Saturday, October 11, 2008

McCain: When Accusations of Terrorist Connections Blow up In Your Face

I spent much longer on this than I should have:

When Accusations of Terrorism Blow up In Your Face (Ayers, McCain, Obama)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I'm Away

I'm in the process of changing jobs and moving, so it'll be some time before I get back to this blog with any consistency.

In the meantime, just to prove that I still waste time on the news:
Markets are reeling, and I've lost at least $10 on my stocks.

Obama is finally fighting back.

McCain's almost naive attempt at Rovian politics has exploded in his face, and even the Wall Street Journal has published a serious of positive articles about Barack Obama.

 

But the real hacks march on dutifully: Here's a laughably convuluted attempt by Byron York to defend McCain's sex ad -- lots of research, but it never addresses the the substantive problem with the ad, which is that it claimed that Obama wanted to teach sex ed to kindergartners.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Palin

I have to say, I'm just stunned. And I think I'm stunned in a non-partisan way. I just think that this is what has to be going through people's heads is something like this, no matter what their party affiliation:

  1. Who the hell is this person? What happened to Kay Bailey Hutchinson?
  2. Oh, OK; I didn't know Alaska had a female governor ... why haven't I heard of her? Oh, I see, she's only be governor for two years.
  3. Let's look up the bio. Beauty queen. Not long ago she was mayor of a town with a population of 8,000. Wow, she's quirky. Pink outfits. Loves hunting -- her couch is covered in a bear skin. Likes to wear fur. Lots of kids, including an eight-month-old. Kids with weird names, including "Trig" and "Track" the latter somehow related to where the child was conceived. Lots of kids.
  4. McCain just turned 72 and has had skin cancer. I have to be able to imagine his vice-president as commander in chief, as president. As someone either very wise or very experienced or both. Someone with gravitas. Someone who can handle foreign policy and sit at the table and hold her own with the leaders of other nations. (And he met her once?!)
I think it's at step (4) that has many Americans, including many Republicans, will face a profound gut-check, (and for Republicans, however much they want to get on board and defend the decision). You need merely try to imagine Palin as president to be disturbed (more on why below). And again, I think the reaction transcends partisanship. Begala put it well on CNN in his attempt to describe the kind of shock that goes beyond mere politics: "as a democrat I'm happy about this. as an American I'm petrified."

Let's look at a hypothesis of some of the reasons behind McCain's decision:
  1. I need a woman to peel off embittered Hillary supporters
  2. I need someone from as far outside the beltway as possible -- anything inside of Neptune is fair game; the more eccentric and mavericky, the better
  3. I need someone who shores up the base with the solid right-wing credentials that until recently I lacked -- pro-life (with a Down's Syndrome child to prove it), creationist, Buchanan supporter, hunter (with bear skins to prove it), folksy, etc.
  4. Biden was attempt to out-McCain McCain and balance the ticket with a seasoned maverick; so I'm going to out-Obama Obama: so she's 44 and inexperienced. She's also beautiful, youthful, energetic, and exciting. The Obama campaign won't be able to touch her on that without reminding everyone of Obama's own lack of experience and without igniting charges of sexism.
  5. I need something big; a shocker

(2) and (3) will be effective to one degree or another. About (1) and (5) I'm simply unsure. But (4) is a poison pill that hobbles every other reason -- that makes the decision as a whole look like the most unprincipled, dangerous pandering.

McCain seems to believe that Obama's inexperience makes Palin untouchable. But Obama has extremely powerful qualities that make up for his lack of experience: charisma, intelligence, depth, gravitas. And this trade-off has been tested, in a hard-fought political battle with one of the most powerful political forces in the country. Palin, by contrast, feels young and inexperienced. Replace gravitas with a quirky cuteness.

You may think that her becoming governor of Alaska belies this analysis, but Alaska is a politically eccentric state with a population about 9 times the size of Obama's Invesco audience, and about one-fiftieth of the size of the pool of voters that tested Obama. Enthusiasm about a young and quirky governor focused on domestic affairs is much different than enthusiasm about a young and quirky potential president engaged in foreign affairs. The former is a fun experiment with local color and state budgeting. The latter is terrifying.

It's the arrogance of McCain's pick that is most disturbing, its contempt for the actual needs of the country. It utterly belies the notion that McCain is a man of honor who puts "Country First"; his decision is the kind of pandering that actually is dangerous for the country.

(I've left out other problems, such as the potential disaster that the exposure of a relative unknown to the national press, including this brewing scandal).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Did Russia Initiate?

Interesting account according to which Russia actually initiated the conflict with Georgia: http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/2008/08/the-truth-about-1.php

It's long, so the basics: the Russians move all their guys to Ossetia with clear designs; move the Ossetians out of their villages while irregulars play tit for tat with the Georgian side; Russians then start bombing Georgian villages; Sasshkavili declares unilateral cease-fire as a way of backing off; then he learns of a Russian column on the move and tries to nip it in the bud; but that requires fighting through the Ossetian town of Tskhinvali; so there's the appearance of Georgia starting the war on Aug 7 as an invasion of Tskhinvali.

Highlights:
Virtually everyone is wrong. Georgia didn't start it on August 7, nor on any other date. The South Ossetian militia started it on August 6 when its fighters fired on Georgian peacekeepers and Georgian villages with weapons banned by the agreement hammered out between the two sides in 1994. At the same time, the Russian military sent its invasion force bearing down on Georgia from the north side of the Caucasus Mountains on the Russian side of the border through the Roki tunnel and into Georgia. This happened before Saakashvili sent additional troops to South Ossetia and allegedly started the war.

"So fast forward to early August. You have a town, Tskhinvali, which is Ossetian, and a bunch of Georgian villages surrounding it in a crescent shape. There are peacekeepers there. Both Russian peacekeepers and Georgian peacekeepers under a 1994 accord. The Ossetians were dug in in the town, and the Georgians were in the forests and the fields between the town and the villages. The Ossetians start provoking and provoking and provoking by shelling Georgian positions and Georgian villages around there. And it's a classic tit for tat thing. You shell, I shell back. The Georgians offered repeated ceasefires, which the Ossetians broke.

"So back to the 3rd of August. Kokoity announces women and children should leave. As it later turned out, he made all the civilians leave who were not fighting or did not have fighting capabilities. On the same day, irregulars – Ingush, Chechen, Ossetians, and Cossacks – start coming in and spreading out into the countryside but don't do anything. They just sit and wait. On the 6th of August the shelling intensifies from Ossetian positions. And for the first time since the war finished in 1992, they are using 120mm guns."

"Can I stop you for a second?" I said. I was still under the impression that the war began on August 7 and that Georgian President Saakashvili started it when he sent troops into South Ossetia's capital Tskhinvali. What was all this about the Ossetian violence on August 6 and before?


That evening, the 7th, the president gets information that a large Russian column is on the move. Later that evening, somebody sees those vehicles emerging from the Roki tunnel ... They had to stop that column, and they had to stop it for two reasons. It's a pretty steep valley. If they could stop the Russians there, they would be stuck in the tunnel and they couldn't send the rest of their army through. So they did two things. The first thing they did, and it happened at roughly the same time, they tried to get through [South Ossetian capital] Tskhinvali, and that's when everybody says Saakashvili started the war.


If you go back and look at the archives you'll see plenty of calls from the Georgian government saying they're really worried. Even some Russian commentators agree that this is exactly what happened. Don't forget, they sent in a lot of irregulars, Chechens, Cossacks, Ossetians, Ingush – basically thugs. Not normal Chechens or Ingush – thugs. Thugs out for a holiday. Many Western camera crews were robbed at gunpoint ten meters from Russian tanks while Russian commanders just stood there smoking their cigarettes while the irregulars...that happened to a Turkish TV crew. They're lucky to still be alive. Some of the Georgians were picked up by the irregulars. If they happened to be female, they got raped. If they happened to be male, they got shot immediately, sometimes tortured. Injured people we have in hospitals who managed to get out have had arms chopped off, eyes gouged out, and their tongues ripped out."



