Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Coast Guard Admiral Guarantees That Dubai Ports Deal Will Not Increase the Likelihood of Terrorist Attack

Just saw a Coast Guard Rear Admiral on CNN say that he could guarantee that the likelihood of an attack would not go up if the UAE took control of ports. He claimed that the safeguards they have in place will insure this.

Important data.
bin Laden Scores Again

Apparently Bush thinks that the tape that came out just before the election helped him win. I'm weakly inclined to agree.

So bin Laden once again outsmarts us by helping to keep incompetent leadership at the helm of the GWoT.

Well that's just great.
Stabbed in the Back

Well, as I predicted a long time ago (but, then, who didn't?), prominent conservatives have begun to look around for someone to blame for the apparent failure of their little adventure in Iraq. Glenn Greenwalt notes that they seem to have settled on goating (a) the military--which apparently didn't fight hard enough--and (b) those who had the temerity to point out that the war was undertaken for weak reasons that were misrepresented. (b) shouldn't surprise anyone, of course, but I guess that (a) does surprise me a bit. Anyway, in effect the emerging story seems to be that the neo-con war effort was stabbed in the back. See, admitting error is for the benighted reality-based community.

One reason it's alleged to be the fault of liberals, as Greenwalt notes, is that they just didn't have their hearts in it. If that criterion is at all reasonable, then there's additional reason to blame the military: most soldiers in Iraq want us to get out.

Anyway, to review:
If you point out that a dishonest war is dishonest, then losing is your fault
If you point out that a stupid war is stupid, then losing is your fault
If you fail to ardently support a stupid and dishonest war, then losing is your fault
If you fight in a poorly-planned war and fail to win, then losing is your fault

On the other hand, if you foolishly instigate an ill-advised and possibly unjust war and screw it up at every turn, then losing is not your fault.

I hope this is all clear now.
Thinking about the Dubai Ports Deal

O.k., we don't understand the ports deal very well yet. It sends up red flags, but almost none of us know a damn thing about how these deals work. There's new reason to be concerned, though, since the Coast Guard has indicated that there are "intelligence gaps" in the relevant reports on the deal.

O.k., so how should we think about this stuff? Well, so far those who support the deal have, in effect, argued both that:

(1) There is no appreciable risk that Dubai will cooperate with terrorists


(2) Since the organization that runs a port does not run its security, even if (1) were false the deal would still not appreciably increase the risk of terrorist attack.

I don't know anything about (1), but I'm doubful about (2). For one thing, the premiss of (2) is not clearly true. For another thing, (2) asks us to believe that it does not matter--from a security perspective--who owns the ports. But in order for that to be true, it would have to be true that it would not matter even if Osama bin Laden bought them. So, here's the question: is it really true that the ports could be sold to Osama bin Laden without any appreciable effect on American security? If the answer is 'yes', then we don't even need to know whether (1) is true. If the answer is, as I suspect, 'no,' then the administration's whole case seems to rest on (1).

(1) and (2) might be true though, again, we don't know enough yet to know whether they really are. If this deal will significantly improve our relations with the Arab world, then it could conceivably be worth the risk, though that seems unlikely.

It is probably worth noting that, even if the administration turns out to be right about (1) and (2), a move like this seems to be inconsistent with their words and deeds since 9/11. Since that time we've in effect been told that any risk is unacceptable--that, e.g., we should invade Iraq even though the risk to us from their alleged WMDs was small, and even though there was only the weakest evidence that they had ties to al Qaeda. We've also been asked to put up with the intrusions of the "Patriot" Act, unwarranted domestic spying, and so forth, all in order to decrease the likelihood of terrorist attacks only marginally. Consistency would seem to require us to cancel the Dubai ports deal even if it would raise the risk of terrist attack only slightly. Now, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, so the other way to go here would be to admit error in those past actions and acknowledge that the ports deal represents a return to a more reasonable standard of what counts as acceptable risk. But there has, as yet, been no hint of such an admission.
You Can Fool All of the People 34% of the Time,
and You Can Fool 34% of the People All of the Time, but...

New Bush approval rating: 34%. Ouch.

I don't really care about polls. But since Bush so richly deserves this low rating, I'm glad to see that he's getting it.

(Via Atrios.)

Monday, February 27, 2006

Free(k) Republic

Man, I know it's hard to be a Republican these days, but these folks at Free Republic aren't handling it very well. If you find the spectacle of people going through wild intellectual (note: term used loosely) gyrations in an attempt to pretend that they don't understand what's right in front of their faces upsetting...well, don't click on this link! Just move along.

Um, can somebody explain this cartoon at al Jazeera to me?

I mean, I guess it's supposed to be somehow analogous to the Danish cartoons...but I just don't get it.
The Dubai Ports Deal: Should the Dems Play Hardball?

So, the Dubai ports deal naturally sent up red flags for most of us, but a little reflection and a little information immediately revealed that it wasn't at all clear whether it would harm national security. And, as far as I can tell, the jury's still out on that (though Mark Kleiman points to evidence that port operators do operate port security).

But, let's say that the Dubai deal turns out to be innocuous in fact, but wildly unpopular. Should the Dems exploit this against the Cheney/Rove administration? I mean, that bunch has used every dirty trick in the book against the Dems, with the effect of putting the U.S. and the world in general in a helluva tight spot. In fact, this administration is so bad and so incompetent that the Dems may even have an obligation to play real hardball in order to wrest some power away from these guys and try to get us back on something approximating a sane course. But in the case at hand this would seem to mean that they should demagogue the ports issue even if there's nothing in fact wrong with it.

