Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Bush Again Invokes 9/11 With Regard to Iraq

(via Reuters)
Well, the good news is that Bush continues to claim we won't just pull out of Iraq. The bad news is that he's still doing nothing to increase the likelyhood that we'll succeed there. Instead of doing the kinds of things that would make it rational to be resolute about the war, he continues to just exhort us to be resolute. I guess we should expect this from our first "CEO president." Maybe he's really our first president from the marketing division...

He also continues to invoke 9/11. He doesn't anymore come right out and say that Saddam was responsible for 9/11, but he still works those references in, getting that meme into people's psyches. Man, there really may be a place for him in marketing when he leaves office...
We're All Gonna Die, Episode MCCXVIII:
Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, the Yuppie Scourge, PC, Libertarianism, and Marijuana

From Canis Major, I recieve this scary update on the threat posed by over-prescription of antibiotics.

I've heard in the past that pushy parents often insist that doctors prescribe antibiotics for their kids, even when what they have is a viral condition...this article says it's often also the overly-busy I've-got-a-deadline-for-chrissake types. The link to yuppies here is tenuous, but it's hard to resist bashing 'em at every opportunity, isn't it?

But you've got to place a large portion of the blame on the doctors, of course. It's baffling that they would give in to such pressure given what's at stake. On the other hand, given that they might (note: reference unconfirmed) be subject to censure for telling patients they are overweight, I suppose they'd really be in hot water if they denied someone antibiotics and that decision had bad consequences. So maybe PC is to blame...

Oddly CM, who sent the article to me, is himself a libertarian. And antibiotics raise a particular problem for libertarians, as I am always reminding my libertarian friends.. If the government didn't regulate them, this problem would be worse than it already is. So there's one very clear example of a problem that the free market seems unable to handle effectively.

And, while we're at it, if the government wants to address a serious problem of drug abuse, it should be expending more resources on this problem rather than wasting its resources on peaceful marijuana smokers.

And...and...and...and another thing...and...

If there were only some way to blame George Bush for this, it'd be the perfect post...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Emotional Advertisements Allegedly Sway Skeptical Consumers More than "Factual" Advertisements

(via Don't Drink the Koolaid)

As they say, this is interesting if true. But it's the conclusion of a study that's to appear in the Journal of Advertising...so we're probably not talking about the greatest minds in the social sciences here. Caveat lector.
Thank God I'm Not A Chickenhawk

James Wolcott on the miserably confused concept chickenhawk. (Via Atrios)

I've been meaning to complain about this for some time, and my complaints run deeper than Wolcott's, but right now it's time to write a syllabus. Yay!

Also soon to come: why Operation Yellow Elephant is stupid (though damn funny).
The Fall of Western Civilization, Episode MCXVIII: Nobody is Overweight

Am I the last person to hear about the doctor being investigated for telling his patient she was overweight? I've heard now that the doctor apologized, which is regrettable and absurd. The patient is an idiot, and the doctor should have stuck to his guns on this one. (Apparently he did, praise Jebus, refuse to be packed off to a sensitivity re-education camp.)

Conservatives blame this kind of insanity on liberalism. Although it's not an inevitable consequence of liberalism, there does seem to be some sense in which liberalism has nudged us in this direction. Initially, liberals noted that words could harm, and that a good person would refrain from saying certain--e.g. racial and sexual--things. After that, however, things began to get a bit out of hand. Now we've got a bizarre cultural obsession with "sensitivity" that has generated the case at hand--and I think liberalism has to take some of the blame.

Now, if the doctor had pointed at the patient and said something like "yo, lardass, dump some tonnage" that would be a different matter. But that's not what happened. Now I'm wondering how long before I'm censured for telling students that they've misunderstood the course material...

You might think that this is a comparatively innocuous problem, but I'm not so sure. It's so patently ridiculous...so downright surreal...that it has to make us wonder about the zeitgeist. And note: this isn't just one crazy woman--the New Hampshire Board of Medicine sent the doctor a "letter of concern," and tried to get him to go to sensitivity school. I can't imagine any rational person not being infuriated by such irrationality.
Bad News from Afghanistan

Well, that's just great. Good thing we began a war in Iraq before we finished what we started in Afghanistan. Now we can lose two wars at the same time.

