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Kristol Meth

[ 0 ] August 4, 2007 |

The war’s most enduring organ-grinder is gettin’ his Friedman on today, declaring once again that Bush’s war has reached a turning point, and that Americans are slowly — to the chagrin of the New York Times — awakening to the Good News. Steve Bennen gives substance to the obvious, which is that Kristol’s skull is once again playing host to a leprechaun tea party. As Bennen writes, “[it's] a special kind of worldview that leads a person to look at one discouraging development after another, and conclude, “Finally, everything’s going my way!”

Worldview, brain parasite — whatever you want to call it, I can only agree that it’s quite remarkable. Indeed, a quick perusal through the Weekly Standard‘s dumpster reveals that for Kristol is a true master of the daily affirmation. For most of the rest of the country, the war in Iraq has been like waking up every day and finding a warm pile of shit on the breakfast plate; Kristol, meanwhile, believes he’s in Disneyland and that he’s gobbling a pancake in the shape of Mickey Mouse.

Here’s Kristol in late November 2004:

Meanwhile, the offensive in Falluja has gone better than expected, and we are following up in Mosul, Ramadi, and elsewhere as necessary. The president is clearly resolved to mobilize all available military, political, and diplomatic resources to bring off elections in Iraq, and successfully to prosecute the larger war on terror and hasten the transformation of the Middle East.

And here he is in early March 2005:

Just four weeks after the Iraqi election of January 30, 2005, it seems increasingly likely that that date will turn out to have been a genuine turning point. The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, ended an era. September 11, 2001, ended an interregnum. In the new era in which we now live, 1/30/05 could be a key moment–perhaps the key moment so far–in vindicating the Bush Doctrine as the right response to 9/11. And now there is the prospect of further and accelerating progress.

And in case we’d forgotten by November 2005 that things were looking up, Kristol explained once again why the election of an ineffectual parliament was such a big deal:

Meanwhile, the political process in Iraq continued in a relatively promising direction, as some Sunni groups seemed increasingly reconciled to pursuing their goals through politics rather than betting on the success of the insurgency. On the military front, the joint U.S.-Iraqi effort to fight an effective counterinsurgency seemed to be making some progress.

And last but not least, here’s Billy in December 2005, less than two months before the obliteration of the Golden Dome:

There may now be a realization among Sunnis that the insurgency is not winning, and thus may not be the best way for them to recover their lost power–or even to strengthen their bargaining position. Sunni fence sitters seem to be tilting toward involvement in the political process. A more active counterinsurgency strategy–and the presence of 160,000 American troops–has not, as some predicted, reduced Sunni participation in the political process or engendered greater hostility and violence. On the contrary, the extra troops helped provide the security that made it safer for Sunnis and others to vote, and for democracy to take root. If American and Iraqi troops continue to provide basic security, and if Iraq’s different sects and political groups now begin to engage in serious, peaceful bargaining, then we may just have witnessed the beginning of Iraq’s future.

The issue here is not so much that Kristol has been utterly wrong about everything he’s advised or predicted about Iraq since the late 1990s; the greater obscenity is that everything Kristol has written about Iraq has been transparently subordinated to the cause of shielding the Bush administration from any kind of accountability for the past. As Rob pointed out the other day, “Not everyone is Bill Kristol, of whom we can more or less assume unstated motives and intentions.” For Kristol, shameless optimism is more than simply therapeutic; instead, it’s always couched in terms of “buying time” for whatever political encounter happens to be looming over the horizon for the Republican Party. In 2004, Americans’ had to maintain their faith in order to elect Bush and (eventually) vindicate him; in 2005, optimism was required to keep the war on sturdy ground for the upcoming Congressional elections.

Now, Kristol wants everyone to believe, the “good news” from Iraq must be emphasized so that General Petraeus’ September report on “the surge” can be received in its proper spirit — which is to say as yet another instrument for “buying time” and prolonging the war.

