Tuesday, July 31, 2007
One scared little man kept saying "no!" warning about the consequences; "If you take that knife out, it will be murder!" he insisted. He was, of course, the man who'd stabbed the victim. Once that knife came out, though he'd insist that the doctors had been the one who caused the problem, everyone would know that he was the one who'd caused the problems - and yes, was a murderer, if his victim ended up dying.
Eventually, the cops dragged him away, and no one felt the least bit sorry for him. Yes, he was probably going to be known as a murderer from this day on, but it was his choice, his decision, that made him so.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if real life worked that way? If you invaded a nation, and caused that nation all kinds of grief, and it was clear that your invasion had failed, and it was time to withdraw the military forces, if you couldn't keep denying the consequences of your actions? If you couldn't keep saying "leave the troops in because if they leave, everyone will know I failed!"
Wouldn't it be really nice if people couldn't whine about how the Democrats could cause problems if they remove the knife from the patient, and instead blame the person who stuck the knife in in the first place?
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Which came first?
What came first? Was it that these folks hated liberals so much that they'd make up whatever lies seemed convenient? Or was it that they started lying for convenience's sake, and that started spreading the hatred?
The plain and obvious fact of the matter is, liberals do have judicial values. Liberals want the rights of the people as individual to be protected as they are intended to be protected by the Constitution.
In Griswold versus Connecticut and Roe versus Wade, liberals cheered the decisions because it said that the people have the right to be left alone by government, the government did not have a right to prevent people from making certain decisions about reproductive health.
In Brown versus Board of Education, liberals cheered that the courts decided that you can't have "separate, but equal", and that states would be forced to stop shirking their duties to educate black children. (The results of Brown weren't pretty... which means it's a shame that a better solution was not found before the courts had to get involved.)
And school prayer should be a no-brainer to the Christians who are always whining about it... Jesus didn't want public prayer in the first place. But even there, it's protection of the right of individuals not to have agents of the state pushing religion on them.
In each of these famous cases, it's a matter of one powerful organization or another trying to ignore the rights of individuals, and liberals celebrating the courts' unwillingness to allow that behavior to continue.
An honest debater, or, hell, a sensible human being, will recognize this and will see the patterns. But folks who lie will pretend they don't, and folks who hate are irrational. So, again, we have to ask, which came first, the hatred or the lies?
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Thoughts about military service
Would I be willing to do that?
I finally decided that the answer was "no". But maybe not for the reason you'd expect.
I've been told by multiple military folks that the question isn't "will they screw you?" but "how much will they screw you?" But as long as my enlistment papers say that I'm medical, and can't be forced to kill people unless under fire, I'm not too terribly concerned about being screwed. I could get hurt, or killed, sure, but I'm 40 years old, and if you're 40 years old and haven't made peace with your mortality yet, you're in deep trouble, because it's all downhill from here, you know? Most likely, I'd have to work harder than I ever had in my life, and learn to control my instinctive nasty response to anyone who barks orders at me, and have to deal with a bunch of stupid stuff that drives me completely batty.
Ah... but I'd also be able to help some folks who need help more than almost anyone else. I don't approve of the war effort in Iraq, but that makes me a bit more sympathetic of the folks getting chewed up by it.
But I realized there'd be one reason I couldn't do this in the military. If I was in the military, I'd be under orders, and some of those orders would include a statement to the effect of "we care more about the fighting ability of the meat machine than the happiness and humanity of the person running it."
("Meat machine" is my term for a human body as just a body.)
If a person would suffer irreparable damage by going back to fight in the war, but it wasn't the kind of damage that the military was concerned with, then I might end up helping send that person back into combat.
In short, I could help the military patch up some meat machines, and I might even help a few people deal maintain their humanity, but I would be forbidden to be a healer, except when it served "military necessity". That's the one thing I couldn't do. At least, I couldn't do it well, I couldn't do it happily, I couldn't believe in what I was doing, and that would mean I'd probably be unable to do the job as well as someone who isn't burdened by that concern.
So I'm going to try to go back to school, and, I hope, someday be a healer who helps people find their way back to humanity and happiness. If I can help anyone damaged by this stupid war, so much the better, and if I find a way to make America, a better place, I'll do that.
