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THE ONE TRUE WANKER OF THE DECADE
April 17, 2012 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Duncan Black, the blogger formerly known as "Atrios," coiner of the "friedman unit," popularizer of the "very serious person" as a term of derision, chronicler of wanking in the punditocracy, has been counting down: 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, to the THE ONE TRUE WANKER OF THE DECADE.
posted by ennui.bz (114 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bill Kristol didn't even make the list?
posted by a robot made out of meat at 1:23 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is ridiculous. You can't possibly be a wanker unless you're British. Just say the word out loud to yourself. Does it sound offensive? No. Because you're not British. You just sound like Dick Van Dyke. We British people don't go around calling people 'douche-wads', do we? No, of course not. Because it would sound daft.

Being British takes a lot of practice. Just ask Madonna.
posted by pipeski at 1:24 PM on April 17, 2012 [15 favorites]


Can't help but agree with the first choice.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:24 PM on April 17, 2012


In case you want to skim:

9. Megan McArdle
8. Richard Cohen
7. Diane Sawyer
6. Jonah Goldberg
5. Will Saletan
4. Mark Halperin
3. Joe Klein
2. Andrew Sullivan
1. Fred Hiatt

Ur-wanker: Tom Friedman
posted by jquinby at 1:25 PM on April 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Bill Kristol didn't even make the list?

This is the addressed in the "wanking" link:
Darling,

Every week you give out a “Weekly Wanker” award for the biggest wanker of the week. But the trophy for the Weekly Wanker is the “Golden Winger”, which implies that it’s really an award for wingnuttery. So I’m confused. Is it an award for wanking, or wingnuttery?

Still Craving Your Body,
Julia Stiles
posted by ennui.bz at 1:26 PM on April 17, 2012


I don't envy Atrios in having to pare down the list to only ten contenders.
posted by octothorpe at 1:34 PM on April 17, 2012


Very Serious Person should be capitalized - every one is very important and fundamentally serious!
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 1:35 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Re: Brooks:

"Everybody on the list is in part representative of a whole family of wankers. Some who didn't make the list failed to do so because they're dead. And some just...well, didn't seem precisely like wankers to me. I see people like BoBo and Reynolds as more Quiet American types, secretly napalming villages or nuking random cities while discussing Burkean humility over tea with Gail Collins or perusing the latest Sharper Image catalog. There's a word for that, though I'm not sure it's wanker. "
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:36 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Has any one one of these hawkish "warbloggers" (oh the 00s where a painful time) ever done a complete Mea Culpa-I-got-everything-wrong apology article?
posted by The Whelk at 1:36 PM on April 17, 2012


I was fine with the winner, but you read more than one and the writing just gets to be a bit of a drag, no?

For this type of thing to work it has to be vivid, crisp, and witty, with a few change-ups thrown in. This doesn't work.
posted by Diablevert at 1:36 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Has any one one of these hawkish "warbloggers" (oh the 00s where a painful time) ever done a complete Mea Culpa-I-got-everything-wrong apology article?

Yes. Andrew Sullivan.
posted by empath at 1:39 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Diablevert
For this type of thing to work it has to be vivid, crisp, and witty, with a few change-ups thrown in.

For the most part, though, Atrios is mainly vivid, crisp, [to the point] and witty. It's a fun blog to read.
posted by Rashomon at 1:41 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


*reads article*

.....ohhhhh, it's about that kind of "wanker".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:46 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


And every one of those Top Wankers makes more money than Duncan Black.

But honestly, after he got so much notice for coining "The Friedman Unit, was there much doubt Friedman would be the big winner?
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:51 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Many of the more left-wing writers who at various early points supported the war have been clear that it was a mistake: Matt Yglesias, Josh Marshall, etc. Andrew Sullivan has been clear as well, although "complete mea culpa" might be overstating it in his case.
posted by feckless at 1:52 PM on April 17, 2012


I sometimes think that Digby and Atrios have done more to make people stupid than all the lead paint in the world. They're the masters of political punditry as Saturday Night Live sketch: all catchphrase, zero insight. They specialize in misquotation and misattribution, in order to be sure that their readers are never exposed to a new thought. They didn't create the marginalization of the left, but they sure help keep it in place, by soothingly assuring their readers that their ideas are obvious and popular, and would be universally adopted were people not so darn stupid. Hopefully there will be a room in the afterlife where Duncan Black and Tom Friedman are sewn together, Human Centipede style, and forced to march through the desert for all eternity while Saddam Hussein grinds his boots into their spines.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:08 PM on April 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


I had enjoyed over time reading Atrios for his clever phrasings. Friedman, though so often wrong has from time to time in fact provided some worthwhile articles, and in the weekly writing these lads do, it is difficult to be right all the time...or to agree with those who would call them wankers. I do recall how often Atrios told his readers the importance of living in a city (his choice:Philly) and using public transportation. But this is not the world that many of us live in and I must admit I never felt dumb for owning my very own car.
posted by Postroad at 2:15 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can you provide some examples TFB? That doesn't really sound anything like the Eschaton blog that I've been reading for the last decade.
posted by octothorpe at 2:17 PM on April 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Digby is the anti-Friedman, she actually keeps track of things she writes and references back to older articles in a consistent and intellectually honest manner.
posted by mek at 2:19 PM on April 17, 2012 [10 favorites]


saw this on my phone. burst out laughing in the middle of the street amongst a bunch of people.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:22 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Octothorpe, I think TFB is parodying Atrios' writing. At least I hope so, because otherwise, it sure doesn't sound anything like the Eschaton I used to read, either.
posted by KGMoney at 2:23 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a leftist, I find most liberal bloggers insufferable. Even Digby, who I think is almost always right, just isn't fun to read anymore. I'd rather read the younger policy wonks, and get my mindless punditry from Sullivan or McArdle. I think Sullivan and McArdle know that their readers are to the left of them, and have been dragged there slowly.

But Atrios is absolutely right that Tom Friedman is a pimple of the posterior of the punditocracy and someone should just pop him.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:25 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't envy Atrios in having to pare down the list to only ten contenders.

I'm sure he did it one-handed.
posted by chavenet at 2:26 PM on April 17, 2012


He fetishizes a false "centrism" which is basically whatever Tom Friedman likes, imagining the Friedman agenda is both incredibly popular in the country and lacking any support from our current politicians, when in fact the opposite is usually true.

