A Rock in Turbulent Times: Here's Andrew Sullivan on television a week ago, answering Chris Matthews' question about the Iraq elections:
MATTHEWS: Define success.
Mr. SULLIVAN: Success is 80 percent turnout in--in most of the regions, extremely enthusiastic voting among the Kurds and the Shias, and better than expected among the Sunnis.
Here's Sullivan yesterday on his blog:
Here are my criteria: over 50 percent turnout among the Shia and Kurds, and over 30 percent turnout for the Sunnis. No massive disruption of voting places; no theft of ballots. Fewer than 500 murdered. Any other suggestions for relevant criteria? Am I asking too much? I'm just thinking out loud.
My revised criteria: 45 percent turnout for Kurds and Shia, 25 percent turnout for the Sunnis, under 200 murdered. No immediate call for U.S. withdrawal. [Emphases added]
Monday, January 31, 2005
Sunday, January 30, 2005
I think the anti-war left's failure to believe in democracy is a greater failing than the pro-war right's failure to grapple with some of the serious failings of the endeavor. But I hope today that everyone, whatever their view of the war or occupation, can rejoice in the defeat of evil and terror. It's truly inspiring.
So opposing an unjustified war that has put the U.S. in greater danger means that people like me don't believe in democracy? One trait I can't stand about Andrew Sullivan is that his positions are all over the place so that he can hedge his bets. He has been as hard on Bush/Rumsfeld these past months as anyone else, yet one encouraging day at the polls puts him back in "told you so" mode. You know what, you can't have it both ways. The war was wrong, Andrew, and sometimes your better angel convinces you of this. What happened in Iraq today was a turning point from a disaster to a more promising future, but that future still needs to be salvaged from a very deep and regrettable quagmire.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
Ukrainians did it for themselves. With a little help from their friends, to be sure. But whatever the role of western support, this was the Ukrainians' own idea, and the people I met on the ground taking risks for democracy, in the freezing camps of Kiev's tent city and on Independence Square, were Ukrainians.
CLEVELAND -- Joining the animated fray, the United Church of Christ today (Jan. 24) said that Jesus' message of extravagant welcome extends to all, including SpongeBob Squarepants - the cartoon character that has come under fire for allegedly holding hands with a starfish.
Everyone knew that social conservatives were emboldened after helping to win the last election, but who knew they were willing to become laughingstocks. I never realized that "doing the right thing" sometimes means standing up for a cartoon sponge and his gay starfish, but so be it.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Monday, January 24, 2005
Friday, January 21, 2005
It was a foreign-policy speech. To the extent our foreign policy is marked by a division that has been (crudely but serviceably) defined as a division between moralists and realists--the moralists taken with a romantic longing to carry democracy and justice to foreign fields, the realists motivated by what might be called cynicism and an acknowledgment of the limits of governmental power--President Bush sided strongly with the moralists, which was not a surprise.
A rose by any other name, Peggy. I still pick the reality-based one.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
Funnily enough, the one country on this side of the ocean that would have elected Mr. Bush is not in Europe, but the Middle East: it's Iran, where many young people apparently hunger for Mr. Bush to remove their despotic leaders, the way he did in Iraq.
An Oxford student who had just returned from research in Iran told me that young Iranians were "loving anything their government hates," such as Mr. Bush, "and hating anything their government loves." Tehran is festooned in "Down With America" graffiti, the student said, but when he tried to take pictures of it, the Iranian students he was with urged him not to. They said it was just put there by their government and was not how most Iranians felt.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
1) Should the U.S. take military action against Iran?
2) Should the Pentagon be able to conduct military activities without congressional oversight?
Of course, some will answer 'yes' to both or 'no' to both, but I think a surprising number of people would answer 'yes' to 1 and 'no' to 2.
2) I have a new email address for the website, firstname.lastname@example.org, so send any of the suggestions from above to this address.
Under Rumsfeld’s new approach, I was told, U.S. military operatives would be permitted to pose abroad as corrupt foreign businessmen seeking to buy contraband items that could be used in nuclear-weapons systems. In some cases, according to the Pentagon advisers, local citizens could be recruited and asked to join up with guerrillas or terrorists.
