Home / Robert Farley / A Quote Doctor?

A Quote Doctor?


John has retreated to the twin bastions of “I’m being misquoted!” [post since revised/removed] and “I was only trying to be provocative!” Of the former:

And now I have my own confirmatory example. In my much-denounced post on the utility or otherwise of navies, I argued that, while the US got some benefits from its huge navy, “it’s hard to see this expenditure as good value for money”. I then went on to say

What’s true of the US is even more so of other countries. Since World War II, vast amounts of money have been spent on navies that have not fired a shot in anger. The one exception, the Falklands War, is scarcely encouraging for naval advocates. The Royal Navy came to the edge of defeat against the air force of a Third World dictatorship, operating at the limits of its range.

In a response to my post, which he describes as the “worst ever” on CT, Rob Farley of Lawyers, Guns and Money quotes this passage, but omits the first sentence, implying that the statement is meant to encompass the US as well as others. Sure enough, the very first commenter jumps on this, with a snarky reference to US cruise missiles, and Farley jumps straight in after him. He repeats points about cruise missiles further down in the thread, again with reference to the doctored quote.

As is standard in cases of this kind, repeated protests in the comments threads and a series of direct emails did not induce Farley to present the complete quote – doing so would have made nonsense of a fair bit of the comments thread. And, if past experience is anything to go by, this piece of dishonesty will get plenty of support from those who’ve lined up on Farley’s side of the debate.

I’ll confess that I don’t understand what John’s objection is here. The phrase “What’s true of the US is even more so of other countries,” is an explicit parallel (not a contrast!) between the United States and other countries. In the previous paragraph, John stated what he believed to be “true” about the USN:

The US hasn’t engaged in naval warfare on any significant scale since 1945, a period during which the other arms of its military have fought five major wars, and lots of smaller ones. The record in those wars, including an outright defeat in Vietnam, a status quo ante ceasefire in Korea, and highly equivocal outcomes in the two Iraq wars and Afghanistan casts plenty of doubt on the idea of that US military as a whole is a “high-performing agency”, and raises the question of why so much of the budget has been allocated to an armed force that does hardly any actual fighting.

Call me crazy, but reading this I draw the implication that John doesn’t believe that the US has engaged in naval warfare of any significant scale since 1945, and that the USN is an armed force that hardly does any actual fighting. Since in the post John reveals not even a passing knowledge of the actual combat that the USN has been involved in (air combat, airstrikes, shore bombardment, and cruise missile strikes) this further leads me to believe that he just doesn’t know very much about what the USN has done; that he mentions submarines towards the end but mentions only commerce raiding and nuclear deterrence (rather than cruise missile launches) only reinforces this impression. Consequently, I’m inclined to take John at his word he uses the phrase “what’s true of the US is even more so of other countries” in that I believe that he believes that world navies, including the USN, don’t do very much fighting. As such, it didn’t seem to me that the first sentence was anything but redundant.

I suppose that John is resting his case on the “even more so,” which could be read as an upgrade of “hardly any actual fighting” to “no actual fighting.” This, to my mind, seems a very thin reed indeed, but I’ll let the assembled multitudes determine whether I am, in fact, a “quote doctor.” John is apparently put out that I refused to alter my post in response to e-mail entreaties; I had not previously been aware that quote approval was a policy adhered to in such situations. It’s also worth noting that John’s claim about non-US navies is simply wrong on its merits. While the intensity of combat operations certainly varies from service to service (not to mention ship-to-ship), many navies other than the USN engaged in significant combat operations during the Cold War, often operations similar to those of the USN. These include but are not limited to the Royal Navy, the French Navy, the PLAN, the Argentine Armada, the Royal Australian Navy, and the Royal Canadian Navy. Moreover, many more navies commit warships to such collaborative efforts as Operation Atalanta, Operation Active Endeavour, CTF 151, and a variety of disaster relief efforts around the world. Finally, I do wish John would appreciate that the fact it never fought the USN directly does not mean that a force such as the Soviet Navy was a complete waste of time and money; through its very existence the Soviet Navy created major problems for the Soviet Union’s primary geopolitical adversary, and consequently performed its role as a tool of state policy.

