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LGM Baseball Challenge Reminder

[ 7 ] April 3, 2010 |

Tomorrow is Opening Day! Please celebrate accordingly; I am also informed that some minor Middle Eastern mystery cult celebrates the encore performance of its demigod tomorrow by eating chocolate bunnies. On Monday, the Queen City Bolsheviks will host the St. Louis Cardinals in the real season opener.

Remember that LGM has a Baseball Challenge League:

League Name: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Password: zevon

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The Flimsy Case for Drone Wars

[ 18 ] April 2, 2010 |

Amitai Etzioni, a law professor at George Washington University, has followed up the State Department’s justification for drone attacks in Pakistan with an argument of his own, published in the new issue of Joint Force Quarterly.

Here is the first paragraph, sentence by sentence with commentary:

The substantial increase in the employment of unmanned aircraft systems in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other arenas has intensified debate about the moral and legal nature of the targeting killing of people who are said to be civilians.

Oh good. Because when I first saw the title – “Unmanned Aircraft Systems: The Moral and Legal Case” I almost thought Etzioni believed he needed to make the case for unmanned systems per se. But of course it’s not the systems themselves that are at issue. The issue is in using them – or any technology – for targeted killings of civilians, whatever we might suspect those civilians of doing, and particularly inside the sovereign borders of countries with whom we’re not at war. A better title for this particular piece might be “Targeted Killings of Civilian Terror Suspects: The Moral and Legal Case.”

The US and its allies can make a strong case that the problem is those who abuse their civilian status to attack truly innocent civilians and to prevent our military and other security forces from discharging their duties.

OK, fair enough. But note this is a PR argument, not a legal or a moral argument per se.

In the long run, we should work toward a new Geneva Convention, one that will define the status of so-called unlawful combatants.

Fair enough also. I myself have been in favor of an Additional Protocol that would create a multilateral consensus around what current law means in an era of asymmetric war. But note that this implies there is actually no legal case to be made for this behavior using existing law.

These people should be viewed as having forfeited most of their rights as civilians by acting in gross violation of the rights of others and of the rules of war.

Whoa, stop the presses. Read more…

I should—but can’t—resist.

[ 56 ] April 2, 2010 |

Althouse has devoted another post to figuring out my previous one because, according to her, it contained “strange levels of complexity.”  It didn’t.  She then completely misreads the update to that post, claiming that I “beg in the most pusillanimous fashion that [Althouse] should pity [me] because [I] could be fired.”  Professor?  Someone whose life is a bad tone poem should be able to recognize tone.

Also: if your commenters succeed in their quest to discover my secret identity I’m going to invoke states secret privilege and sue you for violating it.

I’m Guessing that Many of His Best Friends are Jewish…

[ 26 ] April 2, 2010 |

Worst invocation of anti-semitism ever:

Father Cantalamessa quoted from what he said was a letter from an unnamed Jewish friend. “I am following the violent and concentric attacks against the church, the pope and all the faithful by the whole word,” he said the friend wrote. “The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt, remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.”

Blood libel against the Jews and accusations of pedophilia against Catholic priests? Pretty much exactly the same, without any notable difference that I can think of.

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Good news in the Simon Singh case

[ 39 ] April 2, 2010 |

The British journalist Simon Singh received excellent news yesterday when an appeals court ruled that he was not necessarily committing libel by describing chiropractic care as “bogus.”  Singh’s should have been a completely uncontroversial observation, given the gaping distance between the (minimal-to-nonexistent) scientific evidence in favor of chiropractic efficacy and the elaborate claims made by chiropractors (e.g., most diseases are preventable and treatable via spinal “adjustments” that relieve mysterious vertebral “subluxations” and restore the body’s “innate intelligence.”)

