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On Laptop Banning…

[ 0 ] March 18, 2009 |

While I see the logic, I also worry that if I banned laptop use in my classes I’d be deprived of the privilege of demanding that people look things up on Wikipedia during my lectures. And for some reason, I find making such demands to be endlessly entertaining. I’ve also never been particularly bothered by the notion that someone might be instant messaging during my lecture. That said, I can understand why instructors would worry that laptops detract from the lecture experience.

I’m teaching two courses this semester, and in spite of the fact that I have no policy on laptops, I find that people rarely use their laptops during History of Strategic Thought (which is conducted as a graduate seminar), yet regularly use their laptops during Defense Statecraft (which is a small lecture). This seems to work out pretty well for both courses.

Any laptop banning experiences, either positive or negative?

Wait; Does My Status Still Need to be in the Third Person?

[ 0 ] March 18, 2009 |

Although I find arguments about how the new Facebook sucks (this can apply to any given iteration of Facebook) pointless and annoying, I am forced to acknowledge that the latest Facebook layout does, pretty much, suck.

Worst Faux-Scandal Ever

[ 0 ] March 18, 2009 |

So apparently some liberal bloggers/scholars/journalists have an email community in which they discuss policy questions. Can somebody explain why I’m supposed to care about this, let alone think it’s some major scandal? Really, ressentiment about not being a part of wonkish listservs is pretty pathetic even by blogosphere standards. And this goes triple for non-progressives who cash paychecks for blogging from Slate but see the category of “elite blogger” as one that only describes other people. (I do, however, treasure Mickey’s invocation of John Edwards as a potential example of “group-think.” I’m afraid I can cite myself as someone who isn’t a member or the list and yet doesn’t share a Kausian obessesion with the sex lives of (Democratic) politicians.)

The Anti-Erotica

[ 0 ] March 18, 2009 |

If you thought that the sex scenes in Bill O’Rielly’s novels were bad prose, you should hear him read them.

Richard Cohen: Still an immense wanker

[ 0 ] March 17, 2009 |

The fact that Richard Cohen lost “some of his (extremely) hard-earned retirement funds in AIG stock” would not, in itself, be enough to cause a soul-less, mean-spirited person such as myself to bellow with glee. But when Cohen manages to work a defense of the corporate media’s gullible cheerleading of the Iraq War into a defense of CNBC’s gullible cheerleading of the late asset bubble — the “sins are blown out of proportion,” he reminds us — then I can’t help but take mild satisfaction in the news. Cohen, who recently described the idea that “torture never works” as being “so counterintuitive as to be an absurdity,” evidently believes that it was equally counterintuitive to assume that financial reporters should do anything more to reassure their readers and viewers than inform them that company chairs and CEO’s haven’t yet dumped their stock. No, seriously.

If these people kept their money in these companies — financial and insurance giants they had built and knew from the inside — how was even Jim Cramer to know these firms were essentially hollow?

Heavens to Betsy! How could anyone have known?

Sadly, the fact that Richard Cohen has lost vast sums of retirement funds means that we’ll be subjected for quite some time to come by the simulacrum of thought that the Post so generously and undeservedly subsidizes.

Taking Bush v. Gore Seriously: Norm Coleman Edition

[ 0 ] March 17, 2009 |

Amusingly, the GOP has managed to raise more money to delay Norm Coleman’s inevitable defeat than they were able to raise for him during the actual election[Retracted–see update at link. Never trust Drudgico.] So you know this was coming:

Coleman’s team says the different methods Minnesota counties use for counting absentee ballots violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause — echoing the same 2000 Florida recount case that effectively handed the presidency to George W. Bush. By making a constitutional case, Republicans are already looking ahead to federal court.

“The Supreme Court in 2000 said in Bush v. Gore that there is an equal protection element of making sure there is a uniform standard by which votes are counted or not counted, and I think that’s a very serious concern in this instance,” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “I’m not making any predictions, but I wouldn’t be surprised” if it ended up in federal court.

And the thing is, the argument isn’t even frivolous on its face. After all — while they tried to disown the implications of their holding in keeping with the lawlessness of the entire enterprise — the equal protection logic of Bush v. Gore does seem to imply that counting ballots by different standards violates the 14th Amendment. As that great legal sage Antonin Scalia has explained the majority’s reasoning, “Counting somebody else’s dimpled chad and not counting my dimpled chad is not giving equal protection of the law.” The problem, of course, is that returning to the previous count doesn’t make Minnesota’s methods of counting absentee ballots any less arbitrary. But, then, this was also a problem in Bush v. Gore — under Scalia’s logic the count that give Bush the victory was just as defective as the recounts he sought to pre-empt because they would threaten the victory of his preferred candidate offend his deeply held constitutional principles. But the Supreme Court convincingly the explained why some arbitrary recount methods are better than others by pointing out that…look, it’s Halley’s Comet!

