A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Joe Claus Loses His Colossal Gall...

And the bladder to go with it. Very early Wednesday morning, I woke up with a steel band of agony around my upper abdomen. I told Mrs. Claus it was a gallbladder attack. She was skeptical, because she was in the grip of the Monte Carlo fallacy: I couldn't be having a gallbladder attack since she had just had her own gallbladder removed not two months before.

However, I was having such an attack. Mrs. Claus was astonished, but I certainly wasn't. Both of my parents had gallbladder attacks when they were almost exactly my age, a matter far more relevant to my own problem than Mrs. Claus having one at almost exactly my age.

This is a major matter in life that causes an immense number of problems: sorting out the difference between coincidence and cause-and-effect. You might say that the first difficulty is that the problem is three-pronged. Consider the two-key encryptation of e-mail which, I'm sure is still giving the NSA fits, for if it is breakable, I have yet to hear it. It was invented at the same time in two places at once, and completely independently, by private mathematicians here and government codebreakers in Britain. Is this really coincidence? Not quite, for a little thought will show that the dynamic driving it operated through parallel causal structures, the need for secure communications, the emergence of e-mail, ect. ect.

So what we are looking at are three things: "pure" coincidence, such as the timing of the gallbladder attacks of myself and Mrs. Claus; related coincidence such as two-key encryptation; and cause-and-effect.

It seems to me that confusing any of the three with one another is superstition.

What meaning can that have for us at the moment? Consider the constant grasping at straws among my good conservative friends, even yet, to find a serious connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. I kited out the following below on All Things Beautiful a day or two before my gallbladder attack. The quotation is from Michael Barone:

Why, for two distinct groups of Americans, has it become a matter of conviction held with religious intensity that there cannot have been any relationship between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq?

This is not a matter of religious intensity. It is a matter of ordinary and commonplace logic. You cannot absolutely prove that something does not exist.

In the absence of real evidence that there was such a significant linkage of Saddam and Al Queda, the rational presumption remains that it did not exist, and certainly no one intelligent has any business either asserting or implying that it did exist in the absence of such evidence.

As to fighting Al Queda, the last I heard, Osama Bin Laden went to Pakistan, not Iraq. The fact that we have not bothered to follow him into Pakistan might have something to do with why he is still at large.

There is certainly evidence that at least some of the people we are shooting at in Iraq are members of Al Queda. But there is plenty of evidence that there are all sorts of other people we are shooting at there, too. And I, for one, hardly think that the members of Al Queda in Iraq are busily plotting to do something in America. There are far too many good targets available locally. So, there we stand, shooting whole bunches of people, after which we sort out who was a member of Al Queda and who wasn't, and check them off one by one.

Of course, since this whole enterprise has so far cost us $245 billion dollars, one could make a case that this approach to a War On Terror is not very cost effective--particularly since it is hardly likely that many of the leaders of Al Queda are anywhere near our line of fire in Iraq. And if there is any plotting to do big attacks on America, it is probably being done by those leaders who are elsewhere than where we are shooting.

Cost effectiveness, of course, is not our long suit. From all I can gather from the published reports what the NSA is largely doing is "traffic analysis"--automatically screening an incredible number of electronic messages for words like "bomb", "jihad", and "as Allah wills", like a Baleen Whale lapping up tons of plankton.

The whale, however, gets real nourishment out of every drop. I hardly think the NSA is so effective.

And then there is the possibility that we might have spent some of that $245 billion dollars making a serious effort to secure and protect the most vulnerable American targets. We have spent virtually nothing on this, or, if we have spent it, it has been to no purpose. Such targets are clearly not secure and protected. To do this, however, would actually require us to think through what is the most likely way our enemies would attack us. And also to think through what kind of likely attack would do the most damage.

We would then have to give up our paranoid expectation that a stroke of evil genius like 9/11, is the norm of how terrorists operate. We would have to come down to earth and realize that genius in evil is as rare as genius anywhere else. Then we would have to apply something like ordinary and commonplace logic to the problem. That means we would have to do things like relearn that there is no reason to believe something exists if there is no significant evidence that it does.

Now, frankly, it is a crying shame that we have wasted so much money and unintelligent effort. But it does have its good points, and, in any case, it is water under the bridge. We are not going to get any more intelligence and effectiveness out of the Bush Administration however hard we may try. The limits of our leadership are something which we must endure for several years, and we will simply have to deal with the consequences, come what may.

But one of the consequences of truly bad management is that, sooner or later, all but the True Believers finally figure out that it is bad management, and start looking for something better. I strongly suspect that this process has already begun. I also think that the really awful consequences of our adventure in Iraq are now inevitable. So I, for one, am far more receptive to the President's "stay the course" rhetoric than you might think.

For I want the "buyer's remorse" with the now inevitable consequences of Iraq to be burned so deeply into the consciousness of all but the True Believers that it lasts for a generation or more. People then just might start demanding some more intelligence in our leaders in the way they run our War On Terror. At the moment, I think I'm highly likely to get this, particularly if the President "stays the course" and we remain in essentially the same situation in November of 2008.

And, even if I'm wrong and staying the course actually accomplishes something, then something will be accomplished. And something beats nothing.

I would add to this that the "buyer's remorse" might just add up to at least a temporary erosion of the American propensity toward the logical fallacy of treating either pure coincidence, or related coincidence, as cause-and-effect. One can always hope.

There. I haven't lost nearly the gall that I thought!