September 29, 2004

Confusion Has Its Cost

Armed Liberal has proposed a team concept derived from organization theory that he feels ought to guide our allegiances during and after the 2004 election. I suppose I partly agree. In the sense that all of us are governed by the same civil authority (not running stoplights, paying taxes, etc.) I suppose it's fair to say that Kos, myself, Armed Liberal and Noam Chomsky are all "on the same team." Except, of course, for Chomsky who happens to live in Boston where about the most you can expect of a motorist at a stoplight is a "courtesy slowdown." But I'm a little skeptical about just how far this team membership thing can be pushed. What about members of the "German/American Bund?" Were they on our team? And how much allegiance does one owe to a "team," anyway? What does that have to do with patriotism and love of country, really? Do people die for team spirit? More importantly, do they order others to their deaths?

Come to think of it the team analogy doesn't quite capture the idea of a "nation," or the allegiances required to maintain it. I think it's valid to point out that being an "American" isn't a matter of paying taxes or stopping for red lights any more than being French or German or English is a matter of similar authority-related observances. In that sense being on any team will do. And the mere fact that a Frenchman answers to a French authority is tautological, providing no insight into the phenomenon of patriotism. What is it that commands his willing allegiance? Surely it has something to do with being French, or in other words identifying with a common ethnic identity and culture?

So what is it that binds Americans to one another? What is it that makes the Unum out of the Pluribus? What is it that makes us American, even if our family happens to come from France, or Russia, or Lebanon, or Surinam?" More to the point (and this goes right to the heart of where Marc and I largely disagree) why is there a concept such as "un-American," when there's no comparable ethnically-based concept for other "teams." Why is there no such thing as "un-French," or "un-English?" Clearly whatever it is that binds Americans is ultimately not the same as what binds Frenchmen or even Englishmen to one another. Something else is going on here, that transcends the notion of teams. In fact, it transcends the notion of nationality.

What constitutes that common bond between Americans is not a common ethnic identity, but a common set of beliefs or (in a deeper sense) values. It's a "values complex," in fact. Something akin to an ideology. And this values complex has been remarkably consistent, achieving definitive expression during the three most important foundational events in our history: the settlement, the revolution, and the civil war.

The fact that we are bound by common values rather than a common ethnic heritage is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because anyone can become an American, no matter what ethnicity they happen to have been born with. We "assimilate." But it's a curse in the sense that if that common values complex ever begins to unravel, and we become defined merely by virtue of the authority to whom we happen to pay taxes or who keeps us from running red lights, there's no fallback position to preserve nationhood. There's no American nationality.

And that's why there's such a thing as "being un-American," because being American is not something you can see in the mirror if it happens to slip your mind. To be un-American you have to be American in the first place, while being, at the same time, a values traitor. A Frenchman or an Englishman can't be "un-American," because they never bought into the defining values complex in the first place. Mind you, they may ascribe to the same set of values as do Americans, but it's not their identity. Nor can they be un-French or un-English, even if they happen to be a traitor to France or England, because the condition that the word defines implies taking some active part in the destruction of that set of founding values. And you simply can't violate "Frenchness," in that way. Except, possibly, by expressing admiration for George W. Bush apparently. And even that's probably just regarded as an eccentricity.

But even though Americans are bound by a set of common values, we don't all interpret those values in exactly the same way. Nonetheless there appears to be something pretty close to an absolute range of interpretation that's acceptable as "American," and if you fall outside that range you're probably American in name only. Anyway, there's a good deal of empirical evidence, compiled by Lipset and Ladd for instance, suggesting that the three core American values are: anti-statism, egalitarianism (as equality of opportunity, but not outcome), and religious sectarianism (or the freedom to walk into, and back out of, any religious commitment you like).

Now, in a sense both Moore and Chomsky ascribe to these values (as does Kos, I imagine). Both believe in individual sovereignty, equality and religious choice free from state coercion. But they also believe in values that are both theoretically and practically inconsistent with those founding values, including equality of outcome, and are willing to countenance coercion by the state simply to achieve income and status equivalence. So, because they hold conflicting values they embody a certain tension that, at some point, will demand a choice. And I have no problem with the idea of some ongoing tension between values that are never completely resolved, because there's a natural tension between governance and individual sovereignty, for instance. But when that tension is broken by an allegiance that threatens the coherence of the entire complex, as it has in the case of Chomsky and Moore, causing them (and the people they influence) to act directly against the nexus of values that defines us as a people, they become values traitors. Yes, they're on our team... but they're scoring for the enemy.

But the intent behind Armed Liberal's rather long piece is really the peaceful and effective post-election cooperation between contesting factions. And that is maintained by two dynamics rather than one. The first involves the commonly held set of foundational values we've been discussing: anti-statism, egalitarianism, and sectarianism. The second involves the formation of "cross-cutting alliances" between people and groups based on the practical application of those values. And only where the latter fails does the former sometimes require more than debate and logic.

So, let's take a look at a period in American history where there was broad tension between American and un-American values: the period of the Civil War. Here was a direct confrontation between values related to ethnic identity, and the market freedom to treat other humans on the wrong side of that ethnic divide as chattel (cattle) and egalitarianism. And let's look specifically at that point in the war over those values, that literally defined the transformation from an "American Experiment," to the "American Principle." The formal acknowledgment of that transformation is contained in the Gettysburg Address, but I submit that the practical transformation took place during the election of 1864 that sealed the resolve of Americans not to tolerate a slave-holding culture either within its borders or in close proximity.

The election of 1864 bears a great many similarities to the election of 2004. Although Lee had been defeated at Gettysburg the war had entered an attrition phase, and Lee's strategy, not unlike Al Qaeda's, was to simply outlast the North's will to fight. The Democrats, who had managed to enlist a famous general as a candidate, touting his military bonafides against the less impressive military resume of Lincoln, were engaged in an "end around" that presumed form would trump function. The peace wing of the Democratic Party acquired the term "Copperheads." The term refers both to the attributes of a poisonous snake and to the value that these first anti-war activists placed on the lives and treasure being "wasted" in the Union cause. They were a "penny-wise" bunch of fellows, and proud of it. So when the Whigs derisively called them Copperheads they accepted the term as a compliment.

At the time, significant "mistakes" had been made by the Army of the Potomac under US Grant, mistakes that lead to a crescendo of casualties ultimately attributed to Lincoln's poor leadership. The pattern of battle leading up to The Wilderness Campaign had been for the North's generals to engage Lee and then seek respite in Union territory until setting out for the next engagement. But after the hell of The Wilderness Grant turned south in an attempt to "steal a march" on Lee. Lee managed to ward off each flanking maneuver resulting in a series of extraordinarily ugly and costly battles and a long and equally costly siege. The population of the North grew weary of the whole thing, and the "peace at any cost" wing of the Democratic Party became ascendant.

General George McClellan, the Democratic candidate, was not a Copperhead, although many people assume he was. The anti-war "Copperheads" had acquiesced to his nomination out of desperation, and an all-consuming desire to replace Lincoln, who they frequently mocked as having simian qualities. And with his military credentials McClellan was seen as one of the few men with any chance of defeating Lincoln during wartime. But although McClellan had invented the saddle that was to be used by the US Cavalry until the 20th Century, he was an indecisive leader who had been relieved of command by Lincoln for refusing to take the risk of losing men in an outright conflict with Lee. Although a military man of some personal courage he lacked that moral clarity that could have expected men to go to their deaths for a cause beyond their own survival. And there was little reason to believe that, in spite of what he claimed, he'd have been willing to carry out a war of attrition with increasingly savage casualties on both sides. In all likelihood this was the very reason the Copperheads found him an attractive candidate.

After The Wilderness the two armies met at Spotsylvania, where one of the bloodiest engagements in the Western Hemisphere took place: a "funnel of death" called The Bloody Angle. Between late May and early September of 1864 almost nothing took place to deflate the chances of a McClellan victory at the polls. In fact, at one point the Confederates under Early advanced almost to Washington before being turned back. The Copperheads were jubilant. For all practical purposes Lee's strategy was working, and with the election barely a month away it appeared that there was a decent chance that the Union would either split for good, or that the South would obtain some sort of compromise that allowed it to preserve the institutions of slavery for a time. Although the spirit of the American Principle had been expressed at Gettysburg, it was in considerable doubt until Sherman's victory at Atlanta in September.

