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A Brief Ode to Facebook

[ 12 ] August 25, 2010 |

I was relatively late to Facebook, not creating a profile until sometime in 2007 (I forget exactly when). Once I set up my account, I made friends with all the people who had hounded me into it, then began to search for friends from grad school, from the blogosphere, and so forth. I eventually made my way “back” to high school, and became friends with a handful of people whom I’d been relatively close with (I have since made it all the way back to elementary school), including an F-15 pilot who had previously been unaware of my attitudes towards the Air Force. I also became friends with Jessie, with whom I’d gone to senior prom  and on whom I had (to no great avail) briefly but intensely crushed.

Over the two years or so that we were “Facebook friends” we chatted a few times, exchanged a couple of e-mails, and made a few comments on and “likes” of each others statuses, pictures, links, and so forth. It didn’t amount to intense interaction, but I learned that Jessie had gotten married, had a son, and developed breast cancer. She’d beaten it, but had suffered a recurrence and was going through treatment again. I never delved very deeply into the details, because I didn’t feel it was my place; I wasn’t close enough to ask questions that might be difficult. Nevertheless, I was happy that we were able to chat, and that she had the opportunity to comment on pictures of the girls.

This morning I noticed that some friends were writing on her Wall, and I soon learned that Jessie passed away last night. What we communicated over the past couple of years didn’t amount to much, but right now it means a lot to me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known that she had passed, I wouldn’t have known why, and I wouldn’t have a sense of how her friends were reacting. While I didn’t have a chance to say “goodbye,” I wouldn’t have had a chance to say “hello (again).” At the moment, I find this very comforting.

Of course, there’s nothing particular about Facebook that makes this possible. Any other social networking site could do the same thing, providing that sufficient numbers of people sign on. There’s no excuse for the fumbling of privacy rules and regulations. Still, there really is something valuable in what Facebook provides, and right now I’m thankful that I signed on, that Jessie signed on, and that we had our final chance to talk. I will miss her, but I at least I’ll know that I miss her.

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Revolution in Military Affairs and Network Centric Warfare

[ 20 ] August 25, 2010 |

I’m getting to this debate late, but my understanding of the situation (informed by Dima Adamsky’s book, among others) is that revolution in military affairs (RMA) theory developed in the Soviet Union as a reaction to two trends.  First, the Soviets determined (following the Yom Kippur War) that precision guided weapons launched from stand off ranges threatened to upend the traditional distinction between offense and defense, opening up the battlespace to operations along the full tail of military organizations.  This is to say that both attacker and defender would be able to attack targets deep within the enemy rear with considerable confidence of destruction, undermining the traditional distinction between “front” and supporting forces.  Second, the Soviets believed that nuclear weapons were increasingly unlikely to be used on the battlefield in the context of a general NATO-Warsaw Pact war.  The Soviet response was twofold. First, they attempted to restructure their doctrine along lines similar to those developed in the 1930s by Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, which was called “deep battle” and foresaw attacks along the entire depth of an enemy position (aircraft, paratroopers, exploiting armor) which would cause organizational collapse.  If they could destroy key command, information, transportation, and logistics nodes, the the entire enemy army might suffer paralysis, and be easily defeated.  Second, they tried to develop the material and technological foundation for making such warfare possible.  On this second point they failed.

The Americans succeeded in developing the weapons before they got the doctrine, but during the 1980s and 1990s doctrinal thinking moved forward along Soviet lines.  The problem was that the sorts of organizations that RMA was supposed to kill (the Red Army) effectively ceased to exist in 1991.  Notably, the conventional assault on Iraq in 1991 failed to incur organizational collapse on the part of the Iraqi Army, which continued to maneuver and fight in spite of attacks along its entire deployed length and depth.  The story gets a bit hazy, but my understanding was that RMA then became associated with air power theory, which had been looking for a way to win wars cheaply and decisively since 1917.  This would come mainly in the figures of John Boyd and John Warden, especially the latter.  More or less, Warden suggested that the same dynamics that might cause organizational collapse in an enemy army could also be applied to and enemy state.  If you hit the right targets in Iraq or Serbia, the entire state might fall into paralysis and collapse.  This argument was eerily similar, of course, to the cases made by airpower theorists in the 1920s and 1930s.

Now, for my money I’m quite skeptical about the ability to induce organizational collapse in either an enemy army or in an enemy state.  The former is more likely, however, and there is some legitimately sound theory encapsulated by Deep Battle and its RMA-driven renaissance.  In terms of the ability to induce state collapse, however, I think it gets batty, deeply underestimating the ability of states under stress to repair themselves and to take advantage of redundant capacities.  Simply put, the application of RMA that envisions the ability to crush unfriendly states through careful destruction of critical enemy nodes of power suffers from the same delusions that airpower theorists have struggled with since the Smuts Report.

