Tuesday, March 29, 2011

She Forgot Her Supplements?

I've always thought stories like this don't get enough attention:
Two vegans who fed their 11-month-old daughter only mother's milk went on trial in northern France on Tuesday charged with neglect after their baby died suffering from vitamin deficiency.

Animal rights activists never mention these cases.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Remorseless Politicization of Science

The New York Times has an article today about the early peopling of the Americas. Here is the opening:
For many years, scientists have thought that the first Americans came here from Asia 13,000 years ago, during the last ice age, probably by way of the Bering Strait. They were known as the Clovis people, after the town in New Mexico where their finely wrought spear points were first discovered in 1929. 
But in more recent years, archaeologists have found more and more traces of even earlier people with a less refined technology inhabiting North America and spreading as far south as Chile.
And now clinching evidence in the mystery of the early peopling of America — Clovis or pre-Clovis? — for nearly all scientists appears to have turned up at a creek valley in the hill country of what is today Central Texas, 40 miles northwest of Austin.
The new findings establish that the last major human migration, into the Americas, began earlier than once thought. And the discovery could change thinking about how people got here (by coastal migrations along shores and in boats) and how they adapted to the new environment in part by making improvements in toolmaking that led eventually to the technology associated with the Clovis culture. 
The Times prints a story like this nearly every year. Jared Diamond explained the phenomenon in his 1997 masterpiece Guns, Germs, and Steel (p.47):
As always happens whenever anyone claims the first anything, claims of discoveries of pre-Clovis human sites in the Americas are constantly being advanced. Every year, a few of those new claims really do appear convincing and exciting when initially announced. Then the inevitable problems of interpretation arise. Were the reported tools at the site really tools made by humans, or just natural rock shapes?
Diamond goes on to list other problems with archaeological dating, but I stopped here because the Times article lists the archaeological evidence at the "new" pre-Clovis site as follows:
Archaeologists and other scientists report in Friday’s issue of the journal Science that excavations show hunter-gatherers were living at the Buttermilk Creek site and making projectile points, blades, choppers and other tools from local chert for a long time, possibly as early as 15,500 years ago. More than 50 well-formed artifacts as well as hundreds of flakes and fragments of chipping debris were embedded in thick clay sediments immediately beneath typical Clovis material.  
These stone tools are much more primitive than Clovis tools. On p. 48-9, Diamond lists the problems that primitive tools caused for a similar pre-Clovis claim:
But none of those rocks at the base of the cliff is an obviously human-made tool, as are Clovis points and Cro-Magnon tools. If hundreds of thousands of rocks fall from a high cliff over the course of tens of thousands of years, many of them will become chipped and broken when they hit the rocks below, and some will come to resemble crude tools chipped and broken by humans.
Diamond than makes the following (devastating) point about pre-Clovis claims:
If there really were pre-Clovis people in the Americas, why is it still so hard to prove that they existed? Archaeologists have excavated hundreds of American sites unequivocally dating to between 2,000 and 11,000 B.C, including dozens of Clovis sites in the North American West, rock shelters in the Appalachians, and sites in coastal California. ...

The weakness of pre-Clovis evidence in Americas contrast with the strength of the evidence in Europe, where hundreds of sites attest to the presence of modern humans long before Clovis hunters appeared in the Americas around 11,000 B.C. Even more striking is the evidence from Australia/New Guinea, where there are barely one-tenth as many archaeologists as in the United States alone, but where those few archaeologists have nevertheless discovered over a hundred unequivocal pre-Clovis sites scattered over the whole continent.
The Times tries to address Diamond's questions late in the article:
Until recently, Dr. Waters said, archaeologists had probably overlooked earlier artifacts because the Clovis points are so distinctive and, in contrast, the pre-Clovis material has no hallmark style calling attention to itself.    
Archaeologists don't really "overlook" things. What Waters is saying is that they mistook the pre-Clovis tools to be regular rocks. But archaeologists can find unequivocal pre-Clovis sites on other continents. Why is there a hemisphere-wide inability to find pre-Clovis sites here when the Times article states that the Texas archaeologists believe the pre-Clovis population was in the Americas for millennia?

For various political reasons, this topic elicits a lot of passion from Times readers - and a perusal of the article's comments confirms it. Many people want the earliest possible dating for the arrival of humans in the Americas. It's a way to tweak Creationists while magnifying the political claims of American Indians. Also, many liberals and American Indian activists are quick to dismiss the route of the Indians' arrival - preferring a sea voyage rather than via the Bering land bridge. The author of this article complies by calling that route only "probable" and raising the possibility of an ocean crossing. Why do activists prefer their arrival via watercraft? Simple: it's more technologically sophisticated and impressive. 

There's another political issue that overshadows discussions of the early Indians. If the pre-Clovis people existed, what happened to them? When cultures vanish, it is usually from a violent population replacement. This suggests that the Indians Columbus met weren't descendants from the first inhabitants. There are many people who shutter at that thought. The Times comes to their aid:
Among other implications of the discoveries, the Texas archaeologists said, a pre-Clovis occupation of North America provided more time for people to settle in North America, colonize South America by more than 14,000 years ago, “develop the Clovis tool kit and create a base population through which Clovis technology could spread.”
Translation: Don't worry Times readers - the new weapon technology spread among the existing population - there was no violence involved or replacement of original populations.