No one knows, of course, what Petraeus’ testimony might reveal, but I’m pretty sure we can guess what the staff meeting at the Standard is going to look like that day:

Intentional Mystification

[ 0 ] August 4, 2007 |

This post by Greg Djerejian on the now legendary O’Hanlon/Pollack op-ed is really indispensable; Greg takes them to task on their lack of hard evidence, reliance on impression, and apparent belief that the Iraq they saw on tour is representative of Iraq as a whole. He also mentions something that I touched on earlier:

Yes, O’Hanlon is using some other metric, ostensibly allowing him to feel comfortable stating that civilian fatality rates are “down roughly a third since the surge began” (the official date of the surge’s commencement, of course, a matter shrouded in rather a lot of obfuscation and spin).

Indeed, Surge advocates can be counted on, almost to an individual, to give only the most convenient date for the start of the operation, such that any statistical evaluation paints only the most positive possible picture. In some sense, it’s true that the Surge began only a month ago; that’s roughly when the full five brigades completed their deployment to Iraq and all became involved in operations. Unfortunately, it’s also deeply (and intentionally) deceptive, since the buildup began in February and preparatory Surge operations began then. If the Surge only began on July 1, or June 1, or whatever date you prefer, then it has to acknowledged that operations necessary to make the Surge happen began well before that time, and consequently that the Surge should be evaluated in the context not only of its direct effect but also of the effects of its preparation. Obviously, this places the Surge in a far darker (statistical) light, given that the operation has been accompanied by the highest coalition casualties of the war, extremely high Iraqi casualties, and no noticeable improvement in services or political situation. See, for example, this BBC report on the availability of electricity in Baghdad.

At some point, of course, you have to wonder why Surge advocates rely on such obfuscatory tactics as either ignoring statistics in favor of anecdote or manipulating statistics in order to put the situation in the best light. On the former, Tami Biddle summarizes some of the psychological work quite nicely:

In general, we also prioritize incoming information according to its emotional vividness. Emotionally remote information, such as written memoranda, statistics, or second and third-hand reports, carries less impact than first-hand personal experience, especially when the latter is unusually painful, strikingly positive, or uniquely formative. The medium influences receptivity, independent of the analytical merit of the information per se.

This provides a handy, nutshell explanation for why, in spite of the statistical evidence available to (and, indeed, produced by) Michael O’Hanlon, he nevertheless felt capable of concluding that the war could be won after touring the battlefield.

Still, motivation has to be taken seriously, and I’m forced to wonder why Surge advocates employ statistics in only the most deceptive of ways. Let’s take, for example, the claim that O’Hanlon and Pollack made about Iraqi casualty rates. To put it bluntly, any moron knows that the death toll calculated by the Iraqi government is worthless. The data collection methods are so poor that the Iraqi numbers aren’t useful even as a proxy; that the given toll in one month is higher than the toll in another gives no hint whatsoever as to which was the deadlier month. Were I a Surge advocate given to statistical honesty, I would urge caution regarding numbers that indicated that the death rate has remained high during the Surge, and exercise caution in arguing that the death rate has declined. Whatever it may show, I would say, those numbers are simply not a reasonable way to measure the effectiveness of the operation. I certainly wouldn’t argue that “Iraqi casualty rates have dropped by a third since the Surge began”, because while that may be true, I certainly have no reliable evidence to back the claim up. And I certainly, certainly, certainly (that’s very certain) wouldn’t baldly manipulate data that I knew was bad in the first place in order to produce the outcome I wanted.

Much the same can be said of Coalition casualty rates. Coalition rates have a big advantage over Iraqi rates as a metric because we know they’re more or less accurate. If Iraq Coalition Casualty Monitor says 108 soldiers died this month, that’s probably pretty close to being right. What the numbers don’t reveal, however, is any particular meaning. Since preparations for the Surge began, Coalition casualty rates have skyrocketed. This does not necessarily mean that the Surge is a failure; it’s not good, as it reveals that the insurgents continue to have the capacity to launch lots of deadly attacks, but it could simply be a consequence of increased Coalition operational tempo. If Coalition casualty rates remain high for a prolonged period (and, for my money, they have), then we can conclude that, at the very least, the Surge has failed to reduce the ability of the insurgency to launch attacks. We can’t, however, say that because casualty rates went down in July, the Surge is working (O’Hanlon and Pollack don’t do this, but other advocates have), especially when even the statistical assertion collapses under the most trifling scrutiny.

