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A Long Way Down

[ 234 ] August 13, 2008 |

I recently saw Eric Steel’s 2006 documentary film The Bridge, about people who commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Steel got permission from local authorities to set up cameras on public land that would allow him to film the bridge for an entire year during almost all daylight hours. What he didn’t tell them was that his real reason for doing so was to film people jumping off the bridge (He captured footage of 23 of the 24 known suicides that year. 2004 was a typical year in this regard, as there is about one confirmed suicide from the bridge every two weeks, on average. The real number is higher, as some people jump off without being seen, usually at night, and their bodies sometimes aren’t recovered).

It’s a disturbing and thought-provoking film — it includes footage of several people jumping — but it doesn’t address a very live political issue, which is what ought to be done about making it more difficult to jump off what is currently believed to be the world’s most popular suicide spot. Steel’s film was inspired by this great piece which appeared five years ago in the New Yorker.

More thoughts on the subject here.

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The Empirically Baseless Paternalism of Anthony M. Kennedy

[ 14 ] August 13, 2008 |

Anthony Kennedy, in his appalling opinion for the Court in Carhart II, asserted:

While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude that some women shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about manly medical treatment come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained. Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow.

The APA, however, has found that to the extent that the claim is relevant it’s false:

…the American Psychological Association has determined (PDF) that “abortion hurts women” rhetoric is bunk. The APA, which was to have adopted the new standard this morning, says in its draft language “the relative risks of mental health problems are no greater than the risks among women who deliver an unplanned pregnancy.” In other words, forcing women to carry through with an unplanned pregnancy is just as risky for mental health as it is to have an abortion.

And when you combine this with the greater physical risks of pregnancy, the rationale for abortion regulation or criminalization based on protecting women’s health vanishes entirely. And despite some claims that Kennedy was somehow going off the reservation with his embrace of the new paternalism, without such assertions bans on “partial birth” abortion have no rational connection to any legitimate state interest whatsoever.

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Some Very Preliminary Thoughts on Military Performance

[ 22 ] August 13, 2008 |

It’s very hard at this point to come to any conclusions about the capabilities of either Russian or Georgian forces. I do think we can decisively say that Ralph Peters (Russians are drunken idiots, Georgians are brave little toasters) is wrong; the Russians appear to have displayed considerable professionalism, and the Georgians bugged out of Gori in a hurry, without apparently bringing much of their equipment. A private correspondent of mine affirms this impression, arguing that the Russian Army has made huge improvements in discipline and moral over the past five years. Christian at Defense Tech links to this post at the NYT, more or less agreeing with the above but asking questions about the performance of the Russian Air Force.

Those are, indeed, good questions to ask. The Georgians have made impressive claims as to the effectiveness of their air defenses (10 Russian aircraft shot down), but it’s fair to say that there’s not yet much evidence to back those claims up. The Russians have confirmed the loss of two aircraft, including a Tu-22 Backfire bomber (for Tom Clancy fans, this bomber played a key role in Red Storm Rising), and the Georgians have, as far as I know, only displayed the wreckage of those two. It’s also worth noting that Georgian air defenses don’t appear to have deterred Russian activity over Georgia, as every report I’ve seen indicates that they are bombing wherever they please. However, they may not be bombing very accurately; when this is all over, the Air Force chiefs may receive some uncomfortable scrutiny from Putin.

The Russian Navy also seems to be doing fine. Its major ships are operational, and it has reportedly sunk two Georgian missile boats. The deployment of the big cruisers was more than a bit risky; the Georgian missile boats were armed with Styx and Exocet missiles, either of which could have given the Moskva a very bad day. If the Georgians had managed to sink one of the most powerful ships in the Russian Navy, then the assessment of the outcome of the war might have been different.

….on this last, I was sent the following:

One of the members of the crew of a ship in the BSF, having taken part in the clash with Georgian cutters off of Abkhazia on 10 August, shared his recollections immediately after the return of the ship to the main base of Sevastopol. His story is at the information portal “Communication Portal of Ukraine”.

“We took up station guarding the opposed landing on the Abkhaz shore when all of a sudden four high speed targets were detected. We sent out an IFF signal and the targets didn’t react. Receiving a command from the flagship, we got into formation and right at that moment the unidentified targets opened fire on the ship formation and flagship. The cruiser was slightly damaged and a small fire broke out aboard. Then, fearing for seaworthyness, the flagship withdrew from the firing area.” – the sailor said.

