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Can Stats Be Contrarian?

[ 0 ] August 23, 2007 |

Most of the rest of the top 10 make sense — it it figures to be razor-thin — but I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have gotten the current NL leader win shares with 50 guesses. And I don’t think careful analysis would leave him has one of the top 5, but I will note that other methods seem to largely corroborate the eye-popping defensive stats that put him over the top.

I’m also pleased that not only is Magglio slightly ahead of Slappy in the AL race, but Ichiro! is even with him. If this holds up, I’ll have some empirical justification for my inevitable results-oriented justification for putting Slappy 3rd on my BP ballot…

And by ‘consensus,’ I mean ‘almost zero,’ OK?

[ 0 ] August 23, 2007 |

More squirrel bait regarding the American war in Vietnam, today from Peter Rodman, whose ongoing devotion to Henry Kissinger — his first boss — is touching if nothing else:

Military historians seem to be converging on a consensus that by the end of 1972, the balance of forces in Vietnam had improved considerably, increasing the prospects for South Vietnam’s survival. That balance of forces was reflected in the Paris Agreement of January 1973, and the (Democratic) Congress then proceeded to pull the props out from under that balance of forces over the next 2 1/2 years — abandoning all of Indochina to a bloodbath.

This is Rob’s terrain more than mine, but I’m going to go ahead and guess that the number of military historians who comprise this “consensus” is roughly equivalent to the number who believe that tens of thousands of enslaved people fought on behalf of the Confederacy.

In all seriousness, though, Rodman clearly has in mind the work of Mark Moyar (about whom I wrote here). Moyar’s claim to fame among rightward-thinking types rests almost solely on his insistence that the US was (in 1972) capable of winning the war in Vietnam; this perceptive analysis comes, I should add, from the same fellow who seriously believes Ngo Dinh Diem was an effective leader whom the US (per tradition) abandoned in his hour of need. Moyar’s status as a conservative genius-martyr is enhanced, apparently, by the fact that he hasn’t been offered a “prestigious” academic job. Rodman has evidently decided that as a substitute, Moyar’s thesis will be granted the status of “academic consensus.”

Among other things, Rodman’s directive will surely rouse the commentariat at Neocon, where I’ve apparently been declared an enemy of the people — meriting “death or banishment” — for suggesting that the conservative narrative about the Vietnam War is . . . like . . . stupid? (And no, I haven’t overlooked the irony of people howling about liberal complicity in the Cambodian genocide while warning liberals of grim days to come . . .)

Vital Interests

[ 0 ] August 23, 2007 |

The foreign policy community debate has led down some pretty interesting avenues, one of them being an interrogation of the idea that the United States has “vital interests”. The short answer is no, and that policy arguments made on the basis of “vital interests” are almost always non-sensical, and are often destructive. There are two ways to take apart the “national interest”; the first is to challenge the national bit, and the second the interest bit. The national bit is easy enough to understand, as it should be apparent that on most foreign policy questions we aren’t “all in it together”. Different groups have different interests, and benefit unequally from various foreign policy acts.

On the “interest” part, the best discussion of the term, in my view, continues to be Arnold Wolfers 1952 Political Science Quarterly article “National Security as an Ambiguous Symbol.” Responding to the efforts of nascent Cold Warriors to justify policy X or purchase Y in the pursuit of national security, Wolfers absolutely demolished the notion that the term could have any fixed, useful meaning independent of an assessment of prior values and a cost-benefit calculus of value trade-offs. It’s a remarkably important article; if you don’t have access to JSTOR, this link might work.

That said, I’m actually not sure how far the interrogation of the “national interest” concept gets us in terms of Iraq. While O’Hanlon and Pollack may have made mention of the national interest in some media fora, for the most part both of them made concrete (and wrong) arguments about how the invasion would forward some particular interest, thus avoiding the nebulous national interest justification. Indeed, I’m pretty sure that Pollack even included the furtherance of multilateral institutions as part of the reason for invading Iraq, thus suggesting that international law has a value that should be included in the US interest calculus. Some arguments for invading Iraq were quite explicit on this point, suggesting that the invasion was the only way to “save” international law and the United Nations, which was on the verge of failure because of the spiteful French.

On the whole, in fact, liberal hawks (and even some conservatives) made much more rhetorical use of international law and a sophisticated understanding of the national interest than did some opponents of the invasion. In the international relations community, “national interest” is a concept most often used by realists, who while recognizing the problems with the term still find it analytically useful. Realists, however, were among the firmest opponents of the Iraq War, which was especially notable given the fact that realists tend not to care a whit for international law or humanitarian issues.