It's a shame that, according to some, this means I can't be a patriot....
Loving your home, wanting to help it, being willing to protect it, that's not enough... not if you don't support wars.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Free markets and philosophy
Free market people like to claim that the free market will solve all of our problems. "You see, if someone is gouging on the price of peanut butter sandwiches, someone else will compete with them; competition will lower the price!"
That's true. And when one person starts selling sandwiches on cheaper (and less nutritious), the other one is likely to do so as well. People will note that you can't really get a more nutritious peanut butter sandwich, and peanut butter sandwiches will become less healthy (not that they were super healthy in the first place), and free market folks will say "well, that's what the public wanted; they voted with their dollars."
It's all based on a philosophical idea that the free market will respond to demand. It does, in a general way, but when moving to the real world, you need to look at some real questions.
The free market, acting alone, is a purely indifferent force. (Regular readers may know that I consider "indifference" to be the root of almost all evil. Even malice can't cause harm until the malicious person has enough indifference to cause harm to another.) It encourages people to do what people want in order to make money, but it also encourages people to make money without having to do what people want... if they can get away with it. So, while the free market will create an abundance of cheap peanut butter sandwiches, if a person finds a way to skimp on the ingredients, a way that most people won't recognize up front, the free market dictates that there will be skimpers.
Of course, people will argue that peanut butter buyers will learn to recognize the skimpers, and refuse to buy from them a second time... what can be thought of as "small town forces". Sure, if J. Random Sandwichier stiffs you on a sandwich, you'll avoid buying a sandwich from the Sandwichier store again... assuming you recognizes the Sandwichier, and assuming that you're not so hungry you're willing to be cheated slightly, just to get something now, and assuming that the Sandwichier doesn't just move on to the next town to start stiffing people there.
If you insist on an unregulated free market, you're essentially assuring that people will cheat others as much as they can get away with.
And that means there are some things that the free market just shouldn't be involved with.
One of my favorite examples stemmed from a recent discussion I saw... insurance.
The idea behind insurance is that the insurer pools risks; a million people give a hundred dollars each, and the insurer can pay out up to a hundred million dollars in claims. The investments made by the insurer while holding the money can pay for the costs of distribution (or the insurer can charge slightly more than the expected number of claims to cover expenses). It works out well, if viewed as a public service... but what if it's viewed as a business whose sole goal is making money?
Well, then there's an impetus to maximize profits, and that means to avoid (or delay) paying claims as much as you can. Oh, it doesn't mean being an outright cheat, not in such an obvious way that it leads to lawsuits... but it means that you're better off writing complicated contracts and, when a claim is made, conduct investigations and look for loopholes, etc., so long as doing this costs less than immediate payment of the claim. That's how you maximize your profits... by not doing your job, except when doing your job is what nets you the most money.
The market must be regulated, either by the government, or by conscience, and if conscience was a good regulator, we wouldn't need the government.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Real men and fighting
A real man can't turn his back on people who are being hurt, but a real man can, and must, walk away when there is no danger, when there is no risk, when the only thing that he has to fear is harsh words and ridicule, and a nose-thumbing by a smirking enemy.
Writ small, it's stupid to fight if you have a choice. Even if you can clobber your opponent, it wastes your time and energy, and risks an accident occurring. It also solidifies the enmity, and possibly makes other enemies as well.
Writ large, war is too big, too nasty, and too horrible for egos to play a role.
If I could destroy a single foul idea, and just remove it from our political discourse entirely, it would be the idea that war is simply a "tool of foreign policy". War is about using lethal force against people, and mostly against people who do not deserve it. There was a time when the people hurt worst in a war were the soldiers fighting the war, and people played the game of thinking, well, at least they signed up for it. But why should soldiers have to suffer for the decisions of their leaders, or because of the decisions of invaders? It might be necessary that a soldier stand and fight and suffer and die... but that doesn't make it acceptable, from a moral standpoint. The Geneva conventions state that enemy soldiers are valid military targets, but that doesn't mean that it's morally acceptable to kill them... it just means that there won't be any war crimes trials.
