Monday, January 18, 2010

Things worth reading

A thinking man's Glenn Beck (James Simpson at the American Thinker) describes how the strategy of using crisis to bring about socialism is at the heart of Obama's governing choices.

A TNR article on the amazing and agonizing history of Haiti. Another argument for imperialism?

Arnold King reviews the contending theories for why the current recession is so severe in terms of unemployment and concludes that there is a lot he and his fellow economists don't know.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Jon Stewart and John Yoo

Stewart apologizes for not nailing John Yoo on his program the previous night.

I think the apology is less apology and more humorous acknowledgment that this Yoo guy is pretty smart.

In general, I think that Stewart does a really good job in his interviews and you learn quite a lot from them. He doesn't take cheap shots and doesn't try to change the subject when he runs up against an argument that he doesn't have an answer for. I think he sets a better example for how to engage in public reasoning than most journalists.

Just because he did not have answers for the questions raised doesn't mean that Yoo is right, it just means that Yoo had raised an issue or consideration that Stewart hadn't thought through before. There is nothing wrong with not having an answer for an argument you have never heard before. I think that Stewart's program does a real service and I wish that conservatives were not so tacky in their references to him.

Stewart is obviously a liberal and makes no secret of the fact. That is useful to us. When he says something it has credibility outside of the conservative movement. It is true that he does his best material on conservatives, but that is inevitable. What drives comedy is the sense of contradiction, the fact that you are a liberal and that you detect contradictions most readily in the positions and speech of conservatives is not surprising: one is largely a result of the other.

We should also take these criticisms of ourselves to heart many times. He points out the ways in which we can improve our message. When he does a whole show on Glenn Beck's conspiracy theories he is telling us something worth knowing: that Glenn Beck is not someone to be too close to.

And he is an unnamed ally on many occasions of the conservative movement and even of Glenn Beck. When the MSM were ignoring the Acorn films and only Glenn Beck talked about them Stewart did one of the funniest segments I have ever seen. Stewart's presentation of the films was devastatingly funny and really cut to the heart of the matter far more than the grandiose conspiracy castles that Beck built upon the films. I was able to show the Jon Stewart show's version and it had a much greater impact on the (largely liberal class) than the Glenn Beck presentations would have. Moreover, they provided some validation for the Glenn Beck show's exhibiting of the films. That is, I think, a good guide to conservatives on how to approach Beck: use him when he has good, new information, and ridicule him when he goes off on his conspiracy theories.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

YouTube - Coakley Thug Roughs Up Reporter

YouTube - Coakley Thug Roughs Up Reporter

Watching the video it is actually much worse than I thought. I really found it a bit creepy. They guy keeps up the pretense of not being anyone and not trying to block his way while blocking his way. That a member of a political campaign for the Senate would go into a kind of West End thug playacting bit while muscling a guy around is just so unamerican. The American thing to do is have a bunch of security officers shielding your candidate from unpleasant questions by using polite official language.

Update: staffer issues creepy non-apology apology. He did not stop to make sure he was ok, he continued to shove him and hip check him from side to side with fake questions and oily fake politeness. And he "apologized for his part?" After all, it takes two to shove some guy to the ground, a guy to shove and a guy to get shoved. His pushing motion would have been perfectly harmless had the guy not been there in front of him. And lets not leave out gravity. I only pushed him a few inches. The great majority of his fall was due to gravity. There is nothing I can do about that.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Racy Harry

Poor harry is in such trouble over the use of the word "negro."

The word negro is an anachronism, not a slur. There is another slur that begins with the letter "n" that has always been recognized as a slur both by the people that used it and the people that it was used against (Rappers are somehow exempt from all this). The word negro has never to my knowledge been a slur, it is simply a word we don't use anymore.

There are no hard and fast rules. That is what makes these standards of "sensitivity" so useful. Every time someone transgresses one of the many unstated rules they get to pass judgment based on a "wholistic" assessment. That is, they have discretion over when the penalties will be extracted.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

This is a new thing I am trying with a Firefox add in called "Diigo".

Another thing to worry about

Michael Ledeen says he was totally immobilized by the naked man on the airplane. Good thing he turned out not to be a terrorist. Of course, he could still have been hiding a bomb.....oh, it doesn't bare thinking about. (Get it? "bare" thinking about? Come on people, do I have to do all the work?) Seriously, every time Al Qaeda finds a new place to hide a bomb we have to take something else off. We are one rectal bomber away from the end of air travel as we know it.

Random Thoughts

Watching Stargate Universe. I can't stand it but I am addicted anyway. At least it is not fattening.

Several permanent stars have died in this episode. That can only mean one thing: they are going to find a way to go back in time to save them. Time travel: it is like vampire movies. There are just things that you know will happen. I am too old to watch science fiction anymore. Everything is just another Start Trek re-run.

We have no heat in the political science building. The heater isn't working. I asked maintenance that I had no heat. They checked the heater and said it isn't working. Very helpful. Southern charm AND efficiency.

