Thursday, August 30, 2007
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The GAO concludes that Iraq has met only 3 of 18 benchmarks of political and military progress set by Congress.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
In case anybody's still paying attention to the anti-Darwinists, I'd like to point out that the last wobbly leg of their argument has been kicked out from under them.
Apparently useful mutations have been produced via random mutations produced by radiation. We've long known, of course, that traits are heritable, and, hence, that useful traits can be produced and perpetuated by selective breeding. There was no doubt that nature could pull the same trick under the right conditions, but creationists have long held onto the (sophistical) argument that beneficial mutations couldn't occur randomly, because most mutations are harmful.
Note the argument: X is impossible because not-X is what usually occurs. Who but a True Believer would buy that?)
Furthermore, selective breeding and artificial selection rely on random genetic mutations, too.
So anyway, that's the end of that.
(And I say this as someone who is sometimes accused of being a crypto-creationist because I think there might be teleology in the world. But once the creationists are out of the way and not muddying the water anymore, maybe a serious discussion about teleology in nature can begin.)
Nomic, a game in which each move involves changing the rules, and you win by generating a paradox.
Noted America-hater Kevin Drum adances his America-hating agenda by offering this America-hating surge report card--or "hate card" as I prefer to think of it. He inexplicably concludes that some signs are positive, but he gets back on his America-hating task by also noting many bad signs.
Let us hope that our long national nightmare of democracy, liberalism, and constitutionalism will soon come to an end, and that Iraq will survive it's perilous brush with democracy.
Your hater in America-hating hatred,
Monday, August 27, 2007
At Roll Call:
Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was arrested in June at a Minnesota airport by a plainclothes police officer investigating lewd conduct complaints in a men’s public restroom, according to an arrest report obtained by Roll Call Monday afternoon.
So, now that I've uncovered my treasure trove of lost D&D stuff, I'm all in the mood for some swords and sorcery books. Although I dig the genre in some ways, I've always thought that most of it far too sucktastic for words. I loved LOTR (natch) and the Earthsea trilogy, liked Fafherd (sp?) and the Grey Mouser stuff o.k., HATED Terry Brooks...but haven't read anything newer than that.
Any suggestions about recent stuff?
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Dungeons and Dragons Forever
Cleaning up my office on campus in preparation for the first day of class tomorrow, I found...in my closet...in the very back...in the very deepest, darkest depths of the thing...a box.
And what was in that box?
Oh, a very great treasure indeed.
It was a box of long-lost (or, as it turns out, long-misplaced) D&D stuff.
Oh, man, it is like such a blast looking through this stuff.
Oh, and I've already contacted my brother and Statisticasaurus Rex, and we are TO-TA-LLY going to PLAY SOME FREAKIN' D&D, HOMES.
We now return to our previously-scheduled preparation of a lecture on Plato's theory of forms.
Oh my God I am like the world's biggest geek.
This at Metafilter points to a new Newsweek overview of the search, and some other cool stuff, including stuff about the Shadow Wolves, a group of American Indian trackers who are helping look for him.
If that guy dies a natural death it's a crime. I'm hoping a severe case of MOABitis will eventually take him out.
Again, at Reuters:
A giant hole in the Universe is devoid of galaxies, stars and even lacks dark matter, astronomers said on Thursday.
This seems like good news.
Maliki's digs at Dems make no sense at all however:
The embattled prime minister hit back on Sunday, saying: "There are American officials who consider Iraq as if it were one of their villages, for example Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin."
"This is severe interference in our domestic affairs. Carl Levin and Hillary Clinton are from the Democratic Party and they must demonstrate democracy," he said. "I ask them to come to their senses and to talk in a respectful way about Iraq."Um, nobody's been disrespectful, and if anyone's treated Iraq "as if it were one of their villages," it's Republicans. (Do we have villages here anymore?) Wonder whether a one of W's desperate lackies put him up to this or what? Fairly artless.
Anyway, the real news is the agreement, and that looks good.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Friday, August 24, 2007
Vaguely going more-or-less on hearsay, I recently suggested that the surge was enjoying at least military, if not political, success. Drum provides actual evidence about its effectiveness. And, unfortunately, it does not look good.
Um, doesn't this sound a lot like what the Dems have been suggesting? Start pulling out in order to show 'em that we haven't written a blank check?
John Warner, Defeatocrat?
A lesser man than me might be tricked into thinking that one can advocate this course of action without being stupid or partisan or "objectively pro-terrorist"...
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
So, apparently "front-line generals" and (a broader class??) "American officials" are letting loose of their "lofty goal" of a democratic Iraq.
Apparently, they've decided to settle for non-psycopathy.
"...it is the idea which will create its defenders, and render them powerful."
(Collected Papers, 1.217)
1. For most of my life I would have thought that this claim was absurd. I'm not going to try to defend it here, but I will say this: after years of pounding my head against problems in epistemology, logic, moral theory, and metaphysics, I'm now very, very smitten by Peirce's position. The quote above probably makes him sound like a loon to someone who hasn't wallowed in his writings...but I'll be damned if the guy doesn't seem to be on to something really important.
Though really, it's what Plato thought, too.
More evidence for the footnote hypothesis...
2. Incidentally, if you think that pragmatism is what it sounds like, the quote above should clue you in to the error of your ways.
Well, actually 'pragmatism' eventually just came to mean what you probably think it means, as it was basically taken over by James, Dewey, Rorty et. al. Eventually Peirce, whose view bears little resemblance to the pragmatism of James, Dewey, Rorty et. al. just let the term go, rechristening his own view 'pragmaticism', a term which was, he said, "ugly enough to keep it safe from kidnappers"...
That crazy Chuck Peirce, he is a helluvan interesting fellow...
The 'W' is for 'Weenie'
You've seen this at the Post on the White House manual for "deterring potential protesters" at Bush's appearances.
Presumably no comment on this is needed, but I will just say that among the relatively few things I've actually learned in my life is this: that one of the best indicators of intellectual and moral corruption is an inability to admit when you're wrong. A whole order of magnitude beyond that is the inability to even tolerate disagreement.
Now, think about how astonishing it is that the man who is allegedly the president of all of us, the leader of the free world has these vices. It's his freakin' job to tolerate and consider dissenting opinions. In fact, it's his duty.
In any case of complex and difficult disagreement, you probably ought to have at least some degree of doubt about whether or not you are right. But here's a non-trivial indicator of corruption in your opponent: he won't even listen to the opposition. (This is one reason to cling for dear life to your willingness to consider opposing arguments: it at least keeps you out of the lowest circle of logical hell.)
Jesus this guy is an embarrassment to the nation.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Just Drum's summary, but you know how to follow links.
