29 May 2012

Patriotism apparently means having to say you are sorry.

Honestly, I am having a hard time understanding precisely what the actual offense was here that requires a defense in the first place.

Perhaps this is because I find that ordering soldiers off to do things that are, by definition, hazardous and sometimes disagreeable, is not something that entitles us to do so with an incautious sensibility.

Naturally I find myself more aligned with liberal sentiments than conservative ones, so perhaps the outrage is something tribal that is more conservative and traditional; a noble sympathy with the common soldier and his commanders as they do battle to honor god and country. To that extent, I'm inclined to grant that such sympathies are not without their merit and deserve a level of attentive respect. I'm not sure that Hayes didn't grant that either though which is the confusing part where I don't understand outrage. Was that respect in some way expressed at an insufficient level? I don't get it. 

The real complications I suppose are the bigger questions that will no doubt go unasked and unanswered. A few are hinted at directly at the bottom of Conor's post.

First, he in effect asks if heroism flows from their sacrifice of individuality and control, especially in the modern context through the requirement of volunteering to serve versus compulsory draftees. I'm not sure that this action is automatically "heroic", but as noted on the show, it certainly embodies some noble traits useful to most societies (that some people will give up private goods for all/others to enjoy common benefits). Perhaps we could identify this as a form of heroism, in the same way that we might identify various forms of non-combatants who might do such work (teachers or various political activists, etc). But I think the key word here is a form of sacrifice and effort on behalf of others, be that your country, the country one is fighting in, or a set of students, or whatever. We identify, somewhat appropriately, a sacrifice of self as heroic, with its ultimate case being a sacrifice of life itself so that others may live and lesser cases being self-defensive cases of death where others die by our hand or an appointed hand acting on our behalf so that they will cause no harms to ourselves and others. This too is a difficult scenario to envision oneself doing actively and agreeably and which we might naturally ascribe a certain degree of heroism.

This question naturally implies that the sacrifices are not all those of life and death, that the basic freedoms being surrendered for some cause or military unit's ultimate victory in a mission or war are all worthy of merit. Or conversely, that not all deaths in war are heroic sacrifices in and of themselves. Perhaps it is this hint that is offensive. I think it would be difficult for people to go to wars if they did not convince themselves that the deaths of others, friends and enemies alike, were in some way serving a purpose. Otherwise the slaughter would appear needless and wasteful. But I also think that the general opposition to these wars or recognition of futile causes occurs far more readily by those soldiers themselves, and even to their commanders at times than to the politics that require such actions. Opposition to the continuing operations and occupation in Afghanistan is higher among troops who have served there or are still serving than among the general public, which is higher still than among political figures who have control over said operations and occupations. What this should tell us is that soldiers themselves probably don't feel very heroic.

I suppose what it comes down to is this:
American soldiers are always declared brave and honorable. Our enemies are not, and at times our allies are not. There can be no nuance to this statement or the statement is now declared unpatriotic. This is... well it's fucked up. It's nationalism. It's not patriotism. Patriotism means sometimes the thing you love has flaws and it needs to be woken up to it.

But apparently saying so means you have to apologize.

10 May 2012

Evolving views, ctd

I have also seen a great deal of fury at North Carolina for passing a foolish law. I have several thoughts on this too.
1) Most states have such bans in one form or another. Very few states have legal recognition of basic human rights irrespective of sexual orientation. That North Carolina did not have a formal ban could be characterised as an aberration. It's one of the stronger holdouts against such rights based on demographics and polling data and essentially just hadn't gotten around to it. (by contrast, Maine is one of the strongest states in support that hasn't done so, and Iowa is a clear outlier thanks to a few judges). In my mind this means that other than a bunch of states in the NE US, few people have a leg to stand on here to see these NC voters worthy of extra derision and scorn. Pot meet kettle.

2) Most voters do not fully understand what they are voting on in elections, especially local elections. First, North Carolina already did not recognize same sex unions under their civil unions/domestic partnerships, so the legal change was unnecessary for the reason supposed that it was. Second, there's some evidence that over half of the population in NC favored providing civil unions to LGBT residents and affording them with equal protections, just that they didn't want to call that "marriage" I suppose. I think this is the wishy-washy position of most Americans that results from having very few attentive thoughts to the actual issue. Indeed at this point I'm far more comfortable logically and rhetorically with people who say that they shouldn't have those rights at all. At least they're being consistent by acknowledging their bigotry and intolerance rather than suppressing it into a socially approved but mostly useless gesture.