And here’s the problem; Surge advocates, instead of urging caution on the use of statistics and (quite reasonably) pointing out that the statistics we have may not give a clear picture of what’s going on, have repeatedly used the worst measures of effectiveness in the worst ways. When O’Hanlon or Pollack or a CENTCOM spokesman comes on your TV and tells you that reduced Iraqi casualties mean the Surge is working, you’re safe in concluding that a) he’s lying, and b) he knows he’s lying. The next obvious step, then, is to wonder why these people use statistics that they know are bad in order to advance their case. And finally, that has to make us wonder why, if the Surge is so great and can bring us victory, people have to make stuff up in order to argue for its success.

Book Review: Imperium

[ 0 ] August 4, 2007 |

Gaius Verres was not, by the accounts we have left, a decent human being. Governorship of a Roman province came with certain prerogatives, including the expectation that the governor would enrich himself at the expense of his charges. When Gaius Verres was given the helm of Sicily, however, he took things rather to the extreme. Verres looted the province, collaborated with pirates, and threatened anyone who resisted with either execution or imprisonment. A few well off Sicilians, having lost nearly everything, escaped and fled to Rome. There they found that, predictably, the machinery of the state was heavily stacked against them. Efforts at getting the most famous and capable advocate in Rome to prosecute their case foundered on the fact that he was close friends with Gaius Verres. The Sicilians settled for the second best lawyer in Rome; Marcus Tullius Cicero.

This is the set up for Robert Harris’ Imperium, the first of what’s supposed to be a three novel series on the life of Cicero. Cicero’s life is told from the point of view of his slave secretary, Tiro, who accompanied Cicero for most of the latter’s professional career. The first half of the novel details the construction of the case against Gaius Verres, including a trip to Sicily and the various legal and political machinations that the friends of Verres performed in order to prevent the prosecution. In spite of these machinations, Cicero managed to win the case in no small part by putting the system on trial:

I, O judges, have undertaken this cause as prosecutor with the greatest good wishes and expectation on the part of the Roman people, not in order to increase the unpopularity of the senate, but to relieve it from the discredit which I share with it. For I have brought before you a man, by acting justly in whose case you have an opportunity of retrieving the lost credit of your judicial proceedings, of regaining your credit with the Roman people, and of giving satisfaction to foreign nations; a man, the embezzler of the public funds, the petty tyrant of Asia and Pamphylia, the robber who deprived the city of its rights, the disgrace and ruin of the province of Sicily. And if you come to a decision about this man with severity and a due regard to your oaths, that authority which ought to remain in you will cling to you still; but if that man’s vast riches shall break down the sanctity and honesty of the courts of justice, at least I shall achieve this, that it shall be plain that it was rather honest judgment that was wanting to the republic, than a criminal to the judges or an accuser to the criminal.

This is, I believe, roughly the equivalent of shouting “No, you’re out of order!” repeatedly in the courtroom. Perhaps Al Pacino will play Cicero in the movie. In any case, Gaius Verres was sent into exile, where he lived until proscribed by Mark Antony in 43 BCE. Apparently, Verres refused to give up some art treasures that Antony wanted. Cicero, also proscribed by Antony, would die shortly after.

The first half of Imperium concentrates on the Verres case, and the second on Cicero’s ascension to consul, against the backdrop of social conflict in Rome. It’s fair to say that Cicero had ambition but lacked vision; he wanted to stand atop the Roman system of government and to protect it, but was incapable of seeing its flaws, or understanding the crisis that would shortly overtake the Republic. Harris does solid work; the courtroom scenes flow like courtroom scenes should, yet he spends sufficient time explaining the Roman system of law such that the dramatic points are dramatic. I wouldn’t be utterly surprised to see a film down the road, although I can imagine it would be difficult to sell a Roman epic without any actual fighting.

