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Blame To Go Around

[ 12 ] July 16, 2010 |

This story would seem to confirm the arguments made by Glenn and some other commenters that the authorities in California bear some of the blame for the failure to extradite Polanski. Like some other commenters, I’m inclined to think that the Swiss argument was a conclusion in search of a pretext, so it’s not clear that this bungling mattered. But that is just a guess, so the blame for the failure to extradite can’t rest entirely on Swiss shoulders.


Geoff Jenkins Retires

[ 11 ] July 16, 2010 |

Now this is starting to make me feel old:

Former Brewers outfielder Geoff Jenkins will announce his retirement on Friday.

Jenkins has scheduled a press conference before Milwaukee’s game against Pittsburgh to officially end his 11-year career. Jenkins played 10 of his 11 seasons with Milwaukee and made the 2003 NL All-Star team. He won a World Series title his final year with Philadelphia in 2008 and finished his career hitting .275 with 221 homers and 733 RBIs in 1,349 games.

General manager Doug Melvin says they’re honored to let Jenkins retire as a Brewer after being drafted by the club, making his major league debut with the team and ranking among the franchise leaders in most offensive categories.

An entirely respectable career, cemented with a World Series ring. Nice work, Jaffo.

At What Point Does the Law no Longer Apply?

[ 59 ] July 16, 2010 |

Katha Pollitt wonders at what point an artist gets his or her “one free child rape” card:

Like many people I have fantasies about getting away with a crime, so I’ve followed the Roman Polanski case with great interest. Drugging and anally raping a 13-year-old girl doesn’t appeal to me, I was thinking more of… well, maybe I’d better not say till I hear from you! Suffice it to say there are lots of people who annoy me deeply and sometimes I wonder how I contain myself. Anyway, I understand that should my darker impulses get the better of me I can take a plea bargain, flee sentencing, claim the judge was biased and corrupt, and live in one of your lovely geranium-festooned chalets for many decades as a respected member of the community. If I stay free long enough, my victims, like Polanski’s, might even get so frustrated with the whole business they urge the courts to drop the case. I’m sure you would agree that this demonstration of magnanimity would be edifying and inspiring to the crass and puritanical American public. Polanski’s friend the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy has made this point frequently.


So what I want to know is, how great a writer do I have to be to have the Swiss government protect me once I arrive? Granted, my writing may not be in the same class as Chinatown or The Pianist—but what about Rosemary’s Baby? I thought that was a pretty silly movie and not scary at all. Also is six books enough, or do I need to write more before I commit my crime? Ideally, I’d like to wait until I’m in the chalet and have lots of time for contemplation. And do sales figures come into it ? I really hope not—this is creative work we are talking about, after all, and everyone knows its value can’t be measured in cash or popularity. Perhaps the world just hasn’t caught up with me yet and you could tell the Americans you need to wait till I am dead and posterity delivers its verdict. Then, if it turns out I wasn’t great enough to deserve Swiss protection after all, you can ship my corpse back to the district attorney.

Very charitable of her not to bring up Pirates, don’t you think? Anyway, to the extent that his atrocious would-be Tocqueville project* is representative — and it appears to be — I would say that Lévy hasn’t earned enough to get out of a jaywalking ticket by his own Versailles logic…

*Favorite moment: “I’m beginning to think that William Kristol is a bit of a partisan hack! I had never considered this possibility before.”

No True Scotsman

[ 3 ] July 16, 2010 |

The idea that “Republican elected officials” may not care about deficits and small government but “American conservatives” do is indeed absurd:

One piece of pushback I got from some right-of-center folks to yesterday’s post on how conservatives don’t care about the deficit was to say that well maybe some Republican Party elected officials are bad on this, but the conservative movement is different. I think that’s entirely false. President George H.W. Bush struck a bargain with congressional Democrats that reduced spending and decreased the deficit. Some Republican Party elected officials backed him. But conservatives were apoplectic. After all, the bill raised taxes. And conservatives care more about making taxes as low as possible than they do about reducing spending or reducing the deficit.

Another common way to make this fallacious argument is Jonah Goldberg’s old line that because conservatives favor small government George W. Bush was really a liberal. The obvious problem is that a majority of actually existing modern conservatives have never favored “small government” per se. They may oppose government if it might in some way help poor people or protect people’s civil rights, but that’s a different thing; conservatives have never opposed using strong federal power to achieve conservative ends and help conservative interests. In addition, conservatives who support massive upper-class tax cuts can’t be let off the hook for obvious political realities. Since Medicare isn’t going anywhere and even Bush’s politically DOA Social Security privatization scheme would have been much more expensive in the short term and required inevitable bailouts in the long term, big tax cuts mean big deficits and there’s no evidence that they lead to smaller government. In addition to this is the obvious problem that among voters even people who favor “small government” in the abstract never support it in the particulars.


