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Dumond This Isn’t

[ 0 ] November 30, 2009 |

Given Huckabee’s gruesome history on related matters, it’s tempting to say that he deserves any demagoguery he’s on the receiving end of because of this. But it would be wrong. As Matt says, on its face there’s nothing unreasonable about granting clemency to a someone given 60 years for burglaries committed when he was 17. Evidently, if you grant parole and clemency (or, for that matter, give out finite sentences) to significant numbers of people some percentage will commit more crimes, but individual cases can’t in themselves justify more draconian policies, and also don’t mean that Huckabee’s judgment at the time was wrong. Putting pressure on the the parole board to release a rapist because some wingers developed some quarter-witted Clinton conspiracy theories, on the other hand…

I also wonder if this might affect Kennedy’s vote on the juvenille sentencing cases the court is considering.

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Brett Favre and the hype machine

[ 0 ] November 30, 2009 |

Speaking of the culture of celebrity and media saturation, an ironic aspect of the ridiculous levels of worshipful coverage that Brett Favre has gotten over the years is that it has made it eas(ier) to overlook that he’s in the midst of one of the most amazing seasons in NFL history. His 24 TD passes, three interceptions, 69% completion percentage, and 270 yards per game passing add up to by far the highest quarterback rating of his career, and one of the highest in history. He’s doing this at the age of 40, and today he tied Jim Marshall’s record for consecutive NFL starts by a non-kicker (282).

Another aspect of this story I like is that last August all the football insider types were certain that Favre’s flirtation with the Vikings would be, if consummated with a contract, harmful to team chemistry and other similarly mysterious alembics, and that indeed the whole soap opera of his second un-retirement was going to harm his “legacy.”

The Chosen One

[ 0 ] November 29, 2009 |

The Tiger Woods incident provides an interesting glimpse into the world of celebrity image making, and the corporate and media interests that enable it. Woods got into a minor car accident early Friday morning after he was apparently attacked by his enraged wife. She seems to have smashed in the back window of his SUV with a couple of golf clubs as he tried to flee their home at 2:30 AM. Woods was found lying in the street drifting in and out of consciousness and suffering from facial lacerations, raising questions regarding whether the window was the only thing his wife connected with. Woods is refusing to talk to the police, which isn’t surprising, given that a truthful account of the proceedings would probably require his wife to be charged with committing domestic violence.

He did however release this statement on his website, which is a kind of negative masterpiece of botched public relations.

Absurdly, Woods is issuing a fulsome apology to the world in general, while at the same time claiming all that happened is that he got into a fender bender just beyond his driveway. Even more ineptly, he addresses the “many false, malicious and unfounded rumors that are circulating” about him. By doing so, he’s practically requiring the mainstream media to report on, and ask him about, a National Enquirer story claiming that he is having an affair — a story that to this point the more respectable media have refused to even mention, let alone question him about.

The most ridiculous feature of the statement is his whining plea for “privacy.” Tiger Woods has become a billionaire by marketing himself so assidiously that he’s now the most recognizable athlete, and indeed one of the most recognizable people, in the world. His vast wealth (less than 10% of which has been earned directly through his athletic achievements) is a product of making himself into a kind of human logo, that corporations pay him immense amounts to attach to their products. They find it profitable to do so because of the preposterous yet very widespread idea that athletic excellence somehow reflects well on a person’s character and general value as a human being. Tiger Woods alleged adultery has nothing to do with his ability to excel on the golf course, but has everything to do with his ability to market himself as some kind of exemplary person, whose putative preferences in regard to cars and accounting firms and watches should influence your view of these products, and the corporations that produce them.

On one level I do feel sorry for Woods, in that his father was a certifiable lunatic, whose ambitions in regard to his son went far beyond turning him into the greatest golfer in the world. Consider this quote from Earl Woods, from a 1996 Sports Illustrated profile, written when Woods was all of 21 years old, and had yet to win a major golf tournament, let alone transform the course of human history:

Tiger will win because of God’s mind. Can’t you see the pattern? Earl Woods asks. Can’t you see the signs? “Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity,” Earl says.

Sports history, Mr. Woods? Do you mean more than Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson, more than Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe? “More than any of them because he’s more charismatic, more educated, more prepared for this than anyone.”

Anyone, Mr. Woods? Your son will have more impact than Nelson Mandela, more than Gandhi, more than Buddha?

