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Go Greece

[ 0 ] September 1, 2006 |

Not that I particularly care, but what are the standard explanations for the failure of the United States to win international basketball competitions? That the US, in spite of having the best talent, lost the World Baseball Classic was no surprise, because the margin of US superiority was relatively slim and because baseball doesnt reward superiority on a game by game basis as well as basketball. But why does the US lose in basketball?


Union Busting

[ 0 ] August 31, 2006 |

Yglesias reminds us that reality TV isn’t just evil; it’s Evil.

Oddly, the last 10-15 years has seen some of the most complex and interesting television in the history of the medium (Buffy through the Sopranos through Deadwood through Veronica Mars), and some of its most irredeemable garbage (any reality show). On the upside, the prevalence of reality TV means that I don’t have to worry about paying attention to half of the schedule in any new season…

In Other Nerd News…

[ 0 ] August 30, 2006 |


Bond Thoughts

[ 0 ] August 30, 2006 |

I’m sitting here watching Die Another Day on Spike, and thinking to myself that Brosnan-era Bond really failed to live up to its promise. Of the four films one is genuinely excellent (GoldenEye), one is a solid contribution (Die Another Day, with an outstanding first half and a terrible second half), and two are mediocre to poor. Brosnan was certainly a superior Bond to Dalton, but that’s not saying much; it’s hard to evaluate Dalton’s films as part of the canon because they simply don’t feel like James Bond films. I would rate Moore’s tenure marginally higher because of the quality of the first two films, although Roger appeared in some awful clunkers.

In any case, the Brosnan era was characterized by exceptionally well crafted opening bits. The title sequences in GoldenEye and Die Another Day are probably the best in the franchise, although the mediocre Tina Turner song detracts from the former. There’s nothing really surprising about this, given that so many directors today have gotten their starts in music videos, and that a Bond opening sequence is really just a video with some extra action thrown in.

I still don’t know what to think about Daniel Craig.

The Baseball Bat of Analogies

[ 0 ] August 30, 2006 |

When in doubt, whine about appeasement.

I wonder when the “lesson” of 1938 will lose its force. I would like to think that its days are numbered, especially given how often (and how badly) supporters of the 2003 Iraq War have been driving the analogy into the ground. By invoking the analogy ad nauseum, I suspect that “hawks” are slowly depriving it of any rhetorical meaning. Then again, 1938 survived the Vietnam War, an experience that should have put any decent analogy in its grave.

Let’s be brief. There is no meaningful parallel between 1938 and 2006. Appeasement is a strategy that has been in the toolbox of statecraft since the beginning of diplomacy, and it often works. The experience of 1938 is commonly simplified and misunderstood. “Appeasement” exists now only as a rhetorical stick capable of bashing anyone who opposes any war under any circumstances; it’s more a baseball bat than a helpful tool for thinking about international politics.

To put it as clearly as possible, when you hear someone invoke 1938 to justify military action, you know they’ve got nothing. It’s as dead and meaningless as any cliche can be. You’re either talking to a moron or to someone unwilling to supply his or her real reasons for military action.

Making a Desert out of the Desert.

[ 0 ] August 29, 2006 |

Huzzah to Yglesias for pointing out that settlement in an area once known as “The Great American Desert” is project likely to suffer from the occasional drought. If I recall my undergraduate history correctly, the period between 1870 and 1890 was one of milennially high rainfall in the Great Plains, which led to a situation in which the area was radically oversettled, well beyond what it could actually support. Drought in the area isn’t the exception, it’s the rule.

Mickey Kaus etc. etc. etc.

[ 0 ] August 29, 2006 |

Chris Matthews:

All signs point to a continued degradation of our situation in Iraq.

Shorter (well, roughly the same length) Mickey:

Nonsense. There’s this letter here from a Marine who says that everything is going to be fine. How can it be “all signs” if this Marine wrote a nice letter?

If you’ve been paying attention to Mickey for the last three years (and, sadly, I have), this is fairly typical; his only commentary about Iraq comes in the form of “the press seems to have come to a consensus that it’s a disaster, but aren’t they cocooning?” He’s now moved on to “Washington policymakers seem to have come to a consensus that it’s a disaster, but aren’t they, uh…”. Ten years from now: “Historians seem to have come to a consensus that it was a disaster, but who listens to them anyway?”