My long-standing hypothesis (a word that sounds so much more official than 'guess'...) about something partially responsible for this: the same thing that discombobulated (and sometimes silenced) so many folks like me: the pro-war folks, including the White House, just all sounded so damn certain. They acted like it was (ahem) a slam dunk. From where I was standing, the evidence just simply did not add up...but I knew that I wasn't an expert, didn't know much about the facts, had an anti-Bush inclination...I spent many months second-guessing myself before my position finally coalesced. In such a state of doubt, it's hard not to be swayed by the appearance of certainty on the other side, marginally rational though that is.
Somewhere Kissinger says something about the advantage that...what's the exact group he's talking about? I can't recall...extremists...radicals...anti-democrats...some variety of asshole. Anyway. The advantage that they have over ordinary folks in a democracy: we sit down, assuming that they can be reasoned with and, indeed, that they are being reasoned with...when they aren't listening to anything we're saying. They're just plotting their next move, using our fallibilism, open-mindedness and civility against us.
The weight of that point came crashing down on me after I'd spent so many months tossing and turning about whether or not I should support the invasion. Then I realized that I'd been had. While I was actually thinking about it, they were just pushing through their pre-determined conclusion, never having any intention of actually reasoning about it or listening to the public.
Add to that the fact that everyone who expressed any doubts about the war was branded unpatriotic, crazy, and/or "objectively pro-terrorist" (yep, that was actually a phrase that seemed to semi-catch on for awhile)...and, well, there's no doubt that all of this will dampen criticism and pervert the public discourse.
Anyway, my guess: to some extent, the experts were just like the rest of us, tricked and cowed into non-opposition.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Lysenkoism to the Right of Me, Lysenkoism to the Left of Me...
Well, there's this.
Baily did a qualitative study and published a book arguing that "some people born male who want to cross genders are driven primarily by an erotic fascination with themselves as women." Problem is, "This idea runs counter to the belief, held by many men who decide to live as women, that they are the victims of a biological mistake — in essence, women trapped in men’s bodies."
Although Baily has a reputation as a "solid" scientist, and although his book was well-received by others in the field, and although the Lambda Literary Foundation nominated his book for an award, others. weren't so happy, and the vilification began.
Some examples, omitting some of the stretchier ones the Times lists, like those culled from e-mails:
1. "Dr. Ben Barres, a neurobiologist at Stanford, said in reference to Dr. Bailey’s thesis in the book, “Bailey seems to make a living by claiming that the things people hold most deeply true are not true.”
(Egad! A scientist claiming that "the things people hold most deeply true are not true"!!! This is not only an outrage, but surely unprecedented in the history of science! What would Galileo or Darwin say???)
2. "After consulting with Dr. Conway, four of the transgender women who spoke to Dr. Bailey during his reporting for the book wrote letters to Northwestern, complaining that they had been used as research subjects without having given, or been asked to sign, written consent.
One wrote a letter making another accusation against Dr. Bailey: she claimed he had had sex with her."
An ethics investigation has seemed to reveal information showing all these claims to be false.
Conway "kept a running chronicle of the accusations against Dr. Bailey on her Web site. Any Google search of Dr. Bailey’s name brought up Dr. Conway’s site near the top of the list.
The site also included a link to the Web page of another critic of Dr. Bailey’s book, Andrea James, a Los Angeles-based transgender advocate and consultant. Ms. James downloaded images from Dr. Bailey’s Web site of his children, taken when they were in middle and elementary school, and posted them on her own site, with sexually explicit captions that she provided. (Dr. Bailey is a divorced father of two.) Ms. James said in an e-mail message that Dr. Bailey’s work exploited vulnerable people, especially children, and that her response echoed his disrespect."These people are, as you may have noted, f*cking insane.
Now, apparently the case isn't quite closed on Bailey, but I know the kinds of people he's up against, and their track record isn't good. As I've said here before, I think that liberals underestimate the viciousness and irrationality of some elements of the intellectual left, including certain parts of the feminist/gender-studies wing. Some of the flat-out craziest people I've ever met have been people from that world. And, please note, I grew up in rural Missouri where fundamentalist Christians, rabid creationists, dyed-in-the-wool racists and reactionary conservatives were extremely common.These are the people who, among other things, influenced me to stop identifying myself as a feminist--not because my position had changed, but, rather, because I didn't want to be identified with such kooks. (Incidentally, despite protestations of academic feminists to the contrary, this is why so few college females identify themselves as feminists today. They encounter the irrational, radically distorted and bigoted version of feminism in academia and wisely conclude that they don't buy it. They're feminists in the sense that you and I are feminists, but the eschew the label for the same reason I do.)
Now, psychology is not known for its rigorous intellectual standards, and the kind of area in which Baily is working is held in particularly low regard. Needless to say, I haven't read Bailey's work, but if his arguments were shoddy and overly-speculative, it would be far from a first for his sub-field. So this should in no way be construed as a defense of Bailey's research. It could be good, it could be bad. I don't know.
But--and I expect that this should be obvious--I merely want to highlight the irrationality and viciousness of the response to Bailey's work. Scientists have to call it like they see it. They don't have to be right, and they don't have to be popular; so long as their reasoning is responsible, they cannot be criticized because their conclusions are displeasing to some (or all, for that matter).
Lysenkoism is alive and well on both sides of the political spectrum. It's true that it's far more powerful, prominent, and dangerous on the right now since it's a real force in government. But it simmers on the left, and it does so in a particularly important and vulnerable place--academia. Strategically situated there, it can influence not only legions of young minds, but also research and, consequently, policy. "Less dangerous than right-wing Lysenkoism" is not the same thing as "not dangerous." As I've often warned, liberals should not make the mistake of believing that the extreme left is any more congenial to liberalism than is the right. It is not.
"Glamping" = "glamorous camping" = you are a waste of carbon-ing = die yuppie scum-ing.
Butlers to build your fires, maids to turn on your heated comforters, and chefs in this sick, sad parody of camping.
All for only $600/night + $110/day/person for food.
Just incidentally, that nightly cost is not terribly far below what we pay for a nice place in Chapel Hill (note: not a notably inexpensive place to live) per month...a place so nice that I often look around at it and think how preposterously rich we are by the standards of the world.
This story just made me want to retch.
Quoth one "Gigi Bondick" (a real name? Seems improbable...), speaking of her son's request to camp:
"We're just not the camping kind of people. We don't pitch tents. We don't cook outdoors. We don't share a bathroom. It's just not going to happen. This is a kid who has never flown anything but first class or stayed anywhere other than a Four Seasons."
What comes after 'nauseating', 'odious' and 'execrable'?
Words fail me.
[Wait...wait...it just strikes me that this may very well be some kind of joke... I usually don't get taken in by that sort of thing... Dunno. I'm suspending judgment.]
(But Not Exactly Wrong In This Case)
So, Reuters sayeth:
U.S. Foreign Policy Experts Oppose Surge
More than half of top U.S. foreign policy experts oppose President George W. Bush's troop increase as a strategy for stabilizing Baghdad, saying the plan has harmed U.S. national security, according to a new survey.
