Friday, July 30, 2004

Word Count

From the people who brought you the it wasn't really a lie since it was only sixteen words defense, we now get the word-count critique of Kerry's speech. Apparently Kerry's speech had about 5,000 words in it, but only "about 70" had to do with his record in the Senate.

Um, in case you don't get it, let me explain that this is apparently supposed to be a criticism. I'm really not sure how or why, but when I heard this it was clear that it was intended to be damning.

Whew. Those guys aren't even trying anymore. Has Karl Rove already abandoned the campaign? Is there like one little guy sitting there in front of Word trying to figure out something negative to say? (Damn...spellcheck didn't find anything...the margins are all fine...what else...what else...?)

Thing is, 70 words is still more than we've heard from W about where the Hell he was when he was supposed to be in the National Guard, whether he got kicked out for snorting coke, or why he concealed his DWI...

Oh, and those sixteen (impeach-worthy) words in the State of the Union about those? I still love that defense. I wish I'd known that this was a legitimate defense when I was a kid.

(things get swirly...cue flashback music...)

Mom: Hey, you little monster--did you put pepper in the coffee pot?

Me: No.

Mom: Yes you did. What am I, stupid?

Me: Look, that was only one word. It almost doesn't even count as a lie. Don't be so unreasonable. This is just mindless me-bashing. This is the kind of thing that has polarized our household and weakened us in our efforts to keep up with the Joneses.

And, of course, by this standard Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations with that woman," only NINE words, is only about half as bad as W's lie. So I guess W should be impeached twice...

My prediction re: the next Republican criticism: Kerry was actually bleeding from combat wounds for a mere 0.01% of his time in Vietnam!

I'm actually kind of surprised that Santorum and Ashcroft haven't called for an investigation into Kerry's alleged possible mouth-to-mouth contact with Licorice the hamster...
Operation No Gloating

O.k., we're going to win. Er...I mean, the Democrats are going to win. Ha ha! Not WE... No, I loathe party affiliation! I'm an independent! Not a member of any organized political party! That's me!...

But seriously...

It's probably going to be a near thing, but, barring a pretty nasty October surprise, I think that the smart money is on Kerry. So, I think that we anti-Bush folks--perhaps especially bloggers--should take a pledge to avoid gloating if we do win in November. You might think that this is a trivial consideration, but I don't.

As you know, I think that this administration was not legitimately elected, and I think that it's full of crooks, fools and idiots. No one will be happier to see them go than I will. But the days after an election are a very crucial and sensitive time, a time when there's a unique window for healing the rift inevitably caused by an election of this kind. Liberal and centrist bloggers are going to have an overwhelming urge to rub it in if Kerry does win. What I want to suggest is that we steel ourselves ahead of time to resist that powerful urge. Nothing good can come of indulging it, and doing so will only drive conservatives further down the strange road they've been traveling since about 1990. We should also prepare ourselves for the torrent of anti-Kerry bile that will pour forth from the right in the days after the election should he win, and prepare ourselves to temper our responses to such anger.

Look, remember that we're all basically brothers. Suppose that your brother is dead wrong about something and you eventually prove this to him. Do you (a) rub it in, make him feel like crap and further alienate him, or (b) help him get over it and get on with things? Not a perfect analogy by far, but you get the point. This country won't run right if we don't regain our unity. Graciousness in victory is one way to help heal the current rift. And, of course, graciousness in victory is far easier than graciousness in defeat.

So, maybe mention this to your favorite anti-Bush blogger.

This will be the first Presidential election since blogs became widespread. Let's set a precedent for the future by being civil whether we win or lose.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Simpsons and Election 2004

Re-Defeat Cletus/Burns

I just realized that Bush is basically Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel and Cheney is basically Mr. Burns...

It just goes to show ya...all of life's rich pageant is represented in some manner or other in the Simpsons...
O'Reilly Interviews Michael Moore
or: Who's the Liberal Here?

