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Archive for February, 2007

Perverse Values

[ 6 ] February 28, 2007 |

Shorter Glenn Reynolds: Coming up with kooky schemes for illegal death squads and casually accusing political opponents of hating America for disagreeing with your idiotic foreign policy preferences represents a Serious Interest In Ideas as long as you don’t swear.

And for bonus serious ideas, John Quiggin documents how Reynolds has Very Seriously repeatedly touted George W. Bush’s masterful outfoxing of Moqtada al-Sadr. Thank heavens he didn’t curse and deprive us of these profound insights!

…And I forgot to mention–InstaPunk says that we should also take the comments sections of the blogs into account. Given that most top 20 liberal blogs have comments and a majority of Top 20 reactionary blogs don’t, that’s a nice hedge!


Open Heart

[ 0 ] February 28, 2007 |

Make sure to send your best wishes to Steve Gilliard.

Stabbing Blindly

[ 0 ] February 28, 2007 |

Max Boot blunders into an interesting point. In denouncing our allies for being insufficiently militaristic, he manages to ask an interesting question. Here’s the dreck:

Britain is hardly alone in its unilateral disarmament. A similar trend can be discerned among virtually all of the major U.S. allies, aside from Japan. Canada is a particularly poignant case in point. At the end of World War II, Canada had more than a million men under arms and operated the world’s third-biggest navy (behind the U.S. and Britain), with more than 400 ships. Today, it has all of 62,000 personnel on active duty, and its navy has just 19 warships and 23 support vessels, making it one-fourth the size of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Indeed, in 1945 the Canadian military was much larger than it is today. It’s possible that there was some kind of war on, although I’ll have to check on that. In discussing the “unilateral disarmament” of our Allies, however, Boot fails to note that the US has undergone a similar shift. From the COW dataset:

US Military Personnel (active duty)
1945: 12123000
1955: 2935000
1965: 2666000
1975: 2098000
1985: 2244000
1995: 1620000
2007: 1426713

Contra Boot, it’s not simply our feckless allies who have seen a tremendous downsize of their military establishments. It’s also the United States. Incidentally, the USN had over a thousand ships in service in 1945 (including over fifty capital ships), and has only 300ish in service now, with a mere eleven capital ships.

But here’s the interesting question: Why is it that the United Kingdom, which is in an absolute sense far more wealthy now than it was in 1930, having difficulty maintaining a foreign deployment of about 10000 total in Iraq and Afghanistan, while in 1930 it deployed many multiples of that total all over the world, plus colonial auxiliaries who were partially paid for by the Crown? The relative increase in the effectiveness of insurgency strategies isn’t just a consequence of the spread of the AK-47 or of the further development of nationalism in the non-western world; it’s also a consequence of the fact that modern, wealthy states can now deploy far, far lower numbers of troops than they could fifty years ago. Indeed, in 1965 the United States (with a smaller and much poorer population in absolute terms) managed to deploy half a million troops to Vietnam while at the same time maintaining large contingents in West Germany and South Korea.

Part of this trend is in response to a general increase in the affluence of North American and European populations. Along with the elimination of conscription, this has worked to make individual soldiers far more expensive than they used to be. Improvements in military technology have also rendered weapon systems more complicated, necessitating longer training, and thus increasing the investment that a state needs to make in an individual soldier. A general shift from mass to firepower, especially since the end of the Cold War and particularly in the United States, has served to cut the boots per buck. This last has a political rationale (more firepower means fewer friendly casualties, and firepower tends to be a more capital intensive investment than mass), but has particularly damaging consequences for counter-insurgency efforts.

I suspect, though, that there’s no going back, at least in the current political climate. Unless we want to follow Niall Ferguson’s suggestion and combine high immigration with slashed social services and education, creating a large and potentially irritable underclass to do our imperial bidding, the era of mass armies seems to be over.

Kingdaddy had some interesting thoughts on these questions awhile ago.

Cross-posted to Tapped.

PLA Counter-Insurgency

[ 0 ] February 28, 2007 |

Over at Ezra’s place, Dymaxion John had an interesting post about the PLA and Islamic insurgents in Western China. The idea of the PLA developing counter-insurgency doctrine fascinates me from a military culture point of view, since the PLA originated as an insurgent organization. How well did they make the switch from being guerrillas to hunting guerrillas? The PLA fought a successful counter-insurgency campaign against Tibetan rebels who were being supported by India, Taiwan, and the US in the 1950s, although it took about ten years. Information about the campaign is predictably sparse. I have to suspect, though, that as the PLA has made the transition to a modern, conventional military organization it’s lost much of whatever counter-insurgency capability it may once have had. Still, the article John highlights indicates some success, which may mean that the expertise the PLA developed is still somewhere in its intellectual roots and doctrinal toolkit.

Cross-posted at Tapped.