A perfect example is from Josh Marshall's twitter feed the other day:

Voters deeply out of touch w/emerging Washington consensus on Buffett Rule
posted by Ironmouth at 2:26 PM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


ThatFuzzyBastard wrote:
I sometimes think that Digby and Atrios have done more to make people stupid than all the lead paint in the world. They're the masters of political punditry as Saturday Night Live sketch: all catchphrase, zero insight. They specialize in misquotation and misattribution, in order to be sure that their readers are never exposed to a new thought.
Let me start off by saying that neither Atrios or Digby have made it to my RSS reader. I've read more Atrios linked in the OP today than I've read by him in the last 5 years.

That being said, your critique is as valid of your own summation as it may be of their work. If you accuse someone of "misquotation and misattribution", you need to back it up with at least a link, especially when the Atrios posts linked to in this OP includes several YouTube videos of Friedman saying the stupid shit Atrios claims Friedman said.
posted by Critical_Beatdown at 2:44 PM on April 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


Is this like the kind of 'misquotation' Newt Gingrich warned against, where you say something stupid and then demand people not quote you? "Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood"
posted by 0xFCAF at 2:54 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even Digby, who I think is almost always right, just isn't fun to read anymore.

Digby isn't that fun to read any more for the simple reason that she's quite depressed and upset about how bad things have gotten. It's hard to really blame her for that. The best she can do these days is (to quote Atrios) "document the atrocities."
posted by deanc at 2:56 PM on April 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


The Washington Post has shown more inclination to run my wonky math op/eds than the New York Times has, so Fred Hiatt is A-OK with me.
posted by escabeche at 2:59 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


It was fun in 2003-2004 when there weren't that many websites and you could watch blogs like Eschaton fight with crazed pro-war racists and raise naive hope of an Web-based political revolution to the tune of Eminem's "Stan." Later it got so, so tedious. Life is too short to spend time in the world of people who think it is hilarious to call Chris Matthews "Tweety" or (among their counterparts on the other side) to cultivate weird right-wing in-jokes about sharia law.

These days I would much rather read the writing of the talented Gawker/The Awl types than of earnest Netroots types simulating humor. Also I think Dennis Perrin has done some of the best work out there chronicling the disillusionment.
posted by steinsaltz at 3:04 PM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Where's Krugman? Where's Dowd? Where's Kos, for crying out loud?

Oh, I get it. This is just a list of some of the more notable people on the rightward end of the commentariat. Gotcha.
posted by valkyryn at 3:09 PM on April 17, 2012


valkyryn, how's that Kool-Aid taste? Try the purple flavor.
posted by JHarris at 3:11 PM on April 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


Valkyrn, Krugman definitely does not belong in this esteemed company. That's a dude who knows what he's talking about, subjects his beliefs to facts, and can surprise. Now kos, well, that's another story.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 3:15 PM on April 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


I think I meant "Mosh."
posted by steinsaltz at 3:17 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


If there's one thing I think all right thinking people can agree on, wherever they fall on the political rainbow, it's that Maureen Dowd is an awful hack whose enfant terrible act curdled round about '93, and yet here we are, twenty years later and still swilling the bilge.
posted by Diablevert at 3:19 PM on April 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Where's Krugman? Where's Dowd? Where's Kos, for crying out loud?

Oh, I get it. This is just a list of some of the more notable people on the rightward end of the commentariat. Gotcha


Joe Klein is on the rightward end? Hardly.

Krugman? You better bring your best. He's a Nobel Prize Winner in economics. Sometimes he's a little dense on the ability of any party to move in lockstep on the political side, but on the economic side of things? He's right on.

Seriously, the people noted here are basically idiots. Saletan, also a lefty, is an idiot. Most importantly they basically share being in favor of the Iraq war, which is prima facie evidence of stupidity and zero knowledge of military affairs, strategy, or any kind of judgment.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:21 PM on April 17, 2012 [13 favorites]


If there's one thing I think all right thinking people can agree on, wherever they fall on the political rainbow, it's that Maureen Dowd is an awful hack whose enfant terrible act curdled round about '93, and yet here we are, twenty years later and still swilling the bilge.

Agreed, but the sort of work that qualifies as "wanker-quality" is generally outside of her journalistic niche.

Like, I realize that she's peddling something shallow and silly, but it's not a collection of ignorant propaganda and self-regarding disingenuousness masquerading as "insight" that most of the other award winner trade in.

Krugman? You better bring your best. He's a Nobel Prize Winner in economics. Sometimes he's a little dense on the ability of any party to move in lockstep on the political side, but on the economic side of things? He's right on.

Krugman had the gall to criticize George W Bush in print, consistently, and argue that he was full of crap. That was just about the #1 most vicious, mortal sin that conservatives considered one could commit from about the early to mid 2000s, and they never forgave him for it. Not because Krugman was wrong, but because he was right and exposed a lot of right-wing, Gore-hating Bush-loving fanboys as being a bunch of propagandized ignoramuses. You talk to any conservative NYT reader around that time, and they consistently complained day in and day out about how angry it made them to read Kurgman criticize Dear Leader. And they're still angry about the fact that Krugman was right and they were wrong.
posted by deanc at 3:26 PM on April 17, 2012 [11 favorites]


Where's Krugman? Where's Dowd? Where's Kos, for crying out loud?

Atrios has been making fun of Dowd for years:
One thing I've realized about people like Maureen Dowd is that it doesn't really matter that for years dirty fucking hippies on the internet and elsewhere have been criticizing the appalling misogynistic horror show that is her column. But it does matter if she gets criticized within her bubble, in the place where her friends and colleagues might actually read it.
In what alternate reality does Commandante Markos have a regular column in the nytimes or washpost?

The odd thing about Kos, Krugman and Duncan Black is that THEY AREN'T LEFTISTS. But I guess living in a city and being in favor of public transportation puts you on the left in the US, right? Or being against a criminal and stupid war? Or thinking that deposing the POS about whether he is an adulterer in a trumped up real-estate investigation is politically motivated? Kos is basically a libertarian and Krugman and Atrios are both economists of the neoclassical school...
posted by ennui.bz at 3:34 PM on April 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Krugman? You better bring your best. He's a Nobel Prize Winner in economics.

So's Milton Friedman, but nobody around here takes him seriously. So's Ronald Coase, but only people who like a certain flavor of legal analysis even know who he is (thanks, TheWorldFamous). Krugman's a good economist, but that doesn't validate the lightweight fluff that comprises most of his column in the NYT. Of course, I think all op-ed writers and bloggers should be shot, and journalists forbidden to use bylines.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:53 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I read this yesterday. I dunno, I'm really over the snide preaching-to-the-choir smugness of the viciously partisan political blogs - on both sides. I dunno, it's just so tiresome; there's no effort to engage with facts, little historical awareness and no acknowledgment of the vast majority of the populace - who know little and care less - and how and why they're being manipulated.