Abstinence-Only Sex Education: Still An Idiotic Boondoggle

[ 0 ] August 4, 2007 |

More evidence in the British Medical Journal.

Booze Train

[ 0 ] August 3, 2007 |

I suspect a lot of folks who never considered taking the train before found themselves momentarily curious to hear that Amtrak was offering $100 in free booze for passengers on certain long-distance routes. Alas, like nearly everything in this life, the offer sounds better than it actually is. The coupons are only good on GrandLuxe cars — owned by a company separate from Amtrak (which only pulls the cars) — and can only be used in the lounge cars, where a glass of wine can run about $40. And unlike a regular Amtrak fare, which might cost a few hundred bucks, GrandLuxe tickets cost some serious change. As a result, people who would find the cheapest booze on the menu and blow the $100 in one sitting — people, that is, like me — are the very sorts least likely to throw down $1500 for a trip from Chicago to L.A.

In any event, the story reminded me of a train I took from Minneapolis to DC in June 1994 — a scheduled 27-hour jaunt that turned into a 45-hour ordeal after we crushed a minivan outside Chicago. No one was hurt, amazingly, but the delay was considerable; evidently, it takes a lot of effort to pry a minivan from the grill of an Amtrak engine. We lost several hours, though, a wait that was compounded by several other mishaps along the way, none of which were quite as interesting. To make up for the hassle, Amtrak first offered everyone free breakfast. After the second multi-hour delay, dinner was on the house. Finally, after we spent about four hours languishing somewhere in Kentucky for reasons no one could quite explain, Amtrak made the unbelievable gesture of opening up the lounge car and offering free booze so long as supplies lasted.

By the time I actually made it to Washington, I was pretty well smashed, the Rangers had won the Stanley Cup, and OJ Simpson was saddling up his white Bronco for an evening on the town. Free booze aside, this trip — along with a similarly bizarre Greyhound trip that I’m not sure I can discuss without the drape of anonymity — pretty much cured me of my fear of flying.

Let’s Play Two!

[ 0 ] August 3, 2007 |

I must admit, seeing the camera pan around Wrigley Field before the game made me wish I was at Yearly Kos (well, I wouldn’t have been at Yearly Kos now but you can see what I’m driving at.) Especially given the possibility (now unlikely to happen) of the astonishing return of Jim Brown Kerry Wood. Hell of a game, too, especially since I love watching El Duque — who even with the Yankees was a rare Yankee I Can’t Hate — pitch.

Also, Moises Alou is, shockingly, hurt again. Which reminds me that the Mets are my logical rebound team given that 2 of the 3 (assuming White and Eischen don’t come back) remaining players of my beloved 1994 Expos — team Coitus Interruptus — are now Mets. The third is playing left for the Cubs today. And, hey, Moises gets a ninth inning pinch hit single as I type, making me feel marginally less old…

Turns Out Women Do Get Paid Well…Until They Become Mothers

[ 0 ] August 3, 2007 |

News today of a new study that demonstrates that young single women living in big cities earn more than their male counterparts.

This of course stands in stark opposition to the fact that fathers earn more than anyone else, single, married, parenting or not parenting.

And with that I will return to my no-paying internship.

Feministing has more.

The Spirtual Status of Skimming Off The Top

[ 0 ] August 3, 2007 |

Ah, I believe we would have here our wanker of the day. I also note that 1)the money made by hedge fund managers is clearly compensation not capital gains, and 2)taxing capital gains at lower rates is stupid anyway. Oh, and hedge funds are on average irrational investments:

With the help of a graduate student, Helder Palaro, Kat also undertook a larger study, in which he examined more than nineteen hundred funds. The results, which Kat and Palaro posted online as a working paper last year, showed that only eighteen per cent of the funds outperformed their benchmarks, and returns even at the most successful funds tended to decline over time. “Our research has shown that in at least eighty per cent of cases the after-fee alpha for hedge funds is negative,” Kat told me. “They are charging more than they are adding. I’m not saying they don’t have skill; I’m just saying they don’t have enough skill to make up for two and twenty [hedge fund managers get 2% of the investment and 20% of profits].”

