Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Obama: "I Don't Think It's Appropriate To Lie To The American People"

Seriously--I think Obama is my hero:
Couric: Describe a situation when you think it's appropriate to lie to the American people.

Obama: I don't think it's appropriate to lie to the American people. I mean … you can put together a hypothetical where there is a national security emergency that is imminent. And you don't want to provide, for example, the location of our troops. You don't have to lie in those situations. You simply say, "we're not answering questions."

I don't think it's appropriate to lie. And I think that one of the things I want to change about the culture of Washington is, not just the "big lie," but also the "soft lie." The fudging, the manipulation, the spin. If we can restore a sense of trust between the American people and their government, we're going to go a long way to changing the country for the better.
Barack Obama: the anti-Bush.
"I'm Not Solely Going To Blame Man's Activity On Changes In Climate"

Palin, in response to a Katie Couric's question about whether human activity was responsible for global warming.

So...either Palin is not a climatological determinist...

Or she's got a bit of trouble with the directionality of her causal arrows...

Seriously. A potential president really should be able to tell the difference between climate change causes human activity and human activity causes climate change.
Palin Doesn't Read
K-Lo In Deep Denial

If you've seen the new Kouric clip with Palin, then you know that Palin doesn't read newspapers or news magazines. There's really no other plausible interpretation of Palin's reaction.

Which doesn't stop K-Lo from pretending that there is.

See, Palin just didn't want to play along.

Yeah...that's...um...the ticket...
Palin is Magic

My liberal friends are all sitting around saying things like"why can't conservatives see that she's an idiot?"

But not only can they not see that she's an idiot...they think she's, like, a superhero. Here's one Palin fantasy from the reality-unbased community.

Maybe we can drop her into Pakistan to get OBL after that...

Seriously pathetic.
Q: What's More Important Than Iraq, Terrorism, The Bailout, and The Election?

A: Maintaining (or...regaining..) the kind of political culture that allows us collectively to make reasonably good political and policy decisions.

This--the ability to rationally discuss and select policies--is more important than any single policy. Smart people can usually recover from bad decisions. But people who characteristically make bad decisions are, barring great luck, screwed.

One reasons it's so important to elect Obama is that he seems to understand this point. Some liberals (like, say, Kos) have a tendency to sneer at Obama's "new politics" when the going gets tough, but the very point of the approach is to replenish the stores of trust and goodwill that allowed us to rely on each other and respect each other's judgment.

One of our biggest problems is that we now tend to see our political opponents as the enemy, and to attribute our disagreemens to bad will and dishonesty on the other side. As I've noted before, Dems are in a tricky position here, because this is primarily the fault of Republicans, who have been far more prone to and adept at using division and demonization for political advantage, thus doing long-term and deep damage to the country in order to achieve relatively short-term political gain. Of course it's risky to point that out in the midst of a sermon against demonization, but it's the truth, impolitic though it may be to express it in this context.

Obama is trying to win without demonizing and alienating his opponents. Unfortunately, McCain has pulled out all the demonization stops. Obama's idea seems to be something like this: if we can get through one election a little more unified than normal, this will make it easier for us to reason and act together over the course of the next four years...and easier to run an even more civil and unifying campaign next time. Unfortunately, the actions of the McCain campaign may very well undermine all of Obama's efforts. On the bright side, McCain might repent afterward, as is his wont, and that might help somewhat.

Obama's strategy is not merely built upon an aversion to conflict, but, rather on a hypothesis about what is required for a healthy, moral and rational democracy. A belief in the truth of this hypothesis is what drove me to start this blog, long before I had ever heard Obama's name. I couldn't agree with him more on this, and can't think of anything that's more important for us as a nation.

My own (hyperventilating?) opposition to Bush and McCain is based on the belief that, while one should routinely give one's reasonable political opponents the benefit of the doubt, one should use both barrels against unreasonable opponents who themselves work to erode the stores of public good will and rationality that we seek to restore. Of course one way to characterize our current problem goes like this: we've become too willing to characterize our opponents as unreasonable. Though I recognize this, I can't get around the fact that my considered judgment is that Bush, McCain et. al. are unreasonable. One sign of hope for my logical soul is that I didn't always think this of McCain, but only began to think it about the same time everyone else did. And I haven't gone into anti-McCain overdrive because of any particular policy position of his, but, rather, in response to his own decent into divisiveness and demonization.

But the important point is: even while we fight against the now-rotten McCain campaign, we should keep Obama's goal of unification and renewal in mind. Some liberals, I'm sure, are rabidly opposed to McCain simply because he's conservative--but that is a mistake. Or so I claim. Oppose him with great energy and force because he has become unreasonable and unreasonably divisive, not simply because he is conservative. I expect that folks around these parts agree with that, but there's a reminder anyway.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Palin Can't Discuss Any Supreme Court Case Other Than Roe???

Says Jonathan Martin:
Of concern to McCain's campaign, however, is a remaining and still-undisclosed clip from Palin's interview with Couric last week that has the political world buzzing.

The Palin aide, after first noting how "infuriating" it was for CBS to purportedly leak word about the gaffe, revealed that it came in response to a question about Supreme Court decisions.

After noting Roe vs. Wade, Palin was apparently unable to discuss any major court cases.

There was no verbal fumbling with this particular question as there was with some others, the aide said, but rather silence.
Listen, that's just not possible. She can't even discuss Brown v. Board of Education? Marbury v. Madison? Plessy v. Ferguson? The Dredd Scott case? The Charles River Bridge case? Korematsu? Miranda? Texas v. Johnson? Cripes, not even Bush v. Gore????

Even I don't believe this, and I'm close to believing just about anything about this Palin person.

It can't really be true, right?

Who can't discuss at least two Supreme Court decisions?
Let Palin Be Palin Watch
K-Lo/Rush Edition

By this point, just embarrassing.

So the idea seems to be this: despite the fact that Palin is an unqualified moron, K-Lo hopes to help her win the election by suggesting that she goes on the Limbaugh comedy hour to get out the Neanderthal vote. The idea is, apparently, that, though she doesn't know anything about foreign or domestic policy, paleoconservatives just really like her. And it would be o.k. if such a person were elected on such grounds.

