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Aqua Buddha Would Not Approve This Message

[ 21 ] October 26, 2010 |

I think maybe probably Rand Paul should have just carried out his threat not to debate Jack Conway again:

A activist apparently trying to get close to U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul on Monday was shoved to the ground by supporters of Paul and stomped on, according to a video of the incident.

The video, taken by WDRB-TV in Louisville, shows a man wearing a Rand Paul sticker stomping on the woman’s shoulder and head.

Fortunately, the activist seems to be fine. It remains to be seen, however, whether Paul can lose the race in the next few days.

…and our answer to that question is: Probably not.


This Is What Support of DADT Amounts To

[ 17 ] October 25, 2010 |

I had forgotten whether or not the Washington Times was still in business.   Apparently, it is, and it has a revoltingly homophobic editorial in support of DADT. The thing is, none of this irrational rhetoric is in any way unusual — “radical homosexual agenda,” “ramming [non-discriminatory] policy through and/or down throats,” etc. — is how movement conservatives, including Republican public officials, talk about gay and lesbian rights. Which helps to explain why every Senate Republican voted to filibuster the perpetuation of the unpopular and unjust policy that Moon’s minions defend in such rancid terms here.

Racialist Cowering — Not Just For Alec Rawls!

[ 8 ] October 25, 2010 |

As Roy also points out, perhaps the worst defenses of Williams come from people who defend his comments on the merits.

A Hack For All Seasons

[ 40 ] October 25, 2010 |

It’s not exactly shocking that Glenn Reynolds is embarrassing himself about the Degraded Mustard Gas of Death And Terror that totally retrospectively justifies the Iraq War.   And yet, it’s far from the most embarrassing thing he’s written this month.    That would be his poetic-justice-as-fairness yuk-yuking about how liberals think diversity is a good thing…but ban ROTC from college campuses.   As usual, the thing is replete with illogic and ridiculously failed attempts at gotchas (liberals think that when the military wants to recruit employees it should comply with the same nondiscrimination rules that all other employers do…but it hasn’t banned some presidents who have signed bad legislation from campus!   Not offering particular military programs is a failure of “integration” comparable to Jim Crow!   Really, it goes on like that.)

But leaving aside the fact that whether or not colleges have banned ROTC has nothing to do with “diversity” — let alone integration — what about Reynolds’s central premise that elite universities have “banned” ROTC, and Congress should step in by legally requiring them to offer it?  Funny thing about that:

It turns out there is such a law. The Solomon Amendment, passed in 1994, withdraws federal financing from any college with a “policy or practice” preventing the military from “maintaining, establishing or operating” R.O.T.C. on its campus. The law also takes financing away from colleges that bar military recruiting. The Defense Department hasn’t been shy about enforcing its right to recruit, going all the way to the Supreme Court and winning in Rumsfeld v. FAIR.

So if there are colleges that ban R.O.T.C., why aren’t they being punished?

The answer is that in all my research on the subject, I have found no universities that ban R.O.T.C., nor has the military initiated action against any institution for banning the program. We have grown accustomed to saying there are bans only because it fits with the assumption that certain colleges are unfriendly to the military.

There’s no “ban” on ROTC at elite schools, then. When universities required ROTC programs to comply with the university’s standards, the military left. The military could return ROTC to elite campuses anytime if chose to comply with basic requirements for academic standards. What Reynolds is asking for, therefore, is not nondiscrimination but for military programs to be exempt from basic academic standards that apply everywhere else. Not a very compelling argument, I’m afraid.

