Thursday, March 31, 2005

Jonathan Chait Responds

Not to me, of course. He's much too busy for that. Jonah Goldberg might have the decency of at least linking to me, but Chait completely ignores me, not once, but twice. Man, I'm starting to feel used. But he did respond to Goldberg as part of their so-called duel. And while it was certainly better than his first attempt, it was clearly inferior to my own response. And he even had the benefit of being able to read my response, which I personally emailed to him (and he promptly ignored). So he has no one to blame but himself for blowing it so badly.

His main problem is that he still seems fairly themeless. I guess maybe he has some tough deadlines, but it really doesn't look like he had time for a coherent argument. Instead, it's kind of a scattershot of attacking various parts of Goldberg's rebuttal, without ever going for the kill. And that's bad news when debating a dissembler, as they can just pick off your little arguments, rather than facing the brunt of your theme.

Again, when thinking of Goldberg, the analogy of a debate-terrorist comes to mind. He can't win from a direct assault because he's just plain wrong, but he'll attack every little premise for either being too vague or overly specific. And then finally claim victory, on the idea that attacking your opponent's minor arguments is always enough to undermine the entire argument. That's what Goldberg did after their first confrontation, and that's what he'll do tomorrow. Chait needed to have his forces consolidated behind a powerful theme, and then allowed his arguments to stem directly from that theme, without letting his lines of communication be disrupted. As it is, enough of his troops will be picked off one by one by a professional debate-sniper like Goldberg; thus allowing him to claim that he defeated Chait's theme.

Style, Not Substance

And the crux of Chait's problem is that he takes Goldberg's arguments seriously. In fact, that is the primary flaw of all of the left-wing pundits. They try to debate the substance of their opponents arguments, rather than the arguments themselves. But the implications of Chait's own original theme shows why that's such a mistake. The main theme is that liberals are people who want to make the world a better place and seek out evidence which points them to the best way to do that. But conservatives start from the opposite point. They believe that they already know what will make the world a better place, and seek out evidence which can be used to justify those actions and convince others. That was the premise that got Chait into this mess to begin with, starting the duel with Goldberg.

But the natural conclusion of this premise is that, because they are so convinced that the end goal is correct, they must assume that any evidence to the contrary is obviously flawed and/or irrelevant. They have no other choice. If you know that your shirt is blue, and someone tells you that you have a red shirt, you would be a fool to even consider their opinion on it, even if they're a fashion expert. Equally, if you know you're 30 years old, and your drivers license says your 31; you'd be a fool for not ignoring your drivers license, even if it's a government document. There should be no consideration or debate of a fact that you know to be false. So, if you know that Iraq must be attacked, or that taxes must be cut, or that Social Security is socialism, or that Medicare is be bad for America, you'd be a fool for contemplating any fact that goes contrary to that. That's just the way their logic works. And so it does no good to attack the substance of their arguments, as the substance is merely window-dressing for their premise. If you disprove one fact or argument, they'll just replace it with another as the fact or argument isn't the basis for their premise and they've lost nothing.

They didn't need evidence of WMD's; they already knew they were there.
They didn't need evidence to show that tax cuts help the economy more than they cost; they know it's true.
And they don't need evidence to know that Social Security is on a dead-end path.

They knew that it was simply a matter of time until history proved them right. All they need is the opportunity to implement their plans and everything must fall into place; and nothing can dissuade them from that. And even when all of this turns out to be wrong, they will find some rationalization for why it didn't work. The WMD's are in Syria, or still hidden in the desert, or they were found and the MSM just won't tell us. Or whatever. The specific reason doesn't matter at all because they know that their initial premise was correct. For them, evidence is what you give the other guy. Similarly, to ask for proof of God is proof that you aren't a true believer. Only nonbelievers require proof.

And that's the exact reason why arguing substance with them makes no sense. They cannot accept any fact, evidence, or argument which goes counter to their primary belief. They just can't. You can't have anything to say which can throw them off. It's not that they're stubborn or stupid (though they may be), it's just that they know you're wrong. You must be wrong. And if you're not wrong, then their entire worldview and everything they know is destroyed; and it's much easier to find a vague loophole in your argument or ignore it all together. If the context is against them, they'll change the context. Again, if their initial premise is correct, they'd be fools to think any other way.

How to Debate a Conservative

So does this preclude us from having any kind of debate with them? Of course not. But it should significantly alter the way that we think about these debates (and if it doesn't alter it, then you're probably not a liberal). Rather than debating the meat and potatoes of our case, we have to address their actual argument style, as that's all they have left. Take my rebuttal of Goldberg, for example. I didn't state my case. I didn't present evidence. I merely dissected his argument and showed how, flim-flam aside, it only confirmed Chait's argument. And that's the thing about being right: flim-flam and sophistry can only get you so far, but in the end, you have to be right to be right. It must be that way. So if you can just remove the flim-flam, the truth will become obvious.

And what of my argument earlier that Goldberg is actually a liberal Republican and not a conservative? Does that fall? Of course not. He really does believe that government should be used to solve the problems that it is able to solve. He says so himself. And that puts him at odds with conservatives like Reagan who believed that "government does not solve problems; it subsidizes them". But his problem is that he's trapped. He considers himself to be a Republican. And good Republicans are supposed to be conservative. And conservatives have all the great rhetoric and tons of fun and he writes for a conservative magazine, so he must be a conservative. And because the conservatives work on an overall premise that does not require proof, he has been forced to adopt their methods. So he grabs his conservative argument and pushes his liberal little brain to the max trying to make some sense of it. But it's fairly nonsensical, which is why he requires such a high level of flim-flam to make any kind of argument.

And that's also why he couldn't comprehend Chait's argument at all, an admission he explicitly stated. Overall, he doesn't really believe that limited government is the ends that he seeks, so he couldn't debate against it. Chait gave an argument against conservatives that Goldberg agreed with, but Goldberg didn't want to agree because he calls himself a conservative. So he was basically screwed. But Chait seems to have missed that completely and allowed Goldberg to hide in arguments which Chait knew were full of crap. He's so busy defending himself against Goldberg's attacks, that he doesn't even realize that they're both in agreement; which is the entire purpose of the conservative attack style.

But I guess that's what you get when you send journalists to do a man's work.

The Rational Liberal Cont'd

To clarify a distinction that a few dissenting emailers had regarding my previous post:

While both Peretz and I both seem to be engaging in the same inter-party struggle of claiming the Liberal Title as our own, there is a significant difference between his article and my post. In my post, I claim that my position is the true Liberal position, and that Peretz's is best described as Neo-Conservative. But I am by no means label obsessed, and will happily take any other label, as long as it properly reflects my beliefs. My main point was that we are both rational people with a difference of opinion and that because his ideology is not the same as mine, we shouldn't be lumped together.

Peretz's attitude is different. His main point was that we are all liberals who agree with what we want, but that one side is Rational, while the other is Irrational. For him, there is no difference of opinion; but rather that our side is unwilling to overrule our emotional hatred towards Bush. And once we regain our rationality, he believes, we too will rejoice in Bush's successful policy.

So unless Peretz was only addressing Neo-Conservative Bush-Haters, and not liberals, we were not engaging in the same activity. Mine is an open discussion among equals who disagree, and his is as a teacher insulting his undisciplined pupils to make them shut-up and learn. He believes no rational debate is possible, and precludes any debate from occurring as he sees nothing to debate.

And as I said before, a key problem is that he wrongly pretends that he has adopted Bush's policy, while encouraging us to do so; when in fact, it was Bush who adopted Peretz's policy, and this is merely an extension of the same debate we've had for years. When he taunts us for Bush-hatred, he is actually showing bitterness that we aren't finally congratulating him for his own policy success. And he refuses to accept any arguments which might suggest that success isn't already self-evident. The "Bush Hater" rhetoric is nothing but a mask used to stifle his own critics, and coax the weak-minded into believing that their disagreement is irrational and stupid.

The Rational Liberal vs The Politics of Churling

Martin Peretz, Editor-in-Chief of The New Republic, begins today's article, "The Politics of Churlishness" with:
"If George W. Bush were to discover a cure for cancer, his critics would denounce him for having done it unilaterally, without adequate consultation, with a crude disregard for the sensibilities of others."

Is this what now passes as rational discourse? Can anyone see this as an honest criticism? It's nothing but a cheap insult. A taunt used to confuse and anger, rather than enlighten. And while I naturally disagree when cheap radio and television hucksters like Rush Limbaugh and Robert Novak toss up these kinds of rhetorical insults against those they label as "Bush-Haters", I expect it from them. Cheap theatrics is part of their game, and only the rubes in the cheap seats fall for it.

