Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Polls Polls Polls

Pretty funny satire on the latest Zogby poll, which shows that U.S. troops in Iraq are ready to come home, dammit. Only 23 percent backed Mr. Bush's position that they should stay as long as necessary. In contrast, 72 percent said that U.S. troops should be pulled out within one year. Of those, 29 percent said they should withdraw ''immediately.''

Of course, maybe one shouldn't poll troops, in the field, about whether they should keep fighting. The troops might have an incentive, a self-interested motive, to "cut and run," as the WarHawks like to say. (But probably not like to say to the troops' faces.) But when the troops and the general public no longer support the war, and the Iraqis sure as hell want us out, then, well, one has to wonder, what the hell are we still doing there? One comes to the realization that we are there to prevent the collapse of the charade that we are there for . . . some reason . . . some good reason . . . if you give me a minute, I'll think of it . . . just a minute . . . thinking. . . oh, yeah. We have to fight the terrorists over there, so that we don't have to fight them over here. I almost forgot.

How did things come to this? How did this happen? One word: why?

Monday, February 27, 2006

That's One Ba-a-a-ad Poll

This new CBS News poll will make some members of the Republican party, and the Bush administration political team, lose some sleep over the next few days.

Only 29% of Americans, in the poll, think that the Iraq war has been worth the American lives and costs; only 41% think that removing Saddam was worth the American lives and costs. The GOP internals on those two questions, 58% and 67% respectively. That means 1 in 3 Republicans believe that removing Saddam wasn't worth the costs; 2 in 5 think the war has been a net loss. The oerall number for Bush's handling of "the situation with Iraq" is 30%; the GOP number is only 61%. Again, 2 in 5 Republicans don't approve of Bush's handling of the Iraq war.

That's how you get a 34% approval rating, overall--when only 72% of Republicans approve of your performance, and 9% of Democrats and 29% of Independents approve of your performance . . . that's 34%. That's a remarkable number.

My question is: Who are these 9% of Democrats who approve of Bush's performance? I mean, I guess that includes Faux News "regular" Dick Morris, a nominal Democrat . . . but who else?

Btw, Cheney is at 18%. Only 41% of Republicans have a favorable opinion of Cheney. Hmmmm. As Jon Stewart would say, 1 in 5 (20%) of dentists recommend sugared gum. That's the same percentage (of Americans) who approve of Cheney's performance in office.

In other words, 20% is the Mendoza line of polling. You can get almost 20% for anything. That's where Cheney's at. And Bush is basically at 2 out of 3 agin' him.

My prediction: Expect the next nine months to be Hillary Scare, 24-7, on Faux News, GOP talk radio, and from the mouths of Republicans near you. To shift the subject from Bush . . . talk Hillary!

I'm Evil Enough

You Are 56% Evil

You are evil, but you haven't yet mastered the dark side.
Fear not though - you are on your way to world domination.

Hat tip to Sam.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

I Was Thinking About Posting on This, But

Then I read this, and I couldn't top it. So read Wolcott.

Evasive Maneuvers

OK, my good friends, I hope that you are all having a happy weekend.

But watching a "fair and balanced" Meet the Press today, with three Republicans and exactly zero Democrats, probably didn't put you in a happy frame of mind. Not, that is, if you watched it. I actually skipped the Ahnold portion of the program, so it's possible the Gropenator may have said something really egregious, and I missed it. Oh, well. Just wanted to comment a bit on this exchange between Russert and Rep. King of New York, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee. The commentary will begin after the first excerpt:

MR. RUSSERT: Congressman King, you supported the war. We are now three years into it. And there were four fundamental judgments made by the administration. One: There would be weapons of mass destruction found. That is not the case. Two: We would not need large numbers of troops to occupy Iraq for years on end. Three years in, we still have 130-some thousand troops. Three: We’d be greeted as liberators. And four: That the Shiites, the Sunnis and Kurds would all come together...

REP. KING: Uh-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT: ... and unite as Iraqis and not break down into tribal or sectarian warfare.

REP. KING: Uh-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT: Was the administration wrong on all four counts? Were there four fundamental misjudgments?

REP. KING: No, I think—and I still think it was the right thing to go in. You cannot allow a dictator to continue to defy U.N. resolutions, with people believing you had WMD and having the capacity to have WMD. And I believe the situation—we are at a very defining moment right now in Iraq.

This is the evasion. The question was not whether it was "the right thing to do." It's entirely possible to think that the administration (1) misjudged the threat posed by Iraq (see, instead of a "grave and gathering danger," it was, well, not a danger at all, not "grave," and not really "gathering" anything, either); (2) the number of troops needed to occupy the country, after the invasion (Bill Kristol and I agree that the folks at the Pentagon and White House got this one terribly wrong); (3)whether the Iraqis would welcome us as liberators; and (4) that Iraq would not not be torn apart by sectarian animosities after the overthrow of Hussein . . . AND still believe that the war was the right thing to do. Bill Kristol, Chuck Krauthammer, and many, many members of the ever-more-and-even-more-hawkish wing of the War Hawks are in this camp. (BTW: Did anyone see Bill Kristol minimize the sectarian violence in Iraq in the last week by saying, "It's not a full-scale ethnic cleansing," on Fox News Sunday? Well, if it's not a full-scale ethnic cleansing, no big whoop, as they say. Freedom is messy. Death squads, assassination, mosque bombings, all part of the normal democratic process.)

But King actually says, NO, the administration was not wrong about these four things. Although he doesn't say which one of the four they were right about. I wish Timmeh had asked a follow-up.

Instead, we got this "definitive moment" business. To which we return:

[REP. KING]: What Senator Warner said, I think, is very significant, that you have had the parties come back together for the purpose of talks. And the Sunnis realize that if this does turn into a civil war, they will be slaughtered. So they need an American presence there, and they have to end any possibility of going toward a civil war. I think Ayatollah Sistani is still doing a very good job of trying to keep the Shiites from retaliating completely against the Sunnis. So I’m still—listen, this is a defining moment, and Senator Warner said, you know, it’s up to them, ultimately. But I do think the Iraqi Army is much better trained. Seventy percent of the operations in Baghdad are carried out by Iraqis, the Iraqis being in the lead. So no, I think that this is a tough time, it’s a very difficult time. My heart goes out to anyone who’s lost anybody in Iraq. But having been there several times, I think we’ve made enormous progress. And if they can hold it together now, this can—having looked into the abyss, the Iraqi people may realize it’s time now to not go to a civil war but instead form a government.

The first bolded section there is clearly a new GOP talking point. I heard Chuckles (Krauthammer) say the same exact thing on the Fox roundtable. My question: Is this a good argument? Is there any evidence that actual Sunnis on the ground think like this, as opposed to how the-Sunnis-imagined-by-those-who-generate-GOP-talking-points think? It seems to me that the Sunnis may believe that they are merely engaged in self-defense; that the Shiites (with their death squads and all) are out for revenge, and that if they (the Sunnis) don't fight back, they will be slaughtered. So I'm not sure about this talking point, either in terms of logic or whether it reflects actual Sunni thought, on the ground.

The second bolded section boggles the mind. If I could go back to 2000 and tell the American people that, if you elect Bush, in a little over five years a GOP House committee chairman will appear on Meet the Press and praise a Shiite ayatollah's efforts for peace, well, I think that I would have been branded a loon. I think that Sisani was one of the ayatollahs Bush called in the last week. But the point is, even if it wasn't Sistani himself, the U.S. president is making calls to ayatollahs, people. We have crossed over into some alternate universe.

The third bolded section speaks for itself. If the Iraqi army is taking the lead in operations against . . . other Iraqis, isn't that, by definition, a civil war?

But it gets worse:

MR. RUSSERT: And the people on Long Island, in your district, aren’t concerned about this war and they’re patient and supportive the way you are?

REP. KING: No, they are very concerned and every, every death is tragic. But my district also lost well over 100 people on September 11. And realizing you cannot defeat radical Islamic terrorism unless the Middle East is stabilized, and you cannot stabilize it so long as Saddam Hussein was in power.

MR. RUSSERT: But you’re not connecting Iraq to September 11?

REP. KING: I’m saying that in war against terrorism it’s essential to have a stable Middle East, and you cannot have done that so long as Saddam Hussein was in power.

