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Tax Breaks for Dependents=Fascism

[ 0 ] November 1, 2006 |

Matt Duss dredges the depths of the Corner and finds that opposition to abortion and the taking of positive steps to encourage families to have children is the equivalent of fascism. At least, that is, if such steps are taken in Iran. President Ahmadinejad is pushing a program that would limit the work hours of married professionals. Ledeen:

For this is right out of the fascist manual. Indeed, Mussolini once wrote an impassioned introduction to a very boring book (authored by one Richard Korherr, who I do not believe was from Bologna, and called something like “shrinking population, the death of nations”) urging Italians to reproduce like Topsy. And of course Hitler had all those breeding programs, about which I will say no more for fear of being lumped in with Webb and Libby as a foul-mouthed (or is it foul-penned, or foul-keyboarded) sex fiend.

Never mind that conservatives regularly denounce Europe for having an insufficient birthrate to support its social model, or that conservatives support myriad legal and social tools designed to promote the bearing and raising of children, or that social conservatives enthusiastically denounce abortion and birth control. All of those are cool, but when Ahmadinejad does it, he’s a fascist.

There’s no doubt that it’s poor public policy to try and increase Iran’s birthrate at this point, but the tools used by governments to pursue such ends are hardly fascist, and the goals are not limited to fascist regimes.

Cross-posted at TAPPED.

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Patterson Film Series: The Third Man

[ 0 ] October 30, 2006 |

Last week the Patterson Film Series featured The Third Man. As a piece of filmmaking, what is there to say? Reed creates two of the most memorable scenes in the history of cinema, both focused on Orson Welles. The first is our introduction to Welles in the dark street, which is about the most perfect minute and a half ever committed to celluloid. The second is the Welles-penned conversation between Martin and Lime on the ferris wheel. Martin is so tied up in his half-wit moral dilemma that he can barely see that his life is in dire peril. Welles displays about as much charisma as one actor can convey in three minutes of film, all while demonstrating an absolute lack of any moral sense. It’s genius, all genius.

The Third Man finds its way on to our schedule mostly because of its political agenda. I decided to screen Third Man for two reasons. First, as mentioned above, it’s simply a work of aesthetic genius, and our students are better off for being more conversant in the art of film. More important, however, are The Third Man’s political implications. Third Man was penned by Graham Greene, and I like to think of it as one of his cautionary tales about the inadequacy of Americans where foreign relations are concerned. In this sense, he’s a bit like Niall Ferguson. Both Martin and Lime come to Vienna and immediately become lost. Martin is literally lost, completely incapable of dealing with the city in any productive way. He can’t speak the language, can’t understand the women, can’t find his way through basic ethical problems, and comes to construct a narrative based on the American dime Western with himself as protagonist. His is, briefly put, in over his head. Lime is lost in a much more profound way; he has become detached from any moral sense whatsoever, so much so that he refuses to produce even a rhetorical moral defense of his criminal activities. Maybe Martin and Lime were always like this, maybe not, but that’s rather the point; men like Martin and Lime are inadequate to the demands of empire, and the United States is presumably chock full of them. The Russian and British officials have some sense of what’s going on, as the Russians understand themselves to be the villains of the piece, in the sense that they don’t really accept the priors of everyone else, but they’ll be polite about it. The British major is a true Fergusonian (or perhaps Kiplingesque) imperial officer, understanding the demands of realpolitik but at the same time possessing a moral center that allows him to both detect evil and to fight it.

One student had an interesting read on the film, suggesting that Martin and Lime could be mapped onto the Marlowe-Kurtz relationship. I’m comfortable with seeing most everything in the light of Heart of Darkness (Scott is Kurtz; I’m Marlowe) but I had never thought of The Third Man in precisely those terms. I don’t think it’s quite right, and I suspect that the similarities we detect come much more from the shared cultural position of Greene and Conrad, but the analogy is nonetheless productive. The relationship is almost one of parody, as the competent Marlowe becomes the inept Martin, the moral Westerner Kurtz becomes the amoral Lime, and colonial Africa becomes ultra-sophisticated Vienna. You can still detect a critique of colonialism in there; if we can’t expect Kurtz to behave properly, then what happens when men like Lime find themselves in power. The anti-American sentiment is also still apparent, as the fact that the sophisticated residents of Vienna are smarter and better educated than our protagonists is lost upon the Americans because they can’t understand German and don’t have the faintest grasp of Joyce. Like I said, I don’t think I quite agree, but the purpose of such analogies is to illuminate rather than to provide a conclusive interpretation.

While I’m on the subject, be sure to read Rodger’s posts on his Global Politics Through Film course. Here are the entries thus far:

Casablanca
Twelve O’Clock High
Saving Private Ryan (very good discussion)
The Quiet American
Black Hawk Down
Breaker Morant (also a Patterson Film Series entry)
Red Dawn (which is glorious in every way, and soon WILL be a Patterson entry)
The Great Dictator
Wag the Dog

Stupid Ideas that Become the Pundit Consensus

[ 0 ] October 30, 2006 |

Mr. Trend is making sense:

Since when did governments spending money become a bad thing?

