Thursday, September 30, 2004

And The Winner Is...

Kerry. No doubt about it. On points and on meta-points. Convincingly. Bush looked petty and out of his depth.

Now we await the spin.

UPDATE: Josh Chafetz agrees. In pretty much the same terms: "Kerry won. Hands down. By a lot."

The Republican Party Supports Torture

There's no euphemism for this (Hat tip: everybody). None of the usual pathetic justifications of torture apply here; there's no ticking time bomb, no prospect of culling information once prisoners are shipped off to Syrian dungeons, no utilitarian calculus by which this inhuman cruelty could somehow be excused. This is sadism for the sake of sadism, and the very idea that the Republicans thought they could get away with this, let alone the reality that they will get away with it, explains precisely what's wrong with our political culture.

Debate Eve

Tonight is both the first debate and the foreign policy debate. I'll go out on a limb: that means that the other debates don't matter.

I'm hoping that George W. Bush figuratively shits his pants (it would be cool if he literally shit his pants too), and that John Kerry actually lives up to the Cicero comparison the Republicans have been peddling, but, um, I wouldn't bet on those outcomes. I'm also not quite as despondent as some of my Kerry-voting friends. In these sorts of situations, I usually go in either with a nervous optimism or a depressed sick feeling. In this case, I can't even begin to get a predictive purchase.

Anyway, talk is idle. We can discuss this further after it's over.

Gallup Is An Unfunny Joke

It's come to this. Gallup, for no reason that it cares to disclose, and for no reason concordant with any available data, hugely oversamples Republicans in its polls. Since giving the Republicans a 7 point advantage in the likely voter sample of their September 13-15 survey apparently wasn't enough, they decided to give the Republicans a 12 point advantage in their September 24-26 survery. Interestingly, the Bush lead narrows in the second survey, despite a totally inexplicable spike in Republican voter identification.

Let's say it together now. Gallup is no longer a credible polling organization. Their results should not be taken seriously. Their methodology is fatally flawed. For more on this, read Ruy Teixeira here, here, here, and here. (Incidentally, Mickey Kaus, who still doesn't have perma-links, is way out of his depth here. And he should be smart enough to realize that the Republican convention wouldn't have produced a greater shift in voter ID realignment than 9/11 did.)

Matt Yglesias thinks that complaining about Gallup is a form of cocooning, and a distraction from the real problem of Bush's being ahead. I have no doubt that Bush is indeed ahead right now by a small margin, nor that some Democratic partisans are likely to interpret the issues with Gallup as proof that their guy is really in the lead.

But Gallup, unfortunately is not a distraction. Polls are not just measures of the electoral mood; they are factors affecting the electoral mood, and polls showing massive Bush leads, even when they are fabricated, can potentially produce a bandwagon effect [because the voters are stupid--ed.]. Nor is Gallup just another polling firm. It is the token that denotes the type. It retains the reputation of the gold standard, even though it is methodologically decades behind other polls. CNN and USA Today attached their names to the Gallup poll because of its weighty imprimatur. Now, the reputation of CNN and USA Today is at stake in their obstinate, blinkered support of the Gallup results.

Would it be a mistake for any wing of the official Democratic party apparatus to attack Gallup? Absolutely. Is it vitally important that those of us who are unofficial expose the fraudulence of the Gallup results so that they do not become self-fulfilling prophecies? Of course. What are our chances of success? It's hard to say, but I'm optimistic, since we got Luntz canned.

(Un)just War?

My old boss and mentor Michael Walzer, who is without a doubt the leading figure in contemporary just war theory, has always drawn a conceptual distinction between the justice of a war and just conduct of war. Though they are distinct, the two tracks run together, and cannot come apart independently and without any reciprocal consequences. Thus, even a just war can be rendered unjust through unjust conduct. The torture memo and the disgrace at Abu Ghraib [not being as awful as Saddam Hussein is nothing to brag about, my warblogging comrades--ed.] have certainly stretched the justice of the Iraq war to near its breaking point, and for me marked the end of the WMD-independent moral case for war.

Presumably, the next edition of Just And Unjust Wars will include a new chapter or at least an addendum on the second Gulf War. Until it is released, however, we'll have to wait to see whether, according to Walzer, simple non-malicious incompetence on a large enough scale is enough to render a particular cause unjust. The answer will depend upon the extent to which intention and conduct are interrelated.

In the case of the Iraq war, something like this is going on: the regnant policymakers in the Bush administration were ideologically wedded to the idea that the external imposition of a certain form of government in Iraq was vitally necessary for the security of the United States; let's suspend judgement on whether or not that certain form of government was democracy (there is, after all, no determinate evidence one way or another). The crucial attribute of this ideological commitment is that it is not a position of x-type government fostering for the sake of x-type government (or human rights, or other similarly lofty abstract principles); rather, the ideology argues for x-type government instrumentally, as a means of furthering the national interest of the United States. (Hence, it's no mystery why the Bush administration coddles anti-democratic leaders elsewhere in the world). The ideology of neoconservatism, if I may use the term, at least as practiced in the Bush administration, is in fact a deeply cynical meta-Realpolitik, and not at all an instance of flawed but noble internationalist idealism.

In the internal conversation of the liberal hawks, among whose number I may be counted, there was certainly the intuition that the sort of people who populate the Bush administration, whether Kissingerian anti-democrats or neoconservatives trained in the sophistical defense of authoritarianism, were not to be entrusted with the promotion of democracy. Our calculation, ultimately, was that the ouster of Saddam Hussein was such a large net good that it justified gambling on the possibility of establishing a liberal state. But there were factors we didn't account for. They are (perhaps not exhaustively) as follows:
  1. The hyper rationalism of Bush's policy makers. All empirical data---regardless of their apparent plausibility or verity---that cut against their bedrock premises were interpreted as evidence that the methodology by which such data was obtained had to be flawed; the possibility that the premises themselves might be flawed wasn't even perfunctorily considered.
  2. The extent to which, once involved in the war, ideology continued to affect tactics. Point 2 is in a sense the post-war version of point 1. Since it was an unchallenged article of faith that American occupying forces would be embraced by the Iraqi population, and that the establishment of a new government would be straightforward and simple, there were absolutely no contingent plans in place to deal with the less-than-rosy scenarios that turned out to be the case. This strikes me as tactical and ideological incompetence, but not malice.
  3. 2a) A particular subspecies of this point is Donald "Best Defense Secretary Ever" Rumsfeld's string of odious miscalculations, from the necessary troop levels to the means by which the war would be paid for.
  4. The extent to which even facile anti-war criticisms turned out to be right. When the opponents of the Iraq war claimed that it would be a diversion from the broader war against al-Qaeda and terrorism, no one could have anticipated thoroughness of the Bush administration's insouciance on nuclear proliferation and its pronounced inability even to suggest a coherent policy vis-a-vis states like Iran and North Korea.
  5. The anti-democratic ideology of the Bush administration itself. This I think, is the most resonsantly damaging charge to be leveled, and the instance in which we liberal hawks were most decidedly in error by giving the administration the benefit of the doubt. The general principles to be adduced from the torture memo are that, according to the Bush administration, the exexcutive is above domestic and international law, the executive has inherently a fiat power by which all domestic and international obligations can be overridden, and, quite simply, the use of torture might be okay. It's as bad as Nixon.
  6. The extent to which domestic electoral considerations have affected the crafting of policy in Iraq. If anything to do with Iraq is manifestly clear, it's that the status quo is untenable. Yet the status quo persists because to correct error would be to admit error, and to admit error would be to risk losing the election. Bush won't do it, or Rove won't let him, and the result is that the insurgency constantly gains ground, the probability of even having elections, let alone non-fraudulent ones, constantly diminishes, and Iraq inches closer towards multilateral civil war; all the while the Bush campaign mocks John Kerry for being a windsurfer. (Does that qualify as "dicking around," Christopher?)
Just wars and just causes are not self-sustaining, immutable metaphysical entities. Even the paradigm, indubitable cases of just wars can be rendered unjust through conduct, e.g., the possible world in which the entire German population was deliberately annihilated during World War II. The case I made for the Iraq war holds up still in virtue of the facts that were available at that time in 2003. But the justice of this cause has, finally, moved beyond its critical mass.

Working Off Rust

I just finished my first philosophy paper of the year---it's a criticism of infinitist theories of belief-justification, which it seems to me fall prey to either circularity or arbitrariness or both, which are precisely the fatal flaws that infinitism had thought to uncover in coherentism and foundationalism.

If there's a common theme running through all my work in analytic philosophy, it's that almost any positive explanatory theory is going to be forced to run up against wierd results at some point, which is why, if you press me hard enough, I'll be a radical skeptic about anything. The flip-side to that is that I'll drag you along with me; my policy is scorched earth, and if you take away my knowledge, then I'll take away the knowledge of the whole world.

In my more pessimistic moments, I think that theory preferences in analytic philosophy boil down to nothing more than essentially aesthetic biases about which anti-intuitive wierdnesses are the most palatable, whether, e.g., an infinite regress is better or worse than circularity.

But I come to realize, by the same token, that this problem of the unavoidibility of absurdity is by no means solely the liability of us poor analyticists (to coin a term that I hope hasn't already been coined). On the contrary, every field of study, without exception, will encounter the problem, and we at least have a reflective awareness of it.

