Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What Happens When You Don't Know Any Philosophy
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry and the Abortion Debate

Replying to Yglesias, Mr. Gobry writes. That anti-abortion arguments "have nothing to do with metaphysics." Rather, they depend on the purely and irrefutably scientific conclusion that "life begins at conception." He continues:
Now, science isn’t a moral guide. The fact that a fetus is a living human being doesn’t necessarily entail that it should receive legal protection. But again, resolving this issue requires no recourse to metaphysics.
It requires asking what are the criteria for qualifying as a person endowed with rights.

At first blush, it seems to me and many others that the entire project of the Enlightenment and modern Western civilization is premised on the idea that every single human being has certain inalienable rights. That these rights are not earned through accomplishment or inherited from forebears but that they are, well, universal, received simply by virtue of being human, and that it is incumbent on any just, or at least liberal, government to protect the rights of all human beings under its writ, not just the most visible.
O.k., here's the thing. Although there are a couple of ways to go here, basically what Mr. Gobry says entails that the crucial issue is in fact, a metaphysical one. Specifically, it's an issue about personhood. Nobody really thinks that every living human thing has rights--else we'd have to say that every human cell has rights, and that even someone with their brain destroyed has rights. Nobody thinks that. Being human and being alive are not sufficient for having rights. That prompts us to ask the question: what additional conditions must be met? One common way to put the question is, roughly: what makes something a person? (where a person is taken to be something that definitely does have rights.) And that is a metaphysical question.

Oddly enough, knowing some philosophy helps when you are going to talk about philosophical issues.
Why Do Libertarians Defend Autocrats?

I've wondered this, too. My answer has always been: b/c many "libertarians" I've met are (as a genuinely libertarian friend of mine once put it) crypto-conservatives.

Of course this redirects our attention to the question "why have American conservatives been so eager to support Autocrats?" There my answer has usually been "because they like them, and in some cases envy and want to be them." But also "because many conservatives really don't value freedom all that much; what they value in this vicinity is capitalism." Much of the fervent anti-communism of the right was not motivated by a love of freedom, but by a love of capitalism. Of course the latter has a non-trivial relationship to the former...but they are largely separable.
Carolina Ranked 30th In USNWR Rankings


Well, it does suck that it's dropped ten spots since the rankings criteria changed (to emphasize, e.g., size of endowment), but you can't complain about being nestled between Michigan and William and Mary...

[via Inside Carolina]
Lichtman Doesn't "See How Obama Can Lose" in 2012

So, the American U. professor who has correctly predicted the outcome of every presidential election since 1984 says that Obama is basically a sure thing in 2012.

Praise Jebus...finally some good news. Let's keep that streak alive, Professor Lichtman!
World's Seven Billionth Person About To Be Born


We really, really need to start tapping the brakes on population growth. There are way, way, way too many of us. This is madness.

[via Reddit]

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bachmann: Who Likes White People?

Jebus Christ, Wonkette. Are you people complete idiots?

You've got to be spinning at very high RPMs to buy some crap like this.

Not to mention the rest of the text...  Non-white people don't like white people? And white people who read history don't like white people? 

Jesus. It's crap like this that the GOP uses to sustain itself.
"The Sixteen Words" Were False

So, Darth Cheney is back from the grave to settle some scores. One of the propositions it makes him happy to assert is that the infamous "sixteen words" in Bush's 2002 SoTU speech were true.

This doesn't matter all that much. The administration lied and mislead and spun and dissembled throughout the entire lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. It was, in effect, one big lie, even if they were willing to say true things on occasion if they absolutely had to, and tried to avoid outright lies when other forms of deception would do. It was irresponsibility of the highest order, and it is not clear when--or, indeed, whether--the U.S. will ever stop paying the price.

But, just for the record, so far as we can tell, the "sixteen words" were, in fact, a lie. Those words were:

"The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Again: this dispute doesn't really matter. It's a drop in the bucket...or in the ocean...of deception. But, so far as we know, the CIA had, at the time of the speech, concluded that the British government was wrong. And the administration knew this--that's why they appealed to the beliefs of the British government rather than those of the CIA. Consequently, it was false to say that the Brits had "learned" that Saddam had sought the uranium. It would have been true--though in effect a lie--to have said that the Brits believed or had concluded that Saddam sought the uranium. But to say that they had learned that he sought it was an outright lie.