Part of the intent of the Geneva conventions is to prevent everlasting war, to accept that certain matters are settled. Sometimes, the reasoning goes, it is better to accept an injustice than to watch a war continue, spreading more suffering and death. So sure, if you kill a bunch of soldiers in a war, the conventions say that it's not a war crime, it's not like kidnapping or torture or slaughter of civilians. But that's working based on the assumption that the war is a foregone conclusion. Within the moral travesty that is warfare, the killing of soldiers is not an exceptional travesty... it's just part of the horror.
To fight a war against another nation is to declare the intent to bring horror to that nation, until that nation gives up and is unwilling or unable to resist your demands. A war that is not essential for defense against an ongoing or imminent attack is not a "tool of foreign policy"; it is the ultimate act of hateful indifference.
The invasion of Iraq was based upon deceptions and fears; we had to be afraid of what might happen if we didn't invade, we couldn't let Saddam Hussein get away with his defiance, we couldn't let him thumb his nose at us.
Well, who suffered? Saddam suffered, sure... but who suffered more?
The people of Iraq. Hundreds of thousand dead, millions of lives shattered and disrupted.
A coward, a fool, an egotist, could see the fight as a chance for gain and for glory. It would take a real man to walk away.
It's a damn shame we don't have one in the White House.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Tolerance and intolerance
What, exactly, is tolerance? Well, a decent summary is Beatrice Hall's quote about "I may not agree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it!" So, if I'm tolerant, does that mean I'll defend, to the death, someone like, say, Fred Phelps? Well, in order to do that, we need to understand the notion of rights.
What rights do we have when we're doing something disagreeable (in multiple senses of the word)?
We say that folks should have the right to free speech and freedom of the press, and such, right? Well, don't folks living in dictatorships have the "right" to speak freely and publish things that anger the dictator? I mean, they certainly can speak or write against the dictator, a dictator doesn't have the power to have a guard conk someone one the head every time they start to speak out against, or write unfavorably about, the dictator.
Ah, but the dictator does have the power to punish those people... to run them out of business, to put them in jail, to potentially even have them killed. That is what removes the rights. One doesn't have a right to speak freely if one must face punishment for doing so.
Except it's pretty ridiculous to think that people will never face consequences for their actions, right? Speaking and writing are certainly actions; why should they be exempt from having consequences? If Don Imus is the kind of ass who calls a woman's basketball team a bunch of nappy headed hos, shouldn't that piss people off? Shouldn't that get enough folks angry that the network decides they can find someone more deserving of Imus' time slot?
And this is the crux of the issue. The question is, if you believe in freedom, what consequences are acceptable in response to someone's opinions (and their speaking and writing about them)? What is the difference between intolerance and allowing people to reap what they sow? My figuring is that the proper attitude can be summed up by "There, I've protected you from injustice, now push off!" (I substituted "push" for another four letter word to avoid profanity.)
You don't have to like a person, or enjoy their company; you have to be willing to stand up against injustice, because we all have to be willing to stand up against injustice, or justice fails by default. Of course, what is "justice", what is fair and right, can be hard to define.
In the case of the government, well, it should be clear. Short of a very small number of issues, the government should not be able to punish speech or writing in any way, and we should all stand against the government when they try to punish free expression. But what about among private citizens?
It gets complicated because we know what happened prior to the civil rights movement. We know that people will claim the right of "free association" to deny people the right to earn a living or own property, and we know that people stood by idly while crimes were committed against people they disliked. It's not enough to say "I'm not directly hurting anyone"; justice means you have to believe in fair and righteous treatment for everyone, not just those people you like. Sometimes justice demands more than "not hurting anyone"; sometimes it means helping those you dislike.
I think the quote from Adlai Stevenson really sums it up: "A free society is one where it is safe to be unpopular." It might not be comfortable; people might scowl at you, or cross the street to avoid you. If you ask someone for a favor, well, you probably won't get it if you're unpopular. But overall, you're safe. You know if you can do a job, you have a reasonable chance of being hired to do it. You know that if you try to buy food or shelter, you're not going to prevented from doing so. You know that if anyone tries to harm you or your property, others will stand up to protect you, as quickly as they would for anyone else.
So, I don't think liberal folks should be "intolerant of intolerance". If life were fair, the intolerant would be perfectly safe... but also perfectly uncomfortable with the opinions of their neighbors.
