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Archive for December, 2009

Imperial naivete

[ 0 ] December 2, 2009 |

St. Ignatius of Georgetown bestows his benediction on Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, but, being a liberal columnist at the liberal Washington Post, he regrets that the announced plan fails to commit the nation explicitly to perpetual war:

Obama thinks that setting deadlines will force the Afghans to get their act togetherat last. That strikes me as the most dubious premise of his strategy. He is telling his adversary that he will start leaving on a date certain, and telling his ally to be ready to take over then, or else. That’s the weak link in an otherwise admirable decision — the idea that we strengthen our hand by announcing in advance that we plan to fold it.

Of course one would have to be an idiot to imagine that Obama’s announced strategy of employing a Surge(tm) with a “date certain” for withdrawal is what it pretends to be. The plan as presented is obviously for public consumption: the real plan will have to be either:

(1) To abandon Afghanistan, as the Bush administration eventually abandoned Iraq, but only, as in Iraq, after a face-saving military triumph over the current wave of civil insurgency, aka the declare victory and leave option; or

(2) Perpetual occupation.

The most Orwellian moment last night was Obama’s proclamation that, unlike previous empires, “we do not seek to occupy other nations.”

We will not claim another nation’s resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for – and what we continue to fight for – is a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.

As a country, we are not as young – and perhaps not as innocent – as we were when Roosevelt was President. Yet we are still heirs to a noble struggle for freedom. Now we must summon all of our might and moral suasion to meet the challenges of a new age.

Stirring sentiments indeed. He might want to repeat them in Oslo next week, when he picks up his Nobel Peace Prize. It certainly beats “We should invade other countries when it gets good results.”


Blair: The Biggest Villain?

[ 1 ] December 1, 2009 |

Tom Ricks:

As a British naval historian friend I know once noted, the time when the British government could have helped — and perhaps stopped the war — was back in the winter of 2002-2003. Real friends speak up when a friend is making a big mistake. Instead, Tony Blair may have destroyed the “special relationship” by supporting the invasion when he should have opposed it. My friend said he believes Blair should be confined right now in the Tower of London.


1. I wonder if Blair really could have stood and said “No.” I always kind of suspected that Blair pursued the Iraq War with the enthusiasm he did because he believed that he couldn’t stop it if he wanted, and a) wanted to be part of the action, and b) wanted to maintain the “special relationship.” This isn’t to say that Blair privately opposed the war, just that his primary motivations were about the relationship more than conviction about the wisdom of the invasion. But I really don’t know.

2. If Blair had said “no,” would the neocons have spewed the same vitriol towards Britain that the sprayed at France? I would have loved to see a book explaining how the United Kingdom is our enemy, and in fact has always been our enemy; it makes even more sense than France.


[ 0 ] December 1, 2009 |

Stephen Walt:

Americans have come to believe that spending government revenues on U.S. citizens here at home is usually a bad thing and should be viewed wth suspicion, but spending billions on vast social engineering projects overseas is the hallmark of patriotism and should never be questioned. This position makes no sense, but it is hard to think of a prominent U.S. leader who is making an explicit case for doing somewhat less abroad so that we can afford to build a better future here at home. Debates about foreign policy, grand strategy, and military engagement — including the current debate over Obama’s decision to add another 30,000-plus troops in Afghanistan — tend to occur in isolation from a discussion of other priorities, as if there were no tradeoffs between what we do for others and what we are able to do for Americans here at home.

Via Yglesias


[ 0 ] December 1, 2009 |

At the risk of invoking the wrath of dsqaured, I will admit that when I compile my list of “movies I watch with some frequency although they’re not very good [and because a DVD allows you to skip the especially overwrought scenes with the overacting father]” Boiler Room would be on it. I think there was a missed opportunity, however, in the extent to which “respectable” brokerage firms were held up as an alternative to the transparent scam he got involved with. The structure of the movie would have been much better served if Seth had gotten his dad’s dream job for him at J.P. Morgan and learned a similar lesson. Really, high-churn mutual finds are also analogous to but less honest than Seth’s backroom card game: essentially, you’re giving up a significant house edge for “expertise” that is no better than throwing darts at the Wall Street Journal (or, to use another term, “gambling.”) And it’s not as if high-pressure sales tactics and cold calling are unknown to the “respectable” brokerage industry either.