Idealist that I am, I always try to cheat by opting out of these decisions, thinking something like if they just went to the American people and said something like "look, we could use this deal to beat them with, but the deal is actually not all that bad. But take this as a sign of our honesty and believe us when we say: they've done much worse in the past, such as..." etc.

Silly, huh? Where have I been for the last five years?

But if I had to choose I'd choose honesty. Don't stoop to their level. If the deal really isn't that bad, admit it and move on. Hammer 'em on the stuff that is bad and hope that the people see the light. Don't play on the public's fear and ignorance (supposing, for the sake of argument, that that's what it is). There's been enough of that lately to last a long time.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Stanley Fish: Still Weak

Well, there's this.

Some people think that Stanley Fish is an idiot. I don't think that. He's a person of more-or-less ordinary intelligence. What's baffling is that he is one of our most prominent public intellectuals. He's not stupid, but he's just not that smart, and his stuff is usually a mish-mash of truth and falsehood that almost anyone could have produced. In fact, quite frankly, it usually just isn't very good at all. He got famous by spouting postmodern nonsense--and by ruining the Duke English department. At least he seems to have throttled back in recent years, but, well, intellectually speaking there's still not much there there.

So, am I going to go through the above piece in detail, tidying up Fish's mess for him? No, I am not.
Freedom Pastries

I guess you guys've heard that, to protest the recent cartoons depicting Mohammed, bakers in Iran have gone to calling Danishes "Roses of Mohammed Pastries." I'm actually kind of glad to hear that the other side can be as stupid, petty, and juvenile as we can. 'Cause if our opponents were even minimally competent, we'd obviously be screwed.

Though I was thinking... Now that events have shown that we were wrong about WMDs, wrong about links to al Qaeda, and wrong about the wisdom of invading Iraq, maybe it's time to re-rename french fries. Some suggestions:

You were right and we were wrong fries
I guess it really does matter who you elect president fries
Most of us didn't vote for that jackass fries
Faith isn't a winning epistemic strategy fries
WTF were we thinking? fries
Oh my god we're lamer than the French fries

And since, in the era of the postmodern presidency, we solve our problems by renaming things, maybe we should just re-name OBL "that guy we killed at Tora Bora"...

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Should Hollywood Go to War?

It's not often that a good idea comes out of The National Review, but at The Corner Warren Bell suggests that Hollywood should make more movies about the heroism of American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, suggesting a movie about Pat Tillman in particular. Kevin Drum agrees, and explains what the details of such a movie would be like.

Tillman's position--that the war in Afghanistan was justified while the war in Iraq is not--is, of course, the view of almost everyone in the world...everyone, that is, except for the dwindling number of American conservatives who still support Bush.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Incompetence and the War Against Terrorism

Found this somewhere, can't remember where. Michael Hirsh on the Bush administration's almost unimaginable incompetence in conducting the GWoT. Old news, of course, but given the revisionist tendencies of the Bush dead-enders, it's important that we keep telling the truth on this matter. If we make the mistake of thinking that everybody knows this by now, they'll just keep repeating the canned mantras in their talking points and eventually it'll take on the status of conventional wisdom. That's how they turned the supremely incompetent Ronald Reagan into some kind of hero, and if we don't watch it that's how they'll turn the post-9/11 debacle into an honest and unavoidable mistake.
Andrew Sullivan: Pretty Slow for a Smart Guy

The awful truth dawns slowly on Mr. Sullivan. It shakes my faith in reason that so many smart people are still trying desperately to defend the claim that Bush was honest in the lead-up to the invasion. But, then, almost none of them actually believe it. They're just saying it.

Which brings us to an interesting point: apparently clinging desperately to a discredited position counts as saving face, while admitting that you were obviously wrong counts as losing it. We're a damn weird people.
Today's Informal Poll of Colleagues

My question: Is there liberal bias in academia?

Needless to say, I got a lot of "what do you mean by 'liberal'?," "what do you mean by 'bias'?," etc. I'm just cutting all that out. The short version of the answers, in order:

A1: You're joking. Try going over to the English department and [opposing] gun control or [advocating] limits on abortion. See how long it takes you to get run out. [From a cantankerous independent, a bit more liberal than conservative, quite the environmentalist, thinks Bush is an idiot.] [corrections to my errors in early brackets.]

A2: Gee, ya think? [From a liberal Republican.]

A3: [Answer I did not understand.] You think it's bad here, you should try going to India. Back there if you aren't a radical Marxist or feminist or something you'll be crushed.

A4: I think that professors have a tendency to interject irrelevant comments into class, and I think that most professors are liberal, so I expect that most of such comments are pro-liberal. But there's no mechanism that keeps conservatives out of the academy. Except insofar as conservative ideas tend to lose in an open marketplace of ideas. I hear a lot of braying about left-wing academics, but I don't actually see that much of it.

A5: No.

A6: Well, if you mean that most students end their liberal education thinking that they should be more liberal than they used to be, then yes. But I think most of that is because conservative ideas tend to lose when subjected to analysis.

Bias In Academia: Today's Informal Student Poll

So today I asked one of my classes the following question:

Do professors ever interject their personal beliefs into class?

