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Archive for January, 2006

The Ballad of the Whiny "Nice Guy"

[ 0 ] January 4, 2006 |

Speaking of Randy Newman, as an addendum to Amanda’s lyric inhabiting the lament of the guy who resents the fact that attractive women, I note that Newman’s “Lover’s Prayer” did the job effectively:

Don’t send me no young girl to love me
With their eyes shinin’ bright
All the young girls are afraid of me
Send me a woman tonight

Don’t send me no hand-holdin’ baby
‘Cause I been with babies before
Don’t send me nobody that’s crazy
Don’t send me no young girls no more

I was entertaining a little girl in my rooms, Lord
With California wines and French perfumes, Lord
She started to talk to me about the War, Lord
I said, “I don’t want to talk about the War.”

Don’t send me nobody with glasses
Don’t want no one above me
Don’t send nobody takin’ night-classes
Send me somebody to love me

Please answer my prayer
Please answer my prayer
Please answer my prayer

It captures “nice guy” ressentiment so well that it follows a song about a stalker and the character is only marginally less creepy…

…also note Hugo’s haiku in comments:

My cold winter bed:
Lovely women surround me
Yet none dumb enough


Louisiana 1972-2005?

[ 0 ] January 3, 2006 |

According to the Voice review of a new anthology of New Orleans music, “hovering over the close, scythe at the ready, is Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927,” the flood tale annotator Nick Spitzer reports has been sung aloud at bars all over the state ever since it surfaced in 1972.” I would think that has to be apocryphal, but who knows? I’ve never been to the state, but if this story is true, I’m even more sorry that I haven’t been…

On a related note, I share John’s dismay over the fact that the new CD from the clearest inheritor of Newman’s tradition won’t be coming out. Get Away From Me has stayed on my frequent playlist for over a year, and I was looking forward to the follow-up greatly…

Sing Like A Canary, Jackie

[ 0 ] January 3, 2006 |

One has to think that Abramoff has to have promised some serious violations of omerta to get the deal he did. ReddHedd is optimistic:

What this means is that Jackie Boy has agreed to offer substantial cooperation, in the form of information, evidence and testimony against members of Congress, staffers and others involved in these schemes. The DoJ will hold that promise of cooperation over him and will withhold any sentencing in the matter until that cooperation has been completed. If he cooperates fully and gives meaningful evidence and testimony, the DoJ will make a favorable sentencing recommendation. If Abramoff tries to weasel out of the deal, the recommendation will not be so favorable.

One pressure point will likely be whether or not the sentences will ultimately run consecutively (back to back, for a total exposure of around 17 years) or concurrently (at the same time, for a maximum exposure of 10 years). That’s a huge difference, and the level of cooperation given by Abramoff will be key on what recommendation the DoJ attorneys make. The deal is for concurrent sentences — but if Jack doesn’t live up to his end of the bargain, that isn’t set in stone. (In my experience, if he’s getting a concurrent deal, he’s brought some documentary evidence and a whole lto of information to the table. Jack’s been spilling a lot of beans.)

They will not set a date for sentencing until well into the prosecution of related cases — usually sentencing is not done until the bulk of cooperation (if not all of it) has been completed, so that this hangs over the head of the defendant as a pressure point to force complete testimony.

Now, on to the naming of names. Hmmmm…I’d like to hear DeLay…

Looks like there’s going to be a lot more “criminalization of politics” in the near future…

The Royalist Alito

[ 0 ] January 2, 2006 |

Sandy Levinson has some broad arguments about Alito and executive power, while Marty Lederman explains the implications of accepting the current defenses being offered of Bush’s assertions of unlimited wartime power. (To add to Lederman’s point, it’s also unclear, given their theories of executive power, why Bush’s supporters care if the PATRIOT Act is renewed or not; according to them, the act is superfluous, and to the extent that it places any restraints on Presidential authority, unconstitutional.)