(See Greenwald's send-up of the McCain response: http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/08/26/russia/)



The Democratic National Convention Teeters ...

I haven't been impressed by the complaining of Carville, Begala, and pundits that Monday ought to have included more attacks on McCain. In fact, I don't think that making the first day of what should be an uplifting gathering largely about your opponent is a good idea.

But such attacks are necessary at some point -- as Eugene Robinson noted on MSNBC, "I'm waiting for someone to mention torture ...." And attack or not, Mark Warner's keynote speech is the opposite of what's needed. Conciliatory -- even Republican in its bureaucratic tone -- and boring.

Very, very boring.

Chris Mathews Blows his Lid at Keith Olbermann, Live

Update: Video

I've been putting very little up on this blog, because I've been waiting for something just this trivial: Chris Matthews had a very intemperate on-air moment with Keith Olbermann.

Here's what happened, as far as I could tell. Matthews was going on and on about women feeling passed over because of Clinton's loss. He was getting awfully sentimental. Then the producer apparently tried to get him to wrap it up, because he said "I'll wrap it in a second, this is important," or something like that. So he goes on again and finally wraps it up; Olbermann starts the segue with some reference to the long-windedness of "pundits like us" (or something to that effect) -- which sounded like typical Keith self-deprecation, but I think Matthews took it as directed at him. Matthews frankly looks a little drunk -- with his hair out of place, his sentimentality; but apparently he's been sober x years and doesn't touch the stuff.

Anyway, I was delighted to do a Google blog search to find that someone else had noticed this and immediately written about it:

http://www.politicalbyline.com/2008/08/26/chris-matthews-just-jumped-on-keith-olbermann-on-the-air/

And then:
9:15
Just got back from walking the dog. Amy has paused a segment on MSNBC where Chris Matthews gets snippy with co-host Keith Olbermann. This is classic. Apparently Olbermann was making fun of a long-winded diatribe by Matthews, and Chris just got testy with him right on the air.

The ongoing friction is obvious and oft-reported:

My new found purpose of the evening is to track reaction as it happens:

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Biden: Out McCaining McCain

imageOf those recognizable nationally, Biden is definitely the smartest, and he can definitely attack the hardest. And he is one of the most intellectually honest and frank politicians in Washington. Why he didn't blow everyone away in election primaries past I don't know, except that such honesty can seem "hot-headed." That he's a verbose "gaffe-machine." You begin to see the similarities to the Old John McCain -- and that's a subtlety to Obama's decision that the media have missed for now. In fact I wonder if Obama was thinking half-ironically about all this when he used the word "complement" -- he has picked a sort of mirror image of his opponent who will stand up to Obama provide him with unflinchingly honest advice. He's picked someone who will provide a stark contrast to the McCain's dubious transformation into a political panderer. He's picked someone who can beat McCain at his own game.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Georgian Crisis Roundup

More analysis of what's going on between Russia and Georgia:

What remains is an absolute determination not to be defeated by Georgia and not to suffer the humiliation of having to abandon Russia’s South Ossete client state, with everything that this would mean for Russian prestige in other areas. Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin made it clear again and again that if Georgia attacked South Ossetia, Russia would fight. Georgian advocates in the West claimed that Moscow was only bluffing. It wasn’t.

But the United States was bluffing. Russia was antagonized by the mulling over of a Georgian Nato membership, and remained unimpressed by American commitments to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, especially in light of its current military over-extension:

Saakashvili, an apparently quite idealistic 40 year-old former NY lawyer, seems to have erred too much in thinking that giddy summitry with Western big-wigs might pay dividends (or too his far too excited involvement in the Iraq adventure which, incidentally, looks to be coming to a quite precipitous end) but unfortunately, insufficiently appreciated the disastrous waning in U.S. power these past years, despite his constant hankering for NATO membership (which a resurgent Russia will never accept

In a phone conversation with him concerning South Ossetia, Putin told Saakashvili that he stick American reassurances about their dispute up his ass (really). A sad indication of the waning of American power under Bush -- this reassurances were worth precisely what Putin thought they were. Sadder yet, McCain suggests that we heighten the crisis by reconsidering Nato membership for Georgia and engaging in more posturing unlikely to backed by war with Russia. Meanwhile, we have Bill Kristol suggesting that we threaten to de-normalize relations with Russia and Cheney promoting the vague idea that "Russian aggression must not go unanswered" without "serious consequences for its relations with the United States...." It's the Bush administration's foreign policy one-two punch:

  • First, help create a crisis through a failure at diplomacy
  • Second, make this crisis worse through belligerent "diplomacy"

Fred Kaplan wonders, "Is there some third way, involving a level of diplomatic shrewdness that the Bush administration has rarely mustered and, in this case, might not have the legitimacy to pursue?" And:

it is worth asking what the Bush people were thinking when they egged on Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's young, Western-educated president, to apply for NATO membership, send 2,000 of his troops to Iraq as a full-fledged U.S. ally, and receive tactical training and weapons from our military. Did they really think Putin would sit by and see another border state (and former province of the Russian empire) slip away to the West? If they thought that Putin might not, what did they plan to do about it, and how firmly did they warn Saakashvili not to get too brash or provoke an outburst?

It's heartbreaking, but even more infuriating, to read so many Georgians quoted in the New York Times—officials, soldiers, and citizens—wondering when the United States is coming to their rescue. It's infuriating because it's clear that Bush did everything to encourage them to believe that he would.

Gorbachev agrees. It's part of a long history of failed policy in the region:

But the seeds of Russia's aggression lie in the sense of humiliation that Moscow's proud power elites have felt at the hands of the West going back to the Clinton administration's unceasing efforts to bring what used to be the Soviet bloc—and post-Soviet Russia itself—into the West's sphere of influence. The policy started with the high-handed (and mostly failed) economic advice we gave to Moscow on free-market economics in the early '90s—the era of "privatization" (the Russians called it "grabitization"), which led directly to the reign of the hated oligarchs.

Since then we've seen the obliteration of Chechnya, the poisoning of Viktor Yuschenko, and Russia's backslide to authoritarianism.

Meanwhile, Georgians continue to suffer the consequences.

A template for how not to deal with Iran, despite its relative weakness.

Georgia, Oh Georgia

An ally we might have protected through preemptive diplomatic action if our administration weren't so intept and focused on other irrelevancies (like Iraq). According to Scott Horton, all very predictable:

Four and a half years after the Rose Revolution, the Georgians have constructed what may be the most vibrant democracy on former Soviet soil. Their economy has been modestly but surprisingly successful. They have steered a sharp Westward course, pushing for NATO membership and aligning themselves with America even in its more unpopular undertakings, such as the war in Iraq. For Georgians, the choice was simple. America stood for the ideals of an open society and a free market. It offered the promise of transformation. And America was the paramount military power on earth, a power they could depend upon. But Georgia’s confidence in America, and specifically the Bush Administration, may well prove tragically misplaced.

*****

Now at the moment of truth, Bush will almost certainly let them down. He has overextended America’s military presence around the world, whittling down America’s uniformed professional military just as he has undertaken two simultaneous wars. The Pentagon is telling Bush that he has stretched the nation’s fighting force perilously close to the breaking point. A conflict involving a major military power, like Russia, is beyond the realm of contemplation. Vice President Cheney, whose bellicose rhetoric has done much to provoke the problems now bubbling in the Caucasus, says that the Russian acts of aggression in Georgia “must not go unanswered.” But thanks to the serial strategic misadventures that make up Bush-Cheney foreign policy, there is little prospect of Russia’s actions being answered by a flex of military muscle of the United States or of NATO. Putin’s calculation is that an America bogged down in two conflicts in the Middle East will let him give the Georgians a whipping. Putin is probably right.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Language & Politics: Antecedent and Voice

I'm not a fan of pedantic language columns -- I'll take the colloquialism and neologism over "standard English" and grammar Nazism any day. I don't have time to carefully proofread this blog, which is probably rife with errors -- but I try to avoid the kinds of errors which I think are important.

