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2005 Top Ten List

[ 0 ] February 27, 2006 |

Apparently 2046 was in Lexington for only a two day engagement, which I, of course, missed. In retrospect, seeing 2046 on Sunday instead of Munich would clearly have been the right choice, although in my defense Munich will be out of Lexington by the end of the week, as well.

You can call me pretty underwhelmed by the year in film. I recall having a lot less trouble filling out my top ten last year. I suppose it’s possible that the top of this year’s list is a little better than last years (although I love both Sideways and Eternal Sunshine), but I think last year had more depth.

As always, in no particular order:

The New World: Reviewed here.

Match Point:Reviewed here.

The Squid and the Whale: As Scott has pointed out, it’s just way too easy for me to see myself in the Jeff Daniels role, or perhaps more in some combination of the father and son; I certainly have gone through periods in which I was way, WAY too fond of Pink Floyd.

Capote: Capote was remarkably good, but didn’t quite catch my imagination. I felt a little bit cold when I left the theater. The movie is well done, so it might have been my mood, or some idiosyncrasy of mine that prevented me from fully engaging with it. However, I don’t hesistate to recommend it; Hoffman was outstanding.

I Walk the Line: It was a weak year. Reese Witherspoon was an outstanding June Carter and the music was great, but I found it far too formulaic for my taste.

Jarhead: I seem to have liked Jarhead a lot more than most. There’s no doubt that Sam Mendes has lost a fair bit of goodwill since American Beauty, a film that is dreadfully flawed, hopefully overrated, yet still compelling in a number of ways. Gyllenhaal was good in Jarhead, but I felt most attracted by the narrative, which captured the boredom of war as well as any picture I’ve seen, and avoided most of the war movie cliches by leaving the protagonists hanging.

A History of Violence: I liked History of Violence much more the second time I saw it. I don’t tend to care for Cronenberg all that much, although I must have seen The Fly ten or fifteen times when I was a kid. The end was weak, but the main body, and especially the first fifteen minutes (through the coffee shop scene) were excellent. Ed Harris was good in a supporting role, but I didn’t care for William Hurt.

Broken Flowers: I found this movie very depressing.

Downfall: Goddamn, this was a depressing movie. It takes some talent to show Nazis in all of the horrific awfulness, refuse to apologize for them one bit, and yet still render them human and understandable. It’s not quite right to say that the audience is intended to sympathize with Goebbels, but some empathy seems possible, which is a remarkable achievement.

Brokeback Mountain: Probably the strongest film of the year. I don’t hold to the new Sullivan-Kaus line that Brokeback really isn’t that good; it’s a very, very strong film without any serious flaws.

Notable exclusions include 2046, Nobody Knows, Memories Murder, March of the Penguins, and Grizzly Man, none of which I’ve seen.


[ 0 ] February 26, 2006 |

Following up Scott’s post on Stephen Green

Christianity was a violent religion until the Thirty Years War. That war lasted so long, and killed so many people (the population of Germany was reduced by a third), that Christendom lost its bloodlust. Freedom of conscience was born on the battlefields of central Europe. The Middle East hasn’t suffered that kind of loss; they haven’t yet had their fill of blood; they haven’t yet become disgusted with tyranny. I’d like to think that the Middle East can do what the West did, without all the suffering. But if it takes regional fratricide, then so be it.


The Seven Years War: 1.3+ million dead
The Napoleonic Wars: 2.5+ million dead
World War I: 8.9+ million dead (although you can exclude the 300000 Turks if you’d like)
World War II: 63 million dead (you can exclude about 20 million non-Western casualties if it suits you)

Now, if you want to claim that neither Germany nor Russia were Christian countries during World War II, feel free; the argument is less absurd for the Soviet Union than for Germany, as the Communists were genuinely anti-Christian while the Nazis relied heavily on a Catholic base. Of course, that gets us into trouble with Green’s other claim, that the Christian West somehow became averse to tyranny after 1648. To put it gently, the evidence would seem to problematize that assertion…

I suppose it could also be argued that, since the above wars weren’t specifically about religion, they don’t challenge Green’s argument. That would certainly be an odd contention; the Christian aversion to murder, tyranny, and slaughter was so great that it had no meaningful effect on limiting brutality, murder, tyranny, and slaughter in overwhelmingly Christian countries.

