Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pledge of Allegiance Etiquette for Anti-PoA Types

O.k., hot on the heels of our mini-discussion of atheist prayer etiquette, here's a semi-related question: I don't say the Pledge of Allegiance. In fact, I think the PoA is more than a little nutty. And, well, unAmerican, actually--though one has to be careful with such judgments since our friends across the aisle are so injudicious and promiscuous with them. I don't think that being anti-PoA is clearly demanded by reason--that is, I think people of good will can disagree about it. But even folks on the other side of this issue pretty much have to be able to recognize how a reasonable person could find the whole thing rather creepy. It ought to at least worry them, and it's clear that it's worth thinking about.

FWIW, here's my position: I absolutely do not pledge any allegiance to any flag, not even ours--and this despite the fact that it often fills me with all sorts of warm and fuzzy and patriotic feelings. Oh: and you can't make me, either. I'd fight to the death for the Constitution; and I'd pledge allegiance to it; and I like our flag just fine--more than fine, actually. But don't ask me to pledge allegiance to it. It's just not going to happen.

Actually, my refusal to say the PoA is actually to some fairly minor extent motivated by the loathsomeness of the flag fetishism that afflicts so much of the more primitive reaches of the right. And to an even lesser extent my position is motivated by the awfulness of the lately tacked-on "under God" bit. I mean, that part really, clearly is unAmerican, as hesitant as I am to use the term. And heck, evangelical atheist though I am, I've got a soft spot for ceremonial Deism. (I didn't say I was a good atheist...just an evangelical one. Though I'm even far less evangelical than I used to be...) But that crap just goes way, way too far. I'm more than happy to endure--and sometimes I'm even moved by--generic references to God at public events. But don't bloody well ask me to pledge my allegiance (whatever that means, exactly) to a piece of cloth and then also have the friggin' gall to try to make me obliquely assent to your religion on top of it. Which is, of course, part of what's going on there.

Ahem. O.k. So what I really meant to ask is this: since I won't engage in the PoA, what should I do while everybody else is doing it? I used to just sit there. And sometimes I'd ostentatiously pull out a book and start reading. Or, more accurately, pretend to read since you can't really even get started in the 20 seconds it takes everybody else to chant their chant. But now I suppose that seems downright disrespectful in some way. Or at least I worry that it might be. So my current theory is this: one should stand up--thus showing what seems to me to be a reasonable degree of respect for the flag--but not join in. If you think that the Pledge itself is o.k. but object to part that's in blatant violation of the Establishment Clause, you could just be silent for that part. But it seems to me that the God part is only barely more objectionable than the rest of it--though I'm not arguing for that here, but only asserting it.

On the other hand, despite the fact that it's probably reasonable to show a certain amount of respect for the flag by standing up, it may be more important to display disapproval of the pledge, so perhaps my old view was better, and one ought to remain seated.

Now, I recognize that I may very well be unduly cantankerous on this issue. And I'm willing to be persuaded.

Obama Hoops It Up With the Heels

Click on the photo gallery.
Lurita Doan Resigns from GSA

I guess the trick is to make your administration so crooked that nobody can keep track of all the sleaze. And if you add some world-historical foreign policy screw-ups and an economic tailspin...well, who's got the time to pay any attention to little things like politicizing the GSA? I mean, if you're going to pay any attention to such things, you'd probably be more likely to pay attention to the politicizing of the DoJ.

These people are so goddamn sleazy I just can't stand it. One of the most disgusting things about all this is that the very people who insist that it is axiomatic that the U.S. is the AWESOMEST COUNTRY OF ALL TIMEZ are the ones who insist that stuff like this is no big deal. I mean, when the GOP does it, that is. The very people who insist that America is exceptionally excellent are the ones who seem intent on making it just another piece of crap country run by crooks and idiots.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Prayer Etiquette For Atheists?

O.k., so. Does anybody have any interesting thoughts on the following question: what should atheists doing when theists are praying? Of course I don't mean: what should we do when theists in Timbuktu are praying...but, rather, what should we do when, say, you're invited to supper and your theistic hosts pray before the meal? Or, I dunno...what if you, say, go to an Obama rally at the Dean Dome, and a kindly preacher (note: not Jeremiah Wright) gives a non-denominational prayer? I mean, I know what to do if nutty theists are using prayer as a cudgel. But I'm wondering: what if everyone involved is well-intentioned?

Back when I was an evangelical atheist (note: a term I coined so far as I know, though I see it around now) I'd go out of my way to make my non-participation clear. I'd keep quiet, but look around the room in a way that made it absolutely clear that I was having none--none--of this nonsense. But now I'm all growed up, and far less obnoxious than I used to be. So I'm wondering.

I mean, you can't really pretend to pray--that's fairly clearly inauthentic, disrespectful and dishonest. That is, you can't fold your hands, close your eyes and bow your head. So what do you do?

I've been vacillating back and forth between: (a) silently but non-obnoxiously looking straight ahead and (b) slightly bowing my head, but not closing my eyes. Trying to figure out what attitude reveals a certain amount of respect, but neither some kind of submissiveness nor faux prayerfulness.

Any ideas?
Wright: U.S. Government Created AIDS????

Whoa! How'd I miss that one? I tuned in late and was in and out of the room...but whew! I can't believe I missed that! How can we be sure people didn't get it from alien probes?

In a way, Wright may have made this easier on Obama in the long run. By going full-bore wacko--Farrakhan: good; AIDS: government plot--it's easy for Obama to completely repudiate the guy, despite whatever affection he may have for him qua preacher.

I think what Obama ought to point out, though, is that, in relationships of the kind that we have with people like preachers and teachers and so forth, we only know one or two aspects of people. It's not that uncommon to find out that someone who seems sane and interesting and good from one angle can turn out to be a loon when you get a more complete perspective on them. Their institutional face can be misleading.

It's too bad, though, that Wright mixed in this nuttiness with some truths that are rarely asserted: e.g. that the U.S. has committed terrorist acts (which is more-or-less beyond reasonable dispute), and that the 9/11 attacks may very well have been in response to U.S. policies (though the issue of what motivated OBL et. al. is still rather unclear). Unpleasant as those truths are, they're still truths. You don't have to be part of the blame America crowd to acknowledge them, though that's what the right seems to want us all to believe.
Obama at the Dean Dome
(No) Gas Tax Pandering

Saw Obama at the Dean Dome last night. It was a huge turnout, and the crowd was energetic even though most people had been waiting since before 7, and he didn't get there until about 10:30.

I won't go on about how inspiring that guy is; by this point I guess most people either see it or they don't.

One of the most admirable and encouraging parts of his speech (according to me anyway) was his resistance to gas-tax pandering. I wondered in a recent post when we'd get a candidate who would tell the truth about the real price of gasoline--and, though he didn't do that, he resisted the urge to follow McCain and Clinton down the path of pandering. As he pointed out, suspending the gas tax for the summer is not a serious solution. Among other things, it would only save the average person about $25. That's not the most important point to make, but it's a legitimate one.

I was pretty depressed yesterday about the way this presidential campaign is going in general. The very vicious divisiveness that Obama hopes to mitigate is already nearing a fever pitch. And the Reverend Wright himself now seems almost to be actively working against his former parishioner. But I came out of the Dean Dome a little more buoyant. Obama's opponents, of course, like to pretend that it's all about the words, but this is just a deflationary rhetorical tactic. Obama is an inspiring candidate because of his ideas. That he's adept at speaking about them is just icing on the cake.

It's too bad that the Democratic race has gone the way it has, but I guess it's almost inevitable. The less inspirational candidate always has a motive to make things mean, thus demoralizing idealistic voters and depressing turnout. So I think it's important that we, as my good friend and mentor the Rev would say (though we disagree about this race) put our game faces on.