The anger that spawned these blogs in the gaping void left by a quiescient and obsolete media has been replaced as the media started their own blogs, hired the bloggers, and changed their conversations to match the tone, and I feel like ultimately these kind of blogs - while in one way having a conversation about the "real" things that didn't make it to the op-eds in unadulterated form - are ultimately failing in the same way the media before them did; namely reducing the implications of power and the function of our democracy to another point-scoring sports match with opposing teams to cheer and boo for.

I think we all deserve better than that echo-chamber theatre, and the fact that Atrios has written a series that hews so closely to what his herd of betes noir would write themselves shows how bankrupt the process is. I would read one sentence of Krugman any day over this bitter calumny - for all I despise Friedman etc.
posted by smoke at 3:58 PM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Of course, I think all op-ed writers and bloggers should be shot, and journalists forbidden to use bylines.

...By the way, I'm aware of the irony of appearing on a blog in order to decry them.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:07 PM on April 17, 2012


"If there's one thing I think all right thinking people can agree on, wherever they fall on the political rainbow, it's that Maureen Dowd is an awful hack whose enfant terrible act curdled round about '93, and yet here we are, twenty years later and still swilling the bilge."

So very true. She's not a wanker, though.

"Seriously, the people noted here are basically idiots. Saletan, also a lefty, is an idiot. Most importantly they basically share being in favor of the Iraq war, which is prima facie evidence of stupidity and zero knowledge of military affairs, strategy, or any kind of judgment."

Yeah, Saletan is a dunce. Pretty much anyone associated with Slate/TNR contrarianism is a dunce. Mickey Kaus is perhaps the most notorious example.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:09 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I dunno, I'm really over the snide preaching-to-the-choir smugness of the viciously partisan political blogs - on both sides. I dunno, it's just so tiresome; there's no effort to engage with facts, little historical awareness and no acknowledgment of the vast majority of the populace - who know little and care less - and how and why they're being manipulated.

Is anybody gonna start citing this stuff in regards to Atrios?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:09 PM on April 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm citing the posts linked.
posted by smoke at 4:18 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course, I think all op-ed writers and bloggers should be shot, and journalists forbidden to use bylines.

...By the way, I'm aware of the irony of appearing on a blog in order to decry them.


Shh, everyone, stop laughing - I have a gentleman siting here in the front row that wants to explain the joke to you all, because he thinks you're too stupid to understand it.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:19 PM on April 17, 2012


Krugman? You better bring your best. He's a Nobel Prize Winner in economics.

So's Milton Friedman, but nobody around here takes him seriously. So's Ronald Coase, but only people who like a certain flavor of legal analysis even know who he is (thanks, TheWorldFamous). Krugman's a good economist, but that doesn't validate the lightweight fluff that comprises most of his column in the NYT. Of course, I think all op-ed writers and bloggers should be shot, and journalists forbidden to use bylines.


Friedman (Milton) had a lot of good things to say. I think he's wrong in relation to Keynesianism, but he's no idiot.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:21 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm citing the posts linked.

You found them viciously partisan and out of touch with facts, history, and the opinions of the populace?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:25 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Krugman's a good economist, but that doesn't validate the lightweight fluff that comprises most of his column in the NYT. Of course, I think all op-ed writers and bloggers should be shot, and journalists forbidden to use bylines."

I don't even read his actual columns. I read his blog daily, though, and have a very high opinion of it.

I've read Krugman for seventeen or so years, now. I've several of his books. I've even corresponded with him back in the day. I highly esteem him as an economist and as someone who can clearly present economic topics to a general audience. But, when he became a NYT columnist, I was unhappy with it. I felt it was a waste of his time and, yes, that he was unproductively shrill.

Frankly, I think that history has proven Krugman right and all of us who were critical of that aspect of his work wrong. At the time, my argument was that partisan pundits are a dime-a-dozen. But, the thing is, he's not like any other pundit. Even being a columnist at the NYT, of all places, he's not been sucked into that echo chamber. He's still an outsider (not of power, but of the media/pundit industry) even though he participates highly. That is to say, his interests haven't been co-opted by it and he still writes what he thinks, independently of the pundit/media consensus. We saw with Bush that this was very important because the insiders never stopped making excuses for Bush. Or, like the funny Josh Marshall tweat linked above — that consensus pretends to be speaking for the average American when, in fact, it's speaking for its own narrow interests. Washington was enamored of Paul Ryan even though it was obvious he was full of shit. Washington is David Brooks, a guy who ironically writes about Americans in small towns and such who pretty much only exist in his self-serving imagination, and he thinks he's speaking for those people. He's not.

Krugman is beloved by the left these days, but make no mistake: were the anti-globalization rhetoric as high-profile and relevant today as it was in 1999, Krugman would again happily be taking the harshly critical position he did then (though it's very not true to say that he's a doctrinaire free-trader; and, in fact, he's heterodox in advocating for currency controls, when necessary). Krugman is far more independent than any comparably high-profile major-media pundit. That's a good thing, a very good thing. I'm glad he's there and doing that.

I still don't read his columns, though. But the blog is great.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:26 PM on April 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


You found them viciously partisan and out of touch with facts, history, and the opinions of the populace?

No, I just said it for funsies! For goodness' sake, engage with my argument substantively or not if you don't care to. I hardly think my point was so abstruse or surreal as to engender such a high level of seeming confusion.

I *do* in fact think that writing a "list of wankers" and insulting people as stupid, evil, people is indeed vicious and when they all share a certain aspect of neo-liberal ideology, partisan - and yes it is out of touch with the opinions of the populace, the vast majority of whom would have no idea who these people are or why they should care. It's out of touch because it's not placing these "wankers" in an historical context, I believe.
posted by smoke at 4:32 PM on April 17, 2012


"So's Milton Friedman, but nobody around here takes him seriously."

Anigbrowl, what are you talking about?

Are you an international economist? Because most of Krugman's work in that field still stands pretty prominently out, he's the 18th most cited economist and his textbook in int. econ is a standard. New Trade Theory has not been discredited in anyway that I've read.
posted by C.A.S. at 4:34 PM on April 17, 2012


See I understand what your opinion is I'm just wondering what words it was that you read that led you to that opinion. Like, the opinion they seem to have in common is Iraq which history has judged to be stupid and the populace now agrees with that.

