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Friday, October 04, 2002

 
CHEERLEADING THE CHEERLEADER.

Mickey Kaus grows increasingly shrill and impatient with those of us who fail to see the hidden genius of President Bush's economic master plan.

Today he continues his cheerleading for the former cheerleader, arguing that now that we're facing long-term economic woes, the stimulus potential of Bush's tax-cut seems intentional. Kaus notes that this stimulus effect was even among the arguments Bush used to promote his tax cut:

Bush explicitly cast both long-term and short term tax relief as an anti-recession remedy, as in this March 28. 2001 New York Times report: "'We need an immediate stimulus for our economy,' Mr. Bush said, referring to some of the ideas gathering force in the Senate without throwing his explicit support behind any single measure."

What Kaus avoids mentioning is that almost anything can be cited as a reason Bush embraced to promote his tax cut.

President Bush said the tax cut would bring the rains. That it would stop the rains. That it would slow a runaway economy. That it would stimulate a sluggish economy. That it would help you lose weight. And help you gain weight. It will make you taller and shorter. Warmer and cooler. It will, he argued, do everything for everyone.

Bush's hodgepodge of conflicting arguments was like a paraphrase of Whitman: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. My tax cut is large, it encompasses multitudes."

A parody/analogy/allegory:

The president is asked to pick a number from 1 to 10.

Bush: I pick 1, 2, 3 and 4. Along with 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. And I can't rule out 10, 11 or 12.

Krugman: First of all, the president cheated. Secondly, he was still wrong more than 9 times out of 10.

Kaus: The answer is 7, and Bush said "7"! Bush was right! He said "7" and those idiots at the Times won't admit he was right! Krugman said Bush was wrong, but he was right - he said "7"! I demand a retraction and a correction from Krugman and the Times!

[Then later, after lefty bloggers point out that the answer is actually 8, not 7 ...]

Kaus: Good point! But Bush is still right -- he said “8” too! Krugman, therefore, was still wrong to say Bush was wrong. Advantage Kausfiles!



posted by Fred Clark 1:38 PM

 
MY CITY IN RUINS.

Learned two things this week about the former Leroi Jones:

1. He was named New Jersey's poet laureate.

2. His output and reputation are still in decline.

The formerly interesting Amiri Baraka caused a stir by including weird anti-Semitic foolishness in a an arhythmic and unlovely memorial poem on 9/11. Stupid. And hateful.

Baraka later defended his poem saying, "I can take a position of support of the Palestinians' right to self-determination without being ... an anti-Semite." Which is true, but Mr. Baraka apparently can't tell the difference between supporting the Palestinians' right to self-determination and supporting moronic, paranoid, racist propaganda.

But anyway -- is it really wise for New Jersey to have a poet laureate?

The Garden State has been home and inspiration to great poets in the past, but that hasn't worked out very well. Walt Whitman sang of Camden as "a city invincible." William Carlos Williams praised Paterson, and Bruce Springsteen sent us "Greetings from Asbury Park."

But just look at any of those cities now. Three once-proud municipalities laid low by poetry. Then there's Newark, which never fully recovered from Allen Ginsburg. Or New Brunswick, still reeling from John Ciardi's brief tenure at Rutgers.

The evidence is clear: poetry is killing New Jersey.


posted by Fred Clark 12:35 PM

 
BCC: TOOL OF SLEAZY, EVIL PEOPLE.

Got an e-mail from a co-worker -- we'll call him "Gotcha Greg" -- the other day here in The Cube. The e-mail was addressed to me and only to me. No "cc" listed. You get the idea.

Five minutes later, I get an e-mail from the Boss. It's a forward of the e-mail from Gotcha, with a little note saying to respond quickly.

GG apparently sent a "bcc" to the Boss. It seems he does this as a matter of routine.

Can anyone explain to me a valid, non-sleazy reason anyone would routinely bcc the superiors of your co-workers? Is there any explanation that doesn't make Gotcha Greg a back-stabbing, underhanded, toadying suck-up?