And there are errors in language that I consider important, because I think they have something to do with clarity of thought. Take this one from a story on yesterday's NPR (I hear little tidbits like these all the time):
"the material has not been made public, but officials expect to do so later today"

The subject of the first clause is "material," the subject of the second is "officials." The active "do so" has a passive antecedent -- "made public." Officials are not expecting to be made public.

So what's the big deal?

First, there's the failure to think about antecedents and the internal logical consistency of sentences. The writer, editor, and proofreader didn't notice the reverse of voice from one clause to the other. Most proofreaders will catch more obvious grammatical mistakes. But in this case you're more likely to catch the mistake if you're thinking about the logic of the sentence, and that requires more than rote grammatical catechisms. (One way to achieve that understanding is through the study of highly inflected languages like Latin and Ancient Greek -- where much of what is grammatically hidden in a time-weathered language like English is made explicit).

And I can't help but think that carelessness is related to failures to carefully scrutinize the soundness of other kinds of connections -- e.g., the administration's rationales for the Iraq War.

Second, there's the use of passive voice and vague attribution. Passive voice is not always a bad thing, but it's often a way that bureaucrats and academics make sentences sound more technical and "objective" than they are by hiding the personalizing subject. For journalists, there's also the matter of concealing a lack of specificity caused either by anonymous sources, reporting on reporting, or the substitution of the reporter's opinion (or shit-stirring) with some vague attribution (e.g., "some say"). In this case, the vague "officials" is buried in the second clause, resurrected at the last moment when it's clear that "materials" won't simply take care of themselves. And that's what gets the sentence in trouble -- essentially, it's the result of a journalistic gambit to avoid specificity. Either the reporter took this bit of info from anonymous officials, or the report is so far along the grapevine that a specific attribution has been lost. While that vagueness is not a big deal in this case, it certainly is in many others.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

McSmeagol Knows the Way!

McCain the Nominee, McSmeagol: We wants it, we needs it. Must have the presidency, precious. They are stealing it from us. Sneaky little Democratses. Wicked, tricksy, Obama!

Old McCain, McGollum: No. We're Mavericky. Democrats are our friends!

McSmeagol: No, precious -- Obama will cheat you, hurt you, LIE about you. Nasty, nasty Obamatses. Tricksy celebrity.

McGollum: But we must run an honorable campaign!

McSmeagol: Nobody will voteses for you if you do! You must you go negativesy ....

Two by Maureen

I'm not a fan of Dowd's rambling fusillades of cleverness, but these are fun:
Now John McCain is pea-green with envy. That’s the only explanation for why a man who prides himself on honor, a man who vowed not to take the low road in the campaign, having been mugged by W. and Rove in South Carolina in 2000, is engaging in a festival of juvenilia.

More

And:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Barack Obama must continue to grovel to Hillary Clinton’s dead-enders, some of whom mutter darkly that they will not only not vote for him, they will never vote for a man again.

...

The odd thing is that Obama bears a distinct resemblance to the most cherished hero in chick-lit history. The senator is a modern incarnation of the clever, haughty, reserved and fastidious Mr. Darcy.

More

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Uyghur Insurgency -- Separatist, not Islamist

It tells you something that the main terrorist threat to the Chinese government is Islamist.

I hope Sullivan means it tells you about the Chinese government's brutal repression of Uyghurs. And I hope he's not merely repeating Chinese government propaganda equating attacks on the Chinese army -- right or wrong -- with "terrorism." Finally, I hope by "Islamist" he meant to say "separatist." (And most separatist Uyghur political parties are peaceful).

One example of how unhelpful it is to use a looks-like-a-duck categorization-by-religion approach to the evaluation of varied violent movements; should we lump together the IRA and Lebanese Christian militias as well?

Obama: Too Cool for School? Too Sexy for his Shirt? Too Good to be True? Too presidential to be president? Too intelligent to be loved by morons? Too black to be loved by hard working white Americans? Too white to be loved by Jesse Jackson? Too loved by Foreign leaders to kick some French ass? Too deserving of respect not to seem arrogant? Too accomplished not to make me feel insecure? Too faithful to his wife to be the chastened champion of family values?

Milbank, who is often wickedly revealing, last week seemed mostly wicked as he turned benign campaign tableau -- an Obama motorcade, a talk with the Treasury secretary, a "pep rally" with congressional Democrats -- into evidence that Obama thinks he's already the winner.

Los Angeles Times: Obama's crime? Acting too presidential

What motivates such idiotic press antics? First, they need stories. Essentially tabloidal in their coverage, they need the verbal equivalent of celebrity paparazzi photos.

Second, they take their own intellectual laziness as a form of cleverness. Once a meme is out there, you will find a few thousand columnists merely repeating it, as if it something oh-so-clever and new. The legitimacy of the idea depends not on evidence but how salacious it is, how much controversy it can stir up. That the idea du jour is unoriginal is precisely what makes it so clever and repeatable -- the way has been paved, it should effortlessly produce agreement as the received wisdom. That is is unoriginal doesn't mean it is not new, any more than the fact that Stonehenge has been around forever means that your first visit isn't a new experience. The collective wisdom is just out there, and just because you're no the first to visit doesn't mean that you're not oh-so-clever for having made the visit.

Bad and stale ideas, parroted as original insights by lazy columnists.

I haven't had time to stop being astounded by the breathtaking herd mentality of these "opinion-makers" and "analysts," their lack of intellectual self-confidence and independence, their entirely unreflective shallowness, and the almost pornographic nature of their ruminations.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Bruce Ivins and the Fear of Actual Counter-Terrorism

A question that currently preoccupies me: why is there so little regard for the identification and pursuit of actual "terrorists"? Why so many side-shows -- Iraq, the predominantly innocent population of Guantanamo, the very possibly innocent Bruce Ivins? It's not enough to talk about the need for scapegoating, or even the current aversion to law enforcement in relation to terrorism. Try self-destructiveness. Far from being afraid of terrorism, Americans are positively averse to confronting it:

Just as they did with Steven Hatfill (and Iraq before him), government sources continue to try to convict Bruce Ivins in the media of being the anthrax killer by anonymously leaking incriminating claims about him (all while insisting that they can't unveil their evidence against him because the case isn't yet closed). If this latest leak is indicative of the FBI's case against Ivins -- "The top suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks was obsessed with a sorority that sat less than 100 yards away from a New Jersey mailbox where the toxin-laced letters were sent, authorities said today" -- then it's no wonder they are reluctant to tell the public the basis for their accusations against him.

Additional key facts re: the anthrax investigation - Glenn Greenwald - Salon.com

Regardless of Ivins' guilt or innocence, this fascinating case is a window into some very ugly cultural pathologies.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Foolish Inconsistencies of John McCain's Latest Negative Ad

John McCain's new ad is, at best, strange. It's trying at the same time to portray Obama as:

  1. A shallow and inexperienced pop-star with no clue, yet alone a plan (hey, he's like Brittney!)

  2. A nefarious liberal with all the tax-raising plans of experienced nefarious liberals

  3. Someone who would keep us dependent on foreign oil because he opposes more drilling and because ... foreigners love him


Leave aside the breathtaking shamelessness of Republicans attacking on the issue of foreign oil; and the irony of attacking someone for being clueless when they're advocating a plan universally rejected by analysts and meant only to enrich the oil industry at the expense of the ill-informed populace to which it mendaciously panders.

There's the question of internal consistency. Either attack him for being the same-old-liberal, or attack him for being the callow unknown. But don't try to cram your latest brainstorming session into one ad.

It makes you look desperate, and as if ... you have no self-restraint.

