Thursday, June 24, 2004

You have been Leftinated

Ever wonder why many leftists online seem sort of... predictable? Ever wanted to be a leftist, yet not know how to generate leftist diatribes worthy of The Nation or Well, now you can see the secret behind it all - from the fine folks who brought you the Chomskybot, it's the Leftinator!

Some examples of randomly generated leftist cant:

Presumably, the deal between the Department of Defense and Halliburton unit Kellogg, Brown & Root is determined by capitalist interests which lead to the predatory imperialist aims outlined by the crypto-fascist Project for a New American Century. Clearly, the Pax Americana of the future leads our attention to the end of any possibility of social justice in a reactionary state. For one thing, the pro-Sharon neoconservative cabal represents the repudiation of international law in order to bring about a McCarthyism which threatens everything we hold dear. It is not heartening that the unstated purpose of this war can be seen in the light of the apparent fabrications which lead to the police state which has come to pass.

More? Here are two more:

Perhaps for the first time since the late 1940s, Donald Rumsfeld's worldview brings forth a humanitarian disaster of unimaginable scale. Clearly, the deal between the Department of Defense and Halliburton unit Kellogg, Brown & Root is determined by capitalist interests which lead to the predatory imperialist aims outlined by the crypto-fascist Project for a New American Century. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the American state, with its unelected president, venal Supreme Court, silent Congress, gutted Bill of Rights and compliant media represents the repudiation of international law in order to bring about the theocrat Ashcroft's suspension of our civil rights. This suggests that Bush’s argument for war can be seen in the light of the apparent fabrications which lead to the flagrant lies promulgated by the political donor class.

And yet again:

For one thing, Colin Powell's parade of lies brings about this calamity brought to us by a horrific onslaught, known as Shock and Awe. Nevertheless, the deal between the Department of Defense and Halliburton unit Kellogg, Brown & Root leads our attention to a humanitarian disaster of unimaginable scale. This suggests that the Pax Americana of the future represents the crushing of internal dissent in order to propagate the predatory imperialist aims outlined by the crypto-fascist Project for a New American Century. It appears that the unstated purpose of this war is determined by capitalist interests which lead to the essential Western imperial interests.

Sweet. Writing libertarian diatribes will get me nowhere, I fear, but this tool might just be my ticket into the elite intellectual class...

Cassandra, and the Persistence of Deja Vu

Tonight, I was looking for some article I wrote for the Primary Source back in the day, and I stumbled onto this. (Yes, the title is a Gwar reference).

The Primary Source (Tufts University)
September 11, 2002

It's funny to read it today - I was apparently right about a lot.

But I was wrong about a lot too. I really thought that if the war happened, it would be an utter bloodbath. Even with all the renewed violence over the last few months, I scarsely would have believed that we'd only lose 600 people in the first month, much less the first year. Things turned out a lot better than I would have dreamed. I alluded to Vietnam, and I had it the other way around - Iraq is patty cake compared to Vietnam.

Not that it's great. Not that we should have gone in to begin with. (Over a year later, I'm still conflicted - yes we, and anyone for that matter, had the right; yes it should have been done; but it should have been both strategically and ideologically rethought). That said, I also cannot stomach the thought that others have had, that it would be better to still have Saddam in power today.

1) Because we didn't have the legal right to remove him when we did. I wish we had waited until we had time to build an international coalition with the express purpose of regime change for human rights.

"No legal right to remove"? Since when do dictators have rights? No dictator or tyrant has a right to power. Perhaps if you define "legal" in terms of what their own countries allow, sure, but moral rights supercede legal rights. Besides, laws have their legitimacy only insofar as they protect liberty. If they undermine liberty, as no sane person would deny that Saddam's laws did, then they can be ignored. And that's not even getting into what binding treaties and agreements Saddam violated...

2) We can't pursue (1) above until we reach a global consensus as to whether it is morally or legally acceptable to pursue regime change for human rights. This discussion will be time consuming, and I wish Saddam Hussein had stayed in power long enough for us to have it.