Afghanistan should have been a slam dunk. Now it's back in play. Even if win there, the administration is stupid for having let it get close.

Again, my test: if I could do a better job than the current president, then we're in trouble.

We're in trouble.
Democracy Sucks

It suddenly hit me last night, like--as they say--a ton of bricks.

We've all admired the (alleged?) Churchill quote "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried"...but the truth of it finally soaked in through my thick noggin:

Democracy sucks.

Sure, sure, it's the best form of government we know of...but that's not the point. The point is that it's still an absurdly bad way to run a country.

Consider our current predicament. The president is demostrably unqualified for the job. This was evident before he was (almost) elected the first time, and painfully obvious before he was (God help us) elected the second time. He is a man who got into Yale because of his family connections and drank and slouched his way through. He dodged the draft and couldn't even fulfill his service in the National Guard. After that, he ran a series of businesses into the ground, each time being bailed out by the ultra-rich, who wanted to curry favor with his father, the president. He was an alcoholic most of his adult life, and then adopted a laughably primitive version of Christianity. Then he was governor of a state in which the governor has little power.

And then we elected him president of the world's only superpower.

We elected a man with, in essence, NO qualifications. He is probably not the least qualified person in the country, but it's a close call.

We (almost) elected him over Al Gore, an extremely competent and intelligent statesman who would have made a damn fine president. We elected him over John McCain, a war hero of unquestionable character. We elected him over John Kerry, another war hero, and a man who would--if nothing else--been just fine.

We've got more smart, competent people in this country that we know what to do with... And in the midst of this intellectual and moral plenty, we elect a man who is utterly incompetent and intellectually bankrupt. Hell, the guy isn't even diligent. If you're not smart, you should at least be diligent.

So this is what democracy does. It allows the uninformed and incompetent to elect their own as president. Not always, of course--but sometimes is bad enough to screw everything up. God bless it, it blows the doors off of anything else we can think of, and one can't help but get a little misty about it when one compares it to, say, theocracy or absolute monarchy...but it's a goddamned stupid way to run a country. I get that now.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Wes Clark on Iraq

From the Washington Post.

Although it's fun for folks like us to sit around typing furiously about Iraq and what should be done, this is amusement rather than serious inquiry. It's the Fantasy Football of international affairs. Most of those in the rightosphere insisting that we stay the course, and most of those in the leftosphere demanding that we pull out, are, frankly, unqualified to speak on the matter. They're just blabbering.

Clark, on the other hand, knows whereof he speaks. He's also smart, experienced, pragmatic, and his heart's in the right place. His opinion is worth about five hundred times more than yours or mine, so I suggest we take him seriously.
Brad DeLong on Us-O-Centrism and Moral Agency

The points have been made before, but this post by Brad DeLong is worth a read (sez me). I've long suspected that there was important truth lurking around in the neighborhood of these thoughts.

(This link was suggested to us below by Lewis Carroll--thanks LC.)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Ethics of Hoarding

O.k., I am not a survivalist. However, I do have a few gallons of water and a big bag of rice stuck in the back of the closet. And a tastefully substantial amount of ammo. Anyway, Johnny Quest gives me occasional grief for this, and we joke about this stuff being for "the fall of Western civilization."

Now, there's been a good bit of talk of late about a likely pandemic (bird flu or whatever), and I've wondered whether I should get more serious about laying in supplies--in particular since I only get about four hours of sleep per night and, as a result, catch a bad case of almost everything that comes around.

Anyway, what's there to lose? It's not like having extra granola bars around is going to hurt anything. They'll be eaten--one way or another--sooner or later.

But here's a question that's puzzled me ever since I was a kid: what's "hoarding," and why, exactly, is it alleged to be wrong? In the movies when food is scarce and one family is found to have a substantial store of it, they are accused of "hoarding," and this seems to give everybody else license to break into their house and steal it.

Now, I'm a person who's inclined to be rather more altruistic than most, and I don't think it's crazy to think that, under such conditions, food should be shared equally. However, it's far from clear that that's what morality demands. It seems just as reasonable to think that those who have prepared in advance deserve to reap the benefits of their foresight.

