Tuesday, May 30, 2006

SCOTUS: Don't Reveal Illegal Activity

See, now it's fecal matter like this that makes me want to cut my internet cable and go back into sequestration.

When I saw this I thought well, there must be some legal niceties that I'm missing here... But Mark Kleiman (actual lawyer and smart guy) is appalled, too, so I'm less optimistic about that now. And my optimism fades completely when I note that this decision is basically good guys vs. bad guys (Roberts, Scalito, Thomas and Kennedy vs. Stephens, Souter, Breyer and Ginsburg). (Roberts and Alito aren't really known to be bad guys yet...but it doesn't look good.)

So remember: it ain't illegal if the gub'mint does it. Or, rather, it's illegal, but you better not point it out. Not if you want to keep your job, Dudley Do-Right. Just keep your eyes on the ground and your big trap shut.
Six Feet Under (and Deadwood)
Some Uninteresting Personal Musement

Well, as I've noted I've been news-deprived of late. No 'net access, no teevee...and I haven't even been listening to NPR. Haven't been getting the newspaper...pretty much nothing for three weeks. Lemme tell 'ya, it's been damn nice. I'm not walking around pissed off all the time. Ah, blissful ignorance...

But what I have been doing in my down time is reading lots of philosophy and renting large numbers of DVDs. Now, nobody wants to hear about the former, but if you're foolish enough to listen to anything I have to say about politics, then perhaps you're foolish enough to care what I think about television shows. Who knows? Anyway, I just throw this crap out to see what people have to say about it anyway...

Deadwood...well, watched two seasons of that. Kinda catchy. We'll probably watch more when it becomes available. You gotta love that old West quasi-Shakespearean dialogue sprinkled liberally with the foulest curses. Tres amusing.

Six Feed Under...well...we'd watched the first four seasons some time ago, and thought it was fairly amusing...but towards the end of season 4 we figued we'd had enough. Unable to find anything else worth renting, we started in on season 5. It didn't do much for me...but all I really want to talk about is the last 3 or 4 minutes. If you haven't seen it and are interested in doing so, read no farther, as a big fat spoiler lurks below.

This is just the interstitial filler paragraph for those who don't want to see a spoiler but who, due to ocular incontinence, can't resist the urge to glance down to see what's up.

Man, that last couple of minutes really damn blew me away. The Claire-driving-to-NYC-death-montage. I don't know what it is...and I have no mind for literature or feeelm, so I can't say anything interesting about it...and for all I know it actually sucks. But it literally made me cry (note: yes, this means I'm a wimp. What of it?), and has stuck with me for two days so far. Christ. Dunno what it is. The rapid flashes-forward, all the deaths there right at the end...consistent, I guess, with the whole theme of the show. Perhaps it was their own little spin on the answer to the question everybody wants to ask when they get to the end of a story they've enjoyed--what happens to the characters after that? Well, what happens, of course, is that they freaking die. It's what happens to everybody, numb nut.

I just don't know...something about these fast flashes, death, wedding, death, wedding, death, death, death...all these characters you've developed this affection for...up to Claire's death in like 2085 at like 102 or something...like the last flickering flame of their familial microcosm...just the end. Sure did hit me hard.

Jesus, how lame am I?

Anyway. One unrelated thing: for a long time I've wanted to be buried in approximately the way Nate was in the show, though I didn't know you could really do it. (Maybe they just made it up, though. Guess I'd better Google it.) Give up the organs, no embalming, just plant me somewhere nice with a little marker...though I think I'd like a pine box instead of just a shroud. Johnny Quest has told me that I need to tell more people than her about this. So here it is, anonymous though it might be, right on the internet. That's how I want to go out. Cremation and evisceration-embalming-and-painting just seem too awful to even contemplate...though I guess the former might be a tad less horrific. Or maybe not.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Back Soon

Will be back soon. Don't wanna break up our little community... Just been enjoying being away from news and the 'net.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Hey. Sorry about the unannounced hiatus. Back in Chapel Hill for the Summer, but don't have home web access yet. Blogging to resume shortly, but lightly, as Job One this summer is finishing this damn book.

Um, have I ever mentioned how Chapel Hill is the greatest town ever? It certainly is good to be back. (Actually Carrboro is cooler than Chapel Hill now, but they're virtually the same town and nobody but locals really distinguish between the two.)

Been blissfully ignorant about politics for the last week (some might say much longer than that...). It's refreshing to be disconnected from that swamp.

Heard a real gem on NPR the other day, though. In response to a question about the NSA collecting phone records and suchlike, Tony Snow went on a little tirade in defense of the administration that included the claim that "al Qaeda doesn't care about transparency." That was apparently supposed to constitute a defense of this administration's not caring enough about transparency... Under other circumstances, that would be funny... (The Economist had the best line about Snow being appointed...they asked whether he'd be getting back pay...)

