Friday, June 30, 2006

All In The Mind III - The Carnival of the Psychosphere

The new carnival is up. I didn't contribute this time, for which I am heartily ashamed.

No One Is Minding The Store

I will likely be returning to this idea of diffuse power over the next few days - or weeks - as it is new and enchanting to me. I have browsed into similar ideas before, but this variation has shown considerable explanatory power for events that were puzzling.

Short version: no one is running the world. The 60's fantasy of trying to figure out who is behind it all - and the idea that it was the phone company was pretty funny - of tracing the military-industrial complex, blaming Nixon, or otherwise speculating who had the power to move society, is completely off reality. Even the modified version, of multinational corporations, advertising, Big Oil, Microsoft, etc is wildly exagerrated. Because people feel powerless, they speculate that Someone Else must have the power to do things. There is no danger of American fascism, or theocracy, or empire. Even if there were a determined collection of the rich and powerful who somehow decided to act cooperatively for evil, it wouldn't change things much. The types of power are too varied, and overall power simply too diffuse, for them to have much effect. Worry about something else.

As interested as I am in political events, I have long maintained that what happens at that level is almost never the strong force in making your life what it is. The births, marriages, and deaths of friends and family have far greater impact. Health, employment, finances, and how well your relationships are going all have more effect on you. Government is more like the weather. Though it affects all of us in common, it is usually in minor ways. Occasionally, a major negative event in government or weather will overwhelm all other events, but this is rare.

Even the most politically obsessed person, unless his job is dependent on an election, is not going to think of national events when asked "How's it going?" On a particularly contentious issue, or right at election time, some few might answer for a day or two "I'm really very depressed about this Supreme Court thing."

While everyone's job is affected by the government in some way, it is only rarely the determining factor in business prospects or job satisfaction.

Conservatives can get just as bent about this as liberals. Whether the Ten Commandments are posted in a courtroom, even the courtroom you work in every day, is not going to have a measurable effect on your life. Even if the worst fears of the anti-Gay Rights crowd are true, and sexual orientation is malleable at young ages and the gays are just recruiting, one Gay Pride parade is not going to change much of anything.

This is not to say that we shouldn't stand up for what we believe and try to influence events in the way that we want. In fact, it's an encouragement to do that, because there isn't some enormous force working against you to keep you down; do your bit. You do have influence, though you don't perceive it. But all the "bigs" that are running things - Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Labor, Big Tobacco, Multinational Corporations, the teacher's unions, the Religious Right, Big Media, Alternative Media, Oprah, Microsoft - they can't all be big, right? In extreme circumstances, under extreme autocracies or oligarchies, a few people do wield enormous power. That's rare. The way the US is structured, it's never going to happen. Other bad things may happen, but not that.

More to follow.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Survival of Western Culture

Jerry Bowyer over at Tech Central Station, has an interesting article abour the survival of Western Culture entitled The Renewal of the West. He takes as a jumping-off point Pat Buchanan's comment that if the ideals of Madison and Jefferson survived another 200 years in America, but by that time most Americans were brown and yellow and black, it would be a "disaster and a tragedy."

Buchanan is just nuts on this point. If I get brought to the future, see an America with few white people, but the citizens are largely Christian, market-believing, eccentrics who like reading to their children (or whatever the equivalent is then), I'm just tickled pink. Or brown. I might have some curiosity what my own legacy was, and where my descendants are, but if some genealogical tracer-bot identifies "those two brown families over there are part you," I'm fine with that. If one of them is wearing a Hawaiian shirt or is very big on C. S. Lewis, my life is complete.

One of the reasons why I care so little for preserving "the environment" according to some artificial standard that bobos have left over from their stays at summer camp, it's because I value the other legacy - the legacy of ideas - so much more.

Diffuse Power

Wandering over to comment on some left-leaning blogs, I was puzzled yet again by the accusations of tyranny, of fascism, and of the new pet phrase Unitary Authority, referring to Bush, of course. This rhetoric is so common on the left, with frequent mentions of how the Republicans "control" all branches of government, worries of imposed theocracy, and fear of multinational corporations (or "corporate interests").

Conservatives see this as merely bizarre, that anyone could think that Chavez, the Saddam of yore, and Bush differ in national authority only in small degree. Liberals think conservatives blind for not seeing it. It is for this reason that protestations that the left is being paranoid and hyperbolic fall on deaf ears. They really believe that a president wields enormous power, and any move by the Bush administration to assert authority in an unclear area is an attempt to capture that last few percentage points of power and bring us close to autocracy.

Power is quite diffuse in American society. The power of a president, or a Supreme Court Justice, or a Senator is much less than - I suspect - liberals know. The TV news likes to use phrases such as "the most powerful leader in the world," but that gives a very false impression. There are many kinds of power, and many players in the game. There is power to do as one pleases, there is power to influence, there is power to be left alone; cultural power, financial power, political power, military power. Bush is limited in his power not because of the unceasing efforts of progressives fighting brilliant rearguard actions, but because of the basic structure of American society. No one has that much power, and none of us are without some power.

Libertarians understand this better than conservatives, conservatives better than liberals. I wish I could penetrate why this is. Small businessmen perhaps have a realistic understand of the contradiction between having great freedom and limited power. It is hard to influence others, hard to make the world work the way you would like it. Government employees, on the other hand, may see themselves as powerless to change top-down authority, and see politics as working in much the same way. They may believe that some few get to tell others what to do, and the trick is to become one of the few, or band together to push one of the few around. Perhaps this is particularly strong in African-American and other minority communities, which believe that only by banding together do they have any power at all.

Bringing up children teaches both the hugeness and limitation of individual power; multiple children even more. I have had enormous influence on my sons - but they are who they are and they go their own way. And they in turn have influenced me, from their earliest days.

Do liberals feel personally powerless? Or more subtly, do they believe they have a measure of control over their destiny but the great mass of American society does not (the rubes)? They believe advertising drives purchasing more than personal choice. This would go some way to explaining why they believe that elections are stolen from them or that Darth Rove tricks the public.

If they believe that some few pull most of the strings, it would explain their paranoid reactions to the normal ebb and flow, checks and balances of political life. As I'm writing off the top of my head here, I welcome comments to help clarify this.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Where's The Study?

Via Pajamas Media, the headline suggests that there's a new study about Immaturity In Adults. I read the article. Where's the study? Some guy has an opinion that adult immaturity is increasing. He's probably correct in his observations. But no data, no study.

Do people at Discovery not know what the word means?

That Religious Left That Doesn't Exist


The Great Karnak Knows Without Reading

Randall Balmer has an essay in the most recent Chronicle of Higher Education entitled Jesus Is Not A Republican.

Balmer is a professor of religious history at Barnard College. The Assistant Village Idiot puts his fingers to his temples and makes some guesses: (Full disclosure: I read the opening one-sentence blurb, so I did see the phrase “drunk on power.” Therefore I made no predictions about what would be written about that, figuring I had an unfair hint.)

Scoring is in bold type.

1. Balmer will use black-and-white rhetoric to decry the black-and-white thinking of the Religious Right. Their approaches will not be criticized for being unwise or inadequate, they will be condemned as completely without merit. Other sides to any religious argument will simply not exist, because he knows the Bible better than you. Arggh! I missed one right at the beginning: raised as an evangelical. Minus 1 point Otherwise, perfect score (The Bible I read…) 9 out of 10
1A. Oh, and we’re closed-minded, too. Perfect 3 bonus points

2. Ballmer will note that God loves the poor. Therefore, we know the Religious Right has perverted the gospel, because they are in favor of cutting the poor off without a farthing. There will be no mention in Ballmer of what conservative evangelicals want to do for the poor, because it is so obviously a sham that it doesn’t bear mentioning. The RR doesn't want to do what the liberals want, therefore they don't care about the poor. Too easy. 10 out of 10
2A. He will believe every liberal spin of economic statistics as if they are unassailable. Tax cuts for the rich and corporate greed will both be mentioned at least twice each. This will prove that the Religious Right hates the poor. Perfect 3 bonus points

3. He will complain how today’s public Christians are rotten, not like the Christians in the Good Old Days when he was a boy, and were involved with the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war protests. I was pretty much wrong on this one. There are only hints with the McGovern reference. 1 out of 10 points. Ouch
3A. The 50-50 chance of mentioning the abolitionists will rise to 90-10 because he’s a religious history professor. “City on a Hill” will be mentioned. perfect 3 bonus points

4. He will explain that the war in Iraq is unjust because it doesn’t adhere to “just war” doctrine, by which he will mean “We didn’t get final approval from the UN.” The extended examinations of Just War doctrine by other Christians who reached different conclusions, such as over at First Things, will not be mentioned. Conveniently, they won’t have to be refuted, either. “…would not meet even the barest of just war criteria…” Score! He doesn’t mention the UN (I suspect it’s in his head though), which keeps me off full credit. 8 out of 10 points

5. We will learn that he has a book coming out. Being published in a Respectable Magazine, getting paid for having a captive college audience for his ideas, and having a book published will not alter his claim that the Religious Right unfairly dominates the public religious discourse. Dead on.Perfect 10 out of 10

6. Ruining the environment for corporate interests – what the rest of us would call “jobs” – will be mentioned in vague terms 4-7 times. The terms will be vague because he doesn’t really know much science. But he knows we’re ruining the environment. He mentions it a lot in one paragraph, but I don’t think that’s the same as 4-7 times. 5 out of 10 points.