They're partisans, to be sure; but they're also entertainers, and like it or not, ratings are the name of their game. Honest discourse and rational arguments from them would be as likely as seeing Greco-Roman wrestling from Vince McMahon's crew. These guys might pretend to hate each other in the ring, but at the end of the day they're chillin' out with some hot dogs and brewski's (or so I would imagine). Similarly, we see guys like Novak and Carville duking it out on screen, but only a complete boob wouldn't understand that after the show they toss back a few drinks at the local saloon every now and again; chuckling at some of their more heated exchanges. Petty taunts and humorous insults are all part of the theatrics that bring in viewers, and only fools believe that this is intended to represent serious discourse of our pressing issues.

But to read this from the Editor-in-Chief of The New Republic is beyond disconcerting. It's downright frightening. This isn't a ratings hungry forum, eager to entertain the easily bored. This is one of America's top political journals, and even if you disagree with them, you expect a certain level of enlightenment and serious debate. I read it daily, and find many interesting perspectives and intelligent reviews. Yet, as anyone paying attention is aware, this is far from the first time that TNR adopted the cheap rhetoric of the hateful right to denounce and insult the left. I only mention it now because this is just the latest example that got my blood boiling. And that's the thing. The purpose of such taunts are not to open the debate for discussion or showcase differences of opinion, but to denounce the motives of those you disagree with. Peretz's piece was not an attempt to engage "Bush's critics" in an open discourse. Quite the opposite. He was giving a rationalization of why people who agree with him should not consider the opinion of those critics as being legitimate, or worthy of consideration.

The Rational Liberal

Nor does he believe that the opinion of "Bush's critics" should be considered legitimate. For him, it is entirely appropriate to dismiss the opinion of anyone who doesn't immediately accept Bush's middle-east policy as a success. Anyone who does not admit this is "trapped in the politics of churlishness," and is clearly going against their better judgment by not immediately touting Bush's success. He casts himself as the typical rational liberal who once doubted Bush's ability to cure the middle-east's woes, but is now glad to admit that he was wrong. Hurrah, hurrah! The rational liberal lives on.

But does it? Reading Peretz's opinion of what he wanted from Bush doesn't sound like any liberal I know. Peretz's initial view of Bush was that he'd be a pragmatist in the middle-east who would merely appease its dictators and monarchies, and strive to avoid rocking the boat. But to Peretz's delight, Bush did not take the status quo attitude of his father, but immediately began to rock the boat by using America's military might and economic strength to shake things up and overturn the established order. Now, maybe I'm the one out of touch with modern liberalism, but this doesn't really sound very liberal to me.

In fact, I would venture to say that the most accurate term to describe Mr. Peretz's ideology would be Neo-Conservative. And I use that term honestly, and not as the insult that many liberals hurl at anyone deemed to be a "war hawk". It's an accurate term to describe liberals who believe that America can and must use their military and economic might to solve the world's problems. But I also believe that it's such a departure from the liberal philosophy that its proponents must relinquish use of the term Liberal, and fully embrace their true ideology. But instead of relinquishing the term, neo-conservatives such as Peretz seem intent to drag the rest of the ideology into their corner, by dividing the field into two parts: The Rational and The Churlish (otherwise known as Bush's Critics). One either learns to embrace Bush's actions, or be dismissed as emotional and filled with hatred. And so when Mr. Peretz touts his change of heart, he's not referring to a liberal embracing a conservative's actions; but rather his own realization that Bush's heart was one with his own.

What a Liberal Believes

So what do liberals believe then? They clearly believe that democracy is a good thing, and that all of the world's citizens deserve it. So that's not the separating factor. But the difference is the methods used to achieve it. While neo-conservatives such as Mr. Peretz believe that it is most easily achieved through military and economic force, liberals believe that it is not only wrong to institute democracy at gunpoint; but that it is impossible. While short-term achievements are possible, due to the relatively easy use of guns to ensure free elections, elections are merely one attribute of an open society, and not the creation of it. And any victory in that direction will be more than offset by the hatred and anger of those who are being held at gunpoint. An employee who offers to work overtime will do much better work than one ordered to do so, even if they both receive the same compensation. And coercion by gunpoint by a foreign power should be expected to create a significantly stronger backlash, even if we believe we are acting in their best interests. Or so the theory goes.

I fully support democracy around the world, but I've always seen it as a natural outcome brought about by a long-term chain of events or conditions; and not as something that can be imposed instantaneously. While it is certainly true that democracies have many great qualities which promote stability and happiness; I've always believed that it was those qualities which produced democracy, not the other way around. To think otherwise is the equivalent of believing that a cold medicine which cures a cold's symptoms also cures the cold. You might not have a runny nose, but you're still sick. Similarly, democracy is a symptom of a healthy society, not its cause; and merely establishing voting booths and allowing the people to choose their leaders does not necessarily promote happiness and stability. A majority can still choose religious rule, can still stifle dissent, can still elect dangerous leaders, and can still attack other counties. And one doesn't have to look too far to see the truth of that.

Of course, what do I know. I'm just an irrational Bush-hater, so I guess I can't possibly have anything honest to say about the subject. TNR's recent article established that premise strongly enough. Perhaps once Peretz's troops are finished installing democracy around the globe, he can bring them back here and put an end to our irrational hatred of a man named Bush.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Goldberg versus Goldberg

I decided to go ahead and wage a shadow-duel against Jonah Goldberg regarding his actual duel with Jonathan Chait. As lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place, I doubt that Mr. Goldberg would do us the honor of reading this response; so I'm really not expecting a rebuttal from him. But I wouldn't be a liberal if I wasn't a dreamer, so who knows.

As I mentioned in my last post, Goldberg's rebuttal to Chait was as meandering and themeless as Chait's opening argument; so I will be limiting this discussion to only one part of Goldberg's rebuttal, regarding Chait's own Conservative v. Liberal claim. Specifically, I will respond to Goldberg's rebuttal of Chait's claim that "conservatives believe that smaller government is an end in itself, because it promotes freedom. Liberals, on the other hand, do not see bigger government as an end in itself. Therefore, on economic policy, liberals are much more interested in what works than are conservatives." This is a claim that I happen to agree with, and was glad that Chait drew attention to it. But I won't be addressing that point specifically. I merely want to address Goldberg's supposed response to it.

Classic Conservative

Goldberg's response was the classic conservative argument. He quotes his opponent, humorously implies that he's spotted obvious flaws with talk of "flags on the play", clarifies conservative stereotypes that Chait never issued, tosses out a few liberal stereotypes which are obviously flawed, and then pronounces his work complete. But did he actually address Chait's claim? Not even close. He danced around it, while confirming it in its essence, and then moves on to his next unfinished argument. We'll watch a slo-mo replay to see exactly what happened, but let me address Goldberg's overall argument.

A more simplistic recap of Chait's argument is that the conservative's goal is smaller government, and that the liberal's goal is a good society. He wasn't writing a thesis on the subject to prove it. He was making a grander point and introduced that premise on his way to the bigger argument. He never fleshed out exactly what he meant by "smaller government" or "good society", but he never meant to. It had been my assumption upon reading the initial article that he was addressing it to liberals who already believe it to be true. It wasn't the theme of his argument, but rather an important premise supporting that theme; with the theme being what liberals should do about it. Similarly, a prosecutor shouldn't always have to explain why crime is bad when arguing that we should send a particular criminal to jail. It's a worthy topic, but fairly irrelevant to a specific trial. The point is that we can't always address every point in every argument, article, or essay, or we'd need to write a book every time. And a big book at that.

Yet this is one of the primary attacks that conservatives use; which is to pinpoint key pillars in the opponent's argument and attacking those pillars, while dismissing the theme as being beneath consideration until the pillars are supported. And there's nothing wrong with asking for an explanation for said pillars, but it's absurd to use that as the primary focus of the rebuttal. Yet, if Goldberg's rebuttal can be seen as having a theme, that theme would be that Chait's Con v. Lib comparison was unproven, and therefore Chait was wrong for saying anything. This is not entirely Goldberg's fault as Chait's opener was too themeless to address properly. But Goldberg should have requested the proof that he felt was lacking, rather than pretending that Chait's point was unprovable. Indeed, because he sees Chait's pillars as unproven, he reduces them to the level of "name calling"; itself a provocative insult used more to end debate rather than encourage further discussion.

