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Archive for April, 2012

That Settles It

[ 30 ] April 25, 2012 |

I kept meaning to blog about the Pineda/Montero trade, but I couldn’t decide what I thought about it. Normally, I would trade a good 23-year-old pitcher for a grade A prospect without hesitation, because most pitchers who reach the majors at that age get hurt and lose effectiveness. And yet, in this particular case I was a little uncomfortable, because it’s not clear what Montero’s value will be even if we assume he will hit like his minor league numbers suggest. As a catcher, he would obviously be an outstanding hitter but 1)it’s far from clear he can catch, and 2)even if he can catchers tend to develop less and more erratically than players at other positions. So it might make more sense to move him to first, but 1)the Mariners already have an (admittedly more and more dubious looking) young player at the position, and 2)whether he will hit enough to be a championship quality first baseman is not obvious.

Anyway, it would seem that I should have just stuck with my first principles. Which doesn’t mean I’m happy, even though it hurts the Yankees and vindicates the Mariners; Pineda looked like he would be really good.


Supreme Court Looks Poised To Uphold Arizona Immigration Law

[ 96 ] April 25, 2012 |

Or, at a minimum, the provision requiring state law enforcement officials to determine immigration status, which may be upheld unanimously:

Justices across the ideological spectrum appeared inclined to uphold a controversial part of Arizona’s aggressive 2010 immigration law, based on their questions on Wednesday at a Supreme Court argument.

“You can see it’s not selling very well,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a member of the court’s liberal wing and its first Hispanic justice, told Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., referring to a central part of his argument.

Mr. Verrilli, representing the federal government, had urged the court to strike down part of the law requiring state law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop if the officials have reason to believe that the person might be an illegal immigrant.

“Why don’t you try to come up with something else?” Justice Sotomayor asked Mr. Verrilli.

It was harder to read the court’s attitude toward the three other provisions of the law at issue in the case, including ones that make it a crime for illegal immigrants to work or to fail to register with federal authorities. The court’s ruling, expected by June, may thus be a split decision that upholds parts of the law and strikes down others.

Even if the Court upholds the law this time, it would presumably leave the possibility of an as-applied argument that the law is interfering with federal enforcement powers open, as well as an equal protection challenge (not that one could like the odds of either.)

This case is in also the latest installment of Antonin Scalia, buffoonish hack:

With Justice Antonin Scalia pushing the radical idea that the Constitution gives states clear authority to close their borders entirely to immigrants without a legal right to be in the U.S., seven other Justices on Wednesday went looking for a more reasonable way to judge states’ power in the immigration field.

Here’s the Scalia argument that Denniston is talking about:

But if, in fact, somebody who does not belong in this country is in Arizona, Arizona has no power? What does sovereignty mean if it does not include the ability to defend your borders?

That’s nice, but as Verrilli notes whatever Scalia thinks state “sovereignty” should entail the actual Constitution that Scalia is supposed to be interpreting gives plenary power over immigration enforcement to the federal government. The argument the SB 1070 doesn’t conflict with said federal law is at least colorable, but the argument that Arizona has the inherent authority to protect its “sovereignty” in ways that conflict with federal powers is absurd.


[ 42 ] April 25, 2012 |

And you thought I was going to write about Leno….

Sarah Goodyear has a nice piece at the Atlantic about the invention of jaywalking. Essentially, cars were seen as murderous killers in the early 20th century. States and municipalities passed a series of laws placing the burden on car-pedestrian accidents on the burden of drivers. I have seen several silent films that paint cars as instruments of mass destruction and death. I hoped to link to the early 1910s traffic safety film “The Cost of Carelessness” as an example, but it isn’t on YouTube.

Like much else in the modern city, including housing patterns, road systems, the lack of public transportation, etc., the auto industry used its growing power to lobby against these laws. By the 1950s, law placed the burden of suffering on the pedestrian, to the point of light or nonexistent prosecutions for drunk driving, etc., that MADD lobbied so hard against in the 1970s and 80s.