It's hard to say what might have happened had Sherman not won the Battle of Atlanta, for the moral clarity of the North had begun to wane. There was, of course, almost no chance of a Southern military victory, but there was a significant chance of a "lapse of concentration and focus" on the part of the North, perhaps yielding a reprieve for slavery and splitting the continent between a southern, tropical, slave-dependent society and a northern industrial society, right into the 20th Century.

So what's the point of recounting this distant mirror? We seek clarity about our team allegiances should John Kerry be elected, and one might almost see him as the reincarnation of George McClellan. There's not much reason to believe McClellan would have commanded a unifying team spirit had he been elected, and every reason to believe that the US would have entered World War I a half-century later as two separate "teams," possibly even on different sides of the conflict. Although there were soldiers from the South fighting on the Fields of Flanders there was also a significant movement in the South that pledged allegiance only to the "stars and bars," and routinely desecrated the "stars and stripes." The question to ask is not what compromises are required to hold this values-defined nation together, but what sort of moral clarity is necessary to keep it safe in extremis, when it isn't so much the physical safety that's at stake, but the values-nexus itself.

Make no mistake, Jefferson Davis was not on "our team." He was a traitor. Even though he had served at one time in the US Congress and as Secretary of War he chose to give his allegiance to a set of un-American values defined by ethnic superiority.

And bear in mind, as well, that at one point in our history some Americans found it absolutely necessary to impose those founding values on other Americans not only "at the point of a gun," but after having killed a hundred thousand or so "Americans" of lesser ideals and allegiance. If there's a consensus in America it can't be unambiguously ascribed to reason alone, or to the maintenance of a "team spirit." And should we forget the price we paid to arrive at that values-consensus it is possible to lose it. There are Americans who have short-sightedly excused totalitarianism in much the way that Americans once excused chattel slavery. And had those un-American arguments won the day a century-and-a-half ago it's hard to imagine what sort of world we'd now be living in. But odds are, it wouldn't be a better world.

Confusion has a cost.

Posted by Demosophist at 02:43 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 26, 2004

Is the Ummah Really As Angry As It Seems?

One of those who intermittently posts comments on this blog, and is at least a reasonable apologist for the Islamist position (you know who you are), argues that many who see themselves as Islamist, or even those who tend to see Sayyid Qutb is some sort of saint, are horrified by Zarqawi's beheadings and other acts of violence against Westerners recently (in Beslan, for instance). I'm inclined to ask, if this is the case why is the practice so apparently widespread? And why does one not see that same kind of extreme response from many other quarters in the "Third World," who no doubt have been similarly "provoked?" Why is it almost exclusively a Muslim response?

But I fear that if I did ask that question, the answer would simply point to the US as the culprit, because our actions apparently beg such immoral extremes. In other words, the standard Islamist view is that although such acts are immoral and corrupt, the corrupting influence is the Great Infidel, and not some failing within the Ummah itself. It's a rather exotic approach, but altogether human. My Islamist contributor suggests that if the US pulled out of the Middle East the Islamists would take additional measures to quell the actions of Al Qaeda, resolving the problem "from within," as it were. But I'm skeptical.

A survey I saw recently indicated that something like two-thirds of all Arabs in Jordan and Morocco (both considered moderate Arab states) think it's OK to suicide bomb Americans and Westerners in Iraq. (Hat tip: Rusty) That suggests that my Islamist commenter is overstating the opposition to Al Qaeda, but polls in the Arab world are notoriously inscrutable. If Zarqawi is really turning these folks off, then this "vanguard's" strategy may be backfiring rather badly. But is it? The anecdotal experiences of Michael J. Totten recently in Tunisia suggest something far more complex may be going on... something churning up the deeper waters in the Arab psyche. As a practical matter what would we need to do to build alliances with Islamists and Liberals in this fight? it's an intriguing question.

As I said, I'm not sure what polls in the Arab countries mean. There's a long history of misinterpreting polls due to an inability to account for the cultural context in which the poll is administered. For instance the Japanese just don't like to "rock the boat," so if you ask them a question about whether they're opposed to a policy you're unlikely to get very many "extremely opposed" responses. That doesn't necessarily mean that Japanese always have moderate views on these topics. They just don't express those views in a straightforward way, for cultural reasons. What really lies behind that cultural mask?

The Muslim Ummah has a thousand-year tradition of expressing contempt for infidels, which permeates their literature from academic tomes to popular entertainment, and it's even found in their personal correspondence. In this context what do "hate America" statements really mean? The status quo? The standard term for the "West," for instance, isn't morally neutral. They refer to the West as "The House of War." What sort of cultural constraints impose themselves to prevent Muslims from expressions of approval for "The House of War," I wonder? What sort of benchmark expresses genuine neutrality that would enable us to accurately interpret the extremes?

Another issue that confounds interpretation of values and intent concerns the role that America plays in deflecting discontent that Arabs have toward autocrats in the Middle East, who govern their lives with an iron hand. The US and Israel are the acceptable scapegoats, but just how aware are most Arabs of this switcheroo? In "hate America" statements are they expressing a generic discontent that can't be expressed openly toward their government, so uses America as a proxy? Black slaves in the antebellum South found a great many creative ways to "code" their discontent with the institutions of slavery that were difficult, if not impossible, for an outsider to interpret correctly, Many of these idioms found their way into the apparently innocuous language of the "Negro Spiritual." Again, how are we to peer behind the mask, especially for oppressed peoples whoes expressions are likely to be coded?

Instead of looking at the polls suggesting the radicalization of Islam against America the metric I'd be looking at very carefully, rather than "hate America" statements, is how optimistic Arabs are about their own future, and whether the rise and fall of that optimism is correlated with clear American policy initiatives and changes in direction. If Arab confidence in the future goes up when Americans act against fascists and authoritarians then I'd say that at least part of the "hate America" numbers are sort of a cultural inside joke, and should not be taken at face value. It would be hugely amusing to find that this were the case, though it's probably overly optimistic to put too much stock in it at the moment. Anyway, what one would need to test this theory is a time series with a number of data points that correspond to clear US policy shifts. Hmmm....

Posted by Demosophist at 01:23 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 24, 2004

Reaching for a Key in the Vasty Dark

As dusk began to settle, and the atmosphere grew gauzy and translucent I decided to relieve my sense of isolation and career frustration by going for a walk along the creek. I pulled on a pair of running shorts prior to leaving on my walk, and had strapped on a 9mm IWB (inside the waistband) holster with a length of nylon webbing. My theory is that carrying a weapon is a sort of public service, realizing full well the probability that I'll ever use the device "in the gravest extreme" is practically nonexistent. What was it Churchill said? Oh yes: "A man rarely needs a pistol, but when he needs it, he needs it very badly." It occurred to me some time after the 9-11 attack that depending on the other guy to carry a defensive weapon was just irresponsible. Prior to the heroism displayed on that day, by passengers of a plane destined to crash in rural Pennsylvania, I had been staunchly anti-gun. So anyway I had this gat, and was heading out into the glowering gloom...

I had tucked my concealed carry permit inside the nylon belt along with my apartment keys, as I locked my apartment. I walked on the path past the volleyball court, which floods every time there's a major thunderstorm, to reach the bank and turned left to follow a winding and wet path barely discernable in the twilight. Still, it was a very nice evening and my thoughts wandered. There's a place where I often cross the creek to run on the Marine base, and I decided to see if it were still possible to cross the creek in this place by stepping on a series of stones. I saw that I could probably get across, but that I'd have to climb the opposite bank in the dark, so instead of crossing I turned around and headed back up the bank. At first I thought about passing a huge old tree by circling it on the right, but after a false start up the bank on that side decided it was too steep and went around on the left side of the tree circling it counter-clockwise from 6 o'clock to 12.

I continued past the picnic tables by the side of the creek, and when I reached another standard crossing place got about nine-tenths of the way across the lazy water before deciding, again, that the opposite bank was probably too steep and mysterious to chance in the dark. By this time I had arrived at the driveway that encircled my apartment complex and simply followed the road, and then the sidewalk, back to my apartment building. When I arrived at my door I reached down to retrieve my keys, and discovered that they were no longer tucked under my belt. Somewhere in that acre or so of ground that I had covered during my walk, now engulfed in darkness, I had dropped my keys. I was locked out.

