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Signaling

[ 0 ] May 4, 2008 |

Let me second Yglesias’ recommendation of this Dave Meyer post on signaling. Meyer concentrates on the public relations aspect of signaling behavior in a democracy, but here are some assumptions that have to hold for a strategy of “signaling”, such as invading small countries in order to demonstrate that we’re tough, to work:

  1. Signals are unambiguous: The meaning of our signaling is not subject to interpretation, such that different people could, based on different priors, carry away different meanings.
  2. Signals always indicate what we want them to indicate: This is related to the first; if we are trying to send a signal of strength, then we send a signal of strength, not a signal of mean, stupid, crazy, etc.
  3. We never develop a bad reputation, except for weakness: This is related to the first two; our effort at signaling strength doesn’t have reputational costs. If we invade his country, the Other will understand us as strong, rather than as brutal, imperialistic, crusading, evil, etc.
  4. No one ever considers that we might be trying to deceive through signaling: This is probably the most important. If signaling is about creating a reputation for strength, and if a reputation for strength is a positive good, then obviously there’s an incentive to lie about being strong. The entire premise of signaling depends on no one noticing that we have an incentive to lie about our own strength.
  5. We know our own strength: Our effort to communicate the true level of our resolve is dependent on knowing what that level is. However, the resolve of the American people to crush enemies of the American public is a value that is unknown to anyone, including our leadership. At best we’re guessing, which basically means that every effort to signal is essentially deception.

Unfortunately, none of these assumptions hold. Worse, in an effort to signal that we have the will to crush small countries under our boot, we often seem to gut our capability to do so; even if attacking Iran were a good idea, the military deployment in Iraq has made such an effort impossible.

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How Apropos

So, I am studying for my last-ever law school exam. And it’s in professional responsibility, which, for you non-lawyers (and I hope there are lots of you), is an ABA requirement. Even though I have already taken (and passed) the MPRE. And let me tell you, I am struggling. Not only am I just plum out of steam, but also this is not the most scintillating topic ever.

At least I’ve got the NY Times (and my buddy Adam Liptak) trying to help me out and keep me interested. And I have to say – the question the article addresses (namely, the extent of a lawyer’s duty of confidentiality to a now-deceased client when the lawyer has information that would exonerate another person) is an interesting one. The article suggests that ethics experts like drawing a clear line at preventing imminent death, which is to say that a lawyer can violate a confidence if doing so would exonerate someone facing the death penalty, but not someone serving life. In some ways, this rle makes a lot of sense. Bright lines are easier to patrol and we have to make sure that we protect the relationship of trust between a client and his or her attorney, particularly in the criminal defense context. But when we balance a life sentence against a dead client, I’m just not sure our current rule makes sense.

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Final Exams

[ 19 ] May 3, 2008 |

For lack of a better topic to post on, here are my final exam questions. In both cases the students had roughly two hours to write on their choice of one of the three questions. First, Defense Statecraft:

  1. The time frame for developing new advanced weapon systems can now be measured in decades. Many defense analysts, however, have argued that we now live in an age of uncertain and unpredictable threats. What are the implications of this apparent contradiction for military procurement, doctrine, and grand strategy?
  2. Some have argued that the elevation of General David Petraeus to command of CENTCOM indicates that counter-insurgency advocates have won the day in the US Army. Consider this argument, and discuss the pros and cons of refocusing US military efforts around the problem of counter-insurgency.
  3. Compare and contrast the efforts of Iran and the United States to shape the future of Iraq. What military means have each employed to ensure a friendly government in Baghdad? How have each attempted to defeat the strategy of the other?

And then European Security:

  1. To what extent do the major institutions of European governance (NATO and the EU) complicate the trans-Atlantic relationship, and to what extent do they smooth it? Would the relationship between the United States and its European allies be easier without the institutional baggage, or do the institutions play a critical role in maintaining the Atlantic community?
  2. The struggle against trans-national terrorism has multiple facets. Consider the usefulness of both NATO and the European Union as tools in the War on Terror. What can each do? Do the organizations complement one another, or is their competition distractive?
  3. Compare and contrast the Polish and German perspectives on NATO and the European Union. What does each state hope to accomplish through membership in these organizations? How do the perspectives of the two states differ on the future of the organizations?

I should add that an acceptable answer to any given question was “This is a stupid question”, as long as the student explained why. More than one student took that approach…

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"I Have A Convincing Reubttal To Your Arguments. No, I Won’t Tell You. But Trust Me, It’s Very Compelling."

[ 8 ] May 3, 2008 |

The Jeffrey Goldberg method.

It’s a rhetorical style of profound morality!

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Post Haste

What Baze hath wrought.