In a similar vein, iocaste discusses Alito’s strange argument that the President can give an independent, legally meaningful statement about the “intent” of a statute he has signed into law. This argument isn’t as normatively disturbing as attempts to defend Bush’s illegal wiretapping; it’s an assertion of a fusion of legislative and executive power rather than a defense of arbitrary power per se. Indeed, I’m broadly sympathetic to the theory of government it represents–certainly, if I were designing a constitution I would pick a government closer to the parliamentary model than the Madisonian model, and most modern liberal democracies have gone in this direction too. Nonetheless, whatever choices we would have liked the framers to have made, this isn’t the system we have, and within the Madisonian separation-of-powers framework the concept of authoritative Presidential statements of intent is nonsensical. What Alito is advocating isn’t adapting broad constitutional principles to modern realities; it’s just a different set of principles entirely. (Shockingly, Alito isn’t really a “strict constructionist” at all! Who knew?)


[ 0 ] January 2, 2006 |

Roy has some interesting thoughts about Spielberg and Munich. I’ve never hated Spielberg the way in which many people of similar tastes (I believe we’re called “pretentious wankers”) do. I certainly enjoyed his action movies as a kid, although I haven’t seen E.T. since I saw a sneak preview and wasn’t really crazy about Raiders when I screened it again as an undergrad. And he has made a lot of movies that I disliked heartily (Empire of the Sun, The Color Purple, Hook) or were intermittently interesting failures (Amistad, Minority Report.) I am, however, a defender of Schindler’s List. I can’t really disagree that it’s “three good movies–one about Oskar Schindler, one about Amon Goeth, one about the Nazi persecution of the Jews–smashed together to make the super-duper holocaust spectacular I suppose Spielberg wanted to make,” but the thing is he almost pulls it off. Until the relatively disastrous last 20 minutes or so, Spielberg trusts his audience, and the multiple strands do reinforce the other, and I think it’s foolish to deny that the level of craft (both the filmmaking and acting) really is quite remarkable. I don’t mean to suggest that it’s The Sorrow and the Pity; Roy is right that Spielberg isn’t a deep thinker, and even its ambiguities are straightforward if you know what I mean. But, then, plenty of fine filmmakers haven’t been particularly deep thinkers; that Schindler’s List won’t really tell you anything you don’t already know doesn’t, I think, mean that it isn’t an excellent film. Saving Private Ryan is a tougher case, with its many dreary patches and unspeakably awful coda, but the battle sequences (not just the much-lauded D-Day sequence but also the final one, which I think is just as good) really are first-rate, so I am inclined to give it qualified praise (which I’m sure I’ll hear about it the comments.) Having said all that, I haven’t decided whether or not to see Munich, which I have to say I’m pretty skeptical about; I’m pretty behind right now, having not even seen Capote yet.

Roy also unearths this classic quote from Tim Graham, who complains that a panel of film critics “even discussed obscure movies they liked.” It would be hard to come up with a line that better summarizes the reduction of art to politics and intellectual insecurity that characterizes the new conservative approach to evaluating art. To state the obvious, if you’re interested in movies, you don’t read critics to tell you what to think; you read them to allow you to engage with works you’ve seen, or to discover movies that haven’t been heavily promoted but that one might find interesting. If you want discussions of film to be nothing but a circle-jerk confirming your (political, not aesthetic) predilections, you’re not really interested in film at all.

The Brain Seizure Cases

[ 0 ] January 2, 2006 |

Glenn Greenwald does most of the work in destroying Assrocket’s ludicrously tendentious reading of Youngstown, particularly in his utter failure to explain why Truman’s actions were “domestic” and Bush’s are “foreign” (without which he doesn’t have any argument at all), but I’ll add a couple of things.

First, Hinderaker argues that “First, as a threshold matter, it is not clear why precedential weight should be given to a concurring opinion in which no other Justice joined. The opinion of the Court was written by Justice Hugh [sic] Black; it contains no similar analysis. Justice Jackson’s concurrence is entitled to weight only to the extent that its arguments are deemed persuasive.” Well, first of all, Jackson’s concurrence has formed the basis for future opinions, and is oft-quoted because it’s widely seen as describing the extant doctrine effectively. But, second, what Hinderaker fails to realize is that focusing on the Jackson concurrence is favorable to arguments about presidential power. Black’s opinion for the court presents a considerably more narrow and formalistic view of presidential powers; if we apply Black’s opinion, the case for the legality of Bush’s actions becomes even weaker. In addition, he of course ignores the fact that Truman was actually involved in a traditionally understood war with potentially finite boundaries, and the fact that steel production was far more important to the Korean War than the ability to conduct wiretaps without the perfunctory review of the FISA court is to combating terrorism (which is not, in fact, a war as the concept has been particularly understood.)

