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Archive for July, 2012

The Ol’ Bait-n-Switch II

[ 109 ] July 17, 2012 |

The nominal conservative argument on campaign finance is that allowing the wealthy the unrestricted ability to influence candidates is fine, as long as the donations are transparent. Leaving aside the dubious nature of the tradeoff, the problem is that conservatives don’t actually support the second.

The Ol’ Bait-n-Switch I

[ 7 ] July 17, 2012 |

Why, this is enough to make me think that arbitrary abortion regulations have nothing to do with women’s health, but are just ways of trying to stop non-affluent women from getting safe abortions!

Oh Alaska

[ 12 ] July 17, 2012 |

Well, I guess this could have the silver lining of getting Noon to the Lower 48 more frequently:

Cutting Alaska’s health care costs by sending employees out of state for cheaper treatment might work to trim budgets, but even so it may not be in the state’s best interest, say some who would have to deal with the proposals.

“I can understand why they want to control costs, but this is an approach that’s going to have an economic impact on our providers and our doctors, especially in Juneau where you’ve got so many state employees,” said Jim Duncan, business manager of the Alaska State Employees Association.

Parnell administration officials proposed taking steps to hold down medical costs for state employees and retirees that may include incentives to go to the Lower 48 for cheaper care and increasing use of preferred provider networks.

The state pays about $600 million a year for employee and retiree health care, according to Commissioner Becky Hultberg of the Department of Administration. That budget item has been growing at double-digit rates in recent years, increases Hultberg called “unsustainable.”

She’s proposed that the state should look at incentives for state employees to go south for medical procedures, saying it could provide big savings even after the cost of plane tickets, hotels, and other expenses.

….On the other hand, it seems that governance in Alaska has improved since the Palin years.

Kitty Wells, RIP

[ 20 ] July 16, 2012 |

Well this sucks. God may not have made honky tonk angels, but there’s a honky tonk angel gone to meet God*

*or whatnot

Is it even possible to have this conversation …

[ 103 ] July 16, 2012 |

… without proving Kathleen wrong?

Bloggers who have been at it for a while have noted a recent decline in commenting, and while that decline may have begun with the popularity of RSS feeds (which abstract the content of blog posts from their web presences, encouraging reading without interaction), it has accelerated with the privatization of discussion on platforms like Facebook. When a friend shares a link there, it’s only natural to discuss the link with that friend, in that environment, rather than discussing the text with the author, on the author’s site.

I’d start it, but I’m not a commenter, strictly speaking, so I don’t know. (Or am I one? I try to “tend the garden” beneath my own posts, but I don’t comment on other sites all that often anymore.) One thing I will note is that both Kathleen’s post and the one to which she links have a slightly melancholic tone, and it’s understandable why: once upon a time bloggers measured their worth by their ability to generate comments. (And mostly still do.) This worth doesn’t accrue when accomplished cheaply — as through deliberate provocation or daft contrarianism — but when a blogger invests five or six thoughtful hours in a post, seeing comments snaking below it makes the investment feel worthwhile.

This isn’t the case so much anymore, though, because the conversation’s have disappeared: if you link to something I write on Facebook, the uptick in traffic alerts me to the fact that I’ve written something that’s being read, but I can’t participate in the conversation, which not only strikes me as a strange — inasmuch as I’m being excluded from conversations I’ve started — but also creates an occasionally inhibiting paranoia. I know people are talking about something I’ve written, but I’m structurally excluded from that conversation. I like to imagine that if I wanted to join it, I’d be welcomed, but only because it’s a comforting thesis that I can’t disprove.

But this post is about commenters and I’m a blogger, so I’ll stop yammering and concede the floor to you.

Syrian Civil War

[ 44 ] July 16, 2012 |

The International Committee of the Red Cross has determined that the Syrian Civil War is a internal war, which has a variety of implications for military targeting and legal responsibility. Charli has some initial thoughts on what this means.  Robert Chesney has this on regime targeting:

The Syria scenario provides yet another instance in which it matters a great deal whether LOAC/IHL (Law of Armed Conflict/International Humanitarian Law) should be understood to encompass a category of persons associated with the non-state party who may be targeted based on status rather than solely while they are currently directly participating in hostilities.  In that respect, the U.S. government has, most awkwardly, a dog in this fight so to speak.  I say awkward because U.S. officials no doubt have zero interest in saying or doing anything that would smack of sympathizing with, let alone defending, Assad regime actions.  I say dog-in-this-fight-so-to-speak, however, because the U.S. government certainly does have an interest in the abstract legal claim that status-based targeting is proper in a NIAC (Non-International Armed Conflict) for some category of enemy personnel (as well as a stake in what that category should be defined to be).  When questions arise regarding which attacks by the Assad regime might constitute war crimes along the dimension of the principle of distinction, the U.S. government thus may find itself in quite a bind; it will be tricky to stay appropriately critical of the Assad regime while standing firm for legal principles that have much broader applications.

