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Chuck Has Left the Stage…

[ 41 ] April 6, 2008 |

Old Man Heston has passed away.

Heston occupied an iconic space that was weirdly similar to that of John Wayne, but with an important difference. Although Wayne the actor eventually became lost in Wayne the icon, at the various points along his career you could tell that he was a fantastically talented performer; his Ethan Edwards is one of the finest creations in American cinema, and I even quite like his performance in The Shootist. Heston the icon emerged very early, but Heston the talented actor… not so much. Some of his performances (Touch of Evil, Planet of the Apes) are quite memorable, but not really because I thought that there was any great acting appearing on screen. My favorite Heston, oddly enough, is his turn as Long John Silver in the 1990 TV version of Treasure Island, which I honestly think is the best film version of the novel. Loomis is mildly less charitable.

His politics are well known; he walked the familiar path from left to right between the 1950s and 1980s, although he ended up in rather a unique place.

Rest in peace.

UPDATE: I must admit to being overly amused by the combination of this post with this comment

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Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: House Braganza

[ 18 ] April 6, 2008 |

Circa 1377, the twenty year old man who would become King John I of Portugal begat a son with a woman who was either the daughter of a Jewish cobbler or a descendant of Charlemagne (who knows; perhaps both?) Some eight years later, John (himself a bastard) would ascend to the throne following the death of his brother and a couple of years of political instability. Afonso, John’s bastard son, was shortly joined by a sister, and later by nine half-brothers and half-sisters, six of whom survived infancy. One of these half-brothers eventually became King Duarte of Portugal, and another became Prince Henry the Navigator.

Afonso enjoyed considerable influence in Portugal, and after the death of his brother King Duarte became the favorite uncle of young Afonso V. The regent for Afonso V was Pedro, another of the elder Afonso’s half-brothers. There was considerable tension in the royal household, which Pedro tried to resolve in 1443 by creating Afonso the first Duke of Braganza. It didn’t work out; after Afonso V assumed power, there was a civil war and Pedro was killed. In any case, the elder Afonso’s heirs retained the title Duke of Braganza, and continue to claim it today.

House Braganza established claims to the throne of Portugal in 1483 and again in 1580, but in both cases these claims failed. In 1580, the succession crisis was resolved by the assumption of power of the Habsburg King of Castile, Philip II (who reigned as Philip I of Portugal). This arrangement lasted sixty years, until the Portuguese forced the Spainish out in the Restoration War of 1640, and placed John IV, Duke of Braganza, upon the throne. Among John more interesting descendants was King Jose I, who was so unnerved by the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 that he never again felt comfortable inside walls, and conducted royal business from what amounted to a tent city.

Mr. Trend sufficiently covered House Braganza’s Brazilian travails last week. Pedro IV (Pedro I of Brazil) briefly resumed the throne of Portugal in 1826 following the death of his father, but soon gave it up to Maria II, his seven year old daughter. Maria was shortly thereafter deposed and replaced by Pedro’s brother Miguel, a conservative admirer of the Habsburgs. Miguel launched the customary reign of terror upon his return, but was driven out in 1834 after a three year civil war, whereupon Maria II resumed the throne. Miguel’s descendants were constitutionally prohibited from resuming the throne, an issue to which we will return shortly.

In 1889 Carlos I ascended to the throne upon the death of his father, Luis I. Portugal was in some financial difficulty, with its diminished colonial possessions proving a bit of a drain on the metropol, and Carlos I was not the man to solve this problem. In 1908, six years after the second national bankruptcy of his reign, Carlos I, his wife, and his two sons were attacked by assassins while traveling in an open carriage. The assassins killed the King, mortally wounded the crown prince, and injured the nineteen year old Prince Manuel. Manuel survived to become King, a role for which he was utterly unprepared. Two years later a coup drove the King from power, ending the rule of the Braganzas over Portugal.

Manuel II died in 1932 without issue. During his period in exile, Manuel had struck a deal with the heir to the Miguelist line, one Duarte Nuno, such that the latter would support the former’s claim to the throne in return for recognition as the legitimate heir. The grandson of Miguel, consequently, became the heir to the throne; the constitutional prohibition was hardly the most important obstacle to his resumption of the throne. Duarte Nuno died in 1976 and was succeeded as pretender by Duarte Pio, who was born in Switzerland in 1945. Duarte Pio’s godparents were none other than Pope Pius XII and Queen Amelie, last Queen of Portugal. Duarte Pio relocated to Portugal in the 1950s, and fulfilled his military obligation as a helicopter pilot in the Portuguese Air Force in Angola. More recently he campaigned for the independence of East Timor. Prospects for a return to the throne appear grim; the only monarchist party in Portuguese politics is very small, and does not support the candidacy of Duarte Pio because of his Miguelist lineage.