Anyway, the thing that's been plaguing my thoughts most during my break has been this question: why are there not massive protests against this administration every day? I mean, when you back away from the hustle and bustle of internet news and analysis and give yourself some time to think about what's happened over the last 5.5 years...you start to realize how truly amazing, frightening and angrifying it is.

Anyway, I'm at Davis library right now, surrounded by several million books. So obviously I have better things to do than to subject you guys to more of my typing.

Be back online soon.


Monday, May 15, 2006

Major General John Batiste: "I Felt As Though I Had Been Used Politically" by Rumsfeld

Via the ever-vigilant Kevin Drum. Do check it out. Still more evidence that we're not crazy. We've been told that we've been imagining things and/or blowing things out of proportion for so long that, if you're like me, you've come to doubt your ability to make judgments about what's happening in Iraq. Depressing as this news is, it's at least comforting to know that things are, in fact, as they've seemed to be. Somebody's nuts here, but it's not us.

Dallaire "Beseeches" Ottowa [apparently b.k.a. "Ottawa"...] to Commit Canadian Troops to Sudan

In the Sudan Tribune.

I'm serious when I say that this guy is my hero.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Anti-Civility on the Moderate Left

Incivility is often said to have been the norm in (at least American) politics. Since at least Reagan, it has seemed to me that mainstream conservatism has been moving farther to the right. For about the same period of time, it's seemed to me that political discourse on the right has been becoming less civil. Since at least the ascendancy of Rush Limbaugh, much political discussion on the right seems to have become downright vicious. Now it is the norm there.

I used to think that this was something peculiar to the right, until I encountered leftist extremists in graduate school. I discovered that they were at least as vicious as folks on the right. In many ways the leftists I encountered--in person and in print--were actually worse than the rightists I'd encountered. I came to think that hateful discourse was something associated with extremists of both stripes. The radical left, however, is a fringe in America, whereas the radical right is a powerful force here. That's why incivility had seemed to be a right-wing phenomenon.

When I started this blog, one of my main goals was to try to discuss issues in a civil way. I suppose it's obvious that I haven't always lived up to that ideal. In my defense, I think that the Bush administration is enough to--as my dad would say--make the Pope cuss. Still, to my shame, I often find myself being dismissive, derisive and dogmatic. But my failure to live up the the ideals in question doesn't make them bad ideals. It just makes me incontinent. (snicker)

It's important to strive for civility in political discussions. One important reason for this is a purely instrumental one: we're more likely to achieve rational consensus and converge on the truth if our discussions remain largely civil. The more derisive we are towards each other in our discussions, the more firmly entrenched we become in our antecedently-held positions. If we're discussing whether or not p, and I start out by saying that only a liar or an idiot could defend not-p, then you will almost certainly automatically become defensive about your belief that not-p, and resistant to changing your mind. We'll be engaged in argument, not inquiry. It's hard to make progress in political discussions, but that's only partially because the questions are difficult. In large part its because of psychological factors of this kind. Dogmatism and incivility breed dogmatism and incivility, and dogmatism is perhaps the greatest enemy of reason and truth. As Nietzsche has noted, it's often not what is said with which we disagree, but, rather, the tone in which it is said.

Many blogs are fairly uncivil places. A couple of years ago, folks in the blogs I frequent came to the consensus that cyberbalkanization is not a problem. I think they were and are wrong about that and tried to convince them of this at the time, but you know how such things go. (For one thing, it's hard to get bloggers to agree that blogs are bad in some important way.) People tend to frequent blogs with orientations they find congenial, and that means that people tend to flock together in relatively uniform communities of opinion. Under such conditions, one might predict that smaller and smaller differences of opinion might begin to seem more and more significant. Whether cyberbalkanization has played a major role in the growth of incivility is unclear, but it would not be surprising it if had.

My point here, though, is not to say something about incivility per se. And although incivilty seems to me to be on the rise in leftish blogs (I don't know whether it's frequency is changing on rightish ones), that's not what I want to discuss, either. What I'm really concerned about is that it seems to be more and more common on relatively centrist leftish blogs to encounter advocacy of what we might call anti-civility. I've encountered many leftish folks recently who can barely conceal their contempt for any appeal to keep the discussion civil. In some placed its become close to a kind of inside joke--though that's not really a very good description of it. It's like a line that's always good for a kind of snicker or knowing smile. Like, e.g., in philosophy, it's almost always possible to elicit a snicker if, in the middle of a discussion, you say "of course that might just be true for me," or "well, who's to say?" Relativism is (rightfully, IMO) such a joke that the mere mention of it is good for a cheap quasi-laugh. That's the way I've frequently seen civility mentioned of late. It's as if it's on its way to becoming the newest article of leftish orthodoxy: civility: bad.

Needless to say, I could be wrong, this could be a sampling error, or it could be a mini-fad that will just die out. Also needless to say, I hope it's one of those. But right now this seems to constitute a real problem. Like so many opinions, this one seems to be based partially one an at least moderately reasonable insight, this being that some make bogus appeal to civility as a way to insulate the powers that be from criticism. Such bogus appeals are rightly ridiculed. But not all appeals for civility are sneaky attempts to dampen legitimate criticism. That's certainly not why I, for example, encourage it. Condemning appeals for civility because they might be misused is like condemning appeals for passionate advocacy because they might be misused. What should be condemned is the illigitimate appeals, not all such appeals. Civility and passionate advocacy are both good when properly engaged in.

