Saturday, June 14, 2003

Reading Bush Closely: The Media Starts To Catch On  

Someone in the real media, notably Bryan Keefer, writing in Salon, has finally noticed that George Bush's speechwriters use language with all the subtlety of a Talmudic commentator. Consider this little masterpiece that Bush recently uttered:
We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them.
First, read that last sentence carefully. What do "they're" and "them" refer to? Here it is again, in isolation:

"Those who say we have haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them."

Well, "they're" obviously refers to people who say the US has found no banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons.

But what does "them" refer to ? Well, it refers to either banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons.

So what, you say? Well Keefer makes it clear.

"By combining [the banned devices and weapons] in this way, Bush implies that weapons have actually been found, but he does so in such a way that he can claim he was only discussing manufacturing devices. "

This impression, Keefer points out, is reinforced by emphasizing the word "weapons" three times prior to the last sentence.

Oh, please, you say. This is picking at nits.

Nonsense, says I. Bush has been doing this all along. For example, as I wrote to friends when I read it that day, on May 17, 2002 Bush said:
Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people.
This was said angrily and apparently off the cuff. But it was clearly scripted, as was the angry voice. Look at it closely. It's a classic Straw Man.

Bush is saying that if he had had specfic information that on September 11, 2001 "the enemy" would attack with airplanes, he would have done everything he could to stop them.

Well, sure, if he knew exactly what was about to happen and when, he would have tried to stop it. At least he admits that he didn't have to have the precise times the planes would take off. But that's about all.

But that level of knowledge was never the issue.

The issue was then, as it remains: why didn't the Bush administration take al Qaeda that seriously in the first 9 months of 2001? Indeed, we now have strong evidence they backed off surveillance of al Qaeda.

This is the question Bush has never answered, although he appeared to, above. That is why one needs to read Bush very, very closely, especially when he's cornered.

Through the Looking Glass With George, Ari, And Humpty  

As Salon reports, the term Weapons of Mass Destruction is used by Bush both as a synonym for and to include Weapons of Mass Destruction programs:
"We found the weapons of mass destruction," Bush said. "For those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, we found them."

Regardless, this is the White House's explanation. Asked why the president was so precise on Monday, saying "weapons programs" three times in a row, Fleischer said, "I don't think you should make anything of it, because I know what the president meant. When he said 'weapons programs,' he includes weapons of mass destruction, as you heard him say on numerous occasions."

But the White House reporter apparently hadn't heard the president use the non-synonyms as synonyms "on numerous occasions." Seeming incredulous, the reporter tried to clarify: The president used "WMD" and "WMD programs" "interchangeably"?

"That's correct," Fleischer said. "He did" so on Monday, he added.

This nifty new definition of WMD would apparently include the two trailers Kurdish forces found in late April near Mosul, ones that the CIA says "probably are designed to produce" biological weapons, though that claim is disputed within the CIA. Still, if one accepts that the trailers are the real deal, and one accepts Fleischer's Tuesday explanation, then it's clear that the trailers constitute not only evidence of a WMD program but the WMD themselves.
All of which reminds any reader of Lewis Carroll of Alice's encounter with Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass:
I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'

`But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected.

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'
Therefore, as anyone can see, "Weapons of Mass Destruction" can,in fact mean, Weapons of Mass Destruction programs.

For some very strange reason, however, Alice at least finds this very hard to believe so she asks:
`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
And Humpty Dumpty tells it to her straight:
`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.'
It was a lesson that the young Ari Fleischer, and the young George Bush, have never forgotten.

If you are the master, you control what words means.

Roger Clemens Pitches His 4,000th Strike-Out  

We were there last night in a bleary Yankee Stadium, a light rain that made it seem like middle-fall not June. We were way, way up in the stratosphere behind the left field line and even from up there, Clemens looked like a huge man. I read later that he was pitching 94 mph fastballs and I believe it. From where we were, some of them were so fast they were hard to see.

At least once, maybe twice, Clemens blew off his 4,000th and it was easy to see why. Whenever he wound up to deliver the last pitch, flashbulbs all over Yankee Stadium went off as fans tried to capture History. By the time he released the ball, the field was lit up in a lightning-like glare far more intense than high noon in a cloudless sky. It was so bright I don't think he could have seen the batter.

Finally, though, he did it, the catcher calmly walked out and gave him the ball, Clemens ruffled the catcher’s hair and, aside from that 1 second gesture, he refused to react, refused to have his concentration interrupted. The videoscreen showed his face, unshaved, tense as usual, nervously exhaling as usual, eyes on the field, totally inside himself, thinking whatever great pitchers think when they are under a level of stress the rest of us can never, ever imagine. He still had his 300th game to win.

We stayed for several more innings but the rain finally got to us. We got home in just enough time to see the relief pitcher preserve Clemens’ victory. I had told My Smart Spouse earlier that he would be crying when it was over.

“Are you kidding? Roger ‘Throw the Bat at Piazza’ Clemens?”

I told her she was wrong. He’s a big guy, he's relentless to the point of insanity, but he’s sensitive, more sensitive that one might think. When this is over, he’ll be in his wife’s arms, crying like a baby. “Oh, he’ll just be relieved it’s all over,” MSS said.

As the first baseman stepped on the base to end the game, Clemens leapt up, hugged his teammates and anything else within hugging distance. His two youngest kids hurled themselves into his arms. He took his cap off and shook it half-heartedly at the fans. He seemed incredibly shy, maybe stunned by it all, but it seemed more like he didn't know what to make of the praise. A reporter for CBS collared him and he began to talk, spouting clichés drummed into him by the clowns who train athletes never to say anything. But then the reporter mentioned his mother, who was too ill to attend. Clemens stopped, choked up for a second, started to speak again, choked up again, turned away, speechless, turned back to the mic, softly said he loved his mother, then that his mother knew how much he loved her. It sounded like he felt guilty for not being with her. He said that tomorrow he had to go back to work. It wasn't until the interview was nearly over before he dared wipe his eyes.

Clemens will retire at the end of the season, a great athlete and a very complicated man.

Friday, June 13, 2003

The Great Philosopher: Sidney Morgenbesser  

The Strauss studies have been plugging along nicely. In following up some online research I ran across Josh Cherniss's blog Sitting on a Fence which has some excellent discussions on Strauss. I wrote to him and admitted that my formal training in philosophy was limited to an undergraduate course at Columbia taught by Sidney Morgenbesser.

