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Archive for November, 2005

Two Level Game?

[ 0 ] November 22, 2005 |

Fascinating:

Thousands of low-income Massachusetts residents will receive discounted home heating oil this winter under an agreement signed Tuesday with Venezuela, whose government is a political adversary of the Bush administration.

A subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company will supply oil at 40 percent below market prices. It will be distributed by two nonprofit organizations, Citizens Energy Corp. and the Mass Energy Consumer Alliance.

The agreement gives President Hugo Chavez’s government standing as a provider of heating assistance to poor U.S. residents at a time when U.S. oil companies have been reluctant to do so and Congress has failed to expand aid in response to rising oil prices.

Wow.

I wonder what Chavez’ angle on this is. I suppose that one could hope that supplying poor Americans with oil would lead to constraints on US diplomatic aggressiveness. On the other hand, it seems like this could just piss Bush and the wingnuts off beyond all reason. Think about it; what move could be more calculated to make a wingnut’s head explode than the prospect of an alliance between Venezuela and Massachusetts?

Russell And Casey

[ 0 ] November 22, 2005 |

Russell Arben Fox has a typically thoughtful response to my recent post about Bob Casey and abortion politics. You should read the whole thing. I have a couple quick comments related to Casey and abortion specifically, and another comment that is more broadly applicable. On the former, I should first of all say that if the race, as it almost certainly will, comes down to Casey vs. Santorum, then of course pro-choice progressives should support Casey. Even from the standpoint of reproductive freedom, it’s a wash from a direct standpoint, and the more seats the Dems get in the Senate the better. (I also take no position on the primary; making the electability/ideological compatibility tradeoffs requires more local knowledge than I posses.) Secondly, I’d like to repeat a distinction that I think I’ve made before: I think it is clearly possible for someone to be a progressive feminist and opposed to abortion, and even to favor some regulations. I do not, however, think that a feminist can plausibly support laws that criminalize abortion as they are actually written and enforced. As a quick comparison of Latin American and Canadian abortion rates will make clear, criminalization is a very ineffective method of discouraging abortions, and also carries with it all kinds of negative externalities (the most important ones being the death and maiming of poor women.) So while compromises that lower abortion rates are certainly possible, I agree that where abortion bans (whether total or partial) are concerned I’m just not willing to compromise, barring some massive cultural shifts. And even where lesser regulations are concerned, I would urge anti-abortion feminists to think very carefully about the effects and class implications of such regulations.

On a broader point about Alito, I think there’s a very important distinction to be made with respect to this comment:

Casey’s silence regarding Alito, if it isn’t just canny campaign politics, may represent nothing more than a general faith that socially responsible reforms need not come to an abrupt end even if the Supreme Court does become even more unfriendly to progressive politics than it is today–in fact, such an occurance might turn out to be a helpful step in getting Democrats to take popular, grass-roots legislation more seriously.

I think it’s very important to be clear about this. I should emphasize that I would be perfectly willing to do without judicial supremacy, although I’m not willing to unilaterally disarm (and I certainly still maintain my position that social changes achieved through the courts don’t create more opposition than those obtained elsewhere). But much of Alito’s jurisprudence is problematic not because he will refuse to go along with creating new rights, but because he will make legislatively created rights much harder to enforce. The awful “sovereign immunity” jurisprudence that he almost certainly supports, for example, makes it much more difficult for state employees to get legislatively-created rights (such as the ADA) enforced. Even worse from this standpoint is the extent to which he would make it much harder for employees to sue under anti-discrimination laws. It’s very important not to fall into this trap: Alito’s elevation to the bench would not decrease the Court’s role in American society, or undermine judicial supremacy, or make it easier for liberals to pursue legislative change. Rather, Alito represents a part of the classic conservative bait-and-switch in which broad readings of the constitutional clauses to protect minority rights are “judicial activism,” but when liberals go the Congress the laws are found to be outside of Congress’ power, or made extremely difficult to enforce by the executive and judicial branches. And this is why it’s so disturbing that Casey will not oppose Alito’s nomination. Rights are only relevant if there are effective remedies. Enforcing protection for workers is already very difficult; employees generally have many fewer resources and much less knowledge (and security) than their employers. The last thing we need is to make it even more difficult for employees to enforce their rights. Supporting a judge who supports the “New Federalism” and is hostile to lawsuits brought under anti-discrimination statutes will make the problems Russell describes worse, not better.