3) I would guess the timing of the vote coming as it did near a conservative party primary did not help the voter turnout, but I doubt this affected the outcome, just the margin. Evidence suggests also that people/voters who support do SSM, or even just same sex rights, are not as likely to be highly motivated to turn out to vote on the issue either. Given that there are not that many homosexuals, who might have a direct interest in the outcome, I don't think this is that surprising. There are plenty more religious and highly motivated people who always vote. Especially outside of the NE US.

4) To me the closest parallels to these sorts of votes is watching them in relation to Prohibition. Interracial marriage may be the closest in the actual rights and practices afforded to people that were previously being denied, but that cause advanced in a much more roundabout way. With several states abolishing bans very early on in post-colonial history (Pennsylvania for instance) or having no laws in the first place (New York or Wisconsin), and a few more in the civil war/Reconstruction era and/or some shortly after statehood (Kansas, New Mexico). The issue was routinely a strong campaign attack ad during the antebellum era and the Civil War elections, and was involved indirectly for Prohibition's political support within the South especially. That left a bunch of holdouts that took decades more to resolve (beginning after WW2/Korea most of the American West abolished their bans), including all of the ex-confederate/ex-slave states that didn't abolish their bans until a Supreme Court case nullified them. That's a very different path to equality to what we are seeing now. Here's what I think is happening instead.

a) There's a very strong growth toward permissiveness or tolerance of homosexuality and homosexuals. This has happened very fast, over the last 15-20 years. Keep in mind that Clinton signed off on DoMA not that long ago. Keep in mind also that overturning state laws regarding bans on sodomy was even more recent.
b) There's a very strong reaction to that growth on the part of people who oppose either. Prohibition in both directions (support or opposition) emerged as a very strong national issue very suddenly, after a several decade period of running beneath the surface or emerging in a few local or state considerations.
c) The portion of people who oppose either is still demographically significant enough to do something now or very recently but will not be, in most cases, within about 10 years. Prohibition was enabled by a similar window of opportunity that was rapidly closing from immigration and urbanisation/industrialisation. Indeed, in that case the dry political class held off redistricting alignments for almost a decade in a blatantly unconstitutional action. Mostly so they could impose and enforce their views through control of districts that were more rural and populated by the more "traditional" American citizenry than huge influxes of Eastern Europeans and Irish/Germans but which were no longer representative of the actual population in most states.
d) There's a very strong set of battles over "side" issues like education, through curriculum and textbook wars. Prohibition was fueled in part by a lot of unrealistic fear-mongering over the supposed dangers of alcohol consumption being in the only approved texts to be used for many schools. Similar fights concern the supposed dangers or the parameters of homosexuality (as opposed to real dangers, such as rates of STD transmission that required a strong educational campaign from within the LGBT community to bring in line, or persistent and meaningless fights over "it's a choice" versus "biological causes". There are likely significant biological causes for people to become murders or psychopaths. If "we" think something is wrong and harmful, this is not an excuse permitting behaviors that are wrong and harmful. But it is then incumbent on "us" to show clearly that it is wrong or harmful in some way. In this case, advocates against gay marriage equality have failed to do so). There are also other sub-battles concerning adoption policies and the like (very similar to Prohibition's eventual involvement in immigration constraints).
e) Both fights were dominated and fomented by religious zealots. Interracial marriage as an issue was fomented by racist segregationists, with religion playing a side role in most cases. I suppose one could put more blame upon women for starting the temperance movements and especially for the textbook garbage, but in truth, it was when men too took up the cause that it started to go somewhere (though partly because women couldn't vote for a lot of that time), and it was when women took up the cause of repeal that it started going somewhere too (partly because women could vote at that time). Generally perspectives on alcohol use and homosexuality do or did not have a strong gender imbalance. They do however have a strong religious function. When this guy shows up as a temperance leader, it's hard to see a strong secular basis being applied to the law.
f) Finally, unlike on interracial marriage, Ohio is not fairing so well on either of these causes. It's essentially the median US state for being against recognizing gay marriage right now, including already having a constitutional ban, and it was the hotbed flash point for the cause of Prohibition. It did reasonably well as it was among the last states during the Reconstruction era to abolish interracial marriage bans, which put it, if not the vanguard, at least ahead of the curve politically and morally. This is not an important data point to the overall argument, but I think it shows that there's some different factors at work causing the problem than those involved in more directly related rights like marrying someone who has a different ethnicity.

