...I know some of you folks know! Thanks.
...I know some of you folks know! Thanks.
1. The fact of evolution -- species change over time -- had been established by paleontology and was common currency when Darwin wrote. His contribution was natural selection as an explanation for evolution.
2. Darwin was responding to William Paley's Natural Theology, which was a standard text at Cambridge when Darwin was a student there.
3. Paley's book deserved its place in the canon. It contains the best summary of turn-of-the-nineteenth-century biology. Contemporary "intelligent design" essays are just bad plagiarisms of Paley. He made the "irreducible complexity" argument (which he called "relatedness") much better than current ID proponents, because he knew more biology than they do.
4. But "irreduciable complexity" is simply wrong, as illustrated by the step-by-step development of the complex eye in marine invertebrates, leading from a simple layer of photosensitive cells in the limpet up to the human-like eye of the octopus....
7. If organisms were the design product of engineers, the engineers ought to be fired for, e.g., making the human birth canal too small for the human newborn head. Intelligent Design would therefore be, to a large extent, Incompetent Design....
9. The evolution controversy is an almost entirely American phenomenon. Growing up in Franco's Spain and attending Catholic schools, Ayala was taught evolution as an uncontroversial fact about the world....
12. With tens of millions of dollars flowing into the Discovery Institute and other organizations advocating ID, some organized push-back is needed, and may be underway.
Posted by Brian Leiter on October 31, 2005 at 07:02 AM in Texas Taliban Alerts (Intelligent Design, Religion in the Schools, etc.) | Permalink
This story concerns Zeno Vendler, late of the University of California at San Diego:
Bela Szabados, who received his M.A. under Zeno in 1968, recalls an incident in the late 60's during a rally organized by the students' union to protest the Vietnam war. There was a small group of speakers from the US to speak about the war. Some Philosophy graduate students wanted to hear what they had to say, and showed up with Zeno in attendance. As they gathered, they were asked by police: "Are you the Group?" Zeno turned to them and said: "Well, we do form a group," whereupon he was arrested. He was released only several hours later.
Thanks to Alan Thomas (Philosophy, Kent) for the pointer.
These small ones’ parrotings defy decoding
Is it trick or treat they chime
Or other dark forebodings
Such papered ghosts and lacquered bones
Sporting masks in trendy tones
Leave Celts and Christians fuddling
Each portal rent expands their baggy bloat
They bunch in doorways chastely lit
As tightly smiling faces weary for repose
Greet the thinly timorous
Tolerate the giddy bold
And lay upon them munchy offerings
Ask not the moment’s meaning
Do not probe the source
The minions rove the shrubby lawns
Agape at take and give
Their phalanx gobbling grove on grove
Our goodly children in the drove
A faithful night to banish grief
To harvest fantasy’s relief
From labors lost and spent belief
Bemused madness keeps us well
We watch the dead extend their spell
With flesh of nougat juice of caramel
10/15-10/31/95, 1/28, 3/6/96
Copyright 1996 by Maurice Leiter
Posted with permission
IF they had taken Adolf Hitler alive in 1945, they would certainly have put him on trial. But what if they had ignored Hitler's responsibility for starting the Second World War and his murder of six million Jews, and simply put him on trial for torturing and executing a couple of hundred people whom he suspected of involvement in the July 1944 plot to kill him? You would find that bizarre, would you not? The real problem is that the United States was closely allied to Saddam Hussein during the 1980s, when he was committing the worst atrocities against the Iranians and the Kurds. At that time, the Reagan administration saw the revolutionary regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran as a far greater threat to U.S. interests, and when Saddam's war against Iran started going badly it stepped in to save him.
Well, Saddam Hussein's trial started on Oct. 19, and that was the sort of charge chosen by the Iraqi government and its American supervisors....
The former Iraqi dictator was not being tried for invading Iran in 1980 and causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, nor for using poison gas on Iranian troops and on rebellious Kurds in Iraq itself (notably at Halabja in 1988, when at least 5,000 Iraqi Kurd civilians died). He was facing trial for invading Kuwait in 1990, nor for slaughtering tens of thousands of Iraqi Shias in the course of putting down the revolt that followed his defeat in that war.
He was only being tried for the deaths of 143 people from the mainly Shia town of Dujail, north of Baghdad, after an assassination attempt against him during a visit to that town in July 1982.....
The United States seized ALL the documents concerning ALL of Saddam's abuses during its invasion of Iraq two and a half years ago. It also has at least half of Saddam's former senior ministers and generals in its prisons, and could easily find many who would give evidence against him in return for clemency for themselves. If Washington wanted to see Saddam tried for his truly monstrous crimes, then that would happen. But it probably won't.
It was U.S. intelligence photos from spy satellites and AWACS reconnaissance aircraft that provided the raw information about Iranian positions, and U.S. Air Force photo interpreters seconded to Baghdad who drew Saddam the detailed maps of Iranian trenches that let him drench them in poison gas. It was the Reagan administration that stopped Congress from condemning Saddam's use of poison gas, and that encouraged American firms and NATO allies to sell him the appropriate chemical feedstocks plus a wide variety of other weapons.
It was the U.S. State Department that tried to protect Saddam when he gassed his own Kurdish citizens in Halabja in 1988, spreading stories (which it knew to be false) that Iranian planes had dropped the gas. It was the U.S. that finally saved Saddam's regime by providing escorts for tankers carrying oil from Arab Gulf states while Iraqi planes were left free to attack tankers coming from Iranian ports....
So the U.S. doesn't want any of Saddam's crimes that are connected with the Iran war to come up in his trial....
Dujail, on the other hand, raises no awkward questions, so Saddam will be tried on that charge first. It is unlikely that he will ever face other charges, for the death penalty was reintroduced in Iraq last year -- the first prisoners were executed just last month -- and once Saddam has been condemned to death for the Dujail killings he will not live long. The new law allows him only one appeal, and after that he must be hanged within 30 days.
Thanks to Mark Capustin for the pointer.
...has appeared at the almost comically bad and dishonest Tech Central Station site:
One of the most persistent themes in Chomsky's work has been class warfare. He has frequently lashed out against the "massive use of tax havens to shift the burden to the general population and away from the rich" and criticized the concentration of wealth in "trusts" by the wealthiest one percent. The American tax code is rigged with "complicated devices for ensuring that the poor -- like eighty percent of the population -- pay off the rich."
But trusts can't be all bad. After all, Chomsky, with a net worth north of $2,000,000, decided to create one for himself. A few years back he went to Boston's venerable white-shoe law firm, Palmer and Dodge, and with the help of a tax attorney specializing in "income-tax planning" set up an irrevocable trust to protect his assets from Uncle Sam. He named his tax attorney (every socialist radical needs one!) and a daughter as trustees. To the Diane Chomsky Irrevocable Trust (named for another daughter) he has assigned the copyright of several of his books, including multiple international editions.
Chomsky favors the estate tax and massive income redistribution -- just not the redistribution of his income. No reason to let radical politics get in the way of sound estate planning.
The smear drew a deliciously devastating rejoinder in the comments section at the end of the article from Canadian Stephen Downes:
This article is a rather straightforward (and fairly boring) instance of the logical fallacy known as Ad Hominem Tu Quoque.
'For example, when one is arguing 'Jack is a murderer', Jack or Jack's defendent says 'You're a murderer too'. The response is only blaming the claimer for the same thing he/she did as well. This doesn't refute the fact Jack is a murderer, but only draws away the attention by involving another person.' More here.
It is worth noting that, if the measures proposed by Chomsky are accepted, that Chomsky would then be subject to the same conditions as everyone else. So Chomsky is in fact willing to give up the advantages gained by having a trust, but rather than take unilateral action (which is not in any way entailed by his position) is lobbying in such a way as to change the law to reflect this.
Presumably the author of this article knows that this is an old and tired fallacy, a well-worn version of the old saw that 'socialists must be poor', one that has no grounding in logic or reason, and reflects, therefore, yet another instance of sleazy argumentation on TCS.
As a sidenote, let me observe that what is really stunning is that Chomsky has only two million dollars to put in trust, despite more than four decades of participation in the retirement program offered by MIT, one of the nation's leading and richest universities, and despite his enormous book sales around the world. One explanation for why his net worth is so modest for someone of his age, profession, and accomplishment may be that he in fact has given substantial sums away. (Another explanation may be the legendary poor performance of TIAA/CREF funds!)
