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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

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."

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.]

Disingenuous Question for the Moment

Byron York asks an interesting, if profoundly disingenuous question:

Let’s assume that FactCheck’s analysis is correct. Why shouldn’t McCain and Palin use the new, supposedly more accurate, numbers? When Palin said in St. Louis last week that Obama “had 94 opportunities to side on the people’s side and reduce taxes and 94 times he voted to increase taxes or not support a tax reduction” — well, why not change it to “had 54 opportunities to side on the people’s side and reduce taxes and 54 times he voted to increase taxes or not support a tax reduction”? Wouldn’t that still be a damning critique of Obama’s stance on taxes?

Indeed, it might (but probably wouldn't*) be, if they would actually do that. What's curious and interesting is that they haven't.

It suggests to me that truth isn't actually what's important to them. And it must not be that important to York, either, since he doesn't deign to provide the obvious answer to his own question....

*Probably wouldn't be, because York's own stance on taxes is so remarkably silly.

So, it looks like the plan is to attack Biden

So it's looking like the Palin Plan will be to attack Biden rather than 'going to the top of the ticket', as most pundits have predicted, and then rely on spin to cast any counter-attack as bullying.

That makes sense, attacking is what she's good at. But I have to wonder if the tactical decision isn't based on the (profoundly flawed) premise that Biden will be vilified if he fights back. Let's remember that he was smart enough to figure out the game in the first place, and articulate enough to describe it in a way that got through to people. There's a good chance he's also going to be clever enough to pivot and fight back without looking like a bully. It's actually not that hard if you can hold your temper and keep smiling.

It could be as simple as acknowledging that "Yes, Senator Obama and I have had differences in the past, but so have you and Senator McCain. Why, you yourself hired a lobbyist to obtain earmarks for the town of Wasilla, and campaigned on support for the Bridge to Nowhere! So I'm sure you understand what it's like to have to change your talking points."

Past Debate Performance as an Indicator of Future Success

The NYT has a piece up now discussing Sarah Palin's gubernatorial debates. They point out that she didn't do too badly -- she could arguably be called a natural:

Her debating style was rarely confrontational, and she appeared confident. In contrast to today, when she seems unversed on several important issues, she demonstrated fluency on certain subjects, particularly oil and gas development.

But just as she does now, Ms. Palin often spoke in generalities and showed scant aptitude for developing arguments beyond a talking point or two. Her sentences were distinguished by their repetition of words, by the use of the phrase “here in Alaska” and for gaps. On paper, her sentences would have been difficult to diagram.

That reminded me of something James Fallows wrote in 2004:

This spring I watched dozens of hours' worth of old videos of John Kerry and George W. Bush in action. But it was the hour in which Bush faced Ann Richards that I had to watch several times. The Bush on this tape was almost unrecognizable—and not just because he looked different from the figure we are accustomed to in the White House. He was younger, thinner, with much darker hair and a more eager yet less swaggering carriage than he has now. But the real difference was the way he sounded.

This Bush was eloquent. He spoke quickly and easily. He rattled off complicated sentences and brought them to the right grammatical conclusions. He mishandled a word or two ("million" when he clearly meant "billion"; "stole" when he meant "sold"), but fewer than most people would in an hour's debate. More striking, he did not pause before forcing out big words, as he so often does now, or invent mangled new ones. "To lay out my juvenile-justice plan in a minute and a half is a hard task, but I will try to do so," he said fluidly and with a smile midway through the debate, before beginning to list his principles.

[Couldn't get a more direct source for this...]

The obvious key difference is that Bush performed legitimately well against Richards, speaking clearly and more or less eloquently and more to the point, on point. The point about Palin seems to be that (as a former opponent observes) she's a gifted bullshit artist:

Palin is a master of the nonanswer. She can turn a 60-second response to a query about her specific solutions to healthcare challenges into a folksy story about how she's met people on the campaign trail who face healthcare challenges. All without uttering a word about her public-policy solutions to healthcare challenges.

In one debate, a moderator asked the candidates to name a bill the legislature had recently passed that we didn't like. I named one. Democratic candidate Tony Knowles named one. But Sarah Palin instead used her allotted time to criticize the incumbent governor, Frank Murkowski. Asked to name a bill we did like, the same pattern emerged: Palin didn't name a bill.

