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Archive for March, 2006

World Baseball Classic

[ 0 ] March 7, 2006 |

Frequent commenter MHS requested that we write a bit about the WBC, and since that was my intention anyway…

It would be wrong to say that I’m wildly enthusiastic about the WBC, but I’m happy that it’s being put on. I’m glad to see competitive baseball at any time of the year, and although Japan’s 18-2 defeat of China stretches the term “competitive”, at least both sides were genuinely trying to win. I’m of two minds regarding the use of Major League players. I can see why Hideki Matsui or Pedro Martinez would bow out of the games, and I don’t hold anything against anyone who decides not to play. On the other hand, better players make better baseball, and I’m happy to see that many of the best players in the world have decided to play.

I will be cheering for Team USA. I actively cheer against the US in international basketball, partially because I can’t stand the NBA, and partially because I am put off by the arrogance of the US team (at least until 2004). In this case, it’s hard for me to cheer for another team. I like the Dominican Republic’s team a lot, hoped that China would manage to at least come near a win, and think that Canada is a bit under-rated. I wouldn’t mind seeing Venezuela, Mexico, or (especially) Cuba do well in the tournament. I can’t manage any sympathy for the European teams that have to fill out their rosters with third generation Americans; they can crash and burn, for all I care.

The WBC is ideally structured for this distribution of talent. Team USA is the best, but it isn’t all that much stronger than DR, Venezuela, or Japan. Over the course of a 162 game season, the US team might win by twenty or thirty games. On any given day, however, an inferior baseball team can beat a better team. This is more true of baseball than of football, basketball, soccer, or any other sport. Since the WBC involves a relatively low number of games, it’s possible for any of the solid teams to go on a hot streak and win the tournament. Clay Davenport, (subscription required) working out of the Baseball Prospectus, rates the chances of a US victory at 33%. The Dominican Republic follows at 21%, Venezuela at 16%, and Japan at 8%.

And the best part is, David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre just hit consequential two run home runs, and it’s only March 7.

…oh, and the first Derek Jeter error of the year. My heart beats faster.

…and, of course, you have an outfield of Randy Winn, Ken Griffey, and Johnny Damon in which Griffey plays center. That should cost us a few doubles…

…it would be quite the embarassment for Canada to lose to South Africa. Down 4-3 in the 6th…

Fortuitous

[ 0 ] March 7, 2006 |

Jeff Goldstein should probably go back to doing what he does well. I’m not sure what that is, really, but it can’t be blogging about national security. Regarding a report that some insurgent weapons have been made in Iran, Jeff lets loose:

Well, sure—if true, this is a declaration of war. But the real question is, why is Iran willing to take such provocative steps at this juncture? Are they farther along in their nuclear program than we know? Or is there something else to this?

[...]

The answer, it seems to me, is that the Mullahs have done the poltical calculation and believe that a western coalition (outside of the US, who is already fighting in several theaters), lacks the will to act in any but the most feckless of ways. And even if they could gin up the will, the inevitable 6-8 month “rush” to war would give the Iranians time (and an excuse) to accelerate their nuclear program.
I’m not sure. But I do know that it is fortuitous that we are staged in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And I don’t think we can waste much time. If it turns out Iran (and their Syrian allies) are behind the manufacture and supply of weapons being smuggled into Iraq to kill Americans (and bomb both Shiite and Sunni targets in an effort to foment civil war), we have no choice, it seems to me, than to quickly isolate both countries, and launch a series of strategic attacks with the hope of fomenting an uprising of our own among the Iranian student movement.

Where to start….

First, it’s entirely possible that the Iraqi insurgents are getting some of their weapons from Iran, Syria, and various other states that border Iraq. Indeed, I’d be pretty surprised if this wasn’t the case. Part of the problem with getting from this to a declaration of war, however, is that support may well not be state instigated. It’s entirely possible (and I would even say likely) that various Iraqi insurgent groups have made deals for weapons with various groups in other countries, probably without the consent of the governments of those countries. Iran and Iraq have a very long border, one that is hard to guard on either side. So, the Iranian government, rather than declaring war, may well simply be ignorant of what’s going on.

