Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On the passing of Pres. Gerald Ford

I just wanted to pop back in for a bit (sorry, I've been a bit busy getting surgery) to comment on my own personal take on the death of former President Gerald Ford. He has the distinction of being the first and last Republican I ever would have voted for, if I'd had the vote at the time. See, when he was running for re-election, I was all of six years old. I was just wise enough to know that I didn't know anything worth speaking of on the issues and such, so I figured, if I could vote (I don't remember whether we had a mock election in first grade), I would cast my vote for the guy who already had the job experience, who happened to be Ford at that time. By the time I was ten and Jimmy Carter was running for re-election, I had opinion enough of Reagan, at least as the PR spokesman he was, to pretty thoroughly despise him, and I've never looked back since.

Anyway, it's not so much that there was anything special about Ford as a man or a politician that makes him the only Republican I ever would have voted for. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time, much the way he became President, I suppose. Nonetheless, in hindsight, and with some of the news and comments coming out since his death, it seems that he was certainly a different kind of Republican than either the one who preceded him, or those who have followed him, in the White House.

Added: Cf. Digby's somewhat similar musings.

Friday, October 13, 2006

About time already!

Dissatisfied with the reporters' prickly questions, Bush went about answering his own. He said abandoning Iraq would allow terrorists to launch new attacks on America. "How do I know that would happen?" Bush asked himself. "Because that's what the enemy has told us," he answered.

Oh, did he finally get and read that PDB titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike U.S."?

P.S. Mr. President, do you always take your intelligence cues from the enemy?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Daily Goods

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A general note

It has occurred to me that, in some of my broader posts on thought and reasoning, e.g. On Means and Ends: A Confusion, I might come across as the kind of crazy crank who think's he's found some deep new insight, never before realized. But I do doubt that any of these are truly new to the world. Rather, since I lack a formal training in philosophy, epistemology, etc., these are things that are somewhat new to me. I generally have to figure these things out myself the hard way, reasoning from first principles and my own knowledge of the human condition. But it wouldn't surprise me in the least if many of my "great ideas" are covered in your average Philosophy 101 class. Nonetheless, it might be interesting to see the approach of someone who hasn't been exposed to these particular ideas. And assuming they aren't new, some do seem to be forgotten by people in the course of typical political discussion and such, so a reminder now and then can't hurt (except those who benefit from illogic and unreason; screw 'em).

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Daily Goods

Daily Goods has been a bit overwhelmed of late. There's just not much point to trying to keep it updated with the latest Foley news. On the other hand, there's been a bit of a drought of non-Foley news. But I'll bring you what I can.

Ignoring the Elephant in the middle of the... closet?

Reader DK @ TPM cracks wise, but I'll try to outdo him:

As a precaution, the governor [Jeb Bush] was ushered into a T-station supply closet and stayed there until the crowd left.
When I said Republicans were on the run, this isn't quite what I had in mind.

When I said there were a lot of Republicans in the closet, this isn't quite what I had in mind.


Note: Another new feature added: When I'm quoting liberal sources, the quotes will be in blue; when I'm quoting right wing sources, the quotes will be in red. More or less neutral sources (typically the media) will remain in orange. I might slowly apply this to the archives as well.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Is he catching on?

From today's White House press conference:

MR. SNOW: So when you take it in the broad sweep of history, and as we look back — you and I probably — well, you may, centuries from now, but I don't think I'm going to last as long as you will, Helen — but the facts is –

Is Tony "Racism Is Dead" Snow starting to think that, when the revolution comes, he will, indeed, be one of the first up against the wall?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Disgrace and Schadenfreude

While there is certainly room for a lot of Schadenfreude in the massive political upheaval over former Rep. Mark Foley and those who heard about his behaviour but didn't bother to investigate thoroughly, and its probably ramifications in the upcoming election, it pains me to see that this is what it takes for the scales to fall from the eyes of the people. All the news and revelations of this past week alone aside from the page affairs — those in Bob Woodward's new book, how much contact there was between convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the White House, another warning before 9/11 ignored, let alone Congress "abridging" the Constitution without going through the proper Article V process for amendment, and authorizing not-quite-torture — is as naught compared to a single (so far, and I don't mean his marital status) Congressman taking advantage of probably a few dozen Congressional pages, and some of his party's leadership not looking into the matter adequately, if not actively covering up.

Granted that the behaviour of the Congressman was sick, wrong, evil, and deserving of bringing down the careers of himself and many of those involved, and hopefully some well-earned jail time, it pales in comparison to the violence that has been done to our nation's institutions, foundations, and Constitution. And if one might think, "but those are just abstractions, these are real people, children even, who've been hurt," I would point out that these "mere abstractions" could have very real, concrete consequences for many of our nation's citizens and the people of the world, and more abstract consequences for all of us. The consequences were pretty concrete for the 74 US servicemen killed and the 577 gravely wounded in the most recent months I can easily find (September and August, respectively), let alone the approximately 1,579 Iraqis killed in September. The ignoring of the CIA warnings might have seemed rather real for about 2.973 people who used to dwell in New York and Washington, DC, if they were still with us.

More abstractly, one of our Constitutional rights, one so important that it went into the main body of the Constitution rather than being passed later in one of the amendments of the Bill of Rights, has been pretty much rendered null and void, so that our President can imprison whom he wants to, when he wants to, without having to explain to himself why. Oh, and he can go ahead and torture them now, as long as he wouldn't judge it to be torture. Abstract for now, for most of us, and apparently for all US citizens except Jose Padilla, but I wonder how long it might be until it becomes all too real and concrete for some of the rest of us.

But all of that can go on the back burner for now, because we've got a sex scandal!! And that's what the media really wants to talk about. Apparently, people just can't bother to get worked up about all that death of people and liberty. But give them some titillating emails and IMs, and they're finally ready to rise up and throw the bums out!

