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German Intelligence Did What Now?

[ 0 ] November 25, 2008 |

Somebody explain to me how this makes sense:

A small explosion in Kosovo is quickly growing into a much bigger incident after the authorities in the capital, Pristina, arrested three Germans, alleged to be intelligence operatives, in connection with an attack on the building that houses the European Union’s special representative there.

A judge in Kosovo remanded the three men – who media outlets there and in Germany have reported are members of the German foreign intelligence agency, the BND – to 30 days of investigative custody Saturday. On Monday in Berlin, a government spokesman, Thomas Steg, called the charge that Germany was involved in terrorist attacks abroad “absurd,” but declined to comment on whether the men were intelligence agents or, as has also been alleged, members of the German Army, the Bundeswehr.

Sounds like a job for the Sandbaggers.

A Lack of Doctors

[ 0 ] November 25, 2008 |

Via Megan Carpentier, Patricia Meisol has a very interesting article about the small number of medical practitioners who choose to become aboriton providers. One factor is the fact that the skills are not easily acquired at many medical schools (“Even in Maryland, where about 61 percent of voters approved a referendum guaranteeing abortion in 1992 and which has the fourth-highest abortion rate in the country, abortion is not taught in any formal lectures at the state’s flagship medical school.”) Another important factor is the lingering effects of the terrorism directed at abortion clinics in the 80s and 90s:

Regardless of specialty, doctors who perform abortions sign up for a lifestyle unlike any other in medicine, a subculture replete with drawn blinds, shredders, and security guards at professional conventions. Violence against abortion providers has declined markedly since the 1980s and ’90s, when several doctors were killed or injured in shootings across the country and scores of clinics were torched or bombed, according to abortion federation data.

Myron Rose, a longtime College Park abortion provider who spoke at the seminar Lesley attended, wept as he described the difficult search for new office space after his clinic was firebombed in 1984. But that, he assured Lesley and the other medical students, was “antique times.”

Even so, those involved with abortion remain extremely cautious. Doctors take cover in the anonymity of large hospitals and debate whether to take their spouses’ surnames and how best to protect their children. Some avoid speaking publicly about abortion.

It is true that the legislation passed during the 90s was very effective at curtailing violence, but the precautions that abortion providers still have to take continues to have a chilling effect on the number of doctors willing to provide the service. Somehow, I’m inclined to think that the ongoing effects of this much more recent and successful terrorist campaign is more relevant to contemporary politics than Bill Ayers.

Proper Use Of Incentives

[ 0 ] November 25, 2008 |

Yglesias commenter “hupcapiv” is making sense:

I’ll bail out out [any] writer who promises not to use the tiresome Friedman-esque phrase “it’s not X, it’s X on steroids.”

I continue to endorse this idea. Some other fine choices here, although were he to write it today I’m sure the Editors would include “under the bus,” “close the deal [at least in political context],” and “game changer.”

The Arrival

[ 0 ] November 25, 2008 |

Peter the Great has arrived in Venezuela:

The flag of Venezuela already flies on the mast. It is naval tradition to fly the flag of the countries in whose port you are conducting a friendly visit. Today the sailors checked out the missile tubes. The Peter the Great’s armament will be shown to the presidents of both countries.

What is there to show? The Peter the Great is the largest non-aircraft carrier warship in the world. Two hundred and fifty meters of steel with dozens of missile tubes. And beneath each of these three ton hatches lays the main battery – the Granit nuclear anti-ship cruise missile (RNB comment – Huh! Well how about that!). As opposed to American cruise missiles, the Granit flies to its target at supersonic speed like a fighter jet. There is no ship as powerful as the Peter the Great in the world.

After finishing exercises with Venezuela, Peter the Great and his task force will head to India. After that, Galrahn speculates they might be on their way to Somalia.

That Sounds Like a Terrible Idea

[ 0 ] November 25, 2008 |

The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners thinks that a blockade of Somali ports would be more effective against pirates than shipping escort. The European Community Shipowners Association thinks that air and cruise missile attacks on pirate bases would be even more effective. And the Russians, apparently, believe that direct land-based attacks on pirate strongholds are necessary:

NATO, the European Union and others should launch land operations against bases of Somali pirates in coordination with Russia, the Russian ambassador to NATO said on Wednesday.

