Wednesday, January 28, 2004

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As they say over at NCFocus:
Nothing to say. Go Elsewhere

Too bad, too. I just put up my snazzy new comments section and everything. But I got nuthin'. Oh, I could come up with some BS... In fact I have come up with some BS... But the semester has swamped me already, and just can't seem to put together anything very good. Since one of my hypotheses about what makes the blogosphere suck (to the extent that it does suck--which is, of course, a non-trivial extent) is that much of what gets posted gets posted because people feel like they have to post frequently in order to keep readers...well, anyway, given that that's what I think, I can't very well just post crap in order to post something, now can I? No, I can't.

Oh, I will say that last week or so I was looking through the nominations for the Bloggies or one of those blog awards, and as I was looking through the "funniest post" nominees, I saw that a post (from Sadly, No, I think) parodying Li'l Kim "Kimberly" da Twit's moronic essay "The Pussification of the Western Male" was nominated...and then below it they said something like "oh, and make sure to check out Philosoraptor's post "The duToitification of the Western Conservative." Now I was kinda happy to see that there, but that was the only post on the page that was mentioned without being a nominee! What's up with that, canines? Not that I was really disappointed or anything--I didn't even know that blog awards existed, and Iwas happy just to get a mention.

But that post was gold, baby...GOLD...

Saturday, January 24, 2004

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Behold: Comments

Behold: Comments. Sorry it took so long. It actually takes approximately 2 [correction: 5] minutes to do it, but I keep hearing horror stories about spamming and suchlike, so I kept putting it off until I had time to look into all that stuff. Now I realize that I will never get around to doing that. So I just put the comments up anyway.

[oops...looks like I've been given a choice between (a) having a comments section and (b) having a readable blog...

Stand by.]

[voila! (or, as the editors of my highschool yearbook would put it, viola!): comments.]

[Incidentally, I hope that we can keep the comments section reasonably cooperative and non-hostile. I guess If you've read this blog much you'll realize that this hope doesn't spring from some ooey-gooey lefty preference for dialectical pacifism. Rather, it springs from a conviction that we should (often, at least) be really trying to figure things out, and a belief that once people start getting mad it's almost impossible to make rational progress. Everybody gets snarky sometimes, including (perhaps especially) me, but I hope we can aim for less rather than more of that kind of thing, even when I myself fall off the wagon, rhetorically speaking. There are plenty of places on the web to smite thy enemies; consequently adding one more such place wouldn't really accomplish much. On the other hand, there aren't that many places devoted to cooperative discussion, so it seems important to at least have a go at developing and maintaining such a place. And let's face it: sitting around in your office flaming people on the internet is a tragic waste of the human spirit. Anyway, none of this is to say that people shouldn't speak their minds, disagree with each other (and me) as necessary, have fun, etc.; nor is it to say that I'll always be level-headed and even-handed myself. It's just an exhortation to aim for less rather than more hostility as a general rule. Blah, blah, blah. Given how reasonable the e-mails I get tend to be, I reckon there's no real need to even say this stuff to regular readers. And it won't have any effect on the trolls... So I'll shut up now.]

[One last word: as a paradigm, I'd hold up the comments section of Mighty Tacitus. Solid comments, respectful disagreement, healthy atmosphere, IMHO. Oh, and like Tacitus, I reserve the right to delete extremely vicious comments on account of their viciousness, but NOT merely because I disagree with them.]
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Clark on the Bush AWOL Question and Michael Moore

From Orcinus I steal a transcript of the exchange between Wesley Clark and Peter Jennings during the New Hampshire debate:

Transcript begins: [numbers in brackets inserted by me]

[1] PJ: General Clark, a lot of people say they don't know you well, so this is really a simple question about knowing a man by his friends. The other day you had a rally here and one of the men who stood up to endorse you was the controversial filmmaker Michael Moore. You said you were delighted with him. At one point Mr. Moore, said in front of you that President Bush, he was saying he'd like to see a debate between you the General and President Bush who he called a deserter. Now that's a reckless charge not supported by the facts so I was curious to know why you didn't contradict him and whether or not you think it would have been a better example of ethical behavior to have done so.

[2] WC: Well I think Michael Moore has the right to say whatever he feels about this. I don't know whether this is supported by the facts or not. I've never looked at it. I've seen this charge bandied about a lot but to me it wasn't material, this election is going to be about the future, Peter, and what we have to do is pull this country together, and I'm delighted to have the support of a man like Michael Moore, of a great American leader like Senator George McGovern, and of people from Texas like Charlie Stenholm and Former Secretary of the Navy, John Dalton. We've got support from across the breadth of the Democratic Party, because I believe this party is united in wanting to change the leadership in Washington. We're going to run an election campaign that's about the future. We're going to hold the president accountable for what he did in office and failed to do, and we're going to compare who's got the best vision for America.

[3] PJ: Let me ask you something you mentioned then because since this question and answer in which you and Mr. Moore was involved, you've had a chance to look at the facts. Do you still feel comfortable with the fact that someone should be standing up in your president, in your presence and calling the president of the United States a deserter?

[4] WC: To be honest with you, I did not look at the facts Peter. That's Michael Moore's opinion; he's entitled to say that, I've seen, he's not the only person who's said that. I've not followed up on those facts, and frankly it's not relevant to me and why I'm in this campaign.
Transcript ends


[a] Jennings's claim that the charge is not supported by the facts deserves some attention, as it isn't clearly true. It would seem casuistical to point out that SOME of the facts support the charge, when the issue is obviously whether the preponderance of facts give sufficient support to the charge.

[b] Perhaps Jennings is thinking that it is clear that Bush is not a deserter as opposed to there a term for someone who went AWOL? Anyway, one of those guys. I have seen it alleged that the burden of proof associated with desertion is very high. Roughly: only really egregoius [er, that would be egregious...] cases of not being where you are supposed to be count as desertion. Apparently, perhaps among other things, you have to have an intention to never come back. But this whole issue should be avoided anyway, since:

[c] The AWOL charge is the more important charge. Why? Well, first, all participants to the debate should be able to agree with the following principle, and should do so right up front, before looking too far into the details of the case:

Anyone who intentionally went AWOL for any significant lenth of time is unfit to be President.

Since a significant AWOL incident would make Bush unworthy of the office, and since it takes less to go AWOL than to desert we shouldn't worry about the desertion charge. If the conditions for going AWOL will be met before the conditions for deserting will be met, and gong AWOL makes you unfit for office, we should worry about whether the lower standard was met rather than the higher one.

[d] However, we could make Jennings's question into a good question by leaving out his controversial claim that the charges are not supported by the facts. Here's a rehabilitated version of Jennings's question:

General Clark: When Moore stood up at your event and in your presence and called President Bush a deserter, you didn't contradict him, and later you said that you were 'delighted' with him. But desertion is a serious charge, and leveling it against the President is a very serious thing to do. Consequently, you should either produce significant proof of that charge or distance yourself from it (by, for example, denying it). Don't you think? (O.k., that wasn't really a question, but you get the idea.)

I think that this question SHOULD be asked of Clark.

[2], [4]

[a] Clark's response is lame and irresponsible. Failing to contradict Moore indicates at least a tacit endorsement of the charge, IMHO. (Note: this could be really, really wrong. 'Tacit endorsement' is obviously going to be a slippery concept.)

[No No No...this isn't clear...see below...somehow I forgot to change the above before posting--WS]

Clark's BSing about the "great American leader"s who support him is a textbook instance of the Red Herring fallacy. An entirely irrelevant point, probably deployed with the intention of deflecting attention from the real issue.

[That part is right, though.]

[b] Clark: "To be honest with you, I did not look at the facts Peter." Well, you damn well should, General, if you are going to tacitly endorse them.

[c] "That's Michael Moore's opinion; he's entitled to say that,..."
Note: this is an incredibly common kind of response under such conditions, and it is just jaw-droppingly lame. We need a name for this fallacy. Nobody disputes the claim that Moore is entitled to his opinion; what is in dispute is the stuff above. What is in dispute, that is, is the truth of the charges, and whether, given their seriousness, Clark should be (here it comes again...) tacitly endorsing them. If someone had stood up and said "You know, I hate women, Jews, and Blacks, and one of the things I like most about General Clark is watching him show up Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley-Braun, and Joe Lieberman in the debates. White power!" Could Clark have gotten away with saying "well, you know, a lot of people believe that, and he's entitled to his opinion." A false charge of desertion isn't that bad, but it may not be far off... But the point here isn't about the seriousness of the charge--I just use an extreme example to make the principle clear--it isn't a relevant response in a case like this to note that "everyone is entitled to his opinion."

[d] Clark: "...I've seen, he's not the only person who's said that. I've not followed up on those facts, and frankly it's not relevant to me and why I'm in this campaign." Mmmm... pretty lame, but maybe we can rehabilitate Clark's response like so:

Well, Peter, I haven't personally investigated the charges, but lots of smart and well-informed people have, and many of them have concluded that there's enough evidence to make the claim plausible. I can' t agree with Moore's claim since I'm unfamiliar with all the facts, but I needn't disagree either, since he's not saying something obviously false or unsupported by evidence. He may be wrong, but what he said is, epistemically speaking, in play.