Answer from the class: almost unanimous and immediate 'yes.'

Q: Are these opinions ever political?

A: overwheliming and immediate 'yes.' (3 students out of about 30 said 'no'.)

Q: Do these opinions have a tendency to be liberal or conservative or both or neither?

A: Liberal.

Q: Like what?

A: Most common answer: bashing George Bush. One student said that her Communication prof had spent so much time bashing Bush that they were unable to finish some of the material in the syllabus. One student said that her sociology prof spent the whole class pushing "Afrocentric" racial theories on them and arguing for reparations for slavery. One student said he came to believe that he was losing lots of points for disagreeing with the professor's politics, so he wrote a paper arguing for the opposite of what he thought was true, and got an 'A.' (Note: there's more than one explanation for that.)

Note: one student did say that one of his profs. gave out an assignment arguing against arguments against invading Iraq. According to this student, the in-class assignment seemed so biased to him--even, perhaps, intended to insult liberals--that he couldn't concentrate on the lesson. (Again: it might, of course, be the student rather than the prof. who is wrong here.)

One can complain that this survey is unscientific (of course it is), that the sample is small, and so forth. But this is the way we determine whether it's worth the effort to conduct scientific studies. The results described above are typical of the answers I've gotten out of discussions with my classes in the past.

Note also that my institution is, by college standards, fairly conservative.

I also asked them whether they had discerned what my politics were like, and, to my great satisfaction, they answered (apparently sincerely) in the negative. I hadn't given them any reason to think, but that point, that I'd be happy at such an answer. (Incidentally, I told them that I was weird, but tended to agree with liberals more often than with conservatives.)
Police State

So, here's a guy who honks his horn at a cop because the cop appeared to be using his bluelights just to get through a stop light. The cop then give him a ticket for blowing his horn without a good reason. Obviously, this cop is an asshole. So the courts will set things right, right? No, they will not. The court claims that the cop was assisting other cops in catching a speeder.

So let me get this straight: the cop didn't have enough spare time to stop at the light like everybody else, but he had enough to stop and give this guy a ticket. Unbelievable.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

More on Bias In Academia

What's kind of crazy about the debate over bias in academia is that so much effort is expended arguing about it and so little effort is expended actually inquiring about it. I was thinking about this just now as I was not paying attention in the Faculty Senate meeting. As I've said repeatedly around these parts, what we face here is a question that it'd actually be fairly easy to answer.

(Let me make it clear that I'm pretty sure we're going to find bias, but I'll be pleased as hell if we don't. In fact, my expectations and my desires pretty much balance each other out in this case, so I'm about as objective as you can get in this matter.)

So, what are we worried about when we worry about academic bias? Well, I've heard some liberals focus on hiring and firing decisions, noting that people are rarely discriminated against in this regard for being conservative. I've only been part of a few hiring decisions, so my experience is fairly worthless here. Furthermore, my department is unusually level-headed. But just because there's not this kind of egregious bias doesn't mean there isn't any bias. What I'm more worried about--and what you should be worried about, too--is bias in the classroom. Yes, most of my colleagues are left-of-center. But as long as that doesn't show up in bad ways in the classroom, I don't care.

Some professors have reputations for pushing their political views in class; and, knowing the professors, I am inclined to believe that the reputations are accurate. I've had colleagues who couldn't go five minutes without going on a leftist tirade, and who explicitly said that they thought that it was their responsibility to "raise the consciousness" of their students. I've asked my students whether they ever felt that any of their intructors had pushed political views in class, and about half said that they did think this--though, oddly, many said that it was less common in college than it had been in high school. I can virtually guarantee you that it's not conservative views they're hearing in college. We basically don't have conservatives here. Furthermore, many programs--e.g. literary theory programs--are packed with people--postmodernists, poststructuralists, radical feminists, postcolonial theorists and suchlike--who have devoted their entire careers to articulating and defending positions that are inextricably associated with the intellectual and political left. If this does not come out in their teaching I'd be fairly well astounded.

Now, is any of this evidence sufficient to show that there's left-of-center bias in academia? Of course not. But it shows what anybody who's even vaguely objective and who's taught for more than a month can tell you: there's no doubt that there's prima facie reason to think there's a problem. What's needed is actual data. (Note that this is something one of our Anonymi was complaining about below...but his point seemed to be dangerously close to: you need data about this before you are justified in asserting that we need data about this. Which, of course, is silly. We already know enough to know that we need data.)

Whis why, once again, I'm going to point out that we need to figure out how to get the required data, and then we need to get it. Many conservatives seem to have no interest in this, because they are already convinced that there is a problem; many liberals, on the other hand, refuse to even consider the possibility that there might be a problem. But those of us who are genuinely interested in the truth can't be so dogmatic.