While the legal issues are interesting, I’m also curious about the politics.  The Assad regime should be understandably reluctant about acknowledging that it has become embroiled in a civil war.  At the same time, recognition that a state of civil war exists could potentially change the atmospherics of Syrian military activity; inflicting heavy casualties on a group of rebels ceases to be a “massacre” and become normal military activity in the context of an ongoing conflict.  Of course, it is always difficult in such situations to distinguish between an actual massacre of civilians and a legitimate infliction of casualties on a military target, especially given that both sides have big incentives to deceive about the conditions on the ground.

 

Foreign Entanglements: Forget it, Jake. It’s the South China Sea

[ 0 ] July 16, 2012 |

On the latest Foreign Entanglements, Chris Van Avery and I talk a bit about the South China Sea:

There’s also some F-35 and AirSea Battle stuff in there.

Most Prominent Politicians (XIX): Indiana

[ 80 ] July 16, 2012 |

Indiana, the state of Vice-Presidents. I thought about ranking these guys. But why would you bother. 10 fairly important people who range from 2 meh presidents to 4 VPs to some important but not vital senators. Plus Indiana also spawned Garfield creator Jim Davis so how can I give it any credit? So here they are in alphabetical order. You try to rank these people.

Birch Bayh. Admittedly, we have to be willing to forgive him his son in order to consider him. But he was a major player behind both the 25th and 26th Amendment and was a legitimate leader of the Democratic Party in the 1970s.

Albert Beveridge–leading imperialist. Reasonably important Progressive Era Senator.

Schuyler Colfax. Grant’s first VP until he was implicated in the Credit Mobilier scandal.

Charles Fairbanks. Did nothing as Theodore Roosevelt’s Vice-President. He also was the VP candidate for Charles Evans Hughes in 1916. Pretty exciting.

Benjamin Harrison–I have a Harrison joke of sorts. It’s that I’m a professional and I can’t even think of anything Benjamin Harrison did as president. I mean, that’s not strictly true I guess. There are the forest reserves. And he signed the Sherman Antitrust Act that he really didn’t have anything to do with creating. And I suppose he wasn’t quite as atrocious on race as your typical Gilded Age politician maybe. But really, who cares.

William Henry Harrison–Note: wear a coat during a winter storm in Washington D.C. if you are going to be outside for several hours.

Richard Lugar–Overrated as a senator probably, but was an important foreign policy voice.

Thomas Marshall–A reasonably progressive governor who served as Wilson’s VP.

Dan Quayle. You say potatoe, I say potato.

Wendell Willkie–Willkie is a hard one to place. He grew up in Indiana, was an industrialist in Ohio, had a legal career in New York and never actually held a single political office, despite being the Republicans’ 1940 presidential candidate. So we’ll keep in him in home state.

Again, if you want to rank these people, go for it.

The other obvious person to consider was yet another VP–Thomas Hendricks. But Hendricks was one of the worst senators of Reconstruction on race issues and was only Cleveland’s VP for like 6 months before dropping dead. So I left him off.

Maybe Indiana should rename itself The Second Banana State.

Tough Day for Classic Actresses

[ 1 ] July 16, 2012 |

Both Celeste Holm and Isuzu Yamada (who played Lady MacBeth in Throne of Blood) are no more.

Seapower in Culture: Battleship

[ 55 ] July 15, 2012 |

Wikipedia: Creative Commons

So, a few weeks ago I saw Battleship at a Monday matinee.  Surprisingly, there were eight other people in the audience.

Plot and Execution

Ne’er do well is given reason to live by attractive woman; at brother’s advice joins Navy. Aliens invade, hijinks ensue. Battleship Missouri is put back into service in A-Team style montage, defeats aliens with assist from F/A-18 Super Hornets. All is well.

Yes, that’s more or less it. There are also some Japanese. Peter Berg directed a script written (to be generous) by Erich and Jon Hoeber. Reportedly, Berg agreed to the project in order to win studio support for Lone Survivor.

Remarkably, foor a film that culminates in a World War II era battleship engaging in combat against aliens, the least believable part involved the notion that Alexander Skarsgard and Taylor Kitsch could conceivably be brothers. Along with Liam Neeson and Rihanna, a pleasant selection of B level TV personalities filled out the cast, including Landry from Friday Night Lights (itself a Peter Berg creation) and Turtle from Entourage.

Berg isn’t a hack, and has a good sense of the history of cinema; Battleship included nods to such maritime classics as Gray Lady Down and Titanic. In terms of action, it bears mention that Berg can handle big, technically impressive action scenes with considerably greater skill than Michael Bay. At no point did I become confused as to which side was which. He certainly allowed himself to slip into Bay-esque nonsense at a few points, including the extended opening sequence and most any interaction that involved Brooklyn Decker. The alien “peg” technology was also reasonably clever, even if it made no sense whatsoever.

The appearance of USS Missouri in the finale reminded me of nothing so much as the dogfight between Zeros and Tomcats in Final Countdown. I was mildly surprised to read that Missouri could conceivably be restored to service, although I suspect it would take a good deal longer than 15-20 minutes (in an empty Pearl Harbor) to get the battleship operational. I also wonder whether 16″ shells and bags of gunpowder are regularly stored aboard ship, but then that’s nitpicking. That 16″ shell that a handful of crew moved from one end of Missouri to the other would have been fully 1900#, by the way.

Theory of Seapower

Battleship has no noticeable theory of seapower, apart from the observation that warships might be useful if aliens landed near the Hawaiian Islands and lost their communication equipment en route. Oh, and also that extremely advanced military organizations (such as those presumably maintained by aliens) should invest in elementary reconnaissance and detection technology. Here are some additional thoughts.

Broader Observations

The biggest disappointment of Battleship (which we were aware of well before the film hit the screen), was the need to craft a scenario involving combat against space aliens, rather than against a terrestrial opponent. News of this decision emerged early in the production cycle, to the derisive howls of those with an interest in maritime affairs. Battleship is, after all, a symmetrical game. Each side has an identical fleet of five ships, based broadly on the major ship types of World War II. The game would work just as well if it were titled “Jutland” and the aircraft carrier became a Super Dreadnought, the battleship a battle cruiser, and so forth. Given the expectation of symmetrical fleets, any Battleship movie would invariably abstract from both history and the game; if you want to make a movie about Midway or Philippine Sea or Jutland, you call that movie Midway or Philippine Sea or Jutland, rather than Battleship. Nevertheless, the prospect of a film depicting naval combat between the United States and China would have been considerably more interesting than another iteration in the Effects Filled Alien Invasion genre (maritime edition). To be sure, the political difficulties associated with the making of Tora Tora Tora, for example, would undoubtedly emerge in the context of trying to produce any major film about a war between the United States and China.

But Hollywood popcorn films now depend on foreign receipts for financial success. That Rocky IV or Red Dawn wouldn’t make it past the Soviet censors (and might not play well with the Soviet public in any case) was irrelevant in the 1980s. Today, it is very difficult to imagine a film with a US-China war plot that would not offend one audience or the other (not to mention the Chinese censors), and so we get such nonsense as a Red Dawn with North Korean antagonists.

Then again, films depicting direct conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union were relatively rare, even in the Cold War. In part this was surely because the cost of plausibly depicting modern combat with the cinematic technology of the second half of the twentieth century remained prohibitively high; however, there also appeared to be a degree of reticence about pitting the US and the USSR against each other, such that films like Red Dawn somehow felt like violations of a taboo. Even Top Gun relied on Soviet surrogates, as if the Libyans would be granted access to the most recent, sophisticated equipment that the USSR had to offer. To be sure, Cold War cinema relied heavily on the persistence of tension with the Soviet Union; many spy flicks used this tension to excellent effect, and the Cold War had a broader effect on how cinema depicted American life.
Conclusion

There’s just not much here. It’s a maritime film insofar as it happens to occur at sea; it was made because the studio was concerned about losing the rights (which would have been a major tragedy, given how much money the film lost). Battleship was not well suited for Hollywood. As an advertisement for seapower, it works rather less well than Final Countdown and isn’t even in the same league as Top Gun.

Paul Fail?

[ 54 ] July 15, 2012 |

Sad trombone…

It looks like Ron Paul isn’t going to be officially nominated for the presidency in Tampa.

His backers failed to win a plurality of delegate slots at the Nebraska GOP convention Saturday, leaving the Texas congressman short of the support necessary to have his name placed into contention at the national convention.

According to national party rules, a candidate needs a plurality of the delegates in at least five states to have his name presented for the nomination – by falling short in Nebraska, the last state to hold its convention, Paul came up one state short.

Via Mataconis. While it’s mildly disappointing that we won’t have big “Restore America Now!” presence at the GOP convention, on balance I’m amused that the Paul fanatics, at one point convinced that they could upend the convention through delegate selection, will be almost completely shut out of the process. Paul’s strategy was to game the system in order to produce a nominee (or at least competitive campaign) whose political positions were dramatically at variance with the bulk of his party; this strategy was premised on the assumption that the Paul people were, in effect, the smartest people in the room. This is generally in accord with the “you just don’t get it, do you” feeling that accompanies any conversation with a Ron Paul fanatic, and it’s altogether satisfying to see that deflated.

Graham Spanier’s priorities

[ 68 ] July 15, 2012 |

spanier and sandusky

Dan Wetzel:

There is one instance in the Freeh Commission report where Graham Spanier, the disgraced former Penn State president, said enough is enough. One instance when he slammed down his authoritative fist to protect the welfare of his charges and the reputation of his institution.

It wasn’t against Jerry Sandusky, of course.Graham Spanier, left, allegedly hid Jerry Sandusky’s sex crimes while enforcing arcane rules.

It was December 1997 and Spanier was soon to learn that the longtime Penn State defensive coordinator had been accused of molesting a young boy while showering with him in the Penn State locker room, according to the Freeh report. But Spanier wouldn’t stand up to old Jer, because that wouldn’t be the “humane” way of handling it. Or so he wrote in an email.

No, Sandusky got to keep fondling right under Spanier’s nose for years to come.

That was a pardon not shared by star Penn State running back Curtis Enis and professional sports agent Jeff Nalley, who dared violate the document that directed Spanier’s moral compass, the NCAA rulebook.

Enis was immediately declared ineligible, and cited as a stain on Penn State’s so-called “grand experiment” of creating a healthy balance between academics and athletics. The agent, meanwhile, was reported to the NCAA and the local district attorney, banned from ever setting foot on Penn State’s campus (“persona non grata” Spanier declared), charged with a crime and publicly shamed by the president himself so everyone understood the evil and danger he represented.

“He fooled around with the integrity of the university,” Spanier said at the time, according to the Freeh report. “And I won’t stand for that.”

If fooling around with kids in the showers was something Graham Spanier could apparently stand for, then what was Enis and Nalley’s crime against humanity?

They bought a suit.

It was a nice suit, $325 retail at a Harrisburg clothier. There was a $75 shirt too. Enis was slated to appear on an ESPN awards show and didn’t have anything that nice to wear. The regular season was over and he was about to declare for the NFL. Nalley sprung for the outfit.

Spanier saw it differently. Since Penn State still had one game remaining, essentially an exhibition in the Citrus Bowl, he dropped the hammer. Victim No. 2 of Sandusky’s crimes apparently wouldn’t mean much to the Penn State president, but NCAA Bylaw 12.3 sure did. It’s the rule that prohibits players from receiving “benefits” from agents.

Even if the so-called benefit was appropriate attire for a made-for-television show to celebrate the multibillion-dollar industry Enis helped drive. According to the rule book, though, he couldn’t be provided a nice suit because, well, because people like Graham Spanier said so.

And continue to say so.

Read the whole thing

Also, a nice mea culpa from Rick Reilly:

I hope Penn State loses civil suits until the walls of the accounting office cave in. I hope that Spanier, Schultz and Curley go to prison for perjury. I hope the NCAA gives Penn State the death penalty it most richly deserves. The worst scandal in college football history deserves the worst penalty the NCAA can give. They gave it to SMU for winning without regard for morals. They should give it to Penn State for the same thing. The only difference is, at Penn State they didn’t pay for it with Corvettes. They paid for it with lives.

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