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[ 0 ] October 14, 2009 |

I heartily endorse this proposal [slide 4] to redesign American currency, if only because replacing Andrew Jackson with Duke Ellington on the $20 would, in and of itself, justify the project.



[ 0 ] October 14, 2009 |

On some level, taking Ceci Connolly to task for acting as a stenographer for insurance company interests willfully attempting to deceive the public is like criticizing a camel for having humps — there was never any reason to think Connolly would be anything but in over her head, or that her inevitable errors would do anything but reinforce narratives that reactionary interests want spread. The real issue here is with her editors — given her track record, this seems exactly like the kind of reporting they want.

The last word

[ 0 ] October 14, 2009 |

He only raped one little girl.

Random Airport Blogging, Heathrow Edition (World Cup Qualifiers)

[ 0 ] October 14, 2009 |

I’ll be in the air during most if not all of the final round of qualifying for South Africa 2010, so I will miss a few mini dramas:

Uruguay v Argentina. This is perhaps the most interesting match on offer. With a win or a draw, Argentina avoid the ignominy of being dumped into the playoff against the 4th placed CONCACAF qualifier (against whom they would likely win). There was considerable debate a night or two ago on BBC 5 Live whether or not Maradona will get the sack even if they qualify (as well as whether or not David Beckham or Michael Owen deserve any consideration for making the 2010 squad for England). However, their opposition is Uruguay away, so there’s a decent chance that Argentina lose. Worse, an Argentina loss combined with an Ecuador win away to already qualified Chile results in Argentina not even making the playoff spot — unlikely, but possible.
Imagine a World Cup Finals without Argentina?
In CONCACAF, the only real issue left unresolved is who goes to the playoff against South America 5, and who automatically qualifies, as both the USA and Mexico qualified this past weekend. Costa Rica has a two point lead on Honduras, but face the stiffer challenge: Costa Rica play away to the USA at RFK, while Honduras play away to El Salvador, who have nothing to play for. 1st in the group is still open between the USA and Mexico with the US holding a slender one point lead. While both teams are level on goal differential, that will not come into play: the only way they end up level on points is if the US loses and Mexico draws; such a result would give Mexico a superior g/d.
I predict a US and victory over Costa Rica, and Honduras a slight edge to gain all three points out of El Salvador. While their combined g/d give Honduras a +10 advantage over El Salvador, when they played in Honduras earlier in qualifying it was only a 1-0 victory to the latter.
Assuming the US wins the group this year, don’t necessarily expect a seed in the World Cup itself.
Prost Amerika has a run down of those teams that qualified this past weekend.
There’s not much left to settle in UEFA. 2nd in Group 1 could go to Portugal, Sweden, or Hungary (and I would personally embrace a reality where Christiano Ronaldo is not in the World Cup Finals.)
Groups 2 and 3 are relatively wide open, with neither the automatic qualifier nor second place determined; surprises include Switzerland the likely winner of Group 2, the Czech Republic finishing second at best (and that’s no sure thing), Northern Ireland being mathematically (if not probabalistically) alive on the final match of qualifying, and Poland tanking. For those interested, and I know a couple people who very much are, the chances of Fox News admitting their sins by owning up to the salacious affair with the wingnut branch of the Republican Party, and as a mea culpa get fully behind ‘cap and trade’ as well as criticising Obama for not pushing for the Public Option are higher than Northern Ireland finishing second. NI would need to win away to the Czech Republic, while Slovenia would have to freeze on the big stage of playing away to San Marino and lose big to the mountaintop that could. This would only result in a points draw; the existing g/d advantage to Slovenia is +7 compared to NI.
But hell, it’s possible, right? After all, San Marino have scored a goal during this qualifying campaign, while conceding only 44.
Groups 4 and 5 are settled (Germany and Spain qualify, Russia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (!) finish second). The only real news in these groups is Turkey’s inability to finish even second.
Group 6, the group that England dominated until they won it, is down to Croatia or Ukraine for second. Groups 7, 8 and 9 are done (qualifying are Serbia, Italy, Netherlands; second are France, Ireland, and Norway). Shocking for France that they finished second to Serbia, and there is an outside chance that Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina would all qualify for the World Cup finals. That would be sort of cool, in a USA v Iran 1998 sort of way (or a South Korea v North Korea 2010 sort of way, both of whom have qualified).
It’s a safe bet that the one of nine second place teams to miss the cut for the second place playoffs is Norway.
As for LHR, there’s a reason I avoid this airport. I had to catch an 0330 bus from Plymouth to get here with any time to make my flight (and in this case far more time than I needed), and the bus drops one off at the Heathrow Central Bus Station. This is very convenient to Terminals 1, 2, and 3, but if you’re unfortunate to find yourself departing from T4 or T5, there’s a combination of long walk and tube journey (technically the Heathrow Express, and that is free) to get to your destination. Total time invested to get from the Heathrow bus station to Heathrow T4 was slightly over twice as long as it takes to fly from Plymouth Airport to Bristol Airport. Since T5 opened, T4 has turned into something of a ghost town as well, but the line for check-in was short (I suppose that has something to do with checking in about four hours in advance of take off?) and security was, surprisingly, a breeze.

