought for but because of what enemies he has made. His enemies in the GOP are the elements that National Liberals are least comfortable with. But they are also the elements that conventional Liberal Republicans are least comfortable with, and there's the rub. Because Jim Jeffords is not what Seth Lipsky is interested in promoting, and that's precisely the constituency that John McCain has become a vehicle for. Not people who believe in a coherent National Liberal ideology that stands largely within the big tent of modern conservatism, fighting for supremacy against the libertarians, theo-cons and rural populists, but people who long for a past of genteel, liberal, noblesse-oblige, we're-all-Keynesians-now Rockerfeller Republicanism that has no future at all.

Long ramble off the topic. But a good article, and Mickey Kaus's digest thereof is also worth a look.

Little Green Footballs also has a very smart bit on the lynching by the PLO of Palestinians accused of collaboration - which has been going on not for years but for decades, since before the first intifadeh - and why it is suddenly news. Why? Because now, in the aftermath of Israel's Operation Defensive Shield, the lynchings can be blamed on Israel. Amazing.

Muppets and less cuddly puppets at I myself and still voting for Kermit for President. The frog was a man. Thanks to Little Green Footballs for the link.

Gunmen stole gold, crucifixes, escaped monks report according to the Jerusalem Post today. I have to ask again: why, apart from simple cowardice, does the Church not loudly protest this hostage-taking by Palestinian terrorists? Why is Israel coming under any criticism from the Church for the standoff, when Israel has respected the sanctity of the Church of the Nativity and attempted to help the hostages held therein, while the Palestinian Authority has supported the gunmen who have taken the hostages? I know I sound like a broken record, but I feel genuinely betrayed.

Monday, April 22, 2002
Draft Manifesto for a National Liberal Party for Israel.

One of the many unfortunate consequences of the current war is that it has deferred discussion over other pressing problems in Israeli life. Israel is a deeply troubled democracy, and it has been relatively unsuccessful in trying to reform its major defects. Attempts to do so have tended to worsen the divisions in Israeli life rather than to mend them. The one possible positive of the current war from a political reform perspective is the degree to which it has created a real sense of national unity. A party that understood how to capitalize on that unity could have enormous potential.

Here is my initial draft of what the platform for such a party might be. I think the best term for its political orientation is National Liberal. That is to say, it is a national party, devoted to the realization of the political and cultural advancement of the Jewish people through the Jewish state. And it is a liberal party, devoted to individual freedom of speech, assembly, religion and contract, and to the rule of law. My proposed name for the party: Am Chofshi B'Artzeinu ("A Free People in Our Homeland"), the stated aim of the Zionist dream from the end of Ha-Tikvah, the Israeli National Anthem.

A National Liberal Party would advocate a strong Zionist policy for Israel: encouragement of aliyah, encouragement of a Jewish-oriented national culture, and the development of the Land. However, as a liberal party, they would also advocate pursuing such objectives in a manner that would protect liberty and provide accoutability to the people. Thus, development would be pursued through local authorities more than through a policy of centralism, and proper compensation would be provided when the state exercised eminent domain. Similarly, equality in the provision of government services would be guaranteed, a particular concern of the Arab sector. A single, Zionist-oriented curriculum would be promoted for the schools, but schools would be encouraged to compete for students under a universal voucher system, subject to government regulation and audit. A religious establishment for Israel would be secured in a form that could be recognized by all Jews, but freedom of religion - for Jews as well as non-Jews - would be guaranteed, and government involvement in the funding and administration of religious institutions would be reduced or, where possible, eliminated.