It should be noted, as well, that Hinderaker’s conclusion–which is the logical extension of his argument–is not that the President acted consistently with FISA, but that FISA is unconstitutional. Like several Bush apologists, he’s arguing that the President’s power to conduct domestic searches in what he considers wartime is literally subject to no checks or regulations. And, again, since the “war on terror” has no end point, this would be a radical expansion of executive power, one that is neither necessary nor desirable.

In other L’Etat, C’est Bush news, Glenn finds DeMaistrian “classical liberal” Jeff Goldstein arguing that the status of the freedom of the press depends on its willigness to present no data or facts that contradict the “objectively” true views of reactionary apoligists for arbitrary executive power.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: IJN Yamashiro

[ 0 ] January 1, 2006 |

Yamashiro and her sister Fuso were the first super-dreadnoughts built by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Yamashiro entered service in March 1917, but played no important role in World War I. Yamashiro displaced about 35000 tons, carried 12 14″ guns in six twin turrets, and could make close to 24 knots. A modernization in the 1930s gave Yamashiro a “pagoda mast” and added a knot to her speed. Although fast and powerful, Yamashiro probably was not as well protected as her American contemporaries. In my mind this was a good trade off, as faster ships simply proved more useful than slow ships in World War II.

In spite of her high speed relative to other battleships of her era, Yamashiro was not used to much effect in World War II. She and her sister pursued the American carriers Hornet and Enterprise after the Doolittle Raid, but suceeded in catching only a Russian merchant ship. In the Midway operation, Yamashiro supported the decoy Aleutian landings. Yamashiro’s moment would not come until 1944, when an American fleet approached the Japanese-held Philippines.

In October 1944, the United States Navy prepared a fleet of enormous size to protect and support the invasion of Leyte Island in the Phillipines. The US fleet included six fast battleships, 6 slow battleships, a dozen fleet carriers, and hundreds of other vessels. The IJN by 1944 was simply incapable of defeating this force in open battle, so the Japanese high command developed a plan designed to decoy the main US fleet away from Leyte, allowing Japanese battleships to destroy the invasion vessels. A force consisting of two battleships and four aircraft carriers would be used as bait for Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet, which included the six fast battleships. In the absence of protection from Halsey, a force of five battleships under Admiral Kurita would attack the Leyte armada from the north, while a force of two battleships and four cruisers would attack from the south. Yamashiro was flagship of Admiral Nishurima, commander of the southern force.

The plan was not necessarily a good one. No allowance was made for the squadron of six slow US battleships, which remained close to the invasion beach. Utter air supremacy on the part of the USN meant that the Japanese ships would suffer devastating air attacks on their way to Leyte. Finally, while outright victory would delay the invasion of the Philippines for a time, it would probably result in the destruction of most of the strength of the IJN. The IJN was desperate, however, and decided to gamble. The operation began poorly. Massive air attacks on the US fleet by land based Japanese air sank only a single American carrier. Attacks by US carriers destroyed one of Kurita’s most powerful battleships, Musashi, and three of the carriers in the decoy force before they could lure Halsey away. Shockingly, however, the basic ruse worked, and Halsey moved his six new battleships away from Leyte, allowing Kurita access to the invasion fleet.

Things did not go so well for Yamashiro. Nishurima’s force was expected to reach Leyte through the Surigao Strait, a fairly narrow body of water between Leyte and Dingnat. American forces, alerted to Nishurima’s presence by air recon, were well prepared. Squadrons of destroyers and PT boats lined either side of the Strait, which was capped by Admiral Oldendorf’s battle squadron. Around 3am, American PT boats began to attack the advancing Japanese column. Yamashiro’s sister, Fuso, took a hit amidships and fell out of the battleline, slowing and eventually reversing course. Destroyer attacks began around 3:30am, and Yamashiro received between two and four torpedo hits. The first hit slowed Yamashiro to five knots, although she was soon increased her speed to eighteen.