I mean, was supporting Iraq NOT stupid and evil?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:37 PM on April 17, 2012


Or Jonah Goldberg writing a book about how liberals are Nazis? We need to treat that with some kind of respect?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:37 PM on April 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


"So's Milton Friedman, but nobody around here takes him seriously."

Anigbrowl, what are you talking about?


I'm talking about the fact that being an economist of high repute is incidental to partisan perception. If I cited Milton Friedman approvingly and then tried to convert doubters by pointing to his Nobel laureate status, most Metafilter readers would give me short shrift because Milton Friedman's ideas are not popular here, as a quick comment search demonstrates.

I don't actually have a strong opinion about Milton Friedman; I'm just pointing out that one person's fame is another person's notoriety.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:40 PM on April 17, 2012


I *do* in fact think that writing a "list of wankers" and insulting people as stupid, evil, people is indeed vicious

At some point the limits of discourse are discovered. There is simply nothing that can be accomplished by communicating with Thomas Friedman. He is beyond reason's grasp.
posted by mek at 4:42 PM on April 17, 2012


I was hoping my contributions here would at least get me ahead of McArdle.
posted by humanfont at 4:58 PM on April 17, 2012


pipeski, note that Atrios has been using the word "wanker" as a particular term of art since at least 2005, when he debuted (if Google is correct) his "wanker of the day".
posted by dhartung at 5:09 PM on April 17, 2012


Jonah Goldberg the writer of Liberal Fascism only at #6? Guy deserves a lifetime achievement doosh-master award that consists of a kick in the ass pants every day of the rest of his life for taking the biggest dump in the history of political debate in the already murky waters of proto-fascism. Really, for a Jew to be not only a Nazi party revisionist AND an apologist for the proto-fascism of the Right during Bush and lingering in the inarticulate droolings of the Tea Party and it's Neo-supremicists is quite a trick.

I wish I could have back all the time I wasted on political boards having to convince GOtP-ers that Liberals aren't National Socialists.

Friedman is annoyingly gleeful about his status quo handjobs, but harmless in comparison.
posted by Skygazer at 5:17 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Choosing which of the Lords of Slate would make this list was a bit tough.

I will place this crisp $1 bill in his PayPal tip jar if he devotes a series just to Slate. I really just can't read enough Slate bashing. It's weird. Ten years ago, I'd have spent my days stealing enough time from my employers to bash Slate myself, but something about my 40s has caused me to prefer reading other people bashing Slate. I don't even read Slate anymore. I just like knowing someone, somewhere is minding the watchtower.

Except Dahlia. I would like him to not bash Dahlia.

I will place another crisp $1 bill in his PayPal tip jar if he records the series as a collection of podcasts where he impersonates the regulars on the Political Gabfest.

"My cocktail chatter for this week is that I forgot how to chew and then I pooped but Audible dot com!"
posted by mph at 5:19 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


What digby said.

(That's another of Atrios' famous tag lines)
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:46 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


masters of political punditry as Saturday Night Live sketch: all catchphrase, zero insight.

This does not remotely describe digby, since she doesn't do pithy catchphrases. Her posts are invariably many paragraphs.

It's also a mischaracterization of atrios's output, since he boils down disputes to their essence, e.g.:

Social Security reform = elites who want to raid the trust fund.

"Grand Bargain" deficit reduction = an excuse to implement right wing policy that won't reduce future right wing policy from being implemented.

These are helpful distillations.

Separately, atrios consistently keeps track of topics like MF Global that fall off other's radar. Do you know how what's up with MF Global? I do, b/c I read atrios.

I'm not saying the guy never uncharitably characterizes a position, but you've completely missed his value.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 5:53 PM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Digby: Friedman is one of those Very Serious People who completely lost their shit after 9/11.

This is the money-shotand perfectly crystallizes Friedman's dilemma. He's never recovered from how hard he tried to be the comprehensive voice of that event and to understand that the way to beat what happened to the country that day wasn't to make it the exceptional event that would define all things moving forward from that day onward, but to put it in perspective and assimilate it within a deeper and broader context of traditions and American identity.

Other people/entities/institutions that lost their shit after 911 and seem unable to assimilate and move on form it, because they've codified it into a product or voice or identity:

Fox News, the GOP, Congress, the military (via it's wars), law enforcement (via it's massive expansion), Police departments all over the nation, Right-wing pundits, Lobbyists. WallStreet.

Many of those organizations have a vested interest in carrying forth the 911 new normal zeitgeist forever because it's a money maker. And a serious one at that. I'd say a fair amount of the nation is addicted to the PTSD-esque fear and paranoia of 911 that cultivated even still by those groups. Freidman put all his chips on that 911 vibe lasting forever.
posted by Skygazer at 6:17 PM on April 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


The glaring omission from this list is David Brooks, though because he and Thomas Friedman are more or less spouting out the same kind of centrist nonsense, I suppose it's ok.
posted by zardoz at 7:21 PM on April 17, 2012


Cokie Fucking Roberts. Jesus if she says "It will be interesting to see ..." one more time I'ma going to pin a "wanker" ribbon to her 1980's feathered 'do with mu staple-gun.
posted by newdaddy at 7:55 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also see Cokie's Law.
posted by gimonca at 8:01 PM on April 17, 2012


These are helpful distillations.

If you mean rhetorically, then yes. If you mean factually, I disagree.

Separately, atrios consistently keeps track of topics like MF Global that fall off other's radar. Do you know how what's up with MF Global? I do, b/c I read atrios.

So do I, because I read the Wall Street Journal and watch most of my TV news on PBS. As far as I can tell, the story has received extensive coverage in mainstream media.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:25 PM on April 17, 2012


. It's out of touch because it's not placing these "wankers" in an historical context, I believe.

I think it's precisely the historical context itself that makes the list so great. This list documents an era of intellectual collapse from about the mid1990s to the late 2000s where having a sort of detached, "both sides are just as bad, Republicans are people with the strong ideas we need, and it's a shame that we can have a centrist 'third way' to implement my ideas as long as the democrats don't do it, and George Bush is a serious leader and Republicans have serious, important things to say, no matter how crazy they are, in any case the left is just as crazy" was the height of what was considered "intellectual" and "Serious." It occurred alongside what really was a cultural collapse of the journalistic enterprise, in part embodied by the "consensus" to attack Iraq without question and an assumption that the 43rd president was serious and competent, because it was considered "unserious" to believe otherwise.
posted by deanc at 8:58 PM on April 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


"Where's Krugman? Where's Dowd? Where's Kos, for crying out loud?"

