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Bus Culture

[ 40 ] April 18, 2008 |

Matt pursues a rationalist explanation for bus ridership:

My sense is that the main determinants of yuppie bus usage are the determinants of everyone else’s transit choices — it all has to do with the speed and cost of taking the bus versus the speed and cost of getting around some other way. If you internalize more of the costs of driving & parking and implement strategies to make bus service faster and more frequent, more people will take the bus. Obviously, a bus can’t be made to go as fast as a grade-separated heavy rail system, nor can it carry as many people, so it’s better to build heavy rail where you see potential for a lot of demand, but there’s not some law of nature keeping people off the bus.

I don’t know. In Seattle, everyone I knew took the bus; its cheaper, there are dozens of park and rides, and there are (thus far) no alternative mass transit options. When I moved to Lexington, then later to Cincinnati, I discovered that almost no one I know takes the bus. Now, this might be because I moved up a class bracket when I got a real job, but I got the sense that it was something cultural. The descriptions of bus travel given me by the locals here harp on the twitchiness of the whole enterprise, not going quite so far as to characterize it as dangerous, but clearly placing it within the “normal people don’t do that” category.

Last week, I took it upon myself to ride the bus in Cincinnati. I found the experience almost exactly like that of riding the bus in Seattle, with the difference that you would normally see jackets and ties on the bus in Seattle, while the Cincinnati crowd did seem to have a different class make up. But that really suggests a cultural rather than a rationalist difference…

Atrios also weighs in on the general less-awesome-than-trains-ness of buses.

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When the Tactical and Operational Overwhelm the Strategic

[ 0 ] April 18, 2008 |

This article by Major Niel Smith and Colonel Seth MacFarland on the foundations of the “Anbar Awakening” strategy is a must read. Smith and MacFarland detail how they helped bring a new set of methods to Ramadi in 2006, methods which played a key role in the larger Sunni Awakening strategy and which helped to substantial reduce violence in Iraq in 2007:

The “Anbar Awakening” of Sunni tribal leaders and their supporters that began in September 2006 near Ramadi seemd to come out of nowhere. But the change that led to the defeat of Al-Qaeda in Ramadi- what some have called the “Gettysburg of Iraq”- was not a random event. It was a result of a concerted plan executed by U.S. forces in Ramadi. Tactical victory became a strategic turning point when farsighted senior leaders, both Iraqi and American, replicated the Ramadi model throughout Anbar province, in Baghdad, and other parts of the country.

Read the rest; it goes into detail on Al Qaeda operations in an around Ramadi, on a previous “Awakening” effort that fizzled because of Al Qaeda violence, and of the shifting incentives that moved tribal leaders towards collaboration with the United States.

While reading this piece I was struck by its echoes of a chapter in Peter Paret’s edited volume Makers of Modern Strategy. In his chapter German Strategy in the Age of Machine Warfare 1914-1945, Michael Geyer makes that argument that the German Wehrmacht, an exceptionally effective tactical and operational military organization, allowed those lower levels to overcome strategic considerations. In other words, German officers were quite brilliant at figuring out how to make war “work” at the tactical and operational level, but making it “work” there led to general strategic incoherence, because the means never matched the ends.

The Smith and MacFarland remind me of that chapter because it seems like the same thing is going on; innovative, smart American officers are trying to figure things out at the tactical and operational level, but at the strategic level incoherence reigns. In this particular case, Smith and MacFarland brought peace to Ramadi, but at the cost (in my view) of permanently gutting the capacity of the Iraqi state; arming local groups and politically enabling them is, as I’ve discussed before, a strategy of anti-state building. In this particular story, it was the “farsighted senior leaders” in Iraq and the US who should have understood this. I don’t know whether these leaders misunderstood the implications of arming local tribal groups, or whether they understood but just figured (perhaps accurately) that things couldn’t get any worse.

In any case, Smith and MacFarland came up with an innovative series of tactics for doing their jobs. Unfortunately, the elevation of these tactics to the level of strategy has effectively killed the Iraqi state. Of course, it might have been dead anyway.

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Chuckie Krauthammer: I Can Use Big Words Like "Deterrence"

[ 0 ] April 18, 2008 |

Chuckie Krauthammer comes not to praise nonproliferation, but to bury it:

The era of nonproliferation is over. During the first half-century of the nuclear age, safety lay in restricting the weaponry to major powers and keeping it out of the hands of rogue states. This strategy was inevitabily going to break down. The inevitable has arrived.

The six-party talks on North Korea have failed miserably. They did not prevent Pyongyang from testing a nuclear weapon and entering the club. North Korea has broken yet again its agreement to reveal all its nuclear facilities.

The other test case was Iran. The EU-3 negotiations (Britain, France and Germany) went nowhere. Each U.N. Security Council resolution enacting what passed for sanctions was more useless than the last. Uranium enrichment continues.