We got our Japanese exchange students here on Thursday. The campus was closed Thursday afternoon and Friday because of the cold emergency. It dropped below freezing. The radio explained what that means. It means that things will freeze. Things like water and a mysterious substance that falls silently from the sky called snow. It comes without warning, the silent killer. The Japanese kids flew in from Akita where they have about three feet of the deadly stuff on the ground right now.

A War of Ideas

The central difference between Reagan and the realist wing of the anti-communist movement was that Reagan saw the conflict as a war of ideas. This is the thesis of Mann's account of the end of the cold war. The conflict with the Jihadists is also a war of ideas, as Mark Styen argues again today.

Plea Bargains?

So we can still get information out of the Christmas bomber because we have the possibility of doing a plea bargain? That means that we will lighten his sentence in exchange for information in spite of having now all the evidence we could possibly need for a conviction on the charge of trying to murder 300 people. So we are now going to let a foreign intended terrorist murderer out early in order to get information that might lead to finding more intended terrorist murderers? Isn't there something odd about that? Would we let Reid out earlier if he had some information? KSM? Bin Laden? Does anyone else find this odd?

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Peaking Too Early

Dodd has dropped out and now Harry Reid has hit 33% approval. There is no sign of him dropping out but he is dangerously low in the polls and might loose a primary challenge. That is bad. As is the case with Dodd, he would be replaced by a Democrat without his baggage. In general, some of these retirements are a problem for Republicans. A new candidate with no individual connection to health care legislation or scandals would make things more difficult for the Republicans, not less. There is a danger of peaking too early.

Changing ourselves

There is something I don't get. Maybe I am just wrong or out of touch but I just don't have the righteous anger about these people crossing lines or getting in unauthorized areas that everyone else seems to have. The White House party crashers and the guy now at the airport who went in through the exit and shut down the airport seem to find themselves subject to a sort of populist (or at least talking head) outrage that I just don't feel.

making this a country where everyone is id'd before they go anywhere or there are draconian punishments for unauthorized entries strikes me as a much greater departure from our traditions than putting foreign terrorists in military prisons.

Reagan and the War on Terror

I am reading Mann's book on the end of the cold war. The thing that is really fascinating is the split between Reagan and the conservatives in the second term and Mann's description of the philosophical difference between Reagan and Nixon. Nixon viewed the cold war as permanent and a contest between two stable players. Reagan viewed it as a contest of ideas which would be won when the guys with the bad set of ideas (the Soviets) changed their ideas. Reagan's optimism that our system was universal and that he could convince the other side that they were wrong was the key underlying difference between them. For Reagan the other side was under the influence of evil ideas but that could be saved and could be reasoned with once they were convinced that they could not get what they wanted by force. I think this is similar to the disagreement that we are having about the War with the Islamist Radicals. The Realists want to write off the enemy's part of the world. They are just that way. There is nothing that can be done about them. They cannot change. All you can do is build a good fence with clear rules about which side is which. The NeoCons and Bush believe that the Islamic world can be brought to democracy. They are under the influence of evil ideas but once they are freed from those who would impose their ideas by force they will come around.

Christmas Bomber: Dots, Pictures and Meaning

I wrote most of this a couple of days ago but forgot to post it.

We seem to re argue the controversies of the past administration the same way generals are said to refight the last war.

For instance, everyone is talking about connecting the dots. Some things are not dots, they are pictures. You don't have to connect them, you just have to open your eyes.

The idea of connecting the dots is that there are facts which don't mean anything in themselves but are significant when they are viewed together. A guy walking into your embassy and telling you that his son has become a radical islamist and has dropped out of sight is not a dot, it is a picture, a picture telling you not to let this kid get on an airplane.

The idea of dots or putting the pieces together is that they don't reveal their true or deep meaning until after the fact. a guy buys a one way ticket or wants to learn how to fly a jet without learning how to land it is a dot. After the fact you see what each of these means. you don't have to wait till after the fact to see what it means when a boys father comes to the embassy and tells you that his son has become a radical jihadist. Its meaning is already obvious. His son has become a radical jihadist. You may not believe him but there is no mystery about the meaning. "What is he trying to say?" He is trying to say that his son has become a radical Jihadist. It means you don't let him on an airplane.

One third of all attempts occurred in 2009. some people have used this as an excuse for the obama administration, they have just had too much to deal with. but if we are having all of these terrorism attempts after all of Obama's bowing and browbeating of Israel and grand pronouncements to close Gitmo isn't that evidence that the Jihadists might have a different set of motivations that Obama had assumed? Perhaps they have a set of goals that are not going to be changed by addressing what we think are their grievances?

The President is right that we have had an intelligence failure, just not the kind he thinks.

Another sort of anachronism is the focus on the CIA. The CIA for once is not at fault. We seem to have focused on the CIA because they are thought to be the ones that deal with foreign threats. They are but that is incidental. they are in charge of breaking the law. the fact that we don't let them operate in the US itself is because we disapprove of people, especially government employees, breaking our laws. but we have to break the laws of other countries if we want to find out what they don't want us to know. That is the reason for having the CIA.