 Beatrice Hall stated this as being what Voltaire's views were, but was not quoting Voltaire.
 Yes, I'm being a pedantic showoff. We long-haired weirdos are like that sometimes.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Impeach George W. Bush
There's only one thing wrong with it. It points to the deaths of one of our servicemen as a reason that shows that George W. Bush should be impeached for pushing a war using deceptive and fraudulent means.
The best estimates we have say that, for every member of the US military who has died as a result of this war, around 200 Iraqis have died.
I am horrified that over 3600 of our best and brightest have died in this monstrosity of a war... but I'm also a bit horrified that they are the only ones who seem to matter to folks in the US.
We have good reason to believe that over 600,000 Iraqis have died as a result of this war. Try to imagine that number. Try to imagine those people.
If you're a rightwinger who thinks war is a "foreign policy tool", try to remember that they are human beings. Like all human beings, they're sometimes nasty, and cruel, and selfish, and mean-spirited, but when faced with a clear and obvious choice, between doing right, and doing wrong, so many of them will pick doing right that it can bring tears to your eyes.
Oh, some of them would cut you off in traffic, and give you the finger while doing it. Some of them would steal your stereo if you leave your door unlocked. Some of them you wouldn't trust in a dark alley... or even a well-lit one. But even most of those folks, if you put them in a situation where they can see the real costs of their actions, where they can't deny the pain they'll cause if they do the wrong thing, will do the right thing.
Take any ridiculously high percentage you want to; say that 10% of the people who died were horrible, awful people, people who "needed killing," as if that phrase could have any meaning. You still have a horribly large number of people who have died who were just ordinary, decent people who deserved their chance at life and at happiness.
George W. Bush does not deserve to be impeached and removed from office only because of the soldiers who have died because of his deceptions. He also bears the guilt of all of the damage that he has caused to Iraq, and to the Iraqi people.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Now, first, let's cut through the crap. The Bush administration's strategy is "don't admit that Bush's plan was idiotic and a complete failure from the post-invasion on, and hope that the accumulated weight of hundreds of blunders by the Bush administration doesn't make the failure look big enough to upset the American people enough to call for impeachment for Bush's dishonesty in pushing the war."
That's not a military (or even a diplomatic) strategy. It's more of the same ideas that got us into this mess in the first place. And while the Bushies keep insisting that if we pull out, it'll cause big problems, remember that we wouldn't face that decision if Bush hadn't ordered the invasion in the first place.
But I'm not here to talk about Bush's failures and dishonesty... I want to talk about irony and hypocrisy.
You see, we've heard "Please, give it some time" before. We've heard people talking about letting the plan have time to work, and let the established channels do their job and not rush things... back in 2003.
The UN inspectors were back in Iraq; while Saddam was still being Saddam, he was giving cooperation that satisfied the inspection teams. The international community asked for time to let the inspections and sanctions work, to give the world a chance to show that maybe the threat of Saddam Hussein could be shown to be completely neutralized without having to kill thousands of innocent people through military action. "Give it time to work; give peaceful means a chance."
The Bushies weren't satisfied with that, were they? No, they said that if the UN wasn't on board with a war on Bush's terms, on Bush's timelines, they risked being "permanently irrelevant". Giving more time for peace, to leave a country less damaged, to keep millions of people suffering, to keep tens of thousands (in fact, probably hundreds of thousands) of people alive, well, that wasn't acceptable.
It's not just that Bush has to have his way. It's that, even when he is clearly, objectively wrong, when his plan is a failure by any meaningful measure, people are not merely wrong, but stupidly wrong, if they don't go along.
He should be given the courtesy that he refused to give when he had the chance. He should be allowed to continue war, when he refused to continue peace. He should be allowed to keep killing people, when he refused to delay the killing. He should be allowed to continue the suffering of the Iraqi people, when he refused to delay that suffering.
It's ironic, and it's hypocritical, though it's long past time that we can be surprised by this.
But what never ceases to surprise me is the shamelessness and the undeserved arrogance of the Bushies. This war has cost hundreds of billions of dollars. This war has cost the lives of over 3000 of our best and brightest, and has resulted in the deaths of probably hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Is there any hint of humility from the Bushies? Is there any pleading, anyone saying "we know we made a horrible mess of things, but we're asking you to let us continue, to try to fix some of the terrible blunders we made?" No... they're still pretending that, if things go right in spite of all of their blunders, that they can declare they've won a victory.