The GOP is wondering the same thing:
By doing so, Mr. McCain is clearly trying to sow doubts about his younger opponent, and bring him down a peg or two. But some Republicans worry that by going negative so early, and initiating so many of the attacks himself rather than leaving them to others, Mr. McCain risks coming across as angry or partisan in a way that could turn off some independents who have been attracted by his calls for respectful campaigning.

You don't think?

But let's get really nasty.

But Would You Want to Have a Beer With Him?

Update: some corrections by a former student

Too interesting for the Volk?
At a formal institution, Barack Obama was a loose presence, joking with students about their romantic prospects, using first names, referring to case law one moment and The Godfather the next. He was also an enigmatic one, often leaving fellow faculty members guessing about his precise views.

The Long Run - As a Professor, Obama Enthralled Students and Puzzled Faculty - Series - NYTimes.com

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Case in Point

A far more likely explanation for the reduction in violence:
Sectarian fighting led to Sunni emigrations into adjacent countries and to Sunnis and Shias abandoning mixed neighborhoods in favor of homogeneous ones guarded by local militias. These population shifts made sectarian violence less likely, and provided a breathing space during which both sides could ponder where civil war was taking them. This internal Iraqi dynamic accounts for a considerable amount of the decline in violence, especially in Baghdad.

Source: A Perspective on the Surge | The Agonist

Obama, the Surge, a Witch!, and the Media's Superstitious Relationship to Causality

Here's a new meme: Bush-Like, Obama can't admit he's wrong. He's stubborn. 

But far from being Bush-Like, what that stubbornness means in this case is a refusal to give in to lack of nuance, especially when it comes to the troop surge in Iraq. Obama has said, for instance, that the surge may have led to a decrease in violence, which is all we can really know. But in order to satisfy, he must also admit that we can derive the following conclusions from this premise:

  1. The surge demonstrably led to a reduction in violence; other factors, such as the Anbar Awakening and the natural course of the Iraq Disaster, would not have reduced the violence regardless of whether or not there was a surge
  2. Obama was wrong to oppose the surge, and should admit that he was wrong

Unfortunately, (1) and (2) simply do not follow.

Is it likely that the surge was the only factor or the most important factor in reducing violence? No. In fact there's no way to tell whether it was a factor at all, or whether the surge actually exacerbated violence while other factors reduced it. The experiment has no control, and there are other factors that mitigate against this interpretation. The Anbar Awakening is one of them. But then there's the fact that the surge was an afterthought to a badly planned disaster -- a Band-Aid for a gunshot wound. And it was a long-lived disaster that may naturally have run its course. Consider whether 120,000 troops succeed where 100,000 were not enough. That's very unlikely. If we had seen an increase to 250,000, the interpretation would be far more compelling.

Even allowing the unlikely premise that the surge was the primary reason for a reduction of violence in Iraq, was Obama wrong to oppose it? Not if you think that other strategic objectives are more important. Whether the surge was a good move or bad has nothing to do with whether their was a reduction in violence. It's a matter of what strategic uses of resources is more important -- shoring up Afghanistan and getting bin Laden, or making a 20 percent troop increase as an afterthought to years of war. The question is the rightness of the strategic objective, not the rightness of the tactical means to the wrong objective.

There is a hidden premise to all of this that dare not be questioned: FORCE WORKS. If it at first you do not shock and awe, try, try a tad more shock and a tad more awe. Worse, to question the efficacy of force is to dishonor the troops. Finally, signs of political reconciliation as a causal factor are to be ignored.

But because these nuances are supposedly too much for the general public, the media must pretend -- in its own version of populist solidarity -- that they're too much for the talking heads as well.

And so we are meant to interpret superstitious free-association as "hard-hitting" journalism. Interestingly, this is an extension of tabloid-esque guilt-by-association and innuendo into the realm of policy. Instead of causal analysis, we get the modern day version of the mob that yells "Witch!" at a convenient old hag and determines guilt by imposing punishment: will it float?

Put those hard-hitting bad ideas out there, pundits, and see which of them float.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Why I'll Believe it When I See It

Obama should sweat, according to Greg Palast:

In swing-state Colorado, the Republican Secretary of State conducted the biggest purge of voters in history, dumping a fifth of all registrations. Guess their color.

In swing-state Florida, the state is refusing to accept about 85,000 new registrations from voter drives – overwhelming Black voters.

In swing state New Mexico, HALF of the Democrats of Mora, a dirt poor and overwhelmingly Hispanic county, found their registrations disappeared this year, courtesy of a Republican voting contractor.

In swing states Ohio and Nevada, new federal law is knocking out tens of thousands of voters who lost their homes to foreclosure.

Let's hope Obama's campaign is capable of some down-and-dirty Chicago style countermeasure.

W. -- A Fantastic Trailer

Running While Sibling

And now, for some right-wing fodder:
BARACK Obama’s half-brother has been helping to promote cheap Chinese exports in a low-profile business career while the Democratic senator has been winning worldwide fame in his race for the White House.

Help Me O-bam-a, you're my only ....

Let's hope it's for real:

PRINCETON, NJ -- Barack Obama now leads John McCain among national registered voters by a 49% to 40% margin in Gallup Poll Daily tracking conducted July 24-26.

Gallup Daily: Obama 49%, McCain 40%

The McCampaign

This kind of nastiness always baffles me:
When you think about the stunningly dishonest ad John McCain is running, falsely accusing Barack Obama of not meeting with troops during his trip abroad and falsely accusing Obama of some scheme to deny money to the troops, you have to recall the breathtakingly unprincipled way in which McCain has been pursuing the presidency from the beginning.

Matthew Yglesias (July 27, 2008) - Say Anything (Politics)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Inhuman Farce of Guantanamo

imageA touching and beautiful account by Mahvish Khan -- I'm glad there are Americans like her:
Mousovi is a physician from the Afghan city of Gardez, where he was arrested by U.S. troops 2 1/2 years ago. He tells us that he had returned to Afghanistan in August 2003, after 12 years of exile in Iran, to help rebuild his wathan , his homeland. He believes that someone turned him in to U.S. forces just to collect up to $25,000 being offered to anyone who gave up a Talib or al-Qaeda member.

......

As I translate from Pashto, Mousovi hesitantly describes life since his arrest. Transported to Bagram air base near Kabul in eastern Afghanistan, he was thrown -- blindfolded, hooded and gagged -- into a 3 1/2 -by-7-foot shed. He says he was beaten regularly by Americans in civilian clothing, deprived of sleep by tape-recordings of sirens that blared day and night. He describes being dragged around by a rope, subjected to extremes of heat and cold. He says he barely slept for an entire month.

He doesn't know why he was brought to Guantanamo Bay. He had hoped he would be freed at his military hearing in December 2004. Instead, he was accused of associating with the Taliban and of funneling money to anti-coalition insurgents. When he asked for evidence, he was told it was classified. And so he sits in prison, far from his wife and three children. More than anyone, he misses his 11-year-old daughter, Hajar. When he talks about her, his eyes fill with tears and his head droops.

......

The very existence of the military detention camp at Guantanamo Bay seemed an affront to what the United States stands for. How could our government deny the prisoners there the right to a fair hearing? I didn't know whether they were innocent or guilty -- but I figured they should be entitled to the same protections as any alleged rapist or murderer.

.....

No matter the age or background of the detainee, our meetings always leave me feeling helpless. These men show me the human face of the war on terrorism. They've been systematically dehumanized, cast as mere numbers in prison-camp fashion. But to me, they've become almost like friends, or brothers or fathers. I can honestly say that I don't believe any of our clients are guilty of crimes against the United States. No doubt some men here are, but not the men I've met.

.....

But Tom Wilner, a partner in the Washington office of Shearman & Sterling LLP, quickly retorts: "Yeah, they're nice. But this whole place is evil -- and the face of evil often appears friendly."

.....

He lets me go and asks me to say dawa, prayers, for him. "Of course," I promise. "Every day."

And until the next time I see him, I will.

