Archive for March, 2011
31 Mar 2011

Our New “Professional” Friends

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Reuters is reporting a leak disclosing that President Obama signed a finding “within the last two or three weeks” authorizing the covert arming of rebel forces seeking to oust Muamar Qaddafi.

We certainly wouldn’t want weapons we supplied winding up in the wrong hands.

Members of Congress have expressed anxiety about U.S. government activities in Libya. Some have recalled that weapons provided by the U.S. and Saudis to mujahedeen fighting Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s later ended up in the hands of anti-American militants.

There are fears that the same thing could happen in Libya unless the U.S. is sure who it is dealing with. The chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, said on Wednesday he opposed supplying arms to the Libyan rebels fighting Gaddafi “at this time.”

“We need to understand more about the opposition before I would support passing out guns and advanced weapons to them,” Rogers said in a statement.

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But, President Obama assured CBS News that he knows what he’s doing.

Well, first of all, I think it’s important to note that — the people that we’ve met with have been fully vetted. So, we have — a clear sense of who they are. And so far, they’re saying the right things. And most of them are professionals, lawyers, doctors — people who appear to be credible.

Pundit & Pundette responds with this photo from The Guardian:

photo: Anja Niedringhaus
A credible professional brandishes his machete over the heads of captured Subsaharan mercenaries loyal to Qaddafi.

and comments:

Relax: They’re “professionals.”

The enemies of our enemy are doctors and lawyers. I for one am greatly relieved.

Quick — someone from the White House — get that man a labcoat!

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

31 Mar 2011

Trump: “There Is Something On That Certificate Which Is Very Bad For Him.”

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Donald Trump tells Laura Ingraham that he is proud to be a birther.

Trump is having fun picking on Obama over the unreleased full birth certificate.

30 Mar 2011

No Ground Zero Mosque

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No Ground Zero Mosque.

Imam Hitler gets the bad news.

30 Mar 2011

President Obama Explains his Efforts in Labia

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Hat tip to C&S via the News Junkie.

30 Mar 2011

Cartoon of the Day

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30 Mar 2011

Postmodern Policy and Premodern Chaos

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The key text guiding European and American policy today is the British diplomatist Robert Cooper‘s The Postmodern State and the World Order, a thoughtful and concise (merely 20 pages) monograph published in 2002.

Cooper observes that the ethos and goals of the advanced European and American states have changed fundamentally, producing the post-modern state.

The post-modern state is one that sets value above all on the individual. Hence its unwarlike character. War is essentially a collective activity: the struggles of the twentieth century have been the struggles of liberalism – the doctrine of the individual – against different forms of collectivism: class, nation, race, community, state. In their different ways both fascism and communism were systems designed for war. Fascism was open about it: its ethos and rhetoric – the uniforms, parades, the glorification of war: the state did not just have a monopoly on violence; violence was its raison d’être.

Communism also seems, in retrospect, like an attempt to run a state as though it were an army, and as if the country were continuously at war. Not for nothing was the term ‘command economy’ used. Both communism and fascism were attempts to resist the break-up of society brought about by the ideas of the enlightenment and the technology of the industrial revolution. Both ideologies tried to provide protection for the individual against the loneliness and uncertainty of life in a modernising society. Both tried to use the state to replace the sense of community that was lost as industrial cities replaced agricultural villages (and both thereby maintained inter alia the intrusiveness and conformity of the village too: ‘Upper Volta with
rockets’ – was exactly what they aimed at in a way: village life plus state power). These were thus the culminating points of the modern state – raison d’état made into a system of domestic governance as well as foreign policy.

The post-modern state is the opposite. The individual has won and foreign policy becomes the continuation of domestic concerns beyond national boundaries and not vice versa. Individual consumption replaces collective glory as the dominant theme of national life. War is to be avoided; empire is of no interest.

The result is the neglect of, and the post-modern world’s abandonment of the responsibility for governing, the premodern uncivilized and undeveloped portions of the planet.

What is different today is that the imperial urge is dead in the countries most capable of imperialism. Land and natural resources (with the exception of oil), are no longer a source of power for the most technologically advanced countries. Governing people, especially potentially hostile people, is a burden. No one today wants to pay the costs of saving distant countries from ruin. The pre-modern world belongs, as it were, in a different time zone: here, as in the ancient world, the choice is again between empire or chaos. And today, because none of us sees the use of empires, we have chosen chaos.