If this really is a developing plan, it's amazing that inside sources would be open about this with a journalist. I have always marvelled at Hersh's ability to get inside information, but the flip side of the coin, as people like Robert Baer and Michael Scheuer have pointed out, is that U.S. intelligence is quite leaky.
Sunday, January 16, 2005
Woods in Winter
Friday, January 14, 2005
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the suspension of all contacts with the Palestinian Authority on Friday, following an attack by Palestinian gunmen that killed six Israelis civilians, Israeli officials said...The Karni attack, and Israel's response, follow the election of Mahmoud Abbas as the new president of the Palestinian Authority, and observers speculated that the attack was intended as a challenge to show Abbas that he cannot control militants in Gaza...Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said he got a call from Sharon's office. He said he asked the Israelis not to suspend contacts. "You cannot hold Mahmoud Abbas accountable when he hasn't even been inaugurated yet," he said.
This is pretty unbelievable. Like I said above, Abbas is judged according to the actions of a few people who are not even necessarily loyal to him. In fact, the attack was likely mounted as a challenge to his ascension. So what is the benefit of cutting off contacts with him? Sure, he will issue a denunciation and communication will resume, but Israel acting like this only weakens the Palestinian Authority (which, contrary to what some might say, is not good for Israel).
Thursday, January 13, 2005
No one wants to be head of the Democratic National Committee. This is bad but understandable. A fractious party has been further fractured by a hard year...You need someone who makes the Democratic Party look nonsleazy, nonmanipulative and nonweak on TV.
So no one wants to be DNC chairman? Noonan goes on to say that Dean is neither moderate nor "normal-seeming." No one has been as mischaracterized by the media, at the behest of the conservatives, as Dean has; not since, well, Kerry or Gore.
But more Noonan:
The Groups--all the left-wing outfits from the abortion people to the enviros--didn't deliver in the last election, and not because they didn't try. They worked their hearts out. But they had no one to deliver. They had only money. The secret: Nobody likes them. Nobody! No matter how you feel about abortion, no one likes pro-abortion fanatics; no one likes mad scientists who cook environmental data. Or rather only rich and creepy people like them.
Hmm, where did all that money come from? Did the Dems and peripheral organizations like MoveOn raise a record number of money despite every single human despising them? And as far as "mad scientists," I think Noonan has been reading too much Michael Crichton propoganda.
Q Since we're not going to see you tomorrow, can I ask to look a little bit --
MR. McCLELLAN: You're not going on the trip?
Q No. Well, we're not going to see you on camera tomorrow. The inaugural --
MR. McCLELLAN: Is that a promise? (Laughter.)
Q Well, last time we went to Florida for an education event -- (laughter.)
At the urging of the White House, Congressional leaders scrapped a legislative measure last month that would have imposed new restrictions on the use of extreme interrogation measures by American intelligence officers, Congressional officials say...The Senate had approved the new restrictions, by a 96-to-2 vote, as part of the intelligence reform legislation. They would have explicitly extended to intelligence officers a prohibition against torture or inhumane treatment, and would have required the C.I.A. as well as the Pentagon to report to Congress about the methods they were using.
From today's press briefing:
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has made very clear what our policy is, and he expects the policy to be followed. The policy is to comply with our laws and with our treaty obligations. The criminal statutes of the United States specifically talk about -- you bring up an issue about people outside the United States -- the criminal statute of the United States specifically says that -- or imposes criminal penalties on "whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture." So there are already laws on the book that address this issue.
That's why I said that their provision -- or the provision in this legislation is something that we viewed as not necessary because it's already addressed in international treaties, in our laws, and in the Defense Authorization Act.
Q What legal protections shouldn't those prisoners have in the President's view?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just made very clear what our view is when it comes to the treatment of detainees.
I think his real logic is "we're already incriminated, so why make more laws to incriminate us further?"
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Steve Clemons of The Washington Note, who had chaired the gathering at which Scowcroft spoke, quickly took issue and demanded a correction. Steve's issue was about more than merely a misquote, as he believed that imminent is a more forceful, and perhaps fatalistic, term than incipient; in other words, Steve was calling it blatant mischaracterization.
