Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Fallacies for Our Time

I think I started to do something like this before, but got side-tracked. Dunno. But wouldn't it be helpful to have a list of timely fallacies--either newly minted ones or classics that are particularly popular these days?

Re: newly minted ones, I was thinking of e.g:

The Support Our Troops Fallacy
(If you oppose the war you oppose the troops)

The Chickenhawk Fallacy
(You can't suport a war unless you've been in one yourself)

The I-Think-The-American-People-Realize Fallacy
(When you want to convince the people of something you tell them that they already believe it)

The Our Enemies are Worse Fallacy
(You try to justify a policy by pointing out how much worse our enemies are)

There's lots more of these I'm sure. Some of these actually turn out to be a little complicated.
Bush Wildly Popular With People Who Think Caffeine is Evil and You Get to Create Your Own Universe When You Die

The Mormons love them some Dubya.

Wonder where the Scientologists stand on this issue?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Dan Drezner on Newsweek on Conservatives Being Run Out of the Justice Department

...because they're not extreme enough. Read it and freak.

(via Drum)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

How to Destroy Our Descendants

Um, lessee...there's a good chance that our oil's about to run out, the experts fear that global warming is rapidly reaching a tipping point, and our dependence on oil costs us trillions of dollars and thousands of lives by keeping us entangled in the Middle East... There seems to be just about enough oil left that, if we keep burning it up at the current preposterous rate, we can irrevocably screw up the climate.

If only there were a solution to any of these problems...or better yet, some magical, unimaginable solution to all of them! But what could it be?

Kevin Drum's got a wee suggestion for a few smalls steps in the right direction...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Outrage Fatigue

Well, there were lots of things I wanted to b!t*# about today, but to be quite honest I'm rather worn out and burned out. This administration has screwed up so profoundly and on so many fronts that it's basically impossible to even point them all out much less consider them all in detail...especially for those of us with day jobs.

If it's a strategy, it's actually a good one--do so many things wrong that people can't focus on any single one of them. I'm told that's basically why zebras have stripes--predators attack more successfully when they focus on one single prey animal and stick to it. When they shift attention from one target to another they are less successful. Zebras' stripes make it harder to focus in that way. The herd becomes more like an undifferentiated blur.

Um, strained zoological analogies to the side, there's just too much incompetence and corruption in this administration to make it possible to keep track of it anymore. It's almost as if every week brings another astounding story. Even ignoring the original crimes and incompetence, the cover-ups alone are hard to keep track of--from refusal to turn over information about the composition of Cheney's energy task force to opposing formation of the 9/11 commission to opposing inquiries into Iraq intelligence...Katrina info, domestic spying info, Abramoff info... They absolutely cannot continue to get away with this, can they?

Gosh, who'd have thought that allowing a power-hungry coterie of villains fronted by an incompetent rich boy to install themselves in power by stealing an election could have turned out badly?
Kerry Was Right About Iran; Bush Flip-Flops

Here (via Atrios).

Of course the flip-flopping charges against Kerry were stupid; of course they were insincere Rovian rhetorical hogwash; of course no one will notice. Just passing the info along for the record.

The flip-flopping charge is often an inane one, anyway. The charge is used by the Rove/Cheney administration when one of its political opponents changes his mind in response to what we here in the reality-based community call "evidence." In that sense, flip-flopping is actually a good thing. In the ordinary sense, flip-flopping is, I guess, when you assert that p when it's politically expedient and deny p when that's expedient. That's bad, though, of course, that's not what Kerry did.

Anyway and on the bright side, the Bush administration is now admitting that Kerry's position on Iran was right. They'll probably credit him for it, right?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Wal-Mart and Academia

Via Instapundit, I find this piece by James Joyner. I think Joyner gets confused part way through the argument, and the thread about academia just terminates without any conclusion or payoff. The main argument seems to be for the conclusion that low-paying jobs without benefits are good because they beat no jobs at all and serve as entry-level work. I've never really known what to make of such arguments, though I know enough about economics to know that I should keep my trap shut about this.

But the stuff about academia seems pointless. A mere jab at academia, a favorite target of the right.

But what Joyner should have said is this: adjunct work in academia is in many ways worse than stocking shelves at Wal-Mart. One can plausibly argue that shelf-stocking is an entry-level job. Adjuncting is a dead end. Adjuncting is what happens to people who are not lucky enough (or in some cases not talented enough) to land full-time academic positions. At the University of Infinite Evil, where I teach, adjuncts get paid $1,850 per course for a 15-week course. ($2,000 per course if they've got their Ph.D.) If they can keep their out-of-class work time down to 2 hours for every in-class hour, that doesn't look too bad, but that's pretty optimistic. They don't have to publish or do committee work, but they get no benefits and absolutely no job security. Most of them don't know until the week before the semester starts whether they'll be teaching. Most of them teach several courses, and many of them drive vast distances to teach adjunct at other universities, sometimes for even less money. A little adjuncting while you are finishing your degree is usually considered acceptable, but more than a little bit is the kiss of academic death.

A single tenure-track job in philosophy will get (at a university like mine) about 200 applications. 199 of those people will have to find work elsewhere. Many of them won't. Many of them will take an adjunct position or two to make ends meet and "keep a foot in the door" of academia. (It's also the kiss of death to take a job outside of academia and try to get back in. You can't adjunct, but you can't work elsewhere either. You're damned if you do, damned if you don't.) Many of these people will still be adjuncting years later, as their dreams of a teaching career slowly die.

While this happens, departments and universities will happily exploit them as cheap labor. Some universities, I've heard, staff 40% of their courses with adjuncts. My department used to staff 25% of its courses with adjuncts. We complain about this a good bit, and I and other have made some attempts to change things, but the fact is that there's little we can do. We can't run the university without adjuncts, and if we make too much noise about it, the university is likely to punish our department for it--and it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference.

By American standards, I don't make that much, but I'd be willing to make less in order to rectify this problem. On the other hand, we're already underpaid by almost any reasonable standard you can think of. People do this job primarily because they love it and not really for the money...but drop the salaries much lower and many of the most qualified would have to leave.

At any rate, what Joyner should have said was, roughly, physician heal thyself. Those academic types who revile Wal-Mart may be right, but there's a similar problem closer to home they might ought to think about, too.
Perpetual War is Perpetual Peace, Freedom from Illegal Search and Seizure is Slavery, Willful Ignorance is Strength,
My Big Brother Will Protect Me

Andy Singer. Check it out.

[HT: Canis Major]

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Speaking of Sex 'n' Gender 'n' Stuff:

Check out the company we're keeping, UN-wise.
My American-Idol-Related Anguish

So Johnny Quest's brother is a kind of techie on this show called American Idol. So that means that his parents are convinced that we should watch it to see his name at the end. So that means I've had to watch like three episodes of that damn show. And last night I had just bought Battlestar Galactica season 2.0.

