It’s a Fair Cop

Norm Geras objects to a recent post of mine, and I think by and large his objections are justified.

First, my original entry does something that I really don’t like to see from bloggers, whether it’s directed at me or at others, and Norm rightfully objects strenuously to it as well. Namely, argue that a blogger ought to be writing about something other than what he writes about. If there’s anything about this format of publication that’s important, it’s that we write about what we write about, when we want to write about it. When someone complains to me that because I’ve written about one issue, I’m required to issue a statement about some other issue, my basic response is, “I’m not your trained monkey”. So my apologies to Norm: I don’t like this kind of thing, and I’m regretful that I indulged in it.

Second, I think Norm is right to say that there’s just too many targets bouncing around in my original post, that I’m talking about something he said about Tony Judt and the Euston Manifesto and the people in favor of the Iraq War all at once, and often in ways that are vague or contradictory. (Several comments here pointed this out as well.) My original post really needs more focus. If I’m going to talk about someone specific, I should stay on the specifics. If I’m going to talk in generalities, I shouldn’t use Norm as a stand-in for the generality, particularly given that he is quite a bit more engaged in various ways with his critics, as he observed.

In part, this is because I was trying to deal with the nature of Norm’s response to Judt, which is that Judt is wrong to level the charge of “binarism” against pro-war liberals because it fails to discriminate between different intellectuals with different programs. I’m still frustrated by Norm’s response, because he turns around and says, “Well, Tony Judt is just the same as the Hizbolleft, really.” In fact, to some extent, I do think Norm does to Judt what he complains that I did to him, which is both to lump him in with a diverse bunch of people and complain that he shouldn’t be writing about what he writes about, but about what Norm thinks he ought to be writing about. I do think there’s a problem somewhere in there, but it would be better to try and untangle it than reproduce it, as I did.

Explananda does a much better job thinking through the issues I was trying to address, for which I’m thankful.

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31 Responses to It’s a Fair Cop

  1. Rob says:

    I think what was wrong with Geras’ tu quoque against Judt is that Judt’s right and Geras is wrong. To put it another way, there are things that binary moral views about are fairly appropriate. Torture, as I think Geras would agree, is one of them. Increasingly, I think whether or not the invasion of Iraq was a good idea is becoming one of those things too: it’s very hard to see how any good that has come out of it could begin to outweigh the bad. It’s bad that the pro-war liberals, or whatever the appropriate designator is for the group of people who claim to be on the centre-left and left and are generally pro the War on Terror, have this binary view about the War on Terror, because it’s a bad view, whereas it’s not bad that Judt and people like him have this binary view about the War on Terror, because it’s a sensible view.

  2. Katheder says:

    I think Rob makes a good point when he argues that one’s attitude to the Iraq War is becoming a “binary moral” question.

    The invasion is not merely a matter of historical importance. If one sees the War as justified by its results, this is a clear declaration of one’s attitude to the costs acceptable in pursuit of achieving clear disarmanant, or punishment of a tyrannical regime.

    If (as Norman Geras argues), the jury is still out, meaning that the emergence of a tolerably pluralist regime can justify in retrospect the carnage unleashed in Iraq, this is a statement with very wide ramifications on the costs acceptable in engineering regime change. It is a presently open-ended extension of the time-frame in which we judge consequences.

    While I would argue that a war of choice is justified only if it substantially improves the situation very quickly, Norm and others want to push the consequentialist horizon back much, much further.

    This, it seems to me, is a crucial, even defining moral binary. Many of us will wish to strenuously oppose an emancipationist project that countenances breaking eggs for many years in the hope that an omlette will materialise. We had quite enough of this kind of thinking in the Twentieth Century.

  3. (from Norm) — nice explanation/ response; but haven’t gone to Explandia’s yet.

    Prior comments about the immorality of the Iraq War utterly fail to mention Saddam’s prior criminality (invading Kuwait) and his “violations of parole” — the 16 other UN SC resolutions he ignored.

    If it’s “immoral” to invade Saddam’s Iraq, it’s immoral to invade anywhere — like D-Day could be considered such an immorality.