Josh reminded me that Morgenbesser has become a legendary figure, but at the time I had no idea how great he was - after all, I was only around 20. He was a wonderful, wonderful teacher and taught at least one important philosophical pupil, Robert Nozick who said he ended up "majoring in Morgenbesser." Since I couldn't quite understand everything he was talking about, I grabbed a seat in the middle of the front row, right under his podium. I remember a totally distracted man, hair perpetually uncombed and the filthiest fingernails I've ever seen in my life. How he managed to keep them that way week after week will always remain a mystery to me.

Morgenbesser was/is famous, perhaps infamous, for his quick wit. Josh told me this marvelous Morgenbesser quote:

"Pragmatism is great in theory, but doesn't work in practice."

This jogged my brain and I recalled a NY Times Magazine article from maybe 20 years ago that mentioned him. The article had this story about my old teacher:

A linguistically oriented philosopher once was giving a paper at conference that Morgenbesser attended. The philosopher confidently asserted in his talk, "There are some languages where two negatives means a positive. There are some languages where two negatives mean a negative. But there are no languages where two positives mean a negative."

Morgenbesser immediately stood up shouted out, "Yeah, yeah!"

I mentioned the story to Josh in another letter and he responded with this one:

Morgenbesser walks into a restaurant, has dinner, and then asks the waitress what they have for dessert. She says apple pie and blueberry pie. Sidney Morgenbesser says he'll have the apple pie. She comes back in a moment and says that they also have cherry pie.

So Sidney Morgenbesser says 'In that case, I'll have the blueberry pie.'

My ex father-in-law used to teach at Columbia. He was about Morgenbesser's age and he once gave me some insight into his distractedness. Apparently, during the height of the riots in '68, Morgenbesser was out with the students protesting the University when a policeman conked him hard on the head and he had to go to the hospital. He was as sharp as ever, just a little...odd.

Which brings up another story I just found online:

Sidney Morgenbesser , professor of philosophy at Columbia, was smoking in the subway. A transit cop came up to the professor and demanded that he put out his pipe. "What if everyone smoked?" the cop said reprovingly. 'Who are you -- Kant?' the irritated professor asked, whereupon the policeman, misunderstanding "Kant" as something else, hauled Sidney Morgenbesser off to the precinct-house.

But for all his quirks, the most striking aspects of Morgenbesser were his eyes and his smile. He simply glowed all the time as he ruminated on some abstruse point from Plato or Hegel. He was sometimes sardonic and hilarious, but mostly I recall this rapturous expression. He didn't care whether we understood him, he was talking mostly to himself. and for himself, usually without notes and without cracking a book when he needed a quote from a philosopher. His enthusiasm for philosophical discourse was so great that I found myself infected with it and struggled mightily to understand him. Did I? I don't really know, but I took away from his classes his lovely, slightly crazed persona and a desire to look carefully at the assumptions in my thoughts, to try to understand texts whose initial meaning may be very unclear.

And every once in a while Morgenbesser comes into my mind and I chuckle to myself.

The Two Minutes Laugh  

Recently, MoveOn had a nifty initiative. They wanted to survey membership as to its concerns. Rather than just ask questions, they asked members to interview each other. Obviously, their hope, aside from getting some feedback from members was to create networks and friendships among their membership.

My survey partner was Greg Berry. He is the founder of Think Tank West, a Denver-based media consultancy specializing in thought leader support.  After my interview with him was completed he sent me an excellent article he wrote called The Two Minutes Laugh which first ran in Rebelion Magazine. It's in pdf form so download and enjoy!

Thursday, June 12, 2003

The War On Our Freedoms  


I was given an advance copy of this important book by Richard Leone, one of the authors of The War on Our Freedoms: who is married to a longtime friend of mine. Taken individually, the essays are shocking, The effect of the whole book is to sound the alarm that the erosion of our civil liberties is far more advanced than is normally understood to be the case.

The authors are all moderates to liberals and the tone of much of the writing is crisp, direct, and urgent. If you've been following the assault on civil liberties, it is helpful to have all the info in one place and so clearly explained. If you really don't know the details, it will come as quite a shock to learn how many of the rights that we take for granted are being ignored or eviscerated by the Bush Administration. And these are not only recent laws; Bush's detention of prisoners in solitary confinement perhaps for life, without access to a lawyer flout hundreds of years of legal precedent.

To say the least, Bush and men like John Ashcroft are involved in a radical reshaping of American civil law, making access to information and legal care more difficult while increasing the powers of both domestic and foreign agencies to spy on and collect information on even innocent American citizens. What is most worrisome is that many of the restrictions on civil liberties are irrelevant to the battle against terrorist attacks: giving up our rights does not make us more secure in more cases than one might expect.

When I finish the book, I'll blog some passages. Go and order a copy. Here's the press release:

6/9/03, New York City — With the whole world watching, America, in the name of freedom, has twice gone to war half way around the globe. But here at home, the war on our freedoms is being conducted largely behind closed doors. The government has adopted numerous policies that challenge existing legal norms, freedom of information, and many basic civil liberties. Yet it is still far from clear that the nation is much safer.

In The War on Our Freedoms: Civil Liberties in an Age of Terrorism (A Century Foundation book, published by PublicAffairs, June 2003) fourteen thinkers, scholars, journalists, and historians warn that we may be giving up more of our freedoms than we realize to gain less security than we need. They argue that the rush to limit civil liberties in the name of national security is ultimately destructive to American values and may, in some cases, impede efforts in the war on terrorism.

Contributors to the volume include Anthony Lewis, Kathleen Sullivan, John Podesta, Alan Brinkley, Stanley Cloud, Joseph Lelyveld, Christopher Edley Jr., Ann Beeson, E.J. Dionne, John Stacks, Roberto Suro, Richard C. Leone, Stephen Schulhofer, and Patricia Thomas (bios attached). In a series of essays, they detail how due process is being undermined, government secrecy is on the rise, racial profiling is rampant, immigration policies are being compromised, and individual freedoms are at risk. A central theme is that this war on our freedoms is being conducted largely behind closed doors, and with little public debate. Richard C. Leone and Greg Anrig, Jr. are the co-editors of The War on Our Freedoms.

“The struggle against terrorism could continue for generations, and we run the risk of finding ourselves on a slippery slope, making decisions in which freedoms that are set aside for the ‘emergency’ become permanently lost to us,” Richard C. Leone, writes in the introductory essay. “In the end, the freedoms we abridge in the interest of security will be largely the result of choices that we, not the terrorists, make.”

