Monday, March 29, 2004
This Just In! News flash! Drinking and smoking are mutually reinforcing vices! Shocked, shocked I am! The Duke University team went on to announce their other bombshell findings that water is wet and the British talk funny.
The chemical pleasure linkage between smokes and drinks just makes this seem all the more cruel...
Ugh. The cicadas are coming back to D.C. I was here in '87, and it really was overwhelming, the sheer number of the things. After a couple of days we stopped trying to avoid them while we walked around, and got used to just stepping on them. They literally blanket the sidewalks. I admit that the 17-year life cycle is fascinating, and that in an abstract sense, the whole thing is hugely impressive. But really, in the end, it's just a really grim 2-week period where every surface in the city is covered with dying bugs.
Thursday, March 25, 2004
Junk science and its discontents. When I was a law clerk, a fellow clerk and I were involved in a discussion of the proper role of religion in schools. Aaron was a student at the ultraconservative Regent University School of Law,* a hardcore social conservative and a born-again Christian. He was also a kind, sharpwitted fellow who was great with his kids, and who never treated another soul badly, so far as I could tell. I hope he and his family are happy and healthy. But man, oh, man, talking to this guy was sometimes like falling down the rabbit hole. For example, once, when discussing the proper interpretation of Virginia's child custody statutes, the judge challenged Aaron's assertion that a homosexual father seeking custody was, per se an unfit parent. The judge pointed out that the law did not say anything about sexual preference, or enshrine any such rule. Aaron's reply, delivered with a certainty which was a wonder to behold, was "Well, that may be what the law says, but it's not what the Bible says." There were many such appeals by Aaron to decide cases through a prism of fundamentalist morality rather than decisional or statutory law.
(The judge, a confirmed old secular hedonist, got his revenge through frequent intentionally loud blasphemies in Aaron's presence, and by playing "Shut Your Fucking Face, Uncle Fucker" deafeningly loud on his truck stereo when he drove us both to lunch.)
Aaaanyway, Aaron and I were talking about religion in schools, and we inevitably circled around to the topic of evolution. My position on this issue was (and is), quite simply, that evolution is the consensus of the vast majority of those who have studied the question of the development of life, just like quantum physics is the consensus of the vast majority of those who study subatomic interactions. Therefore, I asserted, just as quantum physics gets taught in schools, so should evolution. Aaron said "Well, even these scientists you believe in so much don't agree about the specifics of evolution, and often contradict each other!" To which I replied "Well, just because Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler all disagreed on exactly how the planets move around the sun, doesn't mean that we should take another look at Ptolemy!" To which he replied "Well, you know, those three were disagreeing about a general principle that we have since verified to be true, by getting on spaceships and looking for ourselves. Evolution is quite different - in fact, evolution has been proven by scientific experts to be little more than junk science." Well, this was certainly news to me. It was then that Aaron introduced me to the wonderful concept of "Intelligent Design Theory."
Intelligent Design Theory, or "ID," is a loosely affiliated set of criticisms of the theory of evolution, which has developed into an excellent duck blind from which religious conservatives can seek to cast doubt on the hated evolutionary curriculum in U.S. public schools. While there are many "flavors" of ID, the most prominent seems to be that proposed and maintained by Lehigh University biochemist Michael J. Behe, in his book Darwin's Black Box. I am oversimplifying, but the gravamen of Behe's argument is, essentially, that certain systems are irreducibly complex (sorry, "Irreducibly Complex ("IC")). By this is meant that a system within a living being with multiple interdependent parts could not evolve over time, as the system would not function with only one, two, or three of its parts in place. It is, says Behe, like a mousetrap; without any one of its five parts (base, spring, trigger, hook, and hoop) the object or system has no function. In a biological system, there is no independent reason for any one of these components to arise, therefore they cannot be conditioned by external competitive circumstances. In order for such a system to form, these parts must have developed (or sprung into being) all at the same time. Therefore, development of such a system cannot be the product of a series of single random mutations. Something must have triggered five separate events that happened to produce this working system. The improbablilities involved in this type of random mutation are so vast as to utterly fail as an explanation for the literally thousands of such IC systems in every living thing. Therefore it can't be random. Therefore it must be by design. Therefore there must be a Designer. So there.
