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[ 1 ] July 13, 2010 |

The Yankees won eleven pennants and 7 world series championships during George Steinbrenner’s 37 year ownership tenure. That’s certainly more impressive than any other team since 1973, but is somewhat less sterling than the nineteen years of Topping, Webb, and MacPhail ownership, which resulted in fifteen pennants and 10 titles. Of course, that was a different era; no free agency, no amateur draft, eight team leagues, and so forth. I don’t particularly begrudge Steinbrenner any of those titles; he recognized the value of the Yankees and spent heavily to put them in position to win.

Embedding disabled, but still…


Innovations In Polanski Apolgism

[ 75 ] July 12, 2010 |

While a couple of commenters to this thread raised reasonable (if not entirely convincing to me) questions about problems with the actions of California authorities in seeking extradition, I also saw an especially weak defense that, while apparently not entirely new, I think is new to the comment section here. I’ll quote one representative example since it’s the most coherent:

A thirty-year-old crime in which the victim herself has moved on and even expressed forgiveness toward the creepy culprit? Very important. The state must prosecute now, even though it neglected innumerable instances earlier to rectify the situation. Definitely not political. Definitely on the same level as our current institutionalized torture regime or the fraudulent practices of the banksters. Justice must be served.

Even leaving aside the often made and easily refuted argument in the first sentence (this will become relevant as soon as we change our legal system to one in which crimes are solely against other private individuals and not against the people), there’s so much illogic packed in here it’s hard to know where to begin. It reminds me of the argument that one group of workers shouldn’t be allowed to organize if some group of workers out there is subject to greater exploitation.

The obvious problem with citing John Yoo and Dick Cheney and CitiBank is that there is absolutely no logical or causal relationship between them and the Polanski case whatsoever. We can release every fugitive child rapist in the world and George Bush still isn’t going to be arrested. The argument also proves too much; if taken seriously, apparently we aren’t allowed to prosecute any crimes if someone somewhere is getting away with a worse offense. In other words, the argument isn’t meant to be taken seriously.  It’s just the Versailles defense of Polanski being made through other means. Nobody would argue that a garden variety child rapist who fled the jurisdiction should be exempt from legal sanction because Jay Bybee remains a federal judge. I hope.

This argument is a non-sequitur in another way as well. Even if it’s true that the extraditing Polanski is a highly suboptimal use of resources (which I don’t endorse), so what? I don’t know when it became the job of the Swiss authorities to assess the resource allocation of prosecutors in another country.  Rather, their obligation is to enforce the extradition treaty they duly signed with the United States, and they have presented no serious argument that it’s not enforceable in this case. And it’s worth noting again that the (very real) injustices of the American legal system are less relevant to Polanski than most other defendants. Polanski had the resources to file an appeal with excellent legal counsel, and if the California prosecutors acted illegally the remedy was to be found in a court of law.

I’m on the Wrong Damn Side…

[ 9 ] July 12, 2010 |

Rozen, via Glenn Greenwald:

Our colleague Ken Vogel reported yesterday that Sarah Palin’s SarahPAC has paid Kristol’s Weekly Standard colleague Michael Goldfarb and former McCain campaign foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann of Orion Strategies $90,000 since July 2009 to advise her on foreign policy.

Okay, fine; that’s it. Sarah, let me make you this offer right now: I will work for 2/3rds of whatever you’re paying Mike Goldfarb, and I swear to Jeebus that my product will be twice as good. I can work in the neocon genre:

Peace through strength! Bomb Iran! Palestinians suck! Yay Reagan! A nuke in every home!

See? I’ve already exceeded the Goldfarb standard. Plus, you get to portray yourself as all bipartisan-y and stuff. How can you lose?


[ 45 ] July 12, 2010 |

Via Ralph Luker, here’s an animated recapitulation of the world’s nuclear tests since 1945. Even with every month reduced to a second, it takes several minutes to gain momentum; from the end of the 1950s through the end of the 1980s, however, the whole thing becomes rather bewildering and about as depressing as tiny beeps and flickers of light can be.

A few random observations:

  1. I can’t imagine most Americans are aware that the US conducted more nuclear tests than every other nation combined from 1945-1998.  For whatever these figures are worth, the number of Soviet tests never eclipsed more than 70 percent of the US total.  By the mid-1970s, when Team B was yodeling about a “window of vulnerability” in the US defense strategy, the US had conducted nearly twice the number of tests as their chief rival.
  2. The British apparently conducted several nuclear tests in the US.  I’ve since learned that there were nine such events from 1983-1991, all apparently in connection to the Trident project.  Didn’t know that.
  3. The most interesting period, in my view, takes place from the end of 1958 through September 1961.  Nothing happens throughout 1959; France sets off a handful of bombs from early 1960 through the spring of 1961; then the Soviets go absolutely apeshit in September of that year, and things don’t really calm down again until the early 1990s.  In this video, the erratic incidence of US and Soviet tests in the 1950s looks and sounds like a conversation.  Afterwards, it’s an incoherent frenzy.