The "Bomb Iran" Lobby is Getting Kind of Amateurish…

[ 0 ] October 13, 2009 |

Jeffrey Herf has taken to The New Republic in an effort to convince Americans that negotiations will go nowhere unless we threaten Tehran with an extensive bombing campaign. Herf is a specialist on Germany; Divided Memory is an excellent study of the different ways in which East and West Germans remember Nazism, and War by Other Means is interesting enough, even as it rather misses the point by over-emphasizing the role of Germany (and the missile debate more generally) in ending the Cold War. The vast expansion of literature on the Soviet point of view, in particular, has not been kind to Herf’s argument. In any case, Herf has some theories about relations between democracies and autocracies, and Marty saw fit to give him a platform. Yglesias identifies some problems; here are some more.

The essential problem is an old one in the history of negotiations between dictatorships and democracies. As was the case in the famous negotiations over intermediate-range nuclear forces in Europe in the 1980s, there is a fundamental asymmetry whenever a dictatorship sits down at the table with a democracy…All the domestic political pressures of the debate will be asymmetric: They will have an impact only on the governments of Britain, France, Germany, and the United States.

Herf doesn’t back this statement up, which suggests to me that he’s done almost no research on the issue. If he had, he’d know that there is in fact a literature on negotiation, and that democracies have some key advantages in negotiations with dictatorships. In particular, the constraints that democratic negotiators face can work to their advantage in determining outcomes within the range of mutually acceptable alternatives. Hard domestic constraints, assuming that they allow any agreement at all, are a massive plus at the negotiating table, because they limit what a negotiator can give away. It’s particularly fascinating that Herf invokes negotiations over the French and British nuclear arsenals, because, by his own account, the democracies won those negotiations, and won them because of electoral constraints. Indeed, democratic transparency often works to the advantage of negotiators; an American President can credibly argue that a treaty will not survive the Senate, while a Soviet General Secretary has much more trouble proving that the Red Army will veto a proposed arrangement. Herf would be well-advised to conduct additional research into the reasons why West prevailed on those negotiations, at least before engaging in another intellectual indefensible polemical exercise.

In December 1979, President Carter and our NATO allies agreed both to counter the new Soviet weapons by stationing American intermediate-range missiles in Europe and to propose a new round of arms-control negotiations with the Soviets, offering a scaled-backed NATO deployment in return for a reduction in their SS-20s. The USSR, however, demanded something more: that the nuclear weapons of Britain and France be counted in any negotiations. Under the Soviet scheme, Britain and France would have to pay the price for reductions in Soviet missiles by reducing or eliminating their nuclear arsenals, thus creating a “nuclear-free” Europe.

There’s rather a different way of thinking about this. Desiring the inclusion of British and French nuclear arsenals in the arms control negotiations may have been part of an actual, legitimate goal of Soviet foreign policy, rather than a negotiating “ploy”. The United Kingdom had, of course, developed its nuclear deterrent in collaboration with the United States. The primary delivery system for British nuclear weapons was the Polaris missile, designed in the United States. The United Kingdom was, moreover, tied to the United States through alliance in NATO. France was less constrained, and the French nuclear deterrent more independent, but nevertheless it’s hardly obvious that the Soviet desire to include the British and French arsenals as an element of the negotiations was either absurd or illegitimate. In the case of war between the Warsaw Pact and NATO, British and French missiles could destroy Soviet cities with exactly the same effectiveness as American missiles. Thus, I’d rather refrain from using the term “gambit” to describe what most rational observers would conclude was a rational, legitimate objective of Soviet foreign policy.

This brings us to the one policy option that Tehran truly fears–and thus the only one that gives these negotiations any realistic chance of success: a credible threat of military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities by the United States, perhaps joined by Britain and France, or Israel. If the Iranian leadership believed that such an attack was a real possibility, it, or some parts of it, might be persuaded to change course.

