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Bobby Thomson

[ 21 ] August 17, 2010 |

My favorite detail about the Shot Heard Round the World is that after the game Thomson rode the subway home (apparently major league ballplayers in New York in the 1950s routinely rode the subway to and from games).

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Don’t Forget Paterson!

[ 3 ] August 17, 2010 |

As one of our commenters noted at the time, one reason to be outraged by Spitzer’s actions is that he ended up sticking us with this mope. And unlike Reid, he doesn’t even have the excuse that he’s running for something; apparently, pandering to bigoted yahoos is just an important principle for him. To add to the comedy, Peter King is now getting involved in the “move Muslims to the back of the bus island” project. Perhaps he objects to Cordoba House because there aren’t any terrorists involved.

What Not To Name Your Son

[ 12 ] August 17, 2010 |

Apparently, if you want your son to be political commentator with any brains or insight, granting that it’s only an N of 2 I’m going to go ahead and say that you want to avoid naming him “Roger Simon.” I remain puzzled about why people who think that elections are decided by trivial symbolic issues virtually nobody will remember (let alone have their votes affected by) 2 years from now are actually paid good salaries to write about politics for a living.

UPDATE: Mea culpa; I didn’t read this carefully enough. In my defense, Politico makes it nearly impossible to detect satire, but still. I stand behind my comments about the other Roger Simon.

The Kennedy Question

[ 10 ] August 17, 2010 |

Dahlia Lithwick’s does a very good job here of analyzing the question of how Kennedy might vote on same-sex marriage, with her choice of commentary to link to being particularly astute and commendable. With my skepticism now on the record to a larger audience, I thought I’d quote the evidence that (aside from the general fact that Kennedy has a pretty decent record on gay and lesbian rights issues for a Republican appointee) provides the best reason for hope:

Which made it so surprising when, in 1996, Kennedy sounded such a sure and forceful note in Romer v. Evans, the Colorado case. Notes Ward, after Romer, retired Justice Harry Blackmun, who had written Roe v. Wade, sent Kennedy a note: “Monday’s decision took courage. You will now undoubtedly receive a lot of critical and even hateful mail. I have had that experience and still receive letters, some of them abusive, in almost every mail. Hang in there.” To which Kennedy replied, “No one told us it was an easy job when we signed on.” Ward also quotes a clerk from that term—not one of Kennedy’s—explaining why Kennedy so badly wanted to author the opinion: “Kennedy definitely wanted the case. … His big shtick was this was an exceptional case, this was an outrage. He wanted to sock it to the people of Colorado. The emphasis on motive, bad guys is very much Kennedy.”

The fact that in this case a (very slender) majority of California voters were voting to overturn a judicial ruling might in particular rub Kennedy the wrong way. It doesn’t change my view that Kennedy is unlikely to vote to uphold Perry if it comes to that, but…it’s something worth considering.

Rhythmic Admirer of the Day

[ 28 ] August 16, 2010 |

Harry Reid. What a disgrace, and if he thinks this will actually help Democrats in tough races this fall he’s delusional.

Where even Richard Nixon has got soul

[ 16 ] August 16, 2010 |

This little vignette is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it’s almost certainly false (among the many quite incredible details my favorite is the writer’s claim that he had never told the story to anyone before). Second, it’s a glimpse into the rich fantasy life of a denizen of Nixonland. Third, it raises the question of why CBS Sports allows one of its writers to publish an obviously false story, and moreover a story that the putative author requested not be published. I say putative because I suspect Dodd actually composed this preposterous vignette himself and then passed it off as an anonymous email — a method which is rapidly replacing the anonymous talkative cab driver as the favorite device of journalists who find the depths of hangover intersecting with the demands of a deadline.

Someone should tell John Nolte that tendentious people ought not call others tendentious.