Always worth thinking of the complex and often perfidious ways in which the auto industry has shaped our cities and society.

….Commenter Rea has found “The Cost of Carelessness” here. It is an excellent way to spend 13 minutes, I assure you. It is probably the most popular of the silent films I force my Progressive Era course to watch. Because everyone likes to see kids get run down in the street, 1913 style.

Fort Ord

[ 10 ] April 25, 2012 |

I was very happy to see President Obama use the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create Fort Ord National Monument in California, protecting some of the last wild land in the Monterey Bay area. It looks super cool and I would love to visit.

I don’t however see how using the Antiquities Act is a “bipartisan” move as the Sierra Club’s National Military Family and Veterans Representative Stacy Bare says (nevermind the obvious question of the oddness of such a title). Using the Antiquities Act is probably a good sign that, even though creating the monument was widely supported in California, that a bill creating it was unlikely to get through Republicans in Congress. Theodore Roosevelt pioneered the executive creation of national monuments precisely to bypass Congress and there’s no doubt Obama is doing that here.

On Douthat

[ 71 ] April 25, 2012 |


Too much of the book is simply a culture-war text gussied up in a chasuble. Douthat is extremely bothered by people who claim to seek enlightenment from a “God Within,” and outside the framework of preferred ecclesiastical constructs. (In this, he risibly cites Deepak Chopra and Elizabeth Gilbert — and Oprah Winfrey! — as somehow being American religious figures.) Can you find spiritual enlightenment outside of a formalized religious structure and, having found it, can you still be a Catholic, or a Jew, or a Presbyterian? An interesting question that Douthat simply ignores. But he also gives a good leaving-alone to the born-again evangelical experience of a “personal Lord and Savior.” (Apparently, a God Within is fine, as long as He’s wearing a Douthat-endorsed logo.) As Winters points out, he’s drunk deeply of Michael Novak’s neoconservative Catholic capitalist malarkey, which is how Sister Gilbert, and Father Chopra, and Pope Oprah I get blamed for the irreligious consumerism of American society. (He also quotes David Brooks to back himself up, which is a dead giveaway.)

Read the whole etc.

I’m a little more reluctant to link to the Michael Sean Winters takedown Charles references, given that Winters is also responsible for this atrocity. Still, whatever you might want to say about someone who thinks that “Humanae Vitae in its entirety reads better, and more presciently, every year” — so well, apparently, that institutions taking taxpayer money to perform secular functions should be able to impose it on not only on the vast majority of Roman Catholics who don’t live according to its dictates but on employees who aren’t even members of the faith — he’s certainly well-qualified to assess Douthat’s book. And:

My problem with Douthat’s book is not that his opinions differ from my own. My problem is that he does not seem to have any idea what he is talking about. In the West, there has been no universally accepted authoritative voice on orthodoxy since the Reformation. “What am I to do when many persons allege different interpretations, each one of whom swears to have the Spirit?” asked Erasmus in 1524. But Douthat does not see the larger picture that he aims to explain, and his treatment of his subject is so pitifully mistaken in things large and small that what we are left with is a meandering, self-serving screed. The book has the same reliance on private judgment that anyone who was really concerned with heresy would recognize as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

And this is what has always puzzled me about Douthat, Rising Young Intellectual. Abortion politics is also supposed to be one of specialties, but his writing about it tends to come complete with egregious howlers. (“Planned Parenthood v. Casey and its substantial rollback of Roe is a monument to absolutism!” “Abortion is much less accessible in France!”) As with Winters, this isn’t about normative disagreement; I’ve never seen any reason to doubt, say, Ramesh Ponnuru’s command of the basic facts. It’s never been clear what Douthat knows about anything.

Adios, Pudge

[ 82 ] April 25, 2012 |

Seems to me that Ivan Rodriguez deserves at least a thread here at LGM:

Ivan Rodriguez made one last throw from behind home plate to second base at Rangers Ballpark.

