Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Happy Slapping" and other gallic perversions...

Citizens who videotape violent acts witnessed on the street and/or publish them online in France could now face jail time, passed by the French Constitutional Council. Only "professional" journalists will be able to videotape and broadcast acts of violence. The purpose of the law is to prevent regular citizens from provoking fights in order to create video to post online and profit off of (à la "bumfights," or "happy slapping"—physically attacking someone to generate a reaction and take video), but the wording of the law is broad enough that it has some civil-liberties groups concerned.

Some of the repercussions for citizen journalists, according to the new law, include up five years in prison for the videographer and fines of €75,000 for disseminating images of the acts. Part of the law specifically mentions acts of violence "committed by an agent of the state in the exercise of his duties," which is included in the list of violent act covered by the statute.

"The sections of this law supposedly dealing with 'happy slapping' in fact have a much broader scope, and posting videos online showing violence against people could now be banned, even if it were the police who were carrying out the violence," read a statement from Reporters Without Borders. Ironically, the law was passed on the anniversary of the Los Angeles police beatings of Rodney King which were videotaped by a citizen on the street in 1991. Such a videotape could land the citizen in jail if it occurred in France today, and any web site that hosts images or video of it would be paying hefty fines.


Some of the leading lights in the “soft” sciences have been passing, of late. Take Jean Baudrillard (June 20, 1929 – March 6, 2007) a French cultural theorist, philosopher, political commentator, and photographer. His work is frequently associated with postmodernism and post-structuralism. In popular culture, he was perhaps best known as the inspiration behind the Wachowsky Brothers’ promising -- but ultimately disappointing -- Matrix series.

Meanwhile, sociologists are mourning other milestones. “The death in late December of the distinguished political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset was an event of great importance in its own right. But it also symbolizes a more general loss to the world of ideas. The eminent sociologist Philip Rieff, whose 1966 book, "The Triumph of the Therapeutic," transformed the way we think about modern secular societies, also died recently; only a few years ago we lost David Riesman, the man who made sociology into a form of public self-examination in "The Lonely Crowd" (1950).”

Ah well. Milestones provoke thoughts. I have opined elsewhere upon the debilitating and cynically futile effects of postmodernism in its most blatant forms, ranging from Derida and Foucault all the way to today’s US English and literature departments, which are dominated largely by anti-science, anti-future and anti-science-fiction dittoheads. So, no, the problem is not purely French... though the purest essence of this galling trend seems to be Gallic.

Sociology is, I'm afraid, one of a dozen or so academic specialties that seemed quite hopeful, in the 1950s, but ran up against their inability to pass the fundamental test of a science... the making of falsifiable predictions that then allow selection choice among increasingly accurate models of the world.

While it is true that the "soft sciences" do not have to replicate the predictive specificity and rigor of physics...indeed complexity theorists (some of them physicists) sympathize with the difficulty in grappling with systems as complex as organisms and societies...

...nevertheless, a "science” is supposed to become (even gradually) better at this Popperian process. With very few exceptions, social and political and psychological theorists have utterly failed this test. (One sad example; in 1990 the now-defunct magazine PSYCHOLOGY TODAY queried dozens of psychologists about what they would call the “breakthrough of the eighties.” Not one of them mentioned the same thing. A sure sign that there were no breakthroughs at all.)

What resulted was psychological in its own right. Those who were "splitters" by personality type decided to get MORE scientific by concentrating on dividing up organisms or brains or societies into smaller units until experiments COULD show results. Brain and neuronal sciences are making great strides, for example, creating a tool set that may yet open doors into a genuine psychology, showing how we think. (Ironically, Freud started out this way, as a neurologist.)

The other famed personality type is the "lumpers"... folks who aim at grand models and theories. Such people can co-exist with splitters in sciences like physics, or even biology. But in "soft" topics, the gulf becomes almost unbridgeable. In sociology, etc, the grand arm-wavers realized that they could never, ever pass Popper's test. To a large degree, their reaction was simply to reject Popper. Indeed, to reject rigorous science and everything associated with it.

The roots of campus postmodernism can be found in the frustrated realization that these scholars could make no predictions, could propose no testable statements, and could offer no utility other than mantras aimed at stirring social conscience and moral outrage.

This latter is not to be totally dismissed. Moral outrage can be useful. Yet, the greatest reformers like Gandhi and Martin Luther King were effective precisely because they combined idealism with fierce pragmatism and a willingness to negotiate. Something that is anathema to purist radicals in ivory towers.

Indeed, the pragmatic wing of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on incrementalism, negotiation, market solutions, science and technological innovation, is viewed with loathing by the "french wing" of the Enlightenment -- the home of postmodernist platonists who preach that all is textual and (in extremum) that objective reality does not exist. That - indeed - the very concept is inherently colonialist and oppressive.

Please, I have a portion of my brain that is artistic, romantic and passionate. You can see it erupting, in rhythmic riffs, in any of my novels. I will gladly toy with psychic powers and secret arts. Sometimes my characters alter reality by simply believing in alternatives, hard enough, or by talking the cosmos into compliance... exactly as the postmodernists seem bent on doing. In other words I know that side of life. I was born a shaman. An acolyte of Socrates. A weaver of linguistic legerdemain.

Hence I know bullshit when I hear and see it. And, sorry. But in the end you should be able to put your money where your mouth is.

Anecdotes are fine, but a field of endeavor is useful to me if I see a practitioner WINNING WAGERS with it. Making predictions that come true. Adding to the human tool set.


RandomSequence said...