Lookie there, King clearly connected the Iraq war to 9/11, and then, when challenged, didn't say NO, it's not connected. The same old tactic. Draw the connection, imply a connection, but don't defend the connection if pushed. Classic. Evasion. But note the rest of the sentence. If Representative King thinks that the Bush administration's policy in Iraq has made for "a stable Middle East," or even a more stable Middle East, I have just one follow-up: Is he frickin' mental?

Link to the transcript.

Friday, February 24, 2006

One More Hundy Post

Baghdad is on Lockdown

OK, I guess the technical term is "day-time curfew," but it sure looked like a lockdown on the morning news. Things look pretty bleak over there. I'm just so-o-o-o happy that I live in the United States, where the lead story this morning is not a looming civil war in the country that we, um, liberated, but Sasha Cohen's two falls (and silver medal) in the women's figure skating finals.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What Is It With University Presidents?

Why are they all, for want of a better term, patronizing assclowns? It's not the effect of the job. In my experience, they're patronizing assclowns from (at least) the beginning of the search process. So why do the search committees always pick such "winners"?

Sounds like an unnamed state university in the middle of Tennessee has an even bigger problem, from the sounds of a TMcD comment below. I mean, I don't know how you can respect a man once you know what he calls his penis. (At this point, you either want to read the comment or take a shower.) I know I never want to know what Hundy calls his, although if I were a betting man--and I'm not, not really, in any kind of hardcore, bet-the-mortgage way--I'd bet "Li'l Hundy." And Krauss calls his . . . "String Theory." Ha ha.

Boy, this post really brings down the quality of the discussion here at FFB.

More CWRU Stuff

A follow-up to this earlier post on the possible vote of no-confidence for Case President Hundert:

Subject: Update on request for a meeting on a vote of non-confidence

Dear colleagues,

I want to thank many of you for your very rapid response to my earlier message. These responses suggest a broad consensus on the need for a special meeting to deal address this issue.

Thus I am pleased to let you know that as of 4 pm I have received more than a sufficient number of responses to mandate calling a special meeting of the College Faculty to consider a vote of no confidence in the President and Provost. I will be forwarding this to the Dean and Executive Committee.

This has all happened very quickly. I certainly encourage all of you to take the opportunity to be a part of this request. if you would like to add your name to the list, please let me know in the next 24 hours. It will take at least this long to determine whether the email responses I have received satisfy the requirements, or whether we need to physically circulate a hard-copy petition.

Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or comments,


Lawrence Krauss

Uh, oh, Hundy. How will you escape this time? What lurks behind that smile?

Another Worth-Reading Kevin Drum Post

Whatever you want to say about Kevin Drum, he's a hell of a lot better blogger than yours truly. Purely in terms of technical merit and stuff. Anyway, I thought that this post on student emails was pretty funny, as are the links.

But especially relevant for readers and commenters on this blog was this: most people don't have a clue how they come across in email. This leads to all kinds of confusion, as the sender of an email is not necessarily that good at predicting how the recipient will take his intended sarcasm, good-natured ribbing, and so on. These electronic forms of communication have many advantages, but one HUGE disadvantage is that the recipients of your communication lack certain basic cues, cues that often alert recipients of communication to the intended meaning and/or subtext of your message.

I know, I know, where the hell is he going with this? (Missing cues and all that.) What I'm trying to say is that if you regularly refer to other commenters on this blog as a "toolbox" or as an "assclown," you might not mean it as harsh as it sounds (or, you may). But something may be lost in the electronic transmission, if you get my drift. And others reading the comments might get the sense that, well, you're kind of a jerk. (Not to say that you are, but some readers might, um, get that sense.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

What Would Rush Do?

The problem with Democrats is that they write things like this. The UAE ports deal is a truly boneheaded political play, whatever the merits of the issue may be. But Dems, well, they worry about the merits. They don't want to pre-judge.

I hate to say this. I really do. But imagine, if you will, what the reaction would be if, say, President Kerry had signed off on a deal to contract out port management to a UAE-(that's United Arab Emirates, people)-owned company. (State-owned, even, which would be good for hundreds of socialism references on Faux News.)

What would Rush say, if that were the case? The mind literally boggles. And we know that Rush doesn't worry the merits.

First Harvard, Then . . . Case?

Oh, things are afoot at CWRU. Things are afoot:

Dear Faculty:

Yesterday we learned from Harvard, which certainly IS one of the most powerful learning environments in the world, that faculty can ultimately take appropriate responsibility for responding to severe problems in University governance. The threat of a vote of non-confidence in the President by their college of arts and sciences, which was predicated on management issues there that pale in comparison to those we have had to deal with here over the past three years---which have had a disastrous effect on our budget, on faculty morale, and on the strength of our research and teaching enterprise---ultimately led the president of Harvard to resign.

I, and many of my colleagues, feel that it is time that we no longer remain silent about these things. I know there are several groups around the university that are considering mobilizing. However, learning from the Harvard experience, it is clear that the College of Arts and Sciences, which is in many ways the intellectual heart of the University, can have a dramatic impact by acting on its own.

I am therefore hoping to request that a meeting of the College faculty take place, according to the bylaws of the College, to consider a vote of non-confidence in the President and the Provost, and to relay the results of this vote to the Trustees. The proposed resolution which will be voted on at that meeting will read: "The faculty of the college of arts and science expresses its lack of confidence in the ability of the President and Provost to effectively lead the University, and recommends that the Board of Trustees take appropriate action based on this vote ."

To call such a meeting, our bylaws require a petition to the dean signed by no fewer than 10 percent of the voting members of the faculty. Thus, if you are interested in signing such a petition please send me an email. I have already received verbal support from a wide group of faculty, and will alert you all when the email threshold has been crossed. Also, because I do not have access to a current A&S complete faculty email list the list I am using is somewhat out of date. If you know of people who are not on this list (which is circa 2003 and therefore does not include faculty appointed since that time), please forward this to them.

Lawrence M. Krauss
Ambrose Swasey Prof of Physics and Prof. of Astronomy
Director, Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics.

That smile, that smile . . . that's how he smiles just before he calls for a no confidence vote. And sticks the knife in. (Now, this is a homepage. Not very humble, is he?) So, whaddya hear, Paul?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Is It 1978?

In snarky response to my post of this a.m., CL, emerged from his regeneration chamber of pure evil, snarks: Boy, it sounds positively late-70s here on the FFB. Remember the coming population bomb, stagflation (has there ever been a funnier word?), Desert One, malaise, Dudley Moore? This too shall pass.

He ends with a Morning in America reference.

The weird cognitive dissonance you're experiencing now is that the Reaganesque Bush II has morphed into Jimmy Carter, which means that the next president will be . . . Reaganesque, except we've already had way too much Reaganesque policy, which means that the next president would be . . . Bush . . . except Jeb can't win after his brother has f'ed things up so badly . . . which means that the next president is Clinton . . . but NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

Plus, . . . weren't all those things true? There was stagflation. The population bomb just had a longer fuse than people realized in the 1970s. The choppers in Desert One did crash. And Dudley Moore (pictured, in bubble bath) made a number of films in the period in question, some of which still play on cable! As for malaise, that sounds like a condition swamping the GOP on Capitol Hill these days.

The other reason that this is not the '70s: the kids. Unlike kids in the '70s, who felt that they missed out on the real fun, in the '60s, and thus were always a bit backward-looking, the kids today . . . it's all about getting ahead, career, the best law school, the best grad school, and so on and so forth. When I was a kid, the hero was the anti-hero, the smart-alecky Bill Murray or Hawkeye Pierce. Now, it's a 179 on the LSAT.

Btw, a much funnier word than stagflation is booby, by which I mean the bird, especially the blue-fotted booby, and not any body part, heaven forbid. That blows the doors off stagflation. Just like the General Lee blew the doors off Roscoe P. Coltrane's car, or the Bandit's Trans Am blew the doors off Sheriff Bufford T. Justice's ride.

If we have to go back to the '70s, at least there's the terrible pop culture as an upside.

First Political Event of the '06 Cycle

OK, so given the previous post, some of you may be surprised that I'm attending my first campaign event of the '06 cycle this Friday, a meet and greet at a downtown D.C. lobbying firm (Quinn Gillespie) for this Murphy character. The missus already contributed to his campaign, and I'm going to check him out, one-on-one, so to speak. I'll provide details, Friday evening.