A Bit More on the Romney Thing…

[ 6 ] July 12, 2010 |

More than a few people have noted that the foreign policy vision of the Republican Party appears to have moved to the far right of the Reagan administration; thus, when the Heritage Foundation ghost writes an op-ed for Mitt Romney, the resulting cesspool is a mishmash of opinions that would have been on the far right fringe of Reagan’s national security apparatus. As the oft-cited Baron YoungSmith has argued:

It means, first and foremost, that the responsible Republican foreign policy establishment is not coming back. Mandarins like George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, and James Baker, who have all testified or written on behalf of the START treaty—calling it an integral, uncontroversial way of repairing the bipartisan arms-control legacy that sustained American foreign policy all the way up until the George W. Bush administration—are going to be dead soon (or they’ve drifted into the service of Democrats). The people who will take their place will be from a generation of superhawks, like John Bolton, Liz Cheney, and Robert Joseph, who are virulently opposed to the practice of negotiated arms control. Mitt Romney, though a moderate from Michigan, is not going to be the second coming of Gerald Ford.

I made a similar argument in a Right Web article a few weeks ago:

Many of the moderate Republicans who favored arms control and engagement with the Soviet Union are still around, but they have minimal influence on the institutional right. Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, and George Schultz have all played key roles in developing foreign policy for multiple Republican administrations. However, none have developed an extensive base within the institutional right wing, the constellation of independent organizations and foundations (including the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute) that have emerged as key players in internal Republican Party debates. This faction has, by and large, concluded that the greatest threat posed by Russian nuclear weapons is loss, theft, or accidental launch, rather than pre-emptive attack.

In contrast, the signatories to the Washington Times op-ed mentioned above all represent organizations that are part of the institutional machinery of movement conservatism.[11]

In addition, prominent political figures have been able to promote the studies and reports produced by these groups, including for instance Sarah Palin, who despite her clear lack of knowledge on the subject tried to use that hardline rhetoric in attacking Obama’s arms control initiatives.

The influence of the institutional right wing is even more pronounced on foreign policy than domestic policy because so many major political actors (both Democrat and Republican) simply don’t care about foreign policy. I suspect that Mitt Romney actually has opinions about major issues of US domestic policy, and these opinions may even be informed by some subject area knowledge. In foreign policy this is not the case, and Heritage Foundation ideologues who would have been laughed out of the Reagan administration find themselves in command of the foreign policy statements of several major GOP presidential aspirants.

Youngsmith is right to note that the GOP moderates aren’t coming back, but it’s worth additional investigation to determine why they were so helpless in the face of the dire fanatics when it came to developing an institutional base. I suspect that at least part of the answer is personality based; Baker and Scowcroft, for example, seem to have eschewed institution building in favor of cultivating an elite consensus. For whatever reason, this strategy has failed utterly to ster the last ten years of foreign policy production in the Republican Party.

So long, Harvey.

[ 8 ] July 12, 2010 |

Harvey Pekar wasn’t included on the list of people I’m officially allowed to mourn, but that doesn’t mean I won’t mourn his passing anyway. I first came to American Splendor too early—when I started reading Love and Rockets and Cerebus in 1993—and then too late—after the release of the film American Splendor in 2003—so while I understood it, I never truly “got” his appeal. I appreciated his ear for language, but as a teenager thought what it captured unworthy of print, and as a literary scholar had encountered many similarly talented ears and was, therefore, less impressed by it than I should have been. But when I read the news of his passing earlier today, I realized something:

I knew Harvey Pekar.

I didn’t know him know him, but like all of his readers, I knew him as well as you know me. Pekar was a proto-blogger, if you will, because he turned his life into something worthy of public consumption. Our Cancer Year is a grueling read not because all cancer entails struggle, but because the patient stricken with it is someone whose failed dreams, stunted career, and intimate thoughts are familiar to us. We may not have known Harvey Pekar, but we knew “Harvey Pekar,” and unlike artists for whom the distance between characters and self is meticulously kept, in this case it really is just a matter of quotation marks.

Rest in peace, Harvey. Lord knows you deserve some.