Ten Pro-War Fallacies

[ 0 ] November 22, 2005 |

Good post by Daou.

I Do Not Think That Means What You Think It Means

[ 0 ] November 21, 2005 |

Wow–Todd Zywicki called P.Z. Myers a “Lysenkoist” because he was arguing against Scott Adams’ ID apologism. And apparently the basis for this charge is…P.Z.’s critical remarks about the pseudo-science of evolutionary psychology! Um, between evolution and tautological just-so stories about the innate inferiority of women, I think it’s pretty obvious which one actually fits the model of politically-motivated distortions of science…

Kentucky Kernel

[ 0 ] November 21, 2005 |

With this mention in the Kentucky Kernel, I’d like to think that my reputation as a public intellectual is secured. Look out, Christopher Hitchens.

For the record, I seem to recall my statements being more coherent than what the paper indicated. Damn, dirty MSM.

Chinese Missiles

[ 0 ] November 21, 2005 |

Budding Sinologist has put together an excellent post on Chinese ballistic missiles and their presumed effect on Taiwanese resistance. Long story short, it is extremely unlikely that China could defeat Taiwan through a ballistic missile attack alone.

Simply put, the combined warhead capacity of 467 CSS-6 and CSS-7 SRBMs (1,100 pounds each) is the equivalent of only 9.5 Vietnam era B-52 sorties (54,000 pounds each). Even if all 700 SRBMs were used and all reached their targets, it would only equal 14 sorties. To look at it another way, the 700 SRBMs would only total 385 tons of high explosives, compared with the hundreds of thousands of tons dropped on Vietnam, for example.

One implication of this is that it makes little sense for Taiwan to spend its defense money on ballistic missile defenses, since the expected return would appear to be minimal.

I do have a couple caveats. First, I’m curious about the hardness of the targets that China would be attacking. It goes to reason that an attack on Taiwan would focus on political, military, and perhaps commercial centers. I would expect that buildings of the first two types will be resistant to high explosive warheads, and thus that damage may be less significant than what the Chinese hope. If the Chinese focus on commercial or symbolic targets they probably need to be a little bit less worried about target resilience, but they’ve also given up just about any hope of victory. Terror bombing never wins wars.

My second question involves the use of ballistic missiles in conjunction with an invasion of Taiwan. My guess is that in the event of an invasion China will focus its ballistic missile resources on the destruction of Taiwanese command and control. I would really like to know how disruptive such an attack might be, but it is, unfortunately, a very hard question to answer.

Phosphorous and Uranium

[ 0 ] November 21, 2005 |

Armchair Generalist has had an outstanding series of posts on the use of white phosporous munitions in Iraq. I tend to concur that this isn’t much of a story; WP munitions are not WMD by any definition, and while their use may be unwise, it’s certainly not illegal. AG has gives a nice discussion of the use of depleted uranium in munitions, which I view as another non-story.

Falluja, and the rest of the war, is bad enough without having distracting conversations about the use of particular chemicals in combat. Really, it doesn’t matter that much whether someone gets torn apart by lead or incinerated in a building. The problem has another source.

UPDATE: Good discussion of white phosphorous here. Also, forgive me for posting this cool picture.

On National Resistance and Inevitability

[ 0 ] November 21, 2005 |

jonst poses a good question, one that echoes other arguments made about the Iraqi insurgency:

I would argue there is nothing in Iraq’s history…at least since the fall of Ottoman Empire, that indicates occupation by outside (non-belivers at that)forces it will be met by anything other than resistance.