I'm quite the insomniac, so I'm frequently up in the wee hours of the morning, and, consequently, frequently catch fragments of the previous night's news shows. Last night was no exception. I caught clips from Bill O'Reilly's interview of Michael Moore. Now, both of these guys are full of shit. I tend to dislike Moore less since I'm more inclined to agree with many of his conclusions; however I think conclusions are less important than most people think they are. I'm more inclined to identify someone as an ally because his methods of inquiry are rational than I am to identify that person as an ally because I happen to agree with his/her conclusions. Moore is willing to distort the facts when they don't support his preferred conclusion, and that is the cardinal sin in all inquiry, including political inquiry.

The fragment of the interview I caught was a real gem (though I haven't found a transcript of it yet) in which both O'Reilly and Moore ended up adopting the characteristic arguments of the general political positions they are well known for opposing. Moore was expressing disapproval for the war in Iraq, noting that there were no WMDs there. So far, so good. Then O'Reilly started channelling the spirit of Scoop Jackson, trying to get Moore to acknowledge that freeing others from oppression is something worth risking blood and expending treasure for. Moore, however, was having none of it, and--though in the clip I saw he didn't come right out and say this--he strongly suggested that such a risk was only worth taking in order to defend one's own country.

So there you have, it, Bill O'Reilly, interventionist, idealistic liberal hawk; Michael Moore, isolationist conservative realist.

What a crock. If a democratic president had taken us to war, they'd be arguing for the opposite positions, and I'll bet that if we look back to their positions on, say, Kosovo that they DID argue for different positions.

This is the method of inverse criticism with a vengence, and it is this kind of thing--engaging in debate rather than inquiry--that has made our political discourse preposterous (in a more-or-less literal sense). People like O'Reilly and Moore allow their arguments to be determined by the conclusions they like, rather than demanding that their conclusions follow from the arguments that they find most reasonable. That is, they're getting things backwards, and, consequently, not really reasoning at all. This approach guarantees discord and irrationality in our public discussions, and we shouldn't tolerate it in our allies any more than we tolerated in our political opponents.

[Update: Anonymous's comment plus a quick Google search shows that I'm wrong on both counts. Ah, is there anything more beautiful than a crisp, clear refutation? Nothing I can think of...

O'Reilly claims to have been pro-intervention in Kosovo, and Moore was against. Wow. So perhaps O'Reilly really is an idealistic hawkish liberal interventionist and Moore really is a conservative "realist" isolationist... ]

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Beat Cheney/Bush: A Wee Campaign Idea

O.k., this is a really little idea, but I might as well throw it out there. Here's one way that the Dems can tell it like it is and score some rhetorical points to boot: instead of referring to the other ticket as Bush/Cheney, we should refer to 'em as Cheney/Bush. I mean, we all know that Dick wears the pants in that relationship, right? We all know that he's the one running the show... So it seems reasonable that his name should come first, no? Also, of course, Cheney's negatives are higher than Bush's, so it's good to remember him to the undecided.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Iran, Iraq and 9/11

The discovery of significant ties between Iran and al Qaeda is, I think, extremely significant. The discovery is, of course, significant first and foremost because it is crucial that we know who is offering assistance to bin Laden and his cronies. But it is significant for domestic political reasons as well. By this point, rightward-leaning Americans are virtually the only people left in the world who still believe in a significant, "operational" relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. But once a belief of this kind, bolstered by propaganda and partisan sentiment, is established in people's minds, it is very difficult to shake it loose with mere evidence that the relationship in question did not exist. It is difficult for sober, responsible claims like "there is no evidence of a relationship between x and y" to shake loose beliefs acquired as a result of hearing dogmatic, impassioned assertions of a relationship between x and y. The conclusion that, after thorough investigation, it has been discovered that there is no evidence of such a relationship seems pasty and weak compared to the strident and confident assertions that established the belief in such a relationship.