With regards to provocative… well, there are lots of things that are provocative. Preaching the gospel naked from a street corner in downtown Lexington is provocative. Punching someone in the nose is provocative. Miscalling the infield fly rule in a one game playoff to determine the Wildcard winner is pretty goddamn provocative. And finally, writing a post about naval policy which evinced no actual knowledge of naval policy, naval theory, or naval history is, indeed, provocative. It’s just that “provocative” doesn’t, at the end of the day, amount to a very compelling defense.

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  • Joel Dan Walls

    I’m sure there’s a good reason that the two of you don’t just pick up the telephone and hash this out privately…just like there must be a good reason that my 16 year old sends me serial text messages instead of calling me. I just don’t know what those reaasons might be.

    • Anonymous

      Just wait until next week, when it’s LGM’s turn to be the straw man. Trolling readers for fun and profit!

      At least, that’s my theory, and I’m sticking with it.

      • NonyNony

        Why go to that much work to troll readers?

        It’s so easy to just post a Ralph Nader 2000 entry and generate 200+ comments.

        • scott

          I like to think that both Scott and Rob have a Ralph Nader voodoo doll at home that each sticks pins in when the stresses of the day demand release.

          • NonyNony

            I like to think that they roll out the Nader posts when the ad revenue starts to dip and they need page hits.

            It’s probably not true, but for some reason the idea makes me laugh.

    • John Quiggin

      I did in fact email Rob suggesting that he might want to cool things down (and said something similar in comments), but did not get a positive response.

      • Robert Farley

        I’d be happy not to write another post on this.

        • John Quiggin

          That certainly seems like a good idea for both of us

        • John Quiggin

          As a step towards peace, I’ve deleted the text of the “quote doctors” post.

        • You need more posts about how you totally dig Nickelback.

      • Some Guy

        Gentlemen, please. Surely there’s a way you two can work out your issues in a manor that leaves everyone satisfied…

        • CaptBackslap

          Are you volunteering to provide the manor? Because that would certainly require a lot of yard space.

        • AlexD

          Fuck that. We need to go full Aaron Burr with this. Pistols at 10 paces.

  • John

    This is all quite dreadful.

  • Leeds man

    It’s just that “provocative” doesn’t, at the end of the day, amount to a very compelling defense./em>

    It’s not a defense. It’s an invitation.

  • grackle

    It reads as though you expect readers to see you as upholding some particular virtue, but I see only a flat tendentiousness. I drop out pretty early on in these sorts of piss matches.

  • FMguru

    There’s something really off-putting about 1) making a broad, sweeping argument and then 2) responding to broadly-stated criticism of that argument with nano-analysis of the precise wording.

    • Halloween Jack

      Nerds use it all the time.

  • Although I’ve enjoyed this pissing match thus far, I have to agree with JDW that it might be best conducted via sidebar going forward.

    • Robert Farley

      The great thing about a blog (and I mean this without snark) is that the reader can always ignore posts that s/he doesn’t like. Having confidence in that generates, in my view, a lot more interesting depth; Loomis doesn’t have to worry about his labor posts putting anyone off, Kaufman gets to write his GoT posts without wondering how large the audience for them is, we can freely intersperse baseball and judicial theory posts, we can each carry on pointless, irrelevant feuds to our hearts’ content, etc.

      • scott

        OK, that clarifies matters. Please carry on with this petty, irrelevant, stupid feud as long as The Bitter Muse compels you, sir!

        • mark f

          ^Fuck this noise. I’ve learned more about naval shit in two days than ever before. Who gives a fuck about annoying Scott and Johny Von Dutch Hat?

          • Jason

            I’ll pipe up to say I’ve really enjoyed the entries and comments. If the authors would like to bury the hatchet, more power to them, but I’ve been entertained and inspired to read more about naval theory as a result…. Or at least doodle fleet actions during meetings.