You are much more optimistic about neuroscience than I am. As soon as we touch anything psychological, neuroscience turns to crap (disclaimer: neuroscience is technically my field).

The problem is the reductionist mentality - we simply lack the knowledge about how neurons work, to make any meaningful predictions about how they work in conjunction. Then it gets worse, because in reducing, most neuroscientists lack any good education about how the brain works as an ensemble - they know zip about anthropology or psychology outside of reductionist schools.

A good, recent example: A study in Science (I believe) attempted to find "empathy." So they grab 16 college kids and have them play a game against a simulated opponent, who either plays fair or cheats. They then simulate torture against the simulated opponent, while running them through an MRI. Empathy is defined operationally as sympathetic activation of brain centers associated with pain - they got that by putting couples in MRIs while poking one of them painfully (I'm serious!)

What do they find? That women have more empathy than men - that they are more upset by torturing cheaters than the guys. Now, either that is a trivial statement - everyone knows that 19 year old college girls have more empathy than their male counterparts - or it's actually a bogus statement - you can in no way generalize from 19 year old british kids to human beings in general. For God's sake, we don't even know if empathy is even expressed in similar manners cross-culturally!

And this is the cutting edge of neuroscientific psychology - gets published in Science, and everyone in Neuroscience departments love it, missing the vulgar sexism and ethnocentricity of it, the fact that they haven't come any closer to doing actual science than Freud's case studies; they just set up the experiment to exactly reproduce what they put in. Maybe the hypothesis is true, but neuroscience is not close to having the tools to analyze these things; neuropsychology is just as feeble as Skinnerian psychology.

Rob said...

So videotaping the Rodney King beating is now illegal in France, because of some Jackass wanna-bees committing assault. Got it.

Here come "Freedom Fries" again...

I never really thought too hard about the "science" aspect of Political Science when I switched majors to that program in college. I supposed that "science" was not so much about actually producing verifiable and repeatable results so much as using mathematics and statistacal analysis of collected data. And I admit I was more attracted to the "political philosophy" aspects of it than to the mathematical modeling of mass movements. So in that respect I was not really so much desirous of becoming a Political Scientist as I was of becoming a pundit. Thus my participation in blogs. :)

I think perhaps the apotheosis of this "science of sociology" idea was Asimov's "psychohistory" that he developed for his Foundation novels. In those novels, mass movements were so precisely modelled that outcomes COULD be predicted with mathematical certainty, albeit with varying margins of error. And one could go back to Marx and Engels and their predictions of a mass movement of workers inevitably rising up to take over the means of production, although I don't believe his analysis was very (or at all) mathematical. I guess the question the social sciences have always grappled with is "what is science." If it's just reproducible experimental results, then much of what we think of as science really isn't. But to call psychology and sociology "unscientific" does them a disservice, as much rigorous study and experimentation does go on in those disciplines. So if not science, what do you call them?

Rob said...

Some thinking about "tool sets" and predicting careful what you wish for.

Just imagine what it would take to make a true science of psychohistory available to us. How would it predict the ebb and flow of Islamic fundamentalism? How would it predict the outcome of the clash between Christianity and Islam? What about East vs. West? What are the variables involved on the macro level? It might be an even more ambitious undertaking than meteorology, which has to model wind, temperature, and water vapor interactions and can today barely even come up with ballpark estimates of probabilities. There's a 20% chance of rain today; but what is the percent chance of war with Iran?

On the micro level it gets even dicier (Asimov was a smart cookie). What makes a man become a Conservative? Is it something we can control? Is there a process like that envisioned in "The Boys From Brazil," whereby we can reliably control the development of people so they inevitably and reliably exhibit certain behaviors? Is that even something we WANT to explore? What if we actually discovered all the keys necessary to recreate Jesus, but those same techniques could be used to recreate Hitler? Do you think no one would actually try to use them to create Hitler Mark II?

I know this is all just speculation (maybe even ridiculously so). I think we're still at the Tycho Brahe stage of social science; collecting volumes of data without really knowing what they mean, performing statistical analyses on them and trying to discern patterns that might reveal the underlying laws.

RandomSequence said...


Much of biology is still in the Tycho Brahe stage of science - the soft sciences are still Aristotelian.

Stefan Jones said...

For what it's worth, "Happy Slapping" began as a hobby of British tough boys.

There's a wonderful happy slapping video on the net that shows what happens when the slapper takes on the wrong person. The would-be victim administers a K.O., while the cameraman squeals in protest.

Don Quijote said...

La France criminalise le tournage ou la publication de films d’actes de violence

Proposée par le ministre de l’Intérieur Nicolas Sarkozy, la loi cible un vaste registre de délits relatifs à l’ordre public.

This is what happens when you let right-wingers write laws...

sociotard said...

Augh! I tried to post this twice yesterday and it looks like it didn't take. Perhaps the third time will be the charm. I just wanted to mention two things posters here might like.

Wired article about Human augmentation program at darpa
It's not quite what Dr. Brin predicted in The Postman, but Darpa always seems to be up to something intersting (hey, they invented the internet). This mentions several programs meant to make our soldiers even better, and focuses on two. The first is a heat transfer glove that greatly improves human endurance and resistance to extreme temperatures. It forces blood to the skin with a vacuum pump while the soldier touches something hot or cold. Some posters suggested, if it were to become a surgical implant one day, it might work even better if it were directly attached to the femoral or brachial arteries, but then they weren't docotrs.

