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Archive for May, 2009

Empathy and the Rule of Law

[ 0 ] May 24, 2009 |

A good post from Susan Bandes. I think the point about the way in which conservative nominees like Thomas and Alito have emphasized their life stories is particularly important — nobody really thinks that judicial decisionmaking is entirely independent of personal experience (although, of course, the values one derives from this experience can differ greatly, and these values are what presidents are really looking for.)


Some Big News on Chinese Aircraft Carriers

[ 0 ] May 23, 2009 |

Feng at ID highlights two new bits of data on China’s aircraft carrier program. The first is that the Chinese have carried out significant work on the ex-Varyag, the Kuznetsov class carrier that they purchased several years ago and that has been the source of constant speculation on Chinese intentions. The second, and much more interesting, is that the PLAN has apparently arranged to begin training its carrier pilots on board the Sao Paulo, Brazil’s full deck aircraft carrier.

Aircraft carriers represent a huge investment of time and effort. Apart from the carrier itself and the aircraft, a navy needs to assemble a battlegroup capable of protecting the carrier, and needs to master fixed wing big deck carrier operations. This last is exceptionally complicated, and its difficulty is not to be underestimated. Operating a modern aircraft carrier requires a high level of professionalism and expertise on the part of the pilots, the aircrew, and the ship’s regular complement. For example, taking off from and landing on a carrier is much more complicated than similar operations on land. Pilots also have to master a set of navigational skills that will guarantee they can find their carrier under adverse conditions. The maintenance requirements for aircraft at sea are much greater than for aircraft on land, because of the corrosive effect of seawater. Coordinating an air group at sea is difficult, and coordinating take offs and landings such that sorties can be maximized is very difficult indeed. We know all this because it took the United States quite some time to master jet aircraft operations on big deck carriers. Until the Chinese master such operations, they’re looking forward to large numbers of accidents and carriers of limited effectiveness.

Learning such operations takes a long time. One shortcut to learning from scratch is to borrow knowledge from others. The Royal Navy, which has substantially lost the expertise it once had in aircraft carrier operations, is borrowing from both the French and the Americans. US and French advisors are consulting with the RN, and RN officers are learning on board US and French ships. Chinese options for vicarious learning, however, are limited. The US certainly isn’t interested in doing the Chinese any favors. The French might be interested, but their military interaction with China is limited by EU arms export rules. The Russians don’t have a reputation for being very effective in carrier operations, and in any case they’re likely to lack a sense of humor about the Chinese stealing their aircraft.

Enter Brazil, last of the four countries to operate conventional aircraft from carriers. Sao Paulo, formerly the French Foch, operates A-4 Skyhawks. It appears from this interview that the PLAN has arranged with the Brazilian Navy to train some of its pilots and crews on board Sao Paulo. It’s fair to say that this represents a substantial step forward for Chinese naval aviation. This agreement with Brazil will presumably allow the Chinese access to Brazilian naval aviation experts in addition to the carrier itself. This should accelerate the development of Chinese naval aviation by quite a bit.

The normal caveats apply to this; in the very best case scenario China is decades away from being able to challenge the carriers of the USN with its own. Moreover, conflict between China and the United States, or China and its neighbors, is far from inevitable. Still, the PLAN appears to be serious about naval aviation, and it seems to know what it needs to learn. As a final point, unless this is all part of an elaborate charade on the part of the Chinese, it indicates that in spite of whatever methods the PLAN may have developed to attack US carriers, it still believes that it needs its own CVs.

America’s Worst Director Update

[ 0 ] May 23, 2009 |

I had always assumed that, while he is certainly a world-class wanker and atrocious director, that McG couldn’t quite match up with the likes of Bay or Schumacher in the tough competition as America’s worst director. His association with Smashmouth, however, might at least make the margins tighter; there was a band that probably deserved more discussion in “America’s Worst Band” discussions. It’s pretty hard to make a video for “All-Star” almost as irritating as the song, but he did it…

For You Compulsive Gadget Freak Types Who Just Have To Read

[ 0 ] May 23, 2009 |

We’re here for you!