Well, I figured there was still some small amount of light, and decided to retrace my steps just to see if I could chance upon my lost keys. My alternative was to accost one of my unknown neighbors, borrow their phone, and call property management to let me into my apartment... a prospect I did not relish. For one thing, I didn't really know what number to call since property management wasn't "on campus" after 6:00PM and I had not memorized the number. Add to that the fact that I wasn't feeling too friendly toward my neighbors after their Saturday night partying had kept me awake the previous night. I started having visions of sleeping on a park bench waiting for the dawn.

But I slowly retraced my steps, and though I could barely see the ground I scraped it hopefully with a small stick I had found. I figured that if I struck the key chain I'd hear a jingle and be able to recover the keys by sound. After covering about half the route I decided that it'd be really fortunate to find the keys on the paved road that was the last part of my circuit, so jumped ahead to check out that section first. It was a sort of "look where the light is brightest" approach, but it seemed to make sense because I hadn't yet checked that section, and if that's where the keys were they'd be relatively easy to find. I could see the roadway and sidewalk fairly well, but alas there was no sign of my keys. I walked all the way back to my apartment before turning back to investigate darker and wilder sections of my evening walk.

After that I investigated the section of my route where I had gone nine-tenths of the way across the creek, looking carefully at the ground and gently probing with my improvised blind-man's cane I finally worked my way back to the place where I usually cross the creek for my run. I crabbed down to the right of the big tree protruding from the bank. I checked the edge of the creek, and again probed in the shallows, but there was nothing. It occurred to me that the chances of finding my lost keys in the dark, which could have fallen in the grass and sandy soil, or even in the creek itself, anywhere over an acre or so of territory, would constitute something of a miracle. I began to resign myself to knocking on my neighbor's door to borrow their phone to call a number I didn't know so that a property manager could let me in to my darkened apartment. That was my most optimistic thought.

But just before heading home I decided to check by the huge tree, and I recalled that the first time I had really stretched my torso was at the place where I had attempted to go around the tree to the right and had encountered an unexpectedly steep bank. I thought, somehow, that this was probably the spot on my route that had the highest probability of being the place where I had worked the keys out from under my belly band. I looked carefully over the ground, but saw absolutely nothing except shadows and the same ground cover I had seen dimly through the gloom everywhere else that night. Nonetheless I bent over and groped toward the sandy ground just inside a shadow that extended to the right of my foot, and the first thing my hand encountered was my key chain!

So, instead of waiting for hours outside my door for a property manager to show up and let me in, I'm typing this post, and thinking about what sort of "sign" this whole lost-key episode really represents. I never saw my keys during my search. Not once. I never heard them either. I found them solely by touch, and did so the first and only time I reached down to touch the ground. My thought processes played an important part, no doubt, in recognizing that spot as a likely place, but it occurs to me that the part played by grace may have been larger than the part played by intellect. I'm not sure why I think that, but I reached down once and only once that evening. And the first and only thing I touched, the only thing I touched with my hands that evening besides my makeshift cane, was my key chain.

It reminds me, in a vague but meaningful way, of the story of my uncle's dog Tige who became separated from my uncle when they returned to New York City after years flying fighter missions in the skies over Italy and Germany during WWII. Tige had sat next to my uncle through hundreds of dangerous combat hours, and after the separation in New York the dog (although it's not clear that he was only a dog) managed to find his way back to my uncle trotting over a thousand miles of roads in the 1940s to my uncle's new residence in Texas. There is simply no rational explanation for the story of that reunion whatsoever, at least not one that doesn't admit some rather exotic animal perceptions that one might as well call miracles. (What else would you call them?) My hand unexpectedly touching that key chain in the vast darkness of this night seems to distantly reflect my uncle's experience of grace as he saw his war time Labrador Retriever companion again, after having lost him forever in the canyons of The Greatest City.

I just don't quite know how to register the situation, but conceive it as a minor miracle that, in its turn, verifies and legitimates larger miracles of war and comradeship in my family. How many stories, over how many generations? My uncle died just last year, largely recognized as a military hero and dog lover, immortalized along with his pooch in a chapter of Ernie Pyle's Brave Men. I feel that whatever touched my uncle on that day in 1946 reached out and touched me tonight, and retelling the story doesn't half do it justice. I've done my best.

Posted by Demosophist at 11:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 23, 2004

A Practical Anti-Abduction Strategy?

I've been entertaining a fantasy about these abductions that isn't very practical, but it did suggest something to me that just might have some utility. I'm dealing with some depression, so I've chosen not to view the videos of these beheadings... but just the description is enough to enrage me. Hell, I've actually considered meditating in an effort to see if I can cultivate some sort of remote vision, to get a clue as to where these guys might be and what they're doing. Silly I know, but the fantasy led me in what could be a more fruitful direction:

It occurred to me that a strategy involving some rather exotic technology might work, but since I'm not an engineer I don't know whether it's feasible. Surely some version of it must be, though. Basically the idea involves the development of some sort of identity chip with a transmitter on low and high frequencies (perhaps that can be satellite tracked?), but undetectable to a scanning device that might be available to the terrorists. (Low and high frequencies in order to deal with different kinds of material barriers that might interfere with a signal.) Make the unit as inexpensive as possible so that you can produce them in the thousands, capable of being implanted somewhere under the skin of contractors assigned to Iraq (on a purely voluntary basis as a security measure), along with enough battery capacity to transmit for several days once activated. Figure out a way that the user can activate it, say by a sharp blow to a certain part of the anatomy.

With a number of these things around we'll eventually get lucky and someone with a device will be kidnapped... and once that happens we'll have the phuquers. Better and more practical than remote vision, I think.

Posted by Demosophist at 07:45 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

The Implementation of the Islamicist Prescription for "Western Moral Decadence?"

Images of Horror (via Drudge):

Hostage throat-slitting videos rub shoulders with pornography in the stalls of central Baghdad's infamous "thieves market", as Islamic radicals immortalise [sic] their acts of terror in grisly films like Monday's beheading of a US national....

Paul Berman, in Terror and Liberalism, talks about the love affair with mass death that is the "consolation prize" of the paranoid totalitarian movement, and nothing could exemplify the corruption of the soul that lies at the heart of such movements more than this. If this has anything to do with religion it's the religion of Satan and the appeal of Hell not Heaven. When are "Muslim Moderates" going to decide to become lions rather than sheep? Where is their sense of moral outrage at this blatant hijack of their faith by the "bastard father of lies?" The term "apostate" hardly does it justice.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:33 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 21, 2004

The Anti-War Left's Fantasy

Some profound thoughts from Peter Cuthbertson at The Edge of England's Sword. A sample:

The world as it now is necessitates foreign and domestic policy trade-offs - mostly involving killing people - that the Left flinches instinctively not only from making, but from recognising. The rational Left does not literally blame Bush himself for the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington DC, Bali, Madrid and now Beslan, but they have allowed George W. Bush to become in their minds the personification of the post-9/11 era. In that respect, all the large-scale violence that has occurred since January 2001 - terrorism and counter-terrorist wars alike - is to be blamed on his actions because he makes the world what it now is. This horror at the present and this false personification, more than anything particularly that he has done, explains so much of the grossly disproportionate bile directed at President Bush.
Posted by Demosophist at 12:26 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 20, 2004

Rathergate Is Like the Energizer Bunny

It just keeps going, and going, and going, and going... After tonight's dramatic but shallow apology from Rather and his softball interview with the supplier of the forged documents used in the recent 60 Minutes "BushGuard" episode, Bill Burkett, tomorrow's USA Today will run their own interview in which Burkett says that he told CBS that he would only supply the documents if they set up communication with the Kerry campaign. Did you get that? "With the Kerry campaign!" Meanwhile, in a completely unrelated story, a top Kerry aide, Joe Lockhart, is now the second person within the Kerry campaign to acknowledge that he talked with Burkett, (apparently about stuff completely unrelated to Burkett's obsessive/compulsive fixation on George Bush's National Guard record).

