Saturday, October 30, 2010

Stewart's Rally

I didn't go to the rally, despite living less than 3 hours from the Mall. (Various reasons--insomnia flaring up with a vengeance, lots of grading to do, worried it would be nothing more than an episode of The Daily Show, etc.) But I did watch it while I was taking care of some mindless work, and I thought Stewart did a damn fine job.

I mean, one guy--and a comedian no less--can't save the country with one rally, of course. But he struck a good tone, and did a damn fine job. According to me, anyway.

It's too bad that rhetorical considerations force him to basically pretend that the left and the right are currently equally kooky--but that's the nature of the beast. Best to err in that direction, I'd say.

Needless to say, I don't know what to do about our current troubles. This rally is not going to make Limbaugh or Beck less popular, and it's fairly unlikely to make, say, Olbermann throttle back. But you can only do what you can do. Sometimes all you have to do is say something out loud, and reasonable people will wake up and realize that they've been semi-thinking the same thing all along. I've got no doubt that this will have some effect; the question, really, is: how much of one? Perhaps not appreciable; but perhaps not not appreciable.

I can say that, speaking for myself, it made me renew my interest in searching around for reasonable conservative voices on the web. There's clearly a place for ridiculing the stupid, but it's not clear how effective that really is. Perhaps encouraging the non-stupid is a better way to go...

Anyway, its back to grading for me. But there's my take on things, FWIW.

[Incidentally: my hypothesis is that most of the Mythbusters stuff was in the service of estimating crowd size. I eagerly anticipate confirmation and/or disconfirmation...]

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity"--To Go Or Not To Go?

So JQ and I thought we'd go up to the rally...but then I heard Stewart say, basically, that it was not a political rally, but, rather, would be like a version of The Daily Show. I mean, I'd schlep up to D.C. and fight the crowds for a rally to, y'know, restore sanity...but not to watch The Daily Show. In an enormous crowd. And especially not to then have to stand around waiting for the Metro to clear out said enormous crowd.

Anybody know what's up with this rally, or have any thoughts on this.

I'm also not too encouraged to hear rumors about a largish HuffPo/PETA presence...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Virginia Thomas's Disingenuous Request for an Apology;
A Little Bit Weepy and a Little Bit Creepy

So it turns out that Virginia Thomas, wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, left a phone message asking Anita Hill for an apology for her testimony against Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings.

Here's the message, according to the NYT:
“Good morning Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas. I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.”
Perhaps there's a certain degree of sincerity in Ms. Thomas's request, but odds are it's largely calculated, and simply a way of calling Hill a liar...but with (to use the nauseating Reaganesque term) "plausible deniability."

Stripped of the hemming and hawing, Thomas is saying:
(a) You (Hill) should apologize
(b) You should explain why you did what you did to (not "with") my husband.
Of course (a) assumes that Hill owes an apology; given the charges in play, that means it assumes that Hill is lying.

And (b) presupposes that Hill did something to Justice Thomas (lied about him), and assumes than an explanation is owed (so that's just a continuation of the theme of (a)).

What's most likely here is that the request for an apology per se is just the tail; the dog is the presupposition/assumption.

Thomas might as well have simply called up Hill and called her a liar. That's roughly the effect of the call, and it would be vastly more honest and less loathsome to have been honest and forthright about it. This sort of pusillanimous, conniving attack is nauseating in the extreme. If you're going to open old wounds, stomp your foot and insist you are right, at least have the guts and the common decency to be honest about it--don't disguise your tantrum as a chirpy request for some kind of reconciliation.

Of course we have little reason to think that Hill lied. When it all happened, I didn't know what to believe. But after David Brock admitted to making it all up [that is, the charges against Hill]--aided and abetted in his creative writing by the right-wing noise machine--things became a lot clearer. If you haven't read Blinded by the Right, I recommend it--highly.

At last report--the last one I heard, anyway--Brock had still not contacted Hill personally to apologize for lying about her and smearing her good name. He did express deep and profound regret for his actions, and he acknowledged that he probably (" ") owed Hill the money he had made by smearing her...but he basically admitted to being too weak and selfish to give up the nice house in D.C. that he'd bought with the money. At least he is honest and intelligent enough to admit he owes it to her...though that doesn't mean that he's exempt from blame for not paying a debt that he himself acknowledges that he owes...

He's redeemed himself to some extent by being so honest and insistent about his guilt in this matter--that's not easy, and it's vastly more that we get from most in the sphere of the political. Perhaps he can redeem himself a bit more by stepping forward again now, and again proclaiming, loud and long and publicly, that he made it all up.

That, of course, does not show that Hill told the truth; but it eliminates almost all the reason to think that she lied. I don't want to give the impression that I think this is a toss-up; after long and careful consideration, I came to believe Hill and disbelieve C. Thomas. But that's not the topic here; the topic here is V. Thomas's bizarre, faux-heartfelt faux request for an apology--a "request" that comes off, I might say, as both a little bit weepy and a little bit creepy. Couching her renewed attacks on Hill behind teary presuppositions of victimhood, and concealing both behind a kind of insincere request for that's a weird, nasty bit of business right there. But V. Thomas's actions fit fairly nicely into the most plausible theory of the Hill-Thomas incident; and, in a way, these actions probably shouldn't come as all that much of a surprise.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

And So It Begins...Again...
The Return of the "There's No Difference Between The Two Parties" Meme

It's not like Reddit is the home of incisive and nuanced discussions of maybe it'll die there, among the 19-year-olds...

