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Archive for July, 2009

We Few, We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers

[ 1 ] July 22, 2009 |

This is pretty groovy. A quick search indicates that a Robert Farley served as an archer in Henry V’s 1415 French expedition, under the Duke of York. My family purportedly hails from Yorkshire, although by the 15th century there was apparently minimal territorial connection between Yorkshire and the Duke of York, so who knows whether we’re related or not. In any case, for the record I’d like to disavow any familial responsibility for the death of Duke Edward at the Battle of Agincourt; it probably wasn’t our fault.

Via Danger Room.


F-22 Round Up

[ 0 ] July 22, 2009 |


But I reject the notion that we have to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on outdated and unnecessary defense projects to keep this nation secure. That’s why I’ve taken steps to greatly reduce no-bid defense contracts. That’s why I’ve signed overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation to limit cost overruns on weapons systems before they spiral out of control. And that’s why I’m grateful that the Senate just voted against an additional $1.75 billion to buy F-22 fighter jets that military experts and members of both parties say we do not need.

Gates (via spokesman):

“Secretary Gates appreciates the careful consideration Senators have given to this matter of national security and he applauds their bipartisan support to complete the F-22 program at 187 planes. He understands that for many members this was a very difficult vote, but he believes that the Pentagon cannot continue with business as usual when it comes to the F-22 or any other program in excess to our needs. Today’s vote is an important step in that direction and the Secretary looks forward to working closely with lawmakers as President Obama’s budget is debated in the coming months.”

Fred Kaplan:

Not only is this a major victory for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who lobbied strenuously (something he rarely does) to kill this program, and for President Barack Obama, who pledged to veto the defense bill if it contained a nickel for more F-22s. The vote might also mark the beginning of a new phase in defense politics, a scaling-back of the influence that defense contractors have over budgets and policies.

David Axe (good to see him back at DR, if only for temporarily):

At the moment, the only air forces fielding so-called “4.5-generation” fighters that even approach Raptor-level capability are all strong U.S. allies: the U.K., Germany, Italy and Spain with their small fleets of Typhoons, France with its three squadrons of Rafales, and Australia with a single squadron of F/A-18F Super Hornets. Lockheed estimates it might eventually sell more than 3,000 stealthy, “fifth-generation” F-35s to U.S. allies. Among perceived rivals, China just began producing J-10 fighters that are in the same class as the USAF’s 20-year-old F-16Cs. Russia is still building, and exporting, a few variants of the 1980s’ Su-27. Despite lots of promises, neither China nor Russia has ever demonstrated it can build anything more advanced than its current models. Russia’s aviation industry has eroded so badly that it cannot even produce drones for the Russian military: Moscow must buy them from Israel, instead.

Peter Howard:

It offers some hope to procurement reform at DoD. Much of the modern military–both operationally and administratively–is organized around the purchase of major weapons systems. This works if you have a great weapons system, but is incredibly inefficient, wasteful, and leaves you with the Army you’ve got– pace Rumsfeld, not the one you wish you had. One of the reasons we don’t have the military we wish we had is all of the support, doctrinally, institutionally, culturally, and financially for these weapons systems. The fighter jocks of the Air Force really want the F-22. They have resisted UAVs like Predator and Reaper and ugly Close Air Support planes like the A-10. And yet, these have been among the most useful and most in demand throughout the wars we’re actually fighting. The F-22? Not so much.

We’ll see. For right now, I’m just pleased that a mission-limited platform has been capped at a number that’s not too outrageous, and that the Senate has displayed a mild amount of fortitude in the face of intense lobbying. This isn’t the first time that a major weapons program has been cut short; the US originally intended to buy 29 Seawolf SSNs, later reduced to twelve, then to three. Similarly, the B-2 was cut from an initial order of 132 aircraft to just 21. Thus, I’m not convinced that this represents a major transformation in the way that the military-industrial-congressional complex works. The F-22 was, like the Seawolf and the B-2, an artifact of an era with different defense priorities. That’s it’s been capped doesn’t necessarily mean that the defense procurement institution has been successfully challenged, although it admittedly bodes well that Gates and Obama have been so forthright about using the F-22 as symbol of such a challenge.