Well, I'm not a biochemist, but I see one problem with this theory right away. Living systems are not mousetraps, and vice versa. Mousetraps are the result of a process of design that has an end in mind - i.e. a device to trap mice. Living processes, especially including evolution, do not function like this. They are reactive. The human body (and the mouse's body, for that matter) is full of evolutionary dead ends and failed development processes. We are full of junk, at every level. Our DNA strands contain great swaths of genes that cancel out the activity of other genes, or simply do nothing. We have appendixes, whose entire purpose seems to be to swell up and try to kill us in a bloom of searing gastric pain. These are the mousetraps with the missing pieces. The systems that do function tend to be basic arrangements that have become refined and specialized over time because they met with utility and success. Another big problem is that the fossil record demonstrates many concrete examples of just this type of systemic evolution.
Now, I know I'm making a crude argument here. As I said, I'm not an evolutionary biologist. But these folks are, and they have started a new blog titled "The Panda's Thumb" devoted to taking potshots at the thinly disguised conservative religious movement that is ID. Check them out. Linked today are these excellent collections of the hypocrisy and ludicrous casuistry of the ID's chief proponents.
*Recently accredited and rebadged from its former identity, the Christian Broadcating Network College of Law. I'm not kidding. That was its name. Pat Robertson owns it.
Via Kevin Drum.
Tuesday, March 23, 2004
Getting over it, redux. A week or so ago, I sent an email to British academician Norm Geras, taking issue with this post, entitled "Sovereignty and Humanity." As I noted in my post on the subject, my objection was not to his primary argument -- that "national sovereignty" was a piss-poor argument against going to war in Iraq -- but rather with his secondary conclusion that as the freeing of Iraq from the clutches of Saddam is a positive and undeniable good, it is likely that those who continue to criticize the actions of the U.S. and U.K. governments are likely ashamed, in some sense, of their lack of feeling for the humanitarian rationale for war, and are looking for cover. They should simply move on, said Mr. Geras, and work to rear these fledgling democracies into strong partners in a freer world.
I took the position in my email (and subsequent post) that "criticism of both the Blair and Bush governments over manipulation of intelligence are salient criticisms of a failure to govern properly, and are appropriate criticisms to be levied against any government, regardless of the outcome of the deception." Mr. Geras dropped me a very kind return line, and said that when he found the time, he would respond to my email. And today, he did, in a new post on the Normblog. Apparently, Chris Young, with whom Mr. Geras has been conducting a discussion on the issues surrounding the war for some time, raised some similar comments to mine in his response to the same Normblog post. Mr. Geras graciously includes me in today's response to Mr. Young's far more substantial post, which goes into greater (and very interesting) detail on the larger issue of the nature of sovereignty.
I find Mr. Geras' response much as I found his original post; well reasoned, certainly; but with a less-than-overwhelming appreciation for the practical consequences of a self-imposed end to criticism of the propriety of the actions taken by the Bush administration on the road to war. Now, Mr. Geras can certainly reply that he is (*gasp!*) not an American and that his posts on the subject have dealt exclusively with the calls for investigation into Blair's government. Calls that, he can credibly add, he has joined, so long as the investigation is severed from the "unrelenting animosity, [and] sometimes venom" of the PM's political opposition. As Mr. Geras states today:
[Young's and Turner's] criticism misunderstands my argument. It's true that I didn't, in the post they take issue with, explicitly address the concern about public honesty. But one can't say everything at once. This is an issue I have in fact dealt with on my blog. I've argued that, if it should be established that either or both of the two leaders were responsible for wilfully deceiving their respective publics, then they 'may be held to democratic account'; '[d]eliberate public deception by democratic politicians is... a vice not to be taken lightly'. (See But where is the green parrot?: old site, August 21.) I've said, also, that questions relating to the use of intelligence in making the case for war are a quite proper subject for investigation. (See The poison in the body politic.)