Well, the comment threads started filling up pretty fast. Here was my contribution, though I was admittedly unsure:
I don't agree with Bertignac's characterization of Scowcroft, but I do have to say that 'imminent' would probably have been more of a cautionary word than 'incipient,' as the Cambridge dictionary lists 'imminent' as meaning "coming or likely to happen" while 'incipient' means "beginning."
Incipient: 1. Beginning; commencing; coming into, or in an early stage of, existence; in an initial stage.
That is from the OED. The definitions from both Cambridge and Oxford certainly make 'incipient' sound less cautionary than 'imminent'. Scowcroft would be suggesting that the Iraq Civil War had begun, rather than suggesting that there was a danger of civil war as was his intention. On the other hand, 'imminent' is usually used in a point-of-no-return sense, so using either word is quite strong in this case.
So, I understood that Scowcroft was warning of the danger of civil war, but I took issue with Steve's interpretation of imminent being a harsher assessment. Another commenter then assured me that in oncology and war incipient has a special meaning:
In warfare (much like in oncology), "incipient" has the special connotation of the formation or presence of detectable precursors or conditions precedent, perhaps bounded by embryonic initializing at the latest. In any event, it implies advance warning, and that the potential event or outcome may or may not materialize.
That seemed to satisfy most people, but then a particularly grumpy David Frum awoke:
Clemons accuses me of accidentally or purposely sensationalizing Scowcroft by substituting the word “imminent” for the word “incipient” in my paraphrase. You might think that’s a rather flimsy basis on which to build 500 words of scolding and sneering. But look again at those dictionary entries that Clemons pasted into his piece, and you’ll see the truth is rather more embarrassing for him even than that, which is that Clemons jumbled the meaning of the two words he lectured me on. Even with a dictionary open in front of him, he still managed to tumble down the linguistic stairs and end up, as the saying goes, with his head where his tail should be, thus:
The word “imminent” in English describes something that is about to happen. The word “incipient” describes something that actually has commenced
Frum went on to be quite rude to Clemons and Sully. Even Josh Marshall looked up from his Social Security crusade to take note.
Steve consents to leave the debate up to the linguists, but ends with a mightily painful jab for Frum.
Where do we stand now? I thought incipient meant something like "early" or "embryonic" (and Steve assures me that his significant other agrees), but if we can find some oncologists who will attest to this special meaning then I am open to being convinced. And I am already convinced that Frum is a dick.
We also see the mark of character, or lack of it, in political parties. The Republican Party today is characterized by a mission to defeat terror while exporting freedom abroad, and a policy to restrain taxes while increasing social spending at home...The G.O.P. personality will split in a couple of years, as all huge majorities do in America. Idealistic neocons will be challenged by plodding, pragmatic paleocons, who, by fuzzing the party's present character, will someday lead it down the road to defeat.
First of all, I think he's dead-on that the G.O.P., and American conservatism in general, are going to undergo a major internal crisis during this next term. However, I don't believe that the "idealistic neocons" are going to be simply dragged down by the paleocons, but rather by a combination of their own naivete and hubris. You can see Safire predicting the downfall of the neocons and trying to ready an explanation that will put the blame on a simple inability to get others on board with their agenda.
If I were starting out in politics or its commentary today, I'd become a Democrat. That's because the party now is six disconsolate characters in search of an author.
Adlai Stevenson called 1952 Republicans "out of patience, out of sorts and out of office." That tight shoe now fits liberals, who have been drifting toward isolationism abroad and fiscal conservatism at home, which for Democrats is out of character. The spirit of Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson is needed to return the party to ideological consistency: interventionist at home and abroad.
He makes some cheap shots about the pathetic nature of the Dems and says that they are "bantam-weight," but he is right that the party would do well to remember the spirit of Scoop Jackson, and not to eschew the late Senator simply because his proteges are failures.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
A rightwing Christian group last night vowed to step up the campaign against the BBC after its screening of Jerry Springer - The Opera as details emerged of how a small number of determined activists was largely responsible for the biggest-ever protest against the broadcaster.
