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September 5, 2005

Looking ahead
Posted by Patrick at 06:50 PM * 14 comments

Via Avedon Carol, this play on Clarke’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.

As Roz Kaveney observes:

I love it simply because it nails both the folly and the irrelevance of conspiracy theory. It is not necessary to claim that the President of e.g. the USA is setting out to kill a maximum number of African Americans out of deliberate spite. It is sufficient to point out that if you take a job involving life and death, and go on doing it when you are clearly incompetent, then you are morally responsible anyway. There is a duty not to be crap at what you do.

Which is the short form of all the analyses we are going to get for the next month.

Comments on Looking ahead:
#1 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 07:09 PM:

At one place I worked, if you couldn't get your error rate below 10 percent, you were demoted. . If you were already at the bottom level, you were out. And most of the time QC only checked 10 percent of the work. (I prefer to check 100 percent; that way there are fewer nasty surprises down the road.)

Bush is very lucky he isn't judged by those standards.

#2 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 07:52 PM:

Incompetence... we've got three more years of this clown.

#3 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 08:19 PM:

Not counting the votes ought to be malice enough for anyone, and little enough has been the incompetence at that.

I don't by the general principle. Incompetence has its consistent patterns; there is a logic to the abject fuckup.

Malice has its consistent patterns, too, and if malice keeps stubbing its toe on the world, in consequence of being crazy, as well as nasty, that does not take the nastiness out of it.

High courage, generosity of the spirit, the vision of better days; these can all go very unwell, but they do not go indifferently unwell.

Where these matters have not gone indifferently unwell; they have gone entirely unwell, past any doubting that whomever gave the orders thought it the better thing if the poor people died.

That wasn't likely George the Third, no, but if he gave half a strangled damn that person would have departed his service in distinct pieces.

#4 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 09:04 PM:

"Criminal negligence" is criminal activity, regardless of if the negligence was malicious or not.

Running-around-like-chicken-with-its-head-cut-off-despite-the-head-never-having-been-physically-cut-off [maybe the booze and drugs had the virtual effect of cutting off the gray matter...] Bush is both incompetent and malicious. Tricky Dick Nixon was malicious--he had that enemies list, for example. Bush has treated people and agencies maliciously, and his breathtaking lack of competence and willful ignorance, combine with the malice to a level of mishandling and dysfunction that there has never before been in the office he's in.

Grant and Harding presided over corrupt administrations, but they themselves weren't personally malicious and intending for fraud to be committed upon the nation. Grant was socially and in business completely and utterly gullible, he was one of the easiet mark for con men ever. Harding may have not been a worse administrator than Bush... the cabinet he has was a pack of thieves. Harding was weak apparently in the moral compass department and not a good judge of character. Grant didn't realize how dishonest people could be and yet still give the appearance of reliability.

Bush's incompetence comes from his value system and faith, the True Believer whose mind is closed to any input which differs from his beliefs. Bush has even said how far out of his way he goes to be personally directly ignorant of reality, refusing to read newspapers or watch TV news. He's the antithesis of a scientist and particularly an experimental scientist, who in the ideal remains open to new data which can totally destroy the scientist's pet theory--because theories and hypotheses are only as good ad their results' compliance with reality/what works/what is consistent/what enables new invention and better quality of life and new knowledge.

The Pythagoreans in their rejection of religion are the opposite of Bush and his values--the Pythagoreans rejected the religion of their time as something that both wan't measurable, and didn't make internally consistent sence--it didn't provide valid explanations of their world for them. Being told to not question the gods, when they questioned and measured everything they could measure and questioned, was one of the factors causing them to reject religion.

Bush has his belief and wants others to have the comfort and internal feeling of security and self-validation of Belief. That is, Believing provides validation that one's belief is true--it;'s circular logic for esteeming oneself, "Because this is true, I believe it, and I believe it because it is true--and I am not going to listen/pay attention to anything that is not compliant to what I know to be true/believe."

In the contemporary world, as with the world of the Pythagoreans, there are people who are continually questioning, and there are people who believe. Most people fall somewhere between, being neither Orthodox Skeptics, nor closed-minded Believers who reject any input that doesn't coincide with their beliefs. The most extreme live within self-contained communities to prevent any contamination and unacceptable ideas from intruding on their lives and lifestyle.

