Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Planning for the "Pardon Tsunami"

At my DailyKos blog I’ve started posting segments copied from my posted article on “Suggestions to the new Congress”. Although you folks have seen it all, you are welcome to weigh in there (and possibly boost my Kos ratings). Certainly the topics merit further exposure. Right now we are discussing suggestions 1,2,3 which are about investigating corruption.

There I only hinted at what I think would be the cleverest gambit of all. To try and HEM IN President Bush's power to issue vast numbers of "get out of jail free" pardons.

There are several ways to do this without attracting automatic cancellation by the Supreme Court. Any solution must not infringe on his actual right to pardon. And yet, with sufficient cleverness, it should be possible to...

option 1- Hem him in POLITICALLY. A top Dem should issue a dare. "Will you promise not to pardon more people than the previous two presidents COMBINED?"

The idea is to put him between a rock and a hard place. If he accepts the dare (unlikely) each of his myriad corrupt cronies will worry whether their promised pardon will make it under the cutoff. They may contemplate whether to instead take the bird in front of them - if Democratic Congressional committees start offering immunity for testimony.

If (more likely) he refuses to make the promise, then a seed of wonder is planted in millions of American voters minds, about just what he may have in mind for after the 08 elections.

At minimum, it will enhance the political damage when (not if) he issues the pardon tsunami,

option 2. Hem in the DEFINITION of a"pardon". Congress may be able to get past the Supremes a definition that restricts a pardon's ability to let a bastard get off scott free. For example: "A pardon can only apply to actions that a person openly admits and avows. It must specify whatever illegal actions it is meant to cover. Furthermore, the person pardoned must testify and answer questions, in order to qualify for complete erasure of responsibility."

This would still let this monstrous cabal of thieves pardpn wretched-awful SOBs who have been ripping us off, saving them from going to prison. That can’t be helped. But it would mean that they must testify (perhaps in the original, latin meaning of the word!) They must point fingers at others. And restitution of ill-gotten gains would remain a possibility.

Above all, by drawing attention to the approaching pardon tsunami NOW, we would put it up front in the public's mind. They will start viewing items in the news in this light and perceive patterns. It is something to start pondering now.


Other matters: See an interesting new book:  Reinventing the Bazaar: A natural history of markets, written by John McMillin of Stanford’s School of Business.


Apparently, some folks in my area are willing to start reconsidering their policy of trying to run classic Santa Monica liberals in districts that have been gerrymandered to be conservative by personality. When I wrote to our recent democratic candidate, Francine Busby: "Help recruit military veterans who can resonate with local voters and LOOK conservative... while being faithful to core liberal values..."

She responded: "If you are aware of anyone who is a good match and is interested, please let me know."

Aha. A counter-dare. Fair enough. Let's all ponder, then.

I know that by now all of you have chosen an "ostrich conservative" -- a decent person who remains obstinately delusional about the neocons -- to clamp onto like a lamprey and never let go until they open their eyes. And you are all spreading this meme, recruiting others to be ostrich-awakeners. I have faith in you all and I know you won't let us down.

Now another task: look around you for another creature in the zoo. Look for a mongoose!

A mongoose is a person who has utter toughness and willingness to face cobras, combined with big-hearted ability to stand up for the little guy. Ideal are former military men or women, who convey the surfaces of old-fashioned, patriotic and crewcut conservatism -- and certainly adhere to the best values from that side of things -- while also being open-eyed aware of what's going on around us and eager to strengthen the one institution in American life that stands of chance of saving this country -- The Democratic Party. These are the candidates we need to find for every gerrymandered GOP district. So that when folks in such inherently (by personality) conservative districts are fed-up and looking around in 2008, we won't make the insanely self-destructive mistake of forcing them to choose between Dick Cheney and Ellen Degeneris.

All of you. Find a mongoose and start twisting his or her arm to consider running for office in 2008. It is NOT TOO SOON!

Of course, given the odds, maybe you should talk to five or six of them. That's why we must start now. It's a talent search that could take some time.


Anonymous said...

Lets see, according to Wikipedia Bill Clinton gave 140 pardons on his last day of office (I admit, I'm one of those conservatives that still thinks Clinton wasn't entirely innocent in the Chinese espionage and campaign finance scandal)

George H. W. Bush gave 6 pardons on his last day, but they were extremely controversial, having to do with the Iran-Contra affair.

So the challenge is to limit Dubya to 146 pardons, six of which may be extremely controversial. Lets round it up to 150 and 10, just to be generous and to keep the numbers round.

Anonymous said...

Oh, if we go by total issued? Clinton issued 456 "Clemency Actions". This includes pardons, conditional pardons, commutations of sentence, and remissions. Sorry, I couldn't find just number of total pardons)

Bush Sr. gave 77

I found those at:

I found this USA today article on Bush Jr.
Which says that, as of 12/29/2005, he had given 69. Lets guess (by extrapolation) he's up to 80 or 85 by now. To stay less than the last two altogether, he can only give another 450 or so.

Anonymous said...

I really don't think that there's going to be any kind of "pardon tsunami." The only scenario I can see in which George W. Bush is going to issue large numbers of pardons is if an incoming President has been making threats about holding Administration members responsible for specific crimes, such as the warrantless wiretapping program or the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal - things the current administration either denies responsibility or claims are legal. Appointing political hacks and making awful decisions isn't against the law, as much as some people might wish it was.

David Brin said...

Doug I am astonished. Do you actually believe you are seeing all the iceberg?

Dig it, even while controlling all three branches of government and most media and having intimidated the civil service and redirected the Justice Department and inspectors general and prosecutors away from corruption supervision, there have STILL been more goppers gone to jail or disgraced from office than in the entire span of the Kenndy, Johnson, Carter and Clinton administrations combined.

What do you think will happen once grownups and honest people unleash the fettered investigation services and law agencies? Don't you consider it possible that they might find overt acts, to accompany the most secretive and rapaciously reckless administration since at least Harding?

Anonymous said...

re: pardon tsumani, option 2

So this is the "truth and reconciliation" option, which sounds wonderful until we think about the fact that Shrub might actually pardon some people who might really be--gasp!--not guilty of whatever put them in jail/crosshairs of public opinion; e.g. a conviction based on circumstantial/falsified evidence which has been overturned by DNA testing but the pardonee remained incarcerated due to procedural reasons.

What would we expect a person like this to say? "I didn't do it."? What is the value of this testimony to the American people? Would we then instead expect the State to fess up? "This pardon is right because we were dead wrong/stupid/prejudiced/lazy/tired/in the crosshairs of public opionion."?

I offer option 3: Time Limits
3A (looks good on C-SPAN variation): Challenge the President to make all of his final pardons public on January 2nd, 2009. It's easy to shame (or glorify) an ex-president. But one can hope that the dignity of the Office, even a lame duck one, might then be taken into consideration.

3B (playing to your base until the shoe is on the other foot variation): Challenge the President to make all of his final pardons public on November 3, 2008: the day before elections. Heh, heh, heh.

3C (playing to the historians and giving SCOTUS job security variation): Try to amend the Constitution with either of the above options.

3D (wimpy variation): Pass a non-binding resolution denouncing the egregious pardons but supporting a President's right to pardon whoever she^H^H^H the President likes.

Paul TS Lee

Anonymous said...

"A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on."
-- Samuel Goldwyn

Let's say Pres. Bush promised no more than 150 pardons and then issued 1500 . So what? There is no law that prevents this (lying in office is obviously not a crime) and the only cost to W would be his public reputation - to which he has already demonstrated near complete indifference.

I also doubt the Supreme Court would allow the kinds of imposed conditions you suggested because this directly challenges the Constitution.

It seems to me that a possible approach which would pass judicial review would be a law saying that anyone so pardoned may NEVER AGAIN hold any appointed office, nor testify before Congress except under oath, nor act as a lobbyist nor profit in any way from writings/speeches about their pardoned activities.

This doesn't limit the number of possible pardons, but it makes them much less useful because pardonees would no longer have any real access to power.

RandomSequence said...


I like that you're bringing up semi-practical short term solutions. But isn't the problem obvious? It's the presidency as an institution. It simply concentrates too much power in one individual. We put in checks-and-balances 220 years ago, that have been overwhelmed by changes in the scale of the country. This isn't a left/right issue, it's just common sense.

We've actually been lucky with Bush! He's not actually terribly ambitious, and has been a stumbling block to the neo-cons, who have been pushing much more radical action in the ME. Fortunately, business leaders (paleo-cons) still have enough of his ear, and he has little enough imagination, that he hasn't pushed this nightmare to its logical conclusion, yet.

And, to reiterate, it's not a left/right issue. We also got lucky with FDR -- he just rewrote the constitution basically by fiat and bullying (whether or not you agree with the results). His first draft of his initial inauguration speech called on the American Legion to take over the banks -- imagine the path we could have taken if he hadn't spoken to cooler heads.

It may not be practical in the short term, but the meme needs to get out there -- the presidency is a danger as a single failure point. A more ambitious future president will have Bush's proof-of-concept in front of her -- the sky's really the limit.

Anonymous said...

The best strategy may be to keep quiet, and not give the criminals any reason to believe they need a pardon.

Sure, a few smart ones will publically confess (after November 2008, and in weaselly terms that don't admit that they did anything wrong) and get pardoned - but most will hope that they're going to get away with their crimes, and keep quiet. Once Bush is gone, THEN start the investigations.

However, I expect the Dems will care more about the political advantages of high profile congressional investigations before the 2008 elections. Convictions and punisment would be political icing on their cake, and if Bush later pardon's the criminals, that just helps them create more indignation toward the Reps for the 2010 elections.

Justice for crimes committed? Oh yeah, I suppose that'd be good too - so long as it doesn't get in the way of politics.

(Sorry, I'm channeling DQ today...but I'll bet the cynical view turns out correct, in this case.)

RandomSequence said...


Too late for that. It appears that Fitzgerald, in his closes statements has said:
There is a cloud over the VP. He wrote those columns, he had those meetings, He sent Libby off to the meeting with Judy. Where Plame was discussed. That cloud remains because the defendant obstructed justice. That cloud was there. That cloud is something that we just can't pretend isn't there.

So, if the jury convicts Libby, we can expect the foreshadowing to develop into main plot.

Anonymous said...

This IS Dr. Brin's blog, and this is clearly an issue he cares about a great deal.

I also looked over the pitt.edu site, and it seems fairly bipartisan.

There has always been a weird vibe to last minute presidential actions. Remember Jerry Ford proposing Puerto Rico as the 51st state? Plus some legitimate righting of old wrongs, and a bit of plain old partisan politics.

Bush's "style" is hard to fathom...there has never been a president with fewer vetos for instance.

I never like to speak for anybody, but Dr. Brin appears to regard the leadership of the Republican party as a bunch of conspiratorial thieves and villains. (humanoid if not entirely human, DB?) He says less about the leadership of the Democratic party, but presumably thinks they are a better bunch.

I regard the two as less black and white. The Dems will be unlikely to push for restrictions on pardons because they might, just in the back of their collective concience, realize that they may need that tool themselves one day.

David Brin said...

TwinBeam, I have to tell you that the Plame Affair does not impress me. The bad behavior displayed by genuinely evil men -- e.g. Cheney and Novak -- is nevertheless kinda penny-ante stuff. Certainly compared to the vastly greater crimes that are afoot. Indeed, setting aside my own biased subjective view of their infamy, the Wilson-Plame wrongs are the sort that MIGHT have been attributed to carelessness amid the running of a vast and complex government. Indeed, this is the kind of “travelgate” minutia that was used to attack Clinton and I am kind of sick of it. And, not being a partisan hypocrite, I am sick of it in both directions.

I want prosecution for corruption in defense contracts amounting to billions. For “misplacing” ton-lot pallets of unmarked $100 bills. For deliberate lies to Congress. For violating every protection of the civil service and officer corps. For towering malfeasance and treason on a scale that Clinton’s critics never dared even remotely imagine about him.

Still, I agree with you. It is more important to make political hay about all this, then let the pardons flow. If we can make the SOBs confess on-camera and give back some of the money... and point fingers at others... it will be more valuable than any satisfaction I could get from raw revenge. NEVERTHELESS please ponder this. The whole reason that Red America is so psychotically blinkered right now is because of past shamings over Watergate etc. When this storm hits, be prepared. They will go back to their tents fuming. And this time, their rage will be biblical in proportions.

Anonymous said...

Why are Republican presidents more "corrupt"? Why was Nixon more criminal than LBJ?

Answer: Since the post war period, they have had more experience governing with the other party in control of the legislature. With the other side in power:
1. the legislators dig up more dirt
2. the president has to play more tricks to carry out his policies

Bill Clinton was the exception. That's why he was impeached.


There may have been more inherent corruption in recent Republican regimes, but accusations need to discount the above factors.

One reason many Republicans have contempt for Congressional investigations and the like is that the Democrats got in the habit of abusing this approach after Watergate. Remember the Clarence Thomas hearings? I have yet to hear a Democrat apologize for that farce.


If we want to talk legality, here's one: name one Democrat who supports socialized medicine who also calls for a constitutional amendment to make such legal?

The Democrats started the "constitution is whatever we want it to be" game during the Roosevelt administration. Can't say I like the Republicans joining in the game, but the hypocracy from the left does make me a bit ill.

RandomSequence said...

Oh Carl,

The "constitution can be whatever we want it to be" started much earlier than FDR. Lincoln had it down flat --- secession had been considered by New England in the original generation, clearly implying it was part of the original intention. Andrew Jackson pushed it around quite a bit.

This constitutional worship is tiresome. The constitution was a document meant to limit the ideals of the revolution, not expand them; that's clear from the Federalist papers. It's done some good by stabilizing the country, particularly in the early years. It also has asinine amendment rules, and tilts toward temporary dictatorship. If we had the courage of the founders, we would have abandoned it a century ago.

But instead, we've just twisted it every generation to make a practical implementation, instead of re-writing it every few generations as many originally expected. As I said up-thread, this isn't a left/right thing. The constitution of 1802 isn't that of 1789, which isn't the same of 1828, which is completely different from that of 1864, etc, ad infinitum.

RandomSequence said...


I've got to disagree that Plamegate == Travelgate. The former involves the outing of a covert agent. We're not talking about stealing pennies, or even looking through tax forms. This is a case of revealing to the enemy, in a time of war, our undercover networks. Once our opponents (whoever they are today) have confirmed that Plame was CIA, and not just suspected, they have strong confirmation that the network attached to her is CIA, increasing the information and personal risk involved in that network.

Remember, the administration is the folks who keep on pounding that we are at war, and then turn around and undermine that very war effort. They are the one's screaming about Iran's nuclear effort, then reveal the covert team investigating that very effort.

