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Sunday Links and Brief Comments

[ 0 ] July 15, 2007 |
  • Publius has some sympathy for John McCain’s profound yet futile humiliation and self-abnegation. I do feel it with respect to his daughter; politics requires you to make alliances with ugly people and forget ugly tactics. But where any sympathy I had for McCain vanishes with his reprehensible legitimazation of the Bush administration’s torture and gutting of habeas corpus. It’s not even as if he just quietly sold out; he provided invaluable cover by claiming he wouldn’t compromise and then abjectly selling out. (The irony, of course, being that his preening meant that he would get no credit from the pro-torture-and -arbitrary-power base anyway, so he sold out for nothing.) To hell with him.
  • Some apologist for the new gilded age claims of St. Derek of Pasta Diving that “I cannot find another ballplayer with that same set of skills.” Yeah, unless he turns to his right and sees the player with vastly more impressive offensive and defensive skills…
  • Aspazia is a new mother.
  • Zuzu, ex of Feministe, has a new blog.
  • Albini speaks! Quite interestingly. (Via Wolfson.)
  • Scott McLemee points out that a central issue of the “Late Night Shots” clowns is that exclusivity fails if nobody else actually wants to be a member. This reminds me of the appalling Details article asking “is it OK to demand anal sex?” (Categorical answer, regardless of sex act in question: “No.” You’re welcome.) The point is not that it cannot be mutually enjoyable for many people, but to this particular subset of assholes “mutually enjoyable” would seem to defeat the purpose. As Amanda correctly notes, this is a classic example of patriarchy being bad for everybody, insulting to men as well as women.
  • Liberal or patriotic? According to SIRUS, this is a fair question….

Bridge Over Troubled Bongwater

[ 0 ] July 15, 2007 |

Above: Bill Kistol prepares to write today’s WaPo editorial, which forever propels the achievement of “dead-end, self-refuting hackery” beyond the reach of mere mortals.


Let’s step back from the unnecessary mistakes and the self-inflicted wounds that have characterized the Bush administration. Let’s look at the broad forest rather than the often unlovely trees. What do we see? First, no second terrorist attack on U.S. soil — not something we could have taken for granted. Second, a strong economy — also something that wasn’t inevitable.

And third, and most important, a war in Iraq that has been very difficult, but where — despite some confusion engendered by an almost meaningless “benchmark” report last week — we now seem to be on course to a successful outcome.

Next week: Kristol considers the unappreciated legacies of James Buchanan and Warren Harding. Also, why Papa Doc was good for Haiti after all.

Quatorze juillet!

[ 0 ] July 14, 2007 |

I almost forgot it was Bastille Day. There’s still time to, like, destroy a prison or something. Just don’t cut anyone’s head off and parade it around on a pike, OK?

Meantime, this crappy Rush song almost makes me wish the French Revolution had never occurred.

La la la la, la la la la, Chazmo’s World

[ 0 ] July 14, 2007 |

If one were looking for an especially repulsive mixture of homophobia and anti-Arab racism, it would be difficult to find a purer example than this thread at LGF, where rumors about Yassir Arafat’s cause of death — a rumor passed along by the most dubious of sources — has set the morning’s conga line into motion.

I realize, of course, that wondering if LGF is trafficking in homophobia and racism is akin to wondering if Ann Althouse has posted slanty photos from a coffee shop in the last week, but the thread deserves special mention for producing my nominee for Quite Possibly the Dumbest Comment Evah:

Today In Strawman Building

[ 0 ] July 14, 2007 |

HTML points us to this post by digamma. HTML says he “has” me, which is kind of strange because I basically agree with this:

No one on the left ever dreamed that Clinton would create a major progressive domestic policy shift. The most they ever hoped for was that he wouldn’t actively push conservative policies. And he fell well short of that goal.

The Telecommunications Act? Communications Decency? Antiterrorism? Welfare reform? These were all passed with Clinton’s signature and, with the POSSIBLE exception of welfare reform (on which he waffled repeatedly), with his enthusiastic support. You can’t blame the Constitution for that.

How about we compare this to what I actually wrote:

This also comes up a lot in debates with my Naderite friends, but while there are any number of valid critiques of Clinton, to attack him for not achieving any major progressive initiatives after 1994 is bizarre; with a Republican Congress this simply wasn’t a possibility.

digamma and HTML, in other words, simply misread the post. I never said that Clinton was beyond criticism — indeed, I specifically said otherwise. What I actually said was that Clinton couldn’t be criticized for not being able to singlehandedly pass major new progressive initiatives, which digramma concedes. If we’re talking about DOMA, the Telecommunications Act, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, etc., criticize away; I certainly have. But his comment was a non-sequitur, and the claim that I’m “moving the goalposts” by pointing this out bizarre.