So the story has morphed. It's no longer about CBS, it's about what John Kerry knew and when he knew it. This, just as Kerry launches his umpteenth new attack on George Bush's Iraq policy, changing his position yet again, and just as al Qaeda saws off another American's head, and murders two Sunni clergymen in a vain attempt to get some press to help out the Kerry campaign's flagging "Iraq the Quagmire" thesis. They must be frustrated as a dog's behind at the way Americans manage election campaigns... But then they would be expected to have a hitch in their getalong when it comes to influencing a Democratic process, wouldn't they? I guess it just doesn't pay to be a murdering apostate bound-for-hell terrorist asshole any more, does it? What the heck's the world coming to?

Posted by Demosophist at 11:24 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Bush Exit from Iraq?

If this is true I'm withdrawing my support of George W. Bush. I'll choose either to vote for Kerry, either on the grounds that an upheaval is more likely to lead to something workable, or that Michael Totton's argument has some merit, or I'll simply go cycling on Nov. 2 instead of going to the polls. And I think conservatives need to make this stance abundantly clear to George W. We're sticking with you because you're sticking with the program. If it's true you intend to do something else, we'll do something else. Understand, George?

Of course, it's important to consider the source of this info.

Bob Novac is a well known isolationist, so he may well be reporting this in the hope of influencinng the dedicision in the direction of isolationism.

But make no mistake, if there's any truth to this I think Kerry's on the verge of a BIG COMEBACK! In fact, I wouldn't even consider looking at my watch to let George know what time it is.

Update: Both Josh Marshall and Roger Simon think it's deliberate disinformation.

Update 2: Glenn has a few more theories about the reasons for the disinformation. And Daily Kos apparently sniffs balloons. (Why is that so unsurprising?)

Posted by Demosophist at 03:24 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 18, 2004

Wishfully Thinking About the Polls (Updated)

This time it's Josh Marshall getting in synch with Ruy Teixeira. And the basic conjecture, is:

Gallup numbers are skewed because they include a substantially higher percentage of Republicans than have shown up to vote in the last several presidential elections.

Well, if we look at this carefully Teixeira is clearly not concerned about oversampling Republicans in the overall survey, because even a half-assed polling organization would take care to obtain roughly the same percentage of registered Republicans as there are in the population. (Although many states don't register party affiliation the proportion of registered voters who identify with a political party is usually known.) And even if they weren't able to do that they'd apply a weight when they conducted the analysis, to adjust for the oversample. What Ruy and Josh are talking about, I think, is the filter that's used to determine the likelihood of voting.

If the filter were more liberal for Republicans than it ought to be, the analysis would assume greater participation in the election by Republicans than will actually be the case. But that assumption, which allows Josh to be skeptical about the size of the Bush margin in the Gallup polls, is only justified if the assumption that Republicans will vote in this election in about the same proportion that they voted in 2000, is right. Well, why would it be?

Why would it be appropriate to assume Republicans will vote in the same proportions they were voting in the last handful of cycles? Republicans are far more likely to take the events of 9/11 seriously then are Democrats (although there are exceptions, like myself or Roger Simon, for instance). Indeed, one of the selling points of the people is that there really is no terrorist threat. Now one has to assume that Moveon Democrats aren't voting just because there's nothing to worry about. To them, the threat is George W. Bush. But the Moveon folks aren't the majority of Democrats. At least, not yet.

They aren't the majority voice in the Democratic Party, although they may have influenced that majority significantly. But it's still unlikely that the majority is as motivated as the activists. And George W. is a relatively likable guy so the hard sell that he's Bushitler probably doesn't go over that well. It's more likely that the majority of Democrats have been influenced more by a soft sell that Bush just doesn't have the goods. Well, have the goods for what... if there's no terrorist threat? The problem is that the Moveon message is conflicting, even for Democrats. And a conflicted and conflicting message, especially when coupled to a less than inspiring candidate, is simply not going to translate into overwhelming voter turnout.

Well, that's the conjecture. Add to that the fact that many Republicans are inspired by George Bush, and are also concerned about certain below-the-bible-belt issues, and it really doesn't seem far-fetched to assume that Republican turnout will be up in 2004. Am I wrong?

However, that's just my argument that Josh's and Ruy's explanation for the disparity between the Pew and the Gallup doesn't invalidate the results of the Gallup. My argument doesn't verify (or deny) that the reason for the gap lies in the "likely voter filter" in the first place. But I'm still very skeptical that it does. After all, the Pew poll shows the same gap for the 9/11-14 wave whether you're looking at registered or likely voters. And for the 9/8-10 wave the gap is larger for likely voters! If Pew's methodological assumption is that Republican turnout will be lower than Gallup predicts, wouldn't you expect the likely voter gap to be smaller than the registered voter gap? (Results for all the recent polls are at the Polling Report.)

So I'm stickin' with my earlier speculation (as yet unproved) that the culprit messing up the polls is some unexpected manifestation of the ecological falacy, as applied to an electorate that's in flux. It may or may not have to do with the estimates about who will be voting, but it's more likely that the shakeup involves voter preferences and behavior in general. Not only are our estimates of who will probably vote subject to error, but so are our estimates about the way certain demographic groups (by age, party affiliation, race, etc.) will actually vote. And I would argue that letting more Republicans through the filter is probably appropriate, because they are more likely to vote than in the past. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that the more seriously voters take the "terrorism issue" the more likely they are to vote in November, and the more likely they'll vote for Bush. In fact, that wisdom makes so much sense that you're probably undewhelmed by my brilliance.

Update: Having dispensed with the argument about the filter used to determine likely voters Ruy says the following about the Bush margin of 8% among registered voters. Frankly, it mystifies me a bit. I wish I had access to the internals to suss this stuff out, but anyhow he says:

But then there's this: the Gallup internals show Kerry with a 7 point lead among independent RVs. Huh? Kerry's losing by 8 points overall, yet leading among indenpedents by 7. How is that possible? Only if there are substantially more Republicans than Democrats in the sample.

That suggests that reweighting the sample to reflect the 2000 exit poll distribution (39D/35R/26I) would give a different result. It does: the race then becomes dead-even, instead of an 8 point Bush lead. (Note: Steve Soto of The Left Coaster got Gallup to give him their party ID distributions for this poll and confirms a 5 point Republican party ID advantage in their RV sample.)

Well, bear in mind that he's analyzing registered voters now, not likely voters. So why would he advise weighting the sample so as to conform to the proportions who voted in 2000 (exit polling) rather than the proportions who are registered now? Am I missing something?

And Ruy's analysis of the independents seems odd to me as well. The overall distribution isn't necessarily affected very much by the independent vote, unless there are a lot of independents. I don't really know how many independents there are in the distribution of registered voters, but if the marginals show, say, 20% then a 7% lead for Kerry means he has (ignoring the Nader vote for the moment) 53.5% of 20% while Bush has 46.5%. That works out to a difference in the overall vote (7% of 20%) of less than 2% of the vote! Even if we assume 26% are Independents (the 2000 exit poll proportion) that's still less than 3% of the vote. That's basically the margin of error, so how do you use a proportion amounting to the margin of error to make a point about the method used? I'll go out on a limb here, and say you can't.

But again, the biggest problem I have with his analysis is the logic behind using the 2000 voting proportions in order to analyze a sample of registered voters in 2004. That just seems, well, peculiar... and methodologically invalid... especially in view of the enormous changes that have happened in the political landscape since 9/11.

Posted by Demosophist at 06:48 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 17, 2004

Tornados Swarming

I live just south of Washington, DC, and there are tornados swarming all over the place like roaches. What a nuisance! Every few minutes there's a warning alarm and I head to the basement to sit for a quarter of an hour or so. This is but a pale reflection of what the folks in Florida, 'Bama, and Louisiana have been putting up with. I HATE tornados!

Posted by Demosophist at 06:39 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Blog Pimp Alliance

By virtue of the pimp name generatator suggested by Macktastic Rusty Wicked my pimp name is "Deacon Dr. D. Dazzle." I have no idea what that means, but I guess that's the point.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Crazy Polls and Melting Icebergs: The End of an Age?

I heard on Fox that the Harris and Pew polls have Kerry and Bush neck and neck, so I take a big gulp and then run across this post from Roger Simon which refers to this Drudge Headilne touting a Gallup poll that shows a Bush "blowout" of 14 points! So, what the heck is going on here? First Bush gets a convention bounce of 11 points, and then that disappears completely without any downward trend, while at the same time there's evidence of a blowout... Very strange.

