Author Page for Robert Farley
I haven’t been as genuinely appalled by song use in a TV ad since the Wrangler jean commercial a few years back that combined a waving American flag with the line “Some folks are born to wave the flag,” then cut away before the “It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate son.”
Last time before that? The Mercedes Benz commercial that featured Janis Joplin’s Mercedes Benz.
I think Matt and Praktike are missing the point regarding the sinking of an USN aircraft carrier in a conflict over Taiwan. I seriously doubt that the Chinese military leadership thinks that sinking the Kitty Hawk or the Nimitz will force the US to back down. Rather, they’re pursuing a deterrent effect. Naval commanders are among the most risk-averse of any military officers, and US admirals will be EXTREMELY reluctant to place a carrier in a position of danger. The Chinese point is less to sink a carrier than to develop capabilities that will push the carriers far away from the Taiwan theater of operations and thus reduce their effectiveness. It’s entirely reasonable for them to talk about the joys of carrier-sinking in this context.
As you well know, I have always made an effort to be as fair-minded as possible toward those who make irredeemably poor judgments about politics and aesthetics. In this spirit, I would like to follow up my earlier contempt for Bloody Sam Huntington with the following, which is a passage from Soldier and the State, first published in 1957:
[Civilian control] thus becomes an instrumental slogan like “states’ rights” rather than an end in itself. Just as the banner of states’ rights is normally raised by economic groups which have more power at the state than at the national level in struggles with other groups which have more power in the national government, so the slogan of civilian control is utilized by groups which lack power over the military forces in struggles with other civilian groups which have such power.
Now, I think Sam is wrong. Civilian control does have an actual meaning, while “states’ rights” does not. However, it’s nice to see that he understood, even in 1957, that “states’ rights” as an ideology is garbage, an instrument for whatever faction, economic or no, that wishes to resist federal power. Credit where due; it’s something that Glenn Reynolds and the crew at the National Review are still grappling with.
Frank McCloud: “I know what you want, Rocco.”
Johnny Rocco: “Yeah? What do I want?”
McCloud: “You want more.”
Rocco: “Yeah, that’s right. I want more.” – Key Largo
In order to re-fight the Crusades and expand them to the Far East, Stanley Kurtz recognizes that we need a larger military:
Yet with the growing challenges we face, an eventual expansion of our military is in the cards. Of course, with Democrats eager to use that issue as a scare tactic against the Republicans, it will take another terrorist strike–-or a sea-going confrontation with China’s navy–to get us a bigger military. But wether via an expanded volunteer force or a draft, our military is destined to grow.
On the one hand, I suppose old Stanley deserves some credit. Not many conservatives have recognized that the imperial project undertaken by the Bush administration exceeds the current military means of the United States. Stanley’s position is quite the improvement on those who believe that token forces supported by air power will easily topple Iran, North Korea, and even China.
As Matt points out, Stanely appears to lack any understanding of the current US political environment, as he seems to believe that increased military spending would be so unpopular that Democrats could use it as an electoral club against the Republicans. He also doesn’t give any sense of the value-trade offs associated with increased military spending, nor any real measure of how much military force the United States needs to be secure.
That Kurtz is reluctant to make a cost-benefit analysis of increased US military spending is unsurprising. Such an analysis would put both the wisdom of tax cuts and of the Iraq adventure into deep question. The first, by leading to enormous deficits, restricts the long-term ability of the United States to maintain a large military budget. The second represents an open-ended commitment that is now and will for the forseeable future remain the most important drain on US military resources. Any discussion of increased military spending, or, to be more specific, a more efficient allocation of military resources, has to consider these two questions, and neither make the Bush administration look good. Nevertheless, such an analysis is necessary. If we spend more on the military, we need to either cut back in other areas of spending or raise taxes. It’s unclear where cuts can be made in the current budget, so, in the absence of tax increases, we’re looking at borrowing the money. Who do we borrow the money from? China. In short, to fund a Cold War against China, we’re borrowing money from China. Moreover, the increasing size of the US debt, and the apparent lack of any interest in slowing down its growth, places a limit on just how much we can allocate to defense, a limit that becomes more onerous as time goes by.
Metternich would not be pleased.