What am I missing here?
Republicans Go Into Logic Tailspin
It's Pelosi's Fault That Republicans Voted Down the Bailout

Wow. The Republican hacks and flacks seem to have hit the warp drive on their sophistry drives. Douglas Holtz-Eakin has particularly distinguished himself, even, perhaps, surpassing the master bullshitter Tucker Bounds. I just heard him (DHE) assert that this was Pelosi's fault--apparently because (a) she gave a speech attributing the problem to a lack of regulation, thus hurting some Republicans' feelings, and (b) the Dems didn't have enough aye votes to pass the bill on their own. Wow. So, Pelosi deserves more blame than the Republicans who voted nay? And the Democrats, who voted for the bill 2/3-1/3, deserve more blame than the GOP who voted against it 2/3-1/3?
Will We Slip Into A Depression For The Same Reason We're In Iraq?

So, as I've asserted before: we're in Iraq basically because Democrats knew that it was too risky to vote against the authorization for the use of force. It was clear to everyone who was paying attention that the case for war was dishonest. But Dems also seemed to realize that if they voted against the authorization, the GOP would go into overdrive, using their votes against them. If the Dems had blocked it, they could easily have been cast out of power for twenty years.

Looks like the same basic thing is going on now. I haven't the foggiest idea what actually needs to be done, but it's fairly clear that the Dems are hesitant to do what they think is right because they know that the GOP will use it against them politically.

Now, one might object to Democratic cowardice, but the issue isn't as clear as you might think. Don't get me wrong--the Dems are pretty wimpy. But, given how disastrous Republican rule has been, even a Dem with the best interest of the country in mind would hesitate to vote in a way that will put the GOP in power into the indefinite future.

Remember: almost no matter how you slice it, and almost no matter how bad the Dems are being, the GOP comes off worse here. If the bailout is a good idea, then the GOP is worse, as only 1/3 of them are voting for it, while 2/3 of Dems are...and the Dems are far less likely to use aye votes against Republicans than Republicans are to use them against Dems. If the bailout is a bad idea, then the Dems can't really be blamed for not pushing it through. So: if it's a bad idea, then neither party deserves any blame, though if it's a good idea, the Dems seem to deserve less blame than the GOP.
Rhetoric Over Reason:
The Pure Pursuit of Power
Bill Kristol 9/29/08 Edition

Republican lackeys seem to more willing these days to be fairly up-front about the fact that it's victory they want, not a rational decision by the American electorate.

Here's Bill Kristol laying down his purely strategic advice. The short version:

Forget about the fact that Palin isn't qualified; Here's how to win anyway.

These people are dangerous.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Will The McCain Camp's Next Stunt Be Bristol Palin's Wedding?

The McCain campaign may be in free fall. Everybody in the world who's (a) paying attention and (b) has two neurons to rub together and (c) is not getting paid by the McCain campaign now realizes/admits that Sarah Palin is a disaster.

But don't count out the Original Mavrixx!(tm) just yet! There may be another stunt afoot--specifically, staging the wedding of Bristol Palin and her boyfriend, and using it to divert attention from the campaign. One McCain inside says that it would be "fantastic," as it would "Shut down the race for a week."

So, in keeping with my policy of trying to achieve agreement ahead of time when possible--can we all agree that, should this happen, it would mark the final and irrefutable proof that McCain is undeserving of the Presidency?

Just wondering...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Insiders Describe Palin as "Clueless"...

...and her performance in mock debates and mock press conferences as "disastrous."

What serious person can find this in any way surprising?
Dumbest GOP Talking Point Ever?
McCain Didn't Look At Obama Because He Can "See Right Through Him"

Wow. Some ditzy Republican Congresswoman [Marsha Blackburn--thx LL]...maybe from TN?...just on the CNN. I couldn't catch her name or stats. Anyway, among the many moronic, transparently false and deplorably irrational propositions falling from her lips was the following: the reason McCain didn't look at Obama was because "he can probably see right through him." (or maybe it was: "he can probably look right through him.")

So there is is, folks--McCain can't actually even see Obama! That's why he didn't look at him!

Obama as the invisible man.

Makes ya think...

Man. These people just get lamer and lamer.
Wrong Question:
"Are We Safer Now Than We Were After 9/11?"

The answer to that is probably yes.


It's pretty scary to realize that the answer is not clearly "yes."

And, of course: it's the wrong question in the context.

The right question? This one:

Is our current degree of safety as much higher than our degree of safety on 9/11 as it should be?

We're probably safer...but we should be a lot safer than we actually are. But instead of taking out the people who attacked us and focusing on effective anti-terrorism measures, we've wasted a trillion dollars on the unrelated war in Iraq. A war which could, all things considered, end up costing us three trillion dollars. And, in fact, a war that does not even rise to the level of being ineffective, but which is, in fact, actually counterproductive, making us less safe and thwarting our efforts against al Qaeda.

It's very, very easy to be a little bit safer than we were on 9/11. But that's setting the bar too low. This is not a complicated point, and the fact that Bush and McCain seem incapable of or unwilling to grasp it tells us much of what we need to know about those two men.
Faux News and New McCain Ad:
Obama Agrees With McCain, Therefore Obama Is Not Ready To Lead

These people are loathsome almost beyond the telling of it.

First the funny part: the ad basically says that, since Obama agrees with McCain (like, three times...), Obama is not ready to lead. That may be the best argument the McCain camp has made yet. You've gotta admit: agreeing with McCain is a worrisome sign...

Now the serious part: this is yet another way in which the GOP helps to erode the foundation of rationality and good will that makes our democracy possible. They explicitly fuel the pernicious, bullshit view that you must disagree with your opponents viciously and on every issue. This is polarization not only as an effect and not only as an intentional strategy, but as an ideal.

This is disgusting.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Debate: First Thoughts

McCain simply pushed me over the edge tonight. I can hardly stand to listen to the dishonest, cantankerous old SOB anymore. Unable to win on points, McCain elected to rely--as has become his M.O.--on lies and nastiness. The guy has become a despicable piece of crap. If it weren't so infuriating, it'd be sad.

We already knew that Obama was smarter, more knowledgeable and more intellectually honest than McCain, and that certainly came across again tonight. Unfortunately, I think Obama needed to punch back harder, especially at the end. McCain took the gloves off and flat-out said that he didn't think that Obama was qualifed for the Presidency. Obama responded with some fluffy feel-good stuff--the kind of stuff of which I normally approve. But I think it was a mistake tonight. I believe that what he needed to do was respond in kind--it's easy enough to do. He should have said that McCain simply doesn't have the judgment or the temperament to be President.

