Friday, June 29, 2007

What's wrong with Paul Krugman's argument?

Let's peek behind the veil of "NY Times Select" today and review the first two paragraphs of Paul Krugman's column:

In October 2003, the nonpartisan Program on International Policy Attitudes published a study titled “Misperceptions, the media and the Iraq war.” It found that 60 percent of Americans believed at least one of the following: clear evidence had been found of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda; W.M.D. had been found in Iraq; world public opinion favored the U.S. going to war with Iraq.

The prevalence of these misperceptions, however, depended crucially on where people got their news. Only 23 percent of those who got their information mainly from PBS or NPR believed any of these untrue things, but the number was 80 percent among those relying primarily on Fox News. In particular, two-thirds of Fox devotees believed that the U.S. had “found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the Al Qaeda terrorist organization.”

Can you spot the gaping, glaring, blindingly obvious logical fallacy buried in this argument?

Ah yes, it's our old friend, the causation-correlation fallacy. Krugman is assuming here that people believe these misperpections about the Iraq war because they listen to FOX. The problem is that it's equally possible -- I would even say "overwhelmingly likely" -- that the people who watch FOX already had misperceptions about the war, and FOX was simply catering to them via it's own special brand of jingoist talking dipshits. Similarly, did NPR succesfully persuade its listeners that there were no WMDS -- or were NPR listeners already skeptical of their claims?

This is an elementary mistake in logic. So why does Paul Krugman think he can fool us? (Because it fits into his larger point about the danger of Rupert Murdoch buying the Wall Street Journal.)

Seahawk Profile: D.J. "Clutch" Hackett

At the request of one of TPV's new readers -- stick around, Yolohawk! -- and because I really have nothing better to do at work, here's a profile of the new starting wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks, D.J. "Clutch" Hackett.

First, an admission: I invented the "Clutch" nickname, and for now, I'm the only one who uses it. I came up with it because during Hackett's first two seasons, he was used largely as a third-down WR, and thus virtually every time he caught the ball it was for a huge third down conversion. And he's only got better last year. The Football Outsiders -- you know, the guys who I'm trying to get a job with -- use a statistic called DVOA, which is a metric that measures how good a play is in the context of what a team needs to stay on the field. For example, a ten yard running gain by Mack Strong on 3rd-and-22 doesn't Strong you a lot of DVOA points, since he probably only gained that yardage because the defense was preventing the deep pass. Make sense? Still with me? Ok, so here's Hackett's DVOA last year:


Yes, I know, that makes absolutely no sense to you unless you have some barometer of measurement. So here's some other DVOA's of leading WRs last season:

Reggie Wayne (1314 yards, 9 TDs) -- 35%

Chad Johnson (1375 yards, 7 TDs) -- 15.5%

Terrell Owens (1180 yards, 14 TDs) -- 12.2%

There are a number of reasons to get excited about Hackett this year. For one, last year was no fluke -- Hackett has consistently been one of the top players in terms of DVOA and another Football Outsiders' statistic, DPAR -- basically, a measure of how good someone is versus the average backup -- for every year he's been in the league. His catch percentage last year was 67%, which also put him in the top tier of wideouts, and confirms what everyone who watched the Seahawks already knew: he's got great hands. He's also tall, making him a juicy Jurevicious like target in the endzone. Finally, don't forget that the Hawks traded Darrell Jackson to the Niners, so the path is clear for Hackett to become a full-time starter.

So that's the good news. Now for the reality check. Because of the presence of Jackson and Deion Branch, two genuine threats, Hackett didn't have to line up against top corners last year. That will change for 2007. In addition, Marcus Pollard isn't scaring linebackers with his speed, so Hackett will see more jams and double coverage than he's used to. That could pose an additional problem: the one real knock on Hack is his durability, and sure enough, he missed time last year with injuries not long after he moved into the starting lineup.

But these are minor quibbles. I genuinely believe Hackett's in the position to breakout and become a fulltime star this year, join the upper echelon of NFL widereceivers, and -- hopefully -- lead the Hawks deep into the playoffs, where you can see me sitting in the upper deck wearing my "#18" jersey.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The surge in Iraq

If you read anything today, make sure to read this, written by David Kilcullen, our senior counterinsurgency advisor in Iraq. The gist: we've made an important strategic shift in Iraq, from trying to hunt down and kill all the terrorists to instead suffocating their ability to work within -- and intimidate -- the lawful Iraqi citizenry. In Kilcullen's words:

These operations are qualitatively different from what we have done before. Our concept is to knock over several insurgent safe havens simultaneously, in order to prevent terrorists relocating their infrastructure from one to another, and to create an operational synergy between what we're doing in Baghdad and what's happening outside. Unlike on previous occasions, we don't plan to leave these areas once they’re secured. These ops will run over months, and the key activity is to stand up viable local security forces in partnership with Iraqi Army and Police, as well as political and economic programs, to permanently secure them. The really decisive activity will be police work, registration of the population and counterintelligence in these areas, to comb out the insurgent sleeper cells and political cells that have "gone quiet" as we moved in, but which will try to survive through the op and emerge later. This will take operational patience, and it will be intelligence-led, and Iraqi government-led. It will probably not make the news (the really important stuff rarely does) but it will be the truly decisive action.

