Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sky-Father Vs. Earth-Mother

Catching the tone of genuine warmth in the radio voice saying the words "Mother Earth" this afternoon, I have to wonder if half of our environmentalism is nothing more than a cultural preference for having a goddess instead of a god.


It has been amusing for this conservative to watch Democrats fall upon each other like jackals, and in particular to sense their anger at having their usual rhetoric used on themselves, but there is some unraveling going on on the Republican side as well. Believe me, I can understand why conservatives might not support John McCain, but people - take a breath. "There's no difference between McCain and the Democrats...McCain is friends with Hillary, that tells you everything you need to know..."

Tell me you think he's not a true conservative. Tell me you think he's an opportunist. Tell me you think he's not a strict constitutionalist. Fine. But keep it real, people.

Otherwise, we start to sound like, like... well, like the president of the NY chapter of NOW, who called Teddy Kennedy's support for Obama "the ultimate betrayal." Ultimate. Betrayal. Kathleen, bring the bucket! Mither's havin' the hysterics again!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ten Years After

It is always amusing to watch something that was so perfectly in step with the times in its day, but is now dated. If we lived through the time in question it is also a bit embarrassing. We were not moved to amusement then by that which strikes us as somewhat ridiculous now. Looking back at highschool and college photos, we wonder not only that we thought our own choices of hairstyle and clothing were socially acceptable, but all those others around us looked unremarkable to us then as well. Forty years later, photos of us with our friends look like something out of National Geographic. Did we really think those colors and styles attractive?

"Everything that is not eternal is eternally out-of-date," CS Lewis wrote.

We see the first shadows of it only a few years out of highschool, but that image is clouded by our own distaste with how immature we look. The full effect doesn't start until about ten years out, when it is not only our callowness that grabs our attention. Looking then at the great and powerful from that era, we are struck by not only how their hair and clothing are out-of-style, but something deeper and subtler. The gestures and choice of words seem more artificial, because style changes in these things as well, though more slowly.

Sincere gestures and phrasings hold up better - those are based on thousands of years of cultural interactions handed down. Techniques of plausibility adopted for the moment rapidly become hollow. What amazes us now is how we ever fell for such persuaders. We fell for it because much of communication occurs in context. When the context is changed, protective layers of social grace are removed.

The content of the video is ironic in itself. But pay close attention to the artificiality of delivery. Now watch the video.

Via Bird Dog (and Habu) at Maggie's Farm.


"Accusing a scientist of playing God is obviously stupid," (biologist Richard) Dawkins said, "but what is not obviously stupid is accusing a scientist of endangering the future of the planet by doing something that could be irreversible."

Other than illustrating Dawkins' well-known dislike of the word "God," what would be the difference between the two?

Monday, January 28, 2008

About That Open Letter, Katha...

Fausta's Blog weighs in on the criticism by online conservatives of public feminists, who they accuse of ignoring Muslim oppression of women. The reply by the feminist notables makes some good points, but is quite troubling.

An Open Letter from American Feminists

VFA asks members and friends to join Katha Pollit in responding to accusations that American feminists are ignoring atrocities against women in other countries, especially the Muslim world.

If you'd like to sign, just E-mail KATHA POLLITT and send her your name and ID (professional and/or feminist affiliation) at kpollitt@...

Full text, including signatories, here. Click through and read, then we'll talk.

Let's start by giving some credit. They make specific criticisms of practices in Muslim countries which oppress women. And as criticism seems to be what they think they should be doing, we can be glad that they get those points right. Unfortunately, they throw in every other sermon in their quiver as well. This is irritating when anyone does it, as it suggests an inability to contain one's thoughts and emotions. The need to bring up all their other favorite soapboxes just spills over, rather like the Ron Paul supporters.

"We reject the use of women's rights language to justify invading foreign countries...peaceful means..." Oh yawn. Are you a candy mint or a breath mint? So now it's women's rights, but rights that are obtained militarily don't count. "United States...share its unprecedented wealth..." Okay, Women's Rights and peaceful means and socialism. Plus President Bush vetoes the UN Population Fund funding every year. And abortions, don't forget abortions have to be bundled in to all contraception information - otherwise, we'd just as soon contraception information doesn't go out at all. And sign a women's rights document. So this short letter is about Women's rights and peaceful means and don't have oppressive allies and fund abortions and be socialist and say the right things to the world. Anything else we can work in there before we sign off?

We've looked at what the document does say. It says a lot about saying. Let's go a little deconstructionist here and notice what is not said. There's not a lot of doing mentioned here. Is this about doing anything for women, or just saying the right things? Exception: Global Fund For Women actually does things. Those other feminist organizations, not so much. They do a lot of networking, talking, deploring, condemning. I know advocates find talking and pressuring governments and issuing statements and giving speeches and photo ops with impoverished women to be just like real work, but I don't. Open a clinic. Dig a well. Set up a microlending bank. Dammit.

There is also nothing here about objective oppression, only relative. Women being badly treated, along with everyone else - no problem. Women being treated relatively worse than men - problem. Why would that be, exactly? Tick back up to that "invading foreign countries" thing. When whole nations are liberated - Afghanistan for instance... Or eastern Europe - women's lives improve. Which was supposed to be the original point, I thought. When a country gets schools, roads, hospitals, medicine, jobs - all those luxuries - there isn't any mention how women's lives are better than they were. To do that would mean acknowledging where all the schools, roads, hospitals, etc come from: the industrialized (especially Anglospheric) nations, in support of free markets. Aieee! Can't have that! We can't measure success in reducing the oppression of women by looking at whether their lives are better!

Much better to measure only relative oppression within a society, and to measure the rhetoric of official statements by the US government for correctness. The public feminists, the ones who find themselves important spokeswomen for the downtrodden, want the appearances of to be right. Thus, Bill Clinton, serial oppressor of women who said the right things and feels your pain gets a pass. George Bush, who sent millions of Middle-eastern women to school, gets deplored.

Talking and feeling and appearances. I thought those were the female stereotypes that feminists were trying to overthrow.

Look, no one made you word the letter as you did. I'm just reading it off the page.

Intellectual Morons

Daniel J Flynn's subtitle to the book is "How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall For Stupid Ideas." I'm keeping it more as reference than to read through again. Flynn's premise is that a theory or ideology beclouds thinking, so that no amount of contrary evidence can dent the ideologue.

Most of his targets are on the political left, but he whacks at the Straussians and Ayn Randians as well. Do not expect to get a balanced view of any of these theories or their founders - that's not Flynn's intent here. He highlights the weaknesses and idiocies of each thinker, each notable in the academy or the popular scientific imagination. Thinkers skewered include Paul Erlich, Noam Chomsky, Rigoberto Menchu, Peter Singer - the usual suspects, but collected conveniently in one volume.

Tiger Woods For President

I used my Obama joke too often - that we should have him run a golf tournament or something before we let him run the country. A coworker, likely a Democrat, narrowed his eyes and said "No, you're confusing Obama with Tiger Woods," implying a they-all-look-alike racism on my part.

Well, he may be onto something, but here's the thing. Tiger Woods would make a great president. He'd have to study up on the material for a few years, but it's hard not to admire his focus. They make a big deal about how martial artist Vladimir Putin ate George Bush's lunch. Putin has apparently been eating part of the lunch of everyone on the Eurasiatic continent. I like Tiger's chances in a duel of nerves against Putin. Against anyone.

He already knows how to deftly answer stupid questions. He is able to ruthlessly critique himself. What's not to like here?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

More Irony

Only 20% of Democratic voters in South Carolina considered the War in Iraq to be the most important issue. The general War on Terror doesn't even register.

It's easy to forget your opponent's reasoning a year later - we all have a harder time following an uncongenial argument - but how do you forget your own? Do Democrats wake up every morning with no memory of what they said a few months ago, like some ginormous Alzheimer's Party?

Scandal #3

Fifth in a series Are They Really That Bad?
Scandal #1
Scandal #2.

I am uncertain whether this is my strongest argument or my weakest. Fundraising scandals accompany almost every powerful politician. Mitt Romney had one earlier this year. Obama's got one simmering. The Clintons may be worse than others, but they are hardly unique. Partisanship being what it is, as news of any campaign illegalities break, the accused will try and maintain "Nah, that guy wasn't important, just a guy sort of hanging around asking to help - we invited him to a few parties out of pity for the schlep." The other party will attempt to paint the opposite picture. "That guy was like your best friend. He was involved in all the campaign decisions. You promised him he'd be an ambassador after the election." It is hard to get objective evidence, because even true statements are being selectively chosen.

Secondly, information comes out later. Not everyone gets caught, either. So the Clintons may look more habitually associated with criminals in their campaigns, but next week someone else's scandal may break which equals anything they did. Even more likely, we'll find a whole new batch of suspicions twenty years out, and have to guess on the basis of incomplete evidence whether the new scandals are uncovering real illegalities that couldn't stay secret forever or are just the rehashing of old rumors.

That said, let's make the case in very simple fashion that what Clintons did and do far exceed other politicians - a very high bar.

Jamie Gorelick's wall of separation which caused such a stir in the 9-11 Commission also prevented the domestic and international intelligence agencies from sharing investigative information on Clintons illegal campaign contributions. David Schippers claimed (and he is positioned to know), that the wall was erected to prevent investigation, not to maintain intelligence compartmentalization about terrorism. He further claims that if the agencies had been able to communicate, the case against Clinton and foreign campaign contributions was considerable.

I should mention, before I go further, that I have relied only on left-leaning sites for information on these scandals. No VRWC here.

Chinagate, with Charley Trie, Johnny Chung, Maria Hsia, John Huang...

Pardons for the carnies who paid Tony Rodham big bucks, and for Hugh Rodham's client Vignali,

James Riady and the Lippo group - and oh, BTW, the largest deposit of fantastically clean-burning coal that Clinton put off limits with the enormous new National Wilderness in Utah (not to mention the one trillion dollars in other minerals there) - Riady owns the second-largest pile of that coal. What are the odds?

Presidential pardons for Marc Rich and FALN.