O.k. that's all I got. Gotta get back to work, then go do the early voting thing and try to work in some time for canvassing.

Fire it up, people! This is no time to be wimpy!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Obama 2-Nite at the Dean Dome

Goin' to go. Wish I weren't so mopey about Wright's performance this morning. Hard to be really cheery after that.

My favorite part was his refusal and reject...or whatever...Farrakhan. I mean, sometimes it seems like we could find out that the GOP candidate is Ming the Merciless in a John McCain suit and it would hurt them less than would finding out that Obama's former plumber's sister's sister's best friend's second grade teacher's second cousin's roommate's Sunday-school teacher thought about voting Green once...

But still: man, you can't even just admit that Farrakhan is a nut??? Farrakhan?? I mean, we're not really talking about a controversial case here.

It's a fairly lame criticism of Obama, but it sure don't look good.

Anybody want to bet on how many new commercials they're gonna get out of this?

Oh, and: it's really too bad he had to say so many kooky things, b/c lots of what he said was true and largely unrecognized. We have supported terrorism in the past. It's not exactly a secret...but how many Americans do you think realize/admit it? Be interesting to know.
Jeremiah Wright at the National Press Club

I'm watching Jeremiah Wright at the National Press Club. First, he gave a really interesting talk. Then came the pretty much disastrous Q&A. I'm afraid what I'm watching is going to lose Obama lots and lots of votes.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Obama Aftermath On Fox

I didn't see Obama yet--Tivo'd it until JQ returns. But caught the round-table aftermath. I don't know which was funnier--the Fox Squad trying frantically to think of something bad to say about Obama's interview, or Bill Kristol blurting out absurd praise of HRC. She's clearly a better candidate!, he said, his eyes getting a little's sexism! that's why she's not winning! Bret Hume started talking over him so that he wouldn't betray his principles any further.

Man, it's downright astonishing how many conservative feminists are starting to come out of the woodwork, isn't it? Silent all these years about all the injustices women have suffered, but unable to silently abide the sexist crimes that have kept Hillary Clinton, whatever they were.

You just couldn't make this stuff up.
Anti-Atheist Discrimination In The Armed Forces

In the NYT.

This isn't actually a secret. It's been a problem for awhile now, and something needs to be done about it, needless to say.

One of my students told me recently that it's a problem in ROTC, too, in particular at our school, where one of the officers is said to aggressively harass the cadets about any perceived lack of religion. I guess I might have to go have a talk with the commanding officer, much as I hate to interfere with ROTC.
DNC's "Hundred Year" Ad: Low Blow/BS/Unfair

Here it is.

O.k., look: as I and many others have pointed out: what McCain said was that it'd be fine if we were there for a hundred years IF (roughly) the situation were peaceful and we were there to keep that peace--if, as McCain said, Iraq became like South Korea.

I'm rather less of a McCain fan these days than I used to be, so this isn't some kind of knee-jerk defense of him. And the "context" defense is misused about a hundred times for every one time it's used legitimately. But in this case, there's no doubt that McCain's remarks are being taken out of context. Does anybody really think that McCain would advocate staying for a hundred years under the current conditions?

This ad is just dishonest BS. There's nothing wrong with critical ads--IF the criticisms are fair. But this is just sleazy. And it's the kind of thing that bootstraps us up to a really nasty campaign.

Nice work, DNC.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Back Again From Linville Gorge

Like the title says. Man, that place is awesome. There's a moderately amusing story about this trip that I might regale you with at some point, but not now.

Maybe it's different for people who grew up in town, or maybe just for those whose sensibilities are different than mine, but I find that when I'm around lots of people for too long, or I get insufficient exposure to nature I get kind of crazy.

Anyway, I'm also resolving to spend less time obsessing over politics. The return on investment is just too small.

I was, though, trying to do the cognitive Gestalt shift thing re: the candidates I don't favor. It's a little hard for me to do that re: HRC right now, but I found that I could do it pretty well for McCain. That might be an illusion, or it might be because I'm really not a very good liberal, I dunno. Though on that last point: I'm really not. I don't have any strong commitment to national health care, for example. Or it may be because I really am a true liberal in that I'm too open-minded (read: wishy-washy) to take my own side in an argument.

Anyway, I tried doing the Gestalt-shift thing on Obama, too, with a bit of success.

Though in the end, it's hard for me to let go of the one point that seems clearly true to me: very much of the mess we're in we're in because we (or, rather, some of us) have made politics nastier than it needs to be. And that, of course, is Obama's point. This is a point I've been pushing ever since I started this blog: it's very tempting and very easy to make disagreements of this kind nasty; and once that happens, it's very hard to be objective and reasonable, and very, very hard to go back. We can keep muddling through in this crazy way, allowing politics to get nasty every time and hoping that a tiny bit of rationality will make it through, or we can take a firm stand now and make making our political discourse more civil and reasonable one of our main goals. One thing I'm fairly certain of is that the latter course of action is the better one.

To semi-hemi-demi-paraphrase Peirce: t's funny how everybody can agree that every election cycle we choose one candidate who's fine and one who's a's just that we can't agree on which is which...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


So, lemme get this straight:
If country A--which is not an actual democracy, and in which the armed forces are controlled by a leader who is not democratically elected--attacks country B--which, though a democracy and an ally of our is, let's face it, not a very good ally--then Hillary would "obliterate" country A.


We wipe out a bunch of innocent people who had no control over the attack, nor over the person who initiated it.

That is pretty much insane.

The thing to do in a situation like that is to target the government, not the populace. There is absolutely no way to do this without killing many innocent people--but that still means far fewer than if we "obliterate" the country.

So now, with the addition of a bit of mindlessly violent chest-thumping, Shrillery's transformation into a Republican is almost complete. Her campaign already seems like something Rove would put together.

Fer Chrissake.

You know, one of the biggest vices of American conservatives is that they are virtually incapable of admitting error. Any even vaguely objective survey of the history of American-Iranian relations shows that Iranians have plenty of reasons to be righteously angry at the U.S.. American conservatives, however (and as usual) pretend like we are perfect and they are just crazy and evil. Now, I'm far from being an apologist for Iran, but there's simply no way to understand what's going on if you've got this kind of delusional view of history.

Cripes. Looks like it's time for another camping trip for me...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Did Hillary Admit That She Lied About The Bosnia Sniper-Fire Incident?

I missed this when she said it during the debate, but when I heard excerpts the next day, it hit me.
Frank James at The Swamp caught it before I did. The money quote:
"On a couple of occasions in the last weeks I just said some things that weren't in keeping with what I knew to be the case and what I had written about in my book. And, you know, I'm embarrassed by it."
But, if I say that p, and p is "not in keeping" with something else, q, that I know to be the case, then...well, there are only to possibilities:

1. I am lying.

2. I fail to recognize the incompatibility (i.e. the fact that p and q are "not in keeping" with each other)

James incorrectly seems to think that 1 is the only possibility. 1 may be the most likely possibility. But it isn't the only one. What Clinton might be saying is roughly this:

Jeez, as soon as this was pointed out to me I realized that it couldn't have been like I said it was, because I knew that x, y, and z were true...and if they were, true, then what I said about Bosnia couldn't have been I should have realized that I was mis-remembering. What I said wasn't even consistent with other things I knew to be the case.

But, since we know she's not above lies and distortions, I don't see any reason to give her the benefit of the doubt here. She may not be admitted that she was lying, but what she said is certainly "in keeping with" an admission of lying.
I Will Not Vote For Hillary Clinton

I've been inclining in this direction for quite awhile now, but I've been trying to talk myself down But watching Shrillery on Olberman just now I realized that there was no reason to even pretend there's still any real chance. So I might as well be honest about it:

If Clinton wins the nomination, I won't vote for her.

That doesn't mean that I'll vote for McCain... But I won't vote for Hillary.