And when she does answer the actual question asked, she has a canny ability to connect with the audience on a personal level. For example, asked to name a major issue that had been ignored during the campaign, I discussed the health of local communities, Mr. Knowles talked about affordable healthcare, and Palin talked about ... the need to protect hunting and fishing rights.

So what does that mean for Biden? With shorter question-and-answer times and limited interaction between the two, he should simply ignore Palin in a respectful manner on the stage and answer the questions as though he were alone. Any attempt to flex his public-policy knowledge and show Palin is not ready for prime time will inevitably cast him in the role of the bully.

On the other side of the stage, if Palin is to be successful, she needs to do what she does best: fill the room with her presence and stick to the scripted sound bites.

I keep coming back to Fallows, though. 

I bored my friends by forcing them to watch the tape [of the Bush-Richards debate]—but I could tell that I had not bored George Lakoff, a linguist from the University of California at Berkeley, who has written often of the importance of metaphor and emotional message in political communications. When I invited him to watch the Bush-Richards tape, Lakoff confirmed that everything about Bush's surface style was different. His choice of words, the pace of his speech, the length and completeness of his sentences, all made him sound like another person. Even his body language was surprising. When he was younger, Bush leaned toward the camera and did not fidget or shift his weight. He arched his eyebrows and positioned his mouth in a way that, according to Lakoff, signifies in all languages an intense, engaged form of speech.

Lakoff also emphasized that what had changed in Bush's style was less important than what had remained the same. Bush's ways of appealing to his electoral base, of demonstrating resolve and strength, of deflecting rather than rebutting criticism, had all worked against Ann Richards. These have been constants in his rhetorical presentation of himself over the years, despite the striking decline in his sentence-by-sentence speaking skills, and they have been consistently and devastatingly effective. The upcoming debates between Bush and Kerry will in an odd way be a contest of unbeaten champions.

To me this speaks to two possibilities: One, that Sarah Palin may have left behind aspects of the sweet-faced barracuda who artfully bullshitted Alaska voters. Two, that her essential nature might remain intact. We'll see how that plays out tonight.  

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Extending the Sarah Palin Goon Analogy

Sean Quinn's analogy between Sarah Palin and a hockey goon has been stirring my thinking on the matter. Especially the last part of his piece, where he points out that a goon is only as good as her [sic] line:

... Successful agitator Kris Draper of the Detroit Red Wings had the clutch Steve Yzerman for a lot of years. That worked. Detroit won Cups. They had parades.

Successful agitator Tyson Nash, when he was on my Blues, was stuck with the antithesis of playoff clutch, the easily thrown-off-his-game Keith Tkachuk. That didn’t work. No Cup. Even if Palin is successful in her task of agitation and distraction, which one is John McCain?

So Sean is apparently taking some comfort (or maybe just a professional interest) in the idea that McCain might not be able to capitalize on the chaos his goon has stirred up.

I had a couple of thoughts proceeding from this:

  • It's not entirely true. Hockey history (particularly in the US, where we love our goons) is full of teams who've leveraged goonish behavior to push teams of mediocre talent to the fore. The '70s Flyers are probably the paradigmatic case; I don't know hockey history well enough to cite other examples, but I remember lots of conversations about this from my hockey-fan friends. So the McCain-Palin electoral analogy would be that the Republican machine has the most incredible goon squad we've seen in American national politics since the 19th century. They're really really good at it.
  • Not directly related: How do you fight a goon? Why, with other goons, of course! This is the point where the Obama camp needs to organize its surrogates well and surreptitiously to go out there and goon it up on the goons. Since this is verbal combat, "naming the behavior" will be critically important: The cleverer equivalent of "I know you are, but what am I?" It's astonishingly applicable in this case. Attack: "Barack Obama is enslaved to earmarks" Retort: "I know you are, but what am I?" (Except, well, not "I". You get the idea, though.) See how the Earmark Queen deals with that.

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Will the Real MSM Please Speak Up?

The neo-conservative cabal has gotten back into gear and mobilised its counter-attack, as evidenced by this report from ABC affiliate KGO:

This week Simi Valley California Gold Star wife Melanie House flew to Idaho for a protest and then flew to Crawford.