It's a disgrace to thinking people across this country, those who actually pay attention to what's going on, and care about this country and the path it's taking. And yet, if it's what it takes to get some responsible people actually capable of governing, rather than just playing political games with other people's lives, I guess I'll take it, for now.

Added: I think I just came up with the right metaphor for it. It's like getting Al Capone on tax evasion charges. Yeah, you got him, but....

Update: The September count for serious injuries of American soldiers is out now. Up to 776, a 34% increase over August.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The little beasts were egging him on

Matt Drudge thinks the Congressional pages were just asking for it:

And if anything, these kids are less innocent — these 16 and 17 year-old beasts… and I've seen what they're doing on YouTube and I've seen what they're doing all over the internet — oh yeah — you just have to tune into any part of their pop culture. You're not going to tell me these are innocent babies. Have you read the transcripts that ABC posted going into the weekend of these instant messages, back and forth? The kids are egging the Congressman on! The kids are trying to get this out of him. We haven't got the whole story on this....

You could say "well Drudge, it's abuse of power, a congressman abusing these impressionable, young 17 year-old beasts, talking about their sex lives with a grown man, on the internet." Because you have to remember, those of us who have seen some of the transcripts of these nasty instant messages. This was two ways, ladies and gentlemen. These kids were playing Foley for everything he was worth. Oh yeah. Oh, I haven't… they were talking about how many times they'd masturbated, how many times they'd done it with their girlfriends this weekend… all these things and these "innocent children." And this "poor" congressman sitting there typing, "oh am I going to get any," you know?

Damn those kids these days, with their MeTubes and their InterWebs! The little sluts were just asking for it! And taking advantage of that poor, trusting, upstanding Congressman.

At least I now have a good "Exhibit A" for people who wonder why I don't do Drudge sludge.


Also, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) thought the only important thing of the affair was how it might affect the upcoming elections:

HASTERT: No, I’m not saying [that Congressman Reynolds is lying]. I just don’t recall him telling me that [in the spring]. If he would have told me that, he would have told me that in the context of maybe a half a dozen or a dozen other things. I don’t remember that.

REPORTER: Other allegations of improper e-mails?

HASTERT: No, just other things that might have affected campaigns.


Added: The ever-wise James Dobson' group has something they'd like to share with us, too:

"This is not a time to be talking about politics, but about the well-being of those boys who appear to have been victimized by Rep. Foley. If he is indeed guilty of what he is accused of, it is right that he resigned and that authorities are looking into whether criminal charges are warranted.

"This is yet another sad example of our society's oversexualization, especially as it affects the Internet, and the damage it does to all who get caught in its grasp."

And that from the same man who said,

When assessing the legacy of Bill Clinton, we can’t overlook his shameful sexual behavior in the Oval Office, and then, his lies under oath to the American people to cover it up. Indeed, it is my belief that no man has ever done more to debase the presidency or to undermine our Constitution -- and particularly the moral and biblical principles upon which it is based -- than has William Jefferson Clinton.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Patriot games

To the Bush voters and their ilk who would question my patriotism, and have questioned the patriotism of my ilk, I ask this:

Why do you claim to love America? Is it for the hope of freedom, of liberty, of justice? The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Or is it just because it's the nation that happened to be blessed with your presence? If you'd been born anywhere else, wouldn't you now be insisting that God (or, God forbid, Allah) had made the place of your birth the most perfect nation on His Earth? Does America have anything else going for it than having been lucky enough to be the host of your over-worthy person? Does America exist for the sole purpose of ensuring your physical safety and your family's from scary people?

What makes you think America is so special?

Late update: I found this over at Staring At Empty Pages which said pretty much the same thing, a few weeks earlier, and better, of course; via Carnival of the Liberals.

New slogan suggestion for the GOP

Torture: If it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for the brown people.

(Or maybe even too good for 'em.)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

On Means and Ends: Torture

I found some possible examples of means becoming ends regarding the recent torture debate (on which more soon). One even cites Aristotle on the matter, in a way similar to but distinct from my own formulation.

From Jason Vest at the National Journal via Digby at Hullabaloo:

The moral dimensions of torture, [former CIA Moscow station chief Burton L.] Gerber adds, are inextricably linked with the practical; aside from the fact that torture almost always fails to yield true or useful information, it has the potential to adversely affect CIA operations. "Foreign nationals agree to spy for us for many different reasons; some do it out of an overwhelming admiration for America and what it stands for, and to those people, I think, America being associated with torture does affect their willingness to work with us," he says. "But one of my arguments with the agency about ethics, particularly in this case, is that it's not about case studies, but philosophy. Aristotle says the ends and means must be in concert; if the ends and means are not in concert, good ends will be corrupted by bad means...."

"If you talk to people who have been tortured, that gives you a pretty good idea not only as to what it does to them, but what it does to the people who do it," [Merle L. Pribbenow, 27-year veteran of CIA's Directorate of Operations] said. "One of my main objections to torture is what it does to the guys who actually inflict the torture. It does bad things. I have talked to a bunch of people who had been tortured who, when they talked to me, would tell me things they had not told their torturers, and I would ask, 'Why didn't you tell that to the guys who were torturing you?' They said that their torturers got so involved that they didn't even bother to ask questions." Ultimately, he said -- echoing Gerber's comments -- "torture becomes an end unto itself."

Amanda at Pandagon:

But the thing that jumped out at me is that because torture isn’t really an effective means to an end but an end in and of itself, once it becomes policy, absolutely everything is considered a reason to torture someone. No “ticking time bombs” necessary, but you already knew that.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A conundrum

[Sen. George] Allen's campaign strategist Chris LaCivita tells the AP: "Larry [Sabato] is obviously relying on words he heard from someone else. We believe it's completely inaccurate."

Unless I'm wrong, isn't LaCivita "relying on words he heard from someone else," in this case Sen. Allen? That's a bit of a bind he's made for himself there.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Executive Interpretation

Remember back when we weren't sure yet whether Bush would become President, on November 22, 2000, he came up with this little nugget?

