Giuliani Called Worse Than Bush

Matt Taibbi must really dislike Rudy Giuliani as he hurls the ultimate insult in calling him worse than Bush in an article in Rolling Stone. I’ve often been critical of Giuliani, but I wouldn’t go that far–although perhaps if I lived in New York my opinion of him would be even lower.

Taibbi summarizes the criticism of Giuliani’s handling of post 9/11. He notes how Giuliani has milked 9/11 as far as he could politically, but George Bush did the same. He also criticizes Giuliani for the money he made on the lecture circuit, but that’s one I could give him a pass on. Besides, George Bush would have done the same if not in office, assuming he could string a coherent paragraph together. Taibbi also notes Giuliani’s attack on Ron Paul for trying to add a bit of reality to the Republican debate:

Rudy’s attack against Ron Paul in the debate was a classic example of that kind of politics, a Rovian masterstroke. The wizened Paul, a grandfather seventeen times over who is running for the Republican nomination at least 100 years too late, was making a simple isolationist argument, suggesting that our lengthy involvement in Middle Eastern affairs — in particular our bombing of Iraq in the 1990s — was part of the terrorists’ rationale in attacking us.

Though a controversial statement for a Republican politician to make, it was hardly refutable from a factual standpoint — after all, Osama bin Laden himself cited America’s treatment of Iraq in his 1996 declaration of war. Giuliani surely knew this, but he jumped all over Paul anyway, demanding that Paul take his comment back. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before,” he hissed, “and I’ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th.” …

The Paul incident went to the very heart of who Giuliani is as a politician. To the extent that conservatism in the Bush years has morphed into a celebration of mindless patriotism and the paranoid witch-hunting of liberals and other dissenters, Rudy seems the most anxious of any Republican candidate to take up that mantle. Like Bush, Rudy has repeatedly shown that he has no problem lumping his enemies in with “the terrorists” if that’s what it takes to get over. When the 9/11 Commission raised criticisms of his fire department, for instance, Giuliani put the bipartisan panel in its place for daring to question his leadership. “Our anger,” he declared, “should clearly be directed at one source and one source alone — the terrorists who killed our loved ones.”

While it is scary that someone with as simplistic a world view as Giuliani, this is hardly different from what we’ve experienced under Bush. Taibbi next criticizes Giuliani for “Swift-Boating politics” and raising money under the Bush model, but again this is more of the same. This also could be said about multiple other criticisms of Giuliani. They may all be bad, but I’m not sure they are any worse than what George Bush would do.

Rudy Giuliani is even better than Bush on a couple of issues, even if they are giving him trouble among the extremists in the Republican Party. The real lesson of this article is not that Giuliani is worse than Bush, as this is never proven. Taibbi shows that the two are very similar, and those who see Giuliani as some sort of quasi-libertarian who will bring the GOP back from its move towards authoritarianism are mistaken.

SciFi Friday: Terrorism and Science Fiction and The Fates of Shows

USA Today reports that homeland security is picking the brains of science fiction writers to help fight terrorism:

Looking to prevent the next terrorist attack, the Homeland Security Department is tapping into the wild imaginations of a group of self-described “deviant” thinkers: science-fiction writers.”We spend our entire careers living in the future,” says author Arlan Andrews, one of a handful of writers the government brought to Washington this month to attend a Homeland Security conference on science and technology.

Those responsible for keeping the nation safe from devastating attacks realize that in addition to border agents, police and airport screeners, they “need people to think of crazy ideas,” Andrews says.

The writers make up a group called Sigma, which Andrews put together 15 years ago to advise government officials. The last time the group gathered was in the late 1990s, when members met with government scientists to discuss what a post-nuclear age might look like, says group member Greg Bear. He has written 30 sci-fi books, including the best seller Darwin’s Radio.

Now, the Homeland Security Department is calling on the group to help with the government’s latest top mission of combating terrorism.

Failure of imagination played a major part in the 9/11 attacks. The Bush administration received many warnings about al Qaeda and an impending attack but ignored them. While I cannot be certain what was in the heads of those who ignored these plans, I don’t think there was any type of dark conspiracy. It was more likely the failure to recognize the potential of a non-government organization to cause meaningful harm to the United States. The 9/11 attacks probably could have been prevented if we had competent government leadership, but future attacks may require greater imagination:

“We’ll play ‘What if?’ with anything,” says Sage Walker, an emergency medicine physician turned sci-fi writer and the only woman in the group. She says the discussions with government officials “tend to be very intense and far-ranging.”

