Tag: teh stupid it burns

A Different Take on the URI Statement 2.0

Kindred Winecoff disagrees that this was a modest victory:

I must completely disagree with his (“modest”) level of satisfaction. This represents no victory at all because this new statement from URI officials, like the first one, completely misses the point. This is not about First Amendment rights. Nobody was saying that Loomis should be thrown into the deepest darkest dungeon never to be heard from again. They were saying that he should be fired or otherwise professionally damaged for an emotional — and politically motivated — response to a mass killing.

The relevant standard here is academic freedom, not First Amendment rights. The University of Rhode Island subscribes to the 1940 “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure” issued by the American Association of University Professors. This Statement indicates that Loomis deserves the full support of the University of Rhode Island even if he was speaking under the banner of the University. (Which he always is, implicitly, contra the views of the CT commenters.) Instead of espousing that principle, which is fundamental to the mission of public universities, the University has repudiated it by saying that Loomis deserves no greater protection than those who have written to the University on this matter, whether in solidarity with or opposition to Loomis.

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A Modest Victory in the Struggle Against Academic Fecklessness

The URI administration has issued a new statement:


What to make of this?

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Academic Administrative Fecklessness

I wasn’t going to post anything about the cyber-intimidation campaign being directed at Erik Loomis, as that seemed like a job for Big Important Liberal Blogs and not for the Duck of Minerva. But now the issue has strayed directly into our territory.

In brief, Erik Loomis is a history professor at the University of Rhode Island and a long-time blogger. His highest-profile gig is at Lawyers, Guns & Money. In the immediate aftermath of the Newtown massacre, Erik tweeted that he “wanted to see Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick.” The usual suspects in the conservative blogsphere soon translated this into the idea that Erik had called for LaPierre’s assassination.

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Another Brief Podcast Note

Podcast No. 16 will be available by midweek.

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Krauthammer says that Obama doesn’t have a “mandate.” In 2004 he argued that Bush had one. According to Krauthammer:

[Obama] won by going very small, very negative,” said Krauthammer, speaking on FOX News as throngs of Obama supporters danced in celebration over Obama’s re-election victory. “This is not a mandate either in the numbers or the way he campaigned,” warned Krauthammer, adding, “He did not campaign on any ideas, anything large, anything important.

If memory serves, Bush did not wage a relentlessly positive campaign against Kerry.

Moreover, consolidating the largest expansion of health insurance in decades, protecting laws designed to reduce the risk of catastrophic failure in the financial sector, advocating major immigration reform, and supporting a major expansion of civil liberties in the form of same-sex marriage*… well, such things strike me as big ideas and important policies.

I admit that these (and other) parts of the Obama campaign may seem “small” for relentlessly self-interested gainfully employed white heterosexual males who really, really like invading other countries with large numbers of combat troops. But for a lot of people they matter a great deal.

Given that Krauthammer’s “big ideas” criteria doesn’t make much sense, maybe we should look more closely at what might drive his conclusion. As the numbers from 2012 are basically in, maybe we can figure out what does, in fact, transform a mandate of “0” into a mandate of “1”. Below are some possibilities: Continue reading

Wednesday Afternoon Video

This may not be the worst (professional, major record label) video of all time, but it certainly makes a strong bid for the title.

Do you have any suggestions for worse videos?

What’s Most Distressing about the Leaked Romney Video

Just like Barack Obama in 2008, Mitt Romney apparently believes the silly theories of partisan preference popular among his base. Or he’s craven enough to peddle the argument to his donors. Neither is good news.

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Methodological Tools: Social-Network Analysis Alert

Is the society depicted in this film historically accurate?
Let’s perform a social-network analysis!  

Here’s a helpful hint: the “realism” of social networks in the Iliad, Beowulf, and the Tain tell us squat, zero, nothing, zilch, not a bit about their historicity.

From the New York Times (h/t Daniel Solomon):

Archaeological evidence suggests that at least some of the societies and events in such stories did exist. But is there other evidence, lurking perhaps within the ancient texts themselves? 