7. He will start and end his essay in kindly language that has the condescension buried quite deep. More full-throated sneering will occur in the body of the essay.The disdain isn’t well buried at the beginning and end: “minions of the right” in the second paragraph and “…not even Karl Rove and James Dobson lie beyond the reach of redemption.” In the second-to-last. But the middle does have even more intense sneering. The obligation to the poor has not trickled down (sneer) into public policy. “their machinery of vilification strikes with ruthless, dispassionate efficiency.” 9 out of 10 points.

8. Balmer will hate abortion, but not enough to do anything about it. I mean, he really, really hates it, like you just don't know how much he hates it, but that doesn't mean we should do anything except look sad. "I have no interest in making abortion illegal; I would like to make it unthinkable." Really? Does he want to apply that persuasion-only approach to poverty, war, and the environment, too? Nah. The government should listen to wise people like him and make people do the right thing. Perfect 10 for 10 points here.

I will come back shortly with the scoring: up to 10 points on each prediction, with up to 3 bonus points for the sub-predictions. Points will be deducted for things I should have predicted, but missed.

Deduction points: things I should have seen coming:

Theocracy. How could I miss that? minus 2
Theology in the schools minus 1
injustice and bondage minus 1
people on the margins of society no penalty, because I got the related concepts.
Hypocrisy of some on the the RR I never should have missed that. minus 2
Pluralism minus 1
"Seamless garment" of life issues. minus 1

Final score: 64 out of a possible 80. Not bad.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Picking On An Old Friend

A psychiatrist I have known for over twenty years sent me this email, his most recent Letter To The Editor. This is an extremely intelligent person, from whom I learned a great deal about psychiatry years ago. A man of wit and humor, he holds positions of responsibility and a respected reputation in forensic psychiatry. He has had a long-standing tendency to argue via sneer and condescension - which I imagine he would describe as being unwilling to suffer fools gladly - but he is not incapable of constructed arguemnt. And yet... And yet this is what he is currently reduced to under the influence of BDS (Krauthammer 2004).

Stupid George

There once was a village where the town fool was called Stupid George. One year a bear attacked and ate one of the villagers. A few years later Stupid George ran into the town square and announced that he had heard the man-eating bear snoring up in a tree. The villagers followed stupid George into the woods with their guns.

Stupid George went in some bushes and shot his shotgun, yelling “I shot the bear.” The villagers followed and saw that Stupid George hadn’t shot a snoring man-eating bear but instead had shot a buzzing hornet’s nest out of a tree. Stupid George was poking the hornet’s nest with his gun and saying “would you look at that bear?”

The hornets began to fly out and began to sting everybody. Of course all the villagers began to run, except Stupid George who yelled “Are you people going to cut and run? You cowards.”

The village wise man appeared and said: “You people were foolish to follow Stupid George in the first place. Only a fool fights hornets with shotguns. Leave them alone and they will leave you alone. If you listen to his childish taunts about cutting and running you may be even stupider than he is.”

All the villagers left, except a few foolish teenagers known for their trouble making (sic) and their poor judgement and the smiling shopkeeper who made a good business selling shotgun shells to Stupid George and his fools.

This is simply embarrassing to submit before the public. You will note that the little parable lacks a certain literary delicacy which is recommended when imitating Swift. It is ham-handed, over-obvious. Stupid George, for example, is the name that a sixth-grader would give. By highschool, students would at least attempt the irony of George the Genius or some such. Perhaps my friend believes that a large percentage of his readers - the ones he hopes to persuade - will be unable to understand unless it is spelled out. Well, even intelligent people miss satire from time to time; but why alienate the portion of your audience that has wit?

I think the analogy of the bear and the hornets inapt, but such things are permissable in the genre. If I don't like it I can go write my own fable with my own analogy I like better. No objections there. But the use of "coward," as if this is an accusation that Bush has come anywhere near making is a straw man; or worse, a projection.

My response was brief
Well, when you get to construct your own analogy it saves the trouble of conforming the story to the events. That's the beauty of fiction.

His response was also brief, echoing the style of my comment.

When you get to make up your own facts and arrest whoever you want who says it ain't so and make up your own laws - well, that's the beauty of dictatorship.

This is merely lunatic, however common it is currently. (Note: if it is already clear to you why this sort of hyperbole has no place in serious argument, you may skip to the end. It's going to be tedious otherwise.) "...arrest whoever you want who says it aint so..." is there even one example in the last five years of someone being arrested for disagreeing with George Bush, or for disagreeing with anyone? I think the accusation may stem from two current issues. People suspected of aiding terrorists, including two American citizens, are being held under premises that some Americans consider insufficient. The rhetoric of hyperbole accompanies the complaint, so that terms like fascist get dragged in, but that is the point of contention. There are offered constitutional and legal justifications for the surveillance, arrest, and incarceration of these individuals. Courts have upheld some of these interventions and disallowed others, and the legal decisions are being appealed by everyone. But the assertion "...arrest whoever you want," as if neocons were patrolling the streets pointing out folks they wanted locked up is just ludicrous. The left might predict that such things are next if we let Nefarious George proceed unchecked - and I welcome that trivially easy debate - but there is nothing like that now.

The second issue tied in may be that George Bush has answered his critics publicly, and this is thought to be a chilling silencing of dissent. People disagree with Bush and he has the temerity to answer back. And some of his friends even call names, too!

"...make up your own laws...," I imagine, refers to those places where the administration has claimed constitutional authority that precedes the legislative authority of Congress on a related but not identical issue. In making this claim, the current White House is following the precedents of all previous holders of the office, including most especially his immediate predecessor Bill Clinton. As to degree, Dubya does not come close to the overreach of authority attempted by Clinton, Carter, Johnson, Kennedy, Truman, and Roosevelt - the most recent Democratic presidents. He is not even on the scoreboard with those guys.

"...the beauty of dictatorship." Does this even need comment? These days, I suppose it does. I would hope that even the most deranged Kossack does not believe we are currently in a dictatorship.* The argument must be that we are on the path to dictatorship, which is gradually coming upon us unawares. Creeping fascism, perhaps. My brief scan of the rise of dictators in the past century suggests that they come to power amidst a good deal of violence and bloodshed. Pol Pot, The Russian Revolution, Castro, Pinochet, Mao - they didn't quietly assume power and then methodically strip the citizens of rights. Even the major exceptions, Hitler and Mussolini, were bumping people off pretty regularly within a year. If Bush 43 is trying to become a dictator, he's running out of time.

"...make up your own facts..." In light of the above, that shoe seems to be on the other foot.

*I was wrong here. There was a poll over at Daily Kos that over 80% of those who answered believe we are under fascism in all but name. The words fascism and dictatorship now officially have no denotative meaning. They are now meres words of connotation: Bad. Category: Political.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

About that Profiling

Apparently the terrorists believe that profiling would work if we used it, and are taking steps to counteract that.

Well they go to all the Terrorist Support Group meetings and see each other there, so perhaps they have noticed some similarity in each other's demographics and appearance.