I still don't think there was a pre-Clovis culture to be wiped out. Regardless, the issue of population replacement reverberates because the Clovis culture itself later disappeared. People don't give up their culture peacefully. And if one group in the conflict has superior technology - it's often genocidal. Modern Indian tribes were not descended from the first arrivals - and, no, this has nothing to do with Kennewick Man.

Ostensibly an article about a questionable scientific discovery, the Times' tone is much too certain (among other things, they call the evidence "clinching"), and it is dripping with political catnip for its readers. It would be nice if the Times acknowledge the many pre-Clovis claims that were later discredited, but people want to believe what they want to believe, and the Times is there to confirm it. The politicization of science marches on.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Survivor: Redemption Island, Ep. 6 - The Human Toothache

More gloating from Zapatera at Redemption Island. It's not enough to vote her off your tribe, but does Julie have to grin at Krista all during the duel? It is so off-putting. Show some class. I'm glad throwing the challenge has now completely blown up in their smug faces. I'm finding that tribe pretty unlikeable.

Why is Philip yelling at the girls? First, that has never accomplished anything. Secondly, as Rob said, you want people who don't do anything. You want them sitting around camp, and you want them sitting next to you at the final tribal! Phillip has no idea what he is doing.

Grant's complete domination of the immunity challenge is an example of the difference between a buff dude and a professional athlete. Mike is in great shape, but Grant's an athlete. It also didn't hurt that Grant's NFL position was wide receiver - a job that requires, running, cutting, creating separation, and catching floating targets. It would be hard to design a challenge closer to Grant's strengths.

I would have voted Stephanie out. I don't think the gap between Stephanie and Sarita in the challenges is all that big - and Stephanie is almost a guarantee to flip when you reach the merge. Stephanie is better TV, but I would have given her the boot - no doubt.

It's becoming pretty clear that they are not going to mix up the tribes. However, we're reaching the point where tribal votes might become interesting again. I think Zapatera would vote out Dave next. I think Ometepe would vote out Philip. He's becoming dangerous to keep around. You can't control him once they merge. He could do something devastating. However, neither Philip or Dave are guaranteed to be the next to go, so the next episodes might have a little more drama than the last two

Survivor: Redemption Island, Ep. 5 - Coffee Is For Closers

"I mean this is really all for nothing because I already have the immunity idol, But, it's fun for me. I have to entertain myself out here somehow." - Boston Rob

My re-cap is late this week because I don't have a lot to say. Rob ran around needlessly trying to hide the second clue just to amuse himself. That tells you there isn't much else going on. Each tribe has a strong alliance controlling it, so the drama is limited to the challenges. But, even this week's duel felt perfunctory. Matt was chatting it up with Rob while he finished the puzzle. It had all the urgency of two septuagenarians playing checkers on the front porch. Kristina's grunts and groans as she helplessly threw pieces around was an afterthought - a background distraction of no consequence. [Matt doesn't know why he got voted off... Stephanie and Krista pledged their loyalty to Ometepe... And, oh - by the way, Kristina went home.]

Sarita pushed Stephanie to be the puzzle-solver because she hates lawyers and didn't want Dave to be in the limelight. Isn't it really early to be worrying about stuff like that? I know her parents were flower people, but that is taking lawyer hatred to a new level. Did Sarita fly to Nicaragua or drive in the Partridge Family bus?

There's not much else to report. Rob won the puzzle challenge (he's going to win 80% of those). Stephanie and Krista's desire to flip is not surprising, but probably moot (odds are neither one will make the merge). People enjoyed the coffee and pastries (so what?). The girls still don't like Philip, but Quasimodo was able to have a conversation with Andrea without her puking (big deal). What's the preview for tonight's episode? Matt has a hard time untying a bag and more Philip-bashing. Nothing earth-shattering there.

I enjoyed the episode, but things are in a little bit of a rut.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

When the President Has a (D) Next to His Name - Bombs Away!

The New York Times editorial page has chimed in on the Libyan War. They support it, but are having a difficult time distinguishing it from the Iraq War (they never mention Iraq, but it hangs over the piece). Clearly, they've yet to figure out a way to differentiate the two. Here is their closing paragraph:
There is no perfect formula for military intervention. It must be used sparingly — not in Bahrain or Yemen, even though we condemn the violence against protesters in both countries. Libya is a specific case: Muammar el-Qaddafi is erratic, widely reviled, armed with mustard gas and has a history of supporting terrorism. If he is allowed to crush the opposition, it would chill pro-democracy movements across the Arab world. 
That argument could be applied to the Iraq War, couldn't it?

I'm still waiting for a supporter of the Libyan War to explain his continuing opposition to Iraq. I have yet to find an adequate way of differentiating the two - aside from the political party of the president in office at the start of each conflict. After all these years, is opposition to the Iraq War grounded in partisan politics?

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Last Days of Qaddafi

The New York Times
American and European militaries intensified their barrage of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces by air and sea on Sunday, as the mission moved beyond taking away his ability to use Libyan airspace, to obliterating his hold on the ground as well, allied officials said.

