Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Invading Iraq: The Rube Goldberg Argument (from Steven Den Beste)

Don't get me wrong--I kind of like Steven Den Beste, and admire his attempt to set out a reasonably complete attempt to justifiy the invasion of Iraq (as part of the GWoT (or G-SAVE (or P-FUNK (or whatever it's being called these days)))). In order to evaluate the reasons in favor of the policy, it's important to lay them out as clearly as possible. It would, of course, have been better if we'd had the rationale set out in this form by the administration ahead of time, but better late than never. Den Beste's done an admirably clear job of hypothesizing about and trying to clarify the reasons for invasion.

Praise is being lavished on the argument in the rightosphere (it's even being suggested that Bush's new Iraq strategy owes something to Den Beste's argument). The praise for Den Beste's interpretation/reconstruction is justified. But the argument itself is far from praiseworthy.

One reason it's important to formulate reasoning in this textbook fashion is that it's easier to identify errors that way. And this argument is no exception. In fact, once the argument is reconstructed in this form, it's...well...breath-takingly awful. If the argument had been presented to Congress or the American people in this way prior to the invasion, I can virtually guarantee that the invasion would not have happened. It doesn't take much study to see that the argument is a rickety structure made up largely of wild speculation and wishful thinking.

Anyone who knows anything about doing anything should be able to tell that this argument is a blueprint for disaster. The attempts to justify the invasion of Iraq look like they were put together by Rube Goldberg. It's not that there's no case at all--there were, as I've noted before, at least some good reasons for invading. It's just that good reasons and non-speculation play far too small a role in the argument.

The first thing this argument reminded me of (well, after a Rube Goldberg machine, that is) was Yamamoto's battle plan at Midway. But even more baroque. Well, I thought as I read it, if you're right about everything and everything goes exactly as planned, then there's a non-zero probability that this will work. But the one thing you can be sure of when undertaking a project of this kind is that you're not right about everything and not everything will go exactly as planned. That's why a certain amount of modesty and realism is required in cases of this kind. I'm a philosopher and Den Beste's some kind of engineer; he must know that better than I do. (Though, again, to be fair he's just reconstructing the argument not necessarily endorsing it; though his endorsement seems implicit.)

I don't have the time (nor the patience) right now to go through the argument in detail, but--and readers of this blog won't be surprised by this--I think the thing really starts to go off the rails at VI.B. It's really striking how thin the case is there--or, rather, it would be striking if it hadn't been so clear all along that the decision to abandon Afghanistan in order to go after Iraq was such a bad one. The reasons Den Beste states for switching from Afghanistan to Iraq are pathetically weak and speculative. They are, to be precise:

1. The human and cultural material we needed for reform did not exist in Afghanistan.
2. The "Arab Street" would not have been impressed by successful reform in Afghanistan or in Persian Iran.

My God. Those are supposed to be the reasons why we let up, let bin Laden go, and plunged into the hornet's nest of Iraq? It almost makes you want to weep. If the reasons had been set out this clearly ahead of time, none of this would ever have happened. Is it possible that we really did abandon a clear, valuable, and achievable goal on the basis of whimsical, half-baked speculation about how the "Arab Street" would view our achievement of that goal?

Oh, the humanity.

[Instapundit has informed me that the den Beste piece is, in fact, a couple of years old and is now experiencing a revival. I guess this shouldn't matter, but I find it even more depressing that at least some on the right believed ahead of time that this was the strongest version of the argument. Too bad that the administration didn't formulate the official version of the argument as clearly as den Beste formulated his version.]

Monday, November 28, 2005


Can't find the link right now, but maybe one of you saw the same results.

I saw recent poll numbers showing that--I believe--military officers surveyed put the odds of winning in Iraq at about 50-50.

If that's right--that is, if the experts now think that we have merely a 50-50 chance of winning--then this is important evidence of the complete failure of Bush's Iraq policy.

It's important to keep the following in mind:
For purposes of assessing the wisdom of Bush's decision to invade, it doesn't matter whether we ultimately win or lose. We were told it was going to be a piece of cake, that more resources were not needed, etc. If it is true that Bush's policies have gotten us into a position in which the odds of our winning are, in fact, as low as 50-50, then his policies are a failure even if we get lucky and pull this thing off (as I, of course, hope we do.)

We should never have been put in a position of having merely a 50-50 chance of winning. It's absurd. We would never have allowed the administration to undertake this war if we thought that there was a significant chance of ending up in a coin-toss for supremacy with Iraqi insurgents. And there is absolutely no excuse for the administration's having put us in such a situation. Even if we end up winning we cannot forget the perilousness of our current circumstances.

If your doctor told you that a certain treatment was necessary, virtually guaranteed to succeed, and had no significant chance of serious side effects, and then later you find out that he spun the evidence, exaggerated the danger of your condition, downplayed the risks of treatment, made numerous stupid technical mistakes, and put you in a situation such that you had a 50-50 chance of dying, you could not and would not later judge the doctor to have been competent just because you got lucky and survived. (In fact, if you were smart and morally responsible, you would him.)

This should be the battle-cry of Americans outraged about the administration's handling of the whole Iraq fiasco:

K. Drum on Abuse of Presidential Power Re: Iraq Intelligence

This isn't an original point, but he's right about it, ergo I link to it.
What I Was Wrong About, Episode MCRXVVQIIIII: Troop Levels and Time-Tables

Well, too busy to find the links now, but you've already seen the stories. It's looking like the Iraqis want a time-table for withdrawal; it also looks like basically everybody including the administration is starting to talk about drawing down troop levels in the relatively near future.

Assuming--and fervently hoping--that these folks know more than I do, it looks like there's decent reason to believe that I'll end up having been wrong about both these things (I guessed that more troops were necessary and opposed a public time-table for withdrawal).

Of course it's not clear that we're really going to do these things and it's not clear yet that they're the smart things, but seems like that's where the smart money is now.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Kieth DeRose Plunges Into the Fogbank of Postmodernism

I'm in the middle of a huge stack of dossiers, so I haven't even finished reading this yet, but still thought some of ya'll might like to know about it. Seems like it's worth a peek. Er, it being Kieth DeRose's "Characterizing a Fogbank: What is Postmodernism and Why Do I Take Such a Dim View of It?"

Analytic philosophers are raised to loathe Continental philosophy and postmodernism, and most of them have more loathing for it than actual knowledge of it, so I usually try to tune out their screeds about it, but this seems like it might at least be worth reading.

Oh, and let me say that I'm one of those guys, too. I was encouraged to deride the Continentals and PoMos before I really knew anything about them. And I still don't know much about them, so I've tried several times to reign in my judgments. How can one occupy such a position (I loathe it, but I don't understand it)? Holding such apparently incompatible positions should worry anyone.

