28 May 2011

A poke at language

I'm confused by some idioms and cultural artifacts. This occurred to me as it seems clear than one way to do a convincing impression of some other culture (speech wise anyway) is to use and understand its unique idiomatic language. Obviously there are weirder ones in English. Or in England. And in other languages. But these came up over the last week and have been bouncing around.

XYZ "saves lives". - What are they being saved from? People still all die, yes? Our intention is clearly to suggest that people are being spared from death when we use this term. They are not. They can be spared from suffering, pain, perhaps an earlier and unfortunate demise. But not from death itself. They are saved only at that time, not indefinitely. We don't have that kind of technology. Why then do we use the term as we do? I suppose lives are that valuable to us, as mortal beings, that even temporary relief from death is a salvation of sorts. But we speak too often of this as a general theme, and also too often overlook things like quality of life improvements in our apparent haste to avoid dying. The focus we have on an idiom like this doesn't do us any favors.

An insistence on using the term "Constitutional Republic" when "democracy" will do to describe, broadly speaking anyway, the system of government used by liberal, Western states like the US. The specificity is not necessarily useful and confuses people when discussing various economic and geopolitical theories related to a broader interpretation of "democracy" than the mere literal direct popular votes entailed by a direct democracy. Which almost no one wants or uses anyway. The term is more or less useless outside of an academic setting. Why do some Americans bother to bring out the word police baton when we might use them more generally to describe a system of government involving equal protection of civil rights and unimpeded participation in the political process (ie, voting, peaceful protests, etc)?

24 May 2011

Sigh. This is what we've got to offer

We don’t need to rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America, we need to reread the Constitution and enforce the Constitution. … And I know that there are some people that are not going to do that, so for the benefit of those who are not going to read it because they don’t want us to go by the Constitution, there’s a little section in there that talks about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"

Garbage in. Garbage out. I realize the Declaration of Independence is much more lurid and quotable than the legal structure of the US Constitution, but if you're going to be the people who venerate our history to the point of making idols out of its component elements, then at least expect people to be certain which is which and what is what. And not confuse founding documents with each other.

On the plus side, the guy (Cain) is a highly marginal candidate unlikely to amount to much. On the negative, he was really popular with the Faux news crowd. I cannot say I'm surprised that someone like Gary Johnson gets no love from the GOP base, what with the libertarian streak and all, but seriously? This idiot (or Gingrich or Bachmann or Santorum) gets a higher poll number? Who are these people and where do they come from that they think these are solid candidates capable of making sound decisions to govern a country?

In other news: Man predicts end of world. Is wrong. Makes profit. Clearly I'm in the wrong industry. There's a huge market for predicting some sort of apocalypse because there's a huge amount of people who for some reason attach greater significance to their own lives if they believe that the world itself ends during their lifetimes (rather than simply their eventual demise ending their interaction with the world). This isn't limited to religious nutcases however. There's a strain of environmentalists and even some cosmologists who seem to think that some time soon that either a) human beings will destroy themselves or b) some event will destroy us (asteroid, global warming, etc). Again, the peril being made closer makes it seem more significant and real. But honestly, 50/50 odds on humanity as an entire species making it another 100 years is a little absurd. Think it through buddy. There's 7 billion of us living in all kinds of habitats. Unless the planet itself is destroyed or rendered uninhabitable to all life (and neither of those is something I'd put at a 50% likelihood over the next century), we're going to be around a while.

And we're going to be making silly predictions about our imminent destruction.

19 May 2011

That'd be a fun debate

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Mostly because there's a lot of people who like to ignore the 14th Amendment. On both sides of the political spectrum.

But also because discourse on constitutional history has taken on these divine tones for some, and indeed seeks actively to denigrate others (Jefferson in particular, as well as Paine, and some others to lesser extents) who seem absent from that political-religious standing from that time, and especially from the revisionist religious standing of our time. To me, if you need religion to justify and apply the legal structures of the US Constitution, I'm a little confused as to how your moral philosophy works, particularly if you are presuming that EVERYONE else should need religion to operate that system just as you seem to need to do.

I will admit it can be a problem for our collective understanding of history that ardently religious men of the age are whitewashed in their words, secularized in a way. But the flip side to that is completely rejecting these less theistic thinkers who had a great deal to do with the legal and moral structures on which the US has based its governance for the last 200 plus years. One of these acts is a much larger crime against human thought than the other in that it attempts to completely disregard entire people and the entire bodies of work they produced as opposed to merely changing the character of some efforts of what seem to be lesser men in our history.