Reality has a well-known liberal bias.
posted by bardic at 9:11 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, Michael Moore is fat and this is good news for John McCain.
posted by bardic at 9:12 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


The glaring omission from this list is David Brooks, though because he and Thomas Friedman are more or less spouting out the same kind of centrist nonsense, I suppose it's ok.

My personal take on Brooks' omission draws a fine distinction between Friedman's wankery and Brooks' craven bootlicking, so technically Brooks wouldn't qualify for this list if viewed in this light. But that's just my take.
posted by stannate at 9:27 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


because I read the Wall Street Journal and watch most of my TV news on PBS.

It's still a good example of a mostly buried story that atrios highlights and cuts through the BS on -- the phony complexity rationalizations of locating and recovering $1+ billlion; Luis Freeh's predictable role of ensuring customer repayment isn't a priority; and the significance of the story as a likely indicator of widespread fraud and theft.

You get that in a concise format from atrios and there's a reason Krugman reads him.

Frankly I doubt PBS has carried many stories on MF Global since the initial scandal broke.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 10:06 PM on April 17, 2012


I *do* in fact think that writing a "list of wankers" and insulting people as stupid, evil, people is indeed vicious

But not vicious enough. Let's be honest: if each and every person on that list had dropped dead of a painless heart attack on 10 September 2001, the last decade would've been a lot better.

These people were not the root causes of the evil the US, UK and their allies unleashed on Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere that decade, but they were its enablers, helping to create a climate in which all the Very Serious People were certain invading Iraq was the best thing America could do, just because.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:08 AM on April 18, 2012


Yeah, for those criticizing Krugman, what actually wanky things has he ever done? I never read his stuff and think "That's ridiculous, the way you might reading Thomas Friedman, for example:
"Do you think the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?"

If you answered "Yes," you would not be allowed to work in Iraq. You could go to Korea, Japan or Germany - but not Iraq. Only those who understand that in the Middle East the shortest distance between two points is never a straight line should be allowed to carry out U.S. policy there. . . .
The shortest distance between two points, of course, is a straight line.

Friedman is well known to be an idiot. But what, specifically has Krugman said that that's wanky? In fact, what has he been wrong about? I'm sure he's sometimes incorrect , but can you give an example?
posted by delmoi at 7:13 AM on April 18, 2012


atrios and digby have done it so long that they've got it down to a science at this point -- the science of the jeremiad. The reason that it may no longer be "fun" to read them is that the science of the jeremiad isn't as jolly and zesty as the art. You can almost feel the fatigue and the groaning issuing from their fingertips on the keyboard when you read their posts now, the sense of "Ten years later -- meh, why even bother?"

I *do* in fact think that writing a "list of wankers" and insulting people as stupid, evil, people is indeed vicious and when they all share a certain aspect of neo-liberal ideology, partisan - and yes it is out of touch with the opinions of the populace, the vast majority of whom would have no idea who these people are or why they should care. It's out of touch because it's not placing these "wankers" in an historical context, I believe.

How is this viciousness out of touch with the opinions of the public? It seems to me that a good number of people, or at least the people that marketers, news executives, etc., pay attention to, want more coarseness and vulgarity in communal discourse, not less, no matter what they tell Gallup. And if people don't have any idea why they should care about the wankers that atrios lists, why would placing them in historical context make them care any more than they already do, which as you say is nil?

Political blogging is by its nature a vicious enterprise, for the most part. The main goal is to tear down enemies and to rip pompous assholes to shreds, not to engage in delicate, nuanced discourse. Wishing it were not so begs the question of what would be in its place instead. It feels to me as though all the once-vicious and now-hoary one-liners of Ye Old Blogge have been transmuted into the 140-character quick stab on Twitter or the oops-I-let-it-slip-but-not-really verbal assault that winds up on YouTube, but what do I know.

Viciousness in the service of exposing hypocrisy and idiocy is an underused and underappreciated weapon. What passes for viciousness these days is mostly just hot air in the service of manufactured outrage, which is also maybe part of the reason that true practitioners like atrios and digby are buried under the waves.
posted by blucevalo at 8:46 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Friedman's dilemma

-The Intense wankery practiced by a journalist due to a Stockholm syndrome-like need to validate grossly incompetent people with vast political power and vast wealth, because to not do so presents life as a charade of pure chaos and dysfunction that aforementioned pundit hasn't the depth to understand. Also a form of PTSD. See: Peter Principle.


PTSD.


Wow. Not bad. I think I just gave myself an honorary PHd in journalism from reading the internet. [New York Times: Contact me via Memail, kthxbye.]
posted by Skygazer at 8:56 AM on April 18, 2012


Addendum: Or maybe does have the "depth," but depth doesn't sell newspapers and buy one that third house. Plus, one may be removed from certain cocktail party invitation lists in DC and NYC.
posted by Skygazer at 9:12 AM on April 18, 2012


And now Friedman is suggesting that Bloomberg run for president as an independent, which is so wrong on so many levels, (especially to anyone who's put up with that pompous aristocrat Goldman Sachs-loving, NYPD coddling, Bill of Rights besmirching, billionaire developer handjobbing twat,) and so ambitious an exercise in wankery that Friedman goes well beyond the title Atrios attributes to him, with the panache and flair of a truly gifted worldclass UBER-WANKER with a pathological need to brown-nose so hard he's in danger of getting his head stuck up Hizzoner's buttcrack.
posted by Skygazer at 10:50 AM on April 18, 2012


I mean, was supporting Iraq NOT stupid and evil?

I am very sure that David Remnick is less stupid (and infinitely better informed) than a great many people who opposed the war in Iraq, even though supporting the war was wrong.

This is part of what Digby and Atrios are responsible for---or at least, encourage---a whole lot of people who cannot understand that people can disagree with you, or can even be flat out wrong, without being stupid or evil.

Which is stupid. And perhaps evil, too.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:42 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is like retro-MetaFilter. I feel like I've stepped back into 2004.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:03 PM on April 18, 2012


a whole lot of people who cannot understand that people can disagree with you, or can even be flat out wrong, without being stupid or evil.

I'm perfectly comfortable with the idea that anyone who supported a completely pointless, horribly destructive and costly war that was started under transparently false pretences is stupid and/or evil. Either you were dumb enough to buy the administration's totally unbelievable reasons for attacking Iraq or you were evil enough to not care that you were supporting the death of hundreds of thousands of innocents. Can you really argue with that?
posted by octothorpe at 1:41 PM on April 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is part of what Digby and Atrios are responsible for---or at least, encourage---a whole lot of people who cannot understand that people can disagree with you, or can even be flat out wrong, without being stupid or evil.