The legislature's job is to write law. It's the executive branch's job to interpret law.

At the time, everybody thought it was just Bush misspeaking again, and assumed he knew better than that, that that's the job of the judiciary branch.

Maybe not. Apparently, his Press Secretary, Tony Snow, agrees with him, and officially says it's so:

Me [Eric Brewer, I think]: But isn’t it the Supreme Court that’s supposed to decide whether laws are unconstitutional or not?

Tony: No, as a matter of fact the president has an obligation to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. That is an obligation that presidents have enacted through signing statements going back to Jefferson. So, while the Supreme Court can be an arbiter of the Constitution, the fact is the President is the one, the only person who, by the Constitution, is given the responsibility to preserve, protect, and defend that document, so it is perfectly consistent with presidential authority under the Constitution itself.

Add onto that heap of ignorance, that Tony didn't even know that John Yoo was one of the big guys in claiming more and more power unto the Executive. He assumed that Yoo's editorial was an attack on Bush, because of the outrageousness of Yoo's claims, I suppose. And had to defend his President from this "attack" that was published in the New York Times editorial section, written by his former Deputy Assistant Attorney General, who dared to claim that, “the White House has declared that the Constitution allows the president to sidestep laws that invade his executive authority."

Daily Goods

  • Hullabaloo — More or less depressing news, as expected. Bush pretty much got his way in the torture department, and especially on habeas corpus.
  • Per Norwegianity:

    Max Blumenthal reports Preston Moon, the youngest son of Washington Times financier Sun Myung Moon, has initiated a search committee to find a replacement for editor-in-chief Wesley Pruden -- a replacement who isn't Pruden's handpicked successor, managing editor Francis Coombs. The younger Moon doesn't care for their brand of conservatism, says Blumenthal. "A Harvard MBA, Preston Moon is said to be seeking to install an editorial regime with more widely palatable politics," he writes.

    [Romenesko]

    Wes Pruden, a dyed in the cotton unreconstructed Southern white power supremacist, is TOO FUCKING CRAZY FOR EVEN THE CULTMASTER REV. SUN MYUNG MOON!

    In case you didn't get the idea, the Washington Times leans "a little bit" right, and is owned by the same Rev. Moon of the mass marriages of my youth.
  • Pandagon's and Stirling Newberry's take on the idea of a "carbon tax" on fossil fuels. I point out that I'd want to see exemptions for mass transit, perhaps.
  • Remember what I wrote about Sec. of HUD Alphonso Jackson telling potential contractors that they'd better support Republicans? He's back, and it looks like it wasn't really just a joke after all:
    • “During the investigation, Secretary JACKSON’s Chief of Staff, as well as the HUD Deputy Secretary testified that, in a senior staff meeting, JACKSON had advised senior staff, to the effect, that when considering discretionary contracts, they should be considering supporters of the President, language consistent with the remarks made by JACKSON in Dallas, Texas, on April 28, 2006.”
    • “Investigation did disclose some problematic instances involving HUD contacts and cooperative agreement grants, in particular, the cooperative agreement award issued to Abt Associates…was blocked for a significant period of time due to Secretary JACKSON’s involvement and opposition to Abt. Secretary JACKSON’s Chief of Staff testified that one factor in JACKSON’s opposition to Abt was Abt’s political affiliation.”
    • “Secretary JACKSON’s Chief of Staff also identified other instances of Secretary JACKSON intervening with contractors whom he did not like. Reviews of political contributions indicated these contractors had Democratic political affiliations.“
    h/t AMERICAblog
  • Via tristero at Hullabaloo, more news bringing us that much closer to war with Iran. And oddly enough, ships might arrive just about two weeks before the midterm elections. Go figure.
  • The Mahablog brings us a good overview of Bush's Good vs. Evil dualism.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Daily Goods

  • Pharyngula — PZ discusses a post he found discussing what they call "denialists," and tactics they share.
  • AMERICAblog — As pointed out many times previously elsewhere, the Administration & the EPA in particular lied about the air around Ground Zero after 9/11. (What, did they think they were suddenly going to run out of people if anyone found out? Hello, did they notice a little bit of national pride in the air that month? It would've just meant the workers would have been wearing the appropriate breathing filters, not that they would've quit entirely.) John there says,
    So, basically, George Bush and the Republicans intentionally and negligently put our 9/11 heroes at risk of their lives. Then again, they did the same to 150,000 members of our military, so why not another couple of tens of thousands in New York as well?
    He overlooks the fact that most of those New Yorkers didn't vote for him anyway. By the reasoning Bush seems to often use, he's not their president. So fuck 'em.
  • Kevin Drum — Apparently, the so-called "conservative Christians" are starting to feel less warmly towards Sen. John McCain because he isn't going along with the President's "family value" of being pro-torture enough.
  • An interesting little historical tidbit that I came across while Googling, in which a church claims that despite having lost their tax-exempt status previously, they had been offered protection; I'm guessing that the two would be related through political endorsement, which is a no-no for tax exempt churches.
    "We had a promise from the Bush administration. We had every reason to believe there was a moratorium. They were going to dismiss the case. We had a deal, and they welshed on the deal."

Monday, September 18, 2006

Daily Goods

  • Pandagon — I point out that as moral arguments go, the recent claims that the no-birth-control branch of the Christian Right are going to come to outnumber those of more liberal bent amount to a "might makes right" claim.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Breaking News: Breastgate!

This just in! According to reliable sources, at approximately 1:37 PM EST on Tuesday, an unidentified woman known only as "Jessica Valenti" of Feministing was able to sneak a pair of breasts into close proximity to former President Bill Clinton undetected. Concealed under only a shirt and (possibly) brassiere, the offending breasts were only discovered thanks to the perspicacity of keen-eyed observer Ann Althouse, followed up by Dr. Helen Smith and her husband, Glenn Reynolds. When last seen, the trio were attempting to locate Jessica for an intervention using a burqah and a chastity belt, in accordance with their One and True Feminism.