Man, that show is mean-spirited as hell. I can't believe how awful they are to people. Is it supposed to become o.k. to be cruel so long as a bunch of people are watching? And why are people watching this? Is it the train-wreck-like aspect of the thing? And what's with all the making fun of people for their weight, or for their awkwardness, or for their gender? That's some #*@%*&-up $#!# right there.

(Incidentally, 'gender' doesn't mean 'sex.' Why did people start misusing that term? The gender distinction is masculine/feminine, not male/female. The male/female distinction is a distinction between sexes. So e.g. a feminine-acting man has a sex (male) and a gender (feminine) that don't match up in the ordinary way. Anyway, so much for Hollywood's liberalism.)

So why post about it?

Because if I have to suffer, you have to suffer. That's why.

Anyway, I think I've done my duty. Three hours of that show is more than enough. Fortunately, JQ agrees. I think she can stand about one more episode herself.
Did the GOP write OBL's Talking Points?

Ted at CT reminds us of this 2002 letter from OBL. He sounds one helluva lot more like Rick Santorum than he does like Michael Moore. My favorite part is that in which he admonishes us for not punishing Clinton for his fornication.

I can't believe I don't remember having seen this letter before. After 9/11 I got in many arguments with people both to the left and right of me about OBL's motives. My line was that he seemed to be motivated in part by hatred of our policies and in part by hatred of liberalism and modernism. I had friends on the right who seemed to think that any admission that our policies were motivating him was tantamount to treason--and friends on the left who steadfastly refused to admit that he was motivated by an opposition to liberalism or modernity. But it does seem like it's both.
Pentagon Report: Army Stretched Too Thin

Well, this rather narrows our strategic options. So much for the myth of American military invincibility.

Damn, you want to talk about your useful myths. Too bad this one lasted only about ten years...

Let us remember this when--if the situation goes from worse to worser--conservatives begin asserting that things only went South because liberals stabbed America in the back by failing to slavishly support our stalwart Commander-in-Chief.

I don't see how we have any choice but to now undertake to rebuild our military. I hope that's included in the $2 trillion price tag... Remember when we were unpatriotic for questioning those $100 billion estimates? Are we still unpatriotic for that? Or has the Ministry of Truth redacted the relevant material?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Should We Unite Behind This (Divisive) President?

Since 9/11 it's been common for people--mostly conservatives--to say (and sometimes insist) that liberals should unite behind Bush for the sake of our efforts against terrorism. I am not immune to such calls. Despite my disgust at the actions of Republicans during the (non-)recount of 2000, I did, in fact, do my very best to get behind the president after 9/11, and I stayed more or less behind him until the deceptions about Iraq became intolerable.

Difficult issues arise here, but I just want to focus on one of them. It's true that there are good reasons to seek some kind of political unity--perhaps always but at least especially now. However conservative calls for unity ring hollow given certain crucial facts. First, calls for unity lose force when the president is so intentionally divisive. Given his intentional divisiveness and extreme partisanship, his demonizing of his opponents, and his tendency to question the patriotism of his critics, his calls for unity seem insincere at best. Since this administration has not only done nothing to create unity but, in fact, gone out of its way to destroy it, it is unclear why we should take their calls for unity seriously.

Second, conservatives could have helped to unify the country by rejecting Bush's bid for re-election. Kerry would obviously be a much less divisive figure than Bush, the most polarizing president in recent memory. Conservatives did not, however, take this route. Consequently, we should, apparently, conclude that they believe that unity is less important than advancing their political agenda. So, again, it is not clear that we should take their calls for unity seriously. They backed their candidate and would, no doubt, have criticized his policies harshly had he won. It is not clear why we are obliged to act differently. In fact (given the nature of the last two elections and the events of the Clinton administration) we have excellent reason to believe that conservatives would criticize a Democratic president more harshly than we have criticized Bush, almost no matter what that hypothetical Democratic president's policies were like.

Finally, if the Bush administration really believes that unity is vitally important, it can easily achieve this by taking a few reasonable steps it should have taken anyway. It can compromise with liberals and Democrats, stop questioning the patriotism of those who disagree with its policies, stop the expansion of executive power, and end polarizing policies such as that of torturing prisoners. The president could also, for example, seek a more moderate appointee for the Supreme Court. His failure to take any of these steps indicates that his calls for unity are, in fact, merely calls to let him have his way.

If the president himself took even a few steps towards compromise and unity, his political opponents might be inclined to take him more seriously, view him more favorably, and do likewise. His refusal to do so, however, reveals that he himself views advancing his domestic political agenda to be more important than national unity in the face of terrorist threats. It is unclear why his political opponents are not entitled to similar views.
Filibuster Alito

Looks like Alito is on his way to confirmation. Because of his views on executive power, and because of his refusal to give straight answers about important issues, I'm currently inclined to think that the Dems should filibuster. I didn't keep up well enough with his answers about abortion to have anything like a well-informed opinion on that issue.

I write the above not because I think my decidedly non-expert opinion on this should matter to anyone, but, rather, just to go on the record in case I turn out to be wrong about this and Alito turns out to be reasonable.

Oh, and for the same reason I say anything else around here--because it beats just yelling it at the tv.

Filibustering probably won't work, but the right has practically siezed control of the judiciary over the past 12+ years, and this could be the last straw. As you may recall, Republicans refused to fill many judicial positions under Clinton, arguing that there were too many federal judges and hence no need to fill many of the vacant positions.. Then when Bush took office, they suddenly decided that the positions needed to be filled after all. That bunch, they do love them some double standards...

(And don't, incidentally, forget about the Federalist Society--a conservative good-old-boy network in law schools that channels conservatives into judgeships.)

I have nothing against a reasonable number of reasonably conservative judges, and even have some inclination to be sympathetic to original intent arguments. But given that Bush is currently trying to grab inordinate power for the executive, and given the fact that SCOTUS seems in danger of leaning far, far to the right with this appointment, I hope the Dems will at least force the Republicans to exercise the nuclear option.

Unfortunately, I expect a filibuster to backfire, since most Americans don't know anything about Alito beyond the fact that his wife cried during the hearings. But, then, I expect the Democrats to lose basically every political battle. They've got nothing in their arsenal that can effectively combat flag-waving, Bible-thumping, and fear-mongering. So if you're going to lose anyway, you might as well lose doing the right thing.

[Note: I think you should do the right thing without much consideration of whether you'll win or lose; but I don't think the Dems think that.]

