A Nutty Little Argument

by Ted on July 26, 2005

Sometimes I swear that Christopher Hitchens must be filming a boring PBS spin-off of Punk’d. What kind of a man responds to the exposure of a CIA agent by attacking the law that makes it illegal to expose CIA agents?

It’s a little rude to call arguments “self-refuting”, but I don’t know of a more appropriate term for this. It’s a terminally dishonest piece of work, and an embarassment to Slate. In the middle of sliming Wilson, Plame, and the CIA (“The CIA in general is institutionally committed against the policy of regime change in Iraq”), Hitchens forgets to offer an argument about why the law should be overturned. The reader gets no indication of what protections, if any, undercover CIA operatives are actually warranted. Hitchens just points to a few old New York Times editorials concerned about how the law would affect journalists, believing that Rove’s critics have somehow been hoist by their own petard.

I’d just like to bring one thing up. Hitchens believes that the CIA and Joseph Wilson are to blame, not Rove or anyone in the White House. After all, they failed to find evidence of Saddam’s attempts to buy Nigerean yellowcake, when, says Hitch, “(Niger’s) government, according to unrefuted intelligence-gathering from British and other European intelligence agencies, (was) covertly discussing sanctions-breaking sales of its uranium to a number of outlaw regimes, including that of Saddam Hussein.” But, of course, this intelligence has been refuted. The Iraq Survey Group had the benefit of the occupation of Iraq. They travelled anywhere they liked, interviewed anyone they liked, saw any document they liked. Their conclusion: “ISG has not found evidence to show that Iraq sought uranium from abroad after 1991 or renewed indigenous production of such material—activities that we believe would have constituted an Iraqi effort to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program.” So Wilson and the CIA deserve harsh punishment for failure to find evidence of a non-existent program. Sweet.

I know that I should just file Christopher Hitchens under “Boortz” and let it go. I will, soon. With that, I take you to the Fraysters, who are flaying Hitchens:

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The MBA approach to shooting people

by Daniel on July 26, 2005

Over on my other site, a further installment in the series “Everything I Know, I Learned in MBA School At Great Expense And My God Are You Lot Going To Suffer For It”. In this episode, I discuss what the theory of risk management and process control can tell us about the desirability or otherwise of shooting suspected suicide bombers.

Is Grade Inflation Real?

by Harry on July 26, 2005

I’ve been doing some looking around to find out what the evidence is on grade inflation, specifically in higher education in the US. I’m surprised by two things. First, that there doesn’t seem to be firm evidence of it. (It is interesting that Valen Johnson’s excellent book Grade Inflation: A Crisis in College Education, for example, is not about grade inflation at all, but about grade variation and student evaluations of teaching). Second, that so many people think that there is firm evidence of it. Certainly, it appears that if you ask people — faculty and students — whether there is grade inflation, they believe there is. But that is poor evidence, because the students don’t know anything abut what happened in the past, and the faculty have faulty memories. When you look at grades, it certainly seems that mean grades have been increasing within institutions over the past 25-35 years. The most frequently referred to site is Stuart Rojstaczer’s gradeinflation.com, which surveys a small number of institutions and finds increases in the mean grade in all of them over both a ten year and a 30 year period (much bigger in the private than in the public institutions). This is what people take to be firm evidence of grade inflation. But it isn’t, and I’m surprised that anyone thinks it is. Here’s why; within the institutions surveyed the students might have been gaining in achievement. Grade inflation consists in higher grades being given for similar quality work, not just higher grades being given. And no-one seems to have any data on the quality of the work being produced now or in the past.

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by Ted on July 26, 2005

A few links without much comment:

Ezra Klein on the energy bill:

Listening to them, you’d think Jimmy Carter was passing his dream energy legislation. That the reality has no increase in CAFE standards and was held up for a year while Tom DeLay tried to retroactively protect MTBE manufacturers from lawsuits is too perfect. This isn’t conservatism. And it’s only sold as progressivism. In reality, it’s modern Republicanism distilled, a perfectly pure mixture of incoherence and corruption publicly aimed at solving a serious problem but privately written to ignore the issue in favor of industry demands.

An uncomfortably plausible letter (to me, anyway) printed by Mark Kleiman:

Thought experiment: if the USA just quit tomorrow, what would the insurgents do? The jihadis would have achieved aim ( b ); since aim ( c ) is suicidally impossible, they would most likely declare victory and move on. That would leave the secular Baathists. The Kurds would stand on the sidelines while the Shia militias crushed them with Iranian help. Ethnic cleansing of defeated Sunnis would be a possibility. End-state: de facto partition of Iraq into two (think Belgium or Bosnia), with an ongoing low-level Sunni terrorist movement (think ETA, IRA) preventing economic recovery in the Arab part but not strong enough to change the regime. US bases? Privileged access to oil? Cosy reconstruction contracts? Forget it. More likely demands for rendition of Abu Ghraib players to face trial on torture charges.

