Saturday, October 30, 2004

Why does Osama want Bush to win?

Because once a terrorist is disconnected from any nation's support, Bush loses interest in catching that terrorist. Of course, terrorists can operate perfectly well without national support, so this policy is disastrous. Want an example other than Osama? Look at Zarqawi.

(Note: this is not the only reason. Osama also likes the way that Bush wanders into ambushes, alienates allies, unites Muslims against America, and gives Al-Qaeda a perfect recruiting tool.)

Friday, October 29, 2004

Rum, sodomy, and Satan

The Royal Navy has recognized Satanism as a religion, with the enlistment of their first openly Satanic sailor.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

See subsequent post

Andrew Sullivan, who can come to the right conclusions if you give him enough time, has expressed the view I express below.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Bush lets terrorists get high explosives

Did Bush care about protecting us from WMD at all? Or about making things go smoothly in Iraq?

If you think he did, you've got to explain why he failed to guard 350 tons of high explosives that the IAEA was keeping close tabs on until we drove their inspectors out of Iraq. These explosives could be used in making a nuclear fission bomb. (They're not the hardest part of the bomb to get, but they're hard enough that the inspectors were making sure Saddam didn't do anything with them.) Now the explosives have all been looted out of the bunker, and it seems that they're being used to blow up American troops and Iraqi policemen.

Fortunately there weren't any genuine nuclear or biological weapons in Iraq, or Bush's invasion would've put them in the hands of terrorists. It's as if Bush's foreign policy is designed to defeat all the lofty goals that you hear about in his speeches. Democracy promotion, weakening al-Qaeda, keeping dangerous weapons out of the wrong hands -- any actions promoted on these grounds will, through incompetence and inattention, achieve the exact opposite.

Want to get this idiot out of office? See if you can bilk his campaign out of the price of a vacation. They're flying volunteers to swing states, at party expense. Maybe you can pose as a Republican and get them to buy a ticket for you. What you do with it is your business. Times of consequence call for a consequentialist's measures.

Sunday, October 24, 2004


Many people in Mongolia have only first names. Now the country is trying get everybody to take up family names as well. There are good reasons to do this.

Odonbayar, the herder, concurred. "During the socialist times, two of my relatives got married without knowing they were related," he said. "After a big wedding party, they had children who were all deformed. Hopefully, surnames can help protect against this sort of thing."

Deontic vs. Evaluative

At the Wisconsin Metaethics conference, Michael Smith presented a question that I hadn't considered before, and which I'll think about more in the future: Which is more fundamental, deontic predicates or evaluative predicates? Can all of one be defined in terms of the other? I don't know what the best way to put the deontic/evaluative distinction is, but the notions of obligation, warrant, and "the thing to do" (a nice expression I hear a lot at Michigan) are on the deontic side. Evaluative notions are more likely to attach to the goodness of a state of affairs than to guide an agent in belief, action, or emotion. As an externalist and realist about the goodness of pleasure, I'm employing an evaluative notion that I regard as irreducible to deontic terms. Smith also thinks that evaluative terms are fundamental, though he thinks that there are a lot more reductive steps before the evaluative comes out as the winner. Let's see if I can remember how this goes: He'd want the goodness of pleasure to be analyzable in deontic terms -- we all have normative reasons to generate pleasure. But this in turn is analyzable in evaluative terms -- being motivated to generate pleasure is good. There's one more deontic step -- one ought to make oneself into the type of person who is motivated to generate pleasure. The clinching evaluative step is that being someone who wants to make himself into the kind of person who is motivated to generate pleasure is good. This fits nicely with part of his view in The Moral Problem, but I'm dubious about whether it works. I don't want to grant him all these reductive moves, but someone on the deontic team who granted these steps might be able to push for more. In any case, it gives a good view of how the deontic/evaluative game could be played.

David Sosa wrote a paper called "Consequences of Consequentialism" that tried to capture a lot of deontic talk in terms of the goodness of states of affairs. It was quite good, and I wonder if Smith has looked at that.


The Des Moines Register helped John Edwards a lot when it endorsed him in the primaries. While a general election is probably less likely to be influenced by endorsements than a primary, the endorsement of John Kerry is a big help. The thing I like best about this piece is that it takes on the flipflop/soft-on-terrorism attacks from the Bush Administration by pointing out that they're just a bunch of campaign mudslinging.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Life of Neil

The first thing I did after Daniel Nolan's excellent talk tonight was watch that Huckabees movie. It was okay -- the acting was good but the script was uneven and unfocused. It had some Being John Malkovich properties, but it wasn't nearly as good. After the movie we went to a bar, and then back to the department to eat post-talk leftover food and drink my hard liquor.

