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The Most Insightful Comment Regarding New Mexico Lobos Football I’ve Heard All Day

[ 0 ] March 30, 2006 |

Somehow I am thinking that a diet consisting of something other than cheeseburgers might help this team suck just slightly less. Get Direct TV Albuquerque for all the latest Lobo action.

Book Review: Cicero

[ 0 ] March 29, 2006 |

My introduction to Cicero came in a Classics class my freshman year at the University of Oregon. We read Against Verres I, an early case prosecuted by Cicero against the former governor of Sicily, and the Second Philippic Against Antony, a speech written in the days following the assassination of Caesar. Cicero is an odd figure among those ancients still read today. He wasn’t a historian, or a philosopher, or a playwright, although he dabbled in the first two. Cicero’s surviving work is mostly about the practical diffculty of being a politician in Rome at the end of the Republic. Whereas you can read Plato or Thucydides without caring overmuch about local Athenian politics, Cicero is ALL politics, and an interest in Cicero depends, to some degree, on an interest in his times.

That said, Cicero’s life gives us one of the clearest possible windows into the political life of ancient Rome. Cicero was one of the four or five most important men in Rome during the civil wars, and the contours of his life are particular important to an understanding of that conflict. Although much of his work has been lost, many of his most important speeches survive, and we have a lifetime of correspondence between he and his friend Atticus. We know Cicero better than any but his closest friends. As with any political memoir, we are susceptible to Cicero’s deception, but only to the same extent that he deceived himself; the Cicero that comes down to us is not the writer of a self-serving memoir.

The existence of Cicero as a fully realized historical individual is one of the things that attracted me to his writings. Another is an amateur interest in his time and place. Probably most important, I liked Cicero as a politician. Although driven to save the Republic, he was also motivated by a powerful sense of the practical and the possible. In this sense he reminds me most of Edmund Burke, although his purpose leaned more to the institutional than to the social. The revolution in Rome was small potatoes compared to the French Revolution.

Cicero’s experience also demonstrates the inadequacy of a Burkean program. By Cicero’s day, the constitution of the Republic was simply not up to the management of an Empire and its consequent enormous urban capitol. Cautious reform is not a helpful program when one major faction is so entrenched that it resist any meaningful change, and the other is so radical that it rejects basic common ground. Cicero knew this on some level, which is why he was so reluctant to throw his support (and the support of the Senate) behind Pompey in the 50s or behind Octavian in the wake of Caesar’s assassination. The victory of Pompey over Caesar, Antony over Octavian, or even Brutus and Cassius over the Second Triumvarate might have altered the contours of the new Roman state, but would never have saved the Republic as it existed. The fall of the Republic serves to remind that simply because there MUST be a solution does not mean that their WILL be a solution.

Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician
, by Anthony Everett, is a solidly enjoyable account of Cicero’s life. It’s not the most exhaustive nor the most accurate biography, but it is very readable. Everett is clear about the evidence that we don’t have, but still makes sensible decisions about filling in Cicero’s life with what we know of the typical existence of an upper-class Roman citizen.

It wouldn’t surprise me to discover that Anthony Everett’s account of Cicero has been used by the writers and producers of Rome. The depiction of the death of Caesar was very close to Everett’s account, and the book came out not long before the series was contemplated. One episode that Everett relates might be fun to depict in the series; although Brutus seems like a stand up guy and all, he once ordered his men to lock the senate of a small town in its building until several of the senators starved. “Nice guy” was a relative term in ancient Rome.

Caspar

[ 0 ] March 28, 2006 |

How I love to watch the morn with golden sun that shines, up above to nicely warm these frosty toes of mine

The wind doth taste of bittersweet,
Like jasper wine and sugar.
I bet it’s blown through others’ feet,
like those of…

Caspar Weinberger.

Arrested Thirteen

[ 0 ] March 28, 2006 |

Looks like no more Arrested Development.

On the upside(?), it looks as if there will be an Ocean’s Thirteen, featuring Soderberg, Clooney, Pitt, Damon, and the rest of crew, but excluding Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta Jones. The exclusion of Roberts can only be met with great rejoicing, as she was the only major flaw to mar the first film, and was key to the worst excesses of the second.

