Thursday, November 30, 2006

We are Now Safe From Terrorists With Less Than $100

And the rich won't have to wait in line anymore.

It's, like, the perfect program...

[HT: Canis Major]
Iran-Contra Anniversary

Basically ignored. But Slate reminds us.

I had a job painting dorms during the hearings, and we'd sit there listening to them on the radio, talking about how this obviously insane, utterly full of crap tin soldier was bamboozling the U. S. Congress. None of us could believe it was really happening.

Iran-Contra was perhaps the most disheartening and deflating experience of my political life. I simply couldn't believe how weak was the power of the rule of law, how easily it was shrugged off. I came to realize that a government of laws, not of men was the object of a hope, and not a reality, and that that hope was only imperfectly realized.

I guess it sounds melodramatic, but I've never been the same since Iran-Contra. It changed my view of America, dimmed my optimism. Not until the (semi-)election of 2000 would my conception of America again take such a severe hit.

I once had a rather heated argument with one of my profs in grad school about which national experience had been worse, that of Nixon or that of Reagan, with him arguing for the former position. "You're too young," he said, "you just don't remember what a psychopath Nixon was." "Maybe, I responded, but Reagan got away with it."

O.k., fine, Reagan was all avuncular...but, you see, somehow that just doesn't matter to me. I'd impeach Wilford Brimley, Mr. Rogers, or, for that matter, my uncle if he intentionally violated the Boland Amendment and sold weapons to terrorist nations.

Yes, it gets to me--really gets to me--every time I hear Reagan say "Mr. Gorbachev--tear down this wall." Yes, I think Reagan might very well have been a good person. But good people who commit high crimes must be impeached. Even the rhetorically gifted ones. Even the avuncular ones.

You know, this country wouldn't piss me off so bad if I didn't like it so much. This country'll break your damn heart.
Dems Planning to Renege on Promise to Implement All 9/11 Commission Recommendations

Um...maybe they' their minds?

Or maybe they just suck...

[HT: Canis Major]
[Formerly: ] George F. Will on Jim Webb
[Now: George F. Will: Big Fat Liar?]

[This whole post becomes irrelevant because, if the WaPo's report of the incident is correct, Will altered the Webb-Bush conversation in such a way as to completely misrepresent the tone of the participants. Thanks to Anonymous who points us to this at TPM cafe.

Just for the record, I've had to delete several versions of my reaction to this in order to maintain anything even vaguely resembling civility. If the WaPo's version is correct and Will did what it looks like he did, then the technical term for what he is includes the terms 'lying' 'sack' and 'of', but I'm trying really, really, really hard to keep from saying things like that for a lot of reasons but people like Will are NOT making it easy.]

No time to do this right, so I'll just point you to this in the WaPo.

At a glance, this seems to me to be one of those Rorschach-test cases, the interpretation of which says more about the interpreter than the interpreted... But that's a quick judgment on a busy day.

Two questions:
1. Was Webb wrong to act as he did toward Bush?

Quick suggestion: not obviously. Bush has run the country and a goodly part of the rest of the world into a ditch, partially as a result of stupidity--which may be excusable--but partially out of meanness, stubbornness, and inexcusable partisan blindness. So what is the right way to treat someone like that?
Two possible answers:
A.. He's the President, one should always treat him with respect.

B. At a certain point, one is relieved of one's obligation to act toward him in a friendly and excessively courteous manner.

Sidebar: Even in the worst-case scenario--Webb somehow turns out to be a pompous moron once he's in office--we won't be any worse off than we were when Allen was our Senator.

2. What about the Webb quote that Will dissects?
Two possible answers:
A. Will's pretty much right.

B. Will's being petty. What Webb meant is clear: the economic inequality in this country is mind-boggling. It isn't infinite, of course, and it may not be the worst ever, and it may not be worse by some measures, but if you're not at least worried about it then you're not paying attention.

Final fascinating and inconclusive note: I've actually wondered how I should act if I were to meet Mr. Bush. Since I believe that he has done approximately as much harm to my country as Osama bin Laden has, and perhaps even more, it would be rather difficult, not to mention irrational, to greet him warmly.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I Am Not Participating in This Experiment
Erotica Exonerated?

Milton Diamond, the scientist who blew the whistle on bogusness in the "John/Joan experiment" is back in the saddle, reporting on evidence that--surprise--porn doesn't make people evil.

This is at, so beware 'cause it's NCSFW.
Dennis Prager's Puzzling Ideas About Church and State

See how I'm not saying anything snide about this? See how I'm not getting extremely angry? See how I'm just pointing out that he's wrong? See how I'm saying that I can't believe that his claims represent the considered judgments of most American conservatives?

Good Philosoraptor...good...
Our Depleted Reserves of Good Will

I've sort of had a more-or-less inchoate worry for a long time, and it goes something like this: there's a kind of inertia that governs human relationships. When things are going well, it's easy to keep them going well; when they're going badly, it's very hard to get them back on track. Once people get crossways with each other, it just ain't easy to get things right again. I could support that premiss if you want, but I'm not going to do so right now.