I mean, suppose I can't pay my rent. Suppose also that my neighbor has had the foresight to save his money diligently, and has plenty. Can I accuse him of "hoarding money," break into his house and take what I need? No. So why do things change if he's had the foresight to lay in a supply of food and I haven't?

So what about it? If Smith has saved some food and Jones has not--though he had the opportunity to do so--is Smith obligated to share his food with Jones? If so, does he have to share it 50-50? Or what?

I can't even come close to figuring this one out.
Injuries in Iraq

It's always struck me as odd that in news reports of accidents, disasters, and wars, only deaths are usually reported. Even if someone receives a head injury that leaves them with reasoning or memory impairment, or loses all his limbs, that usually goes unreported. As many have noted, the advent of more effective body armor has made this problem more acute, since the proportion of injured to killed has risen dramatically. And more sophisticated medical procedures mean that soldiers who would have been KIA twenty years ago now survive, though sometimes with terrible injuries.

Consequently, we can't get an accurate picture of the cost of the Iraq war for the U.S. without accurate reports of serious injuries as well as reports of deaths. (Of course some of us are also concerned about the cost of the war to Iraqis...but that's a different topic.) The MSM gives us frequent updates of the death count, but that's not all we need here. We also need a report of life-changing injuries. Perhaps if such reports showed up on the nightly news more of our fellow citizens would sit up and take notice.

(Hey: I read an interesting article on this in Harper's a couple of months ago, but can't find it now.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Wacky Eco-Kooks Whining About Looming End Of Life On Earth

These whiny lefty eco-nuts are getting all bent out of shape because the oceans seem to be nearing a "tipping point" at which "scores" of marine species may die out. But why these alarmist kooks think this will matter is beyond me. Who needs fish? Or marine life at all, for that matter? How will the extinction of 20 or 40 or 80 species affect ExxonMobile's bottom line? Or U.S. national security?

"Oooh, we're creating the greatest mass extinction in 65 million years..." "Oooh, we're destroying the planet..." God, these people make me sick. If they love the ocean so much, maybe they should go and live there.

On a more serious note:
Anybody understand why it is that we HAD to invade Iraq because they MIGHT have had some WMDs, whereas the fact that we are rather clearly headed for environmental disaster doesn't seem to matter to these people at all? In the former case the administration came off as so risk-averse that they seemed like downright sissies. But--in the words of one of the commentors on this blog--if (e.g.) the most widely-accepted global warming predictions turn out ot be true, it will make an atom bomb in Manhattan seem "like a paper cut."
Slavery and the Holocaust

Was the Holocaust worse than slavery in the U.S. and the American colonies? If so, why and how much so? Even if the answer to the first question is 'yes', does the Holocaust reflect more badly on the German national character than slavery does on our national character?

And, incidentally, what about the mass murder of the American Indians?

These are serious questions I've long wondered about. I wonder in part because I often find myself thinking Jeez, there's just something not quite right about those Germans. However I rarely find myself thinking that about Americans. (Well, I do think there's something not quite right about us. God, who doesn't? But that's not for the reasons at issue here.)
Iraq Electronic Market?

Anybody know whether there's an electronic market concerning the future of Iraq? My interest in this should be obvious. Righties berate me for foolishly denying that Iraq is far improved and heading for democracy, lefties berate me for denying that it's obviously and irrevocably going to hell... But such vehement predictions are easy, especially over the internet, since the price of being wrong is so low. At least face-to-face with people you know you risk being called on your prediction in the future if it turns out ot be wrong. On the 'net, everybody's certain about everything...

But, as I often tell my students, one way to figure out whether you really believe what you are saying is to ask how much you'd be willing to bet on it. I think things in Iraq look bad, but I don't know enough about such things--nor enough about Iraq in particular--to have much confidence in my judgment. I wouldn't, say, bet 10% of my wealth (such as it is) on Iraq descending into (full-blown) civil war. And I'm wondering how many of those who are dead certain (one way or the other) would do so. There seem to be a lot of people running around who know no more than I do, but who are far more certain than I am. But talk is cheap, and I'm wondering what people say when there's something other than words at issue.

On the other hand, I thought that the question of whether to go to war was a tough one, when it was probably, in fact, a fairly clear one. So what do I know?

