Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Get'cher Other War On

Here we go again?

I already don't trust the intelligence and I haven't even seen it. That's what happens when the president cries 'wolf' one (or ten or a hundred) times too many.

On the other hand, if Iran really did do it...then is there any alternative to knocking the hell out of them? Or are we in such dire straights that we have to ignore even attacks this serious?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Reflecting on The War in El Salvador

If you set out to list all the crimes of the Reagan administration, you'd better pack a lunch. And you'll want to include that administration's policies toward El Salvador near the top of that list.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Dueling Idiots?
Or: Multiculturalism in British Schools

I can't tell what the heck's going on here. Very sketchy column that makes both sides sound like idiots. Which, sadly, may very well be the truth.

[HT: J. Cartensis]
As Iraq Unravels...Some Hope of Success?

In the NYT. Iraq has, as almost everyone is finally willing to admit, gone to hell.

But one of the most interesting points in the piece:

For those eager to write off Iraq as lost, one fact bears remembering. A great many Shiites and Kurds, who together make up 80 percent of the population, will tell you that in spite of all the mistakes the Americans have made here, the single act of removing Saddam Hussein was worth it. And the new American plan, despite all the obstacles, may have a chance to work. With an Iraqi colleague, I have been studying a neighborhood in northern Baghdad that has become a dumping ground for bodies. There, after American troops conducted sweeps, the number of corpses dropped by a third in September. The new plan is built around that kind of tactic.

Dunno how seriously to take Tavernise's judgment here, but it's something.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What If The Surge Works?

Surely someone has pointed out by now what will happen if the surge works--or even if by some other mechanism an even slightly better Iraq emerges, post-surge.

A few things to make clear before the punchline:

1. I don't have a right to a position on the surge.

2. In the past I've said that, if you held a gun to my head and made me decide, I'd reluctantly give a surge the green light.

3. I'm not even sure about that anymore.

4. I desperately want something--anything--to work in Iraq...including, of course, the surge.

But we need to be clear about two points:

A. If Iraq improves after the surge--regardless of whether the surge causes the improvement--conservatives will immediately begin the Reaganification of George W. Bush. That is, they will resume trying to heroify the decidedly unheroic. Many of them were still trying to make Bush a hero when he was already a manifestly terrible president. Many of them still dogmatically insist that he's non-terrible. Any hint of success of any kind after the surge will give them a straw to grasp at, and the half-finished hagiographies will be taken up and completed. He'll be resolute, he'll be precient, he'll be, of course, Churchillian.


B. He will, of course, deserve none of those accolades, even if the surge is directly responsible for improving Iraq. If, through a series of lies and moronic errors, you manage to monumentally screw something up, and then you throw an ill-advised Hail Mary that happens to clean up part of the mess you made through dishonesty and incompetence, you don't deserve any credit. Stupidity and dishonesty are not praiseworthy. Luck is not praiseworthy. Stupidity and dishonesty plus luck are not praiseworthy. Bush is a terrible president even if space aliens happen to show up tomorrow and shower us with gold, oil, and dancing girls (or guys, as your preference might have it). A lucky accident can't change that. prepared, because A (above) is a lead-pipe cinch.

I'm hoping that something--anything--will work in Iraq. I'm hoping that the surge will work. And that means hoping to have to put up with infuriatingly foolish, dogmatic, and baroque conservative campfire stories about how Bush '43, the Glorious and Resolute, was right all along.

It's false, and it's going to make me barf every time I have to hear it. But it's approximately a million times better than watching Iraq continue to vivisect itself.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Is Cheney Hosed?


I just want to know the truth. If he's innocent, I want his name cleared. If he's guilty, I want him in jail.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Jimmy Carter Was Right, 1/24/2007 Edition
Or: Conservation--No Longer Just A "Personal Virtue"?

So, it seems that Mr. Bush is going to call for us to decrease our oil consumption. Let me be the first to say it: way to go, W. A capital idea. I'm absolutely behind him on this.

I hope it's not churlish to point out that this was also a good idea in 1978. In fact, it was even a much better idea in '78. If we'd have listened to dopey old doom-n-gloom Carter back then we would be in far less hot water than we are today.

