Sunday, July 31, 2005

Supernatural: Truth Versus Proof

Why is it that if something can't be explained by natural causes, that spiritualists, believers, and other conspiracy-minded people think that it proves them right? Like ths Shroud of Turin. I was just reading about the Shroud of Turin and all the proof that it's fake. And yet pepol

And what's even worse is when something is explained by natural causes, yet still


Hey, this post was supposed to be deleted. What the hell. I didn't have the time to work on it, so I just closed out the window, believing it would disappear forever. And then I check my mail this morning, and see a comment about this from loyal reader Sampo. Stupid Blogger! But now that someone's commented on it, I shouldn't erase it; so I guess I'll just finish it. Oh snap, and then when I saved this version as a draft to finish later, it removed the original post anyway. Oh well.

But my point wasn't so much that people do believe in the supernatural. It's that they believe that if we can't prove that natural causes are responsible, that this is automatic proof that supernatural causes are responsible. Proof which we are fools for not accepting. Specifically, that they use lack of natural explanation as ipso facto proof of their preferred supernatural explanation. BTW, by "supernatural", I don't just mean ghosts or gods, but anything that goes against the conventional, natural explanation.

For example, if someone sees strange lights in the sky, and it wasn't a jet or weather-balloon or other obvious explanation, then it can't be anything else but a UFO. For these people, we need to prove that it has some natural cause, but they don't need any proof for it to be a UFO. For them, our inability to prove natural causes is all the proof they need; because they take UFO as the default position ("default position" meaning the position we should adopt if we are unable to find other causes).

And this is entirely backwards. It's not that the supernatural position is the default; which we believe if nothing else is conclusive. In fact, because the supernatural is unexplained, unproven, and unknown; it is the absolute last position we should ever accept. One requiring a much higher level of proof than natural causes. Just because strange lights in the sky can't be explained, doesn't mean that we should allow ourselves to take an even more outlandish position. The default position is that there is a natural explanation which is unknown to us. And it must be this way.

Yet this is exactly what believers always do. Once they dismiss the regular, obvious stuff, they feel free to launch into all kinds of crazy-ass irregular stuff, which often has absolutely no evidence whatsoever. In fact, the regular stuff must face very rigid standards of evidence (such as, test aircraft can only do what we know aircraft are able to do). Yet, we don't know if interstellar travel is even possible. Or if there can be intelligent life on other planets. Or if any aliens have ever found our planet. Yet somehow, UFO's don't need to be held to any kind of standards of what we know. For these people, once you dismiss the ordinary, anything goes.

And this goes for ghost-believers, who don't need to prove that ghosts exist for them to insist that ghosts are the only explanation. And miracle-believers, who don't need to prove that their god(s) exist, or prove that the "miracle" wasn't the work of another god or devil. And conspiracy mongers, who don't need to prove that elections were rigged or that missiles blew-up the Pentagon. All they have to do is shoot a few holes into the conventional belief, before they feel safe in unloading their pet theory. And somehow, these theories always go in the direction of proving the person's worldview, or denouncing the opposition. I suspect that is not a coincidence.
Free to Believe

Now, before I go too far, I'll just repeat something I always say. I don't care if people believe in these things. Anyone can believe in anything they want to believe in, as far as I'm concerned. I have no problem with that. My only problem is when they insist that their evidenceless beliefs hold sway over me, and insist that I'm blind for not adopting their beliefs. If someone wants to believe in God or that PNAC was responsible for 9/11, that's fine. I just can't stand it when these people call me a fool for not accepting beliefs without proof. All the proof that they can offer is to use rigorous (and often invented) evidence to shoot-down the conventional theory; and then feel free to launch into all kinds of crazy-ass theories, which can't even hold up to the most casual tests.

The only thing that holds sway with me is evidence. And the theories that I most want to believe in are the theories that require the most evidence. Unfortunately for these people, they use the opposite approach, and require the least evidence for what they want to believe most. And that is the surest trap for being wrong.

Close-Minded Fools

And these people have no idea of what our problem is. They always accuse us of being close-minded. US! Yet we're the ones taking the normal, default position of requiring solid proof, just as these people do when they're not discussing their pet theory; and they're the ones who have already made up their minds, sans proof.

Because again, their "proof" always relies on them debunking the conventional theory; and never on actually proving their own theory. As if it's enough to discredit the Warren Commission, rather than being required to actually prove that the CIA/Mafia/Cubans/Aliens did it. They can offer some loose connections and peculiar events, and call us all close-minded fools for not seeing the connection that was invented in their heads.

We see this exact same thing with the creationist/Intelligent Design crowd. They insist that finding flaws and unexplained gaps in evolution is enough to prove their own theory. Because just like these other conspiracy theorists, they spend all their time debunking the opposing theory; and think this is sufficient to prove their own theory. In this case, we apparently have to prove every step of the evolutionary process, or they dismiss the whole thing; yet they never have to explain even basic stuff, like where their god came from, or why he did such a lousy job of it. And still they attack us for being close-minded, because we actually expect to see such proof; the same level of proof that they'd require regarding any other matter. And the same level of proof they demand from us regarding the theory they're trying to debunk, but which they can't provide for their own theory.

And often, these theorists turn to an argument of investigation and honesty; suggesting that we have something to hide for not investigating deeply enough. The ID'ers insist that if scientists have nothing to hide, they should be open to allowing ID to be taught to children. And 9/11 conspiracy people insist on deeper investigations into the causes. But all this is a cheap ruse. A cover, for their real aims. Because there already were investigations, which they deem illegitimate or insufficient. And the only investigations they will accept are the ones that prove them right; and so the investigations will never end.

The 9/11 conspiracies are so chock full of holes that it's insulting to even take them seriously (I've written a post detailing these, but haven't yet finished it). And Intelligent Design is just a cruel joke on our children, for the sake of preserving the parents' bruised egos. Yet we're told we have to investigate and investigate some more; and if we're not scared of the truth being uncovered, we shouldn't stop these eternal investigations. And whether or not these investigations continue, the theorists will continue to spout off their proofless theory, while demanding still more proof from us. Ridiculous.

But then again, it worked for the anti-Clinton theorists. Their eternal investigation of Whitewater eventually led to impeachment (for an entirely unrelated offense); so I guess there might be an end to all this after all. And after all that investigation and millions of dollars, these people still believe that Whitewater proved Clinton to be a crook. So goes the mind of the conspiracy theorist. They insist they want an investigation, but they don't require one for themselves; because they already think they have the truth and require no proof.

When a Theory Becomes a Fact

And here's an idea of what we're up against. I was over at AmericaBlog the other day discussing conspiracy theories, and one of the other commenters wrote: "Some people would say that Rove and all the outrage is just a conspiracy theory, so when does a theory become fact? Is it 25 years down the line when more information comes out?"

I was dumbstruck. Truly dumbstruck. Whether intentionally or not, this person is mocking the very idea of proof and evidence. I'm sure they studied the Scientific Method in classrooms throughout their educative years, but somehow failed to see how those standards apply to everything else. So yes, it is when the information comes out that a conspiracy theory becomes the conventional theory. Just like how an educated guess becomes "Science" when they can verify and prove that it's true. Whether that takes 25 years or 25 seconds, it doesn't matter. All that matters is that we see reasonable proof before we accept them as fact. But until we have such evidence, we have nothing but a guess.

That is the basis for science, and is the standard that everyone works on, until it comes to their pet theory. A religious person might disbelieve every conspiracy theory, ghost story, and UFO tale, for lack of good proof; but believe in every damn weeping Virgin Mary story they read. Or a conspiracy nut might laugh at every miracle story they hear, seeing right through the piss-poor proof; yet believe in every damn conspiracy that passes their way.

So it isn't that some people are just unable to understand the idea of proof, or are just gullible dopes who believe everything. Because nobody does. People have their own pet theories that they fall victim to, and don't require proof for; but are vigilant about denying similar proofless theories. We immediately scoff at the idea of Clinton selling cocaine from the Whitehouse or murdering forty or so enemies, never even giving these ideas a serious thought; yet require no proof to believe in a wide-reaching rightwing conspiracy to attack our own nation, killing thousands. Most laughable of all is the idea that they'd include a boob like Bush in on these plans. I wouldn't include that man in planning a surprise party, forget about the most traitorous action in our nation's history. But these people really dislike Bush, making anything possible. They believe these things because they want to believe them. Just as rightwingers disliked Clinton, and believed he murdered Vince Foster and all those other people.

And that's why we must stay vigilant about all levels of proof, because its so easy to fall prey to our desires and wishful thinking. If you want Bush to be responsible for 9/11, it's far too easy to make yourself believe it. And it's just amazing how these same people will quickly scoff at others' unproven beliefs, yet denounce everyone as fools regarding their own beliefs.

Truth Insufficient

And part of the problem is an inherent misunderstanding about proof and science. They think it's just about discovering The truth. But that isn't it at all. It's not enough for something to be true; we have to be able to prove that it's true. And if the Truth isn't provable, then we can't believe in it; no matter how tempting it is to believe.

In fact, it is better to believe something false which has proof on its side, than to believe something true which has no proof. For instance, if God embedded fossils into the earth to test our belief in Him, it would be better and more scientific to believe in the false evidence, than to dismiss it and believe the unproven belief. But the emphasis is always on the proof, and not on the truth. And even if something is true, it's not enough to disprove the opposing theories; you have to be able prove your own, or you've got nothing but a conspiracy theory.

