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Huh. Fascinating.

[ 0 ] June 26, 2006 |


Two competitors face each other in 11 alternating rounds, six of chess, five of boxing. A bout begins with chess, which is played on a board placed directly in the middle of the ring. Each round of chess lasts four minutes. After each chess round, the bell sounds, and workmen remove the chessboard for a two-minute round of boxing, the gloves go back on, the punching recommences. Participants win by way of knockout, checkmate, referee’s decision, or if his opponent exceeds the allotted total of 12 minutes for an entire match on the chessboard.

There’s obviously some interesting strategy to be had in a match like this. If you think yourself a weaker chess player than your opponent, then going for a knockout in the boxing match is clearly the right way to go. The converse is also, of course, true. For an experienced player, twelve minutes is plenty of time to play an entire game of chess; many speed matches only allow five minutes on either side. Of course, speed chess isn’t often interrupted by consensual pummelling…

In fact, I wonder if twelve minutes is too long to have on the chess clock. Assuming that the openings go very quickly, that’s a lot of time to sit and hope to wait out an opponent. On the other hand, as long as the opponent can stay vertical and coherent for six rounds, he can probably force a decision.

What an absurd sport. Probably going to be on ESPN 2 within a year.

Tip from Jay.

Good Lord, not this again…

[ 0 ] June 25, 2006 |

Yeah, I’m pretty much with Neil; cheering for a Green candidate to sabotage Cantwell is one of the dumbest things to come down the pike since… oh, well, since some people thought voting for Ralph Nader would actually produce a progressive outcome in this country.

People wonder why LGM regularly devotes a post a month to excoriating Ralph Nader and those who voted for him in 2000. Well, this is it; the same narcissism that prevailed among some progressives then threatens to prevail among others now. Political elections are about real world effects, and there is almost no situation, in America today, in which a victory by a Republican will lead to a more progressive outcome than a victory by a Democrat. This includes Maria Cantwell and it includes, God help me, Joe Lieberman.

DJW is fighting the good fight in the comments at Pandagon, but his latest comment is particularly worth noting:

Ah, a last refuge argument–I had the right to vote that way! Yes, indeed you did, and very good. I have, thankfully, the right to do all sorts of stupid things, and criticize those who exercise their rights in stupid and foolish ways.

(The freedom, I like, it’s the petulant spoiled immaturity I’m doing just fine without. This is something the vast majority of Green voters figured out after 2000, of course, so I suppose I shouldn’t expect much from those who just can’t let go of the beautiful dream, which the rest of us struggle though the mess they made.)

The Seat of Empire

[ 0 ] June 25, 2006 |

In Washington D.C. now, for the first time in my life. Some people seem shocked to find that one could get a Ph.D. in political science without stepping foot in D.C., but these people are under the grave misapprehension that political science has anything to do with politics.

Observations thus far:

  • I’m glad I don’t drive here.
  • When it rains, it rains hard.
  • The Jefferson Memorial is the only monument I’ve seen thus far. Meh.

If anything interesting happens to me, I’ll be sure to blog about it.


[ 0 ] June 25, 2006 |

I’ve wondered about this, too. In Seven Ages of Paris, Alistair Horne suggested that Baron Hausmann did a grave aesthetic disservice to Paris in the 1850s. But, as Mr. Trend points out, some changes can be functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. Also, the increase of state capacity (as was the purpose of the urban redesign) cuts both ways; increased coercive capacity can be a bad thing, but an increase in the ability to provide services and security can be a very good thing.

And, as Mr. Trend notes, Paris is an exceptionally lovely city now, and it’s hard to imagine that the Hausmann redesign was TOO aesthetically devasating.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: HMS Royal Sovereign

[ 0 ] June 25, 2006 |

The Royal Navy followed up its outstanding Queen Elizabeth class battleships with five of the “R” class. Royal Sovereign was second of the class, carrying 8 15″ guns, displacing 27500 tons, and capable of 21 knots. Royal Sovereign and her sisters were a step down from their predecessors, being slightly smaller and quite a bit slower. Although commissioned in April 1916, Royal Sovereign missed the Battle of Jutland.

Royal Sovereign and her sisters were retained under the terms of the London Naval Treaty, but, unlike most other battleships of the interwar period, were not subjected to an extensive modernization. The design had three major design flaws that limited their expected future effectiveness. First, the slow speed, while also characteristic of American battleships, left them incapable of performing many of the missions that would be necessary in the Second World War. The “R” class would rarely conduct a mission other than shore bombardment or convoy escort. Second, the armor scheme was obsolete almost as soon as the ships were completed, as it left the ships vulnerable to long range plunging shells. Winston Churchill referred to the R class as “coffin ships”, and the Admiralty strove to keep them as far away from enemy ships as possible. Finally, the ships were designed with reduced stability in order to induce a rolling motion conducive to good gunnery. Unfortunately, this made reconstructing them almost impossible. All in all, I suspect that the Royal Navy would have been much better served by disposing of one of the R class in favor of the battlecruiser HMS Tiger, which at least could have hunted raiders and escorted fast carriers.

