Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I'm Confused About What Rumsfeld Means Here, but I'm Scared to Ask for Clarification

"Rumsfeld: Bush Critics are Confused"/ "Rumsfeld: Bush Foes Lack Courage on Terror" at CNN.com.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Apocalypse Soon

So, according to one Yisrayl Hawkins (um, why not Hawkyns?), we fall down go 'BOOM' on 9/12/06. It's nu-ku-lar war! Which , as I understand it, is very much like nuclear war, hence something devoutly to be avoided.

Whew! Still time for that 5-year anniversary of 9/11 we've all been looking forward to.

Watch this remix of some of YH's greatest hits.

DO IT! Philosoraptor commands you! Be my minions! Yisrayl (Ray to his friends...and to fellow prophets and suchlike) has minions...why not me? There's a decided minion gap between me and Ray, and we've got to close it. If I don't get some freakin' toadies, lackies and/or lickspittles soon, there's gonna be trouble. Why, I may have to nuke him myself...

Why make fun of the extremely stupid? (And/or the astonishingly gullible? Which is quite similar.) Oh, heck. 'Cause the culpably gullible just...well, they just have it coming. I dunno.

Actually I really do feel sorry for 'em.

So, save the date: 12/13/06: it'll be time to party like it's...well, that date you already know...
Clinton Was Right, Episode XXXVIII Or So: Welfare Reform

I wasn't a big Clinton fan when he was in office. I thought he was a solid president, but I was far from ga-ga over him. Since he's left, I've started to realize how good he really was...and not just by comparison to his disastrous successor.

Anyway, one of the things I did support Clinton on strongly at the time was welfare reform. This made a couple of my liberal and lefter-than-liberal friends almost literally shriek at me. But I'm still inclined to think that Clinton was right.

Robert Rector recently agreed with this assessment. I'm always surprised and pleased to see people--especially those in Washington--admit when they're wrong. It's a sign of at least minimal rationality.

Not to be churlish, but it's better if you don't wait ten years to admit your mistakes...but better late than never, I suppose, even with regard to public policy. And it's easy for Rector to admit error this given that Clinton's position was fairly close to some conservative positions. And Rector's praise for Clinton is rather too reserved, and couched in too many barely-restrained insults (he takes pains to assert--contentiously--that Clinton's role was merely rhetorical, and that he played little or no substantive role in formulating policy.)

Still, Rector's admission of error is a good thing. I wish this practice were more common in Washington--and, well, everywhere.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Real OBL?

At Harper's. Read it!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

There's An Old Saying In Tennessee...

Etc., etc....

Um, don't get fooled again.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"...Nobody Has Ever Suggested In This Administration That Saddam Hussein Ordered The [9/11] Attack..."
President Pants on Fire Thinks You Are Very, Very Stupid

I've been continuing to ignore politics since my return...but then I saw an exerpt from Monday's Presidential press conference...roughly the following:

The President: ...The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.

Q: What did Iraq have to do with that?

THE PRESIDENT: What did Iraq have to do with what?

Q The attack on the World Trade Center?

THE PRESIDENT: Nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- the lesson of September the 11th is, take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq...

I was watching this with two apolitical friends of mine--friends who complain within a few minutes if anyone brings up the subject of politics. Very smart folks, but they just don't share my passion for the stuff. They've rarely expressed any political views around me at all. But when this came on both of their jaws actually, literally dropped. Which made three jaws total, mine included.

Mr. Bush apparently thinks that we are all idiots, or that our memories do not extend more than four years into the past.

The fact that there is not more of an outcry about this astounding statement shows how far into the looking glass we've fallen.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Power Point and the Iraq Debacle

I've heard dumber explanations. (Note this is alleged to be only one problem among many.)

I think that power point could--theoretically, anyway--be a good thing. But the ways I've seen it used have mostly been disastrous. A couple of things to keep in mind:

(1) Good graphics often distract people from dumb content--so beware when people start with the slides.

(2) You almost never need to use power point through an entire presentation. Use it when you need it, don't when you don't.

I've noticed that my better students tend to absolutely loath Power Point while my worse students almost demand it. Coincidence? Again, though, I don't think that Power Point is bad in itself. It just seems to be used badly.

