Subscribe via RSS Feed


[ 4 ] August 8, 2008 |

Lazy blogging Friday…

Share with Sociable

Envelope Math

[ 0 ] August 7, 2008 |

Dan Nexon reaches an unnecessarily modest conclusion at the end of a long post that includes, like, research and math and stuff:

[W]hen it comes down to it, I don’t really have much confidence in any of the estimates people like me are throwing around [regarding the silly tire inflation “controversy”].

That’s really the point of this exercise: neither I, nor David Price, nor Ed Morrissey, nor Jim Geraghty have a clue how to make sense of this controversy. All we did was use our search engine of choice, find links that supported (or, if we didn’t read them too closely, appeared to support) our claims, and then amplify one of the partisan sides of this debate. This kind of stuff isn’t investigative anything, it’s nothing more than back-of-the-envelope calculations by unqualified people.

Let me rephrase: our analysis is basically worthless. Ignore it.

This is quite true. Except that Nexon — unlike Ed Morrisey, Jim Geraghty, David Price — isn’t a transparent hack whose analysis I wouldn’t trust to navigate anyone through a routine trip to the grocery store. Besides, his skill at deciphering what is quite probably the greatest menace to human civilization means that, humility aside, ignoring him is a bad idea.

Share with Sociable

Are war crimes not war crimes if they’re sufficiently "necessary?"

[ 408 ] August 7, 2008 |

In the comments to the Hiroshima thread below, djw asks an excellent question, in response to justifications for dropping the bomb on Japan because doing so arguably saved many more lives than were killed by the atom bombs:

King Rat, do you think our definition of war crimes (as codified in the Geneva conventions) should be amended to remove intentionally mass-murdering civilians from a list of war crimes when the utilitarian calculus tilts against it?(I’m not trying to be snarky, I mean this as a serious question. Something about Truman as war criminal seems not quite right to me too, but the alternative seems much worse).

Justifications of the terror bombing of cities come down to the claim that it’s OK to intentionally kill large numbers of civilians if doing so produces good results on the whole. As djw says, this would seem to require the defenders of dropping the bomb (and of course the defenders of the firebombing of Tokyo and Dresden and Hamburg) to explain if they favor a general utilitarian exemption to the concept of a war crime.

Another way of putting this is to ask if there’s a moral difference between marching into a city and systematically rounding up and machine gunning its populace, and getting exactly the same result by dropping bombs from planes. For reasons that are hard to understand rationally but which seem to have great psychological force, violence at a distance seems different to many (most?) people than violence at close range, even when the intention and result is exactly the same (lots of dead people). Or to put it another way, as William Ian Miller points out in his book Humiliation, violence at a distance somehow seems less violent and therefore less morally problematic (relatively speaking of course).

I’m guessing no one would defend the idea of rounding up and then machine-gunning the entire populace of a large city, no matter how beneficial the consequences of this act were purported to be. But the terror bombing of cities during WWII continues to have many supporters. Like djw I’m trying not to pose this question in a rhetorical way — I’m sincerely curious how people make these distinctions.

Share with Sociable

The Myth Of Casey Never Dies

[ 69 ] August 7, 2008 |

You would think that the latest defeat of Phil Kline would (unless you think the median national voter is more reactionary than the median voter in Kansas Republican primaries) give some pause to people who, say, believe that appeasing radical Catholic anti-choicers should be a key criterion in choosing a running mate. Alas, we get more of this:

Sixteen years ago, the Democratic Party refused to allow Robert P. Casey Sr., then the governor of Pennsylvania, to speak at its national convention because his anti-abortion views, stemming from his Roman Catholic faith, clashed with the party’s platform and powerful constituencies. Many Catholics, once a reliable Democratic voting bloc, never forgot what they considered a slight.

The first sentence, as usual, completely ignores the fact that Saint Casey refused to endorse the Democratic ticket. No evidence is provided for the assertion that “[m]any Catholics, once a reliable Democratic voting bloc, never forgot what they considered a slight,” but what’s remarkable is that the data provided in the story shows the Democratic margin among Catholics increasing in ’92 and ’96 versus 1988, so it couldn’t have been that much of a factor.

The rest of the article has all of the usual problems with arguments implying that shifting towards the minority position (already occupied by one party) on abortion will be electoral gold : the arbitrary focus on one particular subgroup, overstating that subgroup’s opposition to abortion rights, being completely vague about how exactly Democrats could attract abortion opponents, and most importantly ignoring any costs that might come from diluting the party’s popular position on reproductive freedom.

My question: can you imagine a Times thinkpiece about how John McCain’s position that abortion should be illegal (if possible, accomplished by a constitutional amendment that would make performing an abortion first degree murder in all 50 states) may “divide” suburban women in swing states? Me neither.