Second, the bugbear of “outside actors” has long been a preoccupation of the United States military in counter-insurgency operations, and has helped the military to ignore the very real problems of fighting an insurgency. In Vietnam, the United States Army relentlessly obsessed over the relatively meagre trickle of supplies coming to the Viet Cong over the Ho Chi Minh trail, while largely ignoring the much more significant supply base that the Viet Cong had in sympathetic South Vietnamese villages. This mis-focus is not terribly surprising; supply lines can be interdicted with firepower, while pro-insurgent villages cannot be so dealt with. This is a long way of saying that Iranian support, even if tacitly or explicitly consented to by the Iranian government, almost certainly isn’t significant to the outcome of the conflict. It is attractive militarily and politically to believe that the problem in Iraq is the cause of outside forces, but it just ain’t so, and operating as if it were so will be quite detrimental to our efforts.

Third, it’s nifty how Jeff moves so quickly from a few shipments of arms across the Iranian border to war with both Iran and Syria. It is here that Jeff moves from simple fancy to sheer idiocy; he apparently genuinely believes that a few airstrikes might foment a student uprising in Iran resulting in the destruction of that regime. Let me be as clear as possible; to believe that airstrikes will bring about a revolution in Iran, you have to be either stupid or deluded. Airstrikes have, invariably, made target regimes more and not less popular. If the United States attacks Iran, the state will become, at least in the short term, much MORE popular with its people. It will have, if anything, greater capacity to crack down on dissidents. Iran may have a revolution at some point in the future, but airstrikes ain’t going to bring it about. Jeff seems to have internalized some kind of neocon fantasy here; just demonstrate US resolve, and all of the nasty regimes in the world will fall like dominoes.

Yup.

Fourth, and this brings us to the basic contradiction in Goldstein’s argument, if we have enough force to deal with both Syria and Iran (and, presumably, to occupy the both of them), then we really, really don’t need to be in Iraq anymore. If the troops we have in Iraq are free to be used elsewhere, then it seems to me that they don’t need to be in Iraq. Thus, we should feel free to withdraw them anytime, just like lots and lots of lefties have argued. It’s hard for me to see how someone with who believes the things that Jeff Goldstein believes could argue this, but I suppose asking for consistency is really too much. US troops continue to die in Iraq at a reasonably high rate, and the country has not, to the naked eye, been pacified. If this constitutes a finished job, and really a model of what we’d like to do to Syria and Iran, then I really…. well, I just don’t know what to say about it.

I suppose that I could rattle off an analysis of the military situation with Iran… much larger territory… much larger population… no particular reason to believe it will be any easier to manage or occupy than Iraq… but I’m not sure that would make any difference to Jeff; he’s escaped reality based analysis, and wandered wholly into some fantastic world where Iranian students will launch a revolution as soon as the first bomb hits Tehran, and where the people of Iran will greet us with flower petals, etc etc.

In fairness to Jeff, he’s already prepared a dodge. He’s just talking about “options”, and hasn’t come to any firm conclusions. Great…

Kirby Puckett, Rest in Peace

[ 0 ] March 6, 2006 |

It was fun to watch him play.

1783 games
.318/.370/.477
207 home runs
2 World Series rings (1987, 1991)
.296 lifetime EQA

UPDATE: Joe Sheehan has a good column on Kirby.

Solomon Amendment Upheld

[ 0 ] March 6, 2006 |

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision written by Chief Justice Roberts, upheld the Solomon Amendment, thus forcing universities to permit the military to recruit on campus even if the military continues to violate their anti-discrimination rules. I think the decision is probably right–I agree that the amendment is constitutional, and while I found the innovate statutory interpretation put forth by the Harvard faculty appealing, it was a stretch in terms of Congressional intent and at any rate would have been only a temporary reprieve until Congress could change the statute anyway.

While I don’t have time to go into this in detail, however, there are some serious potential contradictions in this issue, particularly with respect to the conservative positions. I think this case was right because I think Boy Scouts v. Dale (which didn’t allow New Jersey to apply its civil rights statutes to the Boy Scouts) was wrong. I think states should be given wide latitude to pass civil rights legislation, and given some discretion to balance social egalitarianism with freedom of association. Like Marty Lederman and iocaste, I don’t think it’s easy to distinguish between this case and Dale, and getting the Court into the business of determining what values are central enough that restricting them violates their “freedom of expressive association” leads to the kind of outcome-oriented reasoning we see in these two cases, where the unpopular minority draws the short straw on both ends. Today’s decision was right, but it should raise serious questions about the workability of the doctrine in which it’s embedded.

