Monday, February 27, 2006

Fun With Pragmatics, Or Gnawing On Grice's Bones Over Quine's Grave

Welcome Majikthise readers. I don't mean to give short shrift to the excellent points anonymous raises in the previous thread about the difficulty I face, having carved independent theoretical spaces for normative epistemology, ethics, politics, law, and pragmatics, of identifying a mechanism for bringing them back together. The quick answer, on which more later, is going to involve something like unidirectional constraint relations (roughly analogous to one-way metaphysical dependence relations) ordered according to the relative priorities of the various magisteria within the conceptual framework in play. (That last move does more than push concerns over arbitrariness up one argumentative level, but rather provides for an objectively valid prioritization of theories just given a selected framework; whereas ordering the theories without recourse to some kind of conceptual relativism is well-nigh impossible, the least that can be said of the recursive framework is that it is amply suited for reductive analysis, being a framework of fully extensional logic just in case I say so.)

But that meta-theoretical throat clearing aside, I want to say some more about pragmatics, and also make a confession.

Here's where, what one of the smartest professors I ever had, George Bealer, calls the argument from handwaving, comes in. I plead guilty -- anonymous might have been on to this -- to a certain amount of equivocation for the sake of simplicity between normative theory and pragmatics. The thought is that normative theory necessarily constrains pragmatics, and necessarily not the other way around. (See above.)

If you buy my argument, Congress has a direct duty to impeach the president. Given the fact that Congress is an ostensibly representative body, it seems plausible to say that we have an indirect duty to impeach the president, by means of applying pressure to our representatives to do so.

Only now do pragmatic considerations come in, and the question to ask is not what pragmatic platform should we adopt, which on its own is just ill-formed, but what pragmatic platform best fits the independently derived normative obligation. And that's how you get to the view that sustaining the argument for impeachment exclusively on FISA-violation grounds is both maximally pragmatic and obligatory; obligatory simply because of the independent analysis of our obligations, maximally pragmatic because advocating any conceivable argument unidentical to this one that produced greater pragmatic efficiency on whatever metric would fall short in some way of meeting our obligations.

Maybe I'm cutting my legs out from under me by framing everything in philosophical discourse, but just on reflection, it's hard to overstate the rhetorical power of the minimalist, FISA-only case for impeachment. Here's a thought experiment: you have some neighbors living next door, a man and a woman, neither of whom have particularly strong political convictions, who, let's say for the sake of argument, have arbitrarily wound up alternating their presidential votes between D's and R's in every election, and have also wound up voting for opposite parties every time. So the man, let's say, voted for Carter in 80, Reagan in 84, Dukakis in 88, Bush in 92, Clinton in 96, Bush in 2000, Kerry in 2004. The woman voted for Reagan in 80, Mondale in 84, Bush in 88, Clinton in 92, Dole in 96, Gore in 2000, Bush in 2004. Their inclinations thus oscillate around even division, but are never in fact evenly divided. (I'm trying to represent concretely the abstract weighted electoral coin-flipping that comes up in public choice and public ignorance literature.) Their issue preferences are very vaguely tilted towards national security (though not before 9/11) and they have an involuntary negative surface reaction to anything they (involuntarily) perceive as Bush-hatred. (Why? Blame the media if you must, 'why' is not really important for these purposes.)

The neighbors invite you over for dinner. Somehow, not by your design, the conversation turns to politics. You feel obligated to attempt to persuade your neighbors of the fact that Congress must impeach the president. Now you have to decide what approach you're going to take. Do you (a) recite a litany of charges ranging from authorization of torture of detainees to domestic spying to the promulgation of official lies to support an argument for war to a de facto negligent genocide brought about by indifference towards the fate of New Orleans and consequent incompetent disaster management? Or (b) assure your friends that while there are many issues on which you disagree with the president, you are not out on a hunt for some rationale, any rationale, to make a case for impeachment, but rather have come to the conclusion, through as objective a reflection as you're capable of on the intersubjectively agreed upon facts at hand, that you can find no intellectually honest way to deny the proposition that Congress must impeach the president? Or (c) adopt some middle ground approach?

Well I think it's just obvious that your approach is going to be (b). Establishing yourself as a definite non-Bush-hater is the surest way to procure a fair hearing. Though it would be better for everyone concerned if none of that large bloc that, without being composed of blind Bush loyalists, didn't have anything like their (actual) strong unexamined disdain for this elusive "Bush-hatred" entity, in pragmatics we just have to deal with the facts as they are. Lay out the a posteriori evidence to a persuadable foe of impeachment that the president committed a felony, and the a priori evidence that presidential commission of a felony offense obligatorily entails impeachment, and you stand a damned good shot at pursuading him. (And if that approach doesn't succeed, does manifesting some subset of properties of the right wing's parodic conception of unhinged lefty moonbats really improve matters?) The argument itself is extremely strong. All that is required of us is not to let the argument go to waste by means of any of the left's highly traditional forms of political suicide.

Put Your Modus Where Your Ponens Is

I see that Ted Fertik has an op-ed in today's YDN, arguing for the impeachment of the president and vice president. Yet he fails to give even a cursory nod to the progenitor of the whole genre of YDN-column-arguing-for-Bush's-impeachment. Whatever, that's fine.

What's not fine is the way that Fertik -- and this is unfortunately typical of what I suspect is a majority of my pro-impeachment comrades -- discredits the case for impeachment by trampling over clear if finely-grained distinctions, confusing issues of law with issues of moral judgement with issues of political loyalty, and generally eviscerating the pragmatics of his own ends by letting loose with a disjointed grab-bag of complaints of varying merit against separate individuals who seem to have metamorphosed for polemical purposes into one.

Here's what I mean. The paradigm of an impeachable offense is, as everyone knows, a "high crime or misdemeanor." Now, the highest category of crimes, as everyone knows, is felony. On any plausible reading of the Constitution' s account of the mechanisms involved in triggering impeachment proceedings, it's an essentially exceptionless truism -- synthetic, yes, but probably necessary under any constitutionalism sufficiently similar to our own -- that, if it is true that the president committed a felony offense, Congress is justified in impeaching the president. It isn't a strictly logical consequence of this proposition -- though it would be given some appropriate complementary moral and political premises -- but it seems to me rather undeniable upon reflection that if the president commits a felony, Congress not only is justified in impeaching the president, but has an obligation to do so.

The only possible exception to such an obligation (Senator Feingold made this point when I spoke to him after his speech a month ago) would be if the net consequences for the nation are dire enough. And if you'll grant my anti-utilitarianism (I can defend it another time if you insist, Tom) -- or if you wish to avoid any strong theoretical commitments even for the sake of argument, just assume some fairly uncontroversial premises about the resilience of the American state and its ability to survive crisis, even emerge from crisis healthier than it had previously been -- such exceptions, though they could be construed as possible, do not actually exist. In other words, just given the plain text of the Constitution, we have a more or less wholly a priori argument that the president's impeachment is unconditionally obligatory just in case he or she commits a felony. Having made this argument, the only a posteriori statements an advocate of impeachment has to make are assertions to the effect that the president did indeed commit a felony; and such an assertion is not a matter of opinion; it is either a fact that the president did or did not commit a felony; p or ~p, the middle is excluded. So if p is the atomic proposition that the president commited a felony, and q is the complex proposition expressing the a priori argument about Congress's obligation to impeach, and r is the proposition that Congress is obligated to impeach the president, we have a valid, sound, complete modus ponens argument for impeachment:
(1) p (premise about matter of fact)
(2) q (a priori premise)
(3) If q, then (if p then r) (logical consequence of a priori premise)
(4) r (entailed by 1, 2, 3)