    With now only one UN SC resolutions being leveled against Sudan, I wonder what the “cost” is of being anti-war?

    When I look at what Bush has done in Iraq, vs. what the anti-war int’l community has been allowing in Darfur, I say the cost is worth it. Well worth it. Though my cutoff for an “A” was the loss of 2500 US troops, Bush is on track for a “B”, a “very good” democracy for few American lives.

    PUUULEAAASE don’t mention Iraqis killing Iraqis like it means something — when the N. Viet murdered 600 000 S. Vietnamese, the anti-war folk protested … NOT.

  4. Timothy Burke says:

    What’s your “cutoff” for a B?

  5. 5000 US deaths, 10 000 for a C.
    What are YOUR standards?

    How can one claim another is “incompetent” without having a standard of competence?

    Now reading Explananda, and he agrees that Norm is against Torture; and has said Rummy should resign. I, too, am against torture — and note that Gen. Karpinski was fired BEFORE the fotos, and has been demoted.
    Contrast with the UN — I am against child rape and sex-for-food, as has been happening for years (Congo, etc.)
    Who at the UN has been fired or demoted or punished in any way?

    And if you’re against torture, especially, if there’s been a 99% reduction in torture in Iraq, that’s a reason to be in favor of it. One I support.

    What are YOUR standards, and alternatives? (Or are you, as are most Leftists, an intellectual coward? )

    In fact, the unspoken alternative most Leftists have is Unreal Perfection, with an enormous desire to keep their hands clean.

    Explanada asks, graphically, about eating bad stuff– well I prefer the little bit of Bush’s Iraq rather than the big shameful bit of Darfur, or the huge bit of leaving Saddam’s rape rooms operating. The big silence is on the Left, what bad stuff are they more willing to eat?

  6. withywindle says:

    Well, if anyone’s still reading this thread, I’ll be glad to stand as a character reference for Tim’s intellectual honesty and bravery, if not for the correctness of his policy prescriptions. Speaking as the pro-war conservative who (a la Krauthammer) thinks there’s a time and a place for torture, when necessity demands.

  7. I believe in intellectual honesty when I see it.
    Any claim of “costs too much” or “incompetence” is only reasonable if there is some standard. How much would NOT be too much? What does competence look like?
    What are the metrics?

    In the media today, it’s US soldier lives and US money spent.

    A link to prior writing where he states what a “good, competent, anti-torture, cost-effective” invasion would be a better testimony to bravery.

  8. Timothy Burke says:

    See above post for “I’m not your trained monkey” reference.

    I think if you’re going to come to a blog and start making challenges, it might be wise first to read back some. That’s really your responsibility. WordPress even provides you with some categorized archives. You can also find some of my writing on the war at the earlier version of this blog, One of my key arguments, about which there has been much discussion here, is about the nature of liberalism, that if the goal is to produce an Iraq in which the rights and freedoms of its citizens are insured, no invasion is going to readily produce that result, that liberalism comes “from below”. So in some sense, I would say there is a prior issue that trumps the question of whether the invasion in specific was handled incompetently or otherwise. But once you get to that, there are other metrics to consider as well as US money and US lives. One would be Iraqi lives: it seems a bit odd to me to posit that this invasion is on behalf of Iraqis and yet not see that as part of the balance sheet. Another question to consider is whether you can create a liberal society with illiberal means, or at least with the relatively unrestrained illiberalism that the US occupation has so far demonstrated.

    Once you get beyond those more abstract concerns, then I think there’s a very specific range of policy blunders which range from Rumsfeld’s failure to resign after Abu Ghraib to the total indifference of Bremer’s administration to waste and fraud among contractors to the discarding of the State Department’s post-occupation planning document due to inter-departmental rivalries. Current Administration spokesmen now say that’s all water under the bridge, sunken costs, and not worth arguing about. I don’t know about you, but when I hire someone to do a job and they pretty much screw it up again and again and then tell me, “Well, that’s all water under the bridge, let’s forget about all that”, I still tend to want to fire them and hire someone else. I’m not sure why billions of dollars wasted unnecessarily is a sunken cost but the invasion as a whole is not a sunken cost.

