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Best Bond Since 1969

[ 0 ] November 19, 2006 |

Casino Royale did not disappoint. It’s easily the best Bond since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and is competitive with top Connery films. The reasons for the improvement are clear; Craig is an excellent choice as Bond, the producers decided to return to Fleming’s source material, and partially as consequence of the latter the movie is about spying rather than about trying to conquer the world.

I recall reading somewhere that Connery played Bond as a thug who had become a fop, while Moore and the rest played fops who had learned to be thugs. Craig, given the opportunity to play a younger Bond, takes the role a step farther and simply plays an unformed thug. In the wake of Brosnan’s irritating sophisticate, this is a remarkably refreshing turn. Craig emphasizes the “unformed” aspect, making it clear that the Connery Bond could emerge from the character that he’s taking over. Bond preferences are always a bit idiosyncratic (for some reason I have a high tolerance for both Roger Moore and George Lazenby), but I think it’s fair to say that Craig has the opportunity to become no worse than the second best Bond.

Casino Royale is the first serious use of Fleming source material since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, allowing that some of the Moore films used elements from various of Fleming’s works. The Fleming material (with some modification for an audience unfamiliar with baccarat) covers the middle portion of the movie, but the producers do a good job of filling in appropriate story on both sides. The overall storyline is very reminiscent of Secret Service, taking advantage of Bond’s humanity and uneasy relationship with MI6. Unlike most recent Bond, it’s simply a good story and could make for a decent spy movie even in the absence of the Bond character. The opening sequence is radically different than recent (or, really, just about any) Bond, although the opening titles aren’t so strong.

Casino Royale went long by about 20 minutes (fat could have been trimmed in several places, including the longer poker sequences) but it’s an extremely strong entry in the Bond canon, and suggests that there may be hope for the future of the franchise.

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Pushing…

[ 0 ] November 19, 2006 |

Matt makes a good point; the idea that “one last big push” will make a difference in Iraq is absurd on its face. The basic problem of counter-insurgency warfare is that the enemy need not fight if it doesn’t wish to. Increasing troops in an area for a limited amount of time, which is pretty much the definition of a last big push, just means that insurgents will reduce their operational tempo until success is declared and the troops leave.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: USS Maryland

[ 0 ] November 19, 2006 |

USS Maryland represented the zenith of “standard type” US battleship development. The “standard type” ships had compatible speeds, turning circles, and armaments, allowing them to form a squadron that could operate as a cohesive unit. The last five of the twelve ships built to the standard type were referred to as the Big Five. Starting with Maryland’s half-sisters Tennessee and California, the Big Five adopted a new underwater protection system, a more modern secondary armament, a more extensive superstructure, and reinforced cage masts capable of supporting heavier conning towers. Maryland differed from the first two ships in that she carried 8 16″ guns in four twin turrets rather than 12 14″ in triple turrets. The Big Five were slightly larger than the New Mexico class, displacing about 33000 tons standard, and could make 21 knots.

Maryland’s interwar service was uneventful. The Washington Naval Treaty resulted in the destruction by gunfire of her last sister, USS Washington, leaving Maryland and her four sisters the most modern ships in the fleet. Nevertheless, the Navy decided not to modernize the Big Five after determining that they would be unable to keep up with the new battleships under construction. A moderate refit improved Maryland’s anti-aircraft protection. Maryland entered the Second World War on December 7, 1941 with her original profile intact, cage masts included.

On December 7, Maryland was moored inboard of USS Oklahoma, protecting her from torpedo attack. She suffered two bomb hits but received only superficial damage. Once freed from Battleship Row, Maryland proceeded with Tennessee and Pennsylvania, both of which had suffered similarly minor damage, to Puget Sound Naval Yard for repair and refit. Much work was done in a short period of time to modernize Maryland for the Pacific War. She lost her aft cagemast, and her foremast was reduced in height and complemented by a larger superstructure. Her beam was slightly increased to improve torpedo protection, and she received additional AA mounts. For the next year and a half she and a squadron of older battleships operated as convoy escorts and a “fleet in being” in the Pacific, without ever engaging the enemy. In late 1943 Maryland undertook her first shore bombardment mission, a role which would occupy her for most of the rest of the war.