Then a few of us went to a crazy nightclub. While it was gay night, there were a fair number of straight girls. I hadn't danced in a long time, and pulled every trick I knew. I must be in pretty good shape, since I was keeping up the twisty-leg dance and the knee-walk for serious amounts of time. People were watching and enjoying, especially when I kneewalked forward and then sharply reversed direction. I was doing my best to amuse the ladies, and Howard told me that I was generating a large number of utils. Still, attempts to parlay dancing-induced amusement into something bigger (someone dancing with me? or talking with me? dare I hope?) failed. Goodness knows I tried.

By 1:45, I'd lost a lot of skin on my knees, my pants were a mess, and I was done with dancing by myself. I staggered back against a wall, exhausted and resigned. Two lesbians -- a blonde girl and a short Southeast Asian -- were passionately making out against the wall a few feet away. Some guy tried to join in, but they spun away in my direction. I stood an arm's length away, watching them do things I haven't done in 8 months. I watched for ten minutes before offering to hold their drinks. They declined, but kept going right there for five more minutes before leaving the bar.

There is some justice in the world. What one gives, in the economy of voyeuristic pleasure, is returned.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

No truer friend

When we on the left talk about weakened alliances, we don't just mean France and Germany. Andrew Sullivan points out that our alliance with Britain is also severely frayed:

there's been less attention paid to how Bush has dealt with the U.S.'s most critical ally, Britain. The answer is: terribly...

Bush's own radioactive personality in Europe means that any British leader who wants to support him must also consider political suicide.

The Tories are now anti-Bush; almost the entire Labour party is anti-Bush; the Liberal Democrats are pathologically anti-Bush. And this is the success story of Bush's diplomacy! Again, the worst thing about this is that it undermines our ability to wage this war in future. When you lose the Brits and half your own country in a vital war, you deserve to be fired as president. I'm sorry, but it's time the pro-war camp began to deal with this.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Boston over Houston: the hope

There's a good reason for a Democrat to not want St. Louis in the championship. I don't want people in Missouri thinking of Massachusetts as an enemy state in late October. And obviously, I want Boston to win it all so that people will be associating Massachusetts and triumph.

By the way, has anyone remarked yet that the Schilling-bleeding-ankle story from Game 6 gives a powerfully literal meaning to "Red Sox?"

Wisconsin metaethics conference

By the way, the reason for the dearth of posts this weekend was that I was at the Wisconsin Metaethics Workshop. It was good, though I didn't know that all the papers were online. (When I came back and saw them, I realized why so many people had such well-prepared and intelligent things to say right after hearing a talk. It made me feel a lot better!)

Take your pick

At least one of the following is true:

A. Pat Robertson is telling an enormous lie.
B. George W. Bush is even stupider than I thought.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Domestic issues

Michigan buddy Ira Lindsay comments on the "faith" and "women in your lives" questions last night: Do these moderators think that "Domestic issues" means "things you do at home"?


I was worried at the beginning. For one thing, Kerry seemed to be avoiding some questions rather than answering them. And his answer on gay marriage was no good. The thing about wives supporting their gay husbands probably sounded kinky to lots of the folk in the heartland, and the "Cheney's gay daughter" bit is a creepy move. (I sense a dark strategy there in which the Kerry team is happy to have us all talking about it and making sure everyone knows it.) Bush did a solid job on that issue.

But once we got into the bread-and-butter economic issues -- health care, jobs, and thank Bob Schieffer for bringing up the minimum wage -- Kerry steamrolled Bush. He was confident, knowledgable, clear, and presidential. If I had to pick a word, it'd be "authoritative". Bush had his class-clown smirk, and the one joke I can recall went nowhere. (This is the media bias joke that only hard right-wingers probably enjoyed, and which Bush bailed out of before the punchline.) I can't remember a single memorable Bush economic policy line, and I thought his demeanor was worse than in debate #1. I was very happy with Kerry's assault weapons answer, which linked back to his past as a prosecutor, mentioned Osama's terrorist handbook, and brought up the AK-47 in the drug dealer's house. And I'm happy that Kerry did things to get the Bush "not worried about Osama" line on national TV.