In case you have any doubts about this, consider the following analogous case. You need your insulin, and you need it right now. You send Smith and Jones to find it. Jones thinks he sees it locked in your car, and says so. Smith simultaneously discovers that Jones is wrong, and that the insulin is, in fact, in your house. But what he says to you is: "Jones has recently learned that your insulin is in your car." Now, Smith would be in effect a liar even if he had uttered the highly misleading truth "Jones thinks your insulin is in your car." But if he says "Jones has learned that your insulin is in your car," then he is not only the moral equivalent of a liar, he is, in fact, a liar. He said what he knew to be false. He knew damn good and well that Jones had not learned the location of your insulin. 'Learn' is a success term, like 'know.' Jones does not know the location of your insulin, and he has not learned it, because he is wrong about it. And Smith knows this. And Bush knew this, as did Cheney and the rest of them.

And, one more time: the very fact that the phrase was crafted in the way it was is evidence of consciousness of guilt. They tried to craft a phrase that would be technically true, but misleading--that was their m.o. during the extended campaign of deception leading up to the invasion. They could have easily done it if they'd just have been content with "the British have evidence that Saddam tried to purchase uranium"...  But they just couldn't help themselves--they pushed it over the line into outright lies. Again, the distinction between an outright lie and the deceptive use of truth is not an important one. But they want to try to hold the line at we didn't technically lie. As it turns out, however, that is not true.
Yuri Levin, "Science and the Left"

Classes started yesterday, so no time to go through this with a fine-tooth comb...but here are a few thoughts.

First, I've long thought that American liberals (there's no real American "left," IMHO...) should maybe be a little less smug about their relationship to science. I've heard liberals say the damndest, dumbest things when scientific findings do conflict with their commitments. To use an example recently discussed by Kevin Drum, try to have a sensible discussion with liberals about the heritability of intelligence and see what happens to you.

If liberals' political commitments conflicted more frequently with science, I think they'd act a little more like conservatives in this respect.

But that's a fairly weak criticism--if liberals, like conservatives, did hold bunch of positions contrary to the scientific evidence, then they would be more likely to reject science. But they don't, and they aren't.

I do think that the liberal temperament (as I've often said) tends to be less dogmatic than the conservative my prediction is that liberals would be more likely to concede the point to science...but it's not clear.

As for the substance of Levin's piece...well, it's not terribly good.

1. Bacon held, notoriously, that knowledge is power, and that the point of science is to control nature and improve man's estate. Levin argues that, by taking environmentalism seriously, the left has abandoned this view, ergo it is anti-science. This argument is fallacious for several reasons. First, the Baconian view of knowledge and science is not the only view and, in fact, it is not the dominant view. The dominant view of science in the West is a view that dates back to the beginning of Western thinking about knowledge. According to this view, knowledge is good for its own sake, and the point of scientific inquiry is acquire knowledge for the sake of knowledge. We find this view, for example, in Aristotle. Technology may improve man's estate by manipulating nature, but science qua science seeks knowledge with no ulterior motive.

2. Environmentalists do not hold that it is wrong to manipulate or control nature. They hold that it is wrong to destroy nature. Levin is attributing crackpot views of environmental extremists to all liberals. On the right, anti-science is orthodoxy; on the left, it's fringe.

3. Levin speculates that it's some kind of postmodern obsession with/aversion to power that drives liberal environmentalism. This is false. It is, rather, the view that nature is valuable, partially in virtue of being beautiful and necessary for our survival. Liberal environmentalism is a fairly modest view that goes roughly like this: hey, how's about we not fucking destroy the entire planet? You don't have to be a postmodern nut to think that this is a decent suggestion. Postmodernism has fair influence on the lefty left...but exerts no influence on your garden-variety American liberal.

Levin in no way shows that liberals are as bad as conservatives on this score, nor that they're anywhere near as bad.

Monday, August 29, 2011

So This is Small Government
Rick Perry and Mandatory STD Vaccinations for Sixth-Grade Girls

W. T. F.

I didn't know about this until this morning. This is a kind of craziness that I would never have predicted from a wingnut like Perry. I mean, dude's a nut...but I didn't think he was that kind of nut. If forced to bet, I'd have guessed that this was some kind of lefty lunacy...but eager as I am to thump the left in order to bolster my rapidly-atrophying centrist credentials...I'd really have a hard time believing that even a really nutty, really lefty liberal would advocate such a policy.

