Monday, October 31, 2005

Gulf of Tonkin Intelligence Cover-Up
Why It's Important to Admit When You're Wrong

I've always mostly blamed Johnson for the Gulf of Tonkin/Vietnam debacle, but this piece in the NYT indicates that the GoT debacle resulted from people at the NSA trying to cover up errors they initially made.

(HT: Canis Major)

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Right-Wing Media's Tenuous Grasp On Reality Slips Just A Little Bit More...

Atrios gets this one right, so go read him. Jonah Goldberg, of course, is not a very smart man. I doubt that he's less intelligent than average, but he's certainly no more intelligent than average. He's not particularly knowledgeable (despite what was apparently an extremely privileged upbringing), and not a particularly creative or interesting thinker. In fact, he's just a more-or-less average guy who inherited a soap box from which to spew his vapid so-called thoughts. But apparently some people do find his muddled ramblings worth reading. I even heard somewhere that he has a fan club...but the possibility is too pathetic to even consider.

As Atrios points out, the right flips out when there's any comparison of Bush to Hitler. But it's o.k. to call liberals evil, to call them traitors, and now to call them fascists. The right is famous for its double standards, of course, so I suppose this should come as no surprise.

Rather: extremists of both left and right are famous for their double standards. To the credit of the American left, its extremists are marginalized. Sadly, the extremists of the right are in control--not only of the right-wing media, but of the entire country.

Oh, and, incidentally: if Jonah G. were ever to call me a fascist to my face I'd punch his chubby little lights out.

Oh, and also incidentally: if you're a big fat liar, you don't get to complain if somebody compares you to Hitler. Accusing someone of employing something similar to the Big Lie strategy is not equivalent to accusing them of being a racist or a mass murderer. If Bush wanted to avoid such comparisons, he should have tried sticking to the truth.
Operation: No Gloating

I think it's bad to gloat about our Fitzmas presents, but it's kind of hard not to. A corrupt administration is finally being called on one of its many crimes, and it's always gratifying to see justice done. But if we really want to work towards reuniting the country, we'll try to avoid outright in-your-face gloating. Nevertheless, it's going to be kind of hard in the face of posts like this one from Insty.

Note that he didn't write the hilarious quote in question, but he does obviously endorse it. Among the many desperate tactics the more benighted elements of the right are using to suppress the pangs of cognitive dissonance is, apparently, the deployment of this surreal theory about the way Starr and Fitzgerald are regarded. Starr, the dishonest partisan hack, was thought by many to be a dishonest partisan hack, in part because he used leaks as a weapon against the man he was so obviously out to get. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, has run a tight ship and given us every reason to believe he's an honest inquirer. The emerging "narrative" on the right is that this difference in the way the respective men and their investigations are regarded is purely a function of the virtue of the administration they investigated: Starr was regarded as a partisan hack not because he was a partisan hack, but because--of course--the Clinton administration was evil and smeared him. Fitzgerald is regarded as honest and competent solely because the Bush administration is too noble and virtuous to smear him. (Um, I guess our pals on the right missed the Republican talking points from last week...)

You might find all this funny, but I don't. It's gut-wrenching to see the lengths to which people will go to cling to the beliefs they prefer and are comfortable with.

Now, there's little we can do for folks like Insty and Austin Bay et. al. The time to become more epistemically virtuous is NOT at a moment of crisis when one of your cherished beliefs is on the line. The time to work on one's epistemic character is early on in such an inquiry, when little is on the line. If, say, legitimate questions arise about the character of a favored belief or person, fight that little tug in your chest that urges you to insist that it just can't be so. Recognize that it MIGHT be so--that you might be wrong. And for God's sake don't go on record in public insisting that the evidence is bogus. It's hard to eat your words, especially when they are impassioned and public. (That's why I worry that blogging will decrease the general level of intellectual honesty in public debate.) Intellectual dishonesty is like violence--the time to stop it is in the early stages. Once it establishes a firm beachhead in your passions, it's almost impossible to stop.