Will it work? The obvious complaint is that the Iraqi Army and Police have, to date, shown no signs of being able to control the country (see recent National Intelligence Report on Iraq); some even think they are a large part of the problem. But the police may be ineffective now because we have failed to secure the regions the Iraqis are supposed to be policing. If we can effectively eliminate and hold large regions of Iraq -- big, big if -- we might begin to salvage something of the country.

Sen. Kennedy's Latino Gestapo

So comprehensive immigration reform died in the Senate today, and it's chief sponsor, Sen. Ted Kennedy, flipped out:

“We know what they’re against — we don’t know what they’re for,” Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, said of the bill’s opponents. Perhaps, Mr. Kennedy suggested, the bill’s opponents envision some kind of “gestapo” to round up illegal immigrants. “That’s their alternative?” Mr. Kennedy shouted. “That’s their alternative?”

Here's all I have to say about this. As a member of La Raza's "Day Labor Program Allies" email list -- don't ask why -- I've been getting daily, even hourly, emails from La Raza telling me this is a horrible, horrible bill for immigrants. Now, my natural instinct is to support whatever La Raza opposes, but if one of the country's leading leftist, pro-illegal immigrant organizations is against the bill, what in the world is Kennedy talking about? Does he think La Raza supports a Latino gestapo to enforce the border?

My position on immigration remains what it was a year ago: preserve the status quo. This was a non-issue until President Bush and Karl Rove, thirsting for a "permanent Republican majority" -- oops! -- decided to make it the centerpiece of their legislative agenda. I'm still not buying it. The fact is, we cannot opens our border, nor can we completely close them -- and we (meaning wealthy American citizens) benefit tremendously from the labor these immigrants provide. So let them come and work, "illegally," and let's move on to other issues, like, you know, the two wars we're fighting.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Seahawks Preview

I recently submitted the following essay to the Football Outsiders as my application to write for their book, the Pro Football Prospectus. Let me know what you think.


Last year, the Seahawks fell victim to one of professional football’s most sinister curses. No, not the “Madden-Cover Curse” or the “Super-Bowl-Loser’s Curse” – we refer instead to the well-known “Running-Backs-with-370+-Carries-in-the-Prior-Year-Will-Almost-Certainly-Get-Injured-in-the-Following-Year Curse.” It took only two games for reigning MVP Shaun Alexander to injure his foot, prompting him to miss the next six games and causing much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments among fantasy football players and Seahawks’ fans alike. And Alexander wasn’t the only Seahawk who seemed cursed in 2007: quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (“Campbell’s-Chunky-Soup Curse”) missed four games; wideout Darrell Jackson (“Ongoing-Contract-Dispute-With-The-GM Curse”) missed three games; and tight end Jerramy Stevens (“Character-Issues-Plus-Bad-Hands Curse”) didn’t start playing until week six.

Yet the Seahawks were not foiled, as the team managed to stumble to 9-7, win their third straight NFC West title, and come within one fourth quarter, fourth-down conversion of playing in their second consecutive NFC Championship Game. Unfortunately, the Seahawks’ 2007 schedule is as tough as last year’s was cupcake, and a team that was already aging managed to get even older during free agency by adding players such as Marcus Pollard (age 78 in NFL years). Nonetheless, the Seahawks have no glaring weaknesses, and the NFC West remains relatively soft, so if Seattle can stay healthy, they can – and should – win the division once again.

Offensive Line

In 1982, famed mergers & acquisitions lawyer Marty Lipton invented the “poison pill” as a way of deterring hostile takeovers of public companies through dilution of a company’s outstanding shares. Although the use of corporate poison pills is widespread today, many critics feel they prevent efficient management and destroy shareholder value. So do the Seahawks. After the Minnesota Vikings “poison pilled” their contract to guard Steve Hutchinson by offering to guarantee his $49 million if he played more than four games in the city of Seattle – an offer the Seahawks simply could not match – the team was left with a gaping hole at guard that caused problems all of last season. Want proof? Last year, Seattle experimented with nine different combinations on the offensive line. The year Seattle went to the Super Bowl, they used only two. Continuity is important, and last year, the Hawks didn’t have any.

In the offseason, the Seahawks actively pursued San Diego’s Kris Dielman, but he turned the team down when he discovered that the Northwest is cold and rainy, leaving second-year Rob Sims as the starter at left guard. The coaching staff couldn’t stop talking about Ray Willis during May’s minicamp, and Coach Holmgren suggested Willis may start at right guard or right tackle. As a result, RT Sean Locklear is competing to keep his starting job, although it’s unclear who else could play on the right side: Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack is already injured (this article went to press in June), and during the regular season Tom Ashworth looked horrible at every position he played. It’s possible that fourth-round pick Mansfield Wrotto – the player Seattle drafted as a result of trading Darrell Jackson to the 49ers – will see some playing time, but he’s still learning how to play guard after converting from defensive tackle during his senior year. Center Chris Spencer replaces the retired Robbie Tobeck and will start if he’s healthy, but he’s still recovering from off-season surgery to both shoulders. If Spencer can’t go, the appropriately named Chris Gray, age 37, will fill in. About the only sure thing is all-world left tackle Walter Jones, who allowed four sacks and may be starting to show signs of finally slowing down.