False Equivalence

From the records of the Old Bailey in London, of a case of petty theft in the 1700’s

606. (L) Edward Cain ; otherwise Can , was indicted for stealing handkerchief value 6 d. the property of unknown, September 16. ++
William Paine. On the 16th September I saw the boy at the bar and three others with him take a linen handkerchief out of a person's pocket; I went to the person and said, Sir you have lost your handkerchief; his wife was there, I had the prisoner by the collar the hand the handkerchief down) the wife said that's my husband's property; the other three boys ran away, the man would not stay, but walked on about his business; I prosecute at my own expence.
Prisoner's defence. I was along with other boys, one of them took the handkerchief, and this man laid hold of me and said I picked the man's pocket, but I did not, I am but thirteen years of age.
Guilty . Transportation to Virginia.
Why does this story distress us? It happened long ago, to a person we don’t know. A thirteen year old boy is found guilty of stealing a handkerchief and is sent to Virginia to provide servant labor. We know that worse things have happened before and since.
We are angered because of the extreme lack of proportion. Yes, it is theft, and yes, he probably did do it, but good heavens, man. For a handkerchief? Sent at a tender age across an ocean, all alone? Yes, yes, I’m sure he was of an age where he should know better, but a single handkerchief?

We might even think the law was the greater criminal for imposing such a punishment.


Proportionality is a moral principle enshrined in both law and custom. We may think the person going 5mph over the speed limit and the guy doing 80 in a 35 zone are both technically “speeding,” but we view it differently and treat it differently. We recognize that it is a bad thing to yell at your wife, but a worse thing to hit her, and worse still to injure her. Shoplifting, grand larceny, and robbing a bank at gunpoint are all “stealing,” but we make distinctions – sometimes fine distinctions – in law and in our approach to people. Having sex with underage females is rape, but we look at it differently if it is a 20 year old having consensual sex with a 15 year old than if it is a 30 year old having forcible sex with a 5 year old. We have taboos against incest, but treat having sexual relations with a sibling differently than with a second cousin. Cutting across someone’s yard is technically trespassing, and we may in certain circumstances even prosecute it. But building a road across someone’s property is viewed as a more serious offense.

This is not morally complicated. There is a time of life when children try to make everything technically equal because it violates a rule, but even they don’t mean it. A 12 year old boy might go blue in the face trying to insist that his father is breaking the law just like any common criminal by taking a rolling stop at a corner, but that same boy will go equally blue complaining if someone thinks his taking a pencil from a classmate’s desk is the same as stealing a laptop. Children even younger than 12 understand proportionality in principle.

Not only do we allow for proportionality, we consider it morally reprehensible at worst, and suspect at best, when it is disallowed, as in the example from the Old Bailey above.

In that context, let’s talk about torture. Several of the leftie sites featured on Pajamas Media (which I imagine confers some level of respectability), such as Andrew Sullivan, firedoglake, and obsidian wings, have tried to claim that proportionality makes no difference. If what the US does fits under someone’s definition of torture, then it’s torture, and we have no moral standing for criticizing our enemies. To such people, it’s all the same. Hell, Teddy Kennedy said it outright. Kerry, Reid, and a dozen others have made the accusation with wiggle-room.

The proof that they regard it as the same is in their protestations. There is always an obligatory comment that what has been done by Saddam or Al-Qaeda is horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad, with insistence that they are not drawing a moral equivalence. Then they draw a moral equivalence, for we are to regard the American actions no differently. Foreign madmen make the accusation of torture and we are to just hang our heads and take it silently.

There is a second dodge, finer-sounding at first blush, but ultimately more contemptible. “It’s not good enough to just say we’re not as bad as Saddam. That’s a ridiculously low standard,” or the related statement “we’re not responsible for what others do, we’re only responsible for what we do.” This is the language of therapists, of marriage counselors whose clients are dealing with at least semi-reasonable people. It sounds so wise, so adult, so objective, and above the fray. The sentiment is entirely true, of course. But it is relevant to only part of the question.

Because it is a truth misapplied, it is thus more base. Things can only fall as far as they have risen, and devils are made of bad angels, not bad kangaroos. If the worst actions of the US guards and interrogators were only marginally less bad than AQ, if we were cutting off one finger instead of two, then the excuse well, we’re not as bad as Saddam would of course be impossibly weak. But that is not the context. You cannot rip moral actions from context and see them clearly. Should you ever shoot a man in the back? Of course not – unless he is pointing a gun at a third person. In this instance, we are speaking of acts that are orders of magnitude in difference.

That doesn’t make our actions right. We should punish our own for evil acts. But attempting to draw equivalences is not relevant. They should not be paired in the same paragraph for discussion.

The people who make these comparisons are able to know this. It is a moral principle they learned in elementary school, though they may talk themselves out of it now. Because they acknowledge the principle in their protestations, they cannot claim ignorance of it. They are aware that the tortures of Saddam greatly exceeded anything the CIA or the military is doing. And yet they use the analogy anyway. They know the principle well enough to use it, and then proceed to disguise its misuse. That is far worse than ignorance.


It seems there are more WMD in Iraq than there is torture at Gitmo. But somehow they aren't "real" WMD, and humiliation is "real" torture. Sliding scale, apparently.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Ned Flanders and Evangelical Pathology

It is still an idea current on liberal blogs, and apparently in the NCC, Episcopal, and Methodist Church hierarchies, that evangelicals in general, and especially fundamentalists, arrive at their “peculiar” social ideas because they hate women and/or gays and/or sex and/or change – or that they fear same.

It’s a popular interpretation. Certainly, it’s the one we would pick up from popular culture. I think a different pathology is of greater importance. I’ve met lots of folk who hate or fear women, gays, etc, and I’ve met a lot of evangelicals and fundamentalists. I don’t find any overlap in those groups. Perhaps by location (New Hampshire) I meet unrepresentative samples of one or the other. This guy Fred Phelps out in the midwest (reportedly a Democrat, BTW) may fit the stereotype, but no one I meet does.

What I find in evangelical and especially fundamentalist culture are socially clumsy or irritating people, particularly males. My impression is that it is more comfortable to feel rejected and isolated because of one’s religion than because of one’s personality. Guys that are a little too loud, or declare their opinions tactlessly, or find lame jokes funny pop up everywhere, but we seem to have more than our share. Overfriendly, overweight guys, or leaner guys who are perpetually irritated about peripheral doctrines – I know lots of fundamentalists like that. Guys who like to show off their unimportant facts that other people don’t know… gentle guys who want to help but are intrusive - like Ned Flanders on The Simpsons, who tries to cheer you up by coming to your door with the family and singing “Arky, arky.” I often wonder who they’re irritating away from the faith out there. Relatives and coworkers, most likely.

Come to think of it, the cultural stereotypes on The Simpsons are generally more accurate than the popular imagination. Not that the stereotype applies to all of us. I, for example, am charming and socially facile.

As I said, there are guys like this everywhere, but we seem to have lots. What pathology is common among our females I am less certain of. Very insistent women, perhaps. And older women who speak like benevolent elementary schools teachers, even to other adults. The kind who love flannelgraphs.

Just as no one wants to think “people hate me because I’m a hapless jerk,” and would rather think “people hate me because I’m a follower of Christ,” so too going in the other direction. People would far rather think of themselves as hating fundamentalists because “they’re evil and filled with intolerance” than because “they’re socially clumsy.” That would be a petty reason for such intense dislike.

From my observation of the critics, both live and in writing, the petty reason is actually the main reason. I have long held that liberalism is more of a social than an intellectual discipline. These are people who believe that sailing races are more elevated than NASCAR, after all. Showing that you “get it,” that you understand the cultural references, and referring cynically to those things that all the dupes fall for is half the fun of liberalism.

If you think I’m way off the mark with that, then you really don’t listen very well. I work in a liberal environment and hear the condescension every day. Very seldom, by the way, do I hear even a sketchy intellectual argument defending liberal ideas. Some days I think it’s all social – just another way that the cool kids get to show their stuff.

