Brave New World

>> Thursday, March 11, 2010


As of tomorrow morning, all traffic to will be jumped to the new home of Lawyers, Guns and Money, Your RSS subscription shouldn't be affected, although if you're a "Follower" on Blogger you might have to manually subscribe to the new feed. We've worked very hard (which is to say that our guy, Jason Wilson, has worked very hard) to smooth out the transition process, but there still might be some hiccups.


This is excellent news!! For Palin!!

>> Wednesday, March 10, 2010

For whatever reason, Google Reader’s “Explore” option recently started lumping all political sites together irrespective of orientation, which means that even time I try to find new, interesting voices, I’m bombarded with new, interesting-for-the-wrong-reason-but-potential-blog-fodder voices. For example:

We believe the TV show [Sarah Palin]’s producing with Mark Burnett on the wonders of Alaska will be Reaganesque in its reach of regular people.

For something written by “such good writers,” that sentence is uglier than it is stupid. The majority of Americans won’t appreciate a show about “the wonders of Alaska” for the simple reason that Americans only watch things about Alaska when its bears eat tourists. Don’t believe me? Consider Christopher Nolan’s career:

Batman Begins: $205,343,774
Insomnia: $67,263,182
The Dark Knight: $533,316,061

When his films take place in Alaska, their domestic gross drops, on average, very large numbers because Americans don’t believe that states whose moose-caribou population density (1.11/sq. mi.) outstrips its population density (1.03/sq. mi.) count as America. The idea that a successful Palin campaign could be initiated by a show about 700,000 moose and caribou picked to live in a state and have their lives taped to find out what happens when they stop being polite and start getting real—there’s wishful thinking, then there’s whatever that is. This too:

If [the show is] informative, well-produced, and showcases Palin’s Alaska, we believe it will become a cultural phenomenon. We foresee Alaskan imagery everywhere in 2011. Which is a wonderful setup for the Palin brand in 2012. Late 2010-early 2011 is also when Palin’s next book is due: a policy book on American Virtues. That will be coupled with a book tour that should end round about February 6th, 2011, the day we believe Palin will announce her presidential run. Essentially, the tour bus she uses for the book [American Virtues] will just be slightly rebranding as PALIN 2012, instead of American Virtues. Chances are, “American Virtues” will actually be her campaign motto. We can see the branding and marketing already at work.

These people should not be mocked for claiming 1) that Palin will write a book by her lonesome, 2) that it will be policy-oriented, or 3) that people can write policy books about virtues: they should be pitied for the wistful tones in which they imagine the subtle repurposing of a tour bus in terms of branding, because people who daydream in ad lingo about campaign slogans are the saddest people in the world. Then there’s the fact that, on principle, dreamers this dumb deserve pity:

Palin’s playing 11th dimensional chess that RedState’s not seeing, because it’s so focused on Romney, or dazzled by his Mattel-produced hair. She’s operating a fully-formed multimedia strategy designed to counter Dr. Utopia’s razzle dazzle and media darling status.

Follow that RedState link and you’ll find a discussion of a post at the Daily Caller that warms my heart:

[I]t is very important to point out that something like this may already be Palin’s plan (for the record, I have shared almost all of these thoughts with her via her personal e-mail but have received no response). So far, I have not seen one shred of legitimate evidence indicating that she has decided to run and some serious indications that she won’t.

Wait—Palin decide to ignore this asshole? Excellent. Anyone with any sense would distance herself from people like him, wait—did I just suggest that Sarah Palin is a person with sense? Maybe she is playing 11th dimensional chess.


I Blame Capra

For whatever reason, the filibuster has a romantic appeal to people who should know better, and you often hear from those who dislike the current rules that changing the rules to require "real" filibusters would have some sort of salutary effect. My position continues to be that the effects of such a rule change are probably overstated, but more importantly that since the practice serves no legitimate purpose the best way to reform the filibuster is to eliminate it.


Upcoming Web Seminar on Civilians and Air Warfare

I'll post my thoughts on it sometime afterward, but if any readers are interested in issues pertaining to war law and air power, you can register and listen in on a seminar at Harvard's Humanitarian Law and Policy Forum next week. HLPF does these seminars from time to time: the topic this time is "Protecting Civilians in the New Battlespace: Challenges of Regulating Air Warfare."

I've pasted the announcement below; you can register here.

This live seminar will examine legal and policy responses to the challenges of civilian protection in situations of armed conflict, specifically in the context of air warfare. Against the backdrop of the recent release of the HPCR Manual on International Law Applicable to Air and Missile Warfare, the seminar will address the following questions:

What are the primary features, definitions and principles contained in the Manual? How do these relate to the larger framework of international humanitarian law, or the law of armed conflict?
What is the relevance for the military of the provisions of the Manual, which are a restatement of existing law applicable to air and missile warfare?
How might the Manual contribute to enhanced protection of civilians during conflict?

Panelists and participants will examine these questions by reference to the HPCR Manual and to specific situations of air warfare.


Queen City Subway


Did you even know Cincinnati had a subway? If the answer is "no," that's quite understandable. The subway never had a single train run through it and never served a single passenger. Planning for the subway began in 1914, with 6 million dollars in bonds being raised initially. The plan was to design a 16 mile loop running through downtown Cincinnati and around its urban core, while connecting it with the suburbs of St. Bernard and Norwood. The idea to construct the subway came from the Miami-Eerie canal. The canal winding through downtown that had once been the main means of travel and shipping for many, was now a stagnant cesspool of standing water and becoming a health hazard. The decision was made to drain the canal, build the subway in it's place, bury the subway and construct a grand street on top of it which is known today as "Central Parkway." Construction of the first phase began in 1920...

The subway exists today as a utility tunnel and a subterranean monument to a forgotten piece of infrastructure that would have changed the landscape of the city from what we know it as today. Two miles of tunnels still exist today beneath Central Parkway, as well as one other short section of tunnels crossing beneath Hopple St. The portals of the Central Parkway tunnels can be seen while drive southbound on I-75 towards downtown, just after passing the Hopple St. exit. I remember passing the portals as a kid, in the car with my dad on our way to a Reds game. He explained to me what they were and my subway curiosity was born. For my birthday one year he purchased a fantastic book called "Cincinnati Subway" by Allen J. Singer.

See also.


Frakkin' Awkward

Who says you can't empirically observe the effect of BSG on actual politics? Former Congressman Eric Massa to a male aide:

"What I really ought to be doing is fracking you."
See? See? (Only the series does not appear to have influenced political perceptions of how to spell "frak.")

The Congressman (D-NY) resigned Monday due to a "cancer resurgence scare." Dana Milbank at WAPO has more about his train-wreck of an interview on Glenn Beck last night:
Conservatives had hopes that the now-former Democratic congressman from Upstate New York, who resigned abruptly under an ethics cloud, would deliver the goods about corruption and strong-arm tactics in the Obama White House and Congress. But instead, Massa served up an icky new confession.

"Now they're saying I groped a male staffer," he volunteered. "Yeah, I did. Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe and then four guys jumped on top of me. It was my 50th birthday."

Beck looked aghast. "Was your wife at that one?" the Fox News Channel host asked.

"No, this was in a townhouse; we all lived together, all the bachelors and me," Massa explained. "My chief of staff had a conniption and said, 'You can't live there, that's not congressional.' "

Beck tried to move the conversation in a different direction, but his guest resisted. "Let me show you something," Massa proposed, proffering a book with photos of bawdy Navy rituals from the days when he was a sailor.

"You're going to show me tickle fights?" Beck inquired.

