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Archive for October, 2008

This Song is Dedicated to Ted Stevens

[ 0 ] October 27, 2008 |

Note: “21” should read “85”.


Stevens Convicted

[ 23 ] October 27, 2008 |

Good times.

The more immediately pressing question, of course, is whether the conviction will matter in Stevens’ bid for re-election. Ordinarily, I’d be inclined to repeat my usual pessimistic assertions to the effect that Stevens could be videotaped at a bull moose bukakke party and still be re-elected in November. But these days, I’m feeling unusually hopeful.

So today, I raise a glass of Pruno in Ted’s honor.

Bloomberg’s Term Limit Extension

[ 21 ] October 27, 2008 |

Mr. Trend doesn’t like the New York City Council’s decision to permit Michael Bloomberg to run for a third term. I’m not really persuaded by the arguments against, however. A couple points:

  • Term limits (especially term limits this short) seem, for the reasons Dana cites, highly unlikely to have progressive implications over the long term. Obviously, this isn’t true in every individual case (imposing term limits on congressional committees in the 40s and 50s would have had progressive effects), but in general diminishing expertise and involuntarily retiring popular, effective leaders is not likely to enhance the cause of good progressive government. If Bloomberg has to benefit to get rid of a bad policy I can live with that, especially since it’s not clear to what extent the alternatives would do a better job.
  • I would give arguments that prior referenda represent some sacred Will of the People that shouldn’t be amended by mere elected officials exactly the same weight I would give them when Rick Warren makes them about Prop 8: i.e. none whatsoever. This is a representative democracy; so long as the legislation is otherwise constitutionally valid I don’t think rules created by referenda require any special deference beyond their rightness on the merits.

The bottom line for me is this: talk about a supposed “deep contempt for democracy“aside, Bloomberg actually has to run for re-election; he’s not being re-appointed to a third term. If the term limit extension is truly a high priority for New York voters and they strongly oppose it, they’re free to vote him (and the councilors that supported the extension) out of office. If the voters prefer Bloomberg to remain in office — whether because they support the extension or because they see the issue as trivial — I see no good democratic argument for why they shouldn’t be allowed to have their way.

Double Standards

[ 0 ] October 27, 2008 |


In any case, deadly threats aimed at abortion providers – unlike, for example, bombs planted in opposition to the War in Vietnam – remain a live fact about life in the United States. So when Sarah Palin refuses to call clinic bombers “terrorists,” it’s hard to take seriously her pretended moral outrage about the fact that Barack Obama served on a foundation board with someone who had been an anti-war bomber (never involved in a fatal incident) thirty years earlier.

And one might add that it’s perhaps even more instructive that having served on some foundation boards with an ex-terrorist with zero deaths on his cv is supposed to be disqualifying for one candidate, but apparently his opponent can actually boast about Henry Kissinger’s endorsement of and active involvement in his campaign.

Thinking About 2012

[ 0 ] October 27, 2008 |

Justin Gardner summarizes Newsweek’s numbers:

If John McCain is not elected president, which one of the following three possible candidates would you be most likely to support for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012?

Romney: 35%
Huckabee: 26%
Palin: 20%

This doesn’t really surprise me; Romney’s perceived strength on economic matters probably makes him the most compelling candidate to Republicans right now. Nevertheless, I would be kind of surprised to see Romney get the 2012 nomination. First, I have some doubt that Palin will actually run. Second, I suspect that, even if Palin does run, Huckabee will be the candidate to beat. He was the only Republican to actually improve his image during the primary campaign, and he now has a Fox News platform with which to connect to the base. Most importantly, he’s insanely likable; I watched his show the other day and couldn’t help but to identify with him. It’s fair to say that neither Mitt nor Sarah score high on the likability quotient.

Of course, the fact that John McCain has an enormous lead in California makes this entirely moot…

An Army of Pulitzers

[ 1 ] October 27, 2008 |

So many choices…

When Your Own Brand is Worthless, Just Steal Another?

[ 0 ] October 27, 2008 |

Guest post by Law Prof.