To investigate that question, we turned to a decidedly modern tool: social-network analysis. In a study published in Europhysics Letters, we use a mathematical approach to examine the social networks in three narratives: “The Iliad,” “Beowulf” and the Irish epic “Tain Bo Cuailnge.” If the social networks depicted appeared realistic, we surmised, perhaps they would reflect some degree of historical reality. 

 Social networks have been widely studied in recent years; researchers have looked at the interconnectedness of groups like actors, musicians and co-authors of scientific texts. These networks share similar properties: they are highly connected, small worlds. They are assortative, which means that people tend to associate with people like themselves. And their degree distributions are usually scale-free — a small number of people tend to have lots of friends.

Shorter version: “if the social networks depicted in a cultural epic appear realistic, then the social networks depicted in that cultural epic appear realistic.”*

Once upon a time, Cosma Shalzi wrote an excellent post on physicists and social-network analysis. However, in this case, the problem seems not to be a failure to familiarize with the existing literature, but idiocy.

*For theoretically specified values of “realistic.”

Thursday Morning Linkage

It’s a beautiful day in Washington; not so beautiful in New Orleans. Some of this text comes from PM.

Can We Take Politico Out Back and Shoot it Yet?

Jonathan Martin in the outlet that makes CNN look like The Monkey Cage.

The South, like the rest of the country, is a complicated place. It’s at once the heart of the Obama resistance but also a region that is crucial to his reelection hopes. If he loses Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, it’s a virtual certainty that he’ll be a one-term president. Look for no further explanation as to why the Democratic convention is being held in Charlotte, the prototypical New South city, than the importance of North Carolina to the Obama White House.

Oh, for the love of Odin, Tyr, and Freyja. Seriously…?

Here’s what happens if Obama loses Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and we also spot Romney wins in Colorado, Iowa, and New Hampshire:

A program here, a program there, pretty soon you’re talking a whole government

My GOP gone by, I miss it so.

Conservatives are fond of the saying widely, but probably falsely, attributed to Everett Dirksen: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” Of course, the saying hasn’t kept up to date with inflation or with the growing size of the federal budget–in 1962, a billion dollars was just under 1 percent of the entire budget; these days, it would be well under 1/1000th of a percent of the federal government’s outlays.

Nevertheless, one party continues to apply the same kind of logic to justify cutting trivially small programs that benefit U.S. policy, academics, or good policymaking. Rep. Steve Scalise (R., La.) invoked a particularly trifling version of the Dirksen proverb yesterday:
It’s not every day that Congress debates whether to spend $1 million — given that current federal spending is just over $4 trillion. But the House voted Friday 204-203 to approve an amendment by Rep Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, which strikes $1 million from a 2013 congressional funding bill intended to cover closing costs for the Open World Leadership Center. …Scalise explained why he’s going after such a relatively small allocation. “It’s $1 million less than we’ll be borrowing from China and at some point they say $1 million here, $1 million there, pretty soon you are talking about real money,” Scalise said.

It is literally impossible to argue with that kind of logic. 

To be clear, the Open World Leadership Center is already being closed. This was money that would have enabled buying out staff contracts and the like–normal shutdown costs. Special bonus right-wing lunacy: Scalise added, “How many small businesses across the country that have been facing these tough economic times are given a $1 million check by the federal government to close down?” 

It is bad enough when people argue the government ought to be run like a business; it is beyond belief when congressmen argue that the government ought to be run like a small business. (Notably, political-science bete noire Tom Coburn has taken the penny-ante politics a step further by calling on Congress to stop funding subsidies for public transportation for staff members–a routine employee benefit in all large cities.)

After a while, it becomes hard to attribute recent GOP efforts to terminate the American Community Survey, NSF funding for political science, federal funding for the US Institute of Peace, and so on to ignorance. Instead, it becomes more likely that the representatives in question know exactly what they’re doing and are hardly willing to listen to any arguments to the contrary. 

One more datum in this series comes from the fact that in the same session where Scalise’s amendment went through, the House cut an equivalent amount from the Congressional Research Service, presumably on the grounds that expert research is the antithesis of leadership. Fortunately for America, the committee did find $200,000 to print new pocket Constitutions for members and staff.

Some Things are Best Expressed in an Eldritch Tongue

This survey of American households has been around in some form since 1850, either as a longer version of or a richer supplement to the basic decennial census. It tells Americans how poor we are, how rich we are, who is suffering, who is thriving, where people work, what kind of training people need to get jobs, what languages people speak, who uses food stamps, who has access to health care, and so on. 