Now, it must be a great disappointment for chiropractors to be reminded that their practice — like everything else in the goofy solar system of “alternative medicine” — is complete garbage. The perversity of British libel law, however, enabled the British Chiropractic Association to bring suit against Singh, claiming that he’d recklessly damaged the reputation of a profession that tries to make a virtue of pseudoscience.  (Anyone familiar with the Lipstadt-Irving case will know how this all works.)  The suit placed the burden of proof on Singh himself to demonstrate that the BCA was being “conspicuously dishonest” by promoting chiropractic woo as the solution to infant colic, asthma, breastfeeding problems, and an array of other disorders that chiropractic techniques do not actually help. An earlier ruling held that Singh was attempting to make a factual statement not simply about chiropractic treatment but about the motives of BCA officials; demonstrating that chiropractic theory and practice is a sham wouldn’t be difficult, of course, but proving the dishonesty (as opposed to the simple idiocy) of the BCA would have been a steeper hill to climb. Moreover, the professional and financial expense of the suit (which has already cost Singh 200,000 pounds while forcing him to suspend his career) would have had predictable and stifling consequences for other journalists who might feel compelled to call out sham science in print.  Fortunately, the latest ruling overturns that previous holding and asserts that Singh’s remarks should indeed be considered “fair comment” — that is, informed opinion — a judgment that gives his statements greater legal protection and, barring any unforeseen twists, will likely mean the death of the case.

As an entertaining footnote to all this, the publicity over the Singh has caused some unanticipated difficulty for British chiropractors; when science bloggers realized that government regulations prohibited chiropractors from making the sorts of claims being made by the BCA in its complaint against Singh, they began looking closely at chiropractic advertisements and websites throughout the UK.   As of a month ago, roughly a quarter of the nation’s chiropractors were under investigation for making garden-variety — that is to say, bogus — statements about the health benefits of chiropractic treatment.

Because everybody knows there’s no casual racism or misogyny on the right.

[ 122 ] April 1, 2010 |

I went over to Althouse‘s and wrote a number of insanely offensive comments, but everyone started agreeing with me before I could declare “April Fools’!”  Please ignore comments in which someone talks about trading in white women for Filipina because the former can’t be trained; calls strangers “cunts” in front of their kids or justifies calling strangers “cunts” in front of their kids on account of “Alinksyite incivility collapsing into mutual incivility”; sings about it being “time to give the country to the darkies” or advocates that popular means good; claims that there were tea bags at the Boston Tea Party or blames the firing of Don Imus on “the Progressive Jews and the non-Jewish Left” because they were all written by an undercover agent in it for the lulz.

Those good folks only wrote those terrible things because I baited them.

Read more…

What if Franco Had Entered the War?

[ 22 ] April 1, 2010 |

Not much would have changed, according to Mark Grimsley. The Spanish would have seized Gibraltar with German assistance, which would have complicated the Allied war effort in the Mediterranean, but the impact on other fronts would have been limited. Post-civil war Spain simply lacked the resources and the political cohesion to make a critical difference in the war. Franco, who consistently resisted entreaties from Hitler and Mussolini, seems to have largely agreed with this analysis.

In Advanced Third Reich and its successor, World at War, Spanish entry can help put a nail in the coffin of a weak Britain in 1940 or 1941. Failing that it becomes a liability; Spanish control of Gibraltar tends to dissuade the Allies from wasting resources in the Mediterranean (this effect would likely have happened in the real world, as well), and the Axis simply lacks sufficient forces to defend the entire Atlantic seaboard from Allied amphibious assault. Since the game substantially understates Allied air and naval dominance from 1943-1945, I suspect that the overall net effect of Spanish entry would have been an extension of the war in Europe by a few months, and the end of Franco’s regime.

Via Blog them Out of the Stone Age.

It’s a Core Part of the Movement…

[ 17 ] April 1, 2010 |

Every now and then folks like to pretend that the Rand/Ron Paul wing of the Republican Party is somehow less loathsome or dangerous than the Mitt Romney wing.  This, of course, is a mistake; the Pauls do espouse certain civil liberties protections, but the source of these views is embedded in a vision of the state and of the relation of the state to society that is deeply racist and quite violent.  In short, the purpose of the militia movement and its associated right wing terrorist element is not to eliminate or reduce coercion, but to replace state sponsored coercion with private or communal violence.  The Federal government, in this vision, acts primarily in the interests of racial minorities; by limiting state power, private terrorist groups can install and preserve the “correct” racial hierarchy.  That this vision is particularly popular in the South, which has a long history of state-ignored terrorist violence against racial minorities, is hardly surprising.

