Monday, July 27, 2009


Sorry for the blogging vacation; without going into maudlin detail, there have been a few health issues in the extended family of late, which have combined with the day job to make free time a little less free. Perhaps this week will be less pressing.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Kant, the last Scholastic?

Justo Gonzalez on Albertus Magnus:
Philosophy operates on the basis of autonomous principles, which can be known apart from revelation, and seeks to discover truth by a strictly rational method. A true philosopher does not seek to prove what the mind cannot understand, even if the question at hand is a doctrine of faith. * * *

On the question of the eternity of the world, for instance, Albert frankly confesses that as a philosopher he cannot prove creation out of nothing. At best he can offer arguments of probability. But as a theologian he knows that the world was made out of nothing, and is not eternal. What we have here is a case in which reason cannot attain truth, for the object of inquiry is beyond human reason.
Not much of a step from that to the antinomies. Kant's novelty would seem to be his replacement of "theology" by "practical reason."

Cadavers? Naked women? Electric shocks?

"No bad ideas when you're brainstorming," say the Imagination Movers, but perhaps they weren't thinking of the CIA.

Sunday's WaPo looks at the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah, an article described by Emptywheel as "basically a summary of information already out there, supplemented by one "former US official" involved in the torture discussions who seems prepared to do just what I said--implicate the architects of the torture program."

Actually, if you imagine an equally dense but morally depraved Imagination Movers, in black jumpsuits I guess, that's about the level of thought we applied to the interrogation problem:
Agency officials had no firm notion of what a post-Sept. 11 interrogation of a terrorism suspect should look like.

"It was not a job we sought out," said one former senior intelligence official involved in early decisions on interrogation. "The generals didn't want to do it. The FBI said no. It fell to the agency because we had the [legal] authorities and could operate overseas."

In Mitchell, the CIA found an authoritative professional who had answers, despite an absence of practical experience in interrogating terrorism suspects or data showing that harsh tactics work.

"Here was a guy with a title and a shingle," recalled the participant in the Langley meeting, "and he was saying things that others in the room already believed to be true."
I would take with a grain of salt that part about "FBI said no," btw.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Jack Vance in the New York Times

And it's not his obituary, thank god. The NYT Mag actually has a writeup on Vance, born in 1916 and the last great writer of his great generation. Pretty good, especially in that it actually quotes a bit of his work:
‘I can resolve your perplexity,’ said Fianosther. ‘Your booth occupies the site of the old gibbet, and has absorbed unlucky essences. But I thought to notice you examining the manner in which the timbers of my booth are joined. You will obtain a better view from within, but first I must shorten the chain of the captive erb which roams the premises during the night.’

‘No need,’ said Cugel. ‘My interest was cursory.’
This of course when Cugel is casing the booth. I also liked the author's imagined interview with Vance:
I tried to banish the irrational expectation that Vance and I would exchange Vancian dialogue. Me: “Why did you persist in writing hurlothrumbo romances of the footling sort favored by mooncalfs?” Him: “The question is nuncupatory. I grow weary of your importunities. Begone.”
(Via Bookslut, which in other news tells us, "Raymond Chandler had a cameo in the 1944 film Double Indemnity — and nobody noticed for 65 years." Hidden in plain sight, reading a book.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

AY-yi-YI-yi-YI, as Ricky would say

Political Wire:
Then you would have some 'splaining to do.

-- Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), doing his best Ricky Ricardo impression at Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearing.
Is it possible, do you think, that Senator Coburn simply has never spoken before to a real live Hispanic-American, at least one who wasn't mowing his yard or bringing him salsa?

When I think what strong support the GOP should be able to get from a largely assimilationist, strongly Roman Catholic, entrepreneurial and hardworking minority group, and then see how the GOP has treated the immigration issue and the Sotomayor nomination, I shake my head in wonder at the mysteries of God.

The quest for certainty

Once, after McNamara had rattled off the odds for the success of various military operations -- 65 percent for this one, 30 for that -- [George] Ball had joked that perhaps the figures were actually 64 percent and 29 percent. He saw that such teasing did not amuse the defense secretary.

-- A. J. Langguth, Our Vietnam: The War 1954-1975 at 367.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sotomayor seems to be an "Annie Hall" fan

Via Yglesias, this is sweet:
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), seeking to discredit Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy, cited her 2001 “wise Latina” speech, and contrasted the view that ethnicity and sex influence judging with that of Judge Miriam Cedarbaum, who “believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices.”