Defensive Line

During their Super Bowl season, the Seahawks ranked 3rd in defensive DVOA against the run. Last year, they slipped to 23rd. The dramatic fall off was largely due to the season-ending injury to DT Marcus “So Hot in the Hot” Tubbs, who fractured his right knee in November and who’s run-clogging abilities Seattle never managed to replace. The good news is that Tubbs’ recovery is ahead of schedule, so much so that he was seen dragging his strength-and-conditioning coach around on a sled during minicamp. Tubbs is joined by Rocky Bernard and Chuck Darby, two players whose performance regressed last year, and third-round pick Brandon Mebane from Cal, who may see significant playing time.

Seattle’s major free-agency acquisition was to overpay for Patrick Kerney, an aging defensive end with a history of injury problems, to replace another old and overpaid defensive end with a history of injury problems (the now-retired Grant Wistrom). Of course, Kerney, like Wistrom, is a “high motor” guy, so he’s got that going for him . . . which is nice. Although Kerney isn’t worth $19 million in guaranteed money, he will improve the team’s moribund pass rush. The remaining defensive ends are a bit of grab-bag: second-year man Darryl Tapp played effectively in spot situations, but doesn’t have the size to be an every-down end; Bryce Fisher turned 30 in May and is in decline; rookie Baraka Atkins converted to DE from DT while attending “The U,” and will have a limited role this year.


Although the loss of Steve Hutchinson hurt the offense, his departure freed the cap space for the Seahawks to sign Julian Peterson, who led the team in sacks and “swagger.” Lofa Tatupu slumped a bit in his second year, but that’s only because he played far beyond expectations in 2005. Leroy Hill struggled early in the season when the coaching staff tried to drop him into coverage, but by the end of the year, Hill returned to his natural pass-rushing role, and he led the team in tackles during the playoffs. If Hill can maintain his late-season resurgence into 2007, the Hawks arguably will have the most exciting triumvirate of linebackers in the NFC.


“Hammer” time in Seattle ended this offseason after the Seahawks parted ways with safety Ken Hamlin, who managed to play every game despite suffering a skull fracture in 2005. Hamlin demonstrated that while he can still deliver big hits, he can’t properly position himself or his teammates in defensive coordinator John Marshall’s cover-2 scheme. With Hamlin gone, the Hawks will rely on two free-agent signings, Deon Grant (from Jacksonville) and Brian Russell (from Cleveland) to take over at free safety and strong safety, respectively. Both players are solid – Grant in particular is known as a good on-field general and locker-room leader – if somewhat unspectacular. Mike Green impressed the coaching staff in preseason last year before an ankle injury ended his season. Michael Boulware remains on the roster, but shouldn’t be.

At cornerback, Seattle plans to rely on its trio of “first” picks: Marcus Trufant (11th pick overall in 2003), Kelly Jennings (31st overall in 2006), and rookie Josh Wilson (taken in the second round but Seattle’s “first” pick last year due to the Deion Branch trade). The Seahawks ranked 23rd in pass defense DVOA last year, compared to 25th in 2005, and Trufant has yet to prove he can cover the NFC’s top wideouts. The diminutive-but-speedy Wilson (5’8”, 4.3-40) impressed in minicamp and is the favorite to play nickel back, although playoff hero Jordan Babineaux – it was his shoestring tackle that prevented Tony Romo from running the botched snap in for the winning touchdown – will also see action.

Coaching Staff

Well, Jim Mora Jr. got his wish to coach in Seattle. True, Mora will be working as the Seahawks’ secondary coach instead of the job he apparently covets (head coach of the UW Huskies), but as the world watches the Michael Vick Experience transmogrify into the Brutal Dog Mauling Experience, Mora may conclude he made a smart career move. Seattle also added highly regarded Bruce DeHaven from the Dallas Cowboys to coach special teams. DeHaven should have fun alternating between Josh Wilson and the surprisingly effective Nate Burleson to return kicks, and listening to kicker Josh Brown describe his latest date with Carrie Underwood. Rumors persist that this will be Mike Holmgren’s last year in Seattle.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Narrowly avoided Midnight Massacre, Part Trois

Remember a few months back, when we learned about the fateful night where the entire Department of Justice leadership prepared to resign to protest Bush's decision to continue warrantless wiretapping of American citizens without legal certification from DOJ? You know, the whole Ashcroft-on-his-death-bed thing?

Turns out that wasn't the only time this Administration faced mass resignations. Today, as part of the Washington Post's ongoing series, "Get to know the most secretive politician in American history: Dick Cheney!", we learn this:

When the FBI seized files from the office of Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) as part of a bribery investigation, House Republican leaders erupted. With a number of their own members under investigation for other matters, they charged that the search violated the Constitution. They demanded the return of the files.

Cheney quickly gravitated toward the House's position, aides said, but Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales; his top deputy, Paul J. McNulty; and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III threatened to resign if forced to hand over evidence they believed had been properly collected under a warrant.

White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten called a meeting on May 25, 2006, to resolve the political and legal crisis. The president's lawyers and congressional liaison were in the room, and so was Cheney. Once again, it was the vice president who came up with a solution, according to a participant. Cheney's plan met his goal of keeping the files from federal investigators. The files would be placed under seal for 45 days. Within hours of the meeting, Bush made Cheney's recommendation official. As often happens in government, delay was decisive. Jefferson was indicted earlier this month on 16 counts of bribery, racketeering, fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice. But nearly half of the files remain off-limits, tied up in legal disputes.

