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Ruining it for everyone

[ 0 ] August 7, 2009 |

Great. Another dead celebrity giving blow a bad name. This will doubtless give comfort to those who argue that cocaine does more than make you the hilarious, if somewhat jittery, life of the party.


England Won the Toss and Decided to Bat

[ 0 ] August 7, 2009 |

and it’s been reassuringly, precipitously, downhill since that moment.

England 102, Australia 196-4, close of play first day, fourth test.
Unless the English bowl the Australians out quick, and then somehow re-learn how to bat overnight, this test is as good as done.  A first innings of 102 all out is ludicrous, the scorecard embarrassing.  The following small numbers represent, in order, the run contribution of the English batsmen for the first innings: 3, 30, 1, 8, 0, 37, 3, 0, 0, 3, 0.  With Flintoff out for this test, the English tail is effectively lengthened by one.  Not even a half century from your first five batters combined ?  Even I, as an American, recognize this as perhaps not an advisable approach, unless you believe that luring your opposition into a false sense of giddy security represents your only chance.
The flip side of course is that one of the Ozzie bowling lines stands out: Siddle 21-5.  However, four of those five came from picking off the final four English batsmen (Swann, Harminson, Anderson, Onions), which in baseball terms is rather like pitching to four straight pitchers.  However, Siddle’s dispatch of Strauss on only three runs off of 17 balls set the tone for this innings.  Strauss has been having an effective Ashes in 2009.  Clark’s 3-18 is perhaps more impressive as he secured the wickets of both Cook (for 30) and Collingwood for a duck.
While Mike Atherton wrote in The Times the other day that the 2009 edition of this series lacks quality of any sort compared to 2005, Simon Barnes replies in the same pages that the drama is more important than the relative quality, and this series does have the potential to match 2005 on that criterion.  Or at least did, because if Atherton is correct in another observation, that who wins this test at Headingly will win the series, then it’s looking rather over.   An England win would capture the Ashes for England, but a Australia win will even out the series, requiring an outright England victory at the Oval in the final test to win the series.
As with previous tests, I’ll write one followup to this post towards the end of the test.  Which very well could be in only a couple days at this rate . . . 
In other obscure sports, Celtic managed to win away in Europe for the first time in over six years on Wednesday, which I somehow managed to watch.  Indeed, it was a historic victory for the Bhoys, as they had never recovered from an initial home defeat in a two-legged European tie before.
The reward for a job well done?  Drawing Arsenal in the playoff round of qualification for the Champions League proper.  Not impossible, but highly unlikely.  And in one of life’s delicious ironies, the BBC reports that in this final round of qualifying:

If two of the four – from Arsenal, Lyon, Sporting Lisbon and Panathinaikos – fail to qualify, Rangers will move up from the third pot to the second, in theory giving them an easier group.

Meaning if Celtic overcome Arsenal, it could directly help their occasional light-hearted rivals from across town.

But…They’re Totally In My Face!

[ 0 ] August 7, 2009 |

I suppose it’s nearly tautological to note that Jack Shafer’s attempted defense of Mouthpiece Theater (or, at least, his argument that the Post should continue to waste its resources and credibility by producing it) completely fails. The first thing you’ll notice is that he didn’t even try to argue that it was funny, or insightful, or had any merit at all — which is sensible, but rather critically undermines his argument. The second thing is that his other examples fail, because none of them were as unequivocally offensive or devoid of political or satirical content. I happen to agree that Robin Givhan’s extensive analysis of Clinton’s cleavage was both stupid and offensive, but she was trying to make a point rather than just using slurs. (And, of course, none of the examples resulted in any consequences, handily refuting Shafer’s attempt at a slippery slope argument.)

But the biggest problem with Shafer’s argument is his assertion that The Poochie and Poochie Show was “edgy.” We’re not talking about Richard Pryor circa 1974 here. We’re not even talking about Parker and Stone. Mouthpiece Theater‘s shallow reiterations of Villager non-wisdom were as thoroughly corporate as you can get. It exemplified what is was allegedly satirizing. The error the Post here was that they actually thought it could be edgy, not that they pulled the plug when the awfulness became too much even for the people who sign Richard Cohen’s paychecks.