Understanding the influence and importance of religion in American society, both now and in our past is a vital function of a proper historian. As someone who sees religion as pervasive and sometimes even invasive into our politics (for instance the impracticality and harms of vice laws or the mere existence of blue laws, as well as more tolerable intrusions like "in god we trust" on the money or Christmas as a federal holiday), I have no wish to see our collection of knowledge and the eventual understanding of this societal feature impinged. Indeed it would be better if more Christians in particular were aware of the amount of influence that they really possess, and have had in our history and that this knowledge provided them a dose of responsibility in exercising their power rather than a cudgel to wield against "evil secularists" like myself (or even against minority religious views like Catholics in our, recent, past and Muslims now). However I'd call on that thought to cut both ways, and it is a thought that these "evil secularists" have sadly a great deal of head start and advantage in their awareness. That is that "we" on average know more about a majority's religion and its history than it does, and considerably more about other faiths that most have no interest in, ie those practiced elsewhere, to say nothing of the actual studies of history outside of religion's conflicted and often tortured past and present. Human history is not made of marble and does not always conform to ready ideological dispositions. It has players from all walks of life, all manner of opinions, and all ways of application. Some of them are villains or heroes in different tales told by different peoples. Most of these will contain contradictions and hypocritical strands of thought. Perfection doesn't exist in our past anymore than it exists now. The revisionist blend of history, and by extension Constitutional "scholarship", especially that of millennial evangelicals, seems to pretend that it does, but arrives at that stage of logic by often completely ignoring more inconvenient members of society, past and present.

Speaking of debates, Stewart's repeat appearance on O'Reilly isn't all that surprising. In that he made cogent points about the phony war on rappers (Common this time) by Faux. Basically, we pretty much should just acknowledge that MOST performers are idiots and will hold prominently idiotic opinions on something (see much of Bono's work, or any quote from Sean Penn, etc). And then we should move on because MOST Americans hold prominently idiotic opinions on something.

There are legitimate bones to pick with Common's lyrics besides the stupidity of some his views, but they're not that much different from those addressed at famous rock or country lyrics (attitudes toward women for instance). Honestly, I'm surprised that there isn't a lot more common cause taken up between right-wingers and rappers sometimes. Their views on birth control, abortion, and gun rights are often pretty similar, you'd think allies of convenience would be taken more seriously.

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Still waiting on "guns in church" mode for society to take off more so than "guns in bars".

Protecting yourself in a bar or sporting arena... yes. Vitally important. Basically, if you go in there and manage to get in a fight, that's on you anyway. What difference does the police make for that other than sorting out the aftermath with or without a gun in play.

Also "Bubp"?

18 May 2011

Oh right... there's something worth celebrating!

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That would be, clearly, that some evil porn collection was discovered. Some of you must think that a good deed.

17 May 2011

Remember all libertarians are crazy

And thus hold the crazy positions
These are the supposedly evil and vile and stupid ideas of Ron Paul (and by extension, his libertarian, quasi-libertarian, constitutionalist fans)
1) Eviscerate Entitlements: Believes that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are unconstitutional, and has compared the failure of federal courts to strike them down to the courts' failure to abolish slavery in the 19th century.

I'd say comparing taxation to slavery is a little extreme, and there are utilitarian grounds on which public health and retirement do have externality costs and especially free rider problems that need to be attended to. But the systems that we have are not especially good at doing so and replacing them with something like mandatory allocations would probably be more efficient. In particular with retirement. Given consumer transparency problems in the health care market at present and that health care benefits are owned by employers rather than individuals, health care is trickier. Basically it's a market failure caused by government and replacing government interventions with some simple regulatory structures would work a lot more smoothly. The main reason to oppose these however is the public cost rather than the rights conversations. If governments wish to offer some sort of public provisions in competition with private market solutions or to subsidize the additional costs to provide rights for the poor, I'm not obstinately and philosophically opposed, but right now medicare and social security operate largely as middle class entitlements rather than as social insurance. This is therefore a dumb idea, and clearly its a tremendously popular one. As with many of these ideas, the problem is that the status quo position is popular, entrenched, and does not work, certainly not for the cost that we must pay for it.

2) Lay Off Half His Cabinet: Wants to abolish half of all federal agencies, including the departments of Energy, Education, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Labor.