From Behind the Urine-Soaked Veil of Ignorance

[ 25 ] October 25, 2010 |

Michael’s nice catch about how Muslims obviously are pointing their clothing towards Mecca perversely compelled me to check in on Alec Rawls, even better evidence than Keifer Sutherland and Julian Lennon that sometimes talent sees the next generation and runs away screaming. Fortunately, for appreciators of fine wingnuttery, Mr. Rawls has (to put it kindly) thoughts to share about Juan Williams, the martyr recently sent to gulag that involves $2 million bucks to provide worthless commentary. But first, he has some shame to express about the time he was less than rigorous about applying his racism:

I am ashamed to admit that last month I let my watchfulness lapse, possibly putting my flight at risk. This time I was flying from SF to Logan. When I sat down in the boarding area there was a middle-age Arab-looking man standing across from me, his back to the wall, with a carry-on bag at his side. A minute later a college-age Arab or Indian youth came and placed his carry-on in front of the older man’s bag, then sat on the floor and leaned back against both bags.


To make up for it I spent the next 3 hours trying to keep at least a half an eye out to see if the older man, seated a few rows in front of me, got out of his seat. Once we got past Chicago I figured they couldn’t be trying to use the plane as a weapon—it was too low on fuel—so I went back to my reading.

I never was able to spot the younger man or see whether they paired up at the other end. Since nothing happened, it would at worst have been a test run, perhaps to see how complacent American passengers have become. If so, I flunked, and should be demoted from any order of merit, all of which makes NPR an order of demerit.

And he didn’t even check the luggage compartments for carry-on bags with semicircles of terror on them. For shame!

But it gets better. You thought Palinesque claims that the First Amendment exempts you from criticism or guarantees fourth-rate hacks lifetime sinecures were frivolous? Try this on for size:

[Funding NPR] violates the Article IV section 4 guarantee to the states that they shall have a republican form of government. The states are under the federal government, so this constitutional provision also constrains the federal government to abide by the fundamental principle of republicanism: that it is the people who are sovereign.

Right. Maybe Rawls is planning a presidential — or at least Senate — run? If he can come up with an argument for why the emoluments clause requires slashing capital gains taxes, he’s a got a great shot!

How to Know “Muslim Garb” When You See It

[ 36 ] October 25, 2010 |

NPR analyst Juan Williams “feels nervous” when he notices people in “Muslim garb” at airports. Unfortunately he’s not alone.

In response, this website is collecting “Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things.” A witty and poignant counter-point to ignorance and prejudice. Some of my favorite examples of “Muslim garb”:

Read more…

A Few Reactions to the First 36 Hours of Wikileaks Spin

[ 39 ] October 24, 2010 |

I see a few conceptual problems in the media coverage of the Iraq War Diaries leak (useful roundup here) and people’s reactions to it.

1) More than half of the atrocities detailed in the diaries were committed by Iraqis against one another, but I think the media’s frame makes more of that than it ought to, in a way that feeds into a dangerous political narrative about culpability in armed conflict. For example the NYTimes claim that “Detainees Fared Worse in Iraqi Hands” misleads us into thinking that somehow that makes the US record in Iraq a little more excusable. I have often heard precisely this argument from students and colleagues when insisting that the US be held accountable for its own crimes – that they’re nothing compared to what others are doing. You also hear echoes of this from DOD spokespeople like Geoff Morell:

“We have not always been perfect but we have been far better than anyone else has in the history of warfare.”

But international law, of course, compares states’ behavior to the standards in the treaties themselves, not to one another’s least common denominator.

2) To take the opposite tack, the argument, such as that made by Daniel Ellsberg, that US misconduct in Iraq “proves” the war was a unethical because it was a “bloodbath” is also, I think, conflating jus in bello ethics (regarding how we fight) and jus ad bellum ethics (regarding the conditions under which it is legitimate to fight). If the war was unnecessary for the reasons fought, a violation of the UN charter, and sold to the public through misinformation, it was unethical regardless of how well US troops may have behaved in the field (always at any rate a relative measure). And even if the war had been justified, this wouldn’t excuse the new evidence – now heaped upon the existing historical record – of detainee abuse, failure to ensure security during an occupation, and rules of engagement that put civilians at risk.