Thanks to the magic of ten channels of HBO, I’ve seen Ocean’s Twelve several times in the last few months. My attitude on it has matured a bit. On the plus side, every moment that Garcia is onscreen is outstanding. The same can be said for Vincent Cassel. Damon is probably better in the second film than the first, largely because he has a richer role. On the other hand, there’s not enough Pitt or Clooney (especially the latter), the pacing is off (Soderberg couldn’t manage the trick of humanizing all eleven members a second time), the scenes with Roberts are uniformally terrible, and the plot is slapped together with visible tape and paste.

So, I don’t know what to think of the third effort. I’ll almost certainly see it, though.

Season Preview: Cincinnati Reds

[ 0 ] March 28, 2006 |

One of the biggest differences between the Mariners and the Reds is that while the Mariners are guaranteed of 4th place, the Reds merely aspire to it.

Last year the Reds went 73-89, scoring 820 runs and giving up 889. Both of those were the highest in the National League, the latter really a tremendous achievement for any team not playing in Colorado. They were 27 games out of first place and 6 games out of fourth place. Part of the high run totals are because the Great American Ballpark is a solid hitters ballpark, with a factor of about 105 (favorable to hitters). The more important reasons for the high run totals are the Reds’ excellent offense, horrible pitching, and criminally negligent defense. Of the latter, only the Colorado Rockies and the Kansas City Royals had worse defensive efficiency numbers.

Not terribly much has changed between this year and last in Cincinnati. The offense remains potent, with plus offensive players at every position except second base (Freel/Womack/Aurilia), and first base (Scott Hatteburg). The defense remains awful, especially in the outfield. Austin Kearns can play a plausible corner outfield, but Adam Dunn really belongs at first base, and Ken Griffey Jr. can no longer play center. BP has him at -18 runs in centerfield last year, and expects a similar performance this year. The infield defense is a lot better, although the right side of the infield has some obvious difficulties.

The pitching staff remains a big problem. The rotation seems to consist of Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Brandon Claussen, Eric Milton, and Dave Williams. Harang was a good pitcher last year. Claussen is decent, as is Bronson Arroyo, although Arroyo’s flyball tendencies probably couldn’t have found a worse home than Cincinnati. Eric Milton, on the other hand, turned in one of the worst performances in the history of major league baseball. A 6.47 ERA in 186.1 innings is a bad thing, and there is no reason to expect him to perform any better this year, as he remains a mediocre, flyball heavy pitcher in a wholly inappropriate park in front of a catastrophically leaky outfield defense. Dave Williams will eat some below average innings. Nevertheless, the rotation will probably be slightly better than it was last year. In the bullpen, only David Weather and Matt Belisle are really distinguished.

The best that the Reds can expect is that Austin Kearns will regain his offensive form and deliver the 4-5 WARP (wins above replacement) that he seems capable of. Griffey will be a net plus if he remains healthy and hits like he did last year. Second base will be a disaster unless Ryan Freel takes over quickly from Aurilia and Womack. Edwin Encarnacion looks like a fine regular, and I’m not so worried about his defense. The pitching staff could achieve its extreme upside of mediocrity. If all of that happens, and if Chicago and Houston collapse, then a third place finish in the division and about 81 wins aren’t out of reach.

The worst that can happen is utter disaster. If Griffey gets injured he’s going to be replaced by Ryan Freel, meaning that Womack and Aurilia will be free to suck at second base all year long. Encarnacion may have trouble developing. Kearns may remain stuck at his current level of sub-par production. Harang could take a slight step back, and Arroyo could completely fail in GAB. Eric Milton will remain Eric Milton. In this scenario, the Reds find themselves firmly in sixth place, behind the (gasp) Pirates.

My guess? About the same as last year, roughly 71-73 wins, and probably fifth place.

Vlad and Ben

[ 0 ] March 27, 2006 |

Ben Domenech and Vladimir Putin have something in common. Via Rodger:

Two scholars at a research institution in Washington have accused Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, of plagiarizing a management textbook by two professors at the University of Pittsburgh in a dissertation for which he received an economics degree, The Washington Times reported on Saturday. According to the scholars, Mr. Putin copied substantial portions, including tables and diagrams, from a 1978 book, Strategic Planning and Policy, by William R. King, now a professor of business administration at Pitt, and David I. Cleland, now an emeritus professor of industrial engineering.

