Serving the will of Tommy Westphall since 2004.

escoles's blog

Democracy As An Exploit

Adam Greenfield, from his expat-home in Helsinki, calling a lie a lie and identifying a core weakness of liberal democracy:

And beyond that, there’s my sense of despair at the impotence with which the American body politic (and especially the “progressive” sector thereof, right up to and including President Obama) reacts to outside context problems or – might as well call ‘em what they are – exploits.

Consider “death panels.” This is clearly Big Lie territory, and of course the filthy little truth of the Big Lie is that it works and works consistently. But just what work does it do in the present context?

In trying to answer this question, it’s worth bearing this in mind: it’s not that the opponents of national health are playing the same game by a different set of rules. They’re playing a different game entirely. That is, a plurality of the folks who oppose some kind of public-sector involvement in health insurance almost certainly are not interested in helping to articulate a best-fit, balanced solution that would be minimally acceptable to everyone. Their all-but-stated aim is to deny, attrit, isolate, suppress and, ultimately, shatter their opponents.

The collectivites arrayed against the “Obamacare” bogeyman construct the body politic as a zero- or even a negative-sum game. They’ve identified a loophole, a vulnerability in the operating system of American democracy for which as yet there’s no patch. And because their victory conditions don’t require the affirmative production of a workable solution, the challenge before them is much (infinitely!) easier: all they have to do is drive a wedge through that vulnerability and they’ve won. The foreshortened, truncated, mutilated human lives that will result are collateral damage, an acceptable side effect. And the damage to the health and functioning of the republic? That’s a feature, baby.

Now, to tell the truth, I’m not all that surprised that there are people who would rather tear their country apart than articulate an honest ideological opposition and advance meaningful alternatives to the policies they dislike. But it’s not simply cynicism that teaches me this. It’s history.

Sometimes I just want to do what Barney Frank did, and ask "On what planet do you spend most of your time?"

But if Adam is right, I'll be missing the point: Pre-existing reality is not what's important, here. The Big Lie is all about creating a new reality that's more congenial to the real goals of the people promulgating it.

To A Bully, Everything Looks Like A Nerd: Bushite Neocons and Posse Comitatus

If there were still any doubt that Neocons have a utilitarian contempt for any part of the Constitution that is momentarily inconvenient, it should evaporate with knowledge that (according to the NYT) Cheney strenuously advocated sending in the Army to arrest the Lackawanna Six.

Always with the military: Everything looks like a nail to these chickenhawk bozos. We already know they wanted to use the military for disaster relief*, and we've seen them push for more and more military involvement in border control.** The irony of a bunch of guys who actively avoided either combat or military service looking to the military to perform police duties on American soil is positively numbing.

*Gotta wonder what happened with that. D'ya think they might have, you know, talked to an actual military person about it? Nah....
**This one kills me. How does it not become clear from this kind of talk that border control is irretrievably tied up with fear of taint?

The Elephant from Arkansas

The big question around the Republican reconstruction effort seems to me to be, if enough people in the media pretend that Mike Huckabee doesn't exist, will he actually disappear?

They omit him from popularity polls that include Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney, he's never mentioned in rundowns of potential candidates by anyone. When anybody notices this, they usually attribute it to a retreat from the religious right. (Which makes no sense if you've ever actually paid any attention to Huckabee's positions. Yes, they're largely consistent with what the religious right wants. But Sarah Palin's are even more so, and for some strange reason people actually still seem to think she's a worth contender for the Presidency.)

But here's the thing: Huckabee is popular. People like him. (Maybe that scares people. Maybe he knows this.)

I disagree with Mike Huckabee about a lot of things -- probably almost everything of any importance -- and I very emphatically do not want him as my president. But you know what? I like the guy. I like watching him in interviews, or on SNL, or wherever. He's amusing: sharp, quick-witted. And he generally interacts with people on a level of personal respect, which sets him way apart from the mass of Republican "contenders." My read on Huckabee (which is probably worth nothing, but what the hell) is that he's a smart pragmatic idealist: He has deeply-held beliefs, and he's willing to engage in some horse-trading to further the aims that those beliefs lead him toward. But he's not very willing to compromise those core beliefs in the process.

In that, he's very much like Barack Obama.

Ultimately I think that might be the problem, not the conservatism: He's too much like Obama. Republican strategists haven't yet gotten to the point of really understanding their enemy enough to adopt and adapt his tactics (I could argue that GWB was an adopt/adapt response to Bill Clinton). When they finally do -- when they get past the self-destructive long-dark-night-of-the-hidden-knives crap and get into the real long-dark-night-of-the-soul, they'll have to recognize that Obama out-decent-ed them. (One of the core un-stated premises of the Obama campaign, after all, was that personal-attack politics isn't just un-necessary, it's actually counter-productive.) Until they face that, they're going to think that someone who gives the appearance of fighting "fair" is too weak or tentative.

They want decisiveness, these defeated ones. Defeated ones always seem to want decisiveness.

An Obama-Huckabee race (which of course could never have happened in the 2008 context, but I'm just saying) would have been a very different cotnest. Obama would have had a hard time pulling that one out. Mike Huckabee c. 2009 vs. Barack Obama c. 2012 would be a tough challenge for Huckabee, but if he were to start laying the groundwork now -- and a public-affairs talk show is as good a place as any for a politician-in-hiatus to do that -- he can build a subjectively credible foreign-policy base by late-2010 to 2011 (the time frame in which he'll need to be lining up support).


The Wages of Spam

A thought for the morning: Over the past 24 hours, about 94% of the email my company received has been some kind of spam. That means that only a little over 6% (6.18% or so, to be precise) has been legitimate.

That's about normal for recent weeks.

The category breakdown looks like this:

Valid Mail 30 3.31%
Allowed Sender 15 1.66%
Allowed IP 11 1.21%
Phishing 2 0.22%
Meds 532 58.72%
Truncated 158 17.44%
General 60 6.62%
Adult 41 4.53%
Gambling 11 1.21%
Other Spam 11 1.21%
Abstract 8 0.88%
Scams 7 0.77%
Get Rich 6 0.66%
Debt/Credit 6 0.66%
Cable Theft 6 0.66%
NewSource 2 0.22%

It's interesting to note that medicine has so far outstripped sex. Though I have to wonder if penis enlargement is classified under "meds" or "adult."

