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The Moral and Intellectual Emptiness of DADT

[ 0 ] February 8, 2010 |

Yesterday at the United States Naval Institute blog, a regular contributor posted an incoherent, hate-filled screed about how teh gays were going to ruin the King James Bible if they were allowed to openly serve in the military. Check it out, and make sure to read the comment thread; note especially how the contributor rolls through “I’m not the bigot, you are; and anyway it’s not hate filled; and anyway you’re not serious; and anyway I don’t even believe this stuff; and anyway I was just trying to spur a reaction, and by the way you people are all fascists.” Participating on the comment thread was a blast; reinvigorated my faith in the blogosphere.

More to the point, there were two things that struck me about the argument and the thread. The first was just how weak the case for keeping DADT actually is. Almost no one, short of Elaine Donnelly, actually argues for the exclusion of gays on the merits of excluding gays. In large part because of the experience of other modern military organizations, the bottom has fallen out of the “teh gays will ruint da unit cohesion” argument. Rather, the case in favor of DADT now seems to rely entirely on the idea that Evangelical Christians will be offended, put out, and discriminated against if they’re forced to work with people they believe are hellbound. To put this a different way, the central argument against repeal of DADT is that American servicemen and women will be unable to perform their professional duty because of their anti-gay religious commitments. This, it is argued, constitutes discrimination against Evangelicals.

Now, I suspect if you constructed an argument about anything but DADT that ran “American military personnel just can’t be trusted” you’d elicit howls of protest from every red blooded defender of American military culture. With DADT, though, the crux of the case is that American military professionals can’t be trusted to work with the hellbound. Of course, there’s already a glaring inconsistency; American Evangelical Protestants already believe that Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Atheists, and Buddhists are hellbound, but in most cases they a) seem to be able to behave professionally in a military setting around individuals from these groups, and b)don’t, by and large, call for the formal exclusion of these groups from the military. There are exceptions, of course; we know about the problems of proselytization by evangelicals in the military, but most people seem to accept that Evangelical Christians need to separate their personal religious beliefs from their public professional persona in order to be good soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. There’s no question that if an evangelical began to openly pursue a policy of not promoting Catholics, he or she would be severely disciplined. With teh gay, though, it’s different. It is argued that, much like eating shrimp or a ham sandwich, evangelical Christians just won’t be able to manage their relations with the hellbound in a professional manner. Whereas an evangelical officer could order a Jew to seize a hill without being overly concerned about the Jew’s hellbound status, the evangelical will a) suffer discrimination, and b) not be able to do his job if he’s required to order a sodomite to seize the same hill.

Now, there’s a way to demagogue this: “How can you say that the American soldier isn’t tough enough and smart enough to deal with this problem? Do you hate American soldiers, and believe that they’re weaker, dumber, and less tolerant than their British, Australian, Canadian, German, and Israeli counterparts? Do you also hate America and apple pie and motherhood?” But the thing is, I actually pretty much believe this; I really do think that the end of the DADT policy will pass with barely a whimper, and that evangelical Christians will, in fact, be able to work professionally with their gay counterparts in spite of their personal belief that the latter are hellbound. I’ve discussed this with plenty of retired and active duty military personnel, and in my experience it is very, very rare to find anyone who feels that threatened by teh gay, even if they don’t have much sympathy for the “gay agenda,” whatever they believe that to be. To put this another way, I think that the number of people who hate gays more than they love their country is very nearly zero.

Opponents of gay integration into the military are loathe to allow the comparison with racial integration, but they really walk right into it when they focus on the problem of evangelical attitudes towards gays. While most people now think it was wrong to segregate blacks and whites in the military, I’m not sure that anybody doubts the sincerity of the racists’ belief that integration would be a disaster. By focusing on the subjective beliefs of evangelicals, defenders of DADT render the comparison between racial and gay integration stark; in both cases, a large group held a strong, principled belief that integration was wrong, and in both cases defenders of the status quo argued that the existence of this belief, in and of itself, would make integration a disaster. The actual course of racial integration demonstrates pretty decisively that the subjective beliefs of the racists didn’t really matter all that much in the final analysis; people did their professional duty, whether or not they believed that the person across the table was genetically inferior.