At the end of Surigao Strait lay the battleships and cruisers of the American Seventh Fleet. Five of the six battleships (Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, California, and Tennessee) had survived Pearl Harbor. West Virginia, California, and Tennesee had been radically reconstructed since 1942, making their fire and fire control systems state of the art. On the best of days, Yamashiro might have been expected to tangle with Pennsylvania or Mississippi with some chance of success. The other four American ships were out of her league. This was not, however, the best of days. The battleships were accompanied by eight cruisers and numerous destroyers. Moreover, the American squadron had accomplished the apogee of 20th century battleship tactics, the “crossing of the T” The American ships were capable of firing full broadsides against Yamashiro, while the Japanese ship could only reply with its forward turrets.

At 3:53am, the American ships opened fire. With advanced targeting radars, Tennessee, California, and West Virginia were able to find Yamashiro with several salvos each. Maryland also successfully engaged Yamashiro, and Mississippi was able to fire one salvo. Yamashiro, with no targeting radar and under heavy assault, responded with generally uncoordinated fire. Admiral Nishurima ordered the Fuso to support Yamashiro, but Fuso had unfortunately exploded twenty minutes earlier. Fuso broke in half but did not sink, leaving her crew of 1400 to contemplate the uselessness of a broken-in-half battleship. Just after 4am Admiral Oldendorf ordered a cease fire, because American shells were hitting American ships close to Yamashiro. Miraculously, Yamashiro was still capable of maneuvering, and managed to turn away from the American ships at nineteen knots. As she was moving away, however, she was caught by two additional torpedos, and quickly capsized.

Three survivors from Yamashiro were picked up by US destroyers. The US record indicates that the remaining survivors did not want to be picked up. The crew of the Fuso, according to the USN, also refused rescue. I am suspicious of this account. The Pacific War was a nasty conflict, and it was not uncommon for either side to treat surrendering enemy forces brutally. The Imperial Japanese Navy did not condone surrender, and a “cult of suicide” existed even before the Kamikaze, but it is by no means clear to me whether the refusal to rescue was on the part of the Japanese or the Americans.

The destruction of Yamashiro was the last clash of battleships in the twentieth century.

Trivia Question: The two largest battleship clashes of the twentieth century came at Tsushima and Jutland. First, name the last surviving battleship of each clash. Second, specify the connection between the two battleships.

Principles Can Matter

[ 0 ] January 1, 2006 |

Shakes is right, and it should be noted that Yglesias called this last year, to much skepticism here and elsewhere. Ashcroft, in fact, was a far better AG than Alberto Gonzales. The worst part of Ashcroft’s tenure–his awful ordering of priorities–have been carried over or even expanded. I doubt that Gonzales actually cares about the porn and pot crusades that suck up DOJ resources that might be expended on something important, but since they end up in the same place it doesn’t matter (and I certainly have more respect for actual cultural conservatives than people who pretend to be cultural conservatives for political reasons.) But on things like the Plame leak and the illegal wiretapping program, Ashcroft–an arch-reactionary but not a Bush salad-tosser or someone who thinks that the law can just be ignored if it’s contrary to the interests of the current White House–and his department was one of the few places where some internal resistance to the administration could be found.

And, to reiterate, it’s worth nothing that this is also true of Alito vs. Scalia. Despite the claims of the Stuart Taylors and Ann Althouses of the world that liberals should be happy with Alito, given two similarly reactionary judges, it’s much better to have one with some semblance of principles. (It’s better, in terms of votes to have an unprincipled but moderate conservative, but there’s nothing about being unprincipled that requires moderation.) A Scalia, who has at least sporadic commitment to certain legal principles, will occasionally surprise you, discerning some constitutional limits to executive authority even where the War on Terra and the War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs are concerned. Someone like Alito, equally reactionary but not (according to either his supporters or detractors) bound by any well-worked-out theoretical commitments, won’t. Try to imagine Strip Search Sammy writing something like this:

I decline to join the Court’s opinion in the present case because neither frequency of use nor connection to harm is demonstrated or even likely. In my view the Customs Service rules are a kind of immolation of privacy and human dignity in symbolic opposition to drug use…