Mmmm.... I'm not very happy about that response, but I don't think it's obviously unreasonable, especially when you aren't given enough time to really think it through.

Conclusion about [2[d]]: I don't know.

[e] Clark: "We're going to run an election campaign that's about the future. We're going to hold the president accountable for what he did in office and failed to do, and we're going to compare who's got the best vision for America."

Mmmm....maybe. It's perfectly legitimate to limit the scope of the discussion to what Bush did in office. In fact, it's noble of Clark...if, that is, he's doing it out of principle and not just saying it to dodge the question.

(Anyway, I really started writing this because I was mad about [2[c]].)


Jennings's question was a good one, except for the preposterous suggestion that the AWOL issue has already been settled. Clark's response is sub-optimal, but it's in the ballpark. Except for the bit in [2[c]], which is sophistry.
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Did Bush Go AWOL? (Formerly 'Is Bush a Deserter?') Part II

David Neiwert of Orcinus kindly directs us to this excellent page by farmer Marty Heldt, who does yeoman's work (oh, man, I kill me...) trying to make sense of the Bush AWOL situation. His conclusions are grim. Philosoraptor says check it out.

This also makes me think that we need to form a farmer's blog coalition... Though I probably don't count as a farmer anymore, in point of fact...

Friday, January 23, 2004

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Is Bush a Deserter?

This question is finally getting a little attention, and its about time. I'm really stunned how little attention has been paid to it by the mainstream media. I'm not out to get W here, but we really need to know the facts about this. I've read a good bit about it, and the best I can say is that it doesn't look good for Bush. But I keep thinking that there must be some anti-AWOL evidence that I haven't seen. Otherwise why would the media have let the story slide so blatantly? (Wow. That sure sounds stupid now that it's outside of my head...) We heard far more about Clinton's "draft dodging" than we ever did about this, and this is a much more serious charge. Anyway, I think we all need to get serious about finding out the truth here, one way or the other.

I just ran across a link at Instapundit, and followed the link, thinking I was going to find out something interesting. Thing about the conservatives is, they tend to sound positive about everything they say (Instapundititis?), and I frequently fall for it. (Don't send me e-mails on this: I hereby acknowledge that liberals have their own irritating quirks--but they never have really mastered that casually dogmatic tone like the righties have... Sure the radical lefties are strident as Hell, but they aren't liberals now, are they?) Anyway, I followed the link, and discovered an astoundingly lame essay that doesn't even come close to showing that the AWOL charges are bogus. Although the essay is titled "Bush A Military Deserter? Calm Down, Michael" and sub-titled "Clark backer Michael Moore calls President Bush a 'deserter' for missing Air National Guard drills 31 years ago. Puh-lease!" The essay does not actually contain an explicit conclusion to the effect that the charges are false. (contra Instapundit, the essay does not really claim that the charges are bogus.) In fact, the evidence proffered is pathetically weak, and even the best of it merely asserts but does not prove that the period of time in question was shorter than some people have asserted. The only evidence there that I hadn't seen before was this:

"Records are lacking for that period. However, The Associated Press quoted two friends who worked with Bush in the Blount campaign as saying they recall him attending Air National Guard drills in Alabama. Joe Holcombe, described as a former Republican county chairman in Alabama, was quoted as saying, 'It was pretty well-known that he was in the Guard while we worked on the campaign.' And Emily Martin, who said she had dated Bush during the campaign, was quoted saying, 'He told us that he was having to do his Guard duty in Alabama while he worked on the campaign.' "

Are we seriously being asked to base our judgment about this matter on this absurdly vague and weak evidence? Statements by Bush's spokesman, and a couple of friends who claim that "it was well-known that he was in the Guard"???
These people don't even say that he fulfilled any of his obligations, just that "he was in the Guard," which is not what is at issue--we know he was in the Guard, but did he show up when he was supposed to? I'm more alarmed after reading this than I was before. If this is the best evidence they can produce, then there's a serious problem here.

Via a link from a comment at Atrios, I find this by Orcinus, but haven't read it carefully.

Instapundit also directs us here. I haven't read this stuff, but I will.

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Mark Kleiman on Clark and Kerry (and Tacitus and Instapundit and Limbaugh)

Mark Kleiman makes a very strong case in defense of Clark.

An important point Kleiman emphasizes: Clark's putative denegration of Kerry came in response to a dig by Bob Dole, who said that Kerry's victory in Iowa had "turned the General into a Colonel." Now, that's the kind of comment that is virtually designed to elicit a sharp response. That, plus the fact that there are perfectly reasonable, non-insulting interpretations of Clark's response, make me inclined to think that this is just another instance of the Blogospheric Spinmeister 5000 Dis-Interpretator (tm) in action.

The BS 5000 has many uses, of course, but here's the relevant one:

Take a very large number of things someone says. Place them in the centrifuge of the BS 5000. Turn it loose and let it spin feverishly for awhile. Look inside. Voila! ( <-- French word) The BS 5000 will have separated the content of what was said, allowing all of the uninteresting (i.e. reasonable) interpretati0ns to dissipate. Left in the bottom of the BS 5000 will be a coating of sludge formed by concentrating the potentially nefarious interpretations. In the blogosphere, this slimy residue is called 'fact'.

We all do it. You know we do. It's so easy, who can resist? And not only are there few social sanctions against this kind of thing, there are actually social rewards. You actually get popular in the 'Sphere for doing it.

Of course, the BS 5000 can also be used in the other way, to filter out injudicious or unflattering content in order to make the speaker seem more virtuous than he really is.

Perhaps that's what Kleiman (and I) did to Clark's words, but I don't think so. I think these Clark cases, like so many cases of interpretation, are fuzzy and underdetermined by the evidence available to us. But nobody is really interested in writing or reading about how we can't tell what someone meant. Add to this the fact that, when one is in an information deficit, one tends to rely more heavily on background information--so if X says something ambiguous, and I already think that x is a good guy, I'll be more likely to interpret his words charitably. I've tried to correct for this reaction, but of course am not in a very good position to determine whether or not I've succeeded. Anyway, in the end I think: Clark's words were consistent with Tacitus's interpretation, and consistent with Kleiman's interpretation. The latter interpretation, however, seems slightly less strained, slightly more plausible, and my guess is that that is how a reasonable person with no dog in this fight would interpret them. I could be wrong.

Interpretation is hard. That's what makes it prone to error and abuse. Perfect material for the BS 5000.
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The Bush Administration's Little Green Men

Via Crooked Timber, this piece by John Laughland from the Spectator. I don't know whether the stuff here about Kosovo and Georgia....and God help us...can this possibly be true?????:

" is established as fact that in 1962 the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Lyman L. Lemnitzer, tried to convince President Kennedy to authorise an attack on John Glenn’s rocket, or on a US navy vessel, to provide a pretext for invading Cuba."

But be those things as they may, the thesis that Bush and company are basically a bunch of conspiracy theorists is...well, I wish I'd thought of that. Look, this is NOT (on my part, anyway) some piece of Bush-bashing. When I read this piece I certainly didn't think "Ha! Here's a great diss of Bush! Think I'll propagate it!" Rather I thought "Oh, sheeeeeet....that IS the way those guys are acting..." Especially with regard to their fabrication and distortion of data, and their insistence on sticking to the theory even in the face of disconfirming evidence. I think that this is an important way of thinking about the way the Administration is thinking about these things...

Laughland's other point, which we've all thought about but which I, at least, have to work to keep in mind: history tells us that there is nothing outlandish or kooky about suspecting the government of making things up to take us into war. Gulf of Tonkin anyone? Bush '41 and the non-existent satelite photos of Iraqi troops massing on the Kuwaiti border? And now: WMDs and the Iraq-al Qaeda connection...

God, we humans are a dim-witted lot...

Thursday, January 22, 2004

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Perhaps the most perfect photographic smackdown in the history of the Universe at the inimitable

Can anyone really be so thoroughly clueless as to think that holding a baby is evidence that you are a good person? If I ever have to go to court, I wonder whether I can just produce a picture of myself holding a baby...

your honor, clearly I could not have committed that crime, for, as you can see, I have held a human infant in my own hands...

Oh, and all this Hitler stuff? Everybody cut it the Hell out. I mean it.

The mind bo... The mind bo.... hey, wait a second... I don't think my mind will boggle anymore...
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Did Wesley Clark Step In It?

So I mentioned Clark's comments on Kerry to an extraordinarily intelligent, level-headed, and perceptive colleague of mine who is neutral on Clark (and, in fact, ridicules me whenever I exhibit any enthusiasm for his candidacy). I didn't realize that my colleague had heard the interview, but as soon as he realized what I was talking about, he laughed derisively and said, roughly: you've got to be kidding... I heard that interview and it was nothing. He didn't come across as an asshole at all. He just basically sounded like he was making the point that being a career military man and a four-star general gives you more military experience than being in the army for three years--which is obviously true. It would be ridiculous to try to make something out of that comment. We've already given the comment more thought than Clark did before he said it.