So – I put the observed data of how many socially clueless people the fundamentalists have, and matched with the observed data that social skill is overvalued among liberals, to see whether there’s some relationship. Looks like a close fit from here.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Managing of Impressions II

A local young man was killed in Afghanistan this week. His mother has worked in the public mental health system for many years, and several of us know her slightly, so I mentioned the connection to several of the old hands. I was prepared for the inevitable complaints that “we shouldn’t be over there.” As one of the mantras of the left these days is that they were in support of going into Afghanistan but not Iraq, I responded each time by raising an eyebrow and asking “Afghanistan?” I think they adopt that posture as a way of communicating “I’m not always against military intervention, but we’ve gone overboard/Bush is stupid/it’s for oil/they don’t like us/whatever.” A way of seeming balanced, thoughtful.

I don’t want to accuse them of dishonesty about this. When they stop to think it out, they may well have coherent reasons for Afghanistan yes/Iraq no. But the reflexive response gives away a lot about how they’re storing their information about the Middle East. Their knowledge and opinion isn’t stored as a complex and subtle analysis, it’s stored as a vague negative impression. We all do this more than we would like to admit. But it is this type of thinking which most requires examination on our part. Where does it come from? Why do I think that?

When so many people aren’t thinking very hard, and are thinking just about what the MSM opinion is, you have to wonder. Interestingly, I think the hard left Kossacks and DU have something of a point in their complaint about the MSM, similar to the conservative complaint. They follow the national issues and opinions more closely than the average person. They have examples, quotes, analysis, and statistics about their issues, including the WOT. They don’t want the American public to be just mildly negative about Iraq, they want them to be incensed. At election time, they’ll take even half-hearted votes (as do we all), but they really want people to pay attention, look around, and see what they see. The left is upset at the MSM because it carries all this horrible corruption and warmongering so mildly, as if it had little importance. To them, letting Bush off with mild negatives is letting him off easy, not challenging him and investigating him as he deserves.

They would have a point, if the original premise were true. If BushCo really were guilty of all the things they suspect it of, it really would deserve the amount of energy they’re putting in. We call them unhinged, but that part isn’t. If it were true it would deserve that much anger. If it were true, then the rather emotionless news coverage would be a travesty. It all hinges on the “if,” of course.

I wonder if a certain specie of leftist confuses the passion with importance. The fact that Erin Brokovich and Silkwood made it to the list of most inspiring movies would suggest that. Also, people are impressed with Al Gore’s “passion” in An Inconvenient Truth, and this seems to be used as a proxy for accuracy.

When I prepare a presentation for work, or a note transferring a case, or a little article for the company newsletter, I have to think and write much as a journalist does. What is the most important thing people should know about the conference I went to? What is the range of prior knowledge of my audience on the topic? What piece might be easily misunderstood? What misconceptions do I want to clear up?

That is not very different from someone who wants to persuade you of something. One is reporting, the other editorializing. The line is easily crossed, but that doesn't make it right.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Tom and Ray on Car Talk

This morning, over on NPR's Car Talk, Ray (I think) had a Great Idea how to solve the energy crisis, at least as it relates to cars.

I love these guys, but I'm also from New Hampshire, so if you asked me to predict "Dave, what kind of a solution do you think two really smart guys from Massachusetts - Cambridge, no less - will come up with?" I would have a ready answer. Raise taxes.

Ray has this idea that raising the gas tax fifty cents per gallon per year for six years is the way to go. That will put gas at at least six dollars a gallon by then, but it will be "phased in," so it will be relatively painless. He's expecting it will raise gajillions of dollars for alternative energy research and public transportation solutions.

Now, this is what's wrong with letting smart people with Great Ideas run loose without being answerable to the village idiots. On paper, it all works great. But we village idiots have a pretty shrewd idea what the idiots in government - any government, even a good government - will do with this.

A very small portion of the gajillion dollars from year one will be put into unpromising types of research. Hamster wheel research, for example. By year two, the hamster guys will have decide that the problem is inadequate hamsters, and some other company will start in on hamster cloning research, to provide a better quality of hamster. Year three will be a banner year. We will discover that Nigerian and Jamaican hamsters have some of the qualities we need and we will start importing those to engineer the DNA of domestic hamsters. At the same time, ethical questions will be raised about cloning, alien species of hamster, and the use of rodents for work. Lots of people will need to hold conferences about all of these things.

In year four, many congresspersons are going to need to travel to both Nigeria and Jamaica to investigate the hamster situation. There will be back-cage deals involving lots of cash and those little water bottles changing hands. A fatal flaw in the hamster wheel program - namely, that it won't work - will be discovered, but no one will care.

In year five, there will be congressional investigations and investigations of congressmen, the ethical conferences will be going into their third year, electing officers, and setting professional standards in their organizations, to keep amateur hamster ethicists out. Year six a prototype hamster engine will be put out, Discovery Channel National Geographic will run specials on it, but no one will want a car with hamsters, so the government will have to set up large public relations campaigns to convince us that hamsters are the wave of the future. The congresspersons will resign, if they are Republicans, or get reelected, if the are Democrats, but even the new Republicans will find a little hamster money in their cages. Calls to end the hamster research will be resisted, because each of these wheel, cloning, and ethical organizations will all be in somebody's congressional district and need to be protected, so that all the good hamster jobs don't go overseas.

In the end, congress will decide to heavily regulate the various industries.

Friday, June 16, 2006

One Fake Document?

Michael Ledeen, over at National Review Online speculates that the most-quoted document from the Zarqawi raid is a fake. He doesn't cast doubt on any of the other documents, but they seem to be of a different sort anyway. Ledeen wonders out loud if the Iranians might have something to do with it. Rush Limbaugh has reportedly suggested that same document was "too good to be true," though I don't know whether he meant that seriously or humorously.

I am no documant analyst, nor am I wise in the ways of counterespionage or black propaganda, except in my daydreams. But the doubt cast on the one document opened up other speculations for me. This sudden flurry of raids based on the newly acquired information - how many of them were planned weeks ago, waiting for an event such as this one to be put into action? Some raids might compromise intelligence sources, if, say only half-dozen people could possibly have known about a particular location. A "treasure trove" of documents would provide immediate cover. When Ceausescu was overthrown in Romania, it looked at the time as if the demonstrations were spontaneous. Only in retrospect did many conclude that Iliescu and the Securitate had planned the takeover months or years before, waiting until the proper opportunity presented itself.

Was this key document prepared long before - by the Americans, by the Iraqis, by the Jordanians or Iranians - held in abeyance for the next plausible moment to be put into circulation? With thousands of new documents now come to light and looking for translators, what percentage are plants by one group or another to create a particular false impression?

Iraq is a country that lives by rumor, and believes outrageous rumors. This is standard in countries that have lived under tyranny, of course. Accurate information is seldom available, but explanations for events must be found.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Added Bonus

The cry has gone out that killing Zarqawi is not a big change in the war's fortunes. Okay, how about Zarqawi's death plus 452 raids on insurgents in one week?

Carnival of the Psychosphere

All In The Mind II, the Carnival of the Psychosphere, is up.

Rush Is Wrong - Sort Of

I catch about 15 minutes of Rush a day, in 3 five-minute bursts. Yesterday he claimed, as he has before, that the Democrats were being reflexively oppositional, before all the information is in, because they are obsessed with regaining power. That may be true in Washington, at least for some.

But what I see when I read liberals online are people who want their world-view to be validated. While the DU and KosKids, or more mildly at the liberal blogs, clearly hope that their folks come to power, that's not what seems to hurt them to their core. They really believe that certain things are true: that negotiation works in foreign policy, that mankind is dangerously warming the earth, that the poor don't get a fair chance. When others don't also act as if these things are true, they immediately conclude it must be for some nefarious reason. No one could possibly not believe these obvious things unless they had some powerful countermotive or personal interest. They must stand to make a buck off it, they must get off on being important, they must want to impose their will on the weak.

They are willing to entertain any number of extremely unlikely possibilities rather than consider that their world-view is what's awry. The oil companies must be willing to lose lots of money and get bad PR because they hope to have a monopoly later. Huh? They want to roll the dice of going bankrupt? Really? Bush and Cheney are oil men and want to make money for their buddies. Huh? Capitalists want to make money for other people? They want to have a theocracy so that everyone believes like them. You mean these churches that keep splitting off from each other, hate large denominations, and can't even decide what kind of music they want are going to somehow coalesce into a unified force to make everyone worship the same way? Are you mad? Bush must be lying...the jobs can't be good ones...thousands of people conspired to steal an election...

It's not the power. It's the inability to consider that they may have structured their lives around untruths.

