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Archive for January, 2006

Lexblogging: Rupp Arena

[ 0 ] January 22, 2006 |

Made my first visit to Rupp Arena on Saturday to watch the Kentucky Wildcats play the South Carolina Gamecocks for the 42nd time. Before Saturday, the Wildcats led the lifetime series 35-6.

The experience at Rupp was quite unlike the experience at the other two arenas in which I’ve watched college basketball. Rupp is larger than either Mac Court or Hec Ed, the former by a factor of about three. The energy level at Rupp, even in the absence of a traditional rival or an excellent team, was considerably higher than anything I saw at Hec Ed. This really isn’t all that surprising, given the fact that UW is more of a football than a basketball school. The comparison with Mac Court is a little bit more complicated, because Mac Court only seats about 8500, and Rupp seats about 23000. Thus, only the most energetic and committed fans go to Duck games, while a much larger slice of the fan base can be found at Wildcat games. Nevertheless, the energy level was comparable, although the attitude of the crowd was a little bit different. At Oregon, even in good years, the crowd is rarely arrogant; the prevailing feeling seems to be one of defiance and resentment. At Rupp, the crowd expects the Wildcats to dominate, and is not shy in showing its disappointment when they fail. I attended with George Herring, sitting in seats that he has used since Rupp’s opening twenty-eight years ago. I understand that getting season tickets is mildly difficult…

The Wildcats did not fail on Saturday, winning an outstanding game 80-78. The Wildcats tried to lose, and South Carolina opened up a twelve point lead midway through the second half. Excellent shooting put Kentucky back into it, however, and they managed to win on an off-balance three with 1.4 seconds left in the game. Both teams shot well, with Kentucky at 56% and South Carolina at 52%. They hit 23 three pointers between them.

Halftime featured the 1966 Kentucky team, which is apparently now playing the role of EVIL in Glory Road. Sadly, Pat Riley couldn’t make it. Perhaps he had other, better things to do.


Abandon All Knowledge of Politics All Ye Who Enter This Debate

[ 1 ] January 22, 2006 |

Lord Saletan address the masses on the subject of abortion, with an op-ed predicated on a dismayingly predictable howler:

If you support abortion rights, this idea may strike you as nuts. But look at your predicament. Most Americans support Roe and think women, not the government, should make abortion decisions. Yet they’ve entrusted Congress and the White House to politicians who oppose legal abortion, and they haven’t stopped the confirmations to the Supreme Court of John G. Roberts Jr. and, soon, Samuel A. Alito Jr.

You can tell yourself that the pro-choice majority stayed home in the last election, or that they voted on other issues, or that Democrats botched the debate. But those excuses are getting tired. Sixteen years ago, as the behavior of voters and politicians showed, abortion was clearly a winning issue for you. Now it isn’t. You have a problem.

Um, excuse me? I honestly don’t know what it is about the abortion debate that requires so many pundits to say things about politics that they must know to be false. The idea that “people voted on other issues” is an “excuse” is so abjectly nonsensical I can’t believe that Saletan believes it. To state the blindingly obvious, you cannot infer the popularity of a party’s position on any individual issue from the result of an individual presidential election. As anybody with an even rudimentary understanding of voting behavior knows, the (relatively ill-informed) electorate votes on a complex matrix of personality heuristics and issues, and a party needn’t have majority positions on all issues to win an election (and we know that the Republicans don’t.) Nor, of course, did President Bush say that he wanted to criminalize abortion in either campaign, and the Republicans went out of their way to conceal Alito’s extremely unpopular position on Roe during the confirmation battle.

But it’s worse than that. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that we adopt Saletan’s transparently idiotic assumption that elections represent plebiscites on individual issues. His argument still fails even on its own terms. The pro-choice party has, of course, won the popular vote in 3 of the last 4 elections, and the one they didn’t win was an historically weak victory for a wartime incumbent. That’s rather odd if the only issue that (according to Saletan) matters is an electoral albatross for the Democrats. Even working from a claim about elections that nobody would make except to gin up a contrarian argument about abortion, Saletan’s argument is still illogical on its face. The implication of Saletan’s argument seems to be that the Democratic position on abortion must be unpopular unless the Democrats win every single election. In other words, to restate the position is to refute it.