All well and good. However, Mr. Geras' argument disregards some home truths about politics. The fact is, if no investigations are called for, none will be undertaken. If there is no call made for full explanation, none will be forthcoming. If the media senses that people don't care, or have "moved on" from the subject of government deception, the media will move right along with them. Nor is it likely, should the criticism stop, that even the insulated, limited investigation that Mr. Geras does support would ever be undertaken. Such a result would not be a verdict of innocence for the Bush administration, but merely evidence of a political success.
It may be that the Bush administration (and the Blair administration), are innocent of the charges that they picked and chose the intelligence that fit their desired result, and discarded the reports that didn't. However, there is a lot of evidence (including, most recently, the allegations of Richard Clarke) that they are guilty of, at least, that offense. If that evidence is never heard and evaluated, then the chance that anyone will "be held to democratic account" becomes quite slim. If Mr. Geras is correct that "deliberate public deception by democratic politicians is a vice not to be taken lightly," and I believe that he is, then there is much more at stake than whether some of Bush and Blair's critics are using the criticism to salve their guilty consciences. It's worth breaking some eggs and giving some pinheads a soapbox to find out the truth of the matter.
Mr. Geras' argument has uncomfortable resonances with the recent arguments made by U.S. administration apologists (and, not coincidentally, Ahmed Chalabi) that given the greatness of the fait accompli, we must not sully it with whining that has no purpose other than to cover our own moral bankruptcy and to act as an excuse for our lack of empathy with the suffering people of Iraq. However, as I noted in my initial argument, if the fait really is accompli, than we are not risking that laudable success by insisting on an answer to the questions that remain, rather than trusting the inexorable downstream flow to wash our curiosities clean.
I might have some more on this later, but those are my first thoughts. Certainly my hat is tipped to Mr. Geras for his thoughtful response.
Friday, March 19, 2004
Problem, meet solution. Sometimes the hurlyburly of politics and the global issues we confront in our national dialogue must give way to the more immediate threats that everyday Americans encounter. One issue that has been largely ignored in the primary debate and the preliminary general campaign sparring is the uptick in random gorilla attacks:
Officials at the Dallas Zoo are trying to determine how a 300-pound gorilla escaped from its cage Thursday, sending zoo visitors scurrying for safety.
The animal injured four people, including a toddler, before being shot and killed by police.
Rivers Noah, 3, suffered multiple bites to his head and chest. His 26-year-old mother, Keisha Heard, tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler Friday morning, "Rivers is doing OK. He’s sleeping right now and he’s still in a lot of pain, as myself, but we’ll be OK. I think we’re going to make it through this."
The gorilla bit Heard on the legs and threw her and the toddler against a wall Thursday. Dr. Todd Maxson, who treated Rivers, says, “I think he’s going to do very well from all this. He should make a full recovery.” Dr. Maxson is director of trauma services at Children's Medical Center in Dallas.
These are the issues that effete Massachussetts liberals like John Kerry just aren't talking about. Thankfully, the resourceful and freedom-loving people of Alameda, California aren't just going to sit around and wait until the great ape scourge reaches the Left Coast, and don't need for Uncle Sugar to "make it aw' bettuh," but are planning (and training) to defend their homes against the menace.
Proposal for Alameda Firing Range With Targets of Armor Clad Live Monkeys
Two years ago, my life took a strange turn when I lost an eye to an angry black-and-white Colobus monkey while on an African safari. Since that time, I have moved to Alameda to pursue my dream of creating a firing range featuring little monkeys called Bad Monkey Ranch. The monkeys would feature full body suits of premium alloy protection to shield them from rifle and pistol shots. I currently own three healthy monkeys that I blast with a rifle every day. Although my idea may sound far fetched, numerous studies have shown that monkeys exposed to life-threatening bursts of adrenaline on a daily basis actually live longer compared to those monkeys cooped up in zoos.