The editors and contributors to the volume are available for interviews. For more information, contact Christy Hicks at 212/452-7723 or visit our web site.

United For Peace and Justice  

Infro from a meeting from United For Peace and Justice
The first major decision was to adopt, following amendment, a "UFPJ Strategic Framework." Among other points, it says this: "UFPJ's over-arching goal in the coming year to 18 months is to impact and mobilize public opinion in order to force a shift by the US government away from its present policy of permanent war and empire-building, and to address the ramifications of that policy both abroad and at home."

Surprisingly, in my opinion, the body did not adopt an amendment which would have added "participate in the process of defeating the Bush agenda" as part of that main goal. This happened, apparently, for two reasons: concern from some non-profit UFPJ member groups about this being a potential legal problem for them, and concern from others that this statement would be interpreted as pro-Democratic Party.

The question of how UFPJ saw its relationship to the Democratic Party was one of the political sub-texts throughout the entire weekend. There is no question but that a strong majority of the delegates were very clear that they are independent of both parties. There were some, but not a huge number, who were openly pro-Democrat, particularly in regards to the upcoming Presidential campaign. Dennis Kucinich was the clear favorite of a number of people. Even several Green Party members present were open in their support of Kucinich.

But UFPJ will not be endorsing or supporting any candidates, at any level.
I can't imagine what they were thinking. Right now, there's an elephant in the room that's got public opinion on the war safely under the spongy paads of it's big gray feet.

There is no way to shift the Gov away from imperialism without US regime change. Public opinion is ignored by the Bush administration. The propaganda is unbelievable and UFPJ can't counter it effectively. Do you know that 45% of the country believes weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq?

The only conceivable way to stop the warmongering and propaganda is regime change. That is the only issue today: Boot Bush Back to Texas. Every organization with politcs to the left of Colin Powell simply must support whomever the Democratic will be. Otherwise, Bush will get elected and we haven't seen anything yet.

Despite media hype, there are profound differences between Bush and even Lieberman (heaven forbid). Bush is a radical. He literally wants a proto-fascist Republic. Lieberman is a moderate "Rockefeller Democrat." Yes that's bad, but he is not a fascist. Bush is. UFPJ's project would work under Lieberman. Bush? Not a chance.

Nancy, are there any Boot Bush organizations that you know of? Or voter registration drives? That is what I'd like to get involved with and if you hear of anything, please let me know.

UFPJ did a great job with the marches. But this announcement was disappointing, because the organizers of the largest demos ever are focused on the wrong thing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

June 26, 2004: A Day That Will Live In Savagery  

Neal Pollack suggests a blogosphere wideSavage Weiner Day. He has the relevant sites, if you don't know who he is.

I think it's unfair to call him a right-winger as he's just a psychotic. I've participated in some letter writing and other things and it's amazing how many advertisers literally didn't know that their ads were subsidizing him.

I'm of two minds about participating as I think he's probably clinically paranoid and maybe suffering from some kind of personality disorder. In the bad old days, it was a Sunday entertainment to go to the asylum and watch the nuts. It's really a pitiful exploitation and MSNBC should be ashamed of doing the same thing with Savage. In addition it's not fair to Savage for MSNBC to play the role of enabler, reinforcing his narcissism and paranoia.

Oh, pish and tosh.

On June 26, we will appropriate Michael Savage's Name For Your Own Purposes.

Hmm...What do I really want to do with that name?

Back to the Blog  

I've been engaged in an anthropological experiment of some interest which I hope to post about in some detail soon. Alas, it took me away from regular posting for which I apologize. I'm back and quite anxious to learn if in the past day we've found bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, Saddam, any wmd, or the brain of Dan Quayle. Probably no more posts till Thursday.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Ashcroft Is Becoming More of a Liability  

Via TalkLeftcomes this column by Richard Cohen about the dangers of John Ashcroft.

It brings up the question: if Ashcroft is replaced between now and '04, we won't have him to kick around which takes pressure off Bush. OTOH, if he stays, he continues to abuse the Constitution. Otoh, if he leaves, it will infuriate the right wing nuts that Bush caved.

So all things considered I say, "Go back to whatever rock you crawled out from under, Mr. Ashcroft. Do it today."

[UPDATE: MacDiva over at Mac-a-ro-nies believes there's not a chance we'll see the end of Ashcroft. That's the bad news. The good news? All the Dems need to do is repeatedly air a music video of Ashcroft singing one of his compositions and Bush might as well concede now. MacDiva explains the reasons why its not a bad idea to get that video ready to air: Ashcroft will be around. ]
I can't imagine Ashcroft leaving without a fight. Remember how he came to be in the office in the first place. I don't believe he can win an election for his old seat in the Senate and I don't think he is ready to step out of the limelight. He might be tempted by the offer of a judicial appointment, but it would have to be at a high level. Such a nomination would be difficult to get approved. (With good reason.) So, we are back where we started, with John Ashcroft trying to hold on to the AG's office so hard a calico cat wouldn't scare him away.
And here's Mr. Cohen on what Ashcroft has been up to when he's not doing his best to top Florence Foster Jenkins' unmatched repuation. Don't know this great diva? Go, click on the link and listen to the samples. It's a life-changing experience.
Ashcroft has a serious attitude problem...

That attitude was on display when he testified before the House Judiciary Committee. The AG was asked about a report from his own inspector general criticizing the way in which the Justice Department had treated 762 illegal immigrants locked up and detained after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. None of them -- that's precisely zero -- was ever linked to terrorist activities.

Yet some of them were held incommunicado for months. Either they were refused lawyers or so many obstacles were put in their way that it amounted to the same thing. They were denied visitors. Some were held in solitary confinement, verbally harassed and threatened and, on occasion, allegedly physically manhandled. To all of this, Ashcroft responded with a shrug. "We make no apologies," he said -- and, of course, he asked for additional death penalties in terrorism cases...

Nonetheless, innocent people were held behind bars, sometimes cruelly, for months at a time. They were sometimes called names and told they would never be set free. The report highlights the experience of one woman who for two months was repeatedly told her husband was not being detained (he was) and who, even after she found him, was permitted to visit him only three times in five months. Isn't she deserving of an apology?

Not from Ashcroft. To hear him, the system worked perfectly. This is precisely the mind-set he brings to capital punishment, of which he clearly cannot get enough...