ABC7's Mark Matthews: "Can you tell us if you're getting help in airfare to come down here?"

Melanie House: "What difference does that make?"

There is real reluctance to talk about who's paying, and the P.R. machine that's promoting Cindy Sheehan, but not everyone here is completely comfortable with it.

Perhaps it's merely my own subjectivity talking, but it seems to me that there's a real reluctance to talk about who's paying for and calling the shots with the P.R. machine that's promoting the ends of the neo-conservative cabal. I can't recall many discussions in the MSM about who funds right-wing "popular efforts." In this piece, there's some token attention to balance, but only about four of the piece's twenty-nine paragraphs are devoted to considering who funds the Republican counter-efforts -- and those paragraphs are buried at the bottom of the pyramid.

Some outlets do try to play fair. NPR, for example, points out [listen] that the President's counter-campaign has been mobilised in states where he has a strong base of support, and in front of hand-picked ("reliably friendly, mostly-military") audiences. But then, much as the punditocracy would like us to believe otherwise, NPR is not part of any usefully-defined "main-stream". Unless, of course, someone wants to explain how they could be part of the mainstream and part of the fringe at the same time. (Hint: There's a way to do it. But it might require that you tread on some intellectually slippery ground.)

It's frightening enough that the Bush regime are willing to do this to shape public opinion; it's even scarier when you start to become convinced (as I did a long time ago) that our President believes that the hand-picked audiences represent a real cross-section of American views.

"I've met with a lot of families," the President has remarked. "She doesn't represent the views of a lot of families." (Which of course means that she still could represent the views of a lot of families, since "a lot" does not imply "a majority." But I digress.) Now, he could be speaking with painful literalness. Parse out the sentence: It literally states only that a lot of people don't agree with Cindy Sheehan. Big news. A lot of people don't agree with the manufacturer's contention that Marshmallow Fluff sandwiches are wholesome food and not candy. (They're called "good parents.")

I fear it's more sinister -- or at least, more frightening -- than that: George W. Bush does not expose himself to contrary opinions unless he's compelled to, and it's hard to compel the President of the United States to do anything.

But again, I digress. The point is this: People who believe in the existence of a leftist media bias really need to do two things: First, start listening, really listening, with an open mind, to the news; second, come to understand that "leftist" is not synonymous with "stuff I don't like."

Really, I suppose the second should come first. It's kind of a necessary step before you can understand that people on the left hate some of the same stuff that people on the right hate: Crime, lying politicians, moral turpitude, callous disregard for human life, just to be going on with. But since the rightist positions have been almost wholly co-opted by religionistic moralists (and this is nothing new, by the way), every message that people on the right get tends to come in black and white terms: You are with us or against us. You love Jesus, or you love child pornography. You back the President, or you hate America.

It's a simplistic portrayal, sure; but the people in charge of trying to drive that portrayal like it that way. It's easier to manipulate people if you have hot-button terms arranged into superficially simplistic (and thus, ambiguous) statements. That most people don't adhere to these positions when you really start to look at their positions, kind of testifies both to the effectiveness of the technique (after all, people act in great numbers to support these simplistic ideals) and to the stubbornness of human intellect (after all, people still don't believe it entirely, once you cut through the ambiguity to get to their actual opinions).

Most Of The People, Some Of The Time, Redux, Etc.

"Judicial activism" is a funny term. It seems that now, when Judges behave conservatively (as in, conserving clearly delineated constitutional rights), that's "activism" -- especially if it requires that the judge point out the simple Lincolnesque truth, that it's possible to fool most of the people for long enough to get a really dangerously sweeping proposition passed into law.

Case in point: Nebraska's version of the boilerplate "Defense of Marriage" act has been struck down as federally unconstitutional in two distinct and sufficient ways: It "creates a significant barrier to the plaintiffs' right to petition or to participate in the political process" and "imposes significant burdens on both the expressive and intimate associational rights" of gays, lesbians, and potentially anyone who wants to form a legally binding association that's not a state-sanctioned "marriage" between a "man" and a "woman."

Like, say, shacking up. Or signing a palimony agreement. Between straights.