What I was attempting to do in my column on impeachment was make precisely this argument. The prima facie evidence that the president violated the FISA statute is as strong as prima facie evidence can be; the apologists who deny that evidence are in a state of clinical denial, so in hock to the Bush-cult that their own eyes and ears have become alienated from them as Bush-hating moonbats. The constitutional and legal arguments -- that FISA is unconstitutional if it limits the president's permissible actions under article II, and that the AUMF actually nullifies the FISA-mandated restrictions on wiretapping, respectively -- collapse like a flan in a cupboard under supremely minimal scrutiny; they are ad hoc self-justifying jokes, or at least would be if the punditariat didn't deem them expressions of respectable, equal-time garnering mainstream opinion. And, of course, violation of FISA is a felony offense. So we have a sub-argument for premise (1) of the foregoing: knowing the agreed-upon set of empirical, descriptive propositions about what the president actually did, and the facts of the matter about the texts of the Constitution, US Code, and AUMF, we can know effectively a priori that the president did in fact commit a felony. None of the assertions to the contrary the administration's defenders have polluted our discourse with -- not those about the felony status of FISA violations, nor those about the constitutional permissibility of violating FISA -- is worth the breath and food energy required to utter them, and no exculpatory assertions are going to come to light, because none exist.

Notice: We have a minimal set of empirical propositions -- namely brutely non-normative descriptions of the president's activity, and the unambiguous linguistic propositions expressed by the relevant legal documents -- and a minimal set of a priori theoretical considerations. In conjunction, the two entail proposition (4); Congress has a duty to impeach the president. And we have a maximal economy of argument -- no premises are eliminable.

Now I'm not an expert on pragmatics or Gricean communication theory, but I don't think one needs to be for the following intuition to be prima facie sound: Just as Occam's razor rules out complicated explanations in favor of maximally simple ones ceteris paribus, some kind of communicative/pragmatic corrolary of Occam's razor should suggest that, ceteris paribus, one should construct an argument with as few premises as possible; if premises can be eliminated without weakening the conclusion of the argument, they should be eliminated. And (4), obviously is a maximally strong conclusion; it's even stronger than the conclusion most pro-impeachment folks have reached themselves; for most of the pro-impeachment crowd, the line is something to the effect that "Congress should impeach the president." The analogue according to (4) is "Congress must impeach the president." The distinction is subtle but real and irreducible. Normative operators like "should" and "must" are paradigmatically intensional operators; i.e., substition salva veritate (substition preserving truth value) fails. [That's "intensional"; it doesn't have anything to do with intention--ed.] No pro-impeachment gloss is a strict synonym of (4) except of course (4); so for any statement y such that y does not equal (4), y is a weaker imperative than (4).

Back to the action. Does Fertik adopt such an economical approach? Of course not. The foremost plank of his case for impeachment has to do with the administration's dishonesty in making the case for war. Needless to say, the general case that the administration's argument for war was founded on faulty evidence is basically irrefutable, and the allegation that the administration knowingly presented evidence it knew was false is approaching irrefutability. But there is a leap from acknowledging all of that to grounding a case for impeachment on that foundation. The term "the administration" is patently unidentical to the term "George W. Bush"; forget about Fregean senses and intensions; their extensions are widely disparate. "Bush" happens to fall under the extension of "the administration," and that's it. Fettering out of that inequivalence the precise instances of unlawful misconduct that led to the administration's presentation of false data, and the precise agents responsible for such misconduct is beyond hopeless; if there is an ascertainable fact of the matter, it would take longer than the remainder of Bush's tenure to discover; and there may not be an ascertainable fact, simply interlocking sets of circumstances in which agents acted on the borderline between legality and illegality, that produced the end result we all know.

And all along I've been taking it for granted that a president obtaining an authorization for military action on faulty grounds does indeed constitute a felony offense. But that notion needs to be scrutinized, too. Citing highly general constitutional provisions to the effect that international treaties are binding on the US, per Fertik, does not even come close to establishing that dishonest arguments for war on the part of or on behalf of the executive constitute crimes at all, much less felonies. A great deal of the causal explanation of the war's origins has everything to do with the administration's and its supporters manipulations of public opinion; a substantial part of the reason that so many Democrats voted for the war resolution is that they'd just been bludgeoned in the 2002 midterm elections, and were acutely aware of the fact that a no-vote on war could render them subject to variously deceitful and repugnant attacks on their courage, their commitment to national security and national self-defense, and their fundamental loyalty as citizens. A substantial part of the reason that so many legislators in both parties, and editorializers and intellectuals of all political affiliations supported the war is that administration officials would give public speeches, appear on chat shows, give presentations to the UN, etc. etc. ad nauseam, alleging that Iraqi possesion of WMDs was a borderline apodictic certainty. Of course it wasn't, and there's good reason to think the officials making those claims knew they were speaking falsely, and all of the foregoing -- attacking the patriotism of political opponents, ginning up popular hawkishness through agitprops and deceit, and speaking falsely in public discourse, probably knowingly so, are all egregiously shitty things to do. But they are not illegal. And attempting to impeach a wartime president for legal-if-shitty behavior on the part of his underlings is not a cause, it's a farce.

Likewise with the rest of Fertik's Costco inventory of complaints. They are on far soggier turf than the simple argument from the FISA violation to obligatory impeachement, they point towards weaker conclusions, and thereby dilute the impressive force of the FISA-exclusive argument for impeachment. Worst of all, they indicate a kind of unseriousness about what impeachment is and when it's justified; and they denote the supersession of genuine concern for the sanctity of constitutionalism with partisan tribalism. What do I mean by that last remark? George W. Bush should not be impeached because of his environmental policies or his desire to do away with social security or his tax cuts to the wealthy. Even less should he be impeached because he's an uncurious philistine who's spent sixty years falling upwards and deserves none of the things he has; least of all should he be impeached just because he is he. Impeachment is not a fucking joke; it's a remedy to a constitutional crisis, and I'm sorry, but the election of people one disagrees with or finds distasteful, no matter how distasteful one finds them, is never a constitutional crisis. It belongs to a distinct phenomenal category, for which the remedy is to win a damned election just once.

The difference between adopting practical views based on principled convictions and fabricating convictions to back-justify irrational partisan affiliations is neatly captured by the difference between the two arguments for impeachment. The first (mine) contains no dispositions, intentional features, or propositional attitudes that incline in favor of or against impeachment, either in general or in the case of a particular president. It's just a conditional that's either necessary simpliciter or necessary over some convention-restricted range of quantification; if p then q, p, therefore q. And either p or ~p; there's no worry about recalcitrant data, since the argument is an argument for impeachment just in case premise (1) is true, and generates a contrapositive argument against impeachment just in case (1) is false. If ~p, no worries, then don't impeach. If p, impeach, but only if p. The second argument (Fertik's and some supermajority of pro-impeachment folks') is shot through with intentionality. It's never presented systematically, and I can't begin to get a handle on how one might systematize it, but it basically boils down to: Bush is a motherfucker; we don't like motherfuckers; if a motherfucker is president, our preference is that the motherfucker be impeached; so let's just throw as many arguments as our collective ass contains at the White House, and just hope that our Jackson Pollack approach to indictment construction manages to produce a coherent picture. Disliking motherfuckers may be the normatively correct disposition to have towards them, but it's not a conviction, and it's certainly not a principle one arrives at through reflection and self-scrutiny. Arguments arising from such surface dispositions are likely to wind up having dispositions and propositional attitudes of their own; and that's when you know you're not in the realm of arguments at all, but of contrived pseudo-arguments.