A "global consensus" is necessary before we can talk about stopping tyranny? Great. I'll wait until the boot is smashing your face, and then we'll all get together as a global community and talk about our feelings, if we really like the idea of someone's face being smashing by a boot. Please. Perhaps the Sudanese chaired-UN Human Rights Committee could do a study...

3) I wish Saddam Hussein was running a secular state and maintaining law and order while we made up our minds.

Saddam's regime offered secularism, and law and order? We may as well compliment the fact that the trains ran on time. Oh, wait. No, they didn't run on time in Iraq. Nothing ran right, and the only sense of "law and order" that existed was that Saddam's gang happened to have the most guns and inspire the most fear. By that standard, if the Bloods or the Crypts took over part of South Central LA, there'd be something advantageous about letting them stay to keep the other gangs in check. And for the record, Saddam's regime was becoming less secular every year to win support of Islamists... Not that secularism means less tyranny. Ask anyone who lived under Stalin or Mao.

4) I wish Saddam Hussein was still in power because we might yet be able to remove him without looking like Iran dupe.

Don't care about Iran, or what other people think of us. Popularity contests are for high school. All that matters is that the right thing be done (how is another issue...). Besides, in a perverse twist, America is probably more popular amongst Iranian youth than any other country in the Middle East, aside from Israel.

5) I wish Saddam Hussein was still in power while we figured out how to create a secular democracy, or even to protect the basic infrastructure of Iraq in the wake of our invasion.

Trade-off... let's see... eletrodes on my genitals, my arms and tongue chopped off, my family raped and murdered before my very eyes OR some damaged infrastructure that Islamist radicals occasionally try to sabotage... hmmm, which would I prefer...

Besides, 1 year isn't bad for the creation of a secular democracy compared to the 6-10 years it took for Japan.

6) I wish Saddam Hussein were in power long enough for us to afford a war.

Actually, there is something to this point - this war could have been done a lot cheaper if my strategy had been followed. But I suspect that critics of the war wouldn't have liked the CIA capturing/assassinating Saddam and his sons, forming and aiding rebel Kurdish, (some) Shia, willing Sunni and possibly some exile militias forment an internal rebellion. But this is a question of how. I'm not comfortable putting a price tag on liberty. It should be framed more like - "Well, we don't have the funds or resources to topple every tyrant, and some are more pressing threats than others, so what can we do with what we have?"

7) I wish Saddam Hussein were still in power because then we could hold a fair US presidential election, which would grant the winner legitimate authority to command our armed forces and make foreign policy.

I hate to break it to you, but like it or not, legitimate Constitutional authority over foreign policy and the military belongs has belonged to George W. Bush since January 2001. We may not like what he does with it, but he has it. And even if he didn't, I don't think the victims who were spared from the previous regime mind so much. I do wish, btw, that as the Constitution provides, he received a formal declaration of war from Congress. But that's par for the course since 1945, alas ...

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

WTF?! Veepstakes, Part III

I was predicting that Kerry's pick would be Gephardt. Then the DNC made it clear they wanted Edwards. Now, of all people, Ralph Nader is urging Kerry to pick Edwards. WTF?!

Nader Urges Kerry to Pick Edwards for VP

And now, comes news that Kerry had a secret meeting with Edwards. I maintain if Kerry had his way, the VP would be Gephardt. But if the DNC has more power over the campaign than Kerry himself does, this it will be Edwards. And based on this, the latter scenario is looking a lot more likely.

Kerry Has Secretive Meeting With Edwards

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Finally - A Cute Campaign Ad

I stick by what I said about Michael Badnarik - he's underwhelming as a Libertarian candidate, and I wish they had nominated Gary Nolan instead. Plus, he's almost as much as a loose cannon as Aaron Russo.