It is common in discussions in the philosophy of science to hear it said that people do not abandon old theories--no matter how much evidence is adduced against them--until a better new theory becomes available. Suppose this is true. (Note: this doesn't mean that it is irrational to abandon an old theory without a new theory to replace it, though some have (incorrectly) asserted this as well; here I am making a psychological point, not a logical one.) Suppose also that 'no one assisted al Qaeda in carrying out 9/11' doesn't count as a competitor theory in the cognitively relevant respects. In that case, many people who currently cling to the Iraq helped them theory might finally be willing/able to abandon that discredited theory if the Iran helped them thoeory is shown to be more well-supported. Of course both countries might have helped al Qaeda; the theories aren't mutually exclusive. But that doesn't matter since, again, we are talking about psychology not logic.

We seem to be poorly-equipped, cognitively speaking, to deal with doubt and uncertainty. The cognitive science literature is filled with findings that show that we jump to conclusions too quickly, stick to our accepted conclusions long after they have been disproven, and weigh confirming evidence more heavily than disconfirming evidence. These tendencies seem to explain, at least in part, why people are so bad at abandoning their current theories until those theories are replaced by new ones, even when the old theory has already been disproven. Although logically speaking disconfirmation is easier than confirmation, psychologically speaking things are just the reverse. Consequently it might be easier to convince people of the truth of a theory which they perceive (rightly or wrongly) to be incompatible with the theory they now hold than it would be to simply convince them that the theory they now hold is unfounded. Strange but--perhaps--true.

Here's a prediction based on the above: if a decent bit of evidence of Iran's involvement in 9/11 does become widely accepted, this will mark the tipping point at which the Iraq helped holdouts become willing to abandon their old theory. One further prediction: if that happens, it will mark the much-discussed tipping point at which Bush's credibility topples over.

Of course there will be hyper-ideological "dead-enders"--I'm not saying that there is any amount of evidence that will convince Stephen Hayes or Dick Cheney. What I am saying is that most of the remaining proponents of the Iraq helped theory will begin abandoning that theory in earnest if it becomes reasonably clear that Iran cooperated with al Qaeda in ways that significantly aided them in carrying out 9/11.

I'm not saying that this is the rational way for theory change to take place, I'm merely predicting that that's how it will happen.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

What's On Tap:
Greece Report, Social Constructionism, and Why It Doesn't Matter That There Are No WMDs in Iraq

Hi-dee-ho, blogarinos. This will be a busy week for us all, what with the less insane of the two national parties meeting in Boston and all of us consequently being glued to the real news blogs, the t.v., newspapers, and so forth. But it will be especially busy for me, as some of my comrades are getting together here in Chapel Hill this week to discuss the fascinatingly impenetrable writings of the great Charles Sanders Peirce. (Note: some of my comrades believe that I exaggerate the difficulty of Peirce's writings. So don't listen to me on this score.) Blogging will go on, but it will be a tad light.

Just thought I'd let you know that I do plan to post a fascinating account of my fascinating trip to Madrid and Greece--both of which actually are fascinating. (This will, needless to say, be of no interest to many readers) Sadly, I have little to report from the trip, politics-wise, for reasons I'll explain later.

The next lengthy project for this blog is rather more philosophical, but with some political implications. Specifically, I'll be posting a fascinating multi-part analysis of a chapter from a notable sociology textbook, this chapter being on the so-called "social construction of reality." So I'll be discussing something I actually know about for a change instead of just talking out my posterior about politics...

Finally, stay tuned for a fascinating up-coming essay on why it doesn't (really) matter that there aren't any WMDs in Iraq. Really!
The Decline of Eschaton?

Atrios gave me my first big-time link last year (to "The duToitification of the Western Conservative") and has, in the few e-mails we've exchanged, seemed to me to be a nice and reasonable guy. Although he's rather to the left of me I frequently read Eschaton and find much of it to be informative and sensible. Unfortunately I worry about the direction the site sometimes seems to be taking. It's not Atrios's posts that concern me, really, it's the content and tone of the comments. Case in point, consider this recent post about Tucker Carlson and then, if you have the patience and the stomach for it, read the comments (although the Haloscan count says something like 26, there are really over 200 (most of which can be skipped over)). Most of them are typical examples of blowing off steam in the Blogosphere, but a not-insignificant number of them are truly nasty, including some short fantasies about violent sexual assault agains Mr. Carlson and at least one apparently at least semi-serious call for someone to beat him up. I won't quote these comments or link to them individually since (a) I don't want that kind of shit on my site and (b) I can't stand to read through them again.

