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?