Sep 26, 2006

I read the declassified portions of the National Intelligence Estimate document.

My choice for the key paragraph, capturing both the opportunity and danger of our present course succinctly:

If democratic reform efforts in Muslim majority nations progress over the next five years, political participation probably would drive a wedge between intransigent extremists and groups willing to use the political process to achieve their local objectives. Nonetheless, attendant reforms and potentially destabilizing transitions will create new opportunities for jihadists to exploit.

It's a short document and I would recommend reading it, rather than waiting for people to digest it for you. The full report might be a bit much but this segment is the size of a long blog post.

If the entire document is of this quality, I hope they release the whole thing. (I have read that some people think it's going to be released but I haven't found what I would consider confirmation and I don't know why they believe it's going to be released.) I find this segment to be quite balanced, being neither an unhinged indictment of Bush's failure to be prescient, nor a cheerleading session. I can see how selective leaking or selective reading could mislead the New York Times into thinking it was a bad news for Bush, but I wouldn't characterize this as "support[ing] the foreign policy judgments and political positions of the Bush Adminstration", either. This portion constrains itself to discussing what has happened, what is happening, and what may happen on our current course; it doesn't engage in any comparisions with any other hypothetical actions.

I would say that to be an "endorsement" or "indictment" it would really need to propose some other solution that they believe would work better or worse than the current course, because I reject the idea that "bad things happened" proves the idea was a bad one, or that "good things happened" proves the idea was a good one. Bad things may happen, yet some choice may have been the least bad, or good things may happen while the choice may have been the least good. When you're up against an entire ideology with millions of adherents that want to kill you or convert you, it's not likely that there are any truly good solutions on the table.

(Of course, the complexity of the world being what it is, any comparision of where we are now vs. where we would be if we had reacted completely differently to 9/11 would effectively be pulled out of thin air, no matter what evidence could be brought to bear.)

An alternate view that the snippet is basically useless. My response to this would be that given how political the entire discussion has become, simply stating the seemly-obvious can be a useful reminder. Yes, it should be obvious that good things have happened, good things may yet happen, bad things have happened, and bad things may yet happen, but there's an awful lot of people right now who edit one half or the other of that list completely out of their personal reality.

Sep 23, 2006

Dear image spammers: If you're going to take the time to convert your text into an image, why oh why do you insist on using the ugliest fonts you own? Unantialiased Courier? Microsoft Terminal? That looked ugly when it came out somewhere around Windows 3.0!

You know you're doing badly with your font choice when the grossly-overused Times New Roman would be a step up.

Sep 11, 2006

This really struck me. A lot of the truly partisan division could have been avoided if we'd just all started from the premise that by golly, figuring out how to respond to the events of the world is really darned hard, and the fact that somebody disagrees with you is not prima facie proof that they are therefore blackest evil.

What would the past five years have been like, I couldn't help wondering, if debate and criticism had proceeded atop the civil platform of agreement that the President was really trying to do his best in a terrible crisis that almost no one had anticipated? Imagine that everyone had been sober and serious all along, as if the responsibility were theirs and not someone else's. Imagine that the opposition to the administration's policies had been more substantive than personal, focused on alternative proposals rather than autopsies of irrevocable decisions past. Imagine that all of us were dealing with today's reality instead of pet grievances from months or years ago. Isn't it possible that the critics might have had more impact on events, that the defenders of American policy might have listened and responded more thoughtfully?

Sep 01, 2006

My wife and I have watched every Survivor since the second American one. We TiVo it and tend to concentrate on the challenges over the politics, since the challenges on the show are often creative and unique. (The politics I find somewhat interesting, but I can never quite forget that I'm only seeing the barest fraction of what is actually going on, cherry-picked by the editors. The net effect is much the same as not being able to suspend disbelief while watching science fiction.)

The next gimmick to get people to watch is to split the teams up by race.

I have to say, I have no interest in watching it. The last thing I need to see is one of the [race] participants go on about how proud they are to be part of their teams and how it's time to correct some stereotypes. I know this not just because I can predict that they're going to play this up, but also because they've also done stuff like this before, where they proved that somebody who is handicapped is actually in fact not just as good as somebody who isn't. (Not what they intended, and they claimed it proved the opposite, but if you actually look at the facts and ignore the rhetoric, the handicapped guy did not do as well on the challenges. Go figure. Granted, he mostly did better than I would have, but they tend to put at least three or four very healthy men in the prime of their life, and such people are very hard to beat physically, just by the nature of things.)

The consensus seems to be that this is an obvious ratings ploy, and it'll work. I'm going to predict the opposite, that while the opening episode will be strong, it'll quickly tank after that. My prediction is based on my gut feeling that CBS isn't going to be able to resist the temptation to air the contestants babbling on the one hand about how proud they are to show how good they are, and babbling on the other hand about how fantastically tolerant they are and how happy they are for the other team that they get to be..

There is an opportunity for true controversy and dialog here: Highlight the peculiar asymmetry of race relations as they stand now, where a black person can say anything they want about white people, both as a race and individually, whereas the white people had better not so much as say anything that can be thought by somebody somewhere to be a racially charged comment. But I'm sure CBS will just be pushing the multicultural party line. It may be true (I don't agree all cultures are equal, but barring minor physical differences the races are all effectively equal), but it's still something that we've all heard a million times and probably won't voluntarily listen to again.

Aug 10, 2006

In 2004, I asked my readers to consider an alternate universe where a 9/11 scale disaster is averted by Presidential action.

Nobody would ever know that 9/11 was averted, either, and even if they did notice the story would be played up as the Adminstration trying to take credit for preventing something that couldn't possibly have happened anyhow.

Like I said, you can't win.

Today, we get to see that played out in the real world. A 9/11 attack has been averted, and do the Powers That Be get any credit? Nope, silence at best, conspiracy theories at worst. If the attacks get through, it's Bush's fault. If the attacks are stopped, well, obviously, they don't exist, so the fact that anybody believes they did and may have become unduly concerned is Bush's fault.

An unfalsifiable belief is an irrational belief.

(Also, that "timing" argument is getting old. Now elections have a three-month "halo" around them during which events can be "suspicious" merely for occurring? Has there been so much as a minute during the past almost-five years that an event could occur in that would not result in a "questionable timing" accusation? Not with a three month window and a low, almost non-existant threshold of "event worth distracting the public from".)

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