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[ 0 ] January 24, 2009 |

I simply do not understand how anyone could believe that the Israeli military operations in Gaza would result in the overthrow of Hamas:

If there is any significant disenchantment with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, it is largely hidden behind the fear that many feel in speaking out against the group.

In dozens of interviews across Gaza on Friday, less than a week after the start of a tenuous cease-fire, Palestinians generally expressed either unbridled support for Hamas or resignation to the idea that the group’s reign in Gaza will continue for the foreseeable future. No one suggested that the group is vulnerable, despite the hopes of some Israeli officials who have theorized that their military campaign could ultimately spur Palestinians to rise up against Hamas rule.

Hamas’s resilience as the preeminent power in Gaza reflects the Islamist movement’s success in consolidating its authority long before the war began, analysts say. It also underscores the dividends that any Palestinian group can earn by standing up to Israel, no matter how disastrous the consequences. Hamas vowed to kill hundreds of Israelis, but Israel’s final death toll was 13, including three civilians who died as a result of the persistent rocket fire from Gaza that Israel says prompted the war.

“I hope Hamas gets more and more power and launches more and more rockets. I ask God to keep them strong,” said Abed Abu Jalhoum, 45, her face framed by a black head scarf and her feet bare as she sat on a cinder block in what was once her living room but is now only a floor with one crumbling, concrete wall.

Way back when, there were two theories about how strategic bombing could cause the collapse of governments. The first was that such bombing could disrupt the coercive capacity of the government in question, destroying the police and administrative infrastructure that kept the population in check. This concept made some sense in the wake of the Russian and abortive German revolutions, when it seemed that restless urban proletariat populations were always on the edge of revolt, and that simply “taking the lid off,” so to speak, would be sufficient to bring down a target government.

The second theory was that populations under bombardment would blame their own governments for failing to protect them. There’s a certain social contract logic to this; bombing indicates that whatever the government is doing right now is insufficient to keep me safe, and since the state has broken its contract with me I’m consequently going to break my contract with it. In a sense, this is the bourgeois counterpart to the Marxist account given above; instead of enabling a seething proletariat hungry for revolution, bombing would convince shopkeepers, housewives, office workers, and so forth that government policy needed to be changed.

We know that neither of these hypotheses are sound. We know this as surely as we can know anything in social science; after seventy years of experimentation, bombing has yet to enable the seething revolutionaries or mobilize the urban/suburban bourgeois. Urban society is far more robust than the theorists of strategic bombing believed (robust in both its productive capacity and in its social cohesion), and the bourgeois invariably seems to blame the bombers more than its own government.

And yet we have Operation Cast Lead, which combined aerial bombing with coercive ground raids that amounted to the same thing. The IDF set out to test both of the above hypotheses, trying to destroy as much of Hamas coercive capacity as possible while attempting to inflict enough pain on the civilian population to spark an uprising. From a strategic point of view, the best that can be hoped for, perhaps, is that the IDF didn’t believe its own rhetoric about weakening Hamas’ grip on Gaza. The 2006 war, for all of its failures, at least resulted in a Hezbollah more hesitant about attacking Israel, although the price was a much more powerful, prestigious, and secure organization. By the same token, Hamas may be more reluctant to lob handfuls of ineffectual rockets into Israel, but its price for such discretion will be an iron grip on Gaza, and improved prospects for control of the West Bank.

That’s not, to my mind, a sensible exchange on Israel’s part.

…in comments, Eurosabra asks:

What if the objective was just to destroy enough of the Hamas C&C personnel and infrastructure to delay the development of a large-scale long-range (Grad & Zelzal) missile threat to central Israel? Preventing the transition to a multiple-tens-of-thousands-of-rockets threat to Be’ersheva and tens of rockets that could reach Tel Aviv? And if Hamas is willing to try for escalation dominance in a transition from Qassams to Grads to Zelzals, why should Israel tolerate it or care about Gazan civilian casualties?

If that was the Israeli objective, then I don’t see any indication that it’s been achieved. The IDF campaign does not seem to have been geared towards such an objective (why you would need to destroy police stations to delay a missile threat is beyond me), and given that a)Hamas remains in control, and b) smuggling continues, there’s not much reason to believe that Hamas couldn’t continue to pursue an escalation strategy.