Right; the mullahs only understand the language of force, etc. Of course, if Dr. Herf had taken the US-Soviet analogy a bit farther, he might have been forced to notice that one of the key developments in the Soviet arms control stance in the mid-1980s was the Soviet realization that the US was not preparing to launch a preventive nuclear attack. Reagan’s rhetoric and arms buildup, whatever effect they may have had on the Soviet economy and on Soviet human rights, most certainly strengthened the hand of hardliners who argued that the US was planning to fight and win and offensive nuclear war. One of keys to Gorbachev’s success was his ability to argue that Reagan didn’t actually plan to attack, contrary to what appeared to be US preparations for war. In this sense, it was Soviet security, rather than Soviet vulnerability, that gave Gorbachev the ability to pursue arms control with Reagan. Had American hardliners such as Richard Perle and Dick Cheney prevailed, Reagan would have pursued a much more aggressive stance, and it’s unlikely that Gorbachev would have been able to budge the Soviet military-industrial complex. The Soviet Union would probably still have collapsed, but it almost certainly would have been a much more chaotic and bloody affair. Herf misses out on this because of either his inability or his refusal to understand that dictatorships also have factions, interest groups, and bureaucratic roadblocks, and his refusal to allow that the core interest of the Iranian leadership is their own security and survival, rather than nuclear weapons.

And this gets rather to the core of the problems with Herf’s approach. He assumes away Iranian domestic constraints, in spite of overwhelming evidence that a) dictatorships face internal constraints based on public pressure on bureaucratic infighting, b) that domestic constraints have unpredictable, and indeed often positive, effects on negotiating stances, and c) that dire military threats often empower the domestic actors in target countries that we’re least interested in seeing gain power. He seems to believe that since the regime successfully stole an election and hasn’t collapsed in the past three months, that it is free of domestic constraints. Such a position does not, as they say, demonstrate a sophisticated grasp of the way that authoritarian regimes operate; indeed, it would likely get Herf laughed out of an Introduction to Comparative Politics course.

In addition, Herf displays a cavalier ignorance of the Iranian regime; I suspect that the one thing the leadership TRULY fears is being overthrown by its domestic enemies, but not being an Iran specialist I try to refrain from writing statements like “the one thing Tehran truly fears.” Other than all that, however, Herf’s essay is just spiffy.

Michael Ledeen is a gift from the gods

[ 0 ] October 13, 2009 |

Michael Ledeen, December 5, 2006:

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is lying in a “royal suite” in the spiffy Vanak hospital (that’s its old name, which most Tehranis use) in Tehran. He wanted to leave today but the doctors would not permit it. I guess doctors have the last word, even in a dispute with the Supreme Leader. Heh. He arrived there late yesterday afternoon local time, after feeling cold, breaking out in a cold sweat, and losing feeling in his feet. The initial examination found low blood pressure and a slow pulse rate. They originally feared internal bleeding, but have tentatively concluded that he “only” suffers from a weakened heart.

And on October 13, 2009, quoting someone “who is in a position to know such things”:

Yesterday afternoon at 2.15PM local time, Khamenei collapsed and was taken to his special clinic. Nobody – except his son and the doctors – has since been allowed to get near him. His official, but secret, status is: “in the hands of the gods”.

Reportedly this collapse is natural. Many would like him to move to his afterlife but reportedly the collapse was not ‘externally induced’ [no poisoning]. The few insiders who know about the collapse see this development “as a gift from the gods.”

Good god. Even Perez Hilton hasn’t gone back to the “X World Leader is So Totally Dead well, but Michael Ledeen is nothing if not persistent.

Snowe Votes Aye

[ 0 ] October 13, 2009 |

I’m not sure if this is really good news or not, for this reason:

So Senator Snowe takes the leap, becoming almost certainly the only Republican, at least on this committee, to support the Democratic bill. But she cautions: “My vote today is my vote today, it doesn’t forecast what my vote would be tomorrow.”

By voting yes, she actually would get more leverage out of a no vote on cloture for the final legislation, which she’ll still be under intense pressure to cast. The need to try to keep the legislation “bipartisan” may also allow Snowe to haul out the same arbitrary chainsaw she used to gut the stimulus bill. I guess we’ll see.

Meanwhile, Joe Lieberman is still abominable.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a Redskin

[ 0 ] October 13, 2009 |

Joe Posnanski points out the rather amazing statistical quirk that Washington’s NFL franchise won’t play a team that will have won a game until the seventh week of the season (their opponents will have been a combined 0-14 up until then).

He also has some interesting thoughts on how strange it is that what’s by far the most offensive nickname for any major sports team in the USA belongs to the nation’s capital’s favorite franchise. (Of course when Washington’s NBA franchise changed their name from the unfortunate moniker “Bullets” they actually managed to come up with something worse. This would be difficult to achieve with “Redskins.”)

Also, Todd Collins, now in his second year of a three year nine million dollar extension, during which he has yet to take a snap in a game, is still teh awesome.

Speaking Can Be An Art!

[ 0 ] October 13, 2009 |

Pitchfork brings the snark:

For a while now, Tom Waits has been threatening to drop a live album document of his 2008 Glitter and Doom tour on us. And today, Waits’ new website announced all the details.