Matthew Christman makes a good point when he emphasizes the importance of the incompetence of the administration. If, say, Clinton or Bob Dole or Wes Clark or Colin Powell were in charge, we could be more optimistic about our ability to pull out of a tailspin. But this crop of incompetents are the ones who took us from 9/12/01, when we had the support of the world and seemed destined to give al Qaeda the Mother Of All Ass-whuppings, to the near-disaster we find ourselves in now. We haven't quite lost, but did anyone in their wildest dreams ever think we could do this badly?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Iraq: What To Do?

As things seem clearly to go to Hell in Iraq, we again face the question what is to be done?

Unsurprisingly, those who favored military force from the beginning, and who tend to favor military solutions, tend to think that we should stay. Those who opposed military force from the beginning, and who tend to oppose military solutions, tend to think that we should leave. But these opinions are usually little more than prejudices--that is, the results of pre-judgments--judgments made before the relevant facts were considered.

Problem is, very few people have the knowledge and expertise required to make a useful judgment here. Few of us know enough about such situations, enough about the actual facts on the ground, and enough about our military capabilities to make a valuable decision about this case. And no non-experts have anything like a good guess about the consequences of (a) staying and (b) leaving.

So what we need here is reliable expert opinion. This is what we would usually expect to get from the government. Sadly, we can no longer believe anything the administration says about Iraq. So where to turn?

That's a serious question. Where are we to turn? Anybody know?

I'm beginning to think that staying on is not the right option. (But I'm a non-expert, and, like the rest of you non-experts, I don't really know enough to make a decent judgment here.) The right option would be (or so goes my non-expert guess) to devote more troops and resources until we fix what we've broken. But that, apparently, is not a real option. That would be costly and politically inexpedient, and the Bush administration will not do it.

Since we are not going to do what we are morally obligated to do, we have to ask what the least bad remaining option is: stay in a half-assed manner or leave entirely. For the first time, I'm beginning to think that the latter bad option may be the best option genuinely available to us. Leaving will be bad, but I'm beginning to think that staying (without the troops and resources to do the job right) may be worse.

If things continue in this way, this war will go down in history as one of America's greatest foreign policy failures, and one of our greatest moral crimes.
What--Exactly and In Principle--Is Wrong With the "Minutemen"?

So, I've stayed out of the debate about the "Minutemen" (not those from the Revolution, who I'm definitely in favor of, but the contemporary ones, who I'm tentatively in favor of). Dave Neiwert has his finger on the pulse of American racists like almost nobody else, and he's anti-Minuteman. But thus far I've found his arguments unconvincing--though I haven't read all of them I must admit. At any rate, Dave's judgments on this are better than mine, but here're mine for what they're worth.

There are at least two questions at issue here, as is usually the case: the question of principle and the question of practice. That is:

1. Are the Minutemen doing something that is wrong in principle?


2. Are the Minutemen, as a matter of actual fact, reprehensible?

Now, I don't know what the actual characters of the actual Minutemen are like. I'd guess they're a mixed bag, but I don't know. Neiwert is probably the man to go to on this question. I'll not address it.

However, I'm more interested in the first question anyway. Is there anything in principle impermissible about private citizens banding together to assist the authorities in apprehending criminals? It's hard to see how the answer to that question could be 'yes.' If the law in question is just, then it is permissible and perhaps even obligatory for us to assist the authorities in enforcing it.

So whence opposition to the Minutemen?

My guess is that it is based on some mixture of the following:

First, suspicion--warranted or not--that the Minutemen are, in fact, motivated by racism. (If they ARE racists, then, of course, to hell with 'em--but I'm in no way convinced that they are.)

Second, liberal antipathy to this kind of direct action by citizens.

Third, opposition to current immigration laws.

I'm actually a supporter of stricter immigration laws, because I think we're already over-populated. Some have grouped me in with racists because of this position. They point out that some racists advocate stricter immigration laws because they hate non-whites, and that I advocate stricter immigration laws...so... (At this point their little minds seem to go all awhirl, but you know what they're thinking...) My position here is an environmental one, however. I also think we should have fewer babies. Note that neither of these conclusions has anything whatsoever to do with skin color.