As Congress and the White House await the September release of a key progress report on Iraq, 53 percent of the experts polled by Foreign Policy magazine and the Center for American Progress said they now oppose Bush's troop build-up.
That is a 22 percentage point jump since the strategy was announced early this year.
The survey of 108 experts, including Republicans and Democrats, showed opposition to the so-called "surge" across the political spectrum, with about two-thirds of conservatives saying it has been ineffective or made things worse in Iraq.Now, I've notoriously, if tentatively, supported the surge here, being, I think, careful to note that I haven't the foggiest idea what I'm talking about. But as a reasonably well-informed layperson (i.e., as someone who hasn't the foggiest idea what he's talking about) I (tentatively) concluded that the surge, though sucking as an idea, sucked less than any available alternative.
Now it looks like the experts have concluded that it was, in fact, a bad idea.
Which is very bad.
Not to seem overly fastidious about such things, or to make excuses, but--as the information above seems to confirm--experts were apparently mainly pro-surge back when I was advocating it.
I am still inclined to back the surge strategy (easy for me to say, as my ass is not on the line)...but only if we are going to get something like the straight dope from General Petraeus. If we continue to get propaganda and disinformation (ah, Ronnie, your administration is starting to look good in retrospect), then, I think, we have to leave. If we are deprived by the administration of the information required to rationally choose policy, we have to get out.
1. According to the Post, it's failing.
2. In reality, it never quite existed. Look:
When Jimmy Carter tried to put human rights and democracy at the core of our foreign policy, he was derided by conservatives. When Reagan and Bush '43 pretended to do so, they were praised by conservatives.
How can we tell that Carter was serious but Bush and Reagan weren't? Because Carter was willing to do things that weren't primarily aimed at improving things for America. He took improving human rights as an end in itself, and thought it worth pursuing even when it wasn't in our interest. When Clinton went into Yugoslavia for purely humanitarian reasons, he was vilified by the GOP.
Democracy was clearly a secondary consideration for Bush. He wanted to go into Iraq (we still don't know exactly why), and the excuses came and went. First it was links to al Qaeda...when that was shown to be false, it was WMDs...when that was shown to be false, it was spreading democracy.
Reagan, I believe, actually cared about spreading democracy, but only when it was in our strategic interest. Now, this may have been because he put our strategic interest first--which seems immoral, but may not have been. In fact, he might have reasoned like this: the U.S. is the only thing stopping the Soviet Union; ergo we have to make sure that the U.S. survives; ergo we may have to do some morally sub-optimal things in order to insure that survival, in order to make the world a better place in the long run.
So it's possible that Reagan had truly moral goals in mind in the long-run...but I'm not convinced.
For Bush, on the other hand, the goal of democracy is an afterthought. There are lots of places around the globe that we could have pushed for democracy with far greater success--IF advancing democracy had been the real goal, then we'd have gone after the low-hanging fruit.
Furthermore, the goal of spreading democracy should be secondary to the more general goal of advancing human rights.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Groupthink is probably always to some extent a danger for everybody, but I find myself to be less susceptible to it than most people. When everybody in a given group agrees about something, I find myself inclined to question the orthodoxy.
On the other hand, when I find myself arguing with dogmatists, I find myself becoming more dogmatic myself. When I was frequently discussing creationism with hyper-dogmatic creationists, I found myself becoming dogmatic in defense of evolutionary theory. Similarly with the radical lefties back in grad school--the more I had to be around them, the farther to the right I found myself moving. Oh, and Wittgensteinians--cripes, those people can be insufferable.
Now, of course, it's the Bush dead-enders. I've started trying to avoid them because their irrationality is starting to rub off on me. I find myself slowly becoming more anti-Bush in part simply as a result of the willful refusal of so much of the right to be at all reasonable about the man and his mistakes. In academia, it's mercifully easy to avoid them...but, of course, the blogosphere is lousy with 'em. I used to try to make sure that I read a lot of righty blogs, but these days I find that I'm actually better off not reading them.
Is it just me, or is this going around?
Anyway, I certainly hope that other liberal bloggers aren't as susceptible to this effect as I am, or we're all in trouble.
I've often thought that we ought to put more emphasis on higher-order issues rather than spending so much of our time butting heads on more divisive, more specific issues.
Many people who are more firmly entrenched in their beliefs about the war than I am are convinced that the surge is working or that it isn't. I have a genuinely open mind about the issue, realizing that I'm in a fairly profound information deficit.
So I'm really eager to hear Petraeus's report on progress in Iraq. Problem is, we all know by now that this administration cannot be trusted to tell the truth, and now they seem to be saying that Petraeus won't actually be making a report. Instead I'm now hearing that Petraeus's judgments will simply be "incorporated into" a statement by the White House.
Left completely to my own devices, I'd start a campaign to push for an honest report by General Petraeus. Make it clear to Petraeus himself that he has a moral obligation to give us the straight dope, and put pressure on the administration to keep its dirty mitts off the information.
Unfortunately, nobody is going to come to the "Give Us An Honest Report!" demonstration. Anything more fine-grained than "Stop the War!" or "Don't Stop the War!" isn't going to get a following.
Boy, it's hard to read this in the NYT without the old jaw dropping.
I'm not sure what the most amazing part is.
Is it the part where he blames Democrats for the divisive tone that has prevailed during the Bush administration?
Is it the part where he says that his greatest regret during his tenure in Washington was speaking harshly to a friend?
Is it the part where he says that his efforts to eviscerate the Democratic power base are defensible because Democrats, too, would like a durable majority? (Note to Karl: yes, they'd like one, but there are limits to what they'll do to get it. This is one of many very important differences between you and them.)
This guy is delusional. There are close calls in politics, but this one isn't a close call. Rove is a bad guy who has done bad things to the country. He's cut from the same mold as guys like Lee Atwater. Atwater finally recognized and admitted his errors, though it took a brutal struggle with cancer--and impending death--to get him to do so.
Rove doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who will ever see anything like reason. Not only is he completely wrong about almost everything and largely responsible for dividing the country at a time when unity is crucially important, but he projects his own failings onto his political opponents. He not only fails to recognize his own viciously partisan, win-at-all-costs nature, but he attributes that very nature to those who oppose him.
In this piece, we also see Rove employ a mode of defense that others have used to deflect criticism from him. It's the "Aw shucks, I'm no evil genius" ploy. Well, of course he's no genius, though he does seem to have a certain low cunning. And, as we know, most of the evil wrought in politics is not done by those who are straight-forwardly evil, but, rather, by those who just aren't particularly good. Those who are, e.g., willing to let partisanship rule them, who are capable of turning a blind eye to their own intellectual conscience, those who are willing to nip and tuck and massage the facts, those who are willing to systematically paint just slightly distorted portraits of their opponents until they are nothing but evil caricatures. No, Rove is no evil genius. He's just a mean, small man who's cleverer than he is intelligent, and more zealous than he is good. He's the kind of man who's probably done more damage to democracy than any other.