Arrogance can be forgiven when it's justified, but misarrogance - arrogance in the absence of any justification for it - is completely unforgivable. Coupled with shamelessness, there's no telling what damage can be done.
But if you look at Iraq, you can get a pretty good idea.
I can only hope that Congress finally chooses to stand firm. Giving Bush more time for his botched war would be the very height of irresponsibility.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Time to grow up...
I just saw an article where Bush said that he considers his commutation of Libby's sentence to be "fair and balanced", and it made me think of this scene I heard attributed to Al Franken. Apparently he (or "a friend" - I don't remember the story, and it didn't rank high enough on Google to be worth pursuing) was talking to some Christian preachers. They were talking about moral beliefs and generally getting along great. Somewhere along the line, it seems appropriate to point out that Jews follow much of the same ideals as Christians... they just don't believe Jesus was the messiah.
The room went silent and there was an angry energy crackling.
"You callin' Jesus a liar?" one of them demanded.
That kind of reasoning, where a difference of opinion is turned into a mean-spirited insult, is awfully useful if you like to bamboozle (or to be crude, "bullshit") people. Suddenly, you've taken the real issue off the table, and substituted another one where you can be Righteously Outraged. Instead of asking "Isn't it unethical to grant a commutation to someone who was in your own administration? I mean, that easily looks like you were giving someone like Libby a license to break the law!" the President's supporters can now ask "are you calling him unfair and unjust? How dare you!"
And it works so well, in so many places.
"Are you saying the President would lie to get this country into a war? Hasn't he told you that it's hard work, and that he agonized over the decision, and all that?" And for anyone who is wavering, well, geez... it's scary as hell to think that the person in charge of the world's most powerful military would use it in such a blatantly and obviously foolish manner.
"Are you saying that the President *wants* to spy on ordinary people? He's looking for terrorists, that's why he violated FISA! I'm sick of you Bush Derangement Syndrome whackos always acting like he's some kind of evil, oppresive Hitler-wannabe!"
It reminds me of my kid brother. One day, he was late coming home to my grandmother's house. She was scolding him, and he said, in an exasperated voice, "Grandma, how do you expect a little boy like me to know how to tell time?" He knew how to tell time, of course... but he'd realized that he'd come up with a reasonable sounding (to him!) excuse. So he was late getting home; it's not like it was his fault! How can you act like he did this intentionally?
There's just one problem. My brother didn't campaign to be elected "Mrs. Palmer's youngest son", with all the responsibilities of a young child. He didn't have millions of loyal Republicans insist that he was up to the task. He wasn't praised for his strength of character in standing up for what he believed in, when he insisted that what he did was not wrong.
And, of course, my brother was very young at the time. He was expected to do such things from time to time, and get punished for them, and learn to do better next time. The President, on the other hand, is supposed to be a responsible adult.
 Per prophecy, the messiah was to bring an end to war and a time of peace and justice. There wasn't anything in the prophecy of a "second coming" when he'd do that. This is important to mention because it raises honest, legitimate questions about whether Jesus was the messiah or not. Obviously, a lot of Christians are not "taught the controversy", because this isn't about unfalsifiable claims about earth's creation, but about biblical teaching.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Libby avoids jail... are we surprised?
It strikes me as a common sense proposal, an amendment that prevents certain obvious abuses of power. A President should not have the power to order, or allow, an underling to disobey the law, with the promise that no punishment will be incurred. It also means that if a President is impeached, or resigns, we won't have a repeat of Gerald Ford's performance. People praised Ford's pardon of Nixon as a way to speed healing... but that Nixon was able to get away with his crimes was an abscess in this country's spirit, and you only heal an abscess when you've drained all the poison out.
If we'd learned the entire truth about the Nixon administration, and Nixon had then been pardoned, I wouldn't have nearly as much of a problem with it, but you don't heal an abscess by covering it with a bandage, or even by removing the worst of it. You need to drain it dry.
I've studied the Wilson/Plame issue at great length. People have called the Wilsons liars. Why?
