Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Parting Thoughts

As I said, I won't have web access for awhile, so I wanted to say something really briefly about one of the big themes I've been trying to say something about with this blog, specifically civility in discourse.

I think it's important not merely because I think incivility is unpleasant. My real reason is this: incivility makes rational progress difficult or impossible. The madder and less civil we become, the less we listen to what is being said by those with whom we disagree and the less they listen to us. This makes it much more difficult for the parties to recognize and admit their own errors. That makes rational progress difficult or impossible as it simultaneously makes everyone more susceptible to falling for and employing non-rational methods of persuasion--and violence. Many people think that reason is impotent with regard to questions of value, but that is simply not true. Questions of value (including some political questions), however, tend to evoke strong emotions, which tend to make people less reasonable. One of the greatest threats to mankind is the _Crossfire_ mentality, IMHO.

Instead of treating political discussion as debate--that is, treating it as a contest with a winner and a loser...a zero-sum game...--we should treat it as true inquiry in pursuit of truth. If it isn't cooperative, then it is a waste of time. There are lots of important things to read on this point. Let me mention two short things:

1. When was the last time you read _The Federalist Papers_? Well, pull it down, dust it off, and read Federalist 1 by Hamilton. It's about ratification of the constitution, of course, but almost all of the same points apply to every important issue we face.

2. Emerson's "Self-Reliance." If everybody read that essay once a year, this would be a much better world.

I'm outta here. Blogging will be spotty for awhile. Thanks to everybody for all the great, interesting, stimulating comments. Happy Winter Solstice Holiday to all!



About that comments section...

Until I recover from grading (read: sober up) and get back from Christmas with the folks (read: a week of fixing fence and splitting wood) and New Years' (actually: three days of pedantry at the Eastern meeting of the fabulous and not fabulous American Philosophical Association), there ain't no way I'm going to get around to figuring out how to put up comments, and I don't want to hear any of that crap about how even a monkey could do it, because that feces is starting to hurt my feelings.

But--and here's the duh part--they asked me to start posting stuff over at Blogcritcs, and there's a comments section there. So, if the muse takes you, you can hop over there and post your thoughts.

[duh part deux: That, of course, only works for the stuff I post over there, which right now is only the "Patriotically Incorrect" post (oh, and that old du Toit piece is up there, but that doesn't matter.) ]

Oh, and if it's uncool to post your stuff on a big site like that, somebody better let me know right now, because if there's one thing I hate, it's being uncool...

Oh, the latest post at Blogcritics is here.
[Sorry; this post is probably not worth reading. Too long, not interesting. I shouldn't screw around with the blog when I'm tired... WS]

Speaking of Tom Tomorrow...

The View From Parallel Earth

Orson Scott Card, science fiction writer, channeled a message from Parallel Earth in todays WSJ OpinionJournal:

"...I watch the steady campaign of the national news media to try to win this for the Democrats, and I wonder. Could this insane, self-destructive, extremist-dominated party actually win the presidency? It might--because the media are trying as hard as they can to pound home the message that the Bush presidency is a failure--even though by every rational measure it is not.”

I am not making this up.

This is basically the flip side of that recent Parallel-Earth-ish piece from David Brooks, and my favorite responses to that seems appropriate here, too. (...the zenlike sound of thousands of jaws dropping... hee hee hee)

We should think really, really hard about this. This is a really amazing phenomenon. It really is as close to a message from Parallel Earth as we are ever going to get.
(This guy’s a science fiction writer… Coincidence?)

There’s more:

“And the most vile part of this campaign against Mr. Bush is that the terrorist war is being used as a tool to try to defeat him--which means that if Mr. Bush does not win, we will certainly lose the war. Indeed, the anti-Bush campaign threatens to undermine our war effort, give encouragement to our enemies, and cost American lives during the long year of campaigning that lies ahead of us."

I think the Republicans have found their Barbara Streisand.

Let’s review:

(i) The national media are trying to win the election for the Democrats.
(ii) The Democrats are insane
(iii) The Democrats are self-destructive. Oh…yeah, that one’s o.k. actually.
(iv) The Democrats are extremist-dominated
(v) The media are pounding home the message that the Bush presidency is a failure
(vi) By every rational measure it is not.
And my personal favorite:
(vii) The Democrats are using the war against terrorism against Bush

If you forget any of these, it’s easy to recall them. Just think about what is TRUE, and then it’ll be the opposite of that. Except of course for number three, which really IS true.

Thing is, everything above is just tail. Here’s the dog part:

"...If Mr. Bush does not win [the election], we will certainly lose the war.”

Get used to it. That’s a trope we might be hearing a lot over the next year…

[But remember: the Democrats are illicitly using the war on terror as a political weapon against Bush]

This piece raises the burning question: how absurd does something have to get before we are justified in ignoring it?

Answer: approximately 10% as absurd as this piece of crap.

I’m going to write something serious about our contemporary Parallel Earth/black is white/night is day problem, but for right now I think we should just attend to what Mr. Card is saying. How in the world (this world, not the parallel one) could somebody really believe this?

My afternoon with Orson Scott Card: A Recollection

I met Orson Scott Card once, about 15 years ago. I was in graduate school, and the wife of one of my instructors met Card, and asked him to talk to her English class. At the time I really liked sci-fi/fantasy stuff, and Card had written one of my favorite short stories—it was called something like “Sand Magic” or “The Sandmage.” So I went along with my friend Michael and his wife to pick Card up and hear what he had to say to her class.

The afternoon divided almost perfectly into two parts:

Phase I:
We pick Card up at his house and start driving to the place of the lecture. (I guess it was at UNC-Greensboro.) Card is very animated, but when he finds out that Michael and I study philosophy, he starts shooting his mouth off about something about the philosophy of language. I don’t remember what, but he was completely and utterly FoS. I put up with it for awhile, but then start trying to explain a few points to him. He’s intractable. We end up have a very unpleasant dust-up, and by the time we get to campus, we aren’t really speaking to each other. It was weird, to say the least. From excited to meet you to can’t freaking stand you in about 15 mintes. I just can’t emphasize enough how FoS the guy was. He had absolutely no idea on God’s green Earth what he was talking about, but he was willing to spew word salad, loudly and with utter confidence.

