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I’m Duly Impressed…

[ 0 ] January 13, 2009 |

The Provost at UK has launched a “War on Attrition”, designed to mobilize faculty around the goal of keeping economically marginal students in school during the recession. In spite of my general skepticism of Wars on X, I think that the goal is a worthy one; a certain attrition rate for public universities is healthy and necessary, but the reasons for that attrition should be related to academics and maturity rather than to economics. Moreover, a recession is precisely when economically marginal students should be in college, because the alternatives aren’t so good. Matt had a good post on the challenges facing college graduates during poor economic times, and I’d assume that the situation is even more dire for non-graduates. And there are, of course, lots of things that faculty can do to help out economically disadvantaged students, such as maintaining non-traditional office hours, being open to alternative assignments, and trying to keep textbook prices down.

Most of all, though, I’m impressed that we’re now naming our campaigns after semi-obscure episodes in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Looking forward to our Suez Crisis…

Proof of the Pudding

[ 0 ] January 13, 2009 |

Michelle Goldberg on signals that Obama will rescind “don’t ask, don’t tell”:

Granted, he didn’t say when it was going to happen, but it’s definitely an encouraging sign, and one with far more concrete repercussions than the participation of Warren in the inauguration. That doesn’t mean choosing Warren was a good idea – Obama still elevated the already too-high standing of a fundamentalist ideologue. But if this pattern holds – symbolic sops to the right, followed by real-world gains for gays and lesbians – it will be a huge improvement over Bill Clinton, who did almost exactly the opposite.

Of course, as Goldberg implies Obama shouldn’t be given credit for the good policy change until it happens it either. Symbolic losses for policy gains is a tradeoff worth making if he comes through on the former latter, so we’ll see. Which is why, despite the need to talk about something in the dead time for politics, there’s no point in reaching judgments either way until we see what actually does. People who claimed in 1962 that LBJ was playing supporters and opponents of civil rights for suckers would both have had plenty of ammunition. If we’re lucky (and put on enough pressure), Obama will (in the manner of LBJ) will shiv his more unsavory allies; if we’re not, in the manner of JFK he’ll talk a good game sometimes and not actually do much of anything to avoid upsetting his unsavory allies. I’m betting that he’ll be closer to the former (or I wouldn’t have supported him), but until we see how he actually performs in office, the question will simply remain open.

“This is Rickey calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball.”

[ 0 ] January 12, 2009 |

With Henderson going to the Hall of Fame, now is as good a time as any to relive the greatest Rickey stories of all time. This profile in The New Yorker a few years back was also pretty excellent.

I’m not quite sure why, but I always liked Henderson. When I was a kid, about the only thing I could do capably on the field was stealing bases. I wasn’t fast, and I ran more or less like you’d expect a duck to run if it had slightly longer legs, but I could easily take second or third base whenever the ball dribbled through the catcher’s legs to the backstop. And so in 5th grade, I senselessly tried to model my batting stance after Henderson’s, until my coach asked me, and I quote, “What the fuck kind of stance is that?” Not having a good answer — and “It’s just davenoon being davenoon” would not have been one — I resumed my regular habit of striking out while merely looking like your bog standard, uncoordinated 10-year-old, instead of your bog standard, uncoordinated 10-year-old with a vestibular defect.

Not Good

[ 0 ] January 12, 2009 |

Concur with Spencer re: the banning of the participation Arab political parties in the next Israeli election. Such a ban effectively disenfranchises Israel’s Arab minority, making the claim that “Israel is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East” problematic at best.

UPDATE [by SL]: Hopefully, the Israeli Supreme Court will intervene, as they did in 2003. I have no idea how likely this is; obviously, the political context this time may make it less likely.

Better Than Hitler? Get Out of Jail Free!

[ 0 ] January 12, 2009 |

I strongly endorse Dahlia Lithwick’s position in the debate in the Sunday Times about the prosecution of Bush administration war criminals. Making Lithwick’s argument stronger are the embarrassingly weak conclusions reached by Charles Fried. First, we get the “Dick Cheney is better than Pol Pot” gambit, which I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more of and is certainly revealing in a way its users don’t intend:

If you cannot see the difference between Hitler and Dick Cheney, between Stalin and Donald Rumsfeld, between Mao and Alberto Gonzales, there may be no point in our talking. It is not just a difference of scale, but our leaders were defending their country and people — albeit with an insufficient sense of moral restraint — against a terrifying threat by ruthless attackers with no sense of moral restraint at all.

I trust that it doesn’t require extensive argument on my part for you to see how specious and dangerous the “if you’re not as bad as Mao, you should be exempt from prosecution for unquestionably illegal acts” argument is. Hilzoy says what needs to be said about this. The other standard is just as useless. If we’re going to exempt executive officials from facing consequences for illegal actions as long as they really think their actions are in the best interests of the country, we might as well not have any legal restraints on executive officials at all.

