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Archive for May, 2006

Deep Thought of the Day

[ 0 ] May 29, 2006 |

Chris Welsh, Cincinnati Reds color man, upon the event of Ryan Freel being robbed of a home run by a bad umpiring call:

“Sometimes a leadoff home run can be a real rally killer”

Patriarchy: Bad For Everybody

[ 0 ] May 29, 2006 |

Becks points to this post by August, who notes another dimension to the recent run of “Prove your heterosexual masculine heterosexuality by, after you’ve burned your minivan, eating all the meats you can, maybe lots of sausages with nice big balls of mashed potatoes and gravy” ads. The other side to the “prove your manhood by eating huge amounts of fatty processed foods!” campaign, of course, is the “prove your femininity by living in ascetic terror that you might enjoy good food” campaign:

I used to think American culture was merely gluttony, but I think it’’s becoming more than that. What we’re seeing is a misogynist theme of suggesting that men are symbolic of dominance and excess while women are told to prove their subservience by withholding themselves food. As I can actually hear the sound of many of your eyes rolling at that sentence, allow me to offer two words as evidence: Lean Cuisine.

Contrary to Burger King’’s celebration of men being revered for shoveling food into their mouths, Lean Cuisine molds women as such: a group of woman brag to each other about how shitty their dinner was last night. ”Last night I had a half bag of microwave popcorn.” “I ate three leaves of lettuce.”” ““I just ate right out of the cat’s litter box.”” But lo- the uppity one deigns to speak- “I had a delicious meal that actually tasted good.” Astonished, she must then pacify her friends, ready to eviscerate her for her audacity. “Relax, girls! It was just a Lean Cuisine! A shitty frozen microwave dinner. I mean, Jesus, you don’’t think I’d actually enjoy eating, would you?” And then they all giggle and discuss the latest corset styles and what it would be like if they had the right to vote.

Burger King wants to shame men who choose not to be gluttons; Lean Cuisine wants to shame women who don’t starve themselves. That pretty much sums up the hypocrisy in the expectations of each gender to be physically appealing to the other, doesn’t it?

So it does.

A Reward for Idiocy

[ 0 ] May 29, 2006 |

Aw, this sounds like such a sweet story:

A spectator got a hand on the [Barry Bonds 715 home run] ball but could not hold it. It caromed into a gap behind the fence where there are no seats and toward a concession stand, where it landed in the hand of a man waiting to buy beer, peanuts and a sandwich.

He was Andrew Morbitzer, 38, a San Franciscan who said he was a marketing director for the software company Intuit. He sat in $17 bleacher seats with his wife, Megan.

That’s super, but one question remains: What kind of moron goes to get beer, peanuts, and a sandwich when Barry Bonds is about to come to the plate? Moreover, it appears that Mr. Morbitzer wasn’t even paying attention:

“We both finished our beers and decided it was time to get a beer refill,” Morbitzer said. “I looked up and saw all these arms. I caught it in the air. It never hit the ground.”

Why does God reward the stupid?

Conventional SLBMs

[ 0 ] May 28, 2006 |

Finally, a Pentagon idea I can get behind:

The Pentagon plan calls for deploying a nonnuclear version of the submarine-launched Trident II missile that could be used to attack terrorist camps, enemy missile sites, suspected caches of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons and other potentially urgent threats, military officials say.

If fielded, it would be the only nonnuclear weapon designed for rapid strikes against targets thousands of miles away and would add to the president’s options when considering a pre-emptive attack.

I wouldn’t say that this is an unproblematically great idea, but I think that the benefits outweigh the costs. Frankly, the NYT article sounded a little alarmist, pointing out that this would add to the President’s capabilities in carrying out a pre-emptive attack. That strikes me as about the least useful thing one could say about this program; pre-emptive attacks are, by definition, carried out with some degree of planning, while the conventional tipped Tridents would be ideal for quick retaliation. Given the range of the Trident missile (4600 miles) and the number of missile submarines (10) this would give the US the capacity to put conventional munitions anywhere in the world in less than an hour.

On to the details:

Under the Pentagon plan, each Trident submarine would carry two of the nonnuclear Trident II missiles along with 22 nuclear-armed Trident missiles. Each of the nonnuclear missiles would carry four nonexplosive warheads. Two types of warheads would be developed. One type would be a metal slug that would land with such tremendous force it could smash a building. The other type of warhead would be a flechette bomb, which would disperse tungsten rods to destroy vehicles and less well-protected targets over a broader area.