Hollywood producer Peter Paul is suing the Clintons for $1M for broken business promises they made when he was raising funds for him. Oh yeah, he was convicted of illegal in-kind contributions.

120 people fled the country or pled the Fifth in the Whitewater investigation.

Cattlegate (most of the other - gates weren't financial)

Dubai Ports

Clinton was the one who actually did favors for contributor Ken Lay

Bobby Lowder

Illegal fundraising calls from the WH, and renting out the Lincoln bedroom.

And recently, of course, Norman Hsu, who raised millions illegally for the DNC, and especially for Hillary.

What have I forgotten? I didn't even touch on any of the questions around the funds for the presidential library or the numerous union funds scandals (because unions did that long before Clinton).

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Myth of Childhood Sexuality

I think this will be the last post on this at present.

I had a graduate-school textbook on personality development in 1979. It was a supplemental text, written by a psychoanalyst in the 1960’s, implying an author who was at school in the 40’s. On the very first page, this theorist made much of the fact that infant children liked to be naked, and his assertion of that fact showed up on subsequent pages as well. I was a new father, and this was a surprise to me. My infant son disliked being naked, so I asked two female coworkers, one of whom had seven children and one of whom had five – do infants like being naked?

Most of them hate it, they told me. They actually prefer to be wrapped tight. When they get a little older and can run around some of them like it, but it’s usually all the excitement and stimulation of bath time and the general central nervous system dyscontrol of late evening that causes them to laugh and giggle uncontrollably. So, I wondered, what was up with this analyst’s claim? One smiled rather wryly. “How many men have actually spent much time with babies?” Well I had started to, but I was rather in the vanguard of the sensitive male/involved father fashion. Men interacting with babies at all was considered humorous by women. One does have to wonder how much time with actual infants this male psychologist had spent.

It put my antennae up for the remainder of the book (or the one-third that I probably read, at least). This theorist of personality development, and by extension the professor who assigned the book, thought the sexual aspect of all behavior to be the most important thing to notice. I no longer remember who the author was, but the mere fact of his publication by an academic press strongly suggests that he had sufficient reputation that someone thought they could sell some books on his name. But he was dead wrong on simple facts from page one.

Fast-forward seven years. I took my son tobogganing with a girl from the neighborhood. Out on the slope, he stole her hat and ran away. She protested and whined, laughing all the time. I immediately interpreted it as some early, mythic boy-girl behavior. This was like junior-high flirting and dominance, and even, I worried, the adolescent seduction by the male, protestation by the female, and all ambiguous signals. I wasn’t ready to get into all that with a seven-year-old, yet here it was, and as the responsible Dad I have to figure out how to explain this…ouch, ouch.

Then she stole his hat and he acted the same way. Okay, so maybe children just like attention and some power. Let’s not get carried away here. It used to frustrate the Montessori directress that the boys would get together to chase the girls. But if it had been boys and monkeys at the school – which my son would have liked better, I think – then it would have been the boys banding together to chase the monkeys. If it had been girls and dogs, the girls would have banded together to chase the dogs. There is a different male and female style on this, but is more about identifying and cooperating with one’s group than anything else. No need to over-interpret this.

There isn’t much need to sexualize what we see in children. The genitals have lots of nerve endings, and that could account for a lot of learned attention by the child. The other areas that have lots of nerve endings, the mouth and the hands, also attract their focus. For little boys – and I have only sons (the foster daughters were older girls) – the penis is one of the few things visible on you that there’s only one of. Another is the navel, which also attracts attention, though I haven’t heard people make much developmental fuss about that. The penis also produces fascinating liquid, urine (fascinating to a child, that is. Adults grow rather tired of it), the evacuation of which causes relief. As children are fascinated by many things that their body produces – flatulence, scabs, blood – none of which figure prominently in psychoanalytic theory, I begin to suspect that our sexual interpretation of children’s behavior is adult projection. A seed is not a flower, as I noted in an earlier post, but those of us with flowers make retrospective connections which may not be valid.

Compare this with emotional development, as a thought experiment. When we look back over romances or friendships when we were in school, we see similarities between our relationships at 19 with those at 17, those at 17 with those at 15, those at 15 with those at 13. In retrospect, we assume a much higher level of maturity for those relationships than we actually possessed. We see the flower in the bud, the bud in the stem, the stem in the stalk. This is brought home to us with brutal honesty by real encounters. If we read something we wrote when we were 15, we are immediately aware of how (embarrassingly) far from our adult selves it is. We thought our romances almost like those of ourselves at 20, and are shocked to find that they are more like the romances of age 10. We see this also when our own children get to the ages when they notice the opposite sex. My Aunt Fanny, was I ever such a mooning, shallow twit? In my case, I was far worse, because I was arrogant about my putative maturity.

So too with what adults, and social scientists in particular, claim as sexualized behavior in the young. Actual sexual behavior is a warning light that older persons have exposed the child to sex.

Ironic, in that the overconsciousness of sex is what the sex researchers thought they were reacting against – the prudish overreaction and squelching by their parents’ generation of anything that hinted at sex. To counteract this, they also saw sex everywhere in children’s behavior, but decided we should call it healthy rather than dangerous.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jumping To Conclusions - Alfred C. Kinsey

I leapt to a conclusion in preparation for another post, and thought my few readers might be interested not only in the case, but my internal reasoning. It might supply a necessary corrective to other conclusions I may have leapt to.

Alfred Kinsey was controversial when his books came out in the 40’s and 50’s. The traditional explanation among the educated classes was that he had exposed what society did not want to see about itself, and the public tried to discredit him to suppress unpleasant information. That is certainly what I was taught in both sociology and psychology at college in the 70’s, and I have run across the idea since. It is a tidy narrative, of (evil) moralists versus (good) scientists, and it has provided considerable buffering for Kinsey’s work over the years. To doubt him is to doubt Science. This is certainly the image he had of himself – a scientist warring with facts against superstition and opinion. It would be possible to read his biographical information and conclude that he was hypocritically hiding behind science to elevate his own opinions and feed his own demons, but my reading is that he was sincere in one sense. If he was hiding, it was not just from the public, but from himself. He really believed he was a scientist on a mission of truth, not some Trojan Horse of a sexual advocate.

It is quite obvious reading the biographical details of his sadomasochism, bisexuality, and intrusiveness that his personal agenda was a large part of what drove him, but there is no need to make that worse than it is. He believed he was enlightening society, not deceiving it, and personal agendas can drive us to serve either good causes or bad.

Kinsey settled into legendary status in sexual research, his data accepted fairly uncritically in the social sciences. In a mirror image of the moralists they were rejecting, social scientists liked the picture that Kinsey painted and defended it.

In the early 80’s a researcher interested in sexual abuse saw what had been right out in the open all those years but seemingly unnoticed: all this data on the sexuality of children, including measurements of how many orgasms five-year-olds could have in an hour – how had that data been collected? I remember reading childhood sexuality information in at least two college course, and in professional books of a more Freudian or intrapersonal dynamics bent – the calm assurance that even infants manifested sexual behavior – it never once occurred to me how that information had been obtained. Even years later, reading about how sex offenders reinterpret children’s behavior in a sexual way, seeing squirming and anxiety as signs of sexual excitement, I didn’t quite make the connection to Kinsey’s data.

The childhood sexual data is sometimes referred to as Chapter 12, or Tables 30-34, or Judith Reisman’s title “The Children of Table 34.” Some of it comes from adult retrospectives during sexual interviews. Some of it comes from the reports of pedophiles, two of whom have been identified, and their observation of hundreds of victims. Some may even have come from experiments done at the Kinsey Institute itself. The Institute denies this, though it acknowledges that the pedophiles’ information is part of the data. As the records were encoded, the raw data generally unavailable, and all of the researchers long gone, the debate is not likely to rise above the level of accusation/denial. Neither side can prove its point, and even evidence pointing one way or another is sparse. Cottage industries have sprung up on both sides, the anti-Kinseyans claiming “knowing now what Kinsey did hide, why shouldn’t we believe the scattered reports suggesting he hid other things?” and the Kinsey supporters attacking the accuser’s motives.

Applying an Assistant Village Idiot’s rule, we don’t need to go into the debatable parts of the discussion – we have plenty without it. We only need know that child molesters were encouraged to send in their data (which they would take as tacit permission from a Scientist to continue), and Kinsey’s description of the orgasms of little boys, as noted in the previous post , to make our judgment.

Children were abused to obtain this data.

One of Kinsey’s biographers, who expresses considerable approval of him, is also the author of a book on the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. James H. Jones seems not to have made the connection. If it is a horrible thing to do deadly medical experiments on African-Americans in the interest of science, then it is horrible to sexually abuse little boys for the same purpose. One of the reasons the Left in the 70’s was paranoid about the CIA is because of the drug experiments done by that agency in Project MKULTRA. That Nazi doctors did pain experiments on concentration camp victims was proof of their evil. Fine, then. Why not Kinsey?

Answer: In social science research, the observer must adopt a non-judgmental stance in order not to bias the results. This is entirely proper, but it means that the social science fields attract those for whom this is a personality trait, not a stance. Therapists take a similar approach of non-judgment in order to create a bridge of understanding and to help. This has quite easily turned into a rejection of all judgments. Those who have this personality trait (interesting research here), finding an advantage in this field, turn the trait into a virtue. This is doubly and trebly so for sex researchers. I left off going to their conferences because so many prominent researchers and speakers believed that sexual expression was entirely cultural and relative, including sex with children. If society didn’t make such a big deal out of it, the child would not be harmed. Kinsey believed this and taught this to his staff. This attitude of nonjudgment became part of his crusade – that not only researchers, but all people should abandon these restrictions on sexual expression.

The new criticism of Professor Kinsey revived all the earlier criticisms of his methodology. 20-25% of his male interviewees were prison inmates, and he especially sought out sexual offenders. He included no African-Americans in any of his studies. His subjects turn out to be very disproportionately single, from eastern America, university-educated, and under 60. Thus it is hardly surprising to learn that his tables show an inflated amount of sexual experimentation. He arrived at a figure of 10% for homosexuality, which was accepted for decades as fact. (More recent studies show 1-4%, depending on definition).