Well, he said he debunked the "sixteen words" in the President's State of the Union. He had; President Bush knew (or was incompetent for not knowing) that there was no attempt to procure "significant quantities" of uranium from Niger, since the most that had occurred was circuitous talk about "expanding trade relations".
He said he was sent by the CIA after a request to the CIA from the office of the Vice President. For some reason, his detractors turned this into "he claims Cheney sent him". So the people calling Wilson a liar are making up lies to do so.
People have suggested that maybe his trip to Niger was a junket sponsored by his wife, who did not have the authority to send him, or to order someone else to send him. Plus, Google on "niger tourist attraction"; when I did so, the first entry's snippet reads "This is definitely not a standard tourist attraction". Again, people are making up ridiculous stories to accuse him of lying.
People have suggested that he lied about his wife having something to do with the trip, and are in such a frenzy over this that they clearly think it impeaches his credibility, but let's just pretend that his wife did have something to do with it. How would we know that's a lie? "Honey, I just asked the agency to send you to Africa to interview a bunch of people; they aren't willing to pay you, but they'll cover expenses" isn't exactly conducive to marital harmony. He could be telling the truth as best as he knows. Of course, under oath, Valerie has testified that all she did was write a memo repeating another colleague's recommendations - meaning she didn't make the recommendation herself - and talk to him, and later, introduce him. That's nothing substantial towards getting him to go. "She had nothing to do with sending him" is true; she had something to do with arranging a meeting between him and the CIA.
But hell... even if it was a lie, the man picked a fight with the government, and they went after his wife. For every man I know who I can imagine in that situation, I'm sure their first thought would be "My wife has nothing to do with this; your fight is with me!" Technically true or not, it's what you'd expect him to say. But we have every reason to believe that it's also technically true, and no reason to think it's false.
So, Joseph Wilson did what any good American would do. He tried to go through official channels to correct the story the President told, hoping to head off a war that would kill tens of thousands of innocent people. He failed. He kept pushing back, and finally, went public.
And what did the Bush administration do in return?
It set up a deniable operation, where two operatives tried to sow doubt about Wilson. Libby and Rove both spread information about Valerie Wilson, who traveled to other countries, without official cover, to try to find information about WMDs in places like Iraq and Iran, under her maiden name of Valerie Plame. (Armitage also let the name slip accidentally. This is very different from the actions of Libby and Rove, specifically trying to push the name to various reporters in hopes of getting one to burn her.)
The law against leaking the name of an operative is hard to prosecute. Even though Rove truthfully admitted that he spread her name and status around, he was not prosecuted under the law. Libby, on the other hand, lied to investigators and the grand jury. Without his truthful testimony, we could not learn whether or not the law had been violated. Because of this, Fitzgerald brought charges against him for perjury and for obstruction of justice - hiding information that would allow any other crimes to be prosecuted.
Valerie Wilson was a valued asset by the CIA, a successful researcher into WMD programs in Iran and Iraq. Her disclosure caused a great deal of work to be lost, and set back our ability to research these issues. People who trusted the CIA would, at best, be in fear for their lives or freedoms, and unwilling to trust the next CIA operative that comes along. At worst, those people are dead or in prison.
What Libby and Rove did - we may safely assume under deniable orders by Bush and Cheney - was a serious matter, even if some parts weren't technically illegal. But Libby went beyond that. He lied to cover things up, to prevent us from knowing what really happened. Thirty months in jail, two and a half years, is not "excessive" by any stretch of the imagination, not by anyone who is trying to see that the laws of this country are faithfully executed, not for someone who is concerned with protecting our nation.
But Bush said it was excessive, and wiped the jail term out completely. We can safely assume he will do what he can to prevent any other penalty in the future. Right now, though, it's awfully convenient to have Libby convicted, with his case under appeal.
Once he has been fully pardoned, he can be compelled to testify - Fifth Amendment rights only apply if you can be harmed by your testimony, and a pardon removes that potential for harm. Now, he can still stand on his Fifth Amendment rights, claiming there's question as to whether his conviction will stand.
President Bush can buy and pay for loyalty to himself, without worrying about loyalty to the nation, or the Constitution.
I'm afraid that all I can say to this is a common, and apt, initialism: ITMFA.