The second thing the article talked about was inducing suspended animation by sudden oxygen withdrawl using hydrogen sulfide. It's meant to be used for soldiers who've lost up to 60% of their blood. No human tests yet, but the mice tests have gone well. Still, it seems like I read somewhere on one of Dr. Brins "cool stuff" articles about how cellular oxygen depravation was linked to cancer. Press on, medical science, press on.

Newspaper reveals list of people with conceal and carry permits.
I thought this would be good to discuss here since most of us support open societies and accountability. This journalist bought a list of people with conceal and carry permits from the police for $100 (this is legal) and then posted it online for easy perusal.

Now, I think that this information should be available, but I see a problem with making it easily available. Here are a few comments I saw to provide examples as to why:

"I've moved twice to get away from a violent ex. Now I have to move again. I really appreciate you publishing my address. Gee, thanks."

"Hey, who needs to circumvent gun control laws when someone has published a list which tells you where guns are likely to be. Just be certain that no one is home when you go on your little home invasion shopping trip, if you want to ransack a house and look for a weapon."

"I wonder how that reporter would feel if we published his kid’s ages, the schools they attend and their home addresses. After all it’s all technically public information."

Max Wilson said...

I appreciate Dr. Brin's fairmindedness in trying to swipe equally at left and right, but I think it's interesting that his swipes at the left don't seem to move me emotionally even though RandomSequence's swipes at the right do, even though in this case Dr. Brin was talking about something I agree with (cargo cult science). I think it has something to do with rhetorical style. I wouldn't dare generalize from myself to any population, but comparing this blog to Chaos Manor I note that the tone is different. I see people here getting frustrated by "right-wingers" not listening, closing their eyes, etc. but it may have something to do with their ability to communicate with... whatever kind of people are likely to be right-wingers. I'm tempted to say cold-blooded, hard-nosed anti-empaths but that would be unfair. :)

If you want to persuade ostriches, find a smart conservative who's pushing the same agenda as you and publicize him. I should read Greg Cochran more often.


sociotard said...

Oh, Now I've read Dr. Brin's post about the soft sciences.

Part of the problem with the social sciences is free will. You see, I once had an instructor explain that you could not believe in God and the scientific method at the same time, because if you believed in God you believed there was a factor which could interfere with what you were observing at any time. You could not set up a control in which this factor could not be present, nor could you force this factor to do what you needed it too. Therefore, all your results would have to be appended "unless God changed things to make this happen".

Now, lets go back to free will. This is an interesting concept, because it seems to exist independent of a belief in God. You can believe in both, one and not the other, the other and not the one, or neither.

If we believe in free will, that we are not mere meat-based robots carrying out our genetic programming in response to environmental stimuli, then we believe that there is a component of ourselves that science cannot predict. The meaty robot can be predicted. We can make allowances in our experiment for randomization (since some people say there may be quantum effects going on in the brain), but that's not the same as free will. We don’t say coins choose whether to come up heads or tails.

In the end, I think that it really will come down to whether we have free will, and how we define free will. If we take the earlier definition, then we acknowledge that human behavior can never totally be defined or predicted, and science is useless. If we define free will as that component of our decision making process that is supplied by our spirits, that's one thing. If a spirit is a real thing, it probably operates according to real principles, and can be predicted. That's something like what Joseph Smith said:

"There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes. We cannot see it, but when our bodies are purified, we shall see that it is all matter."

I’m quick to point out that even if there is no such thing as free will and, as the song goes. “you and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals,” we don’t necessarily have to stop punishing crime or rewarding excellence. Even a bad car gets sent to the Junk heap. Still, I personally do hold that I’m not just the sum of my neurons, and that I choose what I do, for good or evil.

RandomSequence said...


Curious: which of my swipes result in an emotional response? It would be interesting both to see what statements touch a nerve, and what kind of rhetoric is less than helpful.

RandomSequence said...


In my view, the problem with the free-will problem is that there is no such problem. The distinction between free-will and determinism appears to be sensible, but is not. You're forced to posit something "spiritual" by the very question - you are asking whether there is a "will" free of determination, and if not, the other option is that everything is determined.

The dichotomy is false.

David Brin said...

Many such dichotomies fall apart if you posit a God who wants us to be scientific, as part of the process of becoming apprentice creators.

TheRadicalModerate said...

Oh, boy! It's Fuzzy Studies Pet Peeve Night!

My pet peeve deals with the vast number of purely statistical methodologies floating around. You've all seen these reported ad nauseam: Somebody constructs some survey or vastly subjective sampling of a population. They then control for umpteen jillion randomly chosen free variables until some statistically significant correllation is unearthed. Results are trumpeted. No new knowledge is conveyed.

Despite putting a certain amount of lipstick on the pig, there are vitually no falsifiable hypotheses generated from such work. It's just data-mining on noisy, arbitrarily constructed data sets. You're not going to get anywhere without at least the beginnings of some hypothesized mechanisms tossed over from the reductionist side of the house.

If this were limited to the fuzzy studies, it would be disappointing. More alarming is the fact that these same methodologies get applied to things like drug trials and even astronomical studies.

The problem is that there's no way to know if you've unearthed all the free variables. Did drug A have side effects B and C due to random fluctuations in the sampled population, or was there some underlying, undiscovered correlation shared by all the participants with the problem? And will it kill others with more extreme versions of the problem? Beats me! Oops, didn't think of that!

I have this same nagging doubt about all the type Ia supernovae data. Since this is the core of the case for all the cosmological acceleration rumpus in recent years, it'd be nice if it were provably correct. We know that the data has been controlled for a whole bunch of factors. We know it continues to pass muster as new factors are posited. But we have no idea if it's been controlled for all of them, because we may not have thought of them. I don't even want to imagine the sheepishness that will occur if, in the future, somebody manages to puncture the underlying acceleration interpretation.