We can do a little for our friends--our brothers, really--on the right by not gloating. We can do far more for ourselves by silently observing the ugly spectacle of their dishonest intellectual gyrations and resolving to never allow ourselves to perform such gyrations. You might object that I'm being part of the problem by harping on the intellectual dishonesty currently exhibited on the right, and you might be right. But I'm not saying that we must ignore it completely. Some truths are important enough to be spoken about, even if the speaking of them contributes to the problem in question. I'm not saying we should ignore what's going on, nor that we should verbally mince around it. Just that we shouldn't gloat about it.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Fitzgerald Reveals Liberal Bias

By indicting Scooter Libby (according to CNN's sources.)

Yes, folks, just as the media has shown its liberal bias by failing to toe the conservative line, climatologists have revealed theirs by harping on global warming (or "the tropicana effect" as we prefer to think of it), and evolutionary biologists have revealed theirs by continuing to push evolutionary theory, Patrick Fitzgerald has now revealed HIS liberal bias by failing to find the administration blameless in every detail.

How biased is he? Only time will tell.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Miers Withdrawal

By now everybody knows about this, and I reckon no one is too surprised. I just want to go on record as saying that I'm worried about it. I predicted that Bush would nominate a hyper-conservative for this position after his uncharacteristically rational nomination of Roberts, and was kind of surprised by the Miers nomination. I thought that, facing huge problems and with his popularity plummetting, Bush would seek to rally his base by nominating...oh, Judge Roy Moore or someone like that. He's not going to get the center back behind him, so it seems that the last thing he should want to do--politically speaking--is alienate his base. At any rate, he missed one opportunity to do that, and they certainly won't let him get away with it a second time. So I expect somebody really bad this time. I was hoping that Miers would squeak through, thinking that an unqualified possibly-centrist was better than a qualified hyper-partisan like, say, Scalia.

The long and short of it is that I think we're screwed now.
Unsubstantiated Indictment Rumors

From, so don't take this too seriously. (Via Atrios) Doesn't make any sense to me, but god knows what's going on. Well, whoever's guilty of whatever, I hope they get busted for it. It'd be kinda funny--in an oh god we really are all doomed kind of way--if the eternally inept Democrats found a way to make even Bush look good. That is, if they really did lie about his lies and then got busted for it.

But, as I said, this is not from an actualy news sourse, just RedState, hardly a hotbed of objectivity.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

China Reports Third Outbreak of Bird Flu in a Week

Via al Jazeera.
Two Polls Via Science Daily:
Any Democrat Beats Bush; 39% Think Administration Acted Illegally

I don't care so much about polls, but both of these are kinda interesting.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Bush & Co. Seek to Discredit Fitzgerald

Well, they're running true to form.

Needless to say, anyone who disagrees with this administration wants the terrorists to win, and anyone who thinks they've ever done anything wrong must either have a screw loose or be out to get them.

I had intended to post on this long ago--folks on the right and left needed to learn about Fitzgerald's reputation and methods and commit themselves ahead of time to one of the following propositions: (1) F is a responsible investigator; (2) F is not a responsible investigator; (3) We can't tell whether or not F is a responsible investigator.

Sadly, that's one of those posts I never got around to posting.

Everything I've seen has indicated that Fitgerald is a responsible investigator, so I've been prepared to accept--subject to reading his actual findings, of course--his conclusions as prima facie reasonable. I didn't look far enough into the issue, however, to be able to hold this opinion with much confidence. At any rate, I saw enough to conclude that there was no reason to believe that Fitzgerald was biased or "over-zealous."

But--of course--this is not how those now in the White House think. They employ what a friend of mine calls "The Method of Inverse Criticism." The rational person inspects evidence and forms his opinions on the basis of that evidence--even if he doesn't like the opinion he is forced to accept. He who employs the MOIC inspects the conclusion first, determines whether he likes it or not, and then accepts or rejects the reasoning accordlingly. This reminds me of several people of my acquaintance who will accept any argument--no matter how patently fallacious--so long as its conclusion is 'God exists,' and who reject any argument--no matter how apparently sound--so long as its conclusion is 'God does not exist.' (I know atheists who do exactly the same thing--by which I mean exactly the opposite thing--of course.)

