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Archive for December, 2008

Happy New Year!

[ 0 ] December 31, 2008 |

2008 kind of sucked, except for the obvious. Hopefully 2009 will be better. Stay safe tonight; we can’t exactly afford to lose any regular readers…

Score Choice?

[ 0 ] December 31, 2008 |

What Dana said:

The College Board has decided, against the wishes of many college admissions officials and advocates for low-income students, to institute “score choice,” allowing students to withhold from colleges all but their highest combined SAT score.

I’m against this for a number of reasons. First, it’s pretty clear this policy will disadvantage students who cannot afford to take the test multiple times or shell out for tutors and classes to help them raise their score. Secondly, the College Board claims this will decrease student stress by giving teens the ability to hide scores if they happened to have a really bad day on testing day. In practice, though, this option already exists; it’s called “canceling” your score. One of my best friends had a sort of mini panic attack the first time she sat for the SAT. She walked out of the testing center, called the College Board, and canceled the score. No harm, no foul.

I developed a migraine during the ACT in 1991, and canceled my score. With the various test prep and tutor options, the deck is already stacked heavily in favor of those who wish to buy a good SAT score. This policy change will only exacerbate the problem.

The Most Tragic Casualty of the War on Terror

[ 0 ] December 31, 2008 |

Alberto Gonzales:

“What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?” he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his most extensive comments since leaving government.

During a lunch meeting two blocks from the White House, where he served under his longtime friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Gonzales said that “for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror.

I can think of 4537 people who might dispute that characterization. And 1042 other people. And these other 2998 people. Oh, and the three quarters of a million dead Iraqis, untold dead Afghanis, uncounted dead Somalis, and all the others that might think that Alberto Gonzales isn’t actually a casualty of the War on Terror.

Via Benen.

The Powell Precedent

[ 0 ] December 31, 2008 |

My vacation has limited my blog reading, so I assume someone else has already discussed this. But since I haven’t seen it much, I feel compelled to point out that missed in many discussions about the Burris appointment is the fact that the Senate is probably unable to prevent him from being seated as a matter of constitutional law. The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 (and 8-0 among justices deciding on the merits) in Powell v. McCormack that “in judging the qualifications of its members, Congress is limited to the standing qualifications prescribed in the Constitution.” It is possible to distinguish the cases — the fact that Burris is appointed obviously mitigates the problems with Congress interfering with the integrity of elections that Douglas discusses in his concurrence. Still, the bottom line of Warren’s majority opinion is unequivocal and directly on point; if Burris were to litigate an exclusion a lower court would almost certainly rule in his favor, and I doubt that the Supreme Court would overrule. The Senate could expel him after seating with a 2/3 majority, but (absent strong evidence that Burris obtained the appointment illegitimately) this seems unlikely. Reid’s remedy is likely to be to prevent him from joining the Democratic caucus.

I would also add that I think that the principle in Powell is sound and should apply to this case. It’s important to remember that the seat belongs to Burris, not Blagojevich. Powell was entitled to his seat despite some credible evidence of self-dealing (although there was certainly a racist double standard in the Senate’s sudden discovery of pure ethics in Powell’s case.) It’s hard to argue that the alleged corruption of a third party should allow Congress to prevent Burris from taking his seat when the alleged corruption of the member himself did not. The fact that he was elected rather than appointed tips the scales back, but not enough; if Burris was appointed legitimately (and he was), I don’t think the Senate can or should exclude him before the fact. If Illinois doesn’t want Blagojevich to exercise the powers of his office, it should impeach him.

UPDATE: Jack Balkin argues that Powell in fact can be distinguished. For the reasons discussed above, I don’t find his argument convincing, at least as a normative matter. The biggest omission is any evidence that the appointment of Burris was in any way illegal. If credible evidence that Burris bribed Blagojevich emerges, then I agree that the Senate can properly refuse to seat him. Otherwise, his appointment was legal, he is fully qualified, and the Senate cannot refuse to seat him without effectively overruling Powell. Since I think the case was correctly decided, that settles the question for me.

Competitive Balance!

[ 0 ] December 31, 2008 |

As an addendum to Matt’s post, allow me to note from the frozen tundra of Alberta that the NHL offers us a good controlled experiment in the effectiveness of salary caps in terms of ensuring competitive balance, as it’s gone from a good free-market system to a hard cap after cancelling the 04-05 season. (As I’ve noted before, the fact that a team from a small Alberta city played a Sun Belt team in the first finals after the lockout was treated as a real benefit of the new regime, because of course no such thing could have happened in 03-04.) So let’s check in on the new parity by looking at how the traditional big markets are faring:

  • The Rangers, ghastly for years before the lockout, are 23-13-4 after two playoff appearances.
  • Philadelphia are right behind them at 20-10-7.
  • Boston, also a pretty bad team for the most part prior to the lockout, are 28-5-4. Let me repeat that: 28-5-4.
  • The Canadiens, Yankees of hockey, are 21-9-6.
  • Detroit, the Yankees of the post-Clinton Bush I era, are 24-7-5.
  • San Jose, with a large, wealthy market all to themselves, are 28-4-4.
  • Chicago, awful for the decade prior to the lockout, are 20-7-7.