Left2Right appears to be moribund, so I've removed it from my list of links (and, in any case, it is well-known enough that, if it revives, it can survive my removing it). In its place, I've added the interesting new blog by Ruchira Paul, noted the other day. Check out her "Memorial, not Milestone" for a flavor of what she is doing.
(By the way, in case you are wondering why I make these substitutions, rather than just adding the new link, it's because, being a computing genius, I can't figure out how to add a new link to the bottom of the existing list--they always come in at the very top, and thus displace other items that ought to be at the top.)
Here; an excerpt:
The three French tourists who tested positive for H5N1 after visiting a bird park in Thailand clearly show that H5N1 in Thailand is transmitted by casual contact. H5N1 positive data suggest that hundreds or thousands of visitors would have also been infected by the H5N1 at the zoo. However, these infections produced mild cases, which were tested early because they had returned to the French Island of Reunion from Thailand.
The index case was weak and had a headache. When he tested positive, other members of the 19 person tour group were questioned and two had bird flu symptoms. They too tested positive for H5N1.
The testing on the three tourists was similar to nephews in Indonesia who also were H5N1 positive, although they had mild cases. They were tested because their aunt or uncle has already tested positive for H5N1. Both nephews recovered and have been discharged....
The familial and geographic clusters in Thailand and Indonesia support widespread transmission of H5N1 that produces mild cases....
WHO has been able to maintain the false pandemic phase 3 by systematically screening out examples of human-to-human transmission.
These activities endanger the world's health and these methodologies should be subject to outside review....
The 2005 pandemic is at phase 5 or 6 and appropriate action is warranted.
The only positive news here is that the causal contact cases of bird flu proved to be mild.
Details here. Note, of course, that the new Chief Justice, John Roberts, was on the wrong side of this question as a judge on the D.C. Circuit.
Full story here; an excerpt:
The survey was conducted by an Iraqi university research team that, for security reasons, was not told the data it compiled would be used by coalition forces. It reveals:
• Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;
• 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops;
• less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;
• 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;
• 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;
• 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.
The opinion poll, carried out in August, also debunks claims by both the US and British governments that the general well-being of the average Iraqi is improving in post-Saddam Iraq....
The report profiles those likely to carry out attacks against British and American troops as being "less than 26 years of age, more likely to want a job, more likely to have been looking for work in the last four weeks and less likely to have enough money even for their basic needs".
Immediately after the war the coalition embarked on a campaign of reconstruction in which it hoped to improve the electricity supply and the quality of drinking water.
That appears to have failed, with the poll showing that 71 per cent of people rarely get safe clean water, 47 per cent never have enough electricity, 70 per cent say their sewerage system rarely works and 40 per cent of southern Iraqis are unemployed....
Thanks to Frank Menetrez for the pointer; his comments on the story are also worth quoting:
Here's why this is so important: Lots of folks in the US who hate Bush and everything he stands for are still expressing a lot of uncertainty about whether immediate withdrawal of all coalition forces is the right thing to do. They worry that the chaos in Iraq will get even worse if we leave, that it will turn into full-blown civil war, etc.
Those worries might or might not be well founded, but the argument for immediate withdrawal is still irrefutable because THE IRAQI PEOPLE WANT US TO LEAVE. I mean, it is THEIR country, for crying out loud. If they wanted us to stay, then we could debate about whether we think staying or going will yield the best consequences, and then we could decide on that basis whether to grant their wish. But given that they want us to go, we have to go, period. I see no way around this simple argument--immediate withdrawal is the only morally defensible option.
Given the obvious and fundamental importance of considering what the Iraqi people want, I am astonished that no American commentator (with the notable exception of Chomsky) has, to my knowledge, even seen fit to mention the issue. The only explanation seems to be the pervasive influence of an imperialist mindset, according to which the desires of our colonial subjects just never even register as a consideration that might be taken into account: WE will decide what's best for them, and THEY need not even be consulted. Revolting, isn't it?
In addition to having a stimulating visit to the Moral Sciences Club at Cambridge University yesterday (with warm thanks to my hosts, Ben Colburn and Hallvard Lillehammer, and to all the philosophers and students who turned out for the talk--nothing like a talk on Nietzsche to produce a standing-room only crowd!), I also had the opportunity to browse one of my favorite bookstores, the Cambridge University Press bookshop near St. Mary's Street. Besides carrying copies of every CUP book in print, the store places up front the books most recently published (on the shelf were those published on October 6 and October 20), which gives one a sense of the rich array of scholarly materials CUP produces every couple of weeks. There were also many new philosophy items just in that two week period, including Iain Thomson's new book on Heidegger, Elijah Millgram's collection of papers on practical reason and cognate topics, and the second edition of Gary Gutting's Cambridge Companion to Foucault. (Second editions of other Cambridge Companions are also in the works.) Spotted elsewhere on the shelves was also a new CUP edition of some of Nietzsche's last works (Twilight, The Antichrist, etc.) in the Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy Series (the same series as Clark's and my edition of Daybreak), this one edited by Aaron Ridley and translated by Judith Norman, who had done a nice job on Beyond Good and Evil in the same series (though the introduction by Rolf-Peter Horstmann to that volume was weak). If you're in Cambridge, you should pay a visit.
Dadahead makes the following apt observation about the spectacle of various far right pundits lauding civil rights icon Rosa Parks:
Surely I am not the only one who finds amusement in all of the right-wing bloggers solemnly memorializing Rosa Parks as a "true hero." Seriously, what do you think the likes of Michelle Malkin and LaShawn Barber would have had to say about Parks if they had been around back then? Do you think they would have lionized her as they are doing today? Or would she have been just another unhinged anti-American moonbat?
It is perhaps worth remembering that the "conservatives" of each prior era in America in the last century were, without an exception I can recall, on the morally reprehensible side of every major social and economic issue: the "conservatives" opposed the New Deal, opposed social security, supported segregation, opposed civil rights laws, and on and on. One may hope that in fifty years America will have recovered enough of its senses so that people will look back and recognize today's "conservatives" as being as morally reprehensible (though often in new ways) as yesterday's.
Story and analysis here. (Thanks to Matt Davidson for the pointer.) I can't vouch for the reliability of this site, though it doesn't seem to be the work of a crackpot. I've opened comments, if anyone has insight into the validity of the analysis or the credibility of the site of which it is part, and which has a great deal of information related to avian flu.
I don't generally do blog announcements, but I do want to call the attention of readers to a new blog by Ruchira Paul, whose thoughtful and interesting correspondence (as well as link suggestions) I have benefitted from for a number of months now. I am pleased to see she has now started her own blog, and I suspect many readers will enjoy her site.
Keith DeRose (Philosophy, Yale) has posted an interesting set of remarks on postmodernism. A short excerpt from the start of section 4:
My duties on humanities divisional committees have involved me in reading quite a bit of material by (what I at least take to be) postmodern writers. I would have to classify a lot of the material I’ve had to read as philosophy, but it is written by people who teach in various different humanities departments other than philosophy departments at various schools. And I generally find it to be dreadful.
UPDATE: Paul Kelleher, a graduate student in philosophy at Cornell, writes:
Every two years here at Cornell the Society for the Humanities awards six to eight fellowships for scholars to do research and participate in seminars on the "focal theme" for the two-year period. Apparently philosophers need not apply; this year's theme: " Historicizing the Global Post-Modern":
- If we can speak of a post-modern moment that enabled humanists to engage critically the enlightenment logic of western modernity, then now is the time to historicize the logic attributed to the post-modern itself.
The description alone is enough to run philosophers up their trees and away from the money.
Among the interesting postings at the University of Chicago Law School's new faculty blog is the item by Martha Nussbaum on the near-disastrous effects of religious extremism on Indian democracy. Regular readers of Arundhati Roy will be familiar with much of this tale of woe, but it is useful that Professor Nussbaum introduces the topic to an American law readership. Predictably, an apologist for the Hindu fanatics surfaces in the comments section.
UPDATE: More commentary from Ruchira Paul.
...for an excellent week of postings on a fascinating range of topics. I hope to have him back again before too long.
Our next guest bloggers will be the brothers Stanley, Jason (of Rutgers Philosophy) and Marcus (of Case Western Economics), who will be returning in November...precise dates to be announced shortly.