But this is where I leapt to an unwarranted conclusion. I thus assumed that all Kinsey’s data must be bogus. It was an attractive simplification for me: In 1948, America underestimated how usual the sexually unusual was; Kinsey overestimated it. So let’s just assume that something in the middle is true.

Not so. Some of his data are quite good. The methods he developed to compensate for lack of randomness in his samples were creative, and offset some of that difficulty. He kept thorough records, some of which can be reused to ask different questions today. He did measure some things accurately, as later studies have replicated.

Kinsey was on his way to becoming something of a Darwin or Mendel in reputation before the 2004 movie came out – a cherished founder whose actual work was no longer consulted much.* But Hollywood, late to the scientific party but right in touch with defending imperiled progressive values, reactivated the entire No!-He-was-a-scientist! (All opponents are fundamentalist moralizers with unconscious sexual pathology, too!) routine, and I imagine the myth will perpetuate for at least another decade now.

*Except in regards to childhood sexuality. As no one would dare do such experiments anymore, his conclusions are still accepted by many as accurate. Despite knowing that the "scientific" reports are mostly the subjective evaluations of the men raping them, there seems this need to believe.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Vampiric Child Molestation - A Seed Is Not A Flower

This post contains some graphic and distressing sexual material. Really. Don’t read it if that will bother you.

On the sexual response of little boys:
“…orgasm, which involves still more violent convulsions of the entire body; groaning, sobbing, or more violent cries sometimes with an abundance of tears (especially with the younger children)… culminating in extreme trembling, collapse, loss of color, and sometimes fainting…pained or frightened at approach of orgasm… The males in this group become similarly hypersensitive before the arrival of actual orgasm, will fight away from the partner and may make violent attempts to avoid climax, although they derive definite pleasure from the situation.”
Alfred C. Kinsey Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, p.161

I don’t have any pedophiles on my current caseload. I have had well over a hundred over the years. I am in no way an expert on the topic, but I have read some, listened some, and thought some.

Pedophiles often choose victims that are the same age they were when they were first molested themselves. That isn’t always the case – some perpetrators aren’t especially fussy about the age or sex of their victims, for example – but it happens often enough that it is our working hypothesis before we gather a history. Also, we keep that age in mind whatever history we are told, as later information sometimes substantiates that hypothesis.

There is often an intense conflict and ambivalence lasting into adulthood among the molested who become pedophiles themselves. “Did I enjoy the experience?” For some, the answer is not clear, especially when the perpetrator is still young himself. The description from Kinsey, above, based primarily on reports he received from pedophiles, may help explain this. The responses described are clearly of a child being traumatized, and only a madman would think otherwise. Yet it may be that there is physical pleasure or release of some sort in the forced sexual act. If some sort of proto-orgasm can be forced on an unwilling subject, then a horrible dissonance would set in. Emotionally horrifying, physically pleasurable (or at least anxiolytic) – what is a child to make of that? If the abuse is repeated, the dissonance only grows worse. With no ability to think abstractly, and no one to interpret the experience for him, what would a child think? The divisions of mind that say “I like this person…but I don’t like what he’s doing…this is frightening…but I feel some relief afterward…this is wrong…I must be bad…” are simply impossible for a seven-year-old to sort through. Pedophiles use this ambivalence to rationalize the act. One will often hear them claim “Kids need love too… they enjoy the experience, you can tell,” and the like.

Yes, people can rationalize anything, can’t they? Pedophiles conveniently reinterpret just about anything a child might do as sexual excitement or pleasure. NAMBLA members apply their false retrospectives to their victims and conclude “they like this.”

If you extend that conflict forward in the developing personality, you can see the trouble it can cause – a sexualized child, uncertain about the conflicting pictures of what he should grow up to be. As an adult, it is common for them to resolve the conflict by claiming that they mostly enjoyed the experience of molestation. Because in a retrospective consideration of one’s sexual thoughts and acts there are often no bright lines, they think of their adult sexual experiences as being quite the same as their childhood ones. They conclude that seeds are flowers, so to speak, because the journey from one to the other has a continuity. And in retrospect, all continuities look inevitable. Especially if it rationalizes our current behavior. Pedophiles deeply resent any suggestion that they are trying to recruit. They prefer to think of themselves as “discovering” boys who would like sex with men but don’t know it yet. This is rubbish, but it’s convenient to think that. There is also the common refrain that the problem for the child is not caused by their action, but by society’s overreaction. Many perpetrators take a primitive pleasure in this competition between themselves and the society, and find the constant rehearsal of their sophistical arguments an important part of their self-definition. They are the enlightened few – all the literature they read assures them of this; we are the ignorant masses. They very much enjoy thinking this way, and dare I mention it – it is a sexual pleasure for them to offend against norms in word as well as deed. It is a vampiric joy, resolving their own conflict by becoming the aggressor who tormented them.

When you actually know boys who have been sexually abused recently, the myth is exploded. They don’t like it, they fear it and hate it – often especially the dissociation or absence that is part of what the perpetrator calls “orgasm.”

We have a thousand ambiguities and conflicts we have to resolve in moving from childhood to adulthood, and even on less extreme issues, the choices often have costs either way. This particular conflict is beyond the reach of children to resolve. They are damaged.

Additional note: there are varieties of offenders, though I have lumped them together and generalized here. Some are true sociopaths, seemingly untouchable by any real emotion. Others are more sad sacks, immature schmoes who actually are at a child’s age in their sexual development. There is much in between. But this matters little if at all to the damaged child. The perpetrator learns to rationalize any behavior and becomes a secret menace. Whether they go there through intent or tragedy has no effect on the victim.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Economic Prediction

So what do I know? Nuttin', but just to show it can be done: the leading indicators, like the stock market, are at bottom or pretty near. They are going up now. The lagging indicators, like unemployment, have not yet shown their damage. They will worsen. They will bottom out in summer, and the Democrats will successfully convince a lot of people that the economy is tanking, even though it will already be rebounding.


If you would have told me in mid-October that my New England teams would go 52-6 over the next 100 days I would have called you overoptimistic. Heck, even the Revs only lost one more game after that date, and I don't even follow them much.

I will never see a run like this again.

Scandal #2

Part of the continuing series Are They Really That Bad?

Everyone accepts now that Bill Clinton is a skirt-chaser, and as a country, we’ve decided that doesn’t bother us much. Clearly, some of his supporters must think it’s a plus, however they protest. The Clintons were still worried that it might be a political liability in the early 90’s however, and took steps to eliminate or reduce the damage. When such accusations come up we expect a denial, and we know that some percentage of both the accusations and the denials are lies. Suggestions that the woman is trying to get money, or attention, or revenge are considered at least possible, so we withhold convicting the accused in our minds. Bill Clinton did it repeatedly, including to a Grand Jury, but the country has decided that it’s no big deal. People lie about sexual things because they’re embarrassed, so let’s not make a federal case about it.


Now that we go back over those scandals, knowing that Bill Clinton did have sexual relations with most or all of them, and that their accusations are true, the other parts of their accusations become more important. If you don’t want to be upset about Clinton hitting on women, fine. That he is evasive, or lies by omission, or even lies directly to get himself off the hook, seems to strike many people as no big deal. That those around him made statements that later turned out to be false – well, we cut people slack on that as well. Maybe they believed what he told them. Maybe they closed their eyes to what they should have known. We can all see ourselves in that situation.

Our own reaction at the time also is not morally reprehensible. There was legitimate doubt about the accusations, and whatever our private suspicions were, maintaining an official neutrality is fine, even good. Sometimes people do accuse powerful political figures unfairly. Some of the accusations against Clinton remain shaky or poorly supported.

We draw a right moral line between making statements that are known to be false, and statements that turn out to be false. In the face of sexual allegations, the Clintons and their supporters not only denied them, they went out of their way to hurt the accusers. When Paula Jones had her turn at the plate, James Carville offered the opinion that you could get people to say a lot of things if you trawled a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park. We now know that was not just Carville cautioning us to proper suspicion or offering possible explanations. He knew her story was true – but lied to destroy her anyway.

This is not merely lying and being evasive. This is lying to destroy innocent, powerless people who call you accountable. Linda Tripp was fired from her Pentagon job as revenge – a court awarded her over half a mil on that. When Gennifer Flowers came forward about her affair with Bill Clinton, Carville and Stephanopoulos asserted on national TV that her tapes had been doctored. Perhaps they believed that (see my post on Political Loyalty, immediately preceeding this one), but some of her information turned out to be true despite the denials, and she stands by the rest; nor has anyone offered disproving evidence. Monica Lewinsky gets called to testify and the word goes out from the White House through Sidney Blumenthal that she’s a stalker.

These are not wild accusations from the fringe of the Democratic party. (Heck, everyone’s got nutcases willing to spin stories about the opposition). These came from the White House. It bears repeating: these are not just denials, reinterpretations, and evasions. These are attacks on powerless people by the powerful. Nor are they the common source-attacks of politics, undermining claims by pointing out that it is a conservative (or liberal – conservatives do this too) news source or funded by conservatives. Those happened also, but those are at least attacks on people who have some ability to defend themselves. These incidents are that one step further that allow me to claim yeah, they are that bad.

More doubtful:
Kathleen Willey – well, her story changes and it’s hard to know how much of it is true. But the subsequent intimidation of her has substantiation. Were the Clintons behind that, and the phone threats and IRS audits of Sally Perdue and Juannita Broaddrick? Can’t say. Maybe not. I’ve left that out of consideration here. The point is we don’t need those dark suspicions to make our case. We have stuff right out in the open.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Political Loyalty

Loyalty is one of those conditional virtues, like courage. It is generally agreed to be a good thing, but if applied to an evil cause, increases the evil. Thus we admire loyalty in those who are on our side politically, but find loyal lieutenants on another side to be sinister - unthinking, dangerous folk. Presidential appointees in particular strike us this way. The other guys are always henchmen, sycophants, a cabal, or other name evoking evil.

