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A Trip Down Heritage Lane…

[ 142 ] June 22, 2015 |

I’m old enough to remember when Jason Zengerle of Even-the-Liberal-New-Republic thought the Confederate flag was all about the heritage:

I actually have a fair amount of sympathy for some Southerners who love the Confederate flag. I even once wrote a piece about them. For these people, the flag really is a representation of their heritage; perhaps more importantly, it may be the only thing in their lives that actually transcends their daily existence. Put it this way: if you’re a guy whiling away your days in Scotland Neck, North Carolina, the fact that your great-great-grandfather fought at Gettysburg–the only thing connected to your life that you ever actually read about in a history book–is a real source of pride. Therefore, it’s perfectly understandable that you’d express that pride by flying a Confederate flag, or putting a sticker of it on your car. And there’s nothing more unfair than being branded a racist for doing so.

Truly a loss to civilization that the archives of the Plank are so difficult to dig up these days…



[ 11 ] June 22, 2015 |

American PharoahThe third in my series discussing the relationship between Kentucky and the Asia Pacific is up:

Where does East Asia stand in the globalization of horse racing?  Few Americans know much about East Asian racing, except for the very few Kentuckians who study the subject intensely.  Racing in Japan, South Korea, and especially Hong Kong is taking an ever-larger role in a sport traditionally associated with Kentucky and the Middle East.

Salt Lake

[ 39 ] June 19, 2015 |

Salt Lake City from Ensign Peak. Photo by author.

The Comparative Government AP Reading moved to Salt Lake City this year, after five years in Kansas City. KC was lovely, but five years was enough, especially as our group was stuck in the Hotel of Death every year. It felt like folks could go either way on Salt Lake; it was a different place, but doesn’t exactly have a reputation for catering to the industrial-age drinkers of AP.

I wasn’t that worried, because I knew that the city had changed a lot during the last decade and a half. “Don’t you have to be part of a club to buy a drink?” was something that I heard a lot, but could safely dismiss. What I didn’t anticipate, however, was how bohemian (for lack of better terminology) downtown Salt Lake had become. There were plenty of bars, including good beer bars, restaurants, shops, attractions, and whatever else you might need. Temple Square is cool to visit, any reservations about LDS notwithstanding, and good hiking is available in easy walking distance. The crowd for the USA-Sweden match was, in a word, the most “Portland” group that I think I ever hung out with. Salt Lake even has the angry, assertive homeless community that’s characteristic of every city on the West Coast, but apparently is surprising to people east of the Rockies.

Two caveats; first, I suspect that leaving the 12 square blocks at the heart of the city would offer a much different picture of the area. Second, Utah state laws mandate that no liquor pour amount to more than 1.5 ounces, which effectively hamstrings the cocktail culture. I didn’t have a decent cocktail at any point during our ten day stay, unless I made it myself.

The Astro Bustout

[ 66 ] June 17, 2015 |
Base Wars

“Base Wars cover”. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

Seems like we need a thread for this:

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that the FBI and Justice Department officials have evidence that Cardinals officials — who were not identified — allegedly tapped into the Astros’ database and had access to statistics, scouting reports and internal discussions about players, trades and other proprietary information.

Yahoo! Sports reported that one source familiar with the investigation said the FBI connected the breach to a house in Jupiter, Florida, the city in which the Cardinals conduct spring training. The house was used by a number of Cardinals employees, according to the report, so pinpointing the culprit of the breach is complicated.

According to the Times, the FBI believes that Cardinals officials gained access to the Astros’ database by using a list of passwords associated with Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow dating to his tenure with the Cardinals from 2003 until he left for Houston after the 2011 season.

It’s hard for me to see how MLB avoids significantly sanctioning the Cardinals over this. It’s unlikely that the stolen data will provide the Cards with a huge advantage, or that it will prove a major detriment to the Astros, but it’s clearly beyond the bounds of what teams should be doing to seek competitive advantage.  It’s a much bigger deal, I think, than a few deflated footballs.  See also 538.

Pour Out a Forty of Human Blood

[ 29 ] June 11, 2015 |
Dracula 1958 c.jpg

“Dracula 1958 c” by Screenshot from “Internet Archive” of the movie Dracula (1958) – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Christopher Lee, RIP. I’m curious what percentage of his total career film earnings came since 2000. Well deserving of the fine, long career he enjoyed.


[ 16 ] June 7, 2015 |
Four Super Hornets.jpg

“Four Super Hornets” by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Christopher L. Jordan. – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

My latest at the National Interest looks at some potential triggers for US-China conflict in the South China Sea:

Nevertheless, both China and the United States are making commitments in the South China Sea that each may find difficult to back away from. Over the past two weeks, these commitments have generated a war of words that analysts of the relationship have found troubling.  The key problems focus on China’s efforts to expand (or create) islands in the Spratlys, which could theoretically provide the basis for claims to territorial waters.  The insistence of the United States on freedom of navigation could bring these tensions to a boil. Here are three ways in which tensions in the South China Sea might lead to conflict.

