Monday, July 28, 2008

The Biggest Stupid Idea

That's how David Kilcullen, an advisor to Condoleezza Rice, describes the decision to invade Iraq.

If I were ever to write a book on the subject, that's what I'd title it: The Biggest Stupid Idea.

And, as I've said before: McCain might want to haggle over who was right about the surge, but, however that comes out, there's no doubt who was right about the vastly more important question: who was right about the invasion, the thing without which there would be no need for the surge?

Who was it who thought that the biggest stupid idea was just dandy...and who was it that saw it for what it was?
Off to AZ, Blogging to Be Even Lighter Than Usual

JQ and I are off to a Peirce conference in Flagstaff, then some hiking in the Grand Canyon, then a short side trip to CO, as her folks just moved to Denver.

This is good for many reasons. Among them: it'll help me ignore the news. For, when Dennis Kucinich starts seeming like one of the saner folks in Washington...well, clearly I need a vacation...

And why, exactly, did Bush and company let OBL go? I guess I thought it was just that they cared more about Iraq. But could it have been that they knew that taking out OBL would botch their Iraq plans? That is, could they have let OBL go on purpose??? As a means to invading Iraq? Normally I would never even take such a hypothesis seriously...but given what we know to be true about them, such hypotheses--or so it seems to me--can simply no longer be rejected out of hand, outlandish though they would seem under normal conditions.

As I've said before, one of the things I hate most about this administration is that they make me feel like some kind of conspiracy nut.

Oh, and that they are evil.
WaPo: DoJ Officials Routinely Broke Law in Hiring

Read it all here.

It's downright unbelievable that scandal after scandal continues to break, or to be confirmed, or to get worse, while so little is done about any of them. It's the Reagan strategy--break so many laws that no one can focus on any one. And, of course, break so many that people simply wear out--they cannot sustain their outrage.

My favorite bit of the story: turns out that Monica Goodling would routinely ask applicants: "What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?"

These people are insane and evil in as-yet undetermined proportions.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Weed: Worse Than Death

Here's the story of Owen Beck. A 17-year-old with bone cancer, Beck had to have his leg amputated, and the chemotherapy made him so nauseated that he lost significant weight. He got a prescription for medical marijuana--which worked--and his parents got for him from a man named Charlie Lynch, who didn't even charge them for it. But the evil local sheriff, Pat Hedges, doesn't like medical marijuana, and doesn't like the fact that some under-21-year-olds have prescriptions for it. So he arrested Charlie Lynch, who now faces the possibility of a 100-year prison sentence. (Note, incidentally, that the average sentence for murder in California is 20 years).

So, you see, it's better to die than to smoke marijuana, and worse to sell it legally than to kill someone.
They Hate Us For Our Tans

Those attending a Yankees game were forced to throw out their sunblock at the gate "in order to protect the stadium from terrorism."

This is obviously an excellent idea, but when will people realize that seat belts and oxygen masks could be used by terrorists to strangle airline passengers? Not to mention, of course, that terrorists could break into drug stores, steal all the antibiotics, and poison someone with them. Stop signs could be used to beat people to death, they could stuff food down someone's throat and choke him, or drown him in the local reservoir.


On the other hand, perhaps the real threat is corporatist assholes using terrorism as a stalking horse for the pursuit of profits--not to mention their twisted geopolitical goals...

You really just cannot make this shit up.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"Main Core" and the Super Surveillance State:, "Exposing Bush's Historic Abuse of Power"

You think you can't be amazed anymore. But if Salon is right, this is Earth-shaking.

It also might explain why Pelosi has put impeachment "off the table"...
Red Eye's Best Superhero Ever Tournament

Wow! Holy upset, Batman!

Batman knocked off by Buffy! Then down to the final four: Spiderman, Superman, Wolverine and Buffy.

Now, I love Wolverine, but I think he's routinely over-rated. He's awesome...but the blades...just not very super-heroic, at least when used against super villains. He's a great member of the X-Men...but considered by himself...well, he just doesn't cut it. Ha ha! As it were!

Superman...well, I've just never liked him at all. Boring. This is not an original criticism. absolute favorite, ever since I was a wee lad. I was wild about Spidey since back before it was cool.

But Buffy! Oh, man. Revolutionary. Awesome. Transformed the genre. In fact, I think I love her even more than Spidey. Plus she's HOTT. Ahem. Which helps.