The serious objection to the missiles is that their launch could be misinterpreted by China or Russia as the opening salvo of a nuclear attack. Russia and China are notable for being extremely large countries, and any missile launched might well look as if it were headed for one of their home territories. I agree that this is a real concern; especially given the deteriorated nature of the Russian early warning system, an accident is possible. On the other hand, I think that the risks are small and manageable. A communications system could easily be designed in which Russia or China were notified in advance or shortly after a conventional launch. This system could hold even in the event of a conflict between the US and China; both sides would have a significant interest in avoiding nuclear misunderstanding.

Hillman Award revoked

[ 0 ] May 28, 2006 |

From the Chronicle of Higher Education, vis TaxProfBlog:

Two Yale University professors, Ian Shapiro and Michael J. Graetz, expected to receive a 2006 Sidney Hillman Award on Tuesday at a ceremony in New York City. Instead, they got phone calls on Tuesday morning telling them that the judges had reversed the decision to honor the professors’ book on the repeal of the estate tax….

The telephone calls came from Bruce Raynor, president of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, which sponsors the awards….

Mr. Raynor told the authors that the last-minute reversal had been based on information that came to light about Mr. Shapiro’s dealings with members of GESO, the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, in its efforts to organize a graduate-student union at Yale in the 1990s….

Mr. Graetz and Mr. Shapiro pointed out that the book, which was published last year by Princeton University Press, does not address labor organizing. “There is no connection to GESO at all,” Mr. Graetz said. “This book has absolutely nothing to do with the graduate students.”…

The move toward rethinking the award began last week. On Thursday, May 18, the Hillman Foundation ran an advertisement in The New York Times listing the 2006 winners in several categories: book, magazine, broadcast, photojournalism, newspaper, and blog, a new category this year. Mr. Shapiro’s and Mr. Graetz’s book was listed as the winner in the book category. Although Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Graetz had written “an excellent book,” Mr. Raynor told The Chronicle, the decision came down to “more than just the words on the page.”


I’m completely agnostic on the question of whether foundations handing out book awards ought to consider the political stances and activities of the authors when making a decision about the book award. If I were a member of such a foundation or organization with some decision-making power and therefore forced to come to some sort of conclusion on this issue, I’m not sure where I’d fall. I’d probably want to make a distinction between anti-union views and anti-union activity. Given the biography of the man this foundation named for, Furthermore, opposing graduate student unionization rarely has negative consequences of note for senior faculty, so it’s nice to see some consequences occasionally.

I’ve read the book in question and it’s excellent. If I’m ever called upon to teach an introductory course in American Politics, I would seriously consider assigning it as a companion to a more traditional textbook. I’ve also read Shapiro’s recent contributions to democratic theory, and they’re also very good. A largely positive discussion of his contributions can be found in chapter three of my dissertation. Here’s a snippet from The State of Democratic Theory, page 3:

I argue that both groups (deliberative and aggregative democratic theorists–ed) overestimate the importance of the idea of the common good for democracy. Instead, demcoracy isbetter thought of as a means of managing power relations so as to avoid domination.

He goes on to explain that domination isn’t inherent to all hierarchy, or course, and that hierarchies are crucial, necessary and good features of complex organizations and democratic societies. However, they should always be “presumed suspect and be structured so as to minimize the likelihood that they will atrophy into systems of domination” (SDT, 4).

I couldn’t agree more. Nor could I acticulate a conception of democracy that makes the case for graduate student employee unionization any more clear than this.

Update: Jacob Levy reprints more of the firewalled Chronicle story. Apparently, complaints were brought to the NLRB against Shapiro for unspecified threats against graduate students, but the complaints were never adjudicated. Google searches reveal Shapiro has been an outspoken opponent of graduate student unionization at Yale for quite some time.

Avenger Navigators for Truth?

[ 0 ] May 28, 2006 |

In comments, Michael argues:

“Michael Dukakis immediately and publicly rejected the opportunity to attack Bush on the issue…”

I think a different example needs to be provided. There was no “opportunity to attack Bush.” Dukakis would have come off as an idiot to attack Bush’s record

GHWB flew in WWII and his career in the military is without controversy. Dukakis had no choice but to reject the claims

Thanks for trying, but no. From Wikipedia:

San Jacinto was part of Task Force 58 that participated in operations against Marcus and Wake Islands in May, and then in the Marianas during June. On June 19 the task force triumphed in one of the largest air battles of the war. On his return from the mission Bush’s aircraft made a forced water landing. A submarine rescued the young pilot, although the plane was lost as well as the life of his navigator. On July 25 Bush and another pilot received credit for sinking a small cargo ship off Palau.