The debates are done, and I'm happy with where we stand. Now it's up to KE04 to play smart fourth-quarter football, and up to Steve Rosenthal and the GOTV generals to make it happen on the ground. Karl Rove be damned, I think they can do it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Grand narratives, grand insecurities

If Bush wins despite being completely incompetent at running this country, running the other country, and running the War on Terror, this will be a part of the explanation:

It's comforting to think that Al Qaeda might be as easily marginalized as a bunch of drug-running thugs, that an ''effective'' assault on its bank accounts might cripple its twisted campaign against Americans. But Americans are frightened -- an emotion that has benefited Bush, and one that he has done little to dissuade -- and many of them perceive a far more existential threat to their lives than the one Kerry describes. In this climate, Kerry's rather dry recitations about money-laundering laws and intelligence-sharing agreements can sound oddly discordant. We are living at a time that feels historically consequential, where people seem to expect -- and perhaps deserve -- a theory of the world that matches the scope of their insecurity.

I think that the terrorists (Afghanistan aside) can't be beaten by invasions -- they'll be beaten by winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, by using diplomatic measures to run more effective international policing, and by exactly the kind of alliance-building that Kerry has in mind. But the above would explain why the American people won't settle for simple and careful measures that will actually work.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Play that wonky music

Much in the next presidential debate may depend on how specific and how varied the questions are. If the questions are general and Bush can just repeat a bunch of talking points without appearing evasive, he probably won't do so badly. But if the questions get specific, Kerry's greater policymaking experience will give him more to say that directly addresses the issue. Variety of questions is important -- if you remember how flummoxed Bush was by the "clean air and water" question in the last debate (that's where he started mumbing about diesel engines), you can see how Bush might break down against a bunch of unexpected questions from different angles. This, again, is something on which Kerry's decades of Senate experience are likely to help.

What worries me most is that Bob Schieffer, whose brother was named ambassador to Australia after being a business partner of Bush's, is moderating the debate. If he's the one coming up with the questions, this could be trouble.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Dred Scott

Why was Bush referencing the Dred Scott decision last night? Paperwight can tell you -- it has much more to do with abortion than with slavery. Thanks to Mark Kleiman for the pointer.

Profiles in hackery

I’m happy to see GOP hacks keep attacking Kerry on the "global test" issue. Anyone who actually listens to Kerry will see that their attacks don’t match up to his positions. If that’s what the Republicans are going to blow their spin opportunities on, fine by me.

Jonah Goldberg makes two criticisms that don't really go well together: "Not only did the crowd not laugh at Kerry's jokes, but Kerry didn't make any." He's wrong on both counts. From the CNN transcript:
Now, for the people earning more than $200,000 a year, you're going to see a rollback to the level we were at with Bill Clinton, when people made a lot of money. And looking around here, at this group here, I suspect there are only three people here who are going to be affected: the president, me, and, Charlie, I'm sorry, you too.


Fight in the town hall

The foreign policy half of this debate had me on the edge of my seat. It was like a fight scene in a good action movie -- I could feel the fury of the participants, I winced at some of the blows Kerry took, and I was excited when he struck back powerfully. I'd call that one a draw in absolute terms, though given that Kerry is still probably rated below Bush on foreign policy, that probably strenghtens Kerry a little bit in the polls.

Things went kind of loose in the domestic policy debate. Kerry won that, but not by as much as he should have. He should've spent his entire time in response to the environment question talking about the environment. And when Bush botched the last question, talking about how he'd take responsibility for making mistakes but not actually taking responsibility for any, Kerry should've called him on that. I don't know how palpable the disconnect between Bush's big talk about how he'd take responsibility and his inability to do so was, but Kerry really should've pointed it out, and then launched into his critique of Bush mistakes.

I was really happy with Kerry's response to the cute blonde girl who asked about abortion. He started strong, looked her in the eye, and ran the public/private sphere distinction that's familiar from liberal political philosophy. This allowed him to come across as a morally upstanding guy who cares about religion, and at the same time be supportive of freedom in the public sphere. Bush's last response to him on that question suggested an inability to comprehend the objections (health of the woman, incest) that Kerry had set on the partial-birth and parental-consent issues.

So I'm looking forward to the domestic debate now. That's Kerry's home turf, and I think he can hold it. People on Tapped have reported that the value of the "Bush wins" contract on tradesports has gone from about 61 to about 54 today. I don't think that big a swing is justified, but I do think we probably eked out material for a small gain tonight.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

My precious...

Cheney's best moment from the VP debate:

I don't talk about myself very much, but I've heard Senator Edwards, and as I listen to him, I find some similarities.