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Nobbled Savages

by Henry Farrell on July 26, 2005

“Brad DeLong”:http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2005/07/a_better_class_.html has a go at the anthropologists at “Savage Minds” for “two”:http://savageminds.org/2005/07/25/whats-wrong-with-yalis-question/ “posts”:http://savageminds.org/2005/07/24/anthropology%u2019s-guns-germs-and-steel-problem/ which in turn attack Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel”:http://www.powells.com/search/DTSearch/search?partner_id=29956&cgi=search/search/&searchtype=kw&searchfor=Jared%20Diamond%20Guns%20Germs%20Steel. I’m mostly in agreement with Brad, but think that there’s a more interesting question lurking in the background; the Savage Minds critiques seem to me to be less motivated by professional jealousy than by a wrongheaded understanding of levels of causation. Ozma, one of the Savage Minds bloggers suggests “in comments”:http://savageminds.org/2005/07/24/anthropology%e2%80%99s-guns-germs-and-steel-problem/#comment-824 that while she thinks that Diamond is wrong on the facts, her more fundamental objection to his work is that it’s _the wrong kind of anti-racism._ [click to continue…]


by Chris Bertram on July 26, 2005

Calling British lawyers! In the wake of the London bombings the British government has moved to get the Opposition to agree to “new laws”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4717959.stm :

bq. … including bans on preparing, inciting or training for terrorism.

Aren’t all these activities already illegal under the law of conspiracy? Weren’t IRA bombers regularly charged, for instance, with “conspiracy to cause explosions”? Informed answers only please.


by Ted on July 26, 2005

Via Thomas Nephew:

The Senate might vote on Sen. McCain’s and Levin’s amendments to the Department of Defense authorization bill as early as today. These amendments would establish a bipartisan, 9/11-style commission to investigate stories of detainee abuse performed in our facilities. They would end the practice of holding secret “ghost detainees” who are not registered with the Red Cross, and would expressly prohibit cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody, no matter where they are held.

It would be tremendously helpful if concerned readers would call their Senators today to ask them to support the McCain and Levin amendments to the Department of Defense authorization bill.

Opinion polls

by Chris Bertram on July 26, 2005

Since the bomb attacks in London there have been a number of polls which, among other things, ask British Muslims whether or not they thought the attacks were justified. This then provides material for op-ed columnists and bloggers to scale up the number so as to argue that there are {insert large number} Muslims who are prepared to back the terrorists. Having looked at the detail of the latest poll, from “ICM as reported in the Guardian”:http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Politics/documents/2005/07/26/Muslim-Poll.pdf (pdf), I’m sceptical about any such conclusions given the strange combination of views apparently endorsed by respondents in Table 8.

Out of 500 Muslim respondents, 26 said the bombings were justified. Of those 26 bomb-justifiers, 7 declared they would vote Conservative if there were a general election tomorrow, 12 were potential Labour voters and just 2 backed the Liberal Democrats. Go figure.

Reading the small print

by John Q on July 26, 2005

This morning’s email included one urging me to sign a statement headed “United Against Terror”. As the email said

The statement begins:

Terrorist attacks against Londoners on July 7th killed at least 54 people. The suicide bombers who struck in Netanya Israel on July 12 ended five lives including two 16 year old girls. And on July 13 in Iraq suicide bombers slaughtered 24 children. We stand in solidarity with all these strangers hand holding hand from London to Netanya to Baghdad: communities united against terror.

The statement ends:

We invite you to sign this statement as a small first step to building a global movement of citizens against terrorism.

Based on these extracts, I would have been happy to sign the statement, for what such gestures are worth. Having read the full statement, however, I decided not to, and concluded that the statement tended more towards disunity in the face of terrorism than unity. After reading some of the supporting statements on the website, I was very glad of this decision.

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MSN Virtual Earth weirdness

by Eszter Hargittai on July 26, 2005

As you may have already heard, MSN Virtual Earth is now available for use. Although it is nice that you do not have to download special software to use it (unlike Google Earth), I did not find it nearly as fun and intuitive as Google Earth (granted, that was not the most obvious interface either). Moreover, I find it somewhat curious that Microsoft calls its service Virtual *Earth* when they cover so little of the globe in detail. When trying to zoom in on various parts of Europe, I could not get anything more than a regional view. That is a far cry from what you can get using Google Earth, or these days, even Google Maps.

What’s more curious, however, is their depiction of certain areas. The Register caught some of these reporting that the NYC photos still show the World Trade Center towers (compare to the Google Maps version, hybrid view). Also, there is nothing to be found of Apple’s Cupertino headquarters (see it on Google Maps).

[thanks – Note the interesting blog link loop. I am acknowledging a post that acknowledges me.:)]