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Archive for March, 2010

No, Really?

[ 17 ] March 31, 2010 |

According to The Guardian, “managers” hired by universities in the UK have increased a modest 33% in the last five years.  Academic staff have increased by 10% in that time (not my department, depending on how you spin the numbers, we’ve either held steady or lost one half of a FTE), students 9%.  While it’s SOP amongst my colleagues to complain bitterly at the encroaching tyranny of administrators and bureaucracy, I consoled myself by believing that it is just grumbling, and if we didn’t target the nebulous bureaucracy, we’d find something else.  In other words, yes, we can be whiners.  However, that does not appear to be the case, as much in this article rings true.

Front line administrative staff, the wonderful people I interact with on a daily basis and who do a necessary job in a professional manner, have been cut back and consolidated on my campus in the past year.  They’re less accessible to both academics and students, and there are fewer of them.  It’s just speculation on my behalf, as I have no idea how many managerial level administrators my campus has added in the last five years, but anecdotally, I do seem to be receiving a considerably larger volume of intrusive emails from a number of different directions since I started at my current institution seven academic years ago.  It’s not a leap to speculate that financing these email senders has come at the cost of the front line staff.

This is what the chair of the Association of University Administrators (christ, they have their own interest group) has to say on the issue: “Universities, she says, are simply larger than they were two decades ago.” [. . .] Roles such as marketing and human resources have grown so that universities themselves can expand in a more ordered and coherent way. “It’s an important part of the direction of a university, because if you don’t have the right people you can’t deliver.”

Have universities really grown enough in the past five years to justify a ratio of administrators / academics / students at 33% / 10% / 9% ? Or, perhaps universities are losing sight of their core mission, which presumably is the creation and dissemination of knowledge?

In other news, I’ll be at the Western Political Science Association meetings in San Francisco tomorrow through Saturday, disseminating some knowledge I’ve helped create.  And drinking a beer or two.  (I understand that both SL and DW will be there as well).  I’ll also be slightly jet lagged, as I only arrived on the West Coast yesterday afternoon, and I fly down to SF tomorrow morning departing Oregon at 630am.  It’s a rare occasion to catch me wearing a suit and a tie.

If I don’t get a post up tonight on LGM about our paper, I’ll get it up Saturday or so.  I like to think it’s interesting.


Embrace of Eugenics By Conservatives Proves That Conservatives Never Had Anything To Do With Eugenics

[ 26 ] March 31, 2010 |

I know we’ve dealt with part of this already, but here’s more Goldberg tendentiousness:

Lepore mentions that the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in the Buck v. Bell case, led by liberal hero Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., a passionate eugenicist who considered “building a race” to be at the core of reform. Did Holmes and his fellow justices, including Louis Brandeis, sign on to the cause out of “faddishness”? What about the fact that the lone dissenter was Pierce Butler, a conservative Catholic Democrat appointed by a Republican (whose appointment was opposed by The Nation, The New Republic, and the KKK)?

This greatly impresses Jeff Goldtsein:

If the progressive “turn” from eugenics is a suggestion that eugenics was, at its heart, conservative, what do we make of the fact that conservatives, by and large, never had to distance themselves from eugenics?

You may have noticed, first of all, that Goldberg makes a technically defensible but highly misleading claim about Holmes. It’s true that he was in some sense a hero to liberals because of his dissents in cases like Lochner and Dagenhart, as well as his belated efforts to get the Court to actually enforce the First Amendment. This is quite different from saying, however, that Holmes was a liberal, which he most certainly wasn’t. Holmes almost certainly opposed most of the modest economic regulations that were struck down over his dissents. It’s just that — and I can understand why people fond of making assertions-without-argument that most of Obama’s legislative program is unconstitutional have trouble with this distinction — he believed in making distinctions between what was good public policy and what was constitutionally permitted public policy.

Which leads is to the transparently obvious problem with citing Buck v. Bell to support the proposition that conservatives had nothing to do with eugenics. Yes, Brandeis regrettably signed Holmes’s odious opinion, as did Stone, but they were the Court’s only liberal members. How an 8-1 decision issued by a Court dominated by conservatives can support the claim that conservatives “never had to distance themselves from eugenics” I can’t tell you. To the extent that it demonstrates anything, the case shows the tendency of the white elite — reactionary or progressive — to support eugenics at the time was widespread.