Apparently, it’s gotten to the point where McCain don’t expect enough people to be motivated to pay attention to his own (frankly uncreative) logo — that star between two arrow-like lines. So yesterday McCain’s own ad campaign was prominently displaying Obama’s trademark flag-sunrise. (See the screen-cut from Unfortunately for McCain, that is what we in the intellectual property legal field call “trademark infringement.” While few people are likely to be confused once they click-through to “speak out”, as the ad requests, it doesn’t eliminate the initial confusion. If Burger King ran a similar web ad with McDonalds’ trademark equally prominent and BK’s equally hidden, BK would be creating initial interest confusion (and I think that there might be an argument even if the ad said “tell Mickey D that you like your hamburger broiled not fried”). First Amendment law protects a lot of speech, but won’t protect against such confusion even in political speech, methinks. The key is that everything in TM law is to be considered in consumer/observer context — and, in the context of web ads, TM owners run all sorts of odd pitches and requests for “taking a poll” just to get people to click a link. And people often do respond with an immediate, almost instantaneous, mouse-click. Many people are likely to click through to the next page before realizing that it’s not an Obama ad – especially in the midst of a heated election cycle. TM control becomes even more powerful in this context. Of course, all that the Obama campaign could do in this situation is seek a Temporary Restraining Order (or ask the ISP to pull the ad). But, more importantly, when it’s one week until the election and you know that your own trademark won’t inspire people to act, it’s time to call it quits.

Sunday Book Review: Rules of the Game

[ 27 ] October 27, 2008 |

Sometimes simple questions result in enormous projects. The question that Andrew Gordon tackles in Rules of the Game amounts to this: Why did the Grand Fleet fail to destroy the High Seas Fleet at Jutland, in spite of a massive advantage in material and a devastating tactical position? Gordon begins with a detailed account of the development and deployment of the Fifth Battle Squadron (consisting of four of the five members of the Queen Elizabeth class, most powerful battleships in the Royal Navy) at the Battle of Jutland, which is followed by a familiar account of the Run to the South, in which the British battlecruisers under the command of David Beatty encountered the Franz von Hipper’s squadron of German battlecruisers. Then, just as the battleships of the Fifth Battle Squadron turn away from the oncoming High Seas Fleet, we return to Trafalgar, a history of the Victorian Royal Navy, and a long discussion of what peacetime does to military doctrine and practice. As you might imagine, it’s a long and detailed book. The first half of this review deals with Gordon’s theoretical argument, and will be of interest to those curious about the study and practice of military doctrine. The second half focuses on Gordon’s empirical argument about the outcome of the Battle of Jutland.

Gordon argues that the nineteenth century dominance of the Royal Navy combined with the social customs of the Victorian Age to produce an officer corps hostile to and largely incapable of decisive, independent action. This hostility was reflected in the training and social institutions of the Royal Navy. The consequence was a military organization that was exceptionally effective at certain tasks, but remarkably inflexible. However, no social institutions can exist without producing resistance, and the Victorian Royal Navy produced both doctrinaire officers and “ratcatchers”, rebels who struggled with the hierarchy but who would do well in combat situations.

British command at the Battle of Jutland featured a doctrinaire officer (Admiral John Jellicoe), and a ratcatcher (Admiral David Beatty). Of course, these are ideal types that can never quite catch the complexities of particularly individuals; Jellicoe would not have risen to command if he had not himself among his fellow doctrinaire officers, and Beatty tamed his rebellious streak enough to move up the Royal Navy hierarchy. Military organizations, like any other organization, are riven by faction, although the factional breakdown doesn’t always manifest in the same manner. Carl Gemzell made this point in a not-often-enough-read study on conflict within the German Navy between 1880 and 1940, and it’s fair to say that the dispute between “conservatives” and “crusaders” in the US Army represents a modern manifestation of this tendency. Factionalization isn’t simply dichotomous, but describing it as such can be a fair way to characterize certain kinds of arguments.

Gordon’s policy/theoretical argument is that military organizations need to understand factionalization and structure themselves to manage, and even take advantage, of its manifestation. His conclusion provides twenty-four lessons on how military doctrine evolves during peacetime, and on how peacetime developments can create difficulties during war. This chapter in particular should be of tremendous interest to both scholars and practitioners of military doctrine. The lessons evaluate both how the body of knowledge itself emerges, and how that body of knowledge creates individual officers, an officer corps, and the physical structure of a military organization.

