June 2005

2005 06 30
Is Tony Blair really Walter Sobchak?

I report, you decide.

Blair’s recent justification for the war – WaPo:

After Sept. 11, it was necessary to “draw a line in the sand here, and the country to do it with was Iraq because they were in breach of U.N. resolutions going back over many years,” Blair said in an interview with the Associated Press. “People say the decision was already taken. The decision was not already taken.”

Walter Sobchak:

What the fuck are you talking about? The chinaman is not the issue here, dude. I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand, dude. Across this line, you DO NOT–

Look at the current situation with that camel fucker in Iraq. Pacifism is not something to hide behind.


Howls of outrage (6)

2005 06 29
9/11, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11

I’m so tired of hearing about September 11 in connection with the war in Iraq. I’m tired of the references to 9/11 in Bush’s speeches, and I’m equally as tired of every lefty blogger pointing out all those references to 9/11 in Bush’s speeches. Yes, folks, Bush invokes 9/11—a lot. Yes, it is indeed a matter of sophistry, rhetoric, and evasion of cogent argumentation. But, No, he has not come out and directly linked Saddam and AQ. There was, of course, some genuine legerdemain: making a statement about AQ or bin Laden, and then saying in the next sentence that Saddam has supported (Palestinian) terrorists. But the speechwriters knew what they were doing, and the record pretty much supports that.

But the current invocations of 9/11 are the foreign policy equivalent of Santorum-ian statements about the damage to individuals that can be done by a corrupted liberal culture. Santorum’s point is that individuals are hurt when they must live surrounded by debauched concupiscence. The idea is that the rights of liberal citizens to act as they please must be constrained by the rights that illiberal citizens have not to be confronted with liberal nonsense. So when Santorum points to gay sex and tries to argue that allowing that sort of nonsense will open us up to man-on-dog sex, he need not be relying on the claim that gay sex is as bad as man-on-dog sex. He need only be invoking a common characteristic of both, namely that the existence of both in our society infringes upon a certain moral space that he believes decent, god-fearing citizens are entitled to.

Bush’s use of 9/11 these days is similar: he need not be saying that Saddam was as big a threat as bin Laden was before 9/11. He is saying that our 9/11-inspired appreciation of how vulnerable the US is should convince us that we could not simply abide the threat–whatever its actual nature–that was posed by Saddam’s Iraq. Since we did not know what sort of threat there in fact was, we were justified in invading Iraq because we were justified in being more careful than we were before 9/11.

My point is this. While Bush and Santorum fully appreciate the rhetorical points they score when they mention grave threats (man-on-dog sex, 9/11) in the same breath as less grave threats (gay sex, Saddam), the best way to combat their arguments (if genuine arguments they be) is not to point out that they make such comparisons, but it is rather to meet their comparisons head on. Point out that gay sex occurs between consenting, loving, peaceful adults who use the act as a form of expression of their love, or even simply that it occurs between consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes. Point out that while bin Laden was a threat, Saddam was not; or–if you’re currently more concerned for the lives of real Iraqis and American soldiers–point out that we are not doing any good in Iraq, and that we’re creating and perpetuating more terror than we’re combating or stamping out. Those are the only effective ways to demonstrate the inaptness of the analogies and connections. Insisting on the existence of more sinister rhetorical motives is either (a) politically inexpedient or useless, or else (b) a misrepresentation of what Bush (and Santorum and the rest of them) are really doing with their words.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2005 06 28
Truck balls

Posted by in: Odds and ends

Damn, these are awesome.


Howls of outrage (3)

2005 06 28
It’s about time

Canada Parliament set to approve same sex marriage – Yahoo! News

Canada’s Parliament was set to approve legislation on Tuesday that will allow same sex marriages across the country, despite fierce opposition from conservative legislators and religious groups.

A majority of parliamentarians support the bill, which would make Canada only the third country after Belgium and the Netherlands to allow gay marriages.

Officials said Parliament’s House of Commons would vote on the bill at around 8 p.m. EDT (midnight GMT) on Tuesday.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2005 06 27
The Taliban and A.Q.

Bradford Plumer, who is usually right, is surely wrong about this:

Initially, of course, the Bush administration tried to negotiate with the Taliban and get them to turn over bin Laden, Zawihiri, Abu Zubaydah, and the rest. That didn’t work, but if it had worked, and bin Laden had been handed over on a silver platter, there may not have been an invasion at all�judging by Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies, Rumsfeld wasn’t all that excited about attacking Afghanistan in the first place�and instead the U.S. would’ve been sitting around handing out indictments and prosecuting terrorists. True, there still would’ve been some military action: the U.S. would have almost certainly bombed more al-Qaeda camps in the region, and the Taliban likely would’ve collapsed eventually after alienating all those Islamic militants it had been counting on to fight the Northern Alliance. But the whole thing might’ve been much less than the full-scale war we actually got.

