Monday, January 31, 2005

That Liberal Media

What's wrong with this YDN article? The title is "Scientists refute gender claims," referring specifically to the remarks that got Larry Summers in trouble; the subtitle is "Professors say society is responsible for gender imbalance in sciences."

Now it would certainly be news if cognitive science and empirical psychology were able to pinpoint "society" as the sole cause of the underrepresentation of women in math, science, and engineering. But of course, nothing of the sort has happened, and if you look under the fold, the article says as much. Some quotes to ponder:
Studies have shown men and women use different regions of their brains for cognitive tasks. Research by scientists at the Universities of California and New Mexico has shown that use more gray matter and women more white matter.
[F]unctional MRI studies provide evidence that men tend to use the left side of their brains while women employ more diffuse neural systems involving both sides while performing rhyming tasks.
Genetics and psychiatry professor Kenneth Kidd said most neuropsychiatric disorders affect males at a higher frequency than females, and young girls develop language abilities much more quickly than boys of the same age.
Robert Sternberg, a professor of psychology and education, said differences between the sexes exist for specific tasks, but most research does not confirm broad generalizations about superiority in science and math. Men tend to be overrepresented at both the top and bottom of performance scales, he said.

Neurobiology professor Paul Forscher said human brain function is too complex and enigmatic to make any assumptions about cognitive sex differences. While the importance of sex differences in lower animals is more clear-cut, he said, choices are more important in explaining human behavior.
You tell me how to interpret this. I can't interpret it as saying anything other than that there is no basis for drawing conclusions one way or the other about genetically-rooted neurological and cognitive differences between the sexes. Which of course argues (as one of the cited experts does explicitly) for further investigating these differences. It doesn't even remotely "refute gender claims," especially considering that Summers readily acknowledged (who wouldn't) that a large factor in the disparity in representation was societal. There seem to be three plausible explanations of the available data: 1) Whatever disparity exists in performance in these fields is the result of social constraints; 2) Genetics distributes mathematical and scientific skills unevenly, in favor of men; 3) Genetics hard-wires individuals to learn math and science according to differing sex-based neurological pathways, and due to inbuilt discrimination, the female pattern, though no less successful, gets filtered out. Of the three, the last sounds the most plausible to me. But it is a question we just can't answer yet, and scientists aren't capable of saying precisely what causes the gender imbalance, and they wouldn't do so.

Since I know first-hand that op-ed writers have no control over the titles of their pieces, I'm not ready to blame staff reporter Susie Poppick for her article's thoroughly misleading headline. But it's evidence of two nasty syndromes: a creative process by committee, as the headline surely was; and a politically correct Prudenization of a story.

Full disclosure: I'm putting an op-ed in the YDN later this week in which I defend Summers.

Cautious Optimism

The Iraqi elections seem to have been a success. Something like 60-70 per cent turnout, very limited violence, etc. It remains to be seen just what sort of government the Iraqis elected and, as Kieran points out, what's crucial in democratic transformation isn't the first election but the first in which an elected government loses, and peacefully hands over the reins of power.

However, I don't think it's hyperbole to say that yesterday was the greatest day in Iraq's history as a nation. As Matt Welch beautifully put it:
What a wonderful thing, to watch people vote freely for the first time. The act of casting ballots has a way of creating its own reinforcing, unpredictable momentum, which is the best single reason for hope today.
The holding of a free election might not by itself constitute substantive democracy, but it does constitute more than mere symbolism. Or, rather, symbols are not always "mere."

Saturday, January 29, 2005

...Where It's Due

Michelle Malkin, who you might say is not my favorite pundit, at least has the good sense to call bullshit on the excuse-making for the conservative pundit-for-hire scandal. She writes:
I wonder if McManus will say he "forgot" about the $10,000 payment, too. That line seems to be working pretty well now among some of my fellow conservatives. I'll have more to say about all this in the morning, but for now, let me just say that if I accepted $10,000 or $20,000 or $40,000 in taxpayer funds for my writing, I wouldn't forget it in one year or 5 years or 10 years. And I'd make damn sure I disclosed it in relevant columns, books, or media appearances, even if it invited condescension from the "don't be such a holier-than-thou-goody-two-shoes-must-you-disclose-everything?" crowd.
I really didn't ever think I'd be quoting her approvingly. Just goes to show how broad the wave function is.

Friday, January 28, 2005

It Keeps Coming

Another minor league conservative pundit took government money and didn't disclose it. The important thing to keep in mind, and I'm going to repeat that, because this is fucking crucial, the important thing to keep in mind, is that absolutely nobody is responsible for this.

More On Maggie

Greg Beato does some retrospective and follow-up on Maggie Gallagher (the head honcho of Maggiegallagherism), her persistent mendacity, and her hypocrisy (hat tip: Matt Welch).

I've become less and less neutral about this whole thing since yesterday (not that I was terribly neutral then---put it this way: I'm more confident that my judgement isn't just the result of prejudice against Maggiegallagherism). Gallagher's claim that she would have disclosed her $21,000 holiday bonus from the Department of Health and Human Services if only she had remembered it is 1) fatuous and 2) the sort of thing a guilty conscience says. She knows she did something wrong, but her big regret is that she got caught. (And look, National Review is changing its contract policy as a result of this.)

The worst detail of the whole affair, which as Beato points out, Howard Kurtz didn't mention, is that in 2003, she testified before the Senate in her role as a "marriage expert" [N.B. a vocation somewhat less reputable than astrologer--ed.] during subcommittee hearings which I think lead up to its debate on the FMA. In other words, Gallagher testified as an independent expert on the merits of a policy that the government was surreptitiously doling her money to support. (Note to Cornerites: There's no difference between paying her to promote a policy and paying her to find out what she knows if the government already knew that what she knows is that she likes the policy. Alles klar?) If that's not an ethical violation, I have an ocean-front property in Arizona to sell you.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

An Immodest Proposal

People who use the phrase "speech act," as in "Job's first words to his friends are a 'speech act' of uncreation," should be quietly and bloodlessly executed. Well, it's worth thinking about anyway.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Enriching The Language

Julian Sanchez has a proposal for a new word: Fleischer.

  • Fleischer (n.) -- 1. A lie no one believes, but was told for the sake of courtesy
Count me in as one who believes that the introduction of a word that that kind of lie is long overdue. In fact, as Julian suggests, we may need a new vocabulary of the categories of lying much as the Eskimoes maintain a super-complex vocabulary of snow.

Apropos of nothing, it seems that Johan Ugander is back to blogging. Check him out.

La Deluge

As I said when the news first broke that Armstrong Williams was a paid government shill, the notion that Williams' case was an isolated incident was just not something an intelligent and honest person could possibly believe. As gratifying as it must have been for the right wing of the blogosphere to discover that Kos was on the take from the Dean campaign (months after Kos had disclosed that fact to his readers), that was not the sort of thing I had in mind---though make no mistake: Kos has been rather impressively deceitful about the whole thing, and his basic hackishness discredits our side nearly as much as Hugh Hewitt discredits the other side.

Last night, the news broke via Howard Kurtz---who is himself a walking, breathing, gum-chewing conflict of interest, but that's another story---that Maggie Gallagher took government dough to do her thang. Since Ms. (Mrs.?) Gallagher is a Yale graduate and a subcriber to a couple of e-mail lists that I, too, am on, I received no less than four copies of her non-apology over the last 24 hours. Is her offense as rank as Williams'? Probably not. For one thing, her payoff was smaller than Williams' by a factor of more than 10. For another, she wasn't paid specifically in order to be a plant for a particular legislative item. Nevertheless, Gallagher's insistence on a rigid distinction between the profession of "journalist" and the profession of "syndicated columnist" is rather paltry. It's not quite as if anyone in the Bush administration had any doubts about what Mdme. Gallagher would have to say about gay marriage and the FMA. Columnists are self-evidently and explicitly biased in a way that beat reporters cannot be, but that doesn't obviate the bare minimum ethical obligation of full disclosure. The real distinction, which Gallagher fails to observe, is the distinction between being unbiased versus being untainted. A columnist should never be the former but always the latter.

OTOH, I may be prejudiced in my judgements about Gallagher. As I made clear several months ago, I find her to be without many rivals the single most insufferable moralizing public "intellectual" in the entire United States, if not the world. Her sociological methods are risibly flawed. They are, in fact, a shabby cover for her raging homophobia, which she always---always---sublimates into concern for THE CHILDREN. [You don't hate children, do you?--ed.] [Only most of the time--F.]

Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher....

Does anyone genuinely believe that this is the exhaustive set of fourth-string right-wing pundits who're on the dime for the Bush administration? If so, please call me, because I'd really like to talk to you.

Another On Board?

Andrew Sullivan notices that there's something fundamentally decent about Russell Feingold; which is more than can be said for very many other politicians. Say it with me: Draft Russ!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The War Against Cliche

A notorious right-winger on an e-mail list to which I subscribe chose to denounce critics of the administration's torture policy in the following terms:
This sort of US-adversary-and-establishment-bien pensant-media-embracing, Republican-administration-bashing isn't libertarian. It's coastal elitist, conformist leftism.
Since I have never met the good sir in person, I'm going to count this as evidence in favor of the hypothesis that he is not a human being but a spam machine programmed to clog inboxes with a litany of jargon that was trite before it ever found its way on to a page. Whether human or machine, he (it) is responsible for perhaps the single most cliche-ridden declarative sentence in the history of the English language.

