Thursday, October 30, 2003

I've been zipping around the blogosphere, flipping back and forth between the Lefty blogs and the Right-wing blogs until--no kidding--my eyes are scary bloodshot. Here's something that kept coming to mind:

"Why one contradicts. One often contradicts an opinion when it is really only the tone in which it has been presented that is unsympathetic." -- Neitzsche
This is one ugly blog. In a way, it’s actually two ugly blogs, since it was ugly with the other template, too… But I can already tell you, the probability of me getting enough spare time to learn how to build a purdy blog is exactly zero…

Monday, October 27, 2003

Sadly, no time for detailed links to examples, but here's a fast-and-loose observation:

The Righty sites tend to argue that things are going well in Iraq; the Lefty sites tend to argue that things are going badly.

I've already commented that I think that the Lefties are radically over-estimating the strength of the following argument:

Things are going badly in Iraq
Therefore: We shouldn't be there

But, those issues aside, we should try to figure out the answer to the question: how well/badly are things going?

It's ridiculous that, with all the coverage of Iraq, we don't know the answer to this question. Of course, there are a couple of major impediments standing between us and the knowledge we seek. Among them:

(A) We can no longer trust what the Administration tells us about Iraq

(B) The Big Media, as usual, tend to focus on the spectacular rather than the quotidian, so we hear far more about deaths and explosions than soccer games and marriages

But another problem is:

(C) Most of us have little idea what counts as going well and going badly in a case like this.

A Republican-yet-intelligent friend of mine who knows his history tells me that we lost a lot of men in the occupation of Germany after WWII. Some of the Righty sites have noted that after WWII there was a lot of we're-losing-the-peace
stuff flying around, too. A Lefty friend tells me that the Lefties are saying that we lost NO men to enemy fire in the occupation of Germany. We might be able to triangulate on this issue by answering that eminently answerable empirical historical question: how many men did we really lose in the occupation after WWII? The analogy is imperfect, of course: Gulf War Episode II is not WWII. But if we really did lose few men after the fall of the Third Reich, then it suggests that
we should count the occupation of Iraq as relatively difficult--though, as I've said, we have to be careful about what conclusions to draw from that. On the other hand, if the occupation of Germany was lots worse, this might suggest that
occupations of this kind are generally tough, and, consequently, that the difficulty of the matter per se shouldn't cause us to panic overmuch.

Just some suggestions. I'll try to find some links when I get some time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

I'd like to be able to say that the following is unbelievable, but it isn't. James Madison University, where I teach, is located in Harrisonburg, VA. Last Monday morning, at about 4:50 am, someone set a house on fire, apparently because the owners had an anti-war sign on the house. Several acts of vandalism had already been perpetrated against their house. Read all about it at the Daily News-Record Online. (Can't get a direct link. You've got to go to the archives for 10/21/03).
"A man must consider what a blindman's-buff is this game of conformity. If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument. I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic the expediency of one of the institutions of his church. Do I not know beforehand that not possibly can he say a new and spontaneous word? Do I not know that, with all this ostentation of examining the grounds of the institution, he will do no such thing? Do I not know that he is pledged to himself not to look but at one side,--the permitted side, not as a man, but as a parish minister? He is a retained attorney, and these airs of the bench are the emptiest affectation. Well, most men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief, and attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true. Their two is not the real two, their four not the real four; so that every word they say chagrins us, and we know not where to begin to set them right."
-- Emerson, "Self-Reliance"

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

According to The Washington Post, the Bush administration has banned "news coverage and photography of dead soldiers' homecomings on all military bases." The Post clearly suggests that the administration has done this for PR purposes, in order to avoid weakening support for the war. Given the timetable and other facts that they cite, this conclusion seems virtually unavoidable.

It's crucial that we not fall into the trap of interpreting all of the Administration's actions in the worst possible light; it's also important that we not exaggerate the badness of its apparently bad acts. However, I simply can't think of any benign interpretation of this policy. On the face of it, this is another case of the Bush administration putting politics before truth--and, in this case, before honoring our dead. Perhaps another plausible interpretation will emerge, but I'm not optimistic. It will be interesting to see what they think about this over on the Right side of the blogosphere.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Here's a little something from CNN. com:

Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a former head of U.S. Army Special Forces who is now involved in the search for Osama
bin Laden, said in a speech to a Christian prayer group in June that radical Muslims hate the United
States "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and roots are Judeo-Christian and the
enemy is a guy named Satan."

