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Archive for August, 2006

Stay Vigilant!

[ 0 ] August 23, 2006 |

Oh, sure, George W. Bush may have singlehandedly thwarted the terrifying numerologically determined impending attack from Iran by personally throwing the Bill of Rights and the United States Code into a big bonfire at the place where he clears all the brush. But think that this means that the threats–and the necessity for the President to accrue more arbitrary authority–has ended? Not hardly:

I believe the calendar is free of apocolypses for the next six weeks, right until the Chinese Confucio-Nazis begin their long-planned Columbus Day weekend invasion of Missouri. I hope we will have learned the lessons of 1938 by then.

We can only hope so! Perhaps a quick repeal of the 14th, 16th and 19th Amendments will put out that fire…

Where’s Jake?

[ 0 ] August 23, 2006 |

Did I miss something, or has Jacob Weisberg curiously disappeared since his anti-Lamont tirade two weeks ago? Usually he posts to Slate pretty regularly, but I haven’t seen anything lately. On vacation, or maybe the mean bloggers got to him?

8/22 Passed and All I Got Was This Lousy Urine-Soaked Bed

[ 0 ] August 22, 2006 |

Apparently, this Bernard Lewis article about the horror Iran was going to unleash on 8/22–whose only distinction to rational people was managing to look foolish even by the standards of the Wall Street Journal‘s op-ed pages–was deemed to be worthy of major coverage at Trainwreck Media, which admittedly didn’t have much trouble finding people who took it seriously. Far be it from me to cast aspersions on such a distinguished clown show, but it seems to me that it’s now 8/23 in Iran and…

(HT: LGF Watch.)

Poverty and Radicalism in the Northwest

[ 0 ] August 22, 2006 |

Erik’s recent work on the lumber industry in Oregon and Washington serves to remind us that deindustrialization isn’t a phenomenon limited the the Rust Belt. Also check out Tuesday Forgotten American Blogging, which today focuses on labor radicalism in the northwest in the early twentieth century.

Blood and Guts Ed

[ 0 ] August 22, 2006 |

In between seriously problematic paragraphs, Edward Luttwak makes (or, perhaps I should say shows the way to) a couple of interesting points. Luttwak wishes to draw into the question the idea that Hezbollah fighters were particularly brave or competent in the recent war against Israel. As part of this effort, he argues

many commentators around the world kept repeating and endorsing his [Nasrallah's] claim that his fighters fought much more bravely than the regular soldiers of Arab states in previous wars with Israel.

In 1973, after crossing the Suez Canal, Egyptian infantrymen by the thousands stood their ground unflinchingly against advancing 50-ton Israeli battle tanks, to attack them successfully with their puny hand-held weapons. They were in the open, flat desert, with none of the cover and protection that Hizbullah had in their fortified bunkers or in Lebanon’s rugged terrain.

Right, and to the extent that individual displays of courage matter for the conduct of modern warfare, Luttwak is correct to note that Arab soldiers in 1973 (and 1967) displayed enormous bravery in the face of overwhelming (tactical) Israeli superiority. I’ve noted on several occasions that Arab military organizations have very consistently been characterized by operational and tactical ineptitude. It would be a mistake, however, to derive from that the idea that individual Arab soldiers have failed to display courage. The problem is simply that individual courage cannot win modern wars. The difference between Hezbollah today and the Egyptian Army in 1967 has little to do with courage and everything to do with training and tactical and operational execution. Now, it’s reasonable to ask how Hezbollah achieved a much higher level of execution than Arab states, but that’s a different question.

Luttwak then goes off the rails, descending into absurd comparisons:

Hizbullah certainly did not run away and did hold its ground, but its mediocrity is revealed by the casualties it inflicted, which were very few.
[...]
Many a surviving veteran of the 1943-1945 Italian campaign must have been amazed by this reaction. There too it was one stone-built village and hilltop town after another, and though the Germans were outnumbered, outgunned and poorly supplied, a company that went against them would consider the loss of only eight men as very fortunate, because attacking forces could suffer a 150% or even 300% casualty rates – that mathematical impossibility being explained by the need for a second, third or fourth assault wave to take a small village.

Even that was not much as compared to the 6,821 Americans who died to conquer the eight square miles of Iwo Jima. Hizbullah should not of course be held to such standards, but on the whole it did not fight as fiercely as the Egyptians in 1973 or the Jordanians in 1967 – as Israeli casualty figures demonstrate.

Yeah… the notable difference between Italy and Lebanon is that the Israelis, last week, were fighting a guerrilla organization that, while well equipped for guerrillas, maintained a maximum of 6000 fighters, while the Americans in Italy and on Iwo Jima were fighting conventional armies designed to hold territory and that, while poorly equipped for a conventional force, had far better access to firepower than Hezbollah. Indeed, Hezbollah’s decision to stand and fight against the IDF opened up more questions about its capacity than it answered; in a purely military sense, Hezbollah might have been better served by limiting its direct contact with the IDF in order to limit casualties. Of course, Hezbollah’s political strategy (and its belief that a cease-fire was imminent) may have depended on standing and fighting even losing engagements against the Israelis.