And in the First Season, that Country Didn’t Even Exist…

[ 11 ] July 12, 2010 |

This is nothing short of genius:

But then there are some shows that go completely beyond the pale of enjoyability, until they become nothing more than overwritten collections of tropes impossible to watch without groaning.

I think the worst offender here is the History Channel and all their programs on the so-called “World War II”.

Let’s start with the bad guys. Battalions of stormtroopers dressed in all black, check. Secret police, check. Determination to brutally kill everyone who doesn’t look like them, check. Leader with a tiny villain mustache and a tendency to go into apopleptic rage when he doesn’t get his way, check. All this from a country that was ordinary, believable, and dare I say it sometimes even sympathetic in previous seasons.

I wouldn’t even mind the lack of originality if they weren’t so heavy-handed about it. Apparently we’re supposed to believe that in the middle of the war the Germans attacked their allies the Russians, starting an unwinnable conflict on two fronts, just to show how sneaky and untrustworthy they could be? And that they diverted all their resources to use in making ever bigger and scarier death camps, even in the middle of a huge war? Real people just aren’t that evil. And that’s not even counting the part where as soon as the plot requires it, they instantly forget about all the racism nonsense and become best buddies with the definitely non-Aryan Japanese.

Not that the good guys are much better. Their leader, Churchill, appeared in a grand total of one episode before, where he was a bumbling general who suffered an embarrassing defeat to the Ottomans of all people in the Battle of Gallipoli. Now, all of a sudden, he’s not only Prime Minister, he’s not only a brilliant military commander, he’s not only the greatest orator of the twentieth century who can convince the British to keep going against all odds, he’s also a natural wit who is able to pull out hilarious one-liners practically on demand. I know he’s supposed to be the hero, but it’s not realistic unless you keep the guy at least vaguely human.

Read the rest x4.

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You Are The Sucker

[ 4 ] July 12, 2010 |

I think Yglesias has the apporpriate response to Jacob Weisberg’s comically belated discovery that John McCain is a cynical hack:

But I feel like some of the media’s John McCain fanboys should give more consideration to the idea that less here has changed than they think, and they themselves just shouldn’t have been so eager to embrace McCain in the first place. McCain is still a fanatical warmonger who believes in maximal application of military force in all circumstances, a kind of mirror-image Quaker. That his cartoonish worldview has ever been taken seriously tells you a lot about how deep in the grips of militarism Washington, DC is. And on domestic issues, he doesn’t know anything and doesn’t care so he takes positions driven by political opportunism and fits of pique. After losing the 2000 primary he spent several years acting like a huge sore loser and racking up one of the least-conservative voting records of any Republican. Then he tacked right starting in 2004, and after losing to Barack Obama’s he’s been acting like a sore loser again.

I liked it better when sore loserdom pointed in the direction of opposition to Bush’s tax cuts than in the direction of opposition to carbon pricing, but it’s really two sides of the same coin.

It’s worth adding that McCain’s nominal opposition to torture — the only example of maverickness in the 2008 primary campaign Weisberg cites — was also a fraud.

In The Worst Tradition of Swiss “Neutrality”

[ 69 ] July 12, 2010 |

As Paul notes below, the Swiss government has decided that fugitive child rapist Roman Polanski will not be extradited to face justice.   Defending an indefensible proposition inevitably requires some gross illogic, and the Swiss government does not disappoint:

Ms. Widmer-Schlumpf said the American authorities had rejected a request by her ministry for records of a hearing by the prosecutor in the case, Roger Gunson, in January 2010, which should have established whether the judge who tried the case in 1977 had assured Mr. Polanski that time he spent in a psychiatric unit would constitute the whole of the period of imprisonment he would serve.

“If this were the case, Roman Polanski would actually have already served his sentence and therefore both the proceedings on which the U.S. extradition request is founded and the request itself would have no foundation,” the Swiss Justice Ministry said in a statement.

In fairness, the state of California may have erred here in not providing records, but the argument here still makes no sense. Even if we were to accept arguendo that the judge was about to apply a stricter sentence, since doing so would have been inconsistent with neither the relevant statute nor the plea agreement Polanski entered into, so what? This is a matter for American courts; it’s not for the Swiss govenrment to determine that retroactively child rapists deserve a slap on the wrist based on what at best were informal misunderstandings. What a disgrace.

A Chinatown world

[ 3 ] July 12, 2010 |

Three apparently unrelated news stories:

(1) Several hundred fans with tickets to the Spain-Germany semi-final missed the game because FIFA contrived to allow the private jets of what in 18th century England was known as the Quality to land at their owners’ convenience.