I have no solution for this problem. Maybe we're out of nice, linear, reductionist assertions that are easily falsifiable. If that's the case, though, we're in desperate need of some new signal processing techniques that can assist in designing and mining these studies. At the very least, it'd be nice if the complexity folks could generate some more sophisticated tools for predicting large-scale behavior.

TheRadicalModerate said...


Many such dichotomies fall apart if you posit a God who wants us to be scientific, as part of the process of becoming apprentice creators.

That would make us Scientific People, right?

Quant suff!

(I'm ready for my tatoo, now...)

ColonelZen said...

Freewill v Determinism. The "meaty robots" v free will above doesn't include the option I think most likely: meaty robots with some measure of statistical randomness thrown into the mix. Viz it may well be a mixture of my genes and historical environment which leads me to the dessert tray. But my choice between chocolate or strawberry may be nothing more than which ion happened to collide with an active dendrite first.

Biggest psychological breaktrhough in recent decades. Psychologists wouldn't want to acknowlege it, because it was made by a biologist and not a psychologist. Dawkins' memes. I'm still undecided about exactly how directly the genes as meme carriers gets translated to human behaviour to humans as meme carriers, but the more I read and think about it the more convincing it looks.

I really wonder about psychology as a science. There is so many places to begin. Sociology is in many ways nearly a statistical discipline with micro economics, marketing and political polls. Psychology, were it being practiced sanely should see that as a neon sign pointing to : this way to understand the individual!

-- TWZ

Max Wilson said...


When I wrote that I was thinking of your post just above on neuroscience, although that admittedly isn't one about the right. I think I initially didn't notice who the author was but
got down to the "What do they find?" paragraph and thought, "Hmm, this sounds kind of familiar," and lo and behold it was you.


Max Wilson said...


Okay, you just did it again with the false dichotomy post. I was going to say something but now I don't have to.

Especially funny since Sociotard was quoting Joseph Smith (though not on this subject), and so I expect we're both Latter-day Saints. Obviously similar religious views don't mean similar political or scientific views, but I do sometimes see Latter-day Saints taking the "free will" idea to illogical conclusions.


Max Wilson said...

Oh, wait. I think I misunderstood Sociotard a little--he was arguing for the possibility of determinism EVEN IF we're more than just meat.


RandomSequence said...


So I guess my "voice" is a bit strident for some folks tastes? Not surprising, in meat space I produce the same effect particularly with midwesterners and fairly conservative Americans. I was wondering how much of it was the substance of what I said, and how much was form.

The dichotomy one surprises me - but my neuroscience comments don't. I piss off most neuroscientists also (the others love me!)

It does bring up the question though, how much of the left/right divide isn't really about policy, but instead about cultural styles? How many folks become liberals because they are loud-mouths, and more loud-mouthism is accepted among some folks on the left, and then they just rationalize it as politics? How many people end up accepting conservative politics because they just like conservative people more, and then rationalize it by accepting their political views?

David Brin said...

I think a thousand explanations for "left-right" are possible. e.g. which group of pretty and over privileged people did you most resent or dream of joining, in college? The preppie frat kids who seemed to be having all the fun? Or the groovy hippies who seemed to be having all the fun? You think I'm kidding? This is a very valid way of psycho-analyzing the Wolfowitz-Nitze-Perle crowd, who got humiliated and screamed at by the latter, and driven off campus and (worse) never got any sex... but who were flattered by the frat kids into doing their homework for them.

feh. The real difference is simple. The tyrannically anti-enlightenment left exercises cruelly stupid excess of authority... in a couple of hundred English and social science departments, and does not even control a political party.

The tyrannically anti-enlightenment right exercises cruelly stupid excess of authority... over our entire civilization, propelled by TRILLIONS of dollars and some deadly dogmas and (deep behind the curtain) by some types who want us to be slaves. Or dead.

I answered Max in the previous comments section and I doubt most of you saw it, so I'll repeat here. He spoke of how many conservatives reflexively "tune out" the left. I replied:

Replace that with "reflexively tune out reality."

Anyone who can make up excuses to perceive the WMD episode as anything other than outright and highly treasonous lying, is simply a genius of delusion. (in other words, human. But that doesn't excuse it.)

I can tell you this, the entire intelligence community considers all of these guys pathological liars. One of a thousand sins of modern conservatism is turning your backs upon the skilled professionals, just as soon as the things said by the pros stopped fitting your dogmas.

All right, so the hypothesis (far fetched) is that the WMD and terror-link justifications ("trust us!") weren't deliberate lies. All right. Um... suppose the Bushites were sincere and sent us to war... that is W... A... R... based upon an innocent mistake... does not THAT kind of astoundingly incompetent delusional mistake DISQUALIFY someone from being considered a wise "decider" of public policy?

Like the way the same team subsidized and coddled Saddam for ages, then left him in power when he was in the palm of our hand.

When does an endless litany of either lies or "honest mistakes" make a group less qualified to "decide" than a guy who did everything RIGHT for eight years... but blurted out a fib about his personal life, when being asked a legally immaterial question during a cosmically unjustified and hypocritical witch hunt?

We now know that 75% of the men hounding Clinton for moral faults were DEMONSTRABLY and OVERWHELMINGLY less moral in their personal lives. Men who sneered that the Clintons had no love and would split up the moment they left office, now sneer some more... from their third or fourth feckless, loveless marriages.

