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Saturday, May 28, 2005

One if by land...

Three if by air?

When I arrived at Harvard in January, I was convinced that the Bush Doctrine was a dead letter. Iraq has been a disaster for US foreign policy in so many ways and it is hard to imagine that even the Bush administration wants to replicate the experience any time soon.

The war is economically costly, a large portion of the army is bogged down, domestic political forces would preclude a repeat, etc.

However, after talking with a fair number of security experts these past months, I'm beginning to rethink my views.

Namely, a significant number of security analysts think that the US might well employ a relatively simple airstrike against Iran's nuclear facilities sometime in the next year.

That's not to say that these experts think this is a good idea -- or that it would be effective. However, the US continues to demonize Iran, even when it seems like European allies have cut a decent deal -- and Iran is now being considered for admission to the WTO. Perhaps even more important than the administration's motives, it could well be that Iran's nuclear facilities would be relatively easy to target. This would almost certainly be the case for its known nuclear facilities.

If the US does attack Iran, there are many possible nasty responses. Just to name two, Iran could make life even more difficult for US troops in Iraq, or it could sponsor acts of terror against Americans.

Cynics note that, at minimum, we can expect the Bush administration to trumpet this issue for the next year -- building up to a Security Council debate.

And, of course, the 2006 midterm elections.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Bolton on Global Demcracy

My book with Nayef Samhat (advertized on the sidebar) argues that the increasing participation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in world politics promotes global democracy. Empirically, we examine NGO and global civil society efforts within the World Bank, WTO, Global Environment Facility, etc.

Not everyone agrees with our position.

For example, consider this from John R. Bolton, then Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs. It is his "Statement to the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in all its Aspects," July 9, 2001:
We do not support the promotion of international advocacy activity by international or non-governmental organizations, particularly when those political or policy views advocated are not consistent with the views of all member states. What individual governments do in this regard is for them to decide, but we do not regard the international governmental support of particular political viewpoints to be consistent with democratic principles.
Truly amazing guy, eh?

After clearing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee without a positive recommendation, the vote on Bolton's nomination as UN Ambassador in the full Senate is upcoming soon. Senator Voinovich of Ohio continues to oppose the nomination, and wrote a letter to his colleagues making that point.

Time is short.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Death star

National security and defense debates never seem to die -- but they sometimes become more colorful.

More than twenty years ago, I wrote my undergraduate thesis on "Managing the Perils of Nuclear Proliferation." I'd like to say it was ahead of its time, but Lewis Dunn had just published Controlling the Bomb (Yale, 1982). My library research was thorough, but ultimately derivative. Hell, in 1980-81, Dartmouth's top debate team (actually, they were ranked as the best team in the country) advocated that the US pass along PALs and other technological protections to potential new proliferants. The biggest risks could be mitigated by making the new proliferant forces invulnerable to rival first strike and safe from unauthorized use and theft. By the end of that year, my sophomore season, my colleague and I occasionally argued that case too.**

A few years later, spurred by Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" address, I set about studying the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Because there wasn't too much new to say about missile defenses -- after all, "anti-ballistic missiles" (ABM) were thoroughly debated in the 1960s by defense intellectuals -- I decided to focus on the recurrence of the debate itself, and the arguments employed by the various advocates. Hence, my dissertation concerned "Communication Strategy and 'Strategic' Weapons: Case Studies of ABM Decisions." I also explored some of the Reagan administration's threat inflation concerning SDI.

Last week, the New York Times (I read the same story in the International Herald Tribune), reported that the Air Force is now recommending variants of missile defense that focus directly on the proliferation problem. This is not a new idea either. Robert McNamara's 1967 ABM proposal was designed to mitigate threats from China's new atomic threat.
The air force believes "we must establish and maintain space superiority," General Lance Lord, who leads the U.S. Air Force Space Command, told Congress recently. "Simply put, it's the American way of fighting."

...A new air force strategy, called Global Strike, calls for a military space plane carrying precision-guided weapons armed with a half-ton of munitions. Lord told Congress last month that Global Strike would be "an incredible capability" to destroy command centers or missile bases "anywhere in the world."

Pentagon documents say the weapon could strike from halfway around the world in 45 minutes. "This is the type of prompt Global Strike I have identified as a top priority for our space and missile force," Lord said.
Opponents have rallied quickly. Just as foes of Reagan's plans used the phrase "Star Wars" to frame opposition to SDI, current skeptics have again borrowed from the imagination of George Lucas. This time, the weaponry of Lord Darth Vader comes more directly to mind:
Another space program, nicknamed Rods From God, aims to hurl cylinders of tungsten, titanium or uranium from the edge of space to destroy targets on the ground, striking at speeds of about 7,200 miles an hour, or 11,500 kilometers an hour, with the force of a small nuclear weapon...No nation will "accept the U.S. developing something they see as the death star," Teresa Hitchens of the Center for Defense Information, a policy-analysis group in Washington, said at a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations. "I don't think the United States would find it very comforting if China were to develop a death star, a 24/7 on-orbit weapon that could strike at targets on the ground anywhere in 90 minutes."
Academically, I may have to return to this colorful new debate. After all, as other bloggers have noted, the neoconservative right openly admires Vader's empire. And Bush has selected a General named Lord to oversee a program dubbed Rods from God? Incredible.

** My ultimate career choices were strongly influenced by that 1980-1981 debate season. In response to teams that wanted to ratify the SALT accords, I developed an argument called "The Russian Revolution" that claimed the Soviet Union and its empire was going to collapse under the weight of the arms race. Most of the key pieces of evidence came somewhat dubiously from a Taiwanese magazine and more reasonably from the book, Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? Remember, Poland was cracking at the seams that year.

By the end of the 1981 season, my colleague and I were arguing that the 1980 death of Marshall Tito meant that civil war in Yugoslavia was inevitable. The US needed to act then to prevent that violence. This was all based on secondary research in scholarly journals and books. Retired NATO General John Hackett had published The Third World War, which also considered the implosion of Yugoslavia.

Kids, do you understand why I think debate was so valuable?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


I'm going to be fairly busy this next week, preparing to move back to Louisville now that the sabbatical is all but over.

Through the week, I'll try to post some notes I made while in France.

For example, here's something odd that caught my eye: It seemed like every Renault we saw in Paris and Normandy had a rear window sticker with the letters "elf" prominently displayed. The sticker references a European petroleum company:

It's image thus makes a perfectly natural sticker on a car. It's like an American car with an STP bumper sticker.

In the US, of course, ELF is the Earth Liberation Front. The FBI considers ELF to be an environmental terrorist organization -- the largest and most active domestic terror organization!

So...imagine a bunch of cars with rear window stickers promoting a prominent green terrorist group.

