Friday, July 29, 2005

On Second Thought...

If I'm agreeing with Charles Krauthammer, apparently it's time to re-think my position...
Why I'm (Still, Provisionally) Pro-John Roberts

Still collecting info, of course, but thus far I'm still pro-Roberts. The accounts I've read so far, including the one in Newsweek (You know, I never read Newsweek. It's pretty damn fluffy.) indicate that he's very smart, open minded and non-"ideological" (in the weird sense that word now has). He's said to be more of a "pragmatist" than a "movement conservative," more "bottom-up" than "top-down."

Look, we're going to get a conservative. There's no doubt about that. So the only questions seem to be (a) will we get a dumb one like Thomas, or a smart one (like Roberts?)? and (b) will we get a nasty ideological one like Scalia or will we get an actual reasoner (like Roberts?)?

Given the information I've seen, this seems clear: it would not be smart for the Dems to make a stink about Roberts. He's well within specs and he's the best they are going to get. And he's going to be confirmed. Wasting massive political capital fighting a doomed battle against a nominee who is at worst o.k. is idiocy--especially when that capital could be used on other battles that are winnable. And, more importantly: trying to shoot down a good nominee is bad in itself.

For those worried about Roe: again, I think Roberts may be as good as we're going to get on that score. His views about stare decisis seem to incline him against overturning the decision.

Matt_C's point, that Roberts was on the Bush team that attempted to steal the 2000 election, does give me pause. I suppose that one could be a foot soldier in that fight and still be a good person...but it is something of a stretch. More thinking required.

On the other hand, the Dems are clearly right that they should get to see the maximum amount of information allowed by law. This administration is pathologically secretive, so I imagine that this could turn out to be the sticking point. It would be a real tragedy if that turns out to be true: Bush makes a(n uncharacteristically) good decision, but then blows it by withholding relevant information from the Senate. If he doesn't--if he tops off this good nomination with a sudden recognition that Democracies function best with the light on--then he'll have gone up several notches in my estimation, for what that's worth.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Racial Profiling and Our Current Predicament

This from the NYT is sort of interesting. Most liberals don't want to admit it, but it is patently obvious that it's absurd to search elderly Japanese women when we're looking for al Qaeda suicide bombers.

I'm one of those blond-hair-blue-eyes types (one of J. Quest's nicknames for me is "Aryan boy"). If the white supremacists ever become a big threat, I am going to be pissed off if I don't get singled out for searches. There is, obviously, a certain asymmetry here; but to ignore racial markers when they are, in fact, actual and important indicators seems like madness.

On the other hand, one might argue that America's racist past prohibits us from using such indicators when it is minorities that are in question. Given our sorry history in this regard, singling out minorities is prohibitively threatening and humiliating, whereas singling out white males is not. That doesn't seem like a crazy point to me.

But, seriously, isn't there already a (justified) form of what we might call sexual profiling in this country? If, say, a violent crime has been committed, is it as likely that the perpetrator was female as it is that he/she was male? Young males commit most of the violent crimes, and if the police didn't acknowledge this they'd be crazy. So how is racial profiling intrinsically different?

The threat from al Qaeda isn't really that great. But if it were--if, for example, we knew that al Qaeda had several ten-magaton nukes in the country--could we continue to stick our collective head in the sand of political correctness?

Among the many reasons I love this stupid country, however, is that we've continued to try to stick to our egalitarian guns in this case despite that fact that it's so obviously dopey. God, we're a big lovable bunch of dummies sometimes.
The Mighty Toles, 7/28/05

I love that guy. Check him out today.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I Am Returned

Back from lovely MO, where the temperature was 103 and the humidity as about a gazillion percent. Walk out of the house and it feels like getting hit wth a blanket soaked in hot water. Icky.

This, apparently, is a sign to my father that all the woodpiles need to be moved and/or restacked. Ah, just like old times.

Will post something substantial tomorrow.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Jeffrey Rosen is Cautiously Optimistic About John Roberts.

Read about it here in the NYT.

Rosen is reasonable in that TNR way, and this op-ed made me want to weep with joy. Of course, one might point out that that's a measure of how bad and divisive the Bush administration has been--that is, we're overjoyed when they do something that's not overtly unfair or stupid. But, look, this decision is important, so I think we could reasonably put those kinds of thoughts aside for right now.

If Roberts does turn out to be as reasonable as Rosen thinks he might be, then Bush does, I think, deserve a considerable amount of praise for this decision. I hope that groups on the left don't pounce on him mindlessly.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

He's a Uniter, Not a Divider

Well, at least he seems to have gotten Iran and Iraq back together... Nice work, Dubya!

My prediction is that, if our gloroious already-accomplished victory in Iraq continues to eviscerate our military, he might end up getting China and Taiwan back together, too. On the other hand, back in 2001 The Current Occupant did accidentally pledge that we'd protect Taiwan if China God knows what's going to happen.

Could Iraq end up being to us what Afghanistan was to the Soviet Union? Not exactly, but it has already weakened us politically and militarily (not to mention sapping our moral capital) just as China is beginning to become a real threat. We could have come out of 9/11 even stronger than we were before, but, alas, things have gone more badly for us since then than anyone could have predicted. This is a point that reasonable people should make over and over again until everyone else starts to get it: the Bush administration may not have lost the war against al Qaeda, but it has come closer to losing it than anyone could have thought possible five years ago. Nobody--NOBODY--could have predicted that we'd still be looking for bin Laden five years after 9/11. Um...are we still looking for him, incidentally? Unwitting though it may be (and so often is), the Bush administration is the best ally al Qaeda has ever had.