Because of this problem, any skilled Socratic rhetorician can make any position sound absurd by virtue of the commitments it entails. But Socrates, as we all know, was the worst of the sophists.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Thought For The Day II

Overheard in a conversation with a friend, regarding the Yale students who circulated blatantly witch-hunting e-mails to current and former female students of Harold Bloom seeking to drum up further charges of sexual impropriety (and who are unsurprisingly the same students who blamed President Levin for the attack on Katherine Lo last year, as well as similar such efforts):
If these people were successful in changing Yale into what they would like it to be, they never would have come here in the first place. They're caught in a fatal contradiction, and they should either accept the fact that they are part of the elite or else cut their tongues out.
As I pointed out, there is no shortage of schools featuring disciplinary boards operating on the presumption that consensual heterosexual sex is rape. They're free to attend such institutions, and be unsullied by the elitism/racism/sexism/heterosexism/blahblahblahstopyou'reboringmetotears-ism of these Caucaso-phallic walls. They're also free to shut the fuck up.

Are The Media Biased? What Is Media Bias

I've been holding off on this post for a while, because it's awfully interesting and deserves more than the cursory comment I can provide in between classes.

To wit, at Crooked Timber [i.e. the best non-porn site ever--ed.], John Holbo writes a philosophical mini-treatise on the nature of media bias, the reasons that conservatives are so often wont to complain of it, and possible remedies. I'll refrain from trying to summarize any further, simply because this piece needs to be read in full. I will however, excerpt these money grafs:
Suppose it were suggested that a Free Market of Ideas is guaranteed sufficiently by free speech guarantees. Well, obviously this isn’t enough for most conservative complainers about media bias, who know they’ve already got the First Amendment. (I’m setting aside screwballs who think Kerry wants to take away Bibles.) What conservatives think they should get is equal representation on the evening news and the editorial page. (Never mind for the moment whether they are unreasonable not to notice they’ve already got it.) But why should Republicans be represented, let alone equally? Isn’t a demand to have one’s voice not just not muzzled but broadcast an unconscionable prejudgment of the operation of the invisible hand of the free market? If it turns out that 89% of journalists are Democrats (I think I saw that figure, which was not accompanied by any statistic about how many CEO’s of media corporations are Republicans) - if most journalists are Democrats, why should this be regarded as proof of Democratic bias, rather than proof that truth itself is biased against Republicans, since the market rejects them? Obviously the response will run: this market isn’t fair. Which may be fair enough. But there’s that word again, ‘fair’. If a market should be not just free but ‘fair’, what sense of justice helps us understand what ‘fair’ means? Economically, we understand that a free market is supposed to be optimal for the production of wealth and acceptable for its distrubition. But what is a free market in ideas - a Media Market of Ideas - supposed to optimize: truth? The trouble with saying the market of ideas is supposed to optimize truth, and then complaining about partisanship as an obstacle, is that you must decide whether one partisan perspective is ‘truer’ than the other. If yes, then partisanship is actually what the market should aim at, not avoid. If not, then partisanship is not obviously a hindrance to truth. (Think about it. No really, this isn’t sophistry.)

It is plausible what people really think should be optimized is not the production of truths but the expression of belief (and not because this mix conduces to truth but as an end in itself). A range of beliefs. A suitable, representative range of beliefs. The thought is that everyone has a right not just to get the truth from the media but to have their ‘truth’ (i.e. belief) heard by others. The media ought to ‘sound like’ America. But unless this thought is accompanied by a relativistic belief that all beliefs are equally valid, we are now heading away from a free market, not towards it. The idea that everyone is entitled to equal representation in the media is akin to the economic proposition that everyone should be guaranteed about the same amount of money, which is not notably Hayekian. The sense of ‘fairness’ in play here is at least Rawlsian, if not positively communistic. Its doxastic affirmative action. You make sure no one is left behind, is silenced, unheard, excluded. Proper distribution of the media pie is more important, maybe, than ‘growing’ the pie.

Thought For The Day

The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else. [Emphasis mine]
---Theodore Roosevelt, May 7, 1918 [i.e. in the midst of WWI--ed.], as quoted on Howard Stern's website.

Fwiw, I think Howard Stern is brilliant.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Deutsche Woerter des Tages

Scheissverfluechtes Hundewetter

Obit For A Pseudo-Scientist

Elizabeth Kuebler-Ross is dead. (Or is she?) Ron Rosenbaum gives her a very fair treatment in Slate.

During my junior year in high school I had an English teacher who forced us (and in particular, me) to write interpretations of death in literature according to Kuebler-Ross's nauseatingly saccharine DABDA theory. (This same teacher was fond of flashing her Harvard "Education Degree" [I use quotation marks advisedly--ed.] like bling-bling, which should have set off peremptory alarms.) At the time, I thought that Kuebler-Ross was a poseur/new age popularizer whose ideas were silly but harmless. It turns out, as Rosenbaum explains, that she was quite the headcase herself, and might have claimed a few victims from among her grieving test subjects:
What prompted my examination was a small—but stunning—news clipping I came across in the early '80s describing the completely bizarre sexual scandal at Kübler-Ross' retreat in Escondido, Calif., the mountaintop center she called Shanti Nilaya. The scandal concerned the involvement of Kübler-Ross—and some of the grieving widows visiting her retreat—with a self-proclaimed spirit medium who conned them all into believing he had the ability to channel "afterlife entities." Not only channel them but facilitate their having sex with the grieving widows.
I'd say that's rather damning. Almost enough to justify dropping her from high school English curricula, no?

Agenbite of Inwit

There's something very satisfying about incidents of McCarthyite political correctness backfiring. Such is the case with a UNC professor who attacked a student via mass e-mail for expressing views that constituted "hate speech."

The student's offense? Relating an anecdote about a male friend who felt "disgusted" by the sexual advances of another man. [I am not so naive, let it be noted, as not to consider the possibility that the "friend" is in fact the student himself--ed.] Is that homophobic? Definitionally. Ignorant? I'd say so. Loathsome? Not really---it's less malicious than simply uninformed. Hate speech? Hardly. Protected speech? Surely.

Here is his professor's response, in part:
That a white, heterosexual, Christian male, one who vehemently denied his privilege last week insisting that he earned all he has, can feel entitled to make violent, heterosexist comments and not feel marked or threatened or vulnerable is what privilege makes possible.
Ah, I'd forgotten that it's all about privilege. I suppose it's a shame that the student was not made to feel marked, threatened, or vulnerable. Good thing his professor had time to, um, mark, target, and perhaps even make him feel vulnerable before all his colleagues.

(On a related note, were you aware that racism is not a disposition towards those who are ethnically or racially different from one, but a power relation obtaining between the oppressed and their oppressors, such that racial minorities are incapable of racism a priori, whereas "white" people [as if anyone is actually white--ed.] are to be presumed racist until proven otherwise.)

Fortunately, the university disciplined the professor (after the US Dept. of Education involved itself). Here is the D.Ed.'s summary:
The e-mail message not only subjected the student to intentional discrimination and harassment, but also discouraged the robust exchange of ideas that is intrinsic to higher education and is at the very heart of the Constitution's protection of free speech.
Indeed. I am aware, just to pre-empt the nasty e-mails that are sure to follow, the the Bush government is not terribly likely to take an interest in academic McCarthyism that cuts the other way. In fact...well, read this (via The Poor Man).

Gobsmackingly Stupid

That, I think, is the only apt description for Mr. Bush's stuffed-crotch "Mission Accomplished" photo-op last year.

Now the president says he would do it again. That surely lends intuitive support for my theory that the Bush re-election effort is premised on transforming the campaign for the presidency into a cock-measuring contest.

Coulter Unhinged

The best parodies are only one degree removed from reality. I think this qualifies:
The battle lines were drawn. Ann was facing an unambiguously smug opponent. Suddenly she was Dick Nixon staring down the haughty East Coast establishment. She wasn’t going to skulk away to some backroom to plot revenge, then deny responsibility, though. A liberal Democrat with balls, a threat to national security, was standing in her crosshairs. It was time to unload a bunker buster.

“Thanks for the explanation, Justice Ruth Bader Lezbo, but guess what?” she taunted. “It’s not a law. A rule, yes,” she puffed on her cigarette, “but not a law.” Hannity snickered. Colmes looked terrified – and aroused.

The waitress laughed. “You actually think that insulting me is going to work?”

“Oh, sweetie, don’t take what I say so seriously. I’m sure you’ve laid all kinds of dirtbags in your day. You know, we should get you down to Gitmo. The prisoners down there would love a whore like you.”

I had to say something. “Ann, we can please go someplace else? I think it’s a little unfair to expect the restaurant to let us smoke.” I used “us” because, frankly, I was too scared to challenge her directly.

“Fine. Let me put this out first.” For a split second, I thought Ann had come to her senses and backed down – until she suddenly grabbed the waitress’ right wrist and began grinding the cigarette into her hand! The waitress shrieked.

“Holy shit, Ann! You’ve lost your mind!” screamed Candy.