Kurth also fails to give any account of how large the US military budget ought to be. US military predominance, now, is the greatest in the history of the modern state system. That the United States cannot use this power to as great an effect as, say, Great Britain in 1820 tells us that something has changed in the system, not that the United States is too weak. Nuclear weapons and nationalism mean that the glory days of an imperialistic foreign policy are either gone or prohibitively expensive. But, anyway, let’s entertain Stanley for a moment, and accept that the budget must grow. How large? How much should we spend? What do we need to be absolutely secure, to be certain of meeting all of our challenges?
The answer, of course, is that we cannot be absolutely secure. There is no amount that the United States can spend on defense that will eliminate all possible threats and all possible challenges. Indeed, increased military spending creates new challenges as often as it dispels them; imperial overstretch, massive debts, and anemic economic growth will eventually present more dire security challenges to the US than a Chinese carrier battle group. Moreover, increased military power begets balancing behavior as often or more often than it begets bandwagoning behavior, meaning that a new challenge will arise in the aftermath of every problem we “solve”.
This is not to say that we should cut, maintain, or increase our current levels of spending. Frankly, I think that our military dollar is spent in a dreadfully inefficient way, and that there is plenty of room to cut spending while still increasing US military power. To be even more frank, I think that some of the reforms of Rumsfeld and crew could be on the right track. My argument is that the responsibility for justifying increased military expenditures lies with those who call for them, and that there should be an assumption that less spending on defense is better than more spending, absent a clear threat. Moreover, in justifying a particular level of spending (and not just “more spending”), account must be taken of the costs that such a policy will incur.
Stanley isn’t trying to do any of that. He doesn’t grapple with the contradiction in the Republican coalition between tax cutters and imperialists, doesn’t justify any particular level of spending, and egregiously misreads American politics.
““There’s one thing I don’t understand. The thing that I don’t understand is every motherfucking word you’re saying.”- The Limey
Kaplan describes the coming competition with China as a second Cold War. Looking at the world today, you’ve got to say Samuel Huntington called it. For decades it’s going to be the West against Islamic terror on the one hand, and China on the other.
Anytime I see the phrase “Huntington called it,” I reach for my revolver. I don’t have one, of course, so I have to resort to my keyboard. Stanley, and presumably Robert Kaplan, would have us believe that we are on the cusp of a Cold War with China, and that the cause of this emerging Cold War is the divide between Confucian and Western culture that Huntington describes in The Clash of Civilizations. Let’s evaluate that for moment, shall we?
For this argument to be plausible, the cause of conflict must be cultural, and not either geopolitical or ideological. If a Cold War is emerging because of China’s expanding military and economic power, then Huntington is wrong; culture doesn’t matter a bit, only power does. Rather than a clash of civilizations, we have old-style realist politics. Indeed, although I haven’t yet read Kaplan’s article in the Atlantic on China, I think this is the argument he holds to. Similarly, if the emergent Cold War is primarily ideological, Huntington is again wrong; systems of governance do not hold to cultural lines, and if democracy vs. tyranny is the main factor, then culture doesn’t make a bit of difference. Indeed, Kurtz can’t manage to hold to one account of the world, and even manages to get Fukuyama and Huntington confused, a tremendous accomplishment for such a pair of simplistic thinkers. In short, for Huntington to apply there must be evidence of conflict based on cultural values, and Kurtz supplies NO evidence that this is the case.
The impending anti-western alliance between Islamic and Confucian cultures in Huntington has always puzzled me. A casual observer might think that the Christian West and the Islamic world have much more in common with each other than either have with the Confucian world. On the other hand, another casual observer might note that Western institutions of governance, from liberal democracy to Marxist dictatorship, have taken deep root in the Confucian world, an outcome which should be troubling to fans of Huntington. In any case, an evaluation of the actual policies maintained by the East and the West should prove confounding to such civilizational theories?
What do I mean? Hey, anyone remember what country tried, rather vigorously, to block US action in Iraq? If you say “China”, you’re wrong. Instead of China, the main foe of the United States was France, our old teammate in Western culture. I suppose that the Huntington-inclined Cornerites could suggest that the French are so overtaken by post-modernism that they have abandoned Western culture, but that hardly explains similar reactions on the part of the Russians, the Germans, and the overwhelming majority of people living in the rest of Western world. The Chinese took no position on Iraq, and the South Koreans and Japanese were supportive. The conflict over Iraq did not follow civilizational lines, and it certainly didn’t lead to the Confucian-Islamic alliance that Huntington expects.
So, instead of inter-civilizational conflict, we see intra-civilizational conflict, which, I will note, has been evident in the Western world for the last, oh, 2600 years. Instead of the Islamic and Confucian worlds lining up together against the West, we see what can only be described as the collusion of the major Confucian powers with the premier power of the West, against, oddly enough, the rest of the West. Call me a skeptic, but I’m not sure Huntington deserves any credit here.