If there’s parity or competitive balance there, I don’t see it. Sure, there are exceptions. Toronto, which may be the biggest market in hockey terms, suck, but they are what they were before the lockout: a thoroughly mediocre franchise whose pathetic fans seem to consider relevant because of an ersatz winning tradition derived from a period in which a six-team league guaranteed you some championships from the law of averages alone. Calgary, one of the smallest cities with a franchise, is 21-11-4, but since they play to 112% capacity it’s not really clear in what sense they’re a “small market” in the terms most relevant to the NHL. As Matt says, this isn’t to say that salary caps have no effect, just that they’re swamped by other factors. An analogy might be abortion prohibition: prohibition almost certainly reduces abortion rates, but because it’s so ineffective and because so many other factors are relevant, it’s common for countries with almost unregulated abortion to have much lower rates than countries with total bans.

One more comment from the thread. If you scroll down, you’ll see brother djw capably addressing most of the specious arguments, but I can’t resist bringing up one of my favorites from rec.sport.baseball — the “Cleveland Indians couldn’t keep all their stars” argument brought up to debunk the fact that baseball is the most competitive of the 4 major sports. Apparently, the fact that the Indians could only win 6 division titles in 7 years proves that baseball is hopelessly imbalanced and uncompetitive. You see, if baseball had true competitive balance…the same teams would win every single year for decades. If one were to take the various premises of the “socialism for billionaires” crowd seriously, as far as I can tell we would achieve “competitive balance” when about 20 teams win the World Series every year…

Is it Morally Wrong to Cheer for Oklahoma State?

[ 0 ] December 31, 2008 |

The answer is yes; it is Evil to cheer for Oklahoma State against Oregon. Against the Sooners, I’ll allow, it wasn’t so Evil. But against the Ducks, yes.

Lessee…. two teams with high powered offenses and no defenses to speak of… I’m going to say Oregon 55-Oklahoma State 44. Take the Ducks and the points, and definitely take the over.

…when you’re right 50% of the time, you’re wrong 50% of the time. At least I got the important part right.

Syllabus Bleg

[ 0 ] December 30, 2008 |

Each spring, I have to teach an introductory, interdisciplinary social science course with the banal title, “Reading and Writing in the Social Sciences.” In years past, we’ve spent most of our time reading a selection of journal articles from the various disciplines in my program (i.e., history, poly sci, anth, sociology, psych and econ) and writing critical essays, book reviews, etc. Its a required course for our major, and students are about as enthusiastic about it as you’d expect them to be. This year, in the interest of making things a little more lively, I’m going to try and incorporate some academic blogs into the mix.

I figure for history, I’ll have students read Civil War Memory, or Rustbelt Intellectual, or any number of other sites. For econ, maybe Brad DeLong and Marginal Revolution among others (maybe Krugman and Freakonomics, too). For political science, maybe PoliBlog, The Monkey Cage, and of course American Power.

But what about psychology, sociology and anthropology? I suppose I could always have students poke through thae Academic Blog Wiki to find something they like, but I’m wondering if any of you folks have suggestions to get us/me started…

Anti-Piracy Patrol=Learning Experience

[ 0 ] December 30, 2008 |

The PLAN is using its anti-piracy mission as an opportunity to learn:

Stratfor, a private intelligence agency based in the United States, said in a report that a Chinese antipiracy patrol would afford its navy “some very real opportunities for on-the-job training, covering everything from logistics far from home and combat against seaborne opponents to communications and joint operations with other, more experienced navies.”

The analysis also said the Chinese would probably monitor the way NATO warships, especially those of the United States, “communicate with each other and with their ship-borne helicopters.” The navy will acquire new skills, it said, “under the banner of internationalism.”

Duh-duh-DUH! Right; it would be a tragedy if the PLAN learned how to fight pirates by fighting pirates. Mild alarmism aside, it’s a genuine positive that the PLAN will have the opportunity to learn how to conduct joint operations.

Iraq: Ally in the War on Terror

[ 0 ] December 30, 2008 |

At least one Arab state can be expected to leap to Israel’s defense:

Of the various premises on which the U.S. invasion of Iraq was sold to the American people, one of the most bizarre was that a post-Saddam Iraqi government would be friendly to Israel. As with claims about WMD and Al Qaeda connections, this one has proved to be a work of imagination.