Beyond Outrage Fatigue

Not many posts on politics lately (or many posts at all, for that matter). My heart just isn't in it. It's not that there aren't things to get worked up about. Instead, it's that there are simply too many things to get worked up about.

There's an added dimension here, too, I think. It's easier to let slip the dogs of outrage when one believes that the system has some kind of self-correcting mechanism; in other words, it's easy to be outraged when one believes that others share your outrage and that that shared outrage can have some (positive) effect. But at this point, it's just not possible for me to think that. Indeed, given that things seem to be going south so quickly, on so many fronts, the most disturbing thing is how little of this gets through "the media filter." Maybe I'm wrong, and things aren't as bad as they seem to me: widespread political corruption; unchecked executive power; rampant human rights abuses by our government; the growing gap b/w haves and have-nots; massive structural deficits; wars and rumors of wars; looming ecological catastrophes. Maybe there are positives out there. But when the leading story of the last week-plus is the vice president (accidentally) shooting a man in the face . . . despite everything else going on, that's the story. Admittedly, it's a great story, from a media perspective. But one would think that the media has a greater responsibility than covering "man bites dog," missing white women, and so on.

So, I'm sure I'll get fired up for the coming political season. Sometime soon.

Really Missing Inaction

OK, so I post to promise more posts and then disappear again.

A few quick hits:
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (dir. F. Capra, 1939): Finally got around to watching this classic. It's silly and compelling at the same time, a kind of political fairy tale. It's funny how the kind of populism at the heart of this movie still resonates in media stories about earmarks, for example. Really liked the shots of D.C. in the 1930s--Union Station, the Lincoln Memorial especially. Oh, and Jean Arthur as Jimmy Stewart's "Girl Friday" (pictured).

Underground, a strange Serbian movie from 1995. A little too much magical realism for my tastes, and I'm sure that the film is chock-full of Yugoslavian in-jokes that went right past me. Clever and compelling in parts.

Collapse by Jared Diamond (2005). Haven't really finished this book, but I've probably read as much of it as I can. It's really too depressing for me. Especially given the newspaper, every day, about Greenland ice, etc. Not a very succinct book--Diamond has thrown in the kitchen sink here, as well as lots of discussion of his own interests, personal history--but worth reading, especially the chapters on societies that have "chosen to fail," in the terms of the book's subtitle.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Where Have I Been?

Nowhere. Well, not really nowhere, because that's impossible, because to the extent that I exist I have to be somewhere, and if I didn't exist, then I couldn't type this, now, could I? No, I've been here, but very busy with work, teaching "on the side," running, and went to the theater last night to see Measure for Measure at the Folger. Which was excellent, as was the dinner and dinner conversation with friends of ours. I'll write down some thoughts on MFM later.

The conversation turned, as it so often does in my company, for some reason, to the electoral prospects of the Democrats in 2006 and 2008. One of these friends, who works for a well-known polling outfit, in a position of responsibility (his title has "director" in it), thinks that it's pretty unlikely that the Dems will retake one or both chambers of Congress in 2006, despite the mess the GOP finds itself in and despite the Democratic lead in the generic congressional poll. I agree to the extent that the drawing of congressional and state boundaries advantages the GOP greatly in congressional races. He also thinks that the Dems have problems heading into 2008.

There is plenty of time to blog the 2008 election. But I think that 2006 should be interesting. More on that to come.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Bang the Drum, We've Got Tyranny on the Run

TMcWarHawk writes in response to the post below: Why draw the line at genocide rather than "tyranny." Is there any real dispute that Saddam was a tyrant? I don't think so. That is an objective description of the regime. We can say, with Emery, "not my job!" But then again, who supported that guy for years, financially and diplomatically, and before that, who created "Iraq" as a contiguous, poly-ethnic state? The West. We're already "involved" whether we like it or not, and it strikes me as a bit late in the day to tell the Iraqis that we simply wash our hands of a situation to which we once greatly contributed. You ask, "Who are we to speak for the Iraqis?" but we've left them in a condition where they have no ability to speak for themselves.

Finally, the UN. I have mixed feelings here. On one level, I believe in the UN and its mission. There needs to be an organization of nations working to solve problems through diplomacy where possible. But it is not a representative body, and many of its member nations are tyrannies or mildly authoritarian. Do you really want China as a permanent veto on our foreign policy? Do you really trust the UN's Middle East vision when, based on its membership, it so consistently embraces Arab despotism at the expense of Isreali democracy? The anti-Semitism of the UN is often shocking. The UN is valuable in a limited role--as a sounding board for US policies, and as a legitimizer of international diplomacy. But it cannot possibly fill the role of final arbiter on matters of war and peace. It is simply too limited and too compromised to usurp the traditional role of nation states.

When did TMcWarHawk go over to the Dark Side? First, we've so infantilized the Iraqi people through our actions, i.e., the actions of something called "the West," that they can't speak for themselves, even when they shout, at the top of their lungs, for us to go. Plus, the existence of "tyranny" gives us a blank check to invade other countries, at least countries in which the West has been involved. Guess that rules out Atlantis, Shangri-La, and Paradise Island. Oh, and Monster Island.

Then, we can just ignore the international community as embodied in the U.N. OK, the U.N. is a terribly flawed institution, but what else is there? Well, I guess there is the nation state, the role of which should not be usurped by the U.N. That un-usurpable role? Invading nations we deem to be tyrannical, I guess.

Seriously, why not just sign on to the whole Project for a New American Century program while you're at it? It's the Pax Americana one way or the other.

And to think that this discussion was sparked by my concern about how even legitimate political arguments can be abused, and that that means that political thinkers and writers should think through the consequences of legitimating aggressive warfare for other than self-defensive purposes.

I'm curious if TMcWarHawk really believes that the U.S. is somehow responsible for the Rwandan genocide. If he is, then is he willing to support U.S. reparations for our irresponsible failure to stop that slaughter? If we are really responsible, then we should pay the victims, the survivors, reparations, right?

Btw, a little bird tells me that this discussion is getting kind of bogged down. Maybe it's time to move on? I'm sure the WarHawk will want to respond, but then, maybe a new subject?

(Before WarHawk says it, I'm not admitting defeat. In fact, this exchange has confirmed my views on holding fast to wars of self-defense alone. Wilson raises some interesting points about economic intervention; I'm not sure where he would come down on those issues, himself, but worth mulling over.)

Monday, February 13, 2006


I'm afraid that my efforts in the previous post have been for nought. Focus, people. I'm not arguing about the good or the right, in the abstract. We hardly have that luxury. Nor am I arguing that the good and the right have some kind of political impact.

In the best world, political leaders would always act in conformity with principles of the good and the right. (I think we can all agree that we don't live in that world.) In the second best world, political leaders would not always act in conformity with principles of the good and the right, but democratic publics would check political leaders when they deviate (significantly) from those principles. In the third best world, political leaders would not always act in confromity with the principles of the good and the right, and democratic publics would not always check those leaders; however, the principles of the good and the right would be espoused by an effective political opposition that would, in the long run, hold those leaders accountable.

We live in, at best, the fourth best world, in which principled arguments about the good and the right enter into political discourse and sometimes work to check abuses by political leaders, when advanced by a somewhat effective (and thus somewhat ineffective) political opposition. But at that same time, arguments ostensibly based on the good and the right enter into the political dialogue, mouthed by political leaders seeking to advance their own ends, far removed from the good and the right. In other words, and in short, we live in a world where the availability of "moral sounding" arguments is itself a significant moral danger. Because, let's face it, the moral principles that you so boldly espouse can easily be turned around on you, when supporters of the War point to so-called "democratic" advances made in the "progress" of the conflict. In the moral and political world in which we live, in short, your moral principles sometimes (often?) serve to short-circuit your own criticisms of the War, and of government policy.

Sure, as TMcD points out, the Iraq War was not based, at the outset, on humanitarian grounds; some pundits mentioned those values, but the main weight of the case for war was "the grave and gathering danger" of Iraqi WMDs. The point must be, however, that your good-faith arguments re: humanitarian interventions were at hand, after the fact, to serve the ends of those who started the War. Sure, you may take solace in the fact that those were not the actual reasons; but can you take solace in the fact that those same rationalizations are offered, today, as the justification?

Maybe in the best world, you could. But in this world, it seems to me, one must work exceptionally hard not to be complicit in the evil that our leaders do. Having pure, good intentions is not nearly enough.

I remember how Michael Walzer wrote that weak, on-the-one-hand, on-the other-hand piece before the Iraq War. Isn't that how all the "responsible" liberals and Democrats ended up? Here's the line (maybe you've said this): "Even if the Iraq War was justified, its execution demonstrates a kind of technical incompetence that belies the seriousness of the effort."

OK, does that mean that you support the War, or that you don't?

Maybe you don't. But by offering some kind of (even tepid) support for the now-offered justifications of the War, you undermine your case in the at-best fourth-best world, where unsophisticated democratic publics have to make more-nuanced-than-they-really-can-make judgments about the morality of international politics . . . so where are you, exactly?

I'm against this War, and any war that purports to be about saving people from their own leaders. And you? How many paternalistic wars do you favor? How far are you willing to go? How much of a Guardian of the World role for the U.S. will you support? And what if bad leaders, in the future, mouth your arguments? Are you confident that democratic publics will be able to tell the difference between Michael Walzer and Michael Ledeen?

For my part, I think that it's important to worry about this. Because this is not the best of all possible worlds.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Question of Principle

This is something I've been thinking about a lot, and many of the comments posted here in recent weeks raise the issue, to varying extents. The issue is this: In formulating moral principles or rules, how much should one be concerned about the potential for the abuse of one's principles by others?

Let me take an example from TMcD's recent comment to this post. TMcD argues (this is an excerpt): One way to look at the moral reasoning here is this: some actions are morally required (fighting Hitler), others are morally prohibited (ethnic cleansing), and still others are in a gray area of the morally permissable. In those cases, we have to use our best practical reasoning concerning the ends at stake, the means we have availiable, and the opportunities for success, to make imperfect judgments. Clinton may not have been morally required to invade Rwanda, but it was a doable operation that could have saved many, many lives at relatively low cost to us. Clinton held back because he didn't want a fight with the DeLay caucus, not because he didn't think it worth doing. That's what I would call failed moral judgment in that complex middle category.

TMcD thinks that both Iraq and Rwanda fell into this middle, gray area, if I understand his position correctly, and were thus potentially "morally permissible" as humanitarian interventions. Indeed, he says so in a later comment: Instead, Iraq and Rwanda occupied a gray area of the "morally permissable" within which we must carefully evaluate and balance moral and practical considerations. The problems in those countries (tyranny, violence, ethnic oppressions, etc.) made them legitimate candidates for outside intervention, unlike, say, the US seizing Toronto to keep baseball "All-American," a morally trivial reason, hence forbidden. My judgment, which I've stated repeatedly, is that, within that moral middle ground, reasoning would have legitimized going into Rwanda but NOT Iraq.

I'm sure that many, many readers of this blog would concur with at least some of these sentiments.

But here is my problem, the issue I've been mulling over. It's all well and good to say that practical moral reasoning is necessary in a broad range of cases, but one has to remember that one is requiring policymakers to engage in such reasoning, and that policymakers often have their own agendas, separate from moral considerations (e.g., Clinton's concern with building/securing domestic support for intervention in Rwanda). Moreover, labeling a range of interventions as possibly/potentially "morally permissible" creates possible pretexts for interentions based on ulterior motives. (I think that in Just and Unjust Wars, M. Walzer comments that there has never been a purely humanitarian intervention. I might be off by one, but the point is still a good one: purely humanitarian interventions almost never, or never, occur.)

So, to get to where this post was going: How concerned should serious thinkers like TMcD and others be that their good-faith arguments about humanitarian interventions--which sanction the violation of international norms and also sanction the use of extreme forms of human-on-human violence, i.e., mass killing, if not mass murder--will be twisted and abused by policymakers to serve their own, non-humanitarian, ends?

My concern is whether the adoption or advocacy of this sort of case-by-case analysis approach to policy questions isn't, in the end, the problem. Might it not be better to adopt "bright-line" rules in this area to avoid the situation where a leader can manipulate your good-faith principles to acheive his/her own ends, which have little or nothing to do with your moral principles?

This is separate from the problem of good-faith disagreements about whether a particular intervention is justified, given a certain set of facts. TMcD, CL, and I might agree on a set of criteria for humanitarian interventions (I'm not sure we would, but we might) but disagree about particular cases, in good-faith, because human reason is a notoriously imprecise tool. Academics are used to that sort of thing; we do it all the time.

I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the danger that sanctioning the use of extreme, mechanized violence for humanitarian ends empowers those who would use extreme, mechanized violence against other States for non-humanitarian ends.

It seems to me, as a non-pacifist, that there used to be a "bright-line" we called defensive wars, or self-defense. One might even pre-empt an imminent attack under that theory--although the word "pre-empt" might be worn-out after the abuse it's taken in recent years. One might also join other states in a defensive war against an aggressor. All that is fine, under a set of bright-line rules that thinkers and international lawyers have used for hundreds of years. One might even force an aggressor to give up conquered territory and subject the aggressor state to sanctions to prevent further violations of international norms, as the international community did, with U.S. leadership, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in the Gulf War.

But to say that State A can intervene in State B's affairs because State B's government doesn't respect the rights of its subjects is a different matter. It may be the case that State B has a horrendous human rights record. But that is, according to my lights, primarily the problem of State B's subjects; if State B has passed a certain threshold, they should, if possible, rise up and rebel. That may, of course, not be possible, which means that the lives of State B's subjects are pretty miserable.

But to say that if State B passes some threshold it then becomes "morally permissible" for State A to intervene in its affairs is something altogether different. It seems now that one must require the policymakers in State A to have "pure thoughts" only. If Walzer is right, and I suspect he is, that policymakers/political leaders rarely have purely pure (?) thoughts, then the "moral principle" of humanitarian interventions becomes a tool to advance non-humanitarian interests.

Btw, to make a long post even longer, I think that the same general concern applies to claims of expansive presidential power ("inherent power") under the Article II power as "commander-in-chief" of the military and naval forces of the United States. I think that we would all agree that there are cases in which presidents must act quickly and decisively to seize an advantage or to prevent certain contingencies, and that the Constitution almost certainly grants the president at least that much power. But this argument can be easily misused. That "emergency power" might swallow the rest of the powers of government.

It seems to me that, in formulating moral or legal principles, we should consider "bright-line" rules, which cabin the justifications that can be offered for certain actions, as superior to case-by-case "moral reasoning" balancing tests, given the danger of the potential abuse of legitimate moral principles by unprincipled decision-makers. Or, at least, that's how my thinking on this subject has been tending in recent months. So:

Better to say then, that the president has no power to break duly enacted laws than to say that the president may break duly enacted laws, but only in super-duper emergency circumstances. Better to say, no humanitarian interventions, period, than to create rules that would permit and justify interstate aggression for non-humanitarian reasons.

Film Review: Why We Fight (dir. E. Jarecki, 2005)

This film is much more than just another "lefty" anti-war documentary (but it is that). The director, Eugene Jarecki, is actually interested here in telling us a number of stories. One story is about intelligence and the build-up to the Iraq War, but another story is about an ordinary guy who lost his son on 9/11, and a third story is about a troubled young man who joins the Army after 9/11. Still another story is about a woman who emigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam as a fifteen year-old in 1975 and now works in a bomb factory. Perhaps the most anti-war of the stories is that of the stealth bomber pilots who dropped the bombs in the so-called decapitation strike that began "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

Somehow, Jarecki manages to weave these stories together in a narrative about what President Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex. Going in, I was concerned that the film might make the too-easy conspiracy theory argument that the U.S. fights wars because of war profiteering by major corporations. Instead, the film makes a more subtle argument, that since the end of the Second World War the U.S. has become a militarized and militaristic society; that the military-industrial-congressional-ideological complex (Jarecki includes think tanks in the complex, which I think is right; today, the production of militaristic ideas is more important than the manufacture of bombs) has come to dominate American policy in ways that earlier generations of Americans would have found troubling, to say the least.

I liked the framing of this argument with Eisenhower, a career military man. Eisenhower saw what was happening at the time, in this narrative, but the tenor of the times (the 1950s) made his cautionary warnings rather moot. As the better half points out, Ike's warnings against the military-industrial complex in his fareweel address to the Nation sound as naive today as those of the Anti-Federalists against a standing army.