I'm sure nobody needs me to explain why. Everybody knows why so many folks are disgusted by her. It's not exactly a secret.

Fortunately, it probably won't be an issue since it's unlikely that she'll win. In 2008, anyway. Though it seems likely that she's trying to hurt Obama enough that McCain will win and she can have another shot in 2012.

I hope she goes down really, really, really hard. After the last seven years, I really thought I'd be willing to vote for just about anybody the Dems put up. But I'm so disgusted by the way she'd conducted herself and her campaign that I simply will not vote for her.
French Theory: No Longer Trendy; Still Bullshit

See, now the old me would have wasted an hour explaining exactly why Stanley Fish is full of excrement about this (as he is about, well, mostly everything else).

But not this time. Instead, I just point you to it and note that it's excrement and move on.

I think I'm growing as a person.

I might get bored enough to go through it, or some other philosopher somewhere might be so bored--though even somebody who isn't used to wading through this stuff could figure it out with some time and effort, I think. It'd just take more time than it was worth.

Heck, I think everybody should do a little philosophy now and then, but the fact of the matter is, lots of folks in other disciplines think they're good at it but aren't. Many literary critics, anthropologists, sociologists, and even some actual scientists all seem to think that philosophy is something that everybody is just naturally good at. Hey, it's fun, and if you're good at bullshitting, then you can write stuff that will be vaporous enough that most experts won't be able to see how excrementous it is! But philosophy done by literary critics is almost uniformly awful. About like literary criticism done by philosophers, I'd think.

O.k., look, just one little point. Check out Fish's list of the up sides of the French literary theory (or just "Theory" to the hipsters) fad:
And it also had its glories, new avenues of investigation opening up everyday, new heroes to put on a pedestal, new vocabularies to apply to old texts, new venues for publication, an exciting round of conferences, many of them taking place in exotic locations.
Yup. Those are supposed to be the positives. It produced new "heroes" to "put on a pedestal," new "vocabularies," new journals for people to publish in, and hip and trendy conferences (see previous "advantage") in exotic places.

Translation, correcting for bullshit:
It opened up new avenues of investigation that all turned out to be complete dead ends, it deified some new and particularly bullshitty bullshitters (e.g. Lyotard, De Mann, Fish), it gave us some very, very irritating jargon that dumb people could use to try to sound smart ("deconstruction," "valorize," "narrative," "meta-narrative," etc.), it produced whole journals devoted to bullshit (e.g. Social Text), and it wasted lots of taxpayers' money by sending bullshitters to a lot of chic and trendy parties masquerading as academic conferences. (Read David Lodge's Small World for an amusing parody of it all.)

Thanks, French "theory"!

Seriously. This is not just me being cranky. This stuff is a complete waste of time. I guess it's no longer trendy, but it's still around. All those folks who studied that stuff in grad school are now teaching college. The crap they're spouting might not be the cool thing anymore, but students will be subjected to it for the next forty years at least.

A fairly high price to pay, I'd say, just to give Mr. Fish and his posse an excuse to fly to Barbados on the public's dime.
Bush 44?
Or: Four More Years???

As you know if you've kept up with my fascinating musings, I've had a long-standing affection for John McCain. I'm not alone, of course--McCain has long had a good reputation among liberals despite the fact that he's quite conservative. Now, though, the change is is upon us. More and more--er, let's say enthusiastic--anti-McCain stories are showing up on the left wing of the interwebs. This is predictable.

But I have to say, my own fondness for McCain has faded. Oh, I still think he's admirable in many ways, and I think that the McCain-Obama race will be a much more civil and honorable affair than we're used to. But McCain really does need to work harder to separate himself from the astonishingly awful policies of this administration. I'd already lost a good bit of respect for McCain when he took it it from the Bush/Rove machine in South Carolina in 2000 and then fell in line as an almost sycophantic Bush supporter. The McCain that I had admired was, I thought, not the kind of man who would support the machine that had aimed racist attacks at his daughter. So that was one blow. Then McCain failed to stand up against Bush's irrational policies in the wake of 9/11. And that was, of course, very bad.

Now McCain is really starting to worry me. Sometimes it seems as if he is virtually running as Bush 44. And just about the very last thing the country or the world needs is four more years that those irrational, incoherent, counter-productive and disastrous policies.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Framing: Bullshit

There's certainly no shortage of irritating terms these days--don't even get me started on 'branding' or 'narrative.' But this "framing" bullshit really needs to go. Sadly, liberals are crazy about it. As with most irritating terms (e.g. 'paradigm'), 'framing' is irritating largely because the concept associated with it is vague, lame and annoying. Consider:
What 'framing' means is hard to define, not unlike the word 'meaning' or 'symbol.' In linguistic jargon, it is a semiotic meta concept or 'model' invoked in discussions of how people understand words. For progressive politics, 'framing' is what Democrats say to other Democrats when talking about being more persuasive with others. In that ongoing conversation, which has been equal parts therapy and strategy, one question has emerged more often than others: Once we understand what framing is, how do we put it into practice? How do we do it?
Ah. Thanks. That clears it up. I've got no problem with complex concepts. But this is just a lame-ass one. Liberals seem to me to be more susceptible to this kind of lame, quasi-scientific linguistic hogwash. Gah. It's just embarrassing. For an actual explanation of why "frame" is lame, you'll have to wait 'til I've got more patience.

Oh, and check out this awesome quote from the book in question:

A political campaign is not the place to educate voters--it’s a place to persuade them. (Framing the Future, p. 52)

Argh. Where to start. You see, if you persuade people by telling them true, informative, non-misleading things, then you are persuading them by educating them. If you persuade them by telling them false or misleading things, then you are lying to them. That's mere persuasion, or non-rational persuasion. That is, e.g., how the Bush administration sold the Iraq war to Congress and the American public. So glib claims like the one above, even if there might be a truth or two lurking in the vicinity, are bullshit.

It's really distressing to see liberals falling for this kind of crap.
The Pentagon's Propaganda War Against Americans

In the NYT.

This would be astonishing if it weren't perfectly in keeping with what we already know about the administration's "marketing" of the war. By this point, the most astonishing thing is that the mainstream anti-war folks were so right about almost all their major points. And the central theme, I think, is the "marketing" of the war. This article should prompt massive anger and outrage...but, of course, it won't. We apparently don't have the guts or the gumption to protest government crimes anymore. This article shows how deeply involved the Pentagon was in misleading the American public. They openly spoke of using "Psyops" against us to, in effect, brainwash us into supporting the war. Other keen terms from the government/military/marketing complex: 'mindwar,' 'messaging,' 'surrogates,' and--my personal favorite: 'message-force multipliers.'

Not to keep harping on one of my pet points, but: the worst and most insidious lies very often are not outright lies, but, rather, spin, distortion, and selective emphasis. Emphasize what you want people to believe, hide the 10% or so of the evidence that is least favorable, and spin, spin, spin. Such lies are often more effective, and, importantly, provide you with vaguely plausible deniability so that your surrogates and devoted defenders can continue to fight a delaying action if you get busted. Such defenders don't have to be able to win the argument, they just have to be capable of keeping a cloud of words in the air until the issue cools off or they wear out their opponents. It's also important that such lies even work on the liars themselves. It's difficult to convince yourself with an outright lie, but spin is different. And if you come to semi-believe your own propaganda, you can be an even more effective "message-force multiplier."

This is a very dangerous time for American democracy.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

That's Better

Man, it sure is better out in the real world, away from the clamor. (Though needless to say, it's nice to have things like electricity and so forth waiting for you upon your return...) In the woods we return to reason and faith, and all that. Make fun of Emerson and his nature mysticism or whatever it is all you want--and I guess he is a little over the top in Nature--but he gets something right. It's too bad it's so hard to think about these things clearly now. I come back and there's the Pope all over the TV, and I think: man, I just got more religion on in the woods than you can get in a thousand years from all this highly contrived pomp and whatsis. Without the defenders of religion yammering their foolishness--revenge fantasies about Hell and so forth--in my ear since youth, I might have ended up religious. Who knows? (There' s my Oppositional Defiance Disorder flaring up again. Cripes. When are they gonna come up with a pill for that?)