Evolving views

I'm a little confused how a view which essentially returned to its initial point of origin can be described as "evolving". Maybe the public version of that view has evolved, but given that even the public view was this back in 1996, I'm guessing the only thing that changed was the height and relative importance of offices involved. In any case, we're back to adjudicating culture war talking points.

I don't see that this one in particular really harms or hurts Obama election wise. It's likely that it was harming him to hold out a middling view at this point; given a) that most Democrats/liberals overwhelmingly support gay marriage b) most Republicans don't, c) there's been a rapid shift in the last 5 years among minorities toward support, and d) those minorities were probably voting "Democratic" anyway. So I don't think talking over the election really matters here. Mitt Romney isn't Rick Santorum and isn't likely to turn this change in a public stance into a fire-breathing sermon over morality that overshadows other more pressing issues (or issues perceived as more pressing). This will more likely be just something that they will show a clear contrast on, rather than campaign centerpiece perspectives requiring intense debate.

What is of note is that Obama basically took the following perspectives
1) Continued to oppose state laws banning equal recognition, like the one passed in North Carolina, particularly in the form of amendments to state constitutions.
2) Continued to state that it was okay for states to make these determinations themselves.

I'm not entirely sure how those views square with each other. If these are badly crafted laws which violate respect for equal rights and recognition for some citizens unnecessarily (eg, these are not felons who have assaulted people or property), then I don't see why it is appropriate to permit governments at any level to pursue discriminatory policies. Even if these are more precisely crafted laws which may enjoy majoritarian support, that does not make them sensible policy. Perhaps that needle is threaded by making the argument that these are sloppy laws, but even the clear cut ones are openly discriminatory.

In fact, I find it a little strange that of all the various issues Obama has nodded some assent toward federalism, this is the one that he picks to actually evince real support for. And it's probably among the weakest for a federalist mentality. Even abortion to me has a stronger case for separate laws. This is far closer to slavery or other forms of discrimination which presently enjoy federal guarantees of protection. While there may be a highly pragmatic basis for this being a steady march toward equality undertaken at the state and local level rather than from federal interventions and court rulings, those court rulings are going to increasingly overturn bans anyway, and this will be a case where there are large intersections of conflicting state laws as people naturally begin to move between jurisdictions in a way that an issue like abortion can more easily resolve. One can simply travel to receive an abortion, an expense or a hassle, but not a denial of rights. One cannot travel to continue to have a legal marriage recognized in residence with its attending rights and benefits. Meanwhile, he seems perfectly comfortable thrashing state laws on narcotics or drug prescriptions, or on immigration, to take various points of perspective here.

I've also taken several thoughts out of debates with people who, at some level, continue to support bans or at least definitions of "traditional marriage".

1) It is not clear to most that the state has already crafted definitions which jar with "traditional" definitions of marriage, and thus created a civil institution distinct from this. Changing the definitions involved in civil and secular institutions does not automatically infer that religious doctrines and practices and rituals should have to change. Eg, that a definition of "traditional marriage" is not at all impacted by changing the state's definition of civil marriage laws. Mostly because the state's definition is not at all close to the premise of a traditional marriage (a corollary here would be that most people's definition of a "traditional marriage", at least in this country, is probably not what a "traditional marriage" would be according to their selected religious or theological doctrine). It's not clear to me how heterosexual couples would feel their pair bonding to be diminished if they no longer enjoyed a particular advantage in the form of state recognition over homosexual pair bonds, so long as their own advantages are not taken away from people who are unattached or are attached in less official capacities. Using examples such as the European experience with legal gay rights recognitions is a highly fraught enterprise that doesn't provide clear causation and in most cases, demonstrates that none of the feared difficulties will materialize as a result. (Example: Europe has long had trends toward lower birthrates and lower rates of marriage, which are among the apparent fears. These were not worsened significantly by adopting gay marriage laws. There are also a lot of cultural or economic causes that could be attributed here in some measure. Such as much higher rates of contraception use and at lower ages, higher ages at marriage, increased use of social welfare programmes, greater tolerance toward premarital or extramarital sexuality, etc).

2) It is not clear to most that the formation of "lesser" institutions, such as civil unions, indicates two further problems a) that they are not automatically endowed with the strongest equal recognition of rights and privileges accorded to civil marriages. Few people are aware of these distinctions in legal protections and advantages afforded to marriage but not to civil unions, even in states with very strong civil unions recognitions like Vermont b) More importantly. That because they are distinct institutions, they are more likely, as in the case of North Carolina, to be subjected to legal pressures and attacks, and perhaps even eliminated as distinct institutions altogether. Creating "separate but equal" institutions does not have a good track record in US history of actually performing the task of formal equality and seems a useless half-measure as a result.