“My friend Judge Cedarbaum is here,” Sotomayor riposted, to Sessions’ apparent surprise. “We are good friends, and I believe that we both approach judging in the same way, which is looking at the facts of each individual case and applying the law to those facts.”

Cedarbaum agreed.

I don’t believe for a minute that there are any differences in our approach to judging, and her personal predilections have no effect on her approach to judging,” she told Washington Wire. “We’d both like to see more women on the courts,” she added.
Pretty close to a real-life Marshall McLuhan moment. (And yes, googling up the Wiki link, I found that dKos noted the parallel as well. Originality is fleeting in the Google Age.)

As the article and Yglesias go on to note, Cedarbaum was an especially odd choice for Sessions, since he and she were both nominated at the same time to the federal bench, but his nomination floundered over his kind words for the KKK. Way to transcend there, Jeff.

... I'm not sure what's funnier, Sotomayor's pointing to Judge Cedarbaum, or 10,000 liberals on the internet simultaneously going, "wow, that's just like in Annie Hall!" Probably the latter.

Free-market health care advice: Just die!

Matt Yglesias mocks The Corner (not his biggest challenge of the day, surely):
... Obama’s proposed reforms--unfortunately--wouldn’t actually make American health care much like French health care. That said, the moral of the story is that in France no matter how poor you are, or what pre-existing conditions you have, or what happened to your job amidst the latest recession, or whatever else if you get sick 75 percent of doctors will treat you and the government will pick up the tab. In the conservative free market utopia, as I understand it, what would happen to you is that you would just die.* [...]

*Now in the current American status quo you might be able to sign up for Medicaid (socialism!) or else go to the ER and get some unpaid-for health care once your condition deteriorates enough. But it is worth being clear that the free market solution to someone being poor and sick is for them to die. If you’re too poor for HBO, you go without watching True Blood. If you’re too poor for a MacBook Pro, you make do without one. And if you’re too poor for statins you get a heart attack. And if you’re too poor to get your heart attack treated you die. Whether or not anyone in the United States actually wants to implement such a system isn’t clear to me, but that would be what a free market health care system looked like--like free markets in other things.
Anyone who thinks this an unfair depiction of a certain conservative mindset, should've heard the nice-as-can-be neighbor of mine at the pool on Sunday, who was recounting her argument with some liberal acquaintances on health care. "Sometimes you just die. People die! I mean, I'm a Presbyterian, that's how we think."

She also complained that people without health insurance should just get jobs. TBA placed inter-neighbor amity over making the point that some people work full time without being able to afford health insurance.

From the annals of ill-considered public statements

Quincy Adams relates:
Reportedly, Turkish PM Erdogan has labelled as genocide the recent events in Xinjiang, and the Chinese he demanded he take back his words.
If Erdogan sticks to his guns, he will be a shining example to Western heads of state.

Too much news, too little time

The day job has been rather insistent lately, and there's too much news for a busy person to assimilate.

Last week's Friday afternoon dump was of course the IG report on the secret surveillance program, link via ObWi, where Publius describes how John Yoo gave very good value for being the only OLC lawyer consulted on whether the President could ignore FISA. Good value, that is, for criminal conspirators plotting to abuse OLC's "get out of jail free cards," as I remind a troll here (click only if you need spelled out why Yoo is a bad or dishonest lawyer).

Then there's the secret CIA assassination program, which apparently Cheney told CIA not to trouble Congress's pretty head with. Some background here.

And, widely reported, we have escalating rumors that Eric Holder may actually remember his oath of office and conduct a torture investigation, provided that is that no one significant is actually investigated. But perhaps a special prosecutor, if appointed, would follow the evidence where it leads. Scott Horton rounds up some links and discussion.

TBA notes its disgust with the ability of Axelrod and Emanuel to squash any DOJ investigation. That is not at all materially different from what Rove did for Bush. Political types do not need to be making those calls.

... In less exalted news, the Fifth Circuit reversed a decision against the Republic of Venezuela, whose attorney had apparently agreed to settle claims against Venezuela for $70 million. Venezuela said it had never granted its attorney authority to settle the case. Who was this attorney? Richard F. Scruggs.