Rebel forces, battered and routed by loyalist fighters just the day before, began to regroup in the east as allied warplanes destroyed dozens of government armored vehicles near the rebel capital, Benghazi, leaving a field of burned wreckage along the coastal road to the city. By nightfall, the rebels had pressed almost 40 miles back west toward the strategic crossroads city of Ajdabiya, witnesses and rebel forces said. And they seemed to consolidate control of Benghazi despite heavy fighting there against loyalist forces on Saturday.

There was evidence, too, that the allies were striking more targets in and around Tripoli, the capital.
It's hard to see how Qaddafi is going to survive this.

Commentators have started comparing the Libyan War to other conflicts. However, the best analogy might be to the 2001 campaign against the Taleban - when a similarly rag-tag army already on the ground (the Northern Alliance) defeated the ruling regime with the support of Western air power. Hopefully, Libya's next decade won't resemble Afghanistan's last.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Which Doesn't Belong and Why? (A) Bosnia, (B) Kosovo, (C) Iraq, or (D) Libya.

Two months ago, at the start of the Arab uprisings, opponents of the 2003 invasion of Iraq raced to their keyboards to assure their readers that the protest movements in Tunisia and Egypt were not a residual benefit of the Bush "freedom agenda." The previous administration's misguided foreign policy would remain on the ash heap of history, we were told. 

But, that was then. This week, such a task got a bit more difficult. The current president has just gone to war with an oil-rich Arab nation and Obama apologists must now make clear distinctions between the Libyan action and the Iraq War if they are going to support the former while maintaining their opposition to the latter. This is complicated, because one of the immediate consequences of the Libyan War for Obama supporters is that a majority of their criticisms of the Iraq invasion will collapse. There will be no stockpiles of WMD found in Libya. Libya isn't an imminent threat to the United States. Libya hasn't attacked any Americans in decades. Libya had nothing to do with 9/11. Right now, the defense of the Libyan War lies on strictly humanitarian grounds - making the ample humanitarian justifications of the Iraq War impossible to dismiss, because, if one accepts the Libyan campaign, the lack of WMD or a link to 9/11 shouldn't disqualify the justness of the Iraq cause. Opposition to the 2003 invasion must rest elsewhere. Yesterday, the Atlantic commissioned Daniel Serwer with just that task. Here is his opening:
A coalition of the willing attacks an Arab country; French warplanes strike armored vehicles; American cruise missiles take down air defenses. It all sounds to some too much like Iraq redux. But it's not. The proper analogy is Srebrenica. This is the international community acting under international law to prevent mass murder.

The current military action against Libya is clearly approved by the UN Security Council.
NATO's military actions following Srebrenica were not approved by the UN Security Council. Six sentences in, and Serwer is already making a false analogy. If Serwer thinks the 1995 Bosnian action was justified, and is a proper analogy to Libya, then UN approval is irrelevant. Therefore, a lack of UN approval can not be used to delegitimize the Iraq War. The most he can say is that UN approval is preferable, but not a necessity - otherwise, Clinton's wars also become unjust.

Serwer's failed attempt to note a meaningful difference won't deter Obama apologists, because the problem of distinguishing Libya from Iraq must be solved. One way they might proceed involves a bit of irony, for the major distinction between the two conflicts once gave leftists qualms - the United States will rely on the Jupiter Complex (i.e., bombing enemy nations from a safe distance). The leftist opposition to this tactic, when used in Japan, Germany, Korea & Vietnam, relied on the argument that all lives are equal, and while massive bombings might minimize U.S. deaths, they multiply overall casualties. However, in recent decades, smart bombs and satellite targeting have reduced civilian collateral damage, along with this objection, so we've come full circle. Since we're less likely to repeat Dresden, the left now tolerates air-only campaigns launched by Democrat presidents (who knew American defense spending could save lives!). Therefore, opponents of the 2003 invasion may use the higher American death toll as a means of distinguishing that war from air-only campaigns live Kosovo, Bosnia & Libya, which have fewer U.S. casualties. But, an obvious point remains: why would a just cause become unjust simply because United States troops were killed in combat?

The answer is: it wouldn't. The number of American casualties doesn't determine whether a war was morally right or wrong. It would only tie-in to whether the war was prudent or effectively administered. After all, America's deadliest conflict, the Civil War, is simultaneously considered just, and one of the most incompetently administered. This issue created a conundrum for opponents of the Iraq War a few years back, for how can you demonize a just war when the unexpected casualties are still much lower than most other American conflicts? In an effort to solve the problem, the following line of argument came into fashion (emphasis added):
For far too long President Bush’s disastrous war of choice in Iraq has leached resources and top-level attention from the war of necessity in Afghanistan.
That is The New York Times editorial page in 2008. I can count numerous other examples of this type of rhetoric coming from The Times and other publications in recent years (The Economist, for example). The thinking is that when a war is a "necessity", you can tolerate unexpected casualties, but when a war is a "choice," any unforeseen events will lead to a denouncement of the effort. Therefore, the Union incompetence in the necessary Civil War doesn't delegitimize it, but the supposed-mishandlings in Iraq do (even if Iraq had a humanitarian justification at the start, and far fewer casualties overall than the Civil War). The "wars of choice" in Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya are all OK, because they were air campaigns - with minimal American casualties (i.e., if you are going to pursue a war of choice, don't get too many Americans killed in the process).