Of course I had concluded that there was no sense in being there by that point, but I had ridden over with Michael, so I was stuck with them for the duration. I glumly went to the class to listen to this blowhard talk some more feces.

The class was a disaster, but it wasn’t Card's fault.

After class, we had to drive him home of course.

Phase II:
I remember dispiritedly walking to the car, thinking what a bust the whole thing had been, but I had absolutely no inclination to talk to the guy. I wasn’t pointedly not talking to him, but we had had a pretty good row before, and I just expected we’d leave each other alone until we dropped him off. Well, I don’t remember how it started, but by the time we got to his house we had started talking again, and it was like night and day. The FoS blowhard idiot was now warm, gregarious, personable. The four of us in the car were best pals, laughing and joking around by the time we reached is (huge) house. He invited us in and we accepted. We met his wife and two kids, and stayed around for quite awhile talking. It was really lots of fun, and he was very gracious. He gave me a copy of a new book of his that wasn’t out yet, and autographed it, and he made a copy of that story I liked so much on his photocopier (very unusual at the time to have one of those in your house) and autographed it for me. I left with very warm feelings about the guy, and still have the book, though I’ve not read it.

Weird, huh? Absolutely Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (or vice-versa).. Never seen anything like it.

Years later I read somewhere that the guy is a serious Mormon, and had written some unpleasant stuff about homosexuals, and some gay rights groups had started confronting him about it at book signings. He said something a little over the top, like “they are trying to take food out of my kids’ mouths.”

Some final thoughts from Parallel Earth:

“Our national media are covering this war as if we were "losing the peace"--even though we are not at peace and we are not losing. Why are they doing this? Because they are desperate to spin the world situation in such a way as to bring down President Bush.

It's not just the war, of course. Notice that even though our recent recession began under President Clinton, the media invariably refer to it as if Mr. Bush had caused it; and even though by every measure, the recession is over, they still cover it as if the American economy were in desperate shape.

This is the same trick they played on the first President Bush, for his recession was also over before the election--but the media worked very hard to conceal it from the American public. They did it as they're doing it now, with yes-but coverage: Yes, the economy is growing again, but there aren't any new jobs. Yes, there are new jobs now, but they're not good jobs.”


“Ultimately, the outcome of this war is going to depend more on the American people than anything that happens on the battlefield. Are we going to be suckered again the way we were in 1992, when we allowed ourselves to be deceived about our own recent history and current events?

We are being lied to and "spun," and not in a trivial way. The kind of dishonest vitriolic hate campaign that in 2000 was conducted only before black audiences is now being played on the national stage; and the national media, instead of holding the liars' and haters' feet to the fire (as they do when the liars and haters are Republicans or conservatives), are cooperating in building up a false image of a failing economy and a lost war, when the truth is more nearly the exact opposite.”

Toward the end of the piece he claims to be a Democrat. Which I’m sure he is, back on Parallel Earth.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

The Patriotism Police... This Modern World...

First, they came for the pointy-headed pedants with patches on their elbows...

...but I had no patches on my elbows, so I said nothing...
Utterly Unbelievable

The Republicans may have gotten away with trying to bribe Nick Smith (R-MI). We'll probably never know what happened.

Is it me, or is the news from Washington almost uniformly surreal these days?

[Thanks to Statisticasaurus Rex]
Patriotically Incorrect Degrees of Happiness

Two observations about the denizens of the blogosphere, post-Saddam:

A. Many of the lefties seem a little less happy about the capture of Saddam than I would have thought they'd be.

B. Many of the righties are spending even more time fuming about the Patriotically Incorrect degrees of happiness being experienced by those on the left than they are gloating about the capture of Saddam.

For awhile I wanted to chide both the righties and the lefties, but then I realized my heart wasn't really in it. Mostly because I had to admit that, like some of the people I was getting irritated with, I, too, was feeling seemingly insufficient joy at Saddam's capture. The first signs of this actually appeared pretty quickly--in fact, about three-quarters of the way through the elated post I originally wrote about Saddam’s capture Sunday morning. I discarded it in favor of a line or two announcing the news. Part way through the initial post, the wind just went out of my sails. This is particularly weird in my case, and let me tell you why:

I’ve hated that rat bastard Saddam for a particularly long time. I was apoplectic when we didn’t take Baghdad during Gulf War Episode I. I know that there would have been problems with the coalition if we had, but we could have done it, and we should have done it. We should have eliminated that murderous SOB when we had the chance. Common human decency demanded it, but GHW Bush didn’t do it. He wasn’t willing to accept the risks even though, given the possible humanitarian payoff, they seemed more than acceptable. We also had a special obligation to take Saddam out given that we had supported him, selling him many of the weapons he used to murder the innocent. He was our—or, rather, the Reagan and Bush administrations’—boy. “Aggression is defeated,” GHW Bush announced, but it seemed to me that aggression personified was sitting pretty in Baghdad. Then, of course, Bush encouraged the Iraqis to rise up against Saddam, indicating that we’d support them if they did. Well, they did and we didn’t. And they died in their tens of thousands. You may remember the story about F-15 pilots who were ordered just to watch while Iraqi helicopter gunships strafed Kurdish refugees.

So years pass and then along comes 9/11 and then the second Bush administration makes asses of us by beguiling us into a war. They can do this because the Republicans have gone insane, the Democrats have become invertebrates, half of the media are in the pocket of the radical right, the other half are asleep on watch, and most Americans are so lazy and uninformed that they’ll do whatever they’re told so long as they don’t have to turn off their teevees or pay more for gasoline for their es-you-vees. The evidence for the self-defense case against Iraq was woefully insufficient. The case was, in fact, a joke. And when that became clear the Bush administration deployed their patented Rationale Transmogrifier (used to such great effect on their justification for cutting taxes) and suddenly we were engaged in a moral crusade to rid the world of a tyrant. Well that’d be fine with me, and only about twelve years too late by my lights. But of course that’s not what it was at all.
Can you really imagine this happening: W announces: “Although Saddam Hussein poses no real threat to the United States, and although Osama bin Laden remains at large, I have decided that we will invade Iraq, because it’s the right thing to do.”

