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Tendentious people are tendentious (and frequently dumb).

[ 39 ] August 14, 2010 |

It will surprise no one who read my previous post to learn that the folks at Big Hollywood loved The Expendables exactly as much as they are ideologically required to anticipated. Still, John Nolte’s review is a teleological marvel. What he likes about the film is

the simple straight-forward plot, all the B-movie mayhem you could possibly ask for, and two unapologetic hours of masculinity—which may be two hours more than we’ve seen in all of the last decade put together. These boys smoke cigars, drink beer while piloting airplanes, and return us to those glorious pre-Oprah days when stoicism was still a virtue and real men didn’t gush about their inner-emotional lives like 13 year-old girls drunk on Dr. Pepper at a slumber party.

Maybe someone should tell him that the reason flat characters don’t “gush” about “their inner-emotional lives” is because they don’t have them. Maybe I should. I suppose I will. Please, Mr. Nolte, continue:

Sylverster Stallone’s glorious throwback to the brawny 80s is also about something, and it’s not Bourne-ian self-discovery. It’s about something that actually matters. And in this age of nihilism when believing in anything bigger than self is considered old-fashioned, unsophisticated and naïve, that’s both refreshing and important.

If you insist on italicizing the word “about,” you might want to indicate what that “something” that it’s about actually is. Sorry, I’m being rude. Mr. Nolte, you may continue:

The story opens with a well-crafted action sequence involving Somalia pirates that not only establishes how deadly competent our guys are, but also that they’re not cold-blooded killers. These are men with a moral code and one of their own breaking that code will be the root cause of deadly complications and a couple over the top action sequences to come.

So these are mercenaries who only ever fight the good fight? If I may, Mr. Nolte, let me recommend my friend Adam Roberts’s post on Iron Man, in which he notes that that film adheres to

the dream narrative of US military involvement in the Middle East: one American is able to go to Afghanistan, kill only the bad Afghans, leave all the good Afghani men women and children alive and leap away into the sky.

That “dream narrative” isn’t the product of a moral code, but simply a denial of the reality of reality. But I should let you finish:

The plot gets a nudge courtesy of a self-referential Meeting of The Titans. Ever in search of a job, Barney meets with “Church” (Bruce Willis), a CIA spook in need of some housecleaning that won’t make headlines and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a long-time rival. Cinematically this is far from a great scene—

First, stop pretending to be German. Second, I think you’re starting to realize that you didn’t even like the film. You call it a “B-movie,” rate its action scenes as “over the top,” and now you’re criticizing how it films a conversation. What did you think of the dialogue?

[T]hese aren’t men who talk a whole lot, and when they do it’s usually in the form of affectionate crowd-pleasing insults that might not move the plot or add character dimension, but once again Stallone (who co-wrote the screenplay with Dave Callahan) knows his audience.

I definitely think you hated this film. I mean, you’re praising dialogue that neither advanced the plot or added depth to the characters because, to your mind, Stallone’s audience consist of people who prefer pointless banter. I can’t even tell whether you’re insulting them more than your own intelligence here or vice versa. Wait, I have a test:

There’s also a kind of validation that comes with the price of admission, especially for those of us who couldn’t figure out why in the hell anyone would call metro-sexuals angsting over calling evil what it is and apologizing for America an action movie.

“The Expendables” proves us right.

Matt Damon sucks and the eighties freaking ruled.

I’m still not sure, but I will say this: your intelligence deserves to be insulted, because the reason you’re saying “Matt Damon sucks” is that he starred in movies with “Bourne-ian self-discovery,” whereas The Expendables “freaking ruled” because it was of the 1980s. Guess what? So’s The Bourne Identity (1980) and, of course, The Bourne Identity (1988).

Hate to burst your bubble, Mr. Nolte, but your precious ’80s were a bit smarter and more “inner-emotional” than you’ve chosen to remember them as.


Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives

[ 8 ] August 14, 2010 |

I wonder where this rates?  Sadly, this sort of invective, especially the advice to not marry out of one’s race, will likely enhance her ratings.

And hell, we have a black President, right, so racism is over now, not worse, right?

The Right Thing

[ 8 ] August 13, 2010 |


“I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground zero is, indeed, hallowed ground,” the president said in remarks prepared for the annual White House iftar, the sunset meal breaking the day’s fast.

But, he continued: “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are.”

In related news, the wanker of the day would once again be Charles Krauthammer.

see also. Coming out for what’s correct on the merits rather than worrying about “winning the day” is reminiscent of some of his best moments in the primary campaign.

