Monday, June 30, 2008

seconding Goldberg

Just a quick note to second Jeffrey Goldberg, who said today

Steele is arguing for the end of white guilt, which is something legitimate to argue about, but now he's saying that America conducts itself with excessive politesse in Middle East war zones because of white guilt. And I always thought we tried to respect human rights whenever possible because it's the right thing to do, and, by the way, slaughtering people indiscriminately doesn't tend to win over the people you let live.

That's well said. It should be remembered that there is a tendency to think that, when someone nonwhite makes a statement that could be construed as racially controversial, that statement must be true. "He's black; what he said can't be racist/insensitive/etc." Shelby Steele is no more an expert on whether white guilt is a powerful force in our country, or needs to be ended, than anyone else simply by virtue of his racial heritage.

MegArdle-Welch bloggingheads

MegArdle and Matt Welch discuss the Heller decision and the presidential candidates' positions on individual liberty. I'm off to work so I can't comment yet, but I do want to say: I think far too many people, like Welch, assume that we can have both individual liberties and police officers with broad discretion to arrest whoever they want. And you can't. Just to name one person, Reihan Salam is a politico who, despite his views on foreign policy, I have great admiration and respect for. But his stance on police discretion worries me. If the police have broad range to arrest people for reasons that aren't specifically delineated by statute, individual rights have no meaning. It seems to me that many people casually share Reihan's attitude towards police action. But I honestly don't think you can have both broad latitude on the part of the police and meaningful individual rights at the same time.

requiem for Michael Beasley

I want to go on record now as saying that my Bulls made a big mistake in drafting Derrick Rose number one overall, ahead of Michael Beasley, who had as dominant a year as college basketball has seen in a long, long time. I think it might someday be mentioned in the ballpark of Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan.

What makes it extra-aggravating is that it's so transparently a product of me-too basketball herd mentality. Yes, Chris Paul did some amazing things last year. But Chris Paul, I would argue, is a unique talent, and I have to point out that he hasn't won anything yet. In fact, you have to go back to Isiah's Pistons to find a team that was really point guard-dominant that won the championship. (Some would say the 2004 Pistons were such a team. I would argue that their success was driven mostly by interior defense, though I love Chauncey Billups as a player.)

And Rose isn't anything close to a Chris Paul-level talent. Paul was incredible in the ACC, one of the top conferences in NCAA. Rose went for 14 and 5 assists in Conference USA. What, exactly, did Rose do in his year in college that Mike Conley didn't do in his? No one would have suggested drafting Conley number one. The idea would have been laughed at. Beasley, meanwhile, was in a better conference, faced triple teams, and still put up pinball numbers. So he's only 6'8-- he has a seven foot wingspan. He's a fantastic scorer and a great rebounder. He was not, contrary to popular belief, a bad defender, and has the talent to improve. And I'm skeptical about all this talk about his poor character. He's goofy and laid back; he's not Pacman Jones. I remember a basketball player who was goofy and laid back. Guy by the name of Shaquille.

And Simmons, Jesus. I give up. He thinks defense wins championships, but he loves Kevin Durant, a hideous defender. He thinks you go with grit over numbers but insisted the top pick should have gone to Durant last year. He loved DJ Augustine, then he started hating him for no particular reason. He thinks Durant is too short at 6'8, but OJ Mayo is not at 6'4-- even though Mayo has no handle, had a 1:1 assist to turnover ratio in college, and has shown no real ability to run the point. Simmons simply conjures opinions about basketball players out of the ether and gets angry when people expect him to demonstrate intellectual consistency. No thanks.

Irked

In a review of Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam's Grand New Party, Norman Ornstein says that "The signs of Republican trouble are everywhere.... Yet Democratic successes right now are driven more by Republican failures than by an enthusiastic public embrace of what Democrats stand for. The Democratic-controlled Congress, after all, has a lower approval rating than even President Bush."

Of course, what Ornstein fails to mention is that, as this graph shows, Bush has always had a higher approval rating than the Congress-- including when it was controlled by the Republicans, as it has been for the large majority of his presidency. That would seem to undermine the notion that the low Congressional approval rating demonstrates that tough times for Republicans are because of the GOPs failings and not support for Democratic policies.

Of course, as a journalist, Ornstein has a professional obligation to present any current national mood in a way that undercuts the Democrats. So I suppose he can be forgiven.

Arms and the DC gun ban

James Poulos at the American Scene writes

"Point is, at the meta level (woo hoo!), the hardest work involves sorting out different kinds of hard work, with gun regulation being of one kind and heath regulation being of another, and immigration regulation a third, and prostitution a fourth, and so on, and so on."

To which I say: indeed! Gun regulation is something that we have to work out, and in fact, do all the time. How to do so, exactly, is where we disagree. What frustrates me is that opponents of the gun ban (which I myself objected to) and similar legislation act as though they aren't sorting through things; the assumption seems to be that a blanket handgun ban is somehow explicitly unconstitutional in a way that, say, restricting a grenade launcher isn't.

But as I often point out, the Constitution makes no explicit mention of guns at all. It protects the right to bear arms. And we as a society, as we have to, restrict that right-- we restrict access to everything from weapons-grade uranium to fully automatic machine guns and many things in between. Even the most zealous gun-ownership advocates are unlikely to defend my right to sleep with a Stinger missile under my bed. Where I part company with them-- and I believe with Poulos-- is that I don't think there's any categorical difference between banning handguns and banning surface-to-air missiles, or mortars or bazookas or what have you. The DC handgun ban then becomes just another type of sorting.