Voila! Simultaneous support for bombing Libya while denouncing the invasion of Iraq can be accomplished with a minimal amount of cognitive dissonance. While it may be true that all wars are choices (just ask Gandhi, or the Amish), enough have accepted the choice/necessity nonsense that they won't scrutinize it now. Obama's apologists are not ready to rethink Iraq, so pretzels must be twisted. What all this will mean for a future attack against Iran is a topic for a later date.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Evolution of War Powers

For those keeping track, when Clinton went to war in the 1990s, he never received UN or Congressional approval.

When Bush went to war in the 2000s, he got Congressional approval both times, but UN approval only once.

Obama's war in Libya will be a first - he has UN approval, but not Congressional approval. Hey, it's a new decade. International opinion, not America's, is the one that matters to this White House.

However, Obama might have a hard time explaining his priorities in 2012. I suspect most Americans would argue Congressional approval is more important than the UN's.

If the Libyan no-fly zone lasts for several weeks, Obama may eventually have to go to Congress, because a 60-day military action would trigger the 1973 War Powers Act. The constitutionality of that Act can be debated at another time, however, in its 38 years, no president has challenged it. Obama might have been better off getting approval before the first air strikes (which still haven't begun yet - so, there might have been time for a quick vote - assuming he had the votes).

Appearances matter. Internationalists argued for years that lack of UN approval tainted the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Obama's lack of Congressional approval when there was time to get it, might hurt his re-election bid. After all, it looks as if the UN resolution against Libya persuaded Obama to go to war, when he had seemed perfectly willing to sit it out. Does Obama go to war when the UN tells him to?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Better Late Than Never?

Yesterday, the United Nations approved a no-fly zone for Libya:
The United Nations Security Council voted Thursday to authorize military action, including airstrikes against Libyan tanks and heavy artillery and a no-fly zone, a risky foreign intervention aimed at averting a bloody rout of rebels by forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
The risk here is that the military intervention (which will probably be led by the U.S.) will prevent the final destruction of the rebels, but will leave Qaddafi in charge of most of Libya. The result will be a never-ending military obligation to patrol Libyan air space to prevent Qaddafi from moving in on rebel pockets.

Critics of American intervention in the Libyan Civil War have warned that it could turn into another Iraq. The danger right now is not a repeat of the 2003 war against Iraq, but the 1991 one. After that conflict, the United States implemented no-fly zones over the north and and south to prevent Saddam from continuing his slaughter of the Kurds and Marsh Arabs. The U.S. enforced these no-fly zones for well over a decade. They protected the Kurds, but never threatened Saddam's reign. We might be walking into a similarly endless stalemate in Libya. If we entered early, it might have helped bring about a decisive defeat of Qadaffi. By entering late, we might prevent a decisive defeat of the rebels, but also entangle us in an endless mission of protection for their last remaining enclaves.

I still support the no-fly zone, but that would be a far from ideal outcome.  

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Covering Fire

Conventional wisdom regarding American military intervention is usually limited to the supposed lessons of the last major conflict. During the first half of the Cold War, proponents of a robust national defense, and a willingness to use it, often evoked the infamous Munich Agreement of 1938 to justify their position. Appeasement had failed to thwart Germany's growing ambitions, the argument went, and America must not repeat that mistake when confronted with Communist aggression. It would have been better to have stopped Hitler in 1938, rather than allowing him an additional year to rearm and prepare for war.

After Vietnam, the new conventional wisdom disavowed American military interventions - particularly for nebulous conflicts that could be classified as civil wars. These are quagmires for foolish outsiders, the thinking went.

After the First Gulf War, post-Vietnam non-interventionism went on the back-burner even though it was still the dominant thinking of the left. Democrats who had opposed the 1991 action had taken a political hit, and were less vocal with their views for fear of appearing to the electorate as appeasers of aggressive and tyrannical regimes. The 1990s saw the Clinton Administration drift from one crisis to another without much of a philosophy to anchor it. Occasionally the United States would intervene (Haiti, Kosovo), occasionally she wouldn't (Rwanda). Sometimes she would withdraw after taking casualties (Somalia), other times she would enter the conflict only after both sides had exhausted themselves (Bosnia). National interest rarely guided. Often, the decisive factor behind Clintonian intervention was whether the operation required ground forces, and the possibility of significant American casualties. Frankly, there are far worst criteria for judging whether to make a humanitarian intervention, and if the possibility of casualties can be minimized because of a reliance on air power, a major objection to American involvement would have been lifted. Hence, the Clinton years saw a number of military operations that produced few American combat deaths. The irony was that Clinton was evoking a military philosophy that had been derided by the left years earlier (the "Jupiter Complex" which held that Western democracies could utilize massive bombing campaigns to punish and deter autocratic and aggressive regimes). This was used to justify such campaigns against Germany, Japan and Vietnam. Clinton, on a much more limited scale, used this thinking to bomb Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan & Sudan, with the only real criticism coming from crypto-Stalinists and their brethren. He never sought Congressional approval, but his fellow Democrats and the American mainstream left remained mostly silent.