All this having been said, I see no indication that email will go away. Most corporate environments will resort (as we have) to aggressive third-party spam filtering with whitelists. Draconian non-solutions like Serios, private email, replacing email with IM, and the like, just aren't making any headway because the value of free and open communication is so great that it easily outweighs the cost of spam mitigation. At the same time, companies like Appriver have made the process of implementing third party spam filters so seamless that even small businesses like ours can do it painlessly.

So the conservative view is that the Federal Government is infallible?

Surprisingly, Alito, Roberts and Scalia have thrown in with big government in yesterday's Wyeth ruling:

"The FDA has long known about the risks associated with [injected use of Phenergan]," Justice Alito wrote. "Whether wisely or not, the FDA has concluded – over the course of extensive 54-year-long regulatory proceedings – that the drug is 'safe' and 'effective' when used in accordance with its FDA-mandated labeling."

And we all know that the standard conservative view is that big government is infallible, right?

(Since the position that the FDA is infallible -- which is basically what Alito's arguing -- is inconsistent with the story that Conservatism has traditionally told about itself, I have to wonder if it's not just a stalking horse for the total annihilation of government oversight. "See? It didn't work in an absolutely perfect way! It required correction!!! That means it's useless!" Of course, if you take their view to be that the purpose of government is to reward players who are able to pay "market rate" for determinations in their interest (a.k.a. "buying regulation"), then you get the consistency back. Is that too cynical?)

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Calloused Hands

John Derbyshire at NRO is my first nominee this morning for the Nordlinger Prize:

Just watched Wonder Boys speech. Hmph. Callused [sic] hands?” When did he ever have callused hands?

 I don't know, John. When did you?

Before turning to writing full-time, he worked on Wall Street as a computer programmer. As a novelist, Derbyshire's 1996 book, Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream, was a New York Times "Notable Book of the Year". His more recent Prime Obsession was awarded the Mathematical Association of America's inaugural Euler Book Prize.[4]

Hm. I guess...never!

And his disturbingly strong resemblance to a young John Cleese is really not helping me cut him slack....

nordlinger effect


I Voted

My wife and I voted this morning for the first serious Black presidential candidate in American history. And more to the point, he seems to me to be the best candidate we've had in my lifetime, which now spans eleven presidential elections.

I get dewey-eyed about this, I'll admit it, and I'm filled at the same time with trepidation. I have confidence -- not faith -- that Obama is a decent human being, a wise delegator, someone who actually, genuinely cares what Americans really want, at the same time that he is able and willing to take the responsibility for giving them what he thinks they need. I have confidence that he's the kind of leader I want for my country and that I don't think we've had for a long time. 

I worry, though, that we expect too much. It's true that he's a tabula rasa. That's not a false charge. People are using their idea of him as a vessel for their dreams, and I fear that the vessel will break against reality. Wise people often suffer that fate.

For now, I want this to be over. I thought the 2004 election was bad; this has been far worse. Kerry was simply not respected by his foes; Obama has been demonized. Many in the opposition will simply never acknowledge his legitimacy.

Hope lies in Obama's ability to reach out to moderate Republicans and win their confidence. Bush claimed that he would reach out and unite; I have confidence that Obama will actually do it.

Confidence. Not faith. That means a lot to me.


Bruce Fein: Snobby Conservative Elitists Like Me Are The Only True Judges Of Exceptionality

Bruce Fein is getting his ducks in order to say "I-told-you-so":

None of the presidential or vice presidential candidates would have been worthy of the constitutional convention of 1787 or the Federalist Papers, the high-water mark of political erudition and profundity in more than a thousand years. Among other things, they all subscribe to the delusions that the government can outfox the efficiencies of free markets; that the United States can be made safer and freer by sacrificing the lives and limbs of tens of thousands of American soldiers abroad and squandering hundreds of billions of dollars in quixotic adventures to transform incorrigibly tribal or feudal societies into friendly secular democracies; and, that international terrorism justifies a permanent global war crowning the president with perpetual war powers, including the authority to detain American citizens as "enemy combatants" for life without accusation or charge; to spy on Americans without warrants in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; and, to employ waterboarding against detainees with impunity.

Translation #1: "Those Founding Father guys were, like, total gods, dude. Like, I read that their shit didn't even smell bad!"

Alternate Translation: "Don't blame me -- I voted for Kodos!"

Anyway, those are all strong statements Fein's making. Mostly false, and obviously so, and where not false, off the point:

  • The people who were there at the constitutional Convention of 1787 weren't "worthy" of it; and in any case, would certainly not be "worthy" to face the challenges we face now. We face our challenges with what we have, not with what we wish we had. (Don Rumsfeld got that much right.)
  • The Free Market is not a god, and it's not a law of nature, Fein and the Marketistas contentions to the contrary notwithstanding. We make choices about how our society is to be structured, and right now, the dominant choices are favoring Marketism. That was not always the case and there is no reason to suppose it will always continue to be in the future.
  • At least Obama, and arguably also Biden, have been quite clear in their belief that sacrificing the lives and limbs of Americans overseas does not make us safer, and if Fein were being honest he'd admit that he knows that.
  • Similarly, it's not at all clear that Obama and Biden support the continuation of Presidential war powers. But I'll just argue that Fein is too strong on this point, since neither Obama nor Biden has explicitly said they'll roll them back.
  • Both Obama and Biden have, though, been clear that the FISA must be honored by the next President, and ought to be honored by the current one.
  • Finally, Obama for his part has been quite clear (and I actually believe McCain would probably backtrack to his older, more ethically-grounded position on this once he was in office) that torture is simply not acceptable.

Moreover, this is all stuff that Fein should know if he's been paying attention, and if he's not been paying attention, there's absolutely no reason anybody should listen to his opinon on anything of consequence. So, what's the point of this exercise in late-term sour grapes?

It has to be so that Fein claim blamelessness and moral high-ground. He's pretending this is really about "mediocrity", it's really about America not turning to its elites anymore. There may actually be some wisdom in such a view -- but Fein's got no ground to stand on, since he doesn't actually know what the real capabilities of the candidates actually are. He hasn't allowed himself to see them. Other discerning people have looked at Obama, for example, and seen a confident, capable politician -- as qualified to lead America as, say, John Adams or Abraham Lincoln at the time of their ascension. What had they "run"? What could we look at in their records to say that they had the "experience" required?