Thing is, we get along with each other fairly well in this country. When you find yourself in a situation like that, there are a couple of things you can do. You can use the happy fact of this good will to try to make things even better, to store up even more good will against the possibility of tough times in the future. If you aren't sagacious and forethoughtful enough to do that, you might at least refrain from frittering the resources away. The worst thing to do, of course, would be to just waste the reserves, using them up for bad reasons until there was just enough left to get by on, with little margin for error.

My worry is that we may be doing that last thing.

And that's all I have to say about that right now.
Illiberal Education, 11/29/2006 Edition

This worrisome info via Instapundit.

For some reason I have a hard time getting liberals to (a) believe and (b) care about the fact that the extreme and extremish left is something of a problem in many important parts of academia.

I lived in a conservative place until college, then went to a conservative by the time I ended up at grad school, I was so used to battling against the right that I simply didn't realize that there were kooks on the left, too. But there are. Oh, indeed there are. And I found that out right quick. And if you don't believe it, come spend some time in academia. It is, in my experience, WAY, WAY less of a problem than the David Horowitzes of the world would have us believe...but it's a problem alright. (It is, I believe, primarily a problem at more prestigious/fashionable schools, actually.)

In case you don't believe me, go read Illiberal Education. D'Souza's a partisan hack of the first water, but the book is basically veridical. It gives you a fairly good picture of some of the worst outbreaks of the problem, and the cases he reports on are consistent with several things I've seen myself. And don't exercise the method of tenacity by making excuses like "yeah, well, but those are just the worst cases." They're some of the worst I've heard of, it's true...but they're not superduperradically a-typical. That is, they're not a-typical enough for comfort.

Liberals tend to immediately recoil when I say things like this, but they shouldn't. Obviously I'm not some right-wing kook who hates liberals and thinks that the academy's rotten with them. Rather, I'm fairly liberal, and I'm simply trying to point out that there are, in fact, some decidedly illiberal forces at work in the academy. Again, its not the massive, pervasive conspiracy of commies that some would like to think it is, but it's something significant enough to warrant the attention of people like you, oh reader.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


The rightosphere seems to be deciding whether to get mad about 'christianist'.

Maybe we could do a kind of deal, like, you guys knock it off with that dopey and irritating use of 'Democrat' (as in 'the Democrat party), and we'll agree not to use 'Christianist.'

There's some complaining about Sullivan's definition of the term, but it's actually well within terminological specs.

Yet another terminological tempest in the teapot of the blogosphere...
Alcee's Out

See? Told ya.
See Wes Run?

Run, Wesley, RUN!
Occasional Nietzsche Quote

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

--The Gay Science, section 2

Monday, November 27, 2006

bin Laden's Attempts to Influence U.S. Elections

Drum quoting Suskind here. (Costing about 15 seconds on Google.)

Now, though I agree with Myca that this "bin Laden likes you best!" "Nuh-uh--he wants to have ten thousand of your babies!" etc. etc. crap really should stop, I would like to point out that I thought about linking to this when it came out, but refrained from doing so, and am only doing so now because somebody around here (scowls briefly at tvd) has a kool-aidy lookin' moustache on when it comes to this particular subject.

It really does seem to me that the right has a tendency to be there firstest with the mostest when it comes to associating the other party with our enemies. Dems weren't just misguided during the cold war, they were closet reds; they're not just misguided now, they're basically the American arm of al Qaeda. If space aliens ever invade, I'm sure the right will say that Dems were their advance force.

Now, such accusations are annoying enough even if merely false...but when the best available evidence actually seems to indicate that it's the GOP that OBL hearts best...well, at that point the charges become downright infuriating.

Besides, is anybody here really inquiring honestly into this question? I mean, could anything really convince Republicans that OBL is rooting for them? I hate to admit it, but it'd take a hell of a lot of evidence to convince me that he was rooting for the Dems. A lot of this is probably just bias, but some of it has to do with background theories. Believing that Bush's policies have been disastrous, and believing that OBL supports policies that are disastrous for the U.S., it's obvious why I believe that OBL favors Bush's policies. Republicans will reason similarly to the opposite conclusion.

In fact, one way to get an independent evaluation of Bush's policies would be to get OBL's honest opinion of them. Which, of course, is a fairly hard thing to do. His opinions are hard to pin down in part because we face an interpretational Holmes-Moriarty problem. But I've muttered about all that before.

But, all that having been said, those who know the most about OBL have concluded that he released his final 2004 tape in order to help Bush get re-elected.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

When You Absolutely, Positively Got To Kill Every Motherf*cker In The Room

I've been fascinated by Kalashnikov and his AK-47 for quite awhile now, and this article in the Post just about sums it all up. Not quite enough info from the man himself, unfortunately, though he does express some regret at having invented one of the world's most popular killing machines, saying that he wishes he'd invented a lawnmower instead.

Unfortunately, and as you may have already heard, Kalashnikov is now allowing his name to be used on a brand of vodka. Alcohol and automatic weapons...what could possibly go wrong? Maybe he needs to market some steroids, too.