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Bruin Alumni Association: Lefty Prof Hunt

You've probably already heard of the Bruin Alumni Association and its bounty on tapes of lectures containing putative lefty bias. Dunno what to say about this. On the one hand, I have some reason to believe that there are, in fact, many lefty profs who engage in unwarranted political proselytism in class. On the other hand, I haven't seen any real data on this. And given the right's fabrication/exaggeration of liberal media bias, I'm rather wary with regard to their whining about such bias in academia. However, if I had to bet money on it, I'd bet they have a point.

Seems like profs have intellectual property rights re: their lectures, so they probably can't be taped without permission. You probably realize that the convention is to ask the prof's permission before taping. I encourage students not to tape, because the very idea of my incoherent drivel persisting through time is enough to panic me. But I try never to say anything in class that I wouldn't say out of class. Students are a captive audience and should not be subjected to political sermons. They're there to hear what I have to say about philosophy, a subject about which I can plausibly be characterized as something of an expert; they're not there to here my amateurish political musings. (They can come to this site if they want that. (Not that they know it exists.)) However, profs shouldn't use intellectual property rights as an excuse to avoid taping unless that's their real reason.

Anyway, if I had to bet money, I'd bet that groups like the BAA (a) are assholes and (b) have a point. Even assholes are right some of the time. It annoys the hell out of me that many liberals won't take questions about liberal bias in the academy more seriously. I thought we were against all bias. I should note, however, that many of the sensible liberals I know in academia are, in fact, willing to take the issue seriously. Problem is, I also know plenty of academic liberals who aren't. The sane thing to do would be for those on all sides of the debate to note that it's an open question at this point, and to put some effort into figuring out how to answer it. What will happen instead, of course, is that the conservative point men on this issue will insist that it's obviously a problem, producing the occasional egregious anecdote to "prove" their point, and academic liberals will respond by circling the wagons and ignoring the question.

In the immortal words of the Eagles, I could be wrong, but I'm not.
Chris Matthews: bin Laden sounds like Michael Moore

Well, the fewmets have hit the windmill over that.

I...uh... See, I think this is one of the reasons why I'm not a good lefty. I'm not outraged easily enough. I didn't hear Matthews's assertion, but I have to admit that when I heard the translations of the bin Laden tape I thought, roughly: ugh. Now the right is going to start harping on us sounding like bin Laden. The reason I thought that was that I, well, thought what he was saying sounded a bit like what some of us have been saying. E.g. Michael Moore.

Now, I'm sort of a liberal and I thought that. So I'm not exactly sure why I'm supposed to be pissed off at Matthews for saying what I and many others were thinking. It doesn't mean that Moore et. al. are wrong and it doesn't mean that bin Laden is right, and it doesn't even mean that the two agree in any very substantial way, it just means that they happen to agree about a few things. Bush sucks. I think that and bin Laden thinks that. But we think that for very different reasons. We have virtually nothing in common.

(I shouldn't have to make this clear, but just for the record: I think bin Laden sucks very, very, very much more than Bush sucks. Though I do sometimes think that Bush may, in the end, actually do more real harm to the world than bin Laden does.)

But hatred of Matthews is already common on lefty blogs. Encouragingly for Matthews, it also seems to be common on righty blogs. The righties fume about his lefty bias, the lefties fume about his righty bias; fair indication that he's doing something right. I kinda like Matthews actually, FWIW. I mean, he's not a genius, but for a talking head I think he's pretty good. He seems to call 'em as he sees 'em, he doesn't seem to automatically toe the line, and, if anything, he seems to me to be kind of a Democrat. (He was, I think, on Tip O'Neil's staff). Hardball isn't the place you go for quiet, in-depth discussions of the issues, but that's not what it's supposed to be.

Anyway, coming out of someone else's mouth, this comment might have bothered me. If Cheney or Limbaugh or Colter had said it, I probably would have been pissed--because if one of those folks said it, they would undoubtedly be saying to in order to suggest something sinister about opponents of Bush's handling of the war. I suspect that Matthews wasn't suggesting anything similar, so it doesn't bother me. I could be wrong about Matthews's intentions, of course, but I doubt it.

Oh, and one more thing: if I end up turning conservative some day, it may very well be a result of reading liberal blogs.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

bin Laden's Latest

Jesus Christ I really, really, really hate this guy.

The content strongly suggests that the tape's fairly recent. He offers a truce...which I really wish we could accept, but--what with him being a mass murdering psycho responsibly for brutally murdering 3,000 American citizens--we can't. Stop me if you've heard this one, but if we'd have had a minimally competent president and had dusted this guy's sorry theocratic ass at Tora Bora we wouldn't still be dealing with this crap.


Political predictions are easy here: the right will use this tape to indict the left for failing to fall into lock-step with the president, noting that our enemies are now using our dissent against us. (Note: check this prediction. If it's wrong I'll eat my words.)

They'll fail, however, to note that bin Laden is also using our own administration's dishonesty against us, e.g. by alluding to the Downing Street Memo. So that's awesome; it means we get abused by that stuff twice--once when Bush deceives us and then again when bin Laden uses that deceit for propaganda purposes. Jesus, it's like we're caught in no-man's land in a battle between a psychopathic theocrat and a lying, spoiled, dissolute rich kid playing at being president.

Well that's just great.

On the other hand, bin Laden says something that presupposes that he may think that the administration was right about the "flypaper" strategy in Iraq. Of course we can't believe anything that guy says, but there it is anyway.
Treason, Traitors

It's rather alarming how common it is for righties to throw around the T word(s). Here's a recent, though rather trivial, example. (Via The News Blog, via Atrios.)

But, you know, the only two prominently political and certifiably traitorous traitors that I can think of are both not merely right-wing but right-wing heroes--namely Ollie [spelling corrected: duh] North and G. Gordon Liddy.

Both certifiably nuts, too. But that's a different story.
Got One?

Maybe so. Maybe even al Qaeda's main bomb expert. That'd be pretty sweet.

This makes some people look kinda dumb, even if, er, they weren't completely wrong...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Digby: Conservatives Prepare to Eat Their Young
Plus: Even If Norquist et. al. Get This One Right, They're Still Kooks
Plus: Freepers, Creepers!

At Digby's digs.
The Medicare Mess

I've been wondering how much of the current prescription drug fiasco is the fault of the administration. My usual line on this kind of thing is that governing is hard, so we shouldn't eagerly jump on every mistake. Rather, we should ask how hard it was to do, how well a competent administration could be expected to do, whether the administration in question should have known/done better, etc.

Here's some evidence that the administration was warned that a mess was brewing.

I don't expect 'em to get everything right...but it'd be nice if these guys got something right at some point before leaving office.
Poll: Democrats, Republicans, and Military Intervention

Results of a poll on military intervention .
White House Refuses to Release Info about Meetings with Abramoff

At the AP, via Josh Marshall. First they said they'd reveal the info, now they say they won't.