Had we hit the Taliban and al Qaeda with everything we had after 9/11, we'd have gotten bin Laden and sent a strong message to the world. We'd have maintained the aura of invincibility that we generated in Gulf War Episode I, and which has evaporated again in Gulf War Episode II. If we'd have then spent even half the money we'll spend in Iraq rebuilding Afghanistan, we'd have shown the Islamic world that we were powerful yet benevolent--we'd have shown them that we can crush those who attack us and be great benefactors to those who do not. Instead we chose the most incoherent and ineffective of all possible strategies.

I remember back in 2000 looking around in awe thinking: people somehow seem to think that it doesn't matter that we're allowing a demonstrably dishonest and incompetent bunch of soundrels steal the presidency. It was as if a big chunk of the population was saying: Sure, these guys are bullshit...but what does it matter? How bad could it be? Everything's going great. How bad could they possibly screw things up?

Well, we've got our answer now.

[See, everything I try to write now can just be summarized as follows: Bush sucks. So why read this blog? Just scrawl 'Bush sucks' on a post-it note and put it on your monitor. Thankfully we're all going to get a break from this for a couple of days while I travel back to lovely Jefferson County, Missouri to visit the parental units down on the farm. Try not to tear the place up while I'm gone.]

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Help Us, Obi-Wan Clark--You're Our Only Hope

Good, though somewhat stale, news re: Wes Clark, via Mark Kleiman. Looks like Clark is positioning himself for 2008. So we might get some adults back in charge...if we can last that long.
Where the Goalposts Used to Be

A very, very different place.

(via Atrios)
Trouble for Turdblossom

Things just keep looking worse and worse for Darth Rove...lucky for him that the Republicans are adept at moving the goalposts. Now the Current Occupant of the White House is no longer saying that he'll fire anyone involved in the Plame outting; instead he's saying that he'll fire anyone who committed a crime. As noted in this story from the NYT, this appears to be a different standard than that which might ordinarily be applied in such a case.

I normally wouldn't mention such a thing, but since this administration makes Clinton look like a downright sloppy parser of sentences, let me point out that Bush did not say that he'd fire anyone convicted of a crime. This would, theoretically, allow him to respond to a Rove conviction with something like "he was convicted of it, but he didn't commit it." Even our friends on the right might not be able to swallow that... But I don't think we can put it past "President" There-Are-No-Invasion-Plans-On-My-Desk.

God, I am officially too mad to blog. Someone please stop me...

Monday, July 18, 2005

Swearing on "The Holy Scriptures" in North Carolina Courts

Dunno whether this has made the national news, but in North Carolina courtrooms, if you swear on a "holy" book it's got to be the Bible. The Koran is right out. This obviously has to change, but we're a red state, so it won't happen without the requisite fight against tradition.

You can simply affirm that you will tell the truth when you testify in a North Carolina court, and I've had to do so before. (Now that's a funny story, and I might even regale you with it at some point.) Thing is, you probably lose credibility when you do so. The court clerk (or whoever administers the oaths) rolled her eyes and said something like "whatever!" when the prosecutor said that I would "affirm"--and this was in Chapel Hill, the most liberal place in the state by far. I though I was being a good citizen, since swearing on the Bible means absolutely nothing to me--it's like asking me to swear on Moby Dick or a credit card application from BP. So I figured I should tell them that they were asking me to bind myself with an oath that I considered utterly meaningless. Simply affirming that you'll tell the truth, however, doesn't tacitly make your oath contingent on your belief in the veracity of the Bible. Of course, if you'd lie in the first place you'd probably lie about whether you'd lie or not, but waddaya gonna do?

But, anyway, by insisting that people who swear on a "holy" book must swear on the Bible, NC courts are--if I understand the concept of swearing on books rightly--making it easier for e.g. Buddhists to lie. Heck, make it a requirement to swear on the Bible if you like, guys, that just means that the oath will have no effect on most of the population of the world.

I've long thought--as have others--that we should be asked to swear on the Constitution. Now THAT would have binding force.
Duke Basketball Report--Like Everything Else With 'Duke Basketball' In It--Sucks

You non-hoops-fans can just ignore this one, of course, but DBR certainly does suck. You can often find interesting ACC hoops info there, but the tone of the thing is just so unutterably nasty and the alleged information often so skewed that I rarely go there. This piece on the recent revelations from KU about Roy Williams was particularly stupid and mean-spirited. The real scoop, so far as we know, is here. Integrity is far more important than winning, so I'd never advocate bending the rules for Roy or letting him get away with anything, but to charge that the violations in question are significant is rather silly. I've got a zero tolerance policy regarding this sort of thing, but even I'm not worried about these violations.

Incidentally, I'm going to avoid falling into tu quoque here by enumerating the numerous failings of the Duke program...not...going to....not... There. Successs.
DBR tends to display much of what is worst about college sports. They are intensely tribal, reading only the best motives into the actions of their heroes and, of course, trying their darndest to make Carolina's program seem awful in various ways. I can understand their bitterness given that we've basically owned them for basically my lifetime, but they have had notable success of late, so one would think that they might get over it sometime. Bearing this kind of grudge...well, it's unseemly. They've got stellar recruits coming in this year and should be good this season. Yet even in success, I predict more nastiness.