My Guantanamo Diary - washingtonpost.com

Frank Rich - How Obama Became Acting President - Op-Ed - NYTimes.com

image 

IT almost seems like a gag worthy of Borat: A smooth-talking rookie senator with an exotic name passes himself off as the incumbent American president to credulous foreigners. But to dismiss Barack Obamas magical mystery tour through old Europe and two war zones as a media-made fairy tale would be to underestimate the ingenious politics of the moment. History was on the march well before Mr. Obama boarded his plane, and his trip was perfectly timed to reap the whirlwind.

Op-Ed Columnist - How Obama Became Acting President - Op-Ed - NYTimes.com

Microphone Picks Up Private Conversation Between Obama and British Leader

This speaks for itself:

That's exactly right," Obama said. "And the truth is that we've got a bunch of smart people, I think, who know ten times more than we do about the specifics of the topics. And so if what you're trying to do is micromanage and solve everything then you end up being a dilettante but you have to have enough knowledge to make good judgments about the choices that are presented to you.

Source: Political Punch

Friday, July 25, 2008

Charles Van Doren's Quiz Show -- The New Yorker

This is a must-read (available only in the print edition of The New Yorker) -- bittersweet and beautifully written: Personal History: All the Answers: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker

Wanted, Erect or Supine: The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder

Steve McQueen's Bullit Car Chase -- Mapped

No talking, complete stoicism; only the car engines are bothered. Mapped:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama in Berlin

Watch live:

A Graphic Way to Lose

It's the senile dementia demographic:

Obama Haus

Extraordinary:

But here’s what the Republicans and even some moderate voices are missing: this campaign poster isn’t evidence of a “messiah” complex; it pays homage to a pivotal era in graphic design history: the German Bauhaus movement during the early 20th century (see above right for example).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Vanity Fair Confuses Satire and Caricature

You would think Vanity Fair, of all magazines, would have staff that understand the difference between satirizing paranoia about a politician and caricturing that politician.

I was going to write about that fact, but Daniel Larison did it for me:
There is essentially nothing in this image that is not an exaggeration, or just a representation, of things that are true about John McCain: he is old, his wife once had a problem with prescription drugs, he is closely aligned with George Bush and he does support policies that violate the Constitution.  As a caricature, it works quite well.  As a parody of an image that is supposed to be mocking absurd claims about the Obamas, it completely fails, because the point of the New Yorker image is supposed to be that everything in it is ludicrous and false and obviously so and, more to the point, it is supposed to be exaggerating the absurd claims to their most extreme form.  (The problem with the original image, as I’ve said before, is that it did not exaggerate the claims, but simply repeated them.)

....

To do a proper McCain adaptation of the image, you would need to draw an image that combined all of the false smears that have ever been circulated about him by George Bush’s campaign and others, which would mean creating a cartoon so distasteful that no one in his right mind would ever publish it.

It's really embarrassing to think that no one at Vanity Fair thought to say, "hey, wait a minute, this misses the point entirely ...." It's not a parody, it's a self-parody.

iPhone 3G Reception Problems -- And 8 Other Reasons I didn't Upgrade to the iPhone 3G

I didn't upgrade from my current iPhone to the 3G after testing a store model and noticing that my Edge connection was significantly faster for Web surfing. After seeing comparison videos on the Web showing the 3G as having 2-3 times the speed, I didn't know what was up. Apparently there's an explanation:
To sum it up:

• There is no conclusive answer
• 3G may just be overwhelmed
• iPhone may just have a terrible antenna (other AT&T phones work just fine)
• Some are claiming a 'poor batch' of iPhones being sold early on
• Apple has yet to make claims of hardware issues

Source: iPhone 3G Getting Bad Reception? You're Certainly Not Alone. - iPhone Alley

There were other reasons not to upgrade:

  1. The less attractive design (the plastic, rounded back; chrome buttons; lighter, less substantial feel).

  2. The $15 increase in monthly charges.

  3. Did I need GPS? I thought about it. I didn't.

  4. The major improvements come from the hardware-independent firmware upgrade and the availibity of iPhone apps.

  5. The significant decrease in battery life -- I thought about myself turning off the 3G frequently to save power; then why get it?

  6. And then, if I'm going to turn something on or off for fast browsing, why not wifi? And wifi hotspots are ubiquitous these days.

  7. Price. No, I don't mean the price of upgrading. In fact, it's telling that old iPhones sell on ebay for a price greater than the iPhone 3G. That's because it can be unlocked for another network (for the 3G, you'll have to sign an AT&T contract in the store).

  8. Required Contract Renewal

  9. To recap the 3G Issues:

    1. I didn't know why I had slower 3G times on the floor model than on the Edge network on my phone. Perhaps the reception wasn't particularly good in the store. But this is DC, and if it's that spotty, I thought, do I really need it? I thought about whether I was currently dissatisfied with my current data speeds. I wasn't. In fact, I had been pleasantly surprised by the Web-surfing speed when I first got it. Then there's this video showing that iPhone's Edge browsing competes well with 3G browsing on other phones.

    2. Then I read this article: Why EDGE versus 3G matters less than you think

    3. And then the article on reception cited above



Eintrittskareten Werden Nicht Benotigt

Count me in:

Of all the juicy tidbits of right-wing ressentiment regarding Obama -- his rock-star status, press coverage, presidential look -- this reaction to the mere idea of communicating with foreigners is priceless.

The most beautiful suicide (kottke.org)


On May 1, 1947, Evelyn McHale leapt to her death from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Photographer Robert Wiles took a photo of McHale a few minutes after her death.

Source: The most beautiful suicide (kottke.org)

Creating a Better Stop Sign

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Sorrows of Old Mac, Grim Realities Edition

"'tis our fast intent / To shake all cares and business from our age, / Conferring them on younger strengths, while we / Unburden'd crawl toward death." -- King Lear

Hillary Clinton made me angry. As for John McCain, he's too pathetic to evoke anything but pity and derision. It's not just the gaffes. It's the ill-conceived attempts at standing up for himself. Outlandish accusations such as "Obama would rather lose a war" are simply laughable. As for challenging Obama to go on a world tour ... you might as well challenge the Devil to a guitar fight. It's not a campaign strategy; it's self-immolation.

And so McCain is an assistant producer of the very scenes that frustrate him, and which he'll never be able to star in himself. Imagine the grim, perfunctory, and boring alternative to the following, if it had featured McCain instead of Obama:

McCain's problems transcend party affiliation: it's a matter of vitality. Asking his opponent to produce stark comparisons doesn't help. It pits an old bumbler against someone who projects youth and power.

Could he be Jewish as Well?

 That might explain this:

Lieberman is viewed far more unfavorably than the presumptive Democratic nominee, according to a new poll. Only 37 percent of Jews view the Connecticut Independent in a favorable light compared to 48 percent who have a negative perception. As for Obama, 60 percent of Jews view him favorably while 34 percent view him unfavorably.

Source: Obama Far More Popular Among Jews Than Lieberman

As Glenn Greenwald notes, these are statistics that will be ignored by the pushers of the predominant Obama-has-a-problem-with-Jews narrative.

Jewish or not, he's finally a Mensch when it comes to Israel:

In Amman today, though, he suggested again that the fault in the region is not the Palestinians' alone, something you'll rarely hear from Republicans.

Monday, July 21, 2008

FISA Revisited

Vox Libertas has published a very interesting analysis at Daily Kos that makes a case in favor of the new FISA law, and his post includes some suggested revisions to my analysis and charts. (FYI, I welcome suggested revisions from those who see errors, or an improved version of the graphic from anyone with more skills in that area; and I can send the original flowchart file to anyone who requests it).

Here's Libertas' own summary of the benefits of the new law. It:

    • brings all foreign surveillance under this law
    • aligns the law with the jurisdiction and protections of the Constitution
    • requires explicit procedures be defined for winnowing protected US communications from unprotected foreign communications
    • makes the AG and NSA jointly responsible
    • requires review
    • makes explicit the criminal nature of stepping outside this law or the Constitution
    • increases senate oversight
    • makes explicit the grounds for criminal proceedings

I'm not sure I understand this suggested description of the new law:

    1. If any US person is involved or the communications is domestic, a FISA warrant is needed
    2. If no US person is involved, the communications is email or over cables, a special "Certification of Mass Acquisition" is available.
    3. Otherwise, no warrant is needed when no US person is involved.