Finally, I did love this comment:

It is my long- and deeply-held belief not only that baseball is more important than religion, but also that it is an abomination to support the Red Sox. I am not alone, either. In fact I think that is the majority view in the armed forces.

And yet, I still am required to serve with those openly supporting the Red Sox. I have to write their FitReps with a completely blind eye to what I see as a glaring lack of judgment and morals. I am forced to share living quarters and shower facilities with them, even though I find “Red Sox Nation” tattoos to be patently offensive. I don’t want the government to tell my children it’s OK to be a Red Sox fan.

This is a real morale and unit cohesion issue. My beliefs are constantly being steamrolled and ignored to accommodate a slim minority of service members. But I still show the tolerance that I am required to by law.

Don’t try to sweep aside or marginalize my views, or diminish my legitimate faith by saying it doesn’t count or shouldn’t matter. The sea services were founded on the principles of baseball. Just look at PETCO Park on a Sunday, when the DIs take recruits from MCRD San Diego to watch the Padres. The world would be a better place if we all let baseball into our hearts.


What Was The Best Super Bowl Commercial?

[ 0 ] February 8, 2010 |

Apparently depends on who you ask.

My kids’ favorite:

(Though, it did make me wonder: does Google really need to advertise?)

Personally, I thought this one was pretty awesome, if only for the laugh factor:

If nothing else, I can have my students pick this one apart on “gender” week in my Polisci 121 class… but mostly, it’s the laugh factor.

What’s your pick?

Football coaching slowly emerging from Paleolithic era

[ 0 ] February 8, 2010 |

Sean Payton made two great unconventional calls in this game: going for it on fourth and a long yard at the goal line late in the second quarter, and of course the onside kick to open the second half.

The first call didn’t “work” but what happened illustrates why it’s the right decision in that situation. After the play failed the Colts played conservatively since they had the ball at their own two and they were trying to just run out the clock. The subsequent punt gave New Orleans great field position. One first down later they were in FG position, so they ended up losing no points by not kicking the FG initially. Indeed if they had kicked the FG initially, Indy would have gotten the ball back with two minutes to go and probably pretty good field position. The game could easily have been 17-6 at the half.

The onside kick was brilliant — surprise onside kicks are so rare that the recovery rate for them is far higher (55%) than for conventional situation onside kicks. Coming out of the locker room a fresh Peyton Manning was primed to slice the New Orleans defense apart on Indy’s first possession, as indeed he did. But instead of giving the Colts a 17-6 lead midway through the third quarter, the TD ended up merely giving Indy the lead back they had by then lost. The kick fundamentally altered the shape of the game.

Update: Nate Silver does the math. (The value of the surprise onside kick leads to an interesting game theory dilemma — surprise onside kicks are clearly an under-used strategy but they’re underused because they’re underused — if they become too common their value will drop quite a bit because the recovery rate will fall as teams anticipate them).

Party on Bourbon Street Tonight?

[ 0 ] February 8, 2010 |

Yes, I believe so.

If you think this is awful, you should read the comments.*

[ 0 ] February 7, 2010 |

A number of you have emailed me a link to the latest Jack Cashill article, and although I understand why, I’m not any better equipped to deal with his unsubtle descent into pure lunacy than you folks are. What can you do with an article that argues:

