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Who?

[ 0 ] November 20, 2009 |

The European Union selected its President and High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy and Vice President for External Affairs. In the classic stereotype of the dull gray bureaucrat, they’ve selected a couple of relative lightweights (given the nature and stature of the position) whom nobody outside of their jobs, families, and closest work colleagues know anything about. I’ll admit to having “fleshed out” my knowledge of the two appointees just this morning.

The President is the Belgian Prime Minister, Herman Van Rompuy. He’s only been Belgian Prime Minister since December 30 of last year, and then, he was reluctant to take up the position following the political collapse of the imagined state of Belgium. The King had to cajole him.

The High Representative for a Number of Important Things is Catherine Ashton, life peer since 1999 so commonly referred to as Baroness Ashton of Upholland, or Lady Ashton here in the UK. She has had a proper lefty background, studied Sociology at University, worked for the CND for a couple years, had a stint working with businesses about issues of social inequality, before entering politics. I’ll admit to gleaning most of her pre-politics background from her Wiki as well as a couple other sources.

I’ll try to imagine some strengths of these appointments before discussing the obvious weaknesses. Van Rompuy has held a country together that by all accounts should not be a country, and nearly ceased being a country in 2007-08, a crisis that I exploited for its humor value early and often in class. By all accounts, his success in holding Belgium together was more than mere competence; he was able to rebuild a modicum of trust between Flanders and Wallonia. These skills should serve him well in trying to keep the 27 member states of the European Union on the same page. Of course, there is fear that Belgium has lost its healer and will once again descend into chaos.

Lady Ashton was the Leader of the House of Lords for a bit over a year, has held the post of EU Trade Commissioner (replacing Peter Mandelson) for a bit over a year, has a reputation for . . . well, hell, I really don’t know anything about her.

I wrote about this on Halloween. While my post was primarily a befuddled questioning of Tory tactics on several issues, I had this to say about the positions:

Second, I don’t see the value in European leaders wanting a “chairman rather than a chief”. A recognizable, public face as the putative leader or figurehead representing the EU will help not only abroad, but within the EU itself. Not noted for its democratic transparency, distrusted by more than just the British, and perceived to be run by faceless Eurocrats in Brussels, such a “president” would help raise the profile of the EU within the EU.

These appointments will help the image or profile of the EU neither abroad nor within. What they do suggest is that the 27 member states, especially the leaders of the large leading countries (e.g. Germany, France, the UK, Spain, and . . . Italy? Poland?) did not want these posts to have a higher profile than they. So, we get a perhaps diplomatically and politically gifted Belgian Prime Minister whom nobody outside of Brussels or Antwerp has really heard of, and a British politician who, as The Guardian argues, is as obscure as she is unelected. Can you even be a politician in a democracy if you’ve never stood for election?

Critics of the EU will have a field day with this, indeed already are here in the UK. The leader of UKIP (and an MEP), Nigel Farage, argued

We’ve got the appointment of two political pygmies. In terms of a global voice, the European Union will now be much derided by the rest of the world. Baroness Ashton is ideal for the role. She has never had a proper job and never been elected to public office.

But then we would expect UKIP to say that.

A greater problem will be the legacy that they establish in designing their positions. The descriptions are suitably vague enough that a strong political force could have developed them into something useful vis-a-vis the various heads of government in the EU. However, George Washington they ain’t.

Speaking of American Presidents, Obama did claim that these appointments would make the EU an “even stronger partner” to the United States.

Did he say this before, or after, looking them up on wikipedia?

Note: while I may appear to be overly critical of Belgium, I rather love that country, and spent a lot of time in it when I lived in the Netherlands. In fact, one of my top five beer bars on the planet is in Antwerp.

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Going Rogue, Chapter 2

[ 0 ] November 19, 2009 |

The funniest sentence thus far in Going Rogue occurs about a third of the way through the second chapter when our heroine — speaking through the Palinese translator Lynn Vincent — declares that “life is too short to hold a grudge.” This is a warm piece of advice that Sarah Palin predictably spends much of her time ignoring as she recounts her contentious early years in local and state politics. Few pages are allowed to turn without our deposed governor reminding us of the bêtes noires who interfered with her efforts to bring “common-sense conservatism” — a phrase she’s been loading into the wingnut beer bong for the past few days — to the people of Wasilla and, soon enough, their fellow Alaskans. As Palin revealed in her first chapter, the first “big word” she learned how to spell was “different.” And because different people are sometimes scary — perhaps not President Black Man Terrorist scary, but scary in that ordinary, non-Negro way — Palin knows that she’ll have to deal with resistance along the road to glory.