Legal and political philosophers of recent times have dreamt of bagging bigger game: morality itself. John Rawls wondered whether his theoretical apparatus might capture not only political justice but all of morality-–but he quickly concluded that it could not. Much of his later career was a process of careful downsizing his earlier, more open-ended project. (Into the breach stepped Tim Scanlon, with the conviction that Rawlsian constructivism could indeed capture a bigger part of morality-–“what we owe to each other”–-but after years of labor Scanlon began to doubt whether a unary account of even that segment of morality was possible.) H.L.A. Hart toyed with the thought that law and morality could both be explained in terms of social rules, differing perhaps only in the kind of sanction typically applied to those who breach them. Then, older and wiser (due in part to Dworkin's criticisms), he withdrew the claim to have captured morality. “In dreams begin responsibilities,” as the old play says.
Ronald Dworkin–-unlike Rawls and Hart–-has not staked out a territory only to withdraw under fire into some tighter, more defensible inner citadel. After decades of increasing scepticism about his interpretive theory of law, Dworkin has begun work on an interpretive theory of morality. It builds upon his widely discussed defense of the objectivity of morality in “Objectivity and Truth: You’d Better Believe It.” It is notably continuous with his theory of law as integrity, which identified a community's law with the best "constructive interpretation" of its political past.
Dworkin denies that anything can count as metaethics, at least not in the way that has been assumed by so many for so long. He adopts what he calls "the quotidian view" that all purportedly meta-ethical assertions --such as moral skepticism-- are "intelligible and can be answered only if we understand them as ordinary, everyday substantive moral questions." Even so seemingly esoteric a position as supervenience must be understood as though an everyday substantive moral claim, akin to holding that nothing is wrongful unless harmful. No metaethical or metaphysical question is begged, however, because all must be confronted in the way ordinary substantive moral judgments must be: as interpretive claims.
Morality is interpretive in much the way that law is interpretive and literary criticism is interpretive, Dworkin argues. It belongs to a genre of "conceptual interpretation" in which "the distinction between author and interpreter disappears"; it is always "holistic"--but not passively so, as conceptual interpretation is with respect to concepts like "water." "The holistic arguments through which we interpret [value] concepts are distinctly active, and the mixture of our roles as author and interpreter is particularly complex."
Dworkin reinterprets the venerable question "why be moral?" in these terms: "Can we locate morality within a larger scheme of value to which we can appeal in order to clarify...what morality does require?" How much room, in other words, is there under the holistic tent? He is surprisingly generous in one direction, and surprisingly stingy in another. Religious values are players at the interpretive table within; for, owing to
the apparently irresistable connection between morality and relgion in the modern world...religious values can contribute to the content of morality...We inhabit a great scheme of values--prudential, ethical, aesthetic, moral and, for some of us, religious--and we try not just to integrate moral values with the rest, so far as we can, but to integrate the other forms of value with one another so that value is seamless.
The seamless interpretive web includes prudence not merely to receive clarification of its subordinate role. "We might think...that living well simply incorporates morality without in any way affecting what morality requires. Or we might treat the content of morality as fixed at least in part by...what it makes sense to suppose are our ethical responsibilities to ourselves." Dworkin opts for the latter alternative, after describing with seeming approval a hypothetical Lorenzo, whose "particularly wonderful life of achievement, refinement, cultivation and pleasure" was made possible by an earlier "career of killing and betrayal on a very wide scale." (Did somebody say "Quick! Bring the Anscombe!"?)
So far, sensible enough. But not everything is welcome under the interpretive tent. Conspicuously missing from the "great scheme of values" are scientific values, which, for some of us, can contribute too. Dworkin, early on, explains: Nothing is welcome that would enable us to say that morality is bunk, in the way, say, that we would be able to say that astrology is bunk.
We judge astrology from within the larger domain of causal claims, and so judged it is bunk....Morality does not make causal claims so our science of causation is irrelevant....We could ask whether moral reasoning , as a general style of thought, is valid or nonsense only by imbedding morality's content in a larger intellectual domain, and appealing to standards of reasoning in that larger domain. I shall in fact...argue that moral reasoning should be treated as part of the more general domain of interpretation.
But Dworkin does not literally mean (although he at one point says) that "morality is not part of any causal nexus." Moral responsibility requires that "our will and behavior be causally downstream of genuine conviction"--though not of "moral truth," which, like mathematical truth, is causally inert. On Dworkin's account, which is reminscent of Bradley's, the goal of moral responsibility is
to require the influence of ... masses of personal history to pass through the inner band of effective convictions that they themselves have created, so that they are censored and shaped by those convictions as light may be shaped and censored by a filter.
Metaphor aside, one wonders, what is it to "require" a conviction to be "effective?" Is his view a version of compatibilism? If it is, it sounds as though "the science of causation" has gotten its nose at least that far under the interpretive tent. Once in, is it there simply to be put in its place (as Kant thought)? Or is it, like prudence, let in so that "we might treat the content of morality as fixed at least in part by" the best scientific explanation of our place in the world? Should it be kicked back out again if it so much as hints that morality, or any big chunk of it, is bunk? A host of questions lurk here that I am sure Dworkin will address more fully in what is to come.
On a related subject: Chris Bertram over at Crooked Timber has asked for help in understanding the reasons behind Dworkin’s penchant for judge-found law.
Finally: Watch this link for a lavishly illustrated interview with Dworkin, in the glossy annual picture-book that inspired the Sexton-watch. Law faculty will already have received a hard copy of this keeper.
If you have access to today's (Sunday, Oct. 23) New York Times, and are still wondering why we are in Iraq, you should read Frank Rich's "Karl and Scooter's Excellent Adventure." What follows (as Larry Solum (Law, Illinois) might say on his excellent Legal Theory Blog) is "a taste":
Let's go back to January 2002. By then the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan had succeeded in its mission to overthrow the Taliban and had done so with minimal American casualties. In a triumphalist speech to the Republican National Committee, Mr. Rove for the first time openly advanced the idea that the war on terror was the path to victory for that November's midterm elections. Candidates "can go to the country on this issue," he said, because voters "trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might and thereby protecting America." It was an early taste of the rhetoric that would be used habitually to smear any war critics as unpatriotic.
But there were unspoken impediments to Mr. Rove's plan that he certainly knew about: Afghanistan was slipping off the radar screen of American voters, and the president's most grandiose objective, to capture Osama bin Laden "dead or alive," had not been achieved. How do you run on a war if the war looks as if it's shifting into neutral and the No. 1 evildoer has escaped?
Hardly had Mr. Rove given his speech than polls started to register the first erosion of the initial near-universal endorsement of the administration's response to 9/11. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup survey in March 2002 found that while 9 out of 10 Americans still backed the war on terror at the six-month anniversary of the attacks, support for an expanded, long-term war had fallen to 52 percent.
Then came a rapid barrage of unhelpful news for a political campaign founded on supposed Republican superiority in protecting America: the first report (in The Washington Post) that the Bush administration had lost Bin Laden's trail in Tora Bora in December 2001 by not committing ground troops to hunt him down; the first indications that intelligence about Bin Laden's desire to hijack airplanes barely clouded President Bush's August 2001 Crawford vacation; the public accusations by an F.B.I. whistle-blower, Coleen Rowley, that higher-ups had repeatedly shackled Minneapolis agents investigating the so-called 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, in the days before 9/11.
These revelations took their toll. By Memorial Day 2002, a USA Today poll found that just 4 out of 10 Americans believed that the United States was winning the war on terror, a steep drop from the roughly two-thirds holding that conviction in January. Mr. Rove could see that an untelevised and largely underground war against terrorists might not nail election victories without a jolt of shock and awe. It was a propitious moment to wag the dog.
Enter Scooter, stage right. As James Mann details in his definitive group biography of the Bush war cabinet, "Rise of the Vulcans," Mr. Libby had been joined at the hip with Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz since their service in the Defense Department of the Bush 41 administration, where they conceived the neoconservative manifesto for the buildup and exercise of unilateral American military power after the cold war. Well before Bush 43 took office, they had become fixated on Iraq, though for reasons having much to do with their ideas about realigning the states in the Middle East and little or nothing to do with the stateless terrorism of Al Qaeda. Mr. Bush had specifically disdained such interventionism when running against Al Gore, but he embraced the cause once in office. While others might have had cavils - American military commanders testified before Congress about their already overtaxed troops and equipment in March 2002 - the path was clear for a war in Iraq to serve as the political Viagra Mr. Rove needed for the election year.
But here, too, was an impediment: there had to be that "why" for the invasion, the very why that today can seem so elusive that Mr. Packer calls Iraq "the 'Rashomon' of wars." ...Polls in the summer of 2002 showed steadily declining support among Americans for going to war in Iraq, especially if we were to go it alone.