After the presidential election of 2004, when John Kerry failed to adopt a coherent position on the Iraq War, the Democrats who had initially supported the invasion began to abandon the continuing conflict in droves. As the public developed their own war fatigue, the post-Vietnam conventional wisdom regarding non-interventionism, latent for the previous decade, returned to the forefront. For 20 years, the lesson had been - we can't have another Vietnam. Now, the lesson has become: we can't have another Iraq.

As the current crisis in Libya drags on, opponents of intervention shout "Iraq" just as pundits would scream "Munich" or "Vietnam" in earlier generations. Iraq is used as a one size fits all argument to be adapted to any circumstance. Proponents of intervention and aiding the Libyan rebellion against Qadaffi's tyranny suggest the implementation of a no-fly zone to prevent the Colonel's air force from slaughtering the resistance. This could be done without American boots on the ground - the type of operation Clinton frequently relied upon. However, non-interventionists have their arguments lined up. Here is Maureen Dowd, writing in yesterday's New York Times:
The Iraq war hawks urging intervention in Libya are confident that there’s no way Libya could ever be another Iraq.
Of course, they never thought Iraq would be Iraq, either.
All President Obama needs to do, Paul Wolfowitz asserts, is man up, arm the Libyan rebels, support setting up a no-fly zone and wait for instant democracy.
It’s a cakewalk.
Didn’t we arm the rebels in Afghanistan in the ’80s? And didn’t many become Taliban and end up turning our own weapons on us? And didn’t one mujahadeen from Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden, go on to lead Al Qaeda?
So that worked out well.
Do you follow the argument? We intervened in Iraq, and Dowd believes that wasn't worth it. She points to another intervention that had dubious results. Ergo, we shouldn't intervene in Libya. The flaw, of course, is that the United States have made dozens of interventions over the past 30 years, many of which have had very good outcomes (Panama, Grenada, Kosovo, etc.). Similarly, some of our non-interventions have had horrible outcomes (Rwanda). Just as the lessons of Munich can not be applied to all cases, Dowd's reliance on what she perceives as the failures of Iraq don't apply to all arguments for intervention. But her argument has little other substance to it. For example:
“It is both morally right and in America’s strategic interest to enable the Libyans to fight for themselves,” Wolfowitz wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece.

You would think that a major architect of the disastrous wars and interminable occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq would have the good manners to shut up and take up horticulture. But the neo-con naif has no shame.
Clearly, this is not a rational rebuttal to intervention. It's name-calling. She tries a different avenue in the next paragraph:
After all, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates told West Point cadets last month, “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”
No one is suggesting we send a big land army into Libya. She's quoting Gates to rebut a nonexistent argument. This is about putting in a no-fly zone, about which, Dowd does say this:
Wolfowitz was driven to invade Iraq and proselytize for the Libyan rebels partly because of his guilt over how the Bush I administration coldly deserted the Shiites and Kurds who were urged to rise up against Saddam at the end of the 1991 gulf war. Saddam sent out helicopters to slaughter thousands. (A NATO no-fly zone did not stop that.)
Get it? Dowd can dismiss the argument for a Libyan no-fly zone because the Iraqi one didn't work. However, her argument is factually flawed. The First Gulf War ended in early 1991, but the southern no-fly zone was not implemented until the summer of 1992. It was put in place as a result of Saddam's post-war slaughter of the Shia. It didn't stop the killing - it was a response to it. Once in place, there were no more major air attacks on the Shia. Dowd's version of what happened is perverse. One wonders where she got her argument from? Maybe it was from the Secretary of State, who said this to Congress on Thursday:
I want to remind people that we had a no-fly zone over Iraq. It did not prevent Saddam Hussein from slaughtering people on the ground and it did not get him out of office.
If the Iraq no-fly zone had been in effect during the Shia uprising, maybe they would have succeeded in removing Saddam? Furthermore, once implemented, it prevented subsequent slaughters, which is why Mrs. Clinton's husband kept it in place for his entire presidency. A no-fly zone can have a humanitarian benefit without removing the dictator. It is disturbing that the former-First Lady would question her husband's policy a decade later in such a ham-handed fashion.

The argument against a Libyan no-fly zone is weakening, so Dowd's article made this concession:
It’s hard to know how to proceed, but in his rush, Wolfowitz never even seems to have a good understanding of the tribal thickets he wants America to wade into.
Earlier, when Dowd told Wolfowitz to "shut up," it didn't mean he was wrong - she just didn't want to hear from him.