Think that would ever happen? You can probably imagine Bill Clinton saying something like that…but you can also imagine how Republicans would have responded to it.

But despite all this, I was still torn about the war almost up until H-hour. Sure, we were being railroaded, but we were being railroaded into doing something that we should have done long ago.

And now we’ve got Saddam. And he’s going to hang. Something I assure you I’ve dreamt about for a long time. It still bothers me that Pol Pot died of natural causes, bothers me that we were so close to getting him. No, I’m not one of those people sitting around fantasizing about horrific ways to dispatch Saddam—though I predict that there’s plenty of that going on in certain quarters. But I do think that a proper respect for humanity demands that he be executed. Perhaps interestingly (perhaps not) I tend to be against the death penalty under ordinary conditions, but my opposition is based on practical grounds—our system convicts too many innocent people. But I support the death penalty in principle, and especially in cases like this, in which the crimes are unimaginably horrific and there is no question about guilt. But to explain my reasons for this would be beside the point here. What I want to explain here is why I can't be ecstatic about the fact that our boys went over to Iraq and deposed and captured one of the most evil men in the world.

Well, the answer isn’t pretty. Yes, it’s partially about the election. This administration scares me. And it sickens me. I want Saddam dead, but I am terrified at the thought of a second (make that third) Bush administration. I realize that this could be a sign of just how distorted my view of the world has become, but all I can do is call it like I see it. I look at the pictures of Saddam, and, despite intense and long-standing hatred for the man, I am not joyful. What I think about is how easily we were railroaded into a war, and how easy it was to synthesize a made-for-teevee War Chief and to call forth groundless adulation from the populace. I think about how easy it was to lie about even the most important and obvious facts. I think about the hard right, frothing at the mouth and marching in lockstep behind their front man, waving the flag, howling about freedom and justice, half-joking about laying some violence down on those who are insufficiently frothy. I think about the house in my town that was burned down because it had an anti-war sign on it. I think about how the rest of the right puts up with this in silence, and perhaps even with some approval. I think about the fact that in the past, those of us who so much as suggested withdrawing American support from Saddam were met with equally frothy denunciations. This is what makes the current lectures emanating from the right about Patriotically Correct degrees of happiness particularly galling. We hated the guy back when they were still selling him Sarin. But he was America's tyrant then, and opposing him was unpatriotic. Though still a tyrant, now he’s not ours anymore and so opposing him with anything less than frothy fervor is unpatriotic. (One thing about being anywhere this side of the rabid right, it turns out that, no matter what you do, you’re sure to be unpatriotic. Questioning other people’s patriotism is, it seems, the American way.)

So no, I’m actually not in ecstasy about Saddam’s capture. It’s not that I don’t despise the guy, and it’s not that I don’t recognize how wonderful it is that he's history. It’s just that America lost so much in getting here that it’s hard to take excessive joy in it. And one real tragedy here is that we didn’t even give up a lot to get Saddam—we simply lost things, apparently without any real consciousness that we were losing them. We didn’t nobly decide to make sacrifices in order to do what is right and bring down the tyrant. Rather, we were tricked into doing it for craven reasons. Because we were stupid and uninformed, and because we were easily frightened and overly deferential to authority, we allowed ourselves to be talked into going to war. What we did will probably, on balance, have morally good consequences (unless the administration cuts and runs before the next election, that is). But we don’t get credit for those consequences since we didn’t go to war in order to achieve them. If I’m a tad dim and easily frightened and, as a result, I shoot someone who in fact posed no threat to me, then I don’t get any moral credit for shooting him, even if I saved someone else by doing so. If my reasons for shooting were stupid and cowardly, then I’m a stupid coward--no matter what good is accomplished by my bullet. Actions are morally good or bad on the basis of intentions--on the basis of the goals for which they are undertaken--and we undertook this war not in order to bring justice to Iraq, but in order to eliminate a threat our leaders invented almost out of whole cloth. We had a morally good goal and a goal that motivated us, but sadly these were two different goals. The not-especially-noble goal of self-defense actually moved us to act, something that the morally laudable goal of deposing the tyrant never would have done by itself. The morally laudable goal was invoked only after the fact, after it became painfully obvious that our action taken in self-defense was based on irresponsibly shoddy evaluation of the evidence. Shamed, and left without a plausible reason for doing what we had done, we were all too willing to be manipulated again, especially when this time we were being manipulated into accepting an account of things that made us, not pusillanimous lackwits sheepishly obeying orders to fire indiscriminately, but brave and noble defenders of the downtrodden.

Those who are inclined to wave the flag at every opportunity and put the best face on whatever America does can be jubilant for awhile, but anybody who’s paying attention should be a little glum, no matter how much they loathe Saddam, and no matter how much they wanted to see him go

Monday, December 15, 2003

Fallacies on Parade

Wanna read a really, really, really incredibly awful article? I thought so. Go check out Maggie Gallagher's "Marriage Defeatists" in today's Weekly Standard.

I started to write something about it on the day it first appeared, but grading got in the way. Now that that's all over, I though about turning my attention back to the Gallagher piece. About three pages into joyfully shredding the thing, I realized that I really wasn't sure why I was expending energy on it. Will it make any difference? Will any anti-same-sex marriage people even read this blog, and, if they do, will they be willing to really think about the arguments? Will any pro-same-sex marriage folks really think about the arguments, or will they just be looking for a little "affirmation" from someone who shares their conclusion?

Partly I'm just kind of disappointed with a lot of what passes for thinking in the blogosphere. Partly I'm disgusted that The Weekly Standard can still pretend that it's a semi-serious publication. I started realizing what a joke the Standard is back when I wrote a post on Kristol and Kagan's "Why We Went to War." Then came the absurd "Case Closed" business. Now this Gallagher nonsense. IMHO currently, The Weekly Standard has about as much credibility as The National Enquirer.