Islamofascism

[ 0 ] August 22, 2006 |

The biggest problem with the term Islamofascism has always seemed to me that it conceptually unites groups of people who ought not be put under the same umbrella. When hawks used the term in 2002 and 2003, it conveniently put Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda into the same category; we are fighting islamofascism, and given that both Hussein and Bin Laden are islamofascists, it makes sense to invade Iraq in an effort to damage Al Qaeda.

It seems to mean something slightly different now, but the point remains the same; the term is designed to convince us to fight people that we don’t necessarily need to fight.

Chuckle

[ 0 ] August 22, 2006 |

I’ve been reviewing our archives in an effort to collect our Nader posts and book reviews. This is no mean task; you would not believe how many of our posts were anti-Nader screeds, especially in the early days. The following post, from July 7, 2004 made me laugh:

Slow day at LGM, no posts attacking Ralph Nader or warning of Iranian nukes. I wonder if there’s a way we could solve both of those problems at once. . .

The UW Political Science Department softball team, the Fighting Filibusters, is off to a historically bad start. We lost our first game 30-1, and ended up on the short end of a 23-2 score tonight.

I contributed an 0-2 at the plate and four errors at first base. Good times.

Nice Guy Ressentiment: Upping the Ante

[ 0 ] August 22, 2006 |

In the comments to a post about some ev-psych wankery at the Freakonomics blog, Belle Waring has uncovered someone taking “Nice Guy” self-pity to quite remarkable depths. A taste (and doesn’t his personality seem wonderful):

Any good looking guy knows that women favor ugly men. It is a mystery, just like every single action that most females undertake. Maybe its about their low self esteem, since all good looking women have low self esteem, just look at the supreme arrogance they display, that is really a sign of an inferiority complex. Maybe its about controlling some ugly loser and spending all his cash and treating him like dirt. Maybe its just because they are irrational and there is no answer. I have a great personality, but, I get turned down for some ugly jerk who treats them like a piece of meat, and I am told its because of personality. Women make this judgment on looks alone, they are intimdated of a good looking guy and assume he is a jerk because he won’t bow before them, and they mainly just intimidated since their whole world is based on the supreme superficiality of the reflection they see as they put on their make up. They profit from their looks, exercising a level of power that is so potent and omnipresent that most people do not even see its existence. They primp and priss and strut around like gods, holding a man’s self esteem in the palm of their hand, which they are only to glad to crush to make themselves feel better. The good looking guy pays a dear price for daring to compete with her in her area.

I can at least sort of understand the “why do women date good-looking men who treat them like shit” fallacy–the underlying idea that it’s some sort of cosmic injustice that the your precise attributes are not the ones most valued in the dating market is, while stupid, at least coherent. And I suppose there’s a grain of truth to the idea that people will put up with flaws in a very attractive person they wouldn’t put up with in someone they don’t find attractive (the problem with this is both the tendency to grossly exaggerate this and that there’s nothing wrong with placing a relatively higher value on aesthetic factors; one can also point out that having a good personality puts your aesthetics in a better light.) But “women just want to date ugly jerks” is one I haven’t heard before. When I think about it, though, it really is a logical extension of the Nice Guy whine; if your worldview is based on the idea that you’re God’s gift to women and them stuck-up bitches just don’t know what’s good for them, you might as well take it all the way.

Schadenfreude and Ken Pollack

[ 0 ] August 22, 2006 |

Yesterday morning, a colleague with mild tendencies towards neo-conservatism pointed, in irritation, to Ken Pollack’s article in the Washington Post. “It’s as if,” the colleague noted, “he hadn’t written a book trying to convince me that the war was a good idea.” Right, I said; Pollack didn’t exactly issue a mea culpa, and didn’t mention his complicity in building the case for war. On the upside, his analysis of the situation now is more or less correct; three years late, but correct.

I then go to new faculty orientation, so I’m away from the computer for seven hours or so (this is an eternity in Rob computer time). I get back and take a look at my aggregator, finding something along the line of a dozen denunciations of Pollack, ranging from the humorous to the bitter to the measured to the quizzical. This, I think, is odd. Some thoughts:

1. If you really don’t care about what Ken Pollack has to say, here’s a tip; writing an angry post about his latest article does not indicate indifference. I can honestly say that I no longer care what John Tierney or Bobo Brooks or Tom Friedman say (thank you thank you thank you Times Select), and I express this lack of interest by not writing about their columns.

