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Bernstein: HRW Should Engage In Moral Relativism

[ 0 ] October 20, 2009 |

As with Michael Gerson on torture, Robert Bernstein believes that some countries should be ipso facto exempt from criticism for human rights abuses:

The organization is expressly concerned mainly with how wars are fought, not with motivations. To be sure, even victims of aggression are bound by the laws of war and must do their utmost to minimize civilian casualties. Nevertheless, there is a difference between wrongs committed in self-defense and those perpetrated intentionally.

But how does Human Rights Watch know that these laws have been violated? In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes. Reporting often relies on witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage or because they fear retaliation from their own rulers…”

Setting up standards that make it essentially impossible to prove that countries Bernstein likes have ever committed war crimes is convenient, but not very useful for organizations that want to identify human rights abuses regardless of who commits them. The rest if the op-ed is long on pointing out we already know (most middle eastern regimes are highly repressive) and very short on evidence backing up his assertions that Israel has “borne the brunt” of HRW’s criticism. Based on the rest of his arguments, one suspects that for Bernstein any criticism of Israel is too much. I certainly don’t see Israel being singled out here.


Titles of posts about breasts that reference them crudely shouldn’t be knocked, as they can make me hoot with laughter.

[ 0 ] October 19, 2009 |

When John Updike died, Ben Shapiro declared that he “was not a great writer [nor] even a very good one,” to which I replied:

for Young Master Shapiro to choose, from a hefty body of work, the opening paragraph of Rabbit Redux to bury Updike beneath should stand as the object lesson in why movement conservatives whose tastes range from Forsythe to Uris ought not be writing about literature.

There’s nothing wrong with Forsythe or Uris, but if you can’t discern what sophisticated readers find pleasing about Updike’s prose, you’re not a sophisticated reader. I’m not saying you have to like it, but there’s a there there, and if you fail to recognize that, you should avoid writing about literary style in an authoritative voice. Moreover, should you employ a patently undeserved tone, you need to at least make an effort to earn it. Shapiro has not. Here he is this weekend writing about breasts:

Somehow, The Daily Beast has seen fit to give her a column—apparently in an attempt to test the scientific aphorism that a monkey with a typewriter can produce Shakespeare if given enough time.

First, the infinite monkey theorem isn’t a scientific aphorism, it’s a probabilistic theory with a mathematical proof; second, for someone as knowledgeable as Shapiro in what he would call The Art of Writing Prose Such That The Mellifluousness Of Which It Is In Possession Cannot Be Contested, that is one ugly sentence. If he wants to write about typing monkeys, he needs to read his Borges:

A half dozen monkeys equipped with typewriters could easily knock out in a few eternities all the books contained in the British Museum.*

*In practice, one immortal monkey would be more than enough.

That is how a writer writes about typing monkeys, and as a “powerful writer,” Ben Shapiro should know that. But don’t be too hard on him: he is, after all, the person who declared himself to be a powerful writer, and he clearly has no idea what that first word means when it modifies the second. If he did, he wouldn’t have thought this insight was either original or wrought cleverly enough to transcend its rank banality:

Because Meghan McCain is apparently attempting to foist her way into the public consciousness by using her two biggest assets—neither of which is her brain.

I remember hearing such insults in high school, and they usually came from the mouths of boys whose fear of women compelled them to mock that which they most desired. Even unpowerful writers recognize that adopting the ethos of a salivating clod says more about your overweening need to think about breasts than anything else. But Shapiro’s not even an unpowerful writer, nor is he content to limit his libidinal critique to to adolescent taunting because he’s got a date with third grade:

Meghan McCain may hold a double-digit IQ (barely)[.]

His next post about women will not concern busts, which are gross, but the mainstream media’s refusal to cover the critical shortage of circles and dots means many not only will we get it everywhere, we’ll have it all our lives.

Simple Answers I Would Prefer Not To Give

[ 0 ] October 19, 2009 |

Joe Sheehan, after discussing the de facto end of the series when dumbshit Brian Fuentes decided to throw Slappy an 0-2 meatball with a lead in the 11th:

It’s 2-0, but does anyone think this series is over?


Look, a team that’s clearly inferior is down 2-0. And it’s not just that the Yankees are better in general: in the postseason the importance of power pitching, power hitting, and bullpens are magnified, and the Yankees have a modest edge in #1 and large edges in the other two. The only position at which the Angels are clearly better is centerfield, and even Hunter is a symbol of the problem (in that he’s a very good hitter for a CF but pretty unimpressive for a #3 hitter.) Yes, anything can etc., but the Yankees are going to win this series, and I think it would be an upset if it even gets back to the Bronx.

