Deep Underground with Raul Groom

Friday, January 23, 2004

Afternoon, dear Reader. Had to take a test this morning; I'll tell that story in my next column. In the meantime, I've got a message for all the Dean supporters who are taking this occasion to rail against the press for their silly "horse-race" coverage of the Dem nomination.


It would be nice if the press covered important issues as heavily as they cover trash. They don't. It would be nice if the fact-checkers at the Post and the Times were as thorough as the celebrity-watchers. They aren't. And yes, it would be wonderful if there were some kind of public persona that a Democrat could get away with without being called either stuffy or insane. There isn't.

When Howard Dean belted out that hilarious yell, it was a mistake. In a world full of responsible, professional journalists, it wouldn't have mattered at all. See above.

However, the comparisons to Ed Muskie breaking down at the mic and crying after Karl Rove (yes, that Karl Rove) launched a scurrilous, cowardly attack on Muskie's wife during the 1972 race are a bit much. Dean didn't break down crying, he merely sounded his barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. If he had it to do over again, he probably would have toned it down. But this race ain't over.

At this point, the odds against Dean - in fact, the odds against anyone but Kerry - are really long. However, that has little or nothing to do with the Dean Scream. The minute Kerry pulled within the margin of error of Dean in Iowa, he became a prohibitive favorite to win the nomination. That's just the nature of the establishment candidate's campaign, and the fact that Kerry's strategists understand that is another advantage that he has.

On the other hand, Dean still has a lot of grassroots support and a lot of money, and that makes him dangerous. Money is how the field gets narrowed - when you run out, you get out. Dean has enough to play it right down to Super Tuesday, and if it's still close, he can spend all the way to the convention if he wants to.

If you're a Dean supporter, and you're feeling disheartened by the fact that Dean didn't win Iowa and he probably isn't going to win New Hampshire, cheer up. Those contests are very important, but in Dean's case they aren't as critical as they are for the candidates who don't already have a big war chest. Clark, for instance, could be in serious trouble if he shows poorly in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The really heavy lifting will be done in New York and California, where Dean is very strong. Add in Maryland, where his support is good, and he's got the potential to come out of early March in very good shape. The key now is to keep the enthusiasm despite the fact that it's now clear he's a big underdog. And maybe to buy some better suits.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Heresy time - I've got a big test tomorrow, so no time to give any background. I'll just lay it on you and you'll think I'm a lunatic. But maybe in a couple of years we can look back and I won't sound so crazy.

The Iraqi people are not better off now than they were under Saddam Hussein.

AHHHHH!!!! Evil!!!! Lies!!! How can you say that!?!?!?! He is an evil murderous super satan-man!

Well, yes. Saddam Hussein is an evil murderous super-satan man. The difference between Hussein and Hitler or any other historic baddie was purely one of means and capacity - had Saddam been in control of the world's biggest army, we would probably all have been wiped out.

However, since the 1980's, when Saddam carried out some very major atrocities with the enthusiastic support of the U.S. government, the main manifestation of Saddam's badness has been that Iraq under his rule was a brutally repressive totalitarian police state.

Well, guess what, folks? In all of history, the only way anyone has ever figured out how to rule over an occupied population is to institute a brutally repressive totalitarian police state. When we invaded Vietnam in the 1960's, we instituted such a regime. We had to. You invade a country, you knock off its leadership, then you start cracking heads until you figure out what to do next. I'm not making a value judgment here - we did the same thing in Germany after World War II, an invasion for which I can offer no reasonable alternative. It was the right move. We shouldn't be ashamed of it, even though there were parts of the process that weren't pretty.

The point is, right now, life under the American occupation is probably about like it was under Saddam Hussein, only with more rubble. That's just a fact. It might make your heart leap into your throat with rage to read it, but it's reality. One brutally repressive dictatorship is a lot like the next one if you're the one living under it.