[ 0 ] July 14, 2007 |

Reports on the credibility and journalistic standards of dead-ender hero Michael Yon…are not promising. Which I supposes goes without saying. (I think the definitive warblogger moment was Judy Miller being invited at the keynote speaker at the Pajamas Media launch party. They don’t want good reporters; they want Bush administration propagandists and stenographers.)

Moving from Ordinary Villainy to Cartoonish Super-Villainy

[ 1 ] July 14, 2007 |

Washington Post:

The White House has refused to give Congress documents about the death of former NFL player Pat Tillman, with White House counsel Fred F. Fielding saying that certain papers relating to discussion of the friendly-fire shooting “implicate Executive Branch confidentiality interests.”

No Shame. These people do not operate by any understandable moral or ethical code.

Via Danger Room.

Coalition Operations and the War on Drugs

[ 0 ] July 14, 2007 |

A difference of opinion is developing between American and European approaches to poppy eradication in Afghanistan. Jon Lee Anderson in the New Yorker:

In Uruzgan, the Dutch have advocated a policy of nonconfrontation and the pursuit of development projects. (The Dutch commander, Hans van Griensven, was quoted in the Times in April as telling his officers, “We’re not here to fight the Taliban. We’re here to make the Taliban irrelevant.”) A European official told me that the Dutch had doubts about [eradication leader Doug] Wankel’s mission; they feared that it might be counterproductive, because it was only about destroying poppies and did not include any of the other seven pillars of the national plan. “There was concern that it might crosscut other activities focussed on security and development,” he said.

Wankel was frustrated by the wariness of the Dutch. “Most or all Europeans are opposed to eradication—they’re into winning hearts and minds,” he said. “But it’s our view that it isn’t going to work. There has to be a measured, balanced use of force along with hearts and minds.” He conceded, however, that the Uruzgan operation fell squarely on the use-of-force side of the scale. Later, he told me, aid, seed, and fertilizer would be offered to the farmers around Tirin Kot, but not yet. Other Americans were frankly contemptuous of the Dutch policy, which they regarded as softheaded. The Western official told me, “We don’t have a lot of time here. If we don’t get a handle on this soon, we’ll have a situation where you can’t get rid of it, like we had in Colombia for a while, where the narcos owned part of the government and controlled significant parts of the economy. And we have a lot of evidence of direct links with the Taliban. These problems, and organized crime, too, are being embedded here while they’re talking about ‘alternative development.’”

I’ll try to be as even-handed as I can: The Europeans are utterly correct, the Americans are completely wrong, and the American approach will result in far more pain than necessary in Afghanistan, if not outright defeat. There is nothing intrinsic about poppies that makes their cultivation or their cultivators pro-Taliban; poppy producers seek Taliban protection and give the Taliban aid because of the eradication program.

Doug Wankel is part of the eradication program, the leader of a group of private Dyncorp contractors:

“We’re not able to destroy all the poppy—that’s not the point. What we’re trying to do is lend an element of threat and risk to the farmers’ calculations, so they won’t plant next year,” Wankel said later. “It’s like robbing a bank. If people see there’s more to be had by robbing a bank than by working in one, they’re going to rob it, until they learn there’s a price to pay.”

The price the farmers have to pay:

When we were ready to move on, the farmer said, as if to be polite, “Thank you—but I can’t really thank you, because you haven’t destroyed just my poppies but my wheat, too.” He pointed to where A.T.V.s had driven through a wheat patch. Wankel apologized, then commented that it was only one small section. “But you have also damaged my watermelons,” the farmer insisted, pointing to another part of the field. “Now I will have nothing left.”

Maybe it would have helped if the Americans had explained why they were destroying the Afghan crops, but since the explanation amounts to “We have to destroy your crops because our people like poppies, but can’t be allowed to have them; ain’t freedom great?”, I’m not sure that it would have gone over so well.

The appropriate policy is not crop destruction; that will only push farmers towards the Taliban, and I very much doubt that it will significantly affect opium production. Unless the US is willing to undertake Taliban-style measures for opium eradication, the opium problem isn’t going to go away. Much better to develop an alternative regime that involves the purchase of Afghani produced opium, which would bring farmers into the legitimate economy and give them a reason to fight the Taliban, rather than support it. In addition to being a colossal waste of money and a justification for having the highest incarceration rates in the world, the pursuit of the War on Drugs is going to result in the loss of Afghanistan.

See also Danger Room.

Worst American Birthdays, vol. 21

[ 0 ] July 13, 2007 |

If not for the icy hand of death, Nathan Bedford Forrest — Confederate general and inaugural Grand Wizard of the KKK — would have turned 186 years old today.