Oh, the hypocrisy is as amazing as the delusional psychosis that lets decent american citizens concoct such rationalizations. The absolutely stunning genius of Ostrichus Americanus Conservativus is amazing... at finding a SPECK of dirt to rationalize tucking the head under, in order to avoid realizing that THIS IS THEIR TIME.

This is the time for decent conservatives to stand up and save their country. Save their movement. By first accepting that it has been taken over by bona fide monsters. And then doing wht Barry Goldwater would have wanted.

Standing up and being counted on the side of civilization.

Tony Fisk said...

Just a follow up from the last post.

HH pointed to the astonishing disparity in the number of low level republicans and democrats being investigated, and now Matt Frei of the BBC is putting two and two together (and cleverly inserting this into a piece on the number of presidential candidates from both sides):

"... Just as the heads stopped rolling in the Walter Reed scandal another ugly patch [of mould] appeared.

This involves the sacking of eight US attorneys.

They testified before a Senate committee that they had been forced to step down because they didn't do the bidding of Karl Rove, the president's supreme fixer.

Their job is to prosecute acts of political malfeasance - but they all told the Senate they had been pressed by the White House to investigate Democrats before the elections last November.

All had immaculate records in office. All had been appointed by the Republicans.

And if these eight weren't doing their jobs, then others clearly were.

Under the Bush presidency, 375 cases have been brought against local politicians: 10 were against independents, 67 against Republicans and 298 against Democrats.

It has also emerged that Harriet Miers, the president's personal lawyer who never got a seat on the Supreme Court, suggested sacking all 93 US attorneys after the election - but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says he advised against it.

...'Oh, stand up, ye meaty robots!'

Tony Fisk said...

Oh yes... and a little piece of Hilaire Belloch to summarise the current conundrum the conservatives find themselves in:

"Matilda told such dreadful lies,
It made one gasp and roll one's eyes!

Her aunt who, from an early youth,
had held a strict regard for truth,
endeavoured to believe Matilda.

... the effort very nearly killed her."

Stefan Jones said...

You know, I almost -- almost -- feel sorry for Gonzales right now.

He's probably going down for doing the deed, and good riddance because the country deserves someone heading the Justice department who wasn't hired because of his long history as Bush's personal law-rationalizer, but the firings probably weren't his idea.

I suspect it was Karl Rove was the guy who actually peed on the third rail, but Gonzales was caught, um, holding it for him and aiming.

David Brin said...

Oooh. That's a great point. Instead of focusing on the eight who were fired...

...we ought to be focusing on the 85 who were not!

Almost by definition, the fact that they were NOT fired by this administration pretty much means that they were doing Karl Rove's bidding, like good GOP appointees. Putting party ahead of country. Intimidating the professionals below them. Preventing accountability.

There is a silver lining. The coming Democratic administration will not have to appoint party hacks in order to retaliate. All they will need to do is retore honest government and then let nature take its course.

One method: simply promote frustrated professionals from WITHIN the US officer Corps, the Intelligence Community, the Justice Department, picking those who had the guts and fortitude to keep fighting and keep doing their jobs. These years have been a test of mettle that should make such appointments trivial.

First advantage, the blatant contrast between contempt for professionalism and respect for it.

Second, the unleashed energy, ripping veils away from kleptos who have become fat and indulgent, should be edifying and unambiguous.

Third, Even the expected Bush Pardon Tsunami should do some good, pointing a flashing arrow of attention at every fellow who gets a free-felony pass and letting prosecutors scourge and scour the henchmen and little crooks surrounding each of them.

Henchmen and little crooks, take notice. Now may be the time to be making plans. To gather evidence and turn it, guaranteeing yourself hero and celebrity status, instead of waiting till your Bush-crony boss gets his pardon and leaves you swinging in the wind.

TheRadicalModerate said...


You're just flat wrong when you say that the intelligence community warned there was no WMD. There was virtually unanimous opinion that the chem/bio program was active in Iraq pre-war. This consensus dated back well into the mid-90's and was remarkably bi-partisan in both the intelligence bureaucracy and in Congress.

Now, there was all kinds of debate over "imminent threat." And I will not pretend that WMD was anything other than a convenient but legal casus belli. It was obvious to everybody that Bushco had decided--foolishly, it turned out--to do the "nation building thing" in what you have previously and correctly described as a complete about-face. But please don't beat the tired old "lied about WMD" drum. It's incorrect and ultimately irrelevant.

I also must object on the hounding of Clinton for moral peccadilloes. The hounding was for perjury. Yes, Starr tried to embarrass him and ultimately went on a fishing expedition, just as Fitzgerald did upon establishing that there was no underlying crime during Plamegate. What got Clinton in trouble wasn't Monica, it was lying about Monica to mitigate political damage, just as what got Libby in trouble wasn't Plamegate but lying about a moderately unsavory bit of political hardball, again to mitigate political damage.

Guess what? Libby's going to jail for perjury, just as the law prescribes. Meanwhile, Bill got to skate for committing another slam-dunk perjury. (That's lying under oath, materiality of the question notwithstanding.) Turns out there were flaws in selecting his jury pool--they appeared to have pre-judged the facts. Oh, well. Perhaps we should hold the President to a lower standard than other citizens.

There. You successfully sucked me into the same old tired arguments. They are irrelevant. You want to argue about the underlying neocon strategy, and the criminally stupid planning, and the corrosive happy talk that destroyed domestic confidence, and the lack of proper interrogation training that caused the biggest black eye to American prestige since My Lai? I'm with you. So let's dispense with the stupid stuff.