Who does Aaron Burr have to blow to get on this list?

[ 53 ] August 13, 2010 |

Via John Cole, I see that an intrusion of C-list wingnut bloggers have compiled a 1list of the worst Americans evah. It’s just as unimaginative as you’d expect — James Earl Carter secures top honors, with almost four times as many votes as Mr. and Mrs. Clenis, both of whom share 23rd place with a guy most right wingers had never heard of until two years ago. And though you’d assume a list of “Worst Americans” would by definition have to include a healthy number of Confederates, there are, alas, none. The closest we get is John Wilkes Booth, who barely defeats Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in the middle of the pack. Hell, they don’t even put Jewel on the list.


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It’s here! It’s finally here! Today I can be a proud white man again!*

[ 68 ] August 13, 2010 |

And by “it,” I mean the day when white men and white male interests are finally represented in American cinema again, for today is the day that The Expendables is released. Given my interests and the past few months of my life, you might think I’d be more excited about the film based on a graphic novel in which dialogue like this appears:

You would be wrong.  The good folks at Big Hollywood have spent the past week convincing me that if I fail to appreciate the manly awesomeness of The Expendables my penis will fall off.  The assault on my manhood began on Monday, when Ezra Dulis reminded me of the true purpose of film itself:

All you’re doing is marveling at the most sensible use of a medium that consists of moving images: incredible feats performed by tough, charismatic men.

The dearth of action films designed for and marketed to men since the 1980s actually had made me forget how intimately the medium of the film and the genre of the 1980s action film were related.   As Leo Grin wrote in the second installment of “Bring on ‘The Expendables'”:

Rumor has it that Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables marks a return to the glory days of 1980s action mayhem and pro-American machismo. Its appearance on the cultural horizon has certainly stirred up memories of my mid-Eighties, Midwestern suburban adolescence.

Fly-over country is back!  After years of being denied films that represent the “action mayhem and pro-American machismo” native to 45-year-old white men from the Midwest who once “papered over [their walls] with posters and photos of oversize he-men,” beauty school drop-out and former porn star Sylvester Stallone has directed a film that revels in the fact that the “inherently brutal nature of males isn’t a design flaw but a feature.”** But the best part about The Expendables, according to the author of the third installment in the series, is that despite being a movie geared toward men who “love seeing stuff blown up,” there is “relatively little profanity” in the film.  Because God-fucking-Forbid someone embodies the inherent brutality of maleness while cursing.

Just ask the author of the most recent entry in the series, Kurt Schlicter, who claims that the 1980s represent the high watermark in American cinema because of, for example, films like the “great 48 Hours (1982), [which] blew minds with violence and profanity.”  But for Schlicter, the “archetypal specimen” for manly male films in the 1980s was Lethal Weapon (1987), because it was the first movie to prove that Hollywood could do something correctly; namely, produce “slick popcorn adventure/comedies with memorable action set-pieces paired with laugh-out-loud hilarity and featuring big stars and top shelf production values.”  That he writes this about 1987’s Lethal Weapon despite Beverly Hills Cop having been released three years earlier is beside the point—as is the fact that he spends the majority of the review gushing about Mel Gibson—which is that all of those movies would have improved if, as Darin Miller writes of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, “[e]very F-word [was] bleeped out by a computer game sound effect with a black bar over the offender’s mouth” and all “references to sex [were] humorous and relatively innocuous.”***

Granted, pointing out examples of ideological impurity on group blogs is about as difficult as dismantling a Jonah Goldberg article, but in this case, where they agree is more significant than where they don’t.  That’s because the to-this-point-exclusively-white-male-contributors of Big Hollywood have spent the past week convincing themselves, to quote from Steven Crowder’s paean to morally unambiguous children’s fare, that because of The Expendables “it seems that every self-respecting male has caught 80’s fever.”  His category of “male” reflects the limitations of his imagination to a damning degree:

I watched the cartoons he praises and the films the others loved, but my friends and I have not “resorted to re-visiting old B-movie beauties such as Cobra, Road House and Tango and Cash” because those are terrible movies.  All of these white men are nostalgic for an era in which the category of “mainstream black film star” only included Eddie Murphy because they’re unable to muster up much sympathetic identification with black men more complex than happy-go-lucky darkies in a minstrel show.  (Which, obviously, isn’t sympathetic identification.)  In other words, although these men may not be racist, they certainly pine for a time in which white actors were more ostentatiously manly and fewer black men graced the silver screen.****

Read more…

Perry and Standing

[ 9 ] August 13, 2010 |

Doug Mataconis notes an interesting aspect of yesterday’s important ruling that will permit same-sex marriages to go forward in California later this month unless the Circuit Court intervenes:

If neither Brown nor Schwarzenegger chooses to appeal the case, and no law requires that they do as far as I know, then an appeal by the people who helped put Prop 8 on the ballot and get it passed isn’t an appeal by the state and that by itself could be sufficient grounds to dismiss the appeal on the grounds that it was not brought by a party with proper standing.