Yes, there are tribal thickets and other risks to intervention, but how long can Obama play Hamlet? When does not rushing become dithering? Another White House apologist, Fred Kaplan, made a similar argument about caution earlier this week. I argued at the time:
This sounds like dithering to me. Or, is it normal for an administration to take weeks to figure out what they want to see happen? Once that is figured out, should we give them another three weeks to determine if the U.S. has leverage? At that point, because we can only expect it to happen then, how long will it take them to decide what's the best course of action? A month? Kaplan acknowledges that there probably is "a good way to help the rebels militarily," we just shouldn't expect a decision until Memorial Day. But, make no mistake about it - that's not dithering! 
Yesterday, the Arab League asked the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. The League knows that any no-fly zone would be led by the United States, weakening the argument that an American intervention will trigger Arab fears of Yankee imperialism. Dowd, Clinton, and Kaplan are not alone in providing cover for Obama's non-interventionism, but their arguments are evaporating.

While Obama remains in the Oval Office, is America doomed to a foreign policy that is nothing more than: "We're not Bush!" Is there any chance he could be convinced that a Libyan no-fly zone would echo the policies of the 42nd president rather than the Iraq invasion? After all, Reuters reported this on Friday:
Former President Bill Clinton said the United States should enforce a no-fly zone over Libya to allow a fair fight between insurgents and troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Survivor: Redmption Island, Ep. 4 - Kick 'Em When They're Down

Correct me if I'm wrong, but once Russell had finished weeping after losing to Matt in the Redemption Island duel, did I hear Ralph mock him? Was Ralph ridiculing somebody who was out of the game for good? Furthermore, did Ralph actually reveal to the other tribe that he had a hidden immunity idol (and possibly hung his own neck), just so he could rub it in Russell's face a little bit more? Finally, back at camp, did Ralph (and others) actually ridicule Russell in front of Russell's former allies? Do they really think humiliating the other players is how you win this game?

Why would Ralph mock Russell? My guess is out of fear. I think the guys on Zapatera were completely intimidated and afraid of Mr. Hantz, hence they did everything they could to get rid of him. However, the fear isn't gone. That's why they continue to ridicule him even when he's out of the game. The preview for next week showed Zapatera becoming unglued. It's not hard to see why. Even though they've dominated in the challenges, the men are uncertain and afraid, and without Russell to focus on, they may lash out at each other. This tribe has thrown a challenge, revealed their hidden immunity to the other tribe, provoked Russell into revealing the core alliance, and publicly mocked other players. It's an ugly group. Sarita and Dave seem to be the voices of wisdom, but they advocated throwing the challenge, and the preview showed them fighting next week. What a mess. And, this is the tribe that's "winning."

Did anyone really think last night's vote was up in the air? They tried to sell that Rob might not be in full control of who was going home, but I didn't buy it. His alliance might turn on Rob eventually, but there were no signs of it happening last night.

I was way too hard on Matt last week. I mistook his serenity as a lack of passion. The fact is that he doesn't panic in these challenges, which is why he has won them both. I said he didn't look like he could go on a run - I retract that. I think he can.

Do you think Ometepe wished they had Matt in yesterday's immunity challenge? They lost it cutting through the boards. I bet Matt would have been more valuable in that spot than Philip. But, at least they had a good reason for voting Matt off - he did shake the hand of someone on the other tribe. If they lose a couple of extra immunity challenges, I'm sure it still would have been worth it.

If Ometepe goes into a merge down members, they are going to need some Zapatera people to flip (Stephanie & Krista?). Rob is doing a good job of getting rid of smart players on his tribe, but if they keep losing challenges (which is likely), they are going to need the help of smart players from the other tribe. These people will have no loyalty to Rob, and will hang his neck once the Zapatera core has been dispatched. That could be a tricky spot for Rob, but there's no doubt he's doing extremely well so far (aside for voting off Matt so early).

P.S. Mike, I don't care when the last time you thought about sex was. Keep it to yourself.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Start the Revolution Without Me

Fred Kaplan, of Slate, has a column about Libya and President Obama. He opens with an excellent question:
Is President Obama dithering over Libya?
The next paragraph answers in the negative:
In the past week or so, a diverse array of commentators—Republican hawks, the usual neocons, and some normally gun-shy Democrats, including Sen. John Kerry—has called on Obama to take action now. Some have charged Obama with queasiness or lack of principles for not charging the ramparts from the get-go. But one can imagine several very good reasons for the president's … let's call it caution.
Kaplan goes on to list many reasons for caution, none of which are specific to the current situation in Libya - they would apply to any military engagement. He notes that many questions would have to be answered before the U.S. military were to get involved (I counted 26 question marks in the article). All the questions are legitimate, but generic ("What are the rules of engagement?" "What is the desired goal of this action?"). This is why we have a President, a Defense Department and a State Department - to answer such questions. Getting hung up on unknowns is exactly how caution can turn into dithering.

Near the end of the column, Kaplan impersonates Hamlet:
There may be—there probably is—a good way to help the rebels militarily. The United States does not have vital interests in Libya; that's usually a solid argument for staying out of trouble. But we might well have an interest in demonstrating that we can, and will, help brutalized people in that part of the world. Other countries, such as Britain and Italy, have more tangible interests still. It may be that the Obama administration has spent some time these past two weeks persuading them to do something, too.
Kaplan is so uncertain about what to do, he's hoping Obama has secretly convinced another country to do something!

