Thursday, May 5, 2011


Let's say you're on a boat and the boat springs a leak. You face a crisis: too much water and the boat will sink. One group wants to plug the leak another wants to start the bilge pumps and a third wants to do both. Suddenly a dim bulb shows up and says: No, let's fire the deck hands. If you decide that the dim bulb is correct, you really have no place talking about this crisis and it's solutions.

As we all know, Detroit is a failed city and its school system reflects that. The "learning outcomes" of its students are reflection of the corruption, poverty, and so on. Yet Matthew Yglesias views this particular engine room slowing filling with water and insists that the deck hands did it. Moron.

Tortured Logic

As I mentioned lots of peoples are discussing torture in lots of unhelpful ways. Over to Crooked Timber a commentator makes this argument
I think it’s just obvious that torture can be effective, at least in the case where the information you’re trying to extract is immediately verifiable, like, say, the password for a document that is right here, in front of you. I think people understands this, and they probably take the line “we shouldn’t torture because torture doesn’t work” as an insult to their intelligence.
Much like the ticking time nonsense, this hypothetical assumes perfectly imperfect knowledge. The torturer is has perfect that the only missing piece of information is the password and that this person right here has it. Consequently torture is okay. How does the torturer know this? Because if he or she didn't the hypothetical falls apart.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wrong In Both Directions

To repeat myself, the humanist argument, which is the correct one, is that "we" oppose torture on the grounds that it doesn't work and it degrades everyone involved, in different ways obviously. Mistermix, over to Balloon Juice, apparently thinks that being serious means distorting reality.

See also for evidence that the torture led to wrong information, which is always the case -- except in movies and the perverted imaginings of serious people who get most of the information from movies.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

You Are, Of Course, Stupid

The reason to criticize Obama is because his policies are wrong. I would, as an example, argue that he has been lukewarm in working to end the surveillance state and should be investing more in infrastructure and so on. I understand, equally as of course, that the various coequal branches of government hinder and obstruct, see Gitmo. One thing not to do, however, is to use one's misapprehensions of Obama's character as the basis for criticizing his policy. Glenn Reynolds:
Meanwhile, on foreign policy -- another Carter weak point -- Obama also looks worse. Carter blew it with Iran, encouraging the Iranian armed forces to stay in their barracks, while Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's radical Islamists (whom Carter thought of as "reformers") took power, and then approved the ill-conceived hostage rescue mission that ended with ignominious failure in the desert. Obama, by contrast, could only wish for such success.
Obama has done a very fine job of foreign policy, if we view it through the narrow lens of America's traditional foreign policy goals. Indeed, the recent "success"[1] is further evidence of his actual seriousness and leadership ability. Odd, then, that bufflaheads chose this to attack him. I suppose this results, at least in part, from the fact that his other policies accomplish more or less what he expects them to.[2]

[1] It's strikes me as clear that the assassination was illegal. But, so what? If Bush would have done it way back whenever, the loss of one life would have saved god knows how many lives and endless trillions of dollars. The idea that one death of an unpleasant man dedicated to murder in the service of his own ends violates all manner of moral and ethical rules indicts the rules not the action. IMHO.

[2] Obama isn't, in other words, a man of the left.

David Brooks

I was going to mention that David Brooks' column from today was bullshit, in the Frankfurtian sense of bullshit, when I stumbled on a London Review of Books post on the "Ten Weirdest Sentences" in Brooks' latest opus. My personal favorite:
Imagine a man who buys a chicken from the grocery store, manages to bring himself to orgasm by penetrating it, then cooks and eats the chicken.
I really do think that sums up Brook's utter thingness, where thingness stands for idiocy.

Torture Doesn't Work

This line of argument, from Josh Marshall over to TPM, is really bizarre:
As a more general matter it's important to recognize that torture could easily have produced the key information. It just seems not to have in this case. You can be doctrinaire in opposing torture without being doctrinaire in assuming that it can't produce any good intelligence, which would be foolish.
We have known for the longest time that torture doesn't work.It's like the ticking time, how would you know if what the torturee said was true?  You torture the guy, run to where he says it is. If it's there okay, if it's not? More torture. New information also proven untrue. More torture. etc.  That's how it worked with the witches. Unless, of course, you think that witches actually existed.


Allegedly, Obama's doing something Bush couldn't in a way totally different from Bush's notion of defeating "terror" by invading various nations, some of which had nothing to do with "terror," proves that Bush was right all along. There is also the notion out there by unnamed-highly-placed somebodies or another that it was torture that got the ball rolling. Peter King, for example, on the basis of nothing asserted that waterboarding led to the information. There is also the idea that Bush's sticktoitness made the killing of Osama possible. Remember that by the end of his time spent ruining all our nice things, Bush claimed that he had stopped worrying about Osama.