That's the image that kept coming to my mind. Quite a contrast with those yellow ribbons on SUVs, eh?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Media blackout

I'm back, but haven't had much media exposure since May 12.

This is my first day on the internet since that date.

In France, I tried to read the International Herald Tribune as often as possible, but it wasn't always available in small towns in Normandy. And of course, there's no Sunday edition. Note to Marc Lynch: the May 19 edition had an advertising insert called Jordan "modern and vibrant liberal state."

We were able to pick up BBC radio, but I didn't listen that often. BBC did keep me posted on the latest concerns of the White House. Compare these statements by the Bush's Press Secretary.

First, May 17
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, this report caused serious damage to the image of the United States abroad. And Newsweek has said that they got it wrong. I think Newsweek recognizes the responsibility they have. We appreciate the step that they took by retracting the story. Now we would encourage them to move forward and do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done by this report. And that's all I'm saying.
Next, May 18
Q Scott, the President of Uzbekistan has now admitted that his government killed upwards of 170 of its citizens, some anti-government protestors, some escaped prisoners, apparently. Opposition groups say the figure could have been far, far higher. What's the President's view of this situation?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, we spoke about it just the other day. The State Department addressed this very matter and expressed our concerns about it. Obviously, we have continued to urge restraint by all and for all to work for calm in Uzbekistan. We were deeply disturbed by the reports that authorities had fired on demonstrators last Friday, and we expressed our condemnation about the indiscriminate use of force against unarmed civilians. And we certainly deeply regret any loss of life.
Which act made the White House angrier, I wonder?

Since all the TV was in French, and I don't speak the language, that medium wasn't much use to me. However, I did watch the nightly ads by various French political parties weighing in on the forthcoming referendum vote on the European constitution. With Spain's acceptance last week, nine nations have now joined. France is up in the air, but I know how I'd vote. After all, the Greens urged "Oui" and Le Pen "Non."

Finally, just to obtain a bit more baseball news, I twice purchased a USA Today (available only in larger cities, like Paris and Rouen). It really wasn't worth 2 Euro (about $2.55; same as the IHT).

Oh, I did watch the second half of the finals of the UEFA cup. The Lisbon team held a 1-0 lead at the half, but Moscow scored at about 56:45 on a nice bounce kick. About 10 minutes later, the Russian team scored again (by Zhirkov) on a nice breakaway play. Then, nearly 10 minutes later, the Portugese team missed a point-blank shot and Russia immediately pushed the silver ball up the field and scored the final goal: 3-1. I kept the volume down as commentary wasn't necessary to enjoy the match.

Managing Terror (not terrorism)

Paul Parker, guest blogging for Rodger.

Two weeks Timothy Noah posted the provocatively titled “Conservativism as Pathology: Are Bush supporters literally insane?" on Slate. The starting point is puzzle in Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” – how to explain the working class support of the Republicans, given the two parties’ economic policies.

An obvious response to Frank is “not much:” The New Deal Coalition was centered around economics, but it was torn asunder largely due to social issues surrounding race, prayer, and abortion. Add in guns and gays, and 25 years later we are talking about “values voters” to explain the 2004 election. A liberal may think it false consciousness for (some) people to vote (certain) (intolerant) values over economics. But that objection sets up liberals for the very charge that Republicans use so successfully: liberals are out of touch with the concerns of the common person.

After raising a serious, if flawed, question, Noah unfortunately, demonstrates the lack of deep thinking and serious attention we associate with the "chatterbox" giving his column its name. After briefly considering two psychological approaches that have implications for this topic, he concludes, “The further you get into this line of thinking, I’m afraid, the more ridiculous it starts to sound.”

That might especially be true as you approach 800 words. Call it a day, your column is knocked out. But let's go a little deeper.

The two views that Chatterbox considered are Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition (pdf), and Terror Management Theory. The first he subtly dismisses, first by noting one coauthor has done work on birthorder, and then more directly through a silly armchair analysis of George Bush 41 and 43’s ‘famous 1972 mano-a-mano confrontation’ – despite noting that “the authors don’t cite this incident.” For good reason: social scientists are interested in patterns and probabilities, rather than explaining every action in every individual’s life.

His treatment of terror management theory is even worse. Once again, Noah starts out accurately, but soon deteriorates into dismissivness:

"terror management theory," ... as best I can make out, posits that an inordinate fear of death "engenders a defense of one's cultural worldview" and therefore a resistance to outsiders and new ideas. Conservatives are also said to "score lower on measures of extraversion" and "general sensation seeking," which I think is a polite way of saying that they don't get enough sex.

I like reading about sex, and so I am disappointed that I have never run across any discussion of sex in all my readings of, and about, terror management theory. It could be I am thick, and these researchers are coy, but it could also be that Noah has no real idea of what he is talking about.

Could one form of sensation- seeking be driving too fast? A USA Today cover story a couple weeks ago indicated soldiers home from Iraq – where their mortality salience would be heightened – are getting into car crashes at rates higher than one would expect. This fits squarely with terror management theory. Not so sexy, though.

More generally, Noah and others might want to read the book In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror. The authors nicely review many of the scores of cross-national experimental studies in which persons for whom mortality is made salient demonstrate attitudes and behavior that support terror management theory. This theory has been subjected to numerous imaginative and potentially disconfirming studies. In the laboratory, it holds up. And yes, this is the theory that underpinned the study much discussed last year that when reminded of death (the mortality salience condition) people increased their support for George Bush over John Kerry.

Is this evidence of pathology, as framed by Noah’s question? Not according to the authors of In the Wake of 9/11: its an adaptive response to a terrifying reality. And one of the ways we deal with that terror is to reinforce our cultural norms; an obvious way to do that is to punish transgressors. And this makes all the more puzzling Noah’s dismissive attitude toward the Political Conservatism study mentioned above:

The authors ... do say that intolerance of ambiguity may "provide a psychological context" for Dubya's declaration, at an international conference of world leaders, "I know what I believe and I believe what I believe is right."

And terror management theory would suggest that such certainty is comforting. How was it that the Bush campaign branded Kerry? This article on the American Psychological Association website will tell you more about TMT, and about a study derived from this theory, regarding the 2004 election.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Paul Parker, guesting for Rodger

Piggybacking on Avery's Thursday post regarding Bike to Work Week, I highly recommend Elizabeth Kohlbert's recent three part New Yorker series. They are online, The Climate of Man I and The Climate of Man II, and The Climate of Man III.

Reading them, I was reminded of the state of tobacco-is-bad-for-you research a generation ago. As we all know, the industry funded its own studies and attempted to discredit studies linking their product to health woes. Sowing doubt allowed "reasonable people" to avoid having to think, or act, on the problem. I remember trying out the "mixed evidence" argument once, on a fellow graduate student named Rodger. While I never saw Rodger debate, I hear he was accomplished (scroll to 1983); his response to me was simple and devastating: "Nobody believes that except the tobacco companies."