This is deep sh**. Not just paper work. Of course, the prosecution starts with the most minor stuff. But it was the same with Al Capone -- his tax fraud may have been minor, but the prosecution wasn't frivolous.

Anonymous said...

Interesting - what about the ammendment process do you consider asinine?

Frankly, the old piece of paper seems to have held up pretty well, given its age. I would much rather we had used the ammendment process, than simply "twisting it". The unseemly stretching of the commerce clause to enable the federal government to do just about anything it can think of, despite the 9th and 10th ammendments, comes to mind...

RandomSequence said...


Three quarters of all state legislatures to amend the constitution? That's an absurdly high hurdle, that only the most innocuous cosmetic changes can overcome. The only substantive amendments are 13th, 14th, and 15th, which were entered after the civil war, when those who disagreed were under martial law; you could also argue women's suffrage as an exception.

It's also completely contrary to the current understanding of the constitution, insofar as we've been an organic nation, rather than a confederacy since Lincoln created us at point of arms.

The only reason that the Constitution has held up is that it doesn't even begin to mean the same thing that it did in 1789. Originally, you're talking about a confederacy of states, with their own armies, internal structures, internal cultures, and economies. Today, outside of some legal fictions, we are a centralized state, where the "states" are primarily administrative units. Even the National Guard is simply an administrative fiction, being in fact a federal reserve.

An additional point is that the originally envisioned structure was a no-party state -- see the Federalist papers. I can only imagine the mess we would have had if that had originally succeeded; it seems fairly obvious that a no-party state is indistinguishable from a one-party state. Ask the Eritreans.

As I said, the constitutional-worship is a national blind spot. It has some excellent elements, and some terrible ones, particularly the amendment process which has made updating the document, and publicly discussing those changes practically impossible in fact, if not in law.

Shazam McShotgunstein said...

This is off the present topic, but should be interesting to Brin and Brin fans: NASA and Nature revealed today that the first direct spectroscopic observations of extrasolar planets have been made.

From the new (Feb. 22) issue of Nature: "A spectrum of an extrasolar planet"


NASA press release:


The results were totally off the wall. Here's the best part:

"Superposed on this continuum is a broad emission peak centred near 9.65 microm that we attribute to emission by silicate clouds."

Silicate clouds in a gas giant are of course previously unheard of, and I would assume are dynamically unstable. What would put a silicate dust cloud into the outer atmosphere of a gas giant at 0.045 AU semimajor axis - but a terrestrial planet! One that got too close and plunged headlong into a Jupiter, getting tidally shredded through the Roche limit.

I'm sure it's been depicted in some science fiction novel at some point - but here is evidence of it happening for real. Jeez, can you just imagine? How I would have loved to have sat in a stadium seat with a soda and popcorn to watch that one - from a craft at an appropriate distance.

Also a nice new wet towel to throw at the next person who waxes illogical on the strong anthropic principle.

Anonymous said...

So the constitution is moot? So a slim majority can do whatever it pleases?

I am quite willing to concede that the Constitution was and is an imperfect document. But constitutionalism, per se, has much to be said for it.

Both the left and the right falls back to constitutional arguments when it suits their interests. I contend that amendments should be made for substantial changes.

There have been some rather major changes by the amending process: direct election of senators, the income tax, prohibition, women's suffrage...

There hasn't been much since the New Deal era because the process was truly broken during that time.

Yes, just about every administration has stretched the constitution in some way or another, but few have done as much as FDR. Lincoln might qualify.

But even Lincoln had substantial constitutional authority. Suppressing insurrections is part of the original constitution.

TheRadicalModerate said...

David and Fellow Posters—

I’m going pretty far off topic here, but the post on the pardons finally drove me over the edge. I’ll understand if you take this down for length but I hope you don’t.

I have a great deal of respect for all of you—it’s hard to find a smart crew out in blogland and you guys make your points cogently, in something awfully close to grammatical, properly-spelled English.

Of course, I completely disagree with most of you about 75% of the time. I’ve tried to respond to some of this piecemeal, but it’s hard to get one idea out without getting all the other ones on the table at the same time.

So, rather than spluttering, “But…” and “Surely you don’t mean…” and “Wait a minute,” I thought I’d make the Big Confession:

I am an Ostrich.

I voted for Bush not once but twice (although the second time was more against Kerry than for Bush). I am certainly not a big fan of Bushco, but at the same time I really don’t think that anybody else would have done much different. Hopefully, somebody might have been better at the blocking and tackling. But I don’t think Western Civilization is going down the tubes because of George.

So I thought I’d offer myself up as a target drone for your upcoming Ostrich Hunt and present you with…


1) Ostriches are truly conservative.

When you conserve something, you cherish its value. You don’t replace it with a different thing unless the new thing is demonstrably better than the one you have. You are parsimonious.

A conservative approach to public policy recognizes that the systems of modern society are complex and have non-linear behavior. Ostriches don’t change things just because they see a cool idea that might work better. They don’t panic and do the first thing that pops into their little bird brains when a crisis occurs. They delay, drag their feet, then delay some more. They test things on a small scale. They adopt a new policy only when the old policy is obviously, irretrievably broken. And they get rid of the old policy—Ostriches believe in taking out the trash.

One breed of Ostrich doesn’t deny the need for government to do hard things when it can do them better than other institutions. This breed believes that things change and that government has to adapt. This breed is happy to accept progress, just as long as it really is progress. (Of course, another breed of Ostrich has feathers that are a trifle scaly, so that they look a bit like a long-extinct ancestor.)

2) In history, Ostriches watch the scenery, not the characters.

Circumstances really do change. The world of 2007 is not the world of 1997. It’s easy to be nostalgic for the Clinton Administration: it presided over the most idyllic decade since the 1920’s. It had no identifiable foreign enemies. It hit the business cycle just right. The usual societal fluctuations happened to be subdued.

We Ostriches, we’re a grumpy sort of bird. We were bored, so we got self-righteous at Bill’s little peccadilloes and marveled at how out-of-touch Hillary was, trying to foist single-payer healthcare on a populace that was perfectly complacent. Now we wish we had such trivialities.

Ostriches acknowledge that Bushco is a product of its times. Because the world is a scary place, Bushco has a paranoid, unilateral, aggressive foreign policy. For the same reason, Bushco has circled the wagons and is even more intolerant of Executive branch disloyalty than usual. Because international competition has reached an unprecedented level of viciousness, Bushco indulges its Inner Mercantilist and is even more forgiving of Big Business’s excesses than usual. (Hey, they’re still Republicans…) And finally, Bushco is very slow to react to fast-changing conditions, because they are conservative (see #1).

Ostriches don’t think that liberals “were just as bad in their day as conservatives are now.” Ostriches think that liberals would be just as bad as conservatives if they were in power, given similar historical circumstances. Screwed-up times make for screwed-up governments.

3) Ostriches think we really are at war and you can’t fight a war conservatively.

Ostriches have judged that Jihadism is antithetical and inimical to the core memes of Western Civilization. We know that there are pacifists out there who think that things will be all right if we’re just respectful and leave the nice jihadi alone. We think those people are either wrong or suicidal. So Ostriches think that we’re at war with Jihadism.

Wars are not kind to conservatives. Wars require that you think on your feet and act quickly and decisively. Wars require that you gamble. Sometimes the gambles pay off. (Think what would have happened to the Allies’ “Europe First” strategy if a squadron of dive bombers hadn’t accidentally arrived at their target exactly 5 minutes after another squadron of torpedo bombers had been annihilated at wave top level a couple hundred miles northwest of Midway Island.)

Sometimes you gamble and you lose your shirt. The invasion of Iraq appears to be the latter case.

Now I’m sure that there are some Ostriches who are complete Bushco apologists. But other breeds of Ostrich have to acknowledge that things got FUBAR. The wretched intelligence, strategic misjudgment, diplomatic mismanagement, and abject blindness exhibited during this ill-starred adventure are just breathtaking. (NB: All wars are “adventures” when you disapprove of them.)

However, Ostriches will stick up for the following line of neocon-like reasoning: You’ve just been attacked by an entity carrying an alien meme, which you correctly assess will completely destroy your own dominant meme if it prevails. You realize that the enemy has never really been attacked systematically with your meme. So, you gamble: You hope for a cheap win. You pick a place where it ought to be pretty easy for your meme to take hold and you try to impose it. Sadly, through a combination of your own incompetence and a profound misunderstanding of the memic (memetic?) ecosystem that’s already in place, your meme withers away where you imposed it.

Now you’re left with a set of bad options, none of which are obvious, with dire consequences for choosing wrong. Guess it’s a good thing that we can have public debate on the issue. What’s that? The debate seems to have been hijacked by both sides for their own political advantage?

How unfortunate. Guess you’ll have to gamble again.

Conservatives are not good at this. It’s against their nature to solve problems just by trying things out on a large scale. Unfortunately, in this case, liberals appear to be denying that there’s a problem. This is why Ostriches held their beaks and voted for Bushco in ’04 rather than Kerryco.

4) Ostriches know that political systems are hardy.

Western civilization is a self-organized critical system. As such, Ostriches know that it is robust and can be perturbed a great distance in state space with little harm to its integrity. In fact, Ostriches, being good conservatives, realize that the only way to truly degrade such a self-organized system is to heap more and more legal strictures on it, reducing its ability to adapt naturally to changing conditions.

Ostriches are not happy with the current state of American politics. Some Ostriches even think that Bushco would eventually do real harm. But the robustness of the American political system requires much more than 8 years to do extensive damage. The ’06 elections have already begun to push the state of the system back towards a less extreme configuration.

Ostriches don’t scream that the sky is falling when their leaders screw up. Those proclamations are left for a different species of flightless fowl.

5) Once he’s seen one politician or interest group, an Ostrich has seen ‘em all.

Politicians are a necessary evil. Fortunately, all politicians, irrespective of ideology, are predictable. They all think that they can make a difference, but that the sole means by which they can make a difference is through the accumulation and exercise of power. This power is usually accumulated by co-opting the power of powerful friends. Non-politicians, not having repeatedly dosed themselves with this particular drug, find political power-seeking to be bizarre and unseemly.

Interest groups (lobbyists) are also necessary and often aren’t even evil. They are one of the mechanisms by which the details of the real world are communicated to the political ecosystem. Some interest groups are interested in things that are so sexy that they can get the media to go, “Oooo, pretty!” and promote their cause. Other interest groups deal with boring things like obscure pieces of tax policy or environmental regulation. These groups have to grind out their advocacy by lending their power to politicians and forming the occasional Unholy Alliance.

Over time, interest groups and politicians become so symbiotic that political discourse begins to get warped and undue power accrues in little nooks and crannies of the government. Symbiosis turns into parasitism. This is apparently referred to as “kleptocracy” by some.

Fortunately, elections destroy this parasitism fairly easily. (See “Is Democracy Like Sex? by another Ostrich.)

6) Ostriches like it when the Executive and Legislative branches are at each other’s throats.

Because Ostriches are truly conservative, they’re extremely hard to convince that very much of anything needs doing, and that those things that need doing should be done with a great deal of procrastination and hand-wringing. The wonderful thing about divided government is that it guarantees that very little gets done, while providing plenty of entertaining theater.

This can be a problem during wars, where unconservative behavior is often called for and things need to get done (see #3). Fortunately, those bright folks that wrote the Constitution, many of them large avians themselves, realized this and gave the Executive branch some handy powers to deal with the issue. Ostriches agree that those powers are scary but they can’t think of another way that works.

7) Ostriches are glad that the Judiciary has a finely tuned sense of self-preservation.

Every self-organized system has its weak spots, and Ostriches are concerned that the legal system may be one of them. Constitutional checks and balances work great between the Executive and the Legislature, and the Judiciary applies checks very nicely on both of them. The problem is that, other than the appointment process, the Judiciary is independent and can do a lot of damage with nobody to stop it.

Fortunately, judges like to draw a regular salary and are usually thoughtful people. They know that they can’t do anything that’s wildly outrageous, lest the villagers storm the courtroom with pitchforks and torches. So, despite one group accusing them of “legislating from the bench” and another group accusing them of single-handedly destroying Western Civilization, judges are inherently conservative.

Of course, things do get out of hand every so often. The Roe v. Wade thing caused a terrible fuss, and that Dred Scott thing didn’t work out well at all. So Ostriches are content that the balance gets pushed back and forth every now and then, leaving Warren and Berger in place for a while and then replacing them with Rehnquist and Roberts.

8) Ostriches aren’t surprised when government tries to do new things and fails spectacularly.

Governments need to develop a standard operating procedure for everything. If the SOP can’t be delineated, then bad stuff is going to happen. Bushco had an SOP for how to deal with a hurricane (wait for the wind to stop blowing and then fix all the roofs) and they had one to deal with a flood (wait 24 hours for the water to subside and then dry things out) but they oddly didn’t have one for a hurricane in a city that left a flood that didn’t subside. Silly Bushco! Ostriches were dismayed by the level of ineptitude, but they certainly weren’t surprised.

Similarly, Bushco had an SOP for Bombing Christians in Defense of Muslims, and they had an SOP for Moving Real Fast in the Face of Muslim Defenders, but they apparently didn’t have an SOP for Moving Real Fast, Then Rebuilding a Destroyed Political System in the Face of Unhappy Muslims. Very, very silly Bushco. Ostriches pretty much came to the conclusion that Bushco wasn’t very good at foreign policy, which is real bad, but not civilization-threatening.

9) Ostriches have a finely developed sense of schadenfreude.

Ostriches acknowledge that things are likely to look awfully Progressive after the ’08 election. They’re not really looking forward to it, because they firmly believe that the only thing stupider than the Republican Party is the Democratic Party. They expect that they will be annoyed and not a little anguished but, due to points #1 through #8, civilization will, once again, not end.

However, Ostriches expect that things aren’t going to be so hunky-dory around the globe in ’09, due to the aforementioned War. We think there are probably lots of other, new SOPs to be discovered the hard way. If things weren’t going to be so godawful, one might expect to see a slight smile turning up the corners of a few Ostriches’ beaks.

Ostriches think it’s a good thing for all political parties to periodically relearn the limits of power.

10) Ostriches are willing to be criticized but they think it’s stupid when the hate shows through.

Ostriches are in for a few hard years and it’s hard to deny that they may deserve it.

No doubt some Ostriches will go overboard and let schadenfreude turn to something a bit more malignant. However, we’ve been on the receiving end of that now, so maybe we’ll be a bit more tolerant. Meanwhile, Ostriches hope that their progressive friends, especially the ones that post on blogs that are at least somewhat tolerant of, uh, non-majority opinions, will lighten up just a bit and realize that virtually nothing that’s going on in the US government is personal. Turns out that Ostriches have highly refined olfactory capabilities—who knew?—and that their heads go back into the sand at the slightest whiff of hatred.