The answers are all questions of either the good fortunate to participate in momentous decisions (in Adams' case), or in a judgement of character based on reputation and rhetoric (in the case of Lincoln). Neither had "executive experience" of any kind prior to assuming office. But in Fein's worldview, they're unassailable giants. What he's blind to is the fact that their stature is a matter of hindsight (and what I like about these examples is that either one would readily admit as much -- well, maybe not Adams, since his stature is really only now being so elevated). 

What this is really all about is that Fein's not getting to specify who's "exceptional." (Which is a damn good thing, since he's clearly got some problems with seeing what's actually going on in the world.) What this is really all about is that Fein's opinion isn't coinciding with the direction the electorate wants to go.

What's really going on is that there are these kids playing on (what Fein thinks is) his lawn, and he wants them to pull up their pants and show him some deference, dammit.

Which they might be willing do, if it wasn't clear that he isn't interested in actually listening to anyone else's opinions.

Before Bruce Fein expects anyone to take him seriously as a credible arbiter of who's exceptional and who's not, he should first demonstrate that we ought to listen to him (by showing he's been paying attention), and that he's got some  awareness of actual history (by recognizing that people were often as small, petty and unprepared in the past as they are now). Until then, he's just a snobby, snooty conservative elitist.

The Nordlinger Effect

Those wacky NRO guys -- Jay Nordlinger has spent a weekend in Vermont, and now he Understands The Noble Working Man:

.... here’s how I understand it: Modestly off people — “real Vermonters,” as some people say — are voting for McCain and Palin. Comfortably off people, such as those who own ski chalets, are voting for Obama and Biden. And the following has been frequently noted about the city of my residence, New York: The rich are voting Democratic. And those who work for them — driving cars, cleaning rooms, and so on — are voting Republican.

(I guess we know what "the math" is, now.)

Commenter Landon at Matthew Yglesias's blog describes this as the Nordlinger Effect:

The Nordlinger Effect is when non-rich people respond they’re voting like the rich jerk asking them who they’re voting for just so he’ll shut up and leave them alone.

For his part, Yglesias himself has pointed (unnecessarily) to the work of Andrew Gelman to demonstrate that rich folks in poor states (like Vermont) do in fact tend to vote for Republicans, while poor folks in poor states (like Vermont) do in fact tend to vote Democratic. Others in Yglesias's comment thread take the trouble to note (among other things) that you're not a real Vermonter unless you're born there (at least), all the ski chalets are owned by "flatlanders" from Connecticut, Massachusetts and NY (who won't be voting in Vermont, anyway), and that all the actual data demonstrates amply that "Vermonters of modest means" will be voting overwhelmingly for Obama. (As for housekeeping staff voting Republican: If he believes that, I've got this bridge I'd love to sell him...)

And how the hell Jay Nordlinger can use the phrase "of modest means" without blushing, I don't know. Maybe it's an internal manifestation of the Nordlinger Effect: Jay telling Jay what Jay wants to hear, so his brain will leave him alone.

, nordlinger effect

Barack Obama is a CIA Plant!

One of the things I find really irritating about wingnuts is that they don't appear to think very clearly, and their writing shows it. Here's a typical passage from a typical "run your underwear up the flagpole" bit of conspiracy-baiting from Jim Lindgren at The Volokh Conspiracy:

As part of a joint “project” with SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] (p. 170), Oglesby arranged meetings with Haynes and Business International clients as part of their “round-table meetings,” allowing SDS to explain their opposition to the war (p. 171). New York SDS members continued to meet regularly with Business International even after Oglesby left New York.

Haynes “had come to agree with SDS about the war, racism, and urban poverty.” (Id.) Haynes, who died in 1976, told Oglesby that if he had been in the same generation as Oglesby, he might have joined SDS. (p. 170) After Robert Kennedy died, Haynes even called up Oglesby and urged SDS to riot: “Get your people out and tear the goddamn place into pieces.” (Oglesby, p. 188)

According to Oglesby, the Dohrn/Klonsky wing [of the SDS] was highly suspicious of SDS’s joining in any programs with Business International. Oglesby’s memoir recounts long discussions and interrogations of Oglesby — led by Dohrn, Klonsky, and Arlene Bergman — over Oglesby’s development of SDS links with Business International. [emphasis added]

Of all the firms in all the world, Obama had to walk into the one that years before had closer ties to SDS than any other mainstream business in the world. What luck!

(It's so cute the way scare-quoting "project" turns it into a wingnut dog-whistle.)

The point, I think, is that because Obama worked for a company that eight (or more) years previously had a President who was sympathetic to the aims of the Students for a Democratic Society, we're supposed to be suspicious of Obama's aims, now. As though just having one official who made contacts with the SDS was enough to taint an entire company such that not only would the taint still be there ten to fifteen years later, it would be strong enough to taint in turn everyone who ever worked there for a brief time, or perhaps everyone who was ever associated with them -- and that now, we're supposed to suspect that any of those people might be a sleeper-agent for the ComIntern.

But that's not what's wrong with this passage.

It's not even the dog-whistle invocation of "SDS" as code for "communist", harkening back as it does to the cold war and the days of "useful idiots." (By the way, the Right has useful idiots, too -- they just all think the idiot is someone else.)

What's really wrong with this passage is that Lindgren screws up telling the story.

He wants to establish "ties" between SDS and Business International. Clearly he wants to imply that those ties are somehow active, that they have sufficient vitality to make us legitimately worried about Obama as a result. Yet he takes great care (probably because, like any writer, he's loathe to edit) to keep a passage that expresses great ambivalence ont he part of SDS over being involved with Business International. He doesn't say why, but suspicion of Business International's motives seems like a plausible reason. Apparently there have been rumors off and on that Business International was a CIA front, like Coca-Cola (though it's as easy to imagine SDS's suspicion starting those rumors as being in response to them).

Here's where it gets sloppy: Lindgren seques from that into trying to draw the connection between scary-SDS and scary-Obama by way of (possibly spooky) business research firm Business International, right after clearly establishing that some influential elements of scary-SDS were scared of Business International.