But then that simply reveals my own biased understanding of airpower. I invite Adam et al to correct any of my misunderstandings…

And I am Also of the Opinion that the British Embassy Should be Burned…

[ 21 ] August 25, 2010 |

I note that yesterday and today constitute the 196th anniversary of the burning of Washington, D.C. by the hated British.  Since that time, not a single Anglican church has been erected upon the hallowed ground of our incinerated national capitol.   Never forget!  Moderate Britons would be well advised to restrain their radical brethren from any efforts to memorialize these tragic events, which have forever scarred the American national psyche.

Dear Dr. Can’t-Win-An-Argument-So-Must-Tattle,

[ 16 ] August 25, 2010 |

I just heard that the testimony of the three undergraduates I helped place at West Point carries more weight than the baseless accusations of unpatriotic anti-American Jew-hating you leveled against me.

I’m not saying that you should be embarrassed that one of the premier research institutions in the country considers the opinions of a few undergraduates more accurate and trustworthy than yours, but I take that back because I am.

Cheers!

Blame To Go Around

[ 9 ] August 25, 2010 |

No.

Royce Lamberth is the kind of judge — because of his crusades and inflammatory pronouncements on behalf generally but not exclusively reactionary positions — who tends to get described as an “iconoclast.” Earlier this weak, Lamberth issued a ruling blocking Obama’s executive order permitting more extensive cell research, finding that there was at least a substantial probability that the order was illegal. Will Saletan is outraged:

But this ruling goes way beyond Obama. It voids Bush’s stem-cell policy, too. And it does so on flimsy grounds with sloppy reasoning.

[…]

So in two successive Congresses—the first controlled by Republicans, the second by Democrats—the president and a majority of each chamber agreed that ESC research should be funded. They did so even as they re-enacted the Dickey Amendment each year. To conclude that in re-enacting this amendment they meant to forbid all federal funding of ESC research, you’d have to believe that they deliberately contradicted themselves four times. To conclude, as Lamberth does, that they “unambiguously” meant to forbid all such funding, you’d have to be brain-dead. At a minimum, if their behavior is self-contradictory, the meaning of the amendment since 2005 has become ambiguous.

I’m sympathetic to Saletan’s argument here. Certainly I agree with him on the merits of the underlying issue, and I do think that Lamberth can be subject to his criticism — depending on how much deference you think should be given to executive branch interpretations, one can argue that his ruling is erroneous. Some people may want to argue that he shouldn’t have granted standing, although I personally never object to granting standing if there’s a substantial argument that the government is engaged in illegal activity. But I think Saletan is overlooking the real villain of his story: George W. Bush.

The brutal truth is that Lamberth’s ruling is not unreasonable; it’s at least plausible to read the Dickey-Walker amendment as banning stem-cell research. As Saletan notes, majorities of both houses of Congress wanted to eliminate this potential contradiction. But Bush — whose public positions on stem cell research are incoherent from A to Z — decided, with the half-clever pandering to wingnuts and indifference to legal constraints that made him infamous, to veto a repeal of Dickey-Walker and instead just declared that it didn’t mean what it seemed to mean.   This put him in a position where he didn’t actually have to apply the highly unpopular principles he wanted to be seen as endorsing. But by allowing the tension between the statute and his subsequent executive order to remain, Bush all but invited the judiciary to intervene — and now they have.

As Saletan correctly points out, if we had a functional political system, this would be a non-issue because Congress could just pass a new statute clarifying the policy. Whether this will happen with the political system we actually have is another question. But certainly this case reminds me why I don’t miss Bush in the least.

UPDATE:  As Glenn helpfully points out in comments, Lamberth actually ruled against standing; it was the higher court that reversed him and reinstituted the suit.

David Horowitz Should Really Stop Pulling His Punches

[ 52 ] August 25, 2010 |

Look, I know my middle-of-the-road foreign policy posts have sometimes had readers wondering about my left-wing credentials. But let me point out David Horowitz has no doubt exactly where I sit politically. In fact, according to him, simply teaching in the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Department of Political Science is enough to prove anyone is a big fat foaming-at-the-mouth American-hating radical bent on propagandizing unsuspecting students:

The University of Massachussetts is…a depressingly radical school where the indoctrination of students in leftwing ideologies is routine.