TheRadicalModerate said...

Guess I'm taking all the bait this evening. Will somebody please explain to me how Gonzales firing 8 US Attorneys is substantively different from Janet Reno firing all of them? Other than Clinton not having a political tin ear and realizing that he could get away with it during the post-innauguration honeymoon?

Nate said...

Okay, woah, hang on here a second guys. First, Dr. Brin, you shouldn't use the "WMD" phrase, because that (deliberately) confuses nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons all under the same umbrella.

And let's be honest here. Whenever the President or anybody in the administration was talking about "WMD" in the build-up to the Iraq war, they meant nukes. Because nukes are scary and threatening. "Can't wait for the smoking gun in the forum of a mushroom cloud." anyone? Except... We knew Iraq had no nukes. And it's turned out they didn't really have anything much in the way of chemical or biological weapons either, but they definitely had no nukes and were nowhere near getting any. And this was known before the war. And, does anybody know offhand how many of the US troops in the first invasion had NBC gear in case of Saddam deciding to the B or C parts of NBC that he might have had? Because if they weren't, then the people in charge knew they weren't going to run into any "WMD" beforehand.

But yeah, the WMD threat was just a method of scaring people into going along with the war George W. Bush had wanted all along.

And RM, Fitzgerald didn't prove there was no underlying crime in the exposure of Valerie Wilson's CIA status. He couldn't prove it to the standards of the law, in large part because of at least one of the witnesses lying under oath and obstructing justice. Since he successfully obstructed justice, that doesn't mean there wasn't a crime committed.

And even if it couldn't be proved to the foreknowledge and malice level required by the relevant laws, exposing the identity of a CIA agent, working on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and thereby exposing and destroying or weakening most of her network, is at the very least, colossally stupid.

Nate said...

And Re: Attorneys, I'll leave the explanation up to hilzoy, who's a better writer than me and has obviously kept up with the news better.

Max Wilson said...


Forgive me, but according to the materials I'm reading right now, if the question isn't material it *isn't*perjury*. Even if it's a lie. I should say that's important to understanding the Clinton trial.


Max Wilson said...

I don't care if Janet Reno did the same thing. It's too late to do anything about her. The investigations targetting Democrats sound suspiciously like harassment, however, and I'm definitely interested in the public hearing more about it.


Max Wilson said...

Thanks, Nate, for the Hilzoy link. I'll forward this to my fellow ostriches; this is the sort of thing I think they'll be interested in.

-Max Wilson

Max Wilson said...

Don Quijote said...

NY Times - If Elected ...Clinton Says Some G.I.’s in Iraq Would Remain

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton foresees a “remaining military as well as political mission” in Iraq, and says that if elected president, she would keep a reduced military force there to fight Al Qaeda, deter Iranian aggression, protect the Kurds and possibly support the Iraqi military.

This is the first in a series of interviews with the 2008 presidential candidates in both parties about how they would handle the issues they would confront as president. Future articles will look at the positions of the other candidates on Iraq and on other national security and domestic policy matters.

In a half-hour interview on Tuesday in her Senate office, Mrs. Clinton said the scaled-down American military force that she would maintain would stay off the streets in Baghdad and would no longer try to protect Iraqis from sectarian violence — even if it descended into ethnic cleansing.

In outlining how she would handle Iraq as commander in chief, Mrs. Clinton articulated a more nuanced position than the one she has provided at her campaign events, where she has backed the goal of “bringing the troops home.”

If you like the war, vote for Hillary, she'll make sure you'll get plenty more.

Tacitus2 said...

I won't speak for others, but the concept that WMD=nukes does not necessarily hold. The only half way plausible WMD threat Saddam had was release of anthrax or smallpox by agents on the ground here in the US. Plausible? Sure, looks like one guy pulled it off alone in the immediate post 9/11 time period. Nukes, chemical weapons, heck you need a delivery system.
Now, since there are present those of insight and passion, can somebody direct me to some info?
Given that Iraq had WMD pre Gulf War I, and did not have them post Gulf War II, where did they go?
We have documents by the warehouse load, and no shortage of people motivated to give us answers....and mostly I hear silence.
Dumped into the Tigris?
Transhipped to ___________ (not gonna fill in that blank, I share your horror at going after anybody else at this time).
Best info, please.

Nate said...

Tacticus2: I completely agree with you that Iraq had no halfway plausible nuclear threat. That was most of my point. The Bush administration played up the threat of "WMD" specifically as nukes. Thus President Bush's line about "we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." The Bush administration knew full well that Iraq didn't have nukes. The invocations of "WMD" were designed to blur the line between nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and make people scared of nukes.

Whatever happened with that guy who was mailing anthrax around to the media and Congress? Seems to have disappeared down the memory hole. I'm not convinced Iraq could or would have done anything like that, though.

As for Iraq's chemical and biological weapons after Gulf War 1, as I understand it, the vast majority of it was destroyed by the UN inspectors and some by Iraq. Here's the CIA's take.

The thing about those though, that I wonder again, is if the Bush administration knew where the weapon sites were, why didn't they secure them immediately when they were reached? Or did they know there weren't any weapons to worry about securing? Or were they just THAT massively incompetent? The last can't be ruled out, since they didn't bother to secure the conventional weapon stockpiles, which is where a lot of the explosives for IEDs have been coming from, looting in the first few weeks.

tacitus2 said...