And that is a good definition of conspiracy theory. We label something as a conspiracy theory when it involves dismissing a conventional theory for not having enough solid proof, while pushing their own theory, which has even less proof. Because again, they believe these things, not because of the solid proof; but because they want to believe. They fall victim to their own desires. The AmericaBlog poster above even hinted to this by saying: "I just feel more sure that everyone is up to no good and hiding it as best they can, i don't get let down too often that way."

And to this poor soul, that's enough proof to put belief in any theory. This person is a victim of their own desires and wishes. For this person, these conspiracies must be true because they "feel more sure that everyone is up to no good." But that's completely absurd, and justifies belief in anything. And it goes in complete defiance of any reasonable standard of proof. All religious people feel sure that their god is real, but it's impossible that they are all correct; and all too possible that they're all wrong.

Take the example about the Rove thing being a conspiracy theory. Yes, it would be a conspiracy theory, if we had no proof of it. But we do have proof. People have testified that he did these things, and I believe that Rove himself has confessed to much of it. And that's why it's not a conspiracy theory. But it's not a conventional theory because it's widely accepted. It's widely accepted because there is solid proof; which is what makes it a conventional theory. That's just how this works.

In fact, all of this Rove stuff was a kooky theory, until Matt Cooper dropped his bombshell; even though Joe Wilson had hinted to it long before. But after Cooper's revelations, it had become the conventional theory. So now, the idea that Rove isn't involved in this is the wacko theory. And that's all it takes to go from conspiracy theory to conventional theory, or vice versa: for proof to come out.

And when we can see aliens or God testifying that they exist, or when some of these PNAC cohorts admit that they planned 9/11; we can stop calling them conspiracy theories. But until then, we would be fools for believing them to be true. Finding motive and a plausible theory is only the beginning to finding the truth; not the end.

Rational Man

Because here's the thing. Maybe PNAC is responsible for 9/11. And maybe the GOP really did rig the election machines. And maybe aliens really are anally probing all our farmers. And maybe God really is making the Virgin Mary's image appear on sandwiches and lampposts. But as I said, it's not enough for these things to be true. That's the first step. But far more important, we have to have proof that these things are true.

And until we have proof of these things, we could just as easily assume that the Kennedys were responsible for 9/11, and that Ralph Nader rigged the election and probed those farmers, and that it's the Devil himself who is making those images appear. Or maybe God did all these things to test our faith in Him. And I see no reason to assume that these explanations are any less likely than the regular conspiracy theories. Because if we don't require positive proof, we can theorize just about anything. And that's why we require proof. I can invent an infinite number of plausible theories, but none of them are valid without solid proof.

And this is so because it must be so. We must hold to rigid standards of proof. Because if we don't, we allow ourselves to fly willy-nilly to any kind of belief, and become victims to our own dreams. And if that means that we miss out on actual wrong-doings, or anger our god(s); so be it. We must take a rigid standard of proof, and the standard for supernatural theories must be more stringent than those for natural theories. It must be so, or we must renounce any pretense of being rational, scientific beings. I'm not saying that people can't believe in these things. I'm just saying that they shouldn't be surprised when people treat them like irrational nuts.

Monday, July 25, 2005

On Terrorism

Via The Poorman, I stumbled onto this insightful post from Jim Henley at (or is the blog called, Unqualified Offerings, I'm not sure). It was in response to an egregious column by the egregious columnist, John Derbyshire from the National Review. The column was titled "The Calculus of Appeasement," and can be summed-up by saying that the British will want to appease the terrorists, just as they did with the IRA terrorists. But because of the potential for WMD's, appeasement of the terrorists is, in John's mind, unthinkable. But the only solution, outside of appeasement, is "To lay waste great territories and their peoples, innocent and guilty alike, to level cities, to burn forests and divert rivers, to smite our enemies hip and thigh, to carry out summary execution of captured leaders." So says Derbyshire the Hun.

And not only does he afflict us with piss-poor logic, tunnel-vision history, and a complete lack of sympathy and understanding to the British people, regarding the old and new terror attacks; but the column is also fairly boring and unnecessarily long-winded. Mind you, it's not even that long. But it really could be boiled down to the three sentence summary I gave it. I suspect the poor guy had a deadline to meet, and this is the best he could do to fill up space; which is a long tradition for the National Review, as anyone reading its founder's column could attest to. William F. Buckley is one of the very few conservative minds I admire, but god damn if that man can't waste a lot of space saying almost nothing.

And one of the biggest problems with Derbyshire's garbage is that he seems to be using a bizarro definition for the word "appeasement". Specifically, if we "appease" the terrorists, as Derbyshire suggests that Britain and most of the world wants to do, that would mean that we gave in to their demands. That would mean that they would "win". Now, if we give in to their demands...why would we need to worry about WMD's? Why would WMD's even be an issue? Is he really worried that we'd give in to their demands, and they'd still go ahead and use any WMD's they might have?

I suspect what it really is, is that he's against appeasement, but he's too dumb to understand why. So he briefly tosses out scary ole Weapons of Mass Destruction as a magical incantation, before moving on to the meat of his column; which both he and I will save for the end. But first, let us discuss terrorism.

Lessons Learned

One of the weird stances against terrorism is that you just have to be against it, and can never give in to their demands. Neo-cons expect all other countries to bow down to our superior might, and do our bidding; but somehow terrorism is less legitimate than a nuclear arsenal, stealth bombers, and napalm, and can never be allowed to win. Because the argument against terrorism is never about not giving them what they want because we don't want to give it to them. It's always against terrorism on principle. The theory being that if you give in this time, you'll have to face it again and again. But that's utter bullshit. I suppose it is true that if we give in to terrorists, it will show other disgruntled populations that terrorism works. But I just don't see how that's a lesson that they don't already know. (I should add that this does not apply to specific terror tactics, such as hijacking airplanes and taking hostages; which can be fought against and must be discouraged).

The problem with terrorism is that it does work, and it obviously works. Nobody needs to demonstrate it. It's an obvious solution to any weak organization that wants to fight against a stronger opponent, but can't realistically do so. Imagine a small airline starting up and not taking advantage of their low overhead to price-cut the big airlines. And it doesn't matter if ninety-nine out of one-hundred airlines go bankrupt, even with their low fares; the next company that starts up will do the same damn thing. Because they know that if they don't offer the low fares, they'll go out of business that much sooner.

And it's the same thing with people who choose terrorism. They believe that if they didn't choose terrorism, they'd be significantly weaker in the future. And that's so obvious that it doesn't need a successful demonstration. They believe they have no other choice.

And if nobody had ever used terrorism before today, it would be invented the next moment that any group needed it. It was largely impossible before our modern age of homemade bombs, blackmarket plastic explosives, and expected normalcy; but these days, it's the obvious choice. And even if we stopped the IRA, and the Chechnyans, and the Palestinians, and the Iraqi insurgents, and Osama, and every other terrorist currently living; and got them all to publicly apologize from their jail cells before we castrated them with their own mother's teeth, somebody else would still resort to terrorism. It is inevitable and almost unstoppable; and no amount of "lessons learned" will dissuade people from using this obvious method of last resort. If they had better means of winning, they'd use them. But they don't, so terrorism is their answer.

I suppose most wingnuts are of the opinion that terrorists are just too cowardly to develop their own million-man army, and the requisite trillion dollar military-defense complex required to support it with state-of-the-art weaponry. But I suspect that this probably isn't the easiest thing to do, no matter how brave one is. And if it could be very easy to create such a military, everyone would have one, and ours would be fairly worthless. We'd then have to turn to Cold War methods of determining winners, like the space race and the Olympics. And to be honest, I really wouldn't mind that in the least.

It's The Way They Say It

But beyond that, even if we could teach people that terrorism doesn't work, that's not the reason we don't give in to the terrorist's demands. That's the reason they give, but the real reason governments don't give in to terrorists is because they don't want to give them what they want. The British didn't want to give up control of Ireland. And the Israelis don't want to give up land that they believe their god promised them. And the French wanted a colony in Algeria. And the Russians want control of Chechnya. But if you put it that way, it sounds petty. If you make it sound like it's about a strong country wanting to dominate a weak country or people, and take their land; it sounds wrong to oppose the terrorist's demands. Or at the least, it takes away the stark black/white picture and introduces lots of grays.

And that's why they want to make the issue about the terrorist's methods, rather than the terrorist's demands. As if the strong government would gladly give the terrorists what they want, if only they weren't terrorists. As if the terrorists chose terrorism as a first resort, rather than a last one. As if it wasn't what the terrorists were saying, but the way they were saying it that was so offensive to these governments.

And they will always denounce you if you dare suggest that it is these petty materialistic reasons for opposing the terrorists demands, rather than the principal of terrorism itself. And to be cliche, they doth protest too much, because they know that you're absolutely correct. And as evidence, I guarantee you that each and every one of these governments will support terrorists, if those terrorists are fighting against that government's enemies. And I assert that most all of these countries have done so; as I'm sure you already know.

And is terrorism a legitimate political method in which to achieve policy goals? I would say not. But I would also say that using tanks and machine guns and well-organized armies against civilian populations would also not be a legitimate method for achieving policy goals. I would say that both are illegitimate, and would have a hard time deciding which is worse.