Poulos and others are free to disagree with that sorting, of course. But what I reject is the notion that they aren't engaged in a sorting exercise as well; once you've conceded that government must have some restrictions on what kind of arms a person can legally own, I don't think you can claim a bright-line distinction.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Matthew Yglesias, liberal guilt, and guns

Matt Yglesias is my favorite blogger, and the first blogger I really started to follow regularly. Though I don't agree with his interventionist ways, his foreign policy views are often enough closer to mine than any other blogger I read. (As no Very Serious people can be totally opposed to the American imperialist project, there just aren't many non-interventionists in the professional blogging ranks.) And I think he finds the right balance between intelligent policy analysis and general spite that mainstream conservatism requires.

But on the subject of gun control, I find Yglesias maddening.

This is not, actually, because of a large policy disagreement about guns. I am opposed to total prohibition of guns, on basic libertarian grounds. I don't, as a general policy, believe that the misuse of something by a few should compel the government to ban that thing for all. (At heart, this is why I support drug legalization as well.) In the specific, I agree that the DC gun ban was undermined beyond any use because of the ease in procuring a gun (legally or otherwise) in nearby states and simply bringing it into the District.

What aggravates me about Yglesias and other DC are bloggers is the steadfast refusal to confront the reason behind the Washington DC gun ban: the absolutely horrific effects of gun violence in Washington DC. For decades, the community in DC has had to endure unbearable amounts of injury and grief due to handgun violence. As I've said, I think that the ban was an ineffective means of reducing this violence, and I don't agree with that level of restriction. But I think it is very important, and in fact a principled dissenters obligation, to admit that there is a large and painful problem in Washington DC, and that however misguided the handgun ban was an effort to confront this problem.

You'll find no such admission from Yglesias. As far as I can tell from his archives, he has never, in a discussion of gun control, talked about the sad history of gun control in inner-city America or DC specifically. He has never acknowledged that he lives within spitting distance of an enormous amount of pain and havoc wreaked by guns. He hasn't demonstrated compassion for those who are suffering because of this violence.

Part of this, of course, is because of Yglesias's preferred authorial voice-- insouciant, acerbic, snarky. I suppose it would just run too contrary to his style to come out and say that, while he disagrees with the policy, he feels concern and sorrow about the damage that DC has endured and continues to endure thanks to guns.

But I also find a disturbing amount of simple gun-celebration, a meat-headed, high-school style of "boy aren't guns cool" thinking in him, and in other DC area bloggers who have attacked the ban. Maybe I'm uptight, but I don't think that posting a picture like this shows principled opposition to an over-reaching gun ban; I think it shows only childishness. A good rule of thumb for an adult is that they shouldn't emulate a thirteen year old taking a really cool new picture for Myspace, no matter how protected they may feel by layers of irony. Entitling a post HandGun Heaven doesn't fill me with approving things to say about Yglesias's maturity or intelligence, either.

Bound up in this is the common urban fantasy, the Taxi Driver, Death Wish-style yearning for the chance to righteously blow someone away. Setting aside whether these geeky blogger-types actually have the kind of skills and composure necessary to pull something like this off like they assume they can, setting aside how much additional danger a gun brings into the chaos of crime and quick action, I think it should be self-evident that shooting someone because they were trying to steal from or harm you isn't something to be desired, and that the best thing for everyone would be if it didn't have to happen at all. Yes, you have a right to defend yourself, and I hope if Yglesias is ever the victim of a crime and has to defend himself from a criminal, he's successful in doing so. But I'd just as soon not have that happen at all, and I'd remind Yglesias that the chance of him being the victim of a random crime is relatively quite small.

On a policy level, I also want to point out a simple illegitimate rhetorical turn that tends to happen when talking about this notion of crime-prevention through gun ownership. Yglesias approvingly cites Mark Kleiman in saying that more legally owned and carried guns don't seem to increase the crime rate. This could very well be true. But that is an entirely different question from whether widespread gun ownership actually reduces crime rates, as gun-supporters constantly claim. (A well-armed society is a polite society, or similar claims.) It simply doesn't seem to be true that gun-ownership results in lower crime rates, either nationally or internationally. State rates of individual gun ownership over time don't correlate with lower crime rates in those states, and countries with higher rates of gun ownership don't consistently show lower crime rates than those with low rates. On an anecdotal level, it's also just not true to say that places with lots of guns are always more stable or crime-free. (That may be a bit of a strawman, but there are some who make that claim.) Baghdad is a very well-armed society. I wouldn't call it polite.

What's more, DC-area politicos complaining about the gun ban plays into some really noxious divisions of class and race. Carpet-bagging bloggers and media members come to largely poor, largely black DC, and attack DC's attempt to deal with their gun problem. It demonstrates again the sense in which those in the DC political analyst class treat the District like a fiefdom that should operate solely based on their needs and desires.

All of this, of course, will I'm sure be taken as a demonstration of my liberal guilt, my weak-willed lefty self-hatred. Well, yes, I do feel very badly, on an emotional level, that the people of Washington DC continue to endure this violence, and I do feel angry that Yglesias and other DC politicos are so concerned with their own desires that they can't take five minutes to talk about what DC has endured. Human compassion is at the core of the liberal project; a liberalism that sees no value in acknowledging real human pain and hardship is one I want no part of.