And if we’re going to play this silly game more, yes, Pierce Butler –opposed by The Nation and the New Republic! — dissented. This great Catholic conservative also dissented in the Scottsboro Boys case, arguing that since the fine people of Alabama had gone to the trouble of rigging more than one Stalinist show trail before railroading eight innocent boys to the death chamber everything was nice and legal-like. I guess given Goldberg’s institutional connection to authoritarian white supremacy, he doesn’t find this a major issue, but I think it’s safe to say that liberal opposition to Butler was vindicated…

“A constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory.”

[ 12 ] March 31, 2010 |

Wrongful Death asks:

If the courts rule that the federal government can force you to buy a product produced by a private company or pay a punitive tax, then why can’t the federal government force you to buy a Chevy from them? What’s to stop them?

The fact that such a law would have no political support and have no chance of being enacted. You can see this in the fact that Congress has not tried to accomplish similar ends through methods that are indisputably constitutional (just cutting a check to everyone who buys Chevy, raising tax rates and giving a huge tax credit to everyone who buys a Chevy, etc.) You’re welcome!

It should also be noted that if in the bizzaro political universe (the planet Strawman?) in which such a law could be passed, it is very possible that the Court would uphold the law anyway. Courts generally side with powerful elites, and to the extent that there’s some ghost of a chance that the Court will strike down the individual mandate it’s because there’s a substantial but powerful minority committed to that vision of the Constitution. And for that matter, why would the Chevy law be unconstitutional (as opposed to egregiously dumb?) It really requires an actual argument, because the Constitution gives Congress the power to pass all kinds of idiotic laws (cf. Congress 2001-2007 passim.)

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Brookings Israel-Iran Game

[ 24 ] March 30, 2010 |

The New York Times published another article on the Brookings write-up of an Israel-Iran wargame conducted in December. The opening stages of the game were strikingly similar to the Patterson Israel-Iran game of last month; Israel attacks without notifying the US, Iran responds in measured fashion, tension builds between Israel and the United States, and Israel prepares for major assault against Hezbollah. At that point, however, there’s a major change; Iran launches a ballistic missile attack against a Saudi oil refinery, and begins mining the Strait of Hormuz. At this point the United States gets involved, and the game ends just before a major US attack on Iranian military assets.

The key difference here is the decision by the Iranian team to attack Saudi Arabia and mine the Strait of Hormuz. This action forces the hand of the United States, and essentially resolves tension between the US, Israel, and the Gulf monarchies. It also results in a very serious setback for Iranian military power. At Patterson, our Iran team considered but rejected the possibility of expanding the war, preferring instead to play it cool and let the US-Israel relationship fester. Here’s Kenneth Pollack’s explanation of the reasoning of the Iranian team:

The Iran team’s decision to mount attacks on Saudi targets requires some explanation. The Iran team concluded that the fact that many of the Israeli aircraft had traversed Saudi Arabia was proof of Israeli and Saudi collusion. Control allowed this because it decided that in the real world, the Iranian regime might reach such a conclusion, given how paranoid and conspiracy-minded it is. Interestingly, the Iran team believed that it could attack Saudi targets, including Saudi oil targets, without necessarily provoking an American military response. Ultimately, they did overstep, but the measured and balanced initial American response to these attacks convinced the Iran team that they were right in this assumption and caused them to push harder, to the point where they did cross an American red line and provoked the U.S. military response they had sought to avoid.

The Iran team tried hard to gauge American red lines. When they did not get strong resistance to one of their moves, they kept pushing forward until they did—and in the most important instance, actually overstepped a U.S. red line. While we suspect the real Iranian regime would be more cautious about attacking Saudi oil targets (especially given the historical American reaction to Iranian attacks on Persian Gulf oil exports during the 1980s), this still suggests that a highly aggressive Iranian regime may see approaches that the United States considers “even-handed,” “balanced,” or even “neutral” as invitations to escalate. (Of course, a less aggressive Iranian regime might be provoked to escalatory actions they would not otherwise take if they saw American assertiveness as a sign of malign intent rather than as the clarification of a red line and the demonstration of American resolve to defend that red line.)