[ 0 ] August 7, 2009 |

A nice tribute.

Mercenaries and Civilization

[ 0 ] August 7, 2009 |

I appreciate international society’s need for mercenary companies. Developing military institutions is difficult and time consuming, and even though mercenaries are expensive, they can provide short term emergency relief. Mercenaries have been a part of the domestic and international scene since time immemorial, and they’ve never really disappeared; they receded a bit during the Golden Age of the Nation-State, but have re-established their importance in the last twenty years. I also appreciate, to some degree, the desire of the US military to outsource some of its responsibilities to mercenary companies. The drive for privatization of government function in the 1990s was absurd and destructive, and cut many capabilities that necessarily should have remained public, but it’s true enough that there are some tasks performed by the military that can be done well enough by private firms. Finally, I think that there’s potentially a role for mercenary companies in shipping protection, anti-piracy, and similar endeavours.

All that said, I wonder if the notion of a “civilized” mercenary company is simply an oxymoron. This is to say that, while we can identify situations in which a mercenary company might be useful, it’s virtually impossible to create a functioning organization that can abide by the rules of the civilized world. As Huntington tells us, military organizations are about managed violence. The professional managers of violence are tempered by their loyalty to nation and state; even when they stray, they tend to do so in the name of the state. Norms of professionalism keep professional military personnel within certain constraints, as do the policy preferences of the state. A organization which replaces loyalty to the state with pursuit of profit may be notionally possible, but I suspect that taking loyalty to the state out of the equation unglues military professionalism. When the military professional has many potential clients, and especially when the military professional is detached from a culture of self-sacrifice (all military professionals understand that they must be willing to accept danger and death as part of their jobs) I think that the professional norms may disintegrate.

The Blackwater Xe experience resulted in an organization that was plainly unfit for operation even in the anarchy of Iraq. I doubt that the allegations listed in the Scahill article will be the last to come to light regarding Blackwater’s operations, and of course Blackwater wasn’t the only mercenary company in Iraq. It may turn out that Blackwater was just uniquely terrible, but I have my doubts.

John Hughes 1950-2009

[ 0 ] August 7, 2009 |
NYT bit here.

It may be a generational thing, but when I think about John Hughes, there’s a certain subset of his oeuvre that I think about.  In some ways, these films are nothing more than a guilty pleasure, in others, evocative of a certain time and place, (naturally).  Having graduated from high school in 1986, I was a card carrying member of his target market.

Oddly enough, I think a line from Dylan Moran’s Black Books captures, in a sense, Hughes’ characterization of high school:

Bernard: “But you hated school, you had a terrible time.”

Fran: “I’ve never said that.”

Bernard: “You didn’t have to say anything, I just look at your life now and work backwards.”

My favorite of Hughes films is Home Alone, erm, Some Kind of Wonderful, if only because I had a crush on Mary Stuart Masterson.  (But then SKoW is a guilty pleasure; Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is a clearly superior film).

Military Boondoggles?

[ 0 ] August 7, 2009 |

This is an interesting list, but the concept doesn’t strike me as quite right. From Wikipedia:

It also refers to government or corporate project involving large numbers of people and usually heavy expenditure; at some point, the key operators have realized that the project is never going to work, but are reluctant to bring this to the attention of their superiors. Generally there is an aspect of “going through the motions” – for example, continuing research and development – as long as funds are available to keep paying the researchers’ and executives’ salaries. The situation can be allowed to continue for what seem like unreasonably long periods, as senior management are often reluctant to admit that they allowed a failed project to go on for so long. In many cases, the actual device itself may eventually work, but not well enough to ever recoup its development costs.

A distinguishing aspect of a boondoggle, as opposed to a project that simply fails, is the eventual realization by its operators that it is never going to work, long before it is finally shut down.

The five projects are the Type 45 destroyer, the Bulava SLBM, the Chinese CV, the French CV, and the A400M cargo aircraft. I don’t think it would be correct to say “one of these is not like the others”; rather, I’m not sure that they have much in common at all. Of course, if you believe that, in general, modern major nation-states spend way more on defense than they should, then you could identify any major project as a boondoggle; that’s fair enough, but probably not useful in terms of thinking about the five biggest boondoggles.