As a result we have, for the first time since the nineteenth century, a terra nullius. It may remain so or it may not. The existence of such a zone of chaos is nothing new; but previously such areas, precisely because of their chaos, were isolated from the rest of the world. Not so today when a country without much law and order can still have an international airport. …

The zone of chaos, nonetheless, will at times require attention, even intervention.

What of the pre-modern chaos? What should we do with that? On the basis of a rational calculation of interest, the answer should be: as little as possible. Chaos does not represent a threat, at least not the kind that requires a conventional military response. One may need to bar one’s door against its by-products – drugs, disease, refugees – but these are not threats to vital interests that call for armed Western intervention. To become involved in a zone of chaos is risky; if the intervention is prolonged it may become unsustainable in public opinion; if the intervention is unsuccessful it may be damaging to the government that ordered it.

Besides, what form should intervention take? The most logical way to deal with chaos is by colonisation, or hegemony. But this is unacceptable to post-modern states: so if the goal is not colonisation, what should it be? Usually the answer will be that the goals will be ambiguous.

The risk of ‘mission creep’ is therefore considerable. Those who become involved in the pre-modern world run the risk that ultimately they will be there because they are there. All the conventional wisdom and all realistic doctrines of international affairs counsel against involvement in the pre-modern world.

And yet such ‘realistic’ doctrines, for all their intellectual coherence, are not realistic. The post-Cold War, post-modern environment is one where foreign policy will be driven by domestic politics; and these will be influenced by the media and by moral sentiment. We no longer live in the world of pure national interest. Human rights and humanitarian problems inevitably play an important part in our policy-making.

A new world order may not be a reality but it is an important aspiration, especially for those who live in a new European order. The wish to protect individuals, rather than to resolve the security problems of states, is a part of the post-modern ethos. In a world where many states suffer breakdowns, there is wide scope for humanitarian intervention. Northern Iraq, Somalia, Yugoslavia and Rwanda are only the beginning of a trend. Operations in these areas are a halfway house between the calculation of interest which tells you not to get involved and the moral feeling which tells the public that something must be done. In different ways, all these operations have been directed towards helping civilians – against the military, the government or the chaos. The results are not always impressive and the interventions are in some respects half-hearted. That is because they live in the ambiguous halfworld where interest tells you to stay out and conscience tells you to go in – between Hobbes and Kant. Such interventions may not solve problems, but they may salve the conscience. And they are not necessarily the worse for that.

Thus we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that we are going to get involved in situations where interest and calculation would tell us to stay out. In this case, there are some rules to observe. The first is to moderate the objectives to the means available. The wars of ideology called for total victory; the wars of interests call for victory; in the premodern world victory is not a relevant objective.

Victory in the pre-modern world would mean empire. The postmodern power who is there to save the lives of individual civilians wants to stop short of that. In consequence, goals must be even more carefully defined than in wars of interest. They will be goals of relatives and not of absolutes: more lives saved, lower levels of violence among the local populations; and these must be balanced by low casualties for the interveners. At the same time, we must be prepared to accept, indeed we must expect, failure a good deal of the time. And then we must be prepared to cut our losses and leave.

The post-modern state, thus, finds itself guided in its policies by the media, crafting news reports to maximize readership through sensationalism and emotionalist appeals and framing all of its analysis to fit favored stereotypes, and by the sentimental response of its mass audience.

Mr. Cooper fails to observe the further obvious conclusion, which is that the foreign ministry of the post-modern state has been, de facto, turned over to an ill-informed, irresponsible mass entity with essentially the powers of reasoning and analysis and emotional maturity of an adolescent girl.

30 Mar 2011

An Unwise Message to Dictators

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Dictator Longevity Chart

Hat tip to The Cold Equations via John Derbyshire via Ace

Michael Oren, yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, makes the same point.

America and its allies, empowered by the United Nations and the Arab League, are interceding militarily in Libya. But would that action have been delayed or even precluded if Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had access to nuclear weapons? No doubt Gadhafi is asking himself that same question.

Barack the Unready’s intervention against the un-nuclear-developing Qaddafi contrasts so strongly with the immunity from external threats of regime change enjoyed by the nuclear-developing or equipped even more loathsome tyrannies in Teheran and Pyongyang that the president has undoubtedly sent a very loud and very clear message to dictators everywhere: Get yourselves some nukes and you’re safe from us! Without nukes, we might just intervene.