Well, the short story goes like this:

1. I've developed a reasonably acute bullshit detector, and the needle hits '11' whenever most of these guys start talking.

2. When I have taken the time to delve into a few of the works of well-known PoMo heroes--e.g. Lyotard--with care, they've turned out to be jaw-droppingly full of shit. So, if I find them to be cracked when I do take the time to understand them carefully, I have at least some grounds for making judgments about their work overall.

3. I know a good bit about the general positions that are in favor among those folks--e.g. cultural relativism and "social constructionism"--and can say with some authority that those views are intellectual dead ends. So, if they're wrong about the issues I do know about, I'm not inclined to trust them re: the issues I'm less clear on.

4. I'm with DeRose when he notes in this context that life is short. There are more books to read than I have time to read them, and too many written by authors I'm sure are non-charlatans. I'm not going to take a risk wasting my time with authors of dubious sincerity. Speaking of which:

5. I'm sympathetic with Emerson when he writes that "Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only be overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment." When I read those guys, I get an overwhelming sense that the authors are possessed of bad intellectual characters. They're bullshitters in Frankfurt's sense: they don't care whether what they're saying is true or false.

6. I once asked the best, most well-read and most intellectually honest philosopher I know--someone who has not only read but taught the recent Continentals from time to time--what he thought about those guys. After a long pause he said "I don't see how anyone who admires Peirce could admire them."

Oh, there's more but I'm tired of this, and who cares? These are just reasons why I have made a semi-snap judgment about the PoMos and don't feel too guilty about it. Roughly, in terms of their intellectual and philosophical characterisics, I've found them to be similar to creationists, new agers, and scientologists. And a relatively small sample of such wares tells you everything you need to know about them. (And, incidentally, I say this as someone who's put in untold hours on the creationist literature.)

More Conservative Cultural Relativism?

Sort of.

I've been ambivalent about Alito until the last week or so when the really damning revelations have started to come out. This NYT story seals the deal for me. Turns out that Alito was a member of an organization called 'Concerned Alumni of Princeton.' Among other fascinatin' deeds--including working to keep females out of the university--the organization asserted the following in its magazine, Prospect:

"Currently alumni children comprise 14 percent of each entering class, compared with an 11 percent quota for blacks and Hispanics."

This, incidentally, as a way of indicating that the policy was bad.

When was this written, you might ask? Such a bizarre comparison might be excusable if it had been written in, oh let's say 1950. But of course it couldn't have been, could it? Turns out it was written in--sit down for this one--1985. Women already had the vote and everything by that time, so you can see how things were already going down-hill...

Now, I have very complicated--and sub-optimally coherent--views about affirmative action. But I'm inclined to be in favor of it so long as it is justifiable on grounds (as it were) of field-levelling. If Smith has led a radically privileged life, Jones has faced severe adversity, and Smith's accomplishments are equal to or only marginally greater than Jones's, I think there is a good argument for preferring Jones in some contexts--e.g. college admissions.

On the other hand, I have little sympathy for arguments from diversity. I haven't written them off entirely, but they seem weak and disingenuous to me. These arguments usually take something like the following form: colleges should privilege under-represented groups because members of over-represented groups will benefit from matriculating with more members of the under-represented groups. This argument is such a mess that I don't even want to get into it here. (Again, though, I haven't written it off entirely, FWIW.)

But the one type of affirmative action I think we should all be able to agree is indefensible is affirmative action for the already over-privileged, which, so far as I can tell, is exactly what CAP is advocating.

CAP seems to think that its actions are justified as attempts to defend "traditional values at Princeton." That's sophomorically ambiguous, and for us to know what's really going on they'd have to made it clear whether they meant that they were (a) defending the traditional values of Princeton or (b) defending, at Princeton, traditional values in some wider sense of the term (Western values, Christian values, American values, or whatever).

Either way, it's going to take more than an appeal to "traditional values" to defend these conclusions.

But the failure of appeals to tradition isn't my real concern here. Rather, I'm interested to point out, once again, how close many conservatives come to being cultural moral relativists. Now, cultural moral relativism (CMR) is a radically mis-understood view. It's one of the lamest moral theories ever proposed (approximately as lame as the divine command theory, and, oddly, a cousin of it), and almost no reputable philosopher thinks of the view as as an open theoretical option. However, even most philosophers don't really understand the view very well--IMHO--and, consequently, they don't really understand in much detail why it actually fails (though they are right that it fails).

But the topic at hand isn't so much why CMR fails but what it is and why the right flirts with the position about as often as the left does. (What I'm about to say is controversial, but I know about as much about this issue as anyone, so I'll feel free to speak as if I know what I'm talking about...) To understand what's going on here, you first have to understand the nature of many errors in reasoning generally and many philosophical errors in particular. Philosphers often mistakenly think that people usually make very clear errors (when they do make errors, that is). But I think that's not true. This becomes clear when you carefully think about the character of the fallacies on the traditional list. Take, for example, the ad baculum fallacy ("appeal to the stick," i.e. an appeal to force). Now, the textbook examples (and here I mean the actual examples in actual textbooks) are usually terrible. If Smith says to Jones "your money or your life," Smith is not obviously committing an ad baculum fallacy. On the common view of fallacies (and here I run roughshod over a bunch of details), fallacies are errors in reasoning. But Smith isn't reasoning at all, nor urging Jones to do so. He's threatening. Better examples involve cases in which harm is threatened as a way to get someone to believe something (e.g. believe this or go to Hell). But even these cases aren't clear. If I say "believe that p or I'll hit you," then I'm a bad person, but, again, am not obviously committing a fallacy. Again, I'm threatening you--providing you (unjustly) with a prudential reason for believing. For this fallacy to be, you know, a fallacy, apparently I have to be somehow asserting or presupposing that by threatening you I am providing you with a logical or epistemic reason to believe--that is, the same kind of reason that good evidence would provide.

To make a long story short (er, too late), when we try to produce an uncontroversial example of an ad baculum, it ends up looking something like this:

You have good logical/epistemic reasons to believe that p
because if you don't believe that p I will harm you.

But almost no one is stupid enough to make this error because almost no one is stupid enough to think that physical harm can constitute an epistemic reason. That is, when you state the argument form with great clarity, almost no one is dumb enough to make it.

But people do commit the fallacy--sort of. That is, they say things that are vague and ambiguous as between a genuine ad baculums (er, ad bacula?) and other arguments. Things that reveal that they are confused as to whether they are trying to make an ad baculum or, rather, do something else. That is, they get caught half-way to a really stupid error, and only their own lack of clarity saves them from making the error in an outright fashion.

That's where CMR comes in. CMR is a position which, in its (according to me) pure form looks something like this:

(CMR) The fact that we have traditionally done A constitutes, in and of itself,
a moral reason for doing A.