So how do we measure bias in academia? Well, that's a different subject for a different time. But it wouldn't be that hard. A few fast suggestions: for one thing we can survey students. There are obvious problems involved in that, but they're by no means insurmountable. People survey for much harder-to-detect things all the time. If an overwhelming number of students think that many of their professors push leftist views on them in class, then that's at least some reason for thinking that it's true. It would be even more effective to have observers sit in on classes. Profs might not like that, but if they're sure that they're not biased, why should they? I wouldn't have any problem with anybody watching any of my classes, because even though I sometimes discuss political issues I'm pretty damn good at keeping my own views out of it. And if I'm wrong about that I want to know. Of course if these were some kind of agents of Big Brother this would be unacceptable--but so long as they're only collecting data for a scientific study there should be no objections by anyone who is genuinely interested in knowing the answer to this question.
Vindictive Fun With Ambiguity

Oh, come on. I can't believe that CNN has had this headline up all day.
South Dakota Lawmakers Pass Affirmative Action Bill for Conservatives in Academia

Man, these guys are on a roll. Thanks, South Dakota, for making North Carolina and Virginia look progressive!

Actually, I can kind of understand where these guys are coming from, even if I think they're wrong.

As I've said many times, I'm concerned about leftist and liberal bias at universities. Concerned enough that I've discussed it with many of my classes and individual students, discussed it with my colleagues and my Dean, and tried to sketch out a survey we can use to determine whether it really is a problem and, if so, how much of one.

But I am adamantly opposed to these attempts to enforce right-wing political correctness (or any other kind) via legislation. If conservatives want to make the academy more conservative, there are at least two things they can do:

(a) Adopt more coherent ideas, i.e. ideas that can more easily withstand logical scrutiny
(b) Put in the damned work to get a Ph.D. and try to get more uinversity teaching jobs

We really are facing the era of intrusive, big-government conservativsm...and of conservative cry-babies. Everyone who fails to toe their party line is biased. The media, the universities, (formerly) the courts. Many of them can't seem to even imagine that the weakness of their ideas could play any role in the under-representation of those ideas among the people who think about ideas professionally. Well, it's time to grow up and accept some of the responsibility--both for the problem and for fixing it.

Remember, I agree with many on the right about left-of-center bias in the university, and I still think they're going about this all wrong.

Nevertheless, it's liberals with whom I'm really disappointed here. Left-of-center bias in academia is not as bad as the right makes it out to be, but it's fairly clear that it exists. If liberals continue to refuse to address this problem, then conservatives will continue to push legislation in an effort to fix it. And I'm fairly certain that those on the left would do so, too, if the shoe were on the other foot.

Furthermore, if I might make a grubby prudential appeal: one of the things that drives many smart students into the arms of the right is their experiences with dogmatically leftist profs and students. I wish that liberals would address this problem on grounds of principle, though, and that appeals like this one were not necessary.

Incidentally, it may be worth noting (as a gesture at a defense of our conservative friends) that the academic disciplines in which outspoken far-leftists are most common also tend to be those disciplines which are widely considered to be the least intellectually rigorous. Profs in, e.g., econ and the sciences may mostly be liberal, but they seem to be less far left and less inclined to proselytize than folks in what some describe as the "weaker regions" of the humanities and social sciences.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

All Your Uterus Are Belonging to Us: 2006 Edition

South Dakota has passed a law banning abortions in almost all cases.

Info at Reuters.

Well, that didn't take long.

The Port Dust-Up

Re: the dust-up about the UAE port deal: I kinda agree with Kevin Drum. That's more-or-less par for the course, of course--he's unusually reasonable for a blogger. Anyway, this is a tentative position...I know barely anything about this yet--I, like everybody else--never thought about any of this before this week. But one of the things I think Drum is right about is that this is all stirring up some pretty scary-sounding anti-Arab prejudice. (I heard Bill Mahr on CNN the other night sounding like a scarier and more xenophobic Pat Buchanan.)

Anyway, a deal like this deserves careful scrutiny, but it doesn't automatically strike me as unvarnished insanity. Other things being equal, I'd probably rather that we gave the deal to Finland or something...but I'm willing to listen to arguments about this. Bush thinks we should do x, therefore we should not do x is a fairly safe inference, but it isn't infallible. So we need to wait an look at the arguments on this one.

Hey, at least we're not giving a no-bid contract to Halliburton this time.

That's a step in the right direction, no?
Righties and bin Laden, Sittin' in a Tree...

Jeez, these guys are unbelievable. Instapundit links to this post from Austin Bay without disapproval. Follow the link and you'll find excerpts from a captured al Qaeda letter. You'll note that the only words highlighted are:

"I believe that the buffoon Clinton was motivated by election considerations and a personal
inclination toward flamboyance, as if for a fleeting moment he believed the falsehood that he was the leader of the most powerful country in the world."

The title of the post also strongly suggests that these claims about Clinton are to be taken seriously.

Soooo let me get this straight. Bin Laden (or someone similar) thinks--or, rather, says that he thinks--that Clinton was an idiot, ergo this should give the psycho-righty-Clinton-bashers some some happy? Have these guys forgotten that (a) bin Laden is evil and (b) bin Laden is a liar? And what happened to the right's bin Laden said x so even if x is true it can't be true orientation?

And, um, it was Reagan's retreat from Beirut after the bombing of the marine barracks that gave us a reputation among terrorists for having a glass jaw.

Christ, these people accuse the left of being deranged about Bush, but five years after the end of his term they're still fishing for ways to throw elbows at Clinton. Nutty.
More Summers

This post from Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber makes--nay, merely suggests--a wee mistake in passing--or en passant as those of us who think French sounds cool but don't know how to speak it might say.

Healy writes:

"I wonder whether it’ll be possible to preempt the spin that this was all because of his silly remarks about women in science, and ergo Summers was forced out by intolerant liberals. Probably not—even though, you know, Summers is in fact a liberal and you may remember him serving in the Clinton administration."