I don't see a problem with this. HSA, USDA seem especially useless. Commerce does generate useful economic data and the census, but it does a lot of useless subsidizing. Same with Labor. I'm a little more skeptical about completely abolishing Education, Energy and HHS, but I don't think they're substantially useful either. Energy is mostly a DoD budget hiding spot, and then a lot of economically distorting and environmentally damaging subsidizing for coal and oil and eventually natural gas (along with ethanol), so gutting it is fine. EPA regulations come under other auspices I think, so perhaps it can go all together. Education should probably exist in some form (I'd say nominally to oversee individual tax credit transfers for school funding), but not the form it has taken.

3) Enable State Extremism: Would let states set their own policies on abortion, gay marriage, prayer in school, and most other issues.

- States are already doing most of this anyway. Gay marriage for instance is mostly illegal. Abortions are strictly regulated and restricted in some states, particularly in the South and Midwest. I'm not sure how this is a different and extreme position as a result. Prayer in school does strike me as a serious federal amendment problem, but I get around it by just allowing people to fund schools that they want to fund. If those schools include prayer, then only those parents who want their children to pray in school will go there (or those that don't care). There are schools that already do this (private parochial schools, as well as many home schooled children), so this is hardly a radical shift. The principle problem with prayer in school as an issue is that the people who push for it are less interested in having their own children pray, but rather having other children do so. If the schools are free to set their own policies and appeal on those grounds to the consuming public of parents and students, I see no problem. However I also don't think it should be set by state law that schools or even teachers (much less the students) should be required to do it. That would strike me as an extreme position. I don't think that's the Paul position, but I'm unclear on his education funding ideas. He's been a little busy on other matters of government abuse (and some imaginary ones)

4) Protect Sexual Predators' Privacy: Voted against requiring operators of wi-fi networks who discover the transmission of child porn and other forms online sex predation to report it to the government.

Two points here. One, the crucial element for child porn ought to be the generation of it (where it involves actual harm to an actual child), so the consumption of it should not require invasive government monitoring services (with the one exception I can think of off hand that paedophiles should, on some condition of prison release, be required to turn over IP information to probationary officers or therapists for monitoring). In general, I'd probably take a much stronger stance on how we incarcerate actual sexual predators than we do at present. And two.. large numbers of our sexual offences that we do punish already seem to be counterproductive, and one such element is the transmission of things like sexting or nude photos distributed among teens. We haven't decided as a society how to approach these, but there are jurisdictions that have decided to crack down and treat this as the same as paedophilia. That does not seem to make sense. Teenagers exploring their sexuality is not the same as adults abusing young children and should not be treated the same in a criminal sense. Harms exist but they can be better dealt with by having more open sexual dialogues between parents and children. If we are dealing with mere IP information and ISP disclosure, I'm sure that information should be requested by police where they suspect criminal behavior and harm. It should not be required to be turned over. One behavior that does exist and would seem like a reasonable compromise is for police to set up their own websites, collect data on who goes there, and then request the identities of IP addresses for later criminal processing. But police already do this. A third ameliorating factor is that the actual child predator population is decisively smaller than is commonly believed, and where it does exist, it exists in actual harm forms, and more closely associated with the children involved, rather than as strangers and consumers of online child pornography. Such as teachers, priests, and adult family members having sex with children. It is largely a mythological population of random child predators and creating invasive systems of surveillance to capture them strikes me as overselling the issue.

5) Rescind the Bin Laden Raid: Instead of authorizing the Navy Seals to take him out, President Paul would have sought Pakistan's cooperation to arrest him.

How awful. A President who would be bound by international laws to extradite an accused criminal and hold him accountable in a court of law instead of assassination? As much as I'm not terribly concerned that we as the US follow our interests in order to kill enemies of our vital strategic interests, I don't think it would have killed us to put the guy on trial if we could have. This one doesn't strike me as batshit crazy either, but it does strike me as a little naive and possibly neglecting some facts on the ground from the operation itself that we are not privy to because the government has decided we don't need to be. To me that's a larger problem than that we killed the guy instead of arresting him. That the raid lacks proper documentation (video seems to be have been explicitly turned off) for instance introduces doubt to the official story that his death was a necessary outcome to protect the safety of the SEAL team. Of course, I am already rather skeptical of official stories where terrorism is concerned (given that very large numbers of accused terrorists have turned out to be nothing of the kind).