Goldberg was merely using the old trick of attacking the opponent for not being specific enough, which is always a winner as you can never be specific enough for these people. There's always some level of detail which needs clarification. And eventually, you're so wallowed down in details and specifics that you completely lose sight of the overall argument, like a drunk who forgets the point of his story due to excessive digressions. And at the end of the argument, you're just thankful that you got to the end of the argument. And as I mentioned before, folks like Goldberg thrive for debate. He's not trying to persuade anyone, he just likes to argue. So for him, this kind of debate is the victory. He's like a terrorist using unconventional warfare against a larger foe: he knows a direct assault is impossible, so he opts for a grueling stalemate to win by attrition.


So that addresses Goldberg's overall argument style, where by he attacks Chait for not defining every term, and proving every premise. But what of the slo-mo replay I promised regarding Goldberg's "flags on the play" call? Here it is:

Goldberg first attempts to dismantle Chait's Con v. Lib argument by pointing out that not all conservatives want smaller government. And then explaining that what conservatives really want is limited government for certain undefined government functions, which include national defense, contracts, and civil rights. We'll leave alone Goldberg's own lapse in judgment when he fails to fully define his own terms, and address his intent.

He suggests that some conservatives do not want smaller government. But that is obviously false. Our problem is that when we say "conservative" many people include Social Conservatives. But they are clearly a different breed and shouldn't have been considered part of Chait's term. Not only do Social Conservatives believe that the government should be used to promote certain social norms, they think it's obligated to do so. For them, government should base their laws on religion, teach biblical "science" in school, promote prayer in school, prevent abortions, and all kinds of other things. For them, government is clearly a solution, and whether it is a federal, state, or local government solving these problems is irrelevant.

While these people have "conservative" in their name, they are not what any rational person could lump in with the William Buckley style of conservative, which does not believe that the government should be in the problem-solving business. Nor are so-called "neo-conservatives" actual conservatives, though only the truly ignorant would attempt to classify them as such. It was always a term of derision towards liberals who wanted to expand the use of big government beyond domestic problems, and use America's might to solve the world's woes. Again, clearly the anti-thesis of small government conservatives. While these groups have some common ground to bind them, their ultimate goals are different and they should be considered more of a coalition than a single group.

So, leaving out the Social and Neo Conservatives, ALL conservatives want smaller government. That is the definition of conservatives. When we speak of "true" conservatives, we merely are separating out the ones that call themselves "conservative" but don't believe in smaller government. And what's funny is that, once you get passed the flim-flam, Goldberg himself admits that this is the intent of conservatives. But rather than being honest, he throws in more flim-flam. He suggests that they don't necessarily want "smaller government", they want "limited government" which retains certain key functions. But is there anyone who believes that conservatives want no government? Of course not. Those people are called anarchists. We all fully acknowledge that conservatives want "small" or "limited" government, constrained to certain specific functions. And for conservatives, those functions are generally defined as the ones explicitly written in the constitution, as interpreted by those with a strict or "conservative" view of the constitution. This is all by definition.

So essentially, Goldberg pretends to rebut Chait's claims by simply giving the widely accepted definition of what conservatives stand for. Am I crazy, or is this not a rebuttal at all? Rather, he gives some definitions which clearly fit within Chait's context, while then admitting that this is the goal of conservatives. So he's confirming Chait's contention that limited government is the ends that conservatives seek.

Liberal Goldberg

And I'll throw something else in there. I could be wrong as I rarely have read any of Mr. Goldberg's writings, but I'm fairly confident that Goldberg is not really a conservative at all. I suspect that, when all is said and done, he is really a liberal who simply wants to constrain the powers of government; but that, deep down, he believes the purpose of government is to help people and that, when it is able to do so, it should do so. And that is the definition of a liberal.

As I've said before, he's not an ideologue intent on pushing the conservative mantra to it's end glory; but rather a partisan who just likes a good fight. And I appreciate that as I obviously like a good fight too, though my liberal policy views always come first. And this is why Goldberg is so bewildered by Chait's claim. Because he doesn't really see limited government as a conservative end because he wrongly sees himself as a conservative and he doesn't see limited government as an end. But it's not the conservative end that is mistaken, but Goldberg himself. Like most people, he has adopted the Government Cure idea from the liberals, and is merely a liberal Republican intent on helping Republicans, not conservatives. This is the very same socialist indoctrination that folks like Goldwater dreaded, but it was quite unavoidable. Government is often a good answer, even if you don't think it should always be used.

Illiberally Defined

Now I'll address the second part of Goldberg's "flags on the play" statement. In it, he makes the very same offense that he had just falsely accused Chait of making. While Chait did not define exactly what he meant by "conservative" and never suggested that it meant they wanted no government; Goldberg does define liberal, and does so in an absurd way that no one would agree with. Specifically, he suggest that liberals believe "government can have a role in any problem". They do? Any problem? That seems a bit vague. But then goes on to agree with Chait that for liberals "very often government is the best means to their ends". So where's the flag? He's in agreement with Chait and can't figure out what the difference is; yet this draws a flag from Goldberg's refs?? His only distinction is that he defines liberals as having "a well-deserved reputation for bringing a hammer to every problem". Every problem? Indeed.

And again, Goldberg's problem is that he's really a liberal, so he had to define liberal in such a way that it wouldn't include him. He obviously believes that the government should be used to solve problems, such as civil rights (the only contentious problem he identified). Yet, we don't have to look far to see that many conservatives do not consider civil rights as something the government should interfere with. They think it's yet another problem that would solve itself if the government stopped interfering. And while Mr. Goldberg didn't detail other more contentious powers the government should have, I suspect he would include the SEC, FCC, IRS, and many other powers that conservatives once rallied against. Though he would likely disagree with the level of power they currently have, he would not disagree with their overall function.

And that's the thing. Liberals could argue specifics with Goldberg as to what powers the government should and shouldn't have, but it wouldn't be between a liberal and conservative. It would be between two liberals hashing out details on how much power government should have, and which problems it should solve. But that's not what Goldwater and Reagan were about. Reagan believed that the government wasn't the solution to our problems. Government WAS the problem. And that's clearly not Goldberg's opinion, but was Chait's initial premise: that conservatives viewed smaller government as the goal, while liberals viewed larger government as a means. And as long as we use the regular definitions to define both these categories, it is indisputable. Nor should it be disputed. Goldberg didn't like it because he wrongly defines himself as a conservative; with the actual definition of conservative seeming absurd to him. It's that way to me too, which is why I'm not a conservative. So while he sung a tough tune about Chait not giving enough specifics, he essentially confirmed the very premise he was attempting to rebut.

In the end, Jonah Goldberg is a liberal Republican who uses the conservative rhetoric without fully understanding it's historical significance; and thus does not and can not refute Chait's initial premise. He argues with Chait, not out of ideological disagreement, but because it's his job. It's nice work if you can get it, and if you can get it, won't you tell me how.

Now that I've essentially written a book on the subject, and still didn't address most of Goldberg's rebuttal, I'll quit. And if someone can get this to him, I'd be much obliged. I don't expect a rebuttal, but I wouldn't mind him linking to me again. Even if I can't debate him personally, I wouldn't mind taking on a few of his minions. Just one at a time, please. It's tax season right now and I waste too much time as it is without facing an onslaught of furious emails.
P.S. There are conservatives who I admire, such as Reagan, Buckley, and Goldwater who I do not refer to as liberals. So please don't try to suggest that my critique of Goldberg somehow applies to all conservatives. It does not. I don't agree with them, but I respect their opinions. Nixon was a fairly liberal Republican (though I didn't respect him, for other reasons), and they used to have a good reputation before the "Reagan Revolution". Now they're a dying breed, which will eventually be adopted into the D-category. Or so says I.

Goldberg Responds

Hey, I'm famous! Looks like Mr. Goldberg linked to me for my letter to Jonathan Chait regarding their duel. Kind of ironic, really. Seeing as how I was writing that letter to the other guy. The power of the internet, eh?

Well, maybe with any luck I can get Jonah to debate with me next. Especially after Chait's tepid start so far. Maybe he didn't get enough sleep, but I was kind of hoping for something with a bit more zing to it. Instead, it seemed a bit meandering, defensive, and like he was in the middle of a tough slogfest, rather than the preparing the opening volley. Goldberg's was the typical response, made especially easy due to Chait's uninspired beginning. When you're debating a disembler, you really have to be more on-target and pointed with your arguments. Maybe he was just playing opossum to lull Goldberg into a false sense of security. Perhaps if I have time tonight, I'll organize my own response to Goldberg's rebuttal and wage a shadow-battle with the pundit superstar. Of course, it was a tad long and meandering in itself, so I might just have to pick a minor issue and run with it. I had thought about doing that anyway, and now I have the added encouragement of knowing that he might actually read it.