The primary plank of such a party would be: to establish a written constitution for the State of Israel. This is normally considered a left-wing issue, and I'm describing a center-right party. But I believe that the left misunderstands the purpose of a constitution. The purpose of a constitution is not to provide a blunt instrument for a secular clerisy to use in its war against religion. And its purpose is not to enshire conventional plattitudes as fundamental law. The purpose of a constitution is to place beyond the reach of ordinary politics certain bedrock structural elements of a political system. Ordinary politics takes these elements for granted, and operates within their constraints. Without agreement on such basic elements, Israeli political life is forever in danger of spinning off in an extreme direction. And awareness of this drives a divisive balance-of-power politics in Israel that is destructive of national life. Important elements within Israeli life hold to understandings of the meaning and nature of the State of Israel that are incompatible with that State's continued existence. These include: rejection of the idea of a Jewish state in favor of a "state of all citizens"; the infusion of the state with Messianic significance such that the state's decisions are illegitimate if they fail to advance or obstruct the progress of the Messiah in history; and the refusal to acknowledge the law of the state as the supreme law of the land, recognizing only religious law as legitimate. In the effort to establish a written constitution, these alternatives will have to be addressed, their supporters won over with certain compromises, and as a result, these alternatives finally buried as threats to the State of Israel.

The primary aims of a written constitution would be: to establish Israel as a Jewish state and a Republic; to ensure that the organs of government are accountable to the people and that the people are left free to pursue their individual visions of the good life; and to serve as the object of veneration for future generations of Israelis who look to it as the guide for answering the pressing political questions of their day. To achieve these aims, the National Liberal party would advocate five major structural reforms as part of the constitution:

(1) To establish a strictly limited but secure place for the religious establishment in the State of Israel. It is essential that Israel have a clear Jewish character, and this cannot be divorced from religion. Regardless of what the various "movements" within Judaism may think (and I am an affiliate of one - the Conservative movement), that means there must be an Orthodox Jewish establishment, because only such an establishment could possibly be recognized by the entire Jewish people. But it is also essential that Israel not become a theocracy, and therefore it must strictly limit the scope of halacha in the operation of the state. The Chief Rabbinate should be recognized as the official halachic authority as regards the State of Israel, should have authority over questions like personal status and supervision of kashrut and so forth, and should advise the state on halachic matters. However, the role of the rabbinate and halacha should be strictly limited in two ways. First, the Chief Rabbi must be accountable to the people. This could be achieved by having him selected (presumably chosen from a slate of appropriate candidates selected by the rabbinate itself) by a convention of the religious councils (which are themselves popularly elected) and/or by providing for impeachment and removal by the legislature for crimes or for undermining the Constitution. Second, the state must reduce the scope of its involvement in religion. My proposal for privatization of the school systems follows below. A similar procedure could be enacted for synagogues, which are currently supported directly by the state through the channels of political parties. The goal is to have a constitutionally protected role for the rabbinate and for Orthodoxy specifically while confining that role to specific functions and eliminating the corruption that accompanies the intertwining of the political and the religious.

(2) To strengthen the executive branch. Israel has a symbolic Presidency and a strong Prime Ministership. This has several unfortunate consequences. First, it centralizes power overmuch in the government. The legislature has all the power, and within the legislature the government has all the power, and within the government the Prime Minister has a great deal of the power. Second, it means that coalition politics determine the nature of that government, which factionalizes the country. Third, it means that Israelis have only one ballot on which to express their views on both matters of national security and identity and matters of parochial interest. The direct election of the Prime Minister was intended to solve this problem, but failed because while it gave the Prime Minister an independent mandate it weakened his power base within the legislature on the basis of which he had to actually govern. A better system would be to create a strong Presidency, directly elected by national plebescite and with broad powers over national security but limited authority in economic or legal matters. This is rougly comparable to what obtains in France. While that system has been criticized of late, it is the most stable constitution France has seen in generations, and it would serve Israel even better because of the unique importance of foreign and defense policy in Israel.