That scent has wafted through this blog from time to time.

RandomSequence said...


Don't strawman me. There's a huge space between 3/4 legislature and slim majority. And I didn't argue against constitutionalism, I argued against constitutional worship. Of course we should have meta-laws that are much more stable than the statutes themselves. A game has got to have boundaries. What I reject is this idea that the Founding Fathers were some kind of saintly geniuses, or that the Constitution is a sacred document.

I included as exception suffrage; I'm on the edge about that, since that had come from the bottom up, and by that point women's suffrage was already practice in most of the country. Same thing with direct election of senators (see the changes occurring with Andrew Jackson's election). The real constitutional change had occurred under the covers, which I find unfortunate.

In some cases, it is indeed useful to have the constitutional order simply recognize the de-facto conditions. On the other hand, many problems are not amenable to piecemeal solutions, and require political controversy, and constitutional argument from the get-go. And that's where our "asinine" amendment process deforms our system, resulting in FDR's actions and Lincoln's whole sale rewriting of the constitution.

Lincoln's case is harder to see, because we've become so inured to the concept of a centralized state, that almost no one can read the constitution in it's context, creating such farces as the second amendment "controversy." Or "state rights." Just jokes, sad sad jokes.

gg said...

What's the URL of Brin's column on Dailykos?

RandomSequence said...

which you correctly assess will completely destroy your own dominant meme if it prevails

Here's where the ostrich always disappoints me: a historically unsupported pessimism, which seems to conflict with the idea of "hardy" Western Civilization.

We defeated the Soviet Union, not on military grounds, but industrial grounds. Industrial grounds destroyed the Southern slave state, and would (probably) have done the same without a massive war -- see Brazil. The only reasonable exception in 500 years of history is the Nazi juggernaut, which subverted that very industrial machine into a nightmare, as a perverse monstrosity born out of Western Civilization itself.

Now we face some bearded guys in a cave, with some oil-based funding. Instead of being optimistic, the ostriches fear for the collapse of the West. All we need to do is refocus our proven ingenuity to weaning ourselves off oil, and the bearded angry men in the cave become just that again. We sell our success to the ME, instead of pushing them into the arms of the crazies by bombing their cities and occupying their homes.

We just need a little faith in ourselves. I don't know that we deserve to win, if we can't defeat some mujahadin troglodytes with technology and ideas. If that's the case, we have become decandent and weak, unworthy heirs to Newton and Leibnitz.

TheRadicalModerate said...


I'm not worried about guys in a cave. I'm worried about a whole bunch of Muslims who are good people but who live in states that are so weak and despicable that their religion substitutes for what we in the West would think of as Nationalism.

Those good people are at best indifferent to whether democracy or theocracy prevails in the West. Seems like an existential threat to me.

As for your other point on the Soviets and the antebellum South: If you don't think those are wars, then you probably haven't been comfortable with geopolitics any time after Waterloo. I'd obviously prefer to fight wherever possible using non-military (but definitely hostile) means. That won't always be possible

RandomSequence said...


Sorry, I'm not Klausewitz. War is different. It is the breakdown of civilization. It is not just politics by other means. I find that formulation, well, morally offensive and practically untrue.

Yes, we can have conflicts, but they become qualitatively different when you start shooting at people. Geopolitical realism doesn't mean an inurement to civilian massacre, which war always, always, always implies (did I say always enough?).

The Muslim masses may be indifferent to the finer points of philosophy. But, if we had not gone into Iraq, spent a tenth of that money building Afghanistan into a successful state instead of a failed state, we would today be in a much stronger geopolitical position. It's what I had hoped Bush was up to --- he's failed me at every step of the way.

It would have been practical. Afghanistan has a much smaller population, with fewer urban areas. There's less to "undo" there, and a small amount of cash would go a long way. That would have been faith in our system. It would have shown us to be the Anti-Soviets, bringing freedom and candies to all. The Muslim masses would have seen it as hope. Business leaders in the ME would have recognized a good deal when they saw it. The despots would have been forced to adapt -- even the worst tyranny depends on legitimacy.

That's what I mean by faith in our system. It's not just good for you, it's practical too! The existential threat is the pessimism that lead, in the '30's to the European Nightmare, that actually legitimizes the despots and monarchs.

TheRadicalModerate said...


You construed my argument backwards. I'm not saying that war is politics by other means; I'm saying that the politics, and the industrial capacity, the non-lethal political dirty tricks, and all the things we did in the Cold War (including military stuff) are, in fact, how war is now conducted.

The goals are distinctly warlike: you seek the destruction of the other guy, or at the very least of his ideas and political system.

Also, don't kid yourself that non-military actions don't kill people. The US caused the USSR to collapse, and as a result tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, of people died, from starvation, disease, and civil war.

I'm fine with that. The USSR would have done the same to us if they could have. The Jihadists will do the same to us if they can.

To view this struggle as between the US and guys in a cave is foolish. Al Qaeda and the Taliban were in Afghanistan because it was unguarded. When we threw them out of Afghanistan, they moved to North Waziristan. If we fold our tents in Iraq, they'll move to al Anbar.

But, even more than the territorial issues, we're at war with the idea of theocratic Islam. That idea is a) tacitly accepted by a lot more people than just the jihadists and b) gaining strength.

I will be the first to admit that Iraq has been unhelpful. In other words, the invasion had the opposite effect from what was intended. Too late! We're stuck. If we don't act carefully going forward, things will get even worse.

Your argument is a standard pacifist one. I think that it's profoundly wrong. Lots of people get killed in political collapses. And people will be killed overtly if these guys get their way.

Maybe they aren't that strong. All the more reason to annihilate their ideas while they're still weak. If their ideas gain strength, they'll be coming after us.

RandomSequence said...


Our thinking on this isn't that far off – I'm not a pacifist. But I am definitely more judgmental about those who have led us here, and more suspicious about their motives and goals.

I agree that the Jihadis are a threat, but then so are our internal theocrats, and bombing them is not an option. If anything, the Straussians and dominionists have their hands closer to the levers of power than the Saudis can dream of. And I am just as loathe to allow each side to play against the other. PK Dick's Radio Free Albemuth was an excellent poetic version of this dynamic; in more prosaic language, what we have here is a positive feedback loop.

Yes, it's undeniable that politics often results in the easily foreseeable casualties, without showing the weapons of war. This is often under-appreciated by many people, at all wavelengths of the political spectrum. But still, there is a difference when the gloves come off, when you send your young men overseas to kill, pillage and rape – which is what war is, has been, and always will be. We shouldn't make the best the enemy of the good.

I am simply advancing the conservative position – to take the minimal action necessary. To not rattle swords if unnecessary. To trust in the minds of our people until absolutely sure that we must shoot. I find the current crop of conservative leadership to be profoundly radical. And that is where ostrich pessimism fails to ultimately be truly conservative.

Anonymous said...

What do you think will happen once grownups and honest people unleash the fettered investigation services and law agencies? Don't you consider it possible that they might find overt acts, to accompany the most secretive and rapaciously reckless administration since at least Harding?

I think they'll find an awful lot of things that are unethical and awful but don't actually break any laws, and the laws that were broken will be things that are hard to prove. I think that indictments and convictions will tend to be limited to a relatively small number of scapegoats.

Also, I think that the only people likely to get a "get out of jail free" pardon would be people Bush knows personally, like Donald Rumsfeld or Karl Rove. Tom DeLay hasn't yet gotten a pardon for his indictment, shaky as it was. The rest of the "conspiracy" will be left to their own devices. Bush strikes me as a well-meaning fool who is listening to some really bad advice; if he knew that specific people were doing what he considered Bad Things, I don't think he'd be eager to pardon them.

Anonymous said...

I am simply advancing the conservative position – to take the minimal action necessary. To not rattle swords if unnecessary.

And thus I think Dr. Brin's Ostrich label applies perfectly. Don't look into the world and see horrible things. Don't attempt to understand. Don't attempt to do anything to solve a problem, even if it may risk some failure.

If you just keep your head buried, everything will be fine. Don't make waves.

The problem with this philosophy is that if you are conservative, you are the only one standing still. Everything else is moving around and against you.

The country club guys, the heads of the conservative group? They love your dutiful inaction. It's another day they can continue to steal the country blind. More time to build up their noble families, so that they will never need to be touched by that awful accountability again.

Do you think this is the same thing liberals advocate for terrorists? Just let them go?

Hardly. We want to fight the bad memes as well. But, you fight memes as memes - for whatever reason, killing people seems to lead some credence to a meme being correct. Like it is powerful, or that it is a source of strength against an unseen enemy.

The goal for terrorists is to separate them from the population, like any criminal. To kill 9 civilians and 1 terrorist is *not* acceptable in this type of conflict. Because you will have likely made 3 new terrorists in the process.

We detain, separate, marginalize and the like as much as we can. We've beaten mobs before.

The terrorist groups are just like mobs - cancerous organizations that attempt to colonize an area and impose their own order within an established society. They were family-based, tribal organizations, not unlike other aristocracies and thug groups.

Tony Fisk said...


First, you've obviously put some thought into the proper care and handling of ostriches. Rather than let such effort go to waste at the bottom of an obscure comment thread, I encourage you to post it on your own blog as a standalone article.

(The same goes for anyone else who wants to develop a long and convoluted point, even if it's inspired by the original post. You can then refer to the full version via a short and relevant summary in the commentary.)

Point #4 states:
Ostriches are not happy with the current state of American politics. Some Ostriches even think that Bushco would eventually do real harm. But the robustness of the American political system requires much more than 8 years to do extensive damage. The ’06 elections have already begun to push the state of the system back towards a less extreme configuration.

I think the real danger in this attitude is implicit complacency. I think ostriches tend to hold their ceres and presume that all will be well in the end (after all, it's come well in the end before).

Yet, there is no guarantee that this is so. Each flip of the coin has its own outcome, never mind that the previous 499 trials have come up heads.

The corrective process is not automatic. It requires people to a) realise that something's amiss, b) start saying there's something amiss and c) start doing something about it (like ostrich adoption).

In other words, I regard the ongoing rants here as being a part of the corrective process.

RandomSequence said...


I am simply advancing the conservative position – to take the minimal action necessary. To not rattle swords if unnecessary.

And thus I think Dr. Brin's Ostrich label applies perfectly. Don't look into the world and see horrible things. Don't attempt to understand. Don't attempt to do anything to solve a problem, even if it may risk some failure.

Um, Odin, I think you missed the interchange. The conservative position was taken contra the ostrich position. I was arguing that not bombing the Saracens to hell is the real conservative position, and instead focusing on those with more power to undermine the West - those with actual power in the West.

TheRadicalModerate said...


I agree that economy of action is always warranted and you will often fail if you overreact.


It might be helpful to partition meme wars into two categories. There are memes that, while in conflict with one another, can ultimately coexist. Then there are memes that are utterly antagonistic.

If I'm advocating rigid separation of church and state and you're pushing intelligent design in the schools, we may precipitate some lively PTA meetings but we're unlikely to initiate unrestricted hostilities against each other. Furthermore, the society can accomodate both of our ideas without tearing apart.

On the other hand, if I believe that I'd have head for the hills when the theocracy came to town and you would die before you lived in proximity to my infidel ideology, one of our ideas is going to be dead when the dust settles. Maybe a meme dies and its host can still live. But maybe the only way idea dies is when the last person that believes it dies.

The distinction is obviously important. Into which class do you think the jihadism vs. the West conflict falls?


Mostly agree that speaking up is the way the system corrects itself. But don't underestimate the power of the Invisible Hand. It's not just for markets any more. For the most part, the corrective process is automatic, given a big enough universe of actors. This is a tenet that I, as an Ostrich, hold dear.

Tony Fisk said...

radical moderate:

We had a long discussion of Faith in Blind Markets (aka the invisible hand) vs Guided Allocation of Resources a while back. (ie here)

I opted for faith in many-eyed markets.

From a statistical standpoint, the corrective process could be viewed as automatic (ie the likelihood that someone stands up and says 'enough' nears certainty as more actors are involved and listening)

1. those individual 'actors' are not on automatic and
2. can getting enough actors on side be viewed as automatic? (the thought of a patented device for pulling ostrich heads out of holes is a bit of a worry, although I dare say the patent office has seen stranger things!)

The distinction is obviously important. Into which class do you think the jihadism vs. the West conflict falls?

On that issue, you might find this snippet of interest:

Poll sees hope in West-Islam ties
"Most people believe common ground exists between the West and the Islamic world despite current global tensions, a BBC World Service poll suggests..."

Anonymous said...

I think, if i've understood well, that the point of the discussion is that radicalModerate see the jihadist meme as one that have already win over mostly of the islamic population, in wich case the only way to extinguish said meme would be extinguishing the bearers of said memes, while most of those that do prefer the peaceful option (from a pragmatci point of view and not ideological one) see this meme as one that have still infected only a minority of radical extremists, and in this case the best way to fight it is to befriend the still uninfected islamic majority and spread to them the western meme, as in this case using violent means would only make enemies of moderates, and drive them to the jihadist meme.

My impression as a non-american living in a western country with strong islamic immigration, is that the reality is more oriented toward the second alternative, but that this is rapidly changing. I know a lot of islamics, and untill some years ago they were all quite western-firendly. Granted, as immigrants they were probably a bit "selected" for this kind of attitude, but still... nowadays instead, there's a strong resentment, with feelings varying between the wounded by what's perceived as a western ideals betrayal and the simply enraged, usually the youngers... one of my ex-students have eve run away from home, and some of his friends fear that he run to Afghanistan or Iraq.

Obviously organizations like Al-Quaeda and similar always had to paint their side as the one that had already most of islamic hearths and minds... and honestly, I think that the most glaring evidence that that was not the case is the way they promoted in any possible way this culture war: having masses of your side killed is not helpfull when they're already converted to your ideas... it's much more helpfull when they are unconvinced, and for every one that's killed some unconverted become converted.
And american administration, by incompetence or some other willing design, have swallowed this bait, hook and sink.
This does not change what should be done now... going on as the american administration have done untill now it's a blind alley: the only way to win a culture way by force of arms is to completely obliterate the enemy, and demographics does not help as islamics are about 1,4 bilions and increasing, so, if this was truly the wish of american administration, they could start dusting off the nukes right now and save time.
Or, they could go back, even with the big damages sustained, and starting showing to moderates that western memes are truly superior, that the western civilization is their firends while jihadist are their enemies, and that even when west does make mistakes, its inherent checks and balances can correct them and bring back on the straight way.
After that, you can start dealing with this kind of memes like we do in western countries with this kind of extremisms, as they're not an exclusive of islam: by dealing with them with police forces, like the criminals that they after all are.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, if I believe that I'd have head for the hills when the theocracy came to town and you would die before you lived in proximity to my infidel ideology, one of our ideas is going to be dead when the dust settles. Maybe a meme dies and its host can still live. But maybe the only way idea dies is when the last person that believes it dies.

