Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Republican Attacks on Kerry Hit New Low

These people really are unbelievable. The rationale for these attacks is so convoluted and harebrained that it'd take paragraphs to sort it out. And I'm just not gonna take that kind of time on a lovely Halloween evening.
Webb Leads in New Polls

Praise Jebus. We may pull this thing out yet.
No Wonder Rove and Bush are so Confident...Diebold's on the Case

Interesting--but not entirely surprising--news, from the Miami Herald.

(HT: Canis Major)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Update: Jim Webb's Novels

This NYT story is informative. The weirdest of the passages from Webb's novels involve a Thai father putting his young son's penis in his (the father's) mouth as a form of greeting. Webb says that this is a strange but actual practice he observed in Thailand.

Now, I haven't googled this yet because I want to assert some conditionals first:

[A] If this is, in fact, an actual practice that Webb is describing, then it is unlikely to reveal anything worrisome about Webb.

[B] If this is something he made up, then it is more likely to reveal something worrisome about him.

Of course even if you make something up you're not necessarily endorsing it. But if Webb made it up, at least we have to think about the issue. If he didn't, then we don't. As in the case of the stripper passages, the most likely explanation is that Webb is trying to get something across to the reader--specifically, he's trying to show what life is like in certain places.

So somebody who doesn't have to prepare a lecture on logical positivism might want to google that...

I want to point out again that, although there's some unpleasant quasi-sexual stuff in some of the passages from Webb's novels, they do NOT--contrary to what the Allen campaign has been saying--prove or even strongly suggest any reprehensible attitudes toward women on Webb's part. Most of the passages aren't even about women, and most of the passages about women aren't (contrary to Allen's claim) even about sex, and the passages that say something bad about women say something bad about particular women in the novel--a mean nurse or whatever. Undoubtely there are also reprehensible male characters in the books, but that doesn't indicate that he's anti-male.

Of course Webb bears much of the responsibility for this, having set himself up with his stupid essay about women in the military. So my sympathy for him is somewhat diluted.

HOWEVER: you want alarming treatment of women, consider Allen dragging his own sister upstairs by her hair because she failed to obey her father with sufficient alacrity. Now there's a guy to deserves a right good ass kicking.
Thirteen Moons

Just finished the new Charles Frazier book. I'll try not to include spoilers, but if you haven't read it yet you might want to skip this all the same.

I wasn't part of the Cold Mountain craze. I was aware of it, of course, but I'm not a fan of historical fiction, so I didn't feel any desire to read it. Long after the book had come out in paperback and the frenzy had died down, I ran across a copy in Heartwood books in Charlottesville (perhaps my favorite used book store). Anyway, I picked it up but didn't read it for awhile. But when I finally did get around to reading it, it absolutely blew me away. I fell in love with it. If I had to name a favorite novel, I think I'd name that one as my current favorite (though Fred Chapell's I Am One Of You Forever is probably tied with it). I still remember finishing Cold Mountain sitting on the beach on Bear Island, NC, early in the morning before anyone else was up, about two years ago. Christ, I love that book.

So I was eager to read Thirteen Moons, though I knew there was very little chance of it being anywhere near as good as Cold Mountain. It makes me sad to report that I thought that Thirteen Moons was somewhat disappointing. Disappointing in part because it starts out so promising, but in my completely unprofessional and unreliable opinion, declines fairly steadily throughout. Part of the problem is that (and I don't think this is a spoiler--in fact it may be an anti-spoiler) the book starts out with the protagonist, Will Cooper, thinking back on his life from the perspective of old age, and I formed the impression that we were going to hear the whole story of this long and varied life. In some sense we do, but Frazier spends so much space on Cooper's early life that towards the second half of the book I started to feel panicky and disappointed because there would obviously be insufficient space to hear about the rest of his life in detail.

That's a fairly lame criticism, but, then, I don't have a good mind for literature, so I can't say anything really informative about why I found the book disappointing. I guess if I had to point to one thing, I'd point to the scene in which a sheriff is hauling Cooper off to a trial and, while camping one night, he reads his report to Cooper, a report in which he says explicitly what Frazier has been showing throughout the book--the Cooper is a man of great virtue though he himself hardly recognizes it, and though the casual observer might not recognize it either.

Perhaps what Cold Mountain had but Thirteen Moons lacks is a kind of understatement that generates a kind of pain and longing. We come to love Inman not only because he's such a good man, but also because this fact...well, hard to say...something like: it almost goes unrecognized. Inman certainly doesn't represent himself that way, and Frazier doesn't really comment on it. Inman just goes along being quietly heroic, doing some very difficult right things without even reflecting on what a good man he is. Cooper is a similar type, but Frazier stumbles by over-doing it, by almost pounding us over the head with that fact. The sheriff's report is just the most glaring example of this error.

I suppose I should say that I enjoyed Thirteen Moons, and might even read it again some day. I'm compelled by Frazier's writing and by his vision of what's good in the Southern mind. There were passages and paragraphs and pages in the book that pierced my heart. It's not a book without virtues, not by any stretch of the imagination. I enjoyed it very much, especially the first chapters. But towards the end I got the impression that Frazier may have forgotten what he was trying to do, or that perhaps he never had a very clear vision of what he was trying to do.

Writing novels is a hard thing, though. It's a wonder anyone can ever write a good one. So it's odd how critical people can be of them. So I do want to acknowledge that there are many, many good things about Thirteen Moons.

