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Archive for September, 2005

And Down The Stretch They Come…

[ 0 ] September 26, 2005 |

So, we have 4 teams for 3 AL slots…who’s going to be the odd team out? More than anything, I’m hoping that the Tribe keep winning, partly because it would be nice to see Cleveland in the playoffs, but mostly because it would suck to have a two weekend series between divisional rivals that were about nothing but playoff seeding.

Cut Off His Thumbs

[ 0 ] September 25, 2005 |

I must admit, young Octavian is my favorite part of Rome. Watching him negotiate his way to tyranny will be fun.

I didn’t realize until today that he is played by Max Pirkis, who played the young midshipman in Master and Commander.

Tillman and Kerry

[ 0 ] September 25, 2005 |

Via Andrew Sullivan:

Did you know that one of Pat Tillman’s favorite authors was Noam Chomsky and that he opposed the Iraq war? I didn’t. It makes his patriotism and service more admirable, in my view.

Fascinating. Can anyone remember Andy’s position on the Swift Boat smear artists? Had he made his switch to Kerry by that time? Because, apart from the Chomsky, Tillman and Kerry seem to me very similar. Both were patriots, and both opposed the unwise war of their day. Although Tillman served in Afghanistan, I doubt he would have tried to escape duty in Iraq. Both were privileged enough to avoid service if they had wished.

Luckily for the right, Pat Tillman died in Afghanistan. Had he lived, they would have had to come up with a smear campaign against him, too.

UPDATE: As several have pointed out, Tillman did serve in Iraq, and questioned the legality of the war while there.

The Dark Soul of Colonel Mathieu

[ 2 ] September 25, 2005 |

I’ve been working on this post for close to a year. I return to it every time I watch Battle of Algiers, which I saw last Thursday for the fourth time this year. If you haven’t seen the film, go see it now.

The first time I saw Battle of Algiers was during a security studies retreat at Cornell University. In the discussion following the film, one of the political science faculty surprised the room by suggesting that Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu was one of the most evil characters that he had seen portrayed on film. There was considerable disagreement on this point, and I was completely unconvinced. Mathieu appeared to me to be the picture of a professional military officer; on the wrong side of history, perhaps, but concerned primarily with his duty and by no means evil. That Mathieu clearly respected his opponents made him even more appealing. Later, we dismissed the professor’s argument as simply a re-assertion of the banality of evil hypothesis. I’ve probably seen Battle of Algiers 15 times since then, and each time I’ve had opportunity to rethink the argument. I have come to believe that the professor (Peter Katzenstein) was correct, that Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu is one of the most vile characters ever portrayed in film, and that it has nothing to do with the banality of evil.

In Battle of Algiers, Mathieu is a paratroop colonel who is assigned to put down the revolt of the FLN in Algiers. In service of this objective, he orders his troops use torture as an interrogation tactic. Mathieu is uniquely well qualified for the mission because of his experience both in Indochina and, as part of the anti-Nazi resistance, in France. Wry and witty, he names one operation “Champagne”, and takes time to make fun of Sartre. He expresses sympathy and respect for his opposites in the FLN.

Why is Mathieu a troubling figure? First, he’s on the wrong side of history. There is simply no way in which the French presence in Algeria could be justified. We aren’t talking about the US in Iraq, or even in Vietnam. The French presence in Algeria was explicitly colonial, and inevitably involved the domination of the local Algerian population. The French “civilizing” project was clearly a joke, as the Algerians continued to resent French rule 120 years after its imposition. The only justification for French domination was French national power and greatness.

Being on the wrong side of history does not necessarily make one evil. If Mathieu legitimately believed in the importance of the French mission, or in French greatness, his actions would be understandable. However, I don’t think he does. After fifteen viewings, I am more convinced each time that Mathieu believes in neither France nor its mission. He is obviously a bitterly cynical man, and I can’t believe that he finds French nationalism compelling. He certainly never voices any support for French nationalism, his only concern on that point being for the solidarity necessary to maintain support for operations. He’s just too smart of a character to buy into what were clearly, by the 1950s, illusions of French power and mission. Note that a belief in French greatness wouldn’t absolve Mathieu, but it would make his character understandable and somewhat less cold blooded. As it is, Mathieu has all the warmth of a lizard, exhibiting respect only for professionalism and for the abstract notion of political commitment, rather than commitment itself.