The Court’s opinion in the present case, however, will be searched in vain for real evidence of a real problem that will be solved by urine testing of Customs Service employees…Instead, there are assurances that “[t]he Customs Service is our Nation’s first line of defense against one of the greatest problems affecting the health and welfare of our population,” that “[m]any of the Service’s employees are often exposed to [drug smugglers] and to the controlled substances [they seek] to smuggle into the country,” ante, that “Customs officers have been the targets of bribery by drug smugglers on numerous occasions, and several have been removed from the Service for accepting bribes and other integrity violations,”; that “the Government has a compelling interest in ensuring that front-line interdiction personnel are physically fit, and have unimpeachable integrity and judgment,”; that the “national interest in self-protection could be irreparably damaged if those charged with safeguarding it were, because of their own drug use, unsympathetic to their mission of interdicting narcotics,” and that “the public should not bear the risk that employees who may suffer from impaired perception and judgment will be promoted to positions where they may need to employ deadly force.” To paraphrase Churchill, all this contains much that is obviously true, and much that is relevant; unfortunately, what is obviously true is not relevant, and what is relevant is not obviously true. The only pertinent points, it seems to me, are supported by nothing but speculation, and not very plausible speculation at that. It is not apparent to me that a Customs Service employee who uses drugs is significantly more likely to be bribed by a drug smuggler, any more than a Customs Service employee who wears diamonds is significantly more likely to be bribed by a diamond smuggler – unless, perhaps, the addiction to drugs is so severe, and requires so much money to maintain, that it would be detectable even without benefit of a urine test. Nor is it apparent to me that Customs officers who use drugs will be appreciably less “sympathetic” to their drug-interdiction mission, any more than police officers who exceed the speed limit in their private cars are appreciably less sympathetic to their mission of enforcing the traffic laws. (The only difference is that the Customs officer’s individual efforts, if they are irreplaceable, can theoretically affect the availability of his own drug supply – a prospect so remote as to be an absurd basis of motivation.) Nor, finally, is it apparent to me that urine tests will be even marginally more effective in preventing gun-carrying agents from risking “impaired perception and judgment” than is their current knowledge that, if impaired, they may be shot dead in unequal combat with unimpaired smugglers – unless, again, their addiction is so severe that no urine test is needed for detection.

What is absent in the Government’s justifications – notably absent, revealingly absent, and as far as I am concerned dispositively absent – is the recitation of even a single instance in which any of the speculated horribles actually occurred: an instance, that is, in which the cause of bribetaking, or of poor aim, or of unsympathetic law enforcement, or of compromise of classified information, was drug use. [cites omiitted]

Alito would be the Gonzales to Scalia’s Ashcroft; all of the demerits with none of the few redeeming qualities.

Standing Athwart History, Yelling "Stop Opposing Apartheid"

[ 0 ] January 1, 2006 |

Shorter National Review: MLK would have been an awful rabble-rouser, except that we wasn’t a good enough public speaker to actually rouse the rabble. He should have taken some courses in speech and race relations from the Buckleys.

The intellectual flagship of contemporary conservatism, ladies and gentlemen! I can’t imagine why people look askance at their attempts to claim Rosa Parks’ legacy…

New Year’s Traditions

[ 0 ] January 1, 2006 |

Ah, the first post of the New Year’s–happy 2006 to you all.

Somebody suggested in comments that the really pathetic thing to do on New Year’s would be to have taped the Bork hearings and saved them for tonight. But of, course, I wouldn’t do such a thing! After all, the Battle of Alberta was on. Actually, in all candor, to a perhaps even greater extent than lemurgrrl I really don’t give a shit about New Year’s Eve; I never feel compelled to do anything if I don’t feel like it. But I do have a tradition: since I’m in NYC, this will (work stoppages and game-free 1999 aside) be the first year since 1985 when I didn’t attend a Flames game on New Year’s Eve.

(BTW, the “CBC After Hours” post-game show–doesn’t that sound like it would involve showing soft-core porn dubbed from the original Danish?–had the most bizarre choice in a poll evah. The question was the best trade in Flames history, and one of the choices was…the Flames’ trade of Brett Hull? Now, I’m not really inclined to gnash my teeth about that one two much, since Ramage was pretty solid in the Cup year and when you win the banner never comes down etc., but when you trade 700 goals for a year and a quarter of a decent #4 defenseman and a backup goalie, the more relevant question is where it ranks in the worst trades in professional sports history…)

Well, I’d better get going–they’re probably up to the Thomas hearings on C-SPAN 3 by now!

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