The distinction is obviously important. Into which class do you think the jihadism vs. the West conflict falls?

You can't be arrested in this country for being a Ku Klux Klan member, white supremist, Dominionist, or other member of a dangerous idea set. Yes, these groups are marginalized, we the citizenry watch them very intently.

But, we can't even arrest these people for being on the fringe. Which is a GOOD thing. We do liberty here. We are Americans.

To say that people must die for their ideas is in fact very un-American. It is anathema to the Enlightenment founding of this country. It is the actions that are criminal - if there are actions, or obvious intent such as procuring weapons and drawing plans, then we arrest these people and take them away.

As much as I may in resignation joke about what to do with megachurches (Christofascists to match the Islamofascists), it's not the way to kill a meme.

These types of people, true believers, are almost always the minority in a population. The goal is to keep them that way and bleed off their numbers.

The only reason you are so quick to call for their extermination is because they have been safely painted as Other.

Anonymous said...

PS - Do yourselves a favor and read this:


He's a fairly entertaining writer, in addition to illustrating a very difficult to deal with personality type. On the plus side, he shows ways to soften these personalities.

Also, try and ignore the "right-wing" thing ... Communists in Soviet Russian were shown to have the same characteristics.

TheRadicalModerate said...

Odin and Fizz--

Apparaently I've left the impression with both of you that I think that all Islamists have to die. Absolutely not! As Fizz points out, this would be a global catastrophe.

But, one way or another, either the Jihadist/Islamist meme (not Islam!) is going away, or the democratic meme is going away. We are engaged in an existential war with the ideas not the people.

Will we have to kill the guys in caves before the idea can be stamped out? Probably. But we obviously can't kill everybody who might be sympathetic to the Jihadist/Islamist philosophy. This would be wildly immoral.

Please note that we are at the very heart of the debate here: There is obviously an argument to be made that the two memes can coexist without one attempting to destroy the other. If you'd like to make that argument, I'd love to hear it.

RandomSequence said...


My question is, do you agree that the problem is the ism in Islamism? That is, as I see it, that the problem is not one of language (culture as a semiotic system), but of a couple of beliefs (axioms):

1) Universalism - a belief system that is universally applicable.

2) Fundamentalism - the belief system is complete and unquestionable.

Between the two, it seems that if the system is successful, violence and totalitarianism is at least likely if not inevitable; and both seem to be implied by neo-Platonic thinking (as opposed to modern consciousness).

If you have only the first, you have strains of atheism and unitarianism that are fairly innocuous; with the second you have such things as the Amish or Orthodox Judiasm, who are primarily a problem to just themselves, or their local neighbors. The combination of both principles is likely to produce Jihadism, and other isms, that can not negotiate a coexistence with modern materialism (which only posits principle 1, and in a weak form).

But what this analysis implies is that Christianism (as opposed to mainstream, emasculated Christianity) is as much a long-term problem as Islamism. My feeling is that the former aren't blowing up as many buildings as the latter because, today, they own the buildings – implying that they may be more of a practical threat than the desperate bomb throwers, still a far from success.

TheRadicalModerate said...


Yes I agree that the "ism" is the problem. To stretch a metaphor to the breaking point, in the Islamist meme there are only a couple of alleles that you need to mutate to produce a world-view that can coexist with democracy.

As for Christianism, there are two things militating against it, in addition to your "they own the stuff" argument. First, Christianity is so doctrinally diverse that it's developed tolerance (took a while, but it finally happened). Second, there's that little matter of the courts (see Ostrich principle #7). The courts may be more conservative than they were 10 years ago, but there are still thresholds that they won't cross.

Now if we could just drive a stake through the heart of this Intelligent Design stuff, that'd be nice...

Anonymous said...

"Islamism" has splintered as well. I actually believe there is a scenario in Iraq where we could become ALLIES (or at least non-beligerents) with Al-Queda. If we try to get Iran out of the situation (means going after Shiite militias) and/or take marching orders from Saudi Arabia (who are backing Sunnis, likely including Al-Queda), then we may end up on the same side.

Hezbollah and Queda are both heavily armed and in opposition to each other. They have their own individual goals and ambitions. Zarqawi (before he was killed) advocated attacking Shiites, not Americans, in order to incite civil war and cause our ultimate loss. There were people in his own group that opposed this - why attack Muslims when perfectly good infidels are available?

There are stories told of violent sects in Egypt that begin killing one another rather than going after the apostate Naserite government.

So, I guess that is my argument about the inevitability of either Muslim extremism or democracy having to go. They key is to deny them unification and power - their hate can co-exist with us for a while if we keep it contained. We can use that time to dry it up.

So, I guess the point is that I don't see this unified Brown Horde knocking over dominoes all over the place. If anything, I see another iteration of the same power dynamics that generate states, or move states against one another. Nothing so scary as to ponder the End of Civilization unless immediate and crazy action is taken.

Of course the situation must be monitored and modified in a competent manner. You don't leave them completely unattended like a Lousianna levee system.

There's just no reason to be panicked. Concerned, sure, the same way I'm concerned about methamphetimine use spreading across the country. The way I'm concerned about rising sea levels in a hundred years.

These are grand projects to be worked on steadily and wisely, not like as a bunch of kids that want to play Churchill after running away from a very real war they were invited to join forty years ago.

Anonymous said...


I was not accusing you of wanting to kill off all Islam: what i tried to point of is that using the force of arms to try to win this argument is doing the worst possible thing that can be done, and this from a pragmatic point of view, exactly because this is a propaganda war, and every time you kill even one single innocent (n.b. I'll make in this post a liberal use of "you" meaning "the U.S. government") to reach even 100 fanatic jihadist, you're still doing an enormous favour to the jihadist, helping them convince "their fellow muslim" that your meme is at fault for everyuthing that goes badly.

As the demographic is on their side, you can't win this war by force of arms without recurring to global massacres, that I think everybody here agrees it's a "Bad Thing" with capital letters. For this you've to choose another field, and another way to fighting it, and that way is befriending moderates, encouraging democracy in a collaborative international way, encouraging the formation of a culturate, confortable middle-class, and then let them deal with their own country democracy.

If you act like a bully, even if you're even only perceived as acting like a bully, you're only helping extremists spreading the belief that in reality all the ideals you go speaking about are reserved to yourself, and to be put quickly on a side when it's a matter of your personal self-interest.

It helps estabilishing a climate of Us-vs-Them, identifying the Islam with the islamism. It's not a chance that the country that is currently more near a democracy in all middle east is the big bad Iran... and as our host so many time pointed out, their youngs are clamoring for a more western-secular way of life from quite some time, but the second US are going bomb them you can be sure they all are going to serrate ranks.

I've to link articles from this source: I don't share many of the idea of the columnist, and frankly I find most of them quite disgusting, but still i think he've noticed some true trends and unpleasant truths...
Massacres, babies and nukes
The doctrine of asymmetrical warfare
How to win in Iraq

RandomSequence said...


One of the reasons I pointed to Christianism in the context of Islamism refers back to my earlier context on positive feedback. If, internally, the logical structure of the two are symmetrical, the protections we have against Christianism are being weakened by some of the tactics against Islamism, and the jihadis' responses. How much this is intentional, and how much simply a consequence, I do not know.

But if the current crop of political leaders manage to heat this conflict up further, it can only weaken the courts further as our protectors, and legitimize radical Christianist positions in the general public. And that is more dangerous than the jihadis.

This is similar to the dynamics between communism and fascism, in opposition justifying each other as necessary and inevitable, both in Europe and even here in America. We were still recovering from the aftermath of the cold war, when this new threat emerged.

Anonymous said...

TheRadicalModerate said...

I am an Ostritch....

You need to realize that in this environment, you've just lost the war. The meme which successfully defines terminology is the one shaping its environment. In the environment of memes, terminology and the associated relations, not only shape the local environment, in many ways that terminology and related set of associations ARE the environment. Naturally memes, through their hosts, tend to shape the environment to their favor. Successful memes are ones which are best capable of shaping their environment.


Now with this, you've hardened your meme carapace but you've lost mobility. The opposing meme can now work around and past your meme, testing your defenses at leisure. By admitting that among hosts of your meme there is growing disenchantment with other manifestations of it, you show that your meme is losing coherence. Loss of coherence foretells the death of your meme, at least as you carry it. The meme, undoubtedly will go on, in other hosts but you are now and here becoming a weak host.

The meme thang, like all abstractions, is a metaphor, but it does have a certain power aside from its obvious charm. The trick lies in identifying and mapping their behaviors to better known and more concretely manipulated abstractions. The survival of the meme meme over the last twenty years suggests that it does have value above other metaphors for evaluating the flow of discourse.

What that means in regard to your ostrich/conservative meme is that I suggest you look at your cards again – if the meme metaphor has any value, the above means you are no longer a strong host for your “meme”. 2) You need to find “memes” with which you identify more strongly in discussions. You are certainly a capable and eloquent disputant, but you’ve already admitted to weaknesses in your association with the conservative “meme”; your thought and commentary might be better directed toward more specific ideals and actions than “conservatism” generally.

(No offense intended, I am simply trying to find the aforementioned “mapping” of meme behaviors to better understood abstractions).

-- TWZ

Anonymous said...

Since you're fond of the idea of prediction markets, how about a bet: I assert that the total number of pardons issued by George W. Bush during his two terms will be less than the number issued by Bill Clinton during his two terms. What stakes do you want to wager?

Anonymous said...

There is no doubt that raising the minimum wage stimulates the economy. And the resultant growth of the economy is definitely greater than the concomitant inflationary pressures. Economics is NOT a zero sum game; its inherent growth has been well understood for a hundred years. The limiting factor in raising the minimum wage is when it results in an economically equivalent or greater loss of jobs.

But the real value of raising the minimum wage (if we can afford it, as implied above) is more social than directly economic. By definition those near minimum wage are those on the bottom edge of our society (or new entrants, kids). Making the MW sufficient that one or one+part jobs provides a minimum if low, level of comfort shows those people at the edges of society that there is a place for them. It gives them incentive to “buy in” to our culture and disincentives destructive and disruptive behaviors.

An additional factor is that it teaches that ours is a humane culture, which of course will further tighten the emotional bonds.

Channeling Margaret Mead here, we need to give the young and disadvantaged reason to accept and identify with our society. A surety that they will be an accepted and find succor in it and means to advance themselves economically and in whatever personal interests they may have and be capable of.

The problem of raising the minimum wage for social purposes, is of course that it is patently unfair to the lower echelon businesses who employ many of them. It significantly raises the cost of labor, and raises the barriers to small entrepreneurship. Tax incentives and government encouraged startup and small business financing may be part of the answer, but the latter of course has its own bureaucratic nightmares.

I don’t have any final answers, but I do know that disenchantment and disenfranchisement among the young and the perception that many hold that their lot will not improve for the foreseeable future definitely a great part of our culture’s malaise.

-- TWZ

TheRadicalModerate said...


Very nice post. But I'll return to Brin's original definition from mid-January:

Seriously, all of us know hopeless “ostrich conservatives” - who cling desperately to the notion that Bush & Co are regrettable... but “certainly no worse than Clinton was.”

Seems to fit me pretty well, with the caveat that Clinton did OK for his time, but his time was a cake-walk. Say what you want about Bush but he got dealt some bad cards.

I'm conservative, in a libertarian-laissez-faire-hawkish-don't-care-about-social-stuff-because-it's-beyond-the-control-of-policy sort of way. But I'm more than willing to accept any variety of pragmatic memic transposons that come along. Maybe this will tempt you to classify me as not-an-Ostrich.

But I assure you: I am true to my flightless avian roots. Bushco is sub-par, but I'm confident that they're not out to feed on the lifeforce of the Western zeitgeist, leaving behind a dessicated husk. My main argument (made voluminously above) is really pretty simple: This system's too robust for one administration to screw up in 8 years.

I'm much more worried about the Jihadist threats than I am about Bush. I agree with many people above that it's not an instant existential threat right now. But it will never go away until it is defeated in detail, and the times and the demographics are right for the threat to increase very rapidly. (NB: We'd be lower on the threat curve if Bush hadn't screwed up, but not that much lower.)

reason said...

You still seem to grossly underestimate the christianist threat (see DB comments about the officer corps).

I think you also underestimate the importance (and toxicity) of Straussian neo-conservatism.

The GOP today is in the hands of two anti-democratic groups of extremists. Wake up and take it back. Stop looking at the remote threat and wake up to the traitors in your own party. An intelligent, thoughtful and coherent adversary like you is what progressives need.

Ultimately, jihadism will be defeated within Islaam (not from outside), the same way that the enlightenment overthrew the feudal/theocratic regimes in Europe. Only with allies within Islaam can we win.

reason said...

colonel Zen...

I'm sure Carl could support me in this, there is a good solution to this that has been long ignored (Milton Friedman used to promote it), a negative income tax. (I like to say we could rename it for the "ownership society" to national dividend). Unfortunately, the minimum wage has become the solution of choice because it is "politically possible". Even more unfortunately, with our dumbed down public debate these days, that might be true. Once you add the words tax or welfare to a debate all reason flies out the window.

I think in some ways, that is the ultimate memic war these days, understanding against blind feeling, intellectualism against anti-intellectualism.

Anonymous said...

Raising the minimum wage might appear to work at this time because a large number of those working near the minimum wage are illegal immigrants. Raising the minimum wage may well be the equivalent to building a wall along the Mexican border. (A porous wall, since a significant number of illegals make more.)

The Earned Income Credit (which is a variation on the negative income tax) puts more money in the hands of marginal workers without pricing them out of the market. However, the EIC is a true pain in the butt for small employers. The EIC fills up a very large fraction of the employer directions from the IRS.

I prefer a citizen's dividend. Just give every adult citizen 200-300 per month. Do this instead of both an assortment of welfare programs and the personal and standard deductions. The results:

1. Major simplification.
2. No need for the government to have so much information on everybody.
3. No need to guard the border so hard. If you can make enough that it pays even without a citizen dividend (which only goes to citizens), come on in.
4. Unlike a need based dole, there is no disincentive to work, marry, save, be polite, etc.
5. We can have a progressive tax system other than the inherently complex and intrusive income tax.

Anonymous said...