Share with Sociable

The Overhype Has Landed

[ 0 ] August 7, 2008 |

Do-do-do-dee-do, it’s nice living here in the Capital of Baseball where you can check some scores and news before bed without being subjected to an ESPN-style 24-hour Brett Favre wankfest and…

Oh, Jeebus.

Readers will be happy to know that at least there’s no way I can any longer argue that St. Derek of Pasta Diving is the most overrated athlete in New York. One of the ineffable mysteries of life is that Favre seems to have the media status of a Mantle/Woods/Gretzky immortal when as far as I can tell he’s never (with the very arguable exceptions of ’95 and ’96) even been the best player at his position and has often not even been close. Jeter has a good argument for having been the best player in the league at least twice and was one of the best players on four championship teams, and he was generally an excellent postseason performer in those years. Favre has been a very good player, insanely durable, but not truly great.

Will he help the Jets? If he plays like he did last year, he sure will. If players the way he did in ’05 or ’06, he’s a marginal upgrade over Pennington/Clemens. And I don’t think he has the receiving weapons here he had in Green Bay…anyway, I’m sure we’ll now be hearing all too much about it.

Share with Sociable

The New Professionalism

[ 37 ] August 6, 2008 |

In the course of refusing to exclude evidence obtained through an illegal no-knock search in Hudson v. Michigan, Justice Scalia applied that the rule was obsolete:

Another development over the past half-century that deters civil-rights violations is the increasing professionalism of police forces, including a new emphasis on internal police discipline.

The logic of this argument (like much of Scalia’s opinion) is dubious. If police forces increased their professionalism in the wake of the requirements established by the Warren Court, including the application of the exclusionary rule to the states, this doesn’t strike me as a good reason to get rid of said requirements.

At any rate, Radley Balko finds an example of the professionalism that allegedly allows the Court to get rid of negative disincentives:

Last week, police stormed Calvo’s home without knocking, shot and killed his two black labs, and questioned him and his mother-in-law at gunpoint over a delivered package of marijuana that police now concede may have been intended for someone else.

The Washington Post reports that the police didn’t even bother to get a no-knock warrant, which means the tactics they used were illegal.

It’s good that the Supreme Court has encouraged this kind of sterling police work!

To add an additional point, it is true (as its critics will point out) that after the fact the exclusionary rule does not provide a remedy in cases where evidence isn’t found. But that doesn’t mean that the innocent derive no benefits from the rule; if the state knows that it can’t use illegally obtained evidence, it has a strong disincentive not to break the law in the first place.

Share with Sociable

August 6, 1945

[ 32 ] August 6, 2008 |

Picasso’s painting memorializes the bombing of a Basque town during the Spanish Civil War that killed several hundred civilians. At the time the incident shocked the world.

Eight years later, 70,000 people, the large majority women and children, were incinerated when a single bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. A roughly equal number died in the following months.

Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare
Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery
Can leave the mother, murdered at her door,
To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free;
The night can sweat with terror as before
We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
And planned to bring the world under a rule,
Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.

– Yeats, 1919 –
Share with Sociable


[ 17 ] August 6, 2008 |

Seven years in, the conviction of bin Laden’s chauffeur/mechanic is apparently supposed to rank as one of the Bush administration’s great victories. Assuming that victory includes developing a legal system with exactly zero moral legitimacy; convicting a defendant on charges that a civilian court could have managed in one-seventh of the time; and possibly ignoring or rejecting an offer from the defendant to locate bin Laden himself, then I suppose this is the most important accomplishment since the US demolished the Iraqi government, discovered its weapons of mass destruction, and and transformed the entire Middle East into an oil-rich version of New Hampshire.

Ken Gude offers an somewhat alternate interpretation:

The worst aspect of this whole episode is that the Bush administration has completely devalued the concept of a war criminal. War crimes should be reserved for the most serious offenses and war crimes trials are extraordinary. Charles Taylor is a war criminal. Radovan Karazdic is a war criminal. Salim Hamdan is a chauffer. He is clearly guilty of the crime of material support for terrorism. But now he has been elevated to the status of warrior, legitimizing al Qaeda terrorists’ belief that they are waging a holy war against the United States and our allies.

Sure. But if we apply the appropriate legal doctrine to this decision, it looks a lot better.

Share with Sociable

Burma Revisited

[ 3 ] August 6, 2008 |

Three months ago, Robert Kaplan and (to a lesser extent) George Packer decided to try to use Burmese cyclone victims as props in Humanitarian Intervention III: Objective Burma! The argument was that SLORC, the junta that controls Burma, was so inept and mendacious that a military assault to save disaster victims was both justified and possible. The argument disintegrated under casual scrutiny, with the idea that the international community could both destroy the regime and replace its bureaucratic structure within the time frame dictated by the crisis looking particularly silly. Yglesias hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that an invasion of Burma would never actually happen, but that the hypothetical invasion of Burma would go swimmingly; since the invasion would never turn out to be a disaster, it could always be used to justify the next intervention.