Yet everyone wants a friend who believes you even when the evidence looks to be against you, and no one admires a supporter who jumps ship as soon as the going gets tough.

And from the outside, we are always so wise, thinking it obvious when a person should no longer believe.

Dangerous Media Vets

In response to the New York Times easily-refutable series on how violent returning Iraqi vets are (they have half the crime rate of the civilian population), Iowahawk has a brilliant expose of how dangerous journalists are.
A Denver newspaper columnist is arrested for stalking a story subject. In Cincinnati, a television reporter is arrested on charges of child molestation. A North Carolina newspaper reporter is arrested for harassing a local woman. A drunken Chicago Sun-Times columnist and editorial board member is arrested for wife beating. A Baltimore newspaper editor is arrested for threatening neighbors with a shotgun. In Florida, one TV reporter is arrested for DUI, while another is charged with carrying a gun into a high school. A Philadelphia news anchorwoman goes on a violent drunken rampage, assaulting a police officer. In England, a newspaper columnist is arrested for killing her elderly aunt.

Unrelated incidents, or mounting evidence of that America's newsrooms have become a breeding ground for murderous, drunk, gun-wielding child molesters? Answers are elusive, but the ever-increasing toll of violent crimes committed by journalists has led some experts to warn that without programs for intensive mental health care, the nation faces a potential bloodbath at the hands of psychopathic media vets.

The link is worth the click for the brilliant graph alone.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Bad Analogy

Commenters all over the political kaleidescope like to make arguments about what nations should do based on what people should do. This unfortunate anthropomorphizing of states impedes clarity almost every time it is used. Countries are not like families sitting at a kitchen table working on a budget. Nations are not like children in schoolyards, or merchants along a street, or neighborhoods.

Human beings live in societies, nations are societies. The analogy always falls apart at exactly that point.

We just want things to look simpler than they are so we can pretend to understand them.


New England plays San Diego in the AFC championship. Green Bay plays New York in the NFC. Change AFC/NFC to AFL/NFL, and it's the mid-1960's all over again.

Not Actually Reviews

Comments on 3 ½ books recently received.

I though the “little” in EH Gombrich’s A Little History Of The World meant “brief.” It is brief, but I need to read the fine print before putting books on my wish list. It is a children’s history, fortunately and excellent one. Much of was standard 9th-grade World History, but phrased clearly and vividly. Get it for your kids, ya sure, down to about 9 years old I’d say, but you’ll find it useful for yourself as well. Gombrich gets a lot into a little space.

He wrote the volume in Vienna in 1935, updating it in the 1990’s after spending his adult life in England. There is thus more central European history than American textbooks usually have, and a slightly different perspective, which in itself provokes thought. His Eurocentric world leads from Sumer, Athens, Jerusalem, and Constantinople to Europe, never dropping back to see what happened with those lands after. This older style history reminded me what the multiculturalists were rebelling against. Germany, France, England, Spain, Italy, and Austria-Hungary are the center of the world, with bit parts occasionally played by Russians, Turks, or Mongols. He gets America, India, and China wrong by terribly oversimplifying (Did you know that China was mostly ruled in peace for a thousand years? Its neighbors might be interested in hearing that, as would the residents of China itself who lived under one of the many warlords.)

But for those who prefer their history to be the Western Civ, battles, monarchs, and birth-of-ideas sort, the book is simply excellent. The final chapter in particular is wise and moving. His explanation of WWI had been disquieting to me, so much did it repeat the myths that Germans and Austrians believed about St.-Germaine, Trianon, and Versailles. While that prejudice was perhaps understandable in an Austrian, I had felt it seriously marred the book and almost did not continue. I am glad I pushed on. The author revisits that chapter from the perspective of the 1990’s, confesses that he believed what was written in the newspapers and what “everyone knew” who lived then in Vienna. He wonders how he – no Nazi sympathizer -could have gone so horribly wrong, and gives remarkable explanation and cautions to the reader. The last section is quite powerful for those of us who hope to understand what goes on around us.

As an audio book I got a bonus: I learned how to correctly pronounce Scipio, duchy, pince nez, and half-a-dozen other words I can’t recall this moment.

The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson

I had just read Johnson’s Everything Bad Is Good For You, which I gave Ben for Christmas, and found it fascinating. Of course, any book that looks at a conventional wisdom and shows how its oversimplification conceals a neglected truth is always going to appeal to me. The latter book demonstrates how modern TV, video games, and crap entertainment are making us smarter. The Ghost Map tells of the cholera outbreaks in 19th C London, and how the epidemic spikes forced people to accept scientific ideas they found uncongenial. The learned doctors of the day believed that disease was spread by bad air – that bad smells were not warnings, but bad for you in themselves. This theory of miasma fit prevailing social views about poverty and the poor constitutions of the lower classes.

A single cholera epidemic in the middle of the century takes up most of the chapters. Johnson traces the work of a physician and a parish vicar in solving the puzzle of waterborne contaminants at a pump believed to deliver the clearest and best-tasting water for many blocks around. But the solving was less interesting to me than the proving. Despite solid evidence, the best scientists of the time refused to believe what went against their theories, and Dr. Snow’s theories were sneered at in The Lancet (which is also in the news again for a similar problem). Pondering how such smart people could go so wrong, as frustrating as it is to read about, is rather sobering. Yet a mere dozen years later most had come around to Snow’s POV, so completely as to sneer now at the older theory, writing as if they had never fully believed it – it was all those others who were the obstacles, don’t you know.

Oh by the way, I almost vomited several times in the introduction and first chapters. The descriptions of sewage, scavenging, and cholera symptoms are pretty vivid. C’mon, I dare ya.

Johnson makes a good case that improvements in sewage removal were more necessary to the growth of cities than electricity. When you tell a good story and open up new ideas, you earn the right to pontificate about what now should be done in your final chapters, and Johnson does. He thinks because cities use less heat and transportation energy per person than rural or suburban environments, we will increasingly move there, and he’s all for it. “We are deeply committed to raising our children in an urban environment.” He doesn’t say why, exactly, but the whole stimulation/multi-culti/openmindedness seems at the root of it. Odd, though. People are usually “deeply committed” to raising their children in some set of values, which they hope a particular environment will provide. Being committed to the city qua city eludes me.

French intellectual Jean-Francois Revel wrote Without Marx or Jesus around 1970, and his more recent Anti-Americanism is supposed to be both a sequel and an update to it. It has much the same appeal as the Steven Johnson books, but on political topics. A French intellectual challenges the European misconceptions about America, standing most of them on their head. The US fanaticizes cultural hegemony. No, that would be Europe, especially France. The US media is controlled by the state. No, that would be Europe, especially France. His repeated point is that America became the sole superpower by default, by doing what works. Europe could have been equal in influence but preferred to squander its money, knowledge, and resources in keeping socialist fantasies afloat. Globalization, the information economy, and the free market are not American ideas imposed on the world. They are the ideas which work, and America is using.

As I read, I kept noting passages to quote on my site. When I reached two dozen, I realized it had become impossible. Two quotes, to give you a flavor of the book:

(Regarding WTO and G-8 Meetings)
What the developing countries are asking for is freer access to the world’s best markets for their products, especially agricultural products. In other words, they want more globalization, not less. So here is another aspect of the rioters’ inconsistency: well-heeled themselves, they are subverting summits whose goal is, by expanding free trade, to strengthen poor countries’ ability to export to the most solvent zones.

The legions of Muslims living in countries that have never known democracy or the slightest whiff of press freedom are apparently well-qualified to defend those goods against the only country on the planet where they have never been suppressed. As for the French (to confine ourselves to one European country and the relatively recent past), they have evidently already forgotten how, when the Algerian Wars were being fought, radio and television were subject to vigilant censorship…

Highly recommended for those interested in discussions of world opinion.

Scandal #1

Oh yeah, there's gonna be more.

I set up my own criteria for discussing political scandals in a particular context. The popular imagination usually gravitates to the question “Is the most interesting accusation a big deal?” Whether the accusation is true, or whether less interesting parts of the scandal might be important tends to get left behind. Senator Bloviator ran over a child with his limousine at 100 mph and didn’t turn back. Isn’t that reprehensible? Well, yes it would be if it turns out to be true. If it turns out that the 100 mph is true but it’s a dead cat, the public goes away. I would still be interested why the senator is driving 100 mph. It’s not as big a deal as killing a child, but it does raise questions of judgment and entitlement.

I’d like to go back over the ground of some Clinton scandals. We got distracted by the exciting parts, and missed some key items. The most important and most telling items are not always the sexiest.

Vince Foster is found dead. The next three months were taken up with dark speculations about why he committed suicide, and even darker speculations that it was not suicide. The latter proved poorly-founded, and the former proved uninteresting from a government standpoint (though obviously interesting to those who knew him and to students of human nature). Frequently mentioned but not pursued was what originally drove the speculations: the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the Park Police (who had jurisdiction over the investigation) were prevented from entering Foster’s office to begin its investigation that morning. Everyone wanted to speculate what was being covered up. But the mere fact that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Nussbaum were giving orders to the Department of Justice, preventing them from starting the search, is an enormous point. What the hell are the First Lady and White House Counsel doing giving orders about a death investigation in the first place? Let’s picture an identical scenario. Dick Cheney turns up dead and Nancy Reagan or Barbara Bush show up at the White House and prevent the FBI and DOJ from going into his office, supported by Fred Fielding or C Boyden Gray. Who? Yeah, who dey? Or Laura Bush and Harriet Miers barring the office door of say, a missing Karl Rove. Do you begin to see why this is problematic? If these are national security or other executive privilege documents, then where is the president? Where’s the Sec Def or the Attorney General making the case?

It’s not just the speculation of what might be hidden. Heck, it could be minor crap that is merely embarrassing, like love letters or bondage porn. It’s that no First Lady and White House Counsel have anything like that authority. The excuses they gave, even if true, were inadequate. Obstructing the FBI and DOJ from investigating the death of a high-ranking government official is extremely serious, and a terrible precedent. Some quotes from the case:

Dan Moldea (professional investigator whose book concluded that Foster’s death was a suicide and the conservative conspiracy theories mostly unfounded) -
Yes, there was this general feeling that something was being covered up, and that stemmed from the search of Foster's office when Bernie Nussbaum changed the rules of the game and refused to allow the Department of Justice and the Park Police to participate in the search. During the Senate Whitewater Committee it came out that Mrs. Clinton, her chief of staff Maggie Williams and Susan Thomases (the New York attorney who is close friends with both Ms. Williams and Mrs. Clinton), had talked 17 times in a 43-hour period after Foster killed himself. Then Mrs. Thomases calls Nussbaum on the morning of the search, after Nussbaum has agreed to allow the Department of Justice and the Park Police to participate in the search. But after this conversation, Nussbaum changes the rules. He decides to keep all the options and all rights to the search, and then forces the Department of Justice attorneys, David Margolis and Roger Adams, as well as the Park Police guys, Charlie Hume and Pete Markland, to stand there like cigar-store Indians. That is where the conspiracy people believe the coverup began.

Or Professor Phillip Heymann, Harvard Law (exam question)
Then, the following morning, July 22, when the review of files was to take place, Mr. Nussbaum announced that the system was to be changed. While the Park Police, the F.B.I., and the two attorneys sat at the opposite end of the room, he would look at all the files and simply announce whether they had any relevance to an investigation of Foster's death. The two Department of Justice attorneys objected and called me. I objected strongly. Still, Mr. Nussbaum proceeded on the basis he had announced, letting no one from outside the White House see any part of the files or documents. No note or other indication of despondency was found on that occasion, although Nussbaum also looked in Foster's briefcase.
Then at the end of the day, he dispersed the files to several other places: personal quarters of the Clinton's, the attorney for the Foster family, and other lawyers in the White House Counsel's office. Meanwhile, the Park Police were also finding it very difficult to conduct interviews in the White House. White House attorneys were always present, preventing any private interview.
Yesterday, July 27, out of the blue, the Attorney General and I were called to the White House in the evening. This was several days after the strange "review" of the Foster files. We were told that Bernie Nussbaum and his aides had just found in Foster's briefcase a torn note in Foster's handwriting. They had somehow missed the note when going through his briefcase the day of the search of the files. The note reflected depression and a sense of inadequacy to his job. The White House has held the note for about 24 hours before letting us know of its existence. The Attorney General demanded that the note be immediately be turned over to the Park Police.

The failure to find the note at the time of the reported office search was a final "straw" of embarrassment for the Park Police. They notified their boss, the Secretary of the Interior, that they wanted out of the case – that they could not handle a White House investigation. The Secretary's chief of staff came to see me to let me know of this prospective, embarrassing withdrawal.

Let us also note that Vince Foster was arguably Hillary Clinton’s closest friend. You don’t have to believe the rumors of an affair, or of his managing all the Clinton secrets, to remember that these rumors arose because of his particularly close relationship to the First Lady. Your best friend is found dead, and your first response is to not let professional investigators in and figure out what happened? What the hell kind of friend is that?
No one asked the Clintons to justify why Hillary stepped in, why the FBI and DOJ were kept out, why Bernie Nussbaum was anywhere near the case, or even why they thought their close friend might have committed suicide. No one asked. The White House press corps thought it more important to focus on refuting the questions from the opposition.
What was being hidden is no longer the point. Whether this is concealing vast crimes or just politically inconvenient or technically illegal small stuff doesn’t matter much. This is the behavior of dictators’ families, not elected officials.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Military Lion Shorn of Equipment

The proud motto of northern Europe’s crack rapid-reaction force is ad omnia paratus. Prepared for everything, everywhere. But the heraldic lion above the Latin tag now sends a less plucky message – he has just been digitally emasculated and, though technically still a lion rampant, he does not seem to be ready for anything, anywhere.

The change was implemented after a group of women Swedish soldiers protested that they could not identify with such an ostentatiously male lion on their army crest. A complaint of sex discrimination was then lodged with the European Court of Justice.

Full story here.

HT: An Englishman's Castle.


The businessman who misses what is “really important” about life, such as the nurture and admonition of his own children, has been a stock figure in the arts not only in the last hundred years, but back through Moliere and Shakespeare, at least. It was certainly a repeated theme of the entertainment of my childhood, from Mr. Banks in “Mary Poppins” – don’t we all know how much jollier the life of a chimney-sweep was than a banker in Edwardian London – through Ray Stevens’ “Mr. Businessman.” This stock character is himself an advertising gimmick, playing off 1) the fantasies of children who can’t understand why Daddy has to leave the house and go somewhere clearly less important, 2) the stereotype from the Victorian era of the sacred home, presided over by a saintly and pure mother, protected from the corrupting outside world by a husband who endures this jungle everyday, and 3) envious people who make less money in other professions and want to feel superior. That’s quite a market.

It is something to note the hypocrisy of one of the largest entertainment conglomerates peddling movies that sneer at money-makers, but there is an even deeper self-serving motive for Disney here. Let’s look at what that Poppins woman brings to the table. Young Michael, now won over completely to her point of view, wants to spend his tuppence on feeding pigeons. It’s a lovely sad song – my mother, a city girl who despised pigeons would get teary at “Feed the Birds.” – and it would seem to be helping out an impoverished street vendor who showers such love on God’s feathered creatures. The eccentric bird-woman could perhaps do better proffering food to be given to the starving progeny of chimney sweeps than to the rats-with-wings that are the Rock Doves. But it’s sung sweetly, so you know it must be noble and true.

In contrast, Michael’s father and the entire board of the bank want the boy to invest it with them, so that it can be part of

Railways through Africa
Dams across the Nile
Fleets of ocean greyhounds
Majestic, self-amortizing canals
Plantations of ripening tea

These are implied to be unworthy and somewhat ridiculous. Residents of Africa who might wish to travel to see a doctor or sell their wares, or Egyptians who want electricity might see it differently.

But it works great for Disney. Buy sentiment, not durable goods. Boy, that ended up working out great for them, didn't it? All the McDonald’s-haters and anti-globalists, with their exquisite disdain for the supposed homogenization of culture due to American advertising have it backwards: Redneck Bubbas take the family out for Thai food now, but the antiglobalists remain unchanged in their thinking since the entertainment industry advertised values to them in childhood. They like anti-brands, such as the strange bottled beverages at Starbucks, or listener-supported public radio (brought to you in part by a grant from...). Anti-branding, much like the meticulously-disheveled little boys in Disney, is one of America's most powerful brands.

Who Shall I Be, Then, After The Singularity?

I put aside a low-tech time capsule at the turn of the Millennium (on the pedantic date, not the usual one, of course.) It includes a lengthy comment by my mother, who had died just a little before, photographs, foreign money, I forget most of the rest. I did write a long letter - big surprise there. I imagined what it would be like to read a letter from one of my ancestors 100 years ago, and wrote accordingly. I still remember bits of it, but I intentionally didn't keep a copy.

What impresses me at present is how much of what I remember is already dated. Seven years out, and already I can detect a faint ridiculousness about some aspects. I wanted descendants to know something of what sort of family they came from - how we thought, why we did what we did, including what trends I could see from my own forebears through me. I thought it might be a comfort to a great-great granddaughter to see qualities in herself that came as a sort of legacy.

At least two of my genealogical lines are notable for people with great memories, large vocabularies, and out-of-the-box thinking. The sort of intelligence one finds measured by standardized tests is also prominent. I thought that might be a source of pride for a descendant, and now that I look at it, I was quite prideful about my relatives and myself on that score. It never became a completed thought, but something like "Your great-great grandparents were very clever people who knew all sorts of things" was not far from my mind.

What we now call intelligence may be a mere curiosity of ability 93 years from now. We think of memory, vocabulary, and general knowledge as skills exemplifying Smart in our era. But with search engines already making me obsolete, and the likelihood of being our rapidly becoming able to purchase intelligence as a brain augmenter like software, or as a gene we can have installed in our children, what descendant would care if we were intelligent - even if we were among the most intelligent? So what? It might be no more of an honor than we would regard an ancestor of our own who had memorized whole plays of Shakespeare, or had beautiful penmanship, or estimated distances well. Mere curiosities.

What qualities might be thought to last, then? Exceptional abilities in design, perhaps, or of art, though I can imagine even these being superseded by technology.

We might hope that character will endure. Kindness, generosity, and self-sacrifice might still be valued.

Libertarian Discussion - Part II

My son Ben sent the following reply to Discussion About Libertarians.
(Same disclaimer as before: In the following correspondence I do mention that libertarians and Ron Paul supporters are not fully overlapping groups. Some libertarians find fault with many of Paul’s positions, and some of his supporters are merely contrarians or anti-war, not libertarians. I state that at the outset, however, as some of my following comments treat them as identical. Please regard that as generalization, and perhaps sloppiness on my part.)

Two technical questions:
1. Does the President have the power, without any approval from Congress, to remove all of the troops from all military bases worldwide?
2. Does Congress lack that same power? Can they order the President/order the military to bring the troops back home, or can they merely cut the funding so that the President has no choice but to bring troops home?

That wasn't what I expected, but it was fun anyway.
A perfect libertarian question. Technically, a president might have that right, though it has never been tested.
And it's not ever going to be tested. No one who advocates such a thing will get elected, because his own party would sabotage his candidacy. Even the Libertarian Party. Anyone who looked like they might do it by surprise would be similarly rejected. And if someone snuck through and tried it, he would engender such outrage in not only the Congress, but the Depts of State, Defense, and Commerce (at least) that he would be unable to govern. If 95% of the government is against you, you can't function. Everyone will just immediately pass legislation overruling you - and yes, they could get enough votes for a Constitutional Amendment quickly if need be, because the citizens don't want to be left out either.