So I sent a reply -- cc-ing the Boss -- that read: "BCC to the boss. Tres Ashcroft." Oddly, this got me in some trouble both with my boss and GG's boss, and has provoked widespread harrumphing about The Office.

Anyway, here's the really interesting part:

The phrase "Tres Ashcroft" has been perceived universally as pejorative.

John Ashcroft is the Attorney General of the United States, so one might interpret any comparison to him as meaning "judicious and statesmanlike." But no one seems to view the adjective "Ashcroft" in such a positive light. (And, of course, I meant it pejoratively.)

The Corporation is in the security industry, so most everyone here is very conservative. (Besides the slacktivist, the closest thing to a liberal here is this one guy who voted for Perot back in '92.) Yet even among these GOP stalwarts, Ashcroft's name is perceived as an insult, an epithet that provokes an indignant, pained response.

If I told a co-worker he was "very R.F.K." -- he'd probably take it as a compliment. "Very Thornburg" would likely produce more confusion than indignation. Even "very Janet Reno" could be overlooked. But "very Ashcroft" -- them's fightin' words.

posted by Fred Clark 12:07 PM


Wednesday, October 02, 2002

 
THE FOLLY OF FOOLS.

The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways,
but the folly of fools is deception.
-- Proverbs 14:8


The Bush administration has a really, really, really hard time telling the truth. As the cover-stories get thinner and the lies clumsier, it starts to look like they can't even bother trying to make their lies convincing.

And what might otherwise be charitably interpreted as mere misstatements are proven to be deliberate falsehoods by their perverse, determined repetition. We are repeatedly left with no charitable option: George W. Bush is not trustworthy.

He lies. A lot.

Joseph Curl of The Washington Times tried valiantly to recover a shred of truth in President Bush's oft-repeated claim that reports found Iraq to be "six months away" from a nuclear weapon.

But, as Curl writes, the report "cited by President Bush as evidence ... does not exist."

In a Sept. 7 news conference ... Mr. Bush said: "I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied — finally denied access [in 1998], a report came out of the Atomic — the IAEA that they were six months away from developing a weapon. ... I don't know what more evidence we need."

When asked for details, President Bush provides details: The IAEA reported in 1998 that Iraq was six months away from developing a nuclear weapon.

That's plenty detailed, but it's not true:

"There's never been a report like that issued from this agency," Mark Gwozdecky, the IAEA's chief spokesman, said. ... "We've never put a time frame on how long it might take Iraq to construct a nuclear weapon in 1998."

So was the president just making stuff up? No, no, no, insists Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan:

"He's referring to 1991 there ... In '91, there was a report saying that after the war they found out they were about six months away."

But the White House whitewash is hogwash, as Curl reports:

Mr. Gwozdecky said no such report was ever issued by the IAEA in 1991.

The Bush administration now looks foolish and sleazy and more than a little like George Costanza. But, just like George, they can't resist digging deeper into the lie. McClellan piles on more arcane details:

To clear up the confusion, Mr. McClellan cited two news articles from 1991 — a July 16 story in the London Times by Michael Evans and a July 18 story in the New York Times by Paul Lewis.

But, sure enough ...

... neither article cites an IAEA report on Iraq's nuclear-weapons program or states that Saddam was only six months away from "developing a weapon" — as claimed by Mr. Bush.

Backed into a corner by its own duplicity and feckless, unimaginative lying, the Bush administration was forced to rely finally on ...

WOW! LOOK OVER THERE! TERRORISTS ARE SMUGGLING 33 POUNDS OF ENRICHED URANIUM INTO IRAQ!"

Yeah, right.






posted by Fred Clark 5:07 PM


Tuesday, October 01, 2002

 
FINDING FORRESTER.

"I reiterate my call for Mr. Torricelli to resign."
-- Doug Forrester, September 26, 2002

"Playing politics with the fundamental tenets of democracy."
-- Doug Forrester, September 30, 2002,
characterizing Torricelli's resignation as a dirty trick.

= = = = = = = = = = = =

THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT.

Doug Forrester, the drug-dealer about to be elected to the U.S. Senate from New Jersey, is the worst kind of multi-millionaire -- the kind that doesn't realize his millions make his life different from the lives of most people.