Now, I realize that veiled threats of violence on the internet are generally made by wimpy little fellows who probably couldn't even beat up Margret Carlson, much less Tucker...but that's not the point. If comments like these had been directed at, say, Paul Begala on some right-wing site there would have been outrage on the left. Very few commenters on Eschaton, however, objected to the comments. Far more objected to a post by one SWR who opined that Carlson probably wasn't really as bad as a certain (cruel and stupid) comment he once made made him sound. Perhaps most commenters were treating the offenders as if they were trolls and simply ignoring them in the hope that they'd go away. It didn't seem that way to me, but such things are hard to gage.

Needless to say, almost any popular political site will attract its share of idiots, and that's not Atrios's fault. And, of course, I'm not saying that I think he should edit his comments or anything like that. But it does seem to me to be incumbent upon sensible commenters on sensible sites to call bullshit on this kind of thing.

I suppose it's worth noting that some of the really virulent comments seemed to be in response to the revelation that Carlson has been going around calling Edwards a "Jacuzzi lawyer" and saying that he specializes in "Jacuzzi cases" because he once got a $25 million settlement for the family of a little girl who's bowels were sucked out by an improperly-installed pump in a public wading pool. The girl lived, but has to be fed intravenously for twelve hours a day every day. Carlson has apparently been called on this several times, but apparently continues to use the misleading locution. I am, of course, not saying that the fellow's not an ass. I don't think he's any worse than, say, James Carville, however. Personally, I'm more disgusted by the concept of Crossfire itself than I am by the depravity of any of its participants. The show is set up to bring out the worst in people, and it does so very effectively, helping to drag American political discourse into the sewer in order to achieve the greater good of peanut butter and BMWs.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Tactical Unclarity in the Attacks on Sandy Berger

Um, look:

(1) N put x in his pants

can mean that:

(2) N put x in his pants pocket

But it is more ordinarily used to mean:

(3) N stuffed x down into the main part of his pants, past the waist band.

I kept hearing people say things about Berger having the form of (1), and, like most other people, interpreted that to mean something haveing the form of (3). If, however, the charge is that he did something describable by a proper substitution instance of (2), then that's what people should say.

I don't know what' s going on here, but if someone is accused of illegally putting something in his pocket, you shouldn't say that the charge is that he illegally stuffed it down his pants. To put it like (3) when what allegedly happend is like (2) is, basically, to lie about what happened. It's to try to add a taint of perversion (or something like it) to the charges.

Needless to say, however, if he did stuff the papers into his pants rather than his pants pockets, then it's o.k.--in fact, obligatory--to say so.
The Sudan and Iraq

Obviously something must be done to stop the atrocities in the Sudan. There is, of course, much niggling over whether these atrocities constitute genocide, but those arguments are, as they say, purely academic. What demands a response is wide-spread atrocities, including mass murder, including genocide. Genocide is a tad worse, morally speaking, than simple mass murder (or mass atrocity), but the difference is slight.

As you may know, I was torn about the invasion of Iraq. I thought and still think that, though the strategic case for invasion was a joke, the moral case for invasion was strong. However, I argued then and still believe that we could have done more good in the world had we taken the resources we expended in Iraq and expended them in Africa. With about 1/100th of the resources we used in Iraq, I'll bet we could halt the current crisis in Sudan, and we could do so with far fewer casualties on both sides.

But there is no way that the administration will commit troops to the Sudan. For one thing, conservatives in general simply don't support expending our blood and treasure to defend human rights. Their use of the human rights case for the invasion of Iraq was cynical and hypocritical, and if you have any doubt about that, just look at comments made by Republican leaders about Clinton's decision to stop the genocide in the former Yugoslavia. For thirty years the cry of conservatives has been "we can't be the world's policeman!" If using the military was not in our narrow national interest, conservatives strongly tended to be against it. (Sadly, many liberals have employed similar criticisms of the current war in Iraq, suggesting that they consider humanitarian concerns insufficient to justify war.)

