html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Enjoy your Fourth of July!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Enjoy your Fourth of July!

I'm out for the day but when I return, I don't know whether I want to keep this conversation going. It must be boring a whole bunch of my readers. I don't think I'm changing any minds. I'm getting to the point that I can't tell if my reasoning is defensive or objective, and that isn't where I want to be writing from.

I don't want to ditch this if I haven't answered any of your core concerns, so this is your last chance. If there is some really key part of this that you think I've evaded, this is your chance to bring it up.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meggie, my apologies for being away for several days and thus being unable to reply to your many postings that replied to my posting of last Thursday. I will do my best to respond to your many points.

I must say, though, that because I read your posts in reverse chronological order—that is, scrolling down—your initial posting perhaps lacked for me the cringing fear that I might have received had I read it first and its description about you opening several up several metaphorical cans of WHUP ASS. You see, having read that post last, I knew that your cans of WHUP ASS must have been defective, as they seemed to contain only two ingredients: non sequitur and ad hominem.

Let us begin with ad hominem. Suppose that a man is a murderer. Can we say that he is a Bad Man? Yes, in fact, we can even define him as such syllogistically so as in: All murderers are Bad Men.

But then, does it follow that if he is accused of a theft he must be guilty? Hardly. And, what is most important, you cannot with any fairness cite his being a Bad Man as proof of his being a thief.

So it is with Dick Cheney. You assert that he has committed a litany of crimes. This makes him a Bad Man. And then you appear to use that as “proof” that he must have done something bad to the fishies, or, rather, to the sacred Process that you have previously asserted that bureaucrats love and hold dear. That is, you have made an ad hominem argument. Your “proof” that Dick Cheney should be condemned—without any other proof of wrong doing in this fishes matter—is that he is a Bad Man.

And, yet, even here, your ad hominem is unpersuasive as it does not do a particularly persuasive job of first establishing that Dick Cheny is a Bad Man. The problem is that your evidence for Badness is nothing more than a little litany of what a certain type of left-leaning American thinks to be true about the Bush Administration.

Take, for instance this shibboleth of the far left and its feelings about President Bush. As you put it, he “Lied to the American people to start a war against a country that didn’t attack us.” This is typically summarized more succinctly as “Bush Lied People Died.”

But where was the lie? To lie is to deceive intentionally. There is absolutely no evidence that Bush or his administration did so. Every intelligence agency in the world (including the French) had concluded that Iraq had an ongoing WMD program. In fact, that is why we managed to get the entire Security Council (including Syria) to vote unanimously for Resolution 1441. And if you look back at the political commentary at the time in this country you will not find many voices arguing that Iraq had no WMD program. Instead, what you will find are that those opposed to the war wanted to give Saddam more time to comply with UN weapons inspectors—despite his having thrown them out of the country at various times and having insisted that all interviewees be monitored during their conversations by Iraqi security forces (so that they would be too intimidated to tell us the truth).

And that brings us to the real liar. It was Saddam Husein. He lied. He didn’t have a WMD program. But he bluffed. He did all he could to pretend that he was covering one up when one didn’t exist. And, as it turned out, we had to invade to uncover that bluff.

And why did we invade? Because the bluff worked. Because Bush was not the liar but rather the lied to—as were all the intelligence agencies of all our allies who also thought that Iraq had an ongoing WMD program.

I could go on in this way about the rest of your litany, disproving them one at a time. But, my point is not about their falseness, but rather about how to make an ad hominem argument successfully: For an ad hominem to have its proper rhetorical effect—that is to illogically seduce the audience—it must be based on something that convinces the audience that the person being attacked is a Bad Man. In this case, that is only possible if you base your Bad Man assertion on something that the audience will agree is both true and bad. But, none of your Bad Man assertions are actually true. Which makes it very difficult for those who do not already believe in them to follow along with your ad hominem attack. Unless you first somehow convince me that Dick Cheney and George W. Bush are bad men, you will never be able to use their character to bring down aspersions on other actions that they may have undertaken.