To top it off, Fried adds to this a collective guilt argument: “But we must remember: our leaders, ultimately, were chosen by us; their actions were often ratified by our representatives; we chose them again in 2004.” Poor Richard Nixon — if he had only knew that simply being re-elected should exempt him form facing consequences for any past or future acts! And like Brad DeLong, I must have forgotten all the times in which Fried publically asserted during the Clinton impeachment that because he had been elected twice he ipso facto couldn’t be guilty of anything.

That’ll Solve All Your Problems!

[ 0 ] January 11, 2009 |

I know the state of Michigan is reluctant to turn down money from the feds these days, but this kind of thing really should be left to wingnuttier states. In fairness, its administrators certainly can mount a convincing defense:

And a study by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health, released in late December, shows that youth who take chastity pledges and partake of abstinence-only education will start sexual activity at the same time as their religious and conservative peers, only they are much less likely to engage in behavior to protect from unwanted pregnancies or sexual transmitted infections.

“What we know is that there are study after study that shows this stuff (abstinence-only) doesn’t work,” said Lori Lammerand, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan.

“Well, I disagree with you that studies show that it (abstinence-only education) doesn’t work,” said MDCH spokesperson James McCurtis when asked about the studies. “I challenge you to cite one study that shows that.”

When presented with a study from the Guttmacher Institute web site, McCurtis responded, “I am not going to amend my previous comments. Thank you for the study.”

Well, I’m convinced!

Worst American Birthdays, vol. 45

[ 0 ] January 11, 2009 |

Few actors on the fringes of American politics have been so consistently insane as David Joel Horowitz, who commences his eighth decade of douchebaggery today.

Like the itinerant street prophets who descend upon university campuses each spring like an Old Testament plague of toads, Horowitz’s claim to relevance has always depended utterly on his status as a convert, as someone still atoning for the unpardonable errors of his youth. One suspects that he is unable to navigate the drive-thu service at Jack-in-the-Box without reminding the hapless window jockey that he, David Horowitz, committed treason in 1972 while working as an editor for Ramparts; that he, David Horowitz, was once a devoted companion of Black Panthers like Huey Newton; and that he, David Horowitz, eventually realized that his life had been mistakenly devoted to a struggle against all that was decent and right in the world.

Since his political conversion — tediously detailed in his sub-Proustian 1996 memoir, Radical Son — Horowitz has spent most of his time challenging what he regards as the most dangerous force in the contemporary United States: humanities professors who discourage their students with decadent fables about their homeland. In his new role as agitator against leftist indoctrination on American campuses, Horowitz has become a one-man Macy’s parade, a giant, cartoonish, inflatable fuck-up bobbing goofily down the street. Whether he’s toasting the unacknowledged blessings of chattel slavery, calculating the civilizational demerits of Native Americans, or sponsoring extended circle jerks like his “Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week,” Horowitz has apparently decided to atone for his years as a Panther fanboy by turning himself into the archetype of the stupid Whitey, an unselfconscious apologist for The Man. Meantime, Horowitz’s abounding intellectual dishonesty and his relentless capacity for self-promotion have earned him a “relevance” to the Right that he could never have enjoyed — but which he so clearly craved — from the Left. As political psychodrama, it’s quite frankly embarrassing to behold.

Bush Denied Bunker Busters to Israel

[ 0 ] January 10, 2009 |

Much of interest here:

Early in 2008, the Israeli government signaled that it might be preparing to take matters into its own hands. In a series of meetings, Israeli officials asked Washington for a new generation of powerful bunker-busters, far more capable of blowing up a deep underground plant than anything in Israel’s arsenal of conventional weapons. They asked for refueling equipment that would allow their aircraft to reach Iran and return to Israel. And they asked for the right to fly over Iraq.

Mr. Bush deflected the first two requests, pushing the issue off, but “we said ‘hell no’ to the overflights,” one of his top aides said. At the White House and the Pentagon, there was widespread concern that a political uproar in Iraq about the use of its American-controlled airspace could result in the expulsion of American forces from the country.

I always knew that George W. Bush was a raving lunatic anti-semite who doesn’t believe in Israel’s right to defend itself. More importantly, I’ll give hearty thanks to a God I don’t believe in for postponing these requests until after the firing of Don Rumsfeld:

The interviews also indicate that Mr. Bush was convinced by top administration officials, led by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, that any overt attack on Iran would probably prove ineffective, lead to the expulsion of international inspectors and drive Iran’s nuclear effort further out of view. Mr. Bush and his aides also discussed the possibility that an airstrike could ignite a broad Middle East war in which America’s 140,000 troops in Iraq would inevitably become involved.

…some additional thoughts. The article indicates that the Israelis made the request in early 2008, but had pretty much given up on making the strike work by July 2008. Maybe so, maybe not, but I suspect that the expiration date on this was 12/31/2008, when the UN multinational force mandate ended. Up to that point, the Israelis could make at least a semi-plausible (with squinting) case that crossing Iraqi territory with US permission would not have meant an act of war. Now, not so much. This also renews my fascination with the development of a new Iraqi Air Force. Whatever the legal questions, Iraq can’t do anything right now to prevent Israel from using its airspace. The Iraqi government has, however, made known an interest in purchasing F-16s; whether it’s allowed to do so will tell us a lot about how comfortable Tel Aviv feels about the prospect of a rearmed Iraq. Such aircraft could certainly interfere with an attack on Iran, and (in the long run) could potentially strike Israel.

The article also describes in vague detail a number of covert operations intended to damage Iran’s nuclear program. I have no problem whatsoever with this; if Iran is attempting to build nuclear weapons (and the jury remains out on that question), then it’s in violation of treaty obligations. In any case, an Iranian nuclear weapon won’t be good for the region (although I hasten to add that war to prevent such a weapon would be considerably worse).

Distinction Without A Difference

[ 0 ] January 10, 2009 |

Jacob Weisberg:

The disputed dates and details go to the most interesting larger issues about what went wrong during the Bush years. Did Bush’s own innocence and incompetence drive his missteps? Or was it the people around him, most importantly his vice president, who manipulated him into his major bad choices? On so many issues—the framing of the war on terrorism, the use of torture, the expansion of executive power—it was Cheney’s views that prevailed. Yet at some point, perhaps around the 2006 election, Bush seems to have lost confidence in his vice president and stopped taking his advice.

I suspect that in the short-term, attempts to defend Bush (especially by liberalish pundits who inexplicably saw him as an essentially harmless moderate in 2000) will fall along the lines of “he wasn’t really that bad, although he had some bad people around him.” The kinds of distinctions that Weisberg is drawing above, though, strike me as trivial; in any case, the responsibility rests with Bush and exemplify Bush’s incompetence. First of all, he selected these people. And second, he was structurally superior to all of them (and Cheney, in particular, has essentially no meaningful institutional authority the president didn’t grant him, as Weisberg’s last concession reflects.) It’s not clear what difference it makes if he was “manipulated” by people he chose to appoint and then allow to set policy or if he reached his administration’s bad ideas independently. It seems pretty obvious that it’s some from column A and some from column B, but it doesn’t matter. A president works through his administration; to speculate about how a president would have fared with different people is to wish for a different president. Cheney, Rumsfeld et al had their authority for a reason and Bush is fully responsible for their actions. The whole game of trying to abstract some kind of abstract independent president who is a different figure than the one reflected when embedded in a staff of his choosing is a strange and not very productive one.

"Trust me. It was an important game."

[ 0 ] January 10, 2009 |

This is funny. However, I feel confident in asserting that the AutoZone Liberty Bowl was substantially superior in this respect to the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl, where UK played in 2006 and 2007.

Ht Evan.

Karma, Dude

[ 0 ] January 10, 2009 |

Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of people:

Five of the Somali pirates who released a hijacked oil-laden Saudi supertanker drowned with their share of a reported $3 million ransom after their small boat capsized, a pirate and a relative of one of the dead men said Saturday.

Galrahn wonders:

Considering all the pictures of the money drop on the US Navy website, what are the odds that we were watching the pirates flee the tanker? Pretty good I’d bet.

In other words, the coalition forces were almost certainly watching the pirates and saw the accident occur, then intentionally decided for whatever reason not to offer any assistance. Is it inhumane to let pirates drown? Did we intentionally not help them knowing that we would end up with pirate prisoners? Don’t dismiss that last part, the political and legal framework is so confusing it is probably an easy decision for a Naval officer to let pirates drown and die than rescue them and put them in jail.

This last bit is particularly complex. I’ve argued before that we should take steps to arrest pirates after paying a ransom, as the French have done on several occasions. If that’s not the plan, however, then it’s really unclear at which point a warship should “render aid” to ransom carrying pirates in distress, given that it would be absurd NOT to arrest such pirates once they’re actually on board.

Also, I’m not as familiar as I should be with the international law regarding rescuing sailors shipwrecked or otherwise in distress. Certainly, practice in World War II varied widely.

Oh, and this is really, really stupid.


[ 0 ] January 10, 2009 |

As of now, it appears that most of the bugs with the comment system have been worked out. One remaining question is of comment counts; when I open the page in Firefox, I just see the word “comment” with no number after it. When I open in Explorer or Safari, I see the count, and when I open in Firefox on another computer, I see the count. The technicians also see the count. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t see the comment count?