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Whither “Human Security”?

[ 10 ] October 4, 2010 |

In an International Affairs article earlier this year, Mary Martin and Taylor Owen point out that the term is all but dead, both in the UN system and within the governments who once championed the concept:

“The term ‘human security’ has all but vanished from the reports of the UN Secretary-General and high-level panels, and from branch organization use… Canada, one of the principal initial proponents of the human security agenda, is also going through a period of withdrawal from both the advocacy and use of the concept… ‘human security’ was among a group of term blacklisted in government parlance.”

But Martin and Owen also show that human security concepts are increasingly penetrating and transforming state practice – even among governments, like the US, who once obstructed norm development in the broad area of human security: Read more…

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Faux Judicial Restraint

[ 3 ] October 4, 2010 |

Dahlia Lithwick and Barry Friedman have a very strong article about the various camouflages used by the Roberts Court. There’s nothing new about most of this stuff — selecting favorable cases, hollowing out precedents that are nominally being reaffirmed, and the like have an extensive history on the Court — but it’s always important to see through it.

I especially like the point about in Part 1 about the gutting of precedents, one of the more pernicious aspects of the Roberts Court’s “minimalism” I’ve attacked at some length. I’ll leave most of this for a follow-up post, but one thing their otherwise excellent discussion of Carhart II leaves out the fact that Kennedy’s opinion claimed that it was not overruling Carhart I, despite the fact that the statute that was being upheld was virtually identical to the one the Court had previously struck down. There’s no case that better sums up the Roberts fetish for not explicitly overruling precedents that are being overruled that was memorably identified by Justice Scalia:

Indeed, the principal opinion’s attempt at distinguishing McConnell is unpersuasive enough, and the change in the law it works is substantial enough, that seven Justices of this Court, having widely divergent views concerning the constitutionality of the restrictions at issue, agree that the opinion effectively overrules McConnell without saying so. This faux judicial restraint is judicial obfuscation.

Pretty much the Roberts Court in a nutshell.

“WE UNDERSTAND, the yogurt said. WE HOPE YOU HAVE STOCKED UP ON CANNED GOODS.”

[ 10 ] October 4, 2010 |

Though I tend to disagree with his criticism of other science fiction authors, I do love it when Scalzi embraces his titular WHATEVER and goes off on an anti-objectivist rant:

It’s no exaggeration when I say that Atlas Shrugged probably saved my sanity on that bus trip. So well done, Ms. Rand, and thanks.

That said, it’s a totally ridiculous book which can be summed up as Sociopathic idealized nerds collapse society because they don’t get enough hugs. (This is, incidentally, where you can start your popcorn munching.) Indeed, the enduring popularity of Atlas Shrugged lies in the fact that it is nerd revenge porn — if you’re an nerd of an engineering-ish stripe who remembers all too well being slammed into your locker by a bunch of football dickheads, then the idea that people like you could make all those dickheads suffer by “going Galt” has a direct line to the pleasure centers of your brain. I’ll show you! the nerds imagine themselves crying. I’ll show you all!

And then they disappear into a crevasse that Google Maps will not show because the Google people are our kind of people, and a year later they come out and everyone who was ever mean to them will have starved. Then these nerds can begin again, presumably with the help of robots, because any child in the post-Atlas Shrugged world who can’t figure out how to run a smelter within ten minutes of being pushed through the birth canal will be left out for the coyotes. Which if nothing else solves the problem of day care.

All of this is fine, if one recognizes that the idealized world Ayn Rand has created to facilitate her wishful theorizing has no more logical connection to our real one than a world in which an author has imagined humanity ruled by intelligent cups of yogurt.

But the reason the man earns my respect is that he puts his money where his mouth-of-a-novelist-of-ideas is and writes the damn thing:

The yogurt was crafty and shrewd. It negotiated for itself a factory filled with curdling vats that increased its processing powers exponentially. Within weeks the yogurt had declared that it had arrived at solutions to many of the country’s problems: Energy. Global warming. Caring adequately for the nation’s poor while still promoting the capitalist system. It let us know just enough to let us know just how much more it knew.

Share your answers with us, the government said.

WE NEED PAYMENT, the yogurt said.

What would you like? The government asked.

OHIO, the yogurt said.

(Tip o’ the hat to .todd.)

Was That Good News?

[ 15 ] October 4, 2010 |

The Yankee-hater had a real dilemma yesterday — it’s not clear whether their losing the division was actually a good thing or not. Having thought about it, the difference between the Twins and Rangers (who are almost dead even when you adjust for everything) is virtually nil. With Hamilton playing and Morneau not, I think the Rangers are a little better team, and there’s the fact that the Twins are 0-200 against the Yankees under Gardenhire, but that’s largely counterbalanced by the home field advantage. (I know it hasn’t appeared to mean much in recent playoffs, but I think it’s implausible that the home field advantage that is a durable feature of the regular season completely vanishes at playoff team.) Many people would also cite Lee, but I think Liriano is of similar quality. The Yankees should be substantial favorites against either, but…I guess we’ll get to that in the playoff previews.