This makes him dangerous.

Not because of the way he lives, but because he seems to think that everyone else lives just like him. It is quite possible to be a multi-millionaire and represent the needs of your entire constituency. (Jersey's now-senior senator, Jon Corzine, is a gazillionaire, but he seems to an extent to recognize that we don't all share the privileges this buys him.) But if you're a multi-millionaire and you think you're not any different than anyone else, your constituency is in big trouble.

Doug Forrester is a multi-millionaire, but he says, despite his millions, he's just like everyone else and they're just like him. That's the kind of delusional fantasy that makes pampered, privileged politicians take a host of embarrassingly Louis XVI-style positions, such as the repeal of the estate tax.

Now, because his campaign has thus far focused almost exclusively on his former opponent, Bob Torricelli, we know very little about Mr. Forrester. (You can learn a little bit at his campaign website -- but beware pop-ups and sticky tricks.)

What we do know includes the following:

1. Doug Forrester was once mayor of West Windsor, N.J.

2. He served in the administration of Governor Tom Kean.

3. He has reaped millions as a middle-man in the pharmaceutical industry -- owning 51 percent of a company that he says earned more than $50 million last year. That company, BeneCard, has given some $6 million to the Forrester campaign as a "loan."

4. Doug Forrester has a thing about immigrants. (His KYW radio ads during his primary fight against Diane Allen conveyed a Buchanan-ist xenophobia.)

5. He had a series of part-time jobs while in college, including painting street numbers, "flipping burgers" and working as "a librarian" --

Hold it.

A librarian?

I don't think so.


A librarian is a professional. And the librarians I know don't take kindly to having their profession portrayed as the equivalent of "flipping burgers."

To be a librarian in New Jersey -- as in most states -- one must have at least a master's degree in library science or information science.

Yet Forrester says he was a librarian during his undergrad years. Far more likely that he was a part-time assistant clerk, staffing the desk and shelving books. That's a fine job -- I've done it myself -- but it doesn't make you a "librarian."

So Forrester has made a claim in his ad and that claim isn't true. Imagine for a moment that it was Al Gore, not Doug Forrester, who claimed to have a master's degree in a field he had never studied. That would have played on Fox News for months.

Yet although Forrester has committed the opposite of truth-telling, I don't think this quite rises to the level of a lie.

All it really means is that Forrester didn't pay any attention to the places he worked -- or the people he worked with -- during his part-time undergraduate sojourn among the "working people."

While Forrester's attitude towards work and working people is transparently arrogant and condescending, there's also a palpable desperation to his reaching all the way back to college work-study to show that he appreciates the value of working for a living. I'm surprised the ad didn't mention Forrester's experience as a paper-boy.

It seems Forrester's only real connection with the people of New Jersey is that he has enriched himself from the high price they've been paying for pharmaceutical benefits. (It's bad enough having an HMO as your HMO, who wants one for a senator?)

When Forrester says he's just like us, it means that he thinks we're just like him -- with the housing, transportation, insurance, health care, security, educational opportunities, connections and privileges of a multi-millionaire.

But we're not like you Mr. Forrester.

We don't have millions of dollars to play with.

We can't run a vanity campaign with millions "borrowed" from our companies.

The world is not our oyster and our lives are not easy. So please don't pretend to speak for us.




posted by Fred Clark 5:17 PM

 
BO DIDDLEY HAS NOT BEEN PAID.

What happens when the last thing you hear on the way to work is a horrifically catchy Bow Wow Wow cover of an old Strangelove tune? For me, something like this:

I know a guy who's tough but sweet
His pacifism can't be beat
He earned a place in history
By winning moral victory

I want Ghandi
I want Ghandi
I want Ghandi
I want Ghandi

Gandhi started out in old Capetown
Challenged injustice all around
Back in India he made his name
Subcontinent'd never be the same

I want Ghandi
I want Ghandi
I want Ghandi
I want Ghandi

British Raj never seen his like
Broke their back with a hunger strike
Guns and bullets couldn't win the day
'Gainst soul power and Mohandas K.