Just as the tide turned quickly on tobacco (in my mind, it snowballed shortly after Presidential Candidate Dole's statement in 1996 that he was not even sure that people can be addicted to tobacco), we might turn quickly on global climate change. Indeed, Kohlbert relates one scientist's analogy to other times of great social change, such as the New Deal in response to the Depression: within a few years, the social and political order changed radically. Might we once again muster political will to radically remake society? (the third installment most directly talks of scientific and political challenges)

In this regard, progress is not linear, but occurs when we reach a tipping point, not unlike a boat that rocks back and forth and back until the present equilibrium is broken and the boat tips over. Unfortunately, Kohlert reports this last analogy as being used by another scientist in thinking about how sudden and dramatic global climate change might be. From the first installment:

... the climate record shows that it would be a mistake to assume that change, when it comes, will come slowly. Perovich offered a comparison that he had heard from a glaciologist friend. The friend likened the climate system to a rowboat: “You can tip and then you’ll just go back. You can tip it and just go back. And then you tip it and you get to the other stable state, which is upside down.”.

Of course, we do not know how fast the climate will change, and for whom the changes will matter the most, at least in the short run (although the Dutch, some of whom inhabit land below sea level, are on it now). But despite the many viewpoints represented in the series, and the many unanswered questions, what struck me was the scientific consensus that the boat is really rocking.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Bike to Work Week

Avery in for Rodger again.

It's Bike-to-work Week.
The average Louisvillian spent 42 hours stuck in traffic in 2003, which means that even as Americans are the most overworked people in the industrialized world, we add a week per year to that miserable work life just sitting in traffic. Meanwhile, Congress has just passed a gargantuan and retrograde highway bill, and the media can't be bothered to say anything about it except that it's larger than the president wanted. James Inhofe, the Senior Oklahoma senator most infamous for arguing on the Senate floor that global warming is a hoax, is the chair of the relevant committee and a strong supporter of the bill.
Meanwhile, Louisville's Member of Congress, Anne Northup, wants to build more, and wider, highways, as well as two unaffordable bridges over the Ohio River, so as to extend the number of lost hours from 40 to 50 or beyond.
Yes, the fact is, when it comes to roads, the "Field of Dreams" rule applies: "If you build it, they will come." More roads = more time stuck in traffic.
The automobile is what Ivan Illich called a radical monopoly. As a social institution, as a tool, the automobile is a disaster. It has worsened the problems it was designed to solve, and disabled us from finding alternative solutions to those problems.
Bike-to-work week is a small, individual way to rehabilitate oneself, to limit the radical monopoly's power over one's life, and to stop wasting time and money stuck in traffic. Ultimately, the problem is obviously structural and goes way beyond individual choice. But if we want to preserve human life in anything like the form we now know it, we'll have to declare independence from mega-industry and help to cause some healthy micro-macro-micro feedback loops. So in the spirit of bike to work week, here are some resources.
1. Find your local bicycle club. Here's the Louisville Bicycle Club.
2. Find out what your city is doing to encourage non-fossil-fuel based transit, and get on their backs to do more. Here's Louisville's rather pathetic first attempt.
3. Help build a "Locally Integrated Food Economy" to cut down on the number of miles your food has to travel to get to your plate, and reverse the corporatization/consolidation of agriculture.
4. The Earth has 1.7 biologically productive hectares per person. That's your ecological benchmark. Find out how you're doing relative to the benchmark, and do something about it. Remember that it's not just survival, but eco-justice, at stake.
5. Not convinced? What if I told you that there's probably a 40% chance that we are going to experience civilization-altering, catastrophic climate change, and even possibly what's known as "runaway" climate change. How high does that probability have to be before precautions are in order?
Which brings me back to Anne Northup, the 3rd District Member of Congress. How far in the sand is her head? She doesn't even have an entry for environmental problems on her issues page. One would think she represented the cleanest city in the country. But alas, she represents the dirtiest city in the Southeast. Check out the American Lung Association's "State of the Air 2005" report.
N.B. full disclosure: I don't bike to work, I walk to work. Same principle.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Notes on Iraq, and on America

Avery guest-blogging for Rodger
Update: some fixes due to earlier errors & lost content

1. Salvadoran Option?

Last January the media briefly sputtered to life with reports about a Salvadoran Option in Iraq. The idea, as gingerly reported by the toadyish Newsweek, was as follows:
Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers.
Now we are confronted with the horrific death toll that has officially reached over 500 since the new Iraqi government was announced on May 6. Scores of these have been exhumed bodies that, all along, we’ve been told were Iraqi national guard and security forces, and suspected sympathizers, massacred by insurgents.

But why are we not connecting these two specific dots? There have been stories about factions within the Iraqi security forces, and according to NPR (Note: audio file), the wife of a survivor the other day said that her husband had been taken away by security forces. Obviously, insurgents might be dressing up as members of security forces; but maybe this is the Salvadoran option? Do we have any reason to have confidence in either the media's competence to pursue this story, or the intentions of either the Iraqi government or the US occupation? (Yes, that's a rhetorical question.) Remember, according to the Newsweek article, “many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal." John Negroponte, who was ambassador to Honduras at the time, was the ambassador to Iraq until he was named the national intelligence director. (Another argument for the International Criminal Court.)

2. Unquestionably Worse Off?

Last week the UN Development Program released an Iraqi living conditions survey.

According to the official press release, the survey found:
grave deterioration in living standards in the country over the past 25 years, with Iraq now suffering from some of the region’s highest rates of joblessness and child malnutrition and continuing severe deficiencies in sewage systems, electric power supplies and other essential public services.

Unemployment among young men with secondary or higher education stands at 37 percent
• Even though most Iraqis are now connected to water, electricity or sewage networks, supplies remain unstable and unreliable
• Almost a quarter of children between the ages of six months and five years suffer from malnutrition
• More young people today are illiterate than in previous generations
• Just 83 percent of boys and 79 percent of girls of school age are enrolled in primary school.

The survey compares today to 1980, the eve of the horrific Iran-Iraq war (in which the US and Canada, among others, sold arms to both sides). But I don’t think the data permit inferences about any specific trajectory between then and now; that is, one would not expect to find a straight downward line from 1980 to 2005 in terms of employment, nutrition, etc. So the survey does not answer whether Iraqis are worse off now than on March 15 of 2003, the day before Bush sent in the bombers. What it does show, however, is that the period since May 1, 2003—the day that Bush-leaguers declared victory—has failed utterly to deliver the benefits that the self-proclaimed humanitarians who supported this war now hold up as their justification.