The lesson for Ben? Achieve quasi-dictatorial power before you get caught.

Tournament Challenge Update

[ 0 ] March 27, 2006 |

We are now near the end.

The only two competitors who still have a chance at victory are Keith Adams, managed by K. Adams, and FlangeGonad, managed by F. Gonad. The situation is relatively simple, as F. Gonad wins if UCLA wins the championship, and Mr. Adams wins under any other eventuality. Notably, only four of the 31 competitors can still gain any points at all. No one, as far as I can tell, had George Mason in the Final Four.

In other news, I have created a Baseball Challenge group. Last year’s winner was the illustrious Dave Noon of Axis of Evel Knievel, and I know that some within our community have been sharpening the knives since October.

League Name: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Password: zevon

UPDATE: Here are some stats from ESPN:

3000000+ entries
284 have George Mason winning
1853 have George Mason in the Final Four
66% have no remaining Final Four teams

And Josh Levin of Slate has the #4 entry.

Mickey Kaus is a %%$%@ Moron, Part XLVIII

[ 0 ] March 27, 2006 |

Mickey:

The Plano Con, Coda: Remember Plano, Texas, the Mid-American city where Brokeback Mountain’s ticket sales so impressed Frank Rich and others with the film’s hard-core red-state appeal? When Wal-Mart decided to open a new experimental “upscale” store, featuring a sushi bar, an espresso bar, $500 bottles of wine–but no guns–guess where they decided to do it? … Reports A.P.: “[I]f plasma TVs, microbrewery beer and fancy balsamic vinegar sell in Plano, those items could be added to stores in other affluent communities.” … Plano is in fact an affluent Dallas suburb. … [Thanks to reader G.B.] 10:20 P.M.

Plasma TVs, microbreweries, and fancy balsamic vinegar are sooooo gay, and it’s not surprising that a bunch of effeminate affluent Dallas suburb lefties would go and watch Brokeback Mountain.

Plano, Texas is part of Collin County, Texas. It is genuinely affluent, with a median income of over $75000. In 2004, Collin County gave 71.2% of its vote to George W. Bush, and 28.1% to John Kerry, a percentage that exceeded Bush’s margin in Texas as a whole. In other words, Collin County is conservative for Texas.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: Strasbourg

[ 1 ] March 26, 2006 |

France’s early efforts at battleship construction suffered from slow building, full slips, and a concentration on the more pressing issues of World War I. Accordingly, early French battleships were not competitive with their foreign contemporaries. The Washington Naval Treaty allowed France to build 70000 tons worth of battleships, but the French wisely deferred construction during the immediate postwar period.

Germany suffered under far more serious restrictions that France. Germany was allowed to construct no battleships of over 10000 tons, which should have limited them to coastal defense vessels. The Germans, however, were not content with this plan, and developed the “pocket battleships”, a trio of cruiser size ships with battleship armament and very long ranges. Each of the pocket battleships carried 6 11″ guns in two triple turrets, could make about 29 knots, and had diesel engines that gave them ranges ideal for commerce raiding. Upon the construction of the pocket battleships, France began to design ships that could destroy the German vessels. The result was the Dunkerque class fast battleships.

The Dunkerque’s and their successors, the Richielieu class battleships, were exceptionally well designed vessels. Dunkerque and Strasbourg each carried 8 13″ guns in two quadruple turrets, could make 32 knots, and displaced 26500 tons (slightly higher for Strasbourg, due to extra armour). These ships were sometimes described as battlecruisers, but they were armored against 11″ shells, which essentially made them light battleships. Strasbourg, like the later Richielieu, also devoted an enormous percentage of her displacement to armor. Although exact figures differ a bit and depend on interpretation, Strasbourg devoted between 41% and 44% of her displacement to armor, making her one of the best armored battleships ever built, for her size. Armor took up roughly 33% of the displacement of a typical modern battleship, althought the Richielieu class also achieved a percentage in the low 40s. The French were able to achieve such numbers through excellent, efficient design work and also through the practice of quadruple turrets, which significantly reduced the weight of the main armament. The armor was well distributed, and Strasbourg also had excellent underwater protection and a fine anti-aircraft armament. Altogether the French battleship construction effort was much more impressive than that of the Germans or the Italians, and on a ton for ton basis was competitive with that of the Royal Navy.