I would like to have a better sense of the internal discussions around DADT before asserting that this fully vindicates the decision to keep Gates on as SecDef. I certainly think that it’s still a defensible position; the major decisions regarding Iraq and Afghanistan are fundamentally Obama’s rather than Gates’, and so he’s not really to blame for the general thrust of the policies. If Gates is the major roadblock to getting rid of DADT (and in fairness I haven’t seen many good arguments that he is), then it’s a major sacrifice. That said, cutting the F-22 and some other programs has been and will be much easier with Gates than with anyone else that Obama might have selected.

And in credit where due, kudos to John McCain. Managing defense spending has always been one of his strengths, and he really came through on this issue.

Lou Dobbs: Birther

[ 0 ] July 21, 2009 |

Hey, all he wants are some answers.

This is essentially the same thing as if in 2002 a top CNN anchor had demanded that the Bush administration prove it didn’t demolish the WTC.

I don’t think that guy would have kept his job though.

Also, I was glancing yesterday at a couple of websites dedicated to proving that the moon landings were faked, and was struck by how the (il)logical structure and rhetoric of these types of sites are always the same, whether they involve moon landings or birth certificates or controlled demolitions or the Illuminati.

On the general topic, Hofstadter’s essay remains required reading.

Update: In the comments Warren Terra brings up something I’ve been wondering about as well:

“The Birfer theory really boggles me: I can’t even understand the thought process involved. Obama’s been a (very minor, initially) public figure since at least his time as editor of the Harvard Law Review, and at the very least since then there’s never been any change in his biography, in which he was born to Stanley Ann Dunham in the state of Hawai’i, a birth that was announced in the local paper. What exactly do these nutcases surmise – that he wasn’t born to Dunham, but instead was born to some other woman overseas and smuggled as a newborn to Dunham’s hospital? What possible reason could a newlywed college student have for doing such a thing? How would it make any sense? Even in their most unhinged fantasies, why would Obama’s family have plotted from his infancy to fake the location of his birth and the identity of his mother? After all, anyone born to Dunham or anyone born in Hawai’i would be a natural-born US citizen even if they’d been the hideously malformed extraterrestrial lovechild of Ming The Merciless and Josef Stalin.

I mean, with the Moon Landing, JFK, 9/11 Truther, Illuminati, etcetera conspiracy theories the facts don’t fit and the evidence isn’t there but at least there are plausible motivations being alleged. Even the various UFO theories involve human (or alien!) actors doing things secretly for erasons I can understand, such that a rational person in similar circumstances might well perpetrate such a conspiracy for personal gain or for their version of the greater good. But I just can’t comprehend what the Birfers think the Dunhams could posibly have in mind. Maybe it’s because they really think he’s the Antichrist, so no logical thought process need be involved.”

Has anybody looked at their various arguments closely enough to answer this?

And Now We Dance!

[ 0 ] July 21, 2009 |

Senate rejects extra funding for the F-22!!!!

Moon landing

[ 0 ] July 21, 2009 |

One of my sisters in law has spent her whole career as a scientist working with NASA/JPL types, so I’m acutely aware of the barriers women face in those sorts of fields, and of how much worse they used to be. And I can appreciate that dealing with those sorts of barriers wears on people.

That said, I was rather taken aback by the vehemence of some of the responses to my earlier post, which generated all sorts of bizarre assumptions, i.e., that I think women aren’t interested in science and technology, and that I like sexism and phallocentric patriarchy and Hitler and the Yankees and that’s why I believe things like the Apollo project were so male-dominated.

Anyway, here’s a poem that I read in college and had forgotten about, but that was probably bouncing around somewhere in my mind when I wrote the stuff about a project dominated by men as boys.

Moon Landing
By WH Auden

It’s natural the Boys should whoop it up for
so huge a phallic triumph, an adventure
it would not have occurred to women
to think worth while, made possible only

because we like huddling in gangs and knowing
the exact time: yes, our sex may in fairness
hurrah the deed, although the motives
that primed it were somewhat less than menschlich.