For another thing, the Iraq war has probably stretched our military too thin for us to do anything in the Sudan. This is convenient for the Bush administration--having pretended that they went into Iraq for moral reasons, they can now suggest that they would go into Sudan if we weren't already engaged in a great moral struggle elsewhere.

And finally, having already attacked Iraq on trumped-up charges, it would be politically costly to send troops against the Arab militias in the Sudan. One cost of the Iraq war, of course, was that it made us look anti-Arab to many in the Middle East, and this cost has, now that the crisis in the Sudan has emerged, turned out to be particularly high.

Bush's newest alleged justification for the war in Iraq is that "it made the world a better place." This is slightly different than a standard moral justification for war, since, according to this criterion, we could invade a country and take its money if enough money was at issue and we used that money in beneficial enough ways. But never mind that. I ultimately did not support the war in Iraq, despite my long-standing belief that Saddam should be removed by force. The reason I didn't support the war was that I did NOT believe that it would make the world a better place. Al Qaeda had then emerged as a serious and credible threat to world security, and we should have gone after them first. Saddam should have been taken out long ago, but he wasn't, and there was no plausible reason for taking him out before eliminating al Qaeda. No worse time for attacking Saddam could possibly have been chosen. The attack on Iraq actually undermined our efforts against al Qaeda by draining our resources, diverting our attention, and galvanizing the Middle East against us. Consequently, even I, a long-time humanitarian hawk and long-time Saddam-hater did not condone an attack on Iraq in 2003.

An intelligent administration that allowed itself to be moved by facts and reasoning would not have attacked Iraq in 2003. Such an administration, concerned to make the United States and the world safer, would have gone after al Qaeda with everything we had, and probably would have wiped them out at Tora Bora. Such an administration, concerned to make the world a better place, would have made relatively small--but high pay-off--military commitments to places like Liberia and the Sudan, and worked to put together an anti-Saddam coalition and an international consensus that the guy had to go.

But by taking on an extremely tough, resource-intensive war, the Bush administration has now made it virtually impossible for us to undertake less resource-intensive military actions with much higher humanitarian payoffs. And we have paid a terrible political price for the Iraq war that we would not have paid if we had undertaken actions in Africa.

If we ever do get around to rebuilding Iraq, I expect that we will make Iraq a better place. Many liberals have, I'm afraid, lost sight of this fact. Even though the decision to attack was a bad one, it was in the ballpark. That is, much good will still come of it. My real objection to the war is that so much more good could have been done had we not attacked when and how we did.
Jeopardy Now Officially Unwatchable

I stuck through much of Ken's run on Jeopardy, but I won't be watching next season until he is gone. He seems like a nice enough guy, but when I found out that he was giving 10% of his earnings to the Mormon church, that was it for me. It's too painful to watch knowing that every one of the guy's answers it pumping more money into an organization that is trying to hasten the overpopulation of the Earth. And, having had a couple of close Mormon friends in my life, I'm also convinced that Mormonism is even more brain-washy than most organized religions.

It also bugs the Hell out of me that, knowledgeable though the guy is, his biggest advantage is merely his skill with the button. A friend/former instructor of mine who was a five-time winner and tournament of champions participant under the old system told me long ago that learning to buzz in correctly was the hardest part (especially since the buzzer apparatus on the show is, apparently, different from that on the home version of the game (which, incidentally, I've never played (what kind of a geek do you think I am, anyway?))). As soon as I heard that they'd removed the five-time cap on winning, I knew this would happen. Once people make it through the nervousness of the first few times, get comfortable, get focussed, and get familiar with the buzzer, they have an incalculable advantage over their opponents. The fact that Ken is winning by so much, and getting to answer almost all of the easy questions gives strong support to this conclusion.