What this all amounts to, I think, is that while the use of “national interest” as political rhetoric is full of problems, challenging the concept doesn’t do much for us in the context of the Iraq War. Proponents of the war tended to make wrong, but sophisticated, arguments that invoked particular values rather than nebulous “interest”, while at least some opponents (realists in the academic community, especially) held to the least sophisticated conception of national interest, but still opposed the war.

All the Pretty Little Ponies

[ 0 ] August 23, 2007 |

Good news from Iraq! Only a few more Friedman Units to go!

The polarization of communities is most evident in Baghdad, where the Shia are a clear majority in more than half of all neighborhoods and Sunni areas have become surrounded by predominately Shia districts. Where population displacements have led to significant sectarian separation, conflict levels have diminished to some extent because warring communities find it more difficult to penetrate communal enclaves.

. . .[L]evels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high [over next six to 12 months] and the Iraqi Government will continue to struggle to achieve national-level political reconciliation and improved governance.

. . . The Iraqi Government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months because of criticism by other members of the major Shia coalition, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and other Sunni and Kurdish parties. … The strains of the security situation and absence of key leaders have stalled internal political debates, slowed national decisionmaking, and increased Maliki’s vulnerability to alternative coalitions.

Right Blogistan is, understandably, optimistic:

Ethical Food

[ 0 ] August 23, 2007 |

To my surprise, my food posts (I am, after all, supposed to be feminist & foodie) have sparked serious controversy ’round these parts. So let’s see what happens today, when we throw religion into the mix.

Interestingly, though, here it is religion that is the issue around which people are converging, or at least a motivating factor for that convergence. Yesterday, the NY Times Dining & Wine section featured an article pithily titled “Of Church & Steak,” which surveyed various religious movements working toward more ethical food production. Movements are emerging among Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, and Muslims that push not only to slaughter animals in the most humane way possible (a focus of the Jewish kashrut laws or Muslim Halal), but also to ensure that the animals live cage free and that the people who care for and slaughter the animals are treated with respect and are paid living wages (not minimum wage). It’s food as social justice.

It’s not that this blending of green/sustainable/humane living and religion is anything new (eco-Kashrut has been around for about 30 years, as the Times notes, and which finds a modern home here). What’s new is the growing popularity of these movements, and their increasing power within their own religions. In Judaism, for example, the Conservative movement (less tied to the texts of Jewish law than Orthodox but more concerned with tradition and law than Reform) is in the process of creating a new kind of Kosher seal that would take into account issues of sustainability, humaneness during life, and treatment of human workers. (Apologies for the focus on Judaism; it’s what I know most about and would welcome perspectives from other religions on comments).

This change is clear both in the growth of interreligious work on ethical meat and in each religion. In the words of the inimitable Joel Salatin, proprietor of Polyface Farms, and a central figure in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, put it well in the Times article:

“Ten years ago most of my farm visitors were earth muffin tree-hugger nirvana cosmic worshipers,” Mr. Salatin said. “And now 80 percent of them are Christian home schoolers.”

I can’t preach from a bully pulpit on this issue — I’m headed to Peter Luger‘s tonight, where I doubt they use what I would call ethical and sustainable meat. But for me it’s something to aspire to, for ethical reasons that are both religious and secular.

(also at Feministe)

Wait, Armed Liberal Is Still Alive?

[ 0 ] August 23, 2007 |

Marc Danzinger argues that Duncan Black is trying to gag…Tom Friedman. No, I’m serious. Why, one more “Wanker of the Day” award and Friedman’s inexplicable presence on the nation’s most valuable op-ed space, inexplicably best-selling books, all-too-explicable ubiquitous TV presence will vanish entirely! It’s that kind of grasp on logic that leads you to still be in Iraq War supporter in 2007.

And yet, you can see where it comes from. I mean, consider again the definitively puerile and reprehensible comments from Friedman that were the original subject of discussion:

What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um and basically saying, “Which part of this sentence don’t you understand?”

You don’t think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we’re just gonna to let it grow?

Well, Suck. On. This.


That Charlie was what this war was about. We could’ve hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. We coulda hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.

Pretty much a representative summary of the general seriousness and intellectual merit of the typical warblog circa 2002, you have to admit.

Abortion and Animals

[ 0 ] August 23, 2007 |

LT comments in the thread earlier today that (s)he can see some relevance of animals to the abortion debate. And I can actually see it in one narrow context. In his essay in What Roe Should Have Said, Akhil Amar argues:

There are indeed plausible textual reasons for not treating the unborn as persons within the meaning of the Constitution…but even nonpersons may have interests that deserve of human protection. A pet dog is not a person, yet society may protect it from cruelty or wanton destruction…

This is is true, as far as it goes. The fact that the fetus is not a legal person does not, in and of itself, mean that the state cannot legislate to protect fetal life. (Well, apparently there are some libertarians who argue that the state cannot protect animals; not being a libertarian, I’m free to agree with McArdle that such legislation is perfectly acceptable, and in any case it’s certainly not prohibited by the United States Constitution.)

