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Obama’s war

[ 0 ] November 24, 2009 |

An unfortunate aspect of the nature of politics is that principled opposition to disastrous and/or immoral policies tends to either disappear or at least lose much of its intensity when such policies are adopted by politicians one supports.

Certainly over the last year we’ve seen this among what passes for the political left in this country, in regard to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s true that Obama inherited these wars. He was elected to end them.

Yet today it’s being reported that, after nearly doubling the US military presence in Afghanistan earlier this year, he has decided to increase that number by 50%, at a direct cost of one million dollars per soldier. The indirect costs are incalcuable.

The administration’s plan contains “off-ramps,” points starting next June at which Obama could decide to continue the flow of troops, halt the deployments and adopt a more limited strategy or “begin looking very quickly at exiting” the country, depending on political and military progress, one defense official said.

“We have to start showing progress within six months on the political side or military side or that’s it,” the U.S. defense official said.

In short, the next six months will be crucial.

If you haven’t yet seen this recent Frontline program on the current situation in that country it’s worth your time.

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This totally would have worked on the "Half Hour Comedy Hour," though…

[ 0 ] November 24, 2009 |

As promised, here are the passages from Palin’s book in which she and the “B-Team” make a go at vaudeville. When we join our heroine, she has just agreed to appear on a mid-October episode of SNL as the self-parody to Tina Fey’s parody. After musing that a September appearance on the show might have “had a shot at evening the odds with the SNL crew,” she recalls her mounting concern that no one from the show had bothered to provide the campaign with a script. “What if it’s raunchy?” she wonders. “Worse, what if it’s not funny?” Not to fear, of course. This is Sarah Palin we’re talking about; she’ll write the fucking jokes herself.

So, finally, we B Teamers started brainstorming. What about a skit where I pretended to be a journalist and asked Tina condescending questions: “What do you use for newspapers up in Alaska–tree bark?” “What happens if the moose were given guns? It wouldn’t be so easy then, eh?” “Is ‘you betcha’ your state motto?” We sent our ideas up the line, and somebody smacked ’em down.

See? It’s just like the campaign. She couldn’t even use her bestest burns on Alec Baldwin.

Alec Baldwin also guested on the show that evening. The big-wigs haggled back and forth over my appearance . . . . We put our heads together and sent the producers a counteroffer. Alec would get his barbs in, then I would say, “Hey, Baldwin, weren’t you supposed to leave the country after the last election?”

Uh…no, producers said.

We tried another idea . . . . “Hey, Alec,” the proposed line went, “I saw Stephen at a fund-raiser last week and asked him when he was going to knock some sense into you.”

Uh…no.

What’s that line about being able to dish it out?

It’s a good thing that Palin has her unintentional comedy career to fall back on.

"And there still would have been the Holocaust…"

[ 0 ] November 23, 2009 |

Few write on the history of evolutionary theory as compellingly as John Wilkins. (Had his Species: the History of an Idea and Defining Species: a Sourcebook from Antiquity to Today been available in 2002, I could’ve avoided years of thankless legwork and finished my dissertation with normative time to spare. Not that I’m bitter.) So I can think of no better way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin than to listen to Wilkins speculate about what would have happened had it never existed. My only qualm is with this paragraph:

Lamarckism, by which I mean the progressivist view of evolution, not the “acquired inheritance” version that has little to do directly with Lamarck and anyway is set up as a contrast with Weismann not Darwin, would have played an even greater role in people’s thinking than it did. It may still be with us now—we would be trying to figure out how progress occurs out of necessity, rather than it being the rather odd view of people like Conway Morris.

I think scholars who focus more on the scientific literature underestimate the popular appeal of what amounts to quasi-Lamarckian thought both then and now … but then again, as I’m the person who wrote my dissertation, I would.

Nuclear Warhead Life Extension Actually Works

[ 0 ] November 23, 2009 |

Last week, the JASON study on the viability of service life extension for the US nuclear arsenal appeared in several places. The conclusions were reassuring; there is no reason to believe that the US nuclear arsenal will degrade in the next several decades, assuming basic maintenance and life-extension procedures are carried out. This means that the US deterrent is “secure,” although the circumstances under which it might have become insecure are highly suspect. This ain’t good for those who’ve been arguing for RRW (Reliable Replacement Warhead), who have by and large put their money on the unreliability argument. This isn’t the only argument in favor of RRW, but it sounds better than the alternatives, which include anti-arms control fetishism, the need to continue pouring money into nuclear labs, and the desire to nuke the hell out of countries that piss us off. More on the last, which acquired newfound “respectability” in latest issue of Foreign Affairs, later.