I want Ghandi
I want Ghandi
I want Ghandi
I want Ghandi

Hindus, Muslims, Christians all
Listen to Gandhi and heed the call
This guy he’s a real mahatma
Teachin’ us that satyagraha

I want Ghandi
I want Ghandi
I want Ghandi
I want Ghandi





posted by Fred Clark 4:52 PM


Monday, September 30, 2002

 
IRAQI URBAN LEGENDS.

Speaking of skepticism ...

Calvin Woodward has performed a valuable, snopes-like service by fact-checking the Bush administration on some of its unsupported assertions about the impending war on Iraq.

His AP article this weekend, was blunted by the unwieldy title: "U.S. is on the edge of available evidence, maybe over, in making the case for Iraq war." I prefer The News Journal's version: "Facts elusive in case vs. Iraq: Administration's assertions often backed by little data."

Woodward's article, accompanied with this point-by-point sidebar, dispassionately demonstrates that the Bush administration has repeatedly, habitually and reflexively proven itself untrustworthy on the subject of Iraq.

Sometimes, this untrustworthiness is blatant:

Did Iraq really kick out U.N. weapons inspectors in 1998, as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said? No.

Usually, it's a subtler form of evasion:

''There clearly are contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq that can be documented,'' [Condoleezza Rice] said.

She did not document them.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated the evidence for linkage is tenuous, based on sources of varying reliability.


This is a president and an administration that cannot look you in the eye. They have conducted what Josh Marshall calls:

... an extremely dishonest public debate -- one in which assertions which are widely understood to be false are stated and not corrected, in which important distinctions are clouded with obscuring phrases, and in which discussion of the long-term consequences of specific actions are trumped by slogans.

Yesterday, the AP quoted Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) as saying, "I think the president would mislead the American people."

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe responded, "The American people know he hasn't misled anyone and the American people know he won't mislead anyone."

But we don't know that. All we can know is what the president's track record shows us -- from "privatization" to the "trifecta," to "Kenny Boy" -- the man has a long history of weaseling words. He has worked long and hard to earn our mistrust, and we should give it to him.

Michael Kinsley points out that this is the crux of the debate on war with Iraq:

We aren't capable of answering the actual questions at hand: Is Saddam Hussein an imminent threat to our national and personal security, and is a war to remove him from power the only way to end that threat? So, we must do with a surrogate question: Based on information we do have and issues we are capable of judging, should we trust the leaders who are urging war upon us?

The answer to that last one is easy. The Bush administration campaign for war against Iraq has been an extravaganza of disingenuousness. ...


Yet, as Kinsley reminds us, even a broken clock is right twice a day, and even the Bush administration may speak the occasional unretouched truth: "Iraq may be an imminent menace to the United States even though George W. Bush says it is."

Go read Kinsley now.

Then behold this remarkable feat of disingenuousness in which Ari Fleischer -- one of the great prevaricators of our time -- repeatedly fends off a simple, direct question from the AP's Ron Fournier. It's like one of those epic Richie Ashburn at-bats when he'd foul-off 20 pitches just to wear down the opposing pitcher. Fournier learned the hard way that no one, not even the most persistent questioner, can make Ari Fleischer tell the truth to the American people. Think of it as "Ari-Boy and the Fib from Outer Space!"



posted by Fred Clark 2:32 PM

 
A PRIOR CLAIM TO THE PRINCIPLE.

One quibble with Dr. Gagosian, oceanographer, arising from this paragraph in his report:

So we have solid evidence that the Great Ocean Conveyor has slowed down or shut down in the past. ... It begs the question: Could something throw a wrench into the Great Ocean Conveyor in the near future? And could that trigger abrupt, dramatic climate changes throughout our planet? The answers to those questions are, indisputably, "Yes and yes."

Dr. G. is correct in his discussion of climate change, but off-base in his use of the phrase "begs the question."

His usage raises the question of whether the battle for this phrase has already been lost. And this question petitions us, as it were, to ask another: At what point does the popularity of a misapprehension shift it from "common usage" to "proper usage"? At what point does a word or phrase cease to have any real meaning and come to mean only what many people mistake it to mean?