And in all the cases I've given above, that's what we're talking about. A strong government using or threatening to use conventional methods against civilian populations, and a weaker organization using or threatening to use unconventional methods against civilian populations. And I'm not sure that even my great biobrain can give you the clear moral picture as to which is proper and which is not; as far as the methods go. But as far as the policy goes, I might be able to make a moral determination as to which side should win; but it wouldn't be based upon the methods they used. It would be based upon standard definitions of morality and decency; something Derbyshire is completely lacking with his "grim ferocity and cold unconcern for legalistic niceties."

Global War on Terror

And that brings us to our current War on Terrorism. What is it that our terrorists want? Folks like Bush and Derbyshire will tell you that they hate our freedom, and want nothing less than our extermination. I honestly can't tell you if they really mean that, but I hope not. I really hope that Bush knows that that's a pile of shit explanation, which he prefers for its simplicity and because it doesn't take fancy words to repeat. Especially because that would mean that the bubble that they keep him in is quite a bit thicker than we believe. I suspect that even he's not that stupid.

But what is this about? A clue might be the fact that many terrorist targets aren't so freedom loving. Like the recent attack in Egypt. We know the Bushies pimped the "Freedom on the March" story a while back for Egypt, but that seemed much more out of desperation than triumph. Especially as it always looked like cheap political maneuvering for their elected dictator, than any real move towards democracy. And Saudi Arabia is clearly on the Al Queda target list, and I believe they have a monarchy. I understand that the monarchy in Jordan was on Zarqawi's shitlist before he became the Bogeyman of Iraq. And overall, I don't see democracy or free-society as being the prerequisite for being attacked.

I suppose if we confronted them with this, thugs like Derbyshire would suggest that these oppressive countries are being punished for cooperating with the US, and that they were targeting these countries so as to eventually isolate us from the rest of the world. That seems to be his line of reasoning for the whole British appeasement thing. As if the British will appease by dissassociating with us, and therefore be left alone. But the UK does have a democracy, is considered to be "freedom-loving", and is responsible for a lot of the Western culture that the Muslim extremists are supposedly attacking; so it doesn't really make a lot of sense that they'd be excluded. If anything, it would appear as if "appeasement" wouldn't mean separating the UK from the US, but rather separating the UK from the Muslim world. As in, getting them to leave Iraq and whatnot.

And that's where we start to see that the flipside of all this is more accurate. It's not that these terrorists are attacking Egypt and Saudi Arabia because of their association with us, but quite the opposite. They're attacking the UK and the US because of their association with and support for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and all the other oppressive regimes over there. And I'm sure they'd include Israel in that, too. And so, rather than attacking "freedom-lovers", they're attacking Muslim-oppressors. They're attacking corrupt regimes in the middle-east which were established by Westerners, to help oppress Muslims. And in this case, "oppress" would apply more to not allowing them to have their Iranian-style Islamic government, rather than about true oppression. Because Iran is a fairly oppressive regime, but is clearly not the target of these people. Juan Cole had a good post about this recently.

And if this is true, it tells a great deal more about how to deal with these terrorists, than Bush's idea of "anti-freedom" terrorists. Because appeasement would no longer be about allowing them to destroy us, or whatever Derby's freaky-ass idea of appeasement was. It's about us dissassociating from the corrupt, anti-freedom regimes in the middle-east. And so rather than the terrorists opposing freedom, they are fully in support of freedom; freedom for them to have the government that they want.

Just like the Irish, Algerian, Chechnyan, and Palestinian terrorists want the freedom to have control of their own land and government. That's what this is all about. Those governments may claim this is an existential fight by people trying to wipe-out the government's citizens; but that makes no sense. Terrorism is a lot of things, but it is not a method that can destroy a nation. It's a method that specifically targets civilian populations so that those populations pressure their government into giving in to the terrorist's demands. That's what it's about. Nobody could destroy the US with terrorist tactics. That's just not something that can be achieved with terrorism. And if they did drop enough nukes on America to wipe us out, they would no longer be terrorists. They would be conquerors, just as if Russia dropped that many bombs on us. The intent of terrorists is to terrorize. So that a small, weak organization can scare a large, strong organization into negotiating or capitulating. But nobody capitulates their entire nation.

Neo-Con Scare-Mongering

And this makes all the difference in the world. If someone's suffering from radiation poisoning, and you think they're suffering from cancer and start giving them chemo-therapy; you'll probably be doing more harm than good. At best, you won't heal him; and at worst, you'll kill him. And that's exactly what these neo-cons are doing. They've misdiagnosed the problem as being about terrorists wanting to kill us all and take over the world; and if that's true, there is no appeasement outside of us all killing ourselves. And there is no other recourse, but for us to attack the shit out of them. But if their problem is with us interfering in the Muslim world, and supporting corrupt regimes; than there can be appeasement, and our attacks would only make things worse. And it certainly appears that that's the case.

And I should add that these are the same neo-cons who believed that the Soviets were intent on taking over the world; seeing communist plots everywhere. And this lead us into stupid and costly policies, often supporting evil dictators to thwart the supposed commie menace. And revealed history has now shown that many of these "commie plots" were nothing of the kind, and that we were just psyching ourselves out. Just tough-talking chicken littles scaring everyone, and wreaking havoc with our country's foreign policy. Some things never change.

And one last thing about all this. Do you really believe that Joe Sixpack in Mississippi would support the Global War on Terror if he saw this as a proxy fight over the middle-east? Specifically, if he came to understand the reasons I just gave; to realize that we're fighting Egypt's and Saudi Arabia's terrorists for them? And that this wasn't a fight to protect American democracy, but rather a fight to preserve dictatorships, monarchies, and corrupt democracies? I'm not sure if this is a message that they'd be willing to accept, but I am sure that if they did accepted it, they would not support these efforts. These people are isolationists who have been misled and betrayed by the neo-cons; and the sooner they realize that, the better. I'm not arguing in support of isolationism, per se. I just think that we shouldn't adopt knee-jerk reactions to preserving offensive regimes.

Saddam Derbyshire

And this all brings us back to Jim Henley's original post, which was all I was intending to write about, until I got started with that terrorism business. Henley quoted the meat of Derbyshire's horrid column, and what I suspect was the only point that Derby was trying to make. That paragraph was so disgraceful, that I will quote the whole thing, though I've already made use of some of it:
Here, though, you come to another equation in the calculus of appeasement. Is the United States willing to fight this war the way it needs fighting, with grim ferocity and cold unconcern for legalistic niceties? To lay waste great territories and their peoples, innocent and guilty alike, to level cities, to burn forests and divert rivers, to smite our enemies hip and thigh, to carry out summary execution of captured leaders? Of course not -- how barbaric! And yet (whispers the ancestral, tribal voice in our heads, and in British heads too) if not, then what's the point? War is a tribal affair, one tribe exterminating another, or reducing it to utter impotence and ignominious surrender. That's what war is, and it isn't anything else. We know this in our bones, from a million years of tribal living and fighting. If we are not willing to fight a war like that -- which apparently we are not, being much too civilized -- then we should not be too surprised if our allies turn and cut deals with our enemies. At least they'll have a quiet life, for a while.

And this is simply atrocious. Had this come from some crazed hermit, holed-up in a secluded Montana cabin, I would have dismissed it with a rueful shake of the head. It would sadden me that such a brutal, thoughtless, uncaring person could live in this day and age. But to come from a regular columnist in the top conservative magazine in the country? This is insanity.

And Henley gets it right. He quotes from a recent article from the Washington Post about one of Saddam's abominable episodes, and correctly equates Saddam's brutal workings with Derbyshire's "lay waste great territories and their peoples, innocent and guilty alike" approach to dealing with our enemies. It is this attitude that we condemn Saddam for, and why he is now standing trial. Because this is not acceptable behavior in our modern world. And while conservatives often like to portray Saddam as a madman who tortured for fun; the reality is that he did these things for his own preservation. He clearly understood Derbyshire's ideas on warfare, and fully agreed.

Because the natural outcome of Derbyshire's barbaric ideas is that there is no longer right or wrong. And that ends justify all means. And that we oppose terrorism, not because it is terrorism; but because it is used against us. And this is obvious because Derbyshire demands that we adopt the same attitude that he denounces Saddam for. And advocates violence against civilians, just as he denounces the terrorists for. And so there can be no other conclusion to this, than to realize that Derbyshire is no longer arguing for justice or civility. He is arguing for his "tribe". These things are right and just because we do them for ourselves; and it is only wrong for our opponents because they are not us. That is the source of Derbyshire's barbarism. He is not a hypocrite. He's just small minded.

In Defense of John

But after saying all that, let me make a slight defense of Derbyshire. I honestly don't believe that he meant much of what he said. In fact, I see this more as an intellectual exercise, taking the conservative stance on the War on Terror to its natural conclusion.

Because he's right. To execute this war the way that they want it, they'd need to take the excesses that Derbyshire demands, and Saddam used. Maybe not diverting rivers and whatnot (though I believe Saddam did drain the Iraq marshlands to punish the people living there); but most everything else. And he's also right in saying that the American people aren't up to this challenge, and that they're not willing to stomach these methods for success. And finally, he's right in saying that, if we are not willing to use these methods and take the warfare to its natural conclusion, that we might as well not try and should go for some kind of appeasement. He's right about all those things, and as a rhetorical exercise, his column is a almost perfect.

But then he runs into a problem: He's a conservative. And as I've written numerous times before, conservatives are answer-oriented; developing the answers first, and finding the arguments to match those answers later. But Derby took a different path to develop this argument, allowing his intellect to run free; rather than keeping it to the strict path of conservatism. Because he got to the end of the path, but it wasn't one that made any sense to him. In fact, he came to the liberal answer; that fighting terrorism is futile, in the long run. But unable to deal with that, he failed to complete his exercise, and came out with the wrong answer; as conservatives must always do, because if they had the right answers, they'd be liberals.