I have a hard time figuring out what normal folks think about these things. It seemed to me that Obama won on substance--but who knows how the rhetorical battle for votes shook out. I fear that McCain's nastiness will pay off...but maybe it will, instead, turn people off.

Note: CNN just showed the Kissinger tape, and it certainly looks like Obama was right on that point.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

K-Lo Has Really Run Out of Material

Well, as I was saying, things are getting pretty zany over at The Corner. Here's yet another desperate, sophomoric jab at Obama from KJL.

Now, am I missing something here, or is she just choosing the most uncharitable and unreasonable available interpretation of 'join us'? I mean, he's not asking for the President to come to the Senate building, right? So in the first quote he's saying, roughly: "there's no need for McCain and Obama to physically return to Washington," whereas in the second quote he saying "The Republicans should support this, along with us." There is no contradiction in the vicinity.

See, there's no need to comment on the fact that the Republican nominee for President is dangerously ignorant of economics and foreign policy. No...it's much more important to free-associate until you can fabricate some contradiction in something Harry Reid said.

Man, that's some pathetic sh!t right there.
Suspension Suspension

Looks like the McCain campaign has suspended its suspension of activities.
Authenticity and Artifice
A Feedback Loop

I've been meaning to recommend this post by Kevin Drum to folks for some time.

The Obama-is-a-pedophile ad is old news by now. (And, sadly, the tacit norms of civility governing our campaigns have been adjusted down once again. Thanks, GOP!) But the more important point in the post is that the Republican scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners policy of character assassination is actually--strategically, though not morally, speaking--a win-win strategy for them. That is: it helps them win, and it helps them undermine the Democratic candidate if he wins.

Kevin--who in this respect at least reminds me of the me of 7.5 years ago--charitably believes that the latter half of the strategy is not actually strategy at all, but merely collateral damage. I'm not so sure.

Now, intentions are vague and largely indeterminate things, and I don't think that, during its campaigns, the GOP aims as intently at undermining Democratic administrations as it aims at winning elections, but I'm inclined to think that the undermining intention is there to at least some degree. It's difficult, I believe, to argue that there was no intention to undermine Clinton even after he'd won his second election. But if electoral victory were their only goal, they'd have abandoned that undermining project. (One could respond that they were aiming at Gore, and that's not an unreasonable response, though I think we'd have to admit it's more of a stretch.)

Perhaps what's really going on is this, though: the twin goals of winning elections and undermining the authority of victorious Democrats are themselves both more like effects of a more primary, less artificial phenomenon. The primary phenomenon is more like this: widespread--though by no means universal--in the GOP is actual disdain for and something like hatred of Democrats--or at least something about Democrats. To be more precise: this is far more widespread in the GOP than it is among Democrats. In their better moments, better Republicans are perfectly fine human beings, of course. The person I respect most in the world, incidentaly, has been active in the North Carolina GOP his entire life (working against the evil Congressional Club of Jesse Helms, incidentally). Some of my best friends are Republicans. And remember, e.g., that they give more to charity than liberals do. I've always thought that was an important point. So nothing here aims at denying the goodness of sensible Republicans. But there's a strong tendency in the party--distributed in complex ways--to genuinely disdain and hate something about (at least representative or paradigmatic) Democrats.

So my suggestion is: the hack-and-slash culture war is partially a strategy...but it's partially just a consequence of something more genuine, more authentic, and, hence, more pernicious: real disdain and hatred of, well, folks like us. It's not artifice; it's genuine.

A further suggestion might go like this: it's partially anger at the policies we advocate, but it's partially other things, too. First, it may be partially a result of the fact that the kinds of people who tend to be conservatives have a stronger natural tendency to demonize their enemies than do the kinds of people who tend to be liberals. (One response to this might go like so: Soviet and Chinese communism give us insight into the tendencies that lie dormant in liberals; serious lefties are notoriously insane and prone to demonize their opponents. Witness, e.g., the frothing-at-the-mouth lunacy of uber-lefty PCers on American campuses in the early '90's. If this response is right, it trumps the suggestion above.)

A related suggestion: conservative anger and intolerance toward those with whom they disagree politically is actually consonant with the tendency toward intolerance in their policies. The irrational hatreds of homosexuals, atheists etc. that are so prominent in American conservatism are, at bottom, hatreds of those who are different. Perhaps--and, again, it's only a suggestion--it's really a fairly generalized aversion to those who are different that's at the root of this aspect of conservatism.

I suppose if I had to guess now, I'd guess that the viciousness of GOP campaigns is as much an authentic consequence of a certain tendency toward meanness and disdain for those who disagree with them as it is a conscious strategy. So maybe Kevin's right about the second prong of the alleged GOP strategy. That is, perhaps they don't really aim at undermining winning Dems with their scorched-earth campaigns, or at least maybe the intention is extremely inchoate. If so, then undermining the authority of winning Dems is just, strategically speaking, a happy consequence of their general attitudes about Dems, and of their attempts to win. (Not that Drum would agree with that, just to be clear.)

But (and here's the kind of point that got me to start this blog up in the first place) the problem--the real problem, the moral problem, the enduring problem--with all this is that it eats away at the core of respect and good will that makes a democracy like ours possible. There's a tacit inclination among many people to believe that the institutions of our nation can maintain justice and order even if the people and parties themselves are hateful or corrupt. But I doubt that it's so. As the Bush administration has demonstrated, laws are to some extent malleable things, and someone who is sufficiently intellectually and morally corrupt can frequently circumvent them while maintaining minimally plausible deniability about what they're up to. Sufficiently vicious and corrupt people will eventually corrupt the system. (Note: that last claim is unsupported, possibly false, and worth thinking about.)

Every vicious campaign, every campaign that stokes the fires of hatred and intolerance in the more dangerous sectors of the GOP base, erodes the common ground of mutual respect and understanding that makes our political system possible. Every time the GOP invents and propagates myths about the moral corruption of paradigmatic Democrats, the moral capital that we draw upon in lean times is depleted. The GOP has allowed its worst tendencies to run amok, allowing itself to believe its darkest, most irrational fantasies about the nature of its opponents. This in turn makes it easier and more natural for them to further demonize Democrats as a conscious strategy. We get a kind of feedback loop: they give in to their inclinations to believe the worst about us...and then, well, what's so bad about lying about bad people? If bad people are sufficiently bad, surely defeating them is more important than being scrupulous about the truth, right? And acting as if you believe x, of course, makes it easier to actually believe x. And so on.

