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Buck Up or Stay in the Truck!

[ 47 ] September 29, 2010 |

When Taibbi’s on there’s no political journalist who makes better reading, and the white conservative Republicans re-branded as the “Tea Party” inspires some of his best work.

After you finish it, you may want to read Douthat’s recent assertions that the teabaggers are just as mad at the Republicans and have a principled belief in “fiscal rectitude,” which is definitely good for a few laughs. Omitted: an explanation for why this nonpartisan belief failed to manifest itself when fiscally incontinent Republicans actually controlled the government.


Metrics for Winning Hearts and Minds

[ 7 ] September 28, 2010 |

I often find myself in disagreement with Amitai Etzioni, but he does makes some sense in his recent Politico op-ed on Petraeus’ “metrics” for progress in Afghanistan:

The newest way General Petraeus plans to measure success in the war in Afghanistan reminded me of what the government did when its campaign to persuade the public to stop smoking did not make much headway. It stopped counting how many people had had their last cigarette – and started counting how many anti-smoking pamphlets it mailed.

…Gen. Petraeus has outlined five metrics of military success, including: ‘the elimination of Taliban sanctuaries outside the city of Kandahar and continued targeting of senior and mid-level insurgent leaders by U.S. Special Operations forces, an increase in the disappointing number of Taliban fighters brought into a government reintegration scheme, the development of newly authorized local defense forces, and improvement in the capabilities of Afghanistan’s national security forces.’

These measurements correlate very poorly with what the U.S. is seeking and with what General Petraeus argued to date was what he sought to achieve. Petraeus is famous for his counterinsurgency strategy, according to which one cannot win the war militarily, but only by building a ‘legitimate and effective’ government composed of the citizens of the country, so that those who would rebel will be enticed to come in from the cold.

True. The “metrics” the US needs to be looking for are the extent to which civilian sentiment is moving toward the government rather than toward the Taliban. But then Etzioni tells us that’s not happening – through reference to the same kind of irrelevant indicators (like how many areas the Taliban hold) that tell us something about Taliban strength but nothing about the views of the Afghan citizenry on the legitimacy of the government or US presence in the country:

To measure progress on this front one, would have to know, for instance, that, if following the last election, the public does feel that the Karzai government is more representative and less fraudulent? Hardly. Does the public feel that the Karzai government and its local representatives, including the police and army, are less corrupt? No indication to this effect. Do they feel minimally secure in their homes and public spaces? Evidence shows to the contrary; the Taliban has been spreading in the northern, non-Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and holding on to most of the Southern ones. According to the Afghan NGO Safety Office, Afghanistan is more dangerous now than at any time since 2001. Four years ago, insurgents were active in only four Afghan provinces. Now, they are active in 33 of 34.

Etzioni doesn’t cite the data he is quoting from, but recent polling data – precisely the type you would look at if you wanted to gauge Afghan sentiment re. their government and ISAF forces – suggests his interpretation is a wee bit too gloomy. Read more…


[ 7 ] September 28, 2010 |

Reds win the NL Central.

Distinctly Not Terrified

[ 37 ] September 28, 2010 |

Wittes, responding to Adam Serwer:

In other words, Adam’s fear that “the president can have someone executed on his say-so based on mere suspicion of a crime” does not describe the claimed power properly. The better description would read: “The president has the power to target a U.S. national whom he concludes in good faith is meaningfully at war with the United States, who lies beyond its law enforcement capacities, and whose capture he cannot effectuate without undue risk to forces.”

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that this power is less than awesome. It is terrifying. Indeed, I can think of only a few things in this space more terrifying than a presidency with the power to kill its citizens, even under these very limited circumstances. One of them, however, is a presidency that lacks this power–one barred by law from attacking citizens even when those citizens make war against it and when it has no other available means of neutralizing them.

Really? Wittes finds a world in which the President cannot order the killing of Anwar Al Aulaqi “terrifying”? I think that I need a bit more elaboration on this point, because I’m not sure that I would be able to get past “mildly disconcerted,” which would then be suitably overwhelmed by the aforementioned terror of a presidency with the power to kill its citizens. It seems to me that a legal inability to target Anwar Al Aulaqi for assassination has, at worst, a series of mildly inconvenient consequences; we have to undertake steps to arrest him, or we have to kill him in a genuine battlefield context, or we have to endure his (frankly) trivial contribution to Al Qaeda’s campaign against the United States.