And that's a good thing, not some antidemocratic evasion. The Constitution is not a spell book. If libertarians want to remove all troops from around the world, they should elect people who want that. They can't elect those people because THE PEOPLE OF AMERICA DON'T WANT THAT, ASSHAT! THIS IS A REPUBLIC! WE ELECT PEOPLE WE THINK WILL GET IT RIGHT AND IF THEY DON'T WE ELECT SOMEONE ELSE! (Deep breath) We do not empower even presidents to say "Y'know what? I think the Constitution allows me this new power. I'm gonna do it." Look at the problems that Bush had even trying to expand Clinton's version of the Patriot Act in accordance with new technology. Not only did a lot of Democrats go nuts, so did the libertarians!

This is exactly the sort of discussion you want to bring to a larger level, rather than argue about the technical details. Because libertarians of that stripe are looking for some magic, some shortcut, some loophole, much like the guys who say you don't have to pay taxes because of ridiculous idiosyncratic interpretations of various laws. You might ask him about the tax protesters, BTW. It's a good measure whether he is a certified unreasonable person who can only see things one way, and accuses all who disagree of refusal to see the obvious or of something even more sinister.

Libertarians maintain that their views are just common sense, and their reading of the Constitution is just common sense. They are the fundamentalists of politics. No, they are the KJV-only fundamentalists of politics. You simply have to back out into larger issues, discussing the forest rather than the trees. To all their assertions, a good response is Sez Who? Who says the president has that authority? Who says that's what the Constitution means? Why have 200+ years of other smart Americans not agreed with your interpretation?

Don't worry about the current events. They have their own current events. They will come up with all kinds of things you never heard of but they are sure are the central events of the republic, the events on which all hinges. Stick to the current events that you do know and counter with those.

I'm Just Sayin'

I would like to point out that despite surprising results in caucuses and primaries on the GOP side as well, Republicans aren't storming around claiming that the elections were rigged or stolen. Huh.

Maybe Karl Rove got out a secret message that I missed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Echoing this clever observation, I wonder that so many Democrats see Obama as an agent of change. Change…Chicago Democrat. Wouldn’t those ordinarily not be a strong association? BHO started his political career running for state senate in Illinois by getting all the other Democrats thrown off the ballot in 1996. Maybe that’s just hardball politics, Windy-City style, but it hardly inspires one to think “Woo baby, that sure is a change in the way we do politics.” A young friend active in Chicago politics assures me that the regressive, machine-politics, spoils-system methods are still in play there. (He didn’t state it that way, of course). Get your place at the table, and all else flows from that. It’s a recipe for continuing identity politics disaster, but our cities seem unable to rise above it. Perhaps living cheek-by-jowl with other groups allows no other form of cooperation. Those of us in small towns and suburbs have more distance, and can appear more tolerant than we might otherwise be.

Following gringo's comment that Obama is running on the same platform as President Wintergreen in "Of Thee I Sing," I thought a visual would help.

Obama’s church of twenty years is slowly gathering attention for its disquieting merger of Christian and Afrocentric creeds. Christian groups have found that over time, such mergers usually result in the Christ-part taking a back seat. Without specific correctives being applied, the religious aspect becomes a mere decoration. White Christian groups revert pretty quickly to talking more about whiteness than Christ, eventually defining their Christianity in terms of not being Jewish. The YMCA & YWCA are no longer “C,” and so now just adopt their nicknames as formal titles, becoming simply “the Y.” Christian socialists become just socialists. The Christian Right has fared somewhat better, primarily because of near-constant voices within preaching out warnings. Anytime those voices are hushed, the Christian Right slips back into becoming just The Right. (The voices I refer to here are not those who openly or surreptitiously advocate instead for the Christian Left, but those which preach the primacy of Christ). Does Obama’s church have such voices within it, always calling it back to Christian basics and preventing its co-option? If so, then perhaps there is little problem with its African emphasis. But I have not read anywhere that this tension exists in the congregation. So far what I have read indicates a congregation which is going to be puzzled and angry twenty years from now that everyone else is still so racist.

How the white-wine drinking progressives have become so enamored of Obama is certainly amusing. The Christian Left I can understand. But the Residually Religious Left is usually disdainful of dramatic preaching styles, considering them rather southern (read redneck). Perhaps they think it is quaint when delivered by an Authentic Black Person. Perhaps they are easily moved by such things but don’t want to admit it to themselves, and so project that fear onto those (lesser) others who get out of control. They are certainly projecting whatever they want onto Obama’s screen just now. He’s an iPod, and a toaster, and a cure for gout.

Now there’s an interesting intersection of ideas. If Hillary won over so many Democrats with tears in a Plymouth café,* perhaps they deplore emotionalism because they fear that they themselves are vulnerable to it. This would match up with the gun-control idea that the ownership of a firearm makes one more likely to become violent. Projection. It is their own being out of control they fear, so they figure you must be out of control.

That Obama and Clinton are Ivy League uptights who have this emotionalism seeping out may actually be part of the attraction. The Princess Dianas of American politics, so almost-perfect but so breathtakingly real underneath, the realness being a secret only a few (million) have been privy to. Bleah.

* “Tears In a Plymouth Café” would be a great album title.

Discussion About Libertarians

My second son asked for a quick primer (pronounced “primmer” in that context, BTW) on dealing with a Ron Paul supporter. My oldest son, now a father, tells me what political opinions to have now – which is as it should be – but the second son is a filmmaker and less political. He seeks my opinion occasionally. He also lives in Texas, where conservative and liberal brands are not the same as in NH, and no one is gearing up to getting themselves informed for a primary. For the record, the third son does not ask my political opinion, though his girlfriend does, and the fourth son will just ask something out of the blue from time to time. I give them my opinion anyway.

In the following correspondence I do mention that libertarians and Ron Paul supporters are not fully overlapping groups. Some libertarians find fault with many of Paul’s positions, and some of his supporters are merely contrarians or anti-war, not libertarians. I state that at the outset, however, as some of my following comments treat them as identical. Please regard that as generalization, and perhaps sloppiness on my part.

Hey Pops,

So, late last night I got trapped into a 4 hour debate with my Ron Paul friend and one of HIS Ron Paul friends, both of whom knew more about current affairs than I did. It was a frustrating night - I couldn't leave because the Ron Paul guy was my ride home - and the low point was when another person pointed out to my Ron Paul friend that wasn't being gracious, and he said "that's because everything I'm saying is truth and everything he's saying is innacuracies!" He also pointed out that he "used to think like me" before he "figured out how things really are." So I'd REALLY like to have some more information to take this guy to town when he inevitably brings up Paul the next time I see him. Here are the points on which we differed. Can you help me find some of the factual flaws on these points? Simply disagreeing on logical grounds, or pointing out that even if true, the potential for disaster is raised much higher, seem to have no effect:
1. Bringing all the troops home immediately from around the world will almost certainly not cause any major political eruptions or outbreak of violence. In all likelihood, North Korea would not attack South Korea, Iraq's violence would decrease, and other countries would grow to like us better because we would not be interfering anymore. Not believing this shows that I'm buying the fearmongering that the neo-Cons are selling me. A slow, orderly withdrawal of troops is not intelligent, we need to bring them all home NOW. Even if political eruption did result and people started dying again, we could always just march back in. But, why should we? It's their civil wars, why should we help? We really can't do much, anyway, if we helped them set up a government, they'd just view it as an "American government" and rebel against it. The Iraqi sects need to fight for their own individual independence without us. Having American troops in other countries only antagonizes the world, and is the major reason that 9/11 happened.
2. American military intervention is always fueled by self-interest, particularly in regards to the seeking of oil. Doing good things - helping another country from killing their own citizens - in the name of self-interest is still misguided, because what good can we do We're bringing in guns and violence, we aren't bringing in "peace." However, viewing positive global improvement as a good thing and growth in human rights in these area as a mandate for our people is an un-American concept, we should just let everyone else stew in whatever trouble they're in because it's not our responsibility. Apparently the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq war are all pertinent to this discussion, but neither World War has any merit.
3. The CIA, the Department of Education, and the Department of Energy all have no merit and should be dropped immediately. Arguing that massive budget cuts or a re-tooling of their departments might be acceptable compromises is an unacceptable argument. All the Department of Education does is "make No Child Left Behind, which doesn't work, and create national standardized tests, which every agrees is a bad idea." We don't need the CIA because we have the FBI, and who knows why we'd need a Department of Energy in the first place.
4. Ron Paul is the only candidate advocating real change, which is what America needs. All the other candidates are exactly the same.
5. Ron Paul's view on the economy is not just better than everyone else, it's the only economic plan an intelligent person could support .Please, please help. These people have no concept of shades of grey.


My response: (There will be another post on the followup to this exchange, but for now, you’ll have to be satisfied with this.)
Good luck. You're right about the no shades of gray stuff.

Coincidentally - or perhaps not - I was up too late with Uncle Jonathan on his one night here last night, arguing politics for about half the conversation, and libertarianism came up frequently. There were other topics of course, and one quite sad, and I hope to get to talk to you about it soon.

With libertarians, you are often not arguing about issues, but with a type of thinking. There are equivalents on the left, of course, and certainly a type of believer in any system who tends to gravitate to that style. In the church, it is the type of believer who thinks that if a group of us can just get really, really, righteous, that God will change the world. It's sorta kinda true, but it attempts to reduce complicated events to simple formulae. It makes people feel like they have some control in a world out of control. "If we could just go back on the gold standard... if we could just stay out of all conflicts unless we are directly threatened...if we all just conserved energy..."

It's also not that different from a lot of leftist ideas - if we all just work together....if the workers could just own the means of production...if we just planned all the economy sensibly. Don't try telling that type of libertarian that they're just communists turned inside out, but if you can introduce that concept indirectly...

In the real world, all actions have risks and benefits, positive and negative consequences, some fairly predictable, some completely unforeseen. A thoroughgoing libertarian doesn't want this to be true. He wants something simpler to be true. You might use your Black Swan knowledge a bit on that. The uncomfortable reality of unpredictability is something of an antidote to oversimplification.

There are also many varieties of libertarian, and some notable ones on the web, like Glenn Reynolds and the guys at the Volokh Conspiracy, are not Ron Paul supporters. They see him as a somewhat cranky guy with some libertarian leanings, not a true libertarian. And libertarians can get into arguments about what constitutes a True Libertarian more than even the Conservatives, Progressives, and Greens can. You can sometimes buy time in arguments with these guys by saying that Ron Paul, or a particular idea, isn't the real libertarian deal.