The above does not, of course, note systematic Christian brutality in the colonial world after 1648, including 10 million dead in Congo alone between 1880 and 1908.

A curious thing, this religious war in Germany between 1618 and 1648 that was so awful that it expunged tyranny, war, brutality, slaughter, and (presumably) ring-around-the-collar from the soul of the West for all of time.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: SMS Szent Istvan

[ 0 ] February 26, 2006 |

Szent Istvan was the only dreadnought battleship constructed by Hungary. Befitting her unique status, Szent Istvan was named after King Stephen I, the first Christian king of the Magyar people, who lived between 975 and 1038. Szent Istvan carried 12 12″ guns…

What’s that you say? A Hungarian battleship? Hungary has no coast? Hungary, indeed, does not even appear to be close to any coastline? Did they build the ship on a river? Did they build it with wheels? Am I pulling your leg?

All fair questions. SMS Szent Istvan was one of a class of four dreadnoughts built by Austria-Hungary shortly before World War I. The Compromise of 1867 had created a dual administrative structure in the Empire, giving the Hungarian nobility substantial control over their own lands, and making Franz Joseph both King and Emperor. As a precondition of incurring the expense, Hungary demanded that one of the ships be built in a Hungarian yard and be manned by a Hungarian crew. Hungary today has no major naval shipyard (neither does Austria, of course), but the jurisdiction of the Hungarian half of the Empire extended to Fiume, now known as Rijeka in modern Croatia.

SMS Szent Istvan carried 12 12″ guns in four triple turrets, an extremely heavy armament for a ship of her size. The guns were disposed in the modern fashion, with two superfiring turrets at either end. This meant that Szent Istvan and her sisters combined a very heavy broadside with excellent end-on fire. Szent Istvan displaced about 20000 tons and was designed for a speed of 21 knots. The dreadnoughts were very well arranged, with respectable armor for their time period. The major flaw in the design was an almost complete lack of underwater protection; combined with the top heavy armament, this made them very vulnerable to torpedos.

Sadly, the shipyard at Fiume lacked experience with a ship as large as Szent Istvan. While her Austrian sisters entered service between 1912 and early 1914, Szent Istvan was not completed until late 1915. The quality of construction wasn’t quite up to par, and Szent Istvan couldn’t make the same speed as her sisters. This was not a great handicap for most of the war. The Austro-Hungarian Navy rarely left port, instead serving as a “fleet in being” designed to tie down Allied naval forces. In practice, this meant that the French and Italian navies spent most of their time waiting for the Austro-Hungarian Navy to sortie, freeing the Royal Navy up for confrontation with the German High Seas Fleet. This made for a boring war in both theaters of operation.

In February 1918, Emperor Karl I appointed a man named Miklos Horthy Commander-in-Chief of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. Admiral Horthy was not the sort to let the fleet lie in harbor while there was a war on. He authorized the fleet to sortie from Pula in an effort to attack a line of mixed naval defenses known as the Otranto Barrage. Szent Istvan and her sister left Pula on June 9. Unfortunately, it turned out that the workmanship on Szent Istvan had been particularly poor, and she began to vibrate and overheat when ordered to make over 16 knots. The effort also produced an inordinate amount of smoke, which attracted a pair of Italian torpedo boats. Szent Istvan was struck by two torpedos and capsized, although most of her crew was rescued. A film crew on her sister, Tegetthoff, witnessed and recorded the destruction of the ship.

Thus ended the sole major sortie of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, and Hungarian naval power more generally. Miklos Horthy returned to Hungary a war hero, and played an important role in crushing the 1919 Communist revolution. Horthy was named Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary (Karl was not recalled), and ruled until 1944. He helped lead Hungary into World War II on the side of Nazi Germany but, to his credit, resisted German demands to deport Hungarian Jews. He died in Portugal in 1957.

Trivia: What was the first dreadnought battleship sunk by aircraft?

A Name Everyone Should Know…

[ 0 ] February 25, 2006 |

Hiram R. Revels.

Goodbye, Deputy Fife

[ 0 ] February 25, 2006 |

And farewell, Mr. Limpet.