I come from relatively modest circumstances. My grandfather never even went to high school. I'm the first in my family to graduate from college.

I carried a ticket in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for six years. I've been laid off, been hospitalized without health insurance. So I have some idea of the problems that people encounter.

So I think the personal stories are, in some respects, surprisingly similar.

It's like when you hear Gollum's backstory in The Fellowship of the Ring and you learn that once, long ago, he was an ordinary hobbit named Smeagol.

Bush campaign self-destructs

Just look at the new justification for invading Iraq.
WASHINGTON - President Bush (news - web sites) and his vice president conceded Thursday in the clearest terms yet that Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) had no weapons of mass destruction, even as they tried to shift the Iraq (news - web sites) war debate to a new issue — whether the invasion was justified because Saddam was abusing a U.N. oil-for-food program.
So Bush spent $200 billion, damaged our alliances, sent tens of thousands of soldiers away from their families, and got a thousand of them killed because Saddam was abusing a UN oil-for-food program

So much for staying on message. So much for being a steady leader. So much for making the least bit of sense. If they had gone to the "there were no WMD, but we had to eliminate Saddam to win the global war on terror for vague, unspecified, and implausible reasons" justification, they'd be better off. If they went to the "there were no WMD, but we had to make a bold and completely incompetent attempt at starting democracy" justification, theyd be better off. But this? When most Americans probably hadn't heard of the UN oil-for-food program before?

This election is in John Kerry's hands.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

VP debate contentment

Edwards was clear and focused and smily and easy for the folks at home to follow. The closing address was exactly what you'd expect from him, and I was very happy with it. I'm thinking he accomplished more than Cheney did here -- he reemphasized parts of the Democratic message that we want voters to hear on election day. He repeated the Osama points and defused objections to the tax plan. I'm a little unhappy that he didn't bring up the minimum wage, and I had a stronger response to the flipflop question in mind than the one he offered. But, all in all, a good performance.

Cheney didn't do anything too bad, but he spent a significant amount of time looking down and scowling. He didn't drop as many talking-point bombs as Edwards did. I think he was somewhat harder for a non-politically-interested observer to follow than Edwards was -- he simply doesn't have Edwards' rhetorical abilities in organizing a speech. The knockout blow some people wanted him to score tonight -- demonstrating that Edwards was an intellectual lightweight -- wasn't scored, but it's not something that you could score since Edwards is a sharp guy.

In the end, Edwards advanced the ball further than Cheney did, so I'm content with this one.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

How Osama got away

A few excerpts from a CSM article describing the bad planning on the ground:
Pir Baksh Bardiwal, the intelligence chief for the Eastern Shura, which controls eastern Afghanistan, says he was astounded that Pentagon planners didn't consider the most obvious exit routes and put down light US infantry to block them.

"The border with Pakistan was the key, but no one paid any attention to it," he said, leaning back in his swivel chair with a short list of the Al Qaeda fighters who were later taken prisoner. "And there were plenty of landing areas for helicopters, had the Americans acted decisively. Al Qaeda escaped right out from under their feet."
Untrustworthy allies:
Indeed, Mr. Ali paid a lieutenant named Ilyas Khel to block the main escape routes into Pakistan. Mr. Khel had come to him three weeks earlier from the ranks of Taliban commander Awol Gul.

"I paid him 300,000 Pakistani rupees [$5,000] and gave him a satellite phone to keep us informed," says Mohammed Musa, an Ali deputy, who says Ali had firmly "trusted" Khel.

"Our problem was that the Arabs had paid him more, and so Ilyas Khel just showed the Arabs the way out of the country into Pakistan," Mr. Musa adds.
It's not like we were lacking troops in the area:
More than 2,000 US marines are on standby in the Arabian Sea and Pakistan for what may become the largest manhunt in history, the search for Osama bin Laden.
How did all this go wrong? Military planners at the top were distracted, as Bob Woodward's book, "Plan of Attack" describes (transcribed by topdog04, whose piece on this is worth reading):
When he was back at the Pentagon, two miles from the White House across the Potomac River in Virginia, Rumsfeld immediately had the Joint Staff begin drafting a Top Secret message to General Franks requesting a "commander's estimate," a new take on the status of the Iraq war plan and what Franks thought could be done to improve it. The general would have about a week to make a formal presentation to Rumsfeld.... (p. 5)

"Hey," Newbold said in his best take-notice voice, "I've got a real tough problem for you. The secretary's going to ask you to start looking at your Iraq planning in great detail - and give him a new commander's estimate."