Anyway, I’m not convinced that the Type 45 destroyer falls into this category. The Type 45 project is certainly troubled, and the fact that the ships won’t be able to fire missiles until 2011 is problematic, but I wouldn’t say that its been given up on; I don’t doubt that the Type 45 destroyers will eventually deploy and do their jobs capably. They may be the only ships in the Royal Navy to do so, but nevertheless. I’m also uncertain about the inclusion of the two CV projects. If it’s true that every CV should be considered a boondoggle, given technological advances in the field of carrier-killing, then the British CVF and the US Gerald Ford class should have honor of placement ahead of a pair of projects that haven’t yet resulted in a single ship being laid down. If CVs aren’t of necessity a boondoggle, then I don’t know that it makes sense to call out the French and the Chinese for what might otherwise be considered justifiable caution regarding technical and strategic issues.

The criticism of the Bulava and the A400 is fair, I think. The Bulava is simply a disaster, and I’m not sure why the Russians want to waste additional money on it given that they already have perfectly serviceable SLBMs. It is kind of surprising that the missile development has gone so poorly; the Topol-M (the ICBM model for the Bulava) seems to work just fine, and the Russians have a history of good outcomes with missile technology. The A400 is kind of a disaster, in particular because I’ve never quite understood the necessity to build radically capable and modern cargo aircraft; they have one job to do, and they don’t fight each other.

Here’s my list, in no particular order:

  1. Bulava Missile
  2. Admiral Gorshkov CV conversion
  3. US land-based missile defense
  4. A400
  5. North Korean ballistic missile/nuclear weapon program

Sotomayor Confirmed

[ 0 ] August 6, 2009 |

68-31. If I were a hack, this is where I would be outraged that many Republicans would vote against a qualified nominee because somehow Supreme Court nominees will be entirely non-ideological as long as only the president considers ideology. (The content of Republican opposition to Sotomayor, of course, is another matter.) But since that stuff is nonsense, I’m perfectly pleased with the outcome. Hopefully she’ll be a good justice.

Of course this is a completely invalid analogy

[ 2 ] August 6, 2009 |

I’m still not sure why, exactly, but I’ve been assured repeatedly that it just is.

The American Psychological Association declared Wednesday that mental health professionals [obesity researchers] should not tell gay [fat] clients they can become straight [thin] through therapy [dieting] or other treatments [“lifestyle changes”].

In a resolution adopted by the association’s governing council, and in an accompanying report, the association issued its most comprehensive repudiation of so-called reparative therapy [telling people to eat less and exercise more], a concept espoused by a small [gigantic] but [and] persistent group of therapists [weight loss “experts,” your mother, your best friend, and the stranger in the grocery aisle], often allied with religious conservatives [almost everyone else in the culture], who maintain that gay men and lesbians [heavier than average people] can change [become thin].

No solid evidence exists that such change is likely, says the resolution, adopted by a 125-to-4 vote. The association said some [a great deal of] research suggested that efforts to produce change could be harmful, inducing depression and suicidal tendencies.

The failure rate for “reparative therapy” isn’t any worse than the failure rate for attempts to produce significant long-term reductions in body mass in larger than average persons. (Or average or smaller than average persons for that matter). But somehow, while trying to turn a gay person into a straight person is now considered an irrational and destructive thing by all enlightened opinion, trying to make people thinner is considered a good thing, because they could be a lot thinner if they really wanted to be. They just could. Really. Because this guy over here lost 75 pounds and kept it off. But that’s not at all like that one guy who used to have sex with men but now doesn’t. Not at all. It’s totally different.