So anyway, what's the point? My new theory is that the Righties don't even expect The Standard to be taken seriously. They just fill it with inane crap that they know will drive sane people crazy and prompt them to spend hours and hours writing responses. Hours that they might otherwise spend productively, e.g. working to defeat the current occupant of the White House.

On the other hand, the lefties produce some real trash of their own, like Matt Taibbi's recent piece on Clark in the Nation.

So the point is what's the point? I understand why discussion and careful analysis are important when it is between honest people who are genuinely puzzled about something and genuinely trying to find an answer. But when someone strings together a bunch of terrible arguments--arguments that would never be produced or believed by anyone even remotely objective about the matter--why do we bother to respond? Take David Brooks's recent piece about the Bush administration being too honest. Why waste our time thinking about or responding to something so patently absurd?

As it turns out, I am genuinely puzzled by this, and I have the feeling that we all may simply be wasting our time.

[Oh, and I know that it's a sign of a real kook that he thinks that everyone who disagrees with him is either stupid or dishonest. Although I may be a kook anyway, I want to make it clear that I don't think that everyone I disagree with is stupid or dishonest, though I'm often prompted to respond to the worst stuff I run across, and that stuff is often written by people who do, in fact, have one of the two defects in question. Maybe that's my problem. Perhaps I need to start responding to more sensible people.]

[Oh and: as I've suggested before, I conjecture that lots of the polarization we currently see is caused, at least to some extent, by focusing on the real wackos on the other side of the issue. Eventually, the wackos come to represent the other side to us.]

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Lying and Accidental Truth

One more thing. I've been meaning to write about this since I started this blog, but it's such an obvious point that I keep giving it low priority. But I'm going to say it now anyway because of the London Telegraph report I posted about earlier.

If I tell you that X is true even though I know that the evidence is unclear, indeterminate, or equivocal, then I am lying. I am lying whether X turns out to be true or false. Even very young children understand this much about the concept of lying. But despite the obviousness of the point, it seems to have been forgotten.

Because it lied about the evidence, the Administration lied to us about WMD whether or not they still happen to turn up, and they lied to us about Atta whether or not the Telegraph story is true. It is terrible that the administration lied to us about the reasons for war. But at least if their claims turn out to be wrong, people will hold them accountable for their lies. If, on the other hand, what they said turns out to be true, I reckon that they will not be held accountable, primarily because most people, underinformed as they are, will conclude that they didn't lie after all. But if I tell you that I'm rich I'm lying to you, even if there is $100,000 I don't know about in a shoebox in my closet. And just because I find the shoebox tomorrow doesn't mean that I didn't lie to you today.

Given that the original bad event--the administration's lying--has already come to pass, the best thing that could happen now would be for the people to hold them accountable, recognizing that it doesn't matter whether there really are WMDs etc. or not. This won't happen. The second best thing would be for the lies to turn out false, raising the probability that the administration will be held responsible. The worst thing that could happen would be for the lies to turn out to be true, in which case they are likely to get away with it.

But anyone who hopes to restore integrity to American government needs to work to hold liars accountable whether or not their lies accidentally turn out to be true.

A sort of post-script:
And we absolutely cannot let them get away with excuses like "well, it was only sixteen words!" Even ignoring everything else and focusing just on the State of the Union speech, this is appalling trickery. Does this mean that Bill Clinton could have said "Look, when I said 'I did not have sex with that woman' only ONE word was wrong. If I'd have just left out the 'not' I would have spoken the truth."

Since when does the number of words involved in a lie matter? I could falsely say "I saw Smith kill Jones," thus condemning Smith to the gallows. Does the fact that the lie contained only five words make it excusable that I bore false witness?

A Humble Prediction

I'm going to try to avoid the blogosphere for a couple of days. Why? Because I predict that, in the increasingly incestuous and irrelevant blogosphere, most energy will be directed, not at saying anything interesting about the capture of that rat bastard Saddam, but, rather, at exaggerating and ridiculing the Other Side of the 'Sphere (whichever one that happens to be). The right side of the 'Sphere will crow as if this shows that the war were prudent and the president truthful. Many on the left will mope and lash out, fueling the fires on the right. Blinded by their dislike of each other and their disagreement about Bush, they'll forget about Saddam and Iraq almost entirely. The left won't even be able to revel in this most happy consequence of our ill-advised war. Fah. I don't need this crap in my life.

The right acts as if it has accepted the following inference: Saddam is terrifically evil; Bush opposes Saddam; so Bush must be good. The left acts as if it has accepted this one: Bush is a very bad man; Bush opposes Saddam; so Saddam must not be that bad.

But both inferences are defective. Note also that, though both inferences have true premisses, both have false conclusions.

Saddam is evil and Bush is merely awful, but Bush's awfulness hits closer to home for Americans. If we ignore either Bush's awfulness or Saddam's black, bottomless, inhuman evil, we're ignoring something important about the world.

But for now, I'm outta here.
Bush Administration Right about (a) Iraq Training 9/11 Hijackers and (b) Uranium from Niger?

From the Telegraph via the Agonist.

Needless to say, don't believe it yet.
Saddam Captured!?!?!?!?

This'll be eveyrwhere, but since the news just broke I can't resist posting it. God I hope this is true. Here's the Post story.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

News Flash: Bush Too Honest.
Also: War Peace, Freedom Slavery, Ignorance Strength

David Brooks claims that the Bush Administration's big problem re: international affairs is that it is too honest.

I am not making this up. I do not know what to say about it. Some things are so absurd they can't be parodied. Brooks's piece is one of those things.

I used to think that Brooks might be one of the good guys. Why did I think that? Apparently because I am an idiot. That became apparent to me about two paragraphs into this piece:

"Now his administration has taken to honesty like a drunken
sailor. It has made a fetish of candor and forthrightness.
Things are wildly out of control."

I was out the door of my office almost before I realized that I had smashed my fist down onto my keyboard, causing some of the keys to shoot off. I walked around a bit. I drove around a bit. I went into a deep despair about mankind and the prospects for democracy.

