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Archive for October, 2004

Buck Maxner for President!

[ 0 ] October 31, 2004 |

Here’s something a few old friends of mine threw together. Enjoy.

Book Review: Seven Ages of Paris

[ 0 ] October 31, 2004 |

And now for something completely different. . .

I’ve undergone a bizarre intellectual journey over the past couple of years. Talk to me in 2001, and you would find a staunch Francophobe, always willing to think the worst of the French, even when they clearly didn’t deserve it. Now, I’m on the edge of Francophilia; not quite ready to try to learn the language, but certainly more appreciative than I once was. One of the reasons for this journey is political; I very sincerely believe that the French were in the right regarding the Iraq War, and I admire how France stood its ground against this repugnant administration. Patriotism and a respect for the decent opinions of mankind are not contradictory values.

Perhaps more important, I had the opportunity to visit Paris in spring of 2003. For those who’ve never been, the word “magnificent” does not do the city justice. I had an entire week to wander the city, taking in the major sites, castles, museums, and monuments. I’m not certain I could live in Paris, for the same reason I would be reluctant to live in Las Vegas or New Orleans; I don’t know if I could handle feeling like my home was constantly “on display.” Nonetheless, I came away deeply, deeply impressed. I have spent only a short time in London, and I have never visited Rome, Berlin, or (gasp!) Washington D.C., but I found that the grandeur of Paris touched me.

I wish that I had found Alistair Horne’s Seven Ages of Paris before visiting Paris. Horne gives a history of the city, its monuments, and its relation to the rest of France from the reign of Philippe Auguste to that of Charles De Gaulle. He places each monument and palace within a political context; the rulers of France typically didn’t build these things for their health. He shows how Paris rebuilt and reinvented itself time and time again, from Henri IV to the Sun King to the Baron Haussman. He describes the destruction wrought by invaders and Parisians alike, in 1789 and 1871 and 1940. Horne pauses to deliver endlessly fascinating anecdotes; one tall, gangly King of France died after bumping his head while walking through a low doorway.

Horne presents a Paris that is both magnificent and infuriating, which is only appropriate. He describes how Parisians overthrew Louis-Phillipe, the popular final King of France, almost on a lark, thus opening the door for Louis Napoleon and the Second Empire. In 1870, Parisians forced the continuation of a hopeless war with Prussia, ending in a devastating siege and the long suicide of the Paris Commune. In 1940, Parisians were only too happy to submit in order to avoid the destruction of their city by the same Germans. In 1968, Paris went farther than any other Western city down the road of revolution for its own sake. For all this, the rest of France seems unable to forsake Paris; for all of the difficulties it creates, Paris still inspires love.

I would love to read a similar book about Rome or London or New York, and I’m sure that such volumes are out there. Each has its own fascinating history, in Rome’s case much longer and more interesting than that of Paris. Of course, I need to spend some time in each city, and more time in Paris, as well. I heartily recommend the Horne book, and I plan to read several more of his works. I’m now in the midst of Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I will refrain from reviewing; anything I could say would reveal more about me than about the book.


Hacktacular!

[ 0 ] October 31, 2004 |

Max Sawicky offers a good timeline of the guest hacks at Instapundit trying to explain away Al QaQaa. It’s a really remarkable sequence of intellectual dishonesty. Uncritically repeat assertions from Drudge or the Moonie Times, and then when they’re proven false just move on to the next attempt to exculpate Bush. And when definitive photographic evidence comes along, ignore that and respond with ridiculous non-sequiturs.

And yesterday, the hack-in-chief returned to, in the midst of trotting out his latest stab-in-the-back theory (when Bush loses, it’s because the media is “in the tank” for Kerry, and at some point he might even provide evidence for this ridiculous claim) cites a Tom Maguire post that, as Sawicky notes, he’s already repudiated.

The good news: it’s pretty obvious they know what’s likely to happen. The desperation is palpable.

Take it to Vegas*

[ 1 ] October 30, 2004 |

My prediction can wait no longer.

Kerry 51
Bush 47.5
(various irrelavents) 1.5

Kerry: 304 (Gore 2000 +Florida, Ohio, NH, -Iowa)
Bush: 234

Turnout: 59%

(Local predictions)
Monorail recall fails 52-48
Weird Gambling/property tax initiative fails 63-37
Education/Sales Tax initiative passes 53-47
Charter Schools fail 55-45

Ross 51
Reichert 49

Gregoire 53
Rossi 46

Murray 55
Neathercutt 44

(I’ve seen virtually no polling on these issues, so this is straight from the gut)

I really, really wanna call Nevada and Arkansas for Kerry but I can’t quite bring myself to do it. Iowa is really a stand-in for one of Iowa, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Minnesota. I think it’s more likely than not we’ll lose one of them, and I don’t really have a sense of which of the first three are most likely. We will *not* lose Michigan (and if Jerome Armstrong is right about Bush’s Michigan strategy, we’re in better shape than I thought). If we do somehow lose Michigan, feel free to track down the gutter I’m lying in and tell me you told me so. I suspect we’ll lose Colorado, but pick up 4 EVs as the initiative will pass. I didn’t count that in because, frankly, I have no idea if it’ll hold up under review.