Let's treat the last element in his list as a rhetorical flourish, shall we? (Please let it be a rhetorical flourish...) As for his first two reasons...well, they probably do account for a good bit of it--we ARE talking about the radicals, after all. They also hate our policies, some of which they are rational to hate, some of which not. But what really seems to get bin Laden's goat is our liberalism. On that count, OBL is, of course, in agreement with the likes of Alfred E. "Pat" Newbertson and his portly toady Falwell...

But there's more:

He also said that when dealing with a Somali warlord, "I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an

Oof. That's about the worst thing one of our officials has said since aWol's "crusade" comment... Then there's Boykin's explanatory backpeddling:

"My comments to Osman Otto in Mogadishu were not referencing his worship of Allah but his worship of money
and power; idolatry. He was a corrupt man, not a follower of Islam. My references to Judeo-Christian roots in
America or our nation as a Christian nation are historically undeniable,"

Now, does anybody out there believe that he was really talking about "money and power?" I mean, he might have been, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it, and neither should you. And nobody in the Middle East is gonna believe it, anyway. Damn, that was a stupid thing to say in public.

As for the alleged undeniability of our "Judeo-Christian roots"...well, those roots are certainly less extensive than folks like Boykin think. And it is, of course, simply false to say that his "references to...a Christian nation are historically undeniable." Well, alright, it's not simply false, because the sentence doesn't really make any sense. But he's pretty clearly trying to assert that the U.S. is a Christian nation. How many times do we need to point out that this is not a Christian nation, it's a secular democracy with a lot of Christians (God love 'em) in it? Sheesh. Was this guy asleep in seventh grade civics class?

Thursday, October 16, 2003

As part of my project to convince my fellow liberal centrists that we need to take conservatives more seriously, I've been cruising around on some of their sites today. I just returned from Note that I'm not linking to it. Oh my god. We're all doomed. Either those people are all nutty as my mom's fruitcake, or I'm so blinded by my political convictions, look, there's just no significant room for a fallibilistic alternative possibility here. They are all nutty as my mom's fruitcake. Jesus H. Christ! Do you have any idea what's going on over there? I keep putting up these whiny little posts around here..."oooh, we need to be less partisan" and "ooooh, we need to try to see things from their perspective" and all that crap... And then I go over there to what seems to be thought of as the flagship of conservative sites... And they're all bleedin' crazy as loons. Every post over there is either about how Jesus is coming to smite the liberals, or how liberals hate Jesus, or how Jesus hates liberals, or how Glorious Leader will smite the liberals in 2004, or about helping Glorious Leader to raise more money with which to smite the liberals in 2004...and then there are the anti-Hillary Clinton Jokes...what the Hell is it with those people and their undying hatred of Hillary Clinton? It's creepy as Hell. I'm not given to these kinds of explanations, but I can't avoid the conclusion that there's a healthy dose of sexism behind all that... The first thing I saw when I went over there was a piece trying to argue for creationism by using examples from Clint Eastwood movies (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, I think it was...but I get 'em all confused.). I am not making this up. No, really. I am not making this up. We are doomed...doomed...doomed...
It's kinda weird... Some liberals--e.g. the revered Counterspin--are noting reports of unhappiness and low morale among U.S. troops in Iraq, seemingly suggesting that this provides an argument against the war/occupation. But that seems mistaken. Suppose we were engaged in a war or occupation that we all recognized to be just, and suppose that similar reports about troop morale reached us. Presumably we wouldn't take that morale problem to constitute a significant reason against prosecuting the war. Similarly, low morale per se doesn't constitute a reason against prosecuting this war.

The problem here, as is so often the case, is that we're too uncritical of arguments when we agree with their conclusions.

None of this is to say that we shouldn't be concerned about the problem, of course.

But I wonder what morale is usually like under conditions of this sort? Are these numbers unusually low?
"I am not making any excuses. You know, over the years athletes and celebrities have emerged from treatment centers to great fanfare and praise for conquering great demons. They are said to be great role models and examples for others. Well, I am no role model. I refuse to let anyone think I am doing something great here, when there are people you never hear about, who face long odds and never resort to such escapes. They are the role models. I am no victim and do not portray myself as such. I take full responsibility for my problem."
- Rush Limbaugh

As they might say over at Busy, Busy, Busy:

Shorter Rush Limbaugh:

"My extraordinary humility, willingness to confess to my crime as soon as I've been caught red-handed, and disingenuous denial that I think of my self as a paragon of human virtue prove what a paragon of human virtue I really am."