I reached across the table and pushed Ann against the banquette, away from the waitress. The waitress managed to wrest away her hand. She looked at the burn with wide-eyed horror, then narrowed her eyes at Ann.

“You fascist bitch,” she snarled.

“You can do better than that,” Ann laughed, then took another puff off her weapon and exhaled. “Bring it on.”

Speaking Of Porn Shops

Somebody knows what section of the video store Mel Gibson's Passion belongs in (via Fleshbot).

Must Reads

About the awful the hypocrisy of the virtue police...in Reason (where else?) here and here.

Quote of the day: "I wouldn't want a porn shop in my neighborhood and you shouldn't have one in yours."---Michael Bloomberg, CEO of Disney Presents Manhattanland (Copyright 2002).

Monday, September 27, 2004

Fun With Prescriptions

I agree. Aderall [is that the right spelling?--ed.] is one hell of a drug. That is the point of this article, right?

House of Payne? House of Pain!

Just got back from my first attempt at serious weightlifting since busting my ankle. The ankle itself did fine...the rest of me, well, not so much. The combination of reduced cardio-muscular fitness (from a couple of weeks off) and a pretty nasty headcold (from, um, a virus I guess) left me out-of-breath, lightheaded, and even dry-heaving at times. Still, I made it through.

And now I feel like a powerlifter for the first time in quite a long time---and not in the sense of being superhumanly strong, but rather in the sense of urgently needing an icebath and smelling salts, not necessarily in that order.

The Funnies

What's missing is a background shot of North Korean and Iranian warheads. Otherwise, this cartoon says it all.

Legalize It!

I could be referring to marijuana, but in this case I'm talking about prostitution. Oh, to live in a truly free society!

Anyway, I was fascinated by this article in the Observer (the weekend edition of the Guardian) about the ecstasies and agonies of being a serial john. Money quote:
The problem with normal sex is that it leads to kissing and pretty soon you've got to talk to them. Once you know someone well the last thing you want to do is screw them. I like to give, never to receive; to have the power of the host, not the obligation of the guest. I can stop writing this and within two minutes I can be chained, in the arms of a whore. I know I am going to score and I know they don't really want me. And within 10 minutes I am back writing. What I hate are meaningless and heartless one-night stands where you tell all sorts of lies to get into bed with a woman you don't care for.
Heh. Now (men only please) raise your hands if you can relate to this. Don't be shy:
Why does a sleazy bastard like me like whores so much? Why pay for it? The problem is that the modern woman is a prostitute who doesn't deliver the goods. Teasers are never pleasers; they greedily accept presents to seal a contract and then break it. At least the whore pays the flesh that's haggled for. The big difference between sex for money and sex for free is that sex for money usually costs a lot less.
May I add, not from personal experience (of course) but from intuition, that a whore is unlikely to stab you in the front.

Advice For Kerry

William Saletan is spot-on, and I hope Kerry's debate-prep team read this. I think Saletan might just have figured out the Reagan-like zinger to propel Kerry:
Bush says you think we'd be safer with Saddam in power than in jail. Your reply today—"George Bush made Saddam Hussein the priority; I would have made Osama Bin Laden the priority"—is accurate but lame. You'll need a zippier version in next week's debate. Something like, "If I were president, Osama Bin Laden would be in jail." [Emphasis mine].
I, for one, am floored by that. It packs the entire national security case for Kerry---genuine commitment to defeating al-Qaeda, competent handling of the Iraqi crisis, sane non-proliferation policy, sober and skeptical empiricism about security threats, etc.---into a tight one-liner.

Dispatch From Unreal America

So the Washington Post published a series about what it's like to be gay in some country called "real America." The terminology really says it all, so I'm not going to link, but I am going to excerpt this Matt Yglesias post, with which I concur whole-heartedly:
[N]othing pisses me off more than the implication that some parts of the country are more "really" America than others...[W]e're none of us masquerading pseudoamericans here. Indeed, it's bizarre that the Northeastern part of the country -- the part that was settled first, the part that led the Revolution, the part that led the nation to victory in the Civil War -- has somehow acquired a reputation as less authentically American than a lot of Johnny-come-lately squarish ersatz states and a big swathe of the southeast that decided one time to launch a violent, treasonous effort to maintain the institution of chattel slavery and turn North America into a British sphere of influence.
Indeed. One of the ancillary benefits of Kerry victory would be a forced reconsideration on the part of the CW-makers of just what constitutes the heartland.

And one more thought: subtract the 2000 Blue states from the Union and it's no longer a first world nation, let alone an unchallenged global hegemon. The heart of America is somewhere between New York harbor and Long Island sound---not the fucking Great Salt Lake.

Sick

I caught something over an otherwise highly edifying weekend. There's nothing a lot more awkward than sharing a bus ride with your own personal Delilah on the way to a rugby match---which we won 66-17, by the way.

Toad's was underpopulated, and therefore not as stiflingly claustrophobic/hot/sweaty as usual.

In things-getting-better news, the ankle is feeling stronger and I'll be attempting some leg lifts tomorrow (today by now, I guess).

Friday, September 24, 2004

Taking Away Bibles

Despicable, but the scary part is that people can be influenced by this stuff. (If it didn't work, they wouldn't do it.) I've often daydreamt about founding an anti-Gideon order that would go to hotel rooms across America and replace the Gideon's Bibles with copies of Hustler and David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

The Naked and Dead Gospel According To The Executioner

Norman Mailer gave a lecture here last night (if the title of this post didn't make sense to you, just skip the rest of it). It was a slightly uncanny experience for me---Mailer gave a similar talk almost 50 years ago when my dad went to Yale, and the two of them stayed up drinking together all night. When I got a chance to talk to Mailer about it, he asked what class my dad was in. And when I told him 1959, Mailer immediately asked whether or not he was still alive. Typical Mailer no-bullshit-bullshit. (My dad, btw, is still alive, keyn yehiratzon.)

What to say about Mailer? He is the dual heir of Hemmingway and Lawrence, and even after all these years, and despite a very limited, um, vertical stature, Mailer is still a formidable presence. His voice is tough, deep, resonant Brooklyn, refined but not at all softened by education and "literariness." Hearing him read some of his writing---while there is still time to do so---is a genuine pleasure.

Okay, I could praise Mailer at length, but this site is not about langorous fellatio, so I'll be moving on to criticism. After denying that he had come to discuss politics, and spending a few minutes fishing for an audience question about politics, Mailer launched into a 10-minute-or-so rendition of a soon-to-be-published NYRB piece on the election---which means on the Iraq war. Mailer's theory? It was fought for the following reasons: 1) oil; 2) to allow white men to feel like they have big cocks.

Point 1) is part of a grand and paranoid conspiracy theory that Mailer's been nursing for years. Point 2) is psycho-twaddle---although I think there is a kind of contra-positive kernel of truth to it, namely that the Bush re-election strategy hinges, to some extent, on assuring the Heartland that John Kerry has too small and French a penis to be a fit commander-in-chief.

The real trouble with prickly old Algonquinists like Mailer is that they've spent a lifetime creating small, self-contained possible worlds (their novels), in which their own psycho-analytic instincts are the laws of nature. Add to that the fact that their worldviews crystallized at a time when assuming ~p whenever the government claimed p was a reasonable heuristic mechanism for getting at the truth, and you can see why Mailer has a great deal of difficulty distinguishing between those worlds in which he is omniscient and those in which he is not (the actual world falling into the latter category). And in his old age, he seems to have abandoned even the pretense of healthy empiricist inquiry, preferring instead to intuit the conditions of the external world---and the internal states of mind of key policymakers---from the comfort of his study.

As for the comic relief of the night, seated next to me throughout the speech was an older woman from somewhere in Eastern Europe, who began loudly clicking, hissing, and booing as soon as Mailer began speaking uncharitably about the president. Fortunately, we were far enough towards the back of the auditorium that Mailer and the majority of those present didn't hear. After Mailer concluded his remarks, this woman (referred to only as "Nadya" in today's YDN*) more or less accosted Mailer during the subsequent one-on-one time, literally shrieking at him for having the audacity to attack the president, since he had not personally survived Hitler and Stalin and therefore couldn't appreciate the greatness of America. Mailer yelled back, "I'm just as fucking Eastern European as you are," and looked ready to head-butt the woman the way he once did to Gore Vidal. When I left the auditorium about 15 minutes later, Nadya was outside, shrieking at a visibly uncomfortable bystander about the various evils of Mailer's speech, and its potential to corrupt the youth.

*The article in the YDN managed to butcher one of Mailer's best-delivered lines of the evening. The reporter, Yassmin Sadeghi, quoted Mailer as saying:
They impeached Clinton because he had an interaction with a lovely woman which was relatively modest, [but] Bush is screwing half of the world.
In reality, Mailer said:
"They impeached Clinton because he was visited by a lovely young woman for a relatively modest sexual transaction...."
I'm surely paraphrasing slightly (and that's because I'm not a reporter), but the joke was about a "relatively modest sexual transaction," not "an interaction...which was relatively modest." Don't these people take notes? Does the YDN frequently mangle quotations like this? Inquiring minds (at least mine) want to know.