Remind you of anything?
What is not the case, however, is that this is an example of liberal media bias. One thing that conservatives are good at is crowing louder than anyone else, and so of the many journalism scandals of the past years, it is the ones from supposedly liberal outlets that garner big headlines. Nothing pleases conservatives more than seeing their favorite targets crash and burn, and being able to paint any mistakes as examples of liberal bias is a bonus. It's not just the double-standard itself that is worrying, but the eventual ramifications of that standard: media outlets towing the conservative line.
What Rather and Company are guilty of is rushing for a big election-time scoop, not a partisan hack-job.
Monday, January 10, 2005
What is real petty criticism is bashing Chuck Simmins, a blogger with a small but growing readership...Chuck, in his career as a fireman and EMT has put his life on the line, many times, for his fellow man. Can the disgusted Gabriel say that? I doubt it...The US is there [in South Asia] now and will be in 6 months. Long after Gabriel’s attention has shifted to the impending extinction of the South American rhino weasel, or whatever.
This kind of bat-shit crazy talk is like the holy grail for me, and it's hard to explain how excited I am about it. Just when I thought our nutty exchange was over, "anonymous" comes along and makes my day. Anonymous indeed.
Sandra Bullock gave $1 million, Spielberg $1.5 million, Linkin Park $100,000, Ozzie and Sharon Osbourne $190,000, Leonardo DiCaprio an undisclosed sum... don't hold your breath waiting for more. A bunch of Asian stars have made donations in their own region. Lots of musicians are holding fund raising concerts. But, I just listed all the donations.
Google is bare, beyond bare.
Where are the liberals? Or don't poor brown people half a planet away matter? Soros, and the other who gave tens of millions to defeat George Bush and yet not a penny for this, a far more worthy cause. Where are the screaming horses from MoveOn, the Deaniacs, the folks from ANSWER?
Nowhere to be found. The silence on the left is profound.
In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, when many Americans were asking that the government give more than $15 million, some conservatives such as David Brooks couldn't help themselves and lashed out at these comments as being liberal politicization of the tragedy. Now this blogger and Glenn Reynolds are going even further and suggesting that liberals don't care about the tragedy. I couldn't care less what the anonymous blogger above thinks, but Reynolds is supposedly the preeminent conservative blogger in the US, and this is what he comes up with. Talk about an obscene politicization of tragedy.
Sunday, January 09, 2005
How does one determine what is reasonable? By in effect taking a statistical average of the community's standards. Early Pragmatists were deeply enamored with statistical techniques like the law of errors, which held — sorta kinda — that you could find the true answer to a problem by averaging out the wrong answers.
So Pragmatism in this sense is seen as a stripping away of "metaphysical irrelevancies," and in their place creating law based on the common, or average, man's standards. In such a way, there would be no need and no place in the law for talk of morality or for overly sentimental criteria. As Goldberg quotes Holmes saying, "A man may have as bad a heart as he chooses, if his conduct is within the rules." The epitome of this reasonable man doctrine is the trial jury, where a defendant is supposedly being judged by a representative sample of the community who are, by Holmes's statistically-inclined thinking, themselves representing the community's standards.
Jonah's objections, roughly, seem to be the following:
1) The reasonable man doctrine leads to "corrosion," so that eventually it is the fringes of society that are defended at all costs regardless of where the common man stands.
2) Law should be based on what is right and wrong, not on what is efficient.
Jonah is eloquent and thoughtful in his arguments for both points, particularly the second. If there are only utilitarian underpinnings for a society's laws, rather than learning any sense of right or wrong people merely learn to "play the odds" with regard to the law, i.e. to see what you can get away with. The question is how we agree on right and wrong, and Jonah's conclusion that the law is not value-free and that the only question is "which values will triumph" suggests that his piece is simply a long-winded reminder that this is a culture war.