Most importantly, perhaps, we don’t see China, the bugbear that the neo-cons have been worrying about since the 1990s, pursuing any kind of adversarial relationship with the United States. Since 9/11, China has been content to grant tacit support to the War on Terror while taking care of its own Islamic minorities and striking up good relations with South and Southeast Asia. When the time came for confrontation over Iraq, the Chinese demured. More about this later, but if a Cold War is in the offing, the Chinese don’t seem to know about it.
$50 that shall remain in my pocket. I’ll buy Krugman’s next book for less than that new.
Starting in September, access to the New York Times Op-Ed section and
some of its news columnists on NYTimes.com will only be available
through a fee of $49.95 a year. The service, known as TimesSelect,
will also allow access to The Times’ online archives, early access to
select articles on the site, and other features.
Dave Noon continues to dominate. Only Dave Watkins manages to keep the LGM crowd out of the three last slots in the standings.
1 Axis of Evel Knievel, Dave Noon 1748
2 Swinging At Space, Kirk Jepsen 1564
3 The Spot, David Watkins 1504
4 New Mexico Alterdestiny, Erik Loomis 1443
5 Discpline And Punish, Scott Lemieux 1441
6 Oregon Bearded Duck, Robert Farley 1278
Matt lays out the rules:
Now, to qualify as a heist film, certain marks must be hit, and that’s part of the beauty of the genre. Much like haiku, the constraints inherent in the form make the subtler details all the more important. A heist movie must contain: 1) The assembling of a team (the safe-cracker, the driver, the demolitions expert, the master of disguises, etc.) 2) a filmic explication of the heist itself which borders on, and often crosses over into, the sensual. 3) Uh-oh, somethings happened that we didn’t plan for! And 4) I’m sorry to have to write this, but it’s true: No chicks. Women only exist in the world of heist films to mess everything up. Of course, as with all rules, there are exceptions.
Indeed, the best of the genre always rely on playing with the rules. With that in mind, let’s proceed, in no particular order.
Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels: Two teams, two heists gone wrong.
Sexy Beast: This one concentrates on the team building, althought the heist itself is more than an afterthought. Nothing really goes wrong, but our protagonist fears for his life even after succeeding. Ian McShane is awesome.
Ocean’s Eleven: The most self-conscious member of the list, and quite possibly the best as an exemplar of the genre. Every team should be led by either Bob De Niro or George Clooney. . .
Ronin: Yeah, I know, it has a car chase. It also has a team made up of Stellan Skarsgard, Jean Reno, Robert De Niro, Sean Bean, and Natascha McElhone. That should count for something. . .
The Score: The glory of genre film is that you don’t really need to do anything original to succeed. Last big heist before retirement? Check. Tension between young maverick and old pro? Check. Cool backdrop? Check. Nice twist at the end? Check. Three generations of the best that Method acting has to offer? Check.
Reservoir Dogs: Veers from the rules in that we miss out entirely on #2, and only really see the build-up and the aftermath. Both are so complex, however, that leaving Reservoir Dogs off the list would be criminal. . .
Heat: De Niro’s third appearance on this list, and I considered adding Jackie Brown before deciding that it really didn’t qualify. The gun battle after the heist isn’t terribly realistic, but then neither is the bloodbath in Reservoir Dogs.
Le Cercle Rouge: Just got out of prison? Running from the law? Have a good buddy on the Paris police force? I have a business proposition. . .
Three Kings: Clooney’s second appearance on the list. Matt thinks that this flick just brushes up against the genre, but it has a) the building of the team, b) the sensual development of the heist itself, in a grim Iraqi town, c) something going wrong, and d) no chicks. Of course, it breaks down a bit when we find the thieves have hearts of gold, but. . .
The Killing: Always, always, always buy new luggage before a heist; you’ll have enough money to pay it off later.
UPDATE: Commenters have reminded me of the following, some of which might crack the list, some of which certainly deserve honorable mention.
The Usual Suspects (team building at its best, and there are a couple heists)
Out of Sight (maybe the best play on the “women screw things up” trope)
The Good Thief
Haven’t seen Rififi or Bob le Flambeur. The Sting is a con flick, not a heist flick.
