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Archive for October, 2006

That, uh, Doesn’t Sound Rosy

[ 0 ] October 26, 2006 |

This doesn’t seem like good news.

An underworld war between drug gangs is raging in Mexico, medieval in its barbarity, its foot soldiers operating with little fear of interference from the police, its scope and brutality unprecedented, even in a country accustomed to high levels of drug violence.

In recent months the violence has included a total of two dozen beheadings, a raid on a local police station by men with grenades and a bazooka, and daytime kidnappings of top law enforcement officials. At least 123 law enforcement officials, among them 2 judges and 3 prosecutors, have been gunned down or tortured to death. Five police officers were among those beheaded.

In all, the violence has claimed more than 1,700 civilian lives this year, and federal officials say the killings are on course to top the estimated 1,800 underworld killings last year. Those death tolls compare with 1,304 in 2004 and 1,080 in 2001, these officials say.

[...]

Attorney General Daniel Cabeza de Vaca said a steadily rising tide of drug addiction within Mexico had spurred some of the murders, as dealers fought for local markets. At the same time, more and more honest police officers are trying to enforce the law rather than turn a blind eye to drug traffickers, often paying with their lives, prosecutors say.

But those assessments, other authorities say, are overly rosy and may explain only part of the picture.

Wouldn’t it be great if the US didn’t insist on destroying the social fabric of our neighbors in a pointless effort to stop our citizens from buying drugs? I think that would be, like, great.

The Square Quotes of a Hack

[ 0 ] October 26, 2006 |

Yglesias has cherry-picked the best bit from this lunatic-even-by-
Victor-Davis-Hanson-standards post at the Corner (“we were lectured daily about the intricacies of Vietnamese, Russian, and Chinese Communists — their rivalries, hatreds, and quite separate aims-as they combined to defeat the United States, and trumped their own tensions with an all-encompassing hatred of Western democratic capitalism.” Damn that airtight Sino/Soviet alliance–no wonder we’re all speaking a strange Russian/Chinese hybrid today!”) But I also like this part:

I was lectured by some that there was nothing such as jihadism in the comprehensive sense. That is, that Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, etc. simply have entirely separate agendas, understandable (i.e., Israel, “occupation” of Arab lands) and particularist grievances, etc.

Leaving aside the fact that these “lectures” are of course entirely correct, it’s possible to exploit tensions between groups who share some interests and diverge in other ways, etc., is the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza supposed to be controversial? I guess we can argue about whether Israel was justified, what the borders of a two-state solution would look like, etc., but Israel’s occupation of these territories is a simple empirical fact. (I guess this an echo of Zell Miller’s insane rants about how it’s immoral to call American soldiers in Iraq “occupiers” unless George Bush is doing it, because military domination of a country for multiple years doesn’t count as an “occupation” if you’re doing it to make apple pies grow on trees or something.)

I’ve been waiting since Fall 1989 to use the term modus tollens again

[ 0 ] October 26, 2006 |

The National Review isn’t really a part of my daily routine, but the new piece by Byron York is worth a gander, if for no other reason than to get a glimpse of the hamster wheel that runs Bush’s brain:

Most of all, though, Bush said he realizes that the American people share that frustration, too. “People, most of them, are out there saying, ‘What are you doing? Get after ‘em,’” Bush said. He’s heard it himself. “I’m from Texas,” Bush continued. “My buddies are saying, are you doing enough, not are you doing too little. They want to know, are we winning. They want to know, this mighty country, are we doing what it takes to win?”

It would be fair to say that no one fully knew the answer to that question. At times during the conversation, the president seemed vexed — not beaten, not downcast, but vexed — by conditions in Iraq. Bush didn’t say so, but from his words it seemed hard to deny that in some significant measure the insurgents and the sectarian killers are in control in the country, and that the fate of the American mission is in their hands. “The frustration is that the definition of success has now gotten to be, how many innocent people are dying?” the president said. “And if there’s a lot dying, it means the enemy is winning.” He paused. “That doesn’t mean they’re winning.”

Here, if I recall Philosophy 101 properly — and I’m pretty certain I don’t — George W. Bush is applying modus tollens reasoning (by denying the consequent). Bush doesn’t complete his argument, but let’s follow the logic if we can.

(A) If there’s a lot of dying, the enemy is winning
(B) The US is not losing.
Ergo, there is not a lot of dying.

I’m starting to think that George Bush might be somewhat obtuse.

. . . SteveG explores Bush’s logic further in the comments:

It’s a question-begging definition — “making a claim true by definition by importing a highly questionable definition of a key word into one of the premises.”

I can say that there is a giant schnauzer on my desk if by “giant schnauzer” I mean computer monitor — it just isn’t what any sane person who knows the language would mean by “giant schnauzer.”