Beyond that, I have another objection. More effective weapons tend to be more effective because they’re more sophisticated, more expensive, and require a larger support infrastructure. Both of the missile systems Eurosabra mentions fit this description. If Hamas started to use such weapons, its factories, smuggling points, and launch sites would be correspondingly more vulnerable to Israeli counterattack. Indeed, one reason that Hamas continues to use the Qassam is that the other alternatives are too costly and too dangerous to employ with any frequency. Escalation wouldn’t grant Hamas “dominance”, but would increase Hamas’ military vulnerability. Hamas probably knows this, but even if they don’t now they would quickly find out shortly after missiles started to land in Tel Aviv. Short of possession of a nuclear weapon (and if you believe that Iran would give Hamas a nuke, you’re an idiot), Hamas cannot deter Israeli military action.

Finally, while it may be true that Israel will incur international disapproval no matter what it does in Gaza, it doesn’t follow that the international community is wholly oblivious to the actual circumstances of the conflict. After you get past the “But Israel is under attack1!!!11!! What if Mexicans started lobbing rockets into El Paso!1?!???!! What then?!?!??!”, it’s hard not to notice that Hamas rockets kill fewer people in a decade than are killed in Tel Aviv traffic accidents in a day. If Hamas could pose a significant military threat to Israel, then Operation Cast Lead (or a better conceived alternative that focused more on military and less on infrastructure targets) would be more understandable.

Grand Old Police Blotter

[ 0 ] January 24, 2009 |

New York Senate ex-leadership edition.

The Waaaaambulance Is Getting Full

[ 0 ] January 23, 2009 |

Shorter Harvie Wilkinson: “President Obama should make sure that future appointments carry on our tribunal’s tradition of civility and ideological moderation, as exemplified by Michael “Mini-Nino” Luttig.”

I really hope Obama is saving some of his most docrtinaire and acerbic liberal nominees for 4CA…

That Word "Excellence," I Do Not Think…

[ 0 ] January 23, 2009 |

Via Chotiner, I think this post from the usually entertaining David Carr contains some classic fallacies:

And what’s particularly clear this season is that the Academy will reward excellence, no matter if it comes from a big studio or a small independent. Sure, the big studio movie “The Dark Knight” came up short, but that probably had less to do with who made it and how much it brought in than with a third act that left some moviegoers and Academy members cold and confused.

This year’s Top 5 were studio and indie, big and little, broad and very specific. The string that pulls them together is not where the films came from in terms of backing, but where they come from artistically. Each of the films selected for a best-picture nomination — “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Frost/Nixon,” “Milk” and “The Reader” — represents the auteur ideal, in which a director is bankrolled and left pretty much alone. It is no coincidence that these five films were created by directors who also received best-director nominations.

A few points:

  • Like Chotiner, I find it hard to see that list emerging from any kind of serious effort to reward excellence. Does anybody want to make the case that The Reader is one of the best films of the year? And I would probably rather see it again than see the 3-hour Forrest Gump remake, and certainly don’t believe that “excellence” and “Ron Howard” have ever had anything to do with each other. Even the two good movies here are good in very predictable ways — Slumdog‘s structure could be as much a tribute to underdog-wins-at-the-final-buzzer sports movies as Bollywood, and well-crafted as it is Milk also achieves the nice mix of allowing Academy members to congratulate themselves while playing it safe. (I’m guessing that it would have been nominated even if it had been a lot worse — cf. Philadelphia.)
  • On a pedantic note, what Carr is describing is the precise opposite of the “auteur ideal.” “Auteur” critics were most interested in the shows of personality by directors that could be seen within studio product, not autonomous writer-directors.
  • More importantly, I think the key problem here is the common fallacy of evaluating the means of production rather than the art. I’ve never understood someone saying they’re a fan of “indie” movies or music; process isn’t art. It may be true that, all things being equal, nearly full autonomy leads to better art, but it’s also obvious that there are so many exceptions — collaborative, commercial projects that are compelling art and sincere, personal creations that are dreary art — that rules are meaningless, and what matters is the quality of the work rather than the purity of the creation. Sometimes, gifted artists given autonomy will produce masterpieces; other times they will use the autonomy to try to prove that they can make a better 3-hour movie with Brad Pitt cast in a non-comic role than Martin Brest. I don’t think the latter case should be confused with “excellence.”

…UPDATE: My initial thoughts can be found here.

Greatest. World War II analogy. Ever.