In general, Americans do not really know what it would be like to live under a dictator. This is both good and bad. It’s good for obvious reasons. It’s bad, first of all, because we have no reference point against which to compare the carnage, terror, military occupation, lack of basic services, sectarian violence, and general uncertainty of life in Iraq today. So when rightwing blowhards proclaim (and centrist hem-and-hawers “admit”) that Iraq, or the world, is unquestionably better off today than under Saddam, Americans in general simply lack any way to know if this is true. How do you compare living under dictatorship to living under a reign of terror and foreign military occupation? Hard to say. Somehow, objective criteria seem not to be quite up to the job.

The second reason that our lack of any sense of what it would be like to live under dictatorship is bad is that we also have no way to understand the degree to which our own public and political lives have deteriorated in the direction of dictatorship. At some point, when the secret search-warrants and library record-searches and no-fly lists and torture chambers and shadow detentions and court-packing and lack of habeas corpus and militarization of daily life and elections without paper trails get bad enough, we can no longer confidently say that this is a free country, because we have no basis for confidence that we would know if it weren't.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Neutering the Press

Paul Parker, guest blogging while Rodger is in France on his FreedomTrip

Newsweek has taken a lot of heat the past few days, since first backing away from, and now retracting, a 10 sentence story published last week, in which an anonymous source claimed to have seen a specific report confirming that interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had desecrated the Koran.

Reporters err. And those errors can have bad consequences. That should be familiar to anyone who followed Judith Miler's reporting that relied on "Curveball": one of the nation's most highly regarded newspapers got played, and her stories about WMD led many people to not question the administration in its buildup to the Iraq War. The Times' own mea culpa was damning, if gentle; the NYRB's ran an excellent piece by Michael Massing, Now they Tell Us (subscription).

And Dan Rather's desire to be first cost him with the National Guard story.

According to Newsweek, their errors were not due to a lack of caution: the story of the desecration of the Koran (which had been reported by others, unsourced), was run by a couple of Pentagon folks, who did not object. And the administration did not object, either, until more than a week later.

A year after the first public revelations of abuses at Abu Graib, the news in Afghanistan and Iraq has not been good for the administration. If the press is discredited, the administration can ignore the results of its [ illegal war / horrible miscalculation / lack of planning ] and push forward in remaking America's tax and social welfare system.

And the press seems complicit in their willingness to not be take too seriously: consider the ABC Note discussion, last week (with hat tip to David Sirota) of how Americans and the American press wish to ignore Iraq:

"Brides gotta run, planes gotta stray, and cable news networks gotta find a way to fill a lot of programming hours as cheaply as possible...We say with all the genuine apolitical and non-partisan human concern that we can muster that the death and carnage in Iraq is truly staggering. And/but we are sort of resigned to the Notion that it simply isn't going to break through to American news organizations, or, for the most part, Americans...What is hands down the biggest story every day in the world will get almost no coverage."

So Newsweek attempts to publish a vetted story, and professionally, quickly retracts the story when it is called into question. The White House wants more (?).

Does the White House care about good journalism? Innocents in Middle Eastern and Asian Countries? Or a cowed press that it can intimidate? Influenced by Ken Auletta's reporting about "Fortress Bush" in the New Yorker a year ago, my money is on "C."

And on the claims that riots in Afghanistan were caused by Newsweeks' reporting, consider the posts by Kevin Drum and Kevin Drum; short answer: student protests over the reports were hijacked by organized groups seeking to make trouble.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

On the AUT boycott

Avery guest blogging for Rodger

Recently, the British Association of University Teachers (AUT) voted to boycott two Israeli institutions, namely, Haifa University and Bar Ilan University. The statement from the AUT executive is here
A number of people whose judgment I respect have joined a petition opposing the boycott. The petition formally endorses the AAUP's condemnation of the boycott, asking other scholarly organizations to join in that condemnation. Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber has posted informative briefs against the boycott, although J. David Velleman's at Left2Right seems to me to blur important distinctions.
All this by way of introduction for some thoughts on this boycott.
First, the boycott is targeted specifically at two universities, not at Israeli universities generally. It targets them for their associations with colleges on Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Velleman, for one, mistakenly blurs this distinction. Nonetheless, it does bear mention that a college in the West Bank could have either of three relevant characters: it could be a Jewish or Israeli college in a Jewish settlement; it could be a Palestinian college such as Bir Zeit; or it could be one of the colleges set up by religious/missionary organizations such as the LDS church, which has a branch of BYU in East Jerusalem. The first question, then, is why association only with the first kind of college is problematic. It could be because the very settlement in which the college exists is illegal even by Israeli law, in which case the AUT would be in the rather odd position of boycotting colleges for failing to uphold Israeli law. But if the very settlement is legal by Israeli law and illegal only in the sense and to the extent that all Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal (and this is subject to much debate that I leave aside right now), then we may ask why the AUT has singled out only Israeli/Jewish colleges rather than also include institutions such as BYU-Jerusalem Center. The question is not whether Israeli institutions rather than, say, American or Chinese ones should be boycotted (more on that below); it's why associating only with one kind of West Bank college should be considered intolerable behavior.
A second question is how the AUT understands its decision. Here the executive statement is pretty revealing. The first paragraph refers specifically to two universities to be boycotted; the second paragraph tables a proposal to boycott a third university (my mother's alma mater, Hebrew University of Jerusalem); the third paragraph reads as follows:
Council delegates also agreed to circulate to all local associations a statement from Palestinian organisations calling for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions.