Now I'm starting to think that, without actually hearing it it'll be very hard to get a read on it.

Anyway, this conversation about Clark ended up in a conversation about blogging, and how we now have a situation in which everything a candidate (or anyone else of note) says is pounced on and analyzed by hundreds of different people and examined from a zillion different angles. This really is a bizarre situation when these guys are talking to people all day for months on end, answering an enormous variety of questions, and responding in real time. I absolutely guarantee that if you took transcripts from my classes--and I'm pretty damn thoughtful about what I say in them--that you'd be able to find a lot of injudicious or just plain stupid claims, and there'd be lots more that you could spin into something stupid if you really put your mind to it.

I certainly don't mean this as a defense of Clark, and especially not a defense of him in particular. If the point is sound, then it has to be applied across the board. And if sound, all it means is something like this: you have to look for patterns in people's responses, you can't put too much weight in any single comment.

Just a thought. Needless to say, that could all be wrong.
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Wesley Clark Steps In It

Ugh. Mighty Tacitus rightly takes Clark to task for saying some stupid things. The quotes are pretty awful by themselves, but I thought they seemed less odious in the context of the articles...more like they might have just been injudicious attempts at self-promotion rather than slights. I guess we have to overlook the self-promotion part during a political campaign, but there's no doubt that Clark's words are injudicious at best. At worst, they are consistent with being a bad guy. Specifically, Tacitus says that people don't say things that denegrate junior officers unless "... they're self-interested careerists with no moral center." and that "That's what the officers I knew who served under Wesley Clark said of him, and I see no other way to interpret these statements." I've already indicated another way to explain Clark's words, but I (like most people) don't know enough about Clark to decide which interpretation is more likely to be right. All most of us can do at this point is add this report to our collection of evidence about Clark and await more info in the future. One potentially mitigating factor: the Kerry camp has allegedly been attacking Clark pretty hard, and that kind of thing can make one say things one wouldn't say under normal conditions. I have no interest in making excuses for Clark here, but it's important not to exaggerate the strength of this evidence.
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Department of Sub-Optimal Locutions

I was thinking that I maybe shouldn't have referred to the President as the "Weasle-in-Chief"...

Neither of you, revered readers, complained about it, but I think it's probably a bad thing to do. Why? Well, not because it's inaccurate, but rather because (1) rhetoric like that tends to polarize, which is bad, and (2) the office itself, as distinguished from the person who holds it, deserves a certain degree of respect, and it may be that that kind of name-calling disrespects the office. I've never been able to understand those issues very clearly, but perhaps better to err on the side of caution in this case. I'm not sure. (Incidentally, I started thinking about these issues because of something someone said in an episode of The West Wing I saw once.)

Though now that I think of it, the more respect the office deserves, the more despicable it is for someone who occupies that office to bullshit us with linguistic abominations like "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities." Or to bullshit us at all, for that matter.
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Deck-Chair-on-the-Titanic-Related Re-Arrangement Activities

You know, aside from being a depressingly, pathetically, tragically comic weasle phrase, "Weapons of Mass Destruction-Related Program Activities" barely makes any sense and probably isn't exactly what the Weasle-In-Chief really meant... He probably meant "Weapons-of-Mass-Destruction-Program-Related Activities." To be a WMDRPA is to be a "program activity" (whatever the Hell that is) related to weapons of mass destruction. What he seems to be trying to lie about, however, is not WMDRPAs, but WMDPRAs, i.e. activities related to weapons of mass destruction programs.

I just want to make sure that all the deck chairs are efficiently arranged as the ship of state sinks slowly into the murky depths of demagogic deception...

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

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Well, which is it?

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

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Is Perle a nut?

Something really amazing from CalPundit via Josh Marshall. Non-conclusive--yet non-trivial--evidence that Richard Perle really IS out of touch with reality. Go read it!

You know, I sorta contemplated joining the Mujahadeen once... [key hazy, swirly screen effects and flashback music]

It was back in college, and I was at the mock UN. (So I'm--er, was--a geek. What about it?) In addition to the, delegates, there was a college-aged contingent from the Mujahadeen...real ones. One member of the delegation was a girl--approximately the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen. I mean, just couldn't take my eyes off of her. She had the most beautiful eyes I'd ever seen. Either she was some kind of princess or something or I made that part up. Anyway, all I knew about the Mujahadeen at the time was that they were fighting to get the Soviets out of their country, and the thing I cared most about at the time was toppling the Soviet Union. Next to sex, of course. But anyway. While I was supposed to be representing the people of pseudo-Yugoslavia (Pseudoslavia?), I was, instead, having these Star-Wars-esque fantasies about going to Afghanistan and becoming one of the Mujahadeen, defeating the evil empire, saving the country, and winning the adoration of this amazing possibly princess...

But I didn't, of course. Which is a good thing in retrospect, now that I know about the religious fanaticism.

And the cornholing...
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More on Sachs on Clark

O.k., I said I wasn't going to go through the rest of Sach's post, but I've got a couple of minutes to spare and somehow I can't resist. On to the second section of his post, where again he juxtaposes Clark quotes:

[Non-Times-Op-ed Clark:] "Finally, after training our forces on Iraq, the Administration essentially declared - we're going it alone. Instead of using diplomacy backed by force - as we did so effectively in the Balkans - this Administration's diplomacy was only a fig leaf. The United States was going to war no matter what. The Administration went to the UN with a "take it or leave it offer," which reflected a combination of indifference and disdain. It did not explore every diplomatic option; it did not do everything possible to bring allies with us."

[Times-op-ed Clark:] "As for the diplomacy, the best that can be said is that strong convictions often carry a high price. Despite the virtually tireless energy of their Foreign Offices, Britain and the US have probably never been so isolated in recent times."

There simply isn't any contradiction between these two claims.

The first quote says, roughly:

The Administration didn't use real, effective diplomacy. Rather, it had already decided to go to war, and only went through a show of diplomacy, dissing our allies and the UN along the way.

The second quote says, roughtly:

The best that can be said for their dogmatic (sham) diplomacy is that it will have bad consequences. As a result of it, we have alienated everybody and are now more isolated that we've been in modern times.

These two passages not only don't contradict each other, and not only don't even come near contradicting each other, but in fact express basically the same position.

There is simply no plausible interpretation of the passages on which they are even remotely at odds with each other. What is Sachs thinking? Is it the reference to "tireless energy"?

Again, the only thing I can figure is that Sachs's objections are based on his acceptance of something like the following premiss:

(P) If an individual, N, says anything even remotedly positive about an action, A, or anyone who advocated undertaking action A, then individual N believes that action A should have been undertaken.

This entails that if you call the Blitzkreig effective or innovative, you think that Hitler was justified in initiating WWII. The premiss is absurd.

Oh, and all this would have been clearer if Sachs had included the rest of the Times quote above:

"Diplomacy got us into this campaign but didn?t pull together the kind of unity of purpose that marked the first Gulf War. Relationships, institutions and issues have virtually all been mortgaged to success in changing the regime in Baghdad. And in the Islamic world the war has been seen in a far different light than in the US and Britain. Much of the world saw this as a war of aggression. They were stunned by the implacable determination to use force, as well as by the sudden and lopsided outcome."

Whew...if that's praise, who needs criticism? (Oh, and: "implacable determination," like "tireless energy": not something you want everybody to have... Saying that somebody has it doesn't mean that you don't think that the world would have been better off if they didn't have that particular virtue.)


Best perhaps to look at Sach's own words:

Here's his (Sachs's) conclusion:
"But I simply don't see how these two pieces, from April and November, can be read as expressing the same opinion of the war."

And here's one of his reasons:
"If the administration's diplomacy "was only a fig leaf," why does he praise the State Department and UK Foreign Office for their 'virtually tireless energy,'..."

At the risk of belaboring the obvious (, too late), he does so because praising someone's "virtually tireless energy" in pursuing a certain task does not mean that you think they should be pursuing that task, nor that it's good to have "virtually tireless energy" when pursuing a task like that. I have several friends who tirelessly pursue projects that I think aren't worthy of their time. Here it becomes pretty clear that Sachs does accept premiss P (above). Sachs thinks that Clark thought the war was a good idea because he thinks that Bush and Blair pursued it with "tireless energy"--but that's simply not a plausible belief to attribute to someone. Saying that someone has "virtually tireless energy" is like saying that someone is relentless (or that they have "implacable determination")--that can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what end they are pursuing.

Sachs continues:
"If the administration's diplomacy "was only a fig leaf," why does he ....note that "strong convictions often carry a high price?..."

Huh? If he notes that their diplomacy was a sham, why does he also note that the attitudes that drove that sham diplomacy have other bad consequences, too? Am I missing something here????