So to recap: the DOJ executes a valid warrant, but the Administration decides it doesn't want Justice investigating corrupt politicians, and only the threat of mass resignation by the Attorney General, his deputy, and FBI Director Mueller (again) prevents a constitutional crisis.

Are mass resignations threatened weekly in the White House? Is that what it takes to get the Administration to bend on relatively obvious points?

Monday, June 25, 2007

God, Fish and Me

Last week, I approvingly quote from Stanley Fish's ongoing "philosophic defense of religion" series, now playing in a New York Times near you. Yesterday, Fish fired his latest salvo against Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, in an attempt to undermine the atheist argument that "religion is manmade, ergo, religion is not divine."

Fish begins by conceding what to some may seem like a pretty important point: yes, religion is indeed man-made. Indeed, Fish -- implicitly if not explicitly -- even concedes that our religious texts are riddled with errors, "corrupted texts that were cobbled together by provincial, ignorant men who knew less about the world than any high-school teenager alive today . . . ." He's describing the atheists' argument, of course, but he doesn't really refute this point. Instead, far from undermining the existence of god, Fish stresses that this is "exactly what you would expect," because:

"It is God (if there is one) who is perfect and infinite; men are finite and confined within historical perspectives. And any effort to apprehend him – including the efforts of the compilers of the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Koran – will necessarily fall short of a transparency that will be achieved (if it is achieved) only at a future moment of beatific vision."

Let us pause for a moment to appreciate what Fish is saying, and the implications that follow from his argument. Man is less than perfect; god is perfect. Therefore, any understanding we think we have of god must be, by definition, less than perfect. Although Fish never comes right out and says it, religious fundamentalism is destroyed by this argument: the Bible (or Koran, or the canon of the Flying Spaghetti Monster) cannot be the literal word of god because it has been touched, created, and perceived by man. So we should be clear just how lukewarm a defense this really is: Fish is not defending any religious conception of god -- nor could he, given the "imperfect" access we have to god -- but instead defending the philosophical concept of god.

What does that mean, "philosophic" concept of god? Here we are talking not about the god of the Old Testament, who spoke and interacted with various lucky Jews in Palestine, or the Allah who decided to chat with Muhammed and told him that women shouldn't be allowed to drive cars in Saudi Arabia in 2007. No, this is a god who -- by definition! -- we cannot "measure":

If divinity, by definition, exceeds human measure, the demand that the existence of God be proven makes no sense because the machinery of proof, whatever it was, could not extend itself far enough to apprehend him.

Proving the existence of God would be possible only if God were an item in his own field; that is, if he were the kind of object that could be brought into view by a very large telescope or an incredibly powerful microscope. God, however – again if there is a God – is not in the world; the world is in him; and therefore there is no perspective, however technologically sophisticated, from which he could be spied. As that which encompasses everything, he cannot be discerned by anything or anyone because there is no possibility of achieving the requisite distance from his presence that discerning him would require.

The criticism made by atheists that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated is no criticism at all; for a God whose existence could be demonstrated wouldn’t be a God; he would just be another object in the field of human vision.

So, to recap: man has an imperfect understanding of god; god cannot be measured; god's existence cannot be demonstrated or proved (indeed, to even try would be pointless); god is not in the world; he cannot be spied upon; all we know is, god is "that which encompasses everything."

Now, an atheist could try to refute this argument, but why bother? I submit that the god that Fish is defending is utterly unrecognizable to anyone who actually "believes" in the existence of a capital-G God. No, the god Fish has described sounds much like the pantheist Baruch Spinoza's god, a god who exists in everything but does nothing -- we could modernize this concept by calling it the "quark god." Sure, there may be quark god, but since it seems quite content to let the universe play itself out by measurable -- albeit confusing and not-yet harmonized -- physical laws, we can safely ignore the quark god and keep busy with the business of science, which allows for "measurement" of things like atoms, cells, planets, galaxies, just about everything that's worth studying.

What we've arrived at here is the argument I've been hinting at. Atheists should get out of the business of trying to scientifically disprove god's existence (I'm with Fish on this point). What we should be doing instead is trying to show how impoverished god-worship -- whether it be in the form of Pentacostal tongue-speaking or philosophic quark-god -- is in comparison to the pursuit of knowledge of things that are measurable.

Friday, June 22, 2007

JT Leroy liable

A little background: a few years ago, a San Francisco writer named "JT Leroy" wrote two pseudoautobiographical novels about his (or was it a her?) life as a truck-stop prostitute. The novels weren't very good, but Leroy became something of a sensation as a reclusive weirdo who hung out with Courtney Love and refused to give in-person interviews. As you might expect, a film production company snapped up the rights to tell Leroy's life story on film.

But not so lefast.

Last year, the NY Times revealed that JT Leroy was the invented persona of Laura Albert, who was (a) female and (b) never actually a truck stop whore. (Although, interestingly enough, she is a Jewish girl from NY who got into the hardcore punk scene before becoming a writer -- see the fascinating Salon profile here.) Somewhat understandably, once this info got out, the film production company asked to unwind it's no-longer nonfictional movie deal. Albert refused, and so they sued.