Bush isn't so isolationist that he has retreated to e.g. a self-contained survalist community, but he's not someone whose mind is open, either. He has a set of absolute beliefs and is as hostile as one can get to compromises with values and opinions and beliefs which aren't consonant with his. He's got a take-no-prisoner mentality and is utterly callous--his claim of "compassionate conservatism" is empty words, more Potemkin Presidency action. The reality is callous disregard and dismissal, and smirking sneering Gotcha! body language of disrespect and dismissal.

To me, that is willful negligence and malice and malevolence, that of the sociopath whose empathic quotient and imaginative/creativity quotient is bankrupt.

#5 ::: Charles ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 11:27 PM:

First a shoutout from someone who wishes there were 48 hours in the day to read all the great blogs. Especially to Jim McDonald for his star quality post on disaster management. And of course to the Haydens for consistently excellent work.

I want to pose the following propositions:

1. There is no failure in Bush planning. As historian Mark Levine said, chaos is the plan.

2. Incompetence presupposes that the Bush Administration cares about America. There is simply no evidence for this, and it must be dismissed as a conspiracy theory widely held by simple loons such as those that populate the cable networks.

3. Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that the destruction of New Orleans was deliberate. What could Bush or his contributors possibly gain out of the disaster? (a) several congressional seats, since the suburbanites will return but the city dwellers may not, (b) the governorship, if he can successfully blame Kathleen Blanco, (c) constituent services in the form of resources diverted from a blue area to red areas, (d) a lot of prime real estate that was undervalued because it was occupied by poor blacks in an obviously dangerously undermaintained area, (e) contracts for Halliburton... any other ideas?

As Kaveney noted, it's not important to prove anything. After a screwup on this scale, any other president would be quietly booking a flight for Uzbekhistan.

Anyway, thanks so much for a great blog. I don't have the time to join the community, but are glad you are there.

#6 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 04:31 AM:

And then there's this story. Michael Chertoff manages to sound as if he knows what's happening, for a few moments at least, but the photograph brings up images of necromancy,

If you want wild theories, consider the implications of chaos and death, apparently at least partly down to US Government actions, in both Haiti and New Orleans. Real Live and Let Die territory, isn't it.

#7 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 05:23 AM:

I only think D is the case in those scenarios, for the following reasons:

D leads to A.
If the idea was to blame Blanco from the start they would have done a much better job. they are very good at smearing. this smear was started at the last moment.

Other reasons:
F) object lesson in not voting republican. New orleans, didn't vote for us, this is what they get. They have been quite consistent with the object lessons where government programs are concerned.

I think this explains the not moving quickly at the beginning or before the hurricane hit.

The stuff about not letting aid in I think is a political decision prompted by D. They said, wow, the whole city went down, it will all have to be rebuilt. okay, let's make sure the indigenous population is gone and never coming back so we can up the value of the property.

#8 ::: Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 06:19 AM:

Bryan, lots of people were telling the administration that this would happen, for five years. And for five years they chose to punish New Orleans by not funding the local projects.

This is sheer blackmail: Vote for me or live under threat of impending doom. And maybe die.

It doesn't really need to get much more malicious than that.

#9 ::: Elayne Riggs ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 08:40 AM:

Part of me thinks it's very clever, and part of me thinks it says more about the speaker's cleverness than anything else.

#10 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 10:28 AM:

I've been saying that for years, actually.

#11 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 10:48 AM:

Vote for me or live under threat of impending doom.

I've seen this used, by implication, at the local level, without malice being apparent. Police union endorsement in a mayoral election, the message received by me as "vote for our guy and we'll do the job you're paying us for". (I'm not at all sure that was the message they intended.)
And it was noted be a lot of people that before the secession election in LA (secession of the Valley) that there were suddenly a lot of streets getting much-needed repairs.

It doesn't do much for my confidence (what's left of it) in government when it resorts to threats and bribes.

#12 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 11:45 AM:

There's a legal phrase "knew or should have known." It doesn't matter which, in law. If you ought to have known something you're as culpable as if you did know it. This is to keep people from pleading ignorance of basic things.

That stupid mayor knew or should have known that there would be many, many poor people who wouldn't be able to evacuate without help. Michael Brown knew or should have known that there were people trapped at the Convention Center, and that there were many, many people who weren't there by choice.

But in a world where FEMA itself deliberately tries to murder people, do we really need KOSHK to pronounce the bastards culpable? Well, maybe we do, to convince the people who don't believe the many consistent and credible eyewitness accounts.

#13 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 03:48 AM:

Another good one to keep in mind:

Multiple unassociated individuals working towards the same goal are indistinguishable from a really good conspiracy.

#14 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2012, 08:41 AM:

Also, I now see two more potential sources for a quote I thought was nailed down more recently....

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