Two things to note here: First, this is a position that is so mind-bogglingly implausible that almost no one is attracted to it in its pure form. Second, it's an outrightly fallacious appeal to tradition.

Now, CAP doesn't unequivocally advocate (CMR), but they don't unequivocally not advocate (CMR). It isn't clear what they're doing. They may be Burkean conservatives who think that social institutions are the outputs of long informal experiment, and should, thus, be given some presumption. They could be advocating adherence to tradition--as so many people do--for aesthetic reasons. Or they may be cultural moral relativists. We can't tell from what they write. I will bet you very large amounts of money that they themselves don't know what they really think They're confused. That's the way it is with those who flirt with relativism, both on the left and on the right.

Anyway, as with last night's post, I'm mostly interested to point out that the right wanders semi-wittingly toward CMR about as often as the left does. There are, as I've noted, other reasons on both left and right for valuing tradition, but those reasons are usually not clearly distinguished from relativistic reasons, causing both sides to fall, from time to time, very near to the error of relativism.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Moral Relativism on the Right: The Brothers Judd

I'm often amused at how quickly conservatives start sliding into moral relativism. If you actually listen to what they say, they go that way almost as often as the extreme left does, and far more frequently than centrists and liberals do.

Via Atrios, I found this catch by Digby in which Orrin Judd, apparently a rather popular righty blogger, heads in that direction, defending not only the burning of witches but, apparently, anti-Semitism as well. (It's down in the comments.)

People fail to notice that there are basically two distinct varieties of conservatism, the rational and the insane. Rational conservatives are basically Burkeans--they think that social institutions are the outputs of long, informal experimentation, and that, consequently, they should be changed only cautiously. (Such conservatives worry about liberalism because they think that a liberal is--to quote a friend of mine quoting somebody else but I don't remember whom--someone who thinks that he's smarter than everybody else who's ever lived.)

Even if that variety of conservatism turns out to be wrong, it's at least not crazy. There are several varieties of crazy conservative--e.g. divine command theorists--but one crazy kind is the conservative cultural relativist. They think that we ought to conform to social norms because they are our norms and for no other reason. That is, they think that that's the way we've always done it is a good reason to keep doing it that way. Non-conformity is bad simply because it's non-conformity, and things somehow magically become right out of sheer repetition.

I could go on at length about the abject irrationality of this position--whether held by righties or lefties--but you've heard it all before. Besides, you don't really need me to explain it to you. With a bit of reflection anyone can see why that position is utterly mad.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Iraq and the Evaporating Myth of American Invincibility

If you read this blog, you know that, unlike some opponents of the Iraq war, I'm not exactly what you would call a peacenik. Peace is more important than most people realize, and I value it highly; but I tend to think that our military should be used for humanitarian missions--where this can include combat--more often than it actually is. I tend to have a great deal of respect for the military and for appropriate applications of military force. I also tend to think that it was within our power to promote conditions that would have led to a long and influential pax Americana.

As others have noted, after the first Gulf War, we enjoyed a reputation for virtual invincibility. The preposterous rapidity and thoroughness with which we crushed Saddam's army surprised everyone, including us. Furthermore, there were those who thought that we had such military superiority that no country (China, I'm looking at you...) would even find it worthwhile to engage in a serious arms race with us. Like many of my fellow liberals, I think that it is crucially important to avoid arms races. Unlike most of my fellow liberals, however, I'm willing to consider the possibility that sometimes the best way to avoid an arms race is by pouring massive amounts of money into the military.

One more peripherally relevant piece of this puzzle: this strategy would only work, I believe, if we bent over backwards to manifest our benevolence. If we made the cost of matching us militarily prohibitively high, and made the likelihood that fighting us would be necessary extremely low, we would make it irrational for other countries to try to match us.

Sadly, we're no longer on a trajectory to achieve these goals. By irresponsibly (and possibly unjustly) invading Iraq, the Bush administration has made it irrational for other countries to trust their safety to our good will. Countries now eye us suspiciously, not sure what might set us off next. By invading a more-or-less randomly-selected country--a country no more allied with al Qaeda than, say, Syria or Iran or Pakistan--we have acted irrationally and unpredictably. Since we can't be trusted to act morally or rationally, it becomes necessary for other countries to prepare to defend themselves against us.

And, by botching the job because we committed too few troops and other resources to the war, the very, very useful myth of American invincibility has all but evaporated. We're now, apparently, seen as a bully--and a bully that can be beaten. The world would have been a far, far better place if we still looked like a fair, peaceful, and trustworthy country that could crush those foolish enough to attack it. If--stop me if you've heard this one before--we had, for example, devoted enough resources to crush al Qaeda in Afghanistan and thoroughly rebuild the country.

I've tried thinking about it from many different angles, but I always come up with the same conclusion: the Bush administration's response to 9/11 has, perhaps, been the most disastrous response imaginable. The only available alternative that I can imagine that might have been worse would be to have not responded with force against al Qaeda in Afghanistan at all. As irrational and disastrous as that (non-)response would have been, I have come to doubt that it would have been more disastrous than our actual incomprehensibly irrational response. Which means--and believe me, this is not a sentence I ever thought I'd find myself typing--we might have been better off if even Dennis Kucinich had been president. Think about that one for a moment.

Although I have in the past argued that it was absurd to say, as many liberals do, that Mr. Bush is the worst president ever (who can compete, for example, with the genocidal Andrew Jackson?), I'm beginning to believe that he may very well ultimately be considered one of the two or three worst, and by far the worst in recent memory. A time period, mind you, that includes that during which Richard Nixon was president.
al Jazeera on Bush's Alleged Urge to Bomb

I'm often surprised at how restrained and reasonable al Jazeera is almost every time I check in on it. I only read it sporadically, though, so my sample may not be large enough. Far from being the propaganda organ the administration would have us believe it is, it seems to me to be a perfectly legitimate news organization. And apparently they are hated both by conservative extremists in the U.S. and Arab extremists in the Middle East. Imperfect evidence, of course, but when something/body is hated by both wacko ends of the spectrum, this tends to speak well of them. At any rate, they seem to be taking Bush's alleged desire to bomb them fairly seriously, but are by no means freaking out about it.

Thing is, this is very important. We obviously have to see the relevant parts of this memo now. If Bush was serious--something I still do not believe--then...well, we've got an even bigger problem here than we thought we had. To be honest, if this turned out to be true, I think we have to start seriously thinking about the impeachment option. Unless there's a really impressive set of reasons here that I don't know about, this would suggest a dangerous lack of judgment--or perhaps even something more along the lines of "instability" (as they say--on Mr. Bush's part.

Especially given the other reasons that continue to accumulate for doubting Mr. Bush's judgment and honesty, this issue must be addressed by the White House immediately. We've let them get away with being too secretive for too long, and this is as good a place as any to draw the line.