6) Simplify the Census: The questions posed by the Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey, which collects demographics data such as age, race, and income, are "both ludicrous and insulting," Paul says.

- This is considered an extreme position? It should not be terribly difficult for the Census to cross reference with the IRS to gather income information. Age might be something worth gathering, but this is mostly because we have middle class entitlements for old people and is otherwise a statistically interesting fact about the country (for measuring life expectancy) but has little actual utility. On the face of it though, none of this information is necessarily important private information to the point that it should be considered "insulting" for the government to gather it for statistical purposes. It's just not very useful either to the government.

7) Let the Oldest Profession Be: Paul wants to legalize prostitution at the federal level.

This one and the next fall under "status quo is insane, reformers labeled as crazy". Most of the societal harms posed by prostitution come from either other public health problems (condom use, STD transmission) that can be better resolved with cultural shifts rather than vice squads or from its prohibition, illegality and prosecution by authorities. Its black market status makes practitioners more prone to sexual abuse, physical abuse, death, arrest, etc, as well as making it easier for teens to be entered illegally into it or women/children to be sold into sex slavery. These are problems that can be more openly dealt with in an open legal market than in a hidden black market one. Additionally, cracking down on things like Craigslist sex advertisements doesn't help anyone. The Internet's primary utility for sex workers has been its ability to render them more independent of pimps while still generating the additional income that might come from having a middleman to arrange for business. So to speak. All pushing women back to pimps accomplishes is that someone else gets a cut of illegal activity (ie, money), has incentives to do things like force teens into their ring, and potentially increases violence or risk of arrest toward the sex workers themselves. Woot says I. What a wonderfully effective policy... Speaking of which..

8) Legalize All Drugs: Including cocaine and heroin.

This one is a tough one to swallow for people. There's a slight distortion on both of these in that Paul's actual position is to allow states to decide for themselves if things like prostitution, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, et al should be legal. But leaving that aside, as with prostitution, large amounts of harm are effected by the prohibition and prosecution itself of drugs and drug trafficking. While there are societal harms effected by drug use and especially abuse, these are much smaller than the violence (both by traffickers and police) of a black market and the disruption of communities caused by both open air drug markets (ie, the violence again feeding into the movement of business away from criminal actors and the lack of jobs feeding back into the movement of young people in the drug trade) and the arrest and incarceration of large percentages of young (mostly black) men, which also feeds back by putting criminal records on people and stifling their job options further as well as breaking apart families. Where social conservatives claim to be greatly concerned with the nuclear family, they are quick to turn a blind eye to it once that family is a poor inner city (ie, black) one. See the disparities with crack and cocaine distribution sentences.

9) Keep Monopolies Intact: Opposes federal antitrust legislation, calling it "much more harmful than helpful." Thinks that monopolies can be controlled by protecting "the concept of the voluntary contract."

- This is a terrible distortion of the position. Opposing antitrust regulation by calling it "much more harmful than helpful" is not the same as saying "keep monopolies intact". Most current monopolies exist because of government sponsorship and less because of market domination and market failures. Examples of where government regulations protected monopolies are, for example, airlines and automobiles. Utility companies and especially cable and phone companies as well. Antitrust regulation at its face has other strategic interests to prevent the disruption of public supplies of necessary goods and services that might come from market contracts with large vertical monopolies in an industry, say oil or steel. But much government regulation, aside from antitrust, fosters and protects the existence of these very trusts rather than hindering them.

10) Lay Off Ben Bernanke: Would abolish the Federal Reserve and revert to use of currencies that are backed by hard assets such as gold.

- Paul's goldbug fascination does strike me as a little insane (not as crazy as Angle's chicken bartering scheme, but still). They got maybe 1 1/2 of the 10 so far and a couple where the norm is crazier than the proposal being offered.

11) Stop Policing the Environment: Believes that climate change is no big deal and the Environmental Protection Agency is unnecessary. Most environmental problems can be addressed by enforcing private-property rights. Paul also thinks that interstate issues such as air pollution are best dealt with through compacts between states.

- The first two parts do seem a little odd. I do however think that stronger private property protections relating to environmental damage would work pretty well. I'm not sure about the air pollution compact solution. Cap and trade worked pretty well for non-carbon pollutants as a minimal governmental solution in the free market (essentially all the government did was establish a market that did not previously exist). I don't think it would as well for carbon emissions, but I do think that private property protections do speak to a need for a basic carbon tax (and a hike in the gasoline tax) because there are significant externalities (public health for instance) even before one approaches the politically toxic climate change issue.