The Neo-Calvinists and their fellow-travellers keep talking about the fact that "over 70% of Nebraskans" decided to support the measure "defining marriage as between a man and a woman" after being barraged with highly charged advertisements and exhortations from the (real or virtual) pulpit for weeks to months. What really happened is that "over 70% of Nebraskans" decided to support a measure that they clearly did not understand. They didn't understand, for example, that it would radically restrict the rights of foster parents, unmarried opposite-sex domestic partners, persons in power-of-attorney relationships, non-custodial parents, and so on.

What really happened is that "over 70% of Nebraskans" got conned.

If it weren't for the fact that it would require abrogating the US Constitution, I'd be inclined to let Nebraska, Kansas and the rest of the virtual bible-belt just slide back into the dark ages. Politicized evangelism has far, far greater potential to destroy this nation than racial issues have had at any time in the last 40 years. Racial issues have at least been constrained: By notions of decency (no mainstream white could use the "N" word without censure), and by commonly-held economic desires (almost everybody wants the American Dream, and almost everybody is willing to see that, even about classes of people for whom they have contempt). Religious issues are not so constrained: When it's a religious issue, your opposition is evil, pure and simple -- believe that, or be damned. End of discussion. Please leave the church by the side door, so you don't soil the earth your neighbors have to walk on.

But [un?]fortunately, we do all have to live together in this country. We don't get to let them live in the mediaeval hell they seem determined to create. Not the least reason being that the virtual belt isn't limited to big square red states -- it harms people in places like Michigan and Connecticut who've never done any harm to anyone by being so immoral (or so unfortunate in their sexual orientation) as to dare to co-habitate without the benefit of state-sanctioned marriage.

So we don't get to let them sleep in the bed they've made. But we don't have to let them make us sleep in it, either.

Bullshit Is A Process

"One who is concerned to report or to conceal the facts assumes that there are indeed facts that are in some way both determinate and knowable. His interest in telling the truth or in lying presupposes that there is a difference between getting things wrong and getting them right, and that it is at least occasionally possible to tell the difference. Someone who ceases to believe in the possibility of identifying certain statements as true and others as false can have only two alternatives. The first is to desist both from efforts to tell the truth and from efforts to deceive. This would mean refraining from making any assertion whatever about the facts. The second alternative is to continue making assertions that purport to describe the way things are but that cannot be anything except bullshit."
-- Harry G. Frankfurt, from "On Bullshit" (in The Importance of What We Care About, and as quoted on wrongheaded)
"I had a guaranteed military sale with ED209! Renovation program! Spare parts for 25 years! Who cares if it worked or not!"
-- 'Dick Jones', Robocop

I've been thinking a lot lately about a problem, a phenomenon, a type of behavior that I've described for myself as "po-mo ironism". It's a way of keeping a sense of ironic detachment that lets you criticize something as you valorize your decision to participate in it -- for example, carefully noting the defects and problems of SUVs while arguing that your decision to buy one is, nevertheless, virtuous.

It's seemed to me that there's something more than mere disingenuousness at work, here, and something more than simple ironic detachent, as well. Now I have a simple, concise word for it: Bullshit. And a framework to hang it on. Bullshit could be said to be the basic "truth-process" underlying lysenkoism, disingenuousness, ironic detachment, self-delusion, and a host of other discretely-named ills.

Bullshitting, according to Harry G. Frankfurt, is far more insidious and corrosive than lying, thought they might superficially seem to be synonymous. Something can be true and still be bullshit, if the purveyor of said excrement never cared whether it was true. So, for example, even if we choose to believe that Saddam really did want to buy Yellowcake in Africa, the infamous "16 words" are still bullshit, because Rice, Bush & Co. never actually cared whether they were true.

What makes it bullshit, in other words, is not that they lied -- they might have even believed it was true -- but rather that they if they hadn't found evidence, they would have made it up. (Which, in fact, they did; that Saddam might have actually tried does not alter the fact that the Bushites ["Bull-Sites"?] fabricated their evidence.)

Because what mattered to them was not whether it was true, but whether they had the evidence to support doing what they wanted to do: Go beat up the guy who made George's daddy look silly.

Don Rumsfeld: Fighting With The Army He Wishes He Had

"You go to war with the army you have, not with the army you would like to have." -- Donald Rumsfeld

Richard Perle thinks that Don Rumsfeld's gotten a raw deal [listen]. He says that Rummy was in the middle of his "transformation" campaign, and had to go to war with the 'army he had': "Shinseki's armor, Bill Clinton's military establishment...." And thus, criticisms for his lack of preparation are "not only wrong, but perversely wrong."

