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[ 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.


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.

Book Review: The Road

[ 0 ] October 24, 2006 |

To give you a sense of where I’m coming from, here is my Cormac McCarthy preference list:

1. Blood Meridian
2. The Crossing
3. Sutree
4. The Road
5. All the Pretty Horses
6. Cities of the Plains
7. The Orchard Keeper
8. Child of God
9. Outer Dark
10. No Country for Old Men

And of those I would really only consider the last a failure. Sutree is the odd duck; I kind of like Sutree more than the Road, and I know I like The Road better than the first and third border novels, but I kind of like the border novels better than Sutree. That doesn’t make any sense, but nevertheless. I’m curious about other McCarthy preference orderings, so leave them in comments.

There’s no question that The Road is an exceptional work. The story is a relatively simple post-apocalyptic tale, centering on a father and son in search of an area with food and warmth. McCarthy doesn’t specify the cause of the apocalypse, but the result has been enormous fires and a haze that hangs between the sun and the surface of the earth. All plant life has died, which means that all animal life (with the exception of human beings) has also died. This leaves the survivors in rather a quandry, since the food supply is only declining, and the only fresh food available is… well, Spike the vampire once referred to human beings as “walking happy meals”. The problems, then, are to find food and avoid being eaten by cannibals or captured by slavers. The mother in this happy tale sensibly committed suicide some years before the action described in the novel. Although considerably more spare, the book is closest in tone to Blood Meridian.

I won’t tell you any more, because that’s really all you need. I have two questions, however. First, if the name on the cover wasn’t “Cormac McCarthy”, is there a chance in hell that The Road would have been given to mainstream reviewers? I know that it’s hard to an unknown to get reviewed, but that’s not what I’m talking about; the subject matter clearly seems to fall within the science fiction/horror genre, and I suspect that if Cormac hadn’t been the author, that’s where it would have stayed, never to have been noted by anyone with “serious” literary taste. An interesting parallel is Infinite Jest, which also used a science fiction setting but was understood to be a mainstream novel, although the structure of Infinite Jest is so complex and demanding that it might have attracted notice anyway. Nevertheless, somewhere Harlan Ellison is spinning in his grave (or at least he would be, if he weren’t still alive).

Second, why are we fascinated by post-apocalyptic stories? This isn’t a recent phenomenon; the post-apocalyptic novel/movie melds pretty seamlessly with the anti-utopia genre. The Cold War gave meat to some post-apocalyptic narratives, but the preceded and have survived it. I wonder if the basis for interest in the post-apocalyptic is a kind of almost subconcious realization that the world we live in today is dramatically at odds with the way that humanity has lived for most of its history and pre-history, and thus that there’s something fragile about the arrangements that we’ve made. It’s almost, but not quite, a kind of rump Burkeanism, a shout out against the complexity of the modern world without any confidence in the basic resilience of the social order. I imagine that John Derbyshire could write a great post-apocalyptic novel…

Thee, not Me

[ 0 ] October 23, 2006 |

Shorter Hitch: Tony Judt is, like, so obsessed with himself.


[ 0 ] October 23, 2006 |

Hey, when did the NFL game scheduled on Monday night become MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL!!!!!!? I know that it’s always been the biggest media game of the week, but ESPN is selling it as some kind of lifestyle choice.

Does the fact that I loathe Hank Williams Jr. (but not his daddy or his son), that I can’t stand the damn Cowboys, and that I’d rather watch a regular season baseball game than this pageant make me un-American?

What’s that funny smell coming out of the NSA?

[ 0 ] October 23, 2006 |

Don’t they know how many people watch ‘Lost’ while stoned?

The CIA aren’t the only spooks with wacky recruiting stunts. The signals intelligence snoops over at the National Security Agency are trying out tricks of their own, to reel in potential employees. The latest, according to Defense Tech pal Siobhan Gorman: a first-ever series of TV ads, airing on episodes of “Lost” and “CSI.”


[ 0 ] October 23, 2006 |

Worse than you could imagine.

Every day the corpses pile up in the capital like discarded furniture — at curbside, in lots, in waterways and sewer lines; every day the executioners return. A city in which it was long taboo to ask, “Are you Sunni or Shiite?” has abruptly become defined by these very characteristics.

Once-harmonious neighborhoods with mixed populations have become communal killing grounds. Residents of one sect or the other must clear out or face the whim of fanatics with power drills.


The next night, an armor-piercing bomb hit the same squad, Gator 1-2. A sergeant with whom I had ridden the previous evening lost a leg; the gunner and driver suffered severe shrapnel wounds. “Timing is everything, especially in Iraq,” the captain and unit commander wrote in an e-mail informing me of the incident.

Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds asks “So why are people so cranky?”

Sunday Battlestar Blogging: Pegasus (chock full o’ spoilers)

[ 0 ] October 22, 2006 |

A Mercury class battlestar, Pegasus entered service at some point between the First and Second Cylon wars. Her design represented a remarkable advance over that of the earliest battlestars, occupying nearly twice the volume of the Battlestar Galactica. Her armor, tactical speed, damage absorption capacity, and armament similarly exceeded the earlier ship. Automation advances made the operation of Pegasus possible with only half the crew of Galatica.

Undergoing an overhaul at the beginning of the Second Cylon War, Pegasus escaped theCylon attack only through employment of a “blind jump”. It is unknown how many other battlestars attempted similar maneuvers. After working back up, Pegasus, under the command of Admiral Cain, began shadowing a fleet of Cylon basestars. It was later discovered that the Cylon fleet was itself shadowing the Battlestar Galactica and a fleet of civilian vessels. Pegasus joined Galactica’s fleet, and under joint command the two ships launched a brief counteroffensive, destroying the Cylon “Resurrection Ship” and a basestar.