"...If "every diplomatic option must be explored and exhausted," why was it the right decision to move in March rather than wait for late April?..." (If Clark means that it was the right decision only in terms of military preparedness, surely he could have included some caveat on diplomacy?)"

For the fourth time: it WASN'T (according to Clark) the right decision to move in March rather than April. Rather, he only expresses the carefully conditionalized claim "IF the choice was betweeen attacking in March with fewer troops and attacking in April with more, THEN they made the right decision." But, again, the antecedent of the conditional is false: the other, better option was not attacking at all.

Furthermore, the rest of the passage above shows, I think, what's really bothering Sachs--it's not that Clark actually says anything that means that he thought that the war was a good idea, its that he doesn't include enough passages that make it clear that he DIDN'T think it was a good idea. That's a very different thing, and such alleged omissions constitute rather shoddy evidence. Given all the pointed criticisms in the essay, plus the fact that all the unalloyed praise is of the troops and none is of Bush or Blair, plus the fact that every claim about Bush or Blair that can be construed as positive is about something OTHER than their decision to go to war (e.g. their energy), conjoined with the fact that that alleged praise comes coupled with an indication of the bad consequences that result from the possibly praisworthy bits... Well, we have to spin things at implausibly high RPMs to make this seem like praise of the decision to go to war. At the very most we might squint enough to make this look like it's insufficiently critical of the decision to go to war...but that's a very different thing than being an endorsement of the decision.

Again: praising the way the war was conducted in no way entails praise for the decision to initiate the war.

"Most importantly, the basic underlying conviction of the November speech--that this war was a strategic mistake, and that we should have focused our efforts on Al Qaeda instead--is entirely absent from the letter and spirit of the April op-ed."

Again, at most a sin of omission. But think about this claim for even a second:
In this op-ed in which Clark praises the generals and the troops but not Bush or Blair, and in which he notes several bad consequences of the decision to go to war, he does not come right out and say that it was a bad decision. Therefore he thinks it was a good decision.

Steve! I beseech thee! Ask us not in seriousness to accept this inference, for it is stinky, and hard to swallow...

Sachs again:
"The comments on "stability" seem to be in strong support of the Bush Doctrine."

No, they seem to be strong support of stability. Again: 'policy x will have a good consequence' doesn't mean 'It was smart to initiate policy P'

" Indeed, how else can we understand his claim that Bush and Blair "should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt"? "Philosoraptor" argues that "Resolve in the face of doubt, if it is a virtue at all, is a virtue even when one has undertaken an enterprise in error"; but this is grasping at straws. (Can you imagine Howard Dean saying that Bush "should be proud of [his] resolve"?) Clark was clearly not praising Bush and Blair for their pagan self-assertion, or for pursuing an absurd policy as knights of faith. In the context of the piece, he was saying that they made the right move."

Well, I've already covered the guts of this. As for my alleged straw-grasping... I'm not sure. Again, I've heard lots of people who detest Hitler call him a military genius (which isn't true, but that doesn't matter. But if calling somebody a genius is consistent with thinking that what they did was wrong, then it seems that praising someone's resolve (a pretty generic kind of virtue) is consistent with thinking that what they did was wrong.

Contemplate if you dare the mind-bending awfulness of the following inference:

1. HD was against the war
2. HD would have never said x
3. WC said x
4. WC was not against the war]

Monday, January 19, 2004

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A Truly Baffling Post on Clark and the Times Op-Ed Controversy

Here's a...well, like the title says, a truly baffling post on the recent Clark controversy. Stephen E. Sachs juxtaposes quotes from the relevant op-ed with other things Clark has said. I only read it once, but for the life of me I can't see the contradictions. Here's an example:

[Non-Times-Op-Ed Clark:] "I have always believed that before initiating military action, crucial tests must be met: For example, every diplomatic option should be explored and exhausted. We must do everything possible to gain international and domestic support. And there must be a realistic post-war plan."

[Sachs:] The Bush Administration failed every one of these tests.

[Times-Op-Ed-Clark:] American and Brits, working together, produced a lean plan, using only about a third of the ground combat power of the Gulf War. If the alternative to attacking in March with the equivalent of four divisions was to wait until late April to attack with five, they certainly made the right call.

Uh...look, this is getting really bizarre. Can anybody explain to me where the contradiction is here? In the first quote, Clark is setting out the conditions that must be met before military action should be taken. As Sachs notes, those conditions were not met. In the second quote, Clark is talking about something ENTIRELY DIFFERENT. It's a different subject, see? If I'm not mistaken, he's saying that in Iraq, Americans and Brits, working together, produced a lean plan, using only about a third of the ground combat power of the Gulf War. He also seems to be opining that, if the alternative to attacking in March with the equivalent of four divisions was to wait until late April to attack with five divisions, they certainly made the right call. Er, but as I've noted three times here now, 'if the choice is between A and B, then A was the right choice' doesn't mean that A was the right choice. As Clark has made clear, in this case the choice was not between A and B, but between A and B and a more reasonable C. C, the right choice, was not to attack. Which is, in effect, what he was indicating in the first bloody quote.

Look, if your doctor tells you 'Well, if you insist on smoking cigarettes, you should smoke light cigarettes' he is not telling you that you should smoke light cigarettes.

Sach's post continues in this vein, but I just don't have the heart to go through the rest of 'em like this. If you're interested, all you have to do is go read the quotes with even a moderate amount of care.

Christ, blogging is a waste of time.
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Suskind, O'Neill, and The Price of Loyalty

On my long weekly drive I picked up a copy of Suskind's book on O'Neill on CD. I'm only listening and not reading, I haven't quite finished it, and I don't have time to discuss it at length now, but here's what I DO have to say about it:

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!READ IT, READ IT, READ IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(or listen to it). It's always tough to tell what's really going on and who's telling the truth in a case like this, of course. But, though I started the book a little skeptical about O'Neill's story, now, one disk from the end, I'm captivated by it and rather inclined to believe it. It's amazing...terrifying...devastating...yet frequently inspiring. If this book is even halfway accurate, it confirms much of what many of us fear about the Bush administration. If you read the book and you've read much of this blog, you'll quickly see why this book strikes a chord with me. O'Neill comes across as a man of great intellectual integrity, a man who genuinely wants to know the truth and who genuinely wants to do what's right--and who wants America to do what's right. I'm pretty sure O'Neill and I would disagree about many things, but those things pale in comparison to what we agree on. Over and over again he emphasizes the importance of seeking the facts first and making political decisions on the basis of those facts. He is passionate about including "honest brokers" in the decision-making process and keeping politicos like Rove out of that process. He thinks that policy should be made by bringing in smart people from all sides and letting the best ideas win, and he makes it very clear that if you are sure you are right then you should have no fear of bringing those who disagree with you into the policy-making process--if you ARE right, then you've lost nothing, and, of course, you might not be right after all. He is first and foremost passionately committed to a fair and rational PROCESS. Good policy, he thinks, emerges from good process. Another way to put this: you start with the premisses you can be relatively certain about, and you see what political conclusions follow from them--you do not start with your conclusions and mangle the evidence in order to give those conclusions the appearance of rationality. Unfortunately, he reports, this administration works in approximately the opposite way. Policies are determined by political ideologues, facts and reason be damned.

The Right will say that it's all self-aggrandizing hogwash, and of course it might be. Needless to say, I've never met O'Neill, and I'm in a bad position to judge because I've already concluded many of these things about the Administration myself. Consequently I'm probably being insufficiently critical. But O'Neill genuinely comes across as someone who has lived up to many of the intellectual aspirations I have, and I have to say, if he's bullshitting us about all this, then he's one of the best bullshitters there ever was. If so, he's also a complete lunatic. But I have a pretty good nose for this sort of thing, and my tentative conclusion is that O'Neill really IS a very admirable guy. He's no doubt mistaken about some things, but does in fact seem to be an honest, intelligent, and highly principled man. THAT'S the inspiring part--that guys like O'Neill actually do exist in government. Several times I found myself hoping that, if a Democrat wins in November, he'll ask O'Neill to be Treasury Secretary again. I don't care what what CONCLUSIONS O'Neill accepts about the economy, I believe that this is a guy we want in on the process. I think--and I think O'Neill would agree--we need to stop forming political alliances on the basis of the conclusions we happen to share. It's far more important to ally ourselves with honest, intelligent people with a strong belief in and commitment to the process, and a strong desire to learn the truth and do what's right.

And finally: if O'Neill's portrait of the Administration is accurate, then hiving and incestuous amplification have run amok therein. If O'Neill is right, then we really do have a President who knows very little and who gets all his information and advice from the same sources. Our policy is emerging from an echo chamber full of dogmatic ideologues. If this does not lead us into disaster, it will be the merest luck.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

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Josh Marshall on Drudge's Clark Smears

Josh Marshall is on the case again, and you really should read this piece.

Why does anybody pay any attention to Drudge?