Among the roster of liberal fascists, “good ol’ boys,” and uncooperative, low-level public employees with who find their way into Palin’s esurient maw, we find the former Wasilla mayor John Stein, a man whose name Palin admits she can’t pronounce and whose terrifying agenda seems to have rested entirely on the well-known communist wedge of building codes and land-use restrictions. Palin, by contrast, envisions Wasilla as a Hayekian paradise, where “laissez-faire principles” might crush liberalism as surely as her husband Todd scotched small woodland creatures with his snowmachine. Though she neglects to mention her campaign’s emphasis on gun control, abortion and the cleansing magic of Christ’s blood, Palin describes her eventual victory as a mandate for “no more politics-as-usual” — by which I suppose she means badgering librarians, firing museum directors and police chiefs, and initiating regressive sales taxes to fund a costly sports complex on land for which the city had no clear title (land titles presumably being a big-government conspiracy to deprive The People of their squatters’ rights). Along the way, Palin helps to turn her town into the “Honorary Duct Tape Capital of the World,” an award bestowed by Wal-Mart in recognition of Wasilla’s bone-deep commitment to not paying overbearing, know-it-all liberals to fix your shit. (Wasilla, you see, is an independent-minded place. “No community organizers necessary,” she explains. Which is funny, because she’s talking about President Barack Fanon Senghor!)

The rest of the chapter proceeds in the manner of skeet shoot, with Palin bitching about nearly everyone she encounters in public service, including her fellow candidates for the lieutenant governor’s office in 2002, Frank Murkowski (her predecessor in the Governor’s office), fellow commissioners on the oil and gas commission, and an unnamed array of “good ol’ boys,” corporate lobbyists and fat cats who would forever serve as foils for Palin’s simulated populist tirades. Along the way, she wears her contempt for legislators proudly. Brutalizing the English language to convey her disdain, she describes them as people who “scratch disagreeable backs” for a living and who work in an environment where “the trading of favors [seems] to run through the ventilation system as a substitute for air.” Indeed, for someone who professes several times in the book to having “Jeffersonian” views of government, she’s awfully dismissive of republican institutions; with her belief that only the “lead dog” is able to have a clear view of public affairs, Palin unwittingly reveals herself in this chapter as someone who actually loathes collaborative public service. When fellow officials are unwilling to “get on board,” she fires them (as she does in Wasilla) or shits on the floor and goes home (as she does with the oil and gas commission).

Unfortunately for the rest of us, Palin continues to believe that she has an open WATS line to Jesus, and when Chapter 2 ends, she’s rocking her latest seedling and yammering away in prayer, asking for a sign from on high that she should return to public life and fuck some more things up.

Words to Make Policy By…

[ 0 ] November 19, 2009 |

Stephen Walt, following a rundown of ten “scary monsters” of foreign policy:

First, we are often told that international politics is a dangerous business, and that it makes sense to prepare for the worst case. This is nonsense, because there are real costs to exaggerating various potential threats. Not only may this policy lead us to ignore more likely and more legitimate problems and to waste resources addressing fantasies, but it can also lead a country to take active steps that either make minor problems worse or lead to enormous self-inflicted wounds (see under: Iraq). Fixating on scary monsters can leave you ill-prepared when real problems arise.

This point cannot be emphasized enough. In conversation, associating preparation for the worst case with responsibility makes a certain amount of sense. The risk, however, is that the costs of “worst case preparedness” will be ignored. As John Mueller put in in Atomic Obsession, the 1% Doctrine is sensible insofar as in preparing for high cost, low probability events is often a good idea. Unfortunately, we often de-emphasize the low probability in favor of the high cost. We then run the risk of suffering much higher costs than warranted. As Walt notes, paying higher costs isn’t even the “worst case” of “worst case thinking”; sometimes, effort to prepare for low probability events actively makes the world more dangerous (invasion of Iraq).