But much of the anti-civility fad is merely unreflective and irrational, not based on any good reasons whatsoever. This often the nature of such beasts: a small insight that gives a veneer of plausibility to an irrational preference or unreflective inclination. Much of it is just monkey see-monkey do. People are mad--and justifiably so--and this primes them to embrace a theory that says that unbridled expressions of anger are good. And then this becomes the latest badge of blogospheric chic. All the cool kids are dissing civility...you fucker.

This is the point at which the bogus defenses kick in. It'll be charged that I'm advocating docility, which I am certainly not. In fact I think we're far too docile as it is. I'm one of the most ardent advocates and devoted practitioners of speaking truth to power you'll ever meet. You don't know me, so I can't prove that, but I could if you did. I think that we live in dangerous times, and that we face a genuinely immoral, irrational, and criminal administration. If it were up to me, there'd be anti-administration protests on the Mall every couple of weeks. Nobody here is advocating docility, passivity, or deferential politeness. I think we need to tell it like it is, but to do so in a way that doesn't go out of its way to piss people off. Or, rather: we need to do it in a way that pisses people off in the right way. They need to be pissed off at the administration, not at its critics. Unbridled anger isn't effective in the long run in a democracy. It won't effect political change, it won't forge consensus, it won't change minds. It breeds dogmatism in part by making people disinclined to reflect on their views and admit their errors. (And by 'them' I also mean us.) Unbridled anger is particularly ineffective when used by liberals; their base is largely averse to it in a way that a large part of the conservative base is not.

Knowing the propensity of liberals to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, I've begun to wonder how we might screw this up now that the criminality and incompetence of the Bush administration have become so manifest. What I've been discussing here is one way we might do it. We might give in to our anger and go over to the dark side, embracing the very source of power that drive the Coulters and Hannitys and Norquists of the world, thus driving away the very centrists and independents who are ready to ally themselves with us. And, what's perhaps even worse, corrupting ourselves in the process and making ourselves not merely incapable of but also unworthy of victory exactly when our country needs us most.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A John Bircher Suggests a Left-Right Anti-Bush Alliance

Uh....well...um...there's this.

I have to say, I'm too baffled and wary to have anything to say about this. So I won't try.

One interesting thing in this piece, though, is his account of how the horrifying republican push for a constitutional convention back in the late '80's and early '90's was defeated. I'm not sure he's right about how it was licked, but thank God it was.

Jesus, how had I forgotten about that? The very thought used to make my blood run cold... Imagine Jesse Helms, Bill Bennett and the early Newt Gingrich re-writing the American constitution...it's like a prospectus for a disaster movie or something.

(Via Metafilter)
Politics, Equivocal Evidence, and Irrationality
(One Last Word Sort of on the Stupid Colbert Affair)

One thing that trips people up when they reason is that the evidence concerning a given claim is often equivocal--some counts in favor of the proposition in question, some counts against it. When passions run high, it is all too easy to exaggerate the evidence that points in one's preferred direction, and to dismiss the evidence that points in the other.

I expect that this is one of the most important phenomena at work in the Colbert affair. There's some reason to think that the MSM should have covered Colbert (Rilkefan informs me (over at Kleiman's digs) that Imus slammed Clinton at the same event years earlier, and the MSM covered that). If we really wanted to track this issue down to the ground, we'd tally that up in the pro MSM collusion column, and then go on to carefully examine all the other presentations given at all the other Correspondents' Dinners, rate them as to how funny and controversial they were, find out what percentage of the extant newscasts were devoted to them, etc., etc. But, since no one's going to do that, people go with their hunches and whatever anecdotal evidence comes readily to mind.

But the actions of the left here just remind me too much of the actions of the right over the past 20 years for me to take them very seriously. There's a consipracy around every corner. In every case in which some indictment of the MSM can be made, it is made. Of course this isn't true of everyone on the left, I'm pointing to some prominent tendencies. Atrios, again, is a kind of exemplar here. Everyone who disagrees with him is an idiot, or a "whiny-ass titty-baby." Everyone in the MSM is a lapdog, an idiot, or a conservative co-conspirator. Those who aren't 100% on our side are 100% on their side. If they're not with us, they're against us. Even someone as relatively neutral as Russert is considered the tool of evil. Even known Democrats (e.g. Matthews) are Republicans deep down inside.

