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Things That Are Cool.

[ 10 ] April 23, 2008 |

Add this one to the list: going to the Supreme Court to watch oral argument for a case you worked on. I can now attest that it’s pretty damn cool. And also, quite an odd experience to find myself nodding along with Scalia and thinking Ginsburg is on the wrong track.

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In-the-Tank Hack of the Day

[ 7 ] April 22, 2008 |

Mr. Richard Cohen, ladies and gentlemen!

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Why Vaccination Matters

[ 0 ] April 22, 2008 |

I was going to link to this (via Angry Professor) even before Obama brung the stupid.

The baby was 9 months old, his birth weight was 8 lbs 5 ounces. At six months he weighed just shy of 20 pounds. Today he weighed 15 pounds – he was a skeleton and he was dying.

Mom had brought him in after treatment by his naturopath had failed. Constant coughing had made it impossible for him to take in adequate nutrition and starvation, coupled with a raging bacterial pneumonia were conspiring to shortly end his very short life.

We worked feverishly. Intubation, IV boluses, major antibiotics, vasopressors. All futile.

At 9:03 pm, after 30 minutes of cardiopulmonary resuscitation we pronounced him dead.

This boy had pertussis. His mother choose not to vaccinate him. I won’t enter that debate. Anyone who has ever watched a child die or become permanently disabled from a preventable illness supports vaccination.

The lesson to all this is that “teach the controversy” and “reasonable people can disagree” mantras need only apply to issues that are genuinely controversial or to disagreements that include two camps of people who actually possess reason.

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Gates Smacks Down Air Force, Again

[ 13 ] April 22, 2008 |

SecDef Gates at the Air Force Air University:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday the Air Force is not doing enough to help in the Iraq and Afghanistan war effort, complaining that some military leaders are “stuck in old ways of doing business.”

Gates said in a speech at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., that getting the Air Force to send more surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to Iraq and Afghanistan has been “like pulling teeth.”

Addressing officer students at the Air Force’s Air University, the Pentagon chief praised the Air Force for its overall contributions but made a point of urging it to do more and to undertake new and creative ways of thinking about helping the war effort instead of focusing mainly on future threats.

“In my view we can do and we should do more to meet the needs of men and women fighting in the current conflicts while their outcome may still be in doubt,” he said. “My concern is that our services are still not moving aggressively in wartime to provide resources needed now on the battlefield.”

In part this is a call for more UAV activity over Iraq and Afghanistan, but it’s also clearly an attack on the USAF’s focus on the F-22 and other advanced combat systems. These systems are typically being justified by the potential of war with China, and likely wouldn’t contribute significantly to the wars we’re already in.
Christian at Defense Tech thinks that this is an unfair line of attack, and suggests that the Air Force has, in fact, been pretty agile. I agree with Christian up to a point; in spite of the various tomfoolery of Charles Dunlap and all of the complaints about insufficient numbers of F-22s, the Air Force has done almost all of what has been asked of it. To the extent that the use of airpower has been insufficient to the task, the flaw isn’t predominantly within the USAF itself, but rather with the larger strategic plan and institutional structure. But then I suspect that what SecDef Gates is really calling for here is that the Air Force act more like the Navy. The Navy want expensive, high tech weapons that will be useless in Iraq, but it has been much quieter than the Air Force in its pursuit of these weapons. The Navy has also worked hard to develop for itself a peacetime mission that doesn’t concentrate on preparing for or fighting a high intensity war with China.

So, what I think Gates is really suggesting is that the Air Force should manage its outbursts, rather than that it has done a particularly poor job at the task at hand.

See also Matt.

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Pandering We Don’t Need

[ 0 ] April 22, 2008 |

Seriously, Obama needs to stop with this public-health-damaging nonsense immediately.