    Tom, can I ask you this: do you have any threshold at which point you would be willing to say, “This entire effort has failed”? One thing I’ve come to believe about ALL collective, institutional or governmental projects is that if you start them without a very firm, fixed standard of accountability, a point at which you predictively say you will pull the plug, then you’re more or less giving the people in charge of that project a blank check and telling them that it doesn’t matter whether they’re competent or incompetent, committed or careless, you will never hold them accountable. Which is in general a recipe for disaster.

  9. withywindle says:


    Trying not to rehash old arguments, but probably failing …

    1) I do wonder what your attitude toward Civil Rights might have been around 1962. “Whole lotta violence, whole lotta dead people, no real improvement, everyone would be better off if we stopped trying now.”

    2) I continue to find “liberalism comes from below,” as a sole source of thought, rather repugnant. In essence, it does mean that the victims of particularly harsh regimes are being told not only that we can’t and won’t help them, but that their suffering is their own fault. Historically, of course, I tend to think that liberalism comes from both above and below (see Dutch invasion as necessary part of Glorious Revolution, French invasion as necessary part of American Revolution), but right here I’m more centrally concerned with the blame-the-victim mentalite of that particular line.

    3) Hussein’s actions resulted in the deaths of at least 300K Iraqis over 30 years (estimating conservatively–not including babies dying due to him skimming oil-for-food money to weapons programs–predicting more mass graves will show up–not including dead Kuwaitis and Iranians.) That’s an average of 10K Iraqis a year killed in what amounts to a Sunni war on the Kurds and the Sh’ia, without the Kurds or the Sh’ia being able to fire back. My metric therefore would say that if more than 10K Iraqis are being killed , year on year, that 10K not to include Sunni soldiers (uniformed or uniformed) still engaged in the attempt to reimpose a Sunni/Baathist dictatorship, I would begin to consider the possibility that the tradeoff wasn’t worthwhile. I believe we began to approach this level since the Sunni bombing of the Sh’ia temple this year. But that means the tradeoff has only become problematic for less than year (I could argue that the simple trade-off of lives understates the case for intervention considerably, but won’t here.), and that you are here arguing for withdrawal based on the casualty total of part of 2006 alone. Until then, the killing levels post-invasion were less than the killing levels in Hussein’s dungeons, and thus a net humanitarian gain. For the period from April 2003 on, I suspect we are still at net gain of human lives in Iraq.

    4) I believe you are gravely mistaken about calling “waste and fraud” a mistaken policy. The waste and fraud was an essential part of buying political support and peace among the consensus-majority of Iraqis–not a mistake, not a necessary evil, but a positive good. Without it, there would have been tens of thousands of Iraqis more up in arms against us. There were some fascinating blogs by National Guard soldiers with experience in city management, who knew better than the regular Army that *of course* you spread around construction money to the various tribal factions, etc.; Nineveh and Tampa aren’t that different. On a higher level, *of course* the panjumdrums are going to salt away millions in Switzerland–that’s what keeps them on board. What do you think “liberalism from below” consists of? It includes spreading the grease widely. I put it to you that the Bush administration has been more culturally knowledgable and delicate than you are being with your “anti-waste critique”; they’re working with Iraqi culture and society, while you’re trying to be a Mugwump.

    5) No government project ever has any standard of accountability. They all have cost overruns. That’s way, back home, some of us conservative types (a dwindling number, sadly) want to reduce the size of government, period. (Should LBJ not have started the Great Society because it had unanticipated cost overruns?) You can stop the projects from starting to begin with, and you can say you’ll put someone new in to prevent more such projects, but half-built projects get finished at horrendous cost. And it’s not entirely crazy–a half-built Big Dig in Boston, say, would be even more of a disaster than a $20 billion Big Dig. But if you want a very firm, fixed standard of accountability in all collective, institutional or governmental projects, you will never endorse any collective, institutional or governmental project. from trash-hauling in Swarthmore to national war. Which is, marginally, a recipe for worse disaster than the alternative.

    6) Where have you gone Richard Daley, oh, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you …

  10. withywindle says:

    An addendum, on metrics and “liberalism from below”: for both, you do need to take account of foreign intervention. (Iranian, Saudi, Syrian, general jihadi.) Shouldn’t the metrics somehow take into account the number of Iraqis killed by non-Iraqis, and the number of Iraqi terrorists supplied with foreign munitions? And shouldn’t one’s account of Iraqi civil society take into account that it is struggling not only against the home-grown terrorists, but against all of Iraq’s malicious neighbors? It wouldn’t be entirely fair to say that Spain wasn’t ready for democracy in 1936 because the Nationalists received more German and Italian aid than the Republicans received Soviet aid; neither is it entirely fair to say that Iraq isn’t ready for “liberalism from below” because the evildoers have foreign assistance.

  11. Gary Farber says:

    “(Or are you, as are most Leftists, an intellectual coward? )”

    This isn’t a statement that helps productive debate. (No matter what the noun is that follows “most.”)

    Tim’s response is a great deal politer than that which many would make, no matter their politics, were the same asked of them.

  12. Timothy Burke says:


    Point #1 is a good one, in that I think it points to an issue that is a problem for both you and I, at different moments. Namely, what is the time frame here for considering change?

    Iraq a century from now will be a different place. I’m enough of a believer in progress to think that it will be a better place than it is today, or that it was ten years ago. What does that mean in the context of the US occupation? That in a sufficiently long time frame, suffering is immaterial? Maybe. But there will still be the question, 100 years hence, of whether this delayed or accelerated Iraq’s progress. There will still be the question of whether suffering was necessary–and the moral question of whether we should ever deem suffering “necessary”. The problem is that both of us probably do so in various cases, both judge that what is good in the present was purchased in some fashion with something bad in the past. But different political positions in the present tend to have separate categorical collections cases of that kind. And any such argument is burdened with its own teleology, its own inability to imagine that what it takes to be good in the present could not have come about but for past suffering.

    So if you take the civil rights movement, I’d say the following was clear:
    1) That even in 1962, the probable relationship between pursuing change and the possibility of change seemed strong.
    2) That the costs were, in relationship to the probability of transformation, small.

    But also note its limitations! The civil rights movement succeeded in making statutory changes of transcendent importance, in achieving political reform, and in modest forms of structural change at the social level. But when the civil rights movement named its main target as the consciousness of people, it came up against something that is harder to change, and is often not particularly responsive to either statute or to institutional enforcement (as in “speech codes”, for example).

    Moral assessment of tactics is not irrelevant in any struggle. If you were to point to the success of the struggle against apartheid, and thus imply that everything done in the name of that struggle was therefore legitimate, I’d say, No, that’s not the case. Robert McBride blew up some people in a bar in the name of the ANC: what he did was not necessary nor effective. I think he’s as big a scumbag as any apartheid-era cop who beat Africans for protesting apartheid. If somehow his bombing had been the magic key that turned the lock of apartheid and changed everything, I suppose I’d have a dilemma on my hands. If a thousand McBrides had killed 10,000 people that way, and that was the key, then I think I would have less of a dilemma: the two harms begin to approach each other at that point. But happily I have no dilemma: McBride’s actions were both unnecessary AND immoral.

    I think you also make a good point about liberalism-from-below and liberalism-from-above. There are cases where occupying powers or impositions by powerful actors have helped spur political reform and democratization, I agree. But I hope you would agree that there are cases where liberalism not only came “from below”, but probably could not have come through some kind of attempt to accelerate its spread through invasion or occupation. If so, then we come down to the more difficult game of explaining why we analogize the present situation of Iraq to a given set of historical referents.