Royal Sovereign had a remarkably dull career. The early part of her war was taken up with convoy escort, and she never got terribly close to an enemy ship. From 1942 on, one of the major duties of the Royal Navy was to escort convoys to Murmansk against German surface ships and submarines. After the destruction of Tirpitz in 1944, the German Navy could pose little threat to the convoys. Some of the older battleships, like Royal Sovereign, were placed in reserve even before the war ended because of a manpower crisis. Instead of retiring Royal Sovereign, it was decided to transfer her to the Soviet Navy in an effort to give the Russians some responsibility for protection of the northern convoys.

I haven’t found any account of why Royal Sovereign specifically was chosen for transfer, but I would like to think that Churchill or someone in the Admiralty, evincing a particularly dark sense of humor, thought that there was some amusement to be had in the tranfer of a ship named Royal Sovereign to a nation that had massacred its last monarch and his family. In any case, Royal Sovereign was renamed Arkhangelsk, assigned to the Northen Fleet, and served in the Red Navy until 1949, when she was replaced by Giulio Cesare. Upon her return to the United Kingdom, she was almost immediately sold for scrap.

Trivia: What Japanese battleship was once operated by an American crew?

The Vice-President Loves Surprises

[ 0 ] June 24, 2006 |

Dr. Strangelove: Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost, if you *keep* it a *secret*! Why didn’t you tell the world, EH?

Ambassador de Sadesky: It was to be announced at the Party Congress on Monday. As you know, the Premier loves surprises.

Peter Howard at Duck calls out the transparent stupidity of this statement:

The White House vigorously defended today a secret program of combing through a vast international data base containing banking transactions involving thousands of Americans. Vice President Dick Cheney and other officials said the program, whose existence was revealed on Thursday night by The New York Times, was both legal and necessary to deter terrorism.

As Peter notes, secret programs cannot, by definition, deter anything. The Vice President should be falling to his knees and thanking the media for revealing this little gem.

[ 0 ] June 23, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson

What’s the Point?

[ 0 ] June 22, 2006 |

One has to wonder what the point of this editorial is. Carter and Perry assert that the United States ought to attack North Korea in an effort to prevent the launch of the Taepodong II ballistic missile. What this would accomplish is unclear. One does not test a missile unless the likelihood of success is quite high, especially when the test would be as high profile as this launch is likely to be. So, given a limited (and this is what they propose) attack on North Korea, the basic distribution of capabilities would remain the same; North Korea would have missiles that probably (but not definitely) could be armed with nuclear warheads and launched at the United States. That’s it. Since the North Koreans are planning to launch the missile anyway, there would be literally no change in the ability of the DPRNK to launch on the United States.

So, why this editorial? Two reasons, I suspect. One, by advocating a preventative attack (and this would be preventative; no one is suggesting that this missile is being launched at the United States), we Democrats demonstrate to the American electorate that we are just as tough and even more stupid than the Republicans on national security. Tough and stupid, it is thought among some circles, plays well in the heartland. Second, we demonstrate “resolve”. Our allies, none of whom would be expected to support such a strike (Carter and Perry allow this) will nonetheless be impressed. The North Koreans will be so terrified that they’ll do, uh…. something. American “resolve” will have been demonstrated. Then we go home, eat a steak, and sleep with our beautiful wives.

I kind of wonder when the poisonous meme of “resolve” found its way into American foreign policy thinking. Interestingly enough, an obsession with resolve is not characteristic of all foreign policy establishments. Europe, today and in the Cold War, does not seem to suffer from resolve based arguments. As far as I know, no one in political science or any other social science discipline has ever managed to demonstrate that a reputation for “resolve” had an independent effect on the decisions of any purported enemy anywhere. Yet the infection persists…

Via AG.

Lexblogging: Ashland

[ 0 ] June 22, 2006 |

Three weeks ago Davida and I visited Ashland, the Lexington home of Henry Clay. As an historical site the estate was quite interesting, although the original house had been torn down shortly after Clay’s death, and replaced by a near replica. Ashland was furnished entirely with artifacts either from Clay’s life or the lives of his descendents, the last of whom left Ashland in the mid-1950s. Of course, the estate is much smaller today that it was during Clay’s time, but it remains a very lovely park, a nice place to have a picnic or listen to music.

The exhibit is very Kentucky-centric, mildy odd given the portion of his life that Clay spent in Washington. Nevertheless, I got the feeling that Clay had a hand in most every element of the early development of Kentucky. Clay was a drinker of bourbon, and reputedly introduced the mint julep to Washington D.C. Clay also played an important role in the early equine industry; several of the horses in the Preakness Stakes could trace their lineage back to horse that Clay owned, including the winner. The exhibit was also quite forthright regarding Clay’s lack of success in his attempts for the Presidency. He was defeated three times in the general election, and three other times in the primaries.