(The court doesn't mention Scruggs's recent adventures in court, but its footnote 4 may be taken as a dry acknowledgement that Scruggs's word is not his bond:
According to Scruggs, he was initially “contacted by the Podhurst firm at the request of Venezuela with the request that I seek quick resolution of the money issues” in early September 2005. He further alleges that “the specifics of said [settlement] authority were confirmed through a telephone conference which included members of the Podhurst firm, Aquiles Mendez and me.” Notably, Scruggs does not allege that any member of the Venezuelan government participated in this telephone conference or directly contacted him regarding a settlement. Moreover, Podhurst attorney Marks disputes Scruggs’ version of events. According to Marks, “while there may have been a misunderstanding with Mr. Scruggs concerning the discussions that he was to pursue directly . . . , I was never given authority to settle the case on solely monetary terms and do not believe that I provided such authority to Mr. Scruggs.” Based on our review of the record, no individual has corroborated Scruggs’ claim that he received express permission to settle the dispute.
Some of us would expect to get something in writing before giving away $70 million of our client's money ... but not Dickie. Who, btw, sued Venezuela for his attorney fees as well.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Canon-bashing bashed

Via Bookslut, which lavishly praises this literature site The Second Pass, we find their list of books that ought to be ditched from The Canon. I'm willing to grant that White Noise, however amusing, is overrated (though judging whether it's "funny" by whether there are any "laughs" suggests a level of appreciation better suited to Jim Carrey movies than to literature). And I haven't read some of the titles. But some of the criticisms are just absurd.

Absalom, Absalom!: "festering bushels of dud coinages, Biblical bluster, and diarrheal sentences that do nothing but draw attention to their over-toasted ornamentation." Oh wait, the book sounds like Faulkner. Having read aloud a good portion of AA, I can say that Faulkner's prose works if you will listen to it rather than skim it. And the trivial "what it's about" misses completely the book's overarching subject, the South's original sin of slavery and the corruption it worked. Sounding like a bored freshman frat-rat is not the way to criticize Faulkner's masterpiece.

The Rainbow: Not enough sex, but "a long section on the early marital squabbles of young Will and Anna Brangwen, 40 pages in which the two struggle and storm within themselves and almost nothing actually happens. In the rest of the book, which spans some 65 years, other characters make their way onstage to storm and struggle and do next to nothing." Good lord. Lawrence breaks into his characters' souls and lays out on his page levels of emotion and conflict that a century of Victorian novelists scarcely guessed at, and we are told that nothing happens. Guess what: if you have no feelings and no soul, nothing will ever happen to you, no matter what you do or whom you fuck.

Jacob's Room: Whoever gave them the idea that Jacob's Room was in The Canon in the first place? Did they think that was an automatic result of being published in Penguin Classics? The book is a fairly dreary experiment with stream-of-consciousness after the tedious social-comedy realism of Night and Day, and a journeyman's labor that set up Woolf for her real additions to the canon, Dalloway - Lighthouse - Waves. It's like they wanted to bash some Woolf novel and this is the one they found bashable.

Obama's surveillance program

His eyes are everywhere!

(Gotta say, I'm glad not to be surrounded by cameras catching every time that my eyes are lured astray by a passing female.)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Terrorism is a crime -- treat it like one.

Mark Kleiman thinks that Glenn Greenwald has his panties in a wad over the "preventive detention" of Taliban/Qaeda members:
Whether someone has committed war crimes, and can be proven to have committed them beyond reasonable doubt under the rules of evidence that apply in a criminal trial, is one question. Whether he's a fighter for the other side in a war is a completely different question. Someone can be innocent of any war crime and still be an enemy fighter.

The basic rule of criminal justice is "innocent until proven guilty." The basic rule about prisoners of war is that combatants can be held as long as the conflict lasts.
This works for the Taliban, not so much for al-Qaeda, it seems to me. Kleiman:
Arguably it was criminal to be a member of al-Qaeda, which was an organization devoted to mass murder, but proving membership and the requisite scienter (that he knew, or had reason to know, what his group was up to) with respect to any given individual might be hard, for example if the evidence is tainted by torture.
I think membership at least creates a presumption of criminal intent. It's like saying I joined the Mafia but didn't know it was criminal.