"I'm going to show you a lot more than tickle fights," Massa promised. Beck put on his reading glasses, then judged that the images should not be shown on television.

The right's romance of Eric Massa was off to a messy start."
Frak yeah.


Health Care Reform IS Cost Control

Dear Dr. Sapolsky,

Please view this link. The data concern public funding of health care in terms of direct government expenditure. You will note that the United States ranks third in public expenditure for health care, behind Germany and Iceland and ahead of France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and a host of other European countries. Given this, I would advise you to reconsider this claim:

The defense spending squeeze is on and will become more constricted by health care reform. It is not apples and oranges. About half of the United States’ health care costs appear on the federal government’s budget, which directly affects revenues and expenditures. European nations plead poverty when it comes to funding their militaries in large part because of the squeeze of social spending (including health care). They spend a smaller, though rising, share of their GDPs on health than does the United States, but more of that spending is direct government expenditure.

Since your premise (that European states pay higher direct public expenditure health care costs than the US) is evidently incorrect, I'm wondering whether you'd be interested in revising your conclusions regarding the "squeeze" that health care costs are putting on European defense budgets. I would also invite you to consider whether the extraordinary level of private expenditure on health care in the United States might conceivably, through some heretofore unimagined mechanism, be redirected towards defense spending, assuming that the good people of the United States viewed such redirection as desirable. I would further invite you to make some fun, back of the envelope calculations about the kinds of weapons the Pentagon could buy if we adopted, say, the NHS wholesale. Finally, I would suggest you and others concerned with the impact of health care costs on the defense budget would acknowledge the fact that we have solid, comparative data indicating that the United States has the most staggeringly inefficient mechanism for the delivery of health care in the world, and that perhaps our best efforts ought to be directed at investigating the implications of this data rather than assembling such phrases as:
Health care cost control is an illusion. No one truly can make the health care system efficient. For many illnesses, nobody knows what works and what doesn’t. An aging population assures more medical expenditures.

Yours truly,

Robert M. Farley

Via AG.


Flu and Herd Immunity

>> Tuesday, March 09, 2010

If you're the sort of person who, like me, gets torqued about public health issues, there's a important study out in JAMA today (.pdf here) about the population benefits of the seasonal flu vaccine; the upshot is that by vaccinating a little over 80 percent of kids between 3-15 years of age, researchers were able to observe a roughly 60 percent effectiveness at reducing influenza rates throughout the study population. The results themselves aren't especially surprising -- they affirm what everyone already suspected about seasonal flu vaccines and herd immunity, and they serve as a reminder that even a sub-optimal jab is quite effective at muting the spread an unpleasant illness that kills tens of thousands a year in the US alone -- but the design of the study is really fascinating, as researchers were able to work with about fifty self-enclosed Hutterite colonies in central and western Canada, providing exactly the sort of controlled conditions that are usually beyond the reach of folks doing research on influenza vaccine efficacy. (It's also interesting to note that the study utilized the killed virus vaccine, which usually proves less efficacious in flu studies than the weakened virus.)

I'd like to believe that the results of this study will embarrass the vaccine contrarians into prolonged silence, but I won't be holding my breath. Since vaccination rates fall well short of the 80 percent threshold in the US, the market for uninformed skepticism won't soon be disappearing. I'd also like to believe that studies like this would receive enough publicity to nudge parents away from Robert Sears' nonsensical "alternative vaccination" schedule, which urges us (among other things) to avoid giving our kids seasonal flu shots until they're five years old. Aside from demonstrating yet again that seasonal flu vaccines are perfectly safe for healthy children, the study offers the best evidence to date that flu vaccination is a socially responsible practice that benefits populations -- especially the elderly -- who tend not to respond vigorously to the serum. But as long as we can round up some asshole to claim that baking soda cures H1N1, there's little risk that sensible ideas will prevail.


Cult of Toughness, Part XXVII


Rove says that getting rid of Rumsfeld — which, of course, the Bush administration ultimately did — would’ve “damaged the military’s faith in Bush as commander in chief.” Actually, you know what really did damage the military’s faith in Bush as commander in chief? Retaining Donald Rumsfeld in the face of failure after failure after failure.

There's something really interesting to this; the uniformed military loathed Rumsfeld with wild abandon, a point which was certainly not lost on Rumsfeld (he cultivated and enjoyed their hate) or Rove. I suspect that the issue here wasn't so much "the military will lose faith if we dump Rummy," but rather "the military will interpret the dumping of Rummy as a sign of weakness." This makes sense in context of the Bush/neocon vision of the world, in which the enemy (whether terrorist, Communist, or Democrat) only understands strength; I'm just mildly surprised that the Bush administration apparently viewed the uniformed military of the United States as an enemy to be intimidated.


Contrarian Pundits Are Not An Electoral Coalition

Via Ailes, Mikey Kaus explains the rationale for his right-wing vanity campaign:

“I believe in affirmative government and spending gobs of money,” he said. But, “I want to let people know that there are people that disagree with the party orthodoxy” on unions and amnesty-first immigration reform.

He already has a platform for his outspoken views,, with a sizeable audience. So why make a seemingly quixotic Senate run?

He says he can reach people that he didn’t with his blog. And, “the time is right.”

Public disapproval of unions is at an all-time high, he notes.

“People really hate the GM bailout.” Kaus supported saving GM and Chrysler but said, “The UAW got us into this mess, so I think they should have taken a pay cut and made more concessions.”


You don’t have to be a wild-eyed libertarian to realize something is very wrong with that. But, as Kaus points out, “You can’t find a Democrat politician criticizing the teachers unions.”

That silence is hurting the liberal cause. “Unions are what make affirmative government unpalatable,” he said.

The standard objections to Kaus's everything-is-a-nail approach to seeing labor as the root problem of everything apply; that one union has negotiated an excessively cumbersome doesn't mean that labor negotiations are bad, there's little reason to believe that labor protections are a major factor in poor school performance, and blaming the UAW rather than management for the problems with American auto manufacturers is implausible in the extreme. (I note, for example, that the justifiably well-regarded Malibu, CTS, and Silverado are all UAW-made, while the pieceashit Aveo is not; it's almost enough to make me think we're not looking at the key variable here.)

But what really kills me is the idea that unions are standing in the way of the expansive welfare state Kaus pretends to want. The truth is something like the reverse -- without labor, progressive politics as an electoral force is in a hopeless position. How, exactly, does Kaus propose replacing the organizational and GOTV support that labor provides? It's almost enough to make me think he doesn't care about progressive policy outcomes at all...


Inept Troll Of The Day

Stanley Fish. Generally, it's good to wait until there's some evidence you're right before you do an "I told you so" column in defense of a stupid thesis, but...

I guess I have to link to this again.


Yay! The Foreigners Have Been Chased Away!

>> Monday, March 08, 2010

The military procurement field has been made safe for Boeing:

European defense and aerospace consortium EADS and its U.S. partner, Northrop Grumman, have handed an apparent $35 billion dollar gift to rival Boeing — by packing up and going home.

In late February, the Air Force launched a contest to replace its fleet of Eisenhower-era KC-135 aerial refueling tankers. The Air Force envisioned spending $11.7 billion on the new planes over the next five years; over the life of the program, the service plans to buy a total of 179 aircraft, orders worth a potential $35 billion.

But Northrop and EADS complained that the guidelines weighed the contest in Boeing’s favor, and threatened to pull out of the contest unless the service revised the request for bids. And that’s exactly what happened today.

God bless America. I, for one, can rest safer knowing that Boeing will face no competition in its ongoing effort to purchase the entire US Congress.


Happy International Women's Day. Unless You're Born Female in China.