[ 12 ] July 16, 2010 |


Since the Village is essentially a Republican town perhaps they assumed that liberals were all going to be the same dead-enders the Bush cultists were, defending their man until the day he was out of office (and then insisting they never liked him in the first place.) That’s what “little people” (and paid political hacks) are supposed to do.

In related news, Goldman Sachs agrees to pay a fine equal to 3% of its 2009 profits for its part in wrecking the world’s economy.

Prestige and the F-16

[ 27 ] July 16, 2010 |

This article, about Pakistan’s preference for F-16s is pretty interesting:

Pakistanis are fascinated, if not obsessed, with F-16 fighter jets.

It is the best fighting aircraft in the fleet of the Pakistan air force, allowed to be flown by only the country’s best pilots. Video of F-16 fighter aircraft roaring through the skies figures prominently in the air force’s inspirational anthems…

Ironically, those who oppose American policies towards the country, including drone strikes, also welcomed the induction of American-manufactured fighter aircraft.

Zaid Hamid, a self-styled defense analyst known more for his conspiratorial and sensational commentaries regarding American influence in Pakistan, praised the delivery of the aircraft in a newsletter as “Alhamdulillah (thanks to Allah), another technological milestone achieved by Pakistan air force.”

I’m curious about the preference for the F-16 over other fighter aircraft.  In Pakistan this makes some sense, as the F-16 is superior to the various French and Chinese aircraft that fill out of the rest of the air force inventory.   However, if you’ve ever visited Israel, you might have noticed that there are more pictures of F-16s than F-15s or any other aircraft, in spite of the generally recognized superiority of the F-15. In the United States, for whatever reason, I tend to see and hear more about the F-15.

The Jedi Principle

[ 16 ] July 15, 2010 |

The Jedi Principle runs so:

If you need the Jedi in order to make your project work, don’t start.

The Jedi Principle comes to mind in the context of  defenses of US support for the 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia*. Eli Lake and others have made the argument that the invasion could have worked if the international community had ponied up money, troops, and political support for the occupation of Somalia.  That no such support materialized, and that there was no plausible prospect for such support at the time (the United States was ramping up to the Surge in Iraq) doesn’t bother such advocates. In short, the project would have worked, if only the Jedi had shown up. The architects of the invasion can hardly be blamed for the failure of the Jedi, can they?

I wish it was more complicated than that, but there you go. The allocation of blame is particularly important; the international community is to blame, not the morons who put the thing together.  You may recall this particular dance during the early years of the Iraqi insurgency.  The French and Germans, having made a sensible appraisal of the idiocy of the invasion, were blamed not only for its failure, but also for the fraying of the Western alliance.

To illustrate the limitations of this line of thought, I’ve written a short play:

Setting: A non-descript apartment living room. A DVD player and two hammers are sitting on the coffee table.

Characters: George and Jacque

George: This DVD player is totally broke. It doesn’t even work anymore.

Jacques: Yep, it’s broke. I guess we’ll have to watch Talladega Nights some other time.

George: Not so fast, Jacque. Let’s fix it.

Jacques: With what? And do you even know how to fix a DVD player?

George: (picks up a hammer) With this!

Jacques: I don’t know about that… can you fix a DVD player with a hammer?

George: C’mon; you take the other hammer, and let’s fix it!

Jacques: I don’t think that’s a good idea….

George: Yeah it is! C’mon, give me a hand! WHAM (hits DVD player with hammer)

Jacques: No, I don’t think that’s going to work…

George: Of course it’s working! WHAM! (hits DVD player again). WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!

[Stage lights go dim; WHAMing continues; time passes; lights come on to George, Jacques, and one completely destroyed DVD player]

George: (glaring at Jacques) This is all your fault.


See also Yglesias regarding the failure of the 2006 invasion of Somalia:

At the time, we were intervening on behalf of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government against an Islamic Courts Union headed by Sharif Ahmed. The ICU, once crushed, splintered into various faction, the most radical of which, al-Shabaab, is now fighting against a new version of the TFG which is currently headed by none other than Sharif Ahmed himself!

Effectively, the invasion purged the moderate elements of the ICU, leaving the radicals in control. It also unhinged whatever stability the country had, leading to substantial increases in internal violence and in piracy. Given that the US was relying on a regional proxy which had no interest whatsoever in the creation of a stable Somali state, this outcome was not surprising.

*For reasons that I do not fully understand, I supported the operation for its first two weeks. I suspect that I was motivated by the sense that the US ought to exercise regional influence through local proxy states, and that Somalia was already so much of a disaster that things could hardly get worse. Obviously, this perspective was mistaken.