3) It is not clear to most that the provision of state interventions in the form of benefits or privileges accorded to civil marriage recognitions and laws are not going anywhere. There are in fact some grounds on economic reasoning that the state should intervene in some fashions to protect or encourage this institution, though it is far from clear that the hundreds of laws that marriage law impacts are all necessary in and of themselves or that marriages should receive privileged status within them over other private contractual arrangements. In general, what I think to be the case is that people enjoy receiving special recognitions and protections for their private relationship choices, and that some of this recognition or protection may serve some social purposes (externalities) that justifies their continuing to do so. Therefore, marriage as a civil institution isn't going anywhere. I think a strong case can be made to amend some of those protections as useless or unnecessary, or to abolish or reform the laws that require said protections in the first place, but that's a separate issue from disentangling the entire thorny bed of laws surrounding the institution that on each point will receive strong advocacy and defence from the general public at large in order to say "we're not going to use the state to recognize marriages anymore, it will be all private contracts". Private contracts do not deal with things like our tax laws or immigration status or could be used to provide 5th amendment protections to spousal arrangements, etc. Yes you can use a will or insurance in a way you see fit, but you're already able to do this (for example nobody requires that you will an estate or decree an insurance policy to go to a spouse, it just presents some tax advantages to do so at present. Probably because most people probably would do so). 

4) It is clear to most that apparently the title of the state's recognition matters in addition to any actual rights and privileges that are extended. I'm not sure how this helps the argument that a ban should exist, but they're at least aware of this much. What appears to be important to this point is that if the state were to create a distinct secular institution or abolish/reform its present legal frameworks that recognize that institution as "marriage", but instill in it all the present rights and privileges, most people feel that this institution would be diminished. I'm not persuaded that this is the case, as it would be a cosmetic change at best. But since the general public appears to be, I am persuaded that what you call it matters. Since this is the case, we are better off not bothering with distinct institutions that have different names. Both because the actual institution at question already has the aforementioned rights and benefits and I favor avoiding legal complexity as a general rule, and because distinct institutions for unfavored minorities have a poor track record of fulfilling equal status. Further, I'm not sure what the basis is to not recognize equal status of private relationships of this kind. Consenting adults of sound mind should be able to decide for themselves who they will love and cherish in lasting commitments to each other without interference from the state or from the general public deciding that these choices are inappropriate. Their friends and family may be entitled to such input over the course of a relationship, but why the state should receive that privilege seems an error in according powers to the state that it does not require.

08 May 2012


Naturally I saw this already.

For what it is worth, I would still put both Nolan-Batman films ahead of it. I think this is roughly where it will end up on imdb/metacritic type scores too (it's ahead of Batman Begins but well behind Dark Knight right now, and will probably be well behind the third one too later in the summer). For my personal taste, I tend to like darker and rougher territories to be covered in my favourite media. Hence, I like the Wire or Game of Thrones as shows as opposed to sitcoms or even other dramas, and I will thus prefer Batman, in its modern form, to Iron Man. That's not to say that there are not some flaws in the Batman films that aren't necessarily in the Avengers, but it's also almost an entirely different genre of film to the typical superhero action setup with very different questions and answers to problems.

While it's been pointed out to me that as a guy I should like movies where things blow up, and I don't deny that I enjoy some such films where there is a good deal of action and explosions, I tend to prefer they be accompanied by other things. Like a good use of humor, a clever plot of some sort, a decent villain or a sensible basis for things to be exploding, coherent fights, and so on. Avengers had most of these features, as did the first Iron Man where many of its prequel portions did not (the first Hulk movie in particular, the second Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor were all weak in some of these regards too). I therefore liked it and would probably go see it again. I had a hard time following some of the fights from where I had to sit given how crowded the theater was. Most of them were quite good at living up to expectation however (Thor v Hulk, Thor v Iron Man, Loki v Cap, Hulk v Loki, both Hawkeye and Black Widow have some serious moves too.) I also appreciated BW getting some roles in the plot rather than just being eye candy as is typical of teen-action flicks and any attractive women being mostly if not completely useless (also a reason I look forward to seeing Catwoman in the next Batman movie). I credit Whedon for that and for the overall banter and humor that was pulled off.