I still use handouts and overheads, since my teaching materials change from semester to semester, and because Power Point can't do lots of the things I'd need it to do. But, anyway, I'm not averse to its limited use in principle.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Yo. Just returned from Hawaii. What an astounding place. Words really can't capture it. Not my words at any rate. I used to think that Hawaii was just a place for lazy rich people to lay on the beach...wrong, wrong, wrong. A good bit of it's just a big resort wasteland, but much (most?) of it is still a tropical paradise. We only went to Oahu (of which we saw little), Kauai and the Big Island, so it's not like I'm an expert or anything... But I'll hold forth briefly anyway. Oahu was amazing, but the other two islands blew it away. When you're in Kauai (much of it, anyway, especially the Na Pali coast), you really do feel like you've fallen into a movie like The Lost World. (Apparently they filmed Jurassic Park and King Kong there...but the place looks even more amazing in real life.) Sheer, verdant cliffs soaring up thousands of feet, with waterfalls everywhere, routinely falling hundreds of feet, often several of them falling from the same cliff face. Weird, amazing tropical plants that hardly even look like they could be real. And one of the most amazing things about the Na Pali coast is that the plants change in almost every little finger canyon that you hike through. So you see the most amazing plants you've ever seen, and then twenty minutes later, another, completely different type of most amazing plant you've ever seen starts to predominate. Unfortunately, because of the weather, we weren't able to do the Kalalau trail to the end, but had to camp at the first stopping point, at Hanakapi'ai beach. (Barely starting the hike at all, but, given the weather, we were surprised and grateful to get that far.) Our night there, in the Hanakapi'ai valley, camping on the beach, under an almost full moon, was, perhaps, the most amazing part of an amazing trip. The next morning the weather had cleared completely, and I hiked a ways farther down the trail, but had to high-tail it back so that we could hike to Hanakapi'ai Falls before basically running all the way back along the trail so that we could get our other gear back from the store that was storing it before they closed. [I'll post some of my own pix later, since I'm sure you're dying to see 'em...maybe we can have a little slide show, wherein I hold forth about every single shot I took during the whole trip...]

The Big Island was great, the highlight being a night hike out to see the lava from Kilauea hit the ocean.

I was blissfully disconnected from the world for the whole trip.

More sometime.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Thank you Brits...and Pakistanis?

Apparently...Although all of the suspects are Pakistani, Pakistan's intelligence service seems to have played a key role in helping the British foil the 'liquid terror' plot.

Well, where to begin? This is only my second post as a guest blogger because, frankly, too much has happened over the past 3 days and I've been too busy just trying to keep up with the news while trying to land a new job.

So here's what we have over the past 72 hours: Israel decides it will invade Lebanon; Israel holds back pending a UN deal; Lamont defeats Lieberman; Lieberman runs as an independent; British foil 'liquid terror' plot; conservatives begin claiming Fall victory as a result of the foiled plot...Did I miss anything?

I'll try to keep this short because if I tried to tackle all of this I'd end up writing all night. The one lesson I take from the foiled terror plot in England last night is that countries like Pakistan are essential in our efforts to undermine al Qaeda. I know Republicans are saying that Bush's "aggressive posture" (Cheney's phrase) in the war on terror is what is primarily responsible for this major success. Many people are going to believe that. But I don't think it's true. The main reason this terror plot was discovered was because Musharraf is still cooperating with us. If we lose that guy, we're in a lot of trouble.

When people say that we shouldn't give a damn what the "Arab street" thinks of us or Israel, I wonder how they think this war on terror is going to be won. They never explain that. There isn't a single country we can invade or regime we can overthrow to win this war. Nor will it do to invade and overthrow several regimes. We tried that, it didn't work. This isn't the Second World War, as much as Bush and his supporters would like to view it that way. I'm no military expert by any means, but even my untrained eye can tell that this conflict is much closer to a campaign against global insurgents or guerillas. My amateurish familiarity with military history is enough for me to know that you can't defeat an insurgency unless the people living amongst the insurgents turn against them. You need those folks to provide intelligence, which is the key to defeating an insurgency. Right? What's the alternative?

No, I'm not saying that al Qaeda is an insurgency, but there do seem to be analogies. The analogies get stronger as al Qaeda develops into a movement from a group. I also recognize that the very idea of gaining the respect of the Arab and Islamic world seems absurd right now, considering how much animosity there is already. It may be too late. But I think it's too pessimistic to believe that we're already at the point where the choice is either appeasment or more wars. - Jared

Monday, August 07, 2006

Ethics, the “Reality-Based Community,” and the One Percent Doctrine

I’m happy to get the chance to post on Winston’s blog while he’s in Hawaii. I’m a long-time reader of this blog and I’ve always enjoyed the mix of philosophy and politics here. So I’ll try to stick to that format.

I just picked up Ron Suskind’s new book, The One Percent Doctrine, yesterday. I’ve read about a hundred pages and I haven’t been disappointed. The most interesting thing in the book so far is the so-called “one percent doctrine” itself, or the “Cheney doctrine.” A few months after 9/11, Cheney is sitting in the situation room with Condoleeza Rice, George Tenant, and a CIA analyst, discussing the Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN) or “Islamic Revival,” a network of elite Pakistani nuclear scientists, engineers, and military officers. UTN’s intent is to spread nuclear technology to other Islamic nations besides Pakistan. In the August before 9/11, several members of UTN were sitting across a campfire from bin Laden and Zawahiri talking about—well, nobody knows. In any case, at this meeting in the situation room months later, Tenant is relaying how some members of UTN have been interrogated by Pakistani intelligence officers but so far without much result. The Pakistanis aren’t really putting much pressure on the UTN guys to talk. Then Cheney says,

“If there’s a one percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis, or finding a preponderance of evidence. It’s about our response.”