[ 0 ] January 23, 2009 |


Illinois’ embattled but defiant governor turned to the history books to describe the emotional strain on him and his family, comparing his arrest last month to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

“Dec. 9 to my family, to us, to me, is what Pearl Harbor Day was to the United States,” Gov. Rod Blagojevich told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday. “It was a complete surprise, completely unexpected. And just like the United States prevailed in that, we’ll prevail in this.”

Blagojevich went on to describe his 1983 graduation from Pepperdine as being “remarkably similar to the ratification of the Constitution.” Of his efforts to secure the release of three Americans from Yugoslavia in 1999, he added that the experience allowed him some insight into how Lincoln felt after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. And when conversation shifted to the topic of the governor’s first hand job, he spent fifteen minutes recounting the story of Lord Krishna’s revelation of the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna.

Oh, Dirk Bendict…

[ 0 ] January 23, 2009 |

Yglesias says what needs to be said about Dirk Benedict’s screed against the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. It takes some chutzpah to rant against a better actor taking a more richly written role in a critically acclaimed show that has, thus far, run four times as long as the original. And although I’d love to read Benedict’s reaction to Katee Sackhoff taking the role of Faceman in an A-Team reprise, shows about roving bands of mercenary fugitive vigilantes went out with the decline of Reagan-Thatcher morality…

While on the subject, I think it’s clear that Richard Hatch’s decision to accomodate himself to the new BSG has worked out both for himself and for the show; he’s actually been good, and the internal political conflict storylines have played out more productively than many of the other subplots (*COUGH* Starbuck-Apollo romance *COUGH*).

Come Back Caroline Kennedy, All Is Forgiven

[ 0 ] January 23, 2009 |

Apparently, the extra days to deliberate didn’t do Paterson much good, as he has apparently made a very poor selection to fill New York’s vacant Senate seat. Her Republican dynastic background doesn’t bother me in itself, but being a Blue Dog really should disqualify you from consideration for statewide office:

Gillibrand has described her own voting record as “one of the most conservative in the state.” She opposes any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, supports renewing the Bush tax cuts for individuals earning up to $1 million annually, and voted for the Bush-backed FISA bill that permits wiretapping of international calls. She was one of four Democratic freshmen in the country, and the only Democrat in the New York delegation, to vote for the Bush administration’s bill to extend funding for the Iraq war shortly after she entered congress in 2007. While she now contends that she’s always opposed the war and has voted for bills to end it, one upstate paper reported when she first ran for the seat: “She said she supports the war in Iraq.” In addition to her vote to extend funding, she also missed a key vote to override a Bush veto of a Democratic bill with Iraq timetables.

Ugh. And if the defense is supposed to be that you have to be this conservative to win the district — which is not entirely unreasonable — that makes the pick even worse. If you’re going to pick a sitting member of the House, it should be from a safe seat. Now, we have a senator without progressive credentials and have handed the GOP a good pickup opportunity in the House. I don’t see how this can be defended.

Against Abortion Inequality

[ 0 ] January 23, 2009 |

For this Blog For Choice day, Kay has a good post summarizing what legislation would be desirable. Of the legislative changes, I think that the repeal of the Hyde Amendment would easily be the most important. Because it restricts funding based not on neutral criteria like cost or medical importance but for the sole purpose of obstructing the exercise of a fundamental constitutional right, the Amendment is very constitutionally dubious. But even leaving constitutional issues aside, it’s atrocious public policy. While it’s at least possible to coherently defend an anti-choice position (at least in the abstract; defending laws that might actually be enacted as they actually work is another story), the idea that affluent women should have access to abortion but poor women should not is simply indefensible. Issues of abortion always involve class, and the Hyde Amendment is a particularly stark example.

Admittedly, the repeal of the Hyde Amendment is probably not a viable short-term goal. In the meantime, where possible pro-choicers should 1)try to restore funding in as many states as possible, and 2)work against arbitrary abortion regulations that obstruct access for poor women while producing no benefits whatsoever. As Megan says, “I don’t want loop holes for some, access for some. I don’t want anyone to have the power to decide who gets the right to choose and who doesn’t.”

I Guess Operation Cast Lead Worked…

[ 0 ] January 23, 2009 |

Thank God for those bunker busters:

After shoveling sand from their tunnel Thursday, the smugglers hoisted the prized cargo out of the narrow shaft: bags of potato chips — a minor luxury for Gazans tired of bland U.N. humanitarian rations.