Alternatively, you can take the tack that "Hell, even if we elect Ron Paul and 20 libertarian Senators we're not going to immediately pull all our troops back from all over the world, or change the economy overnight, or whatever, so let's talk about what we can really do right now to reduce the size of government rather than fantacising how cool it would be if we just closed down whole departments of the government. I tend to agree that we should shut down the CIA and the depts of Energy and Education, but it's not
going to happen, so what can we get behind now? You might turn him on to Porkbusters, which is a citizen-action group that hunts down useless items in the federal budget and harangues politicians with letters and publicity to get them stopped.

As to his assertions that North Korea wouldn't attack South Korea, how does he know? Usually these guys have some stock single reason why it wouldn't be in the Nork's interest to attack, and make their prediction on that basis. That's a pretty slender reed on which to base such a radical action. What if Ron Paul is wrong and our worldwide military isn't the reason that people hate us? Are we just going to say "oops, sorry we abandoned an ally, too bad so many of your people got killed?" It's good to engage in the libertarian's sort of contrarian thinking - "Hey maybe it's not making us safer, maybe these actions are the source of our risk!" But if you don't like how things are going, doing the opposite isn't any guarantee of success either.

That's just a start. But I think keeping in mind that you are not arguing with ideas so much as a personality type will help clarify things. You won't win the argument, but you'll reassure yourself that you're sane, and give someone else something to think about.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I Aint Gonna Work

I expect that my readers will wander over to the sites listed on my sidebar from time to time, but you have just got to get over to Maggie's Farm just now. Jascha Heifetz, Winston Churchill, Earl Scruggs, Steven Pinker - can't top it. And the News Junkie has really outdone himself on the links you should connect to.

Searching For Scandal

(First in a series, as a followup to the previous post.)

Belief in one scandal creates a cascade of believing in others. This has little to do with whether they are true. Once convinced that Politician A or Party Y has done some terrible thing, believing that they did other terrible things becomes easier. Eventually we believe too easily, requiring only a plausible story or even a mere rumor.

If we hope, then, to convince others that their politician or party is guilty, we must usually achieve a high standard of proof. There are those for whom no level of proof will be enough, so enamored are they of their narrative, but we had better not bother with them. We can only hope to convince people of general good will and honesty.

To show that Democrats in general, and the Clintons in particular are significantly more corrupt than Republicans, we should focus on scandals which meet the following criteria:
1. There should be fairly solid evidence that the accusation is true. Acts likely to be true are not enough. Human beings – and I mean all of us, not just those of one party – can be dragged through meticulous and harsh reality to conclusions we do not like, but we all search for possible exits along the way. It might be cowardly of us to ignore seven scandals because all seven have an escape along the way, but that is who we are as people. Imagining ourselves to be fearless followers of Truth, wherever it may lead, we are unfortunately only too grateful for rationales which let us off the hook.
2. The act should be regarded as wrong by most people involved in the discussion. Betsy might be outraged at marital infidelity, while Britney considers it no big deal. Richard might think enriching oneself at the public trough the height of contemptibility, but Robert might shrug and believe it no more than what all politicians do.
3. The excuse offered by the offender must be inadequate. Preferably, it would be an inadequate excuse even if it is true. “I was young then,” for an evil that youth would not excuse is inadequate. Improbable excuses are more tricky. The extreme partisan will accept any excuse, or none, depending on party. I will try to avoid such in my examples, but we will be in gray areas here. Wrongdoers always have some excuse, and wolves do not hide in wolves’ clothing. If a good excuse comes to hand, we all would grasp at it. We all try and distract others from the possibility that the excuse is not fairly ours, like a magician distracting the attention of the audience elsewhere.
4. The wrongdoing should ideally not be present in the opposition party at all. This will seldom be the case. Failing that, we should be able to show that the frequency or intensity of the wrongdoing is greatly disproportionate on one side.
5. The scandal should have significant consequences or set a precedent with far-reaching consequences.

I suggest that people trying to show that the Republicans, and Bush in particular, are more contemptible than Democrats apply similar standards. Just for the intellectual exercise of it.

We should accept no attempts to change the subject. If one side claims that the leaders of the other have liquidated political opponents, replying “yeah, but your guy supported assassins in Bedlamistan” should be ignored. Apples to apples.

I believe there are scandals which meet these criteria.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Are They Really That Bad?

I had a fascinating conversation with my brother when he was up after Christmas. Our reasoning and imaging remains remarkably similar despite our different professions and years of infrequent contact – a couple of visits and a couple of phone calls a year. Even email has been relatively infrequent for us over the last decade. I send links. Sometimes he comments.

Yet he is likely to vote for Kucinich if Dennis is still a working number by the time primaries get to North Carolina, and Kucinich only because Gore isn’t running – and he’d really prefer Barbara Boxer most of all if she’d run. Nonetheless, I’m not at all kidding when I say that our thinking remains similar. We grasp each other’s arguments immediately, and proceed in the same fashion. I’ll bet this happens more than people imagine. We hear of siblings who turned out differently, so that we wonder how they grew up in the same family, but this same thinking/different conclusions is not often mentioned. I wish I could give examples, but can only say that I seem to recall running across this more than once in reading biographical information about thinkers and literary figures: philosophers, mathematicians and the like.

As humans love simple narratives, it is tempting to think that had we exchanged a few key experiences, we would have ended up in the other’s place – the stuff of sci-fi alternate universe novellas. I doubt that this is remotely so. If he had had my experiences and I his, there would not have been an exchange of brains but two new people entirely, recognizable to both of us but distinct. It’s that whole Black Swan unstable universe again. Events are far less predictable than we would like.

Someone should study this, though. I think there must be some neurological similarity in our thinking which would be interesting to pin down. Steven Pinker, what do you think is afoot here?

All this by way of introduction. In our arguing about the corruption, secretiveness, and deception of Republicans versus Democrats, I mentioned the FBI files on their political enemies that the Clintons had brought over to the White House. “That’s just outrageous! That’s banana republic stuff!” I complained. “Yes it is,” he agreed “but we’re not a banana republic. So that should make you think.” As we had been talking earlier about certainty versus probability of claims being true, I took his point immediately. Yes it is certainly possible that the worst construction of a given incident is true – but is it likely? When something is inherently unlikely, shouldn’t we require a higher standard of evidence before jumping to that conclusion? He went on to add that if the Clintons were banana-republic corrupt, they would be far better at covering their tracks. More likely, these things are errors or overreaches, even ill-meant ones, rather than part of a pattern of extreme corruption. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, as Carl Sagan said.

Leaving that particular incident aside, I would like to look at the larger issue and a related one. Conservatives collect anecdotes and make tally marks in their margins about how often some influential groups, thought by liberals to be generally reliable, are in fact highly biased and well wide of the mark on important issues. Academics, professional journalists, European intellectuals, career diplomats and spooks – how likely is it that all of them are largely wrong on foreign policy or the economy, and in the same direction? Is it not more likely that while individuals can be terribly wrong, and groups can lean one way and miss a bit, that the multiple groups who spend their waking hours thinking about these issues are generally right?

I hear your sputtering. Stop that. It’s a perfectly good question. We are not looking at whether it is possible for whole classes and professions to go wrong, we are asking if it is likely. Conservative writers have explored how thorough is the wrongness of the chattering classes and offered explanations why it occurs. But for those progressives for whom it is not proven that it occurs, speculations why it occurs are not very compelling.

I suspect that despite the fevered nutroots we encounter in comments sections and the lefty blogs there are many progressives who are starting from something like this premise: Sure, the Democrats in general and the Clintons in specific might be corrupt. So are some Republicans – lists available. But how likely is it that the Dems are significantly worse – ten times worse on this score? Certainly, the press might generally lean a bit one way, but how likely is it that they are outrageously, dangerously slanted? Academics may have something unrealistic about their approach that frames their view of events, but how likely is it that historians are that far off about history? Isn’t it more likely that the critics are making too much out of individual anecdotes, however true, and the professionals are nearer the mark?

My answer: yes, I think the Democrats in general and the Clinton presidency in specific was not only corrupt, but far more corrupt than Republican equivalents – even recognizing that there are Republicans who set that bar pretty high. I think that professional journalists and academics and European government types are not only mistaken but badly mistaken, for similar reasons. But it’s going to be fun for me to actually try to make the case over the next few days or weeks – a set of arguments in which the single anecdote might not mean much.

This belief is no longer a stretch for me. I read confirming evidence every day. But I imagine progressives have a similar impression about what they read.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

On The Verge

I take a slightly different view than the Conventional Wisdom about the New England Patriots after tonight's victory over Jacksonville. Even if they lose next week to Indianapolis or San Diego, they are still among the ten greatest teams of all time. If they win next week, they are arguably the greatest team ever even if they do not win the Super Bowl. I would defer without argument to someone who preferred the '85 Bears or the Joe Montana 49er's, but no others. And I would still believe a case could be made that the Patriots are better than those teams, even without the championship. 17-0 is simply that remarkable and unusual, and 18-0 that much more.

Snide remarks have been made about the supposed weakness of New England's schedule, because of their weak division. But they have played and beaten the following playoff teams: San Diego, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Washington, New York, and Dallas. Additionally, they beat Cleveland and near-miss Philadelphia. The only playoff teams they have not beaten this year are Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Tennessee, all of which have been eliminated, and Green Bay.

I am still worried about the defense, especially the competent but aging, and thus slower, linebackers. Special teams have been solid but not dramatic. Every team from here on in is excellent. There seems to have been a general dropoff since mid-season. Maybe teams are adjusting. Maybe there are injuries that are hidden (Bellichik is notorious for screwing with the injury report). But the Pats already have the greatest offense in the history of the game, come what may, and deserve to be discussed among the best.