…and, yes, mpowell is right that hedge funds are, if anything, even worse.

When is non-consensual sex rape?

[ 0 ] December 1, 2009 |

One of the keys to interpreting reactions to the arrest of Roman Polanski is understanding that, culturally speaking, a lot of sexual assaults aren’t considered crimes by the men or boys who commit them, and to a lesser extent by the women and girls who are assaulted. Consider this letter to a nationally syndicated advice columnist, and especially the columnist’s response.

The writer is confused about whether she was raped, because even though she told a man “many times” that she didn’t want to have sex with him, and he went ahead and had sex with her anyway, she wasn’t “kicking and fighting him off.” In the formal legal sense, the facts as described are unambiguous. Practically, of course, things are a lot more complicated, as the columnist’s response reveals.

The columnist seems to be drawing a distinction between rape and “sex that shouldn’t happen,” with the latter category including sexual assaults between acquaintences when one or both parties are intoxicated. How else are we to understand her otherwise bizarre advice that the raped woman talk to the man who raped her “in order to determine what happened?” The woman’s letter indicates no uncertainty at all about the fact that she was forced to have sex against her will despite making it very clear that she didn’t want to have sex. She just wants to know if this constitutes rape.

The answer, again culturally rather than formally legally speaking, is that this type of rape isn’t “really” rape, because the victim is to blame for putting herself in a compromised situation, i.e., being intoxicated in the presence of a man while having a vagina (the second factor was apparently supefluous in the case of the versatile Mr. Polanski).

These kinds of factors are what makes Polanski’s sodomizing of a 13-year-old girl something Anne Applebaum etc. consider a “far from straightforward” situation. It would be nice to think this is a generational thing, and that young people today are getting a clear message that rape is rape, but given both columns of this sort and the response to Polanski’s arrest the evidence seems mixed.

UPDATE [by SL]: See also Amanda Hess.

"They know that everybody can make it"

[ 0 ] December 1, 2009 |

Southern Female Lawyer watches a Glenn Beck promo in a vain effort to figure out what the fuck The Christmas Sweater is all about:

Unfortunately, despite my rigorous research, I still have NO IDEA WHATSOEVER what this is about. I have gleaned only the following:
  • That it is, in fact, about a Christmas sweater.
  • That it takes Glenn Beck approximately 2 minutes, 17 seconds to squeeze out a tear.
  • That Glenn Beck’s eyes are the color of a sweet and innocent summer sky, but that only the very strong can gaze into them.
  • That something happened at some point, or possibly many points, and he hasn’t been able to talk about something for thirty years, but can now. Or will, if you buy something. And even though some event happened decades ago and changed him forever and from that point forward he was forever changed, he was also still simultaneously unchanged until only recently, and has apparently engaged in mucho jackassery for which he is now seeking or perhaps once sought forgiveness (which is free) and redemption (which costs around $549.00).

At $549 I can only hope paying customers will get to watch Glenn Beck drop his pants like David Yow. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Tragedy, Farce… What Comes After Farce?

[ 0 ] December 1, 2009 |

Sarah Palin just CANNOT stop lying.

Unless you’re a glutton for [insert something about silly online debates], I recommend skipping all the links in the second paragraph.

[ 0 ] December 1, 2009 |

If you’re interested in contemporary science fiction, I’ve reviewed what Kim Stanley Robinson and I agree is the best novel of 2009 period here. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

If, on the other hand, you’re interested in watching Jeff Goldstein self-implode at the mention of my name (again!), I direct your attention here—sorry, that link goes to his latest (and most specatularly desperate) attempt to emotionally blackmail people into paying him to write. I meant to send you here, where he demonstrates something or other about me, in the course of which he hilariously mistakes a completely unrelated post as a response to something one of his lackeys wrote, and when called out on it, makes fun of me for looking like a standard-issue academic instead of an insecure bodybuilder …

… all of which is another way of saying I’m re-recommending you skip all the links in the second paragraph.

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