One is reasonable insofar as one can be moved by reasons--by evidence. But the remaining 38% of the population that does not think Bush is a terrible president is probably the 38% that simply cannot be moved by evidence on this point. I mean, what exactly are they waiting for? Laser base on the moon? Cheney stroking a white cat during the State of the Union address? The Republican Party changing its name to 'The Legion of Doom?'

At any rate, this is all too predictable. Obviously no evidence that points to ineptitude or wrong-doing by the administration can be veridical. They are--apparently by definition--right in all things they do. And if Patrick Fitzgerald looks at the evidence and disagrees...well, then he--again, by definition--is a partisan hack. Or incompetent. Or over-zealous. Or _________ (fill in the blank)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Just for the Record: My Position on Iraq at Time of Invasion

Not that it really matters, but, since it's come up in comments so often of late, my position on Iraq at the time we invaded was that we shouldn't go, and that citizens should actively oppose the war. Although I'd wanted Saddam deposed since Gulf War Episode I, and although I thought that the humanitarian case for war was strong, I opposed the war because of my strong opposition to the way the war was "justified"--or, rather, rationalized.

As evil as Saddam was, I thought that the greater danger was the threat to American democracy posed by the morally reprehensible rhetorical and political tactics of the Bush administration. And since I still then considered America to be the world's best hope for justice, I concluded that the harm done to America, to democracy, to international law, and to the world was likely to be greater even than the great good I expected to come from destroying Saddam.

The lies, the demagoguery, the militarism, the disdain for the judgment of the people and for the democratic process... In the end I split with pro-war liberal hawks not because I did not think that destroying Saddam was a worthy goal, and, to my shame, not because I thought that the cost to Iraq would be too great, but rather because I thought that the cost to American--and, hence, world--democracy would be too great.

My biggest mistake--and I think this has come out in discussions with Matthew Christman and Azael--was to underestimate the harm that would befall Iraqis by overestimating the competence of the administration and overestimating its commitment to Iraqi democracy. I really thought that they were going to do it right once they started it. I do now think that I should have seen that this was unlikely, and opposed the war on these grounds, too. (I still do not agree that this was a conclusion that all rational, well-informed, well-meaning people should have drawn at the time--but that's a different subject.)

But I still stick to my original grounds as sound reasons to oppose the war. I would be willing to sacrifice a great deal to establish a sane government in Iraq. One thing I am not willing to sacrifice is American democracy itself. And I still believe that the health of our democracy was on the line. Consequently, I think that we now have the worst possible outcome: American democracy took the hit--we allowed ourselves to be manipulated by the administration and its cabal of lackeys (or, perhaps, a cabal and its administration lackeys) despite the fact that this manipulation was fairly obvious at the time--and we still probably aren't going to see a sane government in Iraq.

(Incidentally, I don't think that these conclusions, either, should have been obvious to all rational, well-informed, well-meaning people. It took me quite awhile to figure all this out and articulate it with relative clarity. I was still unsure what I thought until a few weeks before the invasion.)

The situation is, of course, worse when one reflects on the fact that it is not clear that this administration was even legitimately elected. But that's a different tale of woe, one I've gone on about too many times already.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Paintball Gun Information Request

So I want to get my brother a paintball gun for his birthday. Something fairly good, but that won't break the bank. Any input on this subject would be appreciated.

(I'm Googling on my own, of course, but I post this just in case any of ya'll are knowledgeable on the subject.)

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Shorter Leon Kass 1.2

Women don't like sex. Men don't like women.
Shorter Leon Kass 1.1

Ah, for the good old days when people were so repressed and ashamed of their sexuality that they married the first person who piqued their interest...and stayed with them forever, no matter how destructive, dehumanizing and soul-crushing the relationship turned out to be.
Wasps Trained to find Bombs and Other Interesting Stuff

Like the title says.