Not only will the monkeys have a great time roaming free in a field of gunfire, but the citizens of Alameda, who have been victims of a monkey attack will have an opportunity to seek vengeance in a healthy, life-preserving manner. According to an independent survey, over a half-dozen people living in Alameda have experienced a monkey attack within the past twenty years. These numbers are sure to increase and thus the number of people seeking a monkey firing range will grow infinitely in the years to come.
Unfortunately, animal rights organizations, the City of Alameda, and the Alameda Times-Star have balked at my idea. The Times-Star even had the nerve to call me "crazy" in a recent phone conversation. The public deserves to know about the quasi-tyrannical local government that rules the city of Alameda with no concern for those wishing to let off steam by firing on a feisty little monkey.
Thank you to all citizens in the City of Alameda who have supported the effort to build Bad Monkey Ranch.
Founder, Bad Monkey Ranch
Truly, the pioneer spirit lives on! Sic semper gorillus!
Alameda letter via Doug.
Thursday, March 18, 2004
Says it all. From Josh Marshall, quoted in full:
Again and again I read -- or hear directly from administration supporters -- this excuse that any questioning of the administration's record in foreign affairs, or Iraq, or even on other matters is just a deplorable focusing on the past, a distraction,
when the nation faces grave challenges which we need to focus on solving.
This is more than just simple buck-passing. It is a sort of through-the-looking-glass version of how problem-solving and accountability are supposed to work. It also has the perverse benefit of allowing the scope of the administration's failures to become reasons for not discussing those failures -- a sort of self-reinforcing anti-accountability causality loop, with all manner of moral hazards built in.
We've created such a mess that we don't have the time or the luxury to start second-guessing how badly we screwed things up!
I've always been strict about keeping four-letter words off this site. So I apologize for the graphic nature of this analogy. But this is like I come back to my office to find my new employee has taken a crap right on my desk.
Puzzledly and not happy, I say, "What, umm ... what happened here?"
To which he replies, "There you go again, always focusing on the past, how this or that could have been done differently, when what's really important is the future, how we deal with this and other challenges we're going to face."
To which I would reply, "No. The future is exactly what I'm thinking about. And that's why you're fired. Because in the future I can't afford to have anyone working here who craps on my desk, and then when I confront them about it all they can do is dodge responsibility with moronic excuses and try to put the blame on me for asking what the hell is going on."
These guys should be fired too.
And, no, I wouldn't advise the Kerry campaign to base a 30 second ad on this analogy.
Something you don't see much anymore. Law professor and Chicago state Senator Barack Obama, was the (sort of) surprise winner in this week's Illinois democratic primary for retiring Republican Senator Peter Fitzgerald's seat. Illinois has been trending Democratic statewide for a while now, and Obama really has a shot. But that's not the surprise. The surprise is that Obama has an honest-to-goodness campaign song, a R&B slowjam, no less. Check it out, for computers both fast and slow:
He's solid as a rock...Obama!
Ahhh. New blood, and fired up. That's what we like to see.
I should post about Neal Stephenson more. It seems that every time I do, I get thrown a link by some blogger of note. And it always happens just after I decide to step away from the site for a minute, so the post everyone sees is the one explaining that there won't be any posts for a while. Oh, well.
Monday, March 15, 2004
Oh, okay, just one. This is just plain funny:
So far, Bush['s ads have] managed to offend the majority of Americans through his use of September 11th, piss off firefighters for hiring fake ones in his ads, and provide weird fake numbers for Kerry in his first attack ad. (Ignore the "gotta get 'em all" bit about Kerry, which isn't really equivalent at all, but seems to have been thrown in to provide the weird semblance of balance that's all the rage these days.) And now, this.
