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And Just When You Thought Judy Miller Couldn’t Get More Pathetic

[ 0 ] March 16, 2006 |

Who knew bloggers had such power?

Judith Miller has a new alibi—the blogs done her in!

Writer Marie Brenner presents Miller’s latest defense in an April Vanity Fair feature story about the fallout from the Valerie Plame investigation. Brenner, acknowledging she’s a friend of the former New York Times reporter, writes that while still in Iraq in May 2003, Miller became a “major target in the intense public anger directed at Bush’s war, owing to her reports that Saddam Hussein was producing weapons of mass destruction.”

The ones tossing the fire were those dastardly—but unnamed—bloggers, according to Miller. Upon returning to New York later in May, Miller met with the Times’ two top editors, Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd, who were then battling a staff revolt triggered by the Jayson Blair scandal. They acknowledged the “flak” her stories had gotten and told her foreign editor Roger Cohen did not want her to go back to Iraq. Cohen opposed her return because, as he tells Brenner, “There were concerns about her sources and her sourcing.” Still, Miller managed a quick trip to Iraq.

Wow. And I thought that it was her extraordinarily bad reporting. Certainly the blogosphere has provided a venue in which hackish work like Miller’s can be exposed. But, it’s not as if this is some small potatoes event that some enterprising blogger stumbled upon and then publicized. Judy repeatedly relied on sources who claimed that Iraq possessed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. Iraq did not, in fact, possess even small stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. I think somebody was going to notice this problem even if Josh Marshall and Bob Somerby hadn’t pointed it out…

Tourney Challenge

[ 0 ] March 15, 2006 |

Last reminder; we already have 19 entrants.

ESPN NCAA Tournament Challenge
League Name: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Password: zevon

Early Steroid Use?

[ 0 ] March 15, 2006 |

This is genius.

With the DVD release of “Looney Tunes Golden Collection” it is at last possible for us to examine one of the most famous baseball games ever in detail, and see what lessons the contest holds for the analytical community.


[ 0 ] March 14, 2006 |

It may have been the right decision to favor Sherrod Brown over Paul Hackett, but Hackett certainly deserves a recurring spot on the Daily Show…


[ 0 ] March 14, 2006 |

I don’t have anything very insightful to say about Barry Bonds and steroids. I suppose that, for a long time, I was hoping that I could continue to believe that he had not used steroids seriously, or that the steroids had not meaningfully impacted his performance. The former, obviously, is no longer plausible (subscription required). Of the latter we’ll never know for sure, but it’s hard for me to believe that the beginnings of a steroid regimen coincided only accidentally with the transformation of a first circle Hall of Famer into the Greatest Player Who Ever Lived, all at the age of 36.

At the same time, I suppose that my disappointment in Bonds is mildly ameliorated by the fact that my favorite player, Ken Griffey Jr., has never been accused of using steroids. Indeed, Griffey’s record looks much more impressive in light of the general steroid scandal. He is now the active leader in home runs hit by a player untainted by accusations of steroid use. The fact that Alex Rodriguez has similarly never been accused of steroid use should undermine whatever confidence anyone had left in sports journalism; if Bonds isn’t the Greatest Player Anyone Has Ever Seen, then A-Rod comes pretty damn close, and the media still, unaccountably, hates him. That he seems to be the nicest guy in the world only makes it more odd; he may have been indecisive regarding his choice of countries in the WBC, but that seems to me to be a factor in his favor, especially given the number of elite players who have chosen not to participate at all.

Things I Didn’t Know…

[ 0 ] March 14, 2006 |

but am genuinely appalled by.

Less well-known is that the AFL also worked with the CIA to overthrow the elected Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1954, helped set up drug smuggling routes in Europe, and in 1962, established the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) which helped lay the groundwork for U.S.-backed military coups in Brazil in 1964, the Dominican Republic in 1965, and Chile in 1975, among others. Under the aegis of “business unionism,” the AFL-CIO supported military dictatorships around the world against leftist and progressive unions. Among other things, it supported the Reagan administration’s refusal to conduct a review of labor rights under the military regime in El Salvador for most of the 1980s, because, as Human Rights Watch noted, those being repressed were mostly left-wing unionists.

I suppose that it doesn’t really surprise me that the AFL-CIO has such aa reactionary foreign policy history. Most of the actions noted above actually had wide, bipartisan support in elite policy circles, and it stands to reason that the labor movement would operate within that Cold War consensus. Still, it’s disappointing that the AFL-CIO would find itself involved in the worst excesses of the Cold War (and the various interventions on behalf of murderous Latin American meat packing glitterati would certainly qualify as such), and more disappointing that the AFL-CIO would continue to kowtow to many of the worst impulses in US foreign policy.