Nevertheless, I will almost certainly be voting for him in November. And while this isn't terribly deep or intellectually rigorous, it's cute, and it's more accurate than 99% of ads I've seen from any of the other campaigns.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

After Being Dumped By Satan, Saddam Takes A New Lover, Osama

My good friend Lindsay and I have debating whether Bush ever, as was assumed by several major media outlets, claimed that Saddam Hussein had a hand in the 9/11 attacks. You can read our discourse on her blog, linked here. I finished my latest entry tonight, when I was getting bleary-eyed and sleepy, so it's probably not my best work, but I know I got a few good points in. Enjoy. :)

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Reagan's flying kung fu kick displaces Wellstone's sonic sumo slap

This was all originally posted here.

How goes? Well, I hope. Anyway, since you mentioned me in your blog post but you don't have comments on yer own blog, I guess we might as well resume our discussion here.

Hey Darcy, good to hear from you. Is NY being good to you?

Sorry about my blog not having a comments section – as soon as I figure out how to add one, or if Blogspot even supports them, I'll add it. In the meantime, either on Lindsay's site or my LJ is cool with me.

First, I think by focussing only on the content of Dick Cheney's speech, you are missing the larger picture. It it seriously your contention that the death of Ronald Reagan hasn't been politicized by the right? If you click on the this article? Indeed, are there any pundits on the right who have not been peddling the "Bush is the heir to Reagan's legacy, so help W. win one for the gipper" line this week? Cheney doesn't have to make that that point explicitly during the memorial service because his surrogates have been making it for him all week. Why do you think we even have this drawn-out, week-long Reagapalooza in the first place? (For comparison purposes, I note that JFK was in the ground within three days.)

There are several different issues you raise here, and I was only discussing one of them. What interested me the issue of the Wellstone/Reagan memorials is the nature of taste, and what can be defended as non-subjectively tasteful within the context of given ceremonies. Similar questions, I'm sure, could be posed about weddings, e.g. are shows like “Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire?” tasteful within the confines of what is appropriate for a wedding. My contention was that if the event is a memorial service, then Reagan's was handled tastefully and appropriately, while Wellstone's was handled inappropriately.

The issue of how “the right” or the media have reacted to the Reagan death is a separate political question, and there I'm a little more conflicted. Perhaps too much time was spent between Reagan's death and his actual burial, but I could see a good case made that, given how many people wanted to pay tribute and how many were turned away, that there was justifiable cause for the time that passed.

(I don't know that Kennedy's funeral had a component where the public were allowed to walk up to and pass the flag-draped coffin. Had his funeral featured something like that, say, a day or two in DC and another day or two in Boston, it probably would have taken the same five days Reagan's burial took.)

The issue of how the punditocracy handled the Reagan death is a compelling one, but it seems to me that there's more latitude there. As I wrote in my original posting, no one would've cared if Mondale led a rally as a separate event in which people chanted, “We will win” or “Win it for Paul!” If that follows, I don't think it would necessarily be improper for Republicans to do the same with Reagan, though I could see how even then, you can overdo it. It goes back to the purpose of events in the first place. The purpose of a rally is to energize the attendees and get them excited about their cause. The purpose of the memorial is to pay tribute to the memory of a person's life and character.

Parenthetically, I don't know that it would help the GOP that much to evoke Reagan, because Bush 43 doesn't look too well in contrast. (They still might, but it might backfire). See this 1975 interview with Reagan from Reason magazine – Reagan knows his libertarian economists and philosophers. I doubt Bush 43 even knows who those people are. Still, I guess on balance Reagan's memory is better for Bush than for Kerry ideologically, but even that's debatable. Speaking as someone who admires (with some reservations) Reagan's presidency, I tend to think he makes both Bush and Kerry look bad in comparison.

Inside Ronald Reagan: A Reason Interview
Reason Magazine, July 1975

I also think you have an incredibly distorted view of what actually went on at the Wellstone memorial. If I recall correctly, you said at the time that you did not actually watch the memorial on television, only a few isolated clips. (You can watch the whole thing here though the link isn't Mac-friendly.) I know the conventional wisdom is that it was more pep rally than memorial, but frankly the conventional wisdom is bullshit. There were eight eulogies, all given by close friends and family, all tributes to Wellstone the man.