So are discussions between the writers. During a coffee break at the conference, Walker, Bear and Andrews started talking about the government’s bomb-sniffing dogs. Within minutes, they had conjured up a doggie brain-scanning skullcap that could tell agents what kind of explosive material a dog had picked up.

The 9/11 Commission called the 2001 terrorist attacks a result of the government’s “failure of imagination.” For this group, Walker says, there’s no such thing as an “unthinkable scenario.”

Why offer their ideas to the government instead of private companies that pay big bucks?

“To save civilization,” Ringworld author Larry Niven says. “We do it in fiction. Why wouldn’t we want to do it in fact?”

Other writers might not formally be working with the government, but may also be looking at terrorism. 24 has created the most controversy of any television show dealing with terrorism. The show’s reliance on torture has received the most publicity, but there has also been discussion of abuse of power. While there has been material of interest for both conservatives and liberals, the overall world view is distinctly conservative. While contrived by the show’s formula, 24 presents a world always in the midst of fighting terrorism. Terrorism is only fought by brute force, including torture, with little room for looking at the deeper implications.

This year’s season of 24 was disappointing. Once the bomb went off at the beginning of the season, everything else seemed like a replay of what we’ve seen before. I’ve argued before that Heroes was a much better Monday night serial. They even got it right by saving the big bomb for the end, with hints of its potential consequences along the way. Juan Cole, writing in Salon, describes Heroes as Dick Cheney’s least favorite TV show. He notes that Heroes, is also a response to the 9/11 attack but, unlike 24, skews to the left politically.

In fact, it functions as a thoughtful critique of Vice President Dick Cheney‘s doctrine on counterterrorism.

In Bush and Cheney’s “war on terror,” the evildoers are external and are clearly discernible. In “Heroes,” each person agonizes over the evil within, a point of view more common on the political left than on the right. Each of the flawed characters is capable of both nobility and iniquity. In Bush’s vision, the main threat remains rival states (Saddam’s Iraq, Ahmadinejad’s Iran). States are absent from “Heroes,” as though irrelevant. “Heroes” makes terrorism a universal and psychological issue rather than one attached to a clash of civilizations or to a particular race.

Cole finds that 24 endorses Dick Cheney’s world view, while Heroes does the opposite:

The program “24,” which debuted just two months after 9/11, seems to endorse that worldview. On “24,” “good guys” quite often need to do bad things. Jack Bauer, the hero of the show, tortures terrorists for information and was lauded for it from the stage during the recent Republican presidential debate.

The creator of “Heroes,” Tim Kring, has rejected this black-and-white, “24”-style worldview in favor of something very different. In fact, as he told comics blogger Jonah Weiland in an interview, he had initially planned to have a Middle Eastern character as the terrorist threat but dropped that scenario. His terrorist threat is murky and various, his world multicultural and morally ambiguous.

Juan Cole sees a different view of terrorism and the world than is expressed by Bush and Cheney in Heroes and how the season’s main arc ends:

“Heroes” also acknowledges the subjectivity of any discussion of “terror.” The show’s moral vision is far too nuanced to give aid and comfort to American nationalists. The serial killer in the cast, Sylar, played by Zachary Quinto, is the closest thing “Heroes” has to a pure villain. He seeks out and removes the brains of the other mutants. In the season finale, when it is clear that Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) is the mutant who is in danger of losing control of himself and destroying New York, even Sylar’s wickedness becomes ambiguous. Sylar, in a position to rub out Petrelli before the latter explodes, realizes that were he to destroy the time-bomb mutant, he would turn out to be the true hero. He wants to kill Petrelli and save New York, but for the wrong reasons.

What happens next is an implicit argument against Cheney’s 1 percent doctrine. Just before Sylar can make himself into a perverse sort of hero by killing Peter Petrelli, Hiro Nakamura runs Sylar through with his samurai sword. Nakamura saves Petrelli, but New York remains endangered. Likewise, cheerleader Claire Bennet is in a position to shoot the human bomb (who once saved her from Sylar) and so to prevent the blast, and Peter Petrelli himself, fearing his own power, implores her to do so. She does not take the shot. Both of these plot twists could be seen as decisive rejections of deploying evil to forestall disaster, and of Cheney’s impoverished view of human nature.