A grand gesture. But what does it period?
What does it osse? We were always adroiter
with objects than lives, and more facile
at courage than kindness: from the moment

the first flint was flaked this landing was merely
a matter of time. But our selves, like Adam’s,
still don’t fit us exactly, modern
only in this—our lack of decorum.

Homer’s heroes were certainly no braver
than our Trio, but more fortunate: Hector
was excused the insult of having
his valour covered by television.

Worth going to see? I can well believe it.
Worth seeing? Mneh! I once rode through a desert
and was not charmed: give me a watered
lively garden, remote from blatherers

about the New, the von Brauns and their ilk, where
on August mornings I can count the morning
glories where to die has a meaning,
and no engine can shift my perspective.

Unsmudged, thank God, my Moon still queens the Heavens
as She ebbs and fulls, a Presence to glop at,
Her Old Man, made of grit not protein,
still visits my Austrian several

with His old detachment, and the old warnings
still have power to scare me: Hybris comes to
an ugly finish, Irreverence
is a greater oaf than Superstition.

Our apparatniks will continue making
the usual squalid mess called History:
all we can pray for is that artists,
chefs and saints may still appear to blithe it.

August 1969


[ 0 ] July 21, 2009 |

From around the inter-tubes…

And the stars look very different today

[ 0 ] July 20, 2009 |

I’m just old enough to remember the original moon landing. I watched it with my grandmother, who reminded me, as Neil Armstrong emerged from the lunar module, that she was born the same year as the Wright brothers’ first flight. A few thoughts:

(1) I recall a lot of talk during the broadcast about the historical significance of the event. I seem to remember Werner Von Braun or someone like that claiming it was the most important event in human history. And Armstrong’s first words about a giant leap for mankind signaled in that direction.

In retrospect, the whole thing — meaning the reach for the stars, the final frontier, etc.,– appears to have fallen a bit flat. Of course in large part the Apollo program was a creature of cold war politics, rather than any nobler scientific or exploratory motivation, but even so, at a remove of 40 years, it’s startling the extent to which humanity reaching the moon now seems more like a curious footnote of the era rather than a giant leap for the species.

(2) Considered as an incredibly expensive and complex exercise in practical engineering, the Apollo program was indeed a stunning achievement. In many ways it was a paradigmatically American achievement, and specifically of American men, or rather boys as men (think of the most impressive neighborhood treehouse, times ten million). Aside from putting the Russians in their place, the most important motivation was probably the sheer desire to figure out how to actually make the thing work. And it was an intensely and peculiarly male project: I don’t recall ever seeing a single woman in that huge Houston control center, where hundreds of guys in short-sleeved white shirts and crewcuts ran the show.

One measure of how much has changed in the last 40 years is that the very idea of a woman astronaut in the 1960s would have seemed outlandish to most Americans (that the Russians had a female cosmonaut was widely interpreted as a preposterous publicity stunt).

(3) The members of the Apollo 11 crew are typical of the astronauts from the heroic age of space exploration in that all of them have shunned the spotlight. It’s hard to remember now how celebrated these guys were in their day, and it’s surprising in a way that John Glenn was very much the exception in choosing to exploit that fame for broader political or other purposes. Thus it’s particularly noteworthy that Buzz Aldrin used a reunion of the crew this weekend to call for a mission to Mars. I have mixed feelings about such a thing — on the one hand sending humans into space is fantastically expensive and in an age of robotics produces almost no added scientific benefit. On the other . . .

Update: In response to a couple of comments, I would have thought it obvious from my remarks about how much has changed in regard to things like gender roles and being an astronaut that I wasn’t ascribing the intensely male atmosphere of the Apollo project to biology, as opposed to say sexist assumptions about men’s and women’s work.

Hell Yeah!

[ 0 ] July 20, 2009 |

This delights me to no end.  However, I don’t think I can use it as a defense if I were to deploy some of my more favorite words in front of my partner’s six year-old.