Nobody thinks that the MSM is populated by the sharpest tools in the shed. (Neither, of course, is the blogosphere.) I think it's fairly clear that they're insufficiently critical of our out-of-control administration, an administration that is probably worse than either the Nixon or Reagan administrations, and which threatens not only our Democracy but much of the rest of the world. I try--but often fail--to be relatively restrained on this site when I talk about George W. Bush. It's not like I'm not angry about this situation. If you want to compare anti-Bush credentials, I can virtually guarantee that mine are all in order, probably stronger than yours. I probably put in more work on the Gore campaign than you did. I became so vociferously anti-Bush during the quasi-theft of the 2000 election than even my liberal friends began to question whether I'd gone off the deep end. My point here is not to try to out-anger anyone, I'm just trying to give the skeptical some idea of where I'm coming from on this.

But there are strong signs that prominent elements of the blogospheric left are in danger of spinning out of control. I say this not because I think that anger at the administration is irrational, because--as I noted above--I don't. I say this because the manifestations of this anger are making less and less sense. I think there should be mass protests against the administration virtually every week. If there were, I'd go. (Not anti-war protests; anti-administration protests.) I think these guys are dangerous. Very, very dangerous. As I've said before, I sometimes think they may be more dangerous than al Qaeda. After all, it's this administration that chose to undertake courses of action that strengthened al Qaeda rather than stamping it out. Without this administration, al Qaeda would be nothing by now.

But the elements of the blogospheric left about which I'm concerned are not organizing protests. They're not even analyzing serious issues. Instead, they are fulminating about the performance of a comedian. Worse, they're vilifying anyone who doesn't think the guys was funny, and spinning out conspiracy theories about why a comedy routine was not featured prominently on CNN. They're generating ideological litmus tests so fast that no one with an ounce of intellectual integrity can possibly pass them all. They're treating those who disagree with them as idiots and traitors to the cause.

Now, this may be o.k. with you, but it's not o.k. with me. These are the actions of (in Eric Hoffer's phrase) true believers. It's not o.k. with me because its conterproductive and gives ammunition to a criminal administration and their lackies, but that reason is only secondary in my book. The primary reasons that it's not o.k. in my book is that it's irrational, stupid, and intellectually irresponsible. Influential forces on the leftosphere have become Limbaugh-like.

Now, some people may dislike Limbaugh because they don't like his conclusions, but that's not why I dislike him. I dislike him because his reasoning--such as it is--is patently fallacious. In fact he doesn't even reason at all. Rather, he rationalizes. He starts with a proposition he prefers, and then he emits a stream of babble masquerading as an argument in favor the the proposition. The end-point is always already fixed. He'll take any route, no matter how foolish, that gets him there, and if no route is available he'll just free-associate until his audience--willing co-conspirators, all--can overcome any latent qualms about accepting the "conclusion" they passionately wanted to accept all along. It's easy to mislead those who are willing to be mislead.

Now, in response to this many point out that the Colbert incident is stupid and unworthy of our attention, but that's just my point. But I didn't turn it into a whole big thing, others did. Here we see another perennial feature of political discourse: the variable standard. There' s a kind of person out there who will nod in approval when, say, Atrios goes on about the unjustness of the Colbert affair, but then object that it's frivolous and unworthy of discussion when some of us react to Atrios's claims. It's stupid and unimportant and not worthy of our attention. But, paradoxically, that's part of what makes it important. The fact that something so insignificant has become the focus of such attention is itself important. The fact that this has been made into an ideological litmus test is chilling.

Now, this is the part where my leftist friends ridicule me mercilessly for this, that, or the other thing. Well, as always, I could be wrong. I'm just calling it like I see it. This is, as always, supposed to be the next word in a discussion, not the last one.

Trivial as this case is, I write about it because it's not an isolated incident. It's one of many incidents that could be tips of an iceberg. I've seen similar patterns before, and we see them now in other ways. The pattern goes like this: there's a dispute, and Side A is really, really bad. Side B reacts to the actions of Side A...and then begins to over-react. Driven mad by the badness of Side A, Side B begins to become irrational itself. When elements of Side B sound the alarm, they are denounced as traitors to the cause.

We've seen this pattern writ large (where al Qaeda = Side A; U.S. = Side B), then we saw it writ smaller (where Bush administration = Side A; Liberals = Side B), and now it is writ smallest (where some liberals = Side A; other liberals = Side B). Al Qaeda does something awful, U.S. responds. U.S. overreacts, responding irrationally. Liberals point this out. They are accused of treason. Liberals react to the badness of this overreaction, then begin to overreact themselves. Some liberals point this out, they are denounced as traitors...

Of course, I'll be denounced as an idiot or a traitor to the cause for writing any of this, but that's the nature of these things. (Of course no one's just mistaken anymore...) Sadly, that's what my hypothesis predicts will happen. (Note: reasoned objections do not count as confirmation.)

It's not too late for us to react against the over-reacters. They're not the majority, and the blogosphere is fairly insignificant. But cyberbalkanization, incestuous amplification and groupthink are, I fear, driving elements of the blogospheric left farther and farther from the kind of dispassionate objectivity required to prevent politics from becoming absurd and tragic. That is, these things are making them more like the right has been for the past thirteen-or-so years. The fact that so many in the leftosphere now openly ridicule the very idea of civility in political discourse is a very, very bad sign.

