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Archive for November, 2006

Strike 73!

[ 0 ] November 29, 2006 |

The Dead-EnderSphere’s latest attempt to gin up another Dan Rather story out of nothing at all has apparently gone the way of such classics as the “fake” Schiavo memo. Of course, as Jim Henley points out, even had this been something other than unsubstantiated state propaganda, it’s still all about evasion:

But beyond that, what’s the point? Let’s imagine for a minute that the mosque burning story was exaggerated or fabricated. Does that mean that three thousand bodies a month aren’t turning up at Baghdad’s morgues these days? Does it mean that Mohammed of Iraq the Model didn’t spend the weekend barricading his block against rievers? Does it mean that no Sunnis are being killed by Sadrist death squads? Does that mean we should think more highly of Baby Sadr? Does it mean no Shia are being butchered by Salafist bravos?

[...]

Unless these fellows with suspect surnames in the newspapers are making it all up and Iraq is really quite swell, then impeaching this or that specific report or reporter is a trivial pursuit. It doesn’t change the structure and trends. It’s fun to pretend that “a goodly portion of our success or failure in Iraq has ultimately to do with how we react in terms of either lending our support or leveling our criticisms against the campaign.” Among other things, it’s very self-flattering. It allows the sedentary hawk to feel good about himself, to imagine that, just by feeling the proper emotion, “I’m fighting too!”

It’s also utter bullshit. The real constraint on success or failure is the US governmenet’s capacity to achieve its political objectives in Iraq itself. The audience that matters is one the deadenders neither understand nor even like much. (Michael Novak gets this exactly and completely backward.) It gets its news from papers we can’t read, television and radio broadcasts we never hear and couldn’t translate, phone calls to and from people we’ll never meet and the direct experience of things we can only pray never to find on our curbs of a morning. Every thesis that does not recognize the primacy of a local situation we can neither completely know nor even successfully imagine is mere narcissism, every attempt to pretend that touching up some detail obliterates the big picture is folly.

Indeed.

Department of WTF?

[ 0 ] November 29, 2006 |

This seems rather pointless, but then again, I don’t live in Idaho:

In an era in which seemingly anything can offend anyone, one professor at the University of Idaho is attempting to stay one step ahead by asking film students to sign a “statement of understanding” acknowledging the potentially offensive or repugnant content they’ll be viewing. . . .

“I guess I started to get more freshmen who would come to me and say, ‘Well gee, I can’t look at any film that has violence in it or nudity. So I developed a statement of understanding so people know ahead of time certain issues will be intellectually examined in some of these films, such as poverty, slavery, sexual themes, punishment and murder,” said [Dennis] West.

I don’t have any quarrel with the idea of explaining to students on the first day of class that we might be discussing some unpleasant issues and that they might be reading and viewing some rather unsavory texts. I teach American history, after all. But to actually introduce a waiver into the relationship strikes me as an unnecessarily legalistic approach to problem of student reception of controversial texts. Does the university or the professor bear any legal responsibility — comparable to, say, an actual human subjects project — for any mental anguish that might result from a student’s viewing of Clockwork Orange? It’s a brutal film, perhaps, but it’s hardly the Stanford Prison Experiment, and it’s nothing like the clip of Budd Dwyer blowing his head off on live television (a clip I actually watched in an undergraduate sociology class).

But if it’s an issue of informed consent, why wouldn’t a clear, verbal explanation of the course content on the first day of the semester suffice? Something on the order of, “Look, we’re all adults at a secular, public, liberal arts university. Certain aspects of human experience are heinous and irrredeemable and violent; our language is clotted with vulgar expressions, and our brains are larded with grotesque ideas that we express more occasionally than some people would prefer. In this course, these experiences — and the language and images that spring from them — will now and again bubble to the surface as if from a ruptured sewage line. One of the awful burdens of being educated is knowing how to deal with this sort of thing.”

I’m not a law-talking-guy by any stretch (though like many, law school nearly lured me away from my dissertation). Regardless, I’d be curious to hear some thoughts on this.

"Nobody can eat fifty eggs"

[ 0 ] November 28, 2006 |

Watching Cool Hand Luke on AMC, it occured to me to wonder just how difficult it is to eat fifty eggs in an hour. Apparently, the world record holder for egg eating is Sonya Thomas of Virginia, who once ate 65 eggs… in seven minutes.

