Subscribe via RSS Feed

Game Plans

[ 0 ] February 1, 2010 |

Kayvan Farzaneh informs us that the Pentagon has been worrying about terrorists using World of Warcraft to plot attacks. Considering a Wisconsin appeals court recently upheld the right of prisons to ban inmates from playing Dungeons and Dragons, lest they “foster an inmate’s obsession with escaping from the real-life correctional environment,” this sort of paranoia is not just funny but genuinely troubling.

Too bad the “right to play” in international law only applies to children…


Blaming the Victim

[ 0 ] February 1, 2010 |

Since it might be unsuccessful in denying Jamie Leigh Jones her access to the courts, I suppose it’s not surprising that KBR has tried floating some of the smears against her that it apparently believes wouldn’t withstand the scrutiny of an independent tribunal. Unsurprising, but certainly appalling. (Via Lithwick, who has much more.)

QDR Blogging: Climate Change and the DoD

[ 0 ] February 1, 2010 |

See Loomis.

QDR Blogging: Acquisition Reform and the Civilian Workforce

[ 0 ] February 1, 2010 |

While the 2006 QDR talked a bit about problems in acquisition and the need for acquisition reform, and a bit about the need to hire and retain the right skills in the DoD civilian workforce, but didn’t really draw any connections between the two. The 2010 QDR (p.76):

The Pentagon’s acquisition workforce has been allowed to atrophy, exacerbating a decline in the critical skills necessary for effective oversight. For example, over the past ten years, the Department’s contractual obligations have nearly tripled while our acquisition workforce fell by more than 10 percent. The Department also has great difficulty hiring qualified senior acquisition officials. Over the past eight years the Department has operated with vacancies in key acquisition positions averaging from 13 percent in the Army to 43 percent in the Air Force. There remains an urgent need for technically trained personnel-cost estimators, systems engineers, and acquisition managers-to conduct effective oversight.

On the next page, the QDR calls for the hiring of 20000 additional acquisitions personnel to make up for this shortfall. I suspect that the major reason that we see this in the 2010 QDR and not in the 2006 is that the Obama administration has rejected the idea that essential DoD responsibilities can be privatized and out-sourced. The downsizing and outsourcing of the acquisitions workforce isn’t entirely the responsibility of the Bush administration, as it was also pursued under Clinton. Lead Systems Integrators, in which civilian contractors managed major programs such the Coast Guard’s Deepwater program and the Army’s Future Combat Systems, were part of this project. LSIs were also one of the very, very few “privatization” initiatives that failed so abjectly that pretty much no one wants to try them again.

See also Spencer on this point.

QDR Blogging: You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

[ 0 ] January 31, 2010 |

2006 QDR:

India is emerging as a great power and a key strategic partner. On July 18, 2005 the President and Indian Prime Minister declared their resolve to transform the U.S.-India relationship into a global partnership that will provide leadership in areas of mutual concern and interest. Shared values as long-standing, multi-ethnic democracies provide the foundation for continued and increased strategic cooperation and represent an important opportunity for our two countries.

2010 QDR:

As the economic power, cultural reach, and political influence of India increase, it is assuming a more influential role in global affairs. This growing influence, combined with democratic values it shares with the United States, an open political system, and a commitment to global stability, will present many opportunities for cooperation. India’s military capabilities are rapidly improving through increased defense acquisitions, and they now include long-range maritime surveillance, maritime interdiction and patrolling, air interdiction, and strategic airlift. India has already established its worldwide military influence through counterpiracy, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief efforts. As its military capabilities grow, India will contribute to Asia as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond.

In just four years, India acquired 48 more words, a 70% increase. If this trend continues, the 2074 QDR will consist entirely of one long paragraph about India.

And the Ann Althouse Award for Contentlessness in Blogging goes to…

[ 0 ] January 31, 2010 |

Ann Althouse!

It seems to me that the President is the victim of his own ideas about how to do things differently. If he had graciously accepted the inheritance left by George Bush, he wouldn’t have had either of these problems. He squandered an inheritance that he failed to value! Bush—despite his reputation for simplicity—did understand the complexity of the problem, and he had a solution. There was stability. After posturing about “change” in his political campaign, Barack Obama seemed to think that he could apply the immense power he had won to changing things in the real world.


The President suffers from the delusion that he wants to do things differently. If he had just wanted to continue doing what Bush had done, he wouldn’t have wanted to do things differently. Bush understood that stuff is hard, and he solved different hard stuff the same way every time. Obama said he wanted to solve different hard stuff differently during the election, and once he won it, he suckered himself into believing that he could wield the power he won to solve hard stuff his own way.

Second-order shorter:

It seems to me that Ann Althouse often writes about ideas she does not have. If she had ideas, she would write about them instead of the having of them, but because she only writes about the having of them, no one ever knows what they are. Her posts are like pictures of laptops idling on tables at which no one works: ideas could potentially be communicated through them, but for now they deliver no actual content, only the low hum of pointlessly cycling hard drives.

Warning: Because her name has appeared three times in this post, she will, of course, show up in the comments and claim that her vacuousness is actually a vortex into which someone has been sucked. (Someone should alert her to the definition of “vacuum” that doesn’t involve suction.)

Etiquette Lessons

[ 0 ] January 31, 2010 |

I’m still going to stick with my contention that the key variables in claiming that Obama’s banal criticism of a Supreme Court opinion was somehow an “unprecedented” outrage are 1)President Obama, and 2)a Supreme Court decision the outraged parties strongly support on the merits.


[ 0 ] January 31, 2010 |

Personal to all Flames General Managers: No more multi-player deals with the Leafs in which you give up the best player. Ever again. What the hell.

QDR Blogging: Domestic IEDs

[ 0 ] January 31, 2010 |

This is odd, from page 20 of the QDR:

Enhance domestic counter-lED capabilities: To better prepare the Department to support civil authorities seeking to counter potential threats from domestic improvised explosive devices (IEDs). DoD will assist civil authorities with counter-IED tactics, techniques, and procedures (TIPs) and capabilities developed in recent operations.

This is the first I’ve heard of serious concern about domestic IEDs. Something that intel picked up? On the one hand, the idea that some notional domestic terror cell (whether Islamic, right wing, or otherwise) might utilize IEDs is a good deal more believable that the usual stuff about taking down a jetliner with a Stinger or cutting down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches. On the other hand, good IED production does require skill and some resources, and I don’t imagine that successfully blowing up a couple of SUVs on I-70 would really be worth the time and risk to any domestic terrorist org.

UPDATE: To be clear, I appreciate that Timothy McVeigh’s Ryder truck and the aircraft used on 9/11 were technically “IEDs.” However, the QDR isn’t using the term in this sense; it’s fairly clear from context that the more road-specific meaning of the term in intended (with the inclusion of car bombs possible, but not necessary.)

QDR Blogging: The Long War is Over

[ 0 ] January 31, 2010 |
  • References to the “Long War” in 2006 QDR: 31, not counting the 10 pages in the chapter titled “Fighting the Long War”
  • References to the “Long War” in 2010 QDR: 0

The 2006 QDR was explicitly structured around the concept of the “Long War,” which is essentially another name for the War on Terror. The Long War is more or less defined as follows:

Since 2001 the U.S. military has been continuously at war, but fighting a conflict that is markedly different from wars of the past. The enemies we face are not nation-states but rather dispersed non-state networks. In many cases, actions must occur on many continents in countries with which the United States is not at war. Unlike the image many have of war, this struggle cannot be won by military force alone, or even principally. And it is a struggle that may last for some years to come.

The chapter “Fighting the Long War” then includes references to the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, operations in the Horn of Africa and the Trans-Sahara, tsunami relief, earthquake relief in Pakistan, “stabilization” operations in Haiti, assistance to the government of Colombia, and domestic initiatives such as bio-terror preparedness and civil support. The Long War concept provided a unifying framework for thinking through a multi-continental strategy for fighting “terror,” epitomized not simply in terrorist networks but also in terror-supporting states and in the conditions that allow terror to grow. Re-reading this chapter, I find it striking the degree to which the Cold War could easily be substituted for the Long War, with communists playing the role of terrorists. This is to say that the threats to the United States and its interests were represented in a fashion that’s not quite monolithic, but is nevertheless singular. Rather than responding to multiple, quite different crises around the world, the 2006 QDR wanted us to understand US military operations as part of a coherent strategic response to the threat posed by terror, much in the same way that the various forms of Containment were responses to the threat posed by the USSR and international revolutionary communism.