We are winning because we are winning and we know that we are winning because we are being victorious in our winning and any evidence that purports to show we are not winning is faulty because we are in fact winning (given that “winning” means whatever it is we are doing at the moment).

. . . And Matt Weiner as well:

The particular philosophical maneuver Bush is using is due to Quine, who observed that the evidence never requires you to reject any proposition; you can always save it by adjusting your auxiliary hypotheses. Or maybe to Moore, who argued (of the existence of the external world) “I am more convinced of this proposition than I could be of the premises of any argument to the contrary.”

The Coming Countermobilization Argument

[ 0 ] October 26, 2006 |

In the wake of the decision of the Supreme Court of New Jersey that same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits as heterosexual married couples (although not necessarily under the rubric of “marriage,”) we’re bound to hear a lot of speculation about how this will affect the upcoming election (which I’m sure will be forgotten should the Democrats take the House and pick up seats in the Senate.) As I have previously explained at TAP, I think the effect of these decisions is often overstated, and there’s no evidence that it matters whether it’s legislation of litigation that leads to the policy change. I also don’t think that it matters a lot whether the courts call the equal civil rights required for same-sex couples “marriage.” One thing Jack Balkin leaves out of his otherwise fine account is that while the Goodridge decision was an important issue in the 2004 elections in Massachusetts, the pro gay marriage side won. There’s no indication at this point that the policy in Massachusetts will be any less stable than the one in Vermont; both seem like one the voters of the state can live with.

Matt Yglesias also makes an important point. We can argue about whether judicial decisions that advance minority rights are good for the Democratic Party, but claims that their bad for the interests themselves are completely implausible. The important question to ask in such circumstances is “compared to what?” Gerald Rosenberg was correct in his landmark book The Hollow Hope to argue that Brown v. Board had almost no impact on school integration in the Deep South prior to the Civil Rights Act. Where I believe he is mistaken is to use this data to conclude that the courts are therefore “flypaper” that attract interest groups against their own interests. I’m sure the NAACP would have preferred a legislative solution, but the option was not on the table–the hammerlock of segregationists in the Senate meant that it couldn’t even pass anti-lynching legislation, let alone desegregate the schools. What are you going to do, lobby the Alabama legislature? Litigation wasn’t the ideal option, but it was the best option. And the same is true of gay rights litigation. The initial victories in the battle for equal rights are very likely to be won in the courts, and there’s no reason to believe that this will stop progress toward equal rights.

[Cross-posted at TAPPED.]

Foer’s Firing

[ 0 ] October 25, 2006 |

This account of Ackerman leaving TNR (ht Atrios) contains a couple interesting things (in addition to Ackerman being fired for being too shrill.) First, Foer describes what Lee Siegel (who still hasn’t been fired) did as a “first offense,” so apparently calling a distinguished academic a “pedophile” with no evidence whatsoever is perfectly acceptable. Second, TNR has to be pretty thin- skinned for being upset because someone criticizes your blogging software on a personal blog. And then, the comedic coup de gras:

Mr. Ackerman described Mr. Peretz as a foe of his leftward drift, but said he could not cite any instance in which a piece had been killed for not conforming to the boss’ politics.

“I think he’s a little bit childish,” Mr. Peretz said, speaking of Mr. Ackerman’s online work for the magazine. “He didn’t grow, in my estimation.”

Mr. Peretz said that Mr. Ackerman in a blog post had once referred to someone as a “fool.”

“I said to myself, ‘Where does a 15-year-old come off saying stuff like that?’” Mr. Peretz said.

A…fool? Somebody get the smelling salts! Anyway, I agree that if Ackerman wasn’t willing to emulate the calm, reasoned discourse of The Spine, there was no way he could be kept on…

Game 6

[ 0 ] October 25, 2006 |

Today is the 20th anniversary of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. At the time, I was a high school junior attending a journalism conference in Charlottesville, Virginia. A Red Sox fan by virtue of my father’s Massachusetts roots, I inherited all the affiliated pathologies. When the ball rolled through Buckner’s legs, I threw a chair, four or five ashtrays, and a small metal garbage can into the pool of the University Inn, where my high school newspaper and yearbook staffs were staying. I had grabbed the television set and was attempting to drag it off the hotel dresser when cooler, more sober heads intervened.

For two decades, not a day has passed in which I have neglected to feel like shit for at least two or three minutes because of this game. I don’t hold Bill Buckner responsible for this. Rather, I blame John McNamara, Calvin Schiraldi, Bob Stanley, and (most of all) God.

I still can’t watch the whole inning, even when someone cleverly reproduces it on his Ninendo:

Go Tigers!

[ 0 ] October 25, 2006 |

After seeing this, all I can say is, hopefully Suppan will get hammered tonight!

