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Archive for January, 2011

More from SEK’s visual rhetoric course

[ 0 ] January 31, 2011 |

Two very long and image-laden posts that may be of interest to you: the first discusses how Frank Darabont establishes tone for the series in the opening scene of AMC’s The Walking Dead, while the second approaches the classroom difficulties created by racial stereotypes in Maus and American Born Chinese.  I apologize for not posting them here, but I can’t bear the thought of reformatting all those images again.  However, feel free to discuss either or both posts in the comments below.


Explaining Variance

[ 23 ] January 31, 2011 |

Ok, so let’s assume that Mubarak takes the easy way out and heads for healthier climes.  What explains the difference between the failure of the Green Revolution and the success of the Egyptian?  Some potential hypotheses:

  1. Ahmadinejad, whether or not (or by how much) he adjusted the election results, still had greater popular support than Mubarak.  A larger percentage of the population was either tolerant or enthusiastic about his rule.
  2. The existence of the Revolutionary Guard provide the Iranian state with a parallel security apparatus to the Army.  While the loyalty of the latter might have wavered, the loyalty of the former meant that any further revolutionary effort would have been extremely bloody.
  3. The Iranian state provides more avenues for democratic participation than the Egyptian, thus blunting the force of the protests.
  4. The ambivalently pro-transition position of the US in both cases resulted in different implications.  In Iran, the regime could use tepid US support of the Green Movement to play the patriotism card.  In Egypt, anti-Americanism wasn’t an option for Mubarak, especially as it became clear that the US wasn’t excited about the possibility of his ouster.

Other thoughts?

Can We Cut?

[ 2 ] January 31, 2011 |

Andrew Bacevich:

Like concentric security barriers arrayed around the Pentagon, these four factors — institutional self-interest, strategic inertia, cultural dissonance, and misremembered history — insulate the military budget from serious scrutiny. For advocates of a militarized approach to policy, they provide invaluable assets, to be defended at all costs.

Unsurprisingly, I’m sympathetic to Bacevich’s general argument, which is that the defense budget is too high, too difficult to cut, and bears too little relation to the actual foreign policy interests of the United States. That said, I’m a touch more optimistic than Bacevich regarding the possibility of defense cuts.

Defense spending in the United States in the post-World War II era has varied more than Bacevich suggests, with two major dips following the end of the Vietnam War and the end of the Cold War. Moreover, the percentage of defense spending as part of GDP has declined steadily (although this simply means that defense spending hasn’t kept up with economic growth) and the percentage of defense spending from total government outlays has also declined (although the decline hasn’t been as steady). This tells me that we can identify situations in the past (indeed, the fairly recent past) in which at least one of Bacevich’s four conditions hasn’t held. More importantly, it means that there’s at least a possibility that defense spending can be cut in the future, even given the problems that Bacevich identifies. Bacevich doesn’t give sufficient account of what has changed since the last major dip in defense spending (the early 1990s) to convince me that another such dip is impossible.  Since “institutional self-interest” is pretty much a given, I guessing that the difference has to be in strategic inertia, cultural dissonance, or misremembered history.

To be sure, there may be some reasons why cutting defense spending will be more difficult now than in the past. I’d cite the growth of the institutional Right (Heritage, AEI) as one of the biggest changes in the political landscape. That said, there are a lot of conservatives, including some who matter (Grover Norquist), who are getting a bit twitchy about high defense spending. Other parts of the right are fighting to maintain high spending, but the fact that there’s even a conversation is interesting.

See a couple of defense spending graphs at Truth and Politics.

Today’s Health Care Ruling

[ 32 ] January 31, 2011 |

As expected, Vinson struck down the mandate, and also argued that it couldn’t be severed. My initial thoughts are up on TAPPED. The short version is that it probably doesn’t mean much but having a judge argue that the entire ACA is unconstitutional is worthy of notice.

Obama invites Elliot Abrams and Robert Kagan to the White House

[ 58 ] January 31, 2011 |

To discuss what “we” should do about “our” Egypt problem.

The good folks at Commentary are in ecstasy.

What exactly do these people have to do to discredit themselves? Is it even theoretically possible?

Apparently a neo-conservative is a liberal who was mugged by reality, and decided he was never going to visit reality’s neighborhood again.

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Deep Thought

[ 10 ] January 31, 2011 |

I, for one, am pretty surprised that people who thought that committing several years of substantial guaranteed money to the decomposing corpses of Luis Castillo and Mo Vaughn was a worthy use of resources keep investing in Ponzi schemes.

Alterman on Peretz

[ 10 ] January 31, 2011 |

Very much worth reading, of course.

Meanwhile, my favorite bit from the recent New York profile — even better than when Peretz claims that Obama lacks his sense of complexity and nuance in foreign policy — which I’d like to think is dry wit:

For Israel, Peretz believes in a two-state solution. But this is complicated by the fact that he also believes, and says loudly and repeatedly, that Palestine is not a real state—“an utter fiction,” a “fraudulent nation-state.”

So, if I understand correctly, except for the fact that Peretz opposes a Palestinian state in both theory and practice he favors a two-state solution.

Is It Possible to be Too Wingnutty For Powerline?

[ 15 ] January 31, 2011 |

Surprisingly, yes — buh-bye to one of the not-Hindrockets. With the caveat that one guesses that the problem was not the bigotry per se so much as the bigotry that conflicted with the interests of his employer…

Assange, Shorter Assange and Kroft

[ 19 ] January 31, 2011 |

Steve Kroft asked Julian Assange a lot of great questions tonight. Assange had some impressive, polished answers. The interview was so long that you have to watch it in two different clips. Here’s the first:

I think the most noteworthy quotations come in the second clip, however. Three reactions follow:

1) Assange: “What we want is transparent government, not transparent people.”

@ 4:53: Kroft: “For somebody who abhors secrets, you run a pretty secretive organization.”

Assange: “That’s not true… We are an organization who one of our primary goals is to keep things secret, to keep the identities of our sources secret. Secrecy is an inherent part of our operation.”

I like that Assange came out and stated it this way. I think this goes a long way toward openly distinguishing his government transparency ethic from the wider “information wants to be free” mantra of MarkZism and the hacktivist subculture from which Assange emerged. And I also think it’s a defensible response to those who criticize him for not disclosing more information about the organization.

2) Shorter Assange: “We don’t say we did what we did. Rather, we say: we did what we in hindsight realize we should have done.”

@5:22: Kroft: “The State Department would make the same argument.That they are doing very sensitive work, they are trying to make peace and negotiate situations around the world very delicately, it’s important that they do this in secrecy, what’s the difference?”

Assange: “We don’t say the State Department should have no secrets. Rather, we say: if there are people in the State Department who say there is some abuse going on, and there’s not a proper mechanism for internal accountability, they must have a conduit to get this out to the public. And we are the conduit.”

Whoa, whoa, a thousand times whoa. Of course, I’m heartened that Assange appears to be taking to heart the idea of targeted whistle-blowing. (The conditions he lists here for when and how to conduct leaks are pretty close to my comfort zone, and if he had actually followed them all along I would be a huge fan.) But are you kidding me? Is he really defending Cablegate on the basis that this was the organization’s modus operandi previously?

3) Kroft: “You’re a publisher, but…”

@8:12: “There’s a feeling in the [journalism] community that you’re not one of them. The point that they’re making is that you’re a publisher, but you’re also an activist.”

Steve Kroft gets the question slightly wrong when he asks Assange whether the mainstream media thinks of him as “not one of them” because of his activism. If you read Bill Keller’s memoir in the New York Times Magazine this past week, it’s clear that it’s not the activism that distinguishes Assange from other journalists in the minds of the media: it’s the journalism. Simply put, Keller and the NYTimes see Assange – or have realized it’s in their interest to say they see Assange – as a source, not as a partner or a collaborator, not as a journalist or publisher, the way Assange describes himself. I would have liked to see Kroft push Assange on the definition of “publisher” rather than accepting and legitimating this claim. I think it remains an interesting open question.

But I did have great respect for the way Assange answered Kroft’s question:

We’re not that sort of activist. We are free press activists. It is not about saving the whales. It is about giving people the information they need to support whaling or not support whaling. That is the raw ingredient that is needed to make adjustments in society, and without that, you’re just sailing in the dark.

Don’t Know Much About Geography.

[ 13 ] January 30, 2011 |

From the “I shit you not” file, courtesy of Fox News:

The British Invasion

[ 43 ] January 30, 2011 |

Batman, Spiderman, McNulty and now Superman are all British guys.  What happened to America having American heroes for America?


[ 8 ] January 30, 2011 |

From Voice of America:

Sudanese police clashed with students Sunday as anti-government protests broke out in the capital, Khartoum. Hundreds of students took part in the protests, shouting slogans that criticized high prices, the government, and President Omar al-Bashir.

At least three demonstrations took place, one in central Khartoum and two at local universities. Witnesses say at one of the schools, students threw stones at police, who in turn beat them with batons. Authorities have reported five arrests.

The students were responding to Internet pleas for peaceful, anti-government rallies. Organizers said they were inspired by the protests that toppled Tunisia’s president and the ongoing demonstrations in Egypt.

The protests coincided with the first official announcement that southern Sudan has voted to secede from the north.

Track the protests and state response here.

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