I've often wondered why we aren't trying more stuff like this. I read somewhere that B. F. Skinner trained pigeons to act as guidance systems for missiles during WWII, but the U.S. military thought the idea was cracked and wouldn't use it. God, think about the awesome technological advantage we would have enjoyed if that idea had been developed! I've also read about the Israelis using heat-detecting beetles or somesuch to detect whether someone has crossed the border at a certain place. At any rate, animals, insects, and even plants are basically very complicated machines, already "designed" and produced, just lying around. We really ought to see what useful things they can be trained to do instead of focusing exculsively on building new mechanical devices from the ground up.

Furthermore it seems to me that we should be thinking in terms of linking up such biological components into complexes of biological components (here's the wasp module, it detects x; here's the dog component, it processes y) and integrating those complexes with mechanical devices.

AND we should be thinking about selective breeding (e.g. of wasps, mice, bacteria, whatever) to accomplish such tasks more effectively. If, e.g., wasps really are good bomb detectors, we should selectively breed the best of them to produce new generations of wasps in which the desired trait is enhanced.

Lastly: has anyone else read that dogs are actually better expolosives detectors than those expensive machines at the airport, but that the U.S. won't use them for some crackpot reason (e.g. some people are afraid of dogs, or that the presence of bomb-sniffing dogs makes people more nervous than the presence of bomb-detective machines or some such crap)? Am I misremembering? Or are we really that stupid?
Kass on Courtship: Part 1 of n on Part 1 of 3

I've got a big stack of papers to grade today. So I can't finish what I want to write about Kass's "The End of Courtship" part 1. (Exams from my epistemology class. Many of the students wrote for 2.5 hours straight on an exam that was intended to take one hour. I'm totally psyched to see what they've got to say. Dang, I love this job... I mean I REALLY LOVE THIS JOB.)

But let me just note one thing for now so that I'm not sitting around stewing about this all day:

Kass's argument turns in large part on empirical questions, and Kass guesses at the answers to those questions instead of looking for data. Guessing--hypothesis formation--is good under certain conditions and bad under others. Kass's guess and his guessing are bad. First, there's little doubt in my mind that hard data about the attitudes and mental states of 21st-century young people concerning marriage already exists. Second, Kass, on account of his age and station, is probably not well-placed to make a good guess about the empirical points in question. Because of his age he probably has little contact with the world he speculates about, and because of his station he probably has contact with a radically unrepresentative segment of he population--college students. And, since he's at the University of Chicago, particularly rich college students at that.

Kass simply presupposes the answers to central empirical questions and moves on from there. But he gives us no real reason to believe that the average American 18-25-year-old experiences no pressure to marry, nor that the average female of that age group is "sad, lonely, and confused."

Kass may be right, but I'm closer to the age group in question and I have experience with a more representative slice of the population, and I don't find his conjecture plausible in the least.

The way to settle this is to look at the sociological data, however, not to engage in a duel of speculation.

One further point here: the important question at issue isn't whether the average female of the relevant age is "sad, lonely, and confused," but, rather, whether she is more sad, lonely and confused than she would be if she had married the first man she slept with and had a baby at the age of 19--or whatever scenario it is that Kass is imagining to be preferable.

OF COURSE many people at that age are unhappy about many aspects of their lives. The important question, however, is whether their lives are likely to be better or worse in the long run under the old, more repressive system or under the newer, more permissive one.

One strong and obvious prima facie reason for preferring the newer social arrangement is that it still allows people who want to marry and reproduce at a young age to do so--it just doesn't demand that everyone do it. The fact that so many people choose NOT to do so is some evidence in support of the conclusion that this is the preferable course of action. Kass will reply that women don't really have that option anymore because sex is easily available to men. That's probably not right, but I want to spend more space on that point than I can here.

I said before that Kass is right about a few things, though they're deeply buried in his essay. The culture has some role in influencing how people--including the young--live their lives, and currently it is less likely to pressure people into early marriage and reproduction than it used to be. Corporations find it profitable to market certain "life styles" (ugh, what a term...); they encourage the non-young to buy enormous houses and enormous SUVs and have a baby for which they can then purchase expensive accoutrements, they encourage the young to buy expensive clothes and to spend extravagantly on an allegedly cool, more-or-less out-of-control "life style." There are reasons to think hard about the ways of living that the culture in general promotes, there are reasons to worry about the role of corporations in shaping the message of the culture, and there are reasons for thinking that the ways of living that are currently being promoted are not the best ways of living for everyone. (And there are reasons for thinking that there is a wide variety of different ways one might live a good human life.) So there are reasons for addressing the issues that Kass addresses, even though Kass's particular position on those issues is probably more than a bit daft.