At any rate, if one advocates greater rates of immigration, then one should work to raise immigration quotas. Advocating illegal immigration is clearly not the rational solution. I'm more than willing to listen to arguments for the conclusion that we should raise the quotas--but more illegal immigration simply cannot be the correct solution to the problem.

Given this, and given that the government is currently ineffective in solving the problem, it is apparently a good thing that citizens should try to help out. Now, so long as they aren't hurting anyone but are merely assisting law enforcement, it's difficult to see what objection one could raise to their actions. One might, of course, object to their character, but that's a different matter. Again, if they are, in fact, racists, then to hell with 'em.

But my suspicion is that the charges of racism are (sadly, typical) knee-jerk reactions from the left. Many of the protest-prone on the left think that all white males who live outside of NYC are racists. They see a rancher with a pickup truck and a cowboy hat and the case is closed. But here's the thing: if I thought that our immigration policies were just (which I do), and illegal immigrants were cutting my fences, killing my cattle, and shitting on my land, and if the government wasn't stopping them, then I'd be doing exactly what the Minutemen are doing. And I'm as anti-racist as you can get. Consequently, acting as the Minutemen are acting does not ipso facto make you a racist, nor reprehensible in any way that I can discern.

So I look at the Minutemen and think there but for the grace of God go I. Only the fact that my folks' farm/ranch is in Missouri rather than New Mexico separates me from them. But for an accident of geography, those scrawny little rich kids in their studiously pre-shabbified Ambercrombie and Fitch t-shirts would be calling me a racist. Hell, I was bucking racism when those weenies were attending their upscale, racially integrated preschools. How irritating. How tedious. How predictable...

Liberals would do well to distance themselves from the kookier elements of the left, especially the knee-jerk yer-a-racist crowd. Among other reasons, liberals have--in case you haven't noticed--more important things to be doing these days.

[Note: as always, this is intended to be the next word, not the last word, on the subject. I'm more interested in hearing your reaction than expressing my own. As always, I could be wrong.]

Saturday, August 20, 2005


Hey, everybody. I'm back. Will post again soon.

It was nice to have a break from the insanity of American politics and world events. I read almost no newspapers and saw almost no news on my trip. (On the other hand, I hiked to the top of the highest mountain on the Continental Divide. That was fun.) When I DID catch glimpses of what was going on, it made me glad I wasn't paying attention. I would just get these short, impressionistic flashes of the news: Iraq now rather obviously falling into chaos; Cindy what's-her-name, the protest woman, camped near Bush's ranch...seems like rather a kook, but she seems to be having some effect; chaos along the border with Mexico...the Minutemen, doing exactly what I'd do if my land were being invaded and shat upon and my cattle slaughtered...and being called racists for it; more memos suggesting that those of us who were called crazy for saying that the Administration was lying to us in the lead-up to the war were, in fact, the sane ones; Avian flu getting ready to kill us all; the BTK killer getting life when what he deserves is death; John Roberts looking less good than I'd hoped; liberal groups making fools of themselves by trying to make Roberts look less good than he really is;....and pervading it all, always peering from the background, more and more evidence that the President is simply not up to the job.... Maybe we should all be thankful that he spends so much time relaxing on the Lazy W ranch instead of governing. I think we're all better off that way...

Anyway, it was important...more than important...now seemingly imperative...to get out into the mountains and let all this stuff fade into the background. Seen from something of a distance, it all started to seem even more insane than it usually does.

Anyway, more later.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Off to Boulder

Posting will be light for a week. Johnny Quest and I are off to Boulder, CO for some hiking, camping, and slacking off. I'm in a little I can't stand to think about American politics phase right now, anyway.

I've never seen the Rockies before. Can you believe that?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Do Not... (Episode XVIII)

Do not get really high on mushrooms and paint your toenails red. Those two things might, individually, seem like good ideas, but they do not work well together. It will look like you got your feet stuck in the garbage disposal.

To review:

If you take mushrooms, then don't paint your toenails

If you elect to paint your toenails, do not do so while on mushrooms.

That is all.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

All of 'em some of the time, some of 'em all of the time, but...