Or maybe 2012 will be a replay of 2000, only this time I'll get to listen to passionate little speeches from people about how there's no real difference between Obama and Palin, and how the only rational thing to do is to cast a vote for perennial loser/lunatic Ralph Nader...

Oh, I can hardly wait!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stanley Fish on Preserving Humanities Departments

At the NYT.

( a big rush...)

I've never really been able to get fix on this guy. He was at the forefront of turning LitCrit at Duke into a far-left po-mo joke...then he kinda sorta turned into a standard-issue liberal when he started writing for the NYT.

Here, so far as I can tell, he argues that, though there is no good reason to sustain humanities departments, university professors ought to do so anyway. That's not quite it, because at the end he writes:
That’s O.K. It’s not their job to value the humanities or even to understand them. But it is the job of presidents and chancellors to proclaim the value of liberal arts education loudly and often and at least try to make the powers that be understand what is being lost when traditions of culture and art that have been vital for hundreds and even thousands of years disappear from the academic scene.
The Humanities, he argues, can't defend themselves on economic grounds, and are suspected of being substanceless fluff by the public. I just want to note that, first, there are good reasons for being suspicious of the humanities...and, incidentally, Fish and his ilk helped to make the suspicions rational. In all honesty, much of the work in the humanities is crap, and much of the crap is crap because it's po-mo horseshit. The humanities, even at their best, risk silliness; it's the nature of the beast. Put deconstruction and cultural criticism and lefty politics and other po-mo nonsense the core of your so-called methodology, and now being full of shit is almost unavoidable.

So, anyway, the first step is for the humanities to become respectable again by ditching poststructuralism and related silliness. An intellectually respectable literature department is still going to have a hard time justifying its existence to an economically-minded public...but at least it has a fighting chance. But if you spend your time writing papers and teaching classes on nonsense, then you probably don't deserve public money. So stop being idiots and start deserving it--it's your duty to humanity and the nation, for one thing. But if you're going to put dopey far-left politics at the center of your discipline, don't whine when the public doesn't want to pay your salary anymore...

But deserving resources is, sadly, not enough to get them. Philosophy departments could easily justify themselves by pointing not to their core mission, but, rather, to the secondary fact that they happen to teach people to be good reasoners. Want to get into a good law school, but don't like math? Philosophy is the major for you (except you should learn some math...). You probably think it's poly sci, but that's not true. Look at LSAT scores, for example. But nobody really cares that philosophy is one of the best disciplines for really, actually educating you and training your mind. At my school and others, many, many more resources go to e.g. the educationally-nearly-valueless "communications" department, because, hey, if you don't know what you're talking about and think about it for less than five minutes, communicating sounds like this, like, really like important if you learn to, y'know, really communicate, you can do all sorts of things. Departments largely get funded because they market themselves well to undergraduates and their dollar-conscious parents, not because they actually teach people things. Nobody thinks that "communications" is a serious discipline for serious minds...but it sounds marketable,so it flourishes. So there's that problem, too--even deserving funding doesn't mean you'll get it. But it's a start...

Anyway, I do think that humanities are worth preserving, but...philosophy possibly excepted...more for what they were and could again be than for what they currently are.

That's not a neat ending here, but I'm starting to bore myself.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mark Halperin: "Obama Is In The Jaws of Political Death"


With the exception of core Obama Administration loyalists, most politically engaged elites have reached the same conclusions: the White House is in over its head, isolated, insular, arrogant and clueless about how to get along with or persuade members of Congress, the media, the business community or working-class voters. This view is held by Fox News pundits, executives and anchors at the major old-media outlets, reporters who cover the White House, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders and governors, many Democratic business people and lawyers who raised big money for Obama in 2008, and even some members of the Administration just beyond the inner circle.
Such bullshit is almost beneath my contempt. This is just made-up nonsense. There are no quotes in the entire article.

Oh, it's not that I don't think that the Obama admin could go down in flames, get beaten in 2012, and go down in short-term history as a disaster.

For it could, it could.

That's what happened to Jimmy Carter, after all--and he was a pretty good president.

But, see: steal a presidential election, fail to take warnings about terrorism seriously, fail to provide a steady hand in the wake of the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil, let the perpetrators escape so that you can start a bogus, irrelevant, counter-productive war that saps our blood and treasure, and ruin the economy...and the press won't really do any more than tut-tut at you a bit.

But fail to play the Washington game like they want it played...find yourself with an economy devastated by the other party and fail to fix it immediately...try to reason with both friends and enemies as if they were adults instead of just playing power politics...these things, my friends, will not be forgiven. For these sins, you will be branded The Worst President Ever by our friends across the aisle and their sidekicks in the media.