UPDATE: For an extended critique of Mailer's (and Vidal's) approach to politics, read this.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Jesus H. Christ

If I knew Google's Adsense would've fucked me this hard, I never would have signed up. (Okay, that's not true, money is still money.) But seriously, what do I have to do to get these RNC ads off the website? I support John Kerry. I support John Kerry. DNC DNC DNC DNC DNC DNC DNC DNC DNC. Jai guru deva om.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Si, Es Verdad

Grover Norquist called the WWII generation anti-American. Maybe it sounds a bit smoother in Spanish.

Like Living In A Kafka Novel

CBS killed a story on the forged Niger-uranium documents in order to run a bogus story based on false documents. No matter what my lefty friends say, Michael Isikoff is an awesome reporter....

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

This might just be evidence that esoteric interests have separated me from the rest of society, but I found this article on the survival of the Zoroastrian religion in the Boston Globe absolutely fascinating. Although most of it deals with the society of the Parsis in Bombay, it included this gem about Zoroastrianism in Iran (and some former provinces of ancient Persia):
But from outside the shattered splendor of Persepolis, the ancient capital of Persia, Bahram Agaheri, a Muslim teacher, talked in elegiac rhythms about the desire of many Iranians to rediscover the faith of their forefathers.

''People are tired of the mullahs," Agaheri said, referring to the country's religious leaders. ''If we were allowed to convert, millions would convert to Zoroastrianism. I challenge the government to allow conversion out of Islam for even one day."

But he is unlikely to see that day. Islam bans its adherents from converting, and a Muslim who renounces his faith can face a death sentence.

Caught between a religion that will not allow them out and one that will not let them in, many Iranians are thought to practice Zoroastrianism in secret.

There is also evidence that people in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and some Kurdish regions are rediscovering their Zoroastrian and Persian roots.

A secularized version of Nowruz, the traditional Zoroastrian New Year, is increasingly being celebrated across the region.

These tremors of change excite many Zoroastrians, who despite their demographers' troubling estimates, think their religion is poised to witness a renaissance.
Just imagine it: millions of converts to Zoroastrianism. The theocracy will falter and fail one day. As I've learned in my study of Farsi, modern Iranians deeply resent the Arabic influence on their culture, and are at pains to explain to westerners that they are not Arabs. It would be profoundly ironic if the ultimate consequence of the Islamic revolution were a significant rejection of Shi'ism in favor of Zoroastrianism.

Fat Sacks Of Shit

If you've ever seen a choleric-looking rotund young conservative sweating Crisco while self-righteously denouncing the lib-ruhls who never tire of oppressing him, you'll be able to relate to Wolcott's wisdom here:
Yesterday, C-SPAN II, as part of its regular weekend books coverage, ran a reading/q & a with Ben Ferguson, the young conservative author of It's My America Too. The plaintive whimpering of that title--in particular that "too"--is typical of the phony underdog position conservatives insist on taking to make themselves look like insurgents. Republicans control the presidency, the Senate, the House, and much of the judiciary, Fox News is #1 in cable news, the rightwing rules talk radio, and yet here's little big Ben, who at the age of 22 hosts his own rightwing radio show, pouting about feeling like an outsider in his own country, boo hoo.

He wears his hair as if he's in the fourth grade, and I gather he has a chapter in his book about being a virgin. It's considerate of this baby whale version of Rush Limbaugh to be saving himself for some lucky gal, but I fear that when he finally does mate with Woman he may explode from years of self-denial in a spermatic supernova. I'd hate to be the person who'd have to tidy up afterwards.
Even better:
It's easy to make fun of little big Ben--so why not?--and yet underneath his pudgy exterior is a pudgy interior soaked in loathing and ignorance.

At one point in his talk, he made light of John Kerry's war medals and wounds, snickering that Kerry's decision to go to Vietnam to be shot at was pure "opportunism," and that if he'd been wounded as badly as all that he'd be in "a real nice wheelchair" now. Of course, if Kerry had been crippled and reduced to a wheelchair, that wouldn't spare him further mockery, as Max Cleland has learned.

Now at this point a certain type of liberal will quote Joseph Welch's famous question to Joe McCarthy at the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

Liberals of a certain age love quoting that stirring heroic retort. When Anthony Lewis was a Times columnist, he used to quote it every other week it seemed, and I saw Richard Cohen pull a Joseph Welch a few columns ago.

But I won't. The question is no longer worth raising, even rhetorically. Because we know the answer.

They have no decency. Not a sliver, not a shred. Look at how Max Cleland has been treated, look at how George Soros has been smeared as some sort of Jewish intriguer who oozed his way out of Nazi Germany by Tony Blankley* and a drug kingpin by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, look at--oh, we know what the examples are.

Ben Ferguson can snicker that if John Kerry had incurred real injuries he'd be in a nice wheelchair today and the middleaged white fools sitting in the bookstore don't even raise a peep, which makes you wonder if ten years from now it'll be open season on any American vet from the Iraq campaign who's missing limbs or carrying shrapnel and gets out of political line. There is a myth that the Left spat on returning Vietnam vets in the Seventies. Well, the Right spits on Vietnam vets every day with impunity, and will spit on future vets.
Ouch, heh, read the whole thing.

Andrew Catches On

Now Sully notices that the president isn't just speaking contrary to the facts, but about an entire parallel universe, a separate modality, if you will. Not to be too triumphalist, but this is my fucking meme, bitches.

There's less of a mystery than Andrew thinks: the Bushies are Lewisian modal realists, and the Iraq they've been talking about at least since the Abu Ghraib and torture memo scandals belongs to a different possible world than the one we inhabit. Misleading? Sure. Technically untrue? Nope.

Back In The Game

At electoral-vote.com (now with permalinks!), it's Kerry 269, Bush 253, and that includes a rather anomalous result in New Mexico showing an instantaneous 15 point swing to Bush.

Take This Quiz

Here's an instructive little questionnaire that asks you to differentiate between statements posted on the Little Green Footballs site (I'm not going to link to it) and statements made by prominent Nazi officials.

I got a perfect score, but that's probably because I can recognize something translated out of German pretty much on sight.

Next time you read the words "advantage: blogosphere", just remember the phrase "targeted genocide" [whoops, gave away one of the answers--ed.].

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Good For Arnold

This represents a (modest) expansion of liberty and public decency in a variety of different arenas.

Phun With Philosophy

Patrick Belton warms my heart with another philosophy joke, this one neatly dovetailing what I've been studying in my epistemology seminar:
THE EPISTEMOLOGISTS DECIDE to field a Little League team, and three of them volunteer to serve as umpires. They go into a bar after one game, and after they've got their drinks the critical realist says "Yeah, well, I call 'em as I see 'em." The direct realist responds "Well, I call 'em as they are!" Then the Berkeleian idealist pipes up and says, "Shoot, they ain't anything till I call 'em!"
I'll leave it to readers to decide whether or not this is funny; the deep irony is that, to me at least, the Berkeleian idealist is in the best position of the three.

Why? Let's look at direct realism versus Berkeleian idealism. (Critical, or indirect realism, which attempts to straddle the two extremes, is in the unenviable position of either 1) admitting an inexplicable complexity into its epistemological system, 2) conceding space into which the Berkeleian or the Humean can drive his skeptical wedge, or 3) being pushed by skeptical worries into direct realism or some overly complicated iteration of it.)

Direct realism, a straightforward rebuttal of skepticism, argues that we directly perceive the objects of experience, that there is no mediating category of "phenomena" or "appearances" blocking such direct access to external objects, and, crucially, that mistaken, dreaming, or hallucinatory percerptions are not at all the same kind of things as valid, veridical perceptions: it's true that, were we hallucinating, or were we brains in a vat, or victims of an evil deceiver, we would not think that we were; nevertheless, the direct realist argues, when we do validly perceive the real objects of experience, we know that we perceive them.

Problems? For one thing, the direct realist and the phenomenalist-skeptic might be construed as simply talking past each other. With access to the same data, i.e., the objects of experience, the former maintains that perceptions are of really existing objects, while the latter insists that all we can or ever do perceive are appearances. Since no new evidence could ever come to light---and what datum could there be that is not an object of experience---the dispute between direct realism and skepticism might just give way to a semantic debate (which is not to say uninteresting).

I think, however, that the metaphysical/epistemological dispute is worth trying to preserve on its own terms, rather than as a reduction to philosophical semantics. If the positivists taught us anything, after all, it's that efforts to reduce philosophy to discrete semantic laws are doomed to fail.

I said at the outset that the Berkeleian is in a better position than the direct realist. Let me explain why. The direct realist has to come up with an explanation of problem cases, say, e.g., perception of light from stars so distant that they have already collapsed. What exactly, we should ask the direct realist, are we perceiving? Surely not something that does not exist? The Berkeleian, it must be conceded, faces a similar problem. How does he account for the existence of things like electrons? Does he wish to say that, since they can't be immediately perceived, they do not exist? Some Berkeleians might just do that---and argue, in effect, that electrons are nothing but convenient explanatory fictions that are useful in predicting the outcome of experiments, but are not "real," even under a Berkeleian framework. I think the more persuasive response (since I do think that electrons are real) is something like this: in order for a thing to exist it must indeed be perceived, but to be perceived is not necessarily to be immediately available to the five traditional human senses, which are contingent products of evolutionary biology, and electrons can indeed be perceived with instruments fine enough to detect them. After all, a blind man can perceive by means of other senses, and if his tactile sense is developed enough, he can use it to learn, at least topographically, what things look like. Sonar, to take another example, produces images no less valid as phenomena than the contents of a photograph.