Because he's right. The anti-terror campaign of the conservatives requires the disgusting excesses that Derby suggests. And Americans are just not able to do that. So the answer is obvious: We can't wage the anti-terror campaign of the conservatives. That's so obvious. That's the natural conclusion of Derby's column. He uses it as a way of proving that the British should appease the terrorists. But why stop there? If we're not willing to fight the war "right", we shouldn't fight it at all. He says so himself.

Of course, I wouldn't use the word "appease". I think "containment" is the right approach, which described our policy against the Soviets; and was one that the neo-cons were very much against during the Cold War. And beyond a short-term containment policy, we need to embark on a long term solution to fix the root of the problem; rather than dealing with the symptoms, long after it's too late.

And I should add that another of Derbyshire's problems is that he's misdiagnosed the terrorist's demands, as I've stated above; and wrongly believes that they want to exterminate us. Because if they want to exterminate us, we cannot appease them. But if they want the political freedom in their country to install an Islamic government (and thus deny their citizens political freedom); that might be something we can help them with. Or at the least, that we might not want to be involved with. That sounds weird; but lets face it, they don't have political freedom already. Which is largely the source of our problem.

And besides, there is a good argument to suggest that a better way to deal with our enemies is to befriend them, slowly allowing them to incorporate our culture and become co-dependent with them. Iran had its revolutionaries, but more recently, they were clearly willing to do business with Dick Cheney's Halliburton. And most of us might have qualms dealing with that guy. And I believe that a similar effort in Cuba would have destroyed communism there decades ago, had we not thrust Castro into the arms of the Soviets. And while Cuba still imprisons its dissidents, how many dissidents would they have if we weren't so avidly anti-Castro? Sometimes, the actions you take to fix something are the very ones which make it worse.

Exterminating Tribes

One last point I'd like to bring up against Derbyshire is his utterly insane idea of warfare. I'm talking about this nonsense: "War is a tribal affair, one tribe exterminating another, or reducing it to impotence and ignominious surrender." Where in god's name did he get that idea from. When was the last time a war ended in the extermination of another country? I mean, really. Probably not since the days of African colonization. While both Iraq wars ended with Iraq left fairly impotent, they were effectively impotent at the beginning of the war, compared with their opponents. And Vietnam and Korea left neither side impotent. We fought until victory seemed too costly, and then we settled for peace.

And what of WWII, the most brutal of all wars thus far? Japan surrendered because of the might of the atomic bomb, but most experts suggest they could have continued fighting for years. And Germany surrendered because we conquered their land. But were they entirely impotent? Of course not. They could have continued an insurgency, much like the one in Iraq; but far more deadly. In both cases, they ceased fighting when victory seemed too costly. They chose not to fight.

And then what happened? Did we smite our enemies? Did we exterminate the offending tribe? Did we gloat at their ignominious surrender? No, we helped build Germany and Japan into two of the strongest countries in the world; in many ways stronger than our own. We gave them aid and assistance, so that they would quickly rejoin the world and prosper. Sure, we imprisoned and executed many of their leaders. But the "tribe" remained.

And why did we do this? And why did the Germans and Japanese choose to surrender? And why did we settle for peace with Korea and Vietnam? Because we are a modern civilization, and this is the way of the modern world. This is how modern men act. This is not tribal warfare. This is not a fight for survival. This is scheming men taking calculated risks. Choosing to wage war. And choosing to end it, when the calculations tell them to. They continue to fight, until they can negotiate the best surrender they believe their position affords them; winner and loser alike.

And when the war is over, treating the other side like modern men. That is why the Germans and Japanese surrendered, because they believed they'd be treated like humans. And if you believe that your opponent is going to exterminate you, you will not surrender.

Hearing Voices

Finally, Derbyshire talks of whispers from "the ancestral, tribal voice in our heads," telling us that we need to win at all costs. But what else do the voices in poor John's head whisper to him? Is he inclined to club women over the head, dragging them off to his secret liar; to rape and impregnate them at his will? Does he believe that it's ok to forage on private property, or publicly slaughter animals with his bare hands? Does he think that we should eat the heart of our slain enemies, so as to gain their courage? Is he saying that these other ancestral activities are acceptable? And since when did conservatives start using primal urges as excuses for barbaric behavior? Is this a standard we can use in everything, or is it yet another rule which only applies in the one circumstance Derby needs it to?

But alas, John Derbyshire doesn't mean any of this. As I said above, his column was really just an exercise in rhetorical argument. An argument which he was too stupid or blind to properly finish (or perhaps the voices were drowning out his ability to think). Because the proper finish is to denounce all of these practices which he supposedly supports. The answer is to not listen to the tribal voices in our heads demanding revenge and tribal warfare. But rather to remind ourselves of that which separates civilized man from his barbaric past; and to find solutions, rather than submit to the screams of vengeance and extermination.

Those are the answers that Derbyshire should have came to, had he the intellectual rigor to follow his argument to its conclusion. But he didn't. He took the argument as far as he could, but as a good conservative, walks away from the brink of truth and declares a false victory for his own side. Thus, our conservatives.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Quick Thoughts

You guys are getting robbed. I mean really. I haven't the time to post here at all, or even finish the ones I've already written, yet I'm making at least three or four comments a day at other blogs. And good stuff too. The original intent of this blog was just to be a storage place for the comments I was making elsewhere, so I'm really screwing you over by not posting anything here. But I always try to make the stuff here even better than the stuff I comment, and I still don't have the time for that. To be honest, I'm not sure I'll have any real time for this blog until the end of the month. But by then, I'm hoping to have enough free time to really let loose with all kinds of crazy stuff to just blow your minds. I have so many posts to be making, but just don't have the time for it. But just to tide you over, I'll repost one of my comments here.

Regarding the Fiscal Conservative's stance on abortion, I wrote a bungled comment over at The Carpetbagger's that I thought I could share with you. Basically, I pointed out that Fiscal Conservatives should want poor people to have abortions, because it lowers their population; thus fewer poor people (and fewer Democrats). Plus, the cost of paying for abortions is cheaper to society than the cost of welfare, medicaid, education, and possible imprisonment of the poor child born into poverty. And that the argument against abortion, from the Fiscal Conservative's perspective, would be that they might want people to be poorer from raising too many kids, and that more poor people makes for a cheaper labor force, due to supply and demand. But overall, I thought the argument was much stronger in support of poor people abortions, and that's why they should support it. So therefore, the primary reason they are against abortion is to buy votes from the Social Conservatives. Of course, I'm strictly referring to the William F. Buckley libertarian-style of conservatives, and not of the cross-overs who are both rich and socially conservative.

I also pointed out that my Supreme Court prediction was that they'd pick someone who was against abortions, but who would support Roe anyway. And that he'd be quite conservative in every other regard. My brief reading on Bush's new nominee has confirmed that prediction. As I argued before, the Republican leadership loves Roe too much to give it up. We won't know until Roberts is confirmed and someone tests Roe, but he did say in his previous nomination hearing that he would not vote against Roe because it was now established legal precedent. And that is namsy-pamsy conservative talk for going against his beliefs. But I feel fairly confident that he won't overturn Roe.

My big mistake in all this was in doubting my predictive abilities by calling it a "longshot". And I called it that because I failed to predict the "legal precedent" argument as a reason to support Roe. But seeing as how Roberts has already given that excuse once before, it'll probably hold this time.

Our Options

Overall, I think our best bet in all this is to not threaten the filibuster at all, or even suggest a strong opposition. Instead, we need to claim him to be respectably moderate, especially in regards to Roe; while stalling his nomination in the hopes that the far-right will learn to detest him. A quickie nomination can't do that, but if he says enough things to calm liberals and moderates, he should burn enough bridges with Bush's base. But if we scream filibuster on this one, it'll burn the bridges for future attempts. We'll be like the party who cries "wolf", and it will reduce our ability to use it when we really need it. I'm sure the Whitehouse is using similar logic. And it's likely that he's already been vetted with the religious right, so it's unlikely that any strategy can stop him. But they really do have grass-roots under all that monolithic thinking, and it is possible that they won't approve of the guy. Hell, we might even be treated to another Schiavo-style protest outside the hearings. Wouldn't that be exciting. But I think we need to sit this one out, without appearing to be irrelevant.

Of course, this assumes that he doesn't have some nasty skeleton in the closest, in which case he should be obviously rejected. But the little I've read about him says that he's very intelligent, and that's about the best we can hope for with this crowd. No knee-jerk conservatives allowed, but the smart ones can pass.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Shitting Yourself Silly

There's a line in the Vonnegut book Player Piano about how everyone's faking it. And that everyone's bullshitting and scared, and that you shouldn't let yourself be bullshitted by them, because they're more scared than you are. And if that book wasn't in my bedroom where my wife's sleeping, I'd provide you with that actual quote. And while I don't completely agree with it, it's largely true. Almost everyone is faking it. Almost everyone is a phony, who is scared of being discovered as being the fraud that they know themselves to be. Not me, of course. I'm the real deal. As are you, or you wouldn't be here at my blog. But it's true for all the rest of them, or they'd be here with us too.