Kaplan concludes:
But if they're smart, Obama and his aides have spent most of the time figuring out, first, what they want to see happen, and only then, whether the United States has any leverage to help that come about, and only then, what's the best—or the most feasible—course of action.
This sounds like dithering to me. Or, is it normal for an administration to take weeks to figure out what they want to see happen? Once that is figured out, should we give them another three weeks to determine if the U.S. has leverage? At that point, because we can only expect it to happen then, how long will it take them to decide what's the best course of action? A month? Kaplan acknowledges that there probably is "a good way to help the rebels militarily," we just shouldn't expect a decision until Memorial Day. But, make no mistake about it - that's not dithering!

Among military analysts, Kaplan is the #1 Obama apologist writing today.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Glass Houses

I have no idea who Meghan Daum is, but she has an interesting op-ed in the L.A. Times:
A few weeks ago I was at the Denver airport when I overheard a conversation between two men sitting near me. They were eating some form of grab-and-go airport lunch when one man, between bites, suddenly raised his voice and called Michelle Obama something that can't be printed in a family newspaper.

"She wants to control what we eat!" he continued. "She wants the government to be in charge of what's in our fridge!"

These were respectable-looking businessmen: mid-40s, Dockers, wedding bands, cellphones on belts. I wouldn't have expected either one of them to burst forth with an obscenity, especially not in the United terminal, surrounded by innocent children and people trying to enjoy their Cinnabons.
Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann accused Obama of trying to implement a "nanny state." Sarah Palin gave her a ribbing on her reality show when, while searching for s'mores ingredients for a camping trip, she said, "This is in honor of Michelle Obama, who the other day said we shouldn't have dessert."

Oh, and then there's that paragon of physical fitness, Rush Limbaugh, who suggested last week that the first lady "does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue."

What's going on here (besides the last gasps of an increasingly irrelevant radio blowhard) obviously has nothing to do with keeping kids from being obese. Surely even the most obtuse tea partyers know deep down that Michelle Obama is not planning to force-feed you vegetables and hijack your desserts any more than Laura Bush, who advocated for reading, was interested in foisting books on people and carting away their televisions. Instead, Republicans are turning a patently apolitical issue into an opportunity to bash the president ...

Maybe if the rhetoric surrounding Michelle Obama's efforts was confined to budget issues, it would be defensible, but as it stands, it's astonishingly ugly. Attacks on the president come with the job. With the exception of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who effectively waived her rights to be treated like a traditional first lady, Michelle Obama is taking an unprecedented beating.
For those keeping score, the unprecedented beating Daum cites are accusations that the First Lady is trying to implement a nanny state, take away dessert, and doesn't look like a swimsuit model (plus the comments of two strangers in an airport terminal). However, the columnist felt perfectly comfortable mocking Limbaugh's size and calling him a blowhard.

You can't write a column complaining about name-calling while calling your political opponents names. It simply doesn't work.

Deficit Denial

If you are worried about government deficits and debts, The New York Times has an exasperating editorial (emphasis added): 
“We’re broke! We’re broke!” Speaker John Boehner said on Sunday. “We’re broke in this state,” Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said a few days ago. “New Jersey’s broke,” Gov. Chris Christie has said repeatedly. The United States faces a “looming bankruptcy,” Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist, wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. 
It’s all obfuscating nonsense, of course, a scare tactic employed for political ends. A country with a deficit is not necessarily any more “broke” than a family with a mortgage or a college loan. And states have to balance their budgets. Though it may disappoint many conservatives, there will be no federal or state bankruptcies. 
A mortgage or a loan is a debt, not a deficit. If a family doesn't have a deficit, it can pay off its debts, because its yearly income covers its expenses - including debt servicing. If a family has debts and an annual deficit (as the government does), it risks bankruptcy if it can't borrow additional funds to cover the gap. The Times analogy is terrible. Their assurance that there will be no bankruptcies is worthless. Their solutions to the crisis (raise taxes on the rich and wait for a recovery) would cover a fraction of the current fiscal problem. The Times is in deficit denial. 

Survivor: Redemption Island, Ep. 3 - Mr. Fix-It

It is rare when I agree with a tribe's decision to throw a challenge. Usually, I find the move to be cocky, arrogant & short-sighted. Last night was no exception. I can't believe these people decided to throw a challenge to Boston Rob on Day 8 (giving up immunity and a tarp in the process). Shocking.

What was their reason? Russell is annoying to have around camp? Suck it up. Russell is plotting? So are you guys. You are throwing challenges.

Steve and Dave lied to Russell about who won the duel. Why? What purpose did it serve? How did it change anything? I think they did it just to do it. It didn't matter if it helped Steve's game or hurt Steve's game. Steve wanted to lie to Russell for the sake of lying to Russell. Furthermore, Steve did it in front of his tribe. Two weeks from now, if I'm on that tribe, I'm going to remind myself that Steve tells lies for his own amusement.

You know your group is in trouble when Stephanie is the voice of reason at tribal council, or you've made Russell look sympathetic. Zapatera managed to do both! Nice work guys! Julie, did you really have to smile at Russell & Stephanie the whole tribal council when you knew you were voting them out?

If Zapatera really thinks they are that superior to Ometepe, and prove it over the next few weeks by winning 3 of 4 immunities, maybe I'll concede that they were right. However, I'm not rooting for it. Whenever, a tribe brashly throws a challenge, I hope for it to blow up in their faces.

