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Gifts for the Young Revanchist

[ 42 ] April 7, 2008 |

April not only marks Confederate Heritage Month, but it also contains the birthday of my daughter, who had the misfortune of being cast into the world on Confederate Memorial Day. Of late, debate within the household has concerned the issue of her second birthday party and whether a Sesame Street theme would be more or less preferable to a Winnie the Pooh theme.

Fortunately, the Sons of Confederate Veterans have supplied a third alternative that would include an array of activity books and inspiring tales from the Old South.

Among the classier gifts, we find these two winners:

On the publisher’s website, the plantation model carries the following description:

Detailed instructions, exploded diagrams and a few inexpensive tools help papercrafters construct paper model of early 19th-century Southern plantation. Includes spectacular Greek Revival-styled main house with portico, colonnades connecting house and two wings, carriage house, garconniere, privy, slave cabin, fence.

There’s no word, sadly, on the release date for the scale model of Sherman’s March, but I’m pretty confident we can come up with a homemade workaround.

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Give it Up

[ 23 ] April 7, 2008 |

Via Publius, Sean Wilentz has an exceedingly weak piece arguing that Clinton would be the easy winner in any fair primary system. Now, the primary system is full of irrationalities, so one might think that it would be possible to come up with a decent argument, but alas he fails at the task. Rather, the core of his argument is to assert again and again that the GOP winner-take-all model is the only fair way of apportioning delegates because…that’s how we do it in Presidential elections! But, of course, winner-take-all plurality voting is notoriously the least accurate of vote count systems commonly used in liberal democracies, and it is precisely that feature that led to the popular vote winner losing in 2000 and given different weather patterns in Ohio could have very easily led to the popular vote winner losing in 2004. Indeed, not using winner-take-all is one of the very few defensible aspects of the current primary system, and certainly Wilentz doesn’t even begin to make an argument about why PR is so much worse as to render the winner illegitimate (and I’m not counting “we do it that way in other parts of our anachronistic election system” as an argument.)

And, indeed, it gets worse: Obama is attacked for refusing to certify the results of an election which 1)the authoritative decision maker declared in advance would not count, 2)all candidates agreed not to campaign in, and 3)only one major candidate appears on the ballot. (I can’t wait for Wilentz’s piece next week railing against people who claim that Dimitry Medvedev’s election is illegitimate: after all, lots of people voted! That’s the only criterion that counts!) In general, the whole article reminds me of Wilentz asserting that JFK would have benefited from a much greater halo effect than LBJ…without being assassinated.

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Best Thing about NJ?

It’s not the view of New York. These days, the best thing about the Garden State is its progressive social agenda. And the state is putting supposedly progressive NY to shame.

First, they instituted civil unions (not a good final answer but a step more than NY Has taken).
Then, they repealed the death penalty.
And now, the state is poised to implement paid family leave.

NY is 0 for 3. NJ is leaving NY in the dust.

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Penn To Embarass Clinton Campiagn Less In Public

[ 0 ] April 7, 2008 |

Mark Penn, Union Buster (TM) steps down as “chief strategist,” although he’ll be raking in fees to provide advice and polling data. Apparently “Garin officially began polling for the campaign last month, a major sign that senior Clinton aides doubted not only Penn’s judgment, but also his numbers.” Why you would continue to pay him huge send of money for worthless data about “taking kids to French horn lessons moms” when you also may have useful data available is beyond me, but it’s not my money. I also agree with Melber that “[t]weaking titles does nothing to address the serious questions about Penn’s potential conflicts of interest.”

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Christians v. Lions

[ 10 ] April 7, 2008 |

My condolences to Plumer and any other Canucks fans reading for the whole missing the playoffs thing. However, be grateful that at least you’re not about to be pummeled senseless by the Sharks for four or maybe five games. (Granted, they have never been as good as I expect, but there biggest weakness has always been the lack of a real #1 defenseman — Scott Hannan definitely didn’t count — and Campbell seems to have solved that problem.)

Related: classy way for Trevor Linden to go out. He scored some big goals when they came a goal away from the Cup in ’94.

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Touch Of Evil

[ 0 ] April 6, 2008 |

As a bit of stuck-at-such-an-interminable-delay-at-O’Hare I’m-willing-to-shell-out-the-7-bucks-for-intarweb-access blogging, to follow up on Rob’s tribute I’ll second Kathy’s remarks here.

…Glen Kenny has more thoughts here.

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Not a Sidewalk Bag

There’s been lots of buzz recently in New York about the big Takashi Murakami show opening at the Brooklyn Museum. You know Murakami. He’s the one who creates Japanese animation-style images as oversize art. Oh yeah, and he also collaborates with handbag giant Louis Vuitton to create and sell limited edition colorful Vuitton/Murakami bags for thousands of dollars. The look like this. It’s the perfect coming together of art and commerce.

But it’s hit a new low. In the New York Times Styles Section today (I know, the Styles Section), there’s an article about the oh-so-smart presentation of the Vuitton bags for sale at the Murakami opening this week. Here’s a photo:

Get it? The Museum is blurring the line between authentic and fake by staging a Disney-esque street scene in which black men (chosen because they resemble the West African immigrants who can be found on many a street corner selling fake Vuitton/Murakami bags) sell thousands-dollar bags to the wealthy. And the wealthy get the experience of …. buying a bag from a black man on the street instead of a young woman in a 5th Avenue store?

All of this, it seems, is intended as a commentary on the problems of counterfeiting. The social commentary about the problems of consumerism, class, and race seems totally lost.

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It Has Come to This…

[ 8 ] April 6, 2008 |

Only two remain. While G. Mackin’s “Muirshin Durkin” currently sits tied for sixth place, 150 points behind acclaimed LGM blogger djw’s ingeniously dubbed “Watkins 1″ entry, of the surviving entrants only Mackin has picked Memphis to win it all, and consequently only Mackin can overtake djw. It’s simply; if Kansas wins djw walks away with the certificate, while if Memphis wins the honor and glory goes to Mackin.

UPDATE: D’oh! I thought I had checked and re-checked, but of course I got it wrong; Watkins picked Memphis. This means that drip, who picked Kansas, will win if the Jayhawks prevail. Mackin is consigned to the dustbin of history.

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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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