Obviously, this is just the break President Bush and his followers have been looking for in the Global War Struggle Against War on Terror Terrorism Islamic extremism brown people Islamonazism Islamofascism Islamofeminazism Breasts. Nothing could be more important in stopping the Brown Menace. We'll keep you abreast of developments as they come in.

Followups:

Friday, September 15, 2006

The moat in Bush's eye

Iraqi security forces will dig trenches around Baghdad and set up checkpoints along all roads leading into the city to try to reduce some of the violence plaguing the capital, the Interior Ministry said Friday....

The plan to dig trenches around Baghdad will be implemented in coming weeks, Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul-Kareem Khalaf told The Associated Press.

It comes as more than 130 people were slain in two days — either killed in attacks or tortured and dumped in rivers or on the city's streets.

"Trenches will be dug around Baghdad in the coming weeks when the third part of the Baghdad security plan is implemented," Khalaf said.

One question that often comes up when such fortifications (or moat, as John likes to call it) are conceived and built: Is it intended to keep people out, or keep people in? Especially if they might be expecting more and more Iraqis to suddenly want to get the heck out of the country.

Update:

The U.S. military confirmed Iraqi plans, announced earlier this week, to restrict access to Baghdad by forcing cars through 28 checkpoints, but denied some Western media reports that the plan involves digging a giant 60 mile trench around the city.

Daily Goods

  • Pandagon — I make an additional point in answer to a question about the "different but equal" school of (self-claimed) feminism. I follow up with some snark, naturally.
  • PZ and Phil the Bad Astronomer and many others pile up on the poor neo-con who is the only one with the clarity of vision to see the Evil Conspiracy behind some of the recent renaming of heavenly bodies.
  • Pharyngula — PZ looks on the bright side of life global warming.
  • Pharyngula — PZ discovers the Gateway to Information: your vagina. He also makes some excellent fashion suggestions (as always).

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Daily Goods

  • Disturbing.
  • Pandagon — more on how to keep women under your thumb.
  • Pharyngula — The Archbishop of York makes common cause with the Muslims against the Ultimate Evil – secularism.
  • Firedog Lake — The latest troubling news about the threat Diebold poses to democracy.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Cliffs Notes Torture

Short version torture definition: If you're trying to get as close as possible to what you'd consider actual "torture", without it actually being what you would call "torture", then it's torture.

Update: More on that.
And still more.

Daily Goods

  • Tony Snow still wants to imply a "relationship" between Saddam and al-Zarqawi. After reading this one, I'm thinking when they make the movie about this Administration, the roles of Tony Snow and/or Ari Fleischer should be played by Jon Lovitz. "Yeah, there was a relationship between the two. As a matter of fact... umm... we've got photos of the two having brunch together! Mimosas and everything. We just can't release those pictures. Yeah, that's the ticket."
    Added: Best comment in there, I think: "I am beginning to think Snow has a relationship with Bush, but not one with reality."
  • The Washington Post—Bush Tells Group He Sees a 'Third Awakening'

    President Bush said yesterday that he senses a "Third Awakening" of religious devotion in the United States that has coincided with the nation's struggle with international terrorists, a war that he depicted as "a confrontation between good and evil."

    Bush told a group of conservative journalists that he notices more open expressions of faith among people he meets during his travels, and he suggested that might signal a broader revival similar to other religious movements in history. Bush noted that some of Abraham Lincoln's strongest supporters were religious people "who saw life in terms of good and evil" and who believed that slavery was evil. Many of his own supporters, he said, see the current conflict in similar terms.

    "A lot of people in America see this as a confrontation between good and evil, including me," Bush said during a 1 1/2 -hour Oval Office conversation on cultural changes and a battle with terrorists that he sees lasting decades. "There was a stark change between the culture of the '50s and the '60s -- boom -- and I think there's change happening here," he added. "It seems to me that there's a Third Awakening."...

    "He's drawing a parallel in terms of a resurgence, in dangerous times, of people going back to their religion," said one aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the session was not open to other journalists. "This is not 'God is on our side' or anything like that."

    Oh, no, of course not, what would ever lead one to think that? And why would the aide even bring it up, since it's so unimaginable?
  • Pharyngula — Man in funny hat dislikes, doesn't understand evolution: News at 11!
  • Pandagon — Women, don't let this happen to you.

    At the end of the evening, when I go into the kitchen to help Sarah with the dishes, she confesses that she’d love to go back to school for her master’s degree, but she just can’t see finding the time. “I guess it’s just not part of the plan,” she says in a soft, distracted voice....

    Abolafya no longer reads secular books or speaks to her old friends.... Between her marriage ministry, the women’s Bible study she runs, her two small children, and taking care of her husband and her home, Abolafya says she doesn’t have time for many relationships anyway, and when she starts to home-school her kids soon, her time will be even tighter. “It’s not what I ever imagined,” she tells me, “or even what I ever wanted, but it’s my duty now, and I have to learn to live with that.”

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Daily Goods

  • At Sadly, No! I point out another error in conservatives' narrative of 9/11.
  • At Pandagon, I point out that police shouldn't have all the same rights as the civilians they protect, although they also have more.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Bush's 9/11 Speech

I don't have the exact quote yet, but here's the bit from Bush's 9/11 anniversary speech that jumped out at me: One of the defining problems with Islamic extremists is that they despise dissent.

Pot, kettle. Kettle, pot.

Update: Full quote:

Since the horror of 9/11, we've learned a great deal about the enemy. We have learned that they are evil and kill without mercy -- but not without purpose. We have learned that they form a global network of extremists who are driven by a perverted vision of Islam -- a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent.

Daily Goods

Saturday, September 09, 2006

On Means and Ends: A Confusion

You may have heard that tired old saw about "the ends not justifying the means." It's bunk. Sure, not all good ends can justify all bad means. But certainly some good ends justify some bad means. However, it seems to me that, in many areas of discussion and debate currently, especially in politics, there is a confusion and conflation of means and ends.