            • Robert Farley

              I’m teaching a Seapower class this spring. I’ll have readings, syllabi online; we’ll see about podcasts.

  • I genuinely hate to say this, but Quiggin’s response is a more lucid version of the typical Althouse riposte. No snark.

  • rea

    (1) Farley has the right of this, as he has throughout this exchange.

    (2) Speaking as a regular at both blogs, this is becoming . . . distressing. Jokes about blog war = funny; actual blog war = not so funny.

    • witless chum

      What’s not funny about blog war?

      • arguingwithsignposts

        The first rule of blog war is we do not talk about blog war.

        • Pestilence

          damn. i thought that was the second rule

          • Scott P.

            We have always been at blog war with Crooked Timber.

            • Cody

              It’s because they refuse to make their log houses level. It’s very upsetting to my Asymmetriphobia.

        • AlexD

          When do we find out that Farley and Quiggin are the same person?

    • MPAVictoria

      Damn straight. Love both Crooked Timber and LGM and check them both way too often. Make up and be friends guys! We are all on the same side here.

  • brandon

    Okay, Farley, you and Quiggin are both in violation of a cardinal rule here, and since you have less skin in the game, I’ll put it to you more straight: any blog argument prosecuted on a Friday or Saturday night becomes pathetic. This is a law and you know this to be true. The Friday night blog war, this is the territory of the Jeff Goldsteins of the world. Are you a Jeff Goldstein of the world? I think not, so my advice to you is put on an awesome hat, have yourself a beer, chill out, and if you gotta be on the computer, there’s tons of funny pictures of people from Breaking Bad doing wacky shit, or what the fuck ever. This is a wiser course of action. Cheers!

    • Robert Farley

      But here’s the thing; although I’m tragically sober right now, on other Fridays and Saturdays I’ve found myself good and ripped. As every internet denizen knows, a flame war is far more interesting when the participants are angry drunks. Consequently, a policy of Friday and Saturday night truce-making would result in the loss of many of the most interesting flame wars known to man.

      All those moments… lost. Like tears, in rain.

      • Pestilence

        ha!I knew it ! KILL the android!

        • AlexD

          KILL the android! Replicant.

          Whoever implanted your memeories sure fucked it up.

      • Peter Hovde

        I’ve drunk things you people wouldn’t believe.

  • arguingwithsignposts

    You know a good way to end this blog war? If Quiggen would just say, “you know what, I didn’t think this whole thing through, and I was wrong.”

    I know. Crazy.

    • arguingwithsignposts


      Also, too, if you don’t want a blog war, don’t go making broad statements in areas that aren’t your expertise on a blog.

      • Patrick

        I was only trying to be provocative. Imagine my surprise and sadness when it provoked such a response!

  • Mojo

    I’ll throw in a possible defense for John. I read the “what’s true for” part of his post as referring to his claim that, although the US got some use from the Navy, it wasn’t “a good value for money”. The fact that his attempts to demonstrate that other countries’ navies were also poor values revolved to a large degree about their lack of use may have confused matters. But if the argument is that well over a $150 billion a year plus OCO is too high a cost for our Navy and that other navies provide similarly low returns, responses about things like lobbing cruise missiles from submarines at guys driving technicals probably really are non sequiturs. Then John didn’t understand your confusion and thought you were trying to evade his point rather than misunderstanding it.
    Of course, as Rob has pointed out earlier, the value argument isn’t unique to the Navy among our armed services and John doesn’t really make a good case why the Navy is an unusually bad value (and failing to even mention many of the Navy’s most significant current missions makes that problem worse.)
    Of course, I could be wrong and one or both of you really are being disingenuous but I’m feeling charitable today since nobody is trying to eliminate the Air Force, give the Army nothing but helis, A-10s and C-130 gunships and leave the Navy as the only force flying high performance aircraft.

  • witless chum

    This story in comments makes the whole blog war worth it.