Strasbourg’s activities at the beginning of World War II involved convoy escort and the pursuit of German commerce raiders. Strasbourg was more than capable of catching and destroying a pocket battleship, and I think she would have fared well against the German Scharnhorst class, although the latter is controversial. In any case, Strasbourg never caught a German ship, and the French surrender found her at the harbor of Mers El Kebir.

The French fleet, by and large, hoped to sit out the war following the French surrender. The Germans wanted the French fleet, and Admiral Darlan, an important naval official, had fascist sympathies, but there was considerable resistance in the French Navy to giving ships to the Germans. Winston Churchill, however, felt that the French fleet was too great of a threat to let lay, and decided to take vigorous action. He deployed a squadron including HMS Hood and two older battleships to Mers El Kebir in order to capture or destroy the French squadron. The squadron included two old battleships (Provence and Bretagne), but the main British concern was with Dunkerque, Strasbourg, and six large, modern French destroyers. The French destroyers and fast battleships could have made a significant addition to either the Italian or the British fleet, and their disposition might have had important consequences for the course of the war.

The negotiations between the French and British naval officials at Mers El Kebir went poorly, and the British ships eventually opened fire. Strasbourg was handicapped by the fact that her entire main armament (2 quadruple 13″ turrets) were forward, and could not fire to the aft, where the British happened to be. Nevertheless, Strasbourg managed to get underway, and with five of the six destroyers made a break for the open sea. The rest of the French squadron did not fare so well, with Bretagne exploding and Dunkerque and Provence beaching themselves.

HMS Hood was the only ship that could have caught Strasbourg, and a battle between the two would have been interesting. Hood was much larger and carried a heavier armament, but Strasbourg was newer and better protected. She was also faster, and Hood injured herself trying to pursue. Strasbourg and the five large destroyers made their way to Toulon, where they sat, inactive, until November 1942. They were joined by Dunkerque, which had received serious but not critical damage in the British attack.

On November 10, 1942, the Germans decided to abrogate the armistice with France, and occupied Vichy controlled areas. The French Navy decided to retain its honor, however, and on November 27, 1942, scuttled itself. Strasbourg’s military equipment was destroyed and she settled on the bottom of the harbor. Her hulk was refloated in 1943 by the Italians, and was transferred several times between Italy, Germany, and the skeleton of the Vichy state. In August 1944, Strasbourg was hit by eight American bombs, and was grounded to prevent capsizing. The French refloated her in 1946, and considered, but rejected, converting the hulk into an aircraft carrier. She was used for explosives tests before finally being scrapped in 1955.

UPDATE: Attentive reader Davida asks why the French didn’t just sail from Toulon to an Allied port instead of scuttling their ships. I don’t have a great answer; I assume that it was in part because of the bad feelings left over from Mers El Kebir, and in part because not all of the fleet was seaworthy. Any insight out there?

Trivia: What battleship holds the record for scoring the longest ranged hit on another battleship in combat?

[ 0 ] March 24, 2006 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson

Movies I Use in the Classroom

[ 0 ] March 23, 2006 |

I love to use film as a teaching tool, and not just because it buys me a day of no lectures. Movies help to make clear certain concepts in a non-traditional way. Also, I think there’s positive value in exposing students to non-academic perspectives about particular questions. Finally, there are films that are just as important to cultural literacy as books. Lately, I’ve been assigning David Brin’s novella Thor Meets Captain America as a companion piece to Arnold Wolfers’ National Security as an Ambiguous Symbol, and I think it has worked quite well as a demonstration of how unimportant national security can be in some contexts. I also assign the occasional novel.

I know that a fair number of professors and teachers read LGM, and I’m interested in learning how many use movies in the classroom, and what they use them for. I’m also interested in the student side; what movies have worked well in the classroom, and which ones haven’t? Here is what I use, and why.

Dr. Strangelove: I’ve probably shown Dr. Strangelove half a dozen times, more than any film except perhaps Battle of Algiers. The discussion of deterrence theory is worth the price of admission, but I think it’s also useful for conveying a particular (and particularly male) culture of national security. I once showed it along with 13 Days, the Kevin Costner flick about the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it was fascinating to compare how gender relations were depicted in the two films. Dr. Strangelove is also a critical cultural document, one that anybody purporting to be an educated person needs to see.