But, anyway, that's not the point. The point is that W's getting this one right. Good for him.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Antibiotic-Resistant Acinetobacter (and the Iraq War)

This piece from Wired is an absolutely fascinating (and pretty damn scary) read. I'm already fairly alarmed about antibiotic-resistant bacteria, though, so maybe my opinion is unreliable here.

There's too much in there to even start to comment on at the end of a long day, so for now I just link.

Read, read!

(HT: Canis Major, who seems to be trying to further degrade the peacefulness of my sleep.)
Help the (Re)Fugees

O.k., time for the 'Raptor Street Irregulars to put their noggins together to help out the Fugees.

Yesterday/below we had this about this in the NYT. Long story short, the Fugees are a soccer team made up entirely of young refugees currently living in Clarkston, GA. The story was so moving that I decided to find out how one goes about helping the team out. Turns out one can find out more about them and make donations at their website, Check it out.

In an e-mail to the Fugee's coach, Luma Mufleh, and in a post, I suggested that they make up some T-shirts for fund-raising purposes. Below, coach Luma asks whether we have any ideas for such shirts.

Now, this is not the kind of thing I'm good at, and probably not the kind of thing most of you are good at, either, but if we put our heads together, tap some other bloggers, etc., we ought to be able to (a) come up with something catchy and (b) persuade some folks to donate and/or buy a shirt.

So start coughing up the clever ideas already. Fame is fleeting, and these kids could use our help.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Go Fugees!

Jeez, this story'll just about break your heart.

Somebody tell this coach to get some Fugees shirts printed up. I'll buy one in a second.

Spoiler below.

Spoiler: The rich kids win in the end. Jeez, there's a surprise for ya.
Gonzales and Habeas Corpus

Drum is up in arms about the fact that Gonzales said that the Constitution doesn't expressly grant us the right of habeas corpus.

Thing is, technically, Gonzales seems to be right. The right of habeas corpus is presupposed, rather than expressly granted/guaranteed by, the Constitution.

Thing is, in any other administration, we wouldn't have to go to red alert over such a comment. This is just the way lawyers, philosophers, scientists, and math-types talk among themselves when they are talking about technical matters. Distinctions and claims like this are at least interesting even when not important. (E.g. it's interesting that All dogs are mammals doesn't entail there are dogs.)

But with this administration, we DO have to go to red alert. This is exactly the kind of quasi-technicality these criminals might try to exploit for nefarious purposes. (Recall: "there are no plans for invasion on my desk...") Would they really undermine habeas corpus entirely, destroying a cornerstone of our legal system in order to win a small victory in a battle they shouldn't be fighting anyway? You bet they would.

Somebody needs to ask Gonzales point blank whether that was a merely technical observation, or whether he thinks the point is a substantive one with real implications. That is, they need to make sure he acknowledges that there is a right of habeas corpus even though it isn't explicitly guaranteed/granted by the Constitution.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Bainbridge: Does What "Elite Professors" Think Matter?
Are Philosophers Experts About the Existence of God?

Via Instapundit there's this by Stephen Bainbridge.

I've gotta say I'm torn on this one. If all I knew about proposition p was that more academicians than non-academicians believed it, I'm not initially certain whether I'd bet on its truth or not. Bainbridge is right that it'd be a good bet if we knew that p fell within area of expertise A, and that experts in A believed p at a higher rate than the rest of the population--e.g. if p was a proposition about economics, and more economists believed it. But as for an arbitrarily-selected, I dunno...

Academicians often strike me as a fairly loony lot...and academicians at more "elite" institutions--if by that we meen Ivy League types--often strike me as being on the loonier end of the curve. It might be relevant that folks who are able to snag such jobs are usually from very privileged backgrounds, so they start life being a little nutty and out of touch with reality. They've often never had real jobs, never had to worry about making a living. Most of them have never dug a ditch, baled hay, fixed a car. Most of them have never had a shitty job, been broke, been in a fist fight. They've lived in a very atypical world. There are exceptions, of course, but they're on average a pretty unaverage lot. So if the p in question turns out to be about some practical matter of actual life in the, ya know, world...well, it wouldn't be smart to be with the pointy-headed intellectuals.