12) Not Do Anything, but Still...: Would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it was a "massive violation of private property and contract, which are the bedrocks of a free society."

- I've been over this one. I think the CRA was necessary to correct for a government caused disaster of civil rights violations. But the key word there is "government". The southern states in particular imposed regimes of oppression upon all citizens and compelled them to prejudice their private relationships (anti-miscegenation laws), private contracts (laws restricting where blacks could live and work), and private associations (and where they could sit, eat, play, drink, go to the bathroom, etc). That's not to say that there was not public support among whites for this compelled bigotry. But whether or not it would have withstood opposition from more open-minded market participants who could exploit their bigotry for personal (and mutual) gain is an untested hypothesis. We must also have an understanding that these legal regimes could be imposed largely because the oppressed populations were also prevented, often harshly, from participating in construction of the legal environments under which they could live. It is mostly THIS gross violation of civil rights that had to be corrected through the CRA. The deconstruction of other civil restrictions requiring prejudice and bigotry was a natural consequence of destroying the architecture which allowed it to come into being in the first place.

13) Let Markets Care for the Disabled: "The ADA should have never been passed," Paul says. The treatment of the handicapped should be determined by the free market.

- I'm ambivalent on this one. I would think a more logical solution from the top-down perspective is to simply subsidize disabled people (as we do with school vouchers and SSI for instance). Or just go with a negative income tax, where someone who is disabled would have at least a guaranteed income level plus access to charity, family, etc. A downside risk of having governments involved in providing benefits to disabled people is the difficulty of attaining those benefits by having to jump through bureaucratic hoops. It also reduces potential market participation (ie, getting a job as a disabled person) by imposing new costs on employers. That is to say, the ADA is not without potential costs even for the disabled. It's possible that these are balanced with gains in rights and public standing, but we should not be quick to assume that legal structures and regulations are costless effects when assessing their utility.

14) Wants to end birthright citizenship. Believes that emergency rooms should have the right to turn away illegal immigrants.

- Both of these I don't agree with. Medical ethics violates the second one. A simpler solution is to allow immigrants (legal or not) to purchase health insurance. Illegals would simply not be able to do so with government subsidies. I don't think this actually drives up our costs as much as is believed. Terminal costs and care for the aged is far more expensive than the trumped up cost of a visit to the ER by someone with a cold. A better market solution still is to allow for less medical licensing and to put up more clinics or doc-in-the-box stations where medically trained people could issue a sort of triage and treat common ailments and injuries for the poor and thus reserving space in the ER for emergency cases. As far as birthright citizenship, I don't see how this proposal resolves any real problems. The supposed problem is that there are people dropping babies across our borders. The real world situation is that most immigrants (of the illegal variety) have lived here a while and start families while they are already here. The real world solution is to examine the possibility that our immigration laws are already too ridiculously overdone with bureaucracy, red tape, and impose considerable costs on potential immigrants, especially of the variety of trained and educated potential workers, who often end up in Canada or Europe or Australia instead where immigration can be easier. Possible compromises between the open-borders position (the most economically sensible one) and the xenophobic silliness of walls and changes to the 14th amendment include things like auctioning off immigration visas and removing the government's current legal intrusion into why anyone would wish to buy one (ie justifying that a skilled worker should be hired by a business, regardless of their country of origin).

15) Diss Mother Teresa: Voted against giving her the Congressional Gold Medal. Has argued that the medal, which costs $30,000, is too expensive.

Congress does a lot of idiotic and harmful things for symbolic reasons (drug laws for instance). This is at least not odious and obviously harmful, but it's still a waste of money designed to get a couple of Congressmen on TV. It's politically symbolic as opposed to societally so.

Basically I see 2.5 to 3 batshit crazy points versus about half a dozen where the status quo, populist position is the truly crazy one that makes no economic or social sense. I have my own misgivings about Ron (and Rand) Paul as opposed to Gary Johnson, and I understand that neither is likely to garner any reasonable press attention because their positions often require explanations rather than soundbytes. But really, would we prefer that say, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich as examples are the GOP nominee? What do they really offer? How are their positions more reasonable and sane?