Then, of course, there are the “worst cases” that really aren’t that bad at all. I very much doubt that Al Qaeda will attempt to mount some kind of attack on New York during Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s trial, but damn, I hope that they do. There is very little that would make me happier than for the rump Al Qaeda to devote its time, manpower, and resources to attacking the United States at the point of its highest preparedness; indeed, if I really believed that Al Qaeda would try to attack New York because of KSM, I’d be even more heavily in favor of the trials. Terrorist attacks succeed because they’re unexpected, and an attack straight into the teeth of the security and intelligence services of the United States is highly likely to result in nothing at all, apart from the death and destruction of whatever remaining assets Al Qaeda can call upon. Let’s hope that the rump AQ is as stupid as the average contributor to NRO.

La main de Dieu, for a New Generation

[ 0 ] November 19, 2009 |

France 1 (1) – 1 (0) Ireland. AET.

France qualify for the 2010 World Cup.
I recall watching the 1986 World Cup on TV, which was a rarity at the time from the United States. I vaguely recall watching the Argentina v England quarter final match as well. However, not being an England fan, and only an 18 year old American at that, the infamous Hand of God goal by Maradona didn’t resonate at the time as it did on the island where I now reside. Living six + years here, and being a soccer fan, I quickly learned just how fantastically lame that was. In my mind, the so-called “goal of the century” that Maradona scored a few minutes later didn’t absolve him of that central sin. For all of his greatness as a player, his reputation is also blighted for being a cheat.
Thierry Henry’s glorious career, likewise, took an unrecoverable turn last night:

(UPDATE: I originally included a clip from youtube, but Sportsfive, who own the rights to the broadcast from the match, have been busy scouring the intertubes for copyright infringements. Or something like that. Did I mention that they are French? Anyway, check out the comments for an active clip).

Granted, it’s not a World Cup quarter final, but it was the final few minutes of qualification, and the match looked to be heading ineluctably towards penalties. It also was not the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1999, either.

I was in the pub for this match (technically only the second half). While Henry claims that he did not do it on purpose, I strongly disagree. The first hand ball was incidental — still a foul, but not purposeful. The second hand ball he appears to direct the ball with intent. Before the replays, we knew something was up: virtually every Republic player had their hands raised, and Shay Given storms out to first the referee, then the linesman, to protest. The replays made the foul plain.
It’s difficult to blame the referee for this; in the main he had a good match. The Anelka dive may have led to a penalty against Given, but that was a judgment call; the hand ball was not. The linesman should have spotted it, and either didn’t, or didn’t believe his eyes. But then he also failed to spot the clear offsides at the same time.
I’m not buying into any of the conspiracy theories — while FIFA and UEFA have a clear preference for large nations to qualify, they sorted this out in the playoff draw. If there was a conspiracy involving the ref, he would have called that penalty against Given, not waited for a few minutes remaining in stoppage time to ignore a hand ball.
As my English club has always been Arsenal, even before the Wenger years, I should be inclined to give Henry the benefit of the doubt and wax eloquent about how any player would have done the same thing.
But I’m not. That hand ball was intentional, and should be called what it is: cheating. And Henry’s legacy will forever be tied to this moment, which is a shame.

UPDATE: The Irish Justice Minister is calling for a replay. I heard rumblings about this on both BBC Radio 4 and 5 Live last night and this morning, which is why I cited the Sheffield United – Arsenal FA Cup Fifth Round tie in the above.

It’s not going to happen. How would it? Any such match has to happen soon, but the next international window is months away, so the players would have to be coaxed from their clubs. While FIFA and UEFA can pry players from their clubs during international breaks, to the best of my knowledge they have no leverage outside of international windows. The current French squad play for such clubs as Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Arsenal, Manchester United, Lyon . . . when these clubs say no, and they would within a second of receiving the request, the French players have no incentive to challenge the club position: they’ve already been handed their trip to South Africa (sorry for the dreadful pun, but about half the newspaper headlines today make the obvious easy play).

Truly, academics lead enviable lives.

[ 0 ] November 19, 2009 |

Proffer theories as to the avocation I undertook presently. You guessed it! I spent the day marking papers, which, means I had, many reminders of why teaching Writingstudents, even at the Universitylevel, can make even the most mild-mannered academic want to JAB IN EYES JAB IN EYES.

Actual posts to recommence when the noises in my head resemble English more than English as she is spoke.

ALSO: Because it’s always best to make this plain from the beginning, on the issue of whether my students know what I’m writing:

With the exception of the text adventure, [what I post is] written to be used in class, then repurposed for the blog. I show them videos of Shatner and ask them if that’s what they want to sound like; I have them write blog posts (for their course blogs) in which they’re required to substitute every noun and verb with suggestions from Microsoft Word’s thesaurus, etc. Whenever I write about conversations in the classroom (for example), I ask the students if they’re alright with that … and as I’m typically the butt of those posts, they always are. In fact, by the end of the quarter, they’re actually demanding I write up what happened in a given class (for example). Even the most notorious bit of student writing I’ve parodied was done with the student’s consent. (It was years ago, and he wrote me out of the blue to apologize for writing it.)

