Monday, June 25, 2007

Bloomberg, and Bush the Post-Modernist

I really don't see how anyone can look at the overwhelming blizzard of abuses, crimes, and foolhardy errors that have constituted the Bush years and then decide that what they're really sick of is partisanship:

... The forty per cent of the American electorate who regard themselves as Independents would also benefit. Their number has been growing in recent years, and they are increasingly joined in political sympathy by Republicans and Democrats who find their parties captive to a base, fringe, or interest group with which they have little in common. We are living through one of those recurring moments—1912, 1980, and 1992 were others—when disgust with the two big parties stirs a longing for an outsider of upright character, untainted by dirty money or political dealmaking.

Maybe I'm wrong in thinking that voters are sick of what I'm sick of, which is the actions of the current executive, and the actions of Republicans in the House and Senate (and now apparently the Supreme Court). If pressed, I could draw up a specific, and fairly inclusive, list of grievances against BushCo and against the GOP and other enablers. But maybe that's just because I'm on the high side of the news-awareness bell curve.

I can see how, in someone who doesn't spend a fairly significant portion of their waking life reading and digesting news information (this is a class issue as well, by the way; a good portion of the population doesn't have the leisure time or spare energy), my fairly specific dissatisfaction could manifest in a general 'screw the government' sort of feeling.

That it's so difficult for a casual news observer to distinguish between radicals and anti-radicals is also a damning comment on our broken media discourse. After all, most politicians sound the same as one another, they all yell and point when they get angry, and mostly they only are seen on television disagreeing with one another.

More often than not, our politicians are quoted side by side making mutually contradictory claims, and too often the media fails to point out factual falsehoods (because to point out a negative about a candidate or official without pointing out a symmetrical negative for the other side would be 'biased' and 'partisan,' perhaps).

I recall a commentator on CNN who, after the Bush/Kerry debates said that it would take a team of Kennedy School of Government fact checkers a week to verify or refute all the truth claims made in the debate. And in terms of substantive discussion, that was apparently it for CNN. All that CNN was prepared to do was identify truly glaring factual inaccuracies. The rest was about who was more effective in their message delivery, the little tics, the gaffes. Coverage shifted over to 'Spin Alley,' a name suggesting fluctuation between two poles, existing simultaneously without cancelling each other out, matter and anti-matter.

It's understandable for people to get sick of it. The lack of attention to substantive policy difference makes mainstream political discourse a cross between a beauty contest and a shouting match. The media itself isn't the least bit interested in changing the dynamic; it makes for good television (Crossfire! Liberal, conservative--debate!). It took Jon Stewart making his own good television to get the show off the air.

There's ambivalence to objective truth; theirs a post-modern feeling that the truth is unknowable and that things can be two mutually exclusive ways at once. Maybe it's best just to call it doublethink. And Bush and his supporters have been disconcertingly open about their post-modern thinking:

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

That's a post-modern stance (in the sense where post-modern can mean "counter-enlighment". There are so many senses of post-modern that it's best to specifcy). When Bush and Cheney say, as they often do, that only History will be able to judge their Administration, they are really concurring with the above. The un-named aide quoted is just, you know, articulater.

Post-modernism made some sense when applied to literary conceits like Justice, Virtue, Love, and all the rest, but it is a terrible paradigm under which to build a functioning government, composed of bureaucrats and cops. It's nonsense to say that truth is unknowable in the context of governance. The government must operate under the premise that truth is knowable, or government policy is governed by nothing but competition to see which narrative is the most compelling.

There are a few issues where one side or the other is objectively correct, and they can prove it. There are a great many other issues where an objective observer would say that the preponderance of the evidence tilts one way or the other.

I don't know that anyone (except maybe that Bush aide) would disagree with that assertion, and yet our media often seems to operate on the premise that all viewpoints are created equal. That stance, more than anything, creates the conditions that I think will consistently allow a sufficiently visible third-party candidate who can "bridge the divide" to claim ten to twenty percent of the vote.

The main way to be 'visible' without joining a party is to have tons of your own dough to pour into television ads. That's what Ross Perot did in '92, and that's what Bloomberg will do if he ultimately decides to make a run. Hell, he may get more than 20%. Perot got 18, and he sure wasn't a popular and effective city administrator with a record of effective compromise.

The question, if Bloomberg runs, is who he will pull more votes from, the Republican or the Dem. To me, it looks likely to be a negative for the Democrats. So what Bloomberg needs to consider, if he's conscientious, is whether he wants to help someone likely Giuliani or Thompson ascend the throne of George the Second. I hope he doesn't run. If it looked like he would help the Democrats, I would be pulling for him all the way. I say this because I am not a political post-modernist--I think the Democrats have superior ideas and positions, and as a result, I want them to win.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

How 9/11 Changed Everything for Giuliani

By way of giving some actual content to this introductory post, I thought I'd note the recent revelation--at least, recent to most people, that Rudy Giuliani was slated to be a member of the Iraq Study Group, but quit to pursue his lucrative speaking career

This is notable on a number of levels. For one thing, this behavior on Giuliani's part--like so much about Giuliani--has been always been a matter of public record, and has been roundly ignored by the media.