Well, I have a couple of ideas. They're just theories, or more precisely educated hunches.

One of Roger's commenter, who discusses "weighting," is probably on the right track. Pollsters adjust for a non-random/non-normal sample by constructing what are called "weights." For instance, if you've sampled fewer black people than would be in a random/normal distribution you might count a particular black person's response as a little more than one response. You weight it, when you run your tables.

I worked on a cross-national poll awhile ago with Martin Lipset, and I wouldn't say that the polling firm we worked with (I won't mention the name) really had much of a proprietary weighting scheme. And they're probably more rigorous than Harris, and a bit less rigorous than Pew. They just used census data and "corrected" using a fairly pedestrian heuristic, but it's not a black art. And it's easy to get it wrong, or to inadvertently fail to get the clusters or strata you expect to get (let alone a random sample). Statistically the problem is related to the "ecological fallacy," because you're making assumptions, for instance, about the way black people will skew the results, and you don't really know the opinions of the mystery people you're adding in or subtracting, to "unskew" the sample, because you haven't asked them anything. You just assume those opinions would have been "like" those of the people you have sampled.

But when people aren't behaving the way you expect them to, those assumptions can be wrong. So I think here's what the volatility in the polls means. The assumptions that polling firms, as well as political scientists, sociologists, and all manner of conventional pundits are making about the electorate have been thrown out of whack by... guess who? Just take a guess. A wild one, with sprinkles on top?

There's a deeply intriguing social dynamic going on here that's very "new," and I wish I had the resources to suss it out. Any of you pollsters wanna hire me? I'm available. In fact, I'm fairly cheap for the moment. If I didn't know better though, I'd say that some conventionally Democratic-leaning demographics are "wising up," and fracturing in unfamiliar ways. And these new "crosscuts" in the social fabric are throwing the polling firms into a tizzy because they're running right through some of those "solid voting blocks" that they've assumed are still sitting in the cultural ocean like big icebergs. The bergs are melting. Like I said, it's just an educated hunch.

Update: Vodkapundit argues that the anomalies really have to do with the difference between a "snapshot" and a multiple image "motion picture" (i.e. a cross-section vs. a tracking poll). Al Hunt, on the other hand, thinks it's a matter of registered versus likely voters, and that "screens" used to identify likely voters by some firms tend to over-sample conservatives. Either or both of those conjectures could have merit, but neither really explains the wild fluctuations or the between-sample variance. At least they don't explain it completely. I still tend to think that what this electorate is manifesting is something "on the edge of chaos." There are a large number of voters whose historical and demographic voting preferences are being challenged by a build-up of cognitive dissonance, in the way that a heavy snowfall builds up the potential for an avalanche. And to some extent the snow pack has broken loose.

You could think of it as a series of avalanche "events," where there's a break followed by re-accumulation, followed by another break, etc.. So any snapshot would tend to show an incomplete picture of what's going on (Vodkapundit's thesis) while the imprecision of the "likely voter" filters and/or the demographic weight-adjustments are inaccurately measuring the masses that are moving. But overall I think the entire phenomenon, both the herky-jerky-edgy nature of the electorate and the imprecision about who is likely to vote and how, are some rather new phenomena driven in large part by this very medium: the blogosphere. I could be wrong. It's just a conjecture. (Hat tip: Rusty)

Posted by Demosophist at 02:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 16, 2004

The Real Issue

Comparisons of Iraq with the Vietnam War seem rampant now that the death toll for the US has exceeded 1,000. The bulk of deaths in Vietnam came in the years 1966 to 1971, and at the height of the war we were losing more than 500 men per month. So far we've only had one month with more than 100 dead in Iraq. Actually the casualty rates for the US in Iraq look more like the casualty rates for the US Allies in Vietnam. And there is simply no possibility that the casualty rate will ever reach that of Vietnam, because the insurgency isn't popular except in some localized areas. And we'd have no problem clearing those out, if it were up to us, and we weren't bound to a "zero defects" standard. The problem is that it's not up to us, and in spite of what the anti-war folks say, we aren't exclusively in charge.

But the comparison with Vietnam fails for reasons far more important than the comparative casualty rate.

It fails because the intention of making the comparison is to claim that Iraqi Freedom is doomed to failure, just like Vietnam. Except that Vietnam was not a military failure. Tet was an overwhelming defeat for the N. Vietnamese. It was the peace movement and the media that handed the victory to them, and had we been able to maintain funding for only a year or so longer Vietnamization would have taken over. We grew impatient, and succumbed to propaganda, born of wishful thinking.

The really big difference now, and the reason this Rathergate thing will be fought out tooth and nail, is that the folks who disinformed us on Vietnam no longer have exclusive control of the media game. They can no longer simply snatch defeat from the arms of victory. Rather will lose, and we'll be on to the next confrontation as the new media matures. The defeatists won't win this time, because they can't control the message.

That's what the Rather thing is all about. They attempted to turn a non-story into a story by completely misrepresenting the truth. And now they're claiming that the real story is about what's said on a short stack of fraudulent documents, as though you and I would be obliged to answer Michael Jackson's accusations that we raped his child after he produced "eyewitness testimony" that everyone knew was fraudulent. Yeah, the "real issue" is what, again?

The real issue is that CBS News is a lying and unprincipled ombudsman of truth. That's the real issue.

By the way, it appears that we may now know who produced the forgeries.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 15, 2004

Mind Control?

I don't get it. The current story is that this whole Bush Guard thing is just a strategy of the Bush Campaign to "distract attention from the real issues." It's "their whole strategy," says a not unattractive Kerry advisor with an earnest demeanor. How does that work, exactly? Remote control?

Either the Kerry Campaign itself, or one of its surrogates, produces fraudulent documents upon which CBS bases an "I'll save yah, John!" rescue episode of 60 Minutes II. Not surprisingly they get caught with their pants down, and it's the fault of the folks they attempted to unfairly defame? And this pre-teen "the devil made us do it" logic is supposed to exhibit sensitivity to, or respect for, voters? What are they running for, class president?

(Sincere apologies to any pre-teens reading this. I know you're not really that silly.)

Meanwhile the much-awaited noon announcement from CBS about which way they're gonna fall seems to have been postponed.

Posted by Demosophist at 03:12 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Where They Stand on the Road They Walk

I guess my new word for the month is "gobsmacked," because that's the term that seems to capture my overall sense of shock at the course being charted by the Democratic Party and its lackey, CBS News in this election. And a similar reaction must lie behind what Gerard Vanderleun expresses through clenched teeth concerning John Roberts' statement that the "first lady offered no proof" of her wild-eyed assertion that the memos used to indict her husband on 60 Minutes last week "were probably forged:"

Evidence, Mr. Roberts? As we used to say in an online conference, 'Yer soakin' in it."

If there was any doubt in anyone's mind about the depths to which Rather and his news organization are willing to sink, this little squib from Roberts should close the deal.

But apparently it won't. And they seem to have commited their souls to the spirit of sleaze as they promote Kitty Kelley's and Seymour Hersch's unsubstanciated accusations in a bid to find someone with less moral substance than Dan Rather. What is it that turns a human into a wraith?

Posted by Demosophist at 02:24 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 14, 2004

Peanut Butter

Honest to God, I can't recall what this post from Captain Ed is about, but the comments are REALLY COOL!

Posted by Demosophist at 07:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 13, 2004

Typography, Democracy and Fear of Falling

There's a world of difference between calligraphy and typography, and though the latter is critical to determining the authenticity of the "Bush/Guard Documents," in a much deeper sense the difference between the two is symbolic of the struggle between the new and the old media. This has all been fascinating to me, in part because as a young'un I studied calligraphy in art school. Even after I learned the discipline I never got within striking distance of my instructor's elegant flow and artistry, but I was fascinated with the process of making letters with ink and brush. It's a kind of soothing magic. In Margaret Dehn's class at the Pacific Northwest College of Art I acquired an appreciation for what must have distinguished the scribe's profession from all others for most of human history. And I came to understand how profoundly the typographical revolution that ended their dominance changed the world. They must have resisted tooth and nail.

Calligraphers are artists, as any perusal of monastic text from the Middle Ages, or even a Roman inscription, will show. And as long as it remained art, books remained luxuries, and the knowledge therein the property of traditional elites or their designated lackeys. But typography crystallized and standardized the artistic and variable nature of calligraphy into a craft, and a new "occupational community" was born. That community not only made the treasures of knowledge more broadly available, but also expanded and institutionalized the culture of the scribes, leading to the birth of the trade union.