For Mr. Rove and Mr. Bush to get what they wanted most, slam-dunk midterm election victories, and for Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney to get what they wanted most, a war in Iraq for reasons predating 9/11, their real whys for going to war had to be replaced by fictional, more salable ones. We wouldn't be invading Iraq to further Rovian domestic politics or neocon ideology; we'd be doing so instead because there was a direct connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda and because Saddam was on the verge of attacking America with nuclear weapons. The facts and intelligence had to be fixed to create these whys; any contradictory evidence had to be dismissed or suppressed.
This is what Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's wartime chief of staff, was talking about last week when he publicly chastised the "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal" for sowing potential disaster in Iraq, North Korea and Iran. It's this cabal that in 2002 pushed for much of the bogus W.M.D. evidence that ended up in Mr. Powell's now infamous February 2003 presentation to the U.N. It's this cabal whose propaganda was sold by the war's unannounced marketing arm, the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, in which both Mr. Libby and Mr. Rove served in the second half of 2002. One of WHIG's goals, successfully realized, was to turn up the heat on Congress so it would rush to pass a resolution authorizing war in the politically advantageous month just before the midterm election.
Joseph Wilson wasn't a player in these exalted circles; he was a footnote who began to speak out loudly only after Saddam had been toppled and the mission in Iraq had been "accomplished." He challenged just one element of the W.M.D. "evidence," the uranium that Saddam's government had supposedly been seeking in Africa to fuel its ominous mushroom clouds.
But based on what we know about Mr. Libby's and Mr. Rove's hysterical over-response to Mr. Wilson's accusation, he scared them silly. He did so because they had something to hide. Should Mr. Libby and Mr. Rove have lied to investigators or a grand jury in their panic, Mr. Fitzgerald will bring charges. But that crime would seem a misdemeanor next to the fables that they and their bosses fed the nation and the world as the whys for invading Iraq.
Did somebody use the words "crime" and "misdemeanor" in the same sentence, in the New York Times, in a story about the Bush Administration?
(PS, More language, this time from paleo-con par excellence George Will: "any Republican senator who supinely acquiesces in President Bush's
reckless abuse of presidential discretion -- or who does not recognize
the Miers nomination as such -- can never be considered presidential
material.") (Thanks to Stephen Smith for the pool pointer.)
The future of philosophy may be the philosophy of the future, if Nick Bostrom (Oxford, Philosophy) has anything to say about it. He directs the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute, which is a part of the University of Oxford's recently founded James Martin 21st Century School. "The Institute will focus on the fundamental question: which parts of the transhuman vision are worth achieving, and what is the best way to go about it?" The "transhuman vision" is one that regards human nature not as a datum but as a plastic something that technology now enables us to shape and extend in ways not imagined by philosophers of the great traditions.
The vision has its own organization, the World Transhumanist Association, and may soon even have its own professionally designed logo. As one might imagine, the details of this vision are very much constested, but the agreed core supports "the development of and access to new technologies that enable everyone to enjoy better minds, better bodies, and better lives. In other words, we want people to be better than well." So, we have a future for philosophy and a philosophy for the future: what could be better?
Darwin Day has a wealth of material and links, all celebrating the great natural philosopher. While the Pennsylvania case makes headlines (check the Panda's Thumb and links therefrom for the full story), the University of California defends a suit in which the plaintiffs insist that the institution that was home to Oppenheimer, Segre, Seaborg, Lawrence, and Teller credit high-school courses in "critical" ignorance.
David Chalmers has been polishing his 1996 argument against materialism. The result, titled "The Two-Dimensional Argument Against Materialism," is posted here.
Maureen Dowd, in case you don't follow her columns in the New York Times, has said what has for so long needed saying about Judy Miller, still "St. Judith of the First Amendment" in the estimation of so many nice-minded people. Hey, Miller admits she was "totally wrong" about Iraq's WMDs: "If your sources are wrong," Miller says, "you are wrong." Fair enough, but, as Dowd points out, "investigative reporting is not stenography." Nobody died because Jayson Blair lied. If a Truth Commission is ever installed to examine these past five years of U.S. history, I hope Maureen Dowd is in charge of it.
The New YorkTimes has restricted access to this story, so some more fair snippets follow:
I've always liked Judy Miller. I have often wondered what Waugh or Thackeray would have made of the Fourth Estate's Becky Sharp.
The traits she has that drive many reporters at The Times crazy - her tropism toward powerful men, her frantic intensity and her peculiar mixture of hard work and hauteur - have never bothered me. I enjoy operatic types.
She never knew when to quit. That was her talent and her flaw. Sorely in need of a tight editorial leash, she was kept on no leash at all, and that has hurt this paper and its trust with readers. She more than earned her sobriquet "Miss Run Amok."
Judy's stories about W.M.D. fit too perfectly with the White House's case for war. She was close to Ahmad Chalabi, the con man who was conning the neocons to knock out Saddam so he could get his hands on Iraq, and I worried that she was playing a leading role in the dangerous echo chamber that Senator Bob Graham, now retired, dubbed "incestuous amplification." Using Iraqi defectors and exiles, Mr. Chalabi planted bogus stories with Judy and other credulous journalists.
Even last April, when I wrote a column critical of Mr. Chalabi, she fired off e-mail to me defending him.
When Bill Keller became executive editor in the summer of 2003, he barred Judy from covering Iraq and W.M.D. issues. But he acknowledged in The Times's Sunday story about Judy's role in the Plame leak case that she had kept "drifting" back. Why did nobody stop this drift?
The Times's story and Judy's own first-person account had the unfortunate effect of raising more questions. As Bill said yesterday in an e-mail note to the staff, Judy seemed to have "misled" the Washington bureau chief, Phil Taubman, about the extent of her involvement in the Valerie Plame leak case.
She casually revealed that she had agreed to identify her source, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, as a "former Hill staffer" because he had once worked on Capitol Hill. The implication was that this bit of deception was a common practice for reporters. It isn't.
She said that she had wanted to write about the Wilson-Plame matter, but that her editor would not allow it. But Managing Editor Jill Abramson, then the Washington bureau chief, denied this, saying that Judy had never broached the subject with her.
It also doesn't seem credible that Judy wouldn't remember a Marvel comics name like "Valerie Flame." Nor does it seem credible that she doesn't know how the name got into her notebook and that, as she wrote, she "did not believe the name came from Mr. Libby."
An Associated Press story yesterday reported that Judy had coughed up the details of an earlier meeting with Mr. Libby only after prosecutors confronted her with a visitor log showing that she had met with him on June 23, 2003. This cagey confusion is what makes people wonder whether her stint in the Alexandria jail was in part a career rehabilitation project.
Judy refused to answer a lot of questions put to her by Times reporters, or show the notes that she shared with the grand jury. I admire Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Bill Keller for aggressively backing reporters in the cross hairs of a prosecutor. But before turning Judy's case into a First Amendment battle, they should have nailed her to a chair and extracted the entire story of her escapade.
Judy told The Times that she plans to write a book and intends to return to the newsroom, hoping to cover "the same thing I've always covered - threats to our country." If that were to happen, the institution most in danger would be the newspaper in your hands.
(Thanks to Barry D. for the "no access" alert.)
(Postscript: A New York Times's account of its Executive Editor's belated mea culpa, here (subscription not required). Bill Keller didn't want to come in seeming to blame his predecessor, Howell Raines, so he allowed things "to fester." Howell Raines--a Mississippian--was a great journalist who was elevated past his competence. Has a Southern culture of niceness destroyed the credibility of a quintessential New York institution?)
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald today opened a website (still "under construction," no doubt). As soon as the Special Counsel indicts or announces he will not, the Wilsons are expected to file a civil action. A subpoena of President Bush should follow in due course--easy to justify given press reports like this in the Los Angeles Times: "[Libby] urged the White House to mount an aggressive public campaign against him [Wilson], former aides say." (Urged the who? And what did who do?) The President enjoys absolute immunity from suit for official acts committed during his term of office. Nixon v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 731 (1982). But his staff enjoy only a qualified or "good faith" immunity. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982). A directive from the President would be relevant to establishing a defense of good faith immunity, bringing it easily within what Justice Scalia has called "the notoriously broad discovery powers of our courts." That the President must comply with a subpoena duces tecum ("bring the thing"--e.g. the White House tapes in the Watergate probe) issuing from a criminal investigation was established in U.S. v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974). That the President may be compelled to give sworn testimony in a civil suit in which he is a fact witness is settled, I think, by reading U.S. v. Nixon together with Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681 (1997)--but the issue is not beyond argument. (Thanks to Tad Brennan for correcting an earlier post: I was preoccupied with completing an important questionnaire.)