After Bush’s promotion to Lieutenant Junior Grade on August 1, San Jacinto commenced operations against the Japanese in the Bonin Islands. On September 2, 1944, Bush piloted one of four aircraft from VT-51 that attacked the Japanese installations on Chichi Jima. For this mission his crew included Radioman Second Class John Delaney and Lieutenant Junior Grade William White, who substituted for Bush’s regular gunner. During their attack four TBM Avengers from VT-51 encountered intense antiaircraft fire.

While starting the attack, Bush’s aircraft was hit and his engine caught on fire. He completed his attack and released the bombs over his target, scoring several damaging hits. With his engine on fire, Bush flew several miles from the island, where he and one other crew member on the TBM Avenger bailed out of the aircraft. However, the other man’s parachute did not open, and he fell to his death. It was never determined which man bailed out with Bush. Both Delaney and White were killed in action. While Bush waited four hours in his inflated raft, several fighters circled protectively overhead until he was rescued by the lifeguard submarine U.S.S. Finback. For this action Bush received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Now sit back and imagine if the man described in this passage had been a Democrat. Think about the lines of attack that the right-wing attack machines would have generated in order to slime the candidate. How long would it have taken the Republicans to dig up a few Avenger pilots who, in the service of grinding personal grudges, were willing to engage in the most viscious of smears? The answer is “not very long”. There isn’t actually a problem with Bush’s record, just as there was no problem with Kerry’s. Indeed, the two are quite similar; both are New England aristocrats who felt that their good fortune meant that they owed something to their country. But a sterling record does not, it turns out, prove that one is immune from the kind of rancid attack that we saw in 2004.

As is pointed out by TheDeadlyShoe, John Kerry’s war record was not controversial prior to the point that the Republicans decided to smear it. There are two differences between George H.W. Bush’s experience and Kerry’s. The first is that Michael Dukakis, whatever his shortcomings, is a decent human being. George W. Bush isn’t, and was happy to let proxies lie on his behalf. The second is that John Kerry made an entirely accurate speech about Vietnam that some people didn’t care for. For that, he had to be punished, truth be damned.

Meandering Personal Anecdote Without a Point

[ 0 ] May 28, 2006 |

This morning I had my first migraine headache in probably two years. The headache starts in my eyes. I see a flashing, kaleidoscopic blur just to the left of center of my field of view. The blur slowly expands over the course of the headache, hollowing out as it goes. By the end, I have sort of a weird corona around my field of vision, but I can see things that are directly in front of me. Usually the headache itself hits towards the end of the visual disturbance (maybe twenty minutes on average). During bad headaches, I experience severe nausea, numbness in the extremities, and verbal impairment. Today wasn’t such a bad headache; some mild nausea was all I had. This didn’t make it any less inconvenient, though. The headache struck when I was about five minutes into my thirty minute bike ride home from work. With the extreme sensitivity to light on a bright Lexington day, I was effectively blind all the way home. Some might suggest that riding a bike blind (and without a helment) is a poor survival strategy, but I was in a hurry and very annoyed at my brain. By the time I got home, the visual impairment was gone, so all I had to deal with was the pain and nausea for the next several hours.

These days, I get a migraine about once every two years. When I was young, I would often get two per week, and they usually tended towards the more severe. Nothing I took helped, although I came to discover that if I took three or four aspirin just as the headache hit, things didn’t go so badly. For a long time I carried ibuprofen around wherever I went, although I don’t so much do that anymore. The migraines started slowing down my last year in high school, and I probably only suffered from one or two a month during most of my college career. By grad school they were a rare occurence, perhaps once a year. For a while I would occasionally (and still do very occasionally) suffer from what I like to think of as a semi-migraine; some mild head pain along with the feeling that I’m about to be visually impaired, but without the actual impairment or any other symptoms. Whenever I felt this way I would pop a couple of Advil, and nothing very bad would happen.