Or maybe I just really like trees. Whatever.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Obama and the Tenuous Weather Underground Connection

So, I'm getting ready to take off for the Pisgah--gonna do some camping in the Linville Gorge wilderness...gotta get away from civilization for a little bit lest I start getting as nutty as everybody else seems to be--but before I take off, I want to point out that I DO actually think that it's o.k. to ask Obama about his relationship to Ayers. It's too bad the debate last night was so ridiculous. In the absurd blizzard of Farakhan and flag fetishism and all that, it became impossible (for me, anyway) to take the Ayers thing seriously.

I realize that the question oozed forth from the fever swamps of Wingnuttia...but even sensible conservatives and sensible liberals should at least raise an eyebrow about an association with the Weather Underground. It all sounds pretty unremarkable to me--standard-issue kind of crap you end up doing when running for office--but it ought to be discussed a bit. Of course that's not the way Hillary and her new-found conservative allies are going to use it, but that doesn't mean that sensible people have to turn their backs on the question entirely. If Obama was just sort of making the circuit and kinda had to do this event at Ayers' house, well then yuck, but whatever. Liberals should be less concerned that Obama participated and more concerned that Ayers is a semi-accepted member of the Chicago Democratic world. Liberals have a tendency to be really lenient about hard lefties, when, as I keep pointing out, they're no more liberal than Limbaugh and company are.

Those are my quick thoughts anyway, for what they're worth. It's hard to keep your wits about you in this avalanche of hyper-partisan gotcha BS...but, hey, tough it out.
The Telegraph: Barack Obama Stumbles in Hostile TV Debate

Yup. That's about the size of it.

Was this an intentional anti-Obama ambush? No way. Probably Obama just drew the short straw. The spastic media decided to get tough all of a sudden, and so they went after whoever-the-front-runner-happened-to-be with whatever was handy--which happened to be wingnut talking-points in this case. It was appalling, but that's our media.

On the bright side, it probably won't matter. Remember how Gore consistently beat Bush senseless in debates--and it seemed to matter not at all. On the other hand, that was issues, this is muck. That stuff seems to have sticking power.

I may have mentioned this before, but: this doesn't seem to be the optimal way to choose a president...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


The Flag Pin?

HRC Going Negative...?...

One hardly knows what to say about this.

So, she's been doing what up until now?

Next from Schoen: Chinese should start going authoritarian; Coulter should start acting a little crazy.

It's like we've gone through the looking glass or something.
Wingnut Talking-Point Bingo

At Crooked Timber.

Whew. I was worried it was just me. But pretty much everybody seems to have come to the same conclusion about the "debate."
If You Want To Lodge A Complaint About The Debate...'s the number: 212-456-7777

Thanks to Sadly, No!

Now, I'm not encouraging this, but if you were anywhere near as appalled by this spectacle as I was, it might be worth mentioning that--politely, and supported by appropriate arguments, of course--to ABC.

Man. I'm still having a hard time believing what I just saw.
The Debate So Far (Imagine Me Making A Face Revealing That I Am Both Astonished And Disgusted)

No sense in reading this. I just need something to do while I watch...

Well, a half an hour so far of Stephanopolous & co. doing nothing but carrying water for HRC and McCain, puling and whining and badgering about bittergate and the Reverend Wright. Jebus. Not a single question about policy yet, absolutely everything has been a criticism aimed at Obama.

Oh, and now one dinky little poke at Clinton, and it's time to move on.

Unbelievably unfair and one-sided. I really cannot believe this.

Cripes! And now Obama takes the high road again! Jebus, man, quit defending her! She's possessed by the Devil! She's a witch! Let her have it! Quit being so dang fair-minded! What the heck is wrong with you?!?!

O.k., now I'm freaked out. I suddenly realized that we've got a candidate who is dangerously fair-minded. I'm always screaming about this stuff, but I thought the days of such candidates were long gone...

The flag.
Oh, gods.

"Senator Obama, no matter what you say or what you do or how you live your life, you can't be a real American unless you are a flag fetishist. So my question to you is: why do you hate America so much?"

Awesome answer. But, as usual, rather too lengthy and cerebral.

I'm starting to worry that Obama is just too serious and thoughtful to ever get elected.

More gotchas aimed at Obama. Now he's apparently a member of the Weather Underground. His answer here wasn't that good.

This is appalling, and it's going very, very badly. It's HRC and the moderators against Obama in a tag-team match.

What a nauseating spectacle.

HRC finally says something sensible: the Republicans should apologize for the Bush administration and just say that it's the Democrat's turn. I actually think there's a helluva lot of truth in that, and I've been thinking similar things of late. Really. If they had an ounce of shame, they'd just give the Dems a bye on this one.

Gibson now says that HRC has been "short-changed"...because they've been attacking Obama the whole time.

What an appalling spectacle. This has been just sickening so far. Look, I'm all for putting these folks through their paces, throwing tough questions at them and so forth, but this has been a one-sided series of low blows against Obama. I'd been spending the last couple of days critically mulling over my pro-Obama position, but this thing has been so damn unfair I find myself being more Obama than when the thing started.

Really--this is the best we can do? This is how we want to

Part II

Well, if you thought that the second half might be unfair attacks on HRC to balance out the first're disappointed.

Will you pull out of Iraq no matter what military advice you get?

Damn. Both say 'yes.' Not smart, not right.

Though: Obama makes an excellent point, but needs to make the obvious other half of the point:
Obama points out that the Commander in Chief sets the mission, the military carries it out. What he needs to point out is that Bush is completely confused about what it is to be the C-in-C: he acts as if he takes commands from the military, and then he can, as C-in-C, exert complete command over the legislature and everybody else. The arrow goes from legislature to C-in-C to military, not the other way. (Which is not to say, though, that advice from military experts should be ignored.)


OMFG. Now attacking Israel is supposed to be tantamount to attacking the U.S.???

Look, I grew up as--or so I thought--the biggest Israel fan of all time. But then I, well, grew up. Israel is a very complicated case. We should be allies with all peaceful liberal democracies. But Israel isn't exactly helping us out much.

Now Obama's just doing down in flames. This capital gains tax question just took things from very bad to terrible.

They're giving Clinton no tough questions, they're letting her get away with just about everything, and Clinton and the moderators are all focusing all their fire on Obama. He was managing to limp along until the capital gains question. This is the first question where HRC really does seem to have a much better command of the policy facts. Already besieged on all sides, Obama started floundering, and lashed out with the bit about what HRC said once off-camera.

Man, this has been like an ambush. For awhile there it looked like our man was going to be able to handle it, but it looks pretty bleak at this point.

Gotta stop. This is deplorable. JQ keeps turning to me and asking whether this is really as appalling as it seems, or whether she's just seeing things through her Obama-colored lenses... Hard to say... It's not like I don't have a dog in the fight...but it seems shockingly unfair and one-sided to me.

I gotta stop this. I'm starting to get more than a little angry.

[Note: it's not just me. Everybody seems to be talking about what an appalling job Stephanopolous and Gibson have done. Jeez, what a travesty.

Jesus---Gibson continues to interrupt Obama at every turn. Jesus. It's like we need meta-moderators to moderate the moderators.]

[Christ! Now Gibson is interrupting Clinton to take shots at Obama! WTF is going on here?]

[Does working the refs really pay off this easily? A little puling and whining by HRC because she had to go first slightly more than 50% of the time, and to make up for it Stephanopolous and Gibson start attacking Obama at every turn???]