29 Mar 2011

Comparing Yale to Southern Conn

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Richard Kahlenberg, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, reviews a book by Toronto sociologist Ann L. Mullen, looking at the differences in student demographics, life style, academic major, and expectations between Yale and Southern Connecticut State University, a nearby former Normal School (i.e., a teacher’s training school) upgraded in recent years to university status.

Mullen examines two four-year colleges located within two miles of one another: Yale University and Southern Connecticut State University. In racial terms, the two institutions are not all that different. Yale is 69 percent white, while Southern is 70 percent white. But as Mullen finds in interviews with 50 Yale students and 50 Southern students, the class divide is significant, and that difference has enormous implications for the attitudes, experiences, and expectations of students.

Mullen’s insightful new book, Degrees of Inequality, notes that Southern students tend to be the sons and daughters of “shopkeepers, secretaries, teachers, and construction workers,” about half of whom never completed college. By contrast, about 80 percent of Yale students sampled had parents with BA’s, two-thirds had some form of graduate education, and more than half came from the top 15 percent by income nationally. These students often “arrived on the back of tremendous childhood advantages.”

Among the advantages, she writes, were high parental expectations. In interviews, she writes, it was clear that most Yale students “never actually decided to go to college; it was simply the next step in their lives, one not requiring a rationale.” Although less than one percent of four- year college students attend Ivy League institutions, for some Yale students interviewed, “it was a question of which one.” She writes, “It is not simply that they aspired to attend the most elite institutions; rather, they planned on it.

Southern students, by contrast, made a conscious decision to pursue higher education and then mostly chose Southern based on “cost and convenience.” Neither factor was mentioned by a single Yale student. Over 90 percent of Yale students were from out of state, while over 90 percent of Southern students came from in-state. The Southern students never thought of applying to Yale, and the Yale students have never even heard of Southern.

The differences in opportunities and outlooks of Yale and Southern are then amplified once they reach college, Mullen finds. Yale, founded 300 years ago, has a $15-billion endowment “about two thousand times greater” than the endowment of Southern, which became a four-year institution in 1937 and became part of the Connecticut State University system in 1983.

The economic chasm between the schools and their students also drives profound differences in the experiences at each institution. To save money, only about one-third of Southern students live on campus and only 24 percent participate in extracurriculars, as many have to work 20-30 hours a week. By contrast, almost all students at Yale live on campus, and 67 percent participate in extracurriculars, from playing tennis to singing a capella.

Asked what they value most about college, Yale students tended to mention learning from friends and peers and participating in extracurricular activities. Southern students were only half as likely as Yale students to mention peers and friends.

Academic pursuits also differ greatly. Deciding on a college major is usually portrayed as a matter of individual choice, Mullen notes, but economic constraints are strongly felt. “For the Southern students,” she says, “majors represented not bodies of knowledge or academic disciplines, but rather occupational fields.” By contrast, Yale students were “quite cognizant” that their Ivy League degrees made the field of study chosen less important. One student told Mullen, “I’m getting a diploma with four letters Y-A-L-E on it. I should be able to have the sky be my limit.”

Surprise, surprise! Professor Mullen discovers the third-oldest and one of the most competitive colleges in the country attracts a more affluent and more cosmopolitan student body with larger ambitions and wider career options than those of students attending the local neighborhood’s uncompetitive teacher’s college.

Certainly a lot of Yale students come from more affluent and better educated family backgrounds, but comparing Yale and Southern most meaningfully would have to be done on the basis of academic talent. Southern’s students have average SAT scores in the 480-490 range on the three parts of the current test. Yale quotes different 25%/75% figures, which indicate that only 25% of Yale students got under 700 on any of the three parts of the SAT, and another 25% got 780 to 800. Yale admits around 7.5% of applicants these days. Southern admits 71% of applicants.

Yale students have different majors and different career options from students at Southern Conn, not because Yalies have inherited clout, but because they are, on the average, a great deal more academically competent and competitive.

In my day, Southern and Yale did interact a bit socially, most commonly via contact within the Connecticut Intercollegiate Student Legislature (CISL). Yalies dated girls from Southern, and I knew some people who married them.

Hat tip to David H. Nix.

29 Mar 2011

Obama’s Libya Speech

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Obama pretty much wrapped himself in the flag. He stood in front of at least six of them.

You can find the text of Obama’s Libya speech from last night here, or watch the 26:36 video.

Ace had a few choice rejoinders.

“We Took A Series of Swift Steps:” Oh, you mean after you dithered around with the same basic facts for three weeks.