Starting to Build Up the Hate…

[ 0 ] November 23, 2009 |

You know, the world would be a better place if Joseph C. Avery had never left Pennsylvania.

WIN 20th Anniversary Celebration

[ 0 ] November 23, 2009 |

A friend tips me off that the Friday after next (December 4) will be the 20th anniversary of the Women’s Information Network, a DC social network organization for young, professional pro-choice women. The anniversary will be celebrated at the K Street Lounge. Details available here, including ticket info. Highly recommended, if you’re in the area.

Reading the Tea Leaves

[ 0 ] November 23, 2009 |

The Observer published the new Ipsos-MORI poll on Sunday on voting intentions for the forthcoming British election, and the media are all aflutter about its implications. Specifically, the Tory lead has shrunk to six points down from over 20 this past summer: 37% Conservative, 31% Labour, 17% Liberal Democrat.

This matters not only because of the electoral system writ large, but the way the constituencies are drawn, weighted (Scotland and Wales still have a built in advantage in population : seats ration, even post-devolution), and how partisan support is distributed. Here at the University of Plymouth we are considered experts in the field of British electoral politics with our Local Government Chronicle Elections Center. Two of my colleagues in the Elections Center have produced a handy media guide that breaks down the redrawn constituency boundaries for the 2010 election, with a matrix that predicts the distribution of seats in the new parliament assuming a uniform national swing. When 37% Conservative is compared to 31% Labour, we end up with a distribution of C 283, L 273, LD 62: a hung parliament.

However, let’s not get carried away, yet. I do have a few critical comments about how the poll is being interpreted. Ipsos MORI are a highly respected polling firm, but nowhere in their releases, hence nowhere in the media, do we find any explicit information regarding the margin of error. We do, however, have the N: 1,006. This basically equates to an MoE of 3% assuming a 95% confidence interval. In other words, the “true” value of support for the Tories is between 40% and 34%, Labour 34% and 28%, etc., with 95% certainty. The best case scenario for the Tories with these numbers equates to: C 329, L 227, LD 63. A comfortable majority.

But wait, there’s more!

The overall N and the estimates reported by Ipsos MORI do not match. The support estimates are based on a rough likely voter model / filter which the firm terms “certain to vote”. This reduces the N to 513, and roughly increases the MoE to 4.5%. Meaning, the true value is somewhere between 41.5% and 32.5% for the Tories, and 35.5% and 26.5% for Labour. When matched against UK Polling Report’s poll tracker, the 6 point Tory lead is an outlier — not an egregious outlier as it is at least consistent with the trend from the past month, but an outlier nonetheless. (Anthony Wells at UKPR also has an informative take in his blog on this poll hitting different issues than I have here.)

Interestingly, the total size of the sample offering a voting intention of any likelihood is 799, and those numbers are 34-34-16. This suggests that Labour’s best strategy is to mobilize their base, or those that are unlikely voters but if they were to vote would vote Labour.

Considering the above, I’m not going to comment on Nick Clegg’s tactics regarding the Lib Dems role in a potential hung parliament, or his own grasp of what democracy is all about, nor am I going to consider all the possible ramifications and political gymnastics leading to a hung parliament, but then I am also not going to boldly come out and proclaim that a hung parliament ain’t gonna happen, cowboy.

I recognize that the media have a news hole to fill, and in terms of electoral politics here in the UK, this is the most interesting story in a while. However, let’s wait for a few more polls to see if this one is indicative, or merely an outlier, before we get all excited about the prospects of a hung parliament.

Atypical Monday Daddy Blogging

[ 0 ] November 23, 2009 |

Both pictures of Imogen were taken this weekend; the only major political event to temporally intercede was the Senate vote on that silly anti-democratic procedure called cloture allowing debate on health care reform.

With my careful guidance and tutelage, I’m sure she will correctly decide between progressive politics and supporting the BNP by the time she is 18.

