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Preview of a Cat-Robot Alliance?

[ 0 ] November 24, 2008 |

Not. Good.

From Colony to Superpower: Tragedy, Comedy, Farce

[ 0 ] November 24, 2008 |

Erik leads off this week’s discussion of From Colony to Superpower. Chapter 3 deals with the period between 1801 and 1815. This period saw the dominance of the Republicans, and of the Virginia planter class. George Herring is considerably less sympathetic to the Republicans than to the Federalists, at least in terms of foreign policy. Both Jefferson and Madison receive criticism, on points both practical and ideological.

On a couple of points, Herring get hilariously cruel. Noting Jefferson’s preference for the language of “natural right” in the Declaration of Independence, Herring points out other instances in which Jefferson understand American interest in terms of natural rights, such as the natural right of American commercial access to the Mississippi (in spite of the French and Spanish property right to same), and the natural right of the United States to have a border along the Gulf of Mexico. Jefferson also made a conscious distinction between the kind of natural rights possessed by native Americans and African slaves, with the former achieving the status of “noble savage” which meant a chance for assimilation and eventual inclusion within the United States. Didn’t really work out that way, but nevertheless…

It’s dangerous to attempt to derive modern parallels for the events of the early nineteenth century. On the one hand, the author most certainly wants to make the history seem relevant. On the other, there is an obvious risk to understanding the past in the context of the present, rather than on its own terms. Herring discusses two incident in particular that reminded of modern foreign policy questions. The first involved continuing violence on the frontier. Herring discusses how the Americans appeared genuinely incapable of believing that Indian violence and attacks stemmed from the behavior of settlers and the US government. Rather, British influence was blamed, virtually without evidence.

Similarly, the US treatment of Haiti seems to lay out a template for 20th century Cuba policy. Adams moderated Haiti policy substantially (partially in response to tensions with France), but Jefferson pursued a very hard initial line. He shifted somewhat when anti-French sentiment rose just prior to the Louisiana Purchase, then returned to the hard line after the completion of his transaction with Napoleon. Because of the influence of Southern slaveholders, the US would not recognize Haiti until the Lincoln administration.

Herring is extremely critical of Madison’s handling of the War of 1812, both in terms of its initiation and its execution. While recognizing that genuine policy conflicts existed between Great Britain and the United States, Herring faults Madison (and Jefferson) for inept diplomacy backed by no military force. Republican nervousness about standing military forces limited US capability, and by necessity produced an unfortunate confidence in the capacity of militia and irregular troops. Naval victories in the Great Lakes, combined with instability in Europe, managed to save the US from a more serious disaster.

Jefferson’s Embargo against France and Britain was one of the most ill-conceived projects in the history of American foreign policy. Jefferson barely bothered to explain the policy to the American people, or to build domestic support. Since many constituencies depended on trade with Britain, there was immediate resistance and efforts at circumvention. Moreover, the embargo had none of its intended effects; the French barely noticed, while the British were able to take advantage of emerging suppliers in Spanish America. As Erik notes, the Embargo depended on a radical over-inflation on Jefferson’s part of the importance of American trade to Europe.

More later…

On Having the Game Pass You By

[ 0 ] November 23, 2008 |

While watching Penn State destroy Michigan State yesterday, it occurred to me that we aren’t hearing much this year about how Joe Paterno is a coach lost in another era, the “game having passed him by”. It also occurred to me that we would be hearing quite a lot about how Tom Osborne, Don James, Bo Schembechler, and Lou Holtz were being “passed by” if any of them had possessed Joe’s longevity, assuming that the disasters their teams have endured as of late ensued on their watch. Although I suppose that there’s some question as to how much control JoePa still has over the team, the lesson would seem to be that even elite college football teams are subject to cycles of success and failure. The relatively weak performance of Penn State from 2000-2004 is best interpreted as part of such a cycle, rather than as evidence of JoePa’s creeping dementia.

Preparing the Way…

[ 0 ] November 23, 2008 |

This article is kind of fabulous, in the sense that it clearly lays out the connection between a lax attitude towards regulation and the production of bad loans:

Simeon Ferguson, an 85-year-old Brooklyn resident with dementia, according to his attorney, signed up in February 2006 for an option ARM. The monthly cost was $2,400, but the terms of the loan from IndyMac Bancorp, a major thrift based in Pasadena, Calif., allowed Ferguson to pay less than that each month, the way people can with a credit card. Many of the loans made by IndyMac and other thrifts were extended to borrowers without ensuring they could afford their full monthly payments. Ferguson, who lived on a fixed monthly income of $1,100, was one such borrower, according to a pending lawsuit filed on his behalf in federal court…

Concerns about the product were first raised in late 2005 by another federal regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The agency pushed other regulators to issue a joint proposal that lenders should make sure borrowers could afford their full monthly payments. “Too many consumers have been attracted to products by the seductive prospect of low minimum payments that delay the day of reckoning,” Comptroller of the Currency John C. Dugan said in a speech advocating the proposal.

