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Today in Non Sequitur Theater

[ 1 ] December 26, 2006 |

Homer: Ah, not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm!
Lisa: That’s specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, honey.
Lisa: By your logic, I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away!
Homer: Uh-huh, and how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn’t work.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around here, do you?
Homer: (Looks around) Lisa, I’d like to buy your rock.

[Now Starring as Homer Simpson: Ann Althouse.]

After pointing out that more Americans have died in the Iraq war than in 9/11, Althouse–quite remarkably at this late date–asks:

A key question — with an unknowable answer — is: How many Americans would have died in post-9/11 attacks if we had not chosen the path of fighting back?

Well, the answer is indeed unknowable, but given that Iraq had no substantial connection to Anti-American terrorism and posed no security threat whatsoever to the United States, the overwhelmingly likely answer is “zero.” Whatever Iraq was, it wasn’t “fighting back” against the Islamic radicals who actually attacked New York.

Of course, if it was only Republican pundits who don’t actually know anything about foreign policy who think that replacing a secular dictatorship with an Islamist quasi state was an effective way of “fighting back” against Islamic terrorism, this would be relatively harmless (although pathetic.) The truly appalling thing is that people actually in charge of American policymaking also didn’t demand any logical connection between a given military response and the actual threat facing the country, and as a result nearly three thousand Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died for nothing.

This Christmas, Hear The Sound of the Funky Drummer

[ 0 ] December 25, 2006 |

The incomparable James Brown, R. I. P.

…see also this excellent AP obit.

And A Happy New Year!

[ 0 ] December 24, 2006 |

In this holiday season, it’s nice to see yet another stinging defeat in the courts for Kansas’ former Immolater of Privacy General Phil Kline.

Can The Stabbed-in-the-back Defense Initiative Work?

[ 0 ] December 24, 2006 |

With respect to the Ackerman/Farley/Lemieux debate, a formerly ambivalent Kevin Drum (along with Mona) comes down squarely in the Ackerman camp. Yglesias and Atrios disagree, and of course I still do. A couple of additional points:

  • The reason that letting them having their surge won’t really change much about the political dynamics is that you can always have done more. As Kevin notes, this narrative was used about Vietnam, which was prosecuted in a much more brutal fashion in Iraq. If you’re inclined to make (or, more importantly, to believe) such arguments, objective actions are always beside the point. As long as the country hasn’t been nuked into oblivion, you can always move the goalposts yet again.
  • My other question is how much effect the “do we get to win this time?” narrative of Vietnam has really had on perceptions of Democratic weakness of foreign policy. My guess is actually very little, and most of what exists is concentrated among people who would never vote Democratic anyway. I think that the link of opposition to an unpopular war to an even more unpopular counterculture, for example, was much more important. I think it’s a small part of the story. (Perhaps Rick Perlstein can adjudicate.)

So I’m still where I was. I don’t think the surge is anything like a net benefit because I doubt that it will provide a substantial political benefit, and it will certainly mean more young men and women sacrificed in a hopeless cause.

Against "Authenticity" Again

[ 0 ] December 23, 2006 |

Nice to see Bob Somerby on board:

Again, when we talk about what is “appealing” and authentic,” we enter extremely subjective territory. And oh yeah—we validate the type of discussion the mainstream press corps is eager to have. Once we allow this type of discussion, they can create any novel they want about who’s “authentic” and who isn’t. And surprise! As an upper-class and corporate institution, the press corps will increasingly tend to judge that Republican candidates seem “authentic”—and that the Dems do not. Indeed, that’s precisely the way this group has called it in our last two White House campaigns—Bush and McCain were authentic straight-shooters, the hideous Gore and Kerry were not. As a general matter, they will continue to make such judgments—if we validate the type of discussion this addled crew hopes to have.

Having studied the 2000 race in detail, we cringe when intelligent liberals adopt the “authenticity” meme. That silly theme is the press corps’ meat. Once we let them start making such judgments, they’ll quickly craft the story they like—and whatever it is, they’ll recite it in unison. And again, their judgments—which will be too subjective to be meaningfully disputed—will tend to favor Republicans. Even now, with Bush having nearly destroyed the known world, they haven’t quite walked away from their “Republicans = authenticity” judgments. They will soon return to these themes in force—if we stoop to the silly place where they want our discourse to go.

And it’s not just that the concept is just an empty shell into which you can pour any a priori preference, but that it’s worthless as a criterion of value even if it actually had any content.

"That Oughta Hold Those S.O.B.s"

[ 0 ] December 22, 2006 |

Travel day today, so very light blogging. In the meantime, enjoy Roy nominating Dr. Mrs. Ole Perfesser for a Robert Bork “It’s the Sociological Significance” award, and 3 Bulls having fun with the Pitchfork Top 100 singles list.

