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"Close Your Eyes. It Won’t Hurt None."

[ 30 ] January 28, 2008 |

Discuss the final scene of episode four of the season five of the Wire. This is apt to be a spoiler rich environment, so those waiting for the DVDs should be careful.

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But He Said He Wanted To Bring A New Tone To Washington!

[ 0 ] January 28, 2008 |

Apparently, there really were journalists who took George W. Bush’s transparently meaningless boilerplate about bipartisanship seriously, and thought that someone who sometimes cut deals with one of the most reactionary legislatures in the country would be a moderate in national terms. Huh. It’s doubly surprising that people would be willing to admit it 7 years later, though. Indeed, Wesiberg still seems to think not that he got Bush wrong but that Bush mysteriously changed after roughly his second month in office. Sad.

Let’s just hope we avoid the inevitable Weisberg editorial in 2013: “I can’t believe John McCain turned out to be a conservative!

…Yglesias has more. Another why of putting it is that when politicians start running on a platform of “keeping everything the same in Washington” and “doing everything I can to destroy cooperation and prevent Congress from solving our problems,” then politicians using bromides about bipartisanship can actually be used to infer something about how they’ll act in office.

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Cowboys’ #1 Fan Reacts To Their Loss

[ 11 ] January 28, 2008 |

He is looking forward to Yankees spring training opening in less than 20 days, but I worry about the purges when they lose Game 5 to the Anegls after Jeter’s third clutch GIDP of the game.

[Via Kissing Suzy Kolber via spackerman.]

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More, Please

[ 4 ] January 28, 2008 |

Clinton and Obama to vote against cloture on the awful FISA legislation. Good. The two presidential candidates have the potential to be a serious counterwieght to the terrible job Reid has been doing on this issue, and I’m happy that they’ve taken responsibility.

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4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

[ 0 ] January 28, 2008 |


To echo what Manohla Dargis, Glenn Kenney, Noy Thrupkaew and countless others have said, I really can’t recommend the extraordinary Romanian picture 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days strongly enough; it’s sure to be remembered as one of the peaks of the decade. Black market abortion in a miserable dictatorship is a potentially great subject for a movie, but also one fraught with peril; the temptation for easy moralizing, flat characters, earnest position paper readings, etc. is ominous. Mungiu, though, avoids them by keeping his focus on two terrific characters brought to life in nearly perfect performances. Consider the richly detailed implications of Gabita’s unwillingness to surely face her predicament, for example. And the camera placements — maintaining focus on Otilia as the normal uncomfortable tedium if a dinner party with condescending friends/relatives-of-the boyfriend becomes unbearably tense because of the knowledge of her friend back on the hotel, or mostly away from Gabita as the coldly exploitative doctor unravels her story and alludes to the new arrangement while Ortilla’s recognition slowly dawns — are superb, always serving the story and characters rather than showing off. It’s also remarkably adept at portraying the deprivations and humilations of Romania under the last years of Ceaucescu.

Mungui is clearly a major new director, and it’s a great film. See it as soon as you have the opportunity.

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Comment of the Day

[ 18 ] January 28, 2008 |

From mjd:

I think the meta-meme is that only the votes of white middle-class men really count. If they’re angry the votes count double.

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[ 18 ] January 27, 2008 |

Another argument for the existence of Hell.

Conservatives are prone to all sorts of uncontrolled yapping about the “Asian bloodbath” that followed the American loss in Vietnam. The bogosity of those claims need not detain us here, except to point out that they almost universally fail to mention one post-Vietnam bloodbath for which the United States was directly accountable — the 1975 invasion and occupation of East Timor, which the Ford administration green-lighted and subsequent US presidents endorsed with arms and silence. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of Indonesians his government disposed of, upwards of 200,000 East Timorese people died to protect, among other things, the “reputation” of the U.S. in Southeast Asia.

Good riddance.

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Last Throes!

[ 17 ] January 27, 2008 |

Another example of tough rhetoric from street-fightin’ Hillary Clinton. Admittedly, it involved using some of Dick Cheney’s most specious arguments to defend Dick Cheney’s very worst policy, but hey, tough is tough!

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White States Vote Like That, But Black States Vote Like This

[ 0 ] January 27, 2008 |

You know, Jesse Jackson won Michigan in 1988. Does this mean that Obama automatically gets to claim the Michigan delegates?

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Ticking Time Bombs, Kiefer Sutherland, and Austrian Battleships

[ 16 ] January 27, 2008 |

A while ago I read this interesting New Yorker profile of Joel Surnow. As is well known, Surnow’s fascination with the ticking time bomb scenario provides repeated narrative justification for putting Kiefer Sutherland in a room with a variety of torture implements and some unfortunate terrorist. I don’t watch 24, but it did get me thinking about the actual incidence of real-life ticking time bomb scenarios. I finally realized that I was passingly familiar with at least one scenario that comes pretty close.

The ticking time bomb scenario has been of use to torture advocates because it purports to produce a “best case” for the use of torture. The features of the scenario are reasonably well known. A terrorist or individual of similar occupation has been captured. We know, somehow, that a bomb will go off in the very near future in a target of great value. We don’t know exactly when the bomb will go off, or precisely where it is, but we know that our captured terrorist does know where the bomb is, and could supply us with that information if he so chose. In this scenario it is argued, by Alan Dershowitz among others, that torturing the terrorist into giving up the location of the bomb is legitimate and appropriate behavior.

Critiques of this scenario have hammered at the details. How precisely do we know that a bomb will go off, and that it will go off in a high value target? How reliable is our intelligence on this, and how is it that we know the target and time but do not know the location of the bomb? How do we know that the terrorist we have in custody actually has knowledge of the location of the bomb? How can we determine the veracity of the information we acquire under torture? Except for the last, these questions suggest that the “ticking time bomb” scenario, while commonly found on television, isn’t something that actually happens in real life. The last attacks the scenario in another way, suggesting that the proposed solution (torture) is unlikely to have the effect we want (finding the bomb). Finally, doesn’t opening the door to torture in this (extremely stylized) scenario open up the possibility that torture will become more attractive in other scenarios?