American Fascism

[ 0 ] March 6, 2006 |

Via Magnus at Capital Cadre, this offering at The Officer’s Club is about the clearest distillation of an American fascism that I’ve ever seen.

A selection:

The problem with our world today is cultural rot. Cultural rot can be detected by symptoms such as terrorism, oppression, overpopulation, ineffective government, poor economic models, and extremism. Conversely, cultural rot can also be identified by an obsessive media, a naval gazing pop culture movement, isolationists, pervasive liberalism, ignorance of history, and a society becoming disconnected from its past.

And demonstrating that a little knowledge is often worse than none at all…

When a society disconnects itself from the principles and institutions that played a prominent role in its establishment, rot begins to fester in the darker crevices of the culture. In America, tougher-than-nails colonists and settlers hacked their existence out of the wilderness. They went to church, prayed, ate dinner with their families, and labored with a consistent vision that tomorrow would be better than today. We have now disconnected ourselves from these principles. We have jettisoned our families in the inner cities, and become so self-focused that our individual wants and desires insert themselves in front of our duties and responsibilities to our family. We have maligned or marginalized (Judeo-Christian) religion in this country, and have lost the values that were taken from religion and applied elsewhere in life. Morality, publicly and privately, has suffered because of this. Because of this encroaching rot, consequences have emerged. Parents who were too successful in providing a better life for their children have led to children leading lives of privilege, not understanding the values that allowed their existence to be so leisurely.

This translates directly into a disrespect for society, the institutions that govern it, and the military that defends it.

In a particularly delightful move, and one demonstrative of Robert Paxton’s observation that fascism always takes on essentially local characteristics, he maintains that part of America’s greatness is “rugged individualism”. In other words, individualism is great as long as it has nothing whatsoever to do with the individual.

Paging David Neiwert; David Neiwert to the lobby please…

UPDATE: Speaking of which, it never hurts to give Neiwert’s essay The Rise of Pseudo Fascism another read.

The Centrist Pro-Choice Position Is On A Collision Course With Itself

[ 1 ] March 6, 2006 |

Yet another argument about abortion by William Saletan. Whether it deserves more time than Elton gave it is I suppose debatable, but I can’t resist. A lot of his points and rhetorical feints are familiar, so I’ll dispense with them quickly, and get to the core of his argument. We first of all see his familiar tactic of talking a lot about contraception to sell his arguments about second-trimester abortions; as I wrote recently about this kind of bootstraping, the idea is to “weld attractive policy proposals to moralistic finger-wagging, and pretend that the latter is somehow necessary to achieve the former although there’s no logical connection between the two.” Since as far as I can tell no pro-choicers of any influence oppose abortion-rate-reducing policies like widely accessible contraception and rational sex ed, the value-added of these arguments is zilch. Once you boil off all the diversionary broth, the core of his argument is his claim that “[m]aybe the best way to end the assault on Roe is to make it irrelevant.” So let’s talk about his apparent claim that reproductive rights should be limited to first-trimester abortions. There are many problems with this argument, which recur constantly in pro-choice attempts to compromise with anti-choicers. Let’s go through them one by one:

  • The Exaggerated Hope of Technology. Saletan approvingly cites Sandra Day O’Connor’s claim that Roe v. Wade‘s now-abandoned “trimester framework” (which prevented the state from banning abortions prior to roughly the end of the second trimester, to coincide with viability) is “on a collision course with itself.” But there is very little reason to believe that viability is anywhere close to being pushed for enough back to affect many second-trimester abortions. For the most part, the survival rates of fetuses in the 23-8 week period (let alone 13-22, when Saletan apparently would be OK with the state banning abortions from being performed) is still very low, and not getting a great deal higher: “Fewer infants in all ELBW [extremely low birth weight (1000 g~23-28 weeks] subgroups are dying, compared with a decade ago, and the improvement has been most prominent for BWs of 450 to 700 g, at which mortality was and remains to be greatest. 2) This progress seems to have slowed, or even stopped, by the end of the decade.” Technology does not seem anywhere close to making second trimester abortions “obselete” even accepting Saletan’s terms. But that’s another issue: there is an additional problem with the concept of vialbility itself. As ema writes via email, “An abortion terminates a pregnancy, not a fetus. There’s no free-floating unborn American child in utero.” Saltean largely sideteps these questions by asserting that second-trimester abortions are becoming “harder to stomach.” This claim is more projection than evidence–”As in the past, approximately 88% of all abortions for which gestational age at the time of abortion was known and reported adequately (44 reporting areas) were obtained at <12>13 weeks’ gestation) have varied minimally since 1992“–but is also beside the point. Keeping second trimester abortions safe and legal does not require any woman to obtain one.
  • Sidestepping The Difficult Legal Issues. But even if we assume arguendo that second-trimester fetus will soon become “viable” in the traditional sense, Saletan completely ignores the difficulties in writing the state’s arguably greater interest in regulation into a workable law. As Saletan notes, abortions after the early second trimester represent a small fraction of those performed. But more importantly, as the pregnancy advances, a smaller percentage of abortions become elective, and this is the key issue with the Roe framework. In cases where an abortion is necessary to save the mother’s life, even the most stringent abortion bans contain an exception, even for late-term abortions. But what about cases where a woman would face grave health risks that aren’t life-threatening? Roe, as many of you know, permitted bans on abortions for post-viability fetuses, but required a health exemption (a requirement which is likely to be jettisoned soon, although Saletan doesn’t seem unduly bothered by this.) To pro-choicers, this is the best solution: permit doctors to exercise their medical judgment and act in the best interests of their patients. Pro-lifers generally object to this, however, objecting that this permits too many abortions they consider elective. And, in a sense, this is right–given that the law is a crude instrument, you have the choice of banning abortions even in cases where a mother faces dire (but non-life threatening) health consequences, or accepting that a few women may get elective abortions after fetuses are arguably “viable.” Saletan, however, completely ignores these concerns, which are the main focus of disagreement. Like many pro-choicers, I can accept in the abstract that the state has a greater interest in regulating post-viability abortions, but in practice I don’t trust legislation–almost always passed as part of a Trojan horse project to restrict abortion access–to do it in a way which protects access to later-term abortions that present a danger to a woman’s health. Which brings us to the bigger problem:
  • Ignoring How Abortion Law Works In Practice. This, more than anything, is I think the defining characteristic of the Vichy pro-choicers. Saletan argues that ideally we should be doing everything we can to ensure that most abortions occur in the first trimester. But there’s an obvious problem: all of the regulations generally favored by the “abortion is icky and immoral but should remain legal in the first trimester” crowd quite clearly work against this goal. (In fairness, Saletan may not support all of them, but once–as he is arguing–you whittle abortion rights down to saying only that the state can’t ban abortion in the first trimester, an increasingly complex web of regulations in most states is virtually inevitable.) All of the regulations commonly favored by the public make it harder to obtain first trimester abortions; some, like waiting periods and consent forms do so directly, and because the cumulative sum of these regulations generally makes it harder for clinics to operate, they make it even harder to obtain abortions in a timely manner. (See, for example, Mississippi, where because of the dense layer of regulations second trimester abortions among women who rely on the in-state provider are up more than 50%). So, in fact, the “centrist” pro-choice position is on a collision course with itself. Moderate pro-choicers like the idea of emphasizing keeping first-trimester abortions legal, but in doing so the grease the skids for regulations that make them much harder to obtain for many women. If we want more first-trimester abortions to ease the moral qualms of the Saletans of the world (although frankly I think they deserve no weight in policy outcomes at all; it’s the moral judgements of the woman carrying the pregnancy that matters), the solution is to keep abortion a decision between a woman and her doctor with a minimum of state regulation. Saletan’s acceptance of many anti-choice premises inherently undermine his dream of a compromise made possible by technology.

In addition to all these problems, I also have broader issues with the attempt to find some magic compromise on the abortion position. It’s not just that such compromises have a distinct tendency to magically coincide with a pundit’s a priori position on the abortion issue, or that the various strands of the compromise position are both incoherent in theory and generally work at cross-purposes with each other in practice. I’ve made this argument at greater length before, but I’m baffled by the people who think that there must be some way of finding a middle ground even between clearly incommensurable positions, who just refuse to accept that conflict is at the heart of politics. I don’t think volunteering to give up significant ground to people who refuse to accept a woman’s fundamental right to reproductive freedom is either theoretically desirable or good politics (focusing on the small number of elective second-trimester abortions is playing on the anti-choicer’s field.) And it tends to lead to this kind of sloppy ice-cream-castles-in-the-air reasoning, assuming that technology can somehow solve intractable moral conflicts. This is a fool’s errand.

[Most of the links to data in this post were provided by ema, an ob-gyn who blogs at The Well-Timed Period, an invaluable resource.]

UPDATE: More about the “viability” dodge from Mahablog here and and Amanda here.

Of Course

[ 0 ] March 5, 2006 |

Well, Dave Kehr called it. And it makes sense–granting that Brokeback is better described as “very, very good” than “great,” it was just too good to win Best Picture in this era. Crash, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of didactic, jejune middlebrow doorstop the Academy loves. Ugh.

Just as bad (although it was a mortal lock) was it winning best screenplay versus The Squid and the Whale. As I said last year, Haggis can write dialogue on a scene-by-scene level, but in his original screenplays these virtues down in the sheer moth-eaten banality of the overall structure.

The Picks

[ 0 ] March 5, 2006 |

Picture: Brokeback

Director: Lee

Actor: Hoffman

Actress: Witherspoon

Supporting Actor: Gyllenhall

Supporting Actress: Weisz

Original Screenplay: Good Night and Good Luck

Adapted Screenplay: Brokeback Mountain

Let this serve as an open Oscar thread.

Putting the "Jerk" In Circle Jerk

[ 0 ] March 5, 2006 |

I swear that this post is currently the lead story at Train Wreck Media (TM) (Prof. Glenn Reynolds, co-founder):

Someone else (and I regret forgetting who) has mentioned the humorous fact that Glenn Reynold’s [has he dropped the "s" from his name as being unfashionable, like Keith Richards in the early 70s?--ed.] newly released book, An Army of Davids, is far outselling co-author Markos Moulitsas Zuniga’s (the Daily Kos himself) Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics. The Daily Kos website receives four times more visitors than the Instapundit’s. And yet, Reynold’s work currently ranks #466 and Zuniga’s comes in at #1,823. What are we to think of these figures? Does this indicate that Reynold’s audience is better read? Are they the type of people who actually study an issue before shooting off their mouth? Is it possible that many of the Daily Kos kids might even be marginally illiterate?

Or could it be that Kos’ readers aren’t as likely to be pathetic drooling fanboys who would buy their blog hero’s laundry lists if exhorted to frequently enough? Could it be that progressive readers are more likely to seek books that tell them something they don’t already know if they read the author’s blog regularly? Could it be that a book’s sales are improved when the said tome’s author is a pathetic enough shill to put a semi-literate advertisement for the book as the top story of his laughing-stock news aggregation site? Or that on the most abject moron would consider one’s tendency to buy long-form writing from Glenn Reynolds as a synecdoche for one’s literary and political knowledge? Such difficult questions.

…needless to say, speaking of Reynolds he endorses the “stab-in-the-back” narrative. I’ll say this for Jeff Goldstein: he at least is willing to engage in his ludicrously tautological blame-shifting openly, while InstaHack relies on his inevitable passive-aggressive technique, adding another layer of defusing responsibility to the mix. Of course, as Matt Yglesias pointed out Reynolds has been peddling this horseshit in this manner for years.

Laura has more.

I see Reynolds has now resorted to the always-lame “Chimpy McHitlerburton” strawman. You can smell the stench of desparation from here.

At Least Reviewing Political Conventions Months In Advance Is Harmless

[ 0 ] March 5, 2006 |

I noted last year that Harper’s–within living memory an outstanding publication–has become worthless. Discouraging people from taking HIV treatments based on crackpottery straight from the pages of Spin magazine really is taking things to a whole new level of shittiness, however. What’s next, a cover story by Dean Esmay?

Sunday Battleship Blogging: SMS Ostfriesland

[ 1 ] March 5, 2006 |

SMS Ostfriesland was the second ship of the Helgoland class, the second group of German dreadnoughts. Germany had been taken aback by the construction of HMS Dreadnought and HMS Invincible. The Kiel Canal, which provided for quick, safe transit between the Baltic and the North Sea, could not accomodate vessels of Dreadnought’s girth. The German’s dawdled a bit before finally deciding to enlarge the Canal, and in 1907 laid down their first dreadnought battleships. The construction of HMS Dreadnought turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because while the Germans trailed badly in naval strength in 1906, Dreadnought reset the race; everybody went back to zero, and the Germans were well positioned to make a game of it.

Commissioned in August 1911, Ostfriesland displaced about 23000 tons, could make 21 knots, and carried 12 12″ guns in six twin turrets. The turret layout on Ostfriesland was remarkably inefficient, including one turret fore, one aft, and two on each wing. This meant that Ostfriesland only had a broadside of 8 12″ guns. To compare, the much smaller USS Michigan also had an eight gun broadside. The Brazilian Sao Paulo and the Argentinian Rivadavia each had ten gun broadsides, and the Hungarian Szent Istvan and Italian Dante Alighieri each managed a 12 gun broadside on a smaller displacement than the German ship. However, like all German ships, Ostfriesland was very well armoured, and capable of sustaining a great deal of damage.

Ostfriesland’s career mirrored that of the rest of the High Seas Fleet. It was thought at the time that encounters at sea tended to heavily favor the side with numerical superiority. A naval battle, unlike a land battle, suffers from relatively few natural impediments. Thus, it was thought that any encounter would quickly become a match of competing battle lines. In such a match, the side with more heavy guns would cause damage above ratio to the other fleet. A small numerical advantage would mean a large victory; if sixteen ships met thirteen, the ships would not simply cancel each other out, and the smaller side would be devastated at a relatively light cost to the larger. Because the High Seas Fleet could never match the Grand Fleet in numbers, its admirals were loathe to sortie.

The only major clash between the dreadnoughts of the two fleets came at the end of May, 1916, at the Battle of Jutland. Ostfriesland played a relatively small part in the battle, taking no damage but probably inflicting some on portions of the British squadron. On the way back to port, Ostfriesland hit a mine, but did not suffer crippling damage. The High Seas Fleet made only a couple more minor sorties, and mutinied when ordered on a near-suicide mission in late 1918.

Being fairly old, Ostfriesland was not interred at Scapa Flow at the end of the war. The remaining German fleet was parcelled out among the great powers. Ostfriesland was allocated to the United States. A forty-two year old American aviator, General William “Billy” Mitchell, had been arguing since the end of the war that aircraft could destroy surface naval units. In July of 1921, this argument was put to the test. Along with a number of other naval units, including the pre-dreadnought Alabama, Ostfriesland was attacked by successive waves of US Army Air Force bombers. The first attacks by the bombers caused relatively light damage, but later attacks by heavier aircraft caused extensive flooding, and sank Ostfriesland. Mitchell concluded from this demonstration that surface fleets had become essentially obsolete. The US Navy rejected this, arguing that the German ship was, old, small relative to new US ships, carried no anti-aircraft armament, and could not maneuver. A fleet under steam, the admirals argued, could not be so destroyed.

Both services took the tests seriously. The B-17 was intially designed to attack naval targets, although it was rarely used in that capacity. In battleship refits after 1921, the US Navy substantially increased the anti-aircraft weaponry of its main units. Aircraft would sink at least 14 battleships in World War II, the largest single cause of battleship loss.

Trivia: Seven of the ten fast battleships constructted by the United States have been or will be preserved as museums. Five of the ten fast battleships represent coastal states. Which fast battleship representing a coastal state was not preserved, and why wasn’t it preserved?

Situation: Belarus!

[ 0 ] March 4, 2006 |

This will be of mild-to-no-interest to most readers, but the Patterson School just finished its 2006 Spring Simulation. A good time was had by all. The theme this year was a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, interrupted by a coup in Belarus. Here is the website.

Suffice it to say that US and Italian warplanes were on their way to Minsk when the simulation ended. The reputation of Gerhard Schroeder was fatally impugned, and the Secretary General of NATO lay on his deathbed.

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