But as applied to abortion, the analogy doesn’t do any serious work: it breaks down in ways that are particularly important to assessing abortion. Most importantly, unlike animals fetuses reside in women’s bodies, and being forced to carry a pregnancy to term imposes serious burdens on a mother’s health and life prospects, which forcing a woman not to torture dogs does not. Similarly, bans on abortion ineluctably place these burdens exclusively on women as a class, while most laws protecting animals don’t burden any particular class of individuals. And finally, unlike with abortion statutes as Michael Vick now knows we’re willing to enforce laws banning animal cruelty against rich people. Roe extended the de facto access affluent women had to safe abortions to more women by straining down legislation that was arbitrarily enforced; again, there’s no analogy with bans on animal cruelty here.

So ultimately the point, while narrowly clever, isn’t useful. If access to abortion is not a fundamental right, the analogy is superfluous; the state can already balance the relevant interests pretty much however it chooses. (It matters only in the sense that the state would not be required to ban abortion, a conclusion that for obvious reasons opponents of legal abortion are generally desperate to avoid in any case.) And if abortion is a fundamental right — and under the relevant doctrine is clearly is — comparing fetuses to animals doesn’t get you very far in terms of justifying the severe burdens abortion bans place on the right.

Yousta Bee!

[ 0 ] August 23, 2007 |

Shorter Neocon:

I used to consider myself a Democrat, but thanks to 9-11, I’m outraged by John Kerry’s 1971 appearance on the Dick Cavett show.

In the comments, I’m advised to brush up on my history of the Vietnam War by reading more from Neocon’s oeuvre.

I’ll get to that, I’m sure, right after I see what Marmaduke has been up to lately.

Look, We’ve Seen This Kind of Thing Before

[ 0 ] August 23, 2007 |

Was lucky enough to get a ticket to see the New Pornographers last night. Even better, the rockcrit friend who got me the ticket had heard that Neko wouldn’t be appearing, but she turned out to be there, a pleasant surprise. (No Dan, though.) She had technical problems for the first couple songs and the new acoustic backing players were often inaudible, but otherwise it was excellent, tight playing of very well-selected old stuff mixed judiciously with the best stuff from Challengers. Some fans were impatient with the shambolic between-song patter, but I have always found that part of their charm. During one interlude where fans shouted requests someone yelled “Lady of Spain,” and before I could even shout out “Never play ‘Lady of Spain’ again!” Carl made the obligatory Slap Shot reference, and followed that up with a discussion of lines from Strange Brew. Non-Canadians wouldn’t understand.

I have an etiquette question. The woman who was in front of us for most of the show hit me a couple times with her large bag accidentally early on, the kind of thing you’d expect given how packed things were. But then she actually tottered back into me a couple times, and it became evident that she was so wasted she could barely stand up (it was a little funny at first, because she was also scrawling things in a notebook.) After a bit the guy with her literally had to hold her up so she wouldn’t fall down. And then halfway through the show he brings her another beer, leaving her to collide with people for a couple minutes. I didn’t say anything, for the reason that I almost never do in such situations: I try to adhere to the principle of “mind your own goddamned business.” I’m very reluctant to mention such things to a friend; in the rare circumstances where I’ve timorously make a query about someone’s drug problem or eating disorder of whatever I’ll feel guilty for weeks. With strangers, I don’t think you should stay anything. Still, I wonder if it’s appropriate in a case like that to say “uh, don’t you think she’s had enough,” or alert the bartender or something?

The Cambodia Myth

[ 0 ] August 22, 2007 |

I suppose it’s comforting to see the President continues to know fuck-all about the American war in Vietnam.

On Wednesday in Kansas City, Missouri, Bush will tell members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that “then, as now, people argued that the real problem was America’s presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end,” according to speech excerpts released Tuesday by the White House.

“Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left,” Bush will say.

“Whatever your position in that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens, whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps’ and ‘killing fields,’” the president will say.

There’s an interesting history, it seems to me, to be written about the right-wing fable of “abandonment” that connects disparate 20th century events like the Yalta Conference, the “loss” of China, the collapse of South Vietnam, and so on. What unites these narratives is the stubborn insistence — in the face of all evidence to the contrary — that something could have been done to avert Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe, Maoist victory in China, or the eradication of a South Vietnamese government that had never enjoyed the legitimacy granted to it by American officials, who invested two decades and 60,000 American lives in that awful chimera. Such fantasies are seldomly enlivened by plausible explanations of what the US might have done; rather, they are preoccupied with ferreting out domestic appeasers, traitors and defeatists who enabled the nation’s humiliation.