Right… well, the North Korea story hasn’t fully played out, but it’s not really fair to say that efforts have completely broke down yet. The Iran situation also has yet to play out, but both share one important commonality; the United States, under the recommendation of folks like Chuckie Krauthammer, decided to reject any and all multilateral efforts at nonproliferation in favor of… well, it’s not even clear that what the US tried can be referred to as a coherent strategy. In short, after the Bush administration spent years efficiently knifing the nonproliferation regime, Chuck is here to pronounce it dead.

Chuck goes on to repeat the “Iraq invasion scared Libya into giving up its weapons” story, a tale that Chuckie himself must know has been debunked so many times that is has ceased to be funny, but at least admits that “pre-emption” as a strategy is dead with regards to Iran and North Korea. So what do we get? Missile defense!

For the sake of argument, imagine a two-layered anti-missile system in which each layer is imperfect, with, say, a 90 percent shoot-down accuracy. That means one in 100 missiles gets through both layers. That infinitely strengthens deterrence by radically degrading the possibility of a successful first strike. Even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sitting on an arsenal of, say, 20 nukes, might recoil from these odds — given the 100 percent chance a retaliatory counterattack of hundreds of Israeli (and/or American) nukes would make Iran a memory.

Of course, one can get around missile defense by using terrorists. But anything short of a hermetically secret, perfectly executed, multiple-site attack would cause terrible, but not existential, destruction. The retaliatory destruction, on the other hand, would be existential.

Right. But here’s the thing (and I choose my words carefully…) you morally retarded nitwit; if Iran is sensitive to the cost of existential annihilation, then you don’t need even one layer of missile defense. If North Korea doesn’t want to get blown up, then aiming plenty of nukes at it will be more than enough to deter an attack. The “millenarian” line is an extraordinarily weak hook to hang missile defense on, especially WHEN IT STILL REQUIRES DETERRENCE TO WORK. At least Chuckie seems to understand that missile defense doesn’t take deterrence out of the picture; given the unlikelihood that a shield will be perfect, and the (incredibly likely) eventuality that Iran would figure out a means of delivering weapons other than by missile, deterrence is still necessary.

In short, for missile defense to work a deterrent relationship has to hold, but with a deterrent relationship missile defense is pointless. Chuckie would have us waste billions of dollars on missile defense while simultaneously gutting all of the multilateral tools of nonproliferation that have prevented five nuclear powers from becoming fifty.

I shouldn’t be surprised that someone who consistently betrays such monumental ignorance on basic security concepts manages to maintain a position as columnist for one of the two major foreign policy newspapers in the United States, but I am sad. I mean, I know he has the gravitas, and that he has a snide wit, but beyond that, he can have only one of two qualities; either a shameless willingness to deceive his readership, or a grasp on the issues upon which he writes that is so shaky that it crumbles at the first nudge. I’m betting a little from column A, and a little from column B

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Art as Conversation Piece

[ 0 ] April 17, 2008 |

Wow. I have to say, I am proud of my alma mater for not censoring this work. Though other than that, I am speechless.

Update: Lindsey thinks it might all be a hoax.

Update 2: Well, apparently Yale isn’t standing so strong, but Shvarts is. Though, in a detail that nobody highlighted yesterday, she did not know whether she was pregnant at any of the times she took the abortifacient herbs/drugs.

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Treason In Defense of Global Warming

[ 43 ] April 17, 2008 |

Via Think Progress, Alexandra Liddy Bourne of the Heartland Institute, speaking to the Heritage Foundation:

So yet again, the South has to pay on its back the cost of using coal in this country to the northern states. We’re going to have another Civil War here in a short period of time, because the cost is going to go up. So the Southeast has not bought into this because they understand that they’re going to have to pay a very high price. Maryland has decided to sort of stay out of it because they have coal, as is Pennsylvania. They don’t necessarily want to pay Yankee taxes, right?

Right. Lest we forget, here’s the (corrected!) map of the balance of Federal funds, with blue states paying and red states receiving:

The next time that the South pays its fair share will be the first time, at least in the last 160 years. But remember, it’s okay to talk about the violent overthrow of the US government if you’re a conservative Southerner…

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Bite Me, Liberal Science!

[ 14 ] April 17, 2008 |

Today, from the deck of my own home, I offer irrefutable anecdotal data to undermine the theory of anthropogenic climate change:


This sort of thing is unusual around here, even for American Occupied British Columbia. I hadn’t planned to do any more shoveling this year, but I’ll concede this beats the shit out of all the rain we’ve been enduring for the past two weeks.