Some friends of mine on the right have long liked to refer to Obama as "the black Jimmy Carter"...and I've always thought that the comparison was apt, despite the erroneous intent to insult. Carter was a good man who did a pretty good job for the country given the crappy hand he was dealt. But he didn't have the bullshit in his soul that the country seemed to want. Make good policy, and sit down and speak truths to the American people even as if they were rational, and, apparently they hold you in contempt. Smile stupidly and tell them that it's "morning in America" and you are apparently to be revered as the greatest of recent Presidents...whether or not your administration circumvents the law.

I've never thought that Obama would be a two-term President. Until McCain picked Palin, almost half of me wanted him to win so that the GOP could reap what it had sown. But, not only could we not risk Palin, things had gotten so bad that I figured that four years of Obama--even if followed by eight (or twenty) years of unjustly blaming the Dems for failing to fix the disaster the GOP had made--was better than another four years of a Republican president (and, I thought, Senate).

Obama is about where I'd expect him to be in the polls given the state of the economy and the fact that the right-wing noise machine has cranked it up to eleven. Instead of just saying this, we get brainless losers like Halperin making up just-so stories about how the administration is imploding. (Remember...these are the same folks that brought us a breathless electoral "emergency" in 2000, despite the fact that the public was perfectly calm and wanted everyone to settle down and count the votes...)

Jesus, when did everybody get so stupid?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Nation's Hatchet Job on Lou Dobbs


Although I (apparently unlike most other liberals) think that illegal immigration is a major problem, I'm not wild about Lou Dobbs. But this story seems to me like a hatchet job. There's not a lot of evidence that Dobbs knew that the people working on his estate were illegal--they were hired by contractors. It's pretty weird to think that Dobbs has an obligation to check the immigration status of everyone who works for all the contractors--e.g. landscapers--he hires. Furthermore, just because Dobbs thinks it should be illegal to hire illegals, that doesn't mean he thinks that he ought to personally demand to see the papers of everyone who works on his property. I think it should be illegal to hire illegals...and I recently undertook this absurdly extensive renovation project on my house. One contractor we hired--the drywaller--had a couple of guys working for him who didn't speak English. Now, (given the area, the job, etc.) there's a non-negligible chance that those guys were illegal...but am I going to, like, demand to see their papers? Or have some kind of confrontation with their boss? No, I am not. I am not an a**h*le, and I don't want to make these guys' lives harder. I think there should be a law--but there isn't. And I'm not going to go all Minutemen on 'em. I think the contractors I hire should be obligated to make sure everybody working for them is in the country legally...but I think you're an a**h*le if you go up to the two Hispanic guys and demand to know their citizenship status.

Anyway, is Dobbs a hypocrite? Well, maybe...but this story doesn't prove it if he is. And, of course, even if he's a hypocrite, he might still be right about many things. I'm not wild about The Nation anyway, and this story does nothing to change my opinion....
Judge Jails Lawyer for Not Saying Pledge of Allegiance

Not fascist police officers this time, but fascist judges...

(Though this video shows up in comments, showing a parade of fascist cops...and one good one.)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Intellectual Dishonesty, Again

Well, that's basically the topic that launched this humble blog. A semi-prominent discussion of it is currently taking place.

Not time now, but I'll say this:

Kinsley's account of it seems rather too broad, as it counts scrutinizing and testing your beliefs as necessary conditions for intellectual honesty. Those are necessary conditions for intellectual responsibility, but that seems like a different matter. Now, if the reason you don't, say, check your beliefs for consistency is that you fear you'd find an inconsistency, then that's being intellectually dishonest. If, on the other hand, you're just not an inquisitive nor intellectually responsible person, then that's a vice, but not intellectual dishonesty.

Anyway, here's a suggestion I've made before:

When people talk about intellectual dishonesty, I often get the idea that they are thinking something like this:

Intellectual dishonesty is like standard-issue dishonesty...but, y'know...just intellectual (so: a less-serious moral transgression).

I suspect, though, that something more like this is true:

Intellectual dishonesty is dishonesty; full stop (so: as serious a moral error as standard-issue dishonesty). Oh, incidentally, it's about intellectual matters

I think people think of intellectual dishonesty as lying to yourself, and they think of lying to yourself as less serious than lying to others. I doubt both of those propositions. I suspect that lying to yourself is every bit as bad as lying to others. And, to boot, it seems to me that we often, in effect, reason publicly when we speak, and to be dishonest then is to be dishonest to others. Listen to somebody like Rush Limbaugh talk, and you see a paradigm of intellectual dishonesty on the hoof. He's thinking out loud, being intellectually dishonest in a very public way, wending his way through a given piece of intellectual terrain, specifically making for salients that make liberals look bad, cautiously avoiding or diligently spinning evidence that, taken at face value, is bad for conservatives.

Anyway. Intellectual dishonesty is, I think, the root of a very great deal (most?) of the the political evil that plagues our democracy. We'd avoid a huge great chunk of our problems if we were just honest about matters. We'd still be left with persistent disagreements...but at least we would clear away the haze of "death panels" and whatnot (which are sustained because even folks in the GOP who know better won't speak up about it). (Dems are guilty, too, of course, though not nearly as guilty over the past 15 years or so; but you can fill in your own examples of that stuff.)