A cavalier attitude toward civil liberties, an inability to concede mistakes, a refusal to see imperfections in the criminal justice system, a zealously irrational belief in the death penalty -- and pretty soon you can read between the lines of that Justice Department report: The attorney general is far more dangerous than any of the immigrants he wrongly detained.

Federal Hate Crime Legislation: A Debate  

If anyone is interested in what a genuine debate looks like between two honest and knowledgeable people who strongly disagree, please follow the links below.

Responding to a discussion started on other blogs, Jeralyn at TalkLeft opposes hate crime legislation. Her remarks are a condensed version of an article written while she was chairman of a task force for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers on the issue of federal hate crime legislation.

David at Orcinus believes federal hate crime legislation is extremely important.

Their tone is meausured, fact based, and objections are met with counterarguments and evidence. Whom do I agree with?

I really can't say. I understand the reasoning behind both points of view and until I've had a chance to learn more about hate crime legislation. I will follow both Jeralyn and David's arguments and think about it. They both make excellent arguments. And unlike my friend Clubbeaux, they don't resort to personal attacks, non-sequitur, arguing from anecdote, etc. In fact, David does use an anecdote (which will form the basis of a new book; by the way, you HAVE to read his current book, In God's Country, on the Patriot movement which is superb) but he does so to exemplify a point which he's already made via arguments backed up with references to data, respected authorities and so on.

What a pleasure to read both of them.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Hey MacDiva, You Were Right About Clubbeaux  

I guess I touched a nerve with Clubbeaux in an earlier post. He acted just the way MacDiva said he would.

Clubbeaux finds me an intellectual poseur*, a tedious, intellectually hamstrung rugrat, a mendacious mental midget who's also self-impressed, certainly one of the more pompous and long-winded, little intellectual anklebiters around, who's also not credibie, who can't read correctly, or restate correctly what I read, I'm befuddled, an ignorant horse?s ass, a meretricious scumbag, a little person who preens himself on his superior moral posturing, I'm also dishonest, hypocritical and brainless , someone who escaped from an intellectual Romper Room, poor, addled, also arthropodic, a blowfish among dolphins, dishonest, commonly stupid, and tiresome.

I deny none of it. I think the blowfish among dolphins is particularly apt.

But what I do deny is the substance of his rather, um, interesting, post, namely that I claimed he was lying about his anti-Klan prejudice before he met with them and his mind was open and his prejudices were swept away. In fact, I was quite aware of this and even excerpted a quote in my earlier post.

What I don't believe is that he is objective or honest in the way he argues.

I believe he indulges a tendency for ad hominem arguments - honest discourse rejects them. I believe he takes any possible opportunity to attack liberals as a way to distract readers from focusing upon the weakness of his ideas. His Klan posts contain many examples of this tactic - again, I was really struck by his argument that the liberal Northern millers caused slavery - a near total non-sequitur, but I could point to many others.

I believe he puts much too much weight on his anecdotal experiences. I believe his claim to an "open mind" is contradicted by the lengths he goes to employ all these distractions. Open minds argue with logic and data, which Clubbeaux uses as sparingly as a high blood pressure patient uses salt.

Assuming he was anti-Klan before his epiphany with the Klan, today he admits he is not. He is also quite far to the right politically. Hey, it's a free country. I just don't buy his "open-mind," "seeing things as they really are" stuff. I think anyone who's really trying to be dispassionate and spark a useful, civil discourse - as he claims to want - doesn't argue the way he does.

Furthermore, he seems, to be kind, truly unaware of exactly what the Klan is or how to evaluate what they say. If he was aware, if he had read the Klan in their own words as he exhort us to do and if I felt for a second he actually understood what they were up to, then...well, I would not be very kind anymore.

As I said, I don't have the time to discuss race and inequalities with anyone who takes the Klan or the Klan's "ideas" as a serious starting point to initiate a discussion. But I am prepared to discuss race relations and inequalities in America with anyone who knows better.

(By the way, I also thoroughly enjoyed "The Crucible" reference in his latest post: I have been turned into an accusing tweener who denounces the innocent Tituba to Hathorne. As I'm sure he knows, Arthur Miller wrote "The Crucible" as an allegory for McCarthyism. Cute tactic, that - using a liberal "icon" to bash a liberal. I've noticed it's kind of a fad among right-wingers. Daniel Drezner in a defense of Strauss, employed the same tactic recently using a Douglas Hofstadter essay about the right wing paranoid style f politics. Drezner thinks that those who object to Strauss and see a "Cabal" of Straussians are paranoid.

The strategy worked just as well for Dan, I'm sorry to say, but they both get points for trying.)

*Clubbeaux originally called me an "intellectual poseur" in the first title to his riposte, then edited it out and reposted it. I wonder why he changed his mind?

Stephanopoulus Asks Some Real Questions  

Who could imagine that Stephanopolous would actually do some major probing of the Bush administration, but Liberal Oasis has a great excerpt, with their own incomparable notes, from yesterday's show, with Condoleeza Rice:
The best exchange of the day, if not the year to date, was back on This Week.

Again, the segment started with a Bush flashback, this time the 2003 State of the Union Address:

BUSH: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That claim was later discredited by the International Atomic Energy Agency, found out to be based on forged documents.

So how did it make it into the State of the Union address?

RICE: At the time that the State of the Union address was prepared, there were also other sources that said that the Iraqis were seeking “yellowcake,” uranium oxide, from Africa.

And that was taken out of a British report.

Clearly, that particular report, we learned subsequently – subsequently – was not credible --

[Sounds like she’s coming clean, no?]


RICE: But it was also a very small part, George, of a larger picture of a program aimed at developing nuclear weapons --

[Uh, hasn’t everybody given up on the nukes by now?]

STEPHANOPOULOS: But let me stop you right there. Because many in the United States government knew before then, that this --

RICE: Somebody, somebody down may have known.

[Whoa! Major pre-emptive CYA action!]

But I will tell you that when this issue was raised with the intelligence community…

…The intelligence community did not know at that time, or at levels that got to us, that there were serious questions about this report.

[“Levels that got to us”! When you’d rather argue you have no idea what your own staff is saying, you’re in big trouble.]

STEPHANOPOULOS: But let me show you something.

This is a column from Nicholas Kristof from the New York Times. It was on May 6. And he wrote in that column:

[quote displayed on screen]

“More than a year ago the vice president's office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger.”

