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Archive for May, 2010

Cheonan Report Released

[ 0 ] May 20, 2010 |

Looks fairly damning.

South Korea formally accused North Korea on Thursday of responsibility for the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, killing 46 sailors, in one of the deadliest provocations since the two countries ended the Korean War in a truce in 1953.

In an uncharacteristically swift reaction, North Korea called the South Korean conclusion a “fabrication” and threatened to respond to sanctions with “strong measures, including a full-scale war.” It also offered to send a team of “inspectors” to South Korea to ch allege its investigation.

South Korea saw “no other plausible explanation” than a North Korean attack. “The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine,” a team of military and civilian investigators from South Korea, the United States, Britain, Australia and Sweden said in a statement. “There is no other plausible explanation.”

Read the whole thing for details, including the nature of the torpedo and North Korean submarine activity in the area.

See Ruediger Frank, via Blake Hounshell, for speculation on who might have ordered the attack.

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Superficial Invocation of Feminism to Mask Misogynist Projection of the Day

[ 2 ] May 19, 2010 |


Well, granted, she already has a lifetime achievement award, but…


[ 10 ] May 19, 2010 |

The more information that emerges, the more that the Times pieces on Richard Blumenthal look like a shoddy hatchet job. Particularly given that this is far from unprecedented, it was foolish of me to take the original story at face value. See also this, which adds more credence to the argument that the Times was able to cite exactly one clearly inaccurate statement because that’s all there is.

The Internet occasionally reminds me of how different life is because of it.

[ 17 ] May 19, 2010 |

I noted on Facebook that, from a statistical perspective, what makes baseball such an amazing sport is that you can watch it your entire life and still see, on a daily basis, something you’ve never seen before.  (It’s a truism, I know, but it has the benefit of actually being true.)  In this case, the something in question was watching the wonderfully named Angel Pagan hit an inside-the-park home run and initiate a triple play in the same game.  John Emerson responded with some humbug about it not being an inside-the-park grand slam, which made me remember that I had seen an inside-the-park grand slam at some time in the remote past.

I remember being six or seven years old and watching the Mets play the Cardinals in an afternoon game at Shea Stadium, and thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I can definitively say that at approximately 4:30 p.m. on 9 June 1985, I watched Terry Pendleton hit an inside-the-park grand slam off Joe Sambito in a game the Cardinals would go on to win handily.  The fact that I can verify vague memories of events that occurred twenty-five years ago astounds me in a way I sometimes forget the Internet is capable of doing.

This realization is obviously not of world-historical importance, merely a reminder that this thing whose existence we take for granted daily represents a fundamentally weird complement to human memory.  The fact that at some point in the future I can know who I rode in an elevator with on 28 December 2005 is less weird because I chose to write about riding in an elevator with Grimace.  That I can access detailed information about events I have no right remembering in detail is another matter entirely.

Shameless Self Promotion

[ 6 ] May 19, 2010 |

My new book Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond is finally out from Columbia University Press.

Basically, it’s all you never wanted to know about why children born of wartime rape have been overlooked by the human rights movement for the last two decades, and how this could be changed. Here’s what’s on the back cover:

Sexual violence and exploitation occur in many conflict zones, and the children born of such acts face discrimination, stigma, and infanticide. Yet the massive transnational network of organizations working to protect war-affected children has, for two decades, remained curiously silent on the needs of this vulnerable population.

Focusing specifically on the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, R. Charli Carpenter questions the framing of atrocity by human rights organizations and the limitations these narratives impose on their response. She finds that human rights groups set their agendas according to certain grievances-the claims of female rape victims or the complaints of aggrieved minorities, for example-and that these concerns can overshadow the needs of others. Incorporating her research into a host of other conflict zones, Carpenter shows that the social construction of rights claims is contingent upon the social construction of wrongs. According to Carpenter, this prevents the full protection of children born of war.

An incidental apocalypse?

[ 8 ] May 19, 2010 |

The typical apocalyptic narrative either focuses on the grand events that brought about the end of civilization—nuclear war, global pandemic, sentient machines—or describes life after the shock of those events.  The number of narratives in which the global social body declines into the incorporeal slowly, almost without notice, are few and far between.  Rarely do you encounter narratives in which, for example, a volcano on an isolated island erupts, deposits a thin layer of ash at 35,000 feet and reminds humanity that evolution didn’t intend him to fly.  Eyjafjallajökull killed no one—it merely disrupted air travel over a continent for a few weeks.  As potentially apocalyptic events go, that barely even registers.

But pair it with another narrative rarely encountered in apocalyptic literature, for example, a broken pipe, and it becomes possible—frighteningly possible—to imagine the ash in the air and the oil in the ocean collaborating to form an apocalyptic accumulation, if you will, with the power to unmake society in the same manner that Manuel DeLanda describes its invention in A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History.  I only mention the notion that civilization will come undone by a series of non-apocalyptic incidents because:

Some oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill is “increasingly likely” to be dragged into a strong current that hugs Florida’s coasts, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials said today.

But other experts say that the oil is already there—satellite images show oil caught up in one of the eddies, or powerful whorls, attached to the Loop Current, a high-speed stream that pulses north into the Gulf of Mexico and travels in a clockwise pattern toward Florida.

Once in the Loop Current, oil can travel south and enter the Gulf Stream, a powerful ocean conveyor belt that carries warm water up the eastern seaboard.

In which case, the oil that will be “flowing robustly” into the Gulf of Mexico for years will be carried approximately here:
Read more…

A Bit on Cheonan and Radical Uncertainty…

[ 24 ] May 19, 2010 |

Radical Contra and blowback have expressed skepticism as to North Korea’s purported role in the sinking of the Cheonan.  Blowback:

So South Korea has North Korean torpedos. So it is possible that the Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo fired from a South Korean sub. At the time of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, how many people in the West believed it never happened? None. So I am not surprised that Sweden is being cautious.

As for the other parties involved in the investigation (Australia, Britain, and the United States) neither of the first two is independent of the last, in fact they are well known lackeys of the US who always do what they are told.

Radical Contra (also here):

Like some other commentators, I’m skeptical. It’s almost becoming a just-so story – what Farley calls a “nice touch” only makes it more apparent.

As someone who lives in South Korea, too, quoting any South Korean paper is a dangerous gamble. Most are so corrupt, conservative, and their checkered histories littered with their own treason, that it’s just too lazy to trust them. What about all the leaks before this – not counting that this rumor is a leak, too. Finally, it’s election time in Korea.

How much more proof of a convenient lie do we need?

As I suggested in two different comment threads, it is entirely possible that a) the South Koreans sank Cheonan with a North Korean torpedo, or b) the South Koreans manufactured evidence of North Korean responsibility with sufficient cleverness to fool even the skeptical Swedes. Indeed, it’s almost impossible, given conventional methods of evidence collection, to prove that the South Koreans haven’t manufactured the entire incident. Moreover, it would hardly be the first time that a government has lied about such a thing.

Then again, it’s also possible that North Korea sank the Cheonan with a North Korean torpedo. I’m not sure what additional evidence could be produced to confirm this theory; I suppose that we could have signed confessions by the North Korean officer that fired the torpedo, the North Korean official who authorized the attack, and so forth. In the case of an actual North Korean attack, it’s exceedingly unlikely that such evidence would ever actually become available to us. This is to say that if your evidentiary standard for believing North Korea is responsible requires a North Korean confession, it is unlikely to be met even in the case of North Korean culpability. Constructions such as “beyond a reasonable doubt” or “preponderance of the evidence” aren’t particularly useful here, because the evidentiary standard is still unclear; what does “beyond a reasonable doubt” mean in the context of South Korean government claims? On the one hand, it’s hard for me to see what additional evidence of North Korean culpability that South Korea could reasonably be expected to provide. On the other hand, South Korea is providing all of the evidence, and could be falsifying all of it.

I don’t mean this to sound flip; there’s a genuine epistemic dilemma here. Governments lie habitually, making it difficult to evaluate contradictory government claims. But if we make the leap of faith associated with believing a) that there was a Cheonan, and b) that it sank, then we’re left with this competing set of claims about what precisely happened. The evidentiary standard we set is extremely important for policy, because a standard set too high means de facto agreement with North Korean protestations of innocence. At the same time, South Korea probably should face a more rigorous evidentiary standard, since it’s making a positive claim about North Korean behavior, and also because accepting South Korean claims might generate violent or otherwise costly action. It’s also fair to say that states (not just North Korea, obviously) exploit this uncertainty strategically in order to undertake actions which they wish to avoid taking full responsibility for.

Finally, I should note that I don’t really find this to be a hard case. When North Korea and South Korea disagree, I’m heavily inclined to favor the South Korean claims, in part because I believe the North has a far more robust history of deception. I don’t find South Korean motives for such a deception all that clear; indeed, as I’ve suggested previously, an accident would have been politically easier for Seoul to manage. I certainly don’t believe that the United States is interested in picking a fight on the Korean Peninsula right now. Moreover, it seems to me that South Korea has been exceedingly cautious about its approach to the evidence, to an extent that’s almost unheard of in international politics. And so while I’ll happily concede that I’m the useful idiot of the Seoul government if it turns out South Korea manufactured the whole thing, at this point I’m satisfied enough with the evidence pointing to North Korean responsibility. However, the dilemma is real, and is important to take into account when we evaluate, for example, claims that Iran shipped EFPs to Iraqi insurgents in copious amounts during the height of the insurgency, or claims about the nature of Syria’s “Box on the Euphrates.”

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That’s so funny I forgot to laugh

[ 68 ] May 19, 2010 |

Tom Tomorrow.

A couple of weeks into this I’m curious about how many self-identified progressives are OK with the Kagan nomination as it stands, or more precisely will remain OK with it when her confirmation hearings feature, as they almost surely will, nothing beyond the non-responsive two-step perfected by recent nominees.

Update: A youthful Kagan didn’t like Tom Clark’s left-wing activism when he applied the exclusionary rule to the states.

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A Little Much

[ 20 ] May 19, 2010 |

I think Lizardbreath has a point here. This isn’t to say that I entirely I agree with her take; I stand by my basic comments yesterday and am still not inclined to give Blumenthal the benefit of the doubt, meaning that (again! what are the odds?) I agree with Saletan. To the extent that I remain a lot less charitable than LB, it’s the point raised by Dave: not only is embedding technically-true-but-highly-misleading statements about your service in reactionary bullshit about the way Vietnam vets were treating dismaying in itself, but it I think it also pushes the claims from “dissembling” to “lying.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that this particular stabbed-in-the-back myth was about soldiers returning from Vietnam, not reservists supervising toy drives as part of a de facto draft dodge. So I think the technically-true-but-highly-misleading statements are completely fair game.

Having said that, a politician dissembling and sometimes worse about his credentials isn’t exactly the scandal of the century, and it’s very hard to see what the added value of this more recent front page story is. (UPDATE: Actually, I think that’s too weak. Shays’s carefully unfalsifiable but not very plausible stories about what he had been led to believe and what he almost did are pretty repellent, and there’s no excuse for giving him a forum in a front page alleged news story.)

Cheonan Incident Continues to Develop

[ 9 ] May 19, 2010 |

South Korea is preparing to formally accuse North Korea of sinking the Cheonan:

South Korea will formally blame North Korea on Thursday for launching a torpedo at one of its warships in March, causing an explosion that killed 46 sailors and heightened tensions in one of the world’s most perilous regions, U.S. and East Asian officials said.

South Korea concluded that North Korea was responsible for the attack after investigators from Australia, Britain, Sweden and the United States pieced together portions of the ship at the port of Pyeongtaek, 40 miles southwest of Seoul. The Cheonan sank on March 26 after an explosion rocked the 1,200-ton vessel as it sailed on the Yellow Sea off South Korea’s west coast.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because South Korea has yet to disclose the findings of the investigation, said subsequent analysis determined that the torpedo was identical to a North Korean torpedo that South Korea had obtained.

Of the countries aiding South Korea in its inquiry, officials said that Sweden had been the most reluctant to go along with the findings but that when the evidence was amassed, it too agreed that North Korea was to blame. A spokesman for the Swedish Embassy declined to comment.

In spite of having some other things on the foreign policy plate, Obama has promised support for Seoul:

U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his full backing for South Korea and its investigation into the sinking of the Navy vessel Cheonan near the inter-Korean West Sea border, Cheong Wa Dae said Tuesday.

President Lee Myung-bak and Obama spoke over the phone for about 25 minutes earlier to discuss a joint response to the naval tragedy.

“Obama told Lee that he fully trusts Seoul and backs its handling of the incident,” the presidential office said in a press release.

Obama said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will fly to Seoul next week to discuss the case, adding the U.S. will closely cooperate with South Korea to deal with the aftermath. Clinton is scheduled to hold high-level meetings in Beijing from May 24 to 25.

Also, William Ruger and I have a short op-ed in the Korea Times on the need for a “Goldilocks solution” to the crisis.


[ 23 ] May 19, 2010 |

I’m currently in the UK doing some research at the National Archives, and I’m reminded that accidental finds are always more interesting that what you’re actually looking for. Amidst the voluminous correspondence of the Viscount Trenchard, I came upon the following translation of a German prisoner of war interrogation report, for a pilot forced down behind the lines in France:

Lieutenant Cyrus Roy Hall, 20th Res: Battn, Royal Highlanders, Canada, attached R.A.F. as pilot.

Age 24. Law student in Canada (Alberta)

Joined the army in October 1914 (Infantry) Landed in France February 1915. Transferred to R.F.C. 1.6.17.

The following statements of the prisoner concerning his flying career are to be accepted with great reserve as they do not agree in any way with the many papers which he carried on him. He states that he was first with the Squadron 45 which was at the time still using Sopwith two seaters, he was then transferred at this own request to a Bristol Fighter Squadron, and after four months service at the front as Pilot, he was transferred to England for testing new types, for which purpose on specially outstanding Pilots were accepted. After short service as a ferry pilot (flying new machines from Englad to France) he then left for France at the end of March with his present unit and he accomplished the most heroic deeds there, especially upon the four occasions when, as he hints, he crossed swords successfully with Richthofen.

The facts, however, are quite different. If he was in fact at any time attached to Squadron 45, which cannot well be doubted in view of his knowledge of the circumstances, he can only have been an Observer. We trace him as having been in England on the 31st July 1917 with a unit of the R.F.C. at Wantage Hall, Reading (apparently the Cadet School); at the No: 3 Training Squadron, Shoreham, Sussex, on the 26th Sept. 1917; at the Aerodrome of Colney, near London, in December; with the 74th Service Squadron in January and February 1918. He then finished a course in photography with the XVIII Wing (hitherto unknown) which at the time was subordinate to the 74th Service Squadron (since in France.) He only obtained his pilot license (No:10706) on the 24.2.1918 which is proof in itself that he could not have been a pilot in 1917. On the 13th March 1918 he was with the 85th Squadron at Hounslow, at the end of April with the Fighting Squadron in Ayr, Scotland, and on the 14th May he finished his Machine Gun course at the No. 2 Auxiliary School of Aerial Gunnery at Turnberry, whereupon he returned to the 85th Squadron at Hounslow. It is only on the 25th May that he paid his mess bill for the first time in France and this date is important as establishing when his unit came to France….

Prisoner is a prominent example of Colonial “supermanliness”. He considers Europeans as cattle, unable to think for themselves. He judged the English very harshly, especially the higher Officers, but he is also full of contempt for the men. Only Canadians and Americans are free and independent men, who know how to behave and look after themselves in all circumstances. It is apparently quite clear to him that the war has, up to the present, taken an entirely victorious course for Germany. He has, however, no doubt whatever that in the end Germany must be defeated.


1. Was there any piece of personal paperwork that Lieutenant Hall didn’t carry with him in the aircraft?

2. Do POWs have any duty to attempt to tell plausible lies?

3. The bit about Canadian “supermanliness” is utterly priceless.

I’m curious whether he ever received his law degree. It does appear that he survived the war, but I can’t find anything about him after that.

KY Election Results

[ 1 ] May 19, 2010 |

Good news from Kentucky, where Jack Conway managed to beat Dan Mongiardo.  Conway is more progressive than Mongiardo and polls better; against the Randernaut he might have a chance. As in all things Kentucky, follow Media Czech at Barefoot and Progressive for updates on the situation.

I also have to give a shout out to friend, former student, poker buddy, and conservative Republican Ryan Quarles, who managed to win his Kentucky State House Republican primary against a teabagger opponent. Ryan and I agree on little apart from the merits of Patterson and the value of the check-raise, but nevertheless…

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