(3) To devolve power to the regions. One of the worst aspects of Israel's current system is the extreme economic centralism. The center of the country is over-crowded and over-developed while the regions are developed largely on the basis of ideological or national-security imperatives, not for economic reasons. The ongoing tragedy of the Negev is an extreme example of the consequences of this centralism. The solution is to devolve power to the regions. A system of governors with real powers of taxation and economic management should be established, able to act without getting permission from the Knesset. Coupled with a serious effort at privatization, and the establishment of an upper house of Parliament, such a system would give underdeveloped regions their best shot at controlling their own destinies and paving their own paths to progress. Such a system would also be extremely useful in combatting the alienation of Arab regions of the country; an Arab governor in the Galil, for instance, would have to represent many Jews, and a Jewish governor many Arabs, which is not the case with the Knesset, which sidelines Arab parties. It would also provide an alternative to the current path to national power, which is almost exclusively through the military, because that is the only way in which future Prime Ministers can demonstrate their executive ability (as well as because of the extreme importance of security matters).

(4) To reform the Knesset. Reforms would take two forms: the end (or reform) of proportional representation and the establishment of an upper house of Parliament. The upper house would serve several purposes. First, it would be the protector of the constitution. It would serve as the highest constitutional court, the only court authorized to strike down a law as unconstitutional. This is essential, because the existing Supreme Court is and will likely remain a combatant in the culture war, and shows no signs that it would respect the language and intent of a written constitution. The upper house would also try all impeachments of other government officials. Second, it would have the ability to delay legislation, much as the upper house of the British Parliament does. Third, it would provide representation for various sectors of Israeli society. In my conception, the upper house would not be directly elected, but would be indirectly accountable, much as the American Supreme Court or the Israeli President is today. Seats would be reserved for apppointment by the Chief Rabbinate, the regional governors, the President, as well as, potentially, the Histadrut or even the World Zionist Congress, representing Diaspora Jewry. Appointments would have to be approved by the Knesset (the lower house). Members of the upper house would be appointed for single, fixed terms of considerable length. The lower house would retain most of the legislative power. It would continue to initiate all legislation, would elect the Prime Minister from among its number to form a government, would confirm all officers reporting to the President, including the Chief of Staff (head of the armed forces), and would supervise the regulatory bureaucracy responsible to the Prime Minister. The chief change to the lower house would be to either eliminate proportional representation entirely, moving to a district system with preference voting, or to raise the limit for inclusion in the Knesset to a 5% share of the national vote. Either change would create significant incentives to form large, centrist parties composed of broad coalitions of interests rather than the current system of splinter groups. The ultimate goal of all these legislative reforms would be to establish a conservative center that would defend the constitution of the country and a dynamic legislature capable of taking decisive action within the framework of that constitution.

(5) To liberate the education system. Currently, Israeli education is balkanized by political control of the different school systems (secular, religious-Zionist, religious non-Zionist and Arab). Funding for the schools and battles over the curriculum consume enormous energies in Israeli politics. A new system must be inaugurated which moves away from government management of the schools and towards government regulation of a private school system. A universal voucher would empower parents to select the school for their children. The requirements for a school to be recognized by the state would be: teaching of a mandatory civics curriculum or an audited equivalent alternative; teaching of a mandatory Jewish religious curriculum or an audited equivalent alternative; and submitting to regular audits as to general pedagogical quality. Religious schools could continue to function as they do now, but their funding would not come from religious parties but from religious parents, and they would be obliged to teach students about the constitution of the State of Israel, about secular Israeli and Jewish history, and about how a democratic and republican system operates, in order to accept state vouchers. (Schools could of course always refuse to accept state funds through vouchers and remain open on a purely privately funded basis.) Arab-majority schools could continue to function as they do currently, but would have to accept state oversight of the curriculum and teach the same lessons about the Israeli constitution and the democratic system. Jewish students in non-religious schools would have to learn the basics of Jewish religion. The main advantage of a universal voucher system is that it would simultaneously empty the violent and dysfunctional schools that plague the Jewish slums of Israel and empty the fundamentalist Shas schools that are the most available alternative currently available. It would also enable Reform and Conservative schools to get off the ground financially, putting them on the same footing as the Orthodox religious schools in competing for parents' vouchers. The risks that a voucher system would stratify the education system economically or reduce cultural cohesion would be of greater concern if these precise problems were not endemic in the existing system of corrupt party control of education.