So get over it, boys. Go have a nice drive in your BMWs, send some money to the RNC, go puppy hunting or whatever it is that you all do to have a good time. Maybe you just need to get out of Durham for awhile. Heck, that place'll put anyone in a foul mood.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

TeeVee Says Reagan Greatest American

This is too stupid even to comment on, but I recently discovered that the Discovery Channel had a little popularity contest in which people could call in and cast votes for people to be included in a list of the 100 greatest Americans. I even saw a little bit of a show in which Dinesh DeSouza argued--before an all-star panel including Ann Coulter--that Clinton's blowjob was worse than Reagan selling arms to terrorists.

Well, you don't need me to tell you that this is going to end badly. Although sucks and I can't for the life of me get any of the relevant pages to load now, I previously looked over the list of candidates and it included--and I am not making this up--such indispensible American heroes as Oprah Winfrey, Lucille Ball, Tiger Woods, Brett Favre, Hugh Hefner, and Frank Sinatra. Marilyn Monroe, but not James Monroe, was represented. James Madison--who I guess I'd have voted for if I ever engaged in something this silly--wasn't on the list. Rush Limbaugh, Mel Gibson, Sam Walton--all there. Henry Knox, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Greene, Edwin Hubble, Richard Feynman--not there. One of the candidates I'd never even heard of--Dr. Phil McGraw--who turns out to be a talk-show host. For the love of God...

I am not exaggerating when I say that I felt physically ill when I saw the list. I may never have seen such a nauseating display of shallowness and ignorance. God, it's awful.

I heard a couple of weeks ago that Bill Clinton had come in at like number seven. Now, Clinton was a good president, but that's simply absurd. Despite all the things one might say on his behalf, is there any plausible way to get him even into the top 100? Is he going to edge out Daniel Morgan or Timothy Murphey or Bull Halsey? Nathan Hale? Omar Bradley? I guess it's possible, but I don't see it.

But there's more. George W. Bush came in at number 6. Presumably there's no need to comment on this. If Bush can avoid the list of 100 most loathsome Americans he'll be lucky. Being in the list of the 100 greatest is simply not on the horizon for him.

But, oh, what about the GREATEST American? Who was that alleged to be? Well, dear readers, it was none other than The Great Reader of the Teleprompter, Ronald Wilson Reagan. That sorry excuse for a president, that talentless witless zero, that violator of his oath of office, that conductor of illegal wars, that dealer with terrorists, that funder of murderers, came in just ahead of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. If you've every heard of anything stupider than this, please do let me know. No. On second thought, please don't.

Of course this means nothing. It's an indictment of the endeavor not any sign of Reagan's greatness--or adequacy. The mere presence of Tom Hanks and Ellen DeGeneres on the list of candidates makes it clear that this is not a serious endeavor. But still it nauseates.

In the end it might actually make a twisted kind of sense. It seemed like a plurality of people named on the list of candidates were entertainers, and that's what Reagan really was, anyway.

[Incidentally, just got a page to load. 40 of the 100 "greatest Americans" are either entertainers or athletes. Someone please shoot me.]
Rich on IraqGate

Frank Rich certainly does rule. Although I'm not sure about his final point, the rest of today's NYT op-ed is right on. One of his points is basically that we need to quit thinking of this as RoveGate. This isn't about Rove. This is about the administration and, in particular, the mendacity that led us into the we'll-be-damned-lucky-if-this-doesn't-turn-into-a-full-fledged-quagmire of Iraq.

I sometimes get extremely depressed that so many of my countrymen aren't paying enough attention--or aren't being honest enough--to be outraged by the actions of this pathetic and criminal administration. Sometimes I then remember that Nixon maintained strong support until the evidence against him became irrefutable. That gives me brief hope. But then I remember that irrefutable evidence is damned hard to come by. What's needed--as the also terrible Reagan administration realized--is just plausible deniability. And that's relatively easy to maintain. Many presidents have a pack of partisan supporters who will do almost anything to avoid admitting that that president has done something wrong. Almost no matter how flimsy the excuse, so long as you aren't caught red-handed, you can maintain the support of someone with a sufficiently strong desire to support you. Add to this that many of the non-partisans in the political center, the ones crucial to determining whether a "tipping point" has been reached, have a strong background inclination to believe their government to be honest, and the administration gets what is in essence a strong home-field advantage.

On the other hand, if your actions are nefarious enough, it's even a little tough to maintain minimally plausible deniability. Reagan himself was finally caught out in Iran-Contra, even though the Democrats--in a typically and foolishly Democratic act of civic-mindedness--elected not to impeach him, concluding that the country could not withstand another presidential crisis so soon on the heels of Watergate. (The contrast with the actions of Republicans during the Clinton administration is particularly striking, of course.)

I want the truth to come out in this case in part because I desperately want those Americans who are still in the dark to see the true nature of this administration. I want that for two reasons: first, because it's simply important to know the truth and set the historical record straight; second, because we can't afford to make another electoral mistake of this magnitude. No country is great enough to suffer leaders of this stripe more than a few times and maintain its greatness.