The 14-time All-Star catcher announced his retirement Monday, ending a 21-season playing career spent mostly in Texas. The Rangers then honored him with a pregame ceremony that ended with a unique first pitch.

Rodriguez initially went to the mound while Michael Young, the team’s longest-tenured player, set up to receive the pitch. But that didn’t seem right, so Young ran out to second base and Rodriguez, already wearing a catcher’s mitt, went behind the plate to a huge cheer and made a familiar throw across the diamond.

Earlier in the day, his eyes glistened and Rodriguez spoke slowly at first when he said he wouldn’t play again. It came nearly 21 years after the fan favorite known as Pudge made his major league debut as a 19-year-old with the Rangers and later played for five other teams.

Obvious HoFer. Let the debates regarding the value of catcher defense ensue…

Klosterman at his upmost Klostermaniest

[ 167 ] April 24, 2012 |

This is more Scott’s beat than mine, but evidently Chuck Klosterman — the nitwit who couldn’t spend 30 minutes or so actually listening to a tUnE-yArDs album (“wow, their lyrics are hard to decipher, and Merrill Garbus was a puppeteer once, and she looks androgynous, and that makes me feel funny in my tummy”) — is now willing to engage in an entire evening of urban anthropology to discern the mystery of Creed and Nickelback. It’s not quite Slate-level cultural contrarianism, but there’s a root ancestor there somewhere.

The day before the New York show, Kroeger appeared on a Philadelphia radio station4 and was asked (of course) why people hate Nickelback so vehemently. “Because we’re not hipsters,” he replied. It’s a reasonable answer, but not really accurate — the only thing hipsters unilaterally loathe is other hipsters, so Nickelback’s shorthaired unhipness should theoretically play to their advantage. A better answer as to why people dislike Nickelback is tautological: They hate them because they hate them. Sometimes it’s fun to hate things arbitrarily, and Nickelback has become an acceptable thing to hate. They’re technically rich and technically famous, so they just have to absorb the denigration and insist they don’t care. They have good songs and they have bad songs, and the bad songs are bad enough to build an anti-Nickelback argument, assuming you feel like that’s important. But it’s never required. It’s not like anyone is going to contradict your thesis. There’s no risk in hating Nickelback, and hating something always feels better than feeling nothing at all.

Oh, sweet suckling Jesus, do fuck off now.

Gay Sexy Candies Are Coming For Your Kids!!!!!!!

[ 48 ] April 24, 2012 |

Won’t someone please think of the children?????!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

These days, you can’t get a sugar high without experiencing a cultural low. Hello, I’m Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. There’s trouble in candy land. After more than 70 years together, Mike & Ike are calling it quits. The duo is staging a gay divorce as part of a new ad campaign to draw in younger customers. In this society, even candy has an agenda! From Facebook to Tumblr, the fruity pair says, “The rumors are true. We just couldn’t agree on stuff anymore.” Starting this summer, the company will spend $15 million on billboards and TV commercials that poke fun at the breakup. It’s just another subtle example of society chipping away at the value of marriage. And I don’t know what’s more disturbing–that advertisers think divorce appeals to kids or that sexualizing candy will make people buy more. After a year-long build-up, the company will reveal if the couple reconciles. Until then, look for Mike & Ike to have a distinctly liberal flavor.

Verdict: parody remains deceased.

Electing Lex Luthor Is Not A Good Idea

[ 50 ] April 24, 2012 |

Rick Scott makes his case to be the unofficial chairman of the Republican War On Parody and War on Women Committees:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) shocked the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence this week when he vetoed $1.5 million in funding for 30 rape crisis centers in the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. State lawmakers allotted the money to offset an increase in need and a lack of sufficient funding for victim services.

Predictable Disasters

[ 95 ] April 24, 2012 |

Above: Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

Nobody could have predicted that policies that don’t make any sense in theory and have been disastrous in practice when tried before would fail again:

With political allies weakened or ousted, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s seat at the head of the European table has become much less comfortable, as a reckoning with Germany’s insistence on lock-step austerity appears to have begun.