Alright, so there're my hunches and worries about what's going on for what they're worth. They're vague, impressionistic, and tentative, but that's the nature of the beast.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Linguistic Weirdness: Brazil's Piraha

The Whorf-Sapir hypothesis is one of those bits of pseudo-science that just won't die. Almost every time a language with strange properties is discovered, some popularizer somewhere will jump to the conclusion that the relevant bit of weirdness proves that Whorf was right.

Well, he wasn't.

Still, this stuff about the Piraha of Brazil sounds pretty interesting. As with Hopi (or Navaho? Dang...which was it?) I expect that the language of the Piraha will turn out to be far less interesting than it seems once more people can understand it. And, of course, mere linguistic weirdness in now way lends even the slightest support to the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis.

As in the case of the Hopi (Navaho? Crap.), some people are apprently asserting that the Piraha "have no concept of time." As with the Hopi (Navaho...whatever), this will almost certainly turn out to be false. It'd be fairly easy to design some experiments to test this claim, though. (Interestingly, this article does contain descriptions of the results of some experiments on the Piraha's math skills.) Of course that's going to force us to explain at least roughly what it means for someone to have a concept of time...

Of course some people have access to concepts that others lack. There's nothing weird about that. (Not everyone, for example, has the concepts reductio ad absurdum or mathematical limit or representative democracy.) But, contra Whorf and his epigones, this in no way indicates that language determines thought. What's most likely is that thought and language interact, influencing each other. They may even be something like two sides of the same coin. No one would claim that language has no effect on thought--and it's rather bizarre that many people think that language is the only thing that influences thought. You probably think I'm making those people up, but I'm not.

Among the many other reasons for rejecting the claim that language perfectly determines thought is that this entails that thought is not possible without language. Among the many reasons for thinking that that latter claim is false is that we know of some people who had thoughts before they understood language. Steven Pinker discusses (in The Language Instinct) deaf-mutes who had very complex thoughts before they acquired sign language. One such person was a locksmith before learning to sign--and that's not something you can learn to do if you can't think. He also reports a normal mental life before he learned to sign--including very complex philosophical thoughts, about, for example, the existence of God.

The Chomskians also end up getting mixed up in these debates, and I'm always left wondering why, exactly, they think that all languages have combinatorial syntax. I take it that's a kind of constitutive claim? That a symbol system without CS is not really a language? I've got nothing to say about that. But doesn't that just push the question back to "does any human group use a primary symbol system that's not a language?" I mean, it's unlikely that recursive grammar sprung up as soon as humans started using sounds to refer to things. There's probably a fairly smooth transition from animal warning noises to full-blown language. So at some point in the evolution in at least some languages, it seems like we'd predict the existence of a fairly complex but not fully-developed language or quasi-language. Something with a relatively impoverished bank of concepts, and a relatively unsophisticated grammar.

I don't see why anyone would think that such primitive (quasi-?)languages are impossible, but I also don't see why anyone would think that these possibilities tell us anything terribly important about thought.
Your Newest Political Obligation: To Find Stephen Colbert Funny

I'm working on a slow connection, so I'm not going to link to anything, but if you've been slumming around the leftosphere lately you should have noticed that it's ideologically correct to:

(a) Think that Colbert is funny
(b) Think that he was particularlly funny at the Correspondents' Dinner
(c) Think that it's yet another strike against the MSM that they conspired to ignore Colbert's comic genius there

Apparently, anyone who denies any of (a)-(c) loves George W. Bush and wants to have 10,000 of his babies.

My God the left is rife with tedious morons. How do you guys stand this crap? Yes, yes, the right is worse. So what? That in no way means that the left isn't stupid and infuriating. I've often said that the one thing that could make me a conservative some day is the the left.

My reaction to Colbert, in case you're interested (and there's no reason you should be):

I think he's a little funny, but certainly no Jon Stewart. He's a one-trick pony, and the trick's only about a B+ trick to begin with. Now, funniness is a largely (though not entirely) subjective phenomenon, so I'm not universalizing these judgments. But anyway, I read that he killed at the Correspondents' Dinner, and I went to check out the clip. I was ready to be amused. But I didn't even watch the whole thing. It just drug on, I got bored, I navigated away. Not that funny, IMHO.

Then the purges and denunciations began. If you haven't seen Richard Cohen's op-ed on this, you should hunt it up. (I'll forge a link when I'm on a faster connection.) I think sane liberals often forget the danger that's posed by nutty lefties. Every time I try to discuss this, people get bent out of shape and harp on a fact that I'm always careful to acknowledge: the right is worse. And its kooks are in power, whereas our kooks are the fringe. But that doesn't mean that the kooks on our side aren't bad and dumb and dangerous. Even if you aren't anti-kook per se--and you should be--you should worry about our kooks because they are a major force in driving people over to the other side. (Evidence for this abounds, but a good anecdotal account of this can be found in the first few chapters of David Brock's Blinded By the Right.)