“Yes, because he has a larger forum than any of them. Because he’s playing a sport that’s international. Because he’s qualified through his ethnicity to accomplish miracles. He’s the bridge between the East and the West. There is no limit because he has the guidance. I don’t know yet exactly what form this will take. But he is the Chosen One. He’ll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations. The world is just getting a taste of his power.”

The craziest part of all this is that Eldrick “Tiger” Woods probably on some level believes it — and very little in his life experience within a media-saturated and celebrity-crazed culture has contradicted this belief.

Hooray for Baltimore!

[ 0 ] November 29, 2009 |

Baltimore displays some guts:

The Baltimore City Council went where no local government has gone before, it seems, in telling crisis pregnancy centers in the city this week that they have to put up signs saying they don’t provide abortion or birth control….

In the end, the Baltimore city council’s vote protects consumers from false and misleading advertising. That’s a position governments often take, and there’s a whole branch of law, commercial speech, to explain why false advertising gets less First Amendment protection. The council decided to treat the crisis pregnancy centers differently than other groups because they’re pretending to be something they’re not (and then lying about the risks of abortion once they’ve gotten clients in the door). Eliot Spitzer similarly went after the centers for false advertising when he was New York attorney general. He investigated 24 of them and issued subpoenas to 11, saying they were violating a 1995 consent decree in which they’d promised not to misrepresent the services they offered.

The ordinance has not yet been signed by Mayor Dixon, but it strikes me as a no-brainer; if you can’t go after these charlatans in Baltimore, then where can you go after them?

Bailing on Bin Laden

[ 0 ] November 29, 2009 |

I should hope that the absurdity of conservative commentary on Afghanistan is self-evident, but to summarize briefly, the Obama administration is currently under wingnut fire for a) under-resourcing the Afghanistan mission, and b) failing to do exactly what Stanley McChrystal wants (even as it, apparently, does pretty much exactly what Stanley McChrystal wants). The patent stupidity of these arguments is manifest, as the Bush administration evidently under-resourced the Afghanistan mission for some seven years before Greater Wingnuttia noticed what was happening, and the Bush administration further overrode the authority of local commanders when those commanders had unpleasant things to say, generally to the loud applause of aforementioned Wingnuttia (see, for example, the Bush administration’s decision to push forward with the Surge, in spite of the resistance of the larger US military establishment). There’s some risk, of course, in making it All About Bush, but then I suspect we’re not yet close to accounting for the lasting damage that the Bush administration (and its cheerleaders) did to US security.

The latest cause for re-examination comes with the utterly unsurprising news that the Bush administration completely botched the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in 2001 and 2002 by failing to deploy sufficient forces to Tora Bora, and by relying on Afghan proxies to fight Al Qaeda forces. The administration was abetted in its ineptitude by Tommy Franks, who apparently didn’t believe that capturing or killing the man responsible for murdering 3000+ Americans was very interesting or worthwhile. Franks “genius” went down the memory hole around the same time that Donald Rumsfeld became persona non grata among the Wingnutty, but it bears recollection that Franks was, for a while, the Greatest American Hero Evah for Destroying the Mighty Legions of Saddam Hussein. I actually think that Franks’ execution of the early weeks of the Iraq War was more capable than the retrospective judgment allows, but nevertheless it’s fair to say that his inclusion in the pantheon didn’t last very long.

Jules Crittenden, Standard Bearer of the Knights of Wingnuttia, seizes the opportunity to blame this all on …. John Kerry. Rather than denying the now-consensus position that the Bush administration developed and pursued an utterly disastrous Afghanistan policy (and really, this holds regardless of your larger attitudes about the Afghanistan War), Jules describes examination of the failure in the following terms:

So, eight years later, what’s the point?

The horse is still out, and going forward, the vaguely hinted-at suggestion is that it’s important to stay focused on barn door open-closed operations.

Indeed. It’s never worth taking time to examine massive government failures.

Beyond the insinuation that calling the Vietnam War a mistake is somehow similar in criminal degree to the failure to catch Osama Bin Laden, Crittenden also provides this gem:

Give your highly experienced field commanders what they ask for, a counterinsurgency plan to aimed at winning, rather than some fraction of a counterinsurgency plan aimed at exiting ASAP

Right. Maybe I’m crazy, but it seems that the relevant cliche here doesn’t involve a horse and a barn door, but rather a pot and a kettle. But then there’s always the memory hole…

Here’s Some Unhappy…

[ 0 ] November 29, 2009 |

Some interesting bits in this Telegraph report from last week:

Top British commanders angrily described in the documents how they were not even told, let alone consulted, about major changes to US policy which had significant implications for them and their men.