Kleiman may hamper himself here by his "devoted to mass murder," which is more than needs to be proved. In an update, he writes:
Al-Qaeda isn't the army of any state, or of an insurgency that is trying to take over any state. But it is an entity devoted to carrying out attacks on both civilian targets (which is, generally, a war crime) and military targets such as the USS Cole (which is not, generally, a war crime, though al-Qaeda's lack of uniforms, a formal command structure, and a government to report back to may make even its attacks on military targets unlawful). Al-Qaeda has been waging war on the United States at least since 1998. That, too, might end, though only if al-Qaeda ceased to exist as an organized entity.
Here, Kleiman correctly notes that al-Qaeda has been engaged in bad acts for quite a while, and with some reputation for doing so. But he goes off the rails on his framing of the issue in military terms.

Al-Qaeda was a criminal organization. It's theoretically possible for us to come to peace with the Taliban and to release its soldiers in our custody. But what would "peace with al-Qaeda" look like? Can we sign a peace treaty with the Mafia? Could we have signed one with Timothy McVeigh?

Joining a terrorist organization is a crime (just ask Jose Padilla) and can be punished as a crime. If we have prisoners who are thought to be members of al-Qaeda, then let's put them on trial. But if we have people whom we just kinda *think* might be terrorists, that's not good enough.

... Deborah Pearlstein has some good thoughts on the subject.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

"It's very powerful, this Allspark."

Unfortunately for me, I can attest that this Transformers 2 "FAQ"/review is completely accurate in every detail.

(Hey, it was the 14YO's birthday, and his mother took him to the last one. What was I gonna say? "Get some fucking taste, kid"?)

Maybe he should assign a final paper instead

TPM notes that Alberto Gonzales has a job lined up at Texas Tech -- in poli sci, not law, ha ha -- and passes along this reader comment:
Please tell me there's at least one Texas Tech political science student with the guts to answer "I do not recall" to every test question. Maybe even "I do not recall remembering."
Worth the F, I'd say.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

From inside the meltdown

Michael Lewis talks to some folks at AIG's Financial Products division and gets their side of the story, which they are eager to attribute to one person in particular.

I liked this on how good the good times got:
... the people who worked at A.I.G. F.P. got rich. Exactly how rich is hard to say, but there are plenty of hints. One is that a company lawyer—a mere lawyer!—took home a $25 million bonus at the end of one year.
Indeed, that was a warning sign.

But things went south. Why? Lots of reasons, including one with a name:
That Joe Cassano is the son of a police officer and was a political-science major at Brooklyn College seems, in retrospect, far less relevant than that he’d spent most of his career, both at Drexel and A.I.G. F.P., in the back office, doing operations. Across A.I.G. F.P. the view of the boss was remarkably consistent: a guy with a crude feel for financial risk but a real talent for bullying people who doubted him. “A.I.G. F.P. became a dictatorship,” says one London trader. “Joe would bully people around. He’d humiliate them and then try to make it up to them by giving them huge amounts of money.”

“One day he got me on the phone and was pissed off about a trade that had lost money,” says a Connecticut trader. “He said, ‘When you lose money it’s my fucking money. Say it.’ I said, ‘What?’ ‘Say “Joe, it’s your fucking money!”’ So I said, ‘It’s your fucking money, Joe.’”
That's an interesting dialogue, to a lawyer. Presumably Mr. Cassano can remember whom he had this exchange with, so the speaker is not afraid that his ex-boss will know he was talking; no, he's afraid of being sued. Unless Mr. Cassano had that same conversation with lots of people, which god knows, from the article, seems it might be the case.

I did raise an eyebrow here however:
Says a fourth, “Joe always said, ‘This is my company. You work for my company.’ He’d see you with a bottle of water. He’d come over and say, ‘That’s my water.’ Lunch was free, but Joe always made you feel he had bought it.
Well, I sympathize a bit with Joe here. "Lunch was free"? Lunch is never free, and traders who think their lunches are "free" are showing the incipient symptoms of Somebody Else's Money Disorder.

Regardless, this could not end well:
A.I.G. F.P. could attract extremely bright people, whose success depended on precision of both calculation and judgment. It was now run, roughly, by a man who didn’t fully understand all the calculations and whose judgment was clouded by his insecurity. The few people willing to question that judgment wound up quitting the firm. Left behind were people who more or less accommodated Cassano. “If someone is a complete asshole,” one of them puts it to me, “you seek his approval in a way you don’t if he’s a nice guy.”
Hubris, nemesis. Goes together like a horse and carriage.