I'm actually sympathetic to conservatives on many issues. My opposition to contemporary conservatism, and to Bush-style approaches broadly constured, is driven by my concerns about dishonesty and demonization and their effect on the body politic. I'm less concerned about particular issues than I am about the background conditions that make our democracy possible, and that make rational debate about all issues possible. And I'm less worried about the viciousness of campaigns than I am about the sources of that viciousness, and the long-term effects on our country.

The viciousness in question strikes me as being something very much like a cancer, and I fervently believe that we should spend more of our time and energy thinking about what to do about it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

McCain's Suspension of His Campaign
A Wee Question
[And Another Wee Question]
[And an update]

The me of about two years ago or so would now be passionately arguing that the best explanation for McCain's suspension of his campaign is that he is genuinely aiming to do his part to address the current financial quasi-crisis.

The me of right now just wants to pose a question:

If John McCain were ten points up in the most recent poll and about to seal the deal with a debate, would he call for a suspension of the campaigns under those conditions?

['nuther question:
Is this an actual suspension of the campaign, or is it just McCain bowing out for a bit? Because if it's the latter, then presumably Palin will continue to campaign. If so, then it's a winning strategy for McCain--both Obama and Biden will have to quit campaigning, but Palin, the McCain camp's most popular campaigner, can keep going. (It'd be a winning strategy even if Biden could keep going, too, of course.)

In fact, even if both campaigns stop completely, it'll still be a winning strategy for McCain, since he's losing what is, in effect, a contest between the two campaigns. Given that you are losing under condition C1, you might as well see what happens if you switch to condition C2.

But I'm sure the fact that this decision coincides perfectly with Senator McCain's narrow self-interest is purely coincidental.]

[And: McCain is also suspending all advertisements, thus pressuring Obama to do likewise. This, again, is a winning strategy for the campaign with less money.
Just sayin']
The Real Sarah Palin
Off the Weirdness Scale




There are so many weirdons emanating from this little scene that it pegged our normally difficult-to-impress weirdometer.

Modern Life in the Unreality-Based Community:

Wanna see something scary? Mosey on over to, e.g., The Corner or thereabouts. It's like peering into an alternate universe, completely detached from the, ya know facts. (Or, as my students might put it, "facts.")

I suppose this is what happens when you decide that anyone who doesn't toe your loony line is biased. What you get is substantial decoupling from the facts, and the epistemic equivalent of the Galapagos Islands...bizarre beliefs that could never survive in the normal world of doxastic competition...but in the relatively predator-free environment of total groupthink, they flourish and continue to evolve toward their surreal and illogical end. What you've got over there is an island full of political platypusses and suchlike.

My favorite might be KJL gushing about how she still loves Dubya.

As Peirce might say, even stupidity and dogmatism in their purer forms can be observed with a kind of aesthetic pleasure, if we can manage to look past their respective tragedy and immorality.
Shenanigans at Intertrade?

I've been wondering about this myself. I tend to check the IEM, which seems more academic to me, hence more trustworthy than Intertrade. As Silver notes, the IEM seems right on the money, currently giving Obama about a 60% chance of winning. But Intertrade has kept things strangely close. The hypothesis: some kind of shenanigans afoot.
Separated At Birth?


The Tangled Web:
Alaska Independence Party Viral Video Edition

At Metafilter.

So....apparently there's a nutty wingnut blogger (no, really) who's been trying to prove that a viral video about Palin's links to the AIP originated with the Obama campaign. But, as it turns out, there actually seems to be stronger evidence linking it to McCain. (Though note: stronger =/= strong)
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, My New Hero

Testify, sister Kaptur, testify.
"Ghost-Writing" Letters To The Editor For McCain

Lying, actually.

Are these people honest about anything?

The actions described in this story are clearly impermissible. But is there any version of such "ghost-writing" that is permissible? E.g. writing generic letter templates, or lists of facts that could be included in letters? I used to think so, but now I'm thinking that perhaps there should be some standard whereby letters to the editor are pure expressions of the actual opinions of the writers. Y' know...authentic.

On the other hand, apparently even op-eds by prominent figures are "ghost-written" (which, in my book, is roughly equivalent to plagiarized).

Any thoughts?
Obama 52% McCain 43%

Facts and logic work slowly and uncertainly on the American public...but at least they do finally seem to be having some effect.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Afghanistan: Bad News

Summarized at Newshoggers.
President 19%

Miserable failure.
DO IT (OUR WAY) NOW OR EVERYBODY DIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111

So, apparently Congress has to approve the bailout plan on the table NOWNOWNOW or it's a financial apocalypse.

Which makes everybody think back to how they also had to give Bush the power to invade Iraq, and do it NOWNOWNOW or we were all gonna die.

And how they also had to approve the Patriot act or there were going to be terrorists sneaking into our bedrooms...and we were all gonna die.

But don't forget about how we had to stop the recounts in 2000 and give Bush the White House NOWNOWNOW...the media kept telling us how restless and panicky we all were...how we had to have a decision I MME DI AT LY!!!

Anyway, remember how well all those other snap momentous decisions worked out for us?
Brad DeLong: Democrats Are Better Republicans Than Republicans Are

Want the GDP to grow? Stocks to go up? Unemployment to go down? Inequality to decrease?

Then you, my friend, want to vote Democratic.

Brad DeLong lays out the charts for you.
Raids Into Pakistan: October Surprise+?
How Bush Can Help McCain Even Without Getting OBL

Sullivan directs us to Scott Horton's piece in Harper's. Why the sudden raids into Pakistan? Everyone with eyes to see knows at least part of the answer:

A. Serious attempts, at long last, to get OBL are serious attempts to engineer an October surprise to give the win to McCain.

But Horton also adds:

B. Now that Musharraf is gone, the administration is willing to conduct the raids. This may be at least in part because the administration is more willing to destabilize the current, more democratic government than it was to destabilize the previous, authoritarian government. This is consistent with things we know about the administration's approach to foreign policy.