I've heard the EIC called 'The McDonald's Subsidy'. It got that name because, since low wage earners get the EIC, there's no need to raise thier wages. (Unfair to McDonald's, perhaps)

I wouldn't say that the illegal immigrants are the ones getting the minimum wage, though... in my (admittedly limited) experience, nobody pays an illegal that much.

On the subject of Islamism (great word), I agree that terrorism is more like a law enforcement problem than a military one. We would do better to have the FBI/CIA deal with it, with the occasional Special Forces raid and (rarely) the massive cruise missile strike. The military solution to crime is to level the block... which stops crime on that block, but does nothing good for property values.

Anonymous said...

Hurricane Hawker: the EIC is certainly better to McDonald's than raising the minimum wage. But it is not exactly a subsidy. Some scenarios:

1. Current minimum wage without EIC: McDonald's pays the same, but employees get less.
2. Higher minimum wage without EIC: McDonald's shuts down marginal restaurants. Pays more at those remaining. Wage earners either break even or go unemployed. (Assuming change in minimum wage equals EIC value. If greater, then those still employed get more, while those unemployed increase.)
3. Switch from EIC to Citizen's Dividend: Day labor becomes easier to deal with paperwork wise. Individuals and small businesses will hire more often. Being a hippie becomes easier.

TheRadicalModerate said...


The GOP today is in the hands of two anti-democratic groups of extremists.

So many things with which to take issue in a single sentence.

As far as I can tell, the GOP isn't in anybody's hands after the election. There appears to be a huge fight brewing between the libertarian (small 'l' not big 'L') and the socially conservative wings of the party. Golly, self-correction at work. No Evil Cabal here. Just the occaisional Invisible Hand.

I'm still trying to find any evidence that the neocons had more than negligible impact on anything except foreign policy and they've been roundly discredited in that arena. Truth in advertising: I fully supported the neocon goals of exporting democracy to Iraq. If it had worked, it would have been a terrific short cut to solving the Jihadist problem. Didn't work. It was certainly an unconservative thing to do. (See Ostrich principle #3 above.)

Christianists in the military? OK, I'll admit that the Air Force Academy thing was shameful--it was also small potatoes and has been exposed. Military purges? If you don't think that administrations jigger promotions and retirements to get the flag officers they want, then you don't understand the system. Even in the US, with arguably the most complicated political system ever devised, the military is still a huge instrument of power. Presidents either wield it assertively or it will wield them. Was Shinseki ignored? Of course, and it turned out to be stupid that he was. Was he purged? Oh, it was horrible--he left the CSA post 3 weeks early.

Finally, Christianists in general. Have you been keeping score? Other than the faith-based "we'll funnel some HHS money to you if you're willing to jump through paperwork hoops that make Sarbanes and Oxley get the vapors" initiative and a couple of inevitable vaguely-right-of-center SCOTUS appointments, the Christianists are getting their clocks cleaned. The courts continue to roll them back on a wide range of subjects, and the intelligent design guys are suffering defeat after defeat. I'm not worried about them.

I am worried about contractor sweetheart deals (although, if I were Brown & Root and was building an oil recovery system that came complete with a sign that said "I am a high value target--please blow me up," I might charge a certain premium). But those guys lose all leverage in two years--even if the fine structure constant changes and a Republican president is elected.

Different cronies, different deals. The system's not perfect. But it hasn't been broken, either.

David Brin said...

Random I agree that the presidency needs redesigning -- ideally in ways that retain agility while increasing accountability in order to restrain the options of the venial or obscenely stutpid. But redesigning the Constitution won't be done by this generation.

RadicalModerate: I appreciate your passion and your articulate ostrich-conservative manifesto! It was entertaining and fascinating.

Fascinating - alas - largely as a set piece example of rationalization. Indeed, perhaps without intending to, you made the "ostrich" aspect abundantly clear, as well as the daunting task that we face, getting honorable conservatives like you to lift your head out of the sand and realize that this time, it has been your side's turn to go quite mad. And that it is your duty, as patriots, to help save the country that you love.

For example, your definition of conservatism was taken out of the playbook of Barry Goldwater -- a man who I actually quite admired, even while disagreeing with him about many things. Why? Because we were both clearly positive sum personalities and his "foot-draggging" conservatism, while sometimes frustrating, nevertheless was since and had a real role to play, e.g. in applying much-needed CITOKATE to the passionate tinkering eagerness of liberals.

Indeed, the power of sincere conservative citokate is what liberals often failed to recognize as valuable in guys like BG! True, he was wrong, wrong, wrong to oppose civil rights bills and environmental laws etc. OTOH, For 40 years it was obvious that classic welfare was destroying urban families and discouraging work. Too many lefties shrugged off such critiques as masked racism. Now they accept the positive benefits of 1995 welfare reform and nobody calls for a return to the old program. Thanks Barry.

Ah, but having said that, I must remind you that the state of Arizona gets half its electricity from the spinning in Barry Goldwater's grave! Because, late in life, he said very clearly that the neocons had almost nothing in common with what he meant by "conservatism."

Radical, I look you in the eye and tell you this. Citing Goldwater conservatism in defense of these monsters is like defending a bunch of mad dogs by talking about how Lassie once saved Timmy. Look at how vague and general your manifesto is! What has happened to specific principles, like...

America-first restraint from foreign adventures?

America-first attention to military readiness?

The standard conservative criticism of trying to change the world by force or cramming our ways down the throats of others... or the "silly and failed utopian notion of so-called nation-building"?

Um.... budget-balancing?

Fiscal sanity?

Belief in competitive bidding and careful accountaing of public spending?

Belief in open processes subject to public scrutiny?

The tradition that the rich step forward to help pay for wars fought by other people's sons?

The notion of respect for professional officers or that "clueless draft-dodging politicians should not meddle in military decisions."

"A decent respect for world opinion"? (A phrase taken from thr first line of our nation's founding document.)

Noblesse oblige? Or even minimal attention to the truth?

Your attempt to rationalize is lovely, yet it ignores the fundamental fact that NOT ONE of the essential principles of Barry Goldwater etc are still being practiced by the so-called leaders of conservatism. Every dissonance that you ostriches feel can be explained by one simple fact. That your movement has been taken over by non-conservatives! By monsters!

Stop and ponder. When every noble purpose of a movement has been diametrically reversed, a burden of proof is upon you, to show us that your side has not been suborned. The American liberal movement WAS ABLE TO RECOGNIZE when this happened on the left, and they bravely acted on it, in the "miracle of 47."

Now it is time for decent ostrich conservatives to stand up. Only, like you, they are writhing and twistig and rationalizing. Saying things like"Clinton was almost as bad." (Huh? The Bushites came into power, after spending a BILLION of our dollars hounding Clinton over a failed $80,000 land deal and some nookie in a hallway, and DIVERTED SCORES OF FBI AGENTS FROM COUNTER TERROR DUTIES in order to seek a "smoking gun." Alas, by september 2001, it became clear that there WAS no such gun. The sum total of indictments of Clintonites for official malfeasance of any kind was... ZERO.

The first time that has ever happened in our nation's history. Diametrically opposite to the dogma of the right. Are you guys capable of amending beliefs in the face of contrary evidence?

Har! Ask over and over what would I have said, if Clinton...

...arranged for 323 TONS OF $100 BILLS to be shipped into a lawless land in order to conveniently vanish.

...harrassed and forced out HUNDREDS of skilled US military officers

...ended contracting rules in order to give no-bid billion-dollar deals to golf buddies.

...increased government secrecy to levels NEVER seen during the Cold War...

Oh... do you doubt I could go on for days and days and days? Listing horror stories that Clinton NEVER EVEN REMOTELY DID.

Oh, you ask "what would anyone else have done differently?"
OMG! Go to http://www.davidbrin.com/neocons.html
and see my comparison between the Balkans and the Iraq War.
Diametric opposites between competence and outright treason.

Yes! We are at war. But it is a far more complex thing than simply "Commies!" or "Jihadists!" or even "Klepto-trorglo-neocon-monsters!" It is a war between those who believe in the enlightenment and those who do not. We need you sincere conservatives to join us, here in the middle, defending it from all sorts of barbarians including some on the left.

But if you ostriches don't pull your heads out of the sand and join us, we'll do it without you. Just don't expect there to be much left of "conservatism" when it is over.


Other answers.

Doug, betting on pardons is complex. Jimmy Carter holds the moderns record. But he was healing wounds from Vietnam letting guys come home from Canada. Likewise, some neutral party should separate Clinton's "questionable" pardons from routine honorable communtations. Then do the same for W and compare totals.

Look, I have no crystal ball. I claim that W will do a pardon tsunami because the earthquake of corruption in his administration would seem likely to trigger one!. There are alternatives, however.
(1) he may leave a thousand crooks out to dry,
(2) we all may discover, to our amazement, that it was ALL stupidity and not an iota of real graft! (The 12billion in lost $100 bills really was "misplaced!")
(3) no pardons will be necessary because - on some dire emergency pretext - the Great Experiment will be suspended and accountability will never arrive.

Barring these possibilities, exactly how can you picture these guys staying out of jail WITHOUT a pardon tsunami?

Colonel Zen, Robert Reich recommends a WORLD code armtwisting ALL countries into setting a minimum wage equal to half of the country's median wage. (strangely, the new bill will give us exactly that.)


Oh, re your last post, Radical, sorry, you are writhing again. The war on the US officer corps is very, very real. I talk to officers almost weekly, both serving and retired. ANd there is plenty of blame to go around. The absolutely horrific inability of the dems to see this as an important issue makes tham partly culpable.

Anonymous said...

I believe you. You are indeed an Ostrich.

TheRadicalModerate said...


Thanks for the rebuttal. Let me re-emphasize a few things:

1) I’m not a Bushco fan. I’d rank him below the 50th percentile as presidents go. This is unfortunate, given that the times require a 90th percentile president.

2) Having said that, I don’t think there's anything structurally wrong with the government. Of all your complaints (which I’ll address below), ask yourself, “How many of these go away after an election?” The ones that remain are the ones I’d worry about. I can’t think of many.

3) Whether you believe in the war or not, I hope you at least take Bush’s word that he thinks we’re at war. If you were president and believed as he does, how many of the steps that you so lament would you be willing to consider?

4) Finally, Bushco is a product of its times. I have no idea what Clinton would have done in similar circumstances and I daresay neither do you. You can bet, though, that if Clinton had had to deal with a bunch of smoking holes in lower Manhattan, rather than holes in Waco, in his first 8 months in office, his presidency would have been unrecognizably different.

Now on to some responses to your specific accusations:

America-first restraint from foreign adventures?

You mean isolationism? When you can stay home, you do. When you can’t, you don’t. In retrospect, Iraq was a mistake. But I’m still not sure whether it was Vietnam or Dieppe (or Peleliu or Cassino or Okinawa—plenty of useless battles to go around in necessary wars).

America-first attention to military readiness?

You have an amazingly bureaucratic view of readiness. Any commander in any war of the past century would be ecstatic to come out of prolonged combat ops with a casualty rate of about double that of peacetime and negligible non-consumable materiel losses. Yes, it’s been socially disruptive and reserve enlistments are down a bit. It’s a war!

Also, a bone to pick with your earlier “Nobody’s doing combined arms exercises at the NTC any more” argument: Why on earth would they? I’ve wracked my brain trying to think of a theater where this would be useful and I came up with exactly one: South Korea. Of course, that’s a permanent garrison and those guys train like their lives depended on it—which they do. Also note that NTC and Fort Hood are doing a land-office business in counter-insurgency training, as well they should.

The standard conservative criticism of trying to change the world by force or cramming our ways down the throats of others... or the "silly and failed utopian notion of so-called nation-building"?

Covered above. The best I can say is it was a big gamble executed very poorly. I concede the point.

Um.... budget-balancing?

Here’s a little exercise for you:
1) Build yourself a spreadsheet containing the official OMB budget deficit numbers. (Feel free to nitpick on off-budget items—I wasn’t masochistic enough to wade into that briar patch.)
2) Now add a column for Iraq and Afghanistan supplementals.
3) Subtract second column from first.

You’ll discover that there are two notable deficit troughs, one in about 1993 (two years after the early 90’s recession) and one in about 2004 (three years after the 2001-2002 recession). The two troughs have similar size and shape. Again, the war changes everything.

Fiscal sanity?

See previous, mod war.

Belief in competitive bidding and careful accounting of public spending?

Completely agree with you. This one sucks.

Belief in open processes subject to public scrutiny?

You’re gonna have to be more specific here:

NSA wiretapping and data mining? Don’t mean to sound glib here but if you believe that the administration has characterized the nature of the war properly, this doesn’t seem so bad.

Rendition and detention policies? I think it’s a screwup—they should have just declared everybody a POW from the git-go and had done with it. I concede here.

Cheney’s energy forum? Now here’s one where Clinton really would have done the same thing and screamed executive privilege, with Sandy Berger chiming in but exercising care while jumping up and down due to the secret documents stuffed down his pants.

The tradition that the rich step forward to help pay for wars fought by other people's sons?

Pardon, which tradition is this? Last time the rich stepped forward to help pay for wars was in the 1860’s, where you could pay someone to take your place if you were conscripted. I’m willing to go so far as to say that the tax cuts are debatable. I suspect we would be on opposite sides in that debate.

The notion of respect for professional officers or that "clueless draft-dodging politicians should not meddle in military decisions."

You mean like, “War is too important to be left to the generals?” No, I guess you don’t. There’s always a balance here and there isn’t a war president ever that didn’t get criticized for the balance that he struck.

You will get no argument that Rumsfeld’s strategy for Iraq would have worked brilliantly for the last war. Not so well for this one.

"A decent respect for world opinion"? (A phrase taken from the first line of our nation's founding document.)

“…a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” Careful quoting and context, please. In other words, “sorry we’re sticking our fingers in your eye, but we’ve got some problems—here’s why.” Sounds perilously close to what we did. To say nothing of the fact that nobody said you don’t act in anything but your best judgment of the national interest. Again, Iraq turned out to be a bad, maybe even calamitous, decision. But everything flows from that one decision.

Noblesse oblige? Or even minimal attention to the truth?

Odd to give such weight to the ultimate in feudal ideology from an Enlightenment fan. As for the truth, I haven’t seen much of that coming from any politician in my lifetime. If you’re talking about the war, there’s an awful lot of wars where the casus belli had nothing to do with the real reasons for going to war. It’s always nice not to get egg on your face when it turns out to be wrong, granted…

...arranged for 323 TONS OF $100 BILLS to be shipped into a lawless land in order to conveniently vanish.