Thanks for the link, looks like an interesting read when I have a bit more time. I did not mean to imply that the anthrax incident WAS done by Iraq, only that the threat of anthrax was plausible, and did not seem to require a high profile base. The whole anthrax incident has some odd, odd features. I could almost get Brinian in my conspiracy theories! Tabloids! Senators! Proximity to 9/11 plotters!
But what we know is little.

Carl said...

Regarding the soft sciences, there is another problem: with more studies, there are more studies that confirm a false hypothesis. This holds for theoretically falsifiable hypotheses.


Why Most Published Research Findings are False at Marginal Revolution

TheRadicalModerate said...


I think you overestimate the importance of WMD=nukes in the pre-war runup. All Bushco needed was a generally recognized casus belli, and threat from any WMD was adequate for their purposes. They had virtually the whole country foaming at the mouth to do something, so the argument was for international, rather than domestic, consumption.

Doug S. said...

My theory on the Iraqi WMDs:

Prior to Gulf War I, Saddam had far smaller stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons than his records showed. This is because his underlings were corrupt and stole money that was supposed to be used for building weapons. The underlings then reported that they had, in fact, produced far more than they actually did. When the UN inspectors tried to find the weapons in Iraq, they first looked at Saddam's records and determined that they said he had some amount. They then found and destroyed some smaller amount. Iraq was unable to account for the difference between the amount they supposedly had and the amount that was found, because nobody was going to admit that they lied to Saddam about the amount of weapons that they had! That left everyone worrying about phantom weapons that could never be found because they only existed on paper.

David Brin said...

Down here in the comments section, I am going to hand the microphone over to my friend Russ Daggatt, who sends out these old-fashioned email screeds instead of doing what he oughta and blogging for more people to see. Here's Russ:

Last week, Newt Gingrich admitted what was already widely known:  At the same time he was leading the effort among Republicans in Congress to impeach Bill Clinton over the Lewinsky affair, he was himself engaged in an adulterous affair.
Most people would probably see a certain element of hypocrisy in this.  But the Republican partisan warriors can always explain away these things.  You see, the Clinton impeachment wasn't about blow jobs, it was about LYING about blow jobs.  It wasn't the substance of the matter that had Republicans so outraged.  They would have been just as outraged if the lying had been about, oh, let's say ... outing an undercover CIA operative working on Weapons of Mass Destruction as part of an effort to cover up pre-war lies?
Except, of course, they aren't.
The Wall Street Journal, the National Review and the Weekly Standard -- and virtually all the other leading voices of the Republican right -- have all called for "Scooter" Libby to be pardoned.
Let's all agree lying is bad.  Lying under oath is even worse.  But there is a difference between Clinton lying about blow jobs in a civil suit and Libby lying under oath in a Federal investigation about outing a CIA agent. 
Clinton was giving a deposition in a private lawsuit that had nothing to do with his actions in office (and, in fact, the Paula Jones suit related to matters that allegedly occurred prior to Clinton becoming president).  It was literally unprecedented for a sitting president to be deposed in a private law suit -- never happened before.  The same Supreme Court that later installed George Bush in office allowed that private lawsuit to proceed saying that it was, "highly unlikely to occupy any substantial amount of [the President's] time."  (Now was that a finding of fact or a legal holding?)  The Paula Jones suit was financed by an offshoot of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and was basically a set-up to use discovery powers to dig up dirt on Clinton -- and to pull a Perry Mason ambush of Clinton (under oath) with Starr's previously undisclosed knowledge of the Lewinsky affair.  The case was ultimately dismissed by the trial judge who found that, "There are no genuine issues for trial in this case."
As a purely legal matter, while Clinton lied under oath in the Jones case deposition, he did not commit the legal crime of perjury.  Perjury has three elements. It is a false statement under oath, the speaker must know it to be false, and it must be material.  Material means likely to affect the outcome of the case.  In the Jones case the judge explicitly ruled that the Lewinsky affair, if true, was not material and the case was dismissed on a 12(b)6 motion for failing to state a claim for which relief can be granted.  Hence, Clinton could not have committed perjury.  He still lied.  And that was wrong.  But he didn't commit a crime.
By contrast, Libby lied to FBI agents investigating the leak of the identity of an uncover CIA operative working on WMD matters.  He also lied to a Federal grand jury investigating that matter.  He was convicted not only of perjury but also of making false statements to FBI investigators and obstruction of justice.  That WAS illegal.  And wrong.  And the entire right-wing noise machine is outraged -- not by his perjury and obstruction of justice but by his conviction.
So what the heck was the Clinton impeachment all about?  As Louis Armstrong said when asked "what is jazz":  "Man, if you have to ask, you'll never know."
Those who were genuinely upset by the adultery should have a lot of fun with the current Republican presidential contenders.  From the Washington Monthly:
High Infidelity
What if three admitted adulterers run for president and no one cares?