1. His remarks about women in science weren't silly. They may have been false...but they weren't silly. In fact, for all we know, they might be true. Which (ignoring a few details) makes them un-silly.

2. It doesn't matter that this wasn't all about Mathgate. What matters is that some of this is about Mathgate.

3. It doesn't really matter that Summers is a liberal. In fact, it makes it worse that he was a liberal. That is, it might be evidence that even liberals aren't left enough for academia. (Actually, there's other evidence for that, too...)


4. Serving in the Clinton administration is not going to establish your liberal bona fides in academia. In my experience, a good bit of academia--the bit we're thinking about here--leans pretty damn far left of Clinton. Mention Clinton around these parts and you're more likely to be rewarded with a tirade about the evils of welfare reform than with a paean to the Big Dog.

Um...guess those problems aren't exactly wee after all...

Anyway, in the 3rd or 4th comment to Healy's post there's a link to an explanation of the Russian/money/ethics stuff that Rilkefan referred to below.
Lawrence Summers: Politically Incorrect...and Unemployed

Well, that's it for Lawrence Summers. I'm actually rather surprised he lasted this long. That'll teach him to float a perfectly reasonable hypothesis in academia. Especially at Harvard, from what I hear...

I was actually thinking about this again recently when all the stories recently started appearing about why girls are doing so much better than boys in school. There's apparently now some reason to believe that it's because girls are innately better readers than boys. (Note: check this out to make sure there aren't some relevant details I've missed). I didn't run across any complaints about that hypothesis on t.v., in the newspaper, or on the web. On the other hand, you couldn't swing a cat without hitting a criticism of Summers way back when. Odd, given that the two hypotheses are perfectly analogous. In fact, Summers's hypothesis was less insulting to women than the other hypothesis is to boys, since Summers's hypothesis, if true, would have implications for only a tiny percentage of females. But once we're evaluating hypotheses on the basis of whether or not they're insulting we've already started down the road to perdition.

One problem here has to do with people getting insulted about comparative averages. I'm not sure how it is that the fact that the average Asian may be smarter than the average whiteboy is supposed to affect me at all. No matter how that dispute shakes out it won't raise or lower my IQ. So exactly what am I supposed to be mad about?

Another problem is that people seem to have a hard time telling the difference between:

(i) People have the same abilities


(ii) People have the same rights

But equality before the law does not require equality of ability. There are only about a bazillion people smarter and otherwise more talented than I am, but that does not entail that they should have more rights than I have. The highs and the lows--the Albert Einsteins and the Rush Limbaughs--are equal in the eyes of the law.

Perhaps it's because racists and sexists are so fond of talking about differences between the races and sexes that people come to believe that anyone who admits such differences must be a racist or a sexist. But that's absurd. Sexists (right and left, anti-female and anti-male) are bad not because they think there are differences in abilities between the sexes. Rather, they're bad because (a) they begin with the prejudice that there are such differences and exaggerate the evidence for that claim, and (b) they do usually believe that differences in abilities entail differences in rights.

None of this is especially complicated, and you'd think that folks teaching at Harvard would be able to figure it out.

But, as they used to say back home, that's what you get for thinkin'.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The American Winglish Dictionary

I've been thinking about doing something like this...but Mark Kleiman actually did it. That's the difference between him and me...

Possible new entries:

*Patriot /n./ Member of the Republican party.

*Real American /n./ See Patriot.

*Religion /n./
1. Christianity
2. Real Christianity (see Fundamentalism)

*Treason /n./ The act of questioning the actions of a Republican president.

Feel free to add your own.
Posting and Comments Screwed Up

No idea what's going on.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cheney: Funny

Steve Martin.

The Poor Man.

And the very best:

Patrick Leahy.
U.S. Calls Publishing of Abu Graib Torture Photos 'Irresponsible'

At Cnn.com.

To review:

Torturing prisoners: perfectly acceptable.

Revealing the fact that prisoners are tortured: Irresponsible.
Cheney's Got a Gun

The ridicule has begun.
Mighty Hilzoy on Abu Graib and The Moral Collapse of America

This is mightily affecting.

I have nothing to add.
Daou-ch! Peter Daou Lays a Serious Smack-Down on "Liberal Media" Conservatives

Philosoraptor say check it out. The relatively more abstract point in the Daou piece is this: instead of just repeating the same party-line BS over and over and over like a mantra, we should start trying to figure out whether it's true. So, consider the claim:

The media is responsible for the Cheney mess.

How would we go about proving or disproving this claim? I was actually already pondering this in the back of what I sometimes dignify by thinking about as my "mind"... My first thought was something like this: try to figure out how objectively important a story like this is, and then make a guess about how much air time such a story should receive, and then compare that to how much air time it's actually receiving. (Yes, the difficulties involved there are apparent.) Another way: estimate how much air time the story would get if it had been a Democrat, say Al Gore. (That's an easier one.) Another way: ask some experts how important this story is in the Cosmic Scheme O' Things. Another way: guage public interest in the story and determine whether it's getting more or less air time than similar stories with that level of interest. Anyway, none of those ideas are great, but, hey, it's not my area and I thought about in a half-assed way for about 20 minutes. Obviously others would have much better ideas.