But those epistemology exams ain't gonna grade themselves, folks, so I'm outta here.

Friday, October 21, 2005

These Kids Today
Leon Kass's Jaw-Dropper
Why Sex is a Filthy, Filthy Thing

You know, sometimes one's jaw literally does drop...

The philosopher in my demands that I note that deeply, deeply buried in this unbelievable piece of shit essay are a the shreds of a few semi-interesting points. But it's kind of silly to note that at all given the astounding idiocy of the thing.

Here's my favorite part:

"The change most immediately devastating for wooing is probably the sexual revolution. For why would a man court a woman for marriage when she may be sexually enjoyed, and regularly, without it?"

Kieran Healy's answer at CT is a gem:

"Well, it's not as if I'm going to make my own potroast, now, is it?"

These people--prudes and puritans like Kass apparently is--are the real perverts. The suppressed premiss in all their drivvel is the same: sex is dirty. It's filthy and evil and the only thing that could ever justify doing it is making cooing little babies and preserving the species. My God. Who are these people?

Jesus, have these people never felt passion? Do they know nothing of love? Does this man know any women? It's all about the babies and the drudgery for them. If there's any fun in it, it must be bad.

Most of us don't find someone we want to spend our whole lives with when we're 18, and few of us anymore are stupid and benighted enough to commit ourselves for life to someone we barely know and have never had sex with. Kass's ideal is the sexual equivalent of demanding that Smith should speak to no one until the age of 20, and then, after exchanging a few brief comments with a few people--Jones, Brown, Greene--choose one of them as the only person Smith can converse with for the rest of Smith's life.

Jesus, these f*ing people must be dead from the waist down. Or the neck up.

O.k. See, now I'm just part of the problem in the 'Sphere. Now I'm just spewing invective. Goddang it this really pisses me off. This is just what I said I wouldn't do anymore--seek out the dumbest of the dumb and ridicule it. What a tragic waste of the human spirit.

I'd far rather sit around with Azael telling me what a numbnut I am about Iraq. At least I might learn something. Things like this Kass thing just make me want to bang my head against the desk and type irrational insults.

Go away. Move along. Nothing to see here.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Gotta love the Wikipedia. If you're like me and have fallen (way) behind in your Able Danger reading, here's a way to catch rather up.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Pinch Me...

...I must be dreamin'... Saddam Hussein and Tom DeLay dragged into court almost simultaneously.

Maybe the world is just after all.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Liberal Hawks

Atrios really can be such a moron. If I ever turn conservative, he'll be part of the reason.

I ended up being against invading Iraq, but anybody who didn't feel the allure of ousting Hussein and building a liberal democracy must have a heart of stone. The WMD case was pathetic but that's not the case that liberal hawks relied on. There was a strong humanitarian case to be made for the war, even if it may not have been quite strong enough to justify it. If the average liberal hawk who supported invasion was a chump it was because he mistakenly thought (a) that this administration really gave a damn about human rights and (b) that this administration was minimally competent.

I don't know who's more irritating, people who continue to insist that going in was a good idea or people who insist that it was always obvious that going in was wrong.

Anyway, this kind of peurile name-calling is what makes the blogosphere so annoying and so resistant to rising above Crossfire-level discourse.

And, look, he got me to call him a moron. Now I'm doing he started it.

(Incidentally, Atrios gave me my first and biggest link ever, so I owe him a debt of gratitude. Even if I do think that he can sometimes be a moron.)

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Take THAT, Rat Islamofascist Bastards

Out of the massive cluster-intercourse that has been the Bush Iraq policy, something good may still come. Here's something that can give us all a little bit of hope.