He is less convincing on the first point and never really explains his fatalistic attitude about the corrosion of the reasonable man doctrine. His description of the mainstream having to bow to the fringes of society is typical of the conservative reaction to the gay rights movement, and I think he actually gets the weakness of the reasonable man doctrine completely wrong: if this doctrine were always upheld, would integration have ever occurred in the South? The reasonable man doctrine is precisely not overly concerned with outliers. In other words, Pragmatism in law doesn't exactly look out for the fringes of society.
The other weakness of using statistics in law, which Goldberg seems to miss in his critique, is that it is not the most helpful technique in a country that is neatly polarized on key issues. If 50% support the availability of legal abortion and 50% oppose abortion, who is the reasonable man? Where does the compromise lie?
I have my own problems with Pragmatism. On a general note, it seems like an excuse to let religion back into serious philosophy (which I think was precisely William James's goal), though that has little bearing here on Holmes and legal theory. As far as creating a society's laws, I find the Rawlsian approach to be the most persuasive, especially the veil of ignorance. It basically poses the hypothetical question of what kind of society you would create if you had no idea what role you would play in that society. Rawls argues that fairness would be your priority when constructing a justice system, as you would want good opportunities regardless of the lot in life into which you were born.
Goldberg once dismissed Rawlsians as people who prioritized fairness over freedom, but I think he misses the crucial point that for a good majority of people -- especially on the lower ends of society -- fairness is a kind of freedom. Julian Baggini not long ago argued that conservatives fail to see that there are two types of freedom, negative and positive. The libertarian strain of conservatism really only recognizes the first.
Senator Bill Frist, a medical doctor, instructing Red Cross volunteers in Sri Lanka on how to purify water using chlorine tablets. This is the same medical doctor who recently told George Stephanopolous that you can contract AIDS through sweat and tears, so I'm not sure he should be instructing volunteers in anything. While touring areas destroyed by the tsunami, Frist posed for some pictures and told photographers to "get some devastation in back."
Saturday, January 08, 2005
Williams called criticism of his relationship with the department "legitimate."
"It's a fine line," he told The Associated Press on Friday. "Even though I'm not a journalist -- I'm a commentator -- I feel I should be held to the media ethics standard. My judgment was not the best. I wouldn't do it again, and I learned from it."
Having said that, he doesn't intend to give the nearly quarter of a million dollars of taxpayer money back anytime soon. I'm pretty sure that that call won't be his, and that some Department of Education officials need to go down with him. It's not only Democrats who are rightly noting that the whole thing stinks and needs to be investigated. Here's Jonah, a voice of reason on the right:
I think it was stupid and unacceptable for the Administration to give him the money. If the Clinton Administration had been paying off liberal pundits to promote his policies we would have gone batty, and rightly so. A better explanation is required. The whole thing seems gross to me.
The comparisons with Soviet media are apt. By the way, my favorite article on the Williams affair is from Howie; his piece is infinitely more amusing when you make your way through this.
Oh, and speaking of people who need to return things like really soon, do the right thing, Minky.
Friday, January 07, 2005
Kerry Trashes Bush in Baghdad
Visiting with U.S. troops in Baghdad on Thursday, failed presidential candidate John Kerry trashed Commander-in-chief George Bush for making "horrendous judgments" and "unbelievable blunders" that have undermined the war effort.
In a series of demoralizing comments first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the defeated Democrat griped, "What is sad about what's happening here now is that so much of it is a process of catching up from the enormous miscalculations and wrong judgments made in the beginning."
Let's take another look, this time from the Chronicle's original article:
Kerry cheered in Baghdad, decries Bush team's 'blunders'
Once criticized for war stance, he says force alone won't win
Kerry, who repeatedly charged during the presidential campaign that President Bush had botched the war effort, was greeted warmly by U.S. soldiers in Baghdad...U.S. soldiers approached Kerry inside the restaurant of the Rashid Hotel, asking him to pose for photographs and sign T-shirts. The star-struck restaurant manager insisted on serving Kerry the restaurant's specialty, a plate of grilled chicken and lamb.
I won't keep picking on such easy targets as Coulter, Little Green Footalls, and NewsMax, but they are worth periodically checking out for a comic diversion.
Thursday, January 06, 2005
The bow-tied wearing conservative pundit got into a public tussle last fall with comic Jon Stewart, who has been critical of cable political programs that devolve into shoutfests.