I can’t say why the migraines stopped. It could be that I’ve outgrown them, but my sister still suffers migraines, and she’s thirty. Oddly enough, she didn’t start getting headaches until high school, while I’ve had them since the second or third grade. I think, though, that it would be fair to say that the headaches changed my life. Although the correlation wasn’t perfect, and I of course never ran any numbers, there seemed to be a very strong link between headaches, periods of high stress, and missed meals. If I missed a meal and for some other reason suffered stress, I could virtually count on getting a headache. I also had occasional insomnia, and the headaches I got at night were invariably the worst. In my desire to escape the headaches, I think that I adjusted the way I live in a couple of very important ways. Specifically, I decided that I would avoid stress and avoid hunger.

No one who knows me would be likely to use the terms “tightly wound” or “high strung” to describe me, but I think that both would be fair assessments of my personality until my late teens. At some point, I just decided to stop worrying about things. This didn’t make me a free spirit, or a directionless drifter, but rather meant that I started taking a very laid-back approach to work, school, and life. In retrospect, it’s probably good that I didn’t get into a particularly good college, because I might have done very poorly, especially at the beginning. Even by the time I started doing well at the University of Oregon, my success depended more on the mastery of the necessary basic skills than on hard work. Although I would describe my stress level as low relative to my friends and co-workers (and I understand that this is an inherently difficult to assess question), I don’t think that the strategy I decided to pursue regarding stress has been entirely healthy. I think that it has made it difficult for me to get work done, especially when the presentation of that work has some stressful consequences. To give an example, I find virtually nothing more stressful than the experience of submitting an article for review. It’s hard enough to get myself to do the work, and I find the idea that others will be reading and critiquing what I write very difficult to deal with, especially in the context of the importance of such work to my career. Indeed, sometimes I experience a similar level of stress regarding blog posts. I understand that there are better strategies for managing stress, but I’ve never been able to employ them to great effect.

The other lifestyle change that migraines helped bring about involves food. I try very hard to avoid ever being hungry, at least in part because I associate hunger pangs with migraine attacks. When I’m with people, I’m almost invariably the guy who’s asking when we’ll eat, where we’ll eat, what we’ll eat until we eat, and so forth. Since I’ve never been willing to develop healthy eating strategies (carrying carrots or fruit around, for example), this has had predictable consequences. I exercise too much to be seriously overweight, but my cholesterol is very high, and I undoubtedly spend too much money on dining out.

The headache this morning seems to have been a random event, as I had just eaten a pancake breakfast and my stress level was mild even by my standards. Still, it’s interesting to think back on these events that were once central to my existence. I lost a league championship chess match in high school because of a migraine attack, and had to bow out halfway through an ACT test because of another. When I was looking for a job after I dropped out of college, I probably suffered a headache a day for a week. The way that I live now seems very distant from how I lived then. It’s possible (perhaps even probable) that the headaches stopped for some other reason, but I think that the impact has endured.

Iraq: A "Permanent Democratic State" Except for "Permanent" "Democratic" and "State"

[ 0 ] May 28, 2006 |

Shorter Verbatim Austin Bay: “This week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki introduced Iraq’s new, permanent democratic government.” I dunno, I might want to wait until, say, the government had actually finished filling out its cabinet until I called it “permanent.”

What makes it even funnier is that this assertion comes in the midst of a column starting with the question: “Does a billionaire historian exist, a bucks-up wiseman who is prepared to underwrite the Astonishing News Network? There’s more than a market niche for this network — in an era of instant analysis and insistent gossip, the context, depth and sobriety of ANN is a necessity.” What the breathless propaganda of Austin Bay or his Trainwreck Media comrades has to do with “context” “depth” or “sobriety” I can’t tell you. But if we can have a news network to provide “context,” the first thing I would suggest would be some choice excerpts from this, which might teach some people that an entity with as little coercive capacity as the Iraqi government is not in any meaningful sense a “state” at all. And perhaps the network’s sober analysis could also teach some of the war’s few remaining cheerleaders that holding an election and having a piece of paper theoretically limiting the powers of government does not a constitutional democracy make, unless you think that Zimbabwe qualifies. There has been no establishment of a democratic government in Iraq, let alone a permanent one.

Fighting the Swiftboating

[ 0 ] May 28, 2006 |

Interesting NYT article on how John Kerry has pressed the fight against the Swiftboaters for Truth. Unsurprisingly, Kerry’s assault has been devastating; the only defense the Swiftboaters can seem to muster is that they didn’t like his anti-war speech in 1971.