Following the battle, Admiral Cain was assassinated by a Cylon agent. She was replaced by Colonel Jack Fisk, who was himself assassinated by criminal elements. Command passed to Barry Garner, who died in an ambush involving three Cylon basestars. Garner was replaced by Commander Lee Adama, who helmed Pegasus for roughly eighteen months, including a year in orbit over New Caprica.

Pegasus joined the Battle of New Caprica late, and without her fighter squadrons. Pegasus’ intervention helped to ensure the survival and escape of Galactica, but Pegasus could not withstand fire from four Cylon basestars. Her last tactical maneuver involved a suicidal collision with a basestar, with the explosion resulting in the creation of debris that destroyed yet another basestar. Most of her crew survived. Although the Battle of New Caprica was strategically well thought-out on the part of the Colonial Fleet and tactical well executed, the decision to sacrifice Pegasus in order to save Galactica must be regarded as an error. In addition to her small size and large crew requirement, Galactica was aging and desperately in need of refit. A more well conceived operation would have sacrificed Galactica in favor of Pegasus. Although this might have reduced the damage caused to the Cylon fleet, trading in excess of 50% of the capital ship strength of the Colonial fleet for a fraction of Cylon strength cannot be regarded as a success.

This should serve as a discussion thread for BSG: Exodus Part II.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: HMAS Australia

[ 0 ] October 22, 2006 |

The Royal Navy effort to outpace the Germans in dreadnought numbers severely taxed the Royal Treasury. The Admiralty reasoned that since it fell to the Royal Navy to protect the Dominions, the Dominions ought to pay their fair shard. Accordingly, Australia, New Zealand, and Malaya all coughed up the dough for new battleships. Canada initially offered to fund three Queen Elizabeth type battleships, but the deal fell through on the collision of the Canadian domestic politics with an intransigent Winston Churchill.

HMAS Australia was the only of the three ships built to formally become a part of her Dominion’s Navy. An Indefatigable class battlecruiser, Australia carried eight 12″ guns in four twin turrets (two wing, one each fore and aft), displaced about 20000 tons, and could make 26 knots. Like her brethren, she carried inexcusably light armor protection (Indefatigable would sink from a magazine explosion at Jutland). Indeed, the armor scheme was if anything less optimal than that of the Invincibles. Commissioned in June 1913, Australia arrived Down Under in late 1913 and immediately became the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy.

Australia’s first mission at the beginning of the war was pursuit of German raiders in the Pacific. She tried to find the German East Asia Squadron, which at the time was wreaking havoc across the Pacific, but failed to engage. With the destruction of the East Asia Squadron at the Battle of Falkland Islands, and with the dominance of a friendly Japanese Navy in the region, Australia’s presence in the East was no longer required. In 1915 she returned to Great Britain and joined the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron at Rosyth. Australia narrowly missed the Battle of Dogger Bank. In April 1916, the bad signalling endemic to ships commanded by David Beatty led to a collision between HMS New Zealand and HMAS Australia. Australia received serious damage, and did not return to service until early June. This prevented Australia from participating in the Battle of Jutland. This might have been for the best, given the poor performance of British battlecruisers in the line of battle.

The rest of Australia’s career was uneventful, although she served as a platform for a catapult launched aircraft in 1918 and was present at the surrender of the High Seas Fleet. HMAS Australia returned to Australia in 1919, again becoming the flagship of the Australian Navy. In 1921 she was placed in reserve. The framers of the Washington Naval Treaty understood that Australia would probably again join the Royal Navy in the event of hostilities (especially in the Far East), and thus included her in the Royal Navy count. Larger and newer ships carried the day, and Australia was scuttled off Sydney in 1924. Had Australia been retained in service (and presumably modernized in the interwar period), she might have been able to play some role in the defense of the Dutch East Indies in the early months of 1942. Her 12″ guns would have been welcome at the Battle of Java Sea, for example. Still, it’s hard to imagine that she could have played a decisive role, and most likely she would have fallen victim to air attack, a 24″ “Long Lance” torpedo, or the guns of the one of the far larger and more powerful Kongo class battlecruisers.

Trivia: Which American battleship was sunk by atomic weapons?

Layin’ Around in the Aftermath, it’s All Worse than You Think

[ 0 ] October 22, 2006 |

So I’ll meet you at the bottom if there really is one
They always told me when you hit it you’ll know it
But I’ve been falling so long it’s like gravity’s gone and I’m just floating

-Mike Cooley

Observations from the October 21 Louisville DBT show;

  • As most DBT fans agree, the biggest problem with the band is that it doesn’t have enough fellas playing the guitar. To remedy this deficit they’ve added steel guitarist John Neff for this tour.
  • The show was predictably outstanding, although they only played for 2 hours 15 minutes, which is probably the shortest full length performance I’ve seen them give.
  • The songs were well distributed across the band’s albums, perhaps relying a bit more heavily on “Southern Rock Opera” than they’ve done recently. They ended with Angels and Fuselage, the first time I’d heard that song live. Apparently, Lynyrd Skynyrd died 29 years ago Friday. They turned in the best performance of Let There Be Rock that I’ve yet seen, and also turned out a cover of Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love.
  • Speaking of bands that died early, if his songs are even mildly autobiographical then it’s only by the wildest stroke of luck that Patterson Hood is still with us. Make sure to see him while you still have a chance.
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