I guess I'm starting to seem rabidly pro-Clark, but I'm not. I'm tentatively pro-Clark. But I'm anti-distortion and anti-deception. I was appalled by the recent distortions of Dean's claims on the Canadian talk show tapes, too...but I think others ably defended him. I was also appalled by liberals who claimed that, in his response to a question about some of the O'Neill stuff, Bush admitted that he had been planning to invade Iraq all along. He said no such thing, but presumably everybody realizes that by now.

Friday, January 16, 2004

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Roger L. Simon (Mis)reads Wesley Clark

[Note: Below I finally realize that people are confusing two very different questions:

A. Did Clark support the decision to go to war in Iraq?


B. Does Clark think that there were good things about the war in Iraq (e.g. it was well executed, it had some beneficial consequences)?

This is what's causing the problem. The answer to B is clearly 'yes'; the answer to 'A' is what's at issue. Most of the people who think that the op-ed proves that Clark supported the war seem to be confusing A and B. I don't always make this clear below. Sorry. This was written in haste.]

Via Instapundit: Roger L. Simon posts an op-ed Wesley Clark wrote on April 10th of last year, and claims that it proves that Clark supported the war. Had I read the op-ed quickly without knowing anything about Clark, I might very well have concluded that he was expressing qualified support for the war. However even a passably careful reading of the thing reveals that it fails to provide significant evidence that Clark supported the war. Everything Clark writes is consistent with opposition to the war--though perhaps combined with recognition that the world is better without Saddam and a desire to to portray the whole enterprise in a good light. All of these things are, of course, consistent with thinking that the self-defense case for war was a crock and that the decision to go to war was a sub-optimal one.

The most important passage for those who would portray the essay as strong (or even conclusive) evidence that Clark was for the war is as follows:

"Can anything be more moving than the joyous throngs swarming the streets of Baghdad? Memories of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the defeat of Milosevic in Belgrade flood back. Statues and images of Saddam are smashed and defiled. Liberation is at hand. Liberation! the powerful balm that justifies painful sacrifice, erases lingering doubt and reinforces bold actions. Already the scent of victory is in the air. Yet a bit more work and some careful reckoning need to be done before we take our triumph."

Needless to say we have to resist the urge to strain for a non-pro-war message here. Intellectual integrity is in short enough supply these days. Our question is not can we force a non-pro-war reading on this essay? but rather is there a sensible non-pro-war reading of it?

Well, I was against the war (torn, but just barely more against it than for it by H-hour), but I could have written this op-ed (er, were I smarter...and if I knew more...and if I were a better writer...and...oh, you get the picture...). I was happy to see the tyrant deposed, the statue come down, etc. And who could NOT think of liberations past? The only part of this passage I probably would not have written is this part:

"Liberation--the powerful balm that...erases lingering doubt and reinforces bold actions."

(Note: these are not drudgelipses--they indicate that I have elided words rather than pages.)

This proposition is almost certainly true--liberation (like success in general) erases lingering doubt and reinforces bold actions--but I wouldn't have written that because it could easily be interpreted to mean that the war was a smart idea, or that this success should embolden us to undertake more actions of this kind in the future. But that's not what the sentence means. On the face of it, it's not a claim about what our reactions ought to be, but, rather, a claim about what kind of reactions we tend to have to such events--it, for example, makes us forget our doubts, it doesn't make them unreasonable (so it doesn't make forgetting them reasonable). If we are being urged to do anything here, it is to resist indulging too much in these reactions, to sober up a bit and contemplate the task ahead. In fact, the following seems to me to be a perfectly sensible gloss on what Clark wrote:

The scenes from Baghdad inspire us. They make us think of the fall of the Wall and the defeat of Milosovic. It's good to see those statues of that SOB smacked with shoes. Liberation is at hand. In general, liberation makes sacrifice worthwhile, makes you forget whatever doubts you had about the undertaking, and emboldens you to try other hard and risky endeavors. But, um, let's not get too excited yet--there's there's more work and more thinking to do.

I want to make it clear--on a first read, that's not how I interpreted it (I didn't know how to interpret it)--but we usually don't interpret things correctly on a first read if they are even moderately subtle or complex. And my guess is that what Clark is trying to do here is rather subtle and difficult--he's trying to counsel caution at a time when celebration seems to be in order, and he's trying to do it without sounding like a nattering nabob of negativism.

The rest of the op-ed is consistent with this interpretation. It praises the soldiers who carried out the battle plan, points out the good things about the planning and execution of the war, and notes the rough spots too. It's a sober and balanced assessment of the war, in my opinion. Clark notes problems without carping and dispenses praise when appropriate and without fawning. But there is nothing in it that shows or even strongly suggests that Clark thought that the war was a good idea. (Though there are some passages that can kinda sorta be read that way with a little effort.)

At the end of the essay, Clark does write:

"As for the political leaders themselves, President Bush and Tony Blair should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt."

Again, this might rather naturally be taken to indicate approval of the war, but it probably shouldn't be. Resolve in the face of doubt, if it is a virtue at all, is a virtue even when one has undertaken an enterprise in error. (I myself am not sure that it is a virtue at all, but that's probably just one difference between a pointy-headed geek such as myself and a four-star general...) Again, Clark is apparently simply giving credit where credit is due. But saying "you stuck to that project with admirable resolve" obviously does not mean the same thing as "boy, you sure were smart to undertake that project."

And note that Clark continues:

"And especially Mr Blair, who skillfully managed tough internal politics, an incredibly powerful and sometimes almost irrationally resolute ally, and concerns within Europe."

So even (approximately) the resolve Clark has just praised he now characterizes as "almost irrational." So if these two components taken together constitute a compliment, it is a highly attenuated one at best. Hardly unalloyed approval.

And I think that the end of the essay provides reasonably strong confirmation of my reading:

"Their opponents, those who questioned the necessity or wisdom of the operation, are temporarily silent, but probably unconvinced. And more tough questions remain to be answered.

Is this victory? Certainly the soldiers and generals can claim success. And surely, for the Iraqis there is a new-found sense of freedom. But remember, this was all about weapons of mass destruction. They haven?t yet been found. It was to continue the struggle against terror, bring democracy to Iraq, and create change, positive change, in the Middle East. And none of that is begun, much less completed."

Well, you probably know the kinds of things I'm going to whine about at this point. But I haven't slept in quite some time (note the crappy writing...sorry!), so I'll keep the whines short. Go back and read David Brooks's comments on The Great Unhinging (or better, of course, my own comments on those comments!). What we have here is probably a case of Mr. Simon seeing what he wanted to see and/or what he expected to see, plus perhaps the effects of political polarization and the pervasive influence of the gotcha atmosphere. And maybe something else I've been meaning to note as well: everything happens so fast in the blogosphere...speed is of the essence...nobody thinks very much about what they write. It's getting to be like academic philosophy--people get famous by saying outrageous things that they haven't really thought through very carefully, and then lots of other people waste their time going through the initial poorly-thought-out positions explaining why they're wrong. Note that I don't mean to insult Mr. Simon here, he's just doing what what's done around these parts. But we should all do less of it. Of course I may be the one who's wrong here, but you can be the judge of that.

[I'll post this on Blogcritics too, so if you can't resist commenting on it you can go there to do so. I swear--a comment section is coming soon!]

[4. Addendum/Appendix: The Rest of the Op-Ed

A comment at Blogcritics made me realize that it's worth including comments on the rest of the letter. After going through it carefully, I've formulated the following conjecture about what is going on:

People who think that this letter proves that Clark was in favor of the war are probably drawing this conclusion because they think that no one will say anything positive about the war or admit that the war had any beneficial consequences unless they were in favor of going to war. This is, of course, false. My guess is that people believe that because of the polarization and preposterousness of our political discourse. We tend to line up into two camps and to oppose each other in all possible ways. And anybody who says anything that the other side could say must be on the other side. So anti-war liberals refuse to admit that anything good could come of the war (just as pro-war conservatives refuse to acknowledge that anything bad will come of it, that Bush lied to get us to do it, etc.). Anyway, Clark doesn't play that game. That's one of the reasons I respect him.


Starting with paragraph 2 (I discussed para. 1 above):

[2] "In the first place, the final military success needs to be assured. Whatever caused the sudden collapse in Iraq, there are still reports of resistance in Baghdad. The regime?s last defenders may fade away, but likely not without a fight. And to the north, the cities of Tikrit, Kirkuk and Mosul are still occupied by forces that once were loyal to the regime. It may take some armed persuasion for them to lay down their arms. And finally, the Baath party and other security services remain to be identified and disarmed. "

No endorsement of the war here; just a counsel of caution and reminders about what remains to be done.

[3] "Then there?s the matter of returning order and security. The looting has to be stopped. The institutions of order have been shattered. And there are scant few American and British forces to maintain order, resolve disputes and prevent the kind of revenge killings that always mark the fall of autocratic regimes. The interim US commander must quickly deliver humanitarian relief and re-establish government for a country of 24 million people the size of California. Already, the acrimony has begun between the Iraqi exile groups, the US and Britain, and local people."