Why didn’t Kerry fight back harder in 2004?

Of course, plenty of disappointed and angry Democrats would like to know why Mr. Kerry did not defend himself so strenuously before the election. He had posted some military documents on his campaign’s Web site and had allowed reporters to view his medical records but resisted open access to them as unnecessarily intrusive.

Mr. Kerry and his defenders say that they did not have the extensive archival material, and that it was too complicated to gather in the rapid pace of a campaign. He was caught off guard, he says; he had been prepared to defend his antiwar activism, but he did not believe that anyone would challenge the facts behind his military awards. “We should have put more money behind it,” Mr. Kerry says now. “I take responsibility for it; it was my mistake. They spent something like $30 million, and we didn’t. That’s just a terrible imbalance when somebody’s lying about you.”

I’m not convinced that fighting back hard would have done much good. Guys like Glenn Reynolds and Mickey Kaus constantly harped on the point that Kerry hadn’t released all of his records, but does anyone really think that such a release would have satisfied any of his opponents? Indeed, Kaus took the opportunity of the release to mock a bad picture of Kerry, to make fun of his grades, and to suggest that the records demonstrated that Kerry wasn’t really all that smart. In short, the release of the records didn’t answer any questions at all, because the point of the question was not to receive an answer, but rather to raise doubt about Kerry’s credentials.

Similarly, I doubt that a serious effort on the part of Kerry to fight the Swift Boaters would have made a difference in the campaign. There was plenty of evidence in the public sphere in the summer of 2004 that the Swift Boat campaign was garbage, but that was hardly the point. The purpose was to take advantage of a media dedicated to he said/she said coverage of major campaign issues; the accusation of cowardice was enough, even if no compelling evidence could be manufactured. I suspect that if Kerry had fought back against the Swift Boaters, the media would have portrayed him as obsessive about the issue, and Glenn Reynolds would have had the opportunity to link to a Mickey Kaus post suggesting that Kerry’s efforts to fight the charges clearly indicated that he had something to hide.

The only way that these sorts of things really go away is when the opposition party has enough basic dignity to reject the charges. When George H. W. Bush’s war record was brought into question in 1988 by someone who had served with him in the Navy, Michael Dukakis immediately and publicly rejected the opportunity to attack Bush on the issue. Given the same opportunity, the Republican Party manufactured fake Purple Hearts in a display that mocked anyone who had ever been wounded in US military service. When the proponents of the argument are driven by sufficient hate (the belief that Kerry stood for all of the things that helped us lose the Vietnam War), and have a large enough bankroll, I don’t know that there’s a good way to fight these kinds of charges.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: HMS Iron Duke

[ 0 ] May 28, 2006 |

Part IV of a five part series on the Battle of Jutland.

Part I: SMS Lutzow
Part II: HMS Lion
Part III: SMS Friedrich Der Grosse

HMS Iron Duke was the second battleship named after the Duke of Wellington. The first, scrapped in 1906, had been distinguished only by its experience, in 1875, of ramming and sinking its fellow battleship HMS Vanguard. The second Iron Duke was the name ship of the last class of dreadnoughts to enter Royal Navy service prior to the beginning of World War I. Iron Duke carried 10 13.5″ guns in five twin turrets, displaced 25000 tons, and could make 21 knots (although this had slowed by the end of the war). Iron Duke was a well-designed ship, capable of outgunning her German (if not her American) counterparts, and served as the basis for the Chilean battleship Almirante Latorre.

HMS Iron Duke became flagship of the Grand Fleet upon its creation in August, 1914. Iron Duke carried the flag of Admiral John Jellicoe, who had been promoted by Winston Churchill to command at the beginning of the war. Jellicoe’s job was not to lose the war, and the way to do that was to avoid being destroyed by the German High Seas Fleet. given that the German fleet was smaller than the Grand Fleet and was limited geographically, this was an achievable task. Jellicoe understood that numerical superiority was key to victory in modern naval engagements, and steadfastly refused to allow the Royal Navy to meet the High Seas Fleet in detail.