Me? Personally I still believe that liberal democracy is so powerful that it can often win against superstition and totalitarianism even when it's advocated/introduced ineptly and immorally. I'm with C. S. Peirce when he writes "...justice and truth are, notwithstanding the iniquity of the world, the mightiest of the forces that move it."

Though I'm also with Orwell when he writes "That the truth is great and will prevail is a prayer rather than an axiom"...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sixteen (Thousand) Words and Counting

Sixteen Kids and Counting


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Sick, Drunk, and Up for Tenure

Well, here I sit, five days before my tenure materials are due. I sprained my ankle yesterday and woke up with a cold today. I had to have the beautiful and amazing Johnny Quest proctor my epistemology exam today, and drank a health dose of the Famous Grouse (er, home remedy).

F*ck it.

Who needs tenure anyway? It's not like my life would be over if I lost my job. Seriously, dudes. I got skillz, dawg. I am, for example, quite gifted as a farm hand. And, um, I dig a mean ditch. Maybe I'll go out west...

I'm actually not worried. In part because I'm pretty freakin' good at what I do, so not all that worried about the decision. And in part because, well, I've got the world's greatest girlfriend and a bunch of friends of such extraordinary coolness that my life will be good no matter what happens with my j-o-b. And the point is that I really, really like philosophy. So who gives a rat's ass whether I get paid to do it or not?

Hey, you lookin' at ME?
Hard Facts About Troop Strength, and the Immorality of Invading Iraq.

From the inimitable Kevin Drum, bloggers' blogger.

You know I was torn on the issue. I am tempted to agree with the Sullivan post Drum links to--that is, with the point that the invasion was immoral because we did it in a half-assed way. But if Drum is right, then there weren't any more troops to be had. Conclusion: the invasion was immoral.

In principle we could have invaded for the right reasons and done it right. In practice, not so much.
Religious Tests

Um, I carry a copy of the Constitution in my book bag...which is almost always at hand...but it isn't right now. But, unless I'm hallucinating, article VI section 3 specifically prohibits religious tests for senators, representatives, and (I think) pretty much everybody else in the "federal" (more properly: national) government.

Bush is skating pretty damn close to violating this provision of the constitution.

He has said in the past that he would not nominate anyone who did not believe that our rights are granted to us by God.

In case anybody is interested, and as I've pointed out before, that theory of morality is incoherent, and no self-respecting philosopher believes it anymore. It's the philosophical equivalent of an astronomer believing that the sun goes around the Earth.

So, if I'm understanding this correctly, Bush may be--in violation of the Constitution--insisting that his court appointees believe an incoherent moral theory.

Jesus Christ. I f*cking give up.
How Long...

...before even the hardest of hard-core Republicans admit that their party has been hijacked by crooks, morons and incompetents? I mean, seriously, what will it take? Say what you will about the Democrats, but they'd have called bullshit on their own party long ago if things went this wrong.

We could face a situation in which Rove and Libby both go down for conspiracy and DeLay and Frist are both convicted for their respective wrong-doings. What will the foaming-at-the-mouth 'wingers do then?

Answering this question is left as an exercise for the reader.

But I'm fairly sure I know the answer.

p.s. All my posts suck now, but I'm coming up for tenure, and my materials are due on Monday. If anybody out there has any good ideas, e-mail me and guest blog for a post or awhile.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

More on Bird Flu


I ponder situations like this a lot. How much concern is appropriate? I've decided to get prepared, and I suppose I'll look like a nutty survivalist if nothing happens. But to paraphrase my dad on the subject of insurance: the best case scenario is that you waste your money. That is, of the two relevant scenarios ((i) I prepare and there's no epidemic and (ii) I prepare and there is an epidemic), I vastly prefer the former.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

U.S.: Not Prepared for Avian Flu Epidemic

From the NYT, via Instapundit.

To paraphrase the wise Statisticasaurus Rex: each of us has a civic duty to be prepared for disasters.

Question: is it un-liberal to assert that YOU are responsible for taking care of YOURSELF in case of a disaster? (Tentative answer: no, but that claim is not inconsistent with the claim that the government is also responsible for it. Two people can both be responsible for doing the same task, right?)

