Posts tagged ‘obama’


The things we believe

I believe, for instance, that the government of Saudi Arabia addresses violent extremism basically by paying its violent extremists money, in exchange for them promising to commit their violent extremist acts in places other than Saudi Arabia.

I don’t have any evidence to hand for this, and I would not stake a huge amount on it (although I would stake a small amount), but it is something that I believe. It fits in with my theories of the world, I think I read something somewhere once that said it was true, and it just makes sense to me psychologically, fitting in with the motivations of the parties involved.

Various Trump fans and people with whom I argue on The Twitter believe that, for instance, President Obama treasonously sent one or more planes full of billions of dollars in cash to Iran, under cover of night, for some nefarious reason or other.

Stripped of the “treasonously” and “nefarious” and the implication that it was some private project of Obama’s, this is actually true. Just before the Iran Revolution, Iran had paid some U.S. entity like US$400 Million for some weapons or something, and when the revolution occurred, we just sort of held onto it, without of course supplying the weapons or something. Iran was not happy about this, and had over time gotten the attention of the folks at The Hague about it, and it looked like they might be going to find in Iran’s favor for like US$2 Billion for money and interest. To pre-empt this, and not have to either thumb our noses at The Hague or pay quite that much money, we gave them the $400 Million plus like $1.3 Billion in interest, held back until they released the hostages they were holding.

And it had to be in cash because we’d put into place so many sanctions against Iran that they were cut off from the international banking system, so there was no other way to get money to them. And it was at night (if in fact it was, I dunno) because Iran is like 9 hours ahead of Washington DC, so really it usually is, at one end or the other. Also because you probably want as much security (and obscurity) as possible around the moving of that much cash in any case.

People believe that this was treasonous and nefarious, though, because it fits into their narratives. Primarily, the narrative that President Obama was a Bad Guy, who was trying to Destroy America, and would have Seized All The Guns and Put Patriots Into FEMA Camps if the heroic NRA hadn’t stopped him, so failing that he just gave lots of money to Iran so they could destroy America for him. Or something.

Needless to say, I don’t find this very plausible. If Obama had wanted to destroy America, there were lots of other things he could have done, and didn’t do. Also he just seems like a very smart, beneficent, and cool guy to me. The Saudi government, not so much; they seem like selfish rich people who would not have huge reservations about just bribing their extremists to go elsewhere rather than doing anything more fundamental about them. So the first story fits my narrative, whereas the second doesn’t.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t think there is any truth of the matter, or that I think I’m just as likely to be wrong as I am to be right. Quite the contrary, I believe that the story I believe is probably true, and the one that they believe is almost certainly false.

But it is interesting to think about how each putative fact does not stand alone, is not believed by itself, due to specific evidence for or against it; but rather exists as a supporting fact in a somewhat-consistent narrative.

And that, perhaps, the right way to try to get to the truth, and/or to get to consensus, is to try to find another narrative that one’s interlocutors also believe, and that the facts up for evaluation fit into differently.

(Note that “You’re an idiot” is a particular claim that will almost never fit into the addressed party’s narratives, and so isn’t much use for finding consensus there, although in some cases a significant fraction of onlookers may agree with it and applaud.)


Briefly noted

One of the designers on Project Runway is named Gunnar Deathrage (more or less). World of Warcraft character, or Nordic heavy metal band vocalist?

Everyone must watch La ragazza con la pistola at once! (It’s on Netflix streaming video, if that helps.) A wild innocent 60’s comedy, with a side of strange surreal Sicily. I don’t know if it was run of the mill bad pop film in its time and is weird and strange only because I don’t know the genre, or if it’s deeply offensive or misogynistic in ways I’m too dense to see, but I loved it.

(Netflix showed it to me for some reason when I searched on “lara” to see if they had any of them Tomb Raider movies. Serendipity! Oh, and they call it “The woman with the pistol” or something I think…)

It’s disheartening to listen to NPR talking to Undecided Voters about the Presidential Election. I mean, these are presumably NPR listeners and all, but still they’re idiots. “I voted for Obama four years ago, and I think he’s tried to do the right thing, but he hasn’t been very effective, and maybe it’s time for a change of leadership.”

Come on, people. Use just one more brain cell, and finish the thought. “So I’m thinking of voting for people who will go back to the policies that destroyed the economy last time”. Great idea?

There’s an obvious political cartoon that I would draw if I had any drawing skills. I don’t know why the Democrats don’t have a whole raft of these. (Maybe they do.)

Panel one: burning building (a factory, say, no resemblance to the World Trade Center), two cartoony people upset in the foreground, vaguely red-colored (not Native American red, cartoony devil red) figure with a flamethrower capering off rightward.

“Oh no, someone with a flamethrower has set fire to the building!”

Panel two: half-extinguished building, blue-tinted firefighter vaguely resembling Obama spraying with hose, same people in foreground.

“The firefighters are taking too long to put the fire out. Maybe we should get the guy with the flamethrower back.”