And I was thinking about that while reading Atrios quoting a Washington Post article on the outing of Valerie Plame (or as she should be called, Valerie Wilson). It doesn't say it in the article, but in 2003, the Whitehouse was shitting itself over the Joe Wilson thing. That's what happened. That's why they outed our spy. Not necessarily for revenge, as Wilson and others have theorized. But because they were desperate to destroy his public integrity, just as they do with everyone else who speaks out against them.

They did it with Richard Clarke. They did it with Paul O'Neill. And there was that Department of Religion guy who's name I can't remember, who eventually recanted what he had said, for this very reason. And there would have been countless more, but the Rove people are good at making sure there aren't countless more.

But from their perspective, it's not necessarily about "punishing" people. That's not how they see it. They see the world as this horrible, dangerous place, and this is just how things are done. You discredit your attackers. You destroy them. Utterly and completely. Because they think that that's what their attackers will do to them. But they don't do it because they're ruthless, per se. They do it because they're dimwitted cowards who act on a gut reflex. And there's nothing scarier than a wounded animal, or a coward who's acting on gut reflex. Chuck Norris, I'm not scared of, because he knows when to use his power and he'd have no reason to use it against me. But Don Knotts with a baseball bat can do some real damage. And in the case of Joe Wilson and his NY Times op/ed, they were shitting themselves silly.

They freaked. This wasn't some cool, coordinated attack against Wilson. It was well-done and professional, but it was complete panic mode. The only reason they could do it so well is because it's reflex with these people. Because that's what fighting skills are all about. You train yourself so well that fighting becomes a reflex. You don't think about kung-fu, you just do it. Someone attacks you, and before either of you know it, your opponent is on the floor. And if you don't know how to fight that well, then you don't know how to fight. And that's how it is with these people, except they were never taught the discipline needed to know when not to use their attacks.

The Reflex

Let me tell you about reflexes. I've got them. I'm fast as a whip. I'm slightly clumsy (not badly so), but slightly; but when I drop things, I almost always catch them. I have good reflexes. So the other day, I was at the grocery store and was reaching for a frozen dinner. But when I grabbed one, it knocked down the one next to it. And without thinking, I reached out to grab it. But had I been thinking, I would have noticed that the falling dinner was on the other side of the next glass door. But I didn't notice. So I reached out to grab it and just punched the shit out of the glass door. Thank god they're strong, or I would have broken it. And my hand totally hurt. Because I really reached out fast. And had that glass door not been there, I would have caught the falling dinner. But it was there, so I couldn't. It fell to the bottom of the freezer, and I picked it up with my hurt hand. But it wasn't my fault. It was all reflex.

And that's exactly what happened with the whole Plame thing. They weren't specifically trying to "out" Valerie Plame. They weren't necessarily trying to "smear" Joe Wilson. They weren't trying to do any of that, just like I wasn't trying to punch a glass door. It was all reflexes. They didn't even know if they needed to discredit Wilson. But they felt like they were under assault, and they acted without thinking. That's what reflexes are. When you do things quicker than you could think about them. But as I found with the glass door, sometimes your reflexes can have you do things that you shouldn't have done. And that you wouldn't have done, had you had the time to think about it. But these people were freaked, and their reflexes told them to attack. And attack they did.

They didn't even have a decent attack on Wilson, but it was all they had and they used it. If Wilson had been Saddam's communist lover, we would never have known of Plame's secret life. But all they had on him was that his wife recommended him for the Niger trip, and so that's what they used to discredit him. I'm not even sure why the journalists like Novak thought this was such a great defense, but they did and it might be their downfall.

Sixteen Words

And what else did they do at that time? It was all about those "sixteen words", and they were totally freaked out about them because they knew that the words were wrong. They knew it. They knew that Tenet had told them not to say it, and he's such a yes-man that he wouldn't stop them unless it was seriously flawed. They knew that it was weird. And you can tell that they knew because it was such a weirdly phrased sentence. "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

That's obviously a trick-filled sentence. It sounds ok, if you don't know what to look for. But if you reverse-engineer it, you'll see the problems. Because if nothing else, why would Bush have to say who learned it first? He wouldn't. If something's a fact, you don't say which government first discovered the fact. You'd just state the fact. But they had to use that weird wording because our own intel guys wouldn't let him say it otherwise. But you wouldn't know that unless you were looking for it. That's why they wrote it like that. Not necessarily to fool us, but to get it passed the CIA guys who knew it wasn't true. They wanted to make some kind of nuclear claim, and this is the closest they could get.

And they knew that it was a weird sentence and that they shouldn't have included it. And that's what the big freak-out was about. That's why they fucked up the whole Plame thing. That's why Condie fucked up and admitted that they shouldn't have used the line. Because they knew it was wrong, and felt guilty about it. And if these people know anything, it's to never feel guilty and to never admit fault. And by the way that our modern media works, they're right. You should never admit fault and never feel guilty. But they did, which is why they fucked up so badly.

They Fuck Up

But the main point isn't about them fucking up. The main point is that they do fuck up. They do shit themselves silly and make mistakes. There's this idea of Rove as if he's some political genius who can do no wrong. But it's not true. They do make mistakes. But they've got great reflexes, so you never know it. The moment they screw up, they'll have an onslaught of a thousand quivers heading your way, so you won't even have the chance to wonder if they screwed up. That's just how it works. In fact, the best way to know when you've hurt them is when they send out the full attack. Just like they're now doing for Rove. And the more they're hurt, the more they attack.

The Nixon Whitehouse was the same way. On the outside, they seemed tough and impervious. On the inside, they saw every weakness and assumed that their opponents were on to everything. They appeared to be all-powerful, yet it was all a cheap facade which was necessary because they were so scared. Nixon couldn't trust anyone, even lying to his own family, and had to keep a total shell-game going on; fooling everyone. Because he imagined everyone to be just like him, but just not as good at it. And even towards the end of his administration, when he was a drunken mess and not sleeping; his opponents still imagined him to be the invincible dictator pulling the strings. It's similar to how the Soviet Union fell so unexpectedly. The system was crumbling, but they knew they had to hide it.

And so it is with our current administration. I have no doubts that things are falling apart over there. I have no doubts that they're shitting bricks, and have been for several years. Sure, they have their moments of victory, but they're quickly replaced with more fear. Fear of being discovered. Fear of saying the wrong thing. Fear of the wrong leak. Always scamming. Always playing the game. Always worried that the wheels will finally fly off, and expose them for being the scared little cowards that they are. They know they're bullshitting. The big secret is for us to stop trying to get them to confess that they're bullshitting, and start taking advantage of it. A good liar will never admit that they're lying; and an intelligent person shouldn't require them to do so.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

John Dean

I really like John Dean. I read his stuff over at Findlaw and can't get enough. I don't know why I never see anyone link to Findlaw's commentary, but they often have interesting opinions. Even the dumb lawyers can have something interesting to say. But John Dean is the best. He helped bring Nixon down, and he writes excellent legal commentary. You should read all of his stuff.

He just gave his two cents on the Valerie Plame thing (who he correctly refers to as Valerie Wilson, another reason to like him), and I think it's a pretty good read. His point is that the oft given federal statute regarding covert CIA operatives is unlikely to apply to Rove, but that an entirely different statute almost certainly does. And that a recent prosecution of a DEA agent with this other statute was touted by the Justice Department as a warning against leakers. We can only hope that he's right.

Here's another good column, by guest columnist Louis Klarevas, this time regarding Judith Miller's jailing. It's pretty good, though I've never read the guy's stuff before and he looks like a complete doof; so I don't vouch for his accuracy. Oh, and my last recommendation from there is Michael C. Dorf, who usually has some smart lawyery stuff to say. But if you have a lot of time, and want to read some decent legal commentary, you should just scan through the whole commentary section and see what you like. And yes, this is what I do for fun.

(fixed links)

Friday, July 15, 2005

Education à la Carte

Atrios referred to a news article today about a Christian adoption agency which won't allow Catholics to adopt children because Catholic teachings don't agree with the agency's beliefs, and it reminded me of one of the biggest problems I see with the whole allowing religion in school thing. There's a reason why there are different dominations of Christianity, and it's because they don't agree on lots of things. And while many of these differences are simply historical, some are very real. Hell, perhaps this is the reason why JFK has been our only Catholic president, and even he had to promise to not be too Catholic. Catholics are by far the largest single domination, yet they've only produced one president out of forty-three. Maybe there's something about Catholicism that makes them bad politicians, but I suspect it's because of an underlying anti-Catholic bias among their fellow Christians.

And this is a huge point, and I don't understand why everyone doesn't see it immediately. Christians may be monotheistic, but they are not monolithic. There is a wide range of beliefs within that category, and even within the specific dominations themselves. Even Christians within the same church pew, or even the same family can have completely different ideas of what their god wants, and how they should live their lives. If you open up education to religious teachings, we'll open up a giant can of worms.

Teacher's Rights

And from my perspective as an atheist, I see atheists as being the least affected group of them all. We have no specific beliefs to offend against. We're just against the overall idea of religion in government, and insist that government schools take a neutral stance on the subject. But the religious folks have lots of individual beliefs, and history teaches us that they don't take kindly to opposing viewpoints. And everyone always focuses on the science angle, but why? There are lots of bigger problems involved if we allow religious teaching as being part of public schools. Religion undermines science, but if thrust into other subjects, it will undermine the religions themselves.

