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[ 3 ] March 21, 2008 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Starbuck and Nelson

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Better Religion Commentators, Please

[ 53 ] March 21, 2008 |

Criticizing Amy Sullivan isn’t usually my beat, but really:

For decades, the Democratic Party has ghettoized religion, outsourcing it to African-Americans within the party. Democrats who give high-minded explanations for why they consider it inappropriate to mix religion and politics and why they don’t approve of wearing religion on their sleeve don’t bat an eye at politicians visiting black churches. Religion in black churches, they seem to think, isn’t really religion. It’s an ethnic characteristic of an important voting bloc.

I know that this is her schtick, but damn, couldn’t she provide some actual evidence? Did Bill Clinton give a lot of high minded explanations for why it was inappropriate to mix religion and politics? Jimmy Carter? Which “decades” is she referring to? Which “Democratic Party” is she referring to? Does she think the Democratic Party is entirely constituted by an atheist she once met at a coffee shop? The breathtaking inanity of it all makes me wonder if Mickey Kaus built Sullivan in his basement. And this is perhaps the worst:

[Kerry's] advisers must have considered it good strategy to limit religious rhetoric to “safe” crowds, but the decision was problematic in two ways. First, by speaking about religion only when it could be politically advantageous, Kerry seemed to confirm the criticism that he was pandering and insincere. If religion was really important to him, voters might think, he would talk about it in other settings.

So… let me get this straight. By speaking about religion only when it could be politically advantageous, Kerry seemed pandering and insincere. The trick would have been to talk about religion A LOT, which wouldn’t have been pandering or insincere; as such, talking about religion more than was politically advantageous would have been politically advantageous. Just a little bit of pandering and insincerity is disadvantageous, because it seems like pandering and insincerity, but a ton of pandering and insincerity is, like, really advantageous.

I’m sorry, but why does anyone bother to read Sullivan? Even her concept of “religion” is frustratingly nebulous; you get the sense that in her mind it kind of means something like “sincere” but doesn’t have much meaning beyond that. Maybe I’m biased by the fact that I’d rather have less invocation of nebulous religiosity, but it seems to me that Sullivan herself doesn’t have much to offer other than “more and better pandering, please.”

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All Seasons

[ 28 ] March 20, 2008 |

Paul Scofield has died; it’s unusual for an actor of his caliber to be so deeply identified with one particular role.

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Dana Perino: Chicks Don’t Grok Carrier Battle Groups

[ 28 ] March 20, 2008 |

Via Kingdaddy and Jason Sigger, Dana Perino on women in defense:

Some of the terms I just don’t know, I haven’t grown up knowing. The type of missiles that are out there: patriots and scuds and cruise missiles and tomahawk missiles. And I think that men just by osmosis understand all of these things, and they’re things that I really have to work at — to know the difference between a carrier and a destroyer, and what it means when one of those is being launched to a certain area.

Right… because men do have an inborn understanding of the difference between a Tu-95 “Bear” and a Tu-160 “Blackjack”.

The first point worth making is that, as a professor who teaches Defense Statecraft, I can testify without reservation that most men are just as ignorant of defense issues as most women. When they take classes on defense, they learn a lot; Ms. Perino is welcome to sit in on my course anytime she wants. A second point is that one of the most notable shifts in the security/defense academy over the past fifteen years has been the substantial increase in the number of women who do defense; on both the academic and the policy side, the “old boys club” is giving way to a situation in which women are extremely productive on traditional security and defense issues, and have opened up new areas of inquiry.

The last and most important point is that while we commonly here complaints from conservatives about the general ignorance of Americans on defense issues and of the increasing separation of the military experience from public life, it is only because of such ignorance and separation that conservative ideas on defense can thrive. To put it bluntly, this video would only work on a populace utterly ignorant of defense reality. The Iraq War made the most sense to people who knew nothing of the difficulties of military statebuilding, or of the problems of counter-insurgency war. Perhaps most clearly, the anti-ballistic missile system survives only because most people don’t take the time to work through the technical, financial, and strategic issues associated with its construction; defending America sounds well and good, the details be damned. It’s not surprising that the most sensible eras of defense procurement during the Cold War came after the end of major conflicts in which wide swaths of the body politic had participated; widespread knowledge of military affairs meant that nonsense had a harder time finding fertile ground.

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Dress Blues

[ 0 ] March 20, 2008 |

I mentioned in this comment thread that Dress Blues wasn’t one of my favorite songs from Jason Isbell’s Sirens of the Ditch. I should probably add that one of the reasons for this is the overall strength of the album. In any case, an LGM correspondent forwards this ESPN article on Matthew Conley, a high school acquaintance of Isbell’s and the subject of Dress Blues.