"You watch too many movies. If you want a happy ending, you should go see a Hollywood movie."

[ 0 ] December 21, 2006 |

GFR has a clever post about George Bush’s one contribution to human discouse, the “fantasy tense.” I think that Ken Pollack should be speaking in this tense full-time.

…see also Fred Kaplan on the “surge” folly. This point deserves particular emphasis:

Kagan writes, “The President must call for young Americans to volunteer to defend the nation in a time of crisis.” Given the unpopularity of the president, and of this war, this seems unlikely. After the Sept. 11 attacks, when Bush was at peak popularity, and when the country was experiencing a surge of patriotism, Congress passed a bill expanding the size of the Army by 30,000 troops. Five years later, the Army has actually expanded by just 23,000 troops. It’s still 7,000 troops short of that target. How does Kagan expect to attract 30,000 more in just one year, much less to do so two years in a row?

This would seem to be the application of the Green Lantern Theory of Foreign Relations to another field. Where are the (arbitrary, ever-shifting number) of troops needed for Kagan’s plan coming from? Why, George Bush will just will them into existence by the force of his powerful rhetoric! Civil war is over…if you want it!

In The Same Sense That Hugh Hewitt Will Be Remembered As The Next Edmund Burke

[ 0 ] December 21, 2006 |

Hugh Hewitt files a last-minute entry in the Golden Winger nominations, Soggy Biscuit division:

And that’s why every president, whether you like him or not, deserves a Doris Kearns Goodwin, who will go back there…and you don’t get it for a hundred fifty years, unfortunately, because Lincoln was so reviled, oh, so hated. Bush has got nothing like the hatred that Lincoln had, but it is eerily, eerily familiar as you read through the political agony of Lincoln. You get a sense of what Bush has been enduring when you read through the revolt of the generals, when you see the political intrigues, the decisions to try and break away, the villainous and vicious press that makes the blogosphere look like kindergarten. That’s why…and I always get hate mail after I do this segment, when I say Bush is Lincoln. It’s just a replay, and the Iraqis and the Afghanis are going to be as grateful to his memory as African-Americans are to Lincoln’s. That’s a lock, it’s what they call in the gambling world a mortal lock, and it’s not going to take a hundred and fifty years for that to be obvious. In fact, it’s already obvious in many parts of both of those countries.

Mockery of these musings would be superfluous, but I will say that if there’s a hell below, Hugh Hewitt interviewing Doris Kearns Goodwin will be on a perpetual loop.

The Year In Music

[ 0 ] December 20, 2006 |

Recently, Yglesias asked if he should feel guilty for preferring Let’s Go to any 2006 album. I completely reject the premise of the question–would anybody feel guilty for thinking that The Goodfather Part II was better than any movie released in a given year?–but what’s interesting is that I can’t remember a year with more new music that I liked or loved more, although I guess a lot of them were very good but not career-topping albums by veteran bands you can sort of take for granted (YLT, Roots, Belle & Sebastian, Built To Spill, Sonic Youth, etc.). He also links to Pitchfork’s Top 50, and while I’m also disdainful of their solipsistic hipsterisms there’s more commensurability than I would expect; what will almost certainly be my favorite album of the year is their #3, another clear top 5 album their #4, and while I don’t yet hear the masterpiece that many do I at least like the #2 enough to keep playing it, and I like several others on their list too. He also lists his own Top #10, and while tastes do very much differ etc. I will say that I also find The Hold Steady just-OK and where New York guitar bands are concerned much prefer the much less hip Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Rainer Maria. Anyway, I’ll have to compile a list when I’ve sorted things out more.

Anne Applebaum, You Gotta Be Putting Me On

[ 0 ] December 20, 2006 |

Henley has today’s edition. IOZ beat me to it as well, but this bit in particular deserves to have its 5-year waiting period waived and be granted immediate induction into the Wall Street Journal Non-Sequitur Hall of Fame:

If there are politicians, academics or journalists anywhere in Germany and France who have better ideas about how to improve the catastrophic state of Iraq, they aren’t speaking very loudly. There is no question that America’s credibility has been undermined by the Iraq war, in “Old Europe” as everywhere else. There is no question that America’s reputation for competence has been destroyed. But that doesn’t mean there are dozens of eager candidates, or even one eager candidate, clamoring to replace us.

I think the problem with the last part is quite obvious: Applebaum for some reason fails to consider the possibility that replacing an (admittedly awful) dictatorship that poses no threat whatsoever to the U.S. or Europe with a theocratic quasi-state is a job that nobody needs to do. Her next column will presumably start with the argument that “sure, people like to criticize David McNally, but who else is going to make movies about hip-hop talking kangaroos? You?”

