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The Difference Between Good Attention and Bad Attention

[ 0 ] September 12, 2007 |

I get some comments now and again on Russia posts accusing me of being alarmist. I don’t think that’s true; rather, I think that the Russian defense establishment has undertaken an effort to become as alarming as possible. Exhibit Z-12:

Russia has tested the world’s most powerful vacuum bomb, which unleashes a destructive shockwave with the power of a nuclear blast, the military said on Tuesday, dubbing it the “father of all bombs.”

The bomb is the latest in a series of new Russian weapons and policy moves as President Vladimir Putin tries to reassert Moscow’s role on the international stage.

“Test results of the new airborne weapon have shown that its efficiency and power is commensurate with a nuclear weapon,” Alexander Rukshin, Russian deputy armed forces chief of staff, told Russia’s state ORT First Channel television. The same report was later shown on the state-sponsored Vesti channel.

“You will now see it in action, the bomb which has no match in the world is being tested at a military site.”

It showed a Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bomber dropping the bomb over a testing ground. A large explosion followed.

Pictures showed what looked like a flattened multi-storey block of flats surrounded by scorched soil and boulders. “The soil looks like a lunar landscape,” the report said.

“The defense ministry stresses this military invention does not contradict a single international treaty. Russia is not unleashing a new arms race.” … The report said the new bomb was much stronger than the U.S.-built Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb — MOAB, also known under its name “Mother of All Bombs”. “So, Russian designers called the new weapon ‘Father of All Bombs’,” it said..

Showing the orange-painted U.S. prototype, the report said the Russian bomb was four times more powerful — 44 metric tons of TNT equivalent — and the temperature at the epicenter of its blast was two times higher.

Fascinating, although .044 kilotons would be pretty small for a nuclear blast. Apparently, the Russians have used similar (if smaller) weapons against Chechnya.

On the upside, countries that plan on having really aggressive foreign policies (that is, actually attacking neighbors) tend to disguise their military capabilities rather than showcase them. Recent Russian behavior seems to be part of an extended campaign of deterrence, combined with some helpful intimidation of near abroad neighbors and demonstration of Vladimir Putin’s manli-manness.

My Kinda Town

[ 0 ] September 12, 2007 |

Light posting will continue for another couple days, as I am in Chicago to give a talk at the Northwestern Law School tomorrow. I’m staying at a lovely hotel in Evanston, which would be considerably more clever had I been aware at the time of the booking that the Northwestern Law School is, in fact, in downtown Chicago. Given the proximity of the hotel to the friends I’m seeing here and the fact that the going rate for a Motel 6 scheduled for demolition next month in the Loop is roughly $2,000 an hour, however, it works well enough anyway.

Two salient facts from the flight. The first is that JetBlue is finally flying from NYC-Chicago, sweet. The second is that my flight today (which the attendant assured me was near capacity on most flights) was barely half full. Are people actually superstitious about flying on 9/11?

Donohue Strikes Again

[ 0 ] September 11, 2007 |

Bill Donohue — yes, that Bill Donohue – is up to his old antics again.

This time, he’s got Kathy Griffin in his sights. The “Life on the D-List” star won an Emmy last week, and in her thank you/acceptance speech, had this to say:

“Can you believe this shit? I guess hell froze over. … a lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. So, all I can say is, ‘suck it, Jesus.’ This award is my god now.”

And Bill Donohue’s ears must have started ringing or turned red or something. Because he flew into an outrage over the speech calling it “hate speech.” And guess what? The TV Academy has listened and will be censoring Griffin’s speech when it airs on E!. Because Bill Donohue should be exactly the voice of reason that networks turn to when thinking about vulgarity.

Is Jezebel next?

(h/t Grace)


[ 0 ] September 11, 2007 |

Six years ago today, four airplanes — hijacked by a small army of freedom-hating suiciders, lesbians, civil libertarians, Islamofascists (and their appeasers), stem-cell researchers, Francophiles, historical revisionists and unelected judges — descended through the gaping national security hole pried open by Bill Clinton’s eight years of distracted, fellated rule. While The Decider thumbed through a children’s book about goats — demonstrating how quickly ordinary life must resume if the terrorists are to be deprived of victory — Hugo Chavez, Dan Rather, Michael Schiavo, Kofi Annan, George Soros, the Dixie Chicks and Michael Moore each pondered how they might declare their hatred of America and freedom and frozen embryos.