But I'd add, more importantly:

C. Aside from A, there's another way for McCain to win this: if Pakistan reacts strongly against our raids, McCain can say, roughly: "See? Those raids were exactly what Obama recommended. Obama's policy failed. And: you can see how I'm different from both Obama and Bush on this."

C might be almost as big a win for McCain as A.

It's worth noting, of course, that this is not the policy that Obama advocated. Obama advocated rare, targeted raids in light of actionable intelligence about very high-level AQ targets--not routine raids that seem almost calculated to stir up the hornets' nest.

Er...do I sound as paranoid to y'all as I'm starting to sound to myself?
The Flacktastic Tucker Bounds
A Very Bad Man

Presidential campaigns are largely exercises in lying and bullshitting. Intellectual dishonesty spreads like wildfire. You stretch the truth in favor of your candidate, it pisses me off and, consequently, I become more inclined to stretch it in favor of mine. Peirce asserts that feelings have a tendency to spread, and so do kinds of behaviors/actions. Anger tends to generate anger, love tends to spread love. Violence has a tendency to generate/spread violence, and intellectual dishonesty tends to generate/spread intellectual dishonesty.

One might argue that folks who become more-or-less ordinarily dishonest during political campaigns can be forgiven. I'm not sure, but let's accept that for the time being. One thing's for sure though: if there's a God, and a hell, then there's a special place in that hell for people like Tucker Bounds. If there are gods of logic, then people like Bounds go into the lowest circle of their hell--a place reserved for people like Dick Morris and Rush Limbaugh.

Unlike average folks and flacks who get caught up in the dishonesty of the moment, truly flacktastic flacks seem actually revel in lying, to delight in the fact that the facts--no matter how clear, pressing, or widely-recognized--cannot make them speak the truth. Set a stone in front of them, and they'll say there's nothing there, and do it with a smirk on thier faces. I am immune to facts, their smirks will say. I can say that black is white, and even the blackest blackness can't change that.

Here is Bounds during the famous Campbell Brown incident. Note that he ends the thing with one of the flack's favorite techniques--he simply asserts something he has no reason to think is true (Palin makes decisions about equipping the National Guard), because he knows that Brown (though she'll smell a rat) won't contradict him. She knows that he is just asserting whatever it takes to escape total, humiliating defeat; she knows he' s just pulling it out of his ass. But that's the difference between people like Brown and people like Bounds--she could just assert that he's wrong (it'd be a good bet, and she'd be right), but she won't. Bounds has no problem asserting something pulled out of thin air so long as it serves his rhetorical purposes. Brown is cut from different, better-quality cloth.

Flackiest bit:

Brown: So tell me. Tell me. Give me an example of one of those decisions. I'm curious, just one decision she made in her capacity as commander in chief of the National Guard.

Bounds: Campbell, certainly you don't mean to belittle, every experience, every judgment she makes as commander --

That's right, folks. Bounds (falsely) asserts that Palin has military command experience because she is in command of the AK National Guard. Brown asks for a single example of a decision she's made. Bounds's response: how dare you belittle every judgment she makes as a commander! This is flacktastic not only because it entails, fantastically, that asking for one example is belitting all judgments...but also because it actually presupposes the point at issue--that she's made any decisions or judgments as a commander at all.

You are an unbelievable piece of crap, Mr. Bounds, with no respect for democracy. You kiss your mother with that mouth?

Here's another bit, this one with David Shuster. Mark is probably right that the most notable thing here is that Shuster doesn't even pretend to take Bounds's transparent bullshit seriously, but just starts laughing at him. Though I think Mark's footnote is important, too: it's really not funny. It's nauseating. Bounds's repeated lies and evasions are, every one, another small cut, another small wound inflicted against the respect for the truth upon which any successful democracy must be built.

It's not actually funny at all, and it's not actually excusable. People like Tucker Bounds are genuinely awful, genuinely harmful, genuinely dangerous people. They look like clowns to you and me, but make no mistake about it--they're actually villains.
I'm Voting Republican

Ask me why!

[HT: Mystic]

Monday, September 22, 2008

3BD: 269-269: The Nightmare Scenario

As if you weren't worried enough.
I Killed the Bridge to Nowhere

Yup. I did it.

I killed it.

I told the Congress "theenks but no theenks for that bridge to noweere."

I'm a maverick and a reformer.

I'm a rebel, a rogue, a rake.

I'm a picker. I'm a grinner.

I'm a lover and a sinner.

Some call me the space cowboy. Some call me......well, you see where I'm going with this.

I'm a rogue and peasant slave.

No, wait...not that last thing. What does that mean anyway?

But I'm certainly a bridge-killer, and don't let the elite liberal media tell you any different. As you know, the facts have a well-known liberal bias.

I've got as much right to say that I killed the bridge as Palin has to say that she did it. In fact, I have more of a right to do so--at least I didn't advocate the thing. Of the two of us, I'm way more the bridge-killer than she is.

So, given the ground rules that have been established in this race, it's clearly permissible for me to assert that I killed the bridge.

So I do.

And I did.

I killed the bridge to nowhere.

Vote for me.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Uneducated Reaction To The Bailout Plan

Now, I'm serious about the uneducatedness--and, ergo, the weightlessness--of my reaction here. I just post such things to sort of keep track of such reactions. My judgments about such matters are worth almost exactly nothing. They're worth about what a coin toss on the matter would be.

But, FWIW (again: nothing), my reaction at this point is, roughly: you're sh*tting me, right?

I'm trying hard to figure out how it is that we're not being asked to give an almost incomprehensible amount of money to a bunch of idiotic criminals because their get-rich quick scheme went awry.

I do understand that there are advantages to be gained for us by doing this...but, then, there are advantages to be gained by turning your wallet over to the mugger. That doesn't mean that you should do it, nor that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Personally, this seems like the soft bigotry of low expectations to me. I say, if you want to be a de facto criminal (even if what you're doing is, strickly speaking, legal), then you need to be good at it. Don't expect the taxpayers to give you a handout just because you weren't smart enough or hard-working enough to achieve the American dream of easy, non-actual-work-related money in incomprehensibly vast sums, cocaine snorted off of hookers' asses, and really stupid-looking suspenders.