Not That I Intend To Find Out, But…

[ 0 ] February 28, 2007 |

When I saw the jaw-dropping preview for Black Snake Moan, it seemed to either be 1)some sort of mutli-layered critique of patriarchal gender relations, or vastly more likely 2)a movie so bizarre and creepily misogynist it would seem to be a screenwriting collaboration between Joe Francis and Ace of Spades. Apparently, it’s what’s behind door #2… Ew.

F-22 Crash

[ 0 ] February 27, 2007 |

Remember that millenium thing, when every computer was supposed to go haywire and virtually none did? Well, a squadron of six F-22s traveling from Hawaii to Japan experienced a computer crash along the way. Fortunately, the computer crash, which happened as the fighters crossed the International Date Line, didn’t lead to a real crash. Left completely blind, the fighters had to be directed back to Hawaii by accompanying tankers. The F-22 is, of course, the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world, costing about $135 million a pop.

What’s the lesson? Any new weapon system will have glitches, and its better that the glitches come forward in a a goodwill visit to Japan than in combat somewhere. However, as weapons become more complex (and the F-22 is immensely complex) more things can go wrong. Moreover, even a small problem can become disastrous. Finally, the problem is exacerbated by lots of people who expect they’ll be on the other side (China) working day and night to figure out how to make small problems into big problems. Back in the old days, the hyper-advanced technology of the USAF was confronted by the less advanced but far more robust technology of the Red Air Force. The technological gap has widened considerably, but the basic conflict between capability and reliability remains.

Thinking Meme

[ 1 ] February 27, 2007 |

J. at Armchair Generalist has tagged me with the “Thinking Meme” which is intended to reward blogs oriented more around good content than around links. I like to believe that most of the blogs I read are “thinking” blogs, so I’ll use this opportunity to point out some “thinking” blogs that I don’t read nearly as often as I should.

Battlepanda: No worse than the second best panda-themed blog on the internets.

Beautiful Horizons: One of not so many places to find excellent Latin America blogging, as well as a little of everything else.

Bluegrass Roots: Including Drinking Liberally-Lexington’s own Media Czech…

Fruits and Votes: Fruits and Votes is such an interesting blog; Matt Shugart has a definite idea of the tone he wants, and he stays at a remarkably high level. It’s about voting and baseball and voting and fruit and sometimes Canada and often other things. Such a good blog, and I don’t read it enough.

Dymaxion World: Most of you probably know John from his guest work at Ezra’s place, but he’s got a pretty fine blog of his own. Good stuff on foreign policy.

Full Canadian Takeover

[ 0 ] February 27, 2007 |

Apparently CanWest has bought 100% of The New Republic. Which makes this rather puzzling:

Marty Peretz, who no longer owns part of the magazine, for the first time since 1974, will remain as Editor in Chief.

Um, why? Was that part of the deal? Can the suits think that Peretz makes the property more valuable on its merits? I’m also puzzled by the logic here. If one agrees with Peretz about Al Gore, they’re not allowed to disagree with sentiments like these? I wish TNR had a different editor-in-chief not out of some inherent animus but out of a desire to see a magazine that has a lot of good stuff in it to get better.

Iraq and Democracy

[ 0 ] February 27, 2007 |

Patrick is right–there’s something seriously sick in our political discourse when Ann Althouse can get a month on the most prestigious op-ed page in the country, with Tom Freidman and Maureen Dowd on full-time, while Hilzoy writes for a medium-readership blog (along with Publius, who should have Stuart Taylor’s job) :

And another was this: liberation is not just a matter of removing an oppressive government. It can seem that way when you live under tyranny. Nothing is more comprehensible than people living in apartheid South Africa, or under Saddam, thinking: if only that government were removed from power, things would be better. They would have to be. After all, how could they possibly be worse?

Unfortunately, there are almost always ways in which things could be worse.

Thomas Hobbes, who actually lived through a civil war, believed that to escape from “the war of all against all”, it was necessary to grant a monarch unlimited sovereignty, and that living under such a monarch was preferable to living in a state of war and anarchy. I am not a Hobbesian, in part because I do not believe that those are our only two choices. But I’ve never been sure that if we had to face that choice, his answer wasn’t the right one.

This is quite right. One of my biggest puzzlements with the “liberal hawk” pro-Iraq-War arguments were the blithe assumptions that razing Saddam would mean a democracy (or, at least, a substantially more liberal state.) Liberal democracy isn’t the default condition of society that appears as night follows day when a dictatorship is toppled; it’s a very complex web of institutional arrangements that can’t just be created ex nihilo. Given the particular conditions in Iraq and who was prosecuting the war, civil war and anarchy were always much more likely outcomes.

Hockey Deadline Blogging!