The difference is, potentially at least, that we plan to make a transition to something else. This "something else" is supposedly a representative democracy. I'm all in favor of that - unlike a lot of people on the far left, I am a big fan of representative democracy. If there is any ideological/bureaucratic system worth fighting and dying for (not a certainty by any means) then representative democracy is it.

Germany is a nice example of how to create a democracy in a state whose government you've overthrown. First, you reinstall a lot of the fascist elements that were in place before the overthrow to administer your brutal totalitarian police state. Once you've done that, you start to bring those elements under democratic control, and they sort of mellow out over time. Not exactly greeting-card material, but great power politics is not nursery school. If you don't have the stomach for this sort of thing you should go read Instapundit or something.

There were a couple of factors that really helped us in the case of Germany. First of all, pretty much the entire world was grateful for the overthrow of the German government, which was, in case you're just joining us, kind of running amok, invading everyone and torturing millions of people to death. That created an environment where everyone - most of all Germany's neighbors - were rooting really hard for us to succeed.

Second, what we were doing in Germany was basically returning the country to the "regional mode," which is always the easiest way to prop up a failed state. That is, you institute a government that is similar to other allied governments in the region. That way the institutional structure of the new state meshes well with the other institutional structures in the region, which lends legitimacy to the whole thing.

Unfortunately, in the Middle East, most of the allied governments are run by U.S.-backed monarchies. In fact, almost the whole region is monarchy. So there are barriers to setting up a representative democracy that have nothing to do with this racist idea that little Arab brains can't handle self-government. Iraq's neighbors are as follows:

Saudi Arabia - U.S.-backed monarchy.
Kuwait - U.S.-backed monarchy.
Iran - Hostile hybrid of theocracy and representative democracy.
Turkey - Friendly hybrid of military dictatorship and representative democracy
Syria - Hostile monarchy
Jordan - U.S.-backed monarchy

So the obvious choice in Iraq, if not for political considerations, would be to install a king. Unfortunately it would be hard to justify an invasion on the basis of our yearning for monarchy. It just won't play in Peoria.

So we have to have a representative democracy of some kind. But it's not going to be a European-style democracy, because that won't work. There's no institutional structure for it, in-country or in the wider region. The only other choice is the Turkish model, a military dictatorship with some democratic structure sort of grafted on top.

That's almost certainly the plan for Iraq. Now, you could argue that over time you could scale back the role of the military and move toward a true representative democracy. In fact, that's happened somewhat in Turkey and it's made the country much harder for us to control. But that's a viable model and it's probably what we're going to pursue.

So now, we can look at the real situation, without all the propaganda of how the Iraqi people have been "freed" from brutal repression and strife. The fact is, they are still under brutal repression and strife. It's probable that, over a period of many years, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives, we might be able to provide them with some measure of freedom and autonomy, but only if we devote almost all of our foreign policy attention to the situation for at least a decade, probably more. If at any point in that process we make a misstep, the whole thing slides into chaos, and a strong, charismatic and brutal dictator will fill the power vacuum and take control of Iraq for himself.

It reminds me of an admonition I read in a book by Idries Shah - "Why did I do such-and-such a thing" is all very well. But what about "How else might I have done it?"

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

If I never looked at ZMag, I'd be a better employee. But it wouldn't be worth it.

Check out this article by Tom Engelhardt. Basically everything that needs to be said about the current situation in the Asian theatre.

Well, here I am the morning after MLK Day, faced with the classic bourgeois dilemma. My boss is out of town this week - and I mean WAY out of town, lounging in a tropical paradise straight out of some depressing Conrad story. This provides me with an unparalleled opportunity to distinguish myself in her absense and catapult myself to the front of the pack with my bold initiative and thorough stewardship of our company's network.

It also provides me with an unparalleled opportunity to goof off.