The good news about all the drama at Zapatera was that the producers didn't have time to ridicule Philip this week. However, the preview indicated it will be business as usual next episode. Hopefully, they can do it without the goofy music this time. Phillip is unstable, but he doesn't deserve to be ridiculed or mocked by the editors. Any snark should come from the contestants or my re-caps.

If Matt gives a similar performance in the next duel, Russell will eat him for lunch. I didn't think either he or Francesca was going to get the third key, and the challenge would have to be called on account of darkness. That guy is not going on a challenge run. After the showdown, Matt was moping that he had to go back to Redemption Island. Hey, Matt! You just won an elimination challenge! You're still in the game! Show some excitement and clean up the attitude!

Right before the duel, Jeff asked Francesca if she and Matt were adversaries? Of course they're adversaries. It was almost as if he was making sure everyone watching understood that. Jeff, we get it - we understand the concept of Redemption Island. There was a lot of repetition in this episode about stuff covered last week. Russell has the clue. Russell is looking for immunity, but Ralph has it. Russell's tribemates want him gone. Matt felt blind-sided. Andrea felt double-crossed. We know this stuff. The ratings this season have been the lowest ever. I guess they are hoping people who missed the first couple of episodes might come back, and they are making sure they are up to date. For me, it's annoying.

At the challenge, it looked like Ralph couldn't remember Sarita's name. When Steve got back from the duel, he appeared not to know Francesca or Matt's names. It's day 8, and these guys still need name tags? Zapatera is a tribe full of Christian Bales.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Power of Carrots

Today's New York Times has an interesting article titled, "In U.S.-Libya Nuclear Deal, A Qaddafi Threat Faded Away". In it, David Sanger explains how a 2003 nuclear disarmament agreement with the Libyan strongman and his son has removed a risk factor in the current upheavals:
Today, with father and son preparing for a siege of Tripoli, the success of a joint American-British effort to eliminate Libya’s capability to make nuclear and chemical weapons has never, in retrospect, looked more important.
Senior administration officials and Pentagon planners, as they discuss sanctions and a possible no-fly zone to neutralize the Libyan air force, say that the 2003 deal removed Colonel Qaddafi’s biggest trump card: the threat of using a nuclear weapon, or even just selling nuclear material or technology, if he believed it was the only way to save his 42-year rule.
How and why was a deal reached? The Times makes a hint in an earlier paragraph when it describes a 2009 dispute about its execution:
Meeting with the American ambassador, Gene A. Kretz, the younger Qaddafi complained that the United States had retained “an embargo on the purchase of lethal equipment” even though Libya had turned over more than $100 million in bomb-making technology in 2003. Libya was “fed up,” he told Mr. Kretz, at Washington’s slowness in doling out rewards for Libya’s cooperation, according to cables released by WikiLeaks
Was Libya only in it for the "rewards" from Washington? The Times reiterates that argument a few paragraphs later when explaining Qadaffi's regrets upon giving up his nuclear program:
But Colonel Qadaffi appeared to sense that loss of leverage over the last two years. The cables indicate a last-minute effort to hold on to the remnants of the program, less to assure his regime’s survival than to have some bargaining chips to get the weapons and aid that Colonel. Qaddafi and his son insisted they were promised. 
Again, was it still only about receiving aid from the U.S.? And, why did the deal happen in 2003? Why not five years earlier, or five years later? The Times takes another shot at explaining it:
In an interview with The New York Times and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for a documentary, “Nuclear Jihad,” Seif Qadaffi complained that the West never followed through on many of its promises.
By 2009, when the Qaddafis were refusing to turn over the remaining highly enriched uranium, he said the decision to give up the weapons had been “contingent on ‘compensation’ from the U.S. including the purchase of conventional weapons and nonconventional military equipment,” a cable in late 2009 reported to the Obama administration.
Compensation? Was it only carrots (and not sticks) that got Libya to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons? Qadaffi gave up his weapons program 10 days after the capture of Saddam Hussein. Was that a factor? The Times won't say. Saddam is never mentioned in the piece, and the only appearance of the word "Iraq" is cryptic:
“Imagine the possible nightmare if we had failed to remove the Libyan nuclear weapons program and their longer range missile force,” said Robert Joseph, who played a central role in organizing the effort in 2003, in the months just after the invasion of Iraq. 
Were the two events connected? That is the most the Times will say about it.

He Who Must Not Be Named

For a remarkable feat in editorial writing, the New York Times deserves special applause. Yesterday, they published a 10-paragraph op-ed about the ongoing legal battles concerning the remaining prisoners held at Guantanomo Bay. The position of the Bush administration, the Supreme Court and the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia are discussed at length. At no point is the Obama Administration's position mentioned. In fact, the President's name doesn't appear anywhere in the editorial (nor, does the name of any Justice Department official). The only opinions mentioned are those of the judges and Bush. Reading the piece, you wouldn't know who the president was.

It's twenty-five months into the Obama administration and Guantanamo is still open. But, for the Times, it's everyone else's fault but Mr. Obama's.