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

News flash:
Not all Right-wingers are nuts. Not all are stupid. Not all are evil. In fact, some are non-nuts, non-stupid, AND non-evil. I suppose it goes without saying that this is a strange thing to have to say... But I suppose it's no secret that there's something very, very wrong with a big chunk of the right wing these days. Consequently, I, for one, sometimes need to be reminded that the Right is not monolithic. Consequently, I'm guessing that YOU sometimes need to be reminded, too. A big chunk of the Right has gone insane, but that still leaves a big sane chunk, and we in the Liberal Center need to take the sane Right seriously. It is absolutely beyond any doubt that they are right about some things that we are wrong about. I have this hunch that we form up in informal tribes by--to a great extent, anyway--focusing overmuch on the loons that we find most loathsome. By focusing obsessively on the Karl Roves, Peggy Noonans, Sean Hannitys, Ann Coulters of the world, we run the risk of driving ourselves too far leftward (not to mention nuts). Think about John McCain. Think about...about...oh, look, there're some other ones, too... But the odds that the Right is wrong about everything and we are right about everything are vanishingly small. Even from a crass, purely political perspective there are reasons to think carefully about the positions of the Right. I learned a long time ago that the best way to win an argument is simply to be *right.* By allowing ourselves to become partisan, to be pushed farther left, to adopt positions merely because they are traditionally thought of as part of the standard-issue liberal or Leftist package of beliefs, we guarantee that we'll end up adopting some irrational and indefensible positions, and we foolishly cede certain true positions to the Right. The positions we've adopted because they are part of the liberal (or even Leftist) package--positions we'll have no real commitment to anyway--will be more easily attacked by the right, thus making our overall position weaker, and making the legitimate parts of our position seem weak.

But, of course, the more important reason to avoid these pressures is that they drive us to falsehoods.

Monday, October 13, 2003

You've got to catch Thomas Friedman's current gig on C-SPAN's Book TV. He's got the most reasonable things to say about the Iraq situation I've heard. Among other things, he points out that both the Right and the Left lack moral seriousness about Iraq. To think about the situation clearly, he points out, we have to try to forget how we got there--that is, forget about the fact that the Administration shamelessly lied to us. That they did, of course, is beyond dispute at this point. But there we are, in Iraq, and we've got to deal with the situation as it is. Liberals have to acknowledge, among other things, that "some things are true, even if George Bush believes them." Friedman himself acknowledges that he had a hard time coming to grips with that. (Testify, brother...) But this is the only chance the Iraqi people have to attain a state in which they can have livable lives. And, furthermore, this is a fight we can't afford to lose. And the Right has to acknowledge, among other things, that we can't do this AND have massive tax cuts for the super-rich. It's not fair that the only people who are being asked to sacrifice are the troops on the ground. The thing that was most impressive about Friedman, though, was his obvious commitment to objectivity. The moderator even commented on this after his talk, pointing out that the spirit he displayed was even more important than the things he said, which was, oddly enough, true.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

"Madness is rare in individuals--but in groups, parties, nations, it is the rule."


Wednesday, October 01, 2003

The Democrats have a hard case to make in 2004. They need to make the case that we have to pull together...but not behind Bush. That's a message, of course, that sounds somewhat contradictory, both divisive and unifying. But it's the right message. We DO need to pull together--rabid partisanship is tearing us up. But there's no doubt that the Republicans are by far the more partisan and ruthless of the two parties right now. Rovengegate is only the most prominent current manifestation of this fact. It's also hard to make the case for unification when we are all so damn mad about this Administration. As you may or may not have noticed, I keep trying to plead for dispassionate analysis of the issues and an end to tribalistic partisan crap... But, as witnessed by e.g. my last post, I can't even seem to pull it off myself. Which, of course, doesn't mean that it isn't sound advice... The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Leakgate? Revengegate? Plumegate? CIAgate? Rovegate? Rovengegate? Karlgate? Wgate? W----gate? Bushgate? Chimpgate? Morongate? Goddamn-*$&@&^#-never-even-elected-gate? Rightwingpsychogate? EndofAmericandemocracygate? Ruthlessbastardsgate?