But no matter how this turns out--even if every American finally comes to his senses about the Bush administration as a result of the Rove leak--nothing will change the fact that these people got away with it through five years, two vicious presidential campaigns, an essentially stolen election, and a transparently mendacious case for a possibly unjust and potentially disastrous war. Any nation that allows itself to be so badly duped by men such as these for so long faces a rocky and uncertain future. Even if we finally come to our collective senses on this one we have proven that we can be very stupid and very ignorant for at least five years and probably more. And, as we've already seen, five years is long enough to run even a great nation pretty badly off the rails.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Propagandizing Ourselves to Death
Statesmen as Ad Men

Listen, ever since Bush '41's Operation Just Cause (or, as I always think of it, Operation Just 'Cause), I've been concerned about the turn our own government has taken towards sticking catchy nicknames on its endeavors in order to trick us into supporting them. Look, this is a tactic worthy of corporate goons, but we should not tolerate it from our own government. If a cause is just, you probably don't have to name it 'Just Cause' in order to get people to recognize its justness. I long for the days (terminologically speaking) of Operation Overlord, The Manhattan Project and Operation Olympus. I look forward with fear and trepidation to the days, perhaps not too far off, of 'Operation Virtuous Righteousness' and 'The Motherhood and Apple Pie Act.'

The latest and most galling terminological abominations are 'The Patriot Act' and 'Operation Iraqi Freedom.' The latter was, of course, never really aimed at the freedom of Iraqis--everybody knows that's bullshit even if not everybody can admit it. But what really makes me crazy is 'The Patriot Act' (not to mention the Patriot Act itself, which is a different story and a more profound source (and perhaps result) of craziness).

There's nothing particularly patriotic about the Patriot Act. Even its proponents must admit that its not any more patriotic than any of thousands of other acts we could cite. It certainly ranks way, way below, say, the Freedom of Information Act. But if you don't like that example, it won't take you long to think of your own.

No, the Patriot Act is named 'the Patriot Act' in part because its proponents recognized at some level that it was NOT particularly patriotic. It may be, on the whole, a good thing. I don't have an opinion about that because I don't know what's in it. Neither do you, incidentally, and neither do your congresspersons. Few if any people know everything that's in it; most don't know anything that's in it. But we all know that there are at least some things in it that at least border on violating important American principles (concerning e.g. privacy, including e.g. searches and seizures). Perhaps there are no actual violations, or perhaps such violations are warranted. I'm not speaking to that right now. What I'm interested in here is the fact that our government reacted to their recognition of these problems not by being honest about them, but by tarting the thing up with a meretricious name.

I've asserted before that democracy is basically rule by the uninformed (myself included), and all most people know about the Patriot Act is its name. Because this is generally how things work around these parts, it is particularly important for our representatives in government to resist the urge to engage in such terminological propaganda. And it is particularly important that we not stand for it when they give in to the urge.

I suppose that the tendency discussed above is merely a special case of the more general tendency of certain elements in our government to mislead us, to turn American propaganda on Americans. So it's that more general tendency that we should take aim at. Still, this more limited expression of that general tendency is as good a place to start as any.
The Mighty Washington Post's Fair and Balanced Recap of the Wilson-Plame-Rove Incident

You know, I keep pushing certain facts in this case out of my mind, and it's good to be reminded of them. Wilson--a really admirable guy so far as I can tell--has distorted some of the relevant facts in this case. That's important for those of us who are generally inclined to be anti-administration to remember.

It's weird that the strange case of the uranium from Niger would have attracted more long-term attention than e.g. the more outright distortions about the aluminum tubes or the alleged UAVs (i.e. the model airplanes). Seems to me that the notorious "sixteen words" were not notably more misleading than thousands of other words uttered in the course of leading us to war.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Odds Decrease that Rove Outed Plame

Today's WaPo [um, by which I apparently meant 'NYT'...] story seems to indicate that Rove's actions were far less sinister than it had begun to seem. If so, this be good in that it would mean that Rove was notably less evil than we previously thought.

On the other hand, Kevin Drum, who's much more savvy about these things than I am, refers to the story as "carefully orchestrated" and suggests that it's just a tactical leak. And, sadly, given this administration's complete disregard--or should we say 'contempt' here?--for the truth, no sensible person can dismiss Drum's concerns out of hand.

While I was over at Drum's digs I found this on a recent Krugman op-ed that I missed. I'm sympathetic with this thought, but the offense in question comes second on my list. The attempted (and possibly actual) theft of the 2000 election comes first. But once you get to a certain level of venality and criminality, it's kind of hard to make very fine-grained comparisons.

[See also this at Liberal Oasis]

[P.s. Does anyone have any idea why I am incapable of spelling correctly? I do have an, you know... Don't you think I would have learned to spell at some point? (I was best in the class in fourth grade, incidentally. So what happened?]

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Rove's Security Clearance

Just watched part of the debate about the bill aimed at revoking Rove's security clearance. It pains me to say that it pains me to say that I think I'm with the Republicans on this one.

First: The Republicans' best point was that the bill apparently would revoke the security clearance of anyone who revealed certain classified information, even if the revelation was unwitting/accidental. This is a tough issue, but my first thought about this is that in this case we should be aiming to stop the intentional release of classified information, not its accidental release. My second thought was that it would not be unreasonable to argue that releasing classified information through incompetence might also warrant such revocation. Since (a) I'm not sure which of these thoughts is right and (b) I suspect that I've lost my objectivity in this matter, I guess I'd better not support the amendment. Like my opinion on this matters...

Second: It pains me to agree with the Republicans about anything having to do with this matter.