None of this is surprising, and the Bush administration’s reliance on false, right -wing historical narrative has been noticed before. Bush’s invocation of the Cambodian genocide, however, is both predictable and disgusting. Rather than simply wallowing in counter-factual satisfactions (e.g., what if FDR hadn’t simply “given away” a region of Europe his nation didn’t actually control?) it actually inverts history by pretending that the killing fields were a consequence of American weakness rather than an effect of American aggression. The history on this is pretty unambiguous. Without four years of American and South Vietnamese bombardment of eastern Cambodia, and without the illegal invasion of the country in 1970, the preconditions for the ascent of the Khmer Rouge would not have existed. More importantly, as the Khmer became embroiled in a xenophobic campaign against ethnic Vietnamese and sought — improbably — to regain lands lost to Vietnam centuries before, the United States had little to say in the way of official complaint against Pol Pot’s regime. Indeed, the “reasonable” position set forth by Kissinger (under Ford) and Brzezinski (under Carter) held that Pol Pot — though detestable — was at least useful so long as he threatened the Communists in Vietnam. And when the Khmer Rouge was deposed by a Vietnamese invasion and replaced by a Vietnamese puppet states, both Carter and Reagan continued to insist that the Khmer Rouge be acknowledged as the legitimate government of Cambodia.

Allow me to put it even more simply: to the extent that the United States abetted the Cambodian genocide, those contributions were made not by people who called for an end to the war in Vietnam but instead by those who insisted that the war be expanded into another nation; that the war could be brought under control with a massive, short-term escalation; and that domestic opposition to the war was irresponsible and meretricious.

The Ghost of Trolls Past

[ 0 ] August 22, 2007 |

Long-time readers of LGM will remember our first major troll, who during debates about abortion would start babbling about bald eagles. I thought this was a true innovation, but similar arguments are now being made in the august halls of the Tennessee legislature. Apparently, if you believe that it should be illegal to torture dogs, then you have to be against abortion. And as soon as dogs that have already been born start occupying women’s uteruses, this analogy will be somewhat less specious. (In addition to the problem of calling fetuses “babies” — given that the GOP believes that women who get abortions should not face any legal sanction, I can only infer then that Rep. Campfield believes infanticide should be legal unless it’s a contract killing.)

Making Us Necessary

[ 0 ] August 22, 2007 |

Nothing like a little self-congratulation to get a blogger going in the morning.

Amanda’s got a post up at Pandagon and Offsprung bemoaning the horrendous job the MSM does addressing or qualifying the false claims made by the wingnuts in interviews, op-eds and other appearances. Case in point: An 8/20 article in the Denver Post about a new Planned Parenthood clinic planned for the Denver area.

Amanda points out the most egregious quote, which the article’s author, Karen Augé, leaves flapping in the breeze:

Leslie Hanks, vice president of Colorado Right to Life, said her organization will continue its opposition to Planned Parenthood and likely would fight efforts to build a clinic.

“Let’s face it, they’re in the business to kill babies for profit,” she said. “First and foremost, they get young girls hooked on their birth control pills, which don’t work,” Hanks said.

And then nothing. There is so much wrong with this quote that it’s hard to know where to begin. First, Planned Parenthood does not “kill babies for profit.” If I have to explain why that’s wrong, you’re probably reading the wrong blog. Second, the quote equates birth control pills (BCP) with an addictive drug with no legit purposes. Given that BCP is neither addictive nor useless, it’s a BS move. Third, BCP does work. I can testify to that myself, as can the hundreds of millions of other women around the world who use it. It’s not foolproof, but then again, neither is abstinence, really.

Amanda has some praise for the MSM on this issue, though it’s short-live and tongue in cheek (at least the first sentence):

It’s good that reporters aren’t helping anti-choicers conceal that they are opposed to the prevention of unwanted pregnancies through contraception, which does serious damage to their strange claims that they’d like to reduce the abortion rate. (Note to idiots: You don’t reduce abortions by increasing the main cause of them, unwanted pregnancies. That’s like trying to reduce the auto fatality rate by banning seatbelts.) Still, the fact of the matter is that this he said/she said style of reporting that’s fact-free creates the wrong impression that it’s all just a matter of opinion, and since these ridiculous, fact-free claims are being trotted out in articles from reporters that are supposed to be trustworthy, it’s all too easy for some readers to think there must be some truth to them.

Bloggers aren’t perfect (ahem), but I am sick of all the O’Reilly style invective calling us name-callers and flame throwers (oh the irony). At a time when it has become abundantly clear that the MSM too often leaves behind its mantle as the fourth estate, it’s bloggers who can fill the gaps.

“Fair and balanced” reporting (something I make no claim to provide) is a good thing, but only when it takes form as something other than a place for people to air their opinions unmediated by the journalist.

(Also at Feministe)

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