I am approximately as alarmed as I could possibly be about the direction of political discourse in this country. We are, of course, used to both lies and meta-lies--lies about lying. And i suppose there's no longer any use in denying that the American Right has begun to use the "big lie" strategy with alarming frequency. But now we seem to have entered a new era in the history of mendacity--the era of the big meta-lie. At least Nixon had the decency to keep his most famous meta-lie--"I am not a crook"--modest. But those days are behind us. Now we are being told that this administration--an administration at least as deceitful as the Nixon administration--is not only not dishonest, not only ordinarily honest, not only unusually honest, but far too honest. Honest literally to a fault. It is, Brooks says at one point--I am not making this up--"drunk on truth serum."

This is, I think, the biggest goddamn lie I've ever heard.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Shock and Awe contra Instapundit

Now here's an interesting dust-up over at Shock and Awe (via counterspin, via Atrios). Apparently there was a previous disagreement that went something like this (er, if you are really interested, don't take my word on this, 'cause I'm just learning about this and am probably missing something):

Reynolds pointed out that ANSWER sucks, because they are basically Stalinists, and Stalinists are no better than Nazis, which is pretty clearly true (though when you get into the real stratosphere of evil, it's tough to make precise comparisons. Who's more evil, John Wayne Gayce or Ted Bundy? Pol Pot or Goebbels? Sauron or Satan?). ANSWER also allegedly supported the Tiananmen Square massacre and Slobodan Milosovic. These are bad, stupid people.

Then apparently there was some confusion about whether or not Reynolds was calling all anti-war protestors commies, and charges of McCarthyism (allegedly) fired at him. He (Reynolds) responds:

"HESIOD DOESN'T GET IT, so I'll try to speak very slowly:

Antiwar protesters aren't Communists by definition.

But A.N.S.W.E.R. and the WWP basically are. (And of the extra-nasty Stalinist variety.)

Communists are, in my opinion, as bad as Nazis: mass murder, totalitarianism, etc. (And calling them "Marxists" instead doesn't fool anyone.)

Going to a march organized by Communists doesn't make you a Communist, any more than going to a march organized by Nazis makes you a Nazi.

But knowingly going to either one makes you icky. And calling it McCarthyism when people point that out, or point out that the Communists really are Communists, makes you either dishonest, or stupid.

Clear enough?

(I should also note that I've tried to call attention to non-icky voices opposing the war. I think they're wrong about the war, but it's okay to be wrong. It's not okay to be in bed with Stalinists or Hitlerites.)"

Then Shock and Awe responds in the way you've probably already checked out, above.

What do I think about this? Well, since you asked...

A. The Instant One is...argh...fingers...won' right in this case. The only thing I'd quibble with in the post above has to do with the Communist/Stalinist distinction. You can clearly be a communist without being a Stalinist or a Maoist or, in fact, any kind of mass-murderer-ist. Jeez, when I was young and stupid I thought I was a Trotsky-ite for awhile. I'm not (uh, currently) a big fan of communism, but I don't see that it inevitably leads to gulags. (Though, since it's basically led to gulags 1/1th of the times it's been tried, I'm to say the least a tad hesitant to give it another shot...)

B. Reynolds doesn't even say that you shouldn't consort with commies, but only that you shouldn't knowingly go to marches organized by 'em. Though this isn't obviously right, it's more plausible if you substitute 'stalinists' for 'communists' in the appropriate way. And he doesn't say it makes you evil, he says it makes you icky, which seems to me to be about right. Under extreme circumstances, it might be o.k. to, in essence, let ANSWER organize a march for a good cause--but under ordinary conditions, you just shouldn't have anything to do with those people.

C. Reynolds didn't knowingly support communists in his post. Presumably he hadn't seen the close-ups of the flags. So any criticism of Reynolds on that score is entirely unfair.


D. Perhaps that's not Kynn's point over at S&A. Perhaps he meant to show how easy it is to end up consorting with villains when they happen to be on the same side as you. (Christ, now there's a lesson for our time...) Insty didn't know he was running with the Reds any more than lots of American anti-war protestors did.

E. If that is the point then I think it's pretty good, but maybe a shade too subtle, as I missed it at first. And Reynolds could respond that the evidence about ANSWER was easier to obtain that the evidence about the Iraqi protestors. Failing to blow up the pictures was hardly irresponsible on his part. I'd respond on Kynn's behalf that, news junky that I am, I didn't know that ANSWER was Stalinist until about a month ago.

F. Still, Reynolds shouldn't get off scott-free here. This latest installment got started because he was feverishly riding his liberal-media-anti-war-conspiracy hobby horse again, insisting that the Iraq anti-terrorism march hadn't been covered because....oh, who knows? I guess because the New York Times hates America so much... Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it's the only one that you've got...
[Note: I take that last snide comment back and apologize. Not fair, not smart, not true, and needlessly provocative.]

G. The question here is: will Reynolds withdraw his (perhaps only tacit) support of the anti-terrorism march in Iraq? Or will he deploy the insta-double-standard from his utility belt? Or will he try pleading that it's different because he wasn't AT the march...and he doesn't know WHO organized it...etc.? I hope he does the right thing.

H. Oh, and Reynolds is obviously right that calling a communist a communist isn't McCarthyism.

I. But this whole thing is making me re-consider the wisdom of blogging. My guess is that there's a lot of agreement among the relevant parties here, and this is mostly being driven by a gotcha mentality resulting from a kind of partisanship combined with the inevitable results of a certain nastiness of tone. Remember boyz -n' grrlz, Mr. Nietzsche sez:

"Why one contradicts. One often contradicts an opinion when it is really only the tone in which it has been presented that is unsympathetic."