But, gosh, these guys are so trustworthy...I say we just take their word for it that they didn't do anything wrong.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Correcting Your Own "Side"s Errors

Eugene Volokh via Mark Kleiman.

Despite the fact that I'm about half libertarian (the civil half), I'm usually not that impressed with the Volokh Conspiracy. It's usually a little too PHIL101-y for my taste. Still, I have occasionally been impressed--FWIW--with their willingness to take sensible yet wildly unpopular positions from time to time.

Anyway, there's nothing that great about the post I've linked to here, and certainly nothing new. But it's an important subject, and I just wanted to add that:


If you really think that those with whom you tend to agree generally have reason on their side (and if you didn't think that why would you tend to agree with them?), then you should think that, when criticism is distributed as it ought to be, those with whom you tend to agree will come out ahead.

Volokh's post and comments thereon make me think that I ought to think about the ACLU a bit more. I resisted joining for a number of years because of their (seemingly in-principle) anti-death penalty stance. And because the ACLU isn't really interested in protecting our constitutional rights per se--if they were, they'd defend the Second Amendment. But they don't. Anyway, my membership lapsed recently, and I have to decide whether to re-up.

Though, speaking of libertarians: anybody know why so many libertarians tend to side with the Republicans? It's the Democrats who have been more willing to protect civil liberties, which are the ones you'd ordinarily think are more important. Republicans only agree with libertarians on certain economic matters, which one would think would be secondary. That is, you'd think that libertarians would care more about things like the separation of church and state, free speech (including flag burning), privacy and abortion rights. Sure, some libertarians are just crypto-conservatives, but even real libertarians of my acquaintance seem to be cozier with the GOP than seemed reasonable.
Text of Gore's Speech Today

Here. (Via Atrios)

Beautifully put, carefully reasoned, non-hyperbolic.

If all the votes had been counted--if we had taken to the streets to insist that all the votes be counted in the same numbers Republicans took to the streets to insist that they not be--this man would probably be our president. Remember what it was like to have an intelligent, knowledgeable, intellectually honest president? Seems like a distant dream these days...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Measuring Partisanship

Here's one tiny little isolated and by-itself-almost-meaningless bit of data concerning changes in attitudes about domestic spying by Democrats and Republicans.

If we tracked enough such changes, we could get some idea how partisan Dems and Republicans are.

Perhaps interestingly, the change discussed in the Pew survey is consistent with what I'd have guessed a priori: Democrats about 2/3 as partisan as Republicans.
Drum on "Equitable Subrogation"

Wonk's wonk Kevin Drum on the GOP's latest team-up with big corporations to squash the little guy.
George F. Will: Ed Schools and the Fall of Western Civilization

Can you tell that I'm house-sitting for someone who gets Newsweek? I've turned my nose up at that mag for twenty years, but it turns out that it's actually pretty good. I mean, it's no New Republic or anything, but that's not the niche it's striving to fill.

Anyway, this George F. Will column elicited hearty "amen"s from me and from Johnny Quest. As is almost always the case in such analyses, Will picks out one pattern in a complex situation, but it's a very strong, important, influential pattern. Not every person in ed school is an air-headed fluffy-liberal spouting half-baked, hand-me-down postmodern hogwash...but a frighteningly large percentage of them seem to be.

One thing Will gets wrong, however, is this: he suggests that there's an emphasis on reasoning rather than knowledge in ed schools. As far as I can tell, neither of those things is emphasized in ed schools. I myself was an education major once. As the first person in my family to go to college I had never heard of graduate school, and hadn't even dreamed of teaching at a university. I dropped out of the ed program after about a semester. I went in to see my advisor about scheduling classes, presenting him with a tentative schedule that included an advanced course in formal logic, a philosophy of science class, a history of science class, and an American history course (that turned out to be one of my best classes ever) called Revolution and Early National Period with my all-time favorite history teacher (George Suggs, for the record). I still remember my advisor marking out three of the four classes and replacing them with classes on teaching method--classes that I'd been informed by other education majors were a tragic waste of the human spirit, mainly focusing on things like how to make a lively bulletin board.

I walked out stunned, and it took me all of about 30 seconds to decide that my years-long dream of teaching highschool was not going to be realized. I even stood on the sidewalk and said, out loud, something like "I don't know what I'm going to do, but I'm not doing that." Secondary education, that is. And this is a common complaint among and about education majors: they spend so much of their time on utterly worthless methods classes that they know very little about the subjects they are teaching. But as almost anyone who has taught will tell you, it's mastery of the material that is about 90% of the battle. Teaching per se is hard, but after awhile you figure out how to do it.

That experience was ultimately good for me, but, I believe, bad for secondary education. (As it turns out, there's significant evidence that I'm an unusually good teacher.)

In fact, I've never known a single education major who I repected intellectually who had very much at all good to say about undergraduate or even graduate education education. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever heard any of them talk about it without a lot of eye-rolling and head-shaking. Most smart people in that world realize there are big, big problems there. (For the record, I did meet someone once who held forth at length about how difficult it was to finish her Masters in education. Turns out she was having trouble with her thesis. Turns out that her thesis was--I'm not making this up--ten lesson plans. (For the record, my master's thesis was 97 pages of blood, sweat and tears on Kripke's interpretation of Wittgenstein's private language argument...))

Anyway, that education schools need reform on several fronts is obvious to anyone who's had even passing experience with them. And it doesn't take a genius to see how important teacher education is. This is something we simply cannot afford to keep getting so very, very wrong.
The Death Penalty

My friend Peter the Public Defender convinced me a few years ago that the death penalty is a disaster as it is implemented in the U.S. Consequently, I'm now in favor of a long moratorium on it until we figure out whether it can be fixed. That is, I'm--somewhat reluctantly--against the death penalty in actual practice here and now.

I tend to be at odds with most death penalty opponents, however, because so many of them seem to be against the death penalty in principle. Normative ethics isn't my area, and this is a particularly thorny problem, but--to cut to the chase--there is simply no doubt in my mind that some people have earned execution. Whoever tortured and killed the Harvey family in Richmond, for example. Even if flaws in the system force us to suspend executions, it is abundantly clear to me that some people deserve death, and, ideally, would get it.

Among the people I know, those who are against the death penalty have some tendency to be those who have no very direct experience with heinous crime. This is one of the points made recently in Newsweek by Olga Polities. Looking in from the outside, such people don't really seem to understand what they're talking about, don't really seem to understand the enormity of the crimes in question.

