"Don't you think it's a little irresponsible for the press to fail to report all the good news in Glasgow today?"
Amitai Etzioni has an interesting post up on Huffington Post about the false dichotomy we draw in the west between Islamist terrorists and liberal Muslims, a dichotomy he says is misleading and dangerous for our foreign policy.
As a secular humanist, I have some reservations about making common cause with people whose worldview is so dramatically different from my own (reservations that include concern about the possibility that we will completely misunderstand one another), but a Muslim (Pakistani) friend says that Etzioni has a better grasp of the realities of the Muslim world than many other writers.
I'm not sure how we find common ground with illiberal theocrats, but if the alternative is classifying them all as implacable enemies when the vast majority of them aren't, I'd say it's worth a try to find that ground.
I also wonder about what failures of secular government in many Muslim countries (or in the US, for that matter) lead so many moderate Muslims to want more religion in their government.
Elizabeth Edwards' decision to call in to MSNBC's "Hardball" to confront turbo-harpy Ann Coulter about the bile she's been spilling in John Edwards' direction has created a great brou-ha-ha, and provided Coulter with much more airtime than she deserves, but since the mainstream media seems inclined to treat Coulter as either a harmless amusement or a respectable conservative spokesperson, it's understandable that Edwards has responded to her garbage. Coulter's a prime example of how conservatives and the mainstream media have colluded to cheapen the political discourse, and it's important to stop it.
I suppose this reaction should be predictable, but on this morning's Today Show, David Gregory suggested to Elizabeth Edwards that
"...if you strip away some of the inflammatory rhetoric against your husband and other Democrats, the point she's trying to make about your husband, Senator Edwards, running for the White House is in effect that he's disingenuous...".
Along with this gem, we're treated to "voice of reason" Pat Buchannan whining about how Coulter is just giving liberals back some of what the mainstream media's been handing conservatives.
This is unqualified crap. If Gregory wants to see the issues Coulter is supposed to be raising discussed without the "inflammatory rhetoric", it might be better to suggest that Coulter take her inflammatory rhetoric and stow it. Then the issues can be discussed, instead of the rhetoric itself. Until then, as Coulter and Gregory know perfectly well, the rhetoric itself is the point. Moreover, when Buchannan starts crying about how Coulter and Limbaugh and others simply represent "payback" of some sort for similar hate speech from the left, Gregory might consider doing his job and asking Buchannan for an example of that similar hate speech, instead of swallowing the assertion whole and unexamined.
But he doesn't, because there isn't any such example from the left that even comes close to being in Coulter's league. And we don't see him asking Coulter to "strip away some of the inflammatory rhetoric" either because if you take away Coulter's bile, there's nothing left.
So bravo to Elizabeth Edwards for calling Coulter on her filth. Let's hope the next time she gets asked by some media drone if this crap isn't a problem on both sides of the aisle, she asks for an example of the left's similar speech. Everybody doesn't do what Coulter, and Savage, and Limbaugh do, and we have to stop saying everyone does. I expect that what Edwards meant was that it would be just as wrong if the left did it, and I agree with that, but I don't see any like examples - hate is a right wing political tactic, it has to stop, and it won't until it gets properly identified as such.
UPDATE: Apparently, Ms. Coulter finds the criticism of her style "tiresome". Imagine my chagrine.
"I need to spend more time with my family". These
are words that we hear at the tail end of any administration, when various
political appointees use the power of the White House to improve their
job-hunting prospects before the administration leaves town. (After all, it's
got to improve your chances with a prospective employer to have them return
your call to "the Undersecretary of Whatever" than to just some
unemployed political apparatchik, even if said apparatchik used to be the
This administration, though, has seen a steady stream of people departing for "personal reasons" for its entire course. Either there's something about working in Washington over the last six years that has been unusually evocative of the pleasures and requirements of family time, or these guys have a knack for appointing people who aren't aware that government service will be time-consuming (only the boss gets to spend weeks at a time "clearing brush" at home).