But, as Mr. K notes, he's not responsible for what politicians and others have done with his invention. He designed it to stop the Nazis after watching them slaughter most of an entire town at Bryansk. There was no way for him to know that the thing would turn out to be--just possibly--the most dangerous weapon on the face of the Earth.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Terrorists Heart The Democrat Party

Glenn Greenwald rounds up some some of the more jaw-dropping conservative assertions that, in effect, a vote for the Dems was a vote for al Qaeda.
Rumsfeld O.K.'d Torture?

At Reuters.
Richard Clarke On Iraq and the Sunk Cost Fallacy

Speaking of Clarke's recent TNR piece, I was puzzled by, among other things, his characterization of anti-withdrawal arguments as committing the sunk cost fallacy.

He writes:

"Too often in the Iraq debate, we have let intuition, slogans, and appealing thoughts cloud logic. Perhaps the most troublesome example is the argument that we must honor the American dead by staying until we can build something worthy of their sacrifice. Stripped of its emotional tones, this argument is, in economic analysis, an appeal to sunk cost. An MIT professor once promised to fail me if I ever justified actions based on sunk cost--so I learned that what is gone is gone, and what is left we should conserve, cherish, and employ wisely."

I've got a passing interest in sunk costs, and I don't think it's any secret that you can sometimes use the sunk cost fallacy to trick yourself into doing things you ought to be doing anyway. But that's not what I want to discuss.

But I have two questions here:

1. Is anybody really (overtly or covertly) appealing to sunk costs in this discussion? I don't remember anyone doing so, but, of course, I only read a tiny fraction of what's out there.


2. Is it really always fallacious to appeal to sunk "costs" in a situation of this kind? After all, the costs we're talking about here are human lives.

Suppose, for example, that we knew for certain that, except for any good that might be associated with remembering or revering the dead, or to conferring meaning on their deaths, the world will be exactly as good/bad whether we stay in Iraq or leave. In such a case, would it make sense to stay with a mind to finishing the job in order to prevent the dead from having died in vain?

A 'yes' answer here in no way seems irrational to me.

Though it's not clear that this is really an appeal to sunk costs, anyway.

One might respond that what determines whether someone dies in vain is not their actual accomplishments, but their intentions, in which case the outcome in Iraq won't matter in that respect.

Actually, I think that the concept of dying in vain is kind of complicated...

It's hard to discuss it, of course, without remembering the right's nefarious use of the concept to trick people into maintaining support for the war. Their little strategy went like this:

First, start an unnecessary and possibly unjust war. Then, when others point out that the war is unnecessary and unjust, respond by saying "Oh, so YOU think that our brave boys have DIED IN VAIN!" It's weird, but this rhetorical trick almost always seemed to work. Seems to me that the best response is something like: "Well, IF they died in vain, it's the people who started the unnecessary war who are responsible for that, not the people who point out that it was unnecessary."

Have you noticed how I've started rambling lately?

Why, just the other day when I was getting a hamburger at Five Guys...Oh, man, those are good hamburgers...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Another Important Clark(e): Against Rapid Withdrawal

Wes Clark (recently linked-to by one of our Anonymi).
Dumb Blogosphere

I've just been cruising around the internets a bit, taking a break from grading...


Well, there really is some good stuff on some blogs out there...but...does it worry anybody but me how godawful terrible so much of it is? Comments in particular tend to be the realm of rampant stupidity and groupthink. It's really kinda spooky.

What's truly alarming is how little even semi-autonomous reasoning there is out there, especially when coupled with the high degree of vituperation. I've seen people attacked mercilessly for peccadillos so obscure and inconsequential that they're barely even discernable. Heck, much of the time I can't even figure out what the target of the group hate did wrong. An iota in the wrong place or something...hard to tell.

Is it the anonymity of the internet that's responsible?

Is it some kind of SUV effect, in which the normally meek and weak suddenly feel empowered to release their inner bully?

Is it the result of cyberbalkanization/groupthink?

All of the above?

What the heck is going on?

Cripes, it's like Lord of the Flies in some places...enough to make you sorely worried about the true nature of humanity. Are people really this dumb, vicious, and tribal?

Richard Clarke: Why We Should Leave Iraq


I'm still not convinced, and I don't think all of Clarke's arguments here are good...but some of them are. His judgments, however, carry significant weight with me even when I disagree with them.

Which does, in fact, raise the question: why the heck does it matter what I think, anyway? Answer, of course: it doesn't. I sort of watch the arguments go by and comment on them. I don't have any power or any what the heck am I doing, and why do some people get so pissed about it?

Dunno. Funny set of phenomena, really.

Seems perfectly obvious to me that nobody knows what the best thing to do is. The arguments on each side are about equally strong...the situation is so FUBAR'd that nobody really knows what we should do. As far as I can tell, we're close to the point at which flipping a coin would be a reasonable decision procedure. Yet the partisans of the various answers continue to shriek and pound the keyboard and accuse the other side of willful stupidity and intellectual turpitude.

It's not just that disaster threatens--the disaster's already happened. And even greater disaster will probably follow close on the heels of whatever it is that we do next. We're most of us arguing--passionately yet from the depths of an information deficit--about small points for and against various plans that might just maybe maybe bring about mere continued disaster rather than a godawful nightmare.

