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Pitchers are sissies now

[ 0 ] May 6, 2009 |

“Now” being 1946, according to the great Kid Nichols.

This reads like a perfect parody of the “in my day we didn’t have fancy curve balls or surgery for bone chips, and we had to work the turnstiles too” genre.

Except he literally says those things.


Tributes To Treason and White Supremeacy

[ 0 ] May 6, 2009 |

What really bugs me is the monument to the Jefferson Davis highway in Washington state. If someone bought a monument to Hitler, would the state put that up too?

The Wall Street Journal editorial page and doublethink

[ 0 ] May 6, 2009 |

I doubt Pravda was ever more egregious.

On the sixth day of Hate Week, after the processions, the speeches, the shouting, the singing, the banners, the posters, the films, the waxworks, the rolling of drums and squealing of trumpets, the tramp of marching feet, the grinding of the caterpillars of tanks, the roar of massed planes, the booming of guns — after six days of this, when the great orgasm was quivering to its climax and the general hatred of Eurasia had boiled up into such delirium that if the crowd could have got their hands on the 2,000 Eurasian war-criminals who were to be publicly hanged on the last day of the proceedings, they would unquestionably have torn them to pieces — at just this moment it had been announced that Oceania was not after all at war with Eurasia. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Eurasia was an ally. There was, of course, no admission that any change had taken place. Merely it became known, with extreme suddenness and everywhere at once, that Eastasia and not Eurasia was the enemy. Winston was taking part in a demonstration in one of the central London squares at the moment when it happened. It was night, and the white faces and the scarlet banners were luridly floodlit. The square was packed with several thousand people, including a block of about a thousand schoolchildren in the uniform of the Spies. On a scarlet-draped platform an orator of the Inner Party, a small lean man with disproportionately long arms and a large bald skull over which a few lank locks straggled, was haranguing the crowd. A little Rumpelstiltskin figure, contorted with hatred, he gripped the neck of the microphone with one hand while the other, enormous at the end of a bony arm, clawed the air menacingly above his head. His voice, made metallic by the amplifiers, boomed forth an endless catalogue of atrocities, massacres, deportations, lootings, rapings, torture of prisoners, bombing of civilians, lying propaganda, unjust aggressions, broken treaties. It was almost impossible to listen to him without being first convinced and then maddened. At every few moments the fury of the crowd boiled over and the voice of the speaker was drowned by a wild beast-like roaring that rose uncontrollably from thousands of throats. The most savage yells of all came from the schoolchildren. The speech had been proceeding for perhaps twenty minutes when a messenger hurried on to the platform and a scrap of paper was slipped into the speaker’s hand. He unrolled and read it without pausing in his speech. Nothing altered in his voice or manner, or in the content of what he was saying, but suddenly the names were different. Without words said, a wave of understanding rippled through the crowd. Oceania was at war with Eastasia! The next moment there was a tremendous commotion. The banners and posters with which the square was decorated were all wrong! Quite half of them had the wrong faces on them. It was sabotage! The agents of Goldstein had been at work! There was a riotous interlude while posters were ripped from the walls, banners torn to shreds and trampled underfoot. The Spies performed prodigies of activity in clambering over the rooftops and cutting the streamers that fluttered from the chimneys. But within two or three minutes it was all over. The orator, still gripping the neck of the microphone, his shoulders hunched forward, his free hand clawing at the air, had gone straight on with his speech. One minute more, and the feral roars of rage were again bursting from the crowd. The Hate continued exactly as before, except that the target had been changed. The thing that impressed Winston in looking back was that the speaker had switched from one line to the other actually in midsentence, not only without a pause, but without even breaking the syntax.

Doesn’t Obama Know He Was Supposed to Order Freedom Mustard?

[ 0 ] May 6, 2009 |

The real scandal is that he ordered his burger medium well.

Alienating Colleagues: Not Always the Best Strategy

[ 0 ] May 6, 2009 |

How about that: Arlen Specter managed to find the limits of the Democratic leadership’s willingness to tolerate egregious wankery. That’s pretty special. (And in fairness to Specter, I didn’t think that such limits existed either…)

…more context here.

A Svalbard in every home

[ 0 ] May 6, 2009 |

Longtime readers of The Duck of Minerva are surely familiar with Dan Nexon’s important work on Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago that hosts the Doomsday Global Seed Vault. Located on the island of Spitzbergen, the vault — which is built into the side of a sandstone mountain — is intended to be a hedge against the destruction of genebanks and crop diversity in politically, militarily or environmentally vulnerable parts of the world. Alternately, as Nexon warns, the vault will provide the foundation for Svalbardian world domination.

In any event, as I was listening the other day to — no shit — Glenn Beck’s radio program, I overheard an advertisement for this project, whose proprietors urge us to invest in seeds as preparation for . . . well, you know . . .

You don’t have to be an Old Testament prophet to see what’s going on all around us. A belligerent lower class demanding handouts. A rapidly diminishing middle class crippled by police state bureaucracy. An aloof, ruling elite that has introduced us to an emerging totalitarianism which seeks control over every aspect of our lives.

I guess we should credit the fellow for not recommending that everyone make idiotic signs and gather at city hall to protest higher marginal tax rates on the wealthiest income brackets. But these folks are urging people to buy hundreds of dollars worth of seeds and bury them in the backyard so that when liberal fascists have destroyed the world in 20-70 years — one hopes sooner, of course — today’s John Galts can laugh at the rest of us while gobbling Calypso bean chili, eggplant parmigiana, carrot juice and boule d’or melon. It’s a weird business model, but you can’t argue that these folks haven’t pegged their audience.

Now that Obama is president there’s no more racism

[ 0 ] May 5, 2009 |

OK that would be an unfair characterization of this Richard Cohen column.

Slightly unfair:

We should never confuse unfair with illegal. Still it would be nice if every once in a while they coincided. That is especially the case in matters such as this because the justification for affirmative action gets weaker and weaker. Maybe once it was possible to argue that some innocent people had to suffer in the name of progress, but a glance at the White House strongly suggests that things have changed. For most Americans, race has become supremely irrelevant. Everyone knows this. Every poll shows this. Maybe the Supreme Court will recognize this.

Good grief. (h/t Yglesias).

State Secrets and Military Procurement

[ 0 ] May 5, 2009 |

The State Secrets Privilege has been receiving an enormous amount of attention lately, mainly in connection with the Obama administration’s invocation of the privilege in the Jeppesen case. This invocation, which recalled similar invocations on the part of the Bush administration, incurred a substantial amount of criticism from civil libertarians and critics of Bush administration detention policies. Obama has also invoked State Secrets Privilege to protect the warrantless wiretap program from scrutiny. While the administration has made positive noises about narrowing its use of the privilege, actions have yet to match rhetoric.

As it happens, Professor Davida Isaacs and myself have a paper coming out in the Summer 2009 Berkeley Technology Law Journal on the use of the State Secrets Privilege in litigation on military procurement. Long story short, a small firm named Crater developed a coupler that could conceivably be used to help tap undersea cables. Lucent Technologies developed an interest in the coupler and played around with it for a bit until it decided that the device was, indeed, appropriate for a contract with the Navy. Lucent then, essentially, told Crater to go pound sand. Litigation resulted, and in discovery Crater attempted to gain access to documentation regarding the use of the device. The Navy claimed State Secrets Privilege in order to avoid disclosing such documentation. This eviscerated Crater’s case. The basic story is available in a Wired article by Kevin Poulsen from 2005. We go into the case in some additional depth, suggest that there are some troubling constitutional issues regarding the assertion of the privilege in such cases, and argue that widespread use of the privilege could have a significant negative effect on military innovation and procurement. On the former point, where the information involved constitutes “trade secrets”, the effective quashing of litigation through invocation of the privilege arguably amounts to an unconstitutional taking. On the latter, blunt use of State Secrets Privilege endangers the patent and intellectual property rights of companies interested in doing business with the military, and in particular of small companies that can’t depend for either on their connections with the Pentagon or on an expectation of repeat business for protection. This is particularly problematic given the stated interest of the Pentagon in pursuing non-traditional defense contractors for innovative technologies.

The upshot is that the negative effects to using State Secrets Privilege as a “blunt instrument” go beyond the obvious dangers to civil liberties. A lack of transparency, and the consequent arbitrary and capricious use of power, endangers many aspects of the government’s relationship with the public, including its interactions with contractors. Legislation intended to rein in government’s use of the privilege (through encouragement of independent judicial consideration of government claims) has been proposed, but we argue that, particularly in the arena of military innovation, this legislation does not go far enough.

The article is available through SSRN. For those without SSRN privileges, try this link.

Because Seriously, Kentucky Needs More Political Drama

[ 0 ] May 5, 2009 |

The 2010 Republican Senate primary may end up being the most entertaining race in the country. Last week, Republicans supporting Secretary of State Trey Grayson leaked word that Jim Bunning was planning to retire, rather than contest the Republican primary. It appears, however, that no one actually informed Bunning that he was retiring; the “leak” was intended to push him out in order to make way for the much more popular Grayson. Grayson isn’t a lock in 2010, but he has a much, much better shot than Bunning, who has failed to raise any money or excite any enthusiasm among the Republican faithful. Bunning has even threatened to resign immediately, opening the door for Governor Steve Beshear to appoint a Democrat to fill out his term.

Now, to add absurdity and general hilarity to the situation, it appears that Rand Paul (son of Ron Paul) may be throwing his hat into the ring:

Republican Rand Paul, son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, said Friday he is poised to enter the race for U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning’s seat if the 77-year-old sports icon decides to retire.

“I’ve been traveling the state and giving speeches as if there is going to be a race,” he told The Associated Press. “Every bone in my body says there is going to be a race.”

There’s only one thing that could make this better: Reality TV! Anyone know a producer?

…it’s hard not to like Bunning when he lashes out at McConnell.

Rich White Men Just Can’t Catch A Break

[ 0 ] May 5, 2009 |

What Ezra, Digby, Eisgruber, and Atrios said:

…the explicit conversation and subtext suggesting underlying assumptions about race and gender in our world shows just how stupid and/or racist and misogynistic the Villagers are. The idea that for any job, especially something like Supreme Court judge, there’s one “most qualified” person who can be determined is just idiotic. When the white guy is chosen, all of the people who bemoan the evils affirmative actions, nod and clap at how “qualified” he is, despite the fact that generally white men are the greatest beneficiaries of various forms of affirmative action in this society, from inherited wealth and privilege, to the good old boys’ club, and to, of course, fluffing by our media.

A couple of additional points:

  • As has been noted before, many of the same conservatives who lament the possibility that diversity plays any role in hiring, hence foiling our perfect meritocracy, also revere Clarence Thomas, who almost certainly would not have been nominated to the Court had he been a generic white guy. And the thing is, Thomas does, in fact, prove the value of diversity, and that once someone has the ability comparisons of additional formal credentials don’t mean much. Leaving ideological congeniality out of it, does anybody think that Thomas hasn’t been a more intellectually impressive justice than the more formally “qualified” Anthony Kennedy? More controversially, I also agree that in many ways he’s made a more impressive contribution than the much more lauded Antonin Scalia.
  • It’s also instructive that to the Stuart Taylors of the world having a mainstream liberal position on the constitutionality of affirmative action is enough to mark you as a dangerous radical. (Apparently, written tests are such a foolproof method of determining which firemen are worthy or promotion that it’s beyond the pale for a city to consider the effects of having a lily-white cadre of top-rank firefighters at all.) And note as well that the concern with legal formalism and “judicial activism” with which Taylor usually conceals his preference for conservative outcomes and conservative judges goes straight out the window. The idea that the Constitution is “color-blind” is supported by literally no Supreme Court precedent and can be supported by “original meaning” only if principles are defined at a sufficiently high level of abstraction that William Brennan can count as an “originalist.” I, myself, don’t think that there’s anything inherently impermissible about using an open-ended constitutional provision to reach a politically mainstream, ideologically congenial result, but 1)Taylor often pretends to, and 2)it’s not clear why Scalia and Thomas can do this but Sotomayor can’t.

