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The Ja Rule of the Foreign Policy Clerisy

[ 7 ] February 15, 2008 |

Spencer Ackerman:

Michael O’Hanlon is a Brookings Institution defense expert who doesn’t actually know anything about defense. He does, however, know how to be a reliable barometer of what very-slightly-left-of-center establishment types believe should be said about defense. If anyone in the foreign-policy community respects O’Hanlon, I haven’t met him or her. I remember being at a barbecue in 2005 and remarking that O’Hanlon has never had an interesting thought in his life when an aide to John Bolton stood up, pumped the air with both fists, and bellowed, “Preach it, brother!” Well, that’s not entirely fair: everyone’s throat-clearing caveat about O’Hanlon is that he compiles the useful Brookings Iraq Index, a compendium of Iraq-relevant statistics. So as a foreign-policy mandarin, he makes a good intern.

As Ackerman suggests, O’Hanlon’s latest op-ed in the WSJ doesn’t break the author’s streak of consecutive, uninteresting thoughts, many of which have been documented in abundance by Rob and Scott. O’Hanlon’s point, as best I can fathom, is that the US diplomatic record is spotty when it comes to dealing with unpleasant characters, and that Barack Obama, therefore, should be careful about converting diplomacy into a “doctrine.” Of course, Obama has suggested nothing of the sort, nor has he — as O’Hanlon implies — claimed that engaging in diplomacy with Iran or any other adversary would be “a new tool of American foreign policy,” nor has he indicated that a shift away from the mindless sack-grabbing of the Bush administration would “guarantee success.”

In other words, O’Hanlon has just earned his rent money by warning his readers about this fellow and the perils he might pose to American foreign policy:

Careful, Mike! He burns!

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So Much Wrong

[ 19 ] February 15, 2008 |

Here’s the synopsis: In Oxnard, California, a 14-year-old boy is being charged as an adult (and with a hate crime enhancement) for the shooting murder of a gay classmate [as of this morning, the victim was brain dead and there were plans to remove the ventilator keeping him alive]. The victim had a troubled past and at the time of his death was living in a shelter for troubled children. He had started to wear some women’s clothes and makeup to school, a development that apparently upset the boy who would later shoot him. The day after a confrontation involving both boys, one was dead and the other was charged with his murder. The shooter, who just turned 14 in January, is being charged as an adult and faces 50 years to life in prison.

There’s so much that’s troubling in this incident that it’s hard to parse it out. It’s upsetting, of course, that an adolescent boy would feel such homophobia and hatred at such a young age. It’s terrible that he had access to a loaded gun and that he was able to bring it to school. But it’s also terrible that a 14-year-old is being charged as an adult and may spend the rest of his life in jail. Of course, what he did is reprehensible. But are we prepared to say that a 14 year old understands his actions and their consequences as an adult does, and that he should be treated as such? Keep in mind that this boy just turned 14 last month; 14 is the cutoff for charging as an adult in California.

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"Disgusting delicacies"

[ 18 ] February 15, 2008 |

I think the slashfood article Ezra links to here gets it wrong; I don’t think I could force myself to eat that maggot cheese on a bet, but I didn’t really have an issue with eating balut. I hadbalut a couple times in Cambodia this summer and I thought they were actually pretty good.

I really want to try civet coffee some day, but it’s simply too expensive to justify. While wikipedia claims the coffee’s unique taste comes from enzymes in the civet’s stomach, I’ve heard from coffee people that the real reason civet coffee is so good is that the civets are far more discerning in choosing which the coffee they eat then any human harvesting method could be.

Unfortunately, when my bus stopped in Skuon, I was having some stomach troubles, and I couldn’t quite bring myself to try the deep fried spiders.

One of the tastiest things I ate in all of Southeast Asia was in Laos; I selected an item at random from a Laotian menu at a little roadside stand of a restaurant. I was served a wonderful baguette stuffed with fresh herbs and chunks of some of the most delicious, tender, tasty fried meat I’ve ever had. I went back the next day for another one, and this time they had an English menu to accompany the Laotian one. The dish was identified simply and directly: “fried weasel with baguette.” Whether the meat was actually a weasel, or some other animal that some white person said looked like a weasel, I’ll never know.

Another Laotian food note: many Laotian restaurants primarily serve a combination of Thai and Vietnamese dishes, but in my experience they were often better than the versions of those dishes I had in Thailand and Vietnam. The Pho, in particular, was consistently much tastier and more flavorful in Laos than Vietnam.

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Spinning Yourself

[ 0 ] February 15, 2008 |

I think Josh and Markos get it about right about Mark Penn, Union Buster (TM). What’s amazing to me is that given his apparent willingness to leave pledged delegates on the table Penn’s arguments that the states that have been sufficient to put Obama in a strong lead don’t count don’t seem to be mere spin. Rather, he may really think that he could lose pledged delegates by a significant margin and still win because undecided superdelegates wouldn’t act in their own interests or that anyone not already in the tank would consider a contest with one major candidate on the ballot and no campaign retroactively turned into a primary a perfectly legitimate election.