Then you throw in the fact that, in many disciplines, you don't really have to be very smart to succeed. In order to avoid an avoidable controversy, I won't list the list here, but let's just remind ourselves that not every discipline is as demanding as physics. Hell, not every discipline is as demanding as history. In fact, IMHO, not every discipline is as demanding as plumbing. Even at the "elite" institutions. You probably have to be smarter to teach, say, math at a community college than you have to be to teach, say, speech communications at an Ivy League school.

And an inordinate number of academicians--especially in the humanities and social sciences--at elite schools are nutty lefties. Way far left of your garden-variety liberals.

Though, come to think of it, lots hangs on what we mean by "elite schools" here. Perhaps it just means something like the country's top thirty or fifty schools. If that's what's meant, then the stuff above is rather less true of the such folks.

On the other hand, academia does wash out most of the very stupidest of the stupid and most ignorant of the ignorant. You'll find virtually no religious fundamentalists, radical nationalists, alien abductees, folks who call the psychic hotline, racists, homophobes and suchlike.

Soooo...on balance, if I had to bet on the truth of proposition p without knowing anything about it other than that academicians were more likely than non-academicians to believe it...I'd be very unhappy. But I'd probably cross my fingers and bet on p.

For a similar bet replacing 'academicians' with 'academicians at elite institutions'....I'd still probably bet on p, but, to be honest, I'd be a little more worried about it.


The Bainbridge piece also prompts the following question: are philosophers experts when it comes to the question of the existence of God?

I think the answer has to be 'yes', since philosophers have, on average, thought about the relevant arguments in much greater depth and at much greater length than most people.

Incidentally, philosophers are far less likely to believe in God than the average American.

Make of that what you will.

Friday, January 19, 2007

On Dogmatism and Support for Bush

So, support for Bush is fairly low (though not as low as one might expect), but--and tell me if this is just me--when I surf around on the right wing of the blogosphere...well, I suppose I have to wonder whether or not those folks are living in the same world I am.

After six years of relentlessly terrible leadership--including what even many on the right acknowledge to be possibly the worst strategic error in American history--Right Blogistan still seems to be unwilling to admit what is obvious to everyone else in the world: that George W. Bush is a very bad president.

In fact, I have to admit that I find it fairly alarming that it took until recently for certain elements of the right to admit that Bush was not a great president. "Churchillian," they were fond of calling him. If it takes this much dishonesty, incompetence and disaster to force an admission that the guy isn't sublimely heroic, then what, I ask, would it take to force them to admit that he's below average? And God only knows what it would take to prompt an admission of the awful truth...

Admitting that you're wrong can be hard. The longer you've been wrong, the harder it is. The more important the issue you've been wrong about, the harder it is. The more impassioned the debate, the harder it is. The more ardently you've argued for your position, the harder it is. The more you dislike your opponents, the harder it is. I understand the social and psychological forces working against Bush supporters in this case. But that doesn't make the phenomenon any less alarming.

One thing this case seems to do is to reveal the true strength of partisan dogmatism. Or at least the true strength of partisan dogmatism in America. Or at least the true strength of partisan dogmatism on the American right. We might hope that this case is exceptional, but that might be too optimistic. The better bet, I'm afraid, is that this kind of dogmatism is always in action in American politics--it's just that most political issues are cloudy enough to make it seem plausible to attribute the relevant disagreements to honest differences in opinion or principle.

That right there is what we call a scary thought.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

TNR: Lawrence Korb Against the Surge

Here's the first installment in TNR's debate. To surge or not to surge--that is the question.

I'm even more tenuously pro-surge (almost vanishingly so) than I used to be as more and more of my foreign policy beacons (e.g. Wes Clark) come out against. Still, I have questions about Korb's argument.

Consider the following paragraph:

"The first problem is that U.S. forces will be unable to protect the population, because our very presence is a magnet for violence. U.S. soldiers and Marines patrolling on foot or holed up in neighborhood outposts will be bombarded with attacks from anti-occupation insurgents. To protect themselves, U.S. forces will have to respond, relying on their massive firepower to fight off attacks, putting Iraqi civilians in the crossfire and only making the security situation worse."

