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Ass-Clown of the Week

[ 5 ] July 29, 2010 |

Chad Garrison.

Every time you see someone willing to argue in public that a woman who chooses to have a couple drinks in anything more revealing than a burqa she’s implicitly consenting to anything a man might subsequently want to do, it makes the next “the work of feminism is done!” thumbsucker you read just that much more infuriating.

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Apparently, This Is Meant to Be A Serious Argument

[ 16 ] July 29, 2010 |

It’s true — Time really is using a graphic image of horrible abuse by the Taliban that happened during the U.S. occupation as a reason to stay there forever with, presumably, no cost/benefit analysis whatsoever.    One thing that has chacterized both wars is policymakers and analysts who seem to have no idea how difficult effective state-building is; effective authority isn’t something you can establish because you really want to.    Staying in Afghanistan out of the belief that if we spend enough money and kill enough people an effective Weberian state will control the whole country and wipe out any Taliban influence is just nuts.    And the same inability to understand this leads to further policy errors related to the War (On Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs.

“An AQ/Taliban Executioner’s Dream.”

[ 36 ] July 29, 2010 |

Quoting an anonymous former military intelligence officer, that is how Adam Serwer described the Wikileaks’ archive published Sunday in an op-ed earlier this week. Joshua Foust concurred in a PBS essay:

If I were a Taliban operative with access to a computer — and lots of them have access to computers — I’d start searching the WikiLeaks data for incident reports near my area of operation to see if I recognized anyone. And then I’d kill whomever I could identify. Those deaths would be directly attributable to WikiLeaks.

Even with the names removed from these reports, you know where they happened (many still have place names). You know when they happened. And you know an Afghan was speaking to a U.S. soldier or intelligence agent. If you have times, locations and half the participants, you don’t need names to identify who was involved in a conversation — with some very basic detective work, you can find out (and it’s much easier to do in Afghanistan, which loves gossip).

This morning, the New York Times confirmed that the presumably heavily redacted leaked reports contain numerous data-points, including specific names, that will identify Afghan informants who have provided intelligence to US forces. The Afghan government is rightly appalled:

“Whether those individuals acted legitimately or illegitimately in providing information to the NATO forces, their lives will be in danger now,” said Mr. Karzai, who spoke at a press conference just after he said he discussed the issue with his advisors. “Therefore we consider that extremely irresponsible and an act that one cannot overlook.”

While the government mulls options for prosecuting Assange (more thoughts on that shortly), consideration should probably be given to the legal or ethical culpability of the mainstream press as well. There are professional standards in most industries about the protection of sources. (As a political scientist, if I published my human subjects data in such a way as to put their lives at risk, I would face serious professional consequences.) Yet the paper is blithely oblivious to its own role in publicizing and legitimizing Wikileaks’ actions:

A search by The New York Times through a sampling of the documents released by the organization WikiLeaks found reports that gave the names or other identifying features of dozens of Afghan informants, potential defectors and others who were cooperating with American and NATO troops.

The Times and two other publications given access to the documents — the British newspaper The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel — posted online only selected examples from documents that had been redacted to eliminate names and other information that could be used to identify people at risk. The news organizations did this to avoid jeopardizing the lives of informants.

They may have redacted names in their print versions, but they publicized the archive and linked to it, ensuring its contents maximum exposure. Does this fall within the bounds of appropriate conduct for professional journalists? Based on a reading of the “minimize harm” rules in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, I have my doubts.

Even if there’s no legal requirement, it seems to me that the mainstream news media could and should play a significant role in cases like this in disseminating rights-based norms for reporting and sourcing to online journalists. There is no professional association for bloggers, no oversight for users who generate content on YouTube, Facebook or other social networking sites, no codes of conduct for one-URL entities who make it their business to raise awareness of specific issues. However, when mainstream news organizations cover the actions of those organizations or individuals in a way that raises their influence and profile, they have an ethical responsibility to consider the fall out to vulnerable individuals of that coverage.

I would argue this extends to negotiating terms with people like Assange that make cooperation contingent on guarantees of certain ethical standards in their own work. Most likely such a socialization process would have helped an amateur like Assange avoid what he himself admits were mistakes, and resulted in a set of wikileaks that minimized the “collateral damage” to Afghan citizens.