On a related note, via a commenter it’s safe to say that this hasn’t held up well. (Even at the time the premise was pretty silly; being merely the 3rd best team in the league after more than a decade of postseason appearances isn’t exactly compelling evidence that Brian Cashman is an idiot.)

..although, if the Halos are going to go down, it’s nice to see them knock around the greatest pitcher athlete in Yankee known human history a bit to take a lead…

..and marvelous work from Hunter in the 10th swinging at ball 3 and ball 4. The quality of atbats between the hitters in the heart of the order on the two teams in pressure situations tells you what you need to know…

Old Firm Heading South?

[ 0 ] October 19, 2009 |

Like Scott, I need to apologize for my inactivity over the past six days. Travel interrupted: I missed my connection at ATL, and it was very much not my fault, but did enjoy 14 unplanned hours in said city, split between the airport and the hotel room that Delta grudgingly subsidized. I’m not a fan of ATL, and will attempt to stick with DTW, MSP, and EWR as my hubs of choice when flying from the UK / Europe to the West Coast. Following this unfortunate travel event, there was a conference.

Back in my homeland for a brief visit, it seems logical that I write about soccer.
First, as a Celtic FC supporter, I agree with Spiers that both Celtic and Rangers will have to leave the SPL. Both clubs are in a strange position of having some of the largest support bases and average attendances in Europe, yet play in a league that can not command a decent TV package. Teams in the EPL, including such giants as Stoke City and Hull City, receive about £40 million per year in TV revenue. The Glasgow giants each receive £2.5 million. Whereas prior to the advent of the EPL both Celtic and Rangers could compete in the European Cup (Celtic were the first British side to win that competition after all, in 1967) these days all they can manage is the occasional last 16 appearance (Rangers in 05-06, Celtic in both 06-07 and 07-08) and decent progression through Europe’s second-tier competition: the old UEFA Cup (now the Europa League). Celtic lost to Porto in the 2003 final, while Rangers lost to Zenit St. Petersburg in 2008.
The logical move is for both to join the English pyramid. Ideally, this would be in the EPL itself, but fairness dictates that they should begin in the second tier and work their way up. While this would break one of the golden rules of football associations, that clubs play in leagues in their home associations (IOW, they play in the leagues in the countries where they are located) there are several exceptions to this rule in the UK and Ireland. Several Welsh clubs play in the English pyramid, including Cardiff City and Swansea City who both play in the Football League itself, while Wrexham and Newport County both play in the Conference and Conference South respectively (5th and 6th tiers on the pyramid) and there are a couple of other Welsh clubs somewhere in the English structure. There are also the examples of Derry City, who do not play in the Northern Irish league, but rather the league based in the Republic, and the now defunct Gretna, who before joining the Scottish league, played south of the border in the English pyramid.
A move into the English league would benefit both parties. Both Celtic and Rangers are a larger, more glamorous draw than at least several of the clubs populating the less expensive real estate of the EPL table. Likewise, they both come with a relatively large travelling support. Add both to the EPL and the profile of the league increases such that it could demand even more for its TV rights (and I’m all in favor of taking cash from Rupert Murdoch and distributing it elsewhere — anywhere).
There are some downsides to a move. If the move is to the EPL, the annual five Old Firm derbies is reduced to two, and this is one of the most passionate, if occasionally disgusting, ties in all of soccer. If the move is not to the EPL, it invites the pernicious possibility of some sort of European Super League or a lesser “Atlantic League“. And those three to five matches per year against Falkirk would be lost. If there is to be a move, it would be to the EPL, and not to a European or Atlantic League.
A counterpoint can be found over at They Think Its All Over. While I disagree with a lot of his reasoning, it’s worth a read. To wit, he argues that:
It seems to me that whenever we hit on something good, which the Premier League undoubtedly is, those in charge can never seem to accept it for what it is and have to try and keep updating it . . . Back before football became a business the structure of the English football league simply went from Division One downwards until you reached the non-league Conference etc. And to be fair, there was absolutely nothing wrong with that. It worked, and everyone knew where they stood.

However, then some people with lots of money came into football and decided to spice things up a bit at the top of the scale, so they took Division One and called it the Premier League, because it was England’s… well, premier league. That was all well and good, and it’s fair to say that that venture went pretty well.