Almost incidentally, if these reports do turn out to be true--something, again, let me say that I do not expect--then that will mean that the administration has again tried to deceive us by playing on whatever remaining trust we have for them. McClellan's we-won't-dignify-that-with-a-response-style response is (ignoring a few details) perfectly fine if the claims about the bombing are false. On the other hand, if they turn out to be true it will be yet another dispicable there-are-no-plans-on-my-desk-type deception. Let me say here and now that if that happens--which, again, I do not expect--that will bring to an end any effort on my part to resist the conclusion that this administration is irredemably dishonest and corrupt.
Evil SoBs

I don't post very much on the evilness of the bad guys in Iraq. I don't see a need to. We know the stories and they speak for themselves. And the right wing makes sure that every nuance of their badness is discussed ad nauseam. (This is usually part of an attempt at post facto moral justification for the war.)

But this story seemed to deserve a post. Bombing women and children at a toy distribution? Jesus, how cosmically, irredemably twisted do you have to be before that seems like a good idea?

I'm so outraged at our betrayal--and the betrayal of the Iraqi people--by our dishonest and incompetent administration that I seldom take the time to note what I simply presuppose to be patently obvious: that many of these guys we're fighting are very, very bad people.

But you know that.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

An Epistemology For Extremists

C. S. Peirce on "The Method of Tenacity":

"If the settlement of opinion is the sole object of inquiry, and if belief is of the nature of a habit, why should we not attain the desired end, by taking as answer to a question any we may fancy, and constantly reiterating it to ourselves, dwelling on all which may conduce to that belief, and learning to turn with contempt and hatred from anything that might disturb it? This simple and direct method is really pursued by many men. I remember once being entreated not to read a certain newspaper lest it might change my opinion upon free-trade. "Lest I might be entrapped by its fallacies and misstatements," was the form of expression. "You are not," my friend said, "a special student of political economy. You might, therefore, easily be deceived by fallacious arguments upon the subject. You might, then, if you read this paper, be led to believe in protection. But you admit that free-trade is the true doctrine; and you do not wish to believe what is not true." I have often known this system to be deliberately adopted. Still oftener, the instinctive dislike of an undecided state of mind, exaggerated into a vague dread of doubt, makes men cling spasmodically to the views they already take. The man feels that, if he only holds to his belief without wavering, it will be entirely satisfactory. Nor can it be denied that a steady and immovable faith yields great peace of mind. It may, indeed, give rise to inconveniences, as if a man should resolutely continue to believe that fire would not burn him, or that he would be eternally damned if he received his ingesta otherwise than through a stomach-pump. But then the man who adopts this method will not allow that its inconveniences are greater than its advantages. He will say, "I hold steadfastly to the truth, and the truth is always wholesome." And in many cases it may very well be that the pleasure he derives from his calm faith overbalances any inconveniences resulting from its deceptive character. Thus, if it be true that death is annihilation, then the man who believes that he will certainly go straight to heaven when he dies, provided he have fulfilled certain simple observances in this life, has a cheap pleasure which will not be followed by the least disappointment. A similar consideration seems to have weight with many persons in religious topics, for we frequently hear it said, "Oh, I could not believe so-and-so, because I should be wretched if I did." When an ostrich buries its head in the sand as danger approaches, it very likely takes the happiest course. It hides the danger, and then calmly says there is no danger; and, if it feels perfectly sure there is none, why should it raise its head to see? A man may go through life, systematically keeping out of view all that might cause a change in his opinions, and if he only succeeds -- basing his method, as he does, on two fundamental psychological laws -- I do not see what can be said against his doing so. It would be an egotistical impertinence to object that his procedure is irrational, for that only amounts to saying that his method of settling belief is not ours. He does not propose to himself to be rational, and, indeed, will often talk with scorn of man's weak and illusive reason. So let him think as he pleases."

Note: That last part's actually tricky. He apparently doesn't really think that there's nothing that can be said against such a person. Rather, he's apparently using this in some kind of Kantian appeal to the reader to get him to see the loathsomeness of this method and to contrast it with the nobility of the "Method of Science" (i.e. that of looking at the actual evidence and allowing our beliefs to be formed by it.) Maybe he's also thinking: to try to reason with a person who really adopted the method of tenacity would be like trying to teach a pig to sing. Or, rather, like teaching a pig logic. It just wouldn't be on. But that's not an indictment of logic, but of pigs, if you get my meaning. A person can only be coaxed out of the method of tenacity if he has some latent inclination to accept evidence and reasoning.

Peirce is a weird guy. So much of what he writes makes him sound like a raving, bone-headed meat-axe empiricist, when in fact he's actually a mind-bogglingly subtle and unusual kind of empiricist proposing a logic of science based on Kantian deontological ethics. When I first started reading Peirce I thought he was the worst philosopher I'd ever read. Now I suspect he may be the best.
Administration Concealing PDB 9/21/01 Indicated No Link Between Iraq and al Qaeda

Summary at the inimitable, including link to the full story in the National Journal.

Apparently the administration won't even release it "on a classified basis." Jesus, the weight of evidence here is becoming almost overwhelming even in the face of the unprecedented secrecy of this administration. Surely even conservatives should demand the release of the relevant parts of this report, at least to those with the appropriate security clearance. Conservatives who are convinced that there was no chicanery in play should welcome the opportunity to clear things up.
Kevin Drum on Iraq Intel Deception

A summary here, which includes a link to a more comprehensive list. Soon I will stop blogging and just let Drum do it all. (See footnote 1)

Coupla stray points:

1. Re: the Curveball saga: this seems to me to be developing into a representative example of how the war was sold. There seems to have been a kind of feedback loop involving the administration and the intelligence community. The latter had a mass of conflicting information, the former picked out the info it wanted and asked for more of the same while ignoring the info it didn't want and making it clear that it didn't want any more of that kind. The intelligence community then basically responded to rewards and punishments by providing more of the kind of information that got them pats on the head and down-playing that which got them scowls and dirty looks. Close to what military types call 'incestuous amplification.'

It doesn't take simple, out-right, black-and-white lies to derail inquiry. Just being a little bit biased in favor of a certain outcome can do the same job. Being 10% biased in favor of theory T can do the same job as the outright fabrication of data when the bias is applied over and over again to every piece of evidence (and when old evidence is then re-interpreted in light of the cooked conclusion). This is why I keep preaching about intellectual honesty, and why I'm so skeptical of my own conclusions. I know I'm not perfectly objective about these matters, and I try to correct for that by looking at the evidence in new ways and carefully considering the issue even thought I'm fairly convinced. Not that I'm a paragon of intellectual honesty by any stretch of the imagination...but, as my folks used to say, do as I say, not as I do.