In October 1944, Maryland and five other battleships (West Virginia, California, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania) were tasked with shore bombardment and escort of Leyte island in the Philippines. Warned by recon aircraft that a Japanese force was approaching, the American battleship took up a position in the Surigao Strait, crossing the “T” of the oncoming Japanese fleet. Led by the battleship Yamashiro, the Japanese ships sailed right into the American trap, and came under withering fire from the American ships. Three of the US battleships possessed modern radar arrays, and quickly found the range to Yamashiro. Maryland had an older array, but nonetheless managed to straddle Yamashiro with several salvos. Yamashiro underwent brutal shelling, and sank following a torpedo attack.

Maryland continued with her shore bombardment duties for the rest of the war. She was hit by three kamikazes planes, the first and third causing serious damage. In early April 1945 Maryland was assigned to shore bombardment off Okinawa when word came that a Japanese task force, led by the battleship Yamato, had left port. Maryland, along with Colorado, West Virginia, Tennessee, Idaho, and New Mexico was detailed to destroy Yamato if she survived air attacks along the way. Yamato fell victim to US carrier aircraft, but it’s worth thinking about what an engagment with the old battleship might have looked like. Yamato had considerable advantages in size, speed, and range over any of the American ships. The engagement would have been fought in darkness, which earlier in the war had worked to the Japanese advantage. In this case, I suspect that improvements in US radar and the long range of the battle would have worked in US favor, and that USS West Virginia, a ship with 16″ guns and an advanced array, would have been the first ship to draw blood. Using her relatively high speed, Yamato could have tried to fight the battle at long range to her advantage, but I think that her suicide mission would have led to more aggressive tactics, and that she would have engaged with the US battleline. The US ships would no doubt have suffered severely from Yamato’s 18″ guns, but hit anything with enough 14″ shells and it will sink. The US advantage in destroyers would also have had an effect, as Yamato had virtually no defense against surface torped attack. However, as Yamato might easily have sunk one or more US battleships, with thousands of resultant dead, the Americans made the right decision by destroying her from the air.

After the war Maryland and her four sisters were placed in reserve, and not finally disposed of until 1959. It is unfortunate that a more serious effort was not made for her preservation, since she was the only survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack to remain in substantially original condition (California, Tennessee, and West Virginia were transformed by wartime reconstruction).

Trivia: What was the only dreadnought battleship built on the US West Coast?

A Funny…

[ 0 ] November 18, 2006 |

Heh.

I’ll just note how ironic it is that the man who popularized the term “no free lunch” proved that if you were willing to argue against taxation and government regulation, there would always be a rich person willing to buy lunch for you.

Observations on the Big Game

[ 0 ] November 18, 2006 |

Ivan Maisel:

Eight times in the 10 years (1969-78) that Hayes and his protégé, Bo Schembechler, glowered at each other across the sideline, their teams played for the Big Ten championship. Each coach took his team to the Rose Bowl five times. Hayes went 1-4, Schembechler went 0-5, and neither record should come as a surprise. After coaching against each other, they and their teams were spent.

I’d say there’s probably an alternative explanation for that 1-9 record against the Pac-10.

Other observations:

  • I’m hardly the first to note this, but what’s the point of the BCS system if the computers get neutered to the degree that one of the founding purposes of the system (to eliminate the distinction between a loss in the first game and a loss in the tenth game) is lost?
  • I think Chait gets the better of this exchange. Although I wouldn’t give up the Oregon-UW rivalry for anything, I’ll admit that on the Oregon side it comes with a healthy dose of ressentiment. That may change if Husky football continues its spiral into pathos…
  • Since I’m in Ohio this morning I feel compelled to cheer for the Buckeyes. Cheering for a Buckeye is something that I’ve never done before.