The "question" of "to beg the question" refers to a point of contention that an arguer is seeking to prove. Dr. Gagosian, like many others, trips over the word question, interpreting it to mean its first sense -- "an expression of inquiry that invites or calls for a reply." But the meaning here is really its second sense, "a subject open to controversy; issue" (American Heritage).

The "question" in question is not a thing to be asked. It is a thing to be debated, a thing to be proven. To beg the question is to assume beforehand the thing (the question) you are trying to prove, and to base your argument on that assumption.

Here's how the online "philosophical dictionary" defines it:

begging the question (petitio principii)

Circular reasoning. The "informal fallacy" of (explicitly or implicitly) assuming the truth of the conclusion of an argument as one of the premises employed in an effort to demonstrate its truth.

Example: "Since firefighters must be strong men willing to face danger every day, it follows that no woman can be a firefighter."

Although arguments of this sort are formally valid because it is impossible for their conclusions to be false if their premises are true, they fail to provide logical support for their conclusions, which have already been accepted without proof at the outset.


This site offers a useful history of the term. While this site discusses its future usage, including this comment:

Most of our problems [with this phrase] arise because the person who translated [petitio principii] made a hash of it. The Latin might better be translated as "laying claim to the principle."

The most egregious example I've recently seen of question-begging is from the condescending "Skeptic's Dictionary." Pay no attention to Robert Todd Carroll's garbled definition of "begging the question" (in which he misconstrues the sense of the word "question"). And his intended examples are less than clear, so don't mind them. But his unintended example -- the meta-example of Mr. Carroll's own unquestioning skepticism -- is instructive and darkly comic.

For an alleged "skeptic," Mr. Carroll seems as dogmatic as any other fundamentalist I've encountered. He stands within the tight circle of his reasoning and, like the conjurer's pentagram, it renders him impotent.


posted by Fred Clark 1:25 PM

 
DEAR PRUDENCE.
or
RUSSIAN ROULETTE IS 83.33% SAFE!


The office building that contains The Cube has never had a fire. What's more, the odds are we won't have a fire any time soon. Yet we've got expensive sprinkler and alarm systems, and we conduct productivity-sapping fire drills in which we test those alarms and our reactions to them.

So much time and money spent on alarms for a fire that may never occur. This is what the anti-environmentalist crowd would call "alarmist." Such "chicken little" precautions as fire alarms and fire drills, they contend, are a waste of resources better employed in growing the company. Anyone advocating fire drills, they argue, is obstructionist, anti-growth, anti-American and probably communist.

Fire drills, the anti-environmentalists say, are a subversive tool of the "watermelons" -- those who are "green on the outside, but red on the inside" -- in their plot to overthrow godly corporate capitalism.

The anti-environmentalists don't care that fire-safety experts, the overwhelming majority of scientists, the entire insurance industry and eco-bloggers like slacktivist all think that fire drills are a wise, prudent precaution.

Nor do the anti-environmentalists care what the experts, scientists, insurers and eco-bloggers have to say about climate change.

Appeals to prudence -- which means, really, all arguments about the future -- mean nothing to the anti-environmentalists. They won't be suckered by "prudence" -- they know that's just another watermelon word. They won't be taken in by climate-change and fire-drill alarmists with their nannyish calls for "prudence."

Dr. Robert B. Gagosian, director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, is making an appeal to prudence when he says:

Maybe over the edge of the cliff, there's just a three-inch drop-off. Or maybe there's a big, fluffy bed full of pillows. My worry is that we are indeed approaching this cliff blindfolded.

That's from this report: Triggering Abrupt Climate Change: Can Global Warming Cause an "Ice Age?" -- which describes the possibility that melting polar ice could alter ocean currents, diverting the gulf stream and radically cooling off Europe.

It's an alarming essay, as jarring as a fire drill. And like a fire drill it reminds us of the wisdom of prudent precautions, even if the odds say you'll never have a fire.


posted by Fred Clark 12:57 PM


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