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[ 0 ] December 27, 2005 |

Christmas is over, and we hold the field of battle.


[ 0 ] December 23, 2005 |

Fred Kaplan has a good column on Pentagon budget priorities:

Earlier this month, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England signed a directive declaring, “Stability operations are a core U.S. military mission. … They should be given priority comparable to combat operations” in all Defense Department activities, “including doctrine, organizations, training, education, exercises, materiel, leadership, personnel, facilities, and planning.”

At the very least, this directive—which amounts to an official acknowledgement of the Iraq war’s mistakes—will require more military manpower if it’s to be a statement of policy and not just a smattering of nice words.

And yet, according to a story by Tom Bowman in the Dec. 21 Baltimore Sun, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is planning to cut the Army’s forces by 34,000 troops. That would entail eliminating one active-duty brigade and six National Guard brigades. (The latter aren’t trivial; nearly half the U.S. combat units in Iraq come from the National Guard.)

Budget pressures are forcing Rumsfeld to cut Pentagon spending by $32 billion over the next five years. But why is he taking his biggest whacks against the tokens of combat power—boots on the ground—that are, by his own admission, most vital? The Sun reports:

The manpower cuts stem from a decision by top Army leaders to sacrifice troop strength in order to provide money for new weapons systems and other new equipment, said defense officials, who requested anonymity.

So, not much has changed after all. We’ve been fighting a war that’s costing hundreds of billions of dollars. The Pentagon’s upper management at least says it realizes that “stabilization operations” (read: low-tech, high-manpower ops) are extremely important. The Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, leans toward this sentiment as well, having risen through the ranks in the Special Forces command. And yet, when it comes to setting priorities on how to spend money, the procurement chiefs—with their eyes on big-ticket weapons systems—still rule.

At this point, changing the shares that each service gets of the Pentagon budget is pretty much a non-starter. While it’s true that cutting a few F-22s and the DD(X) could help pay for additional Army personnel, to do so would break the back-scratching arrangement that the three services have constructed since the 1960s. The degree of political will necessary to make that happen exceeds what most administrations can bring, and, frankly, if the Bush administration couldn’t dent it, I doubt that anyone can.

That said, the position of the Army itself seems indefensible to me. Yes, I know that they really, really want FCS, and for some reason seem to think that it will help them in low-intensity operations. I can’t see how, but they seem to believe it. In the service of achieving this dubious goal, they’re willing to cut our capabilities for fighting a low-intensity conflict now, when we are, after all, in the middle of a low-intensity conflict.

Rumsfeld isn’t the only one to blame in this fiasco. The Army brass will also be responsible for the problems that these decisions create.


[ 0 ] December 22, 2005 |

I share Matt’s impression of King Kong. I enjoyed the film, but it was clearly a mess. Easily 45 minutes should have found its way onto the cutting room floor. People too often seem to think that directors have a perfect vision for their films, one that is somehow more genuine or authentic than that of producers or studio execs. To some extent this is true, but a producer can and should force a director to exercise some discipline.

That said, the story remains compelling, and there are some interesting elements. Jack Black’s performance has been treated as an Orson Welles impression, but I felt that Black was playing Peter Jackson. He seemed, to me, to embody Jackson’s quest to put Kong back on the big screen, from the clearly laudable elements to the very troubling. The least necessary addition to the story was the inclusion of a friendship between two members of the crew. The relationship took up a lot of time, but was not well fleshed out, and its meaning was unclear. Perhaps most awkward was the discussion of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which fell completely flat.

This last is somewhat interesting, because I think that a comparison of Kong and Conrad could prove productive. The represent very different interpretations of the collision of the West with the colonial other, both of which are subversive in their own way. However, it’s painfully obvious that the flick was not the place to play this conversation out.

Stark Raving Terror

[ 0 ] December 22, 2005 |

A tale of horror and redemption from the Washington Post:

When Linda Cerniglia went back to school, it took her almost seven years to get through all the prerequisites, the labs, the research. And it took a thief just moments to grab her purse, with the only copy of her master’s thesis stored on a tiny jump drive inside.

Hold the snide remarks about not backing up your thesis, and consider the true horror of this. Your thesis is gone. Gone. Gone. All that work, gone. I might have just had a heart attack at that point. Read on…

She designed an experiment, analyzed CT scans, ran statistics, studied research and — slowly — began to write her thesis.

“It was so painful,” she said. “I would rather go outside and dig a hole all day long than write.”

She tried to trick herself into working on it, by going to a coffee shop or finding a sunny picnic table in the park. She could use a computer anywhere, because she had all the research on a jump drive, a tiny, portable memory-storage device about the size of a cigarette lighter.