In the absence of such guarantees, the mainstream news media could have published a different story, as soon as they understood the contents of the archive: a story about the evolving relationship between new media and human security, perhaps headlined “Wikileaks Founder Poised to Endanger Civilian Lives in Afghanistan.”

Instead, they treated him as a fellow journalist without holding him to any journalistic standards. Whatever the merits of the rest of the archive, The Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel dropped the ball by cooperating fully with Assange instead of reining him in.

I wonder if an outcome of this fiasco might be the establishment of offices within mainstream news outlets specifically designed to review the ethics of complicity in publishing stories like this, staffed by individuals with human rights and ethics training whose job is to liase in a responsible manner with new media information sources upon which mainstream news reporting has increasingly come to rely.

UPDATE: I don’t usually find myself in agreement with folks at the Weekly Standard, but here is a post that also considers the NYT’s complicity and puts it in the context of a 1931 Supreme Court case, Near v. Minnesota.

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Bit more on Inception

[ 68 ] July 28, 2010 |

I’ve taken a lot of interesting flak [thanks Donald!] for my non-review of Inception, but before addressing it, I want to address Anderson’s comment at my old haunt:

People who think Inception was “a royal piece of smoldering crap” haven’t seen enough genuinely bad movies, and really should never leave the safety of The Criterion Collection.

I’m inclined to agree: if someone judges it to be worse than anything Michael Bay’s ever directed, they deserve their time in latte-sipping purgatory. As someone who strongly disliked the film, I can safely say that I didn’t think it an inferior film to Transformers. But to even head in that direction completely misses the point. I wasn’t judging the film as a film, a summer film, or a summer blockbuster film, but as a piece of Christopher Nolan’s body of work. The scale doesn’t slide from Bay to early Coppola; it’s internal to Nolan’s oeuvre, and as I’m not a critic who needs to concern himself with guiding the wallets of moviegoers, I’m free to discuss or be disgusted by Inception at will. Put differently: had I been unfamiliar with Nolan’s previous ventures, in all likelihood I would have enjoyed this film.

But the obverse of that statement is that because I’m intimately familiar with his earlier work, I’m incapable of enjoying the film. I can appreciate its technical virtuosity and plot machinations, but this is old hat for Nolan. He’s already filmed a movie in reverse, so the fact that he can film one up didn’t rivet me. I found it predictable and disappointing, not kin to the Transformers franchise. I walked out for the same reason I stop fiddling with a Rubik’s Cube once I’ve solved it: the joy of a puzzle comes from the puzzling through it. Without any strong connection to any of its characters, Inception felt like a puzzle.

Now, my friend Adam Roberts contends that my inability to sympathize with any of the characters is the result of my living a barren, childless existence. Adam beefs:

Read more…

How To Be A Hack

[ 5 ] July 28, 2010 |
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Lost in Race
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Learn, once again, from the master:

JON STEWART: “Andrew Breitbart may be the most honest person in this entire story.”

If you do what Reynolds presumably hopes you won’t do — i.e. actually watch the above video rather than taking the above quote at face value — you’ll note that according to Stewart what Breitbart is honest about is being a hack propagandist dedicated to bringing down Democrats whether the charges are true or not.   This is in the context of (correctly) criticizing the Obama administration and the NAACP for making the foolish mistake of believing Breitbart’s disgusting smear campaign. This is, however, a rather different argument that the quote implies.

Now, as many people have observed one nice thing about communicating mostly through links is that it gives you a certain passive-aggressive deniability.   Reynolds might claim that he’s just endorsing Stewart’s criticisms without necessarily defending Breitbart.    This, of course, would be nonsense, because Reynolds has been an enthusiastic supporter and promoter of Breitbart’s dishonest propaganda, so either he was also duped and isn’t in a position to criticize anybody else or he doesn’t actually agree with any of Stewart’s argument (and wants the apparent defense of Breitbart to be taken at face value.)