Am I jumping the gun on Fertik's motivations? I think not. His previous contribution to the rich legacy of America's oldest college daily was this nauseating paean to Hillary Clinton, which argues, though it would be flattery to call it an argument in the first place, that all people who dislike Hillary/oppose her re-election to the Senate or her potential election to the presidency (the distinction between personal dislike and political opposition is -- surprise -- quietly elided) do so because they are misogynists. Of course. What else would you call someone who opposes a particular candidate because he or she proposes outlawing flag-burning or because he or she favors censorship of media content or because he or she resorts to racist demagogy in an effort to outflank the Republicans from the right or because there is no evidence to support the claim, and ample evidence countermanding it, that he or she has adopted any of these positions in the first place out of sincere belief rather than calculation of where his or her prospects for career advancement lie? I mean, come on, anybody who would categorically oppose such a candidate, regardless of his or her identity, ethnic, religious, or sexual background is obviously a misogynist whom all progressive wymyn-loving folks should shun.

So in conclusion: there's the impeachment programme, go out and do it, and don't say I never did nothing for practical politics. A Hillary loyalist is probably too far gone (can you imagine one favoring her impeachment just in case she repeatedly violates FISA?) but the rest of us pro-impeachment types need to get our act together.

Thought For The Day

Dedicated to Tom Lehman:
Anyone can seize a good, thereby coming to "own" it, provided he compensates its owner. If several people want a good, the first to seize it gets is, until another takes it, paying him full compensation. (Why should this sort of middleman receive anything?) What amount would compensate the original owner if serveral persons wanted a particular good? An owner who knew of this demand might well come to value his good by its market price, and so be places on a lower indifference curve by receiving less...Complicated combinations of subjunctive conditionals and counterfactuals might perhaps succeed in disentangling an owner's preferences from his knowledge of the desires of others and the prices they are willing to pay. But no one yet has actually provided the requisite combinations. A system cannot avoid the charge of unfairness by letting the compensation paid for a border crossing [i.e., violation of rights on the Lockean picture of natural rights as physical boundaries] equal that price that would have been arrived at had a prior negotiation for permission taken place. (Call this compensation "market compensation." It will usually be more than merely full compensation.) The best method to discover this price of course, is to let the negotiations actually take place and see what their upshot is. Any other procedure would be highly inaccurate, as well as incredibly cumbersome.

---Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia

Or just seize homeowners' property and use their efforts to contest the legitimacy of the seizure as an occasion to declare them squatters in debt to the new 'owners.' Unfairness is justice, or injustice is fairness, or justice is injustice. I can't remember how it goes, but you get the idea.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Economic Good

Downblog, apropos not of the post but of a conversation from last night, the actual Rod asks if I "seriously" think the American economy is "doing well." Well, a complete, but unedifying answer is that I don't pay nearly enough attention to economic news to have an informed opinion about whether or not this country's economy is "doing well" in Rod's (and most people's) idiom. My somewhat informed historical sense of general economic conditions (transmitted to me, if this clarifies things, by my summertime colleagues at Reason) is that the US's imperfect capitalism, in particular its relatively free market combined with endism/trendism-style acceleration of technological development, has lifted effectively every American situated above the poverty line to a condition of material prosperity wildly exceeding anything enjoyed by pre-capitalist aristocrats. [An innocent question: would you rather have the means to go falconing regularly, or an Ipod, novacaine, good-smelling bodywash, and refrigeration?--ed. The latter for me; the Seattle movement is against both--F.]

But let's put it even stronger. A middle class American in 2006 is significantly better off materially than a middle class American in 1996; and better off by orders of magnitude than a middle class American in 1976. [Give me an i-n-t-e-r-n-e-t-s--ed.]

In my younger and more Marxist days, I used to be very impressed, to the point of repeating them ad nauseam, with statistics according to which the wealth and income disparities between the uppermost socio-economic strata and all others have been expanding geometrically since the 70s at the latest. I can make that admission not because I don't find it severely embarrassing, but because the whole point of my blogging is self-embarrasment in the pursuit of truth. So here's the rub: If everybody's socio-economic position improves over time, that's pretty much all I need to hear. Does it matter if some people have a higher rate of improvement than others? It's not as if strictly egalitarian distributions of material wealth are compatible with a long-term net production of greater wealth --- we do, after all, have some handy examples of declarations that the twain shall meet, and the results aren't pretty.

None of this is to say that American capitalism, or any form that has ever been practiced, is ideal. But where does it go wrong? There are the two glaring instances we all know about: 40-however-many million people without health insurance, and non-trivial numbers of people living in poverty. The first point to make about either of them is that, contrary to the tripe you hear from unreflective liberals and leftists, solutions to them are extremely hard to come by. The fact, e.g., that ethnically homogeneous tiny countries like Sweden have done pretty well at combating them -- and even then, at costs that are arguably unacceptable -- doesn't tell us a goddamn thing about how to deal with health care and poverty in the US.

The most troubling flaw of all in American capitalism is one that embarrasses the policy positions of liberals and conservatives alike, and for parallel reasons. That is the extent to which James Burnham correctly diagnosed the American socio-economic system as not capitalistic, but managerial: the state and the economy one and the same entity, corporations and governmental departments indistinguishable from a God's-eye-view, the free market and democracy superseded by interlocking bureaucracies of technicians, planners, regulators, and freelance experts. (Burnham actually looked forward to such developments.)

To be sure, we don't have full-blown managerialism, but we do have some kind of compromise between it and capitalism, and the supremely worrying trend in globalization is not the expansion of free trade and international economy to previously isolated and undeveloped lands (that's a good thing), nor dislocations of labor and outsourcing (that's a net good too), but a slowly tipping balance towards managerialism. (That's if you care about democratic rights; if not, no need to refuse champagne or weed.)

This is my long-winded way of getting to the actual Rod's question. An economy "doing well" in my idiom has effectively nothing to do with wealth production, stability, resource equity, or any traditional metric in economics. An economy is "doing well," so say I, just in case it is generally free and unregulated, and the state and society with which it is coincident rigorously enforce the economic rights of those who are party to it. (My anti-utilitarianism is strong, but not absolute; an economic arrangement that respected libertarian constraints but was significantly likely to cause some kind of complete depressional collapse would be a limiting case.) So on those grounds, I think I'm right to say that the US economy is indeed doing pretty well, and its well-being isn't endangered by negative economic indicators -- they're going to turn positive soon enough, right? -- but by paternalistic regulation, laws against gambling, prostitution, and drug-use that create black markets, cartels, and violent crime, and by know-nothing protectionism from Seattle to Dubai.

So the executive summary: I don't advocate any economic theory, only a meta-theory, which is encapsulated pretty nicely by this joke:
Three guys are in a jail cell. They start to talking and find out that they're all gas station owners.

The first one says, "I set my prices at a couple of cents higher than my competitors. I'm in here for price-gouging."

The second one says "I set my prices at a couple of cents lower than my competitors. I'm in here for predatory practices."

The third one says "I set my prices at the same price as my competitors. I'm in here for collusion!"
I wish economists all the best, but I don't see the justified epistemic or axiological basis for me to care about on-the-ground economic conditions, outside of my own rational self-interest (and in practice, my irrational interest concerning friends and family).

School's Out For Summers

So the end finally comes for Larry Summers, the soon to be ex-president of Harvard. The minimal, uncontested narrative is that after feuding with the faculty for just about all of his tenure as president, the allegedly coerced resignation of Dean William Kirby and the circumstances surrounding it catalyzed a collapse of support for Summers within the Harvard Corporation, rendering his position untenable.

Then there are the interpretations. The CW on why Summers finally got his presidential medal of freedom is nicely expressed by my colleague Matthew Gillum: "Summers' candor was his downfall." I.e., some combination of Harvard's institutional cowardice/paralysis and its oppressive PC leftism were fatally incompatible with a president who deigned to criticize Cornel West and suggest that men and women have irreducible biological differences.