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Things That Will Not Be Good

[ 35 ] March 20, 2008 |

I don’t often make it to the moving pictures these days, and I can’t imagine this is going to alter that trend:

Blowtorch Entertainment will next month begin filming on “Tenure,” which is about a college professor coming up for tenure (Luke Wilson) and facing off against a female rival who recently arrived at (fictional) Grey College. (The part of the institution will be played by Bryn Mawr College, where the movie will be shot.) David Koechner will play the professorial sidekick to the Wilson character, and the production company is planning kickoff events next year to promote the film in college towns.

Brendan McDonald, the producer, said that he viewed academe as “one of the interesting worlds to explore” and said that he viewed the project as “lampooning the tenure process.”

I’m experiencing a massive failure to comprehend any of this. A sidekick? Are professors allowed to have sidekicks? If this is standard issue, I must say I’ve got six years of sidekickery to redeem. Or does that perk only adhere to small liberal arts colleges?

. . . link fixed. A sidekick would have taken care of this eight hours ago.

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Tourney Final Reminder

[ 12 ] March 20, 2008 |

The Tourney starts tomorrow; if you haven’t signed up, or if you signed up but haven’t filled out your bracket, take care of that problem…

LGM Tournament Challenge

League: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Password: zevon

Forthcoming will be an LGM Baseball Challenge league. Winners, as always, receive a Certificate of Championship-ness; previous winners can attest to the value of this unique honor.

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[ 0 ] March 19, 2008 |

Since John McCain is clearly unable to comprehend basic facts about a war that he’d just as soon have last a century or longer, Spencer Ackerman kindly helps by reminding that what lots of folks were predicting five years ago has turned out to be, you know, accurate.

AQI has a lesson for us. Counterfactual conditionals are always problematic, but in all likelihood, according to MNF-I’s own profile, if the United States were not in Iraq, Mr. AQI would be back in his taxi in Algiers or Jedda. Were it not for Abu Ghraib — which, of course, never would have happened had we not invaded — Mr. AQI would never have felt that it was his religious duty to kill Americans. And were it not for the war, thousands of Americans and possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would be alive, right now, and all without a propaganda windfall that spikes terrorist recruitment for the extremist lurking around the mosque trying to generate new Mr. AQIs. And what is true of our foreign-born Mr. AQI is all the more true of the perhaps 95 percent of AQI that’s Iraqi Sunni. Not one of them would have any reason to be a member of AQI if George Bush did not give him one.

In a different universe this might be a topic of serious conversation, but Ackerman fails to realize that there appears to be a Crazy Negro out there somewhere.

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Nuclear War Hilarity

[ 0 ] March 19, 2008 |

Yesterday in class I showed the following:

Which is the first of a three part propaganda film asserting that the United States was vulnerable to Soviet nuclear attack. Contained therein are a series of assertion by prominent military officers and civilian policymakers that are hilariously inaccurate; the most important of these assertions was that the Soviet Union had the capacity to destroy the US ICBM force on the ground. No evidence was offered for this assertion, but it helped conservatives argue for a number of things, including:

1. The MX missile, which was supposed to be invulnerable to Soviet first strike, but of which zero evidence to this fact was offered
2. The B-1 bomber, which under the scenario indicated would… well, be destroyed just like the B-52s in the video.
3. A host of other programs to increase the “survivability” of the land force, and of the SLBM force.
4. The discarding of any and all arms limitation agreements with the Soviet Union.

The important thing to note is this: IT. WAS. ALL. BUILT. ON. LIES. No one, whether in uniform or no, who was part of the project to make the documentary or who appeared on the video is stupid enough to believe any of the things that it argues. There’s a reason no evidence was offered for the “90% vulnerability”; there was no such evidence. There’s a reason no serious effort to think about the devastating counter-attack the US could launch even in the event of the worst imaginable attack; that response was clearly enough to deter the notional Soviet attack. There’s a reason that none of the assumptions discussed in the scenario are given any scrutiny; such scrutiny would have rendered abjectly transparent the absurdity of the entire project. To give just one example, the documentary assumes that a) Soviet submarines would be able to approach the east and west coasts of the United States either without detection or without alarming the United States, b) that Soviet SLBMs would have sufficient accuracy to destroy ICBM silos, and c) that US submarines would be unable to reply in kind. All three of these are flat out lies; Soviet boomers rarely left the Arctic and carried missiles less accurate than their American counterparts.