Perle's criticisms are not entirely wrong, but he nevertheless exhibits the core flavorings of Vulcan thought: Wishful thinking, salted liberally with arrogance. Which is to say, too much faith in what ought to be true, and too little attention to what is.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Don Rumsfeld has gotten a raw deal in some ways. Aspects of American military doctrine did need to be re-thought, and he was right to push for that re-thinking. American force structures did, and do, need to be altered to deal with a post cold war environment. But that doesn't change the fact that, with the army we have, there are certain obvious things that would have to be done if you chose to invade and pacify a fairly large country with a fractious population. And it doesn't change the fact that we spend a lot of money and time training these senior uniformed officers to understand the parameters of conflict.

"I think it's important to understand what planning means," says Perle. Based on the resources available, you do what you can to prepare for the situation. But isn't that what the civilian Pentagon failed to do? Or, more accurately: What they barred the uniformed Pentagon from doing.

So, Rummy went to war with the army he had, and not the one he wanted: But he also went to war as though he had the military he wanted. He went to war with a plan built for the military he ought to have had -- not the one he actually did have.

Which is to say, Rummy went to war with the army he wished he had. He treated his ideas about what's right and proper as reality; he executed to plan, instead of adapting to the situation. He forgot that the most important thing about a plan isn't the plan itself, but the discipline of planning it out.

There's a split in the Neo-Con/Vulcan ranks on this point. The hard-core of the "Vulcans" are sorting themselves out, so that even as William Kristol turns away, and Armitage floats between loyalty to Powell and duty as a soldier, the loyal core -- actors like Perle, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz -- continue to support Rumsfeld, as though understanding that to acknowledge any weakness in their war-planning rationale is to challenge the very premise of the war. They should follow Kristol's lead: He's smarter than they are, or at least cleverer. He understands (learned from Bill Buckley, no doubt) that he can win debates before they start by speaking softly. He mouths categorical dismissals of entire schools of thought -- but he does it quietly and without apparent malice, as thought they're just accepted truths.

Interesting aside: Wikipedia seems to have removed all references to the "vulcans" as a reference to a group of Neoconservative thinkers and operatives who advised George W. Bush in the early days of his first presidential campaign. This illustrates a weakness in their version-control system: It's impossible to non-manually trace the changes to find when and where, or even whether, it happened.

The Long, Cold Winter of the New American Century

It snowed here on Monday night and Tuesday morning. I saw it whirling in my headlights just as I drove into town, en route back from an extended weekend spend looping through central Pennsylvania. It was just a dusting, a half inch or less, but it's been cold enough since that it's still hanging on, mid-morning on Wednesday. Wednesday, November 11, 2004, in western NY state.

It's getting colder, earlier, here, it seems; two years ago we got substantial snow on Halloween that stuck on the ground for several days. I spent a week in Iceland, two weeks ago, and it was barely colder there than here the whole time. The last three winters here in Rochester have been brutally, abnormally cold and heavy. In the depth of last winter, I would drive to work early and alone and in the pitch dark, in near-zero-Fahrenheit cold, with clouds of fine, powdery snow snaking wildly in the cone of my headlights. I'd have to dig out my car to get it out of my parking space in the morning, and usually had to dig thorugh to get it back in at night.

It's not that bad, yet, but I'm tempted to blame it on global warming. Which is on my mind often, but more so today thanks to a friend pointing me to the new, slightly overdue climate report [PDF] just released by the Arctic Council.

Priorities: How does anything as small as religion, terrorism, or political partisanship matter when you're in the process of changing the physical world in ways that our civilization won't be able to deal with? Answer: It matters because we allow political expediencies to define something that we describe as "reality", when what we really mean is "worldview".

Calling it "reality" makes a position seem so much more forceful, so much more resolute. But "Reality," to quote the late P. K. Dick, "is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away." We've learned in the modern west that we can use science to divine some knowledge of those things that don't go away. Yet faced with some of that knowledge, many forces in power reject them as a "reality" they don't choose to "privilege". How ironic -- how "neat" -- that critics of "political correctness" should use the tools that enabled it to enforce their own reality distortion field.