Now you know.

a little bit pregnant, slightly dead

[ 0 ] November 28, 2006 |

As is so often the case, the best long response to Jonathan Chait’s sad plea for attention is from Digby, while Atrios provides the short form.

Chait seems to be working overtime to make me all the more confident I was right to never take him seriously on Iraq, but I do have one question to add to Digby’s response. When Chait says, on Chris Matthews, that his proposal was “a little bit of hyperbole but I think there’s something to it,” what the hell is he talking about? Giving him a seat in parliament? Making him vice president? What? It seems to me that putting Saddam Hussein back in power is, much like the invasion and occupation, a good example of what we call an either/or proposition. Either one puts Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq or one doesn’t. But then I’m just a dirty hippie who opposed the war from the start, so what do I know?

Cylons and Preventive War (significant spoiler content)

[ 0 ] November 28, 2006 |

In the last episode of BSG, we learned that, some three years ago, a Colonial recon ship crossed into Cylon territory where it was discovered, destroyed, and its pilot captured. The Blame the Colonies First Crowd has apparently decided that this means that the Colonial Fleet precipitated the genocidal Cylon attack that nearly destroyed humanity. Let’s review that claim, shall we?

The Galactica timeline indicates that the recon mission took place roughly a year before the Cylon attack on the Colonies. If the mission precipated the attack, this would mean that the Cylons must have decided to attack and developed the capability to attack within this timeframe. Given what we know about Cylon decision-making, it’s entirely plausible that they could have decided to attack and and begun to develop plans in such a short period. Given that the Colonial Fleet possessed over a hundred battlestars, it’s also plausible that the Cylons would have constructed numerous Basestars and Raiders during the truce period. Thus, the material requirements for what we’ve seen seem well within Cylon capabilities. The more twitchy question involves the Cylon infiltration of the Colonies.

We know that the Cylons infiltrated the Colonial Fleet and associated groups (most notably a civilian corporation working on the computer defense network) well prior to the attack. The fact that Sharon Valerii, presumably among others, managed to achieve a position in the officer corps of the Colonial Fleet suggests that this infiltration began well prior to the recon mission. Indeed, the Galactica timeline indicates that Caprica Six began her infiltration mission a year before the recon mission, and that Boomer joined the Galactica a year before as well; this would indicate that Sharon had been in the colonies for quite a considerable time period before the recon incursion. What does this tell us? The Cylons had broken the Treaty considerably prior to the Colonial mission. The suspicions of Colonial Admirals were justified; Cylon incursion into Colonial space preceded Colonial incursion, and thus it is rather tendentious to claim that the Colonial mission serves as a legal justification for the Cylon attack.

However, it’s possible that, while the Cylons clearly violated the Treaty, they had not planned to attack and destroy humanity prior to the Colonial incursion. Perhaps Cylon infiltration was essentially defensive in nature (security dilemma dynamics having prompted action), and the Colonial incursion convinced the otherwise peaceful Cylon that the Colonial Fleet was dedicated to their destruction. The ensuing war could then be understood as the tragic consequence of misunderstanding between two essentially status quo powers. There is some supporting evidence for this interpretation. Cylon theology seems to suggest a belief that humanity is incorrigibly aggressive, implying that war between the Colonies and the Cylon was inevitable, and making Cylon action essentially defensive. Given the difficulty of controlling human populations on old and New Caprica, a campaign of genocide might have appeared the only way of dealing with the Colonial threat. On a couple of different occasions, Cylons have claimed an essentially defensive justification for tracking down and destroying the remnants of humanity. Left to their own devices, it is argued, even a tiny residue of humanity would reconstitute its military power and return for revenge in the future.