Your Washington Press Corps!

[ 0 ] May 23, 2009 |

Making Chris Matthews look substantive:

China Stealing Russian Designs Again?

[ 0 ] May 23, 2009 |

I’m sure that the Chinese just arrived independently at the idea of having a folding-wing version of the Su-27:

Russia is eyeing China following media reports that an unlicensed variant of the Sukhoi Su-33 carrier-borne multirole fighter has been developed. Sukhoi officials are “closely monitoring that situation but have not said any official position yet,” said Sukhoi spokesman Aleksey Poveshchenko.

Ever since Beijing announced plans earlier this year to build its first aircraft carrier, speculation has been rampant over how the People’s Liberation Army Navy would acquire carrier-borne fighters. Sukhoi’s Su-33, with its folding wings, is the only choice because of the U.S. and European arms embargo to China.

Russian officials, who say China is already illegally copying their Su-27SK fighter jet, have halted negotiations to sell the Su-33. Beijing has not confirmed that it is working on a clone of the Su-27SK – dubbed Flanker by NATO.

“China will not acknowledge to the Russians that these are copies,” said Andrei Chang, a China military analyst at Kanway Information Center. “They say it is an independent domestic production designed solely by themselves.”

China owns an Su-33 prototype, which it obtained from the Ukrainian Research Test and Flying Training Center at Nitka, Chang said.

There’s a lot going on here. For one, it indicates that China’s IP policy remains ad hoc; the PRC will respect IP rights when it is bribed sufficiently to do so, or when it fears retaliation. On this second point, it seems that the Chinese do not fear Russian retaliation, given that they have also been accused of stealing Russian submarine designs. I’m guessing that the Chinese anticipate that in the future purchasing advanced weapon systems from Russia will no longer be a preferred option, in no small part because the next generation of Chinese designs will be more capable than the next generation of Russian.

There are also some interesting IR theory puzzles here. By a standard crude realist account, the Chinese shouldn’t care a whit for Russian licensing rights. By a somewhat more sophisticated realist account, the Chinese leadership will abide by international intellectual property norms to the extent that such norms benefit China. In this account, the PRC would be willing to forego short term gains from IP defection in defense of the larger structure of international IP law if China benefitted sufficiently from that structure. I think that we’re moving in that direction; I suspect that the PRC will become a beneficiary of strict IP interpretation in the short to medium term, if it isn’t already.

In this case, I think you could argue that the Chinese simply don’t see much of a downside from violating Russian IP rights. First, Russia is not considered to be an ideal IP citizen, and so there’s less downside to violating Russian IP rights than to violating French or American. Chinese behavior towards Russia isn’t necessarily understood to be predictive of Chinese behavior towards anyone else. Second, apart from weapons Chinese trade with Russia doesn’t seem to heavily involve the kinds of goods that are dependent on a strict IP regime, although that could change as the mix of Chinese exports increases. Finally, most realists would argue that legal concerns would have the lowest weight in the security sphere; in a straight up cost-benefit calculation, paying the Russians a license fee for the Su-33 just doesn’t pay off, so to speak.

Two final thoughts; there are a myriad of reasons why the Chinese aren’t copying F/A-18s or Rafale’s, but I’m guessing that the PRC would be much more nervous about violating French or US law than Russian, even if they had the capability to build such aicraft. Second, in 10-15 years I suspect that the Chinese are going to become vigorous, assertive enforcers of defense related intellectual property, even as the unlicensed Su-33s start flying off the first Chinese aircraft carriers.

[ 0 ] May 23, 2009 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Stromboli

The Flip-Flops are More Impressive than the Boxers

[ 0 ] May 23, 2009 |

I’m sure that everyone has seen this, but that doesn’t make it less awesome:


Any soldier who goes into battle against the Taliban in pink boxers and flip-flops has a special kind of courage.

Who’s afraid of The Terrorists?

[ 0 ] May 22, 2009 |

This is a sincere question. I’m not a particularly courageous person by any means, but I can say with considerable confidence that I’ve never felt any actual fear of terrorism. I mean I was a little freaked out on 9/11 itself because it was such a surreal day, but even then I didn’t feel any sense of personal danger or anxiety.