I don’t buy Saletan’s normative claim that abortion is always horribly immoral either, but in trying to make it a prescriptive claim he’s engaged in a classic pundit’s fallacy. He’s trying to fix something although he has presented no evidence that it’s broken, and in order to do so he has to present a comically distorted view of how politics works, something that is all too common in the abortion debate.

another good point: Saletan pretends that the connection of contraception and reproductive freedom is some sort of novel insight on his part, when of course the issues have been closely connected by pro-choicers for decades.

A Rare Victory For Quality

[ 0 ] January 22, 2006 |

Well, any day in which NBC renews The Office and kills Will and Grace is one small ray of light for network TV. (There seems to be a widespread perception that the latter has declined; I can’t speak for the current state of the show, but to the extent that this relies on claims that the show was ever good it’s certainly erroneous.)

Picking With Heart

[ 0 ] January 22, 2006 |

Two very, very interesting games this week, both of which would be pick ’ems on a neutral field. So I’m even more likely to be wrong than usual, but:

In the AFC, while granting the folly of picking the Broncos at home (not to mention picking Cowher in a championship game) I’m going to pick the Steelers to upset. We know the Steelers can win on a tough home field, and just as atrocious officiating made the score of their demolition of the Colts a closer score than the game really was without the awful pass interference call I wonder if the Broncos beat the Patriots. Essentially, given the defenses I think the running games will be a wash–both are excellent rushing offenses going up against killer pass rush defenses–and I’ll definitely take Roethlisberger over Plummer. My gut says Steelers.

In the NFC, it should be noted that the Seahawks are the closest I have to a strong NFL rooting interest; on the other hand, having watched the Seahawks regularly for a couple decades makes it even harder to envision them in the Super Bowl. The thought of Smith against their soft secondary is pretty scary. But, still, I look at it this way: Seattle has a far deeper offense, so it comes down to whether Carolina’s defense is the one that shut down the Giants or the ones that allowed 3 TDs against the offensively feeble Bears. And I say that 1)the Panthers were able to shut down Barber by flooding the line and daring Manning to make a play. Since Hasselbeck is the best QB in the conference rather than one of the worst, that won’t work; and 2)Peppers is playing hurt. In addition, the Seahawks can generate an excellent pass rush without blitzing, crucial for containing Smith at least a little. I’m not terribly worried about Alexander’s injury. I can’t believe I’m typing this, but…the Seahawks will be in the Super Bowl.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: Bretagne

[ 0 ] January 22, 2006 |

The construction of Dreadnought created a problem for the French Navy. The French had begun construction of a class of six advanced pre-dreadnoughts at almost the same time as Dreadnought. These ships were comparable in quality with the best pre-dreadnought battleships around the world, but they were no match for Dreadnought. Sadly, French naval construction proceeded slowly, and the six Danton class ships occupied all of the large French construction slips. Thus, the French arrived very late to the dreadnought game. The first French effort, the Courbet class, turned out well enough for a series of ships built in 1910. Unfortunately, they were not completed until 1914. The Bretagne and her sisters were an improvement on the Courbet class.

Bretagne, slowed by World War I, was commissioned in late 1915. She carried 10 13.4″ guns, displaced 29000 tons, and could make 20 knots. Her armor was somewhat lighter than foreign contemporaries. Bretagne was completely outclassed by the ships emerging from British, Japanese, and American yards. The Nevada class carried heavier guns, more (and better arranged) armor, and could make a higher speed. The British Queen Elizabeth’s could easily outgun and outrun the French ships, as could the Japanese Fuso class. At the time of construction, Bretagne would probably have proven more than a match for the Italian Giulio Cesare, but after the modernizations of both ships in the 1930s, Giulio Cesare was clearly the superior unit.

Bretagne’s career was relatively uneventful. She spent most of World War I in the Mediterranean, preparing for the possible break out of the Austrian Navy. In World War II she escorted some Mediterranean convoys from North Africa to France, but Italy did not enter the war until just before France’s surrender. After the surrender, Bretagne found herself with a French naval squadron at the port Mers El Kebir, not too far from Oran in what is now Algeria. The French fleet had, by and large, escaped the Fall of France unscathed. The world, and especially London, now wondered what the disposition of the fleet would be. Shortly after the armistice, Winston Churchill decided to stop waiting.