This is on page 62. I know that Suskind is not a big fan of the Bush administration (see his previous book, The Price of Loyalty), but so far this book has struck me as sympathetic to the dilemmas that Bush and company were faced with after 9/11. In the past, Suskind has documented how this administration heavily favors action over knowledge, and how it denigrates people in the so-called “reality-based community.” In the Price of Loyalty, this policy comes across as nothing but pure arrogance and contempt for people who are more inclined to accept complexity and shades of gray in public policy and foreign affairs. But in his latest book, it seems like Suskind is grappling with a “reality-based” principle put forward by the administration in favor of action over analysis—the one percent doctrine.

If this doctrine is supposed to justify the Iraq war and a possible future attack on Iran, I suppose the argument is this: the cost of acting on bad intelligence is less than the cost of not acting and waiting for good intelligence, even if the chance of terrorists successfully using a nuclear weapon on an American city were only one percent. On this view, the “reality-based community” is actually on the wrong side of the ethical line. I think this is one of the clearest defense-based (as opposed to humanitarian-based) arguments for the Iraq war, and I appreciate how well Suskind reconstructs it. It’s not new—we heard this many times before the Iraq war (“we can’t wait for the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” etc.), but Suskind presents the argument in a much more forceful way than I’ve seen it so far.

As events seem to be confirming, though, I think the costs/benefits assessment in the one percent doctrine is wrong in several ways. First, although sometimes there isn’t time to gather information before acting, I don’t think we are always in that situation in the war on terror, and so sometimes careful analysis of the facts takes priority over action. Let’s call this the, “don’t lose your head” doctrine. Take Iraq. I don’t think it was reasonable for the U.S. to terminate inspections and invade when the inspectors themselves were asking for more time to complete their inspections. Sure, one could argue that the longer inspectors were in Iraq, the more time Saddam may have had to give his weapons to terrorists (assuming he had them). But it was just as likely at the time (and there was a CIA memo backing this up) that Saddam would only give WMD to terrorists if he felt like his back was against the wall and he had nothing to lose anyway. So more time in the case of Iraq would not have increased risks, but could have averted a war and revealed Iraq to be without WMD.

That leads me to the next point. The costs of going to war with Iraq without solid information seemed to have exceeded the benefits of avoiding war, and the administration should have taken this possibility much more seriously. The administration emphasized the benefits of a war in Iraq without ever being clear about the costs. A Shiite-dominated Iraq that is pro-Iran may be more dangerous to American interests than Saddam ever was. A civil war and eventual break-up of Iraq along ethnic lines may also be worse for us than Saddam ever was. So the one percent doctrine also ignores the “law of unintended consequences.” The problem with acting without thinking is that your opponents can think ahead and outsmart you, as chess players know well.

So the one percent doctrine may make sense in some circumstances in the war on terror, but it seems like a horrible principle to act on in a lot of cases. If this is what is behind this administration’s strategy in the Middle East, I submit that we are going to make things much harder for ourselves to reduce the threat of terrorism. I’m gonna stick with the “reality-based community” on Iraq. An interesting case is Iran, but I don't have time to get into that now. Suffice it to say that we should all probably begin the debate. -Jared

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Hawaii and Guest Blogger

Yo. Johnny Quest and I are engaged in final preparations for our big Hawaii vacation, ETD 7am tomorrow morning. We'll be on Oahu for two days, on Kauai for three days, and on Hawaii for four or five days, then it's a day in LA on the way back for some family time with a tribe called "Quest."

I'm not sure whether I'll even connect to the internet while I'm gone--for at least a couple of days we'll be in the backcountry of Kauai on the Kalalau trail--but one way or another, the blog won't be silent, as my friend and former student--and sometimes commentor around these parts--Jared will be posting at least some.

Unfortunately, I can't figure out how to remove the 'Winston Smith' from beneath posts without removing it from the template and, hence, all previous posts, so that'll keep showing up. But that shouldn't cause too much confusion.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Sympathy for Hezbollah?
And: Israel in Lebanon vs. Clinton in Yugoslavia

I keep hearing people on the news saying that Israel's intemperate attacks on Lebanon have generated much sympathy for Hezbollah around the world. Now, this might be so in the Middle East, but so far I've seen no evidence that it's so in the West. Needless to say, my observations are casual, hence unreliable. But what I've seen is sympathy for innocent Lebanese, and anger at Israel...but no sympathy for Hezbollah. Sympathy for innocent Lebanse is, of course, a different thing entirely.

I do hear that the attacks have generated support for Hezbollah in parts of the Middle East, even where that support was previously thin. In this way, Israel's attacks on Lebanon have been similar to Bush's invasion of Iraq: both generated support for a previously rather unpopular foe. At least Israel actually attacked the organization that had attacked them, though, so they're still one up on us. Ignoring the moral issues for now, at least Israel might be able to make this worthwhile by massively degrading Hezbollah. There can be no corresponding payoff for us.

I've also noticed that conservatives, who savaged Clinton for employing an air campaign in the former Yugoslavia, have been silent on Israel's use of the same tactics, even though they've carried them out with less skill and more civilian casualties. But today's crop of conservative leaders is adept at the use of the double-standard, as we've seen repeatedly over the course of at least the last fifteen years.