You seem very smart, so I am hoping that you will choose in the future to preach to those who do not already share your assumptions about who the Bad Men are. If you want to convince anyone who doesn’t already agree with you, you will have to do better at convincing us that Dick and W. are Bad Men—and that can’t be done with silly, baseless arguments like Bush Lied People Died. In the future, if you are going to use an ad hominem argument because you have no better argument, please at least do a competent job of it.

Let us pass on, gentle reader, to the problem of non sequitur. And let us begin with Meggie’s conclusion that I am a Libertarian. I am not. Let me repeat that again: I am not a libertarian. In fact, I think that libertarians are fruitcakes because the miss the importance of culture and the broad assumptions that must be shared in order for a society to function well. For instance, people like you, Megan, think that Bush and W are Bad Men. They take that for granted. It is part of their culture. Consequently, it is easy for them to jump to lots of conclusions based on that assumption. Those of us who don’t share your culture are thus cut off from many things that you believe to be obvious.

More generally, you can’t have people with radically different cultural assumptions functioning well together in a society: too many frictions will result. Much of the Muslim world is working through this now. Those who take the Koran and the Hadiths seriously can never agree to Western ways because the two cultural systems are wholly opposed on many matters including—just to take a simple example—whether the testimony of a man and a woman are of equal value before a court. Under Sharia, the testimony of a woman is worth only half that of a man. This makes rape prosecutions totally impossible because if it is a he-said-she-said situation, then the woman automatically loses because the male rapists’ testimony (that he didn’t do it or that it wasn’t coerced) counts for twice as much as her testimony (that he did do it and that it was coerced.)

Now, I don’t think my cultural differences with you are so dramatic that we can’t function together in the USA, but I do think that they are so dramatic that if you and your ilk got their way, my life would be much worse off.

And that brings us to your query as to how the Environmental Protection Act could have passed with so few votes against it. The answer to that is that the representatives who should have been looking out for my interests caved. In particular Richard Nixon pandered to all things left when he was president. He was the man who on an executive order started racial hiring quotas for federal contracting. He was the man who pushed for the EPA (and persuaded his party not to oppose the radical version that got passed.) He was the president that took us off the gold standard. He was the president that imposed price controls. To sum up, he was a president so eager to get reelected that he was quite willing to give the other side nearly everything that it wanted—including getting out of Viet Nam.

The nice thing about democracy is that typically it results in a stalemate, with neither side getting much of what it wants. But with Nixon, the left got lots and lots of goodies—including the EPA—because the right stopped acting like the right. In fact, it amuses me that lefties go on and on about Nixon and the “Southern Strategy” as if it were a racist plot to pick up all the Southern voters who didn’t like the new, radical, post-60’s left. Why don’t they talk about Nixon’s “Leftist Strategy” of price controls, weak money, implementing draconian environmental laws, and imposing affirmative action? I know why. Because they like all of those policies. And people only bitch about what they don’t like.

Next, let’s deal with your arguments relating to the requirements that bureaucrats deal with competing interests and their having a duty to weigh them. This is related to my point (with which you disagreed) that decision making must be left in the hands of those closest to any problem. Your argument against my position is that those closest to any problem will only try to have things all their own way—in particular, the farmers who want water will not take into account the damage that might accrue to others if all the water were given to them (the farmers). And so you think that we must have bureaucrats—deus ex machina—to weigh competing interests.

But how, prey tell, will distant bureaucrats be able to correctly weigh costs and benefits? Do they have enough information to make that decision? Can they possibly ever have enough information to make that decision? The answer is no. It was no with Soviet central planners and it is no with kindly, well intentioned, rules-and-regulation-following bureaucrats in America.

Did a single one of those scientists have detailed information on any one of those farms? And by detailed, I mean the sort of detail a farmer gets by working the same land for 20 or 30 years. If the farmer’s supply of water goes down 5%, did any of those bureaucrats know how exactly how many of that farmer’s acres of land would become uneconomical to farm? Not at all. But the farmer knows.