Two thoughts:

  • The Iranian decision to attack Saudi Arabia is both odd and self-destructive. How an Iranian team could have convinced itself that the US wouldn’t respond to an attack on one of its chief clients is beyond me; up to that point, it seems to me that the Iranians are doing quite well by pursuing a moderate strategy. Although Patterson assumed a much lower level of damage from the initial Israeli attack than Brookings, the Iranians were still widely regarded to have been the “winners” of the simulation. Of course, a writeup of the Brookings exercise was available to our students, giving them the opportunity to learn from earlier mistakes. However, the results of the Brookings exercise are also available to the Iranians; the point of such exercises is to inform government policy, and it wouldn’t be that surprising if governments other than the US paid attention.
  • It’s interesting and somewhat troubling to learn that the Iran simulators thought about the United States primarily in terms of strength, resolve, and will. I’ll pre-emptively caveat this by saying that I have no idea how the Iranians would actual treat the United States after an Israeli attack, and that I have no idea the value that the Iranians put on questions of reputation and resolve. Given, however, that the Iran players here were Americans and not actual Iranian officials, I’m somewhat suspicious of how closely Iranian behavior tracks an unsophisticated theory of the importance of a reputation for strength. According the Pollack, the Iranian team saw any sign of moderation on the part of the United States as a signal of weakness and irresolution. This is the worst fear of American neoconservatives; engagement and moderation signal weakness, and invite aggression. In this formulation, an “aggressor” like Iran is extremely risk-acceptant, pushing the United States until it reaches a “red line.” Had the US taken a firm line at some point, by this account, the Iranians would have understood and desisted from further “aggression.” This theory of diplomatic behavior, however, is both logically problematic and empirically suspect. While it’s possible that states will interpret moderation as weakness, they can also interpret it in other ways; our team at Patterson, for example, saw US moderation as understandable caution and sought to exploit differences between the US and Israel. Empirically, it’s unclear that reputations for weakness or strength form in a manner that’s necessary for this theory to work. As Jon Mercer argues, reputation for resolve depends much more on prior belief than on recent observed behavior. Thus, I have to wonder whether the Iranian team was operating on an unsophisticated set of theories about how Iranians ought to act, rather than pursuing self-interest in a more or less rational way. I particular have to wonder this in the context of the attack on Saudi Arabia, which is really hard to believe.

To put it as clearly as possible: In the Patterson simulation, Iran did very well by acting with restraint. In the Brookings simulation, Iran was doing very well by acting with restraint until someone decided that US moderation was weakness, at which point the Iranians launched an absurd attack and got crushed. Given this, isn’t it worthwhile to take into account the possibility that Iran could “win” such a crisis by acting with restraint? Or does that possibility undermine the whole rationale behind attacking Iran? This is to say, if we allow that Iran can act with restraint AFTER being attacked by Israel, doesn’t that open up the possibility that Iran could, well, act with restraint BEFORE being attacked by Israel? And wouldn’t that make such an attack pointless?

Today From The Pain Caucus

[ 15 ] March 30, 2010 |

Robert Samuelson gives away the show:

Obama’s behavior resembles a highly indebted family’s taking an expensive round-the-world trip because it claims to have found ways to pay for it. It’s self-indulgent and reckless.


“Self-indulgent” — what an interesting phrase. Let’s consider both words, starting with the end. It contains the assumption that some basic health insurance is an “indulgence,” rather than a necessity. I defy anybody to make a careful study of the actual conditions of people who lack health insurance — such as can be found in Jonathan Cohn’s book “Sick” — and come to this conclusion.

Next, there’s the word “self.” Self-indulgent is when you spend money to indulge yourself. The Bush tax cuts, which massively enriched George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, could be described as self-indulgent. Samuelson supported those, incidentally. President Obama and the Democrats who enacted health care reform all have insurance. Even if you consider providing basic medical care to people who lack it an “indulgence,” they are not indulging themselves. They are “indulging” others.


And before you think this is all about Samuelson, consider that Charles Krauthammer calls coverage “candy.” There’s an absence of empathy here that borders on a clinical disorder…We are a rich, decent society, or so we say. Extending health-care coverage to those who can’t afford it would be worth it even in the absence of cost controls. Health-care insurance is not candy, and it is not an indulgence.