2. It's funny and seems accidental that our central concept concerning deception is lying. (That's an ill-formed sentence, but you know what I mean.) Outright lies are only the clearest-cut, not the most important, type of dishonesty. Suppressing one half of the available evidence is exactly as bad, IMHO, as making up evidence. That's why I urge us to consider what I'm calling, for ease and consistency of reference,

(AD) The administration deceived us
(AI) The administration acted irresponsibly

Rather than

(AL) The administration lied.

They apparently did lie in some cases, but in others deceived without lying. Since deception is the more relevant category here and it includes but is not limited to lying, (AD) is the more important proposition.

Footnote 1:
I'm starting to think that small, one-person blogs that don't bring in any money are going to fade into insignificance, anyway. Seems like the bigger, multi-person blogs and bloggers that get paid are going to be the wave of the future. Henry Snerd sitting in his basement stealing a few minutes online here and there while keeping his day job can't really compete with the big boys. This is not whining, I just think it's true. Hell, Drum, for example, is better that I, for example, am anyway, and blogging is an actual job for him. Anyway, if this is right blogs will still be a source for analysis and information that can't quite make it into the MSM...they'll constitute a partial democratization (or whatever it is...maybe plebi-ification?) of analysis, but not the radical democratization (or whatever it is) that we see now. On second thought, perhaps this is worrisome in that the small blogs will eventually have little to offer by way of real information or analysis, but will survive simply as rant engines for crackpots like Li'l Kim du Toit. "Rants" (may they burn in Hell) are easy; actual analysis takes time.

Just some thoughts.

As you were.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bush To Call For Air Strike Against Daily Mirror

Um, things being what they are, I suppose I should make it clear that I'm making that up...
Interesting Site Re: Downing Street Memo(s)

Check it out.

Also includes timelines and quotes strongly indicating administration deception re: Iraq intelligence.
I Have No Plans To Attack al Jazeera On My Desk

I'm inclined to be skeptical of this report (from the Daily Mirror, meta-reported in the Post) that the President wanted to bomb al Jazeera. One would have to be very, very confused to consider such a thing. Although I think the President is very confused, I'm not willing to go with very, very confused quite yet.

On the other hand, consider the administration's response to the story as reported by the Post:

"We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told the Associated Press in an e-mail.

Given that we know that the administration is willing to mislead with half-truths, it would simply be irrational to interpret this as a denial. Which is not to say that it should be interpreted as an admission, either. Rather, we know that we must demand 'yes' or 'no' answers.

We first learned this when Mr. Bush told us that there were "no plans to attack [Iraq] on [his] desk." Later we found out that the planning was well underway. So the plans must have been in his drawer, or have moved on to Powell's desk, or whatever. But we discovered something important about Mr. Bush at that point: we couldn't interpret his words in the ordinary way, in the way we'd interpret the words of someone we knew we could trust. It was a despicable use of conversational implicature to prey on our trust and good will in order to deceive us.

In fact, I feel a tug--which I want to resist--to count McClellan's evasive answer as Winglish for 'yes'. And given Mr. Bush's terrible decision-making in the past, I suppose I wouldn't put this past him. One thing I think everyone can agree on: if he was serious about bombing al Jazeera, then this counts to some degree against his stability and/or competence.

If I had to bet money on this right now, however, I'd bet that it was a joke. And I'll have no sympathy with those who try to turn such a joke, made in private, into a serious matter. Reagan's "we start bombing in five minutes" joke was a breath-takingly idiotic mistake, but only because it was made in a non-secured environment. (Actually, I've always thought there would have been a certain poetic justice in it if that had caused the end of the world. What more fitting way for humanity to be destroyed?) Anyway, even Bush isn't off-kilter enough to start contemplating bombing legitimate news organizations in friendly countries--friendly ARAB countries, at that.

[Drum's on this one, too.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Is Cheney Losing It?

Did he ever have it? Is he capable of making sense anymore? Does he have an honest bone in his body? Inquiring minds want to know...but this Post story indicates that it doesn't look good. This guy would have made a great member of the Politburo back in the '50's: immune to the facts, adamantly opposed to dissent, and apparently quite vicious.

Shorter Dick Cheney:
You pinko commies can question the war if you want to--apparently it's one of your so-called "rights"--but if you point out the obvious fact that we lied to you about it then you are supporting the terrorists.

Jeez, this guy is a nut. Even the most adamant conservatives must know this in their hearts.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Happy Tenth Anniversary Dayton Accords!

Damn, sometimes we sure are good.

Whatever our differences about the the current military operation, at least we can all look back on our actions in the former Yugoslavia and agree that we did a damn fine thing there.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Sorry, comments are all screwed up b/c I've been discovered by comment-spammers. I'm going to have to enable number verification, which will be a pain in your ass, but, hey, better you than me, right? Actually, I won't be able to keep up with it if I try to filter the comments by myself. Sorry, but it's either that or see the whole site filled up with spam for stuff that...*shudder* just don't want to see.

[Incidentally, some of you have asked whether I turned on comment moderation because some of you boys weren't playing nice. No. I was trying to figure out how to delete specific comments already posted because a newcomer had posted multiple multiple-screen OT comments in a row (like 10 screens worth). Anyway, apparently that can't be done, but while trying to figure out how to do it I accidentally left comment verification on w/out e-mail notification and blah, blah, blah... Anyway, that plus the spam onslaught have forced me to turn to word verification on comments.]
Pre-War Intelligence and the Curveball Saga

at Once Upon a Time, via Atrios.

See now, this is what I'm talkin' about. Not so much lies per se as pervasive epistemic irresponsibility from top to bottom. Incestuous amplification, inverse criticism, and selective use of evidence.
Schoenborn On Intelligent Design: Not So Crazy

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn took a lot of heat for recent comments about "Intelligent Design Theory." As you probably know, I'm--to say the least--not a creationist. I'm not even a Christian. I'm not even a theist. And I think that "IDT" is, as a matter of fact, crypto-creationism.

On the other hand, Schoenborn isn't a nut so far as I can tell. For one thing he seems only to have said that evolution can't "explain everything," which is actually perfectly in accordance with scientific orthodoxy. Evolution isn't supposed to explain everything, only certain facts about the history of living things. Not, for example, anything about quarks or quasars. Schoenborn seems to have a more substantial objection in mind, but more on that later.

Schoenborn also indicates that one of his main objections is to "materialism," roughly the view that everything real is made of matter. Not to nit-pick on his behalf, but nobody's a materialist anymore anyway. The closest thing anybody is is a physicalist--that is, they think that everything is physical. There's a difference. There are physical phenomena that are not material. Topological distortions of space-time, are, I think, supposed to be a paradigm example. Now, I don't think that Schoenborn is urging us to be physicalists rather than materialists, but (a) it's not at all clear whether even physicalism is true and, hence, (b) questioning it doesn't make you a kook or an intellectual Neanderthal. I don't even have a position on the debate about physicalism. It's not my area and the discussions of it that I can understand seem to contain a lot of confusions. But many respectable metaphysicians--non-theistic meaphysicians--aren't materialists. If you believe that numbers are real, for example, you are unlikely to be a physicalist.