“In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged…”

“…The envoy's debunking of the forgery was passed around the administration and seemed to be accepted — except that President Bush and the State Department kept citing it anyway.”

That’s hardly low-level, the vice-president’s office.


RICE: Well, the vice-president’s office may have asked for that report.

[Hmmm. That doesn't sound pre-written. Someone got caught off-guard?]

But I am telling you George, that the information that this particular report, this particular report, which was cited by the British, and if you notice the president cites the British on this, this particular report was not known to us –

[Getting awfully nuanced here, a little “definition of ‘is’ is” perhaps?]

STEPHANOPOULOS: Then why would we cite the British if there were people in the US government -- and I also know the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, I spoke to someone there yesterday -- knew it wasn’t true and had discredited it?

[Sweet Jesus! A real follow-up question!]

RICE [increasingly exasperated]: George, I am telling you that when this was raised with the intelligence community they said what we could say.

[Total dodge.]

And there were other attempts to get yellowcake from Africa.

[Brazen assertion without evidence. Haven’t we learned our lesson?]

But the important thing here, is that this case about the nuclear weapons program did not rest on a document that the British cited.

Despite all of this decent journalism, everyone let Colin and Condi get away with trumpeting the two trailers that the Bushies insist are mobile bio weapons labs.

Even though Saturday NYT reported:

American and British intelligence analysts with direct access to the evidence are disputing claims that the mysterious trailers found in Iraq were for making deadly germs.

In interviews over the last week, they said the mobile units were more likely intended for other purposes and charged that the evaluation process had been damaged by a rush to judgment.

But no Sunday questioner raised this report in response.

(Could it be that no one bothers with the Saturday paper?

Or that one of the reporters of the story, Judith Miller, has had her credibility questioned because of her dubious reports that WMD have already been found?)

Nevertheless, the defensive performances by Condi and Colin, utterly failed in squelching the issue.

For example, from the Dems, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), on MTP said:

I think our credibility will be weakened [if no WMD are found].

Even the president has said that our credibility is significantly going to be determined by whether we find weapons of mass destruction or not.

I was kind of stunned the other day when the president said that we have found weapons of mass destruction.

He said this twice, I believe, in Poland, that we actually have found them. I think that raises credibility issues.

But if we do not find weapons of mass destruction, I think that the credibility and reliability of our intelligence is going to be challenged in the future.

And it’s going to be much more difficult for us to lead the world.

And if you’re surprised that a Dem was putting more pressure on Bush, you won’t believe this.

Mr. PNAC, Bill Kristol, on Fox News Sunday, while still supporting the war, said:

We shouldn’t deny, those of us who are hawks, that there could have been misstatements made, I think in good faith,…by the president, and by the secretary of state, that will turn out to be erroneous.

And I made [such] statements…

…[And] I’m worried about the fact that we have a Bush Doctrine…a foreign policy that, I think correctly, is aggressive in terms of pre-empting threats against us by states developing weapons of mass destruction.

We need awfully good intelligence to know what states have…where these weapons are. And we’ve let our intelligence capacity run down for 20 years.

Of course, this gets at the entire problem with pre-emption. But that's another column.

(Also, keep in mind that Kristol backed John McCain in 2000, not Bush. Is this a softening up of Bush in advance of a McCain comeback?)

All in all, this was one bad Sunday for George Bush. This issue ain't going nowhere.

Strauss: "If all values are relative, then cannibalism is a matter of taste."  

Not a bad line, I have to admit.

It comes from a reasonably knowledgeable defense of Strauss in the Jerusalem Post. You'll get a sense of what he actually believed from sympathetic student who resists the temptation to strike out blindly at Strauss' enemies.

I do wish I will have time to start blogging in detail about how profoundly wrong Strauss is. It is very troubling to think that he is being idolized for his philosophical insights as the lapses in logic are as plain as day. In any event, this does seem close to the mark:
Chicago is a school that tends to attract a larger than usual quota of geeks and oddballs. So you can imagine my enchantment with a man who wrote that "there exists a very dangerous tendency to identify the good man with the good sport, the cooperative fellow, the 'regular guy,' i.e., an overemphasis on a certain part of a social virtue and a corresponding neglect of those virtues which mature, if they do not flourish, in privacy, not to say in solitude: by educating people to cooperate with each other in a friendly spirit one does not yet educate nonconformists, people who are prepared to stand alone, to fight alone.... Democracy has not yet found a defense against the creeping conformism and the ever-increasing invasion of privacy which it fosters."

At the time -- I was 17 -- this did not strike me as a neoconservative insight: plenty of kids that age, Right-leaning, Left-leaning, or apolitical wage their own little struggles not to conform, to "stand alone." But what did strike me was the way in which Strauss dignified this impulse and brought it to bear on the boring-sounding titles I was being made to read: Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Politics, Hobbes's Leviathan, Kant's Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, and so on. As a result, I began to pay attention. And in paying attention, I realized that what these books had to offer was more interesting, more important, more stimulating and indeed arousing than anything I had previously encountered.

* * *

The method was a dialogical form of investigation which moved forward by sincere, not sophistical, questions. And the purpose was to discover what is "right by nature" -- that is, the things that are permanently, not provisionally, true.

The second gift followed from the first. Strauss was not doctrinal but he was a debunker of doctrine. If there were things in life that could be said to be true for everyone, then cultural or moral relativism was nonsense. If there were things that could be said to be true always, then historicism -- the conceit that what was once thought to be true was merely the product of a given historical situation -- was not only false, but self-contradictory: Wasn't "historicism" itself the product of its times?

Strauss was equally contemptuous of some of the other great intellectual fads of the day: the fact-value distinction on which modern social science rests, and which turns out to have so little explanatory power; and behavioralism, which attempts to explain human activity without reference to reason or free will.

* * *

Strauss's resort to the ancients, then, was never intended as an effort to overthrow the moderns, much less hold up Plato's "city in speech" as a worthy political model. His aim, rather, was to deploy the ancients as a sort of counterweight to the moderns who had tilted too far in the direction of radical skepticism, relativism and nihilism. Strauss feared that the moderns had gone too far in discounting the potential truthfulness inherent in the things people say, see, feel and believe. He feared, too, a certain smugness in the way modern regimes -- communist and liberal democratic equally -- thought of themselves: as the culmination of History with a capital "H," as regimes which did not depend on anything prior to them for their own preservation.