Bush's campaign wasn't responsible for the Medicare ads, but his administration and his political advisors sure were. It brings up to mind a theory that I've been rolling around since Saddam was captured: the Bush administration was one that basically had events thrust upon it. It's even campaigning as such - everything about Bush's presidency was reactive, so nothing it did was actually its responsibility. Congress made him! Terrorists made him! "Activist judges" made him! Zohar the Incredulous and his team of four-armed invisible napalm-skinned ninjas made him do it! (It's the napalm that gets you every time.)
Amen! Go, Zohar, go!
Radio, radio. Off the air for a couple of days. Deadlines looming, house a mangled construction site, sleep a rare commodity, car's in the shop, just too much, too much, too much right now. But come on back, in, say, a week, y'hear? I promise new, fresh ramblings (or, at least, new, fresh links to the new, fresh ramblings of others).
In the meantime, enjoy the fine offerings listed on the left, especially the chef. Trust the chef. The chef knows.
Friday, March 12, 2004
Behold the Power of Mathematics. Go to the site of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida to view as concrete an illustration as I can imagine of three simultaneously humbling bignesses: (1) The absolute vast vastnesses of both inner and outer space, and degree to which all life, indeed all matter, whether at the most micro- or macro- level is really just a shivering speck of orphaned happenstance, spinning in an infinite emptiness; (2) The absolute yawning void of my own ignorance about what this universe, in fact, is (accompanied by corrolary 2(a): the enormity of the hubris I am guilty of when I arrogantly claim to know anything more universal than "it's Tuesday" or "this is a Clark Bar"); and, of course (3) the transformative, flexible scalar machinery of mathematics that informs this type of thinking, indeed, makes it at all possible; without an understanding of the mathematics (powers of ten) involved, the enormity would simply not sink in. That's a lot to place on the shoulders of a 2" x 2" Java applet, but what the hell; it's Friday.
Via Obsidian Wings.
P.S. Broadband really helps.
Amen blogging and link farming (Part MCMXCLIVIIICLVXIII). Lots of stuff out there. Kevin Drum has an excellent summary of the sordid tale of the Bush Administrations strong-arming of its own Medicare expert to supress skyrocketing cost estimates prior to the vote on the bill (estimates that the White House now acknowledges to be true):
These guys really do act like Vito Corleone, don't they? They knew their estimates were bogus five months before the bill was passed, they refused to let their chief actuary tell anyone about it, and one of their stooges basically told him to either shut up or sleep with the fishes. Then, a mere few weeks after the bill is passed, they fess up to the higher cost and pretend they didn't know about it before.
Josh Marshall asks an interesting question here:
You know something's amiss when a campaign rolls out positive ads one week and then hurries out negative and cutting ones just a week later.
In any case, the new Bush ads out today say John Kerry "wanted to delay defending America until the United Nations approved."
When was that?
The Poor Man takes a crack at storyboarding his own Bush ads here and here. (Via Atrios.)
The estimable Professor Juan Cole at Informed Comment has (as always) a whole bunch of interesting posts up. Today, he discusses current analysis of the Madrid bombings and the moves taken by Shi'ite kingmaker Ali Sistani to consolidate his partial victory in obtaining a solid Shi'ite majority in the interim government (and some of the promises we may have made to get the Kurds to accept the deal):
al-Hayat newspaper maintains that it was told by a high French official that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani opposes the return to Iraq of special UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. He is said to be happy with the Shiite majority on the Interim Governing Council, and to fear that Brahimi will toss aside that body rather than expanding it and keeping a Shiite majority.