Finally, I thought I'd mention that I'm currently inclined toward a view that is opposed to both Schoenborn's position and orthodox contemporary science. This is just an inclination, and it's just this year's inclination, and I hold such positions only tentatively if all, so it's not a deep or undying commitment by any stretch of the imagination. It's just a view I find interesting and plausible. At any rate, C. S. Peirce seems to think that the entire universe including its laws did evolve ultimately out of what can loosely be described as perfect chaos. (One might wonder where the chaos came from, but to understand the answer to that you'll need to read some Peirce. The short answer is that, on a certain independently-reasonable theory of explanation, randomness requires no (and is amenable to no) explanation, so the demand for explanation comes to an end with chaos. A neat, Hesiodic solution to the regress of explanations problem.) Although his account is worked out in great detail, he admits that it is no more than a hypothesis--or guess--which is why the title of one of his pivotal pieces on this subject is called "A Guess At the Riddle." Among other things, Peirce's guess about the origin of the universe would explain why we find the indeterminacy we do in the laws of nature.

At any rate, this picture of the universe requires that the ability to take on habits be a (more-or-less) fundamental feature of the universe. This tendency to take on habits is one of the things that will show up eventually in the primordial chaos. Once this tendency shows up, it will spread, and the universe will become more orderly. This hypothesis can be tested, for example, by doing experiments to see whether the indeterminacy in natural laws is diminishing.

But note that if this picture turned out to be true, then evolution--in an expanded sense of the term--would, in fact, explain (not quite but almost) everything about the universe. This might make one side in this dispute happy. On the other hand, it means that a tendency to take on habits--something usually thought of as characteristically mind-like--is a very, very basic part of the universe. Which would mean that a highly-attenuated sense of mind or intelligence is actually fundamental to and at work in the universe and necessary for all evolution. This will dissatisfy both sides of the dispute. It's not God-like enough for the one side, but it's probably too god(small 'g')-like and insufficiently physicalistic/mechanistic for the other side.

Literal creationists are a bunch of crackpots, but these issues are more complicated than most non-creationists realize.
Bob Graham: Administration Used Intelligence Deceptively to Weaken War Against al Qaeda, Shift Resources to Iraq
Plus Bonus Afghanistan #^&*-Up: The Botched Rebuilding Effort

In today's post.

He'll be savaged by the patriotically correct Bush Defense System, of course.

And don't miss this on the botched "effort" (if we can even dignify it with that description) to re-build Afghanistan.

I've said it about 100 times by now: if we'd have had a minimally rational and minimally competent administration, we'd have poured massive resources into the Afghanistan effort, crushed al Qaeda, killed bin Laden, shredded the last remnants of the Taliban, slapped down the warlords, and rebuilt the country as a showpiece to illustrate that the U.S. will relentlessly pursue and destroy those who attack us and then show great compassion to civilians oppressed by those attackers and caught in the crossfire.

But instead of finishing the important and obviously justified task, the administration chose to leave it uncompleted and shift massive resources to an unjustified, crackpot, ill-thought-out Iraq scheme.

There is, so far as I can tell, no genuine alternative course of action that could have been worse. Of all the things we could have done post-9/11, the administration somehow managed to pick the worst of them: screw up two countries, invest lots of blood and treasure in both of them, but not enough to complete the job. Oh, and, of course, abandon the important project in order to go tilting at windmills...after carefully lying about the growing threat posed by windmills.

Bush really may be the worst president since Andrew Jackson.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Philosoraptor Poll: Please Help!

Don't try to overthink this one, just give me your honest, relatively pre-theoretic judgments about the following question:

Is it possible to conduct scientific investigations into allegedly supernatural phenomena, e.g. ESP and ghosts? For example, is it possible to scientifically investigate the efficacy of prayer?

You'll make me very happy if you answer this with a comment and stick to just 'yes' or 'no' for right now. Or 'y' or 'n' if your [or even you're] in that big a hurry...
Nobody Expected the American Inquisition

From Atrios, this summary of the latest torture revelations, mostly the stuff that's appeared in the NYT of late.

As you know, the Bush administration has basically now adopted the methods of the USSR and Maoist China, but with what might be considered a slightly new twist--or at least a new emphasis. We're now fusing torture and propaganda into a seamless synthetic whole. The administration tortures people until they say what the administration wants them to say, and then takes that (dis)information and reports it to us to convince us that the administration was right and that, among other things, we need to torture us some more people.

But don't worry--the people we're torturing are all dark-skinned, and they talk funny and have this totally crazy religion. It's totally different than torturing Americans.

I'm understanding more and more why so many people hate America. I am disgusted by the actions of my country.
Blogroll Update Mania! Obsidian Wings

Whoa, two blogroll updates in one year... Somebody stop me before I update again...

You probably already know that OW is a good place to go for a little honest inquiry. Ergo they deserve a place on the 'roll.

Please note the long-overdue addition of Centerfield, the blog of the Centrist Coalition, to (the very top of) my almost-never-updated blogroll. Check 'em out. The blog is a welcome change from the hyper-partisan insanity that rules so much of the blogosphere.
4-I(s) Wiki or Something Similar?

Don't we need to assemble all the arguments and evidence re: the use of Iraq intelligence in one place, with the arguments carefully formulated and the evidence easily available via hypertext and so forth? The more scattered the evidence the more difficult its going to be to draw final conclusions about this matter.
Josh Marshall and Frederick Shmidtt on (AD) and (AI)
The Aluminum Tubes Argument (Initial Version)

at TPM Marshall and Frederick Shmidt make it clear that they think the case is strong for what we're identifying around here as:

(AD) The administration deceived us


(AI) The administration acted irresponsibly.

In particular they make a point that I've made around here several times: the administration didn't even care very much about the truth-values of their claims. Rather, they undertook to make a case for war like a lawyer makes a case for his client--they used and exaggerated whatever evidence supported their pre-determined conclusion and ignored and minimized any evidence that didn't.

This is what C. S. Peirce calls "the courtroom model of inquiry," and it stands opposed to the rational method of inquiry--which he calls the "the scientific model of inquiry"--in which one begins with the evidence and follows it where ever it might lead.

One important point here though is that although it is common for people in heated debates to employ the courtroom model, it is also common for people in such debates to falsely accuse their opponents of using the courtroom model. So such charges must be made with care and carefully substantiated.