F-35C for the Royal Navy

[ 0 ] August 6, 2009 |

Via Galrahn, it looks as if the Royal Navy is ditching plans to buy the F-35B (VSTOL variant), and instead buying the F-35C (carrier variant) and adding catapults to its new carriers. As I’ve suggested before, this makes a lot of sense; the F-35B is appropriate for smaller carriers, but is wasted on a big deck ship, as it lacks the range and payload of its sister aircraft. As Galrahn notes, this probably won’t save the Royal Navy much money, even though the F-35C is projected to be cheaper than the F-35B. Redesign and the addition of catapults (possibly EMALS) will eat up the savings. It does mean, however, that the CVF will be significantly more capable. If I ran the RN, I’d probably still buy some F-35Bs in order to keep one of Illustrious or Ark Royal around and effective, but the F-35C should be the main purchase.

The Filibuster and the Constitution

[ 0 ] August 6, 2009 |

To make some comments on the conversation between Drum and Yglesias (and Hertzberg):

  • The case for the constitutionality of the filibuster starts from a compelling basis: Article I specifies that “Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings.” Against this, Kevin makes an argument from structural inference: “The fact that certain types of legislation (treaties, constitutional amendments, veto overrides, etc.) specifically require supermajority votes is evidence that the framers assumed that ordinary legislation should be passed by majority vote.” (Hertzberg makes a similar argument.) I don’t find this terribly convincing. The structure of the Constitution contains any number of non- and counter- majoritarian elements, making inferences of majoritarianism problematic. The fact that the Constitution specifies a counter-majoritarian requirement for certain actions cannot, I think, be considered strong evidence that other countermajoritarian requirements created at the discretion of legislators are impermissible. Moreover, the filibuster doesn’t change the fact that 50%+1 of votes in the Senate is all that’s needed to formally approve legislation. The filibuster is about the procedures for getting to a vote on the merits, and I don’t see how permitting a minority to stop legislation coming for a vote is any more unconstitutional than permitting a minority of senators on a committee from not permitting legislation to come for a vote.
  • I also can’t accept the argument that the filibuster is unconstitutional because the framers expected the Senate to operate on majority votes. First of all, this is the kind of originalist argument — based on the subjective expectations of individual framers — that even most originalists don’t accept. Whatever the framers thought, we’re bound by what they wrote, and the Constitution doesn’t prohibit filibusters explicitly and doesn’t strongly imply their unconstitutionality. But more importantly, I don’t accept the argument because I’m not an originalist. Most members of Congress in the early 19th century almost certainly didn’t think that the commerce clause gave Congress broad powers to regulate the national economy. Certainly, most political elites did not believe at the time of its ratification that the 14th Amendment prohibited segregated schools. And so on. I don’t think that these facts should bind contemporary constitutional interpretation, and I can’t pretend to think they’re any more compelling when they produce an outcome I like.
  • On the other hand, I’m not sure I agree with Matt that political questions doctrine requires that the Supreme Court refuse to hear the question. One certainly can argue that the “validity of enactments” category would make challenges to the filibuster difficult. On the other hand, the Supreme Court has ruled that procedural rules created by Congress are unconstitutional; consider, for example, the invalidation of the legislative veto. So, I think that the Supreme Court could rule that the filibuster was unconstitutional if it chose to do so. I do agree with everyone that it won’t, and I agree with Matt that this appropriate.

The filibuster is a very bad rule. But ending it should be considered a political matter, not a constitutional one.

The End of an Error

[ 0 ] August 5, 2009 |

I’m sure you’ll be sad to learn that the Post has mercifully killed The Poochie and Poochie Show The Three Minute News Hour Mouthpiece Theater:

Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli killed the satirical video series Wednesday after harsh criticism of a joke about Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, which had prompted him to pull the latest episode from the paper’s Web site Friday night. The Post staffers who appeared in the videos, Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza, agreed with the decision and apologized in separate interviews.

“I don’t think the series worked as they intended,” Brauchli said. “It was meant to be funny and insightful and translate the superb journalism Chris and Dana do in print and online into a new format.”

Odd. Sure, the “funny” and “insightful” didn’t happen. But I’d say that in terms of translating Milbank’s journalism — i.e. not-nearly-as-funny-as-it-thinks-it-is snark about trivia — it was a roaring success. (I still think what really set him off on Pitney was the latter’s point that Milbank wasted a scarce opportunity to ask a question of a major presidential candidate by asking Obama multiple questions about how he looked in a bathing suit.)