    Apparently, I’m FDR and my wife is William Jennings Bryan. And navy ships are A Song of Ice and Fire characters or, I guess, navy ships.

    • Anonymous

      Yes! Yes, it does.

  • Anonymous

    You’re starting to get a little creepy here, Farley.

    • Disagree.
      More blog war!

      • Anonymous

        No, it’s become an unwinnable quagmire. Both sides should declare victory and leave, so that the suffering people of CT and LGM can come out from our shelters and get on with our pitiful lives.

        • Hogan

          That was me. Apparently my cat isn’t the only one who lost his cookies last night.

          • I want to take this comment to the prom, and bring it back really, really late.

    • Anonymous

      Upon reading Quiggin’s massively disingenuous bullshit over thar, I’m going to amend this statement to say that both of you are being creepy. Only white dudes could get this vociferous (LOL @ Farley’s hard-on for capital as the primary beneficiary of the navy–true, but LOL at this getting sympathetic air at a vaguely left-wing blawg) over something so demonstrably academic. (LOL a thousand times @ Quiggin’s This Was a Thought Experiment. Fucking hell is that embarrassing.)

      • ajay

        Only white dudes could get this vociferous (LOL @ Farley’s hard-on for capital as the primary beneficiary of the navy–true, but LOL at this getting sympathetic air at a vaguely left-wing blawg) over something so demonstrably academic.

        Ha! You need to get out and meet some women one of these days. Or some non-white dudes. Or even some non-white women.

  • Ian

    Common ground: can we all agree on the need to dismantle the Air Force?

  • Pseudonym

    You know what it might take to finally end this blog war? A navy.

  • As much as I enjoy seeing Farley take Quiggin to the wood shed again and again, I think his talents could be better used. Do you know anything about the ARA Libertad now sitting in Tema harbor? How does the seizure of an Argentine naval vessel by Ghana on behalf of a private entity in the US work? It has not gotten much coverage, but if it is a precursor of things to come it could have huge ramifications.

  • In a bit of defense of Quiggan, if there’s a Navy that got crappy value for the money, it’s the Russian navy. Ships such as the Vikramiditya (nee Gorshkov, nee Baku) that spent years in development and building, only to be placed into conservation five years after commissioning because of boiler problems. The Typhoon program, aircraft carrier sized missile submarines that rarely deployed (except when Sean Connery captained them) and carried marginally effective missiles because the Russians can’t make a solid fueled naval ballistic missile if their nuclear deterrent depended on it. Nuclear cruisers that even their equivalent to CNO described as “mini-hiroshimas”. Modern attack submarines like the Severodvinsk that are laid down in 1993 and only now just getting fitted out. The helo carriers Moskva and Leningrad, which because of their unusual hull shape and low freeboard couldn’t deploy outside of the Black Sea or Med to chase down their intended prey. Maybe, MAYBE the only marginally effective show of Russian naval power was during the 1973 October War, when it deployed a massive fleet of combatants to the Eastern Med to demonstrate Soviet resolve in support of the United Arab Republic, although it still didn’t deter our resupply operation Israel. One could make a case for the Ocean-70 exercises as being an effective use of Soviet sea power, which probably gave us a sense of urgency to develop Aegis, kicked off the year before.

    Now one could argue that the Soviets never really had much of an intention to create a blue water navy, and in actuality created a fairly effective coastal defense force with multiple layers of large and small missile combattants, shore based cruise missiles and very effective long and medium range, cruise missile armed bombers, and that their attempts to create one resulted in a large submarine fleet that ultimately was more lethal to the average Soviet mariner than an enemy merchant mariner, and sporadic attempts at replicating an American SAG/CVBG with extremely marginal results. The Slava, Kirov, Kiev, and fixed wing carrier programs were extremely expensive without much to show in return. The history of Soviet Naval shipbuilding is littered with grandiose plans with zero or negative return (see the Stalingrad class battle cruiser).