What We Have Here Is A Dead Shark

[ 0 ] July 20, 2009 |

I said yesterday that it wasn’t clear to what extent the bizarre way in which the Mets have dealt with their injuries was primarily about thee medical staff or their upper management. This strongly suggests the latter:

A source with ties to the Mets indicated that Beltran is extremely upset that he played for a month with a bone bruise after receiving a cortisone shot. The bone bruise ultimately doubled in size because of a lack of adequate rest, according to the center fielder. Scott Boras eventually had Beltran get a second opinion from doctor Richard Steadman at the Vail, Colo., clinic that performed Alex Rodriguez’s hip surgery.

Putz, who ultimately underwent surgery last month to remove a bone spur from his right elbow, had been told by team doctor David Altchek weeks earlier that he needed to immediately have the spur removed, a team source said. Instead, the Mets advocated a cortisone shot. Putz went 0-2 with a blown save and 7.71 ERA in 10 subsequent appearances before needing the procedure anyway.

Similarly, Maine twice has received cortisone shots, and was sped ahead of the doctor’s recommendation, only to be set back, a source said.

Sources say the Players Association is concerned enough to have started asking questions, although spokesman Greg Bouris declined to comment on the Mets’ injuries.

The article is also good because it makes it clear that not only is this year a write-off, but the team is in deep, deep trouble in this division in the years ahead, with the World Champions and two teams with far more young talent in the division. There’s absolutely nothing to surround the core: Murphy — though the kind of Superficially Hustling White Guy who seems to get a pass from a lot of people — is a joke at first, Castillo has been decent but has little long-term value, the corner OF are ancient, don’t hit or both, the catchers waiver-wire bait. Delgado probably won’t be back and who knows what he’ll produce if he does. Reyes is a speed player with leg problems, Wright losing all of his power while striking out a lot more is a serious concern, Beltran is great player but knee problems in a CF are worrisome. Same thing with the rotation — Santana’s as good as anybody, but behind him Pelfrey and Maine have not only pitched badly but have the peripherals of a 36-year old finesse pitcher on his last legs, Perez may have another good year but is likely to have even more bad ones. Combine that with a ghastly farm system, and it may be a question of whether it will be the Art Howe era or the Jeff Torborg era. They needed to do a better job filling out the team when their core was healthy, because they may not have another chance for a while.

Truth In Advertising

[ 0 ] July 20, 2009 |

I assume this is also the title of Kristol’s forthcoming book?

New Noodling on Nork Nukes

[ 0 ] July 20, 2009 |

Geoffrey Forden is no longer convinced that North Korea detonated a nuclear device:

Let us suppose, for the moment, that the DPRK actually did explode 2,500 tons of TNT instead of a nuclear device. How could they load a tunnel with so much conventional explosive and not be detected by the West’s satellites? This was the real reason I was so sure it had been a nuclear explosion. I was convinced, unfortunately before doing a very simple calculation, that the trucks filled with high explosive (HE) would be detected.

However, it is not all that much HE. If TNT was used, as opposed to a higher density explosive like RDX, North Korea would only have to excavate a cavity 12 meters on a side and fill it with high explosives.

If four 10-ton trucks delivered their load each night (with a fifth truck coming every 10th day) they could drop off all the HE within two months. Using RDX, or some other higher density explosive, could significantly decrease this time. That seems quite doable and to be potentially undetectable by the West.

I discussed some potential strategic rationales for faking a nuclear test here. Shortly after the “test,” I had a long and somewhat angry dispute with a conservative friend about this Mark Steyn article. In it, Steyn quotes an unnamed friend to the point that the Obama administration had failed to react to “an underground atomic device many times more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” I pointed out that the sentence has rather a different impact when it reads “an underground atomic device that is less than a quarter as powerful as the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” and suggested that the fact-checking machine at National Review appeared to be on the fritz. My friend was not amused, arguing that the general nuclear capability mattered much more than the specifics. I thought then that this was a reasonable point (although it hardly justifies Steyn’s sloppiness), but I now think it’s fair to say that North Korean capabilities are in serious question.

Blood and Guts Peters

[ 0 ] July 20, 2009 |

Ralph Peters is a lunatic, even by the standards of Fox News.

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