Glitter and Doom is due November 24 from Anti-, and it’ll be two discs, on CD and vinyl. Disc one is programmed like one evening’s setlist, even though it pulls together songs taped at 10 separate shows. Disc two, meanwhile, is entirely Tom Waits stage patter!

Yes, “Tom Tales” is one long track of incredibly charismatic surreal gutbucket rambling. Take that, Robert Pollard and Elvis! Time to update those Christmas lists, kids.

The comparisons with Having Fun On Stage With Elvis would be funny stuff — if you’re not actually familiar with Tom Waits albums. If you’ve heard Nighthawks at the Diner, on the other hand, you’ll know that his spoken word stuff can be terrific — I particularly strongly recommend the taking-yourself-on-a-date bit from the “Better Off Without A Wife” intro, but none of it was excluded from my iTunes transfer (which I wouldn’t say about the songs proper.) Similarly, the spoken word tracks are among the best stuff on Orphans, “Pontiac” especially but all of it is good.

So, actually, I’m looking forward to it. Indeed, I have more concerns about the first disc, which contains no more than 2-3 tracks of a 20-track best-of I’d compile from even the Bone Machine Orphans period. But maybe it will force me to reevaluate some of that stuff, and if Marc Ribot is in the band I’d listen to him cover pretty much anything…

Support for the Far Right

[ 0 ] October 13, 2009 |

I’m off to Canada tomorrow to present a paper on the relationship between asylum seekers and support for far-right parties in English local elections (authored with a Ph.D. student of mine) at a conference. Rather than force you to read this article once it sees the light of day in publication (let alone now in its rather unpolished form), I’ll skip to the end: variance in the number of asylum seekers across constituencies has no observable relationship with support for the BNP or UKIP.

However, the punchline: both (legal) immigrants and indigenous non-white population do have a strong relationship with support for far-right parties. But, as I’ve been saying all along, they’re not racist. Or at least they say so. As for their supporters . . .
An interesting aside here will be to further break down differences in support between the BNP and UKIP. UKIP are clearly populist, and their appeal has racist undertones, but they strongly claim to not be racist (unless you’re an EU immigrant, which they want to ban) and placing them on the far-right scale is not as easy for political scientists as, say, the explicitly “non-racist” BNP.

The State of the (non) Left

[ 0 ] October 13, 2009 |

I’ve been meaning to find the time to write about this, but Daniel over at Crooked Timber makes a lot of the same points that I wanted to make in offering a fairly classic Downsian analysis. One major extension to his thesis is that I would argue, somewhat lazily, that the wholesale move of the left to the center is not completely a function of internal dynamics and strategic electoral decisions; rather there is also an exogenous force at work as well. If I really wanted to move beyond my comfortable niche in electoral systems and comparative political behavior, I would explore globalization and its effect on domestic electoral politics. I suspect that it is more than coincidence that as globalization has increased, mainstream parties of both the left and the right have gone to the center (and, hence, turnout has declined). I teach as much in a class I designed on the effects of globalization on domestic politics and institutions — but I do allow as how the link is suggestive, and far from firm in an empirical sense.

Of course, from a social science perspective, conceptualization would all begin with an acceptable definition of globalization (before we go off to measure and all the other fun stuff that we do). The literature on globalization, while vast, is also unsettled, and outright contradictory in places regarding a definition.
Daniel sums up the state of the left as such:
My personal view is that what we’re seeing is the end of the electoral strategy which began with Bill Clinton and which (arguably) is still being kept alive by Kevin Rudd in Australia. Basically, it’s the view that you can keep a balloon flying by constantly chucking out left-wing ballast. Which worked very well in the 1990s and early 2000s, but it does have a limited lifespan built into it. After a while, you run out of ballast to throw out and you find that the hot-air burners aren’t working any more; the traditional left-wing base of your party has switched off, the unions can’t provide blocks of support and you’re left as a more or less identikit technocrat party, largely indistinguishable from your opponents and trying to compete on the basis of more efficient provision of “public services”.

Which does resonate. David Cameron is direct about how the next election is not one of ideological revolution (which would only flame existing suspicions that the British have about the extent of the modernization of the Tories) but rather who would better manage the economy and government.
Because electing the best technocrat is really inspirational to casual voters.

Mindless Orthodoxy Is For Losers

[ 0 ] October 13, 2009 |

Manager of the Year or no, Jim Tracy is the latest manager to cost his team a shot at a championship because The Closer has to pitch the 9th inning regardless of context. I don’t know about you, but when the other team has a guy who hits like Lou Gehrig against righthanders and Willie Bloomquist against lefthanders, I’m not letting him see a righthander with a game on the line unless I have Mariano Rivera.