    For all the money the Soviets spent on naval armaments, I’d argue that their greatest contribution was the cruise missile. The SS-N-2 was the first practical, effective tactical cruise missile (ask the Israelis and Pakistanis how effective it was if you have your doubts). But that revolutionary development could in know way justify throwing as much blood and treasure down those ratholes known at the Stalingrad class, the Moskva class, several carrier programs, etc.
    /early morning provocativeness.

  • OlderThanDirt

    I frequently skip Farley’s naval posts because navy. They have not interested me in the slightest and my mother taught me how to scroll. I am also uncomfortable with a lot of conflict and bickering between friends, so imagine my surprise at myself in reading these posts. They’ve been fascinating, and I agree with Witless Chum that that story in comments was a great example of why this blog is soooo much fun to read.

    Perhaps this “war” has had more vitriol than I’ve noticed, but so far it’s been much more educative than unpleasant and I’ve learned a great deal. Thanks to both you and to Mr. Quiggen.

  • HP

    Is blog war obsolete?

    Given the capabilities of modern academics to engage in massive farce projection through Twitter, one is left to wonder whether traditional blog warfare represents good public outreach for the time spent away from committee meetings.

    • Robert Farley


    • Total

      “massive farce projection” is just awesome.

  • Rikki Tiki Tavi

    Well, lets not forget the 1971 war of liberation that resulted in the nation of Bangladesh. The Indian Navy played critical roles in blockading regions of Pakistan both in the Indian Ocean/Arabian sea (Western front) and in the Bay of Bengal (East).

    In the west, there was the attack on the port of Karachi, in which a squadron of Russian purchased Osa class missile boats were instrumental in shutting down port facilities. This event certainly precipitated the downfall of Pakistan’s war effort since Karachi was the only major port, and much of their supplies and logistics flowed through here. It was therefore of immense strategic and military importance, and the loss of its use was calamitous.

    In the east, the blockade of Bangladesh by the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, and the air strikes carried out by its planes played no less of a role in hastening the birth of Bangladesh.

    Just another example that bolsters Farley’s argument…

  • Even more than the factual weaknesses of Quiggin’s argument is the disingenuousness of it. He seems to be arguing that navies are bad investments because they are not frequently used.

    Let’s say the navies of the United States, Britain, India, Russia, and China had spent the better part of the last 40 years engaged in frequent main-force sea battles. Would John Quiggin be arguing that the money spent on naval forces is well-spent, because they are frequently used?

    If the variable you cite as the core piece of evidence for your conclusion can be completely reversed, without changing your conclusion even the slightest bit, you’re making a dishonest, pretextual argument.

    • Joel Dan Walls

      “If my grandmother had balls, she’d be my grandfather.”–translated from the Yiddish

  • Anderson

    The twit squad continues at CT:

    ” LGM isn’t about the search for truth but is about party lines and score settling”

    “Nowhere at LGM did I see anyone willing to entertain the economic question which JQ was actually posing.”

    And JQ himself: “It was only after getting no response, and lots of personal abuse, from [Rob] and his commenters, that I responded with an accusation of bad faith”

    OTOH, I did learn that the US fought WW 2 as a war of imperialist aggression.

  • let it go

    ^speaking of twits

  • Cody

    Honestly, there is only one way to end this. Must play a game of Civ V to completion. Just set up a TwitchTV stream and use the profits!

  • Is the current funding of the US Navy efficient and necessary. Care to defend either proposition?

    Much of the chest beating here appears to be that the world makes use of the money and resources the US spends for a bloated armada. OTOH, it appears that all one has to do is control the shipping insurance companies. Much cheaper

    • Cody

      The civilized world, so amusing.

      However, this obviously is just a means of enforcing an embargo. Cancelling a warship’s insurance isn’t going to stop them from destroying your city. Also, I doubt they have insurance on them. If they do, I would like to get into the US Warship insuring business. Just make sure to right in exceptions not covering terrorist attacks or mechanic failure!

  • The Syrian navy is not a problem. The Russians have bigger fish to fry

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