Got off track there for a second. Whoops. Anyway, the fatal problem for the direct realist is that the best case he can make---that of Timothy Williamson against the existence of distinct internal states---dooms his project rather than propel it forward. The Williamson argument, which I will probably not do justice to, is this:
  1. The appearances, or internal phenomena, are "luminous," meaning that when a perceiver is in a luminous state, he knows that he is in a lumonious state. E.g., when I feel cold, I know that I feel cold.
  2. In order to know something, it has to be "safe." The safety requirement is difficult to characterize, except by use of examples. Here's one: If I claim, prior to any measurement that an object O weighs less than 50 kg, and it turns out that it weighs 49.9998 kg, then the proposition is not safe; it was merely accidentally correct, and I never knew that O weighed less than 50 kg. Conversely, had I claimed that O weighed less than 100 kg, my proposition would indeed be safe; my margin of error was sufficient for me to justifiably claim to have known that O weighed less than 100 kg.
  3. Internal states are luminous, therefore they are known. If something is known, then it must be safe. This is the basic syllogism, which Williamson employs to set up the conditions for a reductio argument against the existence of internal states.
  4. Let's run the argument: I stand outside in the middle of the night at time t1, and I feel very cold. Since feeling cold is luminous, I know that I feel cold at t1. Since I know that I feel cold at t1, the claim that I feel cold at t1 is safe.
  5. Pick any interval of time. It doesn't matter how large or small. Since the claim that I felt cold at t1 was safe, it must be the case (remember, you pick the size of the interval and the margin of error) that I feel cold at time t2. By virtue of luminosity, I know that I feel cold at t2. And on and on. Until at some point in time, tx, which is, say, 12:00 pm, I definitely no longer feel cold. My knowledge that I was cold at whatever point in time preceded tx could therefore not have been safe. Hence, I didn't know I was cold. Hence, feeling cold is not luminous. Hence, there are no special, privileged internal states.
Based on this absolutely ingenious argument, the direct realist wants to put forward the notion of direct access to objects of experience. For the life of me, however, I can't understand how we can make the leap from observing a deep problem about our understanding of internal states to concluding that we have direct access to the external.

Assume, for the sake of argument, that Williamson's argument is sound as well as valid (I think it's clearly valid, and its soundness is the issue). If so, then Williamson has succeeded in pushing the skeptic further into skepticism. "Okay," the skeptic might say, "you've demonstrated that I was unjustifiably asserting too much even in my skepticism. I had merely questioned the correspondence of a conceivable external world to the phenomena of my experience. Now you've given me reason to doubt the validity even of the contents of my own internal theater. I have a final position to fall back on, which is that there are, in fact, perceptual phenomena to which I have access. That might be all I ever know. I doubt that you, the realist, would deny that I do indeed experience things. Still, though I may be forced to become more radical in my skepticism, you've certainly not given me or given yourself (if you do indeed exist) any reason to conclude that the objects of experience are real, external, and directly accessible. You've demonstrated that they are even less reliable than I, the skeptic, had originally assumed." So the skeptic might say. To borrow Schopenhauer's metaphor, Williamson has succeeded in assailing the previously impenetrable fortress of the skeptic, and indeed in tearing down its outer walls and parapets, but only by locking himself in its innermost keep.

The other possible response, which is undeniably, at least for practical purposes, more desirable than retreating into a skeptical shell that denies even the validity of subjective phenomena, is simply to reject the condition of luminosity. And that, ultimately, is what Williamson proves, and no more: luminosity is not the attribute that sets internal states apart from the external. After all, one need not have read and interpreted sophisticated philosophy in order to know that one can be in doubt even about one's own seemings. (One can draw two lines side by side, e.g., and be in doubt even about whether they seem to be parallel.) The answer, suggested by my brilliant and soon-to-be famous professor, Troy Cross, is to replace the luminosity condition with "near luminosity." When I feel cold, I know that I'm in a state that includes coldness and borderline cases of near-coldness. Now try and run Williamson's argument. It won't work. Internal states are preserved (yay!) and we've accounted for the problem entailed by luminosity.

Now, when we compare the Berkeleian to the direct realist, the relative strengths of each position are rather different. The Berkeleian maintains a one-category epistemology that leaves no brute facts behind (either God or discrete psychophysical laws coordinate the phenomena of experience), whereas the direct realist is left with both internal and external states, trying unsuccessfully to explain away the former, and having no explanation for his supposed direct access to the latter.

Sorry

Been taking a long weekend...actually, I've been tending to my busted ankle. The latest news is that I might have a torn tendon along the outside of my ankle and foot. Goddamnit.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Francoism Watch

From the latest GOP mass-mailing:
The literature shows a Bible with the word "BANNED" across it and a photo of a man, on his knees, placing a ring on the hand of another man with the word "ALLOWED." The mailing tells West Virginians to "vote Republican to protect our families" and defeat the "liberal agenda."
And Ed Gillespie, as ever, is a charmer:
Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said Friday that he wasn't aware of the mailing, but said it could be the work of the RNC. "It wouldn't surprise me if we were mailing voters on the issue of same-sex marriage," Gillespie said.

He Dead Bitch!

Nine different drugs found in Rick James' system when he passed away. None of them was the cause of death.

Pop Sociology

The odds were .5:1 that this post is about David Brooks. And it is. Today's lesson is about "spreadsheet people" versus "paragraph people."

This kind of thing tastes great and is less filling:
Why have the class alignments shaken out as they have? There are a couple of theories. First there is the intellectual affiliation theory. Numerate people take comfort in the false clarity that numbers imply, and so also admire Bush's speaking style. Paragraph people, meanwhile, relate to the postmodern, post-Cartesian, deconstructionist, co-directional ambiguity of Kerry's Iraq policy.

I subscribe, however, to the mondo-neo-Marxist theory of information-age class conflict. According to this view, people who majored in liberal arts subjects like English and history naturally loathe people who majored in econ, business and the other "hard" fields. This loathing turns political in adult life and explains just about everything you need to know about political conflict today.
Just to be sure, I think there's more than a kernel of truth to this. And it's more substantive than anything MoDo's ever written.

If Brooks is right, where are philosophy students left? We are rejected by the humanities departments for our insistence on precision and analyticity, and we are scoffed at in the "hard" fields for our object-less intellectual meanderings.

Shoulder-block That Metaphor

Point taken, Nick Gillespie. We're all guilty of employing sports metaphors to discuss politics, but after this, I think it's time to declare an indefinite moratorium.

Like A Horse And Carriage

Jamie Kirchick, refreshed and hopefully back to a regular blogging schedule, noticed something that I missed during my Toad's experience on Saturday:
BTW, who else was at Toad's on Saturday night? A f*&^ing 9/11 tribute!? At Toad's? Those things go together like John Ashcroft and anal beads.
I guess it happened while I was in the sidebar chatting up a couple of Q-pac girls (the best kind of girls). Cause if I didn't score, the terrorists would have won---which is even money to be the most-used pick-up line by Q-pac meatheads that night.


(BTW, you know you have a friend if he'll tell some girl he's gay in order to hook you up with her. I'm not going to reveal any names, but not a lot of guys are secure enough to do that. Thanks, man.)

Where The Race Stands Now

At electoral-vote.com (still no bleeping perma-links), the scorecard is Bush 307, Kerry 211, which is somewhat grim-looking, and includes tiny Bush leads in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Iowa, and a within the MOE lead in Wisconsin. If Kerry picks up those former Gore states, as I'm just about willing to bet he will (any takers?), the the scorecard would stand at Kerry 264, Bush 254. Furthermore, Ohio is now precisely even, 47% a piece, and Bush is finished if he can't carry it.

Today's report from the votemaster includes this fascinating nugget:
Jimmy Breslin of Newsday had an column yesterday that, if true, makes this website irrelevant. Breslin claims that pollsters do not call the 168 million cell phones in the country. Since many younger voters do not have a land line and just a cell phone, they will be hugely underrepresented in all the telephone polls. Since younger voters lean more towards the Democrats than the average voter, the polls may be greatly underestimating Kerry's strength. Between missing all the people who have only a cell phone and no land line and the 5 million overseas voters, the polls maybe missing a very large section of the electorate.
This is, of course, one particular version of the Kerry landslide scenario, in which Kerry has been holding a massive lead occluded by gross underestimation of voter turnout in polls as well as flawed likely voter models that don't account for the present level of anti-Bush feeling. [Keep in mind that every single likely voter model is fatally flawed before it even gets off the ground; c.f. Hume's problem of induction, which the whole (more or less) of 20th century philosophy of science failed to resolve--ed.]

On the national level, the picture improves considerably. According to the latest ARG poll, Kerry has a MOE lead over Bush among RVs nationally with or without Nader in the race, and is exactly knotted, 47-47-3, among LVs. The latest Harris poll has Kerry ahead by 1, while the latest Pew poll puts Bush ahead by 1. And via EDM, Bush leads Kerry by only 1 among LVs in the latest GQR Research poll.