“Right then the small missile boats clearly fired,” the participant continued. “Taking up position, our MRK launched a “Malakhit” (SS-N-9) anti-surface missile, which literally cut the lead ship, the “Tbilisi” to ribbons. After that, fire was shifted to the rest of the Georgian ships. Another ship was damaged, we couldn’t finish it off, allowing it to leave the scene under its own power.

The sailor also said that the Tbilisi took literally a minute and a half to sink into waters around 300 meters deep.

Interesting.

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Hints of an Offensive?

[ 12 ] August 13, 2008 |

This NYT article sheds some light on the question of US awareness of Georgian military preparations.

At the State Department in Washington, Mr. Fried, the top envoy for the region, received a phone call on Thursday from Georgia’s foreign minister, Eka Tkeshelashvili, who said the country was under attack. The foreign minister said Georgia had to protect its people. “We told them they had to keep their unilateral cease-fire,” the official said. “We said, ‘Be smart about this, don’t go in and don’t fall for the Russian provocation. Do not do this.’ ”

Around the same time, members of the Georgia army unit assigned to a training program under American advisers did not show up for the day’s exercises. In retrospect, American officials said, it is obvious that they had been ordered to mobilize for the mission in South Ossetia by their commanders. “This caught us totally by surprise,” said one military officer who tracks events in the region, including the American-Georgian training effort. “It really knocked us off our chairs.”

As Tara points out, Jeff Stein is having none of this. I’m not, as of yet, convinced either way. Not noticing the Georgian preparations would certainly have been an intelligence failure, but then again not noticing Russian capabilities and intentions is also a pretty grim intelligence failure. Whether we were aware of Georgian intentions or no, somebody somewhere messed up. I’m inclined to stick with my previous assessment, which is that the US sent signals that the Georgians misconstrued. But I’m hopeful that as things fall out over the next few weeks, we’ll have a clearer picture.

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Class Warfare Atfter Shea

[ 10 ] August 13, 2008 |

I’ve neglected to mention that the great Roy Edroso is now blogging for the Voice. Today, he brings some of the bad news about Citi Field for those of us who like to go to the odd Mets game. What concerns me is not so much the prices of the high-end seats (which I’m never in anyway), but the much lower supply, which will make it difficult to make game-time decisions. I’m not saying I miss my Montreal days where you could buy a $7 seat at gametime and sit near home plate, exactly, but…

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Future events such as these will affect you in the future

[ 63 ] August 13, 2008 |

My friend Steve is an atmospheric scientist and a hardcore baseball fan. He’s devised an ingenious simulation, in which he predicts the probable outcome of the remainder of a baseball season based on a method which involves using the Pythagorean records of teams to predict how they will do given their remaining schedules. In other words he evaluates both the strength of individual teams and of their schedules on the basis of runs scored and allowed rather than won-loss records. He (or rather his computer) then plays out the remainder of the season 100,000 times.

Here’s his current simulation results for the remainder of this season:

AL East: Rays 56%, Red Sox 43%, Yankees 1%, Blue Jays 0.1%

AL Central: White Sox 61%, Twins 38%, Tigers 0.6%, Indians 0.04%

AL West: Angels 99.993%, Rangers 0.007%

AL Wildcard: Red Sox 46%, Rays 36%, Twins 7%, White Sox 5%, Yankees 5%, Blue Jays 0.8%, Rangers 0.2%, Tigers 0.1%

NL East: Phillies 62%, Mets 28%, Marlins 9%, Braves 0.7%

NL Central: Cubs 87%, Brewers 12%, Cardinals 0.9%

NL West: Diamondbacks 57%, Dodgers 43%, Rockies 0.09%

NL Wildcard: Brewers 71%, Cardinals 14%, Cubs 11%, Mets 1%, Phillies 1%, Marlins 0.4%, Astros 0.4%, Diamondbacks 0.2%, Dodgers 0.2%, Braves 0.01%

If your favorite team isn’t listed it means they didn’t make the playoffs in any of the 100,000 simulations.

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Ceasefire

[ 15 ] August 13, 2008 |

Russia and Georgia have agreed to a ceasefire, although it appears that there is still some shooting going on near Gori.

I think that Kevin Drum’s assessment of what happened here is correct; Russia humiliated Georgia and secured the two breakaway areas at very low cost. Removing Saakashvili would have been a much more difficult operation in both diplomatic and military terms, and the Russians decided against it, probably at an early point.

I’ll have a longer assessment in a couple of hours, filled with linky goodness.

…this suggests that earlier optimism may have been unfounded:

Georgian officials say the city of Gori was looted and bombed by the Russians. An AP reporter later saw dozens of tanks and military vehicles leaving the city, roaring south.