But I can't stress enough how little I actually undertand about what's going on.
Stray Thought Re: O'Hare, Sunk Costs, Recoverable Costs, and the Bailout
Or: How Much Trust Should We Seek To Restore?

In his interesting post on the current financial crisis to which I linked earlier, Michael O'Hare writes that, inter alia, there is:
...a recoverable (iii) loss of the particular capacity to create value that is embodied in trust, especially trust that promises will be kept and that a thousand-dollar bond will be exchangeable years from now for a thousand dollars' worth of stuff. The third of these is not irretrievable, and it's really important, because we can have a lot more real economic welfare if capital markets allow people to trade resources across time and among strangers. And it's a cost that, if allowed to stand, is distributed all across society, in other words, almost like "across all taxpayers".
So I was wondering: don't we want some of the trust in question to be lost for good? I know virtually nothing about economics, so I'm not exactly sure exactly which trust we're talking about here, but it seems fairly clear that a good bit of the relevant trust was misplaced. Now, we--meaning, the non-criminal, non-greed-obsessed, non-a$holes...that is, we-not-the-people who caused all this--don't want to foster or promote a system in which normal people have more trust in a system largely run but criminal, greed-obsessed a$holes than is warranted. The only people who want normal people to trust crooks more than they ought to are, well, crooks.

So, since there was too much trust before, we need for some of the trust to be lost.

Though that's not a real loss, is it? It's actually a kind of gain--something like a gained capacity, a capacity to better determine how much trust one should put in the financial sector. Or something like that. No?

O'Hare also writes:
But I think we have to try it, even with the available sorry teams in place, and even with the risk of teaching wrong lessons, because all the social capital of the business world is a terrible thing to lose. Indeed, if we can't recover at least most of it, we're headed for a real catastrophe, because it's the one resource without which we can't create more than stone-age wealth levels.
Here he suggests that we need to recover "at least most" of the trust. That seems plausible to me, for whatever that's worth. But how much, roughly? About three-quarters of it? About nine-tenths of it? What's appropriate?

Speaking merely as an econo-dope, it seems that it's just as important to avoid restoring too much trust as it is to avoid restoring too little. It's important that people realize that the financial sector is basically run by people who are fairly smart, and who spend every waking hour trying to figure out how to take your money without going to jail. They don't want to ruin or kill you--they don't care enough about you [enough] to want any particular outcome for you. Like the Great Old Ones, they are indifferent to you. You have your life to live, and financial affairs are just a kind of sidebar to that life. To these people, finding legal loopholes that will allow them to take your money without donning an orange jump suit is their life--or so it seems.

Now, exactly how much trust was it that you wanted to put in the system run by these people again?

What we need here is what we need almost everywhere--an accurate picture of the relevant facts and attendant risks. So what we need--not to put too fine a point on it--is a system that really does deserve a certain degree, d, of our trust, and, incidentally, a way to communicate this fact to people. We shouldn't--unless I'm missing something fairly big and weird--just aim at convincing people that d is high, because this sounds a lot like trying to convince them that d is higher than it actually is. I don't think O'Hare was disagreeing with that, but I don't think he was carefully focusing on the point, either. But it may, in fact, be worth focusing on.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Falsehoods Do Not Become True Merely Via Repetition
Or: Reality Is Not "Socially Constructed"

O.k., I know this is an obvious and trivial point, but I've got a hair trigger for this kind of thing, so here goes: contrary to what the Post indicates, falsehoods do not become true merely because people believe them. You know it, I know it, everybody knows it. But somebody, somewhere (sociology department, lit department, speech comm department, I'm looking at you...) is telling my students otherwise. And, weirdly, they seem to believe it in some sense. I do realize that the Post is just trying to make a familiar point in an evocative way. Unfortunately, the very ambiguity they're playing on here wreaks havoc in academia. All they mean is that false beliefs can become entrenched before they can be refuted. But, seriously, it's better just to say it that way.

At the beginning of the semester I give my critical thinking students a chapter from a sociology textbook on the so-called "social construction of reality." The chapter is characteristic of much thinking in that sector of the humanities and social sciences in that it proceeds largely by running a bait-and-switch on the claim that reality is "socially constructed." During the "bait" phase, which aims to convince the student that the thesis is exciting and radical, and that sociology is some kind of foundational discipline, the phrase is spun in a way that encourages the reader to believe that reality--actual reality...trees and flowers and chirping birds, rocks and neutrons and quasars--is somehow created by society. During the "switch" phase, when objections become too obvious to ignore, the central claim ("reality is socially constructed") is interpreted to mean merely that our beliefs about reality are "socially constructed," i.e. caused by social forces.

Almost everything that is said about the central claim is systematically ambiguous in a way that makes it possible to spin things either in the exciting-and-radical-yet-utterly-absurd direction (i.e. toward the metaphysical interpretation), or in the much-less-exciting-but-more-plausible direction (i.e. toward the epistemic or doxastic interpretation), depending on how the discussion is going.

This simple piece of deception is almost unbelievably effective. Students--and, apparently, many professors--have a very difficult time fixing on one of the two interpretations, and tend to switch, disastrously, to the other interpretation at crucial points in the argument.

I'm sure you think I'm blowing all of this out of proportion, but this view is a powerful force in certain sectors of the current intellectual landscape, and it has real power over young (and some not-so-young) minds. It really shouldn't be taken lightly. I've had former students who scoffed at my alarmism about this view go off to grad school and contact me later to say, in effect, "you were right--it's everywhere!" So ridicule me at your own risk, Mr. smart guy...

Even when you can, by relentlessly forcing students' attention to the absurdities of the metaphysical interpretation, finally get them to see that only the epistemic/doxastic interpretation is at all plausible, the view still has a trick up its sleeve.

On the doxastic interpretation, it is only our beliefs that are "socially constructed," i.e. caused by social forces. But there are, again, two interpretations of this claim, one exciting but false, and one true but (comparatively) unimportant. It all depends on how you fill in the implicit quantifier. Fill it in with the universal quantifier, and you get "all our beliefs are caused by social forces"--and that is the central thesis of the so-called "Strong Program(me)" in the sociology of belief, a.k.a. the sociology of "knowledge" [sic]. Pick a lesser quantifier, e.g. 'many' or 'some,' and you get something far less radical and far less important.