Philosophers spend a lot of time grappling with tangles, and trying to come up with clear pictures. Mental cross-training is important. So little of what we do is purely deductive, that exercises like sudoku can't give us the workout we need. So little of what we do is merely verbal, that crosswords don't cut to the quick. And none of us is getting any younger (the lives some of us have led--how can we take comfort in the Nun Study?). Enter Planarity. Make it to level eight, and Hegel shucks like an oyster. Also good training for dealing with iPod wires, and easier than Rubik's Cube (now 25 years old).
The omerta of the last five years unravels, as evidenced by the willingness of Colin Powell's chief aide to state the obvious, and more, as reported in the Daily Telegraph. The full transcript of Col. Lawrence Wilkerson's remarks before the not-exactly-left-wing New America Foundation appears here, courtesy the Washington Note.
If you’re like me, you’re grateful and relieved to see “Recent Work” or "State of the Art" articles. Grateful, because if done well they can provide a jump start to get rolling into an unknown area. Relieved, because they can be a good excuse for ignoring piles of articles that predate the “Recent Work” piece. This leads me to wonder who wrote the first “Recent Work” article designated as such (please don’t say everything’s a footnote to Plato). Who wrote the best? Finally, when will the first “Recent Work on Recent Work” meta-survey appear (if it hasn’t already)?
To the point, Elinor Mason (Edinburgh, Philosophy) has covered "Recent Work on Moral Responsibility." The link is "subscription only", but the hardcopy cite is: Philosophical Books Volume 46 Issue 4 Page 343 - October 2005. (Thanks to The Garden of Forking Paths.)
Speaking of constitutional moments, the stealth candidate that Bruce Ackerman (Yale, Law) warned of in "The Art of Stealth," in the London Review of Books (Feb. 2005) ) has, after the Roberts's confirmation, apparently dropped off his radar screen: see the American Prospect (Sept. 2005), "The Constitutional Moment That Wasn't". From the February piece: "Bush’s favourite stealth candidate may well be an administration lawyer who has, in one way or another, helped construct the president’s extreme arguments for expanded powers as commander in chief." From the September piece: "But now it is plain that Bush's transformative ambitions have been shattered beyond all recall....President Bush recognize[s] that he lacks a popular mandate for revolutionary constitutional change. In nominating Roberts, he has indeed made this crucial concession." But Miers is "“one of the key supporters in the Bush administration of staying the course on legal issues arising from the war on terrorism” as reported here. Ronald Dworkin (NYU, Law and Philosophy) thinks Roberts was Stealth I, according to this piece in the New York Review of Books, which draws out the implications of Robert's opinion in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 415 F.3d 33 (2005): "The danger is...that Roberts will join with the other conservative justices in extending the President's power to conduct his war against terrorism without regard for either international law or the traditional rights of prisoners." That would make Miers Stealth II. "Bush can be bitingly clever when he wants to be," Bill Dickerson cautions, over at Slate. Even stealthy.
The Guerilla Radio Show ("Waging War Against Idiocy") makes good its claim to be The Cutting-Edge Philosophy Talk Show. It can be heard live on KCSB 91.9 FM (Los Angeles to Sacramento) or via World Wide Web-cast (www.kcsb.org) every Tuesday night from 7:00-8:00 PM (PST). Archived episodes of the show (e.g., last night's, on Political Philosophy) can be found on its website. Next week's topic is Analytic v. Continental. (Thanks to Pam Groscost, via Brian Bix, for the pointer.)
Saul Smilansky (Haifa, Philosophy) has argued that free will is a beneficially necessary illusion. Without free will, no moral responsibility, and without moral responsibility, life would be so much more solitary, nasty, brutish, and...you know the rest. But, really, how necessary is it? Surely it’s an empirical question, which Thomas Nadelhoffer (Florida State, Philosophy) and Adam Feltz (Florida State, Philosophy) have tried to answer by empirical methods. Before you go look at their results over at Experimental Philosophy, answer the following:
1. Do you think that human beings have free will?
2. Do you think that our actions can be free if all of them are entirely determined by our genes, our neuro-physiology, and our upbringing?
3. Do you think that free will is necessary if we are to be ultimately morally responsible for our actions?
4. Now, for the sake of argument, assume that in the future scientists discover that all of our beliefs, desires, choices, decisions, and actions are entirely determined by our genes, our neuro-physiology, and our upbringing.
a. Now assume that this scientific discovery leads you to conclude that humans are neither free nor ultimately morally responsible for their actions. Would you be more inclined to behave immorally in light of this knowledge?
b. Now assume that this scientific discovery leads people to conclude that humans are neither free nor ultimately morally responsible for their actions. Do you think they would be more inclined to behave immorally in light of this knowledge?
Continuing our trip out of the armchair, Eddy Nahmias (Georgia State, Philosophy), Jason Turner (Rutgers, Philosophy), Steve Morris (Florida State, Philosophy), and Nadelhoffer have done three papers on folk intuitions and incompatibilism. Also worth a look is an interesting and important paper by Joshua Knobe (UNC-Chapel Hill, Philosophy) and Shaun Nichols (Utah, Philosophy), found here. (Thanks to Thomas Nadelhoffer and Manuel Vargas for correcting an earlier post.)
Today's Washington Post indicates that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may announce indictments in his investigation of the White House Iraq Group (a/k/a "WHIG") as early as tomorrow [8/19: make that "next week"]. A report by Dan Froomkin contains the first indication I know of that a "secret snitch" inside the White House has been aiding the investigation ("deep throat" was already taken). Froomkin also documents the final disintegration of the President's right-wing coalition. After the 2004 election, commentators in Europe and UK were astonished that our political system seemed to be unable to correct itself. Better late than never; but it may take what Bruce Ackerman (Yale, Law) calls a "constitutional moment" or two before the dust settles.
Over at Certain Doubts, Ram Neta (UNC-Chapel Hill, Philosophy) and James Pryor (Princeton, Philosophy) have a new proposal for distinguishing what is internal in terms of what one could be said to base a belief on. But what is it for one to base a belief on something? Discussion under way.
A spirited exchange is in progress in the Times Literary Supplement on the subject of Elizabeth Anscombe’s ethical theory. It began September 30, with a review by Simon Blackburn (Cambridge, Philosophy) of Human Life, Action and Ethics: Essays by G. E. M. Anscombe, edited by Mary Geach and Luke Gormally. The review’s title, “Simply Wrong,” was moderated to “Against Anscombe” on the front page. Although Blackburn is mindful of Anscombe’s brilliance and fond of her truculence and “joyously abusive vocabulary,” he is unsparing in his account of her ethics–-an ethics, as he represents it, of uncharity. “Her world was Manichean, and, like others in her Church, she was quick to diagnose any hint of dissent as a symptom of darkness and corruption, and therefore to be treated as enmity or heresy.”
His focus is on the essay “Modern Moral Philosophy,” in which she called for a moratorium on the concepts of moral obligation and moral duty, which she claimed were harmful outside the context of belief in a divine lawgiver. Blackburn: “Anscombe herself, of course, had no intention of jettisoning the concepts of moral obligation and duty, which are needed to frame her other principal claim, which is that certain things are forbidden, whatever the consequences. There are things that the virtuous person simply will not contemplate....” Moreover, her call for retiring the language of moral obligation “is poppycock. I may choose to avoid the words, if I wish, but that is by itself of no interest, and if I feel I must avoid them because I have been told that they are the private preserve of people who believe in divine law, then I have been hoodwinked and robbed....if it looks like a moral demand behaves like a moral demand, and quacks like a moral demand, then that is what it is.” But, silly as it is, the idea casts a sudden shadow, for Blackburn adds that “Anscombe’s claim is important, because people can come to live down to it...any idea of real wrongdoing is a ghost of its former self.”