No endorsement, just more points about what needs to be done.

[4] "Still, the immediate tasks at hand in Iraq cannot obscure the significance of the moment. The regime seems to have collapsed ? the primary military objective ? and with that accomplished, the defense ministers and generals, soldiers and airmen should take pride. American and Brits, working together, produced a lean plan, using only about a third of the ground combat power of the Gulf War. If the alternative to attacking in March with the equivalent of four divisions was to wait until late April to attack with five, they certainly made the right call."

Could this be an endorsement of the war? No. Either an opponent or a proponent of the war could write this. I could have written it. The moment WAS significant. The "defense ministers, generals, and soldiers" SHOULD take pride. The US and UK DID work together, the plan WAS lean, etc. Many opponents of the war refused to acknowledge these truths, but acknowledging them IN NO WAY indicates that it was a good idea to go to war in the first place.

As for:

"If the alternative to attacking in March with the equivalent of four divisions was to wait until late April to attack with five, they certainly made the right call."

Well, I've discussed this one before. (Er, if you follow that link, you'll see me back in my green period...literally and figuratively...also I regret how snide that post is.) Anyway, the lefties were harping on this sentence last year, now we get the righties doing the same. Sometimes I think we all need a reading comprehension course... Are simple English conditionals really that baffling? 'If our choice was between A and B, then A was the right call' does not mean that A was the right call except in conjunction with 'our choice was between A and B'. Clark has made it clear that he doesn't think that attack now and attack later were our only options. He favored don't attack.

[5] "But no one ever won a war or a battle with a plan. Every soldier knows there are only two kinds of plans: plans that might work and plans that won?t work. The art of war is to take a plan that might work and then drive it to success. This, General Tommy Franks and his team did very well indeed."

Again, no endorsement of the decision to go to war, just praise for those who conducted it.

[6] "Everyone who has ever served knows that battles are won at the bottom ? by the men and women looking through the sights, pulling the triggers, loading the cannon and fixing the planes. The generals can lose battles, and they can set the conditions for success ? but they can?t win. That?s done by the troops alone. And nothing could have been more revealing than those armored fights in which a handful of US tanks wiped out a score of opposing Iraqi armored vehicles, again and again, and usually without suffering any losses, while in the south, the British troops worked their way through the suburbs of Basra with skills born of sound training and firm discipline, minimizing friendly casualties, civilian losses and destruction."

No endorsement of the war, only praise for the soldiers.

[7] "It?s to the men and women who fought it out on the arid highways, teeming city streets and crowded skies that we owe the greatest gratitude. All volunteers, they risked their lives as free men and women, because they believed in their countries and answered their calls. They left families and friends behind for a mission uncertain. They didn?t do it for the glory or the pittance of combat pay. Sadly, some won?t return ? and they, most of all, need to be honored and remembered. "

No endorsement of the war, just praise for the troops. True words, too, incidentally.

[8] "As for the diplomacy, the best that can be said is that strong convictions often carry a high price. Despite the virtually tireless energy of their Foreign Offices, Britain and the US have probably never been so isolated in recent times. Diplomacy got us into this campaign but didn?t pull together the kind of unity of purpose that marked the first Gulf War. Relationships, institutions and issues have virtually all been mortgaged to success in changing the regime in Baghdad. And in the Islamic world the war has been seen in a far different light than in the US and Britain. Much of the world saw this as a war of aggression. They were stunned by the implacable determination to use force, as well as by the sudden and lopsided outcome. "

Clearly no endorsement of the war; if anything, this is criticism. Though again, Clark is just stating facts. Even a clear-eyed neo-con (is there such a thing?) would have to agree with this.

[9] "Now the bills must be paid, amid the hostile image created in many areas by the allied action. Surely the balm of military success will impact on the diplomacy to come ? effective power so clearly displayed always shocks and stuns. Many Gulf states will hustle to praise their liberation from a sense of insecurity they were previously loath even to express. Egypt and Saudi Arabia will move slightly but perceptibly towards Western standards of human rights."

Again, no endorsement of the decision to go to war, just an acknowledgment of some likely effects of the war. This is probably one of the passages people take to be an endorsement. But, again: 'X will have the following good consequences' doesn't mean 'it was a good idea to do x.'

[10] Germany has already swung round from opposition to the war to approval. France will look for a way to bridge the chasm of understanding that has ripped at the EU. Russia will have to craft a new way forward, detouring away, at least temporarily, from the reflexive anti-Americanism which infects the power ministries. And North Korea will shudder, for it has seen on display an even more awesome display of power than it anticipated, and yet it will remain resolute in seeking leverage to assure its own regime?s survival. And what it produces, it sells.

Again, no endorsement. He's just pointing out what's likely to happen. Some of these effects would be beneficial, but if that makes you think Clark is endorsing the war, you should note the last two sentences. If you are going to make the mistake of concluding that noting likely beneficial consequences of the war means endorsing the war, it seems like you should also conclude that noting likely negative consequences of the war means opposing the war. If you are consistent enough to make both errors, then you've probably got to call this a toss-up.

[11] "The real questions revolve around two issues: the War on Terror and the Arab-Israeli dispute. And these questions are still quite open. Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and others will strive to mobilize their recruiting to offset the Arab defeat in Baghdad. Whether they will succeed depends partly on whether what seems to be an intense surge of joy travels uncontaminated elsewhere in the Arab world. And it also depends on the dexterity of the occupation effort. This could emerge as a lasting humiliation of Iraq or a bridge of understanding between Islam and the West."

No endorsement. What else is there to say?

[12] "But the operation in Iraq will also serve as a launching pad for further diplomatic overtures, pressures and even military actions against others in the region who have supported terrorism and garnered weapons of mass destruction. Don?t look for stability as a Western goal. Governments in Syria and Iran will be put on notice ? indeed, may have been already ? that they are ?next? if they fail to comply with Washington?s concerns."

No endorsement. If anything, a kind of criticism: don't expect stability out of this.

[13] "And there will be more jostling over the substance and timing of new peace initiatives for Israel and the Palestinians. Whatever the brief prewar announcement about the ?road map?, this issue is far from settled in Washington, and is unlikely to achieve any real momentum until the threats to Israel?s northern borders are resolved. And that is an added pressure to lean on Bashir Assad and the ayatollahs in Iran. "

No Endorsement.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

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Hey, I think I've found the guy who put together Colin Powell's U.N. presentation on WMDs...
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From The NY Daily News via The Blog of the Moderate Left:

George W. Bush tells New Yorker writer Ken Auletta: "No President has ever done more for human rights than I have."


uh...Don't really know what to say about that...

The mind boggles.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

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Random Posts of Interest Elsewhere

I usually don't just post a bunch of links--there are lots of other blogs for that kind of stuff, and they all do it better than I would. But here are a couple of posts I thought were interesting:

1. How F$$$$$$g Screwed We Are, at Happy Furry Puppy Story Time.
(Can't find a permalink...scroll down until you see "Up to Yao Ming's Eyeballs")

2. The almost completely unreported Texas terrorism case at the Christian Science Monitor (via Opinions You Should Have).

3. Anna at NCFocus posts a couple of Ayn Rand quotes that I keep going back to and re-reading, and they freakin' crack me up every time.

4. This bloody interesting piece from the Columbia Journalism Review (via the indispensible Agonist) about folks who train politicians how to avoid answering questions. (Damn, it is unbelievable how easy it is to get away with that!)

5. And this from the WaPo about increasing numbers of young women identifying themselves as "gayish" (meaning roughly bisexual, but it's more complicated than that). I like this story a lot--no, not for that reason, you pervs--I like it because it's another nail in the coffin of the claims of many "queer theorists" and suchlike that there's no such thing as bisexuality. I've got lots of bisexual friends, and that really pisses them off. Apparently some gays and lesbians look down on bisexuals. Amazing the contortions people will go through to find somebody to discriminate against...

6. And two interesting things via Mighty Atrios: (a) Hate mail to Margaret Cho as a result of her appearance (most of the mail from Freepers) and (b) my favorite, "leaky, rusty shells of mass destruction," in which it is revealed that, once again, those WMDs we discovered weren't WMDs...
Bush’s Lysenkoism and the Distortion of Intelligence
Science and the Postmodern Presidency

[This post by CalPundit prompted me to post this, a shorter version of a longer piece I've been fiddling around with.]

[This post is also at Blogcritics, so you can comment on it there...comments coming soon!]

'Lysenkoism' is a vague term for a complex and fuzzy phenomenon. Roughly and for my purposes here, to engage in Lysekoism is to distort science in order to bring it into line with political orthodoxy.

(A) It is well-known (though not well enough known) that the Bush administration is Lysenkoist, though it isn’t often put in those terms. This administration has suppressed or distorted scientific conclusions about—among many other topics—global warming, the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education, drilling in the ANWR, and air quality in Manhattan after 9/11 in order to force science to conform (or appear to conform) to the administration’s antecedently-accepted political beliefs. Henry Waxman’s Politics and Science website is an invaluable resource for information on the political distortion of science in the Bush administration.