One and Done

[ 0 ] March 14, 2006 |

Interesting enough article at Slate by Seth Stevenson about the WBC and small sample sizes:

It’s true that baseball feels somewhat unsuited to the win-or-go-home format. The very best MLB teams—those that win 100 games—still end up losing 38 percent of the time. Compare this to an NFL team that goes 12-4 (a good but by no means great record), losing just 25 percent of its games. Even those record-setting 2001 Mariners lost a whopping 46 times, while the NFL-best 1972 Dolphins went undefeated.

This makes it seem like baseball is far less suited to a one-and-done format than is a sport like football—in other words, the better baseball team quite often loses. But is this difference inherent in the nature of baseball? Or is it a product of the way we’ve constructed things?

Here’s a thought experiment: What if baseball, like football, played one game a week for a 16-week season? The team’s ace pitcher could now start every game. The best positional players would never get a day off. The intensity and focus would never wane (as they necessarily do in the midst of six games in six days in two cities).

In these circumstances, the best baseball teams might well go 12-4. Or even 14-2. And we might be less apt to consider baseball a game of chancy vicissitudes and random luck.

Why do the best baseball teams win less often than the best football or basketball teams? The guys at Baseball Prospectus probably have a firmer grasp on this, but surely the structure of baseball, which prevents a team from using its most important single player (and the pitcher, in any given game, has more of an impact on the outcome of a particular game than any other player) in every game is an important cause of the moderate winning percentage. I wonder if it’s the only reason, or if something else about the structure of the game itself makes it more likely that weaker teams will win on any given day.

BSG Finale

[ 0 ] March 14, 2006 |

I have deeply ambivalent feelings about Television Without Pity. I think that too much of their criticism comes off as too-clever-by-half fanboy posturing (Worst. Episode. Ever). Nevertheless, I rather enjoy some of their summaries, and I think that Jacob did a very good job with the second season finale of BSG.

Also check out this analysis by piny. I can’t say that I agree with piny, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Fun with Headlines

[ 0 ] March 14, 2006 |

From todays NYT:

Bush Expresses Confidence in Iraq’s Future

He highlighted improvements in the Iraqi security forces and repeated his promise that U.S. troops will stand down as Iraqi forces are able to defend the country.

”As more capable Iraqi police and soldiers come on line, they will assume responsibility for more territory — with the goal of having the Iraqis control more territory than the coalition by the end of 2006,” the president said.

Police have found dozens of bodies in Baghdad, including those of men bound and shot in an abandoned minibus, in a 24-hour period after car bomb and mortar attacks in the Shiite slum of Sadr City in east Baghdad on Sunday.

Reprisal Killings Leave 68 Dead Throughout Baghdad

The police reported finding 68 bodies today scattered around the city, as the wave of reprisal killings for Sunday’s attack on Shiite civilians appeared to gain steam.

The victims, all male, were shot or strangled after being bound and blindfolded. Many of the bodies were found in Sadr City, the Shiite-controlled area where Sunday’s bombings took place, although 15 bodies were found in a minibus on a road west of Baghdad, according to the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

The wave of killings followed a graphic display of street violence on Monday, in which Shiite vigilantes seized four men suspected of terrorist attacks, interrogated them, beat them, killed them and left their bodies dangling from lampposts on Monday morning, witnesses and government officials said.

The sense of growing lawlessness deepened Monday night with a mortar strike against a well-known Sunni mosque in Baghdad, killing three people.

This is a parody of a President. It is a parody of an administration.

What About the Fedayeen?

[ 0 ] March 13, 2006 |

There’s nothing really surprising about the infighting among senior officers depicted in the second part of Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor’s piece about the intial stages of the Iraq War. Those sorts of disagreements and threats happen in any kind of military operation, especially one that moves forward at the pace of American operations in 2003. The account probably does tell us something about the collision of cognitive limitations and the revolution in military affairs, however. No matter how much intelligence is available, and no matter how fast communications move, there will always be disagreements about interpretation and relevance, and these disagreements will always work to slow the tempo of military operations and sometimes divert their course.

The disagreements between civilian and military officers over the conduct of the war and particularly its pacing are a bit more interesting. I don’t think it’s a stretch to argue that the primary method that the military has used to explain its failure in Vietnam is some kind of nebulous “civilian interference”, and that much of the military’s political effort since Vietnam has been about insulating the military from those civilians. This has never worked, really, and shouldn’t work. Nevertheless, it’s interesting, in the context of this narrative, to watch Pentagon civilians interfere in every aspect of the operation up to the attack on Baghdad.

The whole Ahmed Chalabi episode is a bizarre sideshow. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.

In the end, I think it’s fair to say that Wallace and McKiernan come off much better than Franks and Rumsfeld. The US should have spent more time destroying the paramilitary fedayeen units before seizing Baghdad. Iraqi resistance wasn’t getting any stronger, and there was plenty of time to conduct the necessary operations. Undertaking this (and deploying the First Cavalry) probably wouldn’t have prevented the insurgency, but it couldn’t have hurt, either.