You're right, I hadn't watched the memorial in its entirety (it's over 2 hours – my time's not really worth it). But I don't think I need to in order to establish my point.

Consider this example. Suppose you attend a funeral that lasts all day. The ceremony lasts forever, but every step is done right – with a solemn air of respect, not a single misstep. But in the remaining ten minutes, the priest interrupts the service and takes out a portable TV and turns out a Red Sox game, eager to catch up on the scores. Now, would it be necessary to watch the entire service to determine whether this was an inappropriate action? I'd say no, you wouldn't. Had you attended and seen the entire service, the thing that would stick out most in your mind would be the priest taking out the TV for the game. And you'd be able to judge it as inappropriate, regardless of how much of the rest of the service you saw, because you have an idea of what is acceptable within the context of a funeral service.

Now, for the record, I did know that a goodly chunk of the service was non-partisan. When I found the link I provided to audio of all the speeches, and I noticed that all the people who died in the crash had separate eulogies, and I remembered that it was only Rick Kahn, Wellstone's son and Sen. Harkin who were quoted. Still, as with the analogy above, I don't think that changes anything. If I do something inappropriate during a ceremony, the appropriateness of the rest of the ceremony doesn't make it any less inappropriate. And it wasn't just what Kahn, Wellstone and Harkin said – it was the booing at people who attended, it was having the camera pan to Mondale whenever they talked about carrying on Wellstone's fight, the chants of “Fritz! Fritz! Fritz!,” etc.

It's true that Rick Kahn -- Wellstone's best friend in life -- did close his eulogy with a political call to arms. But that was maybe three minutes out of a three-hour ceremony.

I believe the quotation was: “We can redeem the sacrifice of his life if you help us win this election for Paul Wellstone.” Absolutely inappropriate, even as a throw-away line. I can't even begin to imagine the outcry if Cheney said, just as an aside, “We can redeem the sacrifice of his life if you help us win this election for Ronald Reagan.”

It's also true that at one point, Paul's son Mark led the crowd in a chant of "We will win!" But to me, it seemed like he was referring not to the upcoming Senate race, but to the greater victory of Wellstone's liberal ideals -- principles that were more important to him than anything else, principles he fought for all his life.

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. But even so, whoever heard of chanting a rallying cry, even if was about these ideals, at a memorial? Rallying cries belong at rallies.

(You're not going to tell me that no one has used the death of Reagan to call for an expansion of Reagan's political legacy, are you? Paging Grover Norquist...)

I am, actually. As I mentioned above, I distinguish between what one does at a memorial, and what one does at a rally. I even said that no one would have cared if Mondale himself invoked the memory of Wellstone to win votes. Which he did, by the way – see the dutifully archived Mondale for Senate webpages:

Mondale for Senate - Nov. 1st, 2002
Mondale for Senate - Nov. 3rd, 2002
Mondale for Senate - Nov. 17th, 2002 (unchanged since Election Day).

Also note that on the post-death, there is a link provided for the Minnesota DFL Party, and the suggestion about how to carry on Wellstone's work. This is relatively trivial – the blurb isn't even the major focus of the site. (Still, I wonder how people might've reacted if the Reagan Library's site had a blurb about carrying on Reagan's work and linked to the GOP's webpage). circa November 6, 2002

My other point at the time was that even if you found some of Mark Wellstone's remarks inappropriate, that it took some serious fucking chutzpah for Paul Wellstone's political opponents to go around reaming out his son, who had just days before lost his father, mother and sister in a plane crash, about precisely how he chose to eulogize his father. If you're seriously concerned about matters of taste, don't you agree it's in rather bad taste for people like Rush Limbaugh and Peggy Noonan to rake Mark Wellstone over the coals so soon after half his immediate family was suddenly wiped out?

Had I been a pundit at the time (ha, me, being taken seriously by either the right or left-wing media...), I certainly would've given Mark Wellstone much more benefit of the doubt, given what had just happened to his family. There's a difference between observing that a certain action is wrong or distasteful, and giving the person who committed some slack because you know the context of that person's act. That certainly wouldn't let Kahn or Harkin off the hook, though, or the idiots who booed Lott when he arrived. They knew what they were doing. But this is just a question of proper emphasis, not of kind.