But, again, the main point: if a claim like this is worth making, it's worth testing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Oh Yeah, Well Your Argument is a Tu Quoque, Too!

This from Instapundit is pretty funny.

Shorter Instapundit:
The fact that Hilary Clinton kept some things secret means that her criticisms of the pervasive and unprecedented secretiveness of this administration should be discounted. Also: Cheney's whole problem with this shooting incident is that he's being too secretive.

Insty's not as bad as some folks say, but every now and then he sure does produce a gem.
Blaming the Victim

Almost all the accounts I've seen about Cheney's friendly fire incident have ostentatiously apportioned a significant amount of the blame to the victim. Now, I don't bird hunt, and I'm not sure that my family's hunting practices were orthodox, so I semi-consciously let this pass, tacitly concluding that there were some hunting protocols that I was unaware of.

Only last night, and only after I heard someone else mention how odd this is did it really hit me: this is--again, unless the hunting protocols I learned were radically non-standard--insane. Here's the rule I was taught: you never, ever take a shot unless you know where you're putting the round...and that includes knowing where it's going to go if you miss. Your shot is your responsibility.

So: are there hunting protocols I don't know about, or is this just another Bush administration double standard?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Bay-B vs. K-Vandy

So given that the airwaves were saturated with the Cheney-shot-his-homeboy story last night, I did the only rational thing there was to do: I got stoned and watched the madness.

At one point I'm watching CNN and they have Bay Buchanan and Katrina van den Heuvel on there. Oh boy, thinks me, this will be informative. Here's my summary of the two positions:

Buchanan: This story is in the past. It's over. You traitorous liberal leeches want to try to stretch this thing out for another couple of days, be my guests. But there's no story here. It's over. It's so over that it basically never happened. Which means you made it up, you lying liberal butt-monkeys. You make me sick.

Van den Heuvel: This story provides irrefutable proof that the Bush administration and their corporate masters are power-mad liars with no regard for truth or the rule of law. Cheney shooting that guy is iron-clad evidence that the Bush administration lied about WMDs, and that it is the focus of evil in the modern world. Also: free Mumia!

This left me sitting there with my mouth open, and with a profound sense of emptiness in side.

Fortunately, I had some brownies.
Mighty Hilzoy on ShotgunGate

Oh, do read this by Hilzoy. You won't get it unless you click the links as you read.
VD, Suckers

Now, February 14th is a sore subject with some people, so I don't want to start a whole big thing here. Some people whom I love and respect are all into the whole VD thing. But I just want to say that, among the ridiculously many Great Things About My Life, the very greatest is Johnny Quest. Am I saying this because VD makes me get all mooshy? No, I am not. I am saying this because one of the seven thousand or so things that makes JQ the world's coolest girlfriend is her unbridled contempt for Valentine's Day.

Girls, you want to make your BF happy? Kick the VD habit. It's not like celebrating VD is a "deal breaker" (n.b. stupid-ass term) for me or anything. I can imagine having a GF who wanted to celebrate it. But a healthy contempt for this "holiday" is evidentially important. A girl who wants flowers and pink hearts on February 14th is probably not a girl I'm going to get along with very well for any length of time. Girls I like tend to roll their eyes at the mention of VD.

On the other hand, one of the things that makes it possible to put the whole 2/14 thing to rest is, I think, having the relevant kinds of intimacy properly integrated into the rest of your life. If your GF gets the attention she deserves the rest of the time, she probably won't feel a need to demand embarrassingly over-the-top prefabricated pseudo-sentiment-oriented products on VD.

Um, did I really write this post? Does anybody know what the point of this was?
How Significant is the Cheney Story?

My initial reaction was: it isn't. It's unfortunate, it's funny, but it's not significant. Sure, Dick Cheney is arrogant and irresponsible and thinks he's above the law...but (a) we already knew that and (b) an incident like this could have happened to anybody. Though, um, I suppose it could especially happen to anybody who is arrogant and irresponsible and thinks he's above the law...

I seriously distrust the instinctual urge to assert that this incident tells us something about Cheney and the administration, but it's almost impossible to resist that urge. The defining characteristic of this administration has been its inclination to use deadly force in an irresponsible manner. It's pretty damn hard to ignore the whop-you-upside-the-head similarities. But resist the urge I did.

Then the facts about the administration's handling of the story started to come out, and it started to get very, very hard to resist the inclination to conclude that the incident really was rather like Bush's term in office writ small. It's the special treatment and the urge to conceal and control information that is most telling. (Another defining characteristic of the Bush presidency: they're information fascists. They think that we only have the right to know what they want us to know, and they think we should be grateful for what we get.) Kevin Drum agrees, incidentally, that it's this part of the story that's most striking. So it's not just me.

If there's any moral to be taken from this it's that this administration's first impulse is to conceal and control information. Their presumption is that information is to be witheld if possible and only released if necessary. This is an administration that hates sunlight, thriving in and yearning for the darkness. Even when there should be no thought of concealing information, they automatically do so, even if only for 24 hours, until they convince themselves that they've got to give it up. They've got this all backwards, of course--and that's one of the reasons so many of us have come to distrust them so profoundly.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dick Cheney, Great White Hunter

Well, you didn't think I was going to let this pass without comment, didja?