Florida: everyone knows they’ll cheat, but the only question is how many points is their cheating worth. I’m guessing it’s only a couple, and we’ll actually win by a little more than that.

*Do not actually take it to Vegas.

Rock bottom

[ 0 ] October 30, 2004 |

This Slate article is so appalling it’s hard to know what possibly could have been going through the minds of the editors who allowed it to be published. Even for a publication that gives a fulltime blog to a guy obsessed with irrelevant trivia about (Democratic) politicians, the bad taste displayed here is simply beyond belief.

When trying to figure out whether to publish personal details about public political figures, one obviously has to assess 1)their relevance of these details to the performance of the political figure, and 2)the magnitude of the violation of privacy involved. Like many people, I believe that the media has tended to exaggerate the relevance of personal trivia and not sufficiently respect the privacy that even public figures should be afforded. But reasonable people can certainly disagree in many cases. Personally, I don’t give a shit about Bill Clinton’s philandering or whether John Kerry was in Cambodia on Christmas or Tet or whether George W. Bush snorted coke. But in these cases, one can at least reasonably argue that these personal details may tell us something about how the men will perform in office. I think that the “character voting” espoused by people like Kaus is ultimately an empty tautology; given that public figures are imperfect, you can always construct an argument about why a politician has bad character (and, of course, Mickey would have done that to any Democrat running for president.) But, again, people can disagree about the extent to which vague “character” concerns should trump likely policy outcomes.

With respect to this story, however, there’s simply no rational defense whatsoever; the issue is completely irrelevant to John Edwards’s fitness for office, and extremely intrusive of the intimate details of a marriage. What possible relevance could the way in which the vice president’s wife conceive her children have on the political attractiveness of the Kerry/Edwards ticket? It’s difficult to imagine anything less relevant. Why should the Edwards’s children be subjected to this tasteless speculation? Why on earth would Slate, with an election less than a week away, focus on this as something the public needed to know? No remotely competent editor would have let this garbage get past the idea stage.

While this story tells us less than nothing about the presidential candidates, it certainly tells us everything we need to know about the fitness of Jacob Weisberg and Jack Shafer to edit a magazine that presumably wants to be taken seriously. Tomorrow in Slate: The Bush twins–were they conceived in the missionary position?

The Smell the Glove Tour continues

[ 0 ] October 30, 2004 |

Since a commenter bringing it up gives me the excuse…

I do not, for one, think that the problem was that the band was down. I think that the problem *may* have been, that there were were Presidential candidates on the stage that were in danger of being *crushed* by a *nonentity*. Alright? That tended to understate the hugeness of the objects.

By the way, what’s the deal with the Sombrero he has the Bush figure wearing? Looks like a further pandering to the Buchananite vote…

Dubious Milestone

[ 0 ] October 30, 2004 |

Lawyers, Guns and Money was born on May 31, 2004. We’ve been in existence for 153 days. In that time, Blogger tells me that my posts total 66506 words.

My dissertation? I finished my exams on June 1, 2000, and finished “Transnational Determinants of Military Doctrine” on August 18, 2004. 65898 words, including footnotes and bibliography. 1540 days.

My priorities, appparently, are misplaced.

Victory

[ 0 ] October 30, 2004 |

Kos is spot-on about this. Sure, we all know that if Bush wins a squeaker it probably won’t change the way he governs. It potentially matters in the other direction, though. Goal one of this election is removing GWB and co. from power, but an important secondary goal should be sending a message to Republicans everywhere that the Gingrich/Bush/Delay style and substance leads to big electoral losses. We want the “grownups” to wage a war for the heart and soul and leadership of the GOP, and they need all the help they can get.

This also extends to any local races where the Repub candidate might happen to be a better candidate for the job. Doesn’t matter. The message needs to be that anyone who’ll be part of an organization led by the likes of Bush/Cheney/Delay gets no support until they change that.

No, really, this is the worst one ever

[ 0 ] October 30, 2004 |

Shorter David Brooks:

As opposed to someone like John Kerry, who will shamefully try to politicize George Bush’s inability to capture Osama bin Laden, I will only use bin Laden to lie about John Kerry in order to help my preferred presidential candidate.

