Where Denial Becomes Evidence of Guilt

I really reacted strongly to this column in the New York Times today about Lance Armstrong and the EPO scandal.

What I’m reacting to, I think, is the insistence that denial of guilt is in fact the worst thing that one can do; I can’t find my copy of “Darkness at Noon,” but that seems the appropriate source for a claim like this:

Armstrong has vehemently denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs. His problem is distinguishing his refutation amid the sports culture of deception and lies.

A firm denial has lost its credibility when every culprit claims innocence, when the sprinter Kelli White denies and then confesses, when Rafael Palmeiro shakes a finger at Congress to underscore his goody-goody stance on a steroid-free body, but his positive test is revealed a few months later.

Somehow, I keep hearing the voice saying, “only the guilty refuse to confess” throughout this piece.

There are real and significant issues around the ‘engineering’ of our athletes, and the culture that elevates them to the point that simple games become worth re-engineering our bodies.

But I have a simple view on accusations; they need to be proved. The accused has a right to rebut.

And the innocent have every right to assert their innocence.I don’t know if Lance used EPO – I tend to doubt it, since he continued to crush the opposition even after more-sensitive tests probably would have revealed such abuse (hat tip to the Demosophist for that point). But in a world where accusation somehow automatically becomes guilt, I really don’t need Cultural Revolution-style ‘self-criticism’ from Lance or anyone else.

And Tyler Hamilton, btw, is challenging the results of his test and ban.

Peak Oil

Speaking of Kleiman, he points out that the futures markets are pricing oil in 2010 at $39/barrel.

There’s been a lot of interesting peak oil discussion lately – see this post by the Stephen Levett, the Freakonomics guy. Max Sawicky didn’t like it much.

I tend to side with the freaks on this one, though, and let me tell you why.All my West L.A. friends who are married and have kids have SUV’s. West L.A. – the media capital of the world (sorry, Manhattan) tends to lead trends that are wide in Middle America eighteen months later.

In the last two months, I’ve had dinner or lunch with four of my friends.

All four are in the market for hybrid Priuses to replace SUV’s except one, who’s trading in his Yukon for a Subaru.

When I was in the U.K. last month, I used car services to get from and to the airport.

The last leg, from Derby to Heathrow, had me get picked up by a sprightly guy in a new Ford Mondeo turbodiesel. A Mondeo is a mainstream car, about the size of a Honda Accord.

As we drove down the motorway, I watched the trip computer in amazement…we were tracking close to 80mph most of the time…and it showed a trip average of 52.5 mpg.

Then I realized that they were Imperial gallons, which reduced the mileage to 43.6mpg.

For essentially a full-sized sedan.

There’s a lot of room for more efficiency here.

Mark Kleiman calls out Juan Cole

Mark Kleiman (who stands behind no one in his distaste for the current Administration or the war) calls out Juan Cole’s disgusting smear of Steven Vincent – and his supercilious (and fact-challenged) reply to Vincent’s widow’s response.

I’ve laid off Cole lately, because I keep asking myself “What’s the point?”

But go read this fierce, and accurate takedown of the enraged, intellectually dishonest Professor Cole.

Blue-on-Blue, or the Democrats

I want to take time out to catch up with my old blogging buddy “screw ‘em” Kos.

Actually, this goes back to a breakfast I had with a friend of Austin Bay’s – a guy I’d read as a moderate Democrat (by Texas standards, which means a healthy dash of populism mixed with a certain level of culture war). He’s someone who follows politics as a sport – something I’m ashamed to admit I do as well sometimes when it hurts too much to care.We were talking about the next election cycles, and whether Hillary would run, and who would run against her, and how they’d likely do.

He asked what I thought, and I suggested that if she were smart – and she’s very damn smart – she’d sit out this cycle and run in ’12.

First and foremost, it would let her lock up her Senate race early and easy by simply promising to serve out her term.

Secondly, it will let the suicidal-lemming branch of the party – the folks drowning in their own bile like Duncan Black, Kos, Wolcott, Tbogg, and the many (not many enough to make a majority or win an election, mind you, but many enough to scream really, really loud and be quite attention-grabbing) others who cluster around them – proudly march itself off a cliff into electoral oblivion in 2008.

He agreed; he doesn’t think she’ll pull the pin this time around.

Now I’m not a Friend of Hillary. There’s something more than mildly scary about her naked passion for power. I wish in my heart of hearts that I believed she stood for something other than a lifelong dream about locking the door behind herself in the Oval Office and raising her hands in the air while shouting “Mine! All Mine!!”

Then again, I wish I believed that of many of the likely Presidential contenders.

But Kos is about to take on the Hillary wing of the party head-on. He’s about to launch his super-secret plan to nuke the DLC.