This Colbert squabble is minor and stupid...but it tells you something about the character--intellectual and otherwise--of folks like, say, Atrios. It doesn't show them to be thoroughly bad folks, of course, but it does show them to have at least some weird dogmatic tendencies. As Mark Kleiman has noted, Atrios has an inclination to treat people who disagree with him as if they were idiots. This is a tendency he shares with the likes of Limbaugh and Colter. Its a tendency that his commenters often share and encourage. And its the kind of attitude that can do real, long-term harm to individuals and countries.

Somehow this dispute has impinged on the dispute about civility in politics. Disturbingly, it seems to have become fashionable in some parts of the leftosphere to denounce and ridicule those who urge civility in public discourse. It's become a kind of standard joke in some circles. (As in: Lefty 1: "Smith's the kind of person who wants more civility." Lefties 2-n: "Har har har! Asshole.") The idea there seems to be that conservatives have won victories by being vicious, and Bush is bad, ergo we should be vicious, too. Now, I'm willing to listen to reasons in support of such an argument, but its weaknesses should be fairly evident. All I want to note right now is that we should beware of those who embrace such a weak argument with such unreflective relish.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

United 93: Some Minor Instapundit Bullshit

Conservatives like to portray themselves as rugged individualists, and liberals as effiminate whiners who can't survive without their nanny, the state, to take care of them. Now, though I'd like to see liberals reflect more on the virtues of rugged individualism, there's actually little--though not no--truth in the conservative stereotype.

Amid the torrent of BS that pours forth from blogs in general and conservative blogs in particular, it might seem weird to pick on this the bit that follows...but, heck, it's either this or grade finals.

Insty says links to these Amazon.com reviews, asserting that lefties there are "panning" United 93, and suggesting that this is because it has a message of self-reliance and active self-defense. The words that offend liberals are, he suggests: "No one is going to help us. We've got to do it ourselves."

Now, I've known some extreme lefties--very few--who would squawk about such an idea. But a vanishingly small percentage of American liberals would do so. Interestingly, if you actually look through the reviews to which Reynolds links, they fail to support his assertion. There are three or four negative reviews from conspiracy nuts (reviews which might, I suppose, be spun as lefty, but only because they think that the administration was in on the conspiracy), a couple of negative ones which might plausibly be called genuinely lefty, and at least one negative review by a righty complainig about "liberal Hollywood." The non-conspiracy-related negative reviews are mostly about the film's alleged lack of artistic merit, not it's alleged politics. There's no lefty consensus against the movie, and I found no complaint about its message about self-reliance whatsoever.

It might also be worth noting in passing that it's a bit weird to promote this we're-all-on-the-front-lines message. I mean, I want to kill me some al Qaedians as much as the next red-blooded American male, but the likelihood of me encountering one in North Carolina or Virginia are not very good. Almost none of us will ever see a terrorist. Now, of course many of us want to help, and tried to get the government to tell us how after 9/11. Their answer: go shopping. Hell, even our government isn't fighting the terrorists, so even joining the military is unlikely to put you on the frontlines against the relevant bad guys. Instead of going after al Qaeda, the Bush administration elected to persue unrelated projects and invade Iraq. I guess if you joined up and managed to get to Afghanistan you might stand a fair chance of getting on the relevant front line...but I'm not sure.

To summarize:
Self-reliance: Good.
Liberal aversion to self-reliance: No.
Liberal reverence for self-reliance: Probably not quite sufficient.
Lefty plot against United 93: Unsupported by the proffered evidence.
Instapundit: More of a conservative hack all the time, but redemption still possible.
Lysenkoism and Intellectual Dishonesty In the Bush Administration:
Episode MMXVIII: Porter Goss and the CIA

Some people think that the defining characteristic of this administration is its incompetence, but that's far from the truth. Its defining characteristic is irresponsibility--where that includes dishonesty, and where these together include intellectual irresponsibility and intellectual dishonesty. This administration gained power as a result of its dishonest campaign to prevent the votes in the election of 2000 from being counted, and that set the tone for many of its subsequent actions, most notably its reprehensible marketing campaign in favor of invading Iraq.

The Bush administration has also been known for another manifestation of intellectual dishonesty, it's Lysenkoism. On sex education, global warning, and a host of other issues, this administration has ignored or fought against scientific evidence when it found that evidence unpleasant or inconvenient.

According to many sources, Porter Goss's appointment and tenure at the CIA has been yet another chapter in this contemporary immorality tale. Drum has been on this for awhile, and gives us this today. If it is true that the CIA has been undermined in the name of ideological purification and conservative correctness, then this could be the crowning achievement in the disaster that has been the Bush presidency--of perhaps even greater significance for our security than the disastrous Iraq war.