One of the reason I tend to side with the silly Democrats is that guys like Rove are less common on their side of the aisle. Sure, they'll hire mercenaries like Dick Morris sometimes (which makes me sick), but they have fewer wild-eyed, dyed-in-the-wool true believers like Rove. As my friend Peter once put it, the worst the Democrats have is James Carville--and he'd only be about averagely vicious if he were a Republican operative.
So good riddance, Karl...though I'm sure we're not really shed of you just yet.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
This girl seems to have learned something from Katrina. She probably has a better plan for Dean than the administration does.
Sign her up.
Scott Smith's The Ruins; T. L. Short's Peirce's Theory of Signs
Hey, back from the beach, where a good time was had, some sun was gotten, some books were read, some mistakes were made, and some important lessons were learned.
As for the books:
1. The Ruins (Scott Smith)
Picked this up at Harris Teeter when I saw a glowing Stephen King review on the cover. Looks like good beach reading I thought. How wrong I was...
Now, as I've said before, I have a certain amount of respect for anyone who can write a novel. I realize it's tough, and one shouldn't be overly critical. However, this just isn't a good book. No, not at all. It might have made a so-so short story...but probably not. There are lots of reason to not read this book, but here's just one: it's basically impossible to give a damn about any of the characters. This is not by design--it's just that they aren't interesting or human enough to generate any sympathy in the reader. Really--just don't waste your time on this book. Because I'm stupid, it was the only fiction I took with me, and I still didn't really read it, just skimming over the last 100+ pages to the most predictable ending of all time.
2. Peirce's Theory of Signs (T. L. Short)
I heard very good things about this book from reliable sources. My copy didn't make it in time for the trip, and the copy at UNC's Davis library was out. Fortunately, I had a pretty good idea who had it, tracked it down, and photocopied the first hundred pages. After a couple of days at the beach, I had to drive to UNC-Wilmington to get the copy from their library to copy some more. Damn this is--so far at least--a really fine book. So far I'd say it's one of the best books on Pierce I've ever read. Short is trying to explicate, correct, and defend a Peircean account of semiotics and teleology. This is the kind of book that makes you sit up and take notice. Whereas so much contemporary philosophy is ineffectual flailing about, Short seems to land a solid punch in every paragraph.
I suppose I'm sympathetic to this Peirce/Short position in part because I arrived at one element of it on my own, having concluded that the problems that many people attribute to naturalism are actually attributable to the view that Short calls "mechanism." I used to be sympathetic to those ("traditional epistemologists") who argue that naturalism undermines normativity (see e.g. Putnam's "Why Reason Can't Be Naturalized"...but naturalism is a fuzzy position, and--as many have noted--you can avoid lots of problems just by having a more expansive notion of the natural. At any rate, it's not so much naturalism that threatens justification/normativity/reason as it is the view that everything in the world operates mechanically. And that's the view that Peirce denies.
(Also: if your the kind of person who runs the other way when you hear the word 'semiotics'...don't in this case. Peirce's view is far more serious and more interesting than the Saussurean drivel you're likely to have encountered.)
Peirce is a tough nut to crack, and I barely understand the guy though I've been chipping away at him for years. It's too bad that his work is so difficult to penetrate, because I think it's fairly clear that he's the most important philosopher since Kant. At any rate, Short's book looks like a major contribution to the literature.
Two thumbs up--Philosoraptor says "check it out."
As for the other trip-related stuff...
What lessons were learned?
Well, for example:
Do not try to reason with anyone who is still willing to defend George W. Bush. And, especially, not someone who says, with a completely straight face: "Bush is a visionary president; fifty years from now historians will realize how great he was."
This is the equivalent of something like:
"Satan put all those fossils there."
So when people say things like that, it's time to smile, pat them on the shoulder, and change the subject. "Nice weather we're having" and "How 'bout another beer?" are acceptable replacement topics...
But if you keep trying to reason with them after that point...well, you're just wasting everybody's time.
I think I'm maturing as a conversationalist...
Sunday, August 12, 2007
So I see that Romney won the Iowa straw poll.
Now, let me begin by noting that one of my best high school friends was Mormon... And partially because of that, I have to admit that I do have my doubts about a Mormon president. Now, my friend was the Alpha Mormon of his church for his his age group. What that meant was that, in essence, the hottest girl of his age group was, basically, chosen to be his proto-wife. Not exactly a girlfriend, as, if I'm not mistaken, they didn't even kiss. But they were clearly pair-bonded in some weird way, and eventually moved out to Utah and were married in the temple.
Now...I'm kinda wondering whether people realize that Mormons (according to my friend, and other sources) are basically polytheists who believe that if you're a really good Mormon, you can become a god yourself and create your own universe? And (according to my friend) the God of our universe is just a really good Mormon from another universe? Also Adam may or may not have been God, God lives on a planet (Kolob?) somewhere else in our universe, dark skin is the mark of Caine, Satan rules the oceans, and God had actual sex with Mary (bow-chicka-bow-bow)?
And for those who are all hung up on, like, science and empirical (dis)confirmation, note also that the Book of Mormon says that there was a massive, extremely sophisticated pre-Colombian civilization in the Americas, having e.g. steel, stone buildings and elephants, and engaging in battles with millions of men on each side. But there was no such thing, as archeology has proven. Civilizations like that leave evidence--lots and lots of it. And there isn't any.
But the craziest part of it all is that they think that the Garden of Eden is in...wait for it...MISSOURI.
Now, having spent the first 23 years of my live in Missouri, I can tell you that, unless the Garden of Eden is a million degrees with a gazillion percent humidity in the summer, and butt-ass cold in the Winter, and full of mosquitoes and rednecks...it ain't in Missouri. (Actually, I like Missouri...though I'm not sure why...)
On the other hand, Mormonism isn't really much more implausible than other varieties of Christianity. I mean, once you've accepted the idea of a perfectly good, self-existent being that created everything, the idea of the trinity and all that, immortality and the afterlife, the (utterly impossible) idea that you can inherit moral guilt, and that another person can then absolve you of that moral guilt (by dying for your sins)... Well, nothing in Mormonism adds appreciably to any of that, as far as degrees of implausibility go. So, since we're going to have a Christian president anyway, I don't see a big problem with having a Mormon one.
On the other other hand, however, a very large number of Christians don't actually believe in the literal truth of much of that stuff...it's just a metaphor through which they channel their undigested moral and metaphysical beliefs and inclinations. Hmmm...but lots of them do believe it...
So, anyway, Mormonism isn't really much weirder than more standard varieties of Christianity, but I'd be pretty surprised if the majority of non-Mormon Christians believe that. So I'd be surprised if they weren't pretty unhappy with a Mormon candidate.