If the government is wasting money on weapons programs and military spending while ignoring social needs of its people (health, nutrition, medicine, famine, poverty, etc.), then spending can be justly criticized. But criticism of spending that, by means of international deals, investments, etc., increases a country’s GDP, brings people out of poverty, leads them out of malnourishment, increases employment, literacy, etc., seems ignorant at best. Why is it bad that governments spend to help their citizens? Or, along another line – how do you pay for highways? For the postal service? For infrastructure? How do you offer cheap public university education to your citizens? How do you pay for the issuing of passports so your citizens can travel? It’s not private money – it’s government spending.

Durned Liberals

[ 0 ] October 30, 2006 |

I, for one, welcome the return of the word “liberal” to something more closely approximating its political theory meaning. I’ve spent far, far too much time explaining to undergraduates that when political theorists and international relations theorists use the word liberal they mean something much different than what Rush Limbaugh means. Like Ezra, I’ve also been using the word “progressive” to describe leftish political tendencies in the United States.

…and Billmon points out some other reasons that “liberal” and “left” are not the same thing.

Horses are Big in Kentucky

[ 0 ] October 30, 2006 |

Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum is an odd entry into the pantheon of Kentucky heroes:

Most of them, however, know him as Sheik Mo, a horseman who for nearly 25 years has arrived each year at Blue Grass Airport by private jumbo jet and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on horses.

Although the sheik and the company his family controls encountered security concerns and had to abandon an attempt to run six United States port operations in March, he is treated like a fellow horseman here in Lexington, home of his thriving racing and breeding business.

In a relatively short time, Sheik Mohammed and members of his royal family have joined the ranks of the blue-blooded Phipps family and the more commercially driven Overbrook Farm as fabled names in horse racing in the United States.

You wouldn’t think that a plane that big could land at Bluegrass Airport until you see it sitting there.

Jonah Goldberg, What is Your Major Malfunction?

[ 0 ] October 30, 2006 |

Brad’s Battlestar Galactica article reminded me of this gem (discovered by Scott) from Jonah Goldberg,written in response to episode 2-17:

In a society scientifically so much more advanced, it seems to me that the issue would no longer be controversial one way or the other. Either contraceptive technology would have “solved” the problem. Or moral dogma about abortion’s acceptable parameters would have been long established.

I’m left to wonder exactly what Jonah is thinking about when he’s imagining a technological fix for the abortion problem, but that’s not really the funny part. Ron Moore has left us some subtle hints indicating that he’s not optimistic about the ability of technology to solve basic societal problems. These hints include the low level of much Colonial technology, the vulnerability of high tech equipment to Cylon attack, the emphasis on religion as an enduring element of the human experience, and, last but not least, the fact that he’s produced a show about KILLER ROBOTS WHO OVERTHROW AND TRY TO EXTERMINATE HUMANITY. This speaks to a certain skepticism regarding the impact of technological progress on human happiness…

Cross-posted at Tapped.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: USS Arkansas

[ 0 ] October 29, 2006 |

USS Michigan represented more of an evolution of the pre-dreadnought type than a revolution in the sense of Dreadnought. The next four classes of American battleships took the lessons of Dreadnought to heart, combining all big-gun armaments with speeds in excess of 20 knots. USS Arkansas, second of the Wyoming class, carried 12 12″ guns in six twin turrets, could make 21 knots on direct drive steam turbines, and displaced about 28000 tons. Like all American battleships, Arkansas was relatively well armored and carried a well distributed centerline armament.

USS Arkansas’ first action was off Vera Cruz in 1914, where she bombarded Mexican positions and landed four companies of men to participate in street fighting. Upon American entry into World War I, Arkansas’ first duty was defense of the East Coast. In July 1918 she was deployed to Scotland to serve with the Sixth Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet, but saw no action apart from an unconfirmed U-boat sighting. Arkansas was one of the eighteen battleships retained under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty, and received a light modernization in 1926 that removed her aft cage mast and increased her anti-aircraft armament.

The 1930 London Naval Treaty further reduced the battleships fleets of the world, cutting US strength to 15 ships. Arkansas was the oldest ship retained under the Treaty. The reduction of fleets meant that only the most modern units were kept. Consequently, Arkansas became one of the oldest active battleships in the world. Unfortunately, apart from the Brazilian battleships, some old French and Russian battleships, and the older Italian dreadnoughts prior to reconstruction, Arkansas was completely outclassed by any ship that she might conceivably meet in combat. The US Navy saw little point in further modernizing Arkansas, and for the rest of the 1930s Arkansas was relegated to training duties. In 1937 she was placed in reduced commission.

Arkansas’ operational tempo increased as the war in Europe heated up. She engaged in several more training cruises, including exercises with New York and Texas, which had also been withdrawn from the main battle line. She covered landings in Iceland in the summer of 1941, and served as an accomodation ship for a conference between FDR and Churchill. When war came in December 1941, no serious thought was given to transferring Arkansas to the Pacific. Along with Texas and New York, she remained in the Atlantic and underwent an overhaul that further increased her AA armamament and replaced her forward cage mast. Demonstrating that obsolescence is in the eye of the beholder, for the next three years she escorted convoys and carried out shore bombardment operations, including support for the D-Day landings in Normandy and Operation Anvil in southern France. In late 1944 she made for the Pacific, where she bombarded Japanese positions on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The USN remained committed to keeping Arkansas as far away from Japanese ships as possible, and she was excluded from a group of older battleships detailed to defend against HIJMS Yamato in April 1945.