Fortunately, in an update Reynolds removes all doubt:

UPDATE: Dan Riehl: Sad, Jon Stewart Has More Ballz Than Many Right-Side Pundits On Breitbart, Sherrod. That’s true. When the lefties target someone, whether it’s Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh, too many rightish pundits instinctively distance themselves. That’s a reflex left over from when things were very different.

So, to be clear, conservatives should stand behind Breitbart although his vile smear campaign got somebody fired for saying something she didn’t actually say.    It’s nice that we’re being explicit about this!

Hugo Black, History’s Greatest Monster

[ 13 ] July 28, 2010 |

You might think that Jeffrey “how dare Shirley Sherrod call a mob beating someone to death because of his race a lynching” Lord would try to stop digging once he saw that even his colleagues at the American Spectator wanted nothing to do with his grotesque arguments, but you would be wrong. Some people really have no shame.

Since he has decided to keep embarrassing himself, I thought I’d discuss one of the many bizarre arguments made in his initial article. In an attempt to cast his “liberals are the real racists” net as widely as possible, in the tradition of Jonah Goldberg and Mark Levin he decides to drag former Supreme Court justice Hugo Black down into the mud:

Nary a word from Ms. Sherrod about Hugo Black, the man who can easily be said to have rescued Bobby Hall’s murderers. Much less is there a solitary thought from Sherrod about why Black was on the Supreme Court in the first place.

Justice Hugo Black, you see, was two things. Like Ms. Sherrod he was a committed liberal activist, a progressive of the day. He was a staunch supporter of FDR’s New Deal as the Senator from Alabama. But Hugo Black was also something else: a “Gold Passport” lifetime member of the Ku Klux Klan. Which is to say, a committed racist.

This argument is ridiculous on many levels — why should Sherrod discuss the background of a justice who cast one vote in a case related to the lynching she’s discussing? — but it’s also a very misleading portrayal of Black.

It’s true that Black has been a member of the Klan in the 20s, and even if this was during its “populist” phase and was explained by political necessity for someone running for the Senate in Alabama in the 1920s it is unquestionably a black mark on his record. But the idea that Black was a “committed racist” as a Supreme Court justice is just absurd. While his record on civil rights was not spotless, it was very good for a white man of his generation of any region (let alone for an elite Alabaman.) Unlike conservative icon William Rehnquist — who Lord’s former boss saw fit to make Chief Justice of the United States — Black was always unwavering in his belief that segregation was an egregious violation of the Constitution. Unlike conservative icon Robert Bork — who Lord’s former boss nominated for the Supreme Court — Black never had the slightest doubt about whether the Civil Rights Act was constitutional. Trying to use Black to condemn Democrats as the “real racists” is almost as silly as using Shirley Sherrod to do so.

And, of course, this stuff about Black just makes Lord’s argument even more incoherent. On the one hand, Black proves that Democrats are totally the real racists. On the other hand, his argument that the lynching described by Sherrod wasn’t a lynching rests on the authority of Hugo Black. When your mode of argument consists of throwing as much slime on the wall as possible, this is the kind of glaring contradiction that will happen. And the fact that the Supreme Court decision in questions was in fact entirely silent about whether the killing of Sparks was a lynching — and that the facts it described were perfectly consistent with both legal and colloquial definitions of lynching — is just icing on the cake.

This Lord is a real find. I expect Breitbart to make him the editor-in-chief of his new “Big Civil Rights” site by the end of the week.

…see also.

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My Kingdom For An Editor Part Deux

[ 16 ] July 28, 2010 |

It’s only Wednesday but CBS legal analyst Andrew Cohen has already bumped early frontrunner Jeffrey Lord from the lead in this week’s I Can’t Believe They Ran That competition.

Lizzie Skurnick does the grim postmortem.

In all semi-seriousness, when the internet started destroying the media’s traditional business model editorial oversight was pretty much the first thing that got cut. “Don’t they have editors?” used to be a rhetorical question. Now it’s a straightforward one, and the answer is “no.”