Not likely, in my opinion. For one thing, it was clear early on, and it became much clearer later, that the Taliban had fairly extensive ties with A.Q. and had benefited in the past from that cooperation. If the Taliban regime had simply coughed up bin Laden and Bush had pronounced himself satisfied, I think Bush would have been pilloried by his own side as deplorably weak.* What, his hawks would ask, happened to deterrence? And what, in the future, happens to regimes who get very cosy with terrorist groups? Can they wipe the slate clean in the future by simply coughing up a few bad guys, after years of helping them? No. This is the sort of thing that calls for a demonstration war, or no one would ever have let Bush dress up in a flight suit.

And indeed, as I remember it, it was fairly easy to tell at the time that the Bush administration wasn’t keen to see the Taliban cave in to the demand to hand over bin Laden. The demand was made bluntly, with a very short deadline, and then not followed up with much in the way of serious diplomacy. And I’m willing to bet that if the Taliban had served up the whole A.Q. crew on a platter, more demands would have followed. The Bush administration wanted war.**

* True, Pakistan also had ties to A.Q., but the ties were easier to renounce and ignore, and Pakistan, a much larger nuclear power, would have been impossible to invade anyway.
** Not that war was unjustified. That’s a separate question.

Howls of outrage (3)

2005 06 26
Rick Mercer

If you’re a Canadian, you know who Rick Mercer is. In case you’re not a Canadian, he’s a smart-ass comedian who does a lot of political humour. (Samples here.) Anyway, I just now discovered that he has a blog (via). I thought this post was especially funny:

Like most Canadians when I�m surfing the Internet I have Canada�s parliamentary affairs channel CPAC running in the background.

I find I can work and think just a little bit more efficiently if I�m simultaneously entertained by the dull and dulcet tones of Peter McKay or the shrieking wail of Anne McClellan.

Anyway, a few weeks back I happen to catch Don Boudria standing up in the house and I can tell he is hopping mad.

Don is seriously pissed by the anti same-sex marriage crowd. It seems they have gone out and purchased one of Don�s domain names and they have been playing silly buggers with it. Take a look for yourself at www.donboudria.ca.

Don is upset that somebody stumbling across such a site would think that they were viewing an official Don Boudria website, and not a propaganda tool. Obviously Don thinks there are a lot of low intelligence voters out there googling the hell out of Don Boudria. But I digress.

Anyway, Don felt that this was a nasty below-the-belt tactic from the family values crowd. Well, the Conservative party wasn�t going to have any of this bashing of the anti-SSM crowd so Jason Kenney jumped to his feet.

I love Jason. The honorable member from Calgary Southeast is the Conservative bright light that likes to point out that gays are allowed to get married; as long as they get married to members of the opposite sex! Stupid and talking, my favorite combination in a politician. Needless to say, when Jason Kenney opens his mouth, I listen.

Anyway, long story short, Jason told Boudria it was his own fault for not registering his own domain name. I tend to agree with Jason on this; I mean, doesn�t the liberal Party have access to a teenager who can advise them on this kind of stuff? I bet a guy like Jason does. Anyway, Jason was just getting started. I include here a transcript from Hansard for your own edification.

Mr. Jason Kenney (Calgary Southeast, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the only additional element that the hon. member has brought to the Chair’s attention relates to a matter which is in no way, shape or form within the purview of this House or your honour and it never has been, and hopefully never will be, that is to say, the registration of domain names on the World Wide Web. I understand my hon. friend opposite is learned with respect to parliamentary procedure but I must infer from his remarks that he is stupefiedly ignorant about the commercial practices on the Internet.� (1510)

The Speaker: Honestly, the hon. member for Calgary Southeast need not suggest that any hon. member of this House is ignorant.

Mr. Jason Kenney: Mr. Speaker, of the Internet.

The Speaker: That does not make it better. He could say that he has perhaps missed the point or something. We do not need to use this kind of language.
I would urge the hon. member to show some restraint.

Mr. Jason Kenney: Mr. Speaker, let me be clear. I did not mean ignorant in the pejorative sense but in an objective sense that the member apparently does not understand the process by which domain names are registered on the Internet.

Anyway while the speaker was admonishing Jason for such unparliamentarily language as �ignorant� I started thinking �What are the chances that Jason Kenney is so stunned that he would call another MP ignorant for not having registered his domain name when he hasn�t bothered to register his own?�

Not a chance, I figured. I am not that lucky.

Turns out the chances were pretty good. Before he sat his arse down in his seat I was the proud owner of www.jasonkenney.org.

As you can see by clicking the link, www.jasonkenney.org drives web surfers to the Marxist Leninist party of Canada. I wanted something that screamed Jason.

I should say, though, I am open to suggestions. If you think it would be more appropriate that jasonkenney.org points to hot lesbian sex, by all means drop me a line. Or maybe you have a website that needs the conservative traffic generated by this bright thinker. Just email me and tell me where jasonkenney.org should go. You can send me an email at rick@rickmercer.com and I�ll be sure to take all suggestions seriously. I might even send a dated no longer useful Monday Report t shirt or sleeve of golf balls to the winner.