Good to know that Texas is getting all fired up to execute a dude in a wheelchair.

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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 8 ] May 2, 2008 |

Lyndon Johnson, in a televised address given on 2 May 1965, just after the United States invaded the Dominican Republic to thwart an alleged communist revolt:

To those who fight only for liberty and justice and progress [in the Dominican Republic] I want to join with the Organization of American States in saying, in appealing to you tonight, to lay down your arms, and to assure you there is nothing to fear. The road is open for you to share in building a Dominican democracy and we in America are ready and anxious and willing to help you. Your courage and your dedication are qualities which your country and all the hemisphere need for the future. You are needed to help shape that future. And neither we nor any other nation in this hemisphere can or should take it upon itself to ever interfere with the affairs of your country or any other country.

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Dumbest. Spin. Ever.

[ 7 ] May 2, 2008 |

Seriously. Maybe Kerry should have tried that logic out in 2004. “Why does the media keep setting up all these hurdles in front of me? I’ve proven that I’ve won! Obviously, the relevant criterion for judging the success of my campaign should be my performance in an arbitrarily selected group of large states, not irrelevant factors like ‘electoral votes’ or even ‘the popular vote.’”

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Today In Wingnut Public Policy

[ 16 ] May 2, 2008 |

Apparently, “critics of evolution are turning to a higher authority: state legislators.” In some states, this has involved private screenings of Ben Stein’s creationist wankery. Goody. I think this speaks for itself:

The academic-freedom bills now in circulation vary in detail. Some require teachers to critique evolution.

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1860 and Electoral Systems

[ 0 ] May 2, 2008 |

Matt says that “I think there’s an underexplored historical counterfactual in which the United States uses a different kind of electoral system — like popular vote with a run-off — that resulted in a Stephen Douglas presidency without any change in the underlying shape of public opinion.” One of the best parts of Gerry Mackie’s brilliant demolition of public choice claims the democratic outcomes are arbitrary is an extended analysis of the 1860 election. One of the things he shows is that under any common method of counting votes more accurate than the plurality system (such as Condrocet, Borda, or approval voting), Douglas would have won.

The larger context of the argument is that the 1860 election is one of the key examples of the anti-democratic theories of Commander Riker and his disciples. Riker claims that there was a cycle in the 1860 in which any of Lincoln, Douglas or Bell could have won according to different rules and comparing pairs of candidates would lead to a tie. As Mackie points out, though, once you remove Riker’s exceptionally implausible assertion that Bell — the candidate of the more moderate South that got roughly 2% of the vote in states carried by Lincoln — was the second choice of 75% of Lincoln voters, the cycle vanishes. In fact, any reliable voting system that didn’t entirely throw out alternate choices in the absence of a majority would produce Douglas > Lincoln > Bell > Breckinridge. The 1860 election wasn’t evidence of a cycle; rather, it’s just evidence that 1)plurality-based electoral systems are less reliable than many other means of tabulating votes, and 2)institutions designed to constrain majoritarian preferences will sometimes constrain majoritarian preferences.

I’ve sometimes wondered whether this fact has created artificial support for the indefensibly anachronistic system that the U.S. uses to choose presidents. Because the country got lucky in the leader chosen against the majority of the country’s wishes in 1860 and the outcome of the Civil War the election made inevitable was relatively fortunate, what would otherwise be the best example of the electoral system going haywire is obviously not a politically useful one. But it should be remembered that given somewhat different immigration and migration patterns the system could have also given us a President Breckinridge, and the most recent example of the plurality/electoral college system producing a different winner than a more accurate system would was rather less fortunate.

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Where are the Degenerate Gamblers?

[ 12 ] May 2, 2008 |

Not at the track, according to Tim McClelland. From my accumulated experience at Keeneland this sounds about right; betting on the horses is wholly incidental to the Keeneland experience. It helps, I think, that Keeneland is only open for six weeks a year, which tends to give it event status. The main attraction is simply to see and be seen; if you happen to drop $2 on a 30-1 glue factory candidate, all the better.

Also, I’m still bitter that the 11-1 that I bet on last Thursday lost by a nose…

…Oh, and as for the Derby tomorrow; hell, I have no idea. How about this:

1. Colonel John
2. Z Fortune
3. Tale of Ekati

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8th Grade?

[ 17 ] May 2, 2008 |

What’s the point of this?

One day. Two games. An eighth-grader competing against players 15-years-old and younger.

Those factors made for perhaps the most surprising commitment in the history of University of Kentucky basketball. UK Coach Billy Gillispie noticed Michael Avery, an eighth-grader from Lake Sherwood, Calif., while attending a youth basketball event sponsored by LeBron James last weekend in Akron, Ohio.