On May 30, 1916, the British received intelligence that the High Seas Fleet was about to sortie. The German plan was to lure the Grand Fleet into a series of submarine ambushes, but the U-boats failed to find any targets. Iron Duke and the rest of the Grand Fleet left Scapa Flow some two hours before the High Seas Fleet put to sea. This put the Grand Fleet in an ideal position to intercept the Germans, who expected the British to arrive much later, and much weaker. The initial contact was made by the battlecruisers of both fleets, and resulted in the destruction of two British capital ships. Admiral David Beatty, however, drew the Germans north into the British trap, and on the afternoon of the May 31, the 24 dreadnoughts of the Grand Fleet became visible to the German van.

The German response was to execute a 180 degree turn away from the British fleet. This left the Germans on the wrong side of the Grand Fleet, however, and Admiral Scheer soon ordered another 180 degree turn. This took the Germans directly into the center of the British line. Understanding that this path led to annihilation, Scheer ordered yet another turn, and ordered his remaining battlecruisers to cover the retreat of the battleships (the wisdom of this move is questionable; the battlecruisers were already seriously damaged, and were by nature less able to withstand the British onslaught). Scheer also gave a critical order to his destroyers to execute a torpedo attack against the British line. This move saved the German fleet from destruction.

Faced with the German destroyers, Jellicoe had to decide whether or not to turn into the torpedos or turn away from them. By turning in, the British line might have suffered some losses, but would have been able to keep in contact with the Germans. By turning away, the British risked losing the Germans. Jellicoe, in accordance with normal practice of the day, turned away. After the war, this move was examined in great detail. In Jellicoe’s favor, it was noted that he had a reasonable expectation that it would be possible to maintain contact with the German fleet and to prevent it from returning to its bases. The German torpedo attack might have cost several dreadnoughts, it was argued, and given the widespread belief that the Germans had ship-to-ship superiority, this could have nullified the British advantage. Finally, it was argued that Jellicoe’s job was not to destroy the German fleet, but to prevent the destruction of the Royal Navy.

I agree with the first argument, but it should be noted that breaking off contact had obvious risks. General signalling ineptitude on the part of the Royal Navy would allow the entire German fleet to escape during the night. Jellicoe knew that this was possible, and could have worked more vigorously to solve Royal Navy communications problems before the battle. The second argument I find uncompelling. The British had 27 dreadnoughts and six battlecruisers at the time of the turn. The Germans had 16 battleships and four battlecruisers. Moreover, the German fleet had suffered a much more severe battering than the British. Also, I seriously disagree with the idea that the British battleships were inferior to their German counterparts. While the German ships may have had better survivability characteristics, the British were much more heavily armed. Even accepting the loss of several ships, the Grand Fleet had a commanding superiority over the High Seas Fleet.

The last argument is most interesting from a strategic point of view. Had the High Seas Fleet somehow destroyed the Grand Fleet, or at least severely reduced it in size, then the British war effort might have been devastated. Theoretically, the German Navy could have raided the British coast, could have attacked British trade on the surface, and could have threatened the supply lines to France. The same was not true, however, of the German war effort. Had the High Seas Fleet suffered complete annihilation, I doubt that the British would have been able to turn it to serious advantage. It would have been very difficult for the Royal Navy to enter the Baltic in any force, and Germany was not dependent on foreign trade. Trafalgar, it should be noted, did not lead to the defeat of Napoleon. On this point, Jellicoe was quite correct to avoid a risky situation.

The British public and the British government, however, did not want a calm and judicious decision. They wanted Nelson and Trafalgar. Jellicoe was eventually “promoted” out of the command of the Grand Fleet, and replaced by David Beatty. The crew of Iron Duke didn’t care for the new admiral, so Beatty moved his flag to Queen Elizabeth. The rest of Iron Duke’s World War I career was uneventful.

The battleships fleets of the world were constrained by the Washington Naval Treaty, but Iron Duke survived the first cut of 1922. The London Naval Treaty of 1930 further reduced the battleships allowable to the three great naval powers, and Iron Duke was reclassified as an auxiliary. She was used as an accomodations ship in World War II, and was hit by several German bombs in 1939. In 1948 Iron Duke was sent to the breakers. John Jellicoe was made Governor-General of New Zealand after the war, and died in 1935.