So um, nothing is decided. At all. It beats me what's going on with the Gallup poll that has Bush ahead by 13. But as Steve M. (of No More Mister Nice Blog) points out, Gallup had Bush ahead by 13 a week before the 2000 election. Er, yeah.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

I Thought Of This First (Redux)

Ryan Lizza on Bush's modal realism:
But, for the most part, spending time on the trail with Bush is like being transported to a parallel universe. The only music is Christian rock and country tunes about plain-talking everymen. The only people who ask the president questions are his most feverish supporters, never the press. In this alternate universe, Iraq and Afghanistan are marching effortlessly toward democracy. The economy is, in the words of former Broncos quarterback John Elway, who introduces Bush in Greenwood Village, "the best in the world." John Kerry, whose platform is to the right of Clinton's in 1992, is calling for a massive expansion of government. Meanwhile, Bush's two most radical ideas, the ones that House Republicans privately insist will top the agenda in Washington next year if Bush wins--a shift toward privatizing Social Security that will cost at least a trillion dollars and a move toward a flat tax--are mentioned only in passing, buried in a laundry list of minor proposals.
Related: Andrew Sullivan puts the Bush candidacy in a nutshell: Panglossianism.

Media Bias

Since I still (@#%$&!#) don't have cable, I haven't gotten to see any of this, but I'll take it for granted that James Wolcott's recollections of Kitty Kelley's interviews are accurate:
The worst interviews were on CNN. Aaron Brown fretted over the methodology and wondered why Kelley focused on the Bushes, since so many privileged families such as the Kennedys and the Rockefellers get away with all sorts of behavior without having to pay the price most people do--why pick on them?

Kelley smartly retorted that the Bushes have paid less price than most (what she didn't say, and could have, was two assassinations of Kennedy brothers was worse than anything the Bushes have had to endure). He was also troubled that she was implying Bush skipped his flight physical because of drug use, to which she said it was a logical inference and all Bush had to do was release the appropriate records.

Brown at least wasn't a snitty little twit, like the CNN interviewer this morning whose name, I believe, is Heidi Hairdo. From the outset her tone was brisk, assistant district-attorneyish, and yet schoolgirlishly naive, as when she couldn't understand why anyone would be "afraid" of the Bushes and Kelley laughed in snorting disbelief, as if she had to explain the facts of life to Miss Snippy.

Heidi Hairdo, like some of the other interviewers, seem to keep up an invisible cordon sanitarire, a starchy, disdainful discomfort at having to share the set with an author so disreputable and, oh dear, tacky. This from people who fawn over every narcissistic piece of Hollywood horseflesh making the rounds to promote their latest lousy movie.

What's clear is that the news media are uncomfortable with someone investigating the arrogant and disturbing patterns of behavior in the Bush dynasty. They can't ignore Kitty Kelley, but they want to keep her in her litter box. But she's a tiny tigress, and will not be contained.
It remains to be seen whether anything Kitty Kelley writes about the Bushes can stand up to scrutiny, and if I had to bet, in the dark, I'm pretty confident that I'd bet on at least some of the charges falling apart. That said, Ms. Kelley deserves at least as much favorable coverage as any of the SBVF"T"; I trust a tabloid reporter, especially one working for an established, mainstream publishing house, quite a bit more than I trust a Nixon flackey pursuing a 35 year vendetta.

Standing Up To Dictators

Robert Kagan has advice that George Bush will not heed: And there is an even more fundamental reality that the president must face:
A Russian dictatorship can never be a reliable ally of the United States. A Russian dictator will always regard the United States with suspicion, because America's very existence, its power, its global influence, its democratic example will threaten his hold on power.

Finally, there is the matter of the Russian people themselves. Did the United States help undo Soviet communism only to watch as tyranny takes its place? Is that the legacy President Bush wants to leave behind?

Much depends on what Bush does and says in the coming days. No one should imagine there are any easy answers. If Bush denounces Putin, we will pay a price. If he goes further, as he should, and begins taking tangible actions in the economic and political spheres to express U.S. disapproval of Putin's latest moves, we may suffer a loss of Russian cooperation. These are chances we will have to take, however.

Perhaps in the face of global pressure, led by the United States but including Europe, Putin might feel compelled to back down. In any case, President Bush needs to try. He must remain true to his stated principles, both for the sake of principle and for the sake of U.S. interests.
Aside from giving Mr. Bush the benefit of the doubt long after he has ceased to deserve it, Kagan provides, indirectly, a particularized version of the best argument against George Bush's re-election. Namely, the gap between Bush's foreign policy rhetoric, on one hand, and Bush's actual conduct of policy on the other hand, is reflective of, at best, a surreptitious and dangerous repudiation of modal actualism, and at worst, an internationalized form of schizophrenia.

Rating Vengeance

This article ought to stimulate discussion. I can think of a few important examples that are missing: towards the zero end of the scale, there is the Dude's frustrated attempt to get compensation for his miturated-upon rug that tied the room together; at the upper end, there is Justinian's so-thorough obliteration of the Vandals that no records of their culture, civilization, or language survive, there is my cousin Bruno Ackermann (several generations removed), who fled Germany in the early 1930s, came to the United States, joined Patton's army and interrogated German POWs, and there is also what's coming to a certain Canadian cradle-robber when I get my hands on him...assuming I can sack up enough not to care about consequences. Montezuma's Revenge is somewhere in the middle, though it gets penalty points for not singling out the Spanish.

Not too many ESPN articles have exigesis (exigeses?) like this:
After Britney cheated on him, not only did he dump her, he put out a best-selling album fueled by a song about their breakup in which he basically destroys her with the lyrics. Just an unbelievable piece of work. It's devastating. I can't even imagine what she did when she first heard it. And if that wasn't enough, he made a well-received video about the song, starring a Britney look-alike. And if THAT wasn't enough, he immediately started going out with Cameron Diaz. By the time he was done, Britney's career was in the tank -- she was chain-smoking and hanging out with backup dancers and white trash guys from her hometown. Now that, my friends, is vengeance. Bravo, Justin. Bravo.
I almost want to stand up and applaud, but then I remember that I would rather hear the death rattle of my only child than listen to "Cry Me A River" (apologies to David Cross for shamelessly ripping off his material. He's a great comic and you should buy this album).

Fuck Glenn Reynolds (Part II)

Via Crooked Timber, here's a clinically executed vivisection of the Instapundit. We should all aspire to such tightness and concision in our endeavors to slay hypocrisy and hackery as this:
The faults Reynolds ascribes (sometimes accurately) to the mainstream media seem to involve a rather large amount of projection. Let's take his most recent attempt to claim that Bush and Kerry basically have the same position on gay marriage. This is a good test case, as Reynolds claims to be not the ass-licking Republican hack the content of his posts would indicate but a non-partisan libertarian. Admittedly, his form of libertarianism--which involves unstinting praise for a hyper-statist, fiscally irresponsible president and admiration for the literally authoritarian sentiments of a dimwitted Lester Maddox protege--is rather, ah, unique. (I'm not sure what version of libertarianism can square with Zell's arguments that criticism of a President's foreign policy is inherently treasonous, but maybe I missed a footnote in Anarchy, State and Utopia or something.) At any rate, here he goes:
Now, of course, any question beginning "what is John Kerry's position. . ." is a tough one. But -- correct me if I'm wrong here -- the only real difference between Kerry and Bush is that Bush has offered vague support to the certain-to-fail Federal Marriage Amendment. But it's, er, certain to fail. Now that's a difference, I guess. But it's not a huge one, and to me it doesn't seem to be a big enough difference to justify the vitriol. (Kerry's been, maybe, more supportive on civil unions, but I wouldn't take that to the bank.)
Could this possibly be more feeble?

  • Even if this were an accurate characterization, the argument is ridiculous on its face. Apart from having diametrically opposed positions on the central relevant issue, their position is exactly the same! Similarly, Barry Bonds and I have similar baseball skills, except that he is the best player in major league history and I can't hit a 50 MPH fastball. But other than that, our baseball abilities are exactly the same.
  • The attempt to conflate the two positions on civil unions is utterly dishonest. Kerry unwaveringly supports civil unions. Bush supports a constitutional amendment that would prevent states from having civil unions. Reynolds provides no substantiation for this assertion, but merely repeats the lazy media script about Kerry being a flip-flopper.
  • Reynolds also, conveniently, omits any discussion of the last major federal policy initiative in this area: The Defense of Marriage Act. Bush staunchly supports it. Kerry was one of a handful on Senators who voted against it. (And, yes, Clinton signed it into law. Which was a disgrace, and I never have and never will make the pathetic excuses for Clinton that Reynolds does for his beloved Bush.)
  • Yes, the FMA was destined to fail. But this was about symbolic politics. Bush was using his bully pulpit to use hatred against a group of people to win votes; how this is a defense of Bush I can't imagine. As it happens, I do think that Reynolds is correct to imply that Bush didn't care about the FMA. Although nobody knows, I suspect that Bush doesn't give a rat's ass about gay marriage. Which makes his conduct even less defensible; I respect a Santorum, who really believes in the FMA, much more than a Bush, who just takes the same position for cynical purposes.
  • Finally, note the egregious double standard Reynolds uses in evaluating the context facing Bush and Kerry. Bush gets a free pass for supporting a reprehensible amendment for political gain, because he had no choice. Kerry, on the other hand, gets no slack for nominally opposing gay marriage, although this is almost certainly a position taken out of political necessity (as his support for gay marriage in all but name indicates.) When the generational shift occurs, who is more likely to support gay marriage? The answer is painfully obvious. (Reynolds also takes this opportunity to heap more condescension on Andrew Sullivan and others who dare to call a homophobic policy a homophobic policy. Somehow, I suspect that if it was southern law professors who were denied the right to marry that this issue might not be considered so trifling.)