The Death Of Irony

One of my roommates brought back a joke from winter vacation that (nominally anyway) poked fun at US media coverage of natural disasters: "So did you hear about that tsunami? It's just so sad. There could be literally...dozens of Westerners who lost their lives." But lo and behold, our friend Bill O'Reilly spent the week after the tsunami going in-depth nightly on a mudslide in California that killed a couple dozen people. And CNN assembled a panel to address the question of whether or not a tsunami could happen in the United States (answer: no) [but that wouldn't stop the Bush DHS from allocating a few billion dollars for a tsunami prevention center in Cedar Rapids, IA--ed.]. What makes parody parody, I always thought, was its refraction of reality. The best parodies, it seemed to follow, were those at the slightest remove from reality. What to make of an epistemic arrangement in which parody and reality are indistinguishable?

Rather than answer that, I'll link to a couple of political cartoons that take up the problem from the other side, i.e. that of the satirist. Over here, Tom Toles takes a swipe at the Orwellian language games the Republicans are employing to advance their Social Security proposals. My question is, how is this in any way different from what actually passes for discourse about Social Security on the right? The substantive differences are clear, but is there a formal difference between the following?
  • 1) believing that Oceania and Eastasia are allies at t0 and believing that Oceania and Eurasia are allies and have always been allies at t1 and
  • 2) supporting "privatization" at t1 and opposing and having always opposed "privatization" at t2
If such a difference exists, I don't see it. More morally egregious, however, is the phenomenon Tom Tomorrow lampoons here. And to continue beating a dead horse, this is, allowing for stylistic variation, precisely how the activist right has been dealing with the torture scandal.

No one is readier than I am to criticize humorlessness on the left. But is it still possible to be funny when propositions that are self-evidently absurd are treated with gravity and reverence?

Self-Hating Jew

Until now, I've never seen an instance in which that term could be used fairly. And then, via Andrew Sullivan, I read this charming piece by Rabbi Daniel Lapin (for the uninitiated: a major Jewish ally of the evangelical movement), titled "Our Worst Enemy," an appellation which we swiftly find out refers to the Jews themselves. In a column littered with little gems of refracted, turned-in-on-itself anti-Semitism, this nugget stands out in particular:
You’d have to be a recent immigrant from Outer Mongolia not to know of the role that people with Jewish names play in the coarsening of our culture.
With a few substitutions for style and diction, there aren't many historically important anti-Semitic ideologues who didn't make statements more or less precisely the same as that one. Would I be violating Godwin's law if I suggested that Rabbi Lapin's immediate intellectual forbear in criticizing the Jewish role in cultural decadence was none other than Hitler? Most of the time, yes. But in this case, I think not. Not when Rabbi Lapin himself cites a juicy passage from Mein Kampf about degenerate Jewish art, only to aver that such sentiments "focused on a reality that resonated with the educated, and cultured Germans of his day." Not, further, when Lapin himself validates in toto the Nazi programme of cultural restoration:
The sad fact is that through Jewish actors, playwrights, and producers, the Berlin stage of Weimar Germany linked Jews and deviant sexuality in all its sordid manifestations just as surely as Broadway does today. Much of the filth in American entertainment today parallels that of Germany between the wars.
The rest of the piece ranges from unrelentingly egregious to unrelentingly risible, the latter evidenced by Lapin's repeated jeremiads against Woody Allen, whom Lapin fatuously charges with "portray[ing] Jews, not to mention rabbis, as loathsome liars, desperate psychotics, pathetic perverts, and ridiculously lecherous losers." Presumably it didn't occur to Lapin that these might have been self-portraits. It's just that lack of subtlety and surfeit of philistinism that "links" reactionary peasants with deviant views about freedom of expression, if I may borrow a phrase.

To conclude: I'm not all that surprised to see a right-wing demagogue engaging in a bit of disgraceful (but fun!) on-the-other-handism about Hitler. I am, however, somewhat surprised to see that the person doing so is a Jew.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Not Dead Yet

As proof that I survived the weekend, here's a new YDN column, which is a secular argument for teaching the Bible and other religious texts in public schools. To the quick:
The great error of the proponents of a public-school program entirely bereft of education in religion is the notion that study of the Bible or other religious texts, uniquely among all the fields of the humanities, necessitates some official judgment, an endorsement or rejection, on the part of the educator and the educational institution involved. Remove yourself from the passions of our fractured and inflamed culture wars and it shouldn't be difficult to see how plainly preposterous this conclusion is. Reading "Gilgamesh" in a high school English class, as I'm sure many of us did, imposed no requirement on my teacher to declare either in favor or against the literal and/or metaphorical truths of the epic. Likewise with any other work of art, it seems, except for one.
Now if I get a chance, I'd like to devote a few words to this Zachary Zwillinger column arguing a moral case against the study of innate genetic difference between men and women. It might not surprise you to learn that I think he's full of shit. For the time being, have a look at Will Saletan's debunking of the show-trial of Larry Summers.


MEMRI, the best source for translated Arab journalism and other media, has clips of commercials for the Iraqi elections scheduled for a week from now.

The Stakes

A girl with a mental age of eight is sentenced to death in Iran...for the crime of having been forced into prostitution by her mother. Evil exists.


I got a number of helpful responses to the inquiry below. And I'm feeling better. Thanks to everybody.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Blegging...Seriously Blegging

So: I just got back from the sports medicine department of DUH, which makes the rest of Yale's health care service seem almost good in comparison. And here's the problem: I have a torn left pectoral muscle. Here's another problem: Barry Goldberg, M.D. tells me that it will never heal, that there are no available corrective procedures, and that I'll never recover my former strength. Now I know that a lot of that is bullshit. Powerlifters, bodybuilders, football players, and other kinds of strength athletes suffer pec tears. It happens. And they're able to come back.

But there's a lot I don't know. Like, e.g., what the name of the branch of medicine that deals with injury to muscle is. Or where to begin looking for a second opinion. Or who could tell me anything useful.

So here's my pitch: If you can tell me anything at all that would be helpful, please let me know by e-mail or by leaving a comment. I'm sorry to have to do this, but I'm in a borderline desperate state, and so I'll be halting normal blogging for a few days to leave this post at the top of the site.


Apparently people are reading this thing after it would seem given that the author of a far-flung post I criticized yesterday responded very quickly.

So, was I too quick to lump him in with the torture-apologists? Maybe. If one wants to know the fact of the matter about the use of torture by US forces, and the involvement of the administration in said practices, the source to consult is Marty Lederman's contributions to Balkinization. Here's the executive summary: Something like a couple dozen prisoners have died in US custody, and many more were raped, and many more still were subjected to "forced enemas, infliction of cigarette burns, and binding detainees hand and foot and leaving them in urine and feces for 18-24 hours." Everyone is free to call these sorts of things by whatever name they wish to, but I think I know what the correct term is. Furthermore, far from being isolated incidents, we now have reams of documentary evidence supporting what seemed obvious from the moment news of the Abu Ghraib atrocities broke: These kinds of abuses almost never take place in isolation, and far from resulting merely from lack of administration oversight, were in part caused by surreptitious but unmistakable sanction of torture by high tofficials within the administration.

The responses from the administration's defenders tend to come in two varieties. One is a kind of epistemic cognitive dissonance, a simple denial of the objective truth. It's often accompanied by or else implies on its own the notion that the oppressive elite media have cooked all this up, that the facts aren't really real, or some such (you've undoubtedly heard it already). The amusing thing to me about this thread of defense is its underlying anti-realism, its denial of the possibility of there being an objective truth apart from the unconscious bias that goes along with being human, its denial of a world of reality behind the world of appearances. Who're the post-modernists now?

The other response is the kind of language game involved in the dispute over calling something "coercive interrogation" instead of "torture." There's a famous illustration of the difference between use and mention that comes out of one of Abraham Lincoln's arguments to a jury in his early days as a litigator. If you called tails "legs," he asked them, "how many legs would a donkey have?" The answer, of course, is four. Changing the referent of the term "legs" doesn't change the number of legs on a donkey. In the language in which "legs" refers to both legs and tails, the answer to the question "how many legs does a donkey have?" would be "five," but that's indicative of nothing more than that words are (mostly) arbitrary conventions. If the word "two" meant five in some language, then in that language, the sentence "two plus two equals ten" would be correct. But two plus two still equals four, and five plus five still equals ten.

The point is that playing terminological games doesn't change the world. To paraphrase Lincoln, if you called torture "coercive interrogation" and outlawed the word "torture," sodomizing prisoners with flashlights would still be torture. However, there is a practical consequence of such a move, which is the only reason to make it in the first place. Namely, people who would never condone "torture" are okay with "coercive interrogation," since the mental associations with each are different even though they refer to the same thing, i.e. torture.

