Thursday, April 26, 2007

Buying The War

I just finished watching Bill Moyers' new PBS documentary Buying The War, and I highly recommend it. It's hard to imagine that we've learned so little from all of this, but at the end of the show, Moyers shows that aside from Judy Miller (the token scapegoat), most of the people championing the war have only had continued success and rising stature in the media. Freakin' amazing.

I have to admit I believed Saddam had WMDs (a phrase that in retrospect seems totally meaningless - mustard gas and nuclear arms are not related in any meaningful way), mostly because I didn't believe it was possibly to twist the arms of the entire media that way. I thought the incentives to bring out the truth would be high enough to ensure someone would be there to do it. As it turns out, Knight Ridder was doing just that - but unfortunately I don't remember reading any of their articles.

I'm not really sure how we can avoid being swindled the same way next time there's a rush to war or some other such thing. The current distrust of the administration in the media gets no points with me - it's simply the popular thing to do now, as was supporting the war in 2003. What's clear to me is that I need to pay much closer attention to the stories I read, and give very little credibility to something simply because it comes from a major news source. Anonymous sources, defectors, and other interested parties need to be scrutinized much more closely.

I also seem to remember being somewhat persuaded by a surprisingly hawkish Frontline show on Iraq right before the invasion - that show wasn't mentioned in Moyers' documentary.

I may have more thoughts on this later, but for now, if you haven't seen Buying the War, you really should.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Prescription Drugs

Glenn Greenwald shows off some surprisingly libertarian ideas in this post, as well as a fascinating comparison between the doctor-patient relationship and the attorney-client relationship (and why, indeed, is it doctor-patient rather than doctor-client?).

Why is it that lawyers are obligated to follow their clients directions even if it goes against their own advice while doctors have no such obligation, and patients have to ask them "if zocor is right for you"?

In general, I think that adult people ought to be able to do whatever they want, provided it doesn't harm others. If that means taking a medication your doctor doesn't think is right, that should be your choice. Hey, drinking Drano is dangerous (probably fatal) but we have the freedom to do that.

I often feel infantilized by the prescription regime currently in place - I am fully capable of reading relevant information about the effects of a given drug and making an informed decision about whether it's right for me, and in most cases I would readily adhere to my doctor's recommendations because he/she does, in fact, have superior medical knowledge, but what if I disagree? and what if it's just not conventient?

My girlfriend had a hell of a time getting a 6 month supply of birth control to take with us to China? Why? Yes, I'm sure getting regular gynocological exams is a good thing, but is that reason to deny us the convenience of getting important medications in the US as oppossed to China, where fake medications are a huge problem? Is there really a danger we would misuse birth control? I know, I know, we could always give it to a seven-year old and thereby encourage her to have sex, turn gay, and use drugs. . .

We also had to pay over one hundred dollars each before our trip to have a nurse explain to us things we already knew about the vaccinations we already knew we required. Really, what reason is there for preventing someone from acquiring a tetanus shot without medical supervision? And is there a black-market in malaria vaccines I don't know about? The main service a medical professional is providing in these instances is to check for anything in the medical history which would indicate against a particular drug or vaccine, and computers are better at such things than people anyway. So why continue to make everyone who goes outside of the first world waste a medical professionals valuable time?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

God We're Stupid

These findings by the Pew Research Center are just oh so depressing. 69% of people can name the current vice-president? Jesus, how are these people holding down jobs if they're so stupid? I would never hire anyone who couldn't name the vice-president or the current governor of the state - it suggests complete ignorance and apathy.

THIS surprised me though. I haven't been blogging enough to have many mistakes to apologize for, but if you'd asked me I would have bet that O'Reilly and Limbaugh's audiences were stupider than average - they're not. In fact, they're as well informed as NPR listeners or Jim Lehrer's viewers. Damn. At least Colbert and Stewart viewers still retain their rightful place at the top.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Not Another Czar

Are you kidding me? The President thinks it will help things if he appoints a "war czar" to "cut through the bueracracy" and help manage the war effort. 'Cause you know all those other czars have worked out so well. We surely would still have a drug problem if we didn't have a drug czar (enter Jon Stewart "who appointed this guy sarcasm czar?"), oh wait.