The flames of this debate will almost certainly be fanned when Saddam swings for his crimes. In this case there is no question that he is guilty of mass murder, so there are no practical or epistemic questions to get in the way. It'll be rather as if we'd caught Hitler in '45. It will be interesting to see how liberals react when this happens. I'd like to make a prediction, but I just don't have one. Will my fellow liberals recognize the justice of the sentence--or at least its plausibility? Such unsual cases are interesting because they often reveal hidden disagreements of a particularly deep and important kind. If significant numbers of liberals come out against execution for Saddam, this will suggest to me that my disagreements with contemporary liberalism may be more profound than I have suspected. And it will certainly suggest something similar to many other relatively centrist, relatively independent voters.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Lucky for al-Zawahiri That He's Not Number 3...

...or he'd have been dead ten times by now. But it looks like we missed him again, and killed 18 civilians in the process. Oh, and pissed off Pakistan even more.

I can't even think about this mess rationally anymore. Some on the right--including the administration--continue to insist that they did not make a mistake in diverting troops from Afghanistan to Iraq, thus allowing bin Laden and al-Zawahiri to excape from Tora Bora.

Their cover story evolved into: al Qaeda is a network, not a hierarchy, therefore the leaders don't matter. Even ignoring the apparent fallaciousness of this argument, their subsequent actions demonstrate that even the administration doesn't believe its own story. Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are apparently important enough that we're willing to offer a total of $50 million in rewards for them, important enough for us to keep pursuing them, important enough to warrant our firing into Pakistan and important enough for us to send Predators firing nearly blind into houses, risking the lives of civilians.

So more than four years after they engineered brutal attacks on American soil, these guys are still running around. They've remained alive and kicking longer after 9/11 than Yamamoto did after Pearl Harbor--and it's not like they have the Japanese Empire protecting them.

As I've said before, it's hard to imagine any administration doing a worse job after 9/11 than the Bush administration has done.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Is Alito a Republican Ideologue?

The answer's easy: we don't know. The answers I saw him give were consistent with two different theories:

1. He's a very careful, procedure-oriented thinker


2. He's a conservative ideologue using carefully-crafted linguistic legerdemain.

If it's the former, then he's o.k. with me. I don't have a problem with smart, honest, objective conservatives. But, as I've already said many times, I don't interpret the words of this administration or its cronies charitably anymore. So if I had a vote here it'd be a somewhat reluctant 'no.'

Although I hope for 1, I'm expecting 2.
What Should the Democrats Do? Become the Party of Principle

So, everybody's asking what the Democrats should do. They lack a cohesive message, they're divided over Iraq, they--as usual--seem rudderless.

As for their division over Iraq strategy, I've got nothing. But I will say that their confusion is a good sign. Any rational, well-informed person should be confused about that.

As for the other stuff, here's a suggestion: truly become the party of principle (a phrase Kerry and Edwards seemed to toy with a bit back in '04). Resolve--loudly--to become a truly principled, squeaky-clean political party. Institute their own rules about campaign financing and lobbyists that are rational and ostentatiously more strenuous than the law.

In short, become what they ought to have been all along.

For most of my lifetime the Democrats have eaked out a niche as the least corrupt, least objectionable, least rotten of the political parties. (For the while-I-was-a-baby part of my life, they were apparently the more corrupt of the two.) Maybe it's time to aspire to something greater than that.

The Democrats will never be able to be more rotten than the current bunch in charge of the Republican party--and that's to their credit. You can't beat those guys at hardball--nor should you try. Currently the Dems seem to but just rotten enough to make it plausible to characterize them as being in the same ballpark as the Republicans. Many big corporations, for example, give the Dems about half what they give the Republicans. This system keeps the Democrats from ever really gaining control--they can't collect as much money as the Republicans, but they can't truly be seen as differing from them in kind, either.

So, since the current strategy can't work, and the get-meaner-than-them strategy is both reprehensible and doomed to failure, maybe the Democrats should break down and actually become the good guys.

Just a thought.
The Waterworks

Um, is the most important thing that emerged in the Alito hearings really that his wife started to cry? I find this a bit hard to believe, but that's what was getting most of the airtime on CNN etc. I didn't see that part of the proceedings, so I don't know what was going on. Perhaps the Dems were being truly vicious and/or unfair...but in that case it should have been the viciousness or unfairness that was the story.

Anyway, my heart sank this morning when I heard one of the talking heads say that the buzz was that "Mrs. Alito's" weeping was going to cinch the deal for him. Call me crazy, but this just doesn't strike me as a good reason for putting someone on the SCOTUS.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Bush Administration and Judgment Under Uncertainty

One great thing about being a professor is the flexibility. Most weeks there are only about 15 hours when I have to be on campus doing something. Of course I'm always around more than that and, like most responsible profs, spend a preposterous amount of time working at home. But, anyway, I enjoy the flexibility. And that flexibility allows me to do things like watch lots more of the Alito hearings than about 99% of the electorate. Which I've been doing.

Thing is, I still haven't been able to watch enough of them to form anything like a trustworthy opinion about what's going on. I just can't tell. The Democrats, as usual, seem to be coming off pretty bad. Sometimes they seem to have only two modes, passive and shrill.

At any rate, I haven't yet heard Alito say anything that clearly rules him out. Five years ago that would have been good enough for me.

But not anymore. One thing we've learned the hard way is that we can't trust this administration or their agents and cohorts to be straight with us. The there-are-no-plans-to-invade-Iraq-on-my-desk incident put the exclamation point on that conclusion.

What we've learned, in brief, is that we have to expect that this administration is actively trying to trick us whenever that's to their advantage. What that means is that we can't give them the benefit of the doubt and, in particular, can't interpret their words in the way we'd interpret the words of those we can trust.

Therefore, Alito's "no one is above the law" response to questions about presidential power is not good enough, given the fact that this response is consistent with a preposterously expansive view of presidential power. Democrats--and Republicans--should insist that Alito say something specific about his views on the limitations of presidential power, and show him the door if those answers indicate that he'd support the imperial presidency.

If specific--and reasonable--answers are not given to such questions, I'll be opposed to Alito's confirmation.

Er, for what that's worth.

Which, for those of you keeping score, is exactly nothing.
Kleiman on Our Choice of Republican Crooks
Rich Lowrey Admits that the Abramoff Scandal is a Republican One


In fact, you should just read Kevin Drum and Mark Kleiman. What the hell are you doing slumming around this place?
Drum on Bremer on Rumsfeld

Still more evidence that Rumsfeld and company refused to commit enough troops to Iraq to do the job properly. Non-conclusive, but it coheres with other things we know, so the smart money is currently on this conclusion.
The K Street Project and Vast Differences in Degree

My parents are political independents, and staunchly so. They raised me to be an independent, frequently repeating the "vote for the man, not for the party" mantra. Though my sympathies currently lie firmly with the Democrats, and though I frequently work for them on campaigns, I really don't consider myself one. I vote for Republicans on the rare occasion when I find one who's better than the competing Democrat, and no one would be happier than me if the Republicans suddenly became a more reasonable than the Democrats.