Never Say You've Seen It All

Another of Wyman's unofficial rules of psychology is to never say you have seen it all. God will humble you the very next day with something you have never seen before.

At Wednesday's staffing we met a woman who is deeply involved in political causes. She volunteers for the American Indian Movement and freeing Leonard Peltier; she also volunteers for NOW and the Libertarian Party. There can't be many with that particular constellation.

Thursday we had a possibly delirious woman (there are still some other rule-outs) who was unable to put three words together to answer a question, but quite desperately and fearfully wanted to communicate with us. Realizing that her thoughts were neither coming out correctly nor remaining in her head long, she pulled on her ear to indicate a "sounds like," but was unable to remain focused long enough to tie a charade together. So she tried writing, but started from the right, and would sometimes spell forwards and sometimes backwards (I wanted Oliver Sacks for that), adding in diagrams that she would get lost in repeating. We guessed a few phrases correctly, but she had forgotten their significance by then.

It was clear we weren't going anywhere (she is a bit clearer today), but also obvious that it was very important to her to keep trying. She tried some words that were not Latin, but had Latin endings, and eventually got out "werbum" and "verbum." Very frustrated, she tried singing. For some unknown reason, probably just inertia, she tried to sing the harmony on the second line - I could tell it should have started on the third, but she didn't find it. My suspicion is she usually hits the third with ease. (My mother, when dying of cancer and unable to speak, would hit the third higher in a weak hum when I sang for her. Boy, would her mother and aunts have been proud.)

It was a remarkable string of creative attempts for someone trapped in a currently-broken brain, and quite poignant. Inspiring, really.

Categorizing Sex Offenders: Introduction

We all like to categorize things. Categorization is an aid to thought and memory. It is doubtful we could think much at all if we couldn’t make generalizations to handle large amounts of data conveniently.

Organizing things by type is such a powerful tool that we overuse it. A long-standing division of sexual offenders is into two main groups: child molesters and rapers of adult women. A similar system of classification divides out a third group: perpetrators of incest. These categories are not without basis. There is a bimodal distribution of age at first arrest, with the adult rapists at 14-17 years, usually for nonsexual offenses, and the child molesters at 31-35, nearly always for sexual offenses. The adult rapists are more likely to have property, drug, and violence offenses in their criminal records; the molesters of children have stronger work records and more paraphilias. There is also considerable justification for separating out incest perpetrators, as a significant minority offend for “only” a limited period under great stress.

But these categories, while not useless, are quite porous. If you work with the sex-offending population, you keep coming up against exceptions. We have tended to explain these away with yet more categories in the past. “Oh, he’s Mild MR,” or “But he’s got some neurological involvement.”

Yet as the sexual history slowly unfolds, there is a great deal of unexpected crossover. The child molester’s sister reveals that he forcibly raped her when she was 17; the step-dad convicted of an incestuous relationship with his 14 year old daughter had a previous accusation, twenty years ago, of babysitter molestation of a five year old boy. Categories fall apart.

Knight, at Bridgewater State, divided offenders into six groups. A Canadian group suggests that these six should be subdivided into 20. I don’t hold with any of those systems; we now use spectrum measures of violence, paraphilias, usual victims, and social integration. Head injury and substance abuse, the major wild cards, also get close attention. We can afford to be this unstructured because we’re old, and can’t get the
three old categories out of our heads after so many years, providing a framework.

Treatment now centers on accurate assessment (which drives risk, placement, and supervision) and reducing risk factors. That’s a whole different discussion, which I leave off here. Key concepts: frontal lobes, executive functions. Anything which interferes with the frontal lobes, such as head injury or substance abuse, sends reoffense rates through the roof.

The Managing of Impressions - Part I

Eric Umansky (via pajamasmedia) posts today about reports of mistreatment of prisoners at Gitmo, in the wake of the suicides and suicide attempts there. His source is one of the attorneys representing several prisoners there. He also quotes a psychiatrist on more clinical matters. My disagreements with the psychiatrist I posted in the comments there.

A prisoner’s attorney is both the best of sources and the worst of sources. The attorney usually has considerable direct knowledge of circumstances, is able to speak with the prisoner and make his own observations. A lawyer also has specific training in questioning people, seeing the story behind the story, and noting inconsistent information. Additionally, an attorney often has background information which cannot necessarily be shared openly, but informs his impressions. In that sense, Umansky’s source is among the best we could hope for to be our eyes and ears in holding the military accountable.

But a prisoner’s attorney is also the worst of sources. It is his job to manage the impression created, to tell only one side of the story, and to put his client’s actions in the best possible light. That is not only true in wartime situations, but in every legal situation. A student makes an accusation against a school via her attorney. The school administration may be unable to respond because of confidentiality, or able to respond in only the most general way. A patient alleges malpractice; the doctor and hospital cannot respond. A prosecutor has to be exquisitely careful in what she is allowed to reveal. The defense attorney can say anything.

Eric did not throw up any red flags when passing on this information. Eric is also attempting to manage impressions, eh? I had this same discussion with a Gitmo attorney over at Obsidian Wings. People were amazed that I didn’t consider a rights attorney an unimpeachable source. I think it’s madness. I’ve sat across enough tables with legal advocates, and been cross-examined by enough in court, to know that what they are trying to get you to believe is sometimes completely ridiculous. Why in the world would anyone take their comments at face value? Note: I make a sharp differentiation between attorneys willing to represent difficult defendants and attorneys who make rights-protection their gig. Those who know both will know what I mean.

I have no direct knowledge for the following speculation. It is, however, an educated guess. What sort of personality becomes a full-fledged jihadi?* There might be a few rather manicky folk, or even a few psychotics. Depressives are unlikely. But Al Qeada has more than its share drawn from the following categories: Antisocial Personality Disorder; Borderline Personality Disorder; Narcissistic Personality Disorder; Paranoid Personality Disorder. Those of you familiar with those categories, please take the time to go over each in turn and see if you agree. I encourage you to post even minor quibbles with my list. I base this speculation on the people in the American population who join gangs, violent political and religious groups, organized crime, and family/clan criminal organizations. This is somewhat similar to an American prison population, though that would be predominantly Antisocial PD’s.

Their attorneys try to paint them in a different light, suggesting that they are not very different than the boys who join our own military or work as counselors at church camp. Just enthusiastic kids with a patriotic streak, caught up in violent events, y’know? (Once in awhile, it’s even true.) Ever hear only one side of a divorce, or only one side of someone’s firing?

But, do you think that when an American inmate calls his attorney to claim he has been abused and his rights violated, there might occasionally be a discrepancy between his story and the facts? Thus also with Gitmo. A prisoner at Gitmo tells his attorney how he was injured. The attorney tells Eric Umansky. Eric reports it to us as reliable.

Inmate abuse does occur, of course. And schools do mistreat students, and doctors commit malpractice. It’s always a real possibility, and whenever one of these complaints comes before the public, it is good to investigate.

Thus - it is good to mentally assign credibility to all the players, and better still to reserve judgement until the data is in.

*And don’t even get me started on what sort of personality becomes a rights attorney.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

PTSD - a reminder

Tim Russert was on Imus this morning, and they briefly discussed PTSD as it relates to our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm glad the subject got a little notice, but as usual, the MSM guys got it wrong. Their concern was that huge numbers of guys (and gals) would be returning with PTSD, and the military was trying to sweep it under the rug.

Sorta partly true maybe. A large percentage of our returning forces will have temporary adjustment symptoms of varying severity. It only stands to reason. Being away from friends and family is an adjustment, as is the return. Moving to a different country is an adjustment, as is the return. Even without the stressors peculiar to wartime, there are difficulties.

Mortal danger, whether intermittent or constant, creates body changes, starting with cortisol levels. The more danger, the greater chance of symptoms. Witnessing horrible events creates conflicts and dissociations. The more horrible, the greater chance of symptoms.

But most symptoms are temporary. A returning vet has been in a situation where mistakes mean death, so he can be very impatient with family members and coworkers who take what he considers to be a lackadaisical attitude to errors. Those who have had to be alert to subtle signs in the environment tend to be hypervigilant at first when they return from a war zone. They scan the horizon, they notice sudden movements in crowds, they find it hard to get to sleep because there is no one on guard. Their startle reflex can be on a hair-trigger.

Most symptoms recede in the first few months. Nightmares are usually the most persistent symptom, and can go on for years intermittently. C.S Lewis, who was in the trenches in France in WWI, said on the eve of WWII that he still had nightmares of the war, and didn't know if he could go through it all again. Lewis was a successful, clear-thinking individual with fewer than average neuroses - the chronic symptom of what we now know as PTSD did not stop him from having a normal life. But the pain was real.

It is important for those who have symptoms, and those around them to be aware of this reality. Most veterans, even those who have seen combat, will return to normal productive lives, with no more than their share of the difficulties that are the lot of mankind. But disturbed sleep, nightmares, and idiosyncratic irritability and triggers may persist. For some few - less than 10% - the chronic symptoms will be enough to seriously interfere with later life. As with any trauma, why some weather it and some are overwhelmed remains somewhat puzzling. We do, however, know a bit more about risk factors and protective factors than we did. Substance abuse makes things worse. Having a supportive network helps. Seeing more death is a higher risk factor. Having a religious community is a protective factor. None of these should be the least surprizing.

The people I speak to on the mental health side of the military don't seem to be sweeping anything under the rug. They very much want to be proactive, letting the returnees know what to expect and what the normal course of symptoms are. They also seem to be quite concerned about how spouses and children are taking all this. Whether any of this good intention is making its way to those who need it I can't say. Some will resist help, perhaps; some who are supposed to bring intelligent support will bring their pet theories instead and create harm. It's one more sacrifice the military offers on our behalf.

One of the local VA psychiatrists who is deeply involved in managing the return told us: "The country in general, and the military in specific, got it wrong thirty-five years ago. We want to get it right this time." He pointed out that Vietnam veterans groups were among the most dedicated and passionate volunteers for the current returning vets. I asked (from the audience) what he would most like to see change. Some folks aren't going to like the answer. I paraphrase:

"Most of the guys I see who have returned were in the guard. The thing they mention most often in the first few weeks is the inaccurate reporting of the war. They feel doubly separated from the people at home. Not only do we not know much, but what we do know is wrong. One of the things that ticks them off is people who think the only good thing that happened is that they came back alive and unwounded. That they did anything history-making, or even useful, is beyond the grasp of some people. I think it's a way of robbing them of their worth as human beings. People's politics make them blind to real human beings, and to the real good that has been accomplished."

This from a man who quite openly said he didn't think we should have gone to Iraq. But he has kept his sanity and plain sense, and has not refused to see the balancing factors. Would that others who opposed the war could be so human.

Plastic Turkey for Fitzmas

Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald announced today that he would be serving a plastic turkey to the Democratic Underground and the KosKids for Fitzmas this year. “At this special time of year, we wanted to be as generous as possible to needy and unfortunate Democrats. They’ve been very patient, but have been reduced to eating their own in the past few months. So we’ve thrown open the cupboards and storehouses and given them everything we had.”

DNC head Howard Dean was overjoyed at the prospect of finally inviting his family to a feast. “It’s not plastic, it’s real. Look at it. Doesn’t it look real?” he insisted as he tore off a bite. “This is great turkey, and we know there’s lots more where that came from. Calling it plastic is just an effort by this administration to spin their way out of the obvious. It’s a Democratic feast from now until November. Want some?” Several NYT reporters took him up on the offer and pronounced the fowl in question to be superbly prepared.

Asked if he felt embarrassed at only being able to deliver a plastic bird, Fitzgerald denied this was the case. “We sent some real birds along as well. They just didn’t want it. It’s been sitting there untouched,” he noted, pointing to a simmering kettle. “Albatross, crow, and ostrich, all done up in a Louisiana gumbo. They’ll have to eat it eventually.”

bin Laden Upbeat After Loss of Entire Varsity

The University of Al Qaeda terrorism team continues to be optimistic even after their entire varsity squad was arrested or otherwise Declared Ineligible. “We are not concerned about the upcoming terrorism season,” said Osama bin Laden “because we have an excellent feeder system. Even the American left-wing knows that we have excellent recruitment, and ten players in the minor leagues for every one in the majors.”

OBL pointed to local youngsters playing military games in the street. “Our children play this game as soon as they can walk. Sunni-Shia, Arab-Zionist, Kidnapper-Hostage, Moor-Spaniard, they know them all. Meanwhile your American children are playing video games. It gives us a big advantage.” When asked how many of the younger players were ready for the big leagues, he hesitated. “Well, this will give some our young talent a chance to play, y’know? It’s a good thing. The team we had until a week, two weeks ago, had some good players but were never going to win the championship.”

Pressed for details of the new "youth movement" in jihad, bin Laden admitted "the average age of a jihadi is younger every year. We don't have as many 35 y/o recruits as we used to." Asked to estimate the age of the new crop of recruits, OBL declined to comment. Sources close to the team, however, estimate that the average age of a recruit has dropped from 15 to 12, and for a full mujahedeen, from 29 to 19.

"It's a rebuilding year for us." Osama insisted. "Like last year. And the year before."

Those Harley Guys

The Pirate’s Code, it’s more in the nature of what you might call guidelines.

There are Harley-Davidson riders who would die before they would admit that any other bike was of even passing interest. They go out of their way to disdain “rice rockets,” and claim they wouldn’t even touch something that isn’t a Harley.

Well, that’s more in the nature of what you might call guidelines. If you get them talking, you’ll find all sorts of exceptions. Not that you could ever get them to admit out loud that there are any exceptions.

1. There is plenty of interest in old Indian motorcycles, or in fact, any antique. Maybe they just like saying “suicide clutch.” Who wouldn’t?

2. If their kid goes shopping for a bike they usually figure he can work his own way up to a Harley. If it’s the kid’s bike, they’ll ride that “just to see if it’s okay.” A lot. Even if it’s Japanese.

3. There is respect for Ducatis. They may think the styling is too European for them personally, or the ride too quiet, but they will talk admire these bikes. They don’t like to let on that they’re curious, but they are. They’ve “heard” that the 650 is like the 750 of anything else for power.

4. Victory, Triumph, the new BMW (0-60 in 3.0), and a few others earn some grudging, or perhaps grunting, respect. Just not in complete sentences.

5. If you’re going off-road, suddenly all the Japanese manufacturers become acceptable. There’s a disconnect that makes those machines like jetskis or skimobiles, not in the actual motorcycle category at all.

Go figure.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Advantage McCain

The candidates are easing their way into NH to test the waters for the primary. McCain has already been up, greeted and escorted around by my pal, former Congressman Chuck Douglas.

McCain has not been doing well in Republican polls, but has an advantage here I have not seen mentioned. A much higher percentage of voters in NH are registered as "Independent" than in other places. People really like the sound of their voice saying "I'm an independent," perhaps. Independents are eligible to vote in either primary. John McCain will draw heavily from that group. Some conservatives would see that as a problem in itself, but I'm not one of them. I don't prefer McCain, but don't particularly dislike him.

The problem is that if numerous independents vote in the Republican primary, they leave the Democratic primary more heavily weighted to nutcases. We need two sane parties in this country, and a radicalized leftie segment getting an early leg up won't get us there.

On the other hand, close elections have not brought sanity to the Democrats. They may need a resounding defeat for that.

The Influence of Doonesbury

In the 70’s and 80’s, Doonesbury was in every liberal habitat. Women’s Studies professors and social workers always seemed to have a few strips taped to their office doors, and the characters became part of everyday conversation. Trudeau inherited the mantle of righteousness from the folksingers, and became the chief exponent of the idea that conservatives were essentially stupid and had evil motives. He demanded, and got, a larger block in the comic section and marketed a long succession of reprints of earlier strips in paperback. Doonesbury expressed what people were thinking and to a lesser extent, shaped it. Liberals may complain that they are unfairly characterized and oversimplified, but the ongoing popularity of this comic betrays them. They bought the books, they put the cartoons on their doors, they made Mike part of their culture.

Well, it was a cartoon, after all, and Trudeau’s main defense against criticism has always been “Hey. It’s a political cartoon. It’s not supposed to be fair. The characters are two-dimensional because they are, in fact, rendered in 2D. That’s the point.” In theory, a fair argument. Why expect nuance from a stereotypical stoner named “Zonker?”