When you consider that hedge funds are also much riskier than the typical investment fund, that’s pretty awful. But it’s not surprising; the more hedge funds the are, the fewer opportunities for successful arbitrage.

Language and the Ocean City Stillbirth Case

[ 0 ] August 3, 2007 |

Following up on Bean’s excellent analysis from earlier this week, Lindsay notes the shifts in language in the way the story was covered, and brings us to the obvious bottom line: “Hoarding self-aborted fetuses is creepy as all hell, but it’s not a crime in Maryland.”

My question: if possessing a fetus after a stillbirth is murder, shouldn’t Rick Santorum be doing 25-to-life right now?

…via a commenter, the prosecutors have dropped the arbitrary indictment and now have a real charge.

Sensible and Even Handed

[ 0 ] August 3, 2007 |

UPDATE: Matt Sanchez reports that Beauchamp’s Brigade Combat Team has issued a report indicating that Beauchamp’s stories have been “proven false”. Sanchez hasn’t given any citation for this report thus far, and he’s not exactly a reliable source (the con man allegations should be taken a lot more seriously than the gay porn stuff) but it would be fair to say that such a report would return the veracity of the diary to the status of “open question”. Intimidation has been the point of this little free for all, and I wouldn’t be utterly surprised to find that witnesses, or even Beauchamp himself, had been intimidated into silence. Check the comments at any given wingnut blog; half of them declare he should be court-martialed if the stories prove true… Nevertheless, worth a caveat until we know more.

…I would add that Sanchez’ post could be considered more trustworthy if a) anyone else had seen the report, and b) if he hadn’t added not one, but two requests for donations above the report.


Assuming both Foer and the spokesman are telling the truth, five guys in the squad are lying to someone. They all have a motive to tell the Army the incidents never happened given the trouble they’d be in for not reporting them at the time; assuming they’re all friends of Beauchamp and want to protect him from a career-destroying mistake, they also all have a motive to tell TNR that the incidents happened the way he said. (Although if they’re lying to TNR, why then dispute the location of burned woman incident? Why not just corroborate him on that detail too? Maybe because there are too many people at FOB Falcon who could disprove it?) Unless the Army comes up with compelling evidence disproving his story it’s going to end up as the military version of a he said/she said where each side simply believes whom they’d prefer ideologically to believe and leaves it at that

Sharon Weinberger, who happily linked to the most brutal, nonsensical attacks that the right had to make of the initial diary:

Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post’s media critics, has the most even-handed and sensible write-up of the whole affair.

I’ll leave it at that.

Go read Howie. I’ll wait….

Ok, done? Feel that was even-handed? This?

Asked whether the military had hampered his inquiry, Editor Franklin Foer said: “We feel like our re-reporting has corroborated the story. But we, as a magazine, would always like to know more — to ask everyone, every question a third and fourth time so as to pick up on any possible nuance — and that’s become impossible when the author and the subjects of the article are out of contact.”

Weekly Standard blogger Michael Goldfarb seized on the mistake about the location of the disfigured woman as a “blatant lie,” writing: “If this incident occurred at all, it only proves that Beauchamp was a vile creep to begin with.”

Indeed. Very even-handed. So even-handed, in fact, that it fails to note that virtually the whole of the right blogosphere erupted in a torrent of the most vile abuse and intimidation against Scott Thomas Beauchamp, based at first on the assertion that he didn’t exist, second on the assertion that he could not be part of the military, and third on the assertion that, even if he were in the military, he must have made it all up. I mean, seriously, do these people ever read Malkin? Or Blackfive? Does Howie ever click through to the fetid, nasty swamps that Glenn Reynolds regularly links to? Did Howie bother to note that the criticisms that Goldfarb initially made have been crushingly refuted?