Similarly, with respect to the first part, the erroneous premise is transparently obvious. EBW has already taken care of this fallacy in detail, but it’s silly to implictly blame “Europe” for not having solutions to an idiotic policy that they correctly predicted would produce insoluble problems.

I Think We Have An Explanation

[ 0 ] December 19, 2006 |

As a quick follow-up to Rob’s post below, I think Publius adds a critical point: the odds of a similarly draconian sentence if the race of the victim and perpetrator were reversed are extremely low. I particularly recommend this follow-up post, about the Warren Court and race. As Publius notes, a lot of what seems problematic about the craft of some major Warren Court criminal procedure opinions is that many of these were largely race cases–cases largely about practices used against blacks in the apartheid South–although for conventional reasons judges didn’t want to talk about them that way:

Of course, I can’t say what motivated the prosecutor here. But it is strange that the most egregious prosecutions under this Georgia law that bubble up to the national consciousness (including Marcus Dixon) involve young black men and white prosecutors. But regardless of the motivation, it is a textbook example of an abuse of prosecutorial discretion. (As explained in the article, Wilson had no prior problems with the police).

And that brings me to a larger point. The criminal justice system in America depends heavily upon prosecutorial and police discretion. Both prosecutors and police officers have a number of tools and laws at their disposal, and at some point we just have to trust that they won’t abuse those powers. (That’s why you should be nice to cops when they pull you over — they can always make things worse). The point is that there is a very wide range of actions that fall into the “wrong, but legal” category, as the Wilson prosecution clearly shows.

The criminal justice system’s reliance on discretion explains the problem that civil rights activists faced in the Warren Court-era South. Quite simply, Southern judges, prosecutors, and police officers could not be trusted to exercise proper discretion on racial matters. Their abuses, however, were impossible to address because existing constitutional doctrine (e.g., respect for state criminal court decisions) prevented anyone from doing anything about it. Again, “wrong, but legal.”

So, in the face this outrageousness, the Warren Court stepped in and started making new law. In fact, one way to understand the Warren Court’s decisions is that they are a collective attempt to impose bright-line rules upon Southern law enforcement officials. Specifically, the Warren Court sought to limit police and prosecutorial discretion in the South out of racial concerns and distrust for law enforcement officials. (As I’ve explained in prior writings, Scalia’s formalism and bright-line rules are also motivated by distrust, but of hippy district court judges rather than 1950s Southern state troopers.)

I agree that it’s time to stop hand-wringing about the Warren Court, and will only add that the purportedly high level of legal craftsmanship shown by the conservatives under the leadership of William “Don’t Worry About the Reasoning” Rehnquist is grossly overrated. (There’s nothing about bright-line rules that ensures legally coherent derivation of those principles; Scalia’s clear rules about affirmative action, for example, are indefensible given his alleged theoretical commitments.) Hopefully more about this later.

UPDATE: Several commenters point out that, contrary to my implication, the victim is also black (although the prosecutor is white and the man being incarcerated is black.)

The Tragic Ineluctability of Bush’s War

[ 0 ] December 19, 2006 |

People who have seen my writings about Ralph Nader will not be surprised that I tend to be skeptical of “heighten the contradictions” arguments. As such, I’m afraid that on the merits I have to side with Sam over Spencer or Rob on this one. If Congressional Democrats could end the war, then I think they should indisputably do so. This isn’t because I think that the narrative Spencer outlines won’t play out; it very well might. The problem is, the blame-the-war’s-opponents narrative will be trotted out and may hold no matter what the Democrats do. If the stylings of Glenn Reynolds have taught us nothing else–and they certainly haven’t–it’s that precisely because they’re unfalsifiable tautologies “stab-in-the-back” arguments can be deployed irrespective of the evidence on the ground or what the Democrats do. (After all, it’s not as if the narrative was a plausible explanation of Vietnam either.) There’s simply no question that the Republican Party and its lickspittles will blame everyone but the people responsible for conceiving and executing it for the failure of the Iraq war, and whether the narrative will have political force is dependent on factors (press coverage, future election results) that are both unforeseeable and not fully within the Democrats’ control. I don’t think it’s defensible to continue the senseless destruction of lives and waste of resources in Iraq for political benefits that may or may not materialize.

The good news for blogger comity, but the extremely bad news for Iraq and the United States, is that it’s all moot. This war will continue throughout Bush’s tenure no matter what. The odds that there will be the votes in Congress to de-fund the war with troops in the field are about the same that Tom Coburn will introduce a constitutional amendment mandating a French health care system with unregulated state-funded abortions. In modern politics, foreign policy rests mostly in the executive branch. Since there’s nothing the Democrats can plausibly do to end the war, political considerations are relevant, and while strategy isn’t my department making de-funding the centerpiece of Democratic policy probably isn’t politically wise.

[Cross-posted to TAPPED.]

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