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Karl Rove admits errors, poops his pants

[ 7 ] July 15, 2010 |

Shorter Karl Rove, more or less:

Seven years ago today, Democrats began calling George Bush a warmongering, lying knucklefucker. Unfortunately, I was too busy helping destroy Valerie Plame’s career to recommend much of a forceful response.  Now, our economy is wrecked, I am divorced, and we are ruled by a Muslim socialist Kenyan strongman.  Oh, that my testicles had been larger and plated with chrome!

“Shoot, I’m not even always right, LOL!”

[ 31 ] July 15, 2010 |

So writes everyone’s favorite conservative blogger, seemingly confused as to whether he’s a teenager now or in 1955. Not that he’s “teenybopper blogging,” but when you think that Selena Gomez, whoever that is, quitting Wizards of Waverly Place, whatever that is, constitutes “breaking news,” you’re damn close. Either way, someone should inform him that just because he thinks and writes like he’s underage doesn’t make it legal for him to possess or disseminate semi-nude images of jail bait.

I was in the mood to vehemently contradict something substantial, but then I remembered where I was, so the best I could do was rag on him for bragging about Irvine being the twenty-second best place to live—about which, no—and UCI being ranked just below Wisconsin in U.S. News and World Report annual poll. Talk about reflected glory: he’s owning the university on account of living in the same city as it. But the best part of his boasting about UCI? He’s unwittingly praising me.

After all, if anyone should be boasting about UCI’s ranking, it should be someone to whom it granted a degree.*

*Before you ask: I am aware that this post is as vapid as the site it links to. I’d intended to mock him for writing “of course ObamaCare has by now proved to be as disastrous as conservatives originally warned,” then ask him to show me the death panels, but sheer lunacy of the other posts stopped me short. Apologies, all.


[ 8 ] July 14, 2010 |

North Korea adds insult to injury:

The Death of Film Criticism

[ 21 ] July 14, 2010 |

I hadn’t read Andrew O’Hehir’s screed against unemployed movie critic bellyaching until Wolcott linked to it, but I think that both O’Hehir and Wolcott make solid points about the future of film criticism. Wolcott:

I miss those days, but they’re not coming back, any more than the doors of CBGB’s will open to reveal the Ramones onstage, firing three-chord fusillades. What’s happening to movie critics is no different from what has been meted out to book, dance, theater, and fine-arts reviewers and reporters in the cultural deforestation that has driven refugees into the diffuse clatter of the Internet and Twitter, where some adapt and thrive—such as Roger Ebert—while others disappear without a twinkle.

In a recent blog post, Ebert counseled against dark despair and declared that this was the golden age, lit by a thousand points of light. The front lines of criticism may have dissolved, but a fresh multitude of voices have arisen, many of them inspired specialists in film noir, horror, anime, and pre-Code Hollywood. “What the internet is creating is a class of literate, gifted amateur writers, in an old tradition,” he wrote. “A blog on the internet gives them a place to publish. Maybe they don’t get a lot of visits, but it’s out there. As a young woman in San Francisco, Pauline Kael wrote the notes for screenings of great films, and did a little free-lancing. If she’d had a blog, no telling what she might have written during those years.” The print emigrants and upstart originals may not be addressing a general audience, but there’s no longer a general audience to address. They went thataways.

Indeed. While I reject the notion (which O’Hehir floats) that film criticism has become fatally disconnected from the moviegoing public, I do think that professional film critics are almost uniquely vulnerable to New Media. Many professionals can do a somewhat better job of thinking and writing seriously about film than many amateurs, but the differences aren’t so great that they justify professional employment for a large group of individuals. If Barack Obama: Socialist Tyrant made payment for film criticism illegal tomorrow, writing about film wouldn’t end; indeed, I wonder whether there’d even be a meaningful dip in criticism. People write about film for the same reason that they watch film; they enjoy doing so. Given opportunity and platform, people will write about film for free, and many will do so with insight. This doesn’t mean that the insights of the very best critics are without value, but it does suggest that the days in which every newspaper maintained its own critic are gone, and moreover that those days ought not be mourned at any length.

America’s laziest op-ed columnist

[ 23 ] July 14, 2010 |

Tom Friedman:

This whole spy story has the feel of one of those senior tennis tournaments — John McEnroe against Jimmy Connors, long after their primes — or maybe a rematch between Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston in their 60s. You almost want to avert your eyes.

Sonny Liston died (under mysterious circumstances) at the age of 38 to 42. Now this might seem like a trivial, pedantic point, and indeed it is, except in it’s own small way it illustrates a couple of things about Friedman:

(1) He’s a terrible writer.

(2) He’s lazy as hell. He writes the same column over and over, flaunting his faux-expertise on a huge range of topics, and he (or his “research assistant”) can’t be bothered to spend five minutes on teh google to check a 700-word column for factual howlers that reveal he doesn’t know the second thing about the subjects he’s employing for metaphorical fodder, let alone the ones on which he’s opining.