It’s either that, or she simply thought I was a Nazi for telling her to eat her veg . . .

Going Rogue, Chapter 4

[ 0 ] November 23, 2009 |

Oh, fucking hell. It’s the presidential campaign. I’d forgotten about this part.

Fortunately for me, there’s not much to say, really, about chapter 4 that hasn’t already been written about a thousand times already. We have to endure more bullshit about Bristol’s pregnancy, the wardrobe “controversy,” Katie Couric, and the teleprompter in Minneapolis St. Paul (oops!), which she continues to insist malfunctioned so badly that she was forced to deliver her convention speech from memory. There are a few moments of levity — as when Palin groans about not being allowed to give more substantive answers during debate prep, or when she receives a friendly visit from Holy Joe Lieberman before squaring off against Biden. We’re also forced to read (for several agonizing pages) about the one-liners that Palin and her campaign staffers submitted — to no avail — to the writers of Saturday Night Live prior to Palin’s late-October appearance on the show. (If prodded forcefully enough in comments, I will post these “jokes” separately. You have, however, been warned.)

But the essential weight of the chapter, however, centers on the way she was mishandled by nearly everyone around her. From what I gather, a lot of folks expected this section of the book to have something like the following effect on the people who managed the McCain campaign:

Sadly, the chapter merely amplifies grievances about campaign strategy that Palin has either hinted at or voiced directly on numerous occasions since last November. At the bottom of it all, Palin accuses the McCain people of stifling the political instincts that helped her win the governor’s race in 2006. Then, as she recounts in the previous chapter, Palin “wanted to shake every hand on the trail” and meet everyone in the entire goddamn state. And because she was driving herself and her kids around in sub-zero weather — guzzling sugar-free Red Bulls and sticking her head out the window (as any responsible parent would) to fend off sleep — Palin was able to campaign as she saw fit. But in her account of the 2006 gubernatorial race, she tells a story that effectively sets up the rift that would emerge between her and the McCain team.

On one return trip . . . we stopped late at night in the middle of nowhere to drop off a campaign sign. Todd had spotted the unmarked dirt road we needed to take, and we rumbled down a narrow lane lined by tall, spindly black spruce until we came to a tiny wooden cabin hidden in the woods. The elderly couple who lived there had called in to a political radio show and voiced their support, so we’d looked them up and promised to deliver them a yard sign, even though you wouldn’t be able to view it from the main highway.

The old people stuff them with pie, and the Palins drive away, listening to LL Cool J and the Black Eyed Peas as they ponder the “hardworking, unpretentious and patriotic people” who want to see them elected.

When Palin gripes about the way she was hemmed in by campaign officials during the 2008 race — the fact that she wasn’t allowed to hang around on the rope lines for hour after needless hour, “really connecting with voters” who were already going to vote for the Republican ticket, or the fact that she was thwarted in her effort to make a pointless visit to Michigan after the campaign wisely yanked the plug on their efforts in that state — all we need to remember is that Palin believes that campaigns are defined in no small part by their willingness to deliver yard signs in the middle of the night. Throughout the chapter, Palin relishes the attention of core GOP voters who drag their knuckles through the boglands of America to listen to her speak. She wants to “take the gloves off” and drive the base of the party into a white-hot fury over Jeremiah Wright. She wants to sit down at kitchen tables with millions of people and explain to them that John McCain is “bold” and “thinks outside the box,” while Barack Obama consorts with terrorists and doesn’t have a child with Down Syndrome.

But the fat, chain-smoking meanies in the campaign won’t let her, and on November 3 God shows them who’s the boss of whom.

To sum up, here’s chapter 4:

The Optimistic Take

[ 0 ] November 23, 2009 |

Lindsay Beyerstein argues that, contrary to the most obvious inference, that reproductive freedom advocates weren’t asleep at the switch when the House adopted the Stupak amendment, and that it’s likely not to survive the Senate:

The reality is much more complicated. Abortion-rights groups were actually watching and lobbying against stringent anti-abortion restrictions in the health-care bill throughout the process. And, while their strategy failed in the House, the introduction of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s health-care bill on Wednesday without Stupak-like language indicates that their predictions that they would be more effective in the Senate are being vindicated.