Just as they did during Israel’s 2006 war against Hezbollah, Iraq’s leaders are now showing where their true sympathies lie. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Da’wa Party “issued a statement condemning the attacks and calling on Islamic countries to cut relations with Israel and end all ’secret and public talks’ with it.”

Khalid Hussain of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) told Gulf News “We have obligations towards Palestine and all Iraqi people are in solidarity with the people in Palestine, and we will support the people in Gaza.”

Iraq’s senior Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Sistani also issued a statement condemning the Gaza strikes. (Juan Cole has the English translation.) Iraqis all over the country expressed solidarity with the Palestinians.

Or maybe not. Lousy ingrates.

Status

[ 0 ] December 30, 2008 |

The site is apparently experiencing some kind of fatal error in Firefox; investigating. Seems to be okay in Explorer.

…problem seems to have resolved itself. Resume normal commenting activities.

F-22 vs. A-10 vs. Megatron

[ 0 ] December 30, 2008 |

Is the Air Force too casual about the threat posed by giant metal robots?

As we speak, [Michael] Bay is shooting a sequel that has even more U.S. military hardware on display, according to USA Today. The director set up shop at White Sands, a test range in New Mexico, standing in for Egypt, where the new movie’s climactic battle takes place. “As far as I know, this is the biggest joint military operation movie ever made,” said Bay’s liaison officer from the Army.

The list of military assets for the White Sands shoot included:

two A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog” tank-killing jets; six F-16 Fighting Falcons; 10 armored Humvees; the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team; two Abrams tanks; two Bradley tanks; two missile-launcher vehicles; two armored personnel carriers; and a quarter-mile of the missile testing range, cleared of unexploded ordnance …

To which the intrepid J. responds in comments:

I saw this covered in Entertainment Tonight a while ago. In all seriousness, I want to know why the AF would use F22s and not use A10s, which would seem to be much more capable against giant metal robots. That is, other than the obvious reason that the AF wants Congress to buy more F22s and not more A10s.

Several issues…

  1. Michael Bay’s affection for the F-22 is another reason to hate Michael Bay.
  2. I would imagine that an A-10 would be superior against any ground based Transformer; however, since Starscream is, actually, an F-22, it’d probably be best to leave his destruction to other F-22s. Or Su-30s, or something.
  3. I cannot believe that I’m actually going to see this movie, in spite of hating everything else Michael Bay has made and hating the first film. God, I hate Michael Bay.

Hat tip to JM.

This Makes Me Wonder About a Ground Offensive

[ 0 ] December 30, 2008 |

The ante is rhetorically upped:

“The goal of the operation is to topple Hamas,” Haim Ramon, the deputy to Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister, said. It was the first time since it launched its blistering offensive that Israel has openly stated that regime change is its ultimate goal. “We will stop firing immediately if someone takes the responsibility of this government, anyone but Hamas,” Mr Ramon said. “We are favourable to any other government to take the place of Hamas.”

It was not clear which party could take control if Israel succeeds in removing the Islamists. The only other party with experience of rule is Fatah, the secular movement that favours peace talks with Israel. But it is unpopular with many Palestinians, who see it as corrupt and ineffective, and was driven by Hamas from Gaza in battle 18 months ago.

Ehud Barak, the Defence Minister, said Israel was in an “all-out war against Hamas”, while Brigadier-General Dan Harel, the Israeli deputy chief of staff, said that his forces would erase every trace of Hamas from Gaza’s crowded cities. “After this operation there will not be a single Hamas building left standing in Gaza, and we plan to change the rules of the game,” the general said. “We are hitting not only terrorists and launchers, but also the whole Hamas Government and all its wings. We are hitting government buildings, production factories, security wings and more.”

Again, I’m skeptical that Hamas can be dislodged through airstrikes. I’m guessing that the IDF is also skeptical of this; it would only be sensible of them to be so. I suppose it’s possible that the IDF could pound Hamas so badly that even a backing away from these statements (and accepting a cease-fire without the removal of Hamas) would be perceived as an Israeli victory, but I don’t really see it. A ground offensive can certainly remove Hamas from power in the sense that the Israelis can install Fatah or simply govern Gaza directly, but both of these seem to be short term options; Hamas supporters will remain underground in an Israeli or Fatah controlled Gaza, and I’m guessing that Fatah’s long term political position in Palestinian life will be further weakened by what amounts to open collaboration with the IDF.

…also see this Haaretz report on the possibility of a ground offensive. Hamas is reportedly “hoping” for a ground offensive; I can see long term political gains in that event, but I really can’t see Hamas being able to prevent the IDF from seizing all of Gaza in the short run.

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