Which is stupid. And perhaps evil, too.
Ugh, spare me this false balance nonsense. If you're opposed to doing something stupid and/or evil, and other people disagree and support doing something stupid and/or evil, how can it be that they're not stupid and/or evil?

I don't see how someone can support doing something stupid and/or evil without being one or the other. Can you explain how that could be the case?

Or were you just trying to say something sounded insightful without worrying about whether or not it was completely vacuous.
posted by delmoi at 1:48 PM on April 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't see how someone can support doing something stupid and/or evil without being one or the other. Can you explain how that could be the case?

No one ever says: "Let's do this evil thing." They say, "Let's do this good thing." Sometimes they say this because they are stupid, or corrupt. But sometimes they are neither stupid nor evil. Sometimes they are only wrong.

"As a simple rule of thumb, just imagine every time you’re telling a good vs. evil story, you’re basically lowering your IQ by ten points or more."
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:25 PM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is part of what Digby and Atrios are responsible for---or at least, encourage---a whole lot of people who cannot understand that people can disagree with you, or can even be flat out wrong, without being stupid or evil.

I fully understand that is sometimes the case, not in the case of Iraq though.

There are 100,000 people who died in a quest for weapons of mass destruction that started without adequate evidence of their existence. This was apparent before it happened and millions of people shouted it. The truth was out there for anyone who wanted to hear it. It was a massive crime against humanity.

Yes, you have done something stupid and evil if you signed up for that, that includes folks like Hillary and Biden even though they may get a lot of other stuff right.

"Better informed" they were on that? Obviously fucking not.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:39 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you are "only" wrong and it leads to the easily preventable death of a 100,000 people, you are evil. You have done an evil thing. Fuck you.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:40 PM on April 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


What if you sincerely, albeit incorrectly, believed that the cost of inaction was 250,000 deaths? What if this were actually the case? Note that I am not asserting this to be the case with Iraq (though I might be wrong), but the same choices have appeared in many previous wars. Many people wanted the US to stay out of WW2; many advances in technology have come at a tremendous cost to human life while also yielding tremendous benefits.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:22 PM on April 18, 2012


What if you sincerely, albeit incorrectly, believed that the cost of inaction was 250,000 deaths?

Then you are evil because of your stupidity.

What if this were actually the case?

It wasn't.

Many people wanted the US to stay out of WW2

The attack on Pearl Harbor was real.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:28 PM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


No one ever says: "Let's do this evil thing." They say, "Let's do this good thing." Sometimes they say this because they are stupid, or corrupt. But sometimes they are neither stupid nor evil. Sometimes they are only wrong.
I'm not really a fan of the word "evil", and I don't really think Artrios or Digby have ever seriously claimed that bush or the Neo-Cons were evil. Maybe they did, I don't really remember. In fact, before bush brought the term back into vogue I'd always thought of it as a sort of supernatural concept, applying to characters in horror movies, rather then the real world.

So let's use a more specific phrase: "Likely to cause human pain and suffering on a massive scale" -- how would you describe someone who wanted that to happen, or was indifferent to it? If you don't want to use evil, let's use the shorthand X.

The question is, how is it that someone might come to be wrong about something that was obviously likely to cause human pain and suffering on a massive scale?

It seems to me there are 4 possibilities

1) They are stupid.
2) They are smart didn't think it through all the way.
3) They are smart, and did think it through all the way.
4) They are smart, know what will happen, and are lying.

The thing is, I don't really think number three is possible How can a person who is smart think it all the way through and come to the wrong conclusion, when it comes to something likely to cause human pain and suffering on a massive scale? It seems to me that if they do think it through, and come to the wrong conclusion they are either stupid or the word "stupid" is actually meaningless.

In the case of number 2 - it seems obvious that if you don't even bother to think it through, it's because you don't care. If you don't care, then you clearly don't care about human pain and suffering on a massive scale.
What if you sincerely, albeit incorrectly, believed that the cost of inaction was 250,000 deaths?
See, that's easy: You were stupid.

posted by delmoi at 3:30 PM on April 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hypothetically it's possible that me failing to eat a donut for breakfast could result in some Rube Goldberg-like outcome which leads through a series of unfortunate events to the accidental launch of the American military arsenal, triggering worldwide nuclear apocalypse. Therefore, not eating donuts for breakfast is evil.

Hypotheticals are stupid, especially when we have agreed-upon facts at our disposal. Those who "sincerely and incorrectly believed" Iraq was a credible threat are sufficiently incompetent to be disbarred from any future position where their opinion on matters of foreign policy could have any effect at all. Leave the questions of ethics for the dinner party conversations, I just want their hands off the levers of power, forever more.
posted by mek at 3:31 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ugh. Failed to close a tag there. Anyway you get the idea.
posted by delmoi at 3:31 PM on April 18, 2012


Then you are evil because of your stupidity.

That kind of kills the ethics argument.

Hypotheticals are stupid, especially when we have agreed-upon facts at our disposal

This is frequently not the case when attempting to predict the future.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:40 PM on April 18, 2012


Anigbrowl: I split out stupid and 'evil' "supportive of or indifferent to human pain and suffering on a massive scale" - Someone could sincerely think the Iraq war was a good because they were stupid.

But the argument is that it was possible to be wrong about something that would likely cause human pain and suffering on a massive scale, without being stupid or 'evil' "supportive of or indifferent to human pain and suffering on a massive scale"

The question is how is that possible? How could an intelligent person sincerely arrive at that decision?
posted by delmoi at 3:49 PM on April 18, 2012


Bad inputs. If you have an overwhelming amount of threat data coming in, as people in government do, and are predisposed to be overcautious, as people would in the wake of a catastrophic event like 9/11, it's easy to ascribe too much significance to your negatives while still proceeding rationally. I'm not saying this is the case with Iraq, in particular; actually, I think there was a good deal more cynicism and indifference at work in that case. But intelligent people get things wrong all the time because intelligence doesn't always immunize you against fallacious thinking. Even in morally justifiable wars like WW2, the 'good guys' made all sorts of terrible military or strategic decisions along the way. The Psychology of Military Incompetence is an excellent (albeit turgid) assessment of 'how these things happen.'
posted by anigbrowl at 4:33 PM on April 18, 2012


Okay, what was the credible evidence that Iraq had a current WMD program?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:37 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Plenty of the people on the "wankers of the decade" list were pretty up front about why they supported the Iraq war: namely, they wanted to "get back" at some country, somewhere, after September 11th, and they hated "hippies" who were against the war and wanted to show how they were "Serious" unlike those stupid, hippie peaceniks. Calling those people stupid or evil, even if you disagree with that assessment, isn't necessarily unfair, given their self described motivations.
posted by deanc at 4:38 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


That "Iraq was a result of being too cautious" line is a brilliant way to whitewash what was actually post-9/11 hysterical fear. An excellent tribute to the theme of the FPP.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:58 PM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


The question is, how is it that someone might come to be wrong about something that was obviously likely to cause human pain and suffering on a massive scale?