Third: It pains me that it pains me to agree with the Republicans, because that's a good indication that I've lost my objectivity. If you're rooting for one side in an argument or discussion you might as well just drop any delusions of objectivity. Hmmm. Maybe that's an overstatement. But in matters like this, the difference between the better and the worse arguments is often so thin that having a dog in the fight is enough to almost completely undermine your ability to make accurate judgments.

On the other hand, I'm moving Jennifer Love Hewitt and Penelope Cruz off of my "list" to make room for Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.
Richard Cohen on RoveGate

A smart column, according to me. I'm not sure he's right about there being no crime involved--no non-expert should be sure about that one way or another yet.

But his main point--made by many others as well--seems sound. The legal questions almost constitute a mere sideshow in this case. The real issues have to do with the character of this administration. Although perhaps not qualitatively different from many other administrations, it is quantitatively different in the extreme. Far too mean-spirited, far too willing to ignore the rule of law, far too contemptuous of democracy, far too vindictive towards its opponents, far too willing to push the envelope in all the wrong ways. Defenders of such people tend to fall back on the lame claim that "everybody does it." My first real political memories are of Watergate, and I can remember hearing that refrain over and over again about the criminal Nixon--everybody does it, he just got caught.

Well, everybody lies sometimes, but not everybody is a liar in the ordinary sense of the term. Everybody is a little selfish, but not everybody is selfish in the ordinary sense of the term. Differences of degree matter here, and great differences of degree matter greatly. If I lie and cheat and harm other people greatly and routinely, it is no defense of my character to point out that everybody does those things a little bit and sometimes. This fallacy needs a name, but I don't know of one for it.

One of the most maddening aspects of this current spectacle is the attempts to equate the actions of the Bush administration with Clinton's sexual escapades and subsequent dishonesty about them. Clinton lied about his sex life, so there's no reason to get all bent out of shape about the fact that the Bush administration lied us into a war, distorts science to their political ends, and apparently uses the power of our government against their political enemies.

I have to shut up now.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Darth RoveGate: Mark Kleiman and The Left Coaster are On iT

So go check 'em out.

I've totally lost my head about this stuff now. Quit reading this blog. Go away. I've lost my head. I want to break things.

I wanted to hold back and wait for more facts, but the nefarious machinations of the Republican noise machine have pushed me over the edge. When it seems like every American should recognize that we need to get to the bottom of this, the Republican leadership has explicitly adopted a strategy of misdirection and stonewalling. Despite my best efforts, these tactics have made me far more inclined to view Rove unfavorably. It's hard to maintain objectivity about a dispute when one side in it is so obviously trying to deceive you.

It is, I think, in large part the tactics of the Republican leadership that is the big story here. Even if we're not sure exactly what Rove did, nor sure about whether it was legal or not, we know how the Republican leadership operates: hide the facts, stonewall reporters, deceive the public, accuse their political opponents of dishonesty, treason, or insanity. All administrations seem to stonewall and misdirect to some extent, but this administration long ago crossed the line separating ordinary--though still reprehensible--political bullshit from indecent and undemocratic moral crimes.

Listen, we can't run a democracy like this. We can't let people like this remain in control of our government. We have responsibilities--to our principles and the people who have died defending them, to the Founders, and the the world. We are thought of as the paradigm of liberal democracy, and the more our leaders act like tin-horn dictators of third-rate bananna republics, the more ammunition we give the anti-democratic forces in the world that sit in the shadows hoping and waiting for democracy to fail--or who actively try to bring it down.

That's it. I'm out of here. Go somewhere else where someone can still think clearly.
R.I.P. Party of Lincoln

This is pretty much the last nail in the coffin so far as my efforts to defend the Republicans go. It doesn't mean that I'm an enthusiastic Democrat, but the Republican leadership has gone mad. They seem to have no regard for what's right, considering only the political implications of their actions. This Rove incident is, as the WaPo article notes, merely a "communications challenge" in their eyes. It's the triumph of the postmodern Right. Facts and principle be damned, it's all about winning and keeping power.

If this were a Democratic administration, there would be calls for impeachment by now. Hell, there'd be assassination threats. Rove might be innocent, but the Republicans' refusal to even consider the possibility that he is guilty--despite substantial evidence to that effect--their conscious decision to stonewall, their utter disregard for objectivity and questions of fact and principle are apalling. This is the same face of the Republican party that we saw during the virtual theft of the election of 2000. Why I would every give them more chances after that is beyond me, and reveals my dim-wittedness. Dumbass moderates such as myself are always at a disadvantage relative to extremists.

Those of you who have been arguing that I've been a dupe for trying to excuse them and urging compromise have been right. The truth doesn't lie in the middle here. The Republicans must be exposed for what they are and defeated. This doesn't mean that the Democrats are wonderful, it just means that they aren't beyond the pale. At least they still belong to the "reality-based community," and, as such, are--God help us--our only hope.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Facts (?) About Plame-Relevant Statutes

If we're going to figure out this Plame business we'll (as I noted earlier) have to figure out what counts as a covert operative, what counts as (to use the popular term) outting, and whether there were any related crimes associated with a cover-up.

First, the reliable: Mark Kleiman has this.

But we want to be fair and balanced here at P-raptor, so we also include the perspective from Powerline. (Note: not an acutal source of information.)