Although it didn’t occur to me the first time I wrote it, the experience on the battleship Viribus Unitis is an almost classic ticking time bomb scenario. Viribus Unitis was the first dreadnought of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. In October 1918, when it was becoming clear that the Central Powers would not prevail in the war, and that their navies would become subject to confiscation by the Allies, Emperor Karl I of Austria decided to turn over Viribus Unitis to the newly created Council of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs that would soon occupy formerly Austrian territories on the Adriatic. Italy, however, had designs on some of the Austrian territory that might be turned over to the Croats, and didn’t like the idea of 3 modern dreadnoughts being in the possession of the Austrian successor state. Although the SCS declared that it was no longer at war with the Allies, this declaration was not immediately recognized on the Allied Accordingly, Italy dispatched a pair of young men named Raffaele- one a Lieutenant Paolucci, and the other a Major Rossetti- to infiltrate Pula Harbor on a modified torpedo and attach a bomb to the dreadnought’s hull. This the Raffaeles succeeded in doing, but they were captured while escaping, and brought on board the Viribus Unitis.

When the Raffaeles were brought on board, they told Admiral Vuckovich (the new commander of the dreadnought) that they had affixed a bomb to the hull and that the ship should be evacuated. This put the admiral in an awkward position. He could evacuate, but that would ensure the loss of the battleship when the mine exploded. The Viribus Unitis class was notorious for its poor underwater protection, making the threat of the bomb particularly potent. While it could be argued that the admiral should have evacuated VU anyway, thus saving the lives of his men, the ship was an extraordinarily expensive piece of state property. The men onboard the ship expected that they might have to die or kill in its defense. It was reasonable at the time to believe that the ship might be used to fight or deter the Italians. As such, evacuation doesn’t present a very compelling option. Instead, the admiral decided to keep enough sailors on board to allow the best possible response to the damage that the bomb would cause. Inevitably, it risked the deaths of many sailors, but at the same time held out the best chance for saving the ship.

But what of the Raffaeles? The Italian officers had already admitted that a bomb was attached to the hull, and that it would explode in a relatively short period of time. They begged Admiral Vuckovich to be allowed to escape, and he agreed to let them go. However, when they reached the water they were assailed by angry sailors, and then dragged back onto the ship. Fearing prosecution (and potentially execution) for what amounted to a legally questionable attack on what its owners presumed to be a neutral vessel, the Italians demanded to be treated as prisoners of war. Admiral Vuckovich made no determination at the time, but ordered the crew not to harm the Italians. Twenty-five minutes later the bomb exploded. Fifteen minutes after that Viribus Unitis rolled over and sank with 300 men, including Admiral Vuckovich but not including the Raffaeles, who were allowed by Admiral Vuckovich to escape, and who spent about a week as prisoners of war.

And here are a couple of questions for the gallery. First, does this represent a genuine historical case of a classic ticking time bomb scenario? The Croats didn’t have a lot of time to torture the Italians, but they could be fairly certain that the bomb existed and that the Italians knew where it was. If they had discovered the location, the Croats might have been able to either disable the bomb or to prepare damage control around the area of the explosion. Moreover, they may even have had enough time to confirm or disconfirm statements made under torture by the Italians.

Would the torture have worked? The Italians clearly wanted to stay alive, but they didn’t give up the location of the bomb even when it seemed certain that they would fall victim to it. Whether they would have given up the information under threat of severe pain in addition to death is unclear. Had they given up the location of the bomb and survived, the Raffaeles would have probably have been made the object of scorn and derision in Italy, rather than receiving treatment as heroes.

How much weight should be placed on the behavior of Admiral Vuckovich? Charged with the defense of the ship, which entailed a willingness to see his sailors die and to kill the sailors of the enemy, Vuckovich decided that the information wasn’t worth torturing the Italians. His decision likely depended upon a combination of utilitarian calculus, professional honor, and perhaps a revulsion against torture. It’s possible that he made a mistake, but his evaluation of the situation should weigh heavily on the historical ledger.

The real lesson, of course, is that learning about battleships enriches everyone’s life.

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"Don’t Worry, Once He Leaves The South It’ll Be More Like Shirley Chisholm in ’72."

[ 90 ] January 27, 2008 |

Well, that’s enough; I’m no longer willing to be charitable about all the Clinton surrogates who just happen to mention Obama’s suspiciously Muslim middle name, teenaged drug use, etc. etc. Clinton’s Jesse Jackson comparison is straight out of the Bill Schneider “Sure, Democrats win the African-American vote, but how will they do among real voters?” school, with even less plausible deniability.

But I’m sure many of the people thrilled about the good old-fashioned bare-knuckled politics she showed in seeking ex post facto electoral rule changes to steal a substantial block of delegates will also admire her campaign’s race-baiting — hey, at least she’ll be our Machiavellian bastard, right? (Note: Machiavellian street-fighting guarantee void during GOP foreign policy catastrophes, although they will reappear if necessary to distort the records of people who actually got the war right.) And when she amends her flag-burning legislation to require every state Capitol in the country to display the Confederate flag, hey, that may be worth a few votes in Florida, right? And when Mark Penn, Union Buster (TM) drafts a constitutional amendment to overturn the Wagner Act…

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Note to Self

[ 9 ] January 27, 2008 |

Next year, just get the goddamned flu shot. Leave the very young and very old to their own fate, and don’t invent stories in your head about “shortages” that don’t actually exist.


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