Point any of this out, though, I've discovered, and the partisans of the various sides will each frothily accuse you of covertly supporting the other. Or accuse you of indifference. Or whatever. The internets are all about accusations and ad homina, anyway, so why we all waste our time here is unclear to me.

Doesn't matter what I think, and thank all the various deities for that. 'Cause I sure as hell don't know what's going on.

The only thing that still seems even semi-obvious to me is this: that our irresponsibility as a nation allowed our irresponsible administration to turn a terrible situation in Iraq into a nightmarish one. And that means that it's our responsibility to try to fix it, pretty much whatever that entails.

As a nation, we have not tried very hard yet in Iraq. A very, very few Americans have been trying very, very hard, many of them dying as a result. The rest of the nation hasn't even broken a sweat. But you don't plunge a nation into chaos and then casually quit the scene. Or, rather, good nations don't.

What am I suggesting? I'm not suggesting any course of action in particular. What I'm suggesting is that we make sure we have done basically everything we can before completely giving up. That may mean, for example, pulling in troops we'd rather not pull in, and spending money we'd rather not spend. It might even mean instituting a draft, though it's probably too late for that to help in the case at hand.

If pulling out really is the best thing for the Iraqis, then we should pull out. But that had better be our reason. We'd better not quit just because we're tired or disheartened or bored or not willing to pay the cost to clean up our own mess.

But anyway, as to my disagreement with Richard Clarke on points of strategy...well, I certainly hope I don't have to tell you which of our opinions you should weigh more heavily.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

College Writing Assignments

So, unless I'm mistaken, here's how college writing assignments go now:

1. Many professors simply don't require papers any more.

2. If professors do require papers, then they assign papers that are either merely research papers or "personal reflection" essays. I.e. either reporting on the work of others or bullshitting. (There's some place for both, but neither should be the norm.)

3. When they assign papers, these papers are often very long, and, consequently, graded in a superficial manner with little substantive feedback. A few comments scrawled in the margins if you're lucky. (It takes me about an hour to grade and produce typed comments on an average 4-5 page paper. The idea of doing this with two classes worth of 25-page papers is preposterous. And, incidentally, the other 20 pages would be superfluous anyway. Within a couple of pages the quality of the work becomes clear.)

4. When writing assignments are given, a very large minority of students simply cheats. The really lazy students just Google something, and they can be caught, though that often takes even more time than it does to grade the paper. Even moderately intelligent and energetic cheaters are hard to catch.

5. Then, of course, there are students who simply buy essays from the evil companies that sell them, or from other students.

Students who can't write usually can't think. And not that many of them can write. Something's really going to have to be done about all this.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Why Does Henry Kissinger Hate America So Much?

Nattering naybob of negativism.
Go Big, Go Long, or Go Home?

Well, I've taken some flak here for arguing against the "Go Home" option, but it looks like some important experts agree that that's out.

"Go Big" is apparently impossible.

The drawing of the conclusion is left as an exercise for the reader.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Machine That Accidentally Eats Bulldozers

The "Bagger 288". (via Metafilter)

Most Lethal Gadgets

at DefenseTech (via Instapundit).

Make sure to check out the 9th candidate in comments, the "Hungry Man All-Day Breakfast"...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

What is Relativism?

Anybody have any interest in doing me a favor? If so, here's what you could do: in comments or via e-mail, answer one or both of the following questions:

(a) What is relativism?

(b) What do you think most people think relativism is?

You could address the question(s) generally, or you could address some specific version of relativism, e.g. moral relativism, cultural relativism, alethic relativism (i.e. relativism about truth), or whatever.

I've been piddling around with a book on the subject for quite some time, and have just received a kick in the ass from one of my colleagues, which kick aimed to get me to finish the damn thing. I think it would be informative to get more data about what non-philosophers think the view is.

Don't be shy. This is more like an opinion survey. You won't be graded or anything...

Friday, November 17, 2006

TNR on the Iraq Mistake

This editorial is good, though not exactly ground-breaking. They're pretty much right, though that'll be ignored for many reasons, including the fact that TNR-bashing has become a favorite activigy in the leftosphere. Drum's response is uncharacteristically uninformative...he seems to be just phoning it in on this one.

I actually agree that TNR should put out a big piece on exactly why they were wrong in supporting the war...but it's obvious enough, really, to anyone who isn't already a committed anti-TNRist. In fact, I've defended the position that they (and many other liberal, non-Bushie war supporters) articulated. It doesn't go down well with the rabidly anti-war left, which wants to believe that no intelligent, well-meaning person could possibly have defended this war. But, then, there are some people you just can't reason with. (Imagine how insufferable and immune to reason the right would be if we really had been greeted with flowers and candy, and if the mission really had been accomplished in one month. It was always obvious, they'd say. Only a moron or a Saddam-lover could ever have denied it, they'd say.)