I just finished the four-part piece in the Washington Post about Dick Cheney, and his startling impact on the Vice Presidency and on this administration in general. The article has lots in it that was new to me, but it also hit several themes that we've seen before, and one of them is the number of people who have resigned from the administration for ostensibly “personal reasons” who later turn out to have been forced out, or to have resigned because they couldn’t abide what they were being asked to do.
It’s also true that there have been wholesale resignations
from the civil service ranks of government in the last six years. Apparently it’s
not easy to work for people who absolutely believe that the job you’ve devoted
a lifetime to doing well is either unnecessary, actively destructive, or just a
great place to park political hacks (“Heck of a job, Brownie!”), and so many
folks have decided to move on from government service.
I have a world of sympathy for those folks who have left
careers as civil servants because they can’t stand participating in the willful
destruction of the agencies they’ve been working for. Losing them is the
natural consequence of letting people who believe that “government is the
problem” run the government – if you don’t allow yourself to think government
can solve any problems, you can’t govern – and it will take decades to replace
the legions of people who, in the last few years, have abandoned their calling to help people by serving in
I have very little sympathy, however, for the political
appointees who have resigned and covered up the misdeeds they could no longer
stomach being party to by asserting that their resignations were for “personal
reasons”. The Post article mentions Christine Todd Whitman and Paul O’Neill,
but the list is much longer than that. All of these people were given positions of
significant responsibility, and that responsibility is to the public, not to
the administration. I’m not a fool, and I understand how political patronage
works, but at some level, the appointees have a duty to the people who actually
pay them, even if they do make the people who hired them angry when they speak
up. The case is a bit muddier for the numbers of people who have resigned from
the foreign policy, defense, and intelligence services, because those folks
actually deal in secrets, and it’s a thorny problem whether or not to expose
secret misdeeds, but for those who resigned over domestic policy differences,
there are no such thorns, in my view.
This administration’s history has consisted of case after
case in which decisions have been made for politically expedient or
ideologically satisfying reasons, with virtually no regard for the practical
consequences of those decisions on the ground, and often after the receipt of
consensus opposition from those most knowledgeable about whatever subject is at
hand. That this has persisted for six years is in no small measure due to the
fact that those who could have alerted more of the public to the problem decided
not to. I have an appeal for those appointed to high government office:
If you are forced to resign over policy because you think that policy is so misguided that you can’t be party to it, HOW ‘BOUT IF YOU EARN YOUR F*&%ING PAYCHECK AND SAY SO???!!!!?
Steve Clemons had a guest post from Rep. Jane Harman on Friday that explained that Harman supports the recent decision from Homeland Security's Michael Chertoff to increase the focus on small planes and boats in protecting us from terrorist plots. In it, Rep. Harman pats herself on the back for her bipartisanship in supporting this initiative, but I'm afraid I can't agree. Paul Lukasiak makes a salient point in the comments:
"She waves the Cole attack as if a marina in San Diego is the Yemeni coast. She presents the alarmist threat of a "radiological weapon" as if the first choice of a terrorist with radioactive materials that could be used as a dirty bomb would be on the water.
Harman praises this silly proposal solely in order to burnish her "centrist" credentials, and "build bridges" to the Bush administration. That is a bridge to nowhere, however -- and if Harman cared more about National Security than she did about her reputation as "centrist" she'd be trashing the corrupt and venal Michael Chertoff who has turned DHS into a haven for patronage hacks, rather than desperately searching for something to praise him about."
This is exactly right. Small planes and boats have little or nothing to do with threats to our security, and the ongoing attack on our freedoms to "save us" from the "threats" is a disgrace. Our ports are almost completely unguarded from actual threats (we're inspecting a tiny percentage of the shipping containers that enter our country every day, for example, and it wouldn't take all that much money to significantly improve that situation), and yet we have alarmist rhetoric focused on small groups without much political muscle in order to "do something" without actually making any real difference.
Small boats and light planes simply don't have the capacity to do much damage, and the communities they operate from are quite small and largely self-policing, to an extent that few other communities are. DHS' focus on this "threat" is wrong, and Harman's desperate attempt to display bipartisanship (in aid of God only knows what - surely she can't still think the Republicans will return the favor at this point) is dramatically misplaced.
Josh Marshall at TPM Media is working on a series of interviews with candidates, and has been soliciting questions to ask them from his readership. In a post today , he describes a change he's considering to the form of those interviews, i.e., presenting questions to candidates in advance and inviting them to submit answers they've had the chance to consider. I understand his interest in using the strengths of the new form to generate better interviews in new and possibly rewarding ways, but I have some suspicions about the concept. Here's a note I sent to him in reply to his request:
Josh, your idea about putting up a series of set questions for candidates to answer in their candidate interviews sounds interesting, but I’d suggest some caution in implementing it, as follows. It’s all very well to give the candidates a series of questions to answer in a considered fashion, but:
a) You need to make the entire list of questions asked available on the site, so that your readers can see which questions are being dodged and which ones answered.
b) You can’t pass along so many questions as to make it impossible to tell if a candidate is failing to answer one because of a simple lack of time, instead of as a dodge.
c) You need to ask for the considered answers in advance of the live interviews, so you can hold the candidates’ feet to the fire if you see them dodging or fudging an important question.
d) You need to actually do that probing in the live interviews, because it’s certainty that various questions will be dodged by various candidates.
e) You need to highlight those answers which are unresponsive in a post-game wrap-up of the interviews. You can call the candidates back and say that you’re planning to highlight parrticular failings in the answer set and live responses, and see if they want to “revise and extend” their answers if you like, but you have to make evaluations of those answers at the end of the process.
In short, while I agree that the form you suggest has some advantages, I don’t share your confidence that dodges will be immediately apparent without any highlighting.
If you don’t do all three of these things, it seems to me that you’ll be abandoning any semblance of control over the interviews, and providing candidates with an unmdediated opportunity to run their canned lines in reponse to the questions. With due respect, that’s giving up your editorial prerogatives, and allowing the candidates to use your pulpit without paying the rent. We already have too many places where that happens, and we don’t need another. We trust you, and that’s why we read you – don’t give up the reason for that trust, or you’ll damage your brand.
As for my personal question, I’d like to see you note for the candidates that the current administration and its allies in Congress have changed the structure of power in Washington, with a combination of executive signing statements, outlandish legal opinions, and outright misinterpretation of the Constitution and our laws. I’d like to hear foirm each of the candidates what specific actions they will take to amend those practices once they have taken office, and what precautions they might implement to see that such power grabs don’t happen again.
I also plugged this blog, in hopes of getting my readership into double digits.
Yesterday’s Washington Post piece on Vice President Cheney by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker has caused quite a stir, and it should. It’s the first of a four-parter about Cheney that I predict will become required reading for anyone who wants to understand how the US came to the straits it finds itself in today, and it’s a fascinating read (in a sort of “can’t keep from looking at a car wreck” kind of way).
Lots of folks have commented on what a creepy portrait it draws of the VP, and how dangerous the combination of a stunningly incurious and stubbornly simplistic and doctrinaire president and a motivated and skilled VP can be. And make no mistake, the picture of the VP that the article draws leaves one with the impression that though Cheney appears to have a deeply warped picture of how our government is supposed to be structured, and may in fact be crazier than a shithouse rat when it comes to his policy preferences, he is a master with few peers at working the levers of power.
If anything, I agree with Digby that that portrait is too kind to Bush, as it indicates that Cheney has lost some inter-office battles in the White House, an assertion for which I see very little support. Gellman and Becker say that “Cheney is not, by nearly every inside account, the shadow president of popular lore.”, but I think the battles they claim Cheney lost could be easily explained as battles Cheney himself chose to have the White House concede, as they became obviously unwinnable. Moreover, I can think of several reasons why “nearly every inside account” might not be ready to admit that they had been party to an ad hoc re-writing of the respective Constitutional responsibilities of the two highest offices in the country.
In the end, though, I’m not sure it matters whether Cheney has been running the administration of a man too callow and stupid to stop him, or that he has been doing President Bush’s bidding in rewriting the nature of the VP’s office and the executive branch as a whole. The cavalcade of criminal activity and constitutional tap dancing flowing from this White House has been continuous and breathtaking whichever scenario is true, and it’s clear that Cheney’s been in it up to his neck.
So, I’m no fan of the VP’s, and I agree with most of the commentators I’ve read that the result of this <ahem> “unique” set of circumstances has been disastrous. What I’m writing about, though, is something else.
I’m thinking maybe this White House has finally done it right (gasp!).
There has been a great deal of discussion over the last few years of the problem of having the head of state and the prime minister embodied in the same person – it’s too much for any one person to do. This complaint has been made in several administrations, regardless of the politics or skill level of the president in question. Is it possible that Bush & Cheney have actually solved this problem?
Clinton and Gore made a start, with Gore taking on a good deal more responsibility than previous VPs had before him. Cheney has taken the process several steps further, and I wonder if the combination of his experience as a former White House chief of staff, cabinet secretary, and legislator, and his skills a bureaucratic infighter haven’t made him more of a force than most previous VPs, including Gore.
That force has not been well used in this administration, but the extra energy and vitality implicit in having a less overwhelmed executive may have combined with the knee-knocking, pants-peeing fear in pretty much all of government (and a good deal of the population at large) after 9/11 to dramatically increase the relative power of the executive branch.
Having a president and a “shadow president” may not be altogether a bad thing, if we can reintroduce the concept of legislative and judicial oversight of the executive branch. That’s a concept that has come to seem dangerously quaint over the last few years, but it’s showing some (presently rather feeble) signs of life, and it needs continued revival regardless of how many executives we’re talking about.
A properly overseen and clearly delineated sharing of executive authority may be a plus, particularly if the relationships aren't backwards, with the more skilled executive having the putatively subordinate role. I'm suspicious of any project that involves constitutional changes, particularly at present, but it may be possible to legislatively corral the VP's office as a separate entity from the presidency, and so impose a greater level of oversight.
One thing that's certain is that we're going to have to undo a good deal of the framework established by the current administration, or at least add a mechanism for oversight to it, or we'll continue to have an essentially unreviewable executive authority floating around that the founders almost certainly didn't envision. It may be possible to craft revisions and oversight that empower the VP's office in useful ways in the future, and change that office from what has always been the "appendix" of the American political framework into a functioning organ, rather than one which does nothing until it gets infected and needs to be removed.
Another thing that this administration seems to teach us is that it's critical who a president will surround himself with once he takes power. We should press our candidates for more information about who they might choose as a running mate as early in the process as possible, and we should ask them for their thoughts about how they might function as a team. The current assumption that it's not that important who the VP is is clearly false, and it's worth pressing the matter early, if for no other reason than it may help us avoid a situation such as we have now.
As an example of the perils of that situation, I would say to those who are understandably interested in impeaching this president for the malfeasance and lying he's been so steadily guilty of, that as much as I share their anger and desire for justice, there are two words that stop me from pressing the matter further (and haunt my dreams).
Another fellow pilot and I had an exchange about the validity of the Science standards adopted by the Kansas state school board in 2005
Note: This is a long series of exchanges spread out over three posts, and edited from several more forum posts at the Cessna Pilots' Association forum (which, I'm sorry to say, is a members-only program). Please forgive me if it's unforgivably convoluted, but I wanted to save it here, because I enjoyed the exchange very much. I am indebted to my friend and fellow pilot for the stimulating discussion, even if I disagree with him in the most strenuous terms.
The Kansas Science Standards have been described as being intended to remedy a “limitation” of the current definition of science, one that is embodied in the line about science being defined as “seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us … through the use of observation, experimentation, and logical argument”. I would argue that this is a perfectly reasonable definition of science, and one that is both consistent with long-standing understanding of what scientists do and supportive of those aspects of scientific inquiry that are primarily responsible for the scientific method’s successes.
Science does seek explanations of the natural world that rely on observation and experiment. It always has been predicated on the assumption that there are physical, mechanistic, natural explanations for physical phenomena. Searching for those kinds of explanations is what science is about.
Does that mean that science can’t answer teleological questions or speak to the possibility of design in the natural world? YES, it does mean just exactly that! Those questions are important, and so is searching for answers to them, but until the day that someone comes up with a way to observe positive physical evidence in support of a particular position, that search is not a matter for science, it is a matter of faith.
There is a great deal that science can’t explain, and any marginally competent scientist will tell you so. That’s not a failing of science, and it in no way limits inquiry consistent with scientific method. It doesn’t limit inquiry or explanation that isn’t consistent with scientific method either, and those explanations may be right, but they’re not science. To insist that science be redefined so as to include any explanation for something, testable or not, is to fundamentally miss the point of scientific inquiry itself, and it does damage to both science and faith.
Science and faith have coexisted peaceably for generations, with both scientists and religious leaders recognizing that they move in essentially different spheres. In the mainstream churches of most religions, they still do, and they should, for science and faith are categorically different. The religious leaders who insist that inescapably teleological or religious views be incorporated into science curricula are not engaged in fixing a limitation of science. They have decided (on the basis of very little evidence) that science is hostile to faith, and they are engaged in an attempt to subjugate its conclusions to their own ends, to redefine science so that it serves God.
That’s an inescapably radical agenda, and one that tears at the foundations of both science and faith. Dress it up in whatever mental gymnastics please you, but it remains a dangerous recipe for producing both bad scientists and compromised religious leaders.
My interlocutor argued for the removal of the restriction to “natural” phenomena in the discussion of what constituted science:
"You argue for this definition of science
'seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us … through the use of observation, experimentation, and logical argument.'
While I contend that “seeking explanations for what we observe in the world around us … through the use of observation, experimentation, and logical argument” is a better one.
The key tenants of solid science are that;
1. Explanations are consistent with experimental
or observed data.
2. Explanations are testable by others by additional experiments or observation.
This leaves all explanations open to criticism and modification.
In your definition of science the presupposition of natural explanations is unassailable and violates the basic tenants of good science. Additionally it may also crosses the bounds between science and religion. Naturalism is the fundamental tenet of non-theistic religions/belief systems.
By defining as acceptable an explanation that is consistent with the data we can remove the belief part from science. You are correct that there is much that science today cannot answer and it should not suppose to do so."
As to the definition of science, I believe I understand the subtlety of the
distinction you draw, but I’m afraid we must continue to disagree. You have
correctly described the definition for which I argue, and while I understand
and respect your interest in explanations that are “open to criticism and
modification”, I also believe that natural explanations all
fall into this category.
It seems to me (and, as I understand it, the vast majority of scientists, who can be supposed to know more about this than I) that science is the study of the natural world, and that natural explanations are therefore the only ones that are scientifically testable. If we include supernatural explanations of natural phenomena as science, we have left the realm of those explanations that are “testable by others by additional experiments or observation”, and reached a dead end. Being “consistent with experimental or observed data” isn’t enough – the data have to provide some sort of active support for an explanation, or it’s not science. “Deus ex machina” makes both poor literature and poor science, and for very close to the same reason – we can learn nothing from it.
The question is one of utility. Mechanistic, “natural” explanations are repeatable, even by skeptics. Supernatural explanations require belief. To include them as valid science is to exclude a studied skepticism from science.
Supernatural explanations may be more important than scientific ones, but that is a criticism of scientific method itself, not of particular scientific theories. The mechanistic explanations garnered by scientific method over hundreds of years of research may be just a smokescreen for the active intervention of God, or Vishnu, or a collection of invisible and omnipotent bunny rabbits, but that possibility is (at least, currently) not falsifiable, and so not science.
That naturalism is a fundamental tenet of non-theistic belief systems is neither surprising nor threatening to religion. Naturalism may be a necessary condition for a non-theistic view of the world, but it isn’t a sufficient one – there are literally millions of religiously devout scientists that believe in both the power of scientific method and the mysteries of faith. Those people don’t have non-theistic belief systems, they just recognize that the questions answered by science and those answered by faith are different questions. I agree with them.