Perhaps one of the best books ever written on either trade unionism or democracy is Seymour Martin Lipset's: Union Democracy: The Internal Politics of the International Typographical Union which was coauthored by the great James Coleman, and Martin Trow. It's a study that exposes the strengths as well as the weaknesses of trade unionism, and the unique role of the occupational community of the printing craft in the atypical development of a democratic union. (Most unions are autocracies or oligarchies, so the ITU was an "outlier," or an exception to Michel's "Iron Law of Oligarchy.") Lipset's book tells us a great deal about the social conditions required for democracy to flourish, and those lessons are not irrelevant to our attempt to expand the franchise into the Islamic World. The primary reason why democracy succeeded in the typographical union, where it had failed in nearly all other unions, was the status security enjoyed by the losers of the political contest for internal power. In a sense this is a blueprint for what must happen in Iraq. [Emphasis added.]

Whereas ex-officials in the ranks of most unions are potential sources of division and a threat to the normal workings of one-party government, in the ITU the ambitions of leaders in the ranks and their quarrels with successors in office are harnessed to an institutionalized two-party system and are hedged around with norms and rules which make competitiveness and striving elements in a democratic political process.

The return of union officers (defeated in elections) to the shop has, as we have noted, many functions for internal democracy, not least of which is the creation and maintenance of an informed body of men in the shops who are able and qualified to comment critically on the behavior of the union administration. The existence of such a body of men in the shops is of great importance to the maintenance of the union's political system; in addition, the fact that they can continue to play this leadership role, both in and outside the shops, reduces their stake in union office and greatly increases their freedom to oppose the incumbent administration. (Lipset, et al: 236)

So, the leaders have not so far to rise, nor so far to fall, that their sense of risk makes irresistible the corruption and power hoarding that inevitably lead to oligarchy or autocracy. Even in failure they remain a valuable social and political resource. But that quavering one hears in Dan Rather's voice as he presents his distorted and one-sided case to the viewers concerning his 60 Minutes stumble tells you just how much he despises and fears even the thought of failure, and how far he thinks he could fall. It is unlovely.

It's sad that the ITU was destroyed by the very medium we're discussing at the moment. They never recovered from the invention of Desktop Publishing, but in some sense the spirit of the ITU became embedded in the internet, and now in the blogosphere. In this medium there's simply no way for the "elites" to get so far ahead of the "masses" that we aren't always within reach of, or a resource for, one another. This contrasts significantly with the behavior of CBS, which bears a stronger resemblance to behavior of oligarchs than democrats (small "d").

I just watched CBS News with Dan Rather, and incredibly they've decided to hold tough on their claim that the documents are genuine. As you might imagine they provided none of the testimony or expertise supporting the opposition claim that the documents could not have been authentic, and instead focused the entire report on arguments so transparently inadequate that it's hard to imagine even they found them convincing. In MS Word it is possible for me to type a lowercase letter "el" for a numeral "one," and it's not impossible to type a "th" after a number without automatically transforming into a half-height superscript. Only someone stupefied by fear could possibly make such an argument with a straight face. By omitting literally dozens of the opposition's rather substantial arguments CBS managed to amplify the impression of profound bias and incompetence, rather than diminish it. In fact, it's hard to believe they could actually be as incompetent as they seem.

Update: Gerard sees a pattern at CBS.

Posted by Demosophist at 07:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 11, 2004

I No Longer Understand Democrats

I just listened to Juan Williams attempt to make a case that the 60 Minutes documents might be legit, and that anywho the real issue has to do with Bush's actions (the "substance" of the memos). Isn't that a little like saying the real issue is whether a dog can quack, or a duck can bark? I don't get it. All this time I thought the evidence of the substance was important, but I guess not. Where'd we get the idea that Bush disobeyed a direct order, if not from that memo? So, what "substance" does the allegation have, beyond the memo? None, right?

Which means the authenticity of the memo is pretty important.

I worked for a period of time in the printing industry in the early 1980s, went to art school to study calligraphy with Margaret Dehn (who was the official White House calligrapher chosen to do formal invitations and the like). I also spent a lot of time phutzing around with various early computer fonts and spacings in an attempt to duplicate proportional fonts used in the printing industry. It's just enormously difficult to get those fonts to synch up. Unless Microsoft deliberately modelled its default font and spacing to correspond to a 1970s IBM Selectric, the odds of getting things to match up are approximately the same as the odds of getting a Ford Fairlane carburetor to work in a Ford Taurus without modification. I admit it's theoretically possible that MS made that design decision, except that they didn't.

Look Juan, and the rest of the Democrats sinking into this bog of unknowing, those documents were forged. Not just because of the wildly improbable formatting on a typed document of that era, but because the officer spoken of in the "sugar-coating" reference (Staudt) was no longer in the Guard at the time the memo was supposedly written, and the date that Bush was supposedly ordered to take his physical by Killian was weeks or months before the allowed time limit elapsed, according to a Guardsman who served with Bush. And that's just for starters.

I've been a Democrat since I was 20 years old, but for the first time I think I'm going to change my registration. Look, fellow Dems, the way to respond to this is to acknowledge that the items were faked and that Dan Rather attempted to do a political hatchet job on George Bush, and probably ought to be put out to pasture for it. I mean, it's not as though the guy hasn't had a pretty good run. But the hatchet job ends up not being on George Bush, but on CBS and the Democrats. How in the hell could we trust a party that can't seem to acknowledge such an obvious fraud with the security of the country? What's the first lesson of cover-ups? Acknowledge the mistake early, and the wound will close and heal. Cover it up and it festers, grows, and becomes deadly.

As for the Daily Kos's arguments regarding the fine detail of the supposed font... What detail? The memo was a zerox of a zerox of a... all done to "age" the piece, and whatever calligraphic detail existed in the original was simply bled out by repeated copyings. At any rate, LGF has a standing offer of $10,500 for anyone who can reproduce the memos in question using an IBM Selectric available in the early 70s. Somehow I think their money is a lot safer than we would be if we elected a Democrat this time around.

I'm sorry, but I'm just tired of listening to folks like Juan, and Robert Reich, and... whoever. We're at war. Grow the heck up.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:20 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 10, 2004

Here's What I Have Against John Kerry

It's not the gaming of his service in Vietnam nearly 40 years ago. That's understandable under the circumstances. It's not the fact that he participated in unAmerican activities, or that he helped to create a vacuum in Southeast Asia that led directly to the Cambodian genocide, not to mention the subjugation of the Vietnamese people by a Marxist hive mind. We all make mistakes. We grow out of them. And it's not the fact that he labelled his brothers-in-arms no better than mass-murderers, or threw away his medals (or ribbons, depending on how you parse those things). An apology and explanation is in order, but once that's done it's done.

Nope, it's not any of that stuff. It's the fact that the details of this grotesque narrative, as related by VDH DON'T SEEM TO PISS HIM OFF! I mean, what the heck does it take? The key graf:

Some insist that this war is only against a few "crazy" extremists and that it cannot be won by force. That is half true. In fact, millions of young Middle Easterners are watching Islamic fascists to learn whether to applaud or condemn them — and that decision in places like Najaf, Fallujah, Kandahar, Madrid, Grozny, and Ramallah sadly hinges as much on resolute force as it does on "sensitive" understanding. There are millions we must help, but there are also thousands of wannabe Osama bin Ladens and Mohammed Attas who have neither minds nor hearts that anyone would want to win over.
Posted by Demosophist at 10:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Late to the CBS 60 Minutes Party

Or should I say late to the controversy. Drudge seems to have a link to a Weekly Standard article demonstrating that the documents pointing to Bush's unsatisfactory service, are forgeries. (There are links to some of the major players in the blogosphere, but Wretchard has the recent history. Like me, he slept through the whole thing though.) More here and here. (Hat tip: Rusty.

So, it's a hoax, perpetrated either on or by CBS. (Incredibly, it may have been the Kerry Campaign itself who salted the story.) It just shows how sloppy method can let your bias show through, like baby juice in a cloth diaper.