The CIA is at best peripheral to this story. The man first came to the State Department and was referred by them to the CIA after he had told the State Department representative about his son. In the 9/11 attack the CIA failed to tell the State Department about the bad guys trying to get into the US. Here there is no question of the CIA telling the State Department something, it was the State Department sending the "dot" to the CIA. Were they supposed to send the guy's father back down the hallway to remind them not to let his son into the country?

The meaning of dots includes the idea of something whose meaning is not clear until after fact.

The idea that we had a computer programing failure that didn't allow us to catch the guy because of a small spelling difference is also troubling. We will now spend another billion trying to do something that could be downloaded for free from the internet as a google widget. but when you have a small technical problem that could be solved for pennies that the government insists on throwing money at it is another sign that you have something else going on.

The underlying problem is our fear of appearing to discriminate against a disadvantaged group. We treat any sort of suspicion that falls upon anyone who is not provably connected to a particular crime in progress as a sort of crime against international human rights.

We do not have to alter american society, just who we give a visa to enter it. that is a return to the common sense of the FDR era, not an abandonment of our values but a return.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Seeing Avitar

Finally went to see Avitar. I must say I was impressed and that the 3D was really a plus.

The ham handed political references were more funny that annoying. the story was dances with wolves but the iraq war was brought in at every point with language. terror with terror, daisy cutter, shock and awe, savages. it amazes me that he said in an interview that people can see contemporary political parallels if they want to. He hardly gives them a choice.

the political viewpoint is standard and unremarkable. what is a bit offensive is the way that military men are viewed. they are all butt scratching, leering oafs (though the evil leader of the military wing is intelligent enough to make a good and impressive villain). they grin at the prospect of killing a bunch of women and children. they are brutish and inhuman, all except for the vaguely ethnic looking butch marine chick who seems almost cut and pasted from the character in aliens II. The parallels to current events are so tightly drawn to his propaganda purposes that the soldiers are made mercanaries rather that regular soldiers so that the Camarron can have his hero say that regular soldiers are somehow ok, but that corporate soldiers (read blackwater) are not.

the Navi are good because they are in harmony with nature. they have a pagan religion but unlike the religion of real indians this one is actually based on a scientific fact, that the tree roots on the entire planet are connected into a giant neural network that makes it into a giant intelligence that can coordinate the natural life on the planet to repel the invaders when the time comes.

It is nice that there is no false ending and everything drives toward a logical and exciting climax.

He borrows from Cooper making the Navi say a little prayer to the spirit of any animal they kill.

the Navi are good because they are unchanging. they have no interest in the sky people. their indifference to technology and progress is seen as admirable. the hero asks what do we have that they would want, "A light beer?" All of the scientific progress that we make is treated very shabbily by a man making so much money and, it must be admitted, doing such cool stuff with technological advances.

the sentimentalization of the indians is a key trope in modern liberal culture. we vicariously side with them against our own civilization and retell the story of our conquest of them with a new, imaginary character that we are to identify with from our civilization who eventually switches sides over to theirs. We do this with the indians precisely because their is no chance of it ever happening. If you told a contemporary story with the other side as the good guys then you would have a natural action implied by the story--join them. but that would be hard. it is no fun living like a nomadic aboriginal. we don't really want to do that. we just want to be able to pretend that we do. the fact that it is impossible to do is what makes such sentimental reality plays so much more attractive than covering real conflicts. The modern intellectual's sense of being superior to his own society is played out without the intellectual having to give up the modern society's comforts or really having to do anything at all but feel morally superior.

and that is why we have the story of the Navi instead of stories about Iraq from Hollywood. The combination of Iraq and the Indians as the sources of the story allows cammeron to avoid all the uncomfortable questions that would be brought about by actually dealing the the topic he insists on commenting on in so many ways. He can bring in Iraq parallels when he has the soldiers say things like "shock and awe" or calling them terrorists and using that to justify our own terrorism without having to confront the uncomfortable fact that the other side really are terrorists and that their main victims are other "navi". (In the film the different tribes of the planet get together to expel the invaders, something that would be hard to swallow in a movie about the real conflicts he alludes to, either with the indians who fought savagely among themselves and the Iraqis who, well, fight savagely among themselves.)

Sunday, January 03, 2010

You can be too rational

Here is the NYT's story about the attempt on the life of Kurt Westergaard. Here is the cartoon that caused so much controversy 5 years ago.

The Times story has him hiding in his safe room with his 5 year old grand daughter, but this report from the UK Telegraph has him in the room with the granddaughter on the sofa in another room. It has a quote from Westergaard explaining why he left her out there so I assume this is the correct version, even though most of the reports have the granddaughter in the safe room with him. He may be right about it having been the best decision--he is 74 after all--but it is still very disturbing. I think that is a bit more rational than I would like to be.

Another interesting part of the story is that two other guys that were arrested for plotting to kill Westergaard a couple of years ago but not prosecuted. In the end one was deported but the other just let free. You apparently have to work at it to get deported from Denmark. The attacker in this case is an asylum seeker. No wait, he actually has asylum. At the same time the Danish government had him under surveillance for other terrorist activities (i.e., not related to attacking Westergaard). We give him protection from political persecution at the same time we have him under surveillance for political terrorism?