(2) The government of South Africa will lose billions on the World Cup, in a country where half the population lives under the (extremely low) international poverty line.

(3) The Swiss government has decided not to extradite a child rapist and fugitive from justice with lots of influential friends.

Hail to the Conquistador!

[ 6 ] July 11, 2010 |

Some fabulous work from the LGM readership; two teams in the 99.9th percentile:

1 greller49 1A. Greller 22 20 24 32 32 130 99.9
1 tnpsc 1v. las vegas 22 20 24 32 32 130 99.9
3 I Sure Hope I Win This!D A Lempert 20 16 24 32 32 124 99.1
4 gj manateesb. junge 19 16 24 32 32 123 98.9
4 wang1870D. Sessoms 19 24 16 32 32 123 98.9
6 timeagan101 1T. Eagan 23 16 16 32 32 119 98.1
7 US CottagersD. Brennan 18 20 16 32 32 118 97.8
7 Jersey Burkers J. Theibault 18 20 16 32 32 118 97.8
9 wizardpeople 1D. Noon 19 16 16 32 32 115 96.9
10 Smarter Than YuoS. Fleury 21 20 16 16 32 105 94.5

A. Greller wins by virtue of having a closer “total goals scored” number. Excellent work. If Mr. or Ms. Greller would please contact me, prize delivery shall be arranged…

Oh, and congrats to Spain as well, I guess.

Book Review: The Last Days of Europe

[ 13 ] July 11, 2010 |

This is the fifth installment of an eight part series on the Patterson School’s Summer Reading List.

  1. Hide and Seek, Charles Duelfer
  2. The Accidental Guerrilla, David Kilcullen
  3. The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich
  4. Huang Yasheng, Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics
  5. Walter Laqueur, The Last Days of Europe

In the past, the Patterson School has included some truly terrible books on its Summer Reading List. The most notably awful, to my recollection, was Parag Khanna’s Second World, a manifestly reprehensible pile of garbage that should have embarrassed its publisher. I suspect, however, that Walter Laqueuer’s The Last Days of Europe is even worse.

As a scholar, Laqueur has always been a bit all over the place. He wrote several books about central Europe in the 20th century, a volume about fascism, did some work on the Holocaust, and more recently has focused on terrorism and Middle Eastern politics. Unfortunately, in The Last Days of Europe he expresses no interest in any historical method beyond the cranky, unmeasured rant. Despite making wide ranging empirical claims (and basing his policy recommendations on those claims) he cites no actual evidence, and gives readers no clue as to where he mines the “data” that he purports to provide. Footnotes don’t necessarily indicate serious scholarship (see Ann Coulter), but their absence contra-indicates it.

Laqueur’s story is very simple. Europe, or at least the part of Europe inhabited by well-behaved white folks, is in terminal decline. In short order it will effectively be replaced by uncouth, poorly educated, thuggish Middle Easterners. These Middle Easterners hate the West for some reason with a burning hatred than knows no hateful hatey limits, except for those Middle Easterners who don’t hate the West and want to continue living there. Moreover, because Polite White People are unwilling to breed in sufficient numbers, these uncouthy surly “Muslims” (he regularly argues that European Muslims actually know nothing of their faith) will soon sap and impurify Europe’s bodily fluids. Moreover, the EU sucks, and European is both militarily weak and anti-American.

To be excruciatingly fair, Laqueur’s alarm about European demographics is in the neighborhood of elements of truth (for a much more sensible take, see here), and his contention that the EU is fatally disconnected from popular European preferences could be made to make sense by a much better author. The rest is a waste; it says far more about Laqueur’s particular prejudices, and the paranoia of the contemporary American right, than about Europe.

A sampling:

In Germany the sharp decline began with the Genera-tion of 1968 and the Frankfurt School, with its Critical Theory, which belittled the function of the family from both a social and an economic point of view. But the family declined also in other societies in which the year 1968 was not an important turning point.

Really? So the claim that the sharp demographic decline began with the Frankfurt School and its Critical Theory is demonstrably empirically false?
We also get more than a dose of what really irritates Walter Laqueur; surly, dark-skinned teenagers:

Muslim youth culture varies to a certain extent from country to country. Common to them is the street sports gear (hooded sweatshirts, sneakers, etc.) and the machismo; their body language expresses aggression. They want respect, though it is not clear how they think such respect is earned; perhaps it is based on the belief that “this street (quarter) is ours.” In France and the United Kingdom hip-hop culture plays a central role; the texts of their songs express strong violence, often sadism.

We learn that these thugs commit lots of crimes, and that European cities are now as unsafe as American (except for the murder rate, of course, which remains more than triple that of any country that Laqueur discusses).