I can't find the link but I think Matt Yglesias is on to something in pointing out that the administration is constantly trying to put forward some charismatic figure that's supposed to solve the problems in Iraq and divert attention from their own bungling.

As Yglesias and Fred Kaplan at Slate have noted, that's not the problem in Iraq. The problem is not the pentagon's organization or beauracracy, it's the mission itself. The military is good at fighting wars, not building governments or conducting occupations. To do occupations correctly we'd have to get rid of this 'light, lean, and fast' mentality, and start putting a lot more boots on the ground. It might not hurt to start giving civillian casualties a modicum of the import we give to our own casualties. It's not hard to see, looking at the numbers, why other peoples would think we value an American soldier (who chose to join the Army) something like 100 times more than an Iraqi civillian (who made no such choices). When we drop a bomb likely to kill thirty or more civillians (requiring the Sec Def's authorization, so we know this stuff happens) so that we can blow up a truck that MIGHT be used against some of our soldiers, that tells you something.

And the fact that four generals have refused the post tells you something about how they view our situation in Iraq. I believe the military has a word for it: FUBAR.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The "Responsibility" Straw Man

So this woman from South Africa invented the vagina dentata, something like a female condom with metal teeth inside it as a rape detterent, and I thought, that's awesome.

The author of the article points out that it could also inflame an attacker (or group of them), and while that's a problem, if many women started using them (they cost pennies) the overall deterrent effect would be huge. And I have to agree with the author that criticisms that this thing is "vengeful" are pathetic. It's vengeful to hurt someone's penis when they rape you?

Then she ends with this little gem:
The biggest problem though, is that it places the onus for stopping rape not on the perpetrators, but on women - entirely the wrong way around. It implies that rape is an inevitable part of human culture and that women need to adapt accordingly. Still, you can understand why South African women might be willing to try anything. Each year, 1.7 million of them are raped. In this environment, vengeance seems fair.

I've argued against this thinking before, but until now I never realized exactly how stupid it is.

A single woman (or man) cannot (instantly) change the world. For an individual woman rape is indeed an inevitable part of human culture, as is murder, theft, and unkindness in general. This argument is a straw man in that no one is trying to absolve rapists of their crimes, but it also seems very damaging to women in that it makes their efforts to defend themselves part of the "patriarchal oppression" they should be fighting against.

This is akin to arguing that you shouldn't call the police if you're being attacked because you're attacker shouldn't be attacking you. Perhaps the real problem with armies is that they absolve other nations of the responsibility not to invade you. And don't female condoms (or the pill) put the onus on the female to avoid pregnancy rather than the man, who, after all, is responsible for the sperm?

We DO hold rapists accountable - we try them and put them in prison. But in the real world we realize that rapists are not going to stop raping, just as killers will not stop killing and thieves stealing just because they really should do so. Real women deserve to be able to protect themselves, and they should ignore fools who tell them they're failing to hold men accountable.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

9-11 Changed Everything

And we won't ever be supporting terrorists because it serves our narrow, short-term interests, right? Wrong. Turns out we're supporting terrorists in both Iraq and Pakistan, in addition to our recent decision to allow Ethiopia to buy weapons from North Korea (were our own weapons contractors too busy?).

This gives makes me feel like Chomsky is right and that if we really want to fight a war on terror we should just stop supporting anyone who is remotley involved in it, and just accept that we can't have our fingers in every pot around the globe.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Want To Be A Libertarian?

Read this article in the Washington Post, Via Radley, and that'll take you at least part way there. I didn't even know the USDA had a "rural development program" or that it had hands out something like 10 billion dollars a year.

And let me tell you, I'm pretty disgusted that it's going to Provincetown, Hyannisport, and Martha's Vineyard. Really? I mean, it's one thing for some middle-class town to apply for money from a program for poor and undeveloped communities, but ridiculously rich resort communities? That's just pathetic. Good going there government. Heckuva job.

Reminds me of how I felt when I learned that the Rolling Stones (and U2! Et tu Bono?) used tax shelters in the Netherlands to pay less than 2% taxes on $400 million dollars of income. Tax avoidance is one thing - that's just wrong.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Why the Democrats Suck

So Bush criticizes Pelosi for visiting Syria on the grounds that it sends "mixed messages."