For any American (at least any American who isn’t patroling the streets of Mosul or trying to run down a story in the hills of Afghanistan) to be afraid or anxious about terrorism seems to me as peculiar as being afraid or anxious about being eaten by a shark, or murdered by a serial killer. After all, sharks and serial killers exist, but if I went around obsessing about the possibility of being victimized by either I would be considered cowardly, or paranoid, or both. Now if I were diving for abalone or surfing Mavericks it would be understandable to be a little anxious about sharks. But, when it comes to terrorism, 99.99% of Americans aren’t surfing Mavericks — they’re in a shopping mall in Topeka, inside of which (apparently) a good number of them are worried about land sharks.

And that’s what I think fear of terrorism is: cowardly paranoia. It’s treating a real but extraordinarily small risk as if it were vastly more significant than it actually is. Which is to say that, over the last eight years, we’ve made indulging in cowardly paranoia the centerpiece of much of our national policy. And making cowardly paranoia the centerpiece of our national policy has become a very bipartisan thing.

As I say, I’m not claiming to be a brave person. You know what scares me? Pancreatic cancer. A friend of mine died of it last week. It’s a relatively rare disease, but 100 Americans are diagnosed with it every day. Most will be dead within six months. That’s something I can understand being afraid of. But terrorism? Is anybody actually willing to say, yes, I’m afraid of terrorism, in same the way it seems perfectly reasonable to admit you’re afraid of cancer, or unemployment, or a broken heart, or an unchained Rottweiler who is casting a cold eye on you as you run past him on a deserted country road?

Who are these people?


[ 0 ] May 22, 2009 |

Jan Crawford Greenburg convincingly speculates that Diane Wood should be considered the frontrunner to be Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee. Given the current candidates — i.e. given that Karlan doesn’t seem to be under consideration — I think this would be my preferred choice too. Admittedly, suggestions that Woods is in fact a Clintonesque liberal like Ginsburg give me pause, but given that Rosen also considered Roberts a moderate I’m not terribly worried. Ginsburg seems more like a worst-case scenario for Wood, which is OK.

On a more general point that applies both to Rosen and to Greenburg’s (generally good) book is that I’m inclined to think that coalition-building on the Court, or at least the modern Court, is very overrated. It’s true, as Rosen says, that Ginsburg is well-liked on the Court, but how this actually matters is far from clear; after all, her best friend is Scalia and they’re one of the least common vote matches. Similarly, O’Connor’s influence on the Court was a function of her having the median vote, not because she had any particular ability to convince people of anything. (From the other end, you sometimes hear that O’Connor refused to overturn Roe because of the beating she took from Scalia — but her position on abortion was completely consistent; she advocated a new standard for evaluating abortion regulations well before Scalia’s attacks and stuck with it until it became law.) Greenburg interprets Thomas’s strong opinions as alienating O’Connor, but isn’t it more that as the Court gets more reactionary moderate conservatives look more liberal? Bill Brennan’s famous charm meant pretty much bupkis once the Court’s median vote got more conservative. And so on. I wouldn’t say that a President should completely ignore this factor, but I think these kind of collegial effects tend to be overstated.

IE Problems

[ 0 ] May 22, 2009 |

Apparently the site isn’t opening in Explorer, or at least isn’t opening for some people (I don’t seem to have a problem on my laptop, but do on my desktop). I have no clue what the problem is; haven’t changed anything about the site recently. If you have any ideas, leave them in comments.

…IE now loads the page on all of my computers; anyone still having problems? In general, if there is such a problem, drop me an e-mail (linked off the profile on the left) as soon as you have a chance.

Misinformation and Straw Men

[ 0 ] May 22, 2009 |

It’s what Dick Cheney is made of. Well, that and undiluted 175 proof evil.

Deep thought: I’m also really anxious to know what Dan Quayle thinks of the value of torturing people to obtain fake evidence for crackpot conspiracy theories used to justify a calamitous war.

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