Anyway. welcome NRO'ers. Please wipe your feet on the way in. You're welcome to stay as long as no one gets hurt.

My Personal Testimonial

From Media Matters, regarding an affidavit from Ms. Iyer, a former nurse of Terri Schiavo:
In both a 2003 court affidavit (posted on the website operated by Terri's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler) and her March 22 cable appearances, Iyer maintained that Terri Schiavo was constantly "alert and oriented" while under her care, "saying such things as 'mommy,' and 'help me.' " She claimed that "Throughout my time at Palm Gardens, Michael Schiavo was focused on Terri's death. Michael would say 'When is she going to die?' 'Has she died yet?' and 'When is that bitch gonna die?' " The affidavit also included her claims that Michael Schiavo expressed the desire to "accelerate" Terri's death, that when Terri was sick and looked as if she might die, "He [Michael] would blurt out 'I'm going to be rich,' " and the assertion that "[i]t is my belief that Michael injected Terri with Regular insulin" to intentionally make her sick. She claimed in her affidavit that "I ultimately called the police relative to this situation, and was terminated the next day."

As Media Matters points out, Judge Greer dismissed Ms. Iyer's testimony as "incredible", saying "Ms. Iyer details what amounts to a 15-month cover-up which would include the staff of Palm Garden of Lago Convalescent Center, the Guardian of the Person, the Guardian ad Litem, the medical professionals, the police and, believe it or not, Mr. and Mrs. Schindler." The 24-Whore News channels were more than happy to air Ms. Iyer's statements, which our cold and corrupt legal system had been only too eager to ignore.

I'd like to present a different side to this story, from a personal perspective. While a senior in high school, my civics class had a mock trial involving a bigtime drugpin. And in this trial, my role was as a key witness: the henchman who was giving testimony against his former boss to avoid jailtime. This is a common scenario in the legal world, but I had one problem: I had no idea if the guy was guilty.

I guess I'm just stupid, but this was a big deal for me. How could I testify about something when I had no idea what the facts were, or what I was supposed to say? Sure he was a drug dealer, but was he guilty of everything they said? Was I maybe lying? I needed to know. For me, it was very important that we first outline the facts and be told whether the guy really was guilty. I was the typical dumb high school kid, but even then I had a deep dislike of facts being treated subjectively...even in a mock trial. I brought up these objections on several occasions, but was always poo-pooed, and told that it was a mock trial and that the guy's guilt would be decided by the jury (made up of dolts too stupid to play a part in the trial...much like real life).

Now, in the real world, the cops and/or prosecutor would have coached me in my testimony...especially if I was lying; but in the classroom, I was on my own. And while I looked like the typical stoner/druggie-type in high school, I've really always been a square, even more so then than now...and remember, I'm a CPA now, so you can just imagine how square I was back then. I didn't even drink, for christ's sake!! So I came up with my affidavit against the guy, and thought it was really good. Truck loads of cocaine, lots of heroin, pot, millions of dollars, whatever; I used to watch Miami Vice so I knew my stuff. I thought it was good testimony, and I decided to play it like I was honestly ratting on the guy. I may have been a fink, I told myself, but I wasn't a liar. I'm so square that even as a drug dealer, I'm a square.

I turned it in, and then waited until the trial date to give my testimony on the witness stand. And when I gave my testimony, PEOPLE LAUGHED! They LAUGHED at me! Apparently, my testimony was ENTIRELY unbelievable, to the point that the jury decided to ignore all of the other evidence and let the guy off, based upon MY testimony. Here I was, trying to be honest and help The State of Texas put away this big drug king, and the jury's laughing at me for giving such wild testimony, and let him off while thinking that *I* was the liar. But how was I to know what reasonable testimony was supposed to be? This wasn't my fault. I STILL don't even know if the guy really did it!

And so, long post short, I wonder if maybe Ms. Iyer suffered from the same problem. She was told to write an affidavit, but wasn't told what the facts of the case were. And she knew that people thought that Mr. Schiavo was trying to murder his wife, so she just decided to give testimony along those lines. Is it her fault if it was entirely unbelievable and should obviously be dismissed? How could she know that? And maybe Judge Greer did her a solid by dismissing her incredible testimony. How much worse would she have felt hearing the courtroom break out in giggles every time she testified to Michael's evil-doing? It makes a person not want to invent testimony at all!

So we should all give thanks that CNN, Fox, and the other news whores gave Ms. Iyer the forum she needed to finally give her testimony, and without the presence of skeptical people who disapprove of wild stories and outrageous claims. Rather than facing cynical teenagers or cryptic judges, Ms. Iyer was allowed to spin her homemade tales to the wide-eyed folks at Fox & Friends and CNN, both known for their trustfulness and soft, gentle touch. Maybe they'll even have me on some day, so I can testify against whoever the kid playing the drugpin was. Boy oh boy, will I nail that sucker this time! And if you haven't yet read Ms. Iyer's testimony, do yourself a favor and read it. You could just wait until the Lifetime movie comes out, but the written word is always better.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Open Letter to Jonathan Chait

Regarding Mr. Chait's Recent Duel with the National Review's imbecilic Jonah Goldberg

Mr. Chait: For shame, picking on a mental cripple like that. I'm sure Jonah won't realize how badly he was beaten down, but that's still no excuse. And, if anything, that's even worse. This would make sense if there was a lessons-learned quality to it;but Goldberg ain't going to learn a damn thing. He'll come out of this as the same smug punk he went into it as. He'll probably even believe that he won, though that is utterly impossible as he doesn't even have half the brains it takes to be a real conservative. He's nothing but a two dollar whore for the GOP and thinks of ideology as an arsenal used to defend his political team. For people like him, the purpose of debate IS debate, and not policy change; and his intent is not to persuade or understand, but to attack. And he's not even good at that.

I guess he's still smarting from the complete whooping that Juan Cole gave him last month, and now wants to prove himself. But you really should have resisted that temptation. He's going to intentionally misunderstand every point you make, and is only using this as a platform to launch absurd attacks and baseless insults. But then again, you're probably not going to read this email so it's not like you're the only one who engages in the futile. I'd wish you good luck, but you don't need it.

Yours Truly,
Doctor Biobrain

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Letting Idiots Be Bygones

As Doctor Biobrain commented on the irrepressible Digby's Hullabaloo (before realizing that he had just written his next post) regarding Andrew Sullivan's recent conversion attempt:

I have no problem with moderate dipshit Republicans like Sullivan and Brooks switching sides and hitting for our team. They're not completely dumb, they just have blind spots due to their Republicanism. Like a clock with a few gears missing: it'll keep time, but it slowly becomes less accurate. But if they're willing to cross over, more power to them. Maybe if they can finally get past their childish mental blocks, they'll be able to be fully intelligent humans, rather than the half-asses they've been.

My only problem is that they don't seem to want to switch without strings attached. Namely, they want to switch, but they want to name their terms and act like THEY'RE the ones that made Democrats good again. Essentially, they're trying to act like it was OUR fault that they were Republicans, and that if we had been less kooky, they'd have been with us the whole time. And that's largely what the Repub strategy has been, to make us look like repulsive kooks so that moderates would switch over. So they're trying to set their terms for switching back.

But I think that's really just a face-saving measure. They just can't admit that they were wrong, and that's perfectly understandable. I was once a Republican and Limbaugh listener many many years ago, and I still get redfaced and humiliated whenever my former Dem adversaries bring up that fact. Nobody likes a sore winner.

My point: we don't necessarily need to indulge their egos by letting them think that they saved the Democratic Party, but we don't need to rub it in either. If they're willing to switch teams, let them and let the past be the past. As I said, I was once a strong GOP'er, and now I'm a stronger Dem. Be gracious. Only little people seek little victories. I don't want to rub it in Sullivan's face; I want to win in 2006 and beyond. We don't need to take his advice, but we don't need to mock him either.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Americans Should Not Be Anti-American

As this post by the irresistible Carpet Bagger reminds us, it's always better to question your opponents motives than to attack their agenda. You can denounce right-wing amendments against flag burning, foreign languages, prayer haters, or abortion; but it's far more effective to insist that they're doing it to divide our country. Primarily because it's true. They want us to attack these amendments as it helps them paint us as anti-American, Spanish-speaking, Christian-bashers. Or as they like to say, America's Enemies. They don't care if it's true. And they are pretty damn sure that the amendments won't pass. They just want us to defend a point of view which we won't naturally defend unless they prompt us. Left to our own devices, we wouldn't talk about these issues at all. That's why they continue to bring them up.