The French source also said that the Americans have, behind the scenes, given secret undertakings to the Kurds that they can have Kirkuk and will be able to enjoy a semi-independence from the government in Baghdad. He sources these promises to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
Master of Japantry Chef Yamabushi has a long post up discussing the powerful forces shoving Japanese kids into private English education:
So, you're a parent who's concerned with your child's education (and/or test scores) and you want to give that child a leg up on the competition.... you have two options when it comes to English. The test-intensive option would be the infamous juku, or "cram schools". After the kid's been at school all day, doesn't it seem like a good idea for him or her to come home, eat dinner, and then spend a few more hours at yet another school? Hey, if you want the kid to get into a good high school and so on, this beats the hell out of eikaiwa... no doubt. The one weakness of the English juku is that the kid might win a place in Waseda's freshmen class due in part to the written test results, but drop the kid in Seattle with the mission of finding his or her way to the airport and... well, forget it, he'll probably end up gutting salmon or turning tricks for the year that it takes him to stumble across the Japanese consulate. No conversation skills, you see.
What about eikaiwa, then? These programs (of which I am a temporary denizen) emphasize conversation. We like to sell parents on the idea that emphasizing conversation (and related grammar) would be better in the long run... and it will surely help those test scores. The reality? Well, I can do a lot with a small group of eager, interested, and clever primary school kids. They'll definitely outshine their peers a bit once they get to junior high, and they'll probably have much better pronounciation for the rest of their (English speaking) lives. I have one girl who is in her first year of high school... she loves the subject, and she wants to learn. I can tell her parents in all honestly that their money is well spent. The simple majority of the kids under my wing, however, are not interested; they are coerced.
Now, this discussion is quite interesting, but I like the part where it kind of slides downhill into a discussion of the Chef's one-man battle against the incurious, unruly little bastards that this system tends to foist on the average instructor:
The youngest kid in the class is a boy who... uh... well... His biscuits aren't done. His elevator doesn't go to the top. He's got one rowboat and one oar. Last week, he spent most of the class repeating the word penisu ("penis") over and over because it sounds like the word tenisu ("tennis"... as in, "Can you play tennis?" ..."Yes, I can"). He's the kid that couldn't even keep up with memorizing basic questions and answers, much less wrap his unmotivated intellect around my attempt at explaining verb conjugation (at the insistence of the parents... that I focus on juku-type material that's absolutely over their heads). So, I scolded him over the penis thing. He got quiet for a while. Then, we played a version of Uno that requires the kids to say things like "This is a blue seven".... the only thing he likes about the hour, and he likes it a lot. I always try to do at least one fun thing, usually at the end.
Well, he was winning, and he forgot to say "Uno".... five penalty cards (I'd have let it pass, but not his peers).... one, two (an astonished look), three, four (anger), five (dialating capillaries, mucous, wincing).... followed by throwing the cards across the room, hitting his brother, kicking the table over and over, screaming... I said, "Hey, that's tough luck.. if you want to take a break, you can go outside for a minute"... He then began to direct his screams at me for a brief moment, then stormed out of the room and made for the front door, where his mother caught him. They struggled for a long three minutes, then disappeared upstairs.
And that's the morning that was! Now, to work!
Tuesday, March 09, 2004
Spalding Gray is dead. His demons apparently wrestled him off of the Staten Island ferry, and his body was found in the East River on Sunday. What's to be said? It's a goddamn shame. All Things Considered had a nice retrospective last night, which can be heard here.
Friday, March 05, 2004
The case against getting over it. Today on the Normblog, British academic Norm Geras posted a humane, sensible argument that I completely disagree with. He begins on firm ground, pointing out that national sovereignty is not an absolute barrier to outside action against a sovereign state; that merely seizing power and then oppressing the people into abject obedience does not make you a "rightful" leader, deserving of some high-minded protection based on respect for "sovereignty."