At any rate, there's an important sense in which I consider myself an independent. But there's an inclination that I often find among independents--my parents for example--that is pernicious. Specifically, the inclination to automatically conclude and assert that the two parties are equally bad. "They ain't one of 'em that's worth a shit--they're all crooks," my dad's often said to me. That's Missouri for "a pox on both their houses."

Problem is, this isn't true. There was a time when the Democrats were the more dishonest of the two parties. But the time of Tammany Hall is long past. There is simply no doubt that the Republicans are currently the more dishonst, power-hungry, and uscrupulous of the two parties. There is no difference in kind between the two parties, of course--both contain honest and intelligent statesmen, both contain vile and venal politicians. But there is currently a vast difference in degree.

Case in point: The K Street Project, which I consider a far bigger threat to American democracy than Osama bin Laden and his lunatic entourage.

Independents have an inclination, I think, to argue like so: there's no difference in kind between the Republicans and the Democrats, so there's no reason to prefer one to the other. But this argument is fallacious. The absence of a difference in kind does not entail the absence of a real and important difference, a significant difference in degree. There's no difference in kind between a fresh apple and a rotting one, but that doesn't mean that there's no reason to prefer one to the other. Yes, there's good and bad in the Democrats and there's good and bad in the Republicans, but--right now, though not forever--the proportion of good to bad in the two parties is vastly different. Democrats are too snug with lobbyists and too beholden to big business--but it took Republicans to institutionalize the corruption and turn the system into a well-oiled machine for eroding the barriers between government and special interests.

Decrying both parties becomes almost a verbal tic with some independents. It's very important that we help such folk realize that, while both houses may deserve some kind of pox, one deserves far more of it than the other.

[Mark Kleiman adds his $0.02.]

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Still Insisting that Reporting on Unwarranted Domestic Spying Endangered America

See, because if you just repeat something over and over and over and over again, it becomes true!

You all in the reality-based community are probably still asking people to explain how it endangers us, and asking for reasons in support of the claim and all that crazy kinda stuff.

But Jack Shafer and Glenn Reynolds have transcended such petty concerns.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

R.I.P. America

Well, it was fun while it lasted. Too bad so many of us turned out to be cowards who don't really care that much about the Bill of Rights.

I think I'm starting to understand how people must have felt in Germany in '32...
No One Is Above The Law?

Here's a scary thought that I first heard from Jeffrey Rosen on NPR tonight.

If Alito thinks that the president has the power to, in effect, determine what is and isn't law then both of the following would be true:

(a) The president is not above the law

(b) The president can do whatever he wants

If this view of executive power were true, then the president's power would be unlimited (or virtually so) even though he would, technically speaking, not be "above the law." What we really want to know is how expansive Alito thinks presidential power is, and someone needs to ask him that question and not let him get away with "no one is above the law."

I wasn't so obsessive about such things before Bush said "there are no plans to invade Iraq on my desk." But now we know we can't cut them any slack or give them the benefit of any doubt.
Alito Confirmation Hearings 1

Was able to catch a couple of hours of the Alito hearings this morning.

Brief summary of my tentative initial judgments, just to get the ball rolling:

1. Alito came off as being rather more reasonable than I'd come to expect he would. Liberals may have hurt themselves a bit by building him up to be a complete nut. (But I don't take such impressions very seriously.)

2. I've got a good bit of respect for Specter. I thought he did a good job as chair and liked his performance during his 30-minute question period, though he didn't give Alito enough time to give detailed answers.

3. Leahy's questions were strong, and he turned up the first really worrisome problem: Alito wasn't willing to come down strongly enough against presidential abuse of power.

4. Kennedy and Hatch came across as partisan hacks. Hatch didn't even ask real questions, he just conducted a 30-minute pro-Alito commercial. However he did give Alito an opportunity to put the Vanguard ethics charges to rest to my satisfaction. I'm inclined to consider that a non-issue now.

FWIW, here's my current attitude about this stuff:

A. Ethics charges re: non-recusal during Vanguard-related case: bogus.

B. His stance on presidential power:
B1. Overall: tentatively alarming
B2. Re: the stuff about the "Unified Executive": seems less bad than I thought.

C. Membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton: weird. He has a semi--but only semi--plausible explanation.

I'm worried about his stance on abortion, but currently most alarmed about an unfettered and unscrupulous executive branch running amok in the country and the world. At a different time, I might actually be inclined to be mildly pro-Alito at this point. But not now. To be in favor of him I think I'm going to have to hear him say something more convincing and reasonable on this subject.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Conservative Defense of the Current Republican Leadership: Mere Partisanship? Or Something Truly Frightening?

This is just a brief, preliminary version of a real post, but I've been worrying about this lately and wanted to get the idea out.

For a long time I took it for granted that conservatives were just being partisan when they defended Republican actions in the recount debacle of 2000, defended the divisiveness that has been the hallmark of this administration from the beginning, defended its pre- and post-9/11 incompetence, defended its loss of bin Laden at Tora Bora, defended its incompetence and dishonesty concerning the invasion of Iraq, defended Tom DeLay, the K Street project, and the associated culture of corruption...

But then I started to worry that there may be something much, much more frightening going on here:

Maybe American conservatives are being honest.

That is: maybe they really do think that this is what counts as governing well.

Maybe this really is what they consider the right way to do things; maybe it really is the way they plan to do things in the future whenever they are put in power.

It's bad enough if they're just being dishonest and partisan about all this. But the other alternative is the one that'll really keep you up at night.
P-Noony: Republican Corruption Proves that...

Republicans are right!

The height of human irrationality is the refusal to admit when you're wrong. And God is it ever on parade big time on the right these days.

Funny as it is to see Nooners & co. grasping frantically at straws, I have to admit some sympathy for a distant cousin of this argument. I have serious reservations about big government in part because I realize that conservatives will often be in charge of it...

In fact conservatives aren't really in favor of restraining government power and we shouldn't let them continue to pretend that they are. They like it just fine when the gub'ment gets to tell us how we can have sex and who with, what we can ingest and inhale, how/whether to worship something/someone, etc. They just don't like it poking around in our pocketbooks. I have some sympathy for them there, but consider the former stuff to be more important than money.

I eagerly anticipate future arguments to the effect, e.g., that Bush's dishonesty and incompetence prove that he was a wiser choice than Kerry, and that Republican corruption proves that it is imperative for us to allow them to maintain control of Congress...
CRS: Bush's Domestic Spying Probably Illegal

No surprises here.