"You got to be shitting me," Renuart said. "We're only kind of busy on some other things right now. Are you sure?"

"Well, yeah. It's coming. So stand by."

..."Hey, boss," Renuart said, reporting that a formal request of a commander's estimate was coming. "So we'd better get on it."

Franks was incredulous. They were in the midst of one war, Afghanistan, and now they wanted detailed planning for another, Iraq? "Goddamn," Franks said, "what the fuck are they talking about?" (p. 8)
The conclusion:
In retrospect, it becomes clear that the battle's underlying story is of how scant intelligence, poorly chosen allies, and dubious military tactics fumbled a golden opportunity to capture bin Laden as well as many senior Al Qaeda commanders.

do widzenia

Looks like Poland is going home earlier than expected. Who will Bush boast about now?

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Additional debate thoughts

If there was one moment where Kerry stepped ahead of Bush in appearing more presidential, it was on the "what's the biggest foreign policy threat" question. Kerry immediately answered that nuclear proliferation was the biggest threat, and proceeded to talk intelligently about it. Bush, unable to come up with anything bigger (because hey, there really isn't much bigger than that) just fell in line behind him. Suddenly Kerry was leading and Bush was following.

Why can't Cubanos visit Cuba?

Bush Administration policies usually make sense. Not in the "I can see how this would make the country better" kind of way, but in the "I can see why Karl Rove thinks this will help Bush get reelected" kind of way. A notable exception is the Bush Administration's new restriction on Cuban-Americans visiting their families in Cuba and sending them money. The younger generation of Cubans doesn't have the furious anti-Castro sentiment that would get them to support something like this, and many people in the more hardline older generation doesn't see any substantial benefit in it. This measure is a loser with the only community of people it seriously matters to, and it's not a winner with anybody else. So why is Bush pushing it?

I had a conversation tonight with Cuban history expert Rebecca Scott (wife of metaethics superstar Peter Railton). She made me aware of the weirdness of this situation and said that she didn't know how to explain it. Family is everything to Cuban-Americans and being deprived of the opportunity to visit a dying grandmother if they've already visited Cuba that year is something that will make them very unhappy. She can only conjecture about some kind of strange backroom deal between Bush and some major Cuban-American leaders, who have far more anti-Castro fervor than their constituents, under which Bush passes this agreement and the Cuban leaders deliver some dark and shadowy favor unto him. It's something to keep in mind when you're thinking about Florida.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Kerry 1, Bush 0

...and that's on a scale going from -5 to 5.

I was watching it with a bunch of Democratic grad students of the UM phil dept, and many of us were worried (not least my buddy Ira, one of the more politically astute folks I know). Kerry clearly didn't say the awesome things that many of us hoped he'd say. Lots of his time was spent in mumblytalk about alliances and global tests (can't you see the next GOP talking point?) and junk like that. But he had a few solid moments that genuinely advanced the ball. He explained his stance on the war: we both thought Saddam was the threat, but we had different ideas on how to disarm him. He criticized Bush for prioritizing Saddam over Osama, which led to an amusing Bush error where the two got conflated. And he saved his most pointed terms of criticism -- "colossal error of judgment" -- for that criticism. That's some astute media strategy right there. It's his most intensely worded criticism and it's what the papers will pick up on since he used his toughest words there. I'm glad to see that getting into the press, since I think the American people at least recognize the greater 9/11 significance of Osama over Saddam.

Bush, on the other hand, failed to get anything done. He just repeated the same tired "mixed message" talking points, and when Kerry failed to provide a stark example of a mixed message, the talking points seemed empty. Kerry even managed to turn the points against Bush on the North Korea issue. Bush had plenty of minor bloopers -- Saddam/Osama, the weird "tax gap" junk, and for the love of God "Poland!" -- which count against him. Worst of all, he seemed to stumble at the beginning of every question and didn't seem a bit like the strong leader that his campaign desperately needs him to appear as.

But if there's one thing I have to leave you with, it's this: the polls prior to this debate have Bush over Kerry in the solid double-digits on Iraq and terrorism. Just by standing up there and not saying anything disastrous, Kerry had the power to close that gap. Given that he outperformed Bush in a foreign policy debate, he's shored up perceptions of himself on the issue where he was weakest, and this bodes very well for him in the broader context of the race.

note: This post has been brought to you by several local Michigan brews, Captain Morgan, and a super-smooth Irish whiskey called Bushmills.