Incidentally, speaking of overrated TV, if I recall correctly, Everybody Loves Raymond was for a significant period of time a weakly-rated critic’s darling. Can anyone explain that to me? (The critical darlingness, I mean, not the weak ratings.) Not, of course, because Patricia Heaton is a right-winger–which I didn’t know until after the show was over–but because the show was, how you say, boring and unfunny.

"…a bad place to live"

[ 0 ] October 25, 2006 |

A student e-mailed me yesterday to admit that after three and a half years of endorsing the war in Iraq, he had changed his mind as of 2:00 p.m. last Wednesday. He’d read a piece in the Jerusalem Post, I believe, that somehow persuaded him once and for all that the war is no longer winnable and that the US needed to get out “as soon as possible.” It would be difficult to overstate my surprise at hearing this news. I’d encountered this fellow before he enrolled in my US and the Middle East course this semester, although he clearly doesn’t remember. A state worker in his late 40s, he is somewhat of a fixture in the community, known among other things for his occasional letters to the editor in support of the Bush administration. When our local borough assembly debated a resolution condemning the USA PATRIOT Act in the winter of 2003, he was the only person who bothered to show up in defense of the law, calling instead for a resolution in support of the troops; I testified in favor of the measure, noting that the worst excesses of the 1950s Red Scare actually occurred at the local level and not in the limelight of the House Un-American Activities Committee or the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, over which Joe McCarthy himself presided. A few months later, when I appeared on a public radio call-in program with two other academics from the Pacific Northwest, this fellow called in to excoriate us all for using our pulpits to criticize the Iraq War and the United States, where we enjoyed freedoms of speech more unlimited than any other place in human history. He was rather adamant about this, and I responded by muttering something irrelevant and condescending about the differences between the public sphere and a bar fight.

When I saw his name on my class roster this fall, I wrongly assumed I was in for more of the same. I don’t evangelize about my political views in class, though I can’t imagine it strains anyone to figure them out — and less so in a small, upper-division seminar, where I assume that students are mature enough to accept or reject arguments on their merits. Regardless, knowing what little I did about this student, I couldn’t imagine he’d take kindly to my generally unflattering narratives about the conduct of our government in a region few ordinary Americans know much about. To make a long story short, by his own accounting the course has had almost nothing to do with his abandonment of the war; he admitted that a few of the readings caused him to re-appraise some assumptions about the historical relationship between the US and Iran, but aside from that he seems to have arrived at this point independently of whatever impure, covert designs I might have had for this seminar.

I don’t know this student well enough to predict whether his support for this disastrous war will return later on in some form, but I will give him credit for offering up the best analogy I’ve yet heard for the dwindling public estimation of the Bush administration’s policies. In his note, he reminded me of the cold war slogan that no one ever sought to cross the Berlin Wall into East Germany. With this war, he wrote, “it seems like everyone is heading West,” which he thought was significant. He couldn’t think of a single person who had switched from opposition to support for the war in Iraq — instead, all he saw were people flowing in the opposite direction. Maybe, he added, those folks aren’t cowards or traitors. “Maybe they just realize that East Germany is a bad place to live.”

Why Should Anyone Ever Pay Attention to This Guy?

[ 0 ] October 25, 2006 |

I tried to avoid getting engaged in this discussion, but Totten pulls me in:

I’m glad I stopped writing about domestic politics. All this silliness reminds me of why I shouldn’t have bothered even sticking my toe in last week. I needed a break from Middle East politics, but Jeebus, at least they argue about serious things over in that part of the world. Over here (and by here I mean America, not this blog) it’s a lot of hysterical ado about nearly nothing.

and

One of my best Lebanese friends said she is extremely jealous of Americans because we get to argue about things like abortion. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Budget deficits are particularly trivial. Try living in a country where politics kills you and see what you think about budget deficits.

I wonder, is there a better example of someone trying to sound serious yet demonstrating fundamental unseriousness at the same time? If Totten had argued that he didn’t pay much attention to the politics of budget deficits because he found it boring, I’d be somewhat sympathetic, as there are certainly elements of the political and bureaucratic process that make me go to sleep. But that’s not what he’s saying. Rather, he’s arguing that none of us should pay attention to things like tax policy, abortion, budget deficits, and so forth because much more “serious” things are happening in Lebanon. Taken to its logical end, this means that no one should focus on local or state politics because federal politics are more “serious”. And, of course, it reveals that Totten is approaching the general topic of politics with all the “seriousness” of a nine year old child. His indifference to the complexity of local and domestic politics and their impact not only on the larger political scene but also on the lives of real people (especially, in the case of abortion to women) almost remind me of the ravings of a Naderite… oh, right.

Ain’t that Just Like a McCain?