You mean after all that delay, you finally made a decision, and then the military acted swiftly.

“I Refused to Let That Happen:” Ah, okay, just as long as I know who the hero is here.

By the way, he’s super-proud that he waited until the last possible moment to save Benghazi (but none of the towns and cities along the decimated way to Benghazi). Apparently those other towns he let be demolished as he dithered didn’t count.

Only the dramatic, last-second decision to spare Benghazi specifically should matter.

Hilarious: He says that he’s all about getting other countries to bear the burdens. He says, to that end, that he’s transferred command to NATO.

Um, so, if I’m getting this right, our pilots and seamen are still fighting this war, they’re just being bossed around by a foreign general, right?

And that general isn’t actually in the fight, right?

Seems to me that all Obama is doing is distancing himself from any possible failure while keeping our troops in harm’s way.

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AndyLevy summed up Obama’s rhetorical style:
If the straw men ever unionize, Obama’s gonna be in trouble.

29 Mar 2011

Retriever Cam

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The view (and sounds) from the back of Labrador named Sugar are hilarious, especially the shakings following each successful retrieve.

Hat tip to Bird Dog via Karen L. Myers.

28 Mar 2011

Martian Landscape Photos

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Avalanches on Mars’ North Polar Scarps

The Boston Globe has 35 landscape images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera (HiRISE) on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

28 Mar 2011

Fighting Poverty 15 Hours a Week

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Philip F. Laverriere Sr. in his office, ego wall behind him.

85-Year-Old Philip F. Laverriere Sr. has been head of the city of Lawrence, Masachusetts’ non-profit anti-poverty agency since 1974. 37 years later, Lawrence still has poverty, but the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, funded almost entirely by federal and state tax dollars, has grown into a $30 million-a-year operation with 310 employees overseeing an array of poverty programs including child care; immigration assistance; Head Start; low-income heating and weatherization; lead abatement; and even a youth baseball league. Over the years, Mr. Laverriere’s annual salary, allowances, and benefits have grown to $144,641.

The local Eagle-Tribune investigated between Jan. 28 and March 14 (as the result of a tip) and found Laverriere was working 15 hour weeks, visiting his office weekdays between 9 AM and 12 Noon, then retiring to spend the entire afternoon relaxing at his Elks Lodge.

Via Moonbattery.

28 Mar 2011

Stoner Gets Workman’s Comp, But Business Closes

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HuffPo quotes a humorous local events item from the Missoulian.

The Montana Supreme Court has upheld a Workers’ Compensation Court ruling that about $65,000 in medical bills incurred by a man who was mauled while feeding the bears at a tourist attraction should be covered by workers’ compensation, despite the fact the man had smoked marijuana on the day of the attack.

The court filed its opinion Tuesday, the Daily Inter Lake reported.

Brock Hopkins filed a claim with the Uninsured Employers’ Fund in December 2007, saying he suffered injuries to his legs and buttocks when he was mauled by a bear at Great Bear Adventures near Glacier National Park on Nov. 2, 2007. Hopkins was treated for his injuries at a Kalispell hospital.

The UEF denied Hopkins’ claim because Hopkins had smoked marijuana before entering a bear enclosure. The fund also argued that Hopkins was acting outside the scope of his duties.

Park owner Russell Kilpatrick, who did not have workers’ compensation coverage, argued that Hopkins was a volunteer who Kilpatrick occasionally gave cash to “out of his heart.” Hopkins fed the bears that day after Kilpatrick told him not to because he was tapering their food as they prepared for hibernation, Kilpatrick said.

The Workers’ Compensation Court ruled last June that Hopkins was an employee and noted that while his “use of marijuana to kick off a day of working around grizzly bears was ill-advised to say the least and mind-bogglingly stupid to say the most,” there was no evidence presented regarding Hopkins’ level of impairment.

The WCC found that grizzlies are “equal opportunity maulers” without regard to marijuana consumption. …

[T]he agency [paid] an estimated $35,000 in discounted medical bills on behalf of Hopkins. Kilpatrick paid a small penalty for failing to carry workers’ compensation insurance, Nevin said.

A phone listing for Kilpatrick in Coram has been disconnected and there is no phone listing for Great Bear Adventures.

Both outlets overlook the more serious moral here. The Montana’s Supreme Court’s witty and charitable decision and the consequent “small penalty” seem to have closed the Great Bear Adventures Park operation and put its owner out of business. Ho, ho, ho.

Hat tip to John Whiston.