In the 2010 QDR, not so much. The United States is fighting “wars” rather than a “Long War” which is a crucial distinction to my mind. “Complexity” is the watchword, and each of the major conflicts involving the United States is treated distinctly, rather than as part of a tapestry. It must be said that this change makes the argument much less fluid; a Long War makes much more thematic sense than a series of not-terribly-related conflicts that involve some interest or other of the United States in some or another part of the globe. What it lacks in narrative, however, it makes up for in general good sense.

More tomorrow.

Why the QDR Matters

[ 1 ] January 31, 2010 |

By and large, progressives don’t care so much about the QDR. This shouldn’t be taken as an absolute statement; every progressive think tank has specialists on defense, there are many progressive journalists who take an interest in defense and security issues, and there are plenty of ordinary progressives who do think regularly about things like the QDR. I’m nevertheless confident, however, in the contention that defense wonkish types are found more often in conservative circles than progressive, that conservative organizations spend more time on defense issues than progressive organizations, and that typical, everyday Joe/Jill Conservative is more knowledgeable on defense and military issues than typical, everyday Joe/Jill Progressive. The central reason for this is not difficult to articulate; conservatives (at least in the current American construction of the term) are more likely to favor the use of force, are more likely to favor high defense budgets, are more likely to focus on military capability as a central component of American identity, and (statistically) are more likely to have served or know someone who has served in the military than are progressives.

Moreover, I suspect that there’s broad agreement among people who self-identify as progressive that the current defense budget of the United States is wildly oversized relative to the threats that the United States faces. In this context, arcane discussions about preference for this weapon over that, or this capability rather than the other, or the elimination of this platform in favor of that platform, seem like debates either over the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin, or the arrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic. For the former, the QDR and the precise makeup of the defense budget are part of an unfortunate reality of American politics, the details of which aren’t particularly relevant. For the latter, the imperial proclivities of the outsized defense establishment and the negative effects of the military-industrial complex on American life make micro-discussion of defense issues essentially beside the point. In both cases, valuable time required for digestion of detail is better spent on other, more important and perhaps more contingent issues.

Both of these perspectives get much more right than they do wrong. Nevertheless, let me suggest two reasons why progressives should pay much closer attention to statements of strategy such as the QDR than they do. The first reason is that debates about the makeup of the defense budget and the construction of the QDR happen whether progressives are involved in them or not. There is something to the idea of granting too much legitimacy to the abjectly idiotic idea that the United States needs to militarily outspend the rest of the world, but check it out; the US outspends (or very nearly outspends) the rest of the world anyway. Progressive engagement with the finer aspects of the defense debate can hardly make things worse. The second reason is that the details really do matter. The 2010 QDR is quite a bit different than the 2006, which was quite a bit different than the 2000. The precepts set forth in the QDR are often honored in the breach, but they nevertheless help structure what the military will look like, and consequently what the military will be good and bad at for decades to come. You could argue that the 2010 QDR pays only lip service to climate change and to the humanitarian potential of military capability, but this lip service will be replicated in policy in ways that will affect how the US military is structured, behaves, and interacts with the real world. The US military is a huge organization of organizations, and by virtue of its size even small course corrections affect the lives of millions of people.

Again, there is a touch of caricature to the picture I’m drawing here. Ideally, however, I’d like to have a community of people who could speak intelligently and passionately about a) whether militarized-humanitarian intervention in Haiti raised the spectre of US imperialism in Latin America, b) what US military platforms and capabilities were best suited to having a positive effect on the situation in Haiti, and most importantly c) how a and b matter to each other.

In any case, over the next few days I’ll be going over the QDR in detail, on this blog and elsewhere. I heartily recommend that people give the document a read, keep up with the commentary, and perhaps even read the 2006 version.

Saturday afternoon visual rhetoric: more on Mad Men (as well as a brief acknowledgment of the magnitude of my wrongness).

[ 0 ] January 31, 2010 |

In the first comment to my first post on Mad Men, Tom Elrod wrote:

I definitely want an update to this post once you’ve finished the third season. I can’t really respond much to this post until then, because I don’t want to spoil anything[.]

Nor do I. If you plan on watching Mad Men but haven’t seen the third season finale, stop reading now.