Oh, and everything I say could be wrong.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Philosoraptors for Clark

I suppose I'm for Clark again. I had access to a t.v. over the weekend, and saw several of the FL speeches. Of course I agree with lots of Clark's policies (with the notable exception of his lamentable pro-anti-flag-burning amendment stance, which he mercifully didn't mention), but that's only part of it. He's not always on, and I don't always agree with him; but sometimes when he is on, what he says resonates powerfully with me. Although such impressions are far from being perfectly reliable, they are equally far from being worthless. What he says is, by my lights, spot on, and it is pretty damn clear that he isn't just saying the words. I am reasonably convinced that he's a man who not only understands philosophical theories about the liberal conception of the state, but feels the sublimity and power of that conception in his heart. Here's a man who seems not only to have reflected deeply on freedom and justice, but who has devoted his life to defending them. Yeah, sure, he could be fooling us all, but any of these guys could be fooling us all; that's no bigger threat in Clark's case than it is in the case of any other politician. Let's suppose, just for a minute, that all the candidates really are what they seem to be. Well, some of them are truly admirable men. Kerry fought in Vietnam and then came back and protested against the war, and Lieberman worked for civil rights in the south. A couple of notches down from those guys, Gephardt and Kucinich have both accomplished notable things during their respective times in government. But Clark is a giant. His intellectual accomplishments alone are prodigious, and his record in the military would be extraordinary even if he hadn't won the only purely moral war America has ever fought, even if he hadn't played the pivotal role in stopping a genocide. I don't agree with the guy on everything, and I disagree with him vehemently on some things, but I expect that there won't be another presidential candidate of his stature and ability in my lifetime. I suspect that he might be capable of effecting something genuinely transformative in American politics.

So there it is, for better or worse, I guess I'm for Clark again. I'm always a little distrustful of my instincts in such matters, but I'm encouraged by the fact that some of the people whose political opinions I most respect have roughly the same impression of him I do. He's unlikely to win, of course. As one of my friends pointed out, he's probably too smart to win. And it's getting harder and harder to stop Dean (who, I expect, would be a fine--if unremarkable--president, orders of magnitude better than W). But stranger things have certainly happened.

Kucinich's False Conditional

To wit: "...if it was wrong to go into Iraq—and it was—it is wrong to stay there."


If it was wrong to set the building on fire, then it is wrong to stay and try to put the fire out

If it was wrong to shoot Smith, then it is wrong to stay around trying to stop his bleeding

If, you get the picture....

Starting to seem like both those rather more rightward and those rather more leftward are in favor of our screwing Iraq over yet again.

I'm with Moseley-Braun on this one: we broke it, and now we've got to fix it.
Corporate Crime in the Bush Era, Episode MMLXXVII

Haliburton gouges us for gas, at the NYT.

(Corporate profiteering during wartime is, no doubt, permissible in the Bush era...though I'm sure it's considered treasonous to reveal that profiteering or criticize it...)

[Note: that last post shouldn't be taken to contain a sneaky suggestion that the Bush administration is somehow in on or directly responsible for the bribe. That's not what I meant at all. I do think that there's a certain atmosphere of permissiveness about this kind of thing these days, however. Let's see if anyone ever gets prosecuted in this case...]
Corporate Crime In the Bush Era, Episode MMLXXVI

Timothy Noah, "A Drug-Company Bribe?" in Slate.

(Thanks to: Statisticasaurus Rex)

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Something about Krugman and that started out to just be about this thing about Dean in the NYT Magazine

[some typos corrected]

1. I think this piece on the Dean campaign is worth reading. Now I really wish I had comments up, 'cause I really wonder what people in the Dean campaign think of it.

2. I'm listening to Krugman's book on tape (yeah, I know some people look down on books on tape, but (a) I don't care and (b) if you don't do your light "reading" on tape it cuts into your real reading time). It's primarily a compilation of his op-eds, so not much new if you've read all those. I think it's really interesting, and, though he's vehemently anti-Bush, that position certainly comes across as a reasonable one in that it seems to be motivated by a sincere (though, of course, possibly incorrect) assessment of the evidence. But I don't know enough about economics to speak with any authority on this matter.

(2'. This brings me to a general problem about the approach of They only count up pro-and-anti-Democratic and pro-and-anti-Republican comments. This approach assigns to everyone a numeric score that is, of course, an abstraction. Nothing wrong with abstraction so long as you don't forget that that's what it is. If you forget that you are dealing with an abstraction, then you commit--I think this is right--what Whitehead called "the fallacy of mis-placed concreteness." Well, never mind about that part. But mistaking something more abstract for something less abstract is an error, anyway. The weakness of the Lyinginponds approach (and remember, I like that site and find it helpful) is that it abstracts away from all content other than the pro- and anti- references aforementioned. That means that somebody smart, knowledgeable, and seemingly well-intentioned like Krugman gets put into (roughly) an equivalence class with people like Michael Moore and Anne Coulter. So, though this is informative, it isn't very informative. Hmm...wait, that may not be right. How about: it is easy to exaggerate how informative that is? Reminds me of an instructive case in one of W. V. Quine's logic papers (Not in Methods of Logic I don't think...can't remember where...not my example anyway, I'm swiping it from one of my old instructors). You can, of course, build a logical language with only one (non-logical) predicate in it. So, for example, you can construct a language in which the only (non-logical (I'll drop this qualifier hereafter, since it might either be confusing or sound pedantic)) predicate is the longer than... relation. And you can even use that (radically impoverished) language to describe the world. You just don't get a very rich description. In this language, all objects fall into equivalence classes on the basis of their lengths. So a yardstick, a three-foot-long boa constrictor, a three-foot-long chunk of weapons-grade plutonium, and a three-foot high child are all the same from the perspective of the theory--the theory doesn't have enough expressive power to tell them apart. Theories like this (though not this particular theory) can be useful, but if you forget that you have abstracted away from all the other features of the world (other than length) you are making a really big mistake. You are, in particular, forgetting that the things that are the same in a particular (and perhaps useful) abstract sense are different in lots of other ways. (Uh...did that make anything clearer?)