Are all conservatives so shallow and politically wily to be in on this? Of course not. But it never hurts to tarnish your opponents motives. After all, that's one of the main weapons that they've been using against us for years. Why do we support welfare? Because we want to keep black people poor and dependent on Democrats. Why were we against the Iraq war? Because we hate America and President Bush and we want to keep America dependent on foreign nations which are socialist. Why do we support big government, because we want Big Brother to nurture us from cradle to grave so that we remain dependent on Democrats, while punishing successful people. Is any of that true? Of course not. They're complete jokes and should only be laughed at.

Yet people believe it. I correspond with too many nutjobs who really do believe that Liberals have horrible anti-American motives for everything. They short-circuit discussion of the issues by focusing solely on our motives for supporting these issues. And rather than appearing to be well-intentioned people who disagree about solutions, we're seen as being evil or stupid. And there can be no discussion with evil, by definition.

And certainly the left-wing does this too. Iraq war is for oil, tax cuts to benefit the rich, and environmental destruction to help big business. But the difference is that those certainly are motivations for the right-wing agenda. Not all conservatives for sure. But there are far more conservatives who think the rich need a tax cut than there are liberals who want welfare dependents. There is some truth to the claims we make; while they're claims should be considered too absurd to believe.

But my point is that we need to take this to the next level and start rightly questioning their motives on EVERYTHING. Rather than defending flag-burning, abortion, and anti-prayer laws, we need to start attacking them for even bringing up these divisive issues. The Republican leadership doesn't want to pass any of that stuff. They just want something they can rally the troops around by blasting us, while they pretend to be morally strong and Pro-American. But there's nothing American about making Americans hate other Americans. I strongly support people who take a stand for what they believe in, but not if that stand requires them to hate my stand. We're all in this together, and it is our differences of opinion that make our country so great. We need to stop allowing conservatives to use those differences to tear us apart, or they may finally succeed in doing so.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Blasphemy for Beginners Cont'd

An anonymous reader brought up a good point regarding my earlier post on Terri Schiavo and the blasphemy of doubting Christians. That reader asked:

A family member is in your house trying to kill you. If we assume you're a Christian and are going to heaven, should we try to stop him from killing you, just because you are going to a better place, or should we stand idly by and watch you die at the hand of someone who claims to "love you."

Upon writing this, the writer obviously thinks that they has us stumped and trembling. Why? Because he/she was responding based on gut feelings rather than logically to an obvious question of faith. Why am I so callous in my description of this person, because their point falls completely within the realm of what I was saying. In short, my answer is a resounding YES, if I believed that I was going to Heaven upon death, I should be perfectly happy with someone murdering me. Naturally, the issue of suicide comes up which is a definite no-no. So this could not be a case of me allowing myself to be murdered, but rather one in which I am unable to prevent it. Perhaps if I was unconscious or sleeping or something. But as long as I am blameless in my own death and am a good Christian who believes that I'm going to Heaven, then I'd be a fool to want my family member to stop the murder.

To argue this better I will use a different analogy. How's this:

What if you believed that if you allowed yourself to be punched one time in the stomach by a professional boxer, you would win a week-long all-expense paid trip for you and your family to Disney World, along with $500 a day spending money. No serious damage would be caused, just a quick pain which would dissipate within a few minutes. This isn't a very good analogy, mind you, because Heaven is supposedly infinitely better than Disney World, so no real comparison can be made. And if Disney isn't your cup of tea, I will gladly change this to a brothel or any other earthly delight of your choosing. But if this was the offer and you believed it to be valid and secure, would you agree to do it?

Of course you would. It would be foolish to turn down such an offer. People do far worse things on shows like Fear Factor with no definite reward lined-up. The only way that you'd turn down this offer is if you did not believe that you would get the reward. But a true believer in this scenario would gladly accept the punch in exchange for Disney World and the cash.

And that is as it is with Heaven. Anyone who believes in Heaven should be perfectly happy to die. Far happier than a game-show winner. After all, the only thing scary about dying is that it's unknown and you don't know what's going to happen. But true Christians supposedly DO know what will happen. So what's the problem? Why do any of them avoid it at all, or fear it, or regret that loved ones faced it? I understand the selfishness of not wanting to see a loved one go, but we're talking Heaven, so what's the problem. You should be happy for them. Hell, I don't fear death and I DON'T believe in an afterlife. It's just something that's going to happen and I'd rather keep enjoying things as long as possible, but death itself is no fear. I'd much rather die than live in agony. And Christians should have the added bonus of knowing that they're going to a far better place than Earth could ever be. So why avoid death?

They're not allowed to kill themselves or allow themselves to be needlessly killed, but being murdered should be perfectly acceptable. Even martyrdom is considered to be acceptable, as long as it's for keeping with the faith. Frankly, I can't imagine what the difficulty in understanding this is. Then again, I'm really not a big believer in things that seem unreal or supernatural, and even in the case of the Disney World punch, I would require a legally binding contract of some sort. Perhaps if God had something like that for me to sign...

Anyway, long post short, believers in Heaven should have nothing to fear from death. And because it's possible that Terri Schiavo is in a worse than death scenario of being conscience but entirely unable to communicate or control her physical body, Heaven would be a welcome alternative. And even if she was somehow curable, Heaven would have to be preferable over Earth...for any true believers that is. But it is my belief that there are very few Christians who believe in Heaven at that level, which is why they insist so fervently for justice on Earth and goodwill towards good people. They like to act smug when they suggest that you're going to Hell for living the way that you want to, but when push comes to shove, they'd rather be at Disney World.

MSM: Ethically Insolvent

In response to newly wed Josh Marshall's post on MSNBC's egregious Social Security headlines, the good Doctor has this to add:

As a CPA, I just wanted to remind folks that, technically speaking and according to the SS Trustee's most recent report, Social Security will in fact be insolvent by 2041. Insolvent being a technical term for when liabilities exceed assets. And that is what is predicted to happen in 2041. And because the terms "bankrupt", "broke", and "bust" are generally accepted (though somewhat inaccurate) terms for being insolvent, the MSM's headlines and scary articles on this are not entirely unwarranted.

But, by that same technical standard, our own government has been insolvent, bankrupt, broke, or busted for decades now; as we've been paying out more money than we've been bringing in. I say "decades" because I'm fairly certain that even the Clinton surpluses relied on borrowed money from Social Security, so even those weren't true surpluses. And this isn't a projected insolvency almost forty years from now, but a real insolvency which is getting worse.

So, when do you expect to hear the media hype up our own growing insolvency? Probably right after they admit that they were wrong about their scare-mongering word choices they used to describe Social Security.

Blasphemy for Beginners

This should be too obvious for most, but why do the Christians want to prevent Terri Shiavo from meeting their god? Presumably she was a good person and is going to the good place, right? And isn't Heaven supposed to be far better than Earth? I haven't been to bible school in over a decade, so maybe I'm off-base here, but aren't these people supposed to believe that the worst event in Heaven (an oxymoron, I would think) is far better than the best event here on Earth?

Can someone correct me on any of this? Cause I just don't get it. And, just in case the lightning bolts aren't already on their way towards me, don't these Christians seem to be acting as if they aren't so convinced about the Eternal Reward? I understand the whole anti-suicide thing, but this could hardly be considered suicide. Legally, I believe it is considered to be suicide, as the husband is supposedly representing her wishes. But these people don't believe he is representing her; and thus consider it to be murder. So this just smacks of doubt on the whole death issue. Plus, it would seem that this should be considered part of "God's Plan", so why are they taking it so personally? Couldn't their god save her if he desired to do so? Again, why the doubts?

And unless I'm somehow all wrong about this (which I'm fairly certain that I am not), the most ironic thing is that these people would consider MY comments to be blasphemy; while I am quite certain that it is they who are the blasphemers. They talk a tough game about this stuff, but it really looks like, when push comes to shove, they're only too quick to forget about Heaven and demand justice here on Earth. They seem to believe as I do that The End really is The End, and that we better score our points now or forever hold our peace. Ok lightning bolts, I'm ready now.