[Oh...and now it turns out that one of the questions got in because some right-wing radio host insisted that Stephanopolous ask it. WTF?]
Rory Stewart: The Prince Of The Marshes (And Other Occupational Hazards Of A Year In Iraq)

I thought this was an extremely interesting book, and a fairly unusual kind of book. My friend who loaned it to me said it was in a way the most depressing of all the books about Iraq he had read. I can see what he meant. It in no way sets out to show what a disaster Iraq has been. Stewart is an interesting guy. He went over there and ended up as the acting governor of one of the provinces. He takes you through, almost day-by-day, his attempts to bring order out of the almost unbelievable chaos that is Iraq. It's a super-ground-level view, and he really makes the situation come alive. Turns out that Iraqis seem to be, in some very important ways, a lot different than we are. They have certain dispositions and inclinations and habits and traditional ways of doing things that make it especially difficult for Westerners to get on their wavelength.

Anyway, this is an extremely interesting book, and I recommend it highly.
Hillary, ca. 1995, Re: Working-Class Whites: "Screw 'em," Quoth She

Yikes! Well, maybe she'd been pounding back boilermakers or something and didn't really know what she was saying... Or maybe it was the PTSD from her tour of duty in Bosnia...

Cripes. Sadly, this is so bad that I don't think Obama should even try to exploit it. HRC values winning more than she values electing somebody who can get the country out of Bush's ditch--but I don't think Obama does. And this... Well, it might just make the whole party look bad.

On the bright side, Bill comes across as a compassionate, reasonable--and, of course, most importantly: non-elitist --sort in the quote at the end of the piece.
Village Voice Guide to the Rightosphere

Pretty funny.
Little Kids Who Kick More A$$ Than You Do, 4/16/08 Edition

Freakin' Sungha Jung, an 11-year-old Korean kid, playing the hey-ell out of Livin' on a Prayer. This kid already kicks way more a$$ than you or I ever will, my friends. Sad but true...

AND YES I'm coming out of the closet as somebody who thinks that Livin' on a Prayer is AWESOME. Yes, I can FINALLY ADMIT IT!!!1! BWAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

[via Metafilter]

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


So, Bush went out personally to greet Mr. Ratzinger at the airport. Meh. Seems like overdoing it a bit to me, but whatever. On the downside, America is not exactly putting its best foot forward here...
Theocracy in America, 4/15/08 Edition

As (basically) a liberal, I am, of course, too open-minded to take my own side in an argument. Thus I am semi-constantly asking myself whether my political inclinations might be all screwed up.

But the thing, is, when the really, really clear cases come around, they almost always confirm my general inclination to think that conservatives are notably more politically idiotic and f*cked-up than liberals. (Note to liberals: you can't do better than that? Seriously? Note to conservatives: you can't even win when the bar is set this low? You seriously suck.)

Exhibit eleventy-zillion: Paul Broun, ignorant tool.

Man. Don't ever forget: Americans aren't better than anybody else. We've just got a culture and a system that usually keeps the real a$$holes on the periphery. Way to go Georgia. This is exactly the kind of guy the Founders wanted us to keep out of office.
H.R. 1352 and Outsourcing Torture

It's impossible to pick out just one...or even a handful...or even a dozen...of the most heinous revelations of the past seven years. But surely one of the most disgusting was the revelation that we were outsourcing torture by sending our prisoners of the "war on terror" to other countries who will do our torture for us. Now, its clear that, morally speaking, there is no difference between doing A yourself and hiring B to do it for you...unless, I suppose, as one might argue, that the latter is just a wee bit more loathsome in some hard-to-pin-down way. Perhaps because it reveals that you know that what you are doing is wrong. Perhaps also because it's such a laughably lame way of trying to insulate yourself from blame. I mean really. I don't know what's more disgusting, that these evil criminals thought that getting Saudi Arabia to do our dirty work for us would fool people into thinking that it wasn't that bad...or that they were right about it...

So here's H.R. 1352, the Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act. It doesn't look perfect, but in these times, we can't really hope for perfection.
Is 'Elitist' The New 'Uppity'?

Man, Obama just keeps impressing me.

You probably heard the guy today at the Obama function saying that he thought that when Clinton calls Obama an elitist, she's getting dangerously close, in the context, to calling him uppity.

As soon as I heard this I thought something like:

Hmm...maybe there's something to that...not exactly...probably not what she meant, right?...but given how vicious and unfair her attacks have been, and given how readily her people have cried sexism...maybe Obama should use this line and give 'em a taste of their own medicine...

And as I'm thinking this, Obama responds, saying that, no, he didn't think there were any racial overtones, he thought it was just politics.

Man. I mean, I kind of pride myself on being able to be honest enough to pass up cheap shots like that, but I was still wavering when Obama just shot it down without a second thought.

It's not like I don't have my doubts about the guy, because I do. I've got my doubts about every politician. But Obama just keeps impressing me. Thing is, much of the time is just because he's ordinarily decent and honest--something many of our other politicians can't seem to manage.
Your War On Drugs At Work

From the people who brought you the Galactic Jihad on Naughtiness...

If you object to dirty cops, dishonest, hyper-aggressive prosecutors, and the imprisonment of innocent people...well, then, the drugs have already won.

Read all about it at Reason online.
Will Any Candidate Tell The Truth About Gas Prices?

Of course not. They're all already in pander mode, talking about how gas prices need to go down. Which is, well, the opposite of true. Gas prices are, of course, artificially low. Somebody needs to stand up and have the guts to say it. If you are stupid and irresponsible enough to have purchased a gratuitous SUV, then, well, I'm sorry. (Er, no I'm not, really.) But we've got to stop subsidizing our own destruction. Right now other Americans are fighting and dying and being paralyzed and suffering brain damage so that we can pretend that gas is cheap. The Bush administration has subsidized big gas-guzzlers, showing that they're not just indifferent to conservation, but downright opposed to it. (It is, of course, merely a sign of personal virtue, and not an actual, ya, know, policy solution...)

I don't like the idea of expensive gas any more than anyone else does. Look, JQ and I live in cities over 200 miles apart most of the year. High gas prices would be a big hardship for us. But you can't put such personal considerations above what's good for the country and the world. If you irresponsibly bought a gas guzzler because it was fashionable, well, you're going to have to re-think that decision. The change could be brought about slowly so that those who have to drive long distances to work can figure out alternatives. And, of course, we need a better public transportation system. This will, in part at least, be a long-term project. But I don't see any alternative.

But what candidate will say this? It's political suicide. Any candidate who stands up and acknowledges what's going on and admits that gas should not be cheaper, but more expensive, is done for.

So how do we short-circuit this system by which our country is facilitating its own destructive addiction?
Obama: Will Explore Investigation of Bush Administration As President


This is, of course, good news. However, it obviously puts Obama in a bad position. Because the Dems have relinquished their responsibilities, now Obama, who has built his candidacy around the need for bipartisanship, is left with the job of investigating the crimes of this administration. I expect that there's no one left who actually believes that investigations are not called for, though, of course, there are political motives to deny that one believes this. It's not clear to me what the outcome of such investigations would be, but nothing could be clearer than that there must be investigations. If it turns out that Bush & co. are merely scumbags, but not scumbags who broke the law, then so be it. It's genuinely terrifying, and it means that some laws will probably need to be overhauled--but if that's the way it is, that's the way it is. But it's clear that we have to know. It's our duty. In fact, it's the duty of all Democrats and Republicans, though you'd never know it. These questions need to be cleared up, for better or for worse, before the new president takes office--not, of course, that there is any real hope of that.