Trivia: ?

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A Good Example

[ 20 ] April 5, 2008 |

One wonders how differently the primaries would have played out if Hillary Clinton had done what it took the Colombian government much less time to figure out how to do

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A Victory for Transparency

[ 0 ] April 5, 2008 |

Well, maybe not. Regarding the search for the responsible party in the “bad ammo to Afghanistan” scandal, Laura Peterson writes:

The public may never really know, if a recent Government Accountability Office report is any indication. The GAO found that 42 percent of the workforce at the Army’s Contracting Center for Excellence, a division of the Army Contracting Agency, were contractors themselves. In addition to the obvious conflict of interest problems this raises, GAO said that contractors “were not always identified as such to the public and in some cases were named on documents as the government’s point of contact.”

Most of the CCE contractors were employed by CACI International, an Arlington-based firm that helped prepare contracting documents such as modifications and statements of work [and provided interrogators to Abu Ghraib]. CACI International also holds a 20-year, $36 billion contract for logistics support with the Army Sustainment Command (ASC) at Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois, which awarded the munitions contract to AEY Inc., the youthful arms dealer’s company. ASC was created in 2006 to handle contracts for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan after a series of scandals exposed the lack of oversight that plagued the Army’s Kuwait procurement office. Though ASC hasn’t yet responded to requests for the public/private breakdown of its contracting staff, it’s clear ASC looks to the private sector quite a bit for projects such as the Deployable Civilian Contracting Cadre it launched last year to monitor reconstruction projects in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So even when the AEY contract is made public (a search of the Federal Procurement Data System displays every AEY contract except that one), it’s impossible to be sure that the contracting officer listed is in fact responsible for hiring and monitoring a company that reportedly drove soldiers in Afghanistan crazy with late, low-quality weaponry—and probably broke DoD procurement law in the process.

When thinking about who’s at fault in a situation like this, it’s important to note (with a nod to our Naderite remnant) that it’s not just Republicans. Certainly scams like this develop during any war, and the oversight that the Bush administration has provided for this kind of procurement is pretty minimal. Nevertheless, much of the procurement system we now have in place was developed in the 1990s as part of the larger “reinventing government” project; the intention was to ensure efficiency by turning responsibilities over to “market tested” private firms. What we got were things like the Lead System Integrator, in which a big private firm manages procurement across an entire program, like Future Combat Systems or Coast Guard’s Deepwater or the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship. The services and the Pentagon, at the same time, shed their acquisition and oversight capabilities.

Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen cost overruns and delays that are impressive even for defense acquisition project. Combine that with a poorly thought out war that would have strained any system, and the results, sadly, have been predictable.

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Pictures of Sydney

[ 0 ] April 5, 2008 |

We now have pictures of HMAS Sydney. It appears that her bow is completely gone, which supports the idea that a magazine explosion sank her very quickly. Check out the photos here; see especially the sixth photo from the left, which shows a remarkably tight grouping of 5.9″ shell hits from Kormoran.

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2008 Reds Preview

[ 11 ] April 5, 2008 |

Went to my first baseball game of the season last night, so today is an appropriate time to discuss the prospects of my beloved Reds. All projections via Baseball Prospectus (AVG/OBP/SLG/Fielding Runs Above Average):

Javier Valentin (.269/.333/.425/-8)

First Base
Scott Hatteberg (.286/.368/.441/-4)
Joey Votto (.280/.360/.499/7)

Second Base
Brandon Phillips (.274/.325/.443/3)

Third Base
Edwin Encarnacion (.285/.356/.493/-3)

Jeff Keppinger (.305/.363/.417/-2)

Left Field
Adam Dunn (.261/.389/.550/-10)

Center Field
Corey Patterson (.274/.317/.430/-1)
Ryan Freel (.260/.334/.370/0)

Right Field
Ken Griffey Jr. (.268/.350/.481/-6)