The Party of indefensible causal assertions

[ 0 ] May 27, 2006 |

Like Scott, Roy, Kevin, Ezra, and countless others, I have no plans to read or take seriously Ramesh Ponnuru’s latest, for any number of reasons so obvious they hardly need to be stated. I’ve recently managed to discover another one, however. At The American Scene, where Harvard man Ross Douthat regularly performs the thesis of his book, I’ve been engaging in a series of arguments with one Bradford Short in the comments section of this post. This rather obviously unhinged fellow was apparently Ponnuru’s research assistant. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that Short asserts that the publishers and editors of a major philosophy journal have a pro-infanticide agenda, and it goes downhill from there.

It’s the utter lack of any sense of causal logic that lies behind the various imagined connections that never ceases to amaze me, and this discussion has produced some gems in this vein. Short has repeatedly suggested that a handful of articles published in a Philosophy and Public Affairs on abortion and infanticide (actually, only one on the latter topic, but never mind…) are connected in some meaningful way to the Groningen Protocol and the practice of infanticide in cases of extreme and terminal illness in the Netherlands. This is his response:

In the end, Keynes had a point. What starts with philosophers no one has herd of trickles down into the society at large and sometimes changes everything. In conferencing with Ramesh on the book, I even was able to give him a video tape (he never used it) of a John Edwards for Senate (1998) rally I had bought from C-Span long ago, where the homespun people’s lawyer talked to a bunch of blue collar workers in N.C. about…*John Rawls*. That’s right, he talked to them about the rightness of the thoery/thought expiriment of the *original position.* There was a time when few had heard of Rawls. One would be a fool to call him obscure, or that his theory would not/did not move minds.

Staggering. An american politician once invoked an idea in a stump speech. Therefore, ideas matter. Therefore, and obscure 1972 article from an american philosophy journal is responsible for Dutch policy regarding terminally ill infants. This is the sort of causal logic the whole “culture of life, party of death” rhetoric is built on. It’s a fundamentally unserious approach to understanding the world.

Clean War

[ 0 ] May 27, 2006 |

Greenwald on Haditha:

It is certainly true, as many pro-war advocates today have noted, that incidents of this type are inevitable in every war. And it is also true that the mere existence of incidents of this sort does not prove that the war is unjustified, since even the most justified wars have included soldiers engaging in gratuitously cruel, violent and outright criminal behavior. The killings are morally reprehensible but do not constitute direct evidence as to whether the war itself was, from the beginning, a justified war. That’s all true enough.

But what incidents of this type do underscore is that wars are not something that are to be routine or casual tools in foreign policy. The outright eagerness and excitement for more and more wars that we see so frequently from some circles is not only unseemly and ugly unto itself — although it is that — but it is also so reckless and unfathomably foolish. Every war spawns countless enemies, entails incidents which severely undermine a nation’s credibility and moral standing, ensures that the ugliest and most violent actions will be undertaken in the country’s name, and, even in the best of cases, wreaks unimaginable human suffering and destruction.

Right. When young men are sent into dangerous areas with heavy weaponry, these sorts of incidents will happen. The problem in not unique to the United States; recall the Somalia Affair, in which two Canadian soldiers massacred a Somali teenager. Surely, training can reduce or increase the frequency of such incidents, and it’s fair to note that German soldiers in World War II performed atrocities as a matter of policy. The perpetrators of Haditha surely should be prosecuted, but it’s critical to remember that this is not simply a case of a few bad apples; this behavior is the inevitable and predictable consequence of using war as a tool of policy.

Ralph Hitchens asked a while ago in comments why I seem so obsessive about critiquing “effects-based operations”, in particular strategic bombing. I detest concepts like EBO and “shock and awe” because they promise clean war, something that they clearly cannot deliver. The concept of clean war has surely changed over the years; in 1940 it meant that the enemy could be destroyed without the cost of serious friendly casualties, and now it has as much to do with the minimization of collateral damage as it does with force protection. What EBO always promises, however, is that war will be cheap and clean. Too many policymakers and too many war advocates fall for this line, and assume that the morally problematic parts of fighting a war are in the past, or can be safely pushed aside.

Sadly, the grimmer consequences of war can be controlled, but not eliminated. The death of innocent civilians in target countries is inevitable, whether it happens as a consequence of occupation or as a result of poor weapons targetting. It follows then, as Greenwald points out, that the decision to use the military as a tool of foreign policy is always a morally problematic choice. While only the few marines who directly carried out the massacre will be prosecuted, the blood is really on everyone’s hands. This doesn’t mean that military force should never be used in the pursuance of foreign policy goals, but it does mean that every such decision involves a weighty calculus.

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