    On accountability and corruption, here I think you’re yanking my chain a bit. I really don’t think, if I’d sat down with you ten years ago, you’d have argued that all government programs equally and indiscriminately lack accountability (and are therefore beyond criticism for this lack) and that waste and fraud are merely the means by which government initiatives usefully disperse wealth among possible clients. Your arguments here feel to me cut to fit the cloth of this situation, a systematic claim that I don’t think you’d make systematically were the cases (or political leaderships) different. I don’t know why it’s so hard to concede that the planning for occupation was slipshod and arrogant in ways that were contingent, e.g., that could have been significantly ameliorated if more people with expertise in the region and more hard-nosed realists had been seen as something other than ideological enemies by Wolfowitz, Feith and so on. Nor do I understand why you just wave off actual failures to build infrastructure due to a lack of interest in accountability and standards. Just a few weeks ago, a police college built by a US contractor had to be abandoned. Reason: the piping in the building was laid end to end *without any connectors* and naturally within a very short time, sewage was seeping out through the concrete. Now you could say, “No problem! At least money was dispersed to Iraqi construction interests, thus placating them and making them into docile clients of the US occupation”. You could say that, but I hope you won’t.

    On your second post, yes, of course the metrics should take into account what the opposition is doing. Not the least of which because judging how successful a military operation is requires assessing how successful the opposition is, not just how vile it might be.

  13. withywindle says:


    1) As I recollect my Taylor Branch, things seemed a lot more bleak in 1962 than you are putting it now. He describes the 1963 Children’s March as a somewhat desperate attempt to get a somnolent Northern media and populace to pay attention to the South again; using children as willing victims over the protests of terrified parents, and with no certain knowledge there wouldn’t have been massive bloodshed. (See Soweto for similar dynamics.) I think the Children’s March is good evidence that Civil Rights was (apparently) much more desperate and contingent than it looks now.

    2) I eagerly await your post on how Battlestar Galactica addresses all these dilemmas. (Though they’ve still lost me—I’m watching, but I just don’t care.) Saul Tigh—Doing What’s Necessary, or Counterproductive?

    3) I do think that, say, a British invasion of the US in 1858 to end slavery would have been counterproductive for the long-term goal of abolition. (Though entirely morally justified.) So, yes, I’m perfectly willing to say that judging Iraq is (in part) a question of prudential judgment as to what Iraqi political culture and American intervention combined make possible.

    4) I’m not saying you can’t limit corruption, but I think exterminating it is both impossible and (prudentially) counter-productive. The difference is (ideal-typing) between adding 50% to the price of the road, and building the road, or adding nothing to the price of the road, and building half the road, or zero the road. Making sure corruption doesn’t get in the way of real productivity is the goal—again, Richard Daley. And I’m all for government inspections, accountants, etc.—but practically, everything I have seen in American local government practice is that companies routinely lowball their cost estimates, use political connections, come back half-way through the process and say they need more money, and are never punished for their practices. I’m all for being as hard-nosed as one can be to protect the taxpayer dollar, I’m all for criticism, but it does seem to me that once you’ve signed the initial contract, the real-world truth is that you’re committed for the duration, and at a cost overrun. (Perhaps it’s better in rural Minnesota; in the Northeast, this has been the norm I’ve seen.) And getting back to Iraq, I do firmly believe that “waste and corruption” were absolutely necessary to build political support in a region where such briberies are the traditional form of building political support, and that clean government in and of itself would have alienated the Iraqi majority from the very beginning.

    Incidentally, it seems to me that the “waste and corruption” critique runs counter to the “money wasn’t dispersed fast enough critique.” Part of the reason the money was dispersed so slowly was due to American government anti-fraud procedures; and if more money had been dispersed, more would have been skimmed off by the Iraqis. The slowness of disbursement has been our best protection against waste and corruption.

    5) This is a different argument from the competence of the administration. I wasn’t engaging you on that issue, solely on the waste and corruption issue. I think that’s a plus, not a minus; I’d be willing to say that the administration of Iraq was incompetent in other ways—though I’d want to go issue by issue–but this doesn’t strike me as a good example to prove that point.

  14. Timothy Burke says:

    I’m actually working up a post on Battlestar Galactica and Marvel’s “Civil War”, so stay tuned.

  15. Brad says:

    I thought that was called Battlestar Ponderosa?

  16. Timothy Burke says:

    Ooo. Now there’s a high concept.

  17. Doug says:

    Does the Johns Hopkins/Lancet report of 600,000 excess deaths change anyone’s calculations here? If not, is there any threshold that would?