All around them, other smuggling crews were getting merchandise flowing again through dozens of similar tunnels only days after a cease-fire in Israel’s devastating offensive in the Gaza Strip.

The tunnels linking Gaza and Egypt are back in business, despite the hundreds of tons of bombs and missiles that Israeli troops rained down on them.

The air reeked from spills of newly smuggled fuel being poured into plastic barrels as winches powered by noisy generators hauled more goods out of the wood-lined openings in the ground.

At other shafts, workers were still raising only dirt as their colleagues labored underground to dig out cave-ins caused by the Israeli bombardment. Egyptian border guards manned watchtowers barely 100 yards away.

Their fast recovery underlines the difficulty of stopping the smuggling and reinforces Israel’s fears that Gaza’s Hamas rulers will use the tunnel network to bring in weapons to rearm after the offensive.

For the record, the war has been over for three days. If the point was to terrify the Gazans into submission, I’m not sure it worked…

Bunning Headed to the Showers?

[ 0 ] January 22, 2009 |

Looks like Jim Bunning may be getting the hook:

Some Republicans are privately urging Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) to step down at the end of his term amid growing concerns that he can’t win reelection in 2010.

According to two GOP sources, leading Republican fundraisers in Kentucky are hesitant to raise money for Bunning and have told him he should not seek a third term.

“They want him to realize he’s had a good run but that it’s time to move on. These people want to win, and they realize he could easily lose this seat,” said one leading Kentucky Republican operative who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Not terribly shocking, given that I’ve lived in Kentucky for almost four years and have never heard anyone (even Republicans) say anything nice about the august Senator. Indeed, the only thing I find surprising is that Bunning apparently still has fans…

Oscar Thread: Return to the Middlebrow

[ 0 ] January 22, 2009 |

By request, a thread to discuss the nominations. I will have a couple of movie roundup posts in the near future, but I would say that after a couple years of better-than-usual Best Picture nominations, all 5 this year are all again definitively middlebrow Oscar-type pictures, although with varying degrees of doorstopness. I do have to add the caveat that I can’t yet comment on Frost/Nixon or Forrest Gump II, although I would be shocked if the latter wasn’t the least watchable of the 5. Of the nominees, the surprisingly non-didactic and entertaining Milk would be my choice; I’ll say more about the good-but-highly-overrated Slumdog later. The Reader was a little better than it seems on paper, mostly because of the actors, but I wouldn’t say it was a good movie or anything. I was foolishly hoping that The Wrestler would get a token movie-too-good-to-win nomination, but that didn’t happen.

As many have already said, it’s good to see Anne Hathaway and Melissa Leo get nominated (I agree that the former’s movie would have merited Best Picture and Director nominations); I’m also glad to see Tomei (every bit as good as Rourke) get a supporting nod. I would have liked to have seen Kristin Scott Thomas, although the annual Meryl Streep slot does make the odds worse. Among ignored pictures, allow me to also cite Darnell Martin’s Cadillac Records, not a great movie but a very good and entertaining one that would seem to be an Oscar kind of movie in a just universe.

And, of course, the fact that An American Carol didn’t receive 15 nominations is proof that the nominations are a IslamoCommieNazi conspiracy.

…Another list of exclusions. I guess I need to see Happy-Go-Lucky?

The Kennedy Question

[ 0 ] January 22, 2009 |

As someone who could very much do without Kennedy worship in general and JFK worship in particular, I suppose that I’m happy, on balance, that Caroline Kennedy has removed herself from consideration to be New York’s next senator. Unlike many people, though, I never cared enough to even blog about it roughly for the reasons suggested by Dana. First, what matters most about a senator is their votes and Kennedy’s would presumably would be fine. Second, I’m not really convinced that which particular wealthy, especially well-connected person is appointed is some sort of major issue of merit or justice (and nepotism always seems a bigger deal where women are concerned; somehow, I don’t remember all the outrage over the fact that Andrew Cuomo may not have gotten his current position strictly on merit.) And, finally, however unjustified I think JFK’s reputation is the brutal truth is that it is a real political resource.

None of this is to say that I actually wanted Paterson to pick Kennedy; I would prefer a legislator with more experience and (especially) a clearer record of progressive politics, like Carolyn Maloney or Jerrold Nadler. But Kennedy probably would have been fine.