Gosh, apparently fewer than half of us now think that Mr. Bush is honest. What could possibly account for this fact? Could it be liberal media bias? A mysterious burst of Q-radiation from the sky? al Qaeda mind-control ray? What? What could explain this? What could make most Americans think that their president is dishonest? Frankly I'm stumped.
Anti-Bush: Two Strategies

Sometimes I think that something like the following is true. See what you think:

There are roughly two strategies those opposed to the administration can adopt. Here they are:

1. Identify the actual errors and crimes of the administration and relentlessly insist that people take them seriously, even if they don't care and don't want to do so.

2. Whine about everything the administration does, twisting even passably decent decisions until they look like errors or crimes.

How's that for prejudicial formulation?

Anyway, I worry that we all have a tendency to slip into the second strategy when we should, in fact, employ the first. Nobody cares that an American election was either stolen or close to stolen? Tough luck. That shouldn't prevent us from reminding people about it. Nobody cares that we were deceived into going to war? Sorry, that doesn't mean it isn't true. Nobody cares that the administration seems to be channelling the spirit of T. D. Lysenko? Well, that's important, and we're not going to shut up about it.

But when others fail to exhibit the outrage that's appropriate in the face of such moral crimes, I fear that we have a tendency to lash out, grasping at straws--a tendency to try to construe other, more innocuous decisions and actions as stupid or evil. Most recently I'd point to the Roberts nomination. I'll grant (in spades) that we have a right to demand more information on the guy, but so far he seems like a plausible choice--and a better choice than we had any right to hope for from this president. To demonize him would be (a) wrong and (b) strategically imprudent.

Incidentally, I hope you stopped with (a) and didn't need to go on to (b). But let me explain just in case: When those of us in the anti-Bush crowd complain about things we have no real right to complain about, we merely give ammunition to the pro-Bush crowd. We end up pushing weak and easily-defeated criticisms. Those in the pro-Bush crowd can then (unsurprisingly) easily defeat them, and then say "see how irrational those people are, and how weak are their criticisms?" And that's the last thing we need. It casts a shadow over our strong criticisms as well.

So I say we stick to the first strategy. It's the virtuous one, and it's the more effective one. When Bush does something right--or at least innocuous--we acknowledge that. But we relentlessly tell the truth about his crimes and errors, even when our fellow citizens don't want to hear it.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Sorry for Unannounced Hiatus

Went off to Bear Island again. Saw what I think was a great horned owl. Will post tomorrow. Sorry for unannounced hiatus. Have no idea what's going on in the world now. Guess that's par for the course, really...

Monday, August 01, 2005

Uwe Reinhardt: Who's Paying for Our Patriotism?

Worth reading, in today's Post.

The article raises important points, eminently worth thinking about. Many have pointed out that we're not being asked to do anything to aid the war effort, but Reinhardt points out that this may give many of us the illusion that what we (in some sense of 'we'...) are doing is easy or without great cost.

He makes reference to WWII, though I must say that I've recently come to think that the disparity between what was being asked of the troops and what was being asked of those on the home front was even greater in that war. There were deprivations at home, of course, but, let's face it, they were still relatively minor. And those who fought in WWII were in far, far greater danger and suffered far more than our troops today.

Nevertheless, Reinhardt has an interesting point. Many of us--political junkies, that is--sit around obsessing about the war, but I'll bet that most Americans rarely give it a thought. They don't know anyone who's fighting, and the war's being fought on credit. So it seems to be without cost.

He's also right that we--and Republicans in particular--treat our veterans badly. Personally, I've always thought that those in the military should be paid well, and veterans--especially disabled veterans--should be very well taken care of indeed.

Fortunately, these two problems seem to have a common solution. Taxes should be raised until we are actually capable of paying for this war, and until we can treat our troops and or veterans decently. The happy side effect of this policy is that it would drive some of the costs of war home to people. I can virtually guarantee that if this war caused the average American to give up some premium movie channels we'd be out of Iraq before you could say "Six Feet Under."

Remember, I say this as someone who is inclined to believe that we should stay in Iraq until the job is done. Scratch that. Rather, we should stay until we un-botch things a bit. But I also think that the American people should have some sense of what they've gotten themselves into. Scratch that. They should have some sense of what they've allowed themselves to be tricked into. I think we should pay even more, put in more troops, and make things right. And I think that those of is who aren't doing the fighting and the dying should be feeling a good bit of financial pain. It is--pretty much literally--the least we can do.