For one thing, they might think that something makes it worth it, anyway: generally the prevention of some more serious harm. Are you really ready to call Abraham Lincoln evil? Woodrow Wilson? FDR? Kennedy? LBJ?

The weird thing is we're not even talking about the guys who pull the triggers. We're talking about the people who write blog posts in their support. The folks on this list basically got their start as the Bush administration's propaganda corps. In a different era, folks like Walther Lippmann were doing this work. I don't think he was evil or stupid.

I'm a pragmatic pacifist. I think war is almost always wrong. But I'm pretty lonely in this group, and I just don't feel comfortable saying that everybody who doesn't agree with me is either evil or stupid.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:13 PM on April 18, 2012


The weird thing is we're not even talking about the guys who pull the triggers.

In a democracy there is a certain responsibility that comes with free speech. The mainstream media has a certain degree of sway over public opinion, and public opinion has a certain degree of sway over what is politically possible. When a major journalism outfit publicly promotes war propaganda, as outfits such as the NYT did... yes, they have blood on their hands. They are (admittedly partially and indirectly) responsible for many many deaths.

But anyway, people like anigbrowl are clearly talking about politicians as well as journalists. You'll note the people in Atrios' list are generally professional journalists, not "bloggers" as you want to characterize them. The bloggers are ironically much more responsible.
posted by mek at 5:51 PM on April 18, 2012


Bad inputs. If you have an overwhelming amount of threat data coming in, as people in government do, and are predisposed to be overcautious
1) Going to war is something an 'overcautious' person would do? Seriously?
2) Barbara boxer was on the senate intelligence committee, and said she didn't think the evidence was strong enough to justify war.
3) Colin Powel said the evidence was "bullshit" or something like that before going before the UN and claiming otherwise.

The whole "Okay, from the information available to the public, it might have looked like bullshit, but the classified lies were much more compelling!" argument doesn't seem to wash. We now know about more classified Intel that actually strongly indicated there was nothing everything, including agents reporting back from Iraq saying there was nothing going on.
For one thing, they might think that something makes it worth it, anyway: generally the prevention of some more serious harm. Are you really ready to call Abraham Lincoln evil? Woodrow Wilson? FDR? Kennedy? LBJ?
Well, Lincoln and FDR were correct, and we're talking about people who were incorrect. A Key difference. If there had been WMD in Iraq, and things didn't devolve into a massive sectarian conflict resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands - we wouldn't be having this discussion.

LBJ and the Vietnam war? That's an interesting question. It seems like, from what I've read, LBJ had the general idea that the war was wrong, but felt trapped or something. So maybe there is a third category: Smart people who know it's wrong but are two weak and pathetic to say what's right. I don't really think that would apply to commentators, though.
posted by delmoi at 8:58 PM on April 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


What were they correct about? They caused untold human suffering. They did it deliberately. Lincoln faced massive sectarian conflict and hundreds of thousands of deaths, including roughly 600,000 civilian deaths, but when Reconstruction ended the South went back to terrorizing African-Americans and treating then like second-class citizens.

If you want to say it is always wrong or stupid to start a war because of the suffering that innocents experience while the Just exchange their explosive messages, fine. But own the entailments.

People are fallible and being smart doesn't prevent us from making mistakes. Lots of people thought the argument from fear of nukes was nonsense, but that Saddam was a dictator who oppressed his people using gas attacks. Many of those people are on this list: they were fired by anxieties about rich free countries ignoring the plight of citizens of tyrannical regimes.

They thought they were making Lincoln's choice. I think they were probably wrong given the evidence, but I also think it's too soon to say for sure.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:59 AM on April 19, 2012


Mea Culpa. I grabbed the Civil War civilian casuality numbers from a website without checking for corroboration. It looks like it's one of these heavily contested numbers for which there has been little agreement over the years, where politicization of the question prevents clear evaluations of evidence. Credible historians offer estimates of civilian dead between 50,000 and 250,000, with methods that look at census records and comparable warfare in Europe producing absurd calculations like 875,000. Apparently the best estimate is to simply say "We don't know." I'm sorry to pollute this discussion with that controversy.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:54 AM on April 19, 2012


What were they correct about?
Well, he won right? He saved the union and ended slavery, which killed a lot more then 600k people. I'm not saying that war is always wrong if there is some achievable goal, then there is a reasonable argument you can have. But there wasn't one with Iraq.
Reconstruction ended the South went back to terrorizing African-Americans and treating then like second-class citizens.
So let me see if I understand you're argument here: It's wrong to say that Lincoln was correct and Bush was wrong, because black people would have been better off is slavery had stayed in place?

Lincoln had nothing to do with reconstruction, he was dead.
posted by delmoi at 9:30 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The only claim I want to defend is that sometimes non-evil, non-stupid people advocate projects that will cause incalculable suffering. You expressed confusion as to how this could be. Mistakenly imagining you are making Lincoln's choice does not necessarily make you evil or stupid.

Put another way: I think you have far too high an opinion of the value of intelligence and good will for avoiding mass atrocity. "Thinking things through all the way" is not the same as "accurately predicting the future." Often, there is a great deal of luck involved.

It's my view that we ought to add that unpredictability into the equation when we make decisions about warfare, and thus make war seldom and with great caution and forethought. Likely you agree with me on this. But it seems hyperbolic, inaccurate, and unhelpful to insist that everyone who disagrees with us is stupid or evil. It's certainly not going to save any lives.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:40 AM on April 19, 2012


Mistakenly imagining you are making Lincoln's choice does not necessarily make you evil or stupid.