There’s something to be said for this, but I think it’s wrong. Given that I sat on a panel on the future of the Iraq War put on by the College Democrats and UK Leftist Student Union (who knew?) on Friday, it’s probably worth working through why.

First, I’m suspicious of any argument about inevitability. I think that there was more cause to view widespread Afghani resistance to occupation as likely or inevitable than Iraqi resistance. However serious the conflict in Afghanistan remains, we have not seen a widespread anti-US insurgency. The elements fighting against the central government in Afghanistan would be fighting regardless of the presence of American and European troops. Indeed, the relatively wide acceptance of US and European occupation in Afghanistan has been the (only?) pleasant surprise of the War on Terror. It’s very hard to argue that national resistance was more likely in Iraq than Afghanistan.

More importantly, we simply haven’t seen a national resistance movement in Iraq. It’s possible that, if the United States remains there for ten years, wide swaths of Shiite and Kurdish opinion will turn against the occupation and people will begin to take risks to force it out. However, with the exception of some flare ups in Shiite areas, this hasn’t happen. Shiites may not like the occupation, but by and large they seem willing to tolerate it, especially as it is consistent with their own political goals. Now, I think that the United States could do a lot of things that would result in Shiite opposition, but that hasn’t happened yet. So, in answer to jonst’s point, the occupation already has been met by reaction other than resistance.

Right now the war is not between the United States and Iraq. It is between the United States, US allies in Shiite and Kurdish regions, and a Sunni insurgency. That’s not national resistance; it has the character of a civil war with an ethnic/religious component with control of the Iraqi state as the spoils. In this context, tactics and operations matter. We’re not fighting all Iraqis. The Iraqis we are fighting are popular with some elements of the Iraqi population and not popular with others. It’s possible for the US Army and Marine Corps to adopt and execute tactics that will be more likely to defeat elements of the insurgency.

None of this means that withdrawal from Iraq isn’t the best option. I think that it probably is. Counter-insurgent forces will be weaker without direct US support (although I believe that, in any case, the United States will continue military support for Shiite and Kurdish factions), but insurgent forces may also be considerably weaker. The Sunnis cannot win in the long term, if winning means taking back control of the Iraqi state. Without the occupation to inflame Sunni (and Shiite) opinion, some form of reconciliation may be possible. Moreover, a continued long term occupation may (and I think will) test the tolerance of the Shiite population of Iraq. Its goals are currently similar to our goals, but that situation may not hold if we give no indication of a willingness to leave.

The panel Friday went well. The speakers included two anti-Iraq War liberal hawks and two scholars whose views could be characterized as more dovish. My biggest applause line was, oddly enough, a stirring defense of Canada’s record in the two world wars. Who knew that Canada had so many friends in Lexington?

The Alito Kabuki

[ 0 ] November 21, 2005 |

I’ve noted several times that according to many conservatives apparently the gravest insult of Samuel Alito is to point out that he agrees with them. Dahlia Lithwick has the finest distillation of this pathetic phenomenon that I’ve seen yet:

So, here we have a lawyer putting forth a legal opinion on a constitutional matter, and now he and his supporters seek to reduce it to the functional doctrinal equivalent of, “You simply must tell me what’s in this artichoke dip.”

[..]

Might it be that your calls for this big old national bull session over activist judging are as cynical and results-based as the holding in Roe that you so revile? Could it be that the national polls—which indicate robust support for Roe and strong opposition to justices who’d reverse it—have rendered this conversation too dangerous? Or is it the prospect of the national backlash that would follow from actually reversing Roe that has rendered you speechless? Aren’t you eager, finally, to defend the GOP platform, which overtly promises that the president will appoint judges who will defend the “sanctity of life” and overturn Roe? Or are your notions of scrupulous judicial purity less compelling in the cold light of political reality?

[...]

Conservatives have argued that there is a double standard at work here, that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed despite her “radical” espousal of abortion, polygamy, and other mad notions. But of course, besides the fact that so many of the claims made about Ginsburg’s views are false or distorted, Ginsburg was willing to discuss her views of abortion and women’s rights quite openly. Also, her views were in line with the law. What part of her confirmation hearing makes it acceptable to retreat to smoke signals when the nominee opposes Roe?