"I guess I come down more firmly in the Jon Stewart camp," [CNN chief executive Jonathan] Klein told The Associated Press.
Jon Stewart, folk hero. And good for CNN for doing this.
And has some enterprising reporter asked Sen. Patty Murray what she thinks about the U.S.'s efforts on the tsunami? How about compared to famed philanthropist Osama bin Laden?
In December 2002, Murray was extolling Osama bin Laden's good works in the Middle East, informing a classroom of students: "He's been out in these countries for decades building roads, building schools, building infrastructure, building day-care facilities, building health-care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. It made their lives better." What does Murray say about bin Laden's charity toward the (mostly Muslim) tsunami victims?
It's amazing that conservatives are still trying to get some traction out of this lie. Patty Murray was saying that it is crucial to find out why bin Laden is so popular in much of the Muslim world, as U.S. attempts to crush al-Qaeda need to take these questions into consideration. Does Coulter understand what extol means? Any serious student of al-Qaeda and the war on terror would be asking the same question Murray was asking.
"I’m thinking about putting up a reward on my Web page for any liberal who will mention either Afghanistan or the Kurds," she said. "I mean, 85 percent of Iraq is free, it’s beautiful—we have about 300 troops patrolling the entire Kurdish area. These poor beleaguered Kurds are free, are happy, are dancing in the streets, and liberals simply won’t mention them. I certainly thought Afghanistan was going to be a tougher nut to crack than Iraq—the Russians couldn’t take Afghanistan! They’ve basically been at war for a hundred years—even when nobody’s there, they’re at war with one another. We took Afghanistan in a month, and now they’ve had elections and women vote, and they didn’t vote for some crazy lunatic mullahs. So that’s a pretty good year."
During this "good year," the head of the CIA's bin Laden unit published a book called Imperial Hubris, and let's see what he thought about the U.S. tactics in Afghanistan 2001-2004:
Ignoring reality, Secretary Rumsfeld -- with the Taleban and al Qaeda intact, Karzai's writ fading, and guerilla warfare flaring -- went to Kabul in May, 2003 to declare victory. Mr. Rumsfeld, to be charitable, is ill-informed; America's Afghan war is still in its infancy.
Sadly, firsthand experience [of previous wars in Afghanistan] and sage advice were ignored. In the face of this reality, U.S. government leaders, generals, media, and experts nonetheless have spoken as if our endeavors had brought forth a budding mini-America in Afghanistan.
As noted in Chapter 2, the conduct of the Afghan war approaches perfection -- in the sense of perfectly inept.
If Coulter wants to argue that the situation in Afghanistan is better than we could have hoped, fine; but to suggest that our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq have been so positive as to be beyond criticism is nuts. So what's the reward she's offering, I wonder?
While we're at it, here are a few more gems from the Observer interview:
The Iraqi people didn’t seem to have that great a Christmas.
"That’s right! But they’ll be opening Christmas presents soon enough," she said. "And then they’ll be happy. We’ll see, but things are going pretty well, and in most cases better than expected. We’re going to transform the Middle East by the time Bush leaves office, or it will be within shouting distance of there. I think Arabs flying planes into our skyscrapers will be as likely as a Japanese kamikaze pilot."
Yep, that's our real goal: get Iraqis to celebrate Christmas.
"I’m getting a little fed up with hearing about, oh, civilian casualties. I think we ought to nuke North Korea right now just to give the rest of the world a warning."
Nuke North Korea?
"Right—and this is tied to my point that, in Iraq, let the Marines do their job. There may be some civilian casualties—that’s known as war. Americans can live with that. And when did we become the guardian of the world to prevent all civilian casualties, ever—how about our civilians?"
What should we remember about Bill Clinton?
"Well, he was a very good rapist. I think that should not be forgotten."
"Eighty-five percent of Seattle residents get some exercise every month, and that's a really significant thing," Boulton said. The city's jittery love affair with espresso might fuel some of that activity, he noted: "There's not only a lot of it, it's pretty darn strong."
Are you sure it's not because of all the grunge we listen to?