Assuming that the state continues with its salutary decision not to defend Prop 8 in court, the question of whether Prop 8 supporters could have standing to appeal the ruling holding it unconstitutional lands squarely in a doctrinal gray area. To oversimplify only very slightly, a higher court will be able to grant standing if it wants to do so and refuse to grant it if it wants to do so. It’s possible that the 9th Circuit could see a refusal to grant standing as a “minimalist” way of avoiding a difficult issue, and perhaps insulating a decision they like from immediate Supreme Court review. As a means of keeping Judge Walker’s decision away from the Supreme Court, a refusal to grant standing would only be very temporary. As long as there’s a federal precedent holding that bans on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution there will be a flurry of lawsuits in other states, and the Supreme Court is going to step in, probably sooner rather than later.

Having said that, kicking the can even a little bit down the road would be good for proponents of same-sex marriage — as long as same-sex marriages are permitted to go forward in California. The more Californians that have legal same-sex marriages and the longer the right remains in force, the harder it will be for Kennedy and other moderate conservatives who aren’t entirely hostile to gay and lesbian rights to vote to rule same-sex marriage illegal. Going forward, then, the most important question may not be whether the 9th Circuit finds standing but whether it chooses to stay Walker’s ruling.

UPDATE: More here.

Rand on the Playground

[ 4 ] August 13, 2010 |

Good one:

When little Aiden toddled up our daughter Johanna and asked to play with her Elmo ball, he was, admittedly, very sweet and polite. I think his exact words were, “Have a ball, peas [sic]?” And I’m sure you were very proud of him for using his manners.

To be sure, I was equally proud when Johanna yelled, “No! Looter!” right in his looter face, and then only marginally less proud when she sort of shoved him.

The thing is, in this family we take the philosophies of Ayn Rand seriously. We conspicuously reward ourselves for our own hard work, we never give to charity, and we only pay our taxes very, very begrudgingly.

[Via Nancy Nall.]

Friday Nugget Blogging

[ 5 ] August 13, 2010 |

Nuggets of childish, morbidly curious insight about the world, that is. Because at least in my household, the kids are much more interesting than the pets.

First weekly entry below – this is from the third-grader. Read more…

The Long Play

[ 17 ] August 13, 2010 |

I’m not terribly interested in the project of calling Jeffrey Goldberg out as a propagandist; he’s Jeffrey Goldberg, so of course he’s a propagandist. As I suggested yesterday, I don’t find the claims put forward in the article particularly new or revelatory. Essentially the same argument was put forth in a “major” article in the January 2007 New Republic by Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi. I’d rather read Oren directly than have Goldberg as a mediator, but whatever. What I’m more interested in is the Israeli strategic mindset that Goldberg depicts. The two article have the same central argument: Iranian nukes pose an indirect threat to the long term survival of Israel, and the United States should do something about that.

First on timelines. Goldberg writes:

I have been exploring the possibility that such a strike will eventually occur for more than seven years… The reasoning offered by Israeli decision makers was uncomplicated: Iran is, at most, one to three years away from having a breakout nuclear capability (often understood to be the capacity to assemble more than one missile-ready nuclear device within about three months of deciding to do so)

Allowing that Goldberg emphasizes the period since July 2009, I have to wonder how long Israelis have been telling him that Iran is 1-3 years away from a bomb. To put it as delicately as possible, Israel has a robust history of either a) being wrong, or b) lying about Iran’s progress on a nuclear weapon. Assuming that Iran actually has a nuclear weapons program (and I believe it does, even if I don’t believe it represents justification for war), it has progressed at a rate far slower than that predicted by the Israelis. Since I don’t believe that Israeli intelligence is really that bad, I have to conclude that the Israelis have consistently been lying about their estimates of Iranian nuclear capability. For example, the 2007 Oren and Halevi article asserted that “according to Israeli intelligence, Iran will be able to produce a nuclear bomb as soon as 2009.” I’m not naive; this is the international system, and even friends lie. There’s no injunction, however, to believing those lies or failing to call them out. What the nature of these lies indicate, however, is that the key purpose of these articles is to convince the United States to do something.