Strangely, my clearest memory of Don Knotts is from Scooby-Doo…

Sauce Poverty

[ 0 ] February 25, 2006 |

I concur with Jaundice James. The slow erosion of our sauce based rights is one of the most under-reported stories of the millenium. It isn’t just McDonalds; I’ve noticed that the good folks at Kentucky Fried Chicken have, as of late, been less willing to dole out sufficient amounts of sauce.

On the other hand, I have never suffered a sauce deficit at Taco Bell.

Japanese F-22

[ 0 ] February 25, 2006 |

Ryan at Capital Cadre highlights this story on the F-22:

Momentum is building within the Air Force to sell the service’s prized F-22A Raptor — which is loaded with super-secret systems — to trusted U.S. allies, with Japan viewed as the most likely buyer, service and industry officials tell Inside the Air Force.

A Lockheed Martin official heavily involved in the Raptor program told ITAF Feb. 14 that a proposal to alter course and sell the Raptor to Japan is working its way through the Air Force. Lockheed is leading development and production work on the service’s newest fighter.

Several interesting things are going on here. Obviously, it’s no surprise that Lockheed and Boeing like the idea of selling the F-22 on the international market. It’s a little bit more puzzling that Air Force brass like the idea. The notion of selling the most advanced aircraft in the US arsenal even to a committed US ally would seem to make them mildly twitchy. However, given that so many different countries are part of the Joint Strike Fighter research, perhaps this isn’t the case.

Another way to think of this is to interpret it in terms of the more general expansion of Japan’s military role, and of the slow redefinition of the US-Japanese military alliance.

Positive Case

[ 0 ] February 25, 2006 |

Right. Any argument that the US must remain in Iraq in order to stave off disintegration must be accompanied by an account of how the US presence, with a finite extension, will actual resolve the problem. If we’re just delaying the inevitable, then there’s not much point in staying.

That said, such an account can be plausibly given. Military and civil institutions take time to develop, and they could conceivably be stronger a year from now than they are now. Some sort of accord might develop over time between Iraq’s various factions with the US operating as a broker. On it’s face, the case for continued US commitment is not absurd.

However, just to say that a case is plausible is not to say it is accurate. I can’t see much in the way of empirical evidence to demonstrate that the above processes, primarily the strengthening of Iraqi institutions, are actually taking place. Moreover, the continued presence of the US introduces a variety of perversities (association of political elites with an unpopular occupier, prevention of resolution of certain differences, reluctance of institution builders to pay full cost of construction) that can either cancel out what good work could be done, or actual make the long term situation worse.

I think that the burden must be on those who support the continued occupation to explain precisely how the situation will be better in a year or three because of the US presence. In a side note, several Patterson School professors are thinking about putting together a panel on just this subject. Lexingtonians take note.

[ 0 ] February 24, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck

Most Dangerous

[ 0 ] February 24, 2006 |

Vote early. Vote often.

Why Battleship Blogging Matters

[ 0 ] February 23, 2006 |

Brock points us to this disgrace:

The authorities in Moscow have hastily removed posters congratulating Russian war veterans which mistakenly showed the American warship USS Missouri. The posters were taken down on Wednesday – just hours before Defender of the Motherland Day.

The Russian defence ministry said it did not produce the posters.

A Moscow city hall official said the design “should have been shown to specialists who can distinguish one battleship from another”.

A defence ministry spokesman, Vyacheslav Sedov, said “it was a civilian firm that produced the poster, and the people who made it were simply incompetent”.

“We do have similar ships, beautiful ships. They should have used one of those,” he added.

The poster in question, which clearly depicts a battleship of the Iowa class:

Now, I can understand why the Russians used an American battleship. The Russian Ganguts were hardly the most photogenic of warships, and the other options include the Italian Giulio Cesare and the British Royal Sovereign, both transferred to the Soviet Union late in their careers.

Nevertheless, there is no excuse for such an oversight.

Realists and Neocons

[ 0 ] February 23, 2006 |

There are some things to like in Helmut’s discussion of Fukuyama’s NYT piece, in particular his point about the Cold War providing ideological cover for any policy the US wanted to pursue. But Helmut is dead wrong about realists and neocons; they’re not the same. They’re not close to the same.

“Idealism” is a complete backtrack on all that the neocons stand for, which just is standard old Cold War realism in which the most powerful states get to carve up the global pie. The “end of history” thesis suggests that there is a final victor and it is us. That fits the realist paradigm a whole lot better than it does any idealist notion of foreign affairs.