Let's say that people who get equal scores by Lyinginponds are "LiP-equivalent". Of course two people X and Y might be LiP-equivalent even though X is reasonable and Y is not. Krugman and Coulter are, for example, roughly LiP-equivalent, but I assert that the former is pretty sensible and the latter is a nut. So why are LiP scores interesting? ( about a long road to a small house) Because such scores are indicators--though very imperfect indicators--of how reasonable someone is. It is somewhat more likely that someone who criticizes the two parties in roughly equal proportions is more reasonable than someone who heaps most of his criticism on one party. If someone has a really high LiP score, this should give us pause and a reason to be especially attentive to the particulars of their arguments. But a high LiP score in and of itself is not clearly an indictment. There's no substitute for analyzing their actual arguments. And, of course, when you do that Krugman and Coulter are in different universes.

Some of this has to do with an ambiguity in 'partisan'. A partisan might be someone with an irrational commitment to a party, someone who, e.g., is willing to distort evidence in order to provide rhetorical support to that party; or a partisan might be someone who, for perfectly cogent reasons, simply happens to agree with a party on a great many things. (This latter sense may not actually be a legitimate sense of 'partisan'...I dunno.) The former is a kind of intellectual dishonesty, while the latter is not. Still, if all you know about someone is that she agrees with one party a lot, you don't know whether she is a partisan in the bad sense or in the innocuous (and possibly not even legitimate sense of 'partisan') sense. So a high LiP score sends up a red flag, but that's all it does. Only serious attention to the claims and arguments of the person in question can reveal whether that person and that person's arguments are reasonable or unreasonable.

One last thing: the more radical party A becomes, or the more clearly bad its actions, the easier it is to be an innocuous (i.e. not intellectually dishonest) "partisan" (in the possibly-not-even-a-legitimate-sense-of-'partisan' sense of 'partisan') of a party other than A. The Bush administration is extremely right-wing, and has done a lot of obviously bad things, including telling a lot of obvious and important lies. One consequence of these facts is that people who speak the truth about the Bush Administration will seem "partisan."

Ah...but of course this is exactly the kind of thing you would expect a partisan to say, isn't it...


(Um, I guess 2' turned out to be the main thought rather than an afterthought...)

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Interesting from Krugman

In today's NYT.

The Righties really hate him, but the guy often makes sense.
Interesting Post from Tacitus

Mighty Tacitus has an interesting post that asks the burning question What the Heck Would All You Smarty-Pants Know-It-All Monday Morning Quarterback Blog-Crawlers Do If You Were In Charge In Iraq?

Allow me to quote my great fellow Missourian, S. L. Clemmons:

I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn't know.

Not that I don't have many fascinating thoughts on the matter, with which I will regale you directly...

Tacitus has, to my mind, a bunch of interesting stuff up now, though I disagree with lots of it.
Another Unfair Nation Piece on Clark

Well, I quit supporting Clark ( when he came out in favor of the anti-flag-burning amendment. (I spoke with the Oracle of Chapel Hill recently, and he made some important points about that. Maybe supporting that amendment is an excusable error after all--though I'm not prepared to conclude that yet.) But just because I'm not supporting him doesn't mean that this piece by Matt Taibbi in The Nation doesn't tick me off. I don't have time to go through the thing in detail, but it's a complete piece of crap. It's the kind of intellectually dishonest hogwash you'd expect to see in, say, The Weekly Standard. The Nation can stoop pretty low from time to time, but this piece may represent a new low for them.

O.k., look, here's how the thing starts off:

"You can see something in the eyes of most all the Democratic candidates: the pugnacity of Howard Dean, the idealism of Dennis Kucinich, even (surprisingly) the elaborate sense of humor just under the surface of Joe Lieberman.

Not Wesley Clark. His eyes are blank. Like a turtle resting on a rock in the middle of a pond, he simply seems never to move, no matter how long you stare. But then, just as you're about to pack up your picnic basket and go home, you catch him: His head pops out, and he slides off into the water... " [elipses in original]

Now what the heck does that mean? I've got to say, I really have no idea. I mean, I get the part about how what you see "in the eyes" of the other candidates is good, and about how Clark's (dead) eyes are like those of a reptile...though a reptile that is secretly observing you... But usually there's a point to an analogy that's that clumsy and inept... And there's nothing in the story to suggest that the analogy is in any way an apt one. This is just an aimless ad hominem.

But I'm not going to waste my time going through this piece. Oh, well, look, there's also this part:

"The Clark people were nice and well-meaning enough, I suppose. But it was hard not to notice that the fastest way to bum them out was to ask a question about the candidate's platform. At one point, when Yoken was talking to the "media committee" (I had joined a group whose job involved writing letters to the editor of various newspapers) about Clark's "New American Patriotism," I interrupted him.

'What does that mean, exactly, 'New American Patriotism'?' I said. 'Is that as opposed to the old foreign patriotism?'

'No,' Yoken said. 'The New American Patriotism sees patriotism as something where dissent and civil liberties are encouraged.'

'I thought that was the old patriotism,' I said.

The committee fell silent for a moment. 'Well, whatever,' Yoken said. "

Now this is absurd. Or, rather, it's dishonest. Does Taibbi think that, since those Clark folks didn't actually give the obvious and sensible response to his dopey question that that makes his question a good one? There are several ways to put the point, but let's do it this way:

Well, there seem to be two conceptions of patriotism. According to one version, patriotism involves more-or-less blind acceptance of whatever the country does; according to the other, dissent is patriotic. The former conception has, it often seems, been the dominant conception; but that conception makes patriotism stupid and wrong. The latter conception is the one that makes patriotism admirable. Now, we might choose to say something like "hey, dissent is and always has been patriotic! The latter conception has always been the true conception of patriotism!" Or we might choose to say something like "fine, have your old dominant conception of patriotism; but we favor a new conception of patriotism, one according to which dissent is patriotic." There are differences between those two ways of putting things, of course, but the main point gets made either way. (I actually favor the other way of putting it, truth be told, but that doesn't really matter.) Which thing we choose to say probably doesn't matter that much. If "the new American patriotism" has some rhetorical punch, well, fine then, let's put it like that.

See, Matt? This isn't really that complicated.