So not sure I can even vote in this one. But maybe you can.
Obama's Problem: Probably Wrong About the Surge
McCain's Problem: Undeniably Wrong About the Whole War

There's a lot of chatter right now about Obama's seeming unwillingness to admit that he was wrong about the surge There's a lot to be said about that, but let's cut to the chase:

Obama was probably wrong about the surge, and, if so, that was a fairly serious error. However, at this stage such arguments are almost unavoidably comparative, and so it's important to note that, on the other hand, McCain was--and, perhaps even more importantly, still is--wrong about the very much more serious issue of going to war in the first place. There is simply no question that McCain's error was worse--much, much worse.

Although I'm more interested in the substantive point here, there are obvious rhetorical/political implications of this fact: when McCain attacks Obama for being wrong about the surge, Obama should attack McCain for being wrong about the war. When McCain attacks Obama for failing to acknowledge his mistake about the surge, Obama should attack McCain for failing to acknowledge his mistake about the war. Obama wins each of these arguments.

A footnote here: if you've been keeping score, you know that I opposed the war but supported the surge (2 for 2. Hooray for me.). So I don't have any problem with the conclusion that the surge worked. But even I must admit that this issue is very complicated. There were many other factors in play, and it's not completely clear how much increases in troop levels mattered. So Obama's denial isn't as preposterous as McCain's. McCain's is right off the scale. Obama's is more like garden-variety political evasion. Now, don't get me wrong, I loathe garden-variety political evasion, I support Obama largely because he seems less willing to engage in it, and I'm not happy that he's doing so. Still, given the comparative nature of the choice that faces us, we do have to take into account that McCain's blatant denial of the obvious fact that the war was a f*ck-up of world-historical proportions dwarfs Obama's rather less blatant denial concerning something considerably less clear.

One way to view my point here is like this: there's no reason for Obama to get cagey at all. He could admit error (if error it is), but point out that everybody makes mistakes, that his error concerned a complicated and unclear issue that came down basically to a coin-toss...but that McCain was wrong when it mattered even more--and when the right answer was clear to anyone willing to face the facts.

Think about it this way: if we were to try to roughly quantify the respective errors, how would we do so? Suppose, more-or-less arbitrarily, we say that being right about the surge is worth something like 100 President Points. If so, how much is being right about the war worth? Five thousand points? Ten thousand? Certainly more than a thousand, i.e. more than ten times more.

Having been wrong about the surge is big; but having been wrong about the war is huge.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Animadversions on Radovan Karadzic
With A Few Comments on
The Death Penalty, Philosophy, and Iraq

They finally got the SOB. I could hold forth about his awfulness, but I've done that before, and nobody really needs to hear it anyway. There's actual evil in the world, and one of its clearest instantiations is in Karadzic.

Here's one thing that seems very clear to me about this case: Karadzic deserves the death penalty.

Now, a few years back, my friend Peter the Public Defender convinced me that the death penalty was extremely flawed in practice, and I came to believe that it should be used--if at all--only in the clearest cases. In fact, I am inclined to support an at least temporary ban on its use in the U.S.--until, that is, we can figure out whether/how we can apply it in something at least approaching a just manner.

However--and here's something, incidentally, that philosophers are better at than most folk--we have to separate the in-principle question from the in-practice question. The DP seems justified in principle, though not in practice. It is unjustified in practice largely because of epistemic problems--that is, the justice system is insufficiently good at determining guilt and innocence. And it is a virtual certainty that we have executed innocent people (and probably a non-trivial number of them at that).

However, this has no bearing on the in-principle question. The standard example here is Hitler--if we'd have captured him at the end of the war, it is about as clear as anything gets in this area that he would deserve execution. However, it seems to be an unextinguishable internet trope that you can never appeal to Hitler in any argument!!!11!!1 Dopey, but there it is. Appeals to Hitler play an important role in such discussions precisely because the case is so clear; everyone knows a sufficient number of facts about the case, every sane person acknowledges his monstrousness, and there are no significant epistemic questions in play.

But thing is, Karadzic is almost as good an exemplar. People might not be quite as clear about the facts in the case, but it doesn't take much digging to reveal them. He killed fewer people, but there is, it seems, little difference morally speaking. Once you've become a mass murderer on such an unimaginable scale, the difference between hundreds of thousands and millions doesn't matter much.

So, since there's no real doubt about what he did, and what he did was off the moral scale, what he deserves seems pretty damn clear.

Now, I won't try to address specific arguments against the DP here, though we've discussed them some in the past. But here's one thought to keep in mind: most arguments against the DP seem to turn, in the end, on premises that seem to entail one of two absurd claims, to wit, either: (a) No one is ever responsible for anything he does or (b) We are only responsible for the good things we do, but not the bad ones. Now, DP opponents cannot accept (a) without self-contradiction, and there is simply no coherent reason whatsoever to accept (b).