Other notes: I'm not sure if they filmed the whole thing in 3D or just converted it, but my suspicion is on the latter. It was rare that I noticed the 3D features (a couple shots of Iron Man changing directions or fighting things in mid-air is about all). It's probably not worth that much to see it that way. That last Transformers movie was much more obvious where the money spent on 3D went and was thus more visually interesting and impressive. We don't get very much eye candy of an Avatar type. I think this is a good thing as it requires the movie hold up on its own rather than because it looks so damn cool. (Avatar, once I finally saw it, was quite lame, though I could see why some Chinese dissidents liked it at least. While the third Transformers movie was probably the best of the three, that doesn't mean it's a great film, and of course, there's the Star Wars prequels to consider here. All of which were quite bad). 

The NFL problem

The concussion problem.  Or rather the dead and suicidal people who had concussions problem.

I caught the Merrill Hoge response on ESPN. I turned it off because I found Hoge was propagandizing by attacking a straw man. This is more or less what I've come to expect from ESPN and the NFL on this issue (other than a few reporters and players). Warner, a fellow ex player, but more recently, to Hoge, wasn't saying something like "the NFL is dangerous and nobody should choose to play football". He was saying: "I know the NFL and football in general is dangerous and if I could, I would not want my children to play football professionally." This is an entirely logical response for a parent to have concerning a physical activity with known and severe risk factors to wish that they should avoid that activity. It's akin to why we vaccinate our children against diseases. (It's also akin to a lot of other dumber responses, like many child safety laws or the enforcement of neglect or endangerment laws). 

As someone who endorses a bit of free range concepts to parenting, it's also entirely reasonable for him to say "but I will let them play anyway if that's what they want to do", explain the risks to them so they are informed and can make other choices along the way if they want/need to, or so they can try to mitigate those risks. Which is more or less what he did. His kids play football. He hasn't stopped them. I'm not sure what the problem with that approach was from the perspective of others.

Hoge's "there's concussions in all sports argument is true", but there are not many ex-NBA or soccer or MLB players killing themselves with severe head-brain trauma involved (NHL has a fair amount of concussions too, though there's a key difference in the frequency of head trauma of any kind accumulating). The risks are steeper for one sport than the other. Parents will recognize that if their child has elite athletic ability or they desire them to do so, they could just as easily turn them into a baseball, basketball, or soccer player and make a very healthy living as a pro athlete (which is to say, not very easily). Football's primary physical problem isn't the concussions per se anyway, it's the constant pounding many players can take to their bodies and heads in particular on each and every play. Concussions are merely the most severe indications of this as a problem.

I think the problem for the NFL is not in fact how concussions and head-brain damages are treated or avoided in the long run. Because I think that will be taken seriously enough to be resolved in some way. There's too much money in the sport for it to ignore that they've got brain-related trauma resulting in suicidal and self-destructive former players and that they could take steps to mitigate that risk rather easily (better helmets, stronger rule enforcement of particular kinds of hits, changing practice regiments to lower contact drills and decrease rates of accumulation and pressure on the brain, teaching proper tackling techniques, etc).

Rather I think their real problem is that lots of parents may start thinking like Warner is here. And not all of them will decide it's okay for their child to pursue the goal of becoming a football player. That will eventually cut down on the talent pool and may make the game less exciting and well-played for fans to take in. That argument needed to be taken more seriously than to dismiss it or silence it. I think this same affliction has hit boxing to the point where the fighters are not the sort of pinnacle (American) athletes of an Ali era, but are instead drawn from arenas of the public where chances and opportunity are fewer. The talent and attention drawn to the sport are diminished (even if the money has increased). It would be wise for the NFL to make concerted efforts to push for changes all the way down the line in football play for children and students (amateurs) to encourage parents who have football crazy children that their sport is getting safer to play and that they won't have a child who could be dead before they are. Or who will develop serious mental difficulties and ailments as a result of their choice to play a sport they love. Hoge might have said something to this effect, and I think he was trying to get at what the sport has already done on concussions in particular as a "serious response to a serious problem". But he did it in a fairly dismissive way with the assertion of ignorance as though it is a totally misguided belief that feeds such decision making. It seems fairly rational to me to acknowledge severe and significant risks and want to see serious attempts to reduce them in order to feel comfortable. I also think it's entirely reasonable to say, I don't care, that's what just we do, as Toomer did, as I'm not one to use laws to compel people to pay attention. I just don't think it's reasonable to look at someone who you disagree with on this point of risk and say "shut the hell up". Demonstrate that the risk is not significant, or is balanced by something gained. (Much of the point of free-range parenting suggests that there are substantial gains in independence, decision making, etc to be had from allowing measures of freedom and risk into the lives of children rather than trying to legislate ever decreasing levels of danger out of existence entirely and ignoring actual dangers)

The tradeoff we are told is that players receive bountiful contracts to play. The players themselves might be okay with that trade, to risk abuse to their bodies in exchange for added wealth and fame and fortune. Their families might not be. These social pressures are real. And someone needed to speak on them, indeed someone deeply involved in the sport itself. It was not substantial and useful to respond with the idea that it was irresponsible to say something that acknowledges that there's a controversial difficulty that needs attention and redress for the future health of a sport.