Red Dawn: I showed Red Dawn one year in an American Foreign Policy class. I’m still not sure how it worked out. The point was to convey the fear that accompanied Reagan’s America, and remind students that, for the first half of the 1980s, Reagan and his lackeys relentless inflated the Soviet threat. Red Dawn is really an exercise in absurdity, and the first twenty minutes are truly a masterpiece of absurdist art. Milius has a talent for creating masculine-affective set pieces like this (see also the first thirty minutes of Conan the Barbarian). I love the idea of half a million Nicaraguans and half a million Cubans infiltrating across the border, and I love how the Cuban officer gets to order the Soviet soldiers around. For me, it’s Reagan’s America: Part I. I don’t know if the students got anything out of it, though.

The Manchurian Candidate: I’ve shown the first Manchurian Candidate three or four times. I saw the second on cable, but Manchurian Candidate is a film so deeply embedded within a particular time and worldview that it simply doesn’t translate as a remake. The point of Manchurian Candidate in the classroom is to evoke a historical period; not to convince the students that the Chinese were really infiltrating the US with mind-controlled zombies, but rather to show them the general atmosphere of paranoia that existed in America in the 1950s. Also, most students have only been exposed to Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher (and, recently, few even of those), and her portrayal of the Red Queen is a revelation.

The Battle of Algiers: I’ve shown this eight or nine times. It’s indispensible to any conversation about terrorism or insurgency. Longer discussion here.

The Thin Red Line: I’ve shown the whole thing once, and parts of it once. Thin Red Line is a hard movie to show a class, because it’s very long and because I know that a large percentage of the class will absolutely loathe it. I like it as a pedagogical tool for its portrayal of military hierarchy, but especially for the assault on the hill, which is the best depiction of an infantry attack against a fortified position that I’ve ever seen.

Breaker Morant: Maybe five times? There’s just so much going on here; counter-insurgency, laws of war, personal responsibility, military hierarchy, nationalism, and the moral context of war. Indispensible. It’s too bad that my students are now getting too young to remember Edward Woodward in The Equalizer, a passable 1980s vigilante/detective show.

Triumph of the Will: I showed Triumph of the Will to an International Conflict class once. I don’t think they got it. It’s valuable in and of itself as a cultural document, but it also has important things to say about nationalism as a product of mass culture and modernity, a concept which is sometimes kind of hard to convey. Bonus points go to students who can pick out the parts of the film that George Lucas lifted for Star Wars.

Grand Illusion: Three or four times. Grand Illusion is really about multiple group affiliation and shared identity. Class, nationality, European, and the military profession are all important, to varying degrees, to the principals. I show it in my Europe in World Politics course, generally during the part of the course that I discuss state-building in Europe and the expansion of the European nation-state form to other parts of the world.

I’ve also used Elizabeth once (to depict the violent side of state building) and Thirteen Days once (both for the historical narrative and the for the contrast with Dr. Strangelove). If I taught other courses, I’d use other movies, probably including some from this list. Sadly, there are a dearth of decent movies about China, and Last Emperor is way too long to show in any class.

Are You Cat Worthy?

[ 0 ] March 23, 2006 |

I must admit that I was a little bit surprised at how extensive the application was to adopt Nelson and Starbuck. At no point in the process did I think I would be rejected, but I can certainly see how rescue organizations would be a lot more worried about dogs than cats:

Even as adopting a stray dog or cat — rather than buying one from a store or breeder — has become politically fashionable, a badge of pride for some because of the millions of animals that are euthanized each year, the hurdles that some humane societies and rescue groups make potential owners leap — including multipage applications, references, background checks, interviews and home visits — can make the process feel nearly as daunting as adopting a child.

The promise of a home visit probably surprised me the most, although thus far I have only received a phone call and a request for pictures, and I think that the latter was because the volunteer missed the two kittens. I was a bit worried about having to explain, the first couple of days, that Nelson was fine hiding behind the furnace, that he could live a rich and fulfilling life back there, and that we wouldn’t need to pry him out with a stick…

But really, it was reassuring that the volunteers had so much concern for the animals that they had in their care.