A few weeks back, I optimistically suggested that the death of the Harriet Miers nomination also spelled the death of coded speech about abortion. I asserted that the GOP base that had scuttled her confirmation would no longer accept coded messages about Roe. But here’s the flip side: Movement conservatives will no longer accept coded messages about nominees and Roe, but they are not brave enough to send clear ones when it matters the most.

This couldn’t be more right. To all the conservatives who (when a Supreme Court nomination isn’t pending) say that eveyone knows that Roe is bad law, or that the Court is usurping “the will of the people” or whatever, here’s a potentially pivotal nomination–put up or shut up. (And liberals who are “weary” of defending Roe may want to pay attention to the way Alito and so may of his supporters studiously try to dodge the issue. What does this tell you?)

Serendipity

[ 0 ] November 21, 2005 |

Last weekend I intended to see Capote, but the E train was running roughly once every two hours, and always wary of being tempted by the Krispy Kreme across the street from the theater in Chelsea I didn’t leave enough time, and got there way late. So instead we decided to see The Squid and the Whale, and it was a lucky break; to say “best” would perhaps sound too objective for a movie of admittedly narrow interest, so let’s say it’s far and away my favorite movie of the year so far. A co-blogger once noted that should I become a father–God forbid for all potential parties concerned!–my children would certainly have such useful skills as the ability to properly rank Lynch somewhat below Scorsese. So early in the movie when the teenage son asked his washed-up novelist father about being assigned to read A Tale of Two Cities and he replied by noting that it was “minor Dickens, not nearly as rich as Great Expectations or David Copperfield” I knew I was hooked. (And when later on he’s taking the kids to the movies and insists on Blue Velvet rather than Short Circuit, or when the young woman flirting with his son expresses her admiration for Tender is the Night and he notes that it’s second-rate, far below Gatsby and if only he had finished The Last Tycoon…it was like they were putting my life up on screen, providing the pleasure of recognition if also being depressing. If you’re not a wanker but know one, even better!) The movie is remarkably perceptive about family relations and teenage ambitions and romantic self-sabotage, consistently funny while also being affecting. And the acting is, of course, wonderful. Linney’s brilliance is no surprise–there’s no better actor working in American film right now–but Daniels is a revelation. Anna Paquin basically plays a more fleshed-out version of her character from 25th Hour 4 years later, but she’s good at it, and all of the teenage actors score (special kudos to Halley Feiffer). It is, as I said, a picture of somewhat narrow appeal, but if the story has any interest you’ll love it.

This Saturday, having squandered an opportunity to see the ecstatically reviewed revival of Sweeney Todd as the result of my sheer idiocy, I decided to make up for it by seeing Walk the Line, hoping for another lead-into-gold opportunity. And actually the movie was better than I was expecting. Accept the strictures of the middlebrow biopic for what they are and it definitely works, and obviously this biography is an interesting one. To be sure, there are flaws. A.O. Scott is right that there’s not enough about the creation of his music. And while the decision to re-record the classics rather than mime them is defensible, you definitely lose something–when Cash puts on “Highway 61 Revisted”, hearing one of the handful of American popular musicians even more accomplished than Cash at his peak reminds us of the difference between the real thing and the decent simulations we’ve been hearing. And some of the big set pieces–the audition for Sam Phillips, the onstage proposal–feel too TV movieish. (For all I know, the latter is historically accurate, but it still seems phony.) And yet, I don’t think any of these weaknesses end up being major–the goodwill generated by Cash, both man and music, overpowers the flaws most of the time. The strength of the movie is that for the most part it doesn’t lurch from one set piece to the next, and the small scenes are generally effective. (Consider the casual cruelty conveyed in the brief scene where he insists on nailing pictures of June Carter to the wall in his workshop, for example; there are a lot of moments like this, powerful and telling without overelaboration.) And, again, the acting does what it has to do. For some reason I’m always surprised when Reese Witherspoon is good, but actually she’s a fine actor, and in this movie she’s ideally cast; her performance deserves its accolades. And Phoenix does valiant work with an impossible job. He doesn’t have the voice and (to his credit) doesn’t really try to imitate the master. But he always conveys Cash’s stolidity and his demons, and singing aside his ability to inhabit Cash’s complex stage persona is quite remarkable. It’s not a great movie, but better than such movies usually are. (And I’ll probably be able to talk my family into seeing ST when they come next month, so it will be win-win.)