And how ironic that these privileged classes who are busily extracting wealth as the clock winds down are turning themselves into the class of humans most likely to survive. It's actually a great case-study for the non-deterministic nature of evolution: That a class of actors with an ethos that revolves around denying reality are the most likely to survive the real global consequences of their own errors.

And Once More Into The Mind Of A Right-Wing Lysenkoist

ParisParamus speaking on
MeFi about the hyperinflation of probable casualty figures with regard to hurricane strikes in New Orleans:

"... Don't you realize how everyone in the process (of planning for a disaster) has an interest in inflating figures, to inflate their importance, get as much funding as possible, etc?"

Lysenkoism rearing its ugly head, yet again: It couldn't possibly be the case that these folks make honest best estimates, based on their experience, expertise, and knowledge of the domain. Nope: They must just all be out to enhance their status...

Grover's World

A peek inside the mind of Grover Norquist:

Last, a Bush-Cheney victory in November will create the conditions for a constructive contest among leading Republican governors and senators for the presidential nomination in 2008. Dick Cheney's heart troubles mean that he will retire with Bush in 2009. Usually the sitting vice president is the natural enemy of all ambitious politicians of his party, but now all Republicans want a Bush-Cheney victory in 2004, so they can run for an open presidential ticket in 2008. The Democrats face the opposite dilemma: Every ambitious Democrat hopes Kerry-Edwards fails, so that the presidency will open for her (or him) in 2008 rather than in 2012, 2016, or 2020. [emphasis added]
[Grover Norquist, "The Democratic Party is Toast"]

"No brag. Just fact," says Norquist earlier in the piece, echoing the ubiquitous Freeper boast. Everyone, in the end (so goes the Gospel According to Grover -- or is it the Gospel According to Rove? ... or does it matter?), is always only ever concerned with his/her own dominance, and always only ever looking out for his/her self-interest.

After all, isn't bipartisanship just "another term of date rape"?

MemoGate Circle Jerk

"I've not seriously doubted since that afternoon that any lie will receive almost instant corroboration, and almost instant collaboration, if the maintenance of it results in the public enjoyment of someone else's pain, someone else's humiliation." ['Phillip E. Marlowe', The Singing Detective]

I need to leave off MemoGate, at least at the detail level. It's making me insane. But I will take a couple of parting shots.

On Saturday morning I took the trouble of mapping out a few of the point by point reasons why most of the "challenges" to authenticity are completely irrelevant. For the most part, they end up being quite a bit like arguing that the Mona Lisa must be a forgery because it's possible to make a digital represenation of it that looks the same when viewed on a computer monitor...

And yet, people keep treating these amateur forensics as though they mean something, even when they're carried out by incompetents. (That's being charitable; when someone repeatedly states that "x typeface didn't exist on typewriters", even after it's been shown that it was actually common, what you really ought to call that person is a liar, not incompetent. And when people proceed to create elaborate arguments based on detailed exegesis of of the minutiae of typefaces, while looking at a fundamentally corrupt dataset -- in this case, a digital image of a fax created from an nth-generation photocopy [alas, his popularity has swamped his website] -- you have to wonder why it never occurs to them that their dataset is fundamentally corrupt. So maybe I should settle for "willfully incompetent." That would at least be consistent with Our President's approach.)

Someone at PC Mag has been bothered by this same thought, and took the trouble to point out via a visual example that it's not terribly surprising when systems designed to make things look consistent actually (lo, and behold!) accomplish that goal: So, using word processing software, I can make a document that looks a lot (note: "a lot", not "completely" -- anyone claiming the latter about these "forensic exercises" is [ahem!] willfully incompetent) like a document that was done 30 years earlier on a typewriter. And that's surprising...why?

Anyway, I'm glad I didn't bother to buff up my own inventory. Media Matters for America has done a much better job than I could have in my exasperated state. They take a different tack, too, ignoring the blogosphere's circle-jerk to concentrate on the second-order circle-jerk that's been infesting media circles.

It's worth reading; they isolate the core charges, debunk them briefly, then proceed to demonstrate the failure of "journalists" across the spectrum to raise the obvious questions. I'm tempted to accuse these journalists, also, of willful incompetence; does it make a difference whether they're just protecting their jobs, or piling on?