But the thesis that all our beliefs are caused by social forces is--as with the metaphysical interpretation of "reality is socially constructed--radical and exciting, but false. Most of our beliefs are actually caused by physical objects, not social forces. For example, I now believe that there is a pen on my desk. What is causing that belief is the pen. There's nobody around insisting that I believe in the existence of the pen. So: not all of our beliefs are caused by social forces. This same argument can be repeated for most of our beliefs.

At this point it is common for advocates of the thesis to try to defend it by pointing out the obvious: that the word 'pen' is a social thing, and that I only use that word (instead of, say, 'stylo') because of social facts. But that, of course, is a very, very, very different claim. But--true and, in fact, entirely uncontroversial though it is--falling back on this claim constitutes the final abandonment of the original doxastic thesis. "I speak English as a result of social forces" is a completely different claim than "social forces cause all my beliefs," not to mention "reality is socially constructed." Social forces, of course, determine what word I use to refer to pens, but this does not dermine whether I believe (i) there is a pen on the desk or (ii) there is not a pen on the desk or (iii) something else entirely. (It's also worth noting that, though all thought may be in signs, not all signs are linguistic, so even if the point at issue were sound, it would not take us to the conclusion that all thought is in some sense social.)

So what we're left with is something like "some of my beliefs are caused by social forces." Now, it's really too bad that sociologists et. al. don't stick with this comparatively humble, yet still vitally important claim. I think it's actually safe to say that many of our beliefs are caused by social forces, many of them irrational (both the forces and the beliefs). This is the kind of point we should all remind ourselves of every morning...and it's too bad that so many of those in the best position to remind us of this fact feel compelled to blow it out of proportion in such a perniciously misleading way--and a way that conceals the importance of the more modest point in a haze of confusions and falsehoods.
Michael O'Hare:
Sunk Costs and Recoverable Costs: The Bailout

Man! Economics is so cool.
McCain 4.0: The Unbalanced Populist

O.k., first, look at the picture here, and tell me you aren't overcome with a kind of anticipatory relief at the thought of grown-ups taking control of our country again.

Though, is it just me, or might that look on Obama's face be: er...not so sure I want this job anymore...

But to the point:
Has McCain gone mad or what? Doesn't that little scene, with Republicans chanting "give it back!" strike you as...surreal? I mean, seriously Is it, um, Obama who's supposed to give it back? Or... Wall Street...? "Fat cats"? I'm really confused.

But, of course, the real story here is the fact that McCain has cranked up his lie generator (his prevarerator?) again. You might have thought he'd maxed it out. You might have thought he had it up to ten.

But this baby goes to eleven.

Now--somehow--the financial crisis is Obama's fault. Apparently he has personally profited and he is personally responsible. You may have thought he was merely a Muslim pedophile who wanted to teach children about what the Koran has to say about condoms. But no. He is also personally responsible for ruining the American financial sector.

So I guess that McCain is going to keep throwing outlandish charges at Obama until he can find something that sticks. And I guess he's going to keep trying on new personae until he finds one that resonates with somebody. We've already had Classic McCain, Maverick McCain, Extra Wingnut McCain (with Nepotism Barbie sidekick, complete with Naughty Book-Burning Librarian glasses), and now Populist McCain.

And now this is just embarrassing.

Unless you also count: scary.
Patriotism and Taxes

Just a quick thought on this:

Conservatives are howling about Biden's claim, but it's hard for me to think of anything significantly wrong with it. In fact, I've had the same thought myself many, many times, and I'll bet you have, too.

My version of the thought goes like this: if it's permissible for us, occasionally, to ask eighteen-year-old kids to go across the ocean and be killed to defend this country before they've even lived their life, then I think it's permissible for us to ask people making a quarter of a million dollars a year (plus) to pay their fair share of taxes.

Is it patriotic to pay your taxes? Given a basically just country with a basically fair tax system: yes, so far as I can tell. It's patriotic to do your fair share for your country, and that means paying your fair share of taxes. And that's all anyone is asking of anyone, including the $250k+/yr set.

Look, I think that grumbling about your taxes is as American as apple pie. In fact, I think it's kind of important to grumble about your taxes. It's a way of reminding the government to neither tax nor spend frivolously. I actually feel like I have some kind of duty to grumble more about my taxes, though my heart's just not in it.

But I am really fed up with people who have more money than any reasonable person needs whining so vociferously any time anyone even suggests that they pay their fair share. The tax burden on the rich impacts them far, far less than my tax burden impacts me, and you don't hear me whining about it. It's downright disgusting if you ask me. Which you didn't.

But I do actually have a better idea: how about all you lackwits who voted for George W. Bush pay the three trillion dollars for his crack-brain war? That'll significantly reduce the tax burden on a lot of us.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tactical Advice: Preemptive Strike Against Swiftboating

The Swift Boat Veterans for Bald-Faced Lies is gearing up against Obama, as are many similar groups.

Striking against them now, given their stated intentions, would be a preemptive strike (not to be confused with a Bushian preventive strike.)

My advice, FWIW: Don't wait and react, strike first.

And, again, not with some tricksy attempt to beat them at their own game--we can't do that. They're just meaner, crazier, and more willing to be dishonest than we are. Rather, the Obama camp should beat them like they beat the McCain lies--with a direct attack on the dishonesty itself.

How would this go? Well, we don't know exactly what lies they'll come up with (though we can guess at a few), but one option would just go something like this:

The group that Swiftboated John Kerry by lying about his record in Vietnam has now pledged to attack Barack Obama. This group and other 527s have stated their intentions to bring down the Obama campaign no matter what the cost, no matter what the methods. A wave of dishonest and dishonorable anti-Obama ads will soon hit the airwaves. What can you do to help? First and foremost: do not believe the lies. Second, if you're tired of being lied to, and tired of extremists manipulating American elections, consider making a donation at BarackObama.com, volunteer at one of our local offices, and vote for Senator Obama on November 4th. Let's take control of our country back from the fringe.

Ya' know...something along those lines.
Dishonest Ads From Obama?

Haven't had time to investigate this, but Sullivan says that several of Obama's new ads are dishonest. Here, here, here.

Anybody know whether Sully's right here?

The overriding issue here is, of course, the moral one...but this would be stupid on a merely strategic level. As I've said many times before, the only way to win this kind of battle is to be scrupulously honest. The press will only call out your opponent if the truth gap is a chasm. If the "symmetry of sin" claim is even vaguely plausible, it will become the conventional wisdom.