The media would rather cover really substantive topics like Edward's hair and Obama's parking tickets. You would think this would be a bit of a big deal, but it isn't, because the media would rather stick to the benevolent demi-god narrative that they've been spinning out about Giuliani, despite all the facts against him, ever since he entered this race, and really ever since 9/11.

It's too much to hope that this will get wide-spread media attention now, but I imagine it'll come back to bite him should he make it into a general election.

It was a bad move politically for Giuliani to play hookie on the ISG in favor of raking in piles of dough for 'inspirational' speeches, but the real shame, as Steve Benen points out, is that Giuliani missed a golden opportunity to "learn what the hell he's talking about"

Just last week, asked about the future of the policy in Iraq, Giuliani said, “Iraq may get better; Iraq may get worse. We may be successful in Iraq; we may not be. I don’t know the answer to that. That’s in the hands of other people.” It came after we learned Giuliani is confused about the attack on USS Cole, he’s confused about the Fort Dix plot, he doesn’t know the difference between Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs, and he has no idea whether Iran and al Qaeda are Sunni or Shia. Asked recently for his thoughts on the efficacy of the president’s escalation strategy in Iraq, Giuliani said, “I don’t know the answer to that.”

Giuliani had a chance to become something of an expert on Iraq. In a presidential campaign, he could have had real experience to point to. Instead he gave vapid speeches for big bucks.

This is sort of a side issue, but Giuliani's friend Bernie Kerik, lately convicted of ethics violations and ordered to pay $200k, reportedly said that he "couldn't afford to be here" (in Iraq as police commissioner) because he was raking in money speaking about 9/11 for Giuliani's slush fund, pardon me, 'consulting firm.' Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book reports that Kerik did nothing as police commissioner other than give rosy, false reports about the state of the police force and wait to return to the states to continue cashing in on 9/11.

So when people like Giuliani and Kerik say that '9/11 changed everything' we know that they mean it, but we also know that the change they're referring to isn't a 'time to buckle down and really serve the country' sort of change; it's more like 'cash in quick before the magic wears off.' Actually, that could be the motto of Giuliani's presidential campaign.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Libby is a criminal, even without the gun and the mask

To those who are currently mourning I. Lewis Libby and the 'harshness' of his penalty, let's try and put this in some perspective:

If a criminal robs a gas station at gun-point, he is liable to be put in jail for several years; in some cases, decades. What are the consequences of a gas station robbery? Loss of money from the register, possible damage to property, and emotional distress or physical harm to the individual that was threatened.

Now, whoever it was that was really responsible for the leak of Valerie Plame's identity (which, without a doubt, was secret) was responsible for a number of negative consequences:

- Valerie Plame's career was negatively impacted: she had presumably wanted to do fieldwork, and now it is impossible for her to do any further.
- Other agents who were known to work with the covert Plame have also had their identities compromised. Any fake companies or organizations associated with Plame's false identity were taken out of commission.
- If it's the case, as I've heard, that Plame was working in anti-nuclear proliferation, whoever leaked her identity increased, however minutely, the chance that tens of thousands of people will at some future point be killed in a massive fireball.

Ah wait, you say, but it wasn't Libby that's leaked the identity, it was someone else. Why should Libby be punished for another's offense? Well, back to the gas station robber. Someone who lied to protect the robber might be less guilty than the robber himself, but he is undoubtedly guilty, and I should like to see those that are weeping over Libby's fate call for amnesty.

One of the principle arguments that I've heard is that Libby's being made an example of, and that he is actually "smart as a whip" and has rendered "years of exemplary public service."

Number one, I'll point out that many of the people who whine that Libby is being made an example of are the same people that support the death penalty and who hold one of their principle justifications to be 'deterrence.'

What galls me more than that hypocrisy is the sense I get that what people are really saying when they assert as a defense that Libby is smart as a whip and public servant is that who prison is for, really, is poor people and drugged up celebrities. But prison isn't simply a holding tank for the unwashed proletariat. The whole idea is that anyone who commits a serious enough crime goes there.

The reason things are considered crimes is because they hurt people. There are crimes that are committed with violence, like robberies and assaults, and then there are crimes that are committed without violence, like the Enron scandal and Lewis Libby's willful lies to try and keep himself and his friends out of the clutches of blind old Justice, who is so crass as to not even discriminate between 'criminals' and 'politicians.'

Sunday, June 03, 2007


Q: What does the Buddhist say to the hotdog vendor?

A: Make me one with everything.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Just one more Friedman!

Glenn Greenwald debunks the claim that September is going to be a turning point in Iraq. It's just one more Friedman unit..

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Yes! We Have No Bananas!