One of the key points of both the Goldberg and the 2007 TNR articles is that while Israelis are happy to tell the rubes in the United States that Iran is planning to commit national suicide by lobbing a nuclear warhead at Tel Aviv, they don’t actually seem to believe it:

The challenges posed by a nuclear Iran are more subtle than a direct attack, Netanyahu told me. “Several bad results would emanate from this single development. First, Iran’s militant proxies would be able to fire rockets and engage in other terror activities while enjoying a nuclear umbrella. This raises the stakes of any confrontation that they’d force on Israel. Instead of being a local event, however painful, it becomes a global one. Second, this development would embolden Islamic militants far and wide, on many continents, who would believe that this is a providential sign, that this fanaticism is on the ultimate road to triumph.

“You’d create a great sea change in the balance of power in our area,” he went on. An Iran with nuclear weapons would also attempt to persuade Arab countries to avoid making peace with Israel, and it would spark a regional nuclear-arms race. “The Middle East is incendiary enough, but with a nuclear-arms race, it will become a tinderbox,” he said.

Other Israeli leaders believe that the mere threat of a nuclear attack by Iran—combined with the chronic menacing of Israel’s cities by the rocket forces of Hamas and Hezbollah—will progressively undermine the country’s ability to retain its most creative and productive citizens. Ehud Barak, the defense minister, told me that this is his great fear for Israel’s future.

“The real threat to Zionism is the dilution of quality,” he said. “Jews know that they can land on their feet in any corner of the world. The real test for us is to make Israel such an attractive place, such a cutting-edge place in human society, education, culture, science, quality of life, that even American Jewish young people want to come here.” This vision is threatened by Iran and its proxies, Barak said. “Our young people can consciously decide to go other places,” if they dislike living under the threat of nuclear attack. “Our best youngsters could stay out of here by choice.”

Three observations. First, I think it’s plausible that the Israeli strategic leadership really believes this. Although there’s good reason to believe that they’re exaggerating these claims in order to convince the United States to go to war, it’s hard to say something like this over and over again without coming to believe it. Second, by publicly making outsized claims regarding the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons, they actually make the situation worse; if the problem is that people will believe the Iranians are insane and thus leave, then talking about how insane the Iranians are all the time doesn’t help the perceptual problem. Third, the belief that an Iranian nuclear weapon can destroy Israel by osmosis is palpably insane, regardless of how firmly Netanyahu believes it.

This last clearly bears elaboration. First, the actual mechanism of how the Iranian bomb is supposed to destroy Israel without being dropped are deeply suspect. I discussed the violence this argument did to reality back when the Halevi and Oren article came out, and nothing has changed since then. There isn’t the faintest reason to believe that any of the mechanisms that the Israelis discuss (more rockets, more terrorism, etc.) will actually be affected by the presence of an Iranian nuke.  The stability-instability paradox (the idea that high level nuclear stability produces low level conventional instability) is important, but doesn’t preclude response to conventional provocation by proxies.  The United States, after all, waged open war against several Soviet proxies during the Cold War.  I expect that the Israelis will promptly bomb the bejeezus out of Hamas and Hezbollah as soon as Iran goes nuclear, just to reinforce perceptions of “resolve” and “credibility.”

Second, an Israeli strike on Iran cannot solve the problem. If the issue is really a feeling of insecurity on the part of Israelis, then the very existence of an Islamic Republic of Iran with an interest in developing a nuclear weapon provides that insecurity, whether or not the weapon is ever developed. Israel could probably delay an Iranian nuclear weapon, but no one thinks that it can completely destroy the program. Barring either regime change or the annihilation of Iran (and even the former might not do the trick), the potential for an Iranian nuclear weapon would do precisely the work that Israel’s leadership claims an actual warhead will do; create uncertainty. Nevertheless, Goldberg badly misrepresents the effects of the Osirak strike, suggesting that it ended Iraq’s nuclear program when in fact it appears to have accelerated that program. What ended that program was a major war in 1991 combined with a long campaign of sanctions and bombing, followed by another major war in 2003. This is beyond Israel’s capability, which is probably why the US is being so aggressively pushed towards war. Joshua Pollack details the nonsense of the idea that an Israeli bombing campaign could permanently prevent Iran from developing a nuke. The Israelis are proposing an extremely short-term solution to what they themselves assert is a problem that will play out on the scale of decades.