Heh. How true. I wonder if it would be easier re-writing the thesis, given that you’ve already broken down the mental barriers necessary to put something into words. My guess is no; from my experience of losing posts on Blogger or long e-mails, I can report that I usually just get bitter and angry, sometimes returning to an idea, sometimes not. For a whole thesis, I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say that I’d bag the whole thing after losing a hundred pages or so, but it would be really, really difficult for me to go on. Anyway…

That night she couldn’t sleep, tortured by visions of her lost jump drive. The next morning, Cerniglia began to think about what she would do if she were the thief. Get out of there fast, speed out on the Beltway, then dump the purse.

There was a chance, just a chance.

She was going to retrace his steps, go to every store he hit. She would talk to security guards, check lost-and-found, scour the parking lots.

So that day, she drove to Greenbelt, and as soon as she parked she saw a big trash bin behind a Wendy’s, like a beacon. It was perfect. “It was open. It was hidden. I thought, ‘That’s it — if it’s going to be anywhere, it’s going to be there.’ “

She started pulling out broken-down boxes. She didn’t care about the trash, even if it was greasy slop from a fast-food place. “No cockroach, no rat, no creature from the dark was going to keep me from my jump drive,” she said. “Nothing is as bad as the thought of rewriting that thesis.”

She saw a flash of aqua cloth. Her heart pounded — it looked like her workout pants. “Then I see my gym bag. I jumped into the dumpster. I’m throwing things out of the way. I see my driver’s license.”

And there, at the bottom, was her black leather purse. She unzipped it, reached in, and felt her fingers close around — her jump drive.

People driving by stared: A 5-foot-4 43-year-old woman jumping up and down in a trash bin, screaming.

The obvious lesson is to back up early and often. All of my relevant files are on my home desktop, my laptop, my work desktop, and in cyberspace. The second lesson is that the proper response to having the only copy of your thesis stolen is not a two week bender, which would have been my solution, but rather a carefully thought out and efficiently executed recovery plan.

Damon to the Yanks

[ 0 ] December 21, 2005 |


It’s too much money, not that it matters to the Yankees. Damon has been a plus defender in centerfield, although there are some signs of decline. Offensively, he was worse in 2005 than 2004, but he’s been kind of up and down over the course of his career, and I wouldn’t be stunned to see him pull together some good years at the plate with the Yankees. There’s no question that Damon is significantly better than the mess that was Bernie Williams and Bubba Crosby.

My thinking is that it makes the Yankees better for two years, then becomes a problem. Given that the Yankees have a LOT of aging players, it’s not too bad of an idea to try to win right now.

Endless War

[ 0 ] December 21, 2005 |

The warrantless wiretap issue has grown too complex for me to comment substantively on, but a few points in this Jeff Goldstein post leapt out at me.

The first is Goldstein’s advice to the Democratic Party. Channeling Bull Moose, he asserts that questioning executive power is a bad strategic move

The Dems are putting themselves in a position just now to argue that what will no doubt be seen as legal technicalities—and those points are in dispute, even!—should have prevented him from taking steps necessary to protect the homeland, steps that DID in fact protect us. And by extension, they will be arguing that as a group they would have worried more about a contentious legal battle over a now unworkable statute (getting warrants on automated phone chains—which it is not clear were even legally necessary, provided the AG gave notice—would have been impossible) than they would have about taking bold actions to protect the country, knowing that we are indeed at war.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating here: just because some Dem elites don’t believe we are actually “at war”—preferring instead to think of terrorism as essentially a law enforcement problem that can be well-handled within the purview of the criminal justice system—that doesn’t mean we are not, in fact, at war.² Otherwise, their authorization of the use of force against al Qaeda could be seen as cynical at best and disengenuous at worst.

First, even if such criticism were unpopular, it would be necessary; the role of an opposition party in a democracy IS to question the activities of the executive, especially when that executive seems to be pressing against (let alone leaping over), its legal boundaries. Second, and more important, I get the sense that Goldstein is whistling past the graveyard. A fair number of conservatives, all with more integrity than he, seem to have been very troubled by the creeping power of the executive. Goldstein (and Wittman’s) response to genuine concern on the part of the opposition seems to be a squeaky “You’ll be sorry!” without resort to any analysis of (and, really, having little interest in) the actual political situation. The long and short of it is that Goldstein can save his advice for someone who cares. The Democratic Party would be ill-served to take advice from those who would be delighted by its destruction.

Second, I hope that Goldstein and others understand that when they derive extended executive power from the authorization of force against Al Qaeda (and I cannot comment substantively on whether that is a legitimate interpretation), they quite literally (and I mean this in the intended sense) are endorsing increased executive power forever. The war against Al Qaeda cannot be won, such that there will be a surrender signed on the deck of a battleship (or a UAV) at its completion, bringing hostilities to an end. To launch a war against Al Qaeda and terror more genuinely, then treat it as an actual war rather than as a military/police action, is to create a permanent set of hostilities. To then go so far as saying that this state of hostilities justifies additional executive power is a two-step; Goldstein ought to just go ahead and endorse the expansion of the purview of the executive, because what Congress, the courts, and the people give up to it now ain’t never coming back.