NdGT furor


(that would be his reply to the reply over his initial post and comments).

To be honest, I thought it was kind of weak sauce. He basically threw the numerous but silent atheist who doesn't crusade for the absence and abolition of religion in society under the bus. Effectively implying that they should call themselves something else, remain silent and do other things with their time. This would be fine in theory. It is not so in practice. If there wasn't as much active discrimination and interest in hatred or prejudice against atheists and atheism in our society for example. Arguing over terminology is annoying, but the idea that "atheist" or "atheism" is akin to some kind of militant solidarity club is confusing to a public that already doesn't like atheists very much and doesn't know very much about them. Offering up portraits that conform to their already negative stereotypes is unconstructive as a result. If all Christians were doing was going to churches, praying, performing social work for the poor or disenfranchised, speaking about their personal faith and its interpretation, and trying generally to live their own lives in accordance with their spirituality, I might find them annoying perhaps at times, but not dangerous or threatening to my well-being. That's not what they are doing. They expand vast amounts of time and energy trying to get everyone else to conform to their own interpretations through the construction of laws and procedures requiring them to do so. It is not enough to be contented with the ability to advocate positions and to practice them themselves, it is apparently incumbent to enforce them.

I'm fine if he doesn't want to title himself; he has solid PR reasons not to do so and it would be distracting for him personally if he had to waste time essentially prefacing his talks, interviews, and lectures with his lack of belief. Particularly if, as with most atheists, myself included, that lack of belief is pretty low in importance to himself, his work, or his self-image. It's a far more important qualifier of our status to other people than to ourselves. I'm fine if he wants to focus his energy on science and improving science education, and on opposing the most diligent efforts of others to subvert such things. I think that's a much more worthy cause in the long run than expending a lot of energy trying to get people to abandon their weird canonical texts and beliefs or interpretations thereof and especially their social clubs they've formed around them. It seems far more productive to focus energy on the effect such things have on the rest of us, on our official policies, and on the accessibility to the public forum of people who don't belong to those silly clubs, and to generally advocate for ideas founded and constructed upon available evidence. To engage with religion and the religious among us generally when they force the engagement in a sense.

I just don't think you can take people who agree with those causes, and who share the basic outlook on the non-existence of deities, and offer up a definition that is effectively endorsing the openly hostile views of others to describe a substantial host of people who don't conform to those views in order to distinguish yourself from more "militant" formats. He ought to have known better than to do that much at least.

02 May 2012

If I ruled the world?

Things might look a little more like this...

Maybe somewhat more like this too.

I definitely second the opposition to Iraq, Libya, nation-building projects, Balkans, security theater methods of dealing with terrorism, shifting attention and balance to deal with rising Chinese influence and power, and less alliances that can free-ride (NATO?). Also less nukes and torture. And support for dealing with the Taliban/al Qaeda (I was okay with special forces and air power type interventions to go after key players and deter support of international terror strikes. I'm not totally comfortable with it, but I could live with it. I was not okay with much of anything that happened after that in Afghanistan.)

One can point to the Georgia-Russian war started by Georgia a few years ago to see examples of overly aggressive allies. Even if one doesn't want to point to the Israeli settlement, blockade, and occupation of Palestinian territories. Or Lebanon for that matter (or any Lebanon invasion by Israel). Plus our messy and numerous support or interventions of counterinsurgency campaigns (Colombia, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Mexico, Uganda).

It might be correct to say there are on balance some humanitarian gains here or there. It's possible that interventions in Somalia or Rwanda or Sudan had some utility advantage to them (though Sudan seems an open question, and encouraging Kenya or Ethiopia to intervene in Somalia hasn't gone well). Saddam or Milosevic being out of the picture for example is useful. But whether these are net goods has to be balanced against a lot of costs (especially in Iraq, and to an uncomfortable degree in Bosnia or Kosovo. Serbia seems better off). They are not unalloyed goods with no tarnished steel to point to.