Well, that's all I've got.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Allen Campaign on Webb's Novels

I just found a piece of paper stuck to the Jim Webb sign on my office door--a printout from Drudge (who I never link to), who gets the info from Allen's new press releases. The Allen campaign has gone through Webb's novels and pulled out a bunch of sex scenes and suchlike, and then prefaced them with a paragraph about how the novels are shot through with scenes that are disrespectful to women.

Many of the scenes don't even have anything at all to do with women, and in none of the cases is there any reason to think that the characters are expressing Webb's views. The Allen campaign asserts that there are no strong, sane women in any of Webb's novels. That would, indeed, be a surprising fact, though there's no way to check it without reading all the novels.

Very little is beneath the Allen campaign, so I don't take this [report] very seriously. I'd have to have the claims in question checked by a reliable source, to begin with. Even then I'm not sure what to make of them. Writing a novel in which someone gets brutally killed doesn't mean that you think that brutal killing is a good thing, and writing a novel with a racist character who thinks racist thoughts doesn't mean you're a racist.

I'm already suspicious about Webb's views about women, though, so I do take this [issue] seriously even though I loathe the source. But by itself one singe report--especially one on Drudge--isn't going to do the trick.

Um don't get me wrong: Allen is a bad guy, and dumb as a sack of hammers...so it's not like this is going to have any effect on who I support. I actually vote in North Carolina, though, so my vote isn't an issue here anyway.

[Update: here's the lead scene in the Drudge piece, but on an Allen site. As you can see, it's quite weird. Nothing there about women, though, incidentally.]

[Update: Turns out there's almost NOTHING in this three page propaganda sheet that can be construed as disrespectful to women. Jeez, these Allen guys will stop at nothing. Stay tuned... I'm sure they'll get more desparate as election day gets closer.]

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

WWF: Americans Living Beyond the Earth's Means

(You know what I mean. You try writing headlines, you think you're so smart.)

This shouldn't come a a surprise to anyone, but it will. The contribution of overpopulation to the problem is of particular interest to me, partly because I think that large reductions in consumption offer only a tenuous and unstable solution. And partly because I don't see that a planet overpopulated by people living near the poverty line is such a great goal. There's no doubt that consumption has to come down, but my guess is that population does, too.

Few seem to want to hear this. Folks on the right have a tendency to either deny the problem or place an irrational amount of faith in technology (I guess they think we can soon go to Mars and start strip-mining there). But I've long since given up trying to talk sense about the environment to the right wing.

Unfortunately, some of my friends on the left are almost as bad, regarding any call for population reduction as being somehow racist. Which, of course, isn't true..

There's also a kind of puritannical streak in some of my lefty friends...the granola 'n' Birckenstocks crowd (they sprinkle little Birkenstocks on their granola). They like a kind of hippy lifestyle on something like aesthetic grounds, and are sometimes rater over-eager to insist that we can only survive if everybody lives that way. Fixated on reducing consumption for aesthetic reasons, they tend to dismiss the suggestion that population reduction has some role to play in the solution.

And, by the way, I share some of their aesthetic and moral revulsion at the current upper-middle-class American way of life. I'm no enviro-puritan--not by a long shot. I like being able to drive where I want, use the a/c, blah blah. (I need to cut down on those things, incidentally.) But I did grow up on a relatively low-tech farm in rural MO...I know you can live a meaningful, comfortable and happy life on a lot less than everyone's currently using.

So I agree that it is obscene the way many are living now...Christ, every other student is driving around in a brand new SUV, a/c cranking, newest model cell phone stuck to their ear. And they seem to be oblivious to how rich they are in compared to almost anyone else who has ever lived.

And another thing: I saw a care the other day, a snazzy, black late model Saab, with a big white bumper-sticker slapped on the back that read something like "My Next Car Will Be a White Mercedes! Ask Me About Somebullshitorothersystems." Now, how twisted do your values have to be if, driving around in a shiny, black late-model Saab, you are so fixated on getting a (important note: a white one) Mercedes that you are willing to turn yourself into a rolling billboard? Some people, I just don't get 'em.

It's like a type of gluttony. A sort of multi-modal hyper-gluttony. Nauseating. Odious.

Um...so...there's that, then.
Staying the Course, Misspeaking, and Misinterpretation

Speaking of ploys that allow you to revise your position without admitting error...

Turns out that by 'stay the course' the administration did not mean stay the course. In fact, by 'stay the course' they apparently meant don't stay the course. What they meant was be flexible. Or something.

The administration wouldn't have this problem if it was even modestly honest or rational about admitting error. But they are such dogmatists and have so mercilessly attacked anyone who suggested that their policies aren't perfect that they can't admit error without admitting serious meta-error--in particular, without admitting that they were wrong to ridicule and berate their critics. Now they have to admit that they're thinking about adopting policies the endorsement of which would get you labelled unpatriotic in the not-too-distant past.

These people continue to astonish me.
Flying Monkey Shit

Hey, how 'bout that, eh? Pretty fun, huh? I doubt that Atrios reads this blog, so one of his minions must have alerted him to the rebellion in the provinces. I can see him now, looking into his crystal ball, getting that furious, twisted up look on his green face, then shrieking to one of his toadies to release the flying monkeys.

But, hey, where's the Philosoraptor Flying Monkey Defense System? Not that Nancy, Anonymous1022 et. al. needed any help...jeez, they really kicked some ass. Still, I would have thought we'd have a little home-field cheering section...the Raptorettes or something...you know, the old nobody-gets-to-mercilessly-hassle-Winston-but-us business. When I said I'm glad y'all aren't sycophantic I didn't mean you had to be indifferent to an invasion of morons...

The situation seemed to be well-summarized by commenter jb, so I don't feel much of a need to say anything about it.