But what of Anscombe’s “morality of absolute prohibitions?” Blackburn allows that “this has its strengths, and we have only to think of the grubby pragmatism of a Rumsfeld or a Blair in order to become aware of them, although in these papers Anscombe showed little interest in applying her doctrine to political rights.” The papers in the volume focus on medical ethics, and advance a thesis of “right respect” for life, which is hospitable to capital punishment but not to voluntary euthanasia. Blackburn is evidently offended by Anscombe’s positions: “apparently fierce justice can trump, or perhaps nullify, respect for the dignity of life, but compassion cannot. I could not discover why.” Tending toward the conciliatory, he writes that “If we are appalled at some of the prohibitions she willingly embraces, then these essays may force us to ask ourselves why.” But Blackburn concludes with a “parting kick”: “The index lists eleven pages for justice, and none at all for altruism, benevolence, charity, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, mercy, sympathy, or love.”
The review prompted the following letter:
Oct. 7, 2005
Sir, – Simon Blackburn, in his review of a collection of papers by my mother, G.E.M. Anscombe (Sept.30), devotes some space to a critical account of her essay “Modern Moral Philosophy”, in which she enunciates the thesis that language about moral duty, morally wrong action, the moral ought, etc, is a survival from the Judaeo-Christian belief in a divinely given moral law.
Blackburn calls this thesis “a version of the Dostoevskian claim that if God is dead everything is permitted”, and supposes her to be saying that “real morality comes only with the Judaeo-Christian law-based conception of ethics”. This is a misunderstanding of her thesis. Anscombe maintains that the class of actions which are illicit (ie, contrary to divine law) is the same class as the class of actions which are contrary to the virtues which one has to have in order to be a good human being. She did not think one needed a divine law conception of ethics to know what a good human being was, or what virtues he had. Aristotle did not speak of divine law, and she saw in him a figure to whom atheists (as well as Christians) could look as an example of how to think about vice and virtue.
She thought that the notion of the “morally right” was harmful when cut off from its roots in divine law: obviously, one of the harms she had in mind was consequentialism, the view that there was no kind of action so bad but it might be rendered “morally right” by its foreseeable consequences. She wanted people who did not believe in God to stop asking questions like “Is this morally right?”, and to start asking questions like “Is this gluttonous?” or “Is this that kind of injustice which is called murder?”. She did not think that an atheist could have no desire to be a good man, or to act well, or that in him such a desire must be meaningless. She was not attacking atheism as leading to libertinism.
She was proposing, in an atheistic culture, a study of the psychology of the virtues with a view to finding a clear and non-theistic method by which one could come to see the objective truths of morality.
The following week saw another letter:
Oct. 14, 2205
Sir, – [Simon] Blackburn reviews Human Life, Action and Ethics: Essays by G. E. M. Anscombe, edited by Mary Geach and Luke Gormally. This book ...contains as Chapter Twelve the text of a radio talk broadcast in 1957 and entitled “Does Oxford Moral Philosophy Corrupt Youth?”. In it Anscombe answers that, in order to be corrupted, one would have to have had better ideas without this influence, and continues, ironically, “Oxford moral philosophy is perfectly in tune with the highest and best ideals of the country at large . . . . [It] is conceived perfectly in the spirit of the time and might be called the philosophy of the flattery of that spirit”.
The previous year Anscombe had tried, unsuccessfully and with almost no support from her philosopher colleagues (Philippa Foot was a notable exception), to reverse the decision of Oxford University to award an honorary degree to President Truman. Interestingly, in a review that is otherwise critical of her, Blackburn remarks upon the “strengths” of Anscombe’s “morality of absolute prohibitions”. One such is the prohibition on intentionally killing the innocent. That is what she believed Truman had done, and it was the unwillingness or inability of her fellow philosophers to condemn this action as murder that prompted the theme of the radio talk.
John Haldane (St. Andrews, Philosophy)
Blackburn justified his parting shot with the observation that niceness would not "placate her embattled spirit" and--anyway--"perhaps the incivility of righteousness is catching." It wasn't catching fast enough to deny Mr. Truman his degree. (Thanks to Ophelia Benson for a link to Blackburn's full review)
Students of the future Ray Kurzweil and Bill Joy are noted for having opposed views about the desirability of rapid and accelerating technological change. They have agreed, however, that in at least one instance it would be best if we gently applied the brakes, if it's not too late.
President Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court of the United States is extraordinary in a number of ways. She is the the first personal attorney to a president to be nominated since Lyndon Johnson picked Abe Fortas. She is certainly the only member of a president’s personal staff to have been nominated in recent memory, and perhaps a “first” in history in this respect as well those the White House has been touting: first female president of the Texas Bar, first female managing partner of a sizable Texas law firm.
As Geoff Stone (Law, U. of Chicago) has pointed out, Miers is not the first close associate of a president to be nominated to the Court, but in those other cases the nominees were also held in high general regard. In Miers’s case, there has been an outcry from the President’s “base” about her basic fitness to serve–-with the extreme malediction having been pronounced by Pat Buchanan: “Ms. Miers’s qualifications for the Supreme Court are utterly non-existent.” Ironically, some on the left have come to her defense on this score. But as for the President’s claim that Miers is “the most qualified person in the country,” no one has seriously challenged Senator Trent Lott (R-Miss), who in an appearance on MSNBC observed that “Clearly...there are a lot more people, men, women and minorities that are more qualified in my opinion by their experience than she is.” Sen. Lott was no doubt thinking of Judges Edith Jones and Janice Rogers Brown, whom the National Pro-Life Action Center (NPLAC) has called on the President to consider as replacement nominees.
Is excellence a prerequisite for the job? Although by statute the Solicitor General–the proverbial “tenth justice”–must be “learned in the law,” there is no comparable, explicit requirement of the first nine. Geoff Stone recalls:
When President Richard Nixon, no fan of the Supreme Court, nominated the forgettable G. Harrold Carswell 35 years ago, Nebraska Sen. Roman Hruska defended the nomination with an unforgettable bit of wisdom: "Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers," Hruska declared. "They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can't have all Brandeises and Cardozos and Frankfurters and stuff like that there."
In seeming anguish, Stone asks, “Have we sunk, again, to that level?” The answer, sadly, is “No–even lower.”
If Miers’s professional qualifications were the only or even the major doubt about this nomination, many fair-minded people would be willing to give her the benefit of at least an up-or-down vote in the Senate. A far more serious objection to the Miers nomination is that she is not merely a crony of the President, but a person who has been for so long in the direct, personal service of George Bush that her appointment would tend to undermine the separation of powers. As Randy Barnett (Law, Boston U.) has reminded readers of the Wall Street Journal, Hamilton explained in Federalist No. 76 the purpose of the role the Senate was given in high appointments:
It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity. . . . He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.
Barnett goes on to say: “Apart from nominating his brother or former business partner, it is hard to see how the president could have selected someone who fit Hamilton’s description any more closely. Imagine the reaction of Republicans if President Clinton had nominated Deputy White House Counsel Cheryl Mills, who had ably represented him during his impeachment proceedings, to the Supreme Court. How about Bernie Nussbaum?”
The separation-of-powers worry is far from merely valetudinarian. As Anthony Lewis reports in the New York Times, Miers has left no public trace of her views on the extent of presidential prerogatives in the name of “war on terror”–-such as torture and warrantless detention of citizens. Lewis notes, however, that torture-apologist John Yoo (UC-Berkeley, Law) wrote in the Washington Post, soon after her nomination (“Opportunity Squandered”), that Miers was “one of the key supporters in the Bush administration of staying the course on legal issues arising from the war on terrorism.” Yoo ominously added that “it is hard to see how the administration could reveal Miers’s position on these issues, given its tough, five-year struggle to preserve the confidentiality of executive-branch deliberations.” In this context, one can only imagine how Hamilton and Madison would receive the President’s assurances that “I know her well enough to be able to say that she's not going to change, that 20 years from now she'll be the same person with the same philosophy that she is today...I don't want to put somebody on the bench who is this way today, and changes. That's not what I'm interested in.” No, of course not.
Sadly, it is no surprise that this president should regard “Staff Secretary to the President,” “Counsel to the President” and “Supreme Court Justice” as more or less fungible titles available to him to parcel out at his pleasure. George W. Bush was, himself, denied admission to the University of Texas School of Law in 1970, during his youthful search for an identity; and stronger characters than his have managed such disappointments by belittling their importance. He did not bother to reapply. Instead, he entered the business world, where he perhaps absorbed the viewpoint of banking magnate and Harvard patron J. P. Morgan, who once opined, “Well, I don't know as I want a lawyer to tell me what I cannot do. I hire him to tell how to do what I want to do.” Or her.