As I've said before: hit back hard, but do not lie.

Why is this so hard?
Sarah Palin, Snow Machine

Two of my most astute friends, Johnny Quest and the mighty Armenius have said basically the same thing to me about Sarah Palin: I know this woman. Not that particular instance of her, they said, but other people exactly like her. Neither terribly bright nor terribly articulate, she nevertheless is enough of both to pass in the eyes of those who want to like her. Armed with unwarranted but unshakable convictions and self-confidence, she bulls her way forward, undaunted by even tasks she is manifestly inadequate to. Big fish in a small pond, she's gotten by largley on looks and a complete lack of self-awareness and -criticism. Woe be to those who get in her way.

A career built on smoke and mirrors, luck and pluck and bullshit.

A very dangerous kind of person under the wrong conditions.

Say, as the President of the world's sole remaining (hobbled, wounded, semi-staggering) superpower.

If you've really listened to the woman talk, you can't be anything but stunned and outraged that anyone could take her candidacy seriously. As others have noted, she sounds like she really is speaking in tongues after all. And the content ranges from brainless to self-contradictory. Garbled strings of sentences unhindered by the constraints of logic or subject-verb agreement. Like a bad undergraduate paper. Like some kind of parody, though God knows of what.

And don't forget: this isn't just a candidate that our culture-warrior friends are tolerating...this is a candidate they love. This is a candidate they believe to be not merely acceptable, but full of greatness.

Think about this a bit, and you'll sleep a little less easy at night.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Blue Blood vs. Rednecks

Our new friend the "Lady" Lynn Forester "de" Rothschild is back in the news already.

De was the irritating pseudo-European pseudo-royalty who said she'd be supporting McCain because Obama was an arrogant elitist.

Seems like our good buddy de has been throwing around a certain disparaging term for rural Americans... In particular, 'redneck.'

See now, being part redneck myself, I can tell you that rednecks are often o.k. with calling themselves rednecks...but they're not wild about other people doing it.

Could this be a clever ploy by HRC to help out Obama? Send out your most annoying and off-putting lacky to announce that she's supporting McCain just before she makes several extremely dim-witted assertions?

Anyway, keep up the good work, de!

For a McCain supporter, you make a great Obama supporter.
You Can't Make This Sh...tuff Up
Rothschild Anti-Elitism Edition



Oh, man, you guys gotta cut this stuff out you are killing me!

So, as you may have...wait. Excuse me...


Oh God.


So, as you may have heard, "Lady" Lynn Forester "de" Rothschild, noted person with too much money, former fund-raiser for HRC, and apparent leading-light of the self-parody industry, has announced that she will now be supporting John McCain because...wait for it...Barack Obama is "arrogant" and an elitist.

Oh, man, you morons out there have got to stop doing this stuff. You are killing me. Seriously!

O.k., let's just pick out a few things to talk about briefly here, k?

Nice announcement, "de." I mean, has it ever crossed your mind that nobody knows who you are, and nobody cares who you're supporting? Because it crossed my mind...

I saw our good buddy de on CNN last night, when my new hero Campbell Brown made her look quite the fool just by asking her a few fairly obvious questions. De were not amused. When Brown pointed out that it seemed a little peculiar for a talentless piece of pseudo-European pseudo-royalty to call the hard-working son of a single mom from Chicago an elitist, de said, archly: "You know it when you see it."*

Well, de, I know a few things when I see them, too. And I think we all know a thing or two about you at this point as well. But let's be polite enough not to talk about the majority of them.

Since Obama is so clealry not an "elitist," one has to wonder what the burr under de's saddle really is. My guess: even famously inbred pseudo-European pseudo-royalty recognizes at some level that, well, it's generally just not that bright. Rich dumb people are still dumb, and "Obama is an elitist" is probably code for "Obama thinks he's smarter than me," which is how arrogant people translate their own thought: "I think Obama is smarter than me."

The nerve of these peasants!

Being better than their betters.

Off with their heads!

Oh, man. You really just can't make this stuff up, can you? It's like the dimensional wall between our universe and the Onion universe has broken down.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Backfire Effect

Lots to say about this...sample far, far, far...far too small to draw anything but the most tentative conclusions...but interesting. And consistent with what we already have reason to think.

As is so often the case with such psych testing, the experiment doesn't seem especially well-designed. But the suggestion is:

Republicans who believe false things believe them more strongly after they are presented with evidence against them.

At least liberals are merely immune to evidence...whereas it has a kind of reverse effect on conservatives.
She Was Called "Barracuda" Because She Was Vicious To Her Own Teammates
And Other Interesting Facts
About Sarah Palin


The picture that's emerged thus far:

Sarah Palin has only ever had a relatively small amount of power, but she has abused the hell out of what little she's had.

This is a very, very dangerous person.

Even if we dodge this particular bullet, we should drag the nation's attention back to this moment. The very fact that someone like this could get anywhere close to the presidency should scare the hell out of the country and sober it up a bit.

Though, of course, this is a country that elected Dubya--twice--and in which 1/3 of the population still thinks that he's doing just dandy. So facts don't seem to play a particularly important role in our assessments of such things...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Unreality-Based Community Loses A Little More Of Its Tenuous Grasp Of Reality

First it was the Doughy Pantload claiming that John McCain didn't know how to [couldn't] use e-mail because of his POW injuries.

Now we get: Lyin' Sarah's tanning bed may be to ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Whiny, implausible, health-related excuses: not cool, folks.

In fact, just plain embarrassing.
My Gal

George Saunders on Sarah Palin.

Man, I wish I were this funny.
Palin Quotes Fascists

You really couldn't make this stuff up.
When Republicans...Almost...Get Laid

Read this story.

You will not be disappointed. It's the heartwarming story of a conservative douchebag (excited, for example, at the prospect of a McCain presidency because it would mean "less taxes and more war" and eager to invade Iran and then plunder its resources to reimburse ourselves for our noble effort), and what happens when he comes as close to getting laid as he ever will.

It couldn't have happened to a more deserving asshat.

(via Andrew Sullivan)
McCain Invented the Blackberry

Oh, lord, this is almost too perfect...

Monday, September 15, 2008


Count the lies.

Pretty sweet idea.