And I don't think one's status as a family member gives one a moral carte blanche to do whatever one wants at a memorial service, particularly when the service is for a public figure and is highly televised. Going back to the Red Sox example, or the Gameboy example, or any other example you can think of, being a family member doesn't make the action any more acceptable. I'd have to re-read the Noonan piece (I just recall the gimmick, of it being a letter from Heaven, being kind of stupid, obscuring whatever good points she might have had).

Finally, while I obviously dispute your claim that Reagan's memorial proceedings have been a model of decorum, restraint, and bipartisan goodwill, and that the Wellstone's memorial was nothing but a crass anti-Republican hate-fest, even if both those claims

What's wrong with anything that was done at the Reagan memorial itself? Were any Democrats booed when they walked in? Was Kerry asked to drop the partisanship and work to get Bush reelected? Besides, I didn't say "nothing but" a hatefest - I never used those words - but the Memorial is known for the startling partisanship.

were true, I don't really see what's wrong with the "politicization" of the the death of political figures. Paul Wellstone and Ronald Reagan both spent the better part of their lives fighting for their respective political ideals, so I guess I don't really understand why you think it's somehow inappropriate to mention those ideals when they pass on. I mean, I don't have a transcript of the eulogies given at MLK's memorial in front of me, but I think it's a pretty safe bet that at some point, someone might have mentioned Dr. King's work in the civil rights movement, and suggested that fighting for the continuation of his political legacy would be a suitable way to memorialize the man.

I never said that one couldn't mention it, or that one had to pretend that it was unimportant. But there are tasteful, and distasteful ways to do it. I could point to the Reagan memorial as a way to tastefully recall their political ideals, and the Wellstone memorial as how not to do it. They remembered Reagan as one of the prime movers hastened the fall of Communism, who did good things for the economy, etc. For example, Bush 43 noted in his talk:

“And then he spoke of communist rulers as slavemasters, of a government in Washington that had far overstepped its proper limits, of a time for choosing that was drawing near. In the space of a few years, he took ideas and principles that were mainly found in journals and books, and turned them into a broad, hopeful movement ready to govern.”

Not very kind to Communists, I guess, but nothing in the talk that directly disparaged Democrats or said, “Reelect me!” I didn't care for the God talk, but then, given that all the parties involved are religious, and upwards of 80-85% of US citizens are, that's probably unavoidable. Wellstone's likewise could have been done in way that left little doubt about his work as a politician, or his progressive ideals, without being obnoxious, less than somber, or rude to colleagues and friends from the other side of the aisle.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Battle Royale: Reagan and Wellstone finally have it out

I had an argument about the Wellstone funeral shortly after that debacle with the boyfriend of a good friend of mine. He defended the funeral as well within the spirit of Wellstone as a leader and a man, and probably what he would've wanted.

My argument was fine as it was, but with the eulogy to Ronald Reagan that Dick Cheney provided the other night, I think I see what I was missing: a broader philosophical point.

At the time I just argued that even if it was true that the funeral/rally was precisely what Wellstone would've wanted, it wouldn't necessarily have made it right. If I wanted an orgy to occur on my grave during the ceremony, the living wouldn't necessarily have an obligation to provide such a service.

But with Dick Cheney's eulogy to provide contrast, I see now that it's more basic than that. It's an issue of taste. Although taste certainly provides some subjective give and take, there are basic standards of what is proper that, defended contextually, can give rise to objective judgments. (I wrote a paper on this topic and how it relates to art, David Hume and Ayn Rand, but didn't see the connection to this case until tonight.)

So to revive an argument nearing two years in age: When Wellstone himself entertained the possibility of a presidential run in 2000, he compared himself to Barry Goldwater, and yes, Ronald Reagan. He said that even if Gore's victory in the primary was a foregone conclusion, or that any run against a more mainstream candidate from the Republicans would end in disaster, he could lay the groundwork for a leftist counterpart to Reagan to bring the Democrats to victory. From this self-characterization, for purposes of this discussion, I'll say Wellstone is as much of a liberal within the Democratic Party as Reagan was a conservative within the Republican Party.