Whatever the Paul’s private attitudes towards race and violence, both have happily accepted the support of white supremacist organizations that have anti-statist views, and that see attacks on federal power as code for the defense of white supremacy.

No, Really?

[ 17 ] March 31, 2010 |

According to The Guardian, “managers” hired by universities in the UK have increased a modest 33% in the last five years.  Academic staff have increased by 10% in that time (not my department, depending on how you spin the numbers, we’ve either held steady or lost one half of a FTE), students 9%.  While it’s SOP amongst my colleagues to complain bitterly at the encroaching tyranny of administrators and bureaucracy, I consoled myself by believing that it is just grumbling, and if we didn’t target the nebulous bureaucracy, we’d find something else.  In other words, yes, we can be whiners.  However, that does not appear to be the case, as much in this article rings true.

Front line administrative staff, the wonderful people I interact with on a daily basis and who do a necessary job in a professional manner, have been cut back and consolidated on my campus in the past year.  They’re less accessible to both academics and students, and there are fewer of them.  It’s just speculation on my behalf, as I have no idea how many managerial level administrators my campus has added in the last five years, but anecdotally, I do seem to be receiving a considerably larger volume of intrusive emails from a number of different directions since I started at my current institution seven academic years ago.  It’s not a leap to speculate that financing these email senders has come at the cost of the front line staff.

This is what the chair of the Association of University Administrators (christ, they have their own interest group) has to say on the issue: “Universities, she says, are simply larger than they were two decades ago.” [. . .] Roles such as marketing and human resources have grown so that universities themselves can expand in a more ordered and coherent way. “It’s an important part of the direction of a university, because if you don’t have the right people you can’t deliver.”

Have universities really grown enough in the past five years to justify a ratio of administrators / academics / students at 33% / 10% / 9% ? Or, perhaps universities are losing sight of their core mission, which presumably is the creation and dissemination of knowledge?

In other news, I’ll be at the Western Political Science Association meetings in San Francisco tomorrow through Saturday, disseminating some knowledge I’ve helped create.  And drinking a beer or two.  (I understand that both SL and DW will be there as well).  I’ll also be slightly jet lagged, as I only arrived on the West Coast yesterday afternoon, and I fly down to SF tomorrow morning departing Oregon at 630am.  It’s a rare occasion to catch me wearing a suit and a tie.

If I don’t get a post up tonight on LGM about our paper, I’ll get it up Saturday or so.  I like to think it’s interesting.

Embrace of Eugenics By Conservatives Proves That Conservatives Never Had Anything To Do With Eugenics

[ 26 ] March 31, 2010 |

I know we’ve dealt with part of this already, but here’s more Goldberg tendentiousness:

Lepore mentions that the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in the Buck v. Bell case, led by liberal hero Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., a passionate eugenicist who considered “building a race” to be at the core of reform. Did Holmes and his fellow justices, including Louis Brandeis, sign on to the cause out of “faddishness”? What about the fact that the lone dissenter was Pierce Butler, a conservative Catholic Democrat appointed by a Republican (whose appointment was opposed by The Nation, The New Republic, and the KKK)?

This greatly impresses Jeff Goldtsein:

If the progressive “turn” from eugenics is a suggestion that eugenics was, at its heart, conservative, what do we make of the fact that conservatives, by and large, never had to distance themselves from eugenics?