  18. withywindle says:

    As Pres. Bush noted, not a credible report.

  19. Timothy Burke says:

    If you read the study, their “high-confidence” figure is something like 315,000 (high confidence in this case being determined by actual death certificates that record actual causes of death as being directly related to military conflict). So I don’t know that if even halved this is exactly cause to just say, “Move along, nothing to see here”. But then I don’t tend to think that the debate, yay or nay, is much resolved by quantities–I’m unmoved both by Tom Grey’s pulled-out-of-his-hat figure of 99% reduction in torture incidence and by debates over whether it’s 300,000 or 600,000 “excess” deaths.

  20. Doug says:

    Bush is not a credible source of comment. If he says the sun rises in the east, you’d better go out and see for yourself.

    Tim, as I read you, the main case is that in principle the invasion was a bad idea, badly executed. Getting 600,000 people killed is certainly worse than getting 300,000 killed, but those figures are degrees of badness, and that they are not necessary to the conclusions you have reached. Did I get that right?

    Withywindle, reading your posts, I don’t know whether there is a threshold at which you would say “This is too much cost for the gains involved.” Is there one? Or have you, rhetorically, put a blank check on the table?

  21. Timothy Burke says:

    I think that’s about right, Doug, that to some extent, my criticisms of the war are not strongly dependent on numbers. It’s a bit of how I feel about the “numbers game” in debates over the Atlantic slave trade. Folks can get very hot under the collar about the difference between 10 million and 20 million people; unless that difference makes a specific empirical difference (say, in the demographic impact on particular African societies), I don’t think that number per se makes a difference in moral terms. 10 million or 20 million strikes me as equally bad in terms of a moral response to the history of the Atlantic slave trade. I don’t know how one can read the Lancet report and say, “Very few have died who would not have died otherwise; there are few innocents who have died directly because of US military actions”. From certain arguments in favor of the war, you don’t HAVE to minimize these numbers, because you’re arguing that a much more powerful kind of abstract good will ultimately come of the war to which the numbers are significantly immaterial, whether large or small.

    The main difference that I think the numbers make to that argument is just that the people who feel that way probably ought to show a bit more gravitas, humility and sorrow about the costs of the conflict than they tend to–I think if you believe the war is necessary for the global spread of liberty, you have to at least have a lot of regret that the liberties of many innocent people are in your view necessarily sacrificed to that objective. (Untimely death being a major example of the deprivation of liberty.)

  22. withywindle says:

    I do, of course, take the President as a highly credible source of comment; spit out his words of lembas as much as you like.

    If more Americans die fighting in Iraq than will die if a nuclear bomb blast goes off in lower Manhattan at noon on a weekday, then it will not have been worth while to invade Iraq.

  23. Timothy Burke says:

    Now that, I have to say, is a tendentious standard. Because it takes as uncontestable that the relation between Americans fighting in Iraq and the prevention of a nuclear bomb blast in lower Manhattan is an established given, that if there is not such an attack on American soil within X duration, that will be self-evidently a consequence of invading Iraq.

  24. withywindle says:

    Doug asked what my standard was; I gave it. You can call it tendentious–and I would take the flat denial of such a relation to be equally tendentious–but it is a standard. It’s reasonable for Doug to ask me to present some standard; it’s less reasonable to ask me to take as given or not given everything you believe to be Just So.

    You are also fuzzing “established given.” Is “established given” “nuclear bomb,” or “the serious risk of a nuclear bomb”? The latter, to my mind, establishes sufficient relation between nuclear deaths in NYC and conventional deaths in Iraq–and I do not quite see how can say “serious risk” can be anything but “uncontestable.”

  25. Doug says:

    Withywindle, do you seriously think that Iraq is worth half a million American lives? If so, why? (If you’ve already been through this, a pointer will do.)

    I’ll confess, I’m boggled. That’s twice the number of KIAs as in WWII and within 10 percent the total number of battle deaths in all of America’s wars since independence. You’re saying that Iraq is as important as all the other wars the United States has fought–combined.

    In practical terms, I think this means that your support for war in Iraq is unreserved and unlimited, that there is no point at which you would say you had had enough.