In other words, what I'm saying is that people who have a moral compass and maintain principles deeper than maximizing the advantage of a political party or a politician ought to be fucking careful with the way they use language. Is it true that there are leftists would cry bloody murder at absolutely anything the Bush administration does? Sure. And while I haven't personally seen cases of people on the left claiming that the use of Israeli flags amounts to torture, I wouldn't be terribly suprised if I did see it. But there's an issue of moral priority here. I don't think I'd even know how to engage with someone who felt greater outrage at a careless accusation by some lunatic at the Democratic Underground than at the Attorney General-designate's role as an enabler of torture. These cases aren't even close. And I'd suggest, further, that whatever the appropriate term is for interrogation methods that clearly fall short of torture, it's not "coercive interrogation." That's already been picked up by the torture apologists and spoiled; using it innocently only makes easier the task of those who want to use the term specifically in order to whitewash horrific abuses of power, of ethics, and of the public's trust.

Spoke Too Loosely

The commenter on my post about GWB's irritating habit of lying about social security takes me to task for glibly asserting, as I certainly did, that there is a "popular ideological consensus" in favor of the New Deal welfare state. I think his narrative of a Hayekian majority is flat-out wrong, unless "Hayekian" is a token for everything that's wrong with crony capitalism---a redefinition that's grossly unfair to Hayek.

But OTOH, I definitely could have chosen my words better. There were two separate points I was trying to make within one very loaded phrase, and it's my fault that it's easy to misinterpret. So here's my attempt to do better.

Point 1 was the trivial truth that logically prior to implementation and practice, the public soundly supports Social Security in all its essential characteristics. That's why the Bushies are taking a path of less resistance---"fabricating crises," as Harold Meyerson put it---rather than trying to change public opinion about Social Security itself.

Point 2, which I'll have to elaborate on another time, goes to the prescience of a lot of what James Burnham had to say in the Managerial Revolution (flipping crazy though he became). For all intents and purposes, the issue of a publicly controlled economy versus a privately controlled economy versus a mixed economy was settled decisively in favor of the last by World War II and the Great Depression. There's no extracting the state from commerce and industry or vice versa; the transition costs, so to speak, would be prohibitively high. The most fascinating quality of our economy to me is the process by which private companies can eventually become so big that their failure is rendered impossible, or at least tracked to the survival of the state itself. The unembarrassed celebration of that feature, it seems to me, is what's crucial about George W. Bush's political economy---something like social democracy turned on its head. It's a state of affairs, by the way, that is most certainly somewhere along the road to serfdom.

As for my explanation of what happened to the welfare state in the 90s, it again comes in two parts: First, the commenter vastly overdramatizes the extent to which the welfare state was done away with by a reduction in low-income welfare benefits. Assuming for the sake of argument that welfare reform was the wrong thing to do (and I'm only doing that so as not to get lost in a tangent), there are still mechanisms readily available to restore its former magnanimity because the change was a tiny proportional reduction of the public/private mixture of the economy, not any sort of fundamental shift in its nature. (Okay one tangent: this same logic is the reason I absolutely could not care less if the top marginal income tax rate were 34% or 31%, and why it's so schmucky of conservatives to treat that question as a burning moral issue.)

Second, and more importantly I'd say, public preferences on economic policy and the election of governments disposed to the implementation of those policies came apart a long time ago. As for the growth of the "virtually unregulated world market over the past three decades," sit tight, because this one actually begins with the completion of the Silk Road. Globalization is very, very old. And it is definitely not the product of conscious population-wide choices such as the consensus behind Social Security.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Sorry In Advance

I'm sure that Mark Hanin is a perfect sweetheart, but there's nothing but masturbatory amour-propre behind his decision to contribute this to the YDN op-ed page. How bad is it? More facile than a high school social studies paper, and far less well researched and written. Or maybe he just turned his notes from FORMAC into complete sentences. Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't op-ed pieces supposed to argue for something? No? Just checking.

About That Lying Thing

Harold Meyerson gets to the heart of what bothers me about Bush's economic policy. Whatever else my disputes with Republican foreign policy and social policy, I'm not in principle opposed to a Hayekian economic programme, and in the alternate universe in which Republican elected officials act like adults, there's a significant chance that I'd be a Republican. But as Meyerson writes, the Republicans understand perfectly well that the popular ideological consensus is firmly behind the New Deal welfare state:
Politically, however, Social Security is facing the gravest crisis it has ever known. For the first time in its history, it is confronted by a president, and just possibly by a working congressional majority, who are opposed to the program on ideological grounds, who view the New Deal as a repealable aberration in U.S. history, who would have voted against establishing the program had they been in Congress in 1935. But Bush doesn't need Karl Rove's counsel to know that repealing Social Security for reasons of ideology is a non-starter.

So it's time once more to fabricate a crisis. In Bushland, it's always time to fabricate a crisis. We have a crisis in medical malpractice costs, though the CBO says that malpractice costs amount to less than 2 percent of total health care costs. (In fact, what we have is a president who wants to diminish the financial, and thus political, clout of trial lawyers.) We have a crisis in judicial vacancies, though in fact Senate Democrats used the filibuster to block just 10 of Bush's 229 first-term judicial appointments.
Rather than attack New Deal liberalism as a political philosophy, the administration prefers simply to lie until confronted with the truth and then strike the pose of victims. With such witting accomplices as these, they continue to get away with it.

Here's a line to consider next time you go door-to-door in the heartland: "Don't you silly fucks get it? They have nothing but contempt for you, and they'll keep stuffing bullshit down your throat until you make them stop."

Anti-Matter Me

Some days ago I made reference to the violence that the torture-apologists are doing to the English language. Today I was sent this link, which, in just about the best throwaway line I've ever seen, attacks the left for insisting on calling what went on in American military detention complexes "torture," rather than what is, natch, its proper name: "coercive interrogation." Once again, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot.

Not Nearly Funny Enough

P.J. O'Rourke soils himself. Ted Barlow cleans him up:
The self-described fun-loving Republican Party Reptile wrings a whole outraged column out of the Ten Commandments case from the summer of 2003. (Time flies, huh?) It’s part of his general thesis that the true opponents of Republicans are “jerks.” O’Rourke doesn’t seem to like the fact that jerks wouldn’t let Moore install the Ten Commandments in front of a courthouse. Or, maybe he’s just responding to the wailing of jerks when exposed to the Ten Commandments in any capacity, wailing so high-pitched that only hackish conservative pundits can hear it.
Indeed. This is so beneath any acceptable standard of cogence that I'm wondering if somebody posing as O'Rourke astroturfed the Weekly Standard? [And just how would one tell a WS fraud from the genuine article?--ed.]

"Don't Ask Don't Tell" vs. Winning The War

I can't say enough good things about Richard Cohen's op-ed from yesterday. There are clearly quite a few folks, many of them in the Bush administration, for whom barring gays from military service is a higher priority than national security. To fire Arabic and Farsi experts for being gay at a time when we have a shortage of both, apart from being despicable bigotry, is criminally negligent. Cohen's money quote (among several contenders):
I sit in uncomprehending awe of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. I was a military man myself, if basic and advanced training in the combat engineers count for anything, and therefore I lived in barracks with gays. That's a statistical certainty. Later in life I belonged to several health clubs where, statistics aside, I damn well knew that many of the members were gay. In all that time, I had not a single uncomfortable moment. This is not something that, for instance, women at West Point and the Air Force Academy could say. In both military institutions, women have been molested and even raped. Yet no one suggests getting rid of women . . . or men -- just making the system work. This should be the rule with heterosexuals and homosexuals as well.
Funny how those of us straights who actually know gays can keep from getting hysterical and paranoid when the issue comes up.

I'm A Rational Animal

Every liberal blogger seems to have linked to this site simultaneously. Me, I'll do wha'eva.

I'm A Billy Goat

Eric Muller found the coolest time-wasting personality test I've ever seen (sample question: would you rather your mother or your father catches you masturbating).

I turned out to be a Billy Goat (deliberate brutal sex dreamer), which is pretty nasty, but not as bad as the Hornivore. My opposite is the Loverboy. Eric was a Slow Dancer. I'd call him a weeny but I'm too grateful to him for finding this.

Be Serious Lads

The Wall Street Journal publishes a dialogue between economists on the Social Secuity "crisis"---and their first disagreement is over the extent to which the administration is lying. Imagine that.

For the record, I'm not opposed to social security privatization on a theoretical level. However, I'm convinced that on a practical level, a public system is always going to work about better for the majority of people than a private account system. In other words, the facts on the ground would have to change an extraordinarily dramatic way for me to change my mind about this, so much so that I don't think such a change is possible.

My point is, my beef with the administration from a moral standpoint isn't that they want to privatize Social Security---it's that they simply cannot bring themselves to utter a truth about it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Dept. Of Clarifications

Yes, Jonah, National Review's position on gay marriage is bigoted. Ask Stanley Kurtz, Mary Eberstadt, and John "When you think of homosexuality you think of buggery" Derbyshire.

A Challenge For The Left

Is it possible that we could figure out a way to criticize Condoleeza Rice's tenure as NSA without effectively calling her a race traitor?

Apropos of Rice, my roommate informs me that in the Fox News coverage of her Senate confirmation hearing, the (slightly delayed) feed was cut off just before Paul Sarbanes asked a question about Rice's involvement in the disastrous pre-war intelligence regarding Iraq---he caught the question on MSNBC---so that the good folks at Fox could deliver "breaking news" about the decline in value of Yahoo shares. That's your news, fair and balanced, as always.