Korb's argument (like most arguments) is a tad difficult to reconstruct, but here's a go at it:

(1) U.S. soldiers and Marines patrolling on foot or holed up in neighborhood outposts will be bombarded with attacks from anti-occupation insurgents.


(2) Our very presence is a magnet for violence. (from (1))

(3) To protect themselves, U.S. forces will have to respond, relying on their massive firepower to fight off attacks


(4) We will put Iraqi civilians in the crossfire (from (2) and (3)?)


(5) We will be unable to protect the Iraqi population (from (4)? from (2)?)


(6) We (in a surge) will make matters worse (?? from (5)? from (4)?? from (4) and (5)?)

At any rate, the main idea is clear enough: our troops will provoke more violence, and dish out more violence and this will be worse for innocent Iraqis than the alternative (no surge? leaving entirely?).

Our troops do provoke violence, that's clear. It isn't, however, clear whether that's a net gain or a net loss for innocent Iraqis. Apparently we don't know whether, if we we withdrew, that violence would evaporate or, instead, simply be directed against innocent Iraqis. (My guess: some of each, and nobody knows in what proportion.)

Our troops do dish it out, too, and that kills innocent Iraqis, but, again, we don't know whether it kills more than it saves.

So, although we know that some violence is directed at our troops, and that some violence is caused by them, what we don't know is whether this makes matters worse for innocent Iraqis than they (i.e. things) would be otherwise.

I just don't see how Korb's argument can be valid. (Here I use 'valid' in the ordinary and traditional sense in which a non-deductive argument can be valid.) To get the conclusion he wants, he'd have to provide premises in which pre-surge and post-surge levels of violence were compared, and those he does not have.

Just pointing out all the ways in which our (increased) presence is bad can't show that we shouldn't be (er...increasingly?) present. To show that, we'd have to show that our presence is worse than our absence (or that our increased presence is worse than a decreased presence, or whatever.) But those seem to be the very comparisons we are ignorant about.

So it seems that bit of Korb's argument fails.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Warhawk Dead-Enders

Instapundit links approvingly to this at Protein Wisdom.

I'm trying to be objective about this, but I guess my first reaction is: this just goes to show that in politics you never, ever, ever have to admit you were wrong, no matter how unequivocal the evidence.

What am I missing here?

On the face of it, the strategy here seems to be to collect up every "justification" (read: rationalization) used in support of the war, and then argue that only most of them have been conclusively proven to be false or stupid.

Thus leaving a (shameful) rhetorical back door open through which people who can't admit when they're wrong can sneak out.

Because, see, saving face is more important than advancing the public dialog.

Please tell me I'm missing something.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Is The Covenant The Worst Movie Ever Made?


This movie is a cinematic turd. Do not see it under any conditions. If you are stranded on a desert island with nothing but a solar-powered DVD player and a copy of this movie, do not watch it.

This movie is so unutterably awful that Superman Returns is almost merely horrible by comparison.

I want my three bucks back.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Michael Crowley on the House Democrats' Dilemma


The dilemma, of course, is whether to retaliate against the last ten years of Republican abuses or to turn the other cheek in an effort to return civility to the House. Crowley notes that the Dems favor the latter course of action, but that House Republicans haven't made it easy...and still aren't. He writes:

Still, the impulse for payback is easy to understand. In 2003, I wrote a story about the misery of being a Democrat in the GOP House, which had come to operate with all the parliamentary freedom of the North Korean Communist Party (see "Oppressed Minority," June 23, 2003). My subject was Van Hollen, whom I followed for a few days as he tried in vain to secure a vote on an amendment critical to his civil service worker constituents. After one summary rejection, Van Hollen suggested that Republicans should bring democracy to the House before imposing it on Iraq. (Miller fumed to me at the time that the GOP was running the House in a "fascistic" and "corrupt" manner.)