Seriously, this argument has no chance, for the obvious reason that pretending that Bush v. Gore was actually constitutional law would not advance Republican interests as reliably as the initial decision would. The decision, at some point in the sweep of history, may actually be used to make the American voting system more rational, but that will have to wait for a very different Supreme Court.

The legal lynching of Tim Masters

[ 0 ] March 17, 2009 |

This is a long story, but it deserves to be read in its entirety. I met Tim Masters recently and was struck by two things: how comparatively normal he seemed under the circumstances, and the extent to which his life has been completely destroyed. After spending several years in the Navy learning to be a jet mechanic, and then working in private industry on Lear jets, he now can’t get a job in his field, because he has a ten-year gap in his resume — the ten years he spent in prison, serving a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit, and indeed for which there was never a shred of real evidence tying him to the crime.

The outrages in this situation are too numerous to list, but they include the fact that Jim Broderick, the man who became so obsessed with Masters’ supposed guilt that he ignored an almost infinitely more probable suspect, perjured himself on the stand, and then ordered the destruction of mountains of evidence that might tie that suspect to the crime, remains a high-ranking member of the Ft. Collins police force; that the two prosecutors who brought this farcical case and then illegally withheld crucial evidence from the defense, Terry Gilmore and Jolene Blair, are now Colorado district court judges (they were given an essentially meaningless censure by the state supreme court last September); and that the Larimer County district attorney’s office insists on continuing to classify Masters as a suspect in the crime, although he has been exonerated by the evidence.

University of Colorado sociologist Michael Radelet, best-known for his work on the conviction of innocent defendants, points out that the distinguishing mark of cases like this — in which someone falsely convicted of a crime is eventually exonerated — is simply luck. Masters, who is quite bright, taught himself a lot of law in prison, and managed to write the sort of pro se motion that actually caught a clerk’s attention. That helped start a process that eventually led to some dedicated public defenders getting involved in the case, and forcing the state to spend a half million dollars to prove that Masters was innocent beyond a reasonable doubt (as a practical matter, this is the insane standard that has to be met to get someone convicted of murder out of prison).

How many others like Masters are sitting in prison, or on death row, today? The answer of course is that we have no idea. The conventional wisdom of the American legal system — that false convictions are extremely rare or even non-existent — (the Adams County district attorney, where Denver is located, once assured me that his office had never wrongfully convicted anyone) was shattered as soon as that axiom was subjected to any real testing, via DNA evidence and the like. How bad the situation actually is, in a nation with 2.5 million people in prison and jail on any given day, is anyone’s guess.

Just Sayin’

[ 0 ] March 17, 2009 |

In the midst of one of her excellent posts about the (largely unrepentant) Gary Condit lynch mob, Digby reminds us of this column from alleged liberal national treasure Frank Rich, reminding us how empty his banal critiques of similarly bluenosed conservatives are:

I love this story, though it’s essential that I hereby insert the standard disclaimers required of any journalist making that admission. (1) My paramount concerns — of course — are for Chandra Levy and for justice. (2) My secondary concern is for the Broader Themes, which include the scandalous behavior of our public servants, the limits of privacy and the presumption of innocence, the fate of women in the workplace, the balance of power in the House, and the heroism of the media in selflessly seeking out the truth even if that requires doing battle with such all-powerful adversaries as the D.C. police and a back-bencher congressman from Modesto, Calif.

I concur with Brian Williams of NBC’s ”Nightly News,” which has devoted more acreage by far to this story than its broadcast competitors, that Ms. Levy’s disappearance has also ”brought the science of lie detectors front and center” — and about time too! I join Bob Barr and The New Republic in calling for Gary Condit’s resignation, and only wish that I had had the courage to take this unpopular position as early as they did. It takes guts to confront those legions of Condit defenders out there who are sticking up for his right to impede a missing-person investigation, to engage in serial philandering and to allegedly ask a flight attendant both to sign a false affidavit and to participate in ”peculiar sexual fantasies.”

Perhaps Al Gore could have convinced Rich that he was at least a marginally better candidate than a moron who governed to the right of the Texas legislature if he had only spent a little more time analyzing the country’s important “Where the White Women At?” crisis instead of that silly environmental stuff. Although in fairness it’s pretty clear that (Democratic) politicians getting blowjobs was the most important problem the country faced in the summer of 2001.

"Be Very Afraid" Idiocy of the Day

[ 0 ] March 17, 2009 |

Kevin Coleman at Defense Tech:

In any contest there is an outside chance a long-shot could come from behind and win. The race for cyber warfare dominance is no different. In the recently updated “Cyber Warfare Capabilities Estimate” (2009 version) those who could break out of the pack and come from behind and take a leadership position for cyber dominance are listed below.