Just War - Part V (Finally)

Summary: After all this buildup, I am going to stop short of a conclusion. I lean toward a declaration, but judgment is not my strong skill - laying out arguments and examining them is.

We should never resign ourselves, almost as if war is inevitable.
Pope John Paul II, Feb 2003

The US Council of Catholic Bishops produced an excellent document in November of 2002, raising exactly the questions I believe should be considered. I recommend reading its sincere, balanced perspective.

When I started the research and reasoning for this section, I thought this might well contain the moral questions where America in general and George Bush in particular did not meet the criteria for a Just War. The other possible objections could be overcome, some trivially easily despite their commonness in current discourse. But the questions of Comparative Justice, Last Resort, and Proportionality were less obvious. Disagreements from both directions, indeed many directions, cropped up immediately.

Different thinkers break up the category differently, but the underlying ideas remain the same. Is the proposed military response proportionate to the danger? Have you earnestly tried non-military solutions? Does your opponent have legitimate unaddressed grievances which may have driven him to endanger you? The US Council of Catholic Bishops believed that because the war was pre-emptive, it was necessarily aggression. Pope John Paul II, whose thoroughness I often admire, thought negotiation and nonmilitary interventions had not yet been exhausted, as in the quote above. He was far from the only one who thought that.

Rummaging through the historical record of nations which went to war with greater and lesser justifications I went looking for extremes – circumstances which clearly failed or clearly succeeded in meeting these more elusive standards. Can we find examples where other alternatives short of war had definitively been exhausted? Can we find examples where a nation had quite obviously overreacted? There are two narrow categories which provide clear examples. First, invasions by a single tyrannical figure or succession of rulers with the overt aim of extracting tribute or assuming political control. In these situations there is often not even an attempt to provide moral justifications as we know them. Mongol hordes and Barbary pirates simply wanted wealth. Gimme all yer dough, Mac. Darius the Mede and the Roman emperors wanted expanded power. I want to be in charge of that. A third category of aggressors, sometimes indistinguishable from the second, had a system or plan they wished to put in place, believing it would be better for people. It would be better if you did things our way. The followers of Marx and Mohammed fall into this category.

The opposite numbers of these invaders provide the best examples of the other extreme – nations whose justification for war seem quite obvious: they are fighting for their fields and families, against aggressors they wanted nothing to do with.

Most of history’s conflicts lie between these extremes, eluding our desire to apply strict principles and say “Of course.” There are few instances where we might legitimately say “Of course.” There are at least two sides, and often many more, to the actual conflicts. This should be fairly obvious, but it seems in short supply these days. There is a lot of of course floating around in our national debate. Rubbish. One might arrive at a judgment and stick by it, but anyone who claims that we obviously should or obviously shouldn’t have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq should be disregarded.

There is a second difficulty, where history can mislead us as much as enlighten us. What we know in retrospect is not what we knew at the time. Some measures might look disproportionate while they are occurring, yet turn out to have been inadequate when we look back It was all very easy to say in 2002 we should have overthrown Saddam in the first Gulf War. What looked harsh and aggressive in 1991 turned out to be inadequately firm. Our hard bargaining at Munich and Yalta turned out to be absurdly weak. We can be fooled in the opposing direction as well, though it is much harder to be sure. Perhaps Sherman didn’t actually need to burn Georgia, alienating Southerners for generations. We can be close to sure that we should not have interned Japanese-Americans during WWII.

So wisdom is a part of this equation, but we only have wisdom in retrospect.

Yes, it’s tricky. We could also point out with equal retrospective justice that WWII ended because of an atomic bomb being dropped on Japan. The sheer magnitude of death causes some to condemn that (ignoring the millions more who died more gradually and stood to die subsequently), but most, at least, would give that response at the end of the war the nod as being legitimate. But how if we had had an atomic bomb four years earlier? Four years isn’t so much across the face of history. The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, the Americans respond by bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Game over. Does that seem proportionate to you? Wouldn’t that have been condemned as a horrible overreaction? Yet in retrospect, look how many millions would have lived.

As Nassim Taleb points out, a prescient legislator on a transportation committee might have pushed in 2000 for impassable doors between airline passengers and cockpit, and a US Marshal on every flight. We would now regard such measures as cumbersome and unnecessary government interference in private industry and curse that legislator and all who went along with him, thinking that because there were no obvious situations in which they had been needed, they were useless. A president over the last few decades who decided to insist that we have evacuation drills for New Orleans and San Diego would use up all his political capital making people do something they found deeply unnecessary; expensive, inconvenient, and controlling. We are quick to conclude “this is unnecessarily strict.”

We always know in retrospect when we have not been firm enough. We seldom know when we have been too firm. That truth has been used to rationalize a thousand evils, but remains true nonetheless.

With those two complications in mind, let’s have a go at Afghanistan, Iraq, and the entire GWOT. What we know in retrospect weakens both sides of the argument. We were sure there were weapons of mass destruction. What we found was more than what liberals claim, but certainly far less than the Bush Administration predicted. On the other hand, we were told that sanctions were working. We now know that they were eroding far more than even the most ranting wingnuts claimed in 2002. We were quite certain that Al Qaeda was deeply involved in Iraq. We now know that most connection was indirect, though there was some direct involvement. (Same link) On the other hand, we were told that more working through the UN still might bear fruit. We now know that France and Russia would have vetoed any further involvement, not because they were unconvinced of the necessesity, but because of how deeply they were involved in Saddam’s economy.

We could go back and forth with this indefinitely, and get no further. Real events are seldom what we predicted. It was fashionable on the middle-left from 2004-2006 that they supported going into Afghanistan but not Iraq. This could only be because Afghanistan went quickly but Iraq went slowly. (And the evidence for that nasty accusation is…) Now that Iraq has turned around, but mistakes in our Afghanistan strategy are exposed, the middle left doesn’t say that so much anymore.

Terrorist or even warlike acts, loosely tied to a dozen middle-eastern governments but often with official sanction from none of them, had been going on for 30 years. This was low-level with occasional spikes, except in Africa, where it has been medium-intensity warfare with hellish spikes. After each of the spikes – Munich, Yom Kippur, Iran, Beirut, USS Cole, Nigeria, Kuwait, Bosnia, WTC ’93, the democracies of the west debated whether something else should be done.

This is precisely our response to medical epidemics. Cholera, influenza, and typhoid killed a few thousand every year, and tens of thousands paid doctors and hucksters for cures that didn’t work. When spikes come, and death comes quickly in a concentrated area, then societies feel moved to act. Syphillis goes on for decades with little official attention, even after antibiotics come on board. AIDS starts killing the young and healthy in a relatively short period of time and societies mobilize their resources.

However indirectly Iraq or a dozen other nations were involved with terrorism in general and 9-11 in specific, no nation attacked us that day. Many of the attackers were Saudis, but the Saudi government is (relatively) our ally in the ME. The Taliban sheltered the trainers of the attackers, but so did Pakistan. If we are to blame nations for tolerating the presence of terrorist groups, then not only a dozen Middle-eastern nations, but a dozen each in Africa and Europe – and the US itself – tolerated them at some level within its borders. One can frame a strict interpretation and say “no nation attacked us, no nation can be attacked.” As inconvenient as that is, it is a strong point. If we start ignoring simple facts like this, we can gradually begin to ignore anything. I think this may be what the Council of Bishops had in mind when they declared the war pre-emptive.* While it was not pre-emptive in any pure sense – we had been tussling with Saddam for over a decade, both his threats and his overt acts – it was an escalation to the national level. They also expressed concern for the predicted “humanitarian crisis” for the already beleaguered Iraqis. I had forgotten how much that worry was in the air in 2002 – and how little credit that the US has received that it did not happen. But it was a fair question, even if we know in retrospect that millions did not starve, as was projected.

But that may give them too much credit. I noted above a very excellent set-up to the questions of Just War But when the chips were down, they produced this, plus the quote from John Paul II, above. Negotiation will work. Go through the UN. It would be fair to ask, what would be enough negotiation, sanctions, inspections? When the Pope says “we should never resign ourselves,” does he mean never cease negotiations? It sounds very Christian to always have hope, but hope in what? Hope in negotiations? He likely did not mean that hope in negotiations is the same thing as Christian hope. But that is what he seems to have said, and what the bishops said. And at that point, for all their fine theorizing, we must say that the Vatican, and the World Council of Churches, and the National Council of Churches, and the many denominations which considered the war pre-emptive and issued statements to that effect, come in the end to say exactly what the European intellectuals at the UN say. As the Vatican is perhaps the foundation of European intellectualism, certainly more than they are given credit for, this is hardly surprising. The denominational leaders, academics all, come in the end to reason exactly like European intellectuals, rather than reasoning like their congregations.

They might still be right in this, of course. We hire theologians to do more than take polls. We ask them to think, and weigh issues in light of scripture. I am hesitant – very hesitant – to reject the authority of those many Christian thinkers charged with the responsibility of scrutinizing our actions and offering pronouncements. But what are we to do when they give opinions and we asks for their reasons, and they give us the same reasons we would expect from their tribe and class, rather than from their religion? Does not this in itself raise grave questions which music they are listening to? What real, rather than theoretical, action would they approve?

I can well understand that some will remain unconvinced by my declaration that the arguments against the war failed to meet Just War criteria at least as much as they claim the Bush administration failed to meet them. To those folks I would offer only the thought experiments: when terrorist groups operate with indirect assistance of governments, what would be a justified response? Is no war ever to be justified under such circumstances, regardless of escalation? Or similarly, which country would it have been acceptable to take military action against? Partial allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – would that be wise? Iran, more deeply involved in supporting terrorism but even less officially antagonistic at the governmental level? If no action is justified against nations without an overt, obvious act, then settle in for an intensification of governments in the ME supporting terrorists on the sly. The secret police and renegade military factions of every nation in the region would then train and supply terrorist groups with impunity.

*I stick with the Catholics on this one because the WCC, NCC, UCC, ECUSA, UMC, and other statements are even more pronounced in offering the reasoning of European socialists, rather than church history, in their statements. The Catholic Bishops produced the most clearly scriptural and theological of the documents – at first.