On the other other other hand, Democrats won't make an issue of this. Republicans would if the tables were turned, but Dems probably won't. So he might just be able to squeak by.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Ha ha! Several times I've posted something only to find out that Kevin Drum beat me to the punch. Well, Finally I made a point before he did. Take that, Drum! Bwahahahaha!
The point was that we got the new FISA bill roughly like we got into Iraq: the Dems knew that if they voted against it and things went bad, they'd be toast. The Republicans can afford to be wrong about such things, but Dems can't. If they make an error of that kind, the Republican noise machine will make them out to be Quislings. If Dems had opposed the invasion and it had been a cakewalk, or if they'd stopped it and there'd been another terrorist attack, they wouldn't control Congress or the presidency for...god knows how long. Similarly with the new FISA law. If they'd stopped it and there'd been another terrorist attack, they'd be toast, regardless of whether it had anything to do with the law or not.
The charitable interpretation of all of this is that the Dems are playing the hand they've been dealt: they'll always be at a disadvantage in such cases, and they've got to make concessions, doing what's bad for the country so that they have a chance to stay in power and put the breaks on this out-of-control administration. They're thinking long-term, and trying to do the best they can with what they've got.
The uncharitable interpretation is that they're spineless.
My guess: some of both. But my guesses about such matters are worth little.
I deleted something from that earlier post to work it up more fully. That point goes something like this:
So long as this type of dynamic holds sway, the more aggressive party will tend to have an advantage in all such debates, since those who counsel moderation will always be subject to charges that they were responsible for any terrorist successes. This will tend to make our policy too aggressive and tend to erode civil liberties.
I haven't yet gotten around to that post, and Drum beats me to it, writing:
"Nobody wants to risk being proved wrong in a way that's so crystal clear there's simply no chance of talking your way out of it. It's this fear that gives national security hawks the upper hand in any terror-related debate. Still."
So the guy still managed to scoop me anyway...]
You know the story.
1. I've never been able to figure out whether it's fair to criticize someone for supporting the war but not signing up. I support lots of policies but not participating directly in implementing them. I support getting criminals off the streets, but I'm not a cop, I support helping the poor in Africa, but I'm not working in Niger, I support repairing the infrastructure, but I'm not filling potholes.
On the other hand, as someone here noted, manpower is a significant problem in Iraq. So, with so few people being spread so thin and forced to do more than their fair share of time other there, it seems a tad hypocritical to support the effort but not help out in this case. Also, ya know, talk is cheap...
2. OTOH...what Romney said is pretty off-putting, but I'm not sure why. It was rhetorically pretty inept, of course, but I don't care about that.
Something about...I dunno...making the difference between rich and poor so poignant. The poor serve their country by getting their legs blown off...the rich serve their country by helping their fathers get elected president... Something like that. Doesn't help that it was a Republican who said it...
I'm not sure this is really such a terrible thing to say, but I'll admit that hearing it left a rather bad taste in my mouth...or sound in my ears...or whatever.
Not the kind of thing to write a person off completely for, though. Could be a fairly minor slip of the brain...or it could be indicative of the way the guy really thinks about the world. Only time will tell.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
The standard line one hears is (roughly) that the surge was intended to give the Iraqi government the breathing room necessary in order to achieve some political successes.
There's at least some reason to believe that the surge is achieving some military successes.
But the Iraqi government is not taking advantage of them, largely because it's largely on vacation.
So question: is the surge working?
The right, of course, says 'yes' (largely because they say that everything has worked in Iraq--we've been winning the whole time!).
The left, almost as predictably these days, says 'no.'
So (if the assertions above are true), who's right?
Well, if the point of the surge was to make breathing room in order to make political progress possible, then it seems that, technically, the surge has worked even if the political progress in question does not take place. Its goal, after all, was to make such progress possible--not to actually achieve the progress. You can't do that militarily. You can only make political progress...well, politically.
Now, of course it's all for naught without the political progress...so we can't really take much solace in a technical victory. In this case, a technical victory is, well, a loss.
But, anyway, to make things messier and more contentious, both the right and the left can, it seems, claim to be right about this one--it's reasonable to say that the surge is working, but also reasonable to say that it isn't.
But--again, assuming that reports of military progress are true--I think the right is significantly righter than the left on this one.
As I've said before, I'm afraid that after five years of dealing with the right's dogmatic propaganda on Iraq, liberals are starting to get a bit too dogmatic themselves. IF we really are making military progress, I'd like to see liberals freely admit that.
However, given the dogmatism of the pro-war crowd, making such an admission might be a mistake, I suppose...
Talking points concerning that other war we're losing.
Though since that war is unjustified, too, I guess we're actually winning...
I ever mention how much I hate "talking points" and the whole concept of "talking points?" Jeez, what an abomination. Why can't people put out thinking points?
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Is a major Swiftboating campaign against Hillary--via Bill--about to begin?
That's the word.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
And Its Possible Effects on the War Debate
With Comments on Memogate
So I haven't mentioned anything about the Scott Thomas (Beauchamp) incident--in part because I couldn't tell what to make of his pieces in The New Republic, and in part because my TNR electronic password remains gimped up, and I'm too lazy to re-type stuff from the print edition. But mostly the former; I just couldn't get a fix on the plausibility of Thomas/Beauchamp's assertions.
But it seems to be on the verge of drawing to a close, and there's a good chance that the rightosphere is right, and he made a lot of it up. Here's something on it all at Ann Althouse.
There's a lot to be sad about here if Beauchamp was, in fact, lying. First, that he'd lie in such an important way about such important matters. Second, that TNR would, yet again, shoot itself in the ass. Third, that so many on the left seemed downright eager to believe the tales...
And fourth: that this is on course to, in a way, be a replay of the Dan Rather/AWOL memo affair.
The war was a mistake, as all but the most benighted and dogmatic now acknowledge. Even if a miracle happens and things start looking up, the decision to invade will remain one of the worst decisions in the history of American foreign policy. Good luck is not good policy.
But it looks as if the right wing will probably end up being right about this one, single set of extravagant claims--claims unrelated to questions about the wisdom of the war. This will confirm in the minds of many that the right was also right about all those things it was wrong about. And that's a very, very bad thing.
This is reminiscent of Memogate. It's indisputable that Bush's National Guard record stinks to high heaven. It's very, very likely that something untoward went on there. But the Rather memo was a hoax. This single clear case in which the right was right goes proxy, in the minds of many, for all the other, more substantive debates about Bush's Guard record. Having been right in one high-profile case, those eager to support him can tell themselves that they were right about the whole thing. Such a willingness to believe is the administration's greatest ally on the right.
If the right is right about Thomas/Beauchamp, they'll be crowing about it for months or years, and they'll blow the significance of the event far out of proportion. This will just add fuel to liberals' anger...and so on.