The emerging anti-CW, on the other hand, has it that Summers isn't getting medaloffreedom'd for ideological reasons, but because he was foolish enough to instigate a power contest with the faculty, and predictably lost. Leading the contrarian charge is Matt Yglesias (Harvard '03), who writes:
You have, basically, a controversy over the administration of the University. Harvard has historically been a highly decentralized institution, and the President has had relatively little authority over the several faculties that together make up the University as a whole. Summers has been trying for years, in various ways, to increase the authority of his office and centralize the administration. One of the ways this has manifested itself has been an effort to force the faculties to pool their resources in order to pay for a big expansion into the Allston neighborhood across the river from Harvard Yard. This was a break with precedent, and the manner in which Summers wanted to do it was going to disadvantage the Arts and Sciences Faculty compared to other Faculties.
So you can see that Summers was putting himself in a somewhat precarious position -- taking on the financial interests of the most prestigious faculty at the University, and slighting the sentiments of the most important bloc of professors and alumni.
Now, I note the following not to imply any arguing in bad faith on Matt's part, but merely as an observation of fact: The losing-power-struggle explanation reflects much better on Harvard than the multiculti-feminazi explanation. If I were a Harvard student or alum, I'd certainly want it to be the case that Matt's explanation is true. (To be precise, the CW explanation is a synthesis of two distinct explanations; (a) that Summers was forced out simply for having the audacity to say controversial things; (b) that Summers was forced out because the content of his controversial statements ran strongly against the faculty's ideological orthodoxy. Even drawing that distinction, Harvard still comes off looking much better on the Yglesias interpretation than either the (a) or (b) versions of the CW.)

Unfortunately for those with some investment in Harvard's honor and good name -- I'm have a stake in neither, nor, despite my present setting, do I have anything against Harvard per se -- the Yglesias explanation is just obviously wrong. Or at least incomplete. As a philosophy student Matt is undoubtedly familiar with the distinction between necessary and sufficient conditions, and with the postulates of modal logic. Very well. In general, is simply contesting the Arts & Science faculty's hegemony sufficient to cause a Harvard president to lose his job? In particular, in the nearest possible world in which Summers' avoided controversy as assiduously as, say, Richard Levin, but still fought with the faculty over expansions and diverting revenue to the more technical/practical departments with which he was apparently allied, was Summers forced to resign? I think the answer to both questions is a resounding "no." What about the nearest possible world in which Summers periodically generated headlines by making comments that jibed nicely with the A&S faculty's (majority) convictions, e.g., claiming that gender-based disparities in university hiring patterns is attributable (at least largely) to pervasive lingering discrimination against women?

Is anyone -- hey Matt -- prepared to argue that Summers' would not have ingratiated himself with the faculty by making remarks like the foregoing? That the NYT op-ed page wouldn't have been more than happy to publish a piece by the president of the most prestigious university in America (not the best, the most prestigious, relax folks) railing against academic misogyny? That, had such an op-ed not gone on to explicitly link anti-female prejudice in academia to broader patterns of misogny throughout society, that a medium-sized cascade of articles and blog posts wouldn't have popped up damn near instantly highlighting precisely such a connection? That right-wing opinion pages and blogs wouldn't have responded by calling Summers a PC tool to varying degrees of analytic rigor? That a circle-jerk among lefty blogs wouldn't have ensued, alternating between reiterating Summers' points and calling him a hypocritical tool of the patriarchy for being in the position to rectify this injustice and choosing instead merely to desribe it? [He's not really in that position--ed. Shhh.--F. Anyway, can female bloggers have a circle-jerk? Well, it's something near enough--F.]

Is it not in fact the case -- speak now etc. etc. -- that in w, Summers* stands a good chance of succeeding in aggrandizing his* power and achieving his* reforms* for Harvard* through the unconscious good will he garnered by speakingtruthtopower™, and by conciously couching his ambitions as projects aimed at leveling the playing field? [For those precious few among you who haven't read hundreds of pages of David Lewis and are therefore confused by the nomenclature, w is the possible world like @ (the actual world) in all respects except for some of the properties of the entity Summers*, who stands in the modal counterpart relation to Summers. Since Matt and I are philosophers, we find it useful to talk this way. A bit of symbolic logic follows, because, c'mon--ed.]

So here's a report of what happened (my apologies for my computer's or blogger's inability to represent the symbols correctly):
(1) Es@(W@ & A@ & Is@ & R@s & U@s & F@s)
There exist a s and a @ such that @ is the actual world, s in @, that s attempted reforms is true at @, that s made un-PC controversial remarks is true at s, and that s got fired is true at @.
Now the counterfactual propositions we have to evaluate:
(2) Es*w[Ww & Is*w & Cs*s & (Rws* -----> Fws*)]
There exist a s* and a w such that w is a possible world, s* is in w, s* is a counterpart of s, and if s* attempts reforms, s* gets fired.

(3) Es*w[Ww & Is*w & Cs*s & (Uws* -----> Fws*)]
There exist a s* and a w such that w is a possible world, s* is in w, s* is a counterpart of s, and if s* makes un-PC controversial remarks, s* gets fired.

(4) Es*w[Ww & Is*w & Cs*s & (Pws* -----> Fws*)]
There exist a s* and a w such that w is a possible world, s* is in w, s* is a counterpart of s, and if s* makes pro-PC controversial remarks, s* gets fired.

(5) Es*w[Ww & Is*w & Cs*s & ((Rws* & Pws*) -----> Fws*]
There exist a s* and a w such that w is a possible world, s* is in w, s* is a counterpart of s, and if s* (makes pro-PC controversial remarks and attempts reforms), s* gets fired.
So, here goes. (2) is false; Summer's doesn't get fired if all he does is try to increase funding for technical fields. (3) is false; it takes more than just offending PCdom to get fired. (4) is false; Summers obviously doesn't get fired for echoing lefty orthodoxy. (5) is false; Summers doesn't get fired if he enunciates PC prevailing wisdom and tangles with the arts and sciences faculty; on the contrary, he wins the support of faculty members who would have otherwised opposed his reforms in virtue of being the target of editorials in the Wall Street Journal and National Review.

In other words, there's an irreducible ideological element to this. Claiming otherwise is just wishing it away.

P.S. Summers was perfectly justified in criticizing Cornel West. And the campaign to brand him a misogynistic patriarch was variously ignorant and dishonest, but always bullshit.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Then What The Fuck Are We Doing There?

Rumsfeld, on US presence in Iraq:
"We’re not there to do nation-building."
via Justin Logan

Not To Say I Told You So

Paul Kennedy's lawyer puts his version of recent events into the looks suspiciously similar to what FW reported.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Peter Strawson, RIP

Sir Peter Strawson, one of the big cheeses of analytic philosophy, passed away a week ago. The Times of London has a great obit -- not surprising considering how good British papers are at obituaries -- that really does justice to Strawson's contributions to philosophy and consequently is much heavier on theory than anything you'll see in an American paper.

The Times is a conservative rag, but that's nothing to do with it. The Guardian's obit for David Lewis is comparably impressive.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Intoonfada

Well said Kanishk, this is nothing like the Salman Rushdie affair at all. And yet behind door #2:
Mohammed Yousaf Qureshi, prayer leader at the historic Mohabat Khan mosque in the conservative northwestern city of Peshawar, announced the mosque and the Jamia Ashrafia religious school he leads would give a $25,000 reward and a car for killing the cartoonist who drew the prophet caricatures - considered blasphemous by Muslims.

He also said a local jewelers' association would give $1 million but no representative of the association was available to confirm the offer.