Ultimately, of course, and so very, very sadly, none of this matters. The fact that the lie has been uttered so widely and in such an unquestioning, uncritical manner, will make it true, in the public eye. This is, again, the big lie. It's been refined and honed since it got this modern name, but of course swindlers and despots have understood it since the dawn of humanity: It's an intellectual circle-jerk, where each participant understands (at least, at some level) their own failure, but (willfully) (and oft uncharacteristically) presumes the integrity of their informant. Why? Because it's in their interest to do so. Because it protects their rice bowl. But mostly, I fear, becaues it lets them harm someone else without taking the blame for it, themselves. ("If everybody's guilty, no one's guilty.")

ADDENDUM: Maha at Daily Kos -- a bona fide type expert -- has talked extensively about (among other things) the fact that the data being used for these "analyses" is so degraded as to be nearly useless. He points to Jeanne d'Arc (blogger, not saint): "In general, people on the left face uncertainty the way I did in that post -- asking for answers, and weighing evidence (and often giving people with an ax to grind more credit than they deserve). On the right, 'evidence' is just whatever supports what you want to believe."

In the end, Maha bids us to:

Stop it. Just stop it. Could the Killian documents be forgeries? Could Paul Wolfowitz be a space alien? Anything is possible.

But there is no evidence I've seen so far that has persuaded me the documents are forgeries. And I'm the best expert I know.

The Cheney Curse

T. D. Allman at Rolling Stone has been talking to a lot of old friends and acquaintences of Dick Cheney. He's noticed something interesting: If GW gets re-elected, he'll be the first President who's given a job to Dick Cheney to manage it.

It also seems that the old chickenhawk's history of self-serving lysenkoism goes way back. A former boss remembers it as long ago as 1973:

In 1973, while Nixon was self-destructing, Cheney, then thirty-two, got a job at the investment firm of Bradley, Woods and Company. "Dick needed to make some money," Bruce Bradley explained. "He and Lynne and their girls lived in a modest house, and he drove a used Volkswagen Beetle." Both Bradley and Cheney were Republicans, but they differed on Watergate. Bradley recognized that Nixon had violated fundamental American values; Cheney saw Watergate as a power struggle. They even debated each other, in a forum arranged for Bradley's clients.

"He claimed it was just a political ploy by the president's enemies," says Bradley. "Cheney saw politics as a game where you never stop pushing. He said the presidency was like one of those giant medicine balls. If you get ahold of it, what you do is, you keep pushing that ball and you never let the other team push back."

["The Curse of Dick Cheney", T.D. ALLMAN, Rolling Stone] [via MeFi]

If politics is all about power, then truth is relatively unimportant. Or at least, flexible. But then, even if Bushite science policy didn't make it clear to us, we've known for a long time that old lysenkoists like Rummy and Dick are all about flexible truth. To paraphrase a maxim: History, after all, is written by the folks who bother to keep on pushing that medicine ball.

Holidays In Cambodia [hook-theft alert!]

Despite wishful attack-blog assertions to the contrary, it seems that the Kerry campaign has not disavowed Kerry's three recorded references (once each in 1969, 1986 and 1992) to being under fire in Cambodia. And according to a fairly detailed deconstruction in Slate, there's even good reason to argue that he could have been there on Christmas Eve in '68.

Which won't impress an attack-blogger, of course; someone like Glenn Reynolds enters the fight with his mind made up, and it takes a lot more than facts or argument to sway him. What it would take is an interesting question for another time...

".... And, Oh, Don't Worry -- We'll Just Blame It On You!"

And just in case anyone had any doubt that the media really is owned by rich white Republican lysenkoists, the RNC has apparently admitted that it will be actively seeking to pin blame [NYT, reg req'd] on the Democrats for anything that goes wrong next week at their convention, in NYC. Well, at least they're up front about being deceitful scumbags, unlike those impish Freepers.

Question for the Moment

This seems to me an appropriate day to ask questions like this:

To ask it differently - is America mutating, unwittingly, into a nation of heavily armed cargo cultists?

[troutfishing, on Metafilter]

Which is to say, are we migrating to a political reality wherein Lysenkoism reigns, not just in science policy, but also in everyday life?

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