As I've noted before, the CIA is basically engaged in conducting a kind of covert social science. They seek to understand, explain, and predict the actions, beliefs, intentions, and motives of other important nations and groups. Good social science--like any good science--requires a good measure of objectivity and political neutrality. (Please--no lectures in the impossibility of perfect objectivity--nothing could be more irrelevant. Perfection is not the issue, and is not required.) The administration's devistation of the CIA is merely a special case of a more general phenomenon. This administration puts power and politics above truth and reason. This orientation manifested itself in their successful efforts to prevent a rational resolution to the recount debacle of 2000, in their failure to take al Qaeda seriously before 9/11, in their non-reality-based decision to invade Iraq, in their refusal to take global warming seriously, and in a whole host of other matters. There's nothing special about their treatment of the CIA.

This is not an aberration. This is who they are. No one familiar with the character of this administration should find its manipulation and evisceration of the CIA surprising. They hyperbolize about the threat of terrorism when that is politically convenient for them--but actions speak louder than words. And when it comes to real actions--such as their efforts to determine the character of the CIA--it is all too clear that facts and security takes a back seat to their ideological fantasies.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Instapundit and "Joe", Truth and Logic

Whew. Yeah, somebody definitely needs a course in logic. And they also need to reflect a bit on the nature of truth.

Nothing like self-righteous appeals to truth and logic in the service of sophistry and falsehood.

There's no reason to pay attention to these people anymore. The Bush dead enders have been reduced to the dregs. The intellectual sludge. Jesus, 33% of people would probably still defend Nixon if the issue heated up again.

Friday, May 05, 2006

David Cole on Botching the GWoT/G-SAVE/P-FUNK

Whew. I was going to say that this sums it up nicely, but then I realized that that's not the half of it. But a comprehensive list would fill more than a book. Nevertheless, Cole hits several of the relevant nails on their heads.

If these people had an ounce of integrity they'd admit that they have no idea what they're doing and let others take over.

Note: Similar thoughts by Michael Isikoff summarized by Mark Kleiman here.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

al-Zarqawi Comes Closer to Killing al-Zarqawi Than We Have

Jeez, what a maroon. This guy's dangerous with a gun...but not in the way he thinks.

I mean, who is this joker?

Wait a second...kinda chunky...scraggly beard...funny hat...hates women...hates liberals...pretends to know about guns but really doesn't...prone to pontificate...delusions of grandeur...

...has anybody ever seen al-Zarqawi and Kim du Toit in the same place at the same time?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Mindgames: The Weaponization of Information

Just started this at the CJR, but I can already tell you guys should read it. It's about...well...what's the analog of friendly fire when you're talking about propaganda? (via metafilter)
"The Self-Inflicted Wounds of the Campus Left"

In the Chronicle, by Todd Gitlin, via Instapundit.

Gitlin's point isn't really new, but there's important truth in it I think.

Monday, May 01, 2006

My TOTALLY TRUE Witchcraft-Related Semi-Walpurgisnacht-Relevant (Quasi-)Adventure

O.k., so it was back in high school and the usual suspects (me, the mighty Statisticasaurus Rex, Midget, Boehmer, Rick)--plus Rick's weird friend Jeff--decided to go up to St. Louis to this magic shop--a witchcraft-type magic shop, not a card-trick-type magic shop.

Now, although we were quite the little D&D freaks, we didn't actually believe in that witchcraft crap, of course. However: (a) we thought it was kinda cool and (b) little empiricists that we were, we weren't willing to conclude with certainty that none of that stuff worked without at least giving it a try.

So we figured it was time to give it a try.

Well, there's no need to discuss in detail all of the things that may or may not have been done that day, what may or may not have been consumed--but we eventually found the shop. It was a little dim and dusty and a little creepy, but not as much as you might think, and had the requisite giant glass bottles filled with gross stuff. Pig fetuses and snakes...wing of bat, eye of newt...that sort of thing. And there was a big black dog roaming around the store...but he turned out to be too lethargic to be scary.

Anyway, we bought some cool stuff like parchment made from unborn lamb skin, a copy of the "Greater Key of Soloman," and a couple of other "spell books." Since at the time I thought it very important that everyone know exactly what I was thinking at every time, I announced--fairly loudly, and as we were leaving--that "all this stuff is bullshit." Which was true, of course, but very rude to say.

By that evening we found ourselves back in our natural habitat, sitting around S. rex's folks' kitchen table. The day had been long and a little weird and fairly tiring, but now we were back home checking out our swag.

(Incidentally, don't knock playing D&D and sitting around the rexs' kitchen table... It's better than what we mostly did before that which was drink too much and drive around doing things that we shouldn't have been doing. In fact, to this day I suspect that Dungeons and Dragons and the rexs' willingness to let us sit in their kitchen all the time may very well have saved my life and/or limbs--or at least kept me out of jail. No kidding.)

So it's gotten dark on a quiet, warm Missouri evening, and four of us--S. rex, Boehmer, Midget and I--are tiredly but happily reading our newly aquired spell books, mostly--but not quite entirely--making fun of them, when I happend upon a list of the "four high witches' holidays" in the book I was reading. The most powerful of the holidays was, unsurprisingly, Halloween.