In my lifetime there have been three astonishingly corrupt administrations: Nixon, Reagan, and Bush '43. Er, notice any pattern here? And there's no reason to expect this sort of thing to go away if the Democrats are too cowardly to do their duty. As I've said before, I understand, though I do not agree with, Jim Wright's decision not to impeach Reagan. But in retrospect it was a mistake. Today's Dems have moved far beyond Wright, by "taking impeachment off the table," ahead of time, thus giving an already known-to-be corrupt administration carte blanche. Something's got to change, or the system of checks and balances is history.

So it will probably fall to Obama to do everyone else's job for them.

It goes without saying that Republicans will argue that to investigate the Bush administration is incompatible with bipartisanship. That argument is so transparently unsound that no one should be able to offer it with a straight face. But we'll be hearing it. Just you wait.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Hillary Clinton, Firearms Enthusiast?

Seriously? This is Clinton's response? Her father taught her to shoot out behind the "cottage"? I gotta say, this isn't really doing much to establish her gun cred with me. And unless by "cottage" you mean shed... I mean, look. Who has a cottage? Who even uses the word "cottage?" Really. Who?

And remember: HRC, unlike Obama, thinks that the government should confiscate the firearms of law-abiding folks during disasters like Katrina. Putting a few rounds downrange out back of the old cottage isn't going to make up for that, Hill.
More Bittergate
Disdain for the Non-Coastal

O.k., I realize that Bittergate is a tempest in a teapot. Mostly what it's done is confirm my belief that HRC really is committed to a scorched earth campaign strategy. This is gotcha politics at just about its worst.

However, I have to say that I do find Obama's statement just a little bit irksome and worrisome. No, it wasn't very important, no I don't think it's an accurate representation of what he thinks, no I don't think it deserves much attention, no I don't think that the Clinton campaign's criticisms are at all sincere. But...well, I grew up on a farm in the Southernmost bit of Jefferson County, MO. That's in the Northeast quadrant of the Southeast quadrant of the state, right on the edge of the Ozark plateau. It's not the most rural part of the country by far, but urban and cosmopolitan it ain't. From pretty early in my life I was aware that a large percentage of the representations of people like us and places like that weren't too flattering. Now, I don't really know what most people with backgrounds like mine think about the way they're represented in movies and so forth. But--and let me stress that I'm just about unoffendable--I can say that comments like Obama's come pretty close to kind of touching a wee bit of a sore spot with me. There's no doubt that there are certain groups of people in this country who view rural Southerners and Midwesterners as if they were some kind of cargo cult.In fact, I know some people like that. They basically think that, because they live in New York or California, they are inherently smarter than, more knowledgeable than, and in all ways more admirable than, anyone who lives in any state in between. It's a really ignorant, creepy and annoying delusion.

Now, I've already (coupla posts back) taken a whack at explaining why Obama's comment can be seen as condescending. To put the same point in a slightly different way, to attribute someone's beliefs to their economic situation is to employ an externalist explanation that basically treats them as being irrational. It's rather like saying that theists believe in God because they had bad relationships with their fathers, or that someone believes something because of peer pressure. So, when somebody deploys this kind of explanation to explain something about the beliefs or actions of rural or small-town folks--and especially when the beliefs or actions in question are ones that are important to them, this can really strike a nerve, even if what is actually said is said more-or-less off-handedly. The real problem is that the groundwork has already been laid by people who actually are contemptuous of rural and small-town non-coastal types. Given this backdrop, even small slip-ups can be cringeworthy.

Now add to the picture two candidates and two campaigns intent on pushing the worst possible interpretation of everything Obama says, and, well, you can see how things like this will go.

Anyway, though this has all been blown way out of proportion, there's a kernel of something at least semi-serious buried in it.
Some Wee Complaints About The "Compassion Forum"

I hope this isn't too cranky, but...

First, this just sounded so ooey-gooey fuzzy-wuzzy PC touchy-feely that I wasn't even going to watch it. A "compassion forum"? Seriously?

Second, I did watch it, and I thought it was rather a waste of time.

Third, it wasn't about compassion, it was about religion. For obvious reasons, this sort of thing really irritates me. E.g. somebody says he's going to talk about "values," and he's really talking about religion, thus basically presupposing that all questions of value are religious questions. Which is not only false but also damn insulting to atheists. Not that we count of course. (Though props to Obama for explicitly acknowledging that we're part of America. At least he's no Romney.)

Fourth, it was actually pretty painful. Although I thought HRC turned in the best performance (and I use the term intentionally) of the two, it was really painful to watch her sit there and semi-robotically hop through all the verbal hoops that would get hard-core Christians to like her. Faith: check. Grace: check. Wuv the baby Jesus: check. Feel God's love: check. Shudder. What a spectacle.

Fifth, it turns out that Hillary doesn't know how to solve the problem of evil. Gosh. Did they really ask her that? What answer were they expecting? Well, Biff, though all philosophers and theologians who went before me have failed to solve this probably unsolvable problem, I have actually worked out a subtle proof that evil is compatible with divine moral perfection on a certain re-interpretation of deontic logic that emulates S4.1...

Painful, painful, painful. I mean, I guess one might think that it'd be good if we could get candidates to sit down and talk about philosophical issues. I dunno. Maybe. Maybe not. But I wasn't too impressed by this thing.
A Postmodern Defense of Earmarks

We just start calling it the other white meat-barrel spending.

I mean, heck, if we've got a postmodern presidency, we might as well have that kind of legislature, too.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Where Do We Go From Here?

Instead of just complaining about how bad Bush sucks, Slate decided to ask people how to start to fix things.
Button Sighting

Reported by Kleiman:

No Iran
Until You've Finished
Your Iraq
Anti-Obama Hysteria

Wow, the anti-Obama loons are in a feeding frenzy on Russert. The sheer venom and unfairness of their arguments is, I gotta say, threatening to push me a little more Obama-ward. This is why I try to avoid irrational arguments against positions I already hold. I'm just very prone to react this way to irrational attacks on positions I'm sympathetic to. It's one of my many cognitive failings. So I'm turning this off. Very soon.

Oh, and now here's HRC saying that if Obama had made her Bosnia/sniper mistake, the press would have given him a pass. I guess the hysteria about reverend Wright, and about the "bitterness" claim. Cripes, these people. Our politics is just embarrassing.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Move Over Al Qaeda, Now Its Iran

So, the administration has almost certainly been lying about the role of al Qaeda in Iraq since before the invasion. They've continued to do so, I suppose, in order to sustain the myth that the invasion of Iraq can be justified in terms of 9/11. But the new line, apparently, is that Iran is a bigger threat than AQI. This actually strikes me as a plausible claim, unfortunately.

As I've said before, part of the problem with making big mistakes is that you make yourself vulnerable, giving yourself less margin for error in the future--you constrict your future options. And that's what's happening here. It's hard to believe that we have to stand by while Iran helps to kill American soldiers, but there's pretty clearly nothing we can really do about it.
Obama on the Bitter Working Class Clinging to Guns and Religion
Freedom Versus Nature, Human Rationality, and Some Drive-By Kant

This is obviously bad politically for Obama, though I'm less worried about that. I know that "gotcha" politics has been raise to a fine art in the age of the interwebs and YouTube. Who knows whether this will have legs?

But as for the content: I've heard some pundits flailing around trying to explain what's wrong with what Obama said. My initial take is that, by asserting that people are clinging to e.g. guns and religion because they're bitter about their economic situation, Obama is in essence asserting that their beliefs are irrational.

On the standard account, we give non-rationalistic, causal explanations (e.g. psychological or economic ones) when people are acting non-rationally. So, if Smith begins running around naked singing 'Pop Goes the Weasel," or asserting that demons are attacking him, we will generally look for some causal explanation--e.g. a chemical imbalance. If, on the other hand, Smith thinks that 2+2=4, or that wood comes from trees, we don't look for a non-rational causal explanation. In such cases we suppose that Smith's beliefs are brought about by the facts in a rational (note: this usually means something like: free and non-causal) manner. Smith believes that wood comes from trees because he's rational, and because wood does come from trees. He recognizes the fact. No appeal to his economic situation or any chemical imbalance is needed.

