I was just watching a bit o’ The Falafel Factor (hey, when you’re staying in a hotel that offers about six channels, ugly choices are inevitable), and as if on cue who would Bill have on but
Ned Flanders Michael Medved to share his pensees about Brokeback Mountain. Needless to say, the quality of the film was not discussed. Medved, after complaining about how the “insidious” tagline “love is a force of nature” “justifies adultery,” he hauled out a favorite wingnut talking point: Brokeback has made only a tenth of the new C.S. Lewis picture. Oddly, the fact that it hasn’t even been in wide release yet, or comparisons with the profitability as such conservative faves as Cinderella Man and The Great Raid were not brought up; I wonder why…
I was just watching a bit o’ The Falafel Factor (hey, when you’re staying in a hotel that offers about six channels, ugly choices are inevitable), and as if on cue who would Bill have on but
Greetings from Washington D.C. This post feels different as it is being written on my brand new ibook, which I got as my traveling laptop. I must admit that I’m already reluctant to go back to Windows on my other computers. I might have to take the new girl down to the Starbucks near Dupont Circle, where I can submit the one billionth blog post filed from the location…
My first evening was very lucky, as I was treated to dinner by the lovely and talented Rox Populi. Tomorrow will be spend poring over various conservative publications at the Library of Congress, which will be rather less entertaining…
…a Blogger + Safari question: as of now, blogger isn’t showing the icons that allow me to add hyperlinks, edit as HTML, etc. Does anyone know how to fix that?
At Wilton Park, a German general made the case for conscription. Germany is more or less prohibited from maintaining a purely professional military force, so it isn’t really all that surprising that the general would make a virtue out of necessity. Nevertheless, at least one part of his argument was particularly interesting; he suggested that conscription actually improved the quality of the Bundeswehr.
Now, this is not an argument that is typically given on behalf of conscription. Lots of people argue that conscription can help solve shortfalls in recruitment, and the German general echoed this claim, specifically referencing the difficulties that other Western European nations have had in filling recruting quotas. Conscription is usually described as a trade-off between numbers and quality; conscripts are believed to perform at a lower level of expertise and with less enthusiasm than volunteers. The US Army certainly holds to this belief, and various commentators have implied that conscription explains the relatively poor performance of the Army in Vietnam. This is absurd, of course; the difficulties the Army faced were at the tactical and operational planning levels, rather than at the level of tactical execution. Poorly trained conscripts are also blamed for the failure of Russia’s army in the first Chechen War.
The general rejected the idea that conscription requires a trade-off. Instead, he argued that conscription (which takes only a percentage of eligible German males in any case) allows the Bundeswehr to appropriate a cross-section of the skills it needs to operate as an organization. Instead of relying on volunteers to fill its ranks, the Bundeswehr can simply take what it needs. When those personnel are in the army, they can be offered particularized incentives for becoming professional soldiers, at least for a time. Thus, conscription allows the Bundeswehr to maintain a higher level of human capital among its personnel than a similar volunteer army. The general suggested that this was particularly important given the increasing technical demands that digitization puts on soldiers.
This argument is particularly interesting coming from a German, because the experience of the German Army in the 20th century has consistently defied the argument that conscripts damage military quality. Throughout the 20th century (and before, back to Prussian times) the German Army has managed both widespread conscription and extremely high quality, all the way down to the level of tactical execution.
To be clear, I’m not calling for conscription in the US. I do, however, think that some arguments against conscription are nonsense, and I suspect that the “quality” objection may be one of these. The experience of Germany and other Western European nations with conscription should also serve to dispel the notion that a draft makes a country more militaristic, violent, or conservative; there would appear to be virtually no evidence to back up these claims.
Has a state ever wasted so much money on so pointless a project? Even if the interceptors worked, they would be useless; at best they would convince the Russians and Chinese to develop more and better missiles, at a fraction of what we’re spending. And if a missile shield isn’t 100%, or very near, it does not break us out of the deterrent relationship with even a small nuclear power like North Korea.