A Tennessean by birth, Forrest was a slave trader and Mississippi plantation owner during the years leading up to the Civil War; black flesh and bonded labor enriched this blacksmith’s son to such a degree that he was capable of throwing more than a million dollars toward the war effort. During the conflict, Forrest established his reputation as a remarkable cavalry leader who distinguished himself at Ft. Donelson, Shiloh, Chickamauga, and the “battle” at Fort Pillow, where Confederate troops under Forrest’s command slaughtered hundreds of Union soldiers and Tennessee cavalrymen — many of whom were killed and mutilated after resistance had come to an end. The legacy of Ft. Pillow continued to shadow Forrest throughout his life, though it did not prevent his home state from celebrating him with countless public statues as well as parks and schools named in his honor.

Bankrupted by the defense his beloved institution, Forrest was forced to sell off much of his plantation land after the war, and he set about the task of regaining his fortune and social standing. He sold timber, tried to organize a paving company, purchased a railroad, and apparently pondered the idea of leading a war of conquest against Mexico, where he believed he might mine gold. None of these plans bore fruit. Indeed, for the first two years after the war, it seems Forrest’s only major accomplishment was to kill a black ditch digger with an axe handle, an incident for which Mississippi jury acquitted him.

Forrest’s most notable post-war endeavor was to serve as the (perhaps merely figural) leader of a newly organized “social club” known as the Ku Klux Klan. Founded in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1866, the KKK nominated Forrest to the title of Grand Wizard in 1867. Although Forrest claimed not to be a member of the Klan, he acknowledged his sympathy with the organization and vowed to assist its “honorable” cause; in the very least, he allowed his name to be used to publicize and recruit for an organization dedicated to restoring white dominance throughout the former Confederacy.

To this day, Nathan Bedford Forrest’s defenders insist that he was a kinder, gentler Klansman, objecting to its vigilantism and thuggishness. Moreover, they claim — not without some reason — that he eventually came to view former slaves as potential equals, politically as well as economically. Such apologists, nevertheless, fail to explain what great gestures their hero ultimately made to reverse the catastrophic demise of black freedom — a cause to which Forrest devoted the near-entirety of his life.

. . . Brian C.B. offers some thoughtful remarks in the comments thread. For the record, I don’t disagree that Forrest’s biography — or any of the folks whose birthdays I acknowledge from time to time — is more complicated than I suggest. There’s something inherently cartoonish (and, I concede, unserious) in compiling a list of “Worst American Birthdays,” as I think certain entries have shown. That said, comments like Brian’s are well-taken and appreciated — much more so than the “you’re being mean to Jewel/you’re just jealous of Toby Keith” variety….

Oh, Hitchy…

[ 0 ] July 13, 2007 |

This is utterly unsurprising. As Scott once said, there’s no need to sign the Euston Manifesto if you’re not worried about being a Stalinist; given this, it’s natural to find Chris “What are you rebelling against? What have you got?” Hitchens at the forefront of both the Lubriderm project and the Iraq War. Laurie Mylroie, after all, also got her start as an apologist for Saddam Hussein…

Book Review: The Box

[ 0 ] July 13, 2007 |

This is the sixth of a nine part series on the Patterson School Summer Reading List.

1. China’s Trapped Transition, Minxin Pei
2. The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs
3. Illicit, Moises Naim
4. In Spite of the Gods, Edward Luce
5. The Utility of Force, Rupert Smith
6. The Box, Marc Levinson

The Box is about, well, big boxes. In the mid-20th century, the development of the container and of the container ship accompanied a series of changes in international trade that had the effect of transforming the global commercial landscape. Marc Levinson argues that the development and standardization of the container served to radically reduce transport costs and thus to underwrite the full globalization of the international economy. Before the container, dock workers had to move individual pallets and boxes with different goods in and out of ships. This was an extremely slow and costly process, meaning that a ship could not be re-loaded until it was completely unloaded, and complicating the transfer of goods from ships to rail and truck transportation. This mode of transport limited the efficient size of ships, as well, as very large ships simply could not be loaded or unloaded in an economically viable manner. The container changed all that, and cut the price of transport by as much as 90%. This transformation produced big winners and big losers, as firms, unions, and industries had to adjust to a new economic reality.

The conversion to the container required a legal transformation as well as a technological. Levinson details the myriad of different regulations that transport companies faced in the 1950s and 1960s. These regulations served less to protect consumers and workers than to protect businesses that already had a stake in the transport market. Indeed, Levinson’s account of the complexity of the system, and the difficulty with which the initial container companies had in breaking into the market, could serve as a useful antidote to fresh-faced graduates of Econ 200; the free market simply doesn’t exist in any form approaching what an introductory microeconomics text suggests. The first container companies didn’t so much break the regulatory regime as bend it to their own interests and own needs, especially as it became clear that their methods were far cheaper than those of their competitors. As the promise of the container became apparent, government funded dockyards helped restructure the flow of trade on a continental basis, creating a new transport industry in some areas (New Jersey, for example), while utterly destroying it in others (New York City ceased to be a major shipping hub because of the container).