This film is definitely worth watching, if/when it comes to your town, or on DVD. It's much, much better than Fahrenheit 9/11, which I liked, btw.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Lifted from Comments: Hoplite Armor Specs

My old colleague Paul writes a lengthy comment, worth a read:

I watched the Olympics last night [see review in Emery's thread above], so I did not check back until this morning, hence the tardy response. Plus I wanted to give it some thought. Well, first of all, . . . I apologise for mischaracterising your comment as a statement rather than a question. As for Senator Byrd, he's got a valid point about the need to jealously guard a Republic so that it doesn't slip into a Principate, but at times it seems he really believes in the idea that we're the new Roman Empire and hence should run our empire like them, as long as it remains a Republic. Thus he's the one pushing to ignore the WTO ruling against the US on fining foreign companies for something -- was it dumping? -- and giving the fine money to US companies.

As for your new question about whether the culture and ethos of war in Greece were the same as today, I would say "yes" and "no". Before I address that, let me say that the whole issue of whether history provides useful parallels is almost universally held, it's just that people disagree over what lessons we should draw. Thus for instance, in the field of Greek History you get a guy like Victor Davis Hansen, who is a darling of the neoconservatives for his take on Greek history. On the other hand, someone like Judith Hallett -- a colleague of Frances at the University of Maryland -- is a card-carrying democrat and has a quite different take on neoconservative ideas [interesting aside here: several year's ago before the Bush era, Hallett actually contacted the FBI and gave them Hansen's name as the possible Unabomer (I never figured out why unabomer was spelled without a 'b') and after Ted Kacynski was caught she then bragged of it in a public forum].

I would say the core argument of the neoconservatives is the same one made by various politicians and pro-war groups throughout the ages and that is: "We're good and righteous and our cause is good and righteous, so if you don't do what we say, we're going to preemptively attack you and make you righteous too, or at least do what your told!". So while they might agree with a view of history that regards hubris as an act that can lead to defeat, they always think that their own cause is right, and that their preemptive use of force is justified, and their loss, if it comes, was a failure in some strategy. Thus we are losing in Iraq because we disbanded the army, or we didn't get enough electricity up and running, or we didn't have enough soldiers...not because the entire idea of a preemptive strike on a weaker enemy with a different culture in order to control oil supply and impose a new political order is an act of hubris bound to fail. [Note that I am not talking about Afghanistan, which might have had a chance of succeeding had not the US attacked Iraq].

There have been many such politicians and groups throughout the ages. At Athens, the most famous was Kleon. Kleon argued that Athens could only keep her empire together by being more ruthless, and furthermore he argued that such ruthlessness was justified, and while he railed that "Democracy is incapable of empire", Athens by and large followed his policies and yet in the end lost. I'm sure Kleon would disagree -- he would say that Athens only lost because she failed to make all the right military moves he advocated, while both Thucydides and Aristophanes said Athens failed or was bound to fail because of the ruthlessness and hubris of Kleon and those of his ilk. Likewise, the father of History, Herodotus also argued that the Persians failed in their attempts to subdue Greece, not because of faulty military tactics and the like, but because the "gods turn a jealous eye upon anything that vaunts itself, and they chop it down." So, two of the earliest Historians and one comedian, while differing markedly in temperament and methods, all had a similar view of history which we might call the tragic vision of life: hubris [which I'll define as a repeated preemptive acts of violence to get your way] fails in the end no matter the tactics. I happen to agree with it, although if you’re ruthless enough, you can get by for decades.

So it is with that in mind that I said "yes". In other words, the motivations and reasons for war have essentially stayed the same (i.e., self-determination, control of resources, cultural clashes...). Some might find the last one on the list surprising in Greece, but each Greek city-state had its own peculiar dialect, alphabet/spelling, religious calendar, civil calendar and the like. Even today in Greece and Italy and the rest of Europe local dialects and traditions/identity still prevail to a much greater degree than in America. The only real pan-Hellenic institutions/sanctuaries were at Delphi and Olympia, and both were manipulated by the ruling powers, especially Sparta, Corinth, Thebes and Athens, and hence lost their luster over time [note: US is doing same thing right now with UN, Geneva Conventions, WTO, NAFTA, IAEA...].

While war was supposed to have been suspended during sacred months for such festivals and sanctuaries, the rules were often broken. For instance, Thebes attacked Plataea in the Spring of 431 (probably on or a little before April 7), which was a day or two before one of Plataea's large month-long religious festivals was to begin (probably the Daidala festival to Hera). The Plataeans and Thebans were both Boeotians [similar dialect, calendars...], but in or around 519 BC the Plataeans got tired of Theban interference and joined in league with Athens. Thebes thought that Boeotian Confederacy territory should extend all the way to Plataea and the Asopos river, and they deeply resented Athenian influence in the area, so they made a surprise attack on Plataea to bring her back into the fold. This attack by Thebes on Boeotia is marked by Thucydides as the opening of the Peloponnesian War. While the Plataeans repelled the first assault, eventually in 427 the Spartans and Thebans captured the city and the Thebans completely destroyed it -- all its surviving inhabitants moved to Athens [eventually both Sparta and Thebes get their comeuppance too, not disproving my point]. So the fact that the Thebans and Plataeans and other Greeks often spoke dialects of the same language, had essentially the same culture and religion, and often the same constitutions did not completely mitigate the causas belli. It is fair to say that in general the different tribes of the Dorians (Sparta), Ionians (Athens) and Aeolians (Asia Minor Greeks) were able to get along better with members of their own group, but not always. Likewise in the world today, English-speaking countries such as England, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and America tend to get along better, but when it comes to self-determination, we've often had to fight wars with each other to draw the lines.

What has united us most, has really been some new threat that came along [Germany, Russia], but there still are limits to this cohesion. Right now the leaders of England, the US and Australia are fairly close on the Iraq and Al Qaeda questions [we'll see about the new prime minister of Canada, Harper], but a majority of their populations resents a lot of US policies and we should not take these countries' support for granted. In fact, the EU has been formed, not because the Germans, French, Greeks, Italians, Spanish... get along so well and want to be political partners, but because they're willing and feel it necessary to set aside their vast differences in order to counter-balance American might in the areas of economics, culture and military. To keep my previous metaphor, the EU has formed, including talks of adding a separate military force distinct from NATO, not because of the Russians or Muslims or any other group, but because they want to share the summit with America. That is why Chirac talks about a "multi-polar" world. If we don’t share, they’ll become our adversaries. Meanwhile with the fall of the USSR, NATO is an alliance in need of an enemy, and Al Qaeda won’t do. If one doesn’t present itself or we don’t invent one soon, NATO is dead. Like in ancient Greece, then, self-interest often makes for strange bed-fellows, regardless of some cultural differences or constitutions. As in Greece, however, some cultural differences are harder to bridge than others -- Turkey's admission to the "Christian Club" is one such instance.

Aside on distances: modern means of transportation mean that the entire world is closer than Athens and Sparta were (2-3 days march), so yes Ancient Greece provides a useful comparandum to the current geopolitical situation. Plataea and Thebes are about 8 miles apart, but if you have to march in heavy hoplite amour in the mud, on a moonless night without night vision goggles, that will take you a good six hours. This is probably far less time than a plane taking off from an aircraft carrier to hit Baghdad.

Now for my other point as to why some things are different from Ancient Greece, or the "no". I would say the biggest reason why warfare was different in Ancient Greece is not because of changed political institutions or human nature, rather it has more to do with the combination of technology (i.e. nuclear weapons) and media coverage. Nuclear weapons make open warfare amongst large states almost unthinkable. That is why the US and Russian did not square off after WWII. Media coverage makes ruthlessness also more difficult to hide or justify over time. Finally, American imperialism also has a similar advantage to that the Romans held -- we have a citizenship body open to many ethnicities, or at least we did. This last advantage, however, is fading as Americans close their doors more and more and this will have a profound impact on how the rest of the world views us.

In short, I think the ancient world does have lessons for us, including the canard that no two democracies have not attacked each other because they are democracies. Palestine and Israel will soon put that theory to rest in the graveyard of ideas where it belongs. Or to put it another way, it's not that lex curat, rather it's bonas leges curiemus.

Is Paul some kind of anti-Victor Davis Hansen, or what?

