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Archive for July, 2012

That Term “Witch Hunt,” I Do Not Think…

[ 44 ] July 25, 2012 |

Shorter Christian Smith: “If academic freedom means anything, it’s that published work should be completely beyond criticism, even when a researcher draws inferences from data that the data plainly cannot support and writes popular articles further defending these unsupportable inferences. Why won’t his hardcore leftist critics, like known Trotskyite Walter Olson, leave him allooooone?”

Mitt Romney, White Supremacist

[ 184 ] July 25, 2012 |

If the Romney campaign wants to run on an open platform of white supremacy (oh I’m sorry “Anglo-Saxon heritage”), I say that’s the greatest thing since, well, ever. Nothing screams candidate of 21st century America like open white supremacy. I guess if Romney’s goal is to win less than 25% of the under 30 vote, this is a good start!

Long Day

[ 18 ] July 24, 2012 |

So let’s play some rock n’ roll.

More Bits on Syria

[ 32 ] July 24, 2012 |

Two stories on unconventional weapons in Syria.  First, CJ Chivers explains why IEDs matter a lot in the Syrian context:

This is where the I.E.D. fits in. Once the armed opposition mastered the I.E.D. and spiked with bombs much of the very ground that any military seeking to control Syria must cover, and Syria’s army lacked a deep bench of well-trained explosive ordnance disposal teams and the suites of electronic and defensive equipment for its vehicles to survive, then the end was written. Because the Syrian army is fucked. And its troop must know it.

How important was the I.E.D. in all of this? It started with terrain denial, no-go roads and rising government casualties, which led to units spending more time on bases, which in turn allowed the uprising to grow and, to a degree, organize itself more fully. And then the direction shifted, to what is visible now. In a few quick months, the opposition went from being in a desperate military position to fighting in the center of Damascus while the world set an Assad-is-ousted countdown clock. That clock may or may not be premature; it remains to be seen whether the government will consolidate and stand after the events of this week. But even if it firms up, the army’s problem will still be the same. It cannot operate in a tactically meaningful way in much of its own country, it has no local Sunni proxy to take its place and it has no time to find one, the more so in a climate of Sunni anger. It can fight and it can kill; sure. But it cannot operate in a way that it gets stronger, and its foes get weaker. With I.E.D’s. in large-scale use against an army ill-equipped to counter them, the dynamic works the opposite way. And where can the army go? Considered in this war’s social and demographic context, with the Alawite-dominated military deployed in the midst of an armed and now bomb-savvy, Sunni-dominated population that loathes its government and has suffered terribly under its hand, there will almost certainly be a time, not too far off, when you will be referring to the Syrian army in the past tense.

Bomb by bomb it lost momentum. And now, bomb by bomb and stand-off by stand-off, until it breaks and ancient forms of battlefield ugliness overtake its units, the Syrian army’s most likely end seems clear. Timing? You won’t get me to guess. But the rest, as they say, is details – bloody as they will be.

It’s a very interesting argument. The US Army and USMC have suffered terribly from IEDs, and have spent a tremendous amount of time and money working through (reasonably successful) ways of reducing the damage that IEDs can cause. The Syrian Army lacks both the time and the resources. I might be a little more cagey than Chivers in terms of predicting its demise; because of the sectarian makeup of the Army, and because Alawites (with some reason) fear Sunni vengeance, the Army may continue to fight even under very adverse circumstances. FWIW, to my recollection the problems faced by the Syrian Army in ’67 and ’73 had to do with basic skill and communication disadvantages rather than morale and organizational collapse.

Second, Kris Alexander reports on the FSA’s ambiguous position with regards to the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal:

Leaders of the Free Syrian Army say they know about Assad’s unconventional stockpiles — and are creating specially-trained units to secure them. A former regime officer named General Adnan Silou is heading up the FSA efforts to secure the WMD. He claims to have trained the Syrian Army “in securing stores, in reconnaissance of possible threats, in how to purge supplies and in treatment should Syria come under attack a chemical or biological attack.” This sounds similar to what the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency does to manage remaining American chemical stockpiles as they await final destruction. As welcome as FSA efforts to secure the dangerous materials are, there is no indication yet that the rebels will actually get rid of the WMD.

Silou stated, “the weapons used to be to protect Syria. Now they are just to protect Bashar.” This does not sound like a man who wants to bring Syria into compliance with global nonproliferation efforts. Instead, it sounds like a man who understands the deterrent value of Syria’s WMD and wishes to retain it. This is yet another piece of the puzzle for those advocating supporting the rebellion. Will an FSA-led Syria be any better than Assad?

My wager would be this; the international community will be able to offer the new Syrian government a deal (involving both direct compensation and more general normative approval) similar in some ways to the deals that were offered to the post-Soviet republics in the 1990s. The utility of chemical weapons is fairly limited by both military and normative factors, and it’s unclear that they provide sufficient deterrent to prevent Israel from doing whatever Israel wants to do in any case.

But maybe we’ll see. See also this report on Russia quashing Syrian plans to use chemical weapons on opposition forces. Grain of salt and all that, but interesting if true. The central role that the international community seems to have played here (besides the transfer of some arms to the opposition) is in making the Assad regime nervous about using particularly parts of its arsenal, including most notably fixed wing aircraft and chemical weapons.  Now, I tend to think that the effectiveness of both of those weapon types tends to be overstated, so I’m not sure that prevention of their use should be considered a decisive factor in the conflict, but interesting nonetheless.

This is not the greatest example of dishonest editing ever. (Just damn close.)

[ 55 ] July 24, 2012 |

According to Big Hollywood, “Rapper Ice-T [says] he’ll give up his guns when everybody else does.”

According to “Rapper Ice-T” in the same interview, only a few seconds later, “[t]he right to bear arms is because that’s the last form of defense against tyranny. Not to hunt. It’s to protect yourself from the police.

Big Hollywood would also like to inform you that Triumph of the Will is an excellent four-and-a-half minute long film about airplanes in the 1930s.

I Next Want to See A Debate Over Whether Henry Wallace Took a Strong Enough Position Against Leon Trotsky at an Early Enough Date

[ 353 ] July 24, 2012 |

Last night, I followed an interesting conversation between Corey Robin and Michael Cohen on Twitter. Two people I respect a lot though they differ ideologically in places. The subject: whether Alexander Cockburn should be remembered fondly because he was seen as an apologist for Stalin early in his career as well as his late in life questioning of climate change (which is depressing but whatever, he was an old cranky dying dude). To be brief, Cohen thought the Stalin defense was a greater problem than Robin. Robin posits the debate within a larger problem he sees in modern American liberalism:

Why is he or she willing to make his or her peace with the American state—despite all its crimes (crimes acknowledged by liberals!)—yet never willing to make his or her peace with critics like Cockburn, whose only “crime,” if you can call it that, was to apologize for the Soviet Union long past its sell by date? Why so much room at the inn for Truman, JFK, or LBJ—all men with real blood on their hands—while people like Cockburn and Chomsky are denied entry?

I think Robin is fundamentally right here. The Serious Liberal (TM) in late 20th-early 21st century America must condemn those to left, whether old-school trade unionists, those who reject global capitalism, or those who take a hard left stance against American imperialism. Only then can the Serious Liberal be taken seriously by People Who Matter (TM). This all reminded me of so many discussions I’ve had over the past 15 years about Fidel Castro. Despite the horrors of Latin American history, it’s always Very Very Important for liberals to talk about how bad Castro is whenever Latin American issues come up. And sure, in some ways he’s a bad dude. But these conversations are always much more about distancing oneself from a leftist with old-timey ideology and being someone who is serious than placing Castro’s legacy within the checkered past of Latin American governance or the almost universally evil history of American involvement in the region. Where are those conversations between left intellectuals?

But I have a slightly different position on these questions overall. Applied to this specific debate, here it is.

Who gives a shit if Alexander Cockburn may not have condemned Stalinism consistently throughout his career?

I certainly do not.

I come to this conclusion for a number of reasons.

First, my top concern in this world is improving the everyday life of as many people as possible. Economic justice, social justice, sexual justice, etc. Does Alexander Cockburn’s position on Stalin matter for any of this? No. If Stalinism was somewhere even close to a legitimate option of governance in the West during Cockburn’s lifetime, I might say that he should have taken a stronger stance. But it wasn’t and so I don’t see how his position on the issue matters to the larger question of equality, even during his height of fame.

Second, this is a classic argument that destroys the left. While we can spend energy arguing whether an important but ultimately relatively powerless journalist condemned a monster harshly enough, conservatives continue to push their agenda against working people. They don’t have these debates. Dick Cheney not only supported apartheid, but was an influential congressman and then cabinet member with the kind of power Cockburn could only dream of. Whatever happened to that guy?

Third, is this 1972? Do young people today really care one way or another about these issues? Does taking the right position regarding people who have been dead for 60 years who ruled a government of a type discredited and never to return have any importance to, say, the people on the streets during Occupy Wall Street last fall? Does this address their lives in any important way? Does this address the lives of Americans struggling with debt, racism, or homophobia? Not that I can see. This debate is straight out of the post-60s left, more concerned with ideology and theoretical arguments than touching base with everyday people. I just don’t have time for it (despite the fact that I’m writing this post about how I don’t have time for it).

Now you may say that there are serious moral questions here. How could someone like Cockburn say anything good about Stalin? I don’t know–the times, the strains of marijuana he was smoking during the 70s, being contrary, needing a tool to beat the American imperialist monster with, etc. And given that Cockburn was a leftist in the comfortable West critiquing its excesses, racism, and imperialism, using Stalin as a tool to beat the capitalists probably had value to him. As I’ve said before, the left needs some kind of anti-capitalist alternative model in order to provide some kind of alternative, undesirable in actual fact as it may be. I’m not apologizing for Cockburn. I just don’t really care. The guy was there for a lot of good battles. As a whole, his life was dedicated to making other people’s life better. If he wasn’t ideologically perfect throughout his life, well, who among us can say that we have not made mistakes? And if we haven’t, have we made any difference at all?

Note that I have no real dog in this hunt. I rarely read Cockburn and he was not influential in my thinking. But do get sick of frequent debates about whether American leftists condemn bad guys in other countries with enough vigor.

“Bad history, bad ethics, and bad TV criticism in one nauseating little package.”

[ 27 ] July 24, 2012 |

The opening paragraphs of Anna Breslaw’s…we’ll call it a “review” of Breaking Bad are so jaw-droppingly inhumane, historically erroneous and offensive it’s hard to imagine any criticism astute enough to redeem them.     But what further damns them is that her transparent misreading of Breaking Bad seems to have been generated by her bizarre internalization of anti-Semitic myths about Holocaust survivors, rather than vice versa.   As Lindsay says, the idea that Walt is someone who will do anything to survive and “breaks bad” because of the chemo is completely wrong.   He “breaks bad” because he assumes he’s going to die, and after that his meth business takes on a logic of its own that has very little to do with survival per se.   He reluctantly agrees to undergo chemo so he can “get his family off his back” and preserve the business.  Evidently, this misreading is of trivial importance, but somehow all of the appalling nonsense about “Judenscheisse” is made even worse by the fact that it’s also a non-sequitur.

This is case where I almost blame the editors more than the author.   Leaving aside the inept would-be TV criticism, how could any editor of a magazine (let alone one devoted to Jewish news and culture!) not look at those opening paragraphs and push “reject?”  If you can’t read the draft and tell Breslaw to try again (or, better yet, don’t), what are you getting paid for?  Speaking of non-sequiturs, the defenses offered by Tablet‘s editors do what they can to make things worse.

This is a contest. A terrible, terrible contest.*

[ 65 ] July 24, 2012 |

The first thing that I read this morning was an article insisting that “[t]he Sexual Revolution [had gotten] more totalitarian … [b]ecause Chick-fil-A executives support the traditional family.” Please respond to this post by linking to an idiocy so precious I’ll never have to worry about being responsible for having read the site to which you linked first thing tomorrow morning again.

*Your prize will be that I shutter my increasingly stuttered prose and start to write like a human being might could unless you think it’s amusing that I write otherwise because commas I say who needs commas or question marks for that matter when you can write perfectly intelligible sentences that just so happen never to end and awkwardly at that. Raise your hands if you can tell I’m wading through a modern blizzard of noise to offset mathematically the calumny that accompanies writing about a man hopping ’bout rooftops dressed like a fetish bat.**

**About which more later when I feel less boxed about the head and such than I do after learning that the quarry wings of Chick-fil-A’s natural prey were responsible for the Sexual Revolution’s totalitarian imposition on sedate American society.

And the Winner of Miss Conservative Goes to….A White Woman!

[ 89 ] July 24, 2012 |

Because liberal fascists have taken over our beauty pageants, conservatives have decided to start their own Miss Conservative Pageant.

Never mind that many liberals are more or less disgusted by such events and how they objectify women. Or that…oh why even bother pointing out how ridiculous this is. Refuting conservative arguments is like arguing with children. A pointless waste of time.

“So, professor: Would you say it’s time for everyone to panic?”

[ 8 ] July 24, 2012 |

Yes I would, Kent.

When the rat-muscled cyborg jellyfish rise up and devour your loved ones, you can thank me for at least trying to sound the alarm.

Sally Ride

[ 9 ] July 24, 2012 |

Sally Ride indeed blasted through the space ceiling for women.

Her death is a sad day.

It’s made even sadder by the fact that despite her pioneering past, she couldn’t crack another ceiling–the one allowing same-sex partners to receive the same death benefits from the government that partners in heterosexual marriages receive.

Here’s a bit about her partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy. Although they didn’t become partners until 1985, they were friends from the age of 12.

Initial verdict on The Dark Knight Rises:

[ 80 ] July 23, 2012 |

Very Return of the Jedi. It’s not nearly as dark or accomplished as its predecessor, and it descends into maddening silliness at times, e.g. every time Bane “opens” his “mouth.” More on the politics, as well as some general comments of the spoiling variety, from someone the Washington Post contacted as a “Batman expert,” can be found below the fold.

Read more…

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