OTS was hesitant to sign on, though it eventually did. Reich, the new director of OTS, warned against excessive intervention. He cautioned that the government should not interfere with lending by thrifts “who have demonstrated that they have the know-how to manage these products through all kinds of economic cycles.” Reich, through a spokesman, declined to be interviewed for this article.

The lending industry seconded Reich’s concerns at the time, arguing that the government was needlessly depriving families of a chance at homeownership. IndyMac argued in a letter to regulators that in evaluating loan applications it was not fair to rule out the possibility that a prospective borrower’s income might increase. “Lenders risk denying home ownership to qualified borrowers,” chief risk officer Ruthann Melbourne wrote.

The proposal languished until September 2006, when it was swiftly finalized after a congressional committee began making inquiries.

The long delay in issuing the guidance allowed companies to keep making billions of dollars in loans without verifying that borrowers could afford them. One of the largest banks, Countrywide Financial, said in an investor presentation after the guidance was released that most of the borrowers who received loans in the previous two years would not have qualified under the new standards. Countrywide said it would have refused 89 percent of its 2006 borrowers and 83 percent of its 2005 borrowers. That represents $138 billion in mortgage loans the company would not have made if regulators had acted sooner.

See also Prarie Weather and Calculated Risk.

Ted Briggs

[ 0 ] November 23, 2008 |

I am remiss in noting the passing last month of Ted Briggs. Briggs was the last of the three survivors of the destruction of HMS Hood at the Battle of Denmark Strait. Obits here and here.

Here’s an animated depiction of the loss of Hood, including an interview with Briggs:

More recent scholarship on the loss suggests that it may have been the cruiser Prinz Eugen, rather than the Bismarck, that inflicted the fatal blow.

…oh, Johnny Horton. The Bismarck was, prior to commissioning of HIJMS Yamato, “the biggest ship”, but it conspicuously lacked “the biggest guns”, which belonged to HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney (9×16″; five other ships also carried 16″ guns). And as to the claim of being “the fastest ship to ever sail the seas”, Bismarck had an operational speed roughly similar to that of Hood (29 knots, as Hood’s speed had dropped from 31 earlier in her career), and was notably slower than the German Scharnhorsts, the French Dunkerques or Richielieu, and the British Renowns.

I am also told that powdering a gator’s behind and filling his head with cannonballs is unlikely to produce positive outcomes.

AppleFutility Cup

[ 0 ] November 22, 2008 |

Consider: The Washington State Cougars are currently 1-10, with only a victory over Portland State to their credit. The Washington Huskies are 0-10, and likely to lose at Cal. The Seattle Seahawks are 2-8. The Seattle Mariners lost 101 games this season. And the Supersonics? Heh. Is this the worst calendar year in the history of Washington sports? Of major college and professional sports in any single state?

I never thought I’d live to see an 0-12 Huskies team. Go Cougs!

…Cougs win, in a game living down to the hype. Worst. Overtime. Ever. Anyway, Huskies 0-11, looking down the barrel of a Cal team that’s beating Stanford by 27 points right now.

…UPDATE by Scott: And let us not forget to celebrate this. I wonder which book is more obsolete: this one or this one…and let us not forget that Charlie Weis, Super Genius (TM) announced that he was taking over the offense two weeks prior to this stellar effort.

The greatest understatement in the recent history of human civilization

[ 0 ] November 22, 2008 |

Jules Crittenden:

George W. Bush did not solve all the problems of the world’s most troubled and dangerous region.

You don’t say!

Crittenden’s larger claim — that the Bush Doctrine has somehow worked out more or less as planned and predicted — is beyond absurd. He and others who follow this tack seem to believe that “success” may be defined as the fortunate avoidance of the worst possible alternate outcomes. But as anyone who isn’t a transparent hack would understand, the fact that Bush took the nation to war in 2003 does not mean that (a) Saddam Hussein would otherwise have survived into 2008 stronger and more dangerous than anyone could ever have imagined, (b) that Iran would otherwise have nuclear weapons, (c) that al-Qaeda would have earned the sponsorship of numerous other regimes across the Middle East, and (d) that the entire region would otherwise now be perched on the edge of a genocidal bloodbath. There were numerous paths the administration could have taken to avoid any or all of these scenarios; it chose the bloodiest and costliest and the one least conducive to anyone’s long-term interest, save those who enjoy writing about how the United States needs to “impress” and “chasten” its foes with multi-trillion dollar wars.