2. When George Will came out not long ago and said that the Iraq War was a terrible idea, he didn’t exactly win plaudits from the left half of the blogosphere, but he did get numerous approving citations. It’s unclear to me to why Will (who was a war supporter) gets to change his mind (without issuing a mea culpa) and Pollack doesn’t. Will was even part of the chorus early on that denounced war opponents as unpatriotic, a position that Pollack, to my knowledge, never took.

3. It’s fair to say that Pollack was terribly, terribly wrong about the Iraq War, and that he’s failed to face up publicly to that error. Moreover, the magnitude of the error was rather impressive, and it demonstrated some serious blind spots. It is not, however, fair to say that Pollack is just another pundit who hasn’t the faintest idea of what he’s talking about. Pollack knows a lot about Middle Eastern military affairs; he wrote a very long and very, very good book on Arab military performance, and a long, solid-enough-if-irritating-in-parts book about US-Iranian relations. He’s also has considerable practical experience working in government. Who knows what the qualifications for “pundit” are, but Pollack is a good deal smarter and better informed than most.

4. Say what you will about The Threatening Storm, but it’s a serious book. There’s no passive, mealy-mouthed “I kinda favor this option but would prefer to cover my ass” nonsense; the subtitle is “The Case for Invading Iraq.” He takes the other options seriously, and doesn’t build strawmen. He doesn’t denounce opponents of the war as pacifists, or useful idiots. He dreadfully underestimates the difficulty of rebuilding Iraq, but points out (correctly) that the reconstruction would be the most difficult and most important element of the conflict. Again, reasonable people should have been able to tell that the Bush administration would be incapable of carrying out ANY meaningful plan to rebuild Iraq, but Pollack is hardly the only guy to make that mistake. Pollack also doesn’t have a Lieberman-esque “one size fits all” approach to solving military problems; his latest book opposes military intervention in Iran.

5. Unless I missed it, Pollack has never engaged in Beinart-style baiting of the anti-war elements of the Democratic Party. He has never suggested that his is the only reasonable position on national security, and that everyone needs to get on the bus. His focus has remained squarely on international affairs, and has not extended to undermining the political standing of domestic opponents of his favored policy.

Given all this, I find the interest in throwing Pollack under the bus both curious and troubling. As I noted in comments below, I would much prefer to welcome Pollack to the reality-based community than to suggest that he spend some time in a closed room with a revolver.

Absurd Comparison Department: Woods vs. Federer

[ 0 ] August 21, 2006 |

A while ago, Kevin Drum declared that Rodger Federer was the most dominant athlete in any sport today. I’ve wondered about this for some time. For my money (and it should be fairly noted that I don’t watch much tennis), the two athletes that have truly dominated their sports during my lifetime are Tiger Woods (1997-present) and Barry Bonds (2000-2004). During those times, both Woods and Bonds made the question of “Who is the best baseball player/golfer?” essentially irrelevent; how could you even have a reasonable discussion with someone who didn’t believe that Woods and Bonds were the best? I suppose that the other candidates would be Gretzky and Jordan, but I’ve always thought of Jordan more as the first among equals, and I don’t know enough about hockey to reasonably comment on Gretzky vs. his contemporaries.

Regarding the specific question of Woods vs. Federer, in Tiger’s favor I would note that, since Jack Nicklaus, it has simply not been the case that any one player would be the prohibitive favorite in EVERY SINGLE MAJOR during his career. Woods dominance of golf seems to me Ruthian in scope. Federer has certainly been dominant recently, but the kind of dominance Federer has displayed seems far more common in tennis than the dominance Woods has displayed in golf.

Thoughts?

Shatner

[ 0 ] August 21, 2006 |

Thoughts on the Shatner Roast? I haven’t watched the whole thing, but the parts I’ve seen were pretty funny. I’m pretty skeptical about the comedy value of the “roast” format, but William Shatner is probably the single most appropriate subject of a roast I can think of; a tremendous amount of material, but good natured and self-aware enough to handle it.

"Battle" of Lawrence

[ 0 ] August 21, 2006 |

143 years ago today, a guerrilla group called Quantrill’s Raiders rolled into Lawrence, Kansas. Lawrence was a target of Confederate ire because it had been a center of anti-slavery activity during the “Bleeding Kansas” years, in which pro and anti slavery forces strove to control Kansas. A Confederate officer, William Quantrill, led 300 or so men into Lawrence, which was not garrisoned by Union forces. Over a period of four hours, Quantrill and his men burned down most of Lawrence, and systematically murdered 200 men and boys.

Why do I mention this? Every time someone suggests a display of the Confederate flag is about the “heritage”, remind them of Lawrence. Every time a wingnut suggests that ethnic group X basically consists of barbarian savages, unfettered by common feelings of humanity or Christian fellowship, remind them of Lawrence. We all have our monsters.

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