(B) It is also reasonably clear that the Bush administration distorted evidence about Iraq’s WMDs and its links to al Qaeda in the run up to the Iraq war. This case is made persuasively in several places, most recently in a report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications.”

What is usually overlooked, however, is that A and B are merely two instances of the same general phenomenon. Intelligence gathering and analysis is a kind of science. It is in particular a kind of social science, aiming, like so many other kinds of social science, to discern the beliefs, intentions and actions of certain groups of people. Of course intelligence agencies often study groups that prefer to conceal their beliefs and intentions from us and that want to hurt us; but, although this adds a certain practical element of urgency to the equation, it doesn’t change anything fundamental: intelligence gathering and analysis, when done correctly, is in large part a kind of science, even if a more practical and less theoretical kind of science, more like the science of nutrition than astrophysics. And, of course, Lysenkoism itself is simply a particular instance of an even more general phenomenon we could call logical preposterism--starting with your conclusion and evaluating evidence as good or bad depending on whether it supports this antecedently-accepted conclusion. Reasoning this way is preposterous in the literal sense of putting what is supposed to come last (the conclusion) first; in fact, it isn't really reasoning at all, but, rather, rationalization.

In seeking to manipulate and distort the findings of our intelligence agencies about Iraq, the Bush Administration was merely doing what it has done since it took office—dogmatically distorting and suppressing evidence in the service of advancing conclusions arrived at for political reasons, and putting political pressure on experts to go along with the deception. What happened in the build-up to the Iraq war should have come as no surprise to those who had been observing the Administration’s general attitude to science and rational inquiry. In this, the postmodern presidency, belief need no longer conform to fact; on the contrary, facts are flexible things which must be made to conform to inflexible opinion. T. D. Lysenko has risen from the grave.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

So I Was Thinkin', Episode I: Thwarting MANPAD Attacks Against Airliners

So it is said that they are starting to think about retrofitting airliners with countermeasures against MANPADS like Stingers and SA-7s. I suppose I'm a little pessimistic about the prospects for a project like this. I've heard people say that this is the kind of thing that we simply won't get serious about until after an airliner is actually shot down. Word is--or was for awhile at least--that an El Al airliner has already been attacked, but it was outfitted with countermeasures that defeated the missile.

So anyway--and I don't have any specialized knowledge about this kind of thing, so I'm just throwing the idea out there because I have nothing better to do with it--I wonder whether they could build countermeasures into airPORTS instead of airPLANES. Whereas there a lots of large passenger airplanes in the U.S., there are far few airports from which they fly--can't be more than an average of about two per state, right? So instead of trying (or pretending) to retrofit every airplane at a cost of like a million bucks per plane, perhaps some kind of anti-missle system could be put at the ends of runways at large airports. I rather doubt that we have anything fast enough to intercept a Stinger, but maybe. Maybe something like the Phalanx gun system could work. Or maybe small planes loaded with flare projectors could circle the end of the runway as planes take off, ready to project a buttload of flares. (Or lasers? Or death rays? or force fields?) Sure, there are dangers associated with having small planes aloft while the big planes are taking off, but the risks may be acceptable.

Dunno. Just a thought.

[Addendum: See, you wouldn't even have to do anything very precise. You just have radar track every plane as it takes off and lands, and when a missile launch is detected, you basically fill up the relevant part of the sky with a ton of heat sources fired from the ground or a circling plane outfitted for precisely this purpose.]

Monday, January 12, 2004

David Brooks on Neocons and the Great Unhinging

[This subject is probably passé by now in the ‘sphere, but I wrote this last week and just now got back from the Land of Virtually No Web Access.]

[Hey: this post is also at Blogcritics, so you can go there to comment on it. I WILL have comments here soon.]

In the 1/6 edition of the NYT, David Brooks addresses a problem that could be called the unhinging of contemporary American political discourse. This is one of the problems I’m most concerned about, and I’ve discussed it here several times. In fact, my last post urged people to re-read Hamilton’s “Federalist 1” and Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” and I recommended them in large part because they help to inoculate us against The Great Unhinging. So unsurprisingly I find much to agree with in Brooks’s essay. There is, however, much that is reprehensible in it too, and it would be a mistake to completely ignore those things. At first I was convinced that what is good in Brooks’s essay outweighed what is bad, but on a second read I came to believe that I was just so happy to see someone address the unhinging problem that I had underestimated the importance of his errors. Still, there is no real need to make some kind of overall judgment about his essay. There are really good parts and really bad parts. I’ll address the bad parts first, because I’m more interested in the good parts.

Liberals might be disinclined to recognize Brooks’s “unhinging” point because he seems to use it as a lemma in an argument for the conclusion that neo-cons are less influential (ergo less dangerous) than many liberals think. For those who are suspicious of Brooks’s motives, his warning against this unhinging can seem like a mere gambit in an argument that aims primarily to cloak the influence of neo-cons. This could be true, but speculation about his motives should not blind us to what he gets right. At any rate, I suspect that we have better reason to fear the unhinging of which Brooks writes than we have to fear neoconservatives. (Note: this doesn’t mean that I am not concerned about the influence of neocons.) First, our reasons for thinking that this unhinging is a powerful force in contemporary American politics are at least as strong as our reasons for thinking that neoconservatism is a powerful force. Second, this unhinging is a deeper problem, a problem that creates and exacerbates so many other problems that it is more important than many problems that seem (or are) more immediate.

Liberals might, of course, also be irritated by the fact that the unhinging of public discourse did not seem to bother conservatives during the Clinton administration, when the charges made against Clinton were generally less well-grounded in fact than those currently being made against president Bush.

All of these things are off-putting to me as well. Nevertheless, I recommend a differential treatment of baby and bathwater. In the next section I’ll comment on the latter, saving the former for last.

The most despicable part of Brook’s essay is his attempt to equate opposition to neoconservativism with anti-Semitism (“con is short for ‘conservative’ and neo is short for ‘Jewish’”). Brooks ridicules the idea that a “tightly-knit neo-con cabal” associated with the Project for a New American Century and people like Richard Perle have “insidious power over administration policy.” But:

“I’ve been told by senior administration officials that he [Perle] has had no significant meetings with Bush or Cheney since they assumed office. If he’s shaping their decisions, he must be microwaving his ideas into their fillings.

It’s true that both Bush and the people labeled neocons agree that Saddam Hussein represented a unique threat to world peace. But correlation does not mean causation. All evidence suggest that Bush formed his conclusions independently. Besides, if he wanted to follow the neocon line Bush wouldn’t know where to turn because while the neocons agree on Saddam, then disagree vituperatively on just about everything else.”

Some thoughts on this in no particular order:

(a) If true, it would be good news that Perle has had “no significant meetings” with Bush or Cheney.

(b) However, given this administration’s penchant for secrecy and mendacity, we can’t be sure that the crucial claim in (a) is true. This isn’t just a general worry; rather, this administration has lied about this particular kind of thing (meetings and their significance) before, claiming that Rice had not been briefed by Sandy Berger about the threat from al Qaeda. Furthermore, given this administration’s record we can’t let the hedge word ‘significant’ pass here. “Sure, they meet with Perle, but don’t worry—the meetings aren’t significant…” I’m not inclined to believe such claims from this administration. Since they did meet, microwave communication is unnecessary.

(c) Right: from ‘neocons believe x’ and ‘Bush believes x’ it does not follow that ‘Bush believes x because the neocons convinced him of x’. But (i) nobody has ever made that argument. It’s a blatant Straw Man. No one who worries about neocon influence worries about it on the basis of this absurd argument. Rather (ii) see (b) (above) and (iii) Perle is not the only neocon. (iv) Ever hear of Paul Wolfowitz? I understand he has some position of authority in the Administration… Again, no microwaves are required to explain neocon influence. (v) Compare the argument Brooks ridicules to his own argument which I reconstruct somewhat tendentiously as follows: ‘anti-Semites distrust neocons, liberals distrust neocons, therefore liberals distrust neocons because liberals are anti-Semites.’ This argument is awful not merely on logical grounds but one moral ones, too. He’s suggesting (though I can’t believe that he really thinks it) that those who oppose him are all bigots. Irresponsible charges of bigotry are about as low as you can get, being only about one step up from bigotry itself.

(d) “All evidence suggests” that Bush doesn’t arrive at ANY conclusions independently. During the campaign of 2000, we were told that Bush would be our first “CEO president.” Sure, he didn’t know many, you know, facts, and sure, he wasn’t a very good, you know, reasoner, but he’d surround himself by good advisors. And recently we found out that he doesn’t even read the papers, but gets his information from those advisors, too. Leading one to wonder: why, exactly, does Bush need to be a part of the decision-making process at all? Either he follows the advice of his advisors to the letter, in which case he is basically irrelevant to the process or he deviates from their advice in which case the decision is made by the uninformed person rather than the informed people. Oh, and one of those advisors is Wofowitz (see C (iv) (above)).