The Economist has a damning article about son preference and female infanticide in East Asia, and the negative impacts on societies and regional stability as well as on girls. Heartening to see an important global gender issue make the front page of such an influential weekly (though why it took them so long escapes me - Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer's influential article, appeared in International Security almost ten years ago; now the Economist is writing as if it has "discovered" high sex-ratio societies just in time for International Women's Day.)

Well, so be it. But while the Economist has global elites' attention fleetingly focused on gender and "gendercide," because of how it affects the state-system, let me update the framework on offer slightly:

a) In the past decade since Hudson and den Boer first called attention to Asia's "Bare Branches" problem, they have also been working on developing a dataset of gender empowerment indicators that among other things has allowed them to test the hypothesis that gender equality, not democracy, is actually the best predictor of pacifist relations between sovereign governments. And gender equality means a whole lot more than keeping little girls alive. Let Obama think about that as he revamps Bush's democracy promotion agenda in the service of global stability.

b) Ultimately, let's not confuse global stability with human rights. "Securitizing" a problem like this can be useful, as I've often argued, but it can backfire. Natalie Hudson's new book argues that the advocacy language that got women's rights on the agenda at the UN Security Council has also hobbled it at the policy implementation stage. I can see the point of making policymakers care about female infanticide because the knock-on effects are bad for whole societies. But I'd like to think that we'd want it to end even if that weren't the case: killing anyone because of the genitals they were born with is simply wrong.

c) This brings me to a final comment. As an advocacy trope it works... sort of. But as a concept "gendercide" ala Mary Warren has been usefully picked apart and expanded to include a whole range of mass killing practices in the last two decades - including those targeting men. It would be a shame to see it become synonymous now primarily with the issue of sex-selective abortion as a security problem.


RSS Issues

We realize that there are some issues with the RSS feed this morning; this is part of the transition. Please remain calm.




"Does Conrad need to stop by Politico's offices with a picture book and some finger puppets?"

Shorter Mike Allen: "I'm stealing my employers' money. OK, my hypothetical employers who care about informing the public."


Evidence on the Tory Strategy of Targeting Marginals

Can be found here. In short, it looks to be successful. Longer, the BPIX poll that was released yesterday is being touted as having a large enough sample size to say something about the marginals that the Tories are targeting, and claims the swing in said seats is significantly higher than the national swing.

Note, this poll shows a Tory plurality of only 2% over Labour, whereas over the past several weeks YouGov has settled into a 5% to 6% range, with that one "blip" of 2% last weekend. A uniform swing would produce a C 252 / L 309 / LD 56 distribution -- in all likelihood a Labour minority government. In order to gain a plurality share of the seats, the Tories would have to take 29 additional seats off of Labour (not the Lib Dems, but Labour); to obtain an outright albeit narrow governing majority, they would need 74 seats in addition to what a uniform national swing would predict.

Unfortunately, nothing on this poll appears to be available aside from the superficial information I've discussed above. I'm especially keen to know how, and to what degree, the marginals were oversampled. While an N of 5655 is impressive for a poll of this nature, a purely random sampling would equate into an N of 8.7 for each of the 650 constituencies. Of course, they didn't sample in purely random fashion as some form of stratified sampling was certainly employed, but still, how large can the N be for the 75 or so odd marginals that the Tories are targeting?


I Called It.

>> Sunday, March 07, 2010

Hurt Locker wins best picture. Christoph Waltz wins best supporting actor.


On the persistent metafictions of Alan Moore

I can't wait until the new site goes live and I can tuck bulky material below the fold. In the meantime, if you're interested in the rhetorical chicanery of early Alan Moore (particularly in Miracleman), you can find an analysis of it here.



A good question: should the acting categories at the Oscars be gender-neutral? Certainly, in the abstract I think Elsesser is correct that the gender segregation is indefensible: acting is acting. I take the point in response that in our actual unjust world gender-neutral awards would lead to the underrepresentation of women. My guess, though, is that acting is the one category in which women least need further recognition -- and award for women who direct would have much greater egalitarian effects, I think, particularly in terms of encouraging studios to find talent. (It's hard to imagine that a Lynne Ramsay or Tamara Jenkins would find it so hard to get capital if they had a chance at a directing Oscar.)

Tonight's will win/should win:

Best Picture: Dances With Expensive Smurfs/No strong preference, in that I liked all the ones I saw very much and all were flawed. Basterds, I guess, although without second viewings that's pretty tentative.

Director: Bigelow/Fine with me, although Tarantino's work was also exceptional.

Actor: Bridges/Can't say, haven't seen Crazy Heart. I'd certainly be happy to see Bridges win.

Actress: Bullock/Haven't seen The Blind Side, although I doubt that matters. I'd vote for Mulligan, although Streep was certainly terrific.

Supporting Actor: Waltz/Well, it's the only one I've seen, but...Waltz.

Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique/Can't say, haven't seen Precious. I will say that I thought Farmiga was terrific.


Gimme Moore

Michael Moore has a recommendation for President Obama about a replacement for Rahm Emanuel:

"Dear President Obama,

I understand you may be looking to replace Rahm Emanuel as your chief of staff. I would like to humbly offer myself, yours truly, as his replacement.

I will come to D.C. and clean up the mess that's been created around you. I will work for $1 a year. I will help the Dems on Capitol Hill find their spines and I will teach them how to nonviolently beat the Republicans to a pulp.

And I will help you get done what the American people sent you there to do.
It's not a bad cover letter, though fflambeu at Firedoglake asks whether Moore could effect this change with anything short of the Presidency itself. But it sure is a great read - check it out here if you've not already - and don't forget the post-script:
"P.S. Just to give you an idea of the new style I'll be bringing with me, when a cornhole like Sen. Ben Nelson tries to hold you up next time, this is what I will tell him in order to get his vote: "You've got exactly 30 seconds to rescind your demand or I will personally make sure that Nebraska doesn't get one more federal dollar for the rest of Obama's term. And then I will let everyone in your state know that you wear Sooner panties, backwards. NOW DROP AND GIVE ME 50!"


The federal government is like Schlitz after Schlitz stopped being a good beer

This is possibly the worst metaphor in the history of, um, . . . history.

For one thing, putative changes in the perceived legitmacy of a political regime cannot in any way be compared usefully to consumer preferences in regard to beer. For another, Schiltz always sucked. For a third -- ah forget it.

OK seriously, this kind of thing is embarrassing to law professors, bloggers, non-arboreal bipeds, both late justices Harlan, and the state of Tennessee.


Amazon's loss is your gain; also, Chris Muir is a thief

For those of you who don't frequent comic blogs but do read comics, you might like to know that Amazon suddenly decided to start selling Marvel's glossy, hard-bound, phone book-sized omnibus editions for $8.24. Click here to go a conveniently pre-sorted list of severely discounted titles and buy some before Amazon stops honoring orders on $99 books currently priced at less than a tenth of that. (I realize this reads like an ad, but think of it as a PSA: you know you want 1,064 shiny pages of this at $8.24, so don't try to pretend otherwise.)

Update: To assuage my guilty anti-consumerist conscience, let me add another item to Rich Johnson's swipe file:

The image on the left is a promotional poster for the new Tim Burton film; the one on the right comes from Chris Muir's latest Day by Day, in which he tries to prove that not only is he a thief, he's an incompetent one. He could claim that such tracery legitimately qualifies as satire, and therefore isn't actually plagiarism, but that wouldn't change the fact that his only real "talent" is for breaking backs and showing crack.

Update 2: It was fun while it lasted. Please feel free to continue to mock Muir, though.