And today they won in court, obtaining just over $100k in damages. In a rhetorical flourish typical of her overwrought fake persona, Albert had this to say:

"This goes beyond me," Albert said. "Say an artist wants to use a pseudonym for political reasons, for performance art. This is a new, dangerous brave new world we are in."

Yes, it is, Laura. It's a world where people have to tell the truth.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Bloomberg Triangulation

Loyal TPV reader and commenter "ajh" has the audacity, the sheer nerve, to disagree with my disturbing political man-crush on Mayor Bloomberg. He makes the cogent if misguided argument that (1) we live in a two-party system that is notoriously unreceptive to third-party or independent candidates and (2) we have an electoral college system that is also stacked against such candidates.

Yes, yes, but. Here's why I think ajh is mistaken: the political landscape for 2008, to the extent we can discern it today, is incredibly fertile for an independent candidate like Mike Bloomberg. That's so because:

(1) The GOP is trapped in Karl Rove's nightmarish plan to cater to the most extreme, religious elements of the party. In order to win the nomination, candidates must either kowtow to these extreme elements or else fight them -- and fight them hard -- to win the nomination. This is no keen insight on my part: hopefully you've been watching the amusing spectacle for yourselves. Indeed, the recent flirtation with Fred Thompson is proof positive of my theory; everyone in the GOP is so exhausted from watching their nominees behave like nincompoops, they're ready to nominate a "Law & Order" actor with no discernible political beliefs. And this is probably the best guy they have! You're telling me there isn't a healthy number of moderate, sane GOPers ready to jump ship for a moderate, sane independent candidate?

(2) Given the disaster that is the party of the elephants, the Democrats should waltz into the White House in an FDR-like landslide. That is, unless, they did something so incredibly stupid like nominating the one person in their party that is universally loathed by centrists and moderates because, well, she seems to have no discernible principles (other than being against video game violence). Oh, and she happened to vote for the Iraq War too, but refuses to admit it's a mistake.

In these circumstances, you're telling me someone who could (a) bypass the primary bloodletting, (b) self-finance his campaign, and (c) is relatively untouched by the political landmine that is the Iraq War (more on this in a moment), couldn't mount a viable independent run at the presidency? Really? With the exception of the deep south, what states wouldn't be in play? NY, California, Penn., Ohio, all of the northeast, all of the northwest, Florida -- each of these states could swing independent -- remember that in electoral system, Bloomberg would just need 34% of the vote in these states to capture ALL the electorial votes.

Man, I'm all juiced up. I need to work for this guy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bloomberg quites the GOP!

Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the TPV-recommended choice for the Presidency, announced today he's quitting the Republican Party. NY Times story is here.

There's only one sane way to view this move: Bloomberg is preparing an independent run for the Presidency.

Did you feel that tremor? That was the political landscape, shifting and shaking.

Giuliani: money-grubbing coward?

Let's say you are Rudy Giuliani, who -- as you may not remember -- was mayor of New York on September 11, 2001. You've been invited to join the prestigious Iraq Study Group, the blue-ribbon panel of policy experts who were invited by the President to study, diagnose and treat our ongoing disaster of a war. You accept this invitation.

But then you don't bother showing up for the meetings. Why? Because of schedule conflicts (with your lucrative speaking engagements at investment banks, consulting firms, and other swarthy capitalists endeavors) and because -- according to a campaign spokesperson -- you "want the group’s work to become a political football."

Wow. What courage, Rudy. You will run for President, but you won't participate in what is your only chance to affect the most important strategic crisis facing the U.S. Instead, you'll skip the meetings so you can increase the size of your already substantial ($50+ million) wealth.

You can read the story here (hat tip: Talking Points Memo). Let's see if this obnoxious display of self interest gets the media attention it deserves.

Justice Scalia and Jack Baeur

Andrew Sullivan is angered by Justice Scalia's recent admission that he (a) watches the television show 24, and (b) thinks it's unrealistic that people would convict Jack Bauer for some of his extreme interrogation methods. Here's a clip from the news story from the Canadian paper "Globe & Mail" that describes Scalia's remarks:

Senior judges from North America and Europe were in the midst of a panel discussion about torture and terrorism law, when a Canadian judge's passing remark - "Thankfully, security agencies in all our countries do not subscribe to the mantra 'What would Jack Bauer do?' " - got the legal bulldog in Judge Scalia barking.

The conservative jurist stuck up for Agent Bauer, arguing that fictional or not, federal agents require latitude in times of great crisis. "Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. ... He saved hundreds of thousands of lives," Judge Scalia said. Then, recalling Season 2, where the agent's rough interrogation tactics saved California from a terrorist nuke, the Supreme Court judge etched a line in the sand.

"Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?" Judge Scalia challenged his fellow judges. "Say that criminal law is against him? 'You have the right to a jury trial?' Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don't think so.

"So the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes. And ought we believe in these absolutes."

Scalia is both absolutely right and yet completely wrong. He's absolutely right that, if we know that Terrorist Bad Guy X planned to blow up Los Angeles with a nuclear weapon, and that Jack Bauer stopped Mr. X from doing so by torturing him to reveal the location of the bomb, then we shouldn't criminally prosecute Jack Bauer.