I don't suppose there's any real reason to point out, yet again, that it's not the size of government that really matters, but how intrusive it is. And the GOP is perfectly happy to micromanage our personal lives. Even if this particular bit of micromanagement is bizarre even by their standards.

Apparently this was not ideological, though...but, rather, just good old-fashioned corruption. The lead hypothesis about this insanity is that it was a gift to Merck. Jebus. What madness.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Onion: GOP Praises Nixon for Making Libya Victory Possible... allowing Qaddafi to take over in the first place

"Before thanking reporters for their time, Graham quickly added that Barack Obama had failed on every level and will always fail on every level."

This would be funnier if it deviated in any significant way from reality.

[h/t The Mystic]

Friday, August 26, 2011

Science and the Allure of Pessimism

When I first began snooping around in the world of ideas, I became smitten by pessimism. This is common among adolescents with intellectual pretensions. Atheism, determinism, behaviorism, moral nihilism...the more stark and depressing the doctrine, the more I liked it. Any theory that allowed humanity any shred of dignity was suspect; my specific suspicion was that people only believed those things because they didn't have the intellectual courage to face the cold, awful truth. Me, I had the courage. In fact, it soon became clear that I was not only willing to embrace such doctrines, but eager to do so. This, I think, is a common, if sophomoric, intellectual quirk. Many of us get over it; many of us don't. In my own case, many of the more pessimistic views survived a more sober and objective assessment...but many did not.

Unfortunately, I'm often given occasion to reflect on the allure of pessimistic views, in part because cognitive science--or at least what percolates down to folks like me--currently seems to be engaged in a race to the bottom in this respect. Consider the tedious suggestion by Mercier and Sperber that the primary function of reason(ing) is argumentation and persuasion, rather than finding the truth. (This discussion is what prompts this post.) This is an unlikely suggestion, and I'll eat your hat if it turns out to be true. It'll pass. At worst, it'll take up a place next to detritus like the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis--too fascinatingly depressing for some to let go. (If it doesn't, fine--it actually has almost no implications for our view of ourselves and of rationality. It in no way, for example, means that our current efforts to discover the truth are illusory or futile.)

It's not the specific suggestion that interests me, but, rather, the generic allure of the pessimistic. We read, over and over, breathless posts about deflating human pretensions--as if we had any left at this point--and facing the cold, hard facts about ourselves, our lives and the universe. Of course, these alleged facts often have little to speak for them other than their coldness--they haven't been proven, or even terribly well-supported, and certainly haven't epistemically outrun their competitors...but still, the suggestion seems to be: if you don't believe this, you are soft-hearted and soft-headed.

It's very unlikely that persuasion and argumentation could become important for a species that could not reason in order to discover the truth. Reasoning and persuasion probably grew up along side each other, and my guess is that their histories are entangled. But be that as it may, at some point we're collectively going to have to get over our sophomoric fascination with the pessimistic. The puerile game of recreational debunking--especially when it infects science (and, let's face it, semi-science), is a destructive force. We should be willing to bravely face unpleasant truths if necessary, but gleefully favoring the pessimistic is no more rational than is timidly turning away from it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

U.S. Population Grows Nearly 10% In A Decade
We Are Doomed
Nobody Cares

Here's a chirpy CNN story on how our population grew 10% in a can click on the interactive map to see where most of the growth happened! And get little essays on how it affected "your community"!

No mention of the fact that this is part of an enormous environmental disaster. No mention of such growth being unsustainable.

I suppose that, long about the time it becomes more-or-less too late, we'll start to hear about it nonstop. Until that time...hey, no problem!
Nyhan on Noonan

More on Batty Peggy's latest lunacy.
Peggy Noonan and "Narrative"
Making Shit Up

If you think that "narrative" (in the trendy sense) is a respectable concept, then here's something you should enjoy: Peggy Noonan just making shit up about Obama.

She's "constructed" a "narrative" with only the wispiest connections to the, y'know, facts.

Conservatives have, since before Obama even took the oath of office, been calling him "the black Jimmy Carter." Yes, he's a reasonable man who had high hopes for bringing civility and cooperation to D.C...yes, he is succeeding a disastrous, criminal Republican president...but none of that is what Republicans mean. The moniker shows that, lacking any substantive criticisms, Republicans decided to try to hang one of their generic criticisms of Democrats on him--he's feckless or something. It's not terribly clear. Other generic, groundless criticisms: he's "all talk," he's arrogant. Whatever.