Prediction: Michigan has the reach, but Ohio State has the patented coma lock. And is at home. And is better than Michigan. Ohio State 30, Michigan 17

[ 0 ] November 17, 2006 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson

Brief Film Roundup

[ 0 ] November 15, 2006 |

The flicks I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks…

Departed: I didn’t like Departed quite as much as Scott, although he’s probably right that it’s the best American film thus far this year and the best Marty since Goodfellas. There were parts of the first half that had me chuckling because they seemed more like an expert, loving homage to Scorsese than an actual Scorcese film. I thought that Marty put just the right limit on Nicholson, although he might have gone a bit far with the bizarre sex scenes. The Damon/Dicaprio love interest paid off in an unexpected but not wholly satisfying manner. My biggest problem with the film came in the final act, as I really didn’t have the faintest idea where things were going following Nicholson’s death. This was a good thing in the sense of keeping me on my toes, but was not so great in that the film didn’t lead naturally to any particular conclusion, and thus that the actual finale felt a bit contrived and tacked on. Nevertheless, he had me from the first frame, and I very much enjoyed the film.


The Queen:
I have an unhealthy appreciation for monarchy. Of Mirren’s performance much has already been said, and I find myself inclined to go back and take a look at the HBO Elizabeth miniseries. The look on her face in the church at the end, having been forced to appear at the funeral of a woman she loathed, was priceless. Mirren also conveyed the everyday Elizabeth Windsor, the one whose responsibilities included not only symbolic leaderhips of an empire but the very real management of a troublesome family. Michael Sheen did a fine job as Tony Blair, obviously impressed by the royals (perhaps over-impressed) but also capable of seeing what they could not. I wonder if the real Blair reacted so angrily against the contempt that the rest of the Labourites seemed to have for the monarchy. The interaction between Blair and Elizabeth was remarkable, as the initially out of his depth Blair came to the conclusion that he needed to offer forceful advice to the Queen who so obviously intimidated him. Charles fumbling attempts to build an alliance with Blair suggested to me that the Queen Mum was probably correct in believing that the monarchy is in serious trouble when Elizabeth passes. I’m not sure why, but the scene in which the Queen finally arrives at Buckingham Palace to be greeted and eventually accepted by the ambivalent throng almost made me fall apart…

Babel: I like Amores Perros almost (but not quite) as much as Y Tu Mama Tambien, and also thought that 21 Grams was strong. Inarritu keeps it up with some excellent work on Babel. I was impressed by how well he managed Pitt, who is an actor with some gifts but also with limited range. He handled Pitt with kid gloves, never letting him get out of his depth or into an area that might embarass his abilities. The rest of the film was quite good as well, even if the Japanese portion was only tenuously attached to the rest of the stories. I noticed that the fates of the protagonists (if not the situations that they had been placed in) seemed to correlate with their socioeconomic status; the wealthy Americans suffered but came out essentially alright, the Japanese dealt with loss but emerged without a noticeable change in status, the Mexican woman lost her job and her status but kept her family, while the impoverished Moroccans, through little fault of their own, found themselves imprisoned, beaten, tortured, and worse. Perhaps Inarritu was suggesting that crisis is endemic, but its effect upon us is mediated by money, citizenship, status, and so forth. Anyway, quite a solid film.

Stalking

[ 0 ] November 15, 2006 |

Last month, a Chinese Song class diesel electric submarine approached, apparently undetected, to within 5 nautical miles of the USS Kitty Hawk, well within both missile and torpedo range. The submarine then surfaced, and was reported by a recon aircraft. What’s going on here?

Diesel electric submarines are remarkably difficult to detect, but I’m nonetheless kind of surprised that one was able to get so close to a USN supercarrier. Kitty Hawk has an escort group and multiple recon aircraft whose job it is to detect approaching submarines. Indeed, a carrier battle group normally includes a nuclear attack submarine specifically to deal with undersea threats. Even if, as PACOM chief Admiral Fallon has suggested, the group was not conducting anti-submarine exercises, they have to be embarassed by the failure to pickup the Chinese sub. I’m also a bit surprised that the Chinese sub was of the indigenously built Song class rather than of the newer and quieter Russian Kilos.