Not defensible, agreed. However, try this on for a piece of sophistry: $10 million cash @ 50 US personnel = astounding success in Afghanistan. So $10 billion @100,000 US personnel should have been twice the bang per buck in Iraq! I’m kidding, obviously, but I could see some Pentagon yahoo doing such a calculation.

...harassed and forced out HUNDREDS of skilled US military officers

You forced me to do some research on the officer corps for this one. A quick google found a 1999 CBO report that indicated that the officer corps in 1989 was approx 303,000, and it was due to shrink to 218,000 by 2003—which probably didn’t happen. Let’s say 250,000, shall we? And you’ve heard of hundreds of cases of harassment? So, say, 500? As in 0.2%?

Now, the breakdown between company, field, and general/flag officers was 64%/35%/0.4%. If all of that harassment was concentrated on general officers, 50% would definitely be significant.

It would also be appropriate! General officer is a political job. You’re required to support the commander-in-chief’s strategy. If you can’t, you should retire. The rules of the game are different at that level.


David, thanks for giving me the opportunity to sound off on this stuff. Unless you object, I’ll continue my “target drone” role and field responses on this thread until it peters out (which I suspect will be pretty soon).

RandomSequence said...


You got me thinking about what really divides the ostriches from the liberals. It's not the details. By that I mean, the statistics, the data, come after the gut; on both side, we rationalize to support our underlying principles and intuitions.

No, the division is whether conservatism has profoundly failed, and needs a revamp. If Bush is truly as bad as I and others think he is, the movement he has come out of has, at minimum, a radical blindspot. Somehow paleo-conservatism has given birth to neo-conservatism, and as always a burden lies on the parent.

In an analogous manner, older sects of communism have always either claimed that either the Soviet Union wasn't as bad as everyone claimed, or that it wasn't really real communism. The other choice would be to deeply introspect, recognize failed principles, and rewrite as necessary.

Such a radical revisioning is of course at odds with the conservative personality, and in any case is something only done when faced with the utmost extreme data refuting the system. Unfortunately, if I am correct, that information will only arrive too late for action. The conservatives had the same problem in Germany (with, possibly, a worse result): many were unable to face what they had birthed until too late.

Another example I saw recently, from the left in this case, was the mentor of Chavez in Venezuela. He has recently taken to denouncing his protégé as a megalomaniac danger to democracy. Unfortunately for him, it is too late for this reverse Cassandra – his warnings may have done good earlier, but now it is too late.

Let me just say, I hope that you are right, but I fear that you may be wrong. We may not know for another generation.

Anonymous said...

(1) he may leave a thousand crooks out to dry,
(2) we all may discover, to our amazement, that it was ALL stupidity and not an iota of real graft! (The 12billion in lost $100 bills really was "misplaced!")

I suspect that anyone who is "dumb enough to get caught" really is going to get left out to dry. There will also be a lot of cases that look like graft but nobody will be able to prove anything.

Anyway... the indictments are starting.

Anonymous said...

By the way: "misplaced" isn't really the best word to describe the fate of the $12 billion in cash. "Misplaced" implies that it was taken somewhere and then mysteriously disappeared. That didn't happen. Most of the money wasn't physically stolen; it was simply spent, squandered, and given away willy-nilly.

Hearing Questions Waste, Fraud, and Abuse In Iraq Reconstruction

TheRadicalModerate said...


If Bush is truly as bad as I and others think he is, the movement he has come out of has, at minimum, a radical blindspot.

There's a much simpler explanation: the movement he came out of was unprepared to handle the geopolitical reality that was thrust upon it. Neocons had no traction until 9/11. Then they screwed up and they once again have no traction.

The GOP got creamed last November. I think they've been commendably responsive to that defeat and are now deep in agonizing reappraisal. Unfortunately, I suspect the the best answer they can come up with is going to be, "you're screwed until we're out of Iraq, and then you're still probably screwed when the whole Persian Gulf goes up in flames."

I hope they've got enough gumption to do the right thing and fix Iraq so we don't have a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. I'm not sanguine--it would probably mean a complete loss of power in '08, and a political party exists to get elected and accumulate power.

Joel said...

My dad is a mongoose, through and through. Navy vet (drafted into Vietnam because he refused to file paperwork buying his way out with college tuition, conscientious objector), bachelors in ag development, small-town Presbyterian minister, avid gardener & published poet. Once drove a man to rehab whom the police were afraid to face. He's currently making a stand against the PCUSA's attempts to codify some discriminatory policies. An ex girlfriend of mine was baffled at the mix of conservative & liberal properties he exhibits.

Unfortunately, he's short (5'8" or so), and probably too committed to his congregation to run for office. But he's starting to dabble in journalism, so I'm sure he'll be of help anyway.

David Brin said...

RM, you continue to ignore my chief points. Alas, you are showing your Ostrich feathers like mad.

RM: “How many of these go away after an election? The ones that remain are the ones I’d worry about. I can’t think of many.”

Dig it, this man is president BECAUSE of rampant cheating that has not been seen in 100 years. Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004 are only the tip of the iceberg. When a mad cabal accomplishes this kind of thing, do you think they STOP?

Is it “nonstructural” for 90% of radio stations to be controlled (after a relentlessly skillful campaign) by one small set of men? Or for 80% of the nation’s voting machines to be made by two companies that are owned by a pair of ex-con BROTHERS - using secret software? Or for half of our political caste to have participated, intimately in these things and ten thousand more like them?

When the US officer corps is being reamed top to bottom while one third of congressmen appoint religious zealots into the service academies, it doesn’t make you wonder WHY? Or what the goal might be?

Going several trillion dollars into debt, while throwing away ALL of our alliances and the goodwill of every other nation? These don’t worry you?

Bush is BELOW THE 50TH PERCENTILE? Are you kidding me? Dang, RM, We all like you. But you are exemplifying Ostrichitude to a degree that will soon have year head reaching the Earth’s core.

RM further said: “Whether you believe in the war or not, I hope you at least take Bush’s word that he thinks we’re at war. If you were president and believed as he does, how many of the steps that you so lament would you be willing to consider?”

I cannot believe what I am hearing. All of our career diplomats and nearly all of our career officers opposed nearly every aspect of this so-called “war” - knowing that they were being used as toy soldiers by a bunch of vile frat boys. There are absolutely NO steps that Bush has taken that would have been taken by sensible people who wanted to foil Saddam OR Osama.

Dig it, WHAT do you think Osama was trying to achieve on 9/11? To blow up a couple of damned buildings? Feh! What baloney and what an utter failure of imagination. What Osama wanted was to lure America into making the same mistake that we made in Vietnam... and that the USSR made in Afghanistan. IN BOTH CASES the nearly fatal error that nearly toppled an empire was to get sucked into an insane, never-ending, pointless land war of attrition in Asia.

Blue state America ... the cities... knew this. We wanted to catch the bastards. But we - the targets - had the guts to be patient and pick our fights.

No, wait. I take part of that back. W did one thing right. The mission to Afghanistan. A campaign entirely planned - under Bill Clinton - by Wesley Clark. That was good. And at the time I was proud that we did what the Soviets could not, through fantastic skill. Ah, but ask any officer. It was done under diametrically opposite doctrines to everything done in Iraq.

“You can bet, though, that if Clinton had had to deal with a bunch of smoking holes in lower Manhattan, rather than holes in Waco, in his first 8 months in office, his presidency would have been unrecognizably different.”

No, YOU can bet. And you would utterly lose that bet. Because I KNOW. Because I saw Clinton deal with the vastly hairier problem of the Balkans War. And you are welcome to learn from the difference.

In the Balkans, BC behaved like Bush in only ONE respect. He used military force as a tool. Otherwise, those two endeavors were diametrically opposite.

See the comparison at: http://www.davidbrin.com/neocons.html

AND PLEASE, RM, DON’T COME BACK UNTIL YOU CAN COMMENT ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THOSE TWO WARS, as if you actually read the article. I mean that. I am wasting my time if you can actually convince yourself that there is no difference between:

- building alliances vs torching them
-enhancing US leadership vs destroying it
-enhancing US readiness vs destroying it
-enhancing US power vs destroying it

- getting mired and accomplishing nothing whatsoever vs acting decisively vs achieving all goals in rapid time

- achieving results with ZERO AMERICAN CASUALTIES vs slaughtering our boys and girls in a rocky desert trying to “plant” democracy in the very most unlikely place possible.

Indeed, find for me ONE similarity of doctrine between those two wars. And then tell me Clinton would have done the same thing. Or that he would have outright lied about WMDs or about links between Osama and the CLOSE BUSH FAMILY FRIEND Saddam Hussein.

“You have an amazingly bureaucratic view of readiness.”

Oh what a crock! Clinton was criticized by the right because we were ”ready for ONLY one major and one medium surprise war at the same time.”

Do you know what senior officers believe we are NOW ready for?

With the present condition of our reserves and active duty military, we could not deal with ONE SMALL SURPRISE WAR. Indeed, we would be hard-pressed to defend the Texas border against Mexico. I kid you not.

I am sorry, RM, but you go completely around the bend, next. Bush tax cut gifts to the rich are responsible for more than half of the deficit. As for secrecy, are you really able to convince yourself that Clinton’s CUTTING of secrecy is part of a similar process top Bush’s EXPONENTIATION of it?

Or that Donald Rumsfeld, who supervised our final humiliation in Vietnam, was ever qualified to clean the shoes of the generals he spat on and bullied?

No, I am done here. I must not get steamed. Especially since you have tried to engage us courteously, here. But I also feel depressed. The ostrich problem seemed daunting before.

Now I can see it full face.

The “sincere American conservatives” that I had viewed as a great hope to stand up and help save the republic will not. They cannot.

Because -- and forgive me because I like you, and you remain welcome here -- but the diagnosis seems pretty firm.

They will not stand up for their country in this, its hour of crisis, because they are completely delusional. Effectively (on a political plane) quite mad.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin.
There is a fine line between spirited internet discussion and plain ol' ranting. It is your blog, to be sure, but your response to RM has at least one toe on the line. Just my opinion, worth no more nor no less than anyone else's. But when considering whether to join in a discussion like this I do read the threads top to bottom. It's your call really. But have a caution you do not drive out all but the Faithfull. Political discourse is better than preaching to the choir.
I will retreat to a safe distance now.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, rebuke accepted. I have to guess moods on type and it seemed to me that RM had a thick skin. After all, he's shaking a lot of red flags - or ostrich feathers - here. Seems a big boy.

But for the record, my hot air and bluster (above) was meant to carry a smile, along with all the groans and heavy, melodramatic sighs.


Don Quijote said...

But, one way or another, either the Jihadist/Islamist meme (not Islam!) is going away, or the democratic meme is going away. We are engaged in an existential war with the ideas not the people.

I am not sure that there is a grand conflict going in between Islam and the West, what I am sure is that there are a series of conflicts between various groups whose dominant Religion happens to be Islam and various non-Islamic groups, Pakistan vs India, Palestinians vs Israel, Hezbollah vs Israel, Hezbollah vs Lebanon, Iran vs the US, Chechnya vs Russia, the Moros vs the Philippines.

If you treat each of these conflicts as individual conflicts with minimal or no relationship with each other, they are resolvable, if on the other hand you lump them together, you have the making of an Islamist bogeyman which can be used to justify the existence of the Military Industrial complex.

TheRadicalModerate said...


I’ve rinsed off the layer of fine ash that used to be my outer epidermis. There are still a few spots smoldering in the wallpaper but no real fires. The PC is still glowing faintly blue but I think it’s far enough down the beta decay curve that typing will be safe.

I’m a distressed that this is rapidly degenerating into an is-not-is-so dialogue. On the topics of the budget deficit and officer harassment, I put up some numbers that you obviously didn’t agree with but didn’t refute. If you have something other than anecdotal evidence on the officer thing, I’d love to see it.

You’re backing me into an uncomfortable corner and forcing me to defend Bushco. I can’t do that. The evidence so far is that they’re running pretty high on the incompetence scale. Note that my “less than 50th percentile” is intentionally phrased as an upper bound. However, I’ve read enough history to know that the contemporary view and the historical view hardly ever jibe. Also note that you misread my Rumsfeld comment—no way am I going to support his management of the war.

Again (for the fifth or sixth time), I think the Iraq invasion was a huge mistake. It is a mistake that I made along with the administration. At the time, I thought it was a gamble but worth it. Events have proven me wrong. Mistake—a bad one. However, almost everything else flows from that mistake. Budget deficits, your alleged readiness problems, all the happy talk and revisionism—none of these would exist without the war.

The wiretaps, rendition, prisoner abuse—these are not a direct consequence of the war, but are closely related to the same world view. Of these, I’ve already conceded that the detention policies are stupid. Are they degrading the political structure? Please. Throw all the slippery-slope arguments you’d like. This happens in every war and we’re all mildly revolted when it’s all over. Same thing here.

As for your other structural issues: If the worst you can throw is that radio ownership—whose business model is imploding before our eyes--is concentrated with 5 corporations, I’m feeling pretty safe. BTW, Viacom just sold their local Austin, TX stations to a small operator. Of course, that’s just anecdotal evidence.

On stealing elections: I find this is unproductive to argue about. However, there’s a much better question to ask: Why is it that elections have become so close? Is it some sort of systems phenomenon, or is it just coincidence?

Oh, yeah. Balkans vs. Iraq. Well, one was a war against a Christian population, whose goal was to get them to stop doing something, and was prosecuted about 90% from the air using strategic bombing. The other was a war against a Muslim population, whose goal was to get them to start doing something, and was prosecuted about 90% on the ground. Was there an extended ground component involved in policing the Balkans? Of course there was. But that only occurred after we’d forced Serbia to capitulate or face having their infrastructure reduced to rubble. Turned out that Iraq’s infrastructure had pretty much reduced itself to rubble.

Again (for the sixth of seventh time), Iraq was a huge mistake. I also agree that the Balkans worked out very well—although you should go take a look at the demographic maps of Bosnia before and after. (There are some in Wikipedia.) But to compare Iraq to the Balkans is almost meaningless.

Finally, a note about rhetoric. Look, I know you’re passionate about this and you’re gravely concerned. Given the conclusions you’ve come to, not to be agitating for change would be immoral. (In contrast, this exchange we’re having is probably the most activist thing I’ve done in my entire life.) But I assume you want to change minds, rather than just acting as den mother to a troop of like-minded individuals.

I’m a big boy and I can take a punch when I have to. But I, and most other Ostriches (and I’m using your definition of “Ostrich” very strictly here), are frankly bewildered by the level of hatred that’s dripping off of the Left, or the Progressives, or the Liberals, or the anti-Bush contingent—pick your label. I’m sorry to say that you telegraph that hate sometimes.