Of course no one could have turned around the Bush/Cheney disaster in three years...especially with the GOP working its hardest to undermine any Democratic president. But the facts just get in the way when we have a good "narrative" in mind. So Noonan does what she does best, and what the GOP is intent on doing: making up a story ("constructing a narrative") according to which Obama is a terrible president. Of course if Saint Ronnie of the Teleprompter had gone through the same thing, he'd have been the steely-eyed patriot, the Last Sensible Man, fighting the good fight against the chaos of Washington. And so forth. Noonan, like so many of her ilk, has her story...oops...I meant narrative...'story' is far too mind ahead of time, and it is impervious to facts.
Axiom 1: Obama Is Wrong About Everything
Libya Edition
The Insanity of Conservative Foreign Policy

The GOP's current Axiom 1 is: Obama is wrong about everything. This is an unshakable, unquestionable assumption, and no evidence can ever count against it to any degree. All evidence must be evaluated in light of this assumption, to be reinterpreted or rejected if disconfirmation threatens.

Here's E. J. Dionne on Axiom 1 as applied to Libya. As we know, according to the GOP, Obama should (i) not have intervened in Libya and (ii) should have intervened sooner and taken a more active role.

It does not matter that the actions he took were judicious and reasonable, it does not matter that he took the best available course of action, and it does not matter that it seems to have worked. It's an axiom, people--it is known a priori and with absolute certainty...

Here's how American foreign policy has gone in my lifetime:

Liberals argue for modest steps in the direction of living up to our principles by eschewing alliances with the most brutal regimes, modestly pressuring some governments to stop oppressing their people, and pushing for judicious interventions (e.g. in the former Yugoslavia).

Conservatives respond that we must be "realists", i.e. that it is never permissible to take human rights into account when making foreign policy. They argue that "we cannot be the world's policeman," and that the very fact that liberals would make such suggestions shows that they are too hapless and naive to be trusted with foreign policy. Conservatives then--not regretfully, but downright eagerly--back brutal dictators and repressive governments in order to gain--at best--modest and equivocal strategic advantages.

However, when conservatives decide that one of their pet dictators has gotten annoying, or that we need some more oil, or when the blowback from their original brutal policies becomes problematic, suddenly they begin waving the flag, singing "God Bless America," and speaking in pious tones about our sacred duty to defend the innocent and spread democracy. They don't actually care about actual human rights, but they are willing to use it as a stalking-horse when they decide they want something done. Hell, they even convince themselves that they care about that stuff. Then they engage in some monstrous, over-the-top intervention that...well, insert facts about the $3 trillion Iraq fiasco here...

When liberals are back in power, and again suggest modest, reasonable actions to--genuinely--advance human rights, we return to the beginning of the cycle, and conservatives decry the steps as foolish and naive. (See: Libya.)

(Oh, and: it doesn't help that liberals then tend to criticize conservative follies by saying that "you can't impose democracy at the barrel of a gun," a criticism which is not only demonstrably false but at odds with the core liberal view at issue here--that sometimes we need to help the good guys throw off their oppressors. There a a lot of good criticisms of the insanity of conservative foreign policy...but that ain't one of them.)

The first major realization I had when I was first coming to learn about foreign policy as a teenager, and shrugging off my early Republicanism: conservatives cannot be trusted with foreign policy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bill Bennett: Strategies for Denying Obama Foreign Policy Victories

Bennett shows how to drag your feet when it comes to the foreign policy victories of your political opponents.

Not that any sane person is counting any chickens in Libya yet...but, of course, it's never to early to point out that it's too early to proclaim victory. The point is to get out on the leading edge of this and remind people that nothing ever counts as an Obama success.

Wonder what tune Bennett was singing at a similar point in the Iraq debacle? Of course the standard conservative line on that is: it's too early to tell. Even liberal victories may some day turn into defeats...and even conservative disasters might some day lead to unpredictable payoffs. Who, after all, can say? A double-standard means never having to say you're sorry.
The Conservative Rejection of Science Is Just an Instance of The General Dogmatism Problem

Here Drum discusses Kevin Williamson's claim that liberals are no better than conservatives when scientific conclusions conflict with their political commitments.