Schmitt mentions two of the salient arguments, and we might as well make a first pass at laying them out systematically.

So far as we can tell now, the following argument is sound:

(1) The evidence available to the administration about the infamous aluminum tubes was equivocal at best (i.e. at best there was no better reason for thinking that they were for use in making nuclear weapons than that they were for something else (e.g.rockets)).

(2) The administration's public pronouncements indicated that the tubes were very likely for use in making nuclear weapons.


(3) (ADAT) The administration deceived us with regard to the aluminum tubes

We can question this argument in several ways. We could, for example, try to plead down to:

(AIAT) The administration acted irresponsibly with regard to the aluminum tubes.

One way to do this would be to argue that they had misunderstood the clearly equivocal nature of the evidence. Of couse if premiss (1) is false, this entire argument fails, so that's one place where assembling evidence (in this case about what evidence was actually available when the relevant public statements were made) is important. But the defender of the administration seems to have a rather long row to hoe here. At any rate, by being very clear about the nature of the charges and reasoning in question we can get clear about what will count as evidence for and against the various claims and hypotheses at issue.

It's important to note that even if the case for (ADAT) turns out to be as strong as it initially seems to be, this will be insufficient to prove the important case against the administration. The real charges, of course, have to do with significant (e.g. systematic) deception and/or irresponsibility, not merely isolated cases of it.

So, e.g., the truly important version of the deception claim is something like:

(ADS) The administration deceived us to a significant degree.

I think that almost everybody has to acknowledge that there was at least a little bit of deception and irresponsibility going on (though I sometimes get the feeling that some are trying to deny even that minimal claim). But unless something like (ADS) turns out to be true, the administration is morally in the clear.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Comments on IIII mk. I

Leave 'em here.
The Iraq Intelligence Inquiry Initiative

Now hear this:
We're going to figure out this business about the administration's use of intelligence in making the public case for invading Iraq.

After getting reading Emerson's "Self-Reliance" for the twentieth or so time and getting what passes as a good night's sleep for me, I've calmed down enough to think about the relevant topics again in a passably dispassionate way. Josh Marshall is assembling evidence on one side of the case, and lots of folks are assembling it on the other. (oh, and I found this interesting, clear and relevant textbook-form version of the case for war by Steven Den Beste (it's mostly on the GWoT in general, but part of it is on Iraq)). But there are important tasks that have to be completed before the evidence will do us much good. For one thing, we have to identify and clarify the important claims at issue. For another, we have to determine which claims there is rational disagreement about.

I've got a lot to do today, so this will just be a quick start, but here goes:

Let's start with the easy stuff. One central-but-not-terribly-important claim is:

(WMD) Saddam had significant stockpiles of WMD.

It's important to start with this claim for several reasons, among which are:

1. It's appropriately vague.
As C. S. Peirce notes, vagueness is important, and there's nothing wrong with vagueness so long as you are clear about what you are being vague about. In the case of the proposition (WMD) we are being vague about a couple of things, in particular about what period of time we're talking about. If we were interested in this claim we'd want to make it clearer as we went along, but how clear we'd need to make it and in what ways isn't yet obvious. But, for example, we'd almost certainly want to specify a certain period of time, e.g. the time the decision to invade was made. Theoretically, it could end up being important to know whether Saddam had such weapons exactly when the invasion began, in which case we'd ultimately want to make it clear that we were discussing something like:

(WMD3/20/03) Saddam had significant stockpiles of WMD on the day the invasion began.

2. (WMD) is also important because almost everyone agrees that it's false, so there's no need to waste time arguing about it.

3. (WMD) is also important because it's representative of the propositions we'll be dealing with in that it contains a term that needs to be defined--to wit, 'WMD'. We can propose criteria for being a WMD:

x is a WMD if and only if:
x is a nuclear weapon
x is a biological weapon
x is a chemical weapon

Some of these terms are themselves in need of definition, e.g., as we've seen, 'chemical weapon.' But we'll cross that bridge if/when we come to it.

4. (WMD) is important because it is almost entirely irrelevant to the discussion.
Um, and it's important to realize that. The dispute at hand is about whether the administration was dishonest about the evidence, not about whether or not there actually were WMDs in Iraq. (WMD) does, in fact, play a tangential role in this discussion (I think), but only a tangential one.

At this point, the real question seems to be about the honesty of the administration in making its case for war. Thus the following proposition is far more relevant than (WMD):

(AL) The administration lied

As with (WMD) there's lots of vagueness here that would have to be cleared up as we went along--who exactly are we talking about, what exactly is a lie, what exactly did they allegedly lie about, etc. One obvious candidate clarification is:

(AL-WMD) The administration lied about (WMD)

But that's just one way to go here. There's also:

(ALaQ) The administration lied about links between Saddam and al Qaeda.

But it's more important in this quick-and-dirty opening exploration to note that (AL) doesn't appear to be the most important proposition. 'Lie' is a vague term, but it's usually thought that in order to lie one must state a falsehood and do so intentionally. There are many points to be made here, but let me just note one of them: it's possible to deceive with a truth or a half-truth, and in some cases that is exactly what the administraiton is accused of. So--initially and subject to further inquiry--I'm inclined to believe that the following proposition is more important:

(AD) The administration deceived us

So, if the administration told us that British intelligence had concluded that x, and they did so in an attempt to get us to believe that x, and they did so even though our own intelligence had equally good evidence that not-x, then they deceived us even though they did not--strictly speaking--lie (because they did not tell an untruth).

O.k., you can see how this project has to go. To semi-cut to the chase, I'm currently inclined to think that the most important proposition will be either a cousin of (AD) or something more like:

(AI) The administration acted irresponsibly

Again, (AI) is vague--it doesn't specify whether it is moral or epistemic responsibility that is at issue, it doesn't specify what they were allegedly irresponsible about, etc., but those are things we'll have to clear up as we go. Currently I'm inclined to think that the important allegations against the administration go something like this:

The administration acted in a morally and epistemically irresponsible manner in the run-up to the Iraq war. They used evidence in a morally and epistemically irresponsible manner, allowing themselves to be convinced of some things that responsible agents would not have allowed themselvs to be convinced of, and then adding another layer of irresponsibility by making the public case for war in an unacceptably dishonest manner, tailoring and exaggerating evidence and asserting things that even they did not believe to be the whole and unvarnished truth.

The left has an inclination to focus too much on (WMD) and the right has a tendency to focus too much on (AL), probably because it is with regard to these propositions that they have their strongest respective cases. But both propositions are beside the point. We're fairly sure that (WMD) is false, but that doesn't mean that the administration didn't believe it was true. On the other hand, there's little doubt that the administration believed at least some of what they told us, so in many cases they were not lying. But if, as initially seems to be the case, many of these things were half-truths, then it's irrelevant that they weren't lies strictly speaking. So (AL) may be substantially false, but that misses the point.