Wish I had the time/expertise to go through the arguments in detail.
Shorter George W. Bush:

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

There is a distinction between truths and facts, but it isn't anything like what these folks--to the extent that I can tell what the heck they are trying to say--seem to think it is.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Is Right-Wing Fear-Mongering Turning Us Into Cowards?
Or: America duToitified

I've been toying with the idea of writing something like this for a long time, but Glenn Greenwald nails it. The main point: conservative fear-mongering re: terrorism has made us look like--and possibly actually made us into--a country of panty-waists.

9/11 was a horrific thing, but it doesn't warrant the kind of obsession and panic that the right has manufactured. If 9/11 really scares Bush & co. this much, then they'd evaporate in a puff of cowardice if they had to spend one day in the Iraqi Red Zone.

I just can't understand how a group of people who are always going on about how macho they are can be such chickenshits.

Of course there is another explanation for the fearmongering...
Bush's Bipartisan Sham

So, five years into his disastrous presidency, Bush deigns to talk to a group containing people who diagree with him. For ten minutes.

I suppose you don't need me to tell you how absurd this is. Incestuous amplification has been one of the most powerful and destructive forces driving this administration since the beginning. I was astounded when I heard reports that he'd held this meeting, then astounded that I could be astounded by such a thing. Then I heard that the participants had been allowed to speak for 5-10 minutes and figured that they must have meant 5-10 minutes each...but apparently it was 5-10 minutes total.

Even now, deeply into the most disastrous and disastrously isolated presidency of modern times, these people aren't willing to consider the possibility that they might be wrong about anything. The closest they can come to listening to dissenting opinions is a photo op. They still see every problem as a PR problem; thus the "solution" never requires them to learn more or admit error, it just requires them to persuade others to agree with them.

The press and the public and the Democrats should be ridiculing this sham mercilessly.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I can't find the words to express my contempt for all this.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Global Warming, Terrorism, and Risk Tolerance

Crooked Timber says that the global warming debate is over. Is it? What do I look like, the Shell Answer Man? (Actually, the Shell Answer Man would probably assess the situation rather differently than I might...) All I do on this one is wait around for the experts to output an answer. But according to CT, that answer has been outputted.

Anyway, long ago somebody posted a comment here noting how bizzarre it is that the Administration is frantically risk-averse with regard to terrorism but almost entirely unphased by the threat of global warming (which, as said comment-poster noted, would make an atom bomb going off in Manhattan look "like a pin-prick.").

So why the double-standard? The answers that come readily to mind are pretty depressing.

But here's something weird, and I wonder whether this figures in in any way: ever notice that when there's an explosion or some other disaster many folks seem to, first, worry that it was terrorism and then, later, breathe a sigh of relief when it turns out not to be? I mean, if a chemical plant explodes and ten people are killed, then, well, ten people are killed. Whether it's terrorism or an accident seems more or less irrelevant, doesn't it? Yet I get the feeling that if it turns out to be terrorism people will transition from quiet concern to running around and screaming, and transition with fair rapidity. So what gives?

I have a feeling that I'm thinking about this wrong/missing something obvious here, but can't quite figure out what it is.
Several Cheers for Mr. Brooks

I don't get Times Select, but via Atrios we get this synopsis of David Brooks on Republican corruption. Since I can't read the whole thing, I don't know how many cheers Brooks deserves exactly, but it's heartening to see that influential conservatives are getting on the Abramoff scandal.

Oh, and note to Atrios: don't call him 'Bobo' when he's doing the right thing.
Stuff + Kleiman on Gingrich on the Republican Kleptocracy

Still travelling/got a cold/tired and cranky/posting will be light.

Big thanks, BTW, to Statisticasaurus Rex and Canis Major for putting us up in DC and Charlottesville, respectively. Today we're off to Johnny Quest's parental units' digs, where tomorrow we'll celebrate the "real" (i.e. Greek Orthodox) Christmas.

(And to friends in either of the aforementioned places we didn't get in touch with/crash with: be ye not angry: 'twas a whirl-wind tour.)

Brain no work so good of late, so no thoughts more sophisticated than "Bush bad man"...but I think I may have regaled you with that one before. Basically I walk around anymore with one of those cartoon black clouds over my head, muttering things like "Hell in a handbasket!" under my breath. In three years I'll probably be certifiable.

But anyway, here's a link to Mark Kleiman giving us some excerpts from a Dana Milbank report on a Newt Gingrich speech on the current Republican kleptocracy. All I have to add is: when I'm agreeing with Newt Gingrich, it's strange days indeed.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

FISC Wants to Know Whether Possibly-Illegal Wiretap Info Was Used to Get Warrants

At the Post.

Wonder whether some truly dangerous folks could ultimately be released because of this? Bush & co. could end up being the dirty cops that blow the case by failing to stick to procedure.

What, pray tell, else could these guys possibly do wrong? Aren't they running out of ways to screw things up yet?
Do Liberals Underestimate the Badness of Saddam?

O.k., LC, Rilkefan, the Funkmeister, and others of you guys have been on my back about offering "proof" of my "claim" that liberals tend to underestimate the badness of Saddam. You people in the reality-based community, with your "facts" and "reason" and "scientific method" make me sick.

Still, I'll humor you.

But seriously, it seems like the thing to do here is to step back and ask some prior questions (note: this move is sometimes used to muddy the waters in order to protect a claim from refutation. That's not what I'm doing here.).

First, what the heck did I mean when I made the relevant claim--that claim being, again:

(LUS) Many liberals underestimate the badness of Saddam Hussein


Second--and relatedly: what would count as evidence for and evidence against (LUS)?

I'm going to throw out some quick thoughts, and maybe you'll have some, too.

A. I don't exactly expect to find a lot of liberals saying "I love Saddam!" or "Gee, that Saddam certainly is misunderstood." If we did find those things, of course, that would constitute evidence for (LUS). But I'd be surprised if we found much of that kind of thing.

B. Finding a lot of liberals saying "Gosh, that Saddam is evil and I hate him"--or things to that effect--would count against my thesis in a decided way.

C. I guess what I expect to find most is passing references to Saddam's badness, after which the authors go on to change the subject, especially if the subject is changed to the badness of Bush.

That's where things get tricky. Some such passages will have the effect of minimizing Saddam's badness and some won't, so there we'll have to go case-by-case, right?

One complicating factor: take me as an example. I think my credentials as a Saddam-hater are well-established, yet I spend way more time bashing Bush than Saddam. So why's that? I have a hypothesis, but I'll let you think about it first if you care to.

Anyway, much of the above may be wrong, but the general strategy seems sound to me: we need to figure out what would count as confirmation and disconfirmation of (LUS) before we get down to he nitty-gritty of actually evaluating its truth-value.
How Did Revelations About Domestic Spying Help Terrorists?