In a way I understand lefty irrationality on this one. The war was undertaken for such bad reasons, and defended on the right with such terrible arguments, and opponents of the war were treated so badly by the right, and the war was botched so badly, that the level of anger in some parts of the left is so high that they just can't think clearly about this issue. Try to talk about this with some lefties, and it's like flipping a switch--the vituperation pours forth in a torrent, their reasoning faculties shut down, and anything even vaguely resembling civil discussion becomes impossible. Not all lefties, of course--but if you don't know any lefties like this, then you've got a very different sample than I do.

Pro-war liberal hawks made a mistake--a mistake with terrible consequences. But they were weren't stupid and they weren't evil. They knew that Bush was lying and cheating, and they knew that he was leading us to war for the wrong reasons. But they recognized that Saddam was evil, and that this would be our only chance to free Iraq from his tyrannical rule. If Democrats ever suggested such an invasion for genuinely moral reasons, they'd lose every election for the next 20 years. So it was hold their nose and support the invasion, or continue to watch the people of Iraq crushed under Saddam's boot.

I'm a liberal hawk. I went back and forth on the war issue in the lead-up. I agonized over it. As I've said before, I ultimately opposed it, but for reasons which, to this day, I believe to be questionable. I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I'm not an idiot. I'm not evil. I wasn't fooled by any of the administration's WMD BS. Had the invasion happened a month before it did, I'd have probably been a supporter at the time of invasion.

What pro-war liberal hawks didn't reckon with, of course, was the massive incompetence of the Bush administration, and their disastrous mismanagement of the peace. Of course many people now want to assert that only an idiot could not have forseen that.

Well, you know how the discussion will go from here on out, so I won't bother.

Funny how everybody's so smart about things, though, after all is said and done.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

As Iraq Disintigrates...

Here's something in today's Post.

This is going to go down in history as one of the worst things America has ever done. And just think about the competition it's up against...

As I understand the most common positions of American conservatives and liberals, they look something like this:

Conservatives: Our strategy is to win by winning! Let's stay the course, because the plan that's destroyed Iraq is sure to work if we just keep using it.

Liberals: Let's leave, because, um...well, it doesn't matter what the reasons are. Let's just leave.

Liberals' attitudes about leaving remind me a lot of conservatives' attitudes about starting the war in the first place: the conclusion is already in place, and anyone who questions it is morally bankrupt or dangerously stupid.

My position, though, is still what it's always been, for better or for worse: since we started this whole God damned fiasco, it's our responsibility to minimize the suffering of the Iraqi people. Nobody seems to know what that entails in terms of a specific strategy, but I get the feeling that many of my fellow liberals have either (a) ceased to give sufficient weight to considerations about minimizing Iraqi suffering, or (b) somehow believe that things will magically get better if we just leave.

I'm willing to endorse whichever strategy has the best chance of unscrewing this pooch. But I haven't seen any convincing evidence that that means quick withdrawal.

Currently I've been wondering about this strategy: let's say we're going to leave in six months or whatever. This may bleed some of the fervor from the insurgency, as well as lighting a fire under the Iraqi government. But when the deadline comes, we ignore it if necessary.

Christ what a mess.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Harman: Yes; Hastings: No

TNR makes the argument for Jane Harman and against Alcee Hastings for the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Choosing Hastings over Harman would be a decision of such monumental stupidity and pettiness that I can't really worry too much about it, since I don't believe it will really happen. If it were to happen--which, again, it won't--this should send a chill down the spine of anyone--like me--who expended sweat and treasure to help the Democrats recapture the legislature.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Changing the Tone in the House

One of the most encouraging things I've heard since election night was Pelosi's vow to change the tone in the House. You probably know that the Republican House leadership turned the atmosphere there poisonous over the last ten-or-so years, but in case you've forgotten how bad it really is, I refer you back to this classic New Republic piece, "Oppressed Minority."

Now, the Democrats were far from angelic when they ran things in the House, but the Republican leadership ran, in the words of George Miller, "a fascistic system." Among many other things, they would routinely refuse to grant the Democrats rooms in which to meet, forcing them to find space in the Senate office building. Most shockingly and notoriously, Republicans would often refuse to allow Democrats to even read legislation before it was voted on. Democrats have, in effect, been completely cut out of the legislative system

Such anti-(small 'd')democratic actions should have lost the Republicans the House years ago, but apparently the electorate either didn't know or didn't care that this was happening.

Now the Democrats face a choice: do they retaliate against Republicans for these despicable actions, or do they try to forget the past in the interest of returning sanity to the institution?

Well, perhaps those aren't mutually exclusive. I favor massive retaliation against the soon-to-be-former Republican leadership, but not against rank-and-file Republicans, and certainly not in any form that would recapitulate the injustices of the Republican era. The Democrats must not, of course, deny the Republicans space to meet, nor deny them access to legislation before voting, nor any such thing. That would be despicable.

What can be done against the former leadership? I don't know enough about the House rules to have any good suggestions, unfortunately. Perhaps nothing can be done. The evil Tom DeLay is, of course, gone in disgrace, so he's beyond the reach of justice in this regard, anyway.

Though some kind of retaliation is important here, returning sanity and civility to the institution is far more important. Let's hope the Dems don't forget that.
Investigation Fever--Catch It!