So that's how Lindgren screws uptelling the story: He precedes his closer with evidence that undermines (if not negates) it. And because of his own confirmation bias, he probably doesn't even realize he did it.

At another level, though, this is merely typical conspiracy wanking. He's taking a random connection and tossing it against the wall. It's as though I were to point out that John McCain consorted with Democrats as a Naval attache to Congress in the 1970s. Some lunatic might make the leap to associate him with Democrats and by extension with the anti-war movement. Voila: John McCain is now a secret Commie, in the mind of one lunatic. It's a dog whistle. The great holy grail of conspiracy baiting is to find the dog whistle that calls the most dogs. Sometimes it's best to leave the crap in, because you can just never know what will resonate with a lunatic. 

The juciest irony, though, is that based on Lindgren's story, it's just as easy to create a nutjob conspiracy narrative where Barack Obama is a CIA plant as it is to create one where he's a secret Commie.

It does encourage the development of poor rhetorical skills, though.

"But I might wake up king someday, and if I do...."

Deep in the middle of a surreal attempt at social analysis that reads more like a bad acid-trip, Mark Levin at the NRO stumbles upon one true thing: "Obama's appeal to the middle class is an appeal to the "the proletariat," as an infamous philosopher once described it...."

Congratulations, Mr. Levin: You've defined Populism. To paraphrase Aaron Sorkin's great fake-president, the problem with an America where anyone can become rich is that everyone thinks they will, and makes their electoral choices accordingly. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean making a workable plan to become rich, or even necessarily working especially hard: It most typically means a lot of day-dreaming, lotto-buying, and planning to make sure that THE GOVERNMENT doesn't get a chance to take away any of your wondrous, hypothetical, chance-gotten gains.

Put another way: We act in the interest of the person we fantasize about becoming, instead of the person we actually are.

Of course there are a lot of people who work hard for what they get. But it's more or less never been true that wealth or status has a direct relationship with how hard you work -- or, for that matter, how smart you are. In fact, even some conservatives take great pains to make it clear just how much of it is down to the opportunities you have.

Cleverness, though -- now that's very important. You have to know how to work the angles, to work people. You have to have social intelligence, at a minimum, but that's not usually enough. No, to really become wealthy or important, you most often have to have a willingness to hurt other people to get what you want.

To Be Vaguely Acquainted With Her Is To Be Seduced By Her

Larry Eagleburger, pressed on whether Sarah Palin would be ready to serve as President:

"It is a very good question," he said, pausing a few seconds, then adding with a chuckle: "I'm being facetious here. Look, of course not."

John McCain, in response:

Larry has never had a chance to meet Sarah. She's got more experience than Sen. Biden and Sen. Obama put together.

Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard catalogs people who "respect" her versus those who don't, and wants us to believe that it's all about whether or not they have actually met her, in the flesh. If so, I'm starting to think Sarah Palin should be classified as some kind of munition, perhaps a psychological or biological warfare agent. Or maybe she's like that alien princess from OT. It seems that once you come in contact with her, your critical faculties are toast. Call it 'Caribou Barbie Infatuation Syndrome.' Symptoms resemble those of excess alcohol consumption, including a tendency to see little starbursts, perceive people on television as speaking directly to you, excessive gift-giving, and rationalization of or blindness to flaws or exaggeration of virtues in the object of infatuation.

Curiously, most heterosexual women seem immune. I wonder why.

Apparently it's never occurred to Barnes that meeting her, rather than not meeting her, might be the error.

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How can you read about Dan Cooper and not come to the conclusion that actual freedom and actual personal responsibility are essentially meaningless to the vast majority of people who call themselves "conservative"?

Dan Cooper was basically a poster-child for libertarian-conservative values. He was a small businessman, a manufacturer of high-quality hunting rifles, who shepherded his business through hard times until it ultimately employed about 38 people. Clearly this is a guy who supports "individualist" interpretations of the Second Amendment. And since I know a few things about guns and I've known a bunch of people who loved hunting, I can tell you that people who bother to buy a rifle like the ones that Dan Cooper sold are not generally going to be your typical modern gun nut. These are fairly expensive guns, bolt-action rifles designed for hunting game, not clones of military weapons intended to make the bearer feel potent. Whether you like the craft they're used for, it's hard not to accept that what he made were craftsman's tools, not assembly-line garbage with no legitimate use in a civil society.

I keep using the term 'was' because Dan Cooper isn't making guns anymore. Oh, the company's still there, but Dan's gotten fired as the President of the company he founded.

Here's what happened to Dan Cooper: he had the audacity to publicly announce that he supported Barack Obama. And for that, he was hounded out of his position by a bunch of limp-dicked gun nuts.

And yet pathetic pseudo-intellectuals like Andy McCarthy can write, with what they'd have us believe is a straight face, that Obama is the one who's going to have a catastrophic impact on our "liberty." These guys and their fellow-travelers on the radical religious right are the ones who would place restrictions on my liberty by enforcing a tyranny of the minority from the extreme right.

Andy McCarthy doesn't have the guts to deal with real freedom because real freedom might mean people choosing ideas other than the ones he's behind. Being a real thinker means having the courage to have a real discussion about your ideas, which is something that the narcissistic dregs of post-Buckley Buckleyism (which I won't dignify by calling 'Conservatism') and pseudo-conservative intellectualoids snarf down their unholy cocktail of Rand & God & penis-amplification devices.

But then, I suppose freedom from liberty is a kind of freedom. Or freedom from choice. Everything is so much easier when you get to let someone else choose for you, right? Like Dan Cooper should have let the phallicly-challenged nut cases in the NRA dictate who he offered public support for.

As I said, I've known a lot of people who loved hunting and hunting-guns. I'm a bit heartened to see how many aren't locked in to the ridiculous knee-jerk mindset:

As a gun owner from Montana myself, i can't wait to buy one of Mr. Cooper's firearms. Notice I didn't say his former company's firearms, as I would not support them any longer. And yes, I cast my vote for Barack Obama on October 6th.

If only the more vocal minority of self-proclaimed "gun nuts" could be that rational (and gracious).

'Soviet' Is The New 'Hitler'

"It's sort of like when you imagined the Soviet invasion, it would take over the airwaves." Right. Because invaders always pay for their air-time and have the courtesy to get off and let you keep watching baseball when they're done telling you resistance is futile.

