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Archive for October, 2008

Easy Answers To Questions Asked By People Inexplicably Entertaining Desperate Hackery

[ 8 ] October 31, 2008 |

John Dickerson:

The McCain campaign is unusually upbeat. Does it have reason to be?

This has been…

In addition to which, since when is it “unusual” for presidential campaigns to be “upbeat?” What do you expect a spin doctor to say? “John, we’re completely screwed. We’d sign for Dukakis’ electoral college tally right now.” These guys are paid to be upbeat.


A Friendly Homecoming for Ted

[ 26 ] October 30, 2008 |

Morons, all of them:

There was undisguised hostility toward the federal government and the FBI at the Stevens event, with people wearing T-shirts that said “F*#@ the feds, vote for Ted.”

“Anyone who thinks you can get a fair trial in the heart of liberalism, Washington, D.C., is smoking dope. He was railroaded,” said Mark Kelliher, a retired engineer.

Talk radio host Rick Rydell told the crowd he knows Stevens, a D.C. jury doesn’t.

“I don’t particularly like it when outsiders tell me what to do,” Rydell said, before Stevens took the stage. “You can kiss my Alaska moose-hunting behind.”

Stevens reiterated his innocence, assured his supporters that he would be vindicated on appeal, and said he’s still the best choice for Alaska. Stevens said that when he filed his financial disclosure forms, he believed they were accurate and complete.

“The verdict was driven by prosecutors who were willing to do anything to win. If I had a fair trial in Alaska, I would have been acquitted,” he said.

I’ve had a difficult time explaining to non-Alaskans lately why it is that Ted Stevens stands a decent chance at being elected as a recently-convicted felon. The polls are still tilting ever so slightly in Mark Begich’s favor, but the last three close elections in Alaska — Frank Murkowski’s win in 2002, Lisa Murkowski’s victory in 2004 and Palin’s win in 2006 — have shown a tendency for Republican candidates to outperform the polls. In those cases, of course, the Republicans were leading heading into election day and emerged with wider margins of victory than expected. I’m not sure how well that trend (such as it is) applies to this race; a lot of Alaskans are embarrassed by Stevens, and his opponent is really competent and popular, so that might be enough. But there’s no way to overstate how solid Ted Stevens’ support is among a vast portion of the state’s population who are quite comfortable with Stevens’ efforts to “spread the wealth” northward from the Lower 48. It’s not difficult to run into people — intelligent, otherwise sensible people — who argue with a straight face and a pure heart that Ted Stevens somehow deserved $250,000 worth of free stuff as a reward for his four decades of service to the state. This is someone who has a international fucking airport named after him.

But sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If Ted Stevens deserves a quarter of a million dollars worth of stuff as a reward for his years of public service, I figure that after six years of hard, underpaid labor on behalf of Alaska’s youth, I at least deserve one of the laser printers that I’m currently sharing with a few dozen of my colleagues.

The Infomercial

[ 10 ] October 30, 2008 |

I was working so have only seen brief excerpts — was it this good? Certainly, Tom Brady is even better than Katarina Witt. (I’m guessing that very few people still wish that Mark Penn was running the Democratic campaign…)

Things that Please Me About the Phillies Win

[ 9 ] October 30, 2008 |

I am pleased that Jamie Moyer will receive a World Series ring. I have no idea how many games I watched Moyer start at Safeco and the Kingdome, but it’s not a small number. I wish it could have happened in 2001, but congrats nevertheless.

I am also pleased that Geoff Jenkins will receive a World Series ring. There’s just something kind of cool about a guy you knew in 3rd grade winning the World Series. Congrats, Jaffo.

Scariest Halloween Display I’ve Seen This Year…

[ 3 ] October 30, 2008 |

Nir Rosen: The Worst American Journalist Since Jane Fonda

[ 42 ] October 30, 2008 |

Lots of commentary on Bing West’s attack on Nir Rosen today; see especially Ackerman and Abu M.

A couple points of my own:

It’s obviously different in a lot of ways, but if we didn’t have war correspondents embedding in the forces of the enemy, we wouldn’t have History of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides was an Athenian general before he was a historian. While it’s fair enough to note that Nir Rosen has yet to be exiled for his failure to prevent the seizure of Amphipolis, it’s also true that Thucydides believed that his ability to observe both Spartan and Athenian forces was critical to the History:

It was also my fate to be an exile from my country for twenty years after my command at Amphipolis; and being present with both parties, and more especially with the Peloponnesians by reason of my exile, I had leisure to observe affairs somewhat particularly.

This isn’t terribly surprising; perspective requires knowledge. If History of the Peloponnesian War read as a patriotic account of stalwart Athenians defeating tyrannical Spartans (or vice versa) then no one but classicists would read it today. It’s strength comes from Thucydides ability to observe the motives, behavior, and self-justifications of both sides; his analysis of why the war happened and how it was conducted depends on a degree of empathy with both Athenian and Spartan interests.