There’s some interesting talent here; Griffey could obviously fall off a cliff, as could Hatteberg, but there are some reasons to be optimistic. The more ABs that Votto takes from Hatteberg, the better. Jay Bruce will be up at some point, and while he doesn’t really look like a center fielder he can certainly hit. That’s a good thing, because while Freel is likely to win “Scrappiest White Guy” in the NL again this year, neither he nor Patterson are good options for anything but fourth or fifth outfielders. Overall there’s a lot to like, especially since, apart from Griffey, this is likely to be a very healthy team. On the defensive side they’re just appalling, especially since I’m not convinced that Brandon Phillips is actually a plus defender. I kind of wish that they hadn’t traded Josh Hamilton for Edinson Volquez, although in fairness that’s more because of how much I like Hamilton than any disdain for Volquez.

Starters (IP/ERA)
Aaron Harang (215/3.74)
Bronson Arroyo (190/4.37)
Johnny Cueto (130/4.83)
Josh Fogg (90/4.97)
Edinson Volquez (120/4.63)

Harang is a fine pitcher, and Arroyo a solid innings eater. Volquez, 24 should develop into a solid enough middle of the rotation guy, while Cueto is a really interesting talent. You never know quite what to do with a 22 year old pitcher, but he did have a fantastic start the day before yesterday, 10 strikeouts and 1 earned run in seven innings. I would prefer never to have to watch Josh Fogg pitch again. This is a staff with some potential; if Harang is himself, Cueto has a great rookie year, and 2006 repeats itself for Arroyo (this is the least likely of the three), then there’s really something here.

Francisco Cordero
David Weathers
Jeremy Affeldt
Mike Lincoln

We’ve had some really bad bullpens in Cincy, and this year it looks like it should be much less really bad. Hopefully.

Two years ago the Reds improbably contended for the NL Central, very nearly beating out the eventual world champions despite the fact that the team was terrible. Last year the Reds were simply terrible. This year, there’s some reason for optimism. On the risk side, Griffey could go down, Dunn could go down, and Dusty Baker could take out a gun and shoot Johnny Cueto’s career just to watch it die. On the plus, it could be a real interesting team to watch. Given the weakness of the rest of the NL Central, I’m going to go ahead and predict 82-80.

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Look Away

[ 24 ] April 4, 2008 |

I’d be remiss in letting the day pass without noting that April 4 is not only the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination but also the 149th anniversary of the first known performance of “Dixie” (or “Dixie’s Land”) by Bryant’s Minstrels in New York City. The song was a hit in New York in 1859, but it was its appearance a year later in New Orleans that helped convert this noxious little ode into the nearest thing to a national anthem the Confederacy would ever enjoy. Though we obviously associate the tune with the same streams of racist nostalgia that reinvigorated the symbols of the confederacy during the civil rights era, we should also remember that minstrelsy provided an immense cultural resource for Northern, working class whites throughout the middle decades of the 19th century.

As historians like David Roediger and Alexander Saxton have argued, minstrelsy — which in its early years involved northern white performers, smeared with burnt cork or grease, presenting what they usually claimed to be the “authentic culture” of plantation slaves — lay at the center of a “democratic” worker’s culture that was founded on racial chauvinism and pre-industrial nostalgia. Minstrel shows projected onto enslaved blacks a mythic identity that white workers had supposedly lost in the transition to industrialism; slaves were portrayed as boundlessly joyful, guileless and yet erotic and unhindered by the demands of respectable behavior. Of course, they were also portrayed as illiterate, present-minded rubes, which were precisely the same characteristics that appeared to define African Americans as unsuited for liberty or citizenship. The minstrel show’s actors and audiences understood that they were sharing a mere performance, but in their insistence that the (white) performance was based on genuine black attributes that couldn’t — unlike burnt cork — be washed away, they effectively argued that whites and blacks didn’t (and shouldn’t) share the same time and space. Songs like “Dixie,” in other words, made white people feel good about the fact that they were white. They even contributed to a shared sense of “whiteness” itself, as the differences between European ethnic groups diminished by comparison to the gross stereotypes of the plantation darky.

