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Madmen?

[ 0 ] July 9, 2006 |

A further note on deterrence theory; the most common critique (but not, as I have argued, the correct critique) is that deterrence theory cannot answer the problem of “madmen”, leaders who are presumably clinically insane and cannot be relied upon to make the rational calculations necessary to make deterrence work. As John Judis (via Matt) points out, the trope of the madman seems to have found purchase in American political debate, apparently undeterred by the fact that it is supported by virtually no empirical evidence.

It is hard for me to think, off the top of my head, of a genuinely suicidal leader. Hitler certainly does not qualify; he estimated correctly (over the assessment of his generals) that France could be conquered, then estimated incorrectly (but with the assent of his generals) that the Soviet Union could be conquered. It’s unfortunate that, instead of identifying the real problems with deterrence theory, policymakers and talking heads feel the need to discuss foreign policy problems in terms of mental illness. I suppose it makes sense rhetorically; the low level stability consequences of deterrence theory are kind of hard to explain, treating other countries as if they have reasonable interests and complaints almost smacks of treating others as actual people, and a calm discussion of interest leaves “hawks” without a bludgeon to bash people with.

"I prefer the personal touch you only get with hired goons"

[ 0 ] July 9, 2006 |

Matt of the Tattered Coat channels the question “Who are your favorite Film Thugs of all time?” Matt’s answers come from film noir; Chinatown and the Set-Up. Here are some of mine. The definition of “thug” would seem to me to be a physically imposing henchmen of the Big Bad, but not the Big Bad himself. I suppose, by this definition, even Darth Vader would be a thug. Anyway:

  1. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Mario Brega as Corporal Wallace, the sadistic assistant of Angel Eyes, has always struck me as the archetypal thug. Cruel, violent, greasy, and probably smelly, you can’t help feeling warm and fuzzy when Eli Wallach bashes his head in with a rock.
  2. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels: Vinnie Jones was born to play thugs. Enough said.
  3. The Limey: I don’t know why this one sticks in my memory, but I like not only Peter Fonda’s thuggish security chief, but also the hit men that the chief hires to kill Terence Stamp. They have a no-nonsense professionalism about them that helps cover for the fact that Fonda is in completely over his head.
  4. The Road Warrior: It’s hard to stand out when everyone is a thug, but Vernon Wells manages. He conveys nothing so much as a love of brutality, and while you can imagine the Humungous surviving in civilized society, Wez has obviously found his element.
  5. Sexy Beast: This little flick improves every time I see it, in no small part because I am more impressed than ever by Ian McShane after watching his work in Nine Lives and Deadwood. I have had friends get up and leave during a viewing because they can’t handle the stress that Ben Kingsley puts on Ray Winstone and his crew at the beginning of the film. Intimidation is, of course, the purpose of a thug.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: HIJMS Kaga

[ 0 ] July 9, 2006 |

In the wake of World War I, the Imperial Japanese Navy decided to pursue the “8-8″ program, designed to provide Japan with eight modern battlecruisers and eight modern battleships. Because of the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, only two of these ships (Nagato and Mutsu) were completed as designed. The follow-up Japanese designs included the Amagi class battlecruisers and the Tosa class battleships.

As designed, Kaga was to carry 10 16″ guns in 5 twin turrets, displace 40000 tons, and make 26.5 knots. Her most likely opponents would have been the American South Dakota class, which was more heavily armed and armored but much slower. Because of the intervention of the Treaty, however, construction on Kaga was suspended. The terms of the Treaty allowed the United States and Japan to convert two ships into aircraft carriers in order to match Royal Navy conversions. The Americans converted the battlecruisers Lexington and Saratoga, and the Japanese intended to convert the battlecruisers Akagi and Amagi. Kaga and her almost complete sister Tosa were slated for destruction.

At 11:58am on September 1, 1923, a massive earthquake struck Japan. The magnitude of the earthquake measured at least 7.9. Fires broke out all over Tokyo, and it is thought that over 100000 Japanese died in the earthquake and the ensuing chaos. In the wake of the earthquake, rumours spread that Korean gangs were looting the wreckage of downtown Tokyo. In spite of the protection of the Japanese Army, nearly 2000 Koreans were murdered by Japanese mobs. Amagi, in the process of conversion to an aircraft carrier, was damaged beyond repair. Kaga won a reprieve.

The aircraft carrier Kaga displaced 32000 tons, could make 28 knots, and carried about 90 aircraft. Along with Akagi, she formed the core of Japan’s interwar aircraft carrier force. In November 1941, Kaga proceeded with Akagi, Hiryu, Soryu, Shokaku, and Zuikaku on a secret mission to attack Pearl Harbor. Her aircraft helped sink West Virginia, California, Nevada, and Oklahoma on December 7. Following the Pearl Harbor raid, Kaga helped attack Australia, Rabaul, and other Allied targets.

In May 1942 the Japanese high command decided to launch an operation to seize Midway, a small island sort of near Hawaii. Akagi, Soryu, Hiryu, and the bulk of the strength of the Japanese Combined Fleet were also committed to the operation. American codebreaking revealed the Japanese force, and three USN carrier intercepted the invasion attempt. Although Japanese fighters defeated an attack by American torpedo bombers, a group of dive bombers from Hornet, Yorktown, and Enterprise found the Japanese carriers and attacked. Kaga was hit by four bombs, which started uncontrollable fires on her flight and hangar decks. Kaga’s crew was evacuated, and the ship sank a few hours after the attack. Soryu, Akagi, and Hiryu were also destroyed at the Battle of Midway.