Apart from such structural changes, a constitution would of course include the usual enumerated rights of free speech, assembly, religion, protections for private property and guarantees of equal provision of state services and equal treatment by the state's laws. Such a bill of rights is the main reason why the left has been active in promoting the idea of a written constitution for Israel. But the real importance of a constitution lies in its structural arrangements. If these are poorly-designed, the government will be ineffective either in doing the people's business or in protecting their rights. If they are well-designed, then the people's rights will likely be protected because the people, fundamentally and over a long span of time, want them to be.

Within the above constitutional framework, a National Liberal party would advocate: a liberal trade policy, strong independence for monetary authorities, refusal to subject Israeli citizens to the authority of supra-national entities, a Zionist-oriented civics curriculum, the maintenance of a strong deterrent, protection of private property rights (and adequant compensation for exercise of eminent domain), development of the Negev, a strong military response to terrorism (killing terrorists and attacking states that sponsor terrorism), and a diplomatic posture that recognition of Israel is a pre-condition for negotiations with rejectionist Arab regimes (e.g. Syria), and not the reward for the return of territory (the reward for the return of territory being peace and full normalization of relations). That sounds a lot like the Likud platform, but Likud has always been dominated by the issues of settlements and the territories, which are important but should not be the defining question of the major right-of-center party in Israel. The time has come for a National Liberal party to form whose central question will not be Jewish land but the Jewish State. These are not mutually exclusive questions, but the time has come - even now, in the midst of the Oslo war - for a change of emphasis, a change that will enable the center-right to articulate a vision of Israel in the future as more than a garrison state, not as the result of concessions to its enemies but as the result of realizing the enormous potential of a Jewish Republic.

The New French Left: Very pessimistic article by Chris Caldwell in the daily edition of the Weekly Standard. His conclusion: the real news isn't how well Le Pen did but how well the Trotskyite parties did (there were four of them, and together they did about as well). It's not the rise of the hard right but the hard left. He's got a point.

InstaPundit.Com is trying to figure out if Le Pen is more like Buchanan, or something uspecifiedly worse (David Duke? Hitler?). But we've got an excellent home-grown analog: George Wallace. Le Pen's strong showing is a warning to the French government about popular discontent over crime, the erosion of national identity, and subordination to Brussels. Sounds a lot like the platform Wallace ran on in 1968 on the American Independence ticket. The two of them, Le Pen and Wallace, were both demagogues who terrified the establishment and who played on very legitimate concerns of ordinary people that the establishment refused to acknowledge for reasons of political correctness. And they both achieved their success in an environment where ordinary people felt they were losing control of their democracy - to the EU in the case of France, to the Supreme Court in the case of the U.S. And while Wallace had no chance of winning, his success paved the way for the Republican realignment that took place under Ronald Reagan.

Sunday, April 21, 2002
DEBKA's Machiavellian speculations have taken a more plausible turn. They suggest that the plan underfoot is to bring Jordan and Egypt far more closely into the management of the Palestinian territories. The idea would be to either exile Arafat or send him to Gaza, and put an Egyptian presence there to manage the security forces. This would put Egypt on the line to prevent terror attacks on Israel, and, as Egypt has no desire to get into a war with Israel, that would give them a big incentive to do their job. (Of course, it would give them a bigger incentive not to take the job in the first place). Ditto for Jordan and the Palestinian population centers on the West Bank (Areas A and B, with presumably some rights to traverse the territories generally). They also have a good piece on how Jordan is likely to be most threatened by a potential U.S. war on Iraq - that is to say, threatened by the war itself, not by a U.S. victory, which would be enormously favorable to Jordanian interests (in contrast to Saudi Arabia, the country with the most to lose by a U.S. victory in Iraq). The fact that Jordan has remained quiet suggests that they are still convinced the Americans mean business.