Remember me speculating about some conservatives abandoning principle and frantically circling the wagons? Well, I hate being right all the time. I include the link primarily because of the following absolutely unforgettable line in the Powerline post, in the context of arguing that Rove's alleged actions weren't criminal:
"This isn't a top presidential aide accepting an
expensive gift or engaging in lewd sexual conduct."

What's everybody getting all bent out of shape about? There was no oral sex involved for Chrissake! It's just a vindictive and criminal use of the powers of government, undermining national security in order to get revenge against the President's political enemies!

My God. Some of these people really are quite, quite nuts.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Not Afraid

Check it out.
What Counts as "Outing"?

Um, apparently Rove didn't use Plame's name, he just referred to her as "Wilson's wife" or something like that. I sincerely hope that no one will try to claim that Rove can avoid the relevant charges on those grounds. There is no reason to think that the use of a proper name is necessary for a crime of this kind to be committed. If you are a spy and I reveal your identity by pointing at you and saying "he's a spy!," I cannot defend my actions on the grounds that I didn't use your name. You'd have to be a real sleazeball to use a defense like that, and I, make that hope...that no one will do so.
General Principles and "Outing" Undercover Operatives

As I've said a lot recently, I don't really read blogs right now. But I fear that I know what's going on in the 'Sphere. I fear that blogs on the left have already convicted Rove. And I fear that blogs on the right are frantically backpedaling and making excuses. If folks on the right stoop to that, it will be another blow to the integrity of American conservatism. Remember that to be a good reasoner, one must ask oneself what one would do were the tables turned. I ask myself that question several times a day (not that I'm a particularly good reasoner, but I'm a better one than I'd be if I didn't ask the question). If something like this had happened in a Democratic administration, there's no doubt that the perpetrator would go to jail and the president would almost certainly be impeached. Hmmm...but what if the Democrats controlled Congress? Not so sure in that case. My guess is that they'd be likely to impeach him, but I'm not sure whether they'd convict him.

Optimally we establish general principles ahead of time, from (to put in in the Rawlsian way) behind a "veil of ignorance." (That's got a more precise meaning in Rawls's political theory, but it's a useful and evocative phrase, so I think we can use it in this more general way.) That is, we consider the question "what if someone in the administration reveals the identity of a covert intelligence operative?"...and we consider it without regard to whether the administration is affiliated with the Democrats or the Republicans. That is, we ask the question in ignorance of whether it is our party or the other party that has engaged in the transgression. Such questions can be difficult, and our judgments are easily thrown off by our political affiliations, so it's important to set up rules--when possible--in a cool hour and in such a general way.

This is one reason why we fall back on the law in such cases--those are the general rules we have antecedently established and ratified as fair. The law is a great tool for preventing ourselves from trying to gain advantage by special pleading--that is, for preventing us from making one set of rules for people we like and another set of rules for everyone else. And believe me, we are going to need the law and every ounce of its majesty in this case...

As it stands, we all know what is going to happen politically. Democrats will play up the offense, Republicans will play it down. If this had happened in a Democratic administration, the opposite would have happened. If Rove did what he is suspected of, then--unless I discover that I'm making a mistake about the relevant principles--I'd judge that he has, in fact, done something terrible and there is no need for exaggeration by Democrats. If Rove does end up being guilty, then it's the Republicans who will be most tempted to reason fallaciously since the facts and sound reasoning will be on the side of the Democrats in this case. In general, it's the party that's wrong that faces the greatest logical temptation; those who are right don't need to stretch facts or twist logic.

Let's put a relevant central argument in standard form:

(1) Anyone who "outs" a covert intelligence operative deserves a severe penalty
(2) Karl Rove outed a covert intelligence operative
(3) Karl Rove deserves a severe penalty

SURELY we can all agree with premiss (1)--that is, as is so often the case, all parties should be able to agree on the relevant general principle.

The really important and interesting premiss here is (2). That premiss has not been established, and there is no reason to rush to judgment on it. I think that I have made it clear that I think that Karl Rove is a destructive force in American politics--but that doesn't mean that he's guilty of this crime. No one should want to convict an innocent man of a crime like this, no matter how much one might disagree with his politics. We should all also be able to agree that he is legally innocent unless proven guilty.

I guess it's worth noting that premiss (2) is interesting in part because it contains some importantly vague, technical, and otherwise problematic terms like "out" and "covert intelligence operative."

Come to think of it, some of the above isn't exactly right, but it's something.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

How Sure Can We be that al Qaeda Bombed London?

I was wondering...

Although the smart money is on "al Qaeda"--which, according to some, is such a loose organization that it almost doesn't even count as one--how sure can we be about it? If, say, white supremacists wanted to increase hostility against (certain) non-whites, this might be a good way to do it.

Of course there'll be an investigation, and there's no need to rush to judgment.

Just thinking out loud here.
Pollack: Five Ways to Win in Iraq

While partisans on both sides froth and fulminate, guys like Ken Pollack are generating serious strategies for winning this freakin' thing.

Philosoraptor sez check it out.

(Hat tip: Statisticasaurus Rex)
When Will Victory Be Achieved in Iraq?
A Mostly Speculative Timeline

Phase 1 (Before the War Begins):
The war is in essence already over. We have already won! Right now Iraqis are stockpiling flowers and candy, sewing little American flags, and tearing up copies of Saddam Hussein's novel to use as confetti. Since victory has already been achieved, it would be not only unwise but literally impossible not to conduct the war. One can't win a war if no war is fought; we've won, ergo it is necessary that we fight. Bradley Fighting Vehicles are currently being retro-fitted with dozer blades to enable them to push through the mountains of rose petals that are sure to clog every street in Iraq.