Yet we continue to pour the money down the rathole…
Just read an interesting report in Defense News about the proliferation of aerial IEDs in Iraq. Apparently, insurgents are developing IEDs that can propel themselves into the air and explode. This has damaged several helicopters. Since US helicopters have been flying a very low altitudes since 2003 or so, the tactics may turn out to be quite effective.
No link, unfortunately.
Via Crooked Timber, a brief excerpt of Thomas X. Hammes book on the Pentagon and military transformation. Colonel Hammes is deeply skeptical of the effectiveness of a Transformed military in fourth generation warfare. He is also rather unfair to the French Army, but that’s not surprising. More on this last later.
Also see, via AG, this article by Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, contending that the basic problems with US counter-insurgency reside at the levels of national and organizational culture, rather than in technology. I tend to agree.
I have yet to comment on Kingdaddy’s five part counter-insurgency series, but I nonetheless recommend it to you. I’ll get around to discussing it eventually.
Off to D.C.; posting will depend on the fabled Acela wireless service and other connectivity issues. In the meantime, please enjoy the following links:
- An excellent post by Jill about the useless “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” states fund instead of, say, health care for women.
- A crucial point about why the illegal wiretapping matters (and why the Alito nomination is so disastrous): So much of our privacy has, throughout history, been protected merely by virtue of the fact that there was no easy way to access information. One very practical limiting principle for law enforcement wiretaps has simply been the impossibility of actually listening to masses of taped conversations. That is rapidly ceasing to become a barrier.” Exactly right.
This story about the Utah theater that violated its contract by yanking Brokeback Mountain contains this interesting twist:
The Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy decided to pull director Ang Lee’s cowboy love story at the last minute on Thursday night, despite having agreed to play the picture. The theater is owned by Larry H. Miller, who also owns the Utah Jazz, a National Basketball Association team.
“It’s the most despicable practice that any exhibitor can do,” Focus’ head of distribution, Jack Foley, told Box Office Mojo. “It was a flagrant dismissal of a commitment, and without even a phone call. So I’m not in business with him anymore. It’s a breach of contract. It’s unethical. We can sue him.”
Calls to the Megaplex 17 resulted in “no comments” in regards to why Brokeback Mountain was yanked. “You’re not going to get any comment from us on that,” said Dale Harvey, General Manager for Megaplex Theatres.
As of Sunday, Megaplex Theatres’ Web site had Transamerica, a comedy-drama about a transsexual parent, listed for Jan. 20 in their “Coming Soon” section, but the movie has since vanished from their schedule.
The Megaplex 17 is showing Hostel as well. Though No. 1 nationwide, the sex-and-gore saturated horror picture ranked fourth at the theater with $10,700.
Ah yes–the perverse values of so many Medvedites. A tasteful movie about two gay sheepherders–without any explicit gay sex–is beyond the pale, as is a film about a transgendered person. A film with no aesthetic merit about men and women being explicitly tortured to death for the audience’s pleasure–let those tickets sell! As Dwight McDonald noted in his review of Psycho (reprinted in On Movies), this utterly perverse ordering of values is not a new phenomenon:
I’m against censorship on principle, but this killing in the shower makes me wonder. And not because of the nudity. I favor more nudity in films; also more eroticism and sensuality. It is the sadism that bothers me. Our censors have the opposite view. They see nothing wrong in showing with intimate, suggestive detail a helpless woman being stabbed to death, but had Mr. Hitchcock ventured to show one of Janet Leigh’s nipples, that would have been a serious offense against morals and decency.
I’m against all censorship, but if we’re talking about the values of youth or whatever it seems rather obvious that slasher pics are a rather more serious problem then seeing a woman’s breasts or two men kissing. That our nation’s self-appointed guardians of morality can work themselves into a lather about Brokeback Mountain but seem to skip the think-pieces about Hostel tells you most of what you need to know about them.