A few points:

1. Williamson has a point. I've seen liberals tailspin into jaw-dropping irrationality when the facts conflict with their politics. And Williamson picks a good example: the heritability of intelligence. I've seen perfectly reasonable liberals turn into gibbering fools when discussing this and similar issues.

2. As I've asserted many times, I think that one important aspect of this problem is this one: the farther one moves from the center, toward the radical extremes, the more dogmatism one encounters. The current American right is more extreme than the current American left, ergo more dogmatism.

3. However, dogmatism does seem to be more characteristic of the right in general than of liberalism. Characteristic liberal vices tend to be more along the lines of skepticism, relativism, wishy-washy-ness, and so forth. (Here I distinguish liberalism from the left (qua hard left) maybe those are really more centrist-y vices.)

However all that shakes out:

4. The conservative problem with science is just a special case of the more general problem of dogmatism on the right. Contrary to what many science-y liberals tacitly believe, science is not magic. The reasons to believe the conclusions of science are not special ones; they are of a piece with the reasons to believe anything supported by the evidence or spoken for by reliable authorities. Science is not a special case.

I've spoken with many conservatives who rejected scientific conclusions when they conflicted with conservative orthodoxy...but those same people were also willing to accept and espouse clearly absurd positions in cases in which the facts were clear and no special expertise in evaluating the arguments was required. For example, they were willing to assert that Obama immediately became responsible for the economy as soon as he took office. (Not: responsible for improving it...but, rather, responsible for its condition.) Now, no expertise in economics is required to recognize that this is an absurd thing to think, so this is not a case of rejecting science, but of rejecting obvious facts that anyone should be able to recognize. Surely such people would, in ordinary cases, recognize the absurdity of such a claim. If I wreck the family business and you take it over on Monday, I can't start blaming you for its condition on Tuesday. This nonsense goes so far as near self-contradiction when they, e.g., blame Obama, but not Bush, for taking vacations, though the latter took something like three times as many vacation days at a similar point in his presidency.

The real problem is not the conservative rejection of science, but, rather, conservative dogmatism. (Again: liberals can also be dogmatic--if you doubt it, try discussing concealed-carry laws with your liberal friends--but they are not currently so afflicted by the vice as conservatives.) In fact, at least in the case of science, conservatives are merely refusing to acknowledge the authority of experts--experts whose credentials and track records they are, in fact, unfamiliar with. This is probably a less egregious error than accepting blatantly bad reasoning about which any ordinary person is well-positioned to make a good judgment. At any rate, it doesn't make much sense to single out the special case of science here.
Contemporary Conservatism In Six Minutes
Bill O'Reilly vs. Ben Stein

Wanna see contemporary American conservatism represented in six minutes? You could hardly do better than this clip of Ben Stein and some other dude on Bill O'Reilly. (Start around 3:15, or you'll have to hear O'Reilly's gibberish about Obama's vacation, too.)

Even O'Reilly's hand-picked guests don't agree with his ignorant bullshit, but BILLO is wrapped in the armor of invincible ignorance. No matter what his guests say, no matter how they try to reason with him, O'Reilly just ignores them, repeats his talking points and/or changes the subject, and moves on with the attitude of someone who has proven his point.

The motto of contemporary conservatism: don't bother me with your fancy reasoning; I know what I know.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Criticisms of Obama's Vacation: The Double Standard Strikes Again

I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that some wingnuts are criticizing Obama for taking a vacation--since they criticize everything he does, they'll criticize this.

But just for fun, a comparison of some recent presidents with respect to vacation days taken by this point in their presidencies. Obama comes in way under Dubya and St. Reagan, but has taken more than Clinton did.
The Quake: I Blame Obama

I mean, it happened on his watch...
Our Earthquake

Just felt my first earthquake. I've been in the vicinity of a few back in MO, and in VA, but always managed to be driving or asleep or something, and have never felt one before. This one was a very palpable shake.

USGS link.

Possible epicenter. [h/t The Mystic, who was even closer to it than I was]

This was apparently felt as far away as Canada.