Even if we take this argument to its natural extreme, I’m not sure I find myself “terrified”. The worst case scenario appears to be that there would be real limits on the ability of some future Abraham Lincoln to order the assassination of a future Jefferson Davis with a drone strike. Even at this level, the restriction doesn’t seem to be wholly unreasonable, much less “terrifying.”

Linky Linky…

[ 5 ] September 28, 2010 |

Some lazy blogging on a Tuesday evening…

Low Broderism

[ 17 ] September 28, 2010 |

Is it possible to come up with a dumber “Obama would be leading the Democrats to a victory in the midterms if only he had sucked up even more to Republicans” argument than Clive Crook’s? Well, I don’t know, but some participants in this forum are certainly giving it the ol’ diploma mill try. Our first candidate is the nominally Democratic answer to Alan Simpson, Mr. Bob Kerrey. According to Kerrey, Obama needs (like a good Nebraska Republican, which for all intents and purposed Kerrey now is) to embrace states’ rights, some vague mush about “private sector innovation,” the Catfood Commission, and:

Second, the president should downsize the federal government. Don’t let anyone say it cannot be shrunk by at least 10 percent; there is always room to cut. He should connect this with his efforts to make policymaking more open and transparent and use the savings to finance a small-business recovery plan.

Bonus points for saying that the federal government can be cut 10% while conveniently omitting anything that should actually be cut, beyond some of the usual waste/fraud/abuse handwaving, which is now called “transparency.”

Can this be topped? You might not think so, but you haven’t reckoned with the farcically fraudulent hack who was inexplicably paid millions of dollars to destroy Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. I give you Mark Penn, Union Buster (TM), who would like you to know that the housing bubble won’t reinflate itself, and unemployed people want more money going to NASA :

Rather than cut the space program, he should double its size. [!] He should make sure that every American with a broadband connection has access to online education.[?]


Voters will re-elect President Obama only if they believe that America is on the move, creating and building things. Homeownership is still a vital part of the American dream and must remain a goal of his administration, despite the housing crisis. [What could possibly go wrong?] And he should work with both parties to come to a reasonable compromise on immigration reform, one that would create a clearer path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and effectively control the borders. [And a pony!]

After the midterms, President Obama will likely face the same decision that President Clinton faced in 1994 — to stay the course on the left or return to the center. His choice could be the difference between a one-term presidency and four more years governing with the coalition that elected him. [Why, Mark, whatever path do you think he could choose?]

I think I’m going to give this to Penn, if only on the grounds of sheer laziness. He can’t even be bothered to come up with some new arbitrary group of rich conservative white people who Obama should pander to this time…

I Take It Back

[ 7 ] September 28, 2010 |

OK, maybe he was right to praise himself — for the first time we have evidence that Richard Cohen is a very funny man. The segue from “practically, some suburban Jerusalem settlements won’t be dismantled'” to “therefore, Israel should be able to build more illegal settlements pretty much wherever it pleases and Obama should just butt out” — now that’s priceless comic timing.

Boarding the Waaaaaaaambulance

[ 8 ] September 28, 2010 |

Shorter Ed Gillespie: “I must oppose transparency, because it violates the rights that individuals and especially corporations have under the First Amendment to have nobody disagree with them.”

Jeez, Ed, even Antonin Scalia is making fun of you right now.

UPDATE: More here.

Teaching Panel Transitions via Craig Thompson’s Blankets

[ 24 ] September 27, 2010 |

The standard caveat applies: these analyses are designed for freshmen-level composition courses.  I repeat: these analyses are designed for freshmen-level composition courses.  The wheel will not be reinvented here.