Third, and given that I come to this as an observer with no legal experience, this would concern me if I wanted to agree with Goldstein:

On several fronts, then, the legal question is murky (and the paradigm you choose will affect the degree of murkiness you see)—but there should be no doubt that, wherever you come down on that front, simply that there is a compelling legal argument to be made on the President’s behalf

Citing the fact that there is an argument to be made, rather than making and endorsing the argument, seems to me to be a sign of weakness. In his post, Goldstein does much more of the former than the latter. I would prefer to hear, were I a Bush administration supporter, that the argument was actually more compelling than the arguments on the other side. That Goldstein liberally dribbles his post with suggestions that the activities would be cool even if they weren’t legal would make me even more uncomfortable if I wanted to believe my President wasn’t breaking the law.

Google Earth vs. New Dehli

[ 0 ] December 19, 2005 |

I had been wondering about this. In particular, I wanted to get a look at the aircraft carriers currently in the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Bremerton. Sadly, the pictures of NISMF are at extremely low resolution, which is mildly odd given that I doubt Al Qaeda, China, Iran, or Russia could learn all that much from observing rusting supercarriers.

It hadn’t occured to me that, while the US government probably could lean on Google in order to protect certain areas, other countries could not. The Indian government is very concerned:

India, whose laws sharply restrict satellite and aerial photography, has been particularly outspoken. “It could severely compromise a country’s security,” V. S. Ramamurthy, secretary in India’s federal Department of Science and Technology, said of Google Earth. And India’s surveyor general, Maj. Gen. M. Gopal Rao, said, “They ought to have asked us.”

My guess is that Google will agree to depict certain facilities in low res, but not enough to make the Indians happy. Even more problematic, from India’s point of view, is that satellite photos are available in lots of other places, often at a higher resolution than Google Earth.

And you know what? The Indians are probably right. Google Earth and similar services may actually make the job of a terrorist or military planner easier. Anything that makes the landscape of an urban area more intelligible also makes it more vulnerable. But I really don’t see anything that could be done about it, so it’s probably not worth worrying too much.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: ARA Rivadavia

[ 0 ] December 18, 2005 |

The South American dreadnought race of the 1910s began with the Brazilian order of Minas Gerais and Sao Paulo from British yards. Not to be outdone, Argentina and Chile soon ordered battleships of their own. Chile ordered two battleships from British yards, while Argentina decided to go with and American supplier. This turned out to be an excellent choice. At the beginning of World War I, Great Britain seized both Chilean battleships and two Turkish battleships for incorporation into the Royal Navy. A Greek dreadnought, Salamis, under construction in Germany was never completed as the Germans decided to work on their own ships. It is unclear why the Germans did not follow British practice and simply seize the half-complete Salamis, although I suspect that they may have been motivated by a fear of offending Greece. An accident of timing allowed the British to escape what would have been a more troubling dilemma. The battlecruiser Kongo, built in a British yard to Japanese specifications, had been turned over to the Imperial Japanese Navy in late 1913. Kongo was, at the time of her construction, the largest and most powerful capital ship in the world. Although Japan was a British ally, and would eventually join the war against Germany, I suspect it would have been VERY difficult for the British to give her up.

Rivadavia was completed in late 1914, making she and her sister rough contemporaries of the US New York class. The design of Rivadavia was, in some ways, more advanced than that of the New Yorks. Rivadavia had a similar displacement (27000 tons), was powered by steam turbines, and could make almost 23 knots, 2 knots faster than the US ships. However, Rivadavia carried 12 12″ guns to New York’s 10 14″, and had somewhat lighter armor. Rivadavia’s armament was arranged in two superfiring turrets each fore and aft and two wing turrets, making she and Moreno the only battleships built in the United States to carry wing turrets. Rivadavia carried a single cage mast forward, making the ARA the only navy besides the USN to operate dreadnoughts with cage masts.

Upon their delivery to the ARA, Rivadavia and Moreno became the most powerful ships in South America. Battleship technology advanced rapidly in the first twenty years of the twentieth century. Whereas Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais had been among the most poweful ships in the world upon their completion in 1910, they were completely outclassed by the Argentine ships in 1915. Rivadavio probably was not the equal of Almirante Latorre, finally delivered to Chile after World War I, but the two Argentine ships made up the most powerful squadron in the area. Rivadavio also seems to have been better taken care of than the Brazilian ships. She received oil fired boilers during a major refit in the 1920s, and remained fairly active in the 1920s and 1930s.