Netherlands Okay, But We Ain't Surrendering to New Zealand...

Your Sunday morning surrender ceremony:

I still look forward to the day that Osama Bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and Mullah Omar surrender on board the USS Ronald Reagan...


Immoral Liar of the Day

>> Saturday, March 06, 2010

Bart Stupak.

I actually think Digby is being a little too charitable when she says that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is "willing to deep six the rest of their social justice agenda for political reasons." I don't see any real evidence that the Bishops (an interest group that should, as Digby says, not be conflated with Roman Catholics per se) have a meaningful social justice agenda at all. As far as I can tell, their actual policy agenda is 1)making it as hard as possible for poor women to obtain safe abortions and 2)there is no #2. a number of commenters point out, I forgot about rule #2: no pooftahs.


Election Boycott in Iraq

This is a guest post by Dr. Emily Beaulieu, assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Kentucky.

Contentious elections usually make us nervous. To be sure, elections aren’t the nicest of affairs. At best, elections are competitions where the accompanying rhetoric can, and often does, take a nasty turn. But when elections bring violence, accusations of fraud, and protests (threatened or real)—particularly in places where we want those elections to effect or improve or cement democracy—they are more than simply competitive, and they cause us concern. The good news: sometimes these contentious elections can induce elite concessions and move countries closer to real democracy. The bad news: this is not likely to happen in Iraq.

With the US withdrawal looming, the contention surrounding tomorrow’s election has already raised concerns about the prospects for democracy there. Violence at the early polling stations has added to mounting tension from earlier accusations of electoral malfeasance. Sunnis cried foul (and threatened to boycott) when more than 300 of their candidates were barred from competition in late February. More recently, thousands of supporters of the INA—an opposition coalition of Shia religious parties considered the main rival to al-Maliki’s SOL—are claiming their names have been stricken from voter registers, and are blaming “the Americans” for it.

There are numerous historical examples where similarly contentious elections have produced positive results for democracy. Election boycotts in the Dominican Republic (1974) started that country down a path of resistance that brought down its authoritarian regime within five years. That transition was short-lived, but democratization continued through more contentious elections in the early 1990s. Bangladesh spent the late 1980s to the mid 1990s experiencing a series of highly contentious elections, replete with boycotts, general strikes, mass demonstrations, and violence. These elections brought an end to the country’s military regime and began a process of democratization (even if more work remains to be done). In the former Soviet Union the early 21st century witnessed a series of “Colored Revolutions” where accusations of electoral fraud and massive protests led to leadership alternation in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. And, before recent tragic events, many observers felt that Haiti’s long history of contentious elections might finally have put that country on the road to better, more democratic governance.

In other cases, however, contentious elections have had no positive impact. Election boycotts occurred in Pakistan (1985), Algeria and Egypt (1990), Belarus (2000), and Zimbabwe (2005), with negligible democratic impact. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran and a number of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have all experiences contentious elections, with protests and violence, in the past two decades and politics there remain undemocratic. Most recently, and perhaps most instructively, the boycott of Afghanistan’s presidential election has yet to produce any positive changes for democracy.

Those cases where contentious elections furthered democracy all share one or both of the following traits: a massive ground-swell of domestic support, or pressure from key international actors. If electoral contention gets the people into the streets—clogging capitals and bringing business as usual to a halt, as it did in the Colored Revolutions and Bangladesh—leaders can be pressured to make democratic concessions. Alternately, or additionally, if contentious elections bring key international actors to intervene—as with the US in the Dominican Republic, and the US and the OAS in Haiti—real improvements for democracy are also possible.

So what does this mean for democracy in Iraq? Perhaps the best one could hope for is that the fraud complaints of the Sunni and Shia opposition might lead to an outpouring of domestic pressure for democratic reform. But given the current climate of occupation, where the incumbent is seen as largely indistinguishable from “the Americans”, domestic unrest at this point could be more problematic than productive. And as with Afghanistan, the ambivalence of Iraq’s most important international actor, the US, does not bode well for democracy. When faced with the opposition boycott of the presidential election in Afghanistan, the US chose to support the incumbent in a bid for stability, at the cost of real democratization in that country. Now, at the same time that Ambassador Hill is telling Iraqis that the US wants a clean election everyone knows the administration is hoping desperately to avoid any conflict that would delay the September 1 troop withdrawal. If the US makes this election another choice between democracy and stability, then those who care about democracy in Iraq should indeed be concerned.


>> Friday, March 05, 2010

Friday Daddy Blogging... Miriam


Ann Althouse defends Rush Limbaugh from accusations of race baiting

As Hendrick Hertzberg points out, for people like Althouse the only significant form of racism left in America appears to be the racism of liberals who patronize black people (by electing them president apparently), while falsely accusing conservatives of racism, when they're the real racists (Harry Reid! The 1964 Civil Rights Act, enacted over the objections of the Democrat Party etc etc).

Hertzberg also points out that he didn't claim Limbaugh was a racist -- only that he used "racist coding." In any case, what sort of person listens to the audio clip to which Hertzberg links and feels impelled to defend Limbaugh?


Are You Smarter Than a Human Rights Prof?

Take this short test and find out. I only got 85% of the answers right. Plus it's all for a good cause.


Justice for sale

If Rahm Emanuel is actually deciding what sort of trial KSM et. al. should get on the basis of what he calculates would be most politically convenient for the Obama administration, then the only honorable thing for Eric Holder to do is to resign. It's every bit as illegitmate for the White House to order Holder what to do in this matter as it was for Richard Nixon to order Elliott Richardson to fire Archibald Cox. Barack Obama (let alone his messenger boy Emanuel -- or is the other way around?) is not the nation's chief law enforcement officer: Eric Holder is. Holder has spent the last three months telling everyone that considerations of basic justice argued for trying KSM in our regular courts, rather than in military tribunals set up for the purpose of disposing of particularly troublesome criminal cases.

When Richardson and his deputy William Ruckelshaus were ordered to do something perfectly legal but also perfectly disgraceful, they resigned (their underling Robert Bork had no such scruples).

It's simply outrageous for White House officials to make prosecutorial decisions of this sort, and in this manner. It's essentially no different than having Rahm Emanuel order the DOJ to indict certain persons, against the better judgment of government's top lawyers, because such indictments are calculated to improve his boss's political fortunes. Or is that the next step in the administration's ongoing "pragmatic" accomodation to the worst impulses of the American political system?

See also Scott Horton:

In sharp violation of rules of prosecutorial conduct and ethics, political figures in the White House are engaged in the micromanagement of decisions concerning the prosecution of individual criminal defendants. Rahm Emanuel is a political figure, without any serious legal expertise or abilities. He openly presented the question as a matter of political opportunity—thereby infecting the criminal justice system with political horse-trading. This is more than just unseemly. It presents a direct affront to the integrity of the criminal justice system. After eight years in which Karl Rove manipulated essential prosecutorial decisions at Justice, now his successor is engaged in the same type of misconduct. But unlike Rove, Emanuel does it openly.


Ground Shifting


In the next couple of days LGM will transition from Blogger to Wordpress, a move which will include a change in URL and in RSS feed. Details forthcoming. Once we get the new site up, suggestions will be welcome.





What Serwer, Yglesias, and Steve all said. If the administration is really going to go with a military tribunal for KSM, it's bad on the merits and bad politics. One could hold out some optimism based on the relative thinness of the story, but like Ackerman I'm not optimistic.

...more on the merits here.