The problem with the theory is that over time, the strip was nuanced, and some characters were three-dimensional. Trudeau was not a mere hatchet man, but had a gift for irony and self-mockery as well. Political correctness was gently skewered even as it first arrived on the scene. “It’s a baby woman!” squeals Joanie Caucus’s kindergarten class at the birth of a girl. Minority representation was sent up in a college football huddle: “I’m the only Pole.” “I’m the only freak!” The earlier characters in particular had inconsistencies of exactly the same sort that everyday people do.

Trudeau was also willing to smack Democratic politicians around a bit. Carter was lampooned for running a presidency of symbolism over substance, and Clinton was portrayed as a waffle. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Conservatives had none of the endearing inconsistencies. Phred the Viet Cong, was more sympathetic than the American soldier BD. Roland Headley reported an entire series “In search of Reagan’s brain,” and Trudeau’s hatred for the Bush family was embarrassing to read, even when I was a liberal. * Bomb-throwing Newt Gingrich to Dan Quayle as feather, conservatives are always stupid, malevolent, or both. The people of the left might have their foibles, but the people of the right were unrelenting evil.

Except, of course, when presented with the more sophisticated world of Trudeau, which would cause them to become perplexed and dimly apprehend the possibility of liberal ideas. Just like on TV. When the artist was really ticked, he would footnote the comic, e.g. to show how Limbaugh was too inaccurate. Conveniently, cartoonists don’t have to answer criticism.

An early secondary theme, that the young were wiser than the middle-aged, became increasingly difficult for Gary Trudeau to maintain as he aged. His elevated version of the TV-sitcom smartass kid played very well to Boomers, who have always longed to imbue their personal conflicts with larger cultural meaning.

So the “it’s because it’s a cartoon” excuse is a little weak – partly because of Trudeau’s own cleverness and early talent. It was never his intention for this to be “just” a political cartoon. He wanted to persuade and to influence. Over the years, the strip has become increasingly bitter and didactic. As I seldom read a newspaper anymore, I don’t see it much, but my eye still goes automatically to Doonesbury. It is occasionally amusing, but mostly just ignorant these days, drawing inspiration from the same lost world of its glory days. Uncle Duke was as brilliant a character as has ever appeared in the funny papers. Amazing how much Trudeau got wrong in retrospect.

Conservatives wonder how the liberal interpretation of history is maintained in the face of the facts. The massacres by the VC and the Khmer Rouge; the fall of communism and the translation of the Venona Cables; the growth in the economy in close parallel to conservative predicitions; the behavior of nations seeming closer to the older interpretations of men and evil than to the newer, more hopeful foreign policies.

The myths are sustained by condescending humor, and Ivy-League liberals do it best.

*Gary Trudeau’s unreasoning viciousness toward the Bushes may be an attempt to distance himself from some portion of his own Yalie/preppy background. In a delicious irony in the midst of his attacks of Bush 41’s manhood, Trudeau appeared in a clothing catalogue modeling a manly flight jacket. Yo, Gary. George actually was a fighter pilot.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Two Articles

A long and rather academic article by Dawn Perlmutter about the ritual and symbolic meaning of beheadings by the mujihadin, but fascinating and quite readable.

On a lighter note, the Washington Times pulls an article from Newsweek on global cooling. The tone seems oddly familiar.

In Addition To Zarqawi

Other than the excellent post over at Tigerhawk, reprising Bill Roggio's commentary of a few months ago, I haven't seen anyone mention the loss of trust that the Al Qeada network must now have.

Someone - multiple people most likely - gave up information that led to Zarqawi's location. Who are they? I don't necessarily need to know, but the many competitors for the vacant slot are sure curious about it. Everyone wonders who they can safely talk to now.

A great victory today, on the psychological more than the military side.

Wellness Fair

Today was the Wellness Fair at work. Foot massage, Reiki, healthful snacks, little games that remind you to wash your hands… your tax dollars at work! But they’re only trying to help, right? It’s good information, that will be good for you. Don’t you think it’s a good thing to be healthy? You aren’t against wellness, are you?

Maybe. I’m more concerned about a half-dozen other types of wellness: cultural wellness, spiritual wellness, familial wellness. Intellect, citizenship - I think the list might go on for quite awhile before I got to body wellness. Time spent working on one is time taken from the others.

Wouldn’t people find it just a bit intrusive if me ‘n’ my pals spent a lot of the state’s money to put together our views on how folks should improve themselves culturally or religiously, then took over the hospital lobby for a day to accost people as they went by? Did you know that you could read four books by C. S. Lewis in the same time as it takes to read The DaVinci Code? That you burn more calories praying on your knees than you do meditating?

Citizenship Wellness. Little booths that quiz you on the Bill of Rights. Book tables with Hitchens Why Orwell Still Matters, or O’Rourke’s Parliament of Whores sold at a discount. Flip charts with Ten Things You Can Do To Protect the Constitution.

No, it’s body-worship that’s their national religion now, with considerable overlap on the environmentalist side. Oodles of Good Intentions, hovering to opportunistically strike whenever there’s an opening to tell other folks how to live.

But it’s just good, helpful information on how to be healthy. I don’t see what your problem is.

No, I’m sure you don’t.

Brand Loyalty

I wouldn't worry too much about any polls running generic Democrat candidates, whether they're being run against a real person or not. People have brand loyalty. Would you rather buy an American car or a Japanese car? Most Americans would choose the former as a general rule, but somehow when it comes to specifics, they end up buying a lot of Toyotas, once they get around to comparing actual models.

I'm not reading any articles that say "I'm amazed that I've become a liberal," or "I never thought I'd vote for a Democrat," but you see a lot the other way around. People still think of themselves as "mostly Democrat," but once the nominee starts talking they start wondering whether this is Another Time To Make An Exception.

Build The Wall - An Interview

The Assistant Village Idiot seeks wisdom on current affairs from time-to-time by consulting with Eb Jenkins, a semi-retired Yankee from Lost Nation, NH.

AVI: There’s been a lot of talk in the news about building a wall along our southern border. What’s your take on that, Eb?

EJ: Sounds right smaht. I been sayin’ for yeeahs that they should put up some ba'b’d wya at least, stahtin’ at Seabrook and goin’ cleah ova to Hinsdale. Can’t be more’n eighty miles or so, and I’m shua they’d give you a deal on it down at True Value, seein’ as it's buyin’ quantity.

AVI: But Eb, that won’t solve anything. Won’t they just drive up 93 or the Everett Turnpike like they always do?

EJ: Don’t need to worry. We don’t want to prevent anyone from comin’, we just want them to undastand the proppa attitude to take once they get heah. We want that hunkad-down-in-a-blizzad, leave-me-alone outlook on life that makes New Hampsha great. We have a cultcha to presurve.

AVI: Won’t people think we’re being unfriendly?

EJ: Why would that be a bad thing, exactly?

AVI: But people have been complaining for years how hard it is to come here and be accepted. Won’t this just make it worse?

EJ: Nope. Betta. It’s what they call a teachin’ tool over at Crawf'd Notch Regional School. These new folks just haven’t learned yet how much fun ‘tis to complain about outsidas. They still identify with outsidas, and theya pooa little feelin’s ah huht. Once they get it straight that the way t’ fit in is to hate people from Massachusetts – or pretty much anywaya, actually – they’ll be as native as anyone.

AVI: But what about those stories about people who lived here for years and still weren’t considered…

EJ: We didn’t write those. Yankees don’t caya if anyone feels “accepted” or not. That’s an ideer imported From Away, wheya folks’re in touch with theya feelin’s.

AVI: Old Yankees aren’t in touch with their feelings?

EJ: How would you tell?

AVI: They seem pretty in touch with their feelings over in Vermont…

EJ: It’s a dam' shame what’s happened ova theya. Used to be a state with moa cows than people, as God intended. Now they got “workshops,” and “retreats,” and who-knows-what. I don’t go theya much.

AVI: Do you really think that a black person from Dorchester could come settle here and be accepted, just by hating Massachusetts?

EJ: I don’t know as it’s been tried that simple, but I don’t see why not. If theya was any question, he could just get up at town meetin’ in Mahch and complain about the increase on the dump stickahs. Most folks would feel pretty comfortable he’d got the message then.

AVI: How would a person know if they were accepted as a real NewHampshireman?