Anyway, for one view of why AIG melted down, and for more psychological insights into Mr. Cassano (and why you should never let anyone whose business is his whole life run the business), read the whole thing.

... And if you've wondered, like me, whether Paulson's bailout scheme was really just the most naked theft of taxpayer dollars ever achieved, then this will be of interest:
In the beginning, A.I.G. F.P. had required its counter-parties simply to accept its AAA credit: it refused to post collateral. But in the case of the subprime-mortgage credit-default swaps, Cassano had agreed to several triggers, including A.I.G.’s losing its AAA credit rating, that would require the firm to post collateral. If the value of the underlying bonds fell, it would fork over cash, so that, for instance, Goldman Sachs would not need to be exposed for more than a day to A.I.G. Worse still, Goldman Sachs assigned the price to the underlying bonds--and thus could effectively demand as much collateral as it wanted. In the summer of 2007, the value of everything fell, but subprime fell fastest of all. The subsequent race by big Wall Street banks to obtain billions in collateral from A.I.G. was an upmarket version of a run on the bank. Goldman Sachs was the first to the door, with shockingly low prices for subprime-mortgage bonds--prices that Cassano wanted to dispute in court, but was prevented by A.I.G. from doing so when he was fired. A.I.G. couldn’t afford to pay Goldman off in March 2008, but that was O.K. The U.S. Treasury, led by the former head of Goldman Sachs, Hank Paulson, agreed to make good on A.I.G.’s gambling debts. One hundred cents on the dollar.
Kinda boggles the mind, don't it? In broad daylight, with the eager connivance of Congress: do this right now, or it's The Great Depression 2.0. Makes those AIG guys look like pikers.

Coffee a wonder drug, like alcohol!

Alcohol consumption, by thinning the blood, may protect against stroke and vascular dementia.

"But what about Alzheimer's?" did you ask? That's where the coffee comes in:
Drinking five cups of coffee a day could reverse memory problems seen in Alzheimer's disease, US scientists say. The Florida research, carried out on mice, also suggested caffeine hampered the production of the protein plaques which are the hallmark of the disease....

The 55 mice used in the University of South Florida study had been bred to develop symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. First the researchers used behavioural tests to confirm the mice were exhibiting signs of memory impairment when they were aged 18 to 19 months, the equivalent to humans being about 70. Then they gave half the mice caffeine in their drinking water. The rest were given plain water. The mice were given the equivalent of five 8 oz (227 grams) cups of coffee a day - about 500 milligrams of caffeine. The researchers say this is the same as is found in two cups of "specialty" coffees such as lattes or cappuccinos from coffee shops, 14 cups of tea, or 20 soft drinks.

When the mice were tested again after two months, those who were given the caffeine performed much better on tests measuring their memory and thinking skills and performed as well as mice of the same age without dementia. Those drinking plain water continued to do poorly on the tests. In addition, the brains of the mice given caffeine showed nearly a 50% reduction in levels of the beta amyloid protein, which forms destructive clumps in the brains of dementia patients. Further tests suggested caffeine affects the production of both the enzymes needed to produce beta amyloid. The researchers also suggest that caffeine suppresses inflammatory changes in the brain that lead to an overabundance of the protein.
Never mind any petty side effects. And Jim was probably drinking about that much tea anyway.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Within the margin of error

TNR passes along some July 4 polling data from Rasmussen:
Seventy-four percent (74%) agree with the assertion that “all men are created equal” while just 23% disagree.

Fifty-six percent (56%) agree with the view that governments derive their only just authority from the “consent of the governed.” Interestingly, one-in-four Americans (25%) disagree.
The crazification factor continues to be borne out by empirical research. Though we can draw some comfort from the fact that, since it's Rasmussen, Republicans are probably overrepresented in the sample, driving those dissenting percentages up.

McNamara and Rumsfeld

The second-worst SecDef has passed away, aged 93. After his Pentagon tour, he "devoted himself to helping the world's poorest nations" and at least quasi-acknowledged his errors in escalating and perpetuating the Vietnam War.