It’s hard for me to imagine the World’s Worst Deliberative Body improving any legislation passed by a Democratic House, but the reporting is solid, so hopefully Lindsay’s onto something…

Whining: Still For Losers

[ 0 ] November 22, 2009 |

Mr. Brian Cowen is the Prime Minister of Ireland

I might be able to forgive saying something dumb in the immediate aftermath of an important game in which an official blew an important call — maybe even Joe Nathan’s recent impulse to bitch and moan about the egregious missed call in a game in which the call wouldn’t have happened at all if he had done his job. But it’s both hilarious and pathetic that actual political leaders in Ireland still seem, days later, to be advocating the idea of a replay with a straight face. I can imagine some narrow circumstances — ineligible players, demonstrably corrupt officials — that could warrant a replay, but I assume that it doesn’t require elaborate argument to point out that an honest official making a garden-variety bad call isn’t one of them. Bad calls are part of the sport; if every team that loses a close game got a replay because a bad call theoretically could have turned the game in their favor is entitled to a replay, we would just keep replaying close games forever. Moreover, in this case waving off the goal wouldn’t have even been decisive from Ireland’s perspective. It would be farcical enough to call for a replay in a case in which an official’s getting a call right actually, all things being equal, would have handed you a championship (as with Game 6 of the 2004 Stanley Cup finals.) But in this case, getting the call right would almost certainly have given Ireland the opportunity to win a coin flip in the shootout.

To give the point broader applicability, this should also be pointed out:

Wednesday’s infamous goal — Mr. Henry’s “Hand of Gaul,” as London’s Daily Telegraph called it — overshadowed several complicating realities in the match. Ireland led 1-0 and had at least three very strong chances to add another goal which would have almost certainly assured victory.

But the French goal tied the score 1-1. Since France had won 1-0 in Dublin, with the tie it prevailed, 2-1, on aggregate.

The blame for being eliminated from the World Cup belongs, in its entirety, to the players of the Irish team. They put themselves in the place in which a single bad break could eliminate them by 1)losing the first game and 2)blowing failing to extend a lead in the second game. This is why I have absolutely no patience for, say, Cardinals fans still whining about Don Denkinger. Yep, awful call, no question. But there is actual precedent for teams with a lead in the 9th inning allowing a leadoff runner and still winning the game. Denkinger didn’t cause Jack Clark to muff a pop-up, Porter to allow a passed ball, or for the Cardinals to be outscore 12-0 the rest of the Series. If you can’t overcome a single bad call, you aren’t a champion.

I’d have compared her to Edward Gibbon, but then again I’m prone to wild and ignorant exaggeration…

[ 0 ] November 22, 2009 |

Americaneoclown is seeing starbursts through the pages of his book:

I should add that I’m reading the book now, and I’m finding it as an extremely satisfying account of the everywoman’s tale of American exceptionalism. That is, Sarah Palin is our 21st century Frederick Jackson Turner, who was the author of the seminal account of the American political culture, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” With Palin we have our modern-day political scribe of the frontier existence, the rugged pioneer of traditionalism who rejoices in the Alaskan harvest of the great remaining bounty of the nation’s magnificent destiny.

Wow. That’s a mighty chain of prepositions there. But has Donald even read the Turner essays? I have no idea what a phrase like “the pioneer of traditionalism” is supposed to mean, but Turner’s argument — which historians and political scientists have pretty much rejected for the past half century — is that “the frontier” destroyed tradition, particularly the cultural inheritances that European settlers brought with them to the perimeter of settlement (e.g., western Massachusetts, the Ohio Valley, the Mississippi Valley, etc.)

In any event, Turner’s argument is that the social life of the frontier produces a laboratory of sorts in which democratic ideals can be rejuvenated and then retained as the frontier becomes progressively more “civilized.” For the frontier thesis to work, in other words, the frontier in question needs to produce democratic modes of life that are actually worth emulating. Given that Alaska’s entire political and social order depends upon gobbling up more federal resources than the state can deliver in tax revenues, I doubt there are altogether that many Americans who would find this an agreeable model. Palin’s notion that the state can wean itself from the federal teat by drilling from now until the End of Days is also a decidedly non-Turnerian fantasy, unless I missed the parts in which he celebrated the massive transfer of real estate and political power into the hands of corporate speculators.