The scholarship on minstrelsy is vast and complex, of course, and the genre became even more vexed when black performers like Bert Williams rose to prominence at the turn of the century. The dozens of different versions of “Dixie” that were performed over the years were no less complicated, especially since Confederate sympathizers often tried to convert the tune into a more respectable “patriotic” anthem rather than an artifact of “low” urban (and Northern culture). It’s worth pointing out that neo-Confederate organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy spent years trying to standardize the song in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mostly by stripping the lyrics of bawdy jokes and eliminating the caricatures of black dialect that defined the music of the minstrel show. Still, it’s that version of “Dixie” that most Americans are familiar with, and it’s that version — the deliberately nationalist one that arose during the formative years of the Jim Crow system — that racist throwbacks like Clint Johnson defend against the “genocidal” armies of political correctness.

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Friday Cat Blogging

[ 17 ] April 4, 2008 |

Henry, having befouled nearly all of my daughter’s Sesame Street dolls, consummates a “special relationship” with Beefeater Bear.

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More on Thomas

Thomas Beattie, the transman who is about 6 months pregnant, was on Oprah yesterday.

You can find video of the first 3 parts (of 4) here.

I think he handled himself really impressively. And what an important story for millions of Americans to hear.

Update: There are 5 parts to the video, and all of them are up now.

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The Endless Wankery of Juan Williams

[ 101 ] April 4, 2008 |

Shorter Juan Williams:

The problem with Barack Obama is that he’s not Bill O’Reilly.

Williams’ hackery deserves considerably more attention than it tends to receive. Though his work on Eyes on the Prize seems to have given him a permanent and inflated custodial sense of The True Meaning of the Civil Rights Movement, actual historians generally regard him as a joke. When Timothy Tyson, for instance, wrote about the “sugar-coated confections that pass for the popular history of the civil rights movement,” there’s no doubt in my mind that he was thinking about he provided what I regard as an apt description of Juan Williams, who is to the civil rights movement what the Stephen Ambrose was to World War II (though the comparison is probably unfair to Ambrose, who was infinitely less sanctimonious).

And though lately he’s spent most of his time accusing Obama of “pandering” to black voters, Williams as much as anyone has helped cultivate an image of Martin Luther King, Jr., that’s palatable to contemporary white conservatives who — given the chance — would have foamed at the mouth over speeches like “Birth of a New Nation,” “Beyond Vietnam,” or “Why America May Go to Hell” — the speech King was planning to give on April 7, 1968. Meantime, he’s perfectly content to “nod along” while his BFF O’Reilly recently compared Jeremiah Wright to the cops who sodomized Abner Louima. (Then again, Williams himself once compared David Letterman to John Wayne Gacy, so I’m imagining Williams had already noticed the obvious comparison.)

[ADDENDUM: Predictably, one of our finer trolls has shown up in the thread, this time towing a remora named “wow,” whose role is evidently to remind everyone how far the functionally illiterate have come in recent years. Their bravery is to be commended, and I must admit I find their personal interest in me to be somewhat touching as well. That said, the thread appears to have served some other ennobling purpose, since Timothy Tyson has taken the time to correct the projection error I made in the original post. His view of Williams’ historical work is more charitable than mine, and it was sloppy to insist that Tyson must have had Williams in mind when writing the passage I quoted.]

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Thinking Tactics

Is this the right way to get people talking about the prevalence of rape? Does it really let women own their experiences to wear a t-shirt? I’m skeptical.

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Broken beer bottles may be dangerous, apparently

[ 0 ] April 4, 2008 |

Fascinating and Hilarious:

A MAGIC trick went “horribly wrong” at a weekend Melbourne Comedy Festival show, but audience members had to sign a confidentiality agreement to stop them revealing details. The trick went awry during the Something About Razorblades and Nails show at the Northcote Town Hall on Sunday night. An audience member, who wished to remain anonymous, told Confidential that “something went horribly wrong.” She said all members of the audience had to sign a “secrecy agreement” before they left the venue preventing them from telling anyone what happened. The audience member said the trick that went wrong involved a broken beer bottle, but she would not elaborate.

First thought: This sounds like something from Arrested Development. I imagine Gob trying pathetically to force audience members to sign some sort of agreement like this.

Second thought: It would be quite convenient to be able to force all witnesses of one’s various humiliating screw-ups to sign secrecy agreements. I’m going to have some these drawn up before the next time I go out drinking (in case something “goes horribly wrong” with a broken beer bottle, which, let’s face it, is bound to happen one of these days).

Third thought: How can they “force” the audience members to sign this thing? Is there something about this in the small print on the back of the ticket? What happens to the brave audience member who refuses to sign?

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