It is, more or less, the country’s primary check for determining how well the government is doing — and in fact what the government will be doing. The survey’s findings help determine how over $400 billion in government funds is distributed each year. 

But last week, the Republican-led House voted to eliminate the survey altogether, on the grounds that the government should not be butting its nose into Americans’ homes. 

“This is a program that intrudes on people’s lives, just like the Environmental Protection Agency or the bank regulators,” said Daniel Webster, a first-term Republican congressman from Florida who sponsored the relevant legislation. 

“We’re spending $70 per person to fill this out. That’s just not cost effective,” he continued, “especially since in the end this is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.”

Via PM.

Mirror, Mirror upon the Wall — Who is the Realist of them All?

Despite Adam Elkus’s prodding, I avoided participating in the first-round beat down of Paul J. Saunders supremely stupid essay, “Giving Realists a Bad Name.” That’s okay, because Daniel Larison, Dan Drezner, and others piled on.

Saunders’s subsequent response to Drezner does make a very good point: just because you are a realist doesn’t mean you don’t have to care about “values.” Realism writ large is not logically equivalent to Meineke’s “Machiavellianism.” Unfortunately, Saunders’s justification is more Joseph Nye than E.H. Carr:

Realists understand well that perceptions are important in shaping international power and influence and, as a result, that policies disconnected from our values diminish the United States and weaken its ability to lead. Moreover, they recognize that such policies are not politically sustainable.

Dan Trombly, in turn, thinks this is the point when Saunders’s loses all credibility.

The first argument, that perceptions are important in shaping international power, is true in a sense. But it has really nothing to do with connecting our values to our policies. Realists generally choose to shape perceptions by dropping pretensions to morally grandiose visions that stake our influence or credibility on bringing the rest of the world into ideological conformity with the U.S. Realists recognize that ourvalues might not impress other governments. Indeed, policies that seem disconnected from our values, like non-intervention in other countries’ internal affairs, may be the most agreeable to foreign states. But of course, realists do morally justify their decisions – but they do it not by blindly accepting the narrative that the only policies which reflect American values require liberal intervention or democracy promotion, but by accentuating the values in American politics that have been articulated, say, by Washington, Jefferson, and John Quincy Adams rather than Wilson, Roosevelt or Reagan. Realists recognize that foolish or impractical policies of value promotion do far more damage to its international standards than its failure to be sufficiently liberal overseas, at least in the eyes of foreign powers which very often do not care about or actively oppose the kinds of American values under discussion here.

Put differently, most flavors of realism would agree that under some specific circumstances hypocrisy can be costly. But no self-respecting realist ever would make the general claim that “policies disconnected from our values diminish the United States and weaken its ability to lead.” That’s precisely the kind of wooly-headed nonsense realism stands against — the kind of thinking that, in their view, leads policymakers to engage in ideological crusades and other idiotic policies.

As Trombly concludes, paraphrasing Patrick Porter:

Hans Morgenthau argued that credibility was too often the rallying cry for pursuing an impossible enterprise to the point of diminishing marginal returns. Realists accept inconsistency as an inevitable part of foreign policy, especially moral inconsistency – and recognize the only way to reduce moral inconsistency is to be less sweeping in our moral claims and commitments about events outside our control.

Of course, none of this intellectual evisceration was ever really necessary. Saunders’s argument is, as I noted at the outset, transparently awful. Realism, for Saunders, is nothing more than a shibboleth for a hackneyed screed against the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. A screed that doesn’t make much sense even on its own terms. When I first Saunders’s original article, I thought that this was pretty divorced from reality:

In dealing with Russia, the Obama Administration courted former president Dmitri Medvedev at the expense of ties to his more influential predecessor and successor Vladimir Putin and appeared to support—with little evidence—the notion that Medvedev was more “modern” and, by implication, more “democratic.”