The egregious example that brought this to mind recently concerns the idea of Adam Smith's "free market". As Brad DeLong put it:

...arguing with center-right reality-based technocrats about whether it is center-left or center-right policies that have the best odds of moving us toward goals that we all share--world peace, world prosperity, equality of opportunity, safety nets, long and happy lifespans, rapid scientific and technological progress, and personal safety.

One would like to think that something like this was an agreed set of goals, and certain policies were means to achieve them, possibly one among many, possibly the optimal of all possibilities. However, it seems that many in our discourse have come to believe that various ideologies which were originally espoused in pursuit of these ends, are themselves goals, to be pursued even at the cost of other, more ultimate goals, such as those listed above. They'd sacrifice the equality, the safety nets, the progress, the fairness, if they conflict with the "goal" of, for example, having free markets.

One of the motivations for the development of free markets during the 19th century was that it was believed that they would promote peace, since free trade amongst the states implied that if you attacked your trading partners, you damaged your own economy. They were also intended to make societies richer as a whole. But, as judges have recently said (much less deservedly) about our Constitution, they aren't a suicide pact. When market failures destroy access to entire segments of our economy, e.g. the current health care crisis, there are still those who insist that the Invisible Hand of the Free Market will cure all, if given the chance. They've forgotten the reasons why free markets were proposed in the first place, and taken them up as a standard to be supported for its own sake, like those who would defend the flag by forbidding burning it, tarnishing that which it stands for.

Perhaps even more pervasive is the equation of democracy with freedom & liberty. (For an interesting study on the comparative origins of the terms "freedom" & "liberty" themselves, read poputonian here and here at Hullabaloo.) Despite the phrase "the tyranny of the majority" having been in use for over a century and a half now, many people assume that democracy automatically conveys freedom along with it. But this certainly isn't so. Witness the wishes of at least a plurality of those in Iraq, planning to impose their own version of a theocracy on the state (one could hardly call it a nation, really) through democracy. Or the current leadership of Iran, elected to bring them back to a more conservative Islamic democracy by cracking down on excesses of freedom. On the other hand, although I don't know if there are any concrete historical examples, one could hypothetically have a monarchy or some such in which the ruler granted near–perfect freedom to his or her subjects. Essentially, the principles of democracy and liberty may not be completely orthogonal to each other, but they certainly aren't perfectly parallel, either. Yet our current President constantly conflates the two concepts in speeches and strategies, and no one calls him on it.

In his Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln promised "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Breaking that down, the first part might lead to some semantic confusion: Does "gevernment of the people" mean the government belongs to the people, or that the people are being governed? Regardless, the latter two are clear enough to make my point. Democracy is pretty literally "government by the people." But this does not guarantee "government for the people," by any interpretation. Even if you define "the people" to mean the majority, they can still be convinced to vote (or otherwise participate in government) in ways that are not in their own best interests. And when it comes to people who aren't in the majority, all bets are off.

Democracy does not even guarantee liberty or freedom for the majority, let alone minorities. And liberty and freedom could, hypothetically, be had without democracy. In my view, democracy is "merely" a means to achieving a government that governs in the people's best interests, including their freedom. But some seem to view democracy as a goal to aim for in and of itself, regardless of the oppression, inefficency, or other malfeasance that may follow from it if the people choose poorly, or are misled. Certainly it is a worthy object to pursue, but it is not the ultimate goal.

A more simple and concrete, if more trivial, example might be the automobile and, to a lesser degree, related internal combustion vehicles (e.g., trucks, trailers, busses, etc.). Essentially, it is a means of transportation, of getting oneself, possibly some passengers, possibly some cargo, from point A to point B. Yet, especially here in the United States, we've grown a culture that venerates the automobile as though it were an end itself. This manifests itself in a general reluctance to use mass transit, and looking down our noses at those who do. There are also movies that "worship" the car to some degree, such as The Fast and the Furious and Days of Thunder and so forth. These, along with other examples, contribute to the overall impression that American society views the automobile as an end itself, rather than a means to achieve a necessary end. Thus, people are reluctant to consider transportation options that don't involve the automobile.

Now of course, I'm somewhat more concerned at present about the first two examples than that last one. These confusions lead to a fundamental failure of common sense, morality, and logic when people come to assume that what was originally a means to achieve a certain end is now a goal worthy of pursuit for its own sake. It becomes unthinkable to question its rightness, because while the means of achieving a goal might be debated, and alternatives considered, when one comes to think of it as an end, then any doubt cast upon its rightness calls large portions of one's belief structure into question, something with which most people are rather uncomfortable.

The next question would be, how can we make this clear to people, that what they've been considering to be goals, aren't actually? And how to prevent concepts that are currently considered means from being confusedly thought to be ends? At that point, my thinking on the matter is rather lacking so far. I'm open to suggestions and discussion, either here or on other blogs (with more traffic than this one!). Let's just try to remember whether this reminder of where things actually stand is, itself, a means or an end.


I'll post more on this as I find more examples and evidence for the examples, especially as I try to track down just how means are transformed into apparent ends. I'll add links to new posts here, so we can find them all together.