BTW: For anyone interested, I consider myself to be agnostic, not atheist. So you can just save your whole "prove there's no God" thing. Besides the negative proof issue, I don't believe in any gods, but I also don't believe there are no gods, so I don't require any proof. And yes, there is a real distinction.

CNN: Oprah Without the Couches

In response to a post about CNN's horribly sensationalistic coverage of the Terri Schiavo mess on the newly discovered Attytood blog, Biobrain wrote this:

I don't want a liberal media, as the bias we need to protect the most against is our own. It's easy to spot bias against your point of view, so obvious in fact that many people simply imagine bias that does not exist. But the bias that we miss will be the one that tells us what we want to hear, rather than what we need to hear. And because news bias is self-perpetuating and will create a bigger expectation of bias in that direction (without the biased viewer being aware), we will head further off the path of truth until we are no longer able to distinguish truth from the fiction that we've been fed.

That's why I don't want a liberal media. But that's not why I utterly ignore CNN. They're just a daytime talk show which uses the format of a news channel. All they need now is to trade in their desks for couches and the change will be complete.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Iraq: Simple Problems For Simple People

In support of the hypothesis that this blog is becoming an unofficial annex to Juan Cole's indispensable website, Doctor Biobrain adds this regarding Prof. Cole's comments on the gridlock causing two-thirds majority government requirement in Iraq:

Bush's men fucked up. Maybe it was because Team Bush places GOP loyalty ahead of competence, or maybe it's because they fear competence, or maybe they just misconstrue what competence is, or maybe competent people always give answers that Team Bush doesn't want to hear; I just don't know. But whatever it was, the Bush Administration hired incompetent people for one of the most important projects in modern history. And those incompetent people fucked up in Iraq, and they fucked up bigtime.

In this case, I'm referring to the gridlock caused by their dumb policy requiring a two-thirds majority coalition to form a government in Iraq. I'm sure they had good intentions; incompetent people usually do. Due to circumstances out of their control (created by prior incompetence), Bush's men were forced into creating a government that they didn't want to create. They were hoping that they could successfully control Iraq for many years before deciding it was time to leave things to the Iraqis. But their incompetence allowed the situation to spiral hopelessly away from that option, which was always premised in fantasy and delusion. So they pushed ahead with what they had and tried to make the best out of the bad situation they created.

But how did they go about doing that? Incompetently, of course. They had a problem in that the Shiites are an obvious majority in the country and vote as a block, and they do not like or want interference from the other two major blocks in the country; the Sunni and Kurds. This was a recipe for disaster, and we must give a word of thanks that the incompetents Team Bush selected were at least reality-based enough to perceive this. Unfortunately, their solution was no solution at all and was still premised in the fantasyland ideals they continue to hold. Simple people only see simple problems and can therefore only find simple solutions. It is the equivalent of a school child experienced only in basic math functions trying to solve a calculus problem. They see the addition and multiplication signs and ignore everything else. But in this case, the people involved are not even aware that there are any other signs, even after they have bungled things up beyond repair.

So their solution was to force the Shiites to share power by creating a majority threshold beyond what they could muster themselves. Perhaps the planners envisioned that the Shiites would perceive this difficulty and campaign outside of their base constituency; which would obviously misconstrue the severity of the divisions among the three power blocks. Hundreds of years of fighting and hatred could quickly be wiped out in a single penstroke by a well-meaning bureaucrat.

But more likely, they went with the straight-forward idea that the Shiites would be forced to compromise with the other competing blocks after the election. And anyone with a basic grasp of game theory would laugh at them for being so naive. They most likely believed that the Kurds, not wanting to lose out to on government power, would gladly join the Shiites in the new government, with a few concessions from both sides. They also believed that the Sunnis, also not wanting to lose out on government power, would vote in large enough numbers to offset the Kurdish advantage; so the Shiites could pick between the two coalitions as their partner. Unfortunately, the Sunni election boycott was successful and has now created a situation that many Sunni wanted, i.e. no Iraqi government. Their intent was probably that they wanted to prevent the Shiite-led government from having legitimacy with Sunnis, in which case they succeeded more than they imagined.

So now we're stuck with a situation where, from the Kurdish perspective, it makes no sense to fairly negotiate with the Shiites. There is no other coalition that is large enough to realistically compete with the Kurds in forming a government, making them the only game in town. The American planners designed a system that allowed the Kurds an absolute veto over the formation of the government. Even worse, once the government was created, the two-thirds majority requirement was largely unimportant, and not required for the Shiites to conduct business. So not only were the Kurds given an excessively strong hand in negotiating with the Shiites before government formation, they also lose almost all of their strength after the government is formed. So the Kurds were placed in a position that required them to demand everything before the formation, or risk not getting anything. And that is exactly what they are doing.

And another disincentive for the Kurds is that they don't actually want to be part of Iraq. They want to take the land they deem to be rightfully theirs, including the oil-rich Kirkuk area, and go their own way. They have their own army and government operations, and have little use for an Iraqi government. In fact, for many reasons, it is to their advantage that Iraq remains weak and insecure; as it makes it more likely that they can go their separate way unhindered. So they have little reason to form a government and will be punished severely if they do so. So the Kurds are doing what only makes sense from their perspective, which is to demand everything now and wait until the Shiites concede.

Even worse, as far as game theory is concerned, the Shiites were put in a desperate position by this system. They want the reins of government as quickly as possible. And they insist that they will deal with the Kurdish demands after the government is formed. But the reason for that is because they rightly don't want to negotiate with the Kurds from a position of weakness. So they want to delay negotiating on these issues until the Kurds are put in their weaker position, after the government forms.

And all this comes back to incompetence, and the inability of Bush's people to see past their own noses. They are incompetent and somewhat delusional, and none of the before mentioned problems occurred to them or they would never have instituted this lame-brained policy. Added to this is a likely bias against Muslims by the typical GOP loyalist Team Bush would hire. They perceive Muslims as being intellectually inferior and didn't see how this obviously flawed system might be gamed for partisan advantage.

Ironically, it's likely that the simple majority most parliaments require would have been preferable to what we now have. The solution to the only problem our Iraq planners perceived was likely worse than the problem they were attempting to solve. In other words, the obvious problem led to the less obvious but worse problem that we now face. Had they allowed the traditional parliament structure of a simple-majority coalition, the Kurds would be forced to negotiate with the Shiites and other smaller groups. Instead, the Kurds have been given the opportunity to permanently stall an Iraqi government from forming, forcing the Shiite majority to negotiate with a much smaller minority.

And all because a simplistic President chose simplistic loyalists to do a task that was beyond their abilities. I do not envy them, but I didn't think we should have gone to Iraq in the first place due to the unknown risks and unforeseeable problems. Once again, Bush's policies were far more complex than he was able to comprehend, and we are all paying the price because of it.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Damn! I Just Found a Better Quote

From the article that Juan Cole linked to:

The former Shell oil boss agrees. In Houston, he told Newsnight: "Many neo conservatives are people who have certain ideological beliefs about markets, about democracy, about this, that and the other. International oil companies, without exception, are very pragmatic commercial organizations. They don't have a theology."
BBC - Newsnight

This is straight-up true. We have this idea of corporate profit-mongers as evil men intent on taking over the world. Yet every indication shows them to be short-term, visionless people who are primarily interested in meeting the next quarter's expectations. They don't undertake long-term, risky ventures for the same reason that Vin Diesel and Eddie Murphy are more likely to get their films made rather than my three-part epic "Caligula Versus George Washington" (I'm still looking for backers for that, in case you're interested).

Except for corporate hucksters like Bernie Ebbers and Ken Lay who prefer wild-eyed speculation to hide their trickery, corporate leaders prefer stability and managed-growth. And the bigger the organization, the more stability and visionless they want to be. These are people who will purposefully increase quarterly expenses in order to shave off pennies from their earnings report to match Wall Street expectations; as Wall Street punishes companies who perform much better than they were expected to. As Juan Cole stated in his post, these people prefer to have as smooth a business cycle as possible; and risky strategies lead to unsmooth cycles.

The key to the corporate world these days is managing expectations, and stability is the key to that. They see the obvious risks in raping Iraqi's of their oil. They've got their established wells and their deep-sea exploration and their high oil prices and their full-capacity refineries, and they like it. It's the risk-taking morons like Wolfowitz, Perle, Cheney, and Bush who couldn't cut it in the business world who want to steal the oil for their own evil purposes.