Smeared By A Murderer

[ 0 ] November 18, 2009 |

A great catch by Cole, who notes that a new CNN special should remind us that one of the chief witnesses in the extremely thin and frequently illogical witchhunt against Scott Beauchamp, First Sergeant John Hatleywas convicted of killing Iraqi civilians in cold blood:

1SG Hatley and the other NCOs executed these men in March of 2007. Scott Beauchamp wrote Shock Troops in July 2007. Hatley wrote this letter after July of 2007, insisting that Beauchamp was disturbed because he wrote about making fun of someone in a cafeteria or running over a dog. He wrote that letter attacking Beauchamp, knowing that just a few weeks earlier, he and others had taken it upon themselves to put a gun to the back of several detainee’s heads, pull the trigger, and dump their bodies into a canal.

But they would have you believe that no one in their unit would run over a dog.

Or play with bones.

By the way, Scott Beauchamp is still in uniform serving his country honorably. None of the wingnuts who freaked out about him at the Weekly Standard or elsewhere have gotten around to enlisting.

Call me crazy, but I’m not inclined to put a lot of stock into Hatley’s evalutions of other people’s integrity.

I’d Rather See Keanu Reeves in the Lead Role in Going Rogue

[ 0 ] November 18, 2009 |

Keanu Reeves is something that should never mix with the 47 Ronin.

On the Bedwetter Caucus

[ 0 ] November 18, 2009 |

I assume that the fact that the latest ad hoc conservative arguments that following the rule of law is a luxury the United States just can’t afford are illogical isn’t news to most of you, but Lithwick provides an excellent summary:

Opposition to the Obama administration’s plan to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his confederates in a federal court in New York City is hardening into two camps. One is concerned that we may be unwittingly playing into the terrorists’ hands. The other is incensed that we already have. What both camps share, besides a kind of unhinged logic and complete disregard for the legal process, is an obsessive fascination with the accused. The result is a broad willingness to sacrifice our commitment to legal principles in favor of the symbolic satisfaction of crushing the hopes and dreams of a motley group of criminals.

Of course, the idea that the alleged desires of terrorists should be of paramount importance to our own decisions is a long-running feature of the perpetual bedwetter set.

Going Rogue: The Index

[ 0 ] November 18, 2009 |

Thought I’d help Dave out a little bit here by noting this…

But She Has 8 ranks in the "Bluff" Skill…

[ 0 ] November 18, 2009 |

This comment from Dave’s thread (also appearing here) deserves the full blog treatment:

First let me say, great blog! Second, let me say I wish I had read it first before buying this book.

I stood in line to get my copy of this book from the local bookstore fearing it might be sold out early. Hot chick on the cover, so far so good. Then I opened it and started reading.

To my chagrin it didn’t start out well. I thought well at some point this has to get better. But guess what it doesn’t! There’s nothing at all about dex rolls, dps builds, searching for traps, sneak attacks, assassins, +4 daggers or anything!

All it is some woman whining about how everyone in her party wouldn’t let her make any decisions, about how something called a Couric made her look like a complete idiot (I couldn’t find it in the monster manual but, I’m guessing it must be like a Sphinx), and how her group leader McCain wouldn’t let her be rogue enough.

Well, I don’t even know where to start addressing this stuff. She doesn’t even have any daggers! I mean, that’s hardly the group leader’s fault! She should have loaded out before the quest started!

Plus, on every single page she bemoans her 8 INT build and blames her horrible playing on everyone else! It’s her fault for putting all her stat points into Charisma!

To sum up, this book is terrible. It’s anti-rogue if anything. If you want a book on how not to be a rogue this has got to be the bible.

I’m going back to the store now to see if I can get my hard earned cash back for this awful drek.

Going Rogue, Chapter 1

[ 0 ] November 18, 2009 |

I should note at the outset that Going Rogue is substantially worse than even I could have predicted. The opening chapter is clearly supposed to bear several loads, including (1) establishing Palin’s geographic and cultural bona fides; and (2) conveying her abiding love for Jeebus, family and Ronald Reagan. In each case, the results are pretty unimpressive.