3) Though I agree with many commentators that there’s not a lot here we didn’t know about (short of the gory detail), it must be said there are some new stories in this set of documents. Of the five “bombshells” reported by the Christian Science Monitor, one that actually is kind of a bombshell is the US’ denying it had kept a secret death count. It should be emphasized that as far as I know this is not illegal: the US was never required by the Geneva Conventions to keep such a count or to publicize it. But I would argue governments should be (many others agree) and perhaps this new data will help that movement gain ground. The evidence here suggests it is feasible as well as appropriate to expect belligerents to collect casualty data, and that the better part of valor for belligerents is to make this part of the historical record of wars in advance rather than only when brought to heel by public opinion. In fact, I can think of no better initial mechanism for putting some much-missing teeth into the regime protecting war-affected civilians than to expect governments to account for their record in this regard.

Oh Right, This Is Why I Thought He Was A Moron

[ 27 ] October 23, 2010 |

I should probably be enjoined from criticizing Charlie Manuel again, since I’ve never been more wrong about a manager. He is, on balance, very good. But tactically…ye gods. One worked and one didn’tm but…the IW of Huff was bizarre; depending on how much weight you put on Huff’s dismal 2009 it’s possible that Posey is a better hitter, and neither Posey nor Madison have extreme platoon splits — there’s no way that can be worth giving up a baserunner and moving the Giants one player closer to turning the lineup around. But I think the Ruiz bunt was even worse. You’re going to bunt 2nd to 3rd with a guy with a .940 OPS against lefties? To set up the bottom of the lineup? At home in the 6th inning? If the Phils go on to lose this game, you have to look carefully at that sequence.

…Congrats to the Giants. Nice to see that we’ll have to have at least a quasi- first-time champion this year…

“War Diaries 2.0”: Is Wikileaks Moving Down the Learning Curve?

[ 11 ] October 23, 2010 |

In a number of respects the Iraq War Diaries constitute a repeat of the Afghan War Diaries – a massive data dump bringing to light few unknowns but casting knowns in much sharper relief. And as in July, Julian Assange is predictably being hailed or harangued by different corners. However, a few things that are different this time ’round: Read more…


[ 14 ] October 23, 2010 |

Less than ideal time for this to happen:

The Royal Navy hastened to assemble an official inquiry Friday evening to explore why Britain’s newest nuclear submarine, H.M.S. Astute, ran aground while undergoing sea trials off the coast of northwest Scotland on Friday morning and remained stuck on a bank of sand and shingle for nearly 10 hours before a tug pulled it free at nightfall. A spokesman for the Royal Navy said divers would be deployed at first light on Saturday to check concerns that the submarine’s rudder had been damaged.

The episode was particularly embarrassing for the navy because the vessel, one of the most technologically advanced submarines in the world, was designed for maximum stealth and use in such delicate operations as delivering special forces troops secretly and eavesdropping off the coasts of hostile nations. Its design features and propulsion mechanisms are considered top secret, naval experts said, but both were on display during the grounding.

Galrahn has some more detailed and productive thoughts about the incident.

Iraqi Casualties

[ 8 ] October 23, 2010 |

I gave up on the Lancet fight a long time ago; I can’t remember now whether the flurry of allegations and counter-allegations about error and fraud raised sufficient question in my mind about Lancet’s conclusions, or if the entire discussion just became too technical and complicated for me to follow.  In any case, I was pretty sure then and I’m pretty sure now that we’ll never have a reliable number for the total Iraqi death toll from 2003-2010, and that we’ll probably never even have a very good estimate.  In large part, this is because the holders of the relevant data all have strong incentive to deceive.

That said, there are still a couple of relevant points.  The first is that we should start with the assumption that IBC is an undercount, and perhaps a very serious one; that they’ve determined in a very short period from a limited release that they were at least 15% off is rather a problem.  Second, I find the decision to avoid including military and insurgent Iraqi deaths in overall summations infuriating, for a couple of reasons:

1. There appears to have been minimal effort in some cases to distinguish between military and civilian deaths:

And even when Americans were at the center of the action, as in the western city of Falluja in 2004, none of the Iraqis they killed were categorized as civilians. In the early years of the war, the Pentagon maintained that it did not track Iraqi civilian deaths, but it began releasing rough counts in 2005, after members of Congress demanded a more detailed accounting on the state of the war. In one instance in 2008, the Pentagon used reports similar to the newly released documents to tabulate the war dead.