You may have noticed, first of all, that Goldberg makes a technically defensible but highly misleading claim about Holmes. It’s true that he was in some sense a hero to liberals because of his dissents in cases like Lochner and Dagenhart, as well as his belated efforts to get the Court to actually enforce the First Amendment. This is quite different from saying, however, that Holmes was a liberal, which he most certainly wasn’t. Holmes almost certainly opposed most of the modest economic regulations that were struck down over his dissents. It’s just that — and I can understand why people fond of making assertions-without-argument that most of Obama’s legislative program is unconstitutional have trouble with this distinction — he believed in making distinctions between what was good public policy and what was constitutionally permitted public policy.

Which leads is to the transparently obvious problem with citing Buck v. Bell to support the proposition that conservatives had nothing to do with eugenics. Yes, Brandeis regrettably signed Holmes’s odious opinion, as did Stone, but they were the Court’s only liberal members. How an 8-1 decision issued by a Court dominated by conservatives can support the claim that conservatives “never had to distance themselves from eugenics” I can’t tell you. To the extent that it demonstrates anything, the case shows the tendency of the white elite — reactionary or progressive — to support eugenics at the time was widespread.

And if we’re going to play this silly game more, yes, Pierce Butler –opposed by The Nation and the New Republic! — dissented. This great Catholic conservative also dissented in the Scottsboro Boys case, arguing that since the fine people of Alabama had gone to the trouble of rigging more than one Stalinist show trail before railroading eight innocent boys to the death chamber everything was nice and legal-like. I guess given Goldberg’s institutional connection to authoritarian white supremacy, he doesn’t find this a major issue, but I think it’s safe to say that liberal opposition to Butler was vindicated…

“A constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory.”

[ 12 ] March 31, 2010 |

Wrongful Death asks:

If the courts rule that the federal government can force you to buy a product produced by a private company or pay a punitive tax, then why can’t the federal government force you to buy a Chevy from them? What’s to stop them?

The fact that such a law would have no political support and have no chance of being enacted. You can see this in the fact that Congress has not tried to accomplish similar ends through methods that are indisputably constitutional (just cutting a check to everyone who buys Chevy, raising tax rates and giving a huge tax credit to everyone who buys a Chevy, etc.) You’re welcome!

It should also be noted that if in the bizzaro political universe (the planet Strawman?) in which such a law could be passed, it is very possible that the Court would uphold the law anyway. Courts generally side with powerful elites, and to the extent that there’s some ghost of a chance that the Court will strike down the individual mandate it’s because there’s a substantial but powerful minority committed to that vision of the Constitution. And for that matter, why would the Chevy law be unconstitutional (as opposed to egregiously dumb?) It really requires an actual argument, because the Constitution gives Congress the power to pass all kinds of idiotic laws (cf. Congress 2001-2007 passim.)

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Brookings Israel-Iran Game

[ 24 ] March 30, 2010 |

The New York Times published another article on the Brookings write-up of an Israel-Iran wargame conducted in December. The opening stages of the game were strikingly similar to the Patterson Israel-Iran game of last month; Israel attacks without notifying the US, Iran responds in measured fashion, tension builds between Israel and the United States, and Israel prepares for major assault against Hezbollah. At that point, however, there’s a major change; Iran launches a ballistic missile attack against a Saudi oil refinery, and begins mining the Strait of Hormuz. At this point the United States gets involved, and the game ends just before a major US attack on Iranian military assets.

The key difference here is the decision by the Iranian team to attack Saudi Arabia and mine the Strait of Hormuz. This action forces the hand of the United States, and essentially resolves tension between the US, Israel, and the Gulf monarchies. It also results in a very serious setback for Iranian military power. At Patterson, our Iran team considered but rejected the possibility of expanding the war, preferring instead to play it cool and let the US-Israel relationship fester. Here’s Kenneth Pollack’s explanation of the reasoning of the Iranian team:

The Iran team’s decision to mount attacks on Saudi targets requires some explanation. The Iran team concluded that the fact that many of the Israeli aircraft had traversed Saudi Arabia was proof of Israeli and Saudi collusion. Control allowed this because it decided that in the real world, the Iranian regime might reach such a conclusion, given how paranoid and conspiracy-minded it is. Interestingly, the Iran team believed that it could attack Saudi targets, including Saudi oil targets, without necessarily provoking an American military response. Ultimately, they did overstep, but the measured and balanced initial American response to these attacks convinced the Iran team that they were right in this assumption and caused them to push harder, to the point where they did cross an American red line and provoked the U.S. military response they had sought to avoid.