Apropos of misguided (that's putting it charitably) racialism on the left, we've finally topped the disgusting/amusing column YDN column on the pertinent question of whether or not Condoleeza Rice is "really black." (Her skin may be, but as Dayo Olopade thoughtfully reminds us, "actions speak louder") Topped it how? With Paa Kwesi Imbeah's letter to the editor complaining of Jamie Kirchick's column from last Thursday, which was mostly about the various forms of idiocy (moral, political, scientific, cultural, etc.) involved in Thabo Mbeki's AIDS policy.

I'm not even sure where to begin to excerpt. Hell, just read through it:
Firstly, to denigrate Thabo Mbeki for holding a different point of view (albeit at the cost of other humans) misses the mark. Especially so from the almost morally bankrupt point of view of a culture that thinks itself to be responsible for undertaking a global civilizing mission that has self-interest as the basis. You should clear the log out of your field of vision before attempting to move a speck out of a friend's eye.

I have advice for commentators on African issues: Be constructive or keep quiet. We (I purport to speak for Africans) have had too many distracting opinions. I hardly think this advice will be heeded, but when it comes to Africa, many of us Africans at Yale will not tolerate any self-righteous attempts to malign mainly responsible adults who happen to have points of view others do not agree with. That we have mainly been quiet does not imply consent.

On Africa, there are many competent Africans thinking about progressive ways to do things. This sort of article does nothing to promote progressiveness and only serve to offend minds which would rather be bent on more important matters.
Got all that? The layers of pietistic cliche at work here would be hilarious if they weren't indicative of an obtuseness that is literally lethal. Better to let millions die, it seems, than confront legitimate external criticism.

Block That Phrase

Kevin Drum is right. Let's never ever ever speak of "speaking truth to power" again.

Am I On The Take From Russell Feingold?


Monday, January 17, 2005

Draft Russ? Draft Russ!

I just got e-mailed the url for the unofficial Feingold for President site (unsurprisingly, Count me as on board---I'm going to go ahead and add a permanent link---though I disagree with some of his positions, especially those concerning free trade, Russ Feingold is the only national politician that I can honestly say I admire. Feingold is in practice what John McCain is only in theory: a bonafide independent. He is in a better position than anyone else to reshape the Democratic party, and the nation's politics, in a way that somewhat resembles this. He could be the standard-bearer for a national campaign of reformed and honest government---he would be wise to endorse Arnold Schwarzenegger's excellent anti-gerrymandering proposal, which is perfectly in line with the genuine bipartisanship that has been his legislative hallmark. Well, all this for now is merely potential, but I think there are justified reasons to be optimistic both about Feingold and his chances.

For the record, I disagree with Josh Eidelson, who also likes the idea of a Feingold candidacy, about his own qualms with Feingold. His vote in favor of Ashcroft, I think, was more defensible than Josh lets on. And his votes on the Clinton impeachment were precisely the right ones to make.

My views on Clinton, for the sake of context: I regard his performance as president to have been decidedly mediocre, and I regard him as the very lucky beneficiary of a boom economy brought about by a new Industrial Revolution that he didn't have any hand in whatsoever. He was a deplorable president from an ethical standpoint---I doubt that there are any campaign finance laws he didn't break---and he did more than any president since Nixon to use the powers of his office to exact revenge on personal opponents. For sure, the relentless lying, secrecy, scapegoating of hated minorities, and sanctioning of unspeakable evils (i.e. torture) that are sure to be George W. Bush's legacy in any honest account of this period in our history, make the Clinton stuff look petty in retrospect. But at the very least, we should be able to recognize that the only important structural development in domestic politics that Clinton succeeded in enacting was the selling-out of the long-term future of the Democratic party for his own personal aggrandizement. Feingold had it right back then, and if I can correctly divine his views about the lingering influence of the Clintonites, he still has it right: Very few people, least of all us Democrats, owe Clinton a goddamn thing.

One more point: Clinton's record from a libertarian standpoint was absolutely horrific. He wasn't fanatically tough on pornography like the Ashcroft DOJ, but that's about all that can be said in his favor. Meanwhile, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1995 was one of the most monstrous pieces of legislation ever conceived, and, in case it's not obvious, was a neat precursor to the most draconian aspects of the Patriot Act. Those of us who are concerned about President Bush's non-chalance/indifference about the execution of just about anyone convicted under any circumstances should keep in mind how much Clinton did to grease the wheels of the machinery of state-sanctioned death.

The End Of The Media Party Is So Passe

This Howard Fineman piece, which seems to have caused so much spontaneous ejaculation in the right wing of the blogosphere, has more wrong with it than the self-impaling logic implied by Fineman's assertion that "[i]t's hard to know now who, if anyone, in the "media" has any credibility"---which sounds somewhat like the famous Cretan paradox, only much less worth meditating over.

OTOH, Fineman raises some interesting and important questions (not on purpose) that the Koufax blogosphere hasn't addressed and has, in fact, so far been unable to come to grips with.

But first the problems with Fineman. For starters, there's something both hilarious and vaguely sinister about his detached approbation for people whose only source of news is blogs, and in this case, only right-wing blogs. Why hilarious? Because Instapundit and Powerline would have absolutely nothing* to talk about if the "MSM" suddenly declared an Atlas Shrugged-style strike of the talented and shut down their bureaus everywhere.

*Nothing unless they wanted to make shit up wholecloth, which I would not put past them.

Why vaguely sinister? Because there are significant numbers of people whose first criterion for news consumption is the news provider's equation of the Republican party with the nation and whose second criterion is the extent to which a story reflects well on the Republican party. If, by some disaster, Glenn Reynolds and Scott Johnson replaced the New York Times Washington Bureau, we'd be hearing an awful lot of good news, which might or might not have anything to do with what's actually happening in the world.

Since Fineman doesn't get that much, I don't think it's an accident that he chooses to frame the media's role in bringing down the Nixon administration and hastening the end of the Vietnam War as "crusades" that "seemed like a good idea at the time." This is one of several locutions that had me scratching my head wondering, could Fineman possibly mean what he seems to be saying? Because if they only "seemed like a good idea at the time," then logically, in retrospect, the media should have ignored Richard Nixon's attempts to subvert the Constitution as well as the dozens and dozens of egregious lies which bipartisan American governments used to support the Big Lie that the Vietnam War had anything to do with protecting freedom and stopping the spread of tyranny in the first place. (Question for Fineman: It's 1965. You're the editor of the Washington Post. You hold definitive evidence that the Gulf of Tonkin "crisis" was simply a fantasy concocted by the Johnson administration. Do you a) report what you know because it's your duty as a journalist and as a loyal citizen, or b) sit on it, because some very unsophisticated people who would have made better Soviet than American citizens are going to accuse you of treason? If b), my dear Howard, you don't deserve to get another byline as long as you live.)

Fineman's preposterous suggestion that the media reporting real, true, and accurate facts, in the case of Watergate and Vietnam, amounts to a "crusade" obscures what I think is the most important point to be made about the right-wing of the blogosphere (and the left wing as well, though as Matt Yglesias would say, there is a pronounced hack gap), which is that for the most part, it resembles talk radio more than any other medium. Its purpose---the purpose of Glenn Reynolds, Hugh Hewitt, the Powerliners, the Cornerites---is not to get at truth, but to advance a partisan agenda. If they do occasionally discover a truth, it's not because they set out to do so. Now, clearly, the Dan Rather case is one of partisan politics getting in the way of the search for truth, but for the most part, such bias as actually exists in the derided "MSM" resides in many spectra orthogonal to the crassly partisan one. Furthermore, the difference between involving oneself in journalism-like activities explicitly in order to advance a political cause, versus journalism that seeks to paint an accurate portrait of the world but is informed---how could it not be?---by underlying bias, is the difference between night and day. I can't say it's surprising that Glenn Reynolds and Hugh Hewitt are incapable of registering that point, but so what. Journalism is older than, and it can and should survive the advent of instapunditry as well.

What else to say? If Howard Fineman thinks it's impossible to discern credible journalists from the non-credible, just because Dan Rather is a buffoon (and was a buffoon when he started in the biz), or because Scott Johnson is capable of raising a fuss any time true but unflattering things are said about his Fearless Leader, then he needs to find a new line of work ASAP. Such a pathetic profile in cowardice has no business helping to craft the CW of any particular moment, as Fineman, unfortunately for the rest of us, surely does.

But I said earlier that Fineman's piece at least unintentionally gets at issues that are problematic for lefty bloggers. To be sure, the disdain the left blogosphere has shown for the right's triumphalism was justified, but I fear that a lot of it was a simple knee-jerk reaction to whatever the other side happened to be saying. Getting involved in blogging---whether in terms of writing or reading---necessarily commits one (I think) to a position on the legitimacy of the blogosphere as a medium. It can be a powerful tool for worthier causes than undermining John Kerry's military record, but it won't be if we on the left bank of cyberspace box ourselves into the self-defeating position of arguing against the value of anything that comes out of the blogosphere.