Not exciting to you CA types, I'm sure, but notable for this neck of the woods.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The "Narrative" Narrative
Why "Narrative" is Bullshit

Terminological atrocities abound, but one of the ickiest among the current crop is "narrative." So far as I can tell, the term first gained popularity in the weaker reaches of the humanities, roughly among LitCritters and suchlike. It was fashionable among such folk to assert that everything was a "text," that "interpretation" was the fundamental cognitive act, and that "theory" (meant to be ambiguous as between literary theory and all other kinds) was somehow paramount. Good terms can have shady pasts, but it's hard to see any good coming out of these origins. Eventually 'narrative' caught on in the political reaches of the chattering class, and now we seem to be stuck with it. Narrative, narrative, narrative. Try to read about American politics, and you'll trip over this irritating term right and left, but mostly left. Even the sober Kevin Drum has to use the term, at least when discussing one of the newest non-issues, whether or not Obama can craft a "narrative," and whether or not his inability to do so is his biggest failing.

Please, oh please, stop using this annoying term. It does little more than give small, relatively clear assertions and questions an air of profundity...and to obfuscate them. A narrative is a story. Is Obama's biggest problem that he cannot tell a story? No, it is not. Nobody should care about whether or not Obama can tell a good story about our current problems. What he really needs to do is tell the truth about them. Sidebar: they're mostly the GOP's fault, though, of course, not entirely. The GOP created most of the debt, was in the vanguard of crashing the economy, and now, through a combination of (a) accepting bad economic theories and (b) putting politics over policy, they are hellbent on keeping the crisis a crisis, at least until November 7th, 2012. But that's a side issue here.

The awfulness of 'narrative' is not innocuous. The term arose for a reason, and it continues to do the job it was coined to do: blur the line between facts and fictions. The term encourages people to believe that telling stories alters the facts, and/or that stories are more important and facts less so. If we want to talk about our current problems, why not talk about them clearly and plainly? It's not about "constructing" a "narrative," it's about confirming and disconfirming economic theories, about identifying the consensus of economists, and about true and false accounts of history. It's also about getting true or at least well-confirmed theories and accounts to the voters. Screw the "narratives"--just give 'em the essential facts, clearly stated. If we could do that, we'd take a giant step toward solving our well as toward a Democratic victory in 2012.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Glenn Beck: Magicland

This, by Laurie Winer, in the LA Review of Books, is really interesting.

It is not news that Glenn Beck is to some degree out of touch with reality. In fact, his grip on reality is so tenuous that this should be clear to any sane person within a few minutes of hearing him speak. In fact, that's one of the scariest things about him--he's got a huge audience of people with such faulty bullshit detectors that they apparently can't tell that he's nuts. That is some scary sh!t right there, dude.

Anyway, that's not news. But for those of us who do have functioning BS detectors, Beck's origin as a radio shock jock (or, more properly, to use my friend Computer Phil's term for such people, a "laughing assh*le") makes perfect sense. And what makes even more perfect perfect sense is his "Magicland" stunt, in which he made up a story about a gigantic underground amusement park, and got some of his more gullible listeners to go looking for it. Seriously, check out the piece--it all coheres perfectly with the story of the Beck we have come to know and abhor. Definitely worth a read.
I Already Can't Stand Rick Perry
And: Is Texas Americaland?

I really knew almost nothing about Rick Perry until a few weeks ago and I already can't stand him. You might think that's a hasty judgment, but the thing is, it turns out that I already know the guy. The macho strutting and posturing, the hatred and disdain for those who disagree with him, the blatant goddamn stupidity...unless I (and many others) are way wrong, it's all there.

The thing I don't understand about these assholes is all this macho bullshit. I grew up on a farm in the Missouri Ozarks...which, when we stopped growing crops and started raising more beef cattle, became legally a ranch. We owned and rode horses. I've always owned and shot firearms. I've got as much connection to all that stuff as Perry. And, to be honest, there was more than a hint of the hillbilly about our family. We were pretty damned country when I was a kid. We were not what you'd call progressive, nor sophisticated. "Faulkneresque" might describe us better. But you know what there wasn't any of? Macho bullshit. Oh, there was bullshit; just not that kind of drag-show check-out-my-uber-masculinity nonsense. We worked hard, we hunted, we rode around on tractors and in pickups, we even wore cowboy hats in a straight-up, keep-the-sun-off'n-yer-head, non-ironic way. (More often: feed caps. There was some inclination to save the cowboy hats and boots for trips to the annual horse show over in the county seat.) But there was no time, energy nor inclination for nor towards that macho crap.