…what Megan says in comments is worth elevating here:

And to second (third, fourth, whatever) those above – the science is not inconclusive. But I am willing to concede that this is one of those times when the precise language of scientists (and in particular, statisticians) can become misconstrued. In particular, no study can ever ‘disprove’ much of anything. All it can do (and many, many studies consistently have, in this case) is fail to find a link. In statistical terms we always call this ‘failing to reject the null hypothesis of no relationship.’ It’s a weird double negative, but it’s careful for a reason – we always set up our experiments assuming the thing we’re trying to disprove is true. Our conclusion options are to reject the null (and conclude that a relationship exists) or fail to reject the null. We typically shy away from clearly stating that this means conclusively that no relationship exists, since as scientists we’re always open to the possibility of being wrong – perhaps another study will come along with better/different methodology and contradict our findings, perhaps someone will have more money and more time and collect more data and contradict our findings, etc. However, all that hemming aside, just like a scientific theory is treated with more confidence than the layman interpretation of the word ‘theory,’ when numerous studies consistently fail to reject the null hypothesis, most reasonable scientists are comfortable assuming that this means that no relationship exists.

Clinton too, ack.

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This Thing Isn’t Over Yet?

[ 13 ] April 22, 2008 |

I guess my prediction today will be…Clinton by 13.

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From the Administration That Just Loves Legalese

[ 0 ] April 21, 2008 |

Further proof that the Bush administration thinks it is above the law, or that the law is just not worth following: according to the government accountability office (GAO) the administration’s push to restrict the use of S-CHIP funds to cover people above the poverty line was in violation of federal law.

The legal opinion, requested by a bipartisan pair of senators, lambasted the president for vetoing Congress’s twice-passed expansion of the SCHIP health care program, which provides health insurance for kids whose parents are too wealthy to get Medicaid but too poor to be able to afford private health insurance. Congress twice approved more money for SCHIP, and BUsh twice vetoed it, mongering fears about socialized medicine.

So there we have it. 70,000 fewer kids insured than would have been possible plus a violation of federal law for good measure.

(via Bitch PhD)

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"Elitism" Without Economics

[ 0 ] April 21, 2008 |

What Frank said:

“Elitism” is thus a crime not of society’s actual elite, but of its intellectuals. Mr. Obama has “a dash of Harvard disease,” proclaims the Weekly Standard. Mr. Obama reminds columnist George Will of Adlai Stevenson, rolled together with the sinister historian Richard Hofstadter and the diabolical economist J.K. Galbraith, contemptuous eggheads all. Mr. Obama strikes Bill Kristol as some kind of “supercilious” Marxist. Mr. Obama reminds Maureen Dowd of an . . . anthropologist.

Ah, but Hillary Clinton: Here’s a woman who drinks shots of Crown Royal, a luxury brand that at least one confused pundit believes to be another name for Old Prole Rotgut Rye. And when the former first lady talks about her marksmanship as a youth, who cares about the cool hundred million she and her husband have mysteriously piled up since he left office? Or her years of loyal service to Sam Walton, that crusher of small towns and enemy of workers’ organizations? And who really cares about Sam Walton’s own sins, when these are our standards? Didn’t he have a funky Southern accent of some kind? Surely such a mellifluous drawl cancels any possibility of elitism.

I was also amused by the Crown Royal mistake; I hate to tell this to wealthy pundits pretending to be populists, but very few dive bars have Crown Royal in the well…

I don’t always agree with him, but Frank will make a much better token lefty at the WSJ than Al Hunt or Alex Cockburn…

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David Mamet, Constitutional Scholar

[ 2 ] April 21, 2008 |

An appropriately Ruthless Review, pointing out the problem with Mamet’s Voice position paper was not its conservatism but its jaw-dropping banality and many strawman burnings. I’m glad they reminded me about this part:

The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long.

Leaving aside that any remotely knowledgeable person would know that the Constitution hasn’t actually worked that way in practice (the separation of powers often leads to the evasion and delegation of responsibility rather than power maximization by all branches), it’s pretty depressing to see a great playwright deciding instead to write summaries of bad sixth-grade civics textbooks and then triumphantly announcing these insights as producing a political transformation so earth-shaking it requires a cover story to elucidate. It is instructive about the intellectual shallowness likely to produce a “since 9/11, I’m outraged by that some unnamed people still allegedly believe in crude reductionist readings of Rousseau” conservative.