Just imagine a history class being taught by an old-school Catholic. They're covering Martin Luther and the Reformation, and the teacher is teaching all of the students about the infallibility of the Pope, and why Luther was a heretic who is now burning in Hell. And how the Reformation was the beginning of the end for mankind, and the reason why society is so immoral. And the classroom next to them has a Lutheran teaching about how evil and corrupt the Catholic Church was, and why it was necessary to destroy it.

Or it's health class, and the Baptist teaching health class is explaining why alcohol and dancing are "tools of the Devil", and how the students' parents will burn in Hell because they drink alcohol. And to be nondiscriminatory, such a law would also permit an atheist Social Studies teacher to openly denounce God, and use the Crusades and the Inquisition as perfect examples of why religion is dangerous (a belief I do not hold). Or a Muslim PE coach insists that all of the students will burn in Jahannam unless they convert to Islam and do fifteen push-ups. And all kinds of crazy crap, sure to outrage everyone. And none of this would have to be overt religion. It can all be seen as being part of the proper course curriculum.

And how could we stop this? If we don't draw an absolute line against all religion in public schools, it would be discriminatory to cherry-pick which religion is taught in which classroom. Why Creationism, but not Mormonism? There's plenty of history in The Book of Mormon, as well as in the regular bible and the Koran. Are you really going to tell that teacher that his history is wrong? Or refuse to hire certain teachers who want to push certain beliefs? Isn't that discriminatory, if you're allowing other religious teachings, like Creationism?

And we already know of at least one history teacher (a great link, btw) in California who believes that it was discriminatory for his school to stop him from teaching that our founding fathers wanted a Christian nation and other such nonsense. And many folks (Freeper Alert!) backed him up on this claim of discrimination. Though to be honest, they did the typical thing of distorting his actual actions, so that we can't know if they'd defend what he really did. Their support seems based on the idea that he was being stopped from handing out the Declaration of Independence because it had the word "God" in it; which wasn't even one of his offenses, and is absolutely preposterous. As usual, the culture wars are fueled more by distortion of facts, than differences of opinion.

And we always see this as a Christian versus Atheism kind of thing, but why? I'm fairly confident in saying that most Christians believe in evolution, and don't doubt it at all. And I suspect that many of them inherently understand the problem that I'm outlining. And this is one reason why the Christian fundamentalists who are trying to change this are keeping things to a generic Christian ideal; never getting into specifics. But why not? Are we going to have some federal oversight committee to determine which ideas are generic enough to all Christians, so as not to offend? Will it be done on a district by district case? And exactly how can we check each teacher to see if their beliefs were over the line? Where could the line be?

Generic, But Free

But even if we gave the extremist Christians what they want, which is a Christian-based education, how could they possibly agree as to what that means? Their religious beliefs are not interchangeable. The obvious solution is to insist on a generic education which does not push any beliefs. If someone wants their kid to have a specific religious belief taught at their school, then they can send their kid to their church's school and pay extra for it. But if they want to take advantage of the free non-religious education that the government provides, then they have to take what they get.

And how can they complain about free? I know that they like to pretend that their school taxes pay for their kid's education, but that is completely bogus. We pay school taxes whether or not we have kids, and it is intended to provide a basic education that society has deemed necessary for the benefit of society. And if anyone wants their kid to have something above that basic, generic education, they can pay for it themselves.

And it's not just education, this is how we do everything. If you want something more than the basic services, you pay for it yourself. Police protection not good enough? You hire your own security guards. Public swimming pool too filled with riff-raff? Join a country club, or dig a pool in your own yard. And if you want your kid to have a better education, or taught certain things, you send them to a private school yourself. You don't get a tax reduction because you hire rent-a-cops, or own your own pool. Or a voucher to reduce your country club fees. Society pays for basic services which we think are necessary to have the society that we want, and anything extra is paid for by the individuals. That just makes sense, and that's how education should work. You can get the free, generic education that the government provides, or you pay for the specialized education yourself. And nothing else would make any sense, or could be agreeable. As usual, the rhetoric sounds appealing, but the details are utterly unappetizing to most everyone.

I'm not sure if the religious leaders realize this, or if they're blinded by their own rhetoric; but the America they envision can never happen. Democracy works by taking an equal eye to all its citizens, not just the majority. And any serious examination of that majority will quickly show that it is comprised entirely of small minorities; each with different specific ideas of what America should be and how we should function. Which is why we use elected representatives to decide how our government should operate; rather than allowing representatives of certain majorities directly write the laws. A democracy is only as safe as its smallest minority, and a close examination will show that we're all a minority of one. Only by treating us equally do we bind together to form the powerful force known as democracy.

And for education, the "equal" treatment depends on a generic, non-religious standard which treats all beliefs equally. And that means restricting all beliefs. If that seems to benefit the atheists, that is only because the atheists have no beliefs to push, and are essentially non-partisan referees to the whole religion debate. But this isn't the Atheist System. This is democracy.

Focus On The Lyrics

I'm still too busy to post or even finish the posts that I've already mostly finished, but I thought I'd just share this with you. It's from a 1985 Focus on the Family cassette tape with the Dishonorable Doctor Spongebob Dobson and Susan Baker, wife of venerable Republican James Baker, reading dirty rock lyrics and warning of the dangers these horrible lyrics pose to our youths. This piece is at the bottom of the page, and you just click on the MP3 link to play it. I've got this saved to my computer, and was reminded of it when it came up in my iTunes shuffle just now. Have a listen, you won't regret it.

My only question: If these lyrics are too dirty to be sung, why is it ok to speak them? These people work in mysterious ways.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Fooling Some Of The People, All Of The Time

I've got tons of posts to write or finish, and comments to comment on and whatnot, but I just got back from a business trip and that just made my normal workload that much higher than before. But I just wanted to comment on this briefly.

How much longer until the right-wing media machine breaks, and all of the little wingnuts wake-up, rub their eyes, and start seeing reality in all its glory? I was thinking about this while reading this post by Kevin Drum, and overall this whole "Rove isn't a villain, he's a hero" argument. I mean, can anyone really see this argument without vomiting up their own stomach in a mixture of disgust and mordant laughter? How can anyone believe this? Without even knowing the facts, it sounds laughable on its face. I can understand people defending Rove. But trying to turn Rove into a hero should be nausea inducing for even the most pliable of believers. There are still Nixon defenders, but to my knowledge, nobody has suggested that he be given a medal for his performance.

So is there a breaking point? Can the right-wing over do it with their "black is white, evil is good" routine? Or have they trained these people well enough that they will believe absolutely anything, no matter how egregious or obviously false? I'm a liberal and a believer in the better side of human nature, so I'd like to believe that there is a breaking point, and that some story like this will send the sparks flying and smoke pluming; when even Brit Hume says "I'm not saying this bullshit," and walks out of the studio in disgust. They don't even need to see the truth, they just need to realize how much they're being conned in every stage of their beliefs. We can only hope that this is the story that does it. It would be the ultimate irony if Rove's own defense is the one that ruins it for the rest of them.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The King's Courtiers

How hard would it be for President Bush to completely replace the Whitehouse Press Corp? A top to bottom clean out, replacing all of the old bots with shiny brand new bots; beholden to the President for the honor of gracing his presence, and repeating his words. No wonder the French hate us so much; we've stolen their monarchy. Or at least as far as the simpering-class goes.

These people literally sell their souls to the President, just for the opportunity of getting to be with the President. And don't forget. It's not just being with the President. It's also traveling with the President. An American jet-set crowd, full of oysters and caviar (or the jounalistic equivalent there of) ; a rock-star ethic for the educated-elite. And how much of this job entails waiting? Waiting around at a campaign stop for the President to show up. Waiting at the hotel bar, running up the expense account while smoozing with their peers. Like preppied-up cabana boys, waiting to give their master a back rub. I'm speaking figuratively, of course, but you get the idea. But they are more than mere cabana boys. They are a temporary nobility. The access which enables them to wield power depends on their ability to stay in that position; largely at the discretion of the President.

And honestly, couldn't this little snippet about Louis XIV apply equally to our Whitehouse Press Corps and their relationship with the President?
Thus Louis forced the nobles to serve him ceremonially as courtiers, whilst he appointed commoners as ministers and regional governors. As courtiers, the nobles grew ever weaker. Louis had converted the Chateau of Versailles outside Paris into a lavish royal palace; he moved there along with the royal court on May 6, 1682. Court life centred on grandeur; courtiers had to display expensive luxuries, to dress with suitable magnificence and to constantly attend balls, dinners, performances, and celebrations. Thus, many noblemen had perforce either to give up all influence, or to depend entirely on the King for grants and subsidies. Instead of exercising power, the nobles vied for the honour of dining at the King's table or the privilege of carrying a candlestick as the King retired to his bedroom.

Ok, I kind of hope that Helen Thomas isn't carrying anything when she's seeing the big guy off to bed each night. Though that really would explain a few things. So could Bush get away with a Saturday Night Massacre of his elite press corp? Would anyone notice? Would they notice, or would they just assume that the boob on the television is still them?

I don't even know who actually comprises this elite, but I wouldn't mind being one. And they've got to know that they're just one step away from falling off the gravy train forever. They're at the pinnacle of their career, and one false move can mean the difference between champagne and ramen. They're getting a little uppity now with this whole Rove thing, and ivy leaguers are a dime a dozen in this lagging economy. But I guess that's why they stick together like bandits; upper-class teamsters willing to fight for their survival. As it is, they're placated with easy access and excellent fringe benefits. The only question is what they could do if they were all removed from their positions at once. Who would stick up for them? The new guys certainly wouldn't. Would anyone else even know the difference?