The conversation about just how Soviet Barack Obama really is, is...

...another example of how comparisons to totalitarian Russia have become as meaningless as allusions to the Nazis -- people basically use both as rhetorical crutches for arguments that limp along without them. This election season, such inane comparisons have multiplied like breeding rabbits, in part because the right has descended into absolute hysteria over Obama's chances of winning the election, and because you can only ride that Hitler hobby-horse so long before it starts to chafe. (Remember when the right used to complain that the left was making inappropriate comparisons between Bush and the Nazis?) Clearly, the media has started to internalize this nonsense, at least partially because people like Geist and Hazlett apparently have no idea what communism and socialism really are.

Adam Serwer, "GODWIN'S LAW NEEDS AN UPDATE", on American Prospect

I try to be charitable, I really do, but anyone who thinks Obama is a Stalinist, Marxist, or even a Socialist really needs some serious history lessons, some serious counseling, or both.

It's just a stepwise progression, of course. 'Liberal' has been tantamount to 'Nazi' in large segments of the right for at least 20 years. It's just that in the pre-Internet days, they didn't have a place to air out their skid-marked psyches.

Patio Man

It may be true that David Brooks is not a deep thinker (or at least not a grand thinker), but he often has some penetrating (if uncomfortable for Conservatives) demographic insights:

Some liberals think they are headed for an age of liberal dominance and government expansion. “If Obama offers a big, budget-busting program next year, it will more likely be seen as fair than irresponsible,” Jonathan Alter writes in Newsweek.

But the shift in public opinion is not from right to left, or from anti-government to pro-government, it’s from risk to caution, from disorder to consolidation.

There is a deep current of bourgeois culture running through American suburbia. It is not right wing, but it is conservative: a distrust of those far away; a belief in convention and respectability; and a strong reaction against anything that threatens to undermine the stability of the established order.

Democrats have done well in suburbia recently because they have run the kind of candidates who seem like the safer choice — socially moderate, pragmatic and fiscally hawkish. They, or any party, will run astray if they threaten the mood of chastened sobriety that has swept over the subdivisions.

He's got a point, there. And I don't think he misses the fact that Obama is much more of an incrementalist than a radical.

Also, as with many genuinely curious intellectuals, it can be hard to tell the difference with Brooks between talking-about and talking-for: This is very likely not what he wants (or at least not all of it), but rather what he thinks is. What he wants is the John McCain he profiled and admired. What he's going to get is Obama. He'll be OK with that at an intellectual level, and it may even make him feel safer, but it probably won't make him happy. I doubt we'll see David Brooks "endorsing" Obama before the election.

("Patio Man." Sounds like a newly-identified hominid. Brooks is so square, sometimes, I swear. My father would think he's a hoot. It's weird to think that we're close to the same age....)


To Seem Good Is Much More Important Than To Be Good: Or, Sarah Palin, Counterfeit Alaskan

Alaska native Seth Kantner is frustrated by how much traction Sarah Palin is getting from fake Alaskan-ness:

Come on, people. Our ice is melting. Your jobs are turning to dust. Everyone's bank statements are on the verge of being firestarter. Your heating oil is $4 a gallon, ours is $8.

John McCain's answers to those problems? Heck, I honestly don't know what he stands for this week. Talk about a shifting ice floe. But his running mate, we've heard her answers: She's already sued the polar bears, now she's chanting, "Drill, baby, drill!"

Wake up, folks. Sarah Palin is America's bridge to nowhere. Get off it.

Alas, Seth hangs around with people who actually need the meat from the bear they killed. That means they don't have so much of the skid-grease (a.k.a. money) that makes things runs smoothly in Alaska. So who's gonna listen to him?


Quote of the Moment: Not just nincompoops, but insipid nincompoops

Kathryn Jean Lopez @ NRO on why people pack it in to see Palin:

Palin didn't need Greek columns. People react to her because they believe she represents what the Greeks established.

And what would that be -- the desirability of maneuvering yourself into a disastrous social collapse by hiring demagogues and pursuing untenable foreign wars, like the Athenians? Or maybe she's thinking of the way that Spartans got stuck in their devotion to a bizarre social system that privileged male emotional and sexual bonding to the extent that the population dropped disastrously, making them entirely dependent on slaves for labor and battle-fodder?

What a bunch of delusional incompetents the NR staff have become. ("Become", of course, may offer them too much benefit of doubt.) I'll say this much for the Buckleys: At least they'd have been able to say what greek thing she's supposed to symbolize.


Is John McCain Really a Maverick?

Apparently not. And Terrellita Maverick has the family tree to prove it. From

No! says Terrellita Maverick, a descendant of Samuel Augustus Maverick, who went to Texas in the 1800s and became famous for not branding his cattle, which led to unbranded cattle being called "mavericks." The Maverick family has been active in progressive politics for generations, including Fontaine Maury Maverick, who was a congressman and his son, a firebrand lawyer who defended draft resisters. The Mavericks object strenuously to McCain's being labeled a maverick, saying: "He's a Republican. He's branded." Thanks for Debbie Scherrer for the pointer.

Incompetence Abets Malice In Alaska

Napoleon famously remarked that it was best not to attribute to malice that which could be explained by stupidity. But sometimes one gets a little help from the other.

AP asked for documents using Alaska's freedom of information laws. The state informed them that the tab will be over $15 million. The State of Alaska is getting a lot of these requests and its IT staff has been "overwhelmed" by them. Superficially, the problem seems to be that they don't know what the hell they're doing:

How did the cost reach $15 million? Let's look at a typical request. When the Associated Press asked for all state e-mails sent to the governor's husband, Todd Palin, her office said it would take up to six hours of a programmer's time to assemble the e-mail of just a single state employee, then another two hours for "security" checks, and finally five hours to search the e-mail for whatever word or topic the requestor is seeking. At $73.87 an hour, that's $960.31 for a single e-mail account. And there are 16,000 full-time state employees. The cost quoted to the AP: $15,364,960.

.... And this is what they're doing every time someone makes a request. That is, they're apparently not taking any effort to save time or effort by, say, just extracting the mailbox once, or setting up a data warehouse of old emails. But hey, if they can get someone to pay for it every time, isn't it the American way to exploit the situation for gain?