Wait for it…. wait for it….

1. Iran
2. India
3. North Korea


One of these is not like the other two, in that one of these has a non-absurd prospect for “a leadership position for cyber dominance.” Let’s repeat that for effect: “Cyber dominance.” North Korea and Iran could break out of the pack and take “a leadership position for cyber dominance” ahead of the United States, China, and Russia (not to mention Japan, Canada, Taiwan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, France, and about forty other more plausible countries) if they just try hard enough. Yep.

Here’s a tip; if you have a metric that produces a list of leaders for cyber dominance, and North Korea is near the top of that list, then there’s something wrong with your metric.

No such thing as bad publicity…

[ 0 ] March 16, 2009 |

At a certain point, you might think I’d grow weary of the attention periodically bestowed upon me by Donald Douglas, Pro-Victory Associate Professor of Political Science at Long Beach City College.

But no. As Donald’s latest ode convincingly demonstrates, there’s really no disadvantage to being randomly cited as a “representative of the utter ideological bankruptcy of contemporary academe,” particularly if the vehicle that salvages you from the professional and geographical margins happens to be an unctuous brief on behalf of David Horowitz’s latest book, which the esteemed Professor Douglas has not, in fact, actually read yet. By this point, it would be an insult not to be mentioned.

Bringing the Unfunny

[ 0 ] March 16, 2009 |

It is certainly true that late-period P.J. O’Rourke is painfully unfunny. But I think you have to remember that his prominence may result in some serious grading on the curve, in what one might call the “Half Hour News Hour Effect.” The one valuable thing about Andrew Breitbart’s Aesthetic Stalinism For Dummies is that it seems dedicated to finding people so unfunny they can almost make you understand why O’Rourke is a conservative’s idea of the new Lenny Bruce. First, we have Chris Muir, whose work for ASFD is just as unfunny but considerably more pretentious and incoherent than his usual strip. But that’s nothing: I bring you Ernie Mannix, who is not merely unfunny but is actually the anti-funny. (“Check his Blackberry’s GPS for Hillary’s location.” Stop it, you’re killing me!)

Given the competition, it’s hard to imagine O’Rourke being removed from his sinecures anytime soon…

It’s 3 AM; Do You Know Where Your Nuclear Submarine Is?

[ 0 ] March 16, 2009 |

Remarkably interesting post this morning from Hans Kristensen on nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) patrols; last year the United States Navy conducted 31 deterrent patrols, as compared to a combined total of 22 by Russia, France, and the United Kingdom. Although China possesses three SSBNs, the PLAN has yet to perform any deterrent patrols. A deterrent patrol amounts, essentially, to an extended effort on the part of the submarine to hide underwater, while aiming its missiles at a potential opponent; USN patrols last three months of so. The thirty-one patrols (by 14 SSBNs) is the lowest number of patrols since 1962, in part due to a different operational tempo (fewer, longer patrols), but mostly because the number of SSBNs in the fleet has declined substantially since the early 1990s.

I’m of two minds on the SSBN patrols. As Hans notes:

In short, the nuclear powers seem to be recommitting themselves to an era of deploying large numbers of nuclear weapons in the oceans. Most people tend to view sea-based nuclear weapons as the most legitimate leg of the Triad. Yet of all strategic nuclear weapons, sea-based ballistic missiles are the most difficult to track, the most problematic to communicate with in a crisis, the hardest to verify in an arms control agreement, and the only ones that can sneak up on an adversary in a surprise attack.

I’m not sure that SSBNs are that hard to verify in an arms control agreement; they’re easy to hide at sea, but not in port, and we apparently have enough data about submarine patrols that Hans can write a long post describing each nation’s patrol strategy. That said, the other arguments are largely true, especially the points on crisis communication and surprise attack. The latter is less of an issue for the United States (I very much doubt that any Russian or Chinese submarine could “sneak up on” the US), but remains a concern for those navies unable to detect modern SSBNs. And as the French and British have recently demonstrated, SSBNs can have accidents just like any other nuclear platform.

Absent multilateral nuclear disarmament, however, I think that SSBNs are probably the safest place for the world’s nuclear powers to keep their weapons. The other legs of the nuclear triad (bomber aircraft and land based missiles) have their own issues, and SSBNs go a long way towards ensuring secure second strike. If both Pakistan and India possessed SSBNs, the nuclear balance between them would be more stable, rather than less. Hans is correct, I think, to suggest that the United States could do with rather less than fourteen SSBNs, as the British and the French manage with only four. The Russians have twelve, with seven in reserve and three under construction; some energetic arms control activity might serve to further reduce both the US and Russian SSBN fleets.