Of course, holding office while relatively young allows for regrets. Contrast the worst SecDef:
In an interview with biographer Bradley Graham, the former secretary of defense says he has regrets about the administration's controversial detainee policy.

The twist is that Rumsfeld doesn't regret the policy itself -- specifically the abandoning of the Geneva Conventions for detainees picked up in Afghanistan. Rather, he regrets how the policy was formulated.

"All of a sudden, it was just all happening, and the general counsel's office in the Pentagon had the lead," Rumsfeld told former Washington Post journalist Bradley Graham, as quoted in By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld. "It never registered in my mind in this particular instance--it did in almost every other case--that these issues ought to be in a policy development or management posture. Looking back at it now, I have a feeling that was a mistake. In retrospect, it would have been better to take all of those issues and put them in the hands of policy or management."
Of course, these "issues" could not be "put in the hands of policy or management," because every time they were exposed to anything like a normal policymaking process, opposition and concerns arose that were infuriating to Cheney, Addington, and, apparently, Rumsfeld. Pity that the article didn't solicit a quote from Alberto Mora, for instance.
Just a few months ago [before Feb. 2006], Mora attended a meeting in Rumsfeld’s private conference room at the Pentagon, called by Gordon England, the Deputy Defense Secretary, to discuss a proposed new directive defining the military’s detention policy. The civilian Secretaries of the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy were present, along with the highest-ranking officers of each service, and some half-dozen military lawyers. Matthew Waxman, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, had proposed making it official Pentagon policy to treat detainees in accordance with Common Article Three of the Geneva conventions, which bars cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, as well as outrages against human dignity.Going around the huge wooden conference table, where the officials sat in double rows, England asked for a consensus on whether the Pentagon should support Waxman’s proposal.

This standard had been in effect for fifty years, and all members of the U.S. armed services were trained to follow it. One by one, the military officers argued for returning the U.S. to what they called the high ground. But two people opposed it. One was Stephen Cambone, the under-secretary of defense for intelligence; the other was Haynes. They argued that the articulated standard would limit America’s “flexibility.” It also might expose Administration officials to charges of war crimes: if Common Article Three became the standard for treatment, then it might become a crime to violate it. Their opposition was enough to scuttle the proposal.

In exasperation, according to another participant, Mora said that whether the Pentagon enshrined it as official policy or not, the Geneva conventions were already written into both U.S. and international law. Any grave breach of them, at home or abroad, was classified as a war crime. To emphasize his position, he took out a copy of the text of U.S. Code 18.2441, the War Crimes Act, which forbids the violation of Common Article Three, and read from it. The point, Mora told me, was that “it’s a statute. It exists--we’re not free to disregard it. We’re bound by it. It’s been adopted by the Congress. And we’re not the only interpreters of it. Other nations could have U.S. officials arrested.”

Not long afterward, Waxman was summoned to a meeting at the White House with David Addington. Waxman declined to comment on the exchange, but, according to the Times, Addington berated him for arguing that the Geneva conventions should set the standard for detainee treatment. The U.S. needed maximum flexibility, Addington said. Since then, efforts to clarify U.S. detention policy have languished. In December, Waxman left the Pentagon for the State Department.
One wonders whether Mr. Graham's book will be any better. Or whether Rumsfeld will have accumulated any other "regrets" by 2010.

... Emptywheel notes that Rumsfeld implicitly blames Jim Haynes -- DOD general counsel, who appears in effect to've been Addington's man inside the Pentagon -- but keeps it implicit.

... Tyler Cowen points us to this World Bank bio of McNamara, which recounts the good he did at that institution. He probably saved more lives in that capacity than were lost in his Pentagon tenure (yes, I'm counting the Vietnamese).

... Some of the journalists who had to experience McNamara firsthand are not feeling any remorse at his passing. Joseph Galloway:
Back in 1990 I had a series of strange phone conversations with McMamara while doing research for my book We Were Soldiers Once And Young. McNamara prefaced every conversation with this: "I do not want to comment on the record for fear that I might distort history in the process." Then he would proceed to talk for an hour, doing precisely that with answers that were disingenuous in the extreme — when they were not bald-faced lies.

Upon hanging up I would call Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam and run McNamara's comments past them for deconstruction and the addition of the truth.

The only disagreement I ever had with Dave Halberstam was over the question of which of us hated him the most. In retrospect, it was Halberstam.
(Via Rauchway.)