Finally, this entire concept rests on the notion that Israel has enjoyed some fundamental level of existential security that will be lost if Iran finds a nuke is, to reiterate, mind-boggling insane. It’s ISRAEL, for crying out loud. The entire national myth is built around the idea of existential vulnerability, just as the myths of the 1948, 1967, and 1973 wars are predicated on the notion that if something had gone wrong, the Arabs might have pushed the Jews into the sea. The conflict with the Palestinians is invariably depicted in existential terms; Hamas cannot be negotiated with because it threatens Israel’s existence. The idea that some nebulous concern about an event that even Israel’s leaders do not believe likely will drive Jews to resettle elsewhere is absurd on its face. If the Swedes suddenly faced an existential crisis, I’d be interested in thinking about how that might affect Swedish society, immigration patterns, etc.   Israel was built around the idea of permanent existential crisis.

It’s also more than a little irritating that both the Goldberg and the Halevi/Oren articles try to construct the Iran situation as a US problem.  We are simultaneously asked to believe that an Iranian nuclear weapon poses an existential threat to the state of Israel and to the survival of the Jewish people, AND that it really, really poses a more serious threat to the United States.  The best I can say about this is that it’s incoherent; no one will be moving out of the United States because of a fear of Iranian nukes.

And this is where it would have been useful to have somebody that wasn’t Jeffrey Goldberg conduct the various interviews. While I doubt that anyone unsympathetic to the case for war could have gotten the access that Goldberg enjoyed, it nevertheless would have been nice if Goldberg had brought up these objections.  They aren’t particularly complicated or novel.   What he did manage to do was transmit Israeli propaganda to a US audience.   I preferred the propaganda when it came directly from Israeli officials.

When is Commuting a Sentence to Hanging a Good Thing?

[ 2 ] August 13, 2010 |

When you’re on Iran’s death-row, which has seemingly been convinced to upgrade their standards of decency to the level exercised by my home state of Washington, at least in terms of method.

I’m not entirely comfortable, however, with the use of “commute” in “her sentence of stoning has been commuted to hanging”.  Technically correct, I suppose, if one accepts that hanging is a less severe form of punishment than stoning.

Speaking of the Geneva Conventions…

[ 0 ] August 13, 2010 |

Yesterday was the anniversary of their signing, and Shadow Government‘s John John B. Bellinger III has a piece worth reading this week:

Today, 12 August, is the 61st anniversary of the signing of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the international treaties designed to protect soldiers and civilians during armed conflicts. The treaties became the focus of international attention in 2002 when the Bush administration controversially concluded that al Qaeda and the Taliban were not entitled to their protections. President Obama has reaffirmed America’s “commitment” to the Geneva Conventions but has not been specific about how the Conventions apply to al Qaeda and Taliban detainees. To re-assert U.S. leadership with respect to the laws of war, the Obama administration should announce that the United States accepts specific provisions of the Conventions and engage other countries to develop new rules where the Geneva Conventions do not apply.

Good overview of some of the basic structure of humanitarian law, plus he’s right.

The Revelations, They… Don’t Seem Very Revelatory

[ 9 ] August 12, 2010 |

Michael Oren and Yossi Halevi:

An Israeli assault could only delay Iran’s nuclear program, not eliminate it. That’s because Israel cannot sustain an air campaign against such remote targets for days on end. This can only be accomplished by the United States, perhaps together with NATO allies, by mounting an ongoing series of air strikes similar to the “shock and awe” campaign conducted against Iraq at the beginning of the war. Israelis, though, are divided over the likelihood of U.S. military action. Some experts believe President Bush will attack, if only to prevent being recorded by history as a leader who fought the wrong war while failing to fight the right one. Others speculate that a politically devastated Bush will leave the resolution of the Iranian crisis to his successor.

If Israel is forced, by default, to strike, it is likely to happen within the next 18 months. An attack needs to take place before the nuclear facilities become radioactive; waiting too long could result in massive civilian casualties. Still, Israel will almost certainly wait until it becomes clear that sanctions have failed and that the United States or NATO won’t strike. The toughest decision, then, will be timing: determining that delicate moment when it becomes clear that the international community has failed but before the facilities turn lethal.

The linked article was published on January 27, 2007. By my count, it’s been 25.5 months since Israel should have been “forced, by default, to strike.” While I’ll have more on Jeffrey Goldberg’s breathless account of Israeli strategic thought tomorrow, I’m thoroughly unconvinced that it’s revelatory of anything new about Israel’s Iran policy. The core of this policy, as far as I can tell, remains “try to convince the US to attack Iran.”