But he's absolutely wrong that we should "believe in these absolutes" that exist only in the fertile imaginations of Fox's 24 writers. Frankly, I've yet to see any evidence that the "ticking time-bomb scenario" has ever occurred, or been prevented through use of torture. And we for damn sure shouldn't be relying on a television show to help draw the line between security and civil liberties.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Faith, Reason, and Atheism

Writing in the New York Times, Stanley Fish -- NYT, please make him a regular columnist! -- has done what I've lazily promised but failed to deliver: devestate the weak arguments that too many atheists rely on in their critique of religion.

What weak argument is that, you ask? Namely, that atheism is founded on "reason" whereas religion is founded on "faith." The argument, as delivered by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens, goes something like this: religious belief is grounded in faith that a supreme being exists who possesses certain worship-worthy attributes. Atheism, so say these proponents, is in contrast founded on "reasons" and "evidence" that no such supreme being exists, such as the evidence that Darwinian natural selection occurs and accounts for the complexity of human life. "We have scientific reasons," so say these atheists, "and you just have faith. Nyah nyah nyah na nyah."

It sounds persuasive until you really think about it. Let me quote liberally from Professor Fish:

But what about reasons? Isn’t that what separates scientific faith from religious faith; one is supported by reasons, the other is irrational and supported by nothing but superstition? Not really. One of the basic homiletic practices in both the Jewish and Christian traditions is the catechism or examination of one’s faith. An early 19th century Jewish catechism is clear on the place of reason in the exercise: “By thinking for himself , let [the pupil] learn the sunny nearness of reason.” Christian catechists regularly cite 1 Peter 3:15: “Be always ready to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” In short, and it is often put this way, at every opportunity you must give reasons for your faith.

The reasons you must give, however, do not come from outside your faith, but follow from it and flesh it out. They are not independent of your faith – if they were they would supplant it as a source of authority – but are simultaneously causes of it and products of it; just as Harris’s and Dawkins’s reasons for believing that morality can be naturalized flow from their faith in physical science and loop back to that faith, thereby giving it an enhanced substance.

The reasoning is circular, but not viciously so. The process is entirely familiar and entirely ordinary; a conviction (of the existence of God or the existence of natural selection or the greatness of a piece of literature) generates speculation and questions, and the resulting answers act as confirmation of the conviction that has generated them. Whatever you are doing – preaching, teaching , performing an experiment, playing baseball – you must always give a reason (if only to yourself) for your faith and the reason will always be a reason only because your faith is in place.

It follows then that the distinction informing so many of the atheists’ arguments, the distinction between a discourse supported by reason and a discourse supported by faith, will not hold up because any form of thought is an inextricable mix of both; faith and reasons come together in an indissoluble package. There are still distinctions to be made, but they will be distinctions between different structure of faith, or, if you prefer, between different structures of reasons. The differences between different structures of faith are real and significant, for each will speak to different needs and different purposes.

Fish is borrowing liberally here from Michael Polyani, author of the excellent little philosophical tract titled "Science, Faith and Society." Polyani's thesis is that the scientific progress results from scientific conviction; a scientist perceives the world, develops a view as to why it operates a certain way, and then devises a system to prove that the scientists' view is correct. This is not so very different from someone who believes the world is the product of divine inspiration; develops a set of tenets that explain that divinity; and then seek to persuade others that this divinity is deserving of respect or even worship. Science and religion is part of the same project.

This is why people like Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens are talking past religious folks. But this now raises an interesting question: is it possible to develop a shared vocabulary between believers and atheists, and then convince the believers to unbelieve? Historically, the answer thus far is no. But stay tuned as I try to tackle the problem.

Springtime for Seahawks

So here it is, June 18. The NFL season is a mere, uh, three months away. Thus I'm sure loyal TPVers are wondering: what's happening with the Seattle Seahawks?

I'm glad you asked. Here's a collection of my impressions, gleaned from reading Mike Sando's blog and the stories posted on "Hawks News Daily."

1. The defense is looking tiiiiiiight (that's good). In the offseason, we ditched Ken Hammer Hamlin for Deon Grant and Brian Russell, two field generals who will do a better job providing coverage in the secondary. Brandon Mebane, our third-round pick, looks big and strong and fast. But the best news out of camp is that Marcus Tubbs, our huge playmaker at DT, is showing all the signs of a complete recovery. Two years ago, you could not run on the Hawks, and that was largely if not entirely due to the play of Tubbs. Last year, his injury opened up a gaping hole on the d-line that Frank Gore, Stephen Jackson and virtually everyone else ran straight through. If he's back and can stay healthy -- a big if -- we will be dominant.

(Note I didn't even mention our high-priced free agent acquisition, DE Patrick Kerney? He's still rehabbing his torn pecs but he'll be another weapon too. Thinking about this defense, I start to get...giddy.)

2. The wide receiver situation is not as bad as I feared. Do I still hate the Darrell Jackson trade? Yes, but he's already missing minicamps with the Niners because of his toe. Meanwhile, D.J. Hackett is making play after play in camp. The loss of Jackson may end up being one of those "addition by substraction" situations, where losing him so as to open up playing time for Hackett will improve our offense. [But couldn't you just have Jackson coming off the bench, or as insurance? Sssshhhhhhh.]