The Future of the Left, British Edition

During the 15 minute commute between the building that houses the admin side of my Faculty and my office (you couldn't draw a longer straight line on a map connecting two points on this campus, it's rather convenient) I was handed a leaflet. I typically reject these with either a menacing glare or a curt "no", but this one promises to "defend the welfare state and public services" with a march and rally on the 10th of April at Trafalgar Square. This is organized by the TUC, and I see my own union on the list supporting this dramatic action.

So I shouldn't be concerned that the lad who handed me the leaflet looked like he's 118 years old, right?


Both Can't be Right...

>> Thursday, March 04, 2010

So, according to this (rather informal) National Journal poll of right and left bloggers, 100% of left respondents think that the Democrats will benefit from passing health care legislation through reconciliation. However, 85.7% of right bloggers think that the Democrats will be hurt by passage of health care legislation through reconciliation. Three thoughts:

  1. It appears that the FDL view of current health care legislation has failed to gain traction in the left blogosphere. Of course, this could depend on the precise nature of the fixes people think will be passed through reconciliation.
  2. As Jon Chait points out, many conservatives don't seem to understand that reconciliation isn't strictly necessary to passing health care; if the House passes the bill and the Senate does nothing, Obama can still sign it.
  3. Even if we acknowledge that bloggers may take tribal affiliation into account when voting, the extent of disconnect between right and left bloggers is still astonishing. Right bloggers almost uniformly believe that the health care legislation is a) bad, and b) will hurt the Democrats. The left position is potentially more inclusive of nuance; the poll question doesn't distinguish bloggers who believe that the bill is bad but that passing it will be good for the Democratic Party.

My opinion on this is utterly uncomplicated. I think that the Democrats will benefit from the House passing the bill, and that while the bill will benefit from Senate reconciliation fixes, the Democrats will pay no political price for use of reconciliation. Moreover, I think it's fair to say that taking political advice from right wing bloggers wouldn't be... sensible.


EXCLUSIVE! Breaking! Must Credit LGM! Sirens!

LGM has been told that Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito are all planning on resigning tomorrow. This will give Barack Obama three more Supreme Court nominations. The fact that our impeccable source did not even have a story about why they are resigning should in no way diminish the credibility of this story, or stop you from linking to it and discussing it.

...seems about right.


The Politics of the Roberts Court

Shorter Jeffrey Rosen: I am beginning to have serious questions about the existence of Santa Claus.

While I can't resist making fun of Rosen's belated recognition of the obvious, he does go on to raise a serious issue. about the potential for interbranch conflict. Rosen argues that the Court may have overplayed its hand in Citizens United:

It’s impossible, at the moment, to tell whether the reaction to Citizens United will be the beginning of a torrential backlash or will fade into the ether. But John Roberts is now entering politically hazardous territory...Roberts may feel just as confident that he knows the “right” answer in cases like Peek-a-Boo as he did in Citizens United. But political backlashes are hard to predict, contested constitutional visions can’t be successfully imposed by 5-4 majorities, and challenging the president and Congress on matters they care intensely about is a dangerous game. We’ve seen well intentioned but unrestrained chief justices overplay their hands in the past--and it always ends badly for the Court.

There are a couple elements present that could lead to conflict over campaign spending. First, whatever my other quibbles with Friedman and Litwick on this question, they were right about public opinion being unfavorable. And Obama's willingness to criticize the Court at the State of the Union is indeed potentially important. Does this mean that I think that Citizens United is going to cause a major political struggle over judicial power?

In a word, no, for one minor reason and one major one. On the minor reason, the direction of public opinion is only important if an issue is also salient, and I just don't think there's any evidence that a non-trivial number of people will vote on campaign finance. The important reason is the most important factor: do a majority of members of Congress really "care intensely" about campaign finance reform? Almost certainly not, I'd say, and indeed I'd go further and speculate that a substantial majority of Congress is perfectly happy with what the Court did. My friend George Lovell and I use the term "legislative default" to describe a case in which the Court gets the apparently final say on a question because a coalition of members of Congress either substantively supports the Court or doesn't really care how a question is resolve but see political benefits in letting someone else take responsibility. (More explanation here for people with institutional subscriptions or who want to email.) I think that this is the case with campaign finance. The Court has a lot of open congressional support here, at least enough for a minority veto of any attempt to curb the effects of Citizens United. But in addition to that, my guess is that they'll be joined by a lot of members of Congress who don't feel they can vote against campaign reform legislation but are happy to have the courts give them the excuse not to try again. (Cf. John McCain saying that the Court has spoken.)

I don't see any meaningful political action against the Court over campaign finance, not because there's nothing Congress can do but because a majority of Congress supports Citizens United for either substantive or political reasons.


Jon Swift

R.I.P. I'm sure he's enjoying the company of Gilliard and Capozzolla in the Great Blogosphere in the Sky.


India on the Atlantic

I have an article at Pragati: Indian National Interest Review about the treatment of India in the 2010 QDR. The title ("Putting India on the Atlantic") isn't mine, but it's an excellent summary of the piece:

In an important sense, the 2010 QDR “Europeanises” India. It assumes that India will, minor friction aside, act in the general interests of the political and economic order that the Atlantic powers have established, just as Japan, South Korea, Australia, and NATO have acted for the past several decades. This framework is unquestionably productive. It sets Indian foreign and military policy apart from either Pakistan or China by treating the former as a solution and the latter two as problems (even if India isn’t described as a solution to the particular problems posed by either China or Pakistan). It opens space for thinking seriously about the role that the Indian military could play in maintaining regional stability, and hints at both avenues for cooperation and a desired Indian force structure.

However, the program set forth in the QDR hinges on the assumptions that Indian and US interests will not diverge substantially, and that India is interested in playing the role that the US wants it to play.


Forget it Jake -- it's Star Wars

Having been born at the tail end of the baby boom, I'm now about a quarter century older than most of my students. This creates certain pedagogical challenges, one of which is that I often don't have a good sense of what cultural and historical allusions and illustrations are going to resonate with or even be comprehensible in a classroom setting.

For example, last semester, I wanted to reference the ending of Chinatown to highlight a couple of points about the legal system, so I asked a class of about 55 students how many of them had seen it. A total of one student raised her hand. She said "do you mean the one in San Francisco?"

Just this week in a seminar on criminal punishment we were discussing punishment as revenge fantasy, and I discovered that none of the dozen or so students had seen either any Dirty Harry films or any portion of Charles Bronson's Death Wish oeuvre.

Now this circumstance could easily degenerate into a Pete Hamill-style Grumpy Old Man lament on how in the innocent 1970s we had quality filmmaking and the only drug was joy, but I'm curious regarding the extent to which both modern media and contemporary demographics have changed expectations regarding inter-generational familiarity with popular culture. When I was an undergrad 30 years ago I would have thought it very strange if professors assumed any kind of familiarity on my part with the American pop culture of 1950. My expectations are bit different, perhaps unrealistically so, for two reasons: Netflicks and the cultural domination of the boomers. For instance, when I discuss the bundle of sticks metaphor for property rights I assume I can put up the cover of Led Zeppelin IV on a slide and it will be familiar to a non-trivial portion of the class (this assumption has proven to be accurate).

On the other hand, you have the Chinatown-Dirty Harry-Death Wish problem. I sort of feel like my students should have seen Chinatown, in the same way they should have read The Great Gatsby. Expecting them to be familiar with Harry Callahan's hand cannon and accompanying witticisms, let alone the repulsive Death Wish series, is another matter (although I do think the Eastwood films are both a reflection of and have influenced some important cultural beliefs about the relationship between law, violence, and justice).