But the important--though elementary--point about method that I want to make here is just that one must not confuse in-principle opposition to the DP with in-practice opposition. However passionately one opposes the DP on the grounds that we have misapplied it, this cannot touch the position that holds that it can sometimes be applied clearly and justly. So, again, the philosophical lesson: separate in-principle objections from in-practice ones.

I want to close with a brief comment about Iraq. Intervention in the former Yugoslavia was one of Clinton's--and America's--finest moments. In that case, we intervened for genuinely moral reasons. The prudential/strategic reasons for intervention simply weren't very strong, and the motive was clearly moral. Clinton and company faced opposition not only from the international community, but from Republicans as well. But they saw what was right, and pushed forward resolutely. But, remember, they did so in a way that sought to ultimately create consensus and bring the opposition on board. Clinton was right, his opponents were wrong, but he treated them with respect by trying to gently--but firmly--reveal to them the error of their ways.

This, unfortunately, contrasts vividly with our actions in Iraq, and the motives and actions of the Bush administration. Although Saddam was a brutal fiend--like Karadzic, on par with Hitler, morally speaking--the war was not undertaken for moral reasons. Moral reasons were invoked only as it became clear that the strategic case was absurdly weak. Furthermore, since steps were not taken to insure that we would not make the situation worse, it may be true that we are blameworthy for our actions, despite the fact that we removed a brutal tyrant. And, in terms of the ultimate actual consequences, we may in fact have made things worse. Finally, instead of seeking to build consensus and show the loyal opposition the alleged error of its ways, Bush and his surrogates demonized all who failed to fall immediately into line--though we were right and he was wrong, and this was reasonably clear from early on.

So--though I don't want to become one of those people who try to turn every discussion back to the Iraq debacle--I do think that this case provides an opportunity for reflection on that case. Though this shouldn't distract us from the primary fact at hand, which is that Radovan Karadzic, mass murderer and all around evil piece of sh*t, has finally been captured.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Withdrawing From Iraq--
Obama: Right,
McCain: Wrong

O.k., so now that's over. Everybody but McCain has agreed that we need to have some kind of goals for withdrawing, oops...of course I meant "time horizon."

It's no surprise that Obama's right and McCain is wrong--though I have to say, it's amusing that Maliki has basically come right out and said as much. And it's downright astonishing that the administration has finally broken down and admitted the more-or-less obvious...and done so while McCain is still basically asserting that only someone unqualified for the office could hold such a view. (Though, come to think of it, the fact that Bush & co. are endorsing the policy has to make us think twice about it...)

So, anyway, that's over. Conservatives--who have been wrong about almost everything about Afghanistan and Iraq--are, once again, a day late and a dollar short. Though that beats their other mode here--i.e. downright, flat-out, opposite-of-right, unequivocally wrong. So I guess we should be thankful for small favors.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Krauthammer's Pathetic Envy

So sad, pathetic (and habitually wrong) Charles Krauthammer seems to have run out of ideas for half-assed anti-Obama arguments. All he's got now is bitter fabrication and name-calling. You see, it turns out that the real problem with Obama is that he's vain.

What is this, gradeschool?

Remember turdblossom's accusation that Obama was "coolly arrogant?" and that "Even if you've never met him you know this guy. He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by."

Rove and Krauthammer are cut from the same sad cloth, and they're clearly on the same page here. But let's review the really important points here:

1. You know these things even if you haven't met Obama
(Translation: these are axioms, or matters of faith. They have nothing to do with the actual, ya know, facts about, ya know, Obama.)

2. He's the guy who makes snide comments about you.
(In reality: who's making the snide comments here? And who's got better things to do--like run for president--and, in fact, doesn't even notice the guys making the comments?)

3. He's the guy with the beautiful date.
(There's the real rub. All the rest is just epiphenomenal.)

4. Of the following people, which one has spent the least time at the country club?: Charles Krauthammer, KKKarl Rove, Barack Obama?
(And WTF is a "country club" anyway? Does anybody even know?)

Now, one of my favorite bits of the latest pathetic Krauthammer pathetic-ness is the bit about how Obama doesn't have any significant publications. See, he's too much of an egghead to be president, but he's also not enough of an egghead! Get it?

You want something to be annoyed about, don't look to Obama's publication record. Here's something much more amazing: Charles Krauthammer writes op-eds for the Washington Post and he's a bitter idiot who has never been right about anything!