But perhaps the most serious objection of all to the Miers nomination arises from the manner in which it has been marketed to the suddenly skeptical pro-life right. Because the White House is unwilling and perhaps unable to convey explicit assurances from the nominee that she will decide cases in accord with their agenda, it has instead made an issue of her fundamentalist Christian faith. According to the Associated Press:
Bush defended his nomination, saying Miers was highly qualified, a trailblazer in the law in Texas and someone who would strictly interpret the Constitution - something his conservative supporters want evidence to support. He said his advisers' comments about Miers’ churchgoing were meant to give people a better understanding of his little-known nominee. "People are interested to know why I picked Harriet Miers," he said. "They want to know Harriet Miers' background. They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions. Part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion."
This from the White House that had only the month before warned the Senate to leave now-Chief Justice Roberts’s Roman Catholicism alone. Article VI, clause 3, of the U.S. Constitution declares that "No religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” The message the President has sent to his base is that her religious beliefs can be counted on to shape her judicial behavior–-and that’s why he picked her. Far-right Republican Alan Keyes has called this assurance “probably well intentioned” but suggests that if this was the reason he nominated Miers “he should reconsider it.” Why, indeed, did Miers herself not warn her president away from so dubious a defense of her candidacy?–-Keyes wonders, as well might we all. Keyes concludes–-perhaps unfairly–-that Harriet Miers cannot “uphold, protect and defend what she does not understand and cannot articulate.” (What a thought!)
The fate of the Miers nomination is still uncertain. If it fails, for whatever reason, it will be soon forgotten: if it succeeds, it may never be forgotten–-especially if, as Maureen Dowd has puckishly suggested, Justice Miers works up “a good grudge” against neo- and paleo-con “meanies” from Robert Bork and Pat Buchanan to Trent Lott and George Will, and goes on to avenge herself by taking the leftward path “trailblazed” by Justices Warren and Brennan and worn smooth by Justices Blackmun, Stevens, Kennedy, and Souter.
Obviously, the White House was as unprepared for this storm from the right as it had been for Hurricane Katrina. How did “Harry” Miers get picked in the first place? Was Karl Rove too distracted by “Brownie” Brown and kidney stones and grand juries to mind the store? The absorbing story is told in the Wall Street Journal by John Fund. Mr. Bush had set a personal precedent in 2000 of asking the vetter to take the post for which the vetting was being done: that was how Dick Cheney became Vice President. Fund continues:
The Miers pick had its origin in the selection of John Roberts last July. Ms. Miers was praised for her role in selecting him and the wildly positive reaction. At that point, a senior White House official told the Washington Post that William K. Kelley, the deputy White House counsel who had been appointed to his post only the month before, stepped in. The Post reported that Mr. Kelley "suggested to [White House Chief of Staff] Andy Card that Miers ought to be considered for the next seat that opened."
To most people's surprise, that happened with stunning swiftness when Chief Justice William Rehnquist died Sept. 3. Judge Roberts's nomination was shifted to fill the vacancy for chief justice, thus opening up the seat of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. A quick political consensus developed around the White House that the nominee should be a woman.
Even though several highly regarded female lawyers were on Mr. Bush's short list, President Bush and Mr. Card discussed the idea of adding Ms. Miers. Mr. Card was enthusiastic about the idea. The New York Times reported that he "then directed Ms. Miers' deputy . . . to vet her behind her back."
For about two weeks, Mr. Kelley conducted a vetting he has described to friends as thorough. It wasn't. A former Justice Department official calls it "barely adequate for a nominee to a federal appeals court."
Regardless of whether or not the vetting process was complete, it presented impossible conflicts of interest. Consider the position that Mr. Bush and Mr. Card put Mr. Kelley in. He would be a leading candidate to become White House counsel if Ms. Miers was promoted. He had an interest in not going against his earlier recommendation of her for the Supreme Court, or in angering President Bush, Ms. Miers's close friend. As journalist Jonathan Larsen has pointed out he also might not have wanted to "bring to light negative information that could torpedo her nomination, keeping her in the very job where she would be best positioned to punish Kelley were she to discover his role in vetting her."
Mr. [Steven] Lubet, the Northwestern [(Law)] professor, says "all the built-in incentives" of the vetting process were perverse. "In business you make an effort to have disinterested directors who know all the material facts to resolve conflicts of interest," he told me. "In the Miers pick, the White House was sowing its own minefield."
"It was a disaster waiting to happen," says G. Calvin Mackenzie, a professor at Colby College in Maine who specializes in presidential appointments. "You are evaluating a close friend of the president, under pressure to keep it secret even internally and thus limiting the outside advice you get."
Indeed, even internal advice was shunned. Mr. Card is said to have shouted down objections to Ms. Miers at staff meetings. A senator attending the White House swearing-in of John Roberts four days before the Miers selection was announced was struck by how depressed White House staffers were during discussion of the next nominee. He says their reaction to him could have been characterized as, "Oh brother, you have no idea what's coming."
A last minute effort was made to block the choice of Ms. Miers, including the offices of Vice President Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. It fell on deaf ears. First Lady Laura Bush, who went to Southern Methodist University at the same time as Ms. Miers, weighed in. On Sunday night, the president dined with Ms. Miers and the first lady to celebrate the nomination of what one presidential aide inartfully praised to me as that of "a female trailblazer who will walk in the footsteps of President Bush."
Where those footsteps may lead is anybody’s guess.
I'll be in Paris much of next week and, happily, the distinguished legal and political philosopher William Edmundson from Georgia State University has agreed to blog here on matters political, cultural, and philosophical starting on Monday, October 17 and continuing through Sunday, October 23. I'm sure regular readers will enjoy his visit.
1. The public sector is plainly more robust here than in the U.S. Parks are beautiful and well-kept; the quality of the playgrounds for children is extraordinary--and the playgrounds have attendants and clean bathroom facilities. Almost all major museums are free and open to the public, and the quality of design of exhibits and supporting materials is very high. (The London Natural History Museum, for example, puts the best ones in the U.S. to shame in many respects.)
2. "Dorothy, you are definitely not in Kansas anymore!" Charles Darwin's visage graces some of the money.
3. "The customer is always right" is not a slogan known here. When I pointed out to the cashier at the local chain supermarket that I had given him a 10 pound note, not a five, he denied it and summoned the manager who then proceeded to count all the money in the till before, some 10 minutes later, informing me that I was right and giving me my correct change.
4. On our first day, a rather dishevelled, heavy-set man--who might easily have been mistaken for a vagrant, except the streets are not littered with disposed human beings (as they are in major American cities) and the amount of literature he carried marked him clearly as a proseltyzer--approached me and one of my children to "offer the good news about your Lord Jesus Christ." I replied, "He does not exist." He snorted, and moved on. I thought, "What a tough job this guy has": when he isn't trying to sell his religion to atheists and agnostics (this is a country where people suspect the Archbishop of Canterbury is an agnostic!), in my neighborhood he is most likely encountering Muslims, whose view of his savior may be different than mine, but not significantly more friendly.
5. One may safely assume that almost everyone one meets views George W. Bush as, at best, a mediocre buffoon and, at worst, a monster.
6. No woman under the age of 30 and over the age of 18 appears to wear a top that covers her belly button. One friends says there is an epidemic of "stomach colds" as a result!
7. Journalists on T.V. ask politicans real questions and call them on their bullshit, at least some of the time. Despite England's famously less libertarian laws regarding freedom of speech, the diversity and vigor of public discourse puts the U.S. to shame, and makes America seem like some autocratic backwater...which, of course, in many respects it is (the alternative media excepted).
UPDATE: Regarding #3, a reader from the UK writes the following informative message:
I can explain, if not justify, the attitude of your local supermarket cashier (having done such jobs as a student): each person on the till is responsible at then end of his/her shift for making sure the till tallies. If the till is 'out' by £5 then the person operating it is held to blame (and can, like me, be officially reprimanded and, if it happens twice, be sacked). Thus, assuming it was an honest mistake, as a cashier one would always rather the manager checked the total in the till than take it upon oneself to refund the "always right customer his/her £5". Customers make mistakes, too.
This would explain the obnoxious treatment--and as so often turns out to be the case, it is structural factors beyond the control of the individual employee that explains what it is the "man on the street" experiences.