[ 0 ] August 28, 2006 |

I’m watching the Athletics-Red Sox game, and I’m wondering when Javy Lopez picked up his reputation for being so bad defensively. I know that everybody has to love Jason Varitek, and apparently I’m supposed to believe that his pitch-calling is crucial to the success of the Red Sox staff, but I’m at a loss as to how Lopez has presumably lost all ability to call pitches. Apparently it is beyond the capacity of the commentators to recall the 1990s, but I seem to remember that Lopez regularly caught a few Hall of Fame caliber pitchers (although I recall now that Lopez rarely caught Maddux). Still, it’s not as if we’re talking about aa raw rookie. Even if we allow that some of the pitchers became used to Varitek and have trouble shifting to Lopez, that doesn’t explain Beckett, who has sucked all year and is new to the Red Sox in any case. I’d be much more inclined to assign responsibility for the Red Sox pitching problems to the Tim Wakefield injury and the Trot Nixon injury, the latter of which has resulted in more playing time for the defensively challenged Wily Mo Pena. I’d also be more inclined to believe the Varitek-centered explanation if anyone had ever been able to produce solid statistical evidence that pitch-calling ability matters for ERA.

Imperial Ambition

[ 0 ] August 28, 2006 |

In the midst of explaining how it’s more important to stay in Iraq than it was to stay in Vietnam, William Stuntz writes:

But on any plausible scale of strategic value, Iraq today easily beats Vietnam in the late 1960s or Korea in the early 1950s. America has three enemies in the Middle East today: secular or Sunni Baathism, violent Sunni jihadism, and violent Shiite jihadism. These three enemy forces have demonstrated their willingness to work together: witness Baathist Syria’s alliance with Shiite Iran and Hezbollah, and the sometime cooperation of Zarqawi’s Islamist killers with
pro-Saddam Iraqi insurgents. All three are dangerous because all have imperial ambitions; each seeks not control of a small piece of Middle Eastern real estate but regional hegemony–even, in the case of the jihadists, world domination. Needless to say, all three hate the West.

Ok, but I don’t recall any advocate of the Vietnam War or the Korean War ever suggest that the conflict was only for local goals, either. In Vietnam, hawks relentlessly argued that the aims of Democratic Republic of Vietnam were dominion over all of Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Moreover, the North Vietnamese were supposed to be the vanguard of international communism, the doormen for Soviet and Chinese imperialism. In short, the United States was fighting against forces who had regional and global imperial ambitions, and showing weakness in the face of those forces yada yada yada. In Korea the same claims were made, with the presumed victim of the aforementioned imperialism being Japan and a terrified Europe…

There’s certainly a strong argument to be made that Iraq is more strategically important today than Vietnam was in 1968, but to ma ke that argument by hyping the goals and capabilities of the enemy is a tactic that we’ve seen before.


[ 0 ] August 28, 2006 |

What a depressing ending for Deadwood, not simply in the substance (which, in the last two episodes, was crushing) but also in the sheer incompleteness of the project. Knowing that the program would not be renewed, the producers decided to press on with the original plan even though it would leave numerous plot threads dangling and the absence of a meaningful conclusion. The third season was filled with plot elements that were designed to lead to something in the future (Tolliver’s thread, and virtually the entire Brian Cox storyline) but that served, under the circumstances, to detract from what was our central interest, the conflict with Hearst. Wu’s partisans and Landgrische’s troup may have yielded narrative payoffs, but we’ll never know.

I’m not sure how much the production should be faulted for this decision. In the face of a very similar situation with Angel, Joss Whedon decided to accelerate certain plot developments and craft the rest of the conclusion out of thin air, leaving us with a finale not nearly as sastisfactory as it should have been. I would think that there must be a happy medium between these two extremes. It could be fairly argued that a show like Deadwood should never result in some sort of happy equilibrium, in which we are more or less satisfied that the narratives of importance to us have come to a close. True enough, but that still misses the target a bit; I feel no greater sense of closure having seen the last episode of the season than I did seeing the sixth, and would have preferred if at least some gesture towards finality had been offered.

Then again, we are apparently supposed to get a couple feature length episodes to finish off the tale. There’s no timeline, and I’m skeptical that they’ll ever see the light of day, given the difficulty associated with reuniting the cast in a couple or three yeears.


[ 0 ] August 28, 2006 |

In extremely tepid defense of Joe Biden, I don’t think he was BOASTING that Delaware was once a slave state; rather, he was pointing out a basic fact about one of America’s most obscure states that many people don’t know and that, in particular, his Fox News interviewer seemed ignorant of. For a variety of reasons it is quite wrong to refer to Biden as a “northeastern liberal”. Delaware isn’t really a northeastern state, and, more importantly, Biden really ain’t that liberal.

The much more irritating aspect of his interview is that he was willing to go on Fox News and essentially dis northeastern liberals, one of the most important and most loyal constituencies that the Democratic party has.


[ 0 ] August 27, 2006 |

It looks as if there’s been a plane crash in Lexington.

… Fox News, unhelpfully, was speculating as to whether terrorism was the cause.

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