Anyway, at this point I find that the only two film references that I can always count on the vast majority of the class to get are The Wizard of Oz and the first Star Wars trilogy. I'm wonder about the extent to which technology has and will gradually change this circumstance -- that it is or will make pop culture, both in its high art and low schlock manifestations, more reliably intergenerational as pedogogical references or just subjects of general conversation.


"I Want My Scalps"

>> Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Having never read this book, I don't pretend to understand how the nominations process for Academy Awards really works. But this year's rankings mystify the heck out of me. (Arianna Huffington's make sense, though.)

Here's what I don't get. How in heaven does a film like District 9 - disturbing, disgusting and cliche - get the same number of nominations as the highly exciting, enjoyable and original Star Trek? - And how do two films as different from one another as Avatar and the Hurt Locker jockey for first place when both have, at any rate, been so ardently criticized as racist and unbelievable?

Unless it's mostly the fact that directors Bigelow and Cameron were married once that is behind all the hoopla, as Lesley Stahl would have us believe. Or just that fact that certain movies stir up a buzz in a particular political context - which surely has more to do with marketing and chance than the nature of the film itself. In other words, Hurt Locker and Avatar may both have going for them the same idiosyncratic geopolitical factors - Hurt Locker has been popular because it's been interpreted as an anti-war narrative at a time when Americans want out of Iraq; Avatar has been popular because of the escapism and critique of capitalism that it offers during an economic recession.

This kind of "resonance" factor though doesn't mean these are the best films, and the industry politics behind them certain doesn't. (Let them create a separate award for "Most Interesting Power-Ex-Couple in Industry.")

If I had any opportunity to vote on "Best Picture" (that I've seen, mind you) my vote would go to Quentin Tarantino's film Inglorious Basterds. (Christoph Waltz should also get best actor for playing Colonel Landa, a role Tarantino had feared might be unplayable - though why his role is considered "supporting" instead of "lead" escapes me; anyone understand how this distinction is determined? By my estimate Waltz had at least as much screen-time as Pitt...)

Anyway. Basterds has received a lot of nominations not because it necessarily resonated with a war-weary, economically stressed public but despite the fact that it surely didn't. In an era where some desperately want to be reminded that there was such a thing as a "good war," Basterds invites us to confront the barbarity of our own side without pulling punches. This move disturbs comfortable myths about good and evil, them and us in World War II, but also feeds nervously into the idea that the ends justify the means through its brazen and even comical depiction of war crimes against war criminals. No wonder few commentators knew what to make of it.

Why is the film in the running for best picture despite these tensions and criticisms? (And despite the fact that, like Hurt Locker and Avatar it's also historically inaccurate and racist - though, at least it doesn't claim to be otherwise; plus, by Tarantino standards, slow, sanitary and as one critic correctly put it, "silly, sadistic and unsatisfying.")

For one thing, Basterds might win simply because as Grady Hendrix at Slate explains, a film of this type fits the profile of "best picture" winners at least as well as Avatar or Hurt Locker.

But why does it deserve to win, in my view? Partly because Tarantino has done what he always does best, though not always in the same way - something unexpected that makes us uncomfortable. Partly because so many of the uncomfortable conversations the film would have sparked are about one of the most important moral issues of our day: the limits of just war theory. And partly because Basterds does something most films don't do: make us think about film itself as it ties into power politics.

As David Cox put it:

Critics frequently berate Hollywood for falsifying history to meet the requirements of story-telling. Rarely, however, can history have been so extravagantly revised as in Tarantino's version of the second world war's conclusion. So extreme is this revision that it feels like a plaintive protest against the inadequacy of what actually happened.

How can history have allowed Hitler to dispatch himself so miserably and furtively in a dreary bunker? Only a spectacular Armageddon of Jewish revenge of the kind Inglourious Basterds delivers could possibly have provided a fitting end for the F├╝hrer. Reality got this one wrong.

It gets most things wrong. It doesn't do narrative arcs. Most of the time, it doesn't even do conclusions. Instead, it presents us with a soggy meaningless mess that just isn't good enough to meet the needs of humankind. Stories have provided us with its corrective. In turning fiction's alternative universe into spectacle on a scale sufficient to rival reality, it's the movies that have managed to provide us with the outcomes that we crave.

Thank God for that, Inglourious Basterds seems to be saying. This may not be a particularly insightful message, but it's one that's never been more resoundingly communicated.
Of course, when I originally reacted to Basterds, I thought this subtext of Cox's might actually work against the just war critique. But then, that kind of complexity just makes me like the film more. It's fabulous on so many levels.

However, I don't get to vote, and those who do don't use any kind of standard criteria for weighing the actual cultural value of different films - it's politics as usual, albeit with occasional slaps on the wrist for more brazen efforts to court influence. So I predict that Hurt Locker will win out simply because it would be the first time a female director would win "Best Picture," and even if Grady is right about everything else I suspect this factor works against Tarantino, not for him.

But I hope I'll be wrong..

P.S. My original thoughts on the other two front runners here and here.


"God created the death penalty, not man, and He also decided what crimes deserved it."

Someone ought to remind mainstream conservatives that the Jason "Molotov" Mitchell responsible for "O.T.P. (One Term President)" is the same guy who produced and starred in this video last month:

You know, for the record.

Also for the record: WOLVERINE! have better flow than the Young Cons, but as Ackerman notes, they also clearly write from the fringe, as their song
repeatedly addresses the first black president as “boy”; has a lyric in which a rapper imagining herself as a soldier in Iraq declares herself “sick of smelling like a mosque after Ramadan”; and then features a birther talking about how Obama isn’t an American.
But I'm sure the fact that mainstream conservatives are attracted to the increasingly bizarre elements of their movement has nothing to do with the rhetoric they use.


You know what I want

Or maybe you don't.

Criticizing Tom Friedman columns is like shooting fish in a barrel (btw what does that even mean? I always pictured a barrel full of water with fish swimming around and somebody blasting away with a revolver, which doesn't sound easy at all. I guess maybe it means the fish are dead already and filling up a water-free barrel in a general store in the 19th century. Or something. I'm not looking it up).

Anyway . . . Back to the barrel fish shooting. Friedman seems to get all his metaphors and his social analysis straight from his frequent flyer account: LAX strikes him as kind of shabby these days, ergo the U.S. is failing to save and invest, unlike the thrifty and mysterious Chinese.

Then we get one billionaire interviewing another billionaire about whether it would be a good idea to cut taxes on companies run by billionaires. Can you guess the answer? I knew you could . . .

As Yglesias points out, it literally does not even appear to occur to Friedman that the CEO of Intel might be expressing something other than his completely altruistic concern for the welfare of the American people when he gets Tom Friedman to reproduce an Intel press release in the form of a New York Times op-ed column.


Quacks in Haiti

Peter Lipson has an interesting post about the unsurprising failures that naturopathic peddlers have faced in the wake of the Haitian catastrophe. Apparently, people wallowing in the aftermath of a natural disaster tend to be unimpressed by the results of cure-all vitamin C injections and are audacious enough to reject magic beans homeopathy in favor of actual medicine -- though Lipson notes that homeopathic water, which will likely contain "fewer fecal coliforms than the local water," will probably do no harm so long as no one expects it to resolve any illness.

Then again, it's less than clear that homeopaths even know how to use water properly. As this story explains, a group styling itself "Homeopaths Without Borders" recently sent a troupe of faith healers to Haiti, where they laid hands upon the afflicted.

The group set up shop in two tents next to a clinic and hospital, and treated more than 2,000 patients in three days. Much of the treatments were for itchy eyes and itchy scalps, probably brought about by the dust generated by the quake. There were also problems with itchy skin and upset stomachs.