But the second most powerful holiday was February 2nd, Candlemas (aka Groundhog's Day)--my birthday!

Now, I was immediately extremely psyched about this because not only was it quite cool but it was a real status coup. I mean, born on the second-most-powerful witches' holiday...suh-weet! My comrades, I immediately thought, were going to be way envious.

So I'm like "Hey, listen to this," and I laid the news on them, trying to hide my glee.

There was a good bit of envy-laced excitement over this development, and some 'ooh'ing and 'ah'ing, and I reveled in my added coolness for the minute or two this took.

Then somebody asked "so what're the other ones?"

"The third one is Walpurgis Night, April 30th," sez me, reading from the list.

There was a moment of silence and then Midget says, in a surprised and slightly freaked-out voice, "that's my birthday."

Whoa! Minor, slightly weirded-out uproar... Too weird, especially after a rather exhausting, witchcraft-themed day... I've got to admit, my heart sank a bit. Damn! There went my newfound my-birthday's-on-a-witches'-holiday uniqueness.

Then there's a little more quiet and somebody asks, a little tentatively, "what's the other one?"

Well, by this time a pattern had started to emerged of course, and people seem a little tense, and I read off the last one, "August 1st, Lammas."

...two, three, four...

"Uh, that's my birthday," S. rex says in a slightly strangled-sounding voice.

Dead silence. Crickets chirping. Wind in the trees. Us all staring at each other. WTF?!?!?

Then a mad scramble by everybody else to grab the book and make sure I haven't been B.S.ing them, which I hadn't.

Little hard to explain what ensued. Not like a Stephen King story or H. P. Lovecraft or something in which certain dread descended on us all under the gibbous moon or anything, but we were tired and more importantly imaginative kids. I wish I could tell you that I remember exactly what it was like, but I don't. I know we were weirded out. We sat there a bit stunned for awhile, laughed about it, tried to figure out what a reasonable reaction would be like. Of the four of us present, only Boehmer ended up without a creepily cool birthday. If he had been born on Halloween, of course, we'd all have crapped our pants, but, as I recall, his birthday was sometime in July or something.

My little brother's birthday is October 27th, but that's too much of a stretch, and he wasn't even there. We decided that this would all move from being just kind of creepy to being genuinely cool if a beautiful, exotic girl born on Halloween moved to town...but that mostly had to do with girl, and not so much with the Halloween part.

So, it was a little creepy driving home that night, and a little creepy for awhile while we tried to, you know, make it really creepy. In the end, of course, it was what it was, a cool and mildy unnerving little coincidence, which would have been really, genuinely cool and freakily freakish if only Boehmer's folks had had the common decency to have him on Halloween.

Nothing, of course, ever came of it. No exotic Halloween girl ever showed up, none of the spells worked, nobody disappeared. Hell, the circus didn't even come to town, a la Ray Bradbury. But it gave us a thrill for a couple of weeks, and made for a good story. That's not much, I guess, but in Jefferson County, Missouri, you took what you could get.

So there you have it, my totally true, witchcraft-related semi-Walpurgisnacht-relevant (quasi-)adventure.

[Note that you can tell that this story is true because if I'd made it up it would be a lot cooler, and you can be sure about that.]

[Also: my guess is that somebody will be unable to resist the urge to pontificate about probabilities here. I'm well aware that co-incidental birthdays are fairly likely (about 0.3% chance of any two randomly-selected people having the same birthday). I'd have to actually, y'know, think in order to figure out how likely the above incident was. But I guess it might be the same odds as finding three pairs of co-incidental birthdays in a group of 8 people...which is way better than the odds of finding three pairs of co-incidental birthdays among a group of six people, which I guess is about 0.0027% or something(?). Actually the case here is more complicated, since it would be less cool if, say, two of us had the same birthday (e.g. Candlemas) and one of us had, say, Walpurgis Night. So we should take that into account, but, ugh, who has the energy? Anyway, I just add this because cases like this tend to bring out folks who like to pontificate about probabilities as if the rest of us are morons and such a thing never entered our pretty little heads. Actually I've never thought about trying to figure out the probabilities here precisely. Guess it might actually be worth doing. Caffeine would be required for this endeavor, however.]
Bush Let Zarqawi Get Away, Too

Drum's been on this story for a long time. I was skeptical, but now we have a named source. Bush's role in letting Zarqawi get away was even more substantial and direct than his role in letting bin Laden get away: he repeatedly refused to bomb the house where Zarqawi was staying, despite the fact that there would be no collateral civilian damage.

The administration claims that they didn't want to anger the French--an absurd and almost certainly false explanation given their attitude toward that country. The obvious explanation--given what we know about this administration--is that they wanted to use the fact that Zarqawi was in Kurdistan to prop up their claims that Iraq was harboring terrorists. (Note: some people who actually know what they're talking about offer this explanation, too.)

What, I ask you, has this administration gotten right? It's almost difficult to imagine an administration being more incompetent and more dishonest...and more ineffectual in responding to an attack on our soil.