No. No. No. No. And no, it’s never going to get any better. Right Blogistan has suffered what a sensible, even-handed person could only conclude is a crushing blow to its credibility, not only regarding the specifics of this case but also to the very manner in which it “thinks”. This blow won’t tell, though, because just like in the case of the WMD nonsense, and the Jamal Hussein fiasco, and the Al Qaeda in Iraq garbage, sensible, even-handed people like Howie Kurtz continue to take these morons seriously. Instead of actually trying to evaluate what went on here, or examine the critiques that the right actually made, Howie is content simply to relate the controversy, EVEN WHEN WE ALREADY KNOW WHAT HAPPENED.

It’s very simple, people. A TNR diarist wrote about a series of events. Righties freaked out, insisting that the stories couldn’t possibly be true. Lefties didn’t assert that it was true, but insisted that it could be factual. Battle ensues. It turns out that the story is, apart from an irrelevant detail, true. Righties claim victory based on that detail, and those who gave credence to the most brutal and idiotic attacks declare the affair over, without bothering to wonder how they got taken in by people who are obviously con artists, and stupid ones at that. TNR diarist, incidentally, is successfully intimidated and effectively silenced.

All in a day’s work, I guess.

UPDATE BY SL: As requested by a commenter, scroll down one post to remember the Kurtz Komedy Klassic when he cited two blogs with about 100 lifetime hits between them to gin up a Potemkin reaction to the Pelosi plane non-story.

Your First Friday Dunce of the Week!

[ 0 ] August 3, 2007 |

Welcome to the first installment of Dunce O’ the Week. This week’s winner wasn’t a hard pick: Bill O’Reilly (this may be the first of many weeks he wins). Why? Well, his relentless blogger bashing has not gone unnoticed this time. Chris Dodd (about whom I am generally mixed but who was really winning in his BOR appearance) went onto O’Reilly’s show and got in O’Reilly’s face. Dodd totally threw O’Reilly off is game. And ah, what a sweet thing it is.

So without further ado, your dunce o’ the week.

It’s Not Just the Eyewitnesses Who Screw Up

[ 0 ] August 3, 2007 |

As you – loyal readers – now know (because I write about it ad nauseum), the criminal justice system’s reliance on eyewitness testimony has led to many many (many) false convictions.

But a new study shows that the problem is not the eyewitness’s misremembering. It’s the prosecutors who pushed them to misremember…or flat out lie. In yesterday’s NYT, the author of this study (a professor at Mount Holyoke), which surveyed the exonerations of 124 death row inmates over almost 35 years (1973-2007) found that in the vast majority of wrongful convictions, prosecutorial misconduct was the root cause. And we’re not talking good faith mistakes here. We’re talking, what the study’s author has called “intentional, willful, malicious prosecutions by criminal justice personnel.” Such maliciousness was inextricably tied to conviction in 80 of the 124 cases.

It’s hard to know what conclusions to draw from this (who are these prosecutors, why do they put people they know are innocent on death row and how do they sleep at night?)and how we might prevent further abuse. The op-ed doesn’t conjecture much, but does make one suggestion that I found both instructive and important (again given my concern that DNA evidence is seen as the silver bullet):

The malicious or even well-intentioned manipulation of murder cases by prosecutors and the police underscores why it’s important to discard, once and for all, the nonsense that so-called wrongful convictions can be eliminated by introducing better forensic science into the courtroom.

Even if we limit death sentences to cases in which there is “conclusive scientific evidence” of guilt, as Mitt Romney, the presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts has proposed, we will still not eliminate the problem of wrongful convictions. The best trained and most honest forensic scientists can only examine the evidence presented to them; they cannot be expected to determine if that evidence has been planted, switched or withheld from the defense.

Exactly. But what to do about it? The authors don’t seem to have a solution (at least, not one they offer in the Times op-ed) and I’m not sure what one might look like. Ending the death penalty would be a band-aid (a very important one) but it wouldn’t stop this conduct on the part of prosecutors.*

*(Yes, I know not all prosecutors are bad, but this study does suggest that there is a real problem of prosecutorial misconduct and that it’s resulting in the jailing and perhaps execution of innocent people).

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