Phase 2:
Mission accomplished!

Phase 3:
Nothing worth achieving is easy. We face a tough task here, and there's no way to tell how much it might cost or how long it might take. So we're not going to tell you. But make no mistake about it, America will be victorious.

Phase 4:
The Unites States will not win the war against the insurgency. The Iraqi people will win the war against the insurgency.

Phase 5:
Human beings will not win the war against the insurgency. Intelligent robots created by the mega-multinational corporations that will soon rule the world will defeat the insurgency.

Phase 6:
Human beings will not win the war against the insurgency. Our Neo-Human evolutionary descendents, endowed with super intelligence and Kevlar skin, will win the war against the insurgency. (Warning: This phase "just a theory" in Kentucky and possibly Kansas.)

Phase 7:
Rational creatures will not win the war against the insurgency. When the sun expands into a Red Giant in about 4 billion years, the insurgency will be vaporized.

Phase 8:
Look, when the heat death of the universe arrives, their explosives won't work anymore. Entropy will win the war against the insurgency.

Phase 9:
The insurgency will not be defeated by any natural force or creature. That, anyway, is not our place. Only God is fit to make such judgments. At the end of days, he'll make the call. And we all know who's side he's on. Then the insurgents will get what's coming to them. Amen.
Frank Rich: It's Worse Than Watergate. Really.

Read it.

Odds Increase that Rove Outted Plame

Via a tip at, we find this in today's Newsweek.

It's not conclusive proof that Rove intentionally outted Plame, but it's a damning piece of the puzzle. As many are noting, Rove has said that he didn't "reveal her name," and this may be true--he just referred to her has "Wilson's wife."

Now, a Democrat would never be allowed to get away with this kind of patent dishonesty--see Clinton's musings on the meaning of 'is'--but I have a sick feeling that Republicans are going to try to defend Rove on this one. This will, of course, be a test to separate the reasonable Republicans from the unreasonable ones.

This also makes me think back to the pre-invasion days when Bush said, in response to a reporter's question about whether we were planning an invasion, "there are no invasion plans on my desk." At the time I noted that this did not necessarily mean that plans weren't being formulated and put into effect--a really dishonest person could say this while mentally crossing his fingers and thinking something like "no, they aren't on my desk...I put 'em in the filing cabinet..." or "They're on Colin's desk right now!" Of course the president said what he said knowing that we would all conclude that plans were not being formulated and put into effect. So if plans were being formulated or put into effect at that time, he lied. At the time I dismissed this worry as probable paranoia...but now I'm not so sure...

Friday, July 08, 2005

All Best Thoughts to the Mighty Brits

What can one say about such a thing? I certainly don't know. I do wonder, however, who these crazy islamofascist bastards think they are dealing with. May I remind them that these are the folk who stood alone against Hitler's empire? Who shrugged off the Blitz?

A wee history lesson:

"...We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender..."

Our thoughts are with them.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Here's something sorta interesting from Kevin Drum, a quote from the general commanding Marine forces in the Pacific noting that the current unpleasantness is not a war on terrorism.

People have complained about the confusions--semantic and otherwise--surrounding this issue many times, and perhaps more griping isn't in order. It's been said that declaring a war on terrorism after 9/11 was like declaring war on Mexico after Pearl Harbor...but that's not right.

Rather, it's as if after Pearl Harbor we had, instead of declaring war on Japan, declared war on sneak attacks--that is, on the tactic rather than the institution that employed the tactic.

But linguistic sloppiness and the pressures of political rhetoric have confused things even more, making the war on terrorism into the war on "terror." So, to stick with our WWII analogy, it's as if we'd responded to Pearl Harbor with a "War on Sneakiness."

And what, exactly--or, hell, approximately--would a war on sneakiness--or "terror"--involve? Damned if I know.

Remember back when you were a kid? Remember how you thought that smart people were running the world? Fortunately or unfortunately, the grim truth reveals itself so slowly that the shock and disappointment are bearable.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Broder on Criteria of Success in Iraq

This is worth a read, and relevant to earlier posts about measuring success in Iraq. It's obvious that we can't trust the administration's word on this; but neither can we trust the claims of the frothing-at-the-mouth anti-war crowd. What we need is some kind of metric (Azael rehearsed some common and reasonable suggestions here earlier).

I guess my first worry here is that this will end up like the body count debacle of Vietnam. But we'll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

Incidentally, I think that it might be reasonable to froth at the mouth against this war. I'm not saying it's an unreasonable reaction, I'm saying that we usually can't trust the assessments of those with frothy mouths. That raises a problem though: if a real outrage is outrageous enough to make a reasonable person (to stick with my increasingly annoying metaphor) froth at the mouth...well, you see the problem. If an administration does something outrageous enough to make the rational people who oppose it lose their cool, then they win a rhetorical victory by effectively neutralizing rational critics.

I'm not saying that's what this administration has done...but sometimes I wonder.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

How the Quirks of Blogging Alter Public Discourse

Conventional wisdom has it that new communication media sometimes have unanticipated effects on public discourse. Television, for example, made it more important to be pretty, helping Kennedy defeat Nixon. The teleprompter made smooth, engaging delivery more important than comprehension of the text, allowing Reagan to be "the great communicator." (Or the "great" "communicator", anyway...)

