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Blair: The Biggest Villain?

[ 1 ] December 1, 2009 |

Tom Ricks:

As a British naval historian friend I know once noted, the time when the British government could have helped — and perhaps stopped the war — was back in the winter of 2002-2003. Real friends speak up when a friend is making a big mistake. Instead, Tony Blair may have destroyed the “special relationship” by supporting the invasion when he should have opposed it. My friend said he believes Blair should be confined right now in the Tower of London.


1. I wonder if Blair really could have stood and said “No.” I always kind of suspected that Blair pursued the Iraq War with the enthusiasm he did because he believed that he couldn’t stop it if he wanted, and a) wanted to be part of the action, and b) wanted to maintain the “special relationship.” This isn’t to say that Blair privately opposed the war, just that his primary motivations were about the relationship more than conviction about the wisdom of the invasion. But I really don’t know.

2. If Blair had said “no,” would the neocons have spewed the same vitriol towards Britain that the sprayed at France? I would have loved to see a book explaining how the United Kingdom is our enemy, and in fact has always been our enemy; it makes even more sense than France.



[ 0 ] December 1, 2009 |

Stephen Walt:

Americans have come to believe that spending government revenues on U.S. citizens here at home is usually a bad thing and should be viewed wth suspicion, but spending billions on vast social engineering projects overseas is the hallmark of patriotism and should never be questioned. This position makes no sense, but it is hard to think of a prominent U.S. leader who is making an explicit case for doing somewhat less abroad so that we can afford to build a better future here at home. Debates about foreign policy, grand strategy, and military engagement — including the current debate over Obama’s decision to add another 30,000-plus troops in Afghanistan — tend to occur in isolation from a discussion of other priorities, as if there were no tradeoffs between what we do for others and what we are able to do for Americans here at home.

Via Yglesias


[ 0 ] December 1, 2009 |

At the risk of invoking the wrath of dsqaured, I will admit that when I compile my list of “movies I watch with some frequency although they’re not very good [and because a DVD allows you to skip the especially overwrought scenes with the overacting father]” Boiler Room would be on it. I think there was a missed opportunity, however, in the extent to which “respectable” brokerage firms were held up as an alternative to the transparent scam he got involved with. The structure of the movie would have been much better served if Seth had gotten his dad’s dream job for him at J.P. Morgan and learned a similar lesson. Really, high-churn mutual finds are also analogous to but less honest than Seth’s backroom card game: essentially, you’re giving up a significant house edge for “expertise” that is no better than throwing darts at the Wall Street Journal (or, to use another term, “gambling.”) And it’s not as if high-pressure sales tactics and cold calling are unknown to the “respectable” brokerage industry either.

…and, yes, mpowell is right that hedge funds are, if anything, even worse.

When is non-consensual sex rape?

[ 0 ] December 1, 2009 |

One of the keys to interpreting reactions to the arrest of Roman Polanski is understanding that, culturally speaking, a lot of sexual assaults aren’t considered crimes by the men or boys who commit them, and to a lesser extent by the women and girls who are assaulted. Consider this letter to a nationally syndicated advice columnist, and especially the columnist’s response.

The writer is confused about whether she was raped, because even though she told a man “many times” that she didn’t want to have sex with him, and he went ahead and had sex with her anyway, she wasn’t “kicking and fighting him off.” In the formal legal sense, the facts as described are unambiguous. Practically, of course, things are a lot more complicated, as the columnist’s response reveals.

The columnist seems to be drawing a distinction between rape and “sex that shouldn’t happen,” with the latter category including sexual assaults between acquaintences when one or both parties are intoxicated. How else are we to understand her otherwise bizarre advice that the raped woman talk to the man who raped her “in order to determine what happened?” The woman’s letter indicates no uncertainty at all about the fact that she was forced to have sex against her will despite making it very clear that she didn’t want to have sex. She just wants to know if this constitutes rape.

The answer, again culturally rather than formally legally speaking, is that this type of rape isn’t “really” rape, because the victim is to blame for putting herself in a compromised situation, i.e., being intoxicated in the presence of a man while having a vagina (the second factor was apparently supefluous in the case of the versatile Mr. Polanski).

These kinds of factors are what makes Polanski’s sodomizing of a 13-year-old girl something Anne Applebaum etc. consider a “far from straightforward” situation. It would be nice to think this is a generational thing, and that young people today are getting a clear message that rape is rape, but given both columns of this sort and the response to Polanski’s arrest the evidence seems mixed.

UPDATE [by SL]: See also Amanda Hess.

"They know that everybody can make it"

[ 0 ] December 1, 2009 |

Southern Female Lawyer watches a Glenn Beck promo in a vain effort to figure out what the fuck The Christmas Sweater is all about:

Unfortunately, despite my rigorous research, I still have NO IDEA WHATSOEVER what this is about. I have gleaned only the following:
  • That it is, in fact, about a Christmas sweater.
  • That it takes Glenn Beck approximately 2 minutes, 17 seconds to squeeze out a tear.
  • That Glenn Beck’s eyes are the color of a sweet and innocent summer sky, but that only the very strong can gaze into them.
  • That something happened at some point, or possibly many points, and he hasn’t been able to talk about something for thirty years, but can now. Or will, if you buy something. And even though some event happened decades ago and changed him forever and from that point forward he was forever changed, he was also still simultaneously unchanged until only recently, and has apparently engaged in mucho jackassery for which he is now seeking or perhaps once sought forgiveness (which is free) and redemption (which costs around $549.00).