Now the question is, why would this third paragraph be relevant? The point is not that it would be wrong to boycott all Israeli universities (more below), but that it is striking to see the two distinct issues juxtaposed without any appearance that the AUT realizes that they are different issues. This gives cause to worry that the boycott as passed is a form of synecdoche, and hence, that the reason for the particular boycott was just a convenient thing to grab onto.
Let's distinguish 3 questions: 1. Are boycotts ever permissible; 2. Is it ever okay to boycott academics/intellectuals; and 3. Is this boycott in particular permissible.
1. It seems obvious to me that boycotts are permissible. I, for one, engage in them all the time. I participated in the boycott of Taco Bell when the Coalition of Immokalee Workers called for it; I participated in the boycott of the conference hotel at the 2005 Pacific APA.
2. But what about when boycotts target academics or intellectuals? A number of commentators have suggested that this is the real problem with the AUT boycott: the AAUP's statement in particular singles out the academic freedom issue.
This seems to me to be a red herring. A boycott or other activity may impede academic freedom, but that is not sufficient for wrongness. Boycotts of Apartheid South Africa, for instance, extended to artists and academics, and this seems to me to have been the right decision. First, academics are typically among the privileged in their society; it would be perverse and perhaps elitist to exempt the privileged from boycott, simply on grounds that what they produce is knowledge rather than widgets. Second, in the case of apartheid, any action that normalizes the state--including easy congress with members of its state-funded institutions of higher learning--is intolerable. To boycott Apartheid South Africa was to say that the ruling cadre there was not so much a government as a gang of thugs. So for these two reasons I think boycotts that extend to cover academics are not necessarily wrong. Third, academics are sometimes in a protected position to dissent from the intolerable behavior being boycotted. Putting pressure on them to do so is not obviously wrong.
Of course, this last point has been singled out by the AAUP, Velleman, and others because the AUT has apparently placed a political litmus test on exemption from the boycott. But this seems wrong to me. Consider the CIW boycott of Taco Bell. Imagine a single franchisee had declared support for the CIW and decided to get all his tomato products from local independent farms or from unionized farms. Would it be wrong to exempt this franchisee from the boycott? Surely not. If anything, the action of such a franchisee puts him at greater risk than an academic who merely opposes Israeli policy. The better exemption test would have been for academics who circulate petitions opposing association with the specific West Bank college in question. But Velleman and the AAUP are not criticizing the AUT's exemption on grounds that political opposition is insufficient!
For me, the kicker on this issue seems to be this: as with the third paragraph of the AUT statement mentioned above, Israeli policy generally is simply not the relevant issue. The boycott is not explicitly about that at all; it's about association with a particular college in the West Bank. Why would opposition to the Occupation be an exempting condition for that? An academic could oppose the Occupation and still engage in the putatively intolerable behavior, and thus be exempted from boycott by the AUT. So my objection to the exemption criterion is not that it's a political litmus test, but that first such a litmus test sets the bar too low, and second, such a litmus test is irrelevant to what the boycott is about. Here is a further reason to worry that the boycott is not really about what it claims to be about.
3. We've seen that boycotts in general are at least sometimes permissible, and that boycotts targeting academics are not always wrong. So let's consider this boycott in particular.
We need a further distinction: a) whether one should endorse the boycott as such, and b) whether the AUT somehow acted wrongfully in enacting the boycott. The questions differ in that one could disagree with or refuse to participate in the boycott but understand why it was imposed, and see the reasons for doing so.
On the narrowest reading, one could answer 3a by endorsing this boycott. One could agree that the Judea & Samaria College should be boycotted, and that other universities (Israeli or otherwise), insofar as and because they associate themselves with that College, should be sanctioned or boycotted. And on this narrowest reading, I think, the answer to 3b is clearly no: even if you support the Occupation and indeed are the president of Judea & Samaria College, you could still recognize that there's nothing wrongful about enacting the boycott. That is, you could recognize such a boycott as a reasonable response to a moral judgment with which you disagree.
In other words, there is an Ideal Boycott that, I think, it would be reasonable to endorse and unreasonable to condemn, even if you disagreed.
But the AUT boycott is not the Ideal Boycott. Broadening the reading a bit, one would still wonder what made that particular West Bank college intolerable, in contrast with, say, BYU Jerusalem Center. Further, one might wonder about the blurred lines between opposition to the Occupation in general, and opposition to this particular college, that seem to creep into the boycott statement as well as the exemption policy. And from this broader perspective, I think the answer to 3a is mixed: you might endorse the boycott with some reservations, because after all there does seem to be something worse about Judea and Samaria College than about BYU-Jerusalem Center, and you might regard the former as a particular affront to the peace process, etc. But even if you endorse the boycott from this perspective, I think the answer to 3b is that the AUT has indeed done something wrongful, and that is, not the boycott itself, but the reasoning. The AUT has needlessly conflated issues in a way that would foreseeably alienate a lot of people (including many AUT members) and make it difficult for sympathetic people to want to endorse the boycott. So in other words, it would be not unreasonable for members of the AUT to both participate in the boycott and condemn the AUT for botching it altogether.
Now let's take the broadest perspective. It might be thought that singling out Israel is a particular instance of badness, and that one should more quickly be condemning other universities that engage in intolerable activities, such as, say, MIT, which does a lot of military research, or Berkeley, which runs nuclear weapons labs. Or maybe more to the point, why not Arizona State University, which is on land stolen from Mexico. Or any Chinese university that has any programs in Tibet.
The answer to this is complex. It is not wrong to be selective in boycotts or punishment. If persons A, B, C, and D all commit act X, and I boycott only A, I have not obviously done something wrong. In the first place I might not have any relevant leverage over the others. Or I may not be able to get enough people to join the boycott against any but A. Or A may be a particularly big fish. For instance, the CIW boycotted Taco Bell because Taco Bell was the biggest single purchaser of Immokalee tomoatoes, and Yum!, the parent company, is the biggest fast-food conglomerate. So being selective is not itself a problem. The problem is, on what grounds is the selection accomplished. And here, I'm less confident. I suspect the reason for not boycotting MIT, Berkeley, and ASU is that they're US universities, and the US is very powerful.
There's a general problem here from the philosophy of punishment. Last I heard, only some 2% of murderers get sentenced to death in the US. Whether this is wrong depends on why the other 98% are exempt. If the reason for the exemption is that they have mitigating circumstances and the 2% have aggravating circumstances, then the selectivity is not wrong in itself. But what if the exemption is based on the fact that the other murderers have Mafia connections, and the DA wants to avoid starting a war with the mob. Then we have mob rule. And I fear (back to the AUT case now) that the reason that American universities are exempt from boycott is that the AUT wants to avoid antagonizing their powerful and rich American colleagues. In which case we have academic mob rule.
Now back to the questions. Again, depending on one's reasons, it would be conceivable, at this point, to (3a) endorse the boycott with the qualifications and hemming and hawing that are appropriate in light of the fact that (3b) the AUT has acted in a way that seems to me to be wrongful. In particular, I suspect that both the real reason for the boycott and the real reason for singling out those particular universities are unmentioned and unmentionable because disgraceful. This is particularly true in the case of academics, not because academics should never be subject to boycott, but because one of the worse things an academic can do qua academic is to justify decisions on the basis of false or deceitful reasons.
So to conclude:
I. It would be wrong to endorse the boycott without comment or qualification.
II. It would not necessarily be wrong to endorse the boycott, subject to qualifications, hemming, and hawing; this seems to depend on one's own politics and the extent to which one thinks the boycott is likely to put pressure on the Sharon government to prevent expanding or entrenching settlements, etc. My guess is, not much. But to each her own.
III. It would, conversely, not necessarily be wrong to oppose the boycott, but at the same time I think a number of the reasons given by Bertram, Velleman, and the AAUP seem to need unpacking or rethinking.
IV. Whether or not you endorse the boycott, it seems to me that the AUT has made an awful mess of it. Worst of all is the consistent blurring of lines between the specific institutions and the general policies/country as the object of rebuke; this seems to me to constitute a misrepresentation of the reasons for the boycott that may be either careless or deceitful. Either way, it smells.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Freedom trip

I'm off to France for the next 11 days and likely won't be blogging or reading while away. Avery and Paul may be guest blogging. Enjoy their work!