The more serious injuries went into the clinic or hospital. And many of the gravest cases, such as amputees, were at the main base of relief operations some five miles away at the airport. The mission of the homeopaths was to deal with what [Nancy] Eos called the walking wounded.
Perhaps I'm being ungenerous by wondering if these well-meaning featherbrains actually offered sugar pills and tinctures in lieu of eye flushes and showers, but I'm glad to see they were sensible enough to pass along the amputees to a proper hospital -- an approach that nevertheless seems not to be widely shared among a community that believes homeopathy is more effective at treating malaria than amodiaquine and mosquito nets. Then again -- lest we understate the irrational insertion of quack medicine into a disaster zone -- we need only to remember that if the producers of homeopathic "remedies" actually followed the production steps necessary to generate 25ml of a 200C dilution, they would actually dump roughly 500 liters of water. I'm sure the people of Haiti would appreciate homeopathy even more if its practitioners would simply ship them all the water they waste to make the tiny bottles of water they tote with them.


Random Notes

  • Great stuff from Joe Posnanski and Tom Scocca on the Pete Hamill non-review of the new Mays biography.
  • To apply what Atrios said yesterday to a more trivial subject, I suppose the real person to blame here is not so much Hamill as Sam Tanenhaus. As Posnanski and Charles Pierce point out (and in this respect the analogy with Hiatt is null), it's not that Hamill isn't a gifted writer, but that he was obviously the wrong person for the review. It's an editor's job to find a more appropriate reviewer, and failing that to at least make clear that he'd like a review that was something other than an unholy mix of cliched nostalgia and abject nonsense about the "innocent" 50s. Given the Book Review's track record, it seems pretty clear that dreary cliches, preachy drug war moralism, and abject nonsense are exactly what Tanenhaus wanted.
  • Speaking of preachy moralism, Emily Bazelon has a good piece about "sexting" by teenagers being inappropriately criminalized. As to this question: "Give prosecutors the discretion to charge sexting as a juvenile offense and trust them to use it wisely—or don't give them this new tool for fear it will be misused and a lot of more or less good kids will end up with a record" -- the answer is pretty clearly "B." The law should be unequivocal that the consensual, noncommercial dissemination of pictures taken of one's self between teenagers should not be illegal, and absent such clarity you'd have to be crazy to trust prosecutors with broad discretion.
  • I think Neyer has a good response to the question of who should be on a "Mount Rushmore of managers," except that McCarthy has to be on it. It's Cox's misfortune that he managed Atlanta in the 90s rather than in Brooklyn in the 50s; in the right context one World Championship and (many fewer) playoff losses (with only one round to win) could make you part of the Purest Expression of Baseball Greatness There Ever Was rather than being part of a alleged bunch of chokers.
  • Marc Danzinger's sputtering defense of Mickey Kaus fails to understand that it's not a defense of drawing conclusions based on transparently unreliable evidence that a conclusion happened to be true. Obviously, when you assume that every rumor about a Democratic politician you dislike is true sometimes you're going to be right, but that doesn't retroactively make weak evidence reliable, let alone mean that someone owes Kaus an apology. Danzinger tastefully omits further discussion of some other examples of Kaus's methods in action which make this clear. This campaign's promise of comedy gold is already off to a promising start, though -- the yostabee set will be partying like it's 2002.


Michael Foot 1913 - 2010

Michael Foot died today. He's best known as leading Labour from 1980 until 1983, and having a hand in writing the "longest suicide note in history", or officially the Labour Party Manifesto for the 1983 elections. Foot was as old Labour as they come, and his election as leader in 1980 prompted the "gang of four" to break off and form the Social Democratic Party, which would eventually merge with the Liberals.

Foot was also born and raised in Plymouth, and a life long supporter of Plymouth Argyle FC, and I believe that he was a director of the club for a while. For his 90th birthday the club formally registered him as a player and issued him with a squad number of 90.

Considering the quality of Argyle's play of late, the running joke is obvious.

Ongoing tributes to Foot can be found at The Guardian here.


Just Splendid

Is the UK going to be the next Greece or Iceland? When I moved here in 2003, when times were good economically, I did openly wonder about the sustainability of the British economy. It didn't seem to be based on much more than the City of London, and heaven forbid, should anything happen to the financial services industry . . .

The consequences might be grim. I'm bemused by the stories linking the sudden accelerated decline in the pound to the YouGov poll released Sunday showing only a +2% Tory advantage. Apparently the nebulous markets fear a hung Parliament.

There is a paragraph from the NY Times story that hits wide of the mark, however:

In an echo of the United States’ rush into subprime mortgages with low teaser rates, millions of homeowners in Britain have piled into variable-rate mortgages that are linked to the rock-bottom base rate.
This completely and utterly fails to understand the British property market. There was some "sub prime" stuff going on, yes, but that was not tied to "teaser" rates. Rather, banks would lure in lesser qualified applicants through manipulating two variables, the Loan to Value ratio (Northern Rock was offering mortgages worth 125% of the property value in 2006, for example; one wonders how Northern Rock were one of the first casualties of the credit crunch) and personal income ratios.

Most mortgages held in the UK are "tracker" mortgages, which are tied to the Bank of England rate -- in other words, variable rates. When I bought my house in 2004, the longest fixed mortgage on the market was only for 5 years (there are now 10 year fixed mortgages available), so I took out the five year fixed mortgage (and paid over the odds in order to lock in that security). When a fixed term expires, or when the tracker expires, you are placed on a bank's Standard Variable Rate, which has been quite low considering the BoE is at 0.5%. Hence, six months ago or so, my rate went from 6% to 3.5% overnight. The drinks were on me.

Until this month, when my building society unilaterally raised their SVR 1.5%, so now I'm back up to 5%. When the BoE finally gets around to raising their rate, my mortgage goes up. There's not much I can do about it -- existing fixed mortgages are 1.5 to 2 points above what I'm currently paying. Of course, if this NYT story pans out . . .

I was all in favor of a hung Parliament for the sheer lunacy of it and the joy that it would provide me.

I now find that I'm rapidly losing my enthusiasm.


CSMonitor: Kenyan Street Embraces ICC Investigation

>> Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has become an iconic figure in urban Kenya. Or at least so says Scott Baldaug, reporting from Nairobi. Aside from getting Mr. Moreno-Ocampo's name wrong, his is an insightful little piece:

It may not be scientific, but a quick way to see what’s trendy in Kenya is to look at the back of a matatu, which is what Kenyans call their minivan taxis.

Some are highly adorned with the spray-painted faces of American hip-hop stars such as Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, and the late Tupac Shakur, and play those artists’ music at deafening decibels. Some are covered with pious statements such as “In God We Trust” or “Mashallah” (Arabic for “by the grace of God”).

One matatu I saw in Nairobi even had a portrait of Osama bin Laden, chosen presumably more for shock value than for ideological reasons, as the side of the van was emblazoned with the words “Thug Life.”

But the new king of the matatu is neither a rap star nor a terrorist. He is Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

Mr. Ocampo has recently taken up the criminal investigation of top Kenyan politicians who allegedly organized ethnic violence in the wake of the December 2007 elections, violence that killed some 1,500 people and displaced nearly 300,000 from their homes.

During the elections, matatu drivers endorsed political candidates, but, in the violent aftermath, many drivers became as disillusioned as the voting public. Now they are showing their disillusionment with giant posters of the Argentine-born lawyer holding a sheaf of documents. Others simply display the word “OCAMPO” in capital letters.

Be careful, Kenyan politicians: Your people are watching you.
Or they would like to think someone is, anyway.


"Why does the country need an independent Air Force?"