He rightfully uses this conclusion to mock those war critics who continue to point to Iraq's "sovereignty" as a dispositive argument against the war. However, he goes on from there to draw the conclusion that this understanding of the existence of a line beyond which such protections are ceded necessarily should lead to a utilitarian examination of the outcome. This examination, says Geras, should in turn lead to an abandonment of the continuing furor and harping on questions of distorted intelligence and the endless go-round of angry editorials about WMD's:
Here's a suggestion. Those who opposed the war in the full knowledge, or some reasonable level of knowledge, of the character and record of the Saddam regime, had their reasons; and while some of these reasons weren't good ones, some of them also were: amongst which I would put the concern about international law, the principle of adhering to established multilateral procedures and the fears about the level of likely casualties, both civilian and military. I would hypothesize, however, that with many if not all of the opponents of the war who were genuinely attached to these considerations and not merely using them as a cynical cover for something else, there will have been some sense of, some feeling for, the considerations pulling in the other direction, the ones that I've invoked above under the formula of a common humanity. So my suggestion is as follows. People who opposed the war but with a proper sense of the other considerations, the ones that moved us left-liberal supporters of the war, should be willing to move on. All said and done, they didn't agree with what was done, but what was done removed a scourge and they will recognize that and look to what is now the best possible course forward for the people of Iraq. And those, on the other hand, who can't move on? It's hard not to conclude that what they want is an alibi. It seems that the considerations which moved us to support the war were not only outweighed for them by their reasons against the war; they just don't count for very much at all. If that's how you think, then you better make real sure that people are talking about something else.
(Emphasis added.) Now, Mr. Geras doesn't have comments, but I felt I just had to say something about that conclusion. I sent him the following email:
I appreciated several of the points made in your post today ("Sovereignty and humanity"). I especially agree with (and offer myself as evidence of) the observation that those who opposed (in Daniel Davies' apt construction) "this war now" were not immune, must not have been immune, to the humanitarian concerns that you, I think accurately, describe as eventually trumping objective limitations based upon national sovereignty. For my part, I believe that we were, if anything, late to take the action that we did, and that we should have acted in force in response to the provocations of Saddam in 1998, when the coalition of 1992 was still in essential agreement. I have spent the last 6 months working very closely with a group of recent Iraqi emigres, and more than half of them had horrific stories of imprisonment and torture. Ending that pain is a common-sense good. That it is good is not seriously to be disputed.
However, I do not believe that the conclusion that you reach, that such opponents of the war are now obligated to embrace the humanitarian benefits and move on from criticism of the means, is justified. Criticism of both the Blair and Bush governments over manipulation of intelligence are salient criticisms of a failure to govern properly, and are appropriate criticisms to be levied against any government, regardless of the outcome of the deception. There is sufficient evidence to support a credible allegation that the Bush administration, for its part, relentlessly and publicly hyped damning factoids while intentionally ignoring or downplaying substantial countervailing advice and information produced by the US intelligence apparatus. The final truth of this allegation may be argued; it must be argued.
A critic of the policy of Bush or Blair is not necessarily advocating the re-installation of Saddam Hussein, or the re-assignment to him of the mantle of national sovereignty. Nor is such criticism likely to have any such effect. If the point of your post is that critics need to adapt themselves to a fundamental, irreversible change, and be happy that a scourge has been lifted from a suffering people, then it is equally true that careful review of the policies that brought us here is not significantly damaging to that result. Saddam is gone, and will never again rule in Iraq or anywhere. Bush and Blair still govern, and their practices, past and future, are still very much an appropriate subject for public debate.
Again, for my part, my frustration at the WMD deception (and I think the evidence is sufficient to call it that), is that it represented a missed opportunity to forge a consensus behind the kind of humanitarian action that is now the last pillar standing of the case for war. It's a strong enough pillar to stand alone. But it was not the basis chosen by those who advocated war. The willingness to disguise motives and relevant facts is simply bad government.
We can't ignore the means, for the simple reason that not all ends are noble.
Mr. Geras sent me a very nice note in response, and suggested that we perhaps did not disagree that much in the end, and said he was going to return to the topic later. I hope he does. He is absolutely correct that too many tyrants and kleptocratic, murderous regimes hide behind the fig leaf of a seat in the General Assembly. He is absolutely right that those who righteously carp about Saddam's violated sovereignty make the fundamental error of identifying a savage dictator with the country he oppressed. But he is absolutely wrong that the goodness of the end offsets and makes irrelevant the danger presented by the means. I hope I haven't misrepresented his argument; it is possible that I have. If I have it right, however, he couldn't be more wrong.