Look, anybody can make a mistake...but I'm with ReddHedd on this one--the official accounts don't make much sense. Either somebody's lying or Cheney needs a gun safety course in the worst possible way, or both. The accounts make it sound like Cheney took a blind shot. But that's basically the stupidest thing one can do while hunting.

When I first heard this story I started imagining what the right would be saying if a liberal had done something like this. Then I remembered this. Note that Gore is carrying a full pack, and fiddling either with the sling or with the front swivel. Note also that there's no magazine in the rifle. Now, I'm basically a freak about gun safety, and there's no doubt about it, Gore's doing what he's doing in a radically sub-optimal manner. But I don't know what the conditions were like when this picture was taken, and I can certainly imagine conditions under which one would have to do something like this. If it's really important to fix your gun, you take out the magazine, clear the chamber, and do what you have to do. I've never had to worry about people shooting at me, so I've always had the luxury of being scrupulous about such things. I don't want to make too many excuses here, but this picture didn't justify the frenzy of Gore-bashing it produced.

Note also that the accompanying commentary by Matt Maggio is as uncharitable as it could possibly be--but that's par for the course when the right talks about Gore. For example Maggio claims that Gore is violating "two of the main rules of gun safety --never point a gun at anything you're not willing to kill, and always assume any gun is loaded." Thing is, those are really the same rule. They both mean "watch where you point that thing because it might go off." (Nobody really thinks that you should always assume that your gun is loaded. Otherwise they would think that you shouldn't check to see whether it's loaded when you go into a gun fight.)

Anyway, let's see whether the right is half as hard on Cheney about this infinitely more serious breach of firearm safety.
The Daily Tar Heel Fans the Flames of the Cartoon Jihad

The DTH is an oddity; a campus newspaper that's actually worth reading much of the time. Now they're in trouble for publishing a cartoon including a depiction of Mohammed. Their cartoon actually seems to me to be rather more clever and well-motivated than the original cartoons that sparked this whole thing.

The Tarheel conservative reports (see link above) that the UNC Muslim Students Association published a letter of complaint concerning the cartoon, and that Vice Chancellor Margaret Jablonski co-authored the letter. And The DTH has fired back.

If anybody knows of an analysis of this situation (the larger situation, not the DTH dust-up) that makes a plausible argument on behalf of the protesters I encourage you to point it out to me.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Why Does Bob Barr Hate America So Much?

Bob "Barking Moonbat" Barr thinks warrantless spying on U.S. citizens is illegal. Why doesn't this guy just go back to Russia if he thinks terrorism is so ducky? Maybe he should marry Cindy Sheehan, huh? God, these left-wing kooks will use any excuse to bash our glorious and infallible leader.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Grasping at Straws: Conservatives on the Sixteen Words

Oh, you really must check this out. The right's new line on Bush's "sixteen words" about African uranium in the 2003 SOTU is that it's all a big myth--a myth that won't go away. Why? Oh, check it out for yourself, dear reader. When the Word Count Defense didn't work (it's only sixteen words!), they apparently decided to drop it in favor of the He Didn't Say Niger defense.

Another aspect of this new gambit turns on noting that some people mistakenly think that the president lied to us about Saddam purchasing uranium, when he actually lied to as about attempting to purchase uranium. See?! It's all just a big MYTH! It NEVER HAPPENED!

My god. Have these people no shame?
Why Does the CIA Hate America?

It turns out that--stop me if you've heard this one before--the administration misused intelligence to cherry-pick a case for invading Iraq.

Why wait for Scotty and the gang to do it for you? Choose your own administration response:

(a) Pillar is a malcontent
(b) Pillar is probably a homosexual
(d) The time has come to stop asking questions about how the war started and get behind the president
(e) People have the right to criticize the war, but to actually exercise this right is irresponsible
(f) I think we have evaded and obfuscated these issues adequately in the past

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Foiled al Qaeda Plot?

Dunno whether to believe this or not. I basically quit believing anything this administration said about 2.5 years ago. Fool me 5, 366 times shame on you...fool me 5,367 times, shame on me...

If I had to guess: they busted a couple of guys who were participating--in some sense of 'participating'--in a half-assed copy-cat plot. We are told, for example, that:
U.S. authorities don't have details on the West Coast plot, such as whether a specific flight was targeted or a day scheduled, Townsend said.

It's not that I'm not glad they caught them, but I expect that they're spinning here as usual. Perhaps not out of whole cloth this time...but I suspect exaggeration.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


All I have to say is: I'll be a lot happier after J. J. Reddick graduates. Heck, I might even send him a graduation present...

Congrats, Dookies, on a damn fine game.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Scientists to Develop Expensive Machine to Chase Squirrels, Play Fetch, and Bark at the T.V.

The fact that dogs seem to be able to detect cancer doesn't surprise me in the least. It's the kind of hypothesis that lots of naive new agey nutcakes probably believed the first time they heard it--because it's, like, so, like cool and, like, natural. It's also the kind of hypothesis lots of folks who fancy themselves hard-headed skeptics would dismiss out of hand. It's also the kind of hypothesis that should send the truly scientifically-minded scurrying for the labs (in both senses of 'lab').

What sent me through the roof in this story was this line:
So is the point to eventually have a dog in every doctor's office?