In other movie news, I don’t really want to discourage anyone from seeing it, but I have to say I didn’t particularly care for Good Night and Good Luck. As a technical achievement, it’s impeccable, but I have a large prejudice against position-paper reading and easy morality conflicts in art, and this movie is loaded with ‘em. (Oddly, while one might think that McCarthyism would be a good subject it’s almost impossible to make a good movie directly about it, precisely because there’s really nothing to admire in McCarthy.) Clooney is a real director though; his first two movies are both failures, but both failed in interesting and very different ways. He has a great movie in him, but alas this ain’t it.

So, So Over

[ 0 ] November 20, 2005 |

Yeah, I know, it’s my fault for watching. But it’s painful to think what The Simpsons would have done with the California recall at its peak. As opposed to now, when it wedges it in to a lame plot where Homer tries to regain Lisa’s love for the upteenth time, and features only one short speech from Rainer Wolfcastle. And I can’t even say that Fox should cancel it, given that it’s still markedly superior to the show that follows it, which seems to be for people who find Adam Carolla uproariously funny but insufficiently misogynist.

On the other hand, now that Veronica Mars has come out for The Big Lebowski I’m officially a fan…

We Need a New Word for "Hack"

[ 0 ] November 20, 2005 |

Mickey went for a few days without saying anything staggeringly stupid. Then he decided he needed to make up for it:

Murtha has now established exactly the worst context for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. By making his (understandable) teary concern about the injuries to our soldiers his central motiviation, he makes it seem, if we pull out now, that the Sunni/Zarqawi strategy has worked–that we’ve been run out of Iraq because we couldn’t tolerate the casualties the insurgents were inflicting. That will encourage Al Qaeda operatives around the globe. Isn’t it a lot better if we start to withdraw, after a successful Iraqi election, while plausibly claiming that we’ve done our job? That’s why Hastert’s stunt yesterday to put down Murtha’s proposal was amply justified. It makes it easier to withdraw if it doesn’t seem to be a response to Murtha’s cry of pain. … 2:06 P.M.

Argh. Everything that’s wrong with Kaus as a blogger can be distilled through this paragraph. First, we’ve got the utter inability to view politics and political events through anyone’s eyes but his own. It doesn’t even occur to him that people might interpret the same event in different ways. Second, we have the desperate need to seem clever by interpreting an event in double-back fashion. Victory for the Democrats is actually defeat; what seems to be one way is actually another. Finally, and most infuriating, the complete unseriousness of it all, the treatment of politics as if it were no more than a game, and no more important than the internal workings of a Hollywood studio.

In response to this particular abomination, Mickey needs to be reminded that, if insurgents or terrorists still exist in Iraq after we leave, they will declare victory regardless of the status of various House resolutions. They are, I suspect, utterly indifferent to machinations of Murtha, Hastert, and everyone else in the US House of Representatives. Moreover, if they’re smart and well informed enough to care a lot about how John Murtha thinks, then they’re certainly smart enough to see through an effort as transparent as Hastert’s.

The implication of Kaus’ argument, of course, is that SAYING that the troops should be withdrawn MEANS that it will take longer for them to leave. It’s unclear, given this, how Mickey thinks that one should express a preference for troop withdrawal, especially given that he seems to agree it might be a good idea. The best way to criticize George W. Bush, it seems, would be to embrace him. That will really teach the terrorists…

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