How's that for amazing?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

GOP Double Standard, Afghanistan Hearings Edition

So, remember when the Bush dead-enders were squealing their convoluted squeals a couple of months back about how Obama couldn't be serious about Afghanistan because, see, he was on the European Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee...and...and he didn't schedule any hearings on Afghanistan despite the fact that there are NATO troops in Afghanistan...and, see, NATO is headquartered in Europe!!!!1!

Didja, er, get that?

None of that makes the slightest bit of sense, of course. As has been made clear, to call hearings on such a tangentially-related matter would be mere grandstanding, especially for a junior member of the subcommittee.

Now, John McCain is the Senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. But, as it turns out, McCain not only failed to call any hearings of Afghanistan, he didn't even see fit to attend any of the committee's six hearings on the subject.

Obama hardly covered himself in glory, only attending one of his committee's hearings on Afghanistan--but at least that's 1/3 of the relevant hearings. Which beats McCain's oh-for-six record in his committee.

Man, the McCain campaign is starting to look full of shit even by the standards of the Bush years...
Bush Administration Appeases Iran

These people really are unbelievable. They don't even wait for for the dimmest of wits to forget about their bullshit attempts to equate diplomacy with appeasement before they undertake to do the very thing they said made Obama unfit for office.

So, anybody think we'll hear an admission of error from Bush, or his blogospheric toadies? Or from the McCain campaign?

Unscrupulous morons.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Joss Whedon's latest project--only on the web, only available until Sunday. Episode 1 here now.

Whedon made this with a bunch of his friends, and he hopes to show that such projects can be good and maybe even make some money (a dvd will be released later).

IMHO, BTVS* is something really great. It's the only television series that ever really captured my heart and imagination. I know it's not exactly Faust, but something about it really speaks to me. Whatever it is, it's made me a committed Joss Whedon fan, and so here's encouraging everybody to dive into Dr. Horrible and do your part to support the him.

*Here I include Angel as a part of Buffy. Yes, Angel season 1 is godawful...but think about Buffy season 7. Shudder. Anyway.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Obama and Moving to the Center

I have to say, I'm so, so tired of the whining about Obama moving to the center. First: in some cases, this makes his positions more rational--e.g. with regard to Iraq. Second: this is one of the ways in which democracy works; a candidate compromises in order to take into account the opinions of those with whom he is not inclined to agree, and some of them, in turn, vote for him. Third: I'm getting the feeling that many lefties would prefer an ideologically pure Obama who loses to one who compromises and wins. Fourth: shut up.

The main points, though, are the linked second and third ones. And I say this despite my partiality to the fourth one.

So far, my favorite comment has come from the Huffington Post, which noted that many supporters were angry that Obama supported the death penalty for child rapists. Think about that for a bit.

I'm not wild about all his moves--look, I have no sympathy whatsoever with this horseshit about continuing "faith-based initiatives." But there's little doubt in my mind that an Obama who has moved to the center in order to help unify the country will be better than McCain.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Jesse Helms Goes to Hell

I normally try not to speak ill of the recently dead, but Helms is a special case.

Among my favorite Helmsisms: he liked to call UNC the "university of negroes and communists," and, during a debate on funding for the North Carolina Zoo, he suggested putting up a fence around Chapel Hill instead--which he was fond of referring to as "the People's Republic of Chapel Hill."

And that was Helms being downright charming, comparatively speaking. He was an overt racist and a friend to just about every tyrant in Central and South America. He was a man who worked hard to make the world a worse place, and who was largely successful. As the Wilmington Star-News famously reported back in '95:

When a caller to CNN's Larry King Live show praised guest Jesse Helms for 'everything you've done to help keep down the niggers,' Helms' response was to salute the camera
and say, 'Well, thank you, I think.'"

Here's what the Current Occupant had to say:

President Bush paid tribute to Mr Helms as “a stalwart defender of limited government and free enterprise, a fearless defender of a culture of life, and an unwavering champion of those struggling for liberty.” He added: “Today, from Central America to Central Europe and beyond, people remember: in the dark days when the forces of tyranny seemed on the rise, Jesse Helms took their side.

“It is fitting that this great patriot left us on the Fourth of July.”

And Senator McCain:

John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, hailed “a life dedicated to serving this nation."

Nice. This is approximately like eulogizing David Duke.

So goodbye to Jesse Helms, thorn in the side of the Old North State for thirty years. We're a worse place for your efforts.

Rot in hell, you racist sonofabitch.