Good freaking grief.

I asked the question before about the ever-thoughtful Brian Leiter.

“Does Kos hate the poor so much he wants to guarantee an even longer run of Republican hegemony?”

Living On The Slopes of a Volcano

Ted Barlow extends the arguments I believe JC and Chris were making (guys, if I’m wrong, I apologize and would be very interested in where your argument branches from Ted’s) in their comments to this post criticizing Frank Rich.

Ted’s (long, worth reading the whole thing) post breaks down as follows:

1) There are 4 likely outcomes in Iraq, 3 of them bad and one unlikely.

2) Things in Iraq are not going well; they may be going horribly – the data isn’t great – but at core, the level of violence isn’t declining, public order isn’t increasing, the political process is moving in the wrong direction.

3) Declaring victory and coming home leads to a certain bad outcome. But that has to be balanced against the reality of our situation.
He sets out a metaphor:

Imagine a village living in the shadow of a live volcano. Serenity is not an appropriate response to the threat of an eruption, but neither is a program of virgin sacrifice. Neither steely-eyed resolve nor spine-stiffening prose poems about the nobility and admirable selflesness of the virgins will do much good.

(This metaphor breaks down quickly, of course. No amount of virgin sacrifice could possibly stop a volcano, whereas there’s still hope that we might be able to prevent catastrophe in Iraq. And I hope that I am not misinterpreted- I mean no criticism of the members of our military, who really do exhibit nobility and selflessness. My brother is a Captain in the Army, and I’m immensely proud of him. However, I’d guess that the themes of pro-sacrifice pundits would sound awfully familiar. “Would you tell the mother of one of our brave virgins that her child died in vain?” “If these anti-sacrifice elites have a plan, let’s hear it.” “This talk of pulling out does nothing but anger the volcano god.” “Anti-sacrifice activists, it saddens me to say, are objectively pro-eruption.”)

4) The only way out – given current troop levels – is a draft, which isn’t going to happen.

So he’s stuck looking for a positive outcome, which brings us back to “may as well pull out now since we’re going to lose anyway.”

I mean, who wants to be the last soldier to die in Iraq?

Somehow, I still see things very differently (what a surprise).

First, I have a somewhat different interpretation of the expectations going into the war.

I always expected – even before I decided that I supported this war – that it would be long and hard, and that the one significant risk we took wasn’t military, but political – that:

We don’t get to ‘declare victory and go home’ when the going gets tough, elections are near, or TV shows pictures of the inevitable suffering that war causes. The Marshall Plan is a bad example, because the Europe that had been devastated by war had the commercial and entrepreneurial culture that simply needed stuff and money to get restarted. And while we’re damn good with stuff and money, this is going to take much more, and we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves, work, and be willing to sweat with this for some time.

(January 17, 2003)

And I’m genuinely puzzled how educated, intelligent folks – folks like Ted – who have read and understand history look at the inevitable muddles committed by our troops, their officers, our political leadership, and the President and weigh them so heavily. Here’s Ted:

The folks I’m quoting above are very critical at Donald Rumsfeld, who has amply earned it. Rumsfeld should have lost his job much earlier for his role in prisoner abuse scandals, for his lack of planning, and for his unsuitable arrogance…

I’d be perfectly happy if Rumsfeld was kicked out and made the scapegoat that allowed the Administration to admit error. I’ll believe it when I see it.

The litany of error – bad planning, prisoner abuse, military arrogance, political timidity – wraps much of the opposition to the war. It is to say that “It’s not that I’m against the war; I’m just against this war, because it’s being so badly prosecuted.

But as I’ve asked before, compared to what?

I’ve read moderately deeply in history, including the history of wars from the Peloponnesian through Vietnam.

Lincoln’s leading general (McClellan) wanted to settle the war, and undermined his strategic direction in the hope that he could make room for negotiation.

The first American battle with the German army in World War II (Kasserine Pass) was a rout – we were routed.

War is, above all, the providence of error. People seem to make a lot of mistakes in war, and because these mistakes are written in blood, they are more visible than the mistakes we inevitably make as city council members setting policies for side yard variances.

Let’s make it simple – we’ve all read Catch-22 with it’s deadly accurate descriptions of the lunacy, folly, and avarice that were part of the U.S. military in World War II. Most veterans of the war that I knew found a core of truth in that book.

Does that mean we were fated to lose? Obviously not.

Does that mean we shouldn’t have fought the war? Obviously not.

If, at the beginning of the war, you had said that it would take ten thousand casualties to take Baghdad, do you think the reaction of the American public would have been vastly different?

I have two sons over 18, one of whom continues to plan on a path through the military. I’m deeply aware of what those casualties mean.