So what shall it be, dear reader? To be honest, the question presented is one with which I've wrestled since I was in the third grade - why struggle? What is the point, exactly, of getting ahead? If I worked at this pace (an almost criminally lax one) for the rest of my life, I could provide myself and my family with all the creature comforts we need and then some. I could drink Beefeater and tonic and take walks in the park and retire in comfortable obscurity to the mountains of West Virginia or upstate New York or New Orleans or any other place I like. Barring a catastrophe, I am set for life, even in George Bush's America.

So why struggle? Is there some truth to the protestant work ethic, this idea that productive effort is itself desirable, for some reason other than the value of what it actually produces?

In a word, yes. Particularly for a person like myself, who tends to avoid anxiety through inaction and wild imaginings, there is inherent value in working tirelessly towards a goal. Stretching one's personality toward a different mode of activity than the comfortable one - in this case, the comfortable mode is sloth - has immediate benefits and subtler, long-term ones.

This is not to recommend this course of action to anyone else. Indeed, plunging oneself into action is probably harmful for the many people who tend to feel most comfortable when working productively. For them, productive effort may be a barrier to progress. It may behoove such a person to sit down, take a deep breath, and start a blog, for example.

In my case, my blog is a way to avoid the anxious task of getting to work, already.

So get to work already, you sluggard!

Friday, January 16, 2004

Well, it looks like power-horse John Kerry might pull it off after all. I've thought about this eventuality over the course of this week, and I've decided I'm happy about it. Sure, I would have liked for my speed-horse Dean to stick it out, but Kerry is a very good candidate and he'll make a great president. I'll be proud to vote for him in the general election, should he take the nomination.

In fact, if Kerry does win the nom, particularly if he wins big, it makes me think his team really knows what it's doing, and that he's got it under control. They seem very disciplined and professional. The more I see of this campaign the more excited I am about it. Go Dean, but if not Dean, Go John Kerry!

A lot of Dean's people are going to be really dejected if someone else takes it, but you have to look at the positives that came of this - Dean really changed the conventional wisdom and showed that, rather than some tiny fringe of leftists, the Democratic party's activist wing is an important ideological base that will be ignored at the party's peril. It's sad we needed Dean to show us that after Al Gore and Holy Joe abandoned the base in 2000 and lost* to possibly the worst presidential candidate in history.

And that's speaking as someone who get very emotionally invested in Dean. I've always been a sucker for speed horses - my first gambling loss was a play on a horse named Rocket Guitar in a long race on grass when my dad took me to Pimlico when I was a kid... He was trading at 8-1 at post time, and I had five bucks on him to win - putting me in the market for a $40 payoff, a fortune for me at the time. RG burst out of the gates and torched the field by about 8 lengths until the final turn, at which point he proceeded to fall into the void, finishing out of the money entirely.

The point is, I'm not sorry I bet on Rocket Guitar. It was an exciting race, and a day I'll never forget. And I don't think any of us will ever forget Howard Dean, even if he fades into obscurity.

Just as long as I don't have to vote for a fucking General.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

You want to know about racism? I mean real racism, not ABC after-school-special racism where the solution is "education" and "understanding" and other wishy-washy blather?

Last night I was walking home from the Metro station, walking up this big hill that leads to my house, and wondering idly whether I'd ever done anything that resulted in anyone's death. I've never killed anyone outright, as far as I know, so I was thinking mostly of indirect means.

The best I could come up with as I was walking up this hill was that I'm not in touch with all my old girlfriends from high school, and a lot of them were real head cases, and a lot of them I treated pretty badly. So if any of them ever washed down a bottle of Percoset with a handle of Jim Beam, I could probably take some small responsibility for her death.

Meanwhile, I'm walking past this thin black guy sitting on a bench with his head in his hands, not moving. I walk past him and start to turn the corner when I hear someone up ahead yell sharply "Johnny!"

I was startled by the noise. I looked up and saw another black man walking toward me. I hurried my pace and turned onto a side street. He yelled again, with more urgency this time, not panicking, but clearly concerned.


I looked back.

"Johnny," he said as he approached the bench I had passed moments before. "You can't go to sleep on this bench. It's cold. You're gonna die."