Rather, this documentary represented the collusion of Pentagon civilians, conservative defense intellectuals, and uniformed military officers to shamelessly lie to the American public. In itself this isn’t terribly surprising; this was the era of Team B, after all, and the Team B people were involved in this project. It worked because of the utter ignorance on defense issues of the bulk of the American public. As if there was still any doubt, this experience should have erased the impression that the folks associated with this scam (folks who later found themselves in Republican administrations) felt constrained in any way by the need to tell the truth. In short, there was nothing new or unusual about the body of deception associated with the Iraq War.

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They Shoot Dogs, Don’t They?

[ 42 ] March 19, 2008 |

So regular readers might find this hard to believe, but I’ve had pretty miserable luck in recent years with the animals who live under my roof. About four years ago, Greta — the older of our two Newfoundlands — lost her mind and required several months of heavy medication, hypnotherapy and Jungian psychoanalysis before she ceased being afraid of nearly every spot in the house. She’s no longer medical supervision, but most days she still seems confident that the house is crawling with invisible dog murderers.

The next 18 months were more or less uneventful in the pet department, but in October 2006 our beloved cat Herbert contracted diabetes and suffered through nearly a year of fruitless insulin treatment before leaving us last May.

Two months later, Hazel — the younger and less melancholy of our Newfs — blew out the meniscus in her left knee, an injury that required costly surgery and an extended period of rehab, not to mention a shaved leg and a humiliating plastic hood to thwart her efforts to gobble her own wound. By October, though, she had fully recovered and was again ambling through the neighborhood, barking at harmless strangers and befouling yards and driveways like the town drunk she’d no doubt be if she were human.

Today, unfortunately, we submitted Hazel to the surgeon’s knife for the second time in seven months, this time to repair a partially torn cruciate ligament in her right leg. The alternative to surgery would have been a lifetime of progressive arthritis, as her body crudely dumped calcium into her knee to substitute for a failing ACL. Treatment for that would have required daily anti-inflammatory medication, an expense of roughly $1000 a year that could just as well have been spent on a reconstructed knee. Euthanasia — of either the medical or Old Yeller variety — was not something we could contemplate for a five-year-old dog whom we continue to love in spite of her tremendous character flaws.

I’m pleased to report that the surgery went well, and Hazel’s prognosis for a full recovery is outstanding.

Meantime, we’ve added three new goldfish to the household zoo. And though my daughter loves them and loses her grapefruit-sized toddler mind every time she sees them, the fish should not expect any heroic measures to be taken on their behalf.

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The Individualized Second Amendment

[ 46 ] March 19, 2008 |

The first question about the D.C. gun case is, how will they rule? Reporters who observed the oral argument today seem nearly certain that 1)a majority of the Court will find some individual right to gun ownership in the Second Amendment, and 2)the D.C. gun ban will be struck down. All observers also point out that most of the interesting questions will come in the scope of the Second Amendment rights identified by the Court: what kind of regulations short on an outright ban of a large class of gun might pass constitutional muster? Given the minimalism that tends to characterize the late Rehnquist and Roberts Courts, my guess is that they will say very little about how the newly identified right will apply in future cases. (Scalia’s dismissal of Dellinger’s claim that finding an individual right would make it harder to ban machine guns or armor-piercing bullets makes it unlikely that even he will press for a particularly broad rule.)

The other question is whether this is a good thing. As with most constitutional issues of any interest, the text is unclear and can plausibly support both positions, so we’re left with a largely pragmatic judgment. I don’t really have a problem with where the Court seems headed. At least in a context of a federal system where weapons can be easily acquired right outside District limits, it’s hard to argue that the D.C. ban is an especially effective public safety measure, and it’s a very broad restriction. And although I’m often skeptical of minimalism, I think in this case leaving future cases open to particularized judgments that balance Second Amendment rights against the reasonableness and effectiveness of regulations makes a lot of sense.

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Harvard Law to 3Ls: We’ll Forgive You(r Loans)

[ 21 ] March 18, 2008 |

Looks like Harvard Law School is trying to sweep the changes that have improved the finances of its (and other Ivy) undergrads into the law school. The school announced today that it will forgive third-year tuition for students who commit to (and do) spend five consecutive years working in the public sector (and fulfill a bunch of other requirements).

The program defines public service as:

*Any full time job for a governmental unit, which includes federal, military, state, or local government, or the overseas equivalent.
*Any full time job for a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization or the overseas equivalent, with the exception of jobs at institutions of higher education.
*Any full time job for a political campaign


This is no small deal when one year of tuition = about $40k = about 1 year public interest salary for many young lawyers. Of course, the government jobs pay a bit more, but given that people emerge from law school with hundreds of thousands in debt and even the government doesn’t pay half of what firms do, Harvard’s initiative goes a long way.

I have to wonder how long it will be til Yale, NYU, and perhaps others, follow suit, and whether they even will find the money to do so.

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