We did not posture nor strut around so that people could check out how tough and manly and shit we were. Such a person would have been derided mercilessly back home, back in the day. I guess things are different in Texas...I guess they're really, really different. Back home, back in the day, a guy like Perry'd be getting his clock cleaned with some regularity, just on general principles. In Texas, apparently, his performance art or whatever it is apparently plays pretty well. This helps to solidify my hunch that Texas is like Americaland or amusement-park version of the real thing...
Behold, Rick Perry

If you can read this account of Perry's first official campaign appearance without throwing something across the room, you have more self-control than I do.

This guy seems to be a dangerous lunatic.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Impeachment Fever--Catch It!

Another Republican--from Texas, no less--calls for the impeachment of Obama.

The GOP apparently holds that no Democrat nor any liberal...nor, it seems, even any non-conservative at all...can be a legitimate president. Perhaps this view needs a name. Perhaps 'illegitimism' would suffice.

At any rate, given that the GOP edges closer and closer to that view, and given that they also edge closer and closer to the view that any tactic is permissible to undermine a Democratic president, we should expect to see even more of this kind of thing.

As I may have mentioned before: these people are crazy.
Idiot Du Jour: Brett Stephens

Wow. You'd think that the WSJ op-ed page couldn't get any worse, wouldn't you?

Well, you'd be wrong.

The wingnuts hate Obama. Oh yes they do. He may very well be, as you may recall and according to them, the Antichrist.

Now, you'd think that even those who are blinded by their Obama hatred would have to admit a few things, among them that the guy is smart. Misguided, they might say...the crazier among them might even say that he's evil. But there's really no denying his intelligence. But that's exactly what this Brett Stephens does deny. Obama, he asserts, just "isn't very bright."

Now, Bush wasn't the sharpest billiard ball on the table, so I'd be interested to see whether Mr. Stephens thought that fact worth mentioning...just as a touchstone for the conversation...  Obama is clearly significantly brighter than you'd think Bush's demonstrated lack of smarts might warrant a comment from Stephens. Of course it didn't--I don't even need to take the ten seconds to Google it to know that. 

Even someone fairly dim, if underanged by partisan tribalism, should be able to tell that Obama is a smart fellow. So Mr. Stephens is either an idiot, or he is blinded by partisan antipathy...or he's just insulting the president because he doesn't like him. These things usually come mixed together, so that's why I'm going to guess: a stew of stupidity, partisanship, and venom. Congratulations, Mr. Stephens, a trifecta!

My guess would be that the desire to insult is a fairly substantial component here. Kant tells us that the willingness to bet is the measure of belief. So here's a little experiment to test that hypothesis: suppose Stephens's life depended on a bet on the proposition Barack Obama is intelligent. Which way do you think Stephens would bet? Yeah, that's what I think, too.

Here's a slightly (but only slightly) more practical bet. I'm willing to bet Stephens on the results of an Obama IQ test. For every point Obama comes in under the average, I give Stephens $100--or, rather, if he likes, $1000. For every point the president comes in over the average, Stephens gives me a like amount. Of course there's basically no chance of the president taking the time to take such a test...but I'd be willing--in fact, damn eager--to make such a bet. The same would obviously not be true of Mr. Stephens. He would, obviously, avoid such a bet like the plague. Which would show what we already know--that he doesn't believe what he writes. That is, that it was little more than an insult.

In case the mere details of the bet described above are not congenial to Mr. Stephens, we could set the mark not at an IQ of 100, but, hell, let's say at 115--nobody can say that people with IQs of 115 are "not very bright." Does anybody really think that the president's IQ is going to come in under 130 or so? No, they do not.

Mr. Stephens is obviously no rocket scientist, but my guess is that he's not dumb enough to believe what he writes in the WSJ. It's just an insult, and just one more example of the derangement of the American right. Hatred and contempt for Obama--a pretty fair president by historical standards, and a man who stands head and shoulders above the last Republican occupant of the White House--has driven them to say flat-out stupid things. Stephens's screed is just a small drop dropped into the right-wing fever swamps.
Everybody Turns On Obama

I don't expect much from Richard Cohen, but this drivel fails to live up even to my low expectations. Ditto this by Dana Milbank. Among the many nauseating things about this kind of faux-analysis is that it's post-facto whining about Obama's failure to change things that are not in his control. If we'd gotten any of this earlier that would at least mitigate its awfulness. Instead, Cohen, Milbank et. al. simply needed something panicky and critical to write after the downgrade/market slump, so they spewed out some nonsense about how Obama isn't crying enough (note: I am not making that up) and so forth.