USS Arkansas’ final mission was to help determine the effect of atomic weapons on naval vessels. Anchored in Bikini Atoll, she survived the first blast but was in very close proximity to the second, which reportedly flipped her end over end and quickly sent her to the bottom. Three other US battleships (Pennsylvania, Nevada, and New York) survived the blasts only to be later sunk as targets. HIJMS Nagato joined Arkansas at the bottom along with dozens of other US, German, and Japanese ships.

Trivia: What dreadnought class carried the fewest guns in its main armament?

Afghanistan

[ 0 ] October 27, 2006 |

I have an article up at TAP Online retroactively assessing the decision to go to war against the Taliban.

Ezra and Spencer comment.

[ 0 ] October 27, 2006 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck

That, uh, Doesn’t Sound Rosy

[ 0 ] October 26, 2006 |

This doesn’t seem like good news.

An underworld war between drug gangs is raging in Mexico, medieval in its barbarity, its foot soldiers operating with little fear of interference from the police, its scope and brutality unprecedented, even in a country accustomed to high levels of drug violence.

In recent months the violence has included a total of two dozen beheadings, a raid on a local police station by men with grenades and a bazooka, and daytime kidnappings of top law enforcement officials. At least 123 law enforcement officials, among them 2 judges and 3 prosecutors, have been gunned down or tortured to death. Five police officers were among those beheaded.

In all, the violence has claimed more than 1,700 civilian lives this year, and federal officials say the killings are on course to top the estimated 1,800 underworld killings last year. Those death tolls compare with 1,304 in 2004 and 1,080 in 2001, these officials say.

[…]

Attorney General Daniel Cabeza de Vaca said a steadily rising tide of drug addiction within Mexico had spurred some of the murders, as dealers fought for local markets. At the same time, more and more honest police officers are trying to enforce the law rather than turn a blind eye to drug traffickers, often paying with their lives, prosecutors say.

But those assessments, other authorities say, are overly rosy and may explain only part of the picture.

Wouldn’t it be great if the US didn’t insist on destroying the social fabric of our neighbors in a pointless effort to stop our citizens from buying drugs? I think that would be, like, great.

Why Should Anyone Ever Pay Attention to This Guy?

[ 0 ] October 25, 2006 |

I tried to avoid getting engaged in this discussion, but Totten pulls me in:

I’m glad I stopped writing about domestic politics. All this silliness reminds me of why I shouldn’t have bothered even sticking my toe in last week. I needed a break from Middle East politics, but Jeebus, at least they argue about serious things over in that part of the world. Over here (and by here I mean America, not this blog) it’s a lot of hysterical ado about nearly nothing.

and

One of my best Lebanese friends said she is extremely jealous of Americans because we get to argue about things like abortion. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Budget deficits are particularly trivial. Try living in a country where politics kills you and see what you think about budget deficits.

I wonder, is there a better example of someone trying to sound serious yet demonstrating fundamental unseriousness at the same time? If Totten had argued that he didn’t pay much attention to the politics of budget deficits because he found it boring, I’d be somewhat sympathetic, as there are certainly elements of the political and bureaucratic process that make me go to sleep. But that’s not what he’s saying. Rather, he’s arguing that none of us should pay attention to things like tax policy, abortion, budget deficits, and so forth because much more “serious” things are happening in Lebanon. Taken to its logical end, this means that no one should focus on local or state politics because federal politics are more “serious”. And, of course, it reveals that Totten is approaching the general topic of politics with all the “seriousness” of a nine year old child. His indifference to the complexity of local and domestic politics and their impact not only on the larger political scene but also on the lives of real people (especially, in the case of abortion to women) almost remind me of the ravings of a Naderite… oh, right.

Ain’t that Just Like a McCain?

[ 0 ] October 25, 2006 |

Yglesias points out this statement:

He has a long time proclivity for suggesting that someone like James Baker or Brent Scowcroft might make a good envoy to try to re-start negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Later, McCain qualifies that to say he “would appoint someone to go to the region who was well regarded: Scowcroft, Baker, Kissinger, George Mitchell, Tony Zinni, Bill Kristol, Randy Scheunemann.

Uh… right.

This statement is about as McCain as McCain can get. By suggesting envoys as far apart as George Mitchell and Bill Kristol (!!!?!), he’s letting everyone who has an interest in this question know that he’s on there side. To liberal hawks he’s a well reasoning liberal hawk. To conservorealists he’s a staunch “Poppy” Bush realist. To sociopathic neocons, he’s a raving neocon. Moreover, every reader can dismiss everyone else’s favorite choice as electoral posturing. Heck, he might as well toss James Dobson and Noam Chomsky on the list so that he can get full coverage of the political spectrum.

Why can’t people see through this guy? He’s as transparent as glass.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

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