I suppose I should leave it at that, but as someone with a much better than average grasp of IT operations principles, the situation irks the hell out of me. Let's just leave aside for the moment that if this description of activities required is accurate, they've got a hopelessly incompetent IT staff (both at the level of execution and architecture). Implausibly incompetent, in fact. Let's just look at the activities themselves. If we do that, we can see that somebody is scamming somebody somewhere, because there's no way it should take five hours of "programmer" [sic] time to extract a mailbox from an archive. (I can imagine that it might plausibly take an hour or two for the server to execute the extraction, but there's no way that a person should be billable for that entire time unless they've got some really gross problems with employee slacking up there.) (And by the way, "programmer" would just be a job title for that person -- at least, I bloody well hope so. If an actual programmer is required for that task, then in addition to being fired, the system architect should be stripped of any professional IT certifications he/she possesses.)

What the "security" checks are, I don't know, but I suspect that it amounts to auditing the mail spools for the presence of passwords or "secret" server names. In any case, the two hour figure is implausible in two ways. First, if they're audits for specific vulnerabilities, they should be automated, and thus would require at most 10-15 minutes of billable time, not two hours. (If they're not automated, that's a problem, because there's a probability that some steps in these "security" tests are going to be missed.) Second, the security checks would probably be more comprehensive and more difficult than the actual search operations, and take more time -- here, they're estimated at a lower cost. 

Finally, five hours to search for the offending words or phrases is quite absurd. It's true that Exchange and Outlook don't search that quickly (and I'm given to believe that AK is an Exchange shop), but they search much faster than that. And in any case, again, most of that "search" time is going to be time when the operator (who will not be a "programmer", except maybe in job title only) is just sitting at his/her console twiddling thumbs. I.e., the time bloody well should be spent doing something else.

The "five hours to search" figure, actually, though, might be the one slightly realistic figure. Redaction isn't itemized in the total above, but it is mentioned in the article, so one could imagine that the five hours includes redaction time. That said, we know that the state uses an absurdly time- and labor-intensive redaction method. Saying that they're 'not set up for' digital redation, they print hardcopies and redact those, then photocopy the redactions. Now, if you're redacting hardcopy, then yes, you absolutely photocopy, because otherwise it's possible to read the redacted text in many cases. But if you redact digitally by deleting the redacted text and replacing it with, say, the letter 'X', then there's no possibility of reading the redacted text and you haven't had to take the time and effort to to print, magic-marker and photocopy all that hardcopy.

Plus -- and here's the best part -- every PC in the AK state governmenment is "set up" to do this. After all, they all have 'Delete' and 'X' keys.

... In fact, Joe Wurzelbacher is a flat-out shill.

He's a registered Republican, who appears to have voted in the Ohio primary (in which most Republicans apparently stayed home or voted Democratic because McCain was unopposed), and (and this is the best part) he's 'closely related' to Robert Wurzelbacher, son-in-law of Charles Keating, and former VP of Lincoln Savings and Loan parent company American Continental. I'm sure we all remember Charles Keating.

Steve Schmidt is supposed to gone ballistic as soon as he heard the guy's name. So I can actually believe this was not a plant at all.

I'm just dying to hear Joe the Plumber spin about how he really was undecided, and he really wasn't just pretending to be an independent to sucker Obama into pandering to him. Instead of giving him a detailed and honest answer to his question.

So, Joe, I hope you enjoy your 15, because, yes, we do now get to see how good of a tap-dancer you are.

(It's so easy to forget just how damn good Sammy Davis and Gregory Hines were. Joe's got some serious shoes to fill.)

Joe Wurzelbacher is kind of not such an honest guy, it turns out...

Ohio's voter registration deadline has passed Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher by, and he's not actually registered to vote. So you have to wonder how sincere his question was. Fortunately, he's given us something to go on in that regard:

JOE WURZELBACHER: Initially, I started off asking him if he believed in the American Dream and he said yes, he does — and then I proceeded to ask him then why he’s penalizing me for trying to fulfill it. He asked, “what do you mean,” and I explained to him that I’m planning on purchasing this company — it’s not something I’m gonna purchase outright, it’s something I’m going to have to make payments on for years — but essentially I’m going to buy this company, and the profits generated by that could possibly put me in that tax bracket he’s talking about and that bothers me. It’s not like I would be rich; I would still just be a working plumber. I work hard for my money, and the fact that he thinks I make a little too much that he just wants to redistribute it to other people. Some of them might need it, but at the same time, it’s not their discretion to do it — it’s mine.


PM: Now did Obama tell you that you would receive some sort of tax cut?

JW: He talked about suspending capital gains to a certain amount… To be honest with you, I don’t want to say I tuned him out — because as he started, he pretty much regurgitated what he said in his debate, first one, second one, and a lot of his rallies. What he said to me was pretty much word for word what he’s been saying for the last couple months. So when he started down that path, it’s like, ”Okay, I’ve already heard this, Obama, give me something different.”

PM: There was nothing new in his answer?

JW: No, there was nothing new. You know, I didn’t appreciate that, actually.


PM: Do you think your question surprised Obama, caught him off guard at all?

JW: Well that was actually my intent. Most people, you ask them “do you believe in the American Dream?” Nine times out of ten they’ll sit there and go, “Yeah, of course!” That’s where he messed up, because as soon as I asked him that, his answer shows that he doesn’t believe in the American Dream. You know, like the question you asked before — he pretty much contradicted himself. “I don’t want to punish you but — “ Well, you’re going to anyways.

So, Joe, the point of the question was to give yourself a platform for making a statement about your own beliefs, not to inform your choice as a voter by actually finding out what Obama's were -- you already knew that, so when he told you, you tuned it out. Fair enough. We live in a culture where attention-whoring is regarded as not just a valid lifestyle choice, but everyone's god-given duty. (It's one of the ways that Americans tell if they're members of the elect. And like the good neo-Calvinist you seem to be, what's most important to you is that everyone see that you are among that elect.)

But at least pretend to be honest about it, OK?

But hey -- he sounds just like a pundit, so I guess he's doing something right.

ADDENDUM: He might be registered, after all, as a Republican. But there's so much more to this story it deserves a new lead....