  1. No one would ever want to go to Kenya, so
  2. Obama’s resemblance to his maternal grandfather, Stanley Dunham, is suspicious; therefore
  3. Stanley Dunham is his real father, but because Obama must have one black parent,
  4. That means his father must have been Stanley Dunham’s friend, the black communist Frank Marshall Davis;
  5. Or, because these friends drank at a black bar near a red-light district, Obama must be the child of Dunham and a black prostitute, because
  6. White women with black children were socially acceptable, whereas white men with black children were not, and
  7. Barack Obama Sr. was enlisted because “African” is a more respected cultural identity than “Negro,” and because, as everyone knows,
  8. No one named “Darnell Johnson” would ever be elected President; moreover,
  9. Stanley Dunham sung the Obama Sr.’s praises Obama, which would have been odd in “the racially charged 1960s,” especially when you consider
  10. That a 69-year-old woman said a momentous something happened in 1961, when in fact it had to have been in 1962 that
  11. This 69-year-old woman saw Ann Dunham nursing baby Obama, which she could not have been, because
  12. Obama must have been born to Dunham in February or March of 1961, on account of the fact that pregnant women can’t attend college,
  13. But if they could, they would have learned that scientists use the phrase “inference to the best explanation,” which leads Cashill to infer that
  14. “Obama was likely born in Hawaii but that Ann Dunham did not give birth to Barack Obama Sr.’s child on August 4, 1961,” and what proves the legitimacy of this inference is that
  15. A celebrity biographer got confused when 69-year-old women mistook something that happened 49 years ago for something that happened 50, meaning
  16. The mainstream media ought to be paying attention to this, but because it is not, Cashill has no choice but to label himself a “birther.”

Putting aside for a second that the majority of these alternative parentage theories would utterly invalidate the birther’s central claim that Obama is ineligible to serve (white Washingtonians and black Hawaiian prostitutes being natural born citizens and all); and putting aside all the racist assumptions (white women love black men, but no white man would ever want to have sex with a black woman, the history of slavery in American notwithstanding); and putting aside the blatant contradictions (Dunham named his child “Barack Obama” so no one would think he’s black); and putting aside all the other nonsense in this article, you are left with nothing.

Because once you put aside everything that sensible, rational people rightly put aside, there’s nothing there. Every time he posts something, I wonder what whether this new bit of lunacy will be what’s required for those conservatives (for example) who took Cashill seriously to distance themselves from him. (Then again, everyone says I have too much faith in people who warrant none.)

*But instead of cluttering up the front page with them, I’ll stick the choice ones in our comments below.

Apparently, There’s Some Kind Of Professional Football Game Being Played Tonight

[ 0 ] February 7, 2010 |

It almost certainly won’t be the most entertaining sports event of the day, but maybe we’ll get lucky again (this recent trend of Super Bowls that are actually good games has been weird, but pleasing.) I am in the very rare position of picking the Colts to win but rooting for the Saints. Meanwhile, LGM has acquired exclusive footage of this year’s highest budget, most highly anticipated Super Bowl ad:

Getting Soft

[ 0 ] February 7, 2010 |

I’m not sure what’s going in Queens. A student unleashes Graffiti of Mass Destruction and isn’t even strip-searched before being handcuffed and detained? No waterboarding? Why, before you know it she might try to smuggle an Advil into school! Clearly, there’s just no discipline these days.

Update [PC]: This week’s Roman Polanski Award for Inappropriate Sexualizing of 12-Year-Old Girls goes to Professor Ann Althouse:

She’s an especially cute girl, willing to pose with her wrists together in the handcuff position. I’m sure some readers appreciate the entertainment on that level. Do we know the whole story of why she was arrested and why handcuffs were deemed necessary?

I dunno, maybe she was asking for it?

Amanda Marcotte notes in the comments to the post Scott links that “it’s more than a little disturbing that Althouse’s need to compete with every woman in sight in the great game of fuckability takes her to the point of lashing out at a 12-year-old who is seen as ‘cute'”.