"Whoever has done this despicable and shameful act, he has challenged the honor of Muslims. Whoever will kill this cursed man, he will get $1 million from the association of the jewelers bazaar, 1 million rupees ($16,700) from Masjid Mohabat Khan and 500,000 rupees ($8,350) and a car from Jamia Ashrafia as a reward," Qureshi told about 1,000 people outside the mosque after Friday prayers.

"This is a unanimous decision of by all imams (prayer leaders) of Islam that whoever insults the prophets deserves to be killed and whoever will take this insulting man to his end, will get this prize."
I blame Harry Whittington.

UPDATE: Speaking of Rushdie....

(via Tim Cavanaugh)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Death Of Irony Watch

Michelle Malkin links to a story about Iranian bakers renaming danishes "Roses of the Prophet Muhammad" and comments: "That'll show us!"

She's right. We Americans let other countries know we don't like 'em by putting boots up their asses and we'd never humiliate ourselves by renaming foods out of spite. Oh wait, fuck!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Thought For The Day


And Down The Rabbit Hole We Go

Christ. At Guanatanamo Bay, as some of us have worried for some time, involvement with terrorism, indeed even minimal ascertainable culpability for something, is completely orthogonal to apprehension, detention, conditions of detention, and subjection to torture. The US government is operating a network of torture-dungeons that have long ceased to have the slightest thing to do with the euphonious GWOT, where detainees find themselves as a matter of titanically bad luck rather than guilt, and in which the policy of the jailers, handed down from their superiors in the executive branch, is to create incentives for giving false testimony against innocents. Why? As long as somebody is being tortured, somebody is confessing to something. QED America is safer. Whatsa matter pinko, you gotta problem with that?

It's time to call a spade a spade. The President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense have trenches full of blood on their hands. We have lost the war on terror, because we have consented to be governed by terrorists.

The War On The Constitution

Here are some agonistic snapshots of the administration's campaign to transform the US military and national security apparatus into an arm of its political operation. (Warning, Sacbee password required; signing up is free but exceptionally irritating.)
An army lieutenant colonel serves as an intelligence officer in the Able Danger program that pegged Mohammed Atta before the Daythatchangedeverything, can't present his findings to the FBI because of bureaucratic idiocy, and tries to explain the resulting clusterfuck to the Daythatchangedeverything Commission. His testimony is excluded from the Daythatchangedeverything Report, and the commissioner with whom he met tragically develops local amnesia about the meeting. He is accused of stealing (I'm not kidding) from the Pentagon's petty cash bin and personal information about him is leaked. Someone floats a bizarre rumor that he is having an affair with a member of the staff of a Pennsylvania congressman

An analyst in the NSA who has an unusual familiarity with the text of the 4th Amendment and an unusally literal interpretation of his oath to the Constitution raises alarms about the illegality of the warrantless wiretapping program; is inexplicably classified as mentally ill by the agency and handed his walking papers.

An army specialist witnesses the perpetration of a series of war crimes against POWs in Iraq, some of whom are uniformed soldiers of a sovereign member nation of the United Nations, and hence unambiguously and unconditionally protected by the Geneva Conventions, UCMJ, and United States Code. He witnesses the 16 year old civilian son of an Iraqi general subjected to coercive interrogation. He witnesses senior officer whitewashing the crimes, and when necessary, hanging out grunts to dry for carrying out the orders these same officers gave them. After being stonewalled along the chain of command he finally states his allegations to a general; he is demoted and put on trash duty.
The national security and military establishments are the physical extensions of federal government's power. No other entity in American society can even come close to contesting their strength; it is thus a precondition of the maintainence of a democratic republic that such forces remain utterly unpolitical, and duty bound only to the Constitution and whichever officers the Constitution invests with control of them, but only so long as those officers do not exceed their Constitutional authorizations.

George Bush doesn't like that arrangement. He wants a private army, a private NSA, a private CIA, that are loyal to him. If Congress and the courts don't stop him, only institutional inertia (which is thankfully in this case substantial) can prevent that outcome. But the independence of Congress is under assault too. Bush's first term in office was spent creating a parliamentary party and installing himself as the dual head of the legislative and executive branches. The chairmen of committees whose raison d'etre is to maintain oversight of executive behavior are so beholden to the Bush circle that they will use their committees to stage show exonerations of the president despite a proponderance of evidence of his multi-layered guilt. (See Roberts, Pat). This is my sole reason for supporting the congressional Democrats; in power, they can conduct hearings, subpoena witnesses, and actually fulfill the oversight obligations that an independent constitutional branch of government can only decline to fulfill on pain of abnegation. At this late stage, the only people who, upon reflection, deny that the administration is responsible for extensive, multiform criminality, are frankly in a state of clinical denial. (See Powerline.)

Finally, the judiciary is unique for being immune to direct executive coercion. Hence the Republicans' concerted effort to incite a cultural war against judicial independence; maybe the Christ flock thinks this stuff is about abortion and sodomy, but nothing could be further from the leaders' minds: this is about power. Why are Samuel Alito and John Roberts on the Supreme Court? Because (so Bush&co. think) they are prepared to surrender the court's liberty and independence to George Bush. Alito is the sort of power-worshipping toady who would join a racist Princeton alumni group just to sit at the same table as old money reactionaries who think of Italian Catholics like himself as practically black; he has yet to encounter an exercise of police power he doesn't approve of, and based on his defenses of jackboot tactics, I don't see what his principled objection to police activity in South Africa c. 1984 could possibly have been. There's your strict constructionist.

Roberts in his humble federal judge days concurred in the majority opinion that affirmed the constitutionality non-article III kangaroo courts as the final arbiters of prisoners' enemy combatant status. But unlike Alito, Roberts shows signs of having some self-respect. If Justice Stevens kicks the bucket before 09, the prospect for a judiciary co-equal with the executive will be proportional to the chances that Roberts will awake one day to realize that George Bush has no power over him whatsoever, that as far as the Constitution is concerned, they are equals in rank. I don't think I'd like seeing how sportstrader would cash that calculation out.

Political Cocaine...

is news, whereas financial cocaine is cocaine. Not Larry Sabato is a Dem-leaning blog by and for political junkies, not named after polling guru Larry Sabato in the tradition laid down by luminaries such as Delino Deshields, Marquis Grissom, and (soon, we hope) Ozzie Canseco. The real value of NLS is that it's based at William & Mary in Virginia in the heart of red country, which means that it has a box seat view of the nuttiness of the rank and file of the Young Republicans and College Republicans---these are the folks that over the next ten years will be entering thinktanks and setting off on lucrative careers in lobbying, hack journalism, and advisory positions to Republican politicians. The most personable of the lot will become politicians themselves, and the most capable and/or most unscrupulous, meticulous, and ambitious will be pulling the strings in the administrations of future Republican presidents (which is to say, all future presidents).

So just take a minute to reflect on what fine, upstanding Christian young men and women these precocious lads and lasses have already blossomed into, and reflect on what courageous, resolute, family-oriented, and religiously devout phone-jammers, push-pollsters, schizophrenic gay homophobes, influence-peddlers, demagogues, vote-suppressors, and convicted felons they will one day grow up to be? [What about veterans?--ed. It's true that most military personnel are Republicans, but very few are College Republicans. Which is not surprising. CR's think of service to the party and service to the nation as the same thing, and further can't distinguish between combat operations and junior-level revenge plumbing operations--F.]

The One In Which FW Does Original Reporting

Like, we presume, every single other member of the Yale and global academic communities, we here at FW have been waiting with baited breath for updates on the Sophoclean saga of Paul "Overstretch" Kennedy (see here, here, here, here, and here.) Discontent to wait, FW went ahead and got an inside scoop on what's really going on.