"It is not self-forgetting and pain-loving antiquarianism," he wrote, "nor self-forgetting and intoxicating romanticism which induces us to turn with passionate interest, with unqualified willingness to learn, toward the political thought of classical antiquity. We are impelled to do so by the crisis of our time, the crisis of the West."

As Strauss saw it, it was his duty as a friend and beneficiary of liberal democracy -- and the duty of academia in general -- to preserve some critical distance from liberal democracy. This distance could only really be gained by having some sense of the entire catalogue of political alternatives available. This was a comparative politics in the broadest sense, one that included not just existing regimes but also vanished and imaginary ones. In the teachings of the ancients, Strauss found some of the ingredients he believed modern regimes lack: A Socratic concern for human excellence, a Periclean sense of grandeur, an Aristotelian insistence on moderation.

At the same time, Strauss believed that there were dangers involved in this rediscovery of political alternatives. The foundations of liberal democracy may, upon close inspection, not be quite as solid as liberal democrats would like to believe. The trick was to examine and strengthen the foundations without causing the edifice above it to collapse and -- no less importantly -- without causing it to collapse on top of those (like Strauss) who examine the foundations.

In other words, prudence was required. If the result of unfettered philosophical inquiry in a liberal democracy was to bring the house down, neither philosophy nor democracy would be well served. Strauss, though in some ways a quiet radical himself, had no patience for the brash academic radicalism that came into vogue in the late 1960s, with its sharp challenges to the moral, cultural and political orthodoxies of the day. Even if liberal democracy was based on nothing but enabling fictions (and Strauss did not believe that at all, only that it was based on incomplete truths), these were fictions that today's academics have a duty to defend. Failure to do so would only invite more oppressive regimes -- communism, in Strauss's day -- in which the freedom of inquiry would be much more severely restricted.

Writing about Strauss in the Boston Globe , Jeet Heer argues that "if you read Strauss with a skeptical mind.... [he] emerges as a disguised Machiavelli, a cynical teacher who encouraged his followers to believe that their intellectual superiority entitles them to rule over the bulk of humanity by means of duplicity."

I can hardly describe myself as a scholar of Strauss, nor do I consider myself a Straussian. But I've read enough of Strauss (and of Machiavelli) to know this is the sheerest nonsense. There is no such thing as "Straussianism": not as an ideology, much less as some kind of conspiracy. There was merely a man named Leo Strauss -- a Jew, a Zionist, a classicist, a man who engaged profoundly and forcefully with the greatest issues of his day -- who taught his students that "we cannot be philosophers, but we can love philosophy," chiefly by "listening to the conversation between the greatest philosophers."

For bringing me into that conversation, I'm in his debt. And having spent three decades in the grave, the least Strauss deserves is to be read before he is condemned.
Well, no, he's not that interesting to read and he is not that intimidating either, if you're young, smart, and anxious for absolutes. Strauss is, I think, rightly dismissed by other scholars of philosophy.

However, for insight into the craziness with which we are currently dealing, Strauss is central and must be read carefully.

Arguing With The Right: "I'm Not Here To Defend The Klan."  

Macdiva discusses a recent encounter she had with some Klan revisionists masquerading as fair and balanced types. MD became the target of some nasty right-wing horribleness and she mentioned that there was really only one person who seemed to be willing to fight the good fight against these guys. Since I like a lot of what MacDiva says, I figured I'd take a brief look.

She linked to some posts by a fellow named David, aka Clubbeaux. And what I read was simply as repellent as MD described. I waited until my anger subsided and then began to respond. Unfortunately, I need to quote some passages in order to put my response into context.

Clubbeaux begins by describing a time he went to interview the Klan. He says that before he met them, he was prejudiced against them. Then he started to listen to what they had to say:
I was feeling uncomfortable by then, I’d written down three things said by guys in KKK robes I didn’t disagree with. I began to get the sneaking suspicion that there were some actual human beings in the KKK. People with wives and husbands, kids and jobs. People who didn’t hate blacks, but who were concerned about what was happening to their own lives in the name of racial “justice.”

* * *

Lynching is no more the official policy of the KKK than homosexual rape is the official policy of Catholic clergy. But it serves the ends of the liberal establishment to keep you believing that in the heart of every person in the KKK lurks a lyncher, and that therefore everything about the KKK is pure, unmitigated evil and everything anybody in the KKK says is sheer racist bilge.

* * *

No, I’m not here to defend the Klan. I’m here to explain why otherwise rational, pleasant people, such as the ones I met that day, join the Klan: The Klan’s the only entity which is perceived to care about the concerns of the lower middle-classes, the rednecks, the crackers, the American citizens in Valdosta and Natchitoches whose lives are rezoned for social experimentation by the power classes in Atlanta and Baton Rouge.
Among the numerous comments praising Clubbeaux for his courage and writing ability was this one:
I know that very few members of the KKK are actually racist. It is the few vocal and outspoken members that purpetuate this myth.

It seems to me that these people should shed the trappings of an organization that has such a bad name recognition and form another association that shows just how inclusive they really are.
And here is Clubbeaux from his own comments section:
What gets me is how the North blamed the South for slavery. Ha! That's like Nike's wholesale customers blaming Nike for underpaid sweatshop labor in Indonesia.

Slavery was always ever only an economic institution, and the only reason it stayed around as long as it did was because textile mills in Haverhill and Lawrence and the rest of the North were willing to buy as much slave-produced cotton as the South could produce.

If the North had given the first damn about slaves all they would have had to say was "We won't buy any slave-produced cotton" and boom, there's the end of slavery right there.
Not content to leave it right there, in a second post, Clubbeaux decides to dissect some relatively mild criticism by a different blogger (her words are in Italics)
[O]n some level he defends [the Klan's] followers, and that is just – in a word – wrong.

Careful, Susanna. All I said was I understand the frustration that would lead someone to join the Klan. I defend nothing, I merely seek to explain, in their own words, why otherwise friendly, non-racist people would join the Klan... [T]hey were accused of everything bad anyone under the name KKK’s done even though they specifically repudiate such actions.

You’re correct that I defend nothing about the KKK itself.

* * *

What is there about the Klan that’s attracting people if the violence and cross-burning is passé? The anger and frustration at having no advocate at any level of the decision-making that runs their lives. That is what I was seeking to show.

* * *

...l actually I went into it prejudiced against the KKK and came out with an open mind.

* * *

But the foundational premise of his post - that some in the KKK aren’t so bad after all, because there is some truth to their complaints – is frightening.