[ 32 ] August 16, 2010 |

Yet again, the duty falls to me, so here goes. Nolte is complaining about Steven Zeitchik’s article in the L.A. Times, in which he writes:

But the Stallone picture—with its hard-charging, take-no-prisoners patriotism unbothered by the vagaries of the real world (it takes place in a fictional country, for starters) and its caricature of freedom-hating enemies (”We will kill this American disease,” as the TV spot enticed us)—planted itself squarely in the old-school genre.

According to Nolte, this amounts to Zeitchik “toxifying ‘The Expendables’ by ridiculing its simple worldview,” but here, as always, Nolte fails to explain why a film should be praised for the simplicity of its worldview. The most he can muster is that “the nihilism found in the moral equivalency preached by the likes of George Clooney and Paul Haggis is [not] complicated,” which amounts to “if they can do it, we can do it.” The problem with that logic should be obvious: it’s not a defense of simplistic worldviews, it’s the claim that if I set your house on fire, you would be right to retaliate by doing the same to mine. That both positions may be weak is evidently a point beyond his ability to comprehend.

Nolte then provides another non-answer, claiming that a

simple straight-forward story that’s actually about something is much more difficult to successfully craft than a confusing and muddled story that’s believes in absolutely nothing. Paint-by-numbers might not be Rembrandt but it takes more skill than throwing monkey shit at a canvas.

Note that he again argues that The Expendables is “about” something without ever defining what that thing is. This is the obverse of Groucho Marx’s “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It” argument, in that whatever The Expendables is about, Nolte’s in favor of it, whatever it might be. But whatever it is, it’s morally unambiguous, which means the following claim of Zeitchik is utter bunk:

[u]ntil this weekend, old-school action movies—defined, for argument’s sake, as films with a slew of explosions, a shortage of moral ambiguity and a triumph of physical effects over digital ones—had seen better days.

Nolte responds:

[T]his is what happens when you’re in possession of a laughably biased theory in search of proof—especially when the surprise successes of “300″ and “Taken,” not to mention “Salt,” the first “Transformers,” and “Gran Torino”—make a total fool of that moral ambiguity theory.

Admittedly, Nolte is an expert in all things tendentious, so he should know it when he sees it. But a brief comparison of the material between both parties’ em-dashes demonstrates who’s arguing honestly and who isn’t. Zeitchik defines “old-school action movies … as films with a slew of explosions, a shortage of moral ambiguity and a triumph of physical effects over digital ones.” Nolte responds by listing four films, but only one of them, Taken, fits Zeitchik’s definition. 300 was filmed entirely in front of a green screen; Gran Torino contains no “explosions,” much less “a slew of” them; and unless he knows something I don’t, the Transformers in Transformers aren’t “physical effects.”

In short, Nolte isn’t refuting Zeitchik so much as talking right past him. Why? Because, to quote the man himself, “this is what happens when you’re in possession of a laughably biased theory in search of proof.”

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Joint Commission on Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan?

[ 10 ] August 16, 2010 |

This is interesting for a couple of reasons:

Nato and the United Nations are cautiously considering a Taliban proposal to set up a joint commission to investigate allegations of civilians being killed and wounded in the conflict in Afghanistan, diplomats in Kabul have told The Guardian.

The Taliban overture, which came in a statement posted on its website, will revive a divisive debate about whether to conduct any formal talks with insurgents who are responsible for the majority of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, and whose assassination campaign now kills one person every day on average.

The Taliban statement called for the establishment of a body including members from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, UN human rights investigators, NATO and the Taliban. “The stated committee should [be] given a free hand to survey the affected areas as well as people in order to collect the precise information and the facts and figures and disseminate its findings worldwide,” the Taliban said.

One human rights organisation has already thrown its support behind the joint commission plan, which echoes a similar idea floated four years ago.

The UN and NATO are treading carefully, but western diplomats say the proposal is being carefully considered. One said that some senior officers at the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force were keen on the idea but that no steps could be taken until it was considered “at the highest political level”.