In a fit of remarkable wrongness, I wrote:

So Peter and Peggy are not left behind because, over the course of two seasons, they learn to love and accept modernity in their hearts. They still seek Draper’s approval, but they recognize that he’s valuable in a way the world soon stop valuing. When the rapture comes, they know Draper won’t be numbered among the chosen […] Nor, for that matter, will Joan Holloway[.]

Had Matt Weiner decided to re-shoot “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” after having read my post in order to maximize my wrongness, he wouldn’t have had his work cut out for him. This shot alone refutes much of what I wrote:

There sit Pete and Peggy, toiling into the future alongside Draper and Joan in the temporary headquarters of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Why was I so wrong? I didn’t anticipate that Draper would recognize that he belonged to the past. He admits as much when Pete demands Draper tell him why he’s needed:

You’ve been ahead on a lot of things. Aeronautics. Teenagers. The Negro market. We need you to keep us looking forward. I do, anyway.

In one respect, then, my claim that Pete and Peggy belong to the future is validated; but unfortunately for me, my claim’s being validated by the very person I had claimed was constitutionally incapable of recognizing its validity. My argument went awry because I failed to account for the complexity of Draper’s reaction to Betty divorcing him: without the illusion of a perfect marriage to stabilize his conception of self, Donald Draper is as free to reinvent himself as Dick Whitman had been. I think. More on Draper as a character later. For now I’d like to focus on just how effective Matt Weiner’s direction of “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” was.

Mad Men typically uses the angle and level of framing fairly conventionally. Consider the scene in which Betty leaves for her rendezvous with Henry Francis:

The dominant character literally towers over the subservient one. When the shot shifts to them individually, the angle of framing reinforces their respective positions. Dominant Betty is shot from a slightly lower angle—you can tell the canting of the camera by the fact that the ceiling is almost visible:

But although Draper is shot looking up at her, the camera is framed almost level to his head, meaning it is barely even tilted:

In visual terms, he is only barely the lesser party, which is in keeping with the tone of the scene (if not the season): he may not be dominant, but he is never subservient. Because the camera is level with his head and its angle so slight, Draper appears to be in control of the scene, which leads to friction between its formal composition and narrative content. Note also that in neither case does the angle of framing indicate that shot is from the point of view of either character. Instead of reversing the shot and having them look at the viewer, Weiner organizes the sequence by matching their eyelines: she looks down from the left in an angled shot and he looks up from the right in a level one, almost as if the camera refuses to acknowledge that Draper’s not the dominant one here. Same thing happens when Draper tries to recruit Peggy:

The extremely traditional staging indicates that he’s the supplicant, but even when he resorts to begging, this reverse shot is the weakest Weiner will allow Draper to look:

He looks up from the right in a level medium close-up, although unlike the scene with Betty, he may actually be in control of this scene, meaning the angle of framing would be ironic. He may be the supplicant, as the composition of the establishing shot tells us, but this reverse shot indicates that he already knows how his plea will be answered. This shot is, after all, when he reminds Peggy that they are kindred:

There are people out there who buy things. People like you and me and something happened. Something terrible. And the way that they saw themselves is gone. And nobody understands that. But you do and that’s very valuable.

He’s telling her that being knocked up by Pete and almost dying during a delivery that left her clinically insane makes her “very valuable” to him. It is, then, an odd but strong bond he appeals to here, but one which he believed would be effective: he may not be able to assume her allegiance, but he knows he can needle her secret trauma to great effect. As it does. They’re equals by the next reverse shot:

Or not: the partners occupy the foreground, their juniors and the head secretary the background. They’re not equals, but the subsequent camerawork tells us that they’re not as unequal as they were before. When it cuts to Peggy and Pete, the level of the camera jumps up and frames them in a medium shot:

The level then shifts down when it cuts back to Draper:

At least in terms of composition, they are close to coequals. (Especially when compared to the ubiquitous shots of Draper pacing behind his desk and looking down at whichever underling happened to be seated before it.) It is at this point that something really remarkable happens. In my first post on the visual rhetoric of the show, I noted that “[n]o contemporary television show employs a quieter camera than Mad Men.” So how does Weiner choose to end this scene? Dynamically:

The zoom is all the more effective because of the degree of its departure from the conventions of the show.