For starters, Palin’s ghost-polished descriptions of Alaska’s landscape and cultural peculiarities are delivered with roughly the same verve as I’d expect to find in a mediocre historical novel written by someone who, at most, had visited the state on a cruise ship. We learn for example, the astonishing and widely-underpublicized fact that Alaskan nights are incredibly short during the summertime,

creating a euphoria that runs through our veins. Hour after hour, there is still more time and more daylight to accomplish one more thing. If we told our kids to be home before dark, we wouldn’t see them for weeks.

Perhaps I haven’t had enough experience with the “euphoria” of “accomplish[ing] one more thing” recently, but there’s something really underwhelming about Palin’s trek through the list of Generically Oddball Stuff about Alaska. Yes, people up here shoot a lot of megafauna; yes, people up here chop a lot of firewood; yes, people up here can grow gigantic heads of cabbage; yes, people up here are impressed by grazing sheep. But people up here also do tons of meth, beat the shit out of their kids, and half-purposely ram their cars into trees. When you remember that Sarah Palin is earning well over $1 million for this book, it’s hard not to feel cheated when she reminds everyone that Alaska has glaciers bigger than Delaware.

Moving beyond the scenic and cultural moorings of chapter 1, we learn a bit — all of it vaguely detailed — about the roots of Palin’s political beliefs. In a passage whose goofiness resists description, for example, we read about Palin’s childhood immersion in the minutia of the Watergate investigation:

It amazed me that the whole country seemed riveted, unified by watching the events unfold. It was the first time since the moon landing that I’d seen that, so I knew Watergate had to be big. When Gerald Ford took over, I knew who he was because I remembered reading about him and seeing him a picture in a scholastic magazine. He’d been America’s vice president then, sitting parade-style atop the backseat of a convertible, waving at the crowd. Now he was our president!

I’ll concede that Sarah Palin was ten years old when Nixon resigned, but this is a brainless waste of a paragraph. When we consider that Palin traces her awareness of “the skewed priorities of government” to a ticket she received for underage snow-machining, one has to marvel at Sarah Palin’s inability to say anything interesting about the most grotesque political conspiracy in the nation’s history. She manages to write as if she’s responding to a question from Charles Gibson, except that Charles Gibson is nowhere to be found.

Her ode to Reagan is similarly inept, larded with bog-standard wingnuttia like “[he] won the Cold War without firing a shot” and “[he] restored our faith” in America after the Carter interregnum. Reagan, we learn, “radiated confidence and optimism” and “had a steel spine.” He believed in “ideas” like “cutting taxes” and “building a strong national defense.” It’s pretty vacant stuff all around, but I’m sure the second chapter will be a thousand times better.

"In Any Meaningful Sense"

[ 0 ] November 18, 2009 |

I endorse most of what Gian Gentile says here about the Vietnam War, especially in the context of this quote from George Herring:

…the war could [not] have been ‘won’ in any meaningful sense at a moral or material cost most Americans deemed acceptable.

Gentile is a pretty harsh critic of the COIN turn in the US Army, and is pushing back against some of the more aggressive claims made by COINdistas about how the Vietnam War might have been won with better tactics. This dovetails, of course, with revisionist right wing accounts of the Vietnam War. This, in turn, has the potential to create some odd bedfellows; while COINdistas blame both the Army and the dirty hippies for losing the war (with the bulk of blame, in fairness, falling on the Army), right revisionists prefer to reserve responsibility for perfidy of the flower children. I’m sure that Ralph Peters has an opinion, and I’m sure that I don’t want to know what it is.

At the same time, I think it’s fair to say that the Vietnam War, like the Iraq War, involved both strategic and tactical errors. Both wars were stupidly conceived and ineptly conducted. The difference between 2007 and 1968, I think, is the disappearance of the Red Army. The need to prepare for war against an actual peer competitor made the “COIN turn” impossible; David Petraeus could not have found purchase in the US Army of the Vietnam era. So, while many of the tactical errors could be resolved in Iraq (even as the strategic error could not be remedied), such was never a possibility in Vietnam.

Incidentally, I just finished Tom Ricks’ The Gamble, and he makes a connection that I hadn’t previously understood between Petraeus’ fitness obsession and his professional success. Ricks argues that Petraeus outstanding performance on the physical indicators helped promotion boards ignore some of the more troubling aspects of his career, such as the overt intellectualism and the focus on COIN.