Now, compare all this nonsense to the rigor with which the Swiftvets document their case. O'Neill the other night on O'Reilly was careful not to overstate his case, an object lesson that's lost on the Marxisant left, who never met a fact that couldn't be embroidered. Here's the bottom line:

The President served honorably and competently, but probably not heroically. But his detractors have apparently gone to some significant lengths to put together a fraudulent case that his service was not honorable or competent. In spite of fairly obvious flaws in this case it was given top billing in "mainstream media," as the latter attempted to ride to Kerry's rescue. The President has never made his homeguard service a critical element of his campaign, so it's not surprising that the attacks haven't had much impact. (A just released WaPo/ABC News Poll shows Bush lead of 9 points.)

John Kerry apparently served honorably. He may also have exhibited bravery in combat, but that was apparently not good enough so he seems to have embroidered and exaggerated his service, sometimes wildly (as in the case of the Christmas-in-Cambodia-magic-CIA-hat incident). Kerry's detractors have received precious little unbiased coverage, and mainstream press has allowed Kerry supporters to simply make ad hominem attacks on the Swiftvets without any demand that they supply facts. They have also given undeserved credance to Kerry's claim that Bush is really behind the Swiftvet campaign, but seem to ignore far more extensive connections between and similar "independent" organizations with the Democratic Party machine that are not only "coordinated" but constitute joint activity.

John Kerry chose to make his Vietnam service the very center of his campaign, but now blames others as his campaign heads south to meet up with the Hurricane assembly line.

Now, I'm in favor of some national health plan, but that's about the only reason I can think of that might possibly influence me toward Kerry. That is, it might if we weren't in the middle of a war. And given that these folks are so wrong and so dishonest about damn near everything else under the sun it has occured to me that they may well be wrong about health care too. I mean, what are the odds that they're right about one thing and wrong about everything else?

I've been saying for some time that Bush will win by around 20 points, and I'm stickin' by that prediction. In other words, I don't think Kerry is going to do nearly as well as Michael Dukakis.

Update: Apparently Killian's son disputes the authenticity of the documents on different grounds.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:24 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 09, 2004

My Sister Is Causing All the Hurricanes

I guess our family really needs to fess up. It's clear that we're responisble for all the Hurricanes pounding Florida. My family migrated from Arkansas to Washington State way back in the Mid-19th Century where we homesteaded and got our start. Gradually agribusiness has taken over much of the wheat farming in Washington, and as our family members retired and sold off their holdings they looked for somewhere else to go. Recently my sis and bro-in-law had a diagonal urge and moved to Florida, not so much to retire as to start a new era. Now, our family has not been involved in Florida since Booth Tarkington settled there and wrote Penrod, and although that state has always had rather schizophrenic weather patterns things haven't really been this bad since Uncle Booth lived there in the second decade of the last century.

So, we're baaack, Florida. And the whole doggone family is traipsing there like water to a corner drain, and we're bringin' our weather mojo with us. Sorry about that, but I guess you're gonna hafta get used to weather that's even crazier than normal, because the Talkington/Tarkington's are calling forth the mighty forces of nature. We're tilting the country around the Southwest/Northeast axis just the same way Dorian Gray modified that picture in his attic.

I'm 175 years old, by the way. And my sister looks like she's 19. Uncle Booth would still be alive if the 'gator hadn't got him.

Update: Haven't been able to get in touch with my sister. No one answers the phone, so I figure they must've bugged out of Key West. But where would they go? It looks like Ivan's going to go right up the gut of Florida.

Posted by Demosophist at 05:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 06, 2004

Josh Marshall's "Insider on the Outside" Schtick

The neat thing about innuendo is that using it makes you seem like you have some "special knowledge" unavailable to the rest of us peons, so when Josh Marshall starts speculating about the neocon cabal you can rest assured he knows something, even if he doesn't tell the rest of us. Right?

But seriously folks, what's a "neoconservative" but a "new conservative?" That is, neocon is a liberal who tempers his enthusiasm for Ilusha's Stone with a reality check once in awhile. On the other hand, doesn't the following just drip with insider insight?

On a deeper level, the defense is related to a mindset we often see in their analysis of intelligence. Just as they tend to discount the idea of disinterested intelligence analysis -- i.e., analysis that is not simply a cover for ideologically-driven opinion -- they are similarly unable or unwilling to see investigations such as these as anything other than a manifestation of ideological turf wars inside the executive branch.

Needless to say, I don't impute such views to all who could be classed as having 'neo-conservative' ideas or foreign policy views. But it is very much the case with this particular crew of neoconservative national security street-fighters who circulate in and out of government.

Yet there does seem to be a clash of worlds going on here. It's not simply a matter of speculation or pure conjecture that we've come from an era dominated by balance of power politics to one defined by a conflict between a single great liberal power (I'd say liberal alliance, but the fact that it doesn't include Germany or France rules that out) and a crowd of anarchic and illiberal states and groups that would worry Thomas Hobbes. You don't need to be an insider to figure that one out. Nor do you need to be an insider to see that the autocrats are about as good for the body politic as a steady diet of Pepsi, gasoline, potato chips, and Cheese Whiz is to the body physical. You don't fix things with a little extra pepper and salt.

Let's agree on something, OK? Neoconservatism is simply a common-sense approach to foreign policy that doesn't completely discount idealism. Another way of saying it is that it suggests we're facing an "us against them" struggle, and that we are the good guys, because we at least tolerate liberal institutions, while they are the bad guys, because they don't. Yeah it's "new," because it's not entirely based on cynicism, but it's not hyperbolic geometry.

Now, let's assume that maybe Josh has a point about the current neocon crop that's bending the President's ear, and that they're really naught but a bunch of paranoid greedy/idealistic bunglers. If he doesn't like the situation can't he just start his own team? Unless he disagrees with the fundamental idea, I mean. If he genuinely wants to be a player (as his frequent abstract "in the know" rhetoric suggests) then isn't it about time he fielded his own cabal of neocons so that he can at least be in the game?

The alternative, it seems to me, is to simply bite the apple of balance of power "constructive engagement" politics, which in practical terms means being in favor of the autocracies who are ramping up the toxicity of the Earthian environment (as per Darfur). Is it that he thinks the public is too stupid to distinguish good neocons from bad neocons? Or is it that the bad neocons are all Jewish?

Let's "cut the crap" shall we? I may be a rank outsider, but I can distinguish pragmatism from wishful thinking when I see them side by side. And I'm fairly sure a majority of my readers can too. And about all Josh has going for him is wishful thinking. It's a big crowd to be out in front of, but just where the heck does he think he's going?

Posted by Demosophist at 05:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 05, 2004

Who Were the Terrorists in Beslan?

Dan Darling has a rather longish history lesson on the Winds of Change blog about the "Chechen separatists." A key passage:

People keep asking me about this over on Regnum Crucis or via e-mail, so I'll be up-front: in my own opinion, the only difference between al-Qaeda and Basayev's Chechen Killer Korps is one of semantics, especially when one considers the prominence of people like bin Laden's protege Khattab or Abu Walid al-Ghamdi within the hierarchy of the Chechen forces loyal to Basayev.

If you think the Middle East is bad right now, wait until these folks get their way in the Caucasus.

Posted by Demosophist at 09:44 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Totalitarianism Is A Hostage Crisis

The death toll in Ossetia's School Number One has now risen above 300. Although this bears some tactical characteristics in common with Waco, for Russia it's their 9-11. It represents Russia's 9-11 not so much because of the numbers killed, but because the targets were so obviously innocent that each child carries the emotional whollup of ten adults. And we can now see the outlines of the desperate strategy that the enemy has been compelled to adopt (largely by our success). It will test the depth of our resolve, and challenge the heights of our creativity, because it brings us right to the heart of the ancient enemy.

Russia failed to recognize the complexity and dangerous nature of the processes taking place in our own country and the world in general. In any case, we have failed to respond to them appropriately. We showed weakness, and the weak are trampled upon. -Vladimir Putin

The problem is that the Russians don't possess a military capable of the sort of "zero defect" aspirations of the US in terms of avoiding "collateral damage." (We can at least realistically attempt such a standard, even though we rarely achieve it.) So when Putin's talk gets tough you can be sure he's speaking about some pretty bloody business, likely to make what the US has been doing look antiseptic by comparison. What our military began to realize some time ago, during the Fallujah campaign, is that the terrorists commit these outrageous acts in order to provoke an over-the-top response. And what the terrorists do not want to see are campaigns (whether bloody or not) that leave in their wake greater individual sovereignty and prosperity, because those kinds of conditions tend to heal the wounds upon which totalitarianism feeds.

Zarqawi, in his famous letter, suggested that once Iraq became sovereign and Al Qaeda was forced to target Iraqi police and national guard then for every Iraqi they killed scores of enemies would be created out of that man's extended family and tribe. And Zarqawi recognized that this was a losing proposition for the Vanguard because there was no way to carry things out in this manner long enough achieve their ends. They'd eventually be swamped by enemies. So he hit upon the idea of Nick Berg. And School Number One in Ossetia either represents a refinement of that strategy, or (more likely) some cross-pollination of totalitarian ideas. For what is totalitarianism, from the enslavement of the helots to the domination of Eastern Europe, if not a massive hostage crisis?

This leaves Islamofascism, for the time being at least, with a hostage strategy, because the world has yet to learn how to cope effectively with hostage situations. In that sense the school in Ossetia is a little like a mini-Iraq, where the tolerance for harming the hostages during their rescue was, for some people, so low that any rescue placing anyone at risk was unacceptable. Putin, who was never inclined toward the use of soft power in the first place, now has precisely the kind of problem that George Bush has been dealing with, on a much larger scale, for most of his presidency. But unlike Bush, Putin hasn't the precision tools, nor does he have a broader vision of human freedom and sovereignty to hold things together when the specter of chaos and calumny inevitably begin to appear.

Putin has a few things to learn from the US and George Bush. Come to think of it, there are lots of students in that disorderly class.

Posted by Demosophist at 02:37 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 04, 2004

Newsweek Poll Shows Bush Two-Digit Lead

A Newsweek Poll shows a Bush/Cheney lead of 11 points, whether Nader is in the race or not. According to other polls by the same firm (Princeton Survey Research Associates International) this amounts to a 13 point "bounce" from the convention, tossing more egg on the face of media punditry who had bought the explanation posed by Kerry's nonbouncy campaign that the electorate had simply lost its elasticity, leaving little room for a shift in allegiance. It was more wishful thinking than analysis. A theme?

Well, given that the Kerry Campaign was guided by polls and focus groups, while the Bush Campaign by its perception of national interest and intuition about the deeper natonal will, the "bounce" redounds not just to the Republican's perceptiveness and decisiveness, but to the wisdom of voters: their ability to distinguish a genuinely held position from a deceitful one. Because regardless of whether you support the PNAC approach to foreign policy, and the War in Iraq, it's difficult to argue that the Demracts aren't running under two flags, hardly more compatible than the Abolitionists and the Copperheads.

Attempting to camouflage this outrage they were compelled to rest their entire case on the patrician/warrior image of their candidate, and the lack of bounce after their convention signalled a "no sale." The Swiftvets merely capitalized on that lack of credibility; they didn't create it.

And now, after misidentifying the problem, rather than recognize that they've insulted the intelligence of the very voters they intended to influence they show absolutely no sign of the remorse or humility required to rethink that underestimation. Adding injury to insult they've aggressively grasped the rearview mirror, and attacked the Vietnam era record of one of the few Republicans who has unambiguously endorsed the honor of John Kerry's service in Vietnam.

What we have here is a campaign that has run itself into a ditch.

Update: VDH indulges in empathy for John Forbes Kerry.

Posted by Demosophist at 06:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

We Got No Steenkin' Media Bias

Anticipatory Retaliation posts extensively on the latest Democrat-inspired abomination: that Republicans are mean-spirited and Democrats are just too nice to win. Uh-huh. What Susan Estrich, and other Democratic pundits, are objecting to is, of course, really that the Swiftvet "smear campaign" has apparently been effective, while the Moveon and Mooreon campaigns apparently haven't.

I say "apparently" because the Democratic media-supported smear campaign, a constant barrage of memes, disinformation, and presumptive lies, has been going on so long it's become the "new normal," and any impact it had never gave its candidate a decisive advantage. But does anyone seriously doubt that if we could suddenly waive a magic wand and clear up that list of false impressions and mistaken assumptions Bush would currently be ahead by 20 points or more?

Did many, for instance, ever pay attention to the fact that Joe Wilson was lying through his teeth? Ask a typical Kerry voter if s/he knows that Joe's report to the CIA supported the conclusion that the Iraqis sought to buy Uranium, precisely the opposite of what he claimed. I'll bet the proportion of Kerry voters so aware isn't more than 10%

And this little Estrich quote really takes the cake:

You can't just answer the charges. You can't just say it ain't so.

Except, of course, that the Kerry campaign never answered most of the charges brought by the Swiftvets. They just engaged in ad hominem attacks against the people in the group, called them liars, and simply sewed the assumption that the Swiftvet campaign was directed by Bush (as though Vietnam vets could never have a separate brief with Kerry).

At this point about 36% of the public are convinced that there's at least some substance to the allegations against Kerry's Vietnam record, and the only reason it isn't more is that Bush's statement about honoring Kerry's record probably quelled some of the doubts, and also convinced the press that they were justified in ignoring the story. Yet Kerry continues to direct his counters not at the Swiftvets, but at Bush. He doesn't answer the charges. With extraordinarily obnoxious cheek, considering all the allegations, levelled by Kerry himself, that Bush pulled a "bait and switch" to justify removing Saddam from power, Kerry pulls the "bait and switch" of the century, claiming that the very person most responsible for his defense is, in fact, the author of the attack. And by doing so justifies a counter-attack with less substance than a wet off-brand paper towel.

This is, of course, all fairly perverse... especially since one of the primary claims of the Swiftvets has been acknowledged by the Kerry Campaign to be true (albeit, with prejudice). Not that most voters would know that, if their only source of information were the MSNBC, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, NYT, LAT, WaPo media machine.

My theory is that voters are starting to switch allegiance because they're beginning to gag on the subconsciously accumulated inconsistencies in the media/Democrat elite's preposterous narrative. There's only so much BS you can take on the salad, before you realize it's not dressing.

Update: They may be switching more than Presidential allegiance. Nielsen Media Research reports:

That marked the third straight night Fox has surpassed its larger broadcast rivals in the first case of a cable channel attracting more viewers than any of the three major networks during a scheduled event covered by all of them, experts said. (Hat tip: Cap'n Ed)
Posted by Demosophist at 10:19 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 02, 2004

Hurricane Musings: The Monster's Fist

Just talked with my sister, who lives in Key West, and they expect the hurricane to miss them. I'm not sure how to handicap this, since it's not clear what the probability model is that NOAA is using to determine the course of the storm. Normally the midline of the "cone" representing the storm's probable path would indicate the path of highest probability, or at least some line struck lengthwise through the cone. This is the case if the proper analog for the storm is a "curve ball" or a "slider," or even a "fast ball" that has some probabilitistic distribution (not necessarily standard normal). But if the proper analog of the storm is a "knuckle ball" then the actual storm path could be anywhere within the cone, with no path being any more likely than another. This is what the Weather Service spokesman seems to indicate, but he may just be playing it safe so that people on the outer edges of the cone don't get too complacent. It's not clear to me that a knuckle ball is the proper model since the critter is spinning, which would tend to make its behavior somewhat contained and predictable. The knuckle ball technique requires throwing the ball with very little, if any, spin.

Oh well, looks like the southern keys are safe, more or less, for the moment. My sister also says that gasoline is in very short supply so that people who haven't yet evacuated will have to ride out the storm in shelters instead of evacuating. The whole thing reminds me of the image of waiting to be hammered by the fist of a monster whose design is inscrutible.

Posted by Demosophist at 05:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 01, 2004

Al Franken Foreshadows Leftist Militarism?

In an altercation with Laura Ingraham's producer over reneging on his (Franken's) agreement to appear on Laura's show Al starts grappling and slugging, forcing ingraham to call security. Pics here and here. Foreshadowing a future where the disaffected left takes a turn toward violence? Perhaps that's reading too much into it, but somehow I think if one could only make money betting on it... I wouldn't need an IRA. (Hat tip: Captain Ed.)

OK, this one from Wizbang is priceless.

schoolyard brawl

Posted by Demosophist at 10:45 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack