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All About the Heritage…

[ 0 ] September 21, 2006 |

Yglesias calls out Saxby Chambliss for what seems like the 912th nostalgic reference to the Confederacy this year alone. Loomis has some appropriately caustic commentary on the subject. On the subject of Southern heritage, see also Sean Wilentz’ fine review of Nicholas Lemann’s Redemption, a history of Reconstruction that tends, incidentally, to undercut recent reevaluations of US Grant.

I sincerely hope that there will come a day when the display of a Confederate flag holds the same political meaning in the United States as the display of a swastika in Germany, and I also hope that, someday, positive invocation of any political or military leader of the Confederacy will be tantamount to political suicide. That time ain’t coming soon, though. As many (but not enough) know, Kentucky was a slave state but never joined the Confederacy. Kentucky supplied large numbers of troops to both sides, but by and large avoided serious battles on its terrain. In spite of the fact that Kentucky remained in the Union, the two statues standing outside the old courthouse in Lexington are Confederate officials, including John C. Breckinridge, Confederate Secretary of War. Some people think that these statues are harmless symbols; I don’t. I think that John C. Breckinridge was a traitor and a defender of slavery, and that there’s about as much justification for erecting a statue of him in Lexington as there is for putting up a statue of Stalin in Tblisi.

As I’ve argued before, the problem isn’t that the South is bad and evil, and that the North is good. The problem is that Southerners seem to have a remarkably difficult time getting past the five most shameful years of their history. “The South” has existed as a social and political community since before the Revolution, and yet invocations of Southern heritage are almost all made in reference to the five years of rebellion in defense of slavery. This obsession is deeply harmful, I think, to the maturation of the political identity of the South. It prevents an honest reconsideration of slavery, of Reconstruction, and of Jim Crow. Note this NYT article on a recently unearthed swimming pool in Mississippi. The pool was buried and closed in the mid-1970s because the white community preferred no public pool at all to an integrated one. Trying to bring up issues like this often evokes an almost turtle-like retreat into a Southern communal identity that rejects any criticism levelled by an outsider. The manifestation of this retreat is “Yeah, you think that all us Southerners are stupid and racist”. Again, it’s fair to say that some Northerners (and Westerners, and Europeans, and whomever else you’d care to mention) do have negative preconceptions about Southerners, but others of us just wish someone would tear down the damn statue of John C. Breckinridge.


More Thailand Thoughts

[ 0 ] September 20, 2006 |

I agree with Erik that the King’s decision to back the coup has essentially ended the political crisis. Thaksin doesn’t have a snowball’s chance of finding his way back into power in the near term. I also think that Erik is right to worry about the decision of the coup-plotters to suspend democracy for a full year. The US has denounced the coup, but this denunciation has not been accompanied by a call for the return of Thaksin, which suggests that there may be a “wink and nod” arrangement.

I do differ a bit from Billmon on the question of American media coverage of the coup. In the midst of criticizing the Post for quoting democracy advocates who support the coup, Billmon writes:

How, exactly, can those who support a military coup be described as “democracy activists”?

Orwell said the word fascism had become nothing more than a generic term for “something not desirable.” Likewise, it appears that democracy has degenerated into a synonym for “a government we support.”

I honestly don’t think that there’s a contradiction, or that anything Orwellian is going on here. I don’t have any contacts in the Thai democratic activist community, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that some portion were supportive of the coup, if not the 1 year suspension. Democracy has both substantive and procedural components, and while I’m not expert on Thai politics I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to find that Thaksin was violating the former while holding to the latter. The Post may be making up nonsense, but then it may not. The biggest problem with American coverage is that there’s simply not enough of it. The BBC, again, has been a far more complete source of information.

Not Invited to the Conversation

[ 0 ] September 20, 2006 |

Make sure to read PTJ’s analysis of the Pope’s speech in Germany. The real target, according to PTJ, were Western secularists and non-Catholics. A selection:

Hence the irony: Benedict wasn’t attacking Islam; he was ignoring it, and in particular ignoring its claim to be a rival monotheistic religion that deserves to be set on equal footing with Christianity when trying to wrestle with thorny issues like the relationship between faith and reason. Classic medieval scholastic response (or lack of response — take your pick). The difference this time is that opportunistic Islamist groups are taking advantage of the Pope’s irresponsibility, even though they missing the issue about as much as Benedict himself did. The problem is not that Benedict insulted Islam; the problem is that Benedict didn’t try to engage Islam.

Shut the *%&$ Up, Giambi

[ 0 ] September 20, 2006 |

I’m with Mr. Trend; however you feel about A-Rod, this from Jason Giambi is absurd and uncalled for. The garbage about “getting the big hit” is just that; undoubtedly Jason remembers his own big hits much more clearly than the runs that A-Rod drives in. The most ridiculous part of this is that it comes with the Yankees up by 11 games. Great teams don’t need “the big hit” to win; they win their games by five runs, and their divisions by ten games. Moreover, whatever problems A-Rod has had in the field this year, it’s nonsense to even consider him on the same level as Jason “I’m a bad fielder for a DH” Giambi. Finally, as Trend notes, A-Rod has never been accused of juicing, while Giambi’s record is, well, a little bit less than clean on that score.

The pity is that I’ve always kind of liked Giambi more than A-Rod, at least since the latter left Seattle. But watching Jason (who is a marginal-at-best HoF candidate) mock a genuine inner circle HoFer in a year in which, defense included, Rodriguez has contributed more than Giambi gets my dander up.

Always Dreary Political Science Blogging

[ 0 ] September 20, 2006 |

I have no particularly deep commentary on the Gerber and Malhotra study discussed by Kieran and here by Kevin Drum. Bitterly fought battles over the relative value of different political science methodologies are a phenomenon that I am happy to consign to my misspent youth. Nonetheless, some attention is appropriate.


There are a lot of studies that just barely show significant results, and there are hardly any that fall just barely short of significance. There’s a pretty obvious conclusion here, and it has nothing to do with publication bias: data is being massaged on wide scale. A lot of researchers who almost find significant results are fiddling with the data to get themselves just over the line into significance.

This is probably correct, as there are lots of ways to massage and finesse data such that p < .05. There is also tremendous incentive to do so, as a single publication in APSR or AJPS may prove critical in tenure and hiring decisions. When the survival of your career depends on whether APSR accepts your article, and when you know that APSR doesn't publish negative results, it can hardly be surprising that fudges happen. Moreover, given that the journals don't have the time to rigorously analyze the data on their own, and given that there are enough disputes about the appropriateness of certain models and particular ways of handling data that "finesse" decisions are almost always defensible on some grounds, it's not even as if scholars are "cheating" in the traditional sense of the term. Were this still 1999, I might add that this problem and others like it tend to undermine the “hard science” claims of those who vigorously argue for the superiority of quantitative over qualitative methods. It’s not 1999, though, so I’ll just let that lie. Anyway, I made up, like, six countries for my dissertation, so who am I to complain?

Oklahoma Sooners=Whiny Infants

[ 0 ] September 20, 2006 |

Still in the grip of a tantrum, the Sooners have decided to take their ball and go home:

Oklahoma would consider canceling its game at Washington in 2008 if the Pacific 10 Conference doesn’t change its rule requiring league officials to be used at its home stadiums, Sooners coach Bob Stoops said Tuesday.

It’s a pity, because they could probably beat Washington…

Coup in Thailand

[ 0 ] September 19, 2006 |


The Thai military launched a coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Tuesday night, circling his offices with tanks, seizing control of TV stations and declaring a provisional authority pledging loyalty to the king.

Rumors of a coup swept Bangkok today as the Thai military blocked the area around Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s office with tanks.

An announcement on Thai television declared that a “Council of Administrative Reform” with King Bhumibol Adulyadej as head of state had seized power in Bangkok and nearby provinces without any resistance.

Fortunately, most coup attempts in Thailand avoid serious violence, although there are exceptions. As the BBC notes, the declaration of loyalty to the King tells us nothing whatsoever about the origin of the coup or its purposes, as the King is wildly popular with virtually all Thais.

More as events warrant. Initial thoughts? Any Thai experts out there?

…as always, the BBC is infinitely more valuable as a news source than any US outlet. See here, here, and here.

…as Atrios notes, it isn’t yet clear whether this is a “good” coup that will further Bush’s interpretation of US interests and thus win the applause of wingnuts everywhere, or a “bad” coup. The cause of the coup seems to be largely domestic and organizational, although the Thai military has been doing some anti-terrorist work in the south. In comments Erik reminds us that while military coups are clearly an anti-democratic method for changing governments (and can be especially damaging when used often), they do not always result in the installation of military governments or authoritarian rule. In this case, regardless of the outcome, a quick return to some form of parliamentary democracy is quite likely.

Loomis has more.

Bush, the Evil Kirk

[ 0 ] September 19, 2006 |

Ron Moore hints at it on the 40th anniversary of Star Trek:

Kirk, for me, embodied an American idea: His mission was to explore the final frontier, not to conquer it. He was moral without moralizing. Week after week, he confronted the specters of intolerance and injustice, and week after week found a way to defeat them without ever becoming them. Jim Kirk may have beat up his share of bad guys, but you could never imagine him torturing them.

A favorite quote: “We’re human beings, with the blood of a million savage years on our hands. But we can stop it. We can admit that we’re killers, but we won’t kill today.” Kirk clearly understood humanity’s many flaws, yet never lost faith in our ability to rise above the muck and reach for the stars.


And as I grew into an adult, and my political views took shape, I treasured “Star Trek” as a dream of what my country could one day become — a liberal and tolerant society, unafraid to live by its ideals in a dangerous universe, and secure in the knowledge that its greatness derived from the strength of its ideas rather than the power of its phasers.

Incidentally, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the parallels being established between the Cylon occupation of New Caprica and the US occupation of Iraq in the BSG webisodes are heavy handed, but they’re certainly evident.

Sooner Fans are a Classy Lot

[ 0 ] September 19, 2006 |

I guess if you’re from Oklahoma there really isn’t that much else to live for…

The instant replay official whose failure to overturn a bad call led to a narrow Oregon victory over Oklahoma said Monday he feels like he is under siege after threatening phone calls, including a death threat.


Riese said he has stopped answering the phone, and police are investigating the threatening calls while keeping an eye on his neighborhood.

“They not only threatened me, they threatened my wife and kids,” Riese said.

Austin Bay takes the Blue Pill

[ 0 ] September 19, 2006 |

Austin Bay escaped reality a while ago. Now he’s found himself in some bizarre parody of reality, and he’s trying to escape that, too:

Iraq, albeit slowly and painfully, is getting stronger politically and militarily. Soon it will have more than one mech division. Eventually it will have better tanks to go with its improving troops– and in any border confrontation its tanks and troops will enjoy US air support. Iraq is one reason Iran wants a nuke– to defend itself against a democratic Iraq that won’t put up with the old Middle Eastern game of tit for tat terror, sectarian and ethnic meddling, and autocratic maintenance.

Why yes, Austin. Iraq is slowly and painfully getting stronger politically and militarily, to the degree that its elected political officials are openly discussing the possibility of the managed disintegration of the country. It’s military capabilities have become so advanced that it is less able to fight the insurgency and stave off civil war now than it was a year ago. It is so threatening that, with the assistance of the 130000 troops from the most powerful army in the world, it can’t manage to secure its capitol, and indeed is in the process of building a moat that is supposed to seal the capitol off from the rest of the country. Iraq is so threatening that its prime minister recently had to visit Iran in order to beg for assistance against the insurgency.

The problem that Bay and Reynolds have is that they must paper over two fundamentally irreconcilable positions. On the one hand, they can’t backtrack on support of the Iraq War, the most notable consequence of which has been the strengthening of Iran’s position in the region. On the other hand, they want to hype the Iranian threat beyond all plausibility. So, at the same time that they decry growing Iranian influence in Iraq, and suggest (implausibly) Iranian control of the Iraqi insurgency, they need to somehow argue that the destruction of Hussein’s regime has actually weakened Iran’s position. The one point where I’ll give credit to Bay is in creativity; most wingnutty warhawks are content to argue that “we have an army next door to Iran” which, of course, ignores the fact that the army in question is currently occupied. Bay takes it a step farther; we don’t actually have to do anything, because the Iraqis are going to take care of all of this for us.

And this is what passes for expert commentary on the right side of the blogosphere. Right Blogistan: A mass consensual hallucination.

Yarr, Matey

[ 0 ] September 19, 2006 |

Remember that today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Act accordingly, ye scurvy dogs.

Fear the Reaper?

[ 0 ] September 19, 2006 |

From Air Force Link:

The Air Force chief of staff announced “Reaper” has been chosen as the name for the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle.

The Air Force is the Department of Defense’s executive agent for designating and naming military aerospace vehicles.

In the case of the Reaper, Gen. T. Michael Moseley made the final decision after an extensive nomination and review process, coordinated with the other services.

“The name Reaper is one of the suggestions that came from our Airmen in the field. It’s fitting as it captures the lethal nature of this new weapon system,” General Moseley said.

The MQ-9 Reaper is the Air Force’s first hunter-killer UAV. It is larger and more powerful than the MQ-1 Predator and is designed to go after time-sensitive targets with persistence and precision, and destroy or disable those targets with 500-pound bombs and Hellfire missiles.

Gus Van Rant supplies the punchline:

For all the armaments the Reaper carries, it needs more cowbell

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