UPDATE: Okay, one last point about Howard Fineman and not getting it. I think it was highly unwise of him to choose Vietnam and Watergate as his examples of media crusades, and not just because the analogy doesn't work even remotely. Some significant proportion of the American population has a stab-in-the-back theory to explain what went on in the late sixties and early seventies. It's impossible for them to accept as fact the proposition that the President of the United States betrayed his oath of office and tried to subvert constitutional government, ditto with the lies and misdeeds of American officialdom in Vietnam. No amount of confirmatory evidence will convince them otherwise, and the media are a particularly appealing scapegoat. There's no intelligible understanding of the dynamics of American politics over the last thirty years that doesn't take this into account (nor any intelligible understanding of the 2004 presidential election). Fortunately, this phenomenon is mostly restricted to citizens above a certain age, so there will probably come a point when we've ridden it out and a forward-looking politics will again be possible.

Until then, there is a great deal of political mileage to be gained through the demonization of those predictably accused of being internal enemies. There may be no precise quantification of just how much Fox News, talk radio, and the right-wing blogosphere trade on festering resentment of those people who betrayed their president and their country in a time of war, but it's certainly the case that such resentment and the epistemic subjectivism Bush Republicanism thrives on fuel each other mutually in a positive feedback loop.

Words To Live By

This account of the American Dialect Society's annual selection of "words of the year" in various categories is riveting. Good for the ADS for not caving in to PC pressure to choose a "most outrageous word" more likely to be reprinted in newspapers than "santorum." And shame on every newspaper editor who felt that his readers couldn't handle seeing what "santorum" means. To paraphrase a Woody Allen line, the definition of "santorum" is nowhere near as obscene as what Rick Santorum intends to do to the country.

(san-TOR-um) n. 1. The frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.

Pass it on.

Crucifixion World Tour

I see via Kieran at Crooked Timber that "relics" from the crucifixion are going to be touring the American southwest at the behest of a right-wing Catholic splinter group. I'm reminded of the scene in Blackadder I when Percy tells Edmund and Baldrick that he has come into posession of "a bone from the finger of our Lord," only for Baldrick to reveal that Jesus's fingers are on a special sale, half a crown for a dozen.

All The Poisons That Lieth In The Mud Hatch Out

It's gracious of one's enemies to declare themselves. As this imbecile does, in titling a post "the merits of anti-Semitism." When pray tell, as long as all this is out in the open, did the ACLU become a Jewish front group?

Always enlightening to see, by the way, who is receiving an endorsement from Glenn Reynolds these days.

"How Dare He"?

My favorite of all the letters to the YDN about Keith's anti-GESO column is this predictably hysterical number from Robert Proto. Underneath the ridiculously aggrieved rhetoric is the fallacy upon which GESO was founded, i.e., that graduate students at Yale University are proletarians. Once you realize they are not, Proto comes off as an obnoxious gasbag. Beyond that, it's worth pointing out that Proto's comments about racial discrimination aren't even "tangentially related" to Keith's column, which was entirely about the various ways that GESO games its own members and defiles the Graduate School.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Return Of The Curse Of The Duke's Ghost

The Jets had the Steelers beat and insisted on allowing the Steelers to win anyway. David Adesnik blames Michael Dukakis. I blame Doug Brien.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Negative Expected Utility

Anne Applebaum's op-ed in the Washington Post this past week ought to shatter the idea that torture is even a remotely effective tool for intelligence gathering. Those of us who are on the side of decency in this need to be out front constantly pointing out that torture is a) irreducibly evil and b) egregiously ineffective. In fact, there has never been an interrogation method about which so much has been written on the basis of so little evidence of its efficacy. Somehow, though, as Anne writes, "'realists,' whether liberal or conservative, have a tendency to accept, all too eagerly, fictitious accounts of effective torture carried out by someone else." That's exactly right; the "MSM" are always so ready to accept any prefabricated consensus that if we allow the torture apologists to frame the debate as between people who are interested in protecting the rights of terrorists versus people who are interested in protecting the rights of Americans, the decency side will lose.

We can't allow that to happen. Morality---a morality common to every religious confession and to secular ethics as well---is on our side, and that should be enough. But in case it isn't, the utilitarian calculus of torture is on our side as well. Torture makes America less safe.

If Only...

Joel Stein has a theory: Hot WASPy chicks love Jews. I'll believe it when I see some evidence of it (this would be the cue for hot, WASPy chicks to show me evidence of it). Till then, I'll enjoy his comparison of Blaxploitation to Jewsploitation:
The stereotype in Jewsploitation isn't the neurotic, nervous Jews of Woody Allen films, which you guys never seemed to like much. The Jews in "The Fockers" are loud, inappropriate, obsessed with sex and bodily functions, overly affectionate, liberal, earthy and smothering.

These traits seem to amuse people who don't get two helpings of it a day from parents who can't seem to understand that this is precisely why we moved 3,000 miles away to Los Angeles.

But they are also the traits that eventually teach the WASP parents in "Fockers" to loosen up and enjoy life. It's the same function black people perform when they are forced to be in movies with Steve Martin. Blacks do voodoo; Jews do therapy. We both are portrayed as clownish people who eat too much, talk loudly, rebel against authority, use colorful slang, over-emote, are too in touch with our bodies and are clannish. We happen to be the only two groups of people in the world who don't just pretend but actually enjoy jazz.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Making It

I just found a link to my column on the best blog on the web. Thanks, Andrew.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

In The Mail

Chris Ashley wrote me an awfully civil response to the column on van Gogh's murder:
Hi Dan!

Good piece this morning. It always does my heart good to see people writing robustly in defense of freedom and decency. I'd just like to clarify a couple of things for my part:

First, my column said in so many words that Van Gogh wasn't "asking for it" or any such thing. If you believe there's another meaning hiding behind my explicit words ("None of that is to say Van Gogh was asking for his brutal murder at the hands of an accused terrorist"), that's one thing. I'm a lit major; ideological critique is fair play. But if the author's intention matters to you, I'm not sure how I could have made mine plainer.

Second, I don't hesitate at all to equate knife and camera when both are tools of hatred. As you may know, Van Gogh treated "goat fucker" as a synonym for "Muslim" in his newspaper columns. That sort of thing, by my lights, crosses the line from "coarse and insensitive" into "hateful". That doesn't justify killing him, but the abuse of women in Muslim households, although a terrible crime, doesn't justify his sort of categorical hatred of Muslims and immigrants either. (Full disclosure: underlying my logic here is Jesus's teaching that murder and hateful insult are morally equivalent. If I'm odious here, it's mostly on his account, although I'll accept my share of the blame too.) The issue isn't that liberal and jihadist values are in any sense equivalent, but that hatred can grow in any soil and ought be named as such even when it grows from your own. Ever read "The Satanic Verses"? The late material on persecution of immigrants in England carries a similar thematic punch, I think. And it would apply to Holland too: Hirsi Ali's party, the PvdA, has taken an increasingly anti-immigration line since Fortuyn came on the scene.

I do love the taste of robust debate. Thanks for throwing your bit in.

He's so nice about everything that I almost feel guilty for arguing with him. I'm also grateful to him for letting me know that I was not misattributing to him an assertion of moral equivalence between van Gogh's camera and Bouyeri's knife. I'm hardly an expert on Christianity, but I must say that if the doctrine Chris cites is central to the religion, then Christianity is positively immoral.

His point about stating explicitly in his column that van Gogh "wasn't asking for it" is stickier for me, but as I said to him, I can't even begin to make sense of his "flamebait" remark except as a way of assigning some of the responsibility for van Gogh's death to van Gogh. In a subsequent e-mail, Chris tried to get me to understand his point:
I'm not clear on how the common law treats this, but my impression is that even the most inflammatory of speech (you know, fightin' words) on a dead person's part isn't taken to mitigate the killer's responsibility. In Internet terms, the blame in a case like this is usually assessed using Godwin's Law. The troll might have started it, but whoever brings up the Nazis first is the one who killed the discussion and lost the argument.
I think there are two separate issues to parse out here. One is whether Bouyeri had any moral justification for taking van Gogh's life, and I'm satisfied that Chris does not think so. The other issue is the nature of van Gogh's role in the causal chain leading up to his death. On this count, I think Chris has it exactly wrong. Firstly, it's not the "goat fucker" remark that brought about the end of van Gogh's life. It was his association with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and specifically his production of a film on Muslim oppression of women. That's not an opinion; it's a fact proven by the contents of the letter Bouyeri stuck into van Gogh's corpse. So Chris's reference to the term "flamebait" still seems unintelligible to me unless it means that in some sense broader than a strictly ethical one, van Gogh is partly to blame for the murder. And that logic, it seems to me, is roughly akin to telling a rape victim she oughtn't to have dressed so provocatively.

UPDATE: Since I told Chris this privately, I may as well let it out of the bag that I consulted a source he didn't, namely this article in Salon. I'm pretty sure our dispute goes deeper than holding differing views of the events because we looked at different reports---his stated Christian belief in the moral equivalence of "murder and hateful insult" is an unbridgeable gap between us---but it's certainly possible that this dissonance played a role in our opposing interpretations of van Gogh's killing.

The Problem With GESO

To reiterate, I think Keith had it right. In fact, I don't consider his article to be a column so much as a straightforward report; the things he contends are simply fact (but check out the link and decide for yourself).