When the Americans decided, in March 2004, to arrest a key lieutenant of the Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr – an event that triggered an uprising throughout the British sector – “it was not co-ordinated with us and no-one [was] told that it was going to happen,” said the senior British field commander at the time, Brigadier Nick Carter.

“Had we known, we would at least have been able to prepare the ground.” Instead, “the consequence [was] that my whole area of operations went up in smoke… as a result of coalition operations that were outwith my control or knowledge and proved to be the single most awkward event of my tour.”

Among the most outspoken officers was Col Tanner, who served as chief of staff to General Stewart and of the entire British division during Operation Telic 3, from November 2003 to May 2004.

He said: “The whole system was appalling. We experienced real difficulty in dealing with American military and civilian organisations who, partly through arrogance and partly through bureaucracy, dictate that there is only one way: the American way.

“I now realise that I am a European, not an American. We managed to get on better…with our European partners and at times with the Arabs than with the Americans. Europeans chat to each other, whereas dialogue is alien to the US military… dealing with them corporately is akin to dealing with a group of Martians.

“If it isn’t on the PowerPoint slide, then it doesn’t happen.”

Broadly speaking, the pendulum of opinion on British participation in Iraq has swung back and forth during the conflict. At the beginning of the insurgency, the British had a (perhaps undeserved) reputation for capability in counter-insurgency conflicts. Senior British officers were not shy about criticizing what they believed to be the incompetence and cultural insensitivity of their American allies. However, as time went by there seemed to be little indication that the British Army was doing any better in its sectors than the Americans were doing in the rest of the country. During the Surge, it became widely believed that the British were having serious problems holding onto what should have been a relatively easy sector. The Iraqi Army offensive into Basra of spring 2008, supported by the United States, embarrassed a British contingent that had essentially conceded the city to a variety of militia groups.

And so these leaks can be read as after-action bitterness on the part of an organization that saw its reputation for counter-insurgency success crushed in Iraq. On the other hand, it’s difficult to run competent COIN in one sector while the rest of the country is falling apart, and it’s really difficult to do so when directives from HQ are contradictory, incompetent, or simply absent. We know that some of the critiques leveled by the British are undoubtedly true; Sanchez did a poor job of communicating with his own commanders, Americans did display arrogance and cultural insensitivity in the first years of the war, and so forth. The difficulties of communication (PowerPoint and all that) are to be expected when any two organizations work together, and probably shouldn’t be blamed on either side. However, I’m not sure that these can fully explain the situation that held in Basra in early 2008.

I’m Enjoying This

[ 0 ] November 29, 2009 |

Senator Lindsey Graham is censured by the mighty Charleston County Republican Party for — shock and horrors! — compromising with the opposition on Cap and Trade.

Now, I thought that’s what was supposed to happen in legislative bodies — compromise. Not for the Angry Republicans however. They prefer ideological purity and dictatorial governance.

Where did we last see something like that?

But don’t worry, the moderate wing of the Republican Party isn’t interested in compromising on their conservative credentials, if Marvin Rogers, 33, is representative at all:

“I’m not asking anyone to be any less conservative — please don’t,” Mr. Rogers said. “But be more civil in communicating that conservative message. Don’t get on TV talking about ‘The president’s a racist.’ Don’t get on the radio talking about Waterloos.”

Civility. A civil right wing in the U.S. Now that would be something.

That Could Have Been Me

[ 0 ] November 28, 2009 |

At least they weren’t armed.

"Wilding"

[ 0 ] November 28, 2009 |

Dave linked to this outburst below. It’s worth noting that when American Thinker Robin from Berkeley describes what she calls the “wilding of Sarah Palin,” she fails to mention that the original “wilding” — the infamous rape of the Central Park jogger in 1989, resulted in the wrongful convictions of six teenage boys, who collectively ended up spending several decades in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.

Self-Parody is Too Mild a Term

[ 0 ] November 27, 2009 |

Shorter Verbatim Bernard Henri-Levy: “I am mostly thinking about him: Roman Polanski, who I don’t know, but whose fate has moved me so much. Nothing will repair the days he has spent in prison. Nothing will erase the immense, unbelievable injustice he has been subjected to.”