Will we solve the problem of having enough troops? We have to. We should have started three years ago, and the failure to do that – the failure to make it clear to the American people that this was more than a war we’d watch on CNN (until the series comes out) while we went about our daily lives – remains the stupidest thing that the Bush Administration has done.

Can we solve it?

Here I’ll point out that Ted is disingenuous when he says that we supporters of the war blame the media overmuch. He calls it “flailing against a stab in the back from the press.” Well, you know, it’s funny.

There is such a thing as public sentiment, and it is both innate and actively shaped.

After two years of a media-driven picture of the war as immoral and hopeless, somehow we find that et lá! The public support for the war is declining! After two years of demonstrations at high schools and colleges against military recruitment, military recruitment is hard.

I’m not surprised that the media has shaped public sentiment, I’m surprised that it has been so ineffective at shaping it. I’m surprised that anyone is enlisting, and that every member of the House isn’t demanding immediate withdrawal lest they face the wrath of the voters in fifteen months.

Yes, this is going to go on being hard and unpleasant. But again, compared to what?

Compared to letting sanctions collapse? (And I’ll skip over the cheap but satisfying shot of pointing out how many of those who bitterly oppose the war also opposed sanctions – which they now point back to as a perfectly good way to keep Saddam from getting too belligerent)

Compared to watching as Saddam allied himself more deeply with fanatic Islamists who really do believe they can conquer the West?

There’s a simple difference between Ted’s position and mine; he sees this war as living on the slopes of a volcano – as facing a situation where we are helpless (he does acknowledge that sacrificing soldiers in wars sometimes wins them, while sacrificing virgins to volcanoes doesn’t guarantee protection from lava – but in writing, that’s called “having it both ways” – he makes his point, and then in an aside, sets it down and explains that he really didn’t mean it).

I’ll suggest that he Google Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland.

Sometimes even people living on the slopes of volcanoes fight hard enough to win.

We can too.

So when JC accuses me of ignoring the litany of bad news, no I’m not. And while I’m sometimes tempted to wade in and talk about what I think is being done wrong in Iraq (and there is a fair amount), I’d rather use the limited attention granted me to try and get us to do the one right thing. Stay.

Oh, forgot to mention this.

Ted points out (in his litany of disaster) that “The mayor of Baghdad was deposed by an armed Shiite militia, and we just shrugged.” Let’s go to Juan Cole (yes, I do read him, his analysis is usually silly, but he does present info that I don’t see elsewhere):

Meanwhile, Jaafari has thrown his support behind the ousting of Baghdad mayor Alaa al-Tamimi by SCIRI. SCIRI won the Baghdad provincial council elections last January and therefore has the right to appoint its own mayor. Often in contemporary Iraq, incumbents put there by the United States or its proxy interim government have refused to leave when ordered to do so by the winners at the ballot box, and Tamimi was one of those who had ensconced himself, apparently with a private guard. The change of mayor therefore had to be accomplished by the elected governing council through a kind of coup whereby Badr Corps (the paramilitary of SCIRI) occupied the mayor’s office.

Heh. As they say…

The London Subway Shooting. and Stupid, Criminally Stupid Police

More facts in the London subway shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes are coming out, including a Guardian story that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner tried to block an independent inquiry into the shooting.

This pretty much invalidates what I wrote earlier, and moves this from a depressing, if understandable, tragedy to an inexcusable and more deeply depressing farce.

People do stupid things, and sometimes when people do stupid things with guns, they go to jail. Even though they are wearing uniforms when they do them.

Memorials

Just wrapping up my trip to D.C. with some quality time with Biggest Guy. We spent the day wandering around D.C., hit the National Gallery (I got to show him and his friend Hugh the three Cornell boxes there) and walked much of the Mall.

We saw the Vietnam War memorial – moving, effective, powerful – as compared to the World War II memorial – which depressingly does look a lot more like it belongs in Albert Speer’s Nazi capital of Germania than in ours.The Vietnam War memorial works in large part because it is dignified, and more important it is interactive. I stopped and watched the crowd as they walked the wall, stopped and touched names, took pencil rubbings, and left and read small notes and offerings. I read many of the notes left at the foot of the wall today. They ranged from the personal and gripping to the broadly political and occasionally emotionally erratic. Somehow, I can’t imagine the wall without them.

The World War II memorial – a circle of pylons around a sterile central fountain – encouraged no such involvement. The garish wreaths, and the martial eagles holding the banners at the entrances, left me imagining how Leni Riefenstahl would have photographed them. I can’t imagine another response to this kind of iconic imagery.

I’m grateful to the veterans of World War II – my father included.

They deserve better.