27 Mar 2011

“Do-Gooders in a Land with No Good Guys”

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Mark Steyn identifies some of the key problems with postmodern kinetic interventions in pursuit of undefined objectives in situations in which no one is on our side.

[I]t’s easy to mock the smartest, most articulate man ever to occupy the Oval Office. Instead, in a nonpartisan spirit, let us consider why it is that the United States no longer wins wars. OK, it doesn’t exactly lose (most of) them, but nor does it have much to show for a now-60-year old pattern of inconclusive outcomes. American forces have been fighting and dying in Afghanistan for a decade: Doesn’t that seem like a long time for a noncolonial power to be spending hacking its way through the worthless terrain of a Third World dump? If the object is to kill terrorists, might there not be some slicker way of doing it? And, if the object is something else entirely, mightn’t it be nice to know what it is?

I use the word “noncolonial” intentionally. I am by temperament and upbringing an old-school imperialist: There are arguments to be made for being on the other side of the world for decades on end if you’re claiming it as sovereign territory and rebuilding it in your image, as the British did in India, Belize, Mauritius, the Solomon Islands, you name it. Likewise, there are arguments to be made for saying, sorry, we’re a constitutional republic, we don’t do empire. But there’s not a lot to be said for forswearing imperialism and even modest cultural assertiveness, and still spending 10 years getting shot up in Afghanistan helping to create, bankroll and protect a so-called justice system that puts a man on death row for converting to Christianity.

Libya, in that sense, is a classic post-nationalist, post-modern military intervention: As in Kosovo, we’re do-gooders in a land with no good guys. But, unlike Kosovo, not only is there no strategic national interest in what we’re doing, the intended result is likely to be explicitly at odds with U.S. interests. A quarter-century back, Gadhafi was blowing American airliners out of the sky and murdering British policewomen: That was the time to drop a bomb on him. But we didn’t. Everyone from the Government of Scotland (releasing the “terminally ill” Lockerbie bomber, now miraculously restored to health) to Mariah Carey and Beyonce (with their million-dollar-a-gig Gadhafi party nights) did deals with the Colonel.

Now suddenly he’s got to go – in favor of “freedom-loving” “democrats” from Benghazi. That would be in eastern Libya – which, according to West Point’s Counter Terrorism Center, has sent per capita the highest number of foreign jihadists to Iraq. Perhaps now that so many Libyan jihadists are in Iraq, the Libyans left in Libya are all Swedes in waiting. But perhaps not. If we lack, as we do in Afghanistan, the cultural confidence to wean those we liberate from their less-attractive pathologies, we might at least think twice before actively facilitating them.

Officially, only the French are committed to regime change. So suppose Gadhafi survives. If you were in his shoes, mightn’t you be a little peeved? Enough to pull off a new Lockerbie? A more successful assassination attempt on the Saudi king? A little bit of Euro-bombing?

Alternatively, suppose Gadhafi winds up hanging from a lamppost in his favorite party dress. If you’re a Third World dictator, what lessons would you draw? Gadhafi was the thug who came in from the cold, the one who (in the wake of Saddam’s fall) renounced his nuclear program and was supposedly rehabilitated in the chancelleries of the West. He was “a strong partner in the war on terrorism,” according to U.S. diplomats. And what did Washington do? They overthrew him anyway.

The blood-soaked butcher next door in Sudan is the first head of state to be charged by the International Criminal Court with genocide, but nobody’s planning on toppling him. Iran’s going nuclear with impunity, but Obama sends fraternal greetings to the “Supreme Leader” of the “Islamic Republic.” North Korea is more or less openly trading as the one-stop bargain-basement for all your nuke needs, and we’re standing idly by. But the one cooperative dictator’s getting million-dollar-a-pop cruise missiles lobbed in his tent all night long. If you were the average Third World loon, which role model makes most sense? Colonel Cooperative in Tripoli? Or Ayatollah Death-to-the-Great-Satan in Tehran? America is teaching the lesson that the best way to avoid the attentions of whimsical “liberal interventionists” is to get yourself an easily affordable nuclear program from Pyongyang, or anywhere else, as soon as possible.

I don’t really have a problem with knocking off Qaddafi (who has actually contrived the murder of hundreds of Americans in the past). His elimination is long past due. But Obama is not even certain that he thinks Qaddafi needs to surrender power, and we have no basis for supposing that we are spending all those expensive cruise missiles on replacing him with a less barbarous and less dangerous alternative.

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