Trivia: Part of the purpose of the Iowa class battleships was to chase down and destroy the Kongo class battlecruisers. What class of ships served as partial justification for the reactivation of the Iowa class?

Searchers Redux

[ 0 ] July 8, 2006 |

Matt wonders what I think about Stephen Metcalf’s trashing of the Searchers. I generally (but not unreservedly) like Metcalf, although he certainly does often fall into the Slate contrarian-for-contrarian’s-sake model of writing. Metcalf really doesn’t care for The Searchers, and blames academia for its reputation:

Its reputation lies elsewhere, with two influential and mutually reinforcing constituencies: critics whose careers emerged out of the rise of “film studies” as a discrete and self-respecting academic discipline, and the first generation of filmmakers—Scorsese and Schrader, but also Francis Ford Coppola, John Milius, and George Lucas—whose careers began in film school. The hosanna chorus for The Searchers is impossible to imagine, in other words, without the formalized presence of film in the university curriculum. The question, then, is: Why did the curriculum attach so intensely to so obviously flawed a movie?

Metcalf also points out that neither Pauline Kael nor Roger Ebert particularly care for the film.

I’m not entirely hostile to Metcalf’s argument. He’s right that The Searchers is a difficult film to watch, and right that there seem to be some glaring problems (most notably Ford’s need to clumsily provide the occasional comic relief). In some sense, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, for example, holds together better as a movie. Even on this point I don’t think that Metcalf is completely fair, however. The frequent cuts to the homestead serve to illustrate the passage of time, and the finale (where Scar apparently decides to stop running and leave himself open to cavalry attack) makes more sense that I think Metcalf would allow. Metcalf also feels the unfortunate need to point out that Ford was an unlikable cuss who probably wouldn’t have enjoyed a film studies class, but while true this is pointless and irrelevant.

The problem I have with Metcalf is that he seems to think that because The Searchers leaves open questions that can be talked about, it’s a failure as a movie. Again, the comparison with Liberty Valance is instructive; the hero and narrative in the latter are far more conventional, understandable, and in some sense enjoyable. But there’s something to be said for a film that includes as intractable a hero as Ethan Edwards and as many iconic sequences as The Searchers. There’s often a trade off in evaluating film between a movie that holds together very well and one that combines some extraordinary scenes and performances with some weakeer segments. It’s not surprising, I suppose, that film students prefer and idolize the latter rather than the former. A similar comparison from Spielberg would be the difference between Catch Me if You Can, which is solid throughout, and Saving Private Ryan, which combines some indelible sequences with a lot of long, slow, boring, and conventional scenes.

So the question is partially one of preference, and I can understand Metcalf’s position. It’s too bad, though, that he feels he needs to conform to the Slate “snarky contrarian” style of writing, because it makes him sound like a damn wanker.

UPDATE: J-Pod has helped me reaffirm my love of the Searchers. Also see Bryan McKay.

Missile Deterrence

[ 0 ] July 8, 2006 |

It’s unclear why Jon Wolfstahl thinks that a deterrent posture on the part of the United States can convince North Korea to give up its missile program; as Bill Petti notes, the deterrent relationship is two-sided. The North Korean leadership undoubtedly believes that a reliable and vigorous missile program is necessary to deter a US attack, and thus that testing the occasional missile is critical to national survival. The problem of obscure intentions is covered, I believe, in Realism 101. This hardly reduces the utility of a deterrent strategy, however, because the point of such a strategy is not to prevent North Korea from launching missiles, but to prevent NK from launching missiles at American, Korean, and Japanese cities.

I’m a big fan of deterrence, but it can’t solve everything. It is commonly accepted among international relations theorists that a deterrent posture can maintain high level stability while creating low level instability. In other words, North Korea is unlikely to invade the South or attack Japan, but nuclear weapons and missile programs may allow North Korea to get away with all kinds of small provocations. The cost of total war makes it unlikely that the United States will respond forcefully to such provocations and risk open conflict. Thus, in addition to maintaining the deterrent relationship, Pyongyang hopes that missiles and nukes will allow North Korea a wider latitude in foreign policy options.

This is precisely what worries, and what ought to worry, the United States about the Iranian nuclear program. While it’s exciting and scary to talk about how Iran is run by a crazy guy and will try to erase Israel, the real concern is a nuclear Iran, potentially immune to attack, will feel free to increase support for terrorism or intimidate Iraq or fiddle with oil prices or whatever. North Korea can bother the United States in any number of ways, but its status as a missile technology proliferant are most worrying. To the credit of the administration’s foreign policy brain, I suspect that they worry more about what will happen if deterrence succeeds than if deterrence fails, and that these concerns make them reluctant to embrace deterrence as a strategy.

Unfortunately, the administration seems unwilling to deal with problems that can’t be “solved”. The best we can do with North Korea and Iran is management, and deterrence is probably the best strategy we have. Like all policies, it has costs as well as benefits. Given that, deterrence is still a pretty wide umbrella that can allow the use of many different tactics; there are ways of reducing the chance of North Korean proliferation or Iranian support for terrorism, just as there were ways to manage Soviet behavior within the general deterrent relationship.

[ 0 ] July 7, 2006 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Sasha and Biscuit


Extra Friday Cat Blogging… Charlie

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.

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