Clay is an odd figure, one of the second generation giants that no one really talks about anymore. I am told that there was a flurry of interest in Clay, Calhoun, Webster, and other of their colleagues around the end of World War II, but the recent popular fascination with the Founders seems ready to skip clean over this generation and move right on to Lincoln. I don’t think that the reasons for this are all that complicated, as the story of the Second Generation is one of endless flawed compromise and eventual failure. While Lincoln can be understood to redeem the sins of the Founders, Clay and his cohort simply had to deal with them. The Founders left this generation with two enormous problems. The first of these was slavery, a difficulty that the Founders (and Clay) tried to wish away, but one that loomed larger as time passed. The second was a constitutional system utterly insufficient to the task of solving big problems.

Clay himself was a middling supporter of slavery. He was willing neither to engage, like Calhoun, in an ideological defense of the peculiar institution, nor was he willing to do anything productive to end it (other than waiting for it to go away). It was as apparent to Clay as anyone, though, that slavery was an enormous political problem for the United States, even if he found it uninteresting on the merits. Clay was critical in constructing and maintaining the various compromises that held the Union together between 1820 and 1850, and his work on these problems was genuinely masterful. All told, it probably was a good thing that the Civil War was fought in 1860 instead of, say, 1835, as the power of the North was steadily growing, as was the general international disapproval of slavery as an institution. Of course, this did not enter into Clay’s thinking; the last thing he was trying to do was delay long enough to provide the foundation for a Northern victory. Nevertheless, delaying the final resolution of the slavery problem probably had the practical effect of pushing that solution in a progressive direction.

I think that a Clay-like figure can be found in almost any political context. They lack vision, but are masterful political operators. Because they lack any sort of vision for the future, they tend to be mildly, but not overwhelmingly, conservative. Cicero might have been the first Henry Clay. The most recent Clay, if you will, was probably Bob Dole. Edmund Burke was kind of a Clay figure, but people forget that Burke was, by and large, on the progressive side of most political questions of his day. Then again, the parallel might be apt, as Clay was a big supporter of the American System, the Hamilton-esque program to bring infrastructure and capital improvements to what was then the American West. This effort certainly played a role in the expansion of capitalism and of the industrial, commercial North, indirectly undermining the slave-ocracy.


[ 0 ] June 20, 2006 |

This is easily the best thing that Jonah Goldberg has ever written. The highlights:

What was once Kinsley’s contrarian instinct has been dogmatized into official corporate policy. Weisberg has admitted as much in interviews. Freelancers especially seem to have figured out how to get through Slate’s editorial defenses: Pitch a story, any story, that’s counterintuitive, and someone on the receiving end will say “brilliant!”

Let it be said, lest Slate readers are confused on this point: Contrarianness is a great and good thing—when driven by reason and facts. But contrarianness for its own sake is often the very definition of asininity. Mavericks who break from the herd to point out hard truths can be heroes. Mavericks who break out from the herd just to get noticed are pretty annoying. If the emperor has no clothes, by all means say so. If he doesn’t, saying otherwise for the sake of saying so is not only a tiresome shtick, it also reduces your credibility.

Slate’s editorial voice is not Olympian by any means. It’s more like that of an Ivy League kid who can skip class and still get an A on the test.

Right. I still check Slate with reasonable regularity, but the schtick is pretty transparent and pretty old. Saletan, Weisberg, Kaus, and Dickerson all seem to be pretty much the same guy, although Kaus is clearly the ugliest personality. As Goldberg notes, though, what sets Kaus apart isn’t so much his project as his ineptitude in carrying out that project.

Forward Thinking

[ 0 ] June 20, 2006 |

If I were a terrorist, and I thought that an amnesty for former insurgents would probably damage the insurgency and help stabilize the Iraqi state, then something I might do is kidnap a couple of American soldiers and torture them to death in the hope of provoking an emotional response.


A Craptastic Travel Day

[ 0 ] June 20, 2006 |

All was going well until I got to Chicago. O’Hare is a nasty airport; too crowded, too noisy, way too hot, poorly laid out. I did manage to get my flight destination switched from Louisville to Cincy (for reasons too complicated to explain, I was flying back into Louisville, while my car was in Cincy and my apartment in Lexington), although I couldn’t get on the early flight and had to settle for the 6:45. Whatever; better than dropping $80 on a rental car in Louisville.

But then the thunderstorms hit Cleveland, and like a butterfly flapping its wings and creating a tsunami, my day went to hell. Flight delayed to 8:10, then to 9:30. Four hours in O’Hare turns into seven. Then the bastards lose my luggage. Since I have cleverly left my car keys in my checked luggage (note to self: this is a terrible idea) I am stuck in Cincinnati for another day.

I hope my cats don’t starve.

UPDATE: I am still waiting for my luggage, which has been located in Louisville. The baggage handling guy in Louisville (and I’m paraphrasing the nice lady at United Delayed Baggage) apparently has other priorities, and since United doesn’t fly from Louisville to Cincy, they’ll either have to put it on another carrier or send it back to Chicago and thence to Cincy.


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