“The formula is not working, and everyone is now talking about whether austerity is the only solution,” said Jordi Vaquer i Fanés, a political scientist and director of the Barcelona Center for International Affairs in Spain. “Does this mean that Merkel has lost completely? No. But it does mean that the very nature of the debate about the euro-zone crisis is changing.”

A German-inspired austerity regimen agreed to just last month as the long-term solution to Europe’s sovereign debt crisis has come under increasing strain from the growing pressures of slowing economies, gyrating financial markets and a series of electoral setbacks.

Spain officially slipped back into recession for the second time in three years on Monday, after following the German remedy of deep retrenchment in public outlays, joining Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte handed his resignation to Queen Beatrix on Monday after his government failed to pass new austerity measures over the weekend.

It’s worth noting at this point that, prior to the German-led effort to insure that the financial crisis inflicted far more devastation in the European economy than was necessary, Spain had been more “fiscally responsible” than Germany. The morality tale here isn’t about profligacy, it’s about incompetent, reactionary elites promoting terrible policies.

“The F-16 Must Not Reach the Hand of this Man”

[ 13 ] April 23, 2012 |

And for such a long time I suspected that Israel would squash the sale of F-16 to Iraq.  Looks like some other people are also nervous:

Massud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan, said he opposes the sale of F-16 warplanes to Iraq while Nuri al-Maliki is premier, as he fears they would be used against the region.

The United States has agreed to sell 36 F-16 jets to Baghdad in a multi-billion-dollar deal aimed at increasing the capabilities of Iraq’s fledgling air force, a weak point in its national defences.

“The F-16 must not reach the hand of this man,” Barzani told reporters at his residence near the Kurdistan region’s capital Arbil on Sunday, referring to Maliki. “We must either prevent him from having these weapons, or if he has them, he should not stay in his position,” Barzani said. Barzani alleged that Maliki had discussed using F-16s against Kurdistan during a meeting with military officers.

There are some obvious comparisons to post-war Germany and Japan. Iraq was a military power in the region, and now it’s not; the idea of a reconstructed Iraqi military is popular with just about no one, especially because no one has a firm grip on Iraq’s future political orientation. I think it’ll be hard to kill the F-16 deal, but if it does die I suspect the French will step in fairly quickly with an offer of their own.

Why No Ballistic Missiles in Vietnam?

[ 30 ] April 23, 2012 |

In last week’s Airpower class, someone wondered why conventionally armed ballistic missiles weren’t used by the United States in the Vietnam War. The answers seem obvious, but then explaining why stupid things don’t happen is easy; it’s harder to explain why some stupid things happen and others do not. I don’t recall ever seeing a proposal to use ballistic missiles against North Vietnam, and I’m curious as to why not.

Briefly, a  case for ballistic missiles use:

1. Ballistic missiles require neither pilots nor escorts, limiting the cost differential between the huge strike packages deployed against North Vietnam during the war.

2. Available missiles (primarily the Redstone, but also early Pershings) could carry conventional payloads sufficient to give some confidence in destruction of “precise” targets.  The Redstone had a CEP of 300 meters and could carry a very big warhead, making the destruction of large-but-specific North Vietnamese targets plausible.

3. Some evidence from World War II indicated that ballistic missiles had a morale effect distinct from conventional strategic bombing.  The utter inability of the target to predict or resist the strikes increased the sense of helplessness at both elite and popular levels.  To be sure, this evidence may be regarded as reasonably twitchy, but not much less so than the evidence used to justify the broader Rolling Thunder campaign.

4. The Army had plausible institutional reasons for arguing for MRBM strikes against North Vietnam, given that it controlled the missiles and the Air Force did not.

5. Escalation concerns were manageable.  Simple notification of the Soviets or Chinese immediately prior to launches, combined with a specific geographic zone of operation, probably would have been sufficient to prevent a crisis, if not very loud complaints.