If anything can make the quickly decaying New York Times look good, it's Instapundit.
This is good right down to the last detail, including its exposure of Clinton as an authoritarian poseur and coward, given to manipulating legitimate civil rights issues towards his own political gain, rather than actually committing to the hard work of expanding civil rights.

The worst thing about Clinton, IMHO, was his consistent record of jettisoning his own better principles in favor of self-aggrandizement and self-glorification. Without blinking an eye, he could promise equality and dignity to his gay supporters while signing draconian legislation intended not just to limit their civil rights, but to give them a huge symbolic "fuck you" as well. He saw nothing inconsistent about utilizing the execution of a retarded black Arkansas inmate as a photo-opportunity to prove his "toughness on crime" credentials while embracing Toni Morrison's ludicrous claim that he was the first black president.

But this is about why Glenn Reynolds is a douchebag, not Bill Clinton, and I digress.

Site Update

I sold out. I'm not ashamed. Clicking on those ads makes me money. So go ahead and do it. You still get to read the blog for free, but now you can create an incentive for me to continue updating daily. (On that note, it's been an awfully slow week. Sorry for that. It's partly classes and partly the fact that I tore ligaments in my ankle at rugby practice---a small catastrophe that upsets my plans for more than just blogging.)

As of this posting, the ads are for right-wing-slogan t-shirts, right-wing books, and donations to the RNC. I don't know quite how that happened; I'm not responsible for the content of ads. They are a function of a Google program called Adsense that scans the site for content and portals in ads it deems as likely to appeal to viewers of the site. I don't think I'm writing a right-wing blog, but I guess the Google people disagree.

OTOH, with all the profanity, sexual vulgarity, and occurences of the words "gay" and "homosexual" (gay rights are a big deal to me---fuck you if you have a problem with that), I'm slightly surprised and relieved that butt plugs, S&M gear, and similar assorted collectibles didn't appear underneath the header...but now they will...oh fuck.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Fuck Glenn Reynolds

I'll say this for the Instapundit. His site is enormously important in the development of the 'sphere [n.b.: the word "blogosphere" will hereafter always be condensed to "'sphere"--ed.], both for good and bad. Since I am a blogger, I obviously believe that the benefits of a new and alternative medium outweigh the liabilities involved in the legitimation of groundless arguments. If the SBVF"T" episode proves anything, it's that bloggers need to police themselves as much as they police the MSM. If Dan Rather presented forged document as genuine, then he indeed deserves the ignominy in which he now finds himself. But in a converse, logic-beggaring development, smear artists like Reynolds---who expended all his energy sustaining a campaign of defamation which any rational person must have known to be a campaign of defamation---somehow attained credibility as truth-tellers.

All that introduction was a kind of throat clearing for what follows. If you've looked at this site with any regularity (or just scrolled down a bit), you've noticed that I've been keeping tabs on Glenn Reynolds unwavering pseudo-neutral advocacy of a anti-historical book purporting to justify the internment of Japanese aliens and Japanese-American citizens during World War II. It's pretty clear now that the Instapudnit had no qualms about endorsing a more or less overtly racist project of historical revisionism, sees no reason to reconsider his position, and is unlikely to do so in the future. What I mean to say is that I'm giving up on the Instapundit Watch as a daily occurence---though I plan to call Reynolds out on his lies every time they are particularly egregious, even for him. But before the Instapundit Watch's present iteration dies out, I'm going to take a few moments, i.e. a few posts, to showcase the Reynolds school of insultingly blatant hackery.

The Sinister Powers Of The Sodomy Lobby

Eugene Volokh gives a righteous whack to the Francoists. Money quote:
But wait, it gets still more depraved. There are probably tens of millions of married couples in which the parties regularly practice sodomy. Sodomy is sometimes defined only as anal sex, but sometimes also as oral sex, which is surely the definition Mr. Kinsolving must be using, since his objection was prompted by Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter, who presumably wasn't having much anal sex. It's also sometimes defined as purely homosexual, but generally as either heterosexual or homosexual; and since Mr. Kinsolving condemns sadomasochistic marriages without any mention of the sex of their partners, I take it he'd likewise disapprove of marriages of any sort that include that hideous crime of sodomy.

Yet no-one does a thing about these marriages. No marriage licenses are revoked. None are denied. Shameful. Shameless. A shame. Why don't people realize that we all have to make sure that none of our fellow married couples are having sex the wrong way?

I Heart Wonkette

Find out why here, here, and here

Instapundit Watch

Day 35. On August 2, 2004, Glenn Reynolds plugged Michelle Malkin's "book" defending the internment of the Japanese during WWII. It has since been shown to be a pseudo-historical fraud. But from Instapundit, still no criticism of Malkin.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Un-fucking-believable

Well this is a pretty much unbroken string of horrific luck stretching back to late January. First, you know who comes into my life and rips my guts out. Almost immediately thereafter, I find out I've got a hairline pelvic fracture that keeps me out of the gym and off the rugby pitch for 3 months, during which time about 15 lbs. of muscle wither away. After spending the entire summer rehabing and getting back into shape, and one week into the new rugby season...guess what...

...torn ligaments in my ankle. That's pretty much it for my season (maybe I can play against Harvard). The silver lining is that I'll probably be able to continue lifting. But it might be time to give up on moralism and just accept the cratefuls of Deca Durabolin I'm going to need to get back into the condition I was in last January.

Closing thoughts: "'My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends,' said God to Eliphaz the Temanite, 'for you have not spoken what is right of me, as my servant Job has.'"---Job, 42:7

"God is the biggest bitch of them all."---South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut

Bad News For CBS

Their own expert didn't authenticate the Killian documents.

$3 Trillion

I'm floored. That's how much President Bush's new spending proposals for a second term would cost, without factoring in the price of the war. (The Bushies don't factor the war into their budgetary calculations. Why not? It's none of your goddamn business, that's why not.)

Someone tell me why conservatives are supporting this guy.

Instapundit Watch

Day 34. On August 2, 2004, Glenn Reynolds plugged Michelle Malkin's "book" defending the internment of the Japanese during WWII. It has since been shown to be a pseudo-historical fraud. But from Instapundit, still no criticism of Malkin.

Monday, September 13, 2004

So What Do We Do In Iraq?

Short answer: no one knows.

Long answer: The Allawi government, on its own, has precisely zero chance of maintaining control of the country; and no external power, aside from the United States, has the ability to do anything to improve the situation on the ground. UN security forces have made shambles out of circumstances considerably less trying than those of present-day Iraq; and the NATO allies, even if they were interested in supporting the war effort and reconstruction, have neither the resources, the military manpower, nor the popular support that are all vital for any sort of meaningful commitment.

On the other hand, any attempted American pushback---and this is not idle speculation---will result in new waves of violence and new, widespread recruitment for the insurgents. (The people shooting at American soldiers, if anyone's paying attention, are not non-Iraqis and not even necessarily jihadists or Baathists anymore. Don't believe me? Read this.) At some point, the people in a position to craft Iraq policy are going to have to make the following bitter calculation: is it 1) better to retreat from Iraq right now, and if so, is there any way to ameliorate the consequences of such a move? OR 2) is it better to launch a major new offensive aimed at squashing the rebellion, with the certain knowledge that to do so will be astronomically expensive monetarily and in terms of lives lost, will require a commitment to Iraq as likely to reckoned in decades as years, and will indeed divert resources from the fight against internationalized terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda?

There are other factors one could add to this calculus, e.g. (obviously) diplomacy vis-a-vis Iran. I don't think, however, that adding anything to the equation will change its ultimate result. Regrettable thogh it may be, option #2 is the only viable one. The consequences of retreat are, at best, the installation of new strongman regime in control of a militant guerilla army and every reason to seek the support of al-Qaeda, and at worst, civil war in which the other regional powers intervene. (Keep in mind that any gain the Iranians can make out of the situation in Iraq extends the life of the Iranian regime that much further.) Either scenario would be a catastrophe for the United States, especially since, in the wake of a retreat, there could be no hope of exerting any control over the ensuing developments.

So we are left with the reality that there needs to be a major US offensive before the insurgents can wrest practical control of Iraq from Allawi's government. I can go through the whole liberal litany of scorn and regret---yes, it should never have come to this; yes, the Bush administration fucked up royally and is continuing to fuck things up worse; yes, the sacrifice of American soldiers in this effort has been horrific and the wingers who aren't fighting and don't care that others are dying are callous moral idiots---but the decision makers, including (hopefully) a president Kerry are going to have to deal with the circumstances they inherit, not the circumstances that might have come to pass had X, Y, and Z gone differently. Those of us who are supporting Kerry, by the way, are in an awful position of having to hope that he breaks his campaign pledge to withdraw American troops by the end of his first term.