I begin the quarter teaching excerpts from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and Making Comics not because all arguments about comic form and content end with the theories contained therein, but because 1) his terms have come to define the debate and 2) they are damn useful in setting up classroom debates.  (My students don’t realize that they frequently recapitulate the scholarly arguments inspired by the book, but they do.)  The basic idea behind this exercise is to get them to understand that they’re all murderers and the only way they’ll get their heads out of the gutters is figure out how to move from one panel to the next.  First I provide the McCloud:

Scott mccloud transitions 01

Then I follow it with an example from their text, in this case Craig Thompson’s Blankets:

Scott mccloud transitions 02

You’ll note that I haven’t included an obvious example of a moment-to-moment transition here, but that’s because I want them to understand from the get-go that this terminology is flexible.  In this case, I would argue that this is moment-to-moment on two accounts: the first would be conventional McCloud, because in the gutter between the those panels the reader must imagine Phil squirm until he can spot the “sharks” on the floor beside the bed.  My assumption here is that “squirming” represents “a single action” and Thompson portrays its constituent parts, but my assumption is also an assertion that students can (and tomorrow will be forced to) take issue with.

For example, it could be argued that “squirming” is an indivisible act and that, as such, it cannot be broken down into a series of moments (although the very existence of these panels would seem to indicate otherwise).  Here as elsewhere, the poor fit between McCloud’s term and Thompson’s text works to my advantage: something cannot simply be said to be something.  It must be argued.  The same difficulties arise with McCloud’s next transition:

Scott mccloud transitions 03The problem is right there in the word-picture relation: is the “single subject” of McCloud’s panels a baseball player and a drunk (“person”) or a baseball bat and a drink (“object”)?  It may seem like a distinction without difference until you imagine a fourth panel for each example: if the baseball player swings and the fourth panel presents him rounding the bases, the “single subject” had to be him; if the batter swings and the fourth panel presents the bat flying into the stands and injuring a spectator, the “single subject” must have been the bat.  Implicit in retroactive determinations of the sort is a more complicated argument about what the meaningful elements within a panel are.  Here’s the Thompson I’m pairing with the above:

Scott mccloud transitions 04

What is the subject of this panel?  Is it Thompson or the blood on his hands?  An argument can made be for either (though obviously one is more interesting the the other).  I could continue in this vein, but I want my students to figure this out on their own and not simply repeat what I write on the blog.  With that in mind, I will simply present the last examples (minus non-sequitur for Thompson-specific reasons I’ll cover later) in the order in which they will appear on the wall.  Feel free to knock them (and me) about in the comments.  Here goes:

Read more…

Yeah, Sure

[ 5 ] September 27, 2010 |

Shorter Clive Crook: People would be perfectly happy with Obama, despite the dismal economy, if he were more like David Broder. Certainly, he cannot continue to be such a populist firebrand, always pandering to hippies. Oh, and he should definitely support extremely unpopular upper-class tax cuts; that will put him over the top.

No, really. This is one of those columns that make you wonder if they could possibly believe this stuff.

UPDATE: Henry has much more.

The Full Range Of Opinion From Jonah Goldberg to Rich Lowry!

[ 11 ] September 27, 2010 |

Son of a Nobel Laureate Adam Bellow continues to masterfully undermine the thesis of his own book.

I Can’t Decide Whether This Is Wrong Until I Know His Party Affiliation

[ 16 ] September 27, 2010 |

Meet New York Republican nominee Carl Paladino, who has some other things besides racist emails on his cv:

She was talking about her husband’s affair, a subject she was ready, if not eager, to address. Since her husband, Carl, won the Republican nomination for governor of New York last week, the only story in the race as compelling as his upset victory has been their personal back story: that her husband not only had an affair, not only fathered a child with that other woman, but also told his wife of 40 years about it all the same week that their 29-year-old son, Patrick, was killed in a car accident. He pulled her aside, Ms. Paladino said, as she was looking for family photographs to bring to the wake.

“He said he was very sorry to cause me pain, the relationship with the mother was over … and there was a child,” she said.

The problem is, I’m unsure about the moral status of Carl Paladino’s actions here. The reaction to John Edwards’s similar actions and Bill Clinton’s substantially lesser actions would suggest that Paladino’s adultery makes him History’s Greatest Monster.* The reaction to the similar actions of Newt Gingrich, John McCain, David Vitter, Rudy Giuliani, and John Ensign suggests that his political career should go on as if nothing happened. Hmmm, if there was only some pattern here that would allow me to determine what the reaction will be.

*And yes, yes, I understand with Edwards there’s the “meta” argument that his adultery should be disqualifying because of the lack of political judgment it showed, and sure as far as it goes. But that argument works because his adultery would be seen as disqualifying, and note that the same argument could be made about all of the other men I’ve named with the possible exception of McCain.