  • Meanwhile, here's another relevant post: Sadly, No!, on technocrat centrists, "propertarians," and free markets.
  • The Empire Links Back, with one word, "interesting." Ironically, Retardo of Sadly, No! linked to this (at my humble behest) shortly after a discussion in comments on another of his posts in which he was taking the opposing view that democracy was a noble goal for its own sake. I think he'd agree on my first example of the free markets, though, at least.
  • As an afterthought: I should have brought into the discussion of automobiles the fact that they also serve as status symbols, a form of conspicuous consumption that Brad DeLong was discussing recently, as I'd already linked to below. That would certainly be a big part of the demand for automobiles above and beyond needing a means to get from one place to another.
  • I found a a couple more examples related to torture.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Labor Daily Goods

A chain of related posts, interspersed with a comment from me:

Elsewhere

  • Brad DeLong — Lyndon Johnson, Yes. William Jennings Bryan, No — on the relative marginal utility of wealth for the rich vs. for the poor
  • Brad DeLong — Department of "Huh?"
  • Brad DeLong — Making 'em Feel Small... — Greg Mankiw responds to LBJ, Yes. WJB, No above. Brad gives a name to the motivation I've been contemplating for a while, calling it "spite". I'm not sure if this is standard terminology amongst ethicists, philosophers, whomever, or his own term that he's applied to it.
  • PGL at Angry Bear — Measuring Poverty: Max Sawicky on Nicholas Eberstadt — PGL & Max Sawicky take one Nicholas Eberstadt to task.
  • Kevin Drum — Deep Thoughts — Mickey Kaus thinks the reason poverty rates are up is that all the newly rich amongst us can afford to take a year of luxury off. Without even reaping any capital gains in the meanwhile, of course, because everyone who's that rich got there by har work and the sweat of their brows, not by having a big nest egg to begin with, of course.
  • Kevin Drum — Happy Labor Day! — a depressing map showing the change in median incomes over the past six years. And speaking of maps....
  • PGL at Angry Bear — Poverty: Mickey Kaus is All Over the Map — more on the inanity of Mickey Mouse Kaus
  • Brad DeLong — I'm Not Going Back Over There!! — Brad can't bear to read the inanity of Mickey Kaus
  • Brad DeLong — Alan Krueger Channels Ori Heffetz... — More on "spite" and conspicuous consumption, from Alan Krueger
  • Pandagon — The expensive lives of the working poor in America — exploring why it's so hard for the poor to get ahead
  • Brad DeLong — "It's a Great Market to Be a Worker!" — Daniel Gross points out how delusional some of the people at AEI (American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank) are.
  • Pandagon — More on the expensive lives of the working poor

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Presumptions

President Bush the other day:

Americans believe that every person of every religion on every continent has the right to determine his or her own destiny. We believe that freedom is a gift from an almighty God beyond any power on Earth to take away. (Cheers, applause.)

Do we, now? Each and every one of us? Are you sure about that?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Traitorgate trivia revisited

In light of the recent revelations that Richard Armitage may have been the one who revealed Valerie Plame's CIA activities, probably without realizing it was classified, I'd like to revisit a question I asked here last October:

Something I've been pondering over the past week or so, as we were getting a somewhat clearer picture of what went on around the Plame/Wilson leak: of course, it's verboten to reveal classified information that you know to be classified to someone not cleared for it. But is there a law that would cover the specific situation of someone who shares classified information with someone who is cleared for it, but doesn't tell them that it's classified, or at what level it's classified?

I'd think that may possibly be a very relevant matter in the (still!-)current investigation.

Seems all the more relevant now, doesn't it?

Daily Goods

  • Jon Swift — I correct a linguistic detail, and point out what kind of God these warbloggers seem to believe in.
  • Sadly, No! — affirming the parallels between Mark Twain's latter years and our current times
  • Glenn Greenwald examines a fascinating psychological profile.
  • PZ Myers hopes that church leaders will feel freer with the tool of excommunication after reading this:

    A Vatican official has said the Catholic church will excommunicate a medical team who performed Colombia's first legal abortion on an 11-year-old girl, who was eight weeks pregnant after being raped by her stepfather.

    Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, the president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, said in addition to the doctors and nurses, the measure could apply to "relatives, politicians and lawmakers" whom he called "protagonists in this abominable crime".

    "We acted within the constitutional framework," Dr Lemus said. "We were faced with the petition of a girl who wanted to go back to playing with her toys."

    He said Cardinal Trujillo "calls the doctors and nurses 'evildoers'. I think the person who raped her is the evildoer".

    Rapist, the evildoer? Where do they get these crazy ideas? Don't they read their Bible?

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Daily Goods

  • Pandagon — hypocritical hiring/firing practices of the extremist wingnuts
  • Pandagon — smart-aleckness about inconsistencies of the strawfeminists the reichwingers are always pointing to, and arguing against
  • Pharyngula — sympathy & snark for PZ in his time of tribulation
  • At Jesus' General, I point out that some families just aren't deserving of a "flat daddy".
  • Keith Olbermann on Rumsfeld & freedom, via Crooks and Liars – definitely a must-see
    Here's some of the finer commentary out there on this today, not that there's any shortage of commentary on it.
    h/t poputonian @ Hullabaloo
  • My thoughts on The Rude Pundit's subtle distinction between cynicism and sarcasm reveal that I tend more towards the sarcastic than the cynical.
  • At Think Progress, Sen. Allen still thinks nobody "actually care[s]" about "macaca".
  • Remember, you heard it hear first! Kevin Drum quotes David Weigel quoting Kathryn Jean Lopez (a.k.a. J-Lo) quoting Congressional Quarterly (no link, guess we know who's the sloppy one in this crowd!) quoting Jack Reed from a conference call, on Bush's fondness of Islamofascism... I mean, the term "Islamofascism":
    And again, I think it goes to the point of that their first response is, you know, come up with a catchy slogan, and then they forget to do the hard work of digging into the facts and coming up with a strategy and resources that will counter the actual threats we face.
  • Glenn Greenwald talks about the overuse of the Neville Chamberlain–appeasement slur, which leads me to think we need another corrolary to Godwin's Law:
    As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Neville Chamberlain approaches one. Once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned Chamberlain has automatically "lost" whatever debate was in progress.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Daily Goods

  • Pandagon — point out the inherent illogic of human interaction
  • Hullabaloo on sacrifices & trying to make sense of what Dubyah's saying
  • Kevin Drum on the VA system as a model to be emulated or sabotaged
  • Angry Bear about transfer pricing & Ireland

New "feature"

Starting today, I'm going to be doing daily posts when appropriate merely consisting of links to comments I've made on other blogs, and perhaps sometimes even to posts on other blogs where I haven't commented on. The main reason for this is to show a bit more of my thinking than my somewhat sporadic posting here reveals, and incidentally to give myself a handy reference wherein I can find those comments I've left elsewhere but forgotten just where. Secondarily, it's a way to indicate others' posts that I find interesting enough to comment on (although often, that interest is merely that it conjures up a "witty" joke that I just can't pass up, so quality is not assured).