Aw, heck, it's fun. How 'bout just a couple?

1. My favorite was the you-just-did-this-for-the-links charge.
Fallacy name: ad hominem.
The issue, of course, is whether or not Atrios has gone to crap (an issue that I don't really care about, frankly...I was just cranky that day. Still, that was the issue.) Whether or not I'm a link whore is completely irrelevant. Even link whores make good points. Shrieking about the character of the critic or message-bearer is a favorite ploy in American politics, but it won't fly here. Note that conservatives especially love this strategy, and are fervently employing a version of it on every bit of bad news for them that's come out in October--every bit of news is an October surprise, released by their political enemies. They did this to Kuo, for example. But, of course, we shouldn't really care where the information came from or why it was released--just whether or not it is true.

So congrats to the dittoheads...methodologically speaking, they're on the side of the Bushies.

And your methodological position--as I keep trying to emphasize--is what's most important.

Oh, incidentally: no, I didn't do it for the hits, never thought about the hits, don't care about the hits. Surprised the hell out of me that His Majesty saw or cared about it. (Though it obviously struck a nerve...) (And, cripes, there were a LOT of freaking hits...almost twelve thousand. Ridiculous!) Still, even if I did care, it would be irrelevant.

2. No, no....my absolute favorite was this one, which showed up in many places:

You shouldn't be cricizing Atrios because (L) liberals shouldn't be criticizing each other so close to this important election.

Now, after the monkey shit hit the fan, I sort of worried about this myself. The premiss (L) may or may not be true, but it's freaking hilarious that some commenters were willing to cite (L) against me but fail to note the obvious point that the same criticism applies to Atrios. My post was, recall, in response to Atrios's attack against Beinart et. al. So either (L) is true or it is false. If it is false, then the argument doesn't work against anyone, of course, because it is unsound. If it is true, then it applies to both Atrios and me. Shrill denunciations of me in light of this fact are humorous to say the least.

(Note: I'm not committing my own ad hominem here, because I'm not trying to argue that the charge is invalid because the critics are inconsistent. I'm admitting that I don't know whether (L) is true or not, and merely pointing out their inconsistency.)

Oh, we could go on and on. The most hilarous part might have been the shrill cries of the sycophants trying to refute the claim that they were sycophantic... But these things are almost too obvious to even point out. Anybody with half a brain can see them. Yet many people didn't. Drawing the relevant conclusion is left as an exercise for the reader.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Some Conditionals About Staying in Iraq Revisited.

I'm going to keep harping on this until you guys answer.
Misspeaking and Misthinking

The "I misspoke" excuse--currently being deployed by Alberto Fernandez--is common in politics. It's one of those claims that tends to provoke eye-rolling because it so often really translates as "HOLY SH*T did I ever f*ck up--and I got called on the carpet for it, AND HOW."

So it tends to be kind of a joke. Fernandez's case is a great example because it stretches the limits of credulity, and of the "misstatement" defense. There are, after all, limits to how big the gap can be between what you actually said and what you claim you meant to say. I can't, for example, say that you are a flaming fascist and then say that I misspoke, having meant to say that you are a sweetheart.

(My all-time favorite such defense is the "taken-out-of-context" defense. It's astounding how often this simple trick works. People don't seem to be capable of recognizing that some claims are just so patently false or otherwise defective that no fiddling with the context will save them. "Ignorance is strength" can't be salvaged by an appeal to context...unless of course you claim to have said it in the following context: "..... is false.")

In case you care--not that you should--I actually think that there is a phenomoenon related to misspeaking, that it happens all the time, and that we tend to fail to recognize it for what it is and identify it as such. We might call this phenomenon "misthinking."

People often mistakenly think that our ideas are completely worked out before we express them. But they often actually get worked out in the process of being expressed. Sometimes, that is, our thoughts don't come before our words--rather, they come into existence simultaneously. Often this turns out fine. But often such thoughts come out before they're ready. Half-baked. What we need is a convenient and reasonably face-saving way to call an intellectual/verbal do-over. I mean, it's not like this is illegal or anything, it's just that it's way less common than it should be. People should, I'd guess, expect to have to call such do-overs many times per day. We do, in fact, sometimes say that some assertion or other "didn't come out right," but that--to my ear--tends to suggest that the problem is one of tone rather than content.

Perhaps such do-overs aren't institutionalized because such quasi-slips-of-the-tongue are taken to be decent evidence of the speaker's actual thoughts. Dunno. That's just a conjecture.

But if we did allow frequent do-overs of this kind, we'd avoid a certain kind of problem. Currently, people often say things they ought to take back and revise...but once the thought is out there, they feel obligated to defend it--even if it takes them down the road to some conclusion they don't think they ought to defend. Then, as Emerson notes, we end up going on record in a certain way...others chide us if we try to revise our position...and we end up doggedly and reflexively defending something we'd never have chosen to defend under more nearly ideal conditions. And dialog and inquiry get bogged down as a result.

Well, anyway, none of this is going to help out Fernandez. He screwed up big time by speaking the truth that everybody's thinking about. The truth is too obvious and salient, and the administration has spent too long denying it for anyone to grant a do-over in this case. We're all thinking it, even everyone in the administration has to be thinking it by now...Fernandez is just the first one of them to say it. (The first one currently in the administration to say it, that is.) It's as if we were all standing around the crib thinking my god what an ugly baby...and then one of us blurts it out. No way anybody's going to buy the claim that it was a simple misstatement. Nor even that it was a misthinkment. Or whatever.

So there you go. That's all I got.
Philosoraptor Named Worst Blog in World!!!!