It’s possible, of course, that the sub was detected well before it surfaced, and that the resulting discussion over the exercise has simply been an effort to convince the People’s Liberation Army Navy that it has greater capabilities than it really does. I have my doubts, however. As the surfacing of the sub indicates, naval prestige was at stake. I can hardly imagine a US admiral, much less the captains in command of the various escort vessels, admitting that a Chinese submarine had slipped through the protective net of a supercarrier if it hadn’t actually happened. In any case, I suspect that ASW exercises will get a bit more attention in the Pacific over the next few months, and that a Chinese sub skipper may get a promotion.

Cross-posted at TAPPED.

Rhetoric

[ 0 ] November 13, 2006 |

To expand a bit on Dave’s post, let’s note what’s really important to the wingnutty among us.

In a speech delivered a month after his reelection, Lincoln carefully surveyed the North’s resources and manpower and concluded that the nation’s wealth was “unexhausted and, as we believe, inexhaustible.” Southern soldiers began to desert in droves. Through the long, bloody summer and fall of 1864, the South had hung on only because of the belief that the North might tire of the conflict. But Lincoln did not tire. Instead, he doubled the bet — and won the war.

Pay close attention to the double step. Stuntz refrains from directly asserting that Southern soldiers began to desert in droves because of a passage fifty paragraphs into a report that nobody read, because saying that would make him sound stupid. He’s certainly happy, however, to imply that this is the case, leaving the idiocy to the readership of the Weekly Standard. Here are some other reasons that Confederate soldiers may have been deserting in the winter of 1864-1865:

  • June 1864: US Grant begins his ten month siege of Richmond
  • September 1864: Sherman captures and burns Atlanta
  • October 1864: Sheridan defeats Early in the Shenandoah Valley
  • December 1864: George Thomas destroys Confederate Army of Tennessee at Nashville; Sherman plows through Georgia on his way to Savannah

Sherman’s March through the heart of the South, combined with the blockade, had almost completely cut off the northeastern corner of the Confederacy from supply. Starving soldiers tend to desert, especially when their homes are at the mercy of enemy armies wandering through the countryside and when they have no prospect of victory. In short, the South was defeated not by Lincoln’s rhetoric but by the invasion of its territory and the destruction of its armies.

Now, this butchery of history wouldn’t be all that notable if it weren’t part of a much larger tendency to ignore results in favor of rhetoric, what Yglesias calls the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics. This is why we get metaphors like “doubling down” and why guys like Hitch and Insty reject the formulation of plans or the analysis of military operations in favor of “Just Win, Baby!”. As the Raiders have discovered, however, in the absence of the material necessary for victory and compelling strategic and operational planning, the will to win leads to disasters profound in scope…

Sunday Battleship Blogging: HIJMS Yamato/Book Review: A Glorious Way to Die

[ 0 ] November 12, 2006 |

Japan withdrew from the London Naval Treaty in 1936. The chief Japanese negotiator, Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, feared that concessions on the part of his negotiating team would lead directly to assassination upon return to Japan. Japanese nationalists believed that the Washington Naval Treaty system was holding Japan back and preventing it from becoming a first rate power. Freed from the constraints of international treaties, Japan could build a world-beating fleet that would push the Western powers out of Asia and help usher in a new era of Japanese dominance. The partisans of this position didn’t call their organization “Project for a New Japanese Century”, but they might as well have.