However, I believe that there is more evidence to suggest that the Cylon planned and waged their war with aggressive intent, with defensive motivations playing only a trivial role. Although it’s difficult to distinguish between a genuinely preventive war and an outright war or aggression (which is why, under almost any theory of international law, preventive war is prohibited), internal Cylon discussions, and conversations with Colonial interrogators, suggest that the Cylon had positive, aggressive intent. We know that the Cylons attacked shortly after Caprica Six had achieved full infiltration and compromise of the Colonial defense network. Although this doesn’t necessarily contradict the defensive explanation, it is more consistent with a longer term aggressive plan, and implies that the Cylon infiltration before the recon mission was designed to lay the groundwork for an attack, rather than to determine Colonial intent. Following the conquest, the Cylon did not destroy all of humanity, but rather initiated a Cylon-human breeding program in an effort to create some sort of hybrid. This does not imply a defensive motivation, but rather a religiously motivated effort at genetic engineering. The initial Cylon decision to occupy the conquered Colonies also suggests a war of aggression rather than of defensive motivation. Finally, Cylon theology seems to suggest that, above and beyond their belief that humanity was an incorrigible threat, the Cylon understood themselves as Gods tool for the destruction of humanity, and thus that the cause of the war was divine inspiration, rather than defensive survival.

In summation, the argument that the Colonial recon mission into Cylon space constituted the legal justification for the Cylon campaign is simply implausible, and is an argument unworthy of consideration by a Colonial officer. Futhermore, while it can plausibly be argued that Cylon motivation for the war was essentially defensive, the weight of the evidence heavily favors an interpretation of the war as an aggressive campaign of conquest.

Company

[ 0 ] November 28, 2006 |

It’s not typical that I, an inhabitant both spiritually and physically of the provinces, can recommend a Broadway show to our readers in the metropole. However, the group about to begin a revival of Company on Broadway was in Cincinnati a few months ago, where I caught a performance. I recommend it without reservation. It didn’t hurt that I saw the show, about an unmarried man named Bobby on the eve of a thirty-something birthday, a couple of days before my own 32nd birthday.

Quakin’

[ 0 ] November 28, 2006 |

Does it surprise anyone that conventional munitions would most likely do a better job against deep bunkers than their nuclear counterparts? Whenever I read a report like this, I try to think back to my days as a conservative (ten years ago or so) and figure out why, in spite of the evidence, I might nevertheless hold an objectively irrational position. In this case, it’s not all that hard; hippies hate nukes, and hippies are obviously wrong, so therefore nukes must be good, in spite of any practical difficulties that might crop up.

The Death of South Park Republicanism and the Conservative Conscious

[ 0 ] November 28, 2006 |

Shorter Ann Althouse: Mocking religion is bad. When it’s done in a mild form by a blogger Glenn Reynolds doesn’t like.

Elsewhere, Roy saves me the bother of dealing with the latest excretions of Pajamas Media’s resident foreign policy epxert, which several commenters have already brought up. I think this sentence says it all:

“So don’t expect the world’s liberal conscious to weigh in much on the latest poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.”

Sure, one could point out that the media hasn’t ignored this at all, but the nice thing about inventing the “liberal conscious” is that it makes falsification all but impossible (especially if you don’t have access to the same acid that Hanson was on when he wrote the column.) But what really amuses me is the idea that it’s liberals who have been naive about Putin’s authoritarianism. Let’s turn to VDH’s most-admired political leader:

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“I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue.

“I was able to get a sense of his soul.

“He’s a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country and I appreciate very much the frank dialogue and that’s the beginning of a very constructive relationship,” Mr Bush said.

I think Hanson needs to work on the “conservative conscious” first.

Nutty

[ 0 ] November 27, 2006 |

Bob Owens — otherwise known as Treason-in-Defense-of-Slavery Yankee — is so enamored of George Bush that he even fantasizes about him in a burqa. Sweet bleeding Jesus. I mean, I know my posts are fairly predictable (e.g., “Boy, that Victor Davis Hanson is a real idiot,” “Boy, those guys from Powerline sure are idiots,” “Boy, Bob Owens is pretty much an idiot,” and so on), but I’m going to stick with “predictable but correct” if “bat-shit insane” is the alternative.

Is there anything more pathetic than your average wingnut blogger — scouring the day’s photo releases from AP and Reuters, enlarging and enhancing and inverting and reversing them them to find the tell-tale pixel smears of Photoshop, all while praying desperately for the five minutes of attention that Michelle Malkin will send their way if they find a picture or two doctored up by an incompetent stringer? Meantime, it hardly bears mentioning they care not a gingersnap for the genuinely fake news purchased by their Defense Department for publication in a country they’ve destroyed; the criminally bullshit intelligence formulated in the meth labs run by Douglas Feith; or the endless cascade of demonstrable falsehoods issuing from the mouths of their exalted world leaders whom no one takes seriously anymore.