Second, this point by West is simply nonsensical:

Rosen described how he and two Taliban fighters deceived the guards at a government checkpoint. Suppose during World War II an American reporter had sneaked through the lines with two German officers wearing civilian clothes. “When we caught enemy combatants out of uniform in the 1940s,” a veteran wrote in The American Heritage, “we sometimes simply executed them.” The Greatest Generation had a direct way of dealing with moral ambiguity.

Yeah… and what if a Nazi functionary had allowed an American journalist to visit Auschwitz in early 1942? It’s equally absurd, but as long as we’re making things up let’s consider a scenario that weighs rather heavily in favor of allowing journalists to embed with the enemy. It doesn’t even occur to West that reporting on the enemy doesn’t imply approval of enemy activities; that he compares the behavior of Rosen (a journalist) to Jane Fonda (not a journalist) indicates that he really doesn’t understand what journalism is.

It’s certainly possible to develop scenarios in which the professional identity of “journalist”– to say nothing of “scholar”, “lawyer”, or even “soldier”– runs counter to the other commitments that we have. Such conflicts are part of life, and can’t be wished away. I don’t find Rosen’s behavior, however, even close to troubling; his work opened a window into how the Taliban functions, how its warriors think, and why they’re willing to die for what they believe in. To the extent that West believes that the destruction of the Taliban is a desirable goal, he should be thankful that Rosen has provided this window, and should devote his efforts to using the information as effectively as possible.

Either that, or he can engage in rambling, pointless bluster about how in the old days, we earned our moral clarity by shootin’ folks. Your call, Bing.

No Phutility Here

[ 0 ] October 30, 2008 |

Congrats to Philadelphia’s local athletic club for winning their professional sports competition. A few notes:

  • The Rays seemed to spend the series proving my egregiously misplaced skepticism retroactively correct. They played like a talented but inexperienced team, symbolized for me by Upton lunging at the first pitch with the (extremely fast) tying run on first in the top of the 8th. They had a lot of terrible ABs against wily but (the marvelous Hamels aside) hittable pitchers. And defensively they seemed to think it was 2007 again.
  • Another addition to my voluminous “people I was wrong about” file is Charlie Manuel. And it will be interesting to see how Amaro does as GM. Gillick has done a terrific job filling out his formidable talent core with a lot of quality spare parts (and also deserves credit for not dealing the underrated Burrell.) It may seem like when a GM arrives with three MVP-calibre players in his lineup his job is easy, but as a fan whose formative sports experience was the early 80s Expos and most recent is the Mets teams the Phillies have humiliated for two straight years and have to be considered the favorites to do so again, it ain’t easy. If the Phillies keep finding Werths and Victorinos while the Mets keep finding Castillos, Chavezes, and Decomposed Corpse of Alouses, they’ll keep beating them. (Of course, this makes it all the more annoying that he conspicuously failed — speaking of teams with formidable talent cores who win much less than they should, although most of that was Woodward — to do this with the Mariners.)
  • It will, of course, to be interesting what happens to Tampa. The bad news is that the only miracle team to have accomplished much of anything else is the 1991 Braves; the good news is that it’s probably the best comparison (although ironically I think you can also make a good case for the Whiz Kid Phillies.) You have to worry about a team with so much young pitching in a division that will leave little margin for error, but they have a lot of impressive talent on both sides of the ball and a seemingly good organization. It will be interesting to watch.

Taking Joe’s Gavel

[ 22 ] October 29, 2008 |

Looks like the idea of stripping Joe Lieberman of his Homeland Security Chairmanship is being floated publicly. Obviously, given his stumping for McCain (including at the GOP convention), the Democratic leadership should show no mercy towards him; the only question is which punishment is most consistent with party interests. I still like the idea of making him commit to voting cloture on every Democratic bill as a condition of keeping his chairmanship, but if Reid thinks that it isn’t necessary just booting him is certainly fine with me.

With respect to the Select Intelligence committee, I would see Rockefeller leaving as good news, but Dianne Feinstein taking over is just marginally less bad news. Easing Byrd out of of his Appropriations chair seems like a good idea too.

Bad Day at the UK

[ 0 ] October 29, 2008 |


University of Kentucky police are investigating who hung an effigy of Democrat Sen. Barack Obama from a tree on the Lexington campus Wednesday morning.

UK President Lee Todd said that UK police have notified federal authorities of the incident. Todd said a professor saw the effigy on the tree near the Rose Street parking garage across from the Mining and Mineral Resources building this morning and called police. The professor then sent Todd an email notifying him of the incident.

UK police took down the effigy and have it as evidence, Todd said. He called the act “deplorable” and says that type of behavior is not tolerated on UK’s campus.

The effigy apparently had a mask of Obama on it and there was reportedly a noose around the effigy’s neck, Todd said.

President Todd and the administration have been very open about the incident, and seem to be handling it as well as could be hoped.