At an undisclosed location somewhere in the United States, Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Stephen Cambone raised their heads from the goats they were hungrily exsanguinating. Wiping their glistening lips, they nodded silently to each other and loped away. America’s corporate press corps, in an unprecedented gesture of patriotism, expressed their near-unanimous devotion to the cause of liberty by agreeing to suspend their disbelief for the next several years. In a Paris hospital, the first case of Bush Derangement Syndrome was diagnosed by a team of researchers who nevertheless failed to properly quarantine the patient and incinerate the corpse. Tony Blair, selflessly drizzling lighter fluid over his historical legacy, quickly assembled a care package filled with massage oils, scented candles, and a large, monogrammed dog collar. Hoping the American President would not find his gift too suggestive, the Prime Minister threw caution to the wind. “See you in Baghdad,” he scrawled quickly on the outside of the package before giddily stuffing it in the nearest post box.

Meantime, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans; hundreds of ordinary Britons, Spaniards, Balinese service workers and Australian tourists; hundreds of Saudis, Jordanians, Pakistanis and Egyptians; and four thousand American men and women watched the day’s events with perhaps only the barest sense that they had fewer than six years left before surrendering their lives — as combatants or innocent bystanders — to one of the stupidest wars ever conceived.

(cross-posted at Axis of Evel Knievel)

JAMA Denial

[ 0 ] September 11, 2007 |

You may remember the JAMA study which showed that the range of weight generally defined as “overweight” (as opposed to normal, underweight, or obese) was actually associated with the best health outcomes. (See the full study here.) Paul Campos has an excellent article about how the Harvard School of Public Health has, in spite of these results, continued to push claims that people should optimally be at the low end of their “normal” BMI range (108 and 129 pounds for women and men of average height, respectively.) This “flies directly in the face of the actual data.” The main techniques are mischaracterizing the JAMA study, ignoring their own results when they yield inconvenient data, and relying on their own inferior data pool. The bottom line:

Of course, one reason the Harvard claims are treated with such respect is that they tell people what they want to hear. Their claims dovetail perfectly with social prejudices that declare one can never be too rich or too thin, and with the widespread desire to believe that sickness and death can be avoided if one follows the rules laid down by the appropriate authority figures. Combine these factors with the social cachet wielded by the Harvard name, a willingness to make brazen assertions that run from serious exaggerations to outright lies, and lazy journalism of the “some say the Earth is flat; others claim it’s round; the truth no doubt lies somewhere in the middle” type, of which the Scientific American article is only the most recent example, and you have a recipe for an epidemic of wildly misleading statements dressed up in the guise of authoritative scientific discourse.

The conflation of health and weight is about aesthetics and class, not health.

Vendy Madness Begins

[ 0 ] September 11, 2007 |

This fall, for the third year in a row, New York’s Urban Justice Center is hosting the Vendy Awards, a fundraiser cum tribute for their street vendor project, which fights for and protects the rights of NYC’s 10,000 street vendors. Street vendors are an integral part of the NYC sidewalk life. From coffee and donuts to falafel to fruit, they’re ubiquitous. And they have some of the best food in the city. My personal favorite: Thiru Kumar, a 2005 Vendy runner-up and the Sri Lankan purveyor of the best dosas and uthappam this side of…well…that I can find in NYC. The long lines for his $5 fare prove it.

So I was happy to see that he has been nominated again for a Vendy. See all the nominees here, or in the video below. It’ll make you appreciate those street vendors and the life they bring to the sidewalks, even if you grumble when their presence on the sidewalks makes it tough to keep up your quick pace.

Indefensible Corn Subsidies: This Time It’s Personal

[ 0 ] September 11, 2007 |

Apparently, among the many other bad side effects, the massive amount of corn being grown is pushing up the price of other commodities. For example, “Heineken, the brewery giant, said beer prices might have to be raised because so many crops are being planted and diverted to bio-fuel production that the supply of barley and hops is being reduced.”

My question: what the hell does the price of hops matter to Heineken? It’s almost as crazy as saying that the price of dairy products would affect the price of a McDonald’s shake…

Bribery Will Get You (Almost) Everywhere

[ 0 ] September 11, 2007 |

Many thanks to our regular reader Howard for favoring me with some hot jazz selections from my wish list: namely, Abbey Sings Abbey and Bill Frisell, Ron Carter, Paul Motian. Many thanks! Indeed, I’m so grateful I’ll even say something nice about Howard’s beloved Yankees:

OK, not really, but you can see what I’m driving at. However, if a Republican wants to buy me something to say nice about Sam Alito — hey, I’ll betray my principles up to a point!


[ 0 ] September 11, 2007 |

I haven’t seen this article cited elsewhere, but Jane Hamsher points to the inspiration for MoveOn’s “Betray Us” headline, about which many an indignant fist has been shaken today.

After being hailed as King David, the potential saviour of Iraq, the US commander General David Petraeus is facing a backlash in advance of his report to Congress in September on the progress of America’s troop surge.

Critics, including one recently retired general, are privately calling him “General Betraeus” on the grounds that he is too ambitious to deliver a balanced report on the war.

As for today’s “Betray Us” ad, it seems like a non-issue to me. Surge supporters were going to raise the stabbed-in-the-back narrative regardless of what else happened today; whether or not the headline could have been more tactfully phrased, a full-page ad from MoveOn in the Times would itself have been thrown into the wingnut wood chipper anyhow (even if, as it may be, the offending phrase had originally come from one of the general’s former colleagues).

The more interesting issue, as far as I can tell, is what the fake controversy itself reveals about the course of arguments on behalf of the surge (and the war itself). Instead of lame defenses of the clowns operating the Bush administration, we have jingoes and Serious People alike offering up Petraeus as their (infinitely more competent) proxy. At the same time, we’re asked to think of Petraeus not as someone implementing a policy dreamt up by the Kagan Family Circle, but instead as someone who is in fact one of The Troops ™.

As a result, whatever specific arguments might be raised against the prevailing “surge is workin’” narrative, Petraeus’ defenders know how to use clunky, synechdochal arguments to deputize anyone in the chain of command as The Troops. As Thers pointed out last week

if you think anything is dodgy about the Petraeus Report, you Hate the Troops, because General Petraeus is The Troops. . . . General “Troops” Petraeus is thus always and forever immune to all criticism, much as the Cootie Shot provides enduring protection against Cooties.

And since it isn’t self-evident that Petraeus — unlike Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Feith, et. al. — is a weasel, the synechdoche will probably work to some degree for a while. But since the Petraeus caucus seems to have forgotten than the surge was supposed to generate political reconciliation, I suspect the jig will be up within a Friedman Unit at the latest.

Dubya (et al) Doublespeak

[ 0 ] September 10, 2007 |

Either I missed my dear Liptak last week, or he was off for Labor Day. Either way, he’s back in action today, with a column about the FISA court , recent federal court decisions requiring it to be more open, and the Bush administration’s constant double speak — asking that the court remain confidential and under seal at some times, while itself revealing the court’s workings at others. And, per usual, Liptak’s not pulling any punches:

The Justice Department, judging from the tone of the brief it filed Aug. 31, was taken aback by that suggestion. The A.C.L.U., the government said, “requests that this court second-guess the executive branch’s classification decision.” And the executive branch had decided, the brief continued, that “no part of any documents can be released without harming national security.”

A little sheepishly, the brief conceded that there had been exceptions. In January, for instance, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales described aspects of orders the court had issued that month.

But those disclosures, the brief said, were “in the interest of informing the public debate.” Perhaps coincidentally, they were also made just before a federal appeals court in Cincinnati was to hear arguments on the legality of the surveillance program.

I’m wary of any court whose M.O. is confidential. Seems to me it should be the other way around — a court should be open unless specific reasons necessitate its closure. As the ACLU’s Melissa Goodman told Liptak, “Having secret bodies of law is antithetical to our constitutional democracy.”

I know, I know, national security is important. We all know that. But the Bush (et al) tactics on the FISA court seem to mirror what they’ve done in other areas related to the “war on (politically expedient so-called) terror”: Scare the bejeezus out of people. Tell them that some drastic action must be taken for the people’s safety. Mislead the people about the breadth of that action. Win elections. Maybe with the FISA court asserting a little independence and journalists remembering how to do their jobs, this tactic will start to backfire. Just maybe.

Ignorance: Still Free!

[ 0 ] September 10, 2007 |

If you’ve ever read the half-baked, foul-mouthed philistinism otherwise known as “My Posts” and wondered by what satanic collusion I managed to land a job outside the temp industry, now is your chance to renew your childlike sense of astonishment.

For the second semester in a row, I’m podcasting my US history survey lectures, which is a service I offer to those who might be sick of “The Glenn and Helen Show,” “Audible Althouse,” or the Macranger Show. Otherwise, I can’t imagine why anyone would bother.

If you have iTunes, you can subscribe by clicking this surprisingly-lifelike rendition of my “lecturing face”:

If you don’t use iTunes, you can find a link to the audio feed by clicking this photo of me in a moment of celebratory repose after a long day of explaining shit:


[ 1 ] September 10, 2007 |

Attaturk notices the most salient aspect of yesterday’s Tom Friedman joint. If you actually needed a war to figure out the staggeringly obvious fact that the utter lack of the civil-society institutions might be extremely important to whether a state riven by sectarian conflict is a good candidate for democratic transition…you really shouldn’t be allowed to write about foreign affairs for the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, let alone the New York Times.

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