The state abetted the development of the container in another way. After some initial hesitation, the Pentagon fell in love with the container as an efficient way of shipping military supplies to Vietnam. Saigon, the major port in South Vietnam, was dreadfully inefficient and had a restive work force. The Army Corps of Engineers undertook the construction of a new container port at Cam Ranh Bay in order to facilitate the supply of US military operations. This created a captive market for the primary container shipping companies, and underwrote their expansion into the Far East. Container ships would have their entire voyages paid for by the Pentagon, and would stop in Japan on the way back for what amounted to a free ride. Since their costs were already paid, they could undercut other shipping between Japan and the US, and facilitate the construction of the infrastructure necessary for container shipping in the Pacific.

The development of the container devastated the traditional dockyard. The biggest advantage of the container was automation and a reduction in transaction costs. This had the predictable and immediate effect of destroying the market for dockyard labor. The longshoreman occupation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had been relatively well-paid, but extremely dangerous, irregular, and organizationally shot through with corruption. For shippers, undercutting the longshoreman unions was a feature, not a bug. The unions that represented longshoremen reacted differently to these developments. On the West Coast, a unified union was able to put together a reasonable deal that protected existing longshoremen and, more or less, eased the union’s way out of existence. In the East, a far more fragmented set of unions failed to negotiate such deals, leading to far more devastating economic consequences. In the United Kingdom, union and other difficulties held up construction of container ports for quite a while, while Dutch unions provided no opposition to the construction of a container port in the Netherlands. I can’t quite do justice in this brief summary to the history of unionized labor, the dock, and the container; indeed, Levinson could have devoted several more chapters to the study.

Although the container is an important part of the tapestry of global trade in the second half of the twentieth century, Levinson allows that other developments had critical impacts on the expansion of trade. The legal environment of transport had to change, as did the attitudes of shippers. Container shipping made no sense if orders were too small to fill an entire container, or inspections too onerous to allow the transport of the full box. Not all early container shipping companies did well, and some did very badly indeed, especially when energy costs rose and international trade stalled in the 1970s. The expansion of container trade also required international action, since much of the appeal of the container was in standardization, and the advantage was lost if every country and company had different container sizes. Indeed, some industries, such as American railroads, failed to take advantage of the container and lost out on crucial early advantages.

This is really an excellent book. Levinson could have devoted an entire volume to the discussion of labor issues, or of regulatory policy in the 1950s and 1960s, or of the use of the container in the Vietnam War. Indeed, I would hope that other journalists and scholars would return to these questions in order to flesh out the history. I’m 95% convinced by Levinson’s case, but I think he may have gone just a touch farther than the evidence warranted by concentrating specifically on the container. The container was a huge part of the transformation, yes, but Levinson’s own account shows that many other factors contributed to the acceleration of trade in the second half of the twentieth century, and that the Box might have failed outside this environment.

…I am remiss in failing to note that M. Gemmill wrote a fine and detailed review of the same book at Duck of Minerva.

Must Be Those Teenage Sex Cults

[ 0 ] July 13, 2007 |

There’s news today that use of Plan B (emergency contraception or the “morning-after pill”) is way way up. According to a Washington Post article today, sales of Plan B have more than doubled since the drug was approved for over-the-counter use by adult women last year.

I – like most other people who support access to family planning services – think this is good news. Women – or at least adult women – have better, easier access to the drug now that they don’t have to go to their doctor or to the ER. They’re more likely to be able to get the pills in time to prevent pregnancy, thus hopefully helping decrease the number of abortions in the U.S. Access isn’t perfect — too often pharmacits impose their own (crazy) beliefs on women and refuse to dole out the drug (which is held behind the counter even though it is over the counter). And it’s ridiculous that teenagers — the people we should most help prevent pregnancy — are the ones who face the most obstacles to getting EC. Teens still need a prescription to get Plan B. One can imagine the myriad reasons why it might be tough for a teen to get to a doctor to get that prescription within 72 hours.

Anyway, there’s a lot of good news for reality-based people. For the anti-woman fundies, though, not so much. According to Broadsheet:

But, conservatives are in a finger-shaking tizzy over the news: “This is very concerning,” said Charmaine Yoest of the Family Research Council. “We think this is putting women’s health at risk.” The [Washington] Post adds that conservative advocacy groups believe “that easier availability could encourage sexual activity and make it easier for men to have sex with underage girls.”

Remember when the FDA was holding up approval of EC over-the-counter? People like the Family Resesarch Council (and in fact Ms. Yoest herself) were all worked up because they were worried that EC would encourage promiscuity among teens and other women, leading to sex cults. Seriously. Apparently their worst fears have come true.

Either that, or women are taking this opportunity to care for their health. Shocking that they would do that, when given the tools.

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