I'll be back May 23.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Crisis Failure

Today, the Belfer Center hosted Ambassador Morton Abramowitz, a former career foreign service officer. Need his bio? Abramowitz
retired in 1997 as President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and from the State Department in 1991. Ambassador Abramowitz also served recently as Acting President of the International Crisis Group - a multinational, non-governmental organization headquartered in Brussels and Washington, focusing on crisis prevention. Prior to joining the Carnegie Endowment in August 1991, he was Ambassador to Turkey. He has also served as Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, United States Ambassador to the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction Negotiations in Vienna, Ambassador to Thailand...
The Ambassador spoke off-the-record about the prospects for addressing non-strategic state failure. He actually said that his remarks could be on-the-record, but made one series of comments that he felt should stay in the room.

Abramowitz was one of the founding members of the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organization financed by George Soros in the hopes of rallying international support to prevent and resolve violent conflict. Former Australian Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, is President and CEO. Evans won the 1995 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, which I direct.

Today, Abramowitz was quite pessimistic about the ability of advocacy groups like ICG to convince states to intervene in humanitarian emergencies. This echoes what he wrote about Darfur with Samantha Power in the Washington Post last September:
Why has the world, with all its outpourings and Security Council deliberations, failed to tackle the Darfur problem? The main answer is straightforward enough: Major and minor powers alike are committed only to stopping killing that harms their national interests. Why take political, financial and potential military risks when there is no strategic or domestic cost to remaining on the sidelines?

...Darfur shows that dedicated advocacy can move democracies to denounce atrocities and provide generous humanitarian help. What the earnest advocacy rarely does is propel the powerful to stop the killing. For that to happen, righteous clamor must reach a high enough pitch that politicians in democratic states are persuaded to do a difficult thing: take domestic political risks in pursuit of polices that do not serve their immediate interests, that can be financially costly and that provide no clear-cut exit strategies.
He essentially repeated these lessons: "the delivery of humanitarian aid lets us off the hook." Worse,
"the existence of the U.N. Security Council hides the crux of the problem: Countries do not want to do what is necessary to prevent large-scale loss of life in messy, complex Africa. Crises such as Darfur require urgent action, and states are well aware that the Security Council cannot act urgently. It is not by accident that they throw the problem into the labyrinth of U.N. deliberations, which allows them to play the role of good international citizens, while the Security Council with its built-in vetoes from Russia and China and its built-in opposition from rotating members such as Pakistan and Algeria, prevents any serious action against sovereign nations."
Amb. Abramowitz was quite pessimistic, actually.

I don't know how his colleagues feel about this take, but the group does seem to have some job openings.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Know your neighbors

Sunday's Boston Globe included an interesting story in the Boston Works section, by Diane E. Lewis: "Skilled workforce key to Hub's expansion."

Lewis based her story largely on the work of economist Edward L. Glaeser, director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at the Kennedy School of Government. His April 2005 report, "Smart Growth: Education, Skilled Workers, and the Future of Cold-Weather Cities" found that climate was the largest factor determining the growth of a city's population. This is from the newspaper article:
"Cold weather areas such as Boston face steep obstacles to growth," says Glaeser. "Cities with average January temperatures under 30 degrees Fahrenheit grew in population only one-third as quickly from 1960 to 1990 as did cities with average January temperatures above 50 degrees."
The second biggest factor is education of the population, though Glaeser notes that the link might not be causal -- smarter people might chose to live in faster growing urban areas.

These factors explaining growth are important. Glaeser finds that the booming cities with well-educated populations have the fastest economic growth rates. Indeed, his research dovetails nicely with the work of the scholar Richard Florida, who found that an urban area's creativity is key to its prospects for productive growth. Lewis quotes Florida in her story:
"The nation's geographic center of gravity has shifted away from traditional industrial regions toward new axes of creativity and innovation," he writes. "The creative class is strongly oriented to large cities and regions that offer a variety of economic opportunities, a stimulating environment and amenities for every possible lifestyle."
While the Globe was most interested in Boston's rank (and it is a cold weather city), I'm interested in all the data.

So, what cities have the smartest population base? For urban areas with populations over 250,000, these are the top ten, ranked by percent of residents with at least bachelor's degrees:
1. 51.6% Seattle
2. 49.5% Raleigh, NC
3. 48.6% San Francisco
4. 44.2% Washington, DC
5. 42.5% Minneapolis
6. 42.2% Boston
7. 40.8% Denver
8. 40.2% Austin, TX
9. 39.7% St. Paul, MN
10 39.5% Lexington, KY
The data originate from the US Census Bureau.

The biggest surprise on the list, at least for me, was Lexington, KY. My home city, Louisville, was not among those listed. Obviously, Louisvillians should be jealous of Lexingtonians on this scale.

The differences among the top and bottom cities are certainly striking. Glaeser lists #15 as a tie between Portland, OR and San Diego: 36.8%. The list then skips to the bottom 16 (of 67): #52 is a tie between Anaheim, CA and Corpus Christi, TX: 21.5%. The other cities coming in at around 20% or lower include St. Louis, Memphis, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami, Cleveland, and Newark (only 11.4%).

Readers, plan your next move accordingly.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

No, I'll ask the questions

Seymour "Sy" Hersh was interviewed in the April 2005 Progressive by David Barsamian. Did you see it?

Hersh is one of the best investigative reporters in the media, but this response to the interviewer's question reminded me a great deal of the parodies Darrell Hammond of "Saturday Night Live" does of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld:
Q: You don't have a very high opinion of Condoleezza Rice. What's the basis of your criticism?

...At a meeting in her office in the late summer of 2002, months before the war in Iraq, prisoner abuse at Guantánamo is discussed. Rice brings in Rumsfeld for a meeting, and they all agree they have to do something. Nothing gets done.

Do they see themselves as involved in it? No, they don't. Could they have done something? Of course. Did everybody understand we were going to be as tough as we could be with Al Qaeda and people we thought were Al Qaeda? Of course. Did people know that this was a stupid way to operate when you are trying to extract information from people who are willing to fly airplanes into buildings? If they are willing to die, can we torture them into giving information? No, nobody thinks about that. Is there a better way to get information, get their trust, establish rapport, try to change their views? Nobody wants to think about that. It's just, let's beat them up. And that attitude was widespread throughout the Administration.

Do they see themselves as being personally involved? Oh my God, no. What happened is just horrible to them and they can't believe it. They want an investigation. But of course they had millions of opportunities to stop it. It's the standard stuff, the way you go through life in Washington. People in power are always removed from the consequences.
Here's an example of Hammond as Rumsfeld asking and answering the questions.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Who needs Batman?