None of this is to blame the righties for what is, apparently, TNR's very stupid mistake.
[Addendum: For partial confirmation of the view above, check out the comments on the Althouse post--something I hadn't done when I wrote this post. Apparently the Beauchamp affair proves that every bad thing everyone ever said about liberals is true.]
Monday, August 06, 2007
You just can't make this stuff up.
Christ, let me have one if you're just giving 'em away. At least I won't use it to shoot the good guys...
"A rare look inside the CIA's secret interrogation program."
Jane Mayer in The New Yorker
So...after having the election of 2000 semi-stolen, having been lied into a disastrous war, having been called stupid, unpatriotic, and a terrorist sympathizer for opposing said war, having watched the gains of the war in essence evaporate in a cloud if ideological dogmatism and incompetence, and now facing a constant barrage of propaganda to the effect that everything's going just fine, in addition to having to endure innumerable other administration lies and misdeeds...how pissed off would you say you are?
(a) Not pissed off
(b) Ya know, kinda pissed off
(c) Pissed off
(d) Extremely pissed off
(e) Beside self with pissed-offedness
Please to answer before proceeding.
Now, when you are pissed to the degree to which you are currently pissed, which of the following is true:
(a) It doesn't effect my reasoning/judgment at all
(b) It effects my reasoning/judgment a little bit
(c) It effects my reasoning/judgment a notable amount
(d) It effect my reasoning/judgment a lot
(e) I become almost Bush-like in my numbskullery
Hence my concern.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
We got this new FISA bill in roughly the same way we got into Iraq, IMHO. The Dems didn't really buy the Administration's case, but they knew that if they didn't go along with Bush they risked political catastrophe. If the invasion had, in fact, been a cakewalk then, no matter how ill-advised and unjustified, the GOP would have made political mincemeat of the Dems for, well, ever. Such calculations, combined with the standard issue Democratic vestigial spine, led them to go along with the invasion despite the dishonesty and lameness of the case for war.
So long as conservatives insist on painting everyone who disagrees with them as unpatriotic and soft on terrorism, we will continue to err on the side of too much aggression. And domestically we'll continue to err on the side of the surveillance state.
(1) Can the Dems Possibly Lose in '08?; (2) Brooks: Republicans Hate Bush; (3) Would Another Terrorist Attack Help or Hurt the GOP?
Can the Democrats lose an election??? Can a bear crap in the woods??? Can the pope take communion??? Can I waste a whole day watching Star Trek re-runs???
I mean really. Do these people know anything about American politics? The Democrats can lose any election. In fact, as we've seen, they can even win an election and still lose the office...
But Matthews's real point is that, according to polls, people currently trust the Dems over the GOP on virtually ever single issue and type of issue--including e.g the ability to run the war in Iraq--with the exception of a tie (!!) with regard to which party is most able to conduct the "war" against terrorism. The GOP only has an advantage on e.g. the phony "moral values" issue.
Basically everybody there, including David Brooks, seemed to think that the election was all but over.
Brooks seemed to have gotten insufficient sleep or something...in what may have been a depressive fit, he suggested that the last few years may have guaranteed the GOP minority status for the next ten years.
According to Brooks, though everybody talks about Democrats hating Bush, Republicans hate him too. Yes, he said 'hate'. "Talk to them in private," he said. "They think he's incompetent." (Those are, I believe, very close to being direct quotes.)
I wonder whether that's true?
I wonder what they'd think if his poll numbers were good? That is, if he were dishonest and incompetent but popular?
Would another terrorist attack help or hurt the GOP?
Hard to say. Of course each party will say that a terrorist attack shows that they are right. Republicans will say that it shows that we need to be STRONG! on TERROR!; Dems will say that it shows that Bush's policies aren't working.
What will most people think?
Two possibilities, I'd guess:
A. People will instinctively regress to relatively juvenile positions like BOMB 'EM! (whoever, wherever, whatever), become more susceptible to loony rhetoric, and gravitate toward candidates accordingly--i.e. Bush & co.
B. It will just act as a kind of opinion amplifier, increasing the intensity of whatever people already believe. Thus, since most people are anti-Bush, it'll hurt the GOP.
So, it'll either help the GOP or hurt them.
Remember, you heard it here first.
"If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy."
Saturday, August 04, 2007
It's a matter of some controversy among historians...but no matter how you slice it, it ain't good.
But I imagine that history probably has a liberal bias...
Recently the Mystic mentioned to me that he was looking for a clear summary of evidence for the claim that the administration lied about WMDs and/or the link between al Qaeda and Saddam. He couldn't find one, and so started on his own. He's got a nice post up at his digs, The Stupa, starting on this project. Philosoraptor says check it out.
I started this blog back in 2003, for a couple of reasons.
First, I was alarmed and angered by the irrational and dishonest actions of the Bush administration. Second, plagued by a long-term, debilitating case of insomnia, I found myself unable to make any progress on my research projects. I'd been basically a zombie for about four years by that point, and I just couldn't write. So, to get myself back on the horse, I started blogging. Do a little informal political writing, I thought, and eventually work your way back up to what you really need to be doing.
I also had high hopes of trying to convince people that they needed to strive mightily to resist the ravages of partisanship and groupthink.
I've thought about quitting several times, but something Mark Kleiman wrote to me always prevented me: it beats yelling at the t.v.
Thing is, I'm worried that it's become little more than yelling at the t.v. for me.
At heart I'm quite the sappy patriot. I became fascinated by the Revolution and by the Founders when I was a kid. We had few books on the farm...but we did have an oldish set of encyclopedias and facsimile copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg address. Though I've rarely been subject to the kind of mindless, uncritical adoration for America that plagues so many people, I've nevertheless always loved the country very deeply, and held it in high esteem even when I've disagreed with its direction.
I became less interested in politics after Iran-Contra, and after I went to grad school and had too much to do to think about anything other than philosophy. I began to become interested in American politics again when the right's anti-Clinton hysteria became difficult to ignore. I'd never cared much about Clinton, recognizing him as fairly good and fairly competent, but I found the crazed tone of the right's criticisms extremely worrisome. I became passionately interested in politics again after the election of 2000, an event I followed more closely than anyone I know, and more closely than any other event in my life. I think it must be clear to anyone who did follow that election and the subsequent semi-recount closely that there are dangerous elements in American conservative. It is fairly clear that the Bush team and its cohorts exhibited a willingness to steal an American election. And I simply don't know what to say to you if that doesn't make you angry as hell.
Although I advocated deposing Saddam in the first Gulf War, I did not advocate the invasion of the second Gulf War. Although I thought that there were decently strong humanitarian reasons for deposing Saddam, I thought that the time was wrong, that our energy should be focused on al Qaeda, and that the administration was clearly lying to us about its reasons and the strength of the evidence. I have remained passionate about politics in part because I believe that the deception surrounding the decision to invade Iraq was a travesty, one of the most shameful episodes in American political history.