Now, even the uncontested narrative of events looks pretty bad for Kennedy. He is widely known to have long had a problem with alcohol, compounded by personal difficulties (the death of his wife, physical injury) over the past couple of years, which also saw him obtaining and using prescription pain killers. So there's a ready made explanation of how and why he managed to run his car into a pedestrian grad student in the Music School, and the New Haven Police Department's assertion that Kennedy had been drunk behind the wheel --- he has been charged with a DUI --- and was driving without a valid license sounded only too likely to be true. Conversely, Yale's statement that Kennedy was not drunk and had a valid license, and that the accident was just an accident, sounded like some pretty desparate PR.

But of course, Yale and the NHPD are not just describing the same events through different modes of presentation. Neither account is necessarily true, but since they contradict each other, at least one is necessarily false.

And folks, the bombshell here is that anonymous but credible sources tell FW that the Yale/Kennedy version of the story is the accurate one. Here's the unvarnished truth (according to our source): Kennedy was completely sober when he got in his car in his pajamas in order to drive no farther than around his block, so as to avoid an encounter with a neighbor. It was then that, through carelessness, mechanical failure, skidding, or whatever it was, Kennedy could not prevent the car from hitting the pedestrian. When the NHPD arrived, they administered a field sobriety test in the form of a request to walk a straight line --- which Kennedy cannot do, given impairments to his back and legs. Since he had gotten into the car without an intent to go anywhere, he had left his wallet in his house --- hence the lack of a valid driver's license.

But when he was taken into the police station, he passed a breathalyzer and his license turned out to be perfectly legit. In other words --- drumroll please --- another huge cockup on the part of the NHPD. Seriously yo, this shit's ridiculous, and it has internal consequences for Yale: next thing you know, some do-gooder asshole will start saying things like, "Yale has as great an obligation to protect its students as its professors from police misconduct," or "The administrators who will inexplicably and inexcusably defend a professor who is wrongly arrested by the NHPD but not a student who is wrongly arrested and assaulted should tender their resignations." I mean, somebody else, not myself, would say all that.

New At YDN

I call bullshit on the Intoonfada and the profiles in cowardice struck in response to it:
Between the publication of the cartoons and the attacks on Danish consular buildings, Muslim states began pressuring the Danish government to punish the newspaper. It was only after Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen definitively refused to submit to blackmail and extortion that a non-story of humorlessness among the pious became an international incident, kindling a sometimes figurative, sometimes literal conflagration from Copenhagen to Cairo. In other words, there never was a mass spontaneous outcry against the denigration of Muslim religious beliefs; there was only premeditated and ultimately successful incitement to violence on the part of theocratic bullies.

Denmark has a proud tradition of defying brownshirt tactics -- this was the nation that made a conscious, collective effort to save its Jews from extermination and whose king wore a yellow star in solidarity -- so it is unsurprising to see the Danes remaining resolute. Outside of Denmark, however, Western reaction to the assault on free speech has run the full gamut from obsequious to craven. Last week a court in Johannesburg ruled in favor of the South African Muslim Judicial Council's effort to prevent South African newspapers from reprinting the Jyllands-Posten cartoons. Editors of newspapers in Poland and Ukraine that did reprint the cartoons have issued nauseating apologies, while Sweden is going so far as to shut down Web sites that carried the images.

In what would amount to a pre-emptive surrender of fundamental freedom, the European Union is considering imposing regulations on media content in an effort, according to E.U. Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Fattini, to "give the Muslim world the message: We are aware of the consequences of free expression." The most disgraceful reaction of all came -- try to act surprised -- from the Vatican, which claimed that "the right to freedom of expression does not imply the right to offend religious beliefs." Thus does Cardinal Ratzinger's church put us on notice, yet again, that it is positively opposed to individual and civil rights.

Don't Look Over There

The rolls have been updated to include a few now-daily reads for me, TNR's The Plank, Glenn Greenwald, and Crooks & Liars.

Also, at Tapped (which is perpetually on the cusp of getting blogrolled), Matt Yglesias says what needed to be said about the so-called "Torino" Olympics. I'd have said it myself, but the only winter Olympic event that I find even remotely watchable is biathlon, and that's just in case there's an accident.

Fein -- Gman Adj., "Subtle, Elegant"; Gold -- Gman N./Adj., "Gold"

Per the non-actual Dan's long-delayed request....

On the last Sunday in January the non-actual Dan and I made the trip down I-95 through the Cr.Bx. Expwy. over the West Side Highway to the Cardozo Law School of Yeshiva University, where Sen. Russell Feingold was speaking on security, civil liberties, and constitutional balance post-Daythatchangedeverything, before a standing-room audience that would (estimating conservatively), if it could, hand a whopping electoral triumph to this twice-divorced lib-ruhl Yid over every other serious 08 candidate, D or R.

Had I known that Lindsay Beyerstein had been in attendance, I bet we could have found plenty to talk about what with her interests in analytic philosophy, liberal politics, science, and (I'm guessing) blogging.

But I digress. In one of those moments that Luther Lowe inhales oxygen in order to experience, about 10 minutes before the speech began I found myself in the auditorium's men's room one urinal over from, you guessed, Feingold himself, who smiled at me and said, "old Senators' trick; always make sure you have no fluid in you before you speak." To which I responded, "that's how Strom Thurmond killed all those civil rights bills." [Thurmond actually sat in a sauna for hours to expurgate even interstitial water, so that he could filibuster for entire days without having to take a bathroom break. Oh, and he raped his servants. Good guy---Ed.]

The substance of the speech was about what you would have expected, about as eloquent as boilerplate gets, and had the added virtue of being right. The one newsworthy item from the talk is that Feingold might have AG Gonzales dead to rights in a little bit of harmless perjury before the judiciary committee. (And who wudda thunk it, the WaPo ran with the story.)

What was revelatory about the speech (at least for me; presumably Wisconsians know already) is how formidable a politician and perhaps a presidential candidate Feingold could be. Just when I thought I was doomed to throw up in my mouth a little at every asinine prostrationist reference to a pre-9/11 mindset, Feingold's come up with a bumper sticker-sized rebuttal: the president has a pre-1776 mindset. Okay, not a work of Promethean genius, but just imagine what would happen if every elected Democrat picked up the trope; why, then the not-authoritarian side in TVpundit-hack debates would have a response to the "don't ya know we're at WAR" gimmick that would be (a) devastating and (b) simple enough for the sheep (see two posts below) to get it.

So, don't I have anything critical to say? Of course I do, this isn't Hugh Hewitt and the Hindrockets. For starters, the proposition that Feingold is a formidable politician is a logical consequence of it being the case that Feingold is a formidable politician. That's not an unconditional virtue. He was asked in the Q&A period about the Defense of Marriage Act, the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment (both of which he opposed), and his general position on gay marriage.

Basically, he restated what we already knew---that he's against DOMA and FMA---and then punted. He doesn't think he needs to take a substantive position on civil marriage for homosexuals; he's fine with states deciding on their own, and doesn't believe (probably correctly, given the makeup of the Supreme Court, no matter what Stanley Kurtz and the Maggiegallagherists think) that the Full Faith and Credit Clause will nationalize Taxachussetts's wanton faggotry. To be fair, Feingold is as solidly against legislative infringement on gay people's rights as anyone in Congress, and he'll be a resolute opponent of future FMAs. But he won't, e.g., sponsor a national gay marriage bill.

Now, you may call that a politician's prudence, but you'd be wrong. His position on the cluster of gay marriage-related issues is fully consistent with the principle that animates all the rest of his policy views: uphold small-r republicanism, defend procedural justice, and on both of those points, fiat iustitia ruat coelum. I have a hunch that Feingold would not have been at the vanguard of 60s/70s civil rights legislation after the Voting Rights Act (though he certainly would have voted the right way on everything). What is essential for him is to secure the legitimacy of the political process itself, and whatever that legitimacy entails; the rest is luxury. He is highly meta-political, but largely, fascinatingly, apolitical.