NY Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly was at the Belfer Center today, talking at lunch (off-the-record) about the city's counter-terrorism efforts.

Kelly testified to the 9/11 Commission, and I'm not sure he told us much that he hasn't said publicly.

As he sees it, NYC is the #1 likely terrorist target in the US and it is his job to prevent that from happening. Clearly, he takes the threat and his responsibility very seriously.
Beginning in January 2002, we created a new Bureau of Counter Terrorism and we expanded our Intelligence Division. We dedicated over 1,000 police officers to counter-terrorism duties....

[Deputy Policy] Commissioner [for Counterterrorism Michael] Sheehan also oversees the Counter Terrorism Division and Regional Training Center, which were established as sub-units of the Counter Terrorism Bureau. Among the core responsibilities of these divisions are to train and equip all 36,000 uniformed members of the department for their counter terrorism duties...

We have assigned 250 officers full-time to the Counter Terrorism Bureau. Over 130 of them have been posted to the Joint Terrorism Task Force with the FBI, including one detective assigned to the FBI National JTTF in Washington D.C. That compares to just 17 officers assigned to the JTTF on September 11th of 2001. We have also posted a New York City detective to Washington to serve as our liaison to the Department of Homeland Security. NYPD detectives assigned to the JTTF have taken part in important, terrorist-related investigations in Jordan, Germany, Kuwait, and Bali...

We have posted New York City detectives to Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France; Tel Aviv, London, Toronto, Montreal and Singapore. We have also sent our detectives to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and to Afghanistan to interrogate terrorist suspects there.
In addition to these transgovernmental efforts, the city has stepped up its foreign language testing and training, as well.

According to Kelly's testimony, these counter-terror efforts cost NYC $200 million annually. The city wants a greater share of the Homeland Security budget and hopes to get it (too much goes to smaller localities that are unlikely targets).

Incidentally, these stepped up counter-terrorism efforts and the increased spending has occurred in a context when the Department has lost thousands of police officers. During that time, however, crime rates and especially homicide rates are down dramatically. Manhattan has fewer murders now that at any time since the turn of the century -- and I mean 100 years ago! The city as a whole is at its lowest levels of murder in 40 years. NYC declares itself the country's safest city, and by some measures it is.

In the fictional Gotham City, Policy Commissioner Gordon contacts Batman when his force needs help to mitigate crime. It looks like Commissioner Kelly is doing just fine without a superhero.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Another Bolton update.

Next week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is supposed to vote on John Bolton's nomination to serve as the Ambassador to the UN.

However, critical documents requested by Democratic Senators still have not been provided by the Bush administration. Members, for example, want to see documents about alleged threats from Cuba and Sudan so they can determine if Bolton was overstating the threat. Conceivably, Bolton could be held to account on this question.

This probably explains why the administration hasn't coughed up the info. To date, none of the hawks pushing the Iraq war have been held accountable for their behavior and none of the expert groups studying Iraq intelligence has looked at whether the administration overstated the data about the alleged threats.

Incidentally, if anyone in authority is reading, why not also ask for the documents about Syria? Bolton was a busy boy.

Also at issue are internal National Security Agency documents that Bolton apparently requested when State Department underlings opposed him on policy issues. Ordinarily, names are stripped from these kinds of internal documents, which basically reflect one US agency spying on the people in another. Bolton apparently requested the names so he could identify -- and then allegedly pressure -- foes inside State.

The Senate wants these documents so they can find out just how much of a menace Bolton was in his years at the State Department, 2001-2005. Senator Joseph Biden (D-Del.) wrote a letter about the problem to Condi Rice and threatened more delays on Bolton if she doesn't act. From the AP:
"My Democratic colleagues and I would consider the failure to produce the requested documents in a timely manner a lack of cooperation," according to the letter, which was made available to The Associated Press.
I stand by my earlier call -- Bolton is not going to be approved.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Who is John Doe #2?

April 19 was the tenth anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City (OKC). On that date, California Representative Dana Rohrabacher announced that he is thinking about holding hearings on unanswered questions surround the bombing -- including questions about the so-called "third terrorist," unindicted co-conspirator "John Doe #2."
as chairman of the investigative arm of the Committee on International Relations, I was asked by several people whom I respect to direct my attention to the Oklahoma City bombing and to a possible foreign connection. That this mass murder of Americans was accomplished by two disgruntled veterans acting alone seems to be the conclusion reached by those in authority. However, there are some unsettling loose ends and unanswered questions that deserve to be considered before joining those affirming the official explanation.
Rohrabacher's office received a tip in March, reportedly from a mobster in prison, that additional weapons remained hidden at Terry Nichols's home in Herington, Kansas. The FBI found previously unknown explosives, so Rohrabacher and others have been claiming that we should all have a "degree of skepticism" about the official story about Oklahoma City.

Rohrabacher, a very conservative Republican, seems intent on investigating whether a so-called "third terrorist" had Middle Eastern connections. Indeed, after years of saying that Timothy McVeigh and Nichols had links to a former Iraqi soldier, or even to Saddam Hussein, some on the right are now saying that the Oklahoma City bombing was backed by Iran.

What was in Orwell said so memorably about war? Oh, this:
Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.
In this case, however, the alleged Iran/Iraq/Middle East link to OKC might not fly.

Today, the AP is reporting that a letter written by Terry Nichols from prison acknowledges that a third man helped with the bombing. The man named by Nichols is Roger Moore (who may also be known as Robert Miller). From the letter Nichols wrote to a member of an OKC victim family member:
"That case of nitromethane came directly from Roger Moore's Royal, Arkansas, home, and his prints should be found on that box and/or tubes, and Karen Anderson's prints may be there as well," Nichols wrote.

"The Fed Gov't knows of Roger Moore's corrupt activities and they are protecting him and covering up his involvement with McVeigh at the OKC bombing!" Nichols wrote.
Moore was a gun dealer, apparently robbed by Nichols before the OKC bombing. McVeigh, Nichols and Michael Fortier sold the stolen guns to earn cash to finance the operation.

At trial, Nichols disputed Moore's account of that robbery, alleging that Moore was commiting insurance fraud. Many of the stolen weapons were previously found at Nichols's home.

Some years ago, credible news agencies reported that Robert Millar, the leader of the white separatist Elohim City "compound" in Muldrow, Oklahoma, was secretly a government informant! This is kind of interesting because McVeigh supposedly visited the compound on occasion and may have been there at the same time as several bank robbers associated with the supremacists (the so-called "Aryan Republican Army"). When the robbers were arrested, they apparently had in their possession Roger Moore's fake driver's licence in the name of Robert Miller, as well as some blasting caps similar to the type used by McVeigh in OKC.