I was raised to avoid strong partisan attachments. In fact, though I'm basically a liberal, I'm not much of a Democrat. However I have, over the course of my life, become fairly strongly anti-Republican. My deep commitment to the principles of American democracy make it almost impossible for me to witness abuses of power such as those involved in Iran-Contra, or the repeated and continuing abuses of the Bush administration, without becoming outraged.
Since 1992 I believe that something very worrisome has been happening. A perfectly competent, reasonably honest, fairly centrist American president--was demonized, and a demented group of conservatives fabricated scandal after scandal in an attempt to discredit him and drive him out of office. They began calling for impeachment even before he was sworn in, and finally, with his complicity, managed to accomplish it. Even ignoring the travesty of the election of 2000, the events of the Bush administration have been the flip-side of the Clinton travesty. Bush is demonstrably unqualified for the job of president, he is neither intelligent nor knowledgeable, and he is, seemingly, rather vindictive. Despite his false campaign assertion that he was "a uniter, not a divider," he immediately began pursuing an extremely conservative agenda that almost seemed calculated to divide the country. He lied to us about the invasion of Iraq, violating his most sacred trust as president. And his prosecution of the war has been incompetent in the extreme. Yet a sizable percentage of conservatives continue to support him.
The question that arises naturally in the inquiring mind is this: if these conservatives will not tolerate a smart, competent, reasonably centrist Democrat like Clinton, and if they will defend even the most egregious crimes of someone like George W. Bush...where is this country headed? Are we headed for a state of affairs in which a relatively small group of extreme conservative partisans exerts undue influence on the country by senselessly and mercilessly attacking even the most centrist Democrats and mindlessly supporting even the most extreme and incompetent Republicans? Will this not inevitably generate corresponding partisanship among Democrats? And how can such polarization not be disastrous?
There's been much talk about polarization in recent years, but, as careful studies as well as casual observation have indicated, what's really happened is that the right has moved farther right while the left has more-or-less stayed put. Which puts someone in my position in a rather bad place: I want to preach against partisanship, but I also have reason to believe that it's the other guys who are most responsible for it. So I have to say something like "hey, don't be partisan like those other guys! Be more like us!" And that's something it's hard to say with a straight face, even if you believe it's right.
So that's all a pretty long road to the following small house:
I'm starting to wonder whether I'm just getting too pissed off to blog anymore. Every day seems to bring some new outrage by this administration, along with a flurry of intellectually and morally bankrupt attempts by blogospheric Bushies to defend the indefensible. There are cooler heads than mind, and it may be time to defer to them. Even when one can no longer control one's fury, at least one can recognize that one can't control it.
I'm not calling it quits just yet, but I am going to throttle back a bit for awhile. What started as a safety valve to keep me from yelling at the t.v. has become more of a catalyst. The insomnia that drove me to start blogging is finally in remission, and it's become possible for me to get back to the book project that I had to set aside. Small blogs are waning in influence, anyway, as full-time professional bloggers like Kevin Drum have begun doing it so much better.
So don't be surprised if posting gets a bit sparser. I gotta go read some Marcus Aurelius or something.
Here's another gibbering Bushie, one Jules Crittendon.
Same weird, toxic soup of delusions that I keep running into when I slum around the rightosphere: Democrats WANT to lose! We can find some poll numbers here and there that indicate that people don't disapprove of Bush's policies as much as some people say! People hate Bush...but look, they hate Congress too! We are winning in Iraq!
My favorite on here:
...the Wall Street Journal’s “Washington Wire” column, which notes that by “50%-45%, Americans express confidence the U.S. commander in Iraq,” Gen. David Petraeus, “will provide an objective assessment of situation on the ground. By 36%-13%, public holds positive rather than negative view of Petraeus. Proportion saying the troop ’surge’ is helping grows to 29% from 24% in April.”
Whew. This grasping at straws is almost pathetic. Given that the public knows very little about Petraeus, nor about what's really happening in Iraq, these numbers are virtually meaningless.
EXCEPT that the main topic of the piece is...you guessed it! About the effects of all this on the political struggle back home. Polls, polls, polls! It's all about the polls! It's all about November 2008! It's all about denigrating the hated Democrats...
If these guys put half the effort into thinking about how to actually conduct policy as they do into figuring out how to make the Democrats look bad, they might actually accomplish something.
I have to admit, I kind of like loony blogs--just for their entertainment value, of course. My new favorite is Don Surber. I know I linked to him recently, but here's another example
I love this new conservative theme--everybody hates Congress! They hate them even more than they hate Bush! Bwahahah! If people hate Congress more than they hate Bush, then we win!
It doesn't seem to matter that almost no one has the slightest idea what Congress has done, that much of the dissatisfaction with Congress stems from their failure to stand up to this moronic administration, that very few people understand the proper roll of Congress in conducting war, that it's not clear even to well-informed people how the war is going...
Look, I'm not ecstatic with Congress, but at least I know enough to know that these poll numbers are virtually meaningless. But there's a subset of Bush dead-enders, dedicated to gerrymandering SOME kind of picture according to which their Beloved Leader doesn't completely suck, sitting in their basements cobbling this stuff together. Man. Very sad.
I actually shouldn't promote this kind of thing...and I try to stay away from such blogs when I can resist. Given the current state of things, nutty right-wing blogs just drive me farther to the left. Back in the late '80's and early '90's, when the PC movement was big on campus, I used to try to avoid those people because they drove me farther to the right. (Anybody else have this problem or is it just me?)
So I really should stop doing this kind of thing.
Friday, August 03, 2007
"Vision: American foreign policy is broken. It has been broken by people who supported the Iraq War, opposed talking to our adversaries, failed to finish the job with al Qaeda, and alienated the world with our belligerence. Yet conventional wisdom holds that people whose experience includes taking these positions are held up as examples of what America needs in times of trouble.
Barack Obama says we have to turn the page. We cannot afford any more of this kind of bankrupt conventional wisdom. He has laid out a foreign policy that is bold, clear, principled, and tailored for the 21st century. End a war we should never have fought, concentrate our resources against terrorists who threaten America. End the counter-productive policy of lumping together our adversaries and avoiding talking to our foes. End the era of politics that is all sound-bites and no substance, and offer the American people the change that they need.
Barack Obama’s judgment is right. It is conventional wisdom that has to change."
So last night's dust-up in the House seems telling to me. The Dems, having been in power for only 7 months, pulled a one shady bit of business that wasn't nearly as bad as the things the Republicans used to do routinely, and did routinely for years. In response, Republicans walked out. To top this all off, the Democrats apologized for it--something Republicans never did throughout their entire reign of terror.
So, on the one hand we have systematic, long-term, egregious unfairness and partisanship...on the other hand, we have a single admitted mistake. Despite this extraordinary disparity, the Republicans freaked out. One wonders how they would react if they had to take anything like a full dose of their own medicine.