I know you want to persuade because you think that the persuasion is essential. But if you write 15 paragraphs of perfectly reasoned prose and throw in one with words like “monster” or “treason”, all 16 graphs are gonna get discounted. That hatred, either reasoning or unreasoning, is simply incomprehensible to us Ostriches.

Meanwhile, we have a falsifiable hypothesis in front of us, since I’m almost positive that the Democrats will control the House, Senate, and the Presidency after the ’08 elections. If I’m right, the elections will sweep away whatever abuses remain after Congress pummels Bushco for 20 months. If you’re right, the election will do nothing—and I will be happy to eat crow and post that I have done so.

Anonymous said...

I'm reminded of a joke about the difference between politicians and engineers.
Engineers take a large problem, break it into small problems that can be solved one by one until the large problem is solved.
Politicians take a small problem, lump it with a lot of other small problems, and create a mess no one can solve.

Radical Moderate:
Can you remember 1993? The level of hate and bile spewed at then President Clinton? I stood and watched and wondered, "Why all the hate?" Funny thing, it's still there. You take a hard core Republican and mention President or Senator Clinton, and stand back! The anti-Bush hate has its roots in the anti-Clinton hate. We saw what happened to a mushy moderate President who wasn't perfect... and wonder why a man who's incompetence at the art of governance is shown time and time again... and watch people apoligize for it. It's a impeachable offense to get oral sex from a woman not your wife... but forgivable to send the army on a wild goose chase?

Funny thing... I used to be a Republican. The right wing hate fest in the early 1990's changed that. I didn't want to be associated with it.

Oh, and in spite of all the rhetoric, we aren't at war. What happens in war? Calls go out for volunteers to serve; maybe to the point of forcing people to serve (draft). Not hearing it. Taxes go up, to buy the equipment and pay for the troops. Not happening. Things get scarce, perhaps even rationed. Not happening. We're having a 'guns AND butter' war. That's no way to win.

David Brin said...

RM I pray that I am wrong and that you are right. But I see no reason to believe that "monsters" and "treason" are inapplicable.

When there has been not a single instance of good governance pursued, even by accident, and EVERY initiative and action benefits a narrow clade whose agenda is counter to the people's interests, what am I to say?

Should not one good act of governance have happened, by now, by sheer accident?

I did not mention the most egregious of all examples. The deliberate demolition, by the GOP Congressional leadership, of their OWN neutral in-house scientific advisory apparatus. They fired the entire OTA and OTSA, because they knew that Truth was their ultimate enemy.

The diversion or elimination of nearly every Federal program that could have meaningfully researched and developed answers to climate change and helped us to achieve energy independence... this can be interpreted... how?

How - in God's name - can six years of diversion from the drive for energy independence be looked upon as anything but treason?

Likewise, the destruction of BOTH our alliances AND our military readiness are facts far too profound and overwhelming not to be deliberate. Conservatives who despise foreigners simply shrug off the fact that our international popularity has fallen to all-time lows. They cannot see that we MUST maintain overall popularity in order to lead.

Brining us to the point where we are almost universally reviled is... pure... treason.

Again, I pray that you are right and that I am wrong. But consider this. If I am right, and the ostriches keep refusing to stand up, coming up with nonsense excuses to say that these SOBs are merely "regretable" but comparable to Clinton... then the ostriches whill be the very ones who could have saved us, and did not.

Your writhing refusal to see that the Balkans was all about competence and Iraq is ABOUT destroying pax americana in the diametric opposite of competence, is something that (forgive me) I cannot see in any other way but in SYMPTOMATIC terms. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

One thing about "military readiness"... some people would argue that it might be expected that our ability to react to a "surprise war" is very small given that we are currently fighting two wars already (Afghanistan and Iraq). I'm just playing devil's advocate here, but that's the obvious counterargument; we designed our military so that it could handle a certain amount of fighting, and we're currently doing that amount of fighting. Were we any more able to handle three wars during any earlier administration? (I really don't know the answer to that one.)

Anonymous said...

Depends on how you count wars.
World War 2 was one war... but we fought on six 'Fronts' at one point, and each 'front' was as big or bigger than what we have in Iraq. (North Atlantic, France, Italy, China/Burma, Southwest Pacific, Western Pacific). At the time we were officially at war with Germany, Italy, Japan, Thailand, Bulgaria, Hungary, Rumania, Croatia, and Finnland.
But it was only one war.
Of course, we had more allies, and the nation was fully mobilized. We were truly 'at war'.

Anonymous said...

We conservatives generally acknowlege that Clinton was a good diplomat. Which is of course inconsistent with being entirely truthful! Reminding me of the complicated comparison between Ladies and Diplomats, part of the punch line being "If he says yes he means maybe. If he says maybe he means no. If he says no he's no diplomat." Clinton knew both Ladies and Diplomats well, perhaps there is a connection.

OK, back to something like on topic. During the Clinton administration something significant did happen. The UN lost international relevance. Sure, its been in need of reform for a long time, but after the anti Isreali speeches for the day were finished they sometimes did something useful. Bush I used the institution as a structure to put together a Last Alliance of countries that will do something in the first Gulf War.

After that we had the very open violation of embargos on Iraq, the Oil for Food fiasco, and the possible involvement of Kofi Annan's son in same. This helped keep Sadaam Hussein's regime alive, but had the unintended result of degrading the infrastructure.

And the Balkans? Yes, it has turned out ok for now. I have a friend who helped train police there until recently. They have gotten a few steps beyond "Die you Serbian Pig".

But the road to Iraq went straight past a place called Srbrenica, where the UN peacekeepers stood aside while thousands of (not that it matters) muslim men were taken off to be shot and tossed into mass graves.

Voltaire once famously said that the Holy Roman Empire was actually neither holy, nor roman, nor an empire.

Similarly the United Nations Peacekeeping efforts are in general not keeping peace, not an expression of unity, and many UN members do not entirely qualify as nations.

In a better world there is no need for a nation to go in alone to Afganistan or Iraq.

I would very much like the next president, either party, to work towards reform of the UN. But it won't even be on the radar screen.

There are numerous other differences between Balkans and Iraq, but I have rambled too long.


Anonymous said...

I’m a big boy and I can take a punch when I have to. But I, and most other Ostriches (and I’m using your definition of “Ostrich” very strictly here), are frankly bewildered by the level of hatred that’s dripping off of the Left, or the Progressives, or the Liberals, or the anti-Bush contingent—pick your label. I’m sorry to say that you telegraph that hate sometimes.

As an outside observer (I'm a Brit, not an American), I'm not even slightly bewildered that the left is furious with the right. Even when you ignore the justifiable causes the left has, there is far more hatred coming from the right than the left.

Read Ann Coulter from a left-wing perspective. Listen to Rush Limbaugh from a left-wing perspective. Watch Fox News from a left-wing perspective. And then ask yourself whether the left-wing is really dripping hatred by those standards, or whether it is simply producing a comparatively mild reflection of the hatred that is being directed at it.

TheRadicalModerate said...


Likewise, the destruction of BOTH our alliances AND our military readiness are facts far too profound and overwhelming not to be deliberate.

Let me see if I can spell out what you’re implying:

1) Bushco is actually a front for their cronies, who in this case would probably be the petroleum industry. They would certainly benefit the most from suppression of energy research and from Middle East instability.

2) Bushco is systematically degrading internal government accountability structures (like OTA) to boost the interests of their cronies.

3) And, most important to your scenario, Bushco is systematically degrading readiness and international reputation actually to weaken the US so that we can fall into a 1984-style state of perpetual low-level war--is it Eurasia, or Eastasia, that Oceania is at war with this year? Presumably, this is to act as the major distraction through which Bushco’s cronies get to loot us still further.

I’m intentionally leaving out the nuances and outliers of the Evil Plan. Am I sort of on the right track here?

So, one question: Does this even come close to adhering to Occam’s razor? You have provided countless examples of Bushco’s obvious ineptitude—and I agree with the vast majority of them. Could a crew so obviously inept and unsubtle really be capable of such a vast, nuanced--and admittedly treasonous, if true--plan? Oh, yeah—all of Bushco’s cronies would have to be complicit in the plan, with absolutely no leaks. And the MSM, which is now controlled by the 5 Evil Media Companies and has no doubt uncovered this conspiracy numerous times, has decided to suppress the story, thereby forgoing the profits that accrue to them during the subsequent impeachment run-up, no doubt because they are also in on the conspiracy.

In my experience, if you have to judge something as either evil or stupid, stupid wins about 95% of the time.


David, just FYI: You got a Transparent Society citation—with an interesting tidbit about how unworried young people are about personal privacy—in Virginia Postrel’s blog. Kinda interesting.

I posted this once before: I’d love to see an update of that book.


Finally, Doug, Hawker, et al.: A lot of military readiness has to do with the ability of ground troops to stop an initial armored attack at some hotspot, giving the US enough time to fully mobilize and defeat the attacker in detail. I wonder if airpower is good enough now to perform that job, given unassailable US air superiority and the availability of precision-guided, armor-piercing, cluster munitions. It’s a question, not an assertion, BTW.

Anonymous said...

It has been said that diplomacy is the art of saying "Nice Doggie" while you look for a rock. Many of the abilities that make a good diplomat also make a good ladies man. Ben Franklin was noted for his abilities as both also.

Air Force as first response: The Air Force has been claiming that it could do the job of stopping the enemy alone since the 1920's. It hasn't seemed to work yet. But in the Air Force's credit, they have gotten much closer... The United States Air Force no longer has mere Air Superiority, they talk now of Air Supremecy: not only do we do whatever we want in the air, the enemy can't do ANYTHING at all in the air.

Francis: Got it in one. There is no left wing equivilant of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh et al. You don't hear Al Franken call for the extermination of thier political opponents.

(Unrelated note: does anyone else have to always try twice to get a post up? Seems to not like my first word verification, no matter how careful I am.)

Francis said...

(Unrelated note: does anyone else have to always try twice to get a post up? Seems to not like my first word verification, no matter how careful I am.)

Not quite always. What I think is going on there is that the verification rotates every few minutes rather than is based on the page. Therefore if you've spent five minutes thinking about what you are going to post, the word expected is going to be different from the one on the screen.

To be honest, when I'm writing a long post I normally just click submit and leave the box blank the first time.

And re: the air force preventing an assault on its own, I'll believe it when I see it. And I'd expect it more if the USAF focussed on bombers rather than appeared to be run by fighter-jocks.

Anonymous said...

David Brin's pet conspiracy theory is that Bush, Cheney, etc. are taking orders from the Saudi royal family, a group that runs a country that promotes an ideology that's about as American as North Korea is.

David Brin said...

Andrew Smith, thanks for referring folks to:
"SOME of America’s most senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the White House orders a military strike against Iran, according to highly placed defence and intelligence sources."

Which backs up my longstanding claim that the Officer Corps is the one thin line, standing between us and horrific danger... which is why the monsters have been waging relentless war against the professional military throughout this benighted century.

What is NOT mentioned is the possibility that such a mass resignation may be the GOAL of an attack on Iran. Or at least a side benefit that this administration would find attractive, and NOT a deterrent, after all. What better way to erase, in a clean sweep, perhaps several dozen of our brightest and most honorable top flag officers, opening slots for rapid promotion of a few chosen zealots?

Where are the conservatives who spent THIRTY YEARS hectoring us that we "lost Vietnam because of relentless meddling in military affairs by clueless, draft-dodging politicians"? Hammer this contradiction on your nearest ostrich.

Along similar lines, the matter of readiness is the core hypocrisy that the dems ought to be skewering. During the Clinton Admin, goppers were screeching that we weren't quite ready to support both South Korea and Taiwan at the same time, in a major surprise war with China, WHILE having sufficient reserves for a second major surprise conflict. I swear, that is the rationale of their rage at Clinton on the issue of readiness.

Today, China is never mentioned. Danger to Korea and Taiwan? Off the radar. Venezuela's skyrocketing and potentially destabilzing arms buildup? Grist for shock radio rants, but only according to very careful scripts that never let the listener actually envision a basic fact... that our present military would be in no condition to step in, even if Venezuela invaded all its neighbors.

Except the Navy. God bless the Navy.

Which is, of course, why two of our best battle groups have been sent into the narrow waters of the Persian Gulf... I mean, what's happened to paranoia, when we really need it?

Tacitus, the Clinton/liar canard is one of the Big Lies of all time. So he fibbed about nookie in a hallway. The proof of the pudding is in stuff like the steep decline in secrecy, during his administration. Inveterate and fundamental liars do not do that sort of thing. Period. Nor do they leave professional prosecutors and law agencies alone to do their job. IN TODAY'S NEWS - neutral agencies have given high scores to all of the eight Federal prosecutors recently fired by Bush.

An act that we should skewer ostrich hypocrites with, by asking "What if Clinton had done this even ONCE?"

Please, please, Oil for Food? You are bringing THAT up? When this administration and its cronies steal more EACH DAY than leaked out of that program during its entire span? The UN? OMG... is there no limit to the number of picayune distractions that the right can point at, pretending in their minds that such niggles balance a monstrous assault upon every principle of the Enlightenment?

The biggest one is The right's obsession with #$#$#@ TEACHERS UNIONS! I swear, the left should simply dissolve the pathetic little things in a sudden jiu jitsu move, just to see the right stumble about looking for another bogey man to blame for the fall of western civilization! Riiiiiiight. Some organizations representing impoverished and hardworking school teachers merit eye-popping rage, but no attention at all to ripoff CEOS and insider-trading trillionaires. (Dang, I sound positively lefty, now. But so would Adam Smith, if he were here, right now.)

RM... you raise Occam's Razor and I respond with exactly the same principle. When every single action of an administration shares one and only one trait -- to fundamentally weaken Pax Americana --what is the simplest hypothesis? The "stupid frat boys" explanation is getting thin.

Yes, I officially accept the "stupid, dogmatic frat boys" explanation!
The alternative "Manchurian Candidate" explanation is NOT my official stand.
But as a contrarian, I must raise the plausibility that no one else dares mention!

Moreover, it deserves a place at-table. Especially when American military, diplomatic, financial, moral, scientific, engineering, intellectual and social power have ALL been demolished to unprecedented degrees. Along with America's internal cohesion, with half the country pitted against the other half's throats in bilious, hate-drenched "culture war." I mean what are the odds that such consistency could have happened just by "stupid" accident?

Hawker, there ARE left wing Ann Coulters! dogmatic mania is not limited to the right. But the equivalent lefties have audiences of about thirty in insipid, neo-marxist, postmodernist college classes. Pathetic and powerless dunces.

In fact, the very fact THAT these absurd college dunces so enrage the right is one more sign of the ostrich effect. Teachers' unions and lefty-flake college profs... oh, and the pathetic UN. Oh, where is the Politburo when you really need it!