Republicans aren't making it easier for Democrats to forgive and forget these traumatic memories by screaming bloody murder over any perceived slight. Although Democrats have vowed to make several rules changes affording the minority more power, the House GOP has already shamelessly offered up a "Minority Bill of Rights"--copied verbatim from a 2004 Democratic proposal (which the GOP ignored). Democrats found it especially maddening to hear a complaint last week from California Republican David Dreier, who, as outgoing chairman of the House Rules Committee, smothered countless Democratic bills and amendments in their cribs. Dreier pronounced himself "very disappointed" at the lack of a GOP role in the 100-hour agenda. "I couldn't believe my ears," sighs Louise Slaughter of New York, Dreier's incoming successor as Rules chair. "If Alice in Wonderland can believe six impossible things before breakfast, David Dreier can do better."

I spend a lot of time pondering fundamental differences between liberals and conservatives--largely to no avail. But one thing I come back to time and again is that conservatives tend to be less adept at or willing to take up an objective perspective when their own interests are involved. Liberals (real liberals--not zany leftist types) seem better at what I think of as the table test--that is, better at asking "what conclusion would I draw in this case if the tables were turned?" That is, they seem to be better at preventing self-interest from clouding their judgment. This is largely responsible for the fact that they are more consistent than conservatives. In the case at hand, they sought to defend the rights of the House minority when they were it, and they're also seeking to defend those rights now that they're no longer it. On the other hand, when Republicans were in the majority, they abused their power and refused even to consider rules that guaranteed rights to the minority. Now that the tables have been turned, they not only immediately begin screaming (whining?) for such rules (before they've even suffered any abuse, incidentally), but they copy the Democrat's formerly-dismissed proposal and call it their own.

I have a tendency to be one of those liberals who's so open-minded that he has a hard time taking his own side in an argument. I actually think that's not entirely a bad thing. But, anyway, people like me are ecstatic when irrefutable evidence like this arises. There's no way to finesse it, spin it, re-interpret it or second-guess it: here's a clear case in which the actions of the Democrats are noble and those of the Republicans are craven. Moreover, the case seems to be a representative one, one that merely highlights certain virtues and vices that seem more-or-less characteristic of the respective parties.

I wouldn't be a good liberal if I didn't point out that our friends across the aisle do have their virtues, some of which we'd be well-advised to emulate. But as for the virtues in play in the case at hand...well, they'd be well-advised to try to learn a thing or two from our boys.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

For the Record: The Surge

I've been checked out of the world for about a month now, so what I'm about to say here should in no way be construed as anything other than what it is: merely putting myself on the record so that my memory doesn't fool me if/when everything goes to hell:

To surge or not to surge?

I'm gratified to be able to answer promptly: I don't know.

If you held a gun to my head, I'd still say I didn't know.

Even when I was really paying careful attention to what was going on I didn't know. Now I super-duper extra-heavy-duty don't know.

If I had no other option than to make the decision right this second, without consulting the experts and without thinking any more about it, I'd give the surge the green light, for all the obvious reasons.

I realize that this, as Mark Kleiman quips, makes me the enemy of all right-thinking people, but there it is.

Now that I'm connected to the world again, I might change my position (if you want to call it that) by tomorrow.

But anyway, there it is, just for the record.
I Am Not Making This Up, 1/9/2007 Edition: Hannity's "Enemies of the State"


Is it just me, or are they not even trying to conceal the fact that they're nuts anymore?

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Democrats' Inconsistent Goals

It's really not possible for the Dems to simultaneously adhere to both of the following promises:

1. To pass a good ethics reform package

2. To include the Republicans in decision-making.

So they've apparently chosen to fulfill 1 first and then 2.

Good plan.

It was almost funny to see Adam Putnam on the News Hour last night whining about the Dems doing 1 before 2. Also pretty funny to see him and others whining about the fact that Republicans hadn't been consulted about rules changes that guarantee more rights to the minority party. Conservatives like to accuse liberals of being whiney...but there's that whole mote/beam thing...

I couldn't help but wonder why these folks were so upset about guaranteeing more rights to the minority party. A cynic might think that what they're more interested in oppressing the Dems again at some future date than in developing an efficient and civil representative institution.

It was also almost funny to see some Republicans trying to blame the poisonous house atmosphere of the last ten years on the Dems. Christ, some of these guys only seem to occasionally vacation in reality...