Ultimately, Peter’s brother, Nathan the politician, who can fly, swoops down and grabs Peter. Instead of following through on a scheme hatched by his mother and Mr. Linderman to have him emerge as a soft dictator in the aftermath of the apocalyptic conflagration, Nathan ascends with Peter into the heavens. The explosion lights up the night sky above New York harmlessly. Tim Kring, who has spoken of wanting a redemptive ending to the season’s story line, is apparently conveying the Gandhian message that compassion and brotherly self-sacrifice are more effective in preventing terrorism than naked ambition and hard-line tactics…

… the globalized vision of “Heroes” sees Japanese and Indian characters as potential saviors. Kring said in his interview with Weiland, “Again, it was part of the theme to try and depict people from different parts of the world in positive ways.” Rejecting the “America-first” unilateralism of Bush, “Heroes” firmly chooses multilateral efforts in the fight against terror and refuses to give up on any character or culture as beyond redemption.

The ultimate act of terrorism on television science fiction occured when the Cylons attacked and killed most humans. Terrorism was later shown through reverse eyes when the Cylons occupied New Caprica and the humans became the terrorists. There have been rumors and denials this spring as to whether Battlestar Galactica would conclude next year. There is finally official word that the series will end next season:

Ending “Battlestar” with the upcoming 22-episode fourth season was a creative decision made by the hit show’s executive producers Ronald Moore and David Eick.

“This show was always meant to have a beginning, a middle and, finally, an end,” Eick and Moore said in a statement Thursday. “Over the course of the last year, the story and the characters have been moving strongly toward that end, and we’ve decided to listen to those internal voices and conclude the show on our own terms. And while we know our fans will be saddened to know the end is coming, they should brace themselves for a wild ride getting there — we’re going out with a bang.”

The fourth and final season of “Galactica” will kick off in November with “Razor,” an extended two-hour episode, with the rest of the season slated to run beginning in early 2008.

Just as this matter was settled with Battlestar Galactica, we became subjected to similar rumors about Doctor Who. The Sun reports that Doctor Who will end after the fouth season. The report claims that Russell T. Davies has decided to end the show in order to work on other projects. British fans notethat The Sun is not very reliable and has posted incorrect information about the show in the past. The story also sounds a little implausible as the BBC owns the show. I suspect they would hire someone else to continue the show if it is doing well rather than ending it if Davies really wanted to leave. Unlike Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who is a story which goes on for all time with no end.

Doctor Who returned from a week off with 42, one of the weakest episodes of the revived series. If the story wasn’t bad enough on its own, it repeated many features of last season’s two parter, The Impossible Planet and The Satin Pit, but in a poorer manner. The only good features were that Martha got a key to the Tardis and a phone with the best roaming plan ever. There was also more foreshadowing of the season’s confrontation with Mr. Saxon (who I still predict will turn out to be The Master.)

Doctor Who has made up for a couple of week episodes with Human Nature, based upon a 1995 novel. Human Nature is the first of a two part episode, but what I’ve seen so far makes me rank this as one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever broadcast. The Doctor takes on human form to hide from aliens, and only Martha has memories of their actual identities. This episode highlights Martha to a degree not seen since the episode where she made her initial appearance.

Star Trek, like Doctor Who, has many novels written based upon the television show. When Star Trek moved from weekly television to the movies, the stories suffered as the producers didn’t understand how to translate the show to the big screen. The show worked well as a weekly series, but they rarely came up with the story big enough to justify a full movie. I’ve often thought that they should consider turning some of the better novels into movies, but there has always been a wall between the television/movie versions and the books. Doctor Who’s use of Human Nature shows the value in adapting a good story from a novel. While done for television, I bet this would also result in a better story than those used for many of the Star Trek movies.

An Egghead For The Oval Office

In 2000 and 2004 many people voted for George Bush because they would rather have a beer with him than with Al Gore or John Kerry. We’ve seen the result of a President who lacks the intellectual curiosity to evaluate the problems faced by the nation. Eugene Robinson isĀ  concerned about the response to The Assault on Reason where many feel “Gore, poor fellow, is just too ostentatiously smart to be elected president.” Robinson believes we’d be better off with an egghead:

I want a president who reads newspapers, who reads books other than those that confirm his worldview, who bones up on Persian history before deciding how to deal with Iran’s ambitious dreams of glory. I want a president who understands the relationship between energy policy at home and U.S. interests in the Middle East — and who’s smart enough to form his or her own opinions, not just rely on what old friends in the oil business say.