08 May 2011


In the wake of all this Osama killing business I'm hearing a fair amount of commentary relating to the old torture debate. Supposedly, we are told by pro-torture advocates like John Yoo or Rumsfeld, information relating to the courier was obtained in this way and thus that the eventual death of Osama itself is accountable to these methods of interrogation and information gathering making such choices worthwhile.

This has rather serious problems with it as a set of assumptions and conclusions.

1) We are told, but it is not demonstrated, that the information relating to the courier (as well as other Osama-related data) was obtained through waterboarding or other "harsh" measures.

2) We must assume that this information could not be obtained using normal interrogation procedures and that only torture was useful in obtaining it (a very dubious assumption based on the accumulated wisdom of interrogation specialists, including some who work for the US government in the FBI or armed services).

3) We must assume that these methods as employed did not also generate false or misleading information as well which, had it been ignored, might have hastened the capture or death of bin Laden or his associates. (based on the faulty intelligence relating to the Iraq War, this is a very dubious assumption).

4) It is assumed that people objecting to torture are objecting firstly and mostly on some notion that it doesn't or cannot work to generate useful intelligence information. I'm not aware that there are many people claiming that it is completely ineffective at obtaining intelligence outcomes. The usual complaints instead are that it is ineffective relative to less invasive and damaging alternatives and that it has strategic and moral downsides which would have outweighed any potential utility as an interrogation tactic and particularly as an interrogation strategy licensed and encouraged by government officials (that is, that if some agent in a hostile country tortures a captured prisoner for information in a raw action we might understand this action if it led to useful intelligence which saved lives, but not if we order that agent to conduct his interrogations using these methods).

5) I suppose a lesser conclusion being made is that having access to these prisoners through a system of unlawful detention allows us to generate ongoing intelligence and that this related to the operations which allowed us to kill bin Laden. I would argue that it is fully possible to contain these prisoners through convicting them of heinous crimes for which they are likely guilty and to then have access to them for on-going intelligence purposes. The status of detention as either the permanent stripping of legal rights or the incarceration of convicted human rights violators (ie, terrorists) doesn't seem to matter to the question of having access for intelligence developments.

6) Update. Most disturbing of all: We're running polls on "news networks" asking who we should torture, I mean conduct an "enhanced interrogation" on, next. To my mind this demonstrates that we, the public, do not have much of a clue why we would torture someone at all. Or, more likely, that we do, but we are not publicly acknowledging that its purpose isn't information gathering. It is the inflicting of pain or torment upon an avowed enemy for revenge or retribution.

03 May 2011

Some more final thoughts

- I'm not concerned or happy that Osama is dead. What concerns me is the cost that a society bears in order to work lethal justice upon a chosen few, regardless of how self-evidentially they appear to deserve death. It seems a whole lot cheaper to go after a lot more who would work often considerable damage themselves, and devise strategies in foreign policy to do so (along with our criminal justice policies more generally where the death penalty costs us far more than life without parole AND leaves us with less messy moral complications of errors in our judgments)
- Osama bin Laden, or even Islamic radicalism more broadly, never was an existential threat. We reacted as though he was. For my part, it would be nice if we reacted to his death as though the existential threat is gone then, gave medals to the soldiers involved and declared victory, and just collectively pretended the war was over. The actual physical risks to terrorist acts most of us would suffer from doing so would be vanishingly small and not worth worrying about. The actual physical risk increase of terrorist acts in the fallout of this event itself is vanishingly small and should be ignored. Yet the overwhelming majority of people seem to think we need to ratchet up the security level in the wake, not decrease it or even keep it where it absurdly was and call it even. Maybe there's some psychological benefit to pretending that we have more levels of security to deploy than we are currently employing. But we don't (all we have is more levels of citizen harassment and debasement).
- My own memories of 9-11 are somewhat distinct from most, and I don't recall sensations of rage and a desire for revenge. I recall instead the sense of unity and brotherhood that the damage to our collective psyche had the unfortunate ability to call out from us, somewhat temporarily. Then we went back to "fuck you!" to the guy who cut us off in traffic when we were the one running a stop sign, after a couple minutes of humanity and basic decency. I'm somehow not surprised to see that this sense of ... oneness?, was not restored by killing someone associated with the initial tragedy.
- As a result, it sort of surprised me to see so many of my social media companions expressing concerns that the public face of our reactions seemed to be celebratory and to see calls for an abiding sense of humanity and mutual respect, even love. Our hatreds must have grown powerful, but I am somewhat heartened from my usually persistent cynical mood to see a few friendly faces in the crowd of bile.
- I was also not surprised to see people busy trying to play politics. To those who hadn't been paying attention, there is and wasn't a GOP candidate who had a chance in hell of winning BOTH the GOP primary AND the 2012 election (at least who was running, Mitch Daniels doesn't appear to be running, Romney wasn't winning the primary and nobody else yet in the field has a chance in hell of beating Obama in a national election where Democrats and moderates have votes). This probably clinched that barring some veeeeeerrrrry sluggish economic performances over the next year or so, and/or any large scale terrorist incidents. So it doesn't surprise me to see a lot of people who didn't like Obama, mostly conservatives, busy trying to exercise a lot of mental contortions to get out of having to assign him any credit to this event whatsoever so they can pretend to have a need to vote against him as some sort of "weakling" (nevermind his actual record for efficiently killing Muslim terrorists or deporting immigrants or whatever your conservative credential bugaboos are). Look, I don't like the guy either. If I have the option, I'll actually vote for Gary Johnson in a second over Obama. This whole Libya mess combined with a terrible civil liberties record (other than maybe on gay rights issues, it is at least as bad as Bush other than the torture, and I'd hold Bush down somewhere with Nixon and Wilson as one of our worst civil liberties upholding Presidents since Buchanan or Pierce, and Obama so far isn't doing very well either), pretty mediocre economic policy viewpoint (predictable for any national candidate from either party, more so for one tied in with both Unions and Wall St), and a very mixed record on other core issues like education policy doesn't impress me. So if it comes up that he doesn't deserve credit for something (the way we've somehow collectively decided that FDR and the New Deal got us out of the Depression, when in fact he bungled us into a second one), I'll be happy to let you know. This one, seems like it is fine so far.