One part of Ygelsias’s attempt to rank the very worst of the pathetic hacks who dominate Fred Hiatt’s crayon scribble page I agree with is that Samuelson is among the very worst. His substantive views are quite appalling, and are ladled out with a varnish of would-be sensible centrism that makes them even more unpalatable. As Chait notes, the alleged fiscal hawk who supported both rounds of Bush’s massive upper-class tax cuts (which, in a neat bit of bootstrapping, produced deficits that make subsidizing health coverage for poor people seem “unaffordable,” and by the way where’s the robust economy those tax cuts were supposed to produce?) isn’t even consistent about his silly Concord Coalition onanism. And he’s as lazy as Richard Cohen himself — he’s basically been recycling the same three columns for decades. In fact, I think he belongs above Will…

Purity of Essence

[ 19 ] March 29, 2010 |

Dr. Strangelove

This weekend Glenn Reynolds noted that a “plausible” explanation for Barack Obama’s unwillingness to give the current Israeli government 100% of what it wants (Obama has drawn the line at 98.44%) is that our dusky Muslim overlord “just hates Israel and hates Jews.”

Some rather compelling evidence for this theory can be found here.

Why, after all, would Obama hold the first Seder in White House history? The answer is all too clear to those who, by maintaining a strict regimen of rainwater and pure grain alcohol, have managed to protect the integrity of their precious bodily fluids.

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Jonah Goldberg tells his half of the story.

[ 30 ] March 29, 2010 |

My overstuffed inbox informs me that Jonah Goldberg is writing half-histories again, but if you can believe it, this time the argument he makes is more accurate than not:

Look, eugenics was a very complicated phenomenon. But it does not clarify the topic to insist that, contrary to mountains of evidence and common sense, that all of the progressives who subscribed to it were just wearing a conservative mask.

That’s true as far it goes—progressives who supported the study or practice of eugenics weren’t crypto-conservatives—the problem is that it doesn’t go very far:

[T]here’s no evidence provided that any conservatives supported eugenics.

Nor would you expect there to be, because the reason that conservatives opposed eugenics in particular was that they opposed science generally. Given that, at the turn of the last century, eugenics required a belief in some sort of form of evolutionary theory—not Darwinism, strictly speaking, but a pre-synthesis amalgam of mutation theory, Lamarckism, and orthogenesis—it should come as no surprise to anyone that then, as now, many conservative opposed eugenics on religious grounds. G.K. Chesteron’s principle complaint in Eugenics and Other Evils was that regulating who could marry would undermine the traditional family, and some of his examples are eerily prescient:

Most Eugenists are Euphemists. I mean merely that short words startle them, while long words soothe them. And they are utterly incapable of translating the one into the other, however obviously they mean the same thing. Say to them “The persuasive and even coercive powers of the citizen should enable him to make sure that the burden of longevity in the previous generation does not become disproportionate and intolerable, especially to the females”; say this to them and they will sway slightly to and fro like babies sent to sleep in cradles. Say to them “Murder your mother,” and they sit up quite suddenly. (13)

Death panels, anyone? Granted, Goldberg is more than happy to occupy this moral high ground, coinciding as it does with the moral positions of contemporary conservatives; however, he downplays the obvious corollary, i.e. that in the name of what we now call family values, earlier generations of conservatives would have severely curbed scientific progress.

I’m not saying that eugenics per se was laudable, but it was necessary to the furtherance of scientific knowledge: it validated human society and the human body as objects of scientific inquiry. Conservatives opposed this because it removed humanity from its pedestal of special creation. To thinkers like Chesterton, treating humans like animals was patently absurd, which is why he characterized eugenic proposals circa 1910 as emanating from a period in which

Mr. Bernard Shaw and others were considering the idea that to breed a man like a cart-horse was the true way to attain higher civilization, of intellectual magnanimity and sympathetic insight, which may be found in cart-horses. (ii)

So why, then, were liberals more likely to support eugenics? Because conservatives clung fast to their retrograde and anthropocentric beliefs. Goldberg downplays this, and rightly so, because opposing science on principle isn’t a particularly praiseworthy attitude, and his game here is to smudge the historical record such that the only legible items are those that condemn the forebears of his ideological opponents. He offers no affirmative argument for his political kin because, I suspect, he knows that there’s not much of one to be made.

Of course, he also ignores the vast body of unscientific theories of personal and cultural inheritance that were embraced and vigorously defended by social conservatives. Concurrent with the rise of the eugenics movement in America was a vogue for historical novels of the Revolutionary period—at least 141 novels set during that time were published between 1898 and 1903—the majority of which trafficked in talk of blood and breed, i.e. the unscientific counterparts of eugenics that just so happened to favor those with financial, social or political capital. Isn’t it funny how this branch of conservativism never makes it into books about creeping fascism?