Now, I actually have some sympathy with the Republicans here in that I think that their reaction was reasonable...but that the Dems should have been more touchy and more vocal about Republican oppression and bullying. But the hypocrisy of the House Republicans is just astonishing.
Check this by one Don Surber--dutifully linked to by Instapundit.
1. The surge is working!!!! (As we say in philosophy: interesting if true...)
(Is somebody keeping careful track of how many times we've won or been winning in Iraq?)
2. There are only two kinds of Democrats: (1) the ones who want us to "lose at any cost" and (2) those who are "weather vanes who follow the polls!!!!!" (And polls are bad!) (Hey, kids, which kind of Democrat are you? I'm a (1)! Oh, how I wish I could be both! But what if most people want us to lose the War on Terra(tm) at any cost!?!?!?! Then we could be both!)
3. (If you ask your questions very carefully) some of Bush's poll numbers in some polls are better than some of Congress's in some polls! And the DEMOCRATS run Congress!!! (And polls are GOOD!) (And it doesn't matter that some of those low numbers are accounted for by the fact that people are mad that Congress isn't standing up to Bush!)
4. Things are so bad that the Democrats are now worried about 2008!!! (Question: um, more worried than the Republicans are? A: Shut up.)
5. Carl Levin wants us to LOSE in IRAQ because it's GOOD for his POLITICAL Career! (Jesus! That guy must be DOWNRIGHT EVIL!)
Wow. I know quips about tinfoil hats are kinda passe...but really...what else do you say to something like this? We've wondered before around these parts who those 29% are who are still supporting Bush? Well, here's your answer.
Note that this isn't just an isolated wacko. He was linked to approvingly by Instapundit, perhaps the most influential of the conservative sites.
Jesus H. Christ can this possibly be true????????????
Even if it were only 1% it would be a travesty!
[HT: Statisticasaurus Rex]
Bush has apparently decided that the UN is important after all.
Veracious Subtitle: We have SNAFUed the whole bloody shebang. Please for the love of God pull our fat out of the fire.
I was watching C-SPAN2 the other day when Obama's foreign policy speech came on. Now, two months ago I wasn't really paying any attention to Obama. Given his relative lack of experience, I tacitly thought he was probably in the race only because he was attractive and black. Many people* think that it would be good for the country to have a president who was black or female, and I thought that Obama was probably in merely because he was black and telegenic. Once I started paying attention it became clear that I was very, very wrong.
As I suppose I've made clear, I've become more and more impressed by Obama, in part because he has gone out of his way so often in the debates to avoid cheap shots and lame sound bites. Over the past few weeks I've suddenly come to realize that this guy seems to be a genuinely excellent and exciting candidate.
Obama seems to be intelligent, intellectually honest and active, articulate, knowledgeable, sincere, compassionate and even wise. He seems to be genuinely driven by a desire to make the world a better place by bringing out the better America. He seems genuinely interested in uniting the country rather than dividing it.
In short, he seems like the anti-Bush.
And that's about the best thing I think one could say about a candidate.
I try not to fall for a candidate too quickly, but I've got to say, Obama has gotten my attention in a big way.
*Myself included. I think that it'd be good for us to have a black or female president, though being black or female is only worth a few points in my book. I'd never vote for a person solely or largely because of their race or sex. But I would, say, vote for a female over a male if they were equally or almost equally qualified. I figure forty-three white males in a row is a bit excessive to say the least...
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Big Bruvver wants your DNA, Brits...
So I picked up James Hynes's The Lecturer's Tale the other day and read it for, I think, the third time in about four years. Damn, that is just a good, solid, well-written, insightful, funny, entertaining and enjoyable book. If we're just talking about books I flat-out enjoy reading, this one is near the very top of the list.
Like most of his other books, The Lecturer's Tale combines the two genres that I find most enjoyable: academic novels and horror/supernatural. Add to that some dead-on, no-holds-barred lampooning of PoMo lit-critters, and you've got an irresistible mix in my book.
I've also read Hynes's Publish and Perish: Three Tales of Tenure and Terror and Kings of Infinite Space. They're both worth a read, especially the former, but The Lecturer's Tale is IMHO the best of the bunch.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Can you believe how stupid the questions are on the celebrity episodes of Jeopardy? Cripes.
Weirdest moment yet: when the evil Nancy Grace insisted that she had given the right answer when she clearly hadn't, and got really pissed when the judges wouldn't rule in her favor, and then argued that they had misunderstood her southern accent. Despicable.
Um...speaking of books one hasn't read...and speaking of speaking of books one hasn't read...Here's a review of the book Falling Behind by Robert Frank:
"The arguments here are powerful and multidisciplinary. The crux is explaining how rising economic inequality causes harm to the middle class. It also offers a policy reform--a progressive consumption tax--that serves to mitigate this harm. This is a gem of a book."--Lee S. Friedman, Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley
So according to this review, the conclusion of the book is that rising economic inequality harms the middle class and so taxes should be employed to reduce it.
Now, this is a conclusion I'm sympathetic with for a couple of reasons. But the reasons Frank employs are allegedly summarized in the following review:
"In this lively provocative book filled with memorable new examples, Bob Frank goes beyond his previous work (Luxury Fever, Winner-Take-All Society, and Choosing the Right Pond) and clarifies that 'falling behind' is a consequence not of envy but rather of the simple fact that a person's evaluation of his own possessions 'depends always and everywhere on context'--an unconscious comparison with his neighbor's possessions or with his own previous possessions. His illuminating interchange with prominent discussants is a unique contribution of this book."
--Laurence Seidman, Chaplin Tyler Professor of Economics, University of Delaware
Now, I want to make it clear that I have not read this book! I'm just discussing the reviews on Amazon.com, especially the one above.
But this argument SUCKS.
This doesn't support the conclusion that we should have a progressive tax to curb income inequality. Rather, it supports the conclusion that the middle class needs to get some perspective and evaluate their possessions in a more rational way.
And incidentally, the use of the phrase 'always and everywhere' is a good indicator that BS is about to follow. And my guess is that it does. Evaluations of one's possessions almost certainly does NOT "always and everywhere" depend on context (where 'context' means, as it is supposed to here, comparison with things other people have). I've got all sorts of things I like despite the fact that they're way, way crappier than the stuff almost everybody else has. Take my mountain bike for instance--it's like a 1997 GT Ricochet with ancient, super-low-end Rock Shox and handlebars off an even older GT. Most people would turn their nose up at it, but I love it. If such evaluations were "always and everywhere" contextual in this way, the I wouldn't like my bike. But I do like my bike. Therefore etc., etc., QED.
Anyway...to the extent that these reviews are an accurate representation of the book, it doesn't look promising...
See, now that's how you talk about a book you haven't read...