This leaves Mathieu with only duty to excuse his actions. If we believe that Mathieu was compelled by his position in the Army to carry out his actions, then we can excuse at least a portion of the atrocities. But that explanation doesn’t wash. Mathieu didn’t end up on the wrong side of history through accident. It’s clear that he’s brutally intelligent, fully capable of understanding the implications of the decisions he makes. At one point, he teases French journalists for being incapable of measuring up the results of their political commitments. Had he wished to remain in the Army, he almost certainly could have done so even had he refused the assignment to Algeria. Were he a moral man, he would have turned the assignment down regardless of the effect on his position in the Army. Instead, he goes to Algeria.

This leads us to the second consideration, which is Mathieu’s commitment to torture. His use of torture quickly puts the lie to the notion that Mathieu is simply doing his duty, as required by his position in the Army. Mathieu orders his men to torture Algerian suspects as a first resort, not a last. He begins violating the laws of the French Republic the day he arrives in Algiers. His conversation with the French journalists is telling; he puts the onus of the torture on them, by suggesting that, because of their support for keeping Algeria in France, they have authorized him to use whatever means necessary to that end. At no point does he admit to a hint of patriotism, which might at least point to a commitment to a greater duty. Mathieu never evinces commitment to anything beyond the ethics of the professional killer.

It is not enough to say that, had he refused, someone else would have taken his place. It is true that the French Army would have found someone else. It is also almost certainly true that someone else would have acted with less competence, less efficiency, less brutality, and with a lower chance of success than Mathieu. One look tells us that he is the best that the French Army has to offer. No one else could do this job as well as he. Mathieu is a critical cog in the mechanism of French colonial domination. Moreover, he understands his role; there is nothing thoughtless or banal about him. He relishes his own potency, quietly revels in the success of his methods. He’s cool enough to know that he’s cool, and he knows that he’ll win.

I think that this is the core of twentieth century evil. The Stalinist terror, the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, all of these required more than just ideological commitment or the bureaucratic diffusion of responsibility. They required men like Mathieu, men who understood fully the consequences of their actions and carried them out anyway, carried them out with the competence, brutality, and efficiency that they required. I suspect that in most cases ideological certitude accompanied the competence. Pontecorvo’s portrait of Mathieu is particularly jarring and brilliant, however, because it paints such a figure sans ideology, the perfect component for the machinery of killing.

UPDATE: Kat puts it very well:

He’s so cool about everything he does–like treating it as if it was all in a day’s work, that you don’t feel like he’s actually doing anything wrong

DPRK

[ 0 ] September 25, 2005 |

I haven’t blogged about North Korea lately, mostly because I’ve been trying to figure out what’s going on with the deal. I think that Drum and Yglesias are right about the approach; giving North Korea most of what it wanted (with the exception, it would seem, of the light water reactor) does seem to put all of the conservative criticism of the 1994 Clinton deal in a pretty bad light.

The problem is that, while I think the neoconservative solution to North Korea (bomb the hell out of them) is just nuts, I also don’t think that the North Koreans can be trusted. Really, at this point only a moron would believe that the North Koreans are genuinely serious about giving up what weapons they have. Of course, putting limits on their ongoing program is an achievement, if it sticks.

Incidentally, this is a good blog on all things North Korea; hat tip to Kryptos.

The Fedora Amendment

[ 0 ] September 25, 2005 |

TBogg finds this gem from constitutional scholar Roger L. Simon, who claims that Russ Feingold demonstrated that he was a principled liberal by voting for John Roberts:

On the other hand, Russ Feingold, whose core political beliefs are far more liberal than Feinstein’s, followed the Constitution and voted yes. You may disagree with Feingold but he is not a fake. That is what democracy should be.

Mr. Bogg is puzzled, as the Constitution seems to explicitly give the Senate the power to “advise and consent” on Presidential nominations, and does not seem to specify any criteria that Senators must use, which seems to make Simon’s claim that Senators are constitutionally obligated to vote for John Roberts idiotic even for an argument made by Roger Simon. However, TBogg’s copy of the Constitution seems to be out-of-date. Lawyers, Guns and Money has obtained a copy of the Constitution currently being used by the right wing of the blogosphere, which contains a clause not in the now-obsolete Constitution being used by people who don’t believe 9/11 should change everyone into Republican hacks:

Amendment XVIII: a)The Senate shall not withhold its consent from any reasonably articulate heterosexual white guy appointed by a Republican President. The Senate shall also not reject any nominee favored by washed-up screenwriters who currently apply their Maoist ideological framework on behalf of the Republican Party.

b)It shall be unconstitutional for the Democrat party to filibuster judicial nominees made by a President of the Republican Party.