Run, Sarah, Run

[ 5 ] October 29, 2008 |

I hate to admit it, but if I’m still living in Alaska four years from now, I sincerely hope Sarah Palin runs for the presidency, because I could really use the extra writing income. My dogs’ knee surgeries aren’t going to pay for themselves!

A "weakness for extravagance?"

[ 0 ] October 29, 2008 |

So far as contrarianism goes, this is an especially lame effort to question the wisdom of Obama’s half-hour campaign spot:

While Obama hasn’t made many strategic mistakes in his campaign against Republican John McCain, he has, on occasion, shown a weakness for extravagance.

In July, Obama’s visits to Afghanistan and Iraq generated comforting images of the senator with military leaders and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But his trip ended in Berlin with an image of 200,000 fans, mostly Europeans, chanting Obama’s name.

Yeah, it makes a good bit of sense to question the gross extravagance of Obama turning out so many Europeans to see him — all the way from Europe, even! — who didn’t want to pelt him with vegetables, as recent custom apparently requires. These people probably eat weird cheeses and drink fancy-sounding European wines while receiving inexpensive health care. What a bon vivant! He probably has eight houses! Surely, Obama’s performance would have been that much more impressive if he’d delivered his address to a crowd of dozens while standing in front of lime-green posterboard. That would have really thrown McCain off his game.

The stupid continues:

In August, his campaign navigated the minefield of the Democratic Party’s feuding families to pull off a convention that began healing the wounds between the Clinton and Obama camps. Then it came to its conclusion between two Greek columns where a triumphant Obama delivered an acceptance speech to a football stadium crowd of more than 80,000.

You can really taste the true here. Anyone who would deliver an acceptance speech in front of Greek columns must be some sort of pussified high-brow. I’ll bet his wife even ate lobster that day!

You Almost Had Me, Gatesy

[ 17 ] October 29, 2008 |

I had been mildly warming to the idea of keeping Robert Gates on for a time as Secretary of Defense under a hypothetical Obama administration; he’s done a credible job, and what with the general collapse of the global financial system, the administration will have a lot on its hands in the first months of 2009. And then Gatesy comes out and says something like this:

“To be blunt, there is absolutely no way we can maintain a credible deterrent and reduce the number of weapons in our stockpile without resorting to testing our stockpile or pursuing a modernization program,” Gates says, according to his prepared remarks.

In other words, fund this thing, motherfuckers, or we start testing. The United States concluded the last full-scale underground test of a nuke in 1992, and declared an official moratorium two years later; a return to testing would be a really big deal. In a speech last month on the limits of U.S. power, he alluded — briefly — to the importance of RRW. That part of the speech earned few headlines, but for nuke-watchers, it was a telling moment.

Gates is also teasing out a novel argument for RRW: Everyone else is doing it.

“Currently, the United States is the only declared nuclear power that is neither modernizing its nuclear arsenal nor has the capability to produce a new nuclear warhead. The United Kingdom and France have programs to maintain their deterrent capabilities. China and Russia have embarked on ambitious paths to design and field new weapons”

Um… no. We’ve been through this before. At any plausible size, the US nuclear force will be more than sufficient for the purposes of deterrence. There are very good reasons to believe that US warheads will explode when we want them to, and in any case it doesn’t really matter if 100% of our warheads detonate, 75%, or 50%. With conventional munitions duds are a real problem, since they substantially reduce effectiveness. With nuclear weapons, not so much. With apologies to Matt Duss, I’ve written a short play to illustrate this point:

Setting: Moscow, Kremlin

Vladimir Putin:
I have a fever, Dmitri, and the only cure is the reconquest of the former territory of the Soviet Union. Let’s start with Estonia.

Dmitri Medvedev: Couldn’t hurt; the price of oil is down, and Ivan the Plumber is getting restless. But what of the Americans?

Putin: Have they pursued modernization of their nuclear deterrent?

Medvedev: Why, no; I don’t believe that they have.

Putin: Well, then, no problem. If they launch thousands of nuclear missiles at us in response to our attack on NATO, odds are that some of the warheads won’t detonate.

Medvedev: That’s what I call an in-credible deterrent!

Putin: Heh. Good one. Send in the tanks!

Medvedev: Wait; I thought that was my line.

Putin: We’re not fooling anyone here, Dmitri.


As to whether “everyone else is doing it”, I’d like to see the details of the French and British plans. I’d also like to see some recognition that France and the UK have much smaller nuclear arsenals than the United States, which changes the deterrent equation. Chinese nuclear weapons remain a generation behind their US counterparts, which may explain why China is pursuing modernization. I don’t know much about the Russian program, but given that nuclear warheads don’t actually fight one another, I can’t say I’m all that concerned.

RRW, in my view, remains a waste of time and waste of money. The deterrent logic doesn’t make sense, the “need to keep the laboratories up and running” argument is absurd, and the “everybody else is doing it” case ignores geopolitical reality. Bad idea, Gatesy.

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