I suppose it should go without saying that this alleged Major Intellectual cannot be bothered to advance an argument defending the proposition that apprehending someone who raped a 13-year-old and then fled the jurisdiction to evade his punishment constitutes an “immense, unbelievable injustice.” (This kind of rhetoric isn’t just silly, it’s insulting to actual victims of immense injustices. At this rate, BHL would need about 70 adjectives to describe the Cameron Todd Willingham case.) To the extent that one can infer an argument from the surrounding text, the mentions of his wife and family seem to imply a retread of Robert Harris’s apparent argument that if you have a spouse and kids you should get one retrospective child rape for free. I once again take this to be self-refuting…

William A. Jacobson likes making my points for me.

[ 0 ] November 27, 2009 |

Which is unfortunate, because I’m about to call him illiterate. He claims that I argued that Sarah Palin and her supporters are “racist because there were so few non-whites pictured in the available photos.” I did nothing of the sort. My claim, as you can tell by the words I used to write it, was that the “images she and her people have decided should represent her mass-appeal on a mock-presidential bid launch” demonstrates that “her own handlers consider her appeal limited to white people.” I even emphasized that first statement in the post, which as we all know is the online equivalent of burying it under a rock behind the fire-pit in someone else’s backyard. (“Officer, you can search my property, absolutely, but I assure you that you won’t find any claims here.”) You would think that a law professor would be able to recognize an argument when he saw one, but apparently not, which is why he provides evidence that bolsters mine. He quotes a reporter from MSNBC:

“I can tell you this crowd today was very, very diverse, a lot of people from different races, ages, all coming to see Palin and wanting get a glimpse of who this lady is that says that she’s going rogue.”

If this is true—and for the moment, I grant that it is—then Palin and her handlers are deliberately not posting pictures of the many non-white people who attend her events. That, Mr. Jacobson, is the sort of evidence that someone like me would use in support of my claim that the pictures posted to her page are designed to appeal to a specific audience. Because I don’t trust you with logic, I will draw the obvious inference for you: Palin’s people are excluding photographs of the non-white people who attend her appearances because those photographs aren’t intended to appeal to a non-white audience.

Which was my original point.

You do realize that you’re helping me out here, Mr. Jacobson, don’t you?

He also claims that I “maliciously and falsely referred to one conservative blogger as a ‘noted racist.'” But—no doubt for some reason other than it demonstrates that Riehl’s a racist—he doesn’t reproduce the link that I included to a post demonstrating that Riehl is, in fact, a racist. He also makes the classic debating mistake of assuming facts not in evidence when he claims that I only did so “because this is the internet, and no one is held accountable,” his assumption being that were I to meet Riehl on the street, I wouldn’t call him a racist. Of course, being that these words are also on the internet, I can’t prove to his satisfaction that I wouldn’t; however, in a different context, he would point out the fact that because I’m an academic who hangs out with folks like this, I spend all day calling everybody I pass on the street a racist, and since Riehl belongs to that category—how about a little freshman logic, Mr. Jacobson?

SEK calls all people who are on the street a racist.
Dan Riehl is a person on the street.
Therefore, SEK calls Dan Riehl a racist.

I would say that syllogism puts him in a bind, but I think we can safely assume that someone who believed my earlier posts were intended “to smear the crowds at Palin book signings” probably never took freshman logic, and thus isn’t even aware that he’s in one.

Update (from davenoon): We’d be remiss in not pointing out that Jacobson, in a post complaining about the use of “the race card,” approving links to a diaper load in The American Thinker [sic] written by a — cough, cough — “former leftist-feminist Hillary supporter” who describes the treatment of Sarah Palin as a “wilding” and explains that she youstabee a feminist Democrat until she realized that left-wing men never protected her from angry black hoodlums. Well, “Robin from Berkeley” has me convinced!

Thanksgiving: Arguments Against "Authenticity" Put Into Practice…

[ 0 ] November 27, 2009 |


Although I regretted missing out regular Thanksgiving meal with the superb hosting of regular readers MJD and JRD, we for the first time hosted Thanksgiving for my girlfriend’s family. My feelings on turkey having long been on the record we weren’t going to put a lot of weight on traditional Thanksgiving cusine, so instead:

  • Beef Wellington with red wine reduction [or: vegetarian Wellington]
  • Mushroom bread pudding
  • Maple-glazed carrots
  • Cauliflower braised with white wine, anchovy, capers, and garlic
  • Butter lettuce salad with hearts of palm and shallot vinegrette
  • One Girl pumpkin whoopie pies and chocolate cream pie
  • Hors d’oeuvres: tomato and basil bruschetta, goat cheese-stuffed dates, vegetable platter

Best argument against tradition I can muster. Hope everybody’s Thankgiving was equally tasty and convivial!

…A commenter reminds us of this Calvin Trillin classic.