Back in the old days before Yale, when I was still at Dissent, we published a pamphlet on graduate student unionization, which I suppose I favored rather unthinkingly. I've reversed my views entirely, for one general reason and one local reason.

The general reason is that graduate students are not proletarians. The suggestion that Ph.Ds in waiting have a common class interest with lifelong wage-laborers, least of all Yale Ph.Ds in waiting, is an unfunny, borderline obscene joke. It is, moreover, a notion that can only hurt the cause of real workers.

The local reason has everything to do with GESO's management and tactics. As Keith amply reports, GESO's method of first resort is harrassment and intimidation. Their method of second resort is to stage rigged elections, and even there their rate of success is only 50%. This, I think, is the meat of Keith's article:
What Bysiewicz and giddy GESO supporters failed to mention at the Dec. 14 meeting was that the card count was hardly representative of the whole graduate student body. In an effort to exclude departments predominately opposed to unionization -- most notably those in the natural sciences -- GESO changed the eligibility requirements, denying the right to vote to hundreds who differed with the group's agenda. When asked about the exclusion of TAs in the natural sciences, GESO publicity contact Rachel Sulkes told me that those up on Science Hill had simply "defined themselves as outside our interests" -- a well-crafted PR term meaning that they disagreed with GESO and were therefore excluded.
Is this not the admission that ought to end the debate over GESO once and for all? If the only graduate students eligible to vote on unionization are those that already favor unionization, then GESO is quite obviously a fraud, a cross between a Communist Party Central Committee and an ill-managed triangle scheme.

UPDATE: The comment under the fold convinced me that there's something I need to clarify. When I said that GESO's conduct in rigging elections "ought to end the debate over GESO," I didn't mean that GESO's reliance on deceit and manipulation invalidated the right of graduate students to unionize (though I don't think graduate students do have a right to unionize, as per above). I meant that by taking a vote under the circumstances of dubious methodology (card balloting) and the intentional exclusion of grad students inclined to dissent (disallowing the vote from grad students in science), there simply isn't any rational argument left to be made that GESO is legitimately representative of the graduate student body. Yale would be doing a terrific injustice to grad students by legitimizing GESO as a valid interlocutor.

Enemies Of Civilization

I'm not sure whether to cringe at the title the YDN editors gave my new column or at least embrace the attention it's likely to draw. In any case, I stand by every word in it and I'm unashamed about being intolerant of a fundamentalist creed that seeks to destroy everything I care about through the exportation of violence. This is my attempt to make sense of the heavily underreported slaying of Theo van Gogh (yes, a relative of the other van Gogh).

Salman Rushdie said in the article of his which I quote from in my column:
The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In tis world-view, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong. We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world's resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons. Not by making war but by the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them.

UPDATE: On reflection, and taking account of the YDN's bizarre fetish for indicative predicates in column titles, a better choice would have been "In war against jihad, fear is no weapon."

UPDATE: In another intriguing decision, the editors decided to print only me and Jamie and leave the rest of the op-ed page for letters, mostly in response to Keith Urbahn's column on GESO. I agree with virtually everything Keith said---making this a bad night for my relationship with leftist orthodoxy---but more on that in the morning.

UPDATE: It just keeps coming. Turns out there was a New Year's plot to murder Ayaan Hirsi Ali, van Gogh's partner in truth-telling. Yeah, Christopher Ashley had it right, she's an "anti-Muslim crusader."

UPDATE: Last but not least, the context. Ian Buruma does some fantastic reporting from Holland.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

It'll Come To You Eventually

See if you can figure out what's funny about this quicker than Kevin Drum did:
According to a 1997 poll, only one out of three U.S. citizens is able to name the most basic of Christian texts, the four Gospels, and 12% think Noah's wife was Joan of Arc.


Is there nothing Eric Mueller can't do?

Why Are People So Stupid?

In my Philosophy of Law class today, the professor asked a question about why the laws of physics aren't really "laws" as the term had been defined. Somebody suggested that in the latter case, there is no penalty if you disobey.

...if you disobey...

It sounds like something Ali G would say.

No, I did disobey gravity, cuz this one time wif me Julie, I kept it up fo' like five hours straight, aight. Respek.

Goldberg & Sipowicz

After I said what I had to say about Jonah Goldberg's "Sipowicz Rule" defense of torture and related species of excuse making, I got this very germane e-mail:
On behalf of my father who created the character Sipowicz, and my close friend Bill Clark, whose own work as a detective is the basis for many of the stories on the show, I felt compelled to write a little something regarding Goldberg's reference to Sipowicz's techniques in his feeble attempt to defend military torture, feel free to agree or disagree as you will.

First of all, the interrogation techniques on NYPD Blue are not a prescription for real-life law enforcement, they are a set piece within the context of a drama that examines the good and bad of law-enforcement and the trade-offs which occur in the effort to maintain order in a chaotic world. Part of what makes NYPD Blue more than the average procedural police show is that it forces its audience to come face to face with the devil's agreement we have with our law enforcement: that we want cops, soldiers, etc to do whatever they have to do to keep us safe, but we want it done behind closed doors. The general distrust and division that exists between law enforcement and
civilians in our culture is borne from this agreement, but it is also crucial to our idea of order--one that is maintained out of sight. This is not to say that the only reason what occurred with Graner, England and the bunch is wrong only because we saw it, but that as a culture we are also culpable because in a certain way, we too gave them the okay as much as Rumsfeld or Gonzalez, we just didn't want to know about it.

Second of all, much of what makes Sipowicz as a character so compelling is that we see the toll his constant exposure to violence takes on his personal life. Sipowicz was a drunk, he wasn't around much for his first son, he isn't a role model, he is a full-blooded human being who has learned a certain way to live while immersed in violence and sadness.

Lastly, whatever violence takes place in police interrogations in New York City occurs in a very different context than military prisons. The culture is infinitely different in very significant ways. The perps Sipowicz smacks around or threatens have grown up in the American culture of violence. Often, men who have been beaten their whole lives only understand such violence. It is a way to communicate, to gain trust, even to make them feel at home. A good cop understands this. This isn't to excuse police violence, but there is much more going on psychologically in such threats than in the barbaric torture Goldberg is trying to defend. American criminals understand such threats far differently than Arab prisoners. Because of this common ground between American criminals and cops, the exchange of violence takes place on an entirely different terrain.
I basically agree with this. I'm not sure about "society"'s culpability for the administration's torture policy; I don't think the average citizen is responsible for decisions made in secret that contradict and blaspheme the government's officially humanitarian rhetoric. But the reader's comments about the unspoken and unspeakable agreement between civilians and domestic law enforcement are eminently valid---the social contract rests on a rather dark foundation.

Philosophical interest aside, the real reason I wanted to post this was that it demonstrates what a contemptible valet de pouvoir and intellectual sophomore Jonah Goldberg really is: Appropriating a work of fiction he doesn't understand and isn't entitled to appropriate, purely in order to give a too-cute defense of the indefensible.

WTF? Part II

I never thought I'd say this, but John Derbyshire's post on intelligent design is really, really great. One point, if I may. He writes:
(4) The "coincidence" point (i.e. "How come physical constants are just precisely what they need to be in order for us to exist?") is very fascinating to any thoughtful person. I have never seen an answer that struck me as very satifactory; but the non-ID answers -- e.g. the Anthropic Principle in its various forms (Google it) -- are at least as satisfactory as the ID ones ("Because God made things that way.")
Not to boast, because I didn't invent it, but I'm pretty sure I summarized the definitive refutation of the "coincidence" of life-compatible physical constants here.


I don't mean to be singling out Jonah Goldberg, and I'm all in favor of blogs being about more than politics, but this and this are just inexcusable.


When not offering very swiftly-unpacked justifications of torture, Heather MacDonald can be awfully sharp. Such as in this Slate article, a demolition of theodicy from the perspective of rational choice theory. Money quote:
Where is God's incentive to behave? He gets credit for the good things and no blame for the bad. Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is fond of thanking God for keeping America safe since 9/11; Ashcroft never asks why, if God has fended off terrorist strikes since 9/11, he let the hijackers on the planes on the day itself. Was God caught off guard the first time around, like the U.S. government? But he is omniscient and omnipotent...

So, let the human race play hard to get. Imagine God's discombobulation if, after the next mass slaughter of human life, the hymns of praise and incense do not rise up. He checks the Sunday census; the pews are empty. Week after week, the churches and mosques are unattended; the usual gratitude for his not wiping out even more innocent children does not pour forth.


Not nearly as fun as the AVN awards. The newest inductee is Hardee's "monster thickburger," a thing consisting of two 1/3 pound burgers, three slices of cheese, and four strips of bacon sandwiched between buttered and liberally mayonaissed buns. It contains a mere 1200 calories, over a hundred grams of fat, and enough sodium to send an elephant into shock.

By pointing this out, I hope I'm not going to be accused of being a puritan about food. I'm quite strongly libertarian in fact, and I believe in a citizen's absolute right to eat him or herself to death. What I object to, however, is the cost of the coronary procedures of the human-cows who consume these things being reflected in my medical bills.

IRONY UPDATE: As soon as I post about the sandwich of death (see above), Adsense starts displaying a banner ad for the tickets to Green Bay Packers games.

How Our Tax Dollars Are Spent

It's enough to make you not want to pay them.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Winner Is...

