The votes at the International Whaling Commission look to be going in favour of whales and against the advocates of whaling, an outcome that owes a lot to the efforts of the Australian and NZ governments. Given that the issue is going to be debated again and again, it’s worth considering how well Australia’s anti-whaling position stands up to criticism. A relevant point is that we have not, for example, responded favorably to international campaigns against the culling of kangaroos (a point made by the Japanese delegate I saw on TV last night).

To start with, there seems to be little disagreement about the principle that endangered/vulnerable whale species (and other cetacean species) should not be hunted at all, and in this respect, whales aren’t treated any differently from other animals.

Let’s suppose, though, that some whale species aren’t endangered, or maybe that they will cease to be endangered some time in the future. Then, in general terms, the dispute is between people who want to protect whales because they like them, or want to help the whalewatching industry, (and maybe object to the way in which they are killed, but this is an issue that could be dealt with separately) and people who want to kill whales either to be eaten as a delicacy item or to keep the whaling industry going.

I don’t see that there’s any way of resolving this disagreement on the basis of generally shared principles; so within any given community it seems appropriate to resolve it on the basis of majority vote. So this would imply that if most Japanese support whaling in Japanese coastal waters, the Australian government shouldn’t try to prevent this through the IWC, although of course environmental groups should be free to criticise and campaign against the practice (exactly the same position applies with Australia’s kangaroo policy).

As regards international waters, I reach the same conclusion; there’s no first-principles way of resolving the dispute, so it should be decided by voting. In the absence of any general system of resolving such international disputes, the IWC is the relevant forum, and its voting rules (unsatisfactory as they may be) are the rules to go by. Since most Australians like whales and want to protect them, the Australian government is right to push this point of view, and to seek as much international support as it can.

Darfur Comments Challenge

Over at Larvatus Prodeo, Tigtog, Kim and Mark are running a comments challenge to raise funds for Darfur similar to the tsunami fundraiser held here last year (I got the idea from Michele Agnew who got it from somewhere else in the blogosphere). So go over and leave a comment. Obviously, the best sort of comment is one announcing a donation of your own, or joining the LPers in cash for comments.

Among the many other worthy causes, there’s still time to help with the Yogyakarta earthquake.

And while I’m on the topic, let’s hear it for Bill Gates, who’s taking a backseat at Microsoft in order to devote more time to giving his money away. There’s something to be said for billionaires; taken as a group they seem a lot more attractive than the merely rich.

Derbyshire’s war

Quite a few people have commented in John Derbyshire’s apology for supporting the war in Iraq.

I haven’t seen anyone deny Derbyshire’s suggestion regarding his National Review colleagues who still publicly support the war that

If wired up to a polygraph and asked the question: “Supposing you could wind the movie back to early 2003, would you still attack Iraq?� any affirmative answers would have those old needles a-jumping and a-skipping all over the graph paper.

but then I haven’t looked hard. I’d be interested if anyone can point to any examples [1].

My main interest, like that of many others is in Derbyshire’s reason for recanting his support. While he wanted a war with Iraq, his idea was that the US should drop a lot of bombs, demonstrate that it’s a power to be feared and then leave, without wasting time on futile projects like nation-building. As lots of commenters have pointed out, Derbyshire’s position is worse, in moral terms, than that of most of those who continue to support the war.

It does however, raise some important issues that go to the heart of the debate between supporters and opponents of the Iraq war and the debate over war and peace in general.

In the leadup to the Iraq war, many different arguments were presented for and against going to war, and many different predictions were made about the likely consequences of war. People supported war for a range of reasons, some of which were logically inconsistent, and the same was true of people who opposed war. Many people made many predictions, many of which turned out to be wrong. However, there is a fundamental asymmetry here.
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Plinth for Plinth’s sake

When I was first told by my wife about this story, I expected it would turn out to be an Internet factoid, probably much-circulated, melding the old stories of paintings hung upside down, works painted by ducks and hailed as masterpieces and so on. But the Independent’s account gives chapter and verse. The Royal Academy, having received a sculpture by one David Hensel with the plinth packed separately, decided to reject the sculpture and exhibit the plinth.