Um...this post is completely valuless, isn't it?

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Pulling Together, Pulling Apart

I was touched and heartened by the appeals by members of the 9/11 commission for us to all pull together against al Qaeda. Unfortunately, my optimism was dented a bit by Dennis Hastert's subsequent comments. Although he did admit that 9/11 was not Clinton's fault, this concession struck me as particularly hollow. There is very little reason to believe that it was Clinton's fault; if it was any president's fault at all it is likely that it was Bush's fault. So Hastert's "it wasn't Clinton's fault, it wasn't Bush's fault" struck me as being something like "It wasn't Truman's fault, it wasn't Bush's fault"--a cheap concession in an attempt to deflect blame from its most likely-to-be-deserving target, i.e. Bush. Hastert then went on to make claims about how much Bush had done to fight terrorism since 9/11--again, thinly-veiled partisanship.

So, before the commission's appeal for unity had even reached the ears of most Americans, the Republicans were out front spinning for their man again, albeit in a slightly more subdued manner than usual.

Democrats and their sympathizers find themselves in an awkward position with regard to the issue of the current partisan viciousness in D.C. The viciousness is real and it has to stop and Democrats are the ones who seem most concerned to stop it--but it is Republicans who are most responsible for it. This point or similar ones has/have been made by several people, most recently by Paul Glastris in "Perverse Polarity" in The Washington Monthly (now my second-favorite political mag, right behind the indispensible New Republic. Speaking of which, Michael Crowley made a similar case there in his "Oppressed Minority" in the 6/23/03 edition). So if the Democrats were honest, they'd have to stand up and say "This hyperbolic partisanship is tearing us apart and has to end--and it's mostly the Republicans' fault!" That sounds like some kind of contradiction (let's all be civil, you bastards!), but it isn't. The partisanship does have to be stopped and it is mostly the Republican's fault, and even if Republican partisans will make bogus charges of self-contradiction, the Dems have to be honest.

The extremists who are driving this partisanship--like Grover Norquist and Tom DeLay--will never be convinced, nor will mindless Yellow Dog Republicans--but those aren't the people who we need to appeal to. We need to appeal to sensible Republicans and intelligent independents. Democrats can't simply compromise with extremist Republicans since that strategy will merely encourage extremism as a political strategy. Neither can they simply suffer in silence and allow DeLay and company to continue to fan the flames of a destructive partisanship. That means that the Dems are going to have to evolve into vertibrates, call a spade a spade, and be honest with the American people about the source of this problem. This may not work, and it may even backfire, but I think it's our only hope. And, oh, yeah, there is that pesky duty to tell the truth, even when telling it is inexpedient...

But as Glastris argues, the real obligation here lies with the media. They know damn good and well who is primarily responsible for the current divisive atmosphere, but they are afraid to report the facts. For one thing, they are afraid of being beaten with the liberal media stick. For another, there is some tendency to mistakenly believe that being objective about a story about conflict means pretending that both sides are equally to blame, even when this is demonstrably untrue.

Perhaps we might help our less-well-informed fellow citizens see the light by encouraging them to reflect on an illuminating set of phenomena with which they are likely to be more familiar--the adminstration's knack for making enemies on the international stage and alienating the rest of the world. At root, the alienation of the rest of the world and polarization at home are the effects of a single cause--the Republican leadership's unwillingness to compromise, brook dissent, and admit that they might--just conceivably and in some few cases--be less than perfectly right. Their contempt for other countries is of a piece with their contempt for other parties. Ultimately a strategy based on such contempt must fail. Let us hope--or, better yet, let us work to insure--that the strategy fails at home before its failures abroad become any more pronounced.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Sandy Berger and the "Suspicious Timing" Argument
What If the Tables Were Turned?

You might suspect that I'd post an anti-Bush tirade now that I'm back. Nope. What's the use? I half-suspect that anyone who still supports Bush cannot be reasoned with, and it's bad for the liberal soul to sit around ranting about him. I've been disconnected from the internet for five weeks, but I don't need to read the blogs to know what people are saying. I'm sure that the right wing of the blogosphere has already tried and convicted Sandy Berger--and it's likely that the more leftward parts of the 'Sphere are reflexively defending him.