If you surf the internet, the identities of Roger Moore/Robert Miller/Robert Millar seem to fuse, even though Moore/Miller resides in Arkansas and Millar was in that camp in Oklahoma. Plus, I've found a picture of the elderly Millar on the web, and he died in 2001. While I have not been able to find a photo of gun seller Roger Moore on the internet (fans of mediocre James Bond films know why), I did find a court drawing by a trial artist. Moore was 62 in 1997, Millar was 72 then; they are not the same person.

They were both too old to be the man sketched as "John Doe #2."

In any case, the bank robbers appear to link either Moore/Miller or Nichols/McVeigh to Millar and Elohim City, but that angle is apparently still under investigation by authorities. It may be that Moore's fake ID was stolen in the gun robbery and McVeigh passed it along to the bank robbers while at Elohim City.

What should be made of the latest news involving Nichols? While the right wants to use this twist in the OKC case to focus potential blame on the Middle East, it still appears as if the real links are to the world of right wing anti-government, white supremacist, and pro-gun types (terrorists?), ticked off by the sieges of Waco and Ruby Ridge.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Steroids update: baseball 2005

The baseball season is a month old and steroids are still dominating the news.

Commissioner Bud Selig has called for a much stricter penalty for those found using performance enhancing drugs. He wants the first offense to cost the user a 50 games suspension and the second offense to be 100 games lost. The third offense would be banishment from the game: "three strikes, you're out."

The union says the current plan is working (the latest suspended player is Twins pitcher Juan Rincon) and no stronger penalty is needed. Since the issue is deterrence, I'm not sure when we'll know whether players are now clean.

Meanwhile, former pitcher and pitching coach Tom House says that baseball players were using steroids and human growth hormone as far back as the 1960s. House's revelation is interesting because many in the media have denigrated the current crop of sluggers compared to the generation that matured when they were younger. Note: House is the guy who caught Hank Aaron's 715th HR ball on April 8, 1974. He was drafted in 1967 and was in the majors by 1971.

Willie Mays played his last season in 1973; Aaron played through 1976; and Frank Robinson through 1976. The career home run list is dominated by guys who played all or part of their careers since 1970. For every 1990s slugger (Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro), one can name a 1970s counterpart (those named, plus Harmon Killebrew, Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt).

Notice, I've just identified every player in the top 11 career HR list, save Babe Ruth. Number 12 is Mickey Mantle.

House told the SF Chronicle's Ron Kroichick that 6 or 7 pitchers per major league team were on these drugs during his 1970s career:
"I'd like to say we were smart, but we didn't know what was going on. We were at the tail end of a generation that wasn't afraid to ingest anything. As research showed up, guys stopped."

House was listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, and he ballooned to 215 or 220 while on steroids.
House claims that the drugs did not add zip to his fastball, but reliever Juan Rincon significantly increased his strikeouts per inning pitched last season.

Want more evidence that this is not a new probelm? Lyle Alzado, the football player who admitted using steroids, started his professional football career after being picked in the 1971 draft. Note this fact: Alzado says he started using steroids at Yankton College, a tiny NAIA school in South Dakota.

Imagine how widespread steroids would have had to have been in sports to reach a tiny NAIA program in South Dakota in the late 1960s.

Behind the iron curtain, the infamous East German women's swim team used steroids to achieve dramatic victories at the 1972 and 1976 Olympic games. Thousands of athletes were drugged, including young teenage girls!

This is a new issue causing the HR burst of the past decade? Hmmmm.

What do the data show? ESPN has been tracking HRs per game. In 2005, teams are hitting 0.955, down from 1.123 last year (which was up from 1.043 and 1.071 in 2002-03). That means teams are hitting only 85% as many this year as they did last year, but note:
1. Cold weather hurts offense and this has been a wet and cold spring in many major league cities. We'll have to monitor these numbers through the summer. I think ESPN is comparing this year's April data to full season data for other seasons.

2. Single season fluctuation of this magnitude isn't that unusual. Go back and compare 1987 leaguewide HR numbers to the three years prior and after. It's a major outlier as the league hit over 700 more HRs in 1987 than in 1986, and then dropped by almost 1300 in 1988!
I'll be following this story as the summer progresses.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Realists for Social Change

Today, in separate events, I saw presentations by two members of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. Each gave an academic talk summarizing highlights of their new books.

At lunch, Harvard's Stephen M. Walt talked about the unpopularity of American foreign policy around the world and recommended limiting America's global military footprint in order to reduce costs and to avoid negative feedback. Walt suggesting that the US should pay a lot more attention to questions of legitimacy, pursue a grand strategy of offshore balancing, and better marshall tools of "soft power" (including an improved public diplomacy program). His new book, Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy (W.W. Norton), is forthcoming this fall.

At the end of the day, Boston University's Andrew J. Bacevich talked about the undesirable rise of militarism in American society. Bacevich traced the roots of militarism to the post-Vietnam effort by security elites to resurrect faith in American military power and technology. From Tom Clancy to Top Gun, Americans started to embrace militarism and now it is endemic in American society. He recommends that Congress again be required to declare war, that military spending be dramatically reduced and that the US find a way to achieve a more socially representative armed force. Bacevich's book, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War was published by Oxford University Press in April 2005.

Both Walt and Bacevich called for the renunciation of the Bush administration's doctrine of preventive war.

Interestingly, realists Walt and Bacevich, who should be concerned primarily with relative differences in material power among nation-states, are primarily worried about adverse social developments: loss of legitimacy and the rise of militarism.

Their solutions, however, mostly entailed material changes (with more modest social commitments).

I'm not 100% sure that the problems they describe can be resolved via their main material remedies.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Blair and the Iraq Leaks

British Prime Minister Tony Blair faces re-election this week: 05/05/05.

Iraq has become a major issue in the campaign and new leaked documents are causing the incumbent some political problems. Earlier this week, for instance, the Prime Minister's website posted a previously secret Memo (warning, pdf) from the UK Attorney General to Blair revealing the legal justification for the war. The AG was somewhat skeptical about the war's legality, but clearly did not say that the it would be illegal. He fudged.

Today, the Times of London printed a leaked document that purportedly demonstrates Blair's intent to go to war against Iraq long before March 2003. Minutes from a 23 July 2002 meeting were considered "extremely sensitive" and "no further copies should be made." Of course, now anyone can read it on the web. Here's a troubling paragraph based on an unnamed "C" present at the meeting (CNN reports that this is Sir Richard Dearlove):
C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.
What the hell does this sentence mean: "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy"?

Jack Straw apparently knew what-was-what (and promoted an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein even though the US was apparently opposed and/or skeptical about that approach):
The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.
Blair is getting heat because he apparently talked about the need for "regime change" despite his public focus on the weapons of mass destruction.

Nonetheless, polls reveal that Blair's Labour party is likely to win the election and he'll be PM for another term. Apparently, the advantage in Parliament will be reduced somewhat.