Wednesday, March 03, 2004
It's that time again! Now available for preorder, Volumes II and III in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle: The Confusion and The System of the World.
As for Quicksilver, I found it to be a radically different book than the towering Cryptonomicon, and about halfway through, I was kind of glancing around waiting for the fireworks. By the end, I had a curiously divided reaction: on the one hand, I found the whole thing a bit anticlimactic; on the other, I couldn't fucking wait to get my hands on the next one.
The fact is, there is no way I won't read both of the last two books. And I don't mean that in the same sense that I will, drawn in by a vortex of mass-cultural gravity and personal nostalgia, inevitably see Star Wars III: Why Do I Suck So Badly. Even when he seems to be running in idle, trying to cover the miles between essential plot locations, Stephenson is a beautiful writer, and at the moments when the story seemed to be stuck in the mud, I still derive more pleasure from just reading the way he writes than I do from most of the more lionized voices in modern fiction.
Reading Stephenson's limber, erudite prose makes me want to write, to eat vast quantities of language, history, and knowledge, and spit it out again, rearranged. I have a much different reaction to, for example, Don DeLillo's fey, precious, convoluted non-images, his casts of characters speaking in identical, arch, philosophical diction. Reading DeLillo makes the act of writing seem repellent and solpsistic, a sterile and joyless technical exercise. (On this point, anyone who hasn't read B.R. Meyers' A Reader's Manifesto really should.) Stephenson, though a recluse of some note, is reaching profoundly outward, and wants to stuff as much of the world into his pages as he can, rich detail both physical and philosophical. Sometimes that hurts the flow, but honestly, it doesn't matter that much to me. If, on the way to a country fair where the plague will appear, he wants to throw in a bucolic stroll along the river that incidentally explains the central insight behind calculus (er, sorry, "the Calculus"), it's fine by me (and succeeded in getting the basic point across better than my Calculus teacher ever did).
Tuesday, March 02, 2004
Tomorrow is coronation day, when we get the nominee we deserve. I am still waiting to get excited about Mr. Kerry; I don't know if it will ever happen, really. He exerts some kind of magnetic repulsion upon me - no sooner had Dean and the General dropped out (my two top guys), than my sympathies, shocked into sudden flight by the collapse, just all in a flock flew over to perch on Edwards' barn. It was a remarkably unexamined process, just kind of "Well, god knows you can't be for that guy, so I guess it's this untested nobody from the sticks. He's got charisma, and less baggage than that droning basset hound." But upon reflection, that's really a childish, TigerBeat Magazine way to look at politics.
As Ezra Klein of Pandagon points out,
The White House will attack whoever we choose; those attacks may be less effective against Edwards [because of his relatively short record], but they will still come. Regardless, we cannot begin picking nominees based upon how little they've done, how much of a blank slate they are. I fear a country where the best type of candidate for President is some rich guy with a good back story and a short voting record. Public service is noble, being a senator is worthy of admiration, not scorn. We have to turn these attacks around, we have to reframe the arguments. More importantly, we have to stop running from them.
Fair enough. Kerry is one of the most distinguished Democratic lawmakers, he is an experienced leader, whose voting record (with one or two exceptions) is pretty much a-OK with me; he's an articulate if unspectacular speaker, and he clearly grasps complex issues much more deeply than the policy-briefing level that sometimes peeks out when Edwards tries to talk about something he really doesn't know much about, like the military or foreign policy. In the last debate (the sitdown format with Larry King), Kerry was notably more confident and substantial on national security issues than Edwards. This knowledge doesn't come from his brief service in Vietnam, but from long service in the Senate, elbow deep in the details of how all this stuff actually works.
So...um...naturally, I'm rooting for...um...
I can't help it. I just gotta root for the underdog. Happy Super Tuesday. Can't decide? Give to the DNC.