So, by giving a causal, non-rationalistic explanation for some subset of people's religious beliefs, Obama is in danger of suggesting that that's the way all religious beliefs should be explained. And that's tantamount to saying that those beliefs and the believers are irrational.

That's probably not what he thinks, but that's what he suggested.

Interestingly it's characteristic of the fairly far intellectual and political left to give explanations of beliefs that make all or almost all beliefs irrational and subject to causal explanation--especially of the social variety. Whatever Marx thought, many of his intellectual descendants seemed to believe that all beliefs--with the possible exception of beliefs like Marxism is true--have to be explained economically or in terms of other social causes. This is what adherents to the so-called Strong Program in the sociology of "knowledge" believe. The view is almost certainly false, and possibly self-refuting, but it's all the rage on the intellectual left.

Anyway, there are all sorts of interesting issue here, but I'm supposed to be working. I will say that at the core of this issue is a dispute about the fundamental nature of humans and the world. And also Kant's fundamental distinction between freedom and nature. The standard view lurking in the background here has it that our rational beliefs are, roughly, freely and rationally adopted, whereas our irrational beliefs are forced on us by things like chemistry and peer pressure. Lots of obvious problems and questions pop up immediately, but, hey, it's back to work for me...
HVZ: Training for the Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse?

Humans vs. Zombies: the live-action game.

As seen in the Washington Post.

Toy guns on campus probably not the best of all possible ideas right now...but they don't look realistic, so that's good. Then again, I'm not the world's best judge of what's sensible...
The Administration Authorized Torture and Violent Interrogation

The fact that the administration authorized torture and other violent interrogation techniques is, of course, extremely important. I don't have anything substantive to say about this. I'll just note that some liberal blogs seem to be acting as if they think this will be a blow to the administration. This seems to me to fly in the face of the facts. I doubt that anything of this kind that could really harm the administration. Not to dredge up the ghosts of old battles, but just for some perspective: it's not like there's any non-marital sex involved. (Not that that would really matter). But I suppose it seems to me that nothing that involves getting tough with "the terrorists" will result in any outrage or action against the administration, nor any further blow to its popularity. The remaining thirty percent or so of the electorate that supports the administration certainly will not be moved by anything of this kind. I have serious doubts that it would even matter if we discovered that they had authorized recreational vivisections at Guantanamo. Democrats won't take any action, and Republicans wouldn't stand for it if they did. Part of this is just about antecedent political possibilities here and now. The Dems are timid, fold easily, and are more readily plagued by self-doubt. The Republicans are tough, notably more partisan, and not easily gripped by doubts. The Dems, that is, are easily defused by FUD; Republicans, not. And, anyway, when in doubt they close ranks. Unless there are notable changes, serious investigation and impeachment will loom as possibilities for Democratic presidents, but not for any Republican one.

I would think that even Republicans, in their heart of hearts, would be worried about the advent of the super-imperial presidency. But I've seen no sign of that.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Publius On Liberals and Conservatives, the Divisive War, "Rooting for the Bad Guys," and Getting Ready for the "Stabbed in the Back" Story

Ahem. I would like to note that I've said most of this before. But Publius says it well, so it's worth a read.

I've actually been concerned about what seems to me to be the liberal tendency to accentuate the negative in Iraq. Some of it is, I suspect, inexcusable. But I think some of it isn't inexcusable. Publius's explanation of why is at least more elegant than mine (which you can look up if you want, but I'm too lazy), and maybe just plain better.
What To Do In a Blizzard of Information

Whew. I used to feel a bit superior to the average Joe because I fancied myself well-informed. But it becomes more and more clear to me that I'm basically clueless. Sure, I grab hold of a few bits of info about what's up in the world every day, but from the torrent of information--mis-, dis-, and regular--I am able to snatch up only the tiniest bit, and make only the hastiest judgments about its value. And the more actual work I get done on the things I'm, ya know, paid to do, the worse this problem gets.

And surely it's not just me, right?

I realize that the thing to do is to find some reliable sources of news and analysis, but the two best candidates, the WaPo and the NYT both have--ahem--something of an orientation. For much of my life I've been able to put at least some faith in the pronouncements of the government, but we all know that that's not currently the case. CNN is so vapid as to be almost useless, TNR is a mess...and all the righty sources seem to have gone a bit mad, plagued by BDS (Bush Defense Syndrome) (the only allowable criticism of Bush, of course, is that he's not conservative enough...). I used to try to read equally from the right and the leftish, but I've had to temporarily swear off the righty sights lest I get pushed even farther left by the current madness there. And I don't need that in my life right now...


So if you've got any good suggestions for straight-up places to get the straight dope, lemme know. Currently I'm basically down to The News Hour...

Will somebody please write this @#*%$ *^&$&# ing %&*#*#$ son of a (%^*%$&$ing *$&#&$$@@@ book for me? I will give you money...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Endless War, Six Months at a Time, at YouTube.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Phil Carter on the Petraeus Testimony

This has a good change of being pretty much right, IMHO. Cripes, the shameless exaggeration of the role of AQI is really galling. Too bad the administration didn't put actual energy into taking out the real al Qaeda threat in Afghanistan. Then they might not have ended up in a position in which they need to virtually manufacture an al Qaeda threat in Iraq. It's also too bad we can't get the straight dope from Petraeus. I want to believe that he's an honorable man, and I realize he's in a bad position, but when there's so much in there that even we civilians can tell is inaccurate from thousands of miles away, it makes it impossible for us to put much faith in the other parts.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Central Front In the War on Terror: Not Iraq

Ryan Crocker, the Ambassador to Iraq, in essence admits that Iraq is not the central front in the war on terror--something that everybody who's been paying any attention at all has known since before we invaded.
The Mystic On The Yoo Torture Memo

The Mystic sent me this analysis of the Yoo torture memo the other day, and I thought it was really damn interesting--so here it is, for your enjoyment and edification:

I've been using my free time at work (gotta work the weekend shift and I just have to sit here in case someone at our business symposium needs something..) to read John Yoo's memo.

Here is the basic setup, if you haven't gotten around to reading it:

1) He argues that "we conclude that the Fifth and Eighth Amendments, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, do not extend to alien enemy combatants held abroad."

His reasoning for this seems to actually rest on previous assertions by Supreme Courts to the effect that the country can't be held accountable for infringements of civil liberties of enemy combatants during wartime, as this would make fighting a war impossible. He says, "Such criminal statutes, if they were misconstrued to apply to the interrogation of enemy combatants, would conflict with the Constitution's grant of the Commander in Chief power solely to the President".