Friday, July 03, 2009

Life imitates the Onion

"Palin to Resign" seemed too silly to be true -- some kind of July 4 joke -- but it seems to be for real:
Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska announced Thursday that she would step down by the end of the month and not seek a second term as governor, allowing her to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012.

Ms. Palin, who was Senator John McCain’s vice presidential running mate in last year’s election and rallied the party’s conservative base, explained her decision at a news conference at her home in Wasilla, accompanied by her husband, Todd, and other family members.

We know we can effect positive change outside of government,” she said in making the announcement.
Well, she's made a good start.

(The epistemological validity of my judging what's "for real" by going from a blog entry, to its linked story at an Alaskan TV station's website, to a New York Times blog entry, seems both obvious and a little weird to me, premised I guess on the theory that the Times has no sense of humor.)

... You can perhaps judge how much time you spend on the political internet by how long it takes you to read the above and go, "I wonder what Andrew Sullivan thinks of that." (His one-word summary is "Toast." In a country where that was necessarily true, she wouldn't have been the Republican veep nominee in the first place.)

In other news:

--David Frum touts nuclear energy, which I have always thought more sensible than not. Whatever the flaws in his thinking, they aren't evident to me, nor it seems to the French.

--Eugene Volokh observes the Fourth by reminding us that barbequing our flags is quite properly constitutionally protected, and provides some entertaining examples of colonial-era "symbolic speech":
The Framers were working within a late 18th century common-law legal system that generally treated symbolic expression and verbal expression the same. Speech restrictions -- such as libel, slander, sedition, obscenity and blasphemy -- covered symbolic expression on the same terms as verbal expression.

Many cases and treatises, including Blackstone's "Commentaries" published in 1765 and often cited by the Framers' generation in America, said this about libel law. And early American court cases soon held the same about obscenity and blasphemy. Late 18th and early 19th century libel law cases and treatises gave many colorful examples: It could be libelous to burn a person in effigy, send him a wooden gun (implying cowardice), light a lantern outside his house (implying the house was a brothel), and engage in processions mocking him for his supposed misbehavior.
No less entertaining is that the Senate sponsor of the latest ban-the-burning bill is David Vitter, whose sex with hookers seems positively quaint in retrospect.

Valerie Eliot

With our recent spate of celebrity passings, it's worth noting that T.S. Eliot's widow is still alive -- here demonstrated by her attending a reading of Eliot's poetry by Seamus Heaney, Jeremy Irons, and others. (She is "only" 82.) ... Via Bookslut.

"Director? Ms. Tiamat is holding on lines 2, 3, 5, 8, and 11."

It sometimes bears repeating how great The Order of the Stick is.

Snark, defined?

Kenneth Anderson (no relation!) has a post at the VC discussing snark, including this:
But beyond humor that misses, with some audiences or with all, what characterizes snark? Two things, I think. One is that it is an appeal to emotion - it is a statement with a particular affect, and the affect is an appeal to an attitude in which both writer and reader participate, but they participate in an exclusionary way. This is what makes it a branch of irony. Instead of arguing to everyone on the basis of shared reason so that, at least in principle, everyone could be included in the shared sentiment, snark depends upon exclusion. It is a refusal to offer a public argument, with the possibility of reasoned inclusion, and instead depends upon prior shared views that merely exclude because snark does not make an attempt to persuade. It is 'affectively exclusionary' in the language of moral psychology.

(Note that the greatest satire and irony appears to be exclusionary in this way - but ultimately is not. A Modest Proposal is the bitterest satire, and yet it ultimately is inclusionary, because underlying it is an appeal to a universal sentiment in which all can participate. It is not a reasoned argument, and is not an invitation to inclusion on that basis. It is, rather than argument, an invitation to see the universal moral impulse beneath the satire, and to demonstrate it by a reductio ad absurdum - an invitation to apperceive the universal value. It is a little like the Christian concept of conversion through the bearing of testimony. Despite the surface irony, in other words, truly great satire is actually an invitation to see and join the community of believers, not exclusion from it.)

Two, because snark depends upon a prior shared commitment, it is a form of question-begging argument. Not precisely a form of argument, because it is about affect, not reason. So, more precisely, snark is the affective cognate of a question-begging argument, in which the sentiment of the conclusion assumes the sentiment of the premise. It assumes that one already shares the attitudes necessary to ... share the attitudes.
I think this is right, so far as it goes, but I felt compelled to add my own comment, which may be worth reprinting here:
I would say that the snarker rather *knows* that the target of the snark does *not* share the snarker's attitudes.