Save the screaming and talking points for something that actually matters.

02 May 2011

A list of thoughts

- Apologies for the delay, I'm fighting a cold and just got in from out of town.

- Does this mean we can keep our shoes on and take toothpaste on the plane again?
- Where's the long form death certificate? I'd expect there are plenty of morons waiting on that one now to give them proof he was really killed....
- I suppose in one sense, this was the objective, originally. I had no real beef with going into Afghanistan to clear out some bad guys who attacked us. I had a huge beef with occupying the country under the illusive (perhaps impossible) pretense of liberating it with a democracy. You don't just give people voting rights and call it a democratic state. Sorry. That's not how that works.
- So if it was the objective, does that mean the war is over?
- If not, then clearly we have a problem with how we conducted this war and its overarching strategies. I mean, almost 10 years to kill one guy? The Russians got Hitler in under 4 and he had the full power of a nation-state with imperial designs at his defence. I suppose he was a little easier to find (and killed himself), but still.
- I submit that our problem was that never in our strategy was it defined "what causes terrorism". We failed to understand the course that the war was taking. In so doing, large numbers of people who were doing little more than defending their homes and way of life were deemed to be terrorist threats to America and a (much) smaller number of people took it upon themselves to wage an active campaign on their behalf to attack Americans.
- A couple hundred thousand people are dead here. I'm not sure "rejoice!" or "dancing in the night" was the appropriate response. Even if the overwhelming majority of them are not Americans, the overwhelming majority of them were innocent people. Unless you're one of those "kill all ragheads!, they're ALL terrorists!" Islamophobic morons (and there are plenty of them out there in the country), this statement is true and should be sobering.

- So in summary: If it is somehow necessary to kill many, many thousands of (mostly innocent) people, many of them in a completely different country/region, in order to kill one guy, then Yay us. USA! USA! and all that. I'm pretty confident in saying that we failed this equation. So the correct answer is not to celebrate but to ask when we can stop doing what we're doing. It has way too high a cost and probably does nothing to keep us safe and now with this guy dead, doesn't have a clear end point.

- Addendum. I suppose it goes without saying that there was also these
- Gitmo
- Torture
- Civil liberties abuses involving rendition and wrongful detention, or even guest appearances on the no-fly list and our inability to get these overturned or penalized as inappropriate policy choices. To say nothing of now being able to claim someone is a terrorist and summarily kill them anywhere in the world without having to adjudicate the claims and without them being actively involved in combat or a terror plot.

But if I had to look back on this whole episode, this would be one way to look at it. We should not come away holding our heads high. We should be ashamed that in our collective rage we descended to levels well beneath the means available, and useful, to a powerful liberal democratic state.