See, now it all makes sense! Make sure to make the necessary additions to your own copy.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: USS New York

[ 0 ] September 25, 2005 |

USS New York (BB-34) was the ninth dreadnought battleship built for the US Navy. Commissioned in April of 1914, New York displaced 27000 tons, could make 21 knots, and carried 10 14″ guns in five twin turrets. The latter made New York one of the most powerful ships in the world at the time, as German ships did not carry weapons of greater than 13″, and the Queen Elizabeth class battleships would not come into service for over a year.

Like several other US ships of the day, New York’s first action was against Mexico. When Warren Zevon sings:

I heard Woodrow Wilson’s guns
I heard Maria crying
Late last night I heard the news
That was dying
Veracruz was dying

He’s talking about New York, which commissioned just before the incident began. New York served in various capacities off the East Coast unitl April of 1917, when she led a squadron of USN battleships to join the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow. The addition of the US battleships decisively tipped the balance of naval power against the German High Seas Fleet, although the experienced crews of the Grand Fleet viewed the American sailors with contempt, and did not highly value their fighting capability.

New York was modernized during the pre-war years, losing her cage masts and gaining various updated equipment. After 1937, New York was employed primarily as a training ship until 1941, when, along with other old battleships including Texas and Arkansas, she engaged in Atlantic convoy escort work. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, New York was guarding steamers against German U-boats and surface raiders. In spite of the destruction wrought by the Japanese, New York was not transferred to the Pacific. The problem with New York (and other old battleships) was less age than speed; the IJN Kongo was even older than New York, yet played a very active role in the war. New York eventually engaged in bombardment operations off of North Africa and Normandy, and deployed to the Pacific for similar operations in 1945.

By the end of the war, New York was quite obsolete. The USN decided that New York would be more useful as a target for atomic bombs than as scrap. Along with Arkansas, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and the Japanese Nagato, New York helped the Navy figure out what happens when you drop atomic bombs on large ships. New York survived the atomic tests before being sunk by conventional weapons off of Oahu.

Texas, the sister ship of New York, has been preserved as a memorial at San Jacinto.

23:5

[ 0 ] September 24, 2005 |

Via Lance.

Title of my 23rd post was Torture and the President. Fifth sentence was

“Of course, I suppose that we have good reason to doubt that the info that the Pakistani and Jordanian regimes supply us with is suspect since they are, you know, authoritarian regimes that torture people.”

Whew! I’m glad that we took care of that problem.

1. Go into your archive.
2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to).
3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.

Passed on to Dan at Duck, Matt Duss at What is the War?, and Alex at Martini Republic.

Blarg

[ 0 ] September 24, 2005 |

I don’t want to talk about it. Go to hell. What game? Huskies suck. Bite me.

Hacktacular!

[ 0 ] September 24, 2005 |

Kay: “You can get to Jaret Wright in the first inning, but after that he settles down.”

Jaret Wright, ERA by inning (min 10 G):

1st: 5.73
2nd: 2.45
3rd: 7.84
4th: 1.80
5th: 14.00

Yep, you’d better to get to Jaret Wright in the 1st, because if not you might have to wait until the third.

What’s really amazing about this kind of hackery is how pointless it is. Do you think you’re going to convince anybody that Jaret Wright can pitch? I know your boss blew a lot of money on him, but Christ, give it up.

Of course, it would be nice if Scott “Baby let me follow you” Downs wasn’t doing his own homage to Wright…

Captain Clutch?

[ 0 ] September 24, 2005 |

I just heard an ESPN announcer describe Derek Jeter’s leadoff home run in yesterday’s 5-0 victory over Toronto as “clutch”.

I think I’m going to start describing everything I do as “clutch”. This blog post? Clutch! Successfully took a shower? Clutch! Ate a taco? Clutch!

Guarantee

[ 0 ] September 23, 2005 |

The Oregon Ducks will defeat the USC Trojans tomorrow. I’ll stake my reputation as a blogger on it.

Note: Guarantee may be withdrawn in case of USC victory.

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