[ 0 ] October 25, 2006 |

Yglesias points out this statement:

He has a long time proclivity for suggesting that someone like James Baker or Brent Scowcroft might make a good envoy to try to re-start negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Later, McCain qualifies that to say he “would appoint someone to go to the region who was well regarded: Scowcroft, Baker, Kissinger, George Mitchell, Tony Zinni, Bill Kristol, Randy Scheunemann.

Uh… right.

This statement is about as McCain as McCain can get. By suggesting envoys as far apart as George Mitchell and Bill Kristol (!!!?!), he’s letting everyone who has an interest in this question know that he’s on there side. To liberal hawks he’s a well reasoning liberal hawk. To conservorealists he’s a staunch “Poppy” Bush realist. To sociopathic neocons, he’s a raving neocon. Moreover, every reader can dismiss everyone else’s favorite choice as electoral posturing. Heck, he might as well toss James Dobson and Noam Chomsky on the list so that he can get full coverage of the political spectrum.

Why can’t people see through this guy? He’s as transparent as glass.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

Victor Speaks

[ 0 ] October 24, 2006 |

Shorter Victor Davis Hansen Hanson:

Arabs are ungrateful, hypocritical parasites — just look at how they use cell phones and television and iPods and medicine to further their evil vision. The fact that we don’t blame them for all the deaths The Lancet overestimated in the first place only shows how deserving they are of our scorn. As idealists, we ought nevertheless to continue believing that we can “birth consensual government” for these people, for whom I have nothing but contempt.

. . . and from Hanson’s commenters, this gem of historical analysis from someone who claims to be a teacher of some sort:

Professor, I have read many of your books, a resource I use often in my classes. However, you and I both know the real problem with the Middle East. They haven’t ever tasted defeat, not in a way that European powers have. For a millenium, they have been beaten by the West, but have never faced the wages of their defeats. They have never (save for the Mongols in 1258) had a Dresden, Tenchtitlan, or Hiroshima.

Thus, they can live in their adolscence, pursuing dreams that an adult population would never contemplate. They can really believe that some day the caliphate will return, and even worse, that the one society they hate, the one with the true means to destroy them, will not act.

When they truly know the wages of their sins, as Germany and Japan found out in 1945, then I believe we will see the great changes we all hope can be accomplished without.

Funny. This is more or less how I feel about the Confederacy.

The Center of a Meeting of Country-Club Republican Imperialists

[ 0 ] October 24, 2006 |

Via alicublog, Michael Totten proposes some “centrists” who won’t simply recycle hack talking points. The results are predictably hilarious:

Ann Althouse
Andrew Sullivan
Jeff Jarvis
Matt Welch
Armed Liberal
Megan McArdle
Dean Esmay

Oh, yeah, Ann Althouse–if there’s anything T.V. needs, it’s more right-wingers obsessed with meaningless personality trivia, especially about the Clenis! (I think you can see why Totten–who voted for Ralph Nader (!) because Al Gore was a “blowhard”–would find La Althouse appealing.) What’s particularly striking is that, whether good or bad, more or less Republican hacks, all of these bloggers (well, I don’t know much about “Armed Liberal’s” domestic politics; I have no interest in wading past the highly non-centrist nonsense about how American academics caused 9/11) tend to represent the pro-war/staunchly economically conservative/nominally socially liberal elite consensus that is already grossly overrepresented in the media.

But, of course, the best one is Dean Esmay. Whatever label you choose to attach to, say, crackpot HIV denialism, or believing that anyone who doesn’t think Michael Moore is a fascist is unpatriotic, “centrist” doesn’t really work.

But there’s an explanation. Let’s remember my favorite Esmay quote, “I still believe that George W. Bush was the only progressive liberal running for President in 2000.” If George Bush is a “progressive liberal,” then it’s plausible to argue that Megan McArdle and Glenn Reynolds are “centrists.” Earlier, I think Roy identified the purpose behind this silly exercise of defining reactionaries as non-partisan moderates:

I used to think that Althouse, the Perfesser, and other conservatives denied their orientation because they were ashamed of it, but time has proven that they are strangers to shame. My current operating analysis is that they’re attempting to normalize wing-nuttery — that is, if a popular writer can be identified as “not partisan” though 95% of what he professes is right-wing boilerplate, folks who are new in town may take that to mean that ordinary, untainted-by-politics people are supposed to believe exactly what right-wing political operatives believe.

It’s nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you lie.

…oh, I had forgtten about this. The unfailingly moderate and centrist Dean Esmay on reporters who uncover illegal activities by the American government: “we should then hang them by the neck until the are dead, dead, dead.” Who else is on Totten’s centrist list, Michael Savage?

…and I should note that I am not saying all these people are wingnuts, or have bad blogs. Welch is not a Republican hack and does interesting work, AI is a perfectly good blog if you’re into complacent conservertarianism, Sullivan can write. But a list of “centrists” this ain’t.

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