Consider: Feingold is more loudly anti-death penalty than any other nationally-known politician, and was so even in those pre-Daythatchangedeverything (and pre-Lawrence) days, when being anti-death penalty was as toxic as being pro-gay is today. [Don't you miss those wonderful years when Bill Clinton was staging campaign photo-ops from the execution chamber of a retarded peniless African-American sentenced to die after receiving the best due process Arkansas had to offer, when George W. Bush was establishing himself as a man of honor and integrity and establishing Texas justice as a beacon unto the nations by rubber-stamping death sentences handed down in virtual show trials. If Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you, dear reader, favor an irrevocable death penalty for the first poor black guy we can apprehend who sorta matches the police sketches?--ed.] In other words, if Feingold thought legalization of gay marriage were a pressing imperative, he'd be proposing it. He's not because he doesn't.

So his politician's straddle consists not in declining to voice his deeply entrenched belief in the necessity of gay-marriage-now! out of concern for damaging his national electability, but in passing himself off as sufficiently pro-gay marriage to a (segment of the) activist Democratic base that is itching to throw its support to the first Dem who will say, "It is my position that homosexuals should have civil marriage rights in every state without delay, and if elected I will devote considerable energy towards achieving that end."

For the sake of brevity, let's say that I'm much closer towards the gay-marriage-now position than Feingold's. However, the substantive merit of his view is bolstered by the-fact-that-dare-not-speak-its-name, viz., that full gay marriage rights are inevitable within a couple of generations. Feingold is content to let states face up to that fact at their own pace. Were it not for the contingent facts on the ground, there might well be a procedural issue, in which case Feingold would indeed be motivated to act. No one asked him the obvious follow-up (I guess less obvious to those members of the crowd -- there must have been some -- who are anti-war and disdainful of bourgeois rights): If he were president, or in some other manner was in a position to determine the policy by his own fiat, would he revoke Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell? I honestly have no idea what the answer is.

Feingold's deference to procedure and federalism on gay rights issues is, I hope to show by no accident, largely coextensive with Andrew Sullivan's. The difference is that Sullivan is not a politician, and his profession is not about defending law, but rather shaping opinion; hence Sullivan is vocally for gay marriage, Feingold isn't. But the two have the same policy view. The reason this isn't an accident is that Feingold, for all the "progressive" (at this point I have no earthly idea what that means) wunderkind adulation, is essentially a Tory. His political theory is constitutional republicanism, the feature items of his domestic agenda all have to do with subordination of government to law (which is why there is nothing erratic about his sometimes favoring regulation, sometimes disfavoring it), and his foreign policy position is classical non-interventionism except in case of emergency.

He opposed the Iraq war because he saw it as a way to siphon resources away from combatting al-Qaeda; he supported the Afghanistan war because he considered it necessary self-defense; he opposed American intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo, joined in that opposition only by isolationist conservatives. It is on these last two points that I break with Feingold completely; but I would still vote for him fairly enthusiastically --- and that's even before considering the alternatives. His presidency would leave open the possibility of Rwanda-sized moral catastrophe if another bout of genocide erupts somewhere; on the other hand, it would be hard to disgrace oneself worse than Bush did in dealing with Darfur (no need to worry about it now, they're all dead). Moreover, even if Feingold's politics don't represent my ideal, they may just be the best thing for the country given what it's been through under King George. Before we can start worrying about substantive justice again --- and we're talking health care, wage-parity, retirement savings etc. now --- we have to reinstall constitutional government; without it there is no substantive progress on health care, retirement savings, etc.

Student Journalism Solidarity March

Jamie Kirchick forwarded this story to me and the YDN's EiC and managing editors, suggesting they run a masthead editorial supporting the U of Ill Urbana-Champaign editors who are in danger of being sacked for reprinting the Intoonfada toons. What oneiric geography have we been teleported to? Reprinting the cartoons is a necessary part of any complete documentary account of the controversy. I believe the Spanish Inquisitors shared the view that there was a purpose to discussing content that shall not be discussed. As for the rest of us....

By contrast, the University of North Carolina is providing an exemplary model that the New York Times, never mind the YDN, could learn from. Every party to the debate there -- even the Muslim Students Association -- puts Stanley Fish's power-worship poorly dressed as left(ish) intellectualism to shame.

Return Of The Curse Of The Creature's Ghost

It's about f'ing time I started doing something round these parts again.

Here are the issues before the house:

1) The Intoonfada

My feelings about the whole thing are pretty well expressed by the cartoon Tim Cavanaugh dug up here. Hitchens, as ever, is at his best talking about religion.

Big chunks of the Western media are buying into a narrative of spontaneous outcry against the denigration of Muslim values. This is bullshit. The cartoons that kicked off the phony intifada were originally published in September 05. They were reprinted in an Egyptian paper, El Fagr, in October. It took the faithful until February to start burning embassies.

See Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, Timeline of the...controversy, International reaction to the...controversy. As Mark Kleiman says, everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

There is no authentic mass movement here. Anti-modern (not postmodern) thugs posing as holy men are orchestrating an assault on free expression, which they couch in the nauseating PC lingo of "offensiveness." To they extent that their incitement has been successful, it's because there is a virtually limitless supply of frustration and anger with which to fuel the Intoonfada. Some of it is naturally directed at the West, for the history of colonialism and, if you like Orientalism. Such resentment is partly justified, but the extent of that justification is not nearly as great as Western apologists make it out to be.

Colonialism is neither the material nor the efficient cause of that part of the resentment and anger naturally directed at the governments and successor states which are responsible, having adopted in a pique of idiocy various doomed Soviet development models decades ago, for their people's economic misery, and through authoritarian violence and coercion, for their people's political misery---the strangulation of Muslim civil society by Muslims. The domestic, social, economic, and foreign policy of the Muslim autocracies from Cairo to Tehran are one and the same: self-perpetuation. Thus the goals of such policies are one and the same: elimination where possible, neutralization where necessary, of threats to the regime's stability. Thus willful economic misadministration, while objectively nuts, is subjectively brilliant: it destroys potential surpluses, reducing the bulk of the population to subsistence labor; small wonder that such chattel-populations can be manipulated away from exacting revenge upon the tyrants who oppress them.

Al Qaeda and similar organizations do not disrupt this framework, but augment it. Their avowed opposition to established regimes secures them popular credibility. They proceed to catalyze the regimes' project of transforming internal dissent into external fury, and in the event of a regime's failure, they are poised to reimpose autocracy, albeit it through an alternative mode of presentation.

ADDENDUM: The off-the-cuff thoughts of Ayaan Hirsi Ali (background here and here) are worth more than those of a million Tharoors factorial. And if I could be allowed a byzantine and Byzantine point of parliamentary order, it was the Iconoclasts who disdained religious images and the Iconodules who venerated them. Iconoclasm literally means the breaking or, ahem, smashing of idols. Big-time kudos to this Div student for confusing a careless research error with an argumentative proposition. I'll be damned if that's not how Heidegger got his start.

2) Return Of The Curse Of Nixon's Ghost

If the pattern of the last point sounds familiar, that's because it is structurally equivalent to the Bush administration's campaign to replace constitutionalism with its antithesis, unitary executive, legislative, and judicial power placed in one office, checked by nothing except the occasional election, which is stacked towards preservation, out of fear, of the status quo.