Oh...God...I...I've dreamt of this day for so long... Excuse me. I...I promised myself I wouldn't cry. Don't cry, dammit, don't cry...

I never really thought...never even hoped to dream, actually...that I'd get an honor like this. I mean, of all the blogs in the blogosphere! It's, well, it's really just...amazing!

But I didn't get here by myself. I want to thank, well, my mother and father, of course...and all my logic teachers...and, of course, God.

And thank you, oh mighty Atrios, for I couldn't have done it without you, either.

And this title...well, just believe me when I say: it means a lot coming from you.

{throws kisses to crowd, heads to after party}
Comment Anomaly

Huh? Wassup? Was hiking most of the day yesterday--Christ the Blue Ridge are gorgeous right now--busy this morning...haven't checked up around here, when I get an e-mail from the estimable Statisticasaurus Rex speaking of a gold mine of hilarious comments on the recent Atrios post. No time to check 'em out in detail...but a quick sample suggests they're mostly a joke. Um, right? I don't see an incoming link from Atrios, but the system's buggered up right now. But most of these can't really be serious. Um, right? They're like playing up the wacky lefty self-parody thing, right?...right? Or maybe they're wingnuts parodying lefty cant. Or something...

Will check this out asap.

Update: der...there is an incoming link, and it's from Atrios...and...dear God...I think...those comments...are...for real...!

Logical illiteracy, people. It's no laughing matter...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

What Kleiman Says

This pretty much sums up what I think about the new GOP scare campaign, including their OBL ad.

Man, OBL is more useful to the GOP than Rove is. But is anybody in any way surprised by this ad? I mean, it's just basically what they've been saying all along: a vote for any Democrat is a vote for OBL. Except I forgot that OBL isn't important anymore, so it's just a vote for "terror."

A prediction: if the polls keep going in the Democrats' direction, look for even worse ads to appear. I'd really kinda like to see just how low these people will stoop.
Atrios and Eschaton are Dead

When criticizing Atrios, I always feel obliged to note that he gave me my first big link, and I appreciate that. I also think he's often funny as hell. That whole pony schtick, for instance, cracks me up.

But Eschaton is not a good blog anymore. In fact, it's a pretty bad one. I breeze by every now and then because he's got his finger on the pulse of the leftosphere. But that's basically the only reason. I think Eschaton may even be worse than Instapundit now. Neither of those blogs contains much by way of analysis, of course. Both are mostly link factories. But the hints and snippets of analysis both have are, well, of rather low quality.

Witness this recent post by Atrios.

Now, if you read it even quickly, you won't need me to tell you what's wrong with it. But just because I expect that this will be my last post ever on anything on that blog, I thought I'd take the opportunity to go through it paragraph by paragraph. Don't worry: there are only three, and I'll keep it quick. Though if I were you I'd just move along to something interesting.

Paragraph 1:
What I'm about to write isn't especially insightful, but given that our foreign policy debate these days is almost entirely played out between people who think wars are really great and those who think wars are like totally awesome, perhaps it needs to be said.

In Atrios's defense, he acknowledges that what he's about to say isn't "especially insightful"...unfortunately he may say that because he thinks it's obvious. Which would be false. More effectively in his defense, perhaps: the second sentence is supposed to be a kind of weary witticism. Since the claim that those are the only two parties to the debate is patently false, charity suggests that we construe it as a kind of joke. Obviously many folks in the debate recognize that war is genuinely bad.

Paragraph 2:
There's this attitude out there where one's foreign policy abilities are judged by whether you supported the right wars, with people like Peter Beinart checking off their little lists. The foreign policy hawks see supporting wars as courageous acts, as if sending other peoples' kids off to die and voting for massive defense budget increases requires courage instead of a healthy possession of sociopathic tendencies.

First, what does Atrios mean by "foreign policy abilities"? Unclear. He may mean something like sheer technical policy acumen, i.e. pure ability to engage in means-ends reasoning, without regard for moral considerations. That would be a strange thing to mean, but if he means that, then he's gesturing in the direction of a point, but he never gets around to making it. The point would be: just because you make the right moral judgments doesn't mean you're good at achieving our foreign policy goals. O.k., but (a) everybody knows that and (b) who cares whether you are good at achieving goals if you can't tell good goals from bad ones? Still: if that's what he means by "foreign policy abilities," then at least there is a kind of point there.

But it would be less contrived if by "foreign policy abilities" he meant something like "ability to conduct foregn policy well," where than includes not only achieving goals but knowing which goals should be achieved. Supposing he means that, then foreign policy ability should, in fact, be evaluated largely in terms of which wars one has supported. Support a war which aims to defend the innocent and you are right; support a war for pretty much any other reason, and you are wrong. (Note: defending the innocent includes defending yourself--supposing you are innocent in the relevant respect. Otherwise you have no right of self-defense.) Most of America's wars against the American Indians were unjust. WWII was just. Support the former and you are conducting foreign policy badly; support the latter and you're well on the way to conducting it well. Support intervention in the former Yugoslavia to stop genocide and ethnic cleansing: good. Support war in Afghanistan to crush OBL and the Taliban: good. Support war in Iraq for a muddle of inscrutable and incoherent reasons: bad. Correctly assessing the justice of wars isn't all there is to foreign policy, but it's a damn important part of it.

The last sentence of Atrios's second paragraph is...well...simply stupid. Sometimes it takes courage to support a war, but not usually, and few people think that it ordinarily does. Going to war--that takes courage. Supporting one: usually not. Supporting an unpopular but just war sometimes takes courage, though. And it took courage for Clinton to attack al Qaeda when he knew he'd get wag-the-dogged for it. But it usually doesn't take courage to support a war.