LGM Tournament Challenge

[ 0 ] March 13, 2006 |

(Bumped to reflect availability of brackets)

I’ve created an NCAA Tournament Challenge group at ESPN.

Group Name: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Password: zevon

Sunday Battleship Blogging: USS Washington

[ 0 ] March 12, 2006 |

The London Naval Treaty of 1936 was intended to preserve the battleship size limitation at 35000 tons and to restrict the size of battleship gun size to 14″. In retrospect, it’s hard to see how the latter mattered; as long as the 35000 ton frame was observed, there was only so much advantage to be had by installing larger guns. The United States designed its first post treaty battleships, the North Carolina class, to carry 12 14″ guns in three quadruple turrets. However, the London Naval Treaty had an escape clause. If any one of the original three signatories failed to ratify, then the gun calibre limitation was raised to 16″. Japan did not sign the treaty (her representatives would have been assassinated if she had), so the 14″ limitation did not apply. The Royal Navy, in a fit of wild hope, had already begun construction of the 14″ weapons for its King George V class, and could not alter their design. The design of North Carolina and Washington, however, allowed the use of either 14″ or 16″ weapons. Accordingly, the Americans quickly substituted the heavier guns.

USS Washington and her sister, North Carolina, were the first American battleships built since 1921. They carried 9 16″ guns in three triple turrets, displaced 35000 tons standard (45000 full load), and could make 28 knots. Their armour was somewhat less extensive than that of foreign contemporaries, but their anti-aircraft armaments were very strong, making them extremely effective as aircraft carrier escorts.

Washington was commissioned in May 1941. Being the first of a new generation of ships, Washington suffered from considerable teething troubles, and required an extensive period of trials and training. This kept Washington in the Atlantic, where she was, incidentally, closer to the war in Europe. It is fortunate that Washington and North Carolina were not deployed with the Pacific Fleet. Although they would have had a better chance at surviving than the older battleships at Pearl Harbor, their loss or even damage would have been a severe handicap for the US Navy. Washington deployed to the United Kingdom for service with the Home Fleet in March 1942. Washington helped guard convoys to Murmansk, and it is conceivable that she could have met Tirpitz or Scharnhorst in action. Such a battle would almost certainly have favored Washington; her armament and armor were superior to that of Tirpitz, and she had much better fire control. In September, after a refit, she entered the Pacific, where she would remain for most of the war.

In late September Washington was deployed to the Solomon Islands. The battle of Guadalcanal centered around the control and operation of Henderson Airfield. Japanese forces had been pushed back on the island of Guadalcanal, but still held
considerable ground. Japanese naval units resupplied the Army forces at night, and heavy Japanese units bombarded Henderson Field on a regular basis. The US Navy’s job was to prevent this from happening. On November 13, 1942 Washington was positioned, along with the battleship South Dakota and four destroyers, to intercept a Japanese task force steaming toward Henderson Field. The Japanese fleet included the Kirishima, one of four Kongo class battlecruisers. On paper, the US force was quite superior, but the Japanese had considerable skill a night-fighting and had better torpedos. In a confused night action, all four US destroyers were crippled or sunk, and South Dakota managed to wander into the searchlights of most of the Japanese force. The Japanese lacked radar, however, and didn’t notice the approach of Washington. Washington did exactly what a modern battleship should have done to a thirty year old battlecruiser, and reduced Kirishima to sinking condition in about ten minutes. The rest of the Japanese force retired shortly afterward. Washington suffered no damage.

The rest of the war was spent largely in carrier escort by Washington. Her closest brush with disaster came in February 1944, when she rammed the battleship Indiana. Indiana received the brunt of the damage, but Washington was still forced to retire to Puget Sound Naval Yard for a refit. Later, Washington would serve as an escort at the Battle of Philippine Sea and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Washington would also deliver shore bombardment at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Washington was taken out of commission in June 1947. The US Navy went through three major cycles of battleship disposal in the twentieth century. The first came in 1922-23, when most of the pre-dreadnoughts and older dreadnougts were scrapped in accordance with the Washington Naval Treaty. Between 1946 and 1948, all of the pre-war battleships, with the exception of the Big Five and Mississippi, were either scrapped or sunk as targets. The last cycle came in the late 1950s, when the Big Five (Colorado, Maryland, West Virginia, California, and Tennessee) and six of the ten fast battleships were disposed of, either through scrapping or through donation. Alabama, Massachusetts, and North Carolina were all adopted by their respective states. Washington was not, probably because, given the existence of a major naval reserve yard in the Puget Sound, it didn’t seem to make sense to keep another old battleship around.

Trivia Question: What do the battlecruiser Hood and Rear Admiral Horace Hood have in common, other than the name?