For (1) and (2), it should read "If any US person is the target"; a US person may be involved, if there is a foreign target. For (2), as far as I know international phone calls are now routed largely through fiber optic cables, so the new law dramatically affects both email and phone communications. And I think this is incorrect: "If no foreign agents are involved, surveillance requires an ordinary warrant." In fact, the revisions to FISA essentially create a loophole to this rule when it comes to wire and cable (it already existed for radio); a foreign agent need not be the target as long as the target is not a US person and is located outside the United States.

As Libertas notes, evaluating the new law really comes down to evaluating some very complex issues (that I don't fully understand):

  1. The effectiveness of "minimization procedures"
  2. The relative benefit of broader protections for US Persons
  3. The effectiveness of prescribed oversight (including certification procedures)

And it's the complexity of these issues that makes the arguments of Glenn Greenwald and others so difficult to evaluate (and so ineffective at producing outrage among many people).

But I think if there's one fairly compelling focus for understanding the dangers of the new law, it's the creation of a new category of warrant-less wiretapping of communications that may in fact involve US Persons (as long as they're not officially targets). And then there's the fact that no specific warrant is required, with no probably cause of a crime or the involvement of a foreign agent, for very broadly defined targets involving no specification of a phone number or email address, and involving the cooperation of telecoms. It has indiscriminate mass acquisition written all over it.

On the other hand, I have to admit that despite my fervency about civil liberties and the fourth amendment, like Andrew Sullivan I just can't get as exercised about this as I do about, say, torture. I suppose that lack of passion is the result of the following beliefs, sins that I admit reluctantly:

  1. Technically (and as Libertas points out) I know that none of my communications can be kept private unless they're encrypted, and I always assume electronic conversations are public
  2. The original FISA law already had very broad exceptions, and where warrants where required the FISA court rarely denied them
  3. I suffer from the widespread "I don't have anything to hide" syndrome
  4. I'm pessimistic about the extent to which laws really curtail the excesses of the powerful -- the intentions and values of all participants in the legal system are critical

I know that Glenn Greenwald would be rightly outraged by these sins, especially (4). After all, the idea that we should rely on the good will of leaders and "trust them" is extremely corrosive to a democracy. And that's why Glenn is so offended by Obama's reassurance that he won't abuse the sweeping new powers the law provides. Anyone in power, including Obama, is subject to its corrupting influence -- and that's why we need good laws.

On the other hand, the entire system of laws and their execution depends on the good will of participants in the system. Corporations regularly lawyer their way out of regulations, for instance, and laws have done little to curtail Bush from committing multiple war crimes and felonies. If citizens, congress, and the attorney general don't care, then the law has little force. And I've seen too many court shows and DNA exculpations to believe that if I were wrongfully accused of a crime, I'd have a good chance of avoiding conviction. And I know that if a district attorney wanted to, he could drastically disrupt or ruin my life even without achieving a conviction -- in that Ken Starr disrupted the lives of so many Clinton associates.

And what force would a legal prohibition of something -- say, murder -- have if no one really believed in it? It would go the way of antiquated and un-enforced laws that nevertheless remain on the books. And if it were enforced by magistrates, what would that matter if juries refused to convict? It's critical that there be a cultural foundation to any law; that the laws, and especially their constitutional foundation, are generally "believed in."

Greenwald and others might rightfully respond that laws and intentions are mutually reinforcing; that if we're willing to tolerate a legal evisceration of the fourth amendment, we're increasing the likelihood that it won't be taken seriously in general -- that we're helping to corrode the requisite cultural foundation. And while there always will be excesses by the powerful, there's an important balance to be maintained, lines that can't be crossed without democracy degenerating into something else entirely. They would also be right to note that while (1) is true, there's a big difference between lack of privacy and the use of private communications as evidence in a court of law. Reconsider the case of the aggressive DA who wants to trump up some charge, say "conspiracy"; going through volumes of your communications and then arguing for sinister interpretations of your most intemperate moments would be a good way to do that. That takes care of (3) as well.

Finally, Greenwald and others might note that while the FISA court approved almost all warrant requests, its protections were more in the request than the approval. Those requests had to specify targets, probable cause, and "facilities" -- phone numbers or email addresses. No mass surveillance requests were rejected because none were considered.

For all these arguments, (4) is still a critical stumbling block for me. I'm outraged (and stunned) by torture, suspension of habeas corpus, indefinite detention of innocents, war crimes, and all the rest. And these outrages ought to be repulsive to any decent human being. But while I'm fairly convinced by Greenwald and others that the changes to FISA are not a good thing, I don't they're as obvious as other excesses, and I suppose I'm too cynical to believe that what's written down is the most important determinant of what happens. In fact, torture and habeas corpus are cases in point.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Why Young Men Do What they Do

 

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Vexation of Charles Krauthammer

Krauthammer is not talking about his own fascination with Obama here:
It is a subject upon which he can dilate effortlessly

And that he doesn't grasp that irony really sums up the sad lack of awareness represented by columns like these.

Why does the Washington Post run such pieces, columns that are not meant to persuade or analyze, but rather to preach to a small, partisan choir? Pieces that are derivative and unthoughtful regurgitation of cable news political shows?

The whole "Obama's Vanity" and "Obama's Hubris" meme has been around for some time (in fact, it was first raised by Obama himself). Its revival has its origins in the desperation of gossip-starved political political programs to find something new to talk about in their post-Rev. Wright recession.

Here's how you handle the fact that nothing sticks: make the success itself the problem. For the television pundits, the impetus is just finding something to get breathless about. For Krauthammer it's a political opportunity.

That's why pundits like him write columns like these, both intellectually vacuous and unpersuasive. What they are trying to do is take an idea that is damaging to the opposition and keep it alive. They're political players, not strategists: their work is the columnist's version of a push poll. It's actually important that the idea be wholly unoriginal, and its persuasiveness is irrelevant as long as the idea itself survives.

In the meantime, they fail to see what a time-worn and frankly pathetic idea they're peddling. No successful person escapes such accusations -- "he's just vain," "he's just arrogant." There's a name for what motivates them: envy. Trumpeting your envy as your opponent's "vanity" is a little trick with rhetorical mirrors, meant to turn respect for prowess into resentment of it.

And by the way: it doesn't work.

Can Kucinich Impeach?

We can dream, can't we?

The Huffington Post is saying that Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s mission to impeach President Bush is “no longer so quixotic” since Speaker Pelosi suggested the House Judiciary Committee may hear his argument. Here’s what Kucinich told Big Think about whether the American political system he’s using to try to impeach the president, is broken.

See the video on the very innovative site, Big Think.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Identity Trumps Issues, Part II: The Fetal and the Green (Contra Lakoff)

In Part I, I claimed that the relative benefits of McCain's and Obama's tax cut plans are a good study in how it is that voter identification trumps self-interest. Many poor and middle class voters, while they won't benefit from tax cuts for the rich, are likely to identify with the rich because of values they associate with it, such as hard work and discipline. Such voters (and voters in general) are more motivated by what they wish to be, not what they are.

The economic views of these voters are consistent with the "strict father morality" of conservatives described by George Lakoff, according to which:

  • Life is hard, the world dangerous

  • Toughness, discipline, and self-reliance are required to succeed in this world

  • Children must be instilled with that discipline

  • Big government, affirmative action, and welfare is a way of coddling those who have not developed this paternalistic discipline

  • The Death Penalty, guns, and a strong military are top priorities for this father-like protection against the dangers world

  • Homosexuality, feminism, and abortion are threats to this paternalistic model, insofar as they are threats to the nuclear family that grounds the pater familias

  • Loyalty to the fatherland trumps respect for laws that transcend the protective father


But just as the What's the Matter With Kansas model doesn't go far enough to explain why many conservatives (using this term loosely) vote against their economic self-interest, neither does Lakoff's model entirely explain conservatism. That's because he conflates it with a kind of asceticism that's not unique to conservatism.