On the empirical case, Gordon aggregates and refines the mountain of evidence about the conduct and outcome of the Battle of Jutland. He is interested primarily in the command decisions of the Royal Navy, and as such doesn’t spend a lot of time considering German deccision-making. It’s not quite true to say that the evaluation comes down to a comparison of Beatty and Jellicoe, but it’s not quite untrue, either. The case against David Beatty is complex, but compelling. His audacity made him a capable commander, but he lacked a sense for detail. His evaluation of subordinates was suspect, and in any case he didn’t communicate well with his senior officers. These shortcomings may well have had an impact in the early stages of the Battle of Jutland. Had Beatty taken more care to coordinate with the Fifth Battle Squadron, more damage might have been inflicted on Hipper’s battlecruisers, and Queen Mary just might have been saved. Later, poor communications with his subordinate created a zone of vulnerability for the Fifth Battle Squadron, which could have but did not lead to the loss of one or more of the most valuable units in the Royal Navy.

All of these issues have resulted in damage to Beatty’s historical reputation. The initial reaction to Jutland in the United Kingdom was to blame Jellicoe; he had failed to destroy the Germans, and in fact the Grand Fleet ended up suffering greater losses than the High Seas Fleet. Jellicoe was “promoted” out of command of the Grand Fleet, and Beatty was promoted into command. As Gordon suggests, however, the historical record has tended to support Jellicoe over Beatty. Gordon disputes this conclusion. Beatty, in spite of all the mistakes he made, did his job; he drew the High Seas Fleet into a hopeless tactical position against a vastly superior enemy force. The loss of a battlecruiser or two would hardly be remembered if Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet had proceeded to destroy the Germans, as it clearly was capable of doing. Put differently, the loss of a battlecruiser may be attributable to Beatty’s mistakes, but the escape of the High Seas Fleet is on Jellicoe.

There was no single decisive moment at Jutland; the tactical and operational situations resulted from the accretion of a tremendous number of decisions large and small. However, some decisions deserve more attention than others, and Gordon devotes study to Jellicoe’s decision to turn the Grand Fleet away from a German destroyer attack. With the High Seas Fleet in disarray and suffering a pounding from Jellicoe’s battle line, Admiral Scheer ordered his destroyers to launch a torpedo attack against the Grand Fleet. Instead of turning into the attack (accepted doctrine was to display as little profile as possible for torpedos), Jellicoe decided to turn away, and the Grand Fleet lost contact long enough for the Germans to escape. The decision was understandable both to the extent that Jellicoe wished to preserve his fleet, and in that he expected he would be able to retain contact in spite of turning away.

I wonder if part of the problem is that Jellicoe was thinking at a level above his paygrade. I know more about Jutland than Tsushima, and a lot more about Jutland than Trafalgar, but one difference between Togo/Nelson on the one hand and Jellicoe on the other is that the former two didn’t worry overmuch about the consequences of defeat. They were given a job (destruction of the enemy), and a set of tools with which to do that job, and both of them undertook as expediently as possible to bring the enemy under their sights and destroy him. Jellicoe seems to have agonized over his position as the only man who could lose the war in an afternoon. Togo, as I suggested some time ago, could have agonized in the same fashion; the IJN held a strategic advantage, could have won the war without forcing an engagement against the Russians, and indeed could only have lost the war by allowing the Russians to win a battle of annihilation.

Still, I get the sense that Nelson, Togo, and Beatty would not have turned away from the destroyer attack, but rather would have maintained contact with the Germans. Had contact been maintained, the outcome of the battle could not have been in doubt; the British had more ships, better ships (this is a debatable point, but I’ll be happy to respond to any queries in comments), and a tactically advantageous situation. The Grand Fleet, even accepting a few torpedo hits, would have utterly destroyed the High Seas Fleet with relatively light losses. Then again, part of Gordon’s point is that while all of the decisions that were made at and before Jutland were consequential, there can be said to be no “moment of decision” in which Jellicoe could have made a certain judgment that would have destroyed the High Seas Fleet or allowed it to escape.