Dmitry Rogozin said the view of Russian experts was that naval action alone, even involving a large fleet of a powerful nation, would not be enough to defeat the pirates, given Somalia’s geo-strategic position.

“So it is up to NATO, the EU and other major stakeholders to conduct not a sea operation, but in fact a land coastal operation to eradicate the bases of pirates on the ground,” he said.

Let’s take these in reverse order. The idea of a NATO/EU/Russian invasion of Somalia (which is what ground based attacks would amount to) strikes me as crazy. David Axe:

Please recall that the last time Western troops had a large presence in Somalia, in 1993, 18 Americans and hundreds of Somalis died in a brutal gun battle. And much of the bloodshed in Somalia today is an outgrowth of a brutal Ethiopian occupation. Somalia is not the kind of place you invade lightly, and certainly not just to kill a few pirates.

I’m also less than convinced by the airstrike option. Pirates may have offices and known operation centers like everyone else, but I doubt that much organizational capital is tied up in fixed land infrastructure; rather, I suspect that the capital is in ships, human expertise, and organizational/tribal loyalties, the last two of which cannot be easily destroyed with cruise missiles. Striking pirate motherships in port might make some sense, if you could reliably differentiate them from normal shipping. But any such strike would run the risk of civilian casualties, and the piracy problem just isn’t serious enough to take gambles like that.

I don’t know about the close blockade concept; my hunch is that there are too many points of egress on the Somali coast and too few ships to carry out a full blockade. A close blockade would also put naval vessels at risk of attack from small boats; it’s very unlikely that we’d see suicide attacks off Somalia, but I expect that the various navies would be too paranoid about the idea to actually go for it.

Axe gets it right, I think:

Ending piracy means encouraging Somalis to establish law and order on their own territory, while deterring pirates with naval patrols in international waters. An armed invasion would be counter-productive, by exacerbating the present nationalist insurgency and prolonging the country’s instability.

This is Your Brain on Drugs

[ 0 ] November 25, 2008 |

Hinderaker, via Dave Weigel:

Obama thinks he is a good talker, but he is often undisciplined when he speaks. He needs to understand that as President, his words will be scrutinized and will have impact whether he intends it or not. In this regard, President Bush is an excellent model; Obama should take a lesson from his example. Bush never gets sloppy when he is speaking publicly. He chooses his words with care and precision, which is why his style sometimes seems halting. In the eight years he has been President, it is remarkable how few gaffes or verbal blunders he has committed. If Obama doesn’t raise his standards, he will exceed Bush’s total before he is inaugurated.

I am struck speechless.

Bad ideas in the form of constitutional law

[ 0 ] November 24, 2008 |

Sandy Levinson, a professor of law and political science, has been arguing for several years now that academics pay way too much attention, relatively speaking, to the rights provisions of the Constitution, and not nearly enough to what he calls its hard-wired structural features. One reason this is so is obvious: the hard-wired features don’t produce any litigation to argue about.

A nice example is the 20th amendment. 73% of law professors and 99.95% of normal humans can’t tell you anything about it, but what it did was, among other things, close the gap from the presidential popular vote to the inauguration from 4 months to two and a half. Four months made a certain amount of sense in the 18th century, before Blackberries and Wi-Fi, but can anybody come up with an argument for why, in 2008, in the middle of a severe financial crisis, etc. etc., it’s a good thing for us to be stuck with two and a half more months of George W. Bush in the lamest of duck blinds, while Obama “signals” this and “hints” at that?

It doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it’s in the Constitution so we’re stuck with it, more or less. Like a lot of other stuff.

Hunting Humans

[ 0 ] November 24, 2008 |

I think Kim du Toit has been reading The Corner lately:

[A]n increasingly large cohort of America in the lower 48 (and probably Hawaii) are p—-ies. They have no clue where their food comes from, they don’t hunt, they don’t fish, so they get to act all high and mighty about scenes like [the Sarah Palin “Faces of Turkey Death” video].

In Alaska, they have critters that consider humans food. Absent high powered rifles, humans are not at the apex of the food chain in Alaska. That will tend to give people a different perspective than the silk pantywaists in the lower 48.