World War II brought some mild tensions to South America. Brazil leaned very heavily toward the Allies, eventually joining the war (and making a significant contribution both on land and at sea) in 1942. Chile and Argentina were less forthcoming, both having significant Axis sympathies. Both Argentina and Chile would eventually declare war on Germany and Japan, but neither lent any meaningful contribution to the Allied cause. Rivadavia embarked on her last long cruise in 1946, visiting a number of South American ports before being placed in reserve. By 1952 Rivadavia was disarmed, and was struck from the ARA List in 1957. Had the ARA maintained Rivadavia for just another 25 years, she would have had the opportunity to be sunk by the Royal Navy in the Falklands War…

Trivia (Last week’s winner was Jackdaw):

What was the last battleship to be destroyed in combat against other battleships?

The Mariners Take an Insurmountable Lead

[ 0 ] December 17, 2005 |


I like Washburn a little bit more than most stat-heads; three of his last five years have been genuinely good, two have been mediocre. There are reasons to be concerned about his performance last year, regardless of his 3.20 ERA. He’s just really, really not the kind of pitcher you want to on the hook for 4 years and $36 million. I mean, when you’ve gone and spent that, how much more could Millwood cost? Or Clement, who the Red Sox are dying to get rid of?

This is a bad offseason. It will be hard for the Reds to match this; they’re already pretty far behind on the Womack/Everett comparison, the Casey trade was actually a GOOD move, and there aren’t that many free agents left out there to waste money on.

The Tyranny of Mrs. Clinton

[ 0 ] December 17, 2005 |

This really gets to the rub:

There’s only one way to scare the craven apologists in Category II: remind them of the very real possibility of a Hillary Clinton presidency in 2008 with unlimited powers against perceived terrorists, foreign and domestic. You mean you believed that all of those executive orders magically expire when your anointed security sock-puppet exits the White House as the worst executive ever?

The paranoia that conservatives regularly display regarding the Clinton presidency and the potential second Clinton presidency is astounding. Recall that Bill O’Reilly, for example, believed that the IRS was auditing him at the behest of the Clintons. And who could forget the Clinton murder list? How many of those who have leapt to the defense of the Bush administration on this one would be among the first to assail Hillary Clinton as a tyrant if she tried the same thing?

It’s not even that hard to construct a scenario through which these state tools might be used against conservatives. Imagine that an Oklahoma City style attack happens on a larger scale, or that several Oklahoma City style attacks occur in a short period. Then imagine that the President of the NRA says something as stupid as he said the last time a Federal Building was bombed. If I were a paranoid right-winger and a member of several legitimate (and maybe not so legitimate) right wing organizations, I would be very concerned about the ability of the executive to do just about anything it wanted with me.

Clearly, Bush supporters do not lack the imagination to come up with such a scenario. What they lack is the intellectual honesty to accept the consequences of their arguments.

In other news, Glenn Reynolds is a hack. Shorter Glenn:

The fact that elements of GWB’s legislative agenda have been defeated demonstrates that he is not a tyrant. Power would be within his grasp, were it not for those weak-minded fools in the Senate. They should be crushed without mercy…


[ 0 ] December 17, 2005 |

AG does some nice work on the Army’s commitment to FCS, or Future Combat Systems. I remain ambivalent about FCS, much in the same way that I’m ambivalent about DD(X) and the LCS.

FCS promises a lot; dominance anywhere on the combat spectrum is a lot. Whether it can deliver is in more question. There are two things that I find very problematic about it. First, FCS is being sold as a system; all of its constituent elements need to be delivered as a brigade unit. This doesn’t suggest a lot of continuity within a unit or a lot of inter-operability between units. If things don’t work quite right, or if some of the technologies don’t come through, there are problems. Now, this represents to some extent a marketing decision on the part of the Army, as it wants everything. It is likely that many or most of the technologies associated with FCS would find their way into the Army regardless of whether the system as a whole is pursued.

My second issue regards dominance across the combat spectrum. In short, I just don’t buy it. I think there are lots of good reasons to think that some of the technologies that increase our capabilities at the high level of the spectrum (extra firepower, centralized command based on information dominance, tight air-ground cooperation) actually REDUCE our capabilities at lower levels on the combat spectrum. In other words, the tactics and the technologies that work really well at killing a lot of people in a short amount of time don’t work so well when the task is to make friends and find insurgents.

Now, most worrying about the above report is that the Army is willing to sacrifice (at least) six National Guard brigades in order to save part of the money needed for FCS. For obvious reasons, this sounds like a terrible idea to me. It’s a bad idea with legs; bad now, bad for the future. While there are a lot of indications that the Army specifically and the Pentagon more generally are getting serious about counter-insurgency and stability operations, this suggests that they are willing to sacrifice counter-insurgent capability now and in the future for the FCS system. That’s a real problem.

Dittosfan is indispensible regarding FCS issues.

Down with Louisville!!!

[ 0 ] December 17, 2005 |

I am pleased.

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