I heard these words and felt a shame as deep as I have ever felt. I wanted to turn back, to help in some way, but I knew I had already flunked the day's humanity test.

How much longer did Johnny have when I walked past him, never even considering stopping to help or even to see if he was alive? One hour? Three? I can't be certain.

But one thing is certain. Johnny is still "Johnny" today - and not John Doe - because I was not the last person to walk past him in his hour of desperate need.

And that, friends and neighbors, is just about all there is to be said about that.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

If you're a serious left-left-winger, you might find this interesting. If not, it frankly probably will sound like lunacy, so skip it. It was one of the more interesting articles I read this week, though.

Internet message boards have opened my eyes to a lot of things. One thing they've taught me is that I should avoid Internet message boards. I find them more addictive than any other stimulus I've ever encountered, and the effect they have on my ability to think clearly is profoundly negative.

Another thing, hopefully more important, that I've learned from these online repositories of e-blurting is that there is a shocking dearth of logic in our society. It has nothing to do with politics - you are as unlikely to run across a truly sound, reasoned argument on a Democratic message board as you are if you are perusing a Republican hangout.

Logic, it should be noted, has severe limitations. One of the more poorly understood lessons of Plato's Republic is that even a logically sound idea, extended far enough, becomes absurd, and the ability to tell when this is happening is a difficult capacity to acquire. Still, this doesn't mean we can abandon logic, and it certainly doesn't give us license to go around accepting and propagating known fallacies.

There are a few fallacies, I've found, that people are generally able to identify and deconstruct. The "straw man" fallacy is a technique that has become so common in arguments that many people are effectively inoculated against it. If you say, for example, that Saddam Hussein was no threat to the United States, and I say "So you're saying that we should have just let Saddam Hussein acquire nuclear weapons and destroy the earth" you probably aren't going to fall for that. If I can obfuscate my point by using a lot of flowery language, or by declining to mention who exactly I'm alleging made this statement (in a column, for instance) I might get away with it for a while, but you'll eventually figure it out and call me on my fallacious reasoning.

Sadly, the same is not true for other, equally common fallacies. In fact, there is one fallacy that has become so prevalent both in the major media and in smaller, more populist media such as message boards, that it has effectively paralyzed the discourse. This may seem like hyperbole, but it would be hard to overstate the seriousness of this problem. If you like, you can test it for yourself.

The next time you watch a news commentary program, look out for the "appeal to authority" fallacy, which is generally combined with a veiled "ad hominem" argument. If you don't like news programs, don't worry - you won't have to watch for long. This type of argument is virtually the only argument that anyone uses anymore. It's really quite shocking when you start to notice it; in fact, the technique so pervades our discourse that as you read this you may find yourself thinking "but how else would we discuss these things?" Indeed, that is the crucial question we must examine.

The key story in the news right now is the Paul O'Neill flap. There are basically two camps on the O'Neill question - one side thinks that O'Neill is a man of conscience who decided he had to speak out, and another who thinks he's a disgruntled former employee trying to stick it to his boss. Virtually all of the "debate" in the mainstream media has been on this question, with people bringing out arguments to support either position.

In reality, both arguments are fallacious. It matters not one little bit why O'Neill spoke out. What matters is whether what he said is factual, and then, more crucially, what conclusions we can draw from whatever facts he did expose. It's doubly amazing that O'Neill's new "retraction" is getting so much ink - he says now he never meant to imply that Bush was hell-bent on war with Saddam from Day One. Well, Paul, I hate to sound like Scottie Mac here, but who cares what you think? The facts O'Neill publicized are for us, the thinking public, to analyze. We have no obligation to accept O'Neill's interpretation just because he was the guy who requested the documents from the WH counsel.