Fighting Hitler

Again, a longer post is really necessary, but just a quick note on TMcD's comment to the post below. Many, many people like to offer the "was it just/appropriate/necessary to fight Hitler?" argument. Let me just make the following point, people. (Wait for it.)

Hitler declared war on the United States first. After the U.S. declared war on Japan, after they bombed Pearl Harbor and attacked the (U.S.-controlled) Philippines . . . Hitler declared war on the United States. That whole axis thing. We didn't declare war on them until after they declared war on us.

So, from that point of view, we didn't really choose to fight Hitler. The Japanese, his axis partners, chose to attack us, and we got dragged in. Now, sure, the U.S. was helping Britain in its war with the Nazis before that. But actual U.S. entry into the war was not an actual "choice" the U.S. made.

And I'm so-o-o tired of the implication that the U.S. entered the war to stop Hitlerian evil or the Holocaust. That's not how things happened, people. Btw, we were allies with the mass murderer "Uncle Joe" Stalin. Stalin killed more people than Hitler, so there's a great deal of moral ambiguity here.

So, was it just/appropriate/necessary to fight Hitler? Yes. But that's better understood as a defensive war, not the kind of aggressive war of choice I'm talking about below. I can't see the connection to the Iraq war here.


Story about a wasp, a cockroach, and Alien-like reporduction.

But worth a look, anyway.

Anyone Watching the Winter Olympics?

To be prefectly honest, I'm not a big fan of the Winter Olympics. I will watch the women's figure skating, if under compulsion, and I'm not philosophically opposed to ice hockey, men's and women's. But skiing, luge, bobsled . . . if I didn't have anything else to do, I might watch.

The Summer Olympics (do we actually call it the Summer Olympics?), on the other hand, has track and field, the marathon, and other events that I like.

Any thoughts?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Democratic Peace

There's a lot of discussion of the democratic peace in this hizzie lately. Not being an IR (international relations) expert, I can't really offer an informed opinion on that. I will say that the U.S. and Britain went to war once in the nineteenth century and there were tense relations for much of that century, but maybe one or neither was "democratic" in the nineteenth century.

My concern is not whether democracies fight one another, but how one democracy, the United States of America, behaves in the international community. From my perspective, democracy means first and foremost self-determination. That can mean bad things as well as good, as anyone can see from the last five presidential elections in the U.S. Regardless of your personal voting patterns, you must have voted for the loser in at least one of those races, and you probably think that bad things happened as a result. But, again, from my perspective, this means that the subjects/citizens of a particular country are responsible for (a) themselves and (b) their leaders. J.S. Mill called this the principle of "self-help" and argued that what we would call democratic interventions are only effective when they side with a people struggling against oppression and in favor of freedom. That means that even oppressed people are responsible for starting the Good Fight, even if they can't end it, successfully, without help. I would add that unless the oppressed are actually in arms, our arms are pretty much only capable of destruction.

Is this a harsh position to take with regard to oppressed peoples? Yeah, it probably is. It might even be called "realist." But it's not our business that people in other countries are oppressed, starving, killing one another--not unless, of course, our government is responsible for the oppression, starving, or killings. Before you get all pissy on me, consider whether it's the business of the English, French, Kuwaitis, or Thais what the hell we do in the U.S. of A. Should Turkey, Bulgaria, or Mozambique have a say in our internal policies? Should the Indian government influence our elections? Americans are always so eager to assert themselves in the business of other people, but they just don't tolerate "foreign involvement" in U.S. affairs. (Think Chavez's fuel oil program for the northeastern U.S. this winter.) To go from the premise that democracies don't fight one another to the premise that the U.S. should take an active role in exporting democracy to the Middle East is quite a leap. Even if it were possible for the U.S. to do this, I'm not sure that that would be right.

I'm willing to go a long way down this road, people. Is it my problem that the Palestinians elected Hamas? No. It's not. It might be Israel's problem, but I'm not an Israeli, now, am I? If Israel faces this demographic problem, if, ultimately, Israel is not viable as a Jewish state, that's bad for Israel and Israelis. I don't have anything against Israel; in fact, I'm quite sympathetic to the Jews, in general. But some things are not meant to be. Surely this is not the first time you've run into this unpleasant fact?

And this cuts both ways, because, at the same time, it's none of Hamas's business if we elect Bush or Kerry, a Republican or Democratic Congress.

Was the failure to intervene in Rwanda Clinton's greatest failure, as TMcD asserts in a comment? No. It cannot possibly be the case that every bad thing that happens in the world is somehow the responsibility of the United States government to prevent or mitigate. Sometimes, people kill other people, even in large numbers. But is it our job to put a stop to it?

It seems to me that one has to accept an almost messianic role for the United States to posit such things. The U.S. is not a special nation among nations, charged with the duty of policing the world. The belief that we are such a nation is what has gotten us in our current predicament.

Am I an isolationist? No. I believe that the U.S. has important interests that require the assertion of U.S. power abroad. But I am not an idealist, and I reject any messianic role for the United States of America.

And, to clarify, I am specifically talking about the United States government's role here. It may be my personal duty, on a moral level, to contribute money or time to helping out starving or suffering people in Darfur or the victims of the Pakistan earthquake. I think it probably is. But that's a very separate question from whether it is proper for the U.S. government to take an active role in the internal affairs of other nations. And my answers are also somewhat different if we are talking international agreements related to trade. But that's not what the neocon debate going on here is all about.

A Better Response to the Comments to the Previous Post Should Follow But

But, but, but. But, let me just say that I am so-o-o-o tired of various people I know labeling me as a member of some kind of "liberal elite." I'm tired of it because, first, it's not even close to being the case. Neither of my parents went to a four-year college (full disclosure: my dad has some credits from a community college earned on the GI Bill, and my mom has a degree from beauty college). I have three younger sisters, none of whom have college degrees (and I'm not sure whether the one sister who attended community college for a brief period actually earned credits). If you ever do genealogical research on my family, the occupation of almost every ancestor is "farmer," and in out-of-the-way places like northern Michigan. My paternal grandfather (for whom I'm named) was a truck driver. That's an "ordinary people" job.

I know that it's assumed around here that I can't identify with "ordinary people" because I have advanced degrees, etc., but the rest of my family--with whom, I think it is safe to say, I can identify--are "ordinary people." They face the problems like making ends meet, health insurance, and so on.

Even in my present circumstances, I'm not "elite." Nothing is handed to me on a silver platter, people, trust me. And I know that people with whom I interact look down on both my undergraduate degree--Eastern Michigan!--and law school degree--although Case is looking up, try interacting with Harvard and Yale grads as much as I do, and you would know what I mean.

I think that the "liberal elitist crap" should just get retired. Maybe it's an effective electoral strategy, but when employed against people one calls friends, it's really insulting. I can't imagine that it scores points around this hizzie, either. It's just bullshit.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

New Pew

This report is just out. FYI.

By a 50% to 41% margin, more registered voters say they will vote Democratic in this year’s Congressional election. The Democratic advantage stems from the party’s significant lead among independent voters, 51% of whom favor the Democrats, while just 32% favor the Republicans. Among partisans on both sides, more than nine-in-ten say they plan to vote for their own party’s candidate.

That's a nineteen point lead for the Democrats among independents. Nineteen points among independents, nine whole points in the overall generic ballot. Hmm.

The Democratic Party’s current lead is identical to its advantage at a comparable point in the 1998 midterm, an election in which the party nearly gained control of the House. The two parties were in a virtual dead heat in the test ballot at this stage in 2002, an election in which the GOP picked up six House seats, and in 1994, when the Republicans swept into control of Congress. In that historic election, the Republicans did not open up a sizable lead in the congressional ballot until the fall.

Of course, that means that things can still change . . . in the fall. I.e., Before the election. And it's interesting that the last time that the Dems had such a lead, they still failed to take back the House. My guess is that the redistricting after 2000 probably makes retaking the House even more unlikely.

And please, Jesus, save us from this:

More people name Hillary Clinton as the current leader of the Democratic Party than any other major Democratic figure. Presented with a list of ten names, one-in-four (26%) name Sen. Clinton as the person they think of as the party’s leader these days. Bill Clinton (14%) and John Kerry (12%) are also frequently chosen.

There's so much more.

"I Have Sinned Against You"

Rummy confesses . . . to [the white] Oprah. Take that, "Million Pieces" Frey.