However, supporting a war does not necessarily show, contra Atrios, that you are a sociopath. Most of the country supported the Iraq war, but it isn't true that most of the country has "sociopathic tendencies." So Atrios is wrong. Most of the country was in error when they supported the war, but being wrong doesn't make you a sociopath.

But any fool knows that one can support a war without being a sociopath. Atrios isn't thinking here--but he isn't trying to think. He's just looking for bad things to say about people he disagrees with. Behold the decline of political reasoning and discourse in America. It happens by degrees, and it happens to most of us at some time or other. But at Eschaton the trend, sadly, has gone pretty far.

It's the RushLimbaughification of political discourse. Limbaugh is not--contrary to what some people think--stupid. He's a man of about average intelligence. It's not that he believes the moronic and vitriolic things he says--rather, he just lets loose with a stream-of-consciousness invective. You can hear in his voice that even he doesn't believe much of what he's saying. He isn't stupid, he's dishonest. He's simply saying "liberals are bad" over and over again in as many different ways as he can think of, without regard for whether the sentences with which he expresses this sentiment are true or false.

Sadly, Atrios has largely become a left-wing Limbaugh. And things have gone so far that I'd be large amounts of money that he'll never recover.

Finally, with regard to Atrios's paragraph 2 (above), let me just note that by supporting the maintenance of a police force you are sending other people's kids to die, but that doesn't make you a sociopath. Same goes for supporting the fire department, or road crews. Constructing large buildings is dangerous, and if you support such construction somebody might die, and that person has parents...but that doesn't make you a sociopath.

People die and that's a hard fact, and if one supports public or foreign policies of any kind one will eventually have supported a policy that leads to deaths. But that doesn't make you a sociopath. War is a particularly hard fact about life, and it leads to more deaths than most of our endeavors, and one should not support it thoughtlessly. Some people who support some wars do so stupidly, as did many who supported the war in Iraq. But many people have supported many wars for good and humane reasons. I'd support sending troops into Darfur right now if we had them to send. American kids would die. But I think it's better that the Janjaweed come up against armed American kids than unarmed Sudanese kids. In fact, if you don't think that, you might very well have some sociopathic tendencies of your own...though you're probably just in error. The fact that I recognize that last bit may be the biggest difference between me and Atrios these days.

Paragraph 3
Wars are failures. A primary purpose of sensible foreign policy is to stop them. When wars happen, our foreign policy has failed. That isn't to say there's never a point when they're necessary or justified, but that point is simply an acknowledgment that the people in charge failed.

Sort of, but there's too much vagueness and ambiguity here to shake a stick at. Wars usually happen because we've failed to avert them with negotiation, but some such failures are inevitable given how evil and/or crazy some people are. No amount of negotiation would have stopped Hitler. So some wars are failures only in the same sense that my failure to fly by flapping my arms is a failure--they are failures to achieve a certain end with a certain means. But they aren't all failures in the ordinary sense--that is, failures to a achieve an end on account of ineptness.

But what Atrios is really thinking about here is the Iraq war. But the Iraq war wasn't a failure exactly. The Bush administration didn't invade Iraq because foreign policy failed. They just decided to invade Iraq, pretty much regardless of how the negotiations went. That was their policy. So we didn't go to war because a policy failed--rather, we went to war because we had a bad policy and successfully implemented it.

But what Atrios is really trying to say here really isn't suceptible to careful analysis. This is really just an expression of anger, not a real thought. He's really just trying to think of something bad to say about Beinart et. al. who supported Bush's idiotic war. So there's no real reason to carefully analyze what he says. As I've noted before, I know several people (who are smarter and more fair-minded than Atrios) who supported this war, and who did so basically on humanitarian grounds. Unlike Bush and almost all of the other supporters of this war, such people genuinely though that this was what was best for the Iraqi people. They were wrong, and I disagreed with them. But they weren't sociopaths.

Anyway, such thinking about Limbaughesque rants is pretty much a waste of time. But I do want to say a few things in closing.

The most disheartening part of the entire Eschaton post in question is, as usual, the comments. Though Atrios himself begins his post by saying "well, this thought isn't much," his dittoheads shower the post with praise. You are so wise Atrios...you are so fantabulous Atrios...you are so keen Atrios... Such adulation would be a tad weird even if the post had been vaguely good. Given how awful it was, it's downright spooky.

So what happend to Eschaton? I'd say that Atrios used to be less partisan and foolish than Glenn Reynolds, but now I'd say he's worse. What made the difference, if there is, in fact, a difference? Could it be because Atrios included comments and Reynolds didn't? They both play to the crowd, but only Atrios has an adoring chorus hanging on his every word. Dunno. It's just a hypothesis: don't take it too seriously.

Anyway, I won't be commenting on anything at Eschton anymore, as it's just not worth my time to stop by there. Better to spend my time at, say, The Washington Monthly, where Kevin Drum keeps getting better and better, rather than worse and worse. Is Drum smarter than Atrios? Maybe, but I can't tell. Drum is more intellectually honest, and that's more important than being smarter. That's good news, though, for Atrios, actually. It means he could still turn things around if he wanted to. We can't always become smarter, but we can almost always become better. And that's the really important thing.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Halloween is my favorite holiday, along with the 4th of July and Thanksgiving and sometimes Christmas.

Halloween is my favorite holiday because it's cool, and not merely because girls dress provocatively.