Later, Mercer pointed the site here.

Howls of outrage (2)

2005 06 25
The Kelo Decision

Posted by in: Political issues

A sophisticated analysis.

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2005 06 23
There’s a debate…

…abrewing about utilitarianism as a moral theory in general, and in particular Bentham’s version of it. In order to keep making daily headway on my dissertation, I must resort to constrainted comment.

As for the historical point about what Bentham thought, see Brian Weatherson’s reply to Brad DeLong’s characterization. Brian’s response is right on the mark, and usefully points out that Bentham believed that the supreme moral principle directs moral agents to maximize instances of a certain sort of experience, namely pleasure (and the absence of pain). Brian hits the nail on the head: for Bentham �advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness� amount to the same thing.

Brad, however, attempts to defend Bentham with the following:

Happiness–utility–plays a very special role in Bentham’s philosophy. It is defined to be that which is maximized by the choices of a rational and reasonable person with enough time for reflection and sufficient information about the situation.

A good society is one in which as much of what people would choose for themselves–with enough information, after sufficient deliberation, when they are in possession of their faculties–is attained, taking care that when there is a tradeoff between one person’s preferences and another’s, each one counts equally.

Those seem to be obvious and unexceptionable foundations for morality.

As Brian points out, the difficulty is to render more determinate what would “maximized by the choices of a rational and reasonable person with enough time for reflection and sufficient information about the situation.” Bentham believed that would be pleasure and the absence of pain. But many of us do not live our lives according to those ideals only. For while we do act in ways responsive to our prospects for pleasure and pain, we also act (e.g.) so as to respect others’ autonomy, or so as to do that which is challenging and hard and not necessarily pleasant. These are ways of acting that seem eminently rational and reasonable, and which are often the content of informed preferences, but which do not seem easily accounted for by Bentham’s specific version of utilitarianism. Indeed, it is not clear that rational behavior would seek the maximization of anything in particular, let alone the maximization of a contentless mental state like pleasure.

So while DeLong may well be pointing to “obvious and unexceptionable foundations for morality” by invoking what fully rational and informed agents would choose, it takes substantive moral argument to fill in the gap between that particular characterization of morality’s foundations, on the one hand, and Bentham’s utilitarianism on the other. This is precisely the sort of substantive argument that Rawls attempted to give in A Theory of Justice [1], which Brad has elsewhere described as an “absurd [attempt] to try to base all political obligation on one’s being a supposed party to a contract that one never even made.” To be sure, it is not easy to see exactly how Rawls hopes to move from the nature of rational choice to the nature of morality. (See here some discussion.) But for a guy who defends Bentham’s view of moral theory as part of theory of rational choice, Brad appears ill-situated to criticize Rawls for pursing virtually the same argumentative avenue. Perhaps this little debate about Bentham will spur Brad to recant his claim that all Rawls’s arguments had going for them was merely that they were “less sloppy, more careful, and informed by a much less niggardly will than those of Robert “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” Nozick.” If he doesn’t, I pledge charitably to assume that he, unlike his idealized utilitarian agents, is not possessed of “enough time for reflection and sufficient information about the situation.”

[1] I of course don’t mean that Rawls wanted to end up at Benthamite principles. They simply both wanted to use the theory of rational choice to derive ultimate principles of (political) morality.

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2005 06 23
The Many Lakes of Manhattan

Posted by in: Odds and ends

This is hilarious, if you know NYC at all.


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2005 06 22
The next step is to regulate it

Posted by in: Drugs and the law

Body’s own ‘cannabis’ helps pain

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2005 06 22
Thomas Friedman

Posted by in: Political issues, Pundits

Ha ha.

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2005 06 21
ScrapBook Firefox extension

Posted by in: Software

Gosh, this looks handy.

Howls of outrage (4)

2005 06 21
How Much Does the US Spend on Defense?

Posted by in: U.S. defense policy

More than we’re told.

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2005 06 21
On the back it probably says “I helped lose the war of ideas!”

“I [heart] Gitmo” t-shirts.

Via everyone’s favourite torture apologists.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2005 06 19
Aw, Belgium

Harry Farrell at Crooked Timber writes:

Matt Yglesias notes that “MPAA rules for avoiding an R-Rating � allow you up to two uses of “fuck” as long as the word appears in a non-sexual context.” A bit reminiscent of the “Rory” Award, featured in Douglas Adams� Life, the Universe and Everything, which was granted for the Most Gratuitous Use of the Word “Fuck” in a Serious Screenplay. In the US edition of LTUAE, this was changed to the Most Gratuitous Use of the Word “Belgium” in a Serious Screenplay, neatly proving Matt’s point about the unique censoriousness of American media.

I had no idea that was the case, and I’m annoyed to learn it. On the other hand, much to my chagrin I actually find “Belgium” a bit funnier.

Anyone else have the same reaction? Be honest.

Howls of outrage (11)