OK, that would be my caption for this Onion piece.

Funny Kos Post

Does TMcD look like the Democratic party?

We need people for the commercial, people who look like the Democratic Party -- workers in hard hats, moms with kids, men and women in business suits, hippies, young and old, all colors, enviro types, college professors, young women, someone in a wheelchair, etc.

Now, maybe he could play a hippie? Cast against type--I mean, he could play a college professor, but too obvious.

And are people in wheelchairs a Democratic demographic? I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm saying I don't know. I mean, for every Max Cleland, there's Charles Krauthammer.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Put Out More Flags

DK raises the point: Who knew there were so many flags in the Middle East? So many Danish flags, at that. (Btw, isn't Mikton an ethnic Dane? Heads up, man.)

Let's say that one wanted to burn Danish flags. Say you're in D.C. OK, the easy flags are at the Danish embassy. I don't know where that is, but that's where I'd start. There must be at least a dozen Danish flags there. (I mean, the average U.S. embassy must have a hundred, so let's say the Danes have six.)

But how long does it take to burn through six flags? Let's assume it's a big crowd, a lengthy protest. Not very long. Going to need more flags.

So where's the next Danish flag to burn? Let's guess that there's an EU office somewhere in D.C., and that Denmark is in the EU (OK, I'm an idiot--I really don't know). But Denmark is in NATO--although that flag is probably harder to get than the embassy ones. Then there must be a Danish restaurant (???) or two . . . although not in Damascus. (In D.C.?) A Danish hotel, a cheese store . . . ? I guess that we can loot a flag store, but how many Danish flags can they have in stock? Let's just say that two months ago, if you were the manager of a flag store in Riyadh, and you ordered dozens of Danish flags . . . you'd be one out-of-work flag store manager.

I think that you can see where I'm going with this. No? Well, you're not alone. Someone must be providing these flags to the angry mobs. There's no other explanation. Now, the obvious candidates are . . . the Danes. Seriously. Has Denmark got this much attention since the reign of Canute the Great? The major nets are doing "man-on-the street" interviews with Danish men and women. Who knew that they had opinions? Who knew that they had streets?

This is all a big conspiracy to trigger Danish tourism.

More Neocon Ranting

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. It's one thing to say that the long-term security of the U.S. is a democratic Middle East, that the policies of the past have failed, and therefore that U.S. military intervention in the region, for the indeterminate future, is in the interests of the country.

It's quite another to say that the long-term security of the U.S. is a democratic Middle East, that the policies of the past have failed, and therefore that U.S. military intervention in the region, for the indeterminate future, is in the interests of the country, but we're not actually going to raise revenue to offset even a teensy bit of the cost of this enormous, world-transforming adventure. Instead, we're going to borrow every last dime--to the tune of almost half a trillion dollars, and counting.

Maybe that's "idealism." Yeah, like it's idealistic to believe that if you could buy the world a Coke, "perfect harmony," etc., except you run out of quarters real fast. But I can see why that sort of nonsense is better than "low risk" realism. Sure.

Sam has some interesting things to say in comments.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

No Praising Neocons in This Hizzie

TMcD writes in comments: Although the neocons are inept to the last man, I have greater sympathy for their long term aims than for those of the "realist" school who would maintain a low-risk "balance of power" at the expense of improving political conditions in other parts of the world.

First rule of Freedom from Blog: No praising of neocons. Period. Do not pass "Go." No appeal. Not even when you invoke the seldom-successful "inept to the last man[imal]" ploy.

Y'all know I hate rules, but this one stands.

Plus, this is one of those false dichotomies I hate: The "idealist" neocons on one hand versus the hard-hearted "realists" on the other, committed only to "a low risk 'balance of power.'" Being insane is not a form of "idealism," it is "idealismism." Thinking that you can remake an entire region of the world, in short order, through the use of force primarily, if not alone, is ridiculous. And don't bust out the Nazi Germany and Japanese reformations on me. Both pre-Nazi Germany and pre-war Japan had modern/democratic or modernizing, and in the case of Japan, Westernizing, influences that are generally lacking in the Middle East. I don;t think that you should give anyone--not the current administration, not the Great Society, not even Abraham Lincoln credit for "good intentions" alone. Results matter, and easily foreseeable results matter, well, more.

Political Islam is a major issue that we must figure out how to cope with for the mid- to long-term. It's a problem with no good solution, not in the foreseeable future. Oh, maybe that's too "realist," but when you see . . . pictures of women in full body coverings stomping on the Danish flag . . . one becomes pessimistic, if not "realist[ic]."

That is all.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Freedom on the March II: Arab Spring Turns Hotter

Hotter . . . if you're a Danish flag. Or the Norwegian (?) embassy. What did the Norwegians do?

Remember the Arab Spring? Oh, yes, you do. It went something like this:

It has been amusing watching the tortured knots various pundits have contorted themselves into trying to deny that the flickerings of freedom in the Arab world have anything to do with US foreign policy post 9/11 and, especially, the dreaded George Bush.

Since the invasion of Iraq, a series of events, remarkable when taken together, have occurred in the Middle East, prompting optimists to predict an "Arab Spring" of democracy.

There was Iraq's "purple revolution", as Bush has dubbed it, after the purple-ink-stained fingers of voters. Under the calm leadership of Grand Ayatollah Ali Husaini Sistani, the Shiite majority which won the elections is busy involving the Kurdish and Sunni minorities in the democratic process, which keeps proceeding, despite the expectations of Western doomsayers.

Then there was Lebanon's "cedar revolution", when people-power toppled the Syrian puppet government, although by last week, nine days later, the old prime minister, Omar Karami, was back in power and Syrian-backed Hezbollah supporters were out in numbers. But Syria is pulling out thousands of troops as well as its intelligence agents and last week a reported 1 million democracy activists took to the streets of Beirut, some carrying signs that read, "Thank You, George W. Bush."

In Saudi Arabia municipal elections were held, for the first time. In Kuwait, protesters rallied outside Parliament to demand women be given the vote. "Women's rights, now," read the placards. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak promised a free presidential election. And while Libya isn't anywhere near democracy, a few days after Saddam Hussein was arrested, leader Muammar Gaddafi renounced his weapons of mass destruction. All a crazy coincidence?

Now, call me crazy, but when Afghans (NOT Arabs) protest outside Bagram airbase, when there are massive protests against cartoons across the Middle East . . . I'm not sure just what season it is. Now, no one ever promised us Jeffersonian Democracy, but this is the Two Minute Hate. And this certainly does have something to do with U.S. foreign policy since 9/11, especially the invasion of Iraq.

Btw, I heard that the Muslim boycott of Danish products is costing the Danish economy a million dollars a day. Huh? Were the Saudis big consumers of Havarti? I'd like to see some more concrete numbers on this one.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Reconsider, Mr. President: The Plus Side of Man-Animal Hybrids

I know that the president shocked many by vowing that the U.S. would act to prevent the creation of "man-animal hybrids," but no one has yet commented on the important role that manimals (the term that man-animal hybrids prefer, btw) have played in the War on Terror, going way back to the 1980s:

Jonathan Chase is a British college professor at New York University who has the unusual ability to transform into any kind of animal he wants. He decides to use his power to assist the New York Police Department in solving unusual crimes, and in this series pilot, he teams up with cute cop Brooke and war buddy Ty to stop some terrorists from stealing a supply of toxic gas.

I mean, if a manimal could help prevent terrorists from acquiring WMD, wouldn't you want that manimal to do so? As the president might say, "sounds logical to me."

So let's not marginalize the manimal. Imagine, if you will, that we could make a man-dolphin hybrid. We wouldn't need to listen to all that chirping nonsense, and the bomb-defusing success rate in underwater situations would skyrocket. The possibilities are endless.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Theater Review: Fat Pig by Neil LaBute, Studio Theater Production, Washington, D.C. (2006)

This is a very interesting, very challenging play addressing the importance of physical appearance in contemporary society. The story follows the romance--[spoiler alert] from first meeting to break-up--of an "odd couple," a slender man and an overweight woman, Helen. Despite Helen's obvious charms--she's funny, smart, likes "guy-type things," and is comfortable with herself--there is, well, her physical appearance. And the play won't let you off the hook, here, theatergoer, as the actress playing Helen appears in both bedclothes and . . . a bathing suit. The last scene is set at a beach party. I think that this is LaBute's way of making the play "production proof." No production can avoid putting the overweight actress in a revealing costume for this one scene. In that sense, it's like Frank Lloyd Wright making his houses "owner-proof" with built-in furniture. No production can avoid making the theatergoer uncomfortable with the sight of so much fat flesh. (This also takes quite a bit of courage for the actress playing Helen, I think. She really puts herself out there, so to speak.)