Why doesn't anyone in the democratic party have the balls to state the obvious: that of course we send mixed messages because we have a mixed government and not everyone is as blind and ignorant as our Commander in Chief. I have yet to hear a Democrat say this.

For someone who wants to spread freedom so badly, the President shows a sad misunderstanding of our system. Of course the Syrians can bad their time and hope for a change in policy because we periodically have these things called ELECTIONS in which our government, and our policies, very well may change. Policy inconsistency is to some degree inherent in a democratic system.

I also have yet to see anyone but Jon Stewart accuse the President of treating us all like 7-year olds, and I can't understand why. It seems like this would be an extremely effective counter to his endlessly repeated talking points: "mixed messages" "spreading freedom" "fighting evil with good".

Does anyone really think that Syria's top diplomats would not be aware there is large domestic opposition to Bush's foreign policy if not for Nancy Pelosi? Or that terrorists would be unaware we can tap their phones if not for the New York Times? Perhaps we should hide the entire existence of the CIA. Maybe then the terrorists would forget that we are watching. . .

Pointing Out The Obvious

Thank you, New York Times, for informing us that (surprise surprise) local merchants don't share John Mccain's rosy view of Iraq that he bases on a stroll through a marketplace surrounded by 100 soldiers and attack helicopters.

But it doesn't change the fact that the media has for years been blithely repeating the innane assertions of congressman who go to Iraq and tell us how nice it was, while ignoring the fact that a visit conducted under heavy security cannot possibly tell you anything about the general security situation.

The Weekly Standard would have us believe that people who criticize these tactics wanted Mccain to stroll about unprotected, but this is a fairly pathetic straw man. Of course any important government official who visits a dangerous place must be protected - it would be a disaster if Mccain were killed - but that's exactly why the visit is meangingless. Sure, if he wanted to investigate the state of water or electricity delivery in Baghdad, he could probably do that, but the security situation? Please.

An official requiring extra security conducting a security inspection is necessarily viewing a Potemkin village.

Mccain or this Mike Pence character could just as well visit the worst neighborhoods in America under heavy guard and declare them safe (don't listen to that hysterical media!).

The fact remains that the best qualified to speak sensibly on the security situation in Iraq are people who look like or are Iraqis (so that they can wander about unguarded and don't arouse suspicion or invite attack) but are preferably expats so as to avoid heavy emotional investiture in the conflict. Obviously, such types are most likely to be employed in Iraq by THE MEDIA.

Needless to say we should also probably ignore diplomats, contractors, or anyone else who recieves armed escort when out and about in Iraq when they tell us how safe the situation is.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Charles Murray

Having read only descriptions of his work and articles related to it, I used to wonder why Charles Murray provoked such a backlash, and why people viewed his work as racist.

Matt Yglesias points me to this article in Commentary, in which Murray explores the various causes of Jewish overrepresentation in Science, Medicine, Law, etc, and you can almost sense his urgency to come to the his final (if somewhat tongue-in-cheek) determination that Jews are the chosen people.

Obviously the overrepresentation he's talking about is indisputable, but while he is meticulous in establishing the fact that Jews seem to overachieve in these areas, he ignores and glosses over alternative explanations to get to his favored cause: inherited intelligence.

While I'm open to the idea that some degree of selection could result in higher average IQ in some groups, it's not hard to see why Murray's single minded focus on intelligence's genetic component and casual conclusion lead one to suspect he really wants it to be true.

For the record, I do believe intelligence has a large inherited component, and though I can hardly claim to be familiar with relevant empirical data, I know that IQ tests are hardly reliable indicators of your intellectual horsepower, and that high achievement in any field involves not only ability, but opportunity, connections, etc, all of which are entirely social phenomonen.

While I don't think we should axiomatically accept that all groups of people everywhere have the same average intelligence (do they all have the same average height?) based on our belief in equality, I would be surprised if those differences were very large. And while height certainly has a genetic component (as well as being correlated with things like income), we should remember that the average height has been steadily increasing in Japan and China over the last several decades, and I hardly think there's been a great deal of natural selection or evolution during that time.