The so-far-undiscussed third option, of continuance of the status quo, is more or less the Bush administration position, and it is almost incomprehensibly stupid. Failed policies do not improve through simple obstinacy. The only plausbile explanations of current policy are a psychological disorder that precludes any acknowledgement of error, or else some Rovian electoral calculation that privileges the president's re-election campaign above sound strategy in Iraq.

Modal Realism In Iraq

George Bush's manly poses have not only not succeeded in bringing republican democracy to Iraq, but as the substance of this NYT report should make clear, his policies since the idiotic "Mission Accomplished" moment have been an utter failure. I realize that there are metrics of success that don't necessarily entail western-style democratic parliamentary government, but I'd like to know which metric, precisely, allows for the interim Iraqi government to be losing ground in Baghdad to the insurgents.

But perhaps I haven't taken enough of a meta-view about the war. As I learned in a metaphysics seminar last year, there is a theory of modality (i.e., the study of possibility, impossibility, necessity, and actuality) according to which all possible worlds are in some sense "real"---just not spatio-temporally connected to the other possible worlds. The actual world, far from being the only reality, is simply the possible world that we happen to inhabit. This theory, called "modal realism," proposed most famously by the great Princeton philosopher David Lewis, might well have been the court ontology of the Bush administration all along, and we didn't know it.

If so, then we can at least make sense of the bizarre Republican re-election campaign, which is premised on successful conduct of a war in Iraq. Bush, Cheney, et al., in keeping with their standard tactic of saying things that are technically true but enormously misleading, have all along been talking about the real possible world W', in which Iraq is a vibrant, burgeoning democracy whose citizens regularly send care packages of flowers and candy directly to the White House, while in Afghanistan, the Karzai government has secure control of the country and the upcoming elections are not subject to massive fraud.

Blinkered modal actualists like me and John Kerry (and almost everyone who isn't a trained philosopher) have been stupidly constricting our perspective to possible world W, the actual world, when all along, we should have expanded our minds to take in the full field of modalities. Fool me once....

But now that I think about it some more, the number of possible worlds in which George Bush presided over an invasion of Iraq and Iraq became a flourishing democracy occupies a tiny fraction of the wave function. Indeed, there are, by a large factor, more possible worlds, including the actual world, in which Bush's Iraq policy is a failure. And there are still more possible worlds in which Iraq doesn't exist at all.

This Gang Can't Shoot Straight

Don Rumsfeld repeatedly mixes up the names "Osama bin Laden" and "Saddam Hussein." This is not a spoof. Would it be worse if he committed the error intentionally, or by accident?

Did CBS Get Taken In By A Hoax?

This seems to suggest, fairly conclusively, that the Killian memos could very well have been produced by a typewriter in 1973. What the Insta-freeps have proven is that it's possible to create a document using Microsoft Word that looks similar to the Killian memos.

Um, so what?

We have two hypotheses to choose from: 1) the Killian memos are authentic, and 2) the Killian memos are forgeries. Despite the Freeps', protestations, there is no reason to believe that the documents are inauthentic based on physical analysis alone. Indeed, consider for a moment the epistemic consequences that privileging the second hypothesis would entail. Anytime a typewritten document from an earlier period in time surfaces, and can be almost/not-quite/not really duplicated by a computer, are we to assume that the document is fraudulent? (Btw, Glenn is such a chump.)

No. Such a hypothesis offers no greater explanatory power over the document's origins, and it entails an unnecessary and implausible theoretical complexity. Unless new and further data emerges to support the hoax theory, then the rational conclusion is either to remain agnostic, or (better, more probabilistic) to assume that the document is genuine pending the discovery of new contradictory evidence.

And what we find, by probing the issue any further at all, is that despite some fuck-ups by CBS News, all the available data suggests that at the very least, Bush got an immensely unfair deal to get into the National Guard, and once there, barely fulfilled his duties, if at all.

Instapundit Watch

Day 33. On August 2, 2004, Glenn Reynolds plugged Michelle Malkin's "book" defending the internment of the Japanese during WWII. It has since been shown to be a pseudo-historical fraud. But from Instapundit, still no criticism of Malkin.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Saturday Review

I was a starter in the scrimmage yesterday, and I think I acquitted myself pretty well. At one point, I broke a 30 yd. run through several tacklers and set up a try in one more phase. Plus, I managed a pretty respectable work rate and poached a bunch of balls.

Last night, during the team's drink-up, we were attacked by egg-throwing light-weight rowers. It was bizarre because they were clearly outnumbered, and because I can't imagine any random group of Yale men that couldn't beat the crap out of the light-weight crew team. What are those guys, 150 lbs.? So it's even stranger, by a fairly large factor, that they would want to pick a fight with the rugby team. Needless to say, they might have started it, but they didn't finish it. We did, by pelting the exterior of their house with rocks and bricks.

And then, uh, there was Toad's.

I'm going to watch the Giants. Peace.

UPDATE: Giants = ugly

Instapundit Watch

Day 32. On August 2, 2004, Glenn Reynolds plugged Michelle Malkin's "book" defending the internment of the Japanese during WWII. It has since been shown to be a pseudo-historical fraud. But from Instapundit, still no criticism of Malkin.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

9/11

It feels like more than three years ago. Perhaps that has something to do with the gulf between being a high school student and a college upperclassman.

Nevertheless, I have a few salient memories. First of all, I'm never going to forget how beautiful the morning was. I had to walk to an outdoor modular classrom for first period Latin, which was when kids started filing in late with stories about bombs in New York. Before the period was over, the entire student body was summoned into the auditorium to hear whatever news was available. I remember feeling something like a mild anaphylactic shock.

At that point, there was a special meeting for the senior class. Let me set this up: all the seniors in my high school were required to complete an internship over the course of the year, going to work on Wednesdays rather than school. September 12 had been scheduled as our first day to go to the internships. Many of them, naturally, were in the financial district in New York, and some were even in the WTC. The class internship advisor said something so straightfacedly, unintentionally, darkly comical, that it has been permanently burned into my brain. "Some of you had internships at the World Trade Center," she averred. "They don't exist anymore."

Most of the other details of the day are a bit hazy for me. I do remember getting into a heated argument with an intelligent female classmate of mine (I think she goes to U Chicago now), who at that point was a dogmatic Aynrandian. Exactly how it started I can't recall, but it ended with us screaming at each other about the morality of indiscriminately carpet-bombing the middle east (I was against doing so).

Oddly enough, and though I didn't recognize the fact until many months later, 9/11/2001 was the beginning of the end of my flirtation with Marxism. (Hey, it could have been worse; I could have been an Aynrandian). Marxism offered no explanation for what had taken place. And an uncomfortably large segment of the left had adopted the Chomsky-Cockburn line about America essentially deserving the attacks. My revulsion at their polemics was pure gut and bile, and pre-theoretical. My first sustained attempt to sort out my own politics (if you haven't noticed by now, everything I write is at least as much an attempt to understand my own mind as it is an analysis of the external world) resulted in this article, published in a conservative campus newspaper. I continue to stand by the spirit and most of the substance of what I wrote; though there are places where I clearly allowed polemicism to overcome my better judgement. Also, my strained attempt to rescue Marx from the Marxists makes me laugh upon rereading the article (none of my conservative readers noticed this by the way; but at the time, I still felt a residual loyalty to the old man, and even now, I regard him as I regard some of my better teachers). If you're wondering about the two or three instances of awkward phrasing in the article, I can assure you that they were the consequence of a rushed editorial process in which I exerted little control. I do sympathize with my editor; I have an obvious thing for secondary clauses, and its tough to parse through them without creating a bit of stylistic wierdness.

There's one last thing I remember about the 11th of September three years ago. It's a vision that appears in my nightmares every so often. My drive home from school that day carried me over NJ Route 4 in Teaneck, to an intersection with River Road that offered a perfect view over the Hudson River into Manhattan. I saw the asymmetric mushroom cloud, and the gaping wound in the skyline that had delighted my imagination for the first 18 years of my life. In some strange way, New York now feels even more like my spiritual home than it did before I had any shocking memories of the failed attempt to destroy it.

Thought For The Day

"Had it been another day,
I might have looked the other way,
And I'd have never been aware
But as it is, I'll dream of her tonight."
---The Beatles, "I've Just Seen a Face"

Wish Me Luck

I'm playing rugby at UMASS in about 12 hours. Should be fun.

Sorry for slowing down the posting towards the end of the week. I'm working on a couple of relatively lengthy, substantive posts, and also starting to get bogged down in school work. Farsi is a tough language to learn. Who knew?

Look for some fairly significant site updates over the next week or so.

Lesson for the night: joining a fraternity does not make anyone your brother, contrary to what you might have heard.

Instapundit Watch

Day 31. On August 2, 2004, Glenn Reynolds plugged Michelle Malkin's "book" defending the internment of the Japanese during WWII. It has since been shown to be a pseudo-historical fraud. But from Instapundit, still no criticism of Malkin.

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