[ 0 ] February 27, 2007 |

Huh–the Oilers tear down a year after getting to Game 7 of the Finals. Although I just finished criticizing Lowe as overrated, I actually think it’s a decent deal for the Oil. They’re obviously dead this year, and I think they made the right judgment in not signing Smyth to a long-term deal at ~$5.5 M/year. He’s a very-good-not-great player, 31, and a high-punishment power forward who’s likely to age badly–a bad contract waiting to happen. It’s not necessarily bad for the Isles either–they may be looking at Buffalo’s injuries and think, what the hell, might as well try to go on a big playoff run. It’s highly regrettable that the Sharks–who scare me–got Guerin, but at least they didn’t add a big defenseman. And I see the Panthers dealt Bertuzzi for a conditional draft pick and a center who can’t get a point a game in the OHL, meaning they got a dubious prospect, a backup goaltender and some picks for Roberto Luongo. Christ, they’re morons down there.

But thank God a season was canceled so that teams never have to trade their stars for financial reasons! The fact that a small-market Alberta team played a dubious Sun Belt market in the finals is even more proof–that never could have happened under the old system!

Ken Houghton has the Bertuzzi video, for those with strong stomachs who don’t know the background. And the thing is, trading an elite goaltender for Bertuzzi was an extraordinarily bad trade leaving the morality out of it.

Overheard on the Viagra-Oxycontin Expressway

[ 0 ] February 27, 2007 |

For no especially good reason, I happened to be listening to Rush Limbaugh this morning and overheard one of the most remarkable rants ever. For starters, while on the subject of Moktada al-Sadr, Limbaugh implausibly claimed that the failure of the US to “level Fallujah” in April 2004 somehow “strengthened his hand.” Sadr, of course, is Shi’a, while Fallujah is a Sunni city. So that was a moment of high comedy that was utterly lost on the caller who wondered — Rubble Boy-like — why we weren’t “quietly” assassinating people who were causing trouble for the US in Iraq.

Limbaugh then proceeded to explain that if history taught us anything, it was that the US managed to win the second World War because it decided — wisely, in his view — to target civilians and collectively punish them for the crimes of their governments. The rules of war, he explained, are “different” now. (This is of course not true; while the conduct of war has changed, the rules of war have not. Or, rather, they have — in response to the senseless atrocities of World War II. But this is a niggling point to someone who believes that rules follow conduct and not the other way around. So much for law and order, I suppose.)

I’m not sure who Limbaugh would urge us to “target,” though I’m utterly fascinated at the short distance that Limbaugh and his listeners traveled from the assassination of a cleric to the “leveling” of Iraq’s civilian population.

I wish I knew how to retrieve transcripts for talk radio programs so quickly after they air, but I’m assuming the good people at Media Matters will be on this soon enough.

Columnist About Nothing

[ 0 ] February 27, 2007 |

You know what’s worse than giving op-ed space to people who write empty-headed fluff about things vaguely related to politics? Giving op-ed space to people who explain how they write empty-headed fluff about things vaguely related to politics in other media:

Because I had the longtime habit, inherited from my grandfather, of reading out loud whatever little things in the newspaper happened to catch my attention, I said: “Hmm. ‘Little known fact: at 59, Wesley Clark has only 5% body fat.’ “

My son Christopher, who was used to finding himself on the receiving end of this habit, came back with: “Should it be: ‘Wesley Clark is 5% body fat?’ “

That cracked me up, and, instantly making the transition from old family habit to new blogging habit, I posted our little interchange on my blog.

And her posts about how fictitious requests attributed to Nancy Pelosi prove that Pelosi’s a chardonnay-sipping elitist who hates the troops are totally nonpartisan don’t you know, and then somebody made an atypically dumb comment vaguely discussing some centralized blog committee and…Good God, who gives a shit? What could this possibly be doing in a serious newspaper? It makes Bobo’s rants about apocryphal parents who make their kids listen to TV on the Radio look like Gunnar Myrdal.

As an antidote, yesterday the Times published this:

Six years ago a man unsuited both by intellect and by temperament for high office somehow ended up running the country.

How did that happen? First, he got the Republican nomination by locking up the big money early.

Then, he got within chad-and-butterfly range of the White House because the public, enthusiastically encouraged by many in the news media, treated the presidential election like a high school popularity contest. The successful candidate received kid-gloves treatment — and a free pass on the fuzzy math of his policy proposals — because he seemed like a fun guy to hang out with, while the unsuccessful candidate was subjected to sniggering mockery over his clothing and his mannerisms.

Today, with thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead thanks to presidential folly, with Al Qaeda resurgent and Afghanistan on the brink, you’d think we would have learned a lesson. But the early signs aren’t encouraging.

Yeah, and one person who seems to have learned nothing is Gail Collins Andrew Rosenthal. Frankly, it’s amazing that Krugman keeps his job.

…my bet on the Times’ next columnist: Tom Maguire. (Edroso: “I understand nearly 40 million people in the U.S. watched the Oscars last night. And from what I see on the blogs, 20 million of them were right-wing dorks looking for something to bitch about.” Indeed.)

…Corrected the name of the responsible party at the Times–thanks to TS.

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