Yamato was the first of a new generation of battleships. The IJN believed that the United States would never build battleships too large to move through the Panama Canal, and calculated that the maximum displacement of such ships would amount to about 60000 tons. Ships of that size could not, it was thought, carry guns larger than 16”. The IJN problem was then to design and build battleships that could destroy the largest ships the Americans were likely to build. These ships were to have a speed of at least 30 knots, carry 18” or larger guns, and have extensive range with good fuel economy. Yamato met one of the three conditions. Commissioned in December 1941, Yamato carried 9 18.1” guns in three triple turrets, displaced 66000 tons, and could make 27 knots. Her armor weighed more than an entire World War I dreadnought, and could absorb enormous damage. A 31 knot version was rejected as too large, and the IJN unwisely decided to sacrifice speed for armor. Yamato was also initially designed with diesel engines for economical cruising, but problems with the diesels led to the use of a standard power plant that burned so much oil it would have made Dick Cheney blush. Yamato was an immensely powerful ship, but the Japanese sacrificed operational mobility for surface tactical effectiveness. Four more ships of the class were ordered, but only Musashi was completed as intended. Shinano, the third sister, was completed as an aircraft carrier support vessel. And just to show you that I’m not a hard-hearted man, and that it’s not all displacement and gun caliber: She was beautiful; she was graceful; she was referred to by her crew as “more beautiful than any woman”.

Upon completion Yamato became the flagship of the Combined Fleet, a designation she held until replaced by Musashi in 1943. Admiral Yamamoto sat on Yamato’s bridge as the USN destroyed four of his carriers at Midway in June 1942. Because of her speed and enormous fuel requirements, the IJN did not use Yamato in the Guadalcanal campaign. This must be regarded as a serious error, as Yamato’s presence might well have changed the character of several of the engagements of Savo Island. This was not a time at which the IJN should have emphasized fuel economy. Yamato withdrew from the Central Pacific with the rest of the fleet as American carrier groups launched ever more devastating attacks on Japanese bases.

Yamato was present at both the battles of Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf. At the latter she, Musashi, Nagato, Kongo, and Haruna served as the core of Admiral Kurita’s strike force. Although American battleships were successfully decoyed away, the Japanese attack on US transports and escort carrierswas foiled by the extraordinary courage of a few American destroyer captains. Musashi sank under the weight of nearly 30 bombs and 20 torpedoes, demonstrating that unsinkable super-battleships could, indeed, be sunk. After the battle Yamato withdrew to Japan, where she rode out several air attacks.

By April 1945 the Imperial Japanese Navy was largely spent. In A Glorious Way to Die, Russell Spurr recounts the circumstances that led to Yamato’s final mission. In response to the invasion of Okinawa, the Army guaranteed that it would devastate the American fleet with kamikaze attacks on unprecedented scale. Upon being informed of this, the Emperor asked “And what of the Navy?” This set in motion a plan under which most of the remainder of the IJN, including Yamato, a light cruiser, and eight destroyers would sail for Okinawa, fight their way through the defending warships and transports, and beach themselves on the island. The crews would then abandon ship and reinforce the Okinawa garrison. Although the IJN was noted for its bravery and loyalty, this plan did not meet universal acclaim. Several admirals and captains thought this a waste not only of their remaining ships but also of the lives of their crewmen. They pointed out that Yamato, super-battleship that she was, could not hope to destroy the entire USN. Moreover, the approach to Okinawa would require ten hours of sailing in daylight without air cover. The US carriers would certainly find and destroy the task force before it reached its target. Such concerns were brushed aside. Most of Spurr’s information comes from direct interviews with Japanese and American survivors of the sortie, although he also relies on some archival material. Spurr wisely lets the narratives speak for themselves, refraining from imposing an interpretation when accounts conflict, although he uses his own expertise to suggest the most likely course of events.

The task force set sail on April 5, and was detected almost immediately by US submarines and reconnaissance aircraft. Admiral Raymond Spruance initially ordered his battleship squadron to prepare to meet Yamato. This squadron included New Mexico, Idaho, Tennessee, Colorado, Maryland, and West Virginia. The American carrier commander, however, had other ideas, and wanted to destroy the Japanese with air strikes. The decision was eventually made to launch the air strikes and rely on the battleships as a back up. This was certainly the correct call. Although the six elderly battleships would almost certainly have been too much for Yamato to contend with, it’s quite possible that she would have take one or two, along with several thousand American sailors, with her.