In doing this, I'll be modifying my general rule of never editing a post without noting it (usually with "Update:", "Added:", or "Edit:"). These I'll be adding to over the day (or however long) as I make comments, or find interesting articles. This way, I won't fall into the Eschaton trap of posting a dozen or two one-sentence links to articles in one day. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's just not my style.


I'll start off with a few comments from the recent past, both for their own sake, and as example of the fairly standardized format I'll be using.

  • Pharyngula — me being a smart aleck about PZ's apparent 70s/80s/90s confusion
  • Pharyngula — me being a smart aleck about language evolution
  • Pharyngula — a warning of the dangers of watching Darwin's Deadly Legacy
  • Pharyngula — Finally getting away from the smart–aleckness, I suggest a blog meme I'd like to see start making the rounds; with followups here and here.
  • Jon Swift — a little snark about the fellow who claims that "science is dead."
  • Pandagon — I point out the word Amanda was looking for.
  • Pandagon — I point out the word Brooklyn Girl might have been looking for.
  • Pandagon — Trying to make sense of the new FDA Plan B rules
  • Pandagon — acknowledge the Dickensian qualities of Blackwell's health care proposal for Ohio, and then ask a little about Marx

A little bonus for today (I might make this semi-regular as well), my self-quoting of the day:

At least it isn't unrequited hatred. I hate that, even if it doesn't hate me back.

Added: Another note on my editing existing posts is that most browsers probably won't retrieve the updates when you first visit, until there's a new post. You may have to refresh after loading for newest content (like this very paragraph).

Overextended metaphor

Rush Limbaugh yesterday:

We didn’t teach them how to fish. We gave them the fish. We didn’t teach them how to slaughter the cow to get the butter. We gave them the butter. The real bloat here as we know is in government.

OK, aside from the obvious mangling of cliche in the third sentence, even the sentiment of the first sentence is overlooking the reality of it. Perhaps we are giving "'em" fish, but it seems to me nobody's willing to give them a fishing pole or bait, either. So teaching them to fish is pretty pointless.

Updated: Put in the exact transcript version of what was said, now that it's available.
Added: For that matter, he probably thinks it would be a bull you'd slaughter for butter, a la the Bushs' stallion-milking joke.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Some moron wrote:

What always puzzles me about Paul Krugman and his claims about inequality is why he doesn't seem to realize how silly he sounds when he refuses to acknowledge, and take some pride in the fact, that he is part of that top 1 percent. I find it hard to imagine that Paul Krugman's income in 2004 wasn't above $277,000, between his income from his university, his speaking engagements, his books, his columns, and his investments.

Now, does Paul Krugman think that he was just a tool of the "New Gilded Age" politicos? Does he owe his income gains to the people he despises, those nasty Republicans and that ridiculously centrist Clinton? I'd like to know. I suspect that if you asked him why his income grew to the point where he's in the top 1 percent, he would give some long answer, the shorter version of which is that he's "highly educated" and he's not lazy.

And the salient fact about this explanation is that it is accurate. Krugman's about as highly educated as you can get. He's got plenty of skills and occasionally (though not here) a good argument. People like what he does and he gets paid for it. Good for him. But good for Secretary Paulson as well, since Paul Krugman's own experience supports both parts of Paulson's assertion.

OK, then, what if you want to hear from someone well out of the top percentile? Here you go (let's say these happen to exactly match my own thoughts):

But he [Treasury Secretary Paulson] quickly reverted to form, falsely implying that rising inequality is mainly a story about rising wages for the highly educated. And he argued that nothing can be done about this trend, that “it is simply an economic reality, and it is neither fair nor useful to blame any political party.”

History suggests otherwise.

I’ve been studying the long-term history of inequality in the United States. And it’s hard to avoid the sense that it matters a lot which political party, or more accurately, which political ideology rules Washington.

Since the 1920’s there have been four eras of American inequality:

  • The Great Compression, 1929-1947: The birth of middle-class America. The real wages of production workers in manufacturing rose 67 percent, while the real income of the richest 1 percent of Americans actually fell 17 percent.
  • The Postwar Boom, 1947-1973: An era of widely shared growth. Real wages rose 81 percent, and the income of the richest 1 percent rose 38 percent.
  • Stagflation, 1973-1980: Everyone lost ground. Real wages fell 3 percent, and the income of the richest 1 percent fell 4 percent.
  • The New Gilded Age, 1980-?: Big gains at the very top, stagnation below. Between 1980 and 2004, real wages in manufacturing fell 1 percent, while the real income of the richest 1 percent — people with incomes of more than $277,000 in 2004 — rose 135 percent.

What’s noticeable is that except during stagflation, when virtually all Americans were hurt by a tenfold increase in oil prices, what happened in each era was what the dominant political tendency of that era wanted to happen.

 

So what the hell is your argument against that now? And if you actually have an argument against me saying that, why didn't you bring that to the gunfight along with your lame-ass ad hominem butter knife?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Say what?!?

OK, today's big news, the judge in Michigan ruled that the NSA's warrantless wiretapping is illegal. But one particular line jumped out at me here (emphasis added):

All of the above Congressional concessions to Executive need and to the exegencies of our present situation as a people, however, have been futile. The wiretapping program here in litigation has undisputedly been continued for at least five years, it has undisputedly been implemented without regard to FISA and of course the more stringent standards of Title III, and obviously in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Has this administration been using warrantless wiretaps before 9/11 even happened? If so, then two questions come immediately to mind: What was the justification for it at the time, and how useful do they seem to be if they couldn't stop any hypothetical people "determined to strike U.S." with the warrantless wiretaps?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Pet Peeve Day at Liberal Hyperbole

Just wanted to note a little something that's always bugged me since that second third dark day in 2001: people referring to "the Patriot Act." It's an acronym, which stands for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism"; in full form, the acronym is "USA PATRIOT Act." It has no relationship with the common nouns "patriot" or "patriotism," nor the adjective "patriotic," unless it's that of antonymism.