And the irony is that, in the end, it's the corporate world's short-term strategies which have the long-term advantage over the neo-cons long-term plans. And with corporate oil fascists attempting to rein-in the politicians and Pentagon leaders, O'Henry couldn't have written it better.

Quote Of The Week

I'm not sure why I like this so much. Maybe it's just the extra-strong coffee talking. Whatever it was, the irrepressible Juan Cole has just earned Doctor Biobrain's first ever Quote Of The Week:

"The privatizers would set up private corporations to sell you creek water and oxygen if they could get away with it."
Juan Cole

It's not as well worded as it could have been, but it really clears through the crap that these fools spout off on the benefits of free enterprise, and really gets to the heart of the matter: money. I should say for all those who don't understand that, in this context, the term "privatizers" does not refer to Social Security, but rather of folks who want to turn various government-run activities (including oil production in socialized countries) into corporate-run activities. They claim that it's because private industry is always more efficient than government-run industry, which may be true in many cases, but is merely a red herring for their real cause: greed. They would certainly prefer an inefficiently-run corporation pumping oil, managing prisons, and running our schools over an efficiently-run government operation. All they're really looking for is another excuse for rich men to siphon off profits from our every activity.

Free enterprise definitely has it's advantages, but not if it means The People are being robbed.

Did I Mention That The Media Sucks?

Well it does. It sucks long and it sucks hard. It sucks during the day and it sucks at night. And what it is sucking is the lifeblood of our democracy: information. As a recent CNN screenshot saved by the immortal Liquid List reminds us, our media no longer cares about providing their viewers and readers with important information needed to guide their lives. Instead, they have replaced it with fluff and gossip and crap. And it is killing our democracy.

And what will the typical big media defender use as the excuse for this trend? The Dreaded Bottom Line. News is expensive, they argue, and so news orgs are just bowing to market pressures and giving the consumers what they want, which is better for ratings and cheaper in expenses. And upon hearing this, there is absolutely nothing wrong with smacking the defender in the face and screaming "THAT'S WHAT THE FUCKING PROBLEM IS, DIPSHIT!" The excuse they use to defend this horrible, democracy-killing practice is THE GOD DAMN THING THAT WE'RE COMPLAINING ABOUT! Even the beloved Jon Stewart spewed that crap earlier this week, and he should be thanking Jehovah that his guest was an old CBS media dude (click on Fenton interview) and not me, as I'm a big man and I might have accidentally destroyed TV's best talk-show host in an Incredible Hulk-like moment of rage.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the problem is that the news should NOT be subject to market pressures. It's ok for Hollywood and TV to use popularity to determine worthiness because its intent is to entertain, and the best judge to determine entertainment value is popularity. But the intent of news should be to inform, and democracy demands an informed electorate. This stuff is much too important to let the ratings determine what is newsworthy. That is what People Magazine and the National Enquirer were made for. Both are always more widely read than Newsweek or the New York Times, but that doesn't make their news more worthy. On the contrary, nobody turns to People or the Enquirer for real news, so why are we allowing our news orgs to follow THEIR lead? If news orgs use popularity to determine newsworthiness, then they are just not doing their jobs.

And even when they cover actual news stories, they consistently emphasize the gossipy and fighting aspects of each story, rather than the fact side of it. The "He Said/She Said" coverage isn't accidental or lazy, it sells more stories and is cheaper to produce than actual research. And the last thing they want is for themselves to settle a dispute between the two parties. Conflicting claims over WMD's, Social Security, and taxcuts can fuel cheap news stories for months; where as factually-based stories settling these disputes will quickly kill them. And again the problem is that their intentions are wrong. They are not trying to inform; they are trying to sell stories.

At the root of this is corporate-ownership (of course). I don't subscribe at all to the idea that corporations are inherently evil (though there are certainly a few). But our news cannot be held hostage to market pressures and corporate needs. This shit has got to stop. In the short-term, crapification of the news helps corporations and political hucksters. But in the long-term, this trend will be the ruin of America. I am confident of that. I might explain the theory in full on a later date, but for now you'll just have to trust me: democracy requires real information. And the destruction of our democracy is not good for corporations or political hucksters. They might be bringing about its demise, but neither will be needed after the democracy is dead.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

To Kill or Not To Kill? Confusion Abounds

Huh. Kind of a mixed message today from the courts on whether I should murder my wife. Scott Peterson got the death penalty, which is a strong message against it. But then Robert Blake got off scott-free, even of the charges of soliciting someone else to do it. So now I don't know what to think.

Of course, Blake was a celebrity, which has its own system of justice. But then again, Peterson certainly got celebrity status too, though that was solely due to the trial itself. And while Robert Blake was hardly on the tips of everyones tongue when asked "who is your favorite celebrity", he was well-known enough to get a "oh yeah, that guy" when his credits are given. So maybe Blake's isn't the best legal precedent to follow for a non-celebrity such as myself.

Plus, when you average together the two results, it really comes out pretty hard on the don't-kill-your-wife side. I mean, if you add together a death sentence, plus living the rest of your life known best as the guy who got away with killing his wife, divided by two...well it doesn't come out ahead of where I'm already at in life. So I guess I'll just hold tight right now and see how the whole Phil Spector thing turns out. He's a celebrity, so his case doesn't exactly correlate with anything I do, but it wasn't his wife that he killed, so I think that evens it out. We'll see, we'll see. And if nothing else, if the Spector trial goes well enough, I might take CNN's lead and stop covering political news completely. Their political news has been relegated to gossip-mongering anyway, so it just makes sense to give up on any pretext of news and just go for the fun stuff.

(Editor's note: We are fairly certain that Doctor Biobrain was just joking and is not planning to murder his wife. We apologize for the confusion.)

MSM: Rape Me, Play Me, Just Don't Ignore Me

This post by the beloved Atrios got the good Doctor thinking, and this is what he thought:

It's so typical. Bush has a plan on Social Security. Everyone paying attention knows that he has a plan, and has a fairly good idea of what his plan is. Which is why the MSM does not attack Bush for not having a plan, while attacking Dems for not having one. If they thought he didn't have a plan, they'd have to attack him too.

But there's a catch: Bush is being "coy" (read: dishonest) and is pretending to not have a plan. So not only do they pretend that Bush doesn't have a plan, they get to attack Dems for saying what Bush's plan will do (cut benefits and create huge deficits). This is the same strategy he used before the Iraq war, when he insisted that he hadn't decided on whether to attack, and stated that whenever journalists asked him about his war plans. Rather than be forced to answer the question, he insisted that he didn't have a plan and essentially punished the reporter for asking a question which implied that he did have a plan...even though he did and everyone knew it.

And the purpose of all this "plan" talk is obvious. The reason you want your opponent to give a plan is so you have something concrete to attack. So Bush acts "coy" (dishonest) about not having a plan so his opponents can't attack him (and will even be attacked for attacking his plan); while also demanding that the Dems put forth a he can attack it. And that's the reason he says he doesn't have a plan; so he can just bullshit and make his plan sound like anything he wants it to sound like. And he can only do this because the media KNOWS that Bush has a plan but is being "coy" about it. And the journalist-class loves coy. In fact, they love the whole crooked nature of Bush's strategy on this, and they reward him for it with deceptive news coverage, while feigning ignorance about everything.

And, of course, to even add to the stupidness is the fact that Democrats do have a plan. It's called Social Security. But Bush's "coy" rhetoric is designed to deny them the ability to claim that plan, which many journalists are probably aware of, but they just chalk it up to clever Bush tactics, rather than the crap that it really is.

In the end, the main problem is that our journalists, as a whole, are lazy and bored and they really just don't give a shit. It's all a game to them. They have nice pampered lives (in which Social Security is a drag on their retirement plans), and this is what they do for excitement. Press conferences are all about tricking the President or Press Secretary into saying something stupid, and if they're not tricky enough, they won't get the answer...even though they already KNOW the god damn answer, which is the whole basis for the tricky questions they ask. They know that Scott McClellan is bullshitting them, but unless they can trip McClellan into admitting it, they're not allowed to write about what they know.

And that's the way journalists want it. It's no longer about delivering the facts. It's all about the game used to obtain those facts. Good rhetoric and spin beat facts because that's the system that journalists respect. And the Republican leadership has known this for years. Our media gets played like fools and that's the exact way that they want it. Any idiot can report a fact, but it takes high-up connections to be spun. And the higher up the spinner is, the more prestige to the spinee.

Jackasses Unite!