Dunno what to say about this piece in the NYT. I pretty much change the channel any time LitCritters or "cultural critics" and similar folk start talking...in part because so many of them are idiots...but also because so few of them even try to make sense, and in part because I can't stand their cant. Many students are sucked into that stuff because it's sound is seductive to sophomores...but it's like fingernails on a blackboard to me.

Some of the people interviewed in this piece, though, actually make a little sense...though this stuff is, I'll admit, not rocket science.

There tends to be a lot of wheel-spinning (I almost said tail-chasing, but then it dawned on me) about questions like this. I'm tired so I'll just say:

1. Autonomously expressing one's sexuality in fun and harmless ways: good.

2. Heteronomously reacting to social forces that press one into doing that: bad.

3. Fake boobs built into little girls' Halloween costumes: downright alarming.

I don't want to have to say this again people.

Though when I freaked out about 3, Johnny Quest just shrugged and said "Yeah, I dunno. I remember wishing that my costumes had had boobs when I was little. The costumes would just look more like they're supposed to look." So there's a datum.

But I think everybody can agree that it's kinda weird.

Anyway, you gotta love the NYT's pix that accompany this hard-hitting...er...expose: slutty witch, slutty devil, slutty referee (huh???) and slutty slut. They run the whole gamut.

And, incidentally, what about the word 'slutty'? So many of the girls I know use it in an ironic way--e.g. to describe themselves and their own clothing--that it doesn't even seem like an insult anymore... Or, rather, it seems as if there are two sense of the word, one pejorative to me any more in most contexts. On the other hand I get pissed off when I hear people say 'b*tch' and 'ho' ('h*?). Inconsistent?

An angry Anonymous, in a comment on an earlier post, alerts me to the existence of this guy at Democratic Underground. (The voice in my head when I figured out what was going on was Craig T. Nelson's, as Bob Parr in The Incredibles when Mr. Incredible and Frozone--wearing ski masks--trip the jewelry store alarm...An exasperated but resigned"Oh, good.")

In fact, it turns out that there are a whole damn bunch of Philosoraptors out there now. Like, e.g., Philosoraptor.com.

Just for the record, and not because I think this is really important or anything: I thought of the word myself back in 1994 when I first started hanging out on my university's VAX, and on the paleontology-junkies' Dinosaur Mailing List. Somebody else might have thought of the word earlier, but if so I didn't know about it. I used it, as you might have guessed, because I'm interested in both philosophy and paleontology (though I almost never talk about the latter around here, do I? Probably because I'm a complete and total amateur with regard to that subject).

People (girls, usually) have, in the past, sometimes literally squealed with delight because they thought the word was so clever. Now--or soon--I reckon it will just seem kind of lame.

But, anyway, to clear up any confusion: I am this Philosoraptor, and not another. I'm not any of the personals ads philosoraptors, nor am I the Philosoraptor.com philosoraptor, nor am I the DU philosoraptor, nor the MySpace philosoraptor, etc., etc.

The philosoraptor at DU sounds like a guy it would be particularly unfortunate to be confused with, since he apparently thinks, e.g., that Bush knew about 9/11 before it happened. Whereas I, on the other hand, have some doubts about whether Bush knows about 9/11 yet... (Ha ha! Philosoraptor humor.)

In fact, as you guys know, my nom de blog is officially 'Winson Smith'...a handle that's also, apparently, being used by approximately 5000 other people...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Operation No Gloating Revisited

Back in '04 I suggested that if Kerry won, those of us roughly in the leftosphere shouldn't gloat about it. The idea wasn't particularly well-received, but I want to offer it up for your consideration again, anyway.

We all know the situation. The House is probable and the Senate is a real possibility. Now, few sensible people are more outraged than I am by what the Republicans have done in the relatively recent past. Though I'm not a huge fan of the Democrats, it's hard for me to believe that many parties have ever deserved to lose an American election more than the Republicans deserve to lose this one. So if they do, then I, personally, will be extremely relieved (read: dancing in the streets).


I won't gloat about it. I wish I could convince everyone on this side of the web to show similar restraint. There's simply no point in it. Straightforwardly moral points aside, the pleasure to be gained from gloating about such things isn't worth it given how much such behavior contributes to the long-term problem of decreasing political civility. If you have a blog, I beseech you to do--that is, not do--likewise. And tell your friends.

I'm afraid we can't expect people to lose gracefully right now in American politics. The very least we can do is win gracefully.

Almost every time I bring up the topic of civility in public discourse some newbie shows up in comments and points out that American politics used to be a lot less civil than it is now, as if I were a complete moron. But listen: just because it used to be worse doesn't mean it's o.k. now. It was actually better in the relatively recent past, and it would be, well, better if it got better again.

This is also the kind of post that usually gets the following kind of comment somewhere down in the thread: "that's the problem with you milktoast centrist types. You're so obsessed with civility that you're willing to let the fascists take over." Not so. Were the fascists marching down the street, I'd shoot them. In fact, I'd insult them first ("Stupid fascists," I'd say. "You're even dumber f*cks than the communists."), and then I'd shoot them. By urging people to be more civil I don't mean that we shouldn't state facts, nor refrain from calling something bad if it's bad, nor refrain from calling someone dishonest if he's dishonest, nor any other similar thing.

Folks roughly like me are in a bit of a bind, though. We think that Bush and company are not just bad, but very bad. In fact, as I've made clear in the past, I'm inclined to think that Bush may be impeachably bad. Now, I thought the Republicans had lost their minds when they started calling for Clinton's impeachment (note: before he had even been elected, as someone pointed out again recently). And I think that many current Republian leaders are so bad that it's almost obligatory for reasonable people to get furious about it. But, given that the facts about the Clinton presidency are, to say the least, extremely dissimilar to the facts about the Bush presidency, there is no inconsistency here. For one thing, at least we waited for the guy to be elected--well, sort of elected, anyway--and to screw up royally before we started talking impeachment.