The play is really affective, though, because the plight of the character Helen, who just wants to love and be loved, even if she is not, in a physical sense, lovely, must be somewhat similar to the plight of the actress playing Helen, who is talented, and probably shares many of Helen's positive traits--as well as her weight "problem." And the play is clear that this is Helen's problem only because it is an issue for everyone else.

In the end, the social pressure felt by the male character, Tom, is too much for him, despite his feelings for Helen. The play, or at least this production, was clear that his problem was weakness. He was just too weak to endure the pressure of knowing that everyone else saw Helen as a "fat pig."

A serious play. My one, hypothetical, concern is that, when this is made into a movie, the production will either cast Helen as a slender actress and put her in a fat suit, which just wouldn't work, OR it will involve a slender actress putting on a few pounds to play a modestly overweight "Bridget Jones." But to really work, this play needs the audience to identify with the plight of a real fat person.


So my teaching hiatus lasted a semester. As some of you may know, I'm back in the saddle, teaching a course in civil liberties and civil rights at the University of Maryland College Park this spring. (And it does feel like spring in the D.C.-area, despite the fact that it's still February.) And I agree with Rebecca that fifty minutes, twice a week, is basically no time at all. Why only two sessions a week? Because I have a teaching assistant who has discussion groups, my friends. Oh, yes. But that means that, to actually cover the material that one should cover in this course, one has to absolutely fly through the material. I mean, the material covered in this course is a short version of, like, three law school courses. All the First Amendment stuff, the crim pro stuff (the biggies), and civil rights, plus privacy, death penalty, and Incorporation doctrine. (That's Fourteenth Amendment incorporation, not the limited liability kind.)

So if in coming months, this blog becomes a bit like a mini-Con law tutorial, I apologize. But that will be one subject that will have my full attention.

Oh, and if you're wondering why I'm teaching this class . . . that's a good question. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Legislative Coming Attractions 2006: The Streamlined Procedures Act

Back in 1996, Congress passed (and President Clinton signed) the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, affectionately known as "AEDPA" by the habeas corpus/law clerk crowd. (Maybe not so affectionately.) The hope of the AEDPA "reform" was to eliminate delays in state death penalty cases caused by federal-court habeas review of state convictions; the statute does that in a number of ways, but chiefly by making the grounds on which habeas relief may be granted by federal courts much narrower than they had been under previous law. The idea was that by imposing a one-year statute of limitations and narrowing the grounds for the granting of relief the delays plaguing the system could be eliminated.

So, in the terms of the statute, "effective" means "quicker." Well, AEDPA was a complete disaster, if that was the goal. Since 1996, the median disposition time for a federal district court to review a state prisoner's habeas claims in a capital case has increased from about 13 months to more than 20 months, and, in a number of districts (especially districts in the Ninth Circuit, but not just there), the majority of capital habeas cases have been pending more than three years.

So, the legislative geniuses who brought us a more "effective" death penalty now want to "streamline" federal habeas procedures. Hence, the Streamlined Procedures Act (SPA). Now, regardless of what one thinks of the death penalty, simply on the question of efficiency and judicial resources, SPA is a terrible idea. Why?

Here's why. No matter how artfully one crafts the new legislation (and AEDPA is widely regarded as poorly drafted), new legislation always gives rise to litigation. Litigation tends to slow things down. (Indeed, that is the one thing that litigation is sure to do.) This is especially a problem in death penalty cases, because so many of these cases present related issues. Here's an example: Prisoner A, sentenced to death in California, brings a challenge to a particular aspect of the California death-penalty/sentencing statute. Now, this issue is not unique to Prisoner A's case, but is also an issue in the cases of Prisoners B-ZZ, who were all sentenced under the same scheme. Let's say that Prisoner A, first in the queue, raises this issue and wins in the district court. The state of California appeals to the Ninth Circuit (which is notoriously slow, and not just in death penalty cases; but to be fair, it does process something like one-quarter of all appeals filed in the U.S.). What do the other district judges with this issue--in the cases of Prisoners B-ZZ--now do? They stay their cases to await resolution of Prisoner A's appeal. Now, say that the Ninth Circuit takes eighteen months, from filing the appeal, through briefing, oral argument, and a published opinion, to decide the issue. That's eighteen months that nothing's happening in those other cases, eigtheen months of a completely "ineffective" death penalty. If the state loses and petitions for rehearing en banc, then the wheels really come off.

The same problems will bedevil SPA, which creates a bunch of new rules that will have to be litigated. My favorite aspect of the legislation is the provision that makes its terms applicable to pending cases. It's not hard to see the rather obvious retroactivity argument here. Regardless of whether that argument has merit, or a due process hook, it will have to be litigated, and that's probably the kind of issue that the Supreme Court will have to resolve. That means, in practical terms, that any efforts to apply SPA, in the short-term, to narrow habeas review for state prisoners will bring those cases to a screeching halt.

So I think (personal opinion time) that there's a good argument against SPA even if you think that the death penalty is made less effective by the extensive delays in habeas cases. Because (prediction) SPA won't lessen those delays, at least not in the short-run. Its possible effects in the long-run are harder to predict.

Btw, my guess is that the GOP leadership in Congress is going to clear the decks in the next few months and going to try to pass their entire legislative wish list before the summer, when the election season heats up. That would be the smart thing to do, if they are even a teensy bit worried about losing their majority in either the House or Senate. So my guess is that SPA will become law sometime before the end of April, although I don't have any actual information to back that up.

[Blogger managed to eat the end of this post the first time.]

Friday, February 03, 2006

Chappelle on Oprah (?)

Really, Dave went on Oprah and said that he sorta cracked under the pressure, that he just wanted to do his thing and have fun, and so on.

Memo to Dave Chappelle: Your gift is also a curse. You will be hounded by the media, exploited, made to do things that you wouldn't do, except for the money . . . until the bastards use you up and you are cast aside by "the 'biz." I'm always surprised when phenomenal talents don't realize this. Once you reach a certain level, you lose control of your own life, and then the Man owns you.

Btw, I see Wilson recently posted on Axis and Allies. I say, played this game some in college, and I'd play some time, if asked, but only of I can play . . . Nazi Germany. I know that this 'blog is named for one of FDR's four freedoms--or, if you prefer, a fifth freedom that FDR would have come up with, if he'd thought of it--but in Axis and Allies, the Nazis have the upperhand. If you can take out the U.S.S.R. early, then . . . World Domination. Of course, that's a big if.

If you're stopped at Stalingrad, on the other hand, then sixty years later, your prime minister has to kiss the U.S. president 's ass.

Missing Inaction

OK, gang, I apologize for missing the Great Plagiarism Debate. I tend to agree with Sam, but I wanted to add one point . . . and that's that students often don't understand the actual cost of getting caught plagiarizing. But, unfortunately, this requires placing the violation on the student's permanent record. Which, I agree with TMcD, is often a major pain in the ass, because universities are much more concerned about having to defend a lawsuit than with enforcing academic norms.

The cost is this: a plagiarism violation on a student's permanent record will be an inconvenience, at least, if the student ever applies to law school, to a state bar, or for a position in government for which a background check is required. A serious-enough violation might cost a student a spot in a law school class, a legal position, or even a promotion in the military. Even if the student can get through these hoops by explaining the violation, the student will fell increasingly ashamed, as the years go on, of the student decisions s/he made in her/his university years. Tell your students: "Can you imagine having to explain to a potential employer why you cheated on this measly assignment, in twenty years? Because if you cheat, I will catch you, and you will have to look at your shoes and explain your stupid, juvenile "choices" to that potential employer. And you don't want to have to do that."

Students are very focused on the here-and-now, but maybe it's a good idea (1) to remind students that they will have to live with the record they create, in that here-and-now, for the rest of their lives, and (2) to inform students that many, many institutions in our society take plagiarism much, much more seriously than their drinking buddies.

Maybe this doesn't apply in the U.K. I don't know.