TheRadicalModerate said...

Francis, Hawker--

Have to agree with you that there's nothing quite so vituperative as a right-wing shout-show.

However, an anecdote: Last summer I attended a dinner party in Boston with a bunch of old college friends from MIT. They're all still living in Boston or the New York area, all highly educated, all moderately-to-ridiculously successful. For the last ten years I've been living in Austin, TX, which is usually a blue dot in a sea of red but, uh, somewhat more conservative than the Boston suburbs.

I don't remember how the conversation turned to Bush but I was dumbfounded at the level of, not concern, not even disgust, but outright hatred. Of course, I got outed as a conservative in their midst. The temperature dropped several degrees. We all hurriedly changed the subject.

There was a similar article in the NYT last year about how liberals in New York had ended friendships with conservatives and stopped inviting them to social functions. (I don't have a Times Select subscription, so I haven't been able to locate it.)

I can understand this level of nastiness from the talking heads--they make money by inflaming the public. From ordinary people... Well, it's just weird. I don't get it.

Anonymous said...


I don't think I can give you a polite pass on this one. You engage in a discussion on how to effectively project force in the world when needed. And when I make what seems to me to be a valid point-don't count on the UN for much-you accuse me of trying to distract from bigger issues.

I guess on one level you are agreeing with me. You refer to the "pathetic UN" and seem to lump it in with "picayunish distractions".

You mention a number of valid threats to world peace and consider the concept that the UN, created to deal with this sort of thing, is impotent to be irrelevant?

Oil for Peace was less significant than the Dutch "peacekeepers' looking the other way.

Current options for dealing with rogue nations.

-US declares them Evil. Its our job to spend blood, money and reputation.
-UN sends ferocious scolding commisions.
-Nothing happens. World hopes for the best.

I don't like any of 'em.

I am entirely prepared to discuss any issue on the table, given the limitations of this format. But this issue matters to me. Maybe to others. Maybe not.


ps mild points for the UNAEC, which seems to be doing a tricky balancing act on Iranian nuke issue.

David Brin said...

Okay, Tacitus is right and I apologize.

The UN is a totally legitimate matter for discussion. In fact, the whole issue of world governance in the coming century is vast and I have a lot to say about it... as I hope you guys will, too.

This does not mean that I was wrong to point out that the UN strawman is used as a silly-ass distraction by the loony right.

But you are not loony-right and I should not have tarred you with that brush.

RM, please. I suppose I am one of those Bush haters. Though my credibility is good since I can speak up for other conservatives. Barry Goldwater is a hero and I can say good things about Reagan and even George Sr. My rage it the present clade is perhaps even better based than the reflex displayed by the folks at that party. I see it as less a matter of left-right than than of sane-insane or possibly loyal-vs-treason.

Dig it, though. Goppers used to brag that the average education level of GOP voters was a bit higher, weighted by all the poor folks who voted dem. Well now the balance has swung WAY the other way. Despite still having nearly all the poor, the dems have higher education averages. Why? Because a vast majority of those with post-graduate degrees and complex knowledge of the world can see what these horrendous morons are doing to civilization.

That party wasn't just about effete Boston intellectuals.

Look, I share your disgust with many of the dems and libs and lefties. My reason is simple. They are on the right side and they are NOT helping by waging culture war. Yes, if I must choose one bilious side, I will put on a blue uniform and march into battle for the Union, singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. in this, our Civil War Redux.

But that's a last choice. We can only win-win by ENDING "culture war" and to do that the dems and libs must shrug off the lefties and be the mature ones. We must reach out to sincere American "ostrich" conservatives and give them a place inside the tent.

That is Karl Rove's worst nightmare. We should do it for that reason, if no other.

Kelsey Gower said...

Perhaps I should point out that the Democratic party will have a hard time persuading genuine conservatives to come to their tent if they keep implying that conservatives are hypocrites and like to bury their heads in the sand.

First of all, ostriches, like any other warm-blooded creatures, can not bury their heads in the sand. That would suffocate them.

However, they don't like sticking their heads up when they don't have to. If they're guarding a nest, they lay low and hope any enemies around will pass them. And it's hard to convince them that they should stand up instead of trying to blend in to the background. They have families, they have jobs, and they don't want to do anything irrational. But you aren't going to convince them any easier by showing contempt for them, and that's exactly what they see when you say they're "ostriches" and "hypocrites" and make "nonsense excuses" every time Bush does something bad.

I also have to point out one thing you said earlier: "...the ostriches will be the very ones who could have saved us, and did not." Convincing conservatives to join the rest of us in a fight for our freedoms is a hard job, and I admire you for taking it, but the fact is you have the obligation of persuading them to join us. You have to assure them that voting Democratic will pay off and provide them with more security for them and their families. If you can't do that, then it will be your fault, not theirs.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone else noticed that dialogue has now near completely degenerated to the classical left/right, liberal/conservative antagonism?

Everyone concedes the valid points of the other side, the level of discourse here being high, but rather than trying to find the common interest and seeking a path forward, the realm of discussion remains bogged in the polarizing issues.

RM answered my "meme strategies" post, and the key thing said in his response was that he believed "the system" would endure and correct for the excesses of the current administration. I don't think so. I greatly fear that "the system" is badly broken. On either side of the aisle, the interest is not the good of the nation, but Power. I suspect that most of those in power would genuinely say and most to some extent believe that they act for the good of their constituents, but "the system" has constrained those within - if they want to retain their positions - to act and talk in certain ways, and will prevent those not willing to conform from ever reaching positions of power.

One of the mechanisms "the machine" uses is the polarization of discourse. Everyone here seems to understand that the liberal and conservative labels are artificial and transient regarding any particular issue. But discussion, even here, seems to break down along those lines, and others have commented about the growing antagonism and vituperation of each "side" for the other.

This was a part of what led to my disenchantment with politics. It's nearly impossible to talk about *anything* in any group larger than three about matters which require some change or action by government without it becoming just another arena of partisan bickering.

-- TWZ

David Brin said...

Huh. SO I have to be therapist and miracle worker, eh?

Urgh... I see your point but it makes me very angry. I (like all of us) have been lectured to ad nauseam for decades by people who wear flags on their sleeve and claim to own patriotism.

I have a PERFECT right to call them hypocrites when they screech at mice during the Clinton era then hysterically ignore dragons when "their" side is in charge.

If your point is that it's PRAGMATICALLY self-defeating to use phrases like "ostrich" and hypocrite while trying to lure conservatives to recognizing their duty... well... I am always willing to listen to pragmatic alternatives. So you tell me.

Nothing has worked so far. So tell me how YOU would gently but irresistably insist that millions of "decent conservative" stand up and recognize that their movement has been taken over by -- AT BEST -- vicious-stupid dogmatists.

Don't give me anything about how they are afraid to stick their necks out. We have all been preached about their manly patriotic virtues, all our lives. That part is the lamest of all.

Help me out here. I am all alone calling for a new coalition. Most dems are falling for the self-righteous lure of Rove's trap, his "culture war." They are human and given the provocations, you can't blame them.

So tell me. Given that the "decent conservatives" DO have their hands over their ears and eyes, seeing no evil and hearing none while they shout "Nah! Nah! Nah!" while the republic burns... how do you suggest waking them up?

Better yet, do YOU plan on doing some wakening?

David Brin said...

the preceding was addressed to fhydra... sorry...

Don Quijote said...

Look, I share your disgust with many of the dems and libs and lefties. My reason is simple. They are on the right side and they are NOT helping by waging culture war.

What culture war are you talking about?

Kelsey Gower said...

"If your point is that it's PRAGMATICALLY self-defeating to use phrases like "ostrich" and hypocrite while trying to lure conservatives to recognizing their duty... well... I am always willing to listen to pragmatic alternatives. So you tell me."

You won me over to your side two years ago, and you did it with optimism and pragmitism, not name-calling.

And I plan on doing the same favor for my dad. It'll be tough to convince him that we need to move past this "culture war," but if he votes for a Democratic candidate in the next election, or at least keeps from voting straight-ticket Republican, then it will be worth it. That's all I can offer for now. See you in the next post.

David Brin said...


Thou art now a master in thine own right, grasshopper!


reason said...

Actually DB you have failed to notice something in RMs posts.

He has implicitly (without actually saying it) admitted that Democratic victories are a good thing. What he has not yet said, is that Republican party needs to do some soul searching.

TheRadicalModerate said...


I did say that the GOP needs some soul-searching, albeit obscurely:

As far as I can tell, the GOP isn't in anybody's hands after the election. There appears to be a huge fight brewing between the libertarian (small 'l' not big 'L') and the socially conservative wings of the party. Golly, self-correction at work. No Evil Cabal here. Just the occaisional Invisible Hand.

As usual, you can argue forever about whether the soul-searching is initiated proactively through the initiative of individuals or just happens as a result of system complexity. I suspect that real answer is that either viewpoint works equally well.

Anonymous said...

David Brin asks:

"So tell me. Given that the "decent conservatives" DO have their hands over their ears and eyes, seeing no evil and hearing none while they shout "Nah! Nah! Nah!" while the republic burns... how do you suggest waking them up?"

Answer: support Ron Paul's presidential campaign. If Paul end's up as the nominee, then teamism will require Republicans to switch back to Goldwaterite stances. If he doesn't win, but shows well, he will still be the biggest anti-Iraq-was voice in Republican ears.

If Hillary becomes the front runner on the D side, Paul will be the biggest anti-war voice period. He was anti war before it was cool.

RandomSequence said...


Let me expand on the bases for my fear, and why these discussion always devolve:

My grandparents were Germans, my grandfather from a Jewish family, my grandmother not. My grandfather was a conservative guy, totally committed to his German nationality, culture, etc. In '32, Hitler had not yet risen to fuhrerdom yet, the Nazi were a minority in the Reichstag, and a still active political culture existed. On the other hand, him with eyes to see could see the danger on the horizon.

My grandfather refused to recognize the gathering clouds, because doing so would force him to recognize the cancer gnawing on German culture. The problem was not just of current events, but a confluence of events that would, one way or another, completely reorganize German society (maybe it could also have been on the left? hypotheticals...) Fortunately for me, my grandmother had family associated with the Nazi party, who gave her a heads up, and she dragged grandpa into refugee status kicking and screaming. Of course, my grandfather returned to Germany as soon as it was safe, and lived out his life there.

What the folks on the left see is an oncoming systemic failure. The right can not see it, or really even consider it, because it brings into question not just policy questions, but underlying questions of value. Maybe the left is being hysterical; we haven't had yet a massive depression (but watch out for the Chinese T-bonds), crime has not yet skyrocketed (but watch out for some of the returning soldiers; it's what we saw in the '70's); and the brownshirts aren't on the streets yet (we'll see when the Bushites are out of office, how their supporters react).

But if we wait until all the data is in, it may be too late. Just like global warming, some prophylactic response is required, because once the diagnosis is finalized, there is no treatment at that advanced state.

It's not yet 1932 in America. But it is reasonable to say it's 1928, and we still have enough time to act, if proactively. We do know that there is a conspiracy afoot: the Iranians back in 2003 offered peace on our terms, and we refused to even respond; it is practically absurd to explain such a massive failure on simple incompetence – Condi Rice is not a moron. Conservatism must do some deep soul searching, and act against its own short term interest to expel the parasites that are hell-bent on feeding on the carcass of this nation.

B.C. said...

Brin wrote: "But that's a last choice. We can only win-win by ENDING "culture war" and to do that the dems and libs must shrug off the lefties and be the mature ones. We must reach out to sincere American 'ostrich' conservatives and give them a place inside the tent."

That's precisely why the hate you spout is so off-putting.

"Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity."


B.C. said...

Brin wrote: "But that's a last choice. We can only win-win by ENDING "culture war" and to do that the dems and libs must shrug off the lefties and be the mature ones. We must reach out to sincere American 'ostrich' conservatives and give them a place inside the tent."

That's precisely why the hate you spout is so off-putting.

"Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity."


B.C. said...

DB wrote: "Nothing has worked so far. So tell me how YOU would gently but irresistably insist that millions of 'decent conservative' stand up and recognize that their movement has been taken over by -- AT BEST -- vicious-stupid dogmatists."

For whatever it's worth, I'm approximately your definition of "ostrich," agreed with most of what RM wrote about self-correcting systems. On my own terms, I'm an "extreme optimist," which is defined as "someone who believes his civilization will probably survive even if it doesn't take his advice."

It's worth noting, then, that RandomSequence's post on Germany, "What the folks on the left see is an oncoming systemic failure...," made me sit up and think in a way that none of the others in the thread have. What is it about that post that makes me willing to entertain the possibility of a GOP Conspiracy Of Evil? Partly a good historical anecdote; partly the fact that I don't have to filter out hatred. Actually, any kind of strong emotion is off-putting. Allow the reader to form her own emotions in response to the arguments presented. Bonus credibility points for presenting all sides of an argument, a la Richard Feynman's talk on cargo cult science.

For what it's worth, you first came to my attention for your opinions on privacy and the "Transparent Society," with which I agreed. Thus you are influencing minds on some issues, even if they're not your top priorities.


reason said...

I would like MW and RM to answer this one.

Are you aware of the enormous levels of hypocrisy that we are experiencing from the GOP recently? Most obvious recent case in point the threats re the "nuclear option" with respect to Judicial appointments, followed by the use of fillibuster to stop a non-binding censure motion.

In general, it can be summarised by the meme from the left-blogosphere - "its OK if you're Republican".

For Republicans, it seems there is no dignity any more, only winning. At any price to the process - which I personally regard as more important than the result.

B.C. said...

Quote: "Are you aware of the enormous levels of hypocrisy that we are experiencing from the GOP recently?"

I remember discussion of the so-called "nuclear option" around the time of Alito's appointment. I'm not sure what non-binding censure you're referring to (I'm guessing it has something to do with the Iraq war). I would not be terribly astonished if the GOP (being Congressmen) were, shall we say, operating with a double standard for selves vs. opposition. That sort of thing is contemptible. A true statesman may have a double standard, but only to the extent of holding himself to a *higher* standard and giving others the benefit of the doubt. There, does that answer your question?

I'm not aware of any party in Congress composed purely of statesmen, so it's hard to get extremely upset over Congressmen being their normal contemptible selves. Democrats not excepted, although I do like Lieberman. There are probably other good ones that I don't know about, and to the extent that I know about a bad one I'll vote against him, but Niven's Law states, "There is no cause so noble it won't attract fools," and that applies to political parties as much as anything.


reason said...

yes it is comtempable but also what we are seeing from the current GOP is unprecedented (at least since WWII).