Question: is it un-liberal to assert that the PRIMARY responsibility for taking care of you in a disaster lies with you yourself? Doesn't it sometimes seem that too many liberals think that the government has the primary responsibility for taking care of us?

The government isn't ready for a flu pandemic, but neither are most of us as individuals. Do you have a generator? Do you have sufficient water-storage capacity? Do you have a stockpile of food? Do you have some N95 particulate respirators? If not, why not?

Seems to me that almost everybody here is shirking his/her/its responsibility.
Screwing Up Re: Bird Flu

2%? TWO PERCENT?????

For chrissake, can anybody remember anything that this administration has done right? It was kinda funny--in a sick, twisted way--for awhile, being right about what a bunch of incompetents and crooks these guys were. But now I'm just getting scared.

How do you run the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA into a ditch? A country. A whole country. The most prosperous and powerful country there's ever been on the face of the earth (note: by many reasonable measures).

My god. OBL couldn't have done a better job himself.

Please ignore me. I guess I'm in one of my moods.

Morbid Political Curiosity

Since I have nothing useful or interesting to say about the allegedly possibly impending attack(s?) on NYC, I'm sitting back and idly wondering whether such an attack would constitute the last nail in the coffin of the Bush '43 presidency, or whether it would rally the country around Mr. Bush.

I don't know, but I guess if I were forced to bet....I guess I'd bet that...crap. I just don't know. One might reason like so: it's unlikely that anything could drive Bush's approval rating any lower...there's about 1/3 of the population that'll continute to insist that he's a good president if he does anything short of shooting someone on live television. So a shake-up with a more-or-less unpredictable outcome is more likely to help Mr. Bush politically than it is to harm him.

Of course it's crass and nauseating to even consider such questions, IMHO.

Why do I get the feeling that I'm basically discussing the feng shui of deck-chair arrangement on the Titanic...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

If Fewer Males Were Born, The Crime Rate Would Be Lower

Is there anything morally reprehensible about that claim?

Just wondering.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Occasional Orwell Quote:

"If one thinks fearlessly one cannot be politically orthodox."
Tom DeLay and the Corruption of the Party of Lincoln

A must-read from Jonathan Alter (via K. Drum)
Pot-Shots at NOLA Rescue 'Copters: Nope

I'm not sure whether I blogged about this or not, but I never did believe the stories about people taking shots at helicopters in New Orleans. Atrios posts this, strongly suggesting that the stories were fake.

I figured that the stories, if based in fact at all, originated when someone saw a helicopter in the air and heard a gunshot.

Anyway, it's crazy the bizarre fictions that situation produced.
More Serenity

I went back and saw Serenity again last night, believe it or not, and absolutely loved it this time. I liked it the first time, but I was too worked up, and the transition from t.v. to the big screen, with all that entails, really threw me off.

Anyway, that's a damn fine movie.

O.k., I'm probably shutting up about this subject now.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Bush and Plame

I guess I'm the last to know, but thought I'd post this anyway, since it caused an actual, audible intake of breath on my part when I saw it. I don't believe it, of course, but I don't believe it's false, either. Sadly, it's plausible, all too plausible.

If true, Bush must not only be removed from office, he probably has to go to jail. I think this guy's a crook, but even I don't think he's this much of a crook. Though I recognize that he could be. Wait and see's the thing, sez me.
Serenity, again

I notice that some in the rightosphere are pointing out that Serenity is a pro-libertarian polemic. That's fair enough if you recognize that libertarians aren't conservatives. Most people one encounters in American politics these days who call themselves libertarians are crypto-conservatives.

The folks we call 'liberals' are civil libertarians and economic non-libertarians. That is, they think that people should be free from government control in their private, non-economic lives, but that the government should have an important role in regulating the economy, even perhaps to the point of redistributing wealth. The folks we call 'conservatives' are (nominally, at least) economic libertarians and civil/social/cultural non-libertarians. That is, they think that the government should stay out of our pocketbooks, but that it has a right to regulate our private, non-economic lives. E.g. it can sometimes tell us what ideas we can express (e.g. whether we can burn the flag), can promote religion, and can tell us which adults we are allowed to have sex with and/or marry.