So basically, change is bad . . . unless it’s good. He then goes on with a semantic argument (e.g. how can one have an English Premier League 2 when Premier means . . . well . . . Premier) and then assumes that if an EPL2 were formed out of the existing pyramid, with 36 clubs in both EPL1 and EPL2, the 14 lifted out of the football league (plus the two Glasgow sides) would have to be replaced by bringing clubs up from the Conference into the Football League itself.
This is not necessarily a safe assumption, but it does have some merit. The last time a bunch of clubs left the Football League, to form the Premiership in 1992, those clubs were not replaced. The League simply contracted from four divisions to three. It’s possible that this time around that the League would further contract from three divisions to two rather than seek to repopulate the League with non-league clubs. However, as the EPL2 proposal has two divisions of 18 each, if you include Celtic and Rangers, 14 clubs would need to be “elevated” from the Championship (the current second tier) to EPL2. With 92 clubs in the top four divisions at present, this would create an awkward arrangement of 58 clubs in the remaining third and fourth tiers of English football. Therefore, he may have a point that some clubs would have to be promoted from the Conference to the Football League, and the Football League would likely have to remain at three divisions.
It should be pointed out that many of the current Conference sides are former League clubs to begin with anyway. Looking at the current Conference table, there is Barrow (who left the League in 1972), Cambridge United (2005), Chester City (2009), Kidderminster (2006?), Luton Town (2009), Oxford United (2006, and a former First Division side at that), Rushden & Diamonds (2006), Wrexham (2008, after a continuous run in the League going back to 1921), and York City (1929-2004).
But how many clubs? If it were to be three divisions of 20, then only two more clubs. Three of 24, as is the norm now, 14 clubs. 22? 8 clubs. If it’s the dilution of quality that is the chief concern, three divisions of 20 would not appreciably dilute either the existing Football League or the Conference. Simply promote York City and Wrexham back into the League, problem solved.
He goes on:
Of course, the driving force behind this idea seems in many ways to be related to the desire of many to introduce the Old Firm to the Premier League. This idea has been floated many, many times over the years despite little apparent enthusiasm from the fans of the Scottish clubs nor any compelling evidence that they would even belong in the Premier League in terms of quality or footballing ability.

Of the 100+ members of the Celtic Supporters Club in Plymouth, most would like to see a move south. Celtic would still get to have the odd fixture against Clyde, Dundee, Inverness Caley Thistle, and Aberdeen in the Scottish FA Cup, but playing in England would make those European nights that much more productive. And yes, I agree, at present neither Celtic nor Rangers necessarily belong in the EPL. I suspect that both would avoid relegation as is, but they would not be in the top half. It should be pointed out that in the past three years in Europe, Celtic have beat Man Utd at home (and lost at Old Trafford 3-2), as well as beat Milan at home (and played Barcelona quite well). But given a couple of years worth of EPL money, they would not only be competitive, I’d see both as serious threats to break the hallowed Big 4.
Other points are made, such as forcing Celtic and Rangers to start in the pyramid at the same low spots that AFC Wimbledon and FC United have done, but that’s bonkers. The away support from Celtic alone would overwhelm most grounds below League 2.
Of course, if Celtic can’t even beat Motherwell at home, as they couldn’t manage on Saturday, I’m not sure they even belong in League 2.

Today in Immoral Contrarianism

[ 0 ] October 19, 2009 |

I can’t say much more about this than Sanchez, Beyerstein or spackerman. But yikes. Sometimes I wonder if this stuff is being published on a bet or something.

EMP Awareness Advocacy

[ 0 ] October 19, 2009 |

I have a short article on electro-magnetic pulse up at Right Web:

The 90 percent casualty estimate advanced by EMP awareness advocates hypes the notion that the United States faces potential annihilation at the hands of its enemies, and goes a step farther: even the smallest nuclear power can destroy the United States with a small number of warheads. This, in turn, reaffirms the need for both a secure missile defense shield (including space-based interceptor weapons) and a grand strategy of preventive war against potential nuclear and ballistic missile proliferators. Almost all EMP awareness advocates—including Gaffney, Gingrich, and Huckabee—call for increased spending on missile defense. Gaffney and Gingrich have also called for a “robust” policy of preemptive war, including attacks on Iranian and North Korean missiles on their launching pads.