And that is the problem here. Unless you price the water and have the limited supply competed over, it will NEVER be allocated efficiently. And a market is the ONLY KNOWN WAY for finding the correct price that balances competing interests.

You asked me what I think you guys do all day. I think you very nicely try to make the world a better place. But I also think that those of you whose jobs come down to setting a price should be doing something else. A market needs to be set up and the water allocated through a market. Those who want water for the fishes can buy it.
And those who want water for the farms can buy it. And you won’t need any “scientific” commissions to set the allocation of water—something that they will inevitably do incorrectly due to the fact that they can never gather enough information to find the efficient allocation.

Along these lines, I was quite frankly astounded that because I only talked about the farmers you came to the conclusion that I didn’t consider costs falling on other parties. And you apparently made the same accusation towards libertarians as a class—the idea that they only see one aggrieved party and then take their side. This was an astounding non sequitur. It also misses the fact that my point has nothing to do with one side or the other in the water dispute. It has to do with the institutions that you think are so sacred and filled with good people. They don’t work when it comes to pricing water. Only a market will work—a market that brings in all the little people whose self-interest makes you think bureaucrats are needed to weigh competing interests. And that was my point. Not to take sides with the farmers, but to criticize you and the current institutions and those who defend them.

Which brings me to your “point” that just because the bureaucrats are nice people trying to follow the system they should get any of our sympathy or support. As has been said since the 16th century, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Just because you and your ilk are good people doesn’t matter if you are part of a bad institutional structure that leads to bad outcomes. So your argument about the niceness of bureaucrats and of their commitment to process and rules is far less than convincing.

And that brings us to the NAZI thing. I did not compare you to a NAZI. In fact, in my original post I was careful to state that the people to whom I was comparing you were not NAZIs. (“They didn't do it because they were Nazis.”) They were just people who liked the idea that their ideas could be imposed by a strong government. I believe that it was totally incidental to them that the government in question that could impose their ideas was National Socialist. Indeed, I am sure that they would have been eager to help any such government—-be it headed by a man named Hitler or a woman named Hillary.

Perhaps I should have talked about Plato’s Republic, which has been the inspiration of centuries of frustrated policy wonks and geeks, since Plato has his ideal society run by an educated priestly class. Our society is filled with frustrated wanna-be Platonic priests whose only hope is that they can somehow be given power to make the world better—by, or course, imposing their beliefs on everyone else.

So let me ask you my question again: Do you not think that the rest of us would be better off if you were running the world and imposing your beliefs on the rest of us? Do you not believe that, more generally, we should get rid of the political machinations of Bush and Cheny and instead have the world run by bureaucrats without any interference? Do you not want to just set things up under the system of laws you think best and then administer away and push paper and have meetings and impose regulations on people to your heart’s content? And if not, why not?

2:07 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Dude. You are ON CRACK. Cut and pasted, that is five pages, single spaced. Considering your last comment, I didn't even read it.

Notice how the other commenters do it. Ask a quick, respectful question and I'll address it.

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if it's "key", but since you're taking requests, can you respond to my slavery reply?

- Jan

6:14 PM  
Anonymous HC said...

I'd like to know if you can find any clear breaks with procedure or law. I went looking, and haven't yet. There was, I think, a lot of influence brought to bear here, but it seems to have been done in a way that left few fingerprints, and nothing prosecutable. There is still the whistleblower, about whose case we - or at least I - know little.

I'm not focused on the ESA, and when you described the VP as having evaded the ESA and acted illegally, I sat up straight and wondered what I had missed.

As a second and unrelated question, I would be very interested in an ongoing series on irrigation optimization techniques. I spent some time working on a wheel line irrigation system, but that's about all the experience I can claim with moving water. It's just interesting to read about.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Noel said...

But then, does it follow that if he is accused of a theft he must be guilty? Hardly. And, what is most important, you cannot with any fairness cite his being a Bad Man as proof of his being a thief.

I didn't get through the whole comment, but I'll just make a point about this. It is perfectly reasonable to increase your prior belief that someone will commit a crime if they have previously done so -- crimes are not independent events. [This is Bayesian reasoning, for the geeks out there.] Hence it is perfectly reasonable to be suspicious of Cheney's actions given his history.

2:48 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

You're encouraging him.

8:01 AM  
Anonymous ptm said...

I've read that text before. I think it was a comment left here previously, but am not sure.

8:19 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

It was. I didn't answer it then either, because it is five pages long.

8:21 AM  
Blogger jens said...

Well, clearly the guy went through some effort to POST the thing, and clearly it is more than anybody is going to read unless they are either completely sucked in by the opening - which I am not - or have a lot of respect to begin with - and I don't KNOW anonymous at all.

So why not have your readers help you out? We could each take a paragraph and REDUCE it.

I'll take paragraph 12, because I liked the beginning of it.

Here goes:

You SEEM smart (but really aren't? or SMART but not COMPETENT?) but you are preaching to the choir.

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Francis said...

what's worth talking about:

why the fish died.

the impact of global climate change on agricultural and municipal water uses.

why people grow rice near Sacramento and what are the consequences of someone stopping them from doing so.

other means of dealing with resource conflicts.

why the ESA, the Clean Water Act, NEPA, CEQA, the California Endangered S p e c i e s Act and the P o r t e r- C o l o g n e Act are needed and effective means of forcing private interests to capture their externalities.

the future of the Bay-D e l t a and which of the PP I C alternatives you liked and which you disliked and why.

(it looks like the T r a c y pumps may get shut down again. a post on paper water, the S W P and the links between land use regulation and water use regulation, from an engineer's prospective, would be interesting to me.)

12:32 PM  
Blogger Dubin said...

Ok, I admit it. I read it. The whole thing. I was curious. It is pretty pedantic and it does refer to me as "gentle reader," which seems a little intimate.

But just to play the devil's advocate, Megan did expend a lot of effort in creating her
WHUP ASS posts, so it seems reasonable that Anonymous would expect a response to even an unnecessarily long comment. Saying someone's "on crack" is not exactly affirmative kindness, but you know I never supported that policy anyway. :)

3:41 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Dude. I never even made it through his first comments. If I went back through that, we'd be here all year.

And I tell my best friends they are ON CRACk. Sometimes, that is a friendly way to address people.

HC, I took another crack at why Cheney's move was against procedures in the comments below. I looked more at the Hatch Act (you're right, it excludes the VP) and the ESA, and you are right again. I can't support my claim that what he did was illegal. Francis did support the assertion that what Cheney did was illegal in earlier comments.

Either way, it is FUCKED UP for the second highest official in the country to 1. be using the agencies to determine election outcomes and 2. intentionally go around the laws he is sworn to uphold.

Jan, there is a profound human dignitary difference between involuntarily having your immediate actions and person directed by another agent and being forced to monetarily support the decisions of the majority of the people of the country of your citizenship. If that isn't self-evident to you, then we aren't going to find much common ground.

3:50 PM  
Anonymous HC said...

Francis has been great, absolutely. I read him as supporting the fact that the VP had caused a document to be issued that was later found to be legally invalid, which does not necessarily involve breaking the law. Again, if I missed something, let me know.

I agree that what's alleged is very bad indeed. What I think actually happened is quite bad enough. Provable criminal abuse of office has much greater implications than a small scandal, and that's why I was interested in that aspect.

I second Francis' list of topics, and would add another, from Virginia Postrel's discussion of the Aspen Institute. If the US is using less total water each year, then does that provide flexibility? Or is that savings so unevenly distributed, or small compared to reserves drawn down, that California is still in trouble for the foreseeable future?

8:36 PM  
Blogger JRoth said...

I just want to note that, following this series of posts, Megan is now at the head of my list of crushes. Sadly, I'm already married to a bureaucrat, so this doesn't help that aspect of Megan's life, but regardless:

Keep on rocking, Faithful Bureaucrat.

10:09 AM  

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