ANOTHER: Various readers pointed out that U.S. cashiers are often treated the same way by their employers (though that was not true back in the very early 1980s when I had occasion to run a cash register--but America has become a harsher place since then), so the structural fact is unlikely to be the explanation. John Ayer (Law, UC Davis) writes with particularly amusing observations:
The till problem was bad training. Any well trained clerk learns to leave the customer’s bill on top of the till until the change has been counted out so you can wave it back in the customer’s face. My sister almost got fired for making this mistake on her first job 55 years ago, and I absorbed it as a lesson on the path to adulthood.
That said, British shop assistants are trained at the school for museum guides, where they are taught they are paid as a function of how much they keep, not how much they move (“yes sir, this is a cheese shop!).
The two trip rule also applies: almost anything you want to buy will require at least two trips.
MOVING TO FRONT from Oct. 10 (see Update)
This is a clever idea, created by philosophers at Amherst College: a web site where you can pose philosophical questions and get answers from academic philosophers. A somewhat eclectic mix of philosophers are participating, many, obviously, from the Five Colleges area, plus their friends, but many very able younger and senior philosophers. I can see this site becoming quite popular as it becomes better known.
UPDATE: Actually, "Ask a Philosopher" is a service hosted at the University of Sheffield since 1999, while the new service from Amherst College is called "AskPhilosophers."
Here; an excerpt:
The convergence of 'liberal' and 'conservative' parties in western democracies, like the American Democrats with the Republicans, represents a meeting of essentially like minds. Journalists work assiduously to promote a false division between the mainstream parties and to obfuscate the truth that Britain, for example, is now a single ideology state with two competing, almost identical pro-business factions. The real divisons between left and right are to be found outside Parliament and have never been greater. They reflect the unprecedented disparity between the poverty of the majority of humanity and the power and privilege of a corporate and militarist minority, headquartered in Washington, who seek to control the world's resources.
One of the reasons these mighty pirates have such a free reign is that the Anglo-American intelligensia, notably writers, 'the people with voice' as Lord Macauley called them, are quiet or complicit or craven or twittering, and rich as a result. Thought-provokers pop up from time to time, but the English establishment has always been brilliant at de-fanging and absorbing them. Those who resist assimilation are mocked as eccentrics until they conform to their stereotype and its authorised views.
The exception is Harold Pinter. The other day, I sat down to compile a list of other writers remotely like him, those 'with a voice' and an understanding of their wider responsibilites as writers. I scribbled a few names, all of them now engaged in intellectual and moral contortion, or they are asleep. The page was blank save for Pinter. Only he is the unquiet one, the untwitterer, the one with guts, who speaks out. Above all, he understands the problem. Listen to this:
"We are in a terrible dip at the moment, a kind of abyss, because the assumption is that politics are all over. That's what the propaganda says. But I don't believe the propaganda. I believe that politics, our political consciousness and our political intelligence are not all over, because if they are, we are really doomed. I can't myself live like this. I've been told so often that I live in a free country, I'm damn well going to be free. By which I mean I'm going to retain my independence of mind and spirit, and I think that's what's obligatory upon all of us. Most political systems talk in such vague language, and it's our responsibility and our duty as citizens of our various countries to exercise acts of critical scruntiny upon that use of language. Of course, that means that one does tend to become rather unpopular. But to hell with that."
I first met Harold when he was supporting the popularly elected government in Nicaragua in the 1980s. I had reported from Nicarugua, and made a film about the remarkable gains of the Sandinistas despite Ronald Regan's attempts to crush them by illegally sending CIA-trained proxies across the border from Honduras to slit the throats of midwives and other anti-Americans. US foreign policy is, of course, even more rapacious under Bush: the smaller the country, the greater the threat. By that, I mean the threat of a good example to other small countries which might seek to alleviate the abject poverty of their people by rejecting American dominance.
What struck me about Harold's involvement was his understanding of this truth, which is generally a taboo in the United States and Britain, and the eloquent 'to hell with that' response in everything he said and wrote. Almost single-handedly, it seemed, he restored 'imperialism' to the political lexicon. Remember that no commentator used this word any more; to utter it in a public place was like shouting 'fuck' in a covent'. Now you can shout it everywhere and people will nod their agreement; the invasion in Iraq put paid to doubts, and Harold Pinter was one of the first to alert us. He described, correctly, the crushing of Nicaragua, the blockage against Cuba, the wholesale killing of Iraqi and Yugoslav civilians as imperialist atrocities.
In illustrating the American crime committed against Nicaragua, when the United States Government dismissed an International Court of Justice ruling that it stop breaking the law in its murderous attacks, Pinter recalled that Washington seldom respected international law; and he was right. He wrote, 'In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson said to the Greek Ambassador to the US, "Fuck your Parliament and your constitution. American is an elephant, Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If these two fellows keep itching the elephant, they may just get whacked by the elephant's trunk, whacked for good..." He meant that. Two years later, the Colonels took over and the Greek people spent seven years in hell. You have to hand it to Johnson. He sometimes told the truth however brutal. Reagan tells lies. His celebrated description of Nicuragua as a "totalitarian dungeon" was a lie from every conceivable angle. It was an assertion unsupported by facts; it had no basis in reality. But it's a good vivid, resonant phrase which prsuaded the unthinking...'
In his play 'Ashes to Ashes', Pinter uses the images of Nazism and the Holocaust, while interpreting them as a warning against similar ' repressive, cynical and indifferent acts of murder' by the clients of arms-dealing imperialist states such as the United States and Britain. 'The word democracy begins to stink', he said. 'So in Ashes to Ashes, I'm not simply talking about the Nazis; I'm talking about us, and our conception of our past and our history, and what it does to us in the present.'
Pinter is not saying the democracies are totalitarian like Nazi Germany, not at all, but that totalitarian actions are taken by impeccably polite democrats and which, in principle and effect, are little different from those taken by fascists. The only difference is distance. Half a millions people were murdered by American bombers sent secretly and illegally to skies above Cambodia by Nixon and Kissinger, igniting an Asian holocaust, which Pol Pot completed.
Critics have hated his political work, often attacking his plays mindlessly and patronising his outspokenness. He, in turn, has mocked their empty derision. He is a truth-teller. His understanding of political language follows Orwell's. He does not, as he would say, give a shit about the propriety of language, only its truest sense. At the end of the cold was in 1989, he wrote, '...for the last forty years, our thought has been trapped in hollow structures of language, a stale, dead but immensely successful rhetoric. This has represented, in my view, a defeat of the intelligence and of the will."
He never accepted this, of course: 'To hell with that!' Thanks in no small measure to him, defeat is far from assured. On the contrary, while other writers have slept or twittered, he has been aware that people are never still, and indeed are stirring again: Harold Pinter has a place of honour among them.
From a recent speech by the new Nobel Laureate in literature:
The great poet Wilfred Owen articulated the tragedy, the horror - and indeed the pity - of war in a way no other poet has. Yet we have learnt nothing. Nearly 100 years after his death the world has become more savage, more brutal, more pitiless.
But the "free world" we are told, as embodied in the United States and Great Britain, is different to the rest of the world since our actions are dictated and sanctioned by a moral authority and a moral passion condoned by someone called God. Some people may find this difficult to comprehend but Osama Bin Laden finds it easy.
What would Wilfred Owen make of the invasion of Iraq? A bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of International Law. An arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public. An act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading - as a last resort (all other justifications having failed to justify themselves) - as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands upon thousands of innocent people....
We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery and degradation to the Iraqi people and call it " bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East". But, as we all know, we have not been welcomed with the predicted flowers. What we have unleashed is a ferocious and unremitting resistance, mayhem and chaos.
You may say at this point: what about the Iraqi elections? Well, President Bush himself answered this question when he said: "We cannot accept that there can be free democratic elections in a country under foreign military occupation". I had to read that statement twice before I realised that he was talking about Lebanon and Syria.
What do Bush and Blair actually see when they look at themselves in the mirror?
I believe Wilfred Owen would share our contempt, our revulsion, our nausea and our shame at both the language and the actions of the American and British governments.
Centuries of Lexicographers
Centuries of lexicographers
Root-diggers foragers of
Utterance and script
Ordinary perhaps in other ways
But you have scaled the anatomy
Of language its shy nerves
Frail capillaries obscure tissues
So that this morning
In search of meaning or suggestion
I may rummage in my OED
Discovering through opportunity
Intentions bursting from my words
Lexicographers Johnsonian or mad
What harrowing tillage without you
Absent your ardor for order and nuance
The kindling of your midwife’s vigil
This appanage of the gossamer of art
Copyright 2000, 2005 by Maurice Leiter
Posted with permission.