Sour Grapes

Obama could win it in a landslide, and these jokers would still claim it was just dumb beginner's luck:

A Democrat was always likely to win the 2008 presidential race. I'm not saying that will definitely happen in three weeks, but if it does, that will simply confirm longstanding political patterns and reflect how and why swing voters swing. The Obama and McCain campaigns will have affected the outcome somewhat, but unless it's a blowout, their contributions will not have mattered much (sorry, political consultants, but some of us see right through you).

The Bush administration has been fraught with errors of its own making and crises not of its own making. The president is unpopular. The people are upset. Generally speaking, then, the natural outcome is a change of party. That Obama isn't running away with this by a huge margin is testament to the fact that the electorate remains essentially Center-Right, not Center-Left. Why do you think Obama is running as a anti-corruption, war-fighting (in the Stans), tax-cutting deficit hawk with nary a thing to say about cultural issus?

Realistically, I think Osama bin Ladin himself could break into the National Archives and take a dump on the Declaration of Independence and Obama would still win handily, and it's got jack shit to do with the economy. It's got everything to do with believing it's a good idea to have someone with steady nerves in charge of the ship while we're sailing through a mess of icebergs.


Yes, They Really Are That Crazy, Redux (Or: Intellectual Penis Envy)

If any doubt remained that the giants of intellectual conservatism who staff National Review Online were a bunch of raving lunatics severely handicapped by intellectual equivalent of penis envy, Andy McCarthy is now making a non-endorsement endorsement of the deeply paranoid and strange notion that Dreams from my Father was ghost-written by Bill Ayers:

There has been speculation about this which I've ignored, no doubt because there are enough policy reasons to oppose Barack Obama and I don't want to feed into what sounds, at first blush, like Vince Fosteresque paranoia.  But I've finally read Jack Cashill's lengthy analysis in The American Thinker.  It is thorough, thoughtful, and alarming — particularly his deconstruction of the text in Obama's memoir and comparison to the themes, sophistication and signature phraseology of Bill Ayers' memoir.

There is nothing in Obama's scant paper trail prior to 1995 that would suggest something as stylish and penetrating as, at times, Dreams from My Father is.  And when Obama speaks extemporaneously, one doesn't hear the same voice one encounters in the book.  Now maybe Obama has a backlog of writing fom Columbia or Harvard that signal great literary promise, but he not only hasn't shared it, he's assiduously hidden traces of it.  And, to be sure, writing is different from speaking — in fairness, some of Obama's off-the-cuff bumbling when he speaks is certainly due to the rigors of the campaign which would cause even the most gifted communicator to faulter from time to time.  But it's not unreasonable to expect more similarity between Obama the writer and Obama the orator.

It really shouldn't be necessary to debunk this, and in fact, it won't do any good for anyone to bother, it's just so god damned loony of an idea. But dammit, it offends me as a writer. And I find it obscene, frankly, that someone who makes a pretense to intellectualism can put such crap out there and try to pass it off as reasoning.

Here's how Jack Cashill starts out his "thorough, thoughful" "analysis":

Prior [strange broken link preserved as a slap at Jack Cashill and American "Thinker"] to 1990, when Barack Obama contracted to write Dreams From My Father, he had written very close to nothing.  Then, five years later, this untested 33 year-old produced what Time Magazine has called -- with a straight face -- "the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician."

The public is asked to believe Obama wrote Dreams From My Father on his own, almost as though he were some sort of literary idiot savant.  I do not buy this canard for a minute, not at all.  Writing is as much a craft as, say, golf.  To put this in perspective, imagine if a friend played a few rounds in the high 90s and then a few years later, without further practice, made the PGA Tour.  It doesn't happen.

Right from the outset is remarkably sloppy thinking, and it's really kind of comical that it's the lede for a story in a publication called "American Thinker." My wife, who teaches composition to college freshmen, would have sent back the draft that included this with a note that indicating it would seriously hurt the grade of the final paper. I really shouldn't have to point out the amazingly obvious logical errors (and there are two howlers, either of which renders the lede worthy of ridicule by any reasonably intelligent junior high school student), but the ostensibly intellectual Jack Cashill didn't spot 'em so I guess I should assume NRO-clique conservative intellectualoids are just not sharp enough to get them.

  1. The fact that Cashill isn't aware of Obama's writing during that time period doesn't mean there wasn't any. There was probably a lot. He was a law student for much of that time, a community organizer giving frequent talks and speeches for much of it as well. And he was talking day after day with black preachers, who train in narrative reasoning at the feet of their family and neighbors from a very young age. This is stuff Cashill should be bright and educated enough to know. That he's not accounting for it strikes me as willful ignorance.

  2. As importantly, writing (something Cashill's clearly not that good at, since he seems unable to form coherent arguments) is actually not even remotely like golf in one very important regard: Golf is comprised of a set of specific cognitive and motor activities that aren't really very mappable to real life, whereas writing (and particularly in African-American communities) corresponds to cognitive and social-interaction activities that an intelligent and conversant person uses all the time in his/her daily life. If you're a thoughtful person, you're always "writing", and always learning about language. So if someone writes a crappy essay that's published when he's 14, and the next thing he publishes is a masterful novel that hits the shelves when he's 30, it's actually not very surprising.

So, what's going on here? It's obviously not that Cashill actually has objectively creditable reasons for believing that Bill Ayers (or anybody else) ghost-wrote Obama's memoirs and speeches (and no, he doesn't stop at the memoirs). There's got to be more to it. I actually don't believe it's purely race, either. I think David Brooks (whose name is probably less than mud at NRO) is onto something with his critique of the (lack of) intellectual foundations of the modern American Right. Now, I don't think David Brooks is an intellectual giant, but dammit, he actually makes a credible effort and he's willing to deal with reality. I don't necessarily agree with his ideas about demographics, for example, but he's done the work of thinking through the problems and I can actually believe he knows more about the details than me.

So is it the standard white male's fear of a black man? Or is it the more profound standard conservative male's fear of an intelligent "leftist"?

So, let's be fair: There are some "leftists" intellectuals who are as frightened to the point of irrationality of intelligent conservatives as Cashill clearly is of Obama. And there are some conservatives -- even some occasionally hot-headed ones, like Andrew Sullivan* -- who are capable of having intellectually honest discussions with people who don't agree with them on doctrinaire matters. Cashill, though, is clearly an intellectual fraud. So's McCarthy. They're so terrified of the idea that someone they don't agree with might be better than them at the one thing that makes them special, that they have to expend this much effort rationalizing away that person's success. 