I imagine we’ll have to endure a lot of this nonsense in the coming months, and probably forever.

More McPherson

[ 0 ] November 22, 2008 |

I suppose this silly column doesn’t really merit further discussion, but I think gmack’s comment merits elevation to the main page:

So far as I can tell, no one here knows whether McPherson harasses women. But we can tell that his argument is utterly ridiculous: if his complaint is that the training is boring and pointless, then why is this worth publishing in the LA Times? Moreover, that obviously isn’t his complaint: if it was, then he would be advocating for reforms to make the training more useful or effective. Given that this is not what he’s interested in, we can also conclude that he doesn’t care about sexual harassment, and indeed, thinks that it is simply a matter of “political correctness.”

Precisely. This may be exceedingly charitable, but let’s assume that an earnest, humorless, self-righteous column with the sole point that “meetings can be boring” wouldn’t justify a column in any newspaper. In fairness, that’s not McPherson’s point; his point (well, one of his points — he also seems arguing that taking your employer’s money while refusing to comply with reasonable professional obligations makes you some sort of hero) is pretty clearly that training that tries to make employees aware of and tries to reduce sexual harassment is wrong in principle. Needless to say, he makes no attempt to actually justify this, but then invoking “politically correctness” as pretty much always about insulating beliefs you’d prefer not to defend on the merits from criticism.

Giving away the show, of course, is the idiotic idea that these meetings somehow undermine his “academic freedom.” Obviously, he seems to have no idea what the term means, but the real claim seems to be that the training is objectionable because it has “a political cast.” Well, on some level this would be true. But, then, McPherson’s implicit argument that the university should remain publicly neutral on the question of whether the harassment and sexual exploitation of students is a good thing would also a “political” decision. The university has to choose among substantive values, and (while the training itself may well be flawed) in this case it’s making the right choice.

Another commenter believes that this follow-up is helpful. Since it makes no actual substantive defense of any of McPherson’s specious claims I’m not really seeing it, but people can make their own judgments…

My Question

[ 0 ] November 21, 2008 |

How can a stigma become attached to an individual based on an informational seminar everyone has to attend?

Mcpherson’s tear-stained column is really some classic whining about nothing, but admittedly I’m not inclined to give a very serious hearing to people who complain about “political correctness” at this late date. I would be particularly interested in someone making this tired argument to identify mechanisms of social change that don’t involve groups urging the redress of injustices…

…make sure to read Jill as well. I also forgot to mention McPherson’s risibly specious claims that the meetings violate his “academic freedom.” Uh, what?

"Seven Years Is Enough."

[ 0 ] November 21, 2008 |

Judge Richard Leon — an appointee of George W. Bush — issued a major ruling following the wake of the Supreme Court’s Boumediene decision yesterday, ordering five Guantanamo detainees released “forthwith.” He also added comments that echoed Souter’s Boumediene concurrence:

The judge, in an unusual added comment, suggested to senior government leaders that they forgo an appeal of his ruling on freeing the five prisoners. While conceding that the government had a right to appeal that part of his ruling, Leon commented that he, too, had “a right to appeal” to leaders of the Justice Department, Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies, and his plea was that they look at the evidence regarding the five he was ordering released. “Seven years of waiting for our legal system to give them an answer to their legal question is enough,” he commented.

This brings the grand total of arbitrarily held detainees released by the federal courts to…five. If I understand correctly, to many Republicans this means that out-of-control judicial activists are essentially running American foreign policy. In fairness, since when has scrutinizing wholly arbitrary executive detentions been considered a function of the judiciary?

…the Talking Dog has more here, and also notes that the detainees haven’t actually been released yet.

Cardinal Directions, Please…

[ 0 ] November 21, 2008 |

I find that “route” directions (turn left at the third McDonalds, the one right next to the Fifth Third Bank) almost invariably get me lost in interesting and disastrous ways. Survey directions (NESW) are much more helpful; contra Ezra, in the city it’s pretty easy to figure out which way is north, although it can be a bit more problematic in a suburban/rural setting.

In Lexington, the problem of route directions is compounded by the fact that Lexingtonians almost invariably seem to navigate according to landmarks that no longer exist. “Yeah, you’ll want to turn right when you reach that Popeyes Chicken that they tore down four years ago” is a common example of this type.

Larry Craig apparently likes airports

[ 0 ] November 21, 2008 |

From today’s bukakke party for Ted Stevens.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho: “I’m en route from downtown Anchorage, to the Ted Stevens International Airport. And as we round the curb and pull up to exit the cab, I look up, and there is your name. And I said, ‘Oh, Ted’s got an airport, that’s neat.’