In the 1950s, the sociologist Philip Converse did a groundbreaking survey of public choice and public ignorance, and found that the huge majority of voters---we're talking upwards of 90%---are so utterly uninformed that their electoral decisions are essentially coinflips, perhaps slightly weighted. He further found that the greater a voter's information (he separated clustered information bands stratigraphically), the greater non-rational-choice determining constraints are placed on electoral decision. So a voter with no information flips a coin; a voter with moderate information decides based upon caste, ethnic, partisan loyalty (which come out to elements of the same thing). Note that class consciousness doesn't really enter into it; farmers, e.g., vote based upon who is "for farmers," but that description reduces to ideological, not material sources. The upper band that is highly informed doesn't fare better; their decisions are utterly determined by non-rational constraints. It's only a tiny sliver at the very peak of the information pyramid that make anything like rational decisions in voting.

Nietzsche was right to point out that people are sheep; East and West, it's sheep top to bottom. Under the right circumstances, Americans would enthusiastically vote away their own right to vote. That's the outcome the judiciary exists to prevent, and that's why the administration is trying to destroy judicial review. See further here.

3) Wascally Whittington

So it turns out that the VPOTUS is the love child of Aaron Burr and Elmer Fudd. I could have told you that a long time ago (I've seen the DNA tests). The Occam's Razor explanation of the whole thing is that Cheney, being a gaping asshole who believes the president's monarchical powers rightfully belong to him and not Bush, and will not hesitate to use them, was hoping the whole thing would stay under wraps. Too bad that good ol' rancherette had to spoil everything by calling up the sports editor at the Corpus Christi Bumblefuck-Picayune (I'm not making up the sports editor part).

But since we bloggers get to claim anything we want without repercussion, let's try a different theory out for size. The press blackout is well explained by Cheney's hatred for democratic accountability (democracy in general, really). However, the 14 or so hour delay between the shooting and the Corpus Christi Sherriff's Dept. interviewing Cheney remains unexplained. If Cheney had merely wanted to keep the fiasco a secret, he might have been able to work out a deal with the sherriff. But as far as we know, he didn't try, even when he still had a chance to do so (i.e., before Artemis Jeffersonia Davis, Hunteress of the Texas wilds, spilled the beans). In other words, he delayed talking to the authorities and delayed the news, but prevented neither. Why? Could he have been drunk? There's no evidence either way, and the rational position is not to assume that he wasn't, but to suspend judgement.

In any case, hunting accidents are always the shooter's fault. Cheney trying to pass blame off onto the poor sap who got "peppered" by 200 shards of fowl-slaying shrapnel is another flawless addition to the Museum of Gutless National Embarrassments' already-extensive Cheney collection.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Death Of Irony Watch

Tonight on Hannity and Colmes, Oliver North provided expert commentary on the Iran-nuke crisis.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

New At YDN

Remember when the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers? No? Neither do I.

I tried to take on the Man, and the Man turned up where I least expected him. Here's the e-mail I received at 1:00 am this morning:
OK, I know you are very opposed to this, but I had to tone down the column -- as per [redacted] and management's request -- because management expressed fear that the paper could be sued for libel. Appended are the changes.
The result is the first piece ever under my byline that lacks the courage of its convictions, and whose editorial stitches are visible from Saturn. Then there's the headline: "Complaints against NHPD deserve greater attention." Er, right.

Here's the unaltered version:
Assuming the verity of Priya Raman’s recent report on David Atlas, it is not difficult to reconstruct the events surrounding Atlas’s abortive prosecution and exoneration. NHPD officers arrested Atlas because they didn’t like his attitude, charged him with an offense they knew he did not commit, and then tried to falsify the evidentiary record. Had Atlas not been able to produce exculpatory testimony, he would presumably still be in legal jeopardy – not because he was unlucky, as I’ve heard it euphemistically put, but because he himself was the victim of a crime.

On advice from his attorney, Atlas has decided to abjure civil proceedings against the NHPD in exchange for the cessation of criminal action against him. Atlas is blameless for his prudence, but the deal he struck represents the confusion of justice with what Plato calls “the advantage of the stronger.” If A wrongs B and then provides a weaselly non-apology instead of compensation, justice is not satisfied, but inverted, violated a second time.

The officer at the center of this outrage is – drumroll please – none other than Marco Francia, NHPD Badge 506, once again augmenting his credentials as a lawless thug. YDN readers will recall the incident last fall in which Francia and colleague Jillian Knox viciously beat Yale senior Ilan Zechory on the steps of his apartment building and then arrested him on charges they invented.

In an official declaration, Zechory avers that Francia placed him in a series of immobilizing stress positions, enabling Knox to club him repeatedly with her flashlight. Providing a sterling example of the courage of bullies, Francia accused Zechory of drunkenness only to deny his request to be breathalyzed. When Zechory subsequently asked to have his lacerated face photographed before EMTs cleaned his wound, either Francia or another officer responded by threatening him with “more trouble than you’re already in.”

Notwithstanding the NHPD’s fatuous claim that Zechory took a swing at an officer who held him in a professional grip, supplementary written statements and a surfeit of verbal testimony confirm that Francia and Knox brutalized him without provocation. And though the NHPD disavows knowledge of Zechory’s refused requests, it would take a spectacular feat of imagination to suppose that every non-police witness hallucinated the blood covering Zechory’s face, or that he could have escaped alcohol testing had there been one picayune datum indicating that he was intoxicated.

Let us dispel any lingering illusion that Francia and Zechory should be presumed equally trustworthy. Francia is the target of four accusations of misconduct in four separate incidents since September 2004. Barring a conspiracy on the accusers’ part – refer here to Occam’s razor – it is clear as day that Francia is simply not worth trusting. The rational bet, indeed, is that Francia’s abuses extend to residents who lack a Yale student’s resources, can produce no witnesses, and therefore have no prospect of legal relief.

Francia’s badge does not magically imbue him with immunity. Yet New Haven’s government, perhaps under a magical sleep, has simply ignored Francia’s criminal violence, as well as his independently criminal efforts to whitewash his record. Officials who cannot be bothered to play at being interested in Francia’s predatory behavior toward their own constituents are not only soft on crime, but inexcusably casual with the safety of both town and gown.

I suspect many Yalies will be surprised to learn that the charges against Zechory remain quite active, but the logic behind closing one case and keeping the other open is transparent. The NHPD could drop its charges against Atlas precisely because the abuse he suffered was comparatively minor. Francia’s assault on Zechory, conversely, is unambiguously subject to criminal sanction. And since Zechory imprudently but rightfully refuses to sign a false confession, the NHPD cannot let the matter drop: its CYA operation necessarily requires some minimal censure of Zechory to pre-empt any incovenient questions from a prosecutor.

Note the wrong way to respond to Francia’s abuses. Yale Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith “is confident that the [NHPD’s] internal review [of the Atlas case] ... will sufficiently address the students’ concerns.” Excuse me, but this is not good enough. In fact, it is an abject disgrace. As a theoretical matter, a perpetrator may never determine his own punishment, and as a practical matter, Highsmith knows full well that the NHPD, like any entrenched urban bureaucracy, is incapable of admitting error or self-correction. Yale, moreover, has an exceptionless duty to protect its students from violence, and Highsmith declines to defend Atlas and Zechory on pain of abdicating her most essential responsibility. So it goes with all Yale administrators: they have an inescapable choice to make between confronting the NHPD and resigning their offices.

Honor and sympathy require me, finally, to spare a word for Nick Shalek, whom I endorsed last fall hoping his election would jolt New Haven’s government out of the torpor of one-party rule. Having barely warmed his aldermanic seat, Shalek faces a test that will provide either decisive proof or disproof that voters were right to elect him. His promise to act as a neutral liaison does not augur well – he is obligated to represent civilians and no one else.

In the world of self-generating substantive justice Shalek seems to think we inhabit, Officer Francia would already be behind bars. Such an outcome is utopian in the best sense, and we may have to settle for Francia’s permanent dismissal from the police force, but neither Shalek nor the Yale administration is at liberty to settle for anything less.

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