On July 3, 1940, a Royal Navy task force paid a visit to Mers El Kebir. The task force consisted of the battleships Valiant, Resolution, and Hood, along with the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and several smaller ships. The visit was not friendly. Winston Churchill had determined that the French fleet was a threat to the United Kingdom. Two Royal Navy admirals bitterly disagreed with Churchill on this point; they felt that destroying the French fleet would be a political disaster. French ships in other locations were forceably seized, but this was not an option at Mers El Kebir. The French fleet consisted of Provence, Bretagne, Strasbourg, Dunkerque, and six modern destroyers. Provence and Bretagne were old, slow battleships that could contribute little to either side; they lacked the speed to operate with the main battle line of the Italian Navy, and the British already had an excess of old, slow battleships. Dunkerque, Strasbourg, and the six destroyers were the real prizes. In Axis hands they would have the speed and firepower to stiffen the Italian battlefleet. The same qualities made the two battlecruisers valuable to the Royal Navy; in British or Free French hands, they might have been used to hunt German raiders (imagine them at the Battle of Denmark Strait, with Hood and Prince of Wales), or stiffen British forces in the Pacific.

The British ultimatum was simple. The French could join the British and continue the war against Germany. They could sail their ships to British ports and allow them to be taken over by the Royal Navy until the end of the war. Finally, they could sail their ships to the West Indies where they would be demilitarized or turned over to the care of the United States. The French response to this ultimatum was, more or less, “Can’t we all just get along?” The British reply came in the form of salvos of 15″ shells.

The French fleet was not prepared for combat. Provence and Dunkerque were each struck by several 15″ shells, but managed to beach themselves and escape serious damage. Bretagne was not so fortunate. Her armor was not up to modern standards, and one of the 15″ shells apparently penetrated a magazine before exploding. Bretagne exploded and rolled over thirteen minutes into the engagement. Strasbourg and five of the six modern destroyers escaped the harbor with only minor damage, making their way eventually to Toulon. The British fleet attacked Dunkerque later that week, inflicting minor damage but not preventing Dunkerque from also moving to Toulon under her own power.

The attack at Mers El Kebir must be seen as a political and operational disaster of the highest order for Great Britain. Having decided to attack its erstwhile ally, the British brought insufficient force to do the job, and allowed the most powerful French ships to escape with minimal damage. Moreover, the deaths of 1300 French sailors (roughly 1100 on Bretagne) were a massive propaganda victory for the Germans, and undoubtedly made the job of Charles Degaulle and the Free French much more difficult. Much of the blame must lie with Winston Churchill, who fundamentally misunderstood the French political situation in 1940. Even after Mers El Kebir, the French did not hand their fleet over to the Axis, and in fact scuttled most of their ships at Toulon in 1942, in order to avoid German capture. Had Mers El Kebir not happened, those ships might have found their way to Gibraltar or Malta, instead of to the bottom.

Trivia: When the German Bismarck was commissioned in August 1940 she became the largest battleship in the world. What ship held this title before Bismarck, and what ship held it after?

"I like his movies, except for that nervous fella who’s always in ’em…"

[ 0 ] January 21, 2006 |

You know the “it’s their best work since x” critical argument, right? Like how Rolling Stone will claim that every new album by some any old fart Jann Wenner wants to suck up to is their best work since Exile on Main Street/Layla/Band on the Run/Scary Monsters etc etc. Evidently, these claims tend to evaporate about two months later. And they don’t really tell you anything about the work in question. To say something is Dylan’s best album since Blood on the Tracks (which I think was routinely claimed of every subsequent album he recorded in more than 48 hours), even if it’s defensible, can be merely trivially true (Slow Train Coming, Oh Mercy), be describing a legitimately good album that still doesn’t remotely approach the album it’s being compared to (Time Out Of Mind), or be describing what would have been at least a worthy follow up (Love and Theft.) So when a Woody Allen movie is described as his best in many years, I pretty much ignore it.