But the fact is, at this point we just don't know what happened. On the one hand, what we've been told doesn't sound good; on the other hand, I've accidentally walked out of libraries, meetings, and other people's offices with papers and books that don't belong to me, and it simply doesn't seem that unlikely to me that something similar happened to Berger. The few things we have been told are consistent with an honest mistake and also consistent with a seemingly serious crime. The only thing we can do at this point is suspend judgment and await more facts.

But that's not what I want to discuss here. I want to discuss the "suspicious timing" response to reports about the Berger incident, and such responses in general.

I must confess to having some sympathy with the suspicious timing argument in this case. The administration has been opposed to the 9/11 Commission from the beginning, and has been about as uncooperative with the commission as it could possibly be without paying a high political cost. And the ruthlessness of the current Republican leadership is manifest, hence you don't need me to remind you about it.

But one of the first rules of reasoning is to ask oneself what one would do if the tables were turned, and such reflections inevitably bring to mind the revelation of Bush's DUI record (and the Bush campaign's deception about that record) days before the presidential election of 2000. As soon as Bush's record was revealed, Republicans responded with a "suspicious timing" argument of their own. In that case, I was entirely unsympathetic to the argument. These differential reactions can obviously be explained by my extreme antipathy towards Bush (though my true loathing for him did not develop until after the actions of the Republicans during the Florida recount debacle). But nobody cares about my psychology. The interesting question here is: how should we think about suspicious timing arguments? It is unlikely that differential responses are warranted in the Bush and Berger cases.

In the case of Bush's DUI, the answer seems clear enough, and generalizable. Suspicious timing arguments are, rationally speaking, completely inefficacious: they do absolutely nothing to lessen the rational force of the charge they are deployed to deflect. If Bush was a drunk and a liar, then he remains a drunk and a liar even if the Democrats slyly elect to reveal his drunkeness and mendacity just before the election. If Smith is a crook and Jones makes this fact public at a time that is particularly hurtful to Smith, this in no way means that Smith is no longer a crook. It might mean that Jones is a bad person too, but that's a different matter. Smith and Jones might both be bad fellows. (Incidentally, I know of no good evidence that this is what the Democrats actually did. The suspicious timing charge is particularlly impotent in this case given that the information in question would have been more effective had it been revealed sooner.)

This all seems clear enough, and it is, I suppose, something that those of us who are more sympathetic with the Democrats than with the Republicans should keep in mind with regard to Berger's actions. The timing of the revelations does seem suspicious, but, then, Berger's actions seem suspicious. The current Republican leadership is ruthless, and there can be no doubt that they are fully capable of leaking such information to distract us from the report of the 9/11 Commission. But even if that's what they did, this would in no way affect the question of Berger's guilt or innocence. One consequence of this is that we must not make the mistake of engaging in knee-jerk defenses of Berger simply because we are repulsed by the possibility of yet another Republican dirty trick. We can't allow ourselves to fall into such a trap, lest we risk becoming what we are working to defeat.

I've got a little more to say about this, but I'm too tired and mad to write it now.

Jeez, is was good to be away from this stuff. My condolences to you who haven't had a break from it...

Monday, July 19, 2004

Greeting and Apology
Hey all.  Sorry for the longer-than-expected hiatus.  The trip was somewhat longer than expected, I got food poisoning from my first meal back in the States, my computer crashed, and I discovered Firefly (the short-lived t.v series).  Plus politics started disgusting me all over again within about a week of my return.  Furthermore, I really enjoyed my break from the internet...ignorance is, if not bliss, then at least rather less stressful than knowledge.  (When American politics are at issue, anyway...)  Anyway, sorry for not checking in and at least letting you know.  My computer has yet again been promised to me by tomorrow, so I plan to post something substantial soon, plus fascinating details of my travels and travails...