EJ: If you still caya, you ain’t theya.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Two Related Quotes From Lewis

From The Screwtape Letters, Chapter XXII, in which the demon Screwtape becomes overexcited while berating his nephew and pupil, Wormwood:
Meanwhile you, disgusting little-

(Here the MS. breaks off and is resumed in a different hand)

In the heat of composition, I find that I have inadvertently allowed myself to assume the form of a large centipede. I am accordingly dictating the rest through my secretary...

And from The Great Divorce, Lewis's supposition of the edge of Heaven, where there is a bus from Hell every day, but most riders choose not to remain. (Chapter 9)
But, beyond all these, I saw other grotesque phantoms in which hardly a trace of the human form remained; monsters who had faced the journey to the bus stop - perhaps for them it was thousands of miles - and come up to the country of the Shadow of Life and limped far over the torturing grass, only to spit and gibber out in one ecstacy of hatred their envy and (what is harder to understand) their contempt, of joy. The voyage seemed to them a small price to pay if once, only once, within sight of that eternal dawn, they could tell the prigs, the toffs, the sanctimonious humbugs, the snobs, the "haves" what they thought of them.

I am reminded of BDS.

Exhibit A

If the conservative caricature of Boomer lefties isn't true, why was "Doonesbury" so popular for so long?

Film at Eleven.

Another Good Reason For Elections

Every two years, the American people get to remind the NY Times, CBS, etc, that right or wrong, the MSM is not in the center of the electorate. The Republicans in Congress are running slightly rightward these days. You can call it pandering, and that’s part of the truth. But you can also see it as remembering. It certainly must be difficult to hold in mind while you’re in Washington, where everyone keeps telling you that conservatism is a losing strategy and that you’re on the fringe, who it is that elected you. I intend no snark with that. I’m sure it really is difficult to see where the center is when you interact with the MSM and lobbyists all the time. It’s just our way of reminding you, guys and gals. If we left you on your own your environment would gradually turn you into liberals.

Balloonjuice complains. Okay.

Over at Balloonjuice there is the complaint that conservatives who want to move on in discussing the GWOT, trying to find some common ground, are misusing words in describing the war skeptics.

I would have replied over there, but with 177 comments and counting, I’m not up for reading through it all, nor burying my brilliance that far down the page. That’s one of the advantages of having your own site, I suppose.

The key quotes are these: Tim F's
Any Iraq skeptic who who spent 2002 and 2003 online will remember hours spent trying and failing to explain how opposing Iraq does not necessarily make you a pacifist. Inevitably the logic comes down to this: lefties who oppose war are pacifists, opposing this war makes you a leftie who opposes war and therefore you are a pacifist. One needs a veritable grab bag of fallacies to float this bark, from accident (most lefties are pacifists, you are a lefty so you are a pacifist) to hasty generalization (I can name lefties who were pacifists, therefore lefties are pacifists) yet on and on it goes. If an argument holds no water without appealing to at least one fallacy then we can safely move on.

And by one Barbara O'Brien, who he quotes:
How many times do we have to say we are not against surveillance as long as it’s done lawfully before it sinks into a rightie brain? And are there numbers that go that high?

These are not unreasonable sentiments. Certainly conservatives experience the same thing arguing with (some) liberals, being accused of holding views we do not, or of bargaining in bad faith. It is indeed frustrating to keep insisting “Look, not everyone over here is like that – actually very few are” and be told “Yes you are too.” So, granting there is a solid point behind the complaint, let me nonetheless provide some refutation.

I did not have a site of my own in 2002 and 2003, but I did participate frequently – my wife might say obsessively – on the forums at Ship of Fools. SOF was/is a Christian site based in the UK, and thus had a strong, though not exclusively, C of E and liberal crew. There were commenters worldwide, but mostly from the Anglospheric nations. I thought the level of discussion fair to good. In retrospect, now that I have other sites for comparison, I would rate it good to excellent. Among the knee-jerk reactions from all sides, there were some yet more rational birds, and a few who were very sophisticated and deep in their arguments.

So I did have some discussions similar to what Balloonjuice describes, and categorizing all war skeptics as the same is unfair. But there is a piece that and Tim and Barbara leave out: not all who say “I am not a pacifist but…” or “I am not against surveillance but…” are telling the truth. They often deceive themselves rather than merely others, but it is often not true. I have visited Balloonjuice a few times, have even commented, and mildly like the site. Tim may indeed be one who has a legitimate gripe, and Barbara another, that they are being disregarded despite their desire to engage in honest debate. I offer no opinion on those two in particular.

But I find over time that if you press people, they reveal themselves. To claim “We are not against surveillance, we just want it to be done lawfully,” after the program has been explained, is more suspect. (Still possible, though.) But more often, the writer reveals that the heart of her opposition to the war or the surveillance is that she doesn’t trust George Bush. When that is the case, I research or probe to discover if the writer just plain always disbelieves George Bush; nine times out of ten, that’s the case. They believe Joe Wilson, they believe Dan Rather, they believe the Thanksgiving turkey was plastic, they believe it’s a war for oil, they believe any crazy thing that people claim, no matter how plausible the administration’s response. When I see that, I feel comfortable disregarding their objections.

You want to get my attention, earn some credibility with me? Announce in your criticism where you believed Bush when the press attacked him. If you can write – even better, verify – “I believed Al Qaeda was in Iraq in 2002, and I still believe that now, and Bush was right to not back down” or “The left has really rushed to judgement about Gitmo, but there’s no good evidence there’s anything wrong,” or some other such episode, then you have my attention on the other issues. Mention it. Announce it every time, maybe, because my memory is short.

There's an online commenter at Dr. Sanity's, O Bloody Hell. He's very suspicious of the NSA surveillance, I'm not too bothered. But I read every word of his on the subject, because I know he's not just reflexively anti-Bush. Everyone says they have good theoretical reasons for what they believe. He has some claim to that.

A caution: there are things that look like giving Bush credit for something, but really aren’t, and those don’t count. For example “I agree with Bush that Social Security needs to be reformed but he was unwilling to compromise and that’s why it failed” is an empty agreement. If you want to be attended to, show your cards. Show me the place where you sided with Bush (or Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, whatever) against his liberal critics.

Can’t find one? Gee, that’s tough. Since you’re kidding yourself, then, I won’t be waiting around for you to kid me.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Pascal's Wager

A similar sentiment to Pascal's Wager is found in the Indo-Chinese Sanskrit writing of Vararuci, in the Sarasamuccaya: If there is no world after death, there is nothing to fear either way; but if there is, it will be the atheists who will stand to suffer.

I have not studied Pascal's Wager, knowing it only from its popular expression. The link above gives an introduction of considerable depth to the idea. It's more interesting than I thought.

A frequent objection from atheists is that this wager would have to be placed on dozens, hundreds, and potentially infinite numbers of possible afterlives: you could use up your whole life finding different possibilities to put your little wager on. The similarity of thought from Hinduism/variant Buddhism would seemingly point out that irony. Technically true, of course, but I think it misses an important part of decision-making. The advice is not given to everyone, but to anyone; not to a mass of humanity but to individuals in turn.

While there are infinite possibilities of afterlife to prepare for, most of us are presented with a very few. Furthermore, we need only consider those afterlives/rewards/versions of the universe which could be considered "fair" by at least one definition. An unfair god or universe may exist, but then we would have no reason to approach the issue reasonably.

Some few humans might consider it their lot to sift through all the known possibilities, seriously considering Jainism and Zoroastrianism in turn, but most of us would regard such a lifetime as one of the "unfair" possibilities that may be safely disregarded. We are in an era and a society that presents many alternatives - more than most people in history have been exposed to. (Most humans have had "take it or leave it" as their two choices, with perhaps a conquerors or neighbors beliefs as a semi-possible alternative.)

The decision tree reveals a superdominance that you make a wager at least once.


I left a comment over at Brad Blog which had been deleted when I got back. It seems that "disinformation" is not allowed on that site. Huh.

Checking around, I learned that brad blog is the site the folks over at Daily Kos suggest you visit if you're too paranoid for them. So I suppose it's rather an honor: intolerable on my first try.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Carnival of the Psychosphere Is Up

OK, I'm Not Really A Cowboy has put up the first installment of All In The Mind, the Carnival of the Psychosphere.