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Pope Hates Abortion, But Hates Bad Press More

[ 9 ] April 17, 2008 |

Despite his calls for priests to deny communion to U.S. lawmakers who support abortion rights, Pope Benedict will allow Nancy Pelosi et al to take communion at a D.C. area mass today. I guess the Prada Pope (notice the red loafers allegedly from the Italian shoemaker) dislikes the negative press that denying communion would create more than he dislikes American Catholics who question some of the church’s rigid stances.

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Stevens and the Machinery of Death

[ 21 ] April 17, 2008 |

Given what bean correctly identifies as the complexity of today’s ruling in Baze v. Rees, I’ll have to leave discussion of the fractured holding until tomorrow. For now, let me discuss one interesting and unexpected development. For the first time since the nearly-retired Harry Blackmun, the Supreme Court now has a justice who believes the death penalty to be categorically unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. Justice Stevens:

Finally, given the real risk of error in this class of cases, the irrevocable nature of the consequences is of decisive importance to me. Whether or not any innocent defendants have actually been executed, abundant evidence accumulated in recent years has resulted in the exoneration of an unacceptable number of defendants found guilty of capital offenses. The risk of executing innocent defendants can be entirely eliminated by treating any penalty more severe than life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as constitutionally excessive.

In sum, just as Justice White ultimately based his conclusion in Furman on his extensive exposure to countless cases for which death is the authorized penalty, I have relied on my own experience in reaching the conclusion that the imposition of the death penalty represents “the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes. A penalty with such negligible returns to the State [is] patently excessive and cruel and unusual punishment violative of the Eighth Amendment.”

Stevens’s concurrence provoked a rejoinder from Scalia. I hate to admit it, but while I certainly think Stevens has the better of the policy argument, as a matter of constitutional law I think Scalia’s (while I would certainly not endorse every detail) is more persuasive. In particular, I agree that the explicit mention of “life” in the due process clauses of the 5th and 14th Amendments — while not dispositive — certainly puts the burden of proof on those claiming that the 8th Amendment forbids the death penalty in all cases. And questions such as whether the death penalty has a deterrent effect and what role retribution can play in criminal punishments, there’s enough reasonable disagreement to justify leaving the policy judgment to legislators, especially since nobody could argue with a straight face that there’s anything remotely resembling a national consensus against it. I’m open to arguments about the death penalty as applied, but I continue to think that the Marshall/Brennan position on the death penalty isn’t terribly convincing.

The other interesting twist, as many of you have already inferred, is that Stevens voted to uphold Kentucky’s execution regime, deferring to precedent. (In this, he differs from Blackmun — he may think that the death penalty experiment has failed, but remains willing to tinker with the machinery of death.)

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As Long As I Get Credit For Throwing The ’04 Election to Bush!

[ 17 ] April 17, 2008 |

Shorter Armed Liberal: A story poking mild fun at some conservative bloggers not notable for either their working-class cred or commitment to civil discourse will cost Democrats the 2008 election.

Evidently, this is doubly funny coming from Danzinger. What the Democrats really need, apparently, is to enthusiastically support a decision to waste hundreds of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars replacing a dictatorship that poses no significant security threat to the United States with an Islamist quasi-state allied with Iran. Now there’s electoral and policy gold! As long as all of the many people in midwestern dive bars who pick up the Voice every Wednesday don’t see a story making fun of some reactionary bloggers, of course…

[Via BMR.]

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Trivial Pursuit

[ 0 ] April 17, 2008 |

I can’t say I’m sorry I missed this.

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The Second Coming

[ 11 ] April 16, 2008 |

Yesterday Chuck Baldwin, the Constitution Party’s 2004 vice presidential candidate, was gazing up into the dark sky, wondering if someone special was looking — just then — at the same little star flickering above him. He sighed:

I am convinced that only a miracle can save America now. And I am expecting God to grant such a miracle. Beyond that, I am willing to do my part to place myself in a position to let God use my voice and my vote to accomplish this miracle. And if that means voting for someone who “has no chance of winning” in order to let God take the glory for whatever victory results, it is the least I can do. So, who will join me?

Glory be!

HAZLETON, Pa. (AP) — Former Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes announced Tuesday night that he has left the GOP and is considering joining the Constitution Party . . . .

“They’re considering me, I’m considering them,” Keyes said in a conference call late Tuesday night. “We have so much in common that I find it hard to believe we won’t be able to work out a common basis for working together.”

Truly, truly, I say to you: This is good news. And yet I see that Alaska is sorely unprepared for the campaign ahead.


Who will heed the call of history?

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Leave the good stuff for the Dogs

[ 14 ] April 16, 2008 |

The Supreme Court just rejected 7-2 a constitutional challenge to the 3-injection lethal injection protocol. Details to come. The case is Baze v. Rees.

Good to know that Supreme Court believes that dogs deserve better treatment than the human condemned.

Update: SCOTUSBlog has more. The Court was totally splintered, with no one opinion garnering five votes. The dissenters were Ginsburg & Souter.

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