The reason snark is called for is that the position being mocked is, in the snarker's view, simply ridiculous, so that arguing against it seems pedantic, boring, or silly.

One *can* argue against creationists, or Holocaust deniers, or 9/11 "truthers," or people who think that Saddam's WMD's are still in hiding somewhere, or who believe that Alger Hiss really had no Communist affiliations. But why? People who believe ridiculous things are not participating in the same "interpretive community" or "web of belief" or whatever as the snarker; they are not likely amenable to persuasion.

The snarker therefore dismissively snarks those people or their views, in effect marking the bounds of his community or his discourse in a show of sublimated hostility. (Snark is of course hostile on some level.) It's a relatively sophisticated human version of what animals do all the time in marking and defending their territory.

Flannery O'Connor famously wrote about freaks because she could still tell one when she saw one. Snarkers snark because they do not believe that all opinions are created equal, or that universal tolerance or "niceness" (see Allan Bloom, "Our Virtue," in The Closing of the American Mind -- Bloom had some choice snarking skills, IIRC) are appropriate in all circumstances.
Snarky responses are, of course, welcome. Though mistaken.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Osama, savior of the GOP?

The Glenn Beck-Michael Scheuer "9/11 wasn't enough" clip is getting some attention, but I hate watching video clips, so I found their exchange in print.

Scheuer, ex-CIA spook, says:
The only chance we have as a country right now is for Osama bin Laden to deploy and detonate a major weapon in the United States. Because it’s going to take a grass-roots, bottom-up pressure. Because these politicians prize their office, prize the praise of the media and the Europeans. It’s an absurd situation again. Only Osama can execute an attack which will force Americans to demand that their government protect them effectively, consistently, and with as much violence as necessary.
So, you're Beck, and this guy has just said that America really, really needs to suffer the "detonation of a major weapon" -- presumably a nuke, with attendant loss of life, right? we're not talking a test blast in Death Valley, are we? -- and your response is, "hold on now, that's just crazy, and whose side are you on, jocko?" Right?

No, because you're Beck, your response is:
Which is why, I was thinking this weekend, if I were him, that would be the last thing I would do right now.
Hm. Osama doesn't want to attack America, because if he did, America would protect itself, which would ... make it harder for Osama to attack America?

Not only is Beck immoral, anti-American, and hateful -- he's also stupid.

Reality bit

Even less posting than usual this week -- it says something about the practice of law today that after six years with my firm, yesterday was the first time I ever questioned witnesses at a hearing (as opposed of course to a deposition, of which, lots). The court didn't rule against my client from the bench, which counts as a victory, I think.

The court personnel (white folks), in a rural Mississippi county whose history suggests they ought to know better, were cracking Obama jokes before the judge arrived. I was more bemused than annoyed, especially since they weren't very good jokes (Obama's going to put Michael Jackson on the $1 bill!), and I've heard better. Always interesting to be reminded where the GOP gets its votes.

Meanwhile, RNC chair Michael Steele continues to cover himself with glory, trying to spin Franken's apparently pending admission to the Senate:
I can say without hesitation that this government is totally theirs... Everything that comes out of it and everything that results from it is on their plate.
Good thinking, Mike! Could you let us have the Supreme Court, too, on that logic? If Obama's reelected in 2012, Steele will doubtless be thrilled at all the responsibility the Dems will labor under. In fact, I think it's his duty as RNC chair to see to it that as many Dems are elected as possible.

... Sarah Palin, meanwhile, continues to outshine Steele:
de Nies : ... on a lighter note. Sarah Palin, in an interview with Runner's World, said that in a one-on-one with the president, she thinks she has more endurance. Would he consider going for a run with the Alaska governor?

GIBBS: That's an interesting question. How's her jump shot? I guess it depends on where they were going to run. I don't -- make there's a terrain advantage in a place like Alaska. But I will certainly ask him if he's -- if he's got any free time in the summer to do that.
The better response would've been, "That's an interesting question, and I think my response to Governor Palin would have to be, 'Fool, the prez is half Kenyan. Bring it on!'"