In fact, the values of both liberals and conservatives involve moral asceticism: while conservatives put the world-as-it-should-be before the-world-as-it-is, liberals demand that we embrace this world even in its fallen-ness. A certain amount of discipline is required as much of liberals as as it is of conservatives. Liberals must put aside any reactive fear of other races, customs, nations, and forms of sexuality ("the other"). They must sever the legal and the moral. If they're threatened by female sexuality, they must "grow up." If abortion seems grotesque, they must harden themselves to such worldly realities.That hardening is the price of of the core sentiment that it protects: the celebration of the world as it is, a kind of universal tolerance that transcends moral distinctions not contained in the protective shell.

Conservatives demand the opposite sort of asceticism: rather than reconciling ourselves to the realities of this world, we must reconcile ourselves to moral truths that transcend it -- to another world. While liberals focus on ending poverty and war, giving voice to the repressed, saving the environment, guarding the sexual prerogatives of women, and so on,  conservatives strive for a spiritual utopia to be met with only in another, invisible world -- either "heaven" or their own purified psyche. And so while liberals would have us repress our sexual insecurities to honor real individuals, conservatives would have us condemn homosexuality to honor sexual ideals. Both positions allow the us to identify with an ideal at odds with some other brute reality: one is an external reality (the inevitable flaws of human beings), the way the world is; the other is an internal reality -- e.g., visceral feelings of disgust and aggression for "the other."

And so the disciplined shell of both positions (not just the paternal, as Lakoff claims) are protective.  They protect the ideal, the gooey center of it all.  Both ideals involve a celebration of weakness, victim-hood, and sacrifice (whether its representatives are minorities and the poor or fetuses and troops). Both are consistent with what Nietzsche describes as "slave morality"-- whether that's framed in terms of perfecting obedient individuals in their conformity to values (conservatism), or perfecting obedient values in their conformity to individuals (liberalism). Both positions look to some utopia in which either the individual or the world has been purified in order to conform to the other. Both combine materialism (utilitarianism and capitalism respectively) and moralism (we must improve this world or we must improve ourselves).

Lakoff is right to point out the paternalism of conservatism, but he conflates this paternalism with obedience and asceticism in general; in fact, maternal and nurturing values make just as many brute demands -- of ourselves and others (e.g., for the repression of instinctual disgust or paranoia vs repression of the object of that paranoia; or the repression involved in individualism vs. government regulation of its entrepreneurial manifestations).

Lakoff takes the seeming Social Darwinism of conservatives at face value, as part of the paternalistic demand for discipline and obedience. So, for instance, he explains abortion for instance as merely another way to control women. Why else, he asks, doesn't being pro-life extend to the death penalty?

In fact, it is clear that many conservatives especially (and ironically) value the unborn precisely because they are not-quite-human: as pre-human, pre-fallen, they already are the perfect individuals required by conservative morality. Fetuses are a-sexual, helpless, nonthreatening, not acculturated (so they can't be foreign), and generally blank slates for the inscription of commandments. They arouse no sexual paranoia, fear, jingoism, or intolerance. Liberals don't value the special status of fetuses because they attempt to suppress such arousal altogether -- e.g., by thinking of various beleaguered of human beings as similarly innocent and in need of protection.

It's no accident then that when poor and middle-class conservatives claim to care about tax cuts, they mean something else altogether. They're concerned less about financial benefit than about preventing the undeserving in this world from taking resources that represent the moral advance of the deserving towards the other world (in this case, their discipline and individualism).

So whether it's fetuses or cash, minorities or mother earth, there's a single underlying impulse to both conservatism and liberalism: to discipline oneself in conformity to some idealized object, whether paternal or maternal.

Obamacans Unite!

 You have nothing to lose but your souls:

I'm a lifelong Republican - a supply-side conservative. I worked in the Reagan White House. I was the chief economist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for five years. In 1994, I helped write the Republican Contract with America. I served on Bob Dole's presidential campaign team and was chief economist for Jack Kemp's Empower America. This November, I'm voting for Barack Obama.

....

The answer is simple: Unjustified war and unconstitutional abridgment of individual rights vs. ill-conceived tax and economic policies - this is the difference between venial and mortal sins.

Source: I'm a lifelong conservative activist and I'm backing Barack Obama

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

David Lynch -- Watching Movies on your iPhone

JibJab -- It's Time for Some Campaignin'

Send a JibJab Sendables® eCard Today!

New Yorker Cover Outrage Syndrome



The New Yorker cover: There's one thing to be outraged about -- and it's the level of mass hysteria and stupidity evidenced in the general outrage, in the demand that something be so taboo as not even to bear indirect discourse. I'm reminded of the Life of Brian scene in which the magistrate is stoned to death for saying "Jehovah" as he is describing the crime of the prisoner condemned to stoning because he said "Jehovah."

Being outraged by deft satire of some pig-ignorant view, because it requires reiterating that view, implies that there is something powerful or plausible about that view -- that it is not as completely absurd as the satirist thinks it is. It is a anxious call for a comprehensive moral taboo. The imposition of these kinds of taboos is incredibly damaging to public discourse, and it's one of the ways the Left has alienated large swaths of voters. So it's incredibly damaging to everything the Left cares about, including racism.

These alienated voters are the very ones who The Outraged claim will be so confused by the cover as to see it as evidence of the validity of Obama smears. But other than pundits who must feign their commiseration with the what they suspect will be the prevailing wisdom of common folks, and but for their coverage, those who are both a) aware of the New Yorker cover and b) take it as evidence of the validity of Obama smears are suggestible idiots anyway. Just like the outraged pundits. Further, most people who read the New Yorker are subscribers who are capable of getting the cover -- and incidentally, they get the cartoons inside as well, and they're actually literate enough to read the articles. Speaking of which, even the right-wing is so excited by the climate of outrage that they're eagerly peddling their own panties-in-a-wad outrage.

It bears reiterating the premises of New Yorker Cover Outrage Syndrome:

  1. There is something plausible and powerful about the view it satirizes -- it is not completely as absurd as the satirist thinks

  2. Because the electorate is generally moronic and suggestible, our public discourse must constitute one large, taboo-ridden re-education camp for these poor souls, and reductionist political calculation must always trump nuance


As for Obama himself, the following is wrong, but at least reasonably stated:
I do think that, you know, in attempting to satirize something, they probably fueled some misconceptions about me instead," he said. "But, you know, that was their editorial judgment. And as I said, ultimately, it's a cartoon, it's not where the American people are spending a lot of their time thinking about.

Source: Obama says New Yorker insulted Muslim Americans

At least he gets, unlike legions of outrage-peddling pundits (who themselves have done more than anyone to propagate Obama Myths for the sake of ratings), that the object of the taunt is those who adhere to such misconceptions. And, thankfully, so does Katrina vanden Heuvel and, as usual the only intelligent news show on television, The Daily Show.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Visual Guide to Josef Conrad's The Secret Sharer

Visual Guides will be a regular feature on this blog. (And I'll be studying up on ways to do more attractive visuals). I did the following a long time ago, and it assumes a familiarity with the book; but I think it might be helpful to those interested in Conrad (and I'll be writing more abou The Secret Sharer).

The Secret Sharer: Picture of an Almost-Seamless Surface Yielding Depth through Doublings, Mirror Images, Maroonings, and Divisions within that Surface

(Click on the picture for a larger version)



  • Flaubert claimed that “One ought to know everything, to write…. Ronsard’s poetics contain a curious precept: he advises the poet to become well-versed in the arts and crafts….”