Instead, TIDOS Yankee spends his time imagining that an image of three mourning Iraqi women has been playfully doctored with the facial features of the man whose staggering incompetence helped kill someone they loved.

. . . . Good gravy. Owens — who has banned several loyal readers of LGM for saying nasty things about the Confederacy, and who has even blocked comments that include the URL for this blog — has now closed the comments to the George W. Burqa post because of “the foul language of our left wing guests.” Unfuckingbelievable.

Center-Right Pundits Are Not A Governing Coalition

[ 0 ] November 27, 2006 |

Ben and Ezra say most of what needs to be said about this atrocious, risibly anachronistic op-ed by Thomas Edsall. An argument this silly contains multitudes, however, and there’s one point I’d like to add. My question: if we’re throwing “organized labor, minority advocacy organizations [and] reproductive- and sexual-rights proponents” out of the Democratic coalition, who’s left? Where are the votes coming from? (The irony here is that DLC types, who see the Democrats building a governing Democratic coalition out of wealthy, complacent white males, are the flipside of Ralph Nader, who seems to think that a governing progressive coalition can be built by white college students.)

There are two moves Edsall makes that are crucial to propping up this nonsense. The first is the egregious double standard in evaluating Democratic and Republican-affiliated factions. Supporters of reproductive freedom are a “special interest” dragging down the Democratic Party, while the cultural conservatives are simply “real Americans” or some such (even on issues, like Roe v. Wade, where the pro-choice position is also the majority position.) The second is that the “public interest” adduced by pundits like Edsall to contrast with “special interests” tends to match up not with the priorities of voters but with what Bob Somerby calls “millionaire pundit values.” We’re about to see this play out again with respect to Social Security, where Democrats will be urged to be “responsible” and endorse some kind of privatization scheme, although the Democrats’ position on Social Security involves backing the majority position against “special interests.” Such conceptions of the “public interest” are just empty tautologies used to defend whatever position the pundit happens to hold, and has nothing whatsoever to do with coalition-building.

[Cross-posted to TAPPED.]

Berube: The Talking Dog Interview

[ 0 ] November 27, 2006 |

Far behind on my reading, I still gotten to my review of What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? In the meantime, Michael has an interesting interview chez the Talking Dog, which is particularly relevant in light of the most recent embarrassment to befall the hapless David Horowitz. Michael’s point here is, I think, particularly important:

It’s important to attend to how the shell game is played, first. The fact that liberals outnumber conservatives on campus– by a ratio of roughly 2.6 to 1– is indisputable. What the culture-war right derives from this fact, however, are two highly disputable conclusions: one, that the ratio can be explained only by active collusion among liberals (note that Horowitz makes this suggestion in the NRO interview)– a belief that, in my opinion not only expresses a good deal of right-wing projection but also provides convenient cover for the fact in the arts and humanities as well as in some of the sciences, there simply aren’t very many smart young conservatives in the academic-market pipeline to begin with. (In other words, it allows them to say, “well, we would be more numerous on campus– we’re simply told that we’re not wanted.”) Two, that this preponderance of campus liberals actively discriminates against conservative students as well as potential conservative colleagues. As I note in the book, this second charge– the most incendiary one, for most parents, alumni, trustees, legislators, and bystanders– is supported by exceptionally weak and anecdotal evidence, much of it provided by students themselves in an almost comically self-undermining manner. The first charge is something I take more seriously, because, as I argue in the book, domination of certain academic fields– like mine– by liberals is good neither for those fields nor for liberals. (I can’t believe that conservatives are complaining about a dispensation in which they run the country and we teach the American Novel survey.)

So because Horowitz has almost no evidence about anyone’s actual classroom behavior, he goes after the public statements of professors instead. (Which also means, by the way, that when he says he doesn’t do this, he is lying.) And he does so partly because he has nothing to bring to the table when it comes to serious discussions about classroom matters, and partly because it’s a convenient way for him to attack people like me and Gitlin– and Navasky, and Eric Foner, as liberal-leftists at large. I might add, under this heading, that Horowitz has exceptionally thin skin and takes perceived slights very personally, so some of the entries in his book– like his attacks on a handful of notable black scholars– stem from nothing more than an unhealthy obsession or two.