I know I've been harping on this (most recently here), and I'm not going to just keep repeating myself...but just thought I'd point out that Atrios is on this now, issuing a challenge to pro-Bush dead-enders to explain how the NYT revelations about domestic spying harmed our anti-terrorism efforts.

Answer, as I've noted: it didn't, not even a little bit.

It's really, really wrong to misuse national defense arguments in this way--for political ends, that is. But I suppose we should be used to it by now.
Rightosphere Abramoff Talking Points Are Out!

Michelle Malkin via Insty. In a nutshell:

1. It's a bipartisan scandal!
2. This all started back when the Democrats used to do it.

Both might be true, I dunno. MM quotes the Christian Science Monitor saying that Republicans got 64% of the flithy lucre, so that does, indeed, seem to vindicate the claim. Ah, bipartisanship at last!

But you don't need me to tell you that it's more complicated than that. Apparently Republicans got 100% of the money that actually came from Abramoff, whereas Democrats merely took money from his clients. Nothing wrong with that so long as there was nothing like a quid pro quo involved, right? Still looks bad, but I expect there will be no Democratic analog of DeLay and Ney.

This is a real test for the Republican party. Will they finally start owning up to their own recent mistakes and abuse of power? If they did so there might be some chance of me voting for one of them again sometime in the next decade. My guess, however, is that it'll be dissembling and denial all the way down. I sincerely hope the GOP proves me wrong.

And P.S. what is it with that Michelle Malkin? She's beyond lightweight...more like negative weight. Why the heck is she (quasi-)famous? I don't get it.
Left and Right: Looking to Other Places and Looking to Other Times

It seems safe to assert--painting with a rather broad brush here--that the right has an inclination to view the past with a certain kind of reverence whereas the left has some tendency to view other (contemporaneous) cultures with a roughly similar kind of reverence. For example, when push comes to shove, the right often falls back on assertions about our own traditions, whereas the left tends to fall back on assertions about how things are done elsewhere. (Again, it's more complicated than this, but I've been trying to get this germ of an idea out for quite awhile, and I'd rather get it out initially and imperfectly than not get it out at all.)

So the obvious question is: why is this? I used to have contempt for both types of arguments, but now both seem rather less crazy to me--though both types of appeals are very, very weak. Burkean conservatives apparently think that our own traditions are the outputs of long centuries of informal experimentation and, ergo, carry some epistemic and moral weight. That's not crazy, but the point seems to apply to the traditions of other cultures, too. So, it seems, if our own traditions deserve a certain degree of respect, so do the traditions of other cultures. We can run a similar point about the leftish position, but I'll make that point by reminding you of the quip that an anthropologist (most of whom are denizens of the intellectual left) is someone who respects every culture but his own...

So to the extent that I have a question here it's this: is there any way to sustain either the rightish position (considerable respect for our own traditional ways of doing things, little respect for the ways of others) or the leftish position (considerable respect for other ways of doing things, little respect for our own traditional ways)?

There'll be devils in the details here, but on the face of it one should expect these positions to stand or fall together.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Philosoraptor Featured on Salon.com's Daou Report

Hey, today we were the featured blog on the Daou report. Sadly, of course, my posting has been sparse and slap-dash of late, and our discussions less genial than normal. Ah well, such is life.
Civil Civic Discourse and the Orange Band Initiative

I've posted before about the Orange Band Initiative. It's an organization that seeks to foster civil, informative, scrupulously non-partisan public discussions of issues of local, national, and international interest. Orange Band was started entirely by students at James Madison University, and they've done a really outstanding job so far. The organization has started spreading to other campuses, and one of their public forums (a panel discussion by JMU students who had returned from military service in Iraq) was even broadcast on C-SPAN.

Orange Band works. These projects, panels, and public discussions really get students talking, and get them interested in policy. And the Orange Band crew is scrupulously objective and non-partisan. I was around this group for years before I could even tell what their personal political beliefs were like. And if the group gets out of balance one way or another, they actively seek new members from other parts of the political spectrum

As you may have ascertained, I'm going to urge you to cough up some dough. This is a great organization, and they've brought in a bit of grant money, but the folks keeping this thing going have graduated now, and they've had to take on real jobs, too. Without at least a trickle of funding, Orange Band is going to start to fizzle out.

This is where you come in. Even a few bucks would be significant at this point, so if you can spare a little, please do think about donating to them. The ideas motivating Orange Band are timely and important, and it'd be a real tragedy if such a promising organization died out in its infancy.

[In the interest of full disclosure, let me note that I'm an advisor to the group. Needless to say, I don't get any money--or anything else for that matter--from them. I just believe in their mission.]
Words of Wisdom from Crazy Fred: On Intellectual Conscience

Section 2 from The Gay Science, one of my faves:

"The intellectual conscience
I keep having the same experience and keep resisting it every time. I do not want to believe it although it is palpable: the great majority of people lack an intellectual conscience. Indeed, it has often seemed to me as if anyone calling for an intellectual conscience were as lonely in the most densely populated cities as if he were in a desert. Everybody looks at you with strange eyes and goes right on handling his scales, calling this good and that evil. Nobody even blushes when you intimate that their weights are underweight; nor do people feel outraged; they merely laugh at your doubts. I mean: the great majority of people does not consider it contemptible to believe this or that and to live accordingly, without first having given themselves an account of the final and most certain reasons pro and con, and without even troubling themselves about such reasons afterward: the most gifted men and the noblest women still belong to this "great majority." But what is goodheartedness, refinement, or genius to me, when the person who has these virtues tolerates slack feelings in his faith and judgments and when he does not account the desire for certainty as his inmost craving and deepest distress—as that which separates the higher human beings from the lower.

Among some pious people I have found a hatred of reason and was well disposed to them for that; for this at least betrayed their bad intellectual conscience. But to stand in the midst of this rerum concordia discors [Discordant concord of things: Horace, Epistles, I.12.19.] and of this whole marvelous uncertainty and rich ambiguity of existence without questioning, without trembling with the craving and the rapture of such questioning, without at least hating the person who questions, perhaps even finding him faintly amusing—that is what I feel to be contemptible, and this is the feeling for which I look first in everybody. Some folly keeps persuading me that every human being has this feeling, simply because he is human. This is my sense of injustice."

It's the first paragraph that really gets me. The second one...well, there's a point there, but you know Nietzsche--hyperbole and poetic license tend to get the better of him as often as not.

At any rate: imagine a world in which the intellectual conscience was more common and more powerful.

And imagine what would happen if such a conscience took hold suddenly and right now. How many of our current leaders could survive such an event? How many of us would look on our past actions and assertions with unbearable shame?