So, please, stop calling it what it isn't. Or Rep. Sensenbrenner might be angry with you for abusing his oh-so-clever acronymic title.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Logic says they don't get the contract.

Dallas Business Journal:

After discussing the huge strides the agency has made in doing business with minority-owned companies, [HUD Secretary Alphonso] Jackson closed with a cautionary tale, relaying a conversation he had with a prospective advertising contractor.

"He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years," Jackson said of the prospective contractor. "He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something ... he said, 'I have a problem with your president.'

"I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I don't like President Bush.' I thought to myself, 'Brother, you have a disconnect -- the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn't be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don't tell the secretary.'

"He didn't get the contract," Jackson continued. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."

There's been something about him claiming it was just a joke, and it never really happened, but I don't care whether it's just a joke. (Although I do care about whether it happened.) Regardless, it conveyed the message to his audience that they'd better go along with the Administration if they want in on those juicy contracts. And that's bad enough by itself to call for his head, whether or not he ever actually turned a contractor down for saying such a thing.

[The Real Estate Executive Council] attendee Junior Glymph, a defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys, said he could see Jackson's point.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion," he said. "But in politics, you have to watch what you say."

But this wasn't supposed to be politics—this was supposed to be about government. You know, actually running the country, not running for the office.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Just a thought...

Perhaps Porter Goss should have released his medical records to the public, much like some expected John Kerry to do when running for President.

Who knows what kinds of fun and exciting diseases he might have been treated for in the past decade or two?


Added: More seriously, I wonder if there might be a connection in the timing, besides the obvious Hookergate possibilities, to the Mary McCarthy business a couple of weeks ago?

Monday, April 17, 2006

They're doing it again (or still?)

From a Wall Street Journal editorial defending & supporting Donald Rumsfeld today (via CNN, since WSJ is subscriber-only):

"It unfortunately appears that two of the retired generals (Messrs. Zinni and Newbold) do not understand the true nature of this radical ideology, Islamic extremism, and why we fight in Iraq. We suggest they listen to the tapes of United 93."

9/11!! Iraq!! Saddam!! WMDs!! Mushroom cloud!! We're all going to DIE!!!

Unless you appropriately support our SecDef, and our Preznit!


Added: By the way, I fully expect all those who condemned the general officers critical of Rumsfeld's performance for speaking out about political matters to be tripping over themselves to condemn Gens. Crosby, McInerney, Moore, & Vallely. I'm starting to hold my breath, right now....

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Blaming the messenger

The United States has criticized an Australian television network's release of grisly images that show apparent detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq....

American officials have said the pictures should not have been released, with Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman telling The Associated Press their airing "could only further inflame and possibly incite unnecessary violence in the world."

Seems to me they/we ought to maybe be more concerned that detainee abuse "could only further inflame and possibly incite unnecessary violence in the world."

Monday, February 13, 2006

Too busy?

So, Cheney's handlers say that they didn't immediately notify the press that the Vice-President had shot a man while hunting because they were too busy seeing to his care:

The White House is defending its delay in disclosing Vice President Dick Cheney's weekend hunting accident, telling reporters Monday the focus was on making sure the man Cheney shot got medical attention.

Cheney was hunting quail at a friend's South Texas ranch when he shot and wounded Harry Whittington, a 78-year-old attorney from Austin and Bush-Cheney campaign contributor, about 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Whittington, who was hit with birdshot in the face, neck and upper torso, was being moved out of intensive care Monday at a hospital in Corpus Christi, officials at the facility said.

President Bush was told Saturday night that Cheney had been involved in a hunting accident, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. But Cheney's office did not acknowledge the shooting to the public until Sunday afternoon, after the family that owns the ranch told a Corpus Christi newspaper about it.

"It's important, always, to work to make sure you get information out like this as quickly as possible," McClellan said. "But it's also important to make sure that the first priority is focused where it should be, and that is making sure that Mr. Whittington has the care that he needs."

So, Scotty, are you saying that seeing to one man's medical needs is all your administration can handle? Why should we trust you with a drug plan then, much less something like the War on Terror/Iraq?

Remember when Bush was so stridently insistent that his administration could "do more than one thing at a time"?

Saying the war in Iraq was "taking up all the energy" of President Bush's foreign policy team, [Madeleine Albright] asked Mr. Bush whether he had let nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea spin out of control, and Latin America and China policy suffer by benign neglect.

"I can't let this comment stand," Mr. Bush shot back, telling Ms. Albright and the rare assembly of her colleagues, who reached back to the Kennedy White House, that his administration "can do more than one thing at a time."

And similarly on the Lehrer NewsHour?

JIM LEHRER: No, I was just going to say in that respect directly, do you have any second thoughts now about not having first eliminated Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida before taking on Saddam Hussein and Iraq?

PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I really don't because-- and I know we can do more than one thing at a time. We have got special operators and capable intelligence folks on the hunt all the time, and we've done a very good job of dismantling al-Qaida's operating structure, at least the operating structure that was in tact before September 11th, like Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shaibah, and mainly Osama bin Laden himself has not yet been brought to justice. But we dismantled al-Qaida, and they're constantly trying to reconstitute themselves and we're constantly on the hunt which is what America is going to have to do for quite a period of time.

("On the hunt," great choice of words.) So the administration can absolutely be trusted to handle these many facets of foreign policy at once, to the point that Bush "can't let this comment stand," and has to interrupt himself to say that "we can do more than one thing at a time" about intelligence operations. But expecting them to keep an eye on one man's medical condition and communicate with the press about it — what, do they look like some kind of miracle workers?