It appears that  last week’s UN report suggesting that 76% of Afghan civilian casualties over the past year were caused by the Taliban, rather than by the government or ISAF, hit home. NATO/ISAF should strongly consider taking the Taliban up on this offer.  First, it offers an opportunity to develop productive contacts with the Taliban, contacts that could provide the foundation for an eventual settlement.  Second, just as public criticism has helped make NATO more conscientious about civilian casualties, sensitivity about public criticism may make the Taliban more likely to moderate its behavior.  Even if the independent commission proposal is mainly a stunt, it still seems to indicate that the Taliban wants to be viewed as respectful of civilian life and property.

Douthat is a thick young man

[ 32 ] August 16, 2010 |

Ross Douthat’s cheerful gloss on the history of ethnic bigotry really is quite appalling. His most ignorant claim, arguably, is that the “persecution” — he never hints at the details — of religious and ethnic minorities was somehow aimed at assimilating them more quickly than they preferred. Thus, he claims, the occasional ugliness of xenophobes was somehow “necessary to the American experiment’s success” while having the happy effect, he notes, of “inspiring” the Catholic church to soften its “illiberal tendencies” and “persuading” Mormons to abandon polygamy. This allows Douthat to say things like this:

During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.

Similarly, I’d love to hear Douthat’s reflections on how the West Coast riots of 1885-1886 helped “nudge” the Chinese away from heathenism, or how the lynching of Leo Frank was really inspired by the same impulse — to “create the unum” — that led Jane Addams to found Hull House. And while Jim Crow segregation was draconian in many ways, I’m sure Douthat would agree that it created time for persistent racial hostility to melt away.

…and I should add that Douthat’s views here are entirely predictable. The sort of person who believes that marriage is best understood as a coercive institution designed to keep straight people from fucking everything in sight is precisely the sort of person who would believe that fear is an admirable driver of cultural change.

Worst. Analogy. Ever.

[ 5 ] August 16, 2010 |

Shorter Verbatim Althouse: “The Democrats would love to do the same thing to the Republicans. They wouldn’t hesitate to exploit something that captures the public’s attention and provides leverage for the political arguments they like to make. Remember the Mark Foley incident in 2006.”

Yes, on the one hand we have a political party fomenting opposition to an innocuous religious institution “out of a mixture of geographical ignorance, a slanderous attribution of collective responsibility for 9/11 to all Muslims, and political opportunism.” On the other hand, we had a political party taking advantage of the actual scandalous behavior of a member of Congress of the other party. So, really, the Democrats and Republicans are just the same!

I also like the “captures the public’s attention” formulation. Yes, “the public” suddenly and spontaneously became interested in Manhattan zoning decisions; I’m sure that the bigoted exploitation of what would in a rational world be an utter non-issue by such concerned longtime residents of TriBeCa as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin had nothing to do with it…

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…relatedly, see also this excellent post from the new, improved Will Saletan.

The “Wisdom” of Xenophobia

[ 13 ] August 16, 2010 |

Shorter Ross Douthat: “To paraphrase Garry Wills, running people out of town on a rail because they’re different is just as American as declaring inalienable rights. I much prefer the great wisdom of the former.”

If Selected, I Will Serve!

[ 7 ] August 16, 2010 |

In light of the news that Robert Gates will step down in 2011, I would like to announce my candidacy for the position of Secretary of Defense of the United States of America.  A non-exhaustive list of my qualifications:

  1. Attended a CNAS Christmas party.
  2. Can stand for several hours.
  3. Got lost once near the Pentagon parking lot.
  4. Knew a guy who worked in a defense related field, although we kind of lost touch a few years back.  I could probably still find his e-mail, though.
  5. Can list the names of every battleship since USS South Carolina from memory, as long as you don’t count the ones that were never built.
  6. Have watched Red Dawn 19 times,  Top Gun 26 times, and Hunt for Red October 45 times.

Now to make plane and hotel reservations for the Senate confirmation hearings…