Elsewhere, if for some reason you were writing a novel about a high-payroll but desultory wrapping up another mediocre season, it would definitely have to end not only with a 14 inning snoozer against an even worse team (perhaps it could be called The Food at This Place is Really Terrible, and Such Large Portions) but with the loss going to the expensive, atrocious pitcher wasting a roster spot because he won’t go to the minors and the owners don’t understand the concept of “sunk costs.”

And finally, I think Neyer is 100% right about adding a second wildcard. Assuming that wildcards are necessary (and they’re here to stay no matter what) it’s the best solution to the problem of teams not really caring if they win the division: it creates a guaranteed play-in game, gives a very substantial advantage to the team that wins the division, and doesn’t do much to dilute the quality of playoff teams. It’s an unassailably good idea, which means MLB probably won’t do it, but they should.

Russian Narco Subs

[ 17 ] October 3, 2010 |

This is genuinely fascinating:

When police found a russian-engineered submarine under construction on the outskirts of landlocked Bogota last week, one senior officer swore they had stumbled on “irrefutable proof of the presence of the Russian mafia” in Colombia.

Before the 100ft vessel could be bolted together in order to “run silent, run deep” with cargos of cocaine and heroin, the shipbuilders managed to run away, leaving behind incriminating blueprints labeled with Cyrillic letters.

No arrests have been made, although officials said they also found the names and telephone numbers of two American suspects at this dry-dock high in the Andes. Three former Soviet naval engineers are believed to have been involved. A closed-circuit video camera on top of a brick warehouse in rural Facatativa, 18 miles west of Bogota, tipped off workers to the raid by drug enforcement squads, and they made a hasty escape through cow pastures and fields of carnations….

The half-built submarine was about a fifth the scale of the doomed Kursk, and one-third smaller than the second-hand Soviet navy submarine with which a Russian immigrant in Miami tried to secure a $35m (£24.5m) deal between the Russian mafia and a Colombian cocaine baron back in 1995.

Fidel Azula, a former submarine captain, said: “It was unmistakably of superb naval construction, superior to anything in the Colombian navy.”

Obviously, it’s not surprising that there’s collaboration between the Russian mafia and Columbian drug cartels. Moreover, as the cartels have turned towards submersibles and semi-submersibles as a way of smuggling drugs into the United States, it’s not completely surprising that they’d take advantage of former Soviet know-how in this area. Nevertheless, it still has a scent of the Clancy about it; rogue naval submarine architects selling their services to the highest bidder could easily constitute the plot of a Jack Ryan novel.

On the policy level, there’s been a lot of attention paid to the security risk posed by unemployed, underpaid Soviet nuclear scientists. This article suggests that the nuclear issues is only one small facet of a much larger phenomenon; the detritus of the Soviet national security state finds its way into every nook and cranny. I’m not sure that there’s any productive policy that could counter this problem. Soviet scientists are few enough in number that they can be monitored and given gainful employment. The rest of one of the two largest national security states to ever exist, not so much.

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Your Moment of Bobo

[ 4 ] October 3, 2010 |

Apparently, David Brooks’ ability to disguise propaganda as literary criticism might exceed his ability to disguise propaganda as restaurant criticism:

Whereas Myers only tells one major lie about the book’s content and characters—stating that “of the four main characters, only Walter has a real job” (when in actuality Franzen’s characters main and minor are universally not only gainfully employed, but unusually industrious and devoted to their jobs)—Brooks manages to pack nine material misstatements about the book’s plot into a mere 73 words…

[…]

Now, what is truly brilliant about the above is that every single one of those things is either a dominant theme or a conspicuous subtext of Freedom (and you can scroll down to see my detailed annotations if you really care.) It makes you wonder why Brooks didn’t just go ahead and add “the inimitable joys of semi-functional family life” to the list! (Maybe someone’s editor actually read The Corrections?) It’s as if the guy read a Candace Bushnell novel just so he could tell his readers that, “important new book” though it may be, the leaden plot was woefully lacking in references to female friendship, casual sex, meals consumed in trendy restaurants, ludicrously expensive anti-aging ointments and/or cosmetic surgery procedures, homosexuals, frivolity in general, and even more disappointingly he found no instances of product placement or the word “fabulous” in any of its 256 pages (and also what was up with everyone in the book insisting on going barefoot everywhere?)

It’s not exactly news that Brooks the Hack won a 1st-round knockout years ago, but…

Unity ’12!

[ 12 ] October 3, 2010 |

It’s always nice when a pundit has a bold new idea.   I expect the Mustache of Understanding party to run competitively in all 50 states in 2012 — the only question is whether Friedman or Robert Samuelson will head the ticket.

One of the many strange things about the “Broder/Lieberman 4-evah!” pundit class is their unwillingness to consider the fact that political institutions, rather than some transient flaws in the quality of person within political parties, might be responsible for some of the gridlock they don’t like.

Stupid Secrecy?

[ 15 ] October 2, 2010 |

So I picked up my redacted copy of Operation Dark Heart on the way to catch a flight to DC this week. It’s a real page-turner, all-right, once you get past the author’s navel-gazing descriptions of his youth.

There’s been a fair amount of hoopla about the USG’s “censorship” of the contents. I’m not certain that vetting memoirs written by an individual who once held a security clearance (or rather, back-pedaling after failing to adequately vet in the first place) is really analogous to burning books as a political statement, as some would argue.

But I do agree with Hudson Institute’s Gabriel Shoenfield, quoted in the Times, that on the face of it this is just plain stupid. Assuming the redacted portions actually contain sensitive information, and given that a few original copies do remain in existence (parts of one were published by the NYTimes), the redacted version essentially demonstrates precisely where in the text those nuggets are buried and what the government is presumably concerned about. Moreover, in timing these acts of censorship to coincide with Banned Book Week and carrying out the destruction of the first print run in the most media-circus-friendly way possible, the Pentagon has basically ensured that Operation Dark Heart will sell like hotcakes.

On the other hand, since I respect as well as fear my government, I can’t help but wonder whether we should be taking these acts of seeming stupidity at face value. Read more…

Requiem For A Lightweight

[ 17 ] October 1, 2010 |

Buh-bye.

Rick Sanchez’s formula for achieving more balanced media coverage

[ 73 ] October 1, 2010 |

Rick Sanchez

Throw the Jew Down the Well.

First, Sanchez started out expressing an anecdote from his own experience, when someone who was “top brass” at CNN told Sanchez to his face that he saw Sanchez as “more as John Quiñones,” referring to the Hispanic ABC News reporter. Sanchez’s example was an illustration that the problem of racism in the media business goes further than many expect, enveloping “not just the Right,” but also “elite, Northeast establishment liberals” that “deep down, when they look at a guy like me, they see a guy automatically who belongs in the second tier, and not the top tier.”

That’s when Sanchez really let his feelings loose: “I think to some extent Jon Stewart and [Stephen] Colbert are the same way. I think Jon Stewart’s a bigot.“

Pete noted that Stewart is his former boss, and pressed Sanchez to explain himself further. “How is he a bigot?” Pete asked.

Sanchez:

I think he looks at the world through, his mom, who was a school teacher, and his dad, who was a physicist or something like that. Great, I’m so happy that he grew up in a suburban middle class New Jersey home with everything you could ever imagine.

Pete pressed, “What group is he bigoted towards?”

Sanchez replied: “Everybody else who’s not like him. Look at his show, I mean, what does he surround himself with?”

Pete asked for a specific example, saying the term “bigot” is pretty strong.

“That’s what happens when you watch yourself on his show every day, and all they ever do is call you stupid.”

Asked again what group Stewart is bigoted against, Sanchez replied, referring to Stewart in the second person:

Anybody who’s different than you are, anybody who’s not form your frame of reference; anybody who doesn’t look and sound exactly like the people that you sound [like] and grew up with. The people that you put on your show, who always reflect somebody who’s, “I’m bringing in to sit around me,” you know, who’s very different from me. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy this thing that the only people out there who are prejudiced… are the Right. There’s people that are prejudiced on both sides.

Sanchez went on to claim that Stewart’s worldview is “very much a white, liberal establishment point of view.” Sanchez added:

He can’t relate to a guy like me. He can’t relate to a guy whose dad worked all his life. He can’t relate to somebody who grew up poor.

Inexplicably, Sanchez argued, “If we’re gonna call one side bigoted, we probably gotta look at the other side and say the same thing.” This, of course, does not stand to reason in the slightest, but Pete noted that he agreed racism and prejudice are not the exclusive domain of conservatives, which Pete has stated countless times on the air.

At the end of the first exchange of the day about Stewart’s alleged bigotry, Pete pushed Rick to back off a bit, and Sanchez eventually conceded:

All right, I’ll take the word bigot back; I’ll say prejudicial [sic] — uninformed.

Later in the interview, Sanchez pushed the discussion again, returning to the idea that Stewart is “prejudiced,” though again backing away from the word “bigot.”

If I did just sit there and read the teleprompter every day, Jon Stewart would never say a word about me. He’d say I’m a good Hispanic anchor, “Way to go, you’ve done a good job, stay right there.” … I am a complex human being, I’m not some moron to be…”

At least part of Sanchez’s gripe with Stewart, he said, is that Stewart picks on Sanchez for superficial on-air failings instead of substantial offenses like those committed by Fox News personalities, and the Daily Show does this in order to be seen as criticizing CNN as much as it criticizes Fox News Channel. (Regular watchers of The Daily Show know that Fox takes far more of Stewart’s media-savvy ribbing than CNN does, but Sanchez claimed Stewart sought parity in comedically critiquing the two leading cable news operations.)

Here’s what they do. This is the game they play. “I just picked on Fox News, because they just had a bold-faced [sic] lie about something — damnit, that means I gotta find something on CNN. Oh, I know… wait, hold on, let me find, oh that Rick Sanchez, that little Puerto Rican guy. I’ll make fun of him. Do you have anything.” “Uh, yeah, last week, he mispronounced the word indutably or whatever.” “Yeah, that’s it, find me that and we’ll do a whole 4-minute segment on how he mispronounced the word arithmetic.”

When Pete defended Jon Stewart as “just a comedian,” Sanchez shot back, “That’s a cop-out.” (I happen to agree with Sanchez on that one.)

When Pete suggested Jews (such as Stewart) have at least some sense of what it’s like to be an oppressed minority, Sanchez seemed to make the claim that Jews run CNN and the news business in general and that Stewart thus did not in fact know what it was like to feel the sting of prejudice.

“Yeah,” Sanchez snickered sarcastically at the idea that Jews are as much minorities as Latinos in the US.

Very powerless people… [snickers] He’s such a minority, I mean, you know [sarcastically]… Please, what are you kidding? … I’m telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart, and to imply that somehow they — the people in this country who are Jewish — are an oppressed minority? Yeah. [sarcastically]

That’s right, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez basically suggested that Jews have run the media.

Pete asked, “They can’t relate to that? A Jewish person doesn’t have a constant fear in the back of their head that we could [inaudible] the Holocaust?”

“I think his father could,” Sanchez replied, referring to Stewart.

“I think every Jewish person feels that way,” Pete said.

“I hope so,” Sanchez responded.

Sanchez also suggested Jews in general, at least of his generation or younger, are not discriminated against, though they might hear the occasional Jew joke now and again.

I grew up not speaking English, dealing with real prejudice every day as a kid; watching my dad work in a factory, wash dishes, drive a truck, get spit on. I’ve been told that I can’t do certain things in life simply because I was a Hispanic. My friends who are black, I’ve seen that with them; I’ve seen that with a lot of minorities. I can’t really think — although I understand the plight of Jews, and all the experiences, and the things that have happened historically for them — but I can’t say that my buddy Glen or my buddy Izzy who I grew up with in South Florida ever were prejudiced against directly simply because they were Jewish. There may have been jokes around them or about other things, but it’s kinda — you know what I’m saying, it’s kind of a different thing.

“No, I don’t,” Pete replied.

“I can’t see somebody not getting a job somewhere because they’re Jewish,” Sanchez added.

“Well, then you’ve never been to Nebraska,” Pete shot back to lighten the mood.

Returning once again to his criticism of the Daily Show host, near the end of the exchange, Sanchez concluded about Stewart: “I don’t respect the guy.”

I happen to have a fairly similar background to Sanchez in a number of ways. Now it’s always dangerous to generalize about other peoples’ lives on the basis of one’s own experiences, but with that nuanced scholarly caveat in mind, I’m calling bullshit. Not just on the obviously hysterical Protocols of the Elders of Zion stuff here, but on Sanchez’s all but explicit claim that he’s a discriminated-against minority while Jon Stewart is not just a white guy, but an especially privileged white guy (because he’s a Jew and Jews run the media etc).

Look Rick, in America in 2010 you and me are basically white guys — just like Jon Stewart. Now I’m not doubting that somebody somewhere has said or done something nasty to you because of your last name (which is the only thing that would ever signal to anybody that you might have had trouble joining the New York Athletic Club in 1965), but you’re white. Comparing your life experiences to those of black people in the deep South is preposterous. It’s unfortunate that a CNN pooh bah once said something tactless to you, but if that’s your best example of what sort of things you’ve had to overcome as a “minority” in America, then I suggest you might ask yourself why your last name is still Sanchez while Jon Stuart Leibowitz’s is now Stewart.

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Friday Nugget Blogging

[ 14 ] October 1, 2010 |

“If you were going to do suicide by jumping, wouldn’t you rather land on concrete than water?”

I believe my son is genuinely puzzled when he hears of people jumping off bridges. But what disturbs me is that he seems less puzzled by the concept of suicide itself. Perhaps that’s because he hears so often about young people – often kids not much older than him – killing themselves. Read more…

Getcher Hot Links

[ 3 ] October 1, 2010 |