You state my foundational premise better and more succinctly than I could have stated it, that’s exactly what I was trying to say: As wretched as the KKK itself is, there are people driven to it by lucid, non-racist, reasonable concerns. The only “frightening” thing about it to me is that such law-abiding taxpayers are so alienated from their representatives and from society at large.

* * *

The point is that the rational, pleasant people in the Klan don’t countenance evil, don’t commit evil and are not pawns of unmitigated evil. I know it’s hard for many people today to realize that, but many people join the Klan for quite sober, realistic reasons which have nothing to do with lynching, cross-burning or hatred. I know. I’ve spoken with them.
I wrote the following in response:

In the Real Anita Hill, David Brock used the same technique that Clubbeaux does here in talking about the Klan: "I came to the investigation of X with no preconceptions. All I was looking to do was learn the truth. Here is what I observed."

I call the technique "Above the Fray" and it's used a lot by right wingers. They first claim objectivity then proceed to justify some notion - creationsim, "preventive" attacks on other countries, the Klan getting a bum rap - all of which just happen to be far right wing causes, opinions or groups.

Above the Fray attacks often include denials just like the ones seen here, ""Now I'm not saying that I totally agree with them, but I must admit they have a point about X." And they usually conclude with something like, "At the very least, we need to keep an open mind."

The first problem with Above the Fray is the claim of objectivity, as in, "we report, you decide." No one is objective. But we can all be honest. Above the Fray, on the other hand, is just one more dishonest rhetorical scam.

A telltale clue that Above the Fray is busily at work is indiscriminate liberal bashing, usually combined with a change of focus that confuses the logic but appeals to the emotions. Clubbeaux has some minor skills at liberal bashing, and we see them both in his posts and his comments: my favorite example is the nearly complete non-sequitur of the Northern mill owners and the Civil War, but there are plenty of others. But whatever his talent at dissing liberals, when he indulges that talent he adds nothing to his argument and undermines his "objectivity."

The second problem is "keeping an open mind." An open mind... I just love that one when it's directed at liberals like myself.

Since we don't live forever, it is simply impossible to keep an open mind about every silly notion that comes down the pike. Sooner or later, one evaluates the plausibility of an idea and decides whether or not to investigate further.

If someone tells me that there is a spaceship flying behind the Hale-Bopp comet that's going to beam me up to paradise, I really see no reason to waste my time studying any evidence that such a spaceship exists. Why? Because based on what I know to be true about the universe, I know the idea is nuts. Likewise, if someone comes along and tells me that the Klan is not racist; that it is important to note that there are many Klans, not one; that they're nice guys; and that we should cut Klan members some slack because they have no one else standing up for their rights, there's not much reason to listen further, let alone discuss the substance of the ideas.

Why? Because based on what I know, a "reevaluation" of the Klan today as non-racist demonstrates a fundamental lack of knowledge about the history of racism in the US; a rather "selective" knowledge of the history of the Klan; an overvaluing of the importance of anecdote; and most importantly, a total ignorance of how the extreme right's marketing tactics have changed over the past 90 plus years.

I don't have time to discuss the Klan and racism at this level and those are woefully inadequate reasons to induce anyone to do so. Just as there is no reason to re-examine the laws of physics to prove there's no spaceship behind Hale-Bopp, there is simply no reason to re-examine the prodigiously documented deeds of the Klan to prove how "open-minded" I am.

Indeed, it is precisely because I have an open mind that I simply do not have time to include the Klan's unconscionable - and continuing - bigotry in the points of view that I consider.

However, the most troubling problem with Above the Fray arguments is that they often depend upon a wholesale corruption of what words actually mean.

In his comments, Clubbeaux says "I defend nothing" and then immediately proceeds to defend not only his take on the Klan (I saw what I saw, I wasn't misled, and I'm totally objective) but also specific Klan members that he met (it's unfair to call these reasonable sounding guys bigoted rednecks) and the modern incarnation of the Klan (don't judge 'em by the past).

Only in right wing Newspeak does the phrase "refusing to defend" mean the same thing as "leaping to defend."

(By the way If one would like a second, highly amusing example of Above the Fray, please check out the recent O'Reilly/Franken/Ivins dustup on C-Span. In his talk, O'Reilly claims that he reports the "truth," and is "objective" and never indulges in name-calling. Ten minutes later, after Franken talks, O'Reilly calls Franken an idiot, tells him to shut up, and splits hairs in a way that right wingers usually describe as Clintonian - naturally, I thought it was Bushian).

So how does one know when a good idea is being "shamefully" ignored by narrow-mindedness? After all, isn't it true that back during Ignorant Time X, people scoffed at Idea/Invention/Group/ Person Y and they were proven wrong?

Actually, not that often. Most ideas that seem nutty are, in fact, nutty.

Sometimes, perfectly good ideas are held for all the wrong reasons. And very, very rarely, as with Wegener and "continental drift," someone completely unqualified is shown to be pretty close to correct.

The Klan, and its members, are an extreme right wing fringe group. Their ideas, to the extent they have any, are simply wrong. There is simply no way to have a rational discussion about problems in America when the premises are, in the original meaning of the term, so biased as to include the Klan as reasonable spokesmen. Just as one cannot learn astronomy by taking astrology seriously, you cannot learn a thing about race relations by taking the Klan's "opinions" seriously. (However, one can learn about the pathology of racism; the changing face of right wing extremism; and many other important things by studying the Klan.)

What would be a reasonable context look like for a discussion of inequality and race in America? For starters, it would be free of ad hominem attacks. It would also entail a recognition that one's personal experience and knowledge matter little, while an awareness of history and the context in which any cultural phenomena occurs matters a great deal.

As it is, there is nothing to discuss in Clubbeaux's posts about the Klan. To proffer the Klan's weltanschaung as an appropriate frame in which to discuss the grievances of lower-middle class white males is simply bizarre.

Again, what Clubbeaux wishes for us to do is cut the Klan members some slack because a few guys in robes sounded reasonable to him, he likes them, and he believes that no one else likes them enough to stick up for them, Serious discussions of the very real problems that Americans face within their culture don't start based on such flimsy premisses.

I am perfectly prepared to discuss the complicated problems of inequality and race in this country, but not, for an instant, will I do so by entertaining the preposterous notion that the Klan may just have a point.

I am also quite willing to discuss these issues with serious people interested in understanding how we can make our country better. But I will not do so with Klan defenders.