All that said, it’s worth noting that a Tsushima-esque battle of annihilation would likely not have shortened the war by a day, but would have killed some 20000 German (and no small number of British) sailors who, in the real world, survived the war. It’s also worth noting that Beatty, Jellicoe, and most of the other officers of the Grand Fleet successfully accomplished the tremendous number of very difficult tasks that were necessary to bring the High Seas Fleet to the point of destruction; they shifted formation and maintained station, avoided submarines, avoided collision, and in general did all of the tasks that are expected by professional naval officers. The conservative vs. crusader distinction is more one of degree than of type; all professional military officers of a particular rank are capable of a large range of tasks.

Rules of the Game is well worth reading, both for specialists in military doctrine and for those with an interest in naval combat. The book is long and detailed, so it helps to be interested in both; I would hope, though, that an interest in either would be enough to draw the reader in and keep her attention.

Mmm… Tasty Dr. Pepper…

[ 16 ] October 27, 2008 |

Looks like Chinese Democracy will finally arrive on our shores…

Somebody pull the plug and let him die with dignity

[ 18 ] October 26, 2008 |

Yellow onions, because that’s all we had in those days.

Prognostication Hall of Fame

[ 0 ] October 26, 2008 |

Steven Warshawsky — proprietor of a “boutique law firm” that defends employers in discrimination suits — has written an epically funny brief on behalf of teh power of teh PUMA. Apparently, he’s met some! And they have websites. There was an old lady at a McCain event, for example, who used to work as a phone volunteer for Hillary Clinton. And some other dude. But that’s nothing, he explains, compared with the dearth of Obama buttons in his neighborhood:

Some more anecdotal evidence of a lack of support for Obama among Democrats: I live in the Upper West Side neighborhood of New York City. You cannot find too many places in the country that are more liberal than that. Walking around my neighborhood during the 2004 presidential campaign, I felt “assaulted” on all sides by Kerry-Edwards buttons, bumper stickers, and posters. This year, there clearly is not the same level of outward support for Obama. It is remarkable (and welcome). Will most of the people in my neighborhood vote for Obama on election day? Of course. Will Obama win New York? Almost certainly. But the lack of enthusiasm for Obama among these Democrats, who I’m sure would be going gaga for Hillary, speaks volumes about Obama’s true prospects for victory this year.

And given the total lack of McCain-Palin signs in my neighborhood, I’d warn Oklahoma Republicans against being too confident about the eventual disposition of their seven electoral votes. After all, Warshawsky was on the money about Giuliani and Mark McGuire, so who knows?

The Blame Acorn Game

[ 14 ] October 26, 2008 |

Peter Dreier and John Atlas break it down.

In her own excellent article on the subject, Dahlia Lithwick has some good analysis of John Paul Stevens’s unfortunate endorsement of the vote fraud fraud earlier this year:

In the end, all roads lead back to John Paul Stevens. He wrote the plurality opinion in last term’s Crawford v. Marion County, which upheld Indiana’s restrictive voter-ID law. Stevens understood that there is no such thing as polling-place vote fraud, conceding that “[t]he record contains no evidence of any such fraud actually occurring in Indiana at any time in its history.” But, continued Stevens, in the manner of someone rationally discussing the likelihood of UFO sightings, “flagrant examples of such fraud in other parts of the country have been documented throughout this nation’s history.” Like, um, an 1868 mayoral election in New York City, he notes, and a single 2004 incident from Washington. Stevens was more worried about shaky “voter confidence” in elections than actual voting. The message that went out from on high was clear: undermine voter confidence. Even if it’s irrational and hysterical and tinged with the worst kinds of racism, keep telling the voters the system is busted.

Each time they spread the word that Democrats (especially poor and minority Democrats) are poised to steal an election, John McCain and his overheated friends deliberately undermine voter confidence.

It’s a great scam; use apocryphal stories of “voter fraud” to create a pretext for further vote suppression, and the Supreme Court will actually cite the completely unfounded fears you’ve created as a justification! Even granting that Stevens was trying to keep the possibility that some vote suppression method might be held unconstitutional in the future, once you’ve accepted “voter confidence” as a valid reason it’s not clear what will ever fail the test…

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