This distinction isn’t made often enough. The objection to Horowitz’s argument is not that it’s wrong to say that there are more liberals than conservatives in academia, which isn’t any more surprising than the fact that there are more conservatives than liberals among Fortune 500 executives. The problem is that this doesn’t, in and of itself, constitute evidence of systematic bias in hiring or treatment of students, and on the narrower but more important issues the evidence of alleged bias is thin-to-non-existent.

Hanson Idiocy Watch

[ 0 ] November 27, 2006 |

VD Hanson:

Then why has not bin Laden and Dr. Zawahiri turned jihadist attention to either country? While neither has troops in the Middle East, each might at least warrant some hateful rhetoric, inasmuch as their policies make the Danish cartoonists or the poor Pope pale in comparison.

The answer is, as we know, that China and Russia are not only strong like the United States, but, unlike America, wildly unpredictable and seemingly a little crazy. No jihadist quite knows what would be the reaction to a campaign of suicide bombing on Moscow or Beijing, and, more importantly, no rogue nation that sponsors Islamic fascists wishes to find out. What Middle Eastern state wishes to discover what being on the receiving end of a Russian nuclear version of the Beslan or Moscow theater “rescues” might look like?

Islamic terrorists haven’t turned their attention on Russia? Living in the real world, I was under the impression that the war on Chechnya had resulted in the influx of large numbers of “jihadists” who have carried out a relentless campaign of terror against Russian targets, the most notable being the seizure of a school at Beslan. Indeed, I have been almost ready to believe that this campaign of terror has far exceeded in length, body count, and devastation any reaction to Danish cartoonists or to the Pope’s speech on Islam. But then, I guess I just concentrate way too much on “stuff that actually happened” and “reality” to appreciate the good professor. In Hanson’s world, terrorism against Russia can’t be all that bad, because Russia is strong and has the “will” to slaughter thousands at the drop of a dime. Ergo, evidence that Russia suffers from a severe terrorist problem in spite of its Carthaginian approach doesn’t register. It’s like that time that Israel retaliated for a terrorist attack, solving once and for all its problems with Islamic terrorism…

On roughly the same front, Hanson writes:

The problems in Iraq, in the radical Middle East at large—with democratization, with nuclearization, with Islamism—are not, repeat not, a lack of dialogue with Syria and Iran.

We know what both rogue states wish and it is our exit from the Middle East and thus a free hand to undermine the newly established democracies of Lebanon and Iraq—in the manner that all autocracies must destroy their antitheses.

They both sponsor and harbor terrorists for a reason—to undermine anything Western: a Western-leaning Lebanese democracy, a Western-style democracy in Iraq, a Westernized Israel, or soldiers of the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Professor Hanson is apparently unaware that, until the Axis of Evil speech, Iran was quite cooperative with the United States in Afghanistan, supporting Western operations in areas along its border and seeking actively to undermine the Taliban. Iran wasn’t doing the US any favors, of course, but it was possible to reach accomodation on a subject that both countries had an interest in. One might be inclined to believe that a similar accomodation would be possible in regards to Iraq; maybe not, but at least worth trying. In any case, VD’s recommended policy course would also preclude any cooperation with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Pakistan, as they are certainly autocracies and thus must destroy their antithesis. There also an echo here of the same problem discussed above; because Iran and Syria don’t respond to forceful rhetoric and to the invasion of Iraq in the way we want them to, they must be irrational haters of the West, dedicated to no-holds barred destruction of everything we love, valuing our pain even more than their own lives, etc. I guess this is how guys like Hanson get around the empirical puzzle of how some countries aren’t intimidated by our threats.

If we are to judge an ideological movement by the firepower of its intellectuals, neoconservatism appears to be in terrible, terrible shape. Hanson is a third rate hack who would have been consigned to the dust bin of any healthy intellectual program. Instead, he finds worshipful disciples and is regularly linked to by Insty, himself at an advanced stage of intellectual outsourcing. If I wanted to offer a psychological explanation, I would probably suggest that something about the way wingnuts think makes men like VD, who write in big words about distant subjects with great historical themes but little substance, particularly attractive. It’s probably not accidental that this crew loves the sweeping historical epic, like Braveheart, Gladiator, or the John Milius’ penned Rome. Lacking anything better to do with their time than the aforementioned 16 hour Civ IV marathon, they want to understand themselves as at the forefront of some grand, civilizational struggle, and VD Hanson can offer them that. I guess the gig pays well enough…

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