Hillary Clinton  

Here is
a typical article about Clinton's plans for the PresidencyClinton said she is enjoying her current political role as a senator for New York.

"I don't have any intentions or plans for running," Clinton told ABC's Barbara Walters. "I'm flattered the question gets asked. I hope that it will lead to a woman running for president."

Asked what she would say if Democrats asked her to run in 2004, she said, "Absolutely, I would say no."
Which is about what would be expected. She'll sit this one out, then run in 2008, after reelection as Senator, and after she makes some plans.

The only problem: The country needs to replace Bush in '04. A Democrat simply must win in '04.

Bush Expands Civil Rights  

If a new bill passes, every American will have the right to work overtime for less money:
The House will take up getting rid of the 40-hour workweek on June 5. They have their priorities, and repealing the Fair Labor Standards Act -- in place since the 1930s -- is one of them. In one of those annoying little Republican exercises in cheap misdirection, this particular bill to screw workers is misleadingly titled the Family Time Flexibility Act...

Let us count the number of ways this is a truly El Stinko idea. If your employer doesn't have to pay you any extra for working overtime, why shouldn't he/she work you ‘til you drop? Lots of families depend on overtime pay just to make it through the month. There've been times I would've a lot rather had time than money for overtime, but I want that to be my choice, not my boss's...

People, I mentioned the other day that it takes more than singing "I'm Proud to Be an American" to keep this country free. This is not an abstract, constitutional right. This is about you getting screwed. If y'all can't stand up for yourselves on this one, and raise hell with your congresspeople, you deserve to work overtime without extra pay.

All over this country, working people are losing out. We've lost 2.7 million jobs, health insurance is going up like a rocket, salaries are shrinking, and wait'll you see what they're fixing to do to your pension. If y'all don't speak up now instead of griping later, the fat-cat lobbyists for big business are going to push this right through. Don't say no one warned you.

Bush Expands Civil Rights  

If a new bill passes, every American will have the right to work overtime for less money:
The House will take up getting rid of the 40-hour workweek on June 5. They have their priorities, and repealing the Fair Labor Standards Act -- in place since the 1930s -- is one of them. In one of those annoying little Republican exercises in cheap misdirection, this particular bill to screw workers is misleadingly titled the Family Time Flexibility Act...

Let us count the number of ways this is a truly El Stinko idea. If your employer doesn't have to pay you any extra for working overtime, why shouldn't he/she work you ‘til you drop? Lots of families depend on overtime pay just to make it through the month. There've been times I would've a lot rather had time than money for overtime, but I want that to be my choice, not my boss's...

People, I mentioned the other day that it takes more than singing "I'm Proud to Be an American" to keep this country free. This is not an abstract, constitutional right. This is about you getting screwed. If y'all can't stand up for yourselves on this one, and raise hell with your congresspeople, you deserve to work overtime without extra pay.

All over this country, working people are losing out. We've lost 2.7 million jobs, health insurance is going up like a rocket, salaries are shrinking, and wait'll you see what they're fixing to do to your pension. If y'all don't speak up now instead of griping later, the fat-cat lobbyists for big business are going to push this right through. Don't say no one warned you.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Strauss's Daughter  

An odd memoir of her father. There is barely a sentence that has even a hint of warmth or love.

There have been several attempts recently to deflect attention away from the importance of Strauss in conservative thought, notably Daniel Drezner's piece in The New Republic Online. Professor Strauss Clay's piece is nearly a classic study of a non-denial denail.
Recent news articles have portrayed my father, Leo Strauss, as the mastermind behind the neoconservative ideologues who control United States foreign policy. He reaches out from his 30-year-old grave, we are told, to direct a "cabal" (a word with distinct anti-Semitic overtones) of Bush administration figures hoping to subject the American people to rule by a ruthless elite. I do not recognize the Leo Strauss presented in these articles.

My father was not a politician. He taught political theory, primarily at the University of Chicago. He was a conservative insofar as he did not think that change is necessarily change for the better.

* * *

He began where good teachers should begin, from his students' received opinions, in order to scrutinize their foundation. At that time, as is still true today, academia leaned to the left; hence such questioning required an examination of the left's tenets. Had the prevailing beliefs been different, they too would have been subject to his skeptical inquiry.

Among the received opinions of the time was an unquestioned faith in progress and science combined with a queasiness regarding any kind of moral judgment, or "relativism." Many young people were confused, without a compass, with nothing substantial to admire. My father's turning them to the Great Books was thus motivated not merely by aesthetic or antiquarian interest, but by a search for an understanding of mankind's present predicament: what were its sources and what, if any, were the alternatives? The latter he found in the writings of the ancient Greeks.

Furthermore, he insistently confronted his students with the question of the "good life." For him, the choice boiled down to the life in accordance with Revelation or the life according to Reason — Jerusalem versus Athens. The vitality of Western tradition, he felt, lay in the invigorating tension between the two.

My father saw reading not as a passive exercise but as taking part in an active dialogue with the great minds of the past. One had to read with great care, great respect, and try, as he always said, to "understand the author as he understood himself." Today this task, admittedly difficult and demanding, is dismissed in fashionable academia as impossible. Rather, we are told, each reader inevitably constructs his own text over which the author has no control, and the writer's intentions are irrelevant.
Josh at Sitting on a Fence, who has blogged often and well about Strauss, saves me the trouble of having to write too much about Strauss's impossible goal to read authors as they understood themselves. Borges may not have known about Strauss but he certainly got the Straussian mindset perfectly right when he wrote Pierre Menard, Author Of Don Quixote.

Josh agrees with Prof. Strauss Clay when she says that Strauss was a great teacher. I suppose he was, but I don't see it; it seems rather that Strauss's modest self-assurance that the Good is absolutely knowable combined with his reputation (studied with Heidegger, escape from Germany) had extraordinary appeal to young, impressionable minds of a conservative bent. Josh dismisses Strauss's take on Locke but says his insight on Maimonides is useful. Perhaps not, though, according to a letter in the New York Review (October 10, 1985) in response to Miles Burnyeat's scathing criticism of Strauss. I will need to bow out of that, as I have not read Maimonidies yet and may not get to him for quite a while still.

I am still going through Natural Right and History and will probably have more to say soon. I think understanding Strauss is crucial to understanding how we got into this awful mess. Not that Strauss was to blame, of course. But a lot of his ideas turn up in the oddest nooks and crannies of contemporary right wing thought.

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