Yes, I still support Obama. Yes, I think he's done a pretty damn good job with what he has to work with--a country run into the ditch by the Bush/Cheney/Rove administration, and a GOP hellbent on his destruction. No, I don't think he's done everything right. He's been too conservative and too conciliatory--and I say this as someone who values centrism and consensus. He hasn't focused enough on unemployment. Still, I think he's done well; I wouldn't have done half so well, I can guarantee you.

I do not think that Obama will be re-elected. I've never thought that the winner of the 2008 election would be a two-term president. Presidents are evaluated by the public largely on the basis of how well things are going while they are in office. Most voters have little idea how good or bad a president is--how smart his decisions are, how well he did with what he had to work with, and so forth. They have some idea whether things are going well or badly, and that's what they base their vote on. Obama has done a good job with the nearly-hopeless situation we inherited--but that won't matter much in November of 2012. I expect that the Tea Party downgrade will shake up the GOP enough to get somebody like Mittens nominated, but not shake people up enough to keep a Republican out of the White House. (Nate Silver puts Obama's chances of re-election at just over 52%--dismal odds for a personally-popular incumbent.) I'm already trying to mentally prepare myself for the ignorant, slobbering crowing of the Limbaughs, Coulters and Becks when the hated Barack Obama goes down in flames...  Get ready to listen to it for the rest of your lives. He's "the black Jimmy Carter," as one of my conservative friends likes to say, and you'll have to listen to that kind of crap for the rest of your natural lives.

I'm not advocating giving up, of course. And there is a zero percent chance of the GOP nominating someone even remotely as good as Obama. But the left wing of the Democratic party has been whining about Obama for years, and now the Village people--the Cohens and Milbanks--are starting in with their chicken little routines. Wingnuts are highly motivated by their hatred of any Dem who occupies the White House, which they see as their birthright. The GOP is using all their power to make sure things stay bad, and the economy is more than cooperating. On top of this, Obama's own mistakes--listening to Summers and Geitner, for example, and underestimating the severity of the unemployment problem--are not helping. The picture is bleak. Which, to me, means that we need to get out there and fight that much harder--I am, in fact, going to write a check to the Obama campaign today. Sadly, I rather doubt that most of the folks on my end of the spectrum will see it my way. Things have gone bad, and they are not likely to improve sufficiently to turn things around. It doesn't matter how smart and reasonable Obama is, and it doesn't matter how well he's done with what he has to work with. Things must be better in order for him to be reelected. And they have to be better well ahead of the election. Which means, at minimum, in about eight months. If things don't get better--and soon--we'd all better get ready for eight years of GOP leadership. Hey, on the bright side: it's unlikely to be one of the real kooks, so the odds of them being as bad as Bush/Cheney are very, very low. (Woo hoo! U-S-A! U-S-A!)

Of course, if things do start turning around, we'll get opposite pablum from the Cohens and Milbanks of the world. Even, I suppose, if a passing comet sprinkles gold, blueprints for fusion reactors, and ponies across the country, such people will be praising Obama for his wise leadership. Things are bad, it must the the president/things are good, it must be the president.

So keep your fingers crossed for that pony thing...

Monday, August 08, 2011

Thanks For the Economic Disaster, Republicans

I used to be non-partisan. The Bush/Cheney/Rove administration basically ended that. Not that I'm really a Democrat...but the contemporary GOP is a clown show / train wreck, and there is approximately a 0% chance of me voting for a national Republican any time in the foreseeable future. So I doubt that I can any longer be called an independent.

With regard to the current chapter in our national tailspin, so far as I can tell, the GOP (a) created the deficit, then (b) turned the deficit into a national issue (c) purely as a political tool in their on-going quest to destroy Barack Obama; they (d) held the world economy hostage, (e) refusing to compromise in any way, until (f) S&P downgraded our credit rating, at which point they, of course, (g) blamed Obama.

The Teatard temper-tantrum looks like it will, however, accomplish its main goal, which seems to be: weakening Obama politically. Added bonus for the Teatards: since there is no falsehood too false for contemporary Republicans, they've begun to blame Obama for all this...and they're doing it with the straightest of faces. Once you leave the reality-based community, all things are possible politically...