So the incautious observer might think that I'm being inconsistent (on the one hand) or wimpy (on the other). I think that both conclusions are based on relatively transparent misunderstandings, though, of course, I could be wrong.

So I hope we won't be troubled by either of those misunderstandings.

In conclusion: let's not gloat if the Dems win, shall we? Somebody's got to be the grownups around here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Harry Reid, Double Standards, and Bad News for Dems

I've figured all along that the Republican cornucopia of dishonesty, incompetence, sexual depravity and general nuttiness was going to be balanced out before the election.

I actually thought that it was going to be by Hillary Clinton getting a parking ticket, or some Democratic precinct chair scowling at a puppy. But Harry Reid's financial shenanigans will do even better.

How serious are they compared to relatively recent Republican wrong-doing? Hmm...lessee...lying us into an unjust war...vs....using campaign funds for Xmas bonuses....mmmm...'bout the same I'd say. And 'bout the same as covering up attempted pederasty in the House. And just about the same as alienating the rest of the world. And just about the same as letting bin Laden get away. And just about the same as the Abramoff affair.

So, you see, this Reid business, it balances out the whole slate of wrong-doing.


I was really betting on that parking ticket thing.

(Note: I don't want to denigrate the work of those pallid, sweaty young Republican staffers who have been frantically scouring everything done by every Democrat for the last 50 years to find something like this... Good job, gang! Way to fight the power!.)

(Don'tcha just love the Dems? Just crooked enough to make it possible for a well-oiled propaganda machine to give a patina of plausibility to the claim that the parties are equally corrupt. Nice going, Dems! Way to help out those Republican staffers!)

(If this doesn't catch on it'll be really, really bad news for the GOP. It'll indicate that the zeitgeist that's propped them up for the last 5+ years has shifted orientation.)
Richard Dawkins On Religion

It's here.

He's too snide about it even for my taste...and...whew...that's sayin' something...

More importantly, he doesn't really understand what he's talking about. I've griped about this in the past, but God knows where... Thomas Nagel has a good response in my shiny new New Republic, but I can't link it b/c they seem to think my subscription's expired.

Anyway, a philosopher Dawkins ain't. I know everybody thinks that she or he can do philosophy [note deft use of usually awkward 'she or he' to clearly indicate that I mean something like 'one' rather than 'Dawkins'], but, well, it turns out to not be true.

Heck if I know what I get paid for, what with everybody else--scientists, LitCritters, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, preachers...and my students--already being so good at it and all...

True story:
Colleague of mine gets a phone call from a friend of a friend who's putting together a government committee of some kind to think about something or other about bioethics. She asks him to be on it. He, though a philosopher, doesn't specialize in it, and tells her that nobody in our department really does, either, but also gives names of some dept. members whose specialities are more in line with the task. For some reason she goes through one of the university Vice Presidents to get one of these people...and this VP...who, mind you, knows absolutely freaking nothing about bioethics...takes the job himself. The guy's a psychologist. Colleague #1 who was first contacted would have done the job 2000% better...but he knew enough to know that he shouldn't be doing it. Buy, ya' know...everybody can do philosophy...


Monday, October 16, 2006

Slacking Off On the Job

While I'm at my job (in my office, etc.), I'm slacking off ____% of the time.

Fill in the blank.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

He Keeps Using That Word...

...But I do not think it means what he thinks it means...

In today's Post Jeffrey Smith puzzles over something that's also struck me in the past--the inordinate number of things W characterizes as "unacceptable".

I'm not in the mood for Bush bashing...Christ, who's got the energy anymore?...but I just thought I'd point out that if you actually regard something as unacceptable, then, well, you won't accept it. I agree with him, for example, that the genocide in Sudan is unacceptable...but, see, he's the president, and so if HE really found it unacceptable, then we'd be stopping it.

I think the word he's looking for might be 'inconvenient,' but I'm not sure.

It doesn't help that, as Kevin Drum notes, it's the tone he uses that's really unnerving. He sounds like so mad that he can't get his way that he's going to spit nails. If the guy weren't so dangerous, he'd be downright funny. More and more his assertions about what is unacceptable seem like Vizinni's assertions about what is inconceivable. In fact, they're starting to actually sound a little bit alike to me...
What Bugs You Most...

...about people like Ann Coulter?

[A] That they fanatically adhere to conservative beliefs on the basis of weak arguments.

[B] That they fanatically adhere to conservative beliefs.

[C] That they adhere to conservative beliefs on the basis of weak arguments.

[D] That they adhere to conservative beliefs.

[E] That they fanatically adhere to beliefs on the basis of weak arguments.


{Sticklers for completeness might want to include two more permutations, but I'll skip them.}
Greenwald v. Nooners

It's been obvious for some time now that Peggy Noonan isn't quite playing with a full deck. I formulate that claim carefully, and express it with some trepidation. I formulate it carefully because Noonan isn't stark, raving, frothing-at-the-mouth bonkers like, say, Ann Coulter. Rather, she seems more like your daft old aunt who has allowed herself to lose contact with those parts of reality that contradict the view of the world she formulated back in the '30's. I express the claim with trepidation because charges of mental instability are, first, serious and, second, made by the right against the left with such frequency these days that...well, I suppose I worry that this will sound Pee Wee Hermanesque (I know you are, what am I?).