You know what makes this fifty times as funny? The banana which we eat today reproduces asexually, which means that it can't evolve except through genetic mutation, which means that it's susceptible to being wiped out. This actually happened back in the first half of the twentieth century: the type of banana that was eaten then was entirely wiped out by a disease. The problem even inspired a popular song 'Yes, we have no bananas!'

After the banana was wiped out, scientists and banana growers like Dole started freaking out: the banana is the most popular fruit in the world, and tremendously profitable for growers. Scientists frantically began searching for the new banana, breeding and cross-breeding to find one that would be similar enough to pass muster with the populace.

They finally hit on the current variety, the one that we now eat. But according to most sources, the bananas we eat now aren't nearly as tasty as the ones wiped out by the plague all those years ago.

And now scientists and agronomists are again worried that our banana could be in danger. New bacteria threaten banana crops; whole fields are abandoned and destroyed to thwart the bacteria. But chances are that sooner or later, the banana that we now eat will be extinct (the species will not be extinct; types of bananas are like breeds of dogs).

So scientists are once again frantically breeding and crossbreeding to produce a banana that tastes and looks similar to the ones we eat now. There are more than 200 varieties to mix and match, but so far as I know they haven't had much luck yet. And today scientists are using the full modern tools of genetic analysis and modification. So Kirk Cameron and his friend are right. The bananas that we eat have an intelligent designer: us.

Heh heh. You'd think that if this guy was really serious about using the common banana to make an argument for creationism, he would have done this research!

(By the way, this is all based on an article in Discover magazine that I read, and on obsessive further reading on the subject)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Let's forget about Edward hair

It really bothers me that our media has decided that Edwards can be dismissed as too 'feminine'--i.e., gay.

Ann Coulter impoliticly said flat out what the gist of the Republican message is when it comes to Edwards, "Fag." Of course there was a lot of sound and fury at the time, but I think that the focus of Edwards coverage of late shows that conservatives and their myriad allies didn't really disapprove of those comments; at least they didn't care about them enough to stop propagating the 'Edwards is a flamer' line.

Bush decisively demonstrates that masculinity isn't a useful criteria for Presidential effectiveness. Nothing beats flying a fighter jet onto an aircraft carrier when it comes to establishing he-man-warrior credentials. It's that same sort of fantasy of strength and virility, coupled with a desire to avoid 'humiliation' or signs of 'weakness' that's led to the erosion of civil liberties, mass death in Iraq, etcetera.

New 'strong leader' types are what are being advanced by the GOP in the primaries now. They've advanced yet another actor, Fred Thompson this time. Thompson joined the cast of Law and Order while he was still in the Senate. He's is extraordinarily good at portraying authority. In fact he's made his career playing authoritarians on television and in movies. And above all what conservatives want is someone who can play that role convincingly. They want their leaders to project aggressive power because the power reflects back on them. It makes them feel powerful.

Giuliani is another competitor in the casting call for Daddy-in-Chief. He stood up to the terrorists, and of course we've all heard that story. It's tremendously appealing. But people seem to forget how unpopular Giuliani was just before the 9/11 attacks. His family problems are clearly at odds with the moral authority being assigned to him and there is actual video of Giuliani performing in the drag and being kissed on the fake breast by Donald Trump. Now, I don't think that's problematic (although it's hardly dignified), but if conservatives were being honest with themselves, they would give it at least the same amount of coverage that Edwards' supposed visit to the 'Pink Sapphire' is currently garnering.

Giuliani is in favor of gay rights (he lived with a gay couple for some time) and abortion rights, and yet he's still the front-runner in all the polls. The reason that this is all excused in Giuliani where it wouldn't be excused in someone else is that conservatives think maybe Giuliani has the strongest narrative; maybe he can play that authority figure better than the others. As long as Giuliani can win, and as long as he pledges some allegiance to the tribe, then that's all fine. But there's good reason to think that Giuliani is willing to say and do whatever is convenient to gain power. And that once he gains it he relishes its use.

Of course I'm not saying that Democrats don't pander or pursue emotional, irrational politics (witness the Terry Schiavo debacle), but at this point I think it's clear that government power needs to be taken away from the people who have been playing at government like some kind of swords and sorcery RPG.

When it's real swords (and guns and bombs), it is also real blood and real suffering. That's something that the GOP never really understood and even now they'd like to continue their fantasy of actions without consequences (the most recent consequence the 170 men, women and children who just today were blown away). They can continue to promise 'victory' while casting themselves in the part of the misunderstood visionaries (just like Winston Churchill, another popular conservative storyline).

So I don't care about Edward's hair, or Obama's parking tickets, or Hillary's 'frigidness' or any of these other irrelevancies. In the last two elections the mainstream media has done us a disservice by focusing on Republican lines of attack. With Gore it was the invention of the Internet and a kiss with Tipper that was a little too long. With Kerry it was 'he speaks French' and windsurfing. But none of that stuff matters and people are catching on that they've been duped. And their angry, they are really annoyed. Even here in the middle of Kansas, where I live, the overwhelming feeling is anger at Bush and his band of his incompetents.