(e) Neocon disagreement about non-Middle East matters is irrelevant. They agree in large part about Iraq, and that’s the subject about which they seem to have inordinate influence. They may disagree about, say, corn subsidies, but I don’t see how that’s relevant.

None of this is to say that Brooks isn’t right when he says that neocons are less influential than they are widely thought to be. But it IS to say that the arguments above don’t do much to prove his point. What I found most encouraging of all his arguments on this point was his claim that PNAC only has a staff of five people. I’ll admit, I tacitly believed that the operation was rather more extensive.

Bad as the bad parts may be, what’s good in Brooks’s essay is very good. He writes:

“There’s something else going on, too. The proliferation of media outlets and the segmentation of society have meant that it’s much easier for people to hive themselves off into like-minded cliques. Some people live in towns where nobody likes President Bush. Others listen to radio networks where nobody likes Bill Clinton.

In these communities, half-truths get circulated and exaggerated. Dark accusations are believed because it is delicious to believe them. Vince Foster was murdered. The Saudis warned the Bush Administration before Sept. 11”

Brooks mentions several problems here, problems that I’ve discussed here previously. I’ve got more space than Brooks does, so I’ll divide them up a little more; Brooks may or may not agree with this way of doing it:

A. The “hiving” problem:
The proliferation of news (and opinion) sources allows us to seek out those with which we tend to agree, making it easy—perhaps almost irresistible—to “hive [ourselves] off into like-minded cliques.”

B. The exaggeration problem:
We have an inclination to exaggerate the failings of those with whom we disagree, and to exaggerate the virtue of those with whom we agree. There is, of course, a corresponding inclination to minimize the virtues of those with whom we disagree and the vices of those with whom we agree. There is—also of course—an inclination to exaggerate the strength of the evidence for conclusions with which we agree and minimize the strength of objections against those conclusions.

C. The problem of half-truths:
One way to construct a good lie is to put some truth in it. Among other things, this allows those who would like to believe the lie something to seize on. Eric Hoffer says somewhere: “propaganda does not deceive us; it allows us to deceive ourselves.” Those inclined to believe the false part of the half-truth will be inclined to focus on its true half. And half-truths need not be lies in order to deceive us. We can, for example, seize on them of our own accord and be honestly deceived by them.

[Note: this seems to be at odds with the opinion of one of humanity’s greatest experts on and practitioners of mendacity, the renowned A. Hitler, who famously advocated the “big lie” strategy. Both strategies might work, though. It’d be interesting to see what cognitive and social psychologists have to say about this.]

D. The problem of believing what it is satisfactory to believe
This is a huge problem that I’ll basically ignore in this post. It’s a more general form of the problem of believing what you want to believe, and a less general form of the problem of believing on non-epistemic grounds. Brooks’s locution is particularly apt when he writes of the “delicious” thrill that drives us to believe some new tale of depravity on the part of those with whom we disagree. We may not really want to believe the tale, but our attention is drawn to it as to a car wreck.

These problems interact in certain pernicious ways (how could those ways NOT be pernicious?), almost adding up to the fifth problem that I’d like to discuss. They aren’t strictly identical with the fifth problem, but separating them out might only be of purely theoretical interest. If trying to draw a distinction between A-D (above) and E (below) seems needlessly pedantic to you, you might be right, but this won’t affect any substantive point I might have. At any rate, the fifth problem is

E. The problem of incestuous amplification.
I pilfer this term from Paul Krugman, who pilfered it from military planners. If I am using the term correctly, incestuous amplification is what happens when, having hived ourselves off from those with whom we disagree, we come to see our preferred conclusion as more and more obviously true, and we tend to exaggerate them in our preferred direction. Having intentionally sought out or constructed a community of people who are inclined to think that, say, going to port rather than starboard is usually the best solution, we find ourselves in a community that habitually overestimates the strength of reasons for going to port. We end up going to port more and more often until we find ourselves going in circles. (But at least we’re not a bunch of mindless ideologues like those starbordists...!...)

B, C, and D are problems even if incestuous amplification does not occur. I don’t see that A would be an epistemic problem, however, if it didn’t contribute to incestuous amplification; however, because it does, in fact, seem to be a major cause of incestuous amplification, it is worth thinking about. (If I’m right about the stuff in this paragraph, then E IS a distinct problem from A-D—but, again, that’s a more theoretical issue that most readers may not be interested in.)

At any rate, I think it may be the problem of incestuous amplification that Brooks is really worried about, and, since I consider that to be a very serious problem, I’m happy that he has raised the issue in such an important venue. It seems clear that a proliferation of news and opinion sources is a good thing, and it seems that the internet is a good thing in part because it has allowed news an opinion sources to proliferate. The downside of these things, however, seems to be hiving and the resultant incestuous amplification of opinion.

[Note: “seems to be.” This is an empirical sociological hypothesis. Our casual observations about such issues are frequently wrong. I hope I’m wrong about most of the above. I’m probably not, but the only way to really find out is do some science.]

So the question is: how do we avoid the trap of incestuous amplification? One obvious way is to nip the problem in the bud by avoiding the hiving problem. Once we have ideologically cleansed ourselves by hiving ourselves off into relatively monolithic communities of opinion, it is probably too late; at that point, I suspect that incestuous amplification is unavoidable. This means, among other things, seeking out the opinions of those with whom we disagree. It also means being more critical of the positions we already hold, and of people with whom we tend to agree. As C. S. Peirce noted, one thing about which I can be very sure is that I am wrong about a great many things. Of course I’m also right about a great many things, but the problem is that I’m not sure which things are which. Two routes are open to me: I can either engage in real inquiry in an effort to discover what I’m wrong about, or I can seek to insulate myself from the evidence in an attempt to maintain the beliefs I happen to have right now. If I choose the latter course of action, one of the best means to my end will be to hive myself off with like-minded individuals. Such hiving strategies have worked well to enforce uniformity of opinion throughout much of human history. The hiving strategy failed in its early incarnations in part because uniformity had to be enforced on everyone in a given geographical location (think of the Inquisition); but the internet has overcome this problem. We can now choose the community of thought to which we will belong. This wouldn’t be a problem if our choices were always rational, and if we didn’t develop tribal allegiances to the communities we have already chosen--allegiances that prevent us from agreeing with the conclusions of other communities when this is demanded by reason, and which prevent us from changing communities when this is warranted by the evidence.

Not to put to fine a point on it: all these things apply to liberals just like they apply to everyone else. We are, no doubt, wrong about a great many things, and conservatives are right about a great many things. Unsurprisingly, I think that American liberals tend to be right about more things than American conservatives, otherwise I wouldn’t tend to identify myself with the former group rather than the latter. Perhaps I flatter myself in thinking that more thought or new evidence might make me a conservative—perhaps I’m as locked into certain liberal ways of thinking as, say, Rush Limbaugh is locked into conservative ways of thinking. Such tribalism is, to some extent, unavoidable. But only to some extent. We can reduce the effects of tribalism by reflecting long and hard on those effects, learning to recognize them for what they are, and resolving to resist them. For liberals, this means learning to resist the infamous knee-jerk inclination to agree with liberal orthodoxy. (I don’t mean to suggest that conservatives are any less susceptible to this reaction; in fact, I think that they are usually slightly more susceptible to it.) The flip side of this strategy is to make a conscious resolution to evaluate reasonings as objectively as possible and to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even—especially—when it leads to conclusions that are unorthodox in our community of thought. But more to the point, it is extremely difficult to resist ideological tribalism without entering into cooperative dialogue with reasonable people who hold conclusions with which we disagree. And for us, this means conservatives. (Entering into combative dialogue with unreasonable people probably only serves to harden the conclusions we already hold, and to deceive us into thinking that those on the other side of the issue are ALL dogmatic idiots. This is why it is probably counter-productive for liberals to listen to people like Ann Coulter.) So to do their part to combat the Great Unhinging, liberals must listen to reasonable conservatives with an open mind. And here’s a fringe benefit: if we more frequently listen to reasonable conservatives and genuinely consider their points, more of them will genuinely consider ours. Everybody wins, the Great Unhinging is halted. Furthermore, liberals should think that liberals have even more to gain politically than conservatives, since liberals think that liberal ideas are stronger than conservative ideas, and, consequently, will have a greater chance of winning out in the marketplace of ideas. This does not, of course, mean that we will agree about everything. It certainly does not mean that we should automatically agree with everything said by conservatives. Nor does it mean we should merely engage in some ridiculous true-for-you/true-for-me sharing of feelings. Rather, it means that political discourse should emulate scientific discourse by beginning with an explicit recognition of our own fallibility and an explicit recognition that our only hope of reaching the truth is to allow ourselves to be guided by reason and evidence, even when these lead us to conclusions we are not antecedently inclined to believe.

I end with a quote from Emerson. I’ve posted this quote several times before, but, as with many important thoughts, it’s important to encounter this one more than once:

"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."