By Steve Benen
... Until relatively recently, a self-confessed adulterer had never sought the presidency. Certainly, other candidates have been dogged by sex scandals. In the 1828 presidential election, John Quincy Adams questioned whether Andrew Jackson's wife was legitimately divorced from her first husband before she married Old Hickory. Grover Cleveland, who was single, fathered a child out of wedlock, a fact that sparked national headlines during the 1884 election (though he managed to win anyway). There have been presidential candidates who had affairs that the press decided not to write about, like Wendell Wilkie, FDR, and John F. Kennedy. And there have been candidates whose infidelities have been uncovered during the course of a campaign: Gary Hart's indiscretions ultimately derailed his 1988 bid, and in 1992, during the course of his campaign, Bill Clinton was forced to make the euphemistic admission that he "caused pain" in his marriage.
But it wasn't until 2000 that McCain, possibly emboldened by Clinton's survival of his scandals, became the first confessed adulterer to have the nerve to run. Now, just a few years after infidelity was considered a dealbreaker for a presidential candidate, the party that presents itself as the arbiter of virtue may field an unprecedented two-timing trifecta.
McCain was still married and living with his wife in 1979 while, according to The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, "aggressively courting a 25-year-old woman who was as beautiful as she was rich." McCain divorced his wife, who had raised their three children while he was imprisoned in Vietnam, then launched his political career with his new wife's family money. In 2000, McCain managed to deflect media questioning about his first marriage with a deft admission of responsibility for its failure. It's possible that the age of the offense and McCain's charmed relationship with the press will pull him through again, but Giuliani and Gingrich may face a more difficult challenge. Both conducted well-documented affairs in the last decade--while still in public office.
Giuliani informed his second wife, Donna Hanover, of his intention to seek a separation in a 2000 press conference. The announcement was precipitated by a tabloid frenzy after Giuliani marched with his then-mistress, Judith Nathan, in New York's St. Patrick's Day parade, an acknowledgement of infidelity so audacious that Daily News columnist Jim Dwyer compared it with "groping in the window at Macy's." In the acrid divorce proceedings that followed, Hanover accused Giuliani of serial adultery, alleging that Nathan was just the latest in a string of mistresses, following an affair the mayor had had with his former communications director.
But the most notorious of them all is undoubtedly Gingrich, who ran for Congress in 1978 on the slogan, "Let Our Family Represent Your Family." (He was reportedly cheating on his first wife at the time). In 1995, an alleged mistress from that period, Anne Manning, told Vanity Fair's Gail Sheehy: "We had oral sex. He prefers that modus operandi because then he can say, 'I never slept with her.'" Gingrich obtained his first divorce in 1981, after forcing his wife, who had helped put him through graduate school, to haggle over the terms while in the hospital, as she recovered from uterine cancer surgery. In 1999, he was disgraced again, having been caught in an affair with a 33-year-old congressional aide while spearheading the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton. ...
DB comments: Oh but this is the tip of the iceberg. It goes back to when the boundary of licentiousness was to have even one divorce... that is until divorced Ronald Reagan ran for president, at which point the right shifted that boundary with such alacrity that the obviously strong and resilient Clinton marriage gains that couple no "family credibility" while the MAJORITY of the House Prosecutors who pursued impeachment hurled stones, despite having had gruesome divorces.

Honestly, I hope Giuliani gets the nod. First, there will be a long awaited schism on the right, when the sincere though loopy fundie-theocrats go completely over the edge. Second, most American women will simply rebel. Women tended to forgive Clinton for a lapse that did not wreck a marriage. What they really despise is not as much brief affairs as men who dispose of marriage, treating divorce the way they might shop for a new car.

I'd love to see a simple statistic - average number of marriages per office-holder by party. If the dems had a statistically significantly lower ratio, it could be very telling.

But Russ D shows a crack in the "vast right-wing conspiracy," once typified by Richard Mellon Scaife, reclusive heir to the Mellon banking fortune, spent more than $2 million investigating and publicizing accusations about the supposed involvement of Mrs. Clinton and former President Bill Clinton in "corrupt land deals, sexual affairs, drug running and murder."

But now, as Mrs. Clinton is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Mr. Scaife’s checkbook is staying in his pocket. Christopher Ruddy, who once worked full-time for Mr. Scaife investigating the Clintons and now runs a conservative online publication he co-owns with Mr. Scaife, said, "Both of us have had a rethinking." "Clinton wasn’t such a bad president," Mr. Ruddy said. "In fact, he was a pretty good president in a lot of ways, and Dick feels that way today."


But Russ saves his special praise for a lengthy piece in Rolling Stone ( about the Iraq War called "Beyond Quagmire."

Even more important (must read!) is an article by Christiane Amanpour suggesting on strong evidence that VERY strong elements in Iran want friendship with the US. Calling us "natural allies."

A position that I -- and a very few others -- pushed way back in autumn of 2001. One more case of getting no credit, even when you were early, nearly alone, and overwhelmingly right.

Max Wilson said...

"Natural allies" against al Qaeda, which is just diplomatic rhetoric because al Qaeda isn't a real threat. But neither is Iran.


Don Quijote said...

This is the time for decent conservatives to stand up and save their country. Save their movement. By first accepting that it has been taken over by bona fide monsters.

Here is a good decent conservative for you:

The Independent - Chiquita banana company is fined $25m for paying off Colombian paramilitary groups

The Chiquita banana company, one of the world's biggest and most powerful food companies, has admitted paying "protection" money to Colombian paramilitary groups identified by the US government as terrorist organisations - and has agreed to pay a $25m (£13m) fine to wrap up a federal investigation.

The settlement was quickly denounced as too lenient by human rights groups, which have long said that Chiquita's bananas are "stained with blood", accusing the company of paying paramilitary groups not only to protect workers, but also to target union leaders and agitators perceived as going against the company's commercial interests.

Chiquita paid terrorist group

The payments in question came before chairman and chief executive officer Fernando Aguirre joined Chiquita in January 2004, and started when Cincinnati-based American Financial Group and Carl Lindner controlled the company. A Lindner spokeswoman could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

This would be the same Carl Lindner who donated a measly 350 G's to the swift vets campaign and is a Bush Ranger, proof that one man's Terrorist is another man's Freedom Fighter, in this case freedom from Unions and various pesky environmental & labor regulations.