I’d like to say “avoid the comments,” but if you like train wrecks…


[ 47 ] June 6, 2015 |

The second in my series on Kentucky and the APAC takes a look at the bourbon industry:

People in the bourbon industry know that things could still turn around. Demand for spirits has a faddish quality, and interest in bourbon has collapsed before. Attacking the Chinese market will be key; bourbon exports to China have increased dramatically over the last decade, but thus far export to China represent only about a tenth of exports to Japan. Moreover, word has it that sales of all premium liquors have dropped in China over the past two years, apparently because of changes in gift-giving culture. And U.S. producers (not to mention Suntory) may also find ceilings on the demand for bourbon in Korea and Japan (although thepotentially lucrative North Korean market remains available)



Readings of Note…

[ 25 ] June 4, 2015 |
Soviet MiG-29 DF-ST-99-04977.JPG

“Soviet MiG-29 DF-ST-99-04977”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

For your random Thursday reading…

Also, I got John Scalzi to yell at me:

Threat Exaggeration, Not Underbalancing

[ 95 ] June 3, 2015 |
Turkish Air Force F-16C Block 50 MOD 45157793.jpg

“Turkish Air Force F-16C Block 50 MOD 45157793” by Photo: SAC Helen Farrer RAF Mobile News Team/MOD. Licensed under OGL via Wikimedia Commons.

This is an odd claim:

According to balance-of-power logic and by its “balance of threat” alternative, the region should have witnessed a Turkish-Saudi-Israeli alignment aimed at Iran. Pooling resources makes sense since no single state can match Iran’s power. Israel and Saudi Arabia both seem to identify Iran as their major threat, and although Turkey may not be as focused on Iran, it still worries about Iran’s growing regional reach. A Turkish-Saudi understanding makes perfect sense by the sectarian logic that many believe is driving regional politics, as both are Sunni states. But neither the trilateral nor the bilateral balancing alignment against Iran has emerged.

2015 Defense Budgets (estimated):
Saudi Arabia: $80.8 billion
Israel: $23.2 billion
Turkey: $22.6 billion
Iran: $10.2 billion

The author, Greg Gause, goes on to argue that a variety of ideological factors are leading to “underbalancing,” and thus preventing the expected anti-Iran alliance to form. I’d suggest that before we conclude that “underbalancing” is happening, we need to have some explanation for why the massive military superiority that each of the potential coalition partners enjoys over Iran isn’t actually massive military superiority. Gause doesn’t offer one; I’m guessing that maybe he thinks the Saudis don’t actually fight and thus don’t really count, but nobody seems to believe that about the Israelis or the Turks. Indeed, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone plausibly argue that Iran enjoyed a military advantage over either Israel or Turkey. And lest we forget, Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are all clients of the world’s largest military power, while Iran has no serious patron.

Thus, I’m inclined to think that there’s no puzzle here. The major Middle Eastern states have not formalized alliance arrangements to balance against Iran because they don’t need to; each enjoys presumptive military superiority over the potential aggressor, making multilateral efforts pointless. See also this discussion of Iran’s foreign policy failures.

Dangers of Overreaction

[ 11 ] June 1, 2015 |

Pakistan Air Force Chengdu JF-17 Gu.jpg

“Pakistan Air Force Chengdu JF-17 Gu” by Shimin Gu – Licensed under GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons.

A summary of Wikistrat’s sim on China in Latin America (which I contributed to) is up at HuffPo.

As alarming as this sounds, it shouldn’t spur an over-reaction from the U.S. Wikistrat’s analysis determined that China could have no more than a marginal regional impact, even under the best case assumptions. Washington has no need to respond aggressively to growing Chinese influence, even if Beijing makes a conscious decision to target the region.

Our Kind Has Had it Relatively Easy

[ 10 ] May 31, 2015 |
Marcus Aurelius Denarius2.jpg

“Marcus Aurelius Denarius2” by Rasiel Suarez – Tantalus Coins, uploaded by Rasiel Suarez. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia

If you’ve managed to accumulate a few quatloos as the result of a successful gambling/drinking binge, you might want to toss a small portion of your ill-gotten gains at long-term-ally-of-the-blog Lance Mannion.


[ 51 ] May 31, 2015 |
Armata MBT

“4mayrehearsal 05” by Vitaly V. Kuzmin – Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I spend my days thinking about tanks, when I’m not thinking about T-ball:

Russia has a new tank… maybe.  Several National Interest articles have followed the development of the Armata family of armored vehicles, a system that breaks with long-term Russian tradition in construction, design, and (probably) means of employment.

How much should the United States worry about the Armata, and where should that concern lie?  The impressive nature of the tank notwithstanding, the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps are unlikely to encounter it directly on the battlefield.  The bigger questions involve how the Armata might change the global market for armored vehicles, and how the tank might become part of the arsenals of Russian proxies.

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