No. The researchers at the Pine Street Foundation are hoping someone will figure out what the dogs smell and then develop a test -- an electronic nose, if you will -- to detect it in breath,
urine, or something else

This is absurd. If dogs really work, use the goddamn dogs. Is it that there's no money to be made on that idea? No dog industry to reap obscene profits from it? Nothing wrong with trying to make a machine that does it better, but it's utterly absurd to refuse to use dogs if they work. It's like we've gotten stuck in some kind of machine mentality--machines are more reliable, even when they aren't.

You've heard me fulminate about this before in the matter of bomb-sniffing dogs vs. machines. I've read--dunno whether it's true--that bomb-sniffing dogs are more accurate than machines. They're also a lot cheaper. But we don't use them in airports routinely in the U.S., and the justification for this that I read was based primarily on some vague hand-waving about dogs making people nervous. Anybody know whether this is right?


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Still More Lysenkoism

Re: soot and dust this time. Maybe Bush should just eliminate the EPA and replace it with the Ministry of Environmental Truth.
Bush Still Lying About al Qaeda and Iraq

He did say "men like bin Laden and Zarqawi," but he wore out his right to charitable interpretations years ago.

As Harold Meyerson says, we've become so inured to the bullshit (n.b.: my word) that we don't even notice half of it anymore...

Friday, February 03, 2006

U.S. Insufficiently Scary and Unpredictable

Sez Instapundit.

Um...which news do you figure this guy's been watching for the last four years?

(Yes, I know this is a survival strategy used by e.g. monkeys. I guess I'm one of those fuzzy-headed idealists who thinks that, well, we're better than Iran. And monkeys.)

From the Guardian; Drum is on it.

Hey, guess what? Bush had decided to invade Iraq even while he was telling us he hadn't. Weird, huh?

Um...painting a plane with UN colors in hopes they'd shoot it down? Jesus. Maybe we should have dressed it in a Polish uniform and claimed that it tried to invade us...

Has the United States ever been 1/10th this humiliated in recent memory? I guess you could argue that us high-tailing it out of Beirut after the bombing of the Marine barracks...or maybe the Iranian hostage crisis if you squint really hard...

Never before in my lifetime have we looked like a bunch of moronic warmongering shitheads.

Washington, Jefferson, and Madison are spinning in their graves at exceptionally high rpms.
The Most Evil New Fallacy

I can't believe I almost forgot the most thoroughly evil of the new crop of fallacies: the Died In Vain fallacy. Goes like:

Smith: This war is a mistake.

Jones: So you think that the soldiers who have died fighting it have died in vain.

Now Smith is faced with a trilemma. He can:

(i) Say 'yes', thus getting his rhetorical ass kicked by saying something that appparently Cannot Be Said Even If It Is True. (Note: I'm not sure that it's true.)
(ii) Say 'no', which seems to entail that he does not, in fact, think that the war is a mistake (since it seems that soldiers who die in a war fought in error have died in vain).
(iii) Launch into a long, complicated explanation of why this fallacy is a fallacy--an explanation, note, that I couldn't give clearly without at least about an hour's preparation--and I'm pretty good at explaining stuff like this.

This fallacy is loathsome beyond belief. I'm not even going to try to dissect it now because I've gotten myself all angrified just thinking about it. Anybody who uses it is a sonofabitch.

More fulminating to follow.
Their Religious Nuts are Nuttier Than Our Religious Nuts

In case you hadn't reflected on that in awhile. Nothing interesting to link to, and you already know the story. (Though here's a gratuitous and mostly useless CNN.com link.) I haven't looked diligently, but short superficial searching failed to turn up links to the cartoons in question. I want to see 'em, but I also want to link to 'em. I'd never let the Christian right get away with this without ridiculing them...and I want to be fair about this.

But, jeez, it's like these guys are practically making fun of themselves.

Despite all the recent idiocy on our part, it's a damn good thing that the liberal Western democracies have the biggest guns.
Weird Church Burnings*

WTF is up with this do you think? Radical anti-Baptists?

* The burnings are weird, not the churchs. (Though they may have been weird, too, for all I know...)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Wes Clark: The Real State of the Union

I've been in a deeper-than-normal political depression for several weeks. A sick feeling was growing in my gut that the damage being done by this administration might be irreparable. That even this great country might not be able to recover from five--and, God help us, eight before it's all over--years of almost uninmaginable incompetence and corruption. Early in the Bush's administration I have to admit that I took a certain smug satisfaction in having been right about him. That time is over. Now I'm alarmed.

The Republican party is apparently irredeemable in the short-to-medium run, and the Democrats are, well, the Democrats. This is a party that thinks it's a good idea to make Howard Dean its public face, and that can't even manage to look good when compared to the terminally irrational and corrupt crop of current Republican front-men. It's also a party that seems to think that Hilary Clinton has a non-zero probability of being elected president.

So it was with mixed feelings that I read Wes Clark's The Real State of the Union speech. On the one hand, I was immeasurably heartened to be reminded that people this smart and good and level-headed still exist in American politics. On the other hand it was painful to have to reflect again on the fact that this man is sitting on the sidelines while a man who is not qualified to polish Clark's medals is at the helm of the free world.

I still think that Clark is too smart to win the presidency, and too moderate to even win the nomination. But the mere fact of his existence gives me hope.

Read the speech. And if you're like me, afterwards you'll have an irresistable inclination to give a bit to WesPAC.

[HT: Statisticasaurus Rex]

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


A definition.

Some examples (most seem to have snagged deferments and such, some just said to have "avoided" wars).