What does blogging do? Lots of things. Though the claim seems currently out of favor, I still think that it contributes to cyberbalkanization. But that's old news. It seems to promote the "rant" at the expense of thoughtful posts. Perhaps these things help make bloggers and their readers more partisan. Dunno. Empirical question.

But what I've been thinking about recently is this: blogging puts pressure on you to post, even when you don't have anything worth writing. If you don't post frequently, people won't read you. That's bad for those who are in it for the attention, but it's also bad for those who are in it for more admirable reasons. If you think you have the occasional good idea, and you'd like to get it out there into the public mind, then you need to get people reading your blog. To get people to read your blog, you need to post regularly. Nobody has ideas all the time. So in order to get your good ideas out there, you might need to post mediocre ideas with some regularity.

But you can't just post crappy posts and expect people to read them. So you try to snazz 'em up. You don't post dumb ideas intentionally, of course, but you grasp for something semi-quasi-decent, and try to make it passably good. Problem is, a bad or mediocre idea dressed up to seem good can harm the thinking of those who are kind enough to read your ramblings in the first place. And it's not that they're not smart enough to see through bad ideas, but remember you've gained their trust to some extent, and remember that you've dressed the idea up so that it might look good enough to sneak its way into someone's mind if they're not paying close attention.

Anyway, I think this pressure--the pressure to always have something to say--is a notable force in the blogosphere. That's just a hypothesis, of course, and it could very well be wrong.

Incidentally, when I don't have anything to say, I just try not to post. Just so you know.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Yorktown Etc.

Spent yesterday walking and driving around the Yorktown battlefield. Extremely weird that, though I'm a Revolutionary War buff and taught at William and Mary for awhile I've never done that before. There was a warm, gentle rain yesterday, and almost no one there. It was a strange and moving experience, akin to those I've had at Gettysburg and Thermopylae. If you go down towards the creek from General Washington's encampment you can drink from the spring he used.

In Richmond now, and we'll probably drive down to Yorktown again today to see the re-enactments.

Oops, time to go!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Bore of the Worlds


Typical summer tripe. Sheesh, what am I saying...I actually like Summer tripe... But this may have been too tripey even for me...

God, how can you screw up that great story? Some good visuals, but too much stuff that doesn't make even enough sense for a Summer "blockbuster." Maybe worth seeing if you're stoned which, sadly, I wasn't, on account of seeing it with Johnny Quest's parental units.

Anyway, the movie was a little creepy at points, but not as creepy as if, say, Tom Cruise had just stood up there explaining Scientology... Now THAT stuff is scary...

Why can't the people who make movies like this just put 1/1000th of the effort into the screenplay that they put into the special effects? I'd be satisfied with anything that wasn't aggressively boring or stupid.

Interesting to note that the professorial protagonist has been replaced by a paradigmatically regular Joe, a guy who's rebuilding a 289 in his kitchen. I think us pointy-headed types are pretty out of favor these days. That may not be such a bad thing...

For those scanning the movie for political messages, I found only one notable line: roughly: "History has shown us that occupations never succeed."

Beware: semi-spoiler coming:
I predict that the James Dobsons of the world might claim that it was AIDS that kills the Martians (given the role of blood in the flick), and that this is a kind of pro-gay subsubsubtext of the movie. I'm not saying that makes any sense, but if it turns out to be true, you read it here first. If it turns out to be false, I'm going to deny ever even having had such a loony, twisted thought.
A Suggestion For One General Test Of How Seriously A President Takes A War

Let me suggest this test:

The more a president pushes divisive domestic and international agendas, the less seriously he takes the war he is prosecuting.

I think we can agree to this test as a rule of thumb (that would require lots of ceteris paribus clauses). I'm not using this as a weapon of convenience to bash President Bush. Rather, it seems true to me in general.

However, if we apply this test to the current administration we have to conclude that, given the extreme divisiveness of their foreign and domestic policies, they do not take the war against terrorism very seriously. If they really wanted to win the war, and really believed that disunity is the only thing that will lose it for us, then they would work to achieve more unity.

As it stands, they are pushing divisive policies and then demanding that their domestic political opponents unite behind them. But compromise is a two-way street.

One might wish to unleash a pox on all houses concerned in this matter, but liberals and America's international allies DID unite behind President Bush immediately after 9/11, despite the fact that Bush had already done a good bit to alienate those groups. Again, however, the administration pursued divisive policies that have again generated bitter division between them and most of the rest of the civilized world. So it seems that the administration deserves the lion's share of the blame.

It would be interesting to go back and examine the records of previous war-time administrations to see how they acted in this regard. That would provide us with a bit of evidence against which to test the rule of thumb suggested above.
What's Going On In Iraq, part 2

My answer is still 'I don't know.' I'm still currently inclined to think that Iraq is a kind of political Rorschach test for most of us: pro-war folk tend to "see" success, anti-war folks tend to "see" failure. But I heard an interesting piece on NPR yesterday--they interviewed four people (a neo-con, a Jordanian journalist, a retired general or somesuch, and someone else), asking each to answer the question 'who's winning in Iraq?' I only listened once, but I'd summarize the answers as follows:

1. Nobody yet but it's a little more likely that we about ten years.
2. Nobody.
3. They are.
4. Suicide bombers are the last weapon in their arsenal, so there's some reason for optimism.

I was a bit more pessimistic after the story than I was before it.