…see also Serwer, Hutchinson, and Greenwald.

The price of moral panic

[ 0 ] May 5, 2009 |

Certain candid obesity researchers will tell you in private, especially if you get a couple of G&Ts into them, that yeah, there really isn’t any increased mortality risk associated with BMI at all until you get into the mid-30s, but still it would be good for people to avoid getting fat because, um, well you know they could get really fat if they “let themselves go,” and what about “quality of life,” and well anyway people want to be thin, so what harm does it do to exaggerate a little (sic)?

Actually, a lot.

From Colony to Superpower XIX: First Rays of the New Rising Sun?

[ 0 ] May 5, 2009 |

This is the 19th installment of our 20 part series on George Herring’s From Colony to Superpower. Erik had the honors this week; check out his post first.

Reagan’s approach to Latin America was a touch more brutal than his immediate predecessors, but the disregard for human rights is only really notable for its contradiction with administration rhetoric towards the Soviet Union. The other difference was Congress; for the first time in a very long while, there was serious objection within Congress to administration Latin American policy. This resulted in a number of unsavory projects to limit the amount of information Congress possessed on US foreign policy, the most notable of which was the Iran-Contra affair. As the Cold War eased, so did US policy, opening some space for opposition movements in Latin America. When these movements no longer threatened to “tip the balance” towards the Soviet Union, they could tolerated and even supported to some extent.

Reagan’s Middle East policy was almost singularly inept. Neoconservatives don’t usually emphasize Beirut in their litany-of-appeasement-inevitably-leading-up-to-9/11 story, but the course of US intervention The Reagan administration clumsily handled the Iran-Iraq War, mostly favoring Iraq but leaning towards Iran at critical times. Re-reading the story of the Iran-Contra Affair remains shocking; it is remarkable that Reagan avoided impeachment. Herring’s discussion sheds some light on the unwillingness of the 1980s crop of neoconservatives to consider rapproachment with Iran. On both the US and the Israeli side, it was believed that the arms shipments to Iran would empower moderates and cause magical things to happen in Lebanon. The Iranians however, were simply playing the United States in order to get the weapons. It’s not terribly surprising that the advocates of the deal in the administration now view any effort to empower Iranian moderates as hopeless; if anti-tank weapons didn’t work, what will? However, it’s also remarkable the degree which Reagan and Bush were willing to put the screws to Israel. Both engaged in coercive foreign policy (condemnations, suspensions of aid) which are virtually unimaginable today.

Reagan entered office as a Taiwan hawk, and some in the administration pushed for a hard line with the PRC. However, as in Central America the desire to compete with the Soviet Union quickly eclipsed any interest in human rights. Reagan desired China’s cooperation against the Soviet Union more than his longstanding relationship with Taiwan, and thus largely ignored Taiwanese concerns. Happily, this corresponded with an important period in Taiwan’s long term democratization.

Herring makes clear that while Reagan deserves some credit for the end of the Cold War, the bulk of responsibility lies with Mikhail Gorbachev. The Reagan arms buildup did help convince some within the USSR that it could not compete military with the United States, and the arms control openings after 1984 helped convince some that the United States wasn’t a threat. But there was no coordinated strategy; the same people who strongly supported the first bitterly opposed the second. And of course there were also structural factors; the rapid decline of the price of oil in the 1980s helped to undermine the Soviet economy. In any case, the pressure produced by the United States wasn’t determinative; different Soviet leaders could have made much different choices, ranging from preventive war to hunkered isolation to Chinese style perestroika-without-the-glastnost. Reagan’s central achievement was recognizing the opening that Gorbachev offered.

More later on the first Bush administration…