Via Mark Goldberg
, John Holmes (UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs) has a Washington Post op-ed updating the situation in Burma. International relief did reach disaster victims, if later than and in lower amounts than would have been optimal. The Burmese state is working international organizations to facilitate relief and ameliorate the crisis. Agricultural and economic activity have returned to the areas afflicted by the cyclone. In the final analysis, SLORC did a (predictably) terrible job of disaster management, but there is no reason to think that an invasion of Burma would have improved the situation. Holmes:

From the first, the aid operation in Myanmar — as is true everywhere we work — had to be about helping vulnerable people in need, not about politics. In this post-Iraq age, I am concerned that humanitarians are often pressured to choose between the hammer of forced intervention and the anvil of perceived inaction. Was there a realistic alternative to the approach of persistent negotiation and dialogue that we pursued? I do not believe so. Nor have I met anyone engaged in the operations who believes that a different approach would have brought more aid to more people more quickly.

Share with Sociable

Kline Crushed… Again

[ 11 ] August 6, 2008 |

Better luck at the track:

For the second time in two years, voters in Kansas have handed a stinging defeat to Phil Kline, an anti-abortion crusader whose reputation was made attempting to prosecute the state’s abortion providers, first as state attorney general, and then, after he lost re-election to that post, as a district attorney in suburban Kansas City.

With all of the vote counted, Steve Howe trounced Kline by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent in unofficial returns to select the Republican candidate for district attorney in Johnson County, Kan., a well-off suburb of Kansas City. Howe garnered 33,260 votes to Kline’s 22,188, according to final unofficial returns.

Share with Sociable

More Adventures In McSexism

[ 48 ] August 6, 2008 |

Megan Carpentier:

When he failed to wow them with his “drill here and drill now” energy plan, or his tax plan or his plan to be out of Iraq for sure by 2013, he tried a different strategy. He suggested to Cindy and the audience that she should compete in the Miss Buffalo Chip contest. What’s so bad about that?

Miss Buffalo Chip isn’t a beauty contest in the traditional sense — it’s a relatively debauched topless (and sometimes bottomless) multiday contest where women dance, jiggle and reportedly even perform blow jobs on bananas for the titillation of the spectators. And John McCain offered up his 54-year-old wife as a contestant.

And, let be frank, he didn’t do it just because she’s pretty or has an enviable body for a 54-year-old woman or because he’s proud of his wife’s brand of socialite beauty. He did it to pander to the crowd’s idea of appropriate masculinity, and that apparently includes over-sexualizing your wife and the mother of your children for the amusement of a few people in a crowd. McCain offered up the thought of his wife objectifying herself for the sexual gratification of others (at his suggestion) in order to get a couple of chuckles, inspire some male fantasy and make a few “friends.” Fun!


But what does it say that he would suggest it of his wife? I think it’s another piece of gravel in a growing mountain of evidence that John McCain doesn’t think a lot about women, their place as equals in society or their rights in that society. But he does seem to think a lot about us as sexual beings — or, at least, sexual objects.

And, certainly, whatever is in his mind his consistently anti-feminist policy record is manifest.

Share with Sociable

Walk On Bayh?

[ 29 ] August 6, 2008 |

As far as it goes, I think that Patashnik and Silver make reasonable points here. A congressman’s record has to be evaluated in context, and in said contexts Bayh’s record isn’t bad: ” there is no senator more liberal than Bayh in any state more conservative than Indiana.” He is a bit of a wet on abortion, for example — although better than Kaine — but there’s a reasonable argument to be made that his compromises are the minimum necessary for political survival in that context. Moreover, while “partial-birth” legislation is the very stupidest of that dismal genre, it’s also the regulation with the least impact on access to abortion. I also agree with Patashnik that “authenticity” means nothing; the fact that he’s moving left is a good sign, not something to worry about. And there are some surprising good points in his record especially the votes against Alito and Roberts. While suboptimal, he would be at least an acceptable choice in ideological terms.

Still, I’m definitely with Cohn. I think there should be a strong presumption in favor of having someone with executive experience on the ticket [whoops: as a commenter points out, Bayh was governor; my mistake], and as Cohn says even Bayh’s legislative record is undistinguished. I also think there should be a strong presumption against someone who supported the Iraq war. And I’d make an even stronger case against selecting him on strategic grounds. Even if we (very generously) assume that Bayh is the extremely rare candidate who could attract home-state votes as a running mate, there’s the problem that Indiana at the presidential level (whatever the polls at this early date say) is a deep, deep red state. If Indiana’s close enough that Bayh could put Obama over the top, Obama won’t need it. Bayh’s OK, but he hardly seems like the best Obama can do.

UPDATE: As elm notes, I neglected the most important point: it would almost certainly result in the loss of a Senate seat as well.

Share with Sociable