When Laurie Mylroie's bogus "exposure" of Suskind's book as a hoax hit the Web early this week, DemocraticUnderground went crazy with people condemning her and calling her argument a crock of shit. That's fine, really - her argument WAS a crock of shit, after all. But what was really remarkable was that ZERO people on the message board identified the actual logical fallacy in Mylroie's email - a completely unvarnished "false comparison" in which she equated Saudi Arabia and UAE (two staunch U.S. allies) with Iraq (an official enemy.)

This is not because people on DemocraticUnderground are stupid. It is also NOT - repeat, NOT - because no one who read the threads in question understands elementary logic. But our discourse has become so polluted that in a way, reasoned arguments seem out of place, and it can be difficult to even formulate such thoughts, much less express them. It is all too easy to get caught up in the Personality Wars, tearing down authority figures who say things we don't like, and cheering the ones who say things we do like.

If you are interested in this phenomenon, here's your assignment for this weekend - watch a Sunday talk show, one of the round-table discussions with five or six panelists. Watch for someone to try to move the discourse toward some logical or factual endeavor, such as an analysis of whether a certain politician's statement is actually true. This time you have to watch closely, but this will normally happen once or twice in a half-hour show. Within two seconds of the beginning of such an effort, another panelist will interrupt the speaker and make an "ad hominem" argument, which will likely be followed by an appeal to authority.

It's quite fascinating to watch.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Conspiracy theorists have good memories. That's why Laurie Mylroie was the first to remember that the supposedly "secret" document that O'Neill showed us on 60 Minutes the other night was actually not secret at all, but has in fact been available to the public for months under the discovery agreement in the Larry Klayman Energy Task Force Case.

She tells us all about it here.

Unfortunately, in general conspiracy theorists lack a certain cognitive capacity we often call "logic." In this case, Mylroie makes an excellent point; it just isn't the point she was trying to make.

The intrepid conspiracymonger points out that in this very same document were plans to carve up UAE and Saudi Arabia just as the page we saw carved up Iraq. Does that mean that the Bush Administration was about to invade Saudi Arabia? That's absurd, right?

It is indeed absurd. Absurd because the situation in UAE and Saudi Arabia is not analagous to the situation in Iraq. At the time of Cheney's secret ETF meetings, Saudi Arabia and UAE were favored allies. It was perfectly legal and feasible for U.S. contracting firms to be planning projects in those countries, and for those projects to be included in our national energy strategy.

What was NOT legal and feasible was for those same countries to be planning projects in Iraq. Iraq, as you may remeber, was at the time considered under U.S. policy to be a reincarnation of Nazi Germany and the greatest threat to world peace on the planet.

The only way it made sense for these companies to be planning projects in Iraq is if they believed the U.S. was about to invade and install a client regime that would allow them to take over all the oil contracts. And the only way that this would have made sense as an inclusion in the national energy strategy is if the White House were actively pursuing such a plan.

So Mylroie has indeed exposed a "hoax," in fact two of them. The Treasury investigation into O'Neill's publication of "secret" documents is certainly a hoax, since the documents in question have been in the public domain for months. Bush's new claim that September 11th was the catalyst for actually implementing the plan for "regime change" in Iraq is closer to the legal definition of a hoax than that of a lie, because while it's clearly intended to mislead the gullible portions of the public, no reasonable person could be expected to believe it.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Well, the shit certainly has hit the fan with Suskind's O'Neill book. I can't post anything terribly long today, but here's my two cents:

Now we know why Cheney's energy meetings had to be so secret. They were divying up Iraq among all the energy companies in attendance.

Serious people would do well to go back and read this document. Pay close attention to the signatories - particularly one Kenneth Lay.

The pieces are all falling into place. I'll try to blog out a complete timeline by the end of the month, bit by bit. There's a lot there, but I think it's all in the open now. Bush election in 2004 is at 5-1 and falling, but you could get a lot of degenerates to lay down at even money, so if you're making book, that's my line for now.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Welcome to my blog, which is currently as empty as the suggestion box in heaven. Fortunately, I haven't told anyone about the blog yet, so if you are reading this, you are probably a fed.

Go away, fed. Nothing to see here.