Panel three: second person looks incredulously at speaker from previous panel.


Panel four: maybe the red guy stomping on the firehouse while the firefighter struggles gamely on.

“Or not.”

Cut to word panels: “Romney/Ryan: those policies caused the recession. Does anyone think they’ll fix it now?”

This screenplay generously donated to the public domain… :)


I’m so boringly partisan these days…

But I mean, really!

Aside from the smug amusement at the Romney organization not knowing what a Venn Diagram is, there’s the more serious point that the actual truth behind the message they are trying to convey is “it turns out that Bush had messed up the economy even worse than we once thought; so vote for Romney, who supports the same policies as Bush!”.

Political organizations in general tend to have contempt for truth, and for the voters. But my impression is that the Obama people have a bit less contempt than average, and the Romney people have several sigma more. If this keeps up, I might end up a registered Democrat or something! Ewww…


there is a tide

“I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”

President Barak Obama


Sullivan on Obama

If you haven’t read Andrew Sullivan’s “How Obama’s Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics“, you should; it summarizes lots of good stuff that this administration has done, and provides lots of solid meaty evidence against spurious Republican attacks.

On criticism of the President from the left, I don’t think he does nearly as good a job. This is the kind of thing:

[H]e has signed into law the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without trial (even as he pledged never to invoke this tyrannical power himself). But he has done the most important thing of all: excising the cancer of torture from military detention and military justice.

Implying (without actually saying, because it would sound ridiculous) that the indefinite-detention stuff is okay, because of something entirely different and good that he did.

And on the whole “executing American citizens without trial” thing (which this administration has actually done), Sullivan says exactly nothing.

I left a comment over on the Liberal Values entry on this subject (which reprints a nice swathe of the Sullivan piece and finishes “none of these issues would be made better by having a Republican in the White House”) and I’ll post it here also for good measure:

I like a lot of what Sullivan says. But he also omits, or passes far too swiftly over.

Can we explain indefinite detention of citizens in terms of some subtle and benign “long game”, or in terms of the limitations of what a President can accomplish? If Sullivan can, it would be a great relief to hear it. But he just zips right by it, implying that it’s okay because Obama has promised not to use that blatantly unconstitutional power himself, and besides he got rid of torture, which Sullivan says is more important.

And Sullivan doesn’t even mention execution of citizens without trial, which Obama has actually *done*.

Can we explain the continued harassment and prosecution of marijuana dispensaries that are legal under their state laws, and the general continued wasting of Federal dollars on marijuana enforcement, in Sullivan’s benign terms? Maybe he can; I’d love to hear it.

Of course liberals realize that none of this means it would have been better if some Republican was President! But on the other hand Obama’s defenders have to realize that that argument is by no means an effective counterargument to any and all criticism of what he has done. I agree with Sullivan that much of the criticism is just flatly false. It would be nice if he would, on his side, acknowledge that some of it is true, and some of that is nontrivial…

One the one hand, during an election cycle it’s very tempting to want to minimize any criticism of the preferable candidate, for fear that it might lead to enough voters staying home that the other candidate wins. But if we’re talking about Long Games, we also need to realize that only through honest criticism of even the good guys, do we maximize our chances of things getting better.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Why do we have “foodstuffs”, but no other stuffs? What about “clothingstuffs”? Or “drinkstuffs”? “sexstuffs, drugstuffs, rockandrollstuffs!”

It’s an odd world.

The Ghost of Dibble Hollow

So driving the little boy home from orchestra, we heard something on WNYC about Christopher Columbus, and that reminded me of how in at least some movie version of Little Women or something the protagonist would exclaim “Christopher Columbus!”, and that on the old (old!) Superman teevee show Perry White would exclaim “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” (which in at least one episode caused that ghost, or someone pretending to be him, to appear), and that in some book that I read as a child there was a ghost (coincidence, that) who would exclaim “Crimenentlies!” or something by way of a satisfying exclamation that would not get them in trouble with the grownups.

I told the little boy that I suspected the book was “The Ghost of Dibble Hollow”, and I wondered if that book was on the web. It is, in fact it is more or less all over the place, including many copies of the same cover that my edition had.

And for that matter there is even one person mentioning it for exactly the same reason I am here, albeit with the exclamation spelt slightly differently.

That was a good book. I haven’t read any kid books recently; I really should. Doesn’t take long, and is good for the soul. Maybe I’ll reread A Wrinkle in Time or somefing.

The kind of libertarian I still am

So reading Griftopia has, at least for the moment, substantially changed the sort of libertarian I am. The change centers around an observation something like “small government would be great, if we had only small crimes”.

The thoroughgoing libertarian will probably respond to this by saying that the only reason we have big crimes now is precisely that we have big government, but that does not seem very likely to me. Certainly the massive fraud perpetrated by Goldman-Sachs and friends in recent years did exploit the government in lots of ways, but it also exploited investors big and small, and various other parts of the private sector. I see no reason to think that if the government was small, there would not be other things (large popular investment firms, pension plans, leading banks) that would be large, and these (and large numbers of private persons) could easily be defrauded of enough money that the fraudsters would be rich enough to buy off the government and prevent their own prosecution.