Because, in brief, U.S. policy toward Russia did nothing of the sort. But then I read his conclusion:

Since the U.S. economy is both an immediate and a longer-term challenge for America’s domestic health and its international role, one could argue that China, Russia and the Middle East should take a backseat to restoring sustainable growth; perhaps in current circumstances, avoiding international problems and minimizing their domestic consequences is the best the White House can do. That would not be a bold agenda, but it could be a defensible one—if President Obama were working to build domestic consensus to tackle the deficit and create jobs. The administration’s ineffective and uncoordinated half measures don’t promote either America’s security or its prosperity [emphasis added].

When an essay starts out with ‘the Obama Administration isn’t realist because it didn’t provoke a major diplomatic conflict with a rising power over a single dissident‘ and closes by pretending that the debt-ceiling crisis never happened… well, to borrow a phrase from Saunders, it is a pretty safe bet that such a person is “wholly unrealistic and un-realist.”

Newly Disclosed Memo Proves Ben Shapiro’s a Partisan Hack

The assassination of Osama bin Laden by US special forces certainly has created a political problem for the Republican party. They spent years demagoguing the war on terror, but now the symbol of that struggle is dead. The man who green-lighted the operation wasn’t George W. Bush or John McCain, but Barack Obama. And you can bet that the Democrats are going to beat that drum from now until November. For example (via):

My own view is kind of “meh.” The death of Osama bin Laden resulted from years of intelligence and military activities; the President’s approval of the operation marked a culmination of a great deal of work, no small measure of which was done under the prior administration. But this is the way American politics work — the President gets credit and blame for what happens under the President’s watch — and the video pretty much sums up the rationale for why Obama can claim a share of the spoils. 
Regardless, conservative opinion-leaders have plenty of options for minimizing or otherwise handling the political difficulties created by bin Laden’s death. But the one being peddled by Ben Shapiro at Breitbart is… well… read on.

It starts with a memo recently published in Time magazine:

Received phone call from Tom Donilon who stated that the President made a decision with regard to AC1 [Abbottabad Compound 1]. The decision is to proceed with the assault.

The timing, operational decision making and control are in Admiral McRaven’s hands. The approval is provided on the risk profile presented to the President. Any additional risks are to be brought back to the President for his consideration. The direction is to go in and get bin Laden and if he is not there, to get out. Those instructions were conveyed to Admiral McRaven at approximately 10:45 am.

Seems pretty straightforward, right? The President approves the operation based on the “risk profile” he was presented. If new risks emerge, he wants to be made aware of them and given the opportunity to reconsider the operation. In other words, Obama didn’t take himself out of the decision loop. Sounds like the kind of thing that a hands-on-this-is-my-call-and-it-remains-my-call executive would do, right?

Well, thank goodness Shaprio is here to correct such an obvious misreading. What the memo really shows is that Obama is a weasely weasel who most certainly can’t claim a smidgen of credit for authorizing a high-risk operation.

Only the memo doesn’t show a gutsy call. It doesn’t show a president willing to take the blame for a mission gone wrong. It shows a CYA maneuver by the White House. 

The memo puts all control in the hands of Admiral McRaven – the “timing, operational decision making and control” are all up to McRaven. So the notion that Obama and his team were walking through every stage of the operation is incorrect. The hero here was McRaven, not Obama. And had the mission gone wrong, McRaven surely would have been thrown under the bus. 

The memo is crystal clear on that point. It says that the decision has been made based solely on the “risk profile presented to the President.” If any other risks – no matter how minute – arose, they were “to be brought back to the President for his consideration.” This is ludicrous. It is wiggle room. It was Obama’s way of carving out space for himself in case the mission went bad. If it did, he’d say that there were additional risks of which he hadn’t been informed; he’d been kept in the dark by his military leaders.

You see, if Obama were a real leader he would green-lighted McRaven and then retired to the White House den to watch a baseball game. Or better yet, he would not only have taken operational command of the mission, but been the first into the compound. Hell, he would have killed Obama himself. With his bare hands! That’s what George W. Bush would have done. Now that man was a real decider.

Is Herman Cain Angling to Defeat LBJ?

At about 13.10 GOP poll-leader Herman Cain reveals the shocking news that the People’s Republic of China is seeking nuclear-weapons capability.

Watch Monday, October 31, 2011 on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Next interview: Cain discusses the threat posed by UK, French, and Russian nuclear proliferation. George Will swoons.

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