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Quick Thought on Creationism

Do you think if we referred to evolution as "God's Stock Market" that fundamentalists would be more willing to accept it? The stock market analogy is quite accurate and instructive. And as I said earlier, I have no problem with people believing that God created the world, with evolution as His method of species design. Because we don't know if that's untrue. Just as long as they're taught the stuff that we do know, and that they're not specifically taught the god stuff in school.

And if that's what it takes to help the medicine go down, so be it. They can believe anything they want, except for what we know isn't true. And that's the way it should be.

The Extremist Myth

There's a myth pushed by all extremists which proposes that, in order to "win over" your enemies, or get them to stop attacking you, that you must appease the most extreme of them. And because it's impossible to do that, that we shouldn't even try; and instead should fight them harder. This is what makes them extremist, because they don't believe in a middle-ground, and believe that only extreme measures will suffice.

For instance, warhawks will insist that there's no point in trying to woe over the Muslim world, or to show them that we're not out to kill them, because there were always extremists trying to kill us. Bush didn't create terrorism, they tell us. And that our best bet is to bomb the hell out of them because that's what they're trying to do to us.

And the Deaniacs were using a form of this myth before Dean lost the nomination. Insisting that because the Republicans will always attack every Democrat as anti-American, that it doesn't hurt anything to pick Dean, because the others would get the same treatment. That it doesn't matter if Bush ran campaign ads of Dean skiing on the bum knee that kept him out of Vietnam, because they'd run the same kinds of ads against Kerry, Edwards, or Clark. And Bushies use this same defense as a reason why they shouldn't appease Democrats. If they give in and compromise with us, we'll just walk all over them and demand more.

But this is entirely a myth. Because we don't need to win Bin Laden to our side. We just need to deny him new recruits. And we don't need to win the ultra-conservatives to our side. We just need a majority of Americans to reject them. And in both of these cases, the last thing we should do is fuel their arguments by giving them legitimacy. The terrorists and Republicans have arguments about us being extremist freaks, and the last thing we should do is to make those arguments sound more plausible by behaving like extremist freaks. Sure, they did portray Kerry as a Vietnam coward, but that shouldn't suggest that the anti-Dean ads wouldn't have been more effective.

And this makes all the difference, because it gives us the completely opposite prescription for how to deal with our enemies. If the extremist myth was correct, then bombing Muslims and starting wars is the best answer. But if the myth is wrong, then that response could be the worst answer. Bin Laden woes supporters by insisting that America is trying to bomb them and invade their land; and so bombing them and invading their land will provide evidence that he's right. Republicans woe voters by insisting that Democrats are trying to damage America and are too extremist to lead; and nominating the far-left candidate would have sealed that perception (I believe Dean was actually quite moderate, but I'm referring to perceptions, which is a different matter).

And it is wrong. Most Muslims do not hate and most Americans do not believe that Democrats are too extremist. But the extremist's goal is to make the other side more extremist, and more intolerant. After 9/11, many Americans wanted retribution against innocent Muslim-Americans, as payback against Bin Laden's attacks. Believing that it would hurt Bin Laden if we hurt innocent Muslims. But that is exactly what Bin Laden wanted, so that Muslim-Americans would hate and fear Americans, and be more willing to join him. And Bin Laden would want Londoners to attack innocent Muslims now. And he wants Iranians and Egyptians and Saudis to fear that we'll attack them. That plays right into his hands and makes his extremist views more appropriate. It turned perceived threats into real threats. Attacking Iraq and imprisoning thousands of Muslims in Gitmo is exactly the kind of thing that Bin Laden warned about. So we went ahead and turned his empty warnings into reality.

What Extremists Want

Extremists want an extremist world. They want people to take sides. This is exactly the Rove strategy. Because extremists always view the world as extremes, and the further extreme they are, the more they see it. And they see non-extremists as part of the problem. They believe that moderates encourage the enemy, and so they want as few moderates as possible. And partly, extremists always believe that once the sides are drawn, that their side will have more supporters than the other side. So their true enemy is not the other extremists, but moderation itself.

Overall, extremists see the same answer to each problem, and that answer is sure to be extreme. But each problem is different. Sometimes it's best to take a hard stance, and sometimes it's best to go easy. Sometimes it's best to bomb your enemy, and sometimes it's best to offer a helping hand. And it's not always obvious which is the best approach. But the obvious worst approach is to give each threat the same answer. It all just depends on what your enemy wants, how strong they are, and how strong your actions will make them become. Hitler could not be appeased, and could only be dealt with by war. But Jesus became a martyr, which helped found one of the greatest religions of all time. And there is a strong argument that it wasn't hardline anti-communism or war that defeated the Soviets, but rather the policy of containment, the Blue Jean Revolution, and Reagan's latter-day conversion away from neo-conservatism and towards seeing the Russian people as being separate from the Soviet leadership holding them back.

Every situation is different, yet the extremists always insist upon the same solutions. Bin Laden will not be pacified. But that is no reason to enrage other Muslims into following him. George Bush cannot be appeased. But that is no reason to play his game of divide-and-conquer, as Howard Dean and Joe Trippi wanted.

As I've stated before, Democrats and democracy work best when we stand united and act to include as many sides as possible. We are the party and government of diversity and win-win solutions. We must ignore the extremist call to divide us and make us all the enemy of compromise, understanding, and goodwill. A majority of people are not extremists, and it's much safer to appeal to that majority than to roll the dice and hope that our extremism will attract more supporters than theirs. I'm not at all suggesting appeasement. I'm suggesting a strong moderation which denies the extremists the ability to portray us as enemies. If we present a strong, but moderate force, Republicans will be denied the ability to reasonably portray us as anti-American or extremist.

Sure, they will try, just as Bin Laden will continue to portray us as extremist anti-Muslims trying to conquer Islam; and Bill O'Reilly will continue to pimp extremists like Ward Churchill as being representative of all liberals. But we're not trying to win them over, or deny them arguments. We just need to deny giving their arguments legitimacy. We must not allow their extremist fantasies to become reality. They want a world of extremists, of loyalists who will die for them and enemies who will demonize them. That is how they gain power, and that is how they will destroy us. We must deny them that, or we will all lose.

One Terrible Pilot

Brit Hume is an egregious turd, that much is sure. I don't know if he apologized for his "Hmmm, time to buy" remark after hearing of the London terror attacks. But if he hasn't already, he probably won't. I'm not holding my breath, nor would I think it counted for much, because I have little doubt that it wasn't true. Upon hearing of a terrorist attack, his first reaction probably is about how it affects him financially, and how he can profit from it. And hell, it was probably the first time he told the truth all day, so maybe we shouldn't discourage him.

But is it really any worse than what Bush told us in December 2001, on what his initial thoughts on 9/11 were (you can listen to it at the link):
And I was sitting outside the classroom waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the tower -- the TV was obviously on, and I use to fly myself, and I said, "There's one terrible pilot."

Now, I doubt this story is true, in that I'm fairly sure that the first crash was not immediately televised. But who am I to doubt the veracity of the POTUS? And sure, he wouldn't have known the extent of the crash, or that it was a terrorist attack. But all that aside, this shows what a completely uncaring prick he is. He's telling us that he watched a large jet crash into a building and his first reaction was to make a little joke about the pilot's skills. Not, "Oh my god." Or, "Holy shit!" Or just an overall sense of dread and nausea. Like the way that you felt when you first heard about it, or saw it on TV. No. He's telling us that his first reaction was to make a little joke to himself.

And that's who our president is. He doesn't care about human life, suffering, or tragedy. He wasn't concerned about the people on-board, or the people in the building, or just with the horror of the whole thing. Because he's lacking in these basic human emotions which force us to care about people we don't know and to be concerned with events which don't directly involve us. And he doesn't even know it. That's the problem with people like him, who lack basic components of human personalities; like empathy and understanding. Because they think they're just like us. They've got their little substitute for those emotions and imagine that they're feeling it too. Like a color blind person who doesn't realize they're color blind, and just thinks everyone's guessing at this stuff too. But he doesn't think he's guessing. He genuinely believes that he has all the emotions necessary to make a well-rounded person. But he doesn't. Maybe it was the silverspoon, or maybe some CIA experiment that his parents were involved in before Junior was born. Who knows. But whatever it is, he is lacking as a human being.

And that's how he could so casually push us into this war. Because, whatever the justification du jour is for why we went to war, the real reason is obvious. He wanted to be seen as a strong president, and he thought it would help his re-election. It certainly helped that many of his advisors and friends wanted the same thing, but that wasn't enough. He did it because he thought it would make him the man that he never could be: a brave man. He wasn't thinking that he'd cause suffering. He wasn't thinking of the destruction, or that things might turn out badly. He thought he'd be an instant hero, with Iraqi streets named after him, Americans idolizing him, and his enemies fearing him. That's what he was thinking about. And not just after 9/11, but long before. 9/11 was just another opportunity for him to use human suffering and tragedy to his advantage.

Hell, he thinks he's impressing us when he tells us that he thinks about the war he started "every single day." That's impressive to him. And it is, for him. Because he knows that he really doesn't want to give a damn. And if he wasn't President, he wouldn't give a damn. You know he wouldn't. If he watched the news at all, he'd be a Fox News dope. But more likely than not, he wouldn't watch anyway. He'd give some blind support for the war, and would go blissly about his life, not caring about what he was supporting at all. He'd only care about being on the "strong" side, whatever that meant. Just like many of his supporters do now. They don't know much about war, but they know what they like. And Bush is clearly the president for them, because he's the exact same way.