The Iran team tried hard to gauge American red lines. When they did not get strong resistance to one of their moves, they kept pushing forward until they did—and in the most important instance, actually overstepped a U.S. red line. While we suspect the real Iranian regime would be more cautious about attacking Saudi oil targets (especially given the historical American reaction to Iranian attacks on Persian Gulf oil exports during the 1980s), this still suggests that a highly aggressive Iranian regime may see approaches that the United States considers “even-handed,” “balanced,” or even “neutral” as invitations to escalate. (Of course, a less aggressive Iranian regime might be provoked to escalatory actions they would not otherwise take if they saw American assertiveness as a sign of malign intent rather than as the clarification of a red line and the demonstration of American resolve to defend that red line.)

Two thoughts:

  • The Iranian decision to attack Saudi Arabia is both odd and self-destructive. How an Iranian team could have convinced itself that the US wouldn’t respond to an attack on one of its chief clients is beyond me; up to that point, it seems to me that the Iranians are doing quite well by pursuing a moderate strategy. Although Patterson assumed a much lower level of damage from the initial Israeli attack than Brookings, the Iranians were still widely regarded to have been the “winners” of the simulation. Of course, a writeup of the Brookings exercise was available to our students, giving them the opportunity to learn from earlier mistakes. However, the results of the Brookings exercise are also available to the Iranians; the point of such exercises is to inform government policy, and it wouldn’t be that surprising if governments other than the US paid attention.
  • It’s interesting and somewhat troubling to learn that the Iran simulators thought about the United States primarily in terms of strength, resolve, and will. I’ll pre-emptively caveat this by saying that I have no idea how the Iranians would actual treat the United States after an Israeli attack, and that I have no idea the value that the Iranians put on questions of reputation and resolve. Given, however, that the Iran players here were Americans and not actual Iranian officials, I’m somewhat suspicious of how closely Iranian behavior tracks an unsophisticated theory of the importance of a reputation for strength. According the Pollack, the Iranian team saw any sign of moderation on the part of the United States as a signal of weakness and irresolution. This is the worst fear of American neoconservatives; engagement and moderation signal weakness, and invite aggression. In this formulation, an “aggressor” like Iran is extremely risk-acceptant, pushing the United States until it reaches a “red line.” Had the US taken a firm line at some point, by this account, the Iranians would have understood and desisted from further “aggression.” This theory of diplomatic behavior, however, is both logically problematic and empirically suspect. While it’s possible that states will interpret moderation as weakness, they can also interpret it in other ways; our team at Patterson, for example, saw US moderation as understandable caution and sought to exploit differences between the US and Israel. Empirically, it’s unclear that reputations for weakness or strength form in a manner that’s necessary for this theory to work. As Jon Mercer argues, reputation for resolve depends much more on prior belief than on recent observed behavior. Thus, I have to wonder whether the Iranian team was operating on an unsophisticated set of theories about how Iranians ought to act, rather than pursuing self-interest in a more or less rational way. I particular have to wonder this in the context of the attack on Saudi Arabia, which is really hard to believe.

To put it as clearly as possible: In the Patterson simulation, Iran did very well by acting with restraint. In the Brookings simulation, Iran was doing very well by acting with restraint until someone decided that US moderation was weakness, at which point the Iranians launched an absurd attack and got crushed. Given this, isn’t it worthwhile to take into account the possibility that Iran could “win” such a crisis by acting with restraint? Or does that possibility undermine the whole rationale behind attacking Iran? This is to say, if we allow that Iran can act with restraint AFTER being attacked by Israel, doesn’t that open up the possibility that Iran could, well, act with restraint BEFORE being attacked by Israel? And wouldn’t that make such an attack pointless?