3. Shaun Alexander is going to have a bounceback year. It's no secret that I don't love Shaun's worth ethic or style of running. But he came into camp looking slim and motivated, and here's the reality: the guy can score touchdowns. We need him healthy if we're going to compete, because he forces d-coordinators to play against the run. So far, so good.

4. Marcus Pollard will be a serviceable corpse this year. Coach Holmgren says he thinks Pollard can catch 40 - 50 balls. He won't come anywhere near that, but he'll be able to block and score the odd touchdown. If there's an injury, however, we're screwed.

5. "Questions remain" on offensive line. First, the good news: backup Ray Wills is looking like a quality lineman we can plug it on the right side of the line, probably at guard. Now, the bad news: our center, Chris Spence, has been unable to practice because of a lingering injury; Pork Chop Womack is still on the team, and practiced for all of two minutes before injuring himself; Sean Locklear is apparently troubling the coaches; Chris Gray, at age 37, may end up starting. In other words, the situation is not good.

5. Wither Matt Hasselbeck? The big, unanswerable question is whether we will have 2005 Pro Bowl Matt Hasselbeck or 2006 Replacement-level Matt Hasselbeck. This is the larger issue that swallows all the other subissues (I use that line in my legal briefs with alarming frequency.)

Friday, June 15, 2007

If only

It's a little small, but hopefully you can read the first panel of this Doonesbury from 2002, when the only war we were fighting was in Afghanistan. The protaginist CIA agent notes that "it's no secret that Dubya doesn't do nation building..."


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Happy Birthday Momther

Today is my mother's birthday. I won't say how old she is, but I will say it's an important birthday that rhymes with "pixie." Sort of. In any event, she's my mother, and I love her, and so:
Happy Birthday, Momther. I love you.

Oh, those Nantucket Gays!

The state legislature of Massachussettes, the only state with full marriage rights for gays and lesbians, just voted against allowing a Constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage from going to the ballot. Here's the NY Times story.

It's an important victory for gay rights. Homo-bigots won't be able to get anything similar on the ballot until 2012; by that time, the nation -- the blue part, anyway -- will have realized that two people loving each other who happen to be the same gender poses no threat to people who love each other who happen to be the opposite gender.

I say again: this is a huge civil rights victory.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The day the minarets fell

Bad, bad news from Iraq.

The minerets (tall towers) on the Samarra mosque -- which you may remember as the Shiite holy shrine that was bombed last year, prompting mass killings throughout Iraq -- were bombed and destroyed today. Here's the NY Times story -- apparently, American officials believe Al Qaeda elements may have recently infiltrated the mosque security forces.

For now, Ayatollah Sistani and Moktada Al-Sadr are calling for calm, and peaceful mourning. Let's hope the Iraqis heed their call. If not, we could be in for a bloody summer.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

My first fish

Monday, June 11, 2007

Richard Rorty

Richard Rorty, perhaps America's preeminent philospher, died today. Here, from Lingua Franca's excellent profile, is a short summary of Rorty's essential postmodern argument that continues to bedevil the supporters of natural law (and virtually every other philosophic tradition, for that matter):

Rorty explored these highly controversial ideas in his 1979 classic, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, in which he argued that there was no sense in trying to give a general account of truth. "Granted that 'true' is an absolute term," he wrote in a later essay, "its conditions of application will always be relative." That is, whatever we may hope to mean when we call a belief "true," we use the word only when we feel our belief is justified —and justification always raises the question, "Justified to whom?" To critics who would argue that the justification of our claims may always be relative to a particular audience but that truth is not, because it consists of accuracy to the way the world really is, Rorty had a frustratingly simple response: There's no point in saying that truth has anything to do with the way the world really is.

This is the postmodern paradox. There is no independent "truth" that exists objectively and apart from the subject access of those who seek it. Much like the Schroedinger's Cat paradox, Rorty claims there is no "true" world that philosophers can describe; at best, philosophy can either render the pursuit of truth irrelevant by arguing away the importance of philosophic inquiry. This has driven philosophers up the wall, because it just seems so wrong. And yet, good luck disproving Rorty's argument without making appeals to "natural right" or "God" or some other infallible source of "truth" that are on philosophically shaky ground.

When you're an atheist like me, it's hard to find words of mourning for someone's death, but I will miss Richard Rorty's contribution to philosophy, and indeed, life.

Fly fishing report, the Upper Sacramento River

In the absence of anything interesting to say about world politics or the Seahawks, here's a brief tale of my success (and woes) learning to fly fish on the Upper Sacramento River.


Conditions are good to excellent. The Fly Shop in Redding recommends nymphing stoneflies on the drop and the lower part of the river, so that's where we started. Skunked in the morning at Dog Creek access point, though that may be due to collection of inbred southerners testing their dirt bikes by the side of the river. Lunch in Dunsmuir at the "Burger Barn" is followed by a brief visit to Ted Fay's Fly Shop; 95-year-old working behind counter recommends dry fishing with Parachute Adams. We put in at Conant -- a Bob Burke recommendation -- and round about 4 pm I start to wonder why I picked up this hobby, as my nymphing has resulted in bubkus.

Then, a splash behind a rock. Is that a fish rising to the surface? I tie on a #14 parachute Adams and slowly approach -- closer -- closer -- closer -- CRACK! Fish on! I'm reeling like mad because I've got a 12" rainbow made of pure fish muscle. As I bring him in, I notice the tip of my rod floating in the river. A-ha, that would explain the cracking noise -- he done snapped my new Sage FLi rod. The sheer elation of knowing that I can catch fish on my own -- and with a dry, no less -- more than compensates for the damaged equipment.

After briefly debating heading back toward Red Bluff, we decided to return to Ted Fay's in Dunsmuir, even though the town itself seems to have been taken over by vampires. The friendly owner talks me out of buying a new 4 wt. rod (hey, Nicki's going to need one soon anyway) and instead rents us two rods and an extra wheel at $5 a piece. We turn south again and put in at Sweetbrier, parking next to an old propane tank. The access leads to a series of small pools where the fish are rising to my every cast -- I land one smallish rainbow and hurl another one 50 feet in the air when I overexuberantly try to set the hook (Nicki assures me the fish was fine and swam away happily).

We fish out that section of the river and then park and set up camp at Sims. The fishing there is just as good if not better; I land two small minnow-sized rainbows, and as the evening sky darkens, we start to see fish rising all over the river, even in the low flatwater along the bank of the camp. Is there any better feeling than seeing fish rise in abundance, tying on your dry fly, and moving in for the strike? Ten out of ten fisherman agree: No. Sadly, I'm unable to land anything dinner-sized but I do get one more big strike before retiring to camp for a well-deserved beer (or six).

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The only thing I have to say about the world's stupidest person and our national obsession with her

There is a war going on right now. In fact, there are two wars, one in Iraq, and an ongoing battle in Afghanistan. In addition, the President-cum-dictator of Russia is ratcheting up the Cold War rhetoric against the US, our government is debating a comprehensive immigration bill, and the leaders of the world recently concluded a summit on global warming.

So please, everyone: stop with the Paris Hilton. What was once a mildly entertaining diversion has turned into a sordid, stupid spectacle that demeans us all. I'm not a crotchety old man, nor do I think personal interest stories should be ignored by the media. But as William Shatner once told a collection of Star Trek-convention geeks: "Get a life, people."

So predictable

Perhaps, like me, you've been ignoring the growing furor over Dr. James Holsinger, Bush's nominee for the post of Surgeon General. As it turns out, not only does Dr. Holsinger head an organization that tries to brainwash gay people into thinking they're not gay, he also authored and presented a pseudo-scientific paper that argued homosexuality is unnatural because the penis and the vagina fit like pipes. No, seriously.

Why is this Administration so relentless? Just once, would it kill Bush to nominate someone who is competent and moderate instead of an extremist whackjob?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Britain: All class!

Yes, that's the proposed logo for the 2012 London Olympics. I defy you to explain what it means ("Lisa Simpson fellating a stranger," according to one astute observer). I think that might be England in the upper left hand corner, but then what are the other shards of pink supposed to be? Is that Majorca in the center island?

By the way, total cost for designing this neon abomination: 400,000 Euros (about half a million U.S.).

Mayor of New York responds to JFK "plot"

"There are lots of threats to you in the world. There's the threat of a heart attack for genetic reasons. You can't sit there and worry about everything. Get a life. You have a much greater danger of being hit by lightning than being struck by a terrorist."
-- Mayor Bloomberg, yesterday

Can you feel the "Bloomberg for President" momentum building here at TPV? I sure can.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

JFK "plot" -- bojinka'd again!

On Sunday, while in the Bozeman, Montana airport, we were informed that we could not purchase a Montana snow globe souvenir until we had passed through security. Why, you may be thinking, would the Bozeman, Montana airport impose such a ludicrous rule? Because the snow globe contains a tiny amount of liquid, of course, and as you all remember, we managed to prevent a massive wave of toothpaste-based explosive terrorism last year when we captured a couple of dipshits in England who thought they could assemble a bomb from various liquid compounds (they couldn't, nor could anyone except MacGuyver).

This is the sort of idiocy seeping from every pore of America today. The ban on snow globes makes no sense, even on paranoid right-wing terms: if you really think a bomb can be made from a tiny amount of water filled with small shards of fake plastic snow, then why allow liquids and gels in small plastic sandwich bags on the plane? Either the toothpaste is with us, or against us, but it can hardly be both.

Yet another wave of hysteria apparently washed over the country while I was busy yanking rainbow trout out of the Madison River -- the so-called JFK bomb plot. The media, in typical breathless stupidity, again reports on a plot that, according to every reasonable expert I've seen interviewed, had no conceivable chance of working. This is supposed to frighten us? Morons who dream of crackpot schemes to "destroy infrastructure" by tilting at windmills and airports?

Monday, June 04, 2007

TPV is back!

And you'll all be happy to know we -- meaning me and girlfriend -- were not eaten by bears, though we did see one while camping.

So what happened last week? Putin's threatening war with Europe? Problems in Palestine? War still going in Iraq? I haven't a clue, and need to catch up.

In the meantime, read this prescient article by Josh Marshall. Do yourself a favor -- don't read the date until after you've finished the piece.