I actually am somewhat convinced by the somewhere-between-skimming-and
-reading I've done of his memo that he's right. It looks like it's up to Presidential discretion about how to go about applying the Constitution to enemies. However, two things about that come to mind: (1) Just because you legally can do something, that doesn't mean it's morally right and therefore, one could still be morally culpable for doing something despite its legality. Further (2), what about international treaties, which the Constitution itself declares the "Supreme Law of the Land"? The latter is addressed below:

2) Yoo argues that "At the outset, it is important to emphasize that the President can .suspend or terminate any treaty or provision of a treaty." He continues by saying:

"Moreover, as U.S. declarations during CAT's ratification make clear, the ·Convention is .non-self-executing and therefore places no legal obligations under domestic law· on the Executive Branch, nor can it create any cause of action in federal court. Letter for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President from John C.Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, 1 (July 22,2002). Similarly, customary international law lacks domestic legal effect,. and in any event can be overridden by . the President at his discretion." (page 47)

He cites various memos to which I have no access:
"Memorandum for John Bellinger, III, Senior Associate Counsel to the President and Legal Adviser to the National Security Council, from John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Robert J. Delahunty, Special Counsel, Office of Legal Counsel, Re: Authority of the President to Suspend Certain Provisions of the ARM Treaty (Nov. 15,2001); Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, from Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General. Re: Authority of the President to Denounce the ABM Treaty (Dec. 14,2001)." (page 47)

He also says: "The President conducts the day-to-day interpretation of a treaty, and may terminate a treaty unilaterally. See Goldwater v. Carter,617 F.2d 697, 707..:..08 (D.c. Cir.) (en banc), vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss on other grounds, 444 U.S. 996 (1979)." (page 50)

He ends by saying that "Any presidential decision to order interrogation methods that are inconsistent with CAT would amount to a suspension or termination of those treaty provisions." So, really, I don't know that it's very debatable that the President can suspend the rights of enemy combatants. Clearly, we shoot enemies without due process pretty frequently and there seems to be no set standard by which one determines how to differentiate between which rules can be suspended and which must be enforced when it comes to enemy combatants. So, in all honesty, I don't see a way to reason that we have to have due process for POWs but not for enemy combatants that are engaged without it being an issue of self-defense. Seems like we'd have to try and convict a spotted enemy convoy of tanks before we hit it with an air strike if that were the case, right? In fact, it seems to me that issues like this are precisely why countries got together internationally and articulated treaties that would lay down provisions of this type.

However, I don't really know what the point of a treaty is if the US can just break it whenever it feels like it, which is what John Yoo seems to be claiming. He does provide some interesting information about CAT (the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment):

"because the United States' instrument of ratification defined torture in exactly the same manner as in 18 U.S.C. §§ 234Q-2340A, the United States' treaty obligation is no different than the standard set by federal criminal law. With respect to CAT's provision concerning cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, the United States' instrument of ratification defined that term as the cruel, unusual and inhuman treatment prohibited by the Eighth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments" (page 48)
Regarding this ratification, Yoo tells us:

"The Reagan administration determined that CAT's definition of torture was consistent with ''United States and international usage, [where it] is usually reserved for extreme deliberate and unusually cruel practices, for example, sustained systematic beatings, application of electric currents to sensitive, parts of the body and tying up or hanging in positions that cause extreme pain." S. Exec. Rep; No. 101-30, at 14 (1990).

"Further, the Reagan administration clarified the distinction between torture and lesser forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. In particular, the administration declared that article 1's definition of torture ought to be construed in light of article 16. See S. Treaty Doc. No. 100-20, at 3.

"'Torture' is thus to be distinguished from lesser forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, which are to be deplored and prevented, but are not so universally and categorically condemned as to warrant the severe legal consequences that the Convention provides in case of torture.;' Id. at 3. This distinction was "adopted in order to , emphasize that torture is at the extreme end of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment." 3. Given this definition, "rough treatment as generally falls into the category of 'police brutality,' while deplorable, does not amount to 'torture.'

"Although the Reagan administration relied on CAT's distinction between torture and "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment," it viewed the phrase "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" as vague and lacking in a universally accepted meaning. The vagueness of this phrase could even be construed to bar acts not prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. The Administration pointed to Case of X v. Federal Republic of Germany as the basis for this concern. In that case, the European Court of Human Rights determined that the prison officials' refusal to recognize a prisoner's sex change might constitute degrading treatment. See S. Treaty Doc. No. 100-20, at (citing European Commission on Human Rights, Dec. on Adm., Dec. 15, 1977, Case of X v. Federal Republic of Germany (No. 6694/74), 11 Dec. & Rep. 16)). As a result of this concern, the Administration added the following understanding to its proposed instrument of ratification:

"'The United States understands the term, 'cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,' as used in·Article 16 of the Convention, to mean the cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment or punishment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth and/or Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States."" (pages 50 - 51)

THEN, the first Bush administration released this interpretation of CAT's banning of torture:

"The United States understands that, in order to constitute torture, an act must be specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering and that mental pain or suffering refers to prolonged mental pain caused by or resulting from (1) the intentional infliction or threatened Infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; {2) administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality; (3) the threat of imminent death; or (4) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration· or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality."

So far, I don't really disagree with what's going on. Finally, this is where Yoo's arguments get really interesting:

"article 2(2) of CAT . . . provides that "[n]o exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture." We do not believe, however,that a treaty may eliminate the United States' right, under international law, to use necessary measures for its self-defense. The right of national self-defense is well established under international law." (page 57)

He then says that the concept of self defense is expressed thusly:

"The concept of self-defense in international law of course justifies more than activity designed merely to resist an armed attack which is already in progress. Under international law every state has, in the words of Elihu Root, 'the right . . . to protect itself by preventing a condition of affairs in which it will be too. late to protect itself.'" (page 57)

Finally, he concludes:

"Thus, if interrogation methods were inconsistent with the United States' obligations under CAT, but were justified by necessity or self-defense, we would view these actions still as consistent ultimately with international law. Although these actions might violate CAT, they would still be in service of the more fundamental principle of self-defense that cannot be extinguished by CAT or any other treaty." (page 58)

With the caveat:

"See Iraq Memorandum at 33. First, "the use of force must be necessary because the threat is imminent and thus pursuing peaceful alternatives is not an option." Id. "Second, the response must be proportionate to the threat." Id. We further explained that to detainee whether a threat is sufficiently imminent to make the use of force necessary, "[f]actors to be considered include: the probability of an attack; the likelihood that this probability will increase, and therefore the need to take advantage of a window of opportunity; whether diplomatic alternatives are practical; and the magnitude of the harm that could result from the threat."" (page 58)

So THAT is how John Yoo proposes that, despite international treaties and domestic law, in a time of war, activity that would otherwise be considered "torture" is justifiable as self-defense despite the fact that CAT explicitly states that there can be no justification for torture. This reasoning is due to Yoo's valuation of the right to self-defense, which is asserted in various international treaties, above the CAT. So, if the torturous behavior conforms to his caveat above, then it should be permissible despite the CAT.

Honestly, his conclusion seems to me to be much like your conclusion that torture is permissible, and even obligatory, in certain extremely narrow situations which may never actually obtain where there is an imminent (ticking time bomb) threat and peaceful alternatives are not options. It looks to me like John Yoo's reasoning regarding torture's permissibility can be summarized thusly:


Regarding Constitutional protection of enemy combatants:

It is clear that the President may waive the rights of enemy combatants in order to carry out the role of defending the United States. For instance, it is not necessary to provide due process to an enemy tank column before destroying it with an air strike. In short, such criminal statutes as given in the Constitution, if they were misconstrued to apply to enemy combatants, would conflict with the Constitution's grant of the Commander in Chief power solely to the President. Therefore, the Constitution does not provide any protections to enemy combatants whatsoever.

Note from me: This sort of issue is exactly what international treaties try to prevent. The lack of protections granted to enemy soldiers as provided by individual countries' laws was seen problematic, and so international treaties sought to provide these protections. Therefore, and because of the Supremacy Clause in the Constitution, we must also look to international treaties for input on what kinds of activities should be illegal. Mr. Yoo holds a position on these treaties as follows:

With regards to international treaties:

Should the situation arise that a government or its officials is/are faced with a predicament where it is justifiably believed that acts which would otherwise be considered torturous and thereby banned from use are the only means by which the government or its officials can prevent a sufficiently harmful event from occurring, these acts are legally permissible due to the fact that the right of a country to defend itself against attack, which extends to include preventative measures as well as reactionary measures, cannot be subverted by any treaty, including the CAT.

-End Summary-

The final conclusion is that the Constitution provides no protections to enemy combatants and international law provides protections which do not and cannot suppress or subvert the nation's essential right to defend itself. Therefore, in certain, narrowly construed situations where activities otherwise known as torture are justifiably believed to be the only means by which disaster of sufficient magnitude may be averted, these activities are permissible.