But it should be obvious to anyone thinking about it a little, let alone being paid millions of dollars for his strategery, that it wasn’t going to work. I don’t have the highest view of Democratic elites, but they’re not dumb enough to overturn a clear victory by a credible candidate. Even those who would prefer Clinton would rather unite behind Obama than effectively put John McCain in the White House by ripping the party apart through the use of elite votes or outright cheating. The Clinton campaign taking Wisconsin seriously indicates that they’ve finally understood that they’re actually going to have to win this on pledged delegates rather than by a significant margin among superdelegates or by counting the results of straw polls ex post facto, and this includes getting as many delegates as you can in states you don’t win. Whether they figured this out too late remains to be seen.

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[ 24 ] February 15, 2008 |

Perhaps the scariest teaser in the Ole Perfesser’s history, which is evidently saying something. And, apparently it’s as atrocious one would expect, complete with assertions that love is sort of like double-entry bookkeeping and whining about how “a woman can get pregnant outside wedlock, and still hound a man forever for child support.” The oppression is unbearable!

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[ 24 ] February 15, 2008 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck

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The Face of the Robot that Will Soon be Killing You

[ 0 ] February 15, 2008 |

Via Danger Room, Popular Mechanics lists the five top un-American killer robots. For my part, the penis shaped kamikaze robot is the worst. I certainly hope that we develop sufficient American robots to defeat or deter these foreign robots, and I’m sure that nothing could possibly go wrong with our efforts.

Speaking of which, wouldn’t it be awesome if the Battlestar Galactica finally reached earth and found…. this? Reminds me that I need to write a BSG: Razor review.

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Heckuva Job

[ 19 ] February 15, 2008 |

Jesus, this is pathetic:

Federal health officials have confirmed that high levels of formaldehyde gas pose health risks to hurricane victims housed in 38,000 government trailers on the Gulf Coast, and will recommend that occupants be moved before temperatures rise this spring and summer, Bush administration officials disclosed yesterday. . . .

The findings cap nearly two years of internal government deliberation over the housing of hurricane Katrina and Rita survivors in the trailers, and come 23 months after FEMA first received reports of health problems and test results showing formaldehyde levels at 75 times the U.S.-recommended workplace safety threshold.

And this a day after FEMA announced that unused trailers — purchased via no-bid contracts following the 2005 disaster — would be offered to people whose homes were obliterated by last week’s tornadoes. Isn’t there some spoiled milk, rancid meat, and expired pharmaceuticals we could send them as well?

Meantime, FEMA is still offering 1000 mobile homes to Indian tribal governments. Though FEMA insists that the mobile homes have stricter standards on formaldehyde than the trailers, there’s reason to believe that levels are still high enough to cause respiratory and throat problems in some residents.

More on the trailer/mobile home issue here.

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Good to be in Ohio

[ 6 ] February 15, 2008 |

Just saw my first political ad of the season, 19 minutes into Lost. Clinton, positive, focusing on the economy and generally anti-corporate. Good ad, good for the Cincinnati area.

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RU-486′s Unintended Upside

[ 26 ] February 14, 2008 |

There are a lot of reasons why RU-486 (or mifepristone or the abortion pill) is a good thing. For women who wish to abort a pregnancy in its early stages, the pill can offer a non-invasive method that ensures the woman’s privacy and allows her to avoid the long waits and big waiting rooms at clinics. This we anticipated.

But an interesting, and (at least for me) unforeseen side effect of RU-486′s availability is that it stymies clinic protesters. As Sara Robinson put it, they’re all dressed up with no one to terrorize. Which clinic can they stand in front of and at whom can they scream obscenities if there’s no place that we can point to as an old-fashioned “abortion clinic”? What if, instead, women seeking abortions can just go to their gynecologist’s office, take a pill, go home, and wait it out?

This may increasingly be the way that abortions take place. RU-486 use has been rising steadily since it became available in the US in 2000. Its availability, again according to Robinson, has seriously slowed clinic violence and, relatedly, stopped the attrition of abortion providers, an issue that was plaguing the profession and reducing access to abortion, particularly for women in poor and/or rural areas. RU-486 allows women to bypass moralizing pharmacists and to terminate their pregnancies with dignity.

Robinson argues that increased reliance on RU-486 will spell the end for the wingnut part of the anti-abortion movement. I’m not quite that optimistic. But a few less women harassed is a damn good start.

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Bloody Valentine’s Day

[ 0 ] February 14, 2008 |

I saw these folks with The Jesus Lizard and Sonic Youth in 1991, and to my surprise they were just about the loudest thing I’d ever heard. At the end of “You Made Me Realise,” they descended into a 15 minute chasm of noise that was more or less what I suspect the interior of a jet engine would sound like. It was awesome. A friend of mine observed later that “after ten minutes, the thought of the sound not ending stopped bothering me.” Shame they stopped after Loveless, though I understand a reunion might be in the works.

Anyhow, Valentine’s Day is an idiotic load of tripe, but this makes it a little more endurable.

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The "Significant" States

[ 189 ] February 14, 2008 |

Shorter Mark Penn, Union Buster (TM): “The states that vote for Obama are insignificant. In fact, the only states that count are our home state, California, Texas, and states that held straw polls we can retrospectively claim to be primaries, preferably with the candidate who would be soundly beating us if any of his victories counted excluded from the ballot.”

I can’t say that the thought of having this strategic mastermind in charge of a general election campaign fills me with great hope. It also seems to me that it would have been better for Clinton to take some of the 5 million smackers she’s paying to get advice from idiots and use that to actually advertise and/or organize in the “insignificant” states.

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