Allen guaranteed that some people would call Match Point his best since Crimes and Misdemeanors by…pretty much remaking it, albeit with a younger mistress and bourgeois user. And the self-plagiarism is begging you to mock him: there’s the scene where the mistress threatens to call the wife! The ethical discussions with imagined characters! But the thing is, it’s not like the existentialist anguish was original the first time either; it’s what you do with the archetypical plot that matters. And damned if he doesn’t pull it off. It really is a return to form.

Granted, it ain’t Crimes and Misdemeanors. Not only because the plot is inevitably better when it’s used the first time, but the first one had some great comic sequences as well, and the multiple plot strands added resonance to each. But that’s his best movie: a movie needn’t rise to that level to be one of the best of the year. And Match Point is a gripping story, well-told. The acting is crucial: Rhys-Meyers handles the central role very well (and thank God he didn’t cast himself; even though the movies sometimes survived anyway, his relationships with young beautiful actors have been creepy as hell for decades, and he’s a limited dramatic actor in any case.) Johansson deserves her plaudits too, but I thought the real glue was provided by the dignity of the underrated Emily Mortimer, and Bryan Cox is alwys welcome. And, in addition, Allen has continued to become a more virtuositic director even when his writing has faded; with a decent script, you notice the clever camera placements and consistently good performances and perfect pacing. (My implied comparison with Bowie in the Stones is unfair, of course–Allen, largely hidden by his personal issues, did a lot of very good work in the 90s; his decline his much more recent than is generally acknowledged.) And it also has the courage of its darkness. In my view, Allen is at his best when he’s a little mean; I like uneven but scabrously funny pictures like Husbands and Wives and Deconstructing Harry much more than well-meaning and well-executed but instantly forgettable stuff like Sweet and Lowdown. The Lloyd Webber element of the climax is a particularly nice touch; not only is it perfect for Chloe, but his fuddy-duddy aesthetic snobbery is at least aimed at a worthy target this time. So, while it won’t rank at the top of his canon, for once the claims of a comeback are justified.

Beer and Film in D.C.

[ 0 ] January 21, 2006 |

Yesterday evening involved another blogger summit, this time with Ezra, Matt, and Sam. The company was obviously very enjoyable, but alas I fear that the Brickskeller was disappointing. The two salient facts I remembered and was reminded of is that 1)they had an immense selection of beers, and 2)since they’re all in bottles, the quality was admittedly a bit variable. Since I remembered that they were the only eastern pub I know of that stocked beers from my favorite microbrewery, I wanted to go back. Regrettably, however, the Deschutes stuff was off the menu, and they seem to have solved the problem of beers getting stale by carrying a fraction of what’s listed on the menu; we weren’t asking for terribly obscure stuff, and they had about one in 5 choices. I guess I was better off with my memories, but it was certainly still a good time overall.

With some time to wander around between the library and meeting someone later, I decided to take in a movie (the film itself I’ll discuss in a separate post.) The good news for D.C. residents is that the E Street theater is a real Landmark theater, with many of the things I miss in New York: matinee prices! Popcorn with real butter! Comfortable seats and indie film, together! (While NYC is obviously great in terms of the movies themselves, Seattle had infinitely better theaters…) Close to the Metro too; it’s a nice addition.

Yogi Berra: The Best Player Ever Not To Play In A World Series

[ 0 ] January 21, 2006 |

Since in all candor I don’t really care about the whole WaPo ombudsman thing, I thought I would pick on this baffling claim by the executive editor (who was once, amazingly, the sports editor):

HH: Yup. So I think you’d have to agree that the Cleveland Indians of ’97 and ’99 were perhaps the best team ever not to have won the World Series?

JB: Well, as a Long Island native, I’d have to go with the ’86 Mets, but that’s just me.

The best team never to win a World Series was… the ’86 Mets? Gee, I don’t know why everyone was so upset with Bill Buckner, seeing’s how the team came back and won in Game 7 and all.