    (I also missed your lemba reference, though what I know of lembas is mostly filtered through Wm Gibson, with a faint recollection of The Serpent and the Rainbow.)

  26. Timothy Burke says:

    Different lembas. Withywindle is referring to Gollum in Lord of the Rings being unable to stomach the food of the elves, which is a kind of bread called lembas. When he tries eating it, it tastes like ashes to him, even though it is in fact spiritually wholesome and sustaining to people of good intent.

    If you want to fire back with a suitable metaphor, you can suggest that Bush’s words are in fact like the vile orc liquor which gives them a kind of bestial vigor but which all non-orcs find repulsive.

  27. Doug says:

    Nah. Here’s something by John M. Ford instead. It’s a blog comment, reprinted in the memorial series of Occasional Works over at Making Light, and it has no bearing on the debate but may amuse people anyway.

    A Coupla Blue Wizards Sittin’ Around Talkin’

    “So, want to succumb?”
    “I hear everybody’s succumbing. Except that swot Gandalf.”
    “Well, yes, of course except Dynamite Dick, but what in the name of Feanor’s balls are you on about?”
    “Succumbing. You know.”
    “Up until this very instant I thought I did. What do you think it means?”
    “Well, I mean, you know -” [whispers]
    “I see. Well, in actual fact, succubi may be involved in certain particular cases, not that I am going to mention names, but I believe you have once again managed to grasp the warg by the wrong end.”
    “Oh. Want to do it anyway?”
    “Yeah, bugger this for a game of Rohirrim. Let’s go into the West.”
    “What’s in the West?”
    “Vegas, Ithron baby, Vegas.”

  28. withywindle says:

    Tim, of course, is the ideal reader for my posts, which is doubtless why I keep posting here; where else will I find someone who gets all my references?

    Doug: I take nuclear weapons in the hands of madmen very, very seriously. Do you honestly think I would support the war if I didn’t think the stakes were so high? If it’s only worth invading Iraq up to, say 10K Americans dead, it almost certainly isn’t worth invading at all. I am extraordinarily grateful that an invasion that would be worthwhile at the cost of 500K American dead has cost fewer than 3K and counting.

  29. Doug says:

    Apropos references, Mike Ford again, on the cutnpaste from Making Light:

    “…which tone/goes with a mithril-chain vest?”

    “We’re going to -try- and get you out of the green phase and into something a little less verdant, if you follow. West Country jeans in a pale shade of dried pipeweed, slightly distressed for that ‘hustle up that latte,my horsie’s double-parked’ look, and a side-buttoned orcsblood silk shirt from Miss Shelob’s Lair. And, since you obviously must have something to charm an Ent’s taste, an acid-green hanky in the pocket. -Another- pocket, please. Good. As for the vest, we all understand you have troll issues, so it stays under protest. Just don’t flap your arms; it’ll make you look like a crocheted deLorean.”

    — Lidless Eye for the Half Guy, Third Season

  30. Doug says:

    On nuclear weapons and madmen: Stalin was deterred; Mao was deterred. Khrushchev and successors, noticeably less disturbed than Stalin, also deterred.

  31. withywindle says:

    I was wondering when we would get to that chestnut. *We were lucky.* Stalin played with fire, both at Berlin in 1948 and in his acquiescence/support of the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950; since he was getting increasingly mad, we are very fortunate that he died as early as he did. Mao urged Khruschev to nuclear war in the 1950s, thinking that in an exchange of destruction, more Communists (i.e., Chinese) would survive. Khruschev provoked crises in Berlin and Cuba, both of which came frighteningly close to nuclear war. Even late Brezhnev, with his ever-increasing stockpile of nuclear weapons, was creating an unstable situation. Above and beyond all that, Communism was a this-worldly philosophy, with a belief in inevitable victory from the God of progress that allowed for a certain passivity at crucial moments; this might reassure us about Kim, if he actually is a Communist, but not about the Ahmedinejads, Husseins, and Osamas. In short: just because we were lucky enough to survive one protracted nuclear standoff is hardly a prescription to be blase about entering into multiple protracted nuclear standoffs.

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