But this is probably an excess of caution. I suppose it's no secret that Noonan lost it--or at least a significant bit of it--some time ago. She now lives in some Narnia-esque fantasy land where Ronald Reagan routinely vanquishes the evil forces of Socialism--lead by the evil wizard Jimmy Carter--and where Reagan dies briefly by the hand of the evil Clinton, only to be reborn as George W. Bush, thus proving his divinity. Or something like that.

Part of Noonan's bizarre fantasy world is that the right is more civil than the left. Of this charge we can safely say that:

(a) It's obviously absurd.
(b) It's false
(c) It can easily be refuted
(d) It has been refuted many times
(e) The right itself, is, after all, providing us with most of the relevant evidence
(f) Fer chrissake.

I've whacked this charge around in the past--you can look it up--and Glenn Greenwald does a pretty good job of it here. It's not as good as some of his other stuff...but we're all sort of bored with this debate. We won it a long time ago, and no reasonable person thinks its worth discussing anymore.

But look: if anybody's still interested in this, the thing to do is to devote a web page to it. Carefully formulate the charges, gather and link to the evidence, and then just refer to that page every time the right tries to fly in the face of this particular fact. Every time somebody like Noonan throws out this laughable old chestnut, hundreds of liberal bloggers go to work shredding it. But it practically comes pre-shredded. We're wasting our time on this crap.

But maybe that's their insidious plan...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Some Conditionals About Staying in Iraq

[1] If we'll make the world a worse place in the long run by staying in Iraq, then we should leave.

[2] If we'll make things worse for the Iraqis in the long run by staying in Iraq, then we should leave.

[3] If we'll make things worse for the U.S. in the long run by staying in Iraq, then we should leave.

Which of the above conditionals are true and which are false?

Are there any other relevant conditionals that we should consider in this context? (Note: only conditionals.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hugh Hewitt Gets Desperate

Here. Dutifully linked to by Instapundit, of course. (Note Insty's hilarious suggestion that the Democrats have a problem with financial corruption that rivals the Republican's problems with sex. Heck, the Democrat's problems with financial corruption don't even rival the Republicans' problems with financial corruption...)

I understand how frantic Republicans must be right about now, but Hewitt's wild-eyed sputterings are just downright embarrassing. The post is largely a regurgitation of the Republicans' Alternative History of Earth...or History of Alternative Earth...or whatever it is, wherein all the world's evils somehow spring from the Carter and Clinton administrations.

I'm actually fairly worried about the election. I mean, the Republicans are like Jason in Friday the Thirteenth (or, in this case, perhaps Tuesday After the First Monday in November). No matter what happens to them, they just keep getting back up and trying to chop the good guys to pieces. Screwing up before 9/11, screwing up in Afghanistan, screwing up in Iraq, screwing up Katrina...all self-inflicted wounds to be sure...but the political equivalents of being shot, stabbed, burned up, electrocuted, run over by a truck... Seems like any normal party should be dead by now...but they just...keep...coming.

So I'm not saying that Hewitt is wrong when he predicts that the Republicans will pull this thing out. Heck, I won't be surprised if they do. I'm just making fun of Hewitt's silly reasons for asserting that they will. My favorite is his invocation of the terrors of "Clinton-Albright diplomacy"... Ah, yes...those were the scary old days. Thank God--to quote the inimitable Onion--that our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is over.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Tu Quoque Alert: Fervid, Febrile Foley Edition; Subsections D. Brooks, A. Althouse

It's interesting to see what it takes to ignite outright partisan craziness in people. Alicublog has this brief round-up of some of the Mark II attempts to make the Foley scandal all about the Democrats.

Incidentally, several species of this strategy are being deployed right now, the most nauseating being the efforts to convince people that the important question here is whether the Dems released the story for political gain. Ah, the moronic ad hominem--staple of American politics in general, and Rove-publican politics in particular... But never mind that one for a sec.

Those tactics are the most nauseating...but for sheer desperate hilarity they can't compare to Brooks and Althouse on The Vagina Monologues. Go, go, go ye to Alicublog and look upon the face of cosmic stupidity...but beware...it is not for the faint of heart...

If I ever, ever, EVER write anything that stupid, I sincerely hope that somebody will whack me upside the head.

Remember: the just ordinarily stupid things I write don't count.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

LGM Sets Victor Davis Hanson Straight on Carter and Desert One

Here. Gosh, it would be nice to see more posts like this on the internets/blogospheres. The comments are worth reading, too. As one commenter points out, the right wing should "thank their lucky stars for Clinton," otherwise they'd still be trying to blame everything on Carter...

I've been thinking about this stuff a bit since I recently had a student in my office who was clearly being sold the whole conservative bill of goods by the College Republicans' machine...a world made dangerous by wimpy Democrats, Carter and Clinton in particular, America defended only by steely Republican resolve... He'd even been indoctrinated with the view that somehow Carter was responsible for what's happened to Iran...that if only we'd kept the Shah in power, everything would have been just peachy...

I usually just ask such kids to consider the following question: under what conditions should we support brutal tyrants as a means to pursuing national interests, especially national security interests?

In my lifetime, two answers seem to have been prominent. The Democratic answer has been something like "only when absolutely necessary." The Republican answer has been something like "whenever it looks like it will help us in any way." We had to ally ourselves with Stalin in WWII. We did not have to support Shah Palavi, Saddam Hussein, Pinochet, etc., etc., etc.

Of course the Republican tendency to support brutal psychopaths on the off chance that it might help us in some way has had a tendency to be counterproductive...so much so that I think the policy should be abandoned on prudential grounds alone. But I'm more concerned with the conceptions of and effects on America, its moral standing, and its place in history.