Bush and Free Trade

[ 1 ] October 30, 2004 |

Paperwight has a nice post about the inconsistency of the Bush administration on free trade. I know that there are more important questions at the moment, but it’s worth noting again that the administration that relentlessly sings the virtues of the free market doesn’t seem terribly interested in actually establishing one. The steel tariffs are only the most visible part of the story. Indeed, as more that a few have pointed out, the domestic manifestation of the Bush administration resembles crony capitalism far more than any libertarian paradise.

Capabilities

[ 0 ] October 29, 2004 |

Digby has a couple of good discussions of the Revolution in Military Affairs, here and here.

I wrote about this crazy stuff back in March of 2003, when it was revealed that none other than Newtie Gingrich was advising the Pentagon, and had been doing so for a long time, with some very questionable new-age theories that his soul mate Rumsfeld was more than happy to put into practice. It’s not that there aren’t some aspects of this RMA that are very useful, it’s that like everything else in this administration they let their faith and their ideology overrule reality.

The failure to get Bin Laden at Tora Bora and the failure to take control of the explosives in Iraq are part of the same delusion. This is the belief that the United States can fight modern wars with small numbers of troops using very high tech weapons and information technology. None of this is particularly newsworthy, but it’s worth thinking about why this delusion has persisted. It’s also worth noting that the Iraq War has already fundamentally failed at its intended goal.

Part of the point of invading Iraq was to terrify other states into complying with US wishes. The world had to be convinced that the United States had both capability and the will to enforce its wishes. Iraq was supposed to demonstrate both of these; we would show will by invading Iraq, and capability by doing so with a small force in a very short amount of time. In short, the force structure used to invade Iraq is not incidental to the larger plan; for the war to succeed, that force structure had to succeed. Whatever the war demonstrated about the former, we now know without a doubt that the latter is not possible. It’s not just that we’re stuck in Iraq and can’t invade anywhere else, although that is true; it’s that everyone knows just how difficult and expensive it is for the United States to invade a country, even when that country barely has a military worth mentioning.

In other words, by trying to demonstrate both capability and will, the neocons have conclusively shown that we do not have capability. Moreover, capabilities are a lot easier to demonstrate than will, and it’s not terribly likely that Iran, Syria, or North Korea have even received the message on that point that we were trying to send.

A note on Bin Laden; maybe this will swing the election, but I really don’t see it. Kerry has already given his answer to this, over and over again. I don’t think that it will change very much.

Lancet

[ 0 ] October 29, 2004 |

Most people have heard by now of the casualty report in the Lancet, which estimates that around 100000 Iraqi civilians have died during the war. Fred Kaplan does a good job of questioning some of the analysis, as does Shannon Love.

I would be pretty surprised to learn that casualties were actually anywhere near 100000 over the last year, and really surprised if that number didn’t include military dead. Iraq Body Count has a range of 14000-16000 right now, which is almost certainly too low, as it only includes deaths reported in the press. But only 1/6 of the total? I don’t buy it. Moreover, no other estimates of civilian casualties exceed 20000 or so, which makes the study in the Lancet quite an outlier.

My best guess as to current civilian casualties would be about 20000, including both the published numbers at IBC and some reasonable estimate about what they’ve missed. This is bad enough, and more than likely would have been killed under the Hussein regime in ten years. A somewhat more interesting question to me is that of military casualties. If the justification for the war were security, then military casualties on the other side don’t matter all that much. If the justification is humanitarian, they matter a lot, because Iraq is presumably being liberated for the soldiers as well as the civilians. IBC, however, does not count military casualties or insurgent deaths. The most commonly accepted estimate for military casualties during the invasion is 6000, which seems very, very low to me. The kill estimate for the first convoy through Baghdad was well over a thousand, which would make rest of the invasion remarkably clean. I would guess that the number is quite a bit higher; the Guardian has estimated between 15-45 thousand, and the lower number is probably closer to being right. For insurgents, who knows? A lot of numbers were quoted during the suppressions of both Sadr uprisings, the first attack on Falluja, and various other counter-insurgency operations. The number of dead insurgents must be close to 10000, and will probably go north very quickly when we attack Falluja again next week.

So, in my view the Lancet study is too high, but the inclusion of military and insurgent casualties would render a number much higher than that which we’re accustomed to talking about. It’s hardly necessary to mention that a high death rate among Iraqis throws any humanitarian justification of the invasion into question. Also, don’t bother mentioning the deaths caused by sanctions; people are still starving and dying of disease in Iraq, because we can’t manage to control much of the territory.

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