It seems to me that what this event shows is that Obama would have followed a different tactical and operational path had he been in office and, if getting OBL, was the end game he'd have gotten there sooner. Although I doubt that this will change the larger policy of blowing things up and killing people, one can always hope that Obama will declare victory and bring the troops home.

It looks like torture played no role in the information gathering. Score one for humanism.

Monday, May 2, 2011

History Remains a Discipline: Analogy Edition

Lots of people are going to use Bush I's popularity after Gulf I as an analogy to any increase in Obama's popularity after Osama's assassination. It's important to remember that Gulf I was an invasion fought to get rid of history's greatest monster that ended without getting rid of the monster, who the majority of America had never heard of. Osama, on the other hand, is a long-sought and well-known example of history's greatest monster part twenty thousand. Plus and also, his death comes at the end of a long week in which Obama showed that he has no time for silliness because, you know, he is busy killing Osama, to say nothing of his making the point, with jokes yet, that he has no time for silliness because he is busy doing important things, like killing Osama. The events and any increase in popularity Obama obtains are different in kind, degree, and import.


Yesterday, the NYT had to op-eds on education. One, written by DAve Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari,argued from improving teachers conditions of work, wages, and status as a necessary, but not sufficient, step in the process of improving education. It was nice to see somebody discussing educational reform without relying on the tired and sloppy habit of blaming teachers. But still the focus in teachers.

The other was another in a series of one of those here is the necessary and sufficient step that solves for all time any problems in education. Its author, R Baker Bausell, bashed teachers and made the argument for
measuring the amount of time a teacher spends delivering relevant instruction — in other words, how much teaching a teacher actually gets done in a school day.
could simply videotape a few minutes of instruction a day, then evaluate the results to see how much time teachers spent on their assigned material and the extent to which they were able to engage students.
the very process of recording classroom instruction would probably push some underperforming teachers to become more efficient.
See what he did there? Identified a problem: teachers need to spend more time teaching. Then identified a villian: lazy teachers. Offered solution: increased administrative interference in the classroom.

The first point is that teaching, particularly in the primary and secondary level, has to components: teaching and classroom management. Classroom management means, fundamentally, making the little darlings behave. Classroom management becomes more difficult if students don't, for example, respect their teachers, see much point in education and, consequently, aren't sufficiently motivated to do much of anything.

Size matters. Image that you have to teach as 7 year old reading, writing, maths, geology, history, civics, etc five days a week for 180 days between 6 and 7 hrs a day. How many would you want to confront at any given moment? 5? 10? 15? 20? 25? 30? 35? 40? When people start discussing education and insist that classroom size is really not that important. Imagine this nightmare situation: a class of 40 7 year olds in the spring, the first nice day of spring -- in fact, and you're about teach them about the formation of igneous rocks. A walk in the park, no doubt. 

Teachers in America faced that reality everyday, not in the sense that everyday is the first nice day in spring, and in many cases do so little to no community or administrative support with students whose parents struggle to earn enough to make live. Teachers play perhaps the most important role in creating education; however, they don't do it in a vacuum and pretending that they do is consistently and persistently put the cart before the horse. If we fail or refuse to work on diminishing and, ultimately, extirpating inequality all the reform proposals in the world aren't going to make enough of difference.

A Funeral and Four Predictions

Osama bin Laden is dead. I predict that
1) The Right will not, except grudgingly, acknowledge that Obama is ultimately and immediately responsible.
2) The Right will, by the end of the month at the latest, decide that Osama really didn't matter.
3) This event will not change America's foreign policy by a jot or tittle.
4)  There will be no terrorist attack on America for which AQ or the Taliban is responsible.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Did You Know

That Canada has a complicated and contentious political system in which, right now, its the social democrats versus the prince of darkness?

Reviewer Reviewed

Recently Tom McCarthy reviewed both David Foster Wallace's Pale King and the collection of essays on fatalism and free will in which a Wallace essay appears. Today the Times printed two letters. The first, respectfully, calls McCarthy an ignoramus on the cogency of the debate on fatalism and free will. The second, for the fatalism and free text's editor, points out, much less respectfully, that McCarthy was wrong about the publications content, history, and purpose and that he knows nothing about the philosophic roots of fatalism versus free will. McCarthy, understandably enought -- why make himself look worse, doesn't respond. Both letters, but the second in particular, raise the question of editors and fact checkers at the NYTRB do. It is, I suppose, to much to ask that they understand the philosophical aspect of the two books but surely McCarthy's claim that fatalism and free will was only Wallace's text could be checked with the Google.

Also, Shirley McClain's I Over All That, in which she discusses, among other things, her "past lives" inclusion on the nonfiction list is further evidence, should it be needed, that the NYT is losing interest in words and their meaning.