Henry Farrel has a nice example of the functionalist fallacy as applied by Stephen Bainbridge to the Royal Navy. He also has the single best title of any post I have seen in my blogging career. A functional explanation of an institution proceeds something as follows:
Institution X has characteristic Y because of societal need Z.
In other words, institutions fulfill the pre-existing needs of society. That kind of makes sense, up to a point; people with problems attempt to solve them by building institutions. Unfortunately, the logic doesn’t hold much farther than that, because the functionalist logic can be used to explain any feature of any institution as a remedy for a societal problem. This gives the impression that institutions are well oiled, efficient social problem solving machines, rather than a hodgepodge of practices, ideas, and second-best solutions thrown together by practitioners over the course of centuries.
The gist of Allen’s argument is that prize money has to be seen as just a part of an overall package of incentives:
… in conjunction with the system of prizes the British Navy used the Articles of War, battle formations and fighting instructions, discontinuous promotions, and patronage to monitor their captains. The entire governance structure encouraged British captains to fight rather than run. The creation of an incentive to fight led to an incentive to train seamen in the skills of battle.
To which Farrel replies:
Now I imagine that one could construct “just-so” stories which explained why most (or all) of these institutionalized features of Navy life contributed to the overall goal of maximizing the Navy’s efficiency as a fighting machine. But they would be just-so stories – not especially convincing on their merits. To the extent that O’Brian is right (and he clearly did a hell of a lot of research), the institutions of the British Navy during the Napoleonic wars weren’t even a second-best solution. They were an ungainly compromise between a wide variety of different actors, each of whom had a strong streak of self-interest, and the ability and desire to bargain in order to achieve that interest, whatever this meant for the British Navy as a fighting force.
This debate nicely encapsulates the difference between the essentially ahistorical functionalist approach and an historical approach that focuses on real human beings with real interests and real problems. The former explains institutions from our point of view, while the latter explains institutions from their point of view. The latter is correct, by the way. In his response, Bainbridge asks how, if the institutions of the Royal Navy were not efficient and optimal, it continued to win battles against the French. This question is absurd, of course. Victory by no means demonstrates efficiency or optimality; you just have to be better than the other guy. Moreover, a functionalist logic would be hard pressed to explain why existing French naval institutions, presumably designed to solve the same problems as British naval institutions, failed to work as well.
For some time, I served as a tutor for the UW Athletic Department in several social science courses, including economics. Incidentally, I boast no responsibility for the recent failures of Husky football, although I’d like to. Anyway, a plurality of my charges came from an introductory microeconomics course. I read the textbook, which made the following argument about the development of representative institutions (and I paraphrase):
Representative institutions such as parliaments exist in order give committed minorities a stake in the democratic process. Without a parliament, minority groups with particular intense preferences would always lose to majorities with less intense preferences. In a parliament with public voting, vote trading allows committed minorities to acquire enough votes from less committed minorities to push through generally unpopular policies. This is why we have such institutions, rather than direct democracy.
The example issue that the professor used, of course, was abortion. Reading this, I had three reactions. First, I was somewhat impressed; this is rather an interesting insight into majoritarian representative institutions. Second, I was irritated; even a cursory glance at the historical development of such institutions renders this explanation absurd. Third, I was horrified; many of these students would wander out of this class and never take a political science or history course on the actual development of representative democracy.
Not for the first time, I reminded my charges that getting a good grade on the test and getting an education are not the same thing, and that doing well in economics often meant temporarily forgetting the things we actually knew about the world.
As should be clear, the functionalist logic has political as well as academic implications. If institutions exist to solve problems, then fiddling with them may be dangerous. This is a fundamentally conservative bias. When we try to explain the Electoral College throught the problems it purportedly solves rather than as an artifact of a series of obsolete compromises, we end up with an untenable system that defies democratic logic, and that occasionally elects boobs like George W. Bush to the presidency.
I am a postmodernist.
Rest of post removed because it was messing up our template.
But, hey, tolerance only gets us so far. I can’t remember what I was doing on the day that John Kerry made that powerful speech against the Ten Commandments in public life; in fact, I can’t remember that day at all. I think I was out with the flu during the week that Howard Dean was launching a full-scale assault against nativity scenes; didn’t he scream, or something? I can’t put my finger on any actual memories of John Edwards pandering to the powerful atheist lobby, but it’s possible I was on heavy drugs during that period.
Nonetheless, I hold that Matt and Kevin are correct, and agree that the Democratic Party will not find success until it gives up its fierce, take-no-prisoners assault on Christianity and religion in public life.