Lauren Phoenix: Best Performer at the AVN Awards.

Civil Disobedience

I whole-heartedly second this letter to the YDN:
It appears that neither the Connecticut courts nor the Connecticut legislature will block New England's first execution in 40 years. Therefore, the question now is: What Connecticut doctor will forsake his or her professional ethics in order to allow the execution to proceed?

The state's execution protocol calls for a "Connecticut licensed and practicing physician" to verify the training of both the executioner (who injects the lethal drugs) and the person who inserts the intravenous catheter through which the drugs will flow. Furthermore, a physician must enter the execution chamber and pronounce the inmate dead.

The ethical guidelines of the American Medical Association, which are endorsed by the Connecticut State Medical Society, clearly state that a physician may not consult with or supervise personnel involved in a lethal injection. Furthermore, these guidelines forbid a physician from monitoring vital signs at an execution. Monitoring vital signs (such as observing an EKG monitor, or checking for the presence of heart tones, pulse, or breathing) is necessary to pronounce death. Thus, the Connecticut execution protocol is in direct conflict with nationally recognized ethical standards for the medical profession.

Medical professionalism is a cornerstone of a stable society. When a government policy leads to a failure of medical professional ethics -- as the downfall of medicine in Nazi Germany dramatically reminds us -- not only are physicians degraded, but all of society suffers. For the sake of all of Connecticut's citizens, Yale students should call on their University to condemn physician participation in lethal injection.
More here.

It Gets Worse

So the Bush administration is mulling over reassembling the death squads. How 80s. I only have one thing to add. I supported the invasion of Iraq when it began on moral and humanitarian grounds. I didn't think then that military loss was a possibility. If now, the only way to avoid a military loss is to use death squad tactics, then the noble cause, whatever it was, is already over.

Look To The Language

The precondition of the Bush-defenders' cynical anti-realism is a rhetorical indecency worthy Orwell's favored examples---"Marshal Petain was a true patriot"; "The Soviet Press is the freest in the world"; "The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution"---of tortured political speech (pardon the pun).

I refer to Orwell, because, as usual, he has something to teach us about our own polittical culture. The pattern of defense for Bush, Gonzales, Bybee, et al., of which I have yet to see an exception,* runs something like this: The atrocities that took place in prisons under American auspicies and at the hands of American officials are to be understated and obfuscated; but where the evidence of misconduct piles so high that ostrich-like denial and scapegoating of the liberal media are self-evidently absurd, a new argot of lifeless metaphors and abstruse technical verbiage must be conceived. Thus we replace "torture," which decent folk who love their country still oppose, with "coercive interrogation," which no decent folk who love their country could oppose.

"Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them." Thus Orwell wrote in "Politics and the English Language" (the greatest essay ever on either subject). "The inflated style is a itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details." The way to defend torture is not to defend "torture." It is to make sure that any photographs of sadism in action are junked in favor of a meaningless cacophany of nonse words printed in Courier typeface.

The other way to defend torture is through a reverse dishonesty. Whereas the purpose of the description of the various abuses is to obscure the nature of those abuses, there is a discourse of hypothetical scenarios abundantly vivid and aimed at convincing us that "coercive interrogation" is the moral thing to do. You've already heard the examples. A nuclear bomb is set to detonate in New York City. The CIA has apprehended the mastermind behind the plot. They know he knows the bomb's location, and they have half an hour to get it out of him. How could you oppose torturing our hypothetical would-be mass-murderer?

Notice already that the Latin vocabulary and wilderness of legalese have given way to a folksy, highly descriptive, matter-of-fact idiom. This shift is the first sign that something here is rotten. Bush's Republicans are in the process of doing something astonishing: using language to transform real events of the real world into an indiscernable blur, while rendering an imagined scenario that has never actually occurred into something "real," concrete, and determinative of moral obligations.

I will address the hypothetical as presented, however, because I've seen too many pathetic "torture-opponents" on cable news agreeing, in principle, that there are cases like these in which torture would be justified. Of course they are not. The "ticking-time bomb," however it's phrased, is simply bollocks. If terrorists have set something to happen in half an hour, it's going to happen. Torture takes days, weeks, and months to produce results. When it finally does, and it always, finally, does, the results it produces do not track the truth whatsoever. Any confession produced by torture is as likely to be false as it is to be true; in other words, the process is utterly unreliable and therefore of no utility at all. In fact, it is a guaranteed method of imploding the investigative system. Low-level intelligence operatives---the grunts who actually conduct interrogations---are not charged with coordinating raw intelligence with macro-strategic goals. Their job is merely to get that intelligence, and they will do so by the easiest path possible. (Remember your Milton Friedman?) Allow an exception for torture, and torture becomes the rule. There is no means of getting as much information out of detainees as torture will do by definition; and there is only one means of distinguishing credible information from non-credible, namely doing the legitimate investigative work that a system involving torture precludes.

J'Accuse. The Bush administration and its apologists are raping the English language. They are seeking a justification for the commission of an absolute evil. And they are increasing the chances of defeat in the war against jihadism.

*The exception is the outright approbation of torture from some quarters on the right. It is beneath comment or contempt. But it may not be quite so rare. I've personally received numerous mass-emails, from interlocutors whose identities I won't divulge, applauding the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and arguing explicitly that any mistreatment of prisoners whatsoever is entirely justified.

Lincoln's Homosexuality?

Rick Brookhiser reviews the C.A. Tripp biography of Lincoln, which, if you haven't heard, isn't quite like the Sandburg biography of Lincoln. (It's rather more like Gore Vidal's Lincoln, though more scholarly than either Sandburg or Vidal.) Brookhiser tears through a lot of Tripp's "psychology," which strikes me as rather pseudo-, but it's still hard to conclude that Lincoln didn't have erotic relationships with men.


Jonah Goldberg wants to make it clear that Dennis Franz's interrogation techniques are not beyond the pale:
Moreover, I have no problem with playing a little smacky-face with prisoners. Think about it. The standard being put forward by [Andrew] Sullivan and others on all this would rule the tactics of Detective Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue unacceptable. For years, Sipowicz has been smacking suspects around in order to force them to confess. He threatens to "beat their balls off" every other show.
Is this more or less vile than Rush Limbaugh claiming the Abu Ghraib photos were evidence of nothing other than fraternity-style hijinks? To review, here's what actually occurred:
Many innocent men and boys were raped, brutally beaten, crucified for hours (a more accurate term than put in "stress positions"), left in their own excrement, sodomized, electrocuted, had chemicals from fluorescent lights poured on them, forced to lie down on burning metal till they were unrecognizable from burns - all this in Iraq alone, at several prisons as well as Abu Ghraib...

This brutal treatment occurred, according to various government reports, only at internment facilities which were also designed to get intelligence. Up to 80 percent of the inmates at Abu Ghraib - which was used to get better intelligence - were utterly innocent. The torture was done by hundreds of different U.S. military officers and soldiers from almost every branch of the military. There is no assurance that it has stopped. And there's plenty of evidence that many senior officials knew exactly what was going on.
Where does this cognitive dissonance come from? Those of us who are, shall we say, ashamed about the pervasive use of torture by American interrogators and jailers, are not engaged in a debate with the excuse-makers and apologists. One side (my side) is simply talking past the other. To us, the treatment of prisoners involved things like rape and murder, it occurred repeatedly at multiple prisons, it was justified by internal executive branch memoranda and orders, and as far as anyone knows, it might still be going on. The other side contends that what happened was one or two isolated cases of "a little smacky-face" that had no relation whatsoever to official policy---but if torture [you mean "coercive interrogation"--ed.] were to occur, only a damned Commie would choose to let Americans die rather than allow interrogators to protect the homeland. And if you think about it, what do the torture memos remind you of besides Dan Rather's reporting on phony National Guard memos?

This isn't a dispute about what's right. At least not initially. Despite the mental gymnastics and fraudulent, rigged hypotheticals of which we will never hear any end, I think the president's defenders understand that torture is something deeply wrong. (Or not: Jonah Goldberg is "sympathetic to torture under very specific circumstances.")

The dispute is first and foremost about discrete facts about the world. Were prisoners sodomized or weren't they? Were some killed? Were as many as 80% of them innocent? Were still more guilty of nothing but petty misdemeanors? Did high ranking officials know about the abuses or not? These questions have only two possible answers, and they are not ideological answers. To say that all the evidence points in the direction of "yes" to every question is not a form of "Bush-bashing." Rather, it is an affirmation that external reality is something that multiple rational subjects with adequate information should be able to agree upon. A proposition is a fact if it gives an accurate description of the world. It does not become an un-fact if its truth reflects poorly on George Bush, or if liberals regard it as a fact, or if the "MSM" report it. [Yes that's grammatically correct. "Media" is a plural--ed.]

It Takes A Yalie

Buried at the end of Chris Suellentrop's examination of whether Alberto Gonzales believes in a) torture, and b) extraconstitutional executive fiat power (answers: a) yes, and b) is the pope a goy?), Harold Koh, our own law school dean, proposes an Alexandrian solution:
He tells the Judiciary Committee, "A simple question you could have asked today was, 'Is the anti-torture statute constitutional?" If Gonzales answers yes, then he does not believe the president can override the statute. Mystery solved. Only one problem with this professorial inquiry: By the time Koh testified, Gonzales was already gone.
Yeah. As if Gonzales would have answered.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Christian Love

No time for substantive posting today. What lurks behind this link is worth savoring. (Hint: It contains a very plausible new slogan for Sweden's Board of Tourism.)