I wish people would stop with this sort of nonsense, but surely they won’t. For the record, there are no “critters in Alaska that consider humans food” unless — like the unmourned Timothy Treadwell — you defy every sensible piece of advice and hang around famished grizzly elders who would (and did) kill you after all the dead salmon had been harvested. It’s true that polar bears would gobble a human or two — but here again, only under conditions of extreme ecological duress, such as the disappearance of summer ice in the Arctic (which, I remind everyone, our governor doesn’t seem to think is a problem.) Even this, though, would place maybe 1% of Alaskans at risk of being gnawed on by a starving, rogue bear who would much rather eat your dog or your garbage than you.

But here’s the bottom line: so far as animals are concerned, humans are not terribly appealing as a source of food. I suppose there’s a species of conservative who derives an extra surge of adrenaline from the claim that people aren’t at the top of a regional food chain, but these are apparently the same people who equate hunting and fishing with stuffing a turkey into a killing funnel…

(via Ahab)

The worst sports broadcasters

[ 0 ] November 24, 2008 |

This is a very trivial issue, but on the other hand this is an eclectic blog.

Why are so many high-profile sports broadcasters so incredibly bad? OK, I’m sure broadcasting a sports event, like just about everything else in this world, is harder than it looks if you’ve never tried to do it. But I’m not asking why there aren’t more good broadcasters. That a certain number of people in a field, even near the top of a field, are going to be mediocre, boring, semi-competent, somewhat irritating . . . this goes without saying. What I’m asking is why a 21st century sports fan, watching a football or basketball game in glorious high-definition, should be subjected to, for example:

Paul Maguire

This babbling moron is a kind of Platonic archetype of the insufferable old white guy jock — constantly making utterly unfunny “jokes” that his somewhat less insufferable booth mates (usually Bob Griese, who used to be OK but is now mailing it in, and the intermittently competent Brad Nessler) feel obliged to laugh at and try to top, thus producing a kind of Moronic Convergence of irrelevant idiocy, that rises up between the viewer and the game like a noxious verbal fog. He also loves to point out extremely obvious things as if they were stunning insights, a.k.a. Tim McCarver Disease.

Dick Vitale

Once, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Vitale’s schtick was fresh and mildly entertaining. That was about four presidencies ago. Now he’s truly become the very definition of insufferable — splattering the screen of every broadcast with his non-stop verbal diaherria regarding Dick Vitale’s favorite coaches, how great Duke is, Dick Vitale’s favorite memories of something from the 1950s, Dick Vitale’s family album, the greatness of Coach K, Dick Vitale’s views on popular music, Dick Vitale’s opinions regarding the best team in the NFL — in short, almost any conceivable topic except something having to do with the actual game on the viewer’s screen, except for the perhaps 15% of the time when he remembers he’s supposed to say something about the game in front of him. Listening makes me want to root for a major terrorist incident to take place at his precise location on the planet.

Tony Kornheiser

35 years ago Monday Night Football had a cool for the time concept, when Cosell, Gifford and Meredith produced a weird but positive synergy. Since then, it’s been a slow decline into increasingly desperate attempts to recapture the freshness of that concept. I thought MNF couldn’t sink lower than Dennis Miller. I was wrong.

For God’s sake, somebody pull the plug already.

Outrage

[ 0 ] November 24, 2008 |

Krugman on the Citigroup bailout. Or perhaps “weak, arbitrary, [and] incomprehensible” is the better phrase. The fact that Citigroup’s shareholders are apparently not even going to get much of a haircut (let alone the wipeout that should be the no-questions-asked starting point for any bailout of this magnitude) is particularly appalling. Is there some sort of “Queens’s only skyscraper” exemption to representing taxpayer interests that I’m unaware of?

And, of course, this provides stark evidence about how much damage Bush will be able to do in his last lame duck months.

Clinton at State

[ 0 ] November 24, 2008 |

I’m fairly agnostic about the merits of the appointment — I’m inclined to defer to Obama’s judgment given the quality of his campaign and Clinton is certainly a person of substantial ability, but there are some real policy concerns here. Still, I have to admit the fact that it will make people like Our Lady of the Dolphins just a little bit crazier makes me feel better about the whole thing…

The Important News

[ 0 ] November 24, 2008 |

Congratulations to Henry Burris and the Calgary Stampeders on winning North America’s most important football championship…