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Annals of Bad Decisionmaking

[ 0 ] April 21, 2008 |

Apparently, the effect of eating four day-old spinach when you think you might have some kind of stomach flu is to remove all doubt. Hopefully blogging will remove shortly. In the meantime, since between the onset of illness and deluge of Real Work I neglected to blog for Equal Pay Day, allow me to delegate to Kay, who explains why it’s important to override Ledbetter. (Much more good stuff can be found here.)

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Sunday Book Review: Republic of Suffering

[ 15 ] April 21, 2008 |

Drew Gilpin Faust’s Republic of Suffering is about memory and the Civil War, but not in the conventionally understood fashion. Although Faust writes a bit about the memory of the war in the national narrative, she’s more interested in how the raw butchery of the war affected American culture on a micro level. The understanding of death in the family and in literature, she suggests, was transformed by the immense human cost of the war and the distance of major battlefields from the homes of many soldiers. Death, as it were, was conducted differently after the war than before.

Faust suggests that a particular understanding of the “Good Death” predominated in the United States before the war. The Good Death involved dying at home, with one’s family, and with the presence of mind to understand and accept the process. The United States had thus far missed out on the opening stages of industrial war, participating only on the periphery of the Napleonic Wars and defeating Mexico without substantial loss. The Civil War represented a demographic event, so to speak, that made the previous appreciation of death difficult. Death came suddenly, often with great pain, and sometimes left no identifiable remains. Even when remains could be identified, the state lacked the bureaucratic and physical infrastructure necessary to transfer the bodies home. Technology also presented a problem, although the use of embalming expanded exponentially during the war.

The Civil War represented a unique expansion in the capacity of the state in nineteenth century America, including growth in its capability to manage death. The raising of large armies, their operation in war, and the management of their demobilization all stressed and expanded the bureaucratic apparatus of the state. Faust details how the managing of Union war dead during and after the war required the state to act in previously unimagined ways. There was substantial difference between the North and the South, of course, in part because the war was fought mostly on Southern soil but also because of the poverty of the South after the war.

The war transformed death bureaucratically, but it also changed how Americans understood mourning at the family and community level. Belief in the literal Resurrection of the body, for example, ran up against the difficulty of missing or scattered remains. The demographic impact of the death of over 600000 military age men left a common set of holes in families and communities. The war also taxed what were widely believed to be pacifist Christian commitments. Christians in the North and the South justified the war in their own ways, but as the United States had not previously experienced a large mobilization for war and had substantially smaller military forces than its European counterparts, pacifist resistance to the idea of killing remained a factor. Faust writes a bit about the problem of killing, but doesn’t really add much to the literature on the creation of the citizen-solider-killer.

It’s an interesting book, and it included quite a few interesting stories, but in the end the effort left me cold. From a social science point of view I would have liked some comparison; the entire nineteenth century was an era of social transformation, and in particular the expansion of the bureaucratic expansion of the state, so I’m skeptical that the Civil War played a singular role in the transformation of the management of death. In fairness, Faust doesn’t explicitly argue that it was such, although I think she heavily implies it. A less social science-y way of approaching the book is to think of it as a story about the reaction to a social shock in early modernity, without judgment about any particular cause or effect. That’s OK, but I guess I want a little bit more analysis. As I suggested, the story that Faust tells is interesting, but perhaps not quite interesting enough that, sans analysis, it can carry a full book.

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When Ken Pollack Speaks, the Discipline of Political Science Cries…

[ 48 ] April 20, 2008 |

Early in their graduate careers, most political scientists learn the value of specificity and clarity in the definition of terms. Ken Pollack was apparently sick that day…

In longer discussions on the subject, Mr. McCain often goes into greater specificity about the entities jockeying for control in Iraq. Some other analysts do not object to Mr. McCain’s portraying the insurgency (or multiple insurgencies) in Iraq as that of Al Qaeda. They say he is using a “perfectly reasonable catchall phrase” that, although it may be out of place in an academic setting, is acceptable on the campaign trail, a place that “does not lend itself to long-winded explanations of what we really are facing,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, research director at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Right… because “Al Qaeda” is a term of mainly academic usage, unknown to the greater public and certainly not relevant in a policy context. Indeed, I’m inclined to think that in issues of war, peace, life, and death, we should be extra cautious with our definitions. But then I guess I’m not serious.

Also see Matt.

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