2. Soldiers in the initial part of the conflict, and insurgents killed from 2003 on, were still human; they had families, jobs, contributed to their communities, had skills, and so forth. With the exception of a relatively small number of foreign fighters, very few of the insurgents would have been fighting if the United States hadn’t invaded Iraq, and consequently very few of them would have been killed. Their deaths, whether or not they were fighting the United States or the Iraqi government or even on behalf of Al Qaeda, have the same damaging effects on Iraqi society and the Iraqi economy as the deaths of civilians. Even if they were “bad guys,” they still leave a hole in the community when they die. An appropriate measure of the damage inflicted on Iraq has to include soldier and insurgent deaths as well as civilian.

The Iran Bits…

[ 12 ] October 23, 2010 |

There’s obviously much of interest in the Wikileaks Iraq release; for the moment the Iran stuff holds the bulk of my attention:

But the field reports disclosed by WikiLeaks, which were never intended to be made public, underscore the seriousness with which Iran’s role has been seen by the American military. The political struggle between the United States and Iran to influence events in Iraq still continues as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has sought to assemble a coalition — that would include the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr — that will allow him to remain in power. But much of the American’s military concern has revolved around Iran’s role in arming and assisting Shiite militias.

Citing the testimony of detainees, a captured militant’s diary and numerous uncovered weapons caches, among other intelligence, the field reports recount Iran’s role in providing Iraqi militia fighters with rockets, magnetic bombs that can be attached to the underside of cars, “explosively formed penetrators,” or E.F.P.’s, which are the most lethal type of roadside bomb in Iraq, and other weapons. Those include powerful .50-caliber rifles and the Misagh-1, an Iranian replica of a portable Chinese surface-to-air missile, which, according to the reports, was fired at American helicopters and downed one in east Baghdad in July 2007.

As the article notes, the release doesn’t provide conclusive evidence as to the extent of Iran’s role in Iraq over the past eight years (although I think that both the direct and circumstantial evidence of such involvement is exceedingly strong) because we don’t have Iranian or Iraqi documents; the release is simply the view of the US military. It does confirm, however, that US claims of Iranian influence weren’t simply strategic; the US military really believes that Iran has supported Iraqi militias, conducted operations based on such belief, and isn’t exclusively using such claims to either blame US failures or Iran or lay the foundation for military action against Iran.

This last part is particularly interesting, because as far as I can tell there has been relatively little support within the uniformed military for direct action against Iran. Almost all such calls have been made by hawkish civilians, and not through the channels that the military normally uses to make its views known. I don’t doubt that there are some within the military who believe that direct action within Iraq would be sensible, but there doesn’t seem to have been an institutional consensus to that effect. This is mildly surprising, because in other cases where an insurgency has derived support from actors across international borders (Taliban using Pakistani havens and receiving support from ISI, NLF and PAVN using Cambodian sanctuaries in the Vietnam War) military attitudes on the appropriateness of cross-border strikes have been rather strongly affirmative. Indeed, in a non-COIN case, civilian reluctance to escalate the Korean War across an international border provided the setting for one of the most dangerous civil-military conflicts in American history.

In this case, the military seems to have been resigned to fighting Iran within Iraq, in spite of the presence of a civilian faction strongly in support of direct attacks on Iran. I find that somewhat surprising; if there’s any evidence to the contrary (that the military did support cross-border operations against Iran), I’d like to see it.

…to be clear, while I’d be reluctant to suggest that Iran had a moral or legal right to intervene in Iraq, I consider it utterly unsurprising that Iran did so; attempting to manage the political situation in a neighboring country, while simultaneously weakening a potential enemy, is something that countries do.  Indignation about Iranian intervention is absurd.