The Democrats are already planning some good works, says the NYT. They're going to block Republican efforts to kill the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the agency charged with assessing the progress of the reconstruction efforts in Iraq, and with identifying corruption associated with those efforts. The findings of this agency have, of course, been consistently less positive than the claims of the administration.

Gosh, what a concept--if we hand over billions of dollars to giant mega-corporations, we should check to see whether they're using it correctly.

Levin's going to assess military contracting in Iraq, Rockefeller's set to investigate the secret prisons...and, of course, Waxman's going to be rolling up his sleeves, too.

You know, it's hard to believe these words are coming out of my keyboard, but: God bless the Democrats.

They really do suck a lot less than those other guys, don't they?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Man Jailed for Telling Cheney his Iraq Policies are "Reprehensible"

At the Rocky Mountain News.

Shades of the Allen incident?

[HT: Stat'rex]

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election 2006: Adventures at the Polls, Episode 2: Republican Attitudes on Display???

So back to handing out literature last night. We were outnumbered by the Republicans four to two...until my sidekick ended her shift, and then it was four to one. But I managed to get sample ballots out to more people than they did, so, again, I felt virtuous.

Now, when I relate what follows I in no way intend to suggest that such attitudes are common among Republicans...I'm just telling you what I saw and heard from one Republican.

I was chatting pleasantly with my Republican acquaintance, and the woman working with him, doing my best to keep things jokey and pleasant, and to avoid politics. But this woman just couldn't resist provoking me, first with an outburst (unrelated to what we were then discussing) about how "stupid" John Kerry was, then later about how Webb was a "pornographer." When a rather hippy-scruffy-looking fellow turned down an Allen sticker she sniffed, just out of his range of hearing "Well, we can see the quality of the people voting Democrat."

The one truly appalling episode of the night when the Republican woman and I both approached one man, offering him sample ballots. He said something--"no thank you" or something similar--in a thick hispanic accent. At this my Republican counterpart's face darkened, and she said, incredulously, her voice sounding constricted, "Are you voting?"...and all I can say is that the implication was clear. I'm not spinning things here, and I'm in no way searching for something bad to say about Republicans. But I'm telling you that if you were standing there, seeing her face and hearing her tone of voice, I believe that you'd interpret her meaning as I did: she was angry, and she was clearly implying that she was skeptical about his right to vote. She clearly communicated her skepticism, and clearly suggested that he was doing something wrong.

Furthermore, when he indicated that he was voting--by this time obviously a bit unnerved, she shoved the Republican sample ballot into his hands, and said--this is not a quote, but it's pretty close--just vote for these (now poking the ballot with her finger) just vote like if he were too stupid to exercise any free will in the matter...and then she literally turned her back on him in what was apparently a huff.

I was astonished. I offered the man the Democratic sample ballot, and said (again, not a quote, but as close as I can remember): You don't have to vote like that. Would you like one of these? It shows the Democratic positions. By this time his eyes were wide and he was moving quickly toward the doors. He held up the Republican sample he had, his eyes rather wide, and said that that one was fine. I didn't want her tactics to succeed, but I didn't want to act like she had, either, forcing the ballot on him. And, heck, for all I know he could have been a Republican.

At first I thought I must be overreacting to the event, then by this morning I came to think that I had under-reacted, and should have taken her to task for what she had done. I was so surprised...she had been sweet as pie one minute, and then vaguely aggressive the next. And we were suddenly so busy that I almost forgot about the incident until she had already left.

Experiences like this are vague and impressionistic, but the more I think about it the more I think it bordered pretty close on harassment.

Election 2006: Adventures at the Polls, Episode 1

Not much time this morning, so just some quick highlights.

Voted in NC of course, but I'm back up in VA for the week, so worked for the Dems up here, taking up my traditional position last night outside one of our local polling places, handing out literature. Stood in the fog and cold drizzle for three hours, but got to feel virtuous, so didn't mind too much.

About an hour into my shift, the precinct chair stopped by. "Everything o.k. here?" he asked casually. "Yep," I replied, "plenty of sample ballots left." Then I noticed that he was looking around more intently than one might expect. "What's up?" I asked.

"Well," he says, we may have had a little trouble."

Intrigued, I asked him what he meant.

"Well, there's a report from one polling place across town of some 'Republican thugs' harassing Democrats."

WTF??? I thought.

"Hey, the reporter from the DNR is right here," I said (I'd been talking to her and one of the Republicans for an hour), "you should report this to them! It's an outrage!"

"No, no," he said. "The police have been called, and the DNR is not exactly friendly to us, so let's just wait and see what the police say."

Incidentally, he's probably right about the DNR (the local paper).

No word about it in the DNR this morning. Needless to say, I hope it was a bogus report, but I have to admit that I was kind of hoping these alleged "Republican thugs" would make a swing by my polling place. And not just because I've got about six years worth of political frustration built up against the thuggish branch of the GOP... I have to admit I'd be fairly eager to mix it up with anybody harrassing anybody at the polls, regardless of their party affiliation.

But no such luck. Ah, well.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The George Allen Heckler Incident, Take 2

Much of this comes down to the question "Did George Allen, in fact, spit on his wife?"