So, sadly, I think we need a relatively large and expensive government, if only to keep an eye on the inevitable large and wealthy potential criminal organizations. (Not to mention defending the borders.) Of course it’s still a hard fight to keep it from getting corrupted, too! But at least it seems like there’s a fighting chance.

Tweeting Twits

My Second Life self has a Twitter account, which started out being all Second Life type twitterings, but recently has started to be about more and more political stuff, as I observe with benign interest the Occupy Wall Street folks and etc, and get into the occasional squabble with some right-wing type, one or two of which I follow (“follow”) out of general interest.

Had a bit of a frank exchange of views with one Joe Brooks, who seems to be sort of a halfway sensible conservative, at least sometimes. He is quite anti-Occupy, and more pro-TeaParty, whereas I am rather the opposite. He thinks Occupy Wall Street and so on were started by and are controlled by Communists and Labor Unions and things, whereas I think the Tea Party was started by and is controlled by the Koch Brothers, their (shudder) Americans for Prosperity, and the Republican machine in general.

My impression of the Tea Party is that they took some “stop giving money to rich people!” sentiment around the time of the TARP bailouts, added some “Lower my taxes!” to obtain a general “The Government should tax and spend less!” which could then easily be bent into “Less government regulation!”, which is of course exactly what the rich people want, so that they can continue to become richer, some of them by more or less blatantly illegal and/or immoral means. Quite an ironic circularity there.

I can well imagine someone co-opting the Occupy Wall Street folks’s “stop financial industry fraud!” into “more regulation of Wall Street” and then “more regulation of business” and then “more government power”, which tends to become “more power to the already powerful!”, which is again what various of the bad guys want.

So one has to be careful. But in the case of Occupy, I don’t think that’s happened (yet?).

Here is a very excellent open letter and warning from a former tea party movement adherent to the Occupy Wall Street movement all about co-optation and stuff. Everyone should read it.

The kind of Obama fan I (still) am(n’t)

So I am really not hardly at all happy with Our President.

I mean, WTF.

Got rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; that’s good. But…

He’s surrounded by the same Goldman-Sachs crowd that destroyed the economy for their own personal gain, and they are as far as I can tell now working to make sure that they and their cronies still in the private sector can do it again next time they want another few billion dollars in the kitty.

He’s not turned off the absurd waste of Federal money on the stupid and immoral practice of prosecuting and persecuting medical marijuana providers who are doing things that are completely legal under their state laws. He promised he would do this, and he very simply isn’t.

He’s kept us in stupid wars, expanded those wars, and gotten us into new ones. He pretty much promised that he would do this, too, but I think most of us assumed he was just saying that to get votes. That’ll teach us to hope that someone is being a hypocrite!

(In, ironically enough, his Peace Prize speech, he basically announces that America will wage war not just to defend itself and its allies, but to make sure that every nation in the world respects “the inherent rights and dignity of every individual”. I mean, excuse me? Not with my children, you don’t!)

He has claimed the amazing ability to execute American citizens without trial, on the unilateral say-so of the President. I mean, what the F’ing F? This is completely hideous, unconstitutional, unAmerican, nasty, dangerous, and wrong. We were horrified when Dubya merely claimed the ability to imprison (“detain”) citizens without due process. How can we be calm when Obama claims the ability to kill us?

Anyone who is thinking, well, this was a special case, and it was Obama after all, please consider:

2014, President Romney dies from a bad batch of Botox, and Vice-President Bachmann gets the top spot. Shortly afterward she has a vivid dream in which God tells her that America is at war with atheism.

Two weeks later simultaneous drone strokes take out the national headquarters of American Atheists and the Ethical Culture Society, as well as Richard Dawkins, in the U.S. on a speaking tour. Casualties are in the hundreds.

The Bachmann administration claims that it was a legal national security action, and cites the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki as precedent.

Couldn’t happen? Well, if the Obama administration’s assassination of al-Awlaki was legal, you will have to explain to me why the hell not.

This is why we have warrants, judges, checks and balances, separation of powers.


So the President seems to be a not particularly Progressive statist with ambitions of American expansionism. The potential Republican nominees are all either insane, lying hypocrites, or both. I am not overjoyed!

But this, too, shall pass.

In other news

Here is a Stanford (related) AI class that anyone in the world can take and apparently some hundreds of thousands of people intend to. I understand their servers are needing some upgrading. :)

And today’s candidate for Shortest 419 Letter, presented in its entirely:

Be my partner in this huge $17.3M deal.

Enticing, eh?

The evils of convenience

I am pretty fond of this here WordPress theme. On the other hand I am not fond of the right-justification (nearly always a bad idea on computers except in the most thoroughly-typeset documents), nor of the egregious grey lines around all my images. Guess that is the price I pay for not having to hand-code and SCP-upload all these here words!