Me, one reason I don't get along with liberals so well is that I'm largely a libertarian at heart--but a libertarian who (a) thinks that it's more important to keep government out of our private lives than it is to keep them out of our pocketbooks, and (b) lacks the irrational blind faith in the free market that economic libertarians talk themselves into. So, anyway, I count as a liberal primarily because I'm a civil libertarian, and because I think civil libertarianism is more important than economic libertarianism. Which is sort of to say: I think that government interference in my private life is entirely unacceptable, whereas I think that interfering in my economic life--up to a point--is merely annoying and possibly for the best, all things considered.

So, one can reasonably see Serenity/Firefly as pro-libertarian, so long as one sees it as really pro-libertarian, rather than crypto-conservative.

How much one should make of the politics of a science fiction movie is another matter entirely, of course... But, as I said, I think fiction is important.

See it.

Just see it. And SEE IT TODAY.

You want to see it today because it's a way of voting with your feet and pocketbooks. Seeing it is a vote for smart, clever, humane, interesting, fun, exciting stories. As opposed to the dreck that Hollywood normally spews.

Look, Joss Whedon is not Shakespeare, but if you like exciting stories with interesting characters--exciting stories that aren't made for dummies by dummies--then he's your man. Go put down your money and see his movie. You'll like it and you'll contribute to the (first-weekend) box office numbers that seem to be the only thing Hollywood pays any attention to. Strike a blow for non-stupidity in popular culture.

I saw Serenity yesterday, and, honestly, I have to see it again before I have anything interesting to say about it. But a few random thoughts:

1. Seeing it solidified my belief that we are moving out of the era in which movies are the most important forms of visual story-telling and into one in which television series are the most important forms. Movies are like short stories. Series can be like novels (even though most of the dreck on t.v. is just composed of short stories strung together, stories in which you can only identify the characters by their names and the people who portray them.) Serenity is great as a next installment in the Firefly saga, but I have no idea what people unfamiliar with the show will think of it. Whedon is good, and he's better when he has more time for character-development.

2. There's already some chatter on in the rightosphere about Serenity's conservative message. I'm sure there will be liberal replies. Serenity is about Romanticism. It's about the sublimity of space and the power of humanity and of love. If Romanticism is conservative, then its message is conservative. But its message isn't conservative. So we have to doubt the link between Romanticism and conservatism. Serenity is about the good guys. That means they don't fall neatly into the liberal-conservative spectrum. They want to survive and do what's right, and that's common to good people on both ends of the spectrum. They are open-minded and their moral vision isn't clouded by the primitive and superstitious aspects of quasi-literalist Christianity, so in that respect they are at odds with the worst parts of the right. But they recognize that sometimes perpetrating violence against very bad people is the only way to do what's right; in that respect, they are at odds with some of the worst parts of the left. They opposed the Alliance and--in this movie--in particular the Alliance's efforts to use technology and bureaucracy to transform humans into something (allegedly) better, so in that respect they are more closely-allied with contemporary conservatives. But the world they want to build--or save--is a, open, liberal, humanistic world, so in that respect they are more closely-allied with liberalism.

3. Serenity/Firefly, like Buffy and Angel, is largely about teaching moral lessons. True moral lessons, independent of and unclouded by the aforementioned bad parts of Christianity.

4. Stories are important things. Fiction can grab the imagination in ways that neither philosophy nor anything else seems capable of. That, a friend of mine once suggested, is why totalitarian regimes immediately try to control people's access to fiction. Fiction can capture the imagination, and the imagination is more important than most of us left-brain types realize. Anyway. Fiction is complicated, and I need to think more about it than I have in the past.

5. Thanks, Joss. You've done something important for me.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Some Good News from Iraq?

Dunno. Sounds encouraging, but comes from a blog that looks pretty far to the right, so take it with an appropriately heavy dose of sodium chloride. (Via Instapundit, I think.)