And you know something, when I think about it, I'm not really angry at him. I don't really blame him. He's an idiot, but he just can't help it. It's not his fault, it's just the way he is. The frustrating part isn't that he's like this, but that not enough people are willing to realize it. We've got an ignorant jackass running our country, and too many are too willing to give him a pass and assume that he's a really good guy. And despite calling him a jackass, I really don't have anything personal against him. But like most people, he's just not qualified to be our president.

Anyway, this was intended to be a short little snippy post about the above quotes, but I just found a bunch more stuff to talk about, as always. If you want to read more about his official activities that day, you can read his vague recap here. It's toward the bottom of the page. In case you were wondering, I'll tell you right now that, no, he does not mention the part about hopping around the country with his tail between his legs, or how long it took him to reassure the nation that everything would be ok. Or even how long he sat there in that classroom waiting to be told what to do after he was told of the second attack. Perhaps he was contemplating the idea of two such terrible pilots.

He ends this rambling speech in true Bush style: At any rate, I knew I had a job to do. And I was quoted in the press the other day as saying I haven't regretted one thing I've decided. And that's the truth. Every decision I made, I stand by. And I'm proud of the decisions I've made. (Applause.)

And the sad thing is that it's probably true. Not that he doesn't regret anything, as I'm sure he does. But that he's not regretting the right things. His regrets are on personal embarrassments and political opportunities lost; stuff he could never share with us. And not on the suffering that he has caused, or the incompetence he has unleashed on the world. But it's not that he can't admit errors. It's that he's unable to see them. He sees suffering that he caused, but doesn't think it's something that needs to be corrected. He just sees it as yet another opportunity. A terrible pilot indeed.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Conservative Evolution

Evolution is such an easy concept to understand. I don't know all the ins and outs, and I've always believed that biology was the worst of all sciences (especially the whole dissecting animals thing, which I always left to my lab partner to do). But the concept of evolution itself is so obvious that it takes practice to avoid it.

I've discussed this a little before, but I'll repeat a little here. Evolution is just a fancy word for Supply and Demand, and it explains tons. Sure, we don't have all the answers yet, but there's no reason to believe it can't explain them. And the main reason why anyone doubts it is because they don't understand it. They act as if evolution is based upon luck or something. Or coincidence. And to a very small extent, it is. But they fail to understand it as a mechanism of change. Without someone at the helm, they imagine evolution to be rudderless fate guiding everything; and who could believe in that? And the reason they don't understand is because they wrongly perceive it as yet another assault on their belief system; so they refuse to even listen to it. Not because they're so sure that it's wrong. But because they fear it's right.

And what of Intelligent Design and creationism. Besides the fact that neither is science, they do a completely lousy job at explaining anything. Intelligent design, my ass. Is this really how an intelligent being wanted to design us? It's horrible. We're like walking booby-traps, with appendix's ready to burst, cancers eating us up, and groin muscles and hamstrings getting pulled right when you need them most. And the system designed to protect us from disease can be the very thing that kills us! I mean, your body tries to heat up to kill off the infection, and it gets so hot it could destroy your brain or kill you! Talk about design flaws. I wouldn't know how to go about making a human, but this isn't it.

And the other big questions is: Why? Why would any supreme being waste his time trying to work out every detail about every species, balancing species characteristics and whatnot to create entire self-contained eco-systems, when he could just let evolution do the job? That's got to be a real pain in the ass. To make a lion fast enough, but not too fast; and balancing that with all the other kinds of creatures in the delicate eco-system. Especially because the creator would have to fight against the forces of evolution anyway. He wants lots of lions so that mankind will learn some character lesson about lions, so he has to make them dominate, but then they eat all their food supply and God's got to get busy making more antelopes and whatnot. It's this giant balancing act that he's got to micromanage with billions of creatures throughout the world. And viruses and bacteria too. He's got to balance all the little organisms, and plants and everything for billions of years. I'm sorry, but that is just not an efficient way of doing things.

We all know that the free-market system works better than a controlled-market system, like the Soviets had. So why go for full control? Why not just leave it up to Supply and Demand to determine which characteristics are important and which species should survive? Even omnipotent beings have to have something better to do than muck around something which so obviously could be done automatically. I suppose all that extra work would explain why God is so angry all the time, but I digress.

Conservative Thoughts

I'm mentioning this because I just saw this article in The New Republic about conservative pundits and evolution. Now, it's one thing for the typical Joe Believer to not understand this stuff. But conservative pundits!?! I'm really surprised. They're supposed to be the brains of this operation. Fortunately, most of them do believe in evolution, though too many also support Intelligent Design (I believe from a misunderstanding) or at least believe that it shouldn't be excluded. And if I thought they were being honest, I'd be a little more offended.

But check this out from Pat Buchanan:
Whether he personally believes in evolution: "Do I believe in absolute evolution? No. I don't believe that evolution can explain the creation of matter. ... Do I believe in Darwinian evolution? The answer is no."

Could he really be this stupid? Evolution doesn't say jackshit about the origins of life or the creation of matter. Those are completely separate theories which aren't even related to evolution. The theory on the creation of matter is called The Big Bang. And while they have a few vague theories as to how life first began, I don't think they've come up with any solid leads. And evolution has nothing to do with either the origins of the universe or life. Evolution is only concerned with what happened after life began. And if people could get this straight, they'd be less likely to doubt it. I've seen this mistake in the typical Joe Believer, but from Pat Buchanan? I'm just hoping he's playing dumb to fool his supporters.

And then there's the Intelligent Design stuff which most of these guys got wrong. Most of them seem to think that Intelligent Design just means that God created the universe and set the conditions for evolution to start working. But that it was evolution which made all the changes afterwards. Ok, it's possible that I'm the wrong one here, but I believe that Intelligent Design doesn't just say that there is a creator. It's that there was a creator and that he actively guides the processes. Not just someone who set it in motion, but who actively worked at this stuff along the line. Or at the least, created a design which would change over time on its own, and not by evolutionary pressures. Am I wrong on that?

And that's the thing. To me, I see no reason to assume that Yahweh or Zeus or aliens didn't create us. I typically refer to myself as an atheist so I don't have to explain myself. But I really count myself as agnostic, giving a big "I don't know" to the whole god question. To me, there can be no other logical answer. So I won't rule out a creator. I wouldn't act as if there was one, but I won't rule it out either. So it's entirely possible that God created evolution. As I said above, evolution is only concerned with what happened after life began, and doesn't rule out the idea of a creator. Evolution can have a creator who designed it, but then stepped back and let the whole thing work on its own. But that's not Intelligent Design. That's evolution with a creator explaining the pre-evolution stuff.

That's what my mom believes. She's Catholic, believes in God, and understands evolution. And I've heard that theory from her and many others long before the term Intelligent Design came into vogue. Hell, I almost wonder if this is part of the Intelligent Designers plan; to convince evolutionists like my mother that they really support Intelligent Design and that we should teach it in school. Because if that's what Intelligent Design was about, I wouldn't necessarily mind it. Just as long as it's still evolution doing the changing, and not the creator. And just as long as teachers don't try to plant the creator idea as being necessary to anything. Because maybe there was a creator, but there is no scientific basis for it, and no requirement for it, so it can't be taught in science class. But it doesn't need to be ruled out, either. Maybe if we said that more often, these people would be more receptive to evolution.

I'd just like to finish up by again restating what I said a few days earlier about Intelligent Design. It's not a theory, it's an argument against a theory. And most of the pundits interviewed in that TNR piece confirmed that. The ID supporters gave a basic definition of ID as a theory which shows problems in evolution. And I have no problem with that. In fact, I insist that we teach children about gaps in the theory, and spots that we haven't confirmed. It's insane to think that we aren't teaching them about any real gaps. But the devil's with the details. Many of the ID arguments I've read are based upon misunderstandings or untruths. And we can't teach the wrong stuff. But I have no problem with teaching kids about the current short-comings with the theory, as long as they're accurate and as long as it's not presented as a separate theory. Apparently, Charles Krauthammer was the only Con pundit smart enough or honest enough to say so.

Conservative Minds

And one last observation about that article. Almost every one of them is scared shitless by this issue. David Brooks, John Tierney, and William Kristol apparently are refusing to even look into Intelligent Design, so they can avoid pissing off their followers. And all of them seemed like they were being a bit coy on the whole issue. Even Buchanan was probably doing his dumb guy routine. I get the impression that he's a fairly smart man who knows how to play dumb to please his supporters. Who knows, maybe he's not even a Nazi.

Overall, I think we learn much more about the way these guys work than what we learned of their true thoughts on evolution. Because I think that they're almost always intentionally deceptive. They're not dumb. And if you work with the theory that these guys know more than they're saying; then you can analyze each of their remarks to see which of these pundits are willing to deceive their own supporters, which ones are willing to be honest, and which ones are too honest to lie but too chickenshit to be honest. Because being a conservative pundit means that you have to deceive. It's interesting to see these guys side-by-side so you can see where they stand on the deception-meter.

Oh, and my favorite quote: Grover Norquist
How evolution should be taught in public schools: "The real problem here is that you shouldn't have government-run schools. ... Given that we have to spend all our time crushing the capital gains tax I don't have much time for this issue."

I'm in awe. Can that man stay on-topic, or what. It's all about message discipline these days.