By the way, it will be interesting to see if the Le Pen upset has any impact on France's obstructionism vis-a-vis America's Iraq campaign. I haven't read anything about it.

I'm generally averse to "things must get worse before they get better" logic, but I must admit I think the Le Pen upset in France is good news. Why?

(1) As I've argued before, the primary purpose for the EU is to end democracy in continental Europe. The Eurocrats believe on the one hand that democracy ultimately led to fascism and on the other that in the new, multi-cultural Europe democracy will mean balkanization of Europe into Christian and Muslim factions. Therefore, power must be taken out of the hands of elected representatives and put in the hands of an unaccountable elite selected "meritocratically" by that self-same elite. Le Pen's victory (second place is clearly a victory in this context) should put paid to that notion. What happens, after all, if he should win the runoff? Would the EU wall off France the way they did Austria? It's inconceivable; France is the heart of the EU. And the sanctions on Austria were themselves pretty toothless. The EU has no legitimate basis for ignoring the will of the people the way they do routinely, and the major parties have just gotten a wake-up call: if they listen more to Brussels than to Marseilles, they will be turned out of office in favor of their worst nightmare. If this forces the states within the EU - and, ideally, the EU itself - to be more democratic, that is all to the good, for them and for the U.S.

(2) Europe has a major crime problem, a major underclass problem, a major assimilation problem, and a major cultural atrophy problem. But none of these problems may be discussed honestly among the elite class. I think a good comparison is New York in the late 1980s, the age of the "wilding" in Central Park. People who were appalled by what was happening to the city were also convinced that doom was inevitable, and the people who could actually do something to turn things around convinced themselves that the problems weren't really problems, because to attack them would be to challenge their fundamental liberal beliefs. Giuliani's first election was a very close one (so was his prior loss) because many liberal New Yorkers thought he was no better than a Le Pen and, more important, because few people thought he could make a difference. But he made an enormous difference, and politics in New York will be different for another twenty years because of his achievement. I would never compare Le Pen to Giuliani - Le Pen is execrable. But if he compels the French to raise up their own Giuliani to blunt his appeal, he will have done his country an enormous service. I bet there are plenty of French people who voted for Chirac who think there is no way to assimilate the North African immigrants, no way to reduce unemployment significantly, no way to dramatically reduce crime, no way to restore an honorable and virtuous national culture to their country, and that their mission is to manage decline without letting everything go to pieces. Le Pen should be a wake-up call to these people most of all: if they don't start tackling these problems with a view to solving them, not managing them, they will have a fascist takeover or a civil war on their hands.

All that said, Le Pen really is horrible. If he wins the runoff - which I think is most unlikely, though I think he will poll over 30% - you can turn in your Euros for Deutschemarks; the EU is dead. That is, assuming that a Le Pen victory doesn't spark violence and, ultimately, a military coup in France. You think it couldn't happen? France's history of stability is shallow and recent. France came within a whisker of going Communist in the 1950s, and wasn't far from a right-wing military coup at the height of the Algerian war. On the eve of World War II, France was on the brink of civil war, and the prior century saw a regular procession of revolutions, restorations, etc. I do think that Le Pen will scare the French enough that he will lose the runoff decisively. But if the establishments thinks it has dealt with him with one defeat, or that they can end his threat by becoming even less democratic, they will face a worse earthquake in the next election.

Saturday, April 20, 2002
Bret Stephens in the Jerusalem Post called The Return of Vichyism gets Europe exactly right. It's not about anti-Semitism; it's not about Jew-hatred. It's about cowardice, about hating power, about self-hatred. And, ironically, the self-hatred and hatred of power has a lot to do with guilt over the Holocaust - in other words, at least part of the reason why Europe is currently so anti-Israel is that they are overly obsessed with their past horrors. That's not an excuse; it's an explanation. And a very good one.