The above isn’t even a fair description of neoconservatism, much less realism. There is nothing, NOTHING, about realism that suggests, implies, or allows for a final victor that gets to carve up the world. Indeed, nothing could be further from realist thought; no realist would EVER suggest that a concept like “the end of history”, unless by history you mean the development of anarchy as the ordering principle of the international system. History never ends for a realist. Moreover, the processes of power described by realists don’t have a moral content; no realist would ever declare that the Melians deserved destruction at the hands of the Athenians or that the Iraqis deserved to be attacked by the Americans.

And this does not apply simply to neorealism. Hans Morgenthau’s fifth principle of power politics states that the moral laws of the universe cannot be identified with the moral aspirations of a given state. There is NO WAY to reconcile this statement with neoconservatism, which clearly identifies the aspirations of the United States with the laws of the universe. The two are completely antithetical.

But it should have been foreseen by Fukuyama as well as by the other neocons. They do, after all, come from the realist school of international relations. This school – perhaps best exemplified for our purposes here by Kissinger – understands the significance of legitimacy in the international sphere. Legitimacy of behavior in the international sphere requires that others, even those who may have something to lose in a given action, view the action as nonetheless right or appropriate or at least understandable.

We’ll set aside for a second the fact that the neocons loathe Henry Kissinger and focus on the misinterpretation of realism. While some realists include concepts like legitimacy within their edifice (I’m thinking Carr, Gilpin, and Walt to the extent that he can be described as a realist) many don’t, and it can hardly be regarded as a centerpiece of realist thought. On the contrary, the concept of legitimacy is highly regarded by liberal internationalists, who deliberately eschew the other aspects of realist thought.

The clearest element of Helmut’s discussion of Fukuyama is that neoconservatives ought not to be regarded as “idealists”. Why not? At one point, Helmut describes Fukuyama as a neocon “ideologue”, and members of the Bush administration as “ideologues”. There is nothing about the concept of “idealist” that suggests that someone must have the right ideas. If the ideas favored by an idealist are bad or destructive, then an idealist can be even worse than a realist, materialist, or rationalist, however you would like to describe the opposite of idealism. Neocons are idealists; they clearly identify an ideological end point, and see ideas as the prime generators of change and transformation. This doesn’t mean that they’re good, and certainly doesn’t mean that they ought to be called realists. Rudyard Kipling was an idealist; he identified the well being of the world with the hegemony of right-thinking white men. Kaiser Wilhelm II was an idealist; he identified the well being of the world with the glory of German civilization. Otto Von Bismarck was a realist; he pursued the interests of his state without larger consideration of whether the German Empire was in some sense carrying out a historical or divine mission. Neocons are very much like the former two examples, and very little like the latter.

The Iraq adventure was almost universally decried as pointless by realists in the academy and in the policy world. Say what you will about these realists; I hardly wish to argue strongly for the positions taken by John Mearsheimer, but at least he got this one right. The Iraq invasion may have been sold partially (but not wholly) in realist terms, but it makes almost no sense from the realist worldview. Whatever neocons may be, they aren’t Henry Kissinger. If they were, then Iraq would remain in the hands of Saddam Hussein. You can dislike both the realist and the neocon understandings of the world (and I dislike both) while recognizing that they are not reconcilable with one another. It does a dramatic disservice to the discussion of either neoconservatism or realism to conflate the two.

does a much better job of parsing Fukuyama’s NYT piece.

UPDATE: As Helmut’s comment just reminded me, even the security justification for the war on Iraq was sold in liberal internationalist, not realist, terms. Realists tend to prefer to rely on deterrence to resolve problems with weapons of mass destruction, and are certainly loathe to represent any state as “rogue” or “outlaw”. Quite the contrary; realists assumed that Saddam Hussein (and Kim Jong-Il, to give another example) was simply pursuing his own interests, and cared little about the threats to international law, international institutions, and international order that Hussein presented. Realist as a whole could also care less about NGOs, and were uncompelled by the logic of Iraqi cooperation with Al Qaeda. Even to the extent that the administration presented Iraq as a threat, it was a threat on liberal internationalist, not realist, terms.