Russian troops waved at journalists and one soldier jokingly shouted to a photographer: “Come with us, beauty, we’re going to Tbilisi!”

In fairness, the tank column then turned around and went back to South Ossetia. I’m guessing that the Russians are still interested in displays of dominance, but won’t take any additional risks. I could be wrong, though.

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Three’s a Crowd

[ 0 ] August 13, 2008 |

As if further proof were required that the Fatherhood Movement is for idiots:

The “Reclaiming Fatherhood” conference will be held at the Marriott Hotel in Oak Brook, Illinois on September 8 and 9.

It will bring to light what Vicki Thorn, a lead conference organizer, describes as the “invisible” issue in our society and even within the Christian church: the profound effect that abortion has on fathers whose children are aborted.

Supreme Knight [of the Knights of Columbus] Carl Anderson also weighed in on the upcoming event.

“As an organization of lay men that has a strong history and commitment to life, we think it is very important to highlight the issues faced by those fathers whose children are aborted,” he told LifeNews.com.

“There are three victims of every abortion, the child and both of his or her parents, and it is our hope that this conference will be the beginning of a ministry within the Church to these fathers, who grieve the death of their unborn child in isolation and silence,” he explained.

Oh, please. If I understand anti-choice logic [sic] correctly, the presentation of women as “victims” of abortion dovetails with the assumption that their emotional fragility requires state intervention to prevent them from making decisions about their own reproductive health. That’s inane enough in its own right, as Scott’s often pointed out, since the argument usually cascades away from holding women accountable for what anti-choicers actually believe should be a crime. I suppose if men are victims, too, it makes sense to figure out how to relieve them as well of their culpability; after all, the underlying premise of “pro-life” morality would mean they’re accessories to murder, not the random victims of a “loss” — as if their toddlers had been felled by stomach cancer or clobbered by a school bus. But since the answer to all life’s questions is to regulate women’s sexual choice, I suppose that’ll do.

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The "Authenticity" Catch-22

[ 0 ] August 13, 2008 |

Bob Somerby makes what I would like to think is an obvious point about Michael Crowley’s complaint about Obama returning to his home state for vacation. It’s not just that Hawaii is, in fact, a perfectly middlebrow vacation spot. It’s that the whole premise is a trap; once you lend credence to claims to that Obama is an Elitist Other then any choice is a bad one from the standpoint of RNC smear ads. If Obama had gone to [insert whatever affluent D.C. journalists think mythical Real Americans consider a good vacation spot here], then Obama would be a big phony would who would obviously rather be on the Riveria with several nubile but unpopular young white actresses, so you know he’d do anything to be president! Digby makes a similar observation with respect to a similar argument from Cokie Roberts.

It’s very simple: once you start down this road (which, like it or not, implicitly validates silly Republican smears), you can’t win. The appropriate response of journalists is to ignore such trivia. And the appropriate response of liberal commentators is to ridicule the idea of someone with 8 houses calling someone else an “elitist” for anything, rather than dispensing inherently futile or counterproductive advice.

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Awesome Drunken Thought of the Day

[ 0 ] August 13, 2008 |

Matt Duss:

problem with Cobain
was that he never got a chance to sit down with Sinatra
so that Frank could explain fame to him

Truer words never spoken.

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Mukasey: Hack

[ 0 ] August 12, 2008 |

Rule of law!

“But not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime.”

But I was informed by the highly serious priests of High Contrarianism that Mukasey’s need to work with Congress would provide powerful disincentives against this sort of thing! I’m shocked that this didn’t work.

In addition, Marcy Wheeler argues that while Mukasey is certainly a hack, the real problem is the toothless sanctions of the Hatch Act.

Balko:

In general, I agree with Mukasey. Breaking the letter of the law shouldn’t always amount to a prosecutable crime. I guess my problem is that prosecutors seem much more likely to adopt Mukasey’s position when they’re looking at infractions committed by political allies, police officers, or other government employees than they are with the rest of us.

If anything, government employees should be held to a higher standard than the rest of us, not a lower one–especially the people charged with enforcing the laws in the first place.

Exactly.

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Imagine if Obama had done this

[ 23 ] August 12, 2008 |

“Some” would have seen it as a Secret Terrorist Gesture, while more sober-minded chin-scratchers would have taken it as evidence that Obama is too much of a foreigner to understand our customs and traditions.
Of course on the left this is seen as yet further confirmation that the Leader of the Free World is, as Jeeves said of his equally clueless employer, “mentally negligible,” but on the right that same judgment is generally understood to be a kind of compliment.
(Edited to reflect sensitivity to the plight of the mentally disabled who don’t have access to nuclear weapons.)
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