I want a president who looks forward to policy meetings on health care and has ideas to throw into the mix.

I want a president who believes in empirical fact, whose understanding of spirituality is complete enough to know that faith is “the evidence of things not seen” and who knows that for things that can be seen, the relevant evidence is fact, not belief. I want a president — and it’s amazing that I even have to put this on my wish list — smart enough to know that Darwin was right.

Actually, I want a president smart enough to know a good deal about science. He or she doesn’t have to be able to do the math, but I want a president who knows that the great theories underpinning our understanding of the universe — general relativity and quantum mechanics — have stood for nearly a century and proved stunningly accurate, even though they describe a world that is more shimmer than substance. I want him or her to know that there’s a lot we still don’t know.

I want the next president to be intellectually curious — and also intellectually honest. I want him or her to understand the details, not just the big picture. I won’t complain if the next president occasionally uses a word I have to look up.

The comments on science, and on recognizing the difference between fact and belief, were particularly welcome to read considering some of the recent comments to posts here from people who deny established science regarding either evolution or climate change. Some commenting show no understanding of the differences between science and religion, seeing either as an equally valid opinion, oblivious to the rigorous verification process demanded by modern science. My fear is that these types of comments are representative of an overall ignorance of science in the general population, which is responsible for the adoption of a flat-earth philosophy by the Republican Party.

Parallel Universes

E.J. Dionne cites the Pew Research Center survey from April to show that Democrats and Republicans are concerned about different issues. As a result, he fears that it will be difficult for the two parties to reach a consensus. The problem is far deeper than that. If it was simply a case of each party caring about different issues, it would be easy to reach a compromise in which each party gets some of what it desires on its most important issues. Reaching a consensus is difficult because Democrats and Republicans have entirely different world views. While liberals are reality-based, conservatives who dominate the GOP often base their views on faith and delusions.

If time allowed, I could easily find numbers to show where each party disagreed in these areas. Conservatives might disagree with me over how I characterize tehm with regards to reality versus faith, but I doubt they would disagree over the basic premise that liberals and conservatives view the issues differently.

Liberals and conservatives don’t agree on matters related to Iraq and terrorism as they disagree on the basic facts. Conservatives continue to believe that Saddam had significant WMD and ties to terrorism, while liberals do not. While both liberals and conservatives are concerned about terrorism, the problem is more pressing to conservatives as Republican leader have been playing on fear as opposed to reason. Democrats who have studied the issue remain concerned, but realize our chances for victory are better if we think first as opposed to making dumb moves such as invading Iraq without a plan. Conservatives are blinded by fear when they think of 9/11. Liberals, who are aware of all the warnings prior to the attack, see many ways in which the attack could have been prevented if we only had competent leadership in Washington.

Conservatives and liberals have totally different world views on matters related to science. Many conservatives fail to understand the difference between accepting something on faith, and accepting something based upon scientific evidence. To these conservatives, science and religion are two different bodies of opinion, and they lack any real understanding of the scientific method. Therefore we see conservatives who consider global warming to be a religion itself and ignore the consensus of the experts in the field. Similarly there are conservatives who reject evolution, geology, and cosmology based upon religious claims about the origins of life, the earth, and the universe.


George Will’s Case For Conservativism

George Will has an op-ed on The Case For Conservativism but he never makes a case for, or even clearly defines what he is defending. He begins with a description of conservatives versus liberals which I’ve seen used frequently in the past by conservatives, but not by liberals:

Today conservatives tend to favor freedom, and consequently are inclined to be somewhat sanguine about inequalities of outcomes. Liberals are more concerned with equality, understood, they insist, primarily as equality of opportunity, not of outcome.

I’ve had many posts here in which I discussed core liberal values. Freedom generally headed the list. While perhaps I should have considered it, equality of opportunity never even made it onto my lists. With a start such as this, it came as no surprise that the bulk of Will’s column described a liberalism which has very little to do with my beliefs.

Will discusses his version of liberalism throughout the column, and conservativism is generally defined to be that which opposes this faux-liberalism. Just as Will’s version of liberalism differs tremendously from my views, his conservativism as anti-faux-liberalism sometimes is actually closer to liberal beliefs.