At $549 I can only hope paying customers will get to watch Glenn Beck drop his pants like David Yow. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Tragedy, Farce… What Comes After Farce?

[ 0 ] December 1, 2009 |

Sarah Palin just CANNOT stop lying.

Unless you’re a glutton for [insert something about silly online debates], I recommend skipping all the links in the second paragraph.

[ 0 ] December 1, 2009 |

If you’re interested in contemporary science fiction, I’ve reviewed what Kim Stanley Robinson and I agree is the best novel of 2009 period here. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

If, on the other hand, you’re interested in watching Jeff Goldstein self-implode at the mention of my name (again!), I direct your attention here—sorry, that link goes to his latest (and most specatularly desperate) attempt to emotionally blackmail people into paying him to write. I meant to send you here, where he demonstrates something or other about me, in the course of which he hilariously mistakes a completely unrelated post as a response to something one of his lackeys wrote, and when called out on it, makes fun of me for looking like a standard-issue academic instead of an insecure bodybuilder …

… all of which is another way of saying I’m re-recommending you skip all the links in the second paragraph.

Minaret Ban

[ 0 ] November 30, 2009 |

I think the ban on the hijab in public schools and other public places in France and elsewhere is deeply misguided at best, thinly veiled racism at (much more likely) worst, but at least in that case, I understood the plausible rationale behind the policy. I’ve read several discussions of Switzerland’s Minaret ban, and have come up completely empty on the reconstruction of a plausible non-bigoted justification. (The closest I’ve seen is a bizarre, metaphorical 12-year old quote from The Turkish Prime Minister.)

File under “Reasons why unpopular minorities and those concerned with their status remain unenthusiastic about plebiscitary democracy, #43,214.”

Missing the Trees for the Forest…

[ 0 ] November 30, 2009 |

Atrios misses out on the key benefit of the electric driverless taxi cab; without taxicab drivers, it would be literally impossible for Tom Friedman to write books. That’s an outcome we can all get behind.

Greatest Coaching Genius In History Loses Job

[ 0 ] November 30, 2009 |

I’m sure Notre Dame — who remain relevant as a major football power! Really! — will rue the day they let this great coach get away. (Seriously, what gets me is not the hire, which was reasonable, but the ridiculous extension midway through his first year.)

Rumors that Joba Chamberlain — already having become bored with establishing a new Dow 36,000 Gold Standard in pitching and looking to master another field — is the frontrunner to replace Weis are unconfirmed at press time. If that falls through, I hear another Genius former Bill Belichick assistant may soon be available…

…Mr. Bogg says it with less.

Grumble Grumble Grumble

[ 0 ] November 30, 2009 |

It’s probably not worth bellyaching about this, but when Geoffrey Dunn at HuffPo takes/receives credit for “discovering” that Sarah Palin misquoted John Wooden in an epigraph of Going Rogue, it would be awfully generous of him to give credit to the blog where this embarrassing detail first surfaced, particularly since he finds the actual quotation in a source linked in the original post here.

Just saying….

Derek Jeter: Sportsman of the Year

[ 0 ] November 30, 2009 |

The moment that this blog has been dreading since its creation has come to pass.

In all semi-seriousness, the hero worship athletes elicit is a subject worth studying. As I noted in the Tiger Woods post below, there’s a deep and widespread desire to see supremely accomplished athletes as generally admirable human beings, even though if anything there’s probably something of a negative correlation between the two things. For one thing, while it’s not necessary to be deeply selfish, or egomaniacal, or a narcissistic perfectionist, or a child of parents in the grip of grandiose manias, or some combination thereof, to get to the top of any sport or other competitive enterprise, it often helps quite a bit, as anyone who has had much contact with such people can attest. (In this regard I recommend Gary Smith’s portrait of the young Tiger Woods, “The Chosen,” from the December 23, 1996 Sports Illustrated issue which named Woods Sportsman of the Year. Another excellent essay on the subject in general is David Foster Wallace’s portrait of Michael Joyce, an obscure professional tennis player).

Of course the highest levels of achievement always require those who achieve them to have certain admirable qualities, such as a willingness to work extremely hard in the pursuit of initially distant goals. But it’s too easy to extrapolate from that fact all sorts of false conclusions, such as that the people who reach the top of a field have done so primarily because they have worked harder than other people. In a loose sense this is true (for example every major league baseball player or PGA golfer has undoubtedly worked very hard to get where he is), but there is no good reason to believe that Derek Jeter is a superstar while Joe Smith has just been granted his unconditional release from Pittsburgh’s AAA affiliate because Jeter works appreciably harder than Smith, or “wants it more,” or whatever other cliche sportswriters like to deploy when celebrating Jeter’s greatness.

This is a point that has more general ideological significance. It’s an article of faith in this country that rich people are rich primarily because they work harder than other people. This is the kind of belief that can and is maintained in the face of all evidence to the contrary, because people want to believe it — just as they want to believe that being the best golfer or shortstop in the world is primarily a matter of working harder at golf or baseball than everybody else.

Another parallel is that a lot of people believe that a high batting average and a high marginal tax bracket are both good proxies for moral election. This is one of those ideas that is sufficiently idiotic that it usually won’t be said in so many words — hardly anyone, after all, will actually say “I think the fact that Derek Jeter is a great baseball player indicates he’s a morally admirable person,” but anyone who has ever been stuck in a conversation with an Ayn Rand fan knows this line of thinking can be found well beyond the world of sports.