The fact that EMP is poorly researched and not well understood works in its favor as a scare tactic. Since evidence of EMP’s allegedly lasting impact is purely theoretical, EMP awareness advocates can make outlandish claims regarding the threat that even the smallest nuclear arsenal poses. They can also point to allegations made by the official EMP Commission, ignoring the fact that many outside experts dispute its findings.

More On The Texas Death Panel

[ 2 ] October 19, 2009 |

A couple news items on Texas’s murder of Cameron Todd Willingham. First, Chris Orr points us to this video of Willingham’s prosecutor, John Jackson, reiterating his theory that although we no longer have any idea if a crime was committed we can be sure that Willingham was guilty:

Hey, sometimes your horoscope comes true, and that’s good enough for a death penalty conviction!

Meanwhile, Rick Perry continues to assiduously cover up the murder he committed, firing more members of the insubordinate state commission who have the strange belief that murders of innocent people should be investigated. And while I doubt anybody enough here is naive enough to buy Perry’s explanation, but just in case Perry pressured the chairman of the commission before firing him. And, amazingly, Perry’s actions may well be politically beneficial.

Loud and Rich

[ 0 ] October 19, 2009 |

Apologies for the light blogging — buried in blue books and other work, and was also lucky enough to see Loudon Wainwright and Richard Thompson at the Egg tonight. Regular blogging to resume shortly. (Excellent show, of course, with the duets on “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” “The Swimming Song” and “Down Where The Drunkards Roll” particular highlights. Also glad to hear an all-acoustic Thompson do “I Misunderstood,” which I had never seen him do live before.)

Deep Thought

[ 0 ] October 18, 2009 |

Slappy Rodriguez will never get a hit in a big game. As so many New York sportswriters informed us, the Yankees would be much better off with a nice Scott Brosius knockoff…

Evasive Tactics In Arguments You’re Hopelessly Losing Part I

[ 0 ] October 17, 2009 |

Via Plumer, Stephen Dubner’s attempt to preempt the many critics of their global warming arguments contains two classic approaches:

We have a chapter in SuperFreakonomics about global warming and it too will likely produce a lot of shouting, name-calling, and accusations ranging from idiocy to venality. It is curious that the global-warming arena is so rife with shrillness and ridicule. Where does this shrillness come from? Some say that left-leaning activists have merely borrowed their right-leaning competitors from years past.

Note the two key elements:

  • Vagueness. Try to avoid naming specific critics, and certainly avoid citing their actual arguments.
  • Criticize tone, not substance. It’s kind of amazing to see the “Paul Krugman is teh shrill!!!!” style of argument at this late date, but here we are, complete with the more-in-sorrow-than-anger decrying of the lack of civility (cf. also Clive Crook.)

When you say that your critics are shrill rather than explaining why they’re wrong, it’s a pretty clear sign that you’ve got nothing.

Glenn Beck: The 1970s Were Golden Era

[ 0 ] October 17, 2009 |

The latest tear-jerker from Glenn Beck will remind some readers of that drunken idiot who cornered you at the last reunion and wasted ten minutes of your life describing, with malodorous inaccuracy, how fucking awesome everything was when you were in high school together.

In any event, the entire clip is standard gauge Beck — chalkboard, photos of administration officials hastily slapped up next to portraits of dictators, silences by turns reverential and mournful, the fake tears and the rest of it — but by far the weirdest part comes about three and a half minutes in, as he uses Coke’s old Mean Joe Greene spot along with one of Kodak’s “Times of Your Life” ads to remind his (apparently middle-aged) viewers of a “simpler time” in the nation’s history. Which is obviously a multiple tiers of bat-shit, given (a) the implied assumption that television advertising’s generic nostalgia was somehow more sociologically accurate way back when, and (b) the fact that, in this case, “way back when” happened to be 1979 and 1975, respectively. I realize that Beck spends most of his time dreaming about kissing George Washington on the mouth, so more recent historical reference points might have veered away from true North, but seriously — 1979? The annus horribilis of the Carter era? And 1975? The year that witnessed the collapse of South Vietnam and the beginnings of the Cambodian genocide? The year the Weather Underground bombed the State Department?

Has Beck forgotten Wingnut 101? The truly Simpler Times happened in the 1950s, when everyone enjoyed racist Jell-O ads:

Friday Daddy Blogging

[ 0 ] October 16, 2009 |

Elisha and Miriam meet a boy at a Halloween party…