Unfortunately, he feels the need to make comparisons between European muslims and African-Americans:

Socioeconomic factors have been blamed, and in this respect there have been interesting similarities to young black males in the United States: If only more jobs would be offered, it is often maintained, everything would change for the better. But many studies have shown that when such jobs were offered (as in the Clinton years in the United States), the takers were predominantly immigrants from Latin America and the Far East.

It’s hard to know where to start with this. It would have been nice if Laqueur had actually cited a study, rather than say “studies have shown,” but that’s really not the point; African-American unemployment at the beginning of the Clinton administration was 14.1%, and at the end was 7.3%. When the jobs were “offered” (and it’s unclear how exactly he thinks Clinton produced jobs), many of the takers appear to have been African-American. Either Laqueur doesn’t know this and doesn’t care, or he’s simply lying; I report, you decide.

This statement, and statements like it, are depressingly common in the book:

It was not just a case of rejecting France and its values but of hating French society and its institutions, as spokesman of the young generation repeatedly declared.

Really? How were these spokesman selected by the young generation? Were they representative? Were there other “spokesman” who made counter-claims? Maybe, maybe, and maybe, but I have no idea, because Laqueur doesn’t provide any citation to any spokesman saying anything about anything. Nevertheless, Laqueur knows that these swarthy young men with the hoodies and the hip hop HATE FRANCE AND ITS INSTITUTIONS AND ITS WELL BEHAVED WHITE PEOPLE.

On the danger of Angry Swarthy Turkish People in Germany:

According to German officials, their [the Islamists] number is not formidable- 3600 in Berlin- and it has not grown significantly over the years. But this refers to militants, professionals, or semiprofessionals, and seen from this perspective they are stronger than any other group. Milli Goerues, which has been categorized by German officials as “extremist,” has hundreds of groups based in its mosques. It aims (without mincing words) to replace the secular order in the country in which they live by an order based on the sharia, first in the regions in which Muslims are the majority, or a signficant minority, and subsequently in the areas in which their space has expanded.

Well, I guess we’re fortunate then that there are 5 million people in the Berlin metropolitan area; otherwise that 3600 number (not growing, by the way) would be cause for concern.

On European anti-terror laws:

In most European countries (as well as in the United States, Russia, and India), antiterrorist legislation was somewhat strengthened after 9/11 and subsequent terrorist attacks in other countries. But even then the authorities were largely powerless to arrest of sentence suspected terrorists. If they did so, they were denounced as acting illegally by no only local human rights watch organizations, Amnesty International, and so on, but also European political institutions- usually with reference to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Again, some citation of actual cases would have been helpful; I suspect that Amnesty has at some point complained about something that’s happened in Europe, but I certainly wouldn’t have the faintest idea what that was from reading Laqueur. More to the point, Laqueur’s contention about the insufficiency of anti-terrorist law enforcement in Europe is almost surreal. Every country that Laqueur mentions give vastly greater powers to its police apparatus than is enjoyed by their US counterparts; Patriot Act notwithstanding, the average Briton, German, and Frenchman is subject to considerably greater scrutiny than the average American. This is the legacy not only of the strong security states that emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but also of the anti-terror campaigns that the major European states waged in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Laqueur doesn’t bother to grapple with this, because he wants to describe weak anti-terror laws as a peculiarly European problem, with the namby pamby and the EU and the Amnesty and the welfare state et al.

And then he messes with political science:

There are more no-go zones in France than in Britain, and political scientists believe that France faces balkanization in the not too distant future.

Really? Which political scientists? Are there other political scientists who disagree? How would you characterize the argument? I dunno, I dunno, and I dunno, because Laqueur simply invokes the majesty of political science in support of his hypothesis that France is disintegrating, without telling us which political scientists he’s citing.

I could go on. He rambles nonsensically about the perilous weakness of the European military establishment, without mentioning that two of the top five, four of the top ten, and seven of the top twenty in defense spending belong to the EU. He rants about “pundits” and “think tanks” that keep arguing about European predominance, without citing precisely who makes these arguments, in what context, or with what caveats.

In a sane and just world, the editor, publisher, and author of this volume would be permanently excluded from polite society; to call this book pernicious, dishonest, ill-informed dreck is to do a disservice to genuine, quality dreck. Unfortunately, Laqueur suffers no sanction; the book exists in the alternate reality of right wing hackery, in which no argument can be so stupid, so poorly supported, and so dishonest to earn general reproach, as long as it expresses concern about the darkies and the welfare and the foreign policy weakness.