Finally, let me note that there is an inclination on the part of some participants in the discussion to assert something like:

(V) The real task is achieving victory in Iraq; to expend energy questioning the honesty of the administration is irrational and blameworthy.

(V) is false and contains an unwarranted presupposition--to wit that there is A real task at hand. There are several real tasks at hand, and we, as a country, are certainly capable of the intellectual equivalent of walking and chewing gum at the same time. I agree--though some people I respect do not--that it is important to achieve vicory in Iraq. But there is not doubt that it is also important to know whether the Executive branch of the United States government is run by honest or dishonest persons. (More on this point later.)

O.k., that's a start.

[Note: to comment on this post go to the next post. Mike: it's o.k. to link to your blog, but please don't overload the comments with multiple excessively-long comments. Thanks.]

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Boogying to Baghdad

Found this at Instapundit. Looks like it could be semi-important but I'm wiped out right now and can't be sure.

(Gods of Kobol, hear my prayer: please do not allow the Right Brothers to release "Boogy to Baghdad" as a follow-up to their mega-hit "Bush is Right")
Cracking Up

[Warning: irrelevant autobiographical ramblings. Please do not read.]

Last night, while lying in bed pissed off about what a shitty teacher I am (nothing like being shitty in a 2.5 hour seminar to make you feel great about yourself for the rest of the week, boy), gritting my teeth in anger about the current political insanity, trying to get the lyrics to "Bush was Right" (and that shitty Billy Joel song it emulates) out of my head, not sleeping, being pissed off about not sleeping (for the eleventy-zillionth time in the last seven years), worrying about getting old, panicking about not having written anything worth mentioning or having had any even vaguely interesting ideas during the course of the seven years aforementioned, being sad because I just finished re-watching Buffy season two and you know how that ends, freaking out because now I just watch Buffy re-runs instead of thinking about philosophy, wishing I were a super-hero vampire slayer instead of a schoolmarm, and thinking about that flipping insane sparrow story, I came to the realization that I don't seem to be able to trust my judgments about the Bush administration anymore.

I'm just too pissed off.

Oh, so, anyway, then this morning I see this at Atrios, and--now, I haven't been sleeping what you'd call a lot, mind you--just couldn't stop cracking up. So here I am down in the basement (uh, where the computer is...I'm not just sitting in the basement for no reason) laughing like a lunatic. (Um, you didn't think I meant 'cracking up' in the other way, did you? (er, which way is the other way?)).

Anyway, it's all just so damned absurd.

I do feel now rather like I felt two times before--when conservatives where accusing Clinton of "wagging the dog" by bombing the al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and during the lead-up to the Iraq invasion. Except for the anger part. Both those times I kept going over and over the evidence and thinking I can't be sure but this just doesn't seem to add up. The "wag the dog" charges and the case for war both seemed to me to be too insubstantial to accept, but, then, good liberal that I am, I was too open-minded to take my own side in the argument. Is this just my liberal bias talking? I wondered.

I was following the election of 2000 too closely to be plagued by such doubts. In that case I basically devoted my whole life to following the news, and I was very sure that the Republicans were a lot wronger than the Democrats. So I'm not counting that case here.

Anyway, so that's all I have to say. Nothing interesting here. Just rambling, sleep-deprived autobiography.

My current position is something like this I guess: I can't tell for sure that this administration is dirty, but that's where the evidence seems to point me when I look at it as objectively and dispassionately as I'm capable of at this point (which is not very). I could be wrong, but life's like that. You have to reason as carefully as you can and then take your best shot, remaining open to new evidence and reasoning. This is about as clear as the evidence ever gets in politics. There's always a cover story, always plausible deniability, always at least about a third of the people that will take the side of the powers that be, no matter how bad they be.

I'm willing to listen to the analysis and findings of a truly independent investigation...but I doubt that we'll get one. Incidentally, the fact that Republicans are so opposed to one does not count in their favor here.

In the end there are so many good and capable people in this country that we needn't support such a shady cast of characters wth such a questionable record. If the best that can be said for an administration is we can't be absolutely sure that they're completely corrupt, then that's a pretty sad state of affairs. There are many possible administrations of which we could honestly say we're pretty sure that they're pretty good. That was the case, say, with Clinton. That bunch rarely rose about that level--we're pretty sure that they're pretty good-- in my estimation, but sometimes they did, as in Kosovo. One thing that reassured me about the Clinton bunch was that they never had a rabid cult-of-personality-based following. I don't know anybody who adored the guy or thought he could do no wrong. Of course, that was before the advent of the blogosphere, which I think is going to exacerbate polarization and dogmatism. So who knows?

I have no point.

Have you considered reading somebody with a clue? Might I suggest Mark Kleiman? That guy's really smart.

Anyway, it's not that I'm happy about the fact that Bush has a 34% approval rating...though that's probably better than he deserves as far as I can tell.

It's that pony shit, man.

That shit just cracks me up.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Orwell Was Right
The Right Brothers: Bad and Wrong

Oh god. Huxley was right, too.

We've got a full-blown marketing/propaganda blitz on our hands, amigos. The latest salvo: this by "The Right Brothers."

Thanks God it's . Thank God it's total ass. I mean it's hideously, hideously terrible. Because it is so suckful I'm not worried about its impact. In fact I feel a little like I did when I found out that Springsteen was going to play for Kerry and Foghat was (allegedly, but not in fact) going to play for Bush.

[As Johnny Quest just pointed out to me, despite what Ken Olberman thinks, this song clearly IS a joke. But, in my defense, things have gotten so surreal that it wasn't much of a stretch to think that it was for real.]
Sparrow Shot for Knocking Over Dominoes

That's literally true, incidentally, it wasn't a bird-bandit/pizza delivery boy incident.

Somebody please tell me what on Earth I'm supposed to make of this. I just sat there with my jaw hanging open for awhile. There's pretty much nothing but nuttiness in this story no matter how you look at it.

Josh Marshall's Administration Lies Project

Marshall is going to devote some of the week to documenting the case for the conclusion that the administration lied in the run-up to the Iraq war. With the extreme right spinning up its revisionist marketing campaign, this is an important project. It might seem futile or superfluous, but it isn't. There are still people out there who don't really understand what happened (read: weren't paying attention), and there needs to be someplace they can go to get the straight dope in a nice neat bundle. They'll be deluged with propaganda and marketing tricks from the right. We need to combat this campaign with the facts. And, incidentally, if in compiling the facts we come to recognize that we've made a mistake and the administration didn't lie, then so much the better. Oh frabjous day. Beer's on me. But I'm not holding my breath on that one.

Anyway, good job, Josh.

To quote Orwell:

That the truth is great and will prevail is a prayer rather than an axiom.