I also note that–despite claims by various hacks that producing this movie was an irrational action that proves that Hollywood is “out of touch”–that Lee’s film has now earned $32M against a $14M production budget…without having gone into wide release yet. Roll over Glenn Reynolds and tell Mickey Kaus the news…
You have to explain America to someone from not here, but you can only use ten movies to do it. Which ten do you choose?
The idea is not to give them a history lesson, so you don’t have to start with The New World and end with Jarhead.
What you’re trying to do is give them a sense of who we are—your take on our dreams, our attitudes, our idioms, what we think we are, what we are afraid we are, what we really might be.
I’ve given this a little bit of thought, becuase I used to have some fun by imagining, at a given moment, that some Founder or other famous personage would find themselves transported to the present day, and would need some sort of explanation of America and the world. Cars in particular, I thought, would always be difficult. My favorite two visitors were Thomas Jefferson and Cicero; don’t ask me why, because I can’t explain. Anyway, thinking about this question through the medium of film is particularly interesting, because I also like to use movies as pedagogic devices. This is what I came up with, in no particular order:
1. Lone Star: Lone Star is really about everything, from a particularly American form of local corruption to the collision of race, class, and power on a small stage. Sayles has been trying to remake Lone Star for years (Sunshine State, Limbo) for years, but I don’t think that lightning strikes twice on this one.
2. Once Upon a Time in the West: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance might have taken this spot, as they’re more or less about the same thing; the extension of the East into the West. I love them both, and whether you prefer the former or the latter depends in large part on the interpretation of the expansionary project. It’s odd, but not really surprising, that a pair of Italians (Leone, Bertolluci) could demonstrate such insight into America.
3. Do the Right Thing: Do the Right Thing has plenty of flaws, but it also has plenty of things going right for it. It deserves inclusion as a chronicle of racial tension and urban life in America.
4. Blazing Saddles: The end of the Western, at least as it had been conceived of in John Wayne’s era. Indeed, I think that the Western as a genre needs to be interpreted through the lense of Blazing Saddles, with its implicit discussion of rural and urban politics and its explicit message on race and the West.
5. GoodFellas: I’ve seen Taxi Driver included on lots of lists, and it is appropriate, but I think GoodFellas and Raging Bull fit better. Taxi Driver presents too grim a picture even for me. GoodFellas is, in large part, about the intersection of class and white ethnic identity. While I prefer Godfather as a film, GoodFellas paints a more accurate and compelling picture of America, largely because of the class component.
6. Night of the Living Dead: The Manchurian Candidate might also have occupied this slot, but I think Night of the Living Dead is a better, more important film. The terror and paranoia in NotLD is more immediate and practical than in The Manchurian Candidate. In the latter, our neighbors may be communists. In the former, they’re quite a bit worse. More importantly, we don’t get saved by Frank Sinatra, and our hero is undone in the end for the most mundane, casual, and meaningless of reasons.
7. Badlands: Again with the empty geographic space, but what I like best is the metaphorical empty space that Spacek and Sheen can only fill with a cobbled together dime store romance narrative. One of my favorite films.
8. The Searchers: I know that some prefer other Ford, including MWSLV and Stagecoach, but I cannot seriously entertain such arguments. Wayne’s Edwards is one of the most complex, difficult, troubled, and American characters ever to appear on celluloid.
9. Raging Bull: GoodFellas in a different context. Context matters.
10. Citizen Kane: Included both for its narrative and for its place in film history. Money, politics, and fame are tied together differently in American that anywhere else. CK also demonstrates the possibilities of the medium, a medium in which America is pre-eminent.
This list is a bit grim, possibly because I like grim movies. It’s also Western-heavy; Searchers, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Blazing Saddles are clearly Westerns, while Badlands and Lone Star are close. I don’t think that’s unfair, especially considering that The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance would probably come next. You don’t have to buy the Frederick Jackson Turner thesis to believe that space and the West are critical to the American experience, and in important ways set America apart from Europe and elsewhere. Race, another theme critical to America, is present in at least five of the films I selected, although usually in different ways. The presence or absence of the state also plays a large role in all but two of the films.