On the actual point, I might actually go with the ’54 Indians…

BSG Blogging IV: The Cylon Way of War

[ 0 ] January 20, 2006 |

BSG Blogging I

BSG Blogging II

BSG Blogging III

In PLA conversations, the phrase shashoujian has come to represent a set of strategies designed to defeat the United States. Specifically, these strategies concentrate on the idea of using the inferior to defeat the superior. In the context of war against the United States, this means either neutralizing or reversing the advantages of the US military. In practice, this can mean anything from concentrating on low cost options for destroying capital intensive US weapons like aircraft carriers, to disrupting American computer and information systems with the purpose of leaving US forces surprised, confused, and helpless.

Shashoujian essentially represents a type of asymmetric warfare, one that is available to mid-level powers, if not to terrorist or guerilla groups. The structure of the international system invites asymmetric warfare, as it will be some time before a peer competitor emerges who could fight the United States on the same level and win.

What does this have to do with Battlestar Galactica? Apropos of recent discussion abotu network centric warfare, BSG (2003) takes a position on the role of advanced warfare technology unnervingly similar to the position adopted by the People’s Republic of China. In essense, the Cylons win by turning Colonial military technology against itself. The Cylons act as both a peer competitor state and a terrorist organization, and win through a combination of conventional assault and unconventional subversive warfare. In a sense, the Cylons manage to represent both China and Al Qaeda at the same time; they are both the inscrutable yet powerful peer competitor, and the tiny, bodiless terrorist organization.

We have no idea of the actual military strength of the Cylons. They have some number of capital ships (basestars), but there is no indication of how many. Two, at least, have been destroyed by the Colonials. We can surmise, however, that Cylon military capacity is not overwhelmingly superior, in terms of numbers of ships, to that of the Colonies prior to the surprise attack. If the Cylons had possessed massive superiority, they would likely not have waited as long to attack. Also, we are led to believe that the Cylons possess only one world, compared to the twelve Colonies. We know that the Colonial Fleet possessed roughly 120 battlestars at the beginning of the war. We have reason to believe that an individual basestar is superior in combat to Galactica, but Galactica is one of the oldest and weakest of the battlestars. We don’t know, for example, whether the gap between Galactica and Pegasus (a newer battlestar) is better described as the difference between Michigan and Iowa, or as the difference between Arkansas and California.

This didn’t mean all that much, because the Cylons undertook a mission of subversion and infiltration that successfully rendered much of the Colonial Fleet useless. Specifically, the Cylons infiltrated Colonial computer systems, with the impact of both giving the Cylons complete information dominance on the battlefield and directly undercutting the effectiveness of those Colonial military vessels dependent on advanced computer technology. The Galactica survives only because of its aging technology and curmudgeonly Commander.

The disruption of conventional Colonial forces through subversion and Fourth Generation Warfare is followed by a very conventional and brutal high intensity assault against Colonial military and civilian targets. The Cylon attack is both conventional and terrorist, and it does not discriminate between civilian and military targets. It is also quite genocidal. The primary weapons for destroying both civilian and military targets are nuclear weapons, adding an additional dimension to the Cylon threat portfolio.

In short, the Cylons manage to encapsulate all of the potential forms of threat that the United States might face. They are terrorists who look and act like us. They are a peer competitor capable of matching and defeating us in open battle. Finally, they succeed in upending our advantage where we hold it most dear; in our advanced technology. In the BSG miniseries, the failure of technology is reacted to with a sense of stunned betrayal; in this, if nothing else, we feel ourselves secure.

…I can’t say that I cared for tonight’s episode, though.


[ 0 ] January 20, 2006 |


[ 0 ] January 20, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Sophie, Midnight, Snowball, Frankie

And His Heart Is Barebroken Over It

[ 0 ] January 20, 2006 |

Wondering why Medvedite critic Michael Medved is no longer adhering to his highly desirable earlier argument that conservative hacks should ignore Brokeback Mountain and leave discussions about it to those who actually care about movies? I suspect the fact that it’s been the number 1 movie in the country the past few daysdespite playing on fewer screens than any other movie in the top 15–may have something to do with it…

I also agree with Wolcott about Transamerica; I haven’t seen it because I tend to be very skeptical of road movies. But, on the other hand, last year’s best picture kinda fits in that category, so you never know…

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