  • Note the idea of seamless, almost impeccable joints, used by Conrad in The Secret Sharer, evokes the joining carpentry of boatbuilding. In fact, when bottom boards of a vessel are “joined,” they always yield a triangular (viewed from the side) fault where the edges of the boards fall away and do not touch, despite the fact that the side-surfaces of the boards otherwise touch seamlessly (bad joinery means a sinking boat). These faults eventually become the entrance points for caulking. Compare the mouth of the river Meinam and the tug. Its departure would leave the narrator alone and at peace, he seems to think; but the tug is seconded by the appearance of the Sephora, and a seam opens up anew.

  • Conrad sees “art ... as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe …. It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colors, in its light, in its shadows … what of each is fundamental ….”; “the artist descends within himself … to that part of our nature which, because of the warlike conditions of existence, is necessarily kept out of sight within the more resisting and hard qualities—like the vulnerable body within steeled armor.”


Notes


I. Seamlessness, Surface, Doublings

a. The sea is joined “edge to edge” to the land and sky (seamlessly); a world likes a well-crafted boat.

b. The sea, ironically, is “stable”
i. The sea provides an opportunity for “solemnity and perfect solitude.”

ii. The narrator seems to find some unity of self within this potential solitude.

c. The land, ironically, is not so stable. Physically passable but psychologically impassable, it is “impassive earth”; it contains the “only fault” in the seamless joining, the “impeccable joint,” the mouth of the river Meinam. The river is a fissure through the land.
i. The narrator is actively trying to escape the land

ii. The land represents some resistance to the narrator’s quest for “solemnity and perfect solitude”; i.e., to escape any divisions within himself. These seem to have to do with temptation, perhaps carnality.

iii. The tug’s disappearance (swallowed by the “impassive earth”) offers some hope for solemnity, but a number of doublings happen after the tug disappears; in each of these cases, what the narrator sees as the fortuitous departure of everything to do with the land-world and its human conflicts, is replaced with a copy.




    • 1. The narrator captures a glimpse of the Sephora, which replaces the tug.

    • 2. A foreboding “tide of darkness” appears in the sky to offset the “track of light from the westering sun” previously associated with the stability of the sea

    • 3. A “swarm of stars” offsets the series of abandoned fishing-stakes on his right (the latter a sign of departed humanity).

    • 4. A swarm of crew—first mate, second mate, steward, etc.—begins to offset the ruin-like islands in the distance (the latter a symbol of departed humanity).




II. Social Seams, Maroonings, Identity

a. The narrator’s ship is moored but figuratively marooned, on its way to a kind of isolation in a seamless world. The hoped for solemnity of natural isolation will become an uncomfortable division within the narrator reflecting social isolation. The latter will drag him back down to the temptations of earth—the very things he is trying to escape.

b. The ship’s new captain is socially marooned in a number of senses:
i. He claims to be a stranger to himself.




    • 1. This point provides the motivating impetus for the story. The narrator is a stranger to himself, and he wants to escape the “disquieting problems” among other human beings on land in favor of the “untempting life.”

    • 2. Note that the first signs of this central conflict arise within what I have called the doublings of surface elements of the story—sky and land, ships, etc. (above).

    • 3. Note that the second signs of this central conflict arise with his poor relations to his crew members.




ii. He is the “only stranger on board” – he is feeling the natural anxiety of being among and (especially) commanding people he doesn’t know.

iii. He is socially marooned within the social circle of his crew. He feels some difference in “type” or class between himself and the typical seaman. There are hints that this difference has to do with such factors as




    • 1. Intelligence

    • 2. Sensitivity

    • 3. Being a “gentleman”

    • 4. Being urban rather than provincial

    • 5. Being overtly open with himself and polite

    • 6. His being an officer rather than a crew member

    • 7. His being the ultimate officer on his first command




c. Notice that the self-estranged narrator stands in a similar relation to his crew as his boat to the ruin-like islands, and the scorpion marooned within an inkwell stands in a similar relation to his first mate as the captive first mate of the Sephora, Mr. Legatt, to his own captain; there is a further parallel to the shadow-self marooned within the narrator.



III. Restoring Identity

a. The narrator is a stranger to himself, and the resolution to this story will involve changing this fact—in getting a feel for himself. Rather than struggling with this fact internally, his world metamorphizes to present him with a blatant representation, on the surface, of what is going on within him, perhaps in his “unconscious.” The story may read like the narrator’s dream/nightmare predicated on his anxieties about taking his first command on a strange ship, but just as easily the world could be unfolding coincidentally in dreamlike fashion to supply his psyche with every opportunity for self-realization. All of the doublings conspire to confront the narrator with himself. Everything plays out on the surface but implies depth.

b. The narrator feels an immediate affinity with his double, Legatt, despite the fact that the latter has murdered a man and fled the Sephora. The narrator feels strangely compelled to hide this fugitive, variously describing him as his “second self,” his “double,” etc. It’s as if the deeper part of the narrator, even the unconscious, has made its way to the surface world.

c. The narrator must then hide Legatt, and this accentuates his internal conflict, and his conflict with his men. He feels more “dual” than ever. Being on deck is difficult knowing what he’s concealing below this ship. The narrator’s doppelganger delivers a means of understanding that a whole portion of himself had been shrouded in secrecy, and that this secrecy had fueled his distrust of his men. Legatt openly states the kind of contempt for his fellow seamen that the narrator only hints at in the beginning. Legatt hints that he can’t expect a fair trial because the jury couldn’t be his peers, his father being a parson. The captain of the Sephora speaks of Legatt’s gentlemanly airs as being unfitting. Both Legatt and the narrator feel this kind of separation. Legatt acts violently on it.

d. The narrator associates Legatt’s gentlemanliness with a certain kind of politiness that causes distrust in the captain as it did in his men (as when he decided to stand watch, etc.). The implication is that the narrator feels paranoid around his men because the differences between them challenge his inability to tolerate closed spaces and secrets—on this ship or within himself. In other words, the narrator can’t play the dissembling, social game; he can’t pretend to be like his men or to connect with them, and he does not engage in the drama of authority. Hence the desire to leave land and to be in the openness and isolation of the sea; because of his social handicap the narrator is largely a secret to himself.

e. The narrator harbors Legatt much the way he might harbor murderous impulses towards his fellow men. If he is to get rid of Legatt, he must let him go without suppressing in himself what it is that got him into trouble in the first place.

f. Conrad makes use of the parallel of Cain and Abel; Cain kills Abel because the latter made a more favorable offering to God, despite the fact that as a tiller of the fields Cain had a much more laborious life than the herdsman Abel. There is a sort of social envy motivating Cain here as well—the envy of those who seem to succeed while taking it easy. In the Biblical story the earth “swallows” Cain’s crime much the way it swallows the tugboat at the beginning of Conrad’s story. Cain is not completely obliterated—and cannot be. And the narrator will not escape land and human beings and their complications.

g. In the end, the narrator must deal with his feelings of hostility for his crew without banishing them from himself or trying to repress them. The initial repression makes them manifest in the world itself (I'm reminded of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” here -- i.e., a transformation of the invisible (psychological or spiritual) into the visible. In some sense, the narrator is talking to his unconscious or his shadow self when he talks to Legatt, despite the fact that they will never “hear each other’s natural voice.”

h. Rather than simply hiding Legatt, the narrator a) frees him and b) tries to protect him with his hat. The narrator is able to maintain empathy while ceasing to identify exactly with Legatt. In order to achieve this freedom he must take certain grave risks—the “black southern hill of Koh ring seemed to hang right over the ship like a towering fragment of the everlasting night.” This journey to the underworld, or to the unconscious, could founder the ship. Asked why he comes so close to land, he tells the first mate that he is “ ‘Looking for the land wind”—a marked contrast to his initial aversion to land. In a sense, he is looking for the strength of access to his own unconscious feelings.

i. He is saved from foundering by the movement of the hat, which Legatt has abandoned; in other words, it is the narrator’s compassion towards his shadow-self that frees him. He then feels at one with his ship, and himself.