Honorable Mention: Office Space, Sunset Boulevard, Groundhog Day, High Noon, The Machurian Candidate, Chinatown, Scarface, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Fog of War, Days of Heaven, Touch of Evil, Once Upon a Time in America, Pulp Fiction
Fascinating. Via Baseball Prospectus, subscription required.
Do you know you can already get a bet down on whether or not Mark McGwire will be elected to the Hall of Fame next year? I was poking around one of those off-shore gambling sites and found a proposition with the following lines:
Hmmm… it’s interesting that it’s even come to this. Six years ago, he looked like a mortal lock. Now, you have a shot at making money betting against him getting in. Count on nothing–oh, except that Cal Ripken Jr. is a mortal lock. That much we know.
That seems to radically understate his chances, but I suppose that I may be underestimating the effect of the steroid hysteria. I doubt very much that McGwire will be kept out of the Hall of Fame for long, but it’s possible that the voters may decide to punish him by keeping him on the shelf for a year or two. In my view this is entirely unjustified; steroids or no, he’s one of the most fearsome hitters ever to play the game.
The Supreme Court has ruled, 6-3, that the Attorney General does not have the authority to override Oregon’s assisted suicide law. The Court (correctly) did not announce a new constitutional right to assisted suicide; rather, the case was about statutory interpretation and separation of powers. Ashcroft claimed authority under the Controlled Substances Act to override the Oregon law. The crucial question is whether prescriptions issued under the Oregon “death with dignity law” could run afoul of a federal regulation that required that prescriptions “be issued for a legitimate medical purpose by an individual practitioner acting in the usual course of his professional practice.” The administration also argued that Ashcroft had the right to overrule the Oregon law based on the principle established in Chevron and a few other cases that executive interpretations of ambiguous statutes should be accorded significant deference as long as they are reasonable.
The opinion, written by Kennedy, quite persuasively argues that Congress did not delegate this authority to the executive, and that the Chevron rule is not controlling when there is a question of overriding state law. With respect to both arguments, the fact that Oregon had made a determination that assisted suicide was a legitimate medical practice was a key factor, and appropriate so. Scalia, in a revealingly outcome-oriented moment, argues in his dissent that “if the term “legitimate medical purpose” has any meaning, it surely excludes the prescription of drugs to produce death.” But, of course, this is begging the question: the state of Oregon, who has the primary power to regulate the medical profession, disagrees with Scalia’s normative argument, making it clear that his empirical claim self-evidently false. There’s a complex balance between federal branches and federal and state power involved here, and I think the balance struck by the majority makes sense. Congress does, in my view, have the power to override the Oregon law if it chooses , but if it doesn’t do so clearly it is appropriate for the Court to defer to state law. As Kennedy writes: “[t]he Government, in the end, maintains that the prescription requirement delegates to a single Executive officer the power to effect a radical shift of authority from the States to the Federal Government to define general standards of medical practice in every locality. The text and structure of the CSA show that Congress did not have this far-reaching intent to alter the federal-state balance and the congressional role in maintaining it.” That’s correct, I think. One might think that Scalia–with his interest in separation-of-powers and federalism–would be on board, but as we know when his stated legal principles conflict with conservative policy positions, Scalia has no compunction about going with the latter.
The other news is that Roberts joined Thomas and Scalia in dissent; this is, of course, a coalition we’ll be seeing plenty of. A blogger at Petterico is “very, very pleased” by this development. And, in a way, he should be; Roberts is likely a Scalia/Thomas-style reactionary, and with Alito the only question is whether he’s even worse. And yet, this is also a curiously personality-driven analysis of the case, appropriate for the Bush-fluffing sectors of the blogosphere. What matters in this case is not an overriding of state law–which one might think would at least attract some concern from someone interested in conservative legal principles–but the fact that Roberts agrees with Scalia, irrespective of the content of the latter’s opinion.
…UPDATE: More from TalkLeft.