Anyone who believed the Iraq war was proposed, waged, or at any point justified on humanitarian grounds is some fatal combination of stupid and naive. That also applies to people who believe the same thing, retrospectively, of the Civil War. I'll add that Lincoln had little "choice" in the matter, given that seven states had seceded before he took office. Though I'll admit your comparison of Bush to Lincoln was good for a laugh, thanks.
posted by mek at 11:53 AM on April 19, 2012


Most wars are proposed, waged, and justified on humanitarian grounds, even the very worst of them. People have an amazing capacity for believing what they want/need to believe. The tragedy, as they say, is that everyone has their reasons. There are few people so naive as dedicated cynics.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:04 PM on April 19, 2012


Wars are ideological and/or commercial conflicts (often mostly the latter, dressed as the former) resolved through the use of force. Those who seek to justify their wars as "humanitarian" endeavors typically employ dark maths which value some lives more than others. Better Dead Than Red, for example.

It's telling that some people cling to the Iraq-War-as-altruism narrative so desperately, given how obviously false it was, and how inevitable that pointless war was, before it had even been formally articulated by the Bush administration. I agree with you to that extent: some people desperately need to believe, because the reality - the senselessness of the violence and death - is simply too terrible for them to contemplate. Which is fine, just stay out of Congress, thanks.
posted by mek at 2:52 PM on April 19, 2012


The only claim I want to defend is that sometimes non-evil, non-stupid people advocate projects that will cause incalculable suffering. You expressed confusion as to how this could be. Mistakenly imagining you are making Lincoln's choice does not necessarily make you evil or stupid.
Yes, but you're also missing the point. Both bush and Lincoln had a stated goal for their actions, based on the conclusion that inaction would be morally worse then action. The problem is that bush was incorrect about the conclusion. So he either arrived at that due to stupidity, or he was lying about (i.e 'evil')
Put another way: I think you have far too high an opinion of the value of intelligence and good will for avoiding mass atrocity. "Thinking things through all the way" is not the same as "accurately predicting the future." Often, there is a great deal of luck involved.
I disagree. If someone throws a boiling pot of water on another person, burning them and disfiguring them, are they immune from criticism because they simply failed to predict the future properly? I would say no. It's an obvious consequence. If a person did so because they wanted to do it, they would be evil. If they did it because they didn't know the water was boiling, they would have been stupid. It depends on the obvious outcome.

And now that I think about, the Iraq war resulted in many people being mutilated in that way

Anyway, you can make a moral argument about other military leaders and presidents. Other then someone like LBJ and the Vietnam war, most of those wars ended up being based on accurate conclusions. With LBJ it was a bit more complex then with bush starting a war out of nowhere, since he inherited the war, rather then started it.
posted by delmoi at 10:01 PM on April 19, 2012


Every war causes mutilations. That doesn't help us distinguish the smart from the stupid ones, unless they're all stupid.

You seem convinced that smart, well-intentioned people can't be wrong, by definition. I'm not sure what kind of evidence could possibly persuade you otherwise at this point. Is this a falsifiable claim? What form would that take? (Maybe the evidence doesn't exist, of course. But what would it look like if it did?)
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:29 PM on April 19, 2012


You seem convinced that smart, well-intentioned people can't be wrong, by definition.

It depends on the act. Was George Zimmerman smart and well intentioned? Could someone who dumped a pot of boiling water on someone be both smart and well intentioned? Seems really unlikely to me.

On the other hand, I'm sure the people who designed the space shuttle's ceramic tiles, or the Fukushima daiichi nuclear power plant were very smart, and working in good faith, but just miscalculated.

Regardless of how well intentioned someone is, there has to be some level at which their actions become stupid.

It sounds like you think there is no action which is fundamentally stupid, and which only a stupid person would do intentionally and in good faith. If there are no stupid acts, then what does 'stupid' even mean?
posted by delmoi at 3:31 AM on April 20, 2012


I do believe there are stupid acts, and stupid people. Your examples are engineering mistakes, math problems done badly that lead to deaths. My question is: is it possible to make a moral mistake?

Consider: what if the South had won the Civil War, and Lincoln and Sherman were prosecuted for war crimes and the entire edifice of slavery remained in place? Historians assure us this was more likely than we'd like to think, that the War was won by a mixture of skill and luck. God wasn't literally on the Union's side, even if they were in the right.

Wouldn't that be a mistake like the invasion of Iraq? Is it possible that smart, well-intentioned folks might still have supported the war, even if it caused massive bloodshed and failed in its mission?
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:42 AM on April 20, 2012


Consider: what if the South had won the Civil War, and Lincoln and Sherman were prosecuted for war crimes and the entire edifice of slavery remained in place?
Well, that doesn't seem very plausible, since the south was only trying to stay independent, not take over the rest of the country, and Sherman was only able to do his march to the sea because the south was defeated.
Wouldn't that be a mistake like the invasion of Iraq?
The south attacked first, they started the war.

Another key difference is that the south actually had slaves while Iraq didn't actually have WMDs.
posted by delmoi at 6:24 PM on April 20, 2012


What I'm talking about: Moral Luck and Internalist Conceptions of Justification.

But I'm willing to concede that you're morally superior to and smarter than some famous bloggers, and you've demonstrated it using italics.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:19 PM on April 20, 2012


What I'm talking about: Moral Luck and Internalist Conceptions of Justification.

That's wonderful. But those don't take intelligence into consideration. I'm not saying a person is immoral, I am saying they are either immoral or stupid. You can be 'morally unlucky' to be a stupid person and thus sincerely make immoral decisions without realizing that those decisions are immoral.
posted by delmoi at 7:45 PM on April 20, 2012


Listen, we disagree about this, right? One of us is wrong. Does that mean that one of us is evil or stupid? I don't think so.

In my view, you are refusing to accept my explanation because it is more important to you to signal your distaste for the war in Iraq than to discuss the very ethereal and conceptual claim I am making. I still think you are smart and good-willed: I can respect those motivations even though I think they're leading you to make an avoidable mistake by speaking too categorically.

In my view, you could easily just say that while it's conceivable that someone might make a moral mistake and still be good and smart, these bloggers and that president were either evil or stupid, and in some cases both.

What do you think is going on? Obviously, you think I'm wrong. So am I stupid or evil?
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:07 PM on April 21, 2012


See, I do agree people can make major mistakes without being stupid or evil. When I set off this whole derail that got you two going my only point was that supporting Iraq specifically doesn't leave you any other options, aside from maybe simple ignorance.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:18 PM on April 21, 2012


Tom Friedman’s War on Humanity
posted by homunculus at 1:08 PM on April 24, 2012


Congratulations to Jonah Goldberg on the Pulitzer Nominations He Received From Himself
posted by homunculus at 8:24 PM on May 9, 2012


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