A few people have forwarded me this WaPo article about how the USAF is dealing with the increasing importance of drones. Unfortunately, the article doesn't really live up to its opening quote; it deals at length with dynamics internal to the Air Force, but doesn't really give a sense of why Schwartz thinks he has to worry about the future of the institution. The issue of the impact of drones upon USAF culture is different than the issue of the independence of the organization, and I think that the Air Force understands that it is facing troubling questions on both fronts. The two issues are related to one another, but Jaffe doesn't give a very good account of why; I think that he found a fantastic opening quote, but didn't realize that he was dealing with two distinct debates.

It's true enough that a major component of the Air Force's identity is wrapped around a WWI-era vision of knightly fighter pilots and a WWII vision of hardy bomber pilots. However, I think that the importance of these to the survival of the USAF can be overstated. The USAF was reasonably quick to embrace control of the missile forces of the United States, and indeed to make them a key part of the institution. Similarly, many defenders of the USAF point to its role in managing warfare in space, which again represents a departure from the classic fighter and bomber cultures. Drones are probably less of a challenge to the medium or mission oriented conceptions of the Air Force than either space or ballistic missiles; this is to say that if you believe you need an independent service for fighters and bombers, you might as well have an independent service for drones.

Nevertheless, it's fair to say that drones represent a departure from some of the most important elements of the Air Force's identity. I suspect that the problem will become more difficult as we begin to get real air superiority drones, and the manned fighter becomes a thing of the past. The question that the Jaffe article hints at but doesn't really come out and ask is this: Is the operation of a Predator really "military" in the same sense as the operation of an F-16? My qualified answer is yes; if we take Huntington definition of military officer as a professional manager of violence, then killing someone with a drone is not particularly different than killing them with an air-to-air missile or a laser-guided bomb. The drone operator is safer than the fighter pilot, but safety has rarely been the key variable in determining whether a particular task is "military" or not. Even during war, many tasks are undertaken by military personnel that pose no particular danger to their persons. Moreover, there's a fair amount of evidence to suggest that the key element to military training is creating a willingness and capacity to kill, rather than a willingness to die. Drone operators kill; if we assume the need for standing military forces with men and women trained to kill, then drone operations are a part of this project.

And yet, we underestimate identity questions at our peril. Jason approaches the question in a slightly different way, focusing on how drone operations meet certain established and informal criteria for "valor." He suggests that, the shared profession of violence management aside, there are some difficulties in comparing the activities of a Marine captain defending a base in Afghanistan and an Air Force captain defending the same base from Nevada. I suspect that part of the answer may be to come up with an alternative way of thinking about military merit, one that focuses on capability and contribution alongside the traditional ways we have to think about bravery and valor.

Interestingly enough, the drone question didn't really come up during my talk at the Air Command and Staff College. See also Attackerman.


The Rule of Three

Who should be the third name in this series? "Mickey Kaus's campaign for Barbara Boxer's U.S. senate seat has now been endorsed by Glenn Reynolds, Jonah Goldberg, and . . ." Surely this blog has a special role to play regarding such issues.

N.B. This is a real question in the United State of America, in this the two thousandth and tenth year of the Christian Era. Also.


More on British Polling and Margins of Error

I promise that this will not be a daily habit of mine, but the Tory +2% lead poll did generate the predictable breathless excitement on these islands.

YouGov's daily tracker indeed moved back towards +6, as anticipated, at Conservative +7. Additionally, a ComRes poll was released yesterday for The Independent which places the Tory lead at +5 (37/32/19). I want to emphasize that the +2 poll released on Sunday, while at the fringes assuming a true value of +6, is still within the margin of error. It was not an outlier in a pedantic understanding of the word, which is a case three standard deviations removed from the mean.

In other words, the findings reported in the Sunday poll were not "wrong". 95% of samples will yield the true value within the error band of +/- 3%, as this was. This is why we have margins of error in the first place.

What we should focus on is not the point estimate itself, but the trend -- and the consistent trend is clearly away from the Tories and towards Labour.

Speaking of which, the +5% Tory lead reflected in The Independent's poll still yields a distribution of seats as Labour 287, Conservative 272, Liberal Democrat 59 -- assuming a uniform national swing.

UPDATE ( 3/3/10): Again as expected, Wednesday's YouGov tracker is rather consistent, at Conservative +5 (C 38 L 33 LD 16). Given the last seven to ten days of polling, this suggests a true value of support around + 6%, and if not precisely 6 (and it isn't) it's slightly below 6%.


Enough Already. Nobody Cares.

>> Monday, March 01, 2010

There are valid reasons, related to public health, to be concerned about athletes using PEDs. These reasons probably justify some measure of paternalism with respect to amateur athletes, and may be good reasons for professional athletes and leagues to agree to a ban and testing regime (although whether they want to or not is their business.) Particularly where baseball is concerned, though, the hysteria about steroids has little to do with health and a great deal to do with bizarre myths about purity, about the frankly absurd idea that the use of steroids somehow constitutes something new or uniquely distorts statistical achievements or takes the "magic" out of the game or some such.

These arguments are pretty annoying in themselves. But combine them with blurry-eyed nostalgia about the Only Great Era In Baseball History, i.e. the time in which an especially narcissistic generation of New York writers were growing up, and things get positively painful. I give you Pete Hamill:

A long time ago in America, there was a beautiful game called baseball. This was before 30 major-league teams were scattered in a blurry variety of divisions; before 162-game seasons and extended playoffs and fans who watched World Series games in thick down jackets; before the D.H. came to the American League; before AstroTurf on baseball fields and aluminum bats on sandlots; before complete games by pitchers were a rarity; before ballparks were named for corporations instead of individuals; and long, long before the innocence of the game was permanently stained by the filthy deception of steroids.
This is pretty much reactionary bullshit from beginning to end (Adding 8 games to the regular season destroys the purity of baseball? Baseball is no longer beautiful if a starting pitcher throws 7 innings?) The stuff about baseball being "innocent" before some players used steroids is of course especially embarrassing, like people who think that America "lost its innocence" not, say, when the framers agreed to a constitution that protected slavery but when they found out as kids that TV game shows weren't on the level. But what really gives away the show, I think, is the complaint about too many teams. In large measure, this complaint is about New York sportswriters craving a return to to what Ken Burns called "the Capital of Baseball" era -- the 2/3rds of the 50s in which baseball was completely dominated by New York teams and large parts of the nation were deprived of major league baseball. This New York domination was terrible for baseball, of course, creating stagnating or declining attendance during a boom economy, but this is something we're never supposed to notice. And to draw a line under it, he devotes another long paragraph to the elevently-billionth assertion that the Brooklyn Dodgers mattered more than any team has ever mattered to anyone ever, although this has nothing to do with either Willie Mays or the book under review.

Hammil's whining about how the magic and innocence of baseball were destroyed by steroids is the whining of someone who is not in any meaningful sense a baseball fan at all, and to make that clear he amusingly notes that he also pretty much stopped watching baseball in 1957. I guess baseball's innocence is kind of like "born-again" virginity (although, in fairness, your team leaving is a better reason to be upset than players using different kinds of drugs than your childhood heroes used.) Why the Times didn't give the review assignment to someone who knows something about baseball rather than someone who would use the forum to indulge in puerile nostalgia for the most over-discussed era (Jackie Robinson aside) in the sport's history I can't say. For those who don't click through, I think Greil Marcus on Don Henley provides an adequate analysis:

While it's well known that as one gets older, one tends to find changes in the world at large unsettling, confusing, fucking irritating, a rebuke to one's very existence, it's generally not a good idea to make a career out of saying so.


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