Ah, the grandeur of American politics...

If Allen did spit on his wife, then he probably doesn't have a (moral) right to object to someone asking him/harassing him about it.

On the other hand, if he didn't, then he has a moral (though perhaps not a legal) right to punch the guy in the nose.

So not knowing the facts, we don't know which it is.

On the other hand, since the Allen campaign has turned so dirty, it's kind of hard for them to object to being asked what may in some sense be a legitimate question about Allen's past actions.

The issue is complicated by the fact that he Republican goon squad would probably have tackled anybody who said anything confrontational or critical, but I don't feel like opening that can of worms.

And my ability to judge here is compromised by the fact that, although I've seen the tape and read the comments, I've never heard the tone of the guy's voice when he made the comment. Every time I've watched the tape I've done so on JQ's computer (where I am now, unfortunately), which has some sound problem I can't figure out. Tone matters.

It's also complicated by the fact that the lefty blogger was hitting Allen on a personal issue rather than a political one. So we don't know for sure what would have happened if he had instead asked, e.g., "Senator Allen, why is your campaign launching false and scurrilous attacks against Jim Webb?"

Anyway, this whole incident has some slight tendency to confirm my low opinion of both the right and the left. I fear that this might be American politics in microcosm. A certain segment of the right fields a moronic candidate who poses as a good old boy with big "family values", but who is, in fact, a spoiled rich bully slimebag. A certain segment of the left puts its worst foot forward, lowering itself to personal attacks--though, it should be said, partially in response to personal attacks launched by the righties aforementioned. The righties respond by ganging up on the guy, putting him in a headlock and slamming him to the floor. The lefty has to take it because he's obviously never been in a fight in his life. He gets roughed up by a couple of pudgy middle-aged guys in suits, then pushed to the floor by like a sixty-year-old guy. He looks like he's about to cry, or to call his mommy on his Blackberry.

The righties in question seem to be idiotic thugs and bullies. The lefty in question looks mean and pathetic. Me, my response is "God in heaven, don't let these be my options." But, of course, if I have to choose I'll side with the pathetic guy over the bullies pretty much every time.

But n.b.: my guess is that most people who do feel like they have to make this choice...they'll often side with an underdog...but not an underdog that looks pathetic.
Today's More Important News: Simulation Shows 400,000 Troops Were Needed In Iraq


A lot of important things follow from this, and I'm not going to try to enumerate them all here before having some coffee, or I might say something intemperate.

But if this information is true, and if such simulations are really the best information available to us about such things, then whichever decision-makers--or should I say 'deciders'?--knew about this and ignored it should immediately be fired. And legal action of some kind might even be considered if such a course of action is available.

Furthermore, this has consequences for decisions about what we do next in Iraq. This seems to provide strong evidence for a claim that most of us came to believe long ago: that we cannot simply "stay the course." So we apparently have to choose between putting in more troops--lots more troops--or just getting the hell out. I am inclined to think that the preponderance of evidence indicates that if we just get out we'll turn a monumental disaster into a disaster of world-historical proportions...but my opinion is worth almost nothing on this topic.

I suppose that there is no longer any doubt that this administration will go down in history as one of the very worst.

It's one thing to have bad judgment--I myself am a pointy-headed intellectual who can't keep his bills paid on time, his house clean, or his important papers in order. I've got certain virtues as a human being, but good practical judgment and the ability to get things done are not necessarily among them. But, see, I know this. That's why I wouldn't seek to be president even if such a thing were possible for an unmarried, inhaling, atheistic philosopher with a knack for alienating both the right and the left. I wouldn't be a good president in part because I don't understand public policy or international affairs well enough, and in part because my practical judgment isn't particularly good--but at least I'm smart enough to realize these things.

The current occupant of the White House and his Roving chorus of yes-men don't seem to realize that they're not particularly smart nor good at what they're doing. These guys remind me of a certain character type familiar in academia--the student (and in some cases, God help us, the professor) who isn't very smart, but who decided long ago that he was. Such people identify with intellectuals--that's who they want to be, what they think of themselves as--and, though they just don't have what it takes, they smash ahead relentlessly as if they did. The result is usually heart-wrenching, but sometimes disastrous, even just in academia.

These sons of bitches are running our country into the ground, and anybody with a lick of sense would have known better.

Saddam Gets His Due. And I'm Sure the Timing is a Coincidence.

As you already know, and as no one has ever really doubted, Saddam is going to get what's coming to him. Needless to say: good.

I wish I could be happier about this, though. Five years ago, if you'd told me the SOB was going to be hanged, and not told me anything else, I'd be dancing in the streets. That, of course, is because I could never have forseen such a relentless campaign of deception to get us into the war, nor could I have forseen the mind-boggling incompetence that drove the pathetic and ill-conceived reconstruction efforts. Nor could I have imagined that we could have lost so much moral and political capital in such a short period of time, alienating a world fairly united behind us after 9/11.

So, I feel now about like I felt when we caught the SOB: good as this is, it almost certainly wasn't worth it.