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Back To Babylon

Uh, hooray.


I see via Dan Munz that Generalissimo Pinochet is finally getting what he deserves.

This could serve as a lesson to the incurable Democrats (and Clintonites) among you: Few people did as much to coddle the mass-murderer, torturer, and kidnap artist as our 42nd president. (Margaret Thatcher did more. So did Henry Kissinger.)

Saturday, January 08, 2005


"Just before his helicopter lifted off, [Senate Majority Leader Bill] Frist and aides took snapshots of each other near a pile of tsunami debris.

'Get some devastation in the back,' Frist told a photographer." [Emphasis mine; hat tip: Andrew Sullivan]

[Clinton was worse--ed.]

Friday, January 07, 2005

The Scandal Is What We Don't Know

Semi-literate hack extraordinaire Armstrong Williams turns out to be a fan of bribery (if he's on the receiving end).

But as a Josh Marshall reader points out, the idea that Williams' case was an isolated one is about as plausible as the idea that torture in USAS prisons was the result of the defiance of official policy on the part of individual grunts; a fish rots from the head down:
Question: who else has been on the payroll?

They sank a quarter of a million into one not so prominent commentator to push a single issue -- not even one where they really needed help -- and they never greased anyone else? Not so credible.

Anyway, just asking . . .
Indeed. How to put this the right way? As far as I know, Glenn Reynolds does his thing for free. I'd respect him more if he were on the dime. (It's the difference between selling your integrity and selling your manhood, I think.)

UPDATE: Yup! Instapundit is a pro bono asshole.

Thought For The Day

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

Leon Wieseltier on the cataclysm in the Indian Ocean:
It is indecent to move immediately from catastrophe to theodicy. Evil should shock and disrupt. The humanity of the dead should be honored with the tribute of dissonance, the tribute of doubt. I do not see how a theistic view of the world cannot be embarrassed, or damaged, by such an event. If it is not possible to venerate nature for its goodness, then it is not possible to venerate the alleged author of nature for His goodness.
I mentioned a couple of days ago that I am an agnostic. I should clarify; the relevant possible alternatives are a universe that is atheistic or a universe governed by the god of Job. Traditional theology is the practice of bowing before malevolence and calling it grace. Nietzsche was right.

Playoff Picks

I want to get this all out on the record before the NFL playoffs start. In the AFC, the Chargers beat the Jets 27-17. I had faith in Chad Pennington longer than a lot of people, but it expired after that abysmal showing against St. Louis. In the other wild card game, Indianapolis beats Denver 42-7 and John Lynch isn't a factor. In the NFC, St. Louis goes to Seattle and beats the Seahawks for the third time this season. Ditto for Green Bay hosting Minnesota.

In the divisional playoffs, the Chargers, who were probably my favorite team all season, have no answer for Pittsburgh. New England beats Indianapolis again, even though Payton gets 400 yds. passing. I wish there were a way for the Patriots and the Colts both to lose. When TO was still healthy, the Eagles were almost as good as an AFC team. With him gone, the NFC playoffs are wide open, and I think Philadelphia is headed for another crushing disappointment---they've already taken two weeks off, and I expect their game-rhythm to be in a shambles by the time they finally play. St. Louis beats Philadelphia, though Philly wins if the Seahawks get through the wild card round. As for Green Bay at Atlanta, I'm picking the Packers for two reasons: 1) having won 9 of 11, the only team in the NFL on a better run than the Packers are the Steelers; 2) Green Bay better damn well win and prove how inflated Atlanta's regular season record actually was.

When Pittsburgh beat New England in the regular season, Corey Dillon wasn't playing. Also, Bill Cowher's Steelers are to the AFC Championship game what Jim Kelly's Bills were to the Superbowl. That said, induction is irrational, and Pittsburgh is just a better team than New England. Steelers over Patriots by two touchdowns. In the NFC Championship game, if I've been right to this point, St. Louis plays at Green Bay, where KGB sacks Bulger 5 times and the Packers win comfortably (when the Rams played at Lambeau on Nov. 29, Green Bay won 45-17).

Superbowl XXXIX: Pittsburgh's running game is way too much for a Packers defense that tackles poorly. Steelers 34, Green Bay 20.

After the season is over: Marshall Faulk retires, Jerome Bettis retires, Brett Favre doesn't, Mike Holmgren is the head coach of the 49ers, Tom Brady remains drug-free, and Nick Sabin washes out like every other league-jumping egomaniacal college coach.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Good News And Bad News

GN: Krossfire ist ganz kaputt.

BN: Tucker Carlson gets his own MSNBC show.

Too Late

If you switch on C-SPAN right now (~1:30 pm EST), you'll see that the Senate is debating the legitimacy of Ohio's electoral votes, since Senator Barbarba Boxer co-signed an objection to the count. The time for this was four years ago.

Instapundit Watch

Shorter Glenn Reynolds: "When Democrats attack the president for arguing that two plus two equals five, they're only feeding into the public perception that they're soft on the war on arithmetic. Personally, I think there ought to be more of a debate about this, but it's difficult to have one given the way that addition has become so politicized."

Andrew Sullivan, Cincinnatus, and Jesse Taylor (scroll down) agree, each in his own way.

I'll have loads more to say about the shameful things Glenn and his compatriots are doing to the English language. Torture would be an apt description if "tortured language" weren't already a cliche.

Longer Glenn Reynolds (for those interested):
I was out running errands today and my sense is that the GOP is thrilled with the idea of Congressional hearings in which Democrats can be characterized as soft on terror. It's the old "soft on criminals" routine revisited. How did that work out again?

I've been against torture since Alan Dershowitz was pushing it back in the fall of 2001. (Okay, actually I was against torture even before Dershowitz was pushing it). But I think the effort to turn this into an anti-Bush political issue is a serious mistake, and the most likely outcome will be, in essence, the ratification of torture (with today's hype becoming tomorrow's reality) and a political defeat for the Democrats. And the highly politicized way in which the issue is raised is likely to ensure that there's no useful discussion of exactly how, in terms of incarceration, etc., we should treat potentially very dangerous people who do not fall readily within the laws of war.

  • E-mail me: Dan Koffler
  • My YDN Column: Smashing Idols
  • The Reasonsphere
  • Hit & Run
  • Matt Welch
  • Julian Sanchez
  • Jesse Walker
  • Virginia Postrel
  • Tim Cavanaugh
  • Ringers
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Josh Marshall
  • Crooked Timber
  • Matthew Yglesias
  • Kevin Drum
  • John Cole
  • Leiter Reports
  • Pharyngula
  • Gregory Djerjian
  • Atrios
  • Mickey Kaus
  • Jim Henley
  • Radley Balko
  • TNR's Plank
  • Balkinization
  • Glenn Greenwald
  • Thomas Knapp
  • Justin Logan
  • Laura Rozen
  • Mark Kleiman
  • Print Culture
  • Arthur Silber
  • Tom Tomorrow
  • James Wolcott
  • OxBlog
  • Eric Muller
  • Majikthise
  • Pandagon
  • The American Scene
  • Daniel Drezner
  • Will Wilkinson
  • The Volokh Conspiracy
  • Intel Dump
  • Prequels
  • Johan Ugander
  • Dan Munz
  • Josh Eidelson
  • Future Less Vivid
  • Sequels
  • (not)Delino Deshields
  • Actual God
  • Hidden Hand
  • I am justice
  • Death/Media Incarnate
  • (not)Marquis Grissom
  • Yanqui At Cambridge
  • Beneficent Allah
  • Mr. Wrongway
  • The Hippolytic
  • Discourse Decision
  • Tight Toy Night
  • Mulatto Jesus
  • Sago Boulevard
  • Immortalized Stillicide
  • Nick's Corner
  • Dead Trees
  • Reason
  • Dissent
  • The New Republic
  • The New Yorker
  • The Atlantic Monthly
  • The American Prospect
  • Arts & Letters Daily
  • The Economist
  • The Nation
  • Yale Daily News
  • Virtual Reality
  • Wikipedia
  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Symbolic Logic into HTML
  • Slate
  • Salon
  • The Huffington Post
  • Crooks and Liars
  • The Smoking Gun
  • The Smoking Gun: Bill O'Reilly
  • Romenesko
  • The Christopher Hitchens Web
  • Draft Russ
  •'s Library
  • Urban Dictionary
  • Homestar Runner
  • Planet Rugby
  • Flex Online
  • Card Player Magazine
  • Gawker & Such
  • News
  • Politics
  • Gambling
  • Gossip (NY edition)
  • Gossip (LA edition)
  • Cool Shit
  • Cars
  • Video Games
  • Photoshop Fun &c.
  • Travel
  • MacGuyver Yourself
  • Porn
  • Prepare For The Worst
  • Bull Moose Blog
  • The Corner
  • Instapundit
  • Reel Blogs
  • BathTubYoga
  • More TK
  • R.I.P.
  • Jamie Kirchick
  • That Girl