Let me also note that Taibbi is scoring his little verbal victories at Clark Meetups while--for no apparenent reason other than to discombobulate the participants--pretending to be a director of porn movies (e.g. Anal Asian Vixens VI or something like that). At one point he brings along a female friend who dresses like a porn star; they both wear neck braces and pretend to have been kicked by a donkey during the filming of their last video. This is really loathsome. There's a good chance that the Clark folks took them to be dangerous psychopaths and didn't want to upset them by engaging them in debate...

Anyway, there is some stuff in the Taibbi piece which, if true, could be interesting and would count against Clark. But frankly I don't trust the messenger. When Taibbi does say enough for the reader to be able to assess his credibility, he scores low to say the least. The rest of the time, of course, we're asked to take his word for things. Which, of course, we soon realize that we shouldn't do. And a lot of his criticisms of Clark are extremely impressionistic, so those are completely untrustworthy coming from this guy.

It counts against The Nation that they would print something like this, and, I have to say, though the piece only takes about ten or fifteen minutes to read, I recommend that you not waste your time. If you do choose to read it, and if I'm wrong about this, please do let me know.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003


Now that both of my readers (mom AND dad) have requested that I add comments, I guess I will. Looks like it's not hard, but I'm still going to wait until the semester is over so that I can deal with the inevitable glitches and unforseen consequences. Any significant changes around here require me to use faith-based HTML. This could, theoretically, take years and cost thousands of lives, so I'd better wait until I'm finished grading...

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Hesiod on Max Boot on Neo-Cons

Hesiod discusses Max Boot discussing neo-cons (himself included).

Boot offers his characterization of neo-con-ism:

"Neoconservatives, belonging to the third school [neither foreign policy "realists" nor liberal internationalists], try to draw from the best of both worlds. They agree with the liberal internationalists that we should promote our ideals as well as protect our interests. But they don't feel that international law or international organizations are sufficient to do that. And so they agree with the realists that you need to use power and force if necessary to defend American interests in a dangerous world.

The neocons are trying to fuse power and principles. It's a hard-headed version of Wilsonianism. (Former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was well known for promoting democracy, international law and the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations.)"

I think Hesiod's analysis is mostly right. In particular, he's right that, according to Boot's characterization, Bill Clinton could count as a neo-con. But Boot is, of course, casting the neo-cons in the best possible light. Only the nutty would disagree with the neo-cons so characterized. Um, but I'm not denying that there ARE lots of people who would disagree--I'm only pointing out that they're nutty. I don't think enough people realize how much influence foreign policy "Realists" have on the Right. The "Realists" really do think that the only goal of our foreign policy should be to promote the narrow national interest of the U.S. They are, that is, more-or-less indistinguishable (in the foreign policy domain, anyway) from moral nihilists or ethical egoists. It's hard for me to believe that anyone could really believe that we should never aim to promote human rights outside the U.S. (unless, that is, there is some payoff for us). Even foreign policy Realists appeal to human rights considerations from time to time, but it's hard to tell whether this is purely a rhetorical strategy, or whether they don't actually have the courage of their (sick, twisted) convictions. I expect that the humanity of the Realists does assert itself sometimes. My guess is that the people who call themselves Realists really only believe that the rights of non-Americans shouldn't weigh very heavily in our foreign policy calculations. That's bad enough, but it's better than real "Realism"--better, that is, than thinking that they shouldn't count at all.

Oh--I've heard the following people called foreign policy Realists at various times: Cheney, Rice, Powell. Anybody know the facts about this? (Who am I kidding... Nobody really reads this blog, do they? If you ARE reading, it, stop right now and go read Spinsanity, fer chrissake.)

So all sane people should acknowledge that both principles and power have a role in foreign policy, and that its best to work with international institutions and promote our principles when possible, but sometimes we'll be forced to go it alone and kick some hiney. Many hard-core realists on the right would disagree with the part about cooperating with international institutions, and disagree with the bit about acting on principle. (God, those people really are dangerous.)

But do liberals really disagree with anything Boot says? I mean, I realize that there are some on the Left who seem to think that the use of military force is never permissible, but--perhaps I'm wrong about this--it seems to me that those folks are mostly located in the leftier-than-liberal part of the spectrum. Hell, even the two pacifists I know agreed that we should attack the Taliban after 9/11. (No, I don't understand how pacifists can think that, but they're both smart and both have Ph.D.s and I trust them both not to be making some obvious error.) And only my leftiest lefty friend thinks that we shouldn't have used force in Kosovo. (And no, I don't understand her reasoning at all, but she's smart too, etc., etc. (But wrong about Kosovo.)) Anyway, all of the relatively centrist liberals I know--High Noon liberals--acknowledge the need to kick a little booty now and then, regrettable though that fact may be.

So why do we need the concept neo-con?

Some suggestions:
Neo-cons really need to distinguish themselves from the Realists on the Right more than they need to distinguish themselves from liberals. Neo-cons are substantially different from Realist conservatives in that they recognize that e.g. the promotion of democracy (not in the service of any narrow-national-interest-related ulterior motive) is a legitimate foreign policy goal. So the neo-con is a different kind of animal than the Cheney-esque (?) Realist; more like Ronald Reagan (who, for all his myriad failings, at least wasn't a foreign policy Realist).

So how in the heck are neo-cons distinguished from liberals?

I think there are some obvious ways, but I'm going to stop, get some sleep, and think about this before writing any more.

Ubiquitous and unnecessary reminder/disclaimer: all the above is pretty speculative. Undoubtedly at least some of it is wrong.

Monday, December 01, 2003

:Stop Reading This and Go Read Spinsanity:
Brendan Nyhan and Bryan Keefer over at Spinsanity are at it again--fortunatley. They've got good posts on the Feith/Weekly Standard memo and on the Right's distortions re: the recent Democratic memo.

In a fetid mediasphere oozing Crossfires, Anne Coulters, Weekly Standards and Michael Moores, Spinsanity is an oasis of sanity.

[addendum: didn't mean to slight Ben Fritz here; but I'd just read the Nyhan and Keefer pieces. Add Fritz to the list of derring-do-gooders!]