Ramsey Clark called the trial "a mockery of justice," and for all I know--and, probably, for all you know too--that's true. It's hard to believe I'm writing this, but I just can't get myself to care about that. He's guilty of crimes of almost unimaginable evil, and he deserves to die. I'd rather he be convicted fairly, but unfairly would be good enough for me. It's admirable, incidentally, that Clark even agreed to do this loathsome and thankless job.

And I'm not even going to say anything about the timing. There's a decent chance that it's just a coincidence. I guess. Isn't there. Somebody please give me a good reason to think this is a coincidence.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Eugene Robinson Speaketh The Truth

In today's Post.

What's so bizarre is that there's a segment of the population that still doesn't see that this is what's going on. It's downright scary how slow people can be. You'd have to basically not be paying attention at all to fail to recognize this stuff.

Oh...or wrapped tightly in an ideological cocoon...

Forgot about that one for a second...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

George Allen, Stupid SOB

My favorite line:

"It was typical of the Webb campaign, wanting to provoke an incident."

Wish there was time for him to swing back through C'ville...I'd go over there and do some heckling myself, maybe have a conversation with some of these Allen supporters.
Poisoning the Body Politic to Win Elections

Republicans are, as you know, currently engaged in a massive marketing effort, trying to trick people into believing that John Kerry thinks soldiers are stupid. They are, as you know, doing this in order to get votes. Though I'm not in love with the Democrats, once again I feel like asking people to beat me senseless if I ever again vote for a Republican candidate. Though the way things are going I'd have to be senseless already to do so.

Here's a question--does any sane person honestly believe that John Kerry--decorated veteran, actual war hero--thinks that all soldiers are stupid? Once again this business seems to indicate that even the most blatant of draft dodgers on the Republican side is more than willing to impugn the patriotism (etc.) of even those with the most impeccable soldierly credentials on the Democratic side. What's more, they seem to be able to get away with it.

The bigger point here--and why I am more and more concerned about the direction in which the Republican party is headed--has to do with poisoning public discourse. Just about the only thing between (a) us and (b) tyranny and chaos is our ability to reason together about how we should conduct ourselves as a country. Every time a prominent figure or party pushes irrational arguments in order to score political points it makes the electorate in general that much more likely to accept irrational arguments in the future. All parties are willing to do this to some extent, but the Republicans have shown something bordering on a kind of ruthless eagerness to do so.

It's pretty obvious to anyone what Kerry was doing. He was--misthinkingly--making, in a jokey way, a Vietnam-era point. Do badly in school, and you'll end up Over There. This IN NO WAY entails or suggests that everyone in the service did badly in school, and only the most avid of distortions can make it seem to do so.

Quick lesson in logic: if A then B does not entail if B then A.

So, e.g., if you do badly in school you'll become eligible for the draft does not entail if you are eligible for the draft, then you did badly in school.

Thinking in Vietnam-era terms as Kerry was, one might want to warn students that doing badly in school could end them up Over There--the point being that they'll end up there even if they do not believe in the cause. This in no way entails or suggests that everyone who believes in the cause did badly in school. And it certainly in no way suggests that everyone who believes in the cause is stupid. Hell, I barely graduated from highschool, and now I are a pee-aych-dee. Is this a great country or what?

Kerry himself made things worse by misdiagnosing his own utterance, asserting that he was making a joke about Bush. Maybe that's what was going on, but I'll bet it wasn't. I'll be it was unconscious reversion to Vietnamesque thinking, as I'm suggesting here.

My obsession with points about public rationality makes me a weirdo, as I'll freely admit, and makes my reaction to things like this rather non-standard. A wee example: when the administration was deceiving us in the lead-up to the war, my level of anger shot up faster and farther than that of most people--not because I was against taking out the evil Saddam Hussein (for I wanted him dead, dead, dead), but simply because we were being lied to about such an important matter. So far as my anger level went, it didn't really matter to me whether we succeeded or failed--what mattered was the deception. Most others I know (correcting for degree of anger about going to war generally) were mad about the deception, but have become angrier and angrier as Iraq has become a bigger and bigger mess. For better or for worse, I, on the other hand (ignoring a few details) am just about as mad now as I was before. Win or lose, succeed or fail, we went to war for stupid and dishonest reasons, and we are a worse country because of it. I'm mad as hell--but no madder than I was in 2002. This attitude might be unreasonable, but I'm asking you to consider the possibility that it isn't.

Going to Iraq was like shooting blindly into a crowd for kicks. Even if you get lucky and happen to take out the next Ted Bundy, you are a stupid asshole.

So, here's my crazy, wacko, idealistic, insane, utopian suggestion: we use good arguments, and let the votes fall where they may. Lay out the issues clearly and honestly, and let the voters decide on those grounds. They won't always vote our way, of course, and they won't always make the right decision. But we'll make more rational decisions and develop a better national character in the long run.

Oh, and as a corollary: we, as voters, should mercilessly punish whichever party is more avidly promoting irrationality. Currently that's the Republicans, hands down. But believe me when I tell you, if the Democrats become worse at some point in the future, I'll switch sides in a heartbeat. And so should you.