UPDATE[SL]: People are being too hard on Althouse’s reflexive authoritarianism. Have you considered the possibility that the student had to be handcuffed because otherwise she would be sending hand signals to Al Qaeda? Or perhaps Althouse is just angling for an appointment to 9CA? Fortunately, a further good should come out of this; the next time an elementary school student writes innocuous graffiti on a desk, school officials really will have no choice but to shoot her.

Casualty Counts in the Congo

[ 0 ] February 7, 2010 |

Nicholas Kristof is writing about Congo again this morning:

It’s easy to wonder how world leaders, journalists, religious figures and ordinary citizens looked the other way while six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. And it’s even easier to assume that we’d do better.

But so far the brutal war here in eastern Congo has not only lasted longer than the Holocaust but also appears to have claimed more lives. A peer- reviewed study put the Congo war’s death toll at 5.4 million as of April 2007 and rising at 45,000 a month. That would leave the total today, after a dozen years, at 6.9 million.

What those numbers don’t capture is the way Congo has become the world capital of rape, torture and mutilation…

Kristof is right about that – though not quite in the way he seems to mean. Those numbers don’t capture it – actually the 5.4 million number from April 2007 has just been debunked by a same report, The Shrinking Costs of War, about which I posted yesterday. A chapter of that report argues that two of the five International Rescue Committee studies from which the estimate was derived woefully under-estimated the baseline peacetime national mortality in the Congo and therefore dramatically exaggerated the number of deaths in the country caused by the war.

In determining the excess death toll, the “baseline” mortality rate is critically important. If it is too low, the excess death toll will be too high.

The IRC uses the sub-Saharan average of 1.5 deaths per 1,000 per month as its baseline mortality rate for all but the very last survey when the sub-Saharan average drops to 1.4. Using the sub-Saharan African average mortality rate as a comparator––to indicate how high death rates were in the east of the DRC compared to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, for example—would have been both instructive and appropriate. Using it as a measure of the pre-war mortality rate in the DRC itself makes little sense.

The IRC argues the sub-Saharan average mortality rate is a conservative choice for pre-war DRC because it was the highest estimate available. In 2002 the IRC recorded no violent deaths in the western region––which it refers to as the “nonconflict” zone. Yet, the mortality rate in this zone is 2.0 deaths per 1,000 of the population per month––a third higher than the sub-Saharan African average that the IRC uses as its pre-war baseline mortality rate.

But, the DRC is in no sense an average sub-Saharan African country—indeed, it is ranked at, or near, the bottom of every sub-Saharan African development indicator. The baseline mortality rate for the country as a whole should therefore be considerably higher than the sub-Saharan African average. The survey evidence from the western part of the country suggests that this is indeed the case.

The fighting in the DRC was also heavily concentrated in the eastern provinces during the period covered by the first two surveys. This suggests that in this period too there was no significant violent death toll in the western part of the country. Indeed, this is precisely the assumption the IRC makes in arriving at its 5.4 million excess death toll estimate for the DRC for the period 1998 to 2007.

The report breaks down the numbers in much greater detail and contrasts them to the much more conservative and, it argues, rigorously arrived at estimates – estimates that have been largely ignored by the press in its effort to shock readers, and commentators like Kristof their effort to exert an agenda-setting effect to draw global policy attention to the region.

Why do people think we need exaggerated statistics to set the agenda? If “only” some 3 million people, instead of 5.4 million, died by 2007, should this invalidate Kristof’s call for action on the Congo? By no means. In fact, given that this number has been circulating for three years without the effect Kristof seems to want, one wonders if the “millions have died” frame is even the most effective one for global advocacy.

A more useful metric may not be the absolute numbers but rather the relative numbers: Congo is one of the few places in the world where, according to this report, violence has reached sufficient levels to actually raise the national mortality rate for children under five (which appears to be declining in nations elsewhere around the globe in both war and peacetime). According to the HSR data, the one other case in which this occurred in recent decades is Rwanda. The analogy might perhaps be more effective as a clarion call than sheer numbers, inflated or not, which in fact seem to have done little to arouse international concern over the past decade.

And certainly the individual stories that Kristof shares, such as those in his heartbreaking column are as vital to drawing attention to this war as are statistics.

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

New Study: Mortality Rates Decline During Wars

[ 1 ] February 7, 2010 |

Given that Rob has been ruminating lately about the US government’s defense strategy for twenty-first century wars, consider this set of interesting data on war casualties. A new report, out about a week ago from the Human Security Report Project argues that contrary to popular belief, we are living through perhaps the most bloodless period in human history. Not only are wars on the decline, and fewer people are dying in them than before, but national mortality rates appear to actually fall in areas experiencing armed conflict.

How in the world can this be? Actually, it’s not quite as counterintuitive as the executive summary of The Shrinking Costs of War makes it sound – that’s just to attract press. (And how.) Here’s how the argument is explained.

First, the mortality rates in question are national mortality rates. The authors of the report look at national death rates and see whether they rise, fall, or fail to change on average when the country is at war. They find a general decline. But this doesn’t mean people aren’t dying where war is happening. They are. The question is why this isn’t resulting in a spike in mortality at the national level. Here’s why:

a) Peacetime mortality rates are declining steadily around the globe. This is largely due to the revolution in child survival caused by immunization campaigns. So death rates are already falling, and the question is whether enough people get killed in today’s conflicts to reverse that decline. They don’t, because…

b) Wars are generally much smaller and more localized than previously, so a conflict breaking out in one province of a country, for example, doesn’t necessarily reverse the already steady decline in peacetime mortality rates. At most, it may slow it a bit. (There are exceptions in the data – Rwanda in 1994, for instance.)

c) Today, when wars break out, an influx of humanitarian assistance arrives on the scene to increase life-saving interventions such as vaccinations against the kinds of diseases – malaria, diarrhea, and respiratory infections – that account for the massive death tolls in conflict zones, as well as significant numbers of preventable deaths in peacetime. These additional interventions offset the numbers being killed due to violence in buttressing the overall national survival rate, particularly for children under five. In some cases, they actually cause more people within the country to survive than might have been the case in the absence of the war.

These three factors – the localization of conflict and absence of great power conventional war, the global decline in peacetime mortality, and the increasingly effective humanitarian regime – account for this remarkable finding, the report argues.

I have not studied these numbers closely enough to comment further, though I may post follow-ups in the next few days. But in the meantime, check it out yourself. It’s a pretty interesting finding that, if true, challenges a whole lot of the way the media trains us to think about conflicts today.

Who Knew?

[ 0 ] February 7, 2010 |

Alaska, apparently, is a great beacon of hope to oppressed people everywhere.

Party Like it’s 1982

[ 0 ] February 7, 2010 |

The Royal Navy could use a good crisis.

I never said it couldn’t backfire.

[ 0 ] February 6, 2010 |

The downside of exercises like the one outlined in my previous post is the appearance, in the midst of an already stupendously silly argument, of a sentence like this one:

As Obama expressed, socialists and bleeding hearts have warped even sports and rooting into a meritocracy based on sympathy that often has nothing to do with the teams themselves but what they represent externally to the game.

Noted: Socialists do not have bleeding hearts, nor are bleeding heart liberals socialist. Troy Nelson will forget this fact by the time I finish this sentence.

Noted: Meritocracies are not, as their name strongly suggests, based on merit; they are based on sympathy. Whichever team merits the most sympathy wins the meritocracy, but not necessarily the Super Bowl.

Noted: The sympathy on which this meritocracy is based has nothing to do with the teams themselves, nor should it have anything to do with the cities those teams represent. This was undoubtedly not what Troy Nelson believed when this happened, because September 11th happened to all Americans, Katrina only to the black ones.

Noted: The players on the New Orleans Saints are external to the game. You might be tempted to claim that, because they participate in it, they are a part of it, but that’s only because you’re either a socialist or bleeding heart.