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*Sullivan's at least intelllectually honest, though, inasmuch as when he does get carried away -- as he sometimes does -- he's generally able to recognize it and willing to call himself out. Buckleyites, in my experience, are rarely willing to do that, and never in deference to anyone they've identified as "leftist."

Is Obama more of a Maoist, or more of a Stalinist? You decide!

@ National Review Online, they're busily debating whether Obama is more of a Maoist or a Stalinist. (Andrew Sullivan: "Yes, they're that crazy.")

Second, and relatedly, Obama's radicalism, beginning with his Alinski/ACORN/community organizer period, is a bottom-up socialism.  This, I'd suggest, is why he fits comfortably with Ayers, who (especially now) is more Maoist than Stalinist.  What Obama is about is infiltrating (and training others to infiltrate) bourgeois institutions in order to change them from within — in essence, using the system to supplant the system.  A key requirement of this stealthy approach (very consistent with talking vaporously about "change" but never getting more specific than absolutely necessary) is electability.  With an enormous assist from the media, which does not press him for specifics, Obama has walked this line brilliantly.  Absent convincing retractions of his prior radical positions, though, we should construe shrewd moves like the ostensibly reasonable Second Amendment position as efforts make him electable. [sic]

This is why Ayers is so important:  it is a peek behind the curtain of Obama's rhetoric.  When he talks about "education reform," that sounds admirable and, given the state of the schools, entirely reasonable.  But when you look at what the Obama/Ayers program really tried to do to the schools (see, e.g., Stanley's work on this), it is radical.  With a guy who speaks in euphemisms — "change," "social justice," "due process," etc. — it is vital to have concrete examples of how these concepts are put into action.

What's interesting to me is how simply and cleanly this translates to "any change from within that we don't like is socialism." Because you know damn well that if they were talking about infiltrating government with radical conservatives, as was done during the Bush and Reagan years, it would be regarded as righteous.

Even though, in socialist terms, it would still be an infiltration of bourgeois institutions. Most of these radical conservatives have never really understood that they, too, were struggling against the bourgeoisie.

Of course, this totally leaves aside the fact that he hasn't actually established either a) an ideological or policy connection between Ayers and Obama, or b) provided any of the "concrete examples" he thinks would be helpful (despite citing Stanley Kurtz's content-free "work").

Sullivan's right: These guys are crazy.

Frum on the use and mis-use of anger in opposition

David Frum @ National Review on keeping cool in the opposition:

Here’s another thing to keep in mind:

Those who press this Ayers line of attack are whipping Republicans and conservatives into a fury that is going to be very hard to calm after November. Is it really wise to send conservatives into opposition in a mood of disdain and fury for the next president, incidentally the first African-American president? Anger is a very bad political adviser. It can isolate us and push us to the extremes at exactly the moment when we ought to be rebuilding, rethinking, regrouping and recruiting.

I’m not suggesting that we remit our opposition to a hypothetical President Obama. Only that an outgunned party will need to stay cool. A big part of Obama’s appeal is his self-command. It’s a genuinely impressive quality. Let’s emulate it. We’ll be needing it.

Right now, I'm willing to bet this will get Frum pilloried (outside the NRO set, at least -- those guys are usually so far up their own asses into their own heads that (unlike Frum, here, or David Brooks who left) they have lost whatever capacity they once had to recognize the dimensions of their own reality tunnel.

Going forward, slightly cooler, much cleverer heads (like Newt Gingrich's contemptably clever head) will take the pragmatic aspects of this view to heart and into opposition. (I'm sure Newt got all his financial ducks in a row before he started his macchiavellian campaign to derail the bailout package and set himself up as a 2012 presidential contender.)

Schizoid Conservative Moralism

I've always found it both ironic and unsurprising that American Conservatives are simultaneously raunchier and more puritanical than liberals. Cases in point? Sarah Palin sells herself on sex and motherhood, combining a tailored suit with fuck-me boots and winking like a Hooters hostess at all the horny little conservative boys out in TV land. Meanwhile, Fox news appeals to the Supreme Court for the right to use obscenity and consistently pushes out the most violent and sexually suggestive shows on broadcast TV, while simultaneously bankrolling harradins of culture war like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity.

If you were raised in a moderately conservative church, there's a good chance that you encountered some variation of the Preacher's Kid. On the face, they're perfect Christian sons and daughters, in the pew with straight back and perfect grooming and butter wouldn't melt in their mouth -- it's all "yes, ma'am," and "no, sir," and "what would Jesus do?"

But once the adults are out of sight, they're grabbing the bottle and giving out a big fat wink before they take a long, hard pull and beckon for a hit off the joint. Then it's off to deflower a virgin or get nasty with that smoker-boy in the leather jacket.

Any convention-city prostitute can tell you that the Republicans are the kinky ones, and they can also tell you why: It's the repression. They want to both please and resist mommy and daddy at the same time. They want to be both bad and good. They're the Preacher's Kid writ on grand scale.

On moral culpability for the killing of civilians

John McCain, February 15, 2000:

"In the most obscene chapter in recent American history is the conduct of the Kosovo conflict when the president of the United States refused to prepare for ground operations, refused to have air power used effectively because he wanted them flying -- he had them flying at 15,000 feet where they killed innocent civilians because they were dropping bombs from such -- in high altitude."

Barack Obama, 2008:

 "We've got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there."

The difference is obvious, really: The President that McCain's talking about is Bill Clinton, who on top of being a Democrat and a draft dodger is a moral degenerate. The President Obama's talking about is a Republican and a staunch lip-service defender of morality. Puritan that he is, McCain of course would and could see no equivalence between these statements.

At a more subtle level, look at the language that's being deployed. In McCain's version, it's all about obscenity and moral condemnation. In Obama's version, it's all about pragmatism. When you start to look at it that way, Obama can look kind of cold and calculating. It's interesting that instead of pursuing that angle (which Democratic competitors found very fruitful during the primaries), McCain projects into it his own passionate moral condemnation. Couldn't have anything to do with his personal history behind the stick of an attack bomber in Vietnam.

[Via the Washington Times, of all places.]


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