Final Four Update

[ 2 ] March 29, 2010 |

The LGM Bracket Challenge has become a tale of unimaginable horror, but I think I’ve figured out how it ends:

  • M. Sandiford is in the lead, and wins with 1320 points if West Virginia wins the championship.
  • C. Betley wins with 1150 points if Duke wins the championship
  • If West Virginia beats Duke but loses the title game, Sandiford and bayp87 will tie with 1000 points.
  • If Duke beats West Virginia but loses the title game, M. Strausz wins with 940 points.

Also, I have just put together a Baseball Challenge league for LGM.  As always:

League Name: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Password: zevon


[ 18 ] March 29, 2010 |

Arguments that the requirement to buy insurance or pay a tax in the Affordable Care Act are unconstitutional are not very convincing. But apparently we’re going to see some that are much, much worse.   Here’s learned constitutional scholar Saxby Chambliss trying on another ad hoc rationale for size:

“There are such significant issues that the court could very well declare the bill unconstitutional,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).

Chambliss highlighted several provisions the court could strike down, such as a mandate requiring individuals to buy health insurance or pay a tax and federal payments that are more generous to certain states.

The idea that a program that provides more benefits to one state than another is unconstitutional is certainly…innovative. I somehow suspect that this is a line of argument that Republican legislators, especially those in the ex-apartheid states, are not going to want to pursue for very long, although perhaps Chambliss can start by getting Georgia to pay back its allegedly illegal surplus.

So how does Chambliss justify voting for so much allegedly unconstitutional legislation?

“We do things from time to time that favor one state or congressional district over another, but this is different because it’s such a massive legislation,” Chambliss said.

Oh. Well, I’m convinced!

The Problem With Online Petitions

[ 8 ] March 29, 2010 |

I recently suggested LGM readers support a Department of Justice Rule-making process on prison reform. I probably should have added that it’s not enough – not nearly enough – to simply log into the site and click “send” on the form letter they offer.

In fact, if you did that already, you pretty much wasted your time. That’s because DoJ doesn’t care how many individual constituents support or oppose prison reform per se. They couldn’t care less, in fact. All they care about is how to create the best possible set of rules, so what they want most are informed, carefully thought out, unique comments.

Congress cares about numbers, of course. Congress’s job is to pass laws, and because we elect our congressional leaders they care a great deal about the popularity of those laws.

Federal agencies are pretty much the reverse. They are tasked with implementing laws, and they are staffed by civil servants. Their job is not to get re-elected, it is to figure out how to produce collective goods.

Citizen input in federal rule-makings is not about the popularity of a particular rule. Rather, it’s about more heads being better than few – it’s about tapping the experiential, procedural, scientific and everyday expertise of the American people. The federal rule-making process is one of the truly deliberative mechanisms in our country. What the public comment process is supposed to produce is useful substantive citizen input on what the rule should look like.

What does this have to do with online petitions? Read more…

Grammar Time!

[ 27 ] March 28, 2010 |

Lame titular puns never augur well, and this post is no exception, as it concerns something Sarah Palin said in Searchlight, Nevada yesterday. Before a crowd of millions, Palin attacked the “lame-stream media” for being a mixed metaphor, then said precisely the opposite of what I hope she intended to, insisting that “telling people that their arms are their votes is not inciting violence.”

In this case, the verb “to be” is a linking verb that establishes the equivalence of the nouns to its left and right. For example, in the previous sentence, I established that “the verb ‘to be'” and “linking verbs” are nominal equivalents. Think of it as an equal sign: you can write “Obama is the President” or “The President is Obama” without changing the content of the sentence because

Obama = The President

So when Palin said “their arms are their votes,” she may not have been trying to incite violence, but she was saying

arms = votes

That equivalence is best understood in the language of action film clichés, e.g. “Our arms are our votes, and we’re gonna have us an election.” Palin’s supporters will contend that she’s merely explaining a metaphor, and one unfortunate consequence of doing so is using verbs of equivalence to explain what something represents, e.g.

But that doesn’t change the fact that, from the universe of potential metaphors, Palin’s people went with the view through a telescopic weapon sight. The crosshairs may be metaphorical, certainly, and what they imply—that people outside a district should contribute money to “take out” the Democrat elected by the people of a district—may be antithetical to the concept of a representative democracy, but the real issue here is the initial decision to employ a sniper’s scope as political imagery.

At Least We Have the Shameful Joy…

[ 16 ] March 28, 2010 |

I don’t know if I could have taken a Tennessee championship.

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