Responding to some fact checking by Inside Higher Ed regarding David Horowitz's abusive use of facts, Doctor B has this to say:

This is just another case of right-wingers using their general "thesis" of liberal bias as the overriding factor over proof or facts. They focus on a set outcome and then search for anything that backs it up, while ignoring anything that disputes it. They believe things because they want to believe them. And it doesn't occur to them that the process should work in reverse: getting the facts first and then arriving at the thesis based upon those facts. And any additional facts should be included into the thesis, rather than ignored.

But for them, any evidence to the contrary is considered to be just a fluke or in dispute or biased. If something confirms their beliefs, they immediately jump on it as proof of their thesis, and will shout to the high heavens that it proves their thesis. And any fact which needs to be assumed (liberal professor) to make the thesis work will be promptly assumed until firmly proven otherwise. But even then they instantly become the champions of "let's wait for ALL the facts" when those facts go against them. And then they promptly forget about the story, in search of more facts which back up their arguments. For them, facts are merely examples used to prove their arguments, rather than the basis of those arguments. And that's why it's perfectly ok to ignore "bad" facts, because they already believe their argument to be true and are simply looking for their proof. Something is true because they believe it to be true intuitively.

As for my opinion on Professor bias, it's all crap. The point of education is not to receive a confirmation of your point of view. The point is to learn different points of view. And if you don't know the material well enough to answer a professor's question the way that they want to hear the answer, then you're a schmuck who deserves the grade you receive. I've had many teachers who pushed points of view that I disagreed with, but I was able to get A's (I graduated Summa cum Laude). And I've also protested grades which, in hindsight, were well warranted; while I was acting like a jackass.

In this case, I firmly believe that if you can't explain someone else's point of view in a way that they agree with, then you are unable to disagree with them because you don't even know what they think. You can't honestly disagree with what you don't understand. And if you disagree with a professor, you can explain why you disagree...but only AFTER you've successfully explained their point of view and what it is that you're disagreeing with. Anything else is intellectual dishonesty. Had this student first successfully explained how Cohen's deviance theory (whatever that is) applies to the example given in the question, then there would be nothing wrong with explaining why it is incorrect. But instead, she chose to give an unrelated response and, having failed to fulfill the requirements of the question, received a poor grade. And that is exactly how education should work, regardless of the professor's personal biases.

Any intelligent person should be able to explain a point of view without needing to subscribe to it. I can fully explain supply-side economics, yet I think it's a fairly useless theory these days. And, yes, my supply-side-biased Republican economics teacher gave me an A, even though I completely disagreed with what he taught.

Again, college is not about confirming your POV; it's about understanding other POV's. And if you believe that too many professors are pimping different POV's from your own, then you're just getting a better college experience than everyone else. But that doesn't give you an excuse to hide within your own POV and expect the professor to respect it. That's just being a jackass.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Evolution: Why Sex Feels So Good

Upon reading this excellent refutation of the absurdist Intelligent Design theory by the venerable H. Allen Orr, Doctor Biobrain has this nugget to consider:

Evolution is a good example of supply and demand. And the law of supply and demand is as real as gravity. You just can't fuck with it. Just as evolution is only concerned with creating more of whatever works best, the stock market is only concerned with putting money where it will best be used. We might not agree with everything the market does, but we cannot dispute its power.

Looking back over the past fifty years, it is obvious which companies succeeded. In hindsight, it is obvious that Coca-Cola and Microsoft were good investments; as was IBM, GE, and Berkshire Hathaway. The obviousness of this might make some get the impression that the success of these firms was inevitable, and perhaps even planned. Coca-Cola is just like lots of other sodas, one might reason, so what could explain why their stock did so much better, unless someone planned for that to happen.

And yet nobody seriously considers such an idea. While there is certainly some level of "fixing" going on in the markets, it is unfathomable by any serious person to consider that the stock market could possibly have been designed to be this way in the long-term. In fact, our modern economic thinking dictates that it would not only be unlikely that the stock market would be designed, but that it would be inefficient and foolish to attempt to do so. According to our current theories, which I largely subscribe to, market pressures have a much greater ability to judge where money should flow than any command structure which dictates economic needs. In our own lives, the times when we don't want market forces to determine the course of our lives is when they create a direct conflict between what is best for the market and what we choose to have in our lives. I'm speaking of issues such as pornography, illegal drugs, healthcare, and starvation. In these and other issues, we choose to reject what the market prescribes solely due to its unseemly aspects. And yet despite taboos and laws against them, the market forces continue to flow like flood-water over a dam, allowing pornography, rampant drug-use and needless deaths to occur daily.

And the similarities between evolution and economic laws are not accidental; they are in fact the same pressures. In fact, economic law is simply an evolutionary stepping stone from the advent of man's modern mind. No longer relegated to hand-to-hand or weapon combat, we now have constructed more efficient means of acquiring our needs. It is obvious to even the most dense that mankind organized according to economically efficient functions will be far more efficient than animals or significantly less efficient men. Economics is essentially the harnessing of the basic laws governing all of nature.

And the irony is that any intelligent fiscal conservative will tell you this exact same thing. No, they won't couch it in terms of evolution, but they firmly believe that economics should be used to determine who will live or die. They believe that starvation and poverty cannot be cured, nor should they be; because they are part of the forces which dictate who will be a better breeders (that's a rough paraphrase, of course). Even lesser conservatives believe that market forces are smarter than man, and that it is not only unwise, but downright dangerous to mess with this stuff. And to some extent I agree with that point-of-view, though I have some serious disclaimers about it.

I've gotten to the point at which the rest of my argument should be self-evident. Which is great because I'm really kind of tired and I would like to go to bed. Before doing so, I should point out that I am not claiming that, because economics is real, that this somehow proves that evolution is real. Nor am I suggesting that my arguments prove Darwinism in any way. I am simply pointing out the connection between evolution and economics and the implications of that connection.

My argument can also be used to deflect Intelligent Design arguments, which I think was my original point but I'm tired and I might have strayed off-course. I was trying to argue that because our current stock market leaders look so obvious now, that one might wrongly conclude that this is proof of Intelligent Design in the markets. But that relies upon the same assumption that the ID'ers use against evolution, ie, because things look set in stone now, that this is the only outcome that we could have had and that the odds were low that evolution could be likely to be particularly effective at getting this exact set of events. Yet the results of decades of stock market activity are obviously not set in stone, nor is it particularly obvious beforehand which stocks will do better than others. And in fact, it is due to obvious market forces that we have obtained these results. It's not that market forces were the best way to get me to drink Coke; it's that Coke was the drink that the market found for me to drink. Similarly, it's not that evolution is best suited for our current situation, it's that it is the sole cause of it.

Anyway, I am now even more tired than I was when I wrote about my tiredness last time, so I'll be calling it quits. I know that if I save this post until tomorrow I'll never finish it. And if you don't understand what I'm talking about by now, then you're a complete douchebag and you'll never get it. Good night.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Societal Amendments

Reflecting upon Publius' Legal Fiction post on judicial tinkering of the constitution, Doctor Biobrain poses this question to his readers:

If we went back and wrote constitutional amendments for all the crap that we've created since the creation of the constitution, would they pass? It's a sure bet that a majority of Americans support these things, but would that be enough to ensure their constitutional passage?

I'm talking about the FCC, SEC, SSA, or any other damn thing that the originalists say that we aren't supposed to have. You name it. And I'm talking about having separate amendments for each of these, as would be necessary (which you yourself can define how many would be necessary).

It seems to me unlikely that, had we put these amendments through the full process, that they would have passed. People just don't like change and the amendment process is very difficult. But I'm also fairly confident that these amendments would pass now, though there would be lots of pork and political payoffs added to it for no other reason than because politicos like pork and payoffs. But maybe not.

So, whammy think people?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Hiatus Continues

No, the Doctor has not fallen off of the face of the earth, despite all the hopefulness for just such an event from all our beloved emailers. It's tax season again and the good doc is just plain busy. But fear not, young bucks, the doctor will return shortly and full of spit and fire. You better believe it.

I'll just link to this for the fun of it. I challenge any and all readers to get busy mixing up a storm with this stuff. Best song wins a free "And Doctor Biobrain Is Who?" t-shirt. The only rule is that the song must use at least three quotes. Good luck and Godspeed.

Oh, and I just wanted to link to this for anyone interested. It's the unofficial Paul Krugman archive. Because those bastards at the Times just don't give a damn outside scrapping up a few pennies. The news should not be held hostage to free market forces.