With that in mind, and with Wellstone's funeral in mind, take note of what Cheney's eulogy lacks. He does not breath a word here about the difference between Republicans and Democrats, or anything about how conservative Reagan was, or how important it is that we go out and defeat the liberal Democrats. He does not lead the crowd in an angry chant of “We will win!” that sounds like something out of a Leni Riefenstahl film. He does not ask the Democrats to show proper respect to the deceased Reagan by dropping all campaigning until Election Day, and thereby conceding the race to Reagan's heir (or the closest equivalent thereof), Bush 43. Instead of reducing Reagan down to his political causes, Cheney eulogizes Reagan as a man. Wellstone's followers eulogized him as as a cause, and crassly, cynically, used the occasion of a funeral (the proper function of which is to memorialize a person's character) to try to win a few more votes for Wellstone's heir, Walter Mondale.

And I think this is why the Wellstone memorial backfired, and if anything, drove more votes to Norm Coleman. (I think it was David Letterman who said after Election Day: “Call me sentimental, but wasn't it great to see Mondale come out of retirement for one last ass-whoopin'?”).

One of the ways taste functions, as I've alluded above, is it reflects the perception that things are put in their proper places and functions. Things belong in particular contexts, and not in others. A funeral's function is to memorialize a man or woman's character. It can either be a solemn occasion, or it can be tastefully done with levity, as in an Irish wake or a New Orleans grave dancer.

But one does not go to a funeral to pick up women; one does not play a Gameboy while someone is speaking, one does not express glee that the person is now deceased and one stands to inherit considerably. It's one thing to note that a person was a politician or a Democrat, and that their respective cause was very dear to them. It's another thing entirely to do something other than memorize the person, as in the above examples, and hold a political rally in leau of a memorial service to an audience expecting the latter. One reason is that rarely is someone's character reducible to their political opinions (and if it is, the person is a truly sad human being). Another, more particular to this case, was that trying to exploit the free media coverage here is even more immature than the political statements celebrities often make at awards shows.

I noticed that even one of the Wellstone Memorial's defenders acknowledged something like this point, that one mistake was that the partisan and non-partisan aspects of the Memorial should have been distinct events, and I couldn't agree more. No one would have cared if Mondale's people chanted "Win this for Wellstone!" at a rally or a march. The place and context here were all wrong.

There are at least two other sources I could find that made the comparison between the Wellstone and Reagan memorials. National Review Online's Corner Blog brought it up Sunday – according to Drudge (so take with a grain of salt), someone in the Clinton camp was already starting to complain that the Reagan funeral would be mere Republican grandstanding, so Katherine Jean Lopez suggests that they bring out the tape of the Wellstone memorial. This is what made me first start wondering how the Republicans would handle this, and to what extent the Wellstone comparisons would be justified.

Rush Limbaugh also explicitly made the same comparison on his show today. There are some audio links here that compare the two speeches, and as much as I disagree with Limbaugh with other issues, it's beautiful that he juxtaposes the two events here so well. Fortunately, Limbaugh's staff also has the transcript here, if you'd rather not mess with the audio. Limbaugh, of course, forgot about the most obnoxious part of the Wellstone memorial, where Wellstone's manager asked the Republicans to drop their entire campaign and allow Mondale Wellstone's Senate seat without a fight. Imagine if Cheney asked Kerry to do that for Reagan...

In case the Limbaugh links don't work, try also this page with audio and video from the Wellstone Memorial. If memory serves, the last three of the audio links are the obnoxiously partisan speeches that closed the memorial.

See also...

No Contest
Paul Wellstone's memorial service turns into a pep rally.
By William Saletan

CNN: Tone of Wellstone memorial generates anger

Time: Fallout from a Memorial
Did the memorial service for Paul Wellstone cost Democrats the election?,8599,388903,00.html