To end the tyranny of the progressive academy at UMass and nation-wide, Horowitz is promoting an idea, inspired by his visit to my very campus, that is sure to enhance deliberative democracy in college and beyond: the “Adopt a Dissenting Book” campaign. To wit, he is mobilizing students to request a “dissenting” book in every class:

In a democracy there cannot be orthodoxy on matters of opinion. Students must have the right to hear more than one side of controversial issues. And that is why the “Adopt a Dissenting Book” campaign is so important. At the end of the month, the students I met in Massachusetts will begin asking their professor to assign an additional text in his class, one that is written by a conservative and is critical of the liberal majority… If the professor rejects the idea of books with differing views, we will take the request to the chairman of the department. If his answer is negative we will take it to the dean of the college, and then to the chancellor and then to the president and the board of trustees. And we will take it to the press and the public. We will hold “Adopt A Dissenting Book Days” and “Awareness Weeks” especially when parents are visiting a school to look it over as prospective consumers. We will do everything in our power to embarrass university officials by exposing their hypocrisy on this issue so fundamental to our democracy. Universities should not be claiming to educate students when in fact they are indoctrinating them; or claim to be defenders of academic freedom when in fact they are suppressing ideas with which they disagree.

Now at the risk of refuting Horowitz’ claim that we liberal UMass profs are all commie propagandists (and further stoking suspicions that I am in fact a conservative in disguise), I would like to signal my support for this worthy effort. Students do learn better by seeing many sides of an issue, and it’s clear from Horowitz’s one-N study of political science classrooms that as a UMass professor I am failing mine miserably.

For example, although I assign an unhealthy dose of Ruth Wedgwood along with Kenneth Roth in my Rules of War class, it’s true that none of the actual books I assign take positions either for or against the rules of war – they mostly just describe them empirically. I should probably have included a book that denies the Geneva Conventions even exist. While I’m not sure who has written such a book, I am hoping my students will be able to suggest one.*

But despite my general enthusiasm for Horowitz’ efforts, as a scholar of advocacy campaigns I can see three minor shortfalls with his endeavor, based on my understanding of his interests and goals. So I have a few modest suggestions for his free-thinking minions as they press their claims against the tyrants of academe: Read more…

What Happens When You Refuse To Stop Digging

[ 12 ] August 25, 2010 |

Tom Scocca has been performing the unenviable yet sometimes hilarious task of reading Ross Douthat’s bloggy attempts to argue out from the massive logical holes dug in his columns. I like this first quote, which perfectly encapsulates Douthat’s overriding theme — i.e. that to engage in moral reasoning means “agreeing with Ross Douthat whether or not he can actually offer any defense for his claims”:

But if you do think abortion is wrong (as I do, of course), then this dependence on the practice constitutes a deep corruption at the heart of elite life, which undercuts at least some of the happy news about the upper class’s post-sexual revolution stability. And an elite that was more morally serious about sexuality and its consequences would be willing to confront this problem directly, instead of ignoring the issue and/or sneering at the anti-abortion cause.

Or, we could consider the possibility that some people have “confronted this problem directly” and found that it is not, in fact, a problem at all, almost as if Ross Douthat has not been appointed the nation’s moral arbiter. Some may have even figured out that they shouldn’t really have an obligation to take the moral posturing of people who support criminalizing abortion any more seriously than they seem to take it themselves. Certainly, disagreeing with Ross Douthat does not constitute “ignoring the issue.”

Perhaps even better is Douthat’s latest argument that running people out of town on a rail is a much more noble American tradition than respecting fundamental rights:

Would Friedersdorf and others really like to live in a world where the two-thirds of Americans who oppose the project just had their sentiments ignored, because of the bigotry woven into the anti-mosque cause?

The rather obvious answer:

Is this a rhetorical question? Here’s one in return: how do you get onto the New York Times op-ed page without a sixth-grade civics education?

Would I like to live somewhere where people are allowed to practice their religion, even when two-thirds of the general public would deny them that right if they could? Hell, yes, I would, Ross Douthat. That place is called America. Love it or leave it.

Why, some of us consider the upholding of fundamental rights against majoritarian sentiments “interwoven with bigotry” as being rather proud moments. I am, however, looking forward to Douthat’s vigorous attack on Citizens United, although perhaps once majorities are no longer interwoven with bigotry they don’t always get their way…

[Insert crystal meth joke here]

[ 7 ] August 25, 2010 |

I see that my state’s next Republican Senator possesses all the syntactical gifts of his chief benefactress. Quoth Joe Miller:

“Alaskans are prepared to enter a new era of politics — an era of self-dependency.”

The clown show continues.

“Ground Zero”

[ 3 ] August 25, 2010 |

It does seem to have extended to anywhere that an Islamic group might want to build anything.

The Catfood Commission

[ 2 ] August 25, 2010 |

It’s very shocking that its biggest media darling hates Social Security, and is a smarmy, condescending sexist.

“Islamic Niketown?”

[ 5 ] August 25, 2010 |

Goldberg’s latest is almost too incoherent to even be hateful. Almost.

Tex Ed

[ 25 ] August 24, 2010 |

In the wake of Dr. Ryan’s death-by-texting, Joel Johnson of Wired asks why we haven’t invented a safer way to text while driving? Well here’s one way that I’m certainly going to make use of next year when my daughter gets her permit: