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No Quarter

[ 0 ] July 5, 2006 |

This line grabbed me:

The sequel to the no-budget Sundance discovery that started his career a dozen years ago, “Clerks II” sounds like a desperate retreat after “Jersey Girl.”

Kevin Smith shouldn’t be allowed to retreat and lick his wounds. The disaster that was Jersey Girl (and the disaster that ought to have been every other of Smith’s films since Clerks) was a glorious victory for the taste-bearing world. That victory should have been followed up with a brutal campaign designed to eradicate all possibility that Smith would ever find either finance or a distributor for another awful movie. The day Smith stops making movies will be a day of victory for civilization.

Not to be Booted

[ 0 ] July 5, 2006 |

Matt points out another installment in the endless “This is how I would fight in Iraq” series by Iraq enthusiasts. Today’s selection is by Max Boot, and he wants US troops to go out and do things other than protecting their bases. A fine idea, but, as Matt notes, hardly one that is likely to happen anytime soon. So why would Boot waste his time? The answer seems clear; when the history of this disaster is written, no “hawkish” intellectual is going to want to be associated with the war AS IT WAS FOUGHT. Boot and his ilk are carefully preparing cover stories; they supported the war because they believed it would be fought in this way, or that, or with this purpose, or the other. Thus, the intellectual will not suffer besmirchment, because after all how could one know that the Bush administration would fight the war is such a startlingly inept fashion. While the US Army is struggling in Iraq, Boot is struggling to maintain his book contracts and his space on the editorial page.

The Road to Nowhere

[ 0 ] July 5, 2006 |

I can’t add much to the story of the Jewish family intimidated by conservative Christians in Delaware, but I think it’s worth noting that this is additional evidence that the alliance between conservative Jews and conservative Christians that has developed around support for Israel in the last dozen or so years is fatally, hopelessly flawed. The reasons for this seem utterly, painfully obvious to me; the Jews value Israel as an end, and the Christians value Israel as a means. Conservative American Christians have not, shockingly, become more tolerant of the Jewish faith. As long as they’re going in the same direction, the Evangelicals will be willing to put limits on the rhetoric and the intimidation, but that’s not going to last forever.

Sadly, the whole thing reminds me of an Onion article.

Sunday Battleship Blogging (Independence Day Aircraft Carrier Edition): USS Intrepid

[ 0 ] July 4, 2006 |

Last Friday we visited the USS Intrepid museum in New York City. Intrepid is one of four remaining Essex class carriers (Lexington, Hornet, and Yorktown are the others; Oriskany was mercifully turned into an artificial reef this last May) from a total of 24. While both the USN and the IJN lost four fleet carriers in 1942, the Japanese were unable to replace their losses. The first Essex class carriers, displacing roughly 28000 tons, capable of 33 knots, and carrying 90 or so aircraft, began to come into service in mid-1943. During the great battles of 1944, the Essex class carriers would provide the USN with an overwhelming advantage.

Commissioned in August 1943, Intrepid was the fourth Essex to enter service. Her first major operations involved raids on Kwajelein and Truk, the latter the premier pre-war Japanese naval base in the Pacific. During the raids on Truk, Intrepid was hit by a torpedo that badly affected her steering. A sail was rigged in order to help Intrepid steer, and she made it back to Pearl Harbor for repairs. Unfortunately, the damage prevented Intrepid from participating in the Battle of Philippine Sea, the last great carrier battle of the war. Intrepid did return in time for Leyte Gulf, and her aircraft helped sink the Japanese battleship Musashi and the carrier Zuikaku, last survivor of the Pearl Harbor raid.

Intrepid suffered badly from the Japanese kamikaze campaign, taking three hits and one near miss in the remaining year of the war. Nevertheless, her aircraft participated in the final raids against Japan, in the Okinawa campaign, and in the sinking of the battleship Yamato. After the war Intrepid went into reserve for several years along with most of the other Essex class. Like almost all of her sisters, however, Intrepid would be re-activated in the 1950s, and would serve, along with the larger Midway class, as the foundation for US naval primacy in the second half of the twentieth century. Intrepid was refit twice, changing her appearance dramatically, and was reclassified first as a CVA (attack carrier) and later as a CVS (anti-submarine carrier). Intrepid participated in operations off Vietnam in 1966 and 1967.

By the early 1970s, the Essex class had begun to lose its utility. Supercarriers of the Forrestal and Kitty Hawk classes now constituted the primary fighting capacity of the USN. Most of the Essexes were scrapped in the early 1970s, although a few lingered on in reserve, in reduced training roles, or as memorials. Intrepid was transformed into a museum ship and berthed permanently off Manhattan, where she serves as an aerospace museum. Oddly enough, her deck is full of aircraft that never served on the Intrepid, including a Kfir, a Mig-21, an F-16, an Entendard IV, and an A-12. Nevertheless, the ship remains in good condition, and the museum is reasonably well organized. I wish that there had been a little bit more information about how the crew lived and how the ship functioned, however.

Happy July 4!!!

I Hate the Mouse

[ 0 ] July 2, 2006 |

This is terrible:

The vast majority of films produced after 1923 have no continuing commercial value. They’re just sitting in vaults gathering dust. There’s obviously no need to extend their copyrights; if no one’s currently making any money off these films, they might as well enter the public domain. But thanks to the CTEA, they can’t. (A more sensible copyright law would have extended copyrights only for those owners who actually wanted to extend them; but that’s not the law Congress passed—all copyrights are affected.)

Now, these days, it’s cheap and easy to restore old films with digital technology—it can cost as little as $100 to digitize an hour of 8 mm film. Many of these films could, in theory, be easily restored, and released, or put in an archive, for people to watch. But thanks to the CTEA, it’s not cheap and easy. Anyone who wanted to restore one of these films would have to track down the owners of the copyright—no small task—and then hire a lawyer, lest they commit a felony. That’s way too much effort and expense just to restore some arcane old movie that only a few people might enjoy. So no one does it.

And the worst part is that by the time the copyright for a lot of these obscure films expires, in 2019 and beyond, the film for these movies—which were produced on nitrate-based stock—will have completely dissolved. They’ll just be canisters filled with dust. An entire generation of movies really will have vanished, never to be watched again. I guess it’s hardly the most important problem on the face of the earth, but culturally, it’s a tragedy, and a rather striking example of the insanity of copyright law.

Nothing like watching a country flush its cultural heritage so that Disney can make a few extra bucks.

Bandidos Yanqui

[ 0 ] July 2, 2006 |

Last Wednesday Scott, Davida and I attended a game at Yankee Stadium, my first visit to that esteemed locale. The Braves were in town, which left me with the chore of having to cheer for one of the most unpalatable teams in baseball against the singular evil of the Yankees. It would have been worse, I suppose, if the Cubs had been in town.

I had been told not to expect much from Yankee; it was supposed to have all the ambience of a 70s stadium and all the comfort of a 20s stadium. That assessment wasn’t completely fair, though. The interior of Yankee is ramp crazy, like a typical donut. Indeed, it reminded me a lot of the Kingdome. The sight lines, however, were pretty good even from fairly high in the second deck. I felt closer to the field than I’ve felt at a lot of modern stadiums. The game was sold out, although many of the season ticket holders clearly weren’t in attendance.

Although I didn’t have any of the food, what I saw looked remarkably bad. Although I suppose it’s stupid to eat at the ballpark anyway, I actually kind of like the decent food selection that most new stadiums have. My biggest complaint, though, is about all the non-baseball garbage that happened between innings. You endure all of the stupid stuff that happens in Seattle, like the ball in a cap game, the hydro race, the rock and roll quiz, and worst of all the goddamn dancing groundskeepers, and you think to yourself “I’m sure they’d never put up with this crap at Yankee Stadium”. Then you find out that yes, they do put up with that crap at Yankee Stadium, and sing along to “YMCA” as the groundskeepers dance. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

Anyway, the Braves took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the 12th, at which point they saw fit to trot out Jorge Sosa to face Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, and Alex Rodriguez. I very much doubt that I could have gotten even money on the Yankees at that point. Jeter grounded out to shortstop, and Giambi walked. Scott and I were just kind of hoping that Rodriguez would hit it hard at somebody, and our hopes were fulfilled. Unfortunately, the somebody was in the Braves bullpen at the time. We were on our way out before the ball hit the ground.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: HIJMS Nagato

[ 0 ] July 2, 2006 |

Even before the Washington Naval Treaty limited new construction, the Imperial Japanese Navy determined that it would never be able to match the USN in numbers. The Japanese solution was to achieve ship to ship superiority. The IJN was the first navy to use the 14″ gun (on Kongo), although the Americans soon matched this with New York and the British exceeded it with the 15″ guns of Queen Elizabeth. The IJN, which continued to have close ties with the Royal Navy, was particularly impressed by the British fast battleships, and decided that their next class of ships would be both fast and heavily armed.

The result was Nagato. Commissioned in 1920, Nagato was the first battleship in the world to carry 16″ guns, of which she had eight in four twin turrets. At 34000 tons she was one of the largest battleships in the world, and her 26 knot top speed exceeded even that of the Queen Elizabeths. Nagato was not as well armored as contemporary American battleships, but her speed should have made her a more useful and effective unit than the US ships. It can be fairly argued that Nagato and her sister Mutsu represented the zenith of battleship design prior to World War II. Especially when she had a swept back funnel, Nagato also looked dangerous and powerful

Nagato was modernized twice in the interwar period, the second refit giving her much heavier deck armor. She served as the flagship of the Combined Fleet for most of the interwar period, including the Pearl Harbor attack. Strangely for a ship of her speed and power, Nagato had a relatively quiet war record. She was part of the Main Body at Midway, but because Japanese naval practice of the time did not include deploying aircraft carriers with battleship protection, she saw no action. This was determined to be a grievous flaw in Japanese doctrine; Nagato, Yamato, and their sisters were fast enough to escort the Japanese carriers, and might have provided some anti-aircraft protection against American attacks. Nagato also did not participate in the Solomons campaign, although, again, her speed was sufficient to “run the Slot” and attack Henderson Field. This, again, was a major error; instead of using their (temporary) advantage in surface warships in the Solomons, the Japanese conserved their most powerful units.

In June 1943, Nagato lost her sister, Mutsu, to a magazine explosion. The Combined Fleet evacuated Truk for ports in Southeast Asia at the end of 1943, and prepared to fight the US invasion of the Philippines. Nagato participated in the Battle of Philippine Sea as a carrier escort, vainly attempting to prevent the destruction of her charge Hiyo. In October 1944 Nagato was attached to Admiral Kurita’s strike force, designed to attack the American escort carriers and transports of Leyte. Although the Japanese plan successfully drew off the escorting American battleships, the attack was disrupted by a group of destroyers and destroyer escorts. Four battleships of the Imperial Japanese Navy managed to sink a couple of destroyers and a single escort carrier before fleeing under air attack. Nagato took several bomb hits during and after the action.

Nagato eventually limped back to Japan with the remnants of Kurita’s force, which lost the battlecruiser Kongo along the way. Nagato was drydocked, but the IJN lacked both the materials needed for repair and the fuel necessary to making Nagato operational again. Nagato was reclassified as a coastal defense ship, and did not participate in the final actions of the war. A few additional air attacks damaged, but failed to destroy, the aging battleship. Indeed, the Japanese were able to conduct enough repairs and assemble enough fuel to make a final sortie in case of an American landing attempt. The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki rendered this moot, however. When Japan surrendered, Nagato was the sole surviving IJN battleship.

There was no need to incorporate a 25 year old, badly damaged Japanese battleship into the USN. Nevertheless, the United States found a use for Nagato. The Bikini atom bomb tests were about to begin, and the Navy wanted to know what happened when atomic bombs were dropped on ships. Along with Prinz Eugen, the last survivor of the German Navy, and dozens of old American ships, Nagato would serve as a guinea pig for the atomic age. An American crew took control of Nagato and began the necessary repairs, under the advice of its former Japanese officers. On March 18 Nagato set out for Eniwetok under her own power. The journey almost proved too much; Nagato began taking on water, and a blown boiler stopped her dead. Repairs were executed, however, and Nagato took her place for the bomb tests. The first bomb, dropped on July 1, exploded about 1500 yards from Nagato and did only insignificant damage to her superstructure. Notably, Nagato held up better than the American battleships nearby, and was studied for several days by American engineers. On July 24th, a second bomb was detonated underwater. Nagato rode out the blast without incident, but was rendered far too radioactive for further boarding. She began, very slowly, to settle, and sank on July 29.

Nagato is one of my favorite battleships. Aesthetically, I find the pagoda mast very elegant when combined with the four turret arrangement. Technically, Nagato was an impressive ship, comparing well with her foreign contemporaries and useful until the end of World War II. Ideally Nagato would have been preserved, but the political context in both Japan and the United States at the end of World War II made this impossible, of course.

(Images courtesy of Maritimequest)

Trivia: What battleship was saved by an earthquake?

[ 0 ] June 30, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Starbuck and Nelson


[ 0 ] June 28, 2006 |

I spend three days in DC, and it rains nine and a half inches. Much flooding, as you may have heard, prevented an investigation of any of the major museums. Will post a bit later on the craptastic World War II Memorial. Now I’m in New York, and it’s still raining, albeit with considerably less intensity.

While contemplating his flooded basement, PTJ had the following thoughts:

Talk about a disaster. Talk about a socially constructed disaster.
While endlessly bailing water I was thinking — because, honestly, there’s not much else to think about while trying desperately to keep water out of one’s basement — about the conceptual oddity of calling something, anything, a “natural disaster.” This strikes me as a curious locution indeed, as though “nature” were causally to blame for some set of observed outcomes. And that’s just weird, since “nature” isn’t a conscious being as far as I know, and isn’t really even a discrete entity at all; blaming “nature” is kind of like blaming “reality” or “existence.” Very odd, if you stop to think about it.

Read the whole thing.

Go Beavs!!!!!

[ 0 ] June 27, 2006 |

Congratulations to the Oregon State Beavers on winning the College World Series! I know that as a Duck I should never take a pro-Beav stance, but the University of Oregon lacks a baseball team, and in truth most of the bile and darkness in the heart of an Oregon fan remains reserved for the University of Washington.

So today I raise a glass to Corvallis, which certainly is a town in Oregon. And a glass to Oregon State University; let no one dispute that it, uh… hmm…. er…. educates(!?) some students. But, most importantly, a toast to Oregon State Beavers baseball, which has demonstrated itself to be the finest squad in the land.


The Contrarian Fallacy, Baseball Edition

[ 0 ] June 26, 2006 |

Joe Sheehan on baseball punditry:

When the situation was reversed, when the best team in baseball was, at least on the surface, a smallball team, the revolution was upon us. Now that the winningest teams in the game are power teams, though, there’s no mention of a paradigm shift, no discussion of how the little guys are more important than the brutes. Just an awkward silence from the peanut gallery.

I’ve written about this before, but I think the contrast between the way in which the 2005 White Sox and the 2006 version–along with the 2006 Tigers, who might as well have Earl Weaver on the bench–have been covered is illustrative of an insititutional blind spot. For whatever reason, there’s a morality attached to various forms of playing baseball; teams that succeed with power are considered in many circles to be inferior to those that succeed using smallball. I think this is a generational thing; many people in the game and covering the game had their worldview shaped by the baseball of the Second Deadball Era and the years immediately after, when scoring was very low, pitching dominated and smallball tactics were most effective.

There’s also an element of something Bill James discussed in “The Politics of Glory” in a chapter comparing Phil Rizzuto and Vern Stephens. People want to be perceived as savvy, and showing an appreciation for less-obvious skills is one way in which they do that. Anyone can be impressed by homers, but it takes a true student of the game to understand how steals, sacrifices and baserunning contribute to a winning team.

What can be said of baseball transfers so easily to the world of political punditry. If the boys at Slate wrote about baseball, is there any doubt that they’d be the first to extol the virtues of the bunt, the stolen base, and the sacrifice fly rather than the things that actually win baseball games? Consider this: Anyone can see how Roe vs. Wade improves access to abortion, but it takes a true student of politics to understand how support of a broadly popular Supreme Court decision actually hurts the Democratic party. Consider also that instead of attaching moral content to the bunt, the political editor and journalist attach it to the “bipartisan maverick”. Unfortunately, this kind of too-clever-by-half thinking dominates not just baseball, and not just Slate, but the entire edifice of political punditry.

Huh. Fascinating.

[ 0 ] June 26, 2006 |


Two competitors face each other in 11 alternating rounds, six of chess, five of boxing. A bout begins with chess, which is played on a board placed directly in the middle of the ring. Each round of chess lasts four minutes. After each chess round, the bell sounds, and workmen remove the chessboard for a two-minute round of boxing, the gloves go back on, the punching recommences. Participants win by way of knockout, checkmate, referee’s decision, or if his opponent exceeds the allotted total of 12 minutes for an entire match on the chessboard.

There’s obviously some interesting strategy to be had in a match like this. If you think yourself a weaker chess player than your opponent, then going for a knockout in the boxing match is clearly the right way to go. The converse is also, of course, true. For an experienced player, twelve minutes is plenty of time to play an entire game of chess; many speed matches only allow five minutes on either side. Of course, speed chess isn’t often interrupted by consensual pummelling…

In fact, I wonder if twelve minutes is too long to have on the chess clock. Assuming that the openings go very quickly, that’s a lot of time to sit and hope to wait out an opponent. On the other hand, as long as the opponent can stay vertical and coherent for six rounds, he can probably force a decision.

What an absurd sport. Probably going to be on ESPN 2 within a year.

Tip from Jay.

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