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Libya

[ 0 ] April 3, 2006 |

AG and Kingdaddy have both commented on this article on Libya by Dafna Hochman. Hochman demolishes the argument that the invasion of Iraq had any effect on Libya’s decision to end its nuclear weapon program. It’s well worth reading.

In the 1980s, Qaddafi occupied the narrative space that Saddam Hussein assumed in the 1990s and Fidel Castro held in the 1960s. Qaddafi did a bunch of genuinely bad things. He adopted the Soviet Union as a patron, and just about every terrorist organization under the sun as clients. Terrorists operating with Libyan assistance, training, and perhaps under Libyan orders carried out a number of high profile and deadly attacks against Western targets. Libya invaded neighboring Chad, an operation that ended in a humiliating defeat at the hands of poorly equipped Chadian militias. Libya also had several military encounters with the United States, including a fighter scrum in the Gulf of Sidra and a series of air attacks intended to decapitate Qaddafi’s regime.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union things went poorly for Libya, and Qaddafi decided to move back toward the West. Libya toned down the terrorism angle, eventually handing over those responsible for the Pan Am 103 bombing. Libya rebuilt its relations with the rest of Africa, eventually achieiving a prominent position in African diplomatic circles. Finally, as early as 1999, Libya offered to shut down its WMD program, including the nuclear program. It gave up the last of its program in late 2003.

Conservatives were quick to declare Libya’s decision to give up its nuclear program as evidence that the Iraq invasion had had its intended effect of intimidating US enemies. If you had been paying no attention, this make sense. To anyone who followed Libyan foreign policy during the 1990s and early 2000s (an admittedly small number), the argument was absurd. Libya began moving toward the West well before the United States attacked Iraq or even began to seriously threaten moving against it. Moreover, the Libyan decision was made in the absence of any plausible military threat on the part of the West. While US rhetoric toward North Korea and Iran has been characterized by bluster and a strategy of “keeping all options on the table”, no one has talked about using military force against Libya since the early 1990s. It would be curious indeed if the invasion of Iraq frightened Libya, against which no threats were made, into giving up its WMD while apparently pushing Iran and North Korea, the target of very serious threats, in precisely the opposite direction. In this case, however, there’s no puzzle. The invasion of Iraq had no effect on Libya’s decision, which was made before 9/11.

Given the logical weaknesses of the reputational argument, it’s not surprising that no easy line can be drawn between Iraq and Libya. The Libyan example is also instructive regarding another right-wing fantasy, that of Iraq’s connection with terrorist groups. Stephen Hayes is making a career out of producing fantastic descriptions of Iraq’s connections with Al Qaeda, mostly based on a few documents that suggest some contacts in the mid-1990s. Let me suggest that if we had access to Libya’s intelligence archives we’d find a web of connections that would make Hayes most fevered dreams look like child’s play. Even in the 1990s, and certainly in the 1980s, Libya was a far more enthusiastic supporter of terrorism than Iraq. The same could be said of Iran, Syria, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Hayes doesn’t grapple with this because his purpose is not to study Iraq in a comparative context, a project that might determine Iraq’s connections to terrorism relative to its neighbors. This is the only useful way to study Iraq’s terror connections, as the invasion of Iraq can only be justified on terrorism grounds if Iraq was a relatively aggressive sponsor of terrorism. Hayes has done nothing to establish this, and with good reason; it’s preposterous. Relative to Iran, Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia (at least with regards to Al Qaeda) Iraq was a dabbler in terror. Hayes doesn’t deny this, and doens’t grapple with it, because his point is post hoc rationalization rather than serious journalism.

Termination and Employment

[ 0 ] April 3, 2006 |

Brad Plumer has an interesting discussion of whether making it easier to fire workers in France will actually decrease unemployment. I can’t really say that I feel strongly either way; both positions seem reasonable, although Brad presents some solid evidence on the contrary position.

During my short residence in Germany, what struck me as contributing to unemployment wasn’t so much personnel regulations as the collection of other regulations that limited German commerce, such as laws that prevented retailers from remaining open until late hours, open on Sundays, and so forth. On the one hand, these measures were extremely annoying to someone who had become accustomed to being able to hit the supermarket at 4am if the fancy struck me. On the other, they would really seem to contribute to unemployment by prohibiting the hiring of additional workers to occupy certain shifts. When I asked why these regulations were in place, I was usually told that the limits were intended to protect small, family businesses against large corporations.

I really have no idea of how accurate my impression was, if it stands up in comparative context, or what other obstacles there might be to increased employment in European countries. Nevertheless, it didn’t make any sense to me to prohibit retailers from selling product to customers based on the hour of the day. I wouldn’t be surprised if such regulations had just as much, if not more, impact on unemployment than those that concern hiring and termination.

One of these is not like the others….

[ 0 ] April 3, 2006 |

In the course of denouncing a University of Texas professor for making an environmentally apocalyptic statement, Sully gives us the following. See if you can pick out the problem:

In the long run, right-wing fundamentalism and left-wing fundamentalism end up in the same place.

[...]

You have John McCain’s new best friends, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, seeing the End-Times approach, when every homosexual, feminist and Jew will be roasted alive by Jesus. You have Marxists expecting the Communist revolution when all alienation will be dispelled. And you have the fundie enviro-left eagerly anticipating species annihilation. To my mind, it’s a very good indicator of whether someone is worth listening to from a political stand-point. Those who expect the end of the world relatively soon should be kept as far away from public office as possible. They can keep their apocalypses to themselves.

A pox on all their houses!!

But maybe, just maybe, John McCain’s new best friends are a slightly bigger threat than a few lonely, bitter Marxists and a UT professor who likes plagues. And possibly, lumping the former into a group with the latter really does a disservice to reality by failing to grapple with the fact that the right-wing extremists are members-in-good-standing of the Republican political machine while the left-wing extremists are in the wilderness and will continue to be in the wilderness for the foreseeable future.

Baseball!!!!

[ 0 ] April 3, 2006 |

Apologies regarding slow posting as of late. I turned 32 on Saturday, and the impact of my accelerating decrepitude has become increasingly obvious. Sunday Battleship Blogging will return next week.

In other news, baseball has returned. My condolences to all those poor schleps out there who were counting on C.C. Sabathia. Recall that LGM has a Baseball Challenge league going again this year:

League Name: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Password: zevon

Axis of Evel Knievel is already in the lead.

Bickle

[ 0 ] April 1, 2006 |

Read Matt’s thoughts on loneliness and the Seattle shootings.

[ 0 ] March 31, 2006 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Starbuck and Nelson

Boxing

[ 0 ] March 30, 2006 |

Why has boxing become irrelevant?

Five years ago, ten years ago, fifteen years ago I was always able to name the heavyweight champion, a few of the major heavyweight contenders, and a few of the other major titletholders. Now, I find that the heavyweight title is divided among four different contenders, none of whom I’ve ever heard of.

Boxing is not such a bad sport to watch on TV. It has clear commercial breaks, and tends to be reasonably exciting. The possibilities seem to be as follows:

1) America has outgrown boxing: The American public can no longer, on a consistent basis, deal with the violence of boxing. This seems patently absurd.

2) There are no charismatic boxers: Was Mike Tyson charismatic? Lennox Lewis? Larry Holmes? Evander Holyfield? Doesn’t make any sense.

3) Boxing lacks a central organizational body: This one make a lot of sense. MLB, the NFL, and the NBA all devote an extraordinary amount of effort to marketing their product. The major boxing organizations seem to be most interested in competing against one another, and only tangentially interested in drumming up interest in the sport as a whole.

4) Bad Marketing: I also find this one plausible. I wonder if the major promoters and organizations were too greedy, too enthusiastic about seizing the revenue available from cable and pay-per-view, while remaining oblivious to larger considerations regarding developing a future audience for the sport. The NFL is smart enough to refrain from making the Superbowl pay-per-view, if only because it helps develop a younger audience.

Thoughts?

The Most Insightful Comment Regarding New Mexico Lobos Football I’ve Heard All Day

[ 0 ] March 30, 2006 |

Somehow I am thinking that a diet consisting of something other than cheeseburgers might help this team suck just slightly less. Get Direct TV Albuquerque for all the latest Lobo action.

Book Review: Cicero

[ 0 ] March 29, 2006 |

My introduction to Cicero came in a Classics class my freshman year at the University of Oregon. We read Against Verres I, an early case prosecuted by Cicero against the former governor of Sicily, and the Second Philippic Against Antony, a speech written in the days following the assassination of Caesar. Cicero is an odd figure among those ancients still read today. He wasn’t a historian, or a philosopher, or a playwright, although he dabbled in the first two. Cicero’s surviving work is mostly about the practical diffculty of being a politician in Rome at the end of the Republic. Whereas you can read Plato or Thucydides without caring overmuch about local Athenian politics, Cicero is ALL politics, and an interest in Cicero depends, to some degree, on an interest in his times.

That said, Cicero’s life gives us one of the clearest possible windows into the political life of ancient Rome. Cicero was one of the four or five most important men in Rome during the civil wars, and the contours of his life are particular important to an understanding of that conflict. Although much of his work has been lost, many of his most important speeches survive, and we have a lifetime of correspondence between he and his friend Atticus. We know Cicero better than any but his closest friends. As with any political memoir, we are susceptible to Cicero’s deception, but only to the same extent that he deceived himself; the Cicero that comes down to us is not the writer of a self-serving memoir.

The existence of Cicero as a fully realized historical individual is one of the things that attracted me to his writings. Another is an amateur interest in his time and place. Probably most important, I liked Cicero as a politician. Although driven to save the Republic, he was also motivated by a powerful sense of the practical and the possible. In this sense he reminds me most of Edmund Burke, although his purpose leaned more to the institutional than to the social. The revolution in Rome was small potatoes compared to the French Revolution.

Cicero’s experience also demonstrates the inadequacy of a Burkean program. By Cicero’s day, the constitution of the Republic was simply not up to the management of an Empire and its consequent enormous urban capitol. Cautious reform is not a helpful program when one major faction is so entrenched that it resist any meaningful change, and the other is so radical that it rejects basic common ground. Cicero knew this on some level, which is why he was so reluctant to throw his support (and the support of the Senate) behind Pompey in the 50s or behind Octavian in the wake of Caesar’s assassination. The victory of Pompey over Caesar, Antony over Octavian, or even Brutus and Cassius over the Second Triumvarate might have altered the contours of the new Roman state, but would never have saved the Republic as it existed. The fall of the Republic serves to remind that simply because there MUST be a solution does not mean that their WILL be a solution.

Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician
, by Anthony Everett, is a solidly enjoyable account of Cicero’s life. It’s not the most exhaustive nor the most accurate biography, but it is very readable. Everett is clear about the evidence that we don’t have, but still makes sensible decisions about filling in Cicero’s life with what we know of the typical existence of an upper-class Roman citizen.

It wouldn’t surprise me to discover that Anthony Everett’s account of Cicero has been used by the writers and producers of Rome. The depiction of the death of Caesar was very close to Everett’s account, and the book came out not long before the series was contemplated. One episode that Everett relates might be fun to depict in the series; although Brutus seems like a stand up guy and all, he once ordered his men to lock the senate of a small town in its building until several of the senators starved. “Nice guy” was a relative term in ancient Rome.

Caspar

[ 0 ] March 28, 2006 |

How I love to watch the morn with golden sun that shines, up above to nicely warm these frosty toes of mine

The wind doth taste of bittersweet,
Like jasper wine and sugar.
I bet it’s blown through others’ feet,
like those of…

Caspar Weinberger.

Arrested Thirteen

[ 0 ] March 28, 2006 |

Looks like no more Arrested Development.

On the upside(?), it looks as if there will be an Ocean’s Thirteen, featuring Soderberg, Clooney, Pitt, Damon, and the rest of crew, but excluding Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta Jones. The exclusion of Roberts can only be met with great rejoicing, as she was the only major flaw to mar the first film, and was key to the worst excesses of the second.

Thanks to the magic of ten channels of HBO, I’ve seen Ocean’s Twelve several times in the last few months. My attitude on it has matured a bit. On the plus side, every moment that Garcia is onscreen is outstanding. The same can be said for Vincent Cassel. Damon is probably better in the second film than the first, largely because he has a richer role. On the other hand, there’s not enough Pitt or Clooney (especially the latter), the pacing is off (Soderberg couldn’t manage the trick of humanizing all eleven members a second time), the scenes with Roberts are uniformally terrible, and the plot is slapped together with visible tape and paste.

So, I don’t know what to think of the third effort. I’ll almost certainly see it, though.

Season Preview: Cincinnati Reds

[ 0 ] March 28, 2006 |

One of the biggest differences between the Mariners and the Reds is that while the Mariners are guaranteed of 4th place, the Reds merely aspire to it.

Last year the Reds went 73-89, scoring 820 runs and giving up 889. Both of those were the highest in the National League, the latter really a tremendous achievement for any team not playing in Colorado. They were 27 games out of first place and 6 games out of fourth place. Part of the high run totals are because the Great American Ballpark is a solid hitters ballpark, with a factor of about 105 (favorable to hitters). The more important reasons for the high run totals are the Reds’ excellent offense, horrible pitching, and criminally negligent defense. Of the latter, only the Colorado Rockies and the Kansas City Royals had worse defensive efficiency numbers.

Not terribly much has changed between this year and last in Cincinnati. The offense remains potent, with plus offensive players at every position except second base (Freel/Womack/Aurilia), and first base (Scott Hatteburg). The defense remains awful, especially in the outfield. Austin Kearns can play a plausible corner outfield, but Adam Dunn really belongs at first base, and Ken Griffey Jr. can no longer play center. BP has him at -18 runs in centerfield last year, and expects a similar performance this year. The infield defense is a lot better, although the right side of the infield has some obvious difficulties.

The pitching staff remains a big problem. The rotation seems to consist of Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Brandon Claussen, Eric Milton, and Dave Williams. Harang was a good pitcher last year. Claussen is decent, as is Bronson Arroyo, although Arroyo’s flyball tendencies probably couldn’t have found a worse home than Cincinnati. Eric Milton, on the other hand, turned in one of the worst performances in the history of major league baseball. A 6.47 ERA in 186.1 innings is a bad thing, and there is no reason to expect him to perform any better this year, as he remains a mediocre, flyball heavy pitcher in a wholly inappropriate park in front of a catastrophically leaky outfield defense. Dave Williams will eat some below average innings. Nevertheless, the rotation will probably be slightly better than it was last year. In the bullpen, only David Weather and Matt Belisle are really distinguished.

The best that the Reds can expect is that Austin Kearns will regain his offensive form and deliver the 4-5 WARP (wins above replacement) that he seems capable of. Griffey will be a net plus if he remains healthy and hits like he did last year. Second base will be a disaster unless Ryan Freel takes over quickly from Aurilia and Womack. Edwin Encarnacion looks like a fine regular, and I’m not so worried about his defense. The pitching staff could achieve its extreme upside of mediocrity. If all of that happens, and if Chicago and Houston collapse, then a third place finish in the division and about 81 wins aren’t out of reach.

The worst that can happen is utter disaster. If Griffey gets injured he’s going to be replaced by Ryan Freel, meaning that Womack and Aurilia will be free to suck at second base all year long. Encarnacion may have trouble developing. Kearns may remain stuck at his current level of sub-par production. Harang could take a slight step back, and Arroyo could completely fail in GAB. Eric Milton will remain Eric Milton. In this scenario, the Reds find themselves firmly in sixth place, behind the (gasp) Pirates.

My guess? About the same as last year, roughly 71-73 wins, and probably fifth place.