Andrew Breitbart, Liar

[ 8 ] July 28, 2010 |

Andrew Breitbart has tried to salvage the reputation he dug up to bury even deeper by claiming that even if his heavily edited video libeled Shirley Sherrod, it presented an accurate view of the NAACP, because there was heavy applause during the out-of-context passages. This is, of course, just a different lie:

So, let’s review the Breitbart gang’s allegations:

When … she expresses a discriminatory attitude towards white people, the audience responds with applause. False.
The NAACP … is cheering on a person describing a white person as the other. False.
The NAACP audience seemed to have approved of her actions when she talked about not helping the white farmer. False.
They weren’t cheering redemption; they were cheering discrimination. False.
As Ms. Sherrod recounted the first part of her parable, how she declined to do everything she could for the farmer because of his race, the audience responded in approval. False.

First Breitbart and his acolytes falsely accused Sherrod of discriminating against whites as a federal employee, despite having no evidence for this charge in the original video excerpt. Strike one.

Then they misrepresented Sherrod’s story as an embrace of racism, when in fact she was repudiating racism. They later pleaded ignorance of this fact because they didn’t have the full video. Strike two.

Now, with the full video in hand and posted on their Web site, they’re lying about the reaction of the NAACP audience.

The excuses are all used up, Mr. Breitbart.

It’s always been obvious that Breitbart was a pathetic clown, but it wasn’t always clear that he was a modern, “new media” version of Joe McCarthy. It’s now been established beyond a doubt. And all of the mainstream outlets who have put together respectful puff pieces about him should be ashamed of themselves.

Net Effects

[ 0 ] July 28, 2010 |

Via the Guardian, Ethan Zuckerman of Geekcorps provides a skeptical view on the internet and global culture.

Interesting discussion of the merits of Esperanto-type languages in the comment threads…

“I didn’t think the RNC would play Moon River, but bam, second encore!”

[ 12 ] July 28, 2010 |

The fact that various Republicans and their media lickspittles are trying to generate a faux scandal out the Black Panthers would indeed seem to explain why Branson is a viable tourist attraction. Next week, I expect Sean Hannity and Breitbart to uncover indisputable video evidence that Shirley Sherrod is part of a massive conspiracy involving Eugene Debs and the Wobblies. And ACORN is as all-powerful as ever!

Turkey in the EU

[ 26 ] July 27, 2010 |

Finally, something the PM and I agree on.  I especially like the comparison regarding French intransigence regarding the UK’s membership in the 1960s and their same position today regarding Turkey — though it’s likely that their position vis-à-vis Turkey is more racially motivated than that regarding the UK, which had more to do about entrenching French “power”.

The logic of Turkish membership has always seemed clear to me.  Political scientists who study the EU have long held on to theoretical notions of how potential EU membership prods a country to adopt progressively more democratic features, and once membership has been secured democratic norms and institutions become entrenched.  Turkey has come a long way on the former with the explicit goal to satisfy Brussels; the only point I see blocking formal accession talks is Cyprus.  Furthermore, the benefits of Europe in institutionally embracing a Muslim nation are plain (even if this means a watershed moment in legitimizing cults everywhere, especially in Tennessee).

I’d be surprised if this were a popular position back on the (British) island.  Indeed, the poll in the Daily Mail, which otherwise did an atypically even-handed job with this story, runs 80% against.  While it’s a self-selecting population of self-selected Daily Mail readers, rendering the results theoretically a hair short of reliable, that 80% of British citizens are opposed to Turkey’s membership doesn’t seem too wide of the mark.

The PM risks more than alienating several EU partners, but also his own party:

Mr Cameron’s words put him at odds with France, Germany and Tory Right-wingers who believe Turkey may be incompatible with the EU.

Though it must be said that those same Tory right-wingers also believe the United Kingdom to be incompatible with the EU.

The Haren Heist

[ 20 ] July 27, 2010 |

Since I was accused in comments of “east coast bias” for thinking that the Mets considering a swap of expensive useless players for expensive useless players probably wasn’t going to solve anything because the Angels just got fleeced by giving away Joe Saunders, I should note that back here in the real world the Angels got one of the best starters in baseball for a below-average starter and three marginal prospects. This kind of deal is a good indication of why the Angels are what they are and the Snakes are what they are. And, yes, if the Mets were serious about winning they would have been thinking about putting together a package for the apparently very obtainable Haren rather than putting together a package for Gil Meche.