Less than a week later, Avery accepted Gillispie’s offer of a scholarship to play for the Wildcats … beginning with the 2012-13 season.

“Oh my goodness,” recruiting analyst Brick Oettinger said of the commitment. “A school taking a commitment from someone that young — there’s no telling what will happen.”

In four years of high school (by the way, Avery has not yet decided what high school he will attend), the 6-foot-4 guard could get injured. He could have peaked physically, meaning he could be surpassed athletically by other players who mature later.

And who’s to say Gillispie will be Kentucky’s coach in 2012?

The Boss:

When news of the commitment reached a meeting of the UK Athletics Association Board of Directors on Thursday, it stunned school President Lee T. Todd Jr.

“An eighth-grader?!” he blurted out.

After noting that plenty of time remained for such an early commitment to be rescinded, Todd expressed his wish that Kentucky not regularly seek a college choice from a child who had not yet entered high school.

“Not that you’d tell people not to ever do it,” Todd said, “But I’d hope there aren’t very many eighth-graders thinking of playing at a specific college. …

I don’t know; myself, I think I’d tell people not ever to do it. I understand that the commitment can be rescinded, and that it depends on a certain (low) level of academic achievement in high school, but the idea of 8th graders making commitments to play college basketball strikes me as wrong. The “student” part of “student-athlete” has been in difficulty for some time now, and this really helps to clarify how little the former means compared to the latter. The strangest thing about it is that, if the kid pans out, he’ll probably only be a Kentucky for one year.

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LCS Ennui

[ 14 ] May 2, 2008 |

Last week’s NYT article on the difficulties with the Littoral Combat Ship is quite fantastic. The LCS project publicly began in November 2001, but the ship is a natural outgrowth of shifts in USN doctrine in the 1990s. Contrary to the general belief that the Navy continues to prepare to defeat the Imperial Japanese Navy/Red Fleet/People’s Liberation Army Navy on the high seas, 1990s doctrine focused on the ability of the Navy to affect developments on shore. Primarily in the documents …From the Sea and Forward… From the Sea, the Navy began to think seriously about how to project power on land. This was entirely reasonable given the disintegration of the Red Fleet, the weakness of the PLAN, and the overwhelming dominance of the Allied navies over any potential enemies. Whatever criticisms can be made of the Zumwalt destroyer, it can hardly be said that the ship is a relic of Cold War Mahanianism; the ship’s mission is to directly support US and Allied land forces engaged in a Gulf War I style battle. Older platforms, from aircraft carriers to submarines, were similarly refocused away from high-intensity sea combat to land attack capability.

As the article notes, the critical moment for the LCS was the attack on the USS Cole. The Cole attack freaked out the Navy, because it indicated that expensive, high capability platforms could be damaged or destroyed through inexpensive means. Frankly, I think that the Navy rather overstated the threat of these kinds of attacks; the Cole incident could not have been repeated in a wartime setting, and modern naval vessels can deliver ordnance at ranges that make the prospect of swarming small attack boats considerable less dangerous. Nevertheless, the LCS wasn’t, in my view, a bad idea; lots of small, relatively inexpensive ships can carry out more missions that a few large, expensive vessels. The LCS, with its operational flexibility (different mission modules are supposed to be switched in and out for different tasks) seems to me to be an ideal contributor to the vision of a 1000 Ship Navy in which the USN and other navies provide global maritime security, but also would have an important part to play in a high intensity littoral war.

But all of this depends on the LCS being really cheap, and it isn’t so cheap. A lot of ideas that weren’t terrible went into the development of the LCS, but there have been some negative interactions. As the article details, the Navy decided to use a variety of civilian technologies in design and construction. Unfortunately, as the process of construction has gone on, the Navy came to the unsurprising conclusion that these technologies would not meet naval specifications. Courses had to be changed in mid-construction, leading to substantial delays and cost overruns. Another problem was the drive for privatization in acquisition, which led to minimal oversight of the Lockheed and General Dynamics construction processes. The privatization movement, based on the idea that government supervision was inefficient and undesirable, in effect made government oversight impossible by gutting the capacity of the services to manage large projects. This is not to put the blame on GD or Lockheed, as they were simply responding to the structure of the situation. In fairness, the changing government requirements make the entire construction process very difficult.

And so what we have is a ship that is expensive and late. As I mentioned above, I think the project is still worthy; others disagree. It’s hard to imagine where the Navy will find a vessel that’s as inexpensive as the LCS (especially given that the operating cost of the LCS is supposed to be low because of its relatively small crew; we’ll see if that works out), and without the LCS the size of the Navy will decline substantially.

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