The airstrikes began five hours into Yamato’s daylight trek. They immediately inflicted heavy damage, and soon sank several of Yamato’s escorts. Yamato continued at speed, but suffered heavy damage from bombs and torpedoes. She began to list, and her steering failed. The final wave of American torpedo aircraft delivered the coup de grace, and Yamato rolled over and sank with nearly 3000 of her crew. To their eternal dishonor, the American pilots then strafed the Japanese survivors, destroying lifeboats and liferafts and interfering in the rescue operations of the remaining escorts. These attacks on shipwrecked sailors also violated all applicable laws of war. Spurr confirmed the attacks on sailors with both Japanese and American witnesses.

Yamato’s destruction capped an absurd story with a tragic ending. The effort that went into her construction would better have been spent on aircraft carriers and other ships. Her final journey was a sickening waste; while some of the Japanese admirals realized that the 3000 men who died on Yamato might better have been employed building a new Japan, others did not. When Japan surrendered, the IJN attempted to destroy all photographic and technical data on Yamato and her sister, leaving Western analysts guessing as to her exact characteristics well into the Cold War. Yamato has been the centerpiece of several feature films, but is perhaps best known in the United States as the platform onto which the wave motion gun was fitted in Star Blazers. The American redub renamed the ship Argo, but in the Japanese version Yamato sailed once again on what was assumed to be a suicidal mission to save Earth from radioactive destruction. Apparently, the theme song to Space Battleship Yamato (Japanese version) remains popular in the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force.

Trivia: What was the first American battleship to be hit by a kamikaze?

Mickey of the Day

[ 0 ] November 11, 2006 |

Ah, it’s been a while. Mickey:

Just a reminder: Rep. Henry Waxman, the aggressive incoming liberal chair of the House Government Reform committee–who is chiding his Republican predecessors for not investigating (in AP’s words) “the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, the controversy over the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name, and the pre-Iraq war use of intelligence”–voted for the war. … All future beat-sweeteners about Waxman should be required to (unlike AP) mention this fact before reporting Waxman’s righteous indignation. [Maybe he was duped by all that manipulated pre-war intelligence–ed. Please. He’s a smart, well-connected guy. I think he’s hard to dupe.]

I know it’s hard, Mickey, but would you mind explaining that to me one more time? The fact that Waxman voted for the war means that he ought not to be asking questions about it? That’s rather an odd theory of democracy, now isn’t it? I mean, if I had supported the war, I sure as hell would want to know why it had gone wrong, why Abu Ghraib had happened, and why the Bush administration had played around with bad intelligence. Indeed, if I were a Democrat who had voted for the war I would really want to know those things. So what gives, Mickey?

If I may hazard, Mickey is either putting forth a theory of democracy that allows a remarkable degree of executive authority (we give up our right to question the executive on the day that we vote for him) and that’s just a little bit reminiscent of an odd combination of Thomas Hobbes and Carl Schmitt, or he’s engaging in sniping so transparent a fourth grader could see through it. In short, if Waxman voted for the war the he must have supported the way in which it was conducted, which means that his decision to question the war is nothing but dirty dirty liberal Democratic liberal political sniping, and IN A TIME OF WAR no less.

Mickey cut his teeth in the 1990s on fairly complex policy questions, but now he can’t manage to sort out the difference between political sniping and good governance. He’s still pimping the argument that immigration reform should have been critical to the election, going so far as to argue that the failure of the Republicans to adopt his strategy for victory means that, in fact, George Bush wanted the Democrats to win. The possibility that the disastrous execution of the war on the part of the administration might have mattered even to those initially supportive doesn’t, apparently, even cross his mind.

Hate Can Bring Us Together

[ 0 ] November 10, 2006 |

Ah, finally some sensitivity to Palestinian sentiment;

“If it was up to me, I would send the gay community, who insisted on celebrating in Jerusalem, to Sodom and Gomorrah,” said Eli Yishai, one of Israel’s deputy prime ministers and the leader of Shas, an ultra-Orthodox party that belongs to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s governing coalition.

Noting that Christian and Muslim clerics also opposed the event, Mr. Yishai told Israel radio, “If we cannot be sensitive to Jewish feelings, perhaps we can listen to those of other religions.”

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