6. The number of available missiles was limited (120 Redstones, 750 Pershing Is), but it was still possible to envision a Schelling-approved coercion campaign; a dozen missiles hit Hanoi to demonstrate resolve and capability, saving a sufficient number in reserve for a larger series of strikes, etc.  Recall that the purpose of Rolling Thunder wasn’t so much to grind Hanoi to dust as to convince the DRV to give up the campaign in the South.

And here are the arguments against.  When we’re evaluating these, recall that we’re talking about people who could be convinced a) that defending South Vietnam was a crucial US strategic interest, b) that the deployment of ground forces to South Vietnam represented an acceptable cost in defense of that interest, and c) that a strategic bombing campaign against North Vietnam was both an appropriate and potentially decisive policy tool.  The point isn’t to say that hitting Hanoi with ballistic missiles was stupid, but rather to determine why the people who thought all of the above things didn’t cotton to the idea of Pershing Is raining down on Ho Chi Minh’s head.

1. The politics were all wrong.  Ballistic missiles were, the V-2 notwithstanding, associated with nuclear weapons at the time.  The political atmospherics of hitting Hanoi with SRBMs seemed politically more risky that hitting it with B-52s, even though the latter had also been initially designed to deliver nuclear warheads.  Perhaps also the V-2 example was problematic because it associated the use of ballistic missiles with the Nazi regime. Finally, the recent example of the Cuban Missile Crisis (even though it involved nuclear armed missiles) would make anyone leery about deploying SRBMs to a US client state.

2. Escalation concerns were genuine, and intertwined with political concerns.  The Chinese and Russians probably wouldn’t have believed that SRBMs launched from South Vietnam were really nukes in disguise, but the stakes were extremely high.  Moreover, Moscow and Beijing could point to the deployment and use of SRBMs to paint Kennedy/Johnson as mad men, which would (for some reason) sound more compelling than a similar argument referencing nuclear capable strategic bombers.

3. The expected military benefit was simply too small, given the cost of launching and maintaining the missiles.  The Redstone could deliver a huge payload and the Pershing a respectable one, but nothing along the lines of what a B-52 (or even an A-6) could deliver in a single sortie.  Moreover, even a 300 meter CEP means that a very large warhead could hit right in the middle of a civilian area; although bombers dropped more ordnance, the individual weapons were much smaller, presumably reducing the potential for civilian damage.

4.  The plan was unworkable for technical reasons.  Redstones, for example, required an immense amount of infrastructure, and while much of this probably could be imported to South Vietnam, the cost would be prohibitive.  Moreover, some of the details don’t work out; the Redstone could carry an enormous (6000#!) payload, but its range was only 210 miles, and it was 280 miles from the closest plausible launch sites to Hanoi.  Maybe the range couldn’t be extended by reducing payload, or maybe accuracy would suffer, or maybe no “sweet spot” could be found that would deliver a payload of sufficient size to destroy targets in the Redstone’s accuracy spread.  And maybe the Pershing simply delivered a warhead (600#) too small to do sufficient damage given its CEP (400m).  The Jupiter had the distance, but had a CEP of 1500 meters, which makes it pretty much useless for delivering anything but a nuclear weapon.

5. The organizational incentives are all wrong.  The Air Force would fight against the use of ballistic missiles because they love their bombers and think that the planes can do the job.  The Army (which actually operates the SRBMs) tends not to think in such strategic terms, preferring to concentrate on the tactical and operational details of fighting the war in the South.  Any serious proposal would have pit serious USAF opposition against an Army that felt very “meh” about the whole idea.

And so I’m interested